Category Archives: Atheism

Web breaks echo-chambers, or, ‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’ – my remarks at #AAASmtg

As you probably know, I was in D.C. last week, attending the annual AAAS meeting. This was my second one (funny, back when I was a member of AAAS I was still in grad school and I could never afford to go – now that I am out of science, invitations are finally happening). It is an enormous meeting (about 8200 people this year, I hear) and I missed even seeing some of the friends as the space was so enormous and the program so rich.

Unlike last year, when I was in a session that made quite a splash, this year I was a part of a much more academic panel on Social Networks and Sustainability.

Organized by Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University, the panelists were Mrill Ingram (University of Wisconsin), Ken Frank (Michigan State University) and Adam D. Henry (West Virginia University). These are people from areas like sociology, people who make graphs like this one and understand how to properly interpret it:

My role on the panel was as a ‘discussant’, i.e., someone who does not give a separate talk but comments, at the end, on what the other panelists have said.

I am glad I got the materials from the panelists in advance as this was quite dense stuff.

Every scientific discipline invents new words – the terminology (or jargon) with precise meaning that is necessary for practitioners to talk to each other. For the most part, natural sciences tend to stick to agreed definitions, and counter-examples are relatively rare thus usually quite well known (e.g., the different use of the term “gene” by population geneticists vs. molecular geneticists).

Social sciences, on the other hand, tend to appropriate words from the existing English vocabulary and give those words new, precise definitions. Thus, possibility of misunderstanding by non-experts is greater. Also, some of the terms are defined differently by different sub-disciplines, research communities or even individuals, which makes it even harder to be sure one got the meaning correctly.

This all made reading the materials, as well as listening to the panel, quite challenging for me, the outsider in this field. I am also not a researcher of social networks – I am a user and observer, perhaps an amateur student of them. My thoughts could not be supported by numbers and graphs, but had to, by necessity, be more impressionistic – what I learned from my experiences using, living in, and running online social communities.

As all the speakers went substantially over their allotted times all I had left was seven minutes. Fortunately for me, I had all seven (not 3.5) as the other discussant’s flight into D.C. was canceled. Also fortunately for me, this was the very last time-slot of the meeting, so nobody was in a rush to go to another session and thus everyone let me talk a few minutes longer and then remained in the room asking even more questions.

As I tend to do, and in this case particularly, I decided not to prepare too much (OK, at all) in advance. Instead, I listened to the panelists carefully and made the decision what to say only once I climbed onto the podium in the end and knew how much time I had at my disposal. I decided what to say in the first couple of sentences – the rest came out on its own, pure improvisational theater.

As I was reading the materials and listening to the talks, I realized that a couple of examples were clearly discussing real-world, meat-space, offline social networks, but that all the other examples were ambiguous: I could not figure out if those were online, offline, or combined/hybrid social networks.

So, I decided to use my seven minutes to compare and contrast online and offline social networks, how they differ (more important than how they are similar, which is the default thinking), and how they interact and potentially strengthen each other due to such differences.

This is, roughly, what I said – or at least what I meant to say but had to speed up, i.e., this is an (very) expanded version:

Social norms build and enforce echo-chambers

You want to remain in a friendly relationship with the people you see (or potentially can see) often: neighbors, family, colleagues and friends. Nothing makes for a more unpleasant interaction than discussion of politics, ideology or religion with the people you disagree with.

Thus, there is a social norm in place: politics and religion are taboo topics in conversation. It is considered bad manners to start such conversations in polite company.

This means that most people are not exposed to views other than their own in their day-to-day interactions with other people.

In a small tightly-knit community where everyone’s politics and religion are the same (and people tend to move to such places in order to feel comfortable, on top of most likely being born in such a community to begin with), there is no need to discuss these topics as everyone already agrees. If the topic is discussed, there are no other opinions to be heard – it’s just back-slapping and commiserating about the evil enemies out there.

In mixed communities, the taboo against discussing politics and religion is strongly enforced. Again, as a result, there is not much chance to hear differing opinions.

There is no more airtight echo-chamber than a small community which interacts predominantly within itself, and not so much with the outside world.

Mass media builds and enforces echo-chambers

If you are born and raised by parents with a particular set of beliefs, you will also inherit from them the notions of which media outlets are trustworthy. If you were raised in the reality-based community, you are unlikely to waste much time with the media of the fantasy-based community (and vice versa). If your parents read Washington Post, you are unlikely to read Washington Times. You’ll prefer New York Times and not New York Post. MSNBC rather than Fox News. NPR rather than Limbaugh show on the radio.

But it is even worse than that – the choice is really not as broad. The media shapes the public opinion by choosing what is and what is not respectable opinion, i.e., ‘sphere of legitimate debate’ – what opinions to cover as serious, what opinions to denigrate and what opinions to ignore. There are many ideas that people hold that you will never see even mentioned in the US mass media and some of those are actually very legitimate in the Real World.

Furthermore, the press then divides the ‘respectable opinion’ into two opposites, gives voice to each of the two, and will never actually tell you which of the two is more reasonable than the other – “we report, you decide”, aka, He Said She Said journalism.

By presenting every issue as a battle between two extremes (and the fuzzy, undefinable “middle” is reserved only for them, the wise men), the mainstream press makes every opinion something to be sneered at, both those they deem worthy of mentioning and the unmentionable ones.

By refusing to acknowledge the existence of many stands on any issue, by refusing to assign Truth-values to any, by looking down at anyone who holds any opinion that is not their own, the mainstream press fosters the atmosphere of a bipolar world in which enmity rules, and the wagons need to be circled – the atmosphere that is so conducive to formation and defense of echo-chambers and yet so devoid of airing of any alternatives.

The Web breaks echo-chambers

When an individual first goes online, the usual reaction is shock! There are people in the world who believe what!?!?

The usual first response is anger and strenuous attempts at countering all other ideas and pushing one’s own.

But after a while, unbeknown to the person, all those various novel ideas start seeping in. One is not even aware of changing one’s own mind from one year to the next. Many ideas take time to process and digest and may quietly get incorporated into one’s gradually enriching and more sophisticated worldview.

We all learn from encountering all those other opinions even if we vehemently disagree with them. And we cannot help bumping into them all the time. There are no taboo topics online, no social norms preventing people from saying exactly what they think.

Forming, finding or defending a vacuum-sealed echo-chamber online is extremely difficult, if at all possible.

Your Facebook friends will post stuff that reveals their politics is different than yours (and you did not even know that about them before – they seemed so nice in real life!). By the time you get around to blocking them…it’s too late – the virus has already entered your head [this one sentence added 2-27-11].

People you follow on Twitter because of some common interest (e.g., food or knitting or parenting or technology or geographic area) may be very different from you when concerning some other interest, e.g., religion, and will occasionally post links to articles that contain opinions you have never heard of before.

If you are, for example, a liberal and tend to read only liberal blogs, you will constantly see links to conservative sites that are being debunked by your favourite bloggers – thus you will be exposed to conservative ideas daily.

If your interest is science, you are even luckier. The mainstream media, if it links to anything at all, tends to link either to each other or to governmental sources (e.g., CDC, USDA, etc.). Political bloggers link a lot more, but again the spectrum of sources is pretty narrow – they link to MSM, to governmental pages, and to each other (including the “opposition” bloggers).

