Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ryan Bell: "I don't think that God exists"

Ryan's "Year Without God" is almost over, and he has started talking about where he has ended up - much to the dismay of some Christians. Ryan will be also be speaking at ReasonCon 2015 in Hickory (in April). Get tickets now...

"I think before I wanted a closer relationship to God and today I just want a closer relationship with reality."
 - Ryan Bell

Ryan recently spoke to NPR about his experience.



He is also tweeting and blogging his thoughts...





http://recoveringfromreligion.org

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Real Reason for the Season?

Happy winter solstice! Tomorrow (Sunday) is the shortest day of the year. But what causes the seasons?

Via the Bad Astronomer
And how do we know the Earth orbits the Sun?

Just something to think about...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What is humanism?

Most people either smile or laugh at me when I say to watch Star Trek, so here's the abridged version:




Or just listen to Gene Roddenberry accept the 1991 Humanist Arts Award from AHA.

That's humanism! OK? :)

I watched as many of the Star Trek episodes in this video as I could with my children when they were young, and we talked about the issues and themes that were raised (another one of my favorite episodes that is not in this compilation is TNG's The Chase). And I think my children turned out pretty good. They also liked the Wizard of Oz and the Lion King. :)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Doubt: A Prerequisite to Finding Out

"My argument is not with people who search for God. My argument is with people who feel that our understanding of God is completed." - Ann Druyan


Some believe they know, with certainty,
God's truth about everything under the Sun. 
 
Most of us have doubts and uncertainties
That go far beyond whether or not He had a Son.
 
We learn and have new experiences,
Not because we already know everything.
 
But because we have humility and doubt,
And then we try to actually find out.
 


Thursday, December 4, 2014

E.O Wilson: 'The Meaning of Human Existence'

I just finished reading The Meaning of Human Existence by the world's leading expert on ants. It's a quick read (only 208 pages) with, I think, an important philosophical message best summed up by this quote from the book:
"Exalted we are, risen to be the mind of the biosphere without a doubt, our spirits uniquely capable of awe and ever more breathtaking leaps of imagination. But we are still part of Earth's fauna and flora, bound to it by emotion, physiology, and, not least, deep history...There is no predestination, no unfathomed mystery of life. Demons and gods do not vie for our allegiance. Instead, we are self-made, independent, alone, and fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world. What counts for long-term survival is intelligent self-understanding, based upon a greater independence of thought than that tolerated today even in most advanced democratic societies."
Jerry Coyne (also a biologist) isn't much interested in reading it and calls it "scientism." In Wilson's defense, he does spend a chapter on "The Meaning of Meaning" explaining his non-standard usage. And unlike in the video Jerry included in his post, Wilson doesn't really disparage philosophy in the book (religion does take a beating however). He even includes a chapter on "The All-Importance of the Humanities" (or "that which makes us human" as he describes it) and explains why he thinks the humanities (and not our science or technology) is what would interest an ET the most.

Wilson's "new enlightenment" philosophy finds no "meaning" to human existence in the sense of intention or design. But he does find "meaning" in our deep history and the contingency of life, and in the knowledge that we are part of, and dependent on, our biosphere. And he finds "purpose" in our being good stewards of our own future and of the biosphere on which we depend.

I didn't get hung up on the meaning of the word "meaning," but like both Jerry and E. O. I'm only an amateur philosopher. :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Big Questions: How Do We Really Know Stuff?


A couple weeks ago, as my inquisitive daughter and I were driving along a North Carolina highway, we began talking about how amazing it was for humans to land a laboratory the size of a washing machine on a comet only 2.5 miles wide, orbiting the sun at a brisk 84,000 mph and 300 million miles from Earth. The discussion turned to the knowledge the engineers and scientists must collectively have known in order to pull off such a tremendous feat. How did they gain the necessary knowledge? The discussion soon drifted to the Big Bang Theory (not the sitcom) and an admission by my daughter that she didn’t enjoy thinking about cosmology because she couldn't comprehend the concept of infinity. She told me she knew the universe was expanding at the speed of light, and has been for over 14 billion years, but didn’t know what space it was expanding into! “There had to be something beyond the edge of the expanding universe,” she said. That’s when I switched to my fatherly, teaching voice and said, “It’s perfectly fine to not know the answer and simply say, I don’t know.”

