What about flashlights? Candles? Yule logs?

Dec 7th, 2011 3:31 pm | By

Get that smirk off your face.

CAIRO: An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”


The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Senousa news, was quoted saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.

He said that these fruits and vegetables “resemble the male penis” and hence could arouse women or “make them think of sex.”

He also added carrots and zucchini to the list of forbidden foods for women.

Answering another question about what to do if women in the family like these foods, the sheikh advised the interviewer to take the food and cut it for them in a hidden place so they cannot see it.


Really? But then won’t they get ideas about slicing penises?

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

Details details

Dec 6th, 2011 3:34 pm | By

Following up some links from the coverage of the Burzynski matter. From David Colquhoun, an item from the National Council Against Health Fraud newsletter March/April 1997:

The trial of Stanislaw Burzynski for cancer fraud ended in a hung jury (6-6)
on March 4. CBS’s 48 Hours‘ interviews of jurors told the tale as to why
they couldn’t agree.  Clearly, the jurors agreed that Burzynski was guilty as
charged of violating court orders not to distribute his unapproved
“Antineoplastons” in interstate commerce, but the fact that some desperate
cancer patients believed Burzynski’s remedy was keeping them alive (or, at
least, was keeping their hope for recovery alive) made the case too emotional a matter for them to convict him of his crimes. One juror who was interviewed admitted that she had disregarded the judge’s instructions to ignore such issues.

The CBS reporter confronted Burzynski with the calculation that, based upon his fee system and patient load, his annual income would be $20 million.  Burzynski concurred but said that not all of his patients paid their bills.  Burzynski claims that his medicine is quite costly to produce.  Cancer
researcher and NCAHF board member, Saul Green, PhD, pointed to prices in a catalog showing that a bottle of medicine cost Burzynski 80 cents.

The Burzynski trial was stereotypical.  Supporters paraded with placards
extolling the doctor and his cure, while the media reporter focused on a few
individuals who apparently do have cancer but whose survival is no more than one would expect from any group of patients.  The prosecution is shown as dealing with technical points of law, while the doctor and his patients are “real people.”

It is classical deception by illusion.  Viewers have no way of knowing if the
demonstrators are really cancer patients.  A study of a laetrile rally in 1978
found having cancer did not predict participation in an anti-FDA rally; rather being against fluoridation, disliking MDs, liking chiropractors, and shopping in health food stores were the determinants.  Viewers have no way of evaluating the real medical conditions of the patients shown.  Most are not even aware of just how normal a cancer patient can look and feel even in advanced stages of the disease.  And, no one knows the proportion of failures among the large number of patients who Burzynski has treated over the two decades he has promoted his remedy.

Trial by placard waving emotion is a form of mob rule.  More and more it
seems like society is letting emotion overrule the sound judgment of carefully considered law.

And also via DC, Dorothy Bishop on “The weird world of US ethics regulation” -

I had assumed that this trial hadn’t undergone ethical scrutiny, because I could not see how any committee could agree that it was ethical to charge someone enormous sums of money to take part in a research
project in which there was no guarantee of benefit. I suspect that many people would pay up if they felt they’d exhausted all other options. But this doesn’t mean it’s right.
I was surprised, then, to discover that the Burzynski trial had undergone review by an Institutional Review Board (IRB – the US term for an ethics committee). A letter describing the FDA’s review of the relevant IRB is available on the web. It concludes that “the IRB did not adhere to the applicable statutory requirements and FDA regulations governing the protection of human subjects.”  There’s a detailed exposition of the failings of the Burzynski Institute IRB, but no mention of fees charged to patients. So I followed a few more links and came to a US government site that described regulatory guidelines for ethics committees, which had a specific section on Charging for Investigational Products. It seems the practice of passing on research costs to research participants is allowed in the US system.

Well don’t I feel proud of the US system.

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

Pour rire

Dec 6th, 2011 2:25 pm | By

Line of the day – from Popehat, Junk Science And Marketeers and Legal Threats, Oh My! -

As a public relations move, firing Marc Stephens and hiring the Dozier Law Group is roughly like firing Jeffrey Dahmer as your sous-chef and hiring Hannibal Lecter to take his place.


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

The small tent is good enough

Dec 6th, 2011 12:13 pm | By

Jacques Berlinerblau has some advice for US atheists.

The real priority for American Atheism concerns its political future, its ability to shape policy agendas so as to represent the interests of its constituency.

Does it? I don’t think it does – not (as implied) to the exclusion of other things. I don’t really think of atheism as having a “constituency,” or as expecting to be able to shape policy agendas so as to represent the interests of its constituency. That sounds like political operative talk, and while I do think atheism is political as well as philosophical (in the broad sense of the word), I don’t think it’s political in that way. It’s too specialized for that. Secularism can be political in that way, but not atheism.