But science bloggers link to a vastly broader gamut of sources. If mass media is linked to at all, it is usually in order to show how bad the coverage was of a science story. Linking to each other is important (and that includes linking to anti-science sites when needed to counter them), but what science bloggers do that others do not is link to scientific papers, documents, databases, even raw data-sets (including some Open Notebook Science bloggers who pipe data straight from their lab equipment onto the web).

What echo-chamber? Contrary to what some uninformed op-eds in the mass media like to say, the Web breaks echo-chambers that the social norms and mass media have previously built.

The online and offline social networks can work synergistically to affect real change

Many curmudgeons like to say that the Web does not do anything on its own. They (unlike behavioral biologists) do not understand the distinction between Proximal Causes and Ultimate Causes. Web is a tool that allows, among other things, many more people in much shorter time to organize to do something useful in the real world.

Release of Tripoli 6 was an instance in which massive outpouring of support online forced the mainstream media to cover the story which then forced the hand of politicians to do something.

Likewise, in the case of resignation of George Deutsch from NASA, it was investigative work by a blogger, Nick Anthis, that energized the blogosphere, which pushed the MSM to finally report on the story, which forced the event to happen.

PRISM was an astroturf website built to counter the pro-open-access NIH bill in the US Senate. Outpouring of online anger at the tactics by the publishers’ lobby inundated the senatorial offices – as a result the bill passed not once, but twice (GW Bush vetoed the first version of the large omnibus bill it was a part of, then signed it with no changes in the language on this particular issue) and the Senate is now educated on this issue.

But probably the best example is the Dover Trial (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District) that made Intelligent Design illegal to teach in US public schools. The ruling by Judge Jones (pdf) is one of the most powerful texts in the history of judicial decisions I am aware of.

There are anti-evolution bills popping up somewhere in the country seemingly every week. But because of the Dover ruling, they are all illegal. Most don’t make it to the committee, let alone to the floor of the state legislatures. Others are soundly defeated.

Before Dover, both Creationist sites and pro-evolution sites, when linking to me, would bring approximately the same amount of traffic to my blog. After Dover, getting a link from PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Larry Moran or Jerry Coyne brings substantial new traffic. Links from Creationist sites? Essentially undetectable by traffic trackers – I discover them only when I search my blog URL to specifically see if there are new links out there. Creationism, while still popular with the people, is politically essentially dead. The Dover ruling castrated it.

But Dover Trial would not have gone that way, and would not result in such a gorgeously written document by the Judge, if it was not for a small army of bloggers who contribute to the blog Panda’s Thumb. A mix of scientists from different disciplines, lawyers, etc., this group has been online – first on Usenet, later on the blog – for a couple of decades before the trial.

This is a group of people who battled Creationists for many years, online and offline, in courtrooms and political campaigns, in classrooms and in print. They know all the characters, all the usual creationist “arguments” (and provided all the answers to them in one place), all the literature, etc.

It is one of them who discovered that the new Intelligent Design “textbook” is really just a reprint of an old Creationist book, in which the word “Creationists” was replaced by “Intelligent Design proponents” throughout the text….except in one place where they made a typo: “Cdesign proponentsists”.

Ooops – a huge piece of evidence that Intelligent Design Creationism is just a warmed-up version of the old-style Creationism masquerading as something new. The Panda’s Thumb bloggers were at the trial as expert witnesses who provided all the expert evidence that Judge Jones needed to make his decision. People who organized on the Web have helped a meatspace history come to pass.

The online and offline social networks can work synergistically if the ecology is right

When looking at the role of online communities and networks in meatspace events, counting the numbers of networked citizens (or ratio of networked to non-networked citizens) is not sufficient – one also needs to know their geographic distribution, and their connectiveness with non-networked citizens. The most fresh example are the so-called “Twitter revolutions” in the Arab world.

There are at least two possible scenarios (or thought experiments) that demonstrate the importance of ecological thinking about social networks:

1) There are 10 people on Twitter in a country. All in the same city, all in the same college dorm, good friends with each other. No communication with other people. No Twitterati in other cities. Nobody knows that other people in other cities have the same negative feelings toward the government.

2) There are 10 people on Twitter in a country. One each in 10 different cities. They communicate with each other via social networks continuously. Each is also a center of the local community of thousands of non-networked people using offline methods of communication. Through this connection, they become aware that there are millions of them, all over the country, and that a revolution is feasible.

In scenario 1, there are 10 buddies dreaming of revolution. In scenario 2, there are thousands of people in ten cities organizing revolution. In both, there are only 10 people on Twitter. Yet, the outcome is likely to be very different.

Thus, the ecology of the networkers, their spatial and temporal distribution, and their effectiveness in informing not just each other but many non-networked citizens, are important data one needs for this exercise.

‘Echo-chamber’ is just a derogatory term for ‘community’

I shamelessly stole this sub-heading from someone on Twitter (let me know who said it first if you know). Edit: Thank you – it was Chris Rowan,

A great example of a case where the Web produced a community (aka echo-chamber) but that was a good thing, is the case of American atheists.

Before the Web, each atheist in the USA thought he or she was the only one in the country. The social norms about the impoliteness of discussing religion, as well as the real fear of reprisals by the religious neighbors, made atheism completely invisible. No need to mention that the media never mentioned them – they were outside of the “sphere of legitimate debate”.

But then the Web happened, and people, often pseudonymously, revealed their religious doubts online. Suddenly they realized they are not alone – there are millions of atheists in the country, each closeted before, each openly so after! It is not a surprise that “no belief” is the fastest-growing self-description in questions about religion in various nation-wide polls and censuses.

President Bush Senior, himself not very religious, could say that atheists are not real American citizens. A decade later, his son GW Bush, himself a fundamentalist, could not say that any more – his speechwriters made sure he mentioned atheists in the listings of all the equally American religious groupings.

Not all online communities need to be politically active. Discovering people with the same interest in knitting is nice. Exchanging LOLcat pictures is fun. But such interactions also build ties that can be used for action in the real world if the need arises.

Without the Web, I would not know many people whose friendship I cherish. Without the Web I would not have this job. Without the Web, me and many of my friends would have never gone to a meeting like AAAS. There would be no such meetings as ScienceOnline, Science Online London, SciBarCamp, SciFoo, and others.

Every time I travel I make sure that people I know online – from blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc. – know I am traveling. I say on which date, at which time, I will be in which restaurant in which city. Twenty people show up. Most I have never met in real life before. But after sharing a meal, a beer, a handshake and a hug, our weak ties become strong ties. Superficial relationships become friendships. If there is a need to organize some real-world action – we can rely on each other to participate or help.

I have a separate Dunbar Number in each city I visited. And I try to connect them to each other even more than they are already connected via online communication. Which is one of the reasons we organize conferences and one of the reasons I am online all the time.

Related:

As Science Bloggers, Who Are We Really Writing For? by Emily Anthes.

Are science blogs stuck in an echo chamber? Chamber? Chamber? by Ed Yong.

What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?

