Monday, December 30, 2013

My response to an Anglican redditor:

Someone posted:  "I'm Anglican, My Change my Views!"

I chose to interpret this as "I'm Anglican.  Change my Views!" so I posted and as I went I realized that despite Episcopalian churches being rather harmless compared to fundamentalist ones, I am still better off without it.  Here's what I wrote:

I grew up in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. I would go back to that church in a heartbeat if believing in supernatural events weren't a basic requirement. They always have the best music! No praise band crap - great organs and sometimes professional choirs.

But I realized one Sunday morning that I was there for the fabulous music. I didn't really believe the tenets of the religion, especially the supernatural deity.

Go through the Nicene creed line by line and ask yourself: "Really? Is this what I really believe?"

When I first started feeling skeptical toward my religion I thought that perhaps reading the Bible would "cure" me, but since the Episcopal/Anglican church doesn't require believing that the Bible is 100% infallible, it was really just the horrific acts of "God" in the Old Testament that turned my stomach. The "new" God who forgives us all by sacrificing himself to himself to keep himself for punishing ourselves for our sinful nature, which was the result of him making us in his own image... just doesn't make sense, either.

Reading up on church history and atheist perspectives on religion opened my eyes to other problems, and I felt a bit cheated for not being told these things before the social pressure to participate in Confirmation and communion. For example, Paul's letters (some of which are forgeries) were written before the gospels. Matthew & Luke are based on Mark, which was the earliest and has the least supernatural stuff in it. John (a favorite of the American fundamentalist movement) is the latest of the gospels. There were 27 apocalypse books floating around, and they chose only one to include in the Bible. Since by definition these are visions of the other world, how would they know which was the correct one? Just by praying over the matter? And why include even one?

Then consider the morally reprehensible act of human/demi-god sacrifice. Being let off the hook for your sins because Christ died is really smarmy. The American "Holiness" movement requires an un-sinly life after being "saved" so you can go over to that side if you want to develop OCD.

Or... you could make a decision to be a grown-up and pay your lumps when you hurt someone else. And if you've done something that doesn't cause harm to yourself or others, why feel guilty over it? Living life that way is much more wholesome, imho.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Breaking the Faith: More Episodes

After writing my first post about this series chronicling eight ex-FLDS young adults, I saw on the internet (which is never wrong) that this reality show is a bit faked.

Whoa... what you say?  Reality shows are fake????  Say it ain't so!

Well, this show is about their escape to freedom a couple of years ago, according to the internet (which if course has to be true).   I actually feel better about watching it now that I know that, because the FLDS so strictly controlled their lives that I had to wonder if they could truly consent to being filmed.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, it's still fascinating and true-ish enough to be worth commenting on.

For one thing, other than the child sex abuse case that landed Warren Jeffs in prison, not much is known about the FLDS.  The girls and women look somewhat Amish, and they're polygamous (what destructive cult isn't?)  The boys who get kicked out because of the impossible numbers of a polygamous community are called "lost boys" but what of their fate?

Tonight's episode was largely about the girls' hair, makeup and clothes.  The FLDS women are not allowed to cut their hair because "in heaven you are supposed to wash your husband's feet with your hair."   What a nutty idea!  Does the earthly body go to heaven and yet stay on Earth?  God tells this guy some insane stuff.  They have also never worn makeup, never worn their hair in any style but the braided up-do mandated by Jeffs, and they have always dressed in 19th-century farmwife dresses.  Blah.  In the episode, the two most hesitant girls experiment with "gentile ways" of dress and hair.

The show includes audio clips of Warren Jeffs' voice, and he is every bit as creepy and smarmy on audio as I would expect.  (I found a clip on youtube that's 10 minutes of creepiness)  Tonight's episode included his famous "keep sweet" instruction to women and girls.  Keeping sweet includes such things as never having bad thoughts, never saying less than positive things, obeying the head of the household.  Creepy, and makes me want to go to "The Crick" and kidnap all the little girls!

Toward the end they show Warren Jeffs on a prison phone addressing an obedient group of FLDS women.  He poses the same question that a fundamentalist imam might say:  do you want to attract the attention of men with your hair and clothing?   On behalf of all the women on the planet, or at least 90% depending on how many are lesbian, I answer:  HELL YES!

Relationships with "normal" mormons, a.k.a. LDS, a.k.a. gentiles.  Joining the outside world but only hanging out with the few others who also escaped would kind of defeat the point.  The series has them jumping rather quickly into "gentile" life - parties, clubs, relationships.  One interesting question for one of the boys, whose new girlfriend wants him to go to church with him, is whether he wants to belong to any church at all after getting out of the cult.   He does go to the Mormon church, and is bored to death.  I predict his spiritual direction will not be with the LDS.

Sports.  No sports at all in the FLDS!  The boys, and all children past about age ten, are supposed to be working.  Naturally, they would have to if they live in families with dozens of children, non-working moms, and only one working father.  In tonight's episode two of the boys try playing basketball.  I'm glad I knew it was fakey-fake because they were too good for boys who had never played any ball games, but one kid got winded.  I can relate to that!  This is how asthma is frequently discovered.

They were allowed to ride bicycles until Jeffs had a communication from God about them, curiously just after one of the girls had an orgasm while riding her bike.  In last week's episode two girls ride a bike and fail to achieve orgasm.  Damn I'm going to have to get out that dusty exercise bike!

Next week is the season finale.  That was quick!

Warren Jeffs and his 50 wives, showing how they "keep sweet" in pastel candy colors

Saturday, December 21, 2013

December 21 Links

Happy Solstice, everybody!

Need a replacement organ?  You can grow a new healthy organ from uhhhh this with no fear of rejection.... someday.  If you're on a waiting list, don't remove yourself from it just yet.

Charlie Sheen disapproves of the Duck Dynasty Christo-bigot.  'nuff said.  Really.  Enough.

Drugs killed a televangelist.  Perhaps selling a lot of books about how to be good turned him bad.

Taoist nonsense about the Solstice.  Though I think it's nonsense, I'll follow the advice to rest.

