Monday, August 31, 2015


from Samantha McGuire (WASH, President) 

WASHCon15 Early Bird Tickets End August 31st! Buy Now!

WASH will host the WASHCon15 regional conference in October in Lynchburg, VA. The conference will take place at the Lynchburg Downtown Holiday Inn, October 2-4, 2015
The event will feature actor, speaker and entertainer John Davidson on Saturday night and activist Margaret Downey as MC during the event. 

Other announced speakers are:
  • Ron Lindsay, Center for Inquiry President and CEO , 
  • Julien Musolino, author and scholar 
  • Tom Flynn, Executive Director Council for Secular Humanism 
  • Dr. Andy Thomson, author and psychiatrist
  • Dr. Jason D. Heap, United Coalition of Reason Executive Director , and 
  • Linda LaScola, author and researcher .

There will be a social event and speaking sessions on Friday evening, speaking sessions all day Saturday and a banquet on Saturday night followed by “An Evening with John Davidson” and live musical entertainment by local band URTH. For the most up to date information on the schedule, speakers and to register go to

Combined Event Ticket: Includes Friday Night Social, Saturday Conference sessions including lunch and refreshments, access to exhibitors, Saturday Evening Banquet and Celebration with John Davidson.

Conference Only Ticket: Includes Friday Night Social, Saturday Conference Session including lunch and refreshments, access to exhibitors.

Banquet Only Ticket: Includes Saturday Evening Banquet and Celebration with John Davidson.

Speaker and WASH Officer Breakfast: Breakfast Saturday morning with Conference Speakers and WASH officers.

In order to receive WASH Member pricing if you are not already a Member, please go to the “Join/Renew WASH Membership” tab on the main WASH website.

We hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

ACLU sues to stop new Nev. School vouchers

Edd Doerr ( notes the Washington Post, article, Aug 28. “ACLU sues to stop new Nev. School vouchers,” by Emma Brown. Here is the comment Edd posted on line  ----

Nevada's Republican-rammed-through school voucher plan clearly violates Article XI, Sections 2, 9 and 10 of the state constitution. If the legislature had done the honorable thing and tried to amend the constitution, the amendment would have been rejected by the voters. How do we know? Because the neighboring states of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Colorado have had twelve referendum elections in which vouchers or similar schemes to divert public funds to private schools were rejected by an average margin of 64% to 36%. Nevada voters would surely follow suit.

And the annual PDK/Gallup education poll released on August 23 showed opposition to vouchers at 57% to 31%.

Nevada's GOP lawmakers thumbed their noses at the state constitution, at the voters, at the public schools that serve 95% of the state's kids, and at the religious liberty of the state's citizens, their right not to be forced by government to support religious institutions. 

See ACLU site for more.

Liberal group claims Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney, Donald Trump, others are draft dodgers

Relayed by Gary Berg-Cross via Edd Doerr On Behalf Of Jim McCollum.
As the silly political season advances and hardlines are draw as is all we need is toughness it is useful to consider some historical context.
A group called Liberals Are Cool applied that term in an Internet meme - an idea or concept shared via social media - to six well-known Republicans – Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Dick Cheney, Ted Nugent, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.
"Q: What do these ‘Patriotic Americans’ have in common? A: They are all Draft Dodgers," according to the meme received March 17 by PolitiFact New Jersey.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Can Vouchers Fix Vegas’s Schools? No says Edd

(Aug 26) New York Times ran an op ed, “Can Vouchers Fix Vegas’s Schools?”, by U of Nevada English prof Brittany Bronson. Here is the response Edd Doerr  posted on line  --

Nevada's Republican-rammed-through school voucher plan clearly is out of sync with the state's constitution (Article XI, Sections 2, 9 and 10). If the Republican lawmakers had done the honorable thing and allowed the state's voters a say, they would surely have voted the voucher plan down. How do we know? Because voters in the surrounding states of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Colorado have rejected vouchers or their variants eleven (!) times by two to one margins over the years. And the 47th annual PDK/Gallup education poll released on August 23 showed opposition to vouchers nationwide by 57% to 31%. The poll showed that even Republicans are divided on vouchers 46% to 46%.

