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Comments by Functional Atheist

Go to: Simply ... should I read the bible?

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 107 by Functional Atheist

Sure, read the Bible--though selected passages would be adequate for most skeptics. But only the King James version, since the poetic rendering of choice passages are so much better than in any other English language Bible. Ecclesiastes and the Psalms are particularly worthwhile, while on the other hand Leviticus should be read because so much of that book is so very awful. Richard himself has praised the literary quality of the best bits of the King James version, and I think Hitch also had some kind words regarding the literary qualities of that text.

And no, you are not therefore obliged to read other religious texts. Presumably you live in a Western culture, so the cultural context that the Bible provides makes it much more pertinent to an educated Western skeptic than any other religious text. If you are determined to be ecumenical, I suppose the Qu'ran would be the best choice for a second text, if for no other reason that Islam keeps intruding into modern politics (in a nasty way, similar to my reasoning in recommending Leviticus).

Mon, 03 Dec 2012 16:36:41 UTC | #951282

Go to: Watch Sneak Preview of FFRF TV commercial starring Julia Sweeney

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by Functional Atheist

A simple and clear message--well done, Julia.

Letting Go of God is quite good. Ms. Sweeney gave religions and quasi-religious philosophies a more-than-fair shot before becoming an atheist, and her story will speak to those who have an inclination toward spiritual journeys, and New Age thinking. She ultimately rejected all such nonsense, but her willingness to sincerely explore those sorts of ideas will particularly resonate with those atheists who may have found the word "atheist" difficult to embrace.

I would also like to recommend her blog. She posts updates only once per month, generally on our around the first of the month, but I make a point of reading it.

juliasweeney.blogspot.com

Sun, 10 Jun 2012 04:10:17 UTC | #946688

Go to: Richard Dawkins & Daniel Dennett. Oxford, 9 May 2012

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by Functional Atheist

Very enjoyable video, but the goofs were a little distracting.

Thanks to earlier comments, for directing me to Laban Movement Analysis, and related notations as used by dancers, choreographers and others. I was nearly certain such a system existed, but did not know what it was called.

And I will also agree with previous comments regarding profound skepticism toward Dennett's confidence that religions are doomed to die, or to change radically, in response to the information technology and communications revolutions. To name but one example, the resurgence of Islam in recent decades should have banished such pipe-dreams to the dustbin of history.

We may not like it--I certainly do not--but I wager that several religions will still be powerful and malevolent forces for not mere decades to come, but for centuries to come.

Sun, 03 Jun 2012 06:55:38 UTC | #945279

Go to: Does Religious Liberty Equal Freedom to Discriminate?

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 56 by Functional Atheist

This might be counter to the prevailing views here, but my response to the rhetorical question in the headline "Does religious liberty equal freedom to discriminate?" is a qualified 'yes.'

The American tradition of religious liberty includes a deep deference to the internal practices of religious groups. If a denomination like Roman Catholicism discriminates against women, and on the basis of marital status, when deciding whom to allow to become a priest, I think that is okay--and so does American law. A religious exemption for communion wine was allowed during the days of prohibition. If a denomination wants to bar openly gay clergy, or wants to bar same-sex marriage ceremonies from their churches, that is also within their rights under the "free exercise" of religion clause.

So yes, religious liberty does include a LIMITED freedom to discriminate.

But it is not a blanket right to discriminate. Other comments have covered the situations where religious liberty should and/or must defer to secular custom and law.

Thu, 31 May 2012 21:57:31 UTC | #944854

Go to: Mencken week: Day 2

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 9 by Functional Atheist

Comment 6 by CEVA34 :

If every word in the Hitchens paragraph is true, it makes no difference to the validity (or otherwise) of the Mencken paragraph, does it? If we suddenly discovered Darwin was a serial killer, would we abandon the Theory of Evolution? If Hitler said two and two make four, would it not be true? What's the phrase? Ah, I remember - ad hominem.

I don't think you're being fair. Hitch's criticisms of Mencken do not amount to an ad hominem attack.

