I Am on Wired Magazine’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Logo for the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, the title in 3D letters floating in a 1950s style cartoon version of outer space and Saturn.Bible scholar Robert Price and I were asked about our thoughts on the movie Noah on the Geek’s Guide to the Universe podcast, sponsored by Wired Magazine and hosted by David Barr Kirtley.

The episode (108) first features an interview with author Christopher Moore, who has been rewriting and merging Shakespeare tales from the perspective of different characters in them. This guy does a lot of interesting research for his fiction, and discusses that and how it led to the form of his latest book, The Serpent of Venice, a bizarre comedy-monster-bondage-erotica-horror novel blending Othello and the Merchant of Venice…not kidding, you might want to listen to this half of the show. They also touch on a lot of other things, like the aesthetics of hiding political values in fiction. They even talk about the Noah story a little (between minute 38:40 and 42:10), because¬†Moore wrote Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (which the host says is taught in seminaries, although that seems odd).

Our panel starts at 42:52 and goes a little over an hour from there. We laugh a bit and talk about everything Noah. Whether it was a good movie. How far it deviated from the Old Testament story. Where on earth the changes came from, or what the point of them was. What myths are for and how best to react to them. Why Christians who repudiate the film might be showing their true colors a bit more than they intend. You’ll get all kinds of info and analysis from both of us on how the writers of the film took genuine germs of ideas from the apocrypha and Talmud about the Noah tale and expanded them with their own creative additions. Want to know why there are rock monsters? Or why Noah is a militant vegetarian environmentalist? Or where the idea of that exploding crystal came from? Or where on earth they got the idea of Methuselah burning a million soldiers to death by shoving a sword in the ground? Or how the film is actually more Christian than the Bible story itself? Sci-fi and fantasy geeks will be especially amused.

We also ponder what the aesthetic point might have been behind various decisions the filmmakers made (director Darren Aronofsky, who co-wrote with Ari Handel), and compare how they treated this story with how other films treat mythical tales that are safely pagan (and thus no one notices or cares when they change everything). We even touch on the criticism that went around (like Greta Christina wrote about a while back) that the casting might have been a tinge racist.

Near the end (starting around 136:41) we go a little into my work on Bayesian method and the historicity of Jesus, and an unusual new project Robert Price is involved in that is well worth learning about, and whatnot. Check it out!

Last Call for Learning Naturalism as a Worldview!

A slightly out of focus photo of California poppies (an orange flower), which is my link image for naturalism as a worldvidew, because it captures the idea of beauty and science and the natural world.Please tell everyone you know who might be interested! My course starts this Thursday (May 1). It’s a valuable way to support my work and expand your knowledge of philosophy, and learn how to build and think about a coherent worldview without a god or the supernatural, and use that in your daily life and personal growth. If you can afford it, it’s only as demanding as you want it to be. You can participate or just lurk. No schedule need be kept. There will just be class readings and class questions to answer and discuss each week (plus maybe an occasional video to watch at your leisure).

Close up photo of a nebula in outer space. An image I use to promote naturalism and philosophy at my website, here for its connotations about science and the vastness and fascinating nature of our universe.Post questions and answers or read replies at any time. You can also ask me all the questions about each week’s subject as you want, and get my detailed answers–and keep following up with more questions until the course ends (at the end of May). You can also follow (or even join) my other discussions with students. Often that’s where you learn the most: seeing what questions others had, and how I responded to them, and what came up in the ensuing discussion, a lot of which can be surprising or stimulating.

For those already signed up, the class login is here. It will be active May 1. For those who want to learn more, read here. For those who want to register to participate, go here. The required course text is Sense and Goodness without God. If you don’t already have a copy, you can get an electronic version right away, or fast-order a print copy. All buying options are here.

I Interview a Groovy Atheist Running for Congress in Arizona

Facebook photo of Arizona congressional candidate James Woods, looking smart in short blond hair, in dark suit, white shirt, dark red tie, dark glasses and holding his mobility cane just in frame.James Woods is running for US Congress. (No, I don’t mean the actor, nor the dead guy from Virginia. I mean this guy.) What’s so special about that? He’s an atheist. An out atheist. In fact, a humanist active in the movement. Who actually asked atheists to interview him about his campaign. And blog about it. Now I feel like I’m living in the 21st century. He is not hiding from his membership in the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. He’s making it a focal point of his campaign: it’s what makes him a better representative of the people. He is representing the people who don’t usually get represented.

Woods also happens to be blind. And part of his campaign is about representing the disabled, and minorities of all stripes, who usually don’t have a voice in Congress. If elected he would be the first blind person in Congress in nearly a hundred years. His politics are progressive. He has a good head on his shoulders. He sounds like he’d be perfect for the job. But alas, though a native Arizonan, he is running in an Arizona district that is predominately Republican. He has his work cut out for him. I’d vote for him if he were in my district. You can see what he’s all about at his Facebook page.

He’s running against a Republican incumbent (Matt Salmon, the same buy who ran for governor in Arizona a while back) whom the Secular Coalition for America gave a grade of F on his secular report card. The kind of guy who supports bills barring homosexual couples from adopting, denying equal marriage rights, stopping the government from providing information on comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Yes, he even voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. The kind of guy who shouldn’t be in Congress. Because he spends his time opposing the rights of American citizens and harming our country and its people.

Woods wants to be the one to replace that guy. And his campaign asked me to interview him because Woods wants to reach out to underrepresented voting blocks, including the secular, atheist, and humanist communities. He is planning similar press days for other underrepresented groups, including the transgender community and people with disabilities. Topics we at Freethought Blogs have been trying to give some visibility to as well (see the video lineup at our last FTBConscience online conference).

I asked Woods six challenging questions to see how he thinks and where he stands on a sample of keystone issues. His answers are well worth reading. You won’t usually hear this stuff from a real Congressional candidate. It’s the kind of bold honesty we actually want from our elected leaders, but rarely get.

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If You Learn Nothing Else about Bayes’ Theorem, Let It Be This

There are two things one learns from Bayes’ Theorem that are the windows to everything else Bayesian reasoning can ever teach you. And there is a lot it can teach you besides these two things. But here I’m cutting to the chase of the two that are most essential: theories cannot be argued in isolation, and prior assumptions matter.

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Big Win! ‘Humanists’ Now Recognized by the US Army

Are you a nonbeliever in the US Army or know someone who is? Let them know you can now identify as “humanist” on dog tags and military records. Unfortunately the other four services still don’t allow this (absurdly), but you have a chance to change that if you or someone you know are serving in the other forces, because they can now make a request and cite the Army as precedent. And maybe those forces will change to recognize that humanists exist, too, and have the same rights as Christians, Jews, Muslims, or anyone else.

This is a major accomplishment by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (in coordination with the ACLU). An official “Religious Preference” is important to military personnel not only because it allows their beliefs to be recognized on equality with any other belief system (and be counted in military statistics), but also because it can affect which chaplaincies get created and funded (and other related rights, such as access to chapel facilities, and everything else the religious get in the military), which is crucial for men and women in the service, who need these things in ways ordinary civilians do not.

The religious have the right to counsel from a chaplain, for example, to discuss problems or seek moral advice, and this comes with several privileges–such as, conversations with a chaplain are confidential (whereas, for example, albeit perversely, conversations with a psychotherapist often are not, even though that increasing lack of confidentiality destroys the medical efficacy of therapy). Chaplains can also act as advocates throughout the chain of command (most important for adherents of minority belief-systems facing discrimination or being ignored, but again just to be on equality with believers: believers can avail themselves of chaplain advocacy; atheists and humanists should have that same right). Chaplains can also facilitate requests for access to literature or family communications on the front lines. Everything they do for Christians can and should be available equally to atheists and humanists. And getting humanism recognized is the first crucial step toward that goal.

The MAAF is working to have a humanist chaplaincy finally created in the military to serve the military atheist and humanist community. There is no reason for the military not to do this, other than prejudice and immoral opposition from religious leaders. In other words, discrimination. One way to ensure the military cannot claim to be a religious body is if it officially recognizes non-religious chaplaincies. That’s precisely why religious leaders oppose this. Even though it would be an expression of fairness and equality under the law. So this recent victory with the Army, [Read more…]

Time to Buy Greta Christina’s Awesome New Book!

Greta Christina’s new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, is superb. I am confident it will be the definitive read on its topic for decades. She researched the hell out of it and covers nearly every conceivable angle. For example, there’s a chapter discussing the problem from the perspective of atheists in the military, and it’s very thoughtful and useful. And that’s just an example. An amazing number of awesome leaders and thinkers in our movement have given this book powerful endorsements, for a variety of reasons you can read about (Greta covers a lot of them here, and tons are included on her book’s Amazon page under editorial reviews). There are also electronic and audio editions (for a full list of editions and links, including for buyers who don’t want to use Amazon to get the print edition, go here).

Help Ed Brayton Battle a White Supremacist

Our colleague Ed Brayton is being sued by a white supremacist for calling him a white supremacist. It’s a case that Ed is sure to win. But the guy attacking him has minimal expenses (since being a lawyer, he is representing himself) and Ed needs to cover enough of his own costs to answer him capably. Read all about it in Please Help Me Fight a Lawsuit, where you can also send Ed some bucks to help. It’s worth a little dosh at least. Because this is yet another case of our backwards legal system disadvantaging the non-rich by making them pay for justice.

