Give a Little to Skepticon (Make Weird Things Happen)

Skepticon is a free conference, and a recognized nonprofit (so donations are tax deductible). If you have means, you can help people who don’t have means attend a major and fun atheist conference in the buckle of the Bible Belt where it’s most desperately wanted and needed.

They are half way to their budget target, and now need help getting the rest. There are a variety of games you can participate in, where donations can make something happen that you might find interesting or amusing, and a hundred bucks or more gets you a “super secret awesome gift” (although I have no idea what, so I can’t vouch for how awesome it actually is). Or you can just give a little. Anything. Details here.

In fact, if you will be attending Skepticon, and don’t really need it to be free, then just pay what you think it’s worth and you can afford. Even if it’s just ten bucks. Or twenty. Or fifty. Or totally TAMinize it and give five hundred.

I will of course be speaking and drinking at Skepticon. Among many other awesome folk. Those details here. It will be an awesome convention, as it has been every other year before. Help make it happen!

Critical Thinking in the 21st Century: What’s New and Why It Matters

Picture of me at the podium with the opening slide showing by video insert (just has the title of the talk on it).Video of my brief talk at this year’s SSA Leadership Conference is now available [here]. I also have a handy page with explanations and links to all the books and resources I mentioned, and a bit more, as well as a link to my sideshow (with downsampled images and without animations) [here]. A major limitation was that it was a 40 minute talk that I had to squeeze into 20 minutes, which makes some points a bit awkward as I zip past slides that I could have said much more about (and you might detect my frustration at points trying to cut everything down to time).

My overall point was that we need to master traditional critical thinking skills (logic, fallacies, principles of questioning and inquiry) as well as the relevant aspects of cognitive science (everything science has learned about brain bugs that interfere with our ability to critically reason or reason well, so we can control, compensate, or correct for them) and the basic principles of Bayesian reasoning (since all empirical reasoning is modeled with it, and it helps us better understand when evidence is needed or enough, and what concepts like “more evidence” actually mean, and how to identify just where the faulty assumptions are in anyone’s reasoning from observation to conclusion, whether your own or someone else’s).

The talk, slideshow, and web page will help you get up to speed on all three aspects of critical thinking in the 21st century.

Thank You for So Many Books

Some people who like my work occasionally buy things for me from my Amazon wishlist. The package I get often doesn’t say who sent them or how to reach them. So I’d like to extend an open thanks to everyone who has done that over the years. What especially prompted me to say something today is that I received one such package last week, amidst controversial blogging and an exhausting home renovation project (Jen and I finally did something with our bedroom, which had looked like a moldy, stained, style-less, colorless disaster area since we moved in…you know, as for example, the previous owners had strange ideas about what was an acceptable “repair” to holes in the ceiling or wall…anyway, all sorted; its a beautiful and functional room again).

This time the package I received was filled with some of the more expensive items on my list, and a lot of them. Someone was extraordinarily generous, and I am very grateful. Thank you! Some of the items will help me with my next books (my books on ancient science have been at an academic publisher in search of peer reviewers for ages), some will give me an excuse to learn a little more about Islam (maybe next year), and one in particular is the two volume set by Keener that desperately tries to insist miracles are real, which I may find time later this year to read and review on my blog (since that’s kind of one of my long standing specialties).

Now back to work.

JT Eberhard: A Parody

I wasn’t going to write about the one hiccup from JT Eberhard about an incident at the Great Lakes Atheist Convention (as Greta Christina already did), but someone on twitter has convinced me that I need to. First, I’ll say that I heard the convention was freaking awesome and that the organizers were phenomenal. It was seriously one of the best-run first-time conferences JT had ever attended.

The problems all started when, after the Q&A of Mandisa Thomas’s talk, JT complained about a response to a woman who asked Mandisa what black people were doing to fight black on black crime. Was the woman’s question naive? Yes. Very. Especially since Mandisa’s talk was about what the atheism movement can learn from the hospitality industry (irony meter pegging out here) and had nothing to do with crime in black communities or even race. Oh, and there actually is no glut of black-on-black crime, that’s actually a racist belief all too often innocently bought into (the rate of white-on-white crime is actually comparable, and when controlled for economic rather than racial variables, is pretty much the same), since the whole notion is a false belief based on racial inferiority (‘black people are worse’), which is, by definition, a racist belief.

Anyway, he is sure her naivety resulted in her asking a question that certainly had racist undertones, even if the woman was not intentionally being racist. Although that of course is kind of the problem with racist beliefs. One does not have to be maliciously or consciously a racist to hold them or act on them. Yet those beliefs and behaviors are still racist. And still do harm and offend.

Nevertheless, I’m told Mandisa handled it well.

But then, during the Q&A of Darrel C. Smith’s talk, Bria Crutchfield stood up and proceeded to give the woman an angry tongue lashing. This went on for about five minutes (or maybe it just seemed like that long). While Bria did answer the woman’s question, it was very embarrassing to the woman and trailed off into a number of red herrings such as “I’m here, get over it” as if anybody was suggesting that Bria or black atheists were unwelcome at the conference or silently sneered at by…anybody. [Read more...]

Michael Shermer: Rapist or Sleaze? (Unless Box Checked for Other)

Presumably you’re aware by now that accusations have been made that Michael Shermer did something bad (if not, you can catch up on current events here). There are some things atheists need to consider about this, philosophically and personally.  [Read more...]

Our Mythical Campaign against Sex

It boggles my mind how haters of A+ (which simply means atheism+humanism+skepticism, nothing more…despite lies and disinformation to the contrary) think we are the ones campaigning against sex. Like this guy. Who falsely claims:

(1) “[T]he in-groupers at FtB have been attempting to redefine flirting as sexual harassment and sexual intercourse as rape.” No, we never did any such thing. To the contrary, we have actually been making the point (repeatedly) that “actual acts of sexual predation” must not be confused with “criminalizing very healthy sex-positive human interaction” (the exact opposite of what this guy says). Indeed, I specifically made this point myself in my discussions of sexual harassment policies (see here and here; I have also talked about the difference, and promoted positive and liberated sexuality, here and here).

And:

(2) “The A+ folks have demanded that convention organizers add to their harassment policies, that no speaker be allowed to engage in sexual contact with any convention attendees.” No, “we” did not. To the contrary, several of us opposed any such suggestion. Including me, one of the patron saints of Atheism Plus (according to a popular anti-A+ meme). No, seriously. I wrote at length against what he claims we have been demanding. Only a few people suggested or discussed it long ago, but the rest of us argued them out of it. Us. The advocates of A+.

This from Emery of the Ardent Atheist podcast.

As to the first of these lies: [Read more...]

Two More New Bloggers

We have two more new awesome bloggers at Freethought Blogs. Kate Donovan (of the US) joined us in July, and now Alex Gabriel (of the UK) joins us this August.

Kate is blogging here at Gruntled & Hinged (“A Blog about Madness and Mental Health by Your Incorrigibly Optimistic Narrator, Who Is Neither Disgruntled Nor Unhinged”). As she describes herself…

Kate Donovan's Gravatar pic. Illustrates her best snark face.Kate is a psychology student at Northwestern University who runs on coffee and snark. At some point she’d like to make people sit on couches and tell her about their feelings, but right now she writes on the internet and makes silly faces when she doesn’t know what to say. An incorrigible optimist, she likes to knit, juggle, and will devour any book in reach.

In Which Our Narrator Strikes Out on Her Own is her inaugural post. If you missed it, check it out to get even better introduced. She’s been blogging cool things about psychology and mental health from an atheist and skeptical perspective.

Alex is now blogging here at Godlessness in Theory (“Queer Left Politics, Pop Culture and Skepticism”). As he describes himself…

Alex Gabriel's Gravatar pic. In which he looks curious, whimsical, and ready to warrior his keyboard.Alex Gabriel is a twentysomething British graduate. He writes from a theoretical perspective on religion and how to leave it, popular rhetoric and political dissent, secular, nerd and LGBT cultures, sexuality and gender or whatever else crosses his mind. His main pursuit is blending frameworks of secularity and social justice – more than just intersecting actions, he yearns for synthetic secular thought. When not putting sacred cows to slaughter or training with the PC brigade, he can usually be found somewhere online.

Secular Synthesis and Why We Need It – or, Hello Freethought Blogs is his inaugural post. Definitely check it out to get even better introduced. He blogs insightful, thoughtful, and detailed things about politics and culture from an atheist and skeptical perspective. And as he says, “I’m 22, secular, British, poly, queer, tall, ex-Christian, left wing and long-winded, a nerd, a graduate and a keyboard warrior.” Indeed. He’ll fit right in.

Enjoy the juggernaut!

The Testimonium Flavianum

Now that Fox News has shot itself in the foot again and inadvertently made a Muslim scholar’s book about Jesus a bestseller and the talk of every town (which one can only assume from their interview of Reza Aslan is exactly the opposite of what they were hoping for), common concepts and terminology in the Jesus historicity debate are going mainstream and becoming familiar to ordinary people everywhere (even more so than after the best-selling release of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?, which I demonstrated to be terrible; although that, too, has primed the pump of popular discourse in this matter).

