Notes and Comment Blog

Because of Templeton

May 12th, 2013 11:31 am | By

Brian Leiter hosted a discussion of the Templeton Foundation the other day.

Jason Stanley (Rutgers, moving to Yale) started a lively discussion on Facebook with this comment, which he gave me permission to repost here:

Because of Templeton, we may expect a huge number of papers and books in our field taking a religious perspective at the very least extremely seriously. This is not why I entered philosophy, and it is incompatible with my conception of its role in the university. I will not take any money from Templeton or speak at any Templeton funded conferences. Reasonable people may disagree, but I hope there are others who join me in so doing.

In the discussion that followed, the neuroscientist John Krakauer (Johns Hopkins) made a striking comment in support of Jason’s suggestion, which he also kindly gave permission to repost here:

In the Wikipedia entry on Templeton, Dennett describes the experience of debating astrologers at an event and finding to his dismay that just doing this raised the respectability of astrology in the eyes of the audience.  Templeton is not about the study of religion but about making sure that religion keeps a seat at the table when it comes to big questions. There is no better way to do this than to mix it up with scientists and philosophers. Can you imagine the reverse ever being necessary?

I think that’s true and I agree with Jason Stanley that it’s not desirable. The Templeton Foundation has pretty much created a discipline called Science&Religion, which has its own books and institutes and seminars, all funded by Templeton but all looking to outsiders like ordinary academic books and institutes and seminars. I think that’s a bad thing.

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

We’re back!

May 12th, 2013 11:22 am | By

Back, I tell you, back!

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

Meet the neighbors

May 11th, 2013 2:57 pm | By

The greetings committee has certainly wasted no time making our new colleague Yemi welcome. She wrote a post on What are Anti-Atheists+ afraid of? and along came Damion Reinhardt and “pitchguest” and john greg to respond.

john greg is as shy and sweet as ever.

Yemisi, you are indeed a perfect fit with FfTB. Dogmatic; poor English skills; poor reading comprehension; vigourous defensive posture; misrepresentation of commentor’s comments.

Yes, you will do well on this dying network of mad ideologues.

Thank you so much, and do you want the casserole dish back?


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

You think

May 11th, 2013 2:35 pm | By

Jesus and Mo get serious with the barmaid – too serious.


Pass the crisps.

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

Bruce Gorton pummels the idea that it is better to be unified than correct

May 11th, 2013 1:39 pm | By

Guest post by Bruce Gorton, originally a comment on Then the community can embrace

Jamy Ian Swiss is precisely what is wrong with society, if the reaction to his last talk on Skepticism and ‘identity politics’ is anything to be believed.

I haven’t watched the talk, so recognise what I am talking about is how other people perceive what he said.

Now I had watched his previous talk at TAM and figured that Swiss isn’t a skeptic’s backside – mainly because he took one of his measures of being a skeptic as knowing who James Randi is.

Randi is awesome, and you really should look up his stuff, but it isn’t like he brought down two tablets from mount Sinai bearing the rules of what defines a true skeptic.

Skepticism is not simply about not buying into bigfoot, it is about questioning all claims. This is not only claims that are testable, but also claims which at first appear not to be.

When we think of claims which are genuinely untestable what we actually mean is that they have precisely zero implications for being true. An untestable god is an irrelevant god and the principle of economy demands one get rid of it.

And besides, how do we know something isn’t testable? In the 1960s the Higgs Boson was an untestable claim, then we tested and found it a year ago.

Skepticism isn’t a big tent movement. It is a movement that demands certain standards be applied to one’s beliefs. It demands that we question things in a genuine manner.

That supports feminism – because when push comes to shove the best data on gender inequality we have in society is furnished by feminists.

Feminists can point to the net benefit greater equality has had for societies that are more feminist, they can genuinely point to data detailing how gender inequality harms women and as a consequence harms all.

Heck feminists are even the ones who supply the best data on how patriarchy is harmful to men – with concepts such as toxic masculinity arising out of feminist gender theory.

When we turn to the Men’s Rights Activist side of the debate, we tend to find claims which are often outright lies, or that feminists had pointed out the same things forty years ago.

Genuine skepticism  sides with feminists because when you actually listen to the arguments and assess them ignoring that cancerous urge to shut down the complainer, the feminists have the facts on their side.

It is not because MRAs tend to disagree with feminists that makes them objectionable to skepticsm; while despising women and thinking of them as another inferior species makes them bad human beings, what makes them bad skeptics is their tendency to lie their asses off.

The same goes for anti-racism, the same goes for environmentalism. While one may bemoan the “greenies” who are less than scientific about it, global warming is a fact and so are the dangers of heavy metals in your water supply.

It is not about liking nature, it is about one side presenting facts mixed in with a little bit of bullshit, and the other side simply presenting bullshit.

One of the great slogans of the last decade or so was Stephen Colbert saying “Facts have a liberal bias.” Skepticism is about weighing up facts, trying to figure out what is true and considering the data set before us.

One cannot exclude social and identity issues from skepticism, one cannot proclaim that ‘politics’ is ‘divisive’ to unity within the skeptical movement.  Skepticism is by its nature discordant, it is the voice asking for evidence as everyone else cries their assent and it is the voice that demands basic honesty.

Silencing that voice  because it seems divisive is killing skepticism in the name of the skeptical movement. It is groupthink by definition, it is putting unity ahead of the goals of the skeptical movement.

And that is the cancer that eats at society’s core, the idea that it is better to be unified than correct. The idea that one shouldn’t “switch horses mid-stream” or that reality is by its nature democratic and that even if they are technically right the complainer is always wrong.

