Saturday, May 10, 2014

You can't always get what you want

You can't always get what you want.
But if you lie sometime, you just might find
Many still believe. Aaaaahhwaw...
(and buy millions of copies of your "nonfiction" book).
In defending the proposition that death is not finalEben Alexander cited Demon Haunted World to claim that "Carl Sagan admitted that [the evidence for] past life memories in overwhelming." Steven Novella called him out on this during the debate and quickly posted the relevant quote afterwards - clearly showing that Sagan thought these claims were probably not valid and that there was only "dubious" evidence for them at the time he wrote the book (it was published almost 20 years ago now). Yet in his own post-debate reflections Alexander not only fails to correct his mischaracterization of Sagan's view on this issue (or mention the audience vote showing he lost), but he then proceeds to cherry pick another Sagan quote - on the suppression of uncomfortable ideas.

But unlike Velikovsky's worlds in collision, Alexander's ideas are not at all uncomfortable to many who desperately want to believe them. And he provides no evidence to support them - only anecdotes and an argument from ignorance (the hard problem of consciousness). I think we know how Sagan would have dealt with Alexander's "overwhelming evidence"...

And since we're quoting Sagan, where are those eloquent words on the actual proposition at hand?
If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote.... Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy...
I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking...
The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides...
 - Carl Sagan 

Our lives here are not dress rehearsals. This is the act. This is the one performance that we get.
 - Sean Carroll 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong

Some excellent advice for us all to remember...

"Trusting too much in the feeling of being on the correct side of anything can be very dangerous...[T]o me, if you really want to rediscover wonder you need to step outside of that tiny terrified space of right-ness and look around at each other, and look out at the vastness and complexity and mystery of the universe, and be able to say 'Wow. I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong.'"

Reminds me of one of my favorite Asimov essays and Feynman's comments in the BBC interview.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Legacy of Fred Phelps

Recovering From Religion released a statement on behalf of Nathan Phelps (who is on their board of directors) about the death of his father, Fred Phelps - the infamous founder of the Westboro Baptist Church. Nate also spoke to Seth Andrews recently after he learned that his father was in hospice:

And here's a interview Nate did with a Calgary radio show after his father's death...

Nate inspired a friend and I to action with his speech at the Reason Rally in 2012, and we started a local chapter of Recovering From Religion in the Charlotte metro area as a result. Nate has had a positive impact on so many others in the secular and LGBT community. So when I think about the legacy of Fred Phelps, I will always think of Nate as the most enduring part of that legacy.