A Note for My Transgender Fans…

Are you a trans woman? (Or otherwise gender queer or trans feminine?) Then you might be interested in supporting our colleague Zinnia’s petition (if you agree with her), to have your voice counted. See her Open Letter: 100+ Trans Women Stand Against Calpernia Addams and Andrea James. Her analysis is sharp and thorough.

 

 

Major Godless Chicago Conference: Last Chance to Get Discount Rate!

From Ed Brayton: The Foundation Beyond Belief, the nation’s largest humanist charitable organization, is holding its first national conference, “Humanism at Work,” this July 18-20 (2014) at the Hilton Rosemont in Chicago, Illinois.

This conference, the first of its kind in the freethought community, centers on how nontheists can put their compassionate humanism to work for a better world. It will include TED-style presentations on philanthropy, volunteering, and community building, as well as practical workshops, panels, and hands-on volunteer opportunities.

Speakers include:

  • Evidence-based giving expert CAROLINE FIENNES
  • Nigerian humanist and human rights activist LEO IGWE
  • Atheist homelessness activist SERAH BLAIN
  • HEMLEY GONZALEZ, a humanist at work with the poor in Calcutta
  • Atheist authors HEMANT MEHTA and GRETA CHRISTINA
  • Social psychologist DR. BRITTANY SHOOTS-REINHARD
  • THE PATHFINDERS, three humanists just returned from a year of global service

To register, go to the Humanism at Work website. We’ve worked hard to keep the conference affordable at $129 up to April 15 and $149 after that date. Included in that price is a formal dinner at which we will give away the Heart of Humanism awards to those who have put humanism into action in their local communities and around the world.

This is definitely worth attending! Especially if you–or any atheist, humanist, or secularist group you are a part of (and thus can report back to)–want(s) to get more involved in humanitarianism and philanthropy, or community or other charitable work, or just engage with that realm of activity more as atheists.

If you can afford to go, I recommend it!

Even if you miss the deadline tomorrow, the price bump after that is only twenty dollars.

I’ll Be at ReasonCon: North Carolina

Photo of the Crowne Plaza Hickory Hotel. Looks like a one-floor but fascinatingly modern structure, including a beautuful glass-enclosed arched walkway at front..Although it’s almost sold out already, I will be the keynote speaker at ReasonCon in Hickory, North Carolina, in early May. Details here (also tickets and wait-list options there). As I write, there are only VIP tickets left, and those include the VIP launch party Friday night (9pm, May 2, 2014). [Update: They got a bigger venue after I originally posted. As of 16 April, ninety new free tickets became available. Snatch those up while you can!]. Otherwise, the option exists to submit your name to a wait-list for a free spot at the one-day con on Saturday (9am-5pm, May 3, 2014, with an after-party that night for all, starting at 7pm).

If you still want to attend the conference, and can’t afford the VIP ticks or even they get sold out [and if you find the new free tickets are all gone, too], it can’t hurt to submit a wait-list request to tell them what the demand really was, so if they do this again next year they might be able to accommodate more people, or (less likely but a dim possibility) they might find a way to make room this year and let you know you can get in after all. They also might succeed in streaming it live or recording it for YouTube (that is still in development), but they could still benefit from hearing how many wanted to go but couldn’t. Otherwise, there is some VIP access still available. As I look this moment there are 26 of those left at $65 and 22 more at $100 (the latter comes with free booze, if you are of legal age to take advantage of that). I’ll be at the launch party if my flights meet no delays (although, all told, I will be arriving at the party almost exactly when it starts, after traveling the whole day, so I’ll be on my second wind!).

This event is being put on by the MythUnderstood Alliance, and is the brainchild of Atheists on Air with Cash and Love. It will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hickory (1385 Lenoir Rhyne Blvd SE).

What’s unusual about this event is that I am going to do a marathon Q&A on the historicity of Jesus (up to 90 minutes, unless the audience runs out of questions first), after another 90 minutes of presentation (or near to…don’t worry, there are some breaks in there). I shall be endeavoring to make the latter at least as engaging and entertaining as a bad movie. So it won’t just be dry lecture. I’ll be playing up as many of the funny bits of the bible and modern scholarship as I can. My focus won’t just be on the historicity question, but on the whole broader question of the origins of Christianity: its context, but also what it looks like really happened, what its founding Jews actually thought they were doing by inventing it, and what they invented it for.

And I’m just the keynote! Also speaking that day will be Tracie Harris (of Atheist Community of Austin, Atheist Experience TV show, and Godless Bitches podcast fame) and Ryan Bell (of A Year Without God fame) and teen cult escapee Phoebe Cahours (who has an amazing story of getting away from the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses–it seems her mother dragged her through several infamous Christian cults). Cash & Love will also have some things to say to the crowd. Overall it sounds like a very interesting and engaging day.