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Archive for August, 2008

Women and FreeThought

Posted by dystressed on August 31, 2008

One of my heroes is Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her intellect was stunning for today, let alone the mid to late nineteenth century. Along with Susan B. Anthony, she spearheaded the more agressive and progressive faction of the women’s rights movement, beginning in 1848 at the conference at Seneca Falls, New York.

I read about her a great deal in college, but I never made the connection to her FreeThought stance until yesterday. I was watching “Not for Ourselves Alone” the Ken Burns documentary that paired the lives of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Buy this movie on Amazon

Buy this movie on Amazon

Most people know who Susan B. Anthony is, because in the 1970s, she was the first woman to appear on US Coins. But Stanton was much more provocative, much more of an introspective philosopher, plus she died first. History tends to favor the character who survives longer.

Stanton is arguably the mother of the women’s rights movement because although Anthony gave many of the movements speeches, organized most of the lectures, Stanton wrote most of the text and provided much of the rhetoric. This included the famous Declaration of Rights and Sentiments at the 1848 Seneca Falls conference. Stanton was also stuck at home with her seven children (whom she did not require to attend any church), so this meant that Anthony was essentially the public face of the cause.

According to the documentary, toward the end of her years, Stanton rewrote the Bible with a slant toward feminism, an outright scandalous move that got her censured from the movement she helped to build.

The Womens Bible on Amazon

Today I found even more information archived online from a speech Stanton made about the establishment of religion and the dangers of putting women down with antiquated religious notions.

She encourages the audience to question popular theology, calling the times (about 1870) not much better than the inquisition.

I think it’s important to reflect on the role women have played in the history of FreeThought and in history overall. I have often wondered what Stanton would say were she alive today.

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Posted in FreeThought, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Big Foot Press Conference

Posted by Andy D. on August 27, 2008

SETI produces a great podcast (Are We Alone) on critical thinking. The latest one (Aug 25th) examines the Big Foot press conference and photos. This is a great way to teach evidence based reasoning and see how easy it is to pull off a media frenzy. They interviewed the costume manufacturer (wasn’t part of the hoax) who did a great job of making and selling the costumes for $495. Who knew there was a market to sell $495 big foot costumes? The show is 50:31. Are we alone is available on I-tunes for free.

Posted in Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Evolution as symbol of the clash between Faith and Science

Posted by Skeptigator on August 25, 2008

The New York Times ran an article, A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash, last Saturday. The article follows a teacher in the Florida education system and one of his Christian students. The teacher was instrumental in the adoption of the new Florida education standard that now requires all Florida public schools to teach evolution as the “organizing principle of life science”.

For the longest time I really couldn’t articulate even to myself why there is so much contention about evolution. If it were simply that evolution contradicts a literal interpretation of Genesis then why isn’t modern geology also vehemently opposed. Sure there are critics from the same Creationist camp that doubt any dating of geological activity, sediments or rocks beyond 6,000 years old but by and large most people could care less about such an obscure academic debate. Or at least it doesn’t raise any hackles when someone says the Earth is 4 billion years old, give or take a couple hundred million years.

So what is it about Evolution that creates such controversy. Evolution as a scientific theory is less a theory(with reams of supporting evidence) and more a symbol of the clash between scientifc knowledge and religious knowledge. In a very discreet way evolution illustrates the amoral (notice I didn’t say, immoral) nature of science and inherent value judgments that religion make.

Science, which is simply a body of knowledge*, inherently makes no value judgments about the knowledge it acquires or contains. Science doesn’t discover the mathematical formulas that govern the motions of planets and determine that it is good. The rightness and wrongness of 2 + 2 = 4 is an irrelevance.

Scientific knowledge is what it is, subject to revision. And there we’ve discovered something about scientific knowledge that is it’s greatest objective strength. Science is constantly discovering new things and discarding or revising old knowledge. It’s this “nothing sacred” nature of science that makes it so powerful. Without that self-correcting mechanism mankind would still think it was the center of the universe.

At the same time we can make statements as to the nature of Nature but it must always be provisional (“as far as we know”). And here is where Science gets itself into trouble particularly with believers. The believer is privvy to a body of unchanging, absolute knowledge. There is no equivocation in, “God is great”, he simply is. The knowledge that man acquires, via the scientific method, is constantly changing whereas religious/God’s knowledge is timeless and absolute, you can bank on it.

