Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

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

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

Atheism+. Why I Am More Resolved Than Before To Support It

Jen McCreight quit blogging yesterday.  This from Almost Diamonds who wrote a post explaining some of the reason why.

I’m angry that Jen has been pushed to the point where she has to stop blogging.  She’s done so much, especially with the SSA, to help advance atheism.  The detractors say that those who support Atheism+ are trying to take over the atheist movement, that we are being hateful and divisive, that we are not thinking critically and are letting our emotions cloud our judgement.  

Of course it is emotional.  We are enraged and appalled at the misogyny that has become so apparent in the past year.  We aren’t automatons, but human.  Using our anger at the misogynists and others like them in the atheists movement to try to build something better is good, as Greta Christian says in her book.  

Anger can motivate people to right wrongs and gain rights and recognition in society.  We want to be seen as atheists who do more than just attack religion.  We want to take this movement to the masses, as it were, beyond the atheist community, by working openly, and publicly on important social issues that, until now, religion or other organizations have owned.  At least, that’s what I would like to see.  I think many who support Atheism+ feel this way too.

The people who drove Jen away want to attack anyone who doesn’t agree with them.  It can’t, and won’t, stand.  But, I’m not going to attack those people, I’m going to ignore them.  They aren’t worth my time.  Instead, I’m going to do something positive and try to make Atheism+ a thing that will unite all those atheists who want to focus on social issues instead of just bashing religion and slapping ourselves on the backs for how much more clever we are than theists.  

September 5, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, GLBT, Humanism, secular humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , , | 10 Comments

“God is Just a Placeholder for Our Ignorance”

“God is just a placeholder for our ignorance.”

I just thought this up.  It’s not original really, at least not as a thought, but a search of google doesn’t turn up that exact wording with the same context and meaning (although it does turn up this on Butterflies & Wheels, but that isn’t exactly the same).  Yeah for me!  

I want to have buttons and bumper stickers made up with that on it.   Anyone know the best way (read cheapest) to do that?

July 7, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, Science, Skepticism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Follow-up and Apology

I posted the other day about some comments DJ Grothe made about women feeling safe at TAM.  I was dismayed and angry about how his words were perceived as sexist.

I overreacted.  I’ve had a chance to read more from other sides of the issue and I can no longer stand by my condemnation of DJ.  He has done much to help the skeptical community become more inclusive and I was wrong to be so quick to judge him.

I let my emotions get the best of me.  I allowed my bias (the fact that Rebecca was the first one to really inspire me to become a skeptic) to get in the way of clear thinking.  Worst of all, I didn’t do any digging to find out more about all sides of the issue.  I didn’t use reason, but I let emotion guide my writing.  It was a disgraceful performance equal to the sloppy woo ridden drivel that I constantly rail about here.  

To DJ, and to all of my readers, I most sincerely apologize.

June 7, 2012 Posted by | Feminism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , | 5 Comments

The Luck Of Numbers

Numbers are part of everyone’s life.  We use numbers to count things, to label things, even to describe the universe in which we live.   They help us organize and make sense of the world around us.  Numbers are practical. How much food do we have?  How many weeks before the harvest begins?  Numbers allow us to divide the day into manageable chunks, those days into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years.  

Given this, it is easy to believe that numbers play an important role in our day-to-day lives, but due to how our brains work, we ascribe special significance to numbers that goes beyond their practical value.

Lucky numbers.  Unlucky numbers.  We are all familiar with these, even if we don’t believe in their reputed powers.  In the west, 13 is considered unlucky, while 2, 4, and 12 are considered lucky.  In contrast, the number 4 is considered particularly unlucky in Chinese and other asian cultures because the word for the number 4 sounds like the word for death.

If number were truly lucky or unlucky you would think that the numbers that are considered lucky or unlucky, like the number 4, would be consistent across cultures.  Of course, they are not, because there is no correlation between a particular number and any good or bad things that happen to us, except in the misguided significant we assign to them due to confirmation bias. 

Humans have a need to make sense out of everything around us.  This leads us to try to find purpose for events that actually have no purpose.  We find it hard, if not impossible, to accept that things that happen to us could have no reason or purpose behind them.  Our brains just aren’t evolved to think that way.  Because of this, our brains construct explanations for inexplicable events.  If something bad happens to us, then someone, either ourselves, someone else, or even a god or spirit must have done something to cause it to happen.  The same goes for good things that happen.  While the event was likely completely random, we need to make sense of it so we come up with a reason, no matter how strange or unlikely, to explain it.

This is where the ancient myths first came from.  Our ancestors needed to understand why things happened, be it rain, drought, famine, or disease.  These kinds of events brought great fear and much of this fear was due to the lack of control they had over these events.  To understand how something works is to have control over it.   To try to regain control and reduce the fear,  they came up with stories of gods or spirits that cause these things.  If they could somehow appease these gods or spirits, perhaps they could ward off these events in the future.   

Of course, despite their efforts, diseases, famines and such kept coming, but now they could explain them by their actions of either doing what the gods wanted (when things went well) or displeasing them (when bad things happened).   While the reality was that these events were mostly random,  the need for their explanations to be true caused them to remember the times when events seemed to support their beliefs and forget the times that they didn’t.  This confirmation bias continues to be the basis for our faith in gods, spirits, mysticism, and luck right up until today.  

May 6, 2012 Posted by | Skeptical, Skepticism | , , , | 1 Comment

More Cool Science and Skeptical Images

Here are some more cool science and non-theist images for your enjoyment!

They make as much sense as the Christian trinity.

