Friday, June 29, 2012

Are the Religious Right Fascists?

By Hos
"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and holding a cross". Attributed to Sinclair Lewis

Recording artist Lee Greenwood has an interview on the CNN in which he proclaims America to be a christian nation. He does it in a rather smarmy way; he starts by telling us that the majority of the population are Christians (has anyone ever doubted that?). He would be skeptical of any poll showing the majority not being chrisitans (have you ever seen any?). He goes on to add that immigrants coming here should expect to be among Christians, just as when he goes to the middle east he expects to be Muslims, or when he goes to Japan he expects to be among Buddhists (wrong, Mr Greenwood: Japan is one of the most secular nations in the world, and anyway, Shinto is not the exact same thing as Buddhism.) There are a few interesting omissions: for instance, that 16% of the population have no religious affiliation, and that among the youth, lack of faith is rising really, really fast.

As such, what ultimately may one day threaten the majority status of Christianity is not immigration; it is disaffiliation among the youth.
But who is Lee Greenwood? Well, he is best know for this song. (Which he also sang at a rally for Sarah Palin.)

What an emotional crowd. But did you see a black face among them? Me neither. And if I were to guess, I wouldn't expect there to be many Jews among them, either.
But all the bluster does remind me of another song that I once heard. What song was it? Oh, I remember now.

The main reason for comparing the two is that in each case we have an ideology claiming ownership of a nation. In doing so, the ideology turns everyone else into a second class citizen. And I think it is a shame that media outlets cover the statements of someone like Greenwood with no critical analysis or counterpoint.
As an aside, there are ways to be patriotic other than flag waving and bluster: protecting our environment, providing equal educational opportunities to minorities and other inner city residents, fighting racial inequality, stopping the states from laying off teachers and emergency responders through stimulus spending...but I doubt any of this would be on Mr Greenwood's radar.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Glimpse of the Conservative Vision out of Texas?

By Gary Berg-Cross
The Texas Republicans have been meeting in convention at Fort Worth. They are approving their 2012 platform which has some strong conservative notes.  They are sour ones to me. One Texas commentator (Richard Whittaker,in the Austin Chronicle) bulleted them as follow:
-Abstinence-only sex ed (yeah, because that's worked so well so far.)
– Trying juveniles as adults
– Faith-based drug rehab should be emphasized (Scientology front operation NarcAnon should be rubbing its hands at that one)
– Oppose the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Yeah! Who's the UN to tell us we should ban child slavery?)
– Flat rate income tax (go Team 1%!)
– Repealing the minimum wage (suck it, wage slaves!)
– Opposing homosexuality in the military (don't ask, don't tell, and don't do that!)
– Opposition to red light cameras (because if you run a red, kill someone, and there's no witnesses, was the light ever really red?)
– Oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because firms should be able to fire people for what they consider "sinful and sexually immoral behavior." Like, say, growing a beard?
– Continued opposition to ACORN (even though it has not existed since 2010)
– Opposing statehood or even Congressional voting rights for the citizens of the District of Columbia (who writes this crap, Rand Paul?)
– And no-questions-asked support for Israel because, and this is another direct quote:

   "Our policy is based on God’s biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel and we further invite other nations and organizations to enjoy the benefits of that promise." 

I noted that they insist that school principles need to be citizens but the item that is getting national attention such as at HuffPo is in the section titled "Educating Our Children," . Include in here the statement that that "corporal punishment is effective" and recommends teachers be given "more authority" to deal with disciplinary problems. It goes on to opposes mandatory pre-school and kindergarten, saying tht parents are "best suited to train their children in their early development."

But the position that has stirred the most controversy is the one stating that:

“We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

What the argument? It’s straight out Chris Mooney’s Republican Brain and Lakoff’s writings on Moral Authority. They worry that it might challenge "student's fixed beliefs. " Fixed by group decision and closed minds with no discussion allowed.
The language of undermining "parental authority" can be understood from Lakoff's discussion of the Strict Father model:
This model posits a traditional nuclear family, with the father having primary responsibility for supporting and protecting the family as well as the authority to set overall policy, to set strict rules for the behavior of children, and to enforce the rules. The mother has the day-to-day responsibility for the care of the house, raising the children, and upholding the father's authority. Children must respect and obey their parents; by doing so they build character, that is, self-discipline and self-reliance. Love and nurturance are, of course, a vital part of family life but can never outweigh parental authority, which is itself an expression of love and nurturance—tough love. Self-discipline, self-reliance, and respect for legitimate authority are the crucial things that children must learn.

I imagine it is sad for quite a few Texas parents critically contemplating the long-tern implications.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?

