The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for the ‘free inquiry’ Category

The Dangers of NOT Offending Religious Sensibilities

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 18, 2015

**This post will also appear as a guest post at the Wrest In Peace blog. Go check it out :) **

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, there has been much soul searching regarding free speech, religion, what is and isn’t offensive, and public safety. In my first blog post here at Wrest In Peace, in the spirit of battling with words and not weapons, I wanted to take this topic head-on and without apology. So here goes…

First, I think that there has been a fundamental error in how much of this discussion has been framed. Too many people, mostly those who wish to not have their “religious sensibilities” offended and their weak-kneed allies, are asking the question of what are limits to free speech and should “offensive” speech which attacks and/or ridicules religion be allowed? This viewpoint isn’t to be dismissed as trivial in light of the fact that almost 20% of Americans think religion shouldn’t be satirized.

I think this is entirely the wrong question to be asking, for the simple reason that it appears to place the onus for responsibility of religious violence in the wrong place: on people whose only crime is to speak their mind openly and freely. There is an implicit and dangerous naivety behind such framing: it makes the assumption that if only people wouldn’t be critical of religion or poke fun at religious figures then murderous violence such as that on display recently in Paris would be curbed.

Really?! Not mocking religion means that there’s going to be a reduction of religiously-motivated violence? Try telling that to the thousands upon thousands of Muslims (and others) who are, even now, being enslaved, victimized, and barbarically killed by the extremists in ISIS. I’ll wager that the vast majority, if not all, of those being brutally oppressed and killed by ISIS never said or wrote one offensive word about Islam or Muhammad. Yet they are being slaughtered in the name of radical Islam none-the-less.

In my mind, a much more proper question to ask is this: What is it that it can so easily generate such a murderous certainty among the most ardent, fundamentalist believers of religion? The right way to respond to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and atrocities committed by ISIS isn’t to demand less scrutiny of religion but quite the opposite; we must demand more scrutiny of religion, especially radical, fundamentalist variations.

Second, in order to have any reasonable discussion of these topics, we must ask ourselves who defines what is offensive? Something which offends one person may be little more than humor to someone else. For example, much attention has been paid to the depiction of Muhammad in pictures and how this offends many Muslims; some even go so far as to argue that such depictions should be regarded as “hate speech”!

Would some consider the following depiction of Muhammad as a suicide-bombing terrorist to be offensive?

Undoubtedly, the answer to that question would be “Yes!” But consider this fact: there is a long, rich history of images of Muhammad being displayed within Islamic culture. For instance, this website shows numerous examples, most of them many centuries old, of Muslim artists showing Muhammad in their work. In 1999, Islamic art expert Wijdan Ali wrote a scholarly overview of the Muslim tradition of depicting Muhammad, which can be downloaded here in pdf format. In that essay, Ali demonstrates that the prohibition against depicting Muhammad did not arise until as late as the 16th or 17th century, despite the media’s recent false claims that it has always been forbidden for Muslims to draw Muhammad. Until comparatively recently in Islamic history, it was perfectly common to show Muhammad, either in full, or with his face hidden. Even after the 17th century, up to modern times, Islamic depictions of Muhammad (especially in Shi’ite areas) continued to be produced.

And even the U.S. government has incorporated an image of Muhammad as one of the traditional law-givers on the frieze of the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC…

And there are plenty of other examples available.  My whole point here is that it seems the modern-day Islamic radicals are on a crusade to crush dissent, free expression, and free inquiry not only among the secular critics of Islam in the West, but also those whom would dissent within Islam itself.

And that brings me to my third point: if we allow “offensive” speech to be curbed or outlawed, we run the risk of letting these vague notions of what is offensive to be defined by the most extreme members of religion. Take, for example, the case of Saudi Arabian blogger and dissenter Raif Badawi, who is undergoing a brutal punishment involving receiving 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks, followed by years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. His crime, according to the Saudi Arabian authorities, was “insulting Islam”; Raif had the audacity to run a website called Free Saudi Liberals (now closed down) where he advocated for a secular government in Saudi Arabia. Yes, political dissent is viewed as an insult to religion, justifying – in the minds of the extremists – the most brutal of tortures and disproportionate punishment. Raif Badawi’s torture makes the case that, if anything, religious sensibilities need to be questioned, and if that makes some people uncomfortable or offends them, so much the better!