While Science makes no moral judgments as to the rightness or wrongness of gravity, religious knowledge has an inherent moral value to it. There is no amoral body of religious knowledge. To clarify what I mean, the purpose of the stories of the Old Testament, for example, are meant to convey some moral instruction as to the nature of good and evil, God or some other moral purpose. The Old Testament tells us that we should put no gods before the one true god but (historical) Science wants a catalog with corresponding belief systems of those other gods. Science assigns no moral value to those other belief systems, it simply wants know about them.

So what does all of this have to do with evolution or the article mentioned above. When you take the provisional nature of scientific knowledge and it’s inherently amoral stance and put it up against a shystem of knowledge that assigns moral value to all of its knowledge, you will inevitably have conflict. Evolution illustrates this disconnect very clearly because at the very outset evolution makes statements as to the nature and origins of mankind that bring it directly in conflict with the moral value of mankind as put forth by Christianity.

To a believer because evolution describes the origin of human life and our relative place among the other animals on this planet it is therefore automatically making a statement of morality or assignment of value. This is a legitimate statement to the believer because their body of knowledge makes statements of morality and/or assignments of value based on the origin of mankind.

From the article mentioned, the science teacher made the following statement that I think sums things up nicely,

“Science explores nature by testing and gathering data,” he said. “It can’t tell you what’s right and wrong. It doesn’t address ethics. But it is not anti-religion. Science and religion just ask different questions.”

This discussion could devolve (pun intended) into the legitimacy of the “non-overlapping magisteria” argument, that “no such conflict should exist (e.g. between Science and Religon) because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority”. That is certainly a valid argument to have but not one that is relevant to the point I’m trying to make.

The question is does my idea/understanding about the character/nature of Science vs. Religious knowledge make sense or at least does it bring a little better understanding as to why the 2 types of knowledge do come into conflict (at least in my head).


* I use this sense of the word since it’s the most relevant however Science could just as easily be described as the process or method for discovering knowledge of the natural world. I’m making the distinction clear here so the “hyper-definitionists” (you know who you are) don’t spontaneously give birth to a cow because I didn’t spend 14 paragraphs defining the word Science.

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Posted in Science | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Interesting Interview with Randall Balmer

Posted by dystressed on August 25, 2008

I found this on NPR from religious professor and historian Randall Balmer. He had another interview recently on Fresh Air.

According to Balmer, the religious right movement began in the late 70s. The impetus being a legal battle between Bob Jones University and the IRS. The IRS contended that because BJU did not admit African Americans, it was discriminatory in the eyes of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and thus not a charitable organization. In 1975, the IRS revoked the t.e. status and BJU sued. This was the beginning of the religious right. There was no great push for the pro-life movement, no mention of the gay agenda, just pure racism. Such an interesting fact. I thought I should share it.

There’s more on Balmer on his web site. He’s written several books on religion and teaches at Barnard College at Columbia University.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Skepticism | 1 Comment »

John Loftus book “Why I became an atheist” has been released

Posted by Skeptigator on August 20, 2008

Just as a quick note, John Loftus’s book, Why I became an atheist and published by Prometheus Books has been released. Use the link above to purchase from Amazon.com and John will get a little extra cheddar.

Here’s the announcement on John’s blog, debunkingchristianity.net

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

Interview with John W. Loftus and Robert M. Price (Video)

Posted by Andy D. on August 17, 2008

It was a great pleasure to speak with two ex-ministers about a wide range of secular topics on Episodes 11 and 12 of “The Enlightenment Show.” They both have  preaching backgrounds and are still preaching but their message has changed.

Robert M. Price is author of “Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticisms.” He is a Fellow at The Jesus Seminar and professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies at the Johnnie Coleman Theological Seminary. He is the author of many other books. See his website.

John W. Loftus is author of “Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.” He is the founder of the blog Debunking Christianity. John grew up in Fort Wayne and formerly preached in Angola, IN.

Part 1 (29 min)[blip.tv ?posts_id=1185080&dest=-1]

Part 2 (30 min)[blip.tv ?posts_id=1185102&dest=-1]

Posted in Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Getting People to Ask Questions

Posted by dystressed on August 17, 2008

I found this video in which everyone’s favorite atheist (at least mine) Richard Dawkins introduces a group of kids to evolution by showing them fossils on a beach. It goes beyond that to demonstrate contemporary evolution with genetics, specifically, how certain prostitutes in Nairobi have natural resistance to HIV.