By Mathew Goldstein

The notion that supernatural phenomena are fundamentally beyond the scope of scientific examination is promoted by prominent scientific institutions, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The court ruling in the United States against the teaching of "Intelligent Design" (ID) as an alternative to evolution in biology classes (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District; Jones, 2005) was partially justified on the grounds that claims involving supernatural phenomena are outside the proper domain of scientific investigation.

A few other examples of this commonly asserted denial that science has anything to say about supernatural claims follow.

The booklet "Science, Evolution, and Creationism" from the National Academies Press says this:

Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.

A statement by the National Science Teachers Association:

Because science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations. Similarly, science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance. . . as noted in the National Science Education Standards, “Explanations on how the natural world changed based on myths, personal beliefs, religious values, mystical inspiration, superstition, or authority may be personally useful and socially relevant, but they are not scientific.”

A statement by the National Association of Biology Teachers:

Explanations employing nonnaturalistic or supernatural events, whether or not explicit reference is made to a supernatural being, are outside the realm of science and not part of a valid science curriculum. Evolutionary theory, indeed all of science, is necessarily silent on religion and neither refutes nor supports the existence of a deity or deities.

They are all mistaken. Science does not presuppose Naturalism and supernatural claims are amenable in principle to scientific evaluation. Here is an article on this topic by Yonatan I. Fishman, published in 2007 in the Science & Education, titled Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews? His article explains that "whether the entities or phenomena posited by claim X are defined as ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’ is irrelevant to the scientific status of the claim. If the fundamental aim of science is the pursuit of truth - to uncover, to the extent that humans are capable, the nature of reality - then science should go wherever the evidence leads. If the evidence were to strongly suggest the existence of supernatural phenomena, then so be it."

Yonatan Fishman concludes thusly: "Importantly, critical thinking and a scientific approach to claims are not just for scientists and debunkers of the supernatural. A well-informed population proficient in critical thinking will be better equipped to make intelligent decisions concerning crucial political issues of our day, such as global warming and governmental foreign policy. Indeed, an intellectually honest engagement with reality is a prerequisite for promoting the long-term interest of individuals and society at large." I recommend this article.

Why do so many groups and individuals, including institutions that advocate on behalf of educators and scientists, mistakenly deny that our modern knowledge can be biased (and in fact is biased) vis-a-vis various theisms? We can assume they are issuing these denials out of fear of offending religious people. These false assertions are counter-productive because they attack and undermine the very goal of critical thinking that these same institutions claim to be defending. This counter-productive appeasement of religious beliefs at the expense of truth by institutions representing educators and scientists needs to stop. When speaking the truth is inconvenient because the audience is intolerant or otherwise prejudiced against the truth, there is always the option of keeping silent. How about more silence here?

Shared Values with Democratic Communitarianism

By Gary Berg-Cross

In the 1990s, the Clinton years, I used to read Amitai Etzioni, a professor of American studies at George Washington University, on Communitarian thinking. It’s been a while since his The Spirit of Community (1993), but I’m hearing a bit more of this now as a way out of simple left-right thinking. What seems a communitarian perspective again is one that recognizes and tries to balance both individual human dignity and a larger social dimension of human existence. It offers something to each side.
This is not exactly a new idea in the last 20 years. Robert N. Bellah, professor of sociology at UC, Berkeley, 1995-96, A Defense documented some history of this in "Democratic Communitarianism" The Responsive Community. As he notes there have been aspects of it earlier especially in the 19th century utopian communities. There was some call a “Wave” of these in the 1840s. They were mixtures of Secular: Anarchist Socialist, Associationist, Mutualist Cooperative, Owenite, and Perfectionist.
Some were religious and relitigion is still a strong force in some communities and practical ideas from these are often distilled out.
50 years after this wave we had another one with the longer enduring Hutterite, Mennonite, and the Amish. In the 1930s the Great Depression brought on New Deal and Green-Belt towns, but also Catholic Worker, Emissary, and School of Living.

