sarahmichigan: (reading)
"What Is My Cat Thinking?: The Essential Guide to Understanding Pet Behavior" by Gwen Bailey. The book could have been more carefully edited, but I liked all the photos of cats in different poses and the explanation of what the pose (or ear and tail movements) were likely to signify: friendship, aggression, fear, etc. The author seems to really know her animal behavior science.

and

"God is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens, as an audiobook read by the author. The context was especially amusing since J. and I listened to this during a road trip through the Bible Belt where there are homemade billboards with "Jesus Loves You" and the 10 commandments posted near the highway, particularly in rural Kentucky. I knew a lot already about what he had to say about Christianity and Judaism, but I learned something from his critiques of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and a few other minor sects. Not likely to be read by diehard believers, this would be an informative read for anyone on the fence and an entertaining read for an established atheist such as myself.

My full comments on both books here.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
You may know Julia Sweeney as an ex-SNL member and not know much more about her. Well, she's an atheist who has written a one-woman show about losing her faith in god, a cancer survivor, and the single mother of an adopted child as well.

She gave a speech at a "Freedom From Religion Foundation" convention not too long ago, and there are excerpts on the FFRF website. I love some of the points she makes about religion and belief (and she's funny, too).

#1. People Want to be good. "When I talk to [my friends] about religion, they don't say, "Oh, did I feel good yesterday thinking how Mary was a virgin and conceived Jesus!" They don't say anything about Catholicism. They talk about the community work that they've done. And that's what they connect with their church. They assign that good feeling to their church."

#2. A code of behavior is often necessary.

#3. People want to be in a club.

#4. People love to hate. "People feel closer to other people if they have a common person they don't like. Come on, everybody knows that's true! And it's true for us, too. Religion delivers on that, too! It gives people an instant common enemy, whether it's Islamic fundamentalists or secularists, that's immediately there and provided. At Saturday Night Live, we were never closer than when Steven Seagal hosted--because we hated him so much!"

Read the whole piece here.
sarahmichigan: (point of view)
I've been listening to "The God Delusion" as a book on CD, and I found the part where he talked about Einstein's "god" to be quite interesting. It would seem that many science-y types have a sense of wonder about the way the universe is put together, and they sometimes refer to the wonders of nature as "god" or their sense of wonder as their "religion." However, Einstein clearly didn't believe in a personal god. I think a lot of my friends who are agnostic/non-believers with a strong science background probably have beliefs very similar to Einstein's version of "god/religion".

Some interesting Einstein quotes on this page:

http://www.2think.org/einstein.shtml
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I have been a long-time reader (and one-time contributor of an article to) "Freethought Today," the newsletter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I was tickled by their memoriam for Vashti Cromwell McCollum on several levels. First, I love older people who are non-conformists and hell-raisers. Second, I love women who were progressive and kicking ass well before the radical 1960s. Lastly, I love the symbolism of her name!

http://ffrf.org/fttoday/2006/oct/vashtimccollum.php

According to the FFRF's obituary for her:
"Vashti became "a very unpopular woman," as she put it, for taking and winning the first case before the U.S. Supreme Court to halt religious instruction in the public schools. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 212 (1948) is the lynchpin of Establishment Clause law keeping religion out of public schools."

She also wrote her memoirs, "One Woman's Fight," which I think I will have to read at some point this year.

If you know much about the Bible or Jewish history, you probably have heard of Queen Esther, but you may not remember or know about the woman she replaced, Vashti. Vashti has become something of a feminist icon for her refusal to "show her beauty", which probably means "to dance naked," in front of the king. Her refusal got her deposed as Queen and paved the way for Esther to become the Queen and save her people.

It seems fitting that the woman who said, "No, you're not going to indoctrinate my fourth-grade son in your religion during school hours," is named after another woman who stood up to the powerful and said, "Nope. Not going to do that."
sarahmichigan: (Default)
This is going to be kind of anti-climactic since I've been thinking on it for a while and leading up to it, and yet it's going to be short. But here goes.

I'm an atheist because I think the burden of proof is on those who believe in ANY kind of supernatural phenomena. As far as I can tell, material, natural explanations explain the world and how it works and how it came into being just fine.

To me, positing a Higher Being (especially the more specific you get about what this being is like) to explain things is like saying that tiny black fairies contort their bodies to show the time on my digital watch rather than relying on naturalistic, material explantions about electricity and such.

Now, I understand why some people have an intuition that there just MUST be something bigger than us that created the world. That's fine, and I can understand that. (I have trouble figuring out, sometimes, how people go from "some higher being" to "my specific sect or doctrine," but that's another subject.) However, I don't have that intuition.

I remember when I was taking philosophy courses at Western Michigan University, and sometimes the professor would ask, "What's your intuition about that statment or assertion?" This was in the context of many philosophical arguments, not just ones about the existence or non-existence of God. I remember thinking, "Intuition?! This is supposed to be a philosophy course, and not a New Age class about how to fine-tune your ESP."