Fewer than 5% of Nevada's kids attend private schools, most of them run by churches. So the voucher plan is clearly a blatant all-out attack on public education and religious liberty, the right of citizens not to be forced by government to support religious institutions. The plan can only promote the fragmentation of the school population along religious, ideological, social class, ethnic, ability level and other lines.

Sadly, diverting public funds to private schools is now standard Republican policy nationwide, including the positions of all of the GOP presidential aspirants.

Edd Doerr (

Friday, August 28, 2015

More demanding diplomacy needed to preserve peace

By Mathew Goldstein

The P5+1 countries, in negotiating the recent agreement with Iran, made multiple concessions that are inconsistent with the goals that they publicly declared they would pursue in the negotiations. During the final debate with Republican presidential candidate Romney in 2012, Bob Scieffer asked Obama what sort of Iran deal he would accept. Obama replied: "The deal we'll accept is that they end their nuclear program." The negotiations were meant to deal with Iranian violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT provisions last forever. But the NPT is notoriously weak and signatories that want to cheat have many opportunities to do so. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement was supposed to add strict verification measures that would last forever to protect the integrity of the NPT.

The underground Fordow uranium enrichment site was discovered by United States, French, and British government spy agencies. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed El-Baradei asserted that "Iran should have informed the IAEA the day they had decided to construct the facility," based on the provisions of the Subsidiary Arrangements to Iran’s Safeguards Agreement. In 2003, Iran had agreed to modify its Subsidiary Arrangements with the IAEA, with the modified arrangement requiring Iran to report planned nuclear facilities when a decision on construction is made, rather than 180 days before the facility is scheduled to receive nuclear material. Iran countered that it had ceased implementation of the arrangement in protest of UN sanctions in March 2007, and justified its unilateral abrogation of the arrangement by claiming that its parliament, the Majlis, never ratified It. However, modification of subsidiary arrangements is done by states without parliamentary ratification, which effectively negates Iran’s argument. The IAEA also disputes Iran's right to unilaterally withdraw from its Subsidiary Arrangements, and has never accepted Iran's 2007 decision to do so. Regardless of the validity of Iran's claim, satellite imagery and intelligence sources indicate that construction began no later than 2005, at least two years before Iran's attempted withdrawal.

In 1991, Iran secretly imported from China one metric ton of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which it was obligated under its IAEA safeguards agreement to report to the Agency, but did not. In 1999 and 2002, Iran conducted tests on test centrifuges installed at Kalaye Electric Company, its secret centrifuge R&D facility, using the Chinese-supplied UF6. These tests constituted violations of Iran’s safeguards agreements.

Iran failed to declare the following activities to the IAEA: The importation of natural uranium, and its subsequent transfer for further processing. The processing and use of the imported natural uranium, including the production and loss of nuclear material, and the production and transfer of resulting waste. The use of imported natural uranium hexafluoride for the testing of centrifuges, as well as the subsequent production of enriched and depleted uranium. The importation of natural uranium metal and its subsequent transfer for use in laser enrichment experiments, including the production of enriched uranium, the loss of nuclear material during these operations, and the production and transfer of resulting waste. The production of a variety of nuclear compounds from several different imported nuclear materials, and the production and transfer of resulting wastes. The production of uranium targets and their irradiation in the Tehran Research Reactor, the subsequent processing of those targets (including the separation of plutonium), the production and transfer of resulting waste, and the storage of unprocessed irradiated targets.

Additionally, Iran failed to declare the facilities where nuclear material (including the waste) was received, stored and processed; provide in a timely manner updated design information for a research reactor located in Tehran; as well provide in a timely manner information on two waste storage sites.

Iran failed to report uranium conversion experiments to the IAEA. Iran also failed to provide the agency with design information for a variety of nuclear-related facilities. These included the following: A centrifuge testing facility. Two laser laboratories and locations where resulting wastes were processed. Facilities involved in the production of a variety of nuclear compounds. The Tehran Research Reactor (with respect to the irradiation of uranium targets), the hot cell facility where the plutonium separation took place, as well as the relevant waste handling facility. Iran failed on many occasions to co-operate to facilitate the implementation of safeguards, through concealment of its nuclear activities.

