Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Optimist Manifesto

I first learned of the book Life, Liberty, and Happiness: An Optimist Manifesto by Frank S. Robinson from an e-mail from the author himself. I am not certain how I came to be on his list of e-mail addresses but he correctly identified me as being within his target market. Being fond of the Humanist Manifesto and having named my own religion Optihumanism, the subtitle immediately caught my eye. I was further intrigued by the fact that he originally started out to write a letter to his daughter about life, something I have considered doing for my own children.

I have described my Optihumanism as a blend of Religious Humanism,
Neo-Objectivism, and Libertarian Transhumanism. Being at the tiny overlapping intersection of what are small minority beliefs to begin with, I suspected I was alone. You can imagine how pleased I was, then, to read in his introduction that his book "reflects elements of libertarianism, humanism, objectivism, and so forth". I even found a footnote in his chapter "The Meaning of Life" that leans toward Transhumanism.

The more I read, the more astonished I became that this book could so closely mirror my own beliefs while simultaneously covering so many different topics. It was not until I reached one of the last chapters where I finally found one issue, capital punishment, where I was not in substantial agreement with the author. It made me wonder how was it that we thought so much alike.

One possibility is that it is because we are reading many of the same books. A criticism I do have of this work is that it perhaps leans too heavily on repeating historical examples I have already read in other places. I can forgive this, however, if I consider that the author might have had a different target audience in mind where these core examples are still novel.

My other criticism is what I perceive to be his overuse of footnotes for parenthetical side comments. This seems to me to distract from the flow of reading his main text. I wonder if this comes from his twenty years of service as a judge in which footnotes in legal opinions frequently do convey significant information yet are considered subsidiary.

I started heartily recommending this book long before I finished reading it. Now that I have completed the text in its entirety and I am assured that there is nothing in it to which I have any strong objections, I am pleased to say that I am adding this title to both my top ten books list and my Optihumanist reading list. I plan to purchase a number of copies for my friends. I look forward to reading additional publications from this author in the future.

The table of contents follows:
Introduction
The Meaning of Life
Reason, Science, and Human Values
Living a Good Life
Happiness is a Choice
Satisfaction
Consciousness, Thought, and Personal Responsibility
Always Question
Relativism and Nonjudgmentalism
The Mystery of Creation
Freedom from Fear
Love, Marriage, and Sex
Political Vocabulary
The Social Contract
Individualism and Society
Government is the Problem
The Forced March to Paradise
The Era of Big Government
But What About the Truly Needy?
Wrongful Rights
America the Beautiful
The Morality of Free-Market Capitalism
Globalization and World Poverty
Why Corporations are Not Totally Evil Scum
Territoriality and Tribalism
Why the Gloom and Doom Crowd is Wrong
Man, Technology, and Nature
History and Its Lessons
Freedom of Expression
Race
Pro-Life and Pro-Choice
Animal Rights
Crime and Punishment
Homosexuality
The War with Islamic Extremism
Coda
Index


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

In Search of Memory

I have finished a number of books recently, some good, some not as good. One that I can recommend is In Search of Memory by Eric R. Kandel, winner of the Nobel Prize for his work in neuroscience. It is part autobiography and part history of neuroscience with a layman target audience. From reading this, I have concluded that one of the best ways to learn a science is to learn the history of that science. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the philosophy of mind from a reductionist viewpoint.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Religious Humanist Association

I created a webpage and a mailing list for a proposed democratic Religious Humanist Association (RHA). The purpose would be to promote Religious Humanism in the tradition of the Humanist Manifesto I in independent congregations and related organizations.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Democratic Minarchist Caucus

In 2005, I proposed an Objectivist Party. In May of 2006, I proposed instead to call it the Minarchist Party.

A day after elections, I am now proposing a Minarchist Caucus within the Democratic Party. It would parallel the Republican Libertarian Caucus and the Democratic Freedom Caucus.

The reason I am advocating forming it within the Democratic Party initially is because the state I live in is a one-party state with the Republicans dominant. In many of races on the ballot yesterday, there was only a Republican candidate running unopposed or a Republican versus a Libertarian.

In 2002 I ran for Congress in a four way race: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and Green. The Democratic Party candidate for 2002 was a fairly weak one-issue candidate as no other Democrats wanted to run and lose in this Republican district. Later in 2004 the same Green Party candidate of 2002 ran as a Democrat where no Democrats would bother to do so. By joining the non-incumbent major party, he had secured a platform for his message he would not have otherwise had. I have been thinking about his tactic for two years now.

