Blog Archives for April 2014

More on Mummies

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
April 30, 2014

Regarding my previous blog, “Mummies’ Secrets,” here are two artistic responses to the same exhibition; a poem (in my “improvisational rhyming” style) and a sketch of a natural mummy (a 17th-century nobleman discovered in 1806 in a German castle crypt, dressed in fine boots).

The Truthiness of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

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

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

Okay, there is some really awful stuff in the news this morning. I'm going to start with some important and more general stuff, and I'll try to get the bad stuff all out in one shot. I'll warn you. First, some CFI news: 

May 3 in Washington, DC, CFI will join allies around the world in protesting for the freedom of Raif Badawi, the Saudi writer and dissident jailed for blasphemy, and facing a possible death sentence for apostasy.  

Two CFI Institute online courses are about to get underway, so sign up now to feed your brain on "Modern Humanism" and "Science and Its Institutions," both taught by David Koepsell.

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The Pseudoscience of Baby Gender Prediction

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
April 29, 2014

It's springtime and thoughts turn to romance and babies... And along with those thoughts are various superstitions about predicting the gender of those babies.

If I Were in Charge

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

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

You already know this by now: Sarah Palin says something that manages to offend almost everyone who isn't Sarah Palin:

Oh, but [liberals won't let you] offend [terrorists], can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists. 

Sarah Posner unloads smartly:

[I]n joking that torture was like a baptism, Palin revealed her view of evangelization as an act of force, not love, and her view of salvation as something one imposes on irredeemable enemies, who further prove their lesser worth by protesting and resisting it. Get it? It just shows how the Muslims can't even see how something "so cool" is actually good for them. 

Greta Christina is the guest on Point of Inquiry this week, talking about her new book about atheistic comings-out.

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One Man’s Saint is Another Man’s Vampire

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

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

The big story in Religion Land is the canonization of popes John Paul II and John XXIII, because even in Christianity, all the benefits -- even the ones in the afterlife -- are going to the top 1%. (Oh and hey look they just beatified another pope. Sorry, regular people!)

CFI chief Ron Lindsay weighs in on the new popes-as-saints (and Pez dispensers):

John Paul’s specific failings are a symptom of a larger problem, which is the Catholic Church’s continuing failure to understand and accept human sexuality.

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Saints and Sexuality

No Faith Value with Ronald A. Lindsay
April 26, 2014

As the whole world knows by now, former pontiffs John XXIII and John Paul II are about to be officially recognized by the Catholic Church as saints. According to Catholic doctrine this means, among other things, that these persons are worthy of being venerated as models of heroic sanctity. Also, they can intercede for you before God. You know, you can’t just walk into God the Father’s office to ask for something. He’s the chairman of the board! No, you get a saint to slip him a note so you can get a couple of minutes of the boss’s time.

Mummies’ Secrets

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
April 25, 2014

On April 12, 2014, I visited the Buffalo Museum of Science to view an excellent traveling exhibit, “Mummies of the World.” Mummies are interesting in their own right, of course, but they also provide insights into cultures that imagine mummies’ supernatural potential.

A Hatful of Galaxies

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

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

At Skeptical Inquirer, Thomas R. Casten says both climate realists and climate denialists should take heed of the potential for profit in fighting global warming.

Sarah Posner has a great report on the efforts to jam "religious expression" bills into public schools, essentially inviting church-state separation violations. 

The Clergy Project starts a new blog at Patheos, Rational Doubt. Kimberly Winston reports on the launch.

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Aligning with Forces that Rule the Moon

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

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

A 7-minute documentary on Al Qaeda for the National September 11 Memorial Museum is now the center of controversy because some feel that "some of the terminology in it casts aspersions on all Muslims." 

I'll be honest, I don't fully understand this, but it seems like some scientists have found that time goes in the direction it does, and thermodynamics works the way it does, because of quantum entanglement

Soraya Chemaly, who will be speaking at next month's Women in Secularism III conference, highlights some "everyday sexism" examples, and number 1 on her list:

We tolerate the ritualized silencing of women mandated by all major religions, which, with minor exceptions, bar girls and women from authority and mandate that access to the divine is mediated by exclusively male speech.  

Father John’s Medicine

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
April 23, 2014

Father John’s Medicine is the name of a cough remedy with a long history and accompanying legend.

Although You May Not Realize It, You Are Self-aware

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

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

I did not expect this: NJ's Star Ledger endorses removing "under God" from the Pledge:

The Supreme Court has said it’s unconstitutional for public schools to endorse religious activity in general, but hasn’t ruled specifically on the Pledge of Allegiance. We should turn the clock back 60 years and erase “under God” — a poorly conceived plot to force religious words into schoolchildren’s mouths. 

