Celestial Bat Signal

December 23, 2016

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

There are today, as always, many bad things happening. But I will lead with some good news. It looks like humankind may now have an Ebola vaccine:

The vaccine showed 100 percent efficacy in protecting those who got it. More than 11,800 people participated in the trial. 

Back to the unraveling.

This morning, a Libyan airplane with 118 passengers was hijacked and diverted to Malta, apparently seeking asylum and the establishment of a political party, which I don't really get. But they were going to blow the plane up with grenades. It looks now, though, that the passengers are being released and are unharmed. This is still happening as I type. 

The suspect in the Berlin attack, Tunisian Anis Amri, is shot and killed in a standoff with police in Milan, Italy. One officer was injured. 

Trump wants to make a Muslim registry, and President Obama just made is harder for him to do that by dismantling an existing registry program that was created after 9/11. 

This is cool: Andy Ngo of Portland State University posts a short documentary of his experience at CSICon, particularly as someone who was once very religious. It's got our boss Robyn, Tamar Wilner, Kavin Senapathy, Eugenie Scott, and more. Ngo says:

Being a skeptic isn't so much an identity, rather, for me it's a goal, and a process. 

Nic Kristof apparently tries to convince Rev. Timothy Keller that you can be a Christian without believing in all the hocus-pocus. It doesn't really go anywhere. Keller says:

If something is truly integral to a body of thought, you can’t remove it without destabilizing the whole thing. A religion can’t be whatever we desire it to be. If I’m a member of the board of Greenpeace and I come out and say climate change is a hoax, they will ask me to resign. I could call them narrow-minded, but they would rightly say that there have to be some boundaries for dissent or you couldn’t have a cohesive, integrated organization. And they’d be right. It’s the same with any religious faith. 

Also interesting:

We should require evidence and good reasoning, and we should not write off other religions as ‘superstitious’ and then fail to question our more familiar Jewish or Christian faith tradition. But I don’t want to contrast faith with skepticism so sharply that they are seen to be opposites. They aren’t. I think we all base our lives on both reason and faith. 

The right wing media is drumming up outrage over reports that the head of Snopes is allegedly engaged in shady sexual and financial activity. Jasper Jackson at The Guardian tries to figure out why this is so exciting to them. 

It’s a tactic borrowed straight from the fringe sites that have reacted angrily to Facebook’s plans, including the unofficial cheerleader of the “alt right”, Breitbart. It’s designed to imply that the concepts of fake news and fact checking are themselves disputed. 

Nathaniel P. Morris at SciAm, careful not to sound like he's dissing the faithful, examines the similarities between mental illness and religious fervor:

The practices of Scientology and Mormon fundamentalism are far from the only examples of this oft-blurred line between religion and mental health care. Virtually every religion has unusual beliefs and rituals, from consuming the flesh and blood of Christ in Catholicism to fasting as a way of atoning for sins in Judaism. 

Susan Gerbic writes about the need to open up the skeptic movement, and more specifically events like CSICon, to students and those who can't afford expensive jaunts. 

Science Friday covers the problem of sexual harassment and bias against women in science careers. 

Pope Fluffy is, well, very un-fluffy with his own church, blasting the Vatican for resisting reform, invoking Satan's influence, and saying, "Dear brothers, it’s not the wrinkles in the church that you should fear, but the stains!" WaPo reports:

He called for a “definitive end” to the Vatican’s face-saving way of getting rid of unqualified or problematic staff by promoting them to a higher office. “This is a cancer!” Francis said. 

The Ohio Supreme Court rules that "functional life sentences" for juveniles are unconstitutional

Skikivu Hutchinson points out a troubling sameness in academic secularism studies

For the most part, Secularism in the American academy is a cobbled together affair, featuring one-off courses dominated by white academics with the book contracts, privilege and ivory tower “cred” to do secular work without worrying about censure or professional ostracism. Although social media bustle with black folks tweeting, blogging and sounding off about embracing atheism; the same handful of white faces preside in the academic industrial complex as “authentic” scholars of the secular, atheist, humanist experience. As a result, scholarship, classes and curricula that capture the lived experiences, politics and world views of secularists of color, especially those of women of color, are still scant to nonexistent. 

Petula Dvorak finds it more than coincidental that the start of Hunnukka and Christmas fall on the same day this year

Hello? Haters? Are you seeing this celestial bat signal? It’s a sign. Interfaith wonderpowers: Time to activate. Because the darkness has been deep this year.  

OMG what if God really is Batman?  

Seth Meyers' show is trying to make fun of us nonbelievers, but I actually agree with Hemant, I'd love a Skeptic on a Stick

Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky signs a proclamation making 2017 the Year of the Bible. How original. 

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is going to sing at Trump's coronation, which probably bugs Mitt Romney.

