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.

New atheists think people are just monkeys so nyah

Oct 5th, 2011 5:41 pm | By

Frequent commenter Sigmund alerted me to another entity crying out for scrutiny and derision: the Iona Institute, an Irish “institute” (can any old thing call itself an institute? The Faraday Institute, the Tobacco Institute, the Iona Institute – are there any gates, any gatekeepers? is it just anarchy around here?) dedicated to saying how great the Catholic church is.

The amusing thing (amusing in a rebarbative kind of way) is that the Iona Institute invited dear auld Brendan O’Neill to give a talk, and he obliged. From Trotskyist splinter group to libertarian “contrarian” faitheist pope-cheering what-the-hell-is-that – that’s Spiked and its editor Brendan O’Neill. So the Trotskyist libertarian pope-fan told the Iona Institute…you’ll never guess what. That’s it’s all the fault of The New Atheism.

O’Neill, who also writes for The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph among other publications, said [there] was widespread antagonism “towards strong belief or solid faith”.

He said: “In our relativistic era of ‘anything goes’, when we are expected to respect all cultures as equally valid, a religion that considers itself the ‘one, true faith’ and as ‘universal’, is looked upon as dictatorial if not fascistic.”

Yes that’s right. A religion that considers itself the ‘one, true faith’ and ‘universal’ is bound to consider itself entitled – indeed mandated – to impose that ‘one, true, universal faith’ on everyone. Since Catholicism is not “true” in any sense that matters, that imposition is as dictatorial as it gets.

Speaking about the New Atheism, he said: “The New Atheism regards not only religious faith but any view which considers mankind as more than a monkey as suspect, strange, deluded.”

Well that’s just a stupid falsehood.

He continued: “New Atheists’ real problem with religion is its treatment of mankind as special and distinctive, as the governor of the Earth, as having ‘dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and every other living thing that moves on the Earth’.

No it isn’t. That’s one problem, especially when it’s the kind of “dominion” that entails treating all other living things as human property to do with as it likes, but it’s not “the real problem” – there are lots of real problems, many of them worse (at least from the human point of view) than that one.

“At a time when we are increasingly seen as mere bundles of genes, little more than DNA, sharing 90 per cent of our genes with bananas, religion’s sanctification of man is seen as perverse.”

Religion’s what?! Religion doesn’t “sanctify” humans – religion scolds atheists and humanists for focusing on human beings instead of imaginary gods; religion tells human beings they can’t understand god’s ways and reasons so they just have to obey; religions tells human beings they are nothing compared to god.

Concluding, he said: “The end result of the crashing together of these trends is a creeping and sometimes shrieking intolerance of Catholicism in particular, and religion in general. This has led even me – a lapsed Catholic and immoveable atheist – to worry about the illiberal streak to modern-day atheism, and to want to stand up for the absolute freedom of religion.

Funny that he decides to worry about the putative “illiberal streak to modern-day atheism” and not the well-known and very obvious illiberal streak in Catholicism. Chump.

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

Divination, not research

Oct 5th, 2011 12:23 pm | By

Frederick Crews has a fascinating pair of articles in the New York Review of Books on Freud’s cocaine addiction and its connection to his work.

According to the official version of Freud’s career, sexuality scarcely entered his mind as a topic of interest until, to his shock and embarrassment, it was forced upon him by his patients’ indecent confessions. His early psychological papers and his letters to Wilhelm Fliess, however, show just the opposite: it was a sex-obsessed Freud who tried to harangue those patients into admitting that they harbored the perverse desires and guilty secrets that were already on his mind. But when and why had sexual issues become paramount for him? His surviving letters from adolescence are those of a moralizing, misogynistic prude,  and the same qualities appear in his early engagement letters, beginning in 1882.

Perhaps the best-known result of taking cocaine is sexual disinhibition.

Crews makes a compelling case that the cocaine use and the sex-obsession are connected. And then there’s the grandiosity…

[T]hanks to Fleischl’s exhilarating influence and to his own solitary cocaine ingestion, Freud was beginning to feel that a choice was looming between directly intuitive, audacious knowledge and narrowly focused laboratory science. Returning from one nocturnal rendezvous with a suffering but voluble Fleischl, he wrote excitedly of “the intellectual elation, the stimulation and clarification of so many opinions,” and added,  “This magic world of intellect and unhappiness contributes a great deal, of course, to my estrangement from my surroundings.”

Given the well-known touchiness and grandiosity of habitual cocaine users, it is hard to avoid the inference that the drug contributed to the subsequent prominence of the contentious, self-dramatizing, and persecution-minded side of Freud’s personality.

Already by 1886, then, Freud was displaying premature certainty, impatience with methodological safeguards, truculence, and a belief that he was destined for great things. Those weren’t traits that blossomed after he developed psychoanalysis and felt a need to defend it. They were the very engine of invention.

Guru attributes, you might call them. Dunning Kruger for the gifted.

