The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for February, 2013

Is Secularism Making a Comeback?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 22, 2013

As I’ve written before, it seems that there is a growing secular and non-religious demographic in the United States that is starting to speak up.  This topic is the subject of a recent opinion piece that I read on the Washington Post’s Guest Voices blog, and I found the analysis by the author, Jacques Berlinerblau, to be worth noting…

Is secularism making a comeback?

By Jacques Berlinerblau

 When it comes to not making optimistic, pie-in-the-sky pronouncements about American secularism I have almost unparalleled street cred. For years I have rued and bemoaned and lamented the fate of this poor mangled –ism.

But in the past few months there have been some positive and unexpected developments both here and abroad as well.The first is far less obvious than it might seem. By far, the best thing that has happened to American secularism in about half a century was that the reactionary 2012 iteration of the Republican party, while not McGovernized, was pretty thoroughly thrashed. To the long list of those in this country who were perplexed and repulsed by this aberrant version of the GOP (e.g., Latinos, African-Americans, gays, women) let us add secular Americans. …

… I want to stress that Republicans, historically, have not been anti-secular nor should the same be said about many of their core convictions. The shift occurred with the synergies that developed between Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the  late 1970s. In fits and starts the relation between the Christian Right and the Republicans has grown for three decades. Did it crest in 2012? Will a humbled GOP shuck the divisive God-botherers in its midst? That is the question that secularists are eagerly—nay, gleefully—posing. …

Indeed, I can be counted among those secularists who are hoping quite strongly that the Republican party can finally free itself from the stranglehold of the religious right.  Unfortunately, the religious right is dug so deeply into the GOP that they will not go quietly nor easily; methinks the Republican party is in for a long and nasty internal fight.

However, there is a note of caution to be heard…

… I am a pessimist by nature so let me raise a few caveats about the political potency of the nones. The first is that their Election Day turnout was somewhat underwhelming (they were 12 percent of the electorate though they are nearly 20 percent of the population). They actually gave less of their ballot to Obama in 2012 than they did in 2008 (70 percent down from 75 percent).

Most crucially, they are not an organized, disciplined, well-funded political juggernaut like the Christian Right, but a category on a demographer’s clipboard. The Democrats will need to organize and mobilize them (and perhaps this is why Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast gave them a shout out when he referred to “those of no faith that they can name”).

This is why I want to note, buzzkillingly, that 2012 was more a victory for secularism than a victory by secularism. But a victory nonetheless! Moreover, secularists can’t help but wonder if the pope’s recent resignation signals, at the very least, a set back for the global anti-secular platform.

So, long story short, the “nones” should be happy to celebrate this victory, but we should not be so naive as to think that progress on those secular issues important to us will simply march along all by itself.  The moment that we take our eye off the political ball, I think the religious right – which is more well-funded and organized than the secular movement – will swoop in and attempt to drag us all back to the Dark Ages.

Rather than rest on our laurels, this moment should serve to motivate us to become more involved in secular issues.  We need to make sure to defend church-state separation, stand up for strong science education, and seek to curb the influence of sectarian religious groups upon our government.  My suggestion is that you take some time to learn more about groups like the Secular Coalition for America and consider signing up with them.  Get involved, get active, and we can make a more secular nation a reality! :)

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Speak Up for Science: Stop Sequestration!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2013

If you’ve been paying attention to the U.S. political news of late, then you know that a crucial fiscal deadline is approaching: the dreaded sequestration cuts across the board to all federal programs.  As a supporter of strong science education and scientific research programs, this alarms me quite a bit.  To make such deep and long-lasting cuts in our most basic science research and education programs would be like eating our seed corn, with the result that scientific and technological innovation and education would be starved of critical funding at a time when we need it the most.

So I encourage you to read, sign, and pass along the following petition from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) imploring Congress to seek a bipartisan solution to this problem:

Petition

On behalf of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we—as researchers, professionals, students and interested citizens in the science, technology, engineering and math fields—write to ask both branches of government to work together to achieve a bipartisan compromise that moves the country on to sound fiscal footing without sacrificing our nation’s crucial investments in science and technology. Almost every national priority—from health and defense, agriculture and conservation, to hazards and natural disasters—relies on science and engineering. As another fiscal cliff approaches, placing a significant burden on federal research and development investments, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness. Support for science is support for economic growth, innovation, and technological progress. Please consider this as you seek to address our nation’s pressing fiscal challenges.

Click here to sign the petition!

Posted in education, politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Necessity of Vigilance: Fundamentalists Ignore the Law in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2013

Well, you have to give the religious fundamentalists in this country (the United States) one thing: they are indeed persistent.  In fact, the situation in Texas public schools goes beyond the blatant teaching of creationism (which is a problem), because it extends to these fundamentalists pushing their narrow religious interpretations in public school “Bible classes”…

In Texas schools, failing grade for Bible courses

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the devotional use of the Bible by public schools, in its ruling on Abington Township v. Schempp.

But many school districts in the Lone Star State still haven’t gotten the message, according to a report released last month by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) entitled “Reading, Writing and Religion.”

Conducted by religious studies professor Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University, the study examines elective Bible courses offered in 57 Texas school districts and 3 charter schools and concludes that “evidence of sectarian bias, predominantly favoring perspectives of conservative Protestantism, is widespread.” (The full report is available at http://www.tfn.org/biblecourses.)

