Mitch Daniels’ anti-atheist comments

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels is getting some favorable attention from libertarians, perhaps with some justification given his reading habits. However he has nothing kind to say about the atheists among us:

People who reject the idea of a God -who think that we’re just accidental protoplasm- have always been with us. What bothers me is the implications -which not all such folks have thought through- because really, if we are just accidental, if this life is all there is, if there is no eternal standard of right and wrong, then all that matters is power.

And atheism leads to brutality. All the horrific crimes of the last century were committed by atheists -Stalin and Hitler and Mao and so forth- because it flows very naturally from an idea that there is no judgment and there is nothing other than the brief time we spend on this Earth.

Everyone’s certainly entitled in our country to equal treatment regardless of their opinion. But yes, I think that folks who believe they’ve come to that opinion ought to think very carefully, first of all, about how different it is from the American tradition; how it leads to a very different set of outcomes in the real world.

I was going to write a longer post about this until I realized the quote is from a December interview. That’s remarkable in itself, given that I just recently came across it. An American governor saying that any religion “leads to brutality” would surely have made bigger headlines, but disparage atheists and hardly anyone takes notice until months later.

Atheists have polled as the least trusted group in the US and a majority of respondents say they would not vote for an atheist candidate. Statements from politicians like Daniels are part of the reason. Since atheists are an invisible minority we have the option of letting such comments slide. As I’ve written before, I think this is a mistake:

Respondents to the survey call atheists elitist and in one sense they are right. Academia and the sciences are wide open to us. Educated Americans on the coasts are more tolerant of atheism. Unless we’re running for public office, no ceiling blocks our ambitions. Unlike other minorities, we have the luxury of not caring what other people think. And so we don’t.

So maybe we ought to be speaking up more. I don’t mean by forming advocacy groups or adopting pretentious new words like “brights,” but by being forthright when people inquire about our religious beliefs. I’m as guilty as anyone of equivocating by saying I’m “not religious” when asked rather than matter of factly admitting to atheism. This polite ambiguity prevents some awkwardness, but keeps atheism outside the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable and, ultimately, shows a lack of respect for ourselves and the people we interact with. Enough of that. We’ve got catching up to do.

To their credit, the Center for Inquiry Indiana has taken Daniels to task for his comments, and Jonathan Turley was on it immediately.

A summer mezcal cocktail

Last night I was tending bar with my friend Dave Shenaut and we had the pleasure of mixing drinks for the folks behind Ilegal Mezcal. It’s not every night one is asked to come up with a variety of mezcal cocktails on the spot, but it was a fun challenge. This was one of the crowd-pleasers and an ideal drink for summer:

1.25 oz Ilegal Joven Mezcal
.75 oz honey-lavender syrup*
.75 oz Cocchi Americano
.5 oz lemon

Shake and serve up in a cocktail glass.

*Recipe here.

Links for 7/16/10

Interview with a caffeine expert

In 2010, the US still charges people with obscenity

It’s nice when blue laws are the least of your worries

Siegel on the uselessness of regulating cigarette additives

Education and creativity

“Extraversion correlated with ‘drinks’ and negatively correlated with ‘computer’”

Links for 7/15/10

Rise of the jumper colon

The myth of sudden acceleration incidents

Progressives, libertarians, and deontology

New Zealand no longer a secular state

Congress spends $1 million per year on sexual harassment settlements

Denville, NJ law would imprison violators of outdoor smoking ban

Want to enjoy a culebra? You’ll need two friends

Links for 7/14/10

Your cell phone isn’t going to kill you

The trilemma of international finance

A brief sketch of the two-party system

Battle of the orange liqueurs

French cuisine revamps its image

Coffee as chocolate

Kansas City bar shut down for skirting smoking ban

Beyond the pale

UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made a lot of favorable headlines recently by launching the Your Freedom website, allowing citizens to suggest laws that should be repealed. In a new video he reveals that there are at least two suggestions that will “of course” not be taken seriously:

1) Reintroducing the death penalty; and

2) Allowing people to smoke in private businesses

Because clearly, these ideas are equally at odds with liberalism!

Dick Puddlecote has more, via Chris Snowdon.

Links for 7/12/10

Discovery of King Arthur’s Round Table?

Posterous takes on WordPress

Despite court ruling, Oregon cops may still arrest you for recording them

… or for sharing your homebrew

A useful transit measure: Pints per mile

Killing government agencies is always hard to do

Economics of the Mai Tai

I’m an atheist about all the gods that matter

Ron Rosenbaum’s “Agnostic Manifesto” at Slate has been making the rounds lately. He makes a few arguments against atheism, the central one being this:

Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. [...]

Faced with the fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing. But the question presents a fundamental mystery that has bedeviled (so to speak) philosophers and theologians from Aristotle to Aquinas. Recently scientists have tried to answer it with theories of “multiverses” and “vacuums filled with quantum potentialities,” none of which strikes me as persuasive. [...]

Agnosticism doesn’t fear uncertainty. It doesn’t cling like a child in the dark to the dogmas of orthodox religion or atheism. Agnosticism respects and celebrates uncertainty and has been doing so since before quantum physics revealed the uncertainty that lies at the very groundwork of being.