By the1990s manifestations include Cohousing and eco-villages – a popular topic in the DC area - there is a DC Area CoHousing group with a meeting in July 15 at the Tysons-Pimmitt Regional Library.
I find myself attracted to several parts of Communitarianism. For one it mixes some utopian ideas with practical effort. But mostly many expressions of it commit to humanist and democratic values. True it derives many things from Religious communities but also humanist traditions. Amy Gutmann, a liberal philosopher at Princeton University, once critiqued communitarians saying that they " seek Salem( a nice place to live) without witches" which we can understand as believing we can have communities that uphold a moral sense without hunts the others.
Here are 4 values I find in that vein edited slightly from Communitarianism Explained to remove the religious references that don’t work for me.
1. Democratic communitarianism is based on the special value of the individual, which is common to most of the great religions and philosophies of the world. Anything that would oppress individuals or operate to stunt individual development would be contrary to the principles of democratic communitarianism. However, unlike its ideological rivals, democratic communitarianism does not think of individuals as existing in a vacuum or as existing in a world composed only of markets and states. Rather it believes that individuals are realized ONLY in and through communities, and that strong, healthy, morally vigorous communities are the prerequisite for strong, healthy, morally vigorous individuals.
2. Democratic communitarianism, therefore, affirms the central value of solidarity. Solidarity points to the fact that we become who we are through our relationships; that reciprocity, loyalty, and shared commitment to the good are defining features of a fully human life.
3. Democratic communitarianism believes in what Boswell has called "complementary association." By this he means a commitment to "varied social groupings: the family, the local community, the cultural group, the economic enterprise, the trade union or profession, the nation-state." Through this principle it is clear that community does not mean small-scale, all-inclusive, total groups. In our kind of society an individual will belong to many communities and ultimately the world itself can be seen as a community. Democratic communitarianism views such a multiplicity of belonging as a positive good, as potentially and in principle complementary.
4. Finally, democratic communitarianism is committed to the idea of participation as both a right and a duty. Communities become positive goods only when they provide the opportunity and support to participate in them. A corollary of this principle is the principle of subsidiarity which idea asserts that the groups closest to a problem should attend to it, receiving support from higher level groups only if necessary.
Applying this perspective to current events, at a moment when powerful political forces in the United States are attempting to dismantle a weak welfare state, democratic communitarians will defend vigorous and responsible state action.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bad News: It's Official

Maryland Flags
So, they've done it again.
The bigots have managed to put marriage equality on the ballot. This time in my home state of Maryland, where it is recognized already. They will stop at nothing to roll back the progress we've made in social justice. Even though according to the polls the majority of residents of Maryland support equality, when it comes to ballots, the polls are often meaningless; churches and other anti-equality organizations have the money and organization to sway the results the way they please.
It is important to work against the latest scheme of enemies of equality. If you live in Maryland, turn out and vote for equality in November. If you don't, please spread the word.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Philosopher Johan Braeckman on European Islamic creationism

by Gary Berg-Cross

You can see a Chris Mooney Point of Inquiry podcast with Johan Braeckman, a philosopher at the University of Ghent, on a topic troubling European defenders of science and reason. It's about the spread of Islamic creationism in European countries.

You can listen to the show here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Myth Supplants Reality & Fantasy Displaces Common Sense

By Gary Berg-Cross
Allan Sloan wrote recently about the 5 Myths of the Great Financial Meltdown. His list covered:
1: The government should have done nothing
2: The government bailed out shareholders
3: The Volcker Rule will save us
4: Taxpayers are off the hook for future failures. And
5: It's the government's fault.
The details in the article are worth reading, but I was particularly struck a compelling framing line that I could identify with in his analysis:
I find myself getting increasingly angry and frustrated watching myth supplant reality about what happened, and seeing fantasy displace common sense when it comes to fixing the problems that got us in this mess .
Some manifestations are because of ideological and political stances. We see fantasy and unsound thinking in the climate change debate and warming as conspiracy of scientists, who are the most reality grounded of us. We will hear more myth, like “death panels” in likely discussion the Affordable Health Care act. As Chris Mooney notes it seems at times the political right lives in a different reality that pushed serious, critical thinking to the back of the bus. You can see this for yourself by going to the Main page of Conservapedia. When I was writing this blog the following were the very mythic, anti-freethinking news stories featured:
Liberals have destroyed the perceived value of a college degree with their worst college majors: "Undervalued and overpriced, the beleaguered bachelor's degree is losing its edge as the hallmark of an educated, readily employable American." [9]

The myth of neutrality.[10] Which side are you on?
Remind Wikipedia that their neutral point of view policy (NPOV) is a farce and they might as well confess they are liberals! See: Bias in Wikipedia

Pastor Carl Gallups declares his anti-atheism and anti-evolution book is doing well around the world.VIDEO
Is there more bad news on its way for global atheism and global evolutionism? You know where to go to find the latest news detailing the decline of atheism and evolutionism![11][12][13] It is such a glorious time to be a Christian creationist.[14][15]

Also, food related stocks with large international footprints are largely doing well in the Great Recession.[18][19] No matter how incompetent Barack Obama and secular European leaders are, people still need to eat!

