Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Sliding back

Mar 30th, 2012 11:20 am | By

Shannon Rupp went to a “Wellness show” in Vancouver.

The Wellness Show — or as I think of it, Current Trends in Snake Oil — attracts an audience of about 30,000 to see a disparate collection of businesses hoping to find new customers in the demographic that’s chasing wellness…

Office assistants act like barkers pulling in the punters, and on hearing I have no back problems one swears her boss can cure my allergies with a spinal adjustment. On hearing I have no health problems at all, another assures me chiropractic is about prevention. It’s like going to the gym, she says: it’s how you prevent illness!

Then there’s the guy selling “transnasal light therapy” – a new gizmo that shines a light up your nostrils and promises to heal everything from diabetes to dementia along with a variety of viral infections.

It’s funny, in a Duke and Dauphin sort of way, but then there’s

Dr. Divi Chandna, a licensed medical doctor and a “certified medical intuitive”…

Last year Dr. Divi billed the Medical Services Plan $294,290.53 for services rendered to patients in her conventional medical practice. Simultaneously she runs a user-pay business peddling the sort of magic and mysticism usually associated with the dark ages. She runs The Bridge Health Center with husband Ed Light, an energy healer, and she offers readings based on her “gifts for intuition.” She explains that this includes being clairvoyant and “clairsentient” — she gets messages from spirit guides…

Dr. Divi doesn’t mention what her very own six week long “holistic” program for treating depression and anxiety costs, but the brochures list her medical intuition readings at between $99 and $199 a session. The deluxe reading comes with a written report and a little energy healing.

Dr Divi peddles woo, and she uses her genuine medical training for extra credibility. Regulators are leery of messing with “anyone’s spirituality” so generally nothing is done.

Ironically, the American Association for the Advancement of Science is sharing space with the Wellness show at Vancouver’s convention centre, and they’re discussing climate change and its deniers. President Nina Fedoroff is widely quoted as saying she is “scared to death” by the anti-science movement that is sweeping North America and most of the western world.

“We are sliding back into a dark era,” she tells The Guardian. “And there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.”

I’d like to say something optimistic here, but I got nothin.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Mar 30th, 2012 10:26 am | By

I’m reading Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.

The core facts: a Mormon man [Dan Lafferty] converted to radical polygamist female-subservientist fundamentalist Mormonism and converted his five brothers. The oldest brother [Ron Lafferty] was divorced by his wife as a result. The wife [Brenda] of the youngest [Allen] resisted all of them. Ron and Dan killed her and the pair’s baby daughter.

Some particulars:

Although standing up to Allen meant standing up to the entire Lafferty clan, Brenda did not shy away from such confrontations…[S]he possessed an impressive command of LDS scripture that allowed her to more than hold her own when debating fundamentalist doctrine with Ron and Dan. They came to despise her for defying them and for her influence over Allen, whom they considered “pussy-whipped.”

When Ron’s father was dying of diabetes, Ron had called a family meeting…Allen brought Brenda to the meeting, which made Ron furious. He called her a bitch and worse, and berated her with such unrestrained spleen that Brenda finally left in tears. But she did not remain intimidated very long. [p 153]

“A bitch and worse” – well we know what that means.

Ron “received revelations” which he wrote down on a yellow legal pad. One went:

Thus saith the Lord unto My servants the Prophets. It is My will and commandment that ye remove the following individuals in order that My work might go forward. For they have become obstacles in My path and I will not allow My work to be stopped. First thy brother’s wife Brenda and her baby… [p 163]

Dan took it upon himself to inform his youngest brother, Allen, with whom he had always been especially close, that God had commanded the ritual murder of Brenda and their baby girl, Erica, and that Ron and Dan intended to see that the commandment was carried out.

Allen expressed shock, then asked, “Why? Particularly why Erica, being an innocent child? Why would she be involved?”

At which point Ron angrily cut in, “Because she would grow up to be a bitch, just like her mother!” [p 169]

What’s that we keep being told about sexist epithets not being misogynist?

