Another currently relevant comic by The Atheist Pig…
(click the image to see it full-size at TheAtheistPig.com)
If we offer too much silent assent about mysticism and superstition – even when it seems to be doing a little good – we abet a general climate in which skepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate. Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom.
- Carl Sagan
Jon Stewart addresses the birth control mandate and the oppositions claims of “religious persecution” and “wars” on religion.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|The Vagina Ideologues – Sean Hannity’s Holy Sausage Fest|
New York finally passed legislation to allow same-sex marriage in their state. According to CNN (and other news sites), the vote was 33-29 in favor. It was the “first time a state Senate with a Republican majority has approved such a bill.”
Other than the awesome news that gay couples will now have the same rights as straight couples, that also means that there are still 29 people in the New York senate that are probably theocratic bigots.
Says the CNN article…
The new law, which will allow same-sex couples in New York to marry within 30 days, drew a sharp rebuke from opponents, who spent millions to try to defeat the measure.
Because, you know… those damn gays!
But the Catholic Church stepped up in support! Oh wait. No they didn’t.
“We worry that both marriage and the family will be undermined by this tragic presumption of government in passing this legislation that attempts to redefine these cornerstones of civilization,” the state’s Catholic bishops said in a joint statement released late Friday. It was signed by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan and seven other bishops.
It’s an absurd argument. Marriage isn’t undermined by omg-teh-gheys!!!. It’s undermined (if it is at all) by drunken Vegas weddings, marriages of convenience, sex scandals and infidelity, hypocrisy, televised marriage contests, marrying for money, serial marrying, arranged marriages, and a myriad of other things, none of which have anything to do with two people of the same sex loving each other.
And to show how loving and considerate the opponents of same-sex marriage are…
Opponents of the marriage equality law have vowed to take political action against any Republican who voted for the bill.
Because presumably, standing up for equal rights is just wrong and should be punished!
Fortunately, there were enough rational politicians to get this measure passed. It’s sad that it needs to be passed at all. You’d think in a country that prides itself on freedom and human rights, this would be a complete non-issue, but the religious right can’t help but try to impose their twisted moral values on the rest of us.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets it, though.
“In recent weeks, I have had many conversations with our state Senators. I emphasized that not only is marriage equality consistent with bedrock American principles, but it is also consistent with bedrock Republican Party principles of liberty and freedom — and the Republicans who stood up today for those principles will long be remembered for their courage, foresight, and wisdom. In fact, 10 or 20 or 30 years from now, I believe they will look back at this vote as one of their finest, proudest moments,” Bloomberg said in a statement released shortly after the vote.
So three cheers for New York. Kudos to those Republicans who had the wisdom and courage to stand up to their party’s archaic stance on the matter.
And congratulations to all those who are waiting to be married and now are able.
“Dear Christians who find Harold Camping crazy, you’re not that different if you think Jesus is still coming back, but at an unknown time.”
Tweeted by Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist.
Retweeted and posted here due to the plain truth if it.
People have different ways of selecting a candidate in any given elections, sometimes changing their selection method from election to election depending on current events. Some focus on a candidate’s position on the big issue of the day, some on a plethora of smaller issues, some one the tone of campaign ads, some on a specific hot-button issue, some on the candidate’s political party, some on what their chosen party tells them to do.
My approach is generally to focus on a few main questions (three in this example). Sometimes it’s hard to find the candidates’ answers to the questions and sometimes the candidates will hedge when answering, but to me, the answers to these questions say much more about the candidates than just their positions on the issues at hand.
Question #1: What is the candidate’s position on abortion?
This one has many shades of gray (funding, age limits, accessibility, notification, etc), but the focus of my question is on the candidate’s position about the morality of abortion. Should a woman have the right to choose whether or not to get an abortion? Usually, candidates will be fairly black and white on this issue.
Why this question?
It reveals something important about the basis for a candidate’s policy decisions. There is no argument that 100% opposes abortion (that I have heard or that anyone I know has heard) that is not based on religion. This is not to say that some of the arguments about limiting abortion are not valid for other reasons, but a strict, 100% opposition… it’s all about religion.
Why is it important?
Someone who has a strict anti-choice viewpoint bases their decision on religious dogma. I’m looking for a candidate who bases their decisions on rational thinking and objective reasoning. Basing decisions on 2,000 year old dogma doesn’t meet that criteria.
Question #2: What is the candidate’s position on climate science?
I want to clarify that this is not a question about any particular legislative proposals on how to handle global warming. This is a question specifically concerning the candidate’s view about the current state of climate science and, by association, whether they think global warming is occurring or not.
Why this question?
This question reveals an important aspect of the candidate’s objectivity and ability to independently analyze information. The evidence gathered by the world’s climate scientists overwhelmingly points to the fact that our planet is warming and shows an extremely high probability of it being accelerated by human activities. While the manner of dealing with the problem can be honestly and objectively debated, denying the existence of global warming is the intellectual equivalent of covering your ears and yelling “La! La! La! I can’t hear you!”