Now, lest you think this discussion is exclusively about Islam, think again. It has become clear of late that many more than just some Muslims are jumping aboard the “curb offensive speech” bandwagon. Consider, for example, the reaction from various branches of Christianity to the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

Famous religious right and fundamentalist Christian broadcaster Bryan Fisher suggested that God allowed Islamic terrorists to carry out their attack in Paris as punishment for blasphemy. Further, in his radio broadcast he stated “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain… They [Charlie Hebdo] made a career out of taking the name of God, the God of the Bible, the father of the Lord Jesus [in vain].” So, according to Fisher, it wasn’t the satire of Islam that led to the attacks, it was the satire of Christianity and Jesus that is to blame! It should also be no surprise that Fisher is among those who would impose so-called anti-blasphemy laws in the United States.

Not to be outdone, prominent radical Catholic and head of the Catholic League Bill Donohue stated that the victims of the Paris attacks only had themselves to blame for insulting religion and angering people. “Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated,” he explained in a press release. “But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.”

Now one would expect such nutty rhetoric from commonly-known Christian fundamentalists such as Fisher and Donohue, but what is more disturbing is that the most widely known religious figure on the planet, Pope Francis, who is regarded by many as a “progressive Pope” appears to agree with these sentiments! “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,” the Pope stated on a recent trip to the Philippines. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others,” he continued. Wow, so much for that “turn the other cheek” nonsense that Jesus espoused.

What I see now is an emerging unholy alliance between right-wing extremists and naïve left-wing multiculturalists against secular critics of religion. The former want little more than power and control, and they view silencing criticism of religion and its related power structures as a way of attaining these goals. The latter are often well-meaning but clueless and unrealistic idealists who believe that sitting in a circle and singing “Kumbaya” will result in less religiously-motivated power grabs and violence. Both groups view secular critics of religion as either an enemy of the faith or callous and disrespectful loud-mouths who are somehow a threat to a healthy society. And this is not simply an academic debate; political correctness, introduced by the naïve among the multicultural left, has now been co-opted by right-wing fundamentalists to justify everything from the denial of contraception to women to the inclusion of pseudo-scientific notions of creationism in public schools. Under the guise of “religious liberty”, these fundamentalists insist that not allowing them to impose their religious beliefs upon the rest of society is offensive.

What needs to happen is that it needs to be shown that an increased secularization of society, as Raif Badawi advocates, is needed to make it more free and prosperous for everyone, believer and non-believer alike. But in order to show the importance of secularism, it is necessary to simultaneously question religion; and as Voltaire famously wrote, “We must have laughter on our side,” because there is often no more powerful force to tear down the high and mighty than laughter. And laughter is the chief weapon of the satirist.

So you see, even if it is considered offensive or blasphemous, the satirical lampooning of religion and religious belief is necessary for a healthy and free society. If we accept a situation where there really are sacred cows that cannot be questioned or made fun of, then that leads to the collection of unquestioned and absolute authority (it’s hard to get much more authoritative than claiming you speak for God). And, as the saying goes, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Happy Birthday to Robert Green Ingersoll, “The Great Agnostic”

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 11, 2012

I just wanted to pass along this announcement from the fine folks at the Center For Inquiry regarding one of the most valuable orators and activists for freethought, science, and rationality: Robert Green Ingersoll.  This past Saturday (August 11th) was his birthday, and I think it is worth letting you know more about him:

Happy Birthday to “The Great Agnostic!”


Back before blogs, opinion-based news programs, talk radio, and even amplified sound, the American public gathered by the thousands to listen to professional orators calling out their opinions from train platforms, outdoor stages, and the steps of city hall. Oratory was wildly popular in the 1800s, and there was no lecturer more popular than Robert Green Ingersoll, a.k.a., “The Great Agnostic.”

Ingersoll continually championed science, reason, and secular values in the public square. He was an early popularizer of Charles Darwin and a tireless advocate for women’s rights, racial equality, and birth control decades before others would pick up the cause. He often poked fun at religious belief, and he defied the religious conservatives of his day by championing secular humanist values.

