Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

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

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

My Best Friend is a Magic Jewish Zombie!

I was browsing my favorite art site, deviantart.com, a few days ago and came across this painting.  A nicely done picture of Jesus titled, My Best Friend.  My tollerence of bullshit was very low at that particular time (lower than it ususlly is!).  In a fit of pique I left a simple, harsh, comment, “I’m sorry”.  I am not usually so blunt, espeically with someone I’ve never met.  I probably should have just ignored it and moved on. I didn’t and now I have an interesting situation to deal with.

Today, the artist who made that picture sent me a note.  Here is the exchange:

hey dear jay
from ~dianedianediane
to =primowalker
i read your comment on my work.,my best friend,….and this has many interpretations…
may i ask your reason for being sorry…so that i may comment accordingly my friend…
Re: hey dear jay
from =primowalker
to ~dianedianediane
I’m sorry that your best friend is someone who doesn’t exist, or at least who you can’t see, touch, or hear. I believe that this life is precious and that it is all that we are sure that we have. For me, to put emotions into something that you can’t be sure is there is a waste. It does you and the people around you a disservice. By expending time, emotion, and even love on something that may or may not be real takes that time, emotion, and love away from the people around you who need it here, now. 

I am not trying to say that you shouldn’t believe in Jesus, but you live in this world with people who love you and need you. Make the most of it and give yourself and those you love every minute you have, every bit of love that you can. If after doing this, you feel you still have time and energy left for Jesus, great. But to say that he is your best friend is an insult to your real friends, who are here now and who need you.

I doubt anything I say will make a difference.  She seems honest and sincere and I tried to answer her question honestly and sincerely.  Of course, I could be totally off base, after all, she calls me her “best friend”.  Maybe that is just how she addresses everyone she knows, including the magic Jewish zombie man.

** If you are interested, you can see my photography and writing at my deviantart page.

April 13, 2011 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, Skepticism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Comments on Atheism and Gender Equality

Here is an illuminating comment on my earlier post from a reader, Sas, and my reply:

  1. Thanks for this . I have been appalled by some men’s attitudes – I left Christianity hoping for an equal world and was horrified to see the same old crap in the atheist camp. ” girls are naturally less intelligent that’s why they go to church ” No you twat, church has free childcare and you don’t get touched up.Treat women right and they’ll join you.Also try to understand that liking men and sex doesn’t mean they will sleep with any man – ESP not the older ones who think we are gagging for a father figure…wpid-94fe68a35b9b4a2c0ba2445621a62470-2011-02-8-16-27.jpg Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Edit | Reply
  2. Ps lots of men don’t like sex and will make you feel bad for asking for it. Strangely they lie about that to their male friends.wpid-6f2daef3a2c555a4bdb80036526e0f36-2011-02-8-16-27.jpg Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Edit | Reply
  3. Sas, I agree with you completely. Men need to understand that just because a woman is sexually liberated doesn’t mean she will sleep with everyone, especially them. Yes, biology is powerful. Yes, males evolved to try to have sex with as many females as possible in order to pass on their genes. But to use this as an excuse to treat women solely as sexual objects is disingenuous and wrong. This only supports the theists’ contention that atheists are all amoral darwinists. We are moral creatures who have the benefit of intelligence and rational thought to rise above our evolutionary imperatives, especially when they interfere with our ability to responsibly interact with each other.wpid-402c429e71fcb15b380d58cd3ca72867-2011-02-8-16-27.jpg Comment by Jay Walker | February 8, 2011 | Edit | Reply

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Skeptical | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Atheism and Gender Equality (or lack thereof)

I read a guest blog post at Blag Hag by Sharon Moss, President of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio with Lyz Liddell, Director of Campus Organizing at the Secular Student Alliance, about their experience at the American Atheists’ Southeast Regional Atheist Meet in Huntsville, Alabama. In it, they explain the sexism they encounter while there.

What is ironic is that the sexist attitudes were most evident at a panel about how atheist organizations can attract more women. I’ll let them explain in their own words:

A panel of five guys and one woman discussed what an atheist group should do to attract more women. The all-too-common problem came up of a woman showing up to a meeting and every dude there hitting on her. First, the panelists grabbed a theme that had been floating around all weekend: that men hitting on women is just biological (therefore excusable), making it sound like a woman in that kind of situation should just STFU and get over it.

Then the moderator asked the women in the audience, as if it were a rewording of the same question, whether they would feel harassed or flattered if they showed up to an event and a few guys started flirting with them. We women in the audience, pressured to respond to the question at hand but feeling duped because we knew it wasn’t the same thing, gave an honest response. Sure, a few guys flirting with us is sexy. BUT!!! (we all screamed in our heads, even though the panel never let us say it out loud) 20 guys our father’s age blatantly staring at and talking to our cleavage is a totally different situation! It’s not sexy, it’s gross and creepy.