One more. From an accomplice’s testimony at the trial:

According to Carnes, Ron said that

as soon as he went into the house, he punched [Brenda] as hard as he could, and she fell down again on the floor. And he said that he was calling her a bitch, and, you know, telling her what he thought about her. [p 280]

And he kept beating her, and he choked her with an electrical cord, and then he cut her throat.

What’s that we keep being told about sexist epithets not being misogynist?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Stay where you are

Mar 29th, 2012 4:11 pm | By

Speaking of Islamic Feminism…

In Afghanistan, it’s a crime for women to leave home without permission.

“Running away” is not an offense found in the Afghan Penal Code. However, women and girls in Afghanistan have long faced punishment from family and local governing bodies for leaving home without permission.

In response to challenges to the practice of charging women and girls with the crime of“running away,” in 2010 and 2011 the Afghan Supreme Court issued an instruction to courts that “running away” is a crime…

The authorities typically bring “running away”charges when family members file a complaint after women or girls have fled from spouses and family, often in the context of domestic abuse or forced marriage. There is no prohibition on men leaving their homes without permission. When men face charges related to “running away” it is due to their having assisted a woman in doing so.

In 2010 and 2011 the Supreme Court issued statements that“running away” should be treated as a crime whenever a woman flees to a “stranger” as opposed to a “relative” or “legal intimate.” In the 2010 statement, the court stated that running away from family or spouses, even in cases of abuse, “could cause crimes like adultery and prostitution and is against Sharia principles” and determined that the act is “prohibited and prosecutable based on discretionary punishment.”

Ah it’s against Sharia principles – well that’s all there is to be said then.

The court called for women and girls facing abuse to “refer their cases to judicial institutions and to the government…and solve their problems via government channels rather than resorting to personal actions” such as running away. The Supreme Court concluded that “running away” is not a legitimate response to abuse: “For resorting to personal actions may create various crimes and violence rather than eliminating the violence.”

So by the same token, if a stranger kidnaps you and rapes and beats you, you should refer your case to the government rather than running away?

It makes every bit as much sense. Have you ever read anything so brutally stupid? If a woman or girl is being abused and beaten, how is she supposed to refer her case to the government without running away first? Men who abuse girls and women aren’t going to stand back and politely wait while they call the police, now are they.

Human Rights Watch has case studies.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The Templeton Prize

Mar 29th, 2012 3:30 pm | By

Who won who won who won, you cry, on the edges of your chairs.

The Dalai Lama.

Say what? The Dalai Lama won a prize that’s given for doing something or other about science and religion? Where’s the science part?

NEW YORK — The Dalai Lama has been awarded one of the world’s leading religion prizes.

The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader is the winner of the 2012 Templeton Prize for his work on science and religion. The honor from the John Templeton Foundation, announced Thursday, comes with a $1.7 million award.

I didn’t know he’d done any work on science and religion.

The Dalai Lama is founder of the Mind & Life institute for research on science and Buddhism. A series of talks he gave at Stanford University led to the creation of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, which brings together scientists and religious scholars. The Templeton Prize will be awarded on May 14th in London.

Oh I see, he brings them together.

In a way it’s probably better that a religious boffin should win it, rather than a working scientist. It’s less misleading that way.

H/t Cuttlefish.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Job opening in Oxymoron Studies

Mar 29th, 2012 3:18 pm | By

The Women’s Studies Program at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, will offer a one-year postdoctoral fellowship in Islamic Feminist Studies in 2012-2013.

The Women’s Studies Program at Wheaton College is pleased to announce a one- year postdoctoral fellowship supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The fellow will pursue research and teach three courses in the Women’s Studies    Program during the appointment, including Transnational Feminisms, Introduction to Women’s Studies or Feminist Theory, and a course in his or her area of specialty. Women’s Studies is particularly interested in scholars of Islamic Feminism working on critical sexualities, but welcomes applications from all scholars in this field.

What I want to know is…what the hell is Islamic Feminism?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Tariq Ramadan explains

Mar 29th, 2012 11:04 am | By

Ramadan informs us that Mohamed Merah was neither religious nor political; he was just a confused angry guy flailing around.

