Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A vision for a secular America - Sean Faircloth - http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Added: Sat, 24 Mar 2012 12:01:09 UTC

The Reason Rally is necessary because secular Americans want to restore the values of our nation’s founders. As one of the speakers at the Reason Rally, I offer a specific vision and plan for a secular America.

In 2012 the Religious Right has veto power over one of two major political parties in the most powerful nation on earth. To win the Republican nomination all candidates must pledge allegiance to One Nation Under a Religious Right God. Yet Mr. Conservative, Barry Goldwater, said, “I don’t have any respect for the Religious Right.” Why the change?

Shortly after the 1980 Republican convention, Ronald Reagan, stood before evangelical ministers in Dallas, declaring, “I know that you cannot endorse me” but “I endorse you.” This pivotal declaration, the culmination of effective organizing by the Religious Right, led to our current unprecedented moment in history.

Often unnoticed by the media, theocratic laws, as I document in my book, have already been passed in Congress and legislatures throughout America.

In the 1970s the Religious Right got organized, winning seats on school boards, city councils, and in legislatures. Religious bias in government is widespread:

-- theocratic laws endangering children (religious bias in faith-healing, vaccination, corporal punishment)

-- Stem cell research still thwarted by religion

-- “Faith based initiatives” discriminating with tax money

-- Vouchers funding schools discriminating with tax money

-- Government money for Scouts discriminating against gay people and the non-religious. (Girl Scouts don’t discriminate.)

-- Religious bias in land use planning

-- Religious bias in schools and textbooks

-- Student loans funneling tax money to creationist colleges

-- Religious bias impeding end of life autonomy

These laws harm thousands of people, religious and non-religious. Due to a federal loophole, there’s a separate legal standard in over 35 states for the misnamed “faith-healing” of children. Hundreds of children every year experience horrible suffering in the name of faith.

Read More



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rationalization and Reason in the Atheist Community

Anybody who has debated religion has seen this tactic.

The person you are arguing with takes an objection, misinterprets it to create an objection he can answer, answers his own pretend objection, and then declared victory.

Well, this form of rationalization is not just a problem for those who believe in one or more gods. It is a human tendency - something we are all prone to do from time to time. We hear an objection. We do not like being wrong. Consequently, we give the objection an interpretation that would make it consistent with the proposition that we are not wrong.

None of us are immune.

You do not acquire an immunity to this form of irrationality just by declaring that one is an atheist. There is a tendency among some atheists to think, "I deny the existence of God. Therefore, I am super-rational. Therefore, I do not make mistakes of reason. Every conclusion I adopt is adopted based on the best evidence and valid inference."

The human brain does not work that way.

What brings up this topic is the American Atheist response to objections about the sign put up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - the one that showed an image of a slave and the text, "Slaves, obey your masters."

The criticism against this sign is that it was poorly designed. In order to understand what the sign was about one had to #1# take the time to read all of the text, and #2# be fully aware of the history that motivated putting up the sign.

Against #1# - drivers are supposed to be paying attention to the road, not reading the fine print on a billboard.

Against #2# - most people cannot even tell you the name of their representative - let alone tell you what bills were passed by the legislature that year.

Face it - the authors of the billboard understood what it said precisely because they brought all of the necessary history and background assumptions with them. However, a billboard is not an instrument for writing messages to oneself. It is a tool for communicating with others. To communicate with others one MUST design one's message in a way that pays attention to the background knowledge that the READER will bring.

This is an essential part of effective communication - and it is the part that tripped up the authors of this sign.

However, the American Atheist statement answering the criticism says the following:

AMERICAN ATHEISTS OFFICIAL STATEMENT: We want to thank everyone for sharing their opinions with us about the "Slaves, Obey Your Masters" billboard. While we certainly respect the opinions of those who disagree with our tactics, we respectfully disagree with that opinion. We are unapologetic about the billboard and stand behind it 100%. There will be no apology from American Atheists for saying what needed to be said: sometimes the truth is offensive.

Note that the statement does not address the criticism in any way. The statement concerns two things. The first is tactics #putting up a billboard that highlights statements in the Bible that call into question the claim that it the work of a morally perfect being#. The second is "what needed to be said."

I, for one, have no objections to either of these things.

Neither did anybody else that I am aware of who brought in objections from the atheist perspective.

The objections were that the sign was poorly constructed so that it did not communicate the message that the American Atheists wanted to communicate. While they are perfectly within their rights to stand behind what they wanted to say 100% - and I would stand with them on that. What they did say missed that goal by a good country mile.

It was a billboard telling blacks that, as slaves, they should obey their masters - an entirely outrageous statement for anybody to make. It came out that way because of the poor communication skills of those who made it - those who designed it. The authors thought it said one thing - when in fact it said something else entirely.

But, in order to preserve one's pride, refrain from admitting to a mistake, and declaring oneself too perfect to have ever done something that might call for an apology, the American Atheists sought to twist this criticism into criticism it could answer.

The main point I want to draw from this is that there is nothing in being an atheist that makes one immune to these types of mental gymnastics - particularly when those mental gymnastics are called into play to protect the ego or to shield valued beliefs. We might have avoided those pitfalls with respect to a belief in God, but they wait for us elsewhere.

It is particularly problematic when the atheist gets self-righteous over people for pulling the same type of logical games that the atheists themselves are guilty of. That is hypocrisy. That is not a virtue.

Some might think that this discussion is "accomodationist". However, that would be a mistake. I am not saying that we should forgive the theist because we make the same types of mistakes ourselves. Instead, I am saying we should condemn ourselves when we make these types of mistakes because they are just as bad when we make them as when those we criticize make them.

We owe it to ourselves and to others to do better than this - to recognize and avoid these mental gymnastics.

In this regard, I do have more hope that atheists will take steps to combat these habits than I expect from theists. Theists have embraced the idea of abandoning reason whenever it conflicts with the ego or challenges a cherished belief. Atheists - to a large degree - hold that reason should triumph over ego and cherished beliefs.

At least among atheists there is some hope of pointing to an error such as this and having a somewhat better chance that the atheist will say, "I promised to be rational and base my conclusions on reason and evidence - not make up evidence and distort reason to shield my cherished beliefs. I guess I should be watchful of those kinds of traps and make sure that I do not run into them."

This is not a call for accomodationism. This is a call for holding ourselves up to the same standards that we demand - in a non-accomodationist way - of others.

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Speaking Up Against Irrational Policies

This week and next, I am writing in support if the Reason Rally.

I think it is important.

Imagine being in an airplane at 10,000 meters with two others who have decided, by means of a majority vote, that the three of you are going to jump - without parachutes. They claim that it is perfectly safe - the air will slow you down and you will all land safely.

You answer, "You'll hit the earth at approximately 175 kilometers per hour. That is terminal velocity. It is our lives that will get terminated."

They laugh. They say, "Approximately. See, you do not even know. Besides, listen to that emotion. You are really as bad as those religious fundamentalists - insisting that you must be right and utterly intolerant of any opinion that differs from your own. You are an arrogant bigot, Ms. Scientist. We have freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion on this airplane. This means that you must not say anything that questions or contradicts our faith. You must stay silent or, at least, give our soft-landing theory equal time along side of your terminal velocity theory which is, after all, just another theory. It's the only fair thing to do."

For centuries, we have been allowing these people to lead, politely deferring to them because - well, they have a habit of copping an attitude whenever somebody questions their judgment or beliefs. In some cases, they get violent. It is an effective defense mechanism. Our response has been to throw up our hands in surrender.

But this has gone on long enough. The time for giving a passive sigh and going along for the ride has ended. People are being killed and maimed. They are being made to suffer serious and long-term harms. They are being denied the opportunity to pursue the things they value by those whose primitive superstitious beliefs command them to stand in the way of the happiness of others.

It is time to put one's foot down.

"No! This has gone on long enough! Do the fracing math! My beliefs rest on a foundation that employs a method of making a constantly improving set of predictions about the effects of our actions. We ignore those facts at our peril."

They answer, "You have been wrong in the past. Even you admit that you can be wrong now."

Answer: "What part of 'constantly improving set of predictions' are you failing to understand? Yes, we scientists admit to the possibility of error. You cannot have a constantly improving set of beliefs without admitting that some old ones might be mistaken. You should try it."

The critic responds, "You can't prove that no God exists."