Ayn Rand, and Karl Marx, were atheists, but they also were profoundly wrong about a bunch of other stuff. Just because Mencken was an atheist does not mean he was not profoundly wrong about a bunch of other things.

Criticizing a writer based upon the writer's actual words and ideas is playing fair--and it is wise to bear in mind that just because someone got something like atheism correct is no reason to assume they got anything else correct.

Atheists are already falsely accused of effectively worshiping their favorite writers, and your attempt to equate fair criticism of a specific atheist with an ad hominem attack on that atheist merely reinforces the incorrect perception that atheists are over-eager to engage in hero-worship in lieu of more traditional forms of worship.

Tue, 22 May 2012 05:12:19 UTC | #942752

Go to: Crows know familiar human voices

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by Functional Atheist

The brainiest non-mammalians--birds, cuttlefish, octopi--strike me as offering good clues for what a brainy extraterrestrial might be like. Rather than big-eyed little humanoids (E.T.; Close Encounters) or large and athletic humanoids (Avatar; Predator), my bet is that a resemblance to the serene countenance of a cuttlefish, or the hyper-alert face of the pictured crow, is more likely. That's assuming these hypothetical aliens have a face at all, of course--while radial symmetry is a viable option, it suggests to me a grazer or a filter feeder, which wouldn't likely gain much of an adaptive advantage in developing a big brain.

But then elephants are grazers, so a diet of low nutritive value certainly can sustain intelligent creatures with rich social lives. And baleen whales are filter feeders, and they are intelligent and touchingly social creatures, too.

Sat, 12 May 2012 05:00:57 UTC | #941130

Go to: Human Races May Have Biological Meaning, But Races Mean Nothing About Humanity

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 47 by Functional Atheist

Humans tend to rely heavily on visual data and cues, and for most of our history we lived in small bands that were almost always relatively homogeneous in appearance. Given that, and that and our brains are predisposed to categorize what we observe (in-group versus out-group, good-to-eat versus non-edible, dangerous versus not dangerous), it should hardly be a surprise that many humans tend to over-emphasize relatively minor variations in average appearance, like skin color, eye color and hair color, that typically correspond to what we call 'race'. We almost can't help but notice race, it seems, and to then proceed to some unconscious categorizing.

So even if race is a largely meaningless social construct--which is a debatable point--the reasons we have made that construction run rather deep.

And of course race touches on a whole range of economic, political, and social issues, so even if its scientific value is weak or ambiguous, its importance to human societies is undeniable.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that race interests me, and many others, and I'd like to see this website offer more material on the topic, especially regarding the scientific perspective on racial variations, and what that may suggest about the origin of modern humans.

Fri, 04 May 2012 22:28:30 UTC | #939767

Go to: Darwinian Selection Continues to Influence Human Evolution

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by Functional Atheist

Comment 16 by Carl Sai Baba :

people born between 1760-1849
....
"It is a common misunderstanding that evolution took place a long time ago," I don't think the state of civilization between 1760 and 1849 is quite what people normally think of when they wonder if modern medicine has fitted evolution with a ball and chain. If they want to talk about technology and medicine, 1849 is a long time ago.

Yes. I've read that 1900 is the approximate cut-off point, when medicine became sufficiently advanced as to do, on average, more good than harm to the typical patient. In 1849, the quackish state of medical care was still killing many more people than it saved.

Wait until there are designer babies. Human evolution will eventually become supercharged by technology, rendering puny whatever natural evolution has occurred during recent centuries.

Wed, 02 May 2012 07:12:12 UTC | #938949

Go to: U.K.'s Royal Society Finds No 'Silver Bullet' for Population Issues

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by Functional Atheist

Oh, please. Doom-and-gloom predictions regarding human population went in and out of fashion from Malthus through the 1970's, but are people really still wringing their hands over this issue?

Birth rates, globally, have been plunging for decades. Other than a few African and Arab/Muslim majority nations outside of Africa, population growth has slowed remarkably, and in some cases has reversed. The decline in birth rates in Asian nations like China, India, and Bangladesh (one of the Muslim-majority bright spots) has far exceeded predictions.

