Aggregating Skeptical Thought

The Ethics of Reciprocity

I know I’m not covering any new ground here, in fact, this post contains a number of links to other sites that cover this very topic. I will however tell you why I’m writing this. I have 8 and 10 year-old boys. One of the things that I am trying to do is help them establish critical thinking skills without being heavy-handed or “preachy”. IMO one of the best ways to help illustrate certain concepts (especially moral concepts) is the use of stories. Quite frankly, this is where many religions have atheists beat. They have well-known stories and more structured mechanisms (Sunday school) for illustrating many of these concepts particularly to children.

Unfortunately, where many of these Sunday school sessions (yes I’m sticking with the let’s-only-pick-on-christians tactic) is they mix more universal concepts with rather more dubious stories. For example, the story of Cain and Abel is a good example of jealousy, murder and the idea of Reciprocity (Golden Rule). It does a good job of illustrating that if you don’t treat others the way you would want to be treated there are often long-term consequences to those actions.  Unfortunately, this story is mixed in with next weeks lesson on the fall of Jericho, where genocide is the order of business. How is a child supposed to distinguish the more universal Golden Rule concept from the Chosen People/Master Race/Us-vs.-Them logic?

For obvious reasons I don’t go to the Bible very often (read: ever) to illustrate a point. The Sunday school approach is very preachy but quite frankly it’s very effective. So the question is how does an atheist/secular humanist help reinforce those more universal concepts without a canned set of stories to refer to?

I’ve been more conscious of this question of late simply because my children have returned to school and they are being exposed to a lot of different children with different understandings of their parent’s beliefs (let’s be honest I doubt many 8 year olds are developing concepts of Hell without a little parental or …umm…. churchal? input).

Here is my thought process

  1. Identify “universal” moral concepts
  2. Understand the meaning of each concept and its development historically.
  3. “Arm” yourself with a few illustrative examples of each.

One of those items that I have identified as a biggy is the Ethics of Reciprocity or more commonly known in North America as The Golden Rule. This is perhaps one of the biggest but also easiest to illustrate. It usually doesn’t require a canned example because there is usually a very immediate example, like

  • “Quit punching your brother in the face, you wouldn’t want him to do that to you. Would you?”
  • “I wouldn’t put shaving cream in your brothers shoes, you wouldn’t want him to do that to you. Would you?”
  • “Do NOT spray your mother with the hose. She will smack the living…” Oh wait that’s something different.

Did I mention I have 8 and 10 year old boys? Anyway, in my search for clever ways to drill this point home I have stumbled across some resources that I thought would be helpful on this topic.

First, Dale McGowan wrote/compiled a great book for non-religious parents that covers this and many other topics. It’s title, Parenting Beyond Belief, which I might add is a great book and I think is a great book to give to believers as well. Not only can believers benefit as parents but I belive it will help to illustrate in very concrete terms that morality can be taught/reinforced without a single reference to a god or sacred text.

Hate to use the phrase “The Golden Rule” and think the “Ethics of Reciprocity” is too snooty? Check out’s list of 21 world religions with a similar belief.

Here are some links to humanist perspectives on The Golden Rule.

In general here are some websites for parenting:

When I get there I will probably post on some other items like the Scientific Method or what I call (I doubt I just made that up) the Ethics of Universality (“What if everyone did that?”).

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, , , , ,

Top 5 Atheist Books contributor, John Wilson, proposes his Top 5 Books on Atheism, some of which I have never heard of. Damn, my reading list gets longer all the time.

I don’t normally ask for comments since I am content with disseminating information and letting those who stumble upon my blog wander off through the various links.

Having said that I am curious of what other books on atheism or even humanism (for or against, or simply about) you would recommend.

Here are the obvious big ones but what other more “obscure” ones would someone suggest. If I get enough responses I might start a new page for atheism/humanism reading suggestions.

Richard Dawkins []
The God Delusion

Daniel Dennett [website?]
Breaking the Spell

Sam Harris []
Letter to a Christian Nation
The End of Faith

Christopher Hitchens [ (Not sure if this official)]
god is not great

Eric Hoffer []
True Believer

Joan Konner [ (not sure if this correct, seems outdated)]
The Atheist’s Bible

Nicca Lalli []

Hemant Mehta []
I sold my soul on eBay

Technorati Atheism

Filed under: Atheism, Religion, Reviews, , , , , , , , ,

Half right

The Herald has a brief editorial, God and the cosmic Big Bang, that rightly criticizes some comments that Richard Dawkins has made against Stephen Jay Gould.  I have to agree with the author since nothing bothers me more than this kind of selective belief.  In question is the comment by Dawkins of Gould, “I simply do not believe that Gould could possibly have meant much of what he wrote in Rock of Ages.” This bothers me as much as Hitchens claiming that Martin Luther King, Jr. was some kind of secular humanist cloaked as a pastor. No Hitchens, MLK Jr. was a Christian pastor whose beliefs (while certainly humanist) were informed by his religion (at least his interpretation of his religion). Claiming MLK Jr. is a humanist first and second only consequentially Christian is a bit disingenious, IMO.

Of course, the author continues his critique by his complete lack of understanding of scientific method by stating that one of Thomas Aquinas’s proofs of God’s existence is proved by the theory of the Big Bang. Not only is this a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo proctor hoc, but makes a number of very basic non-scientific assumptions, specifically that time is a constant (or at least always present) .

Technorati Atheism Skeptic

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, , , , , , ,

Alan Wiseman on Jon Stewart

Previous to the Colbert Report last nightJon Stewart had Alan Wiseman, author of The World Without Us, as a guest. I will repost when the video shows up on the Mother Load.

 Also check out the link to the book’s website, there are a bit corny “Your house without you” animation and better but too short “New York Without us” slideshow.

Filed under: Environment, Internet, , , , , ,

Shermer vs. Colbert

Dr. Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine was on The Colbert Report last night. The video isn’t on ComedyCentral yet but I will re-edit when it is. I think Shermer did a good job getting in some information about 9/11 conspiracies, moon landings and UFO-ology. He even got a good plug for science in as well, I believe the quote was something to the effect of “Science is our best way of understanding the world we live in”. I also believe that Colbert’s response was  reality is whatever he decides or what the market determines

Filed under: Internet, Skeptic, , , ,

Hitchens YouTube Trolling

I just posted on Hitchens recent talk and noticed the following debate between Hitchens and Marvin Olasky. Hitchens opening arguments are very well rehearsed but there are always interesting arguments brought up by the other speaker and during the Q&A periods.

Provided in convenient 10 minute nibbles.

Part 1/8

Part 2/8

Part 3/8

Part 4/8

Part 5/8

Part 6/8

Part 7/8

Part 8/8

Technorati Skeptic Atheism

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Religion, , , ,

What I would have answered

Christopher Hitchens gives another great talk. This time @Google, see it here at YouTube.

When you get to about the 37:10 mark he is asked a question where someone questions the accuracy of some of his observations, specifically (here’s the leadup and the question, this is not an exact quote but it’s pretty close),

“You say that religion feeds into an innate human nature for being told what to do or not having as much freedom. Well, in the United States you have one of the most freedom loving countries in the world… yet you have one of the most arguably religious nations in the world. How do you explain this contradiction?”

Hitchens goes on to answer in his own rather rambling manner however he never gives the answer I was hoping he would make. I think the best answer to that question would have been,

“There really is no contradiction in fact I think you can see that your statement actually goes towards proving my point about religion. Our country was founded as a secular government with separation of church and statement and specific prohibitions against the establishment of religion as some of its founding principles. [insert pithy remark about “sounds to me like the founding fathers were afraid of religion”]. Anyway, look at today and you say that we are one of the most religious nations and yet we now have some of the most egregious assaults by our current very religious administration and the erosion of some of those very basic freedoms. You could argue this is only coincidental however I think any reasonable person would fit the two trends together. In fact, this is why I think you are seeing a certain resurgence in atheism today.[insert joke about what would the constitution have looked like if Jerry Falwell were one of the founding members]”

Anyway that concludes today’s “What I would have answered”

Also at about the 48:00 minute mark he is asked the question that I frequently hear and that is. How can you say atheism is better than religion when the Stalinist regime did many of the same things in the name of atheism. I think he answered it well.  

Technorati Skeptic Atheism

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Religion, , , ,

Hitchens and Iraq

Christopher Hitchens has written an article, Fighting the “Real” Fight, over at regarding the “foolish myths about Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia”. Mr. Hitchens is an incredibly smart man unfortunately he still holds on to this foolish belief in the validity of the War in Iraq.

I can’t help but cringe when I read this article. Maybe I don’t understand the issues the way he does but some of his arguments seem to confirm what he is trying to deny and either way I have to wonder who the hair-splitters really are. He complains of

“hair-splitting secularists who cannot accept that al-Qaida in Mesopotamia is a branch of al-Qaida itself.”

Umm… Ok. He continues with the following of which I definitely subscribe to #2 and #1 is arguable.

Objections to this self-evident fact take one of two forms. It is argued, first, that there was no such organization before the coalition intervention in Iraq. It is argued, second, that the character of the gang itself is somewhat autonomous from, and even independent of, the original group proclaimed by Osama Bin Laden.

He spends a considerable amount of the time talking about Al-Zarqawi (the recently deceased leader of al-Qaida in Iraq). He attempts to discredit the #1 argument above by explaining that after our intervention in Afghanistan, Al-Zarqawi fled to Iraq and then was granted the “local al-Qaida franchise” by Bin Laden/Zawahiri. I don’t mean to be a hair-splitter here but if your argument was that al-Qaida existed in Iraq prior to our invasion I wouldn’t try to explain your argument without out at least… um… some actual dates. Nowhere in the article does he give any dates just a story.

You could lay this story out in two ways but without dates we have no idea which is correct. The scenario descibed by Hitchens could be laid out to confirm or refute his own argument.

#1) We invade Afghanistan
#2) Al-Zarqawi flees to Iraq
#3) Al-Qaida franchise granted to Al-Zarqawi
#4) We invade Iraq

#1) We invade Afghanistan
#2) Al-Zarqawi flees to Iraq
#3) We invade Iraq
#4) Al-Qaida franchise granted to Al-Zarqawi

I suggest you re-read his article and tell me why I can’t refute his own argument with his own story. I understand that the purpose of this article is not to be a full dissertation on the Iraq War and that he is attempting to address certain criticisms of this war but I think the bigger question should be, “Were we morally justified in attacking Iraq?” and more pressing, “How do we end the suffering and death and bring peace back to the region?”

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Politics, Religion, , , , , ,

A study of supernatural assault traditions

Cool article, Pan and the Nightmare,  in Dreamflesh (found via Disinformation), about  the connection between the “wild Greek god of nature to the liminal experience of waking dreams”. Reminds of the chapters Carl Sagan dedicated to sleep paralysis (and related phenomena) in the Demon-Haunted World. Well, crap my reading list just got longer.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Religion, Reviews

Literature Relocation Program

I don’t know how much good this does but someone, Biologists Helping Borders,  is making a point to reshelve Intelligent Design books in the Religious section and not in the Biology section of Borders. Good luck with that.

Found via

Filed under: Internet


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