Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

(Oh, if you are lacking an idea for a Halloween costume you can do the same thing as me. Go as Apathy. You can wear what you want and there are few things scarier in the world. The only problem is the unoriginality: Apathy will likely be the most popular costume this year.)

Money? I like! - Bruno after Borat

"Universal Pictures has won the intense bidding war for Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up movie to Borat, paying $42.5 million (U.S.) for the worldwide rights." (Toronto Star)
It is nice to see that satirical comedy that exposes bigotry can be so lucrative.

The atheist as fundamentalist

(Reproduced in full from the Toronto Star. I think Dawkins comes off much better than he has at other times. Perhaps he was finally wise enough to get a PR coach.)
The atheist as fundamentalist
Q&A | Richard Dawkins on why religious faith tends to create more evil people than, say, Stalinism
Oct. 29, 2006. 01:00 AM

Richard Dawkins is the enfant terrible of atheism, a scientist whose best-selling first book, The Selfish Gene, argued a genetic basis for Darwin's theory of evolution, and who went on to challenge theories of creationism that have gained traction in the last decade. Currently a professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, he has just completed a documentary series on the role of religion in modern history.

Here he talks about his latest book, The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin), which makes the case that the existence of a supreme being is supremely improbable, and that religious belief is not only wrong but deadly.

Did you use the title of your book to provoke people?

It's not the intention of the title. The whole book is meant to change people's minds. It's not intended just to provoke, though. I really want people to think and to come to a different conclusion from the one they had previously. I hope there is a good middle ground of people who vaguely think of themselves as religious but haven't given it much thought. I'm hoping that I can provoke them into thinking.

But isn't the problem really with the extremists, not the middle-of-the-roaders?

You will never change the mind of a real dyed-in-the-wool faithhead. But there are plenty of people who vaguely think they are religious but just need a bit of stimulation to think for themselves. They are important because we need their numerical strength.

In the United States, for instance, it is impossible for an atheist to get elected to public office. If you think about it, there are hundreds of members of Congress, and some are drawn from the intellectual elite. It is almost impossible that such a large sample of those intellectuals are all religious. Most of them are lying to get elected. But if my middle-of-the-roaders come off the fence, it will no longer be true that politicians have to invoke God in all their speeches in order to get the votes.

You've been called "Darwin's Rottweiler." Do you like being labelled a militant atheist?

Rottweilers are very sweet and charming dogs, you know. It's true I do feel the need to convert people. I care about what's true, and I think it's rather sad if people have to go through life believing in a falsehood.

How do you answer critics who say your book ignores the evils of anti-religious ideologies such as Stalinism?

It's a misunderstanding. I never simply list evil deeds by evil people. There are evil deeds done by the non-religious as well as the religious.

But that's not really the point. The point is whether religious faith is more likely to make people evil — and I suspect it is.

Of course, not every religious person does bad things. But I think if you are brought up to think there is something called faith that cannot be questioned, and that it is bad manners to question, then that paves the way for a few extremists to feel justified in doing their terrible acts.

Very few religious people do those things, but they make the world safe for those who do by extolling the virtues of faith and bringing children up to believe that blind faith is a virtue.

Do you see religious extremism on the rise generally, or is it merely confined to a vocal minority?

If you take the longer view of history, going back to the Middle Ages or Biblical times, it was even worse. If you take the shorter view, over my lifetime I do see religious extremism on the rise.

But I don't think it is a permanent effect. It's a zigzagging curve that goes up and down. It happens to be going up and down in the United States at the moment, for example. That is perhaps because of President George W. Bush coming to power.

How can you combat such extremism?

I do it to the best of my own powers, using the media, writing books, talking to people, et cetera.

And there are faintly encouraging signs. Both my book and Sam Harris's book, Letter to a Christian Nation — which is every bit as outspokenly anti-religious as mine — are high in the bestseller list at the moment, and that would not have been foreseen six years ago. Maybe there is the beginning of a shift in opinion.

Is there a countervailing upswing in interest in science?

I'd like to think so. It's the raison d'être of my career, and it's my duty to work as though that were the case.

It may be different in other countries, but in Britain, if you actually look at the statistics on young people choosing to read scientific subjects at university, on the contrary, there is a tendency the other way. I'd like to think that's also a blip.

You don't give any ground to religion. But what about those people in dreadful situations who simply turn to it for comfort?

That's a difficult one, because if you find something comforting that doesn't make it true. But even if it's not true, is that a justification for it? I think it's like saying, "Would you rather have a doctor tell you the truth about what you've got if it's serious, or would you prefer him to hide it from you?"

Nobody is forcing anyone to read my book. But I'm writing for the kind of person who would rather the doctor told them the truth.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Capitalism vs. Communism

"Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite."
- John Kenneth Galbraith

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sample Quotation

"Statistics, the most important science in the whole world: for upon it depends the practical application of every other science and of every art: the one science essential to all political and social administration, all education, all organization based on experience, for it only gives results of our experience."
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910, pioneering British nurse)

Informal polls indicate that a full 78% of respondents agree with 63% of the above quotation. 1/10th of those polled did not understand fractions.

Friday, October 13, 2006

North Korea's Leader Is Cagey, Not Crazy

Gwynne Dyer opines (on CommonDreams) on Kim:
Kim Jong-il is not crazy. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has negotiated with him, says he is well-informed and not at all delusional. He pretends to be unstable because his regime's survival depends on blackmailing foreign countries into giving it the food and fuel that it cannot produce for itself. Rogue nukes are a big part of that image, but like any professional blackmailer, he would hand them over for the right price.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why can't I own Canadians?

The following letter was published recently in the Toronto Star, stating it has been addressed to both Dr. Laura and President Bush. I cut and paste from here.

Why Can't I Own a Canadian?

October 2002

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a east coast resident, which was posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? - Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I'm sure I don't know

Condoleezza Rice on her knowledge of a meeting that she had years ago with CIA director Tenet who, during the meeting, supposedly sternly warned her about Al-Queda attacking America:
"I don’t know that this meeting took place, but what I really don’t know, what I’m quite certain of, is that it was not a meeting in which I was told there was an impending attack and I refused to respond."
I posted this because I found the language she used very amusing. I'm not doing this to single her out for communicative failings (there are better reasons), but just to display some oddities of human speech. We all occasionally say things that are absurd, yet they are mostly valid because people 'know what we mean.'
I just love the phrase "...but what I really don’t know, what I’m quite certain of..."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Oh God *eye-roll*

If God had low self-esteem and didn't believe in Himself, would that make Him an atheist?