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Archive for June, 2008

Conversation with a Friendly Christian

Posted by Skeptigator on June 30, 2008

About 9 months ago, I was introduced to the website FriendlyChristian.com (I believe through FriendlyAtheist.com). Even though I am a fairly committed atheist I still like to keep up on what “the Fundies” are doing. I have a list of these sites in my Google Reader however it became obvious very quickly that the author of FriendlyChristian.com was not your typical Christian. I realized that I would go to my “Fundies” category and the first blog posts I would read would be the latest on FriendlyChristian.com, Bill you’ll be happy to note that your blog has moved to my “Regulars” category.

But don’t take my word for it, check out some of the more memorable posts, IMO:

Bill Cecchini is the man behind the curtain however he has opened his blog to multiple authors including at least one who does not share his faith (or any for that matter). I had an opportunity to interview him recently, enjoy.

Skeptigator: Perhaps the biggest question I have is, “Why are you doing this website? After all, aren’t all Christians supposed to be friendly already?”

Bill: Aren’t all Christians supposed to be friendly? Well, yeah, I’d say so. The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I’m pretty sure “friendly” is covered in there somewhere. Somewhere along the way, Christianity has evolved from a faith known for these fruits of the spirit into a religion known for book burning, judging, hating, and picketing. I won’t be known for that, nor will I stand for it. I try to live a simple, yet efficient life. In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus tells a religious teacher what life is all about: loving God and loving each other. Christians have done a very good job of turning our faith into a bit of a joke. We judge unbelievers for their sin, then turn around and do the exact same thing. We have public burnings of The Da Vinci Code, as if that’s gonna communicate God’s love to anyone. We use the name GodHatesFags.com for our church’s website name. And we wonder why people look at us like we’re nuts.

A few weeks ago, one commenter wrote that she’d never come back to FriendlyChristian.com if the site ever became evangelistic. It was then that I realized that the site IS evangelistic, just not in an obvious or invasive manner. I love that I am able to allow so many unbelievers to see into my mind and life. I’ve always said that my curse/blessing is that I am very open, honest, and real. I admit my struggles, doubts, insecurities, and questions about the Christian faith. Unfortunately, many Christians paint an “I’ve got it all figured out” or “all is good cuz I’m saved” picture, when the truth is, we DON’T have it all figured out, and sometimes life ISN’T good. I think that my authenticity and transparency are what keep the readers interested and coming. Also, I think my posts give ex-Christians something that they can easily relate to.

I say all that to say this: FriendlyChristian.com is my attempt to bring Christianity back to its roots of love, service, truth, and relationships, without sacrificing the power and authority of the gospels, in an environment where everyone is welcome and conversation is encouraged.

On September 12th, 2006, my pastor said, “The world is changed by passionate people.” On FriendlyChristian.com, countless people have told me that I’m not doing anything unique or special. “It’s all been done before, Bill, and this might be a bit too big for you,” they say. Maybe so, but I’m gonna continue giving it all I have. I’m passionate, and just maybe I can change the world.

Skeptigator: What have been some of the biggest challenges personally for you in running a site like this? You have a mix of Christians and non-Christians. That must lead to interesting discussions?

Bill: Oh, the challenges are plentiful. When I started FC, right off the bat I encountered perhaps the most popular atheist stereotype: they are freakin’ smart! As a 28-year-old who is just now trying to finish up his undergraduate degree, I often struggle with feeling not smart enough to host a site frequented by educationally superior people who very openly disagree with much of what I have to say. I’m not good at debating and I’ve never been a very confrontational person.

Another challenge I have is trying to stay encouraged. It’s tough to put so much prayer, time, effort, and emotion into a blog and watch it get torn to shreds by people who think I’m “nuts,” as one reader put it. I often want to give up as I feel like I’m just one guy trying to take on the world, believers and non-believers alike.

One of my most frustrating challenges is dealing with Christians. I can’t stand when people tell me that I’m wrong for reading the wrong bible translation. It boils my blood when Christians criticize mega churches. I want to scream when Christians argue over things that, in the end JUST DON’T MATTER a whole lot. We’re supposed to be on the same team with a common message: Jesus saves. Instead we’re beating each other up and then wondering why people turn from God. *smacks head*

Lastly, one of the biggest challenges for me is that I just don’t feel like a good enough representative of the Christian faith to be hosting this site. My life is anything but holy and perfect. I am extremely flawed and only human. It wouldn’t be hard for a person to point out the sin in my life. I know this is the wrong way to think, and I often pray against it. But hey, you asked so I’m just gonna give it to you straight.

