Monday, July 30, 2012

Rebranding possibilities as justified beliefs

By Mathew Goldstein

Some critics of the anti-accommodationist position assert that anyone who in any way is trying to accommodate a religious audience is an accommodationist. For example, they may cite E.O. Wilson who seeks out religious audiences and tries to accommodate their perspectives when arguing for taking environmental threats seriously. Then the critics of anti-accommodationist may falsely accuse anti-accommodationists of being opposed to reaching out to religionists. But E.O. Wilson is not an accommodationist as anti-accommodationists define the term and anti-accommodationists seek to debate religionists and to reach out to religionists and regularly do so when given the opportunity. Accommodationists are people like Michael Ruse, and Elliott Sober, who actively try to argue that religious beliefs can be properly justified within the framework of a rational approach to understanding how the universe works.

So what is wrong with the attempts of accommodationists to reconcile religious beliefs with a rational approach to understanding how the universe works? Accommodationists rely heavily on the notion that a proper and sufficient standard for belief justification is compatibility with the laws and theories of science. According to accommodationists, if a belief is not directly in conflict with any particular law or theory of science as they appear in textbooks then that belief is properly justified. I call this method a belief first approach for justifying beliefs. It is mistaken.

This belief first approach for justifying beliefs does incorporate a real standard in the sense that it does impose a necessary constraint on which beliefs can be properly justified. The problem, and this is a big problem, is that this constraint is entirely insufficient. It is insufficient because it fails to accomplish the primary goal of properly justified belief, which is this: Reliably distinguish what is true from what is false about how the universe works.

In order to reliably distinguish what is true from what is false, it is necessary to impose some additional constraints. In particular, there is the constraint that we don't spatchcock non-evidence supported beliefs onto our evidence supported conclusions. One reason we apply this additional constraint is that there is an infinite, unlimited, supply of such beliefs. Basically, such beliefs are mere possibilities. And merely proposing a possibility doesn't achieve our primary objective of distinguishing what is true from what is false. Elevating mere possibilities to the status of justified beliefs opens the door to justifying all sorts of ridiculous beliefs, such as believing that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States or professes Islam.

Furthermore, we have every reason to think human imagination derived, human intuition derived, human psychology derived, beliefs are fictions because the evidence is overwhelming that in the context of questions dealing with issues outside of our day to day experience, such as questions concerning the very small and the very large, what we discover to be true via the empirical evidence is consistently outside the scope of anything that anyone previously imagined or intuited. So to allow such spatchcocking is to allow a back-door way to extraneously re-introduce our human imagination derived, human intuition derived, human psychology derived, fictions into our descriptions of how the universe works. This is particularly true when there is no explanatory deficiency in the evidenced based conclusion for the spatchcocked belief to remedy. So, for example, evolutionary theory completely explains the existence of all species of life, so there is no explanatory deficiency that is resolved by spatchcocking an unevidenced god to evolutionary theory. But this is also true even when there is an explanatory deficiency in the evidence supported conclusion. So, for example, we don't know why all of the constants of physics have the values that they do, but we don't actually answer that question by introducing an unevidenced, catch-all belief such as "god did it".

But the accommodationists never tell their target audience that there is anything insufficient or wrong with taking a belief first approach to justifying belief. On the contrary, they actively promote a belief first approach to justifying belief, provided it doesn't contradict any science textbook law or theory. And that is just plain wrong and counter-productive.

Furthermore, are supernatural concepts, such as god, really fully compatible with the laws and theories of science as the accommodationists imply that they are? Maybe a deist god that doesn't intervene in the affairs of our universe can plausibly fit with the available evidence. But who worships a deist god? So far I have asserted only that gods are unevidenced. My writing on this topic would be misleading if I stopped with that assertion. Gods, as commonly understood, including even a deist god, are actually counter-evidenced because the available evidence favors (better fits) the conclusion that we live in an entirely materialistic universe. The accommodationists don't admit this. The argument of atheist accommodationists appears to be grounded at least partly in the fear that being forthright would be counter-productive because some of the theists will refuse to listen to them if they actually fully said what they really think. That is probably true to some extent, but that excuse doesn't overcome accommodationism's fatal flaw.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

In Defense of New Atheism

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale.

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”-Thomas Jefferson

By Hos

Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at the Florida State University (and, too his credit, having fought creationist William Dembski), is known for his frequent posts criticizing New Atheists and insisting that accepting evolution is compatible with Christianity (no word on whether it is compatible with Islam.) 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Relating with the Religious

by Don Wharton

We have a vigorous discussion from several recent posts about the virtue or lack of it in relating with those who are religious. In this post I would like to respond to Hos's post on Reaching Out to the Faithful: Does ItWork?

It is vastly unfair to condemn EO Wilsons' or Eugenie Scott's efforts based on national statistics. EO Wilsons' influence should be evaluated where his books have been purchased and in the churches where he has spoken. I think there is ample evidence that he has been profoundly positive where that is the case. There are now religious environmental magazines supporting a very significant subset of the evangelical community where there was no such movement before.