Attempted arsonists who tried to set fire to a "Keep Saturn in Saturnalia" billboard may be charged with a hate crime... if police can find them.

The Washington Post shows us American religion in six maps.

Video of the week:  Yes, privilege does create jerks:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Random Link Round-Up

Florida's capitol will host a Festivus Pole.

Homes in Victorian/Edwardian England held many dangers we don't face today.

Jewish treasures looted/stolen/demanded by Iraqi government over the decades now belong to the Iraqi government, after being restored by the American government.  The Jews want them back.  Sounds familiar.

Martin S. Pribble is quitting the online atheist community. I guess this is a pity, though I've never heard of him before. Should I be sad? hmmmm, no I'm not. He's gone over to the accommodationist side:

I have come to realise that we, as atheists and non-believers, make up such a small part of the world’s population that we can never hope to effect change in the world by ourselves. There has to be a way that we can get the theists onside with our ideas and prospective outcomes, and yelling at them is not it. In order to effect changes in the world we need the theists on our side.
The Village Voice doesn't like Lawrence Krauss because he's smug.   Why is being smug such a bad thing?  The Voice has been smug since its first issue.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation urges you to Keep Saturn in Saturnalia!

The "Sister Wives" family wins in Federal Court: the Utah prohibition against polygamy is declared  unconstitutional.  What next?  Bestiality?

 Video of the week is of a kindergarten student singing & signing in sign language for her parents in the audience.  A sweet counterpoint to the phony signer who signed for Obama, and she's a natural comedian too:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

1963 in Review

Every December you can count on a year-in-review story from every possible news source. The other day I made the mistake of looking at the Yahoo News top 10 searched news stories. Fortunately, I started with #10 and worked up to #1, which was the Jodi Arias trial. Really? A woman kills her boyfriend and that's the top news story of the year?

I would have expected to see the Syrian Civil War, and the Boston Marathon bombing, and they were indeed there. But also on the list was George Zimmermann's trial for killing Trayvon Martin and "Obamacare" (as if it was just a story in 2013). And then later in the week Nelson Mandela's death would have ranked, but the year's news just doesn't impress me.  I've watched and read some coverage of his death and there's one fact that seems buried in all the overblown rhetoric:  Nelson Mandela died from old age!  How many of America's civil rights heroes died in their nineties?

I turned 55 in 2013, which means I turned five in 1963. I barely understood any of the TV news stories, but you really didn't have to understand the words. The pictures told the story of events that changed history and defined the decade. We would not forget any of them no matter how many hours of I Dream of Jeannie we watched.  And to be sure we didn't, the events of 1963 would be replicated in almost every year throughout the decade. We had terrorist attacks, assassinations, riots, natural disasters, and the deaths of both heroes and innocents, one after the other after the other all throughout the decade. The Sixties ended for me with the Kent State deaths in 1970. Four innocent young people were gunned down by our own military right on our own harmless whitebread Midwestern soil.  It did seem to me that things kept getting worse, until they started getting better.

And now, people on both the right and left say the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  Yes, we have problems but are things really getting worse?

Let's see how we can confirm this impression. How about comparing 2013 to 1963? Has the world really gone to hell in a handbasket in fifty years?

So although I didn't personally comprehend these events, they shaped my comprehension of the world around me as chaotic, frightening, all wrong with the good guys getting shit on over and over again.  1963 was just the beginning, at least from my point of view, because that's when the world begins: when you turn five.

February, 1963
Betty Friedan's book, The Feminist Mystique, questions the Beaver Cleaver family values of the 1950s. You mean there's more to life than pleasing your husband and sons? (There were few daughters on 1950s television) This is considered the beginning of the modern women's movement, which was about: economic and intellectual equality.

April, 1963
Birmingham sit-ins and arrests. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes his Letter from Birmingham Jail. Those who didn't go to jail faced fire hoses and police dogs. Little kids in white America saw little kids in black America being treated this way and thought "I'm not sure I like this country as much as I used to."

May 11, 1963
Bombs, probably planted by the Ku Klux Klan, except for the one at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s house, which was set by a police officer, exploded in Birmingham.  They targeted the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.  A riot followed.  Federal troops responded.  Non-violent civil disobedience was the first  casualty.  Trust in American government (especially armed forces) was the next casualty.

June 11, 1963
A South Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, sets fire to himself to protest against the South Vietnamese government.  More self-immolations would follow.  People setting fire to themselves.  Incomprehensible, and it made the mystery of what we were doing in Vietnam all the more mysterious.

June 12, 1963
Civil rights activist Medgar Evers is assassinated and the killer gets away with it.  For decades.  Why should this murder be any different from other murders of black men in the South?

August 28, 1963
250,000 people march on the National Mall and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his "I have a dream" speech. People everywhere are inspired to join the fight, fight their own fight for rights, or fight to suppress people fighting for their rights. He wanted his children go grow up in a different America. Children already growing up in that America realize how lucky they are.

Sept. 15, 1963
Four girls die when their Birmingham church is bombed.  The church was an important gathering place for civil rights protesters but it was also just a church.  Black people everywhere thought "it could be me." Little kids everywhere thought "Wow, even little kids get killed!"

November 22, 1963
President Kennedy is assassinated. People everywhere thought "wow, even the president can be killed!" Middle-class white kids thought "wow, our comfortable lives are just an illusion. What else is wrong about the world?"

November 24, 1963

The new president (Johnson) confirms his support of South Vietnam in its war against North Vietnam. People are still too upset about Kennedy's assassination to comprehend what this means. They'll figure it out soon enough.

December, 1963
The Beatles invade America, over the radio (Their Ed Sullivan appearances were in 1964).  White kids listened to "I wanna hold your hand" while black kids were listening to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." "I love you, yeah yeah yeah" was the first pop song I ever learned. I didn't hear "A Change is Gonna Come" until just a few years ago.

In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed but it didn't solve everything.  Far from it.  Racial tension continued to plague the country throughout the 1960s, culminating in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and subsequent riots.