Much to the dismay of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Obama and "The Lord of the Fries" (Barack Obama), there are fast food restaurants serving big sugary drinks whose stocks are doing well in the Great Recession.[20]
Obese atheists and obese evolutionists of the world, stop driving up the price of fast food stocks! Also, a leading creationist organization declares, "Blaming gluttony on evolution seems very self-serving."[21] You thought you could blame your obesity and gluttony on "evolution". Think again! Start hitting the gym for 60 minutes a day evolutionist slackers![22][23][24] And give your body one day of rest a week.[25][26]
Want to read part of the Conservapedia entry on Climate Change? Here is a snippet:

Ideologues insist that the world's top scientists have reached a "consensus" that most of the warming which land-based weather stations have recorded in the last century is due to human activity. The basis for this claim is a set of reports published by the IPCC, an agency of the United Nations. The assumption is that the government-appointed representatives who run the IPCC would be completely objective and neutral, and would place finding and revealing the truth ahead of any nationalistic interests.
A lot of money is spent publicizing each side's position in the debate:
"Newsweek purports to take readers inside the world of “Global-Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine” without mentioning that the global-warming alarmists are even better funded, in some cases with government support
Myths replacing reality is a perennial worrisome topic to Freethinkers and the above is a large dose. Some of the WASH speaker’s have addressed the myth-reality battle directly. Rob Boston’s Talk on “The Christian Nation Myth” covered many aspects of this arguing that we have to
strongly oppose the Christian establishment myth and its associated principles, which exclude many people who now it can claim, are not true Americans. We are still struggling with our pluralism and the claim that non-believers that don't have America’s best interest at heart.
Another historical myth family has bothered my is the oversimplified stories about Western and American Exceptionalism such as Niall Ferguson’s book Civilization: The West and the Rest or the Reagan-like belief that “God has granted America a special role in human history.”.
Such Myths are potent in part because they cobble together reassuring ideas that we want to believe in. We just need enough support to get above a very low threshold of our version of “proof” that serves a confirmatory bias.
WallBuilders is an organization, for example, that shows a healthy dose of confirmatory bias towards the proposition of:
"presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined. In accord with what was so accurately stated by George Washington, we believe that "the propitious [favorable] smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation which disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained."
Myths persist in part because considering the alternative, skeptical view is threatening. Then again, critical thinking, as opposed to the intuitive, feel-good version is hard work. Real historic understanding takes time and energy for evidentiary analysis and most of us routinely rely on short cuts that seem like common sense but are often don’t stand up to rational analysis..
Rational analysis for the masses, alas, remains an unfulfilled Enlightenment goal..

Friday, June 22, 2012

Youthful Plan Bs needed for our Earth

By Gary Berg-Cross
With 2012 Rio+20 concluding and its draft text in the air it is seems an apt time to talk about alternative plans for sustainability. There is wide recognition that current approaches and default tactics are failing. the Resulting trends are unsustainable but no committed agreement on how to proceed. For some the proper course is what they call "sustainable development" or as the term has been turned to "sustainable growth". To political economist Robert Skidelsky this is not balance or wise and just more of the same and part of “politically orchestrated insatiability that we call economic growth.”
The fight over visions of a sustainable future remains. Time to consider a Plan B, the  popular term used to mean a reserved, secondary plan, in case a first plan (a hypothetical 'Plan A') fails. There seems no alternative or Plan B for climate change in part because it involves other difficult topics like energy, financial systems etc..  An example is the reported stumbling blocks with climate is the evolving concepts of what is commonly called “green technology” and “green economies.” Part of this is the legacy of unfulfilled promises made 20 years ago by rich countries to help poor countries develop by funding efforts to leap into a green economy and avoid a dirty economy trap. That would contribute to a sustainable world, but there is yet no agreement on the Equity Principle formulated in Rio 20 years ago.

All of this suggests there are many alternative visions of the future. Perhaps it is time to consider Plan Bs ourselves. This is an idea that an organization called “Our Task” is pursuing. The Our Task group, located here in the DC area focused on giving young adults a chance to create a mutually enhancing relationship between humans and Earth. After all it will their Earth we leave them with. Our Task tries to help youth:
  • Understand what is happening to our Earth and global civilization;
  • Develop their own vision of the Earth they want to inherit;
  • Developing communication and leadership skills; and
  • Advocating for changes that might allow everyone to live out the 21st century.
As a first they have are looking at Plan Bs and assembled examples of “Plan Bs” including:
· World on the Edge by Lester R. Brown;
· The Youth Earth Plan (this by the Our Task group itself);
· Limits to Growth and later editions;
· Living Planet Report 2010, Global Footprint Network; Millennium and,
· Declaration and Development Goals, by the United Nations
All of the research is being assembled to support Our Task’s first in a series of youth conferences. The first is Saturday, August 11th in Arlington, Virginia, and will feature a vision of Earth in 2100. The event will be streamed live and people can sign up to get news on the event by going to conference site.
They are still gathering Plan B nominations and the final set will be shared with in advance of the meeting “Earth-2100 Conference: What’s the Plan?”. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this. I expect it to be more of a sustainability view than our leaders can agree on at Rio+20 and that is what we and our children need.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why I miss Christopher Hitchens

