Freethoughtblogs: The official announcement

The new site went live sometime late last night, and our technical help slaved away to try and get everything working, if not beautiful. Check out Freethoughtblogs some time today, and say what you think. I’ve created a thread to collect suggestions and criticisms as we shake out the bugs, fine-tune everything, and eventually, make it pretty.

A new blog network is hitting the web on August 1. Led by two of the most prominent and widely read secular-minded blogs in the country – PZ Myers’ Pharyngula and Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars – will, we hope, quickly become and important gathering place for atheists, humanists, skeptics and freethinkers in the blogosphere.

Freethoughtblogs will be more than just a place for people to read the opinions of their favorite bloggers. It will be a community of like-minded people exchanging ideas and joining forces to advocate for a more secular and rational world.

The network will launch Aug. 1 with a handful of blogs with many more to be added after the first three months of operation. Here are the six blogs that will lead the way:

Pharyngula. PZ Myers has built one of the most popular atheist blogs in the world. Never one to shy away from controversy, Myers has built an astonishing following over the last few years and has traveled around the world speaking to skeptical audiences. As a PhD biologist he is the scourge of creationists everywhere but he takes on a wide range of subjects in his blogging, including religious criticism, women’s rights and progressive politics.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Ed Brayton was raised by a Pentecostal and an atheist, sealing his fate forever as someone who is endlessly fascinated by how religion intersects with other subject, particularly science, law, history and politics. He is a popular speaker for secular organizations around the country, has appeared on the Rachel Maddow show and is pretty certain he’s the only person who has ever made fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

The Digital Cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are shy and elusive creatures; when necessary, they hide in their own ink. This particular cuttlefish has chosen as its habitat the comment threads of science, religion, and news sites, where it feeds on the opinions of those who are emboldened by the cloak of internet anonymity. Cuttlefish is an atheist, a skeptic, and is madly, passionately in love with science. The Digital Cuttlefish has, since October of 2007, been a repository of commentary and satire, usually (but not exclusively) in verse and now moves to Freethoughtblogs.

This Week in Christian Nationalism. Chris Rodda is the author of “Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History.” Since the release of her book in 2006, Chris has been blogging at and Huffington Post about the use of historical revisionism in everything from education to legislation. Chris is now launching her own blog on that will accompany her weekly podcast, This Week in Christian Nationalism.

Zingularity. Steven “DarkSyde” Andrew is a 40 something former stock and bond trader and one time moderate conservative. He grew up in the Southwest and has long been fascinated by science, particularly evolutionary biology, physics, and astronomy. He is a frequest contributor to the popular progressive website Daily Kos and now blogs at Zingularity, where legit science disappears forever down an event horizon of petty snark and cynicism.

Comradde PhysioProffe. The pseudonymous PhysioProffe is, as the name suggests, a physiology professor at a private medical school who blogs about politics, academia, food, booze and sports. Not necessarily in that order.

This is only the beginning. Over the next few months we will add many more blogs to the network, including Greta Christina’s brilliant blog, a new companion to the award winning Reasonable Doubts podcast and many others.

Many more blogs will be added — we’ve got a list. We haven’t asked for them, but I’ve also got people already asking to join up…we’ll see. We’re planning on controlled, sensible growth, so look forward to incremental improvements.

What the f&#* is wrong with Chris Hedges?

Hedges has been totally nuts for the last few years: he’s got this crazy irrational hysteria about atheists that makes him utterly unhinged whenever he writes about us. His latest is of a piece with his mania:

The gravest threat we face from terrorism, as the killings in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik underscore, comes not from the Islamic world but the radical Christian right and the secular fundamentalists who propagate the bigoted, hateful caricatures of observant Muslims and those defined as our internal enemies. The caricature and fear are spread as diligently by the Christian right as they are by atheists such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Our religious and secular fundamentalists all peddle the same racist filth and intolerance that infected Breivik. This filth has poisoned and degraded our civil discourse. The looming economic and environmental collapse will provide sparks and tinder to transform this coarse language of fundamentalist hatred into, I fear, the murderous rampages experienced by Norway. I worry more about the Anders Breiviks than the Mohammed Attas.

What? Muslims riot over cartoons, Breivik massacres young people in the name of reactionary Christian nationalism, and Hedges blames the atheists? Madness. Pure madness.