My answer to that is, "Don't change the subject. The subject is jumping out of a plane without a parachute. I can predict what will happen and it will not be pretty. Do you want to talk about God's existence? Land the plane and we'll discuss it."

They say, "There are other ways of knowing besides science."

Answer, "None of that is relevant to the prediction of what will happen if we jump out of this plane. Quit changing the subject."

It really is time to say, "Stop! This has gone on long enough!"

We really must live in a society in which everybody has a say. This is because we all gave different interests. Denying some group a say in how things are run almost inevitably turns those who do not have a say into the unwilling servants of those who do.

Furthermore, there are very good reasons to hold that the only legitimate response to words are words - and never violence. The only legitimate response to a political campaign is a counter-campaign - a conflict of words and ideas rather than a conflict of bombs and bullets.

However, this civic right comes with a civic responsibility - a responsibility to think - to use one's head and the powers of reason to reach responsible conclusions. People who lead have an obligation to lead intelligently. People who vote have an obligation to vote intelligently. The people who will vote have an obligation to choose intelligent, thinking, reasonable and rational leaders.

It is not the case that the majority is always right. There is a real world out there that does not yield to our fantasies - no matter how large the majority that holds them. Convincing 300 other airplane passengers that it is safe to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 meters without a parachute will only change the number of people who die when they hit the earth.

If you are going to the Reason Rally, please take the time to think of this. You are on that airplane. You are surrounded by others whose actions - grounded on their faith - will have an effect on some that is quite literally the same as throwing them out of the airplane at altitude.

Isn't it time to say something?

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

The Pennsylvania Atheists and the Makings of a Proper Apology

It appears that the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Atheists not only needs lessons in graphic design and marketing. They also need a moral lesson on the makings of a proper apology.

Hint: "I am sorry that you are all such idiots" is not an apology.

Their apology referred to a billboard they put up that showed a black slave and the Biblical command, "Slaves, obey your masters." The billboard was taken by many to be an offensive statement against blacks. In light of the controversy that followed,

I want to say that I'm truly sorry that many people have misunderstood this billboard. It was never our intention to use race as our message itself.

(See: Atheist Billboard Controversy Stirs Racial Tensions in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

This pretty much falls into the general category, "I am sorry that so many people misunderstood our message" fits in the category of, "I am sorry that there are so many idiots out there."

Here are the five elements of a proper apology illustrated with sample text:

(1) The apology itself.

I am truly sorry.

(2) A statement of personal responsibility. where the agent describes exactly what he or she did wrong.

We created a billboard that was so poorly designed that a casual observer could take it as an endorsement of black slavery when, in fact, it was meant to condemn slavery.

(3) An explanation as to why the action was wrong - demonstrating that the agent understands the nature of their mistake.

Slavery was a horrendous institution and the last thing we would want to do is give any impression that those horrors can be justified. That is actually why we decided to put up this sign. When the Pennsylvania legislature declared this the Year if the Bible, they effectively a book that contained this commandment to slaves, "Slave, obey your masters." They endorsed it. We opposed it.

For nearly the whole first century of this country's existence, Southern slave owners not only used this to justify slavery. They taught it to their slaves as a way of coercing those slaves into obedience even when their earthly masters were not looking. They told their slaves, "Even when I am not watching you, God is. When you do not fear me, fear Him."

We find it to be abhorrent that the Pennsylvania Legislature would make such an endorsement and sought to express our abhorrence with this sign.

However, we messed up. We messed up. We made a sign that, to somebody who encounters the sign without knowing its context, appears as an unpleasant reminder and a potential endorsement of the institution of slavery. It looks like a sign that some Southern plantation owner might have put up on the slave house wall. That is the last thing we wanted to do. That fact illustrates another fact that, in communication, context is important. We did not consider the fact that a lot of people who saw the sign would not know its context. I repeat, we messed up. I understand now - what I should have understood a month ago - how that sign might appear to somebody who saw it in a different context.

(4) A statement of the steps that will be taken to prevent similar events in the future.

We accept that it is our responsibility to make sure that our message is clearly understood. In the future, when we condemn those practices that contributed to and supported slavery - and we will continue to do so - we will make sure that we use a message that clearly condemns slavery. Unlike the Pennsylvania Legislature, we have no interest in even appearing to endorse those practices and institutions used in the defense of slavery. We will see to it that our future actions reflect that standard.

(5) A statement about how one intends to make up for the mistake.

In the light of these events, I am asking for a meeting with the leaders of the local NAACP and other leaders of the black community in order, first, to convey my apologies in person. And, second, to discuss how we may avoid similar mistakes in the future, and how we may better serve goals that are important to both of us - goals that include a fair and just treatment of all Americans regardless of race.

This is what a proper apology would look like.

Atheists are fallible human beings. We are not perfect. The practice of making an apology is well designed to reduce the damage that come from those imperfections and setting things quickly onto the right track again. When we make mistakes - as we certainly will - we should be quick to recognize them, and to put into practice those principles of apology that can quickly put things on the right track again.

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

The Taliban's Ignorance of Justice

Yesterday, I wrote on the components of a proper apology.

In writing that essay, I assumed a case in which an apology is actually owed. The second and third component of a proper apology requires that the agent (2) specify what he or she did that was wrong, and (3) explain why it is wrong.

Yet, often, people are called on to apologize when they have done nothing wrong.

In some cases, it will be necessary to comply with this demand. However, this is true in the same way that it may be necessary to turn over one's wallet to a thug with a gun who might otherwise do worse harm if one did not obey.

The scope of this blog is not concerned with the practical matters of going along with the demands of evil people with power. This blog is about ethics - right and wrong. In this case, it is about the relationship between the concepts relevant to a proper apology and the more general concepts of justice – concepts that people in some parts of the world obviously do not understand.

It is legitimate to demand an apology in a case where an agent has done something wrong - that the agent recognizes was wrong - and that the agent truly cares to make amends for and to prevent in the future.

These conditions also roughly describe a case in which it is permissible to harm someone as punishment for a crime. First, they must have done a crime. Second, one must be able to describe the reasons for which punishment is justified.

The range of cases in which an apology is appropriate is substantially the same as the range of cases in which the concept of justice is applicable. An apology is often appropriate in cases when it may be appropriate to condemn and, in severe cases, to punish an agent.

I can illustrate some of the concepts and relationships that I am referring to here by pointing to a group of tribal barbarians living Afghanistan and Pakistan who have demonstrated themselves to be masters of incoherence and injustice - known as the Taliban.

This is a hypothetical case. I do not know the actual motivation for the American soldier in this case. However, neither does the Taliban. It does not seem to matter to them. As a result, examining the case in light of this hypothetical motivation makes sense.

An American soldier sneaks out of camp, kills 16 Afghans, then returns to camp and surrenders to authorities. The Taliban, then, demand revenge against all Americans.

A proper understanding of justice would tell you that the guilty should be punished and the innocent should be left alone. However, these moral Neanderthals seem to think nothing of killing innocent people - rationalizing varnishing their moral crimes with the word "justice" (because "murderer" - though it would be more honest - carries something of a social stigma).

The person who it would be appropriate to punish is one who is in a position where they owe an apology. This means that the person is one for whom it is possible (rather they do so or not) to state that an action that they did that was wrong, and an explanation for why it is wrong.

However, the Taliban are not interested in confining their violence to the guilty. By their statements, they seem willing to kill just about anybody. Personal guilt or responsibility are irrelevant - or are assumed in spite of the fact that those who are to be killed performed no action for which an apology would otherwise be due.

In fact, these Taliban have proven themselves morally worse than the soldier that they condemn.

For the sake of illustrating a point, let us assume that the soldier thought he had the right to go out and kill innocent people - including children - who are not guilty of any wrongdoing. He may have acted to punish them because some other Afghans killed a friend of his.

Even where this is the case, this soldier still recognized that his actions were one that would require that he sneak out of his camp, and one in which he would have to surrender to authorities to answer for on his return. At least he recognized that his culture was one that condemned the killing of innocent people who had nothing to do with whomever might have caused his grief.

Whereas, in the case of the Taliban, we have a group of people who condemn this soldier for his actions – yet proudly support and defend the principle that one may go out and kill innocent people in response to some (perceived) crime. They condemn the person, while they praise and threaten to practice the principle that, in this case, the soldier may well have acted on.

In the case of the mass murderer - the American soldier - we fully recognize the need to confine and punish such a person.

