Blog Archives for January 2014

Alexander Aan released from prison

Democratic Discourse with Michael De Dora
January 31, 2014

Yes, the news reports are accurate: Alexander Aan, a former Indonesian civil servant jailed for expressing his lack of belief in a God on Facebook, was released from prison January 27 after serving 18 months of a 30-month sentence. 


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Infinitely Many Infinities

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 31, 2014

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

CFI boss Ron Lindsay announces he's got a new book coming out this year from Pitchstone Press on the need to untangle religion from policy. It was either that idea, or this one

I know, I know... people probably wanted an anthology of my wildly popular blog posts. Maybe next time. 

Ahem. 

CFI's Debbie Goddard weighs in at Religion News Service on the wisdom of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate:

If we don’t let [creationists'] ideas see the light of day we can’t develop the tools to address them. And we don’t just need the tools of facts and evidence, but also of understanding their views and compassion for them if we want to be effective at changing their minds. 

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The Gordon Stein Collection

Access Points with Timothy Binga
January 30, 2014

My seventeen-year anniversary working as the director of the various libraries and archives at the Center for Inquiry (CFI) is fast approaching. When I started here on February 2, 1997, we had around twelve thousand books between the various collections. Currently, we have about seventy thousand books, about 40 percent of which is not yet cataloged; plus, we have acquired numerous collections of mixed materials and periodicals from a variety of sources. One of the most interesting collections we ever acquired is the Gordon Stein Collection.

Saving Throw vs. Clerical Robe

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 30, 2014

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

RNS's Brian Pellot interviews our own Michael De Dora about our international work defending free expression, and it's stellar. Michael says:

The fact that these [oppressive] governments know we exist and care about someone jailed in their countries and that people are up in arms over in the U.S. is a success, and it’s spreading. ... In the long run, this kind of activism will lead people in positions of power to listen and to address our concerns. Freedom of expression is a right everyone should enjoy, not just atheists and Christians.

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Dr. Bateman’s Pectoral Drops

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
January 29, 2014

During some research, I was intrigued by an entry in an old general store ledger from West Liberty, Kentucky, in 1830 for “1 Vial Batmans [sic] drops.” Although I suspected this was just a patent medicine of the day, I was surprised to learn of its staying power as a product marketed (and imitated) for some two centuries.

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A Toddler’s Conception of Time and Space

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 29, 2014

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

Members of the Reality-Based Community™ were heartened to hear President Obama declare that "climate change is a fact" so strongly at the State of the Union last night. Eugene Robinson wants us to start girding our loins for the inevitable:

President Obama, who understands the science, should use his executive powers as best he can, not just to reduce carbon emissions but also to prepare the country for confronting the environmental, political and military hazards of a warmer world. 

CFI's Triumvirate of Legal Awesomeness™ (Nick Little, Ron Lindsay, and Eddie Tabash) files an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on the big Hobby Lobby/contraceptive mandate case, telling the court that allowing a special religious exemptions for employers like Hobby Lobby violate the Constitution and place onerous burdens on workers. My favorite part of our press release:

“The burden on Hobby Lobby and these other companies is nonexistent,” said CFI’s legal director, attorney Nicholas Little. “Health care benefits are part of an employee’s compensation, so employers who object to employees’ use of health care benefits to obtain contraception are no more burdened than a Mormon employer whose workers use their salary to buy coffee.” 

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Unimpressive, Blurry, and Worthless

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 28, 2014

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

This is a must-read: Skeptical Inquirer editor Kendrick Frazier on why we skeptics do what we do:

[W]hat we science-minded skeptics are defending here goes way beyond any of the specific bizarre ideas, trumped-up mysteries, or misperceptions or misrepresentations of the real world we may critique. What we are defending ... are hard-won concepts essential to a free and open society—if that society is to have well-informed citizens capable of making wise decisions in a complex technological world.  

The Justice Department is apparently going to appeal a recent ruling against clergy's exemption from income taxes on their parsonages. Because hey, if they don't stand up for tax-free pastors' mansions, who will?