Ingersoll’s work and his words are highly relevant to our day, too, so the Center for Inquiry and its sister organization, the Council for Secular Humanism, work to bring his wisdom and insights to a broader audience.


— Learn more about Robert Green Ingersoll —

Happy Birthday, Colonel Bob!

Posted in free inquiry, philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Questions vs. Answers

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2012

I recently wrote another guest post for the James Randi Educational Foundation over at the Swift blog, and I just wanted to share it here as well.  I hope you find it thought-provoking…

Questions VS Answers

Anyone who knows me knows that I have no children of my own, and in all honesty I try to avoid little kids when I can.  However, there is one thing I find really endearing about kids, especially the younger ones: their unbridled curiosity and willingness to ask questions.

I think the reason why I like this curious nature in children is pretty simple: to them the world is so new and fresh, everything is wondrous and interesting.  In addition, they come at things so much more openly and honestly than most adults, because they are ignorant in the truest sense of the word and have no embarrassment whatsoever about asking direct questions about pretty much anything.  To them, no subject is off limits or taboo; they manifest the spirit of free inquiry in its most unblemished sense.

And this sense of free inquiry and curiosity usually comes out in the form of asking question after question on all manner of topics.  I think it is most especially interesting when it is related to topics regarding mythology, religion, life, death, the afterlife, etc.  And how many times have you been interrogated by a particularly precocious young child, only to be bombarded by more questions once you’ve provided what you thought were adequate answers?  I have had this happen to me more times than I can count, both as an educator and an uncle.

Sadly, this wonderful behavior of kids doesn’t often last into their adult years.  Somewhere between those wonder-filled years of curiosity and college age, a lot of kids are too often encouraged by the adults around them to specifically not ask questions, especially on certain topics (often on the most important topics).  Why this is I’m not sure, but I have a few guesses…

I think part of the problem is that some adults are made quite uncomfortable by the questions that little children can ask, precisely because they tend to break those social taboos which have been conditioned into the adults.  Another thing that happens is that some adults tend to discourage children from asking questions because the adults don’t have the answer to the question, or they’re just tired of the kid asking questions, so rather than admit ignorance (or frustration) they tell the child to stop asking questions.  And while kids are innately curious, if they get exposed often enough to the adults in their life telling them not to ask such questions, then they’ll eventually start to believe that they shouldn’t be asking such questions.  And that’s a sad thing to see.

For example, I witness something along these lines a couple of years ago as I was traveling to Utah with some of my family.  One of my nieces, a little girl of six years of age, and I were looking out over the gorgeous scenery of Bryce Canyon, admiring all of the columns, stratigraphy, and erosion patterns within the canyon walls.  And, in accordance with that curiosity of young children, my niece asked me where the canyon came from.  I proceeded to explain to her about the idea of erosion due to rainfall and the flow of water, pointing out to her some very small rivulets in the dirt off to the side of the trail due to a recent rainstorm.  I further explained that given enough time, these erosive processes can eventually produce wondrous geologic structures such as the canyon which stretched out before us.

I eagerly awaited her next question, when something very interesting happened.  My little niece’s older sister (a teenager) came along and told her that “God did it, just like we learned in Sunday school and the Bible says in Genesis”.  I wasn’t surprised by this reaction from my older niece, seeing as how the members of her immediate family tend to be young-earth creationists who believe the Earth was created in six literal days about 6000-10,000 years ago.  But what did surprise me (and delight me greatly) was my younger niece’s response to her older sister’s “explanation”; she looked up at her older sister and, without skipping a beat, simply asked: “Yeah, but how did God do it?” …

Click here to read the rest of the post at Randi.org

Posted in education, free inquiry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

ID-Creationist William Dembski is Almost Expelled… by Other Creationists!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 16, 2010

If you’ve been following the evolution-creationism battles over the last few years, then you no doubt heard about the “Expelled” propaganda campaign by creationists. The entire purpose of the “Expelled” campaign, and subsequent movie which it widely advertised, was to give the impression to an unsuspecting public that scientific institutions were overly dogmatic and squashing dissent on the topic of evolution, going so far as to make loony claims of vast conspiracies and even trying to argue that Darwinian evolution was a major cause of the Holocaust!