Well, first we recognize that it is wrong to do harm to innocent people, which is why we require that his guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. These safeguards for protecting the innocent appear to be one of the principles of civilized society that the Taliban is having a hard time grasping.

However, once it has been determined that a person is guilty, then we recognize the right and the need to confine such a person, to condemn him, and to punish him - as a way of promoting an aversion to such actions in others. These are a part of the way that civilized society maintains itself.

Now, consider this: If we have good reason to confine, condemn, and punish the American mass murderer, what does this imply about the attitudes we should have towards Taliban leaders whose attitudes towards justice are actually worse than those of the soldier who committed this crime. What should we do about Taliban leaders who promise to do the very types of actions that, in the case of the soldier, we take to provide justification for condemnation, confinement, and punishment?

Ultimately, the pre-moral culture of the Taliban is one in which they simply are not given an understanding of the fundamental rules of justice, and where reason must be an utterly foreign concept.

I have mentioned my support for the Reason Rally. I am hoping that it will serve as a tool for saving lives and reducing suffering. One of the ways that I hope that it will do this is to organize people into providing an answer and promoting alternatives to the hypocritical, violent, revenge-driven murder of innocents that seems “justified” in certain primitive cultures.

We cannot have peace where mass murderers such as this American soldier go free and unchallenged. Things are worse when whole tribes proudly, incoherently, and hypocritically boast that they embrace principles that would support the very types of actions that this soldier performed.

You cannot have peace - and you cannot maintain a civilized society - where that society is filled with people who can so easily talk about killing innocent people. There will always be unnecessary death and suffering so long as those types of ideas go unchallenged and unanswered. One of the outcomes of the Reason Rally, I would hope, is the beginnings of an organization that will seek to find ways to end that suffering.

Of course, that answer would have to be consistent with the principles described here - the very principles that the Taliban leadership apparently fails to comprehend. This is that a person is to be assumed innocent until proven guilty and that guilt requires that some action has been performed - a type of action for which a proper apology would be possible even if it is not actually given.

Where these principles are in place and enforced, civilized society is a possibility.

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Changing Definitions and Ending Civilization


Cardinal Keith O'Brien's protests against gay marriage are utterly silly and laughable if not for the fact that human beings use such a stupid argument to cause harm to others.

If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman? Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed? Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?

(See: The Telegraph, We cannot afford to indulge this madness.

See, not long ago the American Astronomical Union changed the definition of "planet". Under the new definition, Pluto would not qualify. There were some protests and complaints about it - particularly from people who were sentimental about the idea of Pluto being called a planet. However, I can imagine that Cardinal O'Brien must have been entirely beside himself!

If this new definition of 'planet' were to become accepted by the International Astronomical Union, what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that 'planet' has always meant - and and has only ever meant – a large ball of rock or gas orbiting a sun that is naturally round. Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed? Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?

Gad! The horrors of it all! The very essence of civilization and all of our human rights are bound up in the fact that the meanings of words cannot change! Allow the meaning of a word to change, and the next thing you know you have absolute tyranny! Never before, in all of human history, has a civilization been able to survive the re-definition of a term!

Well, we will ignore the fact that 'malaria' used to mean 'bad air' - and was used to refer to a disease that people simply assume was caused by . . . literally . . . bad air. Ancient caretakers of the sick would wear these long flowing robes with hoods that had long pointed snouts soaked in perfume to sweeten the air that the wearer breathed. It was assumed to keep those who wore them from breathing in this bad air and getting sick. However, one of those midevil doctors complained that the only thing these robes were good for was to keep the mosquitos off.

Then there was the time that chemists changed the definition of "atom". In its original meaning, "atom" meant "without parts". It was thought that matter was made up of a smallest particle that, itself, had no parts. After all, you couldn't split matter indefinitely into smaller and smaller parts. It had to have an end somewhere. The name they used for this smallest and unbreakable particle of matter was "atom".

Then some people came up with this absurd theory that the particles they had been calling atoms since the days of the ancient Greeks actually had parts. The new theory said that atoms had a nucleus made up of protons and (usually) neutrols, and was (usually) circled by one or more protons. Atoms could be split!

Now, as we well know, as soon as the definition of atom changed, this brought in a new era of tyranny and oppression. Freedoms were thrown out the world over as those who once used the term 'atom' to mean 'without parts' were forced to their knees to yield their very lives and freedom to those who said that hanceforth, atoms had parts.

That era of great tyranny is now known as . . .

. . . as . . .

Sorry, I can't think of it right now. I am sure it must have happened, just as Cardinal O'Brien says.

The ability of these primative superstitious beliefs to clog rational thought on matters where people do harm to others is amazing.

I would hold that a decent, moral person gives others the benefit of the doubt. I would hold that others be given the freedom to decide how to live their own lives as they see fit - that a presumption always be given in terms of liberty - and that liberty is only to be restricted when the evidence is such strength that it compels us to remove it.

The primative superstition of the Catholic Church has brought them to come up with the most absurd and irrational defense of denying others the life those others will choose for themselves. O'Brien writes that we are about to bring down civilization itself, merely because a word changes definition and people are given the liberty to harmlessly pursue a relationship they judge to be suitable to their nature.

It does not matter that the Catholic Church declares that gay marriage is not suitable to human nature. To the Catholic Church, It is not your life - and thus not your decision to make for others. Leave these people alone.

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Military A-Week: How to put ATHEIST on your records (all branches) - Justin Griffith - Rock Beyond Belief

Added: Wed, 21 Mar 2012 14:45:36 UTC

Yesterday I told you why it was IMPORTANT to stand up and be counted as an “ATHEIST” and not a “NO-REL-PREF”. Today, I’m going to tell you how.

Army: Walk in to your unit’s S-1 office. Ask them to update your ERB or ORB. Tell them you want to fix your religious preference. Tell them you want “ATHEIST”. If they say anything about it not being an option, calmly explain that they are mistaken, and to check the list (it’s alphabetical for them.) If you still need more ‘proof’, here is the regulation: AR 680-29 (page 41). I made a cheat sheet for you.

Read more

Bloggers and activists,

The vast majority of military atheists do not have 'ATHEIST' on their records. Most of us were told (incorrectly) that you must instead use “NO-REL-PREF” which means No Religious Preference. This hasn’t been true for over a decade. It’s time to overcome this climate of fear. The silence is part of the problem.

PLEASE help get the word out about this: < a href="http://freethoughtblogs.com/rockbeyondbelief/2012/03/20/a-week-for-the-military-demand-atheist-on-your-records/">http://freethoughtblogs.com/rockbeyondbelief/2012/03/20/a-week-for-the-military-demand-atheist-on-your-records/

Don’t back down brothers and sisters. Out of those closets.

You walk right in. Tell them you want to update your records. Tell them your religious preference is wrong. They will type a few things. When they get to the correct screen, they’ll ask you what you want instead of NO-REL-PREF. You look them in the eye and tell them “ATHEIST”. That’s it. Nothing else to it. It takes two minutes.

"ATHEIST" is on the list, despite what 99% of us were told at MEPS and boot camp. You can purchase dogtags to match if your unit does not have a machine. A few bucks, and again, a few minutes.

The Wiccans did it a decade ago. They used to be looked down upon as satanic puppy stabbers. Now they’re world of warcraft nerds. I’ll take that kind of upgrade. Perhaps we can be the military’s bookworms?

Whatever your fear is, it’s part of the problem, rational or not. When we come out in great numbers, we will change some opinions. More importantly, we will change the conversation. Just 18 months ago, nobody thought Rock Beyond Belief was possible (myself included). We’ve got a breakthrough on our hands. Stand up and be counted. See you at Fort Bragg.

“If you’re scared to die, you better not be scared to live.”
Read more



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Americans United's Barry Lynn interviews Sean Faircloth - Barry Lynn - Culture Shocks

Added: Tue, 20 Mar 2012 14:27:25 UTC

Sean Faircloth, with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, discusses his new book, Attack of the Theocrats, which examines the crumbling of the wall of separation between church and state—and offers a specific and sensible plan for rebuilding it.

