The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘book’

Book Review: “Sharing Reality – How to Bring Secularism and Science to an Evolving Religious World”

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 3, 2018

Many of you know that for some time now I’ve been particularly interested in how we skeptics (i.e. those of use who take an evidence-based view of the world) can engage those of a non-skeptical mindset. In fact, I’ve been explicit about this in past musings wherein I discuss how to have meaningful dialogue with creationists or self-declared ghost hunters. Now I am happy to report that there is a book out – Sharing Reality by Jeff T. Haley and Dale McGowan – which tackles exactly this topic in great detail.

As a professional high school and college science educator of 20+ years, and as a self-professed skeptic of all things supernatural, I found that Sharing Reality provided something that many of my colleagues have struggled with: a method for effectively communicating science and critical thinking without alienating people who are reachable. Sharing Reality is a must-read for those proponents of science, adherents to an evidence-based worldview, and defenders of secularism, because it provides a road map for how to engage in productive discussions with those who don’t necessarily share that worldview. If we are serious about advancing science, secularism, and evidence-based critical thinking in general (what the authors refer to as “evidism”) beyond our own echo chambers into wider society, then we would be wise to follow the advice contained within Sharing Reality to start engaging people in broader discussions of these issues.



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

New JREF eBook: Magic in the Classroom

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 25, 2015

I’ve been teaching physics, astronomy, and math at both the high school and college level for about 18 years. And in that time I’ve made a number of contributions to the intersection of skepticism and education. I’m proud to say that one of them is a my part in a new ebook published by the James Randi Educational Foundation, available for free download. Please pass this along to any educator whom you know is interested in preserving and encouraging scientific and critical thinking in the classroom 🙂

New eBook: Magic in the Classroom

Magic in the Classroom

The JREF is pleased to offer a new eBook for educators

Magic in the Classroom is a collection of essays by educators across the curriculum who are using extraordinary claims to teach critical thinking. Editor Robert Blaskiewicz gathers the contributions of fourteen authors from the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift Blog who write on topics ranging from popular culture, psychology, linguistics, evolution, exobiology, history, folklore, and many more. Together these essays represent the work of a vibrant skeptical culture in education that is bringing critical thinking skills to students across the curriculum.


Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Satanic Temple Convinces Florida School District that Church-State Separation is a Good Thing

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2015

In recent years, the Satanic Temple has been getting more and more attention as they have been attempting to make themselves more visible in the public eye. In fact, they’ve taken a page from the tactics employed by many Christian churches, and they have begun to demand a place in erecting holiday displays, advocating for religious monuments on public land, and even distributing literature at public schools.

And it’s that last point which is so interesting and ironic: last fall a judge ruled that religious pamphlets could be handed out in public schools in Orange County, Florida. School officials seemed just fine with this scheme as long as it was only Christian literature and Bibles that were handed out to kids, but then along came the Satanic Temple…

Satanists victorious in wild scheme to disrupt Florida school district’s Bible plan

In September of last year the Satanic Temple revealed plans to disseminate the “Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities,” to kids in a Florida school district.

The Satanic Temple along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) were responding to a ruling, which let the Orange County school district allow religious and atheist organizations to distribute materials — including bibles and other pamphlets — in public schools.

Since religious and atheist materials could be handed out, the Satanic Temple made a request to hand out the aforementioned activity book, while the Freedom From Religion Foundation planned to hand out a pamphlet describing the bible as an “X-rated book.”

Now, the Satanic Temple’s request has the school district rethinking its policy, and the district is currently putting the distribution of all religious paraphernalia on hold, according to WFTV-TV.

“We don’t want our schools to become religious battlefields,” David Williamson, of FFRF, told WFTV-TV. “We’ve advocated all along to close the forum.”

So in a hilarious and embarrassing turnabout, the school district did what they probably should have done all along: they decided that in order to respect the separation of church and state they should probably just not allow any religious organizations to distribute literature in the public schools.

In closing, I think it’s fair to say that a picture is worth a thousand words 🙂


Posted in education, politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Yet More Evidence the Bible is Being Edited Even Today

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 29, 2013

One of the most popular posts I’ve made on this blog was about how the Bible has been edited in recent decades to promote a specific political agenda related to abortion. Since writing that post, it has become even more clear that the Bible continues to be edited in order to promote a very modern, right-wing, and fundamentalist worldview. What’s more is that those engaged in this effort, namely those paragons of intellectual honesty and virtue at Conservapedia (where they believe that Einstein’s physics theories are a “left-wing conspiracy”), are openly admitting what they are doing. But don’t take it from me, read what they have to say on their very own page for their Conservative Bible Project:

The Conservative Bible Project is a project utilizing the “best of the public” to render God’s word into modern English without liberal translation distortions. A Colbert Report interview featured this project. We completed a first draft of our translation of the New Testament on April 23, 2010.

