Rational Atheism, the New Irrational Atheism

Posted by Jim Newman on October 17th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Uncategorized

hitchens-smokingPost work-weekend reunion is a rapid transition. Everything is happening at once with declining daylight. It is simply not possible to have enough light to continue working at what most needs to be done. Even interior work lags, fighting artificial light.

Irrational Atheismn posts that atheism is just another faith, yawn, but atheism is still exciting..

Ironically, this is similar to the totalizing worldview of religion—neither can be shown to be true or false by science, or indeed by any rational technique. Whether theistic or atheistic, they are all matters of faith, stances taken up by tiny creatures in an infinitely rich environment.

I’m an atheist because I think of the universe as a natural, material system. I think of it, on the basis of my own extremely limited experience, as an infinitely replete but morally indifferent thing. It isn’t bent on saving me, or damning me: It just is. I find comfort in that, as well as pain; wonder as well as loathing. That’s my experience, and my atheism is a reflection of that experience. But it’s not an argument; it’s an interpretation.

The thing is that most nonbelievers don’t posit, for example, that a really big white sky daddy created us and is here to allow us to torture each other to be able to go to a world we think is better.

From near all views humans have used evidence and reason to form whatever world view they want. Even intuition(s) reduce to evidence and reason. This does not make all world views the same or equal. People trust they are thinking, eating, defecting, feeling pain. Heuristic biases focus thoughts. Reflection aids. There are things of which we are more certain than others.

Kierkegaard is great to torture one’s aesthetic self but the witless leap is praising action to stasis without regard to content except in its promise of movement. Using this to choose a religion requires a near constant changing as one gains more or less evidence, reason, sufficient to create action. It is existentialistic in that it is a constant creation of meaning in the face of a changing environment and self. But I don’t think that’s the religion most mean, atheistic or not. Nor is it certain that this kind of rapid cognitive evolution is helpful in societies meriting tradition. All this time considering I’m using reason and not jumping to conclusions, though like walking is falling, I am. We can still think and walk effectively, run even.

Irrational is a convenient term to mark a point on a line where rationality suddenly becomes unreasonable. Just where is that point for you?

Everything is an interpretation may as well be everything is a misinterpretation. While semiotics helps deconstruct many biases in reasoning, science, and culture it doesn’t preclude prescription and some decree of moving certainty. It’s okay to say genital mutilation is wrong for absolute humanitarian reasons.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Atheist Rehab Care

Posted by Jim Newman on October 16th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Uncategorized


Family, farm-work, reunion weekends are an all embracing aspect of living here. Requires several days of prep and then recovery.

It’s nice to see Barry A Hazle Jr win a couple million for refusing to join faith-based rehab programs.

Barry A. Hazle Jr., 46, served time for a conviction of methamphetamine possession in 2007. As a condition of his parole, he was enrolled in a drug treatment program where participants were required to acknowledge a “higher power,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

Hazle complained and asked for a different treatment program, but was told the only option in his area was the faith-based, Westcare 12-step program, according to the Record Searchlight.

Hazle was sent back to jail for more than three months for allegedly being “disruptive, though in a congenial way, to the staff as well as other students” and being “sort of passive-aggressive,” the paper reported.

Disruptive though in a congenial way. Annoying but not alienating.

There needs to be better and many more rehab programs for many levels and extents of addictions; part of basic mental health services freely and easily available. Therapy booth and birth control at Walmart next to the optical center.

“I’m thrilled to finally have this case settled,” Hazle said on Tuesday. “It sends a clear message to people in a position of authority, like my parole agent, for example, that they not mandate religious programming for their parolees, and for anyone else, for that matter.”

The higher power can often be anything, a lucky rabbit’s foot, a chair, whatever. Which is more like totemism or material fetishism, but why would I, for example, do it? How would it work without conversion? If faiths are supportive to wellness then the faiths of the unfaithfuls need their own remediation.

The California Department of Corrections has since issued new rules stating that parole officers may not require parolees to attend faith-based programs.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Accepting Others

Posted by Jim Newman on October 9th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Personal Stories

the family placeYesterday and for the next three days family will be arriving to participate in work weekend. By now, generations along, in familial diaspora, familial culture has mostly changed. Returning to an ancestral home provides cultural challenges and assurances. Some see the farm as dear to the family culture. Others wouldn’t care if it were sold off. This farm has been in the same family for 250 years, which is unusual for this landed entity, properly call a plantation rather than a farm. At its peak, a small city of 60 or so people.