Listen or download

Continue to website

Book Description
Copies on sale at the RDFRS store which inlcude a free DVD
and Amazon Kindle or Barnes and Noble Nook
At no time in American history has the United States had such a high percentage of theocratic members of Congress-those who expressly endorse religious bias in law. Just as ominously, at no other time have religious fundamentalists effectively had veto power over one of the country's two major political parties. As Sean Faircloth argues, this has led to the crumbling of the country's most cherished founding principle-the wall separating church and state-and presages yet even more crumbling. Faircloth, a former politician and current executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, moves beyond the symbolism to explore the many ways federal and state legal codes privilege religion in law. He goes on to demonstrate how religious bias in law harms all Americans-financially, militarily, physically, socially, and educationally. Sounding a much-needed alarm for all who care about the future direction of the country, Faircloth offers an inspiring vision for returning America to its secular roots.



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Why I'm saying no to a smear - Dr Margaret McCartney - The Independent

Added: Tue, 20 Mar 2012 18:46:04 UTC

Renew travel card. Book haircut. Go for screening test. Buy cinema tickets. Meet friends." You may have spotted the odd one out – for this is not a list of things to do at the weekend, but the front cover of the NHS Scotland's "Cervical Screening Test" information booklet.

Here's a confession. I am a GP, and I don't go for cervical smears. Nor do I know what my cholesterol level is, and when I reach 50 and am invited to mammography screening, I won't be turning up. I haven't decided about bowel-cancer screening, but at the moment, on the evidence, I'm unconvinced.

Why? Part of the problem is the trivialisation of the choices that are offered to us when it comes to screening tests. It's important to be clear – screening tests are for people who are well and who have no symptoms for disease. So if you have bleeding between periods, or a change in your bowel habit, you don't need screening tests – you need diagnostic tests.

Screening tests are different. Because they aim to find disease you don't know about, the trade-off between benefits and harms tends to be more nuanced compared with tests done to investigate symptoms. Cervical screening does prevent deaths from cervical cancer. But to get that reduction, you have to follow up and/or treat all the women who have cell changes on their screening test. However, most cervical-cell changes found at screening will not lead to cervical cancer. The problem is we can't predict which will, so all need further monitoring or treatment. A study from Bristol in 2003 found that 1,000 women have to be screened for 35 years to prevent one death from cervical cancer; and to prevent that death, 80 women have to have further investigation, with 50 women having treatment to their cervices. Four out of five women found at screening to have "high-grade" changes in their cervix did not go on to develop invasive cancer.

Clearly, there is a benefit – but overall, it's small. That potential for good has to be weighed against the risks of treatment. It's known that having a cervical biopsy – which is done to get more information about the degree of abnormality – raises the risk of pre-term birth in later pregnancies. And the worry and anxiety that the results cause shouldn't be underestimated.

I'm not against screening, but I am against unthinking screening. I weighed up my personal risk factors for cervical screening (for example, smoking is a risk factor), threw in my own priorities – and decided not to have it. And here's the problem. The NHS persists in sending me red-ink letters despite my written declaration to opt out. I'm made to feel a risk-taker in not having cervical screening – yet I'd also be taking my chances if I had it done.

Read on



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Yet another flea - Richard Dawkins' God Delusion [NOOK Book] - Klaus Nürnberger - B&N Nook

Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99...

Greta Christina - Kindle 68 Comments

Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless

A Challenge to Make Science Crystal...

Kenneth Chang - NYT - The New York... 24 Comments

What is the Flame Challenge?

The Lord’s Army Comes to America’s...

Katherine Stewart - RichardDawkins.net 13 Comments

The Lord’s Army Comes to America’s Public Schools

9pm and 11pm ET - The Big Picture -...


9pm and 11pm ET - The Big Picture - Katherine Stewart interviewed - Thom Hartman Program

Sean Faircloth talks about Catholicism...

Jerry Coyne - Why Evolution Is True 9 Comments

Sean Faircloth talks about Catholicism at Notre Dame

Science book delayed when someone...

GrrlScientist - The Guardian 37 Comments

Science book delayed when someone
notices it's written by creationists

View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Study reveals why our ancestors switched to bipedal power - - - PhysOrg.com

The house mouse, spe­cies Mus mus­cu­lus. Male house mice pro­­duce me­lo­di­ous songs to at­­tract mates, not un­­like many birds, ac­­cord­ing to new re­search. (Im­age cour­te­sy Maine Dept. of Ag­ri­cul­ture)

View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Light triggers eyeless hydra to sting prey - George Foulsham - Futurity.org

Added: Thu, 08 Mar 2012 16:01:50 UTC

Thanks to Mike OHare for the link.

alt text
"Hydra stinging cells were already known to be touch sensitive and taste sensitive, but no one had ever thought before to look for light sensitivity—probably because they don’t have eyes," says Todd Oakley. "We're the first to have found that. And we found not only that light-sensitivity genes are expressed near hydra stinging cells, but that under different light conditions, these cells have different propensities to be fired." (Credit: David Plachetzki)

Hydra, a freshwater polyp—along with jellyfish, sea anemones, and corals in the Cnidaria family—use stinging cells, or cnidocytes, to catch prey. Hydra tentacles contain barbed, poison-containing cnidocytes that they use to stun animals, such as water fleas and plankton, before eating them alive. They’re also used for self-defense and locomotion.

New research reported in the journal BMC Biology, reveals that light, or the lack thereof, has a direct effect on hydras’ propensity to fire their stinging cells—a discovery that “tells us something completely new about the biology of these animals, and we think this could extend to other cnidarians,” says Todd Oakley, professor of ecology, evolution, and marine biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Hydra stinging cells were already known to be touch sensitive and taste sensitive, but no one had ever thought before to look for light sensitivity—probably because they don’t have eyes,” he says. “We’re the first to have found that. And we found not only that light-sensitivity genes are expressed near hydra stinging cells, but that under different light conditions, these cells have different propensities to be fired.”

Read on



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Making memories: How one protein does it - - - MedicalXpress

Added: Thu, 08 Mar 2012 16:23:38 UTC

A neuron (red) accumulates messages (green) when treated with BDNF. Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Studying tiny bits of genetic material that control protein formation in the brain, Johns Hopkins scientists say they have new clues to how memories are made and how drugs might someday be used to stop disruptions in the process that lead to mental illness and brain wasting diseases.

In a report published in the March 2 issue of Cell, the researchers said certain microRNAs—genetic elements that control which proteins get made in cells— are the key to controlling the actions of so-called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), long linked to brain cell survival, normal learning and memory boosting.

During the learning process, cells in the brain's hippocampus release BDNF, a growth-factor protein that ramps up production of other proteins involved in establishing memories. Yet, by mechanisms that were never understood, BDNF is known to increase production of less than 4 percent of the different proteins in a brain cell.

That led Mollie Meffert, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of biological chemistry and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to track down how BDNF specifically determines which proteins to turn on, and to uncover the role of regulatory microRNAs.

MicroRNAs are small molecules that bind to and block messages that act as protein blueprints from being translated into proteins. Many microRNAs in a cell shut down protein production, and, conversely, the loss of certain microRNAs can cause higher production of specific proteins.
Read more



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Countless millions of taxpayers’ money spent on discrimination in schools - Terry Sanderson - secularism.org.uk

Added: Thu, 08 Mar 2012 11:50:23 UTC

We often complain about the increasing amount of religion in schools, but it is not until you look at the job advertisements in papers like the Times Educational Supplement and the Church Times that you come to realise just how determined the churches are to use schools as recruiting grounds. The TES Jobs Supplement – which is much bigger than the TES itself – reveals the level of religious infiltration in state schools - funded by you and me.

alt text

In last week's issue for instance, there were dozens of recruitment ads for Church of England and Catholic schools. One example was St Claire's Catholic Primary School in Coalville, Leicestershire. They need a headteacher and the ad reads: "Our Catholic faith is at the heart of our school. Everything we say and do reflects the Christian message and we are committed to living the Gospel values each and every day."

Croughton All Saints CE Primary School in Northamptonshire is also looking for a headteacher who will "work closely with the Rector and Diocese to ensure that the Christian is embedded throughout the school's activities."

Or what about St Hilda's CE Primary School in Firswood, Manchester that wants a headteacher who is "fired by the church's mission expressed in education, and want to advance the Kingdom of God through church and school working closely together."

St Joseph's & St Teresa's in Doncaster wants a headteacher with a "strong personal faith and a clear vision of Catholic Education". St Bartholomew's CE Primary in Binley,Coventry is looking for a leader "whose vision and professionalism is underpinned by a clear and demonstrable faith."

St Mary's Island CE Primary school asks applicants for the headteacher post to "provide a faith reference" to prove that they will uphold the "Christian leadership that are at the heart of our caring environment".