The use of cocaine favored a certain manner of thinking—associative, self-confirming, visionary, and all-explanatory—that was inappropriate to the traditional practice of science and medicine but well suited to the original mode of inquiry that Freud increasingly favored…Freud’s psychoanalytic inquiries put into play a deliberate lowering of his empirical guard: suspending skepticism, ignoring the judgments of his peers, and ascribing cryptic meaning to his own presumptive memories and to words tendentiously plucked from his clients’ rambling. If a metaphor or a suggestive pun came to his own mind, he would assume it had emanated from his patient’s unconscious and that it constituted evidence for whatever supposition he was favoring at the time. And, still more self-indulgently, he believed that such insight gave him veridical access to the patient’s traumatic past. That was divination, not research, and it entailed the same erasure of commonsense boundaries that occurs in drug states.

People who are convinced they know things that they can’t possibly know – they never cease to amaze me. It’s interesting to learn that it’s like a cocaine high.

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

Far from being in thrall?

Oct 5th, 2011 11:05 am | By

Is secularism really winning in the US?

The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. “It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF.

Well, it depends on what you mean by “in thrall” and “fast becoming” and the like. It also depends on what you mean by ”a hotbed of religious fervour” and “the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians.” In other words it’s some of both. The US is becoming a more secular country in some ways, but it’s also becoming a less secular country in other ways. The US is in thrall to its religious leaders in the sense that religious zealots get elected to public office, including high public office, and several are running for president, with considerable success so far. The fact that agnostics and atheists are part of  growing demographic doesn’t rule out the fact that religious leaders entrance many people.

The exact number of faithless is unclear. One study by the Pew Research Centre puts them at about 12% of the population, but another by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford puts that figure at around 20%.

Most experts agree that the number of secular Americans has probably doubled in the past three decades – growing especially fast among the young. It is thought to be the fastest-growing major “religious” demographic in the country.

Good, good, but that still leaves a lot of people. The article goes on to admit that.

Yet there is little doubt that religious groups still wield enormous influence in US politics and public life, especially through the rightwing of the Republican party. Groups such as Focus on the Family are well-funded and skilful lobbyists.

However, it is still a brave US politician who openly declares a lack of faith. So far just one member of Congress, Californian Democrat Pete Stark, has admitted that he does not believe in God.

Well quite. We’re making progress, but it’s a mistake to exaggerate it.

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

Meeting in Oslo

Oct 4th, 2011 5:42 pm | By

Narendra Nayak has an article in Nirmukta about his experiences at the Humanist Congress in Oslo – which included getting - to his great surprise – an award for distinguished service to humanism, and getting his picture taken with one of Freethought Blogs’ overlords (who also got such an award, also to his surprise).


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

Test of honesty

Oct 4th, 2011 12:03 pm | By

Despite profound disagreements about elevatorism and its fallout, I can’t ignore useful investigations of the Templeton Foundation and similar at Why Evolution is True, like today’s post on Templeton’s ridiculous stealth “Faraday Institute” and its hot new “Test of Faith” project.

The “Test of Faith” project has a Study Guide. The study guide has an introduction. The introduction explains things.

The challenge that has been put forward so many times recently is that God is a delusion and science has removed the need for faith in anything. But there are many practising scientists who have a sincere Christian faith, even at the highest levels of academia. They have all been trained to think and test ideas to the limit. If their faith and their science are both genuine searches for truth, we need to hear from them.

Yes if; but are they?

No, they’re not; not in the same sense. Claiming they are is equivocation; it depends on treating different meanings as if they were the same. Science’s search for truth is not the same kind of thing as “faith”‘s search for truth. The criteria are different. The willingness to admit failure and error is different. The expectation of evidence is different. The very definition of truth is different.

Why bother thinking about science and faith?Ask two or three friends, family members or colleagues if they can think of a situation where science and religion (or beliefs) affect each other. What issues or questions arise?For example, what about:

In medicine? (Religious beliefs often affect ethical decisions.)

In education? (Children sometimes ask questions like ‘Who made human beings, God or evolution?

In politics? (E.g., the Archbishop of Canterbury is campaigning on climate change.)

Ah yes the archbish is campaigning on climate change…and the pope is campaigning on (i.e. against) condoms, secularism, reporting of priestly child rape to law enforcement, ordination of women, all abortions including pregnancies in which the fetus would die anyway and so would the mother. Funny that Templeton/Faraday/Test of Faith picks an example of right-on campaigning as opposed to the other kind.

Never trust a Templeton creation.

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

Without religion

Oct 3rd, 2011 11:52 am | By

One important step away from theocracy.

The court ruling last week that granted the writer Yoram Kaniuk the right to be registered with the Interior Ministry as “without religion” rather than as Jewish, is a step in the direction of separation of religion and state. Such is the view of Irit Rosenblum, who heads the New Family organization, which favors making civil marriage more easily available in the country.