If a publisher offered me a contract to write a book under a title that would be something like “Unscientific America”, how would I go about it?
I would definitely be SUCH a scientist! But, being such a scientist does not mean indulging in Sesquipedalian Obscurantism. Being such a scientist means being dilligent, thorough and systematic in one’s reasearch. And then being excited about presenting the findings, while being honest about the degree of confidence one can have in each piece of information.
I was not offered a book contract, and I do not have the resources and nine or twelve months to write such a book. But in the next couple of hours days I will write a blog post (this one, I am just starting) thinking through the methodology I would use for such a project, musing about difficulties, jotting down notes and – this being a blog – asking readers for links to information that can either reinforce or challenge my hypotheses. So please follow me under the fold…..

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Attenborough makes sense (video)

Atheists – the last U.S. minority that can be openly maligned without consequence

I am sure that you have already heard about the despicable TV ad that Elizabeth Dole aired against Kay Hagan. You probably heard about it online, perhaps on Twitter or FriendFeed or blogs. Here’s a quick selection:
My godless money. Take it or leave it.
The Worst Insult of All?
Thou shalt not bear false witness
NC: Hagan responds to ‘Godless’ ad; Dole’s immigrant bashing
Elizabeth Dole ad falsely suggests opponent Kay Hagan is ‘Godless.’
North Carolina Senate Race Degenerates Into Shouting Match About Atheists
GODLESS AMERICANS.
Sen. Liddy Dole (R-NC) attacks Sunday school teacher: ‘There is no God’
Sen. Dole vs. the atheists
With friends like these…
Also, we aren’t tax exempt, so: Vote Obama
You Know Your Senator Is Getting Desparate When…
North Carolina Watch
Don’t you call me an atheist, you
There is No God!
Is Elizabeth Dole Godless?
Elizabeth Dole accuses her opponent of atheism!
Will Elizabeth Dole Ad Have A Subliminal Effect On Young Viewers
Liddy Dole is an asshole
Calling someone an atheist is apparently slander
A pox on them all
Liddy Dole’s Desperate Bigotry
Godless isn’t immoral (a letter to Raleigh News & Observer)
….and many more….
But, if this happened four years ago, you would not have heard about it in the mainstream media. This year, you do:

What changed in four years?
Ari Melber thinks it’s the Web: blogs, social networks, YouTube:

Everyone can hear it now. This Internet-driven, hyperactive presidential race is forcing accountability on two of the oldest tricks in politics: dog whistles and secret smears.
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Partisan and muckraking bloggers now fight political operatives’ efforts to keep unseemly attacks below the radar. Take automated “robo” phone calls, which often deploy the sharp attacks that campaigns don’t want exposed in the mass media. Previously, the calls were obscure, rarely drawing major media coverage, let alone sustained criticism. Now they can be recorded, uploaded and dissected in a single news cycle. Sites like TalkingPointsMemo and Daily Kos use crowd-sourcing by readers to track the attacks and pin them squarely on John McCain. Insider political sites, like Ben Smith’s Politico blog, also disseminate the audio recordings to media and political elites, converting a “targeted” message into a mass broadcast. And organized campaigns like the National Political Do Not Call Registry use the web, Twitter and e-mail to track and map every call.
————————–
Once exposed, McCain’s robocalls were unpalatable even to his allies in the party and the media, adding another “Hey, Rube” squabble to his already contentious campaign. Republican senators condemned the calls. Fox News’s Chris Wallace pressed McCain on the issue, reminding the senator that he once denounced such tactics. Even Sarah Palin felt compelled to respond to criticism of the campaign’s robocalls, telling reporters that while she did not renounce them, she would prefer to do personal and retail campaigning instead.
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All this online activity has been amplified by the rapidly shifting landscape of political television. The increasingly opinionated cable news programs, always in search of conflict and fresh content, now treat debates over these tactics as a major campaign issue. This emphasis is bleeding into the broader campaign discourse, which includes minute dissection of attacks that were once considered unmentionable. A whole range of smears against Obama, for example, have been exposed under the glare of nationally televised debates. Sometimes that process has angered his supporters–as when the ABC News primary debate focused on smears regarding “patriotism” and Islam. In one of the general election debates, CBS moderator Bob Scheiffer was credited for playing a corrective role when he pressed both candidates to answer for attacks from their supporters. That is a stark contrast to the previous two presidential races, when even the most incendiary attacks drew scant calls for accountability at the candidate level.
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“Thanks to YouTube–and blogging and instant fact-checking and viral emails– it is getting harder and harder to get away with repeating brazen lies without paying a price, or to run under-the-radar smear campaigns without being exposed,” contends Arianna Huffington, whose website pulses with a constant, two-way debate of news and opinion. “The McCain campaign hasn’t gotten the message,” she added, “hence the blizzard of racist, alarmist, xenophobic, innuendo-laden accusations being splattered at Obama.”
———————————-
This new media environment undermines political attacks that turn on coded meanings and hidden messages, because now anything can be exposed and cheaply disseminated. Observers used to worry that the web would fragment our media consumption into private little silos–that famous “Daily Me.” Yet in presidential politics, an inverse dynamic is emerging. Small groups of people are using the web to expose the targeted appeals of the analog world, and then injecting them into the mass media for the whole nation to assess. And many voters do not like what they see.

Perhaps Liddy Dole, by airing this TV ad, provoked exactly the kind of storm that, amplified through both the New and Old Media, will lead to a public shift in perception of atheists. If everyone and their grandmother starts talking about it and seeing this ad as despicable – not for tainting Hagan but for denigrating atheists (sorta like what Colin Powell did to the idea that calling someone a Muslim is a smear) – then we as a society have just made another step in the right direction.

Door To Door Atheists Bother Mormons

Silly, but funny to see how people react when treated to a dose of their own medicine:

“Australian filmmaker John Safran is so fed up with mormons ringing his doorbell early in the morning that he flies to Salt Lake City Utah and tries to convert Mormons to atheism. Needless to say, the locals were not pleased.”


[Hat-tip: Tanja]

When religion goes berserk!