Iran is a determined proliferator that is trying to hold onto its option of becoming a nuclear weapons state, in violation of the NPT, and the international negotiators are tasked with stopping it, and returning it to the fold of the NPT. An Iranian interest in negotiating emerged only in 2013 after harsh and biting sanctions were put in place. Iran’s interest in coming back to the table was only to lift sanctions – nothing changed as far as its nuclear interest. So these negotiations are a classical zero-sum game where one side comes out the winner and the other side the loser. The results have recently been made public and the outcome is unfortunate: The P5+1 have failed.

Iran lies about lying. It's narrative is that it has done no wrong. So the P5+1 countries are trying to stop Iran from doing something that it does not admit to trying to do. Given this context, there is no logic in agreeing to sunset clauses. Yet under the JCPOA, after the ten-to-fifteen-year restrictions have ended, Iran may expand its enrichment activities without restrictions on technology, enrichment level, and locations. This will allow Iran to shrink its break out time to almost zero which would render any remaining efforts to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons essentially meaningless.  Because this agreement blocks Iran from nuclear weapons for no more than a measly fifteen years (even if Iran strictly abides by the agreement) it is little more than a capitulation to Iran.

Libya, South Africa, and Sweden agreed to anytime, anywhere inspections.  Ukraine destroyed all of its nuclear infrastructure.  Instead of "any time any place” inspections, the JCPOA substitutes a concept called “managed access to military facilities." This is exactly the kind of ambiguous concept that the Iranians wanted. Furthermore, instead of inspections carried out within 24 hours of a request, it is set to 24 days. More than three weeks is sufficient time to hide from the inspectors high explosive testing related to nuclear weapons, a small centrifuge manufacturing plant, or the use of advanced centrifuges.

The JCPOA sets a fifteen year 300 kilogram cap on Iranian stockpiles of low enriched uranium but then allows for exceptions, thus providing Iran with an opportunity to decrease it's break out time. There is no provision to ensure the IAEA can verify how many centrifuges Iran has manufactured. A 30 day window to veto imports of sensitive dual use goods to Iran is too short to make reliable judgements.

Providing clarity regarding the different penalties for different degrees of lawbreaking is a basic element of any legal system. Yet there are no collective penalties of differing severity specified in response to infractions of different scale in the JCPOA. The only specified penalty is a reimposition of sanctions which results in an immediate and complete cancelation of the agreement. This is a drastic step that the P5+1 is likely to seriously consider only for large scale infractions, thus leaving Iran with opportunity to get away with repeated small and moderate sized infractions.  Furthermore, the "snapback" of sanctions mechanism, which expires after ten years, excludes contracts that were signed before the violations were declared, reducing its impact on Iran.

The committee to rule on potential violations will include Iran as a member. So the player that is a known violator, cheater, deceiver, and liar, for years, is on the violation judging committee. Why? For the purpose of upholding Iran's narrative that it is not a bad player. At the Munich Security Conference last February, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was interviewed and gave his fairy tale – that Iran never did anything wrong, that there is no evidence against it, that it is wrongly accused, that all the sanctions were baseless. No one challenged him.

The IAEA has 12 outstanding questions on past Iranian military nuclear production work. This is a file based on the intelligence input submitted by 10 different countries, all documenting Iranian activities linked to suspicions of nuclear weaponization. It includes research into building a nuclear warhead, evidence of plans for an implosion device, detonators – all the stuff that has no civilian explanation but obviously is purely military in nature. The Vienna nuclear deal stipulates that Iran must provide answers to these questions by October. The IAEA issues a report in mid-December. If this procedure fails to get satisfactory answers from Iran, and the P5+1 accepts the Iranian intransigence by nevertheless proceeding with the lifting of sanctions, then this will set a precedent for rewarding such intransigence that will undermine the future prospects of not only this agreement, but other such agreements.

Since 2012 the IAEA has tried to get into Parchin, a site that is a prime suspect for Iran's military related nuclear work, and Iran stonewalled these efforts. Iran has not been sitting on its hands in Parchin. There is satellite imagery of its cleanup operations there. So much time has gone by. When it finally allows one inspection, there is very little chance inspectors will find anything. Iran can then present the inspection results as a vindication.