This Green Party candidate also ran as a Democrat in 2006. Given the mood of the nation yesterday, he did surprisingly well in the polls. I wonder how much better a minarchist Democrat with a message of small government and civil liberties might have fared in this Republican stronghold. In addition to gaining a platform for spreading your message, running as a candidate of the non-incumbent major party puts you in a position for victory when there is a strong anti-incumbent sentiment such as the vote yesterday.

I think the DeLay race also deserves some mention here. I think the lesson to members of the Libertarian Party should be obvious. This is another reason I am now advocating a caucus within a major party instead of working through a new third party.

If you are interested in this proposal for a Democratic Minarchist Caucus, please join me in discussion on our mailing list.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Religious Humanist Reading List

I started a Religious Humanist Reading List. I had been meaning to do it for some time but it was not until I was especially inspired by my reading of Timely and Timeless: The Wisdom of E. Burdette Backus this morning that I decided to go ahead and make the time to do it. I will be adding to this list of books over time.

Friday, October 27, 2006

In the Absence of God

I just finished the short book In the Absence of God: Religious Humanism as Spiritual Journey: with special reference to Julian Huxley by John H. Morgan, published this year. The title suggests that it covers Religious Humanism with an emphasis on Julian Huxley when in fact it is about Julian Huxley with an emphasis on his own formulation of Religious Humanism. If you have already read some of the original writings of Julian Huxley and you liked what you read, you will enjoy this book.

I wanted to share with you a couple of my favorite passages where the author quotes Huxley:
A Religion is an organ of man in society which helps him to cope with the problems of nature and his destiny -- his place and role in the universe. It always involves the sense of sacredness or mystery and of participation in a continuing enterprise; it is always concerned with the problem of good and evil and with what transcends the individual self and the immediate and present facts of every day. [p64]

For want of a better, I use the term divine, though this quality of divinity is not truly supernatural but transnatural -- it grows out of ordinary nature, but transcends it. The divine is what man finds worthy of adoration, that which compels his awe. [p84]

I caught an interview on the radio last night with Julia Sweeney, former castmember of Saturday Night Live and current atheist activist. If you listen to the audio archive, you will hear two things that I found quite interesting in light of what I recently read in Morgan's book. The first is that Sweeney believes that even when we lose our childhood fear of divine judgment, we remain moral because we have evolved to be so. I suspect that Morgan, who also authored Naturally Good: The Behavioral History of Moral Development, would agree.

The second is that toward the end of the interview Sweeney expressed her sense that something was missing from her life and that of her young daughter ever since she left the Catholic church. As she stated, it was not something that she could get from her local tennis club. I suggest it is what my wife and I were seeking for our family just as many others have before us ever since the revelation by Darwin about the origins of life on this planet. In the words of Morgan, it is this:
A humanistic religion, a religion based on the science of evolution and fostered by the awe and wonder perceived and adored in the creation of the cosmos by the human community, invites conscious development as we invite and work to foster ever deepening appreciation of nature and music and art within our offspring. [p119]


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Privacy Disclaimer

I took a couple of photos of the decal in the U.T. Dallas library which reads "Audio Monitoring On These Premises / Louroe Electronics". I highlighted the position of the sign in red in the second photo so that you can see where it is located over the checkout desk.

The Louroe Electronics website states:

The First Amendment of the Constitution provides that any conversation between individuals is private, unless otherwise notified. In simple terms, this means that any overhearing or recording of a conversation is illegal ...unless both parties are aware that it is being done.

In order to comply with the law, LOUROE ELECTRONICS provides a disclaimer stating, AUDIO MONITORING ON THE PREMISES. These disclaimers must be affixed, in plain view, to all entrances where the microphones are installed.

I have been told that the audio monitoring in the library has been going on for years. I have been going to the library for years and this was the first time I noticed the decal. No other student or faculty that I have told about this was aware of this either.

I have two problems with this. The first is that it seems to me that a violation of privacy of this magnitude should require explicit acknowledgment on the part of the patron. It seems contradictory to put up a notice and then use hidden microphones. It suggests they do not really want people to know that their conversations are being recorded.

The second problem I have with this is that there is no consent. This is a government building funded by taxpayer dollars. I should not have to waive my privacy rights in order to use it. Whereas video monitoring records our actions within the building, audio monitoring records our verbalized thoughts and intentions. It is too much to ask that we yield our privacy rights on this level whenever we need to enter a public facility.


