Sunday, January 23, 2011

Suzie, quien todavía vive una fantasía

Esta es la historia de Suzie, quien como millones de personas, vive una vida de fantasía y credulidad infantil (via Pharyngula).

El diccionario debería corregir la definición del verbo "rezar" a la siguiente:

Rezar: La manera más efectiva de no hacer absolutamente nada, y aún así creer que se hace algo.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Notes from "Letters to a Young Contrarian", Letter X

Letter X

More criticism on religion.

[A]s Laplace is supposed to have said when demonstrating his model of the solar system at court, and on being asked where the Prime Mover was: "It can work without that assumption."

What heaven looks like:

Endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation and abjection of self; a celestial North Korea. (Just to spice things up, some religions promise a good deal of carnal bliss and I think I have already mentioned one of the Church fathers, Tertullian, who also dangled the tempting option of viewing the torments of the damned. All this proves is that religion is man-made, and that men have created gods in their own image rather than the other way about [emphasis added]. Only a humorless tyrant could want a perpetual chanting of the praises that, one has no choice but to assume, would be of the innate virtues and splendors furnished him by his creator, infinite regression, drowned in praise!)

[T]here is something irreducibly servile and masochistic about the religious mentality. And the critical and oppositional stance does ultimately rest on a belief in the capacity and pride of the individual, while religion tends to dissolve this into a sickly form of collectivism (remember "the flock").

Religion is, and always has been, a means of control. Some of those who recommend religion [...] are blunt enough to make this point explicit: it may be a myth and mumbo-jumbo but it's very useful for keeping order. [emphasis added]

Sigmund Freud was surely right when he concluded that religious superstition was ineradicable, at least for as long as we fear death and fear the darkness. It belongs to the childhood of our race, and childhood is not always ---as Freud also helped us to understand--- our most attractive or innocent period.

A degree of solitude and resignation is necessary to being with. Some people can't bear solitude, let alone the idea that the heavens are empty and that we do not even succeed in troubling their deafness with out bootless cries.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Notes from "Letters to a Young Contrarian", Letter IX

Letter IX

In this letter we have a synthesized version of Hitchens' arguments against religion. What follows are just a few points worth to be remarked and that I find hard to argue against.

I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually the case.

To obey or to use your brain? I rather use my brain. Obeying is too easy. It is for those who don't want to think for themselves.

I have my answer ready if I turn out to be mistaken about [religion]: at the bar of judgement I shall argue that I deserve credit for an honest conviction of unbelief and must in any case be acquitted of the charge of hypocrisy or sycophancy. If the omnipotent and omniscient one does turn out to be of the loving kind, I would expect this plea to do me more good than any trashy casuistry of the sort popularized by Blaise Pascal.

I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator---that's beyond my conceit.

Even the most humane and compassionate of the monotheisms and polytheisms are complicit in this quiet and irrational authoritarianism: they proclaim us, in Fulke Greville's unforgettable line, "Created sick---Commanded to be well."

About the claim that Jesus died for the sins of humanity, i.e. the vicarious redemption, Hitchens says:

There is no moral value in the vicarious gesture anyway. As Thomas Paine pointed out, you may if you wish take on another man's debt, or even offer to take his place in prison. That would be self-sacrificing. But you may not assume his actual crimes as if they were your own; for one thing you did not commit them and might have died rather than do so; for another this impossible action would rob him of individual responsibility.

[T]he concept of revealed truth degrades the whole concept of the free intelligence by purportedly relieving us of the hard task of working out ethical principles for ourselves.

[Judaism], along with Islam and Christianity it does insist that some turgid and contradictory and sometimes evil and mad texts, obviously written by fairly unexceptional humans, are in fact the word of god. I think that the indispensable condition of any intellectual liberty is the realisation that there is no such thing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Notes from "Letters to a Young Contrarian", Letters VII and VIII

Letter VII

Try your hardest to combat atrophy and routine. To question The Obvious and the given is an essential element of the maxim de omnius dubitandum.