For a little kid, the world seemed chaotic, unfair, and dangerous.  1963 was just the beginning of the bad news that would plague the mid-1960s.  There would be more assassinations (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy), Vietnam got worse and worse and seemed like a bottomless pit of despair.  Napalm burned the skin off little kids and Americans massacred the My Lai village.  Demonstrations turned violent, there were more race riots, and even a music festival could come to a violent end (Altamont).

Coincidentally, 1963 was also the year that Valium was released.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
More 1963 pix and coverage:

The Atlantic had this idea before I did and they have great photos.

Life Magazine, known for its photos, captured these moments and more.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Breaking the Faith: Chilling New Series

(a review without many spoilers - because you should watch the show and feel its impact for yourself!)

TLC (formerly called The Learning Channel) has a new series that I thought from the ads was about the Amish.  (Amish youth also have a show)  This new show is called Breaking the Faith, and it's about escapees/former members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) polygamous Mormon offshoot cult.  You probably remember Warren Jeffs, the cult leader (the "prophet") who is in prison for his role in adult-child marriages, a.k.a. rape., and his own sexual abuse of girls.

The young men who are helping the women
The first episode aired a few days ago, and it centers on a handful of young adults who are escaping not just the repressive physical compound, but the brainwashing they've been brought up with.  The FLDS makes the Amish look like the Kardashians.  The control is total and they grew up with almost no contact with "gentiles."

Four boys/young men (ages 18-20) who are already on the outside break out four girls/young women (ages 18-22) who have gotten word to them that they want out of their religious prison.

These kids reveal an astonishing alternate reality that has been constructed by the cult.  The "prophet" is the top guy.  There is also a "bishop" and a group of brownshirt types nicknamed the "God Squad".  People on the outside are called "gentiles" and there is an inner circle called the "United Order."  Their compound is called "The Crick."

On the upside, they do love their families, and the families can be quite large.  Good men are rewarded with additional wives, so family size is symbolic and variable (unlike the muslim rule limiting men to four wives).  One of the young men has nine mothers and 19 siblings.  Another of the men has 62 siblings.   One of the girls comes from a highly-placed family that included 32 mothers and 302 siblings!  Two siblings in the show have only one mother because their dad just didn't cut the mustard.  Still, there were twelve children in the family, so they were never lonely.  

Despite a tightly controlled environment, each realized that there was something wrong in their Paradise, inspiring them to escape.  In some instances, they left behind a sibling who also wanted out, and their regret about this is palpable.

Of course, their limited experiences didn't prepare them for what they would find on the outside.  Although they came to see their leader and lifestyle as flawed, most of their beliefs are so entrenched that they experience intense fear and guilt almost immediately.  Apparently later episodes show them having fun, but the first episode gives you a glimpse into what is much more than culture shock.   They knew there was something wrong with their cult lifestyle, but they had no idea how much of their lives was based on lies, and they are genuinely dismayed as they try to sort it out.

They stay at a safehouse which is actually the home of one of the cult's most notorious turncoats --and they hear the other side of the story for the first time in their lives.  The girls look terrified as they face a loving woman who wants them to have a dignified and safe life for themselves.  It would be like one of us meeting Jeffrey Dahmer and hearing him say that all those stories about eating people were made up.  They aren't sure what to believe, and they are reluctant to give up everything at once.  Who would?  This will be tough going for them.

"Deprogramming" is the term for bringing people out of a cult environment, but for people who grew up in it, it's much more than that.  It's a total re-education.  I hate to use that word because of the obvious Communist link, but it's the only word that comes to mind.  They have to learn everything about the world from the ground-up because almost everything they've been told is a lie.

Add to this the sexual abuse and other forms of abuse they are recovering from, and I give these people kudos for being willing to heal themselves and help others.

I have not even scratched the surface of the drama and turmoil of this episode.  I watched it before going to bed and I couldn't sleep.  Many of the more disturbing details kept me awake and they still haunt me.  The mathematics of polygamy means that boys are mere flotsam to a polygamous cult, and the girls are possessions with no rights of their own.

I hope that more children escape this destructive and vile situation.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving-Hanukkah YIPPEE!

...when Jewish children are thankful for potato latkes! ...and the rest of us are thankful for Jewish talent & sense of humor:

I like the original song, the Mike Tompkins version, and this version:

So shoot me, I like these guys. Here's another one:

Not the funniest, but perhaps the cutest Hanukkah video. Also, the dancing might explain why so many Jewish kids decide on careers in law and medicine:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Indiana Link Round-up

I haven't had time for posting lately, and it's all I can do to keep up with the religion news in Indiana anyway.

Most recently, Jerry Coyne posts a letter from the FFRF to an Indiana school district that has two creationists in the science classroom.

In Muncie, the annual Fields of Faith had a military theme.  If your god needs an army of teenagers, then maybe he's not so omnipotent, is he?  Supposedly these things are led by students, but you can bet youth pastors were driving the buses that arrived by the uhhh busload.  Shining examples of pedophilia behind the wheel, no doubt, like this guy from nearby Hartford City.

As I wrote before, the Discovery Institute tried a tit-for-tat complaint against Ball State, making demands that supposedly parallel the case against Hedin.

Ball State responded to the Discovery Institute demands:  They won't revisit Intelligent Design, they claim they would have reviewed the courses the DI objected to, anyway, as part of continuous review, and they will review all the courses offered under the course number of Hedin's course.  In other words, up yours, DI!  The discovery institute threatened further actions.  Ohhh  I'm shaking in my shoes!

The Discovery Institute's John West sent a letter to the Muncie paper taking offense at having "Intelligent Design" linked to "creationism."  He also whines about ID being banished from science classrooms.

A couple of fundamentalist Christian students write to the Ball State student newspaper

So that's the local news.  The video(s) of the week have to be Malala on the Daily Show.  She exemplifies non-violent protest in asserting her right to an education.

There are three segments, one on-air and two off-air, all available here:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 28 Link Round-up

Tabernacle of DEATH!  Pastor killed by gunman while preaching.

