The Great Cosmic Blog
November 17, 2017
The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.
Today opens the high-tech shrine to Yahweh's hot bestseller, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. But lest you think it's all about promoting Christianity, the folks behind the museum want you to see it differently. Michelle Boorstein at the Post reports:
Museum leadership has also worked hard to show it wants to be seen as nonsectarian, more of an open place to explore the Bible than to be evangelized — sort of a counter to the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which argues that the Earth is just a few thousand years old. Cary Summers, the Bible Museum’s president, was a consultant on the Kentucky museum as well. The museum board is made up almost exclusively of conservative evangelicals (mostly white males), and the museum projects an implicit and religious reverence for the Bible. However officials have reached out to and hired a diverse group of scholars and consultants and shifted the museum’s focus to a more academic, ecumenical — if still pious — approach to the Bible.
And as you may recall, the museum is backed primarily by the hyper-partisan Green family of Hobby Lobby infamy. Leaders of the House and Senate were invited to the opening gala, but will not be attending. But those who will be attending are folks like Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, and (weirdly) DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.
You already know, I assume, that Al Franken is now the subject of investigations and outrage after having been of accused of forcibly kissing and groping a woman he worked with for a 2006 USO performance.
At Ars Technica, John Timmer looks at the results of a study on how and when people approach problems using critical thinking, and the key component seems to be motivation. You have to want to think critically, and that has implications for education:
Overall, the authors conclude that their studies "provided support for the notion that skepticism toward paranormal and conspiracy beliefs requires sufficient analytic skills, as well as motivation to form beliefs based on logic and evidence." While it may seem obvious—people need to be both motivated and capable to do something—it gets at the issue of whether greater education in critical thinking would help. It suggests that we need to accompany any education efforts with parallel efforts to make critical thinking seem valuable or fun, or it won't end up being the default approach.
Also at Ars, Beth Mole reports on a study on physicians' (mis)use of homeopathy, both for when they think it works (it doesn't) and when they use it as a placebo.
You may not have known that Homeland Security has a Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships. Well the guy who had been running it, Rev. Jamie Johnson, has resigned because it turns out radio interviews are recorded and able to be listened to after their initial broadcast. Technology! As reported by CNN, Johnson contrasted African Americans with American Jews (you know this is going to go well already, right?):
... it's an indictment of America's black community that has turned America's major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity.
I agree with Dinesh D'Souza, your friend and mine, who says all that Islam has ever given us is oil and dead bodies over the last millennia and a half.
Anyway, he's out. I'm sure the next person to fill the slot will be totally fine.
The Jehovah's Witnesses are refusing to hand over documents in a lawsuit over child sex abuse within the church, and being penalized $4000 a day for each day they delay. The tab is now at $2,000,000, which means they've delayed for...um...a lot of days.
In another suit, an activist in Tennessee is challenging the state's law that allows therapists to refuse to treat LGBTQ patients based on their religious objections.
Patrick Hornbeck at Religion Dispatches shows how a victory for the anti-LGBTQ baker in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case could empower Subway employees to enforce their wills on your sandwhich. I think I may not have that entirely correct.
At the Center for American Progress, Frank Bewkes and Billy Corriher warn that a win for the Cakeshop would be a staggering blow to civil rights for all kinds of groups:
Once the court recognizes a constitutional right to discriminate, businesses could turn away people of color, single mothers, unmarried cohabitants, Muslims, Jews, interfaith couples, and many others. It is not unreasonable to envision a dystopia where businesses such as Piggie Park, the barbecue restaurant chain that achieved notoriety for refusing black customers, could now seek to relitigate their claims from the 1960s and now argue that operating their business in this manner was expressive conduct that should be exempt from nondiscrimination laws.
Remember METI? That's Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a sort of SETI-offshoot that aims to, as it were, publish a post on the Great Cosmic Blog in hopes of some traffic our site. As it were. (Hold on, I need to catch my breath from that laborious metaphor. Okay I'm good.) There's a lot more about them in this NYT piece from a few months back. The team headed by Douglas Vakoch is aiming its message at the star GJ 273, 12 light-years away and harboring at least one planet it its "habitable zone."
Clay Jones at Science-Based Medicine laments the media fawning over "energy healer" Charlie Goldsmith, and the empty gestures toward scientific verifiability.
Saad Sayeed at Reuters reports on how anti-Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan has boiled over into mainstream politics...or whatever counts as mainstream politics in Pakistan.
Julia Belluz at Vox wants you to survive Thanksgiving Day, regardless of your or your family's dietary restrictions, and alleviate "panicking over how to accommodate everyone’s needs and preferences."
Tracy Jan writes about that feeling when your multi-million or billion-dollar brand gets hijacked by Nazis.
The Alabama GOP is still backing mall-lurker Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate, because something-something until proven guilty. Moore is now firmly down in the polls, and it's possible that Alabama may end up electing a senator in Democrat Doug Jones that the population doesn't actually want.
KLAS in Las Vegas profiles Dr. John Alexander, a former military intelligence officer who now does paranormal investigation, and is particularly interested in near-death experiences. He's also one of the guys who were part of the whole The Men Who Stare at Goats group, if that tells you anything.
Quote of the Day:
Joe Garofoli at the San Francisco Chronicle profiles Rep. Jared Huffman, the Member of Congress who just came out as a nonbeliever. He had choice words for the "messianic" Scott Pruitt (destroyer of worlds), but also some sobering realpolitik. Garafoli reports:
Reaction to his announcement has been uniformly positive. He said there are probably at least 10 other “seekers” like him in the House. Just before we spoke, one stopped Huffman on the floor of the House and said he, too, was thinking of coming out of the religious closet. “Knowing this person’s district,” Huffman said and laughed, “I told them I didn’t think it was a good idea.”
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