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Pearls of Unscientific Wisdom

January 11, 2019

Lots of interesting stuff today, folks. It’s a good day to be the Morning Heretic. Or to read stuff from the Morning Heretic. Or to read the stuff that the Morning Heretic finds and then comments on. Or something. Never mind.

Most important of all: Point of Inquiry, the flagship podcast of the Center for Inquiry—and, let’s be honest, all of freethought—is back! New host Kavin Senapathy talks to Adam Conover (who ruins everything) and Timothy Caulfield (who ruins things for Gwyneth Paltrow), both from CSICon 2018. Hooray! We’ll be making much more noise about this soon.

Remember Harry Reid? He used to be a boxer! Oh and a ways after that, he was Senate Majority Leader! I think that was harder. Anyway, he is really into the whole UFO thing, and even though he’s been retired for a couple of years, he’s still using his influence to see to it that military folks who think they have witnessed a UFO have a way to report a sighting without getting into trouble or being thought of as nuts:

What we found in the past is that these pilots, when they see something strange like this, they’re prone not to report it for fear that the bosses will think something’s wrong with them, and they don’t get the promotion. So, many, many times they don’t say a word to anybody about these strange things.

The facts are, they need a place to be able to report this, and that’s what I’m going to work on in a couple of hours, to make sure that somebody I think’s a powerful member in Congress, I want him to be able to sit down and talk to some of these pilots who have seen these things. I can arrange this because of the contacts I have with members of the Congress.

Reid also says, ominously:

Oh sure, I’ve been to Area 51. I know Area 51. I don’t know if I should say many times, but lots and lots of times. I know Area 51 quite well, I know what they’ve done there. I don’t know in recent years, of course, but I know what went on there.

Go ooooonnnn…..

The Republican Party of Tarrant County, Texas hold a vote to decide whether to kick out its vice-chairman because he’s a Muslim. Let me just say that again. A county GOP thought it was a good idea to vote as to whether Dr. Shahid Shafi should be kicked the hell out of his leadership position because of the religion he grew up with. Well, Dr. Shafi won the vote, 139-49, which is good I guess, but it also means over one third of the members thought, hell yeah, get this guy out of here.

Credit to Ted Cruz (I imagine I’ll never say that ever again) for his (and other Republicans’) support of Dr. Shafi:

Discrimination against Dr. Shafi b/c he’s Muslim is wrong. The Constitution prohibits any religious test for public office & the First Amendment protects religious liberty for every faith. The Party of Lincoln should welcome everybody & celebrate Liberty.

The 2003 Free Inquiry article by Laurence Britt on the warning signs of fascism (“Fascism, Anyone?”) is the gift that keeps on giving. This time, it gave a high school principal in Massachusetts a real headache when a history teacher assigned the article to the class in order to discuss whether President Trump is fascistic. It did not go over well.

At his “Ask the Atheist” column, Jim Underdown takes issue with some definitions of atheism that emphasize disbelief over lack of belief:

…one should not be labeled by what he or she does NOT believe in. People aren’t branded asantaclausians, atoothfairians, or acubswilleverwinanotherworldseriesians (ok, I am one of those.) In the course of getting a degree in English, I once learned that the prefix “a” — as it is used in the words atheist or atheism — means without. Yeah, that’s right. Atheists are without a belief in God or gods.

But adding the notion of denying gods’ existence or disbelieving in such things confers a connotation of refusing to recognize something that (maybe the lexicographer believes) is there.

This week’s Cause & Effect email newsletter led with the story of Durba Zahan, a young atheist blogger from Bangladesh who was helped to safety by our Secular Rescue program. Read her harrowing story here.

Joe Nickell says Bigfoot is an endangered species. WHAT’S THAT??? Check out Joe’s blog post in which he connects the status of bears to the elusive and nonexistent Sasquatch.

At Skeptical Inquirer online, Kenny Biddle investigates the claims about the Bela Lugosi “cursed mirror” in Zak Bagans’s “Haunted Museum”…which probably didn’t even belong to Bela Lugosi.

The LDS Church may be going to Navajo Nation tribal court over the alleged abuse of a Navajo man claiming to have suffered “decades of alleged emotional harm, including attempted suicide” while in a Mormon foster care program, according to the AP.