The U.S. Army approves "humanist" as an official faith category. (But what about the Jedi in this UK prison?)

Folks are really digging the Lauren Becker Earth Day audio essay we put up yesterday. Hemant says it's got "an ending that really made me smile." Make sure you check it out and pass it on.

Explaining Our Mission - Ron Lindsay on Montana Public Radio

Guest Blog from Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
April 22, 2014

Here in the thick of the secular and skeptic movements, it can be easy to forget that not everyone really knows what it is we're fighting for. Even the politically plugged-in may only have a tangential awareness that there is a vibrant movement of secularists, humanists, atheists, skeptics, and others who are working every day to advance reason, science, and secular values. More importantly, there is often a misunderstanding as to why we do what we do. We're not here just to be gadflies or score technical points on First Amendment squabbles. We want to protect and advance fundamental humanistic values like freedom of expression, the value of critical thinking, and the freedom to be who you are regardless of what someone else's religion says about it.

It’s a Rock!

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

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

Our boss Ron Lindsay is in Montana for some reason, and yesterday he appeared on Montana Public Radio to talk about our worldview and the fundamentals of our mission.

He's amazing, he's brilliant, he's hilarious. James Randi is the guest on the latest Point of Inquiry with host Josh Zepps. 

Speaking of POI, in an audio essay from a classic Point of Inquiry, CFI's Lauren Becker gets to the heart of what's important about Earth Day: the humans who live here.

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Have You Been Saved? - Special Earth Day Audio Essay

Guest Blog from Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
April 22, 2014

Around the time of Earth Day in 2006, Bill Nye was the guest on CFI's flagship podcast Point of Inquiry, at the time hosted by DJ Grothe. Before the interview, the show aired an essay written and read by Lauren Becker (now of course our director of marketing), "Have You Been Saved?" 

As a special treat for Earth Day 2014, we wanted to share it with you. 

Disney and Google: Enemies of God

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

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

Good PR doesn't generate itself (believe me), not even for the Fluffiest of All Popes. Meet Greg Burke, the former Fox News reporter who greases the pontiff's public relations wheel, via Katie Engelhart at Vice. (Hat tip to Catherine Dunphy.)

Apple's PR guy, Phil Schiller, found Nessie! (Nope.)

Josh Zepps interviews James Randi and his documentarians on HuffPost Live, and the folks there invited me to submit a video question for His Amazingness, which results in my cameo at the end.

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St. Hyacinth’s Miracles

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
April 18, 2014

Known as “The Apostle of the North,” Saint Hyacinth (ca. 1185–1257) is a much honored figure in Roman Catholicism. He is the subject of a painting, Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Hyacinth by Ludovico Carracci (1592, now in the Louvre) and, among lesser artworks, a mosaic mural dominating the front of a church named for him in Dunkirk, New York. (CFI colleague Tom Flynn, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, called it to my attention, and I visited it to take the accompanying photo.) The mural depicts the future saint performing miracles, and therein lies a tale—or rather, several tales.

Libraries in an Information Age

Access Points with Timothy Binga
April 18, 2014

Whenever you hear the word library, what is the first thing that pops into your head? For most people, it connotes a musty room or building with many, many books, a few other media sources such as magazines or microfilm, possibly a computer or two, and a quiet place to read. What if I told you that libraries are about information first and foremost?

That’s It, I’m Moving to Kepler-186F!

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

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

Yesterday, I went on HuffPost Live with Jaweed Kaleem, Anila Ali, and Soul Dancer (that's his real name!) to talk about various beliefs about life after death. None of us, it turned out, had first-hand experience. 

And speaking of death! Wowee-wow, you need to check out this series of charts from Bloomberg View and Matthew C. Klein on how Americans expire, and what's changed over time. A really great bit of data and design. 

The leader of the breakaway, pro-Russian section of Ukraine denies he or his unofficial "state" have anything to do with leaflets demanding that Jews in the region register themselves and pay a fine. 

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It’s Not the Religion of the Vikings

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

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

Yesterday, CFI assembled a coalition of experts to urge the FDA to finally rein in "cancer quack" Stanislaw Burzynski, reminding them that "the FDA has an obligation to minimize the damage being done by purveyors of false medical treatments who harm others."

While I wasn't looking, three more outlets took note of the big Bill Nye exclusive in Skeptical Inquirer, where he offers his first-person account of his Ken Ham debate: The APSalon, and the Christian Post. There are probably more. 