We see this in every single debate, whether it be something as trivial as video games or as large as civil rights. If you are demanding somebody leave identity politics at the entrance to the tent, then you what you are saying is in essence “stop thinking about it because thinking is hard.”

And that is precisely what the skeptical movement should oppose.

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

Getting the names right

May 11th, 2013 11:08 am | By

Via Ron Lindsay at CFI blogs, Leah Libresco posts about “A new forum for Catholic/atheist dialogue.” 

Brandon Vogt, author of The Church and New Media has opened a new site called Strange Notions, that’s meant to be a forum for debate and discussion between Catholics and atheists.  For some reason, it seemed like the readers of this blog might be interested.  Here’s how Brandon describes the site (and explains the name): is designed to be the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists. The implicit goal is to bring non-Catholics to faith, especially followers of the so-called New Atheism. As a ‘digital Areopagus’, the site includes intelligent articles, compelling video, and rich discussion throughout its comment boxes.

Ahhh no. As Ron points out, that’s not dialogue. “Dialogue” is very much the wrong word for that. If you have a goal, and the goal is to “bring” people to something, and that something is “faith” – then what you’re engaging in is not dialogue but a mission.

But calling it a mission would make the goal too explicit, wouldn’t it, and Vogt says the goal is implicit. (It’s nice of him to make it explicit by putting it in writing though.)

Libresco gives a sample of an article of hers at Strange Notions.

What will happen after I convert?
I would say that the terrifying and wonderful thing is that you’re in direct, personal contact with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Every moment of wonder you’ve experienced as the resolution chord booms in a symphony, every moment of humble awe as a stranger or friend went out of their way to show you love (or every moment of surprise as you discovered the depths of love you were capable of giving), and every moment you felt the sudden relief of pieces falling into place (whether doing a puzzle, writing a math proof, or reaching the denouement of a mystery novel) were all shadows and images that were trying to point you toward God, the Person they resembled.

Were they? Or was it the other way around? Was it a matter of taking those moments of wonder and awe and so on, and telling yourself “those only a million times more so” and that that’s a Person and that Person is named (what a coincidence) “God”? I, of course, think that is what it was, combined with the pre-existing idea of “God” and a desire to make it into something to fit the expected idea of what “God” is.

It’s decorative, but not convincing.


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

Churning out soldiers for the culture war

May 10th, 2013 6:05 pm | By

Katherine Stewart takes a look at homeschooling. (I met Katherine at the American Atheists conference; she was one of the speakers.)

When he was growing up in California, Ryan Lee Stollar was a stellar home schooling student. His oratory skills at got him invited to home schooling conferences around the country, where he debated public policy and spread the word about the “virtues” of an authentically Christian home school education.

Now 28, looking back on his childhood, it all seems like a delusion. As Stollar explains:

“The Christian home school subculture isn’t a children-first movement. It is, for all intents and purposes, an ideology-first movement. There is a massive, well-oiled machine of ideology that is churning out soldiers for the culture war. Home schooling is both the breeding ground – literally, when you consider the Quiverfull concept – and the training ground for this machinery. I say this as someone who was raised in that world.”

Soldiers for the culture war – just what we need. A Christian Taliban in the making.

Many parents start off home schooling with the intention of inculcating their children in a mainstream form of Christianity. However, as many HA bloggers report, it is easy to get sucked into the vortex of fundamentalist home schooling because extremists have cornered the market – running the conventions, publishing the curricula, setting up the blogs.

As HA blogger Julie Ann Smith, a Washington state mother of seven, says:

“If you are the average Christian home schooler with no agenda, and you have the choice between attending a secular home schooling convention and a Christian one, chances are you’ll choose the Christian convention. But they only allow certain speakers who follow their agenda. So you have no clue. What you don’t realize is that they are being run by Christian Reconstructionists.”

Smith is referring to the Calvinist movement, founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, that advocates a Christian takeover of the political system in order to “purify” the nation and cleanse it of the sin of secularism.

We know from Vyckie and Libby Anne and others what that means.

Much of fundamentalist home schooling is driven by deeply sexist and patriarchal ideology. The Quiverfull movement teaches that women need to submit to their husbands and have as many babies as they possibly can. The effects of these ideas on children are devastating, as a glance at HA’s blogs show.

“The story of being home schooled was a story of being told to sit down and shut up. ‘An ideal woman is quiet and submissive,’ I was told time and time again,” writes Phoebe. “The silence and submission I was pushed into was ultimately a place of loneliness, bitterness and almost crippling insecurity.”

The fundamentalist home schooling world also advocates an extraordinarily authoritarian view of the parental role. Corporal punishment is frequently encouraged. The effects are, again, often quite devastating.

Like children beaten to death by parents who paid too much attention to Michael Pearl.

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

Then the community can embrace

May 10th, 2013 4:05 pm | By

I know of two people who heard Jamy Ian Swiss say this before his talk at Orange County Freethinkers. One source is a comment on Unity through shouting.

A person asked him: “Do we like Matt Dilahunty?”. His response was that Matt was OK but that the biggest asshole there was PZ Myers and he was planning to “call him out” in his talk. He also stated that Greta Christina is a “fucking asshole” too as she’s involved with Atheism +.

Well. That’s blunt. We know where we are with that.

So I just listened to a few minutes near the end again, where he talks about unity and how to get unity, in order to transcribe it.

