Sunday, March 30, 2014

The progress of atheism

Imagine There's No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World
I have a lot of books in my queue, but when Mitchell Stephens's Imagine There's No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World (Palgrave, 2014) came out, it went straight to the top. The book does not disappoint. I have not encountered a decent overview of the history of atheism since Thrower's Western Atheism: A Short History (Prometheus Books, 1999). Now, that particular torch has been passed to Stephens.

There is a personal note toward the end of the book that highlights how far at least Western civilization has come with respect to atheism just in the last fifty years, much less since the days of the auto-da-fé:
I first contemplated writing writing a history of atheism and its accomplishments a couple of decades ago. I was distracted then by other projects. But I must admit I considered at that time what the reaction to such a book might be. Should I fear protests? Would I be invited to promote the book on the air? Now, in the United States in the second decade of the twenty-first century, such fears seem quaint.
There is much yet to be done, but seeing how much already has been won for reason in the face of intolerance and even violent persecution, it is difficult not to be optimistic about the future.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The selective blindness of the biblical literalist

Ken Ham, the head of a creationist organization and builder of a creationism museum, is angry about the new movie Noah, which he labels "disgusting and evil—paganism!" Among his complaints:
Do you really want your family to see a pagan movie that portrays Noah as a psychopath who says that if his daughter-in-law’s baby is a girl then he will kill her as soon as she’s born? And when two girls are born, bloodstained Noah (the man the Bible calls “righteous” in Genesis 7:1) brings a knife down to the head of one of the babies to kill her—and at the last minute doesn’t do it. And then a bit later, Noah says he failed because he didn’t kill the babies. How can we recommend this movie and then speak against abortion? Psychopathic Noah sees humans as a blight on the planet and wants to rid the world of people.
My reaction to this is the same as most freethinkers': that it is an odd complaint from someone who worships the greatest mass-murderer (not to mention mass-child-murderer) who has ever lived. If one believes in a literal flood, then God actually did on a worldwide scale what Noah could not bring himself to do in the movie. Glen Davidson put it perfectly on The Panda's Thumb:
Now go out and build your Ark Park complete with the screams of the babies that God kills, Ken. That should make you feel better.
 Not that I'm planning to run out and see Noah, mind you. Although I definitely would go see the Auralnaut's version:


Randall on science and religion

Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World
[I]t is still possible to [be religious and] be an accomplished scientist. And indeed, religion might well yield valuable psychological benefits. But any religious scientist has to face daily the scientific challenge to his belief. The religious part of your brain cannot act at the same time as the scientific one. They are simply incompatible.
— Lisa Randall, Knocking on Heaven's Door (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), p. 58.

Friday, March 21, 2014

From NASA Image of the Day:


This new Hubble image is centered on NGC 5793, a spiral galaxy over 150 million light-years away in the constellation of Libra.