Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Left Hemispheres Podcast Ep.12: All Dogs Have Hands

As always please direct questions, comments, suggestions, or discussion via email at Of course you can also find us on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter @lefthemispheres.

If you subscribe to the podcast via iTunes please consider rating us. If you don't rate the podcast; theists, Fox News & Deepak Chopra win. True story. Saw it written in a book.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Link Dump 01/25/13

Our Stuff
We've all been rather busy this week.  Sorry for that!  There will be a new podcast episode on Monday.


Politics and Society



Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Link Dump 1/18/13

The Left Hemispheres Podcast Ep. 11-Use Your Frontal Cortex Against the Chickens
As always please direct questions, comments, suggestions, or discussion via email at Of course you can also find us on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter @lefthemispheres.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Left Hemispheres Podcast Ep. 11-Use Your Frontal Cortex Against the Chickens

As always please direct questions, comments, suggestions, or discussion via email at Of course you can also find us on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter @lefthemispheres.

If you subscribe to the podcast via iTunes please consider rating us. If you don't rate the podcast; theists, Fox News & Deepak Chopra win. True story. Saw it written in a book.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Link Dump 01/11/13

Our Stuff
Religion Doesn't Kill People. Religious People Kill People Steve talks about honor among thieves, and how the thieves' guild, and their particular creed, can't be blamed for it's members' actions.
Boxed In  Adam sings "Don't Fence Me In."

4 Kinds of Movement Atheist  A good read.  We had a satirical version of this by Andy from Laughing in Purgatory last August.  He predicted A+.  Just sayin'.
None Means None (Not Atheist, Agnostic, Unbeliever...)  Because that's just the way it is.

Jesus Was A Dirty, Dirty God  Saying your god-man-thing had dysentery isn't making the story any more believable.  Sorry.  Try again.
Religious trends increase need for tolerance for all  A good letter from the editors on the recent FFRF complaint in Chambersburg, PA.  The complaint was due to religious songs and a live nativity performed by the school Glee Club.  For credit.
Washington National Cathedral Announces It Will Hold Same-Sex Weddings meh.
Pope says Catholic Church must stand firm against “intolerant agnosticism”
A Jefferson Bible for the Twenty-first Century
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) Sends Another Letter to the Mayor of Taunton, MA
$29 for the Body Gospel Complete Workout Program with Shipping Included ($94.85 Total Value). Free Returns Is "faith based fitness" like "praying away the gay"? ACTUAL SENTENCE: “ Each workout begins with a prayer before transitioning into cross-training and muscle-toning workouts that exponentially increase one's ability to punch through the Earth's crust.”
Muslims engage in quest to understand evolution I wasn't sure which section to put this in at first, but then I re-read the article.
Pope worries about gap between the rich and poor Bahahaha! <wipesawaytearsoflaughter> I'm sure it's keeping him up at night. aheh.

Giant squid filmed in Pacific depths, Japan scientists report  Release the...just kidding.
Future Mars Astronauts May Be Sleepy, Bored and Crabby
New Technique Can Sequence Entire Genome From Single Cell
Billions of Earthlike Planets Crowd Milky Way?
Scientists Create Temperatures Colder Than Absolute Zero  This may be colder than the evidence trail for the resurrection of Jesus.
Doctors Turn to Genetics to Search for Cancer’s Achilles’ Heel
Rogue Planet Confirmed Orbiting Around ‘Eye of Sauron’
2,000-Year-Old Eye Treatment Recovered From Tuscan Shipwreck For when the Eye of Sauron gets all goopy.
Flu Season Worse This Year...  Of course, me being me, I couldn't not post this.  Get your shots, motherfuckers.