It was extremely frustrating. So I wasn’t surprised when the young woman who finally stood up and started challenging the panel snapped. First, despite her having her hand raised for most of the discussion, the panel never even acknowledged her or invited her opinion (despite soliciting the opinion of several guys both on and off the panel. Finally, she just stood up and started shouting to make her voice heard. Her question focused on the language the panel had been using – “female” instead of “woman,” and pointed out that it made us sound like livestock rather than people.

But did the panel address the question, perhaps looking for the point at which the discussion took on the word “female” so universally? Did they take the opportunity to discuss how things like language can make a group uncomfortable for women, and what we could do to make it better? No! The woman asking the question was viciously torn apart and ridiculed for even bringing it up. First, a combination of panelists and audience members tried to defend themselves by saying that feminists won’t let men use the word “women” off-limits because it has “men” in it. Then a commotion of everyone talking at once, which was cut off by one panelist’s definitive comment: “What do you want us to say, ‘the weaker sex?”

She got upset (and who wouldn’t be?) and left the room. I – a member of the audience, not one of the event organizers – went after her. While there were a few odd calls from the audience for the panelist to apologize, the moderator sort of awkwardly pushed the discussion on to a new topic, with an embarrassed air of “Sorry for the disturbance.” No apology, no discussing a better way it could have been handled. Not even a joking “This is how *not* to be welcoming” comment. Just “nothing to see here, move along.”
From there, the conversation wandered into a weird discussion about how men’s biology drives them to frequently (if not constantly) pursue sex, and since it’s biology, no one should get upset at, judge, or think less of men for any skirt-chasing they might engage in. (Because we never intellectually overcome our animal instincts in other areas of our biology, right?) The attitude in the room shifted: suddenly women were the bad guys for saying no to men’s propositions because it denies the men’s innate biology. Most of the guys in the room loved it, but as a woman in the audience – it was really uncomfortable. It was demeaning, frustrating, and not what you want to say to attract more women into this movement. And the attitude stuck around.

All these people got presented with a totally skewed perspective on our movement’s views on gender equality and sexuality. The message was loud and clear: it’s totally ok for guys to be assholes. Women should just STFU when men treat them like sex objects. The appropriate way to solve the problem of gender imbalance is to ask a bunch of guys about it (oh, and the entire problem is just because women won’t let men have sex with them whenever they want to). The way to handle women’s input is to ridicule them.

This whole experience would be laughable, like something from a bad Saturday Night Live skit, if it weren’t for the fact that it really happened, and happened in the context of a discussion of how to attract more women to the atheist movement.

This sort of thing makes me ashamed to be a man, not to mention a white, middle-aged, male atheist, and rightly so. The insufferable sense of male privilege permeates the description of the conference and I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a woman in attendance. I can tell you that had I been there I certainly would have, for one, apologized for my insensitive and idiotic fellow white males, and then I would have ripped them a new one for being to fatuously insensitive to 30% of the audience present.

I believe that if atheist organizations want to make their organizations more open and welcoming to women, they need to, first and foremost, actively seek out women to be, not just members, but organizers. I know, that is putting the cart before then horse, but they must at lease try to truly understand the discrimination and sexism that woman face in our society. They need to educate themselves on this subject and take what they learn to heart.

There is no excuse for these kinds of sexist attitudes or behavior at an atheist conference, unless these are some kind of male only atheist organizations, in which case, who needs them?

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Humanism, Skeptical | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Finally, A Power-like Band That Does Exactly What It’s Name Suggests

I got my Placebo Bands in the mail yesterday from the brilliant Skepticbros in Australia.

wpid-placebo_bands-sm-2011-01-24-22-33.jpg
Does wearing two of them make them twice as ineffective as just one?

Placebo Bands are the Skepticbros answer to Power Balance bands and others of their ilk. Unlike the unsubstantiated claims of Power Balance to be able to balance your body’s energy field, the Placebo Bands promise to do nothing, except perhaps becoming conversations starters.

When someone asks me about the band I’m wearing, I can proudly tell them that it is a placebo that does nothing, just like the Power Balance bands. With a knowing wink I will add that unlike the Power Balance bands that cost $29.99, I only paid $2 for mine. According to the Skepticbros, they used some of the same manufactures who make Power Balance bands using the same materials and manufacturing process to make their bands, but they didn’t get nearly the volume discount that Power Balance must be getting. The best thing of all about the Placebo Bands is that the approximately $1 profit per band goes to charity, while with Power Balance, $28.99 per band (with their volume discount, probably more like $29.50) goes into their pockets.