He seems to have had very precise aim for someone who was just flailing.

Religion was not Mohamed Merah’s problem – nor was his politics. A French citizen frustrated at being unable to find his place, to give his life dignity and meaning in his own country, he would find two political causes through which he could articulate his distress: Afghanistan and Palestine. He attacked symbols like the army, and killed Jews, Christians and Muslims without distinction.

Wut? Religion was not his problem, nor was politics; it’s just that he found two political (or religious, or religious-political) causes and murdered people for the sake of them. He “articulated his distress” by shooting up a Jewish school, yet that was neither religious nor political.

Politically, he was a young man adrift, imbued neither with the values of Islam, nor driven by racism and anti-Semitism. Young, disoriented, he shot at targets whose prominence and meaning seem to have been chosen based on little more than their visibility.

What visibility? What was so visible about that school?

I think Ramadan is probably right that Merah was no deep thinker. That’s my view of most jihadis. But that’s not the same as being driven neither by Islam nor by racism – on the contrary: Islamist xenophobia and anti-Semitism are very simple-minded. Islamism is crude; Merah was crude; wholesale murder of enemy Others for the sake of a simple-minded “cause” is crude. It’s all crude, but it’s no less religious and political for that. Ramadan the academic of course wants us to think that “the values of Islam” are both profound and benevolent, but alas that’s a hopeless ambition.

A substantial number of French citizens are treated as second-class citizens. Mohamed Merah was French (whose behaviour was as remote from the Qur’anic message as it was from Voltaire’s texts). Is it so difficult to acknowledge this fact? There, indeed, lies the French problem.

Wishful thinking in action.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Measuring the distance

Mar 29th, 2012 10:36 am | By

Another free speech issue, a tricky one.

France has barred a group of Muslim clerics, including one of the most prominent voices in Sunni Islam, from entering the country to attend a conference.

France’s foreign ministry said Thursday the clerics were invited by the French Islamic Union to speak at a congress in Le Bourget near Paris from April 6-9.

One of those barred, the Egyptian-born Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, says he refuses to come to France.

The ban also includes other high-profile Muslim clerics of Palestinian, Egyptian and Saudi origin.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that “these people call for hatred and violence and seriously violate the principles of the Republic, and in the current context, seriously risk disrupting public order.”

That’s the state banning a particular kind of speech, all right. Free speech liberals think the bar should be very very high for that. Is the bar high enough here?

I don’t know. I suppose I think it’s not high enough as a matter of principle, but as a matter of reality, it may be. I don’t know how to think about it any more coherently than that. As a matter of principle, it seems as if people should be able to hold congresses and invite clerics to speak at them. As a matter of reality, misogynist anti-Semitic xenophobic homophobic clerics can be very dangerous. This insoluble conflict tends to make me despair.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Mo is surfing

Mar 28th, 2012 5:01 pm | By

Jesus and Mo aren’t very keen on secularism. Not only that, but Jesus reads the Daily Fail.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Another loving father

Mar 28th, 2012 10:10 am | By

Here’s a cheerful item:

According to news reports on Wednesday, an Egyptian man and his family tied up their daughter and threw her into the Nile river as a result of a divorce to her aging husband, who mistreat[ed] her and abused the young woman.

Luckily, a fisherman saw the girl and rescued her before she died, Emirates 24/7 reported.

According to their report, the girl had initially refused to marry the elderly man, but then acquiesced to her family pressure and wed…

After she and the man divorced over abuse, she returned to her family, who when the girl refused to remarry the man, was tossed into the river in an “honor crime.”

It’s interesting how women and girls get it in both directions. It’s interesting how brutal it is to tell a girl to marry someone she doesn’t want to marry in the first place, and how brutal it is to insist on it despite her attempt to refuse. It’s interesting that fathers can be so indifferent to the possibility that their daughters will have crappy lives. And then it’s interesting that after she gives in and obeys and finds that her unwanted husband abuses her, she is not taken in and protected by her family, with apologies for their bad judgement about the man they forced her to marry, but instead, she is tied up and thrown into the Nile.