This video is such a great, uncomplicated way of explaining evolution. There are some times I wish I were in the UK so that I could get these episodes online.

At the beginning of the video, however, students in a class are ardently opposed to learning about evolution on religious grounds. This is something I just don’t understand. I was always eager to learn about something new, even if it theoretically contradicted my faith, when I had it.

I think the reason people don’t want to learn about something not involved with religion is because they really don’t have a strong faith. At the end, they ask the kids again. All the kids say they will still say their prayers. Of course, they may have been lying, but Dawkins strongly hopes that they will continue to ask questions. I hope so too.

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Science, Skepticism, Video | Leave a Comment »

FreeThought Fort Wayne’s September Meeting

Posted by Skeptigator on August 15, 2008

What: FreeThought Fort Wayne September Meeting
When: September 10th, 2008 7PM-9PM+
Where: Main Branch, Allen County Public Library, Meeting Room B
Desc: At this meeting we will decide on the Adopt-a-Highway proposal among other items. If you have any ideas or questions please feel free to shoot me an email below or post a topic in the forums. As usual the discussion will be moved to a local pub. Public is always welcome

For more information, contact@freethoughtfortwayne.org

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FreeThought Happy Hour

Posted by Skeptigator on August 15, 2008

Announcing a FreeThought Fort Wayne Special Event. We are trying something new. FreeThought Fort Wayne will be having a FreeThought Happy Hour (except there won’t be discounted drinks and will likely last longer than one hour).

We will be meeting Wednesday, August 27th @ 7PM at Henry’s downtown. This is a purely social event, there will be no agenda or set topics of any kind. Remember to bring your significant other or a friend or two.

Posted in Events | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Robert M. Price article mentioned on the Enlightenment Show about moral trends

Posted by Andy D. on August 12, 2008

During The Enlightenment Show round table interview with John W. Loftus and Dr. Robert M. Price, John pointed out the following article that I included below which Robert wrote last year. We were talking about the lack of “family values” of Jesus and the bible. (I will have the shows posted in about a week.) The morality of the religious is really no better or worse than the population as a whole and Price in this article thinks this will slow evangelicalism.

Just today I ran across an article about marriage not necessary being great for health. Like everything, a huge general inference such as being married makes you live longer is very complicated and not clear cut. The family drum has been beaten hard by all the Christian right wing “family institutes” to disguise their religious bigotry in secular terms. For the record, I am not against the family at all and think all marriage contracts should be taken very seriously and divorce should only be used when absolutely necessary. Yes, I am ok with homosexuals forming marriages. I don’t know how those Christian right wingers infer that good stuff from family living won’t apply to homosexuals. I think those families would be stronger due to social pressures against them. Maybe the Christian Right will use this study from the article on machines like us?

I wish Price included the specific stats in his article below, but I think he is right with the trend. I don’t think religious nuttiness and policing will end but they will become less significant.

Here is Robert M . Price’s article:

It used to be the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would never darken the door of movie theatres, even if Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place was showing (I kid you not!). Now that’s moot, especially in the wake of home theatre technology. They wouldn’t dance, because it was supposedly arousing, essentially mating behavior-which it obviously is! But now they’ve skipped the preliminaries (keep reading).

More significantly, they were very much against divorce and had a low incidence of it. But that, too, has changed. Evangelical churchmen and seminary professors found they just could not thunder against divorce any more once their own grown children were getting divorced. Same with women working outside the home. Economic realities dictated theology just as sure as the Feds’ threats to the Mormon Church miraculously prompted new LDS revelations to abandon, first, polygamy, then racial discrimination in the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Homosexuality is next on the list. More and more educated Evangelicals seem to feel they must find a compromise between the inherited party line and their liberal social conscience. This is especially true with seminarians and young ministers. And such theological accommodations are not hard to find. It doesn’t take as much text-twisting as slave-abolition or feminism, that’s for sure. And it was secular feminism challenging the church that led, more than anything else, to the great inerrancy crisis among Evangelicals in the 1970s. Prayer changes things? Things change prayer.