Families that have dynastic tendencies provide means of holding bonds across time and place. Families that divide into individual units eventually lose track of each other and  no bonds form or remain. The culture of the one group becomes very different than the other. Using religion as an example of cultural unity this dynastic family centers around an Episcopalian type of faith which is useful because of its greater inclusiveness. For the second type of family even Episcopalianism isn’t sufficiently inclusive as common ground, irregardless of whether they are more or less conservative.

Neither a strict biblical literalist nor a holy book hater are going to find much sympathy or condolences in their politics supported by faith. Respect only works until one side or the others needs to act to maintain integrity.

But even in the first group, over time, alliances change and the more liberal types may become buddhist, belief in belief types, or secular. Others may become more conservative insisting that really a strong Christian belief is most acceptable and conservative politics are necessary.

It’s a hard balance because you want everyone to enjoy and respect each other to keep the land and family together on its trajectory of good care, a sense of land, history, and shared value with support. But it’s hard to listen to prejudice and bigotry when it casually comes up.

I can see how tasks and entertainment provide a distraction from too deep discussion of sensitive topics that have a danger of division when unity is more helpful. This tension is relieved but broken when unity loses value over principle and departure is the only relief.

As an in-law I find these dynamics fascinating and scary because I can’t help but be involved in them.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Mutual Fund Vs. Index Fund

Posted by Phil Ferguson on October 8th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Investing Skeptically

Index FundsNOTE: This post is part of an ongoing education series. This information is for educational purposes only. This information does not constitute investment advice. Please consult with your financial advisor before taking any action. For planning advice contact Polaris Financial Planning.


Before we get into the two main types of Index Funds (Managed vs. Index) I want to take a step back and define what a stock is. We have this definition from Investopedia…

A type of security that signifies ownership in a corporation and represents a claim on part of the corporation’s assets and earnings. Also known as “shares” or “equity.”

In plain English you own a part of a company. Usually a VERY small part of a company but, you are still an owner. If the company does very well you can make a lot of money but, if they do poorly you can also lose all of your money. Remember Enron?

Mutual Fund

egg-basket_optThis is why you don’t want to put all of your money into one company (or one stock). It is risky! Like the old saying…”Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”

A simple way to reduce specific stock risk (as measure by volatility) is to own more than one stock. Studies have shown that owning 10 stock can limit your volatility (risk) by half and 30 stocks reduces your stock risk to almost the same level as owning 500 stocks.

For more on the value of diversification read this….

If you bought 30 stocks and invested $10,000 in each one, you would need $300,000 to have a diversified stock portfolio. Each time you want to add money you would have to buy more shares in one of the stocks (or all 30) and pay commissions. If you are in a taxable account you have to keep careful records of all of the prices so you don’t pay more than required in taxes.

For most people this is just too difficult and they are better off is someone else does the work for them. This is what a mutual fund does.

According to Investopedia the modern mutual fund began in 1924.

The creation of the Massachusetts Investors’ Trust in Boston, Massachusetts, heralded the arrival of the modern mutual fund in 1924.

A mutual fund allows people with small amount of money (<$10,000) the ability to invest in the stock market and reduce their risk (vs. one stock). You can easily add (or remove) money and the mutual fund does all of the work.

Wikipedia lists these advantages for mutual funds….

  • Increased diversification: A fund must hold many securities. Diversifying reduces risks compared to holding a single stock, bond, other available instruments.
  • Daily liquidity: Shareholders may trade their holdings with the fund manager at the close of a trading day based on the closing net asset value of the fund’s holdings.
  • Professional investment management: A highly variable aspect of a fund discussed in the prospectus. Actively managed funds funds may have large staffs of analysts who actively trade the fund holdings.
  • Ability to participate in investments that may be available only to larger investors: Foreign markets, in particular, are rarely open and affordable for individual investors.

I agree with all of the above points but, they add one more…..

  • Ease of comparison: Picking a mutual fund is a lot like judging a dog show. You select the best of the breed which has the qualities you seek.

I disagree. It is very hard to pick a good mutual fund and they can have high costs.

Index Fund

An index fund is a specific type of mutual fund. Here is their definition of an Index Fund from Investopedia….

A type of mutual fund with a portfolio constructed to match or track the components of a market index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500). An index mutual fund is said to provide broad market exposure, low operating expenses and low portfolio turnover.

