How the doctrine of the soul makes us less moral

“The doctrine of the sacredness of the soul sounds vaguely uplifting, but in fact is highly malignant. It discounts life on earth as just a temporary phase that people pass through, indeed, an infinitesimal fraction of their existence. Death becomes a mere rite of passage, like puberty or a midlife crisis.

“The gradual replacement of lives for souls as the locus of moral value was helped along by the ascendancy of skepticism and reason. No one can deny the difference between life and death or the existence of suffering, but it takes indoctrination to hold beliefs about what becomes of an immortal soul after it has parted company from the body.”

–Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011), p. 143. Continue reading

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In praise of flip-floppers

In a recent post titled “Down the Creationist Rabbit Hole,” I remarked that I grew up creationist and later changed my mind due to the evidence in favor of evolution. Regarding the difficulty of getting people to seriously consider evidence, a commenter replied,

I wish it was just a matter of presenting the evidence and waiting for it to sink in for most people; unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. I do understand that nobody wants to look like a fool and nobody wants to lose face while debating, but it seems like people should eventually let other superior opinions seep in and change their mind… perhaps I’m being to idealistic.

And why is that so rarely the case? We can talk about cognitive dissonance or the theological implications of evolution (for one thing it makes nonsense of Paul’s main argument for the necessity of the atonement; see Romans 5:12 and following–meaning that there’s a whole worldview at stake for believers who know their Bible), but another big part of it is that in our culture, changing one’s mind is seen as a sign of weakness and unsteadiness. And the bigger the issue, the more the change bothers other people.
We need to challenge this attitude. Continue reading

The awful ways some atheist leaders talk to each other

Christian apologists must be getting lazy not to notice the big, fat, atheist-bashing rhetorical club that certain leading atheists are constantly offering them. I’m talking about the awful ways that some people talk to (and about) each other.

Continue reading

What is Pretentious Ape?

You. You are the Pretentious Ape, you silly human, you.

OK, me too. All of us.

In naming this blog, I was partly inspired by John Janovy, a biologist at the University of Nebraska, who wrote:

A human being is, in the final analysis, an ape that tells stories, only a fraction of which are true, then acts on the lessons of those stories regardless of their veracity. (Pieces of the Plains, 2009, p. 158)

But I thought a blog called “The Storytelling Ape” might lead to disappointed parents and children coming in from Google and expecting some virtual gorilla to tell them stories. (What a blog that would be! What wonderful stories might an ape tell? So much better than, say, dog stories, which would mostly be about chewing things and getting toys stuck under the couch.) Continue reading