Those of us old enough to remember breathless email forwards about Nigerian princes and international conspiracies from our elder relatives will not be surprised by the results of a new study from Princeton and New York Universities showing that Facebook users over the age of 65 were far more likely to share fake news than any other group.

Put a cross up on public land, and you are just BEGGING the wrecking crew from Wisconsin to come after you. So learneth the fine folks of Osark, Missouri who will be moving a giant cross from Finley River Park, lest they get FFRF’d up.

Srinivasan Ramani at India’s The Hindu criticizes the Hindutva belief system, one that ascribes modern technological progress to some mystical time in India’s ancient history:

This project seeks to identify with the instrumentalism of the technological progress achieved today without having to engage with the phenomena that brought about modernity. Western Enlightenment that emphasized reason, pluralism and a grounding in philosophies that go beyond abstract metaphysics is therefore anathema. So, too, is the idea that profound achievements in areas such as astronomy and mathematics in ancient India were a product of contested ideologies and philosophies that included materialist and non-Vedic thought. Unless the political project of Hindutva is tackled head-on ideologically, we will continue to receive more pearls of unscientific wisdom.

Amazon pulls from its store doormats with Quranic verses printed on them. Why? Aysha Khan at RNS explains:

Muslims treat the Quran with great respect, performing ritual ablution before touching it and often avoiding putting it on the ground or in impure areas — including near feet or below the level of feet. Many will burn any materials containing the Quran or God’s name rather than allowing it to sit in the garbage.

Yonat Shimron reports that 93 United Methodist-affiliated colleges and universities urge the church to “recognize the ‘sacred worth’ of people regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation,” giving full inclusion to LGBTQ Christians. Currently, the church bars LGBTQ people from bring ordained as ministers or from being married by the church.

Peter Steinfels, formerly a religion reporter with the New York Times, says the huge Pennsylvania grand jury report on conscience-shocking levels of sexual abuse and cover-up within the state’s Catholic Church is grossly exaggerated. In a big editorial at the Catholic outlet Commonweal, Steinfels writes:

What does the report not document? It does not document the sensational charges contained in its introduction—namely, that over seven decades Catholic authorities, in virtual lockstep, supposedly brushed aside all victims and did absolutely nothing in the face of terrible crimes against boys and girls—except to conceal them. This ugly, indiscriminate, and inflammatory charge, unsubstantiated by the report’s own evidence, to say nothing of the evidence the report ignores, is truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for impartial justice.

Yep, he wants to be the guy going to the mat for the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. Have fun with that.

The Israel Medical Association, representing 90 percent of the country’s doctors, bans gay-conversion therapy.

Didn’t we just do this yesterday? We move from North Dakota to Florida where State Rep. Kimberly Daniels also wants to require public schools to offer Bible classes. To remind you, Rep. Daniels, a Democrat, is also worried about witches.

Here’s some fun reading for later. One of the “fathers of the Internet,” Vint Cerf, writes in Wired about coming developments we’re not really ready for:

…in 2019 we will have to take seriously the possibility of our developing multicellular artificial life, and we will need to start thinking about the ethical and philosophical challenges such a possibility brings up. … We may [also] need to accelerate the evolution of terrestrial life forms, for example, including homo sapiens, so that they carry traits and capabilities needed for life in space or even on our own changing planet.

Quote of the Day

This is amazing. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church says smartphones will bring about the Antichrist. I am totally not kidding! The AP reported it! Pappa K says:

[I am concerned that] someone can know exactly where you are, know exactly what you are interested in, know exactly what you are afraid of. … Control from one point is a foreshadowing of the coming of Antichrist, if we talk about the Christian view. Antichrist is the person who will be at the head of the world wide web that controls the entire human race.

Sounds to me like the Antichrist is Mark Zuckerberg (Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook are too nice), which, frankly, feels weirdly plausible. Oh, and I should note the queasy irony that the guy whose church is totally buddied-up with the planet’s uber-authoritarian, often-shirtless KGB-president is suddenly worried about centralized control and surveillance.

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Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.