Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

A New Blog in The Skeptchick Network!

There is a new blog in town!  It is called Grounded Parents and it is part of the Skepchick network.   As managing editor of Skepchick.org, Elyse, says in her introduction of the site:

We’ll be covering the usual parenting blog BS, but we’ll do it with all the snark and wit and drunken profanity you’ve come to expect from the Skepchick network. We’ll also be covering the shit they’re too boring to cover on the other parenting sites. We’ve got sex and drugs and mental health and intersectional feminism. We have opinions. And we back them up with motherfucking citations. We’re the bosses of parenting. We’re not your mom’s mommy blog.

And even more exciting is that the "We" mentioned about includes me! 

There are already several great posts there.  Go read them and if you like them, subscribe. 

We really have a bunch of great parents with an incredible depth and variety of experiences.   Best thing is, all of these experiences, advice, what have you, is based in reality.  We are secular, science-based, and rational, but also crazy, fun, and as Elyse says, we all "actually look too sexy in yoga pants"! (But, trust me, you’ll never catch me in yoga pants, promise).

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, Skepticism | Leave a comment

Taking Sides

There has been a battle going on in the atheists/skeptical movement over the past year or so.  It is a battle about sexism.  I won’t go into the details because there are too many incidents and opinions to mention here.  For an introduction, if you are not familiar with what’s been happening, see PZ Myers’ blog post.  Make sure you visit the links there, and the links in those links.  

PZ feels that it is time to take sides, and I agree.

Sexism is wrong.  Rape is horrible and wrong.  Anyone who supports these things whether openly, through making excuses for them, or just pretending they don’t matter is wrong; period.  These people try to explain away sexism, to rationalize it, to excuse it in any way they can.  They make threats of violence, rape, and even death agains the women who come forward with their experiences of being victimized.  

These are the same people who claim to be rational.  They deride the religious for being irrational in their beliefs; for supporting and rationalizing their beliefs with senseless excuses and rationalizations while they do exactly the same thing in their defense and denial of sexism in the atheist and skeptical communities. 

These people are wrong and no amount of rationalization can change that.  They are immoral, plain and simple.

I take the side of every woman, all women, who live with sexism every day.  I take the side of inclusion.  I take the side of equality and fairness.  I take the side of humanism.  I take the side of what is right and moral; the idea that every woman has the right to not just be safe, but feel safe, at all atheist and skeptical conferences and events, to never have to live with threats of violence, rape, and death just for speaking out about their experiences with sexism.

These are painful times we are going through, but if we want to advance the causes of atheist and skepticism, we must clean our own house or we can never claim the high moral ground against the religious, who use their gods to claim the same.

We must demand of our conference organizers that they not invite speakers who are known to engage in sexist and predatory behavior.  We must demand that they bar these people from all conferences and events.   If they refuse, then we must refuse to attend their events and to contribute to their organizations.  We must insist that the CFI, the JREF, and all other atheist and skeptical organizations refuse these sexists and predators venues for their speeches and writings.  We must insist that they remove these people from their organizations.  If they don’t, then they don’t get our support or our money.  

As a society of atheists and skeptics, we must shun those sexist predators and all who support them.  This is not a war, but a boycott.  We must boycott their speeches, their appearances, their books, and their podcasts.     We must make them outcasts and pariahs.   

It is time to take sides.  If you truly care about your community and what it should stand for, then take the side of what is right and moral, or be left in the dustbin of history.

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, Humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , | 3 Comments

Help For People Recovering From Religion

The organization Recovering From Religion has started a hotline for those who are recovering from religion.  This is in response to all of the “…countless emails and phone calls from people seeking help on their journey away from faith, at all hours of the day and night”.

If you are recovering or have recovered from religion, you know how terribly painful a process this can be.  Not only are you abandoning a life-long set of beliefs, but you face ostracization from friend, family, and co-workers.  You also live with the fear of the negative reactions you may receive when people find out you are an atheist.  

I have applied to answer the Hotline and to help out with their Facebook page.   If you are recovering from religion, or are an life-long atheists, and want to help, go and apply.  It is a great cause that will help the millions who are struggling with losing their religion.

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, secular humanism, Skepticism | , , , , | Leave a comment

My Response to the CFI’s Response to the Skeptical Community’s Response to Ron Lindsay’s Opening Statement at the Women in Secularism 2 Conference

I’ve been out of action here for quite a while due to work and family and just life in general.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to what’s been going on in the skeptical and atheist communities.  There has been a lot going on there, but it took something unbelievably appalling and rage inducing to motivate me to start writing again.