Artist Display of Philae Lander

All of us ponder the big questions at some point in our lives. What existed before the universe? How did we get here? Are there multiple universes? What is beyond our own expanding universe? In order to answer these and other big questions about our existence we must develop a mechanism to confidently gain accurate, objective knowledge. Generally, there are two ways that we, as individuals, go about our quest to seek knowledge that satisfies our deepest questions. The first is to adopt an already existing narrow ideology, which claims to know all the answers to the big questions. The second is to spend the bulk of our lives painstakingly learning past knowledge and demanding empirical and rationally obtained evidence of those facts before personally accepting them as likely truth or knowledge. Only then can one continue discovering new facts through rigorous, disciplined, proven methods which build upon past knowledge.

"I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible."
- Matt Dillahunty

Unfortunately, most people obtain at least some of their knowledge from religion. Religion moves sneakily between reality when convenient and magic when it must. It makes absolute claims based upon human fantasies of eternal life, an omnipotent, protective father figure, and a universe which is centered on the human species. It will use established science when it’s in line with their claims, condemn science as evil when it’s not, and manufacture false truths as necessary to support its teachings. It plays to human desire and fear, discourages questioning and curiosity, and demands absolute adherence of its followers. It is void of any genuine self-correcting measures. In the end, all religions rely on faith, a belief without evidence, to get buy-in to their product. It is no wonder faith as a virtue is pushed so aggressively by clergy and used as a source of pride in nearly every religion. Unproven knowledge is simple to obtain, but how do we discover what is real in our cosmos?

“Faith is the excuse people give for believing something when they don't have evidence.” - Matt Dillahunty

Science is the best mechanism we have for obtaining objective facts. It is not easy, fast, convenient, or even correct all the time, but it has allowed humans to send man to the moon, roving laboratories to Mars, develop effective vaccines, build the Boeing 777, find and exploit the invisible electromagnetic spectrum, discover ultrasound and radar, invent the device you are reading this from, and the list goes on and on! This is all possible because of the scientific method, which encourages opposing ideas, honest peer review, but most importantly demands a preponderance of evidence based upon repeatable and predictable outcomes. When a scientist makes a claim of truth or knowledge, he/she will submit it to scientists all over the world and challenge them to discredit the findings and attempt to duplicate and verify the supporting evidence. The proud scientist who finds errors in another’s claims not only moves mankind closer to actual knowledge, but also deserves a promotion!

Danger! Red Flag! ^^


Unlike religion, science never dismisses the possibility that it could be wrong or partially wrong about its claims. Albert Einstein famously modified Sir Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity by finding a more precise definition and calculation thus improving the theory. A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. If enough evidence accumulates to support a hypothesis, it moves to the next step—known as a theory—in the scientific method and becomes accepted as a valid explanation of a phenomenon. Scientific theories can become more precise or even change based upon new reliable evidence. Religious apologists often parrot their minders by declaring scientific claims such as evolution is “just a theory,” but their brand of God is absolute fact based on blind faith.


Perhaps the biggest question of all for most people at some point in their lives is whether there is a creator or god who controls the cosmos. I submit the only honest answer to that question is an emphatic “We don’t know!” No religion has so far produced testable, empirical, and predictable evidence to rigorous scientific standards that would fit into any scientific model or theory that relies on actual knowledge. If a religion produced such evidence, successfully passed the scientific review process, and contributed to science in a meaningful way, it would cease to be a faith and would be called science! Even then, it would likely only be a possibility depending on the quality and quantity of the evidence. Personally, I think it is valid to establish the concept of a creator as a remote possibility, but with no reliable evidence suggesting one thus far (the bible is as reliable for proving God’s existence as a Harry Potter novel is as evidence for wizards), it would be dishonest to take seriously and move to the scientific theory category. For anybody to claim one of man’s religions or scriptures as fact without the scientific process validating its claims is, to me, not only harmful to humans in the short term, but clearly dangerous to scientific efforts required to solve mankind's most pressing problems.