As the late Hitch was fond of noting, the greatest anti-poverty measures yet devised are to educate women, and give them access to cheap and reliable contraception. Those are also the best solutions for the relative handful of places on the globe where birthrates and population growth remain at unsustainable levels.

Sun, 29 Apr 2012 19:55:51 UTC | #938204

Go to: Rare Protozoan from Sludge in Norwegian Lake Does Not Fit On Main Branches of Tree of Life

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 13 by Functional Atheist

I wish Richard Dawkins would make the first comment more frequently on these threads. I suppose this sounds like brown-nosing, but his pithy praise or condemnation is such a reliable indicator of quality that they should name this website for him. Oh yeah, they already did.

Sat, 28 Apr 2012 05:22:56 UTC | #937899

Go to: It’s Time for the US To Finally Sign the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 3 by Functional Atheist

Comment 1 by mordacious1 :

I don't see why we even need more "tests". If we don't already have enough nukes to destroy the entire planet, we certainly could make them in a short time with no need for testing. The only countries that need to test are ones that aren't sure of what they're doing.

The devil's advocate rationale for the US wanting to retain the right to underground testing is that most US warheads are aging. Testing is valuable in that it verifies both the on-going reliability of existing nuclear stockpiles as well as verifying the viability of any new designs that might be considered for the next generation of warheads.

Which is not to say that I disagree with Professor Krauss. My point is merely that those who oppose signing such a treaty do have somewhat rational arguments to support their position.

Wed, 25 Apr 2012 22:30:17 UTC | #937355

Go to: Survey finds no hint of dark matter near Solar System

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Functional Atheist

If there really are a fourth, fifth, or more physical dimensions, as suggested by String Theory, maybe the dark matter exists there, and is only detectable to us because of gravitational interactions with the matter in the familiar three physical dimensions.

Perhaps gravity's weakness in our familiar physical dimensions is linked to its relationship with dark matter in extra-dimensional space. Or maybe dark energy also exists in the extra-dimensional space, and is a kind of anti-gravity, attenuating gravity's power to such an extent that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

I'm no physicist, just a blue-sky bullshitter who would welcome someone explaining to me why my suppositions are baloney.

Wed, 25 Apr 2012 22:09:00 UTC | #937349

Go to: Jon Stewart Doesn’t Understand How Science Works Even a Little Bit

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 32 by Functional Atheist

As others have said, Stewart is on our side, and hand-wringing over a segment on his show from nearly two years ago strikes me as a form of absolutism. Oh my goodness, he got something wrong, because of his nice-guy instincts! Call out the atheist police!

Stewart is a smart guy, but mainly self-taught--he understands comedy and politics quite well, but is shakier on other topics, including science. How many quibbles do we have regarding his hundreds of interviews? A couple dozen, perhaps? Who would have a better percentage?

I'm frankly disappointed this was posted at all, especially so long after this was originally aired.

Wed, 18 Apr 2012 20:12:01 UTC | #935539

Go to: Are You a Believer? Take The Dawkins Test.

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 95 by Functional Atheist

I'm a 6.8 or so, I suppose. Mainly because of the deistic possibilities.

Most of those deistic scenarios are just hyper-advanced creatures from elsewhere in the multiverse, which many would say are not "gods" at all. My thinking is if such beings were advanced enough to create our universe, including setting the physical constants, then they are close enough to deistic gods to fall under that effective umbrella. That they had evolved from distant ancestors which were very simple self-replicators, and so are not 'super-natural', would not disqualify them from being, effectively, deities (IMHO).

And I'm sure someone has mentioned this, but just in case: I think Richard avoids calling himself a 7 because he's a scientist. The level of certitude embodied in being a 7 is just too emphatic for it to be at all comfortable for a reasonably humble person who understands scientific history, practice, and norms.

Fri, 13 Apr 2012 18:49:05 UTC | #934471

Go to: Biologist and Atheist Richard Dawkins on Charles Darwin

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 12 by Functional Atheist

Comment 8 by Ranting Socrates :

I think Chomsky could probably surpass Dawkins in the academic popularity contest . . . whether two decades ago, or today. Just saying.