The key question, then, is: What do atheists want? If what they want is to abolish religion—a New Atheist theme with deep roots in the Radical Enlightenment, Deism, and Marxism—then there is no political future. Atheism will simply remain a movement of overheated malcontents lamenting their great civic misfortune.

I think he has that wrong, and I said so in a comment there. We don’t want to abolish religion; we want to push it back, and to put it on the intellectual defensive, where it belongs.

The Constitution,” vice-presidential candidate Joseph Liebermann famously intoned in 2000, “guarantees freedom of religion not freedom from religion.” It is precisely this form of demagoguery and its associated policy implications that atheists must strenuously challenge.

Freedom of and freedom from religion are not mutually exclusive.

Indeed. For once I completely agree with Berlinerblau. I despise that intonation of Lieberman’s; it makes me livid. (Berlinerblau gave Lieberman an extra n at the end of his name, and deprived Joe Hoffmann of his. Oh those pesky extra Ens!)

But after that Berlinerblau goes off the rails, because he’s too intent on being political in the sense mentioned above – the James Carville sense, the “framing” sense.

Widen the Tent: Why must the admission price to American Atheism be total nonbelief in God and hatred of all religion? Can’t the movement, at the very least, split the difference?

Why can’t those who have doubts about God but remain affiliated in some way with a religion be included in the big tent? Conversely, why can’t those who have no religion (see below) but some type of spiritual or faith commitment enter the movement as well? Why can’t skeptics and agnostics join the club? What about heretics and apostates? In short, democratic mobilization requires numbers. Atheism needs numbers, accurate numbers. . .

Why? Well because that’s what atheism means. Secularism can be (and is) that kind of big tent, but atheism does mean nonbelief in god (though certainly not hatred of all religion).

Reach Out and Touch (Moderate) Faith:  And while we are at it, why can’t atheists make common cause with religious moderates?  In its first decade of operations New Atheism has virtually assured its political irrelevance by acerbically shunning the very religious folks (think Mainline Protestants, Liberal Catholics, Reform Jews, etc.) who are waging their own pitched battles with fundamentalists. “Even mild and moderate religion,” averred Richard Dawkins in the The God Delusion, “helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes.”

Well, some atheists can do that, but some of us simply don’t want to. That’s because “political relevance” is not our only or main goal. Some of us just really do want to be free of all religion, even the mild and moderate kind, and we want to be free to say so, and to say why. We can of course make common cause with religious moderates on all sorts of issues, and we do, but we can’t very well make it on the issue of atheism itself.


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

Another turn of the screw

Dec 6th, 2011 11:44 am | By

The brains of children raised in violent families resemble the brains of soldiers exposed to combat, according to an article in Wired.

They’re primed to perceive threat and anticipate pain, adaptations that may be helpful in abusive environments but produce long-term problems with stress and anxiety.

“For them to detect early cues that might signal danger is adaptive. It allows them to react, to try and avoid the danger,” said psychologist Eamon McCrory of University College London. However, “a very similar neural signature characterizes quite a few anxiety disorders.”

Absolutely nothing surprising there. Bad things keep happening, so you develop a strong tendency to react quickly…and you’re stuck with it. A lifetime of feeling extra, exaggerated fear and dread. What a gift.

It’s not at all surprising but it’s deeply sad.

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

Unreasoning awe

Dec 5th, 2011 1:59 pm | By

One from the “how did I miss this?” file – Tony Blair is gobsmacked that it was government policy not to appoint a Catholic as ambassador to the Vatican.

The former prime minister tells a BBC Northern Ireland documentary – to be broadcast from Wednesday 17 February – that the policy of banning Catholics from the post was “stupid”, “ridiculous” and “discriminatory”.

Really? Is it discriminatory not to appoint a lobbyist for cigarette manufacturers to a health-related job? Is it discriminatory not to appoint a murderer to run a domestic violence shelter?

Has Tony Blair never heard of the concept “conflict of interest”? The question answers itself; of course he has. Yet the idea that Catholicism might be an interest in that sense appears to leave him dazed with wonder.

In 1917 the Foreign Office issued a memorandum saying that Britain’s representative at the Vatican “should not be filled with unreasoning awe of the Pope,” and the post had been filled by a non-Catholic until Mr Campbell’s appointment.

[T]he ambassadorship to the Holy See became vacant and I said ‘Francis would be a great person to do that’ and they said ‘Well you know this, prime minister, but actually we don’t really have this open to Catholics’ and I honestly thought I misunderstood what they were saying.

“I said ‘How do you mean? We’re talking about that Embassy, the Vatican one’. They said ‘Yes, I know, but not a Catholic there.’