By Hos
This video, of religious individuals thanking God for the awful things that have happened to them, is absolutely nauseating. They all look like robots, programmed to utter happy words at their own destruction.
Whatever Karl Marx might have gotten wrong, he did have a point when he said religion was the opiate of the masses. How can someone embracing his/her own misery ever fight for change?
Nothing poisons like religion.

Question hearings on radicalization of American Muslims is the only radicalization to consider.

by Gary Berg-Cross

Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security Peter King has a new hearing underway - "The American Muslim Response to Hearings on Radicalization Within Their Community." On paper it is supposed to draw conclusions from the 4 previous hearings. I'm not sure there is a simple conclusion to reached and this seems more political than a reasoned policy discussion. You can question the hearings’ premise that radicalization of American Muslims is the only radicalization to consider. Texas' Al Green, the grandson of a Christian minister & Democratic lawmaker, used his 5 minutes to question why there are no hearings on radical Christians as well.

The Raw Story reported that he "oppose[s] hearings that don’t focus on the entirety of radicalization.... People who see the hearings and never hear about the hearing on the radicalization of Christianity have to ask themselves, ‘Why is this missing?... Why don’t we go to the next step and ask, how is that a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, white female in the United States of America can become radicalized to the point of wanting to do harm to this country? We don’t have that type of hearing."

King seems to brush off the question of balance with “To deny that there’s any correlation between the Muslim faith and the biggest threat to this country today defies credulity."

What if we tested our political candidates like we test NBA prospects?

by Gary Berg-Cross

We are deep into the profoundly important 2012 political campaign, but also the more engaging NBA draft season. Basketball candidates for the draft are being sized up with very skilled analysis and actual workouts. I was startled by the contrast in how teams analyze and pick the next generation of NBA stars and how our “democratic” system picks its leaders.
The capabilities of players are not only well studied with clear statistics but tested. Candidates who claim to be 6’9’’ are actually measured along with their standing leap and bench press abilities and speed from baseline to baseline. One longs to have simple dimensions for our Pols that could be similarly accessed. It’s naive to expect such an easy matchup, but disappointing that we don’t even try. Our “debates” are a far cry from the pre-draft workout sessions the NBA runs to competitively analyze candidates. But then high draft choices are known to eschew being sized up competitively in workout camps. Candidates who played a matchup zone, may not be ready to play the man to man required in the NBA. No excuses allow.
Some top 10 NBA candidates (John Calipari trained Kidd-Gilchrist comes to mind) are touted for a winning attitude and work ethic. That translates over to the political arena but one has the sense that Pols have better managers and advisers to spin this story of how polished and ready they are. One thinks of the spin on Romney’s years as governor here, for example, that make a weak record into a fabulous winning season. The spin wins.
If a candidate has an obvious deficiency, say foreign policy, we hear how he or she makes up for it in ways an NBA forward could never argue. An embargo policy on China imports is not going to pass critical thinking in an NBA-style assessment. But in the system we have it passes for an acceptable story.
I don’t have an answer to the problem here, but one thought is that our democratic process is a creaky, legacy system whose engineering has been gamed for the candidate and their backers needs and not serving the bulk of we-the-people. We should care about this as much as we care about having a winning team in our town. We should care much more and work on it. We should insist on an empirical method that works to give us the best team to serve our needs. Others do a better job at this and we can too.
As we know from other domains including information systems, legacy systems are difficult to maintain in the face of new requirements. We need to at least prototype a new system.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Petition Catholics to drop blasphemy complaints

By Mathew Goldstein

Sanal Edamaruku is the founder-president of Rationalist International. He is also the president of the Indian Rationalist Association. He is the editor of the internet publication Rationalist International, and author of 25 books and numerous articles. He is a regular TV commentator on various Indian TV channels on superstitions and blind belief and is a major voice in defense of reason and scientific temper in India. He has spent 30 years debunking miracles and exposing fraudulent faith healers. Earlier this year he was charged with blasphemy for debunking a claimed miracle at a local Catholic Church.

A statue of Jesus on a crucifix was dripping water from the toes. Hundreds of people came every day, some from far away, to pray and collect some of the “holy water” in bottles and vessels. A TV channel invited Mr. Edamaruku to investigate the “miracle” that caused local excitement. He went with the TV team to inspect the crucifix in front of the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni. Within half an hour, he identified the source of the water (a leaking water pipe) and the mechanism for the water traveling to the statue feet (capillary action).

