Shermer, Randi, Tom, Kitcher, Edis

More presentations on tap today in A&P, on Religion & Neuroscience and “Parenting Beyond Belief”  among others. More Blackford essays too:

Skeptic Michael Shermer’s Believing Brain lays out his own conversion and de-conversion stories at length. The short version is “Why I Am an Atheist,” and more nuance is introduced in “How to Think About God: Theism, Atheism, and Science.” He doesn’t much care for labels, but as a skeptic he “simply does not believe a knowledge claim until sufficient evidence is presented.” So he’s ok with one label: Militant Agnostic (“I don’t know and you don’t either.)

He also does a fun spot with Mr. Deity…

and a snappy TED Talk.

Are science and religion compatible?’ It’s like asking: ‘Are science and plumbing compatible?’ They’re just two different things.

Shermer has interesting thoughts on the religious implications of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He’s skeptical. But I, like Sagan and Tyson and Jill Tarter, think ET’s worth looking for.

We, all of us, are what happens when a primordial mixture of hydrogen and helium evolves for so long that it begins to ask where it came from. –Jill Tarter

James Randi is “appalled” that so many of his contemporaries continue to credit religious mythology and to discredit evolution and withhold instruction in basic reproductive biology. Magician that he is, he still can’t make their superstitions disappear.

Emma Tom takes down the “devout bitch” who terrorized her in kindergarten with warnings of leprosy and hell. But she’s ready for her day of reckoning,  when she imagines “the rapturous sky will actually be full of big-hearted gays, compassionate abortionists, and inner city Wiccans.”

Philip Kitcher defends the pragmatic line on religion, from William James and John Dewey. Religious claims may be false, even “absurd,” while religion on the whole may yet be defensible for some on other grounds. He and they hold out for “a secular humanism that emphasizes the humanity as well as the secularism.”

Kitcher’s new book The Ethical Project is up our alley:

Instead of conceiving ethical commands as divine revelations or as the discoveries of brilliant thinkers, we should see our ethical practices as evolving over tens of thousands of years, as members of our species have worked out how to live together and prosper…

…an evolving ethics built around a few core principles—including justice and cooperation—but leaving room for a diversity of communities and modes of self-expression. Ethics emerges as a beautifully human phenomenon—permanently unfinished, collectively refined and distorted generation by generation. Our human values can be understood not as a final system but as a project—the ethical project—in which our species has engaged for most of its history, and which has been central to who we are.

Taner Edis (Science and Nonbelief) similarly denies “that the question of belief has a single answer true for everyone” and opts for pluralism. What is true and what we should believe, he thinks, may not always converge. I could be wrong, but I’ll bet that’s not going to fly in A&P. I think I prefer James’s own formulation on this point, perhaps (I confess) because it’s a little slipperier:

‘What would be better for us to believe’! This sounds very like a definition of truth. It comes very near to saying ‘what we OUGHT to believe’: and in THAT definition none of you would find any oddity. Ought we ever not to believe what it is BETTER FOR US to believe? And can we then keep the notion of what is better for us, and what is true for us, permanently apart? Pragmatism

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