A reason that the P5+1 surrendered so much to Iran in the negotiations is that they failed to dispute Iran's ongoing narrative that it did no wrong. Because Iran lost the trust of the international community by cheating on its commitments, and deceiving the international community for decades, its nuclear infrastructure, which lacks a non-military justification, should in the main be dismantled. However, that did not happen since Iran's narrative that it did no wrong was not challenged and the negotiations were instead conducted on a give and take basis between two equals seeking to reach a middle ground compromise. The notion that Iran must work to regain the trust of the international community, and therefore there is no equivalence between Iran and the P5+1 with regard to this negotiation, was absent. The U.S. government claims that it did everything it could to get the best possible deal, yet this is belied by the P5+1 negotiating with Iran from the mistaken premise that confronting Iran with its history of cheating would be counter-productive. The result is that under the JCPOA Iran will retain an enrichment program on a scale that heretofore has not been justified by the country’s practical needs. 

We don’t want to be in the situation where the Iranian government, whose leadership is prone to fanatical and hateful rhetoric (it's leadership refers to Israel as a cancerous tumor that must be, and will be, annihilated) and funds and arms those who endorse similar fanaticism, can break out to nuclear weapons whenever it wants, and the international community cannot stop it. Yet under the JCPOA it is now foreseeable that in as little as 10 years Iran will posses a vast nuclear project, working on a breakout capability in whatever aspect they can. The P5+1, by producing the JCPOA, are guilty of undermining the integrity of the NPT.  The negative implication for the world is too likely to be harsh.

It is not too late for the P5+1, with a nudge from the U.S. Congress, to insist on a no nonsense agreement.  The U.S. Senate placed conditions on its approval of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America which were eventually incorporated into the final multilateral agreement. The Senate also amended the treaty with the World Health Organization and WHO accepted the revision. There are over 200 instances where the Senate insisted on treaty modifications and in many cases the treaty was successfully renegotiated and then passed by the Senate. Congress has a role in influencing international agreements, including executive agreements such as the JCPOA.

The existing JCPOA needs to be strengthened and the P5+1 therefore may need to resort to arm twisting. If Congress rejects the current deal then the countries of the world will have a choice to either do business with the 17.4 trillion dollar United States economy or with 400 billion dollar Iranian economy. It will be in the self-interest of most countries not to do business with Iran, compelling Iran again to the negotiating table. Meanwhile, the IAEA will continue inspections of declared sites and a reconfiguration of centrifuges to produce highly enriched uranium would be detected.  Iran knows that banishing the inspectors would risk a military strike on its nuclear infrastructure.  A good deal would be permanent with no sunset clauses, with anytime, anywhere, inspections within 24 hours, with an upfront and satisfactory account of Iran's past nuclear weapons development related activity, with multiple penalties of differing severity proportional to infractions of differing degrees, with a physical dismantling of Iran's superfluous nuclear infrastructure, and without the various other ambiguities and weaknesses. With more effort the JCPOA could become a genuinely good agreement.

Aborting Aristotle

Aborting Aristotle, by  Dave Sterrett. St Augustine’s Press, 2015, 121 pp, $17.

a review by Edd Doerr

This odd little opus, a review copy of which arrived in  my mailbox unsolicited, is an anti-abortion screed extruded by an evangelical publisher and concocted by a youngish Southern Evangelical Seminary grad who evidently dwells in a rickety Ivory Tower somewhere in the Twilight Zone beyond Cloud Nine. It dwells at length on Plato and Aristotle, as if they were relevant to the subject today, mentions Augustine and Aquinas, neither of whom believed that human personhood begins at conception, and, while abortion is a response to problem pregnancies incurred by the female half of the human population, says not a word about women, women’s rights of conscience, women’s religious freedom, or women’s health. Indeed, no woman is even quoted or referred to in the book. (Has he ever really talked to a live woman?) Nor does the evangelical author discuss the Bible, which does not condemn abortion and actually tends to support the view that personhood begins at birth (see Genesis 1:27 and 2:7) or modern science, which is clear that the functions of personhood are not possible until brain development permits consciousness, sometime after 28-32 weeks of gestation. This opus minimus grandly pontificates on its last page, rather like the mouse with an erection floating down the river on his back yelling “Raise the drawbridge!”: “These classical truths could help progressive [huh?] ethicists who are blinded by an incoherent naturalistic worldview, become more open-minded about the dignity and personhood of unborn human beings.” And to think that real trees were cut down to produce this, uh, book.