But really, when it comes to belief in a higher being of some sort, I think a lot of us are going off our gut feeling. My gut says that only the material world exists, and there isn't anything "super" above the natural world. Any weirdness that can't be explained by science can usually be explained by psychology.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
NPR is running a weekly series called "This I Believe." The current incarnation of This I Believe is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by Edward R. Murrow. I was listening to NPR in the car this morning and caught this week's guest opinion from Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller). I LOVED how succinctly he summed up the atheist, rationalist viewpoint on belief and why life isn't hopeless and dreary if you don't believe in a higher power.

excerpt:

"Having taken that step [of rejecting a belief in god], it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.

Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around."

Read the full text here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5015557

Questions

Oct. 9th, 2005 04:25 pm
sarahmichigan: (Default)
1. When and how did the emphasis in this country shift from valuing Freedom to valuing blind patriotism and a clinging to an illusion of security?

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." -Ben Franklin

2. I recently read a quote in an essay talking about how you don't have to be religious or attend church to be a good person. "It's our actions that show exactly how moral and responsible we are." I wonder how many people believe that? I'm a firm believer in the idea that "actions speak louder than words." I don't care what you profess to believe or hold as an ideal; I care about the message your behavior sends. But not everyone thinks that way.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
http://www.slate.com/id/2127052/

excerpts:

Four months ago, when evolution and "intelligent design" (ID) squared off in Kansas, I defended ID as a more evolved version of creationism. ID posits that complex systems in nature must have been designed by an intelligent agent. The crucial step forward is ID's concession that "observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building"—not scriptural authority—define science. Having acknowledged that standard, advocates of ID must now demonstrate how hypotheses based on it can be tested by experiment or observation. Otherwise, ID isn't science.

This week, ID is on trial again in Pennsylvania. And so far, its proponents aren't taking the experimental test they accepted in Kansas. They're ducking it.

...

Under the [Penn.] policy, "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, Intelligent Design." Notice the "of" before "other theories." The policy doesn't tell teachers to discuss gaps and problems in ID. It tells them to discuss gaps and problems in Darwinism—and then to discuss ID as an alternative "theory." The board's brief makes clear that the policy's aim is "informing students about the existing scientific controversy surrounding Darwin's Theory of Evolution, including the fact that there are alternative scientific theories."

...

So here's what ID proponents are offering to teach your kids: They won't say how ID works. They won't say how it can be tested, apart from testing Darwinism and inferring that the alternative is ID. They won't concede it has to be falsifiable. All they'll say is that Darwinism hasn't explained some things. But that's what the first half of the Dover policy says already. So there's no need for the second half—the part that mentions ID.

(emphasis added by me)
sarahmichigan: (Default)
. . . they ought to let people know about His Noodly Majesty as well:

http://www.venganza.org/

(thanks to [livejournal.com profile] simianpower for the link)
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I've said before to a friend that I'm a little too much of a nature-worshipper to feel comfortable around rabid atheists, but too much a rationalist to fit in with the pagans.

My current label, which I'm pretty comfortable with, though, is "atheist."

I guess the basics of why I am an atheist are:

1) I know of no compelling evidence for the supernatural/God
2) I have no intutitive feeling that there *must* be a god
3) The various religions of the world all have some truth in them, and all have elements of what I consider to be nonsense, so I can't align myself with any particular one of them
4) Most religions, especially Judeo-Christian-Islamic, put a great deal of emphasis on faith and believing in the unseen, which, in my opinion, contributes to an overall paucity of rational thinking in their inherents
5) I believe irrational thinking and superstition contribute to a great deal of suffering in the world
6) If you're going to pick a religion, you should pick one that helps you live an ethical life an find your way through the world. No religion I have found yet has helped me do that. Paganism was the closest. Atheism is the best fit for me, personally.

What I'm NOT saying:

1) Religion promotes only evil and no good. Obviously false. Examples abound like Catholic Hospitals and Islamic charities that feed the poor, etc. You have to take the good with the bad when you give examples like that though-- Catholic hospitals are a mixed blessing. Yes, you get medical care, as long as you don't want birth control, a vasectomy, an abortion, to unhook your loved one in a vegetative state, etc.

2) Religious groups are the ONLY groups that perpetuate evil and suffering. Obviously false. As a friend pointed out, political affiliations and other groups can contribute to "us vs. them" and other societal problems. A priest friend of mine pointed out that atrocities were carried out under an ostensibly atheist regime in Communist Russia as well.

3) people who are religious are stupid and haven't examined their own beliefs. Also, demonstrably not true. I know many theologians who struggle mightily with philosophical issues like "the problem of evil and suffering" or whether one can prove the existence of God. I even know fundamentalists who are very intelligent and thoughful. They're just extremely good at "compartmentalizing" their knowlege.

I called myself a pagan for many years(after I recovered from fundamentalist Christianity), but I was always more interested in it for the celebration of the seasons and the sacred drama and the fun myths than having any kind of "higher power" to believe in.

Post Sept. 11, I became disenchanted with all religion, not just mainstream religion. I believe that belief in the supernatural world/spiritual world is the root of a lot of nonsense and grief in this world. I believe that no outside force is going to swoop in and save us, and if things are going to improve in the world, we're going to have to do it ourselves.

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