The NY Times has an article about science and the existence of the soul. There’s not really any substance to it, just discussions of what it could mean for science to show that the soul probably doesn’t exist. Of course, science can’t really do that; at best it could say that it’s unnecessary, which is essentially the conclusion the article is discussing. I was interested in one paragraph with a quote by Ken Miller:
“Everything we know about the biological sciences says that life is a phenomenon of physics and chemistry, and therefore the notion of some sort of spirit to animate it and give the flesh a life really doesn’t fit with modern science,” said Dr. Miller, a Roman Catholic whose book, “Finding Darwin’s God” (Harper, 1999) explains his reconciliation of the theory of evolution with religious faith. “However, if you regard the soul as something else, as you might, say, the spiritual reflection of your individuality as a human being, then the theology of the soul it seems to me is on firm ground.”
I don’t understand this ability to completely redefine words that religion has. A soul has traditionally meant the immaterial essence of a person, as described by Miller in the first sentence. Yes, if we redefine it as some sort of reflection of who you are it’s not in conflict with science. But so what? It’s like saying murder isn’t so bad if you define it as riding a bike.
For some reason, the current front page over at Hit & Run (I have resisted their libertarianism for at least a year and a half, which is a good sign) is loaded with interesting/depressing news. A British labor union endorsing Hugo Chavez, George Will’s shrill screed on a free speech case he happens to be on the right side of, Cathy Young’s article on Norman Finkelstein, Dave Barry’s run for president, and the “Bong hits 4 Jesus” case being decided the wrong way.
Also, did you know California is trying to outlaw mixed breed dogs? My head is going to explode.
I am declaring myself a non-citizen for the purposes of tax collection and a citizen otherwise. I thank you for your understanding.
Is it just me, or is the White House approaching crazy militia “I am a sovereign nation!” territory?
Mingle2 – Online Dating
I sort of wanted an X rating, but I imagine that would involve pictures and no one wants that.
Obama talks about faith:
FORT DODGE — Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama insisted Saturday that religious faith can play a central role in politics, but only if it’s used to tackle moral issues and not to divide the nation.
Moral issues like stem cell research, gay marriage, and abortion? Nope, not divisive at all there.
“But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked,” Obama said, drawing applause from the delegates. “Part of it is because the so-called leaders of the Christian right are all too eager to exploit what divides us.”
I remember that time, when religion wasn’t divisive. It was tens of thousands of years ago and we weren’t very bright. It was a simpler time.
I realize I’m going to have to put up with this no matter what the candidate, but it’s annoying. At least the moral issues Obama wants to focus on aren’t asinine concerns like “stem cells are people!” but making everything a moral issue to be decided on the basis of one’s religion is dangerous.
Religious scholar Karen Armstrong is offended by ignorance of Islam:
RELIGIOUS scholar Karen Armstrong says she is defending Islam as it has been portrayed inaccurately in many ways, particularly in western countries.
She said when Islam, a religion professed throughout the world, is portrayed inaccurately and misrepresented, it offended her intellectually.
“When Islam is projected incorrectly, inaccurately and distorted, it also gives rise to fundamentalism among certain people.
Let’s just back up here. Islamic fundamentalism was quite strong before 9/11, which was before Islam became an issue to most people. After 9/11, our fuck up in Iraq has done a solid job of keeping fundamentalism strong. Inaccurate criticism of Islam is hardly something to worry about with regard to creating fundamentalists.
Armstrong, a well-known author on world religions, said owing to prejudice and hatred, millions of Jews were killed due to Germany’s Nazi atrocities during the Second World War.
This dark history happened in Germany, a western country which prides itself as being very enlightened.
“But we (the western world) seem to learn nothing (from this) as after that there were concentration camps in Yugoslavia. We seem to be heading for greater darkness,” she said.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think we’re particularly close to tossing Muslims in ovens. In fact, it looks to me like Islamic regimes are far closer to that point. Of course, it would be unfair of me to conflate radical Islamic fundamentalists and your average Muslim.