Quote of the Day:

As the Heresy bids you a happy and safe holiday weekend, I leave you with Steven Pinker's words of reassurance to Julia Belluz about the state of the world during the unraveling: 

Look at history and data, not headlines. The world continues to improve in just about every way. Extreme poverty, child mortality, illiteracy, and global inequality are at historic lows; vaccinations, basic education, including girls, and democracy are at all-time highs. ...

 ... Several awful things happened in the world’s democracies in 2016, and the election of a mercurial and ignorant president injects a troubling degree of uncertainty into international relations. But it’s vital to keep cool and identify specific dangers rather than being overcome by a vague apocalyptic gloom. ... I’ve never been “optimistic” in the sense of just seeing the glass as half-full — only in the sense of looking at trend lines rather than headlines. It’s irrational both to ignore good developments and to put a happy face on bad ones.

* * *

 

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Comments:

#1 Randy (Guest) on Friday December 23, 2016 at 9:02pm

“Skikivu Hutchinson points out a troubling sameness in academic secularism studies ... white academics”

Why do you promote racism on this blog?  The post title is “The Unbearable Whiteness…”

White people exist.  And the world is better off for it.

There is no evidence that “white academics” are getting atheism wrong, and there’s no evidence that there is some preferred ratio of races in academia.

If you don’t like “white academics”, you can either debate them on their ideas, which is ever easier these days with social media, and everyone can benefit.  Or you can do what Hutchison does, and “ad cute” fallacy them.

Skikivu needs to take some responsibility for their own mediocrity and failure, rather than blame-shifting.

#2 Randy (Guest) on Friday December 23, 2016 at 9:05pm

“getting rid of unqualified or problematic staff by promoting them to a higher office”

This is so Dilbert…  I love it!

#3 Randy (Guest) on Friday December 23, 2016 at 9:50pm

“the problem of sexual harassment and bias against women in science careers.”

That would be two problems, not one.

The first is sexual harassment.  Given the cultural climate today (in elevators, video games, YouTube and Twitter, etc), I’m not inclined to believe there’s a problem.  Or, rather, the problem is reverse, and double: a distressing level of prudery, and false accusations.  I am strongly opposed to the idea that a person (read: man) should have their career destroyed, or even face charges, because of a conservative response to flirting, for example.

As for bias against women in science, recent studies have shown the reverse, that it is indeed men who are significantly discriminated against in some STEM hiring.  Consider the article “Women have substantial advantage in STEM faculty hiring, except when competing against more-accomplished men” at the NIH website (which I cannot include in this comment).  Some institutions have established formal quotas to reject qualified male hires in favor of women.  In any case, there is no preferred sex ratio in any particular job market.  Indeed this is the message of any equality movement… it’s not the characteristics of the person’s body that matters, but rather it’s how they do the job.

#4 Randy (Guest) on Friday December 23, 2016 at 10:00pm

Today I learned Obama operated a Muslim registry from 2009 to 2011.  By dismantling it, he has now removed the “out” that Trump would have had, forcing him to go ahead and actually build one, making it more likely that it will happen, and will be worse.  Obama is not a bright man.

#5 Randy (Guest) on Friday December 23, 2016 at 10:17pm

“A religion can’t be whatever we desire it to be”

Of course it can.  It can literally be whatever you want.  We have Jedi.  We have FSM.  We have Kopimism.  We have Satanism.  They’re as made up as the big religions.  However, just as with pronouns, we don’t get to force other people to accept our identity (as Jedi sadly found out).

Many Protestants don’t accept Catholics or Mormons as Christian.  And those are smaller, almost trivial differences, compared to denying the central story.  If you don’t believe in the central story of Jesus as told in the Bible, you can still celebrate Christmas and Easter in a sort of zombie-Christian (or zombie-pagan) way. I won’t call you Christian (or pagan) though.  It seems lazy.

#6 Randy (Guest) on Friday December 23, 2016 at 10:28pm

“Snopes”  I’m going to write generally, rather than in regard to Snopes in particular, because it’s a larger problem.

Fact checking means two things:

1. Everything you write must be true, or must be corrected (without hiding the original error) as soon as new information comes to light.

AND

2. You show no bias in what you DON’T write about. 

The problem here is that we used to call the above two constraints “news”. 

Now those functions have been pushed back one degree, to “fact checkers”.  Well guess what… the same thing that happened to “news” is necessarily happening to “fact checkers’.  You have to push it back one more degree.

If you fact check the fact checkers (as you should) you’ll discover their bias. 

The cleanest solution is to read the news from “both sides” and then read the fact checkers from “both sides”.  Then check it yourself.  Unfortunately, nobody has that kind of time…

I’ve seen enough verifiably-correct “fake news” to know that you cannot trust people just because they claim to have the facts.

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