Why is it important?
Science education in much of the country is in a horrible state of insufficiency and the last thing we need is the country’s leaders making public statements discrediting good science in an attempt to score political points. Denial of global warming is ideologically-based and indicates that the candidate is more concerned with political or religious ideology than with objective reality and good science.
Question #3: What is the candidate’s position on the separation of church and state.
Prayer in public schools? Crèches in the courthouse lobby? Teaching creationism/intelligent design in public schools? Beginning government meetings with prayer? Proselytizing in the military? Religion-based discrimination? These issues are all ones of religious intrusion into what should Constitutionally be secular government activities.
Why this question?
This is another test of the candidate’s objectivity. Our Constitution has strict rules preventing government intrusion into religion and ensuring the free exercise of religion (and a non-preferential treatment of religion). A candidate’s response to this question reveals his thinking about religion and our government… and whether or not he actually supports the Constitution or if he only says he does.
Why is it important?
The religious right has become a disturbingly strong influence in this country, particularly in the Republican Party and the Tea Party. Despite their calls for following the Constitution, this issue reveals that their support of the Constitution only goes as far as their religious beliefs. The path they have chosen is one that leads to a theocracy and that’s about as anti-American as you can get. Any candidate who doesn’t strongly support an uncompromising separation of church and state is supporting that theocratic path.
There are other criteria that I use to select candidates as well as the ones above, but the above three questions serve as a good litmus test for candidate selection. I’ve only given brief summaries for the reasons behind each of the questions, but in each question, there’s a strong focus on finding out which candidates support good science and rational thinking, not necessarily by looking at many small issues, but by examining the overall intellectual and philosophical tendencies of a candidate. It establishes a foundation for further inquiry into each candidate’s positions, but if a candidate can’t provide that solid foundation based on a few simple questions, it seems silly to support them on issues that are, essentially, built upon that foundation.
If a candidate can’t leave religious dogma out of their decision-making process, doesn’t support solid science, and doesn’t support the Constitution, why should they get my support?
…or anyone’s support, for that matter.
From evolution to vaccinations to global warming, something I encounter on a regular basis on television and the internet is denialism, rejecting the scientific evidence in favor of an alternative… an alternative which could be anything from pure woo to scientific-sounding arguments: “Just have faith” to “irreducible complexity.” Denialism is something that invariably causes a collective sigh an eye roll from the skeptic community because logical and fact-based responses seem to have no effect on denialists.
An article from the European Journal of Public Health defines denialism as “the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists.” The article goes on to identify five common characteristics of denialism. I’ve seen all of these “in the wild,” but items one through three are the ones I see most often.
These five characteristics were summarized by Debora MacKenzie in a New Scientist opinion piece titled Living in denial: Why sensible people reject the truth and are as follows:
MacKenzie also adds a sixth characteristic.
Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.
In the New Scientist piece, MacKenzie looks at the “why” of denialism.
This depressing tale [about swine flu] is the latest incarnation of denialism, the systematic rejection of a body of science in favour of make-believe. There’s a lot of it about, attacking evolution, global warming, tobacco research, HIV, vaccines – and now, it seems, flu. But why does it happen? What motivates people to retreat from the real world into denial?
Her approach uses a softer glove than many skeptics use, avoiding outright condemnation of deniers but instead making an attempt to understand how denialism spreads: identifying common characteristics, tactics (above), causes, motives, and possible solutions.
The most notable common characteristic that MacKenzie defines is this.
All [denialists] set themselves up as courageous underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or foist a malicious lie on ordinary people.
I can anecdotally confirm that statement, both in my personal life and in my readings.
Where MacKenzie goes after that is to a hypothesis that what really triggers denialism is a sense of loss of control… a hypothesis that seems a good fit to the major denialist issues.
It is this sense of loss of control that really matters. In such situations, many people prefer to reject expert evidence in favour of alternative explanations that promise to hand control back to them, even if those explanations are not supported by evidence
All denialisms appear to be attempts like this to regain a sense of agency over uncaring nature: blaming autism on vaccines rather than an unknown natural cause, insisting that humans were made by divine plan, rejecting the idea that actions we thought were okay, such as smoking and burning coal, have turned out to be dangerous.
She goes on to explain that this position is not necessarily malicious or anti-science. They simply require a human reaction.
It only requires people to think the way most people do: in terms of anecdote, emotion and cognitive short cuts. Denialist explanations may be couched in sciency language, but they rest on anecdotal evidence and the emotional appeal of regaining control.
The origins of denialist claims are another matter, and MacKenzie talks about how many of the more prominent claims (tobacco, global warming) got their start with corporate backing, how deniers tend to attract other deniers, and how claims become politically and religiously charged.
