Blog Archives for September 2014

Immortal Pond Scum

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

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

It's International Blasphemy Rights Day, what our own Cody Hashman calls "the only day I hold sacred," and yesterday Ron Lindsay took stock of where blasphemy rights stand in 2014. It's quite a day for IBRD, as Iran executes a man, Mohsen Amir-Aslan, for "heresy." From The Guardian:

Amir-Aslani was hanged last week for making “innovations in the religion” and “spreading corruption on earth”, but human rights activists said he was a prisoner of conscience who was put to death because of his religious beliefs. He had interpreted Jonah’s story in the Qur’an as a symbolic tale.

Brian Pellot at Religion News Service uses the occasion to speak up for Raif Badawi and against the global toleration of Saudi Arabia...

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Ideas, not Idols

Guest Blog from David R. Koepsell
September 29, 2014

When we hitch ourselves to personas rather than ideas, we are often in for a let-down. Philosophies should be distingusihed from philosophers. 

3 Comments

Open Letter To Karen Armstrong on ‘The Myth of Religious Violence’

The Outer Limits with Stephen Law
September 29, 2014

An open letter to Karen Armstrong on her Guardian article ‘The Myth of Religious Violence’. I invite Karen to either come out as a Secularist with a capital 'S', or come up with a better argument.

101 Comments

A Fudged Text

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

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

Tomorrow is International Blasphemy Rights Day, launched five years ago by CFI. Ron Lindsay takes stock of the state of free expression and blasphemy laws around the world:

It’s a profound irony that the prophets who founded the three major monotheistic religions all complained bitterly about the persecution they and their followers  faced, at least if we are to believe the statements attributed to them. It’s an irony because as soon as these religions gained controlled of a territory they immediately undertook to relentlessly persecute those of different faiths. If the Hebrew Bible is to be credited, the ancient Israelites make the fanatics of ISIS look like UN peacekeepers.

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International Blasphemy Rights Day 2014

No Faith Value with Ronald A. Lindsay
September 29, 2014

Tuesday, September 30, is International Blasphemy Day Rights Day (IBRD). Moreover, it’s the fifth anniversary of the Center for Inquiry’s launch of IBRD.  It is an appropriate time to take stock of the state of freedom of religious belief and expression in the world.  Unfortunately, it’s not a terribly encouraging picture.

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Scientific Paranormal Investigation Equipment

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Benjamin Radford
September 26, 2014

I'm often asked what tools and equipment I use to investigate the world's mysteries, ranging from ghosts to miracles to crop circles. Here's a peek into my bag of tricks!

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“Magic in the Moonlight”: A Nickell-odeon Review

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
September 26, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight is the story of a skeptical—even pompously cynical—1920s magician and his attempt to expose a séance medium whose powers appear to defy exposure.

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Electric Snowflakes

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

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

Paul Offit, who CFI/CSI recently awarded the Balles Prize for Critical Thinking, pens an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the crisis created by the anti-vax movement. 

Hey Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, Pope Francis is coming for you. The Paraguayan bishop is accused of covering up for a priest alleged to have sexually abused children. I hope this is about a substantial change in the church, and not just about optics. But I do like the visual of Pope Fluffy on some dark movie poster with the tagline "It's time to take out the trash." COMING FALL 2014.

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That’s Basic Magnetic Field Stuff

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

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

Wow! State Farm is pulling ads with Rob Schneider (who, for you young folks, was once vaguely relevant in comedy circles for what was really one endless joke) for his vocal and utterly wrongheaded opposition to vaccinations.

Steven Novella clears up a lot of the fear and misinformation surrounding GMOs at Skeptical Inquirer

Planet HAT-P-11b, a Neptune-sized world orbiting a star in the constellation Cygnus, looks like it has water.

If There Were a God, Which There Isn’t

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

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

Mark Silk at RNS notes how freethought groups "took over" the Religion Newswriters Conference last weekend, referring particularly to "the venerable Center for Inquiry." And that's our sign! 

Michael De Dora delivered two more statements to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday, one on restrictions on women's rights and another on discrimination against religious and nonreligious minorities. We've got a YouTube playlist of all four statements here

Austin Dacey reports on the troubling development of so-called "family rights" initiatives at the UN Human Rights Council, which are a veiled way to push a religious-right agenda...

4 Comments

$400, 20 Candles, a Tomato, and a T-shirt

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

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

This week on Point of InquiryLindsay Beyerstein interviews Mark Oppenheimer about his hot-button BuzzFeed article on misogyny in the freethought movement. 