Really: it’s interesting. It seems such a bleak view of life. It’s as if all of life were a prison sentence – people have to live together but affection plays no part in the arrangement. It’s all just sex and force and servitude/domination.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Say prayer works or we will squash you

Mar 27th, 2012 5:42 pm | By

Three MPs (UK) are trying to get the Advertising Standards Authority to change its ruling about advertising that claims prayers can heal diseases.

Last month, a Christian group in Bath were banned from using leaflets that said: “NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!… We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness.”

The ASA said the claims were misleading and could discourage people from seeking essential medical treatment.

Here’s the letter they sent:

Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury Chairman, Advertising Standards Agency 21st March 2012

We are writing on behalf of the all-party Christians in Parliament group in Westminster and your ruling that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.

We write to express our concern at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made. It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced physical healing ourselves in our own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible.

On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?

You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.

It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?

We invite your detailed response to this letter and unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Gary Streeter MP (Con) Chair, Christians in Parliament

Gavin Shuker MP (Labour) Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament

Tim Farron (Lib-Dem) Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament

I can’t decide if it’s more stupid than bullying or more bullying than stupid.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Homeless vets? Let’em starve

Mar 27th, 2012 4:55 pm | By

Justin has some shocking news – Fort Bragg wont let us feed homeless vets at the atheist festival

I fought very hard for this to happen at the festival this weekend. We went back and forth for several months. The ‘pro-starvation’ camp has prevailed.

The idea was simple.

Our festival is already paid for, via a generous donation from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation (directly deposited into our accounts at American Atheists). So here we are with a free festival on our hands. We would have put the word out to bring canned food (and similar items). Next, we would drop off the food where it needs to go.

It’s a win-win. Obviously we get a measure of publicity that is undeniably ‘good’, seemingly attack/spin proof. But that’s obviously not the real motivation. We really care about the homeless population, especially the one around this military town.

  • Less than 1% of Americans are currently in the military (reserve and active).
  • 7% of Americans have served at some time in their life. (2010 Census data: 24 million)

23% of the homeless population are veterans 33% of the male homeless population are veterans 47% served Vietnam-era 17% served post-Vietnam 15% served pre-Vietnam 67% served three or more years 33% were stationed in war zone 25% have used VA homeless services 85% completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans 89% received an honorable discharge 79% reside in central cities 16% reside in suburban areas 5% reside in rural areas 76% experience alcohol, drug or mental health problems 46% are white males, compared to 34% of non-veterans 46% are age 45 or older, compared to 20% non-veterans [source]

America has left a population of heroes behind. It’s a goddamn shame. And we want to raise visibility and perhaps even make a noticeable dent in our area.

We are accepting donations at the after party!

The free party is at the Holiday Inn Bordeaux (call 910 323 0111 for room reservations) from 9PM – Midnight. It’s the official American Atheists after party, featuring music from Shelley Segal and appearances from the majority of our lineup. You can take pictures with them and give them hugs!

The donations are being handled by Military Atheists & Secular Humanists of Fort Bragg (MASH Fort Bragg). Bring some canned food, or other non-perishable items. Or simply drop some cash to the MASH Fort Bragg peeps at the hotel, and we’ll spend 100% of cash collected that night on bulk food purchases to supplement what you guys bring.

But Fort Bragg says it’s fundraising, and illegal. Go read Justin’s whole post.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Mothers and daughters

Mar 27th, 2012 4:15 pm | By

Via a tweet by the great Deeyah – a woman in India is murdered for refusing to “compromise” in her daughter’s rape case.

I suppose I should warn you: it makes very ugly upsetting reading. That’s so often the case, but maybe I should give warnings more often.

A month-and-a-half after a schoolgirl was reportedly raped in Betul, her mother was allegedly shot dead by the accused and his friends on Friday night. No arrests have been made so far.

Imarti Uike, a 45-year-old tribal woman, had refused to withdraw the case related to the alleged rape of her 16-year-old daughter and had filed a written complaint about the repeated threats being faced by her family.