We should not forget that the fossil fuel industry is putting hundreds of billions of dollars into their misinformation campaigns. The fact that our side can make such a significant difference in what is otherwise a very right wing community is a huge success for our side.  Wilson's book TheCreation: an appeal to save life on Earth was published is 2006.  In it he says, “Dear Pastor: We have not met, yet I feel I know you well enough to call you friend. First of all, we grew up in the same faith. Although I no longer belong to that faith, I am confident that if we met and spoke privately of our deepest beliefs, it would be in a spirit of mutual respect and goodwill.”   Later in that year the NY Times highlighted “86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming.” see: Evangelical Leaders Join GlobalWarming Initiative.
How many of us have managed to get 86 evangelical leaders to come out for a positive humanist position?

A similar argument is true for Eugenie Scott and her National Center for Science Education. Her efforts in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial was nothing less than one of the most stunning secular courtroom victories of our nation. A Republican judge wrote a finding that was literally dripping with contempt for the ludicrous arguments of the creationists. NCSE does a wonderful job in monitoring the antics of creationist nonsense wherever it raises its ugly head. Typically after a religious school board gets through being trounced in a legal confrontation with NCSE they are voted out of office in the next election. The voters might still be very religious but they don't like to see their state, county or district be embarrassed by their leaders. Obviously the funding on the other side is more than an order of magnitude greater than the budget for NCSE. The value they give to our society is massively greater than the miniscule budget with which they do their work.

Let me also respond to Mathew's charge, in a comment on Hos' post, that “E.O. Wilson hides his atheism to the point of punting questions about his religious beliefs.” Frankly his atheism is discussed in so many internet articles that it is impossible to deny.  As noted above he declares his non-belief explicitly in his book. I don't care if he does not choose to engage on religion in a context where he wants to communicate on some other issue. The presumption that Mathew asserts is his private view. My guess is the Wilson just wants to stay on message and the fact that he is more effective when he does that is to our advantage. If we make all possible fights over science into a fight over religion we will lose. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are both unbelievers who have received the Humanist of the Year Award. They are out there to educate and they do a wonderful job of that. Each of them avoids confronting religion directly in most of their public work. There is no reason why EO Wilson should be precluded from adopting a similar role.

I certainly do not want to (quoting Mathew), declare “that challenging intolerance/prejudice against atheism is incompatible with achieving all other goals and therefore must not be attempted.” I think it is reasonable to allow intelligent secular thinkers to decide on their goals and priorities as they wish. Reason used in any domain of social consequence is better than unreason.

I was a bit distracted in researching EO Wilson because I got entangled in the group selection issue. Edward O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson both support group selection as an evolutionarily relevant mechanism. Both of them wish to highlight the role of groups in our culture. Richard Dawkins argues that belief in group selection is not confirmed by the evidence. Dawkins correctly says that the measure of an evolutionary relevent mechanism must be confirmed by differences in gene frequencies. It is an excessively complex area of science and to date I have come down on the side of Dawkins.

Anti-theism is not anti-secularism

By Mathew Goldstein

In his recent article and video titled Secularism Is Not Atheism, published 7/28 in the Huffington Post, Jacques Berlinerblau of Georgetown University argued for the assertion appearing in his article's title. This assertion is correct because the secularism he is referring to is a government neutrality that respects religious liberty and civic equality. He completely ignores secularism as it applies to individuals instead of institutions, presumably because he doesn't want to distract from the focus of his argument. That is OK. He cites no individual theists as anti-secularists or atheists as secularists, but in the article he acknowledges many atheists are secularists. This is also OK. However, Jacques Berlinerblau takes another simplification short-cut that is unfair and indefensible.

He cites a number of famous religious people as examples of secularists and two celebrity atheists as examples of anti-secularists. The problem is with his identification of the two anti-secularist atheists as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, and with his effort to associate anti-theism with anti-secularism. The video conflates anti-theism with anti-secularism using camera close-ups of anti-theistic books written by the two atheist authors.

Sam Harris advocates for a benign, non-coercive, intolerance of religion, and he has advocated for pro-active action to thwart religious extremists from carrying out violent actions, but he definitely does not advocate against religious liberty or for government to be intolerant of religion. Christopher Hitchens opposed "the untrammeled free exercise of religion", as do all sensible people, while supporting religious liberty, including free exercise. Both Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are (in the case of Hitchens, "was a") secularists in all usages of that word. Not all secularists agree on where government should draw the lines. Hitchens, for example, disagreed with New York Mayor Bloomberg's acceptance, on free exercise grounds, of removing blood from the penis of circumcised babies with the mouth, as done by a few tiny Jewish sects, that resulted in some babies being infected with herpes. In that instance I agree with Hitchens. Other times I find myself disagreeing with what Harris or Hitchens say. But calling them anti-secularists is not accurate.

The fact is that both theism and anti-theism are equally compatible with government secularism. While Jacques Berlinerblau correctly argues that government secularism should not be equated with atheism (it is usually theists, not atheists, who incorrectly equate the two), he falsely labels two atheist secularists as anti-secularists and falsely equates anti-theism with anti-secularism. He re-enforces this false equation with the final sentence of his article: "Yet as long as some celebrities of nonbelief continue to espouse radical anti-theism (in the name of "secularism," no less) the future of secularism is imperiled." Shame on Jacques Berlinerblau for this double standard hypocrisy.