Saturday, November 29, 2014

My White Thanksgiving (Not in Ferguson)

From billysticks, dogs, and fire hoses,
To rubber bullets, tear gas, and tanks,
The march for racial justice continues,
As we sit down to a meal and give thanks.
 
On Black Friday, we rush to WalMart,
To buy something - perhaps a new TV.
On Cyber Monday, we visit Amazon.
And then we update our CV.
 
We have intelligent conservations,
About autopsies, eyewitnesses, and such,
But Travon, Amadou, Michael, and Tamir,
They just don't come up that much.
 
Riots do get our attention,
And traffic jams irk us to no end.
But another dead black guy?
Let's wait for the evidence to come in...

Justice
 

Twitter: On the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

Emma Pierson did an interesting analysis (FAQ) of Twitter reactions to the Ferguson grand jury announcement and found "that there was a 'red group' and a 'blue group' who rarely talked to each other, thought very different things, came from very different backgrounds, and often were uncivil even when they did talk."

To help illustrate what both "sides" are talking about, I removed the word "Ferguson" from Pierson's list of most common retweets and generated a tag cloud for each group.


The "Red Group"
 
The "Blue Group"

Pierson notes: "The red group talks about mob justice and race baiting; the blue group talks about breaking the system. The red group blames Obama for exacerbating tensions and forcing the Missouri governor into declaring a state of emergency; the blue group says the state of emergency must not be used to violate human rights."

Seems consistent with recent polling data that shows a continued racial divide in our views of justice. Even Rand Paul gets it. But unfortunately this larger context is too often missing from our discussion. On Facebook my white friends are the ones talking about it, and they are talking about the autopsies, the conflicting eyewitness testimonies, the robbery, the riots, the new police weaponry, and everything else except the elephant that is still in the room.

After the Grand Jury decision was announced, Cory Booker posted a link to a piece he wrote for the Stanford Daily shortly after the Rodney King verdict - and this MLK quote:



And here's some whitesplaining from Sally Kohn - for the red, white, and blue groups:
"Black communities are ultimately protesting systems of injustice and inequality that structurally help white people while systematically harming black people. Just because you’re white and therefore generally benefit from those systems doesn’t mean you inherently support those systems — or need to defend them. Benefiting from white privilege is automatic. Defending white privilege is a choice.' 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Incredible Hulk (and other lessons from Ferguson)

"I felt like I was a five-year old holding onto Hulk Hogan..it looks like a demon...in a cloud of dust... grunting." - Darren Wilson's grand jury testimony 
Are we really that oblivious? Lacking in empathy? Or was justice served in this case? Opinions abound, but who knows the true facts? Will Wheaton?





Call me a dreamer, but in the midst of all the bad news I think nonviolence is working. And I am encouraged by the new meme for the ongoing movement for racial justice in this country: "Hands Up, Don't Shoot." That phrase, and police tanks and tear gas, are likely how we will remember Ferguson. But we should also never forget the "incredible hulk" - or that kids in Ferguson need superheroes too.

"I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward." - Albert Camus














Monday, November 24, 2014

Could you get to a grocery store with a "Biblical world view"?

According to Focus on the Family, "worldview is the latest buzzword in Christian circles." And a "Biblical worldview" means that you "believe the Bible is entirely true [and] allow it to be the foundation of everything you say and do" (emphasis added). So it's not that surprising (if it really is true) that "only 4 percent of Americans had a 'biblical' worldview." Otherwise, how would they get to the grocery store? Moreover, would grocery stores even exist?

If you really believe that you have a "Biblical worldview" then please explain in the comments (using chapter and verse) how grocery stores exists, how you find them, and how you get there. I'll wait for you to finish...

For everyone else, here are a few questions to consider as you reflect on your own world view.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Moral Abomination of Football

Last updated: January 19, 2016.

While I am in general agreement with Christopher Chabris's assessment of Malcolm Gladwell, I think Gladwell is absolutely right about one thing - football is a moral abomination. Not only does it glorify pain, violence, hostility, destruction, and a "take no hostages," "win at any cost" mentality, but it also conveys to impressionable young people that authority and tradition are supremely important virtues. And to make matters even worse, it is all too often entangled with pious, "holier than thou" religious views that reinforce some of those same morally dubious values.

