Category Archives: secularism

Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago

As a reviewer, there are two things you’ll want to know about me before bothering to read further. I only like literary fiction, and I only like literary fiction that’s a bit “difficult,” in one way or another, style or theme, preferably both.

A good theme for me might include controversial social issues, human paradoxes, ethical puzzles– problems to which there are no easy solutions. The concerns of unmarried 32-year-old woman and the plight of a middle-aged man whose affair is petering out are not real “problems,” in my view, nor is the temporary loss of faith in God or humanity. Continue reading

The Choice Issues in the Health Care Bill: eating meat and reading literature

Two extremely important issues–that are not strictly health related–are holding up the health care bill. These are: whether the government should help fund abortions and whether the government should help fund end-of-life consultations between patients and physicians. Anyone who knows my novels knows that I’m a feminist and so would expect me to support Pro-Choice, and I do. Anyone who has read Naked Singularity knows that I would fight for choice on the issue of euthanasia too. Nevertheless, I think both should be withdrawn from the bill. Here’s why: Continue reading

Atheists invited to New York “Interfaith” Breakfast

Recently various religious leaders convened for an annual breakfast with NY Mayor Bloomberg to discuss community building. This year was the first to include atheists in the group.

According to the NY Times, it was Nazli Parvizi, the mayor’s commissioner of the Community Affairs Unit and an atheist, who “decided to invite atheists for the first time. She said she was inspired in part by President Obama’s inaugural address, which included a prominent reference to America’s nonbelievers.” Continue reading

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

With all books, there is a difference between author and narrator. Sometimes the difference is slight, sometimes great. Omniscient narrators tend to reflect the author’s stance about the story more than, say, first-person narrators, which often strike poses very unlike the authors’, excepting the case of confessional “fiction” (which is not actually fictional). At first I thought Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Modern Library)‘s narrator spoke without irony, without distance being injected between his voice and the author’s feelings about the story. As I read on, I felt more and more an ironic distance between McCarthy and the narrator. I felt as if Continue reading

Teleology revisited

Teleology is the study of the purposes of action, development and existence. Its practitioners believe nature is purposeful. An ancient and enduring form of inquiry that has been out-of-fashion among educated people for centuries, teleology’s slow, steady decline as a scientific discipline began in the 17th century with the birth of modern empiricism and continued to plummet apace with the rise of the Enlightenment, Darwinism, and quantum mechanics. Nature is not purposeful, it was said, and those who continued to think it was were primarily spiritualists, artists, or madmen, who credited the guidance of gods, muses, or fate. Continue reading

Nature is a Work of Art

Telos is Greek for an “end” or function, which helps explain why something exists or why its previous actions occurred: in order to serve that function.  Telic action requires some kind representation of the goal that helps achieve it.  In short, teleologists argue that ideas, or something like mental concepts or thoughts, cause events in a way wholly different from the way that objects cause events (atoms, molecules or larger bodies hitting each other and/or reacting). Continue reading

Purpose, biosemiotics and the complexity sciences

Telos is otherwise known as final cause, one of four causes identified by Aristotle’s natural philosophy: Material cause describes how the physical properties of matter determine what a thing is and how it will react with other things. For example, an ivory ball will roll differently than a wooden ball, as the density and weight of the material determines how much resistance it has. Efficient cause describes how the agent (person, animal, or even a moving object like a billiard ball) acting on something determines what happens. For example, the pool player, the cue stick or ball hitting another ball at rest is the efficient cause of the latter’s moving. Formal cause describes how the “blueprint” or the natural laws of form determine what can be. Some forms are physically impossible; others are very probable. Experienced pool players have learned that certain types of moves can be expected to result in certain types of outcomes, and they may apply their knowledge of geometry to their game.  Final cause describes how the “end,” or the function something ultimately serves, determines what happens or how something develops. The ball was struck so that the pool player might win the game and further develop his abilities and reputation. Continue reading

Hospice nurses: mercy killers or predators?

Recently the controversial issue of euthanasia was tossed around in the news media due to the living will clause in the health care reform bill.  Democrats wanted health insurance to cover any patient who wished to have an “end-of-life consultation” with his/her physician, deciding ahead of time what to do if the patient’s condition was past hope and the patient no longer able to communicate his/her desires. Continue reading

Good without God

There is a new campaign in NYC subways. Various atheist and humanist groups have decided to give a “call out” to the others like themselves. The ads feature a serenely blue sky and the words, “Are you good without God? Millions are.”

I’d like to think I count among those millions so I am answering that call. Being godless can affect people in different ways, but we have some strong tendencies in common. We tend to be independent thinkers; an atheist’s values are not inherited; they are hard won and carefully evaluated. Continue reading

Walk On, Bright Boy by Charles Davis

Set in Medieval Spain, Walk On, Bright Boy is story of a boy’s first confrontation with political and religious corruption strives less for historical accuracy than for universal applicability. Written with lovely economy and sensitivity, it is reminiscent of a fable or of a young adult coming-of-age tale. At the same time, however, it is also complex in its exploration of human foibles and philosophies. Continue reading