“I said ‘It’s the Vatican, the Pope, he’s a Catholic. You mean we actually as a matter of policy… say you can’t have a Catholic?’ I said ‘What is this? It’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard’.”

Well if he was really that baffled and stunned, he was being remarkably thick. “The Vatican” is a Catholic thing, just as the mafia is Their Thing. “The Vatican” isn’t a country, it’s the headquarters of the Catholic church. Yes, sending a Catholic ambassador to the headquarters of the Catholic church would be a stupid thing to do, because the ambassador would risk being too deferential to the Vatican. It’s extraordinary for Tony Blair to claim not to be able to take that in.

Mr Blair added: “Can you imagine we say for years and years and years the one category of person we shouldn’t have as ambassador to the Holy See is someone who shares their faith?

“I don’t think that is very sensible – not in this day.

“Quite apart from being discriminatory, how stupid is it? So Francis was the first.”

Yes, we can imagine it, because that is the one category of person you shouldn’t have as ambassador to “the Holy See” – and that’s why: it’s because it’s a theological entity, therefore an ambassador of the same religion would not be disinterested, to put it mildly.

Blair always does this absurd pretend game that religion has no actual content and that it therefore can’t possibly be a reason for caution or criticism or rejection. He pretends that his own Catholicism is just a matter of going to church with his family, as if it had no more substantive meaning than seats on an airplane. He shouldn’t do that.

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

A perfect storm of press releases

Dec 5th, 2011 8:56 am | By

Some more on the Burzynski clinic and the Observer.

From Keir Liddle at the Twenty-first Floor on a perfect storm for skepticism.

The characterisation of skeptical bloggers as aggressive and sanctimonious is unfortunately nothing new and there are undoubtedly skeptics out there who benefit from reading Hayley Stevens post on the subject but I for one am fed up of how we are characterised.  We are seen at best as spoilsports and at worst know it alls robbing the universe of beauty and people of hope. We seem to seen as the lackeys of either big pharma or representatives of some sort of scientific hegemony intent on unweaving the rainbow. But most skeptics aren’t like that in the slightest, we don’t live in a grey universe composed solely of reason and logic, we find wonder and beauty in the near infinite majesty of the Universe and the more we discover the more there is to be awestruck by.

Though on the subject of robbing people of hope? Well yes perhaps we can stand accused of that.

But it is false hope we are dashing. False hope that we ultimately believe to be harmful and damaging to those gambling on unproven or “pioneering” treatments. False hope that still leaves families bereaved but also bankrupt. False hope that robs families of precious time with their loved ones. False hope that drives people to chase miracle cure after miracle cure and die not with dignity but worrying that they haven’t done enough.

From Unity at Ministry of Truth, with a really thorough excavation of what the Burzynski clinic has been doing, including close inspection of a series of press releases.

In short, there is nothing whatsoever in the public domain to indicate that the phase III brainstem glioma trial has progressed any further than the two partnership agreements made in 2009 and, therefore, no way of knowing which trial Billie Bainbridge will be enrolled into, if her family can raise the estimated £200,000 needed to secure treatment at the Burzynski clinic. Whether or not this accords with the Bainbridge family’s own understanding of the ‘experimental’ nature of the treatment offered by the Burzynski Clinic is anyone’s guess but, looking at this from the outside, it seems to me to be a most unsatisfactory state of affairs, particular if – as seems entirely possible – would be patients are being attacted to clinic by its press release and the implicit promise of a slot in a well regulated phase III trial.

Read the whole thing.



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

Flying around the internet

Dec 4th, 2011 4:27 pm | By

Skeptical Humanities on the Observer on Burzynski:

Entire communities throw untold sums of money at the slimmest (nonexistent, really) hope that these patients will recover at the Burzynski Clinic, and the Observer finds this uplifting.

Uncritically giving a cancer quack uncritical press? How could we possibly have mistaken that for promotion? We should have just called it as it was: a shoddy, pathetic, and irresponsible attempt at journalism.

The Internet apologizes for not making this clearer.

Now do you f*cking job and protect Billie, her family, and your readers from this immense fraud.


Please consider donating to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. They turn nobody away, even if they can’t pay. Unlike Burzynski.

Quackometer on the Observer on Burzynski:

Written by Stephen Pritchard, the Readers’ Editor, the response attempts to justify its coverage and blames bloggers for “aggression, sanctimony and a disregard for the facts”. It is a disgraceful and self-serving response. Pritchard claimed their story was one of “courage and generosity”. No it was not. It was a story of exploitation of courage and generosity. The Observer still fails to understand this.

The response fails to address the serious concerns raised about the article, and instead appears to attack those concerned for insensitivity and a lack of understanding. This is incredible. I have found almost without exception, the dozens of blog posts written about this story to be compassionate, insightful and targeted at those who should have known better – not the families of cancer sufferers – but those promoting the clinic, raising money for untested treatments, and the clinic itself.