Late on Friday, when the family of six was preparing to retire for the night, six persons, including Raju Gavli — the main accused in the rape case — his brother Bantu, Rajesh Harode, Praveen and two others, reportedly entered their house in Hamlapur locality.

The 16-year-old girl, her father and three brothers were present when the accused reportedly shot Imarti, who had refused to agree to a compromise in the rape case. She was rushed to a hospital where she died during treatment late in the night.

That upsets me.

It reminds me of Leila Hussein, who was murdered for leaving her husband after he murdered their daughter for talking to a British soldier. Remember her?

Leila Hussein lived her last few weeks in terror. Moving constantly from safe house to safe house, she dared to stay no longer than four days at each. It was the price she was forced to pay after denouncing and divorcing her husband – the man she witnessed suffocate, stamp on, then stab their young daughter Rand in a brutal ‘honour’ killing for which he has shown no remorse.

Though she feared reprisals for speaking out, she really believed that she would soon be safe. Arrangements were well under way to smuggle her to the Jordanian capital, Amman. In fact, she was on her way to meet the person who would help her escape when a car drew up alongside her and two other women who were walking her to a taxi. Five bullets were fired: three of them hit Leila, 41. She died in hospital after futile attempts to save her.

She had been up all night packing, and making a cake for the women who had sheltered her.

It reminds me of Rona Amir Mohammad, the first wife of Mohammad Shafia, who tried to protect and support the Shafia daughters, and was murdered for her pains.

It reminds me of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, who accused some militiamen of raping her, and was stoned to death for adultery in front of a crowd in Mogadishu. She was 13. Remember her?

“Don’t kill me, don’t kill me,” she said, according to the man who wanted to remain anonymous. A few minutes later, more than 50 men threw stones.

Numerous eye-witnesses say she was forced into a hole, buried up to her neck then pelted with stones until she died in front of more than 1,000 people last week.

This upsets me.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Vocational hazards

Mar 27th, 2012 11:32 am | By

Barbara J King at NPR is repeating her mantra that it’s wrongwrongwrong bad awful reprehensible to say that absurd beliefs are absurd.

Last Thursday, I spoke with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in a recorded interview at the NPR studios in Washington, D.C. That meeting was suggested by the American arm of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, in the wake of a post I wrote here at 13.7 last month.

In my original post, I questioned whether Dawkins was the best choice to be headline speaker at the March 24 Reason Rally in Washington, given that one of its goals was to change negative stereotypes about atheists.

Yes she did. She wondered if Dawkins was “the best man for the job” of giving the keynote speech at the Reason Rally, given its aim to “combat negative stereotypes about nonreligious Americans.”

In a 2006 interview with Steve Paulson at Salon (during his tenure as professor of public understanding of science), Dawkins suggested that greater intelligence is correlated with atheism. He also said that when it encourages belief in the absence of evidence, “there’s something very evil about faith.”

Slam. That noise you hear is the sound of thousands of minds closing down and turning away from anything that Dawkins might go on to say about science.

By choosing words hurtful and harsh, Dawkins closes off a potential channel of communication about science with people who hold faith dear in their lives.

I disputed her claim, and especially her way of making it, at the time.

She isolates the core issue clearly this time.

In insisting that he does not insult people who believe in God, only their beliefs, Dawkins tries for a distinction I find problematic.

On his blog last year, Dawkins called a person named Minor Vidal a “fool” for his expression of thanks to God after surviving a deadly plane crash. (To be fair, Dawkins called “billions” of other people fools, too, in the same post.)

Dawkins told me that if he insulted any person, he regrets it. But this example shows how hard it is, in practice rather than theory, to aim harsh language only at a person’s belief, and not at the person.

How much does that distinction matter? When it comes to religion, does demeaning a person’s belief not also demean the person?

Why use demeaning terms, and urge others to use them, for either the belief or the person?

Because many beliefs are absurd, and if everyone everywhere is deferential about them at all times, then it becomes a lot harder to get rid of them. That’s why. It seems so obvious. Many beliefs one just expects people to shed as they grow out of childhood, because of their obvious absurdity. It’s cute when a child thinks maybe her toys come to life when she’s asleep; it’s worrying if an adult thinks her car has a mind.