The_Not_So_Holy_Trinity_by_SacredCandybar

It is just as plausible as the Christian version.

invisible_pink_unicorn_by_dethklocalypse-d4gsh12

by ScaredCandybar

Science rocks!

Back Off Science by BWS

by BWS

The man who showed the world that science can be exciting and beautiful.

Carl_Sagan_by_ArtemisiaSynchroma

by ArtemisiaSynchroma

Probably the most influential scientist since Newton.  Evolution baby!

Charles_Darwin_by_ArtemisiaSynchroma

by ArtemisiaSynchroma

His work greatly influence Darwin.  He is the forgotten hero of evolution.

Alfred Russel Wallace_by_ArtemisiaSynchroma

by ArtemisiaSynchroma

 

Pass the peas please!  The theory of inheritance derived by his work with peas laid the groundwork for the science of genetics.  I still remember this to this day from high school biology class.

Gregor Mendel by ArtemisiaSynchroma

by ArtemisiaSynchroma

November 23, 2011 Posted by | Religion, Science, Skepticism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using Humor to Show Up Delusions

There is a well known example that supporters of science use when refuting the idea of a perfect creator.  The example is the laryngeal nerve.  This nerve supplies motor function and sensation to the larynx.  What is unusual about it is that, even though the larynx is located in the throat in most invertebrates, it follows a path down from the throat, into the chest, and back up to the brain, rather than the shorter and more obvious route of going straight from the throat and up to the brain.

In referring to Richard Dawkins use of the laryngeal nerve argument, Wikipedia states:

“The extreme detour of this nerve (over fifteen feet in giraffes) is cited as evidence of evolution as opposed to intelligent design. The nerve’s route would have been direct in the fish-like ancestors of modern tetrapods, traveling from the brain, past the heart, to the gills (as it does in modern fish). Over the course of evolution, as the neck extended and the heart became lower in the body, the laryngeal nerve was caught on the wrong side of the heart. Natural selection gradually lengthened the nerve by tiny increments to accommodate, resulting in the absurdly circuitous route now observed, which, if designed, could only be described as unintelligent.”[1]

I’ve heard this argument against intelligent design given many times and in different ways, some more effective than others, but as is often the case, humor and satire can serve to drive the point home much better than any physical evidence or well articulated argument can.

Jonathan Rosenberg draws the funny, topical, and skeptical Scenes From A Multiverse.  Today’s installment address this particular augment with great hilarity and precision.  It is a perfect surgical strike against the idea of a perfect creator, and leaves us with the conclusion that god either does not exist or, if he does, is just plain stupid.  The next to the last panel says it all.

1. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2009). “11. History written all over us”The greatest show on Earth. New York: Free Press. pp. 360–362. ISBN 9781416594789. Retrieved November 21, 2009.

November 18, 2011 Posted by | Religion, Science | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Excellent Example of Science vrs Pseudoscience

The website atheism.about.com has a really good article examining if astrology is pseudoscience or science.  While I agree that astrology is bullshit, that is not what, I think, is the real take away point from the article.  You could easily subsitute any number of questionable practices such as “psychic powers” or “homeopathy” for astrology.

The real importance of the article is how well it explains the scientific method.  The reason this is important is that so many people have no concept of what the scientific method is and how it works.  This leads to a gross misunderstanding and mistrust of science.  This is bad because it leads to the undermining of scientific advancement in our society, a society that, more and more, is very dependent on the technology that science gives us.

There is a sad and firghtening trend in this country of mistrust, and even hostility, toward science.  This kind of anti-science belief used to be confined to the radical right or left wing movements.  The religious right fights against science when it contradicts the Bible (which is does the vast majority of the time).  The radical left distrusts it because it is not “natural”, and they fear the possible misuses of science.  Now, however, anti-science beliefs and rhetoric have become the norm.  We see this in the current election cycle where Republican candidates are falling all over themselves to see who can be more anti-science than the rest.

It used to be that the GOP trumpeted the benefits of science as a way to make our society stronger, better, and safer.  Does anyone remember the “Star Wars” program of the Reagan era?  How about the Space Race?  In this country, the military has always been a major driving force in advancing science and technology.  It will be interesting to see how the military responds to the ever growing hostility of the GOP to science, considering that most of the military leadership has tended to be republican, as evidinced by the many generals who have gone into politics after retiring from their military careers.

This country used to be a leader in science and technology and that is what made it a great economic and military power.  If this anti-science trend continues, we can only sit back and watch as our scientific technological leadership slips away and our economy because a totally consumer driven one, dependent on the technology of other countries who put science above superstition.

November 5, 2011 Posted by | Science, Skepticism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Example of Bad Science Reporting

The newspaper, The Telegraph, has published a story with the exciting title, Large Hadron Collider rumoured to have found God Particle.   What makes this bad science reporting is that the actually text of the article is more along these lines:

“It is far too early to say if there is anything to it or not. There are 3,000 scientists working on ATLAS and they divide the analysis work up between them.

“This is an internal communication that highlights something interesting, but it has to go through several stages of assessment by the scientific team before it will be released as an official result by the collaborative team.

“The majority of these things turn out to be nothing at all. It is very speculative at this stage, but there is a great deal of excitement and anticipation that something will be found which is probably why this has found its way onto the internet.”

What the story is really about is this:

Despite the official caution, there was intense speculation on internet blogs and scientific websites that the results described in the memo signalled the first discovery of the Higgs boson.

This is a story about the rumors of the discovery of the Higgs boson, not about the actually discovery it’s self.  This is not science reporting, this is rumor mongering.  Isn’t the current state of the general public’s science knowledge bad enough without the media having to sensationalize a non-story?

April 26, 2011 Posted by | Science, Skepticism | , , | 3 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 391 other followers