Pritchard justifies the approach by saying “the point that is being lost in the vitriol that is flying around the internet” is that the treatment provides some hope for the parents.” My original article suggested that it was cruel to raise false hope. The costs involved are not just financial, but carry pain and risks for those being treated. In any medical treatment decision, there are benefits and risks.

The “treatment” also provides a large lump of money for the clinic. Giving it to a church might also provide some hope for the parents, but would the Observer write a human-interest story about a campaign to raise £200,000 to pay the Catholic church to pray for a child with a brain tumor?


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

Free Razan

Dec 4th, 2011 4:08 pm | By


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

We never

Dec 4th, 2011 3:37 pm | By

One or two points about that first Observer article, because that blame-the-bloggers not-pology is so annoying.

One, Stephen Pritchard wrote yesterday, truculently,

that concern should have been in the article, but because it was absent doesn’t mean that the paper was promoting the treatment, as some have suggested (“pimping” it, as one science writer so crudely tweeted).

No, the fact that the concern was absent doesn’t mean that the paper was promoting the treatment, but all the same, the paper (via the article) was to some extent promoting the treatment. Bainbridge called it “a pioneering treatment” when it’s a trial rather than a treatment, and “pioneering” makes it sound new and potentially promising as opposed to more than 30 years old and so far not a success. Bainbridge made it sound more promising than it is. How is that not promoting the treatment?

And the paper (via the article) was soliciting donations. At the end of the article it says “HOW YOU CAN HELP,” and gives a url at which you can donate.

So it wasn’t just a human-interest story. It was also a how-you-can-help story that solicited funds, with no hint that the ultimate recipient of the funds might not be reliable – so it really was like a story about the royal family of Nigeria needing help with a transfer of funds.

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

A sustained attack on the paper

Dec 4th, 2011 12:44 pm | By

The Observer has responded to bloggers’ responses to its uncritical story about a fundraising campaign to send a child to the Burzynski clinic. Stephen Pritchard writes:

Yet what was intended as a gripping, human-interest story quickly drew a sustained attack on the paper for apparently offering unquestioning support for a highly controversial cancer treatment, known at antineoplaston therapy.

That seems like an unnervingly irresponsible way to look at the matter. However gripping a human-interest story may be, surely it’s irresponsible (at least) to report a campaign to enable a very expensive very dubious “treatment” as if it were just a gripping story.

Pritchard then explains that desperate parents are desperate, and then rebukes critics for not getting that.

And this is the point that is being lost in the vitriol that is flying around the internet. Undoubtedly, the Observer was wrong not to have included criticism of the treatment. A simple check with Cancer Research UK would have revealed the depth of concern about it and, no question, that concern should have been in the article, but because it was absent doesn’t mean that the paper was promoting the treatment, as some have suggested (“pimping” it, as one science writer so crudely tweeted).

Oh brilliant; great job of accepting responsibility. “Wull we didn’t promote it.” Really? By telling a gripping human-interest story about it? That’s a very Pontius Pilate sort of view of media influence.

I’ll leave the last word to the deputy editor. “We had no intention of endorsing or otherwise the treatment that the Bainbridge family have chosen for Billie. The focus of the article was the extraordinary campaign to raise money for the course of action that the family, after careful consideration of the benefits and risks, had decided to pursue. It is a story of courage and generosity involving thousands of people. Of course, it is entirely legitimate to raise issues about the Burzynski clinic as a number of readers have done, and we should have done more to explain the controversy that it has provoked. But some participants in the debate have combined aggression, sanctimony and a disregard for the facts in a way which has predictably caused much distress to the Bainbridge family.”

I feel like doing a Basil Fawlty – “Oh I see, it’s my fault is it.” “”Oh I see, it’s the bloggers’ fault is it.” Pointing out the dubiousness of a dubious “treatment” which is really a trial which has been in progress since 1977, with no success so far – that’s aggression and sanctimony, is it.

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

Dinosaur quiverfull

Dec 4th, 2011 11:12 am | By


Dinosaur picture: a nest full of baby dinosaur fossils

 What an amazing find. That’s fifteen juvenile dinosaurs in one nest. They’re thought to be about a year old. Fifteen juveniles in one nest! I was already puzzling about that before I read the text – which confirms that it’s puzzling.

Scientists  once believed that dinosaurs generally followed a crocodile-like model  of child care—they would lay their eggs and leave their nests for good.  This idea was replaced by the view that dinosaurs raised their  young for a time after hatching, the way many birds do.

Now,  Fastovsky explained, people understand that the ancient reptiles had  parenting styles unlike those of any animals alive today.