Currently Jewish Israelis can only marry other Jews in the country under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinate. A law was passed last year that allows civil unions and considers them as marriage for all intents and purposes – but only under special, limited circumstances in which both parties are registered as having no religion. The legislation was criticized for not allowing people to marry in a religious ceremony because they are not of the same religion, and for not allowing people who do not want a religious ceremony to get married in Israel.

God’s messengers meddle with people’s lives again.

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

If you start now to let women drive, let them go wherever they want…

Oct 3rd, 2011 10:08 am | By

So, Nawwaf, tell us why you think women should not drive – or rather, tell us why you think “we” should not “let” “them” drive.

If you start now to let women drive, let them go wherever they want, let them do whatever they want, we will be in the same position some day. Then Saudi Arabia will be like New York.

It’s not good for some girl to show her body, wear very short skirts. This
is not about Saudi Arabia, it’s about Islam. We’ve got a generation who were
raised watching Gossip Girls and other series. They only want to be
like that, dress like that, drive like that. It’s not about need.

Now it’s driving. After five years it will be taking off the abaya, after 10 years they will ask to be allowed to wear short skirts. This is how it’s going, that is how I feel.

Because we are we, and we get to decide what they are allowed to do. They are just they, so they don’t get to “go wherever they want”; they have to get our permission for everything.

I believe it will hurt our community. I understand the US traditions and I
respect them so other people, outsiders, need to understand our traditions and
respect them.

Our traditions – not theirs, of course. We decide and permit, they ask and obey.

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

A ruling of historic proportions

Oct 2nd, 2011 5:37 pm | By

This is huge.

After brief deliberations on the eve of last week’s Rosh Hashanah holiday, a Tel Aviv judge ruled that Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk could register his official religious status as “without religion.”

“Freedom from religion is a freedom derived from the right to human dignity, which is protected by the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom,” Judge Gideon Ginat of the Tel Aviv District Court wrote in his unusual ruling.  

“This is a ruling of historic proportions,” Kaniuk said to Haaretz yesterday, with audible emotion. “The court granted legitimacy to every person to live by their conscience in this land, in ruling that human dignity and freedom means a person can determine their own identity and definition. In this way I can be without religion but Jewish by nationality. I am so thrilled,” Kaniuk said.

In May Kaniuk asked the court to order the Interior Ministry to allow him “to be liberated from the Jewish religion” by changing his “religion” entry in the Population Registry from “Jewish” to “without religion.” The ministry had refused his earlier request.

In his petition, Kaniuk explained that he had no wish to be part of a “Jewish Iran” or to belong to “what is today called the religion of Israel.”

A historic step. Well done Judge Ginat.

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

A man generally cannot know

Oct 2nd, 2011 12:11 pm | By

Someone called “bluejohn” suggested yesterday that I should engage with James Onen of Freethought Kampala on the subject of Rebecca Watson and elevators and sexism. I replied that I already had.

I had a discussion with James at Facebook, but we fundamentally disagree. I don’t think more discussion (on this subject) would be productive.

(What we disagreed about is that his view is: men have the right to ask women [politely] for sex, even if they are total strangers and it’s out of the blue, and it’s akin to racism to make a social or moral rule saying they shouldn’t do that. My view is: women’s right not to be pestered in that way trumps men’s right to invite stranger women to have sex.)

That was that, but I saw this morning that James had flagged up his recent FK post on the subject on Abbie Smith’s thread (the one full of “cunt” and “fucking bitch” and all the rest of the thoughtful, non-sexist vocabulary), so I read/skimmed it. The core claim that I disagree with is there, so…I’ll say why I disagree with it. (Facebook is a crappy venue for a complicated discussion, which is another reason I didn’t pursue the one with James there.)

James starts with something PZ said back in July:

There is an odd attitude in our culture that it’s acceptable for men to proposition women in curious ways — Rebecca Watson recently experienced this in an elevator in Dublin, and I think this encounter Ophelia Benson had reflects the same attitude: women are lower status persons, and we men, as superior beings, get to ask things of them. Also as liberal, enlightened people, of course, we will graciously accede to their desires, and if they ask us to stop hassling them, we will back off, politely. Isn’t that nice of us?

It’s not enough. Maybe we should also recognize that applying unwanted pressure, no matter how politely phrased, is inappropriate behavior.

James responded:

Unwanted pressure? Unwanted?

Here is where the problem lies: a man generally cannot know until after attempting the proposition that it was unwanted. Not only that – it is, after all, also possible for a proposition to be unwanted at first but for the recipient of the proposition to change her mind after persuasion.

This basically means you can’t really tell if your advance is unwanted unless you actually make your move first, and even when the person seems initially reluctant, she can still be persuaded to take you up on it and can later find herself having fun. That said, there is an interesting debate to be had here about what degree of persuasion one might say is acceptable.

