Blog Archives for December 2014

Into the Woods: Chaos, Folklore, and Misogyny

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
December 26, 2014

The new Disney film Into the Woods is a misigynistic, spectacular misfire. 

1 Comment

Which Should Kirk Cameron Fear More?

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
December 24, 2014

In a post from yesterday, my esteemed colleague David Koepsell, one of my predecessors as executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, suggests that he is doing more than I am to give Kirk Cameron nightmares. David good-naturedly suggests that by keeping a more-or-less traditional Christmas with zero religious or supernatural content, he and his thoroughly secular family are doing more to undermine Christianity’s role in the culture than I am when I urge atheists, humanists, and freethinkers to spurn the Christians’ birthday festival altogether. I respectfully disagree. Equally respectfully, I hope, I would warn David that his chosen path carries a very real risk of being co-opted, and of inadvertently helping Christianity to achieve the best future it can hope for in a world that’s secularizing out from under it.

128 Comments

Christ Died for the Entire Cosmos

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 24, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

(Note: The Heresy is off Thursday and Friday, and will be back on Monday.)

Sony: Did we say we weren't releasing The Interview? We meant we are releasing it. We are. Really. Hehehe. Ahem.

For what it's worth, we at CFI, who offered our HQ to screen it, are glad to see Sony change its mind. Ron Lindsay told Buffalo Business First, "Whether it's shown at Center for Inquiry or other places, we'd be happy either way." Now we can all go back to focusing on how bad the movie probably is. 

Why I’m Kirk Cameron’s Worst Nightmare

Guest Blog from David R. Koepsell
December 23, 2014

Like 3/4 of non-religious Americans' I'll be celebrating Christmas this year with presents, food, family, and fun, and not a hint of spirituality or superstition.

1 Comment

Dear Madelyn

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
December 23, 2014

When the public, and especially schoolkids, contact me for help and information about skeptical topics, I try to respond. Here's why. 

The Subtle Bunkum of Faith

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
December 23, 2014

In today’s New York TimesDavid Brooks offers his obligatory annual column of holiday woo. In “The Subtle Sensations of Faith” he plumps for faith as a near-universal human experience. He depicts it as the response to genuine “glimmering experiences … of wonder and mystery,” “magical moments of wonder and clearest consciousness, which suggested a dimension of existence beyond the everyday.” Clearly, Brooks accepts without question that these are experiences of something genuine – that is to say, that there factually is “a dimension of existence beyond the everyday.” Sorry, Mr. Brooks, I don’t buy it.

2 Comments

You Might As Well Just Hibernate

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 23, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

I spoke to Buffalo Business First about our offer to Sony to screen The Interview, where I said, "We fight for free expression usually in the context of political or religious dissidents, but if we're going to fight it over there, we're going to fight for free expression over here too." That mostly made sense I think. 

North Korea's Internet goes down. I think it was running off a single 9-volt, so they just need to replace that thing. 

1 Comment

Undeniable Likable Sass

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 22, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Note: I'm tired of nativity scene stories, so if you want to read about them, use the google machine. 

On Friday, CFI wrote a letter to Sony Pictures volunteering our headquarters for a screening of The Interview, the release of which Sony canceled entirely due to shadowy threats:

Much of our work is centered on securing the right to hold and express unpopular opinions and beliefs in places where dissent is crushed through persecution, violence, imprisonment, and death. It is a sad turn of events that a powerful source of free expression such as Sony Pictures could choose to give in to a shadowy group’s intolerance of dissent. ... We believe strongly enough in the right to the free expression of even unpopular ideas that we are willing to shoulder the risk of doing so.

Haynes’ Arabian Balsam

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
December 19, 2014

In patent-medicine parlance, the term balsam, originally describing an aromatic resin, came to apply generally to “an aromatic oily or resinous medicinal preparation, for healing wounds or soothing pain,” according to The Oxford English Dictionary (1971).