The St Francis Xavier joint Roman Catholic and CE School is looking for a headteacher, saying: "We live and breathe our values. Respect, dignity, faith and justice are at the heart of our school". Unfortunately, religious discrimination of the most despicable kind is also at the heart of their school as "all applicants must be committed and practising Catholics".

And so it goes on, dozens and dozens of them, all requiring applicants to be of a particular faith and to be able to prove it, presumably with an approving letter from their local priest.

The fact that there are so many such ads may indicate that they are having problems finding enough pious teachers to fill the posts. It also indicates that because the diocese has complete control of them, they are being used as indoctrination centres.

Read on



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Afghan clerics' guidelines 'a green light for Talibanisation' - Emma Graham-Harrison - The Guardian

Added: Tue, 06 Mar 2012 18:56:31 UTC

alt text
Afghan policewomen at work: guidelines released by the country's top clerics have been described as reminiscent of the Taliban era when women couldn't go out without a male guardian. Photograph: Jalil Rezayee/EPA

Women are subordinate to men, should not mix in work or education and must always have a male guardian when they travel, according to new guidelines from Afghanistan's top clerics which critics say are dangerously reminiscent of the Taliban era.

The edicts appeared in a statement that also encouraged insurgents to join peace talks, fuelling fears that efforts to negotiate an end to a decade of war, now gathering pace after years of false starts and dead ends, will come at a high cost to women.

"There is a link with what is happening all over the country with peace talks and the restrictions they want to put on women's rights," said Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi, who warned that the new rules were a "green light for Talibanisation".

The points agreed at a regular meeting of the Ulema Council of top clerics are not legally binding. But the statement detailing them was published by the president's office with no further comment, a move that has been taken as a tacit seal of approval.

"Ultimately, I don't see a way you can read it as not coming from (Hamid) Karzai," said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It's probably not an extreme position for the Ulema Council, but it's an extreme position for Karzai, and not compatible with the constitution, or Afghanistan's obligations under international law."

The clerics renounced the equality of men and women enshrined in the Afghan constitution, suggesting they consider the document that forms the basis of the Afghan state to be flawed from a religious perspective.

Read on



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Child welfare report calls for church abuse inquiry - Liz Hobday - ABC News

Added: Sun, 04 Mar 2012 21:11:40 UTC

Thanks to zeerust2000 for the link.

From The World Today, on ABC Radio:

ELEANOR HALL: The report from the Cummins Inquiry into vulnerable children in Victoria has made wide-ranging recommendations to improve the State Government's child protection systems.

But committee also recommended changes to the way that religious organisations deal with abuse, and it says a new investigation is needed to look at that issue.

In Melbourne, Liz Hobday reports.

LIZ HOBDAY: The Cummins report isn't short on advice. After a year looking into child welfare in Victoria it's made more than 90 recommendations.

Among the more controversial is the recommendation that religious ministers should be subject to the mandatory reporting of child abuse.

Here's the Minister for Community Services Mary Wooldridge on ABC Melbourne's Jon Faine program:

MARY WOOLDRIDGE: Well another obviously very controversial and important recommendation...

JON FAINE: It shouldn't be controversial. Why should it be controversial?

MARY WOOLDRIDGE: Well, because any extension to mandatory reporting from a system we've had that's been in place for 15 years has implications but we...

JON FAINE: Given the track record of religious organisations of several denominations surely this one is unarguably needed.

MARY WOOLDRIDGE: Well what we'll be doing is meeting with the religious organisations, meeting with the community - who feel very strongly about it, obviously - and we will have a response in time in relation to that.

LIZ HOBDAY: That track record on abuse issues has made headlines in Victoria again and again.

Last year it emerged that in one region of country Victoria more than 30 people had committed suicide after being abused by priests.

Helen Last from the group In Good Faith and Associates has lobbied the Catholic Church to introduce mandatory reporting.

HELEN LAST: We have talked about the need for clergy to be educated into understanding that victims, criminal matters must be reported to the proper authority, but we have not received any positive response from them in that regard.

LIZ HOBDAY: What do you think of the recommendation for a separate inquiry into religious organisations and the way that they deal with sexual abuse?

HELEN LAST: I think it's absolutely necessary and very, very urgent. We are in touch with so many victims and their families who are suffering terribly because they have either not reported yet to the church or the police because of their lack of faith in those organisations – or they have gone to the church and they have found that process to be totally inappropriate for them and in fact it has caused them more harm.

Listen to this audio report and read full transcript.



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Church schools shun poorest pupils - Jessica Shepherd and Simon Rogers - The Guardian

Added: Mon, 05 Mar 2012 13:14:16 UTC

alt text
St John's Church of England primary school in Croydon, south London, has 7% of pupils eligible for free meals. The proportion in the borough is 24%. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

England's faith state schools are failing to mirror their local communities by shunning the poorest pupils in their area, analysis by the Guardian of the latest government figures shows.

The Roman Catholic church, which has repeatedly insisted its schools are inclusive, comes out particularly badly in the examination of data published by the Department for Education (DfE) last month and in December. Three-quarters of Catholic primary and secondary schools have a more affluent mix of pupils than their local area.

The figures also reveal that most Church of England (CofE) primary schools have an intake that is untypically affluent and more middle-class than a year ago. The findings will fuel claims that faith schools have been picking pupils from well-off families by selecting on the basis of religion.

The Guardian analysed the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals – a key indicator of poverty – in each of England's 19,534 state, non-selective primary and secondary schools. All schools designated for children with special needs were taken out.

The schools have been grouped according to whether they are affiliated to the CofE, the Catholic church or have no religious character. The number of state-funded Muslim and Jewish schools is too small to form a meaningful group – however, the 11 state-funded Muslim schools in England are collectively more reflective of their community, with 67% of primaries and 60% of secondaries having more than the local authority average of free school meal pupils. The 36 Jewish state schools on average have less representation of pupils on free school meals than their local area. There are many Christian schools connected to other denominations, but the data does not specify which denomination.

The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in each CofE, Catholic or non-religious school was compared with the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in their local authority and among all the comparable schools in the same postcode area.

It is well-known that the average proportion of deprived pupils in faith schools is lower than it is for all schools in England. However, it has not until now been clear whether this is a facet of the areas they serve. Our analysis shows for the first time the extent to which faith and non-faith schools reflect – or fail to reflect – the proportion of poor pupils in their area.

The vast majority of Catholic primary and secondary schools fail to mirror the proportion of poor pupils living in their community, the data reveals. The Catholic church has fought successful battles to retain control of admissions to its schools.

Some 73% of Catholic primaries and 72% of Catholic secondaries have a lower proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than the average for the local authority.

It is the same for CofE primary and secondary schools. Some 74% of these primaries and 65.5% of secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is average for the local authority.

In contrast, non-religious schools tend to reflect their neighbourhoods. Half (51%) of non-religious primaries and 45% of non-religious secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative for their local authority.

Faith schools fared no better when examined at a more local level. We compared the proportion of poor pupils in each postcode with the proportion of poor pupils in faith schools and non-faith schools studying in that postcode. The data shows 76% of Catholic primaries and 65% of Catholic secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative of their postcode. This is the case for 63.5% of CofE primaries and 40% of CofE secondaries.

Non-religious primaries and secondaries are far more likely to mirror the proportion of poor pupils in their postcode – just 47% of non-faith primaries and 29% of non-faith secondaries take a smaller proportion of free school meals than is representative for their postcode.

Anna Vignoles, a professor of the economics of education at the Institute of Education, University of London, said the Guardian's findings could be explained by the fact that faith schools draw their pupils from their faith communities, which are not necessarily located in the same postcode or area as their school.

A study by Dr Rebecca Allen and Professor Anne West of the Institute of Education and the London School of Economics, published in 2011, showed that middle class parents are more likely to apply to faith schools – and that the admissions procedures there are easier for them to navigate.

Our data also shows that CofE primary schools are increasingly serving the better-heeled in their communities.

Whereas this year 74% of the church's primaries have a smaller proportion of the poorest pupils than their local authority, the year before 72% did.

At a more local level, the same is the case. This year, 63.5% of the church's primaries have a smaller proportion of the poorest pupils than their postcode, compared to 60% last year.