Yes, it is at least formally true that you can never tell if an advance is unwanted unless you make it. However it is also true that requests for friendship or conversation or sex or similar levels of intimacy from total strangers are not generally wanted, for fairly obvious reasons: we don’t know you. Friendship and conversation and sex are for people we know at least a little. In some situations this can mean just 5 minutes of chat, but it means that. It doesn’t mean a man walking up to a woman and making an invitation. This rule that James calls “arbitrary” makes it possible to walk around in the world without being constantly subject to interference from strangers. The end of that rule would mean women would not have that freedom until they hit age 40 or so.

Human interaction is complicated thing. I would be curious to see how feminists would propose to delineate between scenarios like these, and those in which the offer was completely rejected despite attempts at persuasion – in such a way that the determination that the advances were completely unwanted can be made prior to actually making the advance. Can it be done? Is it possible to establish a meaningful and consistent default position on the matter? I highly doubt it – there is simply too much ambiguity.

I wouldn’t propose to delineate between them. I would say I don’t care about delineating between them, because I don’t want strangers “persuading” me to do what they want in the first place. Here’s what you do: if it’s a situation where you can flirt with the person first, then there’s your opportunity for persuasion. Seize it. If it’s not – then that’s just too bad. That’s one person you’re not in a position to invite to have sex with you. You can, of course, and as James says you have a “right” to – it’s not illegal. But you shouldn’t. It’s rude, it’s vulgar, it’s intrusive, it’s self-absorbed, it’s obnoxious…and it’s sexist.

The solution to such ambiguity is simple – as a way forward, women who attend atheist-skeptic conferences that are absolutely certain they don’t want to be hit on should wear a clearly visible “do not proposition me” sign on their backs. If not, maybe a colour-code can be designated for such women by the event organisers – let’s say, red – and then it could be announced that all women wearing red clothes should not be propositioned or approached by strangers. But will they do this? Most probably not. They will, in all likelihood,  protest that it should not be incumbent upon them to make clear to others not to hit on them – yet at the same time they want to be in a public conference where human beings, the highly sexual creatures they are, are freely interacting.

I don’t think they can’t have it both ways. Feminists need to take responsibility for the things they are asking for. Either visibly label yourself as unapproachable, or expect that during the course of a conference a person who takes an interest in you might proposition you, as it is their right to do so. It is also your right to decline such an offer. If you have a problem with this, then just don’t attend these conferences. And its as simple as that.

Just stay at home, in purdah, in other words. “Simple” indeed.

Now…maybe there is some room for maneuver here. Maybe James is thinking of a conference as the equivalent of 5 minutes chatting – as a kind of introduction in itself. I’ve been thinking about the street (or it might be a bus, or the supermarket) in what I’ve said. But even with a conference-as-introduction – as I’ve said before, an invitation for coffee in the afternoon is one thing, while the same in an elevator going up at 4 in the morning is quite another. Given that that’s the invitation in dispute, there’s still probably not much room for maneuver.





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

Welcome to the neighborhood

Oct 2nd, 2011 11:00 am | By

It’s a good neighborhood here at Freethought Blogs. There’s a lot to read, a lot to learn, a lot to talk about. I’ve barely scratched the surface so far.

This morning I was belatedly reading Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker article about Michele Bachmann, and there was, in the section on Bachmann’s inaccurate account of her Iowa history -

In fact, Muskego is a town in Wisconsin, the state where Bachmann’s forebears,  the Munsons, settled in 1857, twelve years after the manifesto was written.  Then, in 1861, they moved west, to the Dakota Territory, near present-day Elk  Point, South Dakota. That is where, according to the family history that  Bachmann relied on, they encountered the awful winter and the flooding and the  drought and what the text calls “grasshoppers.” The Munsons seem to have been  part of the group that established the first Lutheran church in the Dakota  Territory, but there were already Lutheran congregations in Iowa when they  arrived there, in late 1864 or early 1865. As the author and historian Chris  Rodda has pointed out, the story chronicled is not quite one of superhuman  perseverance on the frontier; rather, it’s the story of a family fleeing to the  relative safety and civilization of settled Iowa.

Chris Rodda is right next door, a fellow FTB blogger. See what I mean? Good neighborhood!

She’s the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and her stuff is fascinating. Don’t expect any posts from me for awhile, I’ll be too busy reading.

Check her blog tomorrow. Srsly.

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

Summing up

Oct 1st, 2011 4:56 pm | By

In the final chapter of Braintrust, “Religion and Morality,” Patricia Churchland is doing an exegesis of The Euthyphro.

The pattern of questioning strongly hints, however, that whatever it is that makes something good or just or right is rooted in the nature of humans and the society we make, not in the nature of the gods we invent. There is something about the facts concerning human needs and human nature that entails that some social practices are better than others, that some human behavior cannot be tolerated, and that some forms of punishment are needed. [p 196]

That second sentence makes a nice summing up of the book, and it’s also what Sam Harris was trying to say but didn’t.