Skeptigator: Personally, I think “Atheism” has a P.R. problem within the Christian community (perhaps the U.S. in general)? Do you agree? And, if so, what can atheists and freethinkers do to improve on that image, at least open doors to a greater understanding within the Christian community?

Bill: I agree that the word “atheist” has very negative connotations. The word “Christian” also has many negative connotations. My advice to anyone is that you can be the difference. Fight the stereotype. Who knows, maybe it’ll catch on.

Skeptigator: In conversations with Christians perhaps one of the least convincing arguments they will use is, “well, you just don’t have Faith”. As if I’m going to suddenly slap myself on the forehead and exclaim, “Eureka! That’s what I’ve been missing. Can I get that at Wal-Mart?” What is the least effective thing an atheist can say to attempt to convince you of the “error of your ways”?

Bill: Anything. I appreciate and welcome any productive dialog discussing the “errors” of either of our ways, but in the end, it’s the choice of each individual, right? I’m extremely open and honest about my faith. I acknowledge and admit to every struggle or question that I have about Christianity. I provide better arguments to convince myself of the “errors of my ways” than any theological or scientific argument from any atheist ever could. Many people see this as a weakness. I see it as a strength. I also think it makes Christianity much more attractive. People are sick of the “holier than thou/my ‘you know what’ don’t stink/check out my fancy suit/boycott Starbucks cuz they don’t support the troops” Christian. I say we drop the act and tackle the faith like a man. Or a woman 🙂

Skeptigator: You’ve alluded to this earlier but if you were forced to boil the message of Christ down to, oh, 200 words or less what would it be? Go!

Bill: I can do it in six: “Love God and love each other.” This is the theme behind FriendlyChristian.com and my purpose in life. Simple, eh?

Skeptigator: McCain, Obama or Barr?

Bill: “Hey look, it’s Elvis!” Nah, I haven’t decided yet, to be honest with you. I’ll cast my vote based on who I feel will lead our country the best, not on the fact that I’m a Christian and am expected to vote Republican. I’m not overly excited or hopeful about any of the candidates. Can I still vote Ron Paul?

As always, funny, honest and more intelligent than he gives himself credit for. If you get a chance, check out FriendlyChristian.com and participate in the conversation, it’s one worth having.

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Posted in Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Your Brain Lies To You

Posted by neuralgourmet on June 30, 2008

That’s the title of an excellent op-ed in last Friday’s NY Times by Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience. Wang briefly lays out some of the ways our brains select and mold the information we take in to accommodate our mental models, emotional attachments and beliefs. I’d like to think that people would be better critical thinkers if they understood how and to what extent our mental apparatus is simply faulty.

Posted in Science | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Inheriting the Wind

Posted by dystressed on June 29, 2008

As I child, I never saw the movie “Inherit the Wind.”

I finally watched it several days ago and it was fascinating. I decided to find out more about it. Here are some things I found out using the wonders of the Internet:

  1. The real Scopes “Monkey” trial was actually a well-orchestrated farce, designed by the teachers to expose the religious influence in the Tennessee state law banning evolution. It was also one of the most ingenious publicity stunts ever concocted. The final resolution of this case and others like it was the 1962 supreme court ruling banning religious instruction in public schools. (Source)
  2. The movie itself was based upon a play. The play was actually written as a fable about McCarthy-era politics. (Source)
  3. There’s a connection to Fort Wayne. Dick York, one of the principle cast members, was born in Fort Wayne.

The film itself is very moving. I would say it’s even divisive. It was mean to the creationists and religious people, and presents the Evolutionists as snotty and condescending.

Now as we examine both sides of the debate today, there is even more of a divergence of views. If anything, the fundamentalists are even more adamant about their position. Evolutionists, at least I’d like to think, are much more enlightened than those in the movie. Advances in science, such as the discovery of DNA, the Hubble telescope, Mars Rovers, et cetera, have given science new insights in the arguments against creation.

In short, science has progressed and evolved since the middle of the twentieth century by leaps and bounds. Religion has stagnated with no new arguments or evidence to back up their position.

Of all arguments in support of science, this simple illustration is the most telling.