After telling inquisitive people all the stuff I just told you, my favorite part is telling them that the both have the exact same effect, which is none, except possibly a placebo effect for those who are gullible enough to buy into the body energy bullshit claims.

So if you really do believe in body energy and that a silicone band with a hologram in it can help balance it, save yourself $27.99 and go for the Placebo Band. They look the same, they feel the same and, most importantly, they have the same effect, which is to say, none at all.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Topic of the Week – Astrology

I haven’t written much about astrology before, except for one entry, and that is because I really have no interest in astrology and never have. I have always viewed it as a silly thing that was a left over from the time before science and empirical reason came to the forefront of human thought.

Growing up, I was fascinated with astronomy and was quite the amateur astronomer in my youth, spending countless nights, even in the coldest of winters, outside with my telescope. Knowing how the universe operated completely negated the possibility that astrology could possibly be anything but superstition and wishful thinking.

The Twitterspace has been, well, atwitter, about astrology ever since the director of the Minnesota Planetarium Society commented in a local newspaper interview that, due to the gradual shift in the orientation of Earth’s axis of rotation, called precession, that the Zodiac signs have changed since ancient times. Precession caused the stars to appear to gradually move over time in relation to fixed points on earth. For example, the current pole star, or north star, Polaris, will no longer be the pole star in another 12,000 years.

The precession also effects the ecliptic plane, which is where the Zodiacal constellations are located. As a result, the supposed sign you were born under is actually now not that sign anymore. As Phil Plait puts is on his Bad Astronomy blog:


“If you were born on March 22, you were an Aries… if you went by the original timing of when the Sun was in Aries. But now, millennia later, the Sun is actually in Pisces on that date. And it won’t be much longer before it’s in Aquarius in late March (hence “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”)”

Basically, astrology is based on the positions of stars and planets as they were known well over 2000 years ago. Their positions in the sky in relation to earth change over time and astrology has no way to account for this, so even if there were something to it (which there isn’t), it would slowly have become more and more inaccurate over time. Or course, there is nothing to it. At all. As Penn & Teller have said on their show, Bullshit, astrology is – bullshit!

I was chatting with a friend today and he related to me a conversation that he had with a friend who believes in astrology. He told her that he thought astrology was a bullshit belief. She got indignant and said something to the effect of, “Oh, you wouldn’t say something like about someone’s religion.” He replied, “As a matter of fact…”. That ended the conversation pretty quickly.

If you really want an excellent explanation of why astrology is complete and utter BS, you can’t do better than Phil Plait’s in-depth take down of astrology. I’d also highly recommend reading his book, Bad Astronomy. In it he corrects many common astronomy misconceptions.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Surveys Can Tell Us About Ourselves

I took the Midwest Secular Survey today. The questions were pretty standard, asking your secular persuasion (agnostic, atheist, etc), how comfortable you felt about sharing your secular views with various groups of people, and how being secular affects different aspects of your life.

What I learned from answering these questions is that I do feel very reluctant to share my atheistic views with people who I have to relate to in day to day life, such as co-workers, neighbors and family.

Very few, in fact only two I believe, of my co-workers know that I hold secular beliefs and I don’t think the actually know that I’m an atheist. It is not something I would want widely known at my work. While I have never seen or heard of anyone being discriminated against because of their religious (or non-religious) beliefs, I do live in one of the reddest states and from overhearing conversations of my co-workers, many, if not most, attend some kind of church regularly. In fact, I block people from work who are on my friends list on Face Book from seeing my status posts because I just don’t want them knowing my beliefs. I’m not ashamed, but I do fear that it could cause problems for me if the wrong person at work finds out.

None of my family knows, at least if they do, they have kept quiet about it. This isn’t surprising since they aren’t really “my” family per se, but my first wife’s family, whom I keep in touch with because of my kids. They are all Armenian and the Armenian Church is a very big part of their Armenian identity. When I was married and living back there in Massachusetts I was the one who took the kids to Church every Sunday. I even taught Sunday school for a year. The church is so intertwined with the Armenian identity that it is almost impossible to imagine an Armenian who doesn’t profess belief in God. After all, Armenia was the first Christian nation,a fact of which the Armenians are very proud.

Most of my friends know I’m an atheist. In one case, this has come between myself and a very dear friend who is a devout Christian. We still chat occasionally, but there is a palpable strain in the relationship that wasn’t there before I let it be known that I was an atheist. This was very difficult and discouraging for me. Her and I had a real attraction for each other and we got along so incredibly well. Once she was divorced from her husband and I separated from my wife and was in the process of getting divorced, I was hoping to pursue a closer relationship with her, but now that is out of the question. Also, it seems that our relationship has lost the depth of emotion that it once had. This is completely due to her reaction to my writings and comments about Christianity. As I said, we still talk occasionally, but we never talk about anything too personal anymore and I mourn the lose of that very much.

All of these things came back to me as I read the questions on the survey and contemplated my answers. I didn’t realize just how vulnerable I feel about being an atheist outside of the skeptical/atheist community. I’ve tended to limit my personal relationships to people who share my beliefs. I know that this one of the most common things that people do; keep to their own, but I didn’t realize that I was actually fearful of revealing my beliefs to others outside of these groups. Considering I hope to work in critical thinking and skeptical outreach, I think that it is something I will have to come to terms with.

Socrates was certainly onto something with his method of instruction. Asking questions is one of the most powerful ways to get us to really think about an issue and brings to light our underlying feelings about it that we may never have realized we had.

January 11, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

When Persecution Really Is Just Sour Grapes Over Loss Of Privilege

According to an article in the daily Telegraph in the U.K., Gary McFarlane,, a relationship counsellor, was fired after refusing to work with same-sex couples because he said that it violated his religious beliefs. The funny things is that he had counseled same-sex couples in the past. He challenged his dismissal in court saying that counseling same-sex couples forced him to go against the Bible’s teachings and that his firing was religious discrimination. He said that his treatment was an example of Christians being persecuted in modern Britain.

I think Mr. McFarlane needs to read up on his British history. About 500 years ago, Catholics were being burned at the stake just for being Catholic. Now that is persecution. Getting fired for refusing to do your job isn’t.

He had counseled same-sex couples in the past, but it was only after he qualified as a psychosexual therapist that he felt that his religious beliefs wouldn’t allow him to counsel same-sex couples about sex. He then told his employer this and his fellow counsellors said that his views were homophobic, and he was sacked.

I will give the man the benefit of the doubt and say that he probably wasn’t homophobic given his work with same-sex couples in the past, but still, if his employer requires that their employees treat all couples, regardless of gender make up, then it is their right to terminate the employment of anyone who can’t carry out those duties.

I don’t buy into the idea that you can be trained in a field where you are providing a service to customers and then refuse to provide those services to certain customers because you don’t agree with some aspect of the treatment due your beliefs. We’ve seen this here in the U.S. with pharmacists refusing to provide the morning-after pill or birth control pills to patients. This is just unacceptable

What if a fireman refused to rescue people from an abortion clinic because he was anti-abortion? Or a doctor who refuses to operate on a person because they are Jewish or Black? Society doesn’t stand for these things and there is no reason to expect any different from councilors, pharmacists, or other care providers. If you are going to pursue a career where you have to provide services to people, then you need to be prepared to provide those services to everyone. If your conscience won’t let you do it, then it is time to change careers.

Refusing these services to certain groups of people because your don’t agree with their lifestyle or the particular treatment is bad enough, but to then claim discrimination is beyond the pale. It is an example of a usually privileged class of person who suddenly finds that that privilege is no longer extended to them. To say that getting fired for essentially refusing to do your job is persecution is the hight of arrogance.

A Christian nurse lost her job because she refused to stop wearing a crucifix around her neck. She was told that it posed a health and safety hazard. She claimed religious discrimination. There are plenty of jobs where the wearing of jewelry is forbidden for safety and health reasons and hers was one of them. To claim discrimination is simply wrong and presumptuous.

There was the Christian doctor who was removed from an adoption panel because she wanted to abstain from making decisions about same-sex couples adoptions. This is completely unreasonable. If you can’t do the job as it is intended, then you shouldn’t be allowed to do it at all.

One of these people, after a judgement didn’t go their way, said, “This is a very bad day for Christianity.”

How incredibly arrogant to presume that these decisions are motivated by anti-Christian biases. The real issue is that the dogmatic teachings of Christianity (and other religions like Islam) are no longer relevant or acceptable in today’s society. If religious believers insist on hanging onto their outdated notions of who is good and who isn’t, they will continued to be marginalized in society. This is not persecution, this is simply refusing to allow superstitions and ancient texts to dictate what is right and what is wrong. Morals are something that are agreed upon by a society as a whole, not by fiat by some Pope or elders or, worse, some 2000 – 3000 year old text written by goat herders and religious fanatics.

Christians aren’t being persecuted in the U.K. or the U.S. They need to wake up and look around them. There are countries where people are persecuted for their religious beliefs, but they aren’t being fired from jobs, they are being beaten and killed, or herded into ghettos. These people need to face up to the fact, just as whites in the southern U.S. did 50 years ago, that their days of unquestioned privilege are over.

December 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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