Islam, Religious Dogmatism, and Terrorism

No Faith Value with Ronald A. Lindsay
December 19, 2014

Recent terror attacks in Pakistan, Nigeria, and elsewhere have renewed discussion of whether it’s appropriate to use terms such as “Islamist” or “Islamic terrorist” to describe the perpetrators of such attacks. Some say that these terms unfairly denigrate and stigmatize the majority of Muslims who reject terrorism.

War on Hanukkah, Anyone?

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 19, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Scientists tally up the medical advice given by Dr. Oz and it's as bad as you think. Reports Julia Belluz at Vox:

[W]hat they found was disappointing but not exactly surprising: about half of the health recommendations had either no evidence behind them or they actually contradicted what the best-available science tells us. That means about half of what these TV doctors say to their millions of satellite patients is woo, and potentially harmful and wasteful woo at that. 

In Skeptical Inquirer, we have the transcript of Josh Zepps' Point of Inquiry interview with the most excellent Ann Druyan of Cosmos.

You’ve Been Pope’d!

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 18, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

CFI boss Ron Lindsay joined the panel on HuffPost Live yesterday, hosted by Point of Inquiry's Josh Zepps, and including Faisal Saeed Al Mutar and Deina Abdelkader. The topic: the treacherous line between being critical of Islam without attacking Muslims as people.

Gather 'round, children, and abandon all your dreams of sugarplums or whatever else, and let's listen to ol' Tom Flynn tell us the origin story of the Anti-Claus. You see, there was this radioactive spider...wait... 

The Article that Started It All

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
December 17, 2014

In my Dec/Jan Free Inquiry op-ed "Thirty Years Yule-Free" I mentioned my 1992 Secular Humanist Bulletin article, "Confessions of an Anti-Claus," the inadvertent beginning of my personal war on Christmas. Apparently there are some readers out there who haven't saved their Bulletins from 1992, who want to see that article -- but it's not archived anywhere online. Okay, if you're terminally curious, here is a PDF scan of the article that started it all.

1 Comment

Magnificent Collection of Useless Crap

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 17, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Methane on Mars might mean life on Mars. No, really, it might. 

Folks are still talking about our statement to the media on the misuse of the word "skeptic" when discussing climate change deniers. Lawrence Krauss, a signatory, writes in Slate:

Skepticism is all about critical examination, evidence-based scientific inquiry, and the use of reason in examining controversial claims. Those who flatly deny the results of climate science do not partake in any of the above. 

We’re Not Going to Kill Today

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 16, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

People had a lot of good things to say about Ron Lindsay's talk at this past summer's leadership conference on "The Scope of Humanism," and now the video's up! My favorite bit is the part about how skepticism is included in that scope. 

We have an update on CFI's Freethought Books Project from Sarah Kaiser one year into our stewardship of the program, and don't forget to check out the FBP Amazon wishlist to donate more books to the program!

Too Many Jello Shots

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 15, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

The week begins inauspiciously with a hostage-taking at a café in Sydney, still ongoing, where the single assailant has had his hostages hold a black flag to the window reading "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God." The assailant is Man Haron Monis who Vox says has a violent record. As of this writing, five hostages are out, but it's not clear if they escaped or were let go.

The Ones That Are Doing the Nonsense

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 12, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Our big joint statement on the misuse of the word "skeptic" when it's applied to climate change deniers continues to generate coverage, including at GristInquisitr, the NCSE blog, and a stone-cold dissing from WSJ's link roundup guy James Taranto:

[W]hat these experts don’t seem to realize is that their definition of “denial” describes the behavior of global warmists to a T. 

"Global warmists"? Anyway, this is the same guy who, after the Aurora mass shooting, said, "I hope the girls whose boyfriends died to save them were worthy of the sacrifice." So. 

1 Comment

A Win for Secularism as Kentucky Rejects Tax Breaks for Fundamentalist Theme Park

Guest Blog from Nicholas Little
December 11, 2014

After investigations and a letter writing campaign by multiple secular organizations, including the Center For Inquiry, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has withdrawn its offer of around $18 million in state tax incentives to the Ark Encounter Theme Park.

