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What's New Archive2004February

What's New on the Secular Web?

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February 29, 2004

Added "The Compatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism" by Brian Holtz to the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.

In "The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism" (1998), the U.T. Austin philosopher Robert Koons argues that "Nature is comprehensible scientifically only if nature is not a causally closed system--only if nature is shaped by supernatural forces." According to Holtz, "Koons' fundamental mistake in his paper is to treat our epistemological criteria for truth--parsimony and possibly other unspecified 'quasi-aesthetic considerations'--as if they were empirical conclusions rather than methodological assumptions. Koons mistakes a definitional connection for a causal connection, and thus mistakenly concludes that 'scientific realism' rules out philosophical naturalism."

February 25, 2004

Added "The Faith-Based War on Terrorism" by Philip Kuchar to the Agora section of the Kiosk.

Kuchar suggests that the war on terrorism might be defined as "the opposition to organized, faith-based and indiscriminate violence." He goes on to suggest, however, that the war on terrorism is, itself, "an international, faith-based campaign of practically indiscriminate violence," and is thus, itself, terroristic, fostered by "blinkered administrations" who promote "patriotic allegiance to comforting slogans."

February 21, 2004

Added "We are Good. They are Evil." by David Voron to the Agora section of the Kiosk.

This is a Review of The Science of Good and Evil : Why People Cheat, Share, Gossip, and Follow the Golden Rule by Michael Shermer, in which Shermer presents what he describes as "a new theory of provisional ethics."

February 15, 2004

Added "Old Presidents and New Theocrats" by Gary Sloan to the Agora section of the Kiosk.

In newspaper editorials and letters, new-fashioned theocrats try to subvert the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by adducing pious remarks of the first U. S. Presidents. The comments are supposed to demonstrate that the first presidents sanctioned sponsorship of religious interests. On the contrary, these presidents left considerable evidence that they favored a strict separation of church and state.

February 11, 2004

Added "Time to Rewrite the Script: A Passover Haggadah for Secular Jews" by David Voron to the Agora section of the Kiosk.

Are you willing to change your mind in response to new evidence even when your most deeply-held convictions are at stake? If you're Jewish, would you stop celebrating Passover if you were presented with convincing evidence that there was no Exodus? Instead of giving it up entirely, of course, you could reinvent the traditional Haggadah and convert it into an instrument of education. In a spirit of openness and evidentialism, Voron presents a Passover Haggadah for secular Jews--as well as a wealth of evidence, which should also be of interest to Christians, that the Exodus never happened. [Editor's note: This was actually published Feb. 6, but I neglected to update this "What's New" page. Please accept my apologies. -DM-]

Added "Review of Massimo Pigliucci's Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science" by Robert Anderson to the Agora section of the Kiosk.

"Denying Evolution is about a cultural war that is currently being fought between conservative and progressive worldviews, but this book is not apologetic. It describes the limitations of science as a philosophy and a human endeavor, yet continually stresses that science is a process that has contributed to the quality of life that our society enjoys today. Denying Evolution is an honest, insightful critique about science, its limitations, and the perpetrators of the creation-evolution debate. The book clearly outlines the strategies and motivation of those who seek to destroy science."

February 1, 2004

Feature article: "Narrative in the Rise of Religion" by Anthony Campbell.

In recent years skeptics have often applied Richard Dawkins' "memes" idea to religion. This does go some of the way towards providing a naturalistic explanation for religion but I think it over-emphasizes the importance of belief at the expense of narrative. Religions, I suggest, mostly begin with narrative; belief arises later and is, in a sense, a secondary development. It is probably our Christian heritage that leads us to attach undue importance to the role of belief. Narrative depends largely on language, and there are important similarities between religions and language in the way in which they are acquired. This way of looking at religion suggests an explanation for its seeming ubiquity in human culture and also for its persistence in our modern society.

Book-of-the-Month: Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science , by Massimo Pigliucci.

Denying Evolution takes a fresh look at the evolution-creation controversy, presenting a truly "balanced" treatment--not in the sense of treating creationism as a legitimate scientific theory--but rather in dividing the blame for the controversy equally between creationists and scientists, the former for subscribing to various forms of anti-intellectualism, the latter for discounting science education and presenting science as scientism to the public and the media. The central part of the book focuses on a series of creationist fallacies (aimed at showing errors of thought, not at deriding) and of mistakes by scientists and science educators. The last part of the book discusses long-term solutions to the problem, from better science teaching at all levels to the necessity of widespread understanding of how the brain works and why people have difficulties with critical thinking.

Video-of-the-Month: The Crime of Padre Amaro.

Nominated for a foreign language Oscar, this controversial film (censored by the Catholic Church in Mexico) follows a handsome young priest, Padre Amaro, who arrives in a small town and finds himself surrounded by hypocrisy and corruption--and also finds himself tempted by a beautiful young woman who confesses that when she "touches herself," she thinks of Jesus. What makes The Crime of Father Amaro particularly effective is that Amaro is no innocent--he skillfully forces a newspaper publisher to retract a scandalous story about the Church and is willing to take extreme steps to preserve his career. Some of the movie's harsher digs at the Catholic Church have provoked accusations of prejudice; but though Padre Amaro portrays a world in which no one's hands are clean, it also finds redeeming qualities in every character. A complex, completely engrossing movie which, although not antireligious, shows how everyone is human.

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