The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘free inquiry’

Religious Extremism, the ISIS Attacks on Paris, and the Need for Honest Dialogue About Religion

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 14, 2015

**UPDATE (11-21-15): For those wishing to get informed about the way ISIS thinks (as in “know your enemy”), take a serious look at this article; it provides solid evidence that, yes, they really are an apocalyptic, fundamentalist religious cult. And you might want to pay particular attention to point #3 regarding what ISIS *really* fears (hint: it isn’t death).**

Like many, it was with both great sorrow and frustration that I read this morning about the attacks in Paris, France by members of ISIS. As I’ve argued many times before on this blog and elsewhere, such as on my post about the Charlie Hebdo attacks and Draw Muhammad Day and my numerous posts regarding creationism plus the one about the religiously-motivated attacks on Planned Parenthood, I think it is absolutely critical for us to openly and honestly examine religion and religious belief and their roles in our modern society in a critical manner.

Let me begin by stating that I am not inherently anti-religion, though I openly declare myself to be an atheist. I can and do see how religious belief can serve to give many people a feeling of purpose or hope where they might otherwise have none, and I understand how it can help motivate many others to do works of great good. That said, too often I hear people speak of religion in terms that are only positive, as if things like religious belief and faith can only be good. For example, how many times have we all heard some believers state that one cannot be moral without a belief in God? I view this argument as detrimental for two reasons:

  1. It argues that people who either don’t believe in God (or who believe in the wrong god, whatever that may be) are inherently immoral. The counter to this argument is that there are many forms of useful and functional secular morality, so one can be moral without religion. This is, I think, especially relevant given the fact that secularism and non-religiosity is on the rise here in the United States (up to ~25% by some recent surveys).
  2. It seems to implicitly assume that religion necessarily promotes morality. Given the recent events in Paris, I think this assumption is highly questionable, not to mention the fact that recent studies have shown that the religious are no more moral in their daily behavior than are the non-religious.

I think we should stop placing religion and religious belief on a pedestal, and we should take a reasoned and critical look at religion just as we do with any other human endeavor. We need to understand that there is nothing inherently special or moral about religion, and it can be used for good or ill regardless of the beliefs espoused by the faithful; yes, the reality is that religion doesn’t lead to any kind of objective morality. Some people think this critical analysis of religion is not only not necessary, but they say they are offended by it. To that I respond the same way I did in my post titled “The Dangers of NOT Offending Religious Sensibilities” in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year:

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. …

… 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.

In closing, allow me one more criticism of religion and religious believers; but this criticism is not directed at the fundamentalists, it is directed at the moderate religious believers who, either knowingly or not, provide cover for the fundamentalists and their dangerous ideologies. As author Sam Harris argued so eloquently in his essay “The Problem with Religious Moderates”:

… While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God.

Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question-i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us-religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness. …

… Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable? Medicine? Engineering? Not even politics suffers the anachronism that still dominates our thinking about ethical values and spiritual experience. …

… With each passing year, do our religious beliefs conserve more and more of the data of human experience? If religion addresses a genuine sphere of understanding and human necessity, then it should be susceptible to progress; its doctrines should become more useful, rather than less. Progress in religion, as in other fields, would have to be a matter of present inquiry, not the mere reiteration of past doctrine. Whatever is true now should be discoverable now, and describable in terms that are not an outright affront to the rest of what we know about the world. By this measure, the entire project of religion seems perfectly backward. It cannot survive the changes that have come over us-culturally, technologically, and even ethically. Otherwise, there are few reasons to believe that we will survive it.

Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word “God” as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred. To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world-to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish-is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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 »

A Tribute to Christopher Hitchens

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 17, 2011

I was saddened to hear of the untimely death of Christopher Hitchens, who was a fearless skeptic, atheist, and critical thinker.  I won’t go into a long post about how his words influenced me, but suffice it to say that I have found few people like him in this day and age who could ask the really hard questions about life and demand well-reasoned, honest answers to those questions.  Likewise, I think, among the writers whom I have read over the years, Hitchens best embodied the notion that “there are no sacred cows.”  Whether it was religion or politics, Hitchens’s often polemical writings never ceased to make me think.  He will be missed, but thankfully his words will live on.

In closing, I wanted to share a funny poster I found online in honor of Christopher Hitchens’s memory.  I think it’s the kind of blasphemous humor he would have enjoyed 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Thoughts on Skepticon 3.0 and the “Skepticism Equals Atheism?” Discussion

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 23, 2010

Okay, for days now I’ve been trying to avoid getting sucked into the insanity that seems to have become the whole “skepticism equals (or doesn’t) atheism” can of worms which got opened (or re-opened) recently as a result of Skepticon 3.0 this past weekend.  I’ve already spoken my mind on this particular topic before, but for the sake of having my voice & point-of-view heard I want to just make a few quick points which I may have neglected in my earlier post…

First, I admit that I wasn’t at Skepticon 3.0, so I am going on secondhand reports when forming these opinions – so please bear that in mind.  Second, in the spirit of being fair to all of those involved, here are some views being expressed by those with a favorable or unfavorable (or perhaps ambivalent) view of how Skepticon 3.0 went down:

Jeff Wagg provides his criticism of the branding of Skepticon 3.0: Are Atheists Delusional? Thoughts on Skepticon3

JT Eberhard, organizer of Skepticon 3.0, responds to Jeff Wagg: A response to Jeff Wagg

PZ Myers jumps into the fray: I had no idea I was stepping into a controversy

Here’s an active thread on the JREF Forums about the issue.

