Statement on the Chapel Hill shootings

On February 10 a man named Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in to the police after fatally shooting three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, NC. According to news reports, Hicks was a fan of The Atheist Experience, and had been critical of religion on his Facebook page. The precise motivations of Hicks are not currently known.

The Atheist Community of Austin strongly opposes violence in all forms, whether it is motivated by hatred of someone else’s religious convictions, or a parking dispute. Acts of unprovoked violence may be inspired by a complex combination of factors that include ideology, mental disposition, and the social acceptability of various attitudes. It is overly simplistic to reduce the cause to any one factor. It is vital for believers and non-believers alike to draw a sharp distinction between criticism of someone’s philosophical positions, and the use or threat of deadly force.

We condemn this senseless act of murder, and extend our condolences to the families of the victims.

FTBCon 3 panels

Tune in this weekend for hours of live panels featuring the bloggers of Freethought Blogs and numerous guests. Here are the panels I’ll be participating in:

Secular Cults

by Russell GlasserAdam LeeKaren StollznowVyckie D. Garrison and Angie Jackson

Not all cults are religious. Attributes of a cult include traits such as: unquestioning commitment to one or more leaders, who are considered unaccountable to any authorities; punishment of dissent; mind-altering practices such as meditation and chanting; and deceptive recruitment practices. Many organizations that are not overtly religious still exhibit many of these traits. In this panel we will discuss some examples of this phenomenon, such as the Amway and other multi-level businesses, the self-help movement, and some homeschooling organizations.

5:30pm to 7:00pm, Saturday 24th January

 

The True Version of the False: Can Atheists Argue Over the “True” Version of Religion?

by Dr. Richard CarrierRussell GlasserDan FinckeAlex Gabriel and Kaveh Mousavi

A debate about the issue of “true” religion: some atheists claim that we can say that some versions (like fundementalists) of a religion are the “true” version of those religions becuase of their relative consistency and loyalty to the scriptures, while other atheists bring different reasons to refute this, for example the subjective nature of the religion. This panel is a debate between the proponents of these two positions.

10:00am to 11:00am, Sunday 25th January

For the most recently updated full schedule, visit FTBcon.org.

Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 7: Some advice on community building

This is the final section of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

With all that in mind, I also want to say something about social awareness. Managing a group like the Secular Student Alliance is a big challenge. The Campus Crusade for Christ is a massive organization that represents one of the largest religions in the world. To many Christians, participating in a group like this can supposedly influence whether or not you will have eternal happiness. For clubs that promote skepticism and secularism, the rewards are much more abstract.

[Read more…]

Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 6: Is Skepticism Right For YOU?

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

I’ve pitched the value of skepticism for a lot of reasons: Being skeptical keeps you from being conned, it can be a safety issue, it prevents wasting taxpayer money on bad ideas, it protects you from jumping to unwarranted conclusions. But in a time where there are all these people and web sites and fake news sources who are actively trying to lie to you, how do you figure out what’s true and what’s not?

[Read more…]

Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 5: Evaluating information in the internet age

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

To discover a solid truth, you need careful investigation and analysis. Believing something just because of blind trust takes no time at all. Mark Twain once said: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Urban legends and rumors appeal to people. Claims that speak to our secret prejudices, that confirm things we want to be true, spread quickly and efficiently through gossip, and at any given time there are thousands of things that “everybody knows” which aren’t actually true.

We live in an interesting time. It’s only since I was a computer science undergraduate that the internet stopped being a weird hobby for mega nerds, and started being used by everyone everywhere, to transmit information as fast as we can think about it. We all carry magic boxes in our pockets that we can use to immediately tap into the largest repository of knowledge in human history.

But a lot of it is lies.

[Read more…]

Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 4: What about religion?

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

That reminds me… I’m already halfway through this talk for the Secular Student Alliance and I haven’t really mentioned religion yet. Now, I understand that there are probably a number of Christians here today — in fact I hope there are. Let me be clear that when I say I’m skeptical of religious explanations and stories, I don’t mean they’re definitely not true. Just like it’s possible that there could be $15 million sitting in a bank account for me to claim, and it’s possible that Sylvia Browne might have had secret information about missing children, I would never say that I’ve ruled out religious explanations completely. But the explanations they offer do often seem just a little bit too neat and convenient, and not adaptable to new information that comes up.

[Read more…]

Embrace Your Inner Skeptic 3: Why skepticism is healthy

This is a partial transcript of the talk I gave at St. Charles Community College on December 2, 2014.

  1. Amazing news!
  2. Nobody loves a critic
  3. Why skepticism is healthy
  4. What about religion?
  5. Evaluating information in the internet age
  6. Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
  7. Some advice on community building
  8. Q&A

Needless to say, making wild, unprovable claims is not a new trick. People have claimed they could talk to the dead for thousands of years. Here’s one of my favorite Shakespeare quotes, from King Henry the Fourth:

Hotspur (left) and Glendower

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

[Read more…]