Already our translators have identified numerous pro-abortion distortions that omit or twist clear references to the unborn child.

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning:

*lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
*lack of precision in modern language
*translation bias, mainly of the liberal kind, in converting the original language to the modern one.

Experts in ancient languages are helpful in reducing the first type of error above, which is a vanishing source of error as scholarship advances understanding. English language linguists are helpful in reducing the second type of error, which also decreases due to an increasing vocabulary. But the third — and largest — source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate. [emphasis in the original] …

So there you have it. The folks at Conservapedia abandon all pretense and openly admit their political agenda; no doubt the phrase “best of the public” refers only to those people who share the fundamentalist worldview of Conservapedia’s authors. But what about their so-called claims to be addressing “lack of precision in the original language” and “translation bias”? Well, this article has some interesting info on that…

Right-Wing Group Seeks Help Rewriting the Bible Because It’s Not Conservative Enough

The King James Bible and more recent translations are veritable primers of progressive agitprop, according to the founder of Conservapedia.

… Don’t know Aramaic, Hebrew or ancient Greek? Not a problem. What they are looking for is not exactly egghead scholarship, but a knack for using words they’ve read in the Wall Street Journal. They have a list of promising candidates on their website— words like capitalism, work ethic, death penalty, anticompetitive, elitism, productivity, privatize, pro-life—all of which are conspicuously missing from those socialist-inspired Bibles we’ve been reading lately. …

Uhhh, yeah. Because ancient societies totally used the word “capitalism”, despite the fact the word didn’t even exist until the mid-19th century. But wait, it gets better!

… To give a sense of how to go about your own retranslation, here are some examples of changes the editors have already made.

Take that story where the mob surrounds a woman accused of adultery and gets ready to stone her, but Jesus intervenes and says, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” (John 7:53-8:11). It might have been a later addition that wasn’t in the original Gospels, according to some right-thinking, or rather right-leaning scholars. So the editors have excised this bleeding-heart favorite from the Good Book, and they’ve also removed Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

“The simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing,” Schlafly points out, proving that, “Jesus might never had said it at all.”

Another thing Jesus might never have said at all is, “Blessed are the meek.” Change that one to, “Blessed are the God-fearing,” the translation’s editors advise, which is far less touchy-feely than the King James version.

Where Jesus teaches that, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:24) our mentors at Conservapedia recommend that we scratch the word “rich” and replace it with either “fully fed and entertained” or, if you prefer, “idle miser,” which have none of the Occupy Wall Street-ish sour grapes of the better-known translation.

When Jesus greets his disciples with the blessing, “Peace be with you” (John 20, 26), the editors cleverly change the wording to, “Peace of mind be with you,” so that nobody gets the wrong idea and thinks Jesus was some kind of lilly-livered pacifist.

Likewise where Jesus says, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but to save it” (John 3, 17), they change “world” to “mankind,” so it is clear the Christian savior is not advocating environmentalism here. Hey, you can’t be too careful!

Finally, when Jesus admonishes hypocrites to, “Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye,” the conservative Bible replaces the word “hypocrite” with “deceiver,” since hypocrite is often “misused politically against Christians.” Good point! …

I think you get the idea.

However, there is one overwhelming fact that should be emphasized in all this: regardless of what the “original Bible” (an oxymoron for many reasons) did or did not say, what this whole fiasco proves, without a doubt, is that the Bible – like all religious texts – are the work of humans! The fact that the folks at Conservapedia are doing what they’re doing in such a blatant manner shows that they are, like all religious believers, I think, simply projecting their own beliefs and value systems onto what they believe to be an all-powerful god.

And therein lies one of the great ironies of the entire thing: so many right-wing fundamentalists have justified their worldview in the past by pointing to the Bible and saying “See? It says so in the Bible!” Yet now we see a bunch who are so wedded to their right-wing political worldview that they are openly changing the Bible (which they often claimed is inerrant and unchanging) to be more in line with that worldview.

If this isn’t evidence that those espousing this right-wing ideology and religion are doing so in a blatantly subjective and relativistic manner, I don’t know what is.

It also makes you wonder just how many times in the past such holy books have been edited to promote a specific, and wholly human, agenda, doesn’t it?