And there are other active blogs whose authors are sharing their views on the matter, such as Blag Hag and PodBlack Cat. I’m more than certain that with the highly viral & mutagenic nature of modern Internet discussions, there are plenty of other blogs out there going on about the same thing, but I fear that if I have to read anymore on this particular topic then I’ll end up stabbing my eyes out with a rusty spoon.  So, rather than read more I will share my own thoughts…

1. Skepticism does not equal atheism: I think it makes no sense to make this assertion, for the simple reason that there are people who are both religious and excellent skeptics on many scientific subjects (for example, astronomer Pamela Gay) as well as atheists who are absolutely lousy skeptics on some very important subjects (for example, comedian Bill Maher).  Are a great many skeptics also atheists?  Yes, but it is not a requirement – allow me to explain further in #2…

2. We are not all equally skeptical of every topic – we all compartmentalize: Or, as I think magician & skeptic Penn Jillette so eloquently put it – “Everybody got a gris-gris”.  There are some topics about which we are more skeptical (or, perhaps, better at applying our critical thinking skills) than other topics.  This is basic human nature, folks; it is known in more academic circles as a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance.  That is why we need a community of skepticism, to spread out all of that dissonance so that it doesn’t concentrate too much in any one area and thus blind all of us.  We all come to the table with our own biases & preconceptions – for some it is political, others religious, others some form of pseudoscience.  The sooner we acknowledge this basic fact of ourselves & our fellow skeptics, that fundamentally we are really no different from “believers”, the better.

3. Of course religion should be open to free inquiry – duh: I’ve said it before and will say it again… religion should not be “off limits” from critical analysis and skeptical thought.  Every topic should be on the table, including potential logical fallacies involved in some forms of atheist argumentation.  And no, I’m not conflating atheism with religious belief, I am simply stating that a bad argument is a bad argument, regardless of the source.

4. Disagreement & debate is healthy, but trash-talking isn’t: With the growth of the skeptical movement over the last couple of decades, we are seeing a natural consequence of that growth – the fact that we’ve grown so large that we are seeing healthy debate & dissent from within the movement itself on some key questions (say, on the question of religion).  Folks, this is a good thing!  I say this is good because it is a sign of the success we’ve had – we are no longer a movement of old, white, bald academic men who sit around in college classrooms rehashing the same ol’ same ol’.  We are spreading out, reaching deeper into society, getting our message out there, and running into the inevitable controversies which will confront any growing social movement.  I’m not sure why anyone is actually surprised that this sort of thing has happened – again, we skeptics are not fundamentally different than anyone else.

In short, we should and we must have these (and other) discussions.  I don’t mind the discussion & debate, but what does bother me is the tone taken by – in my opinion – too many skeptics.  Charges of “you aren’t a real skeptic”, “you’re just being a dick and alienating people”, and similar silly & immature sputterings have come lately from far too many people in the movement whom I have grown to know and respect over the years.  Seriously, folks, we are better than that; or, at least, we should be.  On some things, we simply have to agree to disagree, lest we eat our own.

5. To be broad based, the skeptical community should avoid myopia: Is the question of religion an important one?  Yes, it is.  Is it the only question upon which we should focus?  No, it isn’t.  I acknowledge that for some people addressing the flaws in religion is the most important thing, while for others it isn’t, and while for still others they’d rather not discuss it at all.  Personally, I am a fan of many of the prominent atheistic critics of religion who have written so prominently in the last few years, but my particular skeptical focus is different.  I am personally committed to simply getting as many people as I can to simply think more critically, no matter what the particular subject matter.  And the avenue I have chosen to follow is that of the formal educational system in the United States.

My concern is that the conversation of “skepticism equals atheism?” could potentially be sucking all of the oxygen out of the room, with the risk of snuffing out other aspects & issues within the skeptical movement.  If some people want to focus upon this particular subject, fine by me (remember #3 above) and more power to you; but if it isn’t my particular cup of tea to focus specifically upon this topic, don’t diss me for it.

Lastly, let’s not spend too much time & energy focusing upon the issues that divide us; I would much rather see a more constructive conversation on the things that we can agree upon than some of the nasty bickering I’ve seen of late from my skeptical colleagues.

Okay, there are my thoughts on the matter.  For what it’s worth.

Posted in religion, skeptical community | 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 »

The Question of Whether Skeptics Should “Accommodate or Confront” Religion is a False Dichotomy

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2010

Last weekend the Council for Secular Humanism held their 30th anniversary conference in Los Angeles, and it was attended by many of the greatest minds in the humanist & skeptical movement.  One of the headlining events of the conference was a panel on the topic of religion – titled “Science and Religion: Confrontation or Accommodation?” – and it has subsequently generated a great deal of discussion within the skeptical community.

The panel included such illuminaries as Jennifer Michael Hecht, PZ Myers, Eugenie Scott, Chris Mooney, and Victor Stenger.  Essentially, the entire discussion – which can be can be watched on U-Stream (part 1 and part 2) – revolved around one question:

How should secular humanists respond to science and religion? If we champion science, must we oppose faith? How best to approach flashpoints like evolution education?

There have been a couple of interesting things I’ve read and/or listened to on this question…

PZ Myers’ Pharyngula blog – Confrontation all the way

Point of Inquiry’s episode – New Atheism or Accommodation?

… and I’ve either read online discussions about this or had personal conversations about it with other skeptics.  Thus, since it is now a focal point for discussion, I’d like to include my thoughts on this whole issue, because I think that in large part the skeptical/humanist/non-religious communities are missing the forest through the trees…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in religion, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 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: 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 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



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

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

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 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 »

%d bloggers like this: