March 21, 2018

Your Beliefs Are Not Sacred to Me

Sacred heart of Jesus CordobaMany Christians seem to think that their religious beliefs deserve respect, even from those of us who do not share these beliefs. "You don't have to believe what I do," they say, "but you should at least respect my beliefs." Why? I happen to think that I can defend your right to believe as you wish without having even a trace of respect for what you believe. Moreover, I can respect you as a person without respecting your religious beliefs.

The interesting thing is that many religious believers and atheists seem to share this viewpoint that religious beliefs should be respected. In other words, many non-Christians would agree that it is okay for me not to share your Christian beliefs as long as I still respect them. And similarly, many non-Muslims agree that I do not have to share your Muslim beliefs as long as I respect them. Whether this perspective comes from politeness, a desire to avoid conflict, a fear of retribution, or some other source, it remains a powerful factor maintaining religious belief. It erects something akin to a force field around religion, preventing meaningful criticism from entering.

One question that needs to be asked is whether your religious beliefs deserve respect. That they are your beliefs or that they are religious in nature is irrelevant here. I happen to be convinced that your belief in a personal god who hear your prayers, intervenes in the world, etc. is both irrational and harmful to the world we share. It is irrational because it is maintained in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence and harmful because it promotes irrationality and conflict. In other words, your religious beliefs do not warrant respect. Telling me that I should respect your religious beliefs is comparable to claiming that I should respect the racist beliefs of a white supremacist.

How to Reduce the Political Outrage in Your Twitter Timeline

Anger redIf you are a Twitter user like me who has tired of the constant Trump-related outrage filling your timeline every day, I've got some good news for you. It is far easier to tame it than I ever imagined. Doing so makes it easier to focus on why you are using Twitter in the first place. In this post, I am going to lay out the steps I performed as part of an experiment to spend the next 30 days with minimal political outrage clogging my Twitter timeline.

I'll start by giving you some context and explaining what I am trying to accomplish. Before I implemented any of the steps I'll outline below, I was following approximately 760 people on Twitter. Although I used to enjoy Twitter, I reached the point in 2016 where I found myself complaining about it more frequently. I am on Twitter primarily for content related to atheism, skepticism, freethought, reason, critical thinking, and the like; however, my timeline is nearly always full of counterproductive tribalism and political outrage. This has become much worse during the past couple years, and I recently decided that it was time for a drastic change. My goal with this experiment is to reduce the political outrage in my timeline by roughly 80%. While I'm only a few days into it, I believe I am already close to reaching this goal.

March 18, 2018

Motivated Reasoning as a Barrier to Rationality

Leibniz's diagrammatic reasoning.
Leibniz's diagrammatic reasoning. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many freethinkers, skeptics, and atheists strive to embrace reason and to follow the evidence where it leads. We face many barriers in doing this, and the most important are probably those that reflect the limitations of our minds. Thus, it probably makes sense that we should try to better understand these limitations and be prepared for how they are likely to lead us astray.

Social scientists have a term that captures phenomena we atheists are quite used to seeing in religious believers: motivated reasoning (also known as motivated believing). Of course, we do it too. And we tend to be much less successful in detecting it in ourselves. Motivated reasoning refers to the fact that emotional and motivational factors tend to influence our decision-making, belief formation, and reasoning processes far more than we typically realize. When we engage in motivated reasoning, we:
  1. believe something because we want to believe it (i.e., it feels good, we like it, etc.),
  2. generate reasonable-sounding justifications for the belief, and
  3. complete this process without realizing that we are doing so.

March 17, 2018

A Brief Review of Get Out (2017)

Get Out (2017)As is my tendency, I somehow managed to see Get Out (2017) without having read any spoilers beforehand. Going into it, all I had heard was that it was supposed to be really good, that it had something to do with a Black man meeting his White girlfriend's family, and that it was a horror flick. Interestingly, this last bit about it being a horror film would prove to be controversial. The genres that have been attached to this film are quite varied, and I've seen it described as horror, thriller, dark comedy, comedy, and drama. I first heard about it on horror film blogs, so I'm going with that. I think that probably comes closest to how it was marketed too.

I found the first third of Get Out to be as good as any film I've seen in the last 10 years. It was well-acted, well-directed, clever, and creative as hell. The entire cast was fantastic. I loved the premise and was blown away with the execution. Had the rest of the film been as good as this portion, I would have said that it deserved every award it received and many more.

We meet a young interracial couple who is on their way to visit the White woman's family over a weekend. From the beginning, we pick up on a bit of tension and it becomes clear that race is going to figure prominently into the story. Everything works perfectly to create what starts as a mild sense of unease that builds throughout this portion of the film. We know something is going to go horribly wrong, but we aren't initially sure what it is.

March 16, 2018

Godless Mom Moves to Patheos

Atheist blog consolidation recently claimed another victim. Godless Mom has moved her blog to the Patheos blog network. She can now be found at If you have been linking to her previous blog or using her RSS feed, it might be time to update some links to make sure you don't miss out on her updates.

In other atheist-related blogging news, atheist blogs seem to be shutting down at an alarming rate. At least, that's what it seemed like when I started to do some re-organizing in my RSS reader and noticed that over half the atheist blogs I had in there had either disappeared completely or hadn't posted anything in a couple years. This observation might have more to do with the fact that I was long overdue for some cleaning than any drastic decline in the number of active atheist blogs, but I was surprised at the number I had to remove. Perhaps atheist blogging really has peaked.

March 15, 2018

Christians Celebrating Hawking's Death

A brief history of timeI'm seeing several atheists on Twitter who are (understandably) upset about the Christians who have been mocking Stephen Hawking since he died, insisting that he is burning in hell, pretending that he found Jesus on his deathbed, and other nonsense. It is not a good look for them, is it? It is almost as if these Christians fail to realize that this is precisely the sort of thing that makes Christianity seem less appealing.

Still, I find myself wondering whether some small percentage of the Christians who have been saying these things about Hawking remember how some atheists behaved when Billy Graham died. I'm guessing that this isn't true of most of them, but I suspect that some may be saying some of the things they are saying because of this.

It is obvious to you and I that Billy Graham was no Stephen Hawking. I suspect that the majority of Christians would even agree with us on that point. I also suspect that some Christians might actually place Graham ahead of Hawking in terms of who they most valued. Yep, I'd bet there are some who would prefer to have Graham back than Hawking if they could bring one of them back. And it would not surprise me to learn that some of them were upset when they saw atheists mocking Graham shortly after he died.