Increasingly Unavoidable

May 2, 2017

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

At the Vision Summit, a major conference for virtual reality and augmented reality, Richard Dawkins discussed virtual reality as an ages-old concept, thanks to the VR software in our own brains. He starts at about the 41-minute mark.

Benjamin Radford uses an episode of the ghost-hunting show Kindred Spirits as a case study of paranormal investigations done badly:

This is one of the most common mistakes in ghost hunting: Trying to establish the identity of a ghost (through a psychic medium, historical research, etc.) before establishing that the ghost exists at all. 

The very unfluffy ex-Pope Benedict (who is still alive, unlike Abe Vigoda) sends a message about what he thinks are two major threats, radical Islam and radical atheism (sigh):

The contrast between the concepts of the radically atheistic state and the creation of the radically theocratic state by Muslim movements creates a dangerous situation for our age, one whose effects we experience each day. These radical ideologies require us to urgently develop a convincing concept of the state that will stand up to the confrontation between these challenges and help to overcome it. 

Joe Cochrane at NYT looks at the efforts of Nahdlatul Ulama, a major Islamic organization in Indonesia, which seeks to bring Islam into the 21st century:

Leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama’s youth wing, known as Ansor, say that elements of Shariah, which Muslims consider divine law, are being manipulated by groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda to justify terrorist attacks around the world, invoked to rally fighters to battle in the Middle East and elsewhere, and distorted by movements that seek to turn Islam into a political weapon. 

Emma Green at The Atlantic profiles the journeys of two young people who hoped to join ISIS, but were scooped up by the FBI, posing as ISIS recruiters:

In an alternate world—one where Jaelyn and Moe had really been talking to ISIS recruiters, and actually made their way to Syria, and truly joined the Islamic State—the young pair might have gotten involved in violence. They might very well be dead by now: The FBI theoretically made them safer by apprehending them…

The Partnership for Responsible Growth, a conservative group concerned about the reality of climate change, is trying to get Trump’s attention by airing ads on shows like Morning Joe and Fox & Friends

Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute writes at NYT about the diverging concepts of American identity:

White Christians are today struggling to face a new reality: the inevitable surrender of table ownership in exchange for an equal seat. And it’s this new higher-stakes challenge that is fueling the great partisan reorientation we are witnessing today.

Harriet Hall writes of the deaths of children whose parents relied on faith healing over actual medical treatment, aghast that this is allowed to happen:

Society has a duty to protect children. Parents do not have the right to endanger their children because of their belief systems. There are still many jurisdictions that exempt parents from prosecution if they act according to religious or other belief systems. In my opinion, all remaining religious shield laws should be repealed. These children died or were left permanently impaired because their parents failed them. But society failed these children too. There were opportunities to report or intervene that might have saved these children.

Condé Nast has decided to make the world a little bit dumber, as it gets set to launch a quarterly print publication for Gwyneth Paltrow’s snake oil company Goop. As Julia Belluz says, “Goop is a multimillion-dollar empire built on misleading people about health.”

Adam Lee looks at the case of Robert Fisher, the New Hampshire legislator who turned out to be “pk_atheist” of the misogynist Reddit “Red Pill” forum, as a way to understand anti-woman hostility and conspiracy mongering among alleged “skeptics”:

[Red Pillers] are supposedly the only ones who recognize that an all-powerful feminist conspiracy has taken over society and is cruelly oppressing men. … Whatever justification they cite for it, the red-pillers have fallen for the siren song of a belief system custom-tailored to appeal to lonely, angry men. It tells them that they don’t need to engage in the hard work of introspection and self-criticism, that their romantic disappointments aren’t their fault but the handiwork of a conspiracy aligned against them, one that’s keeping them from claiming what’s rightfully theirs.

Scott Canon at the Kansas City Star reports on the recent research suggesting that a much higher percentage of Americans are atheists than are usually reported, and notes, “atheists may become increasingly unavoidable.” I, however, do my utmost to be entirely avoidable. Just try to avoid avoiding me. 

Responding to the face-palmy opening NYT op-ed by climate change doubter Bret Stephens, Jonathan Chait reminds us that if scientists’ climate models are possibly overestimating temperature increases as Stephens says, it means they are just as likely to be underestimated as well:

There is … about a 10 percent chance of a temperature increase exceeding 6 degrees Celsius, or 11 degrees Fahrenheit. That would be a civilizational catastrophe, orders of magnitude more dangerous than the likely warming scenarios, and potentially on a scale that could threaten human life.  

Bertha Vazquez updates us on the TIES program with new workshops in the works for Greensboro, the Birmingham Zoo, and elsewhere.

Steve Pinkerton warns that blasphemy laws are not just a problem in the Muslim world, worrying that they are “enjoying a resurgence in many corners of the supposedly secular West.” 

Olivia Goldhill at Quartz, checking in with Russell Blackford, says bad or wrong ideas are too often simply too powerful to quash.

Quote of the Day:

Amy Wang at The Washington Post reports on Ruslan Sokolovsky, the 22-year-old Russian man who enraged the creator of the universe by playing Pokémon Go in a church, and faces a 3 1/2-year prison sentence for his “blasphemy.” Sokolovsky said in the video he had recorded of his adventure:

But, you know, I didn’t catch the rarest Pokémon that you could find there — Jesus. They said it doesn’t even exist, so I’m not really surprised.

He later told a Russian news outlet, “I may be an idiot, but I am by no means an extremist.” 

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