Posted in Events, FreeThought, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science, Skepticism | Leave a Comment »

Ignorance is nonpartisan

Posted by neuralgourmet on June 28, 2008

Phil over at the Bad Astronomy Blog notes an interesting Gallup poll that asked participants whether they believed:

  1. that God created humans exactly as they are now sometime in the last ten centuries,
  2. or that humans developed over millions of years but with guidance from God,
  3. or that humans developed over millions of years and God had no part.

As you might expect, more Republicans said they believed in the first option than did Indepedents or Democrats. About 60% of Republicans answered that they believed in the first option, while only about 40% each of Independents and Democrats thought this way. To be sure, that’s a significant difference but I’m not cheered by the fact that only two out of every five of my party mates is a Creationist versus three out of every five Republicans.

It gets worse though. Another way of looking at the poll choices is:

  1. Creationism
  2. Intelligent Design
  3. Evolution

If we then add the Creationist and Intelligent Design responses together we get a very bleak picture. Some 92% (greater than nine out of ten) of Republicans and about 77% each (almost eight out of ten) of Democrats and Indpendents believe in either Creationism or Intelligent Design.

Have I depressed you yet? Well, there is something of a silver lining to this cloud, or at least there is if you choose to look at it this way. You see, Gallup has been asking this three-part question of Americans for a long time; since 1982 to be exact. Just as one expects to find more Republicans than Democrats who believe in Creationism, one might expect that after nearly thirty years of the country veering hard right that the numbers are actually much worse than they were in the early 1980s. That we’ve become more ignorant as a country.

That’s not the case though. The truth is these numbers have been fairly steady over the past twenty six years with no sharp fluctuations either way. As Phil says, you can’t blame Newt Gingrich and you can’t blame Bush. As a nation, we haven’t gotten any more ignorant, but then we haven’t gotten any more knowledgable either. Yeah, this silver lining isn’t a very shiny one.

What does it all mean? Phil speculates that party allegiance is very strong so people stick with their parties even when the stated goals and policies of those parties radically change over time. Similarly, religious views are also very strong and thus stay the same from year to year. That seems like a good enough explanation to me.

I think there’s something else to take away from this Gallup poll though. Religious belief is thoroughly entrenched in American society. It is weaved throughout our social fabric in a way that we can never hope to prize apart the threads of our cultural history that value rational thought and Enlightenment principles and those that value tradition and religious faith. While more strongly religious social conservatives might prefer the Republican Party of the past thirty or forty years, it hasn’t always been this way. Remember that at one time it was the Republicans that were the social progressives and the Democrats the social conservatives.

To phrase it as I did in the title to this post, ignorance is nonpartisan. It’s also highly impervious to change. When ignorance is coupled to religious belief, ignorance tends to get carved in stone. Can we wear down that stone?

Yeah, I think so. And I think there’s evidence that, at least on the science front, this is happening even today. One need look no further than that institution most impervious to change — the Catholic Church. Fifty years ago Pope Pius II implied that evolution “isn’t inimical to Christianity” and in 1992, Pope John Paul II said both that evolution was compatible with faith and that the Church was wrong to condemn Galileo. Later on, in 2005 Vatican Cardinal Paul Poupard said that Catholics should listen to what modern science has to offer.

That’s the God of the Gaps at work. As science provides us with greater and greater understanding of our world and our selves, the concept of god shrinks until it can only fill in the gaps left unexplained by science. That might be small comfort to those of us who’ve watched in horror as fundamentalists and the Republican Party wedded themselves together over the course of the past thirty years culminating in the Presidency of George W. Bush, but religiosity waxes and wanes at various points in our history and I have no reason to suspect that the sort of fervent religiosity we’ve seen in the past couple of decades isn’t already on its way out.

Where does that leave us? Well, obviously with the need to continue to promote and defend secular government because if theocracy comes to this land then surely it’s game over. Beyond that though there’s no easy answers. It’s all education, organizing, fundraising, and community involvement. If that sounds remarkably like politics, well, it is. That’s the same formula success used by politicians for as long as the U.S. has been around. That and a healthy dose of propaganda, but we’re the ones trying to encourage critical thinking so maybe we should skip that. Although it never hurts to relate science on an emotional level. Carl Sagan was a master of that.