Fifteen  babies, as seen in the newfound fossil nest, is an unusually large  number of offspring for any animal to nurture at once, Fastovsky said.  Modern animals tend to have a few young, in which they invest heavily,  like humans, or they have a “zillion babies” and show no parental care,  like mosquitoes.

“So these [dinosaurs] seem to be something else.”

Kind of worst of both worlds – lots of kids, intensively raised. But how fascinating.

How did they all die at once? I was thinking maybe a blast of toxic gas from somewhere, such as a volcano. But -

As seen above, all of the young Protoceratops in the newfound nest are facing the same direction, giving scientists a clue to how they died.

“Our  scenario is that these things were pointed away from the wind as it was  blowing during a sand storm, and then they were catastrophically buried  by an encroaching dune,” Fastovsky said.

“I  think in this particular case, it really was dramatic—this fossil  really records the last, bug-eyed, terrified minutes of their little  lives.”

Like Herculaneum.

I love amazing finds.



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

More whacked-out causation

Dec 3rd, 2011 3:53 pm | By

They seem to have a shaky grasp on what causes what, in Saudi Arabia.

A report in Saudi Arabia has warned that if Saudi women were given the right to drive, it would spell the end of virginity in the country.

See? That’s bizarre. If Saudi women drove, babies would be born non-virgins? How? How would that work?

Though there is no formal ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, if they get behind the wheel, they can be arrested.

That too is bizarre. If there’s no actual law against women driving, what can they be arrested for?

As part of his careful reform process, King Abdullah has allowed suggestions to surface that the ban might be reviewed.

This has angered the conservative religious elite – a key power base for any
Saudi ruler.

Now, one of their number – well-known academic Kamal Subhi – has presented a new report to the country’s legislative assembly, the Shura.

The aim was to get it to drop plans to reconsider the ban.

The report contains graphic warnings that letting women drive would increase prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.

…………..Homosexuality? How?

Anyway –  well-known academic Kamal Subhi seems to have a ludicrous idea of sensible risk-avoidance. Letting anyone do anything would increase all sorts of things, but it’s not worth locking everyone up in a small room for life to avoid all those things.

On the other hand, if the Saudi bosses do decide women can drive, I hope they urge them to reconsider the policy of wearing a blanket over their heads too.

Saudi women get in the back seat of a car

You don’t want those women driving a car, for sure.

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

What’s the big idea?

Dec 3rd, 2011 12:30 pm | By

Just for the sake of argument, or exploration, let’s take seriously this claim that atheism is a little idea and god is a big one.

Atheism has become a very little idea, an idea that has to be shouted to seem important.  And that is a shame, because God was a big idea, and the rejection of the existence of God was also a big idea, once upon a time.

Was god a big idea?

Perhaps I’m not taking it seriously after all, because I can’t honestly see that it was.

Really. I can’t. It seems to me that god was and is a very little idea, and a very boring one (which shows how little it was and is). It has no moving parts to think about. It has no detail to think about. It’s like a smooth mound of ice – only less interesting because not organic.

I can’t think of anything that is about god that’s at all interesting – any book or description or analysis, I mean. That’s why movies like Oh God! and Dogma show god as a person, I should think – to make it interesting enough for people to watch.

God is almost never a character in literature, and when it is it’s boring. The only way to make it not boring is to make it like a human – which just shows how boring it is as itself. God is nowhere near as interesting as Hamlet or Dorothea Brooke or Abraham Lincoln or Emily Bronte.

Why not? Because it’s not a big idea, it’s a little idea – it’s simple. It’s just omni-everything…which is as boring as it gets.

This is one reason Jesus is such a big deal, by the way; ditto Mo. They’re there for the interest. Things happen to them. What can happen to god?

All this is in human terms, obviously, but then that’s what we’re talking about. We don’t have access to other terms.

Humans want to go somewhere. That’s built in. We want some kind of improvement. There are a million versions of improvement, just as there are a million versions of happiness, but we pretty much all want it in some form; it’s our engine. Poor god can’t want that, because it’s already perfect. What could be more boring? Big is not the same as interesting, to be sure, but I think the littleness is the source of the lack of interestingness. It’s a little idea because it’s just a formula of words, and it’s one that doesn’t go anywhere. God is perfect; end of story.

One orthodox version of heaven is an eternity of gazing on god, in bliss. That’s always sounded like torture to me.

What am I missing?

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

The milk of human kindness

Dec 2nd, 2011 2:52 pm | By

And then there’s Gulnare Freewill Baptist church, which told a parishioner - ever so politely, you understand – that her fiancé couldn’t come to the church again, on account of how he’s not a white person. Perfectly understandable. It’s because they (church members who voted on “the issue”) want to promote greater unity among the church body and the community. Obviously you can’t do that if there’s a not-white person at the church when all the other persons there are white. That would promote lesser unity. Everybody would look around uneasily and kind of split apart.