The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History
AHA Sends 535 Jefferson Bibles To Congress  I have mixed feelings about this.
"Atheist" Isn't A Dirty Word, Congresswoman  Hey, I agree with Chris Stedman.  I guess anything is possible!
Marijuana Legalization Legislation Pre-Filed In Pennsylvania  I don't see this coming anywhere close to passing.  Then again, I did just agree with Chris Stedman.
Fox’s ‘The Five’: Algebra Is Liberal Terrorism
Anti-Gay Pastor Withdraws From Inaugural Program What the fuck is Obama thinking!?  First Rick Warren, then this guy!?
House GOP Lets Violence Against Women Act Die  Along with the women who will die, physically and emotionally, due to weaker prosecution of assholes.
Chuck Hagel's Evolution on Gay Rights Is Tearing the Log Cabin Republicans Apart  Can someone please explain the existence of the Log Cabin Republicans?  Seriously, they’re like some paradoxical mythological creature, kind of like three persons in one god.
Anti-Jewish, Anti-Gay Comic Distributed at Military Bases Worldwide From US to Iraq and Afghanistan

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Boxed In

By Adam Taylor

My birthday is in the beginning of January, which means that I typically associate New Year celebrations with getting one year older.  I usually find myself reading philosophy or poetry in some vain attempt to gain new perspectives or approaches to the stress of everyday life.  
Don’t be alarmed, I am not going to bore you with some new life-affirming coda that rephrases things you already know.  My most recently devoured book was 'Mortality' by Christopher Hitchens (thanks to Steve for reminding me that I’m going to die on my birthday).  I recommend this book to anyone who can handle the gravity of a dying intellectual writing about the process of dying.

What I want to talk is something I realized after a conversation with my wife when she was looking for the book. My wife, who is not at all interested in atheism and less so in the “atheosphere;” was trying to find this book based on a vague description, a misremembered phonetic variation on Hitchens’ name, and not knowing if it was in the religion or philosophy sections. Knowing just enough of Hitchens' work, she was skeptical when I told her that it wasn’t really about atheism.  This is my subjective opinion, of course, but the thoughts and ideas of an atheist are not always necessisarily atheistic. We do think of things not related to atheism.

This is as much an aspect of sociology and culture as personal preference.  We tend to accentuate the attributes of a person by what most separates them from the majority.  I recently joked on the podcast that I am a black, left-handed atheist: a minority triumvirate.  These specific minorities rarely affect my life in suburban northeastern America.  I don’t often find myself struggling to operate a chainsaw in the deep south at a CFI convention and in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I would probably travel north.

I am probably more interested in music than atheism actually.  I am also passionately drawn to visual art and film.  I’m a hell of a dancer too..but that might be a black thing.  

Most of these particular traits stay neatly compartmentalized.  My atheism may color my worldview (or uncolor it), but it is hardly my sole outlook on life.  The god question does not really apply to everyday life choices and I don’t go out of my way to avoid religious themes in the art, music or literature that I consume.  Some in the atheist movement actively shun things that don’t fit into their atheism box.  This became so problematic to maintain that a few idealistic individuals tried to re-brand atheism to include political and pro-social movements not without controversy.  I don’t actually care about Atheism+, it is just the example that comes to mind.  I think it may resonate with some people because it is an attempt at combining the many compartmental ideals that individual athiests hold into an atheistic community.  Others, [insert broad liberal theism observation] tend to separate their interests and perspectives into a bento-style segregation: science here, spirituality there, political affiliations next to the sashimi.

So how do we find balance?  How do we keep from trying to fit our identity into one stretched out box or keep our interests neatly categorized in mental filing cabinets?  I don’t have any idea but as far as cultural concepts go: fusion is much more prevalent in the modern age than purity.  Ideologues may be useful to other ideologues, but they are pretty unbearable to everyone else.

The issue at hand is discomfort.  Most of our behaviors are motivated either by our desire to obtain something or to avoid something.  Most of our belief systems are global precisely because  contradictory beliefs are anxiety producing.  One needs to blur the lines or overlook aspects of conflicting belief systems to avoid cognitive dissonance.  The same goes for mental operational philosophies.  Skeptics who tout reason and logic as the only tools in the box are undermining emotional decision-making and intuitive problem-solving.  Over-compartmentalizing leads to cognitive blind spots.  A person can selectively ignore aspects of an idea that are inconsistent with their worldview via confirmation or availability bias. 