With all that being said though, I’m with Phil. We’ve got a long, long way to go.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Affirmations of Secular Humanism – #1

Posted by mikebftw on June 28, 2008

(This post is the first in a series discussing the affirmations of secular humanism. The introduction to the series can be found here.)

We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.

This first, important statement affirms the basis of what we freethinkers believe. As one of the core values embraced by FreeThought Fort Wayne, we act upon it so naturally that we can sometimes take for granted its implications. I’d like to discuss in this post a couple of potential criticisms that theists may direct at this affirmation.

I think the most obvious criticism is, “Aren’t you just worshiping reason and science?” For example, replace the words “reason and science” in the affirmation with “our faith in God and His Church.” We hear this criticism often, as believers try to project their belief structure onto ours, replacing “priest” with “scientist” in the vernacular. However, it is important to note how differently we operate. The most renowned scientists in the world still have the burden of evidence when presenting a claim – no one gets a free pass. Even when we don’t have the time or resources to replicate an experiment that supports the findings of science, we have methods of bolstering and cross-referencing what limited resources we do have to independently verify a claim.

However, we do not just hold our scientists to this burden of proof and practicality. Also key to this affirmation is the notion that, if necessary, reason and science themselves could be further scrutinized, examined, or otherwise put on trial to verify their effectiveness. This brings me to my next potential criticism, “Why reason and science?” Simply put, they work. In all of the years of human self-awareness, reason is the only way we’ve ever known to communicate entire ideas regardless of personal contingency. As Thomas Paine demonstrated in “The Age of Reason,” there is no way to rely on personal revelation when more than one person is involved. All religious systems ultimately reduce to a reliance on the unverifiable personal revelations of one person. To this point, we only have these two methods of gaining knowledge – reason and revelation. We freethinkers chose the one that carries with it the weight of evidence. Even if an altogether new method of “knowing” became available, it would first have to stand the test of reason to have any practical use.

Regardless of one’s religious background or lack thereof, we all share as an ultimate goal a better understanding of the universe and the solving of human problems. While we don’t hold them beyond reproach, we are indeed committed to the use of reason and science as the most effective method to achieving this goal.

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy | 1 Comment »

The Affirmations of Secular Humanism – A Series

Posted by mikebftw on June 27, 2008

During the question and answer period following John Loftus’ presentation last month, an astute believer in attendance noted that it’s much easier to critique or tear down than to create or build up. His particular point was that if you eliminate the Bible, what are you offering in its place as a literary work or a moral guide?

Regardless of this gentleman’s ulterior motive to catch John in a “gotcha” moment on grounds that he never sought to occupy, he does make a valid point that we freethinkers should consider, if only as a matter of public image. That is, we’re generally pretty skilled at finding fault in the various religious systems, but shouldn’t we at least try to articulate what we do believe? What guides our objective morality? This is not to say that we need to write a “new” bible. We don’t need a rulebook. However, I believe that the better we’re able to communicate our shared positive beliefs, the more effectively we can engage believers in meaningful discussions on morality.

Luckily, we don’t have to start from scratch when it comes to putting our beliefs into words. While they’re not perfect, and they’re subject to the same scrutiny and skepticism we apply to any and all ideas, the 21 affirmations put forth by Paul Kurtz and the Council for Secular Humanism are a great place to start when considering the values we freethinkers tend to share. These affirmations can be found on the inside cover of every issue of Free Inquiry magazine, or on the Council for Secular Humanism website here.

Today I’m starting a series of posts, one each Friday, considering each of the 21 affirmations of secular humanism. As you read, please bear in mind the following:

  1. The affirmations are not meant as rules, imposed from the top down. Rather, they are articulations of the beliefs upon which most freethinkers tend to agree.
  2. The affirmations are meant to withstand the same skepticism and scrutiny we apply to all ideas.
  3. Ultimately, I speak only for myself in my analysis of the affirmations. The conversation only stands to gain from new perspectives, personal experiences, and other input that may differ from what I have to offer.

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Oil Prices, Climate Change, Objective Morality, and Evangelicals.

Posted by Andy D. on June 24, 2008

It certainly feels like fate when all of above have woven themselves together in my mind recently. That is how our pattern seeking minds work. I will talk more on personal relationships next week. I want to get these ideas into our zeitgeist while they are fresh.