The European Journal of Public Health article isn’t as philosophical in its analysis of denialist motivations, but hits home nonetheless.
Denialists are driven by a range of motivations. For some it is greed, lured by the corporate largesse of the oil and tobacco industries. For others it is ideology or faith, causing them to reject anything incompatible with their fundamental beliefs. Finally there is eccentricity and idiosyncrasy, sometimes encouraged by the celebrity status conferred on the maverick by the media.
Whatever the motivations (personal, political, financial, etc), the one thing that remains true among denialist claims is their distortion (or complete rejection) of the truth. For many issues, such as vaccinations and global warming, denialism has caused and will cause lives to be lost. For others, such as the rejection of evolution, their positions simply contribute to the “dumbing down” of America.
The frustration of dealing with most deniers is the almost impenetrable armor of ignorance they wear which deflects attempts at presenting actual evidence, be it factual or logical. They counter by trotting out any of the tactics listed at the beginning of this article, selecting the one that best fits the topic at hand. Cherry pick this evidence. Trot out this fake expert. Rage about this conspiracy theory.
When all else fails, bring up Hitler.
At the beginning of last month, I wrote about the Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s sign at the Olympia, Washington capitol building, stating that I wasn’t all that pleased with the approach they took with the wording of the sign. Since then, I’ve read a lot (and I mean a lot) of commentary about that situation and have decided two things.
First, I think the point of displaying the sign wasn’t to further atheism, per se, but was more to demonstrate the point that government buildings shouldn’t be hosting religious displays of any kind. Not only was the FFRF’s sign displayed, but because of the “open door” policy required due to the Alliance Defense Fund’s lawsuit, there were displays requested for other “religions” as well (Pastafarianism, Festivus) including an application by the Westboro Baptist Church to put up a sign declaring that “Santa Claus Will Take You To Hell.” It turned into quite a fiasco which, to anyone who wasn’t too incensed to miss the point, demonstrates in grand fashion just why religious displays have no place in government buildings.
Second, I still don’t think it was the best approach. FFRF’s stated goals are (from their bylaws) “to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.” I think both of those goals are admirable and could have been accomplished in a way that would have brought far less scorn to atheists.
I read this article today by David Gleeson (who has a similar view about the situation) and was impressed with his suggested alternate message.
At this season, may reason triumph over fear and superstition, and may we renew our commitment to life, love, and the bonds of our shared humanity.
That’s good stuff.
David makes a number of other good points in his article as well and I especially agree with him about the absolute statements in the FFRF’s sign. Dan Barker of the FFRF should know better. Lack of evidence does not necessarily mean lack of existence. It might. It might not. We don’t know and we cannot possibly know… for certain. Claiming to know with certainty cripples us in the same faith-based trap as religion. Based on the evidence (or lack thereof in this case), I can believe there is no god, but I cannot know there is no god.
So David’s softer, more positive message is a winner in my book. I think it would have been a much better approach. It probably still would have stirred up enough controversy to make the “separation of church and state” point, but it would have done it without putting another black mark on atheists.
I have to admit that I don’t understand. I haven’t understood for a long time.
Why… why does the US always blindly support Israel no matter what it does?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not suggesting that the actions of Hamas and the Palestinians have been any great representation of moral superiority… far from it… but Israel certainly is no better. I’ve heard people say that Israel is just protecting itself from Palestinian aggression, but the same has been said of the Palestinians (who certainly seem to have body count on their side of the argument).
Palestinians seem to have a reprehensible tendency to employ suicide bombings and somewhat random missile attacks (for which I’ll blame Hamas) which tend to predominantly kill and injure Israeli civilians. Israel tends to employ more targeted all-out military actions that kill dozens if not hundreds of Palestinians (including some civilians) and destroy buildings and homes with wanton abandon.
I cannot see how either antagonist in this conflict can, in good conscience, be supported, yet the United States continually and unequivocally sides with Israel. Yes, some officials call for bilateral cease fires and there are numerous impotent “peace plans” suggested and implemented, but all of them start from the assumption that Israel is the victim and deserves our unquestioning and unwavering support.
I fully admit that I am not as well versed in history as I could be in this matter, however I’ve been paying attention to the situation for some years now and I find both sides to be despicable. The history that I do know tells me that this entire situation is a petty religious conflict that has little to no possible chance of being resolved peacefully. Nor does it have a chance of being resolved militarily.
So why the support for Israel? Is it political fear of being painted as an anti-semite? Is it some sense of misplaced duty to uphold a 1947 United Nations resolution? Is it the lack of other allies in the region? Is it some ancient Biblical text promising the land to the Jews? I just don’t get it.
I’ve seen, read, and heard nothing that would justify the blind support of a country whose actions are just as disgraceful as those of their enemy.