In other words, school officials in many parts of Texas convert public schools into Sunday schools in violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion. … [emphasis added]

So there you have it.  When these fundamentalists lose in court they just ignore the law and continue with their illegal and unconstitutional proselytizing in public schools.  This shows the necessity of vigilance on the part of those of us who value a secular society which fosters good science education and keeps church and state separate.  So if your child attends a school with these kind of Bible courses, make sure to check up and see that they’re being taught in a constitutionally sound manner.

Posted in creationism, education, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Evolving Universe / Evolving Faith” Series

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 10, 2013

Darwin Day is coming up, and I am happy to announce a new series on the issue of evolution, science, religion, reason, and faith from our friends at The Clergy Letter Project and Darkwood Brew.  The series is titled “Evolving Universe / Evolving Faith” and it starts on Sunday, Feb. 10th; check out the trailer below:

Posted in creationism, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tell Congress to Support the Darwin Day Resolution!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 5, 2013

I am pleased to pass on the news that there is a resolution pending before the U.S. Congress to adopt a resolution in favor of Darwin Day!  There is more information available on how to get in touch with your Representative and Senator from the Freedom From Religion Foundation below…

Ask Congress to adopt Darwin Day

February 5, 2013

Continuing the tradition of former Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has introduced a resolution designating Charles Darwin’s 204th birthday, Feb. 12, 2013, as Darwin Day. The resolution “recogniz[es] the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.”

Holt was recently quoted in The New York Times as saying, “I hope we can hold hearings, where people can hear about Darwin and science and the jobs it creates, the lives it saves, everything.”

Holt’s resolution touts “the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution,” “the monumental amount of scientific evidence” that supports the theory, and notes that evolution’s “validity … is further strongly supported by the modern understanding of the science of genetics.”

The resolution chastises science-deniers: “the advancement of science must be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change” and “the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education systems.”

Our country faces a crisis of ignorance. To the shame of the United States’ international standing, about half of Americans reject evolution. Globally the United States ranks just above Turkey in public acceptance of evolution. How can we compete in a global, technologically advanced community when a majority of U.S. citizens deny basic reality and embrace creationism?

The voices of science and secularism must be heard. Ask the U.S. House to hold Darwin Day hearings.

Take Action Today!

Contact your U.S. Representative to support the resolution and ask for hearings.  To find out who your representative is, type in your zip code on this website http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ to find your representative. Click on their name to contact them.

If you already know who your representative is, find their contact information on this alphabetical list http://www.house.gov/representatives/

Call, email, fax, write, or Facebook them. Do whatever it takes to be heard!

Contact the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where the bill was referred, to ask for a hearing.

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) http://science.house.gov/contact-us/email-us 2321 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Phone: 202-225-6371 Fax: 202-226-0113

Thank Darwin Day Sponsors

Take a moment to thank Rep. Holt. Rep. Holt, a nuclear physicist by training, self-identifies as a Quaker and deserves our gratitude for his efforts. Do feel free to identify yourself as a nonbeliever, atheist, etc., so he knows the secular bloc has clout (and good manners)!

Letters: 1214 Longworth HOB Washington DC 20515 Phone: (202) 225-5801 Fax: (202) 225-6025 Webform: https://forms.house.gov/holt/webforms/issue_subscribe.htm (Representative Holt will only accept email from residents of New Jersey.)

While you’re at it, thank Holt’s cosponsors (especially if they represent you). They are:

Rep. Michael Honda (CA-17) Rep. Edward Markey (MA-5) Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2) Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-25) (If your representative’s name isn’t on this list, ask why not!)

Contact your Senator

Ask your Senator to introduce a Darwin Day resolution, while you’re at it!

Find and contact your U.S. Senators: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Write a letter to the editor

Supporting Darwin Day would make an excellent and timely topic of a letter to the editor to your local or favorite publication. Don’t forget social media and online news comment sections to help spread the word.

Thank you for your activism. Freedom depends on freethinkers, and Darwin Day deserves your support!

Posted in politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“God’s 10%” and the Applebee’s Fiasco

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 2, 2013

I don’t feel like making a serious post, so this one’s just for fun. In case you haven’t heard, restaurant chain Applebee’s is creating for itself a media nightmare due to the fact that they fired a waitress for posting a photo of a receipt online from Alois Bell a.k.a. the “no tip pastor”…

A waitress at a St. Louis Applebee’s lost her job for posting online the receipt upon which a pastor had declined to leave a tip, with a snarky note saying she gave God 10 percent.

After her dinner on Jan. 25, Pastor Alois Bell crossed out the automatic 18 percent tip charged for parties of more than eight. “I give God 10% why do you get 18,” she wrote above her signature.

Employee Chelsea Welch — a colleague of the stiffed server — took a picture of the receipt and uploaded it to the online site Reddit. She subsequently lost her job, an Applebee’s spokesman confirmed to TheSmokingGun.com, for violating a customer’s privacy.

I went to dinner last night with some friends and got to talking about the situation and the snarky note from the pastor.  As a way of making a statement, this was what we wrote on our receipt to our waitress :)

IMG_0116What the hell does God need with money anyway?  Isn’t God supposed to be all-powerful?  Omnipotence – that’s like the best ATM ever!!!

Posted in humor, internet, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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