Well, the movie failed badly, mostly because those people who were not already convinced that Evil-ution is, well, evil rightly concluded that it was a bunch of hooey.  Score one for the pro-science side :)

And, in an incredible twist of irony, here is a rather interesting fact: one of the leading thinkers in the Intelligent Design creationist movement, William Dembski, was nearly fired from his theological institution for daring to publicly disagree with them on the age of the universe and details regarding Noah’s Flood as written in the Bible!  Really folks, you can’t make this stuff up…

In the Creationist Universe, Religious Dogma Trumps Scientific Inquiry

… William Dembski, one of the main proponents of intelligent design, has recanted his scientific views in an attempt to keep his job. As philosopher Michael Ruse has said, explaining but not condoning Dembski’s actions, “here he is with a wife and kids to support and the threat of the sack.”

The issue is as clear as any could be and demonstrates the kind of litmus test that proponents of religious fundamentalism impose on their adherents — even on their stars. And make no mistake about it, William Dembski is a first order star in the intelligent design firmament. He is a prolific author who has earned both a Ph.D. in mathematics as well as a Masters of Divinity degree. He is a fellow of the Discovery Institute and a professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Indeed, you can’t read anything about intelligent design without encountering Dembski’s arguments in support of this version of creationism.

And yet, according to an article in Florida Baptist Witness, even his stellar creationist credentials were not enough to keep the inquisitors from his door. As the article describes it, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called Dembski into his office along with “several high-ranking administrators at the seminary.”

At issue were two of Dembski’s beliefs, as expressed in his latest book The End of Christianity and elsewhere: that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and the universe 14 billion years, and that Noah’s flood was regional rather than worldwide.

Again, according to the article in Florida Baptist Witness, “At that meeting, Dembski was quick to admit that he was wrong about the flood, Patterson said.”

Patterson went on to say, “Had I had any inkling that Dr. Dembski was actually denying the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible, then that would have, of course, ended his relationship with the school.” [emphasis added]…

The blatant hypocrisy here is so thick you could cut it with a knife: the ID-creationists spent a huge amount of money & resources on their “Expelled” campaign in an effort to convince the public that the scientific institutions were being overly dogmatic & squashing free inquiry (despite the fact that some pro-ID scientists, like Dr. Michael Behe, still retain their positions at respected universities as they push their crackpot ideas).  Yet, on the other side you have the creationists (not the scientists!) actively seeking to purge their ranks of those who do not march lock-step with the “true interpretation of the Bible”.

The interesting thing here is that I think this whole fiasco proves many of these creationists just don’t get it when it comes down to how science is done.  They think that science is rigid and dogmatic, because they come from a rigid & dogmatic worldview based upon their interpretation of the Bible, and so they naturally conclude that all worldviews (including one based upon science) must also be equally rigid & dogmatic.  To them it seems to be a matter of getting on board with the “true” or “good” system of dogma, and then subsequently recognizing all over systems as “false” or “evil”.  They simply haven’t the capacity to see how fundamentally different science is in the process of how it is done and by the manner in which scientists interact with each other.

Posted in creationism, free inquiry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Skepticism & Criticism of Religious Claims is Not “Intolerence”, It’s Necessary

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 3, 2010

I just got done reading an excellent article from the Scientific American website by Dr. Lawrence Krauss, the theoretical physicist who wrote The Physics of Star Trek and avid defender of science & reason, whereupon he discusses something to which all allies of rationality & free inquiry should pay attention.  It seems that recently there has been a growing movement to staunch the criticism of any religious belief, even if said belief is demonstrably harmful to the believers or to others, by labeling those who question or criticize said belief as “intolerant”.  I suppose the implication is that if we are “intolerant”, then we are somehow mean, nasty, and morally bad people who should be dismissed.

Allow me to point out some selected section’s of Dr. Krauss’s article, along with my own comments…

Faith and Foolishness: When Religious Beliefs Become Dangerous

Every two years the National Science Foundation produces a report, Science and Engineering Indicators, designed to probe the public’s understanding of science concepts. And every two years we relearn the sad fact that U.S. adults are less willing to accept evolution and the big bang as factual than adults in other industrial countries.

