Bravo, Germany!

I think this is an excellent decision.

In a decision that has caused outrage among Jewish and Muslim groups, the court said that a child’s right to physical integrity trumps religious and parental rights.

The case involved a doctor who carried out a circumcision on a four year-old that led to medical complications.

Thousands of Muslim and Jewish boys are circumcised in Germany every year.

Although male circumcision – unlike female circumcision – is not illegal in Germany, the court’s judgement said the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents".

Circumcision, it decided, contravenes "interests of the child to decide later in life on his religious beliefs".

The big question, though, is enforcement. It says male circumcision is not illegal, and that the ruling is not binding…so it seems rather meaningless, so far.But anything to get the knife a little farther away from babies and discourage a barbaric practice is progress.

The American Atheists’ Code of Conduct

The right way to do it: I was just in a conference call with American Atheists, in which they announced a specific policy on harassment that they will be implementing at all of their future conferences, starting with the Minnesota regional conference in August. Here’s the template: every conference should be using something like this.

Conference Code of Conduct

American Atheists is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.

We expect participants to follow this code of conduct at all conference venues and conference-related social events.

Yes means yes; no means no; and maybe means no. Please take no for an answer for any request or activity. You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference. No touching other people without asking. This includes hands on knees, backs, shoulders—and hugs (ask first!). There are folks who do not like to be touched and will respect and like you more if you respect their personal space.

We have many different folks attending this conference: sexualities, genders, races, ethnicities, abilities, beliefs—these are just a few. Blatant instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, or other stereotyping and harmful behaviors should be reported to conference staff immediately.

Please do not wear heavy fragrances—including perfumes, colognes, scented shampoos, etc. Some of those attending have allergic reactions to scented products. No one will object to the smell of your clean body!

Please respect the sessions and the speakers. Turn off cell phones and other electronic devices, take conversations and noisy children outside the session room, and move to the center of your row to make room for other attendees.

There are chairs and spaces at the front and back of the room that are marked “reserved.” The front row chairs are reserved for attendees with vision or hearing impairments. The back rows are reserved for attendees with mobility accommodation needs. Please leave these chairs and spaces free throughout the conference for those who may need them.

This conference welcomes families with children and expects all attendees to treat these families with courtesy and respect. Parents or guardians bringing children are responsible for the children’s behavior and are expected to remove disruptive children from the session. Parents or guardians should be aware not all language may be suitable for children.

American Atheists does not tolerate harassment of conference participants, speakers, exhibitors, volunteers, or staff in any form. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. Conference participants violating this policy may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference (without a refund) at the discretion of the conference organizers.

If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately. Conference staff can be identified by t-shirts/special badges/other ID.

Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.

  • [Email address for organizers]

  • [Phone number for conference security or organizers]

  • [Phone number for hotel/venue security]

  • [Local law enforcement]

  • [Local sexual assault hot line]

  • [Local emergency and non-emergency medical]

  • [Local taxi company]

It was very clear in the conversation that American Atheists will be taking this issue very seriously — I would hope that other organizations will be doing likewise. And if they’re not, what the hell is wrong with them?

And if you’re one of the people who has been whining about dealing with harassment, suck it — you’re on the wrong side of history.

How could it be possible? It is miraculous!

Harun Yahya has a youtube channel, and it is surreal. He sponsors these panels of attractive young women with grossly overdone makeup — is he catering to his interpretation of how Western women are supposed to look? I don’t know, it’s just weird — and they talk about science in stilted, broken English for an hour. And when I say “talk about”, I mean “recite facts poorly”, as if they’ve memorized a script. Here’s one of them; you won’t be able to listen to the whole thing, it’s just too agonizing.

I skipped around a bit to catch the tone. They talk about the pituitary, for instance, and how it regulates so many aspects of human physiology. They recite the details, and then ask, how can it do that? It’s just cells! Allah must be doing it!

This is what we get throughout the discussion. I skimmed ahead, and they started talking about the regulation of blood sugar. They don’t get the facts wrong — I suspect it’s all just cribbed straight from some physiology text, but it’s as if they don’t comprehend what they are talking about.

The cells in the islets of Langerhans measure how much sugar there is in 5 liters of blood.

But this is impossible! A cell cannot do that!

The cells release a little key called insulin that opens the gates in cells to let sugar in.

How could it be possible? It is miraculous!

The gates only let sugar in, but not proteins.

How do they know? They are only proteins! They have no intelligence! Allah must will it.

Everything is a miracle. Common facts that I expect my students to grasp without a problem (maybe I’ve been mistaken there) are treated as cosmic mysteries that require a divine intelligence to execute — every little chemical reaction in your body only occurs because Allah is consciously and carefully willing it to happen. Why do glucose transporters only move sugars across the membrane and not every protein that comes by? I thought it was molecular specificity of the GLUT binding sites.

I would like to come before that panel with a sieve, and demonstrate how it works, just to see these women gasp and ask, “But how does it know to let the little particles through and not the big ones? It is miraculous!”

I really wonder about the audience for these videos. There is a whole string of them, and they’re all the same, much like Yahya’s books: declaration of basic biological fact, announcement that it is impossible, therefore Allah. They’re not particularly enjoyable, either, unless you’ve got some weird fetish for watching young women say “Inshallah” over and over.

The Skepticism of Russell Blackford

A clamor has arisen to elevate a comment by psanity to the top. What is it with this poetry stuff that resonates in our brains?

The Skepticism of Russell Blackford

In situations safe or septic,
It’s always best to be a skeptic.
Confronted by a mugger’s gun,
I query, “Is that loaded, son?”
I note, when opening ticking mail
that such devices often fail.
Tornado warning? Oh, no fear –
Statistically, it won’t hit here.

Threatened by some shady guys?
Don’t take precautions, analyze.
Being careful compromises
Skeptical hypothesise-es
When climbing on the mountain slopes,
I’m much too skeptical for ropes.
Some say this logic’s inside-out;
I don’t know what they’re on about.

Experience that millions share?
I don’t see it; it’s not there.
Your citations on this matter
sound to me like anecdata.
I write fiction; I’m a pro
and used to be a lawyer so
always be sure you wait for me
to tell you what it is you see.

Skeptical study is my trump;
I, to conclusions, never jump.
Let’s get some data on that humming –
Bus? I never saw it coming.

Why I am an atheist – Siobhan Duffey

I wasn’t going to write one of these. Pontificating is a joy and all, but honestly, the answer’s pretty simple. I gave the matter some thought on and off over the years until I shed religion like a snake sloughing off an old skin. No revolution required. Then I got dragged to the Veteran’s Day program at my baby sister’s school, which was my school, too, once upon a time.

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Thunderf00t replies

I’ll confine myself to addressing just two points in his rebuttal.

  1. He accuses me of strawmanning his argument by claiming that he’s taking a black and white view of anti-harassment policies — that they should be either do-nothing or full-weight-of-the-law. He now explains that that’s not the case, he endorses using all kinds of intermediate levels of enforcement.

    Then I’m left wondering exactly what the point of his outrage was? That makes it sound as if he’s agreeing totally with what many of us are saying: we want these policies in place because they offer women recourse and support. Richard Carrier has very carefully laid out the intent and function of these policies. Perhaps Thunderf00t can read that and clarify whether he disagrees or not? Because his current posts try to have it both ways.

  2. Speaking of strawmanning an argument, here’s a beautiful example.

    IT WAS IN A BAR. I enjoyed it, she enjoyed it (she left a comment specifically saying so, just to remove all doubt (see MyLegMYCHOICE!)), AND I NEVER HAD TO CONSULT HER, NOR APPLY FOR PERMISSION FROM THE CONFERENCE, IN ORDERS SIGNED IN TRIPLICATE SENT IN, SENT BACK AND BURIED IN SOFT PEAT FOR THREE MONTHS AND RECYCLED AS FIRELIGHTERS etc etc. Indeed had I had to fill in the paperwork along with ‘permission to bite your leg in a horseplay photo’ form under conference interpersonal contact rule 144 b) 2, it would have probably kinda killed the moment, and neither I nor she would have got our mild thrills for the night. It’s boys n girls have fun in bars!

    I said precisely the opposite. These are situations where I agree — nobody is saying you have to fill out forms to play, and it would be ridiculous to do so. However, it’s also problematic. He doesn’t feel he ever had to consult her? What?

    I have heard this complaint many times. A woman goes to a bar at a meeting because she wants a drink, she wants to join in the conversation (because that’s where a lot of the informal talk goes on), and discovers that there are guys there with this attitude that groping is now permitted because the only reason that “girls” are there is to “have fun in bars”. Some women are there to flirt and enjoy a little horseplay…many are not.

    This really is the problem. You need to interact with people first to discover if they’re fellow companions out in the spirit of a little physical fun (you don’t need to formally ask; I presume in this case there were cues to say it was OK), and you cannot assume that every person there is willing to have you fondle them. Especially at a skeptics/atheist conference, where people sign up to learn about a philosophical/social position.

    Surprise. There are a lot of women who go to these meetings to be taken seriously and discuss serious topics, and have zero interest in having their legs grabbed. Not even in the bar.


Molly Rene has some choice words for people who confuse bars with brothels.