The New York Times profiles the Buddhist temple where the Navy Yard shooter worshiped.  Among my many questions, why would a black guy live in a town called "White Settlement" anyway?

Perhaps the Dalai Lama -approved book on Buddhist science will explain it.

The U.K.'s Daily Mail puts two and two together and comes up with "Jesus was here."  Despite no evidence whatsoever that there was anything Christian about a first-century synagogue being dug up in the supposed home of Mary Magdalene, Christians want to believe it's proof that Jesus met Mary M. there and that Christians and Jews worshiped together.  WTF?

The Westboro Baptist church apparently switching gears, starts a twitter war with country singer Blake Shelton, who is an "adulterer" for getting divorced and remarried.  I can't wait until they decide to start a twitstorm in Hollywood!

German town to modern Jews:  oh you want your pre-Holocaust land back?  LOL no way, suckers.

I stumbled onto a
great list of naturalistic woo-parrot objections to actual science, and short, to the point responses.

A Christian school soccer game is cancelled because someone brought a holstered gun. Seriously. Apparently they don't think that praying not to be shot will be effective ;-)

It's come to this. It's a blogworthy event when someone "comes out" as pro-vaccine.

Video of the week:  the off-air part of the interview of Richard Dawkins on the Daily Show is longer than the part that aired (which was rather grim).

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 21 Link Round-up

How the Discovery Institute spends its "nonprofit" moneys. Conclusion: it's a scam. (Found via The Sensuous Curmudgeon)

Navy Yard shooting survivor:  "I got Lucky"  I wish more survivors would say this!
"I got lucky. It was my birthday, and I consider myself the second luckiest person on that day because my friend was the first luckiest person. But all those other people, they did not deserve that death," said Weaver, who knew six of the 12 people killed.

Glacier National Park's glaciers have been disappearing and soon there won't be any.

Global warming denial is equivalent to being a flat-earther.

PAC  to elect atheists/freethinkers.  Might not help but it couldn't hurt!

Video of the week:  Atheist and Christian comedians discuss God:

Another video of the week:  High school student activist who won an FFRF essay award reads the essay and answers questions:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

September 14 Link Round-up

Child-abusing cult in Germany with roots in Tennessee raided and the children placed in foster care.

Get yer Harry Potter spells exorcised here!  Only $400+ for private sessions!

Atheists get bullied in school.  No shit, Sherlock, erm, The Atlantic!

"Holy" water contains bacteria and fecal matter.  Yech!

Evangelicals take sides in the Baby Veronica case.  If they win, could it also mean the end of religion-specific adoptions?

Evangelical publication that doesn't have a list of Things that cannot be said was in trouble but got saved.

The 16th St Baptist Church bombing is still within living memory, yet Americans feel they are superior to muslims somehow.  If American history includes a church bombing that killed innocent little girls, is it any wonder our moral authority is questioned?

Hindu-Muslim violence again in India.  European Protestants and Catholics must feel so smug.  There is hope, though.  A new fatwa declares it's okay for Muslims to eat with Hindus.  Baby steps.  Baby steps.

Meanwhile, Muslims may have some relief from Buddhist violence in Myanmar.  And tourists from Singapore who put up Buddhist symbols and performed Buddhists chants in a Muslim prayer hall get booted out of Malaysia.

Why are people afraid of atheists again?

Video of the week:  Lawrence Krauss on whether science and religion can co-exist:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Discovery Institute threatens Ball State

Unless they think Hedin can file a grievance against Ball State, the Discovery Institute has absolutely no standing to make demands, yet they did it anyway:

The Sensuous Curmudgeon blog has excerpts and a link to the single-spaced 8-page letter that the Discovery Institute sent to Ball State's President JoAnn Gora, making several demands and setting an impossible deadline of September 30.  This is basically a game of tit-for-tat which can only waste Ball State's time, if they bother to do more than file it in their crackpot letters file.

The letter is an incoherent ramble despite having numbers and letters and page numbers and such.  From what I can tell, their demands are these:

Investigate all the Honors science courses to be sure nothing non-sciency is included, even though the course descriptions say these seminars are supposed to be about "the social and ethical consequences of scientific discoveries," among other things.  So.... they have to have real science in them, but also relate to real life.  A course that's basically just ID doesn't do either.  They are incensed that one of these courses includes ONE WEEK of religion and science.  Isn't that exactly what these courses should do?  The other fourteen weeks would include other social and ethical consequences of scientific discoveries.

They also complain that a biology course includes discussions of such things as cloning, gene therapy, and cancer.  Again, it sounds like this course fits the goals of the Honors science seminars exactly.  So their demand is that Gora investigate a course where the professor has done exactly what he/she is supposed to do.

They follow this up with a claim that Hedin's ID course fits the bill because it was interdisciplinary, which it clearly wasn't.  He was downright sneaky in the way he presented it, not to mention something of a prosletyzing bully, if the redditor who described his/her experience was telling the truth.  (Not impossible for them to be a liar - but I rather doubt it)

Another demand is for an investigation of a seminar course titled "Dangerous Ideas," which used the book, What is Your Dangerous Idea: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable.  They quote from a few of the atheists in the book, including Sam Harris (but not Jerry Coyne, who started the whole Hedin kerfuffle!)  They quote only atheistic excerpts, not the many, many other topics covered in the book.  They apparently can't comprehend the idea of context, nor are they able to understand that the very example they cite is the epitome of the kind of course that would put a religious discussion into a broader context -- i.e., exactly what Gora described as the appropriate way to incorporate religion in a university course.

The other problem with this demand is that it's a false equivalence to Hedin's course.  Hedin's course was offered for science credit.  The Dangerous Ideas course doesn't satisfy any particular requirement other than being a seminar course.  It's not a science course, nor is it considered part of any department in particular, though it could be a Philosophy or History course.  The course syllabus doesn't seem to be online, but if it follows the book, students would have been exposed to a wide variety of ideas, not just atheism.