Check out Richard’s post about Minor Vidal. He wasn’t just calling him a fool, and he wasn’t just being randomly obnoxious – he was making a point (and a good one). Minor Vidal was the sole survivor of a plane crash in Bolivia that killed eight people, and he was found after three days by a rescue team.

And when he was eventually found, did he thank Captain Bustos and the rescue team? Did he thank the boy scout teachers who had taught him vital survival skills? We aren’t told. But what we are told is that he knelt down and thanked God.  God who, he presumably must have believed, allowed the plane crash to happen in the first place and allowed his eight fellow passengers to die. He knelt down and thanked God. And billions of people, all around the world, will think that was a perfectly natural thing to do. They would have done the same. Does religion manufacture fools, or do fools gravitate towards religion?

Now on the one hand it’s perfectly understandable that Vidal felt enormous relief at being rescued, and thanking god may be just a way of expressing that – but still – on calm reflection one remembers the other eight, and the survival skills, and the hard work of the rescue team. It really is an ugly belief, that god drowned thousands but saved precious Me. It really is an ungrateful belief, that surgeons worked all night but it was god who saved My life. Richard really isn’t just being a big meanie to point that out.

Maybe because King is an anthropologist she has a vocational aversion to thinking that absurd beliefs are absurd.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Mar 26th, 2012 5:19 pm | By

There’s a new course at UBC this spring: ‘Ecology, Technology, Indigeneity and Learning: Contexts, Complexities, and Cross-cultural Conversations’ May 7 – June 15, 2012. Tuesdays & Thursdays, 1:00 – 4:00pm
Here’s the skinny:

Ecological and technological educational discourses are often taught as separate discourses downplaying, or ignoring altogether, their interconnectedness, complexities, and complicities, as well as their diverse cultural contexts. This course offers students an opportunity to critically explore how to reconnect and reshape these storylines into enactments of equity, social justice, cultural inclusivity, environmental sustainability and environmental justice.

Students will be introduced to the voices of Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized peoples impacted by neoliberalism and global economics who share their struggles for survival, cultural regeneration and protection/reclamation of their lands, as well as their vibrant and rich technological ecoliteracies. These ecoliteracies speak to the complex social and ecological crises worldwide. Students will reflect on how they learn, think, feel, act, and write as they work toward the creation of sustainable learning communities — Indigenous, non-Indigenous, urban, rural, on-line, on-the-ground, classroom, or otherwise delineated — based on principles of respect, reciprocity, equivalency of epistemologies/methodologies/protocols, and shared dialogue.

This course will be of interest to education students seeking ways to introduce cross-cultural eco-sensibilities into their classroom teaching, as well as to students outside of education who are seeking a graduate course that addresses the multiple contexts, complexities, and complicities of the ecology—technology—Indigeneity/social justice interfaces.

I’m particularly interested in the “principle” of equivalency of epistemologies.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A tribe of one

Mar 26th, 2012 12:08 pm | By

There was an earlier Heathen’s Progress a few days ago, which did hint that the series isn’t in fact intended to go on forever. That’s good to know. (One needs to know what to pack.) On the other hand, Julian used it to treat all disagreement as “tribalism,” which looks to a naive observer like an unfair move.

First of all, it is dispiriting to see how tribal so many people seem to be. For all the interesting, thoughtful comments that have been posted on the pieces I’ve written, and supportive emails I’ve been sent, there have been many more that have used whatever the subject of the week is as a simple pretext to get in the familiar old digs against whoever the other tribe happens to be. There’s also been a tendency to take any critical comments I make as indications that I’m on a certain “side”, as though it is not possible to criticise your fellow travellers, or that we only agree with friends and those we disagree with are enemies.

Maybe, maybe, but then again one could just turn the whole idea back on him. One could argue (with evidence via quoting) that the whole series was full of “the familiar old digs” at the tribally-hated gnu atheists. I’ve been arguing that throughout: his “critical comments” have been 1) familiar 2) tribal 3) generalized and evidence-free. Given that, it seems painfully self-serving to say that most of the criticism his series has received has been tribal as opposed to thoughtful.

