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.