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

Brevity is the soul of wit

Oct 1st, 2011 4:17 pm | By

Oh how cute – one of the “I really really hate Rebecca Watson” crowd has made a fake Twitter account in order to do a lot of stupid self-implicating tweets as if by Rebecca. Oh haha that’s so funny – what’s next, emptying a pail of garbage in her bed? Locking a skunk in her bathroom? Putting a bomb under her car?

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

Lulu is right

Oct 1st, 2011 9:54 am | By

I read a very fun item yesterday, thanks to a reader who sent me the link. It’s on a site called, with disarming simplicity, Atheism is False. It has a long list of names under the title “Answering Critics”; I look forward to reading each one, because they should be entertaining. ”Answering Critics” is an oddly misleading title, since it implies that each item actually answers critics when in fact, judging by the one I’ve read so far, each item disagrees with people who wrote something that has nothing to do with Atheism is False or its author, David Reuben Stone. The one I’ve read so far is about Me, and my essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief. It’s not very convincing.

Benson’s brief discussion is misplaced from the very beginning.  Benson claims that the definition of “God” includes the belief that God is a supernatural being about whom no one knows anything (p. 23).

No, that’s not quite right, I say that’s a tacit part of the definition of god. The claim is also, of course, slightly facetious, in the way the whole essay is. I think that aspect may have escaped David Reuben Stone’s notice. He goes on earnestly to explain that I have it all wrong.

In response, there is no reason to accept that all theists believe that no one knows anything about God.  Quite the contrary.  Most theists appear to claim to have knowledge of the nature of God, at least to some extent.

Oh I know that – I know most theists appear to claim to have knowledge of the nature of God, at least to some extent. Notice all the qualifications, and how they inadvertently agree with exactly what I said (or implied): people claim to have knowledge about god, sort of, but in fact they don’t. That.was.the.point.

Benson fails to respond to the compelling basis for justification of theistic belief as outlined in my latest updated defense of theism in David Reuben Stone (2010), The Loftus Delusion: Why Atheism Fails and Messianic Israelism Prevails, Morrisville, NC: Lulu Press.

I laughed when I read that, but figured it was a mistake in phrasing – he didn’t actually mean to say I failed to respond specifically to his latest updated defense of theism. Reading on, though, I realized he meant exactly that. He’s right: I failed to respond to it, on account of how I hadn’t read it. (Not surprisingly, since I wrote the essay in 2008.)

…the Benson quote in the above paragraph might even more accurately be interpreted such that Benson chooses to reject God not due to insufficient evidence, but due to Benson’s frustration that God has chosen to reveal Himself with a measure of hiddenness.  It’s like this: “God, you didn’t do what I wanted you to do, so even though you exist, I reject you anyway.”  In response, it’s not our place as creatures to tell the Creator what to do or how to do it.

Oh yes it is. That too is my point. Yes it damn well is. Yes if god made us and made everything the way it is, it damn well is our place to tell god, “hey this sucks in a million ways, you fiendish bastard.” This business of saying “god is god because god is god and we have no right to say the service stinks” is slavish and anti-human, and I despise it. Stone’s response is the very idea I’m attacking.

Also, is God really hidden?  It could be that God is actually maximally revealed, given the nature of the reality of our world.  In fact, my ACPO metaphysics establishes that all physical events (including all physical events described by the laws of physics) not caused by human persons are caused by God.  It folows that we see evidence of God’s existence every day, with every rising of the sun, with every falling rain drop, with every beat of one’s heart.  God’s existence is plainly evident to those willing to see it.  Sadly, light has gone out into the world, but those who are evil choose to reject that light and remain in darkness.

One, sure, it could be, but there’s no reason to think so, and plenty of reason not to. And nothing follows from a “could be” like that, so it certainly doesn’t follow that we see evidence of God’s existence every day, with every fart of the dog. Two, note that he called me evil.

Benson assumes God makes no personal appearances (p. 25).  No proof of this claim is provided.

Benson assumes God sends no authenticated messages (p. 25).  Again, no proof is provided.

Burden of proof, amigo.

Benson thinks it is “too convenient” that a limited measure of knowledge of the nature of God could be possessed by those who do not fully understand God’s ways (p.25).  In response, there is no reason to presuppose a possibly existing God would not choose to reveal Himself such that a limited measure of knowledge of the nature of God could be possessed by those who do not fully understand God’s ways.  Thus, we should not immediately reject this possibility because it is “too convenient”.  Rather, we should investigate the nature of the case for possibly existing Gods who might choose to provide divine revelation in this way.  Benson’s “too convenient” response is a poor excuse for failing to properly analyze the case for theism as justified in my latest book.

That’s the part where I realized he really did mean I hadn’t responded to him, specifically, not just to claims that he and others make. So something I said is a poor excuse for not responding to something written after I wrote the piece in which I didn’t respond. (Plus the part about not responding because I’d never heard of him or his book.)

