We Cause Suffering

October 16, 2017


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.

Hi there.

I’m back after a fortnight’s absence, having spent the time in Marin County, California at the Mesa Refuge, working on writer stuff. It was lovely, save for the smoke that became quite a thing as a result of those terrible fires. Please forgive the lateness of this post this morning, as I have a lot of catching up to do, and I’m still adjusting to East Coast time. So what’s been going on?

One thing that happened is that we brought on a new guy at work. Taking the position of Director of Government Affairs for CFI is this fellow named Jason Lemieux. He seems okay, I guess. I mean, you know, if you’re impressed by leading a Marines intelligence and infantry team in a war zone, or working for U.S. senators, or getting an advanced degree in international affairs from Columbia University. It’s not like I’m intimidated or anything. Did I mention he’s rather handsome? Not that that matters.

The office was busy while I was away, opposing Jeff Sessions’ memo clearing the way for more religiously-based discrimination by employers and business proprietors, celebrating the removal of Christian crosses from a pubic middle school in Maryland, and condemning Trump’s sabotage of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

Eugene Scott at the Post makes clear that the promises Trump says he has kept for Christians are really about doing the bidding of one particular kind of Christian: white evangelicals. And as Tim Alberta reports at Politico:

Many Christian voters embraced Trump not despite his provocative style but because of it, betting on a brash street brawler to win the culture battles they had been losing for generations. And their faith has been rewarded.

Right before I left, I posted the latest episode of Point of Inquiry, where I talk aliens — more specifically, ‘where the aliens at?’ — with Scientific American journalist Lee Billings.

CFI Michigan is getting some much deserved attention, as WZZM 13 TV news features them as they host a National Coming Out Day event in Grand Rapids.

Plus, the Foundation Beyond Belief highlights the great service work of CFI Michigan, honoring them as Team of the Month for August for their volunteer efforts with the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, dealing with the risks of lead poisoning in older houses.

The Pope is going saint-crazy! 35 new saints! It’s getting so that becoming a saint is easier than getting a blue checkmark on Twitter.

Detroit-area mother Rebecca Bredow was jailed for one week for refusing to vaccinate her kid, and she remains defiant.

FiveThirtyEight‘s Daniel Engber does a long profile of Art Robinson, the guy who might become Trump’s science advisor, and a guy who is very interested in what’s in your pee. Is he legit? Wellllll:

He’s long since cut all ties to conventional research institutions and remade himself as a cowboy chemist, if not an oracle frontiersman for what might be termed America’s “alt-science” movement. … Robinson and his colleagues [claim] that higher levels of atmospheric CO2 would produce “a host of beneficial effects” for the planet.

Just as I was leaving for my retreat, former CFI boss Ron Lindsay published a HuffPost piece on the many forms of blasphemy restrictions that exist, both state-sanctioned (like explicit anti-blasphemy laws in countries like Pakistan) and those fostered by the culture (as in the “blasphemy” of an NFL player kneeling during the National Anthem).

CFI Chair Eddie Tabash takes on Nick Keehus (whose name is misspelled in the opening of the video) to debate the existence of God in a new video from their event in Anaheim, CA.

At The Atlantic, Emma Green talks to political science professor Alan Wolfe about the very different things people mean when they use the word “evil”, and how it’s overused in political discourse:

There’s apparently a reluctance on the part of Christians to use the word “sin” in the public square—they’re much more likely to use the word “evil.” Using the word “sin” might remind Christians that this is something that can be overcome with God’s help, and there’s grace even for the biggest sinners if they find Jesus in their hearts. You can’t be irredeemably evil from a Christian theological perspective, because then there would be no salvation, and no role for Jesus. “Evil” is much more of a secular word than a religious word. “Sin” would be the religious word.

Our home planet was safe from the flyby of Asteroid 2012 TC4 last week, as it will be again in 2050. But 2079? Uuuuuuhhhhhhhmmmmmmmm we’re not so sure.

The Philly Inquirer marks 100 years since the sighting of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal by three children, and checks in with our
own Joe Nickell for the reality-based perspective.

Democratic House Member Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who is UNAFFILIATED and NOT nontheist/atheist, is officially running for the U.S. Senate to take on incumbent Jeff Flake.

San Antonio’s KSAT thought it would be a good idea to let “ghost hunters” investigate an old county jail for spooks. They looked for EVP (electronic voice phenomena), and reported that while checking out the cells, “the strong odor of cigarettes came out of nowhere.” I’m just going out on a limb, but maybe that came from someone smoking?

CFI was part of a coalition of groups urging a school system in Bossier Parish, Louisiana to ditch their silly policy of disciplining students who don’t stand for the National Anthem.

Trump has a plan for HHS that includes actually defining conception as the beginning of human life.

Danielle Butler at The Root asks a really good question: “Why on earth isn’t there a dating site for black atheists?

Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia nixes a suit from FFRF on being barred from giving an atheist invocation in the Wisconsin House.

The top newspaper in China warns Communist Party officials not to engage in “feudalistic superstitious activities” and to embrace atheism instead. “Superstition is thought pollution and spiritual anesthesia that cannot be underestimated and must be thoroughly purged.”

Ben Radford walks us through a press release that seems at first to be about some leading-edge science, but is actually poorly disguised “creationist bullshit.”

Stuart Vyse has two new pieces at CSICOP.org: One on the “true motives” of the Las Vegas shooter, the other on Friday-the-13th superstitions, noting that the CSICon location, the Excalibur Hotel, does have a 13th floor!

The Boy Scouts of America. Gays can join. Girls can join. Atheists c — oh, no, still can’t.

Carl Zimmer at NYT reports on new research showing that the same genes for various shades of skin pigmentation are shared by humans all over the world:

The widespread distribution of these genes and their persistence over millenniums show that the old color lines are essentially meaningless, the scientists said.

Ireland is getting a LOT of nones.

Quote of the Day:

If you weren’t already into it, reading this piece by Alessandra Potenza on the Voyager spacecrafts’ Golden Record will make you really eager to listen to the whole thing yourself. She notes that the record includes a greeting from the UN Secretary-General at the time, Kurt Waldheim, who was later revealed to be complicit in the crimes of the Nazis, and that this doesn’t take away from the record’s importance as an interstellar artifact:

As sad and ironic as that is, it also speaks for humanity more than I want to admit. We are beacons of invention, technology, and science. We are “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. But we’re also violent, we’re ideologues, and we cause suffering. Accepting this is accepting who we are as a species. Even when we try to leave our dark side out, it seeps in unexpectedly.

That doesn’t take any value away from the Golden Record. It is one attempt at explaining all of life and culture on Earth. In all its imperfection, it is still beautiful. As I lay on my couch with my eyes closed — listening to Bach, then a Navajo Indian night chat — I couldn’t stop marveling at how amazing it is to be part of this planet. I don’t know what aliens would think of us if they ever intercepted the Voyager probes and figured out a way to extrapolate the disk’s contents. Maybe it’ll make no sense to them. To me, the Golden Record is a reminder of how beautiful our planet is and how unique of a home it is. It’s also a reminder that we should take better care of it.

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