Chomsky is an interesting and worthy nominee in a hypothetical academic popularity contest, but I don't think his victory is assured. Linguistics doesn't have the popular appeal of disciplines like history, economics, physics, or biology. Chomsky is at least as well known for his political opinions as for his academic work, and there also, I doubt he'd outright win such a popularity contest since his views are so far to the Left--but he might.

A few names I'd toss into the ring, besides Richard and Chomsky: Paul Krugman, Niall Ferguson, Henry Louis Gates, E.O. Wilson, Jane Goodall, Steven Pinker, Brian Greene, Cornel West, Jared Diamond, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Norton Smith, Lawrence Krauss. If Carl Sagan was still alive, I'd put my money on him.

Wed, 11 Apr 2012 19:21:06 UTC | #933972

Go to: Interview: Richard Dawkins Celebrates Reason, Ridicules Faith

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 42 by Functional Atheist

The interviewer was overly preoccupied with the importance of respect. I suppose for her it was a matter of valuing courtesy and niceness above clarity and honesty--more of an emotional than intellectual response.

I do have one point that I hope makes it to Richard himself: the hostility between Protestants and Catholics has abated to a remarkable degree in the US. Specifically, I think that conservative and devout Protestants have found that they actually share much in common with conservative and devout Catholics and Jews. A cultural shift has occurred, whereby the differences in doctrine among Catholics, Protestants and Jews is no longer all that important to most of them in terms of the public sphere. What matters is their shared conservative and literalist beliefs, and their regular attendance at worship, rather than the precise specifics of their various doctrines.

In other words, I think a typical conservative Catholic feels much more common cause in terms of politics with a conservative Protestant than he would with a liberal Catholic.

Denomination matters much less than it used to, and ideology matters more than it used to. In terms of politics and culture, what's important is being conservative and devout--those Protestants who still think of Catholics in terms of the anti-Christ are quite rare, and even many of those who believe that in terms of theology are willing to set it aside in terms of voting behavior. Santorum's success in the South is good evidence of this--that region has largely set aside its old anti-Catholic bias. Santorum's status as a devout and conservative Catholic is good enough for most devout and conservative Protestants in the heart of the Bible belt.

Thu, 29 Mar 2012 01:13:38 UTC | #931082

Go to: Atheists in church: the course of true love may now run smooth

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 13 by Functional Atheist

While the practice is fading, it is worth mentioning that the family of the bride traditionally pays a disproportionate share, up to 100%, of the cost of the wedding. That practice tends to increase the importance of the opinion of the bridegroom's mother-in-law-to-be.

Practicality occasionally trumps principle. If the old bag is picking up most of the bill, and if the brouhaha of a traditional wedding pleases the bride, an atheist groom might be showing good sense to marry in a church or chapel.

A wedding is just one day, while a marriage often lasts for decades. Far more important to have a happy marriage, where secular values are given proper respect, than to fight an epic battle over the petty particulars of the wedding day.

Sat, 24 Mar 2012 17:27:17 UTC | #930193

Go to: The spectre of militant secularism

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 34 by Functional Atheist

Red Dog: just to be clear, I agree that an attempt to micromanage what parents can teach their children is a terrible idea. It is not "just" because of the legal, political, cultural, practical and rhetorical problems that I explicitly cited, but it would also be a hugely dangerous example of Big-Brother-style governmental overreach, and would also be ethically wrong.

I suppose my post could be interpreted as implying "OH! How I wish we atheists had such power, but alas...", but that's an unkind--and paranoid--interpretation that is absolutely false.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 01:36:50 UTC | #928801

Go to: Last week's Gary Trudeau series

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 26 by Functional Atheist

Abortion, contraception, gays--the common denominator that drives the conservative Christians mad is a contravention of god's will that sex be for procreative purposes. Non-baby-making sex gives Jesus a sad face.

Another way of looking at it is the source of ultimate authority and power--someone, particularly a woman, who asserts personal autonomy and control of her own body by having an abortion, or by using contraception, is usurping power from god, or from god's approved proxies (like the Vatican, or her husband). Gay sex is another way of demonstrating personal autonomy which usurps god's perceived legitimate authority.