Benson refers to lack of evidence for God’s existence (p. 26), but fails to respond to my case for theism. Thus, we may conclude that Benson’s analysis is now obsolete and unjustified.


I love that.

(And who’s “we,” bub?)

We may agree with Benson that it is good to reject a God who wants us to reject proper methods of critical inquiry (p. 26).  However, the case for theism may be made consistent with this rejection.  That is, we may establish the existence of God via critical inquiry.  So, Benson has failed to justify rejection of theistic belief.

Benson claims a possibly existing God has no right to blame people who reject theism (p. 27).  In response, proponents of Benson’s position now have no right to blame God for a lack of theistic evidence, given their knowledge of my case for theism justified in Stone (2010).


See why I look forward to reading more?

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

Happy Blasphemy Rights Day

Sep 30th, 2011 12:32 pm | By

Nobody throw any stones until I blow this whistle

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

What to do with an infant with breathing difficulties

Sep 30th, 2011 11:01 am | By


Prosecutors claimed Shannon Hickman never sought prenatal care when she was pregnant with David, who was born two months early at his grandmother’s home and died less than nine hours later when he had trouble breathing. He was born with a bacterial infection and underdeveloped lungs.

Medical experts for the prosecution testified that the baby had a 99 percent chance of survival if his parents had sought medical care. But prosecutors claimed the couple never considered taking the baby to the hospital.

Was their face red, eh?

Actually no; they didn’t trip and fall and forget what you do with a sick infant, they omitted the trip to the hospital on purpose.

Dale and Shannon Hickman, both 26, are members of the Followers of Christ Church, which has a history of rejecting medical care for congregants’ children and relying instead on techniques such as prayer and anointing the sick with oils.

“Techniques” that don’t work.  ”Techniques” that aren’t actually techniques.

Five other church members have been convicted in Clackamas County for crimes related to the rejection of medical care for their children, said Greg Horner, chief deputy district attorney.

It’s a mark of respect for God, you see – rejecting medical care for your children.

Dale Hickman testified that he didn’t call 911 once he realized his infant
son was ailing “because I was praying.” Shannon Hickman said that as a woman in the church, she must defer to her husband.

“That’s not my decision anyway,” she testified. “I think it’s God’s will
whatever happens.”

That’s a touching and illuminating example of the blessings of patriarchy. Remember Doug Phillips?

We’re not talking about Lord as in the Creator, but your earthly head. And one that you have to follow, even when he makes bad judgments. Are you ready to do the most vulnerable thing that a woman ever can do and submit yourself to a man, who you are going to have to follow in his faith, who is incredibly imperfect and is going to make mistakes? Can you do that? Can you call your husband ‘Lord’? If the answer is no, you shouldn’t get married. [Quiverfull p 3]

See? Shannon Hickman was doing the right thing. Her husband didn’t say “we have to take this baby to the hospital” because he was too busy praying, and that was a bad judgment, but she has to follow him because he is The Man, so her submissive act in letting her infant die of clogged lungs was a holy thing.

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

What misogynists call outspoken women

Sep 29th, 2011 4:54 pm | By

It’s about time.

Rebecca has pointed out the activities of her more obsessed and malevolent haters. I’ve been following one particular clump of them, at intervals, all this time – yes they’re still at it. Would you believe it?

I’ve now amassed a following of obsessive creeps who have seemingly devoted their lives to hounding me down and making sure I never dare to speak my bitch mind again. Their tactics? Scientologist-level private investigation to dredge up the deepest, darkest mysteries of my past combined with grade school-level name-calling. It’s impressive, really. Really. Really.

You sure as hell have, I thought as I read that. Boy have you. The ones at Abbie Smith’s blog – that’s the clump I mentioned above – are the ones I know about, and that exactly sums up what they’ve been doing.

Abbie Smith at ERV was, as far as I could tell, the first to actively encourage people to replace intelligent discussion and inquiry with blind hatred and bile. That’s where the name “Rebeccunt Twatson” apparently arose – see? Impressive! If you listen hard enough, you can hear the ghost of Ambrose Bierce chuckling and nodding his head in approval.

And Twain and Mencken joining in. Right. Abbie Smith has also repeatedly called Rebecca a bitch – or a fucking bitch – in comments at ERV. People who should know better have egged her on. It’s been disgusting.

Then there’s a blog called Grey Lining written by someone named Franc Hoggle. Apparently nearly every post is now about me. Lucky me! He focuses on the really important things, like how I made a YouTube video recently in which I mistakenly said that Galileo was executed by the Church. Within minutes, I updated the video to flag the fact that I was wrong, but that doesn’t matter. Hoggle says that I must be “dumber than dog shit” and suggests I be taunted for the rest of my days. How dare anyone ever get anything wrong and then immediately correct it!

That’s when Franc Hoggle isn’t vomiting his hatred all over the undead ERV thread on the subject.

