2010: FTSOS in review, July to September

This is the third installment of the 2010 review of FTSOS. See the first two here and here.

Some of the smaller posts I’ve made that I think deserve a little more attention are the ones where I emphasize that biology is all about shape. The article I wrote about the fight against HIV is one of those posts. Research earlier this year found at least one location on HIV molecules that remains a consistent shape between individual viruses. This is important because HIV’s ability to be differently shaped in different parts of a single body makes it difficult to combat.

I also wrote about the difference between atheists, new atheists, and anti-theists. One of the public relation problems for atheism is that it is viewed as a dirty word. People assume it means absolute certainty, and that is seen as arrogant. It’s ironic because belief in God usually comes with certainty and that isn’t seen as being so arrogant, but I digress. Atheism is not certainty. Furthermore, where it is involved in new atheism and anti-theism, atheism acts as a descriptive base; new atheism and anti-theism are normative positions.

One of my all-time favorite posts is the one about photolyase and cancer. Photolyase is a protein that captures light and uses two of its constituents (a single proton and single electron) to force contorted nucleotides back into place. It is not present in humans, but is common in plants and other animals, helping to keep their genes functioning properly. This may be one reason we’re more susceptible to cancer than many of our fellow organisms.

This was a skimpy month for FTSOS. I was away on a couple vacations for the bulk of the month, so the majority of the posts were either from my “Thought of the day” series or they were pictures/YouTube videos. But for what was there, I couldn’t resist pointing out and expanding on a fantastic quote from the judge who said Prop 8 in California is unconstitutional. In his quote he said a ban on gays getting married fails to advance any rational cause. I compared that sentiment to the idea that the majority cannot be allowed to discriminate simply because it is the majority.

I also made a post about a website devoted to philosophical thought experiments. The thought experiment I chose to highlight was Judith Jarvis Thompson’s Trolley Problem. My big motivator was a recent discussion with another blogger who laughably claimed that the trolley experiment was merely a logistical exercise, not an exercise about morality. To date he is still the only person in the world to believe that.

I also went through a few theistic arguments that are obviously failures. The most notable in my mind is the argument that says everything has a cause, therefore the Universe had a cause. There are two major problems with this. First, then why not just say a sort of ‘exo-nature’ caused the Universe? There is no need for consciousness – in fact, that only makes the theistic argument less probable. Second, the whole basis for this argument rests in the idea that forces result in reactions. For instance, if I push a chair, that chair moves; I applied a force. This is basic physics. But the whole shebang of forces and equal and opposite reactions? We’re talking about the science of what we know that happens within the Universe. And all we know necessarily breaks down prior to the Big Bang. The First Cause argument cannot be used because it rests about an unwarranted extension of science. Religion abusing science? Crazy, I know.

The beginning of September was just as skimpy as the end of August because I was still on vacation. But while I never gave a huge post on the subject, the defining moment of the month (and year and decade and…) for me was my hike of Kilimanjaro. I have started writing about it at this point – just not for FTSOS. But in lieu of that you can read the account of the journey from my fellow group member and current Facebook buddy Jim Hodgson.

I also gave a very lengthy post on why prostitution ought to be legal. No one seemed to care, but I put a lot of effort into, so I thought I would mention it here. Basically, we make the practice illegal because of our own discomfort with sex as a society. We also draw false correlations between it and other illegal activities: of course one illegal thing will bring with it other illegal things if it’s something people want. Finally, for the safety and health of all involved, it would be better to legalize and regulate prostitution than keep the old system we have now.

One of the most popular posts on FTSOS that people found via search engines was the one where I lamented low science and math scores in the United States. A lack of funding relative to other areas, hostility towards science, and a general anti-intellectual trend in the U.S. all contribute to the decline of America on the world stage in education.

Another lament was my post about the anti-vax crowd causing deaths. The fact is, people who advocate against vaccines or for made-up alternatives to vaccines are making the world a more dangerous place, making people sick and even causing deaths. Get vaccinated – and, if you have them, especially get your children vaccinated.

Once again I really want to highlight a fourth post here. In this case, it is the one I made about the Problem of Evil. This has forever been an issue that no Christian (or other relevant believer) has been able to resolve. If God is good and evil exists, then we need to answer why. Appealing to free will fails because while God is necessarily good, free will does not need to necessarily exist. In other words, God is required to be good; he is not required to create free will.

Expect October to December tomorrow.

Op-ed: Dalai Lama

The Dalai-Lama had an op-ed in the New York Times a couple of days ago. His piece was titled “Many Faiths, One Truth” and in it he laments the lack of tolerance he sees among not only the religions of the world but also among those darned atheists.

Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

Isn’t that just so cute. He notes that in Europe there is a violation of libertarians principles towards Muslim clothing and architecture. He then notes there is a violation of basic human rights in the violence against Muslim immigrants. Next he throws in atheists who criticize religion. Then he notes the warring that goes on in the Middle East.

Okay, let’s review.

  • Not letting people wear the religious garb of their choosing is bad.
  • Violence against members of a particular religion is bad.
  • Criticizing religion is bad.
  • Religious war is bad.

It’s like one of those tests where the question is “Can you choose which one doesn’t fit?”

To be fair, the Dalai Lama sticks to atheists who “issue blanket condemnations”, not merely those who criticize religion. Fair enough, right? Well, it would be if there was a whole group of atheists out there actually doing any such thing. I’m hard-pressed to think of a one and I consider myself well-steeped in atheist literature and happenings. Hell, even Richard Dawkins has repeatedly gone out of his way to point out that religion can be a source for good. Of course, that would be inconvenient for the Dalai Lama to acknowledge.

But notice the Dalai Lama’s stereotypes. There is no such thing as a “radical atheist” (save for Douglas Adams who used the term to be sure no one would confuse him with being an agnostic; of course, this was clever semantics and connotations on his part). “Radical atheism” implies that atheism comes with some sort of philosophy or ethical system. It doesn’t. It can’t. It’s a factual position. No morals, no ethics, no shoulds or oughts, no ideology, no nuthin’ follows from atheism. The same goes for deism, agnosticism, and the belief that rocks are usually really hard.

The Dalai Lama really means anti-theists. That’s an entirely different set of individuals. I include myself within that group, but I separately consider myself an atheist. And just as the same goes for millions, it goes the other way for millions of others. That is, it does not follow that because one is an atheist that one is also an anti-theist. There’s no way to know an atheist’s position on whether religion is generally good or bad or whatever without actually asking the atheist.

But that would have been too difficult for the Dalai Lama, I guess.