In March, a group called the Catholic Secular Forum filed a complaint against Mr. Edamaruku with the police in Mumbai, and two other groups, the Association of Concerned Catholics and Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum also filed complaints at other police stations. The Catholic Bishop of Mumbai called on Mr. Edamaruku to apologize for “hurting” the Catholic community by questioning the motives and sincerity of church authorities who allegedly encouraged people to believe there was a miracle occurring.

Because Mr. Edamaruku can be arrested at anytime (he was instructed by police to turn himself in for arrest), and because he was recently denied "anticipatory bail" (he could spend years in jail waiting for his trial), he was compelled to flee India.

If you have not done so yet, please consider signing the petition appealing to the Catholic authorities in Mumbai, particularly the Archbishop and Auxiliary Bishop of Mumbai, and the Vatican and the global Catholic community to clarify their Church's position on the attempts to silence Mr Edamaruku's criticisms through legal channels, and to use their influence with local Catholics to encourage them to publicly withdraw their complaints.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shocker: Most Stable Nations Most Secular Ones

By Hos

The Foreign Policy magazine has come up with its 2012 list of failed states. For the hundreds of millions of people living there, life is no fun. If God exists, I am sure he loves them, he just has a funny way of showing it.
But when I saw this map it reminded me of another one I saw no too long ago ago. I could put my finger on it after some thinking: the map of unbelief, put together based on the works of sociologist Phil Zuckerman.

Atheists Agnostics Zuckerman en

The relationship is far from perfect, yet the point is clear. Generally, more stable nations happen to be the more secular ones.

Films of Interest at Silverdocs

By Gary Berg-Cross
AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival, takes place June 18-24, 2012. The shows are in and around downtown Silver Spring, Maryland so if you are in the MD-Washington, DC area it’s a great event.
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s “Detropia” film about Detroit is getting buzz & kudos. It tells the familiar story of the city’s demise through a slightly new lens, focusing on the poor and working-class African American communities that have been displaced, not just by the economic crisis but also by proposed responses to it.
Two candidates of high interest to Secular Perspective readers are THE REVISIONARIES and “The Source”. At the center of The REVISIONARIES is Don McLeroy, whom Texas governor Rick Perry appointed to chair the Board in 2009, and who waged the war over intelligent design instruction. A full-time dentist, over-time ignoramus, and character straight out of a Christopher Guest film, McLeroy — who believes that the earth is 6000 years old — represents more than just his own state's problem with science.

Of “The REVISIONARIES the WAPO review said:
‘Forget “Prometheus”; the scariest movie of the summer is this revealing look at the Texas State Board of Education, led by evolution-denier and dentist Don McLeroy. Director Scott Thurman chronicles the board’s review of textbook standards, which McLeroy and his cohorts seek to revise by emphasizing creationism and casting doubt on scientific empiricism.‘
The schedule is:
6:00 PM Fri, Jun 22
AFI Silver Theatre 2
8:15 PM Sat, Jun 23

The Source takes place in an early 1970s LA. We see a man called Jim Baker who opened a vegetarian restaurant, called The Source, on Sunset Boulevard. It became a hot spots on the Sunset Strip, “catering to a who’s who of actors, musicians, scenesters” and celebs like John Lennon and Frank Zappa dropping in to dine on creations like Rainbow Salad. Another favorite was a huge bowl called "Aware Salad," which, featuring lettuce, grated beets and carrots, red cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado.
But it was also home base to one of L.A.’s most notorious cults, The Source Family:
“ a 140-strong New Age congregation presided over by that eccentric restaurateur James Baker, A.K.A. Father Yod.

The film shown on Fri, Jun 22, 10:45 at the PM AFI Silver Theatre uses archival footage and contemporary interviews to provide:
“ a fascinating psychedelic journey into the life and death of a cult.” 

For more see the full schedule.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Coming to a Church Near You: "Fortnight of Freedom"

Thomas More
St Thomas More was named "the patron saint of politicians and statesmen", by pope John Paul II.