As you can see by the title of this posts,  something happened at the Women in Secularism 2 Conference.  Something so unthinkably insensitive you would have thought it was said by one of the disgusting Republican, Tea Party loving, rape apologists.  But, no.  sadly , it was said by the leader of one of the leading and most influential secular groups in America; the Center for Inquiry, or CFI.

I won’t get into the particulars.  If you haven’t heard about it, you can read the outrage from different individuals here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  The CFI response to all this outrage can be found here.  

My personal response, which I’ve emailed to the CFI Board of Directors is below.

June 22, 2013

To Tom Flynn & the CFI Board of Directors

Dear Mr. Flynn and CFI Board members,

I am writing today to express my outrage at your response to the outcry caused by Ron Lindsay’s opening statement at the Women in Secularism 2 conference.  

You have shown that you are either incapable, or unwilling, to take an definitive stand on sexism in the Skeptical community.   Your official statement regarding this issue, far from helping to quell the protests, only exacerbated the situation.  

Your refusal to issue an apology, either as an organization, or though Ron Lindsay personally, is a disgrace.   Your insipid claim to value equality in the community is woefully inadequate at best, and pretentiously self-serving at worse.

Over the past year or so, sexism has become possiblty the most important and divisive issue in the Skeptical community.  The examples of blatant misogyny and raw hatred by  a relatively small number of members of the community toward anyone who dares support feminism and women’s right are disgusting, abhorrent, and almost too numerous to count.  They include vile insults, threats of rape, and even death threats against those, mostly woman, who speak out against them.

By refusing to take a stand against these misogynistic, hate-spewing members of our community, you only encourage, enable, and by your silence, tacitly accept their continued hatred and harassment of those who work tirelessly towards equality for all in our community.

I can no longer support the CFI, given it’s stance regarding sexism within our community.  I will no longer be donating to your organization, and this includes renewing my subscription to Skeptical Inquirer magazine.  This last honestly pains me because not only do I feel that it is the best skeptical magazine tin existence, but having been published in it, I can no longer in good conscience submit my work to be published there.

I fervently hope that the leadership of CFI will take an unambiguous public stand in support of ridding our community of sexism, misogyny, and hatred.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I feel sums up my feelings toward the current state of the CFI leadership.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham jail” he said:  “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Sincerely,

James Walker


If this issue upsets you as much as it does me, please do something about it.  At the very least, let the CFI know how you feel.  You can email them, as I did, at tflynn@centerforinquiry.net, or snail mail them at:


Center for Inquiry Transnational
P.O. Box 741, Amherst, NY 14226


Do something!  Don’t let your “appalling silence” allow the injustice to continue.

June 22, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, GLBT, Humanism, secular humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , | Leave a comment

Doing The Most Good – The Moral Imperative of GM Crops

We here in the wealthy, well-fed west are overlooking one of the greatest moral crises in the world: the millions of deaths and hundred of millions more illnesses caused by starvation and lack of basic nutritional needs of people in the world. People who live in more desperate situations that we can even imagine.  We have a moral obligation and duty to use every method at our disposal, including GM crops, to alleviate the suffering of almost a billion people on our planet. (1)(2)  Every year, over two million children needlessly die of starvation (2).  

An example of a low risk GM crop is discussed by Steven Novella at his Neurologica blog, and covers the introduction of Golden Rice, which is supplemented with vitamin A.  This crop could save close to 500, 000 children a year who die of vitamin A deficiency.   There are some very salient points brought up in his article, but I’d like to quote one in particular:

Bruce Chassy is speaking this week at the AAAS meeting (American Academy for the Advancement of Science) arguing that the current regulation of GM crops is counterproductive (an opinion he also gives here). He argues that the last 20 years have demonstrated the overall safety of GM crops through multiple plantings and scientific studies. We still need to monitor GM crop safety, but the current level of regulation is harming the hungry and the poor, mostly in the third world.

Of course we have a duty to make sure that all GM crops are tested as throughly as possible to keep side effects to a minimum, be it to human and animal health, or the spreading of deleterious traits into wild plants.  But, like most anything in life, the risks of harm from GM crops needs to be weighed against the harm caused by nutritional deficiencies and starvation world wide.  From what I can see in the history of GM crops so far, the benefits for humanity far outweigh the risks.

We live a sheltered, comfortable life here in the west.  We are able to look past the basics of life, food and shelter, to other issues, such as the environment.  To label all GM crops as bad is unscientific, and given what we know, immoral.  When we have GM crops that can save millions of lives, that can provide more food per acre for starving people, that can fulfill the nutritional needs of the poor, we have a moral obligation to take the necessary risks and do the most good for the whole of humanity.

