Skepticon 6! Plan, Support, Enjoy.

Help support Skepticon this year! And if you can go this November, start planning. It’s free and it’s fun. And it’s in the Buckle of the Bible Belt: Springfield, Missouri. This will be the sixth Skepticon. It will fill November 15th-17th, Friday to Sunday (2013). And judging by last year, attendance will break a thousand.

PZ and I are speaking, of course, as well as all manner of cool folk, from Shelly Segal, Greta Christina, and Rebecca Watson to Seth Andrews, Hemant Mehta and Aron Ra, and many more (see the Skepticon 6 Schedule), even live podcasts, a taste of an atheist film festival, the comedy of Keith Lowell Jensen, and a Godless Perverts Story Hour (I kid you not). And like last year, Friday will be filled with workshops (lots of those were really cool, so I’m expecting as much again) until the conference officially opens that evening.

Photo of the Spacious Interior of the University Plaza HotelAccommodations at the University Plaza Hotel (where most attendees will be hanging out, just a block from the convention center) are reasonable as hotels go (and you’ll want to ask for the convention rate…the hotel can even sell out, given Skepticon’s tremendous growth of late). But for real cut rate stuff there are even more affordable motels all around the area as well. And as months approach (if last year is any guide), the Skepticon website will start facilitating efforts to find roommates and carpools and other cost-saving thingamadoos. I expect they’ll also eventually have a means up to register (which is free, but it still helps them to know how many are coming).

So to keep abreast of all those developments, and other major conference news, you should subscribe to their event newsletter now (Skepticon Newsletter).

But most importantly, the entire conference is donor supported (with only a little help from merch sales at the event). To keep this free for a thousand-plus attendees in the heart of the midwest, they need money. They explain why and how much and how they spend it (and how you can give them some) at Skepticon Needs Your Support. They need forty grand, and so far have less than ten (check out their nice infographic).

Even ten or twenty bucks actually helps (when a lot of people pitch in), so if you’re planning to go and don’t really need it to be free, just pay them what you think attending the conference is worth, in proportion to what you can afford (you can just make a quick donation here).

Or if you’re one of the lucky ones who can spare even more cash for the good of all, and you want to help support conferences like this that provide sanity and joy to the beleaguered godless community in the middle of the U.S. (attendees come from dozens of states, some driving ten or more hours to get there), then try for something even bolder: just send them a big amount, or get in on one of the amusing fundraisers they have going (a Shelly Segal Pick-a-Song, a Twink-a-Dinks Chocolate Sale, and Dogma Debate Crew Stunts…wild stuff in there).

Picture of the cover of the book "The Walking Dead and Philosophy" which is a collection of essays by philosophers working from themes from the TV Show about a zombie apocalypse.Last but not least:

My own talk for this year is developing under the working title “Is Philosophy Stupid?” A lot of philosophical zombie blood has been spilled over the uselessness or aimlessness or pointlessness of philosophy. What’s it for? Is it all just bunk? Arbitrary opinions in fancy dress? A quibbling over silly minutiae? Does it make progress? Can’t we just replace it all with science? Is it too esoteric to be useful or even meaningful in light of real world issues? Can ordinary people do anything with it? Where did it come from? What the hell is it? Even Stephen Hawking says philosophy is dead. Is it? Or did he really just say that in a book mostly filled with his own conclusions in…philosophy? Find out! I’ll answer all these questions and more.

Nixing Offensive Ads

How do you stop an offensive or inappropriate ad at Freethought Blogs? Here’s a brief on how.

Our ad service at FtB is automated. We don’t actually choose who advertises on our site, and in fact what ads you see will differ from what ads others will see (like me, for example, even when I look at exactly the same page on FtB that you are), based on barely logical algorithms and cookies and IP geographic locations and whatnot. But we can choose to block certain ads. And if you want to help us do that, here’s the skinny on how.

Periodically we get offensive ads on here, which you may find inappropriate or just plain wrong, for all manner of reasons (from psychics and bullshit alt med, to sexist crap of various kinds, to fundamentalist seminaries, and so on) and you might want to stop them or just help us out by helping us catch and block them. To do that, what we need is the actual click-through URL for the ad (right-click or control-click the ad and copy the URL/link). It will be a crazy long weird URL code.

We can’t block ads by just being told what the ad was for or what it looked like, because there are millions of ads and the only unique identifiers our service lets us use to set blocking is the click-through URL. So we need that URL.

You can send that to us by pasting it into our tech service form here. (You can report all kinds of technical problems with the site there, too, of course, not just this. That link is also at the top of every page at FtB as Tech Issues.) In addition to pasting that URL in there, also politely explain what was offensive about the ad, or why you think we should block it. We may or may not agree. But a decision has to start with our being made aware of it. Since, odds are, we won’t even know about it otherwise.

