Small Gods on the Pale Blue Dot

This address brings together some of the ideas of two great thinkers of our time; Terry Pratchett and Carl Sagan. It is from Terry Pratchett's satirical fantasy novel "Small Gods" that themes of religious oppression, false belief, and sincerity is addressed. It is from Carl Sagan's scientific humanism, espoused in "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space" that a better sense of perspective, our relative importance, and a hope for our future, can be derived. On an abstract level, combining the two could initially be seen as a difficult or even foolish project. One is fantasy fiction, the other is hard science with a humanist angle. But of course, it is not abstract genres that are being discussed here, but rather the thematic content.

Terry Pratchett is an English author of fantasy fiction, most well known for the Discworld series which now spans over forty novels in its own right. In the 1990s he was the UK's best-selling author, and has sold over 85 million books in 37 languages. In 1998 he was awarded an OBE and in 2009 in he was knighted for his services to literature, which I am sure he took with comic humour to the pomp and ceremony. Perhaps more to his liking, he received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2010. In late 2007 he announced that he was suffering from early onset Alzheimer's disease, and just a few days ago he had to pull out from his planned attendance as guest to the International Discworld Convention, stating "the Embuggerance is finally catching up with me".

Carl Sagan was an American astrophysicist and science communicator, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, and the the author of over six hundred scientific papers and author, co-author, or editor of over twenty books. Whilst his scientific research contributed enormously to the discovering the surface temperatures of Venus, he is most famous as the co-author and presented of the television series Cosmos in the 1980s, broadcast to over 60 countries and seen by over 500 million people. Sagan was also an advocate of the Search for Extra-Terristerial Intelligence (SETI), a view expressed in his best-selling science fiction novel, Contact, published in 1985, and made into a film in 1997. Sagan died of pneumonia at the age of 62 on December 20, 1996.

Philosophy of Language Roundtable Discussion

1.0 Definition and Interests

1.1 Language is the structured means of communication. Communication is the activity where expressions (ideas, feelings, etc) are expressed symbolically (through speech, writing, gestures) through a medium between two or more participants. In order for communication to be successful it is necessary for the language utilised to be meaningful and mutually understood.

Unitarians and Astrology Debate

Yesterday evening, while attending a meeting at the Melbourne Unitarian Church, I picked up the latest (Autumn) issue of the ANZUUA Quest. It includes a transcript of the address given by the Rev. Bill Darlison at the 2013 ANZUUA Conference in Auckland. (I believe it has also been posted on the Internet.)

[Article is available on Bill Darlison's 'blog.]

Radical Self-responsibility as an Existential Ethical-end

What is intended by the title : "Radical Self-responsibility as an existential ethical-end "

A Militant Atheit's Viewpoint On Agnosticism

Thank you all for coming to hear me this afternoon. I must also thank David Miller, not only for inviting me to speak today, but for suggesting the title of the talk.

I think it makes sense to begin by defining the terms used in my title.

First, atheism and atheist. In a restricted and rather obsolete sense an atheist is someone who does not believe in a particular god or goddess; but in the modern and normal sense an atheist does not believe in the god of Abrahamic monotheism, Yahweh, Jehovah, El, Allah or God with a capital G, and almost always does not believe in gods and goddesses in general.

In my case I do not believe in the religious sense. I do not have religious faith or a faith. I do not believe in an entity or non-entity called "no God" or accept straw-man definitions by people seeking to discredit atheism. In short, my answer to the question "Do you believe in God?" is no.

'Star Wars' and The Universe as an Energy Force: An Ontological Claim

1.0 'Star Wars' and The Force

1.1 In the sci-fi movie series "Star Wars", a metaphysical power called "The Force" is introduced. The Force is described by the Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the following terms: "It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together". As a product of living things, when there is large scale destruction of life sensitive individuals refer to "a disturbance in the Force". In later releases of the series (earlier in the sequence) it is established that the Force is biological, the result of midi-chlorians, described by George Lucas as being "a loose depiction of mitochondria, which are necessary components for cells to divide".
1.2 Some of the exotic powers that those who have control over the Force include unnatural strength, levitation, telekinesis, telepathy, suggestive hypnosis ("Jedi mind control"), enhanced reflexes and speed, long-distance empathy, precognition, directional lightning, and ghostly projection. Force sensitivity represents a potential from birth and is trainable to that potential. It is expressed entirely through ego projection (Yoda: "Do. Or do not. There is no try.")
1.3 The physicalist of midi-chlorians explanation has been largely rejected by the Star Wars fan-base, and especially by followers of Jediism, a nontheistic religious or religious parody movement which claims adherence to the ideas behind the force and the associated ethic which recognises the existence of a "dark side" to The Force. Yoda says "Anger, fear, aggression! The dark side of The Force are they. ... A Jedi uses The Force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack." One of the activities of the adherents of Jediism is to proclaim and advocate such recognition in census forms. This has been particularly notable in Australia (65,000 in 2011), New Zealand (20,000 in 2011), England and Wales (176,632 in 2011).

Magical Thinking : An Anthropological Excursus

1. The relationship between philosophy and anthropology
1.1 If philosophy, narrowly defined, is the study of ontology, epistemology, and logic, then these have a relationship with anthropology, broadly defined, as the study of humankind. For particular aspects of human behaviour must have a relationship with the higher level philosophical issues - thus this represents a tangential excursus from our usually studies in philosophy.

Rational Thinking and Emotional Attachments: How can we admit error?

Gods rest ye, Unitarians, let nothing you dismay;
Remember there's no evidence there was a Christmas Day;
When Christ was born is just not known, no matter what they say,
O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact,
Glad tidings of reason and fact.

Our current Christmas customs come from Persia and from Greece,
From solstice celebrations of the ancient Middle East.
This whole darn Christmas spiel is just another pagan feast,
O, Tidings of reason and fact, reason and fact,
Glad tidings of reason and fact.

The Pragmatic Limits of Scientism in New Atheism

I would like to begin this presentation by giving my thanks to David Miller for inviting me to speak here tonight and for the range of philosophical organisations that he convenes; such as the Melbourne Atheist Society, the Existentialist Society, and the Agnostic Society. David, a little like myself, is a person of many hats.

Why Atheism and Atheophobia Matter

Talk given to the Atheist Society, Melbourne, on 8 October 2013.

Thank you for coming to hear me this evening.

In recent years we have heard or read complaints in the media about Christianophobia and Islamophobia, so I think it is time to give some consideration to atheism and atheophobia.


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