Don’t read Hedges. Read Sam Harris, who as calmly as is possible when you’ve been slimed by a lunatic, tears Hedges to pieces. It’s a lovely read.

I disagree with him, slightly, on one point. Harris is concerned about a jihadist regime getting their hands on nuclear weapons, because they will lack the ethical restraint to hold back from using them. I have another worry: a crusading regime in the US military. Our men and women who are trained to use nuclear weapons are getting instructions…from Christians.

Reports show the mandatory Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare session, which takes place during a missile officer’s first week in training, is led by Air Force chaplains and includes a discussion on St. Augustine’s Christian “Just War Theory.” Also included in the PowerPoint presentation is a slide containing a passage from the Book of Revelation that attempts to explain how Jesus Christ, as the “mighty warrior,” believed war to be “just.”

The presentation goes on to say that there are “many examples of believers [who] engaged in wars in [the] Old Testament” in a “righteous way” and notes there is “no pacifistic sentiment in mainstream Jewish history.”

Now that’s chilling. Perhaps Hedges should take note that it isn’t atheists telling soldiers that it is just to annihilate your enemy by all means possible.

The 2011 Richard Dawkins Award goes to…

Who else but Christopher Hitchens?

This year, Richard Dawkins himself will present AAA’s
Richard Dawkins Award to Christopher Hitchens, who may accept in person or in
absentia as his schedule permits.

Christopher Hitchens is one of the most prolific
modern writers and exponents of atheism; he has appeared on every major news
and political television show offering opinions on political and social
issues.  He has contributed to Vanity FairThe
Slate, the New York Times Book Review,
and Atlantic Monthly, among many other publications.  His
books include Hitch 22: A MemoirGod is Not Great: How
Religion Poisons Everything
, and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa
in Theory and Practice

Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England and educated
at The Leys School in Cambridge and Balliol College, Oxford. He holds an honors
degree in philosophy, politics and economics. Hitchens emigrated to the United
States in 1981 and became an American citizen in 2007.  In June 2010,
Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

The award will be given at the Texas Freethought Convention in October. I’ll be there, and I’m looking forward to it.

They’re like lice — you can’t just shake them off

It takes real effort to purge yourself of parasites, and Australia’s got ’em: rabbits, cane toads, and now…chaplains. In a nation that prides itself on its secular government, Australia has this bizarre and inappropriate relic, the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP), which somehow manages to suck large sums of money out of the government to pay to infest the schools with useless little leeches whose sole purpose seems to be the indoctrination of nonsense into the brains of children.

Being subject to individual State and Territory education policies, since its introduction, the NSCP applies varying degrees of religiosity across Australian state schools. NSCP federally-funded state school chaplains within Queensland conduct Christian prayers on all-school assembly and at significant school ceremonies while holding lunchtime prayer/Bible ‘clubs’, activities and study sessions. Chaplains enjoy ‘access all areas’, wandering in and out of classrooms, work as de facto teacher aides and freely engage with students in the playground, on school excursions, school camps and sport. Chaplains co-ordinate, oversee and conduct Religious Instruction classes and on-campus church-designed and run programs including Hillsong ‘Shine’ for girls, and ‘Strength’ for boys which ‘connect’ children with evangelistic off-campus clubs, programs and intensive ‘Jesus’ boot camps. Correspondence from hundreds of concerned parents in every Australian State and Territory reveals that occurrences of the federally-funded National School Chaplaincy Programme being blatantly utilised as a Christian evangelic ministry are the norm within the nation’s state schools.

During his keynote address at the Australian Christian Lobby annual conference in November 2009, then Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered high praise to the NSCP and school chaplaincy in general while claiming responsibility for the introduction of Scripture Union provided state school chaplaincy in Queensland during the early 1990s when working within the Goss government. During his speech, Kevin Rudd pledged an ‘investment’ of $42m to extend the NSCP to 2011.

Not only is it contrary to the mission of an educational system to have wandering jesters in the schools, teaching stupidity, but it drains real money from resources that should be used, for instance, to hire more teachers.

Ron Williams was not happy with this situation, and he’s fighting back. He has a case being tried before the Australian high court to end this ridiculous program nationwide, and he needs help, since he’s now opposing the highest officials in the land.