Melvin Thompson, former pastor of Gulnare Freewill Baptist church, proposed the ban after Stella Harville brought her fiance, Ticha Chikuni, to services in June. Harville, who goes by the name Suzie, played the piano while Chikuni sang.

Interracial couple Stella Harville and  Ticha Chikuni banned by Kentucky church

Before stepping down as pastor in August, Thompson told Harville that her fiance could not sing at the church again. Harville is white and Chikuni, a native of Zimbabwe, is black.

Last Sunday, church members voted 9-6 in favor of Thompson’s proposed ban. Others attending the church business meeting declined to take a stand on the issue.

“That the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church does not condone interracial marriage,” the resolution states, according to WKYT.

“Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals. All are welcome to our public worship services. This recommendation is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.”

God is love.

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

Oh yes, go right ahead

Dec 2nd, 2011 11:32 am | By

Memri reports a fatwa that says it’s fine for mujahideen to kidnap “the infidels’ women” and rape them, because once they’ve been kidnapped the infidel men don’t own them any more.

The inquiry in response to which Al-Athari issued the fatwa reads as
follows:[1] “Is it permissible for mujahideen in jihad fronts
to kidnap the infidels’ women and hold them as their captives? What is the
ruling regarding a captive in our times? How should they be divided [among the mujahideen]? Is it permissible to imprison [an infidel woman who has been taken captive] in an infidel land, or must she be brought to Dar Al-Islam[the abode of Islam]? How much time must one wait before having sexual intercourse with her, regarding both one who is a virgin and one who is not?”

Notice the assumptions. Notice first the assumption that women are property – “the infidels’ women”; and notice second that they are things, which can be carted around, divided, taken, brought, and generally handled as one might handle a desk or a lawnmower – heavy but manageable; and notice third that the whole point of them is to fuck. Is it permissible for mujahideen to grab other men’s women and bring them back in order to fuck them? That is the question.

Al-Athari replies: “There is no doubt that taking the women of the combatant infidels captive – whether they are from AhlAl-Kitab [i.e.,
Christians or Jews] or pagans – is permitted according to the shari’a…

And that’s all that counts. The holy book of roolz says it’s permitted, so of course there’s no need to think about it, to evaluate it, to try to empathize with the women and judge whether or not it’s really an ok decent humane thing to do. There’s no need to try to have the imagination and compassion and sympathy to realize that kidnapping and raping people is 1) shitty 2) a war crime (because of 1). Just ask an imam and that’s the end of it.

In his discussion of “concrete proofs,” Al-Athari quotes Al-Qurtubi, who says: “Most scholars, including Malik [ibn Anas], Al-Shafi’i, Abu Hanifa, [2] and others, thought that taking [infidel women] captive removes the protection [they previously enjoyed], and permits whoever is holding them to have sexual intercourse with them.” Al-Athari also quotes another scholar whose interpretation of Al-Qurtubi’s ruling says that the latter uses the word “protection” to refer to married women, who are forbidden to men other than their husbands. That is, when these women are taken captive, their marriage contracts with their infidel husbands become void, and they become permissible to their captors. Al-Athari adds that the amount of time a captor must wait until having sexual intercourse with a captive infidel woman depends on her condition: if she is pregnant, he must wait until after she gives birth; if she is menstruating, he must wait until after her period is over; and if she is young and has not yet begun menstruating, he must wait a month from her capture.

That last is a nice touch. If she’s seven and hasn’t reached puberty, the guy who kidnapped her has to wait a month before raping her.


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

There goes the neighborhood

Dec 1st, 2011 4:41 pm | By

I saw Joseph Hoffmann’s post saying how tiny atheism and atheists now are a few days ago, when it was new, and decided to ignore it*, on the grounds that it was little different from its many predecessors and that nobody except one indefatigable fan was paying any attention so why bother. But then I saw that PZ had done a post on it, and then I saw that Eric had, so starving the beast is not an option, therefore I might as well do my share.

What does it say? That atheism is not good enough.

I cannot imagine a time in the history of unbelief when atheism has appeared more hamfisted, puling, ignorant or unappealing.

Is this because its savants are also described by those adjectives, or because their fans are just being fans, merchandising the cause: t-shirts, coffee mugs, quick fixes, blasphemy competitions, and billboard campaigns? (Axial tilt is the reason for the season: Honest Jethro,  I thought I’d never stop laughing). I mean, who are we unless someone is offended by who we are?  What good is blasphemy if no one is getting their knickers in a knot anymore, for Christ’s sake. How can we “come out” when there’s no one standing outside the closet to yell “Surprise!” at? And, by the way you churchy jerks: we are victims.

Atheism has become a very little idea, an idea that has to be shouted to seem important.  And that is a shame, because God was a big idea, and the rejection of the existence of God was also a big idea, once upon a time.