(1) http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/

(2) https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats

 

 

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Article Is In Skeptical Inquirer!

My article, “Understanding Believers’ Cognitive Dissonance” , just came out in Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 37, No.2, March/April 2013, Pg. 50.   If you don’t subscribe to it, then go buy a copy!  Well, what are you waiting for?  Go read it! 

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Skepticism | , , , | 1 Comment

Something From Nothing – Why It Doesn’t Matter If God Exist Or Not

Where did the universe come from?  This is a question that has taunted humans probably since we first became sentient.  

Most of the attempts to answer this question over the millennium have come from religion, but in the past 20 years or so, real progress has been made in physics to answer this question.  Science seems to say that the universe could have been created from nothing.  

The renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawkin has postulated that the universe could have arisen from fluctuations in the quantum foam.  Others, such as physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, in his new book, “A Universe From Nothing”, suggest something along the same lines.

I’m not going to go into the science since it is far beyond my capabilities.  I’m also not going to get much into the religious and theological arguments.  What I do want to look at is a basic, simple premiss:  we, as humans, don’t understand time.

We experience time in a linear fashion.  This means that we have memories of a past, experience the present, and have expectations of the future.  Therefore time, to us, seems have a past, present, and future.  Physicists call this phenomenon The Arrow of Time, and due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as well as other factors that involve mind-numbing math, it always flows in one direction.

The most important thing about time, and the hardest one to wrap our heads around, is that time is not separate from space.  Time and space are inextricably linked and are collectively referred to as space-time.  Time can not exist without space.  One of the consequences of this is that time has only existed as long as space has.  

Space-time, and the universe it’s self, began, as closely as we can currently work out, 13.7 billion years ago in the Big Bang, from a singularity (a point of infinite mass), similar to the singularity in the center of a black hole (in fact, some scientists postulate that our universe exists inside of a black hole, but that’s a post for another time).  

Scientists have a pretty good idea of what happened as the universe expanded back to about 10^−11 (one hundred billionth) seconds after the beginning of the Big Bang.  What happened before that time is unclear.  Here, at the very beginning, as in the heart of a black hole, the laws of physics as we know them break down.  Nothing inside the singularity can be glimpsed from the outside, but we should be able to, theoretically, go back to the very instance of the beginning.  We are close, and the more we study sub-atomic particles with tools like the Large Hadron Collider, the more we are able to learn about these very earliest moments.

The important thing to understand here, for the purposes of this discussion, is that time did not exist before the Big Bang.  Since time did not exist until the moment the universe began, the question, “What existed before the universe?”, is non-sensical.  This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a “before”, it is just that our minds are incapable of conceiving that particular state of things.  It most likely was not a time, or a place, or an anything that we can define in terms that human language can express.  Only mathematics can express this situation and translating those mathematics into human language is likely impossible, simply due to our innate inability to grasp a concept that literally doesn’t exist in our universe.  We just don’t really, and can’t really, understand time.  We are trapped in the flow of time, just as a leaf is trapped in the flow of a river.  Traveling helplessly onward.

Therefor from my thinking, asking “What existed before the universe?”, is meaningless.  Wether it was created, or if it sprang into existence due to some fundamental laws of physics that we don’t completely understand really doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that once it was in existence, everything in it has been subject to laws of physics that are, as far as we can see, so deeply woven into the fabric of space-time that they can not be broken.  

The upshot of this means that our universe is self-contained and is subject to those laws.  This precludes the existence of a personal God: one who can answer prayers and perform miracles.  If there is a god, then it is entirely outside of the universe, and as such, unable to influence, or even know of, anything within it. Hence, worship or prayer to it is useless, except as a way to give ourselves solace if we so choose.  

Call it god; call it a quantum fluctuation; call it George, it really doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that we are here, if only for the very briefest of moments.  Let’s make the most of it.

 

February 18, 2013 Posted by | Religion, Science, Skepticism | , , , , , | 3 Comments

From Faux Homeopathic Remedy to Absinthe

I saw an interesting TV commercial for a product called TagAway, which supposedly remove unsightly skin overgrowths (those icky lumps of skin that just seem to appear out of nowhere as we get older).  The ironic thing about this product is that is is being sold as a Homeopathic remedy, but apparently contains actual ingredients.  These include, “Thuja Occidentalis.  Other ingredients include Cedar Leaf Oil, Melaleuca Alternifolia Leaf Oil, Ricinus Communis Seed Oil” * What is ironic is that nowhere does it say anything about the X scale of the preparation. From what little I could find about TagAway, it would seem that it is a “real” product, not just water, like “real” homeopathic products (making it a fake homeopathic remedy (a redundant phrase if there ever was one!).   I can’t verify much about TagAway’s real effects, except that you shouldn’t ingest it.  Buyer beware.