After years of correspondence and meetings with then federal Education Minister Julia Gillard, state education and DEEWR executives as well as personal meetings with two Education Ministers and their Directors General, in 2009, a frustrated Mr. Williams sought advice regarding a possible High Court challenge to the constitutional legality of the Commonwealth providing treasury funds to the National School Chaplaincy Programme. In February 2010, Horowitz & Bilinsky accepted the case. Consequently, Horowitz & Bilinsky appointed Bret Walker SC, Gerald Ng Barrister to the case. The case is now proceeding.

Ironically, in August 2010, the newly appointed Labor Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, while endorsing and awarding high praise to the NSCP, pledged a further $222m toward extending the programme to at least 1000 more Australian schools. This sum was to represent almost one third of Labor’s 2010 pre-election four-year schools policy education pitch of $704m. At the time, when questioned regarding the Christian faith-based nature of the National School Chaplaincy Programme being maintained, Julia Gillard was adamant that the NSCP would continue as a ‘chaplaincy’ programme “with everything that that implies”, thus echoing John Howard’s sentiments of 2006.

Ron Williams has made a plea for your assistance in fighting nonsense.

If you’d like to donate, visit his High Court Challenge site. Come on, Williams is also the guy who wrote this song — secularism with a sense of humor deserves some reward.

Godless high school students have people to turn to

Various godless/critical thinking organizations are doing a good thing: they are expanding their sphere of interest into the high schools, and there are now new resources available to students. If you’re interested in learning more about what you can do to be a secular activist in your high school, you can contact JT Eberhard at the Secular Student Alliance, and now a new person, Jessica Ahlquist at the Center for Inquiry.

Which clearly sets up a necessary future event: we must have a steel cage match between JT and Jessica. JT keeps bragging that he’s more eviler than me, so I’m rooting for the tiny little woman to kick his butt.

You can watch Jessica, along with other high school students Harrison Hopkins, Damon Fowler, and Zack Kopplin speak. The future is looking good!

Australians! Don’t play games on your census forms!

Australia has a census coming up, and you know us atheists: we don’t take religion seriously, so we’re likely to write down any old mocking riposte to questions about our beliefs. Try not to do it: it gets the godless under-reported. Just answer “no religion” if you’re an atheist. If it helps, imagine that the humorless bureaucrats who will tally up the answers are completely incapable of recognizing snark.

Why I don’t believe in gods

The New Statesman has an article that asked a lot of atheist luminaries and some lesser glowworms like yours truly to explain why they don’t believe in gods. I don’t think it’s available online (I have a copy, though, and posted it outside my office door, so stop on by if you want to read it), but there is a discussion on the New Statesman blog. There are a whole bunch of entertaining short entries in the full article, but I’ll just post mine — I gave them two reasons that I don’t believe in gods.

1. The process. I am accustomed to the idea that truth claims ought to be justified with some reasonable evidence: if one is going to claim that, for instance, a Jewish carpenter was the son of a god, or that there is a place called heaven where some ineffable magical part of you goes when you die, then there ought to be some credible reason to believe that. And that reason ought to be more substantial than that it says so in a big book…after all, there are seven books claiming that Harry Potter is a wizard, and there aren’t very many people who see that as anything but fiction. Religious claims all seem to short-circuit the rational process of evidence-gathering and testing, and the sad thing is that many people don’t see a problem with that, and even consider it a virtue. It’s why I don’t just reject religion, but actively oppose it in all of its forms — because it is fundamentally a poison for the mind that undermines our critical faculties.

2. The absurdity. Religious beliefs are lazy jokes with bad punchlines. Why do you have to chop off the skin at the end of your penis? Because god says so. Why should you abstain from pork, or shrimp, or mixing meat and dairy, or your science classes? Because they might taint your relationship with your god. Why do you have to revere a bit of dry biscuit? Because it magically turns into a god when a priest mutters over it. Why do I have to be good? Because if you aren’t, a god will set you on fire for all eternity. These are ridiculous propositions. The whole business of religious is clownshoes freakin’ moonshine, hallowed by nothing but unthinking tradition, fear and superstitious behavior, and an establishment of con artists who have dedicated their lives to propping up a sense of self-importance by claiming to talk to an invisible big kahuna. It’s not just fact-free, it’s all nonsense.