But now, ah now, the grubby vulgar unlearned rabble have gotten their nasty unlearned hands on it and ruined it. It smells like a locker room now. It has potato chip crumbs all over it. It puts its shoes on the furniture. It chews with its mouth open. It doesn’t quote Goethe.

The post starts with a little display of erudition meant to put us in our place.

Lieber Gott: Bitte kommen Sie wieder.  Wir sind sehr traurig, daran zu zweifeln Sie.  Ihr, Faust.

Cool, except that a commenter at Eric’s is a German speaker and says the quoted bit doesn’t make any sense. The “Ihr, Faust” particularly reeks of a machine translator – translating “Yours, Faust,” which isn’t said in German. So that’s pretty funny – a display of snobbish hostility that starts with…ahem.

It gets worse as it goes on. It’s an unpleasant, even embarrassing display. There’s no apparent point to it except to express disdain and superiority.

Atheism has become a very little idea because it is now promoted by little people with a small focus.  These people tend to think that there are two kinds of questions: the questions we have already answered and the questions we will answer tomorrow.  When they were even smaller than they are now, their father asked them every six weeks, “Whadja get in math and science?” When they had children of their own, they asked them, “Whadja get in science and math?”  Which goes to show, people can change.

They eschew mystery, unless it’s connected to a telescopic lens or an electron microscope or a neutrinometer at the Hadron Collider at CERN. “Mystery” is not a state to be enjoyed or celebrated like a good wine or a raven-haired woman with haunting and troubled eyes: it is a temporary state of befuddlement, an unknown sum, an uncharted particle, a glimpse of a distant galaxy, the possibility that Mars supported microbial life.



*Apart from a brief mention on the interview post, that is.

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


Dec 1st, 2011 3:16 pm | By

It’s funny, in a way – Iran’s infamous PressTV is claiming that its embassy in London has been attacked.

Iran’s embassy in London has been attacked by a group of anti-revolutionary elements in an organized campaign after its closure by the British government.

Reports suggest that the residence building of the Iranian ambassador to London has also been targeted.

Uh huh. Sure. Odd that no one else is reporting it though.

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

And they lived happily ever after

Dec 1st, 2011 10:59 am | By

Oh how sweet, Hamid Karzai has pardoned a woman who was serving a 12 year prison sentence for…arson? Armed robbery? GBH? No; for being raped. That’s what women who are raped get in Afghanistan (and not only there): they get long prison sentences, and that’s if they’re lucky; the less fortunate ones get stoned to death. Here’s why: it’s because a man was able to get access to the aperture between her legs, and allowing a man to get access to that is of course a horrendous crime. It’s no good calling it “rape”; it’s the woman’s job to make the aperture inaccessible, period; it’s not the man’s job to refrain from shoving his penis into it when he gets the chance.

But in this case it all works out, because Gulnaz, the woman in question, isn’t actually being set free (to go on making her aperture accessible to random men, the slut), she’s being let out of one prison so that she can enter another: marriage to the man who raped her.

Some 5,000 people signed a petition for Gulnaz’s release. News of her pardon came in a statement from the presidential palace.

It said a meeting of the judiciary committee had “discussed the issue of rape… and the issue of her imprisonment”.

“As the both sides [Gulnaz and the rapist] have agreed to get married to each other with conditions, respective authorities were tasked to take action upon it according to Islamic Shariah,” it said.

Darling Islamic Shariah, which hands a rape victim over to her rapist.

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

Squaring the circle

Nov 30th, 2011 3:57 pm | By

Part 2 of Julian’s cunning plan. His suggested stripped-down religion isn’t finding many takers.

But since the main purpose of posting my articles of 21st-century faithwas to find out just how many could support them, the project is not worthless if we find out the answer is hardly anyone at all.

To recap, there’s a lot of complaint that “new atheist” criticisms of the supernatural aspects of religion miss the point. If that’s true, then it should be possible both to set the atheists straight and establish the credibility of religion by clearly stating what faith without silly, primitive beliefs looks like.

Sure! You bet. I’ve always said so (provided we use the word “religion” and don’t use the word “faith” – it was a mistake to shift from the former to the latter there). Religion without silly, primitive beliefs looks like people joining together to participate in a ceremony or ritual. I haven’t a word to say against it (assuming the ritual doesn’t include elements like animal or child or woman sacrifice or other kinds of harm).

The articles aim to set out what is required for reasonable faith in the most general, minimal terms possible. Then, by seeing how many people can agree with them, we can ascertain whether or not there is real and widespread support for a form of religion that avoids the new atheism’s harshest charges.