Read on



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Professor Stephen Hawking quotes on God and Religion - - - age-of-the-sage.org

Added: Fri, 02 Mar 2012 02:28:23 UTC

What does Professor Stephen Hawking believe in?
Some quotes on God and Religion / Religious beliefs

"As we shall see, the concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe. This was first pointed out by St. Augustine. When asked: What did God do before he created the universe? Augustine didn't reply: He was preparing Hell for people who asked such questions. Instead, he said that time was a property of the universe that God created, and that time did not exist before the beginning of the universe."

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), p. 8

"One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past. On the other hand, if the universe is expanding, there may be physical reasons why there had to be a beginning. One could imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterwards in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang, but it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!"

A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), pp. 8-9.

"With the success of scientific theories in describing events, most people have come to believe that God allows the universe to evolve according to a set of laws and does not intervene in the universe to break these laws. However, the laws do not tell us what the universe should have looked like when it started -- it would still be up to God to wind up the clockwork and choose how to start it off. So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?"

A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), p. 140-41.
Read more



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

SBC’s Richard Land: Romney Not a Christian, Compares Mormonism to Islam - Jim Meyers and John Bachman - NewsMax

Enough of Rick Santorum’s sermons

Richard Cohen - The Washington Post 18 Comments

Enough of Rick Santorum’s sermons

Juneau Man Sues to Keep President Obama...

AKMuckraker - The Mudflats 12 Comments

Juneau Man Sues to Keep President Obama Off the Ballot Because He is “of the Mulatto race.”

Catholics hear anti-Obama letter in...

Brian Montopoli - Political Hotsheet... 12 Comments

Catholics hear anti-Obama letter in church

Rick Santorum cries Nazi

Dana Milbank - The Washington Post 7 Comments

Today on Your Call: How did the US...

Malihe Razazan - KALW - local public... 1 Comments

Today on Your Call: How did the US Conference of Bishops become so powerful?

View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Atheist group targets Muslims, Jews with ‘myth’ billboards in Arabic and Hebrew - Dan Merica - CNN

Added: Fri, 02 Mar 2012 00:00:02 UTC

Thanks to Quine for the link.

(CNN) – The billboard wars between atheists and believers have raged for years now, especially around New York City, and a national atheist group is poised to take the battle a step further with billboards in Muslim and Jewish enclaves bearing messages in Arabic and Hebrew.

American Atheists, a national organization, will unveil the billboards Monday on Broadway in heavily Muslim Paterson, New Jersey and in a heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood, immediately after the Williamsburg Bridge.

“You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice,” the billboards say. The Patterson version is in English and Arabic, and the Brooklyn one in English and Hebrew. To the right of the text on the Arabic sign is the word for God, Allah. To the right of the text on the Hebrew sign is the word for God, Yahweh.

Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said the signs are intended to reach atheists in the Muslim and Jewish enclaves who may feel isolated because they are surrounded by believers.

“Those communities are designed to keep atheists in the ranks,” he says. “If there are atheists in those communities, we are reaching out to them. We are letting them know that we see them, we acknowledge them and they don't have to live that way if they don’t want to.”
Read more



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

The Myth of Militant Atheism - David Niose - Psychology Today

Added: Thu, 01 Mar 2012 14:27:56 UTC

alt text

Nine bullets fired from close range ended the life of Salman Taseer last month, making the Pakistani governor the latest high-profile victim of religious violence. Taseer had the audacity to publicly question Pakistan's blasphemy laws, and for this transgression he paid with his life.

Taseer joins a list of numerous other high-profile victims of militant religion, such as Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas abortion doctor killed by a devout Christian assassin in 2009, and Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker whose provocative movie about Islam resulted in his being brutally murdered in 2004.

With this background, it is especially puzzling that the American media and public still perpetuate the cliché of so-called "militant atheism." We hear the disparaging term "militant atheist" used frequently, the unquestioned assumption being that militant atheists are of course roaming the streets of America.

In fact, however, while millions of atheists are indeed walking our streets, it would be difficult to find even one who could accurately be described as militant. In all of American history, it is doubtful that any person has ever been killed in the name of atheism. In fact, it would be difficult to find evidence that any American has ever even been harmed in the name of atheism. It just does not happen, because the notion of "militant atheism" is entirely fantasy.

When the media and others refer to a "militant atheist," the object of that slander is usually an atheist who had the nerve to openly question religious authority or vocally express his or her views about the existence of God. Conventional wisdom quickly tells us that such conduct is shameful or, at the very least, distasteful, and therefore the brazen nonbeliever is labeled "militant."

But this reflects a double standard, because it seems to apply only to atheists. Religious individuals and groups frequently declare, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, that you are a sinner and that you will suffer in hell for eternity if you do not adopt their supernatural beliefs, but they will almost never be labeled "militant" by the media or the public. Instead, such individuals are called "devout" and such churches are called "evangelical."

Read on



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Jessica "Evil Little Thing" Ahlquist on CNN - - - CNN

Ernest Perce V - YouTube -...

Attack of the Theocrats! The Athiests' Perspective on News and Events, Atheist TV - interview with Jessica Ahlquist & Sean Faircloth

View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

RDFRS US with Phoenix Atheist Meetup Group 4-Feb-2012 - Holly and The Crew - RichardDawkins.net

New Billboard In Springs Calling God An...

- - KRDO - Colorado Springs CO, USA 7 Comments

New Billboard In Springs Calling God An Imaginary Friend

View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Church 'does not own marriage' - - - BBC News

Added: Sat, 25 Feb 2012 10:28:21 UTC

The Church does not "own" marriage nor have the exclusive right to say who can marry, a government minister has said.

alt text
The Government says legalising gay marriage would be change for the better

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone said the government was entitled to introduce same-sex marriages, which she says would be a "change for the better".

Her comments come as ministers prepare to launch a public consultation on legalising gay marriage next month.

Traditionalists want the law on marriage to remain unchanged.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ms Featherstone said: "Some believe the government has no right to change it (marriage) at all; they want to leave tradition alone.

'Reflect society'
"I want to challenge that view - it is the government's fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better."

Ms Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat minister, responded to comments made by Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that "not even the Church" owns marriage.

She said: "(Marriage) is owned by neither the state nor the Church, as the former Archbishop Lord Carey rightly said.

"It is owned by the people."

Ms Featherstone also appealed to people not to "polarise" the debate about same-sex marriages.

"This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs," she said.

"This is about the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms."

Read on



View the original article here

This post was made using the Auto Blogging Software from WebMagnates.org This line will not appear when posts are made after activating the software to full version.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

End of Life Autonomy


In this post, I will discuss Policy 6 of Sean Faircloth’s new atheist strategy. This policy calls for autonomy in end-of-life decisions.

Specifically, this relates to questions of euthanasia - whether a person facing a life of extreme and prolonged suffering or a state in which the person effectively ceases to exist and only the body remains, should be permitted to choose death.

At this point, I want to warn against taking a list of ten policy objectives to be the equivalent of ten commandments - proposals that every true non-believer or believing secularist must accept as true or be branded a heretic. We must not follow the course if the political right and hold these up as a litmus test where acceptance, regardless of reasons, is a requirement for membership - and where debate and disagreement is deemed intolerable.

Nor should we adopt the attitude of the contrarian - that, if religious people are against it, we must be for it, and visa versa.

Rather, we need to constantly return to these policies with a critical eye in the light of new knowledge and fresh realizations and be willing to alter or to abandon them as the evidence suggests.

I bring this up here because I have two concerns about this policy.

I do not deny that as an abstract policy divorced from real-world considerations, it sounds wonderful. Nor do i deny that there are some real-world considerations that speak in its favor. The only value that exists is that which exists between states if affairs and desires, and there are clearly situations in which continued life will thwart more and stronger desires than death. These include situations where an agent is in excruciating pain or unable to act or think so as to realize these desires.

I abhor the thought that some day my money will go to somebody changing the diapers on this body that I now occupy, rather than having that money go to something I truly value - promoting understanding and appreciation of the real world. I would rather have my savings go to a museum than to a nursing home.

Finally, I want to stress that when it comes to forcing somebody to endure 6 months of agony they could otherwise avoid, the argument, "My god would be unhappy if you did not endure 6 months of agony" is not a good argument for forcing somebody to endure 6 months of agony.

However, I have two wholly secular objections against such a policy.

One of them is that insurance companies and family members will come to pressure people to end their lives for wholly selfish reasons.