Then there’s this elevatorgate blog, in which a man attempts to convince my fellow SGU co-hosts to kick me off the podcast. I learned of this one from Steve Novella, who emailed it to me with the subject line “Another stalker”…

I think Steve discovered that blog because that person was one of the ones derailing this SkepticBlog post about the SGU 24-hour podcast. That’s right: a quick, simple, upbeat post from Steve publicizing our 24-hour show was quickly turned into a whine-fest from people demanding Steve “fire” me from the show. To support their argument, they linked to the above blogs because they seriously believed that it would convince others. As you can see in the thread if you dare to dig through it, they were not successful.

I followed that one, too, mouth hanging open in astonishment.

(They talk a lot of shit about me too, by the way. Nowhere near as much as they talk about Rebecca, or PZ, but still a lot.)

…they can continue to call me a cunt. After all, they derive so much joy from it, and to me it only makes things clearer. “Cunt” is what misogynists call outspoken women with contrary opinions, in an attempt to silence them.

That’s what this is really about: silencing. No one starts an entire site like the “elevatorgate” blog in the hopes of having a debate. No one comes up with a nickname using a word like cunt because he wants to resolve differences. No one tells a woman she would be lucky to get raped because he wants to offer solid evidence to contradict her point that misogyny is just as bad amongst skeptics and atheists as it is elsewhere.

Oh it’s about silencing all right – they make that very clear. They try to pressure everyone who invites or hires Rebecca to do something to univite her or fire her. This is frankly and explicitly about silencing.

And it’s a fucking outrage.

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

It was torture

Sep 29th, 2011 10:26 am | By

Amnesty International Ireland commissioned a new report on the abuse of children in Irish institutions run by the state and the church, and it was released on Monday. I shall now read that report.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “The abuse of tens of thousands of Irish children is perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the state. Much of the abuse described in the Ryan Report meets the legal definition of torture under international human rights law.

“Children were tortured. They were brutalised; beaten, starved and abused. There has been little justice for these victims. Those who failed as guardians, civil servants, clergy, gardaí and members of religious orders have avoided accountability.”

We know this. I’ve been following it for years, and one of the survivors of all that brutalization – Marie-Therese O’Loughlin - has been describing it to us for years. We only know a little of what there is to know, however.

The Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports tell us what happened to these children, but not why it happened. We commissioned this report to explore that question because only by doing so can we ensure this never happens again.

This abuse happened, not because we didn’t know about it, but because many people across society turned a blind eye to it. It is not true that everyone knew, but deep veins of knowledge existed across Irish society and people in positions of power ignored their responsibility to act.

The blind eye turning - as always – is blood-chilling.

Now for that report…

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

The direction of benefits

Sep 28th, 2011 5:05 pm | By

Chapter 6 of Janet Heimlich’s terrific book Breaking Their Will: shedding light on religious child mistreatment is titled “An Obsession with Child Obedience.” The final paragraph of the chapter says:

While there is nothing wrong with encouraging children to honor their parents, scriptures and religious concepts that promote child obedience offer an unbalanced and unhealthy parent-child relationship model. That is, while theology says plenty about what children must do for parents, it is largely silent on what parents owe children. Expecting children to honor and obey “in all things” promotes the use of corporal punishment, fear, and, sometimes, physical abuse. [pp 97-8]

It’s exactly the same with “God,” you know. Humans are told to obey and worship god, but God is never told to take responsibility for its creation. Praying is begging, not telling.

It’s always the duty of the lower to suck up to the higher, never the responsibility of the higher to take care of the beings they created in the first place. That’s no doubt because god conspicuously doesn’t take care of humans (let alone other animals), but it’s crappy morality. Obviously god owes us more than we owe god.

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

The land of the pure

Sep 28th, 2011 4:41 pm | By

That “God” person must be one crazy primate, given the twisted frantic obsessiveness with which its fans fret about Purity in the Female.

Being in a room with a boy who’s not part of your family is considered damaging to the girl’s purity. Purity becomes a minefield and the only way to avoid it is, I’m sad to say this, staying at home. Inside your house. Seriously, don’t even take out the garbage because some boy might say hi and talk to you, and you would be flirting. And anyway, what if somebody saw you? They’d gossip their mouths fuzzy that you’re having a secret boyfriend and once that’s in people’s minds, you’re about as damaged as a vase somebody dropped out the 13th floor on the hard concrete sidewalk.

And what about men? Well, men are so focused on sex even at a young age, you can’t really blame them for a slip here and there. A man who wastes his purity on, say, holding hands, will not be “as impure” as a woman doing it. And even worse: A man who admits his “sin” is considered strong, spiritually mature and godly. His purity is easy fixed in the minds of people. A woman admitting her “sin” is still damaged. The reputation of being impure will always follow her around.

It’s all so…literal. You know? Boys expel, girls receive, so girls are always dirty and smutched while boys are always basically clean. A dirty girl can never get clean again.

