Reason Freely


Posted in discussion seed, news by reasonfreely on January 11, 2011

I was reading an article in the Post about the Arizona shootings today, referring to the classic The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder when I saw a comment from an Angry Atheist:

Do you believers ever stop to wonder if your god is simply incompetent?

You people forgive your god a lot more than it ever forgives you, and for much bigger things too. How do you compare a lustful thought against a quarter million people lost to a tsunami, against a little girl killed by a nut?


What caught my eye was that the article discusses the mystery of evil — why do bad things happen to good people? — and the commenter was off topic.  It caught my eye at first because I’m annoyed by off-topic comments since they ignore the points raised in the article and make their own.  I believe if you want to make a totally tangential point, make it in your own blog.

So here I go.

First, let’s ignore the first sentence.  It’s acerbic and insulting; and it has nothing to do with the interesting part.

Now, look at the second paragraph:  It’s two sentences long and tangential to the On Faith article.   First it reminds us that some evil is committed by man (little girl killed by a nut) and some is committed by nature (tsunami).  Those that believe that the acts of others are guided by God have to accept both; but the majority of Theists I know attribute only natural occurrences to God (however, He seems content to sit idly by, watching 9-year-olds get shot by sick nutjobs without so much as a clear omen of warning or providential jam in the gun).

Instead of exploring the metaphysics of the question of evil (as I have, here; as Thornton Wilder does in his novel; and as Julia Duin does for On Faith) he throws it back in our face:  “You people forgive your god a lot more than it ever forgives you, and for much bigger things too. How do you compare a lustful thought against…”  He’s not saying “God can only be at most two of the three:  just, knowing, or powerful” as many philosophers have reasoned, dryly and ad nauseum.   He’s just pointing out the obvious — that to give up resenting God for natural disasters or failure to save the innocent (by arguments like “He works in mysterious ways”; “He is testing us”; or “we cannot hope to understand his plans for us”) is to forgive.  And, the commenter points out, Theists seem to do quite a lot more forgiving of Him than they expect from Him.

What does that mean?

What do you think?

Insightful comment?  Internet trolling?  Both?


Wakefield MMR Study is Fraud

Posted in news by reasonfreely on January 7, 2011

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) retracted the Wakefield study and called it a fraud.  Finally!

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.”


The now-discredited paper panicked many parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination rates dropped sharply in Britain after its publication, falling as low as 80% by 2004. Measles cases have gone up sharply in the ensuing years.

In the United States, more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than in any other year since 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 90% of those infected had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown, the CDC reported.

Anderson Cooper 360

Atheists know what they’re talking about

Posted in news by reasonfreely on September 29, 2010

…but “nones” don’t.  This is according to a new Pew study on religious knowledge.

The exercise of reason requires unbiased, factual information; so it’s no surprise that atheists are the most knowledgable.  Those who care to reject religion in favor of rational secular ethics have typically studied it before they made that decision.  So, as the LA Times points out,

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

“These are people who thought a lot about religion,” he said. “They’re not indifferent. They care about it.”

What interests me is that the “nones” have some of the lowest religious knowledge, lower than white mainline protestants, even.  Given what the LA times said about atheists, this implies that the “nones” are people who don’t think a lot about religion and don’t care about it.  And that’s OK, too; while it’s always better to think hard about your ethics, if you’re going to make a decision without engaging in a lot of reason and analysis, it’s better to disbelieve passively than to believe passively.

Other sources:  Times, NPR

Wackjob Terry Jones

Posted in news by reasonfreely on September 13, 2010

Most of the United States, from rightys to leftys, believe that Pastor Terry Jones is a wackjob extremist moron.  He was planning to burn a stack of Korans at the end of Ramadan on 9/11 to tell the “Islamofascists” that we “aren’t going to take it anymore” (quoting Jones, not Rollins).

Jones is clearly outside the mainstream.  His views don’t represent basically anyone who lives in the USA, and I applaud mainstream Christianity for publicly and emphatically distancing themselves from this loon.  But…

…He kinda made a point.  Unintentionally.

Terrorists — and here I refer to Jones as a terrorist, so keep that in mind — do what they do to provoke overreactions from their enemies and to provoke violence on both sides.  Now, Terry Jones didn’t plan to do anything illegal in the US, but what he did is a very serious crime in some of the countries he was aiming at infuriating.  So when Jones plotted his burning, he was engaging in a form of terrorism.  It certainly horrified Muslims, and that’s the point he made.  And it provoked violence.  Specifically, it got the following reactions:

AfghanistanMass protests, blocked roads, clashes with security forces, deaths and injuries, attack on a NATO base, arson.

