“What Are Morality and Ethics?” Dan Fincke on Atheists Talk

In denigrating atheists, theists will often claim that we have no basis for morals nor a grounding for ethics.  We don’t have a book; we don’t have a source; we don’t have commandments that tell us, as atheists, how to be good.  Engaging the issue, atheists often make the mistake of listing all the good things that we do as citizens and generally altruistic human beings and rightly we are proud of our efforts.  But we aren’t necessarily more moral or ethical than anyone else, and so, if we take credit for the good things we do, we have skipped a crucial step in argumentation: We haven’t defined our terms.  Asking Christians to define ethics and morals based on the actions we take and contemplate in our daily lives, we often discover that it really comes down to their belief that they are “saved,” and we are not.

Dr. Dan Fincke is a professor of philosophy and has written several articles discussing the issues of ethics and morality. He returns to Atheists Talk to explain empowerment ethics and how we can use objective, non-religious means to develop ethics and morals.

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Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Writing Women Activists Into History

Yesterday, I published a post talking about how women get pushed out of spaces as those spaces become more valued. I wrote the post more than a month ago, planning to look for a paying home for it. I posted it because I didn’t want it to languish while I waited to find the time and energy to pitch it. This is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Nor am I the only one. Talking to someone from Secular Woman about where I wanted to turn my attention now that the code of conduct battle is largely won*, I discovered that they already had a project in the works to make sure the history of freethinking women gets written down rather than lost. [Read more…]

We Have Always Been Here

It was 1981. I sat in a corner of my pre-teen bedroom, hiding. The book was Andre Norton’s Lore of the Witch World, full of dark bargains, sacrifice, and betrayal. It was still preferable to the world outside its covers. It was the book with which I graduated from the myth and fairy tales that children read without any idea of genre alliance to “grown up” F&SF. It was the book with which I became a fan.

I went on to read the classics and eagerly wait for new releases. I discovered cons, attended, cosplayed before the term was common in U.S. fandom, was an extra in an attempt at a fan-made film before the days of digital movies or YouTube, sat on panels, moderated panels, hosted room parties, wrote original fiction, worked it through with a writers group, read it live, was published in a professional SF venue.

It was 1982. [Read more…]

“Humanism in Indiana”, Victoria Gipson on Atheists Talk

A lot has been going on in Indiana in the recent news. Govenor Mike Pence and the Indiana RFRA – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – have many of us in a tizzy, and rightfully so.

The 1993 federal RFRA signed in to law by President Bill Clinton prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s ability to practice his or her religion — unless the government can show it has a compelling interest to do so, and in those cases, they must use the the least restrictive way to achieve those interests. Amidst similar state level RFRAs springing up all over the country in recent months, Indiana has made headlines by passing a much more broadly-worded bill which has, among other indignities, opened the door to protecting flagrant bigotry in business practices.

But as usual, there are good people speaking up about bad laws. Victoria Gipson is a board member of Freethought Fort Wayne, the first chapter of the American Humanist Association. Victoria recently wrote an article for TheHumanist.com in which she discusses the passage of Indiana Senate Bill 101, and how humanists and other opponents of the bill are fighting back.

Join us this Sunday when we have Victoria Gipson on Atheists Talk to discuss the RFRA and humanism in the Hoosier state.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Saturday Storytime: Nine Thousand Hours

It’s worth remembering, as this story by Iona Sharma tells us, that sometimes you screw up because you’re good at something. And there may be nothing you can do to fix it.

Cally made tea and put biscuits on a plate; I didn’t do too much of anything. Without even looking at me she got her phone out of her pocket, dialled a number and said, “Yes, this is Calliope Norwood. At the light, yes. Can you send up—mmm, cheese and pepperoni. Thanks.”

I thought about that for a minute, and then said, “You know the pizza delivery phone number by heart?”

She ignored that. “Drink your tea.”

I drank the tea and ate a couple of biscuits, and slowly the world came into a little better focus. When I was a child the kitchen in that house, with its cast-iron range and big white-painted rafters, seemed enormous: as enormous as the possibility of one day being grown up, of my being a practitioner of the Salt and Cally’s being the lighthouse keeper. We knew, I think, that that’s what Cally would be, some far-off day—but then Commander Norwood died suddenly, of a heart attack in the middle of the night, and that was that. My father still lived in the cottage in Weymouth where I was born, but he understood, more than anyone, why home was the house under the light: it was my father’s people who built the tower.

On the table, stark against the stripped oak, were a handful of bare sheets of paper and a pen. I motioned towards them a little ruefully, and asked, “What did they used to be?”

“Tide tables,” Cally said. “It’s all right for me, I can remember them, mostly. But I tried to write them down for the others, and . . .”

“Yeah.” I’d tried to write down lists of magical logarithms, and phone numbers, and then just my name, over and over. We all had. I picked up a pen and attempted to write “Amal” and then “Salt” on the page. My pen formed the letters, but a millimetre above the surface; when Cally took it from me and tried, she couldn’t force it into the sweep of the C without it leaping from her hand. Above us, I noticed for the first time the neatly arrayed spice jars, now with blank labels, and the cookbooks on the shelf by the door with bare spines. “I really am sorry, Cally. I’m so sorry.”

Cally glanced at me. “I guess you’re apologising to a lot of people, right now.”