Historic Philie case upheld church, state separation

Edd Doerr (arlinc.orgprovides a link to:
“Historic Phila. Case upheld church, state separation”, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 12.. 

The author, Burton Caine, is a professor of law at Temple University, a past president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Philadelphia, and currently chair of the board of directors of Americans for Religious Liberty .

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Elections & Issues of Interest to the Public

by Gary Berg-Cross

I think that Noam Chomsky was the first author I read that pointed out the fact that issues that the public consider important are often not those deemed important for discussion & action by the ruling and elite class.  And the ruling elites often have different opinions on the issues that the public considers important which are things that affect them every day and are close at hand.  Examples include employment opportunities, debt and health as well as related items such as political corruption.  Add to this things like jobs going overseas, tax breaks for the wealthy, trade deals that lead to jobs going overseas, too-big-to-fail banks that escape responsibility and soldiers going to war and we have a host of problems that an oligarchic system doesn’t handle issues to public satisfaction.  Chomsky put it succinctly in an 11 year old article (October 29, 2004), called “The Disconnect in US Democracy

“  Often the issues that are most on people’s minds don’t enter at all clearly into debate"

True.  But every four years or so we have elite candidates who stand up and say they are talking about the issues that really matter to the American public.  Often this is lip service and a search for some OK words that will get ruling class candidates support from funders and action by their base of 10% or so.  It is enough to get through the election cycle.

Nearly eleven years ago  Noam Chomsky commented that,the national presidential election obsession misses the significantly greater relevance of social movements:

“Every four year yeas a huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’ But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics…

Polls often suggest what is on people’s  mind. You can see some analysis of what non party folks think at a recent Vox posting  by Lee Drutman "What Donald Trump gets about the electorate".

So while elite-funded an supported Republicans want to cut social security a majority of voters in both parties (in the abstract) want to do the opposite & increase it. But during a campaign pols find ways of brushing them off with fears like deficits from SS but not the military expenditure or tax breaks.

Back around 2004 then Vice President Dick Cheney showed how power speaks to people’s interests in response to ABS News’ Martha Raddatz question about recent polls showing that two-thirds of the U.S. populace thought the U.S. war in (on) Iraq was “not worth fighting.”

You may remember that Cheney gave one of his snake cold smiles  and smirked, “So?”

Raddatz  seemed surprised at the candor and followed up with “So…you don’t care what the American people think?” Nonplussed Cheney gave a simple “No” followed by “I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in public opinion polls.” 

Steven Kull, director of Program on International Policy Attitudes, noted four days after Cheney’s remarks that, the preponderant majority of Americans disagreed with this undemocratic, power monger sentiment.

Which brings us to this era’s political campaign when we the (disheartened) people have a constrained say about “how the way our system is set up” as Chomsky puts it.  Polls show that 90+ percent of U.S. citizens agree that “government leaders should pay attention to the views of the public between elections “ but it often comes down to this narrow window of time when pols have to appeal to public sentiment.  But pols have many things going for them in the United States of Amnesia.  There is the power of money, spin doctoring, disingenuous people and invested interests, the fog of hot button emotions, appeals to making America great (again) all playing to gullibility. Hearing a blend of populism, anger and nationalism, people can’t tell the difference between someone who sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about and someone who is actually serious about the issues. It’ results in the phenomena  of “What’s the matter with Kansas” evolved and writ large.

We are misled by many superficial things such as a connected feeling evoked by crafted, confident messages that candidates sound like me or feel our pain although our past experience is that this is largely faked by people with practice skill that plays like reality TV.