I don’t think this criticism hits the mark. For starters, as Rosenbaum quotes approvingly from John Wilkins, we are all atheists about something: “Christians are Vishnu-atheists, I am a Thor-atheist, and so on.” This is the lay meaning of the word “atheism,” and it’s a useful meaning. When I tell people I am an atheist they understand that this means I don’t believe in any of the gods imagined by (or revealed to, if you disagree) human beings, and their understanding is correct.

Does this mean I am 100% certain that no gods exist? No, but certainty is a mug’s game. In real life we are faced with countless hypotheses about the nature of the world and we must use our best judgments about which of them to take seriously. I will concede that there is a non-zero probability that God once made a covenant with my ancestors, or sent down his son to offer us eternal life, or even that we are all headed toward Ragnarök. However I’m not going to spend much time investigating these possibilities.

On this I think Rosenbaum agrees, which leaves us with the less exciting kinds of gods that only philosophers bother talking about. It’s true that I cannot explain “why there is something rather than nothing.” But I don’t see why it should be my job to explain it, or how positing a god does any better. To this question the philosophers’ god is not a solution, but rather the placeholder to a solution. As Julian Sanchez writes, this is merely “gesturing at the realm of mystery and calling the question mark that lives there God.” Without giving the word meaning there’s nothing for me to be agnostic about.

Will advanced physics explain why there is something rather than nothing, if that question makes sense? I don’t know, but I also don’t know where else one would reasonably look. Perhaps the answer will turn out to be something we might call a god, or maybe someday I’ll be presented with a definition of god that plausibly and meaningfully answers the question. Until then I think it most honest to call myself an atheist, at least in regard to all the gods that matter.

Links for 7/12/10

Love in the time of cryonics

Metro map of the Milky Way

We need a derisive label for anti-immigrant prejudice

Is Rand Paul a young-Earth creationist?

Locavores gone wild!

Steve Martin’s tour rider

Mel Gibson captions Ziggy

Ron Zacapa, good cigars, and Portland summer

Scotch and cigars are a classic pairing, but lately I’ve been turning more and more toward rum as my spirit of choice when enjoying a cigar. One of my favorite rums for smoking is the incredibly rich Ron Zacapa Centenario, a Guatemalan rum distilled from sugar cane “honey” and aged for 23 years via the solera method. In short, this means that rum lost to evaporation one year is replaced with rum from the next, meaning that each barrel contains a blend of rums from each year. The rum is smooth, sweet, and very cooling, which can be an agreeable feature when having a cigar. For people who haven’t paired rum and cigars before, Zacapa is an eye-opening experience.

On Tuesday, July 13, my friend Ed Ryan from the Portland Cigar Club and I putting together an event at Alu Wine Bar and Lounge to bring together Ron Zacapa and cigars on the Alu patio. Ed’s bringing in two cigars, the Honduras Caribbean Honduran Puro Maduro and the Kinky Friedman Kinkycristo, which is a blend of Honduran & Nicaraguan tobaccos wrapped in a Costa Rican binder and a Honduran wrapper. These will be matched with Ron Zacapa served neat and in two cocktails. This is a fantastic deal, but space is limited, so buy your ticket on PayPal to reserve your seat.

Links for 7/9/10

Public choice and the World Cup

“Street gangs will lose a source of revenue, and the state of California will gain one”

Love in the age of PUAs

Russian art curators face jail for offending Orthodox church

Me-Fites doing it wrong

A glorious day for the Cato Institute

Links for 7/8/10

What’s so scary about GM foods?

Coca-Cola or milk?

“Ermordet in Auschwitz”

The education debacle of the decade

WaPo bias on Citizens United

How to shoot cocktails in the wild

Six things we get wrong about history

Lolcats of the 1800s

Prisencolinensinainciusol

Because I’m too busy to write today…

Explanation here.

The killer in the pool

Helmet laws a mixed blessing

Why Illinois casinos aren’t making more money

In Iran, 99 lashes and stoning for adultery

You can marry, but you can’t buy a Coke

Vid: The Best political ad ever

Vid: Spider crab molting

Links for 7/6/10

Big Government gives, Big Government takes

I’d like you to meet my…?

An introduction to the Greenfield, MA police department

The not-so-white Tea Party

Henley on “positive punishment”

Smoking is never good, but sometimes it’s not so bad

Portland’s most underhyped beer destinations

Summer Imbibing

tiberius

I have a new cocktail up at Imbibe this weekend featuring the limited edition Beefeater Summer Gin, hibiscus syrup, lemon, and cucumber. If you’re looking for a refreshing summer drink, give the Tiberius Fizz a try.

Why Tiberius? The emperor was reportedly extremely fond of cucumbers:

According to The Natural History of Pliny, by Pliny the Elder (Book XIX, Chapter 23), the Roman Emperor Tiberius had the cucumber on his table daily during summer and winter. The Romans reportedly used artificial methods (similar to the greenhouse system) of growing to have it available for his table every day of the year. To quote Pliny; “Indeed, he was never without it; for he had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the cucumbers were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirrorstone. Reportedly, they were also cultivated in cucumber houses glazed with oiled cloth known as “specularia”.

He was also a dark, somber, and sometimes tyrannical ruler, described by Pliny as “the gloomiest of men.” Perhaps a few cucumber fizzes would have cheered him up.

Links for 7/2/10

High-performance boilers are the next big thing in coffee

Whatever happened to Gallagher?

Friedersdorf gets a column at Forbes

Clegg’s remarkable website

How your soda tracks your movements

According to this site, I have a lost brother named Theodore

Catalog Living