28 March 2012

A talk by Sam Harris on the concept of Free Will

Here is an examination of Free Will by Sam Harris.
Agree or disagree it is a very thorough unpacking of the concept.

27 March 2012

The Clergy Project

In the video below you will find Richard Dawkins speaking with the former pastor Michael Aus, who, rather bravely, came out as an unbeliever at the Reason Rally.
His transition has been facilitated with the help of The Clergy Project (the website, and project of which you can check out by clicking on the title of this blog). The Clergy Project owes its existence, in ways both large and small, to Dan Dennett and two major works of his in recent years. The first is his excellent book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon and the second is the study he and Linda LaScola did, "Preachers who are not Believers." In both places Dennett describes considerable emotional malaise among priests, pastors who have lost their faith, but essentially have no where to go. The Clergy Project (made possible by a large grant from The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason) is an organization that exists to help such pastors with resources, a place to network, and, perhaps just as important, a place to affirm that they are not alone.

If you are a pastor, or know a pastor that might benefit from The Clergy Project, do pass on the link.

Here is the mission statement of The Clergy Project:
The Clergy Project

The purpose of The Clergy Project is to provide a safe haven for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.

The purpose of this “Public Page” is to announce our existence and to reach out to current and former clergy who want to be a part of the group.

The Clergy Project launched a private, invitation only, website on March 21, 2011 with 52 members. Currently it has nearly 200 members.

It originated from a growing awareness of the presence of these clergy and a concern about their dilemma as they moved beyond faith. There were three sources of this awareness and concern:

Stories of the life experiences of former clergy that Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation has been collecting over the years;

A preliminary study of “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” by philosopher Daniel Dennett and researcher Linda LaScola, published in March, 2010 in Evolutionary Psychology and The Washington Post;

Ongoing discussions between Dan Barker and Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion” about the need to help clergy who want to leave the ministry.

The Clergy Project is an on-line meeting place where former and active clergy can talk freely among themselves. “Adam” and “Chris,” still in the ministry, are the moderators; Dan Barker, former evangelical preacher, is the facilitator.

The Clergy Project was made possible through a donation from The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

A link to Dennett and LaScola's study: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/Non-Believing-Clergy.pdf

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26 March 2012

A Brunch Film Review: The Grey

The Grey (Click on the title of this blog to see the trailer)

Starring Liam Neeson
Directed by Joe Carnahan

Liam Neeson plays a man named Ottway, who, we learn very early on, is both sad and hard. The Grey only dimly reveals who Ottway actually is, and is content to divulge, in its own time, the source of Ottway's deep sadness. What we know early is enough. We gather he was once a sniper, who now defends oil workers from the potential hazards of Alaskan wildlife.

It seems like revealing too much here would be a mistake. If you have seen the preview you know enough. Ottway and a small crew of oil workers attempt to leave for much needed R & R and their plane experiences a catastrophic failure and crashes some where in the Alaskan wilderness at some elevation.

One could make the case that the people who died in the crash, were the lucky ones. Winter in the Alaskan range, with few supplies, miles (who can know how many) from any help does not make for an inviting prospect. Alaska is is also haunted by the last remnants of the North America's megafauna, wolves, three species of bear, and in southern Alaska, puma can be found. For the survivors of the crash, though, it is wolves that form the hammer to winter's anvil. The survivors will have to survive both dangers if they are to live.

Ottway is not a survivor specialist. He knows more than the oil workers, and his confidence is such that the others follow him toward the tree line, away from the open wind, and the open hunting ground. It will be up to the viewer to decide if the men made the right choice. Ottway does his best, as do the men who follow them. Let the synopsis stand there, and I will leave the unfolding story to the viewer. There are surprises to be sure, and the questions the film poses are better discovered than revealed by a reviewer who wants to tell you their own clever answers.

The Grey works because directer Joe Carnahan isn't interested in tickling the viewers expectations. To watch the trailer is to expect an adventure similar to David Mammett's delightful movie The Edge. Carnahan gives the viewer real people, with real ideas, who find themselves confronted with the likelihood of their imminent and unpleasant demise. Death isn't somewhere off in the distance for Ottway and the oil workers who follow him. It is literally around every tree and may come in the night. The Grey gets those men, operating at the very edge of their capabilities, full of hopes and dreams (most of them) absolutely right, and it makes film's inexorable journey feel like an honest exercise in fiction.

Does the film correctly describe wolf biology? It is hard to say. Wolves are apex predators. Hungry, or feeling intruded upon any animal can be dangerous, even ones that generally aren't known for aggression towards humans.

The Grey 10/10