Let’s start with crazy stuff. I shit you not. This appeared in the Journal Gazette:

Evangelicals question global warming
A coalition of conservative evangelical leaders wants to enlist 1 million Christians to sign a statement questioning whether human-caused global warming is a real threat and arguing that restrictive environmental policies harm poor people.
The “We Get It!” campaign is the latest development in an ongoing disagreement among evangelicals about climate change.The campaign’s materials argue that “recent, slight warming” is an unproven threat that could lead to restrictions in energy use and drive up the cost of energy and food for the world’s poor.

Can someone tell me what evangelicalism has to do with science? If some of those evangelical leaders are scientists or are economists, then they might have something helpful to contribute; clearly, they do not get it! If they have scientists then speak the science and not under the label evangelical and be open for criticism. Reality and evangelicals do not mix considering their hatred of biology, cosmology, geology and other sciences. Ironically, they will even enjoy the benefits of these sciences such as medical care and then credit God afterwards. These people may destroy the planet and it would be a big joke if it were not so common. The driving forces of this movement are the conservative think tanks. 90% of all books against the science of climate change have roots in conservative think tanks. (This reminds me of a bizarro world in which gay scientists isolate the Christian gene).

The topic of this weeks Enlightenment show is about ethics and morality. Ethics are derived from biological anthropology such as reciprocal altruism in animals. The Golden Rule and empathy are selected for and not against in evolution. Plus, we can overcome our urge to reproduce (selfish genes) and seek other pursuits such as learning and love. Stay tuned for more on that subject and watch the website for the show.

Apologists say non-theists have no objective moral code. Where do they pick and choose to follow the good bits of the Bible but ignore the nasty bits? (Is that still objective absolutism? There are Christians that are on both sides of abortion, capital punishment, homosexual marriage, embryonic stem cell research, etc).

Religion completely destroys any sense of objective morality. It gets the whole thing upside down. Look at the climate change mentality above. A naturalistic cosmic worldview sees the planet as an entire complicated ecosystem (Biosphere) and how vulnerable it is for us. (The planet will be fine without us). Religion says the entire universe was built for us. Can they be any more arrogant? Plus, all humans are wicked and sex is ugly. Yet, we are made like God. Come on, who designs a sewage system in the reproductive playground? Religions scapegoat their sins. Is that moral? Don’t get me started on the horrors of lying to kids about dinosaurs being on Noah’s Ark and calling that science and building a museum to ignorance tax-free.

This is exactly what Bill Cooke described about the lack of morality in religion in this very good debate with Wiliam Lane Craig. (Thanks to Debunking Christianity for the link and you will have to go to u-tube for the whole thing).

Back to global burning, I was listening to WOWO because I like to listen to them say silly things around lunchtime. Rush Limbaugh was going on and on about letting us drill on our coastline. I thought for once, we were going to let the market fix our problems like they preach so well. (I am a fan of Adam Smith) Yet, here is the right wing thinking short term by saying let’s just drill here in our coastlines. That is one way to handle it, but only short term. With oil being expensive we will have to change our ways, infrastructure and increase demand from alternative energy sources. That is good for the planet and good for energy independence. Isn’t that the market forces with that supply and demand stuff? This happened before in 1979 and 1983 with our power plants getting away from oil. However, OPEC now has demand from China and India so they do not have to respond to the US. I thought higher energy independence and climate changed were linked. Here is a very good article from The Economist saying that the two are now being separated politically. The right wing wants to reduce foreign dependence but doesn’t pay any attention to climate change. This explains Rush and the we get it campaign from above. Morality and good stewardship is thrown away by not paying attention to the total economic cost including the environment and only the nominal gain.

Let’s embrace this market change for both energy prices and environment. The right wing seems to count out American ingenuity and innovation. Even McCain said we should be thinking nuclear. I agree. (Richard Carrier just wrote a cool blog on McCain’s u-tube problem). Science and Technology are more important than ever and businesses are already thinking green and the trend will continue.

Here is an interesting take on oil prices and it really isn’t so bad. Green that isn’t economical such as biofuels is not the way to go until the scientists figure out a way to make it viable. It is driving up costs for no environmental or economical reasons currently. By the market keeping oil prices up compared to “normal”, we will see more R&D work done on alternatives, and decrease demand. Both are good for the environment and energy independence but apparently we have to fight for this.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Choice vs. Nature (and something about homo-dolphins)

Posted by Skeptigator on June 23, 2008

I’ve had this post half-start/half-finished for some time but a recent post over on, FriendlyChristian.com, prompted me to finish this thought all the way through. My problem lies specifically in an argument used, implicitly or explicitly, by many pro-gay activists and bloggers. That argument is the following:

Homosexuality should be accepted because no one chooses to be gay. We shouldn’t victimize gays for the same reason we shouldn’t victimize someone because of the color of their skin.