We don't need more boxes or bigger boxes. I think we need to accept that our mental lives are messy.  Myself included.  I'm going to try to appreciate the complexity of the human condition and give the categories a rest.   

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Religion Doesn't Kill People. Religious People Kill People.

I have generally avoided my old habit of dissecting the pseudo-intellectual flim-flam from the HuffPo Religion section, but this one is a little different. It isn’t so much defending a religious position or concept with word salad from a blogger or religious leader. No, the article entitled God Is Not A Christian: Desmond Tutu And The Dalai Lama's Extraordinary Talk On God And Religion highlights a talk between Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Truthfully I thought the Bishop spoke in gobbledygook when expounding on god, but this isn’t surprising and I have no desire to highlight that. I’m sure others would focus on a different section (i.e. Bishop Desmond Tutu stating that “God is not a Christian”), but I am only concerned with the exchange discussed at the end of the article when the Dalai Lama said the following to Bishop Tutu:
“I think generally all religious traditions have good potential to improve human condition, however, some followers of religions, they are not very serious about one’s own teaching. They—out of selfishness, money, or power—use religion for personal gain. In some cases, because they completely isolated, so no idea about other traditions, value of other traditions. So that creates religious disharmony. But I think if you make balance, I think more weight to positive side than negative. Much, much more.”
Tutu responded,
“Yes, you are right, and you have to remember that religion is of itself neither good nor bad. Christianity has produced the Ku Klux Klan. Christianity has produced those who killed doctors that perform abortions. Religion is a morally neutral thing. It is what you do with it. It is like a knife, a knife is good when you use it for cutting up bread for sandwiches. A knife is bad when you stick it in somebody’s gut. Religion is good when it produces a Dalai Lama, a Mother Teresa, a Martin Luther King.” (ed note: emphasis added)
Tutu continued,
“But we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t say …because there are bad Muslims, therefore Islam is a bad religion. Because there are bad Buddhists, Buddhism is bad. Just look at the Buddhist dictators in Burma,”
“We’ve got to say, what does your faith make you do? Make you become? I would not have survived without the faith of knowing that this is God’s world and that God is in charge that evil is not going to prevail despite all appearance to the contrary. Yes, of course, sometimes, you want to whisper in God’s ear, ‘God, for goodness’ sake, we know that you are in charge, but why don’t you make this more obvious?’” (ed. note: emphasis added)
So both religious leaders suggest that “religion” doesn’t do bad things so much as it’s the person wielding religion. They make it sounds as if “religion” was a pure, monolithic template containing universal truth and it’s us humans screwing it up with our various faults. Funny, that sounds like one of the last stages of my liberal, pantheistic religious belief I held onto before I dropped it for making no sense and being useless.
Religion, as a cultural construct of humans, is a reflection of humanity and our spectrum of behaviors. Looking at religion anthropologically, supernatural and theistic claims are ancillary to religion as cultural phenomena. The beliefs and what people do with those beliefs, however, are not ancillary as they have real world consequences, both good and bad. In short: I am not arguing over the truth of supernatural and theistic claims in this instance. I am arguing that religion is a vehicle for human supernatural beliefs which are influenced by humans and in turn which influence humans. There is no auto-pilot for religion. It needs drivers and passengers.
The quote from Desmond Tutu “Religion is a morally neutral thing. It is what you do with it,” struck me as fascinating for two reasons: 1) this statement by Tutu mirrors the old unofficial NRA adage “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” and 2) I want to explore the idea that religion is morally neutral.
If we accept that religion is a cultural construct created by humans to express their supernatural beliefs and religion requires humans to “drive” then yes, you could say it is morally neutral and the NRA line could be commandeered to say “Religions don’t kill people. Religious people kill people.” This does not bode well for the concept that the religious have any moral superiority over non-believers or one another.
Regarding the neutrality of religion, I want to compare it to the discussion by many that religion and science are equals or on a level playing field. On a recent episode of The Left Hemispheres Podcast we discussed that science is nothing more than a tool for humans to use. Any technology developed by science to wage war or cause harm is not the fault of science as it is just method to discover things. Again, ‘Science doesn’t kill people. People use things they created via science to kill people.” This came up in the podcast due to the Richard Dawkins vs. Medhi Hasan interview on Al-Jazeera where Hasan wanted to deflect the horrors of religion by making the statement that science has overseen some of the worst killing in history.