On the other hand, Armstrong has her priorities out of whack here. The fundamental barrier to a good relationship between the West and Islam is Islamic fundamentalism. What does Armstrong’s hand-wringing do to help that situation? Absolutely nothing. She’s whining about the symptoms when she should be working on defeating the cause.
Barna has a poll about the beliefs and activities of the atheist and agnostic segment of the population, which has some pretty interesting results. Among them:
Beyond the bestseller lists, however, a new survey shows there is indeed a significant gap between Christians and those Americans who are in the “no-faith” camp. For instance, most atheists and agnostics (56%) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. At the same time, two-thirds of Christians (63%) who have an active faith perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity. (“Active faith” was defined as simply having gone to church, read the Bible and prayed during the week preceding the survey.)
That’s an odd result (the 56% number, that is), but I wonder about the question they asked and I wonder how it was interpreted by the respondent. For my part, I think radical Christianity (which I take to mean the modern Religious Right) is more threatening than radical Islam in the sense of bringing about government policies that are dangerous and harmful. On the other hand, radical Islam is more threatening in the sense that they’re responsible for more deaths and injuries (and will continue to be in the future) in this country. Depending on how the question was asked, I might have answered either way.
Perhaps partly due to the younger nature of the audience, atheists and agnostics are more likely than are active-faith adults to say they are into new technology (64% among no-faith individuals versus 52% among active-faith adults) and to assert that they adapt easily to change (81% versus 66%). Atheists and agnostics are also significantly less likely to say they are convinced they are right about things in life (38% versus 55%).
Into technology, ability to adapt to change, not dogmatic…sound like nice people to me! I’m just going to predict right now that we’re not going to see fewer mentions of “dogmatic atheists” based on these results.
One of the most fascinating insights from the research is the increasing size of the no-faith segment with each successive generation. The proportion of atheists and agnostics increases from 6% of Elders (ages 61+) and 9% of Boomers (ages 42-60), to 14% of Busters (23-41) and 19% of adult Mosaics (18-22). When adjusted for age and compared to 15 years ago, each generation has changed surprisingly little over the past decade and a half. Each new generation entered adulthood with a certain degree of secular fervor, which appears to stay relatively constant within that generation over time. This contradicts the popular notion that such generational differences are simply a product of people becoming more faith-oriented as they age.
One of the most significant differences between active-faith and no-faith Americans is the cultural disengagement and sense of independence exhibited by atheists and agnostics in many areas of life. They are less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%), to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20% versus 30%), to describe themselves as “active in the community” (41% versus 68%), and to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41% versus 61%). They are also more likely to be registered to vote as an independent or with a non-mainstream political party.
One of the outcomes of this profile – and one of the least favorable points of comparison for atheist and agnostic adults – is the paltry amount of money they donate to charitable causes. The typical no-faith American donated just $200 in 2006, which is more than seven times less than the amount contributed by the prototypical active-faith adult ($1500). Even when church-based giving is subtracted from the equation, active-faith adults donated twice as many dollars last year as did atheists and agnostics. In fact, while just 7% of active-faith adults failed to contribute any personal funds in 2006, that compares with 22% among the no-faith adults.
We’ve seen those statistics in other places, so they’re no surprise. At some level, it’s not a fair comparison. Atheism is not a life philosophy; it’s simply the lack of belief in gods. The social aspects of church engage people in the community and nothing about atheism does the same thing. Given that a lot of our society is built around religion, it’s not that surprising that the less religious are less active in the community. I also wonder a little about some of ideologies associated with atheism, particularly Objectivism. I imagine believing in that sort of thing can cause some to give less to charity. On the flip-side, I’m curious how a positive life philosophy like Secular Humanism influences this kind of behavior. It’s more akin to Christianity than atheism, in that it promotes ways of living and philosophical commitments. Still, there are no Secular Humanist churches, no weekly gatherings where the affirmations are discussed and emphasized.
The point of all of this is to say that atheists are not necessarily less moral than Christians, just that there’s a support structure encouraging these sorts of behaviors and atheism is lacking one.