A Letter to the Future
I am writing this piece at the end of March 2020 for publication in the June/July 2020 issue of Free Inquiry, which means a two-month pipeline between completion/filing and publication. Normally, that is a short time, even if it spans events that are highly consequential in one domain of life, such as the outcome of …
Secularity and Science: What Scientists around the World Really Think about Religion, by Elaine Howard Ecklund, David R. Johnson, Brandon Vaidyanathan, Kirstin R. W. Matthews, Steven W. Lewis, Robert A. Thomson Jr., and Di Di (New York, Oxford University Press, 2019, ISBN 9780190926755). 352 pp. Hardcover, $29.95. Elaine Howard Ecklund is a sociology professor …
Scientific Uncertainty and Public Debate over Science
Since the rise of a recognizably modern form of science early in the seventeenth century—associated above all with Galileo—science has emerged as “our most authoritative source of knowledge about the natural world” (Heather E. Douglas, whose work partly inspired this column) within which I include knowledge of a general kind about ourselves. Almost everyone agrees …
We live in a sharply polarized political and cultural environment in which it has become increasingly difficult to discuss urgent issues across the divides. With the emergence of purity policing and call-out culture, amplified by social media, it is difficult enough to conduct honest, civil conversations even with people who share most of our own …
Where to Draw Lines on Assisted Dying
Voluntary assisted dying, also known as voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide (though all these terms have their own nuances), is a perennial issue dividing religious conservatives from secular liberals. In Australia, several legal jurisdictions have been engaging with the issue since the 1990s, and it is currently under consideration by the parliaments of two states. …
Terrorist Propaganda and Government Censorship
Christchurch, New Zealand, is a beautiful, peaceful city located on the country’s south island. Its people have suffered in recent years from a series of earthquakes (2010 to 2012) that ruined much of the city’s infrastructure and cultural heritage. Christchurch became internationally notorious on March 15, 2019, when a fanatical racist and anti-Muslim bigot, subsequently …
Dehumanizing Propaganda and Freedom of Speech—a New Case in Canada
A recent Canadian case, The Queen v. Sears and St. Germaine, involved the now-familiar issues of free speech, dehumanizing propaganda, and public expression of hatred. Decided in late January 2019, the case ended with convictions for James Sears and LeRoy St. Germaine, the editor and publisher, respectively, of Your Ward News (YWN), a loathsome “community …
No Platforms for Bannon?
The slogan “No platforms for fascists” came from events in the United Kingdom during the 1970s. It was aimed at propagandists and recruiters for violent, indubitably fascist, organizations such as the National Front. This was also a time of protests against the South African regime’s odious Apartheid policy, and student unions in the United Kingdom …
John Stuart Mill and the Language of Freedom
Every year or so, I re-read John Stuart Mill’s great statement of liberal principles and values, On Liberty (first published in 1859). More than any other, I suspect, this book has shaped my own thinking about politics, law, and society. Each time I read it, I notice new twists and subtleties. It’s always worth returning …
A Step Closer to Human Cloning?
The recent cloning of macaque monkeys is impressive, but we’re still a long way from human reproductive cloning.
Just a Semantic Argument? The Free Will Free-for-All
Disputes about free will may reflect our fears about fatalism and moral responsibility.
America’s Sense of Mission
Burton L. Mack is a prominent scholar in the field of early Christian history. He is the author of an extensive body of work examining the origins of Christianity up to and including the all-important fourth century CE, when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The Problems of Philosophy
Philosophy is under attack from many sides, but it is far too important to give up on it.
Trump in Warsaw and the Long Shadow of Charles Martel
On July 6, 2017, Donald Trump delivered a speech in Warsaw that was clearly intended as a landmark in the fog and swirl of geopolitical debate. The Warsaw speech evoked a vision of global politics, and it gave a suggestion of what Trump’s confusing presidency stands for.
The Future of Philosophical Naturalism
Philosophical naturalism comes in different flavors, but it is essentially the idea that nothing supernatural affects events in the world around us –– or perhaps that nothing supernatural even exists.
“1517 is usually taken as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and this year is its five hundredth anniversary.”
Keep Dissent Nonviolent
“While I understand the shock and fear—and indeed, I feel some of it myself—we mustn’t allow it to cloud our thinking.”
Yes—Oh, Dear, Yes—Don’t Ban the Burkini
“Basic ideas of free speech require that people be at liberty to express their commitments in public.”
Not (Just) a Tragedy! Fanatics and Their Atrocities
Words such as tragic are inadequate to describe premeditated acts of murder motivated by religious or political fanaticism.
The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism
“… The book is not especially systematic, reading more like a collection of diverse, thematically linked articles than a systematic effort to define, iscuss, and defend naturalism of any kind.”
Suppress and Punish: The Dangerous Impulse to Shut Down Speech
Shutting down speech is authoritarianism in action.
Islamophobia or Anti-Muslim Prejudice?
The term Islamophobia serves no unique purpose and tends to discourage any criticism of Islam whatever. It’s time to jettison it.
The Not-At-All-Harsh Reality of Same-sex Marriage
Far from bewailing the legitimation of same-sex marriage, conservatives might celebrate that so many same-sex couples find matrimony desirable.
Just a Rationalization? Free Speech, Absolutism, and Motivated Reasoning
The commitment to free speech may admit of exceptions. But a more important principle may be to be vigilant for dishonesty and disingenuity, not only in our opponents’ positions but in our own.
Angry Atheists: A Contemporary Myth
Atheists don’t live up to the myth about their being angry. Rather they get blamed for the anger that even gentle atheist commentary stirs in some believers.
An Odor of Sanctimony: Responses to the Charlie Hebdo Murders
Charlie Hebdo can be subjected to criticism but should not be blamed for the tragedy that befell it.
Surprisingly Sensitive—Civility and Freedom of Speech
Civility is valuable, yet not so much so that the state—or a university—can properly require it.
The Faith of a Conservative
A review of The Soul of the World, by Roger Scruton.
Is Atheism Doomed?
Predictions of the imminent decline of atheism keep on coming . . . and they keep failing to come true.
The Rushdie Affair—Lest We Forget
“Enraged by the presence at a cultural festival of Aziz Nesin, translator of parts of the novel into Turkish, the mob set fire to a hotel, killing thirty-five people.”
Upstream, Downstream: Liberalism, Direct Harm, and Hate Speech
Even if we all fully embraced the ideal of secular government, and even if this nudged us all in the direction of liberty and social pluralism, there would remain much scope for political disagreements.
Do the Best Lack All Conviction?
So often, ideologues display an intensity of conviction, and an unscrupulousness in acting upon it, against which good, fair, perhaps liberal-minded people seem helpless.
Sorting out Religion with Brian Leiter
Why Tolerate Religion?, by Brian Leiter (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013, ISBN 978-0-691-15361-2) 187 pp. Hardcover, $24.95. Brian Leiter’s new book on secularism and religious freedom, Why Tolerate Religion?, has received much attention. It is a useful contribution to the discussion of an important group of issues, and it was appropriately the topic of a …
Should We Abolish Morality?
Should We Abolish Morality? Prominent philosopher Joel Marks has published a new book on the topic of moral skepticism: Ethics without Morals: In Defense of Amorality (Routledge, 2013). Marks was formerly a moral realist with essentially Kantian intuitions, but in recent times he has had something of a (de)conversion experience, coming to the view that …
The Fascination of Faitheism
In his new book, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious (Beacon, 2012), Chris Stedman asks for kinder, gentler expressions of atheism. For Stedman, the current level of hostility among atheists toward religion and religious people is not only uncomfortable but also, more important, counterproductive to the achievement of shared humane goals. …
Up With Secularism!
As I write, the latest issue of New Humanist (July/August 2012), the magazine of the United Kingdom’s Rationalist Association, has come out with an article by Richard Smyth titled “Down With Secularism.” Smyth thoroughly rejects ideas of a separation of church and state, or as we might rephrase it, of keeping religion out of government …
The State and the Marriage Business
Here in Australia, as in many other parts of the world, there is an ongoing public debate about proposals to extend marriage to same-sex couples. As marriage falls within the federal jurisdiction under the Australian Constitution, this has led to public consultation processes involving the federal houses of Parliament (the House of Representatives and the …
Who’s Afraid of Scientism?
One fashionable criticism of outspoken atheists is that we demonstrate the vice of scientism—whatever that is exactly. This criticism comes from many theologians, such as John Haught, but also from some secular philosophers. The critics seldom define scientism, and I doubt that they can agree on a definition. Is it skepticism about specifically religious “ways …
A problem with the current debates about emerging technologies is that they really are debates—plural. Reasonable policy approaches to embryonic sex selection, for example, or to human reproductive cloning, if it were available, might not generalize to more radical technologies that could reverse the aging process, dramatically increase our cognitive capacities, alter the gross morphology …