Update: I just got off of the phone with Ellen Safley, Senior Associate Director, University of Texas at Dallas Library. Whereas last week a librarian told me that hidden microphones were placed upstairs to monitor conversations for homeland security, Dr. Safley assured me that the only audio monitoring in the library took place in the immediate vicinity of the checkout desk. She stated that this was so that they could refer to the recording if there was a problem. I assume by this that she meant a conflict between a patron and a librarian. Although I was still unaware that I was being recorded while I was talking near the desk, I find this much less offensive than library-wide audio monitoring among the stacks, which she assured me is not taking place.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Audio Monitoring

Years ago I fought a town council in West Virginia that passed a law requiring convenience stores to purchase security cameras and to allow the police to take the tapes whenever they wanted them. I had argued that this was an example of a Big Brother video camera in our private businesses. They replied that it would reduce crime. I then asked whether they would consider putting security cameras in our homes if they thought it would reduce domestic violence. I had meant for the question to be rhetorical but one council member immediately answered yes.

This afternoon I submitted the following letter to the editor of the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) school newspaper:

Today I noticed an "Audio Monitoring" sign over the checkout desk in the U.T. Dallas library. A librarian explained to me that they used microphones to record conversations in the building for homeland security. This seems excessive for an unclassified facility.

I also asked the librarian if anyone had made any comments about the audio monitoring. She answered no with a questioning tone that communicated "Why should they?" Apparently those of us who do question such things are few and far between. If you are one of those, please join me on the Minarchist Party discussion list.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Shared Bookmarks

I have uploaded my bookmarks to del.icio.us, a website for storing and sharing bookmarks online. I will be updating them over time.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Microsoft and Libertarians

As a Java programmer, I followed news of Microsoft's anticompetitive practices closely over the years. I was interviewed by the trade press for a parody piece I wrote about it, The Ten Commandments of Java.

In the antitrust suit, one federal judge compared Microsoft to drug dealers and gangland killers. Another judge compared Microsoft to Tonya Harding. That was a number of years ago. Since then, Microsoft has paid billions of dollars in damages to the injured parties and everyone has pretty much settled.

I never forgot, though, my irritation with the national Libertarian Party for their public defense of Microsoft during the antitrust lawsuit. Instead of simply blaming the prosecution for enforcing antitrust laws and painting Microsoft as an innocent, the Libertarian Party should have pointed out that individuals have an alternative free market mechanism to punish Microsoft for its practices via the consumer boycott.

I just came across this blog entry I wanted to share with you that expresses my sentiments on this better than I ever have. It is Why Bill Gates is not Hank Rearden by Pedro Timóteo.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Glorious Accident

I just finished watching a tape of an interview with the philosopher Daniel Dennett from the public television series A Glorious Accident: Understanding Our Place in the Cosmic Puzzle. This VHS tape set was loaned to me by a fellow transhumanist friend. I heard a number of transhumanist themes in what Dr. Dennett was saying in this interview from way back in 1993. My estimation of Dennett's ranking just jumped from "my favorite living philosopher" to "my favorite philosopher".

Saturday, August 05, 2006

First Church in Boston

While I was in Boston last weekend on a business trip, I attended the Sunday morning service of First Church in Boston, a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church founded in 1630. You can view a slideshow of the photos that I took.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Introducing Philosophy

I just finished the illustrated book Introducing Philosophy. I found it to be a quick and painless introduction to the history of Western philosophy from the ancient Greeks to modern day. I was pleased to see a brief mention of my favorite living philosopher, Daniel Dennett.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dallas Brights

I have updated the webpage and the purpose of the Dallas Brights. I propose that it be used as an announcements list for the 10+ related organizations in the Dallas area.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rand on Determinism

In reading this morning the "Introduction to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition" of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, I came across this quote:

I could not endorse its literal meaning: it proclaims an indefensible tenet: psychological determinism.

I have long thought that Rand's rejection of "determinism" was not a rejection of causal determinism but rather other variants such as psychological determinism. Recently a friend suggested to me that since Objectivists reject determinism they should not be considered Brights as they do not have a naturalistic worldview. To be clear here, by "determinism" he meant causal determinism and by "naturalistic" he meant metaphysical naturalism.

I do not agree with those who think Objectivism rejects all forms of determinism. And please note that I have encountered both Objectivists and non-Objectivists who hold to this opinion. I think Objectivism rejects hard determinism, not causal determinism. This is why I state in my Optihumanist Principles that "Determinism and free will are compatible."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Rand's Religion

Tonight I came across the following in Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life: The Companion Book:

You see, I am an atheist and I have only one religion: the sublime in human nature. There is nothing to approach the sanctity of the highest type of man possible, and there is nothing that gives me the same reverent feeling, the feeling when one's spirit wants to kneel, bare-headed. Do not call it hero-worship, because it is more than that.


If a life can have a 'theme song' -- and I believe every worthwhile one has -- mine is a religion, an obsession or a mania -- or all of these -- expressed in one word: Individualism.

Ayn Rand is clearly using the term "religion" in both of these quotes in the non-supernatural context. Similarly, her usage of the term "spirit" here, and "soul" elsewhere, to mean mind is not incompatible with her naturalistic worldview. When she refers to the "sublime", the "sanctity", and a "reverent feeling", we may assume she is speaking of experiences appropriately defined with a spiritual terminology.

A few days ago I finished reading a history of the founding fathers of Religious Humanism, the hard-to-find book American Religious Humanism by Mason Olds. Before I read this book, I used to think that the early Humanists were socialists. I read, however, that like the founder of Ethical Culture, they rejected both socialism and communism as incompatible with individualism. There was, however, at least one of the Humanist pioneers who was an advocate of what we now frequently label as "socialism" but is more correctly described as the welfare state.

If only atheism were more commonly associated with capitalism rather than communism! In the Optihumanist Principles, I explicitly distance my own flavor of Religious Humanism from any association with socialism or the welfare state. It is because I, too, hold Individualism to be my religion.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Video Archives

I updated our Moment of Silence webpage to link to video archives of the Texas state legislature debating the new mandatory moment of silence law. It is pretty clear from the comments by the legislators that this law is simply an attempt to introduce prayer into the public schools in a way which the sponsors of the bill hope will not be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Higher Power

My wife Shannon and I, both Religious Humanists, are working with our attorney Dean Cook to have the new mandatory moment of silence law in Texas public schools declared unconstitutional. Recently Mr. Cook discovered this 2003 press release by the author of the bill, a Texas state senator. The senator describes the religious purpose of the new law as follows:

Aristotle said that habituation at an early age makes more than a little difference, it makes almost all the difference. If you agree with Aristotles philosophy, then if you want children to be responsible, hold them responsible. If you want children to know what work is, have them work.

If you want children to love country and state, teach them to honor their flags. If you want them to value a power higher than their own, provide them with a minute to reflect, meditate or pray.

Habituating our children to value a higher power is not a legitimate purpose of government. That is why this new law is unconstitutional. It violates the first clause of the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights.

The senator is not the first to say something like this. It immediately reminded me of the Jesuit saying, "Give me a child until he is seven, and I will show you the man." Here are two more statements from my quotes collection with a similar theme.

State education is a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly alike one another; ... in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body. ~ John Stuart Mill, 1859

Whenever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been discovered that the best way to ensure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery. ~ Benjamin Disraeli, 1874

Please note that the following statement in the press release is incorrect:

It was encouraging when the U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld a state law in Virginia that mandates one minute of silence for reflection, meditation or prayer in Virginia public schools.

In fact, the last time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a moment of silence in public schools, they declared it unconstitutional. You can read more about this on our Moment of Silence webpage.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Call

In my studies, I have noted that a number of the philosopher-scientists of the 20th century looked forward to the day when there would be a new religion compatible with science. In The Call for a New Religion Compatible with Science, I present a selection of quotations expressing this hope.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Minarchist Party

In 2002, I ran for U.S. Congress as a Libertarian. As part of my explanation as to what the Libertarian Party stood for, I would state our advocacy of minarchy, i.e., a minimum government restricted to the sole purpose of defending individual rights. I would then direct audiences to my Minarchist webpage.

In 2005, I proposed creating an Objectivist Party as an alternative to the Libertarian Party. Among other things, I was concerned that there were too many anarchists within the Libertarian Party.

Now I am proposing instead to call it the Minarchist Party. I have reacquired my old domain name, Minarchist.org, for that purpose. If are you interested, please join the discussion list.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Optihumanist Principles 2006

I have updated the Optihumanist Principles for 2006.

I have been considering aspects of this annual revision to the tenets of my personal religion for some months now. The inspiration to publish today came from my reading last night in Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennett, 2003. In this book, Dennett defends the position that determinism and free will are compatible. I have added it to my list of recommended books.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why I Am A Neo-Objectivist

In a recent discussion with Objectivists, I asked about their reasoning on core essentials such as why they bothered to wake up in the morning and why they cared about the well-being of their children. After repeated questioning in a fashion after the Socratic Method, I began to suspect I was dealing with an "is-ought" issue and I stated so.

In this discussion, I had asserted that my religion is faith-based in that I had "faith in Humanity". I held this position as I concluded that our love of life, i.e., survival of Man qua Man, was a core value that was not derived through a rational thought process. It was something we simply accepted and was therefore a matter a faith.

My reasoning was that this love of life was a genetic predisposition shaped into us by evolution through the forces of natural selection. One of the Objectivists pointed out to me that this was not faith. I immediately realized that I had erred in assuming that this value must be faith because it was not derived rationally. I had been overlooking a third source: instinctual knowledge. I then conceded on this basis.

Later than night I read in Wikipedia that "Some Neo-Objectivists stick relatively close to Objectivism, merely rejecting (for example) Rand's 'life-to-value' argument in ethics". By typing in "life-to-value Rand" into a search engine, I came across an essay by William H. Stoddard, "Life and Value in Ayn Rand's Ethics", Section 4 "What is Life?" in which he concludes:

Rand's statements about the nature of living organisms may well reflect her training in Aristotelian philosophy and Aristotelian metabiology. For Aristotle, the telos of an oak tree, the that-for-the-sake-of-which the oak tree exists, is the full grown tree. But Aristotle's biology has been replaced by Darwin's, in which an oak tree is an acorn's way of making more acorns. And Darwin's theory has more explanatory power than Aristotle's. If Rand is claiming to base her ethics on the actual facts of biology, she's picked the wrong statement of those facts.

At about the same time, I also read an article by Nathaniel Branden, perhaps the first Neo-Objectivist, that stated that Ayn Rand never accepted the Theory of Evolution. I made a connection and a number of puzzle pieces suddenly fell into place. This explained why Rand and many of her students reject animal intelligence and human instincts, assert that homosexuality is a choice, minimize parenting as self-actualizing, and are oblivious to the selfish gene hypothesis. Ayn Rand never accepted the Theory of Evolution and therefore never factored in the consequences of such a theory into her philosophy.

The purpose of the acorn is to make more acorns. I asked myself retrospectively, had I not just said the same thing recently when I wrote that "Persistence persists", "Children give life meaning", and, in my sermon entitled "The Virtue of Selfish Genes" in which I paraphrase Dawkins, that "the individual unit of survival is not an individual human being, but rather the individual genes that comprise a human being"?

Some of my fellow Objectivists have suggested to me recently that my disagreements with Objectivism are due to a lack of complete knowledge of Objectivism and that, with further study and time, I will eventually come to realize that the philosophy of Objectivism is correct in all aspects. I reply that in just a year of study I have come to understand Objectivism sufficiently to identify the flaw at its root. While I am proud to state that I discovered this independently through my own reading of orthodox Objectivist philosophy as written by its leading proponents, Rand and Peikoff, I am also happy to accept validation by discovering that others besides myself have analyzed, identified, and published this misstep long before me.

Ayn Rand never integrated the Theory of Evolution into her context. Until that day when the human animal no longer is forced to exist within a body and mind shaped by evolution, I will never accept orthodox Objectivism. This is why I am a Neo-Objectivist.

I conclude with this quote from the article "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand: A Personal Statement" by Nathaniel Branden:

Ayn Rand has an incredible vision to offer -- in many respects a radiantly rational one. I am convinced that there are errors in that vision and elements that need to be changed, eliminated, modified, or added and amplified, but I am also convinced that there is a great deal in her vision that will stand the test of time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Optihumanist Fellowship

Recently I defined Optihumanism as a religion without supernatural elements at the intersection of Religious Humanism, Objectivism, and Libertarian Transhumanism. I have decided to nudge that from Objectivism to Neo-Objectivism. I have also joined a Neo-Objectivist organization, the Objectivist Center.

I have created the Optihumanist Fellowship Discussion List. If you are interested in discussing the future of Optihumanism and the Optihumanist Fellowship, please join.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Religion Compatible

I posted the following in response to discussion on the North Texas Objectivist Society forum:

The topic "Objectivism as a Religion" was not quite what I meant. "Objectivism", as defined by Ayn Rand, is a philosophy. What I am advocating is a religion compatible with Objectivism.

Certainly no religion that advocates a belief in the supernatural is compatible with Objectivism. Fortunately for us, the courts have long held that belief in the supernatural is not a required element for a religion. In a nation where not all of the religious believe in the supernatural, a non-sectarian reference by our government to a universal God is an act of religious discrimination.

Ideally a religion compatible with Objectivism would also promote Objectivism. This could be inherent in the rites and rituals. As suggested by John Davis before the recent baby naming ceremony, we discussed which Objectivist elements we might introduce into the ceremony. I proposed words to the effect that in a capitalist society each new child brings new prosperity to humanity as wealth is not simply divided but created by each member of our population.

When we marry and bury our dead, we do not want officiants who will use the event as an opportunity to promote their supernatural beliefs. We want celebrants from our own religion who will speak the words that give us strength and comfort. We certainly do not want them to upset us at that time. Nor do we want to simply ignore the necessity of life event celebrations.

Perhaps more than others, parents need religion. We need a support group to promote our ideas such as naturalism and capitalism in an environment dominated by the supernaturalists and collectivists. We need to immunize them from the memes that might infect them in the future. We need to provide them with social opportunities. We need our own holidays to celebrate with the children that instill our own values.

"Science, as a system of discovering, organizing, and applying mutual knowledge, is already unified and universal in principle, though its efficiency as an organ of the human species could still be much increased. It remains for man to unify and universalize his religion. How that religion will take form -- what rituals or celebrations it might practise, whether it will equip itself with any sort of professional body or priesthood, what buildings it will erect, what symbols it will adopt -- that is something which no one can prophesy. Certainly it is not a field on which the natural scientist should venture. What the scientist can do is to draw attention to the relevant facts revealed by scientific discovery, and to their implications and those of the scientific method. He can aid in the building up of a fuller and more accurate picture of reality in general and of human destiny in particular, secure in the knowledge that in so doing he is contributing to humanity's advance, and helping to make possible the emergence of a more universal and more adequate religion." -- Julian Huxley

"In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests. [...] After religious teachers accomplish the refining process indicated they will surely recognize with joy that true religion has been enobled and made more profound by scientific knowledge. [...] The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge." -- Albert Einstein

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Establish Individual Rights

Some months ago, when I heard President Bush talk about establishing a democracy in Afghanistan or Iraq in the style of "their own traditions", warning bells went off in my head. Here in Texas, folks like Bush use terms like "traditional" and "patriotic" as code words for the blurring of church and state. I imagined a new democracy without freedom from religious law where women would not be allowed to drive cars and homosexuals and atheists would be jailed.

My suspicions were confirmed when in March an Afghani man was prosecuted for converting from Islam to Christianity. Under the law of the new constitution of Afghanistan as established under the supervision of the U.S., he faced the death penalty for a decision he made over 14 years ago. Surely this is now what our Christian president had intended.

I hope this incident impresses upon our president the importance of separation of church and state here in our own country. I suspect the current violence between the Shiite and Sunni religious sects in liberated Iraq is due to the lack of any assurance of minority religious rights in the new government. In his speeches, President Bush should focus less on the replacement of dictatorships with democracy. Instead, the leader of the free world should emphasize the establishment of individual rights -- as protected by a democratic form of government.

We should not feel guilty about imposing an "American-style democracy" in countries previously enslaved by dictatorships. An "American-style" or "Western" democracy is one in which individuals are protected by a Bill of Rights. No matter what their traditional dominant cultural background is, everyone deserves to be free.

We know we can do it successfully because we did it in Germany and Japan after World War II. I have become concerned about Germany recently, though, as it appears from news reports in April that the German constitution is not quite "American-style" when it comes to individuals denying the Holocaust. In America, individuals can say exactly the same thing without going to jail as we consider our freedom of expression to be a sacred right. Why then, is our American government cooperating with Germany in violating human rights by extraditing these individuals to stand trial?

On National Public Radio (NPR), I listened to a representative of a Jewish organization state that while she is normally an advocate of complete freedom of expression in other nations, she felt that the the history of Germany and Austria merited a special law limiting this freedom. While to my knowledge, the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) has said absolutely nothing about this violation by a government of the freedom of individuals to publicly deny the historical validity of the murder of millions of Jews, they have launched a free speech campaign with a focus on recent efforts by Muslims to censor cartoons of Mohammed through threats of violence. I hope ARI will expand its campaign to include an expression of their moral outrage over infringements on free speech in Germany.

The other reason I mention ARI is that my writing this essay was inspired by the release today of the op-ed by Peter Schwartz entitled Freedom vs. Unlimited Majority Rule. Mr. Schwartz brings to clarity my ruminations on our misguided policy of permitting liberated nations to establish democracies without individual rights. He reminds us that America was the author of the post-World War II constitutions of both Germany and Japan.

After you finish reading this article, I also encourage you to read or re-read "Collectivized Rights" by Ayn Rand in The Virtue of Selfishness. Although it was written in 1963, I find her essay to be quite topical.

Optihumanism Refined

I have refined my definition of Optihumanism as a religion without supernatural elements at the intersection of Religious Humanism, Objectivism, and Libertarian Transhumanism.

You can read more about my views and affiliations at my Religion webpage.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Academy Atheist

I just discovered the blog for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The current controversy swirls around majority Christians imposing their religion on non-Christian cadets at the United States Air Force Academy. This interests me as I graduated from the Academy in 1990. I am proud to state that I made a decision early in my military career as a cadet to have "Atheist" stamped on my dogtags as my religion.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Introducing Plato

I read Introducing Plato last night. I picked it up at Half Price Books because Plato is referenced repeatedly in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. "Introducing Plato" covers many of the ancient Greek philosophers of the period and shows how they influenced or were influenced by Plato. It covers his life, his philosophy, and his influence through the ages.

By reading "Introducing Plato", I now have a far better understanding of Objectivist philosophy. Before I read this book, I found some of Rand's terminology a bit odd but now I realize that she was engaged in a conversation with the ancient philosophers that I had walked in on toward the end. I also see where she agrees and where she deviates with them on the important questions. I would recommend "Introducing Plato" to any student of Objectivism that has not previously studied the ancients.

Ayn Rand was no fan of Plato. She prefers to praise Aristotle, his student of twenty years. I see that a second edition of Introducing Aristotle in coming out in August. I am looking forward to it.

  

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Chronology and Interviews

A reporter from the Dallas Morning News called me yesterday about the moment of silence case. In response, I sent her our "Chronology of Requests by a Religious Humanist Family to Be Free from Coercive Judeo-Christian Religious Influence in a Public School". We prepared this 19-page document detailing church-state separation violations at our public elementary school at the request of Dr. Michael Newdow, a medical doctor and attorney who is championing the Restore the Pledge effort. I have uploaded the chronology to our Moment of Silence website.

Later that evening, a reporter from WFAA television news interviewed me in front of the school. The children enjoyed seeing themselves on T.V. The Dallas Morning News article has a link to the WFAA video. If you see any more of these stories, please let me know.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Moment of Silence

My wife Shannon and I have been concerned for some time about violations of church-state separation at the public elementary school where our children attend. Today our attorney Dean Cook filed a petition to have the mandatory moment of silence law in the Texas state education code ruled unconstitutional. You can read more about this on my Moment of Silence webpage.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Theory of Consciousness

I have just finished reading Introducing Artificial Intelligence, Introducing Mind & Brain, and Introducing Consciousness from Icon books. In reading these back to back, it reminded me that they are all different views on the same subject. This was a rewarding experience for me. I recommend that you read these books together if you can.

"Introducing Mind & Brain" could have been titled "Introducing Neuroscience". Those readers having difficulty buying into the functionalist materialist viewpoint described in the other two books will find persuasive evidence here.

"Introducing Consciousness" is where you will find the heavy duty philosophy stuff which the other two books touch upon. It reminded me of a couple of related papers that I wrote for a "Philosophy of Mind and Psychology" course a few years back. In Could a Computer Feel Pain?, I reveal my functionalist leanings. In Representational Systems, I tie my theory of consciousness to recurrent networks.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Introducing Icon Books

Last night I was raving about a book I had just read, Introducing Artificial Intelligence by Henry Brighton, 2004. This book is illustrated with cartoons on each page depicting caricatures of the scientists and philosophers in the field. It covers the entire history of the field from "classic" A.I. to the "New A.I." including the terminology, debates, and the connection to philosophy of mind. It reminded me just how much this topic interests me.

It turns out that Icon Books (a.k.a. Totem Books) was also the publisher of another of my recent favorites, Dawkins and the Selfish Gene by Ed Sexton, 2001. They have a whole collection of science titles. The four that are going on my wish list right now are Introducing Mind and Brain, Introducing Consciousness, Introducing Learning and Memory, and Introducing Genetics.

Roundaboutness

I uploaded my sermon Evolutionary Humanism and Roundaboutness. In this sermon, I proposed, among other things, that the progress of evolution toward ever greater complexity and the inevitable increase in intelligence, as described in the 1953 essay “Evolutionary Humanism” by Julian Huxley, is related to the economic theory of roundabout methods of production.

I first learned of "roundaboutness" from the book Economics for Real People: An Introduction to the Austrian School.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Replicator Unit

I enjoyed reading Dawkins and the Selfish Gene by Ed Sexton (2001). It provides a concise summary of the selfish gene theory and the related debates. At just 80 pages, it is perfect for those who have already read The Selfish Gene some time ago and are looking for a quick review with a bit of historical perspective.

One the debates is on what is the fundamental unit of replication. Is it the gene, the phenotype, the individual human, or the community? It reminded me of my recent sermon The Virtue of Selfish Genes in which I asked whether the individual unit of survival was the gene, the person, or all DNA-based life on Earth. I think that in my next update to the Optihumanist Principles, I might add a paragraph that states something to the effect that "Survival is the absolute good. Persistence persists. We survive through the legacy of our children and our culture."

I think that in the future, we will not need to rely exclusively on genetic or memetic means of reproduction for survival. In looking for a word describing a third alternative, I found this definition of Patternism.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Animal Intelligence

I just finished reading The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity. People who enjoy thinking about evolution, artificial and natural intelligence, and consciousness will want to read this book. It is a quick read worth the price.

It reminded me of my own anecdote about animal intelligence. My Siamese cat Dodo (a.k.a. Scratch) used to try to get out by repeatedly jumping up and pawing at the front door handle. We had become accustomed to hearing the repeated twack and thump in the middle of the night as the cat tried over and over again. One night the twack-thump sequence was interrupted by the creak of the door. This aroused our curiosity. Sure enough, the door was open and the cat was gone.

The cat got in the habit of doing this on following nights. This posed a security problem for us as he consistently failed to close and lock the door behind him. We described the problem to our landlord and asked him to replace the lever handle with a twist handle or add a lock. Our landlord was incredulous and asked for a demonstration. We all turned and stared at the cat but it failed to perform.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Half Price Books

Last year I started dropping by a Half Price Books store during my lunch hour near where I worked. You never know what treasures you will find there. This year I am working from home so I was overjoyed today to discover a store near where I live.

This particular store sold paperbacks at half the cover price. I bought a copy of Who is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden for 30 cents -- half of the 1967 cover price of 60 cents. It would have cost me $22+ to purchase it through Amazon.com as an out of print book. A successful hunt.

Cryonics

I just caught this video on the ABC News website, Couple Opt for Cryogenics for Themselves and Their Dogs. I have signed up for cryonic suspension through Alcor as well. If you love life as much as I do, you should too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Singularity is Near

I am just on Chapter 4 "Achieving the Software of Human Intelligence: How to Reverse Engineer the Human Brain" and already I feel that I can give the book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology my full recommendation. I recently read in Discover magazine that it was in a Top Ten list for science books.

Also, check out this humorous MP3,
I am the very model of a Singularitarian
.



Friday, January 20, 2006

DANG Blog

In an earlier post, I talked about switching some of the websites that I maintain for local volunteer organizations over to weblogs. I just created a weblog for the Dallas Area Neuroscience Group. In this case, I am splitting the content between the weblog and the website. Frequently changing content such as updates will go on the weblog and the rest will remain on the website.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

North Texas Atheists

Today I discovered Upcoming.org. It appears to be a free version of Meetup.com. It was recently purchased by Yahoo so I suspect it will take off in a big way.

I created an Upcoming.org activism group, North Texas Atheists, which will address local state-church separation issues. At our first meeting, we will adopt bylaws and hold elections.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

CroftSoft Update

I switched the CroftSoft Update from a Yahoo Group mailing list to a blog. The CroftSoft Update blog is where I will post my less personal, more technical announcements: http://www.CroftSoft.blogspot.com/