Blog Archives for March 2014

Hoaxes

Access Points with Timothy Binga
March 31, 2014

Another April 1 is upon us, and, as always, someone will try to prank, fool, or hoax us. The media usually tries to hoax us in some way at this time of year, and one of our specialties here at CFI is to examine these types of things. From the War of the Worlds radio broadcast to the Cardiff Giant to the Piltdown Hoax, we have accounts of many hoaxes in our libraries.

The Embarrassment of Noah

No Faith Value with Ronald A. Lindsay
March 31, 2014

One of the persistent criticisms of the so-called New Atheists—Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, et al.—is that many of their arguments, although directed against religious belief in general, are really relevant only for fundamentalists. Sure, if you interpret the Bible literally, God comes across as a homicidal, genocidal, misogynistic monster, but this crude understanding of scripture is held only by ignorant believers, who, at most, constitute a substantial minority of the faithful.  Therefore, the New Atheists present a distorted view of religion and show little understanding of the mindset of “moderate” religionists.  The moderate religionists do not believe the Bible provides us with a literally true history of ancient times, nor do they regard the Bible, in particular the Old Testament, as providing an accurate conception of God and God’s relationship to humanity. 

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The Vatican Caught Out

Guest Blog from Bill Cooke
March 31, 2014

For many years the Vatican has presumed for itself the status of a nation-state. It’s not, of course, but that doesn’t stop it making the claim. As the British lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has made clear, the Vatican is not, and cannot be a state. It lacks all the necessities of a sovereign state.  With this in mind, the Vatican’s attempt in 2002 to gain full member status of the United Nations was turned down. As a sop to ruffled feathers, the UN spoke of it enjoying “permanent observer status.”

Charles Darwin, Skeptic

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
March 31, 2014

Charles Darwin was much more than just a scientist and author; he was also a devoted family man and an explorer. Steeped in the ways of science, he was also a skeptic who demanded good evidence for extraordinary claims.

Edwin Kagin: 1940-2014

Guest Blog from Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
March 31, 2014

Edwin Kagin, American Atheists' national legal director and a founder of Camp Quest, has died at the age of 73. Tom Flynn, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of Free Inquiry, shares these thoughts on behalf of the Center for Inquiry:

- - - 

To call Edwin Kagin bombastic or colorful is to concede the inadequacy of language...

Almost Literally Hungry for Brains

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

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

Barbara Ehrenreich (who will be at Women in Secularism III) wants you to know she's still totally an atheist, despite her new memoir that includes childhood experiences "way out of the reach of science."   

James Hansen, the man who really put the crisis of global warming on the national radar, says civilization itself is screwed if Canada taps into its tar sands for oil.

Massimo Polidoro at Skeptical Inquirer tells how hucksters easily manipulate vulnerable people with belief in the power of the "evil eye." 

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Smiling Joe Has His Own Celestial Body

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

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

Hey, folks, I was rather ill yesterday with something called "influenza," and I'm frankly not feeling much better today, but I couldn't let skepto-atheism writhe in painful, linkless ignorance for another day, so here's a two-day catchup of the Heresy. You are so welcome. 

George Ongere of CFI-Kenya writes at the CFI blog about his own embrace of social justice through humanism, and the fantastic work being done on the ground.

In Pakistan, Sawan Masih is sentenced to death for blasphemy, for allegedly insulting Mohammed. It's all so awful. From the Reuters report by Mubasher Bukhari:

The law does not require evidence to be presented in court and there are no penalties for false allegations. Courts often hesitate to hear evidence, fearful that reproducing it will also be considered blasphemous. Activists who want to reform the law say it is often abused by those seeking to grab money or property from the accused. 

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A Brief Look at Phrenology

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
March 26, 2014

Phrenology is a form of character reading (like graphology and physiognomy) as supposedly revealed by the individual contours of the subject’s head. The term was introduced in 1815 to refer to a “physiognomical system” of two German doctors, Franz Joseph Gall and John Spurzheim, who gave phrenological readings and lectured on the subject in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Phrenology flourished during the latter century due to the publishing and merchandizing efforts of the Fowler brothers, Orson S. and Lorenzo N., together with their brother-in-law, Samuel R. Wells. The company, Fowler & Wells, was headquartered in New York City with a branch in Philadelphia.