The experts have weighed in and found Aslan’s book Zealot to be, well, basically bad. From a historical perspective. As a writer everyone agrees he’s top notch. And even as history he’s not wholly wrong. But there’s a lot wrong. From mistakenly not knowing the Sea of Galilee is a fresh water lake and not, ahem, an actual saltwater sea, to misinforming the public on the status of certain debates in the field, to engaging in scholarship of convenience (ignoring evidence against his case or conveniently declaring it forged or fabricated…without any reason other than that it contradicts his hypothesis–although to be fair, even the experts who criticize him do this…a lot), to oversimplifying facts, and other common foibles, he makes his case look stronger than it really is. (See the reviews of Dale Martin [service intermittent], Stephen Prothero, Joseph Loconte, and Anthony Le Donne.)

This is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black (see chapter 1 of my book Proving History), but even then the kettle is still black.

But I’m here to talk about one particular issue his book has popularized: the Testimonium Flavianum. [Read more...]

A Disturbing New York Law (and What CFI Could Do about It)

In my last article about CFI’s disastrous communications in the recent sexual harassment case, I said there was a second thing about this case that disturbed me that I would write about next: something about the legal and corporate culture at CFI. I hinted at this again when I said “I’m told [the harasser] was punished somehow but no one can talk about how” to which I added that “this is a serious problem I will be taking on in my next post about this matter.”

This is that post.

[Read more...]

CFI Still Doesn’t Get It

If you didn’t already know, a scandal has exploded yet again throwing CFI in a bad light (you can catch up on events here and you should definitely read the original piece starting it all here). And once again they are making things worse with a disastrous pattern of communication. Things are still happening behind the scenes, so I am awaiting events to unfold further before I make a decision, but CFI is not handling this well, and this could spell the end of them for me.

Apart from the obvious (the horrible treatment Stollznow has endured and the awful human being Ben Radford is…and I do not have to trust all of Stollnow’s report to reach that conclusion about him, although I have seen no reason to doubt anything she’s said; and that’s well apart from the fact that Radford already has a record of being an unskeptical anti-feminist worthy of eye-rolling), I have two major problems with what is going on so far, one has to do with the legal and corporate culture at CFI (which I will blog about later, either tomorrow or next week), the other has to do with CFI’s public communications in this matter.

It seems evident, regardless of which details are disputed, that Ben Radford engaged in a sustained campaign of sexual harassment against Dr. Karen Stollznow (both employees of CFI for many years). And he received no visible punishment. He continues to be employed at CFI. I’m told he was punished somehow but no one can talk about how (this is a serious problem I will be taking on in my next post about this matter). But frankly, if even a fraction of what Stollznow says is true, any other business would have fired him in a heartbeat, and I am struggling to understand why I should support any nonprofit that would keep him (or why I should subscribe to a magazine he edits). As for Stollznow, seeing her harasser largely unaffected and receiving no significant support from CFI, she essentially just had to leave.

More about all this may come out, more developments may ensue (I am aware of things happening I can’t discuss). But right now, this is how it looks. And that does not make CFI look good. At all.

But making all this far worse (again) was CFI’s public statement on the matter. Which is a disaster. The same thing happened last time, when CFI’s “statement” about the Lindsay affair was exactly the wrong thing to say, the very worst possible public communication on the matter. It failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing or even what the problem was, it passive-aggressively complained about being criticized, and said nothing that showed any understanding of what it was being criticized for, and nothing as to what it was going to do about it. Indeed, the statement as a whole was essentially an exercise in contempt…even if that wasn’t its intention, but intention isn’t magic–and that’s what a communications director is supposed to be for: to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen, that communications with the public don’t look contemptuous or useless or clueless. Yet in that case CFI didn’t even avail itself of its own communications director. Even now I don’t think its board of directors understands how contemptuous, useless, and clueless that statement made them appear.

This new statement is the same kind of travesty. Other organizations have leadership that actually understands how to do this right (examples here, here, here, and here, and still especially relevant, here). CFI is alone in doing it disastrously. That is essentially the definition of relative incompetence.

I thought CFI’s communications director was Paul Fidalgo–who I know wouldn’t be this awful at the job. If he wrote this new one, he should resign and instruct CFI to hire someone who knows what they’re doing. But I doubt he wrote it, because he didn’t write the last one (that was written by CFI’s warring board of directors who couldn’t agree on anything). And if that’s the case, CFI board of directors, you need to stop doing that. Seriously. Stop doing that. You are consistently making things worse and making CFI look incompetent and insensitive. You do not know what you are doing. Use your communications director. That is what you pay him for.

To help you see what I mean, CFI, let’s break down your public statement on the Radford-Stollznow matter (and we know who the parties are, even if your lawyers keep telling you you can’t admit it). [Read more...]