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The University of Minnesota is Touching

Apr 5th, 2005 | By PZ Myers

Yesterday, I was alerted by my wife about some announcements on the state of the University of Minnesota. We are a public institution, you know, which is synonymous with “cash-strapped and struggling to make ends meet” in these days of Republican antipathy to higher education. The university is cutting some substantial programs to save money, which is bad news, but what caught my eye was a related news item in the Star Tribune: the University of Minnesota is being sued for promoting religion.

As you might guess, my interest was pricked. It seems we are being sued by Wisconsin’s Freedom From Religion Foundation for mingling religion with our health care.

The lawsuit was filed on Friday, March 25. It

Read the rest

Why so much fuss about ‘a piece of clothing’?

Mar 28th, 2005 | By Azam Kamguian

Why so much fuss about ‘a piece of clothing’? In France and elsewhere in the west, teachers have a hard time with girls who come to school wearing the veil, who refuse to attend gym or biology courses, and who won’t read Voltaire because he was a non-believer.

In my speech, I will argue for banning the veil for young girls. I will refute views that promote and support veiling for young girls and try to demonstrate how banning the veil is vital for the advancement of children’s rights and the progress of our civil society.

Some feminists oppose the law to ban the veil in state schools and institutions on the grounds that the ban will strengthen Islamism. But … Read the rest

A Moratorium on ‘Public Intellectuals’ Opining About Nietzsche?

Mar 15th, 2005 | By Brian Leiter

Might we declare a moratorium on “public intellectuals” with no relevant scholarly competence opining about Nietzsche? The latest to embarrass himself is John Gray in the pages of the New Statesman. While Gray (on the Politics Faculty at the London School of Economics) may be most notorious among philosophers for his spectacular hostility towards John Rawls, it seems, on the evidence of this review, that he may be more qualified to talk about Rawls than Nietzsche. The parade of errors packed in to just a couple thousand words is quite remarkable; I’ll single out just five examples, ones that suitably betray the breadth and depth of Professor Gray’s ignorance of the subject matter:

(1) Professor Gray says the “aim” … Read the rest

An Interview with Rebecca Goldstein

Mar 9th, 2005 | By Ophelia Benson

Rebecca Goldstein has a new book out: Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel.

Readers at Science Daily call Incompleteness
’Outstanding’ and ‘Superb’.

Butterflies and Wheels: Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont call chapter 11 of their book Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science: ‘Gödel’s Theorem and Set Theory: Some Examples of Abuse.’ They give a quotation from Régis Debray as an epigraph: ‘Ever since Gödel showed that there does not exist a proof of the consistency of Peano’s arithmetic that is formalizable within this theory (1931), political scientists had the means for understanding why it was necessary to mummify Lenin…’ The chapter’s first sentence starts, ‘Gödel’s theorem is an inexhaustible source of intellectual abuses…’

Sokal … Read the rest

Islam, Political Islam and Women in the Middle East

Mar 6th, 2005 | By Maryam Namazie

The situation of women living in Islam-stricken societies and under Islamic laws is the outrage of the 21st century. Burqa-clad and veiled women and girls, beheadings, stoning to death, floggings, child sexual abuse in the name of marriage and sexual apartheid are only the most brutal and visible aspects of women’s rightlessness and third class citizen status in the Middle East.

This is Nothing but Islam

Apologists for Islam state that the situation of women in Iran and in Islam-stricken countries is human folly; they say that Islamic rules and laws practised in the Middle East are not following the true precepts of Islam. They state that we must separate Islam from the practice of Islamic governments and movements. In … Read the rest

A Curious Accident in Space-Time

Mar 5th, 2005 | By Paula Bourges-Waldegg

Despite the lack of evidence to support the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence, many people firmly believe in it. If you are skeptical on this matter you are likely to be accused of being arrogant, anthropocentric or even a religious fanatic. However, to consider the possibility that we might be alone in the universe doesn’t necessarily make you any of those things. You can believe both that humans are rare or unique and at the same time that they are a purposeless arrangement of matter or a curious accident in space-time.

In 1961 the astronomer Frank Drake announced that the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy that might contact us could be calculated with the following equation:

N = R … Read the rest

Old News You Can Use: the denaturing of history

Mar 2nd, 2005 | By Barney F. McClelland

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell, 1984

If there were a poll assessing the least favorite subject taught in high school, I would have to put my money on history or its more au courant euphemistic title, “social studies”. If history is not the clear cut winner, it would certainly be among the top three – my choice, mathematics, I suppose, would also be a strong contender.