…and I’ll tell you something else about the people inhabiting the space that comprises skeptics and atheists – the very people in the skeptic community who have been accused by some of not welcoming atheists are not only hardcore atheists themselves but are public figures who are routinely in the habit of publicly declaring our atheism, including James Randi, DJ Grothe, Daniel Loxton, Barbara Drescher, Steve Novella, countless more thought-leaders in the skeptic movement AND ME – [very loudly and pugnaciously] READ MY LIPS THERE IS NO FUCKING GOD. But that is my PERSONAL BELIEF, it is not my public cause. My cause is scientific skepticism.

He says the skeptical movement doesn’t need redefining, thanks. It’s fine to have differences and to develop, but.

The fact that the movement is fighting over those differences, however, is not a good thing. Let’s not be arguing as combatants, let’s be discussing as allies, and let’s be presenting a unified front, based on all the things about which we agree so strongly.

That way people of all kinds of different politics can work together – anarchists, libertarians, conservatives, liberals.

If scientific-based skepticism is neutral about non-scientific moral values then the community can embrace people who hold a wide range of perspectives on values issues. On the environment, nuclear power, same sex marriage [etc - long list]. The more you broaden the mission statement, the more you isolate people and chase people away.

That’s where he goes wrong. If scientific-based skepticism is neutral about non-scientific moral values then the community can embrace people who hold a wide range of perspectives on values issues.

Really? Really? Is it really that simple?

No it’s not. He chose carefully. He left out the part where the wheels come off.

Suppose it’s anarchists, libertarians, conservatives, liberals, racists, gay-bashers, MRAs, anti-Semites, xenophobes.

You see where I’m going with this? No, it’s not true that neutrality on values issues guarantees unity, because the community cannot and does not “embrace people” who are objects of hatred and contempt to part of said community. If “the community” has a large proportion of people who freely express contempt for women, then that community cannot embrace women; cannot and does not.

Neutrality on non-scientific moral values just is not some kind of magic that ensures that everyone will get along well enough to work together. There are some moral values, however non-scientific, that make a necessary baseline for working together.

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

They rang our fathers anonymously

May 10th, 2013 2:19 pm | By

Campaigning against FGM can be dangerous work, at least in the UK.

The Guardian has spoken to women who have received death threats, been publicly assaulted and who have had to move house after speaking out about FGM, which involves cutting away some or all of a girl’s external genitalia and can include sewing up the vagina. It is mostly carried out on girls some time between infancy and the age of 15.

Nimko Ali, a 29-year-old British-Somalian, was taken to Somalia for the procedure when she was seven. “I never told anyone I had FGM, not even my best friend, because I saw what happened to women in the UK who did speak out and saw it as a warning sign,” said Ali, who has set up a group called Daughters of Eve to campaign against the procedure.

“I only decided to go public very recently after seeing other girls put themselves in danger by speaking out. The weeks afterwards were the most horrifying of my life. I lost friends – one even offered to kill me for £500.”

One wonders why. What is so important about destroying girls’ genitalia that opposing the practice is seen as a capital crime? Because girls and women with intact genitalia=total whoredom everywhere and that’s the worst possible thing?

I don’t  know. It’s all the same shit, isn’t it. Ropes and chains on Semour Avenue, or girls’ genitalia sliced off like so much grapfruit rind.

FGM is not condoned by any religion. It is illegal in the UK to carry out the procedure, take a British citizen abroad to have the operation, or assist in carrying out FGM abroad, whether or not it is against the law in that country.

What does the Guardian think “FGM is not condoned by any religion” means? There are some clerics who say don’t do it, but there are others who say do it. There are some Islamic clerics who say it is mandatory. They’re not the majority, I think, but they certainly exist.

Efua Dorkenoo, a director at Equality Now, regularly receives death threats aimed at stopping her campaigns against FGM. “I’m told my offence in speaking out is greater than that of Salman Rushdie and that I should die,” she said.

That certainly seems to hint that some adherents of one religion not only “condone” FGM but try to enforce it with threats. So what does the Guardian think “FGM is not condoned by any religion” means?

Dorkenoo says the backlash against women who speak out is getting more extreme. “It’s getting worse for young girls because social media means they can be threatened and harassed by people outside of their community, including by family members back in Africa who are told what they’re doing.”

Groan. Social media turn out to be such a useful tool for people who like to threaten and harass.

Muna Hassan, an 18-year-old member of the charity Integrate Bristol, a charity that helps young people from other countries and cultures, has suffered for her outspoken support of the group’s campaign against FGM. “Men harass and intimidate us girls all the time,” she said.

“We made a film about FGM called Silent Scream and they spread rumours that we were being paid to make a pornographic film. They rang our fathers anonymously and said we were humiliating our families in public.

“It horrified our parents and quite a few girls weren’t allowed to do the project any more because of it.

“These are people who promote themselves as community leaders and elders. The scary thing is that these are  the people that councillors and politicians go to when they want to discuss community issues.”

And the BBC – and sometimes the Guardian. This is exactly why they need to stop doing that.

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

Die in your bed full of shit, says Giles Fraser

May 10th, 2013 11:50 am | By

Giles Fraser notes that choice in dying has a lot of public support. He bravely dissents from this public support. He says why.

These days, people say they want to die quickly, painlessly in their sleep and without becoming a burden. Apparently, this is what a good death now looks like. Well, I want to offer a minority report.

I do want to be a burden on my loved ones just as I want them to be a burden on me – it’s called looking after each other. Obviously, I know people are terrified of the indignity of dying and of being ill generally. Having someone wipe our bums, clean up our mess, put up with our incoherent ramblings and mood swings is a threat to our cherished sense of personal autonomy.