Or every 4 years accumulated anger and the search for someone to blame leads to one thought- stick it to them and throw the bums out.  This works well for some outsiders who position themselves for that gorge-like space yawning between the 2 established parties.  This may appeal to some moderates as some new, exciting centralist position but is it?  A recent WaPo article on democratic challenges and the misleading middle by E.J. Dionne cautioned us about the emotional impatience of falling for empty authenticity as we cast old pols out:  

In country after country, traditional, broadly based parties and their politicians face scorn. More voters than usual seem tired of carefully focus-grouped public statements, deftly cultivated public personas, and cautiously crafted political platforms that are designed to move just the right number of voters in precisely the right places to cast a half-hearted vote for a person or a party.
The word of the moment is "authenticity," and that's what electorates are said to crave. There's certainly truth here, but the science of persuasion is advanced enough that authenticity can be manufactured as readily as anything else. In any event, I am not at all certain that an authentically calm, authentically moderate, authentically practical and authentically level-headed politician would have a prayer against the current tide. Voters instead seem in a mood to demand heavy doses of impatience, resentment and outrage, whether these emotions are authentic or not."
Some advice in the midst of this includes a healthy dose of critical thinking and skepticism about what goes on in these media circus info tents and a larger movement prospective along the lines of, again, Chomsky’s earlier advice for a manufactured consent culture.  We need something that transcends this every 4 years I get to chose from the already chosen list of options.  We need a ground up movement that is responsive to people real interests.

“The urgent task for those who want to shift policy in progressive direction – often in close conformity to majority opinion – is to grow and become strong enough so that that they can’t be ignored by centers of power. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its foundations include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years…election …choices…are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome.” Chomsky in“The Disconnect in US Democracy

Sunday, August 16, 2015

An academic theology argument against contemporary atheism

Atheism stands or falls on the merits.  To determine if atheism is properly justified we must consider the best available arguments that atheism is unjustified. Accordingly, atheists should know how today's theistic academic theologians argue that atheism is mistaken. Eric E. Hall is the assistant professor of theology and philosophy at Carroll College, a coeducational Catholic liberal arts school in Montana that prepares its students, 60% of who are Catholic, for various careers, including priesthood, law, medicine, engineering, and teaching.  I thank Professor Hall for providing us with an article Gimme that old-time atheism [Helena Independent Record, August 15, 2015] that begins confidently with this assertion: "Most contemporary atheists get it wrong."

Professor Hall argues that "today’s atheism tends to stand on an absolutely self-contradictory claim: only that which can be seen can be known. (It’s a pseudo-scientific claim.)". Generalizations are, by definition, not confined to asserting only that which has already been directly observed.  Professor Hall points out that atheism is itself a generalization (it is not a directly seen object).  So by rejecting generalization atheism is self-contradictory.  Is Professor Hall right? Is this a fatal flaw with a central premise of atheism?

Atheism is rooted in dismissing as probably false those factual conclusions that lack a logical connection to something that has been observed, particularly when our observations are instead logically connected to a contradictory factual conclusion.  There is a subtle but critical difference here with Professor Hall's straw-man mischaracterization of atheism's underlying premise.  Atheism affirms that we can indirectly infer from logical connection with observations while Professor Hall is mistakenly claiming that atheism denies this possibility.  Atheism is a best fit logical inference from our observations regarding how the universe functions (this is one of the reasons that I refer to my atheism as a belief).  Thus there is nothing here that is "self-contradictory" or "pseudo-scientific".  Scientific theories are similarly logical best fit with observations models and as such are also generalizations rooted in observations.  

Metaphysical naturalism is a very broad generalization and there is no correspondingly broad consensus that metaphysical naturalism is true, therefore atheism is not a science textbook conclusion.  Yet atheists are employing an iterative inductive/deductive, empirical based, approach to try to distinguish fiction from fact. This is the same approach utilized by good plumbers, engineers, medical professionals, historians, philosophers, etc. This is the approach taken by infants when they opt to avoid walking over transparent floors that are suspended high above the ground as they develop an awareness of the risk of falling from experience (it takes more time to learn that the transparent floors are nevertheless safe).  We know that science is successful only when it employs naturalistic methods and reaches naturalistic conclusions. Therefore it is metaphysical supernaturalism, not metaphysical naturalism, that is the more self-contradictory and psuedo-scientific (and also presumptuous) belief.

