Autodidact: self-taught

Mar
07
2013

Hot in Publishing: The Anti-God Market

by V. L. Craven

Critical Thinking

[Image from this page .]

As this article in the Guardian posits .

Interestingly, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion has sold 500,000*** copies in the U.S. and 300,000 copies in the U.K.

When I read of the popularity of Dawkins’ book, first I said: YAY! Because Dawkins’ is my man. Then I said: Wait a minute. The U.S. has a population of roughly 300 million and the U.K. has roughly 60.1 million. That’s one book per 600 people in the U.S. whereas in the U.K. it’s one book per 200 people. One must take into account overall reading habits from both populations–one quarter of British adults don’t read* in comparison to 38 percent in the U.S.** So the British will buy more books as a matter of course.

Still and all, they could be buying rubbish and they choose Dawkins. Either because they’re nontheists or because they’re willing to listen to what someone without their beliefs has to say. [And before anyone says that atheists need to listen to what theists have to say–I assure you, we have. We’ve been listening for the length of our conscious lives. Once you’ve listened to atheists, or really anyone with religious views utterly apposed to yours, for a couple or five decades then we’ll listen to you again. Deal?]

That the U.S. is the only truly free country still worshiping a fictional being is not news, but the numbers to show it are interesting. Most countries still ruled by religion try to control their people right down to their thought processes, what they can do with their bodies and who they date. Oh, wait…

Anyway, that’s the news and some thoughts from this heathen. And now here’s Jim–how’s the weather in the ninth circle of hell there, Jimbo?!

Another article about Dawkins here .

Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science

Dawkins’ Twitter Feed

*2002 ONS Omnibus survey
**2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy
[*** as of January 2010, the English version had sold 2.5 million copes. (via Wikipedia )]

[This is a repost from a previous blog. Original post date: 15 August, 2007]

Jan
09
2013

Out-of-Body Experiences are Neuro-Chemical Events

by V. L. Craven

According to this BBC news article.

In Mary Roach’s book Spook she talks about a scientist who can recreate hauntings by stimulating a certain part of the brain. This is similar, except it’s out-of-body, walk-towards-the-light sorts of things rather than dead-Aunt-Marge-is-haunting-me-because-I- broke-that-goblet.

And not that Believers will care (I use the capital B because the people who believe believe with a B) but I died once. No light, no nothing. Just conscious, drowning, then being conscious again.

The thing that surprises me about the article–or any scientific discovery of this sort–is the note of shock. It seems to me that everything will eventually be explained by science and the sensible response to the type of discovery in the article would me, ‘Seat of Out-of-Body Experiences Discovered’.

It also seems a given that once hauntings could be explained scientifically every rational human would stop believing in ghosts.

Or perhaps we did.

Dec
17
2012

What the Internet Did This Week

by V. L. Craven

If you live in the world, you have to deal with other people. Some of those people are going to be awkward. Fear not! Lifehacker has given us:  The Awkward Human Survival Guide , which has tips for coping with people who don’t know what to say/don’t know when to stop saying things/only know how to say the wrong things.

From the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum  FB page:

The Poe Murders is a graphic retelling of many of Edgar Allan Poe’s mystery and horror stories meshed into a single tale. The stories included in this graphic-novel are: The Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Masque of the Red Death, The Purloined Letter, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven, as well as others. The graphic-novel will be told in the style of a mystery, in which the characters are searching for the mysterious source causing rational men and women to commit these horrific murders.

They have a limited time to raise the funds necessary; if you’d like to contribute for swell prizes go to their  Indiegogo page .

TEDx is the body that licenses people to have TED-style talks in various parts of the world. When it came to the attention of the TED folks that some pseudoscience was making its way into these talks, they issued this  letter, which is an excellent introduction to critical thinking. Hat tip to Lifehacker’s article:  How to Avoid Bad Science in TED Talks

The Most Common Grammar Gaffes Writers Make and How to Avoid Them . Nothing particularly new on this list, though these are rules that bear repeating. The thing that most WTFd my face was the first line of the article, which was, ‘In 2011, the publisher of my book  Enchantment  could not fill an order for 500 e-book copies.’ How… ? I mean… Nope, ‘How…?’ is all I have

Speaking of writers, here  are some beautiful posters of quotes from famous authors. All of them are elegant, but this is one of my favourites:

Tolstoy Poster

 

Dec
09
2012

Saving People’s Lives is Heresy

by V. L. Craven

I’m completely in favour of allowing people to drink sewage water if it’s their wish to do so. If you believe sewage has the magical ability to fix your problems… well, you’re not  wrong , per se. Roll on, active Darwinism, I say.

May
10
2012

Spooooky

by V. L. Craven

Last night I finished reading Spook by Mary Roach and it was a good time, particularly for the cynics out there. She, the perpetual skeptic, goes in search of scientific proof of past lives, ghosts and life after death, amongst other things. Her journey covers several continents and meetings with some of the most learned people in their respective fields, but rather than giving the reader answers she gives us the facts and lets us figure out what we believe on our own. Roach had me laughing out loud several times with her wry observations and self-depreciation and in the end I’m with her in thinking that the human mind has an enormous capacity to convince itself of whatever it wants to believe.

[This is a post from a previous blog. Original date: 29 July, 06]

Apr
19
2012

Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth Miller

by V. L. Craven

Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth R. Miller does an excellent job of showing the people with a fish on their cars that they can have their god and science, too. That’s the first half of the book–-pointing out the flaws in the various Creationist arguments. The second half is supposed to be aimed at nonbelievers, I think, but his arguments then fall apart. He does make some excellent points about the main problems in the arguments from atheists, though, which made me examine the reasons for my own beliefs more closely.

One of his points that I found most interesting was that science and religion answer different questions–science offers explanations of how we’re here and religion handles the why. I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but it’s a fair point. (Unfortunately, some religious people would say they were put here to make nonreligious people crazy–as well as the people who don’t follow their own religion.) And I still think any person with half a brain should be able to figure out that life is less stressful if you’re not an asshole. Miller argues that if it were possible to argue the majority of people out of their religion then pandemonium would reign. Now, I want to give people credit for not being stupid but… yeah, he’s probably right. Some people will always need a supernatural boogieman to keep them in line.

My big problem with Creationists was that I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t just say, ‘God created evolution. Isn’t he clever?’ Which is Miller’s premise. He then goes to explain how that could be possible and how the god that did that would be much more interesting than a god who did everything in one day (or seven). One of my favourite bits was when he said that once a woman told him she didn’t believe in evolution because it would have taken too long and Miller thought, “Because god, with all of eternity, was in a rush.”

My other favourite part was when he referenced St Augustine (a 4th theologian) who begged Christians not to stand up in public and make fools of themselves about science because that only made all Christians look stupid. I’m thinking of quoting that bit to the next Bible-thumper who says the Earth is flat or what-have-you.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with Mr Miller after reading his book and I thanked him for at least giving us a way to get along. As much as I admire Richard Dawkins, I don’t think that doing away with religion would do away with all the horrible things on the planet–even without a god on their side jackholes would still be jackholes. There would still be wars over land and money and all those fun things, the only difference would be that the war-makers would have one less thing to use against their enemies. But you can turn a group of strangers into arch-nemeses without invoking their mythologies by simply pointing out all the other ways they’re different from you and yours. Yes, it’d be nice for everyone to be completely rational–I’d like to be more rational about some things–but I’d settle for people just not being jerks. Miller makes a step toward that on at least this one issue.

[This post is from a previous blog. Orig. date: March 13, 2008]

Apr
13
2012

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Lewis Wolpert

by V. L. Craven


Why do seemingly intelligent, rational people believe in irrational, sometimes downright ludicrous things? Probably because the parts of the mind that appreciate cause and effect–even in places where it’s not there–allowed early humans to survive and adapt. In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief , Lewis Wolpert attempts to explain the evolutionary principles behind the billions of people today who believe in supernatural things with no scientific corroboration. For example, people who believed in the same god would flock together and would therefore be safer than the atheists who were off on their own just getting on with things.

While Wolpert isn’t the most exciting writer, what he has to say is interesting and makes many good points e.g. the cause and effect of learning how to use early tools is the same thought process that concludes: something made the sky and that something is probably like me so there is a sentient being out there in charge. He also doesn’t go into as much detail as I’d have liked, but the book is a good explanation of why people believe unbelievable things. I give it four stars.

Mar
24
2012

Moses Was a Dirty Hippie

by V. L. Craven

An Israeli researcher says that Moses could have been on hallucinogenic drugs when he had that little convo on Mount Sinai with god, as certain drugs were often used in religious ceremonies back in the day.