I guess it is unlikely you have not already heard about the big brouhaha that erupted when Bill Donohue targeted PZ Myers for showing disrespect towards a belief that made some religious nuts go crazy and violent against a child (yes, Eucharist is just a cracker, sorry, but that is just a factual statement about the world). If not, the entire story, and it is still evolving, can be found on PZ’s blog so check out the numerous comments here, here,
here, here, here, here and here.
Also see what Greg Laden and Tristero say. [Update: see also John Wilkins and Mike Dunford for some good clear thinking on the issue.]
Of course, since it is Bill Donohue, everyone’s favorite douche-bag, I went to see what is said on the blogs of my other two friends who, quite recently, had to survive the army of ogres that Donohue can send to make good people’s lives miserable – Melissa and Amanda.
On Shakesville, Jeff Fecke wrote about it.
On Pandagon, it is Jesse Taylor (yes, he is back there on his old blog) who wrote about this today (as Amanda is in a middle of a move and offline).
Both posts also triggered an interesting round of comments.
So, go and check out all those links, spend several hours immersed in this topic, and you’ll both learn a lot and get really, really angry (at whom? That’s your choice).
But while I was at Pandagon I also saw that Amanda started reading (and blogging about) Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” (I never wrote a real book review of it, but most of what I intended to say found its way into some posts of mine, e.g., here, here, here and here). The initial post triggered an interesting discussion in the comments, so Amanda added some clarifications which triggered another round of interesting comments.
The main question in both of those Pandagon thread is how to define religion. The focus is on what people believe, thus there is a lot of parsing the words going on, trying to define “God”. “personal god”, “supernatural”, etc. This is important as the second recurring question in those threads is if Stalinism/Maoism is a religion or not.
If you have been reading my blog for a very looooong time, back at the time when I used to write about religion (and politics) much more often, you may recall that I think of religion in somewhat different terms. I think that the main reason religions evolved is to ensure group cohesion. In other words, I think that the social aspect of religion is the most important one and that other aspects – beliefs, canonical works, behavioral rules, priestly hierarchy, ceremonies, etc. – are additions that in some way help ensure the group cohesion. This is why I was really mad at both Dawkins and Dennet for their outright dismissal and refusal to even consider the group-selectionist ideas of David Sloan Wilson whose book, Darwin’s Cathedral, although thin on data, is in my mind the best-laid-out hypothesis and the most promising avenue for future research on the evolution of religion. For the same reason, I think that Dawkins’ and Dennett’s infatuation with memes is misplaced and that the memetics will be pretty useless in this endeavor (or in any endeavor for that matter – it is an immature photocopy of sociology and linguistics with new terminology).
What does it really mean “group cohesion”? In the olden days, this was a feeling of belonging and loyalty to one’s own tribe – obviously maladapted to the modern world of multicultural societies, global economy, fast travel, instant communication and overpopulation. The inevitable result of group cohesion is the division of the world into an in-group and out-group. Members of the in-group are friends to be defended, while the members of the out-group, barely human, are to be detested and, when possible, killed.
For the group cohesion to work, one HAS to, by definition, feel that one’s group is superior to all other groups. This sense of superiority is enhanced by the additional “attachments” that may differ between different religious traditions, e.g., the belief in an inerrancy of the leader who gets orders directly from the group’s omnipotent god(s), various trance-inducing chants and dances, behavioral rules, sacred books, etc. All of these also promote internal policing by the group – those of “weak faith” are detected and punished mainly by other members, not necessarily by any kind of official armed forces, though some groups may use the latter as well.
In many religious traditions, the group cohesion is further enhanced by the sense of insecurity as “the other” is portrayed as much more dangerous than reality warrants – this persecution complex is a great way to ensure that all group-members “stick together” and severely punish the members who question the wisdom of the leaders, beliefs and behaviors.
In many religious traditions, the group cohesion is also enhanced by adding another layer of personal sense of insecurity – the strict sexual norms render both men and women insecure: the men do the macho man-bonding stuff in order to keep each other courageous (those who survive wars will get to breed in the end, after all), while women try to find security by exchanging sex for protection with powerful men.
To go back to the question of Stalinism/Maoism as a religion, if one looks at the religion as group coherence mechanism detached from what people believe, then the answer is Yes – those were religions (and so is being a Republican, for what that matters). But I will try to support this statement with the example I know best – that of Yugoslavia:

Continue reading

The age of the machine


Via

The Parenting Beyond Belief seminar in Raleigh

Seminar on Secular Parenting Coming to Raleigh, March 15
Presented by Dale McGowan
Editor/co-author, Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion
* How does moral development really work?
* My mother-in-law wants our kids baptized. How can I respond without causing a rift?
* How can I ease my son’s fears about death without pretending there’s an afterlife?
* How can kids learn about religion without being indoctrinated into religion?
Over nine million parents in the U.S. are raising children without religion. The Parenting Beyond Belief seminar, a unique, interactive half-day workshop with author and educator Dale McGowan, offers encouragement and practical solutions for secular parenting in a religious world. Based on the freethinking philosophy of the book Newsweek called “a compelling read,” the Parenting Beyond Belief seminar is empowering secular parents across the country to raise ethical, caring, confident kids without religion.
Participants will learn effective ways to:
* Encourage religious literacy without indoctrination;
* Help kids interact productively with a religious world;
* Help kids develop active moral reasoning;
* Weigh church-state issues in the public sphere;
* Address sensitive issues constructively with religious relatives using the principles of nonviolent communication;
* Help children develop a healthy understanding of death and a joyful love of life;
* Build a family atmosphere of fearless questioning and boundless wonder;
* …and much more.
————————————————
Location: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh
Date/Time: Sat. March 15, 9:00am-12:30pm
Registration is $40 per person or $60 per couple
Registration and additional information at:
http://www.parentingbeyondbelief.com/sem_raleigh.htm

Dawkins in San Francisco

Richard Dawkins is doing a reading/signing at Kepler’s bookstore this Saturday. Any Bay Area bloggers wanna go?

Godless Blogging of the Fortnight

Carnival of the Godless #67 is up on Letters from a broad…

More Godless Blogging of the Week

Out in the real world, especially in the Red States and the Bible Belt, atheists tend to go on with their lives without actively tooting their horns every day everywhere. But online, the Internets are teeming with atheists suggesting that there may be more of us in the general population than what the various censuses show, even if one controls for such things as self-selection, i.e., repressed atheists tending to vent their atheism online if prohibited from doing so offline. The Carnival of the Godless has been going on for some time now and it has grown really big, to the point of unweildy. So, a new carnival has just started and it looks good – check out the Humanist Symposium and its Inaugural Edition. Considering how crowded the atheist blogosphere has become, I doubt that the two carnivals will be in competition with each other – both will be equally big and good.

Another fox hiding from atheists in a hole?

Barry Saunders is a local columnist for Raleigh News & Observer who I never thought was very funny (there is a mysoginist streak in his writing) so I rarely read him these days. But the other day I could not help but notice that he started his column with the old “no atheists in foxholes” stupidity – in context of the VT massacre, of course.
I was far too busy these last couple of days to do anything about it myself, feeling confident that he was gonna hear about it from many others. And, sure he did. Just like Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw, Bob Schieffer and John Burnett (the latter two publically apologized), he got inundated by mail. But unlike the others, he refuses to see how insulting the phrase is and instead calls the atheists “anal” and thinks he’s funny. Just digging himself deeper.
You can read my old take on the phrase here. Perhaps Saunders needs another loadful of e-mails to set him straight….(barry.saunders@newsobserver.com)

Godless Blogging of the Fortnight

Carnival of the Godless #64, brilliantly hosted and edited by TNG is up on Neural Gourmet. Enjoy.

Did I frame that wrong?