Here’s my prediction: no, there isn’t, not widespread. The fans of this line wildly exaggerate how widespread the support for it is. They talk as if it were obvious, and mainstream, and central. But it’s the doctrinal kind of religion that’s gaining adherents, not the “reasonable faith” that Julian has in mind.

Preliminary feedback is not encouraging. Before posting the articles I approached a few commentators for their opinions.

Top of the list was Karen Armstrong, since she has been the most prominent advocate of seeing religion as mythos not logos: roughly speaking, as about values and practices, not beliefs about what exists or has happened on earth or beyond. So not surprisingly she agreed with the first article, which asserts that creeds or factual assertions are at most secondary and often irrelevant to religion. She also agreed, with some reservations about the wording, with the second, that religious belief does not, and should not, require the belief that any supernatural events have occurred here on Earth, and the third, that religions are not crypto- or proto-sciences.

Although she said that she was with me on “religious texts are the creation of the human intellect and imagination”, she said “your wording is prohibitive”, because it “would antagonise a lot of people. It is too bald and needs nuance. There needs to be some acknowledgement that the ‘supernatural being’ is only a symbol of transcendence – something that many religious people understand intuitively – even though they might not express it explicitly. That religious language is essentially symbolic – pointing beyond itself to what lies beyond speech and concepts”.

In other words you have to do what Armstrong does: bullshit and obfuscate. You have to have it both ways. You have to talk piffle about a symbol of transcendence while at the same time insisting that religion is practice not doctrine. You have to avoid antagonizing people, you have to say things that are not “too bald,” you have to add lashings of nuance so that almost everybody can recognize her/his own brand of religion and go home happy. You have to refuse to be clear and understandable, and instead blow a lot of smoke so that all can win, all can have prizes.

Mark Vernon thought the wording could be better. Massimo Pigliucci said it’s ok but he didn’t see the point. John Gray said hell yes but wouldn’t sign anything.

Qualified support, then, but only from a confirmed atheist who is unusually supportive of religion, an agnostic ex-priest, an ecumenical former nun who has rejected all dogma, and another atheist.

It’s like discovering that central state socialism has its defenders, it’s just that none are actual central state socialists. In this case, the worry is that people who do not at all represent real, existing religion are defending it by appealing to characteristics it doesn’t actually have.

Exactly – and this is what the gnu atheists have been saying all along, and getting yelled at for saying. But we were right. Julian can’t get any takers.

If the articles of faith are to provide any hope of establishing the existence of the kind of reasonable faith I think should be possible, we need to get support for them from people who are actually actively and self-consciously religious.

So far, that has not been forthcoming. Theo Hobson, for example, a self-described “liberal” theologian, says: “I’m afraid I don’t really sympathise with this. Christianity can’t be reformed by the neat excision of the ‘irrational’/supernatural. It is rooted in worship of Jesus as divine – the ‘creed’ side is an expression of this.”

Nick Spencer, research director at the eminently reasonable public theology thinktank Theos, was even clearer in his rejection, saying, for instance: “Although religious texts are indeed created by human intellect and imagination, that doesn’t mean they can’t be taken as expressing the thoughts of the divine … I don’t see what’s left of the Abrahamics if you do take this out of the equation in this way”. Spencer also provides little hope of finding too many other supporters out there, adding that “there would be precious few Christians I know … who could sign up to all your points. To take just the most obvious example: according to mainstream Christian thought, Christianity is founded on a belief in the physical resurrection.”

Giles Fraser, even though he is a radical cleric who recently resigned as canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, says this is “tricky” and “I’m not sure I can assent to any of these. Which is not to say that I agree with their opposite either. These are just not the terms in which I do God.”

[Chorus] This is what the gnu atheists have been saying all along. Religion really is religion, theism really is theism. They aren’t kidding. They aren’t secretly atheists who just like to go sit with the neighbors of a Sunday morning.

One source of resistance is that the articles are expressed as beliefs when for many, the whole point is that we need to move away from putting beliefs at the centre. Hence Gray would prefer the second article to talk of “religious practice” not “religious belief”, while Hobson says “believing in God” is “rather unhelpful” and that it’s “better to talk of ‘doing God’,” which is just the phrase Fraser used when expressing his reservations.

But I’m afraid I find this all too evasive.

So do I. That word is one of the most tattered and worn in my vocabulary, I give it so much use.

Julian remains optimistic though.

However, even if this middle path does vanish, that does leave one intriguing possibility open. Could it be that the common ground I’m looking for is not one centred on belief at all, but something else, such as a commitment to certain values around enquiry and coexistence? I think it might and it’s a possibility I hope to come back to in due course.

Does one really look to people who have supernatural beliefs for a commitment to “values around inquiry”? I don’t. I think people who have supernatural beliefs are more committed to their supernatural beliefs than they are to values around inquiry. That’s why I’m not a fan of the supernatural beliefs.



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