Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Nature is always more subtle, more intricate, more elegant than what we are able to imagine."
--Carl Sagan

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."
--Charles Darwin

"Societies that teach contentment with our present situation in life in expectation of a post-mortem reward, tend to inoculate themselves against revolution."
--Carl Sagan

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Help! We're Being Persecuted!

A survey on the religions of the American public was just released. It showed a near-uniform loss in numbers for every religion, and a near-uniform gain in numbers for non-religious. Atheists everywhere on the internets began cheering. This, I feel, is a complete lack of foresight, because it will only strengthen those mindless "War on Christianity" arguments that will be used to mobilize the masses into doing something stupid out of fear that religion will be banned. It saddens me that I'm the only one cynical enough to see this happening.

I'm not going to be the one to start crying "apocalypse" or "be afraid", but this is the path that the false "Help! We're being persecuted!" usually take. Be prepared for this transparent bullshit.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

God in the News

The title of this post is "God in the News", but as soon as I started writing it, I realized that it has nothing to do with god or the news, but has everything to do with language. I'm going to keep that title though, to remind everyone of my poor judgment (as though that were necessary).

One of the top story headlines on the BBC homepage this morning read, in order, "'Miraculous' survival in Turkey".

There are a lot of atheists that cry foul pretty quickly here. Myself, speaking as an atheist, I take issue when the word "miracle" is thrown about, even in situations such as these, where the mention of god never occurs. I find it intellectually dishonest to claim that things like these are miracles, but if the man had died, it's hardly ever claimed that god extended his divine finger to kill this man.

As a linguist, I understand that the word "miracle" contains a connotation that's inimitable. The phrase "really lucky" simply does not compare. You are really lucky if you see a $50 on the ground. You are certainly far beyond "really lucky" if you get hit by truck propelled by a train and live to eat cake a few days later. Miracle it is not, but "really lucky" only partially covers it.

Part of the reason religion permeates our lives is because it permeates language. There are better ways to write the headline "'Miraculous' Survival". It's true. "Man Gets Hit by Truck. Eats Cake." is a good one I just came up with on the spot. But the original headline creates an atmosphere that "Man Truck Boom" can't compete with. The present language we have can't excite adequately, and the religious language we have can't inform properly.

To get a better idea of what I'm talking about, the headline directly below -- literally, right underneath it -- that one reads: "Bionic Eye Gives Blind Man Sight." That's right. A blind man can see because of technology.

Which is the real miracle here? If something happens because of luck, we attribute that to the divine. If something happens due to ingenuity and intelligence, we attribute that to humankind. I know whose side I want to be on.

Monday, March 2, 2009

On Open-mindedness

"The giving up of witchcraft is in effect the giving up of the bible."
-John Wesley

"To deny the possibility, nay, actual existence of witchcraft and sorcery is at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of God in various passages of both the Old and New Testament."
-William Blackstone

The Big Bang

"All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike -- and yet it is the most precious thing we have."
-Albert Einstein

"It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it."
-Edmund Way Teale