Insurance companies will be able to significantly improve their bottom line by finding ways of encouraging patients to choose the less costly (to them) option of death over more costly forms of treatment. Using the power of their marketing departments, they will likely find ways to get their customers to choose what is, for the company, the least expensive form of care. Every company does this – from the hotel chain trying to get customers to purchase amenities to the restaurant trying to sell coffee and dessert the chocolate factory trying to find more ways to get more people to buy more chocolate at a higher price. This is an inherent and important part of doing business.

Where death is an option, the instant an insurance company realizes that – given the limited prospect for the patient paying future premiums and the cost of various treatment options - death is the least expensive option for the company, then this is the option they will market to the customer. The company that finds the most efficient way of identifying when death is the more profitable option and successfully gets patients to choose that option is the company that will have the best balance sheet and will draw the most investment. This, in turn, will force other companies to follow suit.

They will do this in the same way a restaurant tries to find ways to get customers to order the most profitable items on the menu.

A part of this marketing strategy will almost certainly involve getting the family involved in supporting the option. Their encouragement would likely be very helpful in successfully selling this option to the patient.

Now, I am not necessarily talking about people maliciously conspiring against the patient. As humans, we are subject to motivations we do not consciously acknowledge. It will just feel like the right thing to do, and people will find it easy to convince even themselves that it is in the best interest if the patient. Assert that they were motivated by money and convenience, and they will be genuinely upset - because they do not want to admit the truth even to themselves.

The second problem with end-of-life autonomy is that, in practice, it will require that we lower our aversion to killing. Where we lower the aversion to killing, other forms of killing may become psychologically easier for more people - and those consequences may be worth avoiding.

This is the same type of argument that I used against incest in my previous blog post. People act to fulfill the most and strongest of their desires, given their beliefs. One of those desires that most people have is an aversion to killing. There are almost certainly cases in which this aversion to killing is what tips the balance – preventing a person who otherwise has a reason or a desire to kill from doing so. If we lower the aversion to killing to allow for end-of-life autonomy, we may find that we have more killing than is good for us.

This "aversion to killing" argument might sound to some a lot like the "sanctity of life" argument we get from certain right-wing, mostly religious sources.

Well, it is a lot like that argument. Yet, where is it written that somebody on the political or religious right must be 100 percent wrong about all things at all times?

There are a couple of differences between my use of the "aversion to killing" argument and the claims we get from the political right. I apply this argument consistently to the issue of capital punishment. I argue against capital punishment that society may be better off with a general aversion to killing so strong that is averse even to killing its worse criminals. Furthermore, I argue that killing in this sense applies to beings with interests, that a fetus without brain development has no desires, and thus no interests to consider in this respect. Nor do I argue for a moral absolute allowing for no exceptions. We have reason to promote an aversion to killing - but we have reason to promote a lot of other desires and aversions as well that may, in certain circumstances, outweigh the aversion to killing.

There is nothing in this argument that requires a god or intrinsic values or categorical imperatives or any of the various mythologies that plague moral philosophy. This argument only looks at the desire-fulfilling qualities of using social forces such as moral praise and condemnation to promote an overall aversion to killing.

Psychological and sociological research may well find ways around these objections. Perhaps we can avoid some of these problems by requiring an independent review board to determine that end-of-life choices are truly the unmanipulated will of the patient. Perhaps we can effectively promote an aversion to killing except as an act of mercy. In this latter case, please note that the question is not whether philosophers can make an intellectual distinction in some abstract sense, but whether we can effectively engineer our social institutions to bring about this effect in the real world of everyday action.

With these considerations added on, I tend to argue for a system of state’s rights on the question of end-of-life autonomy. Let different states establish their own practices and let us see what the results are. Let some practice an absolute prohibition, while others attempt to show mercy to those patients who are suffering by providing end of life options, and let us look at the effects of these different practices in different states.

With this evidence, we can then make an informed decision as to whether to require end-of-life autonomy. At this point, I do not think we have sufficient evidence to demand end-of-life autonomy. There are too many valid reasons to worry. Instead, we should call for giving states the liberty to choose for themselves, while insisting that, "My god demands that you spend the next six months in anguish" is NOT a good reason to require that a person spend the next six months in anguish.

Speaking more generally, we should not commit ourselves to any particular set of conclusions independent of an examination of these types of concerns. Nor should we commit ourselves to finding something wrong with every argument and piece of evidence or consideration merely because the political right thinks that it has merit. Sometimes, they actually do have merit.

We should be willing to take an honest look at legitimate concerns (where "my god wants you to suffer" is not a legitimate concern) and be ready to change or drop any policy objective based on the available evidence. Otherwise, we risk becoming the secular equivalent of the deaf and blind religious or political dogmatist.

Legalizing Incestuous and Polygamous Marriage


In this post, I am continuing to look at the fifth policy objective in Sean Faircloth's new atheist strategy - marriage equality.

One of the arguments we hear against gay marriage goes like this:

If we accept these arguments in favor of gay marriage as valid, we must also permit incestuous and polygamous marriages that involve consenting adults. Obviously, legalized incestuous and polygamous marriage is unacceptable, so gay marriage must also be unacceptable. You must vote against gay marriage or find yourself surrounded by incestuous and polygamous marriage.

Now, I can interpret thus argument in one of two ways.

Interpretation 1: So, you are telling me that you believe legalized incestuous and polygamous marriage will significantly improve the quality of some lives and do no harm to anybody. Yet, we must prohibit it nonetheless and eagerly do violence to those who would practice it.

Why? This sounds like a policy of harming others simply because one has a gotten into the habit of or developed a fondness for that which harms others.

Interpretation 2: If we legalize gay marriage, we must legalize incestuous and polygamous marriage. However, these others come with all sorts if harms we must avoid. Therefore, we must not legalize gay marriage.

Against this, the question is: Why not use these harms as reasons to keep incestuous and polygamous marriages illegal? Nobody claims that the fact that homosexual marriage involves consenting adults is a sufficient reason to permit such marriage, only that it provides a relevant difference between gay marriage and marriage between adults and children or adults and animals.

On the issue of polygamous marriage, perhaps this should be legal. They have one significant advantage over the "traditional family."

With a traditional family - one breadwinner, one caregiver, and children (or elderly parents, or those for whom care is needed) - if anything happens to either the breadwinner or the caregiver the results are much likely to be catastrophic. If we increase the number of breadwinners and caregivers, we can reduce the chance of a catastrophic result. There is always a "backup" to fall back on.

On the other hand, managing so many personalities may well be impossible. It may require an unhealthy level of submission to a ruling patriarch that robs the other members if their personality and autonomy, or disintegrate into factions. I will have to leave it up to experts to answer those questions.

On the issue of incestuous marriage, I would argue that we do have good reason for a prohibition - a reason that does not apply to gay marriage.

Before I go into this objection, I want to discuss two objections to incestuous marriage between consenting adults that fail.

The first is the genetic argument. This argument claims that a prohibition against incest is justified because it reduces the chance of genetically deformed or defective children. Incestuous reproduction increases the possibility if realizing recessive genetic traits. These are most often harmful. This is because it is more likely that a sibling shares one's recessive trait than a member of the population at large.

The problem is that we no longer need to rely on a prohibition on incest to reach this objective. We now have much more effective ways to determine if couples risk producing offspring with genetic defects. If this is a valid argument, we should now give up the crude "incest" test and use more scientific genetic tests. We can require that couples undergo genetic screening, and prohibit sex between those who are judged genetically incompatible. Where these genetic tests determine that siblings share no recessive traits, then they can be allowed to marry. Whereas non-siblings that share recessive traits can be prohibited from marriage (or sex).

Furthermore, the genetic argument provides no objection to incestuous gay marriage or incestuous marriage among sterile family members.

The other failed argument against incestuous marriage says that evolution has given us a disposition to avoid incest that manifests itself culturally as an incest taboo - social and legal prohibitions on incest.

However, an evolved disposition to avoid something is not an evolved disposition to do violence to those who do not avoid it. And an evolved disposition to do violence to those who do not avoid something is not a justification for doing violence to them. The inference from, "I have evolved a disposition to do violence to people like you," to "You deserve to be treated violently" is wholly invalid - even if the first part happens to be true. In the case of an incest taboo, the first part itself has not been demonstrated, even if we have a natural aversion to incest.

So, these common objections to incest do not work.

However, there is an argument that does work.

Promoting a society-wide aversion to incest is almost certainly an effective tool for preventing the sexual abuse of children.