Letter VIII

How to ward off atrophy and routine, you ask? [...] Every day, the New York Times carries a motto in a box on its front page. "All the News That's Fit to Print," it says. It's been saying it for decades, day in and day out. [...] I myself check every day to make sure that the bright, smug, pompous, idiotic claim is still there. Then I check to make sure that it still irritates me. If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it's a obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be, then at least I know that I still have a pulse.

The style of the above paragraph is why Hitchens is so delightful to read!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Notes from "Letters to a Young Contrarian", Letter VI

Letter VI

[B]e prepared in advance for the arguments you will hear (even in your own head) against such a mode of conduct. Some of these are very seductive. [...] Other invitations to passivity or acquiescence are more sly, some of them making an appeal to modesty. Who are you to be judge? Who asked you? Anyway, is this the propitious time to be making a stand? Perhaps one should await a more favorable moment?

Next quote comes from George Orwell's "Through a Glass, Rosily":

Whenever A and B are in opposition to one another, anyone who attacks or criticises A is accused of aiding and abetting B. And it is often true, objectively and on a short-term analysis, that he is making things easier for B. Therefore, say the supporters of A, shut up and don't criticise: or at least criticise "constructively", which in practice always means favourably. And from this it is only a short step to arguing that the suppression and distortion of known facts is the highest duty of a journalist.

According to Blake, "A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent."

The next series of quotes come from Microcosmographia Academica, witten in 1904 by F. M. Cornford.

There is only one argument for doing something; the rest are arguments for doing nothing.

Now come the arguments that justify doing nothing, which are in themselves weak excuses for inaction.

The Principle of the Wedge is that you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in the future---expectations that you are afraid you will not have the courage to satisfy. A little reflection will make it evident that the Wedge argument implies the admission that the persons who use it cannot prove that the action is not just. If they could, that would be the sole and sufficient reason for not doing it, and this argument would be superfluous.

The Principle of Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do any admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action that is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.

Another argument is that "the Time is not Ripe." The Principle of Unripe Time is that people should not do at the present moment what they think right at that moment, because the moment at which they think it right has not yet arrived.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hitchens: Por qué el ateismo es mejor

Del pasado debate entre Christopher Hitchens y Tony Blair, del cual tomé tres pensamientos, encontré un análisis conciso sobre el mismo, vía Young Freethought. A continuación traduzco libremente la argumentación elegante, racional y sólida de Hitchens. Para mayor deleite, lo recomendable es leerlo directamente en inglés :-)

Una vez que asumimos que hay un creador y un plan, eso nos hace objetos en un cruel experimento, en donde se nos ha creado enfermos y se nos manda a ponernos bien. Repito: creados enfermos y se nos ordena a ponernos bien. Y sobre nosotros, para supervisarlo todo, se instala una dictadura celestial, una especie de Corea del Norte divina. Codiciosa, exigente. Codiciosa de alabanza ciega desde que amanece hasta que anochece y rápida para castigar el pecado original, el cual tiernamente nos otorgó en primer lugar.

Sin embargo, que nadie diga que no hay cura, la salvación es ofrecida. La redención, de hecho, es prometida; al bajo costo de renunciar a nuestras facultades de pensamiento crítico. La religión, podría decirse, y debe decirse, tendría que admitir que hace afirmaciones extraordinarias. Pero yo, sin embargo, sostendría que las afirmaciones extraordinarias requieren evidencia extraordinaria. Más aún, atrevidamente ni siquiera se provee de evidencia ordinaria para sus afirmaciones sobrenaturales extraordinarias.

Por lo tanto, podríamos empezar preguntándonos, y le pregunto a mi oponente [Tony Blair] y también a ustedes cuando consideren su voto, ¿es bueno para el mundo apelar a nuestra credulidad y no a nuestro escepticismo? ¿Es bueno para el mundo adorar a una deidad que toma preferencias en las guerras y en los asuntos humanos? ¿Apelar a nuestro miedo y culpa, es eso bueno para el mundo? A nuestro terror, nuestro terror por la muerte, ¿es bueno apelar a eso?

Predicar culpa y vergüenza sobre el acto sexual y la relación sexual, ¿es eso bueno para el mundo? Y pregúntense ustedes mismos, ¿es la religión responsable de esto, tal como yo lo sostengo? Aterrorizar a los niños con la imagen del infierno y castigo eterno, no sólo de ellos mismos, sino de sus padres y todos sus seres queridos. Talvez, lo peor de todo, considerar a la mujer como una creación inferior, ¿es eso bueno para el mundo? ¿puede alguien nombrar una religión que no haya hecho eso? Insistir que hemos sido creados y no evolucionado de cara a toda la evidencia. Decir que ciertos libros de mito y leyenda, primitivos y hechos por el hombre son revelaciones y no fabricaciones humanas.

La religión fuerza a la gente buena a hacer cosas desagradables y también hace que la gente inteligente diga cosas estúpidas. Cuando toman entre sus brazos un pequeño bebé recién nacido, ¿es su primera reacción pensar: "hermoso, casi perfecto, pero dame la piedra filosa para sus genitales, para que podamos hacer la obra del Señor"? [en algunas religiones se mutilan los genitales femeninos] No. Esto es --- como el gran físico Stephen Weinberg adecuadamente lo dijo, en el universo moral ordinario, los buenos harán lo mejor que puedan, y los malos harán lo peor que puedan, pero si ustedes quieren que la gente buena haga cosas perversas, necesitarán de la religión.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Notes from "Letters to a Young Contrarian", Letter V

Letter V

The strategy of living "as if".

Now you ask me, to what purpose is such a life to be devoted? In a way, you miss my point, since I believe (and I hope I argued) that such a life is worth living on its own account.

Vaclav Havel [...] realized that "resistance" in its original insurgent and militant sense was impossible in the Central Europe of the day. He therefore proposed living "as if" he were a citizen of a free society, "as if" lying and cowardice were not mandatory patriotic duties, "as if" his government had actually signed (which it actually had) the various treaties and agreements that enshrine universal human rights. He called this tactic "The Power of the Powerless" because, even when disagreement can be almost forbidden, a state that insists on actually compelling assent can be relatively easily made to look stupid.

The "as if" idea could be very well applied to several distinct situations in life.

More examples of the "as if" pose:

Professor E. P. Thompson [...] proposed that we live "as if" a free independent Europe already existed.
Oscar Wilde [...] decided to live "as if" moral hypocrisy were not regnant. In the Deep South in the early 1960's, Rosa Parks [...] decided to act "as if" a hardworking black woman could sit down on a bus at the end of the day's labor. In Moscow in the 1970's, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn resolved to write "as if" an individual scholar could investigate the history of his own country, and publish his findings.

I remember seeing on the recent December 1st, that Google made a special logo to celebrate Rosa Parks. I knew about her on that day.

Some final remarks:

On every day of those years, the "as if" pose had to be kept up, until its cumulative effect could be felt.

All I can recommend, therefore (apart from the study of these and other good examples) is that you try to cultivate some of this attitude. In an average day, you may well be confronted with some species of bullying or bigotry, or some ill-phrased appeal the the general will, or some petty abuse of authority.

Ben-Hur Cigars

On May 2010, I went to Milwaukee to attend the "Gravitational Wave Tests of Alternative Theories of Gravity in the Advanced Detector Era" workshop. On the last day, I went to the Public Museum. It had lots of exhibits, including one about the old streets of Milwaukee. I found there a cigar advertisement that I couldn't fail to notice, since I've seen the Ben-Hur movie countless times. I like the flavor of Roman Empire of the movie and the majestic sound-track.

In all epochs, movies influence the market and the image of the products.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A quote by Fulke Greville

While reading "Letters to a Young Contrarian", I found a reference to Fulke Greville in the form of this line: "Created sick---Commanded to be well." It is mentioned as a crude and direct implication of the kind of things that are implicit in the religious teachings.

I found in Wikiquote the full text. It is moving and dramatic, a portrait of the human dilemma.

Oh wearisome condition of Humanity!
Born under one law, to another bound,
Vainly begot and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick, commanded to be sound:
What meaneth Nature by these diverse laws?
Passion and reason self-division cause.
Is it the mask or majesty of Power
To make offences that it may forgive?