As you know, the last several days saw quite a flurry of blog posts about framing science. I posted my thoughts here and I keep updating my post with links to all the new posts as they show up (except the expected drivel by William Dembski, some minor creaitonists and Lubos Motl). Some of the other bloggers ignored my post, many linked to it without comment, and many linked to it with positive commentary – with two exceptions.
One was Larry Moran (who probably skimmed it quickly, found what he did not like in it with his own frame of mind at the time, and used it as a starting point to make his own point) who does not grok framing, but, as I stated in the initial post as well as in comments elswehere, plays an important role in the ecosystem and is and will remain my daily read because he is a great blogger. His “niche” in the blogosphere is a curmudgeon and that is why we like him, even as each one of us occasionally gets to see his double-barrel shotgun aimed at our own faces. Fine. We are definitely on the same side of the famous M&M debate and we can agree to disagree on framing.
The other one was Michael Tobis who I have not heard of before (have you?). He appears to be a new blogger (so he has an excuse for being a novice) and he is a climate scientist on the right side of the political debate on global warming – his blogroll reveals it. He also gets framing quite well: his next two posts on the topic are good – all linked in my post at the bottom, although he liked learning about the concept of Overton Window from Eli Rabbet and not from me.
I was really taken aback by it and I thought that perhaps the guy is conservative and did not like my treatment of conservatism (although I did warn in a parenthesis somewhere in the post that it was not framed to be liked by them). I still don’t know his political position, but it appears that it was my damning of religion that irked him, although I was careful to damn the Righwing version of religion specifically, with a mild slap on the wrist at the liberal religionists for not stepping up more vocally against the Rightwing version.
Perhaps he was disinclined to listen to someone who proclaims to be an atheist in the “About Me” section. He also did not like the graphic I took from the NCSE article by Eugenie C. Scott (which I first saw in Skeptic magazine) for some reason. Some of the stuff he wrote suggested that he may see the world in a hirerachical manner, as I described in several older posts linked from my framing post.
I blog because I like to make friends and have fun. Some people blog because they like to vent and get in flame-wars. He thought I was the latter kind for some reason unfathomable to me. Anyway, he and I agreed that we should be on the same side (at least on science)and there must have been some deep misunderstanding and we agreed to let my commenters be the judge. So, here is the complete exchange and let us know in the comments what you think:
First, he wrote this in his post:

Also Jim points to Blog around the Clock/Coturnix. I’m not sure whether Jim endorses this article, but I surely don’t. Consider this:

The result of training is that scientists are uniquely trained to be poor communicators of science. Scientists – a tiny percentage of any population – are the only people in the society who even try to think and talk in a value-free way, get insulted when someone suggest they shouldn’t do so, and view other people who can’t do so as intellectually inferior.

I think that captures something interesting. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the substance but it’s an interesting idea.
Unfortunately, it’s stated in such an extreme, overstated and confrontational way as to thoroughly offend both scientists and nonscientists in equal measure. One could hardly come up with a way to frame the opinion that does more damage to discourse.
I thoroughly dislike the rest of the “Clock” article. It gets even worse.
Apparently anyone who doesn’t agree with the author about absolutely everything is an inferior being, who has yet to progress to the level of perfection that the author has attained. Charming.
———–snip——————-
Humorous sarcasm about bloggers you disagree with is one thing. It’s fair game.
Arrogant, humorless contempt for huge swaths of humanity is another. There is hardly a worse example of framing the dialog possible than the toxic sludge of this article.
The amazing thing is that this article claims to offer advice on how scientists should approach public communication. Ironically it violates every bit of good advice it can muster and then some. If you want to know how to communicate in your area of expertise, study this article for form rather than content, and then don’t do that.

How can chastising people for looking down at others be perceived as looking down at others? In the comments, I wrote politely and diplomatically, as I usually do:

In case you missed it, that was self-sarcasm. I am a scientist and I am aware that I have been trained to be a uniquely bad communicator to non-scientists. Four years of blogging are slowly changing that, but I am far from being as good as I could have been have I never got scientific training. Obviously I have a lot to learn, as I was not clear enough for you to understand that the humor/sarcasm was targeted at “me” or at worst “we”, not at “you” or “them”. English is also a foreign language to me, which increases the likelihood of such misunderstandings.

His response:

Fascinating. You absolutely had me fooled. I guess I don’t know to what end you managed it.
I saw another of your postings that seemed to have some of the same characteristics as your self-satire. I am not sure what to think now.
I don’t want to discuss my religious beliefs publicly, but I must say that I am no atheist.
I will therefore explictly state that I don’t accept that atheism is a necessary qualification for scientific work, any more than is any other preconceived notion.
I didn’t find your suggestion to the contrary amusing or ironic, and I don’t see the rest of the “framing” discussion treating it that way. I saw another posting that reinforced my impression that you are not only unalterably hostile to religious thought (which is your right) but that you believe that the scientific culture is necessarily of the same mind (which is arguably not your right at all, and is certainly tactically disastrous in a country where most people take religion seriously).
Perhaps you should clarify on your own site.

Hey, you are free to believe in Unicorns, and you have a right to talk about it in public places, and yes, unfortunately, you have a right to teach your belief to your kids (and thus make them go through the painful process of freeing themselves from shackles of religion when they grow up), but you do not have the right to have your beliefs aired by entities – public or private – that do not want to or constituationally are not allowed to (which was the point of the Blog Against Theocracy week, after all, part of which my post was about), and you have no right not to hear people laugh back at you when you talk publicly about Unicorns.
But my response was much more diplomatic, trying to meet him halfway:

I’ve been clarifying it for years.
I am not hostile to religious people, or to personal beliefs. I am hostile to organized religion and what it does to people’s thought-processes and to the politics of the country (and other countries as well). I am hostile to what organized religion does to science.
A blog post, not being 1000 pages long, cannot contain all the caveats every time – it necessarily has to deal with overgeneralizations and stereotypes which have been clarified, defined and explained in old posts. One tends to write for the regulars, and occasionally a newcomer is baffled, as in joining in a TV series in the middle of its fourth year and not being able to figure out who is who immediatelly.
Write yor perceptions of me in a comment on my blog and see what the regulars say.

He added this to his initial post:

Here is an approximation of the evolutionary ladder as displayed in an image on this article (sorry, I don’t have time to do this up as a fancy graphic)
Coturnix (highest possible form according to Coturnix)
People who agree with Coturnix
Atheists who have some quibbles with Coturnix
Agnostics
Unitarians
Christians (lowest form attained by humans according to Coturnix)
Skunks
Maggots
Lice
Anerobic Bacteria
Notice there is nothing whatsoever about science on this chart. The purpose of public communication of science, it is revealed, is to slyly and secretly move people UP the ladder of development so they are more Coturnix-like.
Maybe all of us in some corner of our minds believe there is some ladder of correctness with our own opinions at the top, and people who thoroughly disagree at the bottom. Grownups tend to know enough to temper this with a tad of humility. On the other hand, publishing your secret arrogance is guaranteed not to win you any friends. Publishing it in an article intended to advise people on public communication is, hmmm, perhaps a tiny bit like shooting yourself in the foot to emphasize your message on firearm safety.

Tell that to Eugenie Scott!
Then, in the comments of my first framing post, he wrote:

I thoroughly disliked this article, taken at face value, and said so here.
Coturnix got wind of this and made what I consider to be an astonishing response, that this article is satire.
Quoth he:

In case you missed it, that was self-sarcasm. … Obviously I have a lot to learn, as I was not clear enough for you to understand that the humor/sarcasm was targeted at “me” or at worst “we”, not at “you” or “them”.

Well it fooled me entirely. Did others read this present article as satirical?
It seems to me consistent with at least one other article on this site.
To be specific I also disliked the cavalier dismissal of the research on the heritability of religiosity. The idea seems to me an entirely sound (in the Popper sense) falsifiable hypothesis, and in studying twins raised apart, investigated using a sound methodology. Coturnix’s response to that also, to me, betrayed both arrogance and a nonrational hostility to religion even as an observable behavioral phenomenon.
Coturnix’s further reply was to advise me to consult with his regular readers on this blog, so I am doing so now.
Did you read this present article as satire? What do you think of the exchange on between me and Coturnix on my linked blog article?

All the twin studies in history are suspect, as they were all done by genetic determinists. And the heritability of religion is much better explained by the effects of the environment: parenting, the social norms of the community, etc.- something that interests me (to see if it can be reversed) so I have studied it for quite aliong time. A couple of papers so far suggesting that adherence to particular religion is written in the DNA are laughable. And tendency towards religosity is an interesting area of research, especially as religiosity means several different things: belief in supernatural, enjoying rituals, fitting into the hierarchy, defining in-group vs. out-group, to name just a few. And there were other red flags in that press release as well. Correlation between church-going and altruism? A positive correlation? Altruism based on fear of punishment is not altruism, and neither is altruism towards one’s in-group members. I touched on the distinction between Internal and External Locus of Moral Authority in my framing post as well. And I wrote about my own personal ‘religious’ history before. But why go on that tangent at all?
My response:

It is interesting that, out of such a long post, you picked that one paragraph to highlight and ignored the rest of the article. This paragraph is a tangential insert, which would be excised out if an editor asked me to shorten the article, for instance, as it is not necessary for the main line of argument.
Also, to be clear, not the entire article is self-sarcasm – this paragraph is. The rest is a serious analysis of framing science (and yes, how it relates to framing politics and religion – as the RightWing political and RightWing religious forces have used framing quite well over the decades). This is one of a few places in the article where I intentionally used different/provocative ‘framing’ to see who will react and how [the use of the term "convert" elsewhere in the text was another example of such a trial balloon, which rasied hackles out of Kate, for instance].
I was very careful in my wording in the article as a whole (as I usually am) to highlight my disagreement with Rightwing religion and Rightwing politics, not with religion per se. I just don’t care for that hypothesis, but I have no problem with liberal variants of religions. It’s a free country – people can believe whatever they want as long as they don’t try to preach/teach others and leave others alone to believe whatever they want.
It is interesting that people – atheists and theists alike – assume that because I am an atheist, I just HAVE to be a rabid proselytizing atheist. Not so. Having the “atheist” descriptor in my “About Me” section is sufficient to raise hackles from the religious and to make atheists certain I am the ally, but the nicest thing is that I do not have to write anti-religious screeds ever! And I don’t. There are more fun things to write about (and blogging to me is about having fun and making friends, not about being a curmudgeon and making enemies).
But I do want to know why people believe what they believe – as a scientific hypothesis – because religious belief when organized into big Religions and coupled with big Politics, affects me and other humans in various ways, often negative ways.
So, you can believe what you want, but I’d like to understand why you do, and if you (not you personally, but “one” – got lost in English language again, sorry) do, how it affects the society.
Since you placed your comment in the thread of that ancient post that nobody reads any more, I’d like to ask your permission to promote it to the top of the page (i.e., to copy and paste it into a brand new post) so my readers can see it and comment on it there. Just say Yes or No either here or on my blog somewhere. Thanks.

Growing up in a non-religious place, the word “convert” first brings to my mind currency conversion, then converting a car so it looses its roof, then changing one’s mind on anything in light of new evidence, and only at the end a religious conversion. But I understand that people who grow up inbued with religion will think of that last meaning first – that was an intended lesson in framing right there.
I want my children to be luckier than that (see this, this, this, this, this and this) and grow up as Natural Atheists, not having to go through the pains of either deciding for themselves after drifting around aimlessly, or going through the “deconversion” process.
He said “Yes”, so now you decide….
Related:
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed

Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf

Blog%20Against%20Theocracy.jpgMy SciBlings Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet just published an article in ‘Science’ (which, considering its topic is, ironically, behind the subscription wall, but you can check the short press release) about “Framing Science”
Carl Zimmer, PZ Myers, Mike Dunford (also check the comments here), John Fleck, Larry Moran, Dietram Scheufele, Kristina Chew, Randy Olson, James Hrynyshyn, Paul Sunstone and Alan Boyle have, so far, responded and their responses (and the comment threads) are worth your time to read. Chris and Matt respond to some of them. Matt has more in-depth explanations here, here and here (pdf) that are worth reading before firing off a response to the whole debate.
This is not a simple topic, but I will try to organize my thoughts in some way….

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Blog Against Theocracy

Neural Gourmet and Blue Gal are organizing a massive blogospheric Blog Against Theocracy weekend:

I’d like invite you all to Blog Against Theocracy. This is a little blog swarm being put together by everybody’s favorite panties blogger Blue Gal for Easter weekend, April 6th through the 8th. The idea is simple. Just post something related to, and in support of, the separation of church and state each of those three days. Something big, something small, artistic, musical, textual or otherwise. The topic is your choosing. Whether your thing is stem cell research, intelligent design/Creationism, abortion rights, etc., it’s all good. Separation of church and state impacts so many issues and is essential.

On the shifting public discourse about religion

Ed Cone’s today’s column addresses the changes in the way we talk about religion, particularly in the sphere of politics: from James Dobson to Pete Stark, from Mitt Romney to Amanda Marcotte – The last taboos in politics:

But there seems to be something bigger afoot, a willingness to challenge the traditional eggshell-walking practiced around the beliefs of others, and a self-confidence about frank claims of disbelief in the broader culture…

Yes, we talk more about it, due to the vocal atheists and their books, and the debate that started with the focus on the authors has now shifted to religion itself. This can only be good in the long term.

Christocentrism

When a newspaper publishes a column about religion (in their Religion section) that takes into account only the Christian point of view, someone is bound to object.
When the newspaper rectifies the error by publishing an article by an atheist, then, of course, some Christianists are going to object as well.
Discussion follows – kinda basic, embryonic and naive compared to informed and sophisticated discussions we often have on atheists blogs – but a discussion nonetheless, involving local (Greensboro NC) readers of the paper.
Hat-tip: Ed Cone

Atheist Books and the Overton Window

I have read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and “Breaking The Spell” by Daniel Dennett a couple of months ago, could not bear to slog all the way through “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris, and am still waiting to get my copies of “God: the Failed Hypothesis” by Victor Stenger and “Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion” by Barbara J. King. I was going to write a big meta-review of all of them together, perhaps adding in “Darwin’s Cathedral” by David Sloan Wilson as an anti-toxin to the Dawkins/Dennet naive understanding of evolution (and just plain old nastiness towards the idea of demic selection in particular and towards the idea of hierarchy of levels and units of selection in general).
But more I wait, harder it will be to get something original out. Yesterday, Sean Carroll scooped me in my idea to use the concept of Overton Window to explain the usefulness of most (if not all) of these books, particularly the Dawkins book. You should really go and read how Sean put it together and I will, once I get through all the books, try to find a different angle.

