American Irony

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , ,

Those who would argue that the U.S. government is designed to be utterly secular in nature like to point to Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 wherein he described a “wall of separation between church and state.” The Supreme Court subsequently embraced this language, of course, after the protections of the First Amendment were made applicable to the states by the Fourteen Amendment. I would suggest that Jefferson’s objective wasn’t to enable a wholly secular government, but rather to instill a radical religious freedom devoid of government interference. But times have changed, Constitutional law has changed, and the country’s make-up has changed. What’s interesting to me, however (and highly ironic), is that secularists looking to invoke Jefferson emphasize his letter to the Danbury Baptists but often ignore the founding document of the republic, also penned by Jefferson. Indeed, some even wish to claim that the Declaration is irrelevant, with no legal standing whatsoever. However, it’s centrality is obvious. Abraham Lincoln gave evidence to this centrality in his 1863 Gettysburg Address, which cites the Declaration:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

We are, of course, created equal because we “are endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I’m no theonomist. I don’t believe in or want a “Christian nation.” But to ignore the religious roots and heritage of this republic and to seek to remove every vestige of the sacred from public discourse is both ignorant of history and simply wrong. As Toqueville (among others) has well noted, we are indeed a religious people, even if less so than we used to be. To seek to deny that is to deny our very essence.


July 4, 1776

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged:


“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident:

“That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”


Just Above Sunset

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged:

Alan Pavlik has an excellent piece on agnosticism on his blog, Just Above Sunset, here.  Enjoy.


Not Dark Yet

In Music on July 3, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged:

“Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet, but its gettin’ there.

“I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will
I know it looks like I’m movin’ but I standing still.”

Bob Dylan — Not Dark Yet


Sleeping with the Enemy

In Christianity & Atheism on July 2, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: ,

In response to my writing about why I didn’t think The God Delusion was very good (here), Hitch asked how I — clearly part of the ideal target market for that kind of apologetic — would write such a book.  It’s an interesting thought experiment of a sleeping with the enemy sort, and here are some of my preliminary thoughts on it, even though I don’t wish to be seen as telling atheists what to do.  But for me, the problem isn’t so much writing the right book, it’s implementing the right strategy. 

1.  I’d start with a different approach.  The stereotypical atheist seems to be an angry, young, white male, perhaps with Asperger’s, who hates religion and says so, loudly and incessantly.  As with most stereotypes, it’s unfair in general, but also has an element of truth.  The atheist apologetic literature, in toto, seems targeted towards the stereotype in approach and style.  I’d change that. 

2.  I’m all in favor of evidence-based thinking, but the common atheist apologetic focusing primarily on evidence misses a crucial preliminary step.  This literature seems to presume a major ethical obligation to examine the evidence intensely on every point and at every step.  I think that’s unrealistic and even a bit daft.  For most people, and especially with respect to their foundational commitments, if they see something as working in general, they’re not going to invest the time and energy to question it very much.  It’s a key point and one the atheist apologetic literature doesn’t get (and often can’t seem to conceive).  Most religious people think their religion is a positive force in their lives.  Harping about how evil and wrong it is, especially angrily, isn’t likely to change that anymore than foreign demonstrations about evil American imperialism are likely to change American minds.

3.  Atheists need to recognize all the reasons people find religion valuable and provide viable alternatives.  Despite the dispute between Josh Rosenau and P.Z. Myers over how much people actually believe of what they profess and what that means, everyone should recognize the powerful human benefits of religion and, at present, how devoid of those elements the atheist “movement” (to the extent that’s even a coherent idea) is.  Humans are social and thrive in community.  Churches provide that.  In most areas of the USA, church groups provide crucial services to people in need and a positive social outlet to the general populace.  To this point, the atheist “community” offers precious little of any of that.  Since this is a key component of how and why religion “works” for people, having similar outlets would make it more likely that you can be heard on why you’re right and seen as viable lifestyle alternative.  The atheist apologetic literature seems to suggest that it’s an intellectual and philosophical alternative.  But I don’t think it can hope to succeed without being a substantive lifestyle alternative.

4.  Atheists also need to stand for something.  This is a tricky point because, on the one hand, atheism implies no necessary affirmative belief and, on the other hand (as I’ll discuss later), pushing any sort of ideological purity isn’t likely to help either.  But if you’re going to ask people to jettison an important affirmative basis for who they are, I think you need to offer something in its place.  Offering little more than a lack of belief and general skepticism (as powerful and helpful as skepticism can be) is a pretty pitiful alternative.