Pakistan: Pakistani Christians burned an effigy of Jones; as did Muslims; lawyers are burning Amrican flags in the streets.

IranThreat of “a crushing response by Muslims across the world.” And conspiracy theories by President Ahmadinejad: “[The proposed burning is a] Zionist plot that is against the teachings of all divine prophets. Zionists and their supporters are on their way to collapse and dissolution and such last-ditch actions will not save them, but multiply the pace of their fall and annihilation.” And the Ayatollahs put out a hit on anyone who burns a Koran.


Chaplains Urge Lawmakers to Reconsider Dropping DADT; Adm. Mullen Deploys Chaplains to Crimea River

Posted in discussion seed, news by reasonfreely on July 13, 2010

The Military Readiness Act is going to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and allow gays in the military.  Theoretically that should increase recruitment for the military in times of war by a small but much-needed margin.  And it would make service a lot less stressful for the homosexual men and women in the military already.

The joint chiefs seem to approve.  Adm. Mullen has been pushing for it for a while.  Other than a few homophobes afraid someone’s going to be oggling their Pvt. Parts in the group shower, some tea party extremists who don’t understand what “libertarian” means, and a few COs worrying about a stressful adjustment period, who’s really bothered by this?

If you guessed “chaplains,” you win!

They say that being ordered to stop preaching homophobia is going to restrict their religious freedom.  That would be a very valid complaint, if the idea of chaplaincy wasn’t questionably un/constitutional to begin with!  They seem to forget that the government is paying them. Government employees  shouldn’t be preaching anything to begin with, but somehow prison and military chaplains get a pass.

I’m not going to call for the abolishment of the chaplaincy, though I wouldn’t be opposed to a shift to a more humanist chaplaincy.  And I’m on the record opposing military proselytization or at least supporting a group that opposes it.  I think it keeps our soldiers’ morale up and provides valuable counseling — and those are worth some fraction of my income tax check.  I imagine we could do the same good with secular counselors and morale officers, but it would take a cultural shift, and generations of time.  A particularly strident author I’ve talked about before has called for it, though.

In my work in suicide prevention, I’ve met some chaplains and trained with some of them.  They’ve all been good folks, and they showed empathy to Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists all the same.  That’s the Love Thy Neighbor ethos I like so much about some flavors of Christianity.  But, apparently, not all chaplains are like the ones I’ve met, if they’re willing to fight for their already-questionable “right” to preach intolerance on the taxpayers’ dime.

Thankfully Admiral Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs, seems to find this objection about as irrelevant as I do.

Oh, and on a related note; what’s your opinion on the new $4 million survey of servicemembers?  As a sociologist and a fan of reasoning freely, I like making decisions with all the information I can get, but do you think this survey will gather valid, valuable, or reliable information?  See any interesting questions on there?  I think I do…

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

Posted in news by reasonfreely on July 6, 2010

If you’ve read a lot of freethinker or atheist blogs, you probably expect me to celebrate a victory over Christians or something in reviewing CLS v. Martinez.  But I’m not.  I’m going to celebrate a small detail in the ruling that moves the nation (via the court) toward more rational thinking on gay rights.

The Wikipedia link describes it without too much legalese.

Click to see the full court opinion on this case.

CLS argued that they can make rules about conduct (“engage in unrepentant homosexual behavior” in this case) even though Hastings University’s rules prohibit making rules biased against specific groups (e.g. homosexuals).  The cour “declined to distinguish between status and conduct” — meaning you’re gay if you’re gay.  For as long as I can remember, the religious right have been pushing this false idea that homosexuality is a choice, just like smoking or something.  But the supreme court wasn’t having any of that BS.  A court of educated justices rejected that faulty logic, rather resoundingly.

What impresses me the most is the idea that groups can spread lies (e.g. homosexuality is a lifestyle/behavioral choice) all they want; but the supreme court, reasoning freely, won’t give that kind of deception any credibility.

Follow-Up: 20-something “nones” getting married by friends

Posted in discussion seed, news by reasonfreely on June 29, 2010

Remember the article about college students being more nonreligious this year?  Well other 20-somethings are eschewing the clergy in their own way.  Just like the college kids are getting more secular, weddings are starting to eschew traditional authority:

Here at Reason Freely, we love breaking from tradition and traditional authority.  That’s what it’s all about here.  So I love hearing stories like this.  I’m not cheering the demise of the ministry’s role in marriages so much as cheering the increasing freedom within which people are choosing their officiants.

I think religious officiants and settings do a great job of adding a sense of ancient austerity to a ceremony, but I like the idea of choosing a personal friend or family member to officiate, as well.  Instead of choosing from a list of approved religious passages, the friend can personalize the ceremony a lot better, based on shared experiences and intimate knowledge of the couple.