On it’s face this seems like a perfectly correct statement, one I’ve used many times. Unfortunately, I’ve come the realization that this argument is fundamentally flawed. Yes, it’s an easy shortcut when arguing with someone who states that homosexuality is a choice and then you say, “Nuh uhh, they can’t help that they were born that way” and then they say “Yea huh, it’s a choice” and then you say, “Yer stupid”. Ok maybe my debating skills have something to be desired.

I’ve seen a subtle shift, particularly within Christian circles, in the arguments against homosexuality away from whether or not it’s a choice or not and many are beginning to concede that homosexual desires may actually be natural. The argument I see more and more often is that, “Regardless if homosexuality is natural or not. It is not a sin to be gay, but practicing homosexuality is a sin.” (The reasons we shouldn’t practice homosexuality are to my knowledge only religious. I think the only time that I’ve seen any secular arguments against homosexuality comes from the “It ain’t natural” argument. )

There are 2 points regarding the Natural vs. Unnatural/Choice argument that I’d like to make. The first is that there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that within (at least) mammalians species homosexuality is practiced and almost always warrants some kind of off-hand-by-the-way, dolphins might be gay.  I think this body of evidence has helped to shift the objection against homosexuality away from the more secular “It ain’t natural” arguments. Unfortunately this very shift has highlighted the very weakness of the argument from a natural cause and thus to my second point.

If we root the argument for the “rightness” of homosexuality in natural origins of the behavior (whether that’s neurological, evolutionarily-selected-for, whatever argument you want to pick) then we also open up much deeper issues that erode the entire foundation for rational thought. Is pedophilia good because it comes naturally to some. What about sociopaths and psychopaths? They are born with the “wrong” wiring but it is natural. We can circumvent these arguments and say that psychopathic and pedophiliac behaviors are not right because they deviate from social/cultural norms. But unless you have information I don’t have homosexual behavior is not a societal norm and is only at best practiced by 10% of the population. You can see the big mess this whole “natural” thing gets into. I won’t even mention all of the good and unnatural things we as humans do, like build shelters, reengineer our environment, practice medicine and care for the elderly and weak. We simply cannot point at homo-dolphins, wash our hands and expect fundamentalist Christians to revise their theology.

Let’s come at it from a different perspective by using a thought experiment. Let’s say that by some scientific method we can prove with near absolute certainty that homosexual behavior is a choice. Not just a subconscious choice influenced by whatever environmental factor but an actual conscious choice. Never mind that this makes most homosexuals liars or at best self-deluded. We realize that homosexual behavior in bonobos, dolphins and other mammals is shown to be mankind trying to imprint a sexual explanation for non-sexual behaviors, for example, what looks like homosexual behavior in dolphins are really attempts by male dolphins attempting to assert dominance over the other members of the pod. You get the idea. Would that change your opinion of the rightness or wrongness of homosexual behavior?

You’ll have to answer that question for yourself but answer is No. I don’t care if homosexuality is found to be a choice. I don’t personally believe that it is a choice but it really doesn’t matter. Consenting adults who are able to make this choice of their own free will have every right to express their love for one another in a loving, unharmful (well, you know, unless you are in to that) way. 

I’ll leave you with an appropriate excerpt from the Humanist Manifesto II published in 1973, they can sum it up more eloquently than I,

In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized. While we do not approve of exploitive, denigrating forms of sexual expression, neither do we wish to prohibit, by law or social sanction, sexual behavior between consenting adults. The many varieties of sexual exploration should not in themselves be considered “evil.” Without countenancing mindless permissiveness or unbridled promiscuity, a civilized society should be a tolerant one. Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire. We wish to cultivate the development of a responsible attitude toward sexuality, in which humans are not exploited as sexual objects and in which intimacy, sensitivity, respect and honesty in interpersonal relations are encouraged. Moral education for children and adults is an important way of developing awareness and sexual maturity (1973, section 6).

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Death and Loss

Posted by dystressed on June 23, 2008

One of the many arguments people have against atheists is that of death. If there is no afterlife, how can we heal from the pain of a loved one’s death?

