January 23, 2010

36 Arguments for the Existence of God

Philosophy professor Rebecca Goldstein -- a 1996 winner of the MacArthur Award (also known as the "genius" award) who earned her Ph.D. at Princeton-- has written a new novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God -- A Work of Fiction.

From the Publishers Weekly editorial review:
Cass Seltzer, a university professor specializing in the psychology of religion, hits the big time with a bestselling book and an offer to teach at Harvard—quite a step up from his current position at Frankfurter University. While waiting for his girlfriend to return from a conference, Cass receives an unexpected visit from Roz Margolis, whom he dated 20 years earlier and who looks as good now as she ever did. Her secret: dedicating her substantial smarts to unlocking the secrets of immortality. Cass's recent success and Roz's sudden appearance send him into contemplation of the tumultuous events of his past, involving his former mentor, his failed first marriage and a young mathematical prodigy whose talent may go unrealized, culminating in a standing-room-only debate with a formidable opponent where Cass must reconcile his new, unfamiliar life with his experience of himself. Irreverent and witty, Goldstein seamlessly weaves philosophy into this lively and colorful chronicle of intellectual and emotional struggles.
Oh, by the way, she's also married to Harvard and MIT cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker.

In case you haven't had a chance to read her new novel, here's a video of Pinker interviewing Goldstein:

I like Rebecca Goldstein. She told Christopher Lydon, host of Open Source from Brown University, that she's
"not very uncomfortable with some of the belittling descriptions of religious people ...
Religion and religious emotion are so much more complicated than that. One of the things that Spinoza taught us, and it's being validated finally in neuroscientific labs, is that emotions and intellect, cognitions and passion, are inextricably bound up with one another. Cognitive states are also emotional states, and emotional states make cognitive claims.."
I know intelligent people, as well as stupid people, who are religious. Goldstein quotes John Locke to Lydon on religious enthusiasm, saying: look, it's not a source of truth. It is powerful and it is ecstatic." I happen to think that most religious apologists' arguments are hogwash, but we can disagree with each other without being disagreeable. I think that if anyone can pull off a book about disagreement that does not preclude reconciliation, Goldstein can.

Grab some popcorn, watch the great debate

ABC's Nightline will film "Does God Have a Future? A Great Debate".
  • Date: Sunday, March 14, 2010
  • Location: Beckman Auditorium, Caltech
  • Speakers: Deepak Chopra, Jean Houston, Michael Shermer and Sam Harris
From The Skeptic website:

New York Times bestselling author Deepak Chopra is an MD and board-certified Internist and endocrinologist. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and guest lecturer annually at the Update in Internal Medicine CME Course Beth Israel Hospital Boston Harvard Medical School. He directs the educational programs at the Chopra Center for Well Being. Hailed by Time magazine as one of the 100 icons of the century, and credited as "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine," Chopra is the author of more than 55 books that have been translated into 35 languages and sold over 20 million copies worldwide.

Dr. Jean Houston (B.A. from Barnard College, Ph.D. in psychology from the Union Graduate School and a Ph.D in religion from the Graduate Theological Foundation) is a scholar, philosopher and researcher in human capacities, and is one of the principal founders of the Human Potential Movement. A powerful and dynamic speaker, she holds conferences and seminars with social leaders, educational institutions and business organizations worldwide. She is the author of 26 books including A Passion for the Possible, Search for the Beloved, Life Force, The Possible Human, Public Like a Frog, A Mythic Life: Learning to Live Our Greater Story, and Manual of the Peacemaker.

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University, and the author of The Mind of the Market, Why Darwin Matters, The Science of Good and Evil and Why People Believe Weird Things. Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University. He has appeared on such shows as The Colbert Report, 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, and Larry King Live.

Dr. Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and the author of the New York Times bestsellers The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. Harris's writing has been published in over 15 languages. He is a Co-Founder and CEO of The Reason Project, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. He received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA.

January 20, 2010

The Bible, re-interpreted

Bart Ehrman is an American New Testament scholar and textual critic of early Christianity. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

According to wikipedia,
Ehrman became an Evangelical Christian as a teen. His desire to understand the original words of the Bible led him to the study of ancient languages and to textual criticism, to which he attributes the inspiration for an ongoing critical exploration of the basis of his own religious beliefs, which in turn gradually led to the questioning of his faith in the Bible as the inerrant, unchanging word of God. He now considers himself an agnostic.
He is the author of or has contributed to more than 20 books. Last year, he published another book called Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them).

Here's Ehrman being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air".

Go to hell, Pat Robertson

Even though I think the title "reverend" is an empty and bogus title, I wouldn't even apply it to you for fear of besmirching it.

That's how low you've sunk in the eyes of all decent human beings. You are a shameful excuse for a human being. You're senile, stupid and a racist to boot. What comes out of your mouth could charitably be described as oral diarrhea.

The death toll from the Jan. 12 Haiti earthquake has exceeded 200,000. In the midst of so much suffering, Pat Robertson had this to say on his show, The 700 Club:

Robertson: "Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the Devil said, okay it's a deal."
What he was referring to, allegedly, was the 1791 slave uprising against the French at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French.

Haiti's slave revolt in the 18th century was the first and only successful revolt in the Americas to overthrow oppression. And, as the Haitian ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, pointed out on the Rachel Maddow show, Robertson shows a woeful ignorance of history.


The only responsible response to the disaster in Haiti is to help in any way you can. Donate money, as I and a lot of Americans have done. Go to Haiti to help with rescue efforts, as a lot of Americans have also done. Go to Charity Navigator to give to agencies and NGOs that work to alleviate Haiti's suffering.

Pat Robertson is supposedly something of an "expert" on Hell. Good, because he's going to be in it when he dies.