2014.09 Opinion: The Value of Critical Thinking

Prof. Charles Negy evidently had a lot of pushback in his first class on “Cross-Cultural Psychology” and took the time to write an open letter to his student body (University of Central Florida) about it.


One characteristic of the critical, independent thinker is being able to recognize fantasy versus reality; to recognize the difference between personal beliefs which are nothing more than personal beliefs, versus views that are grounded in evidence, or which have no evidence.

Last class meeting and for 15 minutes today, we addressed “religious bigotry.” Several points are worth contemplating:

Religion and culture go “hand in hand.” …

Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry.


2014.08 News: Sunday Assembly Coming to Madison

The first formal gathering of Madison’s Sunday Assembly won’t be until Sep. 28, but this afternoon there was an introductory potluck picnic hosted by the organizers of the Sunday Assembly at a city park near the Prairie Unitarian Society. Organizer Robert Park reports that "About 25 of us attended, with great food and conversation. "


2014.08 News: "Nones" Now a Plurality among Millennials

Skip over the part in this article which gloats about the political implications of the now unmistakable shift of the younger generation away from organized religion and just look at the numbers for the 18-30 age cohort:
• 29.5% Protestant
• 27.3% Catholic
•  1.1% Jewish
• 11.2% Other
• 30.9% None

This is just the latest installment in a trend that's been evident for decades: The younger you are, the less likely you are to adhere to a formal religion.

Now, of course, the $64 question is what happens to that cohort as it grows older. Does it replace the older, more devout citizenry, or does it become them?


2014.05 News: Spring Family Picnic June 1

The Humanist Union of Madison invites you to the Nonbelievers of Greater Madison Spring Family Picnic 2014 June 1 (Sunday), noon to 2 pm. Bring your own beverage, and food to share potluck style. If the current weather holds we'll meet at the picnic shelter at Marlborough Park in southwest Madison. Here's how to get there. If the weather is threatening or wet, we'll say so here. The rainy-day indoor location is the nearby Prairie UU Society Meeting House at the corner of Crawford and Whenona Drives.


2014.03 News: Humanism at Work Coming Closer

Foundation Beyond Belief, the nation's largest humanist charitable organization, is holding its first national conference, "Humanism at Work", 2014 July 18-20 at the Hilton Rosemont in Chicago, Illinois.

This conference, the first of its kind in the freethought community, centers on how nontheists can put their compassionate humanism to work for a better world. It will include TED-style presentations on philanthropy, volunteering, and community building, as well as practical workshops, panels, and hands-on volunteer opportunities.

Speakers include:
  • Evidence-based giving expert CAROLINE FIENNES
  • Nigerian humanist and human rights activist LEO IGWE
  • Atheist homelessness activist SERAH BLAIN
  • HEMLEY GONZALEZ, a humanist at work with the poor in Calcutta
  • Atheist authors HEMANT MEHTA and GRETA CHRISTINA
  • Social psychologist DR. BRITTANY SHOOTS-REINHARD
  • THE PATHFINDERS, four humanists just returned from a year of global service
To register, go to the Humanism at Work website. The organizers have tried to keep the conference affordable at $129 before April 15 and $149 after that date. Included in that price is a formal dinner at which Heart of Humanism awards will go to those who have put humanism into action in their local communities and around the world.


2014.03 News: Depends on What the Meaning of "Know" Is

Republican presidential aspirant, former Arkansas governor, right-wing TV personality, and ordained evangelical minister Mike Huckabee assured CPAC that he "knows" there is a God. He also "knows" many similar things (like, say, "Benghazi!") thru the assistance of similar levels of evidence, reason, and his diamond-bright intellectuality.


2014.03 News: "Nones" Now a Plurality among Young Adults

America continues its long, arduous struggle at freeing itself from the irrationalities of religion. As in so many other ways, young people are taking the lead, according to the latest survey of religiosity, spun of course to political ends by The Daily Kos.


2014.02 News: Freethot Festival 3 Open for Business

As of today, the website for Freethought Festival 3, on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus April 11-12, is in operation.

If you've never been, it's an amazingly good time.

Oh, and it's free. They do ask that you register, tho, to aid in planning.


2014.02 News: Atheists Disinvited from Conservative Shindig

American Atheists wanted to reach out to political conservatives and so reserved a table at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference. Then the CPACkies had 2nd thots: "Not so fast there, you heathens!"


2014.02 Quiz: Is Your Religious Liberty under Threat?

Thanks to the Huffington Post and essayist Rev. Emily C. Heath, this simple 10-question multiple-choice test will tell you in under 2 minutes whether your religious liberty as an American citizen is in danger.


2014.02 News: Snake-Handling Preacher Dies of Snakebite

Rev. Jamie Coots took literally the Bible's assurance that TBs could freely handle serpents and the like with impunity. He even had a reality show called Snake Salvation to demonstrate how confident he was.

Surprise! The Bible was wrong yet again.


2014.02 Opinion: Good News about Acceptance of Evolution

In an essay in the latest Scientific American, UW-Madison's own leading light of evolutionary biology, Sean B. Carroll*, notes that the latest data about the level of acceptance of evolution shows that it's much higher among young people than older Americans, and that this bodes well for the future. He chalks it up to 2 main factors: the diminishing level of religiosity among the young and enhanced science education in the schools and media.

*as distinguished form the equally accomplished, articulate, renowned, and dedicatedly atheistic physicist, Sean M. Carroll of Caltech.