On Edwards, Bloggers, and Religion

Ah, why do I have to be so busy on a news-filled day (no, not Anna Nicole Smith)? I barely saw the computer today. I’d get home, have about 5 minutes before I have to go out again and so on. NPR did not mention Edwards until 4pm or so (that I heard in the car), so when I first got home I only had time to open e-mail, scan about 50 new messages, home in to the one that had the news, open it, get the links and quickly post without more than a quick skim of the statements by Edwards and others, let alone any time to add commentary (except for what the title implied I felt at the time). And then there were comments I did not have time to respond to. And all the other blogospheric responses I was missing…Ah, well. The family is asleep so I’ll try to catch up now.

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Anti-atheist Bigotry in Prime Time

Revere, PZ, Larry and Ed all agree with each other, which means they must all be correct on this story as this does not happen so often. But the extraordinarily stupid and hateful anti-atheist show CNN had the other day is so obviously wrong at every level and from every angle. CNN should suffer for this and made to crawl and apologize and fire a few people involved and cry and plead and promise they’ll never do something like this again and made an example for all the other cable and network news shows.

We Get Mail…

[Pushed to the top of the page due to interesting updates...]
Ah, the perils of growing traffic! I get e-mail. Usually those are nice questions about sleep disorders, or requests for link exchanges. But today I got a christianist. Oy vey!
I hope I never get PZ’s traffic – I guess he gets dozens of those a day! And I don’t even bash religion on my blog every day like he does.
Below the fold is the exchange so far:

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Secular Question of the Day

Is there a good secular equivalent of ‘Amen’?

I really needed a cathartic moment today….

Mormon Missionaries knocked on a wrong door earlier today. I think their heads are still spinning…

Godlessness of the week

Carnival of the Godless — Xmas Eve Edition – is up on God is for Suckers!

Atheism on NPR

Yesterday I listened to a segment on All Things Considered called Atheist Brigade Takes Arguments to the Tolerant (podcast) with some trepidation. But, when it all ended, I thought it was not bad at all. Apart from a couple of intolerant sentences in the beginning by someone named Wolf (if I remember correctly) and a stupid quote of Pat Robertson, most of the time was given to Sam Harris who also had the last word. The phrase “no atheists in foxholes” was debunked and an NPR correspondent (John Burnett) who used it in the past came on the show to apologize. It is telling that he had no idea what the phrase meant and how insulting it was until he was showered with angry e-mails after his faux-pas.
This one little segment is not going to change the world, but it is one of many indicators that we are making progress. Nobody mentioned gays in the media 20 years ago (except in a very negative tone) and now we have gay marriages and civil unions in a couple of states, and increased tolerance and understanding, particularly among the young people. The fact that this was aired and that it was calm and reasonable is a great sign – the conversation has started.
Many people have no idea what atheism is except a knee-jerk negative response. As long as we keep pushing the issue, attacking religion from all sides with logic and ridicule, over and over again, we will not be able to change the general atmosphere in a way that can lead to progress.
Many officially religious people are “soft” – they are culturally religious and have never examined their beliefs. Having this conversation out in the open in all kinds of media every day will force those people to do some self-examination and, I believe, many will side with rhyme and reason and abandon faith – theirs is weak to begin with anyway, and there are millions of them. And many of them, even without deep analysis of their own beliefs, will rather be on the side that ridicules than on the side that is universally ridiculed and despised every day in all the media.
Update: The whole thing has just re-aired on On The Media which will have a transcript posted tomorrow.

A simple explanation

A simple explanationOf Religion and Morality (December 02, 2005)

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Update on M&Ms

While all this was going on I was wondering where Jason Rosenhouse would stand on all of this. He is back from a break and has two posts on the issue here and here.
Update: Chris Rowan wrote an intriguing analysis and a huge thread on the topic is still ongoing on Panda’s Thumb

Thanksgivings prayer

In the past we had to make sure to remember to tell the kids not to make fun of their cousins (and adults) for saying a prayer before the Thanksgivings dinner. We tried to give a personal example by holding hands with other family members, bowing our heads and supressing laughter for the duration.
This year, for the first time, we had a Thanksgivings dinner at home, just the four of us. When the dinner was served and we sat around the table we looked at each other with a question mark on our faces – what to do? My wife saved the day:”Thank God we do not have to say a prayer tonight!”
Amen.
Then, we had some “Evolution” wine from Sokol Blosser Winery.

The ecology of religion

Imagine an ecosystem in which all the players are groups defined by their religion: fundies, liberal believers, apathetics, atheists, etc. Then, use the ecological and evolutionary priniciples, e.g., competitive exclusion, niche-construction, arms-races, parasitism, camouflage, symbiosis, etc. to model the interactions between these entities (“populations”).
Amanda made a first stab at it. Can you do more?
How do Unitarians fit in that environment? Or Humanist Jews? How does the US ecosystem differ from that of other countries (island biogegraphy?)? What are the lessons for atheists from this excercise? How can we do our own niche-construction and modify the environment in a way that makes it more hospitable for us and less hospitable to the fundies? What would be the evolutionary response of the “moderates”?

Godlessness of the week

Carnival of the Godless #52 is up on Skeptic Rant. Check the invisible links.

Some truths about religion

Carnival of the Godless #51 is up on The Greenbelt.

Four Conceptions of God in America

An interesting new study of religiosity in America:
One God, four views:

“Not all Americans see the powerful old man in the sky”

Really?

The authors suggest religion may most successfully motivate individuals through what it can offer them in spiritual intimacy and congregational connectivity rather than through demands backed by threats of divine punishment. Believers in an “angry” God tend to reject the idea that church and state are or can be separate, and are more likely to feel that one’s religious faith is exclusively the correct path of righteousness.

Read the whole thing…

Atheists Rate Congress

From a press release (via e-mail):
U.S. Congressional Scorecards
109th Congress
:

Washington, D.C. – The Secular Coalition for America (SCA) today released its House and Senate Scorecards of the 109th Congress. The SCA, an advocacy group for atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists, provides roll-call votes to demonstrate the members’ commitment to the separation of church and state and their willingness to protect the interests of the nontheistic community.
The scorecards cover votes taken from January 2005 until August 2006. The SCA used ten key votes in both the House and Senate. Votes include: allowing organizations that receive federal funds to discriminate based on religion; promoting narrow religious beliefs over secular needs in science, marriage contracts, and the military; the confirmation of judicial appointees who seek to weaken the protections provided by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; and, stripping federal courts of their ability to decide constitutional issues.
In the House, only seven members of Congress earned a perfect score of 100 percent: Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Pete Stark (D-Calif.), and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.). From their records these Representatives demonstrate their strong support for the separation of church and state and the protection of minority rights.
“With the political strength of the religious right and the irrational demonizing of the nontheist community, I am very proud of these members of Congress,” SCA Director Lori Lipman Brown said. “Our republican form of government was designed to protect the rights of individuals and minorities over the whims of the majority. It is very sad that so few members of Congress fully live up to the ideals embodied in our Constitution.”
The scorecards, with voting descriptions and ratings of the members of Congress, can be found at the SCA website.

Oh, yes there are atheists in foxholes!

Oh yes there are atheists in Foxholes!
In the latest Newsweek:

There are no atheists in foxholes,” the old saw goes. The line, attributed to a WWII chaplain, has since been uttered countless times by grunts, chaplains and news anchors. But an increasingly vocal group of activists and soldiers–atheist soldiers–disagrees. “It’s a denial of our contributions,” says Master Sgt. Kathleen Johnson, who founded the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and who will be deployed to Iraq this fall. “A lot of people manage to serve without having to call on a higher power.”
It’s an ongoing battle. Just last month Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said, “Agnostics, atheists and bigots suddenly lose all that when their life is on the line.” Atheist groups reacted swiftly, releasing a statement that “Nonbelievers are serving, and have served, in our nation’s military with distinction!” The National Guard said it received about 20 letters objecting to Blum’s statement, and said his comments were “intended to clearly illustrate the positive spirit of camaraderie, human understanding and inclusion of our fine men and women in the National Guard.”
In the past several years, atheists have organized letter-writing campaigns against Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw, Bob Schieffer (who issued a public apology) and other news anchors for repeating the “no atheists in foxholes” line on TV. And on Veterans Day 2005, several dozen atheist veterans paraded down the National Mall bearing American flags and signs reading ATHEIST VETERAN–WE SHARED YOUR FOXHOLES! Johnson says atheists in the military face prejudice. “Before I got to be the rank I am I had to keep my head down and my mouth shut. I had commanding officers who made it clear that they wouldn’t tolerate atheism in their ranks.” Military leaders deny any discrimination. “Service in the military is open to people of all creeds and religions,” says Michael Milord, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. Officially, the Department of Defense considers atheism a creed like other faiths. New recruits can choose ATHEIST, AGNOSTIC, or NO RELIGIOUS PREFERENCE for their dog-tag identifications. And an atheist symbol, which resembles an atom, is among the dozens of “approved emblems of belief” that can appear on the headstones of fallen soldiers in military cemeteries. Would a soldier really die without faith? Bowling Green State University’s Ken Pargament, a professor specializing in the psychology of religion and coping, says: “If someone is a committed atheist, they’re likely to stay a committed atheist.”

How is that last sentence the answer to the question asked in the previous sentence? Duh?
You can read my answer to the question if there are atheists in the foxholes here
Update: Archy takes time to dissect this more fully…and more damningly to the dumb Lt. Gen. Blum.

All Ye Heathens….

Carnival Of The Godless #47 is up on Revolvo Inritus.

Random Quotes Meme

Yeah, I know everyone is doing it, but when I first tried I never got quotes that were really satisfying. But when PZ set up a random 5 from his own vault, I got an embarrasment of riches. So here are the first 5 I liked from there:
Creeds made in Dark Ages are like drawings made in dark rooms
[Joseph McCabe, The Story of Religious Controversy, 1929]
So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.
Bertrand Russell
The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight — that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether
[Daniel Dennett, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", p. 18]
There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory as it is – in our country particularly, and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree – it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime- the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor His Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilt.
[Mark Twain, "Reflections on Religion"]
It is fear that first brought gods into the world.
[Petronius Arbiter, Satyricon]

Where Did My Son Get His Smarts?

Where Did My Son Get His Smarts? Do you want to know more about my kids and how we are raising them? If so, this post from March 21, 2005 may be interesting to you.

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Are there foxes in atheistholes?

You should really go now and read the “Meet The Enemy” interview with me on a satirical blog called God, Country & Apple Pie. Check out the rest of the far right-wing Christian, anti-science, fascist-theocratic fare there as well.

From The Mouths Of Babes…

From The Mouths Of Babes...
I love my kids, and they are growing into wonderful, passionate atheists. This one is from March 24, 2005, under the fold….

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Carnival of the Godless

44th edition of the Carnival of the Godless is up on Daylight Atheism.

Top Ten Reasons Why I Will Never Be Elected a Dogcatcher, Let Alone a US Senator

Top Ten Reasons Why I Will Never Be Elected a Dogcatcher, Let Alone a US Senator
This post is really ancient – from September 24, 2004 – but it was fun to write, I remember. In the meantime I learned that it is actually official – as an atheist I cannot get elected for any office in North Caroina (and a dozne or so other states). That is written in the state law. Only people who believe in fiary tales (or are good at lying about it) can get elected here. Under the fold….

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Comissar in the Seventh House

There is a whole slew of responses to this silly post by Comissar/
It is a typical effort to make “balance” between Left and Right in order to make the Right appear more palatable, …or palatable at all. The typical He-said-She-said approach that tries to equalize the enormously dangerous policies of the Right (see my previous post below) with follies of some powerless, silly people on the fringes that nominally belong to the Left (and vote Nader when it really matters!).
But, since when was Astrology part of the Democratic Party platform, even at state level, like Creationism and Global Warming Denial are in the GOP? Which party did Nancy Reagan belong to? And who the hell is Jerome Armstrong and why should I care? Is he just another Ward Churchill, a nobody that the vicious Right can beat up on blogs every day?
So, read the responses (and excellent comments) by:
PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, DarkSyde, Brent Rassmussen and Alon Levy.
It is funny that Comissar lists people who are so different from each other politically, some closer to Comissar himself than to the DNC. It is also funny that Comissar lists people who have, originally, when it was still fun before more dangerous and pressing things happened to the world in November 2000, written against astrology and other pseudoscience. It is also funny that he lists people who have invented the Skeptic’s Circle and Carnival of the Godless where such stuff is debunked (and the founder of Tangled Bank in which such stuff was debunked before the founding of the Skeptic’s Circle).
And I have chimed in on this topic before in Lefty and Righty excesses of pseudo-science.

I, Coturnix (or, Why I Am An Atheist)

ClockWeb%20logo2.JPG This is an early post of mine, written on February 11, 2005, a rare one in which I discuss my own lack of religion:

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“…they’re just itching to get out!”

Back To The Woom is a blog that needs to get much more exposure. It is written by a very smart couple here in Raleigh, NC. The posts are always very thoughtfull and well-researched and the topics range from Ann Raynd to immigration, from capital punishment to harsh capitalism. Always worth your time to read (even if you disagree on a detail or two).
This time, I’d like to point your attention to the latest post – The moral majority is watching your inner child molester:

The implication is that, without the threat of eventual punishment at the hands of an omniscient cosmic dictator, many of us would just abandon all the ethical, social and juridical obligations that had hitherto constrained our behavior. Yep, God is all that keeps you from combusting into a terrible, murderous fury!

It describes what psychologists call the External Locus of Moral Authority. Go and check it out.

Obligatory Readings of the Day

Archy on ‘belief in evolution’.
Lance Mannion about the Godless.

Sunday Carnivals

The newest edition of the Carnival of the Godless is up on The Atheist Mama. If you are unfamilirar with this carnival, check out the Archives here.



Heard the Word of
Blog?

Also, if you are interested in local blogging, check out The Tar Heel Tavern, a blog carnival of North Carolina bloggers. The latest edition is up on 2sides2ron.