Thursday, November 8, 2007
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Lessons to learnI have received no response (October 27). My next step is to send the (slightly modified) request by snail mail. As I stated in my slashdot posting.
All the while I am keeping my daughter informed of progress on this, so that when she grows to the point where she will be making choices regarding intellectual property, she will develop an appropriate respect for how the music publishers handle these things.The question remains whether Mesa records will respond in a way that will earn the
appropriate respectthat they would be happy with.
A few more notes
- In my postal letter, I will add (following a suggestion made in the slashdot discussion) that I am willing to pay a small fee for the permission I seek.
- Here's a copy of video (without the music)
- iMovie 08 is less capable than iMovie 06. This is one of my few disappointments from Apple.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
A friend of mine recently pointed me to an outstanding blog, The Meming of Life. There the author describes issues that come up with raising a freethinking child. He also manage to use each enjoyable anecdote as an illustration of some interesting point, whether it be about the accusation of relativism to understanding when it might be acceptable to take things on authority.
Old news: A memetic view of blasphemy
At any rate, reading the The Meming of Life reminded me of some of the conversations we've had with our daughter, in particular I recalled a discussion I had with her about blasphemy when she was five years old. I had never really thought much about blasphemy before that conversation. That isn't exactly true. I had thought about blasphemy. It is the perfect example of a meme which exists to defend the meme complex it is part of. I am not a great fan of memetics, although I am a great fan of Richard Dawkins. But in this case a memetic point of view appears to be exactly the way to look a blasphemy. It's been described before, far better than I could do it, so I won't repeat that aspect of it.I would like to invite comments with links to such memetic analyses. (See how lazy I am?)
A child's view of blasphemyHere is a slightly modified version of an email message I sent to a friend in May 2004.
So is God a crybaby? Does He really get upset when people say bad things about Him? Is this really the concept of blasphemy among believers? Why does God care about blasphemy? Why are half of the Ten Commandments about how God and religion should be treated?
I don't mean those as rhetorical questions. I would like to hear opinion on these.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Evil Atheists?Certainly there have been some some evil atheists, Joseph Stalin being the most extreme example. But the fact of the matter is that criminal behavior just isn't a prevalent characteristic of atheists. What little evidence exists suggests that atheists are less likely to be criminals [a citation will go here to prison studies], but that result is probably better explained by the fact that atheists tend to have above average levels of education and intelligence [cite will go here], while it is exactly the opposite for the prison population [citation will go here]. At worst atheists are just like everyone else with respect to ethical questions.
More than an argument from ignoranceIt is easy to say that the theists are just being silly when they claim that true atheists can't have morals. But I think it is more interesting to explore what might underlie such silliness. At first it looks like our accusers' reasoning goes something like this:
I don't see where atheists gets their moral imperatives from, therefore they must not have any.When stated this way the logical flaw is obvious. It would be like me saying, "I don't understand how microwaves heat water, therefore microwave ovens don't work." But our accusers can be more subtle and less stupid. Theists, they say, get their moral imperatives from faith in God, while atheists, without such faith must either not have them or get them from somewhere else. "Atheists," they may go on to say, "need a separate explanation for a moral sense." So for the theists the existence of God explains our moral sense in a way that atheism can't. And so by Occam's Razor (which atheists like to quote so much) this is presented as evidence for God. There are two approaches I could take in answering this challenge. One would be to present all of the naturalistic explanations for morality. And without a doubt I would recommend the book Good Natured and other sources. I would also point out that the two great moral philosophies, utilitarianism and Kantianism make no reference to any supernatural God. But that is not the approach I'm taking in this essay. All of those points have been argued well by others, and I doubt I'd have anything useful to add.
God is not the answerInstead I wish to argue that the theist and the atheist are in exactly the same boat when it comes to explaining the origins of good and evil. The God hypothesis doesn't help the theist at all once the argument is examined closely. Again, let me digress and briefly mention an argument that I will not be making in this essay. Most religions provide erratic moral guidance. The Old Testament fully endorses slavery (and that is echoed in the New Testament). The God of Abraham is prone to arbitrary judgment, temper tantrums, and is a crybaby who lashes out at all who don't worship Him properly. (I realized that God was a crybaby when my daughter, then in preschool told me that God gets very upset when people say He doesn't exist.) Only through cherry picking the nice bits can most religions be said to provide anything resembling moral guidance.
Good can't come from GodNow to the argument that I did set out to make in this essay. Let me start with a hypothetical question to a hypothetical theist. Suppose I say that God told me to skin you alive. The theist's response would be that I was either a liar or psychotic (or possibly hearing the voice of Satan posing as God). Now suppose that I had said that God told me to feed the hungry and spread His word. What would the theist's response be to that? In the latter case the theist may well be ready to believe that God really did speak to me. Let's look at what is happening in these two cases. The theist is making a judgment about which message really comes from God based on the morality of the message. And Jesus tells Christians that this is exactly how it should be in Mathew 7:15-20. "Beware of the false prophets, ... You will know them by their fruits." Theologians may try to develop a metaphysical argument about God and good and evil in which something is good because it comes from God. But that metaphysics isn't driving anyone's moral behavior. The theist who thinks skinning people alive is bad and feeding the hungry is good is using their own notion of good and evil to judge what is God. So to the theist who asks where does good and evil come from, I answer that I don't know. But neither does the theist. For the theist good can't come from God because the theist must use their knowledge of good to judge what is God.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Although I am no friend of the religious right, I largely agree with Star Parker's ("Social Distortion" June 10, page 21A) essay pointing out that poverty in America is substantially a consequence of family breakdown. But Ms Parker goes on to say that "Christians like to stay home can care for their families." The simple facts of the matter is that divorce, teen age pregnancy and out of wedlock births are strongly correlated with being religious. The US states with the highest rates of religiosity have the highest rates of family breakdown. And among the rich democracies of the West those countries with the most religious populations also have the highest rates of family breakdown. If religious leaders wish to consider whether their message is contributing to the problem, a good place to start would be to ask whether futile preaching against premarital sex (at a time when age at first marriage is rising) might be better refocused on preaching against premarital pregnancy. Jeffrey GoldbergA letter to the the editor needs to be short, but blogs can ramble on endlessly, so at some point I'll add in actual references. I've looked it all up before, but don't have it at my finger tips now. But there is a very clear pattern that within the US the more religious a region (as measured by church attendance and self-descriptions) the higher the teen pregnancy rates along with higher divorce rates. The pattern with abortion rates is less clear. All this can be checked by looking at US Census data. We see exactly the same pattern across "Western" countries. The higher the religiosity the higher the rates of teen pregnancy and divorce. Again, a case could be made that abortion rates also follow the same pattern, but that case is harder to make due to a number of notable exceptions to the pattern (particularly in former Soviet bloc countries). There certainly can be many reasons for this. We know that religiosity declines with level of education and we know that the more educated women are the longer they wait to have children (and the latter is a world wide trend), so the relationship between early pregnancy and religiosity may merely be a consequence of female education level. But I suspect that it is more. Many Christians in the US have attempted to combat early pregnancy through abstinence training. They have opposed the secular sex education in school if it informs children about contraceptives. On the whole the philosophy is that making contraceptives easily available encourages pre-marital sex. An analogy would be to the fact that automobile airbags encourage faster driving (for which there is some evidence). Even if the anti-contraceptive crowd is correct in this to some degree, it does matter to what degree and what the negative effects of discouraging contraception can be. First of all, the efficacy of abstinence training at having any positive effect is disputed. (I know that I should add a source for this). Studies range from saying that it has no effect on delaying sex to delaying sex for a few months on average. To my knowledge, no serious study has shown that it has a substantial effect. People who blame teen and young-adult sex on TV or other aspects of popular culture are simply ignoring the facts of life. If we are seeing a rise in premarital sex it is because people are getting married later. A century ago an unmarried 25 year-old women was definitely an "old maid." Again studies (which again I should cite) show that those who wait to get married and have children have more successful marriages and children. So the Christian "family values" people have a difficult choice to make. They can continue to fight against pre-marital sex and contraception outside of marriage. To do that they either have to try to change human nature or reverse get girls marrying young again (mid to late teens). Neither approach seems to very appealing. Or if they really want to strengthen families, they can promote the use of contraceptives to prevent not premarital sex, but prevent pregnancies until the couple are prepared to properly support a family. The bottom line is that the religious opposition to contraception outside of marriage is contributing substantially to family breakdown. I hope they take action to truly promote healthy families.