I nodded. Having been right in the focus of the blast, I had been stumbling aphasic for a while, dimly fumbling through the confusion; after that cleared, sorry was the first word.

“Okay.” Cally seemed to consider. “It’s time to check on the light. Do you want to come up with me?”

I nodded and followed her up the spiral steps. “I thought it was lucky,” I said, as we went round and round, round and around, “that the light magic can still be done.”

“Yes,” Cally said, “but luck has nothing to do with it.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that until we emerged into the lamp-room, greenish with daylight. And it was strange that I’d never seen it before, but then, perhaps I’d never really looked.

“Two power sources,” Cally said, tapping the glass. “Magic, for when the power goes out, and electricity, for—well, for things like this.”

I bowed my head. “I can still do it,” I said. Because my magic comes from seawater and salt, it tends to the deep, wordless workings—heat and cold and calm and light. Not all the people of the Salt want to take time for the learning, the way I did—Cally was taught all she needed in primary school and then by Commander Norwood, for the upkeep of the light—but the power is in all of us, brought with us when life crawled out of the sea, or so I’m told.

Cally nodded. “I’ll get you to help, then, when the time comes”—and then there came the ring of the bell from downstairs, so we finished up and went back down. Cally fetched in the pizza and paid for it over my protests—it’s a good thing that sterling banknotes are different colours, because there wasn’t a word on any of them—and set it down in front of me and watched while I ate it, and then I did help her with the light at dusk, and after that, went to bed before nine o’clock.

You must understand: there wasn’t anything to do, at that time. You couldn’t go online, or read a book. You couldn’t check your email or read the news. You could sing if you knew the words; you couldn’t do it for the first time unless you were doing it by ear. Offices and schools and universities were closed, waiting. So many people took up running that there were two London Marathons that year. And magic had become a primal thing—you could do it if you knew the working so well it was part of your body; you couldn’t look it up. And I remember people didn’t even do that: they were frightened, because of me, because of what I had done.

Keep reading.

With Room to Learn

There has been a lot of talk in the last few months about how “call-out culture” causes problems. Some of it is ridiculous, as when writers take to large magazines and newspapers to complain of being silenced. Some of it is not, as when those already marginalized note that dealing with fierce blowback for mistakes as they enter and acclimate to activist spaces is one more barrier than they have energy for.

I want to deal more with the latter as I get back into writing more regularly. There are things I want to say about languages of power once I’m comfortable that my views are fully fleshed out. In the meantime, however, there are a couple of posts contemporaneous with my earlier writing on the topic that I want to highlight, both from Angus Johnston on the Student Activism blog. [Read more…]

Their Own Neighborhoods

When you ask why people would burn down their own neighborhoods*, I hear you tell me that you don’t know:

  • That people living in subsistence-level poverty move frequently to escape unlivable housing and predatory landlords or because their financial status has improved or deteriorated and have little chance to put down meaningful roots.
  • That people in impoverished neighborhoods would often choose to live somewhere else if discriminatory housing, lending, and transportation policies didn’t make that impossible.
  • That policies of non-investment in segregated, impoverished neighborhoods means that a lot of property is already unused or unusable.
  • That the businesses that will operate in these neighborhoods often apply a premium using their local monopolies, both to their customers and to their employees.
  • That people who have been abused for years have been trained to turn their anger on themselves, because trying to punish those who abuse them will get them injured or dead.
  • That you don’t begin to understand what desperation is, much less what it feels like.

Are these necessarily the reason anyone would tear down their own neighborhood? No. But that’s still a lot of ignorance to be showing off with just a few words, so maybe you want to knock that off.

*Note that even this premise is wrong in some cases. Reports are that at least one fire in Baltimore was started by a tear-gas canister landing in trash.

Ron Lindsay and the Myth of the Feminists Who “Cry ‘Sexist'” (Updated)

Update: Ron Lindsay has acknowledged that he was wrong and said that he would have corrected the record at the time if he’d understood that it was important. Please also see a correction near the end of this post.

You’ve seen the complaint before. “These feminists didn’t address my argument. They just called me names”, where “calling names” means identifying someone’s behavior as sexism, misogyny, rape apologia, etc. As far as I can tell, it’s meant to signal either that we are less rational than those whose behavior we label or that we don’t have a counterargument.

There are good reasons to sometimes skip the argument. Sometimes we’re talking to audiences we’re confident can recognize the problems in the original argument. Sometimes these are ongoing arguments where one party has already done all the productive arguing they can do. Sometimes the timing or the medium is terrible for productive argument, but we don’t think the behavior should go completely unremarked. Sometimes we don’t think the person whose behavior we’re talking about would be receptive to argument or argue in good faith.

Sometimes, however, the statement itself is simply false. [Read more…]

What Vox Day Can’t Do

Theodore Beale likes to claim that any outcome of the Rabid Puppies sham is a win for him. Of course he does. Why? Because the only way to make himself a winner is to declare it by fiat.

In reality, aside from making threatening noises and encouraging others to do the same, Beale is weak and ineffective. He’s potent only as a bad example and an impetus to cringe. After that, he’s most notable for being able to achieve none of the things he’d like to. A short list:

Face it, aside from threats, Beale’s got nothing going for him. And while those threats are an ugly thing to be on the end of, they’re not getting him any closer to his goals. If anything, he is his own worst argument for his positions.