It is no surprise that theistic academic theologians working at religious institutions, such as Professor Hall, prefer an "old time atheism" that is focused on existential angst because then they can promote theism as a form of therapy. Theists often elevate psychological and purely intellectual considerations over empirical considerations (and agnostics often prioritize what we do not know over acknowledging what the available empirical evidence communicates).  If this is the best that academic theologians can do in arguing that atheism is unjustified, and I believe that this is close to the best they can do, then they have little prospect of winning this argument.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Who Won the Battle Over the Church-State Wall of Separation in 1832?

by Gary Berg-Cross

As we advance (or is it retreat?) into the primary season we are likely to see a “faux pas” of wedge issues as part of the cultural wars that pols use.  Issues about religious beliefs and the separation of church and state context are type of these. Examples include lingering issues over religious exemptions to the Affordable Health Care Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act but new ones continue to pop up.  

A recent one concerned a family bakery owned by a Christian who refused to make wedding cakes for homosexual couples. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that he can’t refuse them. The baker was on Fox News' "The Kelly File" to present his point of view and a counter view was argued by Rob Boston.  You can see the snippet at:

A sad aspect of contemporary life is that our political and judicial systems are quite damaged and sometimes sweep things under the rug rather than addressing challenges.

I happen to be reading Jon Meacham’s American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House ( a free google books version is available.) which provides a view of when a wedge issue was dealt with pretty directly by populist, 7th president Jackson rebutting early attempt by Evangelicals to break through the wall of separation by inserting prayer as a wedge issue into the political process.

Meachen notes (see also a related article) that on religion Andrew Jackson was a surprising figure in American life. While respected the religious aspect of life he refused to formally join the Presbyterian church while in public life.  He thought it would be seen as craven to wave one’s religion at people. And while grew more faithful as he aged  presidentially, as far as politics he was essentially Jeffersonian on church and state, endorsing Jefferson’s “wall of separation.” He did so partly because he believed the church could be corrupted by the state and certainly in part because he could see it corrupting politics in his own time.

Jackson did have real battles with the clergy on moral issues and their calls for the formation of what was to be called the “Christian party in politics.” Jackson was a political enemy of the Evangelical Protestants of the day, who denounced his policies and supported his opposition - the Whig Party and Henry Clay. In the midst of these cultural wars political
opponents like Clay counted  on the Evangelical vote to defeat Jackson in the election year  of 1832 when Jackson ran for a 2nd term.  And a cholera outbreak (natural event but looked on as divine punishment by some) provided an  issue –should the Federal government intervene in a terrible cholera epidemic by appealing to prayer?  Jackson refused to endorse legislation setting up a national day of prayer to address the cholera outbreak.

As discussed by Meachem, Jackson was called on by members of Congress along with “influential” religious leaders (they of the 2nd Great Awakening) to call for a national day of prayer and fasting in response to a cholera epidemic. It does harken back to an era when infections were not understood and religious tradition dictated appeals to divine power to heal what doctors could not. Cholera was perceived, sort of like Hurricane Katrina to some, as divine retribution among many pious evangelicals.  To them prayer was a necessary as part of the remedy.

In a word Jackson refused (and prevailed).  To be sure he softening the argument by not challenging the efficacy of prayer. Indeed he could say that hoped “that our country may be preserved from the attacks of pestilence....  

But he opposed government participation in something that should be up to individual conscience and not act for government.  For to make the federal government involved would be, he said:

“While I am constrained to decline the designation of any period or mode as proper for the public manifestation of this reliance. I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President “
and he feared that this religious encroachment could:
“disturb the security which religion now enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.”

It might not be Supreme Court law, but it is historical precedent that contemporary, populist pols might look to: avoid craven responses and be guided by constitutional limits and founder wisdom to handle these type of wedge issues.

Friday, August 14, 2015

We do not have free will

By Mathew Goldstein

Here is a 50 minute video of biologist Jerry Coyne speaking at the Imagine No Religion meeting in Vancouver in June on the topic We do not have free will.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


By James A. Haught (provided by Edd Doerr) 

Tribune News Service (TNS)

One of my history-minded friends has a long-range political view summed up
in three words: Liberals always win. Complex social struggles may take
centuries or decades, he says, but they eventually bring victory for human
rights, more democratic liberties and other progressive goals.

Look how long it took to end slavery. Generations of agitation and the
horrible Civil War finally brought triumph for liberal abolitionists and
defeat for conservative slavery supporters.

Look how long it took for women to gain the right to vote. In the end,
liberal suffragettes prevailed, conservative opponents lost.

Look at the long battle to give couples the right to practice birth control.

Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was jailed eight times for the
crime of mentioning sex - but she eventually transformed U.S. society. A
Supreme Court victory in 1965 struck down contraceptive bans for married
couples, and a follow-up victory in 1972 struck them down for unwed ones.
Liberals won, conservatives lost.

The same pattern applies to the struggle for Social Security pensions for
retirees - and unemployment compensation for the jobless - and equality for
blacks - and Medicare and Medicaid - and equality for women - and food
stamps for needy families - and expanded health insurance under the
Affordable Care Act - and equality for gays - etc. These stormy social
conflicts ended the same way: Liberals always win. Conservatives always

Of course, history doesn't move in a clear, predictable manner. Germany was
advanced and modern - yet it sank into the horrors of Nazism. Other setbacks
occur. But the overall tide of civilization flows in a progressive

In his landmark book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature," Harvard
psychologist Steven Pinker concludes that all sorts of human evils - war,
genocide, murder, rape, torture, dueling, wife-bashing, attacks on
minorities, etc. - have faded enormously from the Western world.
International warfare has virtually vanished. Pursuit of such humane goals
lies at the heart of the liberal agenda.

When I first became a news reporter in the 1950s, conservative Bible Belt
morality was enforced by laws. It was a crime for stores to open on the
Sabbath. It was a crime to look at the equivalent of a Playboy magazine, or
to read a sexy book. (Our mayor once sent cops to raid bookstores selling
"Peyton Place.")

Back then, it was a felony to be gay, and those who were caught were sent to
prison under old sodomy laws. Back then, it was a felony for a desperate
girl to end a pregnancy. It was illegal for an unmarried couple to share a
bedroom. Divorce or unwed pregnancy was an unmentionable disgrace. Jews
weren't allowed into Christian-only country clubs. Public schools had
mandatory teacher-led prayer. It was a crime to buy a cocktail or a lottery

That world disappeared, decade after decade. The culture slowly evolved.
Sunday "blue laws" were undone. Teacher-led prayers were banned.

Gay sex
became legal. Liquor clubs were approved. Abortion became legal. State
governments became lottery operators. Censorship ended. Other conservative
taboos gradually disappeared.

Within my lifetime, morality flip-flopped. Conservative thou-shalt-nots lost
their grip on society. Liberals won - yet it happened so gradually that
hardly anyone noticed.

For several decades, the strongest indicator of politics was church
membership. White evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney. People
who don't attend worship voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. The latter
became the largest group in the Democratic Party base.

Today, survey after survey finds American church membership fading, while
the young generation ignores religion. Sociologists think the secular trend
is unstoppable. People who say their faith is "none" already comprise
one-fourth of the adult population - 56 million Americans - and they seem
destined someday to be the largest segment. The social tide is flowing away
from conservative fundamentalism and its Puritanical agenda.

All these factors support my friend's maxim that liberals always win. The
progressive worldview is called humanism - trying to make life better for
all people - and it's a powerful current. In 1960, John F. Kennedy said in a
famed speech:

"If by a 'liberal' they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone
who welcomes new ideas without rigid reaction, someone who cares about the
welfare of the people - their health, their housing, their schools, their
jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties - .then I'm proud to say
that I'm a liberal."

Amid all the chaos and confusion of daily life, through a thousand
contradictory barrages, the struggle for a safer, fairer, more secure, more
humane world never ceases. Thank heaven for progressive victories that keep
on prevailing.
ABOUT THE WRITER:  James A. Haught is editor of West Virginia's largest
newspaper, The Charleston Gazette.  Readers may reach him by email at or phone at 304-348-5199.
This essay is available to Tribune News Service subscribers. Tribune did not
subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer
and do not necessarily represent the views of Tribune or its editors.

C2015 James A. Haught
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency - Aug. 1, 2015

In addition to the info at the  end of the piece, Haught is also a fellow
columnist for Free Inquiry. -- Edd)