5.  There is nothing particularly winsome about atheism as generally presented.  I suppose that some people are attracted to being one of the “Brights” (one of the most misconceived campaigns imaginable), but beyond the stereotypical atheist, I don’t think what’s offered looks particularly appealing.  I can appreciate that anger and vitriol can be useful means to attack prevailing paradigms, but atheists are asking people to choose them and their key life choices.  It’s one thing to be angry and harsh to get people to recognize you and accept your place in society.  It’s quite another to act like jerks and yet expect people to join you. 

6.  I suspect that atheist triumphalism is as tiring and off-putting to the general public as American triumphalism is to the rest of the world.  At the risk of sounding like Chris Mooney, is spending all your time telling people how much better than them you are really the best marketing strategy and is that really the brand niche you want? 

7.  Atheism claims that it implies no ideology but acts as if it does.  Generally speaking, based upon the polling data I’ve seen, 30% of the American population is politically liberal (by U.S. standards), 30% moderate, and 40% conservative.  Much of the atheist apologetic literature (including TGD) seems to say that only 30% need apply.  Since I think reasonable and secular grounds can be offered for the other general alternatives, I think it is a major mistake to do so.  It’s also a mistake because it enhances the us versus them divide that I think you should want to overcome.  Even if I thought the anti-accomodationist position were justifiable intellectually and philosophically, I would still see it as bad strategically. 

Am I on to something?  I hope not….


Faith, Hope & Charity

In Christianity & Atheism on July 2, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , , ,

Arthur Brooks has undertaken significant research finding that atheists are decidedly less charitable than their God-fearing counterparts. Indeed, his research discloses that people of faith even give more money to wholly secular charities than their non-believing brethren, by any measure.  In Gross National Happiness, Brooks notes that atheists donate less blood and are less likely to offer change to homeless people on the street.  Since giving to charity makes one happy, Brooks speculates that this could be one reason why atheists are so miserable, referencing a 2004 study finding that twice as many religious people say that they are very happy with their lives, while the secular are twice as likely to say that they feel like failures. In a review published in Science, psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff discuss research on the connection between faith and morality. In one of their own studies, they primed half the participants with a spirituality-themed word jumble (including the words divine and God) and gave the other half the same task with nonspiritual words. Then, they gave the participants $10 each and told them that they could either keep it or share their cash reward with another (anonymous) subject. Ultimately, the spiritual-jumble group parted with more than twice as much money as the control.



In Absurdities on July 2, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise

Why is it that disputes between Christians and atheists so often seem far removed from common sense? Jim Meritt’s A List of Biblical Contradictions is offered by The Secular Web, and by Talk Origins.  One alleged contradiction is this one:

Snails do not melt

PSA 58:8 As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.

A defense is offered here:

What have we here — a sort of fantastic creature-feature idea of a snail which slowly dissolves in the heat?

Not exactly. The Hebrew word here is temec, and this is the only place where it appears in the Bible. The main meaning here is liquefaction, with a root in a word referring to dissolution. All agree that slugs and snails leave a trail behind as they move — this is not something that is hard to observe or unknown. And of course, it is obvious that this liquid comes from their own bodies — and presumably, especially in a hot, desert climate like Palestine’s, a snail that doesn’t find a source of moisture to replenish itself is going to eventually shrivel away: hence the comparison to the “untimely birth of a woman.”

For this objection to work, it would have to be assumed that temec means “dissolve” in the sense that snow, for example, melts — but there is no point of comparison, and no reason why this word cannot refer to the dehydration process we describe.

Am I the only one who thinks this exchange is best suited for The Onion?  It’s a figure of speech!  That said, why are we messing with minor quibbles when the major gaffes are so obvious?

Jesus said “I am the Door” but He’s never identified as having hinges and a knocker so clearly the Bible is nonsense. But why stop there?  Great literature is nearly all suspect.

Shakespeare said that “All the world’s a stage…” but I look around and don’t see anything stage-like at all — for instance the lighting is much too poor. Shakespeare’s an obvious fraud.

Melville wrote that “[a]ll men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever present perils of life.” I don’t have a halter around my neck (I just checked), so we can safely dismiss Melville and Moby Dick now.

Robert Louis Stevenson: “His friends were those of his own blood or those whom he had known the longest; his affections, like ivy, were the growth of time, they implied no aptness in the object.” Relatives sharing blood? Bad science. Ignore him.

T.S. Eliot claimed that “April is the cruelest month” but we know that months aren’t physical entities with consciousness and thus can’t be cruel. Eliot’s a lying phony.

Dickens claimed that “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” He’s clearly a scumbag — darkness doesn’t cost anything. Forget Dickens.

The list is endless. Indeed, we should basically ignore all literature. It can’t be trusted. 

It’s hard to believe that anyone’s ignorance of language could be so enormous and that anyone’s understanding of basic communication could be so poor, but the evidence is overwhelming.