Regular offenders can theoretically change their ads and thus keep bypassing our block, so if you see an offensive ad or advertised product again, feel free to report it again, just in case that’s what has happened. Although give our tech staff a week at least to purge an ad you reported once already, before reporting it again.

This will be a constant gardening, of course, since new ads and advertisers crop up daily (literally). But any garden has to be constantly gardened. So you’re welcome to give us a hand with pulling the weeds every so often.

Reformed Pastafarianism

Touched by His Noodly Appendage by Leonardo Da Vinci. Honestly.For lo, the beautifully brained Saint Donovan righteously and profoundly schooled the blasphemers, and my spirit was greatly troubled. Forsooth, few actually read the scriptures of our great faith. Actually, I didn’t even know we had any. When alas at last I saw the horrid book that has been bilked upon the people, by the false prophet Bobius the son of Hender, as the will and word of the Great and Delicious Flying Spaghetti Monster, I was filled with the holy rage of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

Which is just exactly like the Holy Spirit except besides being invisible, she’s pink. And she wears a penis metaphor on her head. (So when those heretics called “Christians” say the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, you may now understand their full true meaning…only those who know the correct secret handshake are told the real deal on that, therefore by logical necessity you now know that correct secret handshake. Religion is magic. Praise be! But no, the worriers worry for naught. Mary wasn’t injured by the horned sex play. When the IPU rage-fucked a rainbow in a bar alley she learned all about being gentle after Dr. Who explained it to her. Who then dropped her off in ancient Judea. I mean, honestly. Everyone knows this.)

I digress. Return shall I now to the tale of true. At once I was carried up into heaven. (Once is a pet rock in my garden.) Now, I mean by my words that I speak the actual heaven. Not the false one imagined by the horrid son of Hender. No, really. You just have to take the red pill. Well, actually, it’s orange and barrel shaped. Orange Sunshine. Anyway. I was there Touched by His Noodly Appendage, as one is, and was telescentedly instructed in the Truth.

Know ye not what I intend? Scentic is the language of intelligent Cats made out of smells, and as that was learned by Cloister the Stupid, and as I am smarter than Cloister the Stupid, by logical necessity I must know Scentic as well, so Monster [I call him Monster; we’re close now] spoke to me in Scentic, albeit telepathically. Hence, telescentically.

Again I digress. Hereto I shall translate what was revealed unto me, into the language that is called English, which uses fussy patterns of photon absences on a glowing plane, often made of a crystal that is liquid (and you thought a unicorn being invisible and pink was an oxymoron…yet if a crystal can be a liquid, a unicorn with no color can obviously be pink. U just bn scienced!)

The words of His Sauciness render in that bizarre tongue of “English” as follows:

Outrage! We have no beer volcanoes here. You fool! It would be all sticky everywhere. Think ye not that I am efficient at keeping Heaven tidy? We have calm and well-tidy pools of every imbibement, even eternal single malt scotch, brewed yet more fantastical than the magical Glenmorangie, which on earth, I now reveal to you, is brewed by the secret immortal ancestors of noted surgeon and horror novelist (sometimes actor) Garth Marenghi, in an other-dimensional valley just outside Bournemouth, all of whom are sorcerers and magical talking rabbits, whose highest commandment is ‘thou shalt not genetically engineer crabs to be as big as men’. Wise words indeed.

It even offends me the more that this false prophet, son of Hender, is to all his damnation mistaken when he, not knowing Scentic, misinterpreted “stripper factories,” knowing he not, evidently, that a stripper is a chemical that breaks down paints and finishes for the cleaning of metals and woods.

I spake in fact that in Heaven our stripper factories produce only mild, eco-friendly strippers. It is that only which I celebrated. Son of Hender perverted my words! (May the burning of the Cheese upon his oral fissure chastise him!)

Ho, indeed, when We truly spake that other sense of the word stripper, that being a woman or man or genderless being (this being Heaven, thou getst any body thou wants) who dances with the removing of clothes, We said strippers (as well as models, porn stars, hookers, sexologists, biologists, and every other kind of professional woman, or man, why, lo, even novelists) served in heaven as our presidents and legislators and doctors and authors and teachers and professors and wives and husbands and boat mechanics and every such thing, and perform the stripping of clothes only for their own personal delight or the consensual exchange of labors.

