Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Negative Consequences of Believing in Superstition - Part III

This is Part III of a three part series.  (Go read Part II if you've not seen it yet!)


America is in the middle of a severely dysfunctional period of political and social change.

Over the last hundred years, technology has rocketed us from the horse and buggy days to jet aircraft and rockets to the moon.  From simple telephone tech to cell phones and computers in our pockets.

A hundred years ago, information was limited to those who could read, which for the population of the US as a whole was about 90%.  In 1979, that rate was 0.6%.  The ability of people to distribute information was limited.  For a regional audience, newspapers were the norm, and was limited to what the editors would print.  A wider audience could be reached in book publication, but that was limited to what the major publishing house editors thought would sell.

Accordingly, the public picture of what was normal was limited to what people could read, and that was tightly controlled, even with what was then a fairly free press.  The abnormal was easily ignored and any contradicting speech or dissension was often swept under the rug.

Until women got angry, and began working to change things.  By 1920, the 19th amendment allowed women the right to vote after a long and contentious public debate, including protests outside the White House, often resulting in arrests.

Today, information is everywhere.  The Internet allows instant connection to just about any repository of information that has an online presence.  Many traditional repositories of information, including the Library of Congress, are rapidly digitizing their collections.

The Internet has changed communication as well.  In the early 20th century, overseas telephone calls were expensive and rare, requiring coordination by letter so both parties were available at a coordinated time.  While this got easier with time, even as late as the 1960's, calling overseas often required advance reservations of a time slot, and were still not cheap.

By the 1970-'s, with modern satellite communications systems well under construction, such calls became both cheap and easy compared to just a decade earlier.

The Internet changed all that.  Today, there are multiple methods for connecting to people, even across the globe.  Email, texting, land line calls and even cell phones can be used to connect to people instantaneously.  While the online bulletin boards of the early 90's allowed communications by text, today, with such Internet giants as Facebook and Google, communication with huge numbers of people across wide swaths of the globe are as easy as sending an email, posting to a Facebook page or setting up a web site.  Skype and FaceTime allow instant face to face communication across the globe.

Any of this can be done on a cell phone.

This communication explosion has greatly changed the character of our political discourse.  While Americans slowly and quietly moved away from devout religious observance during the course of the late 20th century, the 21st, with the advent of instant internet communication, has resulted in an explosion of secular movements and groups.  The demographic of "None" as related to religious affiliation is the fastest growing category world-wide, not merely in the US.

Many in the movement attribute this to the Internet and the ability of people of a secular point of view to see - for the first time - that they are not alone and are part of a growing and dynamic community.

The growth of secularism, from the 60's on, resulted in a backlash of religiosity, starting with the Moral Majority, and Ronald Reagan's Presidency.  This backlash has grown in political influence, spurred on by the Republican Party allying itself with the religious right in a bid for increased political influence.  Successfully, I might add.

The Religious Right (RR) has gained influence on a regional and local basis through intense local organizing and political activism.  The resulting political power thus gained has allowed the Republicans control of a substantial majority of State Houses, allowing the RR to bend the political discourse far to the right of center.

A movement known as Dominionism (of which I've written here extensively) has orchestrated much of the successful passage of laws undermining education and science, causing much social controversy and political division, especially in the area of abortion and women's reproductive health.  In many States, there is a virtual dearth of any legal means of abortion, and now the fight is being directed towards a subject everybody thought was won decades ago - contraceptives.

So, today, after decades of successful advancement of women's rights, including the right to vote, the right to divorce, including no fault provisions, the right to contraceptives and abortion, and the right own property (largely won in the 19th century), women's groups are now having to gear up and spend vast amounts of money fighting for the continued existence of rights once thought secure.

Most of this is due to religion.  Patriarchy, biblical proscriptions against women (whether real or not) and a Dominionist movement intent on converting the US from a democracy to a theocracy have all brought the American political scene to a complete and utter standstill.

RR's efforts haven't stopped there.  There is a litany of things they are working on.

abstinence-only education - Instead of medically accurate information and thoughtful conversation about intimacy and childbearing, teens get promise rings and slut shame. 
Opposing protections and rights for children.  Thanks to the influence of biblical Christianity, the U.S. stands alone with Somalia in failing to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  
Undermining science - The scientific method has also become an existential threat to Bible belief. We know now that the Genesis creation story is myth, neurotransmitters rather than demons cause mental illness, mandrake roots and dove blood don’t improve female fertility or cure skin diseases, and the cognitive structures of the human mind predispose us to certain kinds of religious belief.
Promoting war - George Bush didn’t need to seek input from his earthly father about the invasion, because he asked his Heavenly Father.  Besides, Jesus is coming soon and war in the Middle East is predicted in the Bible.  That makes it not only inevitable, but—in a manner of speaking—desirable.
Abuse of LGBT persons and refusal of equal rights - They've fought equal rights for these folks for decades, and still are, and it would be bad enough if we were simply talking about history. But homophobic American Christians, thwarted at home, have turned to inciting oppression in Uganda and Nigeria where their hatred still finds fertile ground.
Destroying Earth’s web of life and endangering future generations - Climate change denial and refusal of reasonable methods of keeping our air and water clean and unpolluted is based on biblical scripture giving man "Dominion" (there that word is again) over the earth and all its animals, as well as the believed inevitability of the Second Coming, where God will simply create a new and better Earth guarantees that the RR will refuse to assist in doing anything to protect the environment or protect future generations from the consequences of our irresponsibility today.  Add Republicans' devotion to Corporate welfare, and the die is cast.
(Thanks to Valerie Tarico at for her ideas and some of her language.)

