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.