It’s probably true that much of the response was tribal; mine probably was tribal, but then Julian’s critical comments were directed at a tribe. His response now is rather like poking a dog with a stick and then complaining when the dog growls. He’s been talking about “new” atheists in a tribal way for years; we bristle because he talks about us that way; then he complains when we do what he’s been poking us to do. It’s all tribal. Sure, our response may be tribal, but his hand-waving generalizations about us are every bit as tribal, and his came first.

Actually I think his are a good deal more tribal, because they’re so general and vague, while the responses give chapter and verse.

The conclusion is pure poisoning the well.

…atheists need to be a bit more modest and self-effacing than they have appeared to be. The whole idea of the “heathen” label was to take ourselves a little less seriously. We say we respect science and reason, but what both have taught us more than anything is how fallible, biased, irrational and prejudiced we all are.

If you agree with these conclusions, then I expect you’ll find much to agree with in the Heathen Manifesto. If you don’t, and you like a good excuse to fire off a ranting response to a Comment is free belief blog, then start rubbing your hands now.

In other words, if you don’t agree with my conclusions, you’re the kind of person who likes to fire off ranting responses to a Comment is free belief blog. That’s how to be modest and self-effacing, folks! Just announce that all disagreement is malicious hand-rubbing ranting.

Tribal indeed.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A spectre is haunting the Guardian Open Weekend

Mar 26th, 2012 10:33 am | By

Oh no not that – not another installment of Heathen’s (ant-like) Progress. But yes, it is so.

This time it’s a manifesto. Oh good, more management of atheism by a self-nominated boss of atheism. More telling us all how to do it more korrektly by some random guy. More “we have to do it this way” from one person who keeps forgetting to show us his Certificate of Rulership Over All Atheists.

In recent years, we atheists have become more confident and outspoken in articulating and defending our godlessness in the public square. Much has been gained by this. There is now wider awareness of the reasonableness of a naturalist world view, and some of the unjustified deference to religion has been removed, exposing them to much needed critical scrutiny.

Unfortunately, however, in a culture that tends to focus on the widest distinctions, the most extreme positions and the most strident advocates, the “moderate middle” has been sidelined by this debate. There is a perception of unbridgeable polarisation, and a sense that the debates have sunk into a stale impasse, with the same tired old arguments being rehearsed time and again by protagonists who are getting more and more entrenched.


I’ve pointed this out a million times, and here I am having to point it out again. (Well not having to – but there it is again, so it needs pointing out, and I’m right here, so I’ll save you the bother.) Here’s the glaring problem with that passage (and with the article and with the whole series): Julian is himself contributing to the very perception he cites, in this very article and series. He’s been contributing to it for a long time, ever since the piece in the Norwegian humanist magazine Fritanke. The backlash against “new” atheism has created a perception that “new” atheism is shrill-and-militant, and having created the perception, it cudgels “new” atheism for being shrill-and-militant, thus enforcing the perception, for which it cudgels “new” atheism, some more, etc, in an endless cycle which does its bit to keep journalists solvent. Given that Julian is himself one of the people responsible for the “perception,” he’s the wrong person to keep wringing his hands about the perception. He’s the wrong person to point the finger at “a culture that tends to focus on the widest distinctions, the most extreme positions and the most strident advocates” when he’s a stalwart of that very culture. The fact that his statement that “there is a perception of unbridgeable polarisation” links to one of his own articles demonstrates this hilariously; I suspect that the link is editorial rather than authorial, but that makes it no less ironic.

It is time, therefore, for those of us who are tired of the status quo to try to shift the focus of our public discussions of atheism into areas where more progress and genuine dialogue is possible. To achieve this, we need to rethink what atheism stands for and how to present it. The so-called “new atheism” may have put us on the map, but in the public imagination it amounts to little more than a caricature of Richard Dawkins, which is not an accurate representation of the terrain many of us occupy. We now need something else.

This manifesto is an attempt to point towards the next phase of atheism’s involvement in public discourse. It is not a list of doctrines that people are asked to sign up to but a set of suggestions to provide a focus for debate and discussion. Nor is it an attempt to accurately describe what all atheists have in common. Rather it is an attempt to prescribe what the best form of atheism should be like.

Modest, isn’t it. Who’s “we”? Who commissioned Julian to manage the next phase of atheism’s involvement in public discourse? Whence comes all this instruction and prescription?

The manifesto itself – meh. It’s not so much a heathen manifesto as a Julian manifesto. It’s not quite up there with Marx and Engels for rhetorical flair, so meh.

h/t Geoff

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Fuck the pope…but use a condom

Mar 25th, 2012 3:34 pm | By

Rowdy irreverent people in Mexico city protest the pope’s visit. I want to be friends with all of them!

Wisely, the pope is not going to Mexico City. He’s going to a city where people like him.

I wonder if his BFF Sayeeda Warsi is going to meet him there so that they can plan the war on militant secularism some more.

h/t Roger

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Bifurcated epistemology is doing it wrong

Mar 25th, 2012 3:18 pm | By

PZ is doing another talk tomorrow, at the American Atheists National Convention. Subject: “Scientists! If you aren’t an atheist, you’re doing it wrong!” Regular commenter (here as well as there) julian disagreed.


I’d say if a philosopher’s not an atheist they’re doing it wrong but a scientist can be whatevs so long as they’re sufficiently ignorant of things outside their area of expertise.

I disagreed with that.

How is that not doing it wrong? How is believing something that is dependent on being sufficiently ignorant of things outside their area of expertise not doing it wrong?

I see how it’s technically possible, of course, and how it can be made to “work” in a narrow, vocational sense, but I don’t see how it is, considered more broadly, anything but doing it wrong.

To put it another way, of course strict compartmentalization is possible, but it’s not a respectable solution for a scientist or any other kind of honest inquirer.

That’s what I think. Being ignorant in order to do a special, defective kind of thinking is doing it wrong, as long as “it” is understood to be cognitive functioning in general as opposed to just doing a particular (scientific) job. Yes a scientist can do science in the lab and woo everywhere else, but that’s doing it wrong. NOMA is doing it wrong. Doing it wrong is doing it wrong.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It’s not a priority

Mar 25th, 2012 12:09 pm | By

I saw a powerful BBC report on FGM in Egypt the other day.

The most chilling part is at the very end (11:00) when Sue Lloyd Roberts asks a Salafist honcho if he’s on board with the campaign to end FGM and he said it’s not a priority. She pressed him by saying, “So you wouldn’t deter a mother who wants to get her underage daughter mutilated.”

He stared for a second and then said, with a tiny smirk, “I have nothing further to say on this matter.”

Sue Lloyd Roberts in voiceover: “The will of mothers like Olla will therefore be respected, and 11-year-old Raja will be mutilated.” Freeze-frame on young Raja.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Sometimes the ploy is really too obvious

Mar 25th, 2012 11:05 am | By

One such time is when a clerical type (or “expert” or “scholar” or other male boffin who dispenses religious rules) tells a woman she has to open her legs whenever her husband tells her to and that if she doesn’t she’s a sinner and that godknowsbest.

It’s Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem I’m talking about this time. A woman said her husband was issuing the open legs command three times a day and it was too much, what should she do.

It is not permissible for a wife to refuse fulfiling her husband’s desire. You should answer his calls as this is not phisically hurting you.

If you can’t do that for no legitimate reason, you are sinful. You should ask him to marry another woman or to divorce you.

And Allah knows best

See what I mean? Transparent. Self-interested. God says women can never say no to a spousal fuck, and godknowsbest. If she wants an occasional break she should ask him to get a second wife. (Then maybe a couple of decades down the road she can have the fun of being murdered by the husband and wife #2, as with the Shafia family. It’s a great arrangement any way you look at it.)

If toddlers were in charge of religion it would be sinful for adults to refuse to give toddlers candy. Godknowsbest.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)