Mon, 19 Mar 2012 21:31:31 UTC | #928744

Go to: The spectre of militant secularism

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by Functional Atheist

Comment 6 by irate_atheist :

Comment 5 by aquilacane -

I don't. Richard has called religious indoctrination child abuse. How can you believe in the freedom of child abuse?

A valid point and well made.

Just as a practical matter, how would it be possible to ban parents from teaching their children about religion? Not only does religion often intertwine with "culture" and "heritage", but such a ban would be very difficult to enforce and would create a firestorm of controversy.

Can you imagine the tearful testimony of a Jewish mother, wailing that under such a law she would face criminal sanctions if she celebrated the Sabbath with her children? Rhetoric about such a law finishing the job that the Nazis started is too easy to imagine.

Childhood religious indoctrination is a troubling practice, but for a host of legal, political and cultural reasons, any attempt to ban it is sure to fail, at least in the US.

Mon, 19 Mar 2012 15:09:09 UTC | #928632

Go to: Destroy all churches in the Arabian Peninsula – Saudi Grand Mufti

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 13 by Functional Atheist

Comment 11 by danconquer :

That addendum from the discredited, far-right associated, hypocrites of Jihad Watch was rather unnecessary wasn't it?

I am disgusted (though not surprised) at yet another senior expression of the kind of insane totalitarian intolerance that we have all come to expect from the Saudi madhouse.

But it's patently obvious that Jihad Watch - and many of it's supporters - are simply disgusted that they and others are largely constrained by public opprobrium at not being able to go around promoting such policies themselves.

One reason the west is better than Saudi Arabia is precisely because such calls for historical and cultural vandalism are socially unacceptable here. That's a good thing, and we should be clear about that.

I agree: the West is better.

But that statement makes cultural relativists cry holy hell, and would prompt many to fling accusations of racism and bias and imperialism.

Jihadi Watch is indeed a problematic organization, but they occasionally, as in this instance, make a valid point: it is disgusting that the Western media manages nary a peep of outrage at the "Grand" Mufti's call for a religious cleansing of the Arabian peninsula, which ought to be condemned with the same vigor as if the "Grand" Mufti had called for an ethnic or racial cleansing of any piece of geography.

Sun, 18 Mar 2012 08:37:20 UTC | #928242

Go to: Heaven Can Wait - Was I wrong about the afterlife? No.

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 41 by Functional Atheist

Kudos to Mr. Levine--he captured Hitch's voice better than I expected.

And condolences to those on this thread lamenting the loss of their companion animals. With all due respect, it does strike me as a little peculiar for humans to mourn a pet more deeply than they would their nearest and dearest (human) family and friends. While I suppose each individual case is unique, is such a reaction more about estrangement from family and friends, the constancy of a pet's loyalty and love, or just having been spared (up until now) from the death of, say, one's Mother or spouse or best (human) friend?

I had a dog growing up, and we were close. He was euthanized while I was away at college and my reaction was unremarkable. He was old for a dog, and had become incontinent, so I accepted the situation calmly. Does that make me weird and heartless?

I'm not trolling, I'm just genuinely curious to hear from those whose greatest loss, thus far at least, has been the death of a pet. Just as a point of reference, my personal deepest loss (thus far) was the death of my maternal grandfather.

Fri, 16 Mar 2012 22:15:23 UTC | #927942

Go to: Marriage - two viewpoints

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 92 by Functional Atheist

Comment 8 by AtheistEgbert :

Marriage used to be a vow of loyalty between two people. Now it's been demoted to a contract, and as we know, all contracts require the interference and meddling of a third party, simply because it must! God is of course the most meddlesome of all, followed shortly after by the church and then the state.

I don't think I will ever get married in a legal sense, as I don't need a third party to tell me to be loyal.

Fine. Don't get married. But your personal choice to never marry is no reason to deny gays and lesbians the right to make their own choice about whether or not to marry the adult of their choice.