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D’oh-klahoma!

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

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

Sasha Sagan, daughter of Carl, recounts discussions of death with her father, and how being "alive this second" is "an amazing thing."

Nida Kirmani at Open Democracy argues, "the explicit linking of religion and human rights can be highly problematic for particular people groups, especially women and sexual and religious minorities."

Chris Stedman scores an interview with the amazing Stephen Fry about his work with the British Humanist Association, and I'm so envious I could just puke. 

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At Least He’s Beginning to Think

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

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

Two big, exciting things from CFI-land today, folks. First, we've got a hot-off-the-servers Point of Inquiry with Women in Secularism III headliner Barbara Ehrenreich, who talks to Lindsay Beyerstein about reconciling atheism with mystical experience. This is no fawning interview, either, as some of what Ehrenreich has to say is sure to raise both questions and one's hackles.

And this guy you may have heard of, a "science guy" if you will, by the name of Bill Nye pens an exclusive for Skeptical Inquirer in which he gives his own reasons for debating Ken Ham and his first-hand account of the debate experience. HuffPo's picked it up, and you must not miss this. (And this issue of Skeptical Inquirer is on newsstands right now!) 

Haunted Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: ‘Oculus’  Film Review

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

There is a long history of folklore and legends about magical mirrors, ranging from the Bloody Mary urban legends to the sycophantic mirror in Snow White to the centuries-old practice of covering mirrors in the room of a dying person lest either Death or the Devil be seen in them. The new horror film Oculus tells the story of a cursed mirror.

A Sighing Debunker

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
April 14, 2014

A TV producer, visiting me to shoot segments for a new series, told me of his experience with another skeptic, unnamed, whom he had talked with by phone.

8 Comments

We Back Off and Stroke Our Chins

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

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

Iowa governor Terry Branstad signs a proclamation more or less telling Iowans to get with Christianity

Ayaan Hirsi Ali posts what she would have said to Brandeis's graduates in the Wall Street Journal:

I stand before you as someone who is fighting for women's and girls' basic rights globally. And I stand before you as someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight. The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect. 

Touched and Inspired by Some Nutter

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

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

Usually, when an article is headlined in the form of a question ("Is Google Making Us Stupid?" "Was the Malaysian Plane Swallowed by a Black Hole?"), rule of thumb says the answer is always "No." (Thus this Twitter account.) But lookie here, in a piece by Kimberly Winston, the question posed is "Is the Internet Bad for Religion?" Guess what:

[A new] study shows that as Americans reported more Internet use, their religious identification dropped. Those who reported only a few hours of weekly Internet use were 2 percent less likely to claim a religious affiliation than those who use no Internet. And those who use the Internet more than seven hours weekly are even less likely to adhere to a religion — by an additional 3 percentage points.

That newly discovered bit of text referring to the wife of Jesus? Not a forgery. But then what does it mean? 

3 Comments

All the Way to Narnia

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

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

Ayaan Hirsi Ali responds to Brandeis's disavowal of her:

What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The 'spirit of free expression' referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much. 

O Captain Janeway! My Captain!

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

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

So that new "documentary" The Principle that promotes [suppresses laughter] geo-freaking-centrism? We know it has Lawrence Krauss in it, and come on, we all knew it was a situation like the one with Dawkins in Expelled: Krauss couldn't have known what they were going to do, and indeed it is so:

I have no recollection of being interviewed for such a film, and of course had I known of its premise I would have refused. So, either the producers used clips of me that were in the public domain, or they bought them from other production companies that I may have given some rights to distribute my interviews to, or they may have interviewed me under false pretenses, in which case I probably signed some release. I simply don’t know. 

But the real worry was that Captain Kathryn Janeway of the USS Voyager (NCC-74656), Kate Mulgrew, the film's narrator, had gone over the side of crazy, breaking nerds' hearts everywhere (mine included). Well, worry no more...

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Stupider and Wronger

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

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

I clapped like a 2-year-old for Elmo when I heard the first words of the latest Point of Inquirywith super-special guest Ann Druyan, co-creator of Cosmos.

Ezra Klein kicks off his new news outlet, Vox, with a kind of lament that kind of kicks groups like ours, as well as his own operation, in the teeth: On partisan issues, more information makes us stupider and wronger.

Sarah Jones of Americans United says Western atheists going on about how they're considered "terrorists" in Saudi Arabia are missing the point of the real crisis...

My Spirit Does Not Yearn

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

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

Before you get all heretical with your Monday morning, make sure you catch up with everything CFI with the latest edition of Cause & Effect. It's like a not-for-profit breakfast. 

Our response to the Sheriff's Office of Vero Beach, Florida using public resources to support a prayer event gets coverage in the region's paper, but it's behind a paywall so I have no idea what it says. But it's got quite a cliffhanger before the paywall: 

When the next Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast comes around, one group will be eager to see event's program. If the Sheriff's Office is listed as a sponsor, the group might sue. 

Eek!

Pakistani husband and wife, Shafqat and Shagufta Masih, are sentenced to death for blasphemy for allegedly sending "sending text messages against the Holy Prophet." Shafqat is paralyzed from the waist down, and says:

...when the police came to their house last year to verify the charges, they had brought along a local cable operator who had some enmity against the couple. Shafqat was thrown from his wheelchair, tortured and made to confess he was guilty of sending the offending text messages, Mr. Saif said.  

The Most Adorable Exorcist

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

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

Alan Greenblatt at NPR reports on the numerous ways lawmakers in states are trying to allow student prayer in public schools. Hedy Weinberg of the Tennessee ACLU said, "What we see — and this is a trend across the country — is that there's an effort to impose one's religious doctrine in school settings."  

The ban on Twitter is lifted in Turkey following a high court ruling (and the end of the elections). YouTube remains blocked. 

Bob Smietana reports that a federal judge has ruled that NYC can now ban churches from using public schools for religious services.

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The Brighter Side of Spite

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

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

CFI's Sarah Kaiser considers the wisdom of a New York state bill that would toughen penalties for crimes committed in a place of worship:

[N]ot every citizen of New York is a member of a religious institution, incorporated or not. In fact, many citizens are members of local secular groups (like CFI–NYC and CFI–Western New York), and their communities would be harmed by robbery, property damage, and vandalism just as much as places of worship. 

I can't believe this is a thing: GOP congressional candidate is being attacked for playing live-action role playing games (yes, he LARPs), which I think makes him awesome, but makes fellow GOPers think he's a Satanist. 

Does a Crime in a Place of Worship Deserve a Harsher Penalty?

Guest Blog from Sarah Kaiser
April 02, 2014

A bill currently under consideration in New York State would increase penalties for crimes committed in "a place of religious worship," as incorporated under state law. Criminal penalties would also be increased for cemeteries or other places of burial.

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Mystery of Belgium’s Glowing Virgin

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
April 02, 2014

On two trips to Belgium (in 1998 and 2006), I investigated several “miracle” claims, including a healing shrine, known as the “Belgian Lourdes”; the “Holy Blood of Christ” at Bruges; and a wonderworking statue at Belgium’s most-frequented pilgrimage site. (See my The Science of Miracles, 2013, pp. 23–25, 101–103, 187–190.) Now, another remarkable statue there—one that glows!—has come to light (so to speak); however, its mystery was quickly solved by scientists. (Belinda Robinson, We have seen the light! MailOnline [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2590014/We-seen-light-Mystery-glowing-Virgin-Mary-statue-visited-hundreds-Belgium-solved-scientists-discover-covered-luminous-paint.html]; March 26, 2014.)

My Gast Was Flabbered

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

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

The two big Skeptical Inquirer pieces on the "cancer quack" Stanislaw Burzynski are now online: David Gorski gives us the full background on Burzynski, and Robert Blaskiewicz writes about skeptics' activism to rein Burzynski in and protect patients.

Investigation by John Burnett at NPR reveals how religious TV networks are getting themselves classified as "churches" by the IRS, which means there's no way for donors to know how their money is spent.

In Pakistan, an Ahmadi man is attacked by a mob and arrested for blasphemy (these things almost go without saying now) for allegedly throwing a child's copy of the Koran. 

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No Desire to Stretch the Truth

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

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

Yes, it's April Fool's Day, but please breathe a sigh of relief that your Morning Heresy isn't playing. No (intentional) hoaxes here.

Have you grown to hate April Fool's Day as much as me? You can thank a pope

Our CEO Ron Lindsay wonders if biblical believers might want to distance themselves from God as portrayed in Noah (also now on HuffPo):

Let’s not mince words: if the story of the Flood is to be believed, God is a moral monster. To say his response to the alleged wickedness of humans is disproportionate is a gross understatement. Moreover, God engages in conduct that we would expect from the worst dictators, namely collective punishment that sweeps in the innocent along with the guilty. Children, presumably, were among those drowned (unless we assume that wicked adults had no offspring) as were most all of the animals, who bore no responsibility whatsoever for the misdeeds of humans. Intentionally drowning a kitten is conduct we’d expect of some psychopathic juvenile, not a loving deity.