And Now to Deliver the Opening Invocation, Darth Maul

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 11, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Yesterday we put out a press release about the joint statement by Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry asking the media to stop using the word "skeptic" to describe science deniers like Sen. James Inhofe. And I guess some folks saw it, because we got coverage in ThinkProgressNational JournalSalonUPIRaw StoryAlbany Times-Union, and more. So that's good!

Good for Google, for honoring she of the spectral classification system of stars, as they do a doodle for Annie Jump Cannon (who has perhaps the greatest name of any human ever). 

A Parallel Excretion of Hype

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 10, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Time's 2014 Person of the Year, or rather "People," are "the Ebola Fighters." Also, coming next Christmas, Disney pictures presents the first Guardians of the Galaxy/Avengers/Ebola Fighters installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Now, to me, personally, it seems that the more appropriate choice for newsworthiness would have been the Ferguson protesters. They certainly had an enormous impact on how we think of the right to free expression right here in the U.S. But hey, I'm all for people fighting Ebola. But really, I'm with David Graham: The whole POTY thing is fun, but not worth taking all that seriously.

What We Need is a Truly Anti-Darwinian Society

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 09, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Point of Inquiry this week features CFI's president and CEO, Ron Lindsay, talking about his new book The Necessity of Secularism. How did we manage to get him on the show?!?! By the way, Ron will be speaking at CFI-DC on Sunday.

The Curiosity rover helps scientists determine that Mars may have once been habitable for known forms of life for millions of years, far longer than once thought. Meanwhile, scientists in Prague (which is on Earth) simulate a meteor strike (with a laser!!!) and find that such an impact could have been part of life's origin.

Social Justice and Humanism: Embracing Pluralism in Value Theory

Guest Blog from David R. Koepsell
December 08, 2014

A Humanist/skeptical approach to ethics does not necessailry lead to moral nihilism or relativism, and a pluralistic approach can help to navigate the shortcomings of moral theory. We live in a society, and the institutions we are involved in generally assume that there is a good, that we strive toward it, and that we are responsible to each other. A pluralistic approach to ethics and social justice suggests that we can productively work toward the good even while we lack certainty about its objects.

2 Comments

“Rosewater”—and Personal Anecdotes of Iran

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
December 08, 2014

Based on the true story of an Iranian-born journalist named Bahari, Rosewater marks Jon Stewart's directorial debut. It is the comedian's stark drama of Bahari’s arrest for his courageous broadcast journalism. In 2009, Iranian president Ahmadinejad declared victory in his election hours before the polls had closed. In response Bahari bravely submitted camera footage to the BBC showing the unfolding street riots. After his arrest by Revolutionary Guard police, an interrogator identified as “Rosewater” tortured and interrogated him for 118 days. Rather than my adding to the many critiques of this film (I do give it a 3 on a 4-point scale), I thought I would instead share impressions of my own experiences in Iran in a contrastingly different time—some incidents showing the more favorable behaviors of many ordinary Iranians.

1 Comment

Legacy Atheist Bans in State Constitutions a Long Recognized Problem

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
December 08, 2014

Todd Stiefel and the Openly Secular project have announced a bold plan to lobby legislators to repeal unconstitutional "legacy" language in seven states' constitutions that bars atheists from holding public office. It bespeaks the growing prominence of unbelievers and "nones" in public discourse that someone now imagines that these unenforceable, but repellent, constitutional provisions might finally be swept away. The unbelieving community has long recognized that these hateful provisions exist, and that they are problematic. What is new, and welcome, is the possibility that our community finally has the muscle to demand that something be done about them.

Agnostics and Atheists in the Asylum

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 08, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith at Salon examine the idea of secularism as a political identity, cites heavily both current and former CFI folks, highlights the African Americans for Humanism 2012 campaign, and calls our org "influential," which warmed my frozen heart on this cold Monday in Maine. 

Don't forget to check out the latest Cause & Effect, our newsletter, to catch up on why CFI is so awesome to begin with. 