People act so as to fulfill the most and strongest of their desires, given their beliefs. We know that manifestations of human desires cause a certain amount of childhood sexual abuse - we have observed physical evidence that this is the case. Now, take our current set of human desires and remove from it the aversion to incest - holding all other desires constant.

A very likely result - in fact, I would say a certain result - of this would be an increase in incidents of child sexual abuse. Given our current manifestation of desires, the aversion to incest is preventing some incidents of child sexual abuse that would otherwise take place in its absence. A great deal of sexual abuse is perpetrated by family members, and a great deal of sexual abuse that does not occur may be attributed to an aversion to incest.

Our interest in preventing childhood sexual abuse gives us reason to promote an aversion to incest. In this respect, evolution may have given us the raw tools to work with, but evolution does not justify its use. Nor does eugenics. It is the prevention of childhood sexual abuse that justifies its use.

One of the social tools for promoting this aversion - as well as one of its effects - is a social intolerance of incestuous marriage. Permitting these marriages would require reducing the social aversion to incest - telling community members that it is okay and nothing to feel bad about. Whereas a prohibition communicates to society at large that it is something to feel bad about, which promotes this aversion, and reduces incidents of childhood sexual abuse.

This objection does not apply to gay marriage because the relationship between gay sex and the sexual abuse of children is exactly the same as the relationship between heterosexual sex and the sexual abuse of children. There is no relevant difference between the two - and, thus, no moral difference stemming from this objection to incestuous relationships.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gay Marriage and The Bigot's Proof


In my examination of Sean Faircloth's new political strategy for atheists, I have reached the fifth of his policy objectives, which he stated as "no bias in marriage law." It is a call for legalized gay marriage.

The argument is, "If your religion has objections to gay marriage, then don't enter into a marriage with somebody of the same gender. But your religious prejudices are your business and have no business becoming law. Some people have religious objections to eating pork, or having blood transfusions, or working on the Sabbath. That's fine - they can obey those restrictions to the point that they do not endanger others. But those religious prohibitions do not provide an argument for laws against eating of pork, getting a blood transfusion, or working on the Sabbath. Nor should we restrict homosexual marriage."

Looking at some of the arguments we have been seeing to justify imposing religious restrictions on everybody, we really should outlaw the whole pork industry. No doubt, those people who think that God prohibits pork are offended when they enter a restaurant and see "pork chops" or "bacon cheeseburger" on the menu. Having the butcher put pork ribs on display is nothing but a slap in the face of all those who adhere to a religion that condemns such activity. One might as well post a sign saying, "These pork-prohibiting religions are nonsense."

What is the difference, really, between selling hot dogs at a ball game or drawings of Mohammed on a web site? Both are prohibited by certain religions. Don't they both call for violence against the infidels that would offend the religion by these practices?

Or, perhaps we should form the judgment that neither of them justifies legal entanglements.

The same line of reasoning applies to gay marriage. A person’s prohibitions are their own business. We will not force somebody to violate their religious prohibition on marrying somebody of the same gender. The freedom of religion requires this – as does common human decency. However, such a person has no more of a right to call on a prohibition against others marrying somebody of the same gender than he has a right to call for a universal prohibition on the manufacture and sale of pork. Not without a good, solid, secular argument.

Unfortunately, one of the realities we must admit to and not sweep under any rugs is the fact that people with religious prejudices are great at coming up with fantastic secular arguments to defend their religious prejudices. Where they are not permitted to use religious arguments to condemn gay marriage, they invent secular arguments to take their place. They will tell us, for example, that all of civilization will start crumbling down if we allow a person to marry somebody of the same gender. Or we are told that there is no rational defense of gay marriage that does not also allow one to marry children or animals.

There is no evidence for the first claim other than the fact that people with certain religious prejudices like to imagine that it is true.

The "children or animals" argument assumes that there are no secular objections to be raised against these marriages. However, the counter-argument is really quite simple. Marriages represent a contract, and no person may be permitted to enter into a valid marriage that cannot enter into a valid contract. A child's lack of judgment disqualifies the child from entering into most contracts. In the United States, even young adults cannot enter into a valid contract to purchase alcohol. We can use the same secular arguments to prohibit children from entering into a marriage contract. They are just too young to make a wise decision on such matters.

With this in mind, our next question is, "Why do people embrace unfounded absurdities such as these?"

The problem that we are faced with is what I have called, "The Bigot's 'Proof'". It involves embracing a secular argument that is as fantastic and unreasonable as any religious claim merely because it appears to support a prejudice.

Bigotry strives to justify itself. It does so through a system of rationalizations. Bigots are masters at cherry-picking evidence, seeing only the things that conform to and confirm their bigotry, while dismissing any counter-evidence as "an anomaly". They are also masters at filtering what they see through the lens of their prejudice. A young black male trying to break into a car is a thief. A blonde female is stupid. A white male is having a bad day.

An era in history that always comes to my mind when I think about the bigot's proof is the way some Americans defended slavery in the early 1800s. They told us that the child-like mind of the Negros made them unfit for adult freedoms. Instead, they were to be cared for under the benevolent watch of a paternalistic "owner" who cared for the Negro like a child. Of course, even children were obligated to do some chores around the farm - those chores that were appropriate to the child's abilities.

Where did these nonsense ideas come from?

They came from the human disposition to embrace unreasoned fantasies that support a valued prejudice.

Jim Crow laws, "Separate but Equal," treating women as the property of their husbands or closest male relative, the Holocaust, all can find "justification" in secular arguments that are no less fantasy-driven than their religious justifications.

Furthermore, fantasy secular arguments and religious arguments go hand-in-hand. With many religious claims, we are already looking at a population inclined to believe fantastic claims without the least bit of evidence in a culture that shuns reason-based thinking and logic and holds "faith" (evidence-free belief) to be a paradigm virtue. This is a culture that is primed to accept not only religious claims, but fantastic and unfounded secular claims as well.

Furthermore, we must not underestimate the power of these prejudices. Look at the volumes of hard scientific evidence we have that supports evolution, that the Earth is more than 6000 years old, or that humans are contributing to global warming. Yet, these volumes of hard physical evidence - much stronger than anybody could provide in a court of law, for example - are swatted aside and dismissed by those who embrace a conclusion this evidence does not support.

People who can ignore so much hard evidence on matters such as these are going to prove completely immune to evidence on matters such as gay marriage. We are being foolish if we think that merely providing them with the reasoned evidence that they are wrong will have much of an effect.

Where does this leave us?

We need to recognize that "The Bigot's 'Proof'" is not just an intellectual failing.

It is a moral failing.

On issues where we are talking about denying freedom to others and doing harm to their interests, there is a moral obligation to begin with a presumption of innocence – a presumption of freedom. It is only when confronted with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that freedom must be curtailed that we may act against that liberty.

For example, we may give this presumption of liberty to the child molester. However, we clearly have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that such relationships pose unreasonable risks and, thus, any presumption is quickly overridden.

In the case of the homosexual adult seeking a committed relationship with another homosexual adult, no such evidence presents itself, we have no such evidence. More to the point, those who embrace unreasoned and unfounded arguments for doing harm demonstrate that they are neglecting their moral obligation to begin with a presumption of freedom. They are, instead, beginning with the presumption that harm is justified, and clutching at every straw within reach to try to keep the appearance that it is justified.

Before I close, I need to warn my readers that this is not only a problem for the religious. In fact, saying that this problem is limited to those who believe in God would be an example of the very type of Bigot's 'Proof' that I am warning against.

The disposition to embrace an argument because it supports a prejudice is a human failing. It is not a religious failing. It is a failing that both causes people to write their prejudices into their religion, and to accept fantasy secular arguments in defense of those same prejudices. Remember, religion did not come from God. It comes from the human mind - and reflects the moral failings of its authors. We cannot consistently say that no God exists, and then blame God, and not humans, for the moral failings we find in scripture – as if these moral failings would not exist if not for the instructions some god provided.

There is a very real possibility - I would call it a certainty - that many atheists will adopt a bigot's 'proof' on the harms and dangers of religion itself. They will embrace claims, not because those claims are founded on reason and evidence, but because they support a valued prejudice.

One must be watchful. One must take the time - even formally - to ask whether evidence and reason actually supports one's conclusions, or whether one simply sees it as doing so because one wants to. And the presumption should always be that we are being fooled by our own human nature. We should always give the benefit of the doubt to others.