Except for this time. Was there suddenly a quantum leap in U.S. science literacy? Sadly, no. Rather the National Science Board, which oversees the foundation, chose to leave the section that discussed these issues out of the 2010 edition, claiming the questions were “flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs.” In short, if their religious beliefs require respondents to discard scientific facts, the board doesn’t think it appropriate to expose that truth.

I blogged about this particular screwup on the part of the NSF in an earlier post. The thing that concerns me about this move on the part of the NSF is how the influence of this politically-correct “we can’t criticize religion” or “we can’t even mention religion when it is an obvious contributing factor to the rejection of science by many Americans” has crept its way into the upper echelons of scientific institutions.  If we aren’t willing to face the hard fact that almost half of Americans outright reject the theory of evolution because of their religious beliefs, then how can we expect to address the problem of scientific illiteracy in this country?  Ignoring the problem or sweeping it under the rug won’t fix it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Draw Muhammad Day: A Defense of Free Inquiry & Expression

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 3, 2010

Lately the news of threats against Matt Stone & Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, for displaying a likeness of the Muslim prophet Muhammad have gotten a lot of press.  And I’ve decided to post my views on the matter.  Usually, mostly because I am surrounded by it, when I talk about religious woo & stupidity I am referring to Christian fundamentalism. But this post is going to be dedicated to taking on what is becoming increasingly obvious to me – the creeping influence of politically-correct arguments made on behalf of fundamentalist Islam with the intention of shutting down any & all criticism and/or free inquiry regarding that religion.  I have a pithy two word response to this notion: F%@k that!

Bottom line: when dealing with fundamentalist religion, especially when faced with a brand of fundamentalism so whacked out that it preaches violence against critics (such as the modern-day radical “Islamists”), in my view you have but one of two choices:

1. Cater to the fundamentalists and watch your liberty slowly slip away, or

2. embrace your fundamental freedoms – such as the freedom of inquiry & expression.  This means you’re going to have a fight on your hands.

Guess which one I choose?

I won’t go into a long screed on how I think the South Park guys are just totally badass for having the guts to take on, well, everyone’s goofy beliefs and poke fun at them (even hardcore atheists such as Richard Dawkins).  I also won’t waste time pillorying the weak-kneed panzies over at Comedy Central for capitulating to a bunch of idiotic radical Muslims who should be, if anything, basically ignored.  I won’t even take more than this line to point out the obvious: if you cannot handle your religious beliefs being questioned and, sometimes, being ridiculed by non-believers, then you have deeper issues that need to be addressed and should go live on an island in the middle of nowhere.

In the spirit of fighting back against this creeping notion that “we cannot criticize the religious beliefs or take a chance on ‘offending’ anyone who holds such belief”, specifically regarding Islam, I want to pass along a really great idea I stumbled upon a few days back: Draw Muhammad Day (DMD).

May 20th, 2010, will mark the first DMD – despite the fact that the cartoonist who originally came up with the idea decided to back out.  It’ll happen regardless, because now the whole idea of DMD has gone completely viral on the Internet.  No doubt that some people will take this opportunity to draw the prophet Muhammad in a less-than-glamorous light, such as outlined by this image…

… and I’m sure that some jerks will come up with many much more offensive images than that which are specifically designed to offend.  Fine by me – being a jerk is well within the bounds of free speech; but, in my view, being a jerk isn’t what DMD should be about… it should be about promoting free inquiry/expression.  What is bothersome to me, more than anything, is the notion among some of these radical Muslims that any depiction of Muhammad is somehow offensive, and that to spare them from “offense” everyone else (including many moderate Muslims) should cater to their whims.  It is also worth noting that the image of Muhammad has been depicted countless times over the course of history, even by various Muslim cultures – this is an important detail the radicals would rather have you not know!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Simon Singh Wins Against the British Chiropractic Association!

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 16, 2010

Good news!  It seems that the BCA has dropped its libel case against Simon Singh – this is a huge win for skepticism & free inquiry!  Here are the details… :)

The British Chiropractic Association has dropped its libel case against Simon Singh. Read Simon’s, our and some of our supporters’ reactions to the news here: www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/478 Keep an eye out for coverage about this today – there has already been lots, I’ll include a few links below.

We are so pleased for Simon that the BCA has dropped the case but the campaign is far from over. Until we have a public interest defence that can protect discussion and comment about evidence and research, scientists, commentators, bloggers, forum users, authors and NGOs will continue to be bullied into silence, and cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst is still fighting to defend his right to speak out about a medical device clinical trial.

With your support the Coalition for Libel Reform has secured manifesto commitments from all the major parties. But we need to continue to put pressure on politicians to make sure these promises are turned into meaningful reform once the new government is in place. We are organising a Free Speech General Election Hustings where you can come and question politicians on their commitment to libel reform for Wednesday 21st April in London. Check http://www.libelreform.org/ for more details about this soon.

The campaign reached 50,000 signatures of support last night. We really need to double this to keep the pressure up and make sure the politicians are aware of how serious the need for libel reform is. Please do all you can to help us reach our target by encouraging people to sign up at http://www.libelreform.org/

Best

Síle

Times Online Science writer Simon Singh wins bitter libel battle

BBC News Case dropped against Simon Singh

The Guardian Simon Singh libel case dropped

For an updated list of coverage see www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/478

Posted in free inquiry, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Update from Simon Singh & the Campaign for Libel Reform

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2010

I just wanted to pass along to you a quick update concerning the ongoing United Kingdom court battle of Simon Singh vs. the British Chiropractic Association (my earlier blog posts on this matter are here and here).  In fact, Simon just recently received some very good news regarding the whole situation…

Sorry for the silence, but it has been a ridiculously hectic (and happy) time since last week’s victory at the Court of Appeal. However, I urgently wanted to get in touch to update you on the status of my case, the latest news on libel reform and what you can do today to push libel reform up the political agenda.

BCA v Singh

April Fool’s Day 2010 was a day to remember. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association. The ruling strongly backs my arguments and puts me in a much stronger position when my trial eventually takes place. At last, after two years of defending my article and my right to free speech, I seem to have the upper hand and can breathe a small sigh of relief.

Moreover, the judges made it clear that they did not want to see scientists and science journalists being hauled through the High Court. In particular, they endorsed the view that a so-called comment defence should be adequate for scientific and other articles on matters of public interest. As well as the legal technicalities, the three wise, charming and handsome judges quoted Milton on the persecution of Galileo and directed that the High Court should not become an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth”.

Libel Reform Campaign

This is a small step forward for libel reform, but there is still a huge battle to be fought over the issues of costs, libel tourism, public interest defence, balancing the burden of proof, restricting the ability of powerful corporations to bully individuals (e.g., bloggers, journalists, scientists) and so on.

The General Election was called yesterday and the manifestos will be published in the next week, so we need one last push to persuade the major parties to commit to libel reform. Although we have already achieved a huge amount (from editorials in all last week’s broadsheets to the Commons Select Committee recommending libel reform), we must keep up the pressure!

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have made encouraging sounds about libel reform, but now is the time for them to make commitments in their manifestos.

What you can do today to pressure politicians

I have spent over a million minutes and £100,000 defending my article and my right to free speech, so I am asking you to spend just one minute and no money at all persuading others to sign the petition for libel reform at www.libelreform.org/sign

The last time I made this request, we doubled the number of signatories from 17,000 to 35,000. Can we now double the number from almost 50,000 to 100,000?!

You could ask parents, siblings, colleagues or friends to sign up. You could email everyone in your address book. You could blog about it, mention it to your Facebook friends and Twitter about it. In fact, I have pasted some possible tweets at the end of this email – it would be great if you could twitter one, some or all of them.

You could forward all or part of this email to people or just steer them to www.libelreform.org/sign. Or you could persuade people that English libel law needs radical reform by using some of the reasons listed at the end of this email.

Remember, we welcome signatories from around the world because English libel law has a damaging impact globally.

Please, please, please apply maximum pressure to the politicians by encouraging as many new signatories as possible. Please do not take my victory last week as a sign that the battle is over. My case is still ongoing and the campaign for libel reform is only just starting.

Thanks for all your support – it has been incredibly important for the campaign and a real morale booster personally over the last two years.