My personal answer is I don’t know. But then again, I don’t think anyone, religious or not knows the answer. The biggest support religion gets is by those fearing death, and it offers a slapdash, vague notion of the afterlife to give us some false sense of eternal security. This perpetuates faith and keeps the victims of tragedy beholden to belief.

I’d like to think some more about how we as freethinkers, skeptics, secular humanists, atheists, et al. should handle our right to grieve “godlessly,” for lack of a better term. The following is the most prime example I can think of, but feel free to offer input with your comments.

On godlessgrief.com’s message board forum, I read the story of a woman who lost her young daughter in a car accident. They made the decision to donate the girl’s organs and three kids lived because of the unselfish parents. From my experiences with religious people, I would guess that most religious families in a similar situation would not choose to donate the organs.

I likely will not father any children, so I know that when I die, there will be no one left in the world to inherit my DNA. My life will not be eternal in that sense. The one thing that I am is an organ donor. If I die, they may take my organs. That is the only kind of immortality in which I believe.

Posted in Philosophy, Religion | 2 Comments »

What’s the harm?

Posted by neuralgourmet on June 21, 2008

One of the common refrains heard when someone is challenged on their paranormal or supernatural beliefs is, “What’s the harm?” After all, if someone believes their grandfather’s ghost gave them solace during a crisis or that the tarot-reading neighbor is able to offer them some slight advantage in navigating life’s choices, who is harmed? At worst the person seeking other-worldly guidance is out a few dollars and maybe, just maybe they get some tangential benefit from their belief. And often that’s the case. No real harm comes from anomalous belief, and many people do derive, at the very least, comfort from their beliefs. So why burst their bubble?

But it’s easy to think of instances where the opposite is the case. Perhaps the most famous instance in popular culture where supernatural beliefs led to great atrocity are the Early Modern European witch trials where tens of thousands of victims were executed and tortured. However, less remembered are the everyday tragedies arising from unexamined belief such as the credulous senior citized bilked out of their life savings by a crooked clairvoyant preying on their desire to reconnect with lost loved ones.

Most recently there’s the case of Colleen Leduc. Colleen is the mother of an autistic child in Barrie, Ontario, about 60 miles north of Toronto. Her daughter attends a public school because Colleen is unable to afford private therapy. On the morning of May 30th, Colleen received a frantic phone call from the school telling her that she was urgently needed back at the school. She wasn’t prepared for what awaited her.

At the school, Colleen was confronted by the principal, vice-principal and her daughter’s teacher with the disturbing news that they believed her daughter had been sexually abused based on a report from her daughter’s educational assistant and that the Children’s Aid Society had been notified. What was even more shocking was the basis for their accusations — a psychic!

“The teacher looked and me and said: ‘We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of “V.” And she said ‘yes, I do.’ And she said, ‘well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'”

Later Colleen was visited by a representative of the Children’s Aid Society but the questions of her daughter being sexually abused were quickly put to rest because Colleen had equipped her daughter with a GPS tracking unit that continuously recorded both her movements and the audio around her. While it might seem odd that Colleen had equipped her daughter with a tracking device, it’s understandable after one learns that this same school had allegedly lost Colleen’s daughter several times. The geographic and audio data handily contradicted the psychic’s claims and thus the CAS case was closed, although an investigation into the school and how a psychic’s word came to be accepted as proof of sexual abuse is ongoing.

While it might be reassuring to think that cases such as Colleen Leduc’s are abberational, neither are they unheard of. While in the Western world we may no longer have witch trials, people are harmed by their credulous beliefs, or the beliefs of others, everyday. Often times instances of harm arising from beliefs in the paranormal and supernatural never come to public attention. Furthermore, we have a short memory for the fraudulent, thus people like Uri Geller are able to continue their careers despite having been repeatedly exposed.

So harm does demonstrably follow from paranormal and supernatural beliefs, and that is reason enough to challenge those beliefs where we might find them while the fact that harm does not always follow is insufficient cause to leave believers to their blissful ignorance. And since it is impossible to predict which anomalous beliefs will result in harm (leaving aside some radical religious beliefs for the moment) it becomes necessary to critically examine all beliefs in the extraordinary. I doubt this sort of belief can ever be eradicated since humans are quick to believe, and slow to doubt, but increased skepticism can only help further reduce the harm from irrational belief.

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