But this is where the liberal model of individual self-determination breaks down. For it is when we are this vulnerable that we have little choice but to allow ourselves to be loved and looked after. Lying in a bed full of our own faeces, unable to do anything about it, is when we break with the idea of René Descartes’ pernicious “I think therefore I am”.

Stupid, stupid, stupid man. I know he can’t be stupid really, but my god what a stupid thing to say. If he wants to be helpless and let loved ones care for him, then he can choose that (provided the loved ones exist and agree). The issue is not mandatory help in dying, it’s the ability to choose it if you choose it. If and only if. Where does he get the fucking arrogance to think that because he thinks a slow painful helpless shit-the-bed death is the way to go, therefore the choice to say no to that should remain illegal for everyone?

I know where he gets it, I suppose; he gets it from being a priest, which brings with it a mental certificate of moral rightness. He thinks that what he thinks must be a law for everyone.

No, we are not brains in vats. We are not solitary self-defining intellectual identities who form temporary alliances with each other for short-term mutual advantage. My existence is fundamentally bound up with yours. Of course, I will clean you up. Of course, I will hold your hand in the long hours of the night. Shut up about being a burden. I love you. This is what it means to love you. Surely, there is something extraordinarily beautiful about all of this.

Stupid. Of course it’s beautiful if it’s what you want. But equally of course it’s not beautiful if it’s what you don’t want. It’s not any kind of denial or betrayal of love, either. Don’t try that on for one second. That’s just moral blackmail of a peculiarly disgusting kind. We all need to be able to decide what we can stand and when we want to end it when we can’t stand it any more. We do not need unctuously bullying clerics telling us we have to keep on standing it because “I will hold your hand in the long hours of the night.” (Oh really? Giles Fraser is going to hold the hand of all of us? No of course he’s not, and he shouldn’t say he is. His existence is not bound up with mine, either. I know that was rhetoric, and it’s a generic “you” and a generic “I” – but it also isn’t. It’s manipulative that way.)

But it is also right to push back against the general assumption that pain reduction is unproblematic. For pain is so much a part of life that its suppression can also be a suppression of a great deal of that which is valuable. Constantly anaesthetising ourselves against pain is also a way to reduce our exposure to so much that is wonderful about life.

Yet too many of us make a Faustian pact with pharmacology, welcoming its obvious benefits, but ignoring the fact that drugs also can demand your soul. That’s perhaps why we speak of the overly drugged-up as zombies.

The same damn problem still. If you want pain, Mr Fraser, you can choose pain. That does not mean you get to force anyone else to choose it. It doesn’t even mean that anyone else should choose it.

Finally, the contemporary “good death” is one that happens without the dying person knowing all that much about it. But what about the need for time to say goodbye and sorry and thank you? It is as if we want to die without actually knowing we are dying.

Is he kidding? Who has the better chance of saying goodbye and sorry and thank you, people who don’t know when the end is or people who schedule it?

My problem with euthanasia is not that it is a immoral way to die, but that it has its roots in a fearful way to live.

That’s insulting. What a horrible, self-centered, sentimental yet ruthless article.



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

But we just don’t see it that way

May 9th, 2013 6:03 pm | By

Aratina pointed out a guest post at Friendly Atheist March 14 last year – shortly before the Reason Rally. The guest poster is none other than Lee Moore, the guy who kept trying to push me to “discuss” things with the people who harass me, including his friend Reap Paden. Mr Diplomacy, Mr Peace, Mr Supergood at HR.

Oh really?

Here’s how that guest post starts:

Our recent invitation to the Westboro Baptist church has sparked a bit of controversy. Kelley Freeman described our invitation as “[poking] a rattlesnake with a stick,” but we just don’t see it that way.  Reactions from others have been a mixed bag. Some have patted us on the back and thanked us for sending the invitation. Others have been less than enthusiastic.

We have serious doubts that the invitation — sent three weeks prior to the event — had much of an effect on whether the WBC planned to attend. Likely, the WBC knew of the Reason Rally well in advance and had planned on attending for some time before the invitation was sent.

It would be an outright lie to claim that publicity was not the first idea that came to mind when writing this letter. The WBC has quite a following, and they command a great deal of “media credit.”  The publicity that they generate, if handled in the right fashion, will draw positive attention to the Reason Rally, the NAP, and the freethought movement in general.

How interesting. The only trouble is, they (the National Atheist Party) didn’t bother asking the RR board, they just invited WBC on their own. This did not go down well. At all. The comments almost all express fury mixed with disdain. For example

If I agree to help support an event that others have initiated, I bear a responsibility to make decisions that are in concert with the rest of the organizers. It would be very irresponsible and selfish of me to unilaterally invite someone who is very controversial and potentially disruptive to the event without consulting the rest of the organizers first.

The WBC would have shown up as uninvited party-crashers, and they could have been treated as such. Now thanks to you, we have to treat them as invited guests. If any unfortunate incidents or violence occurs, the WBC will be able to portray themselves as the victims who were invited and then abused, rather than as the provocateurs.

Your self-centeredness and insensitivity to the basic etiquette of working with the other event organizers,  combined with your nonpology at the end of your rationalizing PR spin letter in this post have sealed the deal for me. Just as with Chris Leithiser who has made the second comment here, I had some doubts about the NAP, but no longer. I will avoid you and disassociate myself from you.

I fear that the NAP will become embarrassing to atheists in general in the same way that the WBC is embarrassing to Christians in general.