Simon Singh

Posted in free inquiry, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Catholic Church Sex Abuse Scandal, Papal “Infallibility”, and Free Inquiry

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2010

In the last week, a storm of controversy has raged concerning the Roman Catholic Church and its ongoing sexual abuse scandal. For almost a decade this controversy has gone on, taking up space on newspaper pages here and there.  But now the whole sordid affair has taken on a new dimension with the revelation that Vatican officials, including the current Pope Benedict XVI (whom I call, with good reason, the “Rat in the Hat”), not only knew about such systemic & widespread abuse but also actively worked to cover it up.  According to a recent New York Times article…

Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

What is almost as horrifying as these revelations of the systemic sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests and the effort on the part of Church officials to cover it up, apparently going all the way to the upper echelons of the Vatican, is the reaction from the Vatican in the last week.  Specifically, I am referring to the absolutely staggering level of cognitive dissonance being displayed by the Vatican regarding any responsibility their institution has in this scandal.

Consider, if you will, the various reactions from the Vatican as it attempts to spin its way out of this mess, outlined by this NYTimes Op-Ed…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Update on the “Sense About Science” Campaign

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 14, 2009

As some of the regular readers of this blog may recall, there is currently a case pending in the United Kingdom which could have potentially far-reaching consequences regarding issues of free speech & skepticism.  Of course, I’m referring to the now-famous case of Simon Singh vs. the British Chiropractic Association and the associated grass-roots effort by our friends over at Sense About Science to reform the libel laws in the UK.  Since I last blogged about it, there have been some interesting developments.  I wanted to pass along the latest update I’ve received on this issue, so here goes…

Dear Friends

A message from Simon Singh:

“It has been 18 months since I was sued for libel after publishing my article on chiropractic. I am continuing to fight my case and am prepared to defend my article for another 18 months or more if necessary. The ongoing libel case has been distracting, draining and frustrating, but it has always been heartening to receive so much support, particularly from people who realise that English libel laws need to be reformed in order to allow robust discussion of matters of public interest. Over twenty thousand people signed the statement to Keep Libel Laws out of Science, but now we need you to sign up again and add your name to the new statement.

The new statement is necessary because the campaign for libel reform is stepping up a gear and will be working on much broader base. Sense About Science has joined forces with Index on Censorship and English PEN and their goal is to reach 100,000 or more signatories in order to help politicians appreciate the level of public support for libel reform. We have already met several leading figures from all three main parties and they have all showed signs of interest. Now, however, we need a final push in order to persuade them to commit to libel reform.

Finally, I would like to make three points. First, I will stress again – please take the time to reinforce your support for libel reform by signing up at www.libelreform.org. Second, please spread the word by blogging, twittering, Facebooking and emailing in order to encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Third, for those supporters who live overseas, please also add your name to the petition and encourage others to do the same; unfortunately and embarrassingly, English libel laws impact writers in the rest of the world, but now you can help change those laws by showing your support for libel reform. While I fight in my own libel battle, I hope that you will fight the bigger battle of libel reform.”

And from me, Síle:

The campaign for libel reform was launched by Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN on Wednesday 9th December. You can read about it in the following articles:

BBC NEWS Comic Dara O Briain says libel laws ‘quash dissent’

The Times Scientists urge reform of ‘lethal’ libel law

The Independent Comic Dara O Briain lambasts ‘bully’ libel law

The Mirror Dara O Briain wants libel reform

THE UCL provost: libel law is stifling academic freedoms

New Scientist blog Campaign to reform English libel law launched

Press Gazette‘Libel can kill – reform it now’

The Press AssociationDara O Briain wants libel reform

To read the background of this campaign see www.senseaboutscience.org/freedebate. We still need your support. Add your voice at www.libelreform.org and help us reach our fundraising target at www.justgiving.com/bookfund.

Best

Síle

Síle Lane
Public Liaison
Sense About Science
25 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 7EG
Reg. Charity No. 1101114
Tel: +44 (0)20 7478 4380
www.senseaboutscience.org

Sense About Science is a small charity that equips people to make sense of science and evidence. We depend on donations, large and small, from people who support our work. You can donate, or find out more, at www.senseaboutscience.org/donate

Posted in free inquiry, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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