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A Veritable Museum of Mistakes

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 27, 2014

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

A must-read: Friend-of-the-blog Ali A. Rizvi corresponds with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar on their shared and differing experiences as atheist former-Muslims. One big theme: their belief that Western liberals are "selling out" liberals in the Muslim world. Writes Rizvi:

Western countries like the US barely use a fraction of the force they have the capacity to because whatever their flaws, they are still bound by a code of ethics -- and as democracies, accountability to their people. If the Taliban or Al Qaeda had even a tenth of the weaponry that the US does, you'd already have entire countries razed to the ground. I think many writers confuse neutrality with objectivity.

Tom Flynn is the guest on the Religious Studies Project podcast, unpacking what exactly it means to be a secular humanist. 

Information Superhighway to Heaven

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

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

Today is a very important day in my religion, it's the 30th birthday of the Macintosh. Relatedly, Pope Fluffy told us that the Internet is a "gift from God," but everyone knows the truth is that God only "took the initiative" in creating the Internet.

Though Virginia's AG is fighting a gay marriage ban, its legislature just passed a student prayer bill. One step forward, one step back. 

Glenn Beck and the Steampunk Bunker

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

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

Kimberly Winston at RNS covers CFI's Freethought Books Project. Here's my favorite bit:

“Christianity has a mandate to convert people, but freethought does not have any such mandate,” said Sarah Kaiser, one of the project’s two new coordinators. “We just want everyone to have the freedom to express doubts and ask questions, and that is what these books represent.”

CFI-Indiana's Reba Wooden catches some trickery in the statehouse over the bill banning same-sex marriage:

The dirty tricks that [Speaker] Bosma and his supporters will use are very disturbing. First, at the beginning of the session they sought to confuse the issue by renaming the amendment from HJR-6 to HJR-3. Then, realizing that the opposition testimony and efforts had swayed enough of the Judiciary committee to oppose it, he made a switch to a committee where he was sure to have to support for its passage. 

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Dirty Tricks in Indiana

Freethought from the Heartland with Reba Boyd Wooden
January 23, 2014

HJR-3 passed out of the Indiana House Election and Apportionment committee last night by a vote of 9-3. 

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The Shiniest Cog in Nature’s Wheel

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

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

I can't believe it's not GMO: Wired covers the work of mega-ultra-super-ag corporation Monsanto, which is using regular old cross-breeding for its new, improved crops, not genetic modification.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia believes in witchcraft. So do 69% of Indonesian Muslims, apparently.

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Conspiracy-Minded Response to a Skeptical Crop Circle Explanation

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
January 21, 2014

Earlier this month I wrote a piece about a mysterious 310-foot-diameter crop circle that appeared in a farmer's barley field in California. In response I got an interesting, conspiracy-laden two-page reply from a crop circle believer....

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I Really Don’t Give a Toss

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 21, 2014

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

It's the first day back after a long weekend, so it's a long Heresy, folks. Get comfy. 

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion calls for the repeal of blasphemy laws:

At the national level, blasphemy laws are counter-productive, since they may result in de facto censure of all inter-religious or belief and intra-religious or belief dialogue, debate and criticism, most of which could be constructive, healthy and needed. In addition, many blasphemy laws afford different levels of protection to different religions and have often proved to be applied in a discriminatory manner. 

We're already getting excited about Women in Secularism III, with some fantastic return speakers, and a bunch of excellent first-timers as well. Among the newcomers to WiS is Barbara Ehrenreich, who has a new piece in The Atlantic about how expensive it is to be poor

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Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Universe

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
January 17, 2014

Lynn Sherr has done an excellent job of profiling (in the good sense of that word!) Neil deGrasse Tyson in Parade magazine (January 12, 2014). At the bottom of the handsome cover photo—depicting the astrophysicist who is known through the known world—are the words, “Master of the Universe.” The label, at once lighthearted and profound, perfectly fits Tyson.

Gott Mit Uns

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

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

Are people still trying to find the geographical Eden? As philosopher Belinda Carlisle once said, "Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth? Ooh, heaven is a place on earth." 

Public schools in Florida (of course) allow the distribution of Bibles by Christian groups on Religious Freedom Day. Meanwhile, a Florida city council chamber has got a Bible on display, which FFRF has a problem with.

As with any conflict, during the Great War, everyone had the same contention for their side of the fight: “Gott mit uns.” 

