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Recent Reading

  • Susan Jacoby: Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism

    Susan Jacoby: Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
    Excellent overview of the prominent role that freethinkers (atheists, agnostics, and deists) played in America's past, including the founding of our country, the abolition of slavery, and giving women the vote. (*****)

  • Sam Harris: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

    Sam Harris: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
    One of the most frightening books I've ever read. Among numerous other topics, Harris argues that it is almost inevitable that atomic weapons will fall into the hands of religious radicals -- if not terrorist, then perhaps a nation with religious radicals in charge. (****)

  • Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion

    Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion
    Highly recommended. Despite what you might have heard, Richard Dawkins does not spew venom in this book. Flames do not shoot out when you open it, nor does bile drip from the pages. Far from being an hysterical, rabid diatribe against religion, it is a quite measured, logical explanation of the evidence against God and why religion should not be treated with such reverence. (*****)

  • Daniel C. Dennett: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

    Daniel C. Dennett: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
    I highly recommend this book for anyone who is about to embark on studying religion and atheism. Why do people enjoy music? Why do we like to socialize? Why do we sometimes become violent? Science has attempted to answer each of these questions. Dennett proposes that science attempt to answer another: Why are people religious? Even if one of the religions is true, that still means that billions of people believe religions that are not true. Why? What is it about our evolutionary past that makes us willing to believe? (*****)

  • Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

    Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
    Why wasn't Europe invaded by ships carrying gun-wielding Native Americans or Africans, rather than the other way around? This is an excellent explanation of why some societies became quite advanced, while others remained primitive. (*****)

  • Richard P. Feynman: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character

    Richard P. Feynman: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character
    Very entertaining and thought-provoking collection of anecdates from the life of perhaps the best-known physicist of the 20th century. (****)

  • Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack S. Cohen: The Science of Discworld
    You'll have to visit Amazon UK to locate this one. This book explains science concepts by comparing them to the decidedly different physical laws of the Discworld series. (****)
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December 01, 2009

"Letting Go of God" on Showtime

Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God" will be airing on Showtime, Showtime 2, and Showtime Showcase.

Here's the description:

Actress and comic Julia Sweeney chronicles her tumultuous journey of faith from lapsed Catholic recommitting to the church to Buddhist, New Age mystic, and finally atheist whose philosophical transformation upsets her family in this fascinating one-woman stage show that follows up her acclaimed "God Said, 'Ha!'"

Here's the schedule:

  • Dec 2, 10:45 AM (Showtime Showcase)
  • Dec 2, 9:35 PM (Showtime Showcase)
  • Dec 5, 1:30 PM (Showtime Showcase)
  • Dec 7, 8:00 PM (Showtime 2)
  • Dec 8, 5:30 PM (Showtime)

I haven't seen it yet (and I don't get Showtime), but I have heard the CD version (the audio of her one-woman show), and that is very good. It's interesting, funny, and poignant, and I highly recommend it.

Here's the trailer:


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April 03, 2009

JREF and Atheist Media back on YouTube; Rational Response still suspended

The suspensions of the James Randi Educational Foundation's YouTube account and Atheist Media's YouTube account have been lifted. Rational Response appears to still be suspended.

The latest rumor is that it was a DMCA complaint from a large (unnamed) Christian group. Is that any more true than the earlier rumor of bots flagging the video as being in violation of YouTube's TOS?

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March 30, 2009

YouTube suspends JREF, Rational Response, and Atheist Media

YouTube has suspended the accounts of the James Randi Educational Foundation, Rational Response, and Atheist Media. The rumour floating around is that someone wrote a bot to automatically report all atheist-related YouTube accounts. We'll have to see how this plays out.

It would be nice if there was a presumption of innocence at YouTube, but apparently that isn't the case. Perhaps Vimeo is a better alternative.

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June 16, 2008

James Randi at UIUC


James Randi
Originally uploaded by Wally Hartshorn

On March 10, 2008, well-known skeptic and debunker James Randi spoke to a large crowd at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as did Nobel Prize winning chemist Richard J. Roberts. Several members of REALL and the Springfield Area Freethinkers made the trip to attend their talks.



Randi with Springfield Skeptics and Freethinkers



In addition to the many photos, Randi was also nice enough to autograph my copy of his book, Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions. That was one of the very first books on skepticism that I read. Perhaps even the first book.


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August 25, 2007

Some Recent Reading

It's been months since I posted anything here. What can I say? I've been busy. Our local skeptics group, REALL, hosted a stop on Victor J. Stenger's book tour in June, which was cool.

My recent reading has included:

I highly recommend all three books, particularly the two by Jared Diamond.

Currently I'm reading Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert D. Putnam. So far I'm only about halfway through it, but it's been very interesting, so I recommend it, too. However, it came out in 2000, so for the full story I'll need to read his followup book, Better Together: Restoring the American Community.

Well, I'll try to write more later. I just wanted to confirm that I'm not dead yet!

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March 31, 2007

Atheist attacked publicizing talk about "God: The Failed Hypothesis"

As I've mentioned before, in June our local skeptics and freethinkers groups will be hosting Victor J. Stenger, author of God: The Failed Hypothesis, on this leg of his book tour. As a result, I've been keeping an eye on any news related to the book. Generally, this means reviews, but this week I found something different:

An atheist group leader says he is the victim of a religious hate crime.

Freethought Association of Canada president Justin Trottier said he was assaulted at Ryerson University earlier this week while he and a colleague were hanging posters for a coming lecture.

[...]