I guess the greatest harm in general that religion (right wing fundamentalism in particular) does to this country is through its insistence that we support Israel.  The most vile technique they use is to accuse detractors of being anti-Semitic.  Even people who have reasoned and logical arguments against that support are branded with that epithet.

I am not, in principle, opposed to Israel.  I am not even against some form of support for it.

But our foreign policy regarding Israel is held hostage by the RR for religious reasons (because of the Second Coming) and tolerates no deviation from complete and total support.  Regardless of whether American interests are harmed or even devastated by that support, they insist that we continue to support Israel, blindly and without digression.

This has resulted in anger towards the US and much hatred of us by the Muslim world, and has resulted directly in the attacks on the World Trade Center (both of them), and a continued campaign of terrorist activity against American interests.

Our responses to that have been goaded by the RR to the point that our constitutional rights are now under attack at home and US Intelligence has eroded America's reputation for even handedness and high standards of morality to the point of almost nonexistence.  The RR's toleration and indeed, insistence on, classifying water boarding and "advanced interrogation techniques" as acceptable has completely destroyed the ability of this country to hold other countries accountable for similar actions against our own citizens, resulting in the inability of the government to protect American Citizens overseas.

Even if the Progressive movement (such as it is) managed to gain political ascendancy in the next election by some miracle, it would take decades for us to regain our good reputation for being a humane and law abiding nation.  As it is, forget it.

Obviously, this examination of the negative affects of having the population of this country believe in superstitious Bronze Age beliefs is incomplete.  If I tried to classify it all, I'd have to write a series of books.  One wouldn't be enough.

But the short story is a beginning.  If the only negative affects of religious belief were what I have touched upon here, it would be bad enough to justify organizing the secularists of this country to incite political influence and action to combat it.

But it is far, far worse than this.  The struggle to overcome religiosity and its negative affects on this country will continue into the future, and may never be fully complete.  Christianity, Judaism and Islam have been here, collectively, for over three thousand or more years.  That kind of influence doesn't go away overnight; we've been fighting it since the beginning of the Renaissance in the 12th century.

Let's not allow it to make a comeback.

Robert W. Ahrens
The Cybernetic Atheist

Getting Sound Advice from MLK

By Gary Berg-Cross

Agonizing over the various conflicts around the globe I wondered what Martin Luther King might have said.  At the time he spoke up about the Vietnam war the main street press largely criticized him:

I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position

of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.
It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.

Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can’t hardly live on the same block together.
The judgment of God is upon us today. And we could go right down the line and see that something must be done—and something must be done quickly. We have alienated ourselves from other nations so we end up morally and politically isolated in the world. There is not a single major ally of the United States of America that would dare send a troop to Vietnam, and so the only friends that we have now are a few client-nations like Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and a few others.
This is where we are. "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind," and the best way to start is to put an end to war in Vietnam.

Well we are long past Vietnam but justice and judgment are still issues. 
Pushed by Neocons and ill served by career politicians lobbyists and a careerist, collaborative press we stumbled into Iraq.  We still brandish weapons at Iran, support authoritarian regimes, military-security states, occupations and drone populations into enemies at will.  We are grid locked and unable to stop the various wars that threaten.

The neocon voices are heard loudly in the land so perhaps a quick visit to the MLK memorial and some quotes brought up to date from him can put us in a better peace perspective.  What would MLK say?  And what goes through people's mind as they face the challenge of a moral life?

"I oppose the war in Vietnam (add your favorite here – Gaza, Ukraine, Iran etc.) because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world."
Anti-War Conference, Los Angeles, California, February 26, 1967.

"Injustice anywhere (again add your favorite here – Gaza, Ukraine, Iran, Lybia, Syria etc.) is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
Letter from Birmingham, Alabama jail, April 16, 1963.

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits." (Only we aren't going to pay for any of it.)
Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 1964

"It is not enough to say 'We must not wage war.' It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but the positive affirmation of peace." (I hear in Congress that we must restore full funding to DoD.)
Anti-War Conference, Los Angeles, California, February 25, 1967.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." (OK, I think we have the challenge and controversy, who’s standing where?)
Strength to Love, 1963.

"Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies."
New York City, April 4, 1967. (Oh that UN thing again.  What about American/Israeli/Russian etc. exceptionalism?)

"If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."
Christmas sermon, Atlanta, Georgia, 1967. (See above….our loyalties are too important to give to the world for free it seems.)

"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 1964. (OK, this temporary has gone on long enough.)

"Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in."
March for Integrated Schools, April 18, 1959. (I might make this a career, after all jobs are hard to come by  What does it pay?)

Contemplate these and see where you stand on events. Comments appreciated. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Negative Consequences of Believing in Superstition - Part II

This is Part II of a three part series.  (Go read Part I if you've not seen it yet!)


The subject of sex in the US is so screwed up, and it is mainly because of religion.  The system of patriarchy discussed above forces men and women into gender based roles.  While the social aspects of patriarchy are bad enough, the affects on sex and human sexuality are even worse.

As noted above, men are forced into a false and totally artificial image of "manhood", that is as false and artificial as the image of "womanhood" the ladies are forced into.  This produces mental and psychological stress and often damage that hurts the individuals, their families and their friends - often their employers as well.

Why?  Why is it damaging?

Several reasons.  (Stick with me - I'll get to LGBT issues in a bit.)

I think the most obvious is in personal confidence.  Body image, and how a person portrays him or herself sexually is extremely important in this country.  Heck, for that matter, in much of the world.  It affects our social standing, our family and how it is viewed by the larger society, and eventually, how and whether we are accepted as marriage potential.

Accordingly, we are obsessed by sex, we are obsessed with youth and the sexual aspects of it.  The secular commercial realm tells us that sex is good, it is natural and wholesome and, well, whoopee!


In American society, sexual beauty and attractiveness is so skewed from the norm that millions of Americans, both men and women, suffer from severe lack of self confidence because they perceive themselves as unattractive, through failing to live up to an artificial and false vision of beauty.  No, this isn't because of religion, it is because of rampant and unregulated capitalism.

Religion, or the so-called "Judeo-Christian" or "Abrahamic" religions, especially in this country, as mentioned above, enforce a patriarchy.  A large part of that system is the second class status of women, and therefore, control over their public behavior.

Christianity especially, enforces a view of sex that restricts sex to the role of procreation within a family context.  This comes, probably, from the role of the family, or the clan, as the center of Roman life.  The individual wasn't important, the family or family group, was.  Loyalty to that group was paramount, and for women, that meant only having sex with their husband, to preserve the purity of the bloodline.  Hence the religious obsession with sex as procreation, looking down on both abortion and contraception.  One because it is an "illegal" rejection of the man's seed, and the other as rejection of a man's control over his woman.

So, religion forces us into this weird, twisted image of sex - the patriarchal picture of gender roles, mixed with the god-smacked rejection of women as full humans, subservient to men, and under their full control.

This results in our social culture allowing this culture of rape.  Men are supposed to be virile, strong and manly, which is supposed to drive women into raptures of sexual frenzy.  Women are supposed to belong to men, which means they owe us sex, and they owe us their love and devotion.  Women who reject this and refuse to go along are subjected to campaigns of hate and vitriol, threats of rape and violence.

If a guy doesn't fit that manly, virile picture, he is a failure, and is ridiculed as such.


For women, you have to fit this image of womanhood that reflects the stay at home mother, homemaker, sexy wife and willing brood cow, while the larger social milieu tells you that you've got to be beautiful, sexy, and available to any guy that pinches your ass.  If you don't, you're a prude, and you'll never find a husband, especially if you are ugly.

In the meantime, religion tells you that if you DO, you are a slut, a sinner and you'll go to hell.

Guys, largely, get a pass on the religion thing because, you know, patriarchy.  Unless, of course, they aren't manly, so they're failures.  Or if they allow their wives to "hen-peck" them, they aren't following the bible, so they'll go to hell then, too.


Especially if they are rejected by the ladies.  Since this isn't anticipated by the traditional patriarchal framework, guys that see themselves as manly and virile who get rejected by the ladies anyway can't comprehend that rejection.  They get mad and blame their failure on the ladies, who, of course, OWE them sex.  Severe mental pain and emotional confusion are common resulting from this condition, and has been known to generate violent reactions.

Is it any wonder that Americans are so screwed up about sex?  The true wonder is how any of us manage to grow up with normal pictures of reasonable and responsible relationships in time to have families.

But wait, I'm not finished.  Not everybody is a cis-gendered, heterosexual human being.  Some folks are homosexual.  Some folks are trans-gendered, and some are bi-sexual.  There are other categories, but I don't feel qualified to talk about them.

These traditional roles I spoke of above, as screwed up as they are, aren't the whole picture, especially since they ignore our LGBT friends.  That alone is responsible for untold misery,  family fights and estrangements.  Since these folks don't fit the "normal" categories, they have traditionally been either ignored or forced into playing roles they were not comfortable with, and often beaten or killed for refusing.  All of them are condemned by religion, and totally ignored by the patriarchal system unless they rock the boat.

The 21st century's success in this country in advancing marriage equality for homosexual couples is a remarkable story of the LGBT movement's ability to go mainstream, but is still being fought tooth and nail by the religious right.

Demographics tells us that the religious will lose this fight.

But wait!  That's not all, folks!

Let's examine some other issues, like clergy abuse of both children and adults, sexually.

Everybody knows, by now, of the Roman Catholic child abuse scandal.  The RCC has spent millions of dollars in the US alone just to make this go away.  Not much to actually stop the abuse, but surely to make it go away.

One wonders, as one examines the issue and how the RCC hierarchy responded to the scandal at first.   How prevalent IS the abuse of kids by Catholic clergy?  And how long has it been going on?

There are some clues.

First, in Ireland, we've all heard of the "laundry scandal", where unwed mothers and their children were warehoused by the Church (with complicit authority from the Irish government of the day) in homes, and were made literal slaves in big laundries.  Scorned by the Church for their sexual sins, their children were as badly treated as they were.

This broke even bigger a couple of years ago and again recently when news broke (over here) of the discovery of almost 800 graves in a hidden graveyard, with an unknown number of bodies even hidden in an old unused septic tank.  Graves going back over a hundred years.

Also in Ireland, the scandal of a few years ago of stories of child abuse and murder in Irish Catholic monasteries. possibly going back hundreds of years.  Horrific stories of terrible abuse, both corporal and sexual, often combined.

In Europe a number of decades ago, there were archeological discoveries of monasteries and cloisters, built fairly close by one another, with hidden tunnels linking the two.  The most horrific part of the discovery were chambers off that tunnel containing the graves of infants and fetuses, most of whom were probably buried hours after or before birth.

All of this is evidence of a terrible epidemic of sexual malfunction in a religious hierarchy, over a thousand years old, denied sexual release and access due to official greed, excused and justified by religious scripture.

(For those who don't know, the RCC finally outlawed marriage not for religious reasons, but to end the bleeding of "church" property through inheritance to families of clergy, especially to noble families with large estates.  With no marriage allowed, thus no heirs, their property was "inherited" by the Church.)

Don't think that only the RCC is involved, preachers of almost every Protestant denomination regularly are arrested and either fired or also charged for either child abuse or sexually predatory abuse of adults.

It's all over the place.

Not to be outdone, Islam isn't far behind, as you may have noticed in the recent re-emergence of the quote of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.
He says: ‘A man can have sexual pleasure from a child as young as a baby. However, he should not penetrate vaginally, but sodomising the child is acceptable. If a man does penetrate and damage the child then, he should be responsible for her subsistence all her life. This girl will not count as one of his four permanent wives and the man will not be eligible to marry the girl’s sister… It is better for a girl to marry at such a time when she would begin menstruation at her husband’s house, rather than her father’s home. Any father marrying his daughter so young will have a permanent place in heaven.’ 
Read more.
Not only is this considered child abuse, but Islam has doubled down on it and authorized it because Mohammed did it.

At least, the Muslims are honest - they'll tell you God wants this to happen.

Talking about child abuse, let's talk about masturbation, something Christianity in most of its forms doesn't like to do.  In many denominations, it is banned and called out for being sinful and of the devil.

But now, scientifically, we know that it is not only a natural urge (even infants play with themselves) but it is known to be actually good for you!  It releases hormones and endorphins that make you healthier and live longer.

Heck, we know, both from scientific study and from statistics that people who have a long term sexual relationship that is happy for both parties not only stay together longer, but also live longer.  Regardless of whether they have kids or not.

So, in summary, religion in this country (and throughout the world) twists sex and sexuality in humans to the point that millions of people are, at best, dysfunctional and at worst, mentally ill and twisted towards pedophilia and sexual predatory practices, even the clergy.

It taints our marriages, our dating practices, and inculcates a culture of rape that regularly threatens the lives and well being of over a half of all women in the United States and probably causes a significant percentage of our divorces.

It directly harms our LGBT friends through violence and intimidation, forcing them into hidden lives and damaging stress by denying them a happy and healthy lifestyle.

And because sex keeps us healthy and can help us live longer, by discouraging sex in most forms and twisting our sexual practices so badly, religion is also killing us.

Are you mad yet?

(Come back tomorrow for Part III)

Robert W. Ahrens
The Cybernetic Atheist

5 Plays with Humanist Issues

by Gary Berg-Cross

It’s mid-summer and like classical Greek days some of the best takes on humanist issues are on display in plays. I’m thinking in particular about Contemporary American Theatre Festival’s (CATF) summer season that runs till August 3 in Shepherdstown, WV.  As in prior years 5 new plays are offered:

1.     North of Boulevard (Vanishing middle class and ethics)
2.     One Night by Charles Fuller (a play about two Iraqi War veterans, drifters, both PTSD victims)
3.     Uncanny Valley by Thomas Gibbons (Conversing with a robot)
4.     Dead and Breathing by Chisa Hutchinson  (Can Carolyn, a wealthy black widow dying by inches of cancer, persuade Veronika, her at-home hospice nurse, to kill her?  How does Veronika's  religion influence her decision?)
The blurb for this play described it this way:
"Full of surprises, this hilarious exploration into mortality and morality tests the boundaries of faith and forgiveness, prejudice and pridefulness, when the stakes are nothing short of life… and death."
5.     The Ashes Under Gait City (World premier) by Christina Anderson (prejudice in an Oregon town –see review)
As you can see each of them has an interesting topic. People seemed to like One Night despite the obviously dark topic.  I would have liked to see Uncanny Valley a futurist AI story about robot consciousness and it consequences. But, I was able to see my 2nd choice -playwright Bruce Graham’s “North Of The Boulevard" (CATF founder Ed Herendeen directs). 

It’s a morality play in an auto-repair garage (with 1 auto that never does get repaired) on the wrong side of the tracks.  Well the Boulevard in this version features blue collar Americans in a town with decaying businesses. Think of Richmond on a smaller scale.  It captures the idea that much of middle class America seems on the wrong side of top 3% America. The season is Christmas and there is some plastic tree decorating to do with whatever kindness is left. From the dialog we are scrapping off kindness from the bottom of the garage barrel.  Three childhood friends - Trip the garage owner, Bear a security guard & dim witted Zee kick around failed dreams amidst memories of high school athletic fame. Zee’s irreverent & crusty father provides some of the family drama. He’s been hardened up by life and has escaped into the garage and his last place of refuge counting on Trip’s kindness.
 All four lives bounce off crumbling walls in the fading light of day.
Little corruptions seem a routine part of their lives, but what if there is a way for the 3 buddies to share in a big, but unethical and illegal, win in casino America?  As individuals and a group can they convince themselves to take the gamble in order to achieve a new life for themselves and their families?  Or shall they walk away from the temptation?
It feels a bit like a 21st century "Death of a Salesman" and one is reminded of some thoughts from that great work as failure, hope and opportunity collide in fading American dreams: 

      “'s better for a man just to walk away.
      But if you can't walk away?
     I guess that's when it's tough.” 

     “The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy.” 
― Arthur MillerDeath of a Salesman

It’s not a philosophy course in ethics, but it could serve to kick off some of the classroom discussion.

You might give it or one of the other plays a try.

CATF puts on a full range of festivals within the festival.  They have art exhibits on display at the Shepherd University campus, but also a "Humanities at the Festival"  that features a series of free lectures, stage readings, post-show discussions, thematic classes, and what they call “late-night salons.” The Saturday lectures are free and Sunday shows after 6 are about half price.

Frank Center Stage, 260 University Drive, Shepherdstown, WV 25443. Tickets $30-$59,, 304-876-5443 (credit cards) or 304-876-3473

Friday, July 25, 2014

Study: Impact of religion on childrens ability to recognize fiction

By Mathew Goldstein

Are children innately inclined to believe that fantastical stories are true?  Or is the widespread tendency of children to believe that fantastical stories are true a result of their being taught by adults to so believe?  Kathleen H. Corriveau from the School of Education, Boston University, Eva E. Chen from the Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Paul L. Harris from the Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, carried out an experiment to answer these questions and the results have been published under the title Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds in Cognitive Science journal.

They divided 5-6 year old children into four groups based on whether they attended religious or secular school and whether they went to church or not.  They worded the same stories three different ways: Realistic, religious miracle, non-religious magical.  Some stories featured a well known fictional or historical character (e.g. Goldilocks or Thomas Edison), other stories featured a stranger.  They asked the children to evaluate if the story was real or pretend and asked them why they reached their conclusion.  They subsequential further varied the fantastical stories four ways according to whether the event was biblical or not and was described with the word "magic" or not.

When introduced to a character via a realistic story (none of the story events violated everyday causal constraints), all four groups of children categorized the character as real. Moreover, when justifying their categorization, they appealed to the reality-bound nature of the story events. All four groups of children were less inclined to categorize the protagonist as real when the story included an explicit reference to magic.  This indicates that young children realize that stories involving real people typically include events that could actually happen.

Very few of the no religion children (secular school and no religious worship) categorized the characters embedded in the religious stories as real. Among those that did, none justified that conclusion with a reference to God.  Indeed, whenever these no religion children did refer to religion—which they sometimes did in the context of the religious stories—it was to justify a decision that the character was pretend. By contrast, the other three groups of children frequently judged the characters in the religious stories to be real. Moreover, the three groups of religious children often made an appeal to religion to defend their conclusion that the story was true.

The no religion children also categorized the characters embedded in magical stories as pretend, and most of their justifications referred to the impossibility of a central event in the story. Religious children were less likely to judge the characters in the magical stories as pretend (about 50%) and in line with this equivocation, they made more appeals to reality and fewer appeals to impossibility than did secular children.