By Hos
The reach calendar of the Holy Catholic Church marks a wonderful event, in just a few days: the Feast of St Thomas More and St John Fisher. Thomas More, in case anyone forgot, was the man close to king Henry VIII who lost his head for refusing to switch his allegiance from Rome to the newly founded Church of England. More got it easy by his own standards, though. His punishments (when he has power) for "heretics" (the term used at the time for protestants) often included burning at the stake. This policy was avidly followed at the time by the Holy Mother Church, in which John Fisher, who also lost his head for reasons similar to More, was a bishop.
Quite appropriately, the catholic church in the DC area is commemorating this feast with a campaign of two weeks, called Fortnight of Freedom. This series of events, with follow ups around the country (we are told), is supposedly meant to protect our religious freedoms. (From the likes of Thomas More?)
Archbishop Llori on religious liberty
According to the "most reverend" William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore, "religious liberty is an inherent right, endowed by the Creator and based in our dignity as human persons, created in God's image". (Given His age, I guess, the Creator must be completely bald by now and in need of prostate examinations.) Anyways, this doesn't seem to apply if you are female employee of any kind of organization run by the church. Because, as you have guessed already, the campaign has nothing to do with religious freedom, and everything to do with the birth control controversy. It smacks so awfully of election year politics, that it makes me wonder how thinly veiled the church's politicizing has to be before it loses it tax exempt status.

Ideological dependency and misunderstanding

By Mathew Goldstein

It was common for theists to be convinced that there are no atheists in foxholes even during the height of the Cold War when the enemies of freedom and democracy actively and aggressively fought with guns from hideouts in forested mountains on behalf of an anti-capitalist and godless, militant, totalitarian ideology. The contradiction should be obvious, how can atheists with guns be battling and overthrowing governments around the world when there are no atheists in foxholes? Yet even today many people seem to think, despite the lost Vietnam war, despite Communist victories in Cuba, China, Nicaragua, etc., that there are no atheists in foxholes. This suggests that there is a psychological mechanism at play here that overrides the evidence to the contrary. It turns out that the same psychological mechanism that helps convince people that there are no atheists in foxholes also helps to convince some of those same people that only their particular religion is true.

University of Missouri psychologist Kenneth Vail III and colleagues recruited 26 Christians, 28 atheists, 40 Muslims and 28 agnostics to study how religious individuals tend to believe so strongly in their own religion’s gods yet deny the gods of competing religions. Each participant was tasked with writing either a brief essay about how they felt about their own death or a "religiously neutral" topic, such as loneliness or how to cope when plans go awry. After a brief verbal task to distract the participants from the true purpose of the study, they filled out questionnaires about their religious beliefs, including their faith in the Christian God or Jesus, Buddha and Allah.

When Christians thought of death, they became firmer in their religious beliefs and less accepting of Allah and Buddha. Likewise for Muslims, who became more committed to Allah and less accepting of Buddha or the Christian God. Agnostics became more likely to believe in any deity, whether the Christian version, Allah or Buddha.

This explains why theists, including theistic leaning agnostics, so readily accept the counter-evidenced claim that there are no atheists in foxholes. They are projecting their own religiously motivated psychology onto atheists. However, that projection is a mistake because atheists lack this ideological dependency common to theists. Atheists showed none of the responses to thoughts of death that the theists and agnostics did. In the words of the researchers, "atheists do not rely on religion when confronted with the awareness of death."

Friday, June 15, 2012

Getting the Word out on the Non-religious Trend among Millennials

by Gary Berg-Cross

A new Pew Research Center poll of millennials (those born after 1980)finds that 31 percent doubt the existence of God, and that figure has more than doubled in just five years among Americans age 30 and below.Jesse Galef, Secular Student Alliance, promoting atheism and non-religious views on college campuses spoke to this: “Our generation is causing a fundamental shift in how society will see religion,”

SSA now has
357 affiliates on American campuses - up from just 81 such affiliates in 2007.

Missed the CNN discussion with Secular Student Alliance's Jesse Galef about Millenial's doubts about God?

It aired on CNN recently and you may enjoy how Jesse gets his talking points out in the face of questions framed about atheist attempts to convert people. For example he had to deal with the vague, framing hypotheical:

“Some Christians MIGHT argue that because such groups are in high schools, you’re sort of indoctrinating young people at a time when, you know, it’s not proper because they’re not really old enough to handle questions like that.”

There are quire a few traps in here and the emotional word on Indoctrination but Jesse did a ood job of sticking to message.  A good sign for this generation and good for their fund raising effort.

 Well for Some Atheists who may say that the religious is doing some form of indoctrination on kids who aren't old enough to handle it.

German Bookstores

by Edd Doerr

Michael Naumann has an interesting article on the German book business in The Nation on June 18, "Germany, by the Book". Let me quote from it --

"The largest [German bookstore] chain, Weltbild, has 350 outlets; owned by the Catholic  Church, is currently for sale . . . . another example of the Church's conservative retreat, under a German pope, into religious piety and spiritual escapism."

Note: Germany generously subsidizes all churches. You can evade the church tax, and increasing numbers do, by formally leaving your Catholic or Lutheran church.