Compelled to atheism

By Mathew Goldstein

Every week there are press releases covering recent research results that undermine one or more arguments made by theists for a god. To illustrate this I will summarize three research results reported within the past three days and cite the arguments for god that they counter.

The argument from consciousness takes the nature of mentality as evidence for God’s existence. The key idea in the argument from consciousness is that mental events are something over and above physical events. This past week scientists from the Max Planck Institutes of Psychiatry in Munich and for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and from Charité in Berlin reported completing a study that provides more evidence that consciousness is realized through physical activity in particular areas of material brains.

They studied people who are aware that they are dreaming while being in a dream state, and are also able to deliberately control their dreams. Such lucid dreamers have access to their memories during lucid dreaming, can perform actions and are aware of themselves – although remaining unmistakably in a dream state and not waking up. Magnetic resonance tomography was utilized to demonstrate that a specific cortical network consisting of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the frontopolar regions and the precuneus is activated when this lucid consciousness is attained. The first two brain regions are responsible for evaluating our own thoughts and feelings. The precuneus is a part of the brain that has long been linked with self-perception. These findings thus confirm earlier studies in identifying these specific neural networks as seats of consciousness.

An argument from design says that the many species of life could not have arisen by chance and therefore must have been created in their current forms by God. Researchers, led by a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, developed a method to search the vast archives of known gene sequences to identify and compare similar proteins across the many kingdoms of life to see if they physically evolved from a common, material ancestor. They concentrated their efforts on proteins that are found on the surface of cell components called ribosomes. The ribosomal proteins are among the most accurately identified proteins, and because they are not transferred between individuals independent of reproduction, are good candidates for tracing the evolution of species.

Four proteins, named S9, S12, S13, and S19 have been studied by the team. They tapped into gene banks containing more than 600,000 genes from the genomes of more than 6,000 species. Utilizing an efficient method to search through the gene banks, they looked for all copies of the same family of protein. Analyses of the data points to Actinobacteria as the last universal common ancestor among those species included in this study.

An argument from biological complexity says that proteins are made only of left-handed amino-acids, but naturally occurring amino-acids are 50% right-handed, so a god is needed to build the proteins from only the left-handed amino-acids. Life can't function with a mix of left- and right-handed amino acids because a mix of both in proteins would produce different protein shapes for each different combination of amino-acid orientations. Researchers analyzing meteorite fragments that fell on a frozen lake in Canada reported this week that they found evidence for an entirely materialistic explanation for the origin of life's left-handedness. The meteoroid pieces were collected within days of landing on earth and kept preserved in their frozen state.

The meteor has four times as many left-handed versions of aspartic acid as the opposite hand and just eight percent more left-handed alanine. Both amino-acids are found in the proteins found in life. The team confirmed that the amino acids were probably created in space using isotope analysis. The large left-hand excess in aspartic acid but not in alanine gave the team a critical clue. Aspartic acid has a shape that lets them fit together in a pure crystal composed of just left-handed or right-handed molecules. Alanine has a shape that prefers to join together with their mirror image to make a crystal, so these crystals are composed of equal numbers of left- and right-handed molecules. A process of crystallization and dissolution from a saturated solution with liquid water would amplify any initial handedness imbalance in amino-acids that crystallize like aspartic acid. Polarized ultraviolet light or other types of radiation from nearby stars might favor the initial creation of left-handed amino acids or the destruction of right-handed ones. This imbalance then gets amplified via repeated crystallization and dissolution with some handedness conversion taking place during this process. Left-handed amino acids may then have been incorporated into emerging life due to their greater abundance.

People who are committed to responsibly and properly justifying their beliefs need to spend the time required to learn about the ongoing accumulations of evidences and then allow the evidences to direct their beliefs. It is my conviction that when we do this honestly we are compelled to draw the conclusions that the universe is entirely materialistic, and that religions, and gods, are imaginary, human created fictions.

Friday, July 27, 2012

5 Mythic Stories and Real American History

By Gary Berg-Cross

James Baldwin said famously:

“What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one's heroic ancestors.”

Baldwin is just of many quoted in James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong which exposes a series of such myths. Secularists are often involved in exploring and exploding such concepts as the U.S. is being founded as a Christian nation. It’s often a heated debate as seen in the exchange between Blake Dunlop & Bruce Gourley. The secular Gorley side has to put things in context:

Yes, theocracies existed at the colonial state level prior to the American Revolution (and persecuted Baptists, Quakers, and non-Christians). However, at the insistence of Baptists, Deists, and many others, our founding fathers rejected theocracy and chose a secular government structure. Yes, some states continued to collect taxes for churches into the early 19th century, because some Christians yet yearned for some degree of theocracy. And yes, people of all manner (not just Christians) in the late 18th and 19th centuries spoke to the vague notion of “providence.” John Jay’s reference to “providence” is akin to the deism of most of our founding fathers, as is the formal offering of prayer to a distant universal force or supreme being.

Waldman’s relatively new book Founding Faith contributes some balance to this type of debate. At least according to Beliefnet :-) :

In Lies we see a larger myth challenging effort. Lowen surveyed 12 large books used to teach high school history and in circulation during 1994. What he found, and documented is that American History textbooks seem to portray the American experience in a very rosy optimistic way despite facts that make for a much more checkered story. The coverage is filled with a version of blind patriotism mixed with mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies (see various blogs on American Exceptionalism). Hence the Lies title.