Using Humanism to Help the Less Fortunate in Africa

Guest Blog from Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
March 26, 2014

This is a special guest post by George Ongere of CFI-Kenya

When I first embraced a humanistic life stance, I believed that it was only a personal matter and that it would not compel me to trouble myself to engage in activities of social justice. Most people who have embraced a secular life stance, and mostly atheists, believe that having abandoned religion, and then trying to involve themselves with activities like helping the poor, assisting orphans and helping homeless widows, is like trying to mimic religion. Hence when one abandons the belief in God, gods, Satan, etc., it does not compel them to be involved in matters of social justice. However, secular humanism allows one to adhere to certain kinds of principles, and as such, going to the extent of working for social justice is not a problem with those who embrace secular humanism.

We Make Gods of Ourselves

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 26, 2014

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

The Hobby Lobby case has now been argued before the justices of the Supreme Court (see our primer on the case here), and our boss Ron Lindsay saw it all go down. His take? A little grim:

[Hobby Lobby] wants the protections granted to religious beliefs while also carrying out for-profit commercial activity with the legal advantages granted to corporations. Sadly, a majority of the Court appears prepared to accept Hobby Lobby’s claim, and with it a radical restructuring of the relationship between religion and government. 

Adam Liptak at the Times agrees that the justices seemed to favor Hobby Lobby's argument.

God, Incorporated: Observations on the Hobby Lobby Argument

No Faith Value with Ronald A. Lindsay
March 25, 2014

Today, I attended the Supreme Court argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores. The case is a complex one, with several distinct issues that need to be resolved. In this post, I will briefly address one of those issues, namely whether a for-profit corporation can claim a religious identity and an entitlement to an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

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Noah, Drunk and Naked

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 25, 2014

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

Happy Hobby Lobby Day! Or not. The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.and we have a handy primer for you to help you cut through the confusion (and to see why we think Hobby Lobby is dead wrong).

The spotlight in now on the Justices. Robert Barnes at WaPo looks at the religious makeup of the Court, while Sahil Kapur at TPM notes that Scalia has taken a pretty firm stance in the past that would seem to contradict Hobby Lobby's case:

In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment "does not require" the government to grant "religious exemptions" from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.

I’m a Fennel Passionflower Slippery Elm!

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

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

On Friday, we put out the second issue ever of Cause & Effect, our official newsletter, and lemme tell you, it looks way better. Among the top news items in C&E was the release of CFI's new Hobby Lobby resource page, designed to clear up the confusion and double-speak surrounding the big Supreme Court case, which is hearing oral arguments tomorrow. Check it out

Reynolds Holding at Reuters notes that in trying to appease the God of Christianity, Hobby Lobby may be offending the god of the almighty buck

12 ounces of liquid cocaine are intercepted inside 14 condoms...headed for the Vatican

Erdoğan the Eradicator

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

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

We were pretty aghast at the House's overwhelming passage of HR 1814, the get-out-of-the-healthcare-law-free bill for the religious. Well now it looks like the Senate might actually take it up (which we used to think was never going to happen), so we need you to tell your senators to send it back to the pits of despair from whence it came.

Turkey bans Twitter, and the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, weirdly vows to "eradicate" it. Good luck with that, pal. #yolo

Fred Phelps is really most sincerely dead.

His estranged son Nate Phelps of CFI-Calgary posts a statement:

I ask this of everyone — let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities. 

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Moss the Immortal

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 20, 2014

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

I just found this video thanks to Brook Wilensky-Lanford at Religion Dispatches, in what she calls a "Carl Sagan meets Ed McMahon moment," where Assistant Professor Chao-Lin Ku reveals to Dr. Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde that the new findings about the Big Bang support Dr. Linde's predictions. It's a beautiful moment. He can't even believe it:

Let us hope it is not a trick! I always leave with this feeling...What if I am tricked? What if I believe in this just because it is beautiful? 

It happened months ago at a CFI-Michigan event, but thanks to Cosmos, HuffPo and others are rediscovering the amazing exchange between Neil deGrasse Tyson and a 9-year-old boy about death-by-asteroid. Relive the magic.

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Death Clusters from Space!

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

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

We have a lot of work to do: Half of Americans believe in at least one of five proffered medical conspiracy theories. Most depressing, 37% "fully agreed that U.S. regulators are suppressing access to natural cures" and "less than a third were willing to say they actively disagreed with the theory." 20% think vaccines cause autism.

Meanwhile, 42% of Americans think climate change is "generally exaggerated," according to Gallup.  