That makes more sense than supernatural explanations. It would be like basing your life philosophy on something someone stoned out of their mind said whilst staring at their hands in the corner of a room at a party. ‘Duuuude, if people, could…like…just… be , you know? Like…everything would be cool if dude’s didn’t, like, want other dudes’ stuff…and, like, didn’t bang other dudes’ girls, and shit.’

That’s fitting, really, because in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast Lewis Wolpert talks about how LSD and similar drugs makes people have religious experiences.

And it’s great that today’s biggest militaristic proponents of rigid order and no fun are worshipping the revelations of a dirty hippie who sat on a mountain and took some peyote.

I suppose we’re lucky that he didn’t come down the mountain and say: I’ve seen God and he’s a big pink elephant!

[This is a post from a previous blog. Original post date: 19.03.08]

Feb
11
2012

How to Be Logical (Cartoons!)

by V. L. Craven

Critical Thinking skills explained in a way even children can understand. With an Australian accent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec
21
2011

Einstein Said it Quite Well, I Think

by V. L. Craven

It turns out Einstein wasn’t sold on the God idea.

His feelings on religion had been much debated, but in a personal letter recently released he said that religion was a childish superstition.

Well… Answers that question.

Aug
22
2011

Ad Hominem Attacks

by V. L. Craven

I like dogs. Hitler liked dogs, too. Therefore I must be as reprehensible as Hitler.

That is an example of an ad hominem attack. Taking an aspect of a person’s personality and using that to denounce everything that person does/professes/thinks/believes. A particularly favourite accusation is, ‘Well, she’s a [Tory, Labour, Republican, Democrat] so you can’t believe anything she says.’ The ad hominem attack is the purview of those who have no legitimate argument against a person for whom they don’t care.

Anton LaVey is often the target of such attacks. No matter what his biography actually was, his philosophies and beliefs are still sound.

Ray Charles was a drug addict. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a womanizer. Gunter Grass was a Hitler Youth, etc, etc. Would you like to have your entire life judged by the least attractive aspect of your personality? Or would you like people to consider your entire contribution to the world?

Aug
15
2011

Giving Power to Your Enemies

by V. L. Craven

By paying so much attention to the devil and by treating witchcraft as the most heinous of crimes, the theologians and the inquisitors actually spread the beliefs and fostered the practices which they were trying so hard to repress. By the beginning of the eighteenth century witchcraft had ceased to be a serious social problem. It dies out, among other reasons, because almost nobody now bothered to repress it. For the less it was persecuted, the less it was propagandized. — The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

Aug
05
2011

The Progression

by V. L. Craven

Professor Oesterreich, in his richly documented study of the subject has pointed out that, while belief in diabolic possession sharply declined during the nineteenth century, belief in possession by departed spirits became, during the same period, much more common. Thus, neurotics who, at an earlier epoch, would have attributed their malady to devils, were inclined, after the rise of the Fox Sisters, to lay the blame on the discarnate souls of evil men or women. With the recent advances in technology, the notion of possession has taken a new form. Neurotie patients often complain that they are being influenced, against their will, by some kind of radio messages transmitted by their enemies. The Malicious Animal Magnetism which haunted poor Mrs Eddy’s imagination for do many years has now been transformed into Malicious Electronics. — The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

Aug
03
2011

Conjecture Ovens

by V. L. Craven

Montaigne concludes with one of those golden sentences which deserve to be inscribed over the altar of every church, above the bench of every magistrate, on the walls of every lecture hall, every senate and parliament, every government office and council chamber. ‘After all,’ (write the words in neon, write in letters as tall as a man!) ‘after all, it is rating one’s conjectures at a very high price to roast a man alive on the strength of them.’ — The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley

Aug
01
2011

Replace ‘Witchcraft’ with ‘Religion’

by V. L. Craven

And ‘hidden causes’ with ‘science.’

 

Kramer and Sprenger write with indignation of those—and at the end of the fifteenth century they were already numerous—who doubted the reality of witchcraft. They point out that all the theologians and canonists are at one in condemning the error of ‘those who say that there is no witchcraft in the world, but only in the imagination of men who, through their ignorance of hidden causes, which no man yet understands, ascribe certain natural effects to witchcraft, as though they were effected not by hidden causes, but by devils working either by themselves or in conjunction with witches…’

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