Lowen examines several important topics to demonstrate the divergence from historical facts. Why the discrepancy? There are several reasons including tradition and custom that creates a confirmatory story. Its confirmatory bias working again on a grand scale (as covered in previous blogs). And of course there is the challenge of covering so much material. Book feel compelled to cover every President and boil down conflict in American history losing much of the real story. Some conflicts such as the Civil war or intervention in Mexico and the treatment of the Indians are too hot to handle at times.

Lowen also points out that American history textbooks are approved by school boards and are consciously edited to guarantee that they contain acceptable, dare I say, politically correct perspectives on events. Textbooks authors and their editors avoid difficult topics and steer to what will sell textbooks Add to this the political agenda of rabid, right-wing boards such as in Texas and there is plenty or reasons for problems with the real American stories. Much safer to take an American Exceptionalism tope and say that, sure there were some problems like racism, but great (white and wealthy) Americans overcame it all and here we are now.

In the first chapter, Loewen talks about the process of hero- making which he calls heroification details (both important and trivial) are left out or changed to fit the archetypical mold of the flawless, inhuman "heroes." This Lowen notes is a "degenerative process" that turns "flesh-and-blood individuals into pious, perfect creatures without conflicts, pain, credibility, or human interest “

So we see American history textbooks filled to the brin with biographical vignettes of the very famous. Each of us could create a good list Heroification so distorts the lives of people like Helln Keller and Woodrow Wilson that “we cannot think straight about them.” There is a simple reason Loewen points out. History textbooks are actively edited to present the famous as heroes, minus most all of the negative attributes, so that impressionable kids will not think badly of them in any way and we can all be proud of our country. But in the process we may miss the larger issues which the nation has faced and learn from the failings as well as the success. Below are 5 people/issues that Lowen covers as examples of where the texts often go wrong.


1, Columbus – Columbus is one of only two people the US honors by name in a national holiday. We all remember 1492, and sure enough, all twelve textbooks Lowen surveyed include it. But he notes that they leave out virtually everything that is important to know about Columbus and the European exploration of the Americas. Meanwhile, they make up all kinds of details to tell a better story and to humanize Columbus so that readers will identify with him.”

The truth is that Chris was in it for the fame and fortune.

“The way American history textbooks treat Columbus reinforces the tendency not to think about the process of domination. The traditional picture of Columbus landing on the American shore shows him dominating immediately, and this is based on fact: Columbus claimed everything he saw right off the boat. On his first voyage, Columbus kidnapped some 10 to 25 Indians and took them back with him to Spain. “

As Lowen further notes:

“ Only seven or eight of the Indians arrived alive, but along with the parrots, gold trinkets, and other exotica, they caused quite a stir in Seville. Ferdinand and Isabella provided Columbus with seventeen ships, 1,200 to 1,500 men, cannons, crossbows, guns, cavalry, and attack dogs for a second voyage.,,,

On the whole Columbus introduced 2 phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass. All of these are important issues through American history and they start with Columbus and colonization. Understanding the current world is difficult with out this frame.

2. The Indians and those Pilgrims

Lowen notes that “There has been some improvement in textbooks’ treatment of Native peoples in recent years. In 1961 the best-selling Rise of the American Nation contained 10 illustrations featuring Native people, alone or with whites (of 268 illustrations). But and here is the catch most of these pictures focused on the themes of primitive life and savage warfare. This is note the way the early reports on Indians went and such things as primitive life and savage warfare is not supported by much of the modern research cited in Lies.

Loewen discusses America’s shameful treatment of the Indians and the problems with racism. For example, “The American Republic,” the authors of The American Pageant tell us on page one, “was from the outset uniquely favored. It started from scratch on a vast and virgin continent, which was so sparsely peopled by Indians that they were able to be eliminated or shouldered aside.”

Vast and virgin continent? Not according to modern research. The textbooks twist things with selective presentation. Take the Pilgrims, who textbooks say “started from scratch,” when they really started with a fully functional American Indian village previously emptied by European plagues (pg 90 of Lies). Loewen can quote primary sources to the effect of Pilgrims “settlment”, (they proceeded to rob Indian graves to find whatever else they needed!) And the early wars with Indian partners against other Indians.

The ugly truth is that many Pilgrims were thankful and grateful that the Native population was decreasing. Even worse, there was the Pequot Massacre in 1637, which started after the colonists found a murdered white man in his boat. Ninety armed settlers burned a Native village, along with their crops, and then demanded the Natives to turn in the murderers. When the Natives refused, a massacre followed.

Captain John Mason and his colonist army surrounded a fortified Pequot village and reportedly shouted: “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord Judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.” The surviving Pequot were hunted and slain. (Quote from Lies)

3. Hellen Keller

Most of us carry a strong image of Helen Keller, the blind and deaf girl who overcame her physical handicaps. Made into a move with scenes in which Anne Sullivan spells water into young Helen's hand at the pump it has been an inspiration to generations of schoolchildren. A McGraw-Hill educational film version concludes with:

"The gift of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan to the world is to constantly remind us of the wonder of the world around us and how much we owe those who taught us what it means, for there is no person that is unworthy or incapable of being helped, and the greatest service any person can make us is to help another reach true potential."