These results suggest that children are not born believers with a belief instinct.  Young children raised without religion have little difficulty recognizing that fantastical stories are fairy tales.  Yet all young children, with their limited amount of first hand experience and knowledge, are inclined to value and accept what their parents and other adults tell them.  Exposure to religious teaching convinces young children that some agents have special power to override the causal regularities of everyday experience.  These children will then readily accept that such extraordinary powers are also wielded by agents presented to them in narratives.

Religion thus undermines the natural ability of children to distinguish fanciful fiction from constrained reality.  Unfortunately, it appears that some of this negative impact persists through adulthood and thus a cycle of religious belief and indoctrination repeats itself across generations. This dependency on childhood indoctrination also implies the perpetuation of religion is fragile and can be broken.

The Negative Consequences of Believing in Superstition - Part I.

I was perusing Ophelia Benson's Facebook page last Saturday morning and ran across a post she put up Friday about the post on Dave Muscato's wall regarding Jaclyn Glenn's Youtube video slamming feminism and how she is disappointed - no, outraged - that AA is supporting Glenn's anti-feminism.

One of the comments (which I can't find to quote, dang it) made a comment about the negative consequences of believing in superstition.  It rang a bell with me, so here we are!

There are numerous negative things religion brings to society which many religious folks either overlook or are brainwashed into thinking they are good, mainly because they believe it's good because they're told it is, but have never actually examined the issues to see what the reality is.

But today, we're going to look at a few things.

As I see it, there are at lease three major areas in which religion (believing in a superstition) brings negative consequences to society.

  1. Patriarchy (Part I)
  2. Sex (Part II)
  3. Politics/Law (Part III)

Of course, these aren't the only things at issue, but each of these are major, affecting broad areas of society.  So, let's take them one at a time.

(This is going to be a long post, so I will post in installments.  This is the first, the others will follow tomorrow and Monday.)


Patriarchy is defined as:
1.  social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly :  control by men of a disproportionately large share of power
2.  a society or institution organized according to the principles or practices of patriarchy
This sounds very clinical, and almost reasonable, doesn't it?  But what are the consequences of these things?

In the modern context of our present day political scene, the relevant part of that is about the legal dependance of women and children, though we will see other consequences of it as well.

In today's western society, especially the US, the practice of patriarchy is at least partially based on religion.  In the Republicans' "War on Women", it IS based on biblical strictures requiring men to be the head of the household, and women being denied the right to be "in charge of" men.

In other words, they are relegated to second class citizens.

Now, in the larger US society, in the last hundred or so years, we've managed to back some of that off.  Women can now own property in their own names, vote, drive cars, work outside the home (and in fact, at jobs traditionally reserved for men), and can marry (or not) according to their own wishes.

But, I am going to back things up a bit and note some negative consequences of allowing the Fundies to begin denying women those rights, as they seem to want to do - which will highlight some ways in which we have failed to progress into a more modern way of thinking about women.

First of all, think about the term "dependance" in that definition above.  Legal dependance, especially. What does that entail?  Briefly, it means a woman (or a child) has no legal rights of her own.  She has to have a male guardian who has the right to "care" for her, as a legal responsibility.

That has two consequences.  The most obvious is that she has no rights of her own.  He can pretty much force her to obey his every wish, and she has no legal recourse, unless he is neglecting her welfare.  She is, in fact, virtually his property.  In many countries, this is in fact, the case.

But wait, there's another side to it.  HE is obligated to care for her.  That means he is responsible, legally, to feed her, clothe her and provide her with shelter.  This isn't something he has a choice in, it becomes his legal obligation, for which he is liable if he fails.

What if he can't?  What if his resources aren't up to the task?  Sure, he can neglect her to her detriment, but that leaves him vulnerable to accusations of neglect which may, if his society cares, cost him.

Either way, this kind of situation isn't exactly fair to either one.  Worse for the lady, since she is the one losing rights, but if she is prevented by the social or legal rules to not be able to work, the whole family suffers.  In fact, the entire society suffers.

This is actually the worst part of the patriarchal system.  The entire society, from the individual, to the family, to the potential employer, to the city, State and the entire country, everybody suffers, both socially and economically.  To stop half of the population from working is to cut your potential GDP in half, at the very least.  Even if you only go halfway and allow women to work, but restrict them to certain jobs (and, equally, restrict men to certain jobs) you are still preventing people from working in their best way and potentially most skilled career.  The potential of people working at their best level and in a skill that they are best suited for is huge, and the frustration (for both men and women) in being prevented from doing that is as huge as the potential.  The cost of such false restrictions based on arbitrary and unnatural reasoning is perhaps not as bad as a complete ban on women working, but it is a non trivial figure.

