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December 22, 2006
Added Religious Cosmologies and Homicide Rates Among Nations: A Closer Look (2006) by Gary F. Jensen to the On Average, Are Atheists as Moral as Theists? page in the Morality and Atheism index of the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
Gregory S. Paul's "recent analysis of variation in homicide rates among nations argues that homicide is facilitated by high levels of religiosity.... Because there are numerous dimensions to religiosity and a variety of alternative explanations of homicide rates, a more complex analysis is required before more definitive conclusions can be reached. This study attempts such an analysis for a much larger sample of nations and tests Durkheim's hypothesis that religious passion, as a variable characteristic of nations, is a positive correlate of homicide rates. A multiple regression analysis reveals a complex relationship with some dimensions of religiosity encouraging homicide and other dimensions discouraging it."
Added Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look (2005) by Gregory S. Paul to the On Average, Are Atheists as Moral as Theists? page in the Morality and Atheism index of the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.
In this landmark study, Gregory S. Paul compares rates of religiosity and societal dysfunction between 18 democratic nations in the developed world in order to "test whether high rates of belief in and worship of a creator are necessary for high levels of social health." Paul finds that "in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction," demonstrating that widespread religious belief does not improve societal health, and that moreover there is a positive correlation between a first-world country's level of religiosity (e.g., the degree of confidence that a traditional monotheistic God exists) and level of social dysfunction (e.g., homicide rates).
The New Testament Gateway is an Internet resource of annotated links on everything from the Greek New Testament to Jesus in Film, maintained by Mark Goodacre at Duke University.
December 12, 2006
Made several minor corrections and clarifications of wording throughout. Extended Note 10.3 , including mention of a chapter by Stanley Porter that repeats an argument already addressed. Added one sentence to Note 1.1.3 with additional evidence.
"According to the Selfish Gene theory, there is no meaning to life beyond the meaningless reproduction of genes: we are just survival machines for our genes. I suggest that, notwithstanding the initially unpromising impression, the Selfish Gene theory, when taken in conjunction with the creativity thesis below, can be liberating, and can lend to constructing a meaning or purpose to life, bringing about peace, prosperity, care for the environment, and harmonious social coexistence."
December 7, 2006
Updated the Hubert Yockey section of Are the Odds Against the Origin of Life Too Great to Accept? (2000) by Richard Carrier.
Adds comment on Yockey's new book, Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life (2005) in a special paragraph appended to the original section. Also improved the entire section's accuracy and readability.
December 5, 2006
Barring exceptional circumstances, we no longer create new links to offsite essays. Ever since we implemented our peer review policy, material submitted for publication in the Modern Library has been refereed. Unfortunately, it has been our experience that offsite links often become invalid and/or the content changes. Thus, our peer-review efforts have sometimes been wasted. Consequently, we no longer add links to offsite rebuttals from Modern Library author index pages or subject index pages, although existing links to offsite rebuttals may remain in place for some time to come. Those who wish to rebut such material should submit their rebuttals for publication on the Secular Web itself. (See the Submission Guidelines & Instructions.
December 1, 2006
"I like to find secular counterpoints to Christmas, not secular counterparts. That, in a nutshell, is the topic of this essay. There is a secular side to Christmas, one that a nontheist can enjoy with the rest of society without betraying their nontheist views. In fact, I propose that the very shape and spirit of the holiday is significantly nonreligious, from twinkling lights and fake snow to the eggnog and fruitcake. Yes, Virginia, there is an atheist's Christmas!"
A Pulitzer Prize finalist, this scholarly analysis of our modern celebration of Christmas pulls together a thoroughly convincing case for the widely accepted notion that it is a 19th-century creation, indeed a deliberate reformation and taming of a holiday with wilder pagan origins. Christmas was set at December 25 in the fourth century, not for any biblical link with Christ's birth, but because the church hoped to annex and Christianize the existing midwinter pagan feast. This latter was based on the seasonal agricultural plenty, with the year's food supply newly in store, and nothing to do in the fields. It was a time of drinking and debauchery from the Roman Saturnalia to the English Mummers. The Victorians hijacked the holiday, and Victorian writers helped turn it into a feast of safe domesticity and a cacophonous chime of retail cash registers.
Each December we head to the mall to buy our annual Christmas decorations. This fine yuletide tradition is usually followed closely by yet another great tradition: the annual debate about what (if anything) trees, holly, or mistletoe have to do with the birth of Jesus or the Jewish Festival of Lights. The answer, usually, is nothing at all. Like many revered Judeo-Christian traditions, most of these were borrowed from others. This brief synopsis on the origins of Christmas customs is offered in an attempt to shed light on some of the more-obscure references.