There were many other great things He told me besides these. But I got distracted by the strippers, which were really amazingly bodacious…I didn’t even need to wear gloves or respirators when employing them, and the byproduct was consumable and tasted like Orangina. Why couldn’t He have given us such strippers on earth? In his infinite wisdom, only He knows. (An infinite wisdom is a kind of kitten-drawn chariot.)

Perhaps others will be blessed with visits to the Ramen heaven and see spake the truths of what I hereby dub Reformed Pastafarianism, and lo, assemble a free and complete bible of many diverse voices, and none false. It shall be the New Reformed Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or just “Reformed Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” or “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Reformed)” or (as Dr. Who assures us it will soon be called as well), Reformed Pastafarianism.

Why should we not? The Christians realized Catholicism was fucked up eleven ways to Sunday and nailed ninety-five sentences to a door. And peace and happiness was forevermore. That all worked out. So I declare it shall work for my faith in the Great Pasta and Balls in the Sky as well. My faith in Him on a scale of 1 to 10 is 0 but since 0 is a number and a number is a quantity, I clearly have a quantity of faith in the FSM. Why, indeed, 0 is infinitely small, and infinity is the largest quantity. I therefore have the largest quantity of faith in the FSM. So, I vow, do you.

Down with the blasphemers and false scriptures.

I hereby declare the New Reformed Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

My Little Ponies accepted.

My Little Pony of Richard Carrier, named Richard Carriage, by Johnny Kaje

CFI and WiS 3

Women in Secularism 2 I haven’t voiced an opinion on the Lindsay apology and subsequent resolution of the insulting behavior from CFI (which came after voices of outrage were finally heard) because I have been waiting to see what panned out, especially if CFI was going to produce a third Women in Secularism conference.

In every other respect I concur with Greta Christina (Accepting Ron Lindsay’s Apology and Working with CFI) and am back in as a CFI supporter. I have renewed my membership and remain on its speakers bureau. Although I have lost a lot of confidence in Ron Lindsay’s leadership (and would still prefer someone better), he at least is now handling the situation correctly. He isn’t treating us with contempt. And CFI has voiced a commitment to doing better. After a few epic failures, they are now demonstrating responsiveness to discontent in their actual and future membership. We might still consider them on probation (Rebecca Watson’s take on this is apt) but I’m hopeful, and they need to see that we will support them if they continue in this direction. So I think it’s time to start working toward that.

Because CFI has just announced they are indeed working on WiS 3 (last paragraph here). I recommend that anyone willing to reconcile with CFI renew any canceled ties, and maybe even send donations earmarked for WiS 3 so they know they are getting support for this. Let us all shepherd CFI into the 21st century.

Is William Lane Craig Afraid?

There are two people who have been asking noted Christian apologist William Lane Craig to debate them for years. And he has consistently declined, always with specious excuses–which are all the more galling given that they are much the same excuses Dawkins gave for not debating Craig, which Craig then mocked, not at all grasping the irony. [Read more…]

My Favorite Scotch

Bottles of Glenmorangie (a fine Scotch whiskey)These three days I’ll be enjoying the FtBCon from my desktop, sipping Scotch or Irish whiskey. A lot. Because I like Scotch. And Irish whiskey. I’m pretty much a Scotch and Irish whiskey man, you see. Beer, dull (even when it doesn’t taste like piss). White wine, eh. Red wine can be remarkable if it’s not crap (and “not crap” does not mean expensive…if you ever pay more than $20 for a standard bottle of wine, you’re a dupe…or suffer a needlessly expensive curiosity…it’s the label that counts, not the price). American whiskeys (especially bourbons) are mostly too sweet (I’ve recently been introduced to only one I like, because it happens to taste a lot like Scotch: Basil Hayden’s…thank you, Phillip!). Vodka is a mixer (oxymoron intended). Ditto gin. Tequila, when you get the right kind (the kind you have to know to ask for, the kind that doesn’t pay for TV commercials). Mixed drinks, sure, whatever. Saphire martini on the rocks, dirty, three olives. [Read more…]

FTBCon Tomorrow!

Richard Carrier in service uniform as a Petty Officer (1991)The massive, amazing, totally free online conference hosted by Freethought Blogs starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday. We have over 100 speakers and 33 sessions. Many names you’ll recognize and love. Many names you might not know but will be glad to have been introduced to. There will be topics you might not have heard discussed at an atheist conference before. And so many! I’m already sad that I won’t be able to see everything myself, but I’m going to be spending the whole weekend drinking scotch and watching as many sessions as I can.

You can browse the schedule at Lantyrd: see FtBConscience. More information about the conference is available at FtBCon.org, including our conduct policy and how to attend (see here and here) and how to submit questions for Q&A (through our chat room).

My talk, What the Military Taught Me about Feminism, will go live this Sunday (July 21) at 11am Pacific Coast Time (the online schedule is all in Central time, so subtract two hours for Pacific; the official page for watching that session is here). I’ll be telling some embarrassing and personal stories about my time in the service twenty years ago as a young naive man, and reflecting on how they changed me and contributed to what I know and how I think today. There will be a moderated Q&A. Please bring questions. Warning for Viewers: Some of my stories will be about the sexualization of women, and I will be repeating sexual slurs and other things I saw and heard that can be quite shocking.

For more backstory on my Coast Guard career see Atheists in Foxholes. The photo here (above right) is my last service photo in full uniform and cap, as a Sonar Tech, Third Class (which means Petty Officer, Third Class, the equivalent of a Corporal, which is an NCO, or Non-Commissioned Officer), with two marksmanship ribbons (pistol and rifle) and the National Service Medal (indicated by the more colorful ribbon).

Update on Historicity of Jesus

My new book, On the Historicity of Jesus, has passed peer review and is now under contract to be published by a major academic press specializing in biblical studies: Sheffield-Phoenix, the publishing house of the University of Sheffield (UK). I sought four peer review reports from major professors of New Testament or Early Christianity, and two have returned their reports, approving with revisions, and those revisions have been made. Since two peers is the standard number for academic publications, we can proceed. Two others missed the assigned deadline, but I’m still hoping to get their reports and I’ll do my best to meet any revisions they require as well.

I have sent this information and more to my donors who funded my research for this project (which also produced my last book, Proving History, which set the stage for On the Historicity of Jesus). If any donors did not receive that email, please contact me right away (via rcarrier@infidels.org) and I’ll make sure you get a copy of that.

This is mostly good news. [Read more…]

Craig vs. Law on the Argument from Contamination

In a recent attempt to rebut a peer reviewed philosophy paper by Stephen Law on the methodology of Jesus studies, which challenges the historicity of Jesus (hence my interest), William Lane Craig comes up with something so awful it would be worthy of a young earth creationist website. Maybe I’m just losing my patience with Craig’s specious, fallacious and dishonest method of arguing. Or maybe he really is getting worse at this.

The article I’m talking about is Craig’s recent Stephen Law on the Non-existence of Jesus of Nazareth (n.d.). Which is supposed to be a response to Law’s Evidence, Miracles and the Existence of Jesus (which was published in Faith and Philosophy 28.2 [April 2011]: 129-51). In his inept reply, Craig gets Bayesian reasoning wrong and conceals key facts from his readers. It looks more like a con than a sincere attempt to educate. [Read more…]

Help Minority Atheists to College

I wrote before about the amazing program started by Black Skeptics of LA to help send minority atheists to college (see Day of Solidarity for Black Atheists). Called the First in the Family Humanist Scholarship Initiative, they give thousand dollar grants to college-bound minority students who are not only nonbelievers, but the first in their family to attend college. This is the way to give families a leg up and improve the prospects for future generations.

Not only can you support next year’s grants as an individual (see below), but imagine if every atheist meetup, chapter, club, or group (on campus or in the community) across the country (or certainly at least in California) ran a charity drive and sent donations collectively to support this scholarship, all under their group’s name. This would be an amazing show of solidarity and support for atheist minorities (recipients this year were black or Hispanic) from the atheism and secular community. It would also do something useful and good, and right in our wheelhouse: bettering the education and influence of our fellow atheists, particularly the young and up-and-coming!

This program is always accepting donations (now at a new URL – they are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, an IRS-recognized charity). It has also received support and recognition from the Foundation Beyond Belief. I’d like to see them grow enough in donations that they can expand not just to more students, but with larger scholarship awards (a good show of support already raised the scholarship amount; it can again). But even just the recognition and small aid this scholarship gives to these students is a huge asset to the growth and mainstreaming of atheism. It shows we care about atheists in minority communities and are willing to give at least something to help them get the education they need to make a difference. It also shows we acknowledge these bright young students and their struggles, that they aren’t invisible to us, and that we are willing to share some of our success with them.

To see how valuable this whole program is, you will definitely be inspired reading about this scholarship’s first recipients, whose award ceremony is indeed this very day: see Black Skeptics Los Angeles Awards First in the Family Humanist Scholarships to South L.A. Students (and just added to that list: Ramiro Salas). These students are amazing. And once you hear their stories and achievements, I think you won’t be able to resist supporting future recipients just like them. (. So give something, even if just twenty bucks, or fifty, or a hundred. Or more. And maybe get your atheist campus or community group involved, too. Enjoy becoming a part of this! It matters.