Recent surveys indicate that more and more Evangelicals are questioning or rejecting the doctrine of an eternal hell as well as the idea that non-Christians will not be saved in the afterlife. You can see where this is headed: they are making their way toward being one more tolerant, live-and-let-live mainstream denomination. Nor am I complaining. I doubt many of us are really that vexed by the particular beliefs any fundamentalist happens to hold. No, what we find obnoxious is the pugnacious and obnoxious attitudes that so often accompany their beliefs. But what if they drop that attitude? Why would they?

It was for the sake of feeling uniquely indwelt and transformed by the Holy Ghost that they have erected attitudinal walls against non-co-religionists. It was a mind game to protect their cherished in-group and their firmly-cemented membership in it. But the more you become like the mainstream, the less separates you from everybody else, well, the more difficult it becomes to feel special, uniquely connected to God and sanctified by Jesus. It’s not like they ever wanted to relegate everybody else to the Lake of Fire. It just seemed necessary in order for them to rejoice in not being relegated there themselves. And now feeling so different is no longer the priority. Attitudes affect doctrines which affect attitudes.

But the thing that will sooner or later bring the Evangelical Wailing Wall down is sex. More and more, Middle School, High School, and College Evangelicals admit to having sex in the same casual way as their “unsaved” contemporaries. That is, pre-marital, recreational sex. Having been so long Apollonian, they are itching to yield to Dionysus. But the gospel teaching of Jesus happens to be far more Apollonian than Dionysian. (Give ’em time, though, to discover the Q Source Jesus of Leif Vaage, Jesus as a “first-century party animal,” and they’ll be boasting of their biblical fidelity again.)

From the standpoint of sect-maintenance, this shift is fatal for two reasons. First, and most obviously, if this fundamental plank of the Evangelical platform rots and snaps, you can find little of similar magnitude to point to as the signal difference between the saved and the unsaved. I admit, there are a few more that would be similarly fatal, such as a casual permissiveness re drugs and alcohol.

Again, I admit that there are matters of graver moral content. A Christian ought to be able to say, e.g., “Jesus saved me from lying, from being insensitive, from being self-centered, cowardly, evasive, materialistic,” etc., and those things might be more important. I’d say they are. But you see, everybody accepts and admires those values. They don’t give Evangelicals special bragging rights like the sexual and other behavioral codes used to do.

Second, relaxing the sexual code is symbolically significant. Any group’s mores concerning food and sex are symbolic of their social boundaries and the shape of their self-identity. A group does not necessarily have both indices. One will do, though usually there are both. Old Testament Israelites were separated from rival cults/cultures by upholding inflexible restrictions on permissible food and on possible intermarriage partners. Sexual fidelity had a lot to do with guaranteeing that one’s true heirs inherited one’s land and name. Jewish Christians were alarmed at Paul being willing to abolish Jewish dietary and other ceremonial scruples to make it easier for Gentiles to join Christianity. They could see instantly that such a move would result in Jews being squeezed to the margins of the new religion-and it did. Jewish identity within Christianity was lost. Similarly, among American Jews today it is not bigotry when Orthodox rabbis discourage mixed marriages with non-Jews. Allow that, and you can say the big goodbye to Judaism in America. It will be only a matter of time before intermarriage with well-meaning and good-hearted non-Jews will completely erode American Judaism. The hybrid “Chrismika” is only a stop along the one-way track. Maybe there will be an Orthodox farm next to the Amish farm.

Well, when the sex barrier falls, the same fate is in store for Evangelical Christianity. (There never was a consistent Evangelical food boundary; even the Reformed drank alcohol.) And when the new generations are none too sure that non-believers are headed for hell, it becomes inevitable that American Evangelicalism will ease into the acid bath of American Pluralism. And it may happen sooner than you think. And then all those mega-churches will be up for sale. Unless of course they find a new product to sell. TV preacher Joel Osteen has done just that. His Evangelical belief is merely vestigial; he has converted to New Thought. It is no coincidence that he fills that stadium. Others may not be so lucky.

This was published by Robert Price in his monthly opinion email, Zarathustra Speaks. See his home page to subscribe. The newsletter notes: Copyright © 2007 Robert M. Price. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce, copy or distribute this newsletter if accompanied with this copyright notice.

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »