Saving the Souls of Robots

December 3, 2015


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Another mass shooting. I’m going to have to put a shortcut for that phrase in my TextExpander. 14 dead, 17 wounded at least. Details and motives aside, one could not have been on Twitter last night and not been struck by the sudden backlash against the “thoughts and prayers” cliche always uttered by politicians and cultural figures, particularly those who have been more or less the water carriers for the NRA. But things went farther: for every politician who offered the “thoughts and prayers” platitude, ThinkProgress’Igor Volsky would retweet them and attach whatever the gun lobby has given to them. One typical example was: 

Then, this morning, New Yorkers woke up to this:


Now, the horrors of the shooting aside, I think this is culturally remarkable to say the least. A major paper and a social media uprising against the idea of prayer. I’m not saying that this is a rejection of religion or prayer generally, but usually someone’s prayer is considered an untouchable thing. In polite society, it’s not something to mock or deride. But not last night. Not today. Amazing. 

The current suspects seem to be Muslims, but even Sam Harris urges folks not to jump to conclusions about motives: “The fact that a mass shooter was a ‘religious Muslim’ doesn’t prove jihadism. Muslims can ‘go postal’ too. Wait for the evidence.” 

Wasn’t there another shooting we had just been talking about? Oh yes: at Planned Parenthood. The murderer, Robert Dear, was apparently a terrible person in all aspects of his life, allegedly treating his wife like garbage, cheating on her, beating her, and feeling justified in doing so, because, you guessed it, God. Said Barbara Micheau:

He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end. 

Katha Pollitt, at NYT, points the finger at the major political figures screaming about “baby parts” for inciting this kind of atrocity:

Anti-abortion leaders portray violence as the doings of madmen, and probably some of the perpetrators are indeed unstable. But when prominent voices in the anti-abortion movement compare clinics to Auschwitz, when they equate embryos with slaves, when Bill O’Reilly says that people feel fetal tissue donation is “Nazi stuff” and Rush Limbaugh suggests the way to stop abortion is to “require that each one occur with a gun,” it is not surprising that susceptible people will act on what they hear as a call for violence. 

Okay, I have some red meat for skeptics here. Emily Willingham at Forbes reports on a study that looks at why certain people are more or less prone to buy into Deepak Chopra’s “bullshit.” 

Appeals court judge Richard A. Posner and law professor Eric J. Segall write at NYT with brutal honesty about Justice Scalia’s Christianist inclinations:

Obergefell seems to obsess him. In a speech at Rhodes College in Memphis, he said that the decision represents the “furthest imaginable extension of the Supreme Court doing whatever it wants,” and that “saying that the Constitution requires that practice” — same-sex marriage — “which is contrary to the religious beliefs of many of our citizens, I don’t know how you can get more extreme than that.” The decision, he said, “had nothing to do with the law.” 

The suggestion that the Constitution cannot override the religious beliefs of many American citizens is radical. It would imply, contrary to the provision that forbids religious tests for public office, that religious majorities are special wards of the Constitution. Justice Scalia seems to want to turn the Constitution upside down when it comes to government and religion; his political ideal verges on majoritarian theocracy. 

I haven’t read this yet, but you better believe I’m looking forward to it: Elmo Keep (the journalist who helped expose the Mars One fiasco) writing at The Verge (awesome tech site) about Zoltan Istvan (Transhumanist presidential candidate). I mean, come on. 

France shuts down three mosques and four Muslim prayer rooms said to contribute to radicalization. Bernard Cazeneuve, an interior minister, said, “There will be complete firmness against those that preach hatred in France.” 

Pope Francis refuses to deal seriously with the importance of birth control or specifically condoms in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Bit of a “la la la I can’t hear you” thing going on here. 

Remember Jim Bakker? It’s okay if you don’t. But he’d like you to know that his crimes were the result of witches.  

Members of a Muslim student group at Goldsmiths University in the UK heckle and try to shout down Maryam Namazie, claiming her presence was a violation of their “safe space.” 

A Wisconsin “psychic” actually does help police nab a criminal, but it has nothing to do with him being psychic. Though he thinks it does.

Hey “nones,” Americans seem to think there are way more of you than there actually are. 

Shahar Ilan of Hidush – For Religious Freedom and Equality wins the Captain Obvious award: “Atheism is perceived as something that is not Jewish.” NO! REALLY? 

Sisyphus’s boulder will also hurt your foot if you step on it. 

Quote of the Day:

Let’s get back to Zoltan, the transhumanist (and atheist), who visited a megachurch, and reflects on what the future holds for the moral questions that matter to evangelicals:

In the end, technology is changing the human race so rapidly that controversial topics like abortion, the existence of heaven, and saving the souls of robots may not matter in 30 years time. Technology may literally eliminate the questions.

For example, abortions may drastically decline due to artificial wombs, better forms of birth control that we control with our smartphones, and a possible overall decline in biological sex as virtual sex and sex chip implants become better than the real thing. And far fewer people will worry about whether heaven exists if science can conquer death and reverse aging.   

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