There is much more to civil marriage than loyalty. You are ignoring the benefits that societies usually grant to married couples. Tax law (including inheritance), hospital visitation privileges, the right to make decisions for a medically incapacitated partner, presumptions of joint custodial rights for children of married couples, the psychological value of having one's primary relationship officially acknowledged by government and society--all of these benefits should not be arbitrarily refused to people who are primarily same-sex attracted.

So long as societies grant these sorts of rights and privileges to married couples, it is simple justice to extend marriage equality to gays and lesbians. The existing limitations on opposite sex marriages should be equally applied to same sex couples--same sex child marriages would be no more legal than opposite sex child marriages.

And the right of individual adults like you to choose to not marry at all would be unaffected.

Fri, 16 Mar 2012 20:03:52 UTC | #927918

Go to: Sayonara Sweet Tooth - Many carnivorous mammals have lost their sweet taste receptors.

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 13 by Functional Atheist

Strange that the article doesn't associate the absence of sweet receptors with being a 'true carnivore,' or an obligate carnivore.

All feliforms and cetaceans are obligate carnivores. Sweetness-detection is irrelevant to true carnivores--being able to differentiate ripe fruit from unripe fruit, or safe plants from toxic plants, offers them no advantage as they don't eat plants.

Dogs, bears, pigs and humans are, on the other hand, omnivorous. Since fruit is an important dietary component for most omnivores, the ability to detect sweetness serves as a proxy for detecting ripeness. Ripe, sweet fruit tends to be at peak nutritional and caloric value, and sweetness also serves as an indicator that a food is probably safe to eat--toxic alkaloids and poisons tend to taste bitter, overpowering any sugary sweetness that may be present.

Fri, 16 Mar 2012 19:13:54 UTC | #927905

Go to: Several Newspapers Pull Doonesbury Strip About Texas' Transvaginal Ultrasound Law

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 36 by Functional Atheist

Comment 2 by BowDownToGizmo :

Is that the entirety of the cartoon pictured here?

No. The example provided is a single panel from one of the daily strips that will be covering this topic.

Doonesbury has always been a comic STRIP--each day's comic is composed of multiple panels, typically 3 or 4, read left to right with the 'gag' usually in the final panel. Comic strips are contrasted with single-panel comics, such as The Far Side.

Other famous comic 'strips' include Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, and Bloom County (to name my favorites), while the 'panel' or 'single-panel' format is typical for comics in the New Yorker, or in Playboy. Gahan Wilson is often seen in those magazines, and joins Gary Larson as my favorite artists who utilize the single-panel format.

Mon, 12 Mar 2012 17:45:23 UTC | #926458

Go to: What do you say to your faith-based neighbors?

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 43 by Functional Atheist

Comment 28 by DocWebster :

"I haven't even got to our sun forming yet, we've got billions of years to go before we even start talking about the formation of the Milky Way.

The oldest known object in the Milky Way is 13.2 billion years old, and the age of the M4 globular cluster is 12.7 billion years old, +/- 700 million years old. The galactic halo appears to be pretty darn old on average, dating to early in the period when galaxies were first forming, so I'd suggest altering your timeline a little bit.

The galactic thin disc, our neighborhood, appears to be 5 billion years younger than the halo--I think perhaps that is what you were thinking of. Just trying to help the accuracy of your narrative.

Sat, 10 Mar 2012 23:54:35 UTC | #926004

Go to: Atheists likely to outnumber Christians in England in 20 years

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 40 by Functional Atheist

I wonder about the trend regarding the Muslim population. In most of Europe, significantly higher birthrates among that population, combined with immigration patterns wherein there are significantly more Muslims immigrating into Europe than emigrating out, combine to produce an increasing Islamification of European demographics. I presume those trends also apply to Britain, but I wonder if that is ameliorated by second or third generation Muslims leaving their faith at rates similar to those born into ostensibly Christian families?

I think it is also vital to take into account a squishy and large group of people who consider themselves 'spiritual' but do not primarily identify as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu. It doesn't seem at all accurate to count astrology-believers and New Age hippies as 'atheists' even if they disavow all of the specific major religions.