3 Comments

Humanists Should be Christians, Argues New THEOS Report

The Outer Limits with Stephen Law
December 08, 2014

Atheists 'saw off the branch on which Humanism sits', argue the authors of a report by Theos, Britain's leading religious think tank. The Case for Christian Humanism argues we atheist humanists should be Christians (2,800 words).

POSTSCRIPT: THEOS respond directly to my post below here.

 

49 Comments

Seeing “The Theory of Everything”

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
December 05, 2014

This is not one of my Nickell-odeon reviews: Having seen this first-rate movie, I was first speechless, then moved to write the following poem.

1 Comment

What’s wrong with Young Earth Creationism? (part 3 of 3) The strange case of the car-stealing elves.

The Outer Limits with Stephen Law
December 05, 2014

A final post on Young Earth Creationism. So when is your theory strongly confirmed? And when are you justified in believing elves stole your car?

8 Comments

Dickens, You Hack!

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 05, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.     

If you are responsible for offspring, we have good news: This summer's Reason for Change conference will include free child care services

Two ugly stories out of Saudi Arabia: Human rights activist Samar Badawi, sister of Raif and wife of his lawyer, the also-imprisoned Waleed Abu Al-Khair, has been banned from travel before getting a chance to get to an EU human rights forum. (Our own Michael De Dora met Samar in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council.) Also, two activists championing the rights of women to be allowed to drive (that's it, just be allowed to driveare separately arrested.

2 Comments

Little Lies and Big Truths

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
December 04, 2014

A widely-circulated map about Ebola in Africa was less than accurate, and that's a problem.

On Fads and Funding in Science

Guest Blog from David R. Koepsell
December 04, 2014

Science is driven too much by fads, and basic science and investigation require more detachment than currently experienced. A modest proposal to restructure the nature of funding and basic investigation requires decoupling notions of "return" from funding decisions and distinguishing between the role of basic science and "development" or innovation.

Sullying This Religion

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 04, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.     

As I type, it's looking like NASA's Orion launch to Mars may be postponed.

New CFI-related videos just posted: We have former pastor Ryan "Atheist for a Year" Bell at CFI-Los Angeles, and Richard Dawkins in conversation with CFI-UK's Stephen Law.   

The University of Texas lost its brains. But they say they know what happened now.

Sensitive to Robots

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 03, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.     

Yesterday was #GivingTuesday, where nonprofits were showing their puppydog eyes to potential supporters. Yes, it's now Wednesday, but don't let that stop you

The Secular Coalition gets an Interim Executive Director in Kelly Damerow, as Herb Silverman returns as its board president. I hope he can make time for the SCA while he's moonlighting with the KKK

1 Comment

Van Gogh Still Being Murdered

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
December 02, 2014

 

1 Comment

I Really Don’t Want to Be a Jerk

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 02, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.     

Yesterday we announced that the wife of imprisoned Saudi dissident Raif Badawi, Ensaf Haidar, had provided to CFI a rare look at a Saudi judicial document detailing the (non)offenses of Badawi and the medieval charged brought against him. 

Hemant Mehta reacts to the document:

To those who say faith is a virtue, go ahead and defend this. I don’t know how you can. All Badawi did was express his thoughts, which didn’t fall in line with a certain interpretation of Islam and was critical of the government. And based on the reaction he got, Badawi was right. It’s just appalling what’s happening to him.

4 Comments

Atheists Are to Marvel At

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
December 01, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.     

Happy Cyber Monday, when I assume one is much less likely to be killed than on Black Friday. 

Our boss Ron Lindsay's new book, The Necessity of Secularism, is officially released today! Go get it. Meanwhile, Ron's got a new essay up at Huffington Post on the problem with prophets:

If you are a faithful Jew, Christian, Muslim, or Mormon, then you must accept that God does not convey any really important information except through the medium of a few prophets. In other words, there is a rigidly hierarchical, cognitive class system inherent in revealed religion. There are a few people who have been in direct contact with God and are in the know about his plans and instructions. These are the people who tell us what to believe and do. Then there are the billions of the rest of us, who just have to follow along. 

1 Comment