That’s Lee Moore – that’s the guy who set out to heal the deep rifts among atheists. He is!

It’s funny but it’s also disgusting. He never bothered to tell me any of this. He never evinced the slightest hint of uncertainty about his own communication and peacemaking skills. I had more than enough uncertainty of my own once I found out (also without his telling me) that he’s friendly with various people who call themselves Asshole Atheist, Angry Atheist, Angry Loud Macho Atheist…ok I made that last one up – anyway the point is, he’s not the right person to try to bridge any rifts.

Next point. Notice everybody was pissed off – and the NAP was an ally, not a constantly-sniping enemy. Notice everybody thought inviting WBC was a terrible idea. Now notice Karla Porter.

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

Sylvia Browne says god’s a better psychic

May 9th, 2013 5:39 pm | By

Yes, things are looking grim for Sylvia Browne. She might have to settle for however many millions she’s already made by telling credulous people that she’s a psychic, and not collect any more suitcases full of money.

“The [Ariel Castro abduction] is a test case for all psychics,” said Joe Nickell, editor of Skeptical Inquirer, a magazine that encourages science-based analysis of paranormal and fringe-science claims. “Why didn’t one psychic wake up in the middle of the night and know where they were?”

Ummmm…interference on the astral plane?

Browne responded with an official statement to The Huffington Post earlier this week that included this line: “Only God is right all the time.”

       For more than 50 years as a spiritual psychic and guide, when called upon to either help authorities with missing person cases or to help families with questions about their loved ones, I have been more right than wrong. If ever there was a time to be grateful and relieved for being mistaken, this is that time. Only God is right all the time. My heart goes out to Amanda Berry, her family, the other victims and their families. I wish you a peaceful recovery.

Browne has estimated an 87-to-90 percent success rate with cold cases, but Skeptical Inquirer did a 2010 analysis of 115 predictions she made on “The Montel Williams Show” and put her success rate at zero.

Oh? Is that how she markets herself? More right than wrong? In everything I’ve read of hers she just asserts things, confidently, as if she knows them. She doesn’t say she’s probably right.

Nickell has also headed projects researching the success rate of psychics working on police investigations, and found no substantial evidence of their effectiveness. However, he concedes that some investigators will accept psychic assistance as a very last resort.

“One detective, a homicide commander, told me, ‘you can be skeptical, but when you have a distraught family and a psychic has convinced them they have clues, it’s hard to refuse,’” Nickell told HuffPost.

Problem is, according to Nickell, many of the so-called “clues” offered by the psychics are too vague to be of use. Once the police find out the answers through legitimate police work, the vague clues might seem to fit after the fact, a process he calls “retrofitting.”

Same with god. After the hurricane, the people who aren’t squashed by falling trees or drowned retrofit the whole thing into god saving them.

Browne is also drawing criticism from other psychics like Craig Weiler, who said Browne’s callous prediction to Berry’s now-deceased mom crossed a line, possibly doing “harm to the family.” He advises mediums to use disclaimers.

“They need to say, ‘this is my impression’ or ‘this is my truth,’” Weiler told HuffPost. “Something like ‘this is what I feel’ is OK …”

Weiler runs a blog that attempts to explain scientific studies of parapsychology in layman’s terms, but said off-the-cuff predictions make things harder for people like him who are trying to demonstrate psychic ability is real.

“Failed predictions that are so high-profile are a pain in the ass,” Weiler said. “There’s a public perception that psychics are fake. They’re not, but it hurts.”

Ah yes the real psychics. Nice job, Huffington Post.

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

How about nine? Is that young enough?

May 9th, 2013 2:03 pm | By

An item from the Onion?

A prominent barrister specialising in reproductive rights has called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13.

Barbara Hewson told online magazine Spiked that the move was necessary in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal to end the “persecution of old men”.

No, the BBC, but the source is Spiked, so it might as well be the Onion (except the Spiked crew think they’re serious).

Let’s create an age of consent for murder, to end the persecution of murderers.

She argues for an end to complainant anonymity, a strict statute of limitations to prevent prosecutions after a substantial amount of time has passed and a reduction in the age of consent to 13.

She said that “touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt” are not crimes comparable to gang rapes and murders and “anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality”.

Good idea! Let’s totally stack the deck against victims of sexual assault so that it’s not just difficult for them to report their assaults, but impossible.

[opens the Spiked article] Ah yes of course – what is Spiked saying? That it’s a “witch-hunt of ageing celebs.”

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Yewtree is destroying the rule of law

With its emphasis on outcomes over process, the post-Savile witch-hunting of ageing celebs echoes the Soviet Union.

Barbara Hewson

I do not support the persecution of old men. The manipulation of the rule of law by the Savile Inquisition – otherwise known as Operation Yewtree – and its attendant zealots poses a far graver threat to society than anything Jimmy Savile ever did.

Now even a deputy speaker of the House of Commons is accused of male rape. This is an unfortunate consequence of the present mania for policing all aspects of personal life under the mantra of ‘child protection’.

Witch-hunt and inquisition – that reminds me of something…

H/t Bernard Hurley

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

Progress in fundamental ontology

May 9th, 2013 12:38 pm | By

Hey remember the Templeton Foundation? Sean Carroll says (not for the first time, but perhaps hoping it will be for the last) what he thinks of it.

I don’t think that science and religion are reconciling or can be reconciled in any meaningful sense, and I believe that it does a great disservice to the world to suggest otherwise.

That’s all I need to know. Next subject?