Intensity of belief and practice is also worthy of consideration. A 'cultural' Christian who has very vague notions about Jesus and nominally celebrates Xmas and Easter is quite a different animal from a devoutly faithful Evangelical Protestant or Catholic, and similar distinctions can also be seen in Jewish, Muslim and Hindu communities. A fellow named Mohammed who lives a thoroughly secular life is quite a different citizen from a fellow named Mohammed who prays five times a day, every day.

Sat, 10 Mar 2012 23:06:36 UTC | #925992

Go to: What do you say to your faith-based neighbors?

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by Functional Atheist

Comment 13 by Ignorant Amos :

Comment 2 by mjr

You can't reason a man out of a position he didn't reason himself into*.

The quote is actually...."It is impossible to reason someone out of something that he did not reason himself into in the first place."...and it's a load of pish.

A terrible quote from Jonathan Swift the Protestant minister and Master of Divinity? Great!...Tell me this, how many people do you know that reasoned themselves into religion?

BTW,

Swift had early set his sights on the Church, and in 1694 took his orders and was ordained Anglican priest, obtaining the small prebend of Kilroot in Northern Ireland where he remained for about a year. Which is about a mile from where I'm sitting and which the locals are particularly proud of, mind you, Andrew Jackson's homestead can be found in the same area and he was a bad ass too.

And should we sneer at Isaac Newton because of his unfortunate fascination with alchemy? Swift was imperfect, as we all are, but your condemnation goes too far. A Modest Proposal stands up centuries later as a brilliantly dark and pithy--and funny and humanistic--document. Context matters, and so does longevity, and given the context of his times and the impressive durability of his finest writing, Swift fares far better than most.

Fri, 09 Mar 2012 21:01:12 UTC | #925712

Go to: What do you say to your faith-based neighbors?

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by Functional Atheist

I prefer affirmative phrasing, saying things like "my views are based on evidence and reason," or "I find scientific approaches and methods more convincing," or "I believe there are natural explanations for the universe and everything in it."

Your "I am not a person of faith" immediately puts you on the defensive, in that you are defining yourself by what you are not, using the assumptions and language of your opponents as the starting point. It is similar to the problem with the term "atheist"--as Julia Sweeney put it in her monologue about losing her faith, she prefers to think of herself as a "naturalist". Those who embrace faith are, in Ms. Sweeney's phrasing, "anaturalists" in that they reject natural explanations for what we observe in favor of supernatural explanations.

If the conversation starts with the assumption that you are the one with the "natural" point of view, in contrast to the faithful's supernatural point of view, I find it puts the faithful in the position of having to defend their assumptions rather than you having to defend your assumptions.

Fri, 09 Mar 2012 18:58:07 UTC | #925677

Go to: Publication of the gorilla genome opens window onto human evolution

Functional Atheist's Avatar Jump to comment 2 by Functional Atheist

From the article: "15 per cent of the human genome is closer to the gorilla genome than it is to chimpanzee, and 15 per cent of the chimpanzee genome is closer to the gorilla than human."

The quote above contributes to my suspicion regarding assertions that the human and chimpanzee genomes are 98% (or even 99%) identical. I know we're near relatives to chimpanzees, but either I'm misunderstanding those estimates or those estimates are plainly wrong and should no longer be bandied about. I know Ricky Gervais is no scientist, but he recently tossed estimates like that in his show with Karl Pilkington, "An Idiot Abroad," so I'm not the only layman who needs some clarification: what is the latest and best percentage estimates here? And what's the difference between, say, 98% identical and 98% "similar"?

If there is wiggle room there, where genes that code for the same protein in both genomes, but aren't quite letter-for-letter identical, how does that impact the estimates?

Gut instinct is not scientific, but 95% IDENTICAL sounds much more credible to me than 99%. Variation between and among individual humans must amount to something measurable, so how can a species we diverged from millions of years ago be so close?

Thanks. Apologies if I sound stupid--I'm a mere layman seeking clarification.

Thu, 08 Mar 2012 16:52:42 UTC | #925411