Atheist Experience on February 21st

Our regular time slot for The Atheist Experience for February 21st was taken by a class in the same studio. The crew has worked their magic and got us the slot from 8-9:30 pm that day (3.5 hours later). It looks like the show will go on. Please watch the stream and participate as you normally would.

Matt and Martin will be on and they will have a special guest, Darrell Ray, author of The God Virus: How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture.

Science Works, Albeit Slowly

This month, the British medical journal Lancet retracted a peer-reviewed study done by Andrew Wakefield. The paper was retracted because Wakefield apparently provided false information in the study and perhaps tried to cook the numbers to promote his cause and his career. He’s also under investigation for serious professional misconduct.

Who is Andrew Wakefield and why was this paper important? He claimed that there was a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. This paper served as the cornerstone of an anti-vaccination movement here and in Briton that has caused many parents to not vaccinate their children, leaving them vulnerable to a host of serious, but easily preventable diseases. The harm he has done is immeasurable.

On the plus side, science is working. His study drew skepticism and further scrutiny. His co-authors asked to have their names removed from the paper as a means of protecting their reputations. His results could not be replicated and they were refuted. The editors of the journal made a difficult decision to retract the paper, thus keeping their integrity from being taken down with the junk science paper. Retractions like this are rare, fortunately, but they serve as a housecleaning mechanism to purge the literature of truly bad publications. The machinery of science got the right answer. It’s a shame that the machinations took 12 years.

The popular press is still full of anti-vaccination material and the harm won’t be fully addressed for years, but the process has finally got moving. Meanwhile, true scientists can get back to the serious business of understanding and someday preventing or curing autism.

BTW, Andrew Wakefield now lives in Austin Texas where he runs a clinic called the “Thoughtful House Center for Children.” I wouldn’t recommend taking your children there.

NY Times Magazine covers the Texas SBOE

The New York Times Magazine published a very good piece this weekend on the Texas State Board of Education, it’s Christian exceptionalist members and their motivations. The piece is called “How Christian were the Founders?“. It’s long, but thourough and fair. I recommend it.

One of the last points Russell Shorto makes at the end of the article is that a few of the SBOE members are vulnerable or not seeking reelection (Cynthia Dunbar). We Texans have a chance to correct some of these problems in the upcoming March primaries and in the general election in November. If you live in Texas, we urge you to pick candidates who will truly improve education in Texas.

Global Warming Denial and God Belief

I’ve often wondered why the religious nuts are most often the most vocal against global warming. On the surface, it seems incongruous. When the topic is God, they prop up the flimsiest evidence and put their fingers in their ears, yelling “la la la” when there is solid evidence against supernatural belief. When the topic is global warming, however, these same people ignore the evidence and claim to be highly educated skeptics.

Rush Limbaugh has explained the connection. After identifying himself as a creationist he said, “I simply cannot accept the fact that we would be created to do things that would destroy our environment…” Sadly, such a person would never ponder the possibility that they might be wrong. Or that their own denial is part of the problem.

On both topics of God and global warming, their minds are made up.

Fred Edwords: Sailing the Rising Tide of Reason

Since some people may be missing The Atheist Experience this week, I’m posting the video from a recent ACA Lecture Series lecture.

Fred Edwords from the United Coalition of Reason on “Sailing the Rising Tide of Reason”.

Over the past few years, with the rise of the “New Atheism,” interest in Freethought and humanism is growing. And the more recent billboard and bus campaigns have stoked the fires of enthusiasm. How can Freethought and humanist groups benefit from this secular “coming out”? How can they capture this interest to help their memberships grow? Fred Edwords, a former executive director of the American Humanist Association, is now the national director of the United Coalition of Reason. Over his thirty-year career as a humanist leader he has lectured, debated, and taught on humanist philosophical issues and effective outreach techniques. He has appeared on national and local television in the United States and Canada, has been interviewed on radio and for newspapers around the world, and has lectured in North America, Europe, and India.

“Sailing the Rising Tide of Reason”
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYG79zgA]
Mp3 audio is available here.

Cal-irony-fication

The California Supreme US District Court is currently hearing a case over whether 2008 Proposition 8 (which bans same-sex marriage in the California State Constitution) is itself constitutional. If the court rules that it is not constitutional (by the state’s US constitution), then same-sex marriage would revert to being allowed in the state. This is a pretty important case as many people feel that California is a cultural leader for the entire US–not to mention its sheer size.

There has been a recent side-show as to whether the hearing would be (video) broadcast to the public. One can make an argument that public interest is served by transparency, especially in such an important case. This little debate went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States that decided today that there should be no such coverage. The 5-4 decision (with the conservative Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito in the majority) was ostensibly decided on a technicality. Not too interesting so far; but let’s look under the hood, shall we?

The very fact that SCOTUS even heard the case and issued a decision was based on an urgent claim of “irreparable harm” to someone. According to one source, “The Court also found that the high-profile nature of the trial might intimidate witnesses and cause irreparable harm if the rule were not stayed.” However, the dissenting justice wrote (page 24-25): “I can find no basis for the Court’s conclusion that, were the transmissions to other courtrooms to take place, the applicants would suffer irreparable harm. Certainly there is no evidence that such harm could arise in this nonjury civil case from the simple fact of transmission itself.” (This article has a good analysis.) Perhaps a broadcast on YouTube would cause irreparable harm to their cause.

So what’s going on? The religious supporters of Proposition 8 are wanting have their free speech rights to make false and emotionally manipulative claims, but they are crying persecution when it comes to taking responsibility for them. Consider defendant Hak-Shing William Tam, who wrote, “On their agenda list is: legalize having sex with children,” and that, “other states would fall into Satan’s hands,” if gays weren’t stopped from marrying in California. A successful advertising campaign during the Proposition 8 election claimed that homosexuality would be taught in public schools. They want to perpetrate thuggery on gays, but they’re playing the persecution card when it comes to taking responsibility for their lies–and the conservatives on the Supreme Court are backing them up. Apparently, taking responsibility is irreparably harmful to the religious.

The irony is so thick here you could build a church with it. Some supporters of Proposition 8 have gotten harassing phone calls and e-mail messages. I can’t say I feel any pity for these people. They are being subject to much milder versions of the same tactics they have done to gays and others over the years. (Religious readers are referred to Exodus 21:22-25 and Matthew 7:12 for a little morality lesson and some tasty just desserts. I long for the day when the majority of gays vote on the Christians’ right to marriage, just as the Christians have done to gays.) Christian death threats are a common intimidation tactic and the religion has plenty of people who are willing to carry them out. Gays have been subject to (real) hate crimes for years, most of which have been religiously motivated. Christians have made a big business out of persecuting gays. Proposition 8 itself is just part of that business. If same-sex marriage becomes normalized, they will have a much harder time vilifying gays and their red-meat lovin’ constituency will turn to other pursuits and take their tithes with them.

Same-sex marriage in the US will happen eventually, but we can count on the religious fighting unfairly every step of the way.

Propagandists to the Rescue!

The Texas State Board of Education has been a constant source of annoyance and frustration for people like me, who value church-state separation. The current board is packed with creationists and religious ideologues who have lost touch with reality, not to mention their mission as educators. Here’s a sampling: Board member Cynthia Dunbar has called public education a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion” and unconstitutional. Not surprisingly, she’s a graduate of Pat Robertson’s would-be law school. Another board member, Don McLeroy, has consistently promoted Christianity in his previous role as chair of the board. He is quite convinced his training as a dentist makes him better suited to judge scientific material than the true experts whom he holds in contempt. He has called evolution “hooey” (as it conflicts with his Christian belief). Board member Terri Leo has argued for all language in textbooks to refer to opposite-sex couples exclusively (with no neutral language) when referring to marriage. She advocated that middle school textbooks emphasize that gay teens commit suicides at a higher rate. (It couldn’t have anything to do with Christian persecution, propaganda, and suggestion, could it, Terri?) If this is our best and brightest on the SBOE, Texas is pretty screwed up on the education front. Unfortunately, Texas’ textbook decision impact broad swaths of the United States. Many states simply buy the textbooks that have gone through the Texas review process.

The latest episode in this freak show is the current review of the history textbooks. Various dubiously qualified “experts” have been brought in to spin the textbooks with ideological agendas. Of particular interest is pseudo-historian David Barton and minister Peter Marshall who were both called by board members to lend a hand in reviewing history textbooks. Neither have credentials to be called experts. Barton is a well-known propagandist. He makes his living promoting a pro-Christian version of American history with lies and half-truths. Not surprisingly, he’s up to his usual tricks. The minister’s agenda is far more obvious. The only bright light in this whole sordid mess is the fact that Texas Freedom Network is doing a great job of covering the mess and helping to keep us informed. With luck, we can get more sane people on the board in the upcoming election. For now, we can really only watch the train wreck and hope for the best. (Yes, there’s a public hearing this week, but I don’t think it will have an impact.)

While I have certainly felt a lot of frustration and anger at the Texas SBOE over the years, today I’m feeling kind of sorry for Christianity. I feel pity. If the facts about Christianity were actually taught in schools… the Crusades, Salem Witch Trials, systematic persecution of Jews, the burning of the Library of Alexandria, the Spanish Inquisition, the corruption of the Popes, the sabotage of medical advances, the marketing of rapture snuff porn, and the link between belief and so many social ills… if all of the facts were taught in schools, in an unbiased way, it would inoculate kids in the US against the disease of Christianity. That’s what they’ve done it in Europe and the level of belief has plummeted.

Christian leaders here know of this danger, so they’ve packed the board with ideologues and sent in their crack team of propagandists to make Texas children’s minds safe for a false religion. They know they have to lie to the children because the truth is not on their side. It’s a pitiful attempt to save the falsehoods they hold so dear. Even in its sickly state, however, Christianity is still doing great harm.

Thugs without Borders

Christians are having a big impact in Africa, it seems–especially those from the US.

In recent memory, we have:

Now, we have Christians spreading their bullshit theories on homosexuality in Uganda. Selling hatred of gays has been a big moneymaker for the religious right. They have lost quite a bit of momentum, in the US though. They have having more and more trouble painting gays as evil child molesters, given that so many real child molesters are religious leaders. (Can you say “projection“? I knew you could!) People just aren’t afraid anymore of same-sex couples that keep their yards a bit too neat and just want to get married. Perhaps the religious thugs thought they’d get more mileage out of their campaign in another country.

Apparently, their campaign was a bit too successful. Uganda is considering implementing what Christians here in the US have always wanted: laws that punish homosexuality with death–just like the BUYBULL sayz (Lev. 2o:13). We all know conservative Christians want to inflict Leviticus on their enemies, but ignore it otherwise.

But wait. Now US Christian groups are saying that they don’t think Uganda is doing a good thing by following the US Christians’ advice. Even some of the hard core homo haters like Rick Warren have had to backpedal. Apparently, God’s universal and absolute morality changes minute by minute depending on the financial needs of Christian groups and their ability to spin to the morons that fund them. We supposedly immoral atheists can see through your con and call you on it.

The constant in this equation is the religious exploitation of the poor and ignorant in whatever continent. …Just as they’ve always done. We could make the world a better place by separating the US government from these exploitative efforts. Let the Vatican and US Christian groups stand alone without sullying the US’s reputation on these efforts. Let’s call the exploitation of Africa a Christian initiative when it is, as in these cases. Let’s stop giving government subsidies and tax breaks to religious groups that promote hate and exploit people–even if that’s all of them. Finally, let’s put some of these people on trial for their crimes against humanity.

Vic Stenger visited Austin at the end of October

Dr. Victor J. Stenger, author of the New York Times best seller, “God: The Failed Hypothesis” was in Austin at the end of October promoting his new book, “The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason“. He gave a lecture and did an interview with me. For various reasons, we have not publicized these until now.

Since the Atheist Experience is on break, it seems like a good time to unveil them.

“A Conversation with Vic Stenger”
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYGrwkUA]
Mp3 audio is available here.

“The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason”
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYGr2F8A]
Mp3 audio is available here.

Oh, the Irony

I had to chuckle when I read about the recent study that investigated the alleged link between homosexuality and pedophile priests, only to find no connection. The Catholic Church has been blaming gays, pop culture, and even the victims for their problems. Now, it seems they have one less group to blame. (Don’t hold your breath on them stepping up to the responsibility plate, though.)

What made this study even more delicious is that the Catholic Church funded it. It reminds me of the 2006 intercessory prayer study that the Templeton Foundation funded that showed that nothing fails like prayer. I’m willing to bet that in both cases, the funding agency thought for sure that their world view would be vindicated. Both groups each had millions of dollars riding on the bet.

Reality bites, sometimes.

I think these are both excellent uses of religious funds.