No seriously. There’s more. The question is just how nefarious Templeton is.

I don’t see much evidence that the JTF is actively evil, in (say) the way the Discovery Institute is evil, actively lying in order to advance an anti-science agenda. The JTF is quite pro-science, in its own way; it’s just that I think their views on science are very wrong.

There is (at least) one thing they do that I think is deceptive: it’s their habit of setting up “institutes” and similar in places like Oxford and Cambridge and next door to the NIH so that they can use the names Oxford and Cambridge and thus trick people into thinking they’re part of the eponymous universities. It’s their habit of making their stuff sound sciencey when it isn’t. The Faraday Institute, for example – does that sound sciencey or does it not? Well then.

Any time respectable scientists take money from Templeton, they lend their respectability—even if only implicitly—to the idea that science and religion are just different paths to the same ultimate truth. That’s not something I want to do. If other people feel differently, that’s for them and their consciences, not something that is going to cause me to shun them.

But I will try to explain to them why it’s important. Think of it this way. The kinds of questions I think about—origin of the universe, fundamental laws of physics, that kind of thing—for the most part have no direct impact on how ordinary people live their lives. No jet packs are forthcoming, as the saying goes. But there is one exception to this, so obvious that it goes unnoticed: belief in God. Due to the efforts of many smart people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work. The shift in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last 500 years. And it matters to people … a lot.

Or at least, it would matter, if we made it more widely known. It’s the one piece of scientific/philosophical knowledge that could really change people’s lives. So in my view, we have a responsibility to get the word out—to not be wishy-washy on the question of religion as a way of knowing, but to be clear and direct and loud about how reality really works. And when we blur the lines between science and religion, or seem to contribute to their blurring, or even just not minding very much when other people blur them, we do the world a grave disservice.


Can I help in any way?

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

Unity through shouting

May 9th, 2013 10:04 am | By

I’ve watched the whole thing now.

In the last part he gets more and more shouty and angry about all these pesky interlopers trying to change his “movement” – he shouts angrily about how wonderful TAM is and how important it is that we all stick together - and he never says one word about the ongoing harassment of a few chosen women in the three overlapping “movements.” Not one word.

Unity? Stick together?


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

What is a testable claim

May 9th, 2013 9:16 am | By

I’m watching the Jamy Ian Swiss video from last Saturday (Orange County freethinkers; you know the drill), trying to figure out what all the fuss is about – his fuss among other fusses.

One claim of his that I don’t understand, though it’s possible that I will once I’ve watched the whole thing. At 23:42:

If you believe in god based on faith, that in and of itself is not a testable claim. We have no debate with that.”

Yes it is. If you “believe in god” then “god” must have some meaning. Once you know what the meaning is in the particular case, then it becomes a testable claim. Even if you say “god” means something large and abstract like Love, it’s still testable. Maybe it’s possible to make “god” so very large and abstract that it no longer is testable, but then…it’s not really “god” that you believe in, you’re simply using that word to name something else, because the word gets respect and deference.

Tell me why that’s wrong.

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

If you don’t want abuse, get off the internet, India edition

May 8th, 2013 5:42 pm | By

It’s so familiar. Sagarika Ghose, an Indian journalist and tv news anchor, got threats to herself and her daughter.

“Targeting me for my journalism is fine. But when it is sexist and foul-mouthed abuse which insults my gender identity I get incredibly angry. In the beginning I used to retaliate, but that would lead to more abuse.”

Ms Ghose says women abused on Twitter in India tend to to be “liberal and secular”.

“The abusers are right wing nationalists, angry at women speaking their mind. They have even coined a term for us – ‘sickular’.”

So many people are angry at women speaking their minds.

Kavita Krishnan, a prominent Delhi-based women’s activist, was attacked viciously during a recent online chat on violence against women on, one of India’s leading news websites.

“It began well. I had answered a few interesting questions. And then one person, with the handle @RAPIST, started posting abusive comments. He then asked me where he could come to rape me using a condom,” she said.

She says she decided to leave the chat after the abuse continued.

So @RAPIST won and she lost.

Writer-activist Meena Kandasamy chose to go to the police when she faced sexist abuse online.

Last year, she had tweeted about a beef-eating festival at a university in the city of Hyderabad after which she was threatened with “live-telecasted gang-rape and being torched alive and acid attacks”.

K Jaishankar, a teacher of criminology who has been studying bullying, stalking and defamation of women online, says India’s “patriarchal mindset has pervaded the internet space”.

“Men don’t like women to talk back. Public personalities who express strong opinions are trolled in a bid to force them off line,” he says.

So, very, familiar.

H/t Scr… Archivist

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

Stuck with our dimension’s annoying laws of time and space

May 8th, 2013 4:58 pm | By

And another post on Sylvia Browne from 2004.

I’ve been visiting the Other Side. Well not so much visiting it, I guess, as reading about it. Or researching it, you could call it. Sylvia Browne calls it researching, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t.

And never mind about shooting fish in barrels. Not that you would, most of you, but some of you would and do. Some of you seem to think that the targets are too easy and that there’s no reason to shoot at them. Well the targets are easy all right, I’ll give you that, but there is every reason to shoot at them. I’ll show you why.

So why this current interest and acceptance of the absolute truth that yes, there are Angels among us?…First of all, as the belief in Angels continues to grow, people are less and less reluctant to speak up about their encounters with them.

That’s Sylvia Brown, in The Other Side and Back (page 25). And she’s right. She’s wrong about nearly everything she puts on paper, but she’s right in that last sentence. As belief in angels spreads and gets entrenched and becomes commonplace and meets little opposition – so it spreads and gets entrenched and becomes commonplace even more, and meets even less opposition, and so people are indeed less and less and less reluctant, embarrassed, inhibited, ashamed about believing in angels and speaking up about their ‘encounters’ with them. And that’s a bad thing. A very, very bad thing. It may be getting to the point where we have to worry that bus drivers, airline pilots, dentists, engineers, pharmacists, grocers and countless other people we entrust with our bodies, our health, our food, our safety, believe in angels and listen to advice from their spirit guides. We really, really don’t want that. Trust me on this (or don’t – read for yourself) – we don’t want people who think the way Sylvia Browne does to have jobs of that kind. It’s hard to think of jobs that are harmless enough to entrust them to people who think like that, really.

I’m actually serious. I sound flippant but I’m serious. Browne does have a serious point there, and she is right. It’s a meme thing. A groupthink, conformity, culture thing. Humans do take their cues from each other, and it is becoming ever more Okay to believe and avow belief in ‘paranormal’ or ‘psychic’ or ‘supernatural’ or ‘metaphysical’ entities and events, as more and more people do exactly that. I don’t see any way to resist this dangerous and idiotic trend other than to resist it. Exposing it is the first step.

And then of course a lot of it is also extremely funny.

We on earth are stuck with our dimension’s annoying laws of time and space, laws that contribute concepts like ‘late’ and ‘crowded’ and ‘traffic jam’ and ‘stressed out’ to our vocabulary. The residents of The Other Side joyfully function without those restrictions and instead enjoy the freedom of such universal laws as infinity and eternity.

Cool. Einstein meets the tooth fairy and everybody’s happy.

And how is this for something to look forward to: All spirits on The Other Side are thirty years old…Spirits can assume their earthly appearance when they come to visit us, to help us recognize them, but in their day-to-day lives on The Other Side, not only are they thirty but they can choose their own physical attributes, from height to weight to hair color.

Eeyup, and they can choose their clothes, too, and their jewelry, their shoes, their accessories, their cars, their wine cellars. Yup.

And on and on it goes like that – just a description of anyone and everyone’s fantasy of a perfect world with everything good at hand and all limits and frustrations and undesirables erased – but described as if it were a real place, and as if Browne had the maps and guidebooks and lyrical travelers’ descriptions at her elbow. Of course, she says she does; she says her spirit guide Francine has told her all about it, and that she herself has then ‘validated’ what Francine tells her through ‘meticulous research.’ Right on page 13 she says that – ‘Typically, Francine gives me information about The Other Side, and I then validate it through meticuous research, including regressive hypnosis…’ Ah yes, that’s meticulous research all right. I tell you about a hitherto unknown alternate universe that my spirit guide has given me information about, and which I have validated through regressive hypnosis. Er, you ask, but how can you being hypnotized validate anything about the existence of a place outside you? Tsk – don’t be silly – that’s a physical question, and the information I’m giving you is metaphysical. Or something.

And yet, and yet – the description can be quite of the earth earthy, at times…

The Other Side is a breathtaking infinity of mountains and oceans, and vast gardens, and forests – every wonder of nature that exists here, its beauty magnified hundreds of times. The landscape is punctuated with buildings of brilliant design and variety – classical Greek and Roman architecture for the temples, concert halls, courtyards, sports arenas, and other public gathering places -

Hmm – sound a little like a mix of Disneyland, Celebration, Las Vegas, a wet dream of Prince Charles’, and Nazi Berlin? And now for the real estate agent’s patter:

- and homes designed to meet every entity’s personal preference, so that a stately Victorian mansion might share a neighborhood with a simple log cabin and a geodesic dome.

Yeah right. People are really going to want to go to The Other Side so they can live in a log cabin while other people whoop it up in a ‘stately Victorian mansion’ (a what?) just as if they were still on This Side. No. Look, if we’re just going to sit around dreaming up our fantasy places, let’s get it right, shall we? The deal is, I get to live in the biggest house in the place, and all the people who irritated me on This Side have to live in nasty little shacks nearby enough so that I can see them when I feel like gloating and far enough so that I can ignore them when I want to. That’s the housing set-up on The Other Side, obviously. Not to mention which, picture it, will you? These chaotic neighborhoods? Norman Bates’ house on one lot, Abe Lincoln’s on the next, a McMansion across the street, a yurt next to that, Trump Towers next to that, then a pueblo, then a Frank Lloyd Wright, then Castle Howard, then the Gherkin – oh gawd, I feel sick. The Other Side will be one long festival of nausea.

Okay, that’s enough meticulous research and regressive hypnosis for the moment.


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

A homeopathic preparation called “influenzinum”

May 8th, 2013 4:35 pm | By

Canada…you’re supposed to be more sensible than the US. You know this. What are you doing?

Health Canada licenses homeopathic vaccines

Come on. Really?

Most Canadians were born too recently to see the night-and-day difference in public health brought about by immunizations—individuals who witnessed the horrors of the polio epidemics of the 1950s first hand are now well into old age, and many have passed away. Good health can be taken for granted when the public does not properly understand the link between that same good health and the measures that made it possible, and unfortunately, history and science cannot always conquer misinformation, mistrust, and fear.

Enter “alternatives.”

It is disheartening enough that mis­information about vaccines is spread by voices ranging from outspoken celebrities like Jennifer MacCarthy[5] to various alternative medicine trades,[6] but it is cause for urgent concern when public institutions entrusted with the health of Canadians enable misinformation about endemic communicable diseases to go forward with the imprimatur of science.