Let’s discuss factors that contribute to these numbers.  Here are my first-blush thoughts:

– There are more nonbelievers.  Recall from a previous post, 21.9% of college freshmen are “nones.”  And ARIS says 16.1% of the US are nones.  1/7 is 14.3%, so some of the nones are still getting married with pastoral officiants:  In some cases, nones are marrying people of faith, and acquiescing to a religious marriage out of respect (myself, for instance).

– Probably more licensed officiants are “nones” now.  Thank you Universal Life Church.

– Keep in mind, just because a friend is officiating doesn’t mean the couple or the officiant aren’t deeply religious.  However, it means that the couple and the friend are willing to break from traditional religious authority and custom.  That, alone, demonstrates free thought.  As I’ve said over and over again, I’m not against religion; I’m for free thought.

– There are more mixed marriages, with denomination meaning less and less and tolerant denominations (methodism, unitarianisn) growing in popularity (no source right now, sorry).  If you’re going to argue whether his or her pastor should officiate, and if you’re already marrying a heathen anyway (depending on the tolerance level of your denomination); why not do away with argument and let your best friend officiate?

– Community no longer means the people you go to church with.  Modern technology keeps you in touch with friends in ways you couldn’t before.  Now your friends are your community, even if they’re spread over a 500-mile+ diaspora.

– Weddings are getting expensive and heinously over-planned as expressions of self-identity and personal/family pecuniary might.  If your wedding becomes more of a personal expression than a religious sacrament, it makes sense to personalize the officiant, too.  Especially if you’re not as socially bound to your preacher.

Did anyone out there consider a friend for an officiant?  Anyone have a friend officiate?  If so, please comment with your reasons and thoughts.  I’d love to hear them!

Tea Party: Religious Bullying is Constitutional

Posted in news by reasonfreely on June 9, 2010

Aside from the religious leaders voicing support was Danita Kilcullen, the founder and organizer of the Tea Party in Fort Lauderdale. She vows to get the Tea Party behind the suspended teachers.

“Because it’s a breach of the First Amendment and because we so strongly believe in the Constitution in the United States of America,” Kilcullen said.

And what about the atheist teacher’s first amendments rights?

“Yea, but she hasn’t been punished for speaking out yet,” Kilcullen said. (NBC)

Let me get this straight…  You think it’s protected religious speech to sprinkle holy water on a nonbeliever in front of a classroom of students?  You think that the constitution supports bullying someone of a different religious view?   Because that seems to be the opposite of the intent of the first amendment.

Kilcullen demonstrates the ignorance of the Tea Party on constitutional issues.

In other news, I need to write something that’s not just newsfilter blogging.

Where’s the Love?

Posted in news by reasonfreely on June 2, 2010

A Catholic school fired an 8th grade math teacher for being an atheist on Facebook.  For the record, she says she’s not an atheist in reality — but she’s not sure about organized religion.  She’s a classic Doubting Thomas, and somehow I doubt this is going to inure her to faith.  Once again, the Apostolic Church proves its inflexibility, hypocrisy and lack of forgiveness.

(Plus, it shows how harmful the new Facebook privacy setting changes are.)

On one hand, it’s the school’s right to fire anyone they want especially because she signed a contract saying she had to “uphold the faith” while being a teacher.  Pre-algebra has as much to do with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as it does with George, Paul, Ringo and John, but they have the right to think God is in the quadratic formula if they want.  As a religious institution that’s funded by tuition and church tithes rather than tax money, they can freely fire atheists without breaking any discrimination laws — in fact, they could even argue first amendment protection here.   Legally and contractually, I believe the school is entitled to fire her.

But legal right isn’t the same as ethically right.


MMR-Autism Researcher Loses Medical License in UK

Posted in news by reasonfreely on May 25, 2010

Dr. Andrew Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine in Britain yesterday.  Unfortunately, in addition to martyring him to his supporters, this decision has no impact on him.  He stopped practicing medicine in 2004, and has been running an autism recovery clinic since.

Some of the crap this guy pulled is just offensive.  To quote NYT:  “taking blood samples for his study from children at his son’s birthday party” and “the costs of Dr. Wakefield’s research was paid by lawyers for parents seeking to sue vaccine makers” and “he had shown “a callous disregard” for the suffering of children involved in his research…”  Ultimately they slapped him with 30 charges of professional misconduct.

The ban does not prevent him from continuing to do research and publish it, though at this point no professional medical journal will print his work.  Wakefield became  an alternative medicine practitioner since 2004, working in both the US and UK.  This goes to show you what value alternative medicine has — it’s the last refuge for quacks, hacks, greedy liars and cheats.

(I was recently alerted to this comic strip on the subject: )