2014.02 Humor: "22 Messages from Creationists" Translated by Science Lovers

After the debate between Bill Nye "the Science Guy" and young-Earth creationist Ken Ham, BuzzFeed asked 22 creationists to write down questions they'd like to ask scientists or others who accept evolution and the leading scientific explanations for it. They posted the pictures without comment, but that didn't stop other folks (at The Science of Sarcasm) from providing some commentary masquerading as "translations" of the original comments.

Remember, these are nice, smiley people, and you'd probably really like them in person. They just happen to believe astoundingly stupid stuff. That doesn't make them bad people. Funny, tho.


2014.01 News: BIble-Minded Cities in America

Time magazine reports results of a recent survey on the extent of "Bible-mindedness" in America's biggest cities.

To save you having to squint to read the small gray type, here's where Wisconsin cities (really metro areas) ranked out of the 100 areas rated:
  • 76 Milwaukee
  • 79 Madison
  • 85 Green Bay / Appleton

Also of interest:
  • 44 Quad Cities
  • 53 Des Moines / Ames
  • 74 Chicago
  • 75 Minneapolis / Saint Paul
  • 96 Cedar Rapids / Waterloo

The good news? Even America's most devout city, Chattanooga, barely climbed over the 50% mark for Bible-mindedness.


2014.01 News: Kid Killer Exemption in the News Again

Believe it or not, some Wisconsin legislators aren't content with just letting parents starve or beat their kids with impunity if done for "good" (read "religious") reasons, they want to extend so-called "rights of conscience" still further. Fortunately, other lawmakers are working to rein in Wisconsin's statutory exemption from the child-neglect and -abuse laws. Read more here.

In all likelihood, nothing will happen the remainder of this legislative session one way or another, which means that religious zealots in Wisconsin will still be free thruout 2014 to maltreat their kids and get away with it.


2014.01 Opportunity: Survey of Atheists

Researchers from the University of Tampa and Iowa State University would like your opinions for a study. Their survey looks at the perceptions and attitudes of both affiliated and unaffiliated nonbelievers, concerning the functions and activities of secular, freethought, humanist, and atheist organizations, and also the conduct of individuals and groups in the broader atheist movement/community in general. It'll take about 10 minutes, and you need not answer every question.


2014.01 News: Pastor Decides To "Try" Atheism, Loses 3 Jobs

For some reason, Rev. Ryan Bell's employers at various ardently Christian institutions came to doubt his commitment and sincerity when he announced that he was going to try spending a year living as an atheist to see what it was really like. Their general attitude? Don't let the door hit you on the hinder on your way out.


2014.01 Education: Social Awareness Quiz

Over at CNN.com's Belief Blog the commenters are having a swell time with today's story "After Schism, Can Atheist Churches Last?". This comment in particular seemed to stand out above the crowd:

A quick 10-question quiz might help explain why young Jews and Christians are deserting religion in droves. The core problem the priests, ministers, and rabbis face is the Internet. Suddenly they no longer have a monopoly on what they tell these kids while they are too young to know any better. The kids can fact check themselves and, of course, religion is soon exposed as having a lot to explain. So:

Q1. The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings on the planet are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives, by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in an “afterlife” comes from the realm of ...
(a) bad science fiction
(b) children’s fairy tales
(c) hallucinogenic psychology
(d) religion

Q2. What is the only thing capable of making 40% of the country utterly stupid enough to think the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with one man, one woman, and a talking snake?
(a) a horrid mental disease
(b) a failed educational system
(c) a successful al-Qaeda plot to undermine academic advancement in the USA
(d) Christianity

Q3. Complete the following sentence: “It is not uncommon in many parts of the world for a young man to strap a suicide vest to himself and blow up himself along with members of a rival __________.”
(a) corporation
(b) university
(c) street gang
(d) church

Q4. It is only acceptable as an adult to believe Bronze Age mythology like talking snakes, the Red Sea splitting, manna falling from the sky, a man living in a whale's belly, a talking donkey, superhuman strength, a man rising from the dead, and angels, ghosts, gods, and demons in the field of ...
(a) history
(b) literature
(c) anthropology
(d) religion

Q5. I have convinced myself that gay sex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have homosexual urges. I am being obstinate and closed minded due to my ...
(a) heterosexuality
(b) DNA
(c) nationality
(d) religion

Q6. I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like “Please God, help me pass my exam tomorrow”, some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am ...
(a) a delusional schizophrenic;
(b) a naive child, too young to know how silly that is
(c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a 5th-grade education
(d) your average Christian, Muslim, or Jew

Q7. Hundreds of millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because ...
(a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus
(b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine
(c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story
(d) their faith tell them to believe it’s so because that’s what the priest said

Q8. The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others, whom they have never met, in its furtherance is ...
(a) architecture
(b) philosophy
(c) archeology
(d) religion

Q9. What differentiates science and all other intellectual pursuits from religion?
(a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they must believe under threat of “burning in hell” or other divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine, etc. have no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them.
(b) Religion can make a statement such as “God comprises the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit” and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by demonstrable, repeatable evidence.
(c) Science and the scientific method are universal and consistent all over the world, whereas all religion is regional and a person’s religion, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than a matter of upbringing.
(d) All of the above.

Q10. If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filthy river, mutilating my child’s genitals, or prostrating and abnegating myself in the belief that an invisible being is somehow reading my innermost thoughts, I am likely driven by ...
(a) demons
(b) an irrational fear or phobia
(c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse
(d) my religious belief