2 Comments

These Are All Lies

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

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

President Obama name-checks "atheists and agnostics" and those of "no faith" in yesterday's declaration for Religious Freedom Day. 

Wow, some folks are really not comfortable with the idea of people in prison being exposed to atheism. After the Christian Post's coverage a couple of days ago of the Freethought Books Project, we saw increasingly angsty articles from Glenn Beck's The Blaze and then The Washington Timeswhose headline declares that CFI "aims to turn inmates against God." JT Eberhard facepalms

Of course, when Christians distribute their books to inmates it’s an act of compassion, a heroic display of god’s good will. When atheists do it?  Well, then we’re “targeting inmates.” 

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More on St. Jacob’s

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
January 15, 2014

I recently acquired another bottle (see previous blog) advertising St. Jacob’s Oil. However, I was immediately suspicious of it, not the least reason being the price—too cheap for such an item. It was also unlike previous bottles of that famous old liniment—in shape and size as well as means of manufacture: it had not been blown in a mold but was produced by an automatic bottle machine. Could it simply be a more modern example of the product?

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“NSA” Stands for “Nazi Space Aliens”

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

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

U.S. Senior District Judge Terence Kern strikes down Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage, calling it "arbitrary" and "irrational," though his ruling is "on hold" for now, so don't plan your wedding there just yet. 

Daniel Burke at CNN gathers thoughts from various secular movement thinkers and leaders about the Ryan Bell atheist-for-a-year experiment, and accidentally includes me. I posit hopefully:

[Bell] might help us to understand what powers we sacrifice when we spend less of ourselves on entreaties to an unknowable being, and direct those energies toward dealing with the real world, as it is, right now. 

The Christian Post takes an interest in our Freethought Books Project for prisoners, and of course has to compare us to Nixon administration convict Chuck Colson and his prison ministry. [Update: And Glenn Beck's The Blaze is also concerned about what we're up to, "targeting inmates."]

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On Pins and Needles

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 14, 2014

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

A citizen of Afghanistan is granted asylum in the UK because his atheism would mean his persecution or death back home, making this perhaps the first time this kind of religiously-based asylum has been granted for an atheist. Said Sheona York of the University of Kent Law School, "The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position." 

CFI's Sarah Kaiser gives a really encouraging update to the Freethought Books Project, where secular and skeptic books are donated to prisoners. Hemant encourages your participation.

The latest Free Inquiry issue is on newsstands now, and it features a collection of stories from readers as they made their journeys from faith to atheism. It's really great stuff, guys

An Update From the Freethought Books Project

Guest Blog from Sarah Kaiser
January 13, 2014

Since we announced in December that CFI is relaunching the Freethought Books Project, the support we've received has been huge! I wanted to take a minute, between reading letters and sending packages, to share some of the work we've done so far. 

Sources Close to Hell

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 13, 2014

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

The NPR media criticism show On the Media (my favorite!) does an episode chock full of skeptical goodness. It's got fake science being reported as fact, journalists being duped by political ringers, creationism's stealth campaign, and even telemarketing cyborgs.

If I were a kid again, and not averse to nature, sunlight, and other people, I'd be begging my parents to send me to Camp InquirySave the date: August 3-9!

CFI gets a very cool new addition to its Board of Directors: global development expert Hector F. Sierra. From our announcement...

A Transgression Against the Nation Itself

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

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

New Jersey's state senate votes in favor of secular wedding celebrants, 32-5. The bill now goes back to the assembly, which voted in favor of an earlier version two years ago. 

Meanwhile in the Garden State, Mark Silk says Chris Christie's "bridgegate" is an offense against New Jersey's "civil religion":

[T]he George Washington Bridge is not just an important commutation artery for the residents of Fort Lee. It symbolizes the establishment of the nation, its noble span representing the spiritual journey from bitter defeat to joyous victory. Denying access to it for partisan political purposes is no less than a transgression against the nation itself. 

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Literally, or Perhaps Figuratively

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

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

A solar flare is coming right at us! CFI's Barry Karr worries, "In my mind this is how the Zombie Apocalypse starts." One thing that actually might happen: The Northern Lights may become visible over a wider area as a result. (And here's a nice song about solar flares.)