Mr. Trottier, 24, and his colleague were hanging posters Tuesday night announcing a lecture by Victor Stenger, author of God: The Failed Hypothesis, when they were approached by two men.

[...]

One of the men hit him in the face twice, and butted him on his face, causing his nose to bleed, Mr. Trottier said.

So, was it a hate crime? The university and the police aren't treating it as such.

Were the attackers religious? (One might immediately object that they weren't acting religious, but that's a separate question. There's plenty of precedent to argue that attacking a non-believer is a very religious action, but we can debate that some other time.)

Assuming that the attackers were motivated by the fact that Mr. Trottier was publicizing an atheist event, would that make it a hate crime? Seems to me like it would. If Mr. Trottier was attacked because he was publicizing a Jewish event or a Muslim event, I don't think anyone would hesitate to call it a hate crime, so the fact that it was an atheist event shouldn't make any difference.

Of course, it's certainly possible that the attackers were motivated by nothing more than alcohol and boredom, in which case it was just a random event. However, unless there's something I'm missing here, it would seem prudent for the police to at least accept that this might have been a hate crime and investigate it as such to determine the truth.

(For those who wonder what the big deal is about hate crimes: If someone is going around killing everyone named "Sarah Connor" and your name is Sarah Connor, that is an implicit threat against you. It isn't just the immediate crime; it's the implicit threat against others that makes a hate crime worse.)

Links:

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March 05, 2007

More Stenger News

God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor J. Stenger has now shown up at #21 on the March 11 edition of the New York Times Best Seller List in the Hardcover Nonfiction category. The God Delusion is at #12 and Letter to a Christian Nation is at #24.

Blogcritics has an interview with Victor Stenger.

There's also an interview with Victor Stenger in the March 3 Point of Inquiry podcast.

ExChristian.net has a brief article about the book and the advertising campaign.

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March 02, 2007

"God: The Failed Hypothesis" at #21 on NYT list

I received an email from Jill Maxick, Director of Publicity at Prometheus Books,  saying that God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor J. Stenger will appear at #21 on the next New York TImes Best Seller Hardcover Nonfiction Extended Best Seller List. (Coincidentally, #21 is where Letter to a Christian Nation is on the current list. The God Delusion is currently at #10.) Once it gets into the top 15, it will show up in the printed New York Times Book Review.

Incidentally, there's a 38-page PDF excerpt from the book available from the Prometheus web site.

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March 01, 2007

Three Atheist Books on New York Times Best Seller List

Yesterday I received an email from Victor J. Stenger, who said that he had just learned that his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis, has made the New York Times Best Seller list. He doesn't know where it ranks yet, just that it will be on the "extended list" (i.e. the top 35 of hardcover nonfiction). At Amazon.com, it's #292 of all books.

This means that there will be THREE atheist books on the NYT best seller list at the same time:

Aside from it being pretty exciting that there are 3 atheist books on that list, I'm also happy because Victor Stenger will be speaking to our local skeptics group, the Rational Examination Assocation of Lincoln Land (REALL), on June 5. Being able to tell the local newspaper that a "New York Times Best Selling Author" will be speaking to your group sounds like a good way to get ourselves a little bit of publicity!

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February 02, 2007

Nightline covers the Blasphemy Challenge

The Rational Response Squad and their Blasphemy Challenge were covered on Nightline the other night. Here's the video:

I found the whole piece a bit frustrating. The reporter, John Berman, seemed obviously biased against the group, at times bordering on hostile. I found the complaint that they were targeting teenagers to be particularly annoying. Religions target teenagers, so why can't atheists?

Berman also found it strange that people would spend their time opposing religion. Well, some people devote their whole lives to promoting religion, even swearing off sex and marriage to do so. I'm wondering whether he would be just as willing to label ministers and priests as odd?

Berman seemed to be unable to wrap his mind around the idea of God, Heaven, and Hell not existing. As a result, he seemed unable to grasp why atheists aren't worried about saying, "I deny the Holy Spirit".

And there was the usual "what if you're wrong" question, which should have been answered with "what if the Muslims are right and worshiping Jesus condemns you to Hell? What if the Hindus are right? What if the Norse were right? What if the Mormons are right? Which god should I worship?"

Speaking of the Holy Spirit, this reminds me of an event that happened to me in second grade. (For those of you outside the U.S., that means I would have been about 7 years old.) We had recently moved, so I was attending a new school. It was lunch time, and some kid was talking about ghosts. He asked me whether I believed in ghosts, and I said, "No".

Then he asked, "not even the Holy Ghost?", and I again said, "No". This got a shocked reaction as he immediately turned to the kids at the next table and exclaimed, "He doesn't believe in the Holy Ghost!" It was at that point that I realized that what he was calling the "Holy Ghost" my church called the "Holy Spirit". I was extremely embarrassed at my faux pas and couldn't bring myself to explain my misunderstanding.

I find it somewhat odd that I still remember that event 37 years later. I guess it must have been really dreadful, the feeling of being viewed as a heretic -- even though, at the time, I believed in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, just because everyone else did (or so I thought). It was another 10-15 years before I became an atheist.

If you haven't already seen it, here is the video promoting the Blasphemy Challenge:

Oh, by the way, I deny the Holy Spirit.

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December 2009

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Who's Who

  • Joe McFaul
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  • Eugenie Scott
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  • Paul Kurtz
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  • Michael Shermer
    Founder of Skeptics Society
  • James Randi
    Debunked Uri Geller; founded JREF; offers $1M to anyone who can prove any paranormal ability.

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