They also demand the university examine the qualifications of the other professors who teach these courses, and indeed some are not scientists.  This is a fair demand, but since the course is interdisciplinary, it doesn't necessarily mean these people would be removed from the classroom.  Also, Hedin's credentials were less of an issue than the content of the course, and they affirmed his credentials in the end, so they're just being whiny.

Their legal claim is this:
Thus, in addition to banning science faculty from discussing intelligent design, you appear to have forbidden all BSU faculty from expressing their personal or professional
beliefs in favor of intelligent design in any class at BSU.  We believe that your effort to ban certain kinds of faculty speech at BSU is neither required nor justified by state or federal constitutional law, potentially runs afoul of the same law
First, they are misrepresenting what Gora's letter said.  Faculty can discuss intelligent design, but not as a science.  Second, they claim "To be lawful, your ban on the discussion of intelligent design in science classes must apply equally to science faculty who oppose intelligent design as well as to science faculty who support intelligent design."

So is this their threat?  On what grounds?  Religious expression?  That is the only possible grounds, which would undermine their claim that what they do is a science, not religion.  Stupid. Stupid.  Stupid.
But once BSU has determined that intelligent design is an impermissible topic in science classes, it cannot apply this policy selectively only to science faculty who support intelligent design; BSU must apply this policy equally to all science faculty and their classes.
Well, yes, it bloody well can apply it only to supporters of ID.  Science professors can say that astrology is baloney and that phrenology is nonsense, and that alchemy is bunk.  Add ID to the list of unscientific nonsense that deserves all the scorn a scientist chooses to waste class time hurling.   It deserves no respect at all from anybody in any field, but especially not in a science class.

So here we get to the tu quoque part of the Gish gallp: 
If all BSU faculty are now forbidden from endorsing intelligent design in any class they teach because you think their individual comments represent an official endorsement of religion by BSU, then those same faculty must also be forbidden from endorsing criticisms of intelligent design , because in BSU’s view those criticisms would be tantamount to an official attack on religion by BSU.
They also claim that Ball State "relied on stereotypes and misrepresentations from its critics" when defining ID as religion, yet one of the signatures is from a Ball State alumnus, John McLaughlin, whose credentials include missionary work in prisons and fund-raising for that horrid "Teen Mania" so-called mission (their real mission is fund-raising) that I have blogged about before.  So if they are trying to distance themselves from Christianity, why have this guy on their letter?  Stupid.  Stupid.  Stupid.

So which is it?  They don't want it to be considered a religion, except if it's convenient to them.  Would it be within a professor's rights to detail why ID is baloney?  Certainly.  It's not insulting to a particular religion, only to a religiously-motivated attack on science.  The only good reason to muzzle a professor who would be tempted to go on at length about the stupidity of ID would be to make them focus on real science that students need to learn.  There are 45 50-minute hours in a typical university course.  That's not nearly enough time to explore the wonderful and exciting discoveries made by real scientists.

They have no case.   The university can't possibly reply in time, nor should they bother.  This is simply a fund-raiser, intelligently designed to gin up support within their evangelical Christian base.

I happened to watch the Nova special on the Dover trial this past week, and in light of that video, I just have to laugh at this latest attempt on their part to be relevant on the national stage.  I highly recommend the Nova video. It's a much better use of your time than reading the DI letter:

The case was a slam-dunk for real science.  They are on the losing side of history and they just need to get over it.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

September 7 Link round-up

Pastor asks a politician why he supports gay marriage.  Gets pwned.

Study shows the brain adds nascent cells during sleep.  We used to think you had all the brain cells you'll ever have by the time you're about three years old.  YAY for science for incorporating new evidence into the story of the brain.   That's how science is supposed to work.  Actually, that's how everything should be!

Gun-totin' soccer mom killed by her husband.  Live by the sword...?

Woman kicked out of Westboro Baptist Church celebrates her wedding without any blood relatives in attendance.  What a sick cult.

At the last minute, an Orthodox Jew gets to stay in school despite missing class on Jewish holidays.  Sheesh.  Why do Christians think it's okay to be dismissive of the sincere beliefs of others?

Conspiracy Theory Addiction and Christian Fundamentalism: why the two go together.

Grisly photos of skeletons of "saints" bejeweled in Rome's catacombs.  Why do saints need jewels anyway?

Video of the week:  Nova on the Dover, Pennsylvania (Kitzmuller) Intelligent Design trial.  Not new, but someone told me about it last week so it's new to me, and in case it's new to you:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Twelve Questions in Genesis

Some Questions about the Creation Story as told in Genesis:

  1. How could there be days before the Sun was made?  (Gen 1:3 vs. Gen 1:14-18)
  2. How could there be plants before there were night and day?  (Gen. 1:11-16)
  3. God made the Sun, the Moon and the Stars but not planets?  Where are the planets?  (Gen 1:14-19)
  4. If God is all-powerful why did he need a day of rest?  (Gen 2:2)
  5. Why aren't microscopic plants and animals mentioned?
  6. Why did God make livestock and then tell Adam & Eve to eat only plants?  (Gen 1:24; Gen 1:29)
  7. Why does Chapter 2 have a different version from Chapter 1?  Were there plants before Man was made or not?  And why was it a problem that there were no crops yet when they already had all they could eat in the Garden?  (Gen 2:5)
  8. If Adam was not alive until God breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, does that mean that a fetus is not alive until it takes its first breath? (Gen 2:7)
  9. If Eve didn't know about good & evil before eating from the tree of good & evil, then how could she be punished for committing evil?  (Gen 3:4)
  10. If God is a spirit, how did Adam & Eve hear him clomping around the Garden of Eden?  (Gen 3:8)
  11. If the serpent was already a serpent, then why did God curse it to crawl on its belly?  Didn't it already do that?  (Gen: 3:14)
  12. If there is only one god, then why did he say, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (Gen 3:22)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 31 Link Round-Up

Kitten in a Cup for to Cheer you Up
The myth of the teenaged temptress.  "It doesn't matter if a young girl is saying yes, it's an adult man's job to say no."  (Blog post in response to the judge who gave a teacher a slap on the wrist in a rape case involving a 14-year-old student who subsequently committed suicide.  The judge basically blamed the victim in his statement)

Employers are not accommodating diverse religions, but evangelicals have no problem expressing themselves at work, unlike others.  Wow.  Surprise.