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Embarrassing Truth About the Bible: It’s STILL Being Edited

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 22, 2012

[**Update (8-16-15): While I’m pleased this is one of the more popular posts on this blog, it is important to see how this post fits into the larger fight by the “pro-life”/anti-choice movement against science. For more details on that, see this more recent post 🙂 ]

As most skeptics and atheists (as well as a number of well-educated religious believers) know, the Bible is a work of humans.  As such, just as any other book, it has been edited and revised quite a lot over the last couple of thousand years.  It’s not the purpose of this blog post to go into the details of who wrote what parts of the Bible when, nor will I get into the question of the numerous inconsistencies and contradictions contained within this supposedly “divinely inspired” book. (Though if you’re interested in those topics, I suggest starting with a basic primer on textual criticism of the Bible.)

Rather, I would like to address something which is easily verified by anyone: the fact that the Bible, contrary to the claims of many fundamentalists, is actually STILL being edited.  And sometimes these edits have made quite significant deviations from the “original” text.  Further, some of these edits have been made for what appear to be contemporary political purposes.

“You mean… it’s NOT the same as it was only 45 years ago?!!” — Image source

In order to prove my point, I would like to reference an excellent article on this topic from the Slacktivist blog over at titled “Mischief follows in partisan Bible translations”.  The basic point behind this article is that contrary to the claims of various fundamentalist factions that the Bible is unchanging and inerrant, it has in fact been edited quite recently.  Specifically, the evidence proves that the Bible has been edited for partisan political purposes on the issue of abortion as recently as the late 1970s (which is within the lifetime of many readers here!)  Read this excerpt from the Slacktivist article for more on this:

… As I noted earlier, this change in the words and meaning of the Bible is more recent than the introduction of the Happy Meal.

The New American Standard Bible is a popular English translation, a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It was completed in 1971 and then revised and updated in 1995. I want to highlight one major change in one passage of the NASB — a case in which the 1995 update alters — and is intended to reverse –  the text of the 1971 NASB.

Those dates are important in understanding the reason for this change. …

Now, let us look at the analysis of come critical Bible verses which have been edited in the context of contemporary views on abortion:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 71 Comments »

Skeptic’s Annotated Bible Needs Your Help!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 11, 2010

If you’re like me and you are rather skeptical of various claims made by religious fundamentalists regarding the accuracy, or “inerrancy” as they call it, of their holy books, then you might find a useful resource in the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (SAB). Actually, the SAB critically analyzes not just the Bible, but also the Quran (Koran) and Book of Mormon as well. I have found it an extremely useful resource when arguing with someone who claims their “literal” reading of the Bible is sensible or even consistent; note that the SAB, to my knowledge, doesn’t really get into the question of God’s existence, it tends to just stick with the question of the logical fallacies within these holy texts…

In any case, the reason why I say the SAB needs your help is simple: there is, as of this writing, no iPhone or similar app for the SAB. The creator of the SAB, Steve Wells, and I have been in contact about creating just such an app, as we both think it would be a great way to get these critical arguments out there, but Steve has neither the time nor technical expertise to program an app.

So, I told him that I would write a blog post asking the skeptical community for help, and here it is.  If you, or anyone you know, has experience writing app’s for the iPhone (or Droid, etc) and you’re interested in helping Steve out, please let him know – his email is swwells [AT] gmail [dot] com – tell Steve I sent you 🙂

Posted in internet, religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Happy Carl Sagan Day!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 9, 2009

Happy Carl Sagan Day… or, to be more accurate, belated Carl Sagan Day 🙂

November 7th is the birthday of that great communicator of science & skepticism, Carl Sagan.  In a time when many of his fellow scientists were loath to communicate directly with the public, Sagan was a unique link between the scientific community and the general populace.  He communicated the power, joy, and importance of science to us through lectures, books, and television.  In particular, I think I can honestly say that an entire generation of scientists were inspired by Carl Sagan’s book and television series Cosmos (which aired in 1980) – I count myself among them. Were it not for the inspiration provided to me in my teenage years by my beat-up copy of the book Cosmos, I may have never pursued a career in science…

The unforgettable introduction to Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean is available on Youtube…

And a recently auto-tuned remix of Carl Sagan’s dialog from Cosmos, called “A Glorious Dawn (featuring Stephen Hawking)”, is also available on Youtube.  Check it out…

**Note: You can download your own copy of “A Glorious Dawn” from its creator’s website –
– where there are many other cool videos & music files available.

Read the rest of this entry »

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