Common SenseI’m not sure why they say, “… is said to provide…”. An Index fund actually does these things. I get some of the numbers below from and I highly recommend “Common Sense on Mutual Funds” by John C. Bogle. (Note: The title is indeed a nod to Thomas Paine)

Broad Market Exposure

The S&P index fund invests in 500 stocks. 500 different US companies. This is very broad exposure. If one of those 500 stocks goes to $0.00 in just one day it will only bring down your portfolio ~0.2%. The whole market can move more than that in a day. This also works on the upside, if one of those 500 stocks double it will only give you about a 0.2% bump. This broad market exposure effectively eliminates your stock specific volatility (risk).

Low Operating Expenses

The average mutual fund can have many types of expenses.

The first thing you need to look out for is the load (usually a fee you pay to invest) and this can be as high as 8.5%. This comes out of what you “invested”. You now have to make 9.3% just to break even.

Many managed funds add a fee called 12b-1 and it can be as high a 1%. Via investopedia…

Back in the early days of the mutual fund business, the 12b-1 fee was thought to help investors. It was believed that by marketing a mutual fund, its assets would increase and management could lower expenses because of economies of scale. This has yet to be proved. With mutual fund assets passing the $10 trillion mark and growing steadily, critics of this fee, which today is mainly used to reward intermediaries for selling a fund’s shares, are seriously questioning the justification for using it. As a commission paid to salespersons, it is currently believed to do nothing to enhance the performance of a fund.

To manage your money the mutual fund collects a fee called the “Expense Ratio”. The industry average is 1.50% per year and 25% of all stock funds are above 2.20% per year. There is no limit on how high this fee can be. As of 6/30/14 there were 220 Mutual funds with a fee of 3.00% with the highest at a stunning 23.00%! You can get the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index for an Expense Ratio of 0.05%!

Trading Costs

Every time your mutual fund buys or sells, you pay the fees. This is not listed anywhere and it is hard to calculate but for the average fund this costs you an additional 0.50%.


If you are in a taxable account trading can really hurt your performance. If a stock is held for more than a year than you will only pay capital gains of 0%-20%. However, a stock sold in less than a year can be taxed from 10% to 39.6% (depending on your income level)! An S&P index fund may change only 2-4 % of the funds in a given year. An average mutual fund can change 100% or more of its stocks in one year. Even if your managed fund beats the market you may get killed on taxes.

Political Religious Prejudice to Atheists

Posted by Jim Newman on October 7th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in atheists

religious offenseRebuilding old windows and doors that have been replaced so they can be reused is a means of preserving history while lessening resource impact. It probably costs more because of labor but often I learn much by looking at how things were done differently many years ago. This house has many 14′ fluted, solid wood columns on the porch. When people visit and I tell them they were hand fluted it becomes a time to consider how skilled the labor was to make flutes that appear perfect.

Then when they see the old kitchen in the basement and they hear of how slaves were treated here as elsewhere it becomes a sense of balance and fairness. Long before EuroAmerican slavery, skilled labor or craft labor was considered the lowest of classes. It wasn’t until labor productivity and value increased by the industrial revolution that mechanical skills were merited real wages.

In those days being Irish, Italian, or Polish was not white. None of them were white in spite of similar skin color. Whiteness was a concept of class more than color. Now the largest immigrant population is Asian but they are considered white while African Americans are not.

While the religious nones comprise some 20% of the US population only a handful of them are seen in politics. The kiss of death is to say you are nonreligious. All other minorities are better represented in politics than atheists.

Whether it’s because some consider their atheism, agnosticism or indifference a deal-breaker and don’t even try for office, or whether it’s because some non-religious candidates fudge the truth for political viability, this much seems clear: Candidates have to at least feign some religiosity to qualify for prominent political office, despite our Constitution forbidding religion tests of this sort. And atheism and related forms of non-belief are about the worst thing a candidate can be associated with.

If only atheists were a different color then they could be physically differentiated. If only they held a consistent expressionism like Jews they cold be spotted. If only they spoke out they could be known as an ideological group. My Grandfather was a bigot but he grudgingly admired minorities that worked hard and succeeded. This seems to be the goal of Openly Secular.

Just in time for the “silly season,” otherwise known as the elections, a coalition of secular organizations is launching a campaign to destigmatize non-belief in the public square. It’s called Openly Secular, and if that brings to mind people coming out of closets as we saw with the gay-rights movement, well, that’s the idea.

Explaining the need for the campaign, Carolyn Becker, spokesperson for Openly Secular, points to polling data showing that 53 percent of Americans think it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral. Other survey data show that being an atheist is more injurious to one’s shot at political office than being an adulterer.

These trends would likely bend if more Americans got to know people who were openly non-religious and saw them working hard, taking care of their kids and neighborhoods, and being generally kind and honest in their dealings with other people.

Many have said that if others knew atheists then acceptance would come. If they saw immoral atheists doing moral things. But how? If you define morality as following a holy book then how can that be? Yes, Jill or Joe might not murder but you never know because they don’t follow a sky daddy. Would religious prejudice just be replaced by religious bigotry?

Decades ago, President Eisenhower articulated a principle that still holds sway today. “Our form of government,” the World War II hero and 34th president declared, makes “no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Our new, more secular century calls for an update to Eisenhower’s idea: Our democracy cannot function well unless its participants have deeply felt ethical commitments that get them beyond their own self-interest. And I don’t care where they get them.

Jews had huge success rates and it only convinced prejudiced>>bigots that they were succeeding in taking over the world, taking jobs and accolades from other more worthy people. But maybe these are different times?

image source

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Nobel for Work on Internal Mapping

Posted by Jim Newman on October 6th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Uncategorized

Old-World-map-1689I spent a day collecting metal from broken or obsolete equipment. I collected about 2,200 lbs of it. There is still much left but it was another chunk. A few years ago another trip collected 8,000 lbs. Metal at $7 a lb means we have a little cash to help with expenses. I am always anxious about removing equipment. Railroad iron that could be made into anvils or used as weights to make equipment more effective; sawn up metal oil tanks that could be cut again and used for other projects; gears, pulleys, and wheels that can be repurposed to new projects. All balanced against the need to not make the farm look like a junk yard or free up storage space. Or there simply isn’t enough labor to keep up with growing infrastructure. *Junk* is both a resource and a liability.

I fantasize about how this or that could be used if there were a global disaster, the economy collapsed, society crumbled, disease wiped out half the population. Then I’d want those muffler bearings. Naww, toss them, waiting for the apocalypse is a fool’s game.

What we do with these things of our material world often relate to what we think is important in separate considerations. A gear, pulley, or mower blade have a built-in designed capability or expected use but someone can explode that with creativity. A tempered mower blade can be made into a knife or a dear hide scraper or support meal for equipment repair.

It seems like we can view this through a lens of singular or manifold use, this gear is for a King Kutter 6′ mower, or manifold use, this gear can be used for many many purposes, including returning it back to its basic material, iron. This mapping of use seems a lot like mapping of position. Many people have seen religion as a kind of mapping, showing the correct direction. Knowledge and morality, or direction of use, are more intertwined than we think.

Anglo-American John O’Keefe and Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser won the 2014 Nobel Prize for medicine on Monday for discovering the brain’s internal positioning system, helping humans find their way and giving clues to how strokes and Alzheimer’s affect the brain…

“How does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?”

When Western explorers met native navigators they could not understand how the natives found their way over vast distances or water or blank jungle, desert, ice. The compass and various types of sextants allowed Western explorers to calculate magnetic and true North as an absolute reference point to direction. They then could triangulate their position and the position of other stars, planets, land masses, and so forth, to create more accurate maps of their world.

Natives often used relative positioning for navigation; where are they in relation to what is immediately around them? Polynesian navigators would use wind, waves, birds, clouds, water motion, fish, and a host of other clues that allowed them to know where to go for awhile upon awhile in what seemed like a blank ocean without reference points.

The Western way is much like the belief in a primary god where direction is found by determining an absolute entity, True North, and every thing moves or is in reference to that. How easy then to think that everything in life is measured by an absolute entity. Entertaining to consider whether this system was found because of an inclination to monotheism or absolutism or if it really was the system that best fit what they were doing at the time. No doubt some combination.

Relative positioning is like the multifaceted lives of native groups with their animism, multiple gods, and constant conversations with their environment. Western explorers found and then imposed upon nature, using a distant star, while natives looked close and followed local clues. Of course the dichotomy of imposition is not real as natives could be just as destructive. The real difference being mobility and familiarity. The less you can move the more likely you are to seek resource balance, or die back to subsistence level, or disappear.

Nearly a decade later, the Moser team discovered cells, in the entorhinal cortex region in brains of rats, which function as a navigation system. These so-called “grid cells”, they discovered, are constantly working to create a map of the outside world and are responsible for animals’ knowing where they are, where they have been, and where they are going.

Animals then have several means of knowing direction. Small internal compasses that detect magnetic North intuitively, internal grids that codify positioning, and conversations with evidence that lead along a local path where ongoing information tells you how to move along. Sounds a lot like brands of world philosophies.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com