There is, of course, a problem with this logic. Religion, while not a living entity itself, influences the agent (i.e. a person) using religion based on religious precepts and teachings. One could say science does as well, but to what extent are they equivalent? Not much. In religion anything can be believed via revelation and faith. In science, it is just facts and viable theories. Religion can influence a person to carry out horrific acts of violence in the name of god(s). Science isn’t influencing this in people. Someone using science can commit horrific acts of violence, but that will be the result of a motive not influenced by science. That is hardly the same.
For a religion to be viable a person needs to adhere to its precepts and teachings. This can also be said for science. The viability of science depends on the person using it to adhere to the scientific method. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds on the non-overlapping Magisteria argument, but this does illustrate why they differ and are not equals as opposing views of the world or in usefulness. Religion, after all the ritual, scripture, mores, etc. are stripped away; is based on nothing more than revelation and faith. Neither of which are an acceptable basis to prove one religion is correct over another nor even provide a modicum of evidence for its truthfulness. There really is nothing to strip down to get at the heart of science. It is simply a method and a concise one at that. There is nothing mystical or interpretive about the process of science. Science cannot operate on faith. Those who make the claim that science requires faith either do not understand how antithetical faith is to the scientific method or are ideologues conflating terms in an attempt to draw parallels between science and religion.  This is essentially an attempt to diminish science by bringing it to the religious level of uselessness to explain the universe. This is an ironic and comical tactic.
So, to bring this back to the point at hand; is religion morally neutral? No. Only in the most general sense can it be regarded as such. To say that religion is neutral is to strip it down to the bare bones concept and definition where there are no specifics and no precepts that must be adhered to. In reality, morally neutral religion doesn’t exist except in dictionaries. Once a religion begins to make claims and dictate actions it has a level of morality to it that cannot be considered neutral. Any specific religion with its scriptures, rituals, and beliefs influence the humans involved and the humans influence the religion. Religion is not static. It changes through time based on the ebb and flow of information and interaction with other cultures and other religions. This is obvious so I won’t provide examples. I am not making claims as to which religions are morally inferior or superior. That would take an epic study to define “morality” and parse out those details. To date, the religious aren’t fond of their religion being evaluated so closely.
Science is not like this. The collection of information known as “Science” is influenced by the knowledge gained, but the heart of science with all that knowledge if stripped away is the scientific method: easily conducted, repeatable, and neutral. It is simple. Just like religion it requires humans to conduct it, but that is where the similarities end. It doesn’t care what the results are. It will not influence a human to do something the human wouldn’t do on their own. There is nothing within the scientific method to suggest that a person ritually drink the blood of the Almighty Sagan or cut off the heads of those who oppose quantum tunneling theory. That is not to say some wacky group of humans wouldn’t do that, but it is not influenced by the basic scientific method. How could it?
When Desmond Tutu says “We’ve got to say, what does your faith make you do? I am in awe. We atheists have been saying this for millennia and it usually results in being called “strident” hopefully with our heads still intact. Yes, we have got to ask what faith makes people do and we have to ask what the basis for this faith is! There are real world consequences of religion that affect not just the believers of one religion, but everyone religious and irreligious. It is imperative that faith be questioned and their claims and assertions analyzed. Religion as a fluid cultural construct is ever changing and can influence people to do any manner of actions, morally inferior or superior. The basis of religion is the concept of revelation and this concept is upheld via faith. Faith has ability to influence people dramatically and this is based on what?
Nothing. Nothing at all.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Link Dump 1/4/13

via The Misanthropic Optimist 
Our Stuff

Other Blogs

Science & History


Et cetera

This is —hands down—my favorite album of 2012.