Hellen Keller’s truth is that she was a radical socialist. As Lowen notes:

She joined the Socialist party of Massachusetts in 1909. She had become a social radical even before she graduated from Radcliffe, and not, she emphasized, because of any teachings available there. After the Russian Revolution, she sang the praises of the new communist nation: "In the East a new star is risen! With pain and anguish the old order has given birth to the new, and behold in the East a man-child is born! Onward, comrades, all together! Onward to the campfires of Russia! Onward to the coming dawn!" ~ Keller hung a red flag over the desk in her study. Gradually she moved to the left of the Socialist party and became a Wobbly, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) the syndicalist union persecuted by Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson’s truth is also covered in Lies.

4. John Brown

I thought that I knew the core of the John Brown story. But since it is tangled with racism and the Civil War, the story I heard was a later construction. Lowen puts it like this - “Just as textbooks treat slavery without racism, they treat abolitionism without idealism. Consider the most radical white abolitionist of them all, John Brown.” I didn’t know of his family roots or the events in blood Kansas preceding his raids or what was revealed in the trial or how he was a hero to the North.

Despite the fact that Brown's lawyers may have used the insanity plea to get him off, Brown was hardly thought of as insane during his time. As Loewen puts it in Lies:

(Brown) favorably impressed people who spoke with him after his capture,

including his jailer and even reporters writing for Democratic newspapers, which supported slavery. Governor Wise of Virginia called him "a man of clear head" after Brown got the better of him in an informal interview. "They are themselves mistaken who take him to be a madman," Governor Wise said. In his message to the Virginia legislature he said Brown showed "quick and clear perception," "rational premises and consecutive reasoning," and "composure and selfpossession."

(Loewen, pg. 167).

Lown supports the view of a culturally convenient view of Brown this way:

“The treatment of Brown, like the treatment of slavery and Reconstruction, has changed in American history textbooks. From 1890 to about 1970, John Brown was insane. Before 1890 he was perfectly sane, and after 1970 he regained his sanity. Since Brown himself did not change after his death, his sanity provides an inadvertent index of the level of white racism in our society.”

5. The Government

Most the 12 textbooks describe the US system of government as being as close to flawless as humanly possible. Here are some snippets from Lies.

“What story do textbooks tell about our government? First, they imply that the state we live in today is the state created in 1789. Textbook authors overlook the possibility that the balance of powers set forth in the Constitution, granting some power to each branch of the federal government, some to the states, and reserving some for individuals, has been decisively altered over the last two hundred years. The federal government they picture is still the people’s servant, manageable and tractable.” pg 217 which continues with specific book treaments

“In Frances FitzGerald’s phrase, textbooks present United States as “a kind of Salvation Army to the rest of the world.” In so doing, they echo the nation our leaders like to present to its citizens: the supremely moral, disinterested peacekeeper, the supremely responsible world citizen.”

“Since at least the 1920’s, textbook authors have claimed that the United States is more generous than any other nation in the world in providing foreign aid. The myth was untrue then; it is likewise untrue now. Today at least a dozen European and Arab nations devote much larger proportions of their gross domestic product (GDP) or total government expenditures to foreign aid than does the United States.”

The truth Lowen argues is that there is almost no mention at all, in these textbooks, about the way things really worked including elements of alternative (inckuding conspiracy) theories, abuses of power, or anything else negative.

Lowen surveyed the 12 history textbooks to see how they treated 6 U.S. attempts to subvert foreign governments that occurred before 1973, More than enough time to be covered as history. The episodes were:

1. US assistance to the shah’s faction in Iran in deposing Prime Minister
Mussadegh and returning the shah to the throne in 1953;
2. our role in bringing down the elected government of Guatemala in 1954;
3. our help rigging of the 1957 election in Lebanon, which entrenched the Christians on top and led to the Muslim revolt and civil war the next year;
4. our involvement in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba of Zaire in 1961;
5. our repeated attempts to murder Premier Fidel Castro of Cuba and bring down his government by terror and sabotage; and
6. our role in bringing down the elected Alende government of Chile 1973.

Looked at objectively if these happened to us we would call actions such as these “state-sponsored terrorism.”

Blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies all of which helps to explain why we have lost touch with our history and why high school students hate history. When they list their favorite subjects, history is always at the bottom. They consider it the most irrelevant of twenty-one school subjects; bo-o-o-oring and confusing too. What could be interesting is the recent past, but it isn’t covered and disappears, unexplained down what Lowen calls the Memory Hole. And because important details are omitted the stories it tells are often incoherent.

Picture/Image credits:


Lies book cover:


Lowen with the Texts:


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reaching Out to the Faithful: Does It Work?

A Philip Randolph reached out to the faithful. There is a lot to show for it.

Eugenie Scott has been trying to reach out to the faithful. It has been an utter embarrassment.

By Hos
Don left a comment on my last post, mentioning E.O. Wilson going into fundamentalist churches and teaching  them about global climate change. It got me thinking about the question: Did he do something worthwhile? Or was that an utter waste of time, albeit a well-intentioned one?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Liberal Religion: Round 2

John Loftus thinks the liberal churches are "enablers" to fundamentalists.