Health Canada is responsible for ensuring that remedies sold to the public are both safe and effective. In recent years, however, Health Canada has allowed various natural health products to enter the market without requiring rigorous proof of effectiveness. Indeed, there are many remedies and homeopathic preparations currently licensed for sale that do not contain any of the allegedly active ingredient. A number of these are hom­eo­pathic “nosodes.” These are ultradilute (typically diluted far be­yond the point where anything is left except solvent) preparations of infectious agents or infected tissue, and are administered as an “oral vaccine.”[7]

Although real vaccines use low doses of part of an infectious agent to prevent disease, homeopathic preparations typically are diluted beyond the point where a single molecule remains.

I don’t know if the US allows that or not. Even if it doesn’t, we can’t brag, because it does allow “religious exemptions” in the majority of states, which basically just means it allows exemptions on request. That’s pretty much the same thing as an “oral vaccine” with nothing in it but solvent.

Remarkably, at the same time as Health Canada focuses on influenza education, flu shots, and other proven prevention measures, that same body has licensed 10 products with a homeopathic preparation called “influenzinum.”[8] According to providers, in­fluenzinum is for “preventing the flu and its related symptoms.”[9]

Homeopathic vaccines are available for other infectious diseases as well. Health Canada licenses homeopathic preparations purported to prevent polio,[10] measles,[11] and pertussis.[12]

Oh dear god. Canada, shame on you.

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

Sylvia Browne on angels

May 8th, 2013 3:41 pm | By

Sylvia Browne is getting a lot of flack now, not surprisingly. I can’t manage to feel very sorry for her.

I searched ur-B&W for her name and found quite a lot. That Jon Ronson article I pointed out yesterday is there, in 2007 when it was first published. Below that there’s an article by James Randi, but the link is a dud. There’s one from Stop Sylvia Browne, but that link too is a dud. The very first one is from December 2004 (jeezis) and is about Sylvia Browne’s angelology.

Here it is again.



Ever read any books about angels? No? No, I hadn’t either, but I’ve read bits of one now, and I must say, if you’re looking for a good laugh, books about angels (if this one is anything to go by, at least) are pretty damn funny. Books about Wicca are quite mirth-inducing, too.

With the angel book, I keep opening it at random, and the first thing I read is so absurd I find myself cackling before I’ve read ten words. I’m beginning to think that every single line of the book is packed full of unintentional humour. Shall I give you a taste? These are just random, mind – I haven’t actually searched out the most risible stuff.

The first one actually isn’t entirely funny, but the basic failure to connect the dots that underlies it, is.

At the time of 9/11, there were many stories of people seeing angels, which of course shows that God sent his legions of blessed angels to escort those dearest of souls to the Other Side and to bring the rest of us a message of hope.

Oh dear kind sweet thoughtful God, sending his blessed angels. Um – why didn’t he just send his blessed angels to stop the God-lovers in the airplanes? Or stop them himself? Because he has a Purpose, which is Inscrutable to us mere mortals. Okay, but in that case, we don’t know anything about it, do we, so why make factual statements of that kind? Because it’s fun, obviously. But the idea behind it – well really. So – little Kevin likes to torture small animals to death, and then when he’s done it he sends blessed angels to escort the souls of his victims to the Other Side. Do we think well of little Kevin? Dear Violet likes to set fire to people’s houses in the middle of the night and watch while the residents are immolated, then in the morning she sends her blessed angels to smooth their way to the Other Side (where, who knows, what greets them may be serried ranks of Kevins and Violets, all grinning fiendishly). In other words, how people can unite the idea of a kind helpful deity sending angels with one who just got through allowing a slow-motion mass murder to happen in the first place, is simply…beyond my humble understanding.

The very next bit:

The Archangels can heal, and they can carry messages, and they can do one more thing as well. They can take us out of our bodies and take us away on an astral trip. To go on an astral trip…we can call on the Archangels to help us, because these messengers can be the ones who come forward and whisk us right up.

Oh! I didn’t know that. Dang, silly me, I just wasted all that money on a plane ticket. I didn’t know one could just call on an Archangel instead. Okay, I see – so if one wants to take a plane one visits Expedia or some such, and if one wants to take an astral trip, one calls an Archangel. Got it. Next time I’ll know.

Another bit, under the heading Angels: Fact and Fiction:

Before we go any further, let’s clear up a few myths about angels. Since we’ve spent so much time talking about what angels are, it’s equally important to go over what they are not.

First of all, contrary to belief, there are no dark angels.

Oh. You know, you’ll hardly believe me, but there’s no footnote for that statement. In fact there are no footnotes in the whole book. Nor is there an index, nor a bibliography. So one’s strong curiosity to know exactly how Sylvia Browne (for it is she) knows this, is doomed to remain unsatisfied. No doubt she has stacks of scholarly references, or perhaps notes of her extensive experimentation and research, but her citation method is a little primitive. Which is to say she left it out entirely. Odd that an angel didn’t remind her. Well, I say ‘entirely’ – but to be fair there is a kind of blanket citation at the beginning, in the ‘Author’s Note.’ She has a guide named Raheim, ‘from India’ (well of course – where would he be from, Trenton N.J.?), and another named Iena, an Aztec-Inca woman (another no-show for the Trentonians), and the two of them have ‘conveyed countless hours of information’ to her. So consider that one big mega-meta-footnote for all factual statements. Astral trips, no dark angels[1]

[1] Iena, Raheim

Kind of pedantic, isn’t it.


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