Pew survey shows that Americans feel like religion is losing influence over politics, and troublingly, 49% are not happy about it

Agnostic minister, skeptic, professor, right-to-die activist Gerald LaRue dies at age 98. Our own Tom Flynn is quoted in the LA Times' obit...

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Crimes Against Criminals, Book and Copper Printing Plate

Access Points with Timothy Binga
September 22, 2014

The Robert G. Ingersoll Birthplace Museum in Dresden, NY has undergone a major overhaul, with expert assistance from the Exhibition Alliance, and reopened in 2014 with new displays and a new design. During this reconstruction and reworking of the displays, new ideas on how to display the various items were discussed frequently with the Exhibition Alliance and Tom Flynn, director of the museum. The Little Blue Book printing plate, shown here, is the original plate used to print Ingersoll’s Crimes Against Criminals, LBB no. 139.

Dillinger’s Ghost

Poem: Dillinger's Ghost

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
September 22, 2014

 

Dreadful Dangers and Exuberant Enchantments

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

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

I am still groggy from a weekend of journo-schmoozing at the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Decatur, GA this weekend (what a cool town!). It was a great chance to connect with reporters on the "God beat," reconnect with those I've been working with, and to reunite with friends within the secular movement who were also represented.

The conference is also where the Openly Secular campaign was formally launched by Todd StiefelRobyn Blumner, and Lyz Liddell (I helped take pictures), with a truly impressive presentation (fun fact: Todd Stiefel and I, despite a height difference of approximately 1000 feet, have the same voice). Check out some of the videos at the website, and don't let Barney Frank's appearance of having just woken up from a bad dream bother you too much. 

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A Cauldron of Simmering Toads

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

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

This has to be a quick Heresy because I'm sitting here at the CFI exhibitor table at the Religion Newswriters Conference in Decatur, GA. Selling secularism. Like you do.

I absolutely love this: Here's CFI's Michael De Dora in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council with Samar Badawi, sister of Raif and wife of jailed activist Waleed abu Alkhair (who is also Raif's lawyer). 

A. Hope Jahren writes at NYT about what she says is a sexual assault crisis in the sciences:

Sexual assault is a pernicious and formidable barrier to women in science, partly because we have consistently gifted to it our silence. I have given it 18 years of my silence and I will not give it one day more. 

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Punch it Manfully in the Face

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

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

Lots of big things happened yesterday! 

In Geneva, Michael De Dora delivered CFI's statement to the UN Human Rights Council on Saudi Arabia's horrific treatment of Raif Badawi, who will be subject to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for "insulting Islam." We have an image we're passing around the social networks to raise the alarm, and you can see video of Michael's presentation -- as well as info on how to help -- here

Also, we were delighted to see Point of Inquiry named as one of the nine podcasts "that will make you smarter" by Business Insider, alongside shows like This American Life and Startalk Radio. It's like "the best philosophy class you could imagine," says Drake Baer, and we agree -- congrats POI team!

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The Latest Harris Book/The Latest Harris Controversy

No Faith Value with Ronald A. Lindsay
September 18, 2014

As you may have heard, Sam Harris has a new book out, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Based on what I've heard about it so far, and what I've managed to read (to date, just the first chapter), it raises some interesting questions.

‘Miss Representation’ and The Importance of Good Statistics

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Benjamin Radford
September 17, 2014

In my many years of fact-checking news media reports I'm continually baffled by the defensive stance that people often take when you fact-check their statistics. In fact I'm against misinformation and bad statistics--whatever the source, and especially when being offered in service of causes I support.

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It’s Better Than Prison

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

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

The flame atop the "I" in CFI, like the Eye of Sauron, but much nicer, is shining its light on two church-state separation issues in the news: 

In Indiana, we're asking the governor and the Natural Resources Department to remove the Christian cross at the World War II memorial. Failing that, we'll be looking at potential legal options. The Indy Star and Indiana Public Media cover the story, and our legal director Nick Little can be heard for about a nanosecond in this WIBC radio piece.

We're also asking the Air Force to do the honorable thing, and nix its requirement that enlistees swear an oath to God, which it should be noted they only began requiring again last year. 

My Atheism is Picardian

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

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

Kimberly Winston reports on the debate over Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Yale. Winston also has a piece up about Mormons' use of social media to buck church teachings and reach like-minded folks.

Tom Jacobs reports on new research showing, again, that people really don't like atheists:

The fact that their belief systems defy the national consensus, along with “negative cultural stereotypes of atheists as cynical,” leads to the assumption that “atheists are unlikely to follow important group-based value norms” such as reciprocity and trust, according to a research team led by Skidmore College psychologist Corey Cook.