Utah's governor says the same-sex marriages that have been thus far performed in his state no longer count

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates discovers he is an atheist after realizing there is no moral arc of the universe that bends toward justice, or anything else for that matter. 

St. Jacob’s Oil

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
January 08, 2014

St. Jacob’s Oil, a liniment, was one of the common proprietary remedies for rheumatism and other aches and pains in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Its advertisements were not only painted on barns but on fences and even rocks, proclaiming, “St. Jacob’s Oil Conquers Pain.” Sometimes the remedy was touted in verse (Fike 2006, 195):

The Inexorable Infinity of Death

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

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

Zora Neale Hurston, featured in our African Americans for Humanism campaign, got a Google Doodle yesterday

Sarah Pulliam Bailey looks at NYC's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, "perhaps the nation’s most visible 'none'." 

Extremely murky "strengths and weaknesses of science" education bill introduced in Virginia.

Kick back and read a paper from the Annals of Internal Medicine. Or just dig the line-in-the-sand title: "Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements"

Corliss Lamont Sings

Access Points with Timothy Binga
January 07, 2014

While going through some of our audio/visual holdings, I discovered this piece of history that is held in only a few places: a vinyl LP titled Corliss Lamont Sings for His Family and Friends.

Sit on the Lap of Satan

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 07, 2014

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

Since we all know abstinence-only sex ed doesn't work, let's stop funding it. Join this CFI action alert to support new legislation. 

Chris Emdin and Josh Zepps talk about shaking up education and making science accessible for students on the latest Point of Inquiry.

Hundreds of Bibles are seized in Malaysia for using the word "Allah" to refer to God. Or Yaweh. Or LORD. Or whatever. 

Words Almost Fail

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
January 06, 2014

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

Tom Flynn thinks the Nye/Ham debate is a dubious prospect, but, "Nye will be going into a battle of wits against an unarmed opponent, and the proceedings are bound to be astounding to watch." 

Ben Radford weighs in on the same: "CNN would be widely ridiculed if they invited a member of the Flat Earth Society to debate astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about whether our planet is round."  

The Onion hits atheists pretty hard. Fair or not, it's funny! 

Jenny McCarthy says her son never had autism, except she'd said it four years ago, except no, she never said it. Are we done now?

4 Comments

“Philomena”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
January 06, 2014

Judi Dench is wonderful in the title role of Philomena Lee, a real woman who spent half a century searching for the out-of-wedlock son she had been forced to give up.

Nye/Ham Debate Probably a Bad Idea, but I’d Love to Be There for It

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
January 03, 2014

Planetary Society director and forever "Science Guy" Bill Nye has apparently agreed to debate young-earth creationist Ken Ham on February 4th at Ham's sprawling Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. At least Ham says so on his website, and I haven't seen a denial from the Nye camp yet. Opinions are mixed on this, and mine are too -- there's a very real risk that Nye will shine a fresh spotlight on a fading evangelist whose museum has lately been grasping at straws to keep its attendance numbers up. But it's sure to make for great theater.

4 Comments

Suffering from an Inherent Paradox

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

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

Science Friday aired a 1996 interview with Carl Sagan over the holiday, and it's just great. 

As he gets set to leave his position as head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the group primarily responsible for pushing anti-blasphemy resolutions at the UN, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu says OIC states should maybe consider being a little easier on non-Muslims. Hey thanks. 

Mother Jones profiles Bill Nye (where we learn that President Obama "lights up when he sees Bill"), and meanwhile, Bill agrees to debate Answers in Genesis's Ken Ham on creationism and evolution on February 4, which I think a lot of folks have mixed feelings about. 

2 Comments

Lessons From The Central Park Five: The Tragedy of False Accusations

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
January 02, 2014

In the newest installment of my occasional series Skeptical Cinema, I examine the recent documentary about false accusations and a miscarriage of justice in an infamous Central Park assault.

2 Comments

The Parents Are Becoming Very Upset

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

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

Welcome to yet another jaunt around the Sun, folks.

The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert looks at the life and work of Georges Cuvier, who pioneered the study of species extinction, though rejected early concepts of evolution. It's for subscribers only, but my wife read it in print, which apparently is notextinct. 

Benjamin Bratton at The Guardian worries over TED talks becoming “middlebrow megachurch infotainment.” 

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