firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
The professor of my Virology MOOC, Vincent Racaniello, spent the first couple of lectures drilling us on how viruses are completely inanimate, are not even alive (depending on how you define "alive"), and definitely can't think or strategize. This week's lectures have been about how viruses get inside cells and how they avoid attaching to the wrong things or being eaten by stuff inside the cell before they are where they need to be. Each time he describes one of the methods he says "It's really a brilliant strategy." (And he's right. I don't believe in a creator deity, so I think it's a strategy not developed on purpose by any consciousness, but it's a strategy, and it's brilliant.)

The professor of my MOOC "A Brief History of Humankind" theorized that Stone Age humans mostly practiced animism, a spiritual system in which everything in the environment is considered to be alive and to have personality, goals, to be able to communicate, etc.

It certainly does seem that animistic metaphors and ways of thinking are built into the language I speak.
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
This is from a comment I made in [personal profile] xiphias's journal, where there is a discussion of the concepts "theist," "atheist," and "agnostic."

A quote I like on this subject:
For T. H. Huxley, who coined the term in 1869, agnosticism was as demanding as any moral, philosophical, or religious creed. Rather than a creed, though, he saw it as a *method* realized through "the rigorous application of a single principle." He expressed the principle positively as "Follow your reason as far as it will take you," and negatively as: "Do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable."....Huxley called it the "agnostic faith." -- Stephen Batchelor, Buddha Without Beliefs
I'm very much of two minds. Intellectually I'm scientifically oriented and don't believe in things I don't have evidence for. Emotionally, on a subconscious level, I often have a feeling that the universe is benign ("of a kindly disposition"), although I don't really imbue it with personality so I wouldn't call it belief in deity.

I've tried various ways of balancing these things. My current solution to this two-mindedness is a Buddhist practice with no belief in deity and with a goal of bringing me into better contact with whatever benignity does exist (in me and other beings).
firecat: uhura making a scary hand gesture (uhura nichelle nicolls)
Subject line is a quote from Animal Farm by George Orwell. I'm referencing the "but some...are more equal" part, not attempting to insult any humans or any subset of humans by comparing them to animals.

I find this post upsetting: http://e-moon60.livejournal.com/335480.html
There was a lot of excellent critique in the comments to that post, but now the comments have been deleted, so I want to make my critique public. I'm only addressing a couple of bits.

Moon writes:
the business of a citizen is the welfare of the nation

I think the business of a human being is the welfare of other human beings and nonhuman life and the planet in general. (Other parts of the universe seem relatively protected from harm by us, so far.)

Insofar as the concepts of "citizen" and "nation" conflict with the above (for example, by encouraging the attitude "WE are good and THEY are bad, therefore THEIR welfare isn't worth our consideration"), I'm not in favor of those concepts.

Moon writes:
A group must grasp that if its non-immigrant members somewhere else are causing people a lot of grief (hijacking planes and cruise ships, blowing up embassies, etc.) it is going to have a harder row to hoe for awhile, and it would be prudent (another citizenly virtue) to a) speak out against such things without making excuses for them and b) otherwise avoid doing those things likely to cause offence.

How does "a group" get defined? Moon is arguing that the proposed Park51 development is "likely to cause offence" due to the terrorist attacks in New York on 9/11/01. She defines a group called "Muslims" that includes both the developers and the terrorists. But I would guess that a lot of Muslims don't think they should be lumped into the same group as the terrorists.

The group "monotheists" also includes both those developers and those terrorists. So would it be prudent of Christians to scrap their plans for monotheist cultural centers in case the plans offend people? Is it incumbent upon them all to say "As a monotheist, I think it's wrong for monotheists to attack the WTC"? If they aren't expected to do this, why not?

Then there's the phrase "likely to cause offence." To me the wording implies that offense is an independent entity or thing. It's not. It's a human mental/emotional state, based on beliefs. Wherever you have offendedness, you have some humans who believe certain things. But note that the phrase doesn't mention which humans are offended and doesn't mention what their beliefs are.

Moon writes:
they should have been able to predict that this would upset a lot of people.

So Moon is creating a set of people and labeling them as "other," as "immigrants," and associating them with the acts of a terrorist organization. Then she is arguing that the people so labeled have the following civic responsibilities: (a) understand that some people in the country they live in lump them in with terrorists and mistakenly consider them all immigrants; (b) come to an agreement about which of those people to avoid offending; (c) come to an agreement about what behaviors will "upset a lot of people"; and (d) all avoid those behaviors.

I think those are unreasonable expectations. Especially when they are NOT paired with the expectation that other citizens have a duty either to educate themselves about the groups they consider "other," or to leave them alone.

I don't expect everyone to agree with my opinion, but since this is a sensitive subject, I expect civility in the comments to this post. I reserve the right to moderate/delete/freeze comments/threads if I think there's trouble brewing.
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
A Case of Conscience by James Blish

I listened to the Audible Frontiers audio book, well narrated by Jay Snyder. The book was written in 1958 and won a Hugo. The audio book includes an amusingly snippy foreword by Blish in which he defends the ways he chose to imagine how Catholic doctrine would change 100 years in the future.
spoilers )
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
http://wiscon.piglet.org/program/detail?idItems=100

We Are the Apes Who Pray

To explore the evolution and purpose of the supernatural worldview (in all its forms) as purely a matter of human invention. As an atheist, it is often challenging to foster an uncompromised discussion of religion and spirituality without bowing to the social pressure to 'respect' or treat 'seriously' beliefs and opinions which, ultimately, have no basis in scientific fact. Beginning with the acknowledgement that human beings are, without exception, products of biological evolution, how do we move forward to discuss religion and belief for what they are: neurological, anthropological, psychological and sociological aspects of the human condition whose true value rests in what they reveal about us as apes who pray?

Panelists: Erin Cashier, Catherine Anne Crowe, Janet M. Lafler, Keith R. Watson
Moderator: Richard F. Dutcher

Everyone on the panel was an atheist or agnostic.

Some useful/important things that were said:
Read more... )
firecat: red panda looking happy (wiscon33)
http://wiscon.piglet.org/program/detail?idItems=100

We Are the Apes Who Pray

To explore the evolution and purpose of the supernatural worldview (in all its forms) as purely a matter of human invention. As an atheist, it is often challenging to foster an uncompromised discussion of religion and spirituality without bowing to the social pressure to 'respect' or treat 'seriously' beliefs and opinions which, ultimately, have no basis in scientific fact. Beginning with the acknowledgement that human beings are, without exception, products of biological evolution, how do we move forward to discuss religion and belief for what they are: neurological, anthropological, psychological and sociological aspects of the human condition whose true value rests in what they reveal about us as apes who pray?

Panelists: Erin Cashier, Catherine Anne Crowe, Janet M. Lafler, Keith R. Watson
Moderator: Richard F. Dutcher

Everyone on the panel was an atheist or agnostic.

Some useful/important things that were said:
Read more... )

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