4 Comments

Undercut Their Moral Authority

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

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

Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post explores the idea of Sam Harris as spiritual guru, following her interview of Harris at CFI-DC last week:

I interviewed Harris this week before 700 people at an event sponsored by the secular advocacy group Center for Inquiry, and a good number of hands shot up when he asked who in the crowd had meditated. They happily complied as he instructed them to close their eyes, and then led them in a brief meditation.  

Harris will join the folks at CFI-Portland on October 2

2 Comments

Flummoxing by Design

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

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

Our public policy chief Michael De Dora is in Geneva today to represent CFI at the UN Human Rights Council. He tweeted this pic (neat!), and he's going to be keeping us updated on all the goings-on. 

You probably already know there's this BuzzFeed piece on the issue of misogyny in the movement. 

And as an odd kind of side note, you have Michael Shermer writing a d'spatch to d'judge in d'fense of Dinesh D'Souza who's in d'spose in a d'tention facility. 

2 Comments

You Have No Right Not to Reincarnate

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

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

Last night, CFI-DC presented an event with Sam Harris, in conversation with the Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein. Here's our boss Ron Lindsay with Harris at the event. Kimberly Winston at RNS has a look at his new endeavors into secular spirituality.

Today, Harris posts his thoughts on the religious angle to the threat of ISIS:

Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly—but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no.” 

3 Comments

At Best a Sputtering Engine

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

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

Stephen Law, provost of CFI-UK, has started a new blog here at CFI's Free Thinking site, "The Outer Limits." Go see! 

Tonight, Sam Harris comes to CFI-DC for an on-stage interview by Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post. I am jealous I cannot be there. Josh Zepps recently interviewed Harris for Point of Inquiry, and then got another shot at him for HuffPost Live.

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Are Religious Rights and Freedoms Being Trampled?

The Outer Limits with Stephen Law
September 09, 2014

Some religious people suppose that certain laws or rules that bind others should not bind them. They should be exempt on religious grounds. So, for example, in the UK a Christian employee of an airline claimed she should be exempt from a company dress code that prevented her from publicly displaying a crucifix. Christian hoteliers have maintained they should be exempt from anti-discrimination laws requiring that they not refuse same-sex couples double rooms. In the US, a photography company has argued that it should be exempt from the law requiring it offer the same services to same-sex couples as other couples wanting their occasion filmed.

18 Comments

Of Gender, Language, and Clarity: A Rebuttal (Guest Post)

Guest Blog from Sarah Kaiser
September 09, 2014

This is a guest post by Amy Frushour Kelly, coordinator of CFI-Long Island. 

In his September 2, 2014 blog post, Tom Flynn argues against the use of the singular “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun. He reasons that “[w]hether an individual is cisgender, is transgender, or occupies any intermediate point on that spectrum, the person in question remains an individual -- that is, unitary. Whatever gender identification you, the reader, might embrace, there's only one of you. ... The problem is that adopting a plural pronoun to denote a single individual invites just such misinterpretations.” Tom goes on to explain his point: the nonspecificity of a formerly plural pronoun to denote a singular.

2 Comments

The Madness Will Know No Bounds

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

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

Dead bodies! Burning bodies! Decaying bodies! And secular funerals! It's all the corpse you can stand on the latest episode of Point of Inquiry, with guest Caitlin Doughty of "Ask a Mortician." 

CFI's Ed Beck posts at the Keep Health Care Safe and Secular blog about the efforts of the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (which is as pro-woo as it sounds) to lobby for inclusion in the Affordable Care Act:

Every snake-oil salesman with a slip from their particular state will be the equivalent of a surgeon with an M.D. The madness will know no bounds except for the bank accounts of patients, whose premiums will be driven higher by these wasteful insurance requirements. 

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RIDDLEculous V

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
September 08, 2014

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

Review of Jesse Ventura’s “American Conspiracies”

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Benjamin Radford
September 08, 2014

One verifiable fact I learned in the first few pages of Jesse Ventura's book American Conspiracies is that Ventura believes he's a hardcore, no-bullshit truth teller. He's bravely willing to stand up and tell it like it is, to cut through the lies, myths, and misinformation surrounding some of America's most cherished myths.

6 Comments

Susan Jacoby and an Ingersoll Letter

Access Points with Timothy Binga
September 08, 2014

During the recent Ingersoll Conference here at CFI, I was able to show-off many of the amazing artifacts that we have here as a part of CFI and the library collections. I was able to bring one such artifact to the attention of Susan Jacoby after her lecture, one that I see on an almost daily basis.

Those Who Can’t Help But Sin

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

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

Did you check out Cause & Effect on Friday? No? That's crazy, but I'm not offended. You're only hurting yourself. Go check it out now, catch up with the past fortnight of CFI community activity, and then come back here. I'll wait. 