The chronic complaint against history as a subject, you will hear from most Americans, is that it is “old news”. In our up-to-the-minute media saturated culture this is an undeniable fact. “That was soooo last year,” is perhaps a bit exaggerated, … Read the rest

‘More Than a Stretch’

Feb 24th, 2005 | By Graham Larkin

The first casualty of David Horowitz’s effort to impose ideological “diversity” on American campuses has been the truth. Horowitz initially supported his proposal for an Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) with “independent” studies pointing to a vast predominance of “leftists” on American campuses. As I pointed out last September, neither of the studies in question seems to be independent of Horowitz’s own Center for the Study of Popular Culture. (Nor does the help of the notoriously mendacious Frank Luntz serve as any guarantee of credibility.) In a subsequent exchange with me, Horowitz underwent breathtaking contortions in an effort to back out of bogus claims he had made in support of his ABOR campaign. For instance, in order to deny … Read the rest

Against Nature: Why Nature Should Have No Say on Human Sexuality

Feb 18th, 2005 | By Edmund Standing

In debates about sexuality, ‘nature’ is invariably brought into the discussion, and usually all the participants involved will try to claim that nature supports their position. Why? What if nature isn’t our best guide at all? We live most of our lives in a constant process of negating the base realities of nature, yet when it comes to sex we suddenly think nature has all the answers. This is illogical and regressive. We should no longer look to nature for answers about human sexuality; in fact, it should have no say on the matter at all.

Nature = Good?

There is a generally held assumption that if something is ‘natural’ then it is ‘good’ or ‘right’. This is seen in … Read the rest

Rationalist International Bulletin # 140

Feb 14th, 2005 | By Rationalist International

Vatican: The Kidnap Program

After the end of the Second World War, the Vatican issued a secret order to the French church authorities, directing them to keep all baptized children from Jewish families in their custody, who had been accommodated in Catholic homes and convents during the Nazi occupation of France. The Vatican had decided that these children should not be returned to their surviving Jewish parents, but handed over to Christian institutions to ensure their Christian education. This secret Vatican order, a document in French language dated October 23, 1946, has recently been digged up by Italian church historians and was published in January in translation in the respected Italian daily Corriere della Siera. It triggered yet another controversy … Read the rest

Behe Jumps the Shark

Feb 9th, 2005 | By P Z Myers

Nick Matzke has also commented on this, but the op-ed is so bad I can’t resist piling on. From the very first sentence, Michael Behe’s op-ed in today’s NY Times is an exercise in unwarranted hubris.

In the wake of the recent lawsuits over the teaching of Darwinian evolution, there has been a rush to debate the merits of the rival theory of intelligent design.

And it’s all downhill from there.

Intelligent Design creationism is not a “rival theory.” It is an ad hoc pile of mush, and once again we catch a creationist using the term “theory” as if it means “wild-ass guess.” I think a theory is an idea that integrates and explains a large body of observation, … Read the rest

The Naturalistic Fallacy and Sophie’s Choice

Feb 3rd, 2005 | By Paula Bourges Waldegg

It’s not hard to accept that there’s a pressing need to find answers for the questions that issues such as cloning, pollution, or genetic manipulation entail. However, it is difficult to agree which are these questions and their possible answers because the debate is often driven by the naturalistic fallacy, the belief that nature is essentially good. The environmentalist movement, for instance, frequently appeals to the goodness of nature as a way to promote their causes. Many of the fears and misconceptions that shape our options and influence our choices are a result of this fallacy. Exposing them is therefore essential to reconcile clashing positions and find solutions that don’t force us to choose between man and nature.

A friend … Read the rest

Academic vs. Horowitzian Truth Standards

Jan 29th, 2005 | By Graham Larkin

28 January 2005

Dear Mr. Horowitz,

Thank you for
your response
to my recent
of your interest in promoting left-right balance.
In it, you urge me to comment more on the specific contents of the
Bill of Rights
, rather than on your statements in defense of
the Bill. While I’m more than happy to share my thoughts on the
Bill’s contents, it is not easy, in the context of our exchange,
to separate this material from your own arguments. Indeed, I think
it would be very enlightening to show how your own way of thinking
epitomizes many of the things that most trouble me about the Bill.
A consideration of competing concepts of truth (or, as some … Read the rest

“Chief” Objections: Racism, Rhetoric and Native American Mascots on College Campuses