By Hos
Given the attention this post has received, I think I better summarize my views as follows:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Churches are private property

By Mathew Goldstein

Many of the people who advocate for current edition church bulletin discounts at retail stores incorrectly claim that such discounts discriminate against no one because anyone can stop by a local church and obtain a church bulletin. While it may sometimes be possible for someone to fetch a church bulletin from a church, it should be obvious that a mere possibility for someone to obtain a current church bulletin is not sufficient to make such discounts non-discriminatory. There is no legal enforcement mechanism to ensure that anyone can always fetch a church bulletin published by any particular church. A church is private property. No church can be legally compelled to print more bulletins than there are church members, let alone to print enough bulletins for the entire town and make their bulletins available to the general public. A church could promise in a statement made in court or in public to make its bulletin available to the general public and then immediately renege on that promise with no legal consequences. Statements from churches that their bulletins are available to the general public are empty and misleading posturing because they are unenforceable.

Church bulletin discounts are attractive to small business owners because they cost less than paying for advertisements and because the income loss risk to the retailer is lower than for a discount offered unconditionally to all customers. Businesses that want to offer discounts for church bulletins arguably can do so legally provided that they publicly extend the discount generally to published current edition periodicals representing any perspective regarding religions, including religion belief dissenter groups such as secular humanism and atheism. However, even that is dubious because it assumes an active interest related to this particular topic, thereby discriminating against those without such an active interest. It is better to offer discounts to all customers, including those who do not subscribe to any religion belief topic related periodical. It is also OK for retailers to pay for coupons in church bulletins provided that this is done simultaneously with placing the same coupons in locally available publications that do not endorse particular religion related beliefs. Giving discounts exclusively to customers who present church bulletins, or a coupon that is only available from church bulletins, is religion based price discrimination and therefore is illegal.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

From Oxymoron to Failed Experiment: the "Moderate Religion" Saga

By Hos
"I am a scientist, an atheist, a feminist, a liberal, and a lesbian. I am also married (pre-PropH8) to another woman who is a devout episcopalian, active in her church and guess what? We do together just fine. In fact I enjoy going to church with her, for cultural reasons".
This was (an excerpt from) a comment in response to the harsh and in my opinion, misguided attack against PZ Myers a few months ago. Bottom line: PZ is wrong, some religion is good.
Or is it? While many Lutherans, Episcopalians and the like do not share the homophobia and animosity against science that fill the fundamentalists, they do open the door to the latter, by claiming that "faith", that is, belief without evidence, is positive attribute. That is precisely the excuse the fundamentalists use to shield their dogma from critical scrutiny. 
Obviously, the commentator above didn't see it like that. But she also didn't seem to know, or care, that the Episcopal church is dying, either.
If moderate religion is so attractive, as she suggests, why is it constantly shrinking? 

My Humanism is Great - Let's Tweet Together

By Gary Berg-Cross

Recently there was a small twitter storm with tweets around the phrase and enphrased idea “My God is GREAT”. This is just one of topics like this including #Team_God #rtifyouloveGod (see Team God is on Twitter) where you can say things like how God/He does GREAT things! The whole thing is treated like a soul-winning reality TV show where one can show Faith, Indeed the Faith Poet has a poem on God’s Greatness.

Twitter is a popular source of instantly updated information from people out there. Tweets on Twitter are an easy way to stay updated on an incredibly wide variety of topics. Clearly one of these topics rants on God’s greatness. I don’t know who started the tweet topic but you can read about the idea on mymorningti Blog which encourages people to boast on God and brag about:

“the greatness of the One who was ordering his footsteps. And as a result of that, David was able to bring joy into the lives of those around him.

Have you boasted on God lately?

Boasting on God is not just talking about what He's done for you. Boasting on God is talking about how great He is, how powerful He is, how loving He is... Hearing about the One who can do anything can make just about anyone sit up and take notice.

So, today, let's make sure we take some time to brag on our God to someone else. Let's lift up our God just because He's God. As we open up our mouths and praise our Father, we will be bringing some joy into the lives of those around us.”

OK. Fine. But what about the Freethinking community? What to we have to say we feel great about? What have we boasted about Humanism and Secular Humanism today? We have a good supply of atheism quotes etc.

Just looking quickly on Twitter on Humanism one finds good things.

Jennifer Hancock @JentheHumanist tweets #Humanism in a nutshell: Be a good person. #happyhumanist

Allen Paige @ajpaige tweets#Humanism is all about love. .

We might rally around such ideas with a phrase like “My Humanism is Great” and provide a reason like “it is all about love” with perhaps a link to a site if you know of one.

Shall we try it? For those that don’t tweet, put your ideas as comments here and we’ll get then on Twitter. Perhaps we can start a trending topic.

Picture/Image Credits

God is Good:

Twitter Trends:

Best of Humanism:

Friday, July 20, 2012

Battles Discussing the Elites -America Lite & Twilight of the Elites

by Gary Berg-Cross
In this book-crowded summer of contentious reads David Gelernter has added to the pile with his America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats). One may agree with some of the broad statements: "The nation is filling inexorably with Airheads, nominally educated yet ignorant; trained and groomed like prize puppies. " But wait a minute who does he say are the puppies? Good liberals. Oh, I had some other airheads in mind. Did Gelernter follow the Republican primary?
The book's already the object of battling reviews. The National Review cautiously likes it and talks about it's argument of Dismantling of a Culture - "America’s elites now disdain the rest of America." 

They interviewed a disgruntled Gelenter, who was happy to add to his earlier arguments from Americanism:The Fourth Great Western Religion.
In that earlier work Gelenter asked what it means to “believe” in America? Why do we always speak of our country as having a mission or purpose that is higher than other nations? I think our founders gave us some hope for this with things like separation of church and state.  But David argues that modern liberals have "invested a great deal in the notion that America was founded as a secular state, with religion relegated to the private sphere." So to Gelernter, America is not secular at all, but a powerful religious idea—that males its sort of a religion in its own right. What kind you ask? Gelernter says that what we have come to call “Americanism” (as in American Exceptionalism) is in fact a secular version of Zionism. This is scary language to some since Zionism has produced a conservative state based on religion. And it attitude towards the use of the military option and settling disputes with neighbors leaves something to be desired.

His new book takes off from there to continue the attack on intellectual elites, a topic I've blogged on earlier.

"In a piddling few decades, the world’s most powerful, influential cultural establishment happened to get demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. What had been basically a Christian, patriotic, family-loving, politically moderate part of society became contemptuous of biblical religion, of patriotism, of the family, of American greatness. The American cultural elite used to resemble (more or less) the rest of America. Today it disdains the rest of America. That’s a revolution."

A good counter arguement to Gelenter's is offered in Russell Jacoby's review of the book in an article called Dreaming of a World With No Intellectuals.

As he notes Gelernter highlights the role of American Jews as a way to trace the enormous cultural change and its consequences in higher education. But Gelenter's argument seems to be one of selective data and does not live up to comparative analysis as suggested in the quote below from Jacoby's review which includes quotes from the book.
"Up through the 60s, the WASP establishment excluded Jews from elite universities. But by 1970, Jews had pushed their way into student bodies, faculties, and administrations. The consequences? Again, easy. Jews are both leftist and aggressive. "Naturally, we would expect that an increasing Jewish presence at top colleges" would imprint the schools with those qualities. "And this is just what happened." Colleges and universities became more leftist as well as more "thrusting" and "belligerent."...
"Gelernter is Jewish, and it is not likely that a non-Jew would airily argue that obnoxious leftist Jews have taken over elite higher education. But Gelernter does so with enthusiasm untempered by facts. Aside from quoting Jewish neoconservatives such as Norman Podhoretz as sources, Gelernter does not offer a single example of what he is writing about. Who are these belligerent leftist Jewish professors? Anthony Grafton? Steven Pinker? Richard Posner? Martha Nussbaum? Perhaps Alan Dershowitz?
Moreover, the entire formulation remains vague. What does it mean that colleges have acquired "a more thrusting, belligerent tone"? The whole college? The administration? The students? One might imagine that Brandeis University, founded in 1948 by Jews, would be a perfect example to verify Gelernter's argument. Is it loud and leftist? Gelernter does not mention it."

Chris Hayes has also written a book this summer on called Twilight of the Elites. In Hayes' view the problem is less ideological of left and right and more of elite self interest which detracts from solving problems. "Part of the problem is that this kind of elite solidarity, this self-protection impulse, it stretches across the public and private sector, and it stretches across, in some way, ideological lines," (More on Hayes book, perhaps in a later post.)

It would be great to get Chris and Gelernter to debate this point and one might hope we could see this on Chris's weekend show Up with Chris Hayes. If he invites Susan Jacoby to the discussion it should be world class. She was great when the Up show discussed the Reason Rally this Spring. He could also invite Janine R. Wedel who could discuss her idea of Shadow Elite - see
The Scandal of Anti-Intellectualism and Elites.

Picture/Image Credits

America Lite:
American Zionism:
Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy :
Why Are Jews Liberals?:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why Isn't God Looking After His Own?

Relatives shares of Mexico's many cartels of the drug trade.

By Hos
Mexico, our neighbor to the south, is one of the world's most crime ridden countries in the world. Corruption levels are through the roof. Numerous drug cartels, often violently clashing with one another and the government, share the lucrative drug trafficking "industry". All of which should be puzzling, since it also happens to be an extremely religious nation, where everyone supposedly is a devout catholic or evangelical.
In the most recent instance of breakdown of law and order, an armed gang assaulted a christian youth camp and went on a rampage of violence that went on for many hours, apparently, with total impunity.
My deepest sympathies are with the victims of this (not so isolated) outrage. But I wonder, will they ever be asking themselves, why their god allows this to happen in Mexico? Is this just a "test of their faith"? Or is it that god is totally out of the picture because he gave us "free will", while nonetheless still claiming credit when we do good things?

Would you Like some Lettuce with my Answer?