What does this have to do with absinthe, you wonder?  Both absinthe and TagAway contain Thujone.  Although modern absinthe contains Thujone in very, very small amounts (less than 10 ppm), it is thought that traditional absinthe contained more Thujone and that it was Thujone that was responsible for the supposed hallucinatory properties of absinthe.  It turns out that recent studies have shown that absinthe’s psychotropic effects are no different than that of regular alcoholic spirits.  The other thing that TagAway and absinthe have in common is that they both contain ingredients from plants and herbs, although, as noted about, don’t drink TagAway (the skin dissolving properties of absinthe aren’t known, are far as I can tell).  

What is really interesting about absinthe, at least to me, is that many authors and artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were regular drinkers of the stuff (there is a nice list of them here and here).  They sang it’s praises and even wrote poems, stories, films, and painted paintings dedicated to it.  There is a mystique and romance surrounding absinthe, something almost magical, from a vibrant and creative period of art history.  If you are a writer or artist like myself, absinthe is very alluring and compelling.  

Unfortunately, I have yet to try absinthe.  After threading my way from fake homeopathy to absinthe across the silky web of the internet, I certainly intend to try it soon.


 

 

 

 

 

https://www.trytagaway.com/FAQS

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Skepticism | , , , | Leave a comment

How To Ruin A Good Documentry

I just finished watching the documentary, “Indiana Jones and the Ultimate Quest.”   It tied the four Indiana Jones movies to real archeology.  For the first 3/4 of the show, it was a really interesting, fact based, documentary.  

The last 1/4 though, got away from facts and into the ideas that extraterrestrials gave mankind 16 crystal skulls that were spread across the world and would all be found when humans were at a world-wide crisis.  

There was no countering that idea with facts or science.  Only anecdotal evidence of supposed experts in UFO’s.  It was presented as, if not fact, at least very plausible.  Of course, every one of these types of claims have been shown to have no evidence at all, and the things they try to explain have been shown to be completely terrestrial. 

I love documentaries, but in the past 10 years or so, documentaries have become entertainment, with sensationalism being the driving source instead of facts and evidence.  If any of the producers of these types of documentaries believe that they must put this tripe into their shows because otherwise people won’t watch documentaries, they should take a look at the works of Ken Burns, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, or David Attenborough.

I honestly believe that most of us are smarter than the TV network executives give us credit for.  I find it sad, and a bit frightening, that even our supposed science shows are dumbed down.  What kind of society will be be in another generation if this is now the norm?

September 23, 2012 Posted by | Science, Skepticism | , , | 2 Comments

Selling Hope

I saw a commercial on TV today.  Some guy (I didn’t get his name, and it’s not really important) was selling a book that he claimed contained his secret to overcoming any addition.   You see things like this all the time.  Someone has a cure-all for whatever might ail you.

I’m not going to talk about the details of this guy’s supposed cure.  I’m not going to analyze the efficacy of him claims.  I want to look at the idea of selling hope;  why it is a sign of selfishness and perhaps even sociopathic. 

There are plenty of reasons why dubious claims are harmful, just browse the what’s the harm website for a plethora of details.   There are many examples there of people who have died because the chose to follow programs that promised a cure for a medical condition.  These stories are sad and unnecessarily so.

What what I can’t help but wonder about guys like the one I’ve mentioned here is, if they truly have cure or treatment that is revolutionary and that does what they say it does, then why do they always insist on charging for it?  Sure, I know people have to make a living, but I can tell you that if I came up with a treatment that could cure and help a lot of people, I’d want to help as many as I could.  

To have a treatment, a real cure, for a disease like MS or cancer, or a treatment that will get people off their addiction and keep them off, would be an amazing thing.  The ethical, the moral, thing to do would be to share this with the medical community, to allow others to test it and perfect it, so that it can benefit everyone.

Sure, get compensated.  After all, you worked for it.  You discovered it.  Drug companies would pay millions for something like this.  But to horde it, to sell it only to those who could afford your asking price, it the ultimate in selfishness and immorality.

September 23, 2012 Posted by | Skepticism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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