Jan 26th, 2005 | By Phil Mole

The recent success of the University of Illinois at Urbana’s basketball team has distracted attention from a longstanding and contentious issue: the status of school sports mascot Chief Illiniwek. The Chief is one of the last remaining college team mascots modeled after Native Americans – the kind usually portrayed by white students wearing face paint and “traditional” native costumes. The school’s Board of Trustees has debated the fate of the Chief for more than a decade, but a resolution seems no closer. Despite recent statements about the need to retire the Chief, the university continues to delay progress toward this goal. It may be a good time to review this controversy, since doing so may reveal much about the nature … Read the rest

Beloved Cartoon Character Comes Out of Retirement

Jan 24th, 2005 | By Barney F. McClelland

Bithlo, Florida — With controversy swirling around several prominent cartoon characters, the most recent incident involving the wildly popular SpongeBob Squarepants and his sidekick Patrick coming under fire from conservative Christian groups led by Dr. James Dobson the founder of Focus on the Family, claiming that they are working to promote homosexuality, an old hand at children’s entertainment has announced that he is coming out of retirement.

From his trailer in this seedy Orlando suburb, Mighty Mouse says he is ready to make a comeback.

“The whole scene just makes me sick,” said the now portly Mouse who just celebrated his 63rd birthday, “I mean, just look at that Tinky [Teletubbie] and tell me he ain’t a little light in … Read the rest

Letter to David Horowitz

Jan 23rd, 2005 | By Graham Larkin

January 20, 2005

Dear Mr. Horowitz,

Thank you for joining me and AAUP Associate Secretary, Marcus Harvey, in last Saturday’s exchange on 1360 AM KLSD (Air America Radio, San Diego). I’m glad that you feel you fared so well in that exchange. In the interests of furthering the conversation, I would be delighted to have another live discussion with you, or with any of the so-called Students for Academic Freedom. Perhaps, in the interests of balance, any future debate can be held in a conservative venue.

To the extent that it continues the dialogue, I also welcome your blog response to our debate, and to my article ” What’s Not to Like About the Academic Bill of Rights.” … Read the rest

What’s Not To Like About The Academic Bill of Rights

Jan 22nd, 2005 | By Graham Larkin

Locking up my bike on the way to the office on May 3, 2004, I noticed that events were underway in the large pavilion pitched in front of the Hoover Center, the right-wing think tank overshadowing my office in the Nathan Cummings Art Building at Stanford University. The voice on the microphone was introducing prominent ultra-conservative intellectual David Horowitz. As the representative for private universities on the steering committee of the California Conference of the American Association of University Professors (CA-AAUP), I had recently taken a pressing interest in Mr. Horowitz’s activities. He is, after all, the brains behind the mischievously-named-and-crafted Academic Bill of Rights – a document which co-opts post-modern ideas on the situated nature of truth and … Read the rest

Minority or Citizen? A Roundtable Discussion

Jan 11th, 2005 | By Hamid Taghvaee, Ali Javadi, Azar Majedi

Worker-communist review: The debate surrounding the banning of conspicuous religious symbols in schools and government workplaces in France have raised some fundamental questions about religious freedom and freedom of choice and dress. Is the ban a restriction on religious freedom, choice and dress? How far must a ban go? Why?

Hamid Taghvaee: In my view, banning religious symbols in schools and workplaces is completely justified. The ban has nothing to do with religious freedom because it is a social and public ban. In civil societies, religion and religious practices must be free as long as they remain private matters. Civil society can only recognise freedom of religion as a private matter; otherwise it will not be civil society … Read the rest

Are You an Altie?

Jan 5th, 2005 | By an American Cancer Surgeon

A while back on, a term was coined to describe people who are so militantly pro-alternative medicine and so distrustful of conventional medicine that they will never admit when conventional medicine is effective and refuse ever to concede that any alternative medical practitioner might, just might, possibly be a quack. (Certain regulars on inspired this term. One day perhaps I will discuss a couple of specific examples with actual posts by them to Usenet, so that you can see even more clearly what I mean.) I forgot which m.h.a. skeptical regular coined the term, but the term was “altie.” About a year ago, we even came up with a Jeff Foxworthy-like list of traits of alties (“You … Read the rest

Stop the Death by Stoning of a Woman in Iran

Dec 20th, 2004 | By The International Committee Against Stoning

Hajiyeh Esmaelvand lives in the city of Jelfa in Iran. She has been condemned to death by stoning. The Islamic court in Iran has given verdict of execution by stoning to be carried out 2 weeks from now for having sexual relations out side marriage.

Think about it, a lot of people all over the world are looking forward to some time off and the celebrations that they are going to have in two weeks time. The Christmas and New Year season just around the corner. In another part of the world a woman is suffering with the trauma and fear of the deadly moment awaiting her.

The Islamic government of Iran is planning to kill a human being by … Read the rest