As the New York Times noted in September, the NFL has now "stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at 'notably younger ages' than in the general population." Even high school football players risk brain injury and death. What competent local school board, superintendent, or principal would even consider allowing such an activity at their school? Why do we allow this one to continue? Why are we surprised by stories like this?

I'll just leave you with some "Friday Night Football" slogans to ponder. Do we really want to teach our children these values?
  • Play each down like it's your last
  • ...in football, little effort means broken bones and blood.
  • It doesn't matter who starts, but who can finish the game
  • Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing
  • We are ... Mobile, Agile, and Hostile
  • Show no mercy. Make no excuses.
  • We don't rebuild. We reload.
  • Second place means First Loser!
  • If football is your religion, prepare to meet your maker
  • If you can't take a hit, stay off the field
  • If you can't take the pain, then stay off the field
  • It's not a contact sport, it's a collision sport
  • It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.
  • No distractions, just destruction
  • No limits
  • No pain, no gain
  • Our blood, our sweat, your tears
  • Pro football is like nuclear warfare. There are no winners, only survivors.
  • Shut up and hit someone
  • the goal is to have more blood drop off your body than sweat does off of mine
  • What we do in life, echoes in eternity!
  • Whatever it takes
  • Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing
  • You gotta believe
Related:

After an exciting Monday Night Football finish, players from both teams came to the middle of the field for a postgame prayer.
Posted by NFL on ESPN on Monday, November 2, 2015



A photographer captured this moment yesterday following the Panthers/Seahawks game-- the players were united in prayer. The story behind the photo: http://on.wcnc.com/1QcvTPo
Posted by NBC Charlotte on Monday, January 18, 2016



Sunday, November 9, 2014

What Religion Does Well

Religion knows what people need and they deliver in a big way! It understands the human desires for belonging, identity, sense of community, friendship, camaraderie, and even romance. I have fond memories of church picnics, where I met my best friends for pickup basketball games, and afterward stuff ourselves with wonderful culinary delights from the buffet table. I was a member of the church softball team, where I always received encouragement every time I came up to bat. In church we sang songs and listened to inspiring lectures that tapped into our desire to be good, moral people. The camaraderie this instilled among the congregation was very satisfying and built a strong sense of belonging. I often left the church parking lot with an emotional high and a desire to become a better member of my blissful society. Yes, religion knows well how to satisfy our deepest, social needs, but there is a shadowy, darker side undermining all the glee.

If a positive, supportive, social atmosphere is the drug then adhering to damaging dogma is the payment. To keep the friends, sense of belonging and emotional highs coming, one must outwardly adhere to a dubious set of beliefs and rules without question. The tools religions use to enforce their dogma, thus their power over people, is fear in the form of social rejection, guilt, shame, and threats of eternal punishment. A common thread among most religions is the existence of a formal removal mechanism from the community for anybody not adhering to prescribed dogma. Catholics call this excommunication, Amish and Mennonites call it shunning, Jehovah’s Witnesses call it disfellowship, and Scientology calls it disconnection. In Islam it is often a reason to kill the offender. In any case, someone in non-compliance with dogma risks losing their entire social network, and often family, leaving a gigantic emotional and identity void. Luckily, there are options to fill these important, individual social needs without dogma and accompanying fear.

It is quite possible to experience all the same happy emotions and comforting feelings of belonging, community, charity, friendship, camaraderie and intimacy without religion and with genuine satisfaction. Religion does not have ownership of these human qualities, humanity does. Christopher Hitchens issued his famous challenge to theists: “Name one moral act that a religious person can do that an atheist cannot.” I feel comfortable extrapolating this concept to include meeting social needs. There are safe places to land the wounded psyche and regain a lost sense of community and belonging when leaving religion, but it does take courage, effort, and time.


There are many local secular groups that offer the opportunity to participate in all the same activities you enjoyed at religious gatherings. Singing, music and inspiring lectures can be found at Sunday Assemblies for those who desire an upbeat experience. Humanist gatherings can provide opportunities to organize and volunteer for charitable events without the underlying goal of recruiting followers. Rational thinkers have meetings to discuss local and national issues without the filter of religious belief. If you enjoy getting to know people from every social and economic demographic with interesting jobs and backgrounds, try going to an atheist group’s social event. It’s important to know there are millions of people who don’t subscribe to religious dogma, but desire a strong sense of social connection and have created a whole world outside of religion to meet that need. 

WSOC-TV Fear Mongering Ebola on Facebook

Update: As of 10:00 am (9 Nov), WSOC-TV has quietly deleted their fear mongering Facebook post (can't wait for the conspiracy nuts to get a hold on this), but the incendiary photo remains on their website.

Ebola fear mongering is good for TV ratings, and there's no better way to spread fear than with a scary Facebook photo. So in case you're wondering, here's how a two-bit local news station in Charlotte gets 562 shares* on a Facebook post in just 10 hours (overnight):

The photo was accompanied by a link to this story.
OMG, it's coming to Charlotte! We're all going to die!

Thankfully they received a lot of crap about this in the comments.

And this....
  • "It won't be long now!"
  • "Ebola is in your flu shots."
  • "Could this be the end? Will ebola go everywhere and kill humankind or can it be animals too? Is this when god sent us to die?"
  • "WHY do they CONTINUE to ship these people all over the country???? If u DON'T believe in population control, from the govt, you'd better wake da hell up and open your eyes. ITS REAL!!!"
  • "Quit letting these people in the country , damn do they want it to spread here."
  • "Dont make no sense bringing that patient to Charlotte. What is really going on? Is this about money for the drug reps, population control, or putting Fear in the American people."
  • "oh no my husband is very very sick with 15percent lung function and I need to go home for thanksgiving the dr. already want him on a resperator it is not looking good for him lord please don't let that ebola get to my husband thanks !!!!"
  • "Send them to Nurse Freak in Maine"
WSOC: please add this Scientific American blog post to your reading list:
"Not to be too crass, but there’s always money to be made in fear mongering. I’m sure the click-thru rates go up for a story with a bold title about Ebola...as journalists, we need to take a step back and analyze the bigger picture...Something like Ebola takes the old adage 'If it bleeds, it leads' to a whole new level...As journalists, we need to do better than this. 
 - Theresa MacPhail
And maybe follow the Charlotte Observer's lead next time...



* Comparing WSOC's post numbers to posts by WCNC and WBTV.

Page Likes Post Shares Hours Live Shares Per Hour
WCNC 202,941 16 3 5.3
WBTV 124,030 26 7 3.7
WSOC 171,948 562 10 56.2

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tickets now on sale for ReAsonCon 2015

ReAsonCon is a secular conference in Hickory, NC sponsored by the Hickory Humanist Alliance and Atheist Avengers. The first ReAsonCon was held earlier this year, and tickets (and tshirts!) are now on sale for #ReAsonCon2015 - which will be held on April 24th and 25th at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hickory.

Speakers for the 2015 conference will include author and activist David Fitzgerald, Skepchick Heina Dadabhoy, Phil Ferguson of SkepticMoney, Beth Presswood and Traci Harris of the Godless Bitches Podcast, and former pastor Ryan Bell.




All the cool kids will be there, so be sure to get your tickets before the prices goes up!

Win a Collection of Four Books by Victor Stenger

Victor Stenger was an accomplished physicist, an eminent skeptic, and a prolific writer. I have long been a fan, and I'm excited to see that Prometheus Books is running a contest to give away a collection of four of Vic's most popular books. Hemant Mehta has all the details here. The contest ends on Friday, Nov. 14 and is open to U.S. and Canadian residents only.


Welcome Kurt Wolery to the Skeptical Poets Society and Metrolina RfR

I'm pleased to announce that Kurt Wolery will be joining me as a blogger here at the Skeptical Poets Society and as a facilitator for the Metrolina Chapter of Recovering From Religion. Kurt has been a non-believer for the past 30 years and is also volunteering with Recovering From Religion's Hotline Project. He is a pilot and an Air Force veteran with recent combat experience in the Middle East  For more information about Kurt, check the About page.