Society suffers in other ways.  Women are, actually, as smart as men, and as capable of doing anything men can, save perhaps (on average) some jobs or tasks requiring major body strength.  (...and even there, some women exceed that standard and do quite well in those circumstances, as on the other hand, some guys fail!) In the US, after over a century of women working, there is plenty of evidence that many aspects of society are better off with the participation of women.  Corporations find that women make better organizers, deal better with adversity and are better at mediating conflict.  In politics, women (when allowed to work independently) are often better at compromise and negotiations than men.

As costs have risen in recent decades, women have been forced into the workplace, bringing in much needed resources and allowing single women to raise children alone under better economic conditions than once was allowed.

I could go on, but it is obvious from these examples (which are only a few examples of many) that were women forced back into the home, the economy of the US would take a hit that would guarantee our immediate slide into third world status.  Poverty would become, instead of merely commonplace, rampant and virtually the norm.  The middle class would be destroyed, and those in poverty would be devastated completely.

Notice that I haven't even touched on the health care aspects of women's rights, and the devastation the American family would suffer were women no longer allowed to control their reproductive rights.  In fact, the proposed restrictions on contraceptives would be devastating to not only women, but to the entire country, as it would push us back into a time where women were not capable of stopping pregnancy.  (This does, of course, include the prohibitions against abortion.)  The social consequences of this would be to push many women out of the workforce, and reinstate the social pressures against allowing women to work, with the consequences noted in the previous paragraphs.

I haven't addressed the other side of the issue, which is the damage to men a patriarchal system can and does do.

This system not only imposes restrictions on women, but imposes strict (depending on the time period and the culture involved) roles for the two different genders.  (Note here, the refusal of this system to even acknowledge the existence of the LGBT folks!)  This framework of strict roles is restrictive and limiting for both men and women.  Men may have a larger menu of choices, but they are no less prevented from crossing that line than women are.

Some women are great corporate managers.  Some are great politicians.  Some aren't.  Many men just suck at those roles, and choose to do other things, including these days, staying home to take care of the kids.  Numerous articles have been written by guys who have done this, and it is liberating for them to be able to do so.  As it is liberating for women to be able to be corporate managers.

Some guys are fantastic secretaries, or office managers, or nurses.  Men can be social workers, cooks, day care workers, pole dancers and strippers.  And they can be good at it.

Patriarchy would prevent them from doing all this, as those are not "traditional" men's jobs.

Men are forced into a false and totally artificial image of "manhood", that is as false and artificial as the image of "womanhood" the ladies are forced into.  This produces mental and psychological stress and often damage that hurts the individuals, their families and their friends - often their employers as well.

It also forces men into this culture of rape we all know so well, but I'll deal with that in the "sex" topic.

In short, patriarchy is not a system that is supportive of society, but is damaging and harmful to a society that hopes to progress into a modern, peaceful, and productive society which accords equal rights for all citizens.

In short, it is un-American, in accordance with the ideals declared by us in the Declaration of Independence.

Some of the last points I raised also apply in the next section.

Come back tomorrow for Part II!

Robert W. Ahrens
The Cybernetic Atheist

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Events and Entropy are in the saddle

by Gary Berg-Cross

Ralph Waldo Emerson is supposed to have said:
"Events are in the saddle and ride mankind." 

It seems an apt image for these eventful times which are riding roughshod over humanity. Just a while ago things were bad enough with Veteran Affair scandals and the Supreme Court riding citizens, especially women, and favoring business, religious & sectarian interests with activist retro decisions. Sure there were climate change issues with a record year of temperature in 2013 and monster storms, but this all seems mild compared to the flood of happenings now. Did I mention Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan? Or someone with guns named Bundy? Sorry I am distracted. One worries that it’s a bit like climate change itself with old weather patterns shifting and new turbulences everywhere. Just a while ago scenes of families and children on our border filled headlines and the sights of the children tugged at our hearts. This has been blown away by new headlines.  The NYT captured only a tiny bit of the tumult and angst with:

A Week of Agony, From Eastern Ukraine to the Gaza Strip

Russia’s asymmetric and opportunistic proxy war in Ukraine has turned into a real war with bombing of cities and shoot downs. Events seem to be evolving to a new form of Cold War which will bring more proxy state battles, red scares and us-against-them reasoning.  The elite adults, our best and brightest, seem inefective again and the populous has lost faith in them.  While it is not yet the floodgate of the  Guns of August, we've just celebrated  the 100th anniversary of Austrian  Archduke's assassination in Sarajevo. Chaos breaths new opportunities for violence and so we see the acute escalation in another asymmetric conflict as the Israeli state bombards areas and tanks “churned into Gaza to hunt down militants raining rockets on Israel.”  

It’s déjà vu all over again with unending and escalating conflicts & crises that can’t be stopped by normal means and we drift into that helpless feeling that events and animosities are in control. Every side sees itself as victims and can justify the carnage. That's not a good long range vision and as they say eventually an eye for an eye culture leaves us blind.