I couldn’t go out alone, or with girls only, or, much worse, with boys who weren’t related to me. Whenever I wanted to do something outside the house, I needed a male relative with me. Even at the supermarket I couldn’t move too far away from my mother (unless one of my smaller brothers went with me). My smaller brothers were trained to “protect” their sisters, us older ones as well as the younger ones. Age didn’t matter, gender did. A girl out alone, walking down the street to bring something to that nice old lady a living a quarter mile away? Can’t have that!

But a Magic Male fixes everything, even if he’s 6 to her 15. That’s how magic is.

Our lessons for school were different. We learned female things like cleaning, sewing, music and cooking, together with girls from like-minded families. There were meetings with other women from our community, old and young, teaching us different instruments and exchanging “secrets”. How do you get grass stains out of those jeans? What can you do when you overcooked potatoes? It was treated like secret, sacred knowledge. We were miles ahead of those secular feminists who couldn’t even boil water without burning down the house.

We also had lessons on men. How to treat them, how to act around them, what they liked and didn’t like. Wise tips and tricks were given. Always have a glass of your husband’s or Dad’s favourite drink ready when he gets home. Don’t bother him with questions. Cheerfully eat the food you hate once a week if that’s his favourite food.

And thank your lucky stars it will always be 1952 where you are.


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

Always be careful not to alienate the mainstream

Sep 28th, 2011 11:09 am | By

A great piece by Glen Greenwald on the disdain of Normal “progressives” for the Wall Street protests.

Some of this anti-protest posturing is just the all-too-familiar New-Republic-ish eagerness to prove one’s own Seriousness by castigating anyone to the left of, say, Dianne Feinstein or John Kerry; for such individuals, multi-term, pro-Iraq-War Democratic Senator-plutocrats define the outermost left-wing limit of respectability…

A siginificant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal.  Indeed, the loyalists of both parties have an interest in marginalizing anything that might serve as a vehicle for activism outside of fealty to one of the two parties.

Sound familiar? It’s the church of savvy. It’s “framing.” It’s what William Hamby was arguing for. Throw everything overboard that might somehow conceivably in an alternate universe alienate Mainstream Americans because then they won’t vote for The Democrat!!11!

…much of this progressive criticism consists of relatively (ostensibly) well-intentioned tactical and organizational critiques of the protests: there wasn’t a clear unified message; it lacked a coherent media strategy; the neo-hippie participants were too off-putting to Middle America; the resulting police brutality overwhelmed the message, etc. etc.  That’s the high-minded form which most progressive scorn for the protests took: it’s just not professionally organized or effective.

See what I mean? Same old same old. It’s shrill, it’s strident, it’s aggressive, it’s radical, it’s feminist, it’s way too off-putting to Middle America.

Most importantly, very few protest movements enjoy perfect clarity about tactics or command widespread support when they begin; they’re designed to spark conversation, raise awareness, attract others to the cause, and build those structural planks as they grow and develop.  Dismissing these incipient protests because they lack fully developed, sophisticated professionalization is akin to pronouncing a three-year-old child worthless because he can’t read Schopenhauer: those who are actually interested in helping it develop will work toward improving those deficiencies, not harp on them in order to belittle its worth.

In order to belittle its worth and, don’t forget, to puff up one’s own importance as a savvy wised-up shrewd knowing pro in the tactics biz.

Personally, I think there’s substantial value even in those protests that lack “exit goals” and “messaging strategies” and the rest of the platitudes from Power Point presentations by mid-level functionaries at corporate conferences.  Some injustices simply need anger and dissent expressed for its own sake, to make clear that there are citizens who are aware of it and do not accept it.

Damn right!

In Vancouver yesterday, Dick Cheney was met by angry protests chanting “war criminal” at him while he tried to hawk his book, which prompted arrests and an ugly-for-Canada police battle that then became part of the story of his visit.  Is that likely to result in Cheney’s arrest or sway huge numbers of people to change how they think?  No.  But it’s vastly preferable to allowing him to traipse around the world as though he’s a respectable figure unaccompanied by anger over his crimes — anger necessarily expressed outside of the institutions that have failed to check or punish (but rather have shielded and legitimized) those crimes.  And the same is true of Wall Street’s rampant criminality.

And the Vatican’s.

But for those who believe that protests are only worthwhile if they translate into quantifiable impact: the lack of organizational sophistication or messaging efficacy on the part of the Wall Street protest is a reason to support it and get involved in it, not turn one’s nose up at it and join in the media demonization.  That’s what one actually sympathetic to its messaging (rather than pretending to be in order more effectively to discredit it) would do.  Anyone who looks at mostly young citizens marching in the street protesting the corruption of Wall Street and the harm it spawns, and decides that what is warranted is mockery and scorn rather than support, is either not seeing things clearly or is motivated by objectives other than the ones being presented.

Greenwald is almost as good as Rieux and Paul W.

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