My Questions for Leah Libresco
As you may be aware, Leah Libresco at Unequally Yoked had a startling announcement yesterday: she's converting to Catholicism. I have to admit, though others will no doubt chastise me for missing obvious-in-retrospect clues, that this was something I didn't see coming at all. As recently as March, when I met her at the Reason Rally, I had no idea that a shift in her personal views was imminent (if anything, I drew the opposite conclusion from her enthusiastic participation in the rally).
But be that as it may. I have no right to require another person to explain their decisions to me, no matter how bizarre or ill-advised I find them. However, I confess to intense curiosity, verging on bewilderment, as to what could have caused her views to change so drastically. Therefore, in the manner of Melissa McEwan's prescient questions for Barack Obama, I've written up a few of my own. I'm not saying she's under any obligation to answer any of these. I'm saying that these are the things I'm most curious about, and that I hope she'll address in her future posts.
1. Why a person? Even if you believe that morality is, to use Leah's words, "some kind of Platonic form, remote from the plane that humans exist on"... how do you get from there to the belief that morality is embodied by a person? What evidence or chain of reasoning leads you to conclude that morality isn't just a set of impersonal, self-existent principles or laws, like mathematics, but a conscious being who has thoughts, desires, preferences and emotions that are analogous to the thoughts, desires, preferences and emotions of human beings?
2. Why Roman Catholicism? I see no way to get to the conclusion that morality is a person, but even if you did, how do you then justify the vastly larger step of asserting that this person is identical with the concept of God as commonly believed in by one particular religion out of all the countless thousands of religions on this planet? In other words, why choose Roman Catholicism specifically, rather than deism, Quakerism, Unitarianism, or any other religion? Taking this step requires you to assent to a huge list of factual propositions, none of which, so far as I can see, can possibly be deduced even if we take the personhood of morality as a starting axiom.
Here are some of the ones that I can name off the top of my head:
This list could go on and on. What evidence or chain of reasoning leads you to believe that all, or any, of these things are true? (I take Leah's declaration of Catholicism as evidence that she now believes some or most of these. If she rejects most of them, then what information is conveyed by her calling herself a Catholic?)
3. What about the bad stuff? Neither the Bible nor the Catholic church sets an enviable moral example, as I know Leah is aware. There are verses which endorse appalling violence, including more than one instance of divinely sanctioned genocide. There are verses which explicitly sanction slavery, which endorse the lesser worth of women, which command us to murder friends and loved ones of different religions. The Catholic church considers this book to be, at the very least, the most perfect, admirable and unsurpassable book on earth. Is this an assessment with which Leah now agrees?
And then there are the missteps in the church's own history, which cast considerable doubt on its claim to be a moral exemplar. There's the infamous Index of Forbidden Books, in which church authorities for several centuries presumed to instruct the entire Western world on which ideas could not be expressed. There are the popes who sanctioned the slave trade. There was the period of centuries in which the church said that theocracy was the only legitimate form of government (which lasted until 1906 at least). If the Catholic church had any privileged access to the true source of morality, are these the outcomes we'd expect? Through the centuries, has the church as a whole been noticeably more peaceful, more ethical or more compassionate than any non-Catholic society around them?
4. No, seriously, what about the bad stuff? In the modern day, the Catholic church continues to be an influential enemy of moral progress worldwide. Its relentless anti-gay bigotry has extended the denial of equal marriage rights to same-sex couples. It's closed adoption agencies because it would rather see children remain orphans than place them with gay couples. Its pseudoscientific scare-mongering about the efficacy of condoms has almost certainly caused millions of people in poor, uneducated regions of the world to die from AIDS and other STDs. Its opposition to safe, legal contraception and abortion has likewise caused the deaths of millions of women, and its advocacy against family planning contributes to whole societies being trapped in grim cycles of self-perpetuating poverty. And then, of course, there's the still-unfolding sex abuse scandal, in which a worldwide network of bishops conspired together for decades to protect child rapists, cover up their crimes, and intimidate their victims into silence, ensuring that said predators could rape and molest a far larger number of children than they'd have otherwise been able to.