A predictable, percolating fallout of this blindness is that truth and its pursuit becomes the first casualty of conflict.  Conflict is just too important to the conflicted to be covered in an objective way. Sound discussion is silenced by conflicting emotions as the 2014s gets defined as a time when “paroxysms of senseless tragedy that the world cries out for a halt.”  But there seems no easy way to halt events till “We Win!”  Or to consider it another way, peace loses.

I was foolish enough to take a book of readings on Peace for a short
vacation and the contrast between such thinking and curre,nt events was triply upsetting as I wished for more than being at peace but being able to make peace. But then the investment in armaments is much greater than the investments is peace-ments.

In human affairs we’ve had momentous times. Some leading up to war and others following it.  One thinks of WWI and its immediate aftermath which involved the two current hotbed locations of Russian with the communist revolution and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and, as discussed by Paul McGeough its dicing up by Britain’s Mark Sykes and France’s François Georges-Picot. They struck a deal on how to carve up the region should the Ottoman Empire collapse as a result of World War I. Fans included colonizing conservative pols like Winston Churchill:

”The British grabbed Palestine, attempted to set up puppet monarchies in Arabia and in 1921 cobbled together hostile peoples—Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Arabs—into the artificial and unstable kingdom of Iraq, ruled by the imposed Hashemite king Faisal. ….this form of indirect rule was "empire lite" as fashioned by Churchill, then colonial minister.(see Cambridge historian Catherwood’s Churchill's Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq)

Sure we need pols like Churchill at times that can ride events and like the feeling of control. But they can be invested in their own empires and occupations and associated visions and rhetoric that eventually un-horse us. As further discussed in McGeough's article on Mid-East borders, people are still devising ways of diving the territories up.

It’s the natural course of entropy that trends toward disorder, unless events are in the hands of a intelligent horseman.  So we’d like an intelligent horseman like FDR please. But then we'd need a whole stable of FDRs along with cultural change. Not likely, alas.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer reading on the question of science & religion compatibility

by Gary Berg-Cross
Dr. Gregg D. Caruso is happy to announce the publication of Science and Religion: 5 Questions . Gregg Caruso edited a collection of 33 interviews with some world's leading philosophers, scientists, theologians, apologists, and atheists.

Contributors include a Nobel Prize winning physicist, three Templeton Prize winners (well for balance?), 2 “Humanist of the Year” winners, “the leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism” (New York Times), a National Humanities Medal winner, a National Medal of Science winner, a Star of South Africa Medal winner, a Carl Sagan Award winner, a National Science Board’s Public Service Medal winner, a MacArthur Fellow, a Lakatos (Math) Award winner, an Erasmus Prize winner, a “Friend of Darwin Award” winner, a “Distinguished Skeptic Award” winner, the first Muslim to deliver the prestigious Gifford Lectures etc.

By names it includes Simon Blackburn (one of my favorites), Susan Blackmore (another), Sean Carroll, William Lane Craig, William Dembski, Daniel C. Dennett (yes another favorite), George F.R. Ellis, Owen Flanagan, Owen Gingerich, Rebecca Goldstein, John F. Haught, Muzaffar Iqbal, Lawrence Krauss (ditto), Colin McGinn (mysterian philosopher), Alister McGrath, Mary Midgley, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Timothy O'Connor, Massimo Pigliucci, Rev. John Polkinghorne, James "The Amazing" Randi, Alex Rosenberg, Michael Ruse, Robert John Russell, John Searle (always interesting), Michael Shermer (ditto), Victor Stenger, Robert Thurman, Michael Tooley, Charles Townes, Peter van Inwagen, Keith Ward, and I guess since we have Muslims and Reverends we need a Rabbi, so we have David Wolpe.

Here are some of the topics and questions where compatibility is confronted:

  • Are science and religion compatible when it comes to understanding cosmology (the origin of the universe),
  • biology (the origin of life and of the human species), 
  • ethics, and the human mind (mind brain dualism, souls, & the perpetual challenge of consciousness & free will)? 

The arguments in Biology for example include the complex question of chance in nature, and religious proponents suggests that it is not clear that the process of evolution operates by chance (as is often claimed), since the process could be guided by God, and if one insists that we must regard it as operating by chance, then one seems to be begging the question. Evolutionary theory, in short, does not show that there is no design in nature, he notes, especially since it reveals the existence of incredible biological complexities, coupled with the fact that the probabilities of these occurring all throughout nature are staggeringly low. Dennett, of course takes on such arguments with counters that evolution could include many things such as "Supermanism, and he suggests that if we gave him enough time he could produce widespread belief in Supermanism."

Other topics addressed include:

  • Do science and religion occupy non-overlapping magisteria? 
  • Is Intelligent Design a scientific theory? 
  • How do the various faith traditions view the relationship between science and religion? 
  • What, if any, are the limits of scientific explanation? 
  • What are the most important open questions, problems, or challenges confronting the relationship between science and religion, and what are the prospects for progress? 

For interested parties the book is available at Amazon:
More info at: