Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One nation, indivisible

Sometimes, I get annoyed at some atheists and atheist groups that seem to spend an inordinate amount time on, for instance, getting "in God we trust" off of American currency or "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance.

I agree with the sentiment, of course: such language is inherently exclusionary, unnecessary, and in my view unconstitutional. But I wonder sometimes if this collective energy could better be spent on other tasks...

But then I see a video like this. It just reiterates what I already know, but it reminds me that maybe it's time well-spent after all. Our government should not discriminate against any group just becuase they are in the minority. I think its more wrong to, for instance, deny a huge chunk of the population the right to marry... but perhaps if our national symbols more accurately reflected the inherent secular nature of our founding documents, it wouldn't be as easy to justify such disparities through an appeal to religious tradition...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Doctor Who cocktails

So, I'm having party in a few weeks for the premier of the new season of Doctor Who. I'm well excited to see what new showrunner Stephen Moffat, who has written most of my favorite episodes, will bring to the series. (I've written previously on why I'm not sorry to see Russell T. Davies leave the show.) What I've seen and heard so far is promising: to my knowledge, there are no aliens that just look like humans with animal heads glued on. This is very encouraging!

In addition to Doctor Who, I also enjoy mixed drinks. Specifically, I like making mixed drinks. And I love devising new ones... So, here are a few Doctor Who-themed drinks I've come up with. I like fizzy drinks, so this is weighted in that direction.

If you try any of these, I'd love to hear how it went in the comments.

The Sonic Screwdriver
This is a simple on. And obvious, as it names both the world's most popular cocktail [citation needed] and one of the most iconic features of the show. The internet suggests that a Sonic Screwdriver is 2 parts blue Jones' Soda and 1 part vodka. However, isn't Jones blue soda bubblegum flavored? No thank you. Here's my version, which at least keeps the citrus theme of a true SD.
  • 4 ounces grapefruit soda (I use Fresca, but choose your poison)
  • 1.5 ounces vodka
  • .5 ounce blue curacao
Pour into an ice-filled lowball glass, garnish with a blood orange wheel.

I hear the color of the sonic screwdriver effect in the new series will change from blue to green. If so, just substitute orange juice for the grapefruit soda, and you're done!

Captain Jack Harkness
This one is full of yum. Mmmmmm...
  • 1-1.5 ounces dark rum (NOT spiced rum)
  • 1 ounce whiskey (I used Crown Royal, but Jack Daniels is a more obvious choice)
  • 4 ounces ginger beer (or ginger ale, if you want something a little less spicy)
  • dash of lime juice (unsweetened. juice from 1 line wedge is about right)
  • splash of cream
Add all ingredients except for the cream to ice-filled highball and stir gently. Now add the splash of cream which should slowly diffuse through the ice. Do not stir. Garnish with a twist of lime. This makes a delicious and pretty drink.

This was a delightful drink and refreshing drink. You might even call it regenerative. I'll make this again, Doctor Who party or not.
  • 3 ounces pear nectar
  • 2 ounces champagne
  • 3 ounces club soda or seltzer
  • 2 ounces whiskey (I used Crown Royal)
Combine the pear nectar and whiskey in a shaker, shake vigorously, and pour into a highball (no ice). Stir in the champagne and club soda. Garnish with a pear wedge. I think this was my favorite of the bunch. Yum.

Time Vortex
This is a layered drink, so ingredients must be added in this order*. I've not included quantities here. Just add enough to achieve the desired stripe width.
  • grenadine (don't go overboard here)
  • pineapple juice
  • Jagermeister (just enough to form a distinct layer)
  • blue curacao (don't go overboard here)
  • Chambord
Use the brand specified if you can. If you substitute other brands or other liqueurs, the densities may vary, so you'll need to experiment to make sure to it will layer properly.

Layered drinks are mostly made to look pretty rather than taste good. Nonetheless, I rather liked this. The herbal flavors of the Jagermeister set off the otherwise too-strong fruit flavors nicely.

*If you've never made a layered drink before, the most reliable way I've found is to hold a spoon by the spoony end and place it so the handle end is just above the partially-poured drink. Gently pour the next ingredient along the spoon handle. This slows down the liquid so it doesn't splash into the glass and ruin the layered effect. Ingredients must be added from densest to least dense. Also, the thinner the glass, the better your drink will hold its layers, a shooter glass or (if you happen to have them) a pousse-café glass is best.

Have any other ideas for DW cocktails? Post them in the comments!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thoughts on Dacey / Hausam debate

This past Saturday, I attended a lecture (organized by SHIFT) by Austin Dacey entitled "Blasphemy: Hate Speech or Human Right."

Despite me sending Dr. Dacey off on a fifteen minute wild goose chase in search of a bathroom minutes before the lecture, he was extraordinarily well-spoken, eloquent and persuasive.

The thrust of Dr. Dacey's argument is that all people are deserving of equal respect and dignity, but that not all ideas are, and that a truly open society depends on the ability to criticize ideas. I couldn't agree with this more. With blasphemy laws spreading, such as the new one in Ireland and the various proposals put before the UN (the talks for which Dr. Dacey has participated in), this is an important distinction.

Following his lecture, Dr. Dacey was joined by Dr. Mark Hausam for a debate (really, more of a conversation) called "Is Morality Possible Without God?"

Dr. Hausam's position, of course, is that no, morality is not possible without God.

Hausam began by listing off several things that would be true in a Godless universe. I objected to very little of what he said here, I just don't view it as a problem. (e.g., the universe is so vast and expansive that in the grand scheme of things, we puny humans on our pale blue dot add up to very little, except in our own eyes.)

Then things got dicey. Hausam's contention, and I'll try not to strawman here, is that all human morality is "subjective" and therefore illusory. Only an observer outside of the Universe and truly "objective" can therefore be the source of true morality. (For no apparent reason, he also said this fact demonstrated God's existence... which was neither the topic of discussion nor true.)

Nearly everything Hausam said hinged on one or both of these assumptions being true. Yet he failed to substantiate either assumption. Furthermore, I think both of these can be deomstrated to not be true: human's can be moral without a god, and God (and let's not beat around the bush here, Hausam was talking about the God of the Bible) is neither "objective" nor consistently moral.

Human-based morality is not real morality?
Hausam played a little linguistic trick throughout his arguments. He was supposedly saying that morality cannot exist without God. But what he actually contended is that objective morality cannot. I got so tired of him invoking the word "objective" as if it gave him a free pass to say whatever he wanted.

Here's the deal: in a way, he's right: there is no universally accepted "objective" morality in humans. Things deemed anathema to one society wouldn't garner so much as a batted eyelash in others. We can come up with some approximations of "objective" morality: equal opportunity no matter one's gender, race, religion, or nation; rejection of murder and rape, and so on. But even those qualities are based on some assumptions (assumptions that I subscribe to), such as the inherent equality of all people. Indeed, without holy words in the picture, I'd contend that it may be easier to fashion something approaching an "objective" morality, as wouldn't be based around the capricious desires of beings that only speak through chosen "prophets."

So what if human morality is "subjective?" They're the result of evolution and social cohesion, primarily, which doesn't make them less applicable to human life, but more applicable than those based on the unintelligible motivations of a sky god, operating under the the simple moral rule of "whatever I say goes."

Hausam repeatedly stated that although he wouldn't act any differently in a godless universe, other people would. He doesn't have numbers to back this up of course, as atheists are the least well-represented in American prisons of any religious group, and the least religious nations in the world report the highest levels of overall happiness and stability (yes, there are many other factors playing in to those two statistics, but it does throw into question the idea that lacking belief in God = guiltless crime spree party).

God is objectively moral?
Hausam came out as a Calvinist during the debate, meaning he believes that every jot and tittle of our lives is specifically preordained by God, making EVERY HUMAN ACT EVER a moral act by his standards, as it was preordained by the perfect holder of "objective" morality. Torture? Moral. Rape? Moral. Murder? Moral. I doubt very much that Hausam truly believes those acts are okay, yet he's constructed a world in which there is no reconciliation -- save cognitive dissonance -- of these factors. If anything God does is moral, and god specifically preordains all human acts, then the 9/11 attacks, the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and [insert horrific human act of choice here] are all moral acts.

Indeed, this is a much more troubling scenario than the one he proffered about we amoral atheists.

So how objective is God's morality? If we are talking about some inchoate, distant Deist god who is not concerned with human affairs one way or another, then fine: call it objective. But also call it meaningless. Of what use is "objective" morality if this being is not concerned with us and does not communicate with us?

If, instead, we're talking about the God of the Bible (and let's be clear: we are), then we most certainly are not talking about an objective being. God says so himself, in describing himself as variously jealous, loving, vengeful, pleased at the smell of burning animal flesh, and myriad other decidedly subjective dispositions towards humans and human acts.

Based on my own set of "subjective" morals, rape and genoocide (to pick two examples) are always wrong. The same can't be said for the God of the Bible. If whatever he says is moral is moral, then that means raping war orphans is not only sometimes morally acceptable, but morally obligatory. Same goes for murder, genocide, and on and on. These things aren't always okay. Just whenever God says they are. How is this objective? It sounds rather capricious, petty, and -- dare I say it? Yes, I dare -- immoral to me.

Furthermore, if we assume that Yahweh is an "objectively moral" being, then from whence comes this objectivity? This is a classic turtles all the way down problem: Who bestowed moral authority on God?

I wished there was a Q&A session afterward, as Austin Dacey only had a limited amount of time (and therefore, a limited scope) to respond to Hausam. I've touched little on Dacey's criticisms here, precisely because he answered them so persuasively that all I have left is the stuff Dacey was unable to address and I thought warranted more exploration.

If you read through all of that (and I don't blame you if you didn't), I'd be interested to your your thoughts in the comments below.