Being “Smart” Doesn’t Mean There Aren’t Blind Spots

by Gary Berg-Cross

Smart vs. dumb seems like a simple dichotomy. No one likes to thought of as dumb, let along being called dumb publically. It’s generally a good thing to be considered intelligent and informed and able to think rationally. Of course we have models or absent minded professors and deep thinkers that are socially clueless and inept at ordinary tasks. But we have a general sense that knowledge is power and that intelligence (along with a dose of skepticism and a good method) can expose the truth and the truth is better than falsehood and critical investigation is a better long-term strategy than unc
ritical acceptance.
We are stunned to hear uniformed opinions and willful ignorance expressed as facts as in “keep your government hands off MY Medicare But Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler has shown that a large % of recipients of government benefits somehow don’t believe they’ve received any benefits.
Wild generalizations like “corporations are people my friend… of course they are…Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people.” can also rankle, since there are so many counterarguments to hidden, common sense assumptions. Willard Romney said this in August 2011 while attempting to counter an argument that taxes should be raised on corporations as part of balancing the budget. Romney is smart all right and Harvard trained, so why the blind spot about how his thinking comes across as false, but yet appeals to so many? Seems like a bit of a paradox, which you may have experienced in talking about such things with seemingly intelligent supporters of such policies. But it is wider and gain you may have experienced this when talking to elite professionals on topics that are outside their training.  Little is funnier than having a lawyer or economist ask you not to use too many technical terms or speak in simple sentences on scientific topics. One may be trainied and intelligent and still yearn for simple answers when they may not be so available.

Simple, contemporary political statements like corporations are people ring hollow since we can ask if corporations have to follow the same rules as we humans and be responsible in the same way. This is clearly not what it means nor is the idea that all the benefits wind up in “the people’s” hands. Some of the people’s wealth seems to be missing.
These type of seemingly smart vs. dumb dichotomy abounds in freethinkers’ vs. religious arguments over evolution and the verbal barbs thrown such as :
I love how the atheists on blogs like to act like they're a part of an elite squad who are masters of logic and reason.

It is true that simple logic can expose some silly arguments justifying religion which seems in part defended by an element of willful disbelief. Such styles are part of larger factors than reasonability that produces a spectrum that is not just elite smartness or general dumbness. Some people seem to dislike atheists and freethinkers just because they ask difficult question which challenge others to answer about open ended topics like morality. And most of us like to think we are on the right side of moral issues. I show my bona fides and the case is closed. I don’t have to exhaust my self in a long change of reasoning supported by evidence.The point here is that our supposed intelligence is often blinded by competing cognitive and social factors.

 In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel prize Daniel Kahneman (subject earlier blogs on knowing) points out how such slow, carefully thinking is often the poor minority of reasoning. Research is such areas helps understand some of the blind spots and disputed implied above. It’s because reasoning is part of a pretty complex system evolved over time and engaged in particular ways by culture and cultural elites (e.g lawyers, economists & clergy).
There are fast associations that we make when a topic comes up and thus questioning suitable religious (or political) authority which has status in culture. Attacking religion seems anti-social and unpatriotic to those who value social cohesiveness. After all won’t such things lead to socialism or communism?
Into this discussion we now throw the idea of cognitive biases and intuitive thinking. It is the humbling realization (as reported recently) that bright people can be especially prone to stupid mistakes. After all the work on human, cognitive bias shows that we are subject to systematic cognitive errors. It is just that different people have different degrees for particular types. If we have good memories we make react to a Pol flip flopping on his/her position. If we associate government with bad things we may accept some statement with little support since it is consistent with our beliefs. But it turns out that a general intelligence doesn’t really protect us from holding and defending stupid positions. Indeed a simple higher intelligence (as measured by S.A.T. scores) can make things worse. This is the understanding of research (by West & friends) that looked at awareness of faulty reasoning or a blind spot. West and his colleagues began by giving 482 undergraduates a questionnaire featuring a variety of classic bias problems. Here’s a example so you can judge the problem:
In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?
An intuitive, short cut response is to divide the 48 in half. That gives an answer of twenty-four days. Sorry that’s wrong. The correct solution is forty-seven days. After all it doubles every day!!!
The wrong answer seems easy to get to that somewhat intelligence people fall prey to it, but think it right and defend the answer since after all, I am smarter than the average and therefore must be right. A humbling thought is what seems to be an ever increasingly American meritocracy that with Pols like Romney represents more of a de facto oligarchy. It is perhaps a bit of an insight into why there seem so wild thinking, but smugly confident politicians in America. 

For more see Jonah Lehrer's article in the New Yorker and Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things