Steven Seagal vs. Stephen Fry vs. Steve Jobs

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

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

Even if you don't totally understand it (and I don't), this is huge: Scientists detect gravitational waves ("ripples in the fabric of space-time") from the literal beginning of time, pretty much nailing down the Big Bang. Nature wants to help us understand this big deal.

As promised, I opined at Friendly Atheist on how to respond to Fred Phelps' imminent demise: Do nothing. (Except be nice to each other, but have Phelps have nothing to do with it.)

HuffPost Live had me on later in the day to talk about this, with two guys who are way more important than me: HuffPo's own Paul Raushenbush and Frank Schaeffer. Point of Inquiry's Josh Zepps hosted. 

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Warner’s Safe Cures

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
March 18, 2014

Familiar to collectors of antique bottles, especially those for patent medicines, is the distinctive flask-shaped, amber-colored bottle for Warner’s Safe Kidney & Liver Cure (about 9 3/4’’ tall; see photo). Interestingly, given the word safe in its name, such bottles are embossed with the design of a strongbox, but we are getting ahead of an interesting story about a multiple-quack-medicine empire. Here it is—focusing in turn on each word of the company’s name, Warner’s Safe Cure Company.

Ingersoll Museum Renovation: Progress Report

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
March 18, 2014

It's been a vicious winter; nonetheless progress continues toward the installation of the all-new T. M. Scruggs Museum Interior. Herewith, some progress photos.

The Measles of Mankind

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

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

The latest Free Inquiry features a poignant and tough review by Tom Flynn of Jennifer Michael Hecht's anti-suicide book Stay. Calling it “marvelously written,” Tom says it “excludes individuals who make clear-eyed decisions to end their lives in response to calamities whose aftermath they prefer not to experience.”

Editor of The American Rationalist, S.T. Joshi, and his prolific work on atheism, are profiled in the New York Times.

NYT also covers an experimental "God-optional" synagogue.

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“Question of Astral Projection of Non-Believer”

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
March 14, 2014

I recently got the following email with the subject line, "Question of Astral Projection of Non-Believer." 

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10,000 Hours Down the Drain

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

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

There's a great article about CFI's Long Island branch in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald. Treasurer Phil Pollack says:

This is a philosophy and discussion group. We always have really interesting topics, and we also have a book club discussion group as well. We talk about politics, science, real history, and other aspects of the world in which we live. It’s a fascinating group of people, and we invite anyone who’s interested in experiencing our discussions to come down and try it out.

Pew has done a lot of number crunching on various religious identification surveys, and finds that while "nones" are in a three-way tie with Evangelicals and Catholics in the U.S., many of the nones are "unattached believers," theists but not under any particular sect's sway. That said, a key takeaway from this article from Cathy Lynn Grossman is that even those "unattached believers" are likely "unreachable" by any church. 

A Glossy Multi-Million Dollar Piece of Agitprop

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

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

I finally got to watch the first episode of the new Cosmos last night! Of course, my 4-year-old son wouldn't go to bed when he was supposed to, so he watched with us. Which, I now realize, is now it should be.

Andrew Leonard goes off on the religious groups who are upset about Cosmos:

The best part: Cosmos is labeled “a glossy multi-million-dollar piece of agitprop for scientific materialism” as if that’s a bad thing.  

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For Yuppies Who Want to Feel Good

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

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

The Morning Heretic may just be suffering from a stomach flu, for which he blames the following: 1) An angry, vengeful God, 2) mischievous/evil spirits, 3) Benghazi, and 4) his children. Anyway. 

A bit of very bad legislation was passed overwhelmingly in the House yesterday. HR 1814, the Equitable Access to Care and Health (EACH) Act, passed by voice vote with the support of a boatload of Democrats. CFI vehemently opposes this bill.

Might this be the best opening paragraph for a Skeptical Inquirer piece? Possibly. Here's Carrie Poppy:

Are you a human? Do you have access to the internet? Then you may already know about Dr. Masaru Emoto, the Japanese “scientist” who magically turns normal rice into gross rice, simply by yelling at it. 

I’m Up All Night to Get Ouija

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

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

Those plucky Senate Democrats, trying to change the conversation on global warming, were up all night to talk climate. But as Rebecca Cusey asked on Twitter, "What about to get lucky?" About which I L'd OL. 

Rita Swan warns of a nefarious bill quickly moving through Congress which would exempt anyone claiming religious reasons to opt entirely out of the health care law. Our Office of Public Policy has shot out an urgent action alert on this development, so get clicking.