A new film, God Loves Uganda, documents the rise of evangelical Christianity.

A new book, The Story of the Jews, is really many stories of many Jews, killed during the Middle Ages in Europe for various trumped-up reasons. 

A study of almost 190,000 people shows that religious people are happier when they are poor.  Is it wrong to then have Schadenfreude over the misery that Joel Osteen must be suffering?

Dolphins are dying from a measles-like virus.  Other related viruses have affected dogs and cattle, and vaccines are effective in preventing those diseases.  Vaccinating dolphins could be rather difficult, though!

A shark that walks along the ocean floor has been discovered in Indonesia.  

Another superheavy man-made element makes it onto the Periodic Table.  More for high school students to memorize!

People who watch / listen to conservative media are more likely to distrust science and to deny global warming.  Someone got paid to figure that out!

Book of the week:  Breaking their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.   A friend recently read this and said it's chilling.  I'm not sure I have the stomach for it but I'll pass along the info here.

Science video of the week:  Sign the petition to name hurricanes after climate-denying lawmakers:

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 24 Link Round-up

Rationalist assassinated in India. Wow. Just. Wow.

Anti-vaxxer Texas megachurch surprises nobody with measles outbreak.  Another example of child abuse in the name of religion!

Westboro Baptist Church gets another smack-down from another legal venue.  It seems protests at funerals offend just about everybody everywhere.

God tries to smite the creation museum with lightning, misses, only injures one person.

Fundamentalist muslim in Australia says "Kill all Buddhists and Hindus."  Religion of peace.  yeah.

Religion rakes in $82 billion per year.  Well, if tax subsidies count.  I chose the wrong profession!

Video of the Week: Minute Physics on Science, Religion, and the "Big Bang":

Video of the Week 2: 25 Strangest Geological Formations on Earth:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jerry Coyne on Beluga Whales in Confinement

My previous post included a link to a recent decision by the NOAA not to grant permission for importation of captured beluga whales.  Although I follow Jerry Coyne's blog, I had forgotten that he had written a touching and passionate blog post about this petition last year:

Apparently, this is one instance when the good guys won.  Perhaps the outcry by Coyne and his readers and other humans with compassion for other sentient beings has turned the tide for these animals. I hope sentient sea mammals can continue to do what they do without our interference or capture!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

On the Ethics of Keeping Animals

Note: there will be no link round-up today because a couple of blog posts and news items inspired the following post:

A recent study found that humans have more empathy for beaten puppies than for human crime victims:
Jack Levin  and Arnold Arluke, sociology professors at Northeastern University, used the opinions of 240 men and women, most of whom were white and between the ages of 18-25 (college students), at a large northeastern university (guess which one) who randomly received one of four fictional news articles about; the beating of a one-year-old child, an adult in his thirties, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. The stories were identical except for the victim's identify. After reading their story, respondents were asked to rate their feelings of empathy towards the victim.

Survey results showed that abused adult people have it bad in our culture while dogs have it quite good.  Even the difference in empathy for human children versus puppies was statistically non-significant.
Granted, this study was done within just one part of the American public,  but it raises an important question:  Why do humans hold sentient, social animals in captivity despite our sympathy for them?

This month on the Secular Web, there's an article by Richard Schoenig on whether there can be objective ethics without a deity, and he proposes a system of "ethical rationalism."  He deliberately left aside the issue of ethical treatment of animals other than human beings.  I'm going to try to fill in that gap a little.

Schoenig's "system" includes principles that most people would not dispute regarding human-to-human interactions:
  1. The principle of respect for the life of others ...  to respect the integrity of others' lives... also that we must not cause any unwarranted pain or suffering.
  2. The principle of fairness requires that we give others their due...
  3. The principle of truth-telling says that we must not lie, mislead, or withhold the truth when the situation calls for telling the truth.
  4. The principle of respect for legitimate property ...
  5. The principle of self-support ...
  6. The principle of autonomy (for competent people)
  7. The principle of assistance (PA) states that capable people have a moral obligation under certain circumstances to help those in need who cannot help themselves...
He expands on the last point quite a bit, and to me, this one and the first one are the core values that would apply to relationships between humans and other animals.  Schoenig seems uncomfortable with the idea of rendering assistance, and he goes into detail working out his rather libertarian views on helping others.  He quotes the classic "trolley problem," which I think does apply to our treatment of animals.  In the trolley problem, the subject has to choose between diverting a trolley, thus saving five people but sacrificing one, or letting the trolley run its course, guaranteeing the death of the others further away.   Schoenig's response is rather libertarian, in my opinion, and his calculations lack the one factor that I think causes us to worry about these things in the first place:  compassion.

The trolley problem writ large is a perfect metaphor for our struggle with issues of animal ethics.  For example:

  • Should we prohibit the killing of lions in the savannah because they are endangered, even if it means the lions will eat the villagers' goats and cause them to starve?  Or to Americanize it, should we prohibit the killing of the grey wolf even by farmers who are protecting their livestock?
  • Do we protect the snail darter, a tiny fish from Tennessee Valley Authority's planned dam, which would disrupt its life cycle and destroy its habitat? (The Supreme Court decided in favor of the dam, but the fish were relocated to a different river and it is still a threatened species)
  • Should billions of acres be devoted to corn for animal feed when deforestation is one of the causes of global warming?  If we didn't eat pigs and cows many of those acres could be returned to their native state.
  • Is the human-animal bond sufficient to justify keeping parrots as pets?
  • Should food animals be raised with modern methods to maximize their potential to feed more people?
  • Should we allow the human population to continue to grow, considering how many species we are endangering?
  • Should exurbia continue to sprawl into native habitats when inner cities have vacant housing that could be restored?

Religion isn't very helpful here.  Buddhists revere all life, are strict vegetarians, and literally will not hurt a fly.  On the other extreme are cultures that have no regard for animal life whatever, and engage in what many Americans would consider atrocities.  And then American animal treatment has a long way to go.  In each of the above examples, animals are on the losing end because we consider our needs and comfort to be more important than theirs.

At the risk of sounding post-modern, the less we relate to another, the easier it is to disregard the "other."  The United States no longer has any states where African-Americans are considered 3/5 human, or where women are prohibited from owning property, but current political debate continues to involve the resistance of the "sames" to the "others:"   gays, immigrants, Muslims, etc.  (No debate about whether it's okay to hate atheists, yet, though)

More and more, though, we are accepting that we are not quite as unique as we would like to feel.  We are not the only species to adopt orphans.  We are not the only species to show grief at the death of a family member.  Other species have been found to use tools and to have language-like abilities.  Here are some recent news items about other animals:
As biologists continue to find commonalities with other animals, our biggest uniqueness seems to be the ability to make or break the existence of other species.   Protection of species and the environment have succeeded in part because of enlightened self-interest:  If we continue to  decimate the Brazilian rain forest we might cause the extinction of a plant that could cure cancer!  If we kill too many deer this year, there won't be enough next year for us to hunt!   We love to visit redwood forests, so lets keep some of them for our amusement!
So back to Schoenig.  His Number One rational value is: The principle of respect for the life of others ...  to respect the integrity of others' lives... also that we must not cause any unwarranted pain or suffering.  This stands alone, without respect to our own amusement or comfort.  I can't kill someone to harvest their kidney for myself, nor can I torture him for sport.

Now let's widen the circle a little - to some of the more closely-related "others."  In the 1970s and 1980s, young baboons were sacrificed for their hearts, which were transplanted into infants that died soon after.  The most famous was "Baby Fae."  How did the baboon's mother feel about this?   Nobody thought of that in the 1980s.  Studies of baboon social life indicate that females bond very closely to their female relatives.  ... and they love their offspring.  Yes, love. Parental love is due at least in part to the hormone, oxytocin, which is present in almost all placental mammals.  Let's decide to stop killing primates to harvest their organs, okay?

But what if you could save ten babies named Fae with one baboon heart?  That's the trolley problem.  Fortunately, as in the case of the snail darter, the trolley problem may have been a false dilemma.  (The ethics of keeping doomed babies "alive" is another topic for another day)

"Unwarranted" pain or suffering is the razor's edge, though.  If we hold a human baby's life in higher regard than a baboon's, then the baboon's suffering is justified.  But what if the human benefit is not life-or-death?  And what if the human's chance of survival are not greatly improved by the baboon's sacrifice?  Animal activists have been arguing against unwarranted animal destruction and have been successful in a number of areas:
What got me thinking about ethics and animals was a recent news item in which the U.S. government denied a petition to import beluga whales for public display.  Belugas, like other whales, live in pods.  Separating the individuals from their pods is cruel, and if the recent dolphin study is indicative of cetaceans (marine mammals) in general, they would recognize their pod if reunited.

The debate whether zoos are important has good points on both sides, but as much as I enjoy zoos, I'm starting to view them as being on the wrong side of history.  In the past, we had traveling circuses where people viewed animal tricks, and in general gawked at alien animals.  Then we had Sea World and Siegfried und Roy in stable locations coaching animals to do tricks.

Zoos and Sea World are becoming more humane, though, and nobody wants to follow in Siegried and Roy's dubious footsteps.  Habitat areas in zoos are more similar to the natural habitat, and keepers give the animals stimulating activities.  Sadly, though, too many social animals are still alone in their enclosures, or one of only a few when in the wild they would live in an extended family.  Even if they embrace their keepers in a human-animal bond, it's not the same.  An example is Lucy, an Asian elephant living in the cold climate of Canada, without any other elephants to socialize with.  The zoo claims she's happy.

The educational value of captive enclosures is perhaps the best argument for keeping zoos and aquaria, though I think they could still expand environments.  And we have to admit -- if we're being honest -- cute, beautiful, human-like, or scary animals are still the real attractions.  Would Sea World want those Beluga whales if they didn't look a bit like Homer Simpson?

Land animals can be "preserved" in sanctuaries or wildlife reserves, but preservation of sea animals is more of a challenge.  Their natural range is much further than land mammals, so even turning the Grand Canyon into a sea would not be enough space.

The best argument for zoos and aquaria in my opinion is the advancement of veterinary science for those animals.  We can help injured animals now, and we often do.  If the same could be accomplished by sanctuaries that would be even better.

There are sanctuaries for African animals in the United States, which is rather disturbing.  Many of the animals came from the exotic pet trade, as owners realize their cute little lion cub is not quite as cute as an adult.  A "sanctuary" implies there would be no other option for the animal, and they will be in safe keeping.  But it's still keeping.

Why do we keep animals, either in zoos or as pets?  The animals sometimes suffer terribly.  Parrots pull out their feathers.  Large mammals in small enclosures pace in circles.  Big cats attack zoo employees at their first opportunity.  I think it's because we like them and feel some empathy for them.  Only recently have we become sensitized to their suffering in captivity.

So how do we define our ethical responsibility toward other animals?  Studies of animal behavior can help us define what constitutes suffering for them, not in comparison to our suffering.  I think it comes down to the brain development of the species, and their instinctual needs.  We can assume that all animals with brains can experience pain.  I admit to a need to eat meat, so I can't go the distance to encourage vegetarianism, but farming methods and slaughter methods can be made less painful.

Social animals with brains capable of social bonding should not be separated from their family groups.  This would include other primates, elephants, giraffes, and other zoo staples. If zoos are to continue, they should create social groups and provide sufficient space to support the entire group.  With the advent of webcams, visitors can be shown video images of the animals wherever they happen to be within their space rather than forcing them into small pens.

Aquaria and Sea World shouldn't keep dolphins or whales unless they can give them large spaces to swim.  Animal tricks would not be possible without some kind of human-animal bonding, and I don't dismiss this possibility.  There are many instances in nature when an animal fosters the young of a different species.  But when you consider the large ranges of dolphins and whales, is the distraction of tricks for treats sufficient to make up for what they've lost?

India has banned the keeping of captive dolphins and Costa Rica closed its zoos.  Will Sea World and your local zoo go the way of the circus?

Animals that need to learn their survival behaviors from a family group, are kind of stuck, and they are our responsibility if we have reared them.  This brings us to the libertarian #7 of Schoenig's system: fostering an unhealthy dependence.  When it comes to humans, I don't think this is really that much of a risk.  When it comes to intelligent and social animals, it is definitely a risk. There are many of these.  We habitually rescue animals that need to learn life skills that we can't possibly teach them.  An example is a walrus that is now at the Indianapolis zoo.   Humans and other sentient animals can bond, but should they, erm, we?

Unfortunately, due to our ability to destroy the planet through deforestation, pollution, overpopulation, overfishing, and global warming, all species on the planet are now our responsibility.  They have an unnatural dependence on us whether we have contact with them or not.  In the case of domesticated animals, we created their species so we are 100% responsible for everything related to their suffering and survival.  In the case of endangered species, we have most likely caused their endangered status, so nurturing individuals in rescue/rehabilitation programs is essential.  Preserving the gene pool through zookeeping, maybe not so much.  We should definitely be banking sperm from endangered animals to the extent we can.  We should be saving ecosystems by converting golf courses (yes, golf courses!) and other unnatural spaces back to their original states.

We do indeed have a moral obligation to prevent suffering and care for those animals that depend on us directly or indirectly.

Dogs in "captivity" are also our responsibility because we created their species from wolves.  They do not have the jaw strength to hunt like wolves, and they are juvenile temperaments have been bred into them, so they can't mimic wolf packs as much as people would like to think.  Dogs can revert to "wild" but even in undeveloped areas of the world, they are rather parasitic and seemingly unable to survive away from human settlements.  Mine are happy when I come home and they sleep with me.  Would they prefer to chase squirrels all day?  Possibly.  But they were bred to be companions of humans.

So I'm keeping them.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

More Child Abuse in the Name of Religion

In the local paper today, a Christian couple that starved their children after leaving Muncie to join some cult in Branson, Missouri, are being held to account:

According to documents at the time of their arrest, Jason and Amy Doty told police they had moved to Branson, Mo., in March 2012 “to follow a church ministry there.” While there, the family ran through its savings; the parents acknowledged they would go without feeding the children for two to four days at a time, and had noticed them losing weight but did not seek assistance or medical attention until they returned to Muncie, just days before their arrest.

...The younger girl, who was taken to Riley Hospital for Children for severe malnutrition in June 2012, had stopped walking by the time she was hospitalized, according to police at the time. She eventually learned to crawl and then walk again, but suffered irreversible brain damage as a result of malnutrition, Whitehead reported.Both girls lost much of their hair, had seriously compromised immune systems and had physical problems as a result of poor hygiene. Both still suffer from nightmares and have trouble eating, being prone to “gag and puke” regularly at the table during meals, the aunt said.
But... seven years is the sentence.  Seven years?  They should stay in jail until the children are 18 at least.   And these idiots want to gain custody of the children.  Fortunately, an aunt has taken them in and cared for them and wants to adopt them.

An Arizona couple went even further, geographically at least.  They left the country in a boat -- with their toddler and newborn -- to escape supposed religious persecution in the U.S.  The Young Turks got it right:  God didn't help them navigate, so the couple got lost, then "miraculously" rescued, and they wound up in Chile, where abortion is illegal.  So perhaps God wanted them to be in Chile.... but no, now they're going back to the U.S., paid for by the State Department.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August 10 Link Round-up

Baptist pastor expelled from church for attending Rick Ross ("God Forgives, I Don't") concert.  Oh the irony.

The Slate reports on the sexual harrassment problem in secularism.

Crazy Christian in Washington (state) blows up the family dog because it had demons.

Two British teens visiting Zanzibar are the victims of an acid-throwing attack.... because they sang during Ramadan.  Seriously?  Singing?

Conservatives don't care about the consequences of their "morality."  Someone got paid to study that.  I picked the wrong career!

Teens exploited by churches around the country to demand a ridiculous exhibit comparing abortion to the Holocaust.  Even sadder, they're probably aware of being used and proud of it.

Former  basketball coach converts to Islam, goes off the rails, threatens Mormons & Catholics, and gets arrested for pot possession.  Yes, this is the real reason pot is illegal: to get people you don't like off the streets.

Link round-up at a blog I've recently started following, "No Longer Quivering"  Great links, great blog.

Atheism is considered a suicide risk by the military.

Clashes between Hindus and moslems in Kashmir, the only Islamic-majority part of India.

Salon says it misses Hitch more than ever since a video of Kissinger dancing with Colbert goes viral.  (with video interview of Hitch from 2001)

A humanist chaplain at Harvard explains why a humanist/atheist chaplain would be a good idea in the military.

The Barking Atheist challenges Rep. Michael Burgess on his vote to deny atheist chaplains in the military.  Check out the Barking Athiest's blog, too.  His video of this event is the video of the week, below:

Saturday, August 3, 2013

August 3 Link round-up

The big news this week is that Ball State University's president made an unequivocal statement on the non-place of Intelligent Design in science education.

Blog posts of interest, mainly for the comments!

The local paper's comment section continues to be trolled by creationists and idiots:
For comparison, the Huffpo piece has 944 shares, and the latest local story about Ball State being a good deal for the money has zero Facebook shares so far.  So apparently people are paying attention.  I wonder how many re-shares these stories have gotten.

Video of the Week, Saul Becomes a Christian (Atheist Bible Study):
He had to do a second take, which means he was even drunker than usual while reading the Children's Bible. I literally laughed out loud in the middle of this one! My brain says "hey, he's really not that funny" but then I laughed anyway (especially after about 5:20).