Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for August 2009

Aug/09

31

Attitudes toward assisted suicide

Previous post prompted me to look to the General Social Survey in regards to attitudes to assisted suicide broken down by demographic variables. The variable I used was DOCSUI, which asks:

How much do you agree of disagree with the following options for this person? This person should ask for physician-assisted suicide

The N was a little more than 1200, and the question was asked in 1998. I put the extreme and moderate views together (strongly and not strongly). Below a chart and the raw data in a table.
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Aug/09

31

Slouching toward death (with a push)

Montana Court to Rule on Assisted Suicide Case:

Robert Baxter was by all accounts a tough man. Even in the end, last year, as lymphocytic leukemia was killing him, Mr. Baxter, a 76-year-old retired truck driver from Billings, Mont., fought on. But by then he was struggling not for life, but for the right to die with help from his doctor.

“He yearned for death,” his daughter, Roberta King, said in a court affidavit describing her father’s final agonized months.

Now, in death, Mr. Baxter is at the center of a right-to-die debate that could make Montana the first state in the country to declare that medical aid in dying is a protected right under a state constitution.

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Aug/09

30

From Christendom to the West

Rod Dreher has an interesting post, Is religion necessary to Western civilization? There are many specific points where I agree, and disagree, naturally. Some reactions:
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Aug/09

30

A Whitewashed Sepulchre

Not content with being Britain’s most destructive prime minister in at least half a century, Tony Blair continues to irritate with a series of nauseating, preening and self-righteous lectures (often ‘faith’-tinged) on how he sees the world. Over at the London Spectator’s blog, David Blackburn takes Blair down a peg or two:

 

Tony Blair interrupted his Mediterranean holiday, on which he spent time on billionaire Larry Ellison’s gin palace, to condemn materialism and the pursuit of personal wealth. The former PM addressed the Catholic Church’s ‘Communion and Liberation Conference’ in Rimini – a great honour for a layman.

Urging the universal adoption of the ascetic, the Quartet’s special envoy to the Middle East, who is also an advisor to JP Morgan and an internationally renowned lecturer and author – and therefore needs houses across the globe – said that the “aggressive secularism and materialism found in parts of the West” should not be allowed to “gain traction” in the rest of the world. According to the Guardian, Blair’s words had such power the audience was rendered speechless, as am I.

Speaking with trademark earnestness, a self-aware Mr Blair confided that his conversion to Catholicism had been “humbling”. And, echoing St Francis of Assisi, Mr Blair asserted that it was the “role of faith” to arrest the moral decline engendered by the love of money, and said he “would represent God’s truth” always. God help us.

Chuck it, Blair.

Aug/09

30

We are all special (some more so)

Andrew’s post got me to thinking about inter-individual differences. I’ve had many religious friends who claim that if they didn’t believe in God they would happily rape & murder. Though frankly I have a tendency to keep my distance when people enthusiastically admit their predelicition for these acts if there wasn’t an eye-in-the-sky, the reality is that I don’t believe this is true (just as I don’t believe that many Christian evangelical men would participate in homosexual orgies if they’re religion didn’t preach against it). I accept that humans have a moral sense, and that religious and philosophical systems of morality & ethics only formalize, explicate and systematize what was already extant. But the more interesting issue than the problem of moral action is that of modeling the psychology of others. It is not uncommon for religious people to feel pity for non-religious people who do not have access to “teh awesome” that is God. This is especially ironic in the case of the large number of non-religious people who were religious at some point, and so presumably do not think that the state of religiosity is the bee’s knees.

There are extreme cases of those who have never been religious, in particular, never truly believed in God, and those who have always been religious, always believed in God. As someone in the former category I do occassionally ask atheists who did believe in God, or religious people who do believe in God, the details of what this was or is like. But what about those atheists who are in the category of wanting to believe, or not being able to? There are many of these as well who I have met.

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Aug/09

30

The Urge to Believe

Aug/09

30

Over-egging the Pudding

Over at First Things, James Poulos writing about, I think, the need to find some sort of meaning in life, worries about (inter alia) the plight of the agnostic:

…the failure of the agnostic to find repose, in faith or out of it, leads him or her altogether past any basis of an entire life and into a long, chaotic oscillation, moving between living as if ultimate meaning shaped life and living as if it did not.

Who knew?

Poulos is, of course, assuming that these poor benighted agnostics are worried about such matters in the first place. Perhaps some are. Speaking only for myself (a C of E agnostic, I suppose, if I have to put some sort of description to where I stand on such matters) I have to say that the presence or absence of ‘ultimate meaning’ bothers me not a jot. As for ‘repose’, I mainly define that as a good night’s sleep.

H/t: The Daily Dish

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Over the past few days I’ve followed a slight controversy involving Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe & John McWhorter (you can see the posts at ScienceBlogs, Michael Behe speaks on bloggingheads.tv affair, John McWhorter & Michael Behe bloggingheads.tv, 2 and John McWhorter & Michael Behe bloggingheads.tv). In the course of tracking down other weblogs with reactions, I stumbled onto a most interesting individual, speaking from an anthropological perspective, the atheist who speaks in favor of Intelligent Design. Consider the matrix:

  Pro-Intelligent Design Anti-Intelligent Design
Theist William Dembski Ken Miller
Atheist ? Richard Dawkins
     

I have given examples for three of the classes crossing the variables, but none for one of them. Steve Fuller arguably falls into this rare class of atheist apologists for Intelligent Design, but I judge him to be somewhat equivocal and frankly self-interested (Fuller raised his profile by appearing as a witness for the Dover school district).

Bradley Monton, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder, fits the bill in a more straightforward manner. He’s written a book: Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. Monton thinks Intelligent Design is false personally, but seems to believe that there is some fruit to be gained by engaging with the movement. Here is the abstract of a paper, Is Intelligent Design Science? Dissecting the Dover Decision:

In the case of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., Judge Jones ruled that a pro-intelligent design disclaimer cannot be read to public school students. In his decision, he gave demarcation criteria for what counts as science, ruling that intelligent design fails these criteria. I argue that these criteria are flawed, with most of my focus on the criterion of methodological naturalism. The way to refute intelligent design is not by declaring it unscientific, but by showing that the empirical evidence for design is not there.

More of the same to be found at Monton’s weblog, which I offer mostly in the spirit of a guide who introduces his charges to the bizarre rites of a primitive tribe. My own attitude toward the demarcation problem is that it has an easy resolution: what scientists do is science. The opinions of lawyers and philosophers are so much window dressing. Intelligent Design theorists in the natural sciences might consider simply taking over departments at the numerous Christian universities, such as Wheaton, and generating their own original research, instead of battling it out in the public square.

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Aug/09

25

Seniors hate government health insurance

H. L. Mencken is laughing somewhere. See data here.

I had never heard of the “Third Man” phenomenon until reading this fascinating Wall Street Journal book review.  People in extreme situations, such as explorers stranded on a mountain peak or shipwreck survivors, have reported the sensation of being accompanied out of danger by an invisible companion who offers them encouragement and guidance.  

Believers might say: But of course!  We are accompanied through life by an invisible friend.  According to Michael Novak, for example, “God made humans to offer them his friendship and companionship.” 

Scientists, however,  can “evoke the sensation of a shared presence by stimulating the brain with electricity,” according to Wall Street Journal reviewer Michael Ybarra.  The author of The Third Man Factor posits a possible evolutionary value to such a neurological sensation.   The fact that we can electrically induce a hidden companion doesn’t mean that we are not walking with Jesus, but it does point at the very least to the unfathomably complex relationship between our consciousness, the sub-conscious workings of our brain, and the external world.

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