Sir, I Protest, I Am *Not* a “Fuzzy None”!

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

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

So how was Cosmos? I haven't seen it yet, because we don't get cable or broadcast TV, so I'll need the Information Superhighway to help me out with seeing the show. I get the sense, though, that people liked it. 

Matt Zoller Seitz at New York Mag notes the secularist overtones:

The new Cosmos makes it clear that the war [against science] is still going on, and that this series is determined to be on the right side of it, by painting organized religion as an irrelevant and intellectually discredited means of understanding factual reality.  

Willa Paskin at Slate says it's less overt than that, writing, "Cosmos is offering viewers a way to reconcile science and faith: Don’t let your god be too small."

RIDDLEculous III

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
March 09, 2014

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

Five Finger Discount on Crosses

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

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

The push to privatize public education and send tax dollars to religious schools has reached new heights of late, with a series of new bills in Congress that would privatize nearly all federal funds for K-12 schooling. We have an action alert out so you can help stop it. 

Check out what we've been up to public-policy-wise throughout the past month in our Advocacy Update

Pope Fluffy: Grave robber

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A Collection of Passionate Oddballs

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

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

The impact of Carl Sagan on humanism is examined by Kimberly Winston, here in the Washington Post. Lots of important skepto-atheists are quoted in here, and somehow I got in there too, saying:

He showed us that to marvel at life on our planet was to cherish it and work to preserve it. For that, we have to reject bad, old modes of thinking, look at the world as it really is rather than how we’d like to believe it is, and tackle the crises that face us. 

Winston also rounds up some of Sagan's profound quotes. Chris Stedman talks to former Sagan pupil, SETI Carl Sagan Center director and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry fellow David Morrison:

Carl was an inspiration to his students—not only in helping us to become good research scientists, but also in challenging us to understand the cultural context of our science and encouraging us to be leaders and reach out to communicate with the public.

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We Get in There and Burp and Scratch

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

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

It's Ash Wednesday, and Michelle Boorstein reports on the reluctance of some of the faithful to don the forehead mark in public.

Amid the outrage over Uganda's awful anti-gay law, American Evangelicals have their hackles up as if to say, "hey, we didn't do it!" 

Last night's Q&A with the team behind the new Cosmos is available to watch online

The Thornton Page Papers at CFI

Access Points with Timothy Binga
March 04, 2014

With interest renewing due to the upcoming follow-up to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, I was reminded of one of our more interesting sets of papers here at CFI, namely, some items donated by the family of Dr. Thornton Page.

“Slave” Takes Oscars

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
March 04, 2014

It wasn’t a vision, but in my “Nickell-odeon review” of 12 Years a Slave (Nov. 19) I did foresee Academy Awards in that film’s future.

Your Murky Raison d’Etre

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

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

Daniel Loxton, author of one of my son's favorite books, Ankylosaur Attackis the guest on Point of Inquiry this week. 

Carrie Poppy chants her way to altered states of consciousness at Skeptical Inquirer:

I felt like I was out of my body, floating above it. I couldn’t tell if my hands were near my face or far, far away. I wasn’t sure if my eyes were open or closed. I heard sounds no one else appeared to hear and saw vague, distant images: a pink diamond, a rooster with a pyramid for legs, an elderly woman in a revealing gown. At one point I snapped to attention and found that my upper body had been rhythmically swaying in a semi-circle. I wasn’t awake, and I wasn’t asleep. I was in a trance. 

Rob Boston's book Taking Liberties goes on sale today, and you can read an excerpt here

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Can Hair Turn White Overnight?

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
March 03, 2014

For centuries, it has been widely believed that fright can turn hair white. They say that the hair of condemned prisoners (such as Thomas More and Marie Antoinette) turned white the night before their executions. They say that many people who have terrifying experiences with ghosts find that their hair has turned white as... snow. Of course, "they" say a lot of things.

A Flash of Luminescence in a Great Dark Ocean

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

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

NPR's Michele Norris will be at a CFI-Michigan event March 12 in Grand Rapids. How cool is that? 

A federal judge says Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages from out of state, and gives the state until March 20 to get its ducks in a row. 

Sharon Hill at Skeptical Inquirer explores the desire by many to believe that prehistoric and long-dead species are still among us.

This is genuinely useful: Tim Farley shows you how to debunk questionable images really quickly with a couple of clicks. 

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