Welcome aboard Kurt!
Kurt Wolery

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Who's your favorite secular spokesperson?

At today's Hickory Humanist Alliance meeting, the topic came up about whether the Four Horsemen are always the best spokespersons for the secular movement (yes, Richard Dawkins' Twitter feed and Sam Harris' recent comments about Islam on 'Real Time with Bill Maher' were mentioned). There's certainly a long list of others to choose from (not that we need one), but I wanted to highlight five of my favorites. They may not be as "active" in the "movement" as others, but I think they all do a great job of representing my own secular, skeptical, humanist values and awe of nature. Who are some of your favorites?

I'll start with the ladies, all still living...



For more details on Ann's views on science and religion, watch Cosmos! Seriously!



For more details on Carolyn's views on science and religion, start with this video.


 
Now for the dead white guys...



And of course, last but certainly not least...




Saturday, October 4, 2014

Why I support the #NormalizeAtheism Campaign

I was going to write about why I am supporting this campaign, but I think some of the tweets do a better job explaining it than I can...

















































Finally, a special thanks to Mark Nebo for starting this campaign!

And I'll leave you with a few of my own contributions...





Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Sunday Assembly is Coming to Charlotte

One of the difficulties many people experience when leaving their religion is the loss of community and shared experiences. Social gatherings fill the need for some people, but others want more - with moving music and inspirational speeches. Enter the Sunday Assembly - a "church for the godless." Sunday Assemblies are an increasingly popular way to leave your religion but find a community.

According to their website, 35 towns across the world will launch new Sunday Assemblies on September 28. And Charlotte is on the list! The Sunday Assembly of Charlotte, the most recent addition to the Charlotte Coalition of Reason, will meet at 2424 Davidson St, Suite 110H, at 10 am. Get your FREE tickets now via Eventbrite!



Note: To find other local secular events, check out the Charlotte CoR calendar.

Charlotte CoR Groups

Friday, August 29, 2014

"Keep up the battle against unreason"

Visit Vic's web site
Victor J. Stenger (1935 - 2014)
"Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings."
Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to meet Vic in person. I discovered him in the late 1990s, and he immediately filled the void in my life that was left by the death of Isaac Asimov (who died in 1992) and Carl Sagan (who died in 1996). When I joined Vic's mailing list I was immediately impressed by his accessibility, his kindness, and his willingness to engage with, and listen to, someone like me (who had only just finished an undergraduate degree in mathematics).

When Vic starting writing Has Science Found God? I anxiously waited for each new draft chapter to be sent out to the list so I could read it, but I enjoyed the vigorous debate and robust discussions that resulted from his drafts even more. Vic understood quite well that the growth of knowledge results from "bold conjectures and vociferous refutations," and he lived it too! He not only sought out and encouraged individuals with a wide diversity of opinions and perspectives, but he also treated everyone with respect and listened to what they had to say. His books benefited immensely from this open give and take with people he both agreed and disagreed with.

I made some relatively minor contributions to Has Science Found God? (mostly some copy editing and suggestions designed to make some of the content more accessible to lay audiences, but also a couple of substantive changes which he incorporated), and he was gracious enough to credit me in the preface to the book. As he also notes in the preface: "The original manuscript of this book was mailed to the publisher on September 11, 2001, the day three thousand lives ended abruptly at the hands of Muslim terrorists. While many have assumed that their motives were political, there can be no denying that their fanaticism was fueled by their faith. They fully believed they were acting in the name of God." And as recent events in Iraq and Syria attest, religious fanaticism unfortunately remains with us today.

So to my fellow skeptics, I will leave you with the words that Vic inscribed in my copy of his book: "Keep up the battle against unreason." I can think of no better way to remember him. He will be sorely missed by many of us.



P.S. If you are not familiar with Vic's work, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of one of his books. His 2007 New York Times bestseller would be an excellent choice. And here are a few of my favorite short essays to give you a sense of his clarity and style: one on the theological significance of inflationary cosmology, one on intelligent design, and an early essay on Has Science Found God? from Free Inquiry magazine.

Online statements and tributes to Vic (more coming)...





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 children...is 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