By Gary Berg-Cross
Word Salad (aka verbal salad) is a phrase to describe a rather jumbled manner of speaking or writing. The words are organized in free flowing ways that for most of us don't form or communicate a meaningful idea. They are like ingredients in a tossed salad. In graduate school I was introduced to this as sympathetic of schizophrenic speech. In other words diagnostic evidence of a mental disorder. Indeed the 3 positive symptoms of schizophrenia are:
1. disorganized thinking such as delusions of grandeur or persecution
2. disturbed perceptions such as hallucinations and
3. disorganized speech – our verbal salad
There often seems some associative nature to a word salad such as
backward, TV, new, Japanese, movie.”
At times some poetry has the free flowing associative feel that can seem like a word salad, but it has overall coherence, consistency and associative insight that people find in the passage below from Gregory Corso’s "Marriage" which stays on it’s marriage theme:
" Should I get married? Should I be Good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustaus hood?
How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
God what a husband I'd make!"
Corso was a key member of the writers Beat movement that consciously aimed at convention-breaking, novel use of words and testing the bounds of appreciative comprehension.
I was reminded of word salads that break “conventions” of the non-poetic form listening to a politician’s answer to a question recently. It hardly matters who, since it is a wide and growing phenomena. Well, OK it was Bob McDonnell, anti women's rights Governor of Virginia, who when asked something, I think about the Bain capital issues, responded with a barrage that changed the topic to another direction:
“I lived in the places the president went this weekend,” …. “I lived in Green Run in Virginia Beach. I lived in Glen Allen in Henrico County. I know the people in those neighborhoods. They don’t much care about Bain Capital or Mitt Romney’s tax returns. They care about getting people to work, getting people out of debt and having bold leadership on energy, so if the president wants to continue to talk about things that aren’t that important, he’ll have to make that decision, but for me, for the Romney campaign, I’m going to talk about things Virginians care about.”
How much better it would be in a society where people can respond to a question rather than push out talking points.I hope that the media will play the role of fact finder and insist on fair, logical analysis and coherence on the issues. Here's to critical thinking. But I what I see now is more of an inability to handle the spin.
Confusing, spin non-answers may be on the rise in states like VA where there is much at stake this Fall. A prefiguring of this might be what we heard and saw in Wisconsin’s recall effort earlier. Word salad from Wisconsin State Sen. Frank Lasee, (R-De Pere), circulated in May that seemed to one writer to equate recall petition signers with tax delinquents. The full text is at the end of this blog. To rational analysis and the fact-based community it raises more questions than answers and defies simple logic or conventional math. It does, however, have that coherence needed to satisfy that low hurdle of confusing issues about who is using shame to what purpose, getting in emotional phrases about “good neighbors” and talking points on taxes. Here is an example on the reason about taxes, see if you can diagram the logic here and get back to me:
"These are the people, when asked how local governments will pay for these elections say 'Tax the rich! They need to pay their FAIR SHARE!' Apparently that means 'We don’t have to pay, so they can pay more.'”
All this is within a buffet style that provides unhealthy heapings for ideologs. You get climate change thrown in to the recall effort. What fun when pols get to mouth off like 8th graders. It’s the political form of word salad, but mixed with delusions, denials, mis-perceptions, half truths and disturbed perceptions. Dare we say it is schizophrenic-like or light. It’s not filling, but some will call it a dysfunctional meal.

This is What Hypocrisy Looks Like! (according to Frank Lasee)

Have you ever had your lawn get away from you for a while? Maybe your kids have a dance recital or you have family coming into town and you just didn’t have the time to mow it?

Eventually, if it gets so bad, your neighbors start to give you dirty looks, and rather than have your neighbors resent you for making the neighborhood look bad you get out the old mower and get to work.

Technically, if you live in town, there is probably a law that says you have to mow your yard, although I doubt the thought crossed your mind when your neighbors were giving you the eye. Your neighbors were using a powerful tool, called shame.

Meet the recallers. They've developed a powerful antibody to shame.

Over the next month, state and local governments will pay $17 MILLION because the left didn’t get their way. It's a funny coincidence that some of the people that signed the recall petitions just happen to owe over $17 MILLION in back taxes and that's only part of the recall list!
These are the people, when asked how local governments will pay for these elections say “Tax the rich! They need to pay their FAIR SHARE!” Apparently that means “We don’t have to pay, so they can pay more.” They don't care about spending other people's money on recalls. They are shameless.

Of course, not everyone who signed a recall petition owes back taxes, and I’m sure there are a few Walker supporters who aren’t completely paid up either, times are hard. The difference is those Walker supporters aren’t asking everyone else to pay $17 million dollars because they didn’t get their way, so they can have a "do over".
In total, these Recallers have cost the state $34 Million dollars, and then they have the nerve to talk about “fair share.” That’s $34 Million that won’t be spent to pay teachers, $34 Million that won’t help sick people with medical care, that's $34 Million that won’t go back into Taxpayer pockets.

Many local governments could wind up short this year because they didn’t budget for the recall elections. Town and city governments don’t have a lot of extra money lying around, and this is going to have a big impact on the money they have to repair roads, to pay snowplow drivers in winter, to provide all kinds of services.
For safety’s sake, let’s hope Global Warming hits really hard this year! I like the Carolina winters.
Although shame doesn’t work on everyone, it can do some serious good. When I was in the legislature I authored the law requiring the Department of Revenue to start the Taxpayer Website of Shame. This goes back to the lawn mowing. If your neighbors know you’re not paying your taxes, you might be a little more likely to pay them……
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