July 13th, 2008

reading list

50 reasons (NOT) to believe in god

#34 The evidence from lituratre & historical studies claim that Biblical statements are reliable details of genuine events.

Didn't I deal with this same claim a couple days ago?

Let's try another approach. Suppose I want to write a story that people will connect to. So I fill it with real historical references as though it were really happening in the real world. Would my including real historical details make the rest of the story true?

Just because I refer to Nebucadnezzer, does that make the details true? Just because I set the story in a real city, does that make it true?

If our theist is nodding their head yes, they are full of shit.

But I did that one before, so let's do the next too.

#35 From the birth of science through today, there is no evidence to claim that Christianity and science are in opposition. Many first scientists were Christians: Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, to name a few, along with the many who stand by their work & faith today.

Boy, there is so much wrong with this.

First of all, just because a scientist believes it, doesn't make it so. I hate to admit that, but scientists believe in all kinds of shit sometimes. What matters is not that they believe it, but that they can prove it. Science is not "what scientists think", it's "what scientists can prove". So saying that Francis Bacon was a believer doesn't mean anything to me at all.

Secondly, let's also point out that a great many scientists were not only not Christians, but often had their own peculiar set of beliefs. Newton was at best a heretic; if you read some of the nonsense he wrote about alchemy and the spiritual side of gravity, you'd know this. Einstein was a Jewish pantheist. Not to mention the good number of others who were/are atheists. So there is certainly nothing about science that lends itself in particular to religious belief, or to any particular religious belief. As a proof of the existence of god, the statement has once again fallen short.

Thirdly, while some Christians, like Catholics who like to interpret the Bible metaphorically when it suits them, might be able to claim with a straight face that there is nothing non-biblical about science and that the two are not in opposition, I strongly suspect that not all believers would agree. Fundamentalist Protestants and their literalist interpretation certainly see that there is a choice between believing in a literal seven-day creation or believing in the big bang and evolution (that together took 13.7 billion years). You can't have both. So the idea of 'god did it' as an answer to the mechanisms of science is simply not enough to save the bible. Depending on how one defines 'Christian', you just can't have it both ways. And depending on how one defines the 'birth' of 'science', the first scientists very well could be pagans, or even Muslims... not Christians at all. So how a Muslim or a pagan doing science proves the validity of a Christian bible which it literally contradicts... I just don't get it.

Lastly, the fact that people claim to be able to compartmentalize and believe two contradictory things at the same time speaks more to insanity than to behaviour that should be modeled.
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Objectivism

I've started reading (well, technically listening to) a book by Ayn Rand, her "magnum opus" Atlas Shrugged.

Ayn Rand is one of those authors that everyone seems to assume that if you're an atheist you've read her, kinda like Nietzsche. My experience in real life with libertarians who embrace Ayn Rand's objectivism are best described as aggravating. (No offense.) But someone I know, whom I think I respect, suggested I read it. And frankly, I think he thinks I'll be converted if I read it, and I look at it more as a way to convert him back to a viewpoint which is slightly more compassionate by using the language of the book, and arguing against specific points that it makes.

Okay, perhaps I am a little insane.

Currently, I'm about 5.5 hours into the audiobook, which is about 50+ hours long, so roughly a 1/10 of the way through. Since the book is 1000 pages or so, that'd be like 100+ pages at this point. (Around where Reardan agrees to get Dagny the track order in 9 months instead of 12. And I actually did a little reading about the book just so I could spell everyone's names properly because I was thinking "Riordan".)

So far, I like Dagny. She reminds me of me. And there are some things about the book I think I will appreciate. Dagny's interest in men is directly proportional to the man's ability to intrigue her intellectually. And sex becomes an expression of that intellectual and emotionally attraction. I agree. Rather Platonic, actually. I don't think I agree with the premise that altruism is inherently bad. One of the contrasts that need to be drawn between rational self-interest and enlightened self-interest (to which I subscribe) is how one's self-interest is calculated. The latter allows for altruism to be beneficial (to oneself), the former doesn't seem to. So far, I do also agree with the notion that being a sacrificial lamb for no good reason is stupid. This is a Christian notion to which I object. It's one thing if there is some greater good to be had, but there is no reason to lie down and take it passively.

One thing I appreciate about the book is a dearth of references to religion so far. That's what a good atheist book should do. I may enjoy listening to it if only for that reason.

In reading the Wikipedia entry on it linked above, I think I will also agree with Rand about the resentment of the masses against the success of those with real talent. I don't think this is universal, but it is grossly endemic in America. I have several other books on my reading list that discuss this. I don't see how, however, one can simply withdraw from society. Frankly, getting a ranch in Montana is not my cup of tea. I don't want to be a rancher. I want to do things I can't possibly fund myself. But, we'll see where the book goes. I'm nowhere close to the point where she gets around to making this point.

So far I've only been able to listen to it for a couple hours on the weekends. So, it may be some time before I finish it. Months even.