Kuwaiti blogger Mohammed Al-Ajmi was held for a week on blasphemy charges, says Reporters without Borders.  

Egypt reportedly arrests seven men who too part in a same-sex wedding for "incitement to debauchery."

No Excuse for “Hot in Cleveland”

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

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

Michael De Dora has a full update on the case of Raif Badawi, who will soon have his horrific sentence inflicted upon him. 

Columbia Journalism Review gives cover-story treatment to Elise Andrew of "I Fucking Love Science" Facebook fame, but Nadia Drake at Knight Science Journalism says questions about accuracy and issues with attribution by Andrew make this kind of coverage problematic.

You and I and everyone you know, and well, every species from other worlds we're ever likely to know, live in a huge sector of the universe known as Laniakea

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Raif Badawi, Appeal Denied, Will Soon Face Brutal Punishment for Blasphemy - UPDATED

Democratic Discourse with Michael De Dora
September 04, 2014

Saudi Arabia's appeals court in Mecca has confirmed the sentence of human rights activist Raif Badawi, 30, to ten years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and a one million riyal fine (USD $266,631). We must raise our voices to end the brutality.

13 Comments

Obsolete in the Opinion of Some

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

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

Kimberly Winston at RNS writes about the atheist community's loss of Vic Stenger, the "fifth horseman," and includes reaction to his death from our boss Ron Lindsay. 

If you have $600,000,000 lying around, you might want to direct it to what is now an out-of-control Ebola outbreak

Speaking of outbreaks, California parents are keeping their children from getting vaccinations at terrifying rates. 

1 Comment

Something People Love to Ignore

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

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

Sam Harris is the guest on our podcast Point of Inquiry, talking to Josh Zepps about transcendence and other "spooky phenomena" regarding consciousness. It's great. 

Ron Lindsay's article on fixing the Pledge of Allegiance hits HuffPo

CFI's David Koepsell writes about skepticism and humanism as endeavors rather than positions:

When we become rigid, close our eyes and minds to possibilities, and take skepticism as a stance rather than a project or method, we do little more than adopt a belief system just as questionable as any religious one.  

Of Gender, Language, and Clarity

Advocatus Diaboli with Tom Flynn
September 02, 2014

FREE INQUIRY columnist Greta Christina wrote a great essay for her other column (over at THE HUMANIST) about issues associated with treating transgender people with respect. (No idea whether it's online, but the column "Trans People and Basic Human Respect" is on pages 38-39 of the new September-October issue.) ... At one point Christina writes that some transgender people "choose to be identified with the gendered pronouns 'he' and 'she,' while others prefer new gender-neutral pronouns like 'zie' and 'hir' or use 'they' as a singular pronoun." I'm down with all of that except the last bit. Using "they" as a singular pronoun ... strikes me as going one step too far, because it unnecessarily degrades the clarity of our language in regards to number.

13 Comments

Skepticism is a Humble Project, Not a Bold Stance

Guest Blog from David R. Koepsell
September 02, 2014

Skepticism is at the heart of both humanism and science. In science, it forces us to question all our conclusions, test them, remain open to their falsification, and see our current models as always contingent. In humanism, we seek not enternal truths, but rather constantly inquire, open ourselves to new points of view, follow learning where it takes us, and remain also skeptical of any one "truth." Skepticism requires work, and we are quick to become rigid and adopt beliefs that seem unchallengable, but we must make a project of our skepticism, not a religion.

1 Comment

Pseudonymous Novelist, Pseudonymous Novelist, Pseudonymous Novelist

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

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

Aaaand we're back. My sincere thanks to Ed Beck, Lauren Becker, and Stef McGraw for holding down the heretical fort while I was away. They were great.

The skepto-atheosphere lost one of its giants. Physicist Vic Stenger, author of numerous books including God: The Failed Hypothesisdied last week at age 79. Here's part of what our boss Ron Lindsay had to say:

One thing I liked about Vic was his lack of pretense and posturing. He didn’t trim his arguments — or his beard — to please others. He was interested in determining the truth. Period. What others thought of his occasionally rumpled look or his refusal to soft-pedal his arguments was a matter of indifference to him. We’ll miss both his intellect and his intellectual integrity. 

More bad news: Raif Badawi's sentence of 10 years and 1000 lashes has been upheld by a Saudi appeals court

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Reframing the Debate Over the Pledge: Make God Optional

No Faith Value with Ronald A. Lindsay
September 02, 2014

Children are back in school and, as part of their daily routine, most of them will be expected to participate in the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. Recitation of the Pledge is a requirement under the laws of over forty states.

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