Whether or not Leah agrees with any of these policies, I want to hear how she responds to the charge that by supporting the church - either with her money, or simply with her very public declaration of allegiance - she thereby makes herself complicit in them.
The Catholic church is hardly the only institution in the world that's done evil, of course, but there's a significant and obvious moral difference between an authoritarian church and other kinds of institutions. If you became a citizen of a democratic country, you could fairly claim that you wanted to use your vote for positive change. But the church isn't a democracy; it's run by men who select their own successors, and ordinary Catholics have no voice in its governance.
And all the evidence of the last few years shows an accelerating conservative trend, as the church authorities increasingly crack down on independent thought and silence or oust the people who dissent. Now of all times, when progressive people are leaving Catholicism in droves, what persuades you that this organization is the one whose banner you most want to carry?
5. What advice do you have for atheists? Last, but certainly not least, I'm intensely curious as to Leah in her new position would say to those of us who are still atheists. Would you counsel us to repent and convert for the sake of our immortal souls? Do you think we're fine as we are? Do you think that atheism is ever a rational or reasonable worldview?
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Matthew Yglesias and moderator Charles Duhigg explore the idea on Big Think Live.
Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?
A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
- "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
- The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
- The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
Is the Magnetic Field Reversing?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e3e0b16dac3b05dab808a4ddf04d198b"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/51usJ74pPP8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
"Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…"
"The Yellow Sands", 1888, John Reinhard Weguelin; source: Wikimedia Commons<h3>Naked revolution</h3><p>Yet long before anyone knew about beach fashion, naturism was trendy. Bathing naked in the sea was going on in England as early as 1840. However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, this pleasure was outlawed. But it popped up again among the conservative Germans. In 1898, the first Naturist Club was founded in Essen and in 1900 the Wandering Birds group (<em>Wandervögel</em>) was scouring the country for uninhabited places and naked sunbathing. In the same year, Heinrich Pudor wrote <em>The C</em><em>ult of </em><em>the </em><em>Nud</em><em>e</em>, winning the hearts of contemporary supporters of naturism.</p><p>In the 1920s, on the back of this, members of the Movement for Natural Healing (<em>Naturheilbewegung</em>) organized naked sunbathing for the improvement of health. Persuaded by Pudor's theory of the healing properties of the sun and wind, which could be absorbed through the skin, they launched the naked revolution.</p><p>Pudor's book became the naturists' manifesto and soon after, not far from Hamburg, the Free Body Culture (<em>Freikörperkultur</em>, or FKK) movement was founded. This spread through other German centres and brought together thousands of people. The FKK still operates under the same name today.</p><p>The cult of the naked body even wrote itself into the ideology of fascist Germany, which advocated a pure, Aryan race. But in 1933, Hermann Göring issued an order that defined nudity as "the greatest threat to the German soul" and, with that, criminalized naturist organizations. But this wasn't the end of the movement. The naturists went underground, continuing their activities under the guise of improving physical fitness.</p><p>In 1936, the idea was even floated of having a naturist display to open the Berlin Olympic Games. It was quickly dropped. Despite this, in 1939 the naturists managed to organize their own Games in the Swiss village of Thielle.</p>
Would you ever have sex with a robot?
- In 2016, "Harmony", the world's first AI sex robot was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix.
- According to 2020 survey data, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. This is an increase from a survey conducted in 2017.
- Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries.
From homemade dildos to Harmony, the AI sex robot<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f7451615568e74c6a839f04329c9902"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-cN8sJz50Ng?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><em>"...amid an economic crisis, with restaurants and retailers closing their doors and larger companies laying off and furloughing employees, the sex tech industry is booming."</em><br></p><p>A Bustle <a href="https://www.bustle.com/wellness/the-sex-tech-industry-is-booming-amid-economic-crisis-22819801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">article</a> published in April 2020, weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, explored the drastic boost in the sex tech industry. According to the research, <a href="https://www.dameproducts.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dame Products</a> (a popular sex toy retailer) experienced a 30 percent increase in sales between the months of February to April, and popular sexual wellness brand <a href="https://unboundbabes.com/?utm_source=%7Bsource%7D&utm_medium=%7Bmedium%7D&utm_keyword=unbound%20babes&utm_matchtype=e&device=c&utm_campaign=%7Bcampaign%7D&utm_adgroup=%7Badgroup%7D&gclid=CjwKCAjw1v_0BRAkEiwALFkj5qYbdEwANUjCdRkCeVZ2HZzHjcGmpYbsOXYcMcNneLc2nySvrbaalBoChEsQAvD_BwE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Unbound</a> reported selling twice as many toys as normal in this period.</p><p>While the new coronavirus was crashing the economy in other ways, the sex tech industry was one of the few that actually saw improvements, likely due to people all over the world being advised, encouraged, and in some instances forced to stay at home.</p><p>Something similar happened in 2008, <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/08/23/the-great-recession-is-a-turn-on-for-the-sex-toy-industry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during the recession</a>: the sex toy industry was one of the only industries at the time that didn't gravely suffer. </p><p><strong>The evolution of sex tech from stone dildos to artificial intelligence.</strong></p><p><a href="https://sofiagray.com/what-is-the-history-of-sex-toys-from-stone-to-silicone-and-beyond/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The history of sex toys</a> is quite interesting. A 28,000-year-old siltstone dildo was uncovered in Germany in 2005. Luxury bronze dildos have also been found in China that are at least 2,000 years old.</p><p>Aside from various materials being shaped into dildos, there has always been an interest in how to advance sex technology, even before it involved actual technology at all.</p><ul><li>The 1700s: Steam-powered vibrators (such as the Manipulator).</li><li>The 1800s—1900s: The invention of the first electric vibrator (the Pulsoson) and "beauty tools" being used for sexual satisfaction (such as the Polar Cub massager)</li><li>The 1920s—1940s: The introduction of hand-held massagers (the Andis Vibrator) and compact devices (such as the Oster Stim-U-Lax)</li><li>The 1940s—1960s: Japan introduced the "Cadillac of Vibrators" (The Hitachi Magic Wand), which eventually made it's way to America.</li><li>1965: The invention of silicone, which most modern sex toys are made of.</li><li>The 1980s—1990s: The invention of the rabbit-style vibrator, made more popular with one of the first showings of a sex toy on television ("Sex and the City"). </li><li>The 2000s: Visual porn website Pornhub launched and sex toys became increasingly popular. Erotic literature also became more common and popular, with "50 Shades of Grey" and others like it. </li><li>The 2010s and beyond: Sex toys and technology start to blend, and the world's first internet-controlled sex toy was launched in 2010 by Lovense.</li></ul><p>In 2016, "Harmony", <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cN8sJz50Ng" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the world's first AI sex robot</a> was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix. </p>
From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.
Credit: Willyam Bradberry on Shutterstock<p>In 2020, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. <a href="https://today.yougov.com/topics/science/articles-reports/2020/03/19/2020-both-men-and-women-are-more-likely-consider-h" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">YouGov conducted a study</a> in February 2020 that compared results from a similar study from 2017.<br></p><p>According to the results, 6 percent more people in 2020 are comfortable with the idea of having sex with a robot than in 2017.</p><p>YouGov points out that the increase in consideration is particularly significant among American adults between the ages of 18-34 years old. Additionally, how people feel about having sex with a robot has also changed. In 2020, 27 percent of Americans said they would consider it cheating if they had a partner who had sex with a robot during the relationship, compared to the 32 percent reported in 2017.</p><p><strong>"If you had a partner who had sex with a robot, would you consider it cheating?"</strong></p><p>The results from this interesting study also reveal that many people (42 percent) believe having sex with a robot is safer than having sex with a human stranger.</p><p>Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries. From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.</p><p>According to YouGov, "a <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-12/amazon-plans-high-end-echo-ramps-up-work-on-alexa-home-robot" target="_blank">Bloomberg</a> report outlining Amazon's plans for an Alexa-powered robot that follows and helps you around the home may redefine how these machines service humans in the near future." </p>