Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Scientology self-destructs a bit more

Ah, Boston -- the Athens of American, home to dozens of schools of higher learning. But even here, in this Beanpot of bibliophiles and brainiacs, the worst forms of collective delusion are able to survive. One of the more incredible organizations is Scientology, which houses its Boston programs in a lovely old brownstone building on Beacon Street in the Back Bay. In the past two years, Anonymous protesters have made a bit out noise out in front of their facility, but the Hubbardites are pretty snug in there... I don't think they're really considering dissolving their local activities just because a group of Guy Fawkes clones are inciting passing cars to honk their horns. The Church of Xenu, it often seems to me, is here to stay.

Which is why it is good to read about the increasingly bizarre public behavior, and increasingly rancorous internal politics, of Scientology's upper echelon. Optimistically, I'd like to label as just the latest step toward the cult's eventual collapse.

What Hitchens has learned from debating the religious

I haven't yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind. After all, a believing religious person, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a "script" that is known in advance, and known to me, too. However, I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe.
-- Christopher Hitchens, the meanest Atheist in the world, in his latest column for Slate magazine.

Boston CoR ads on the Red Line, and in the Globe

Nora Delaney with Red Line ad

Visit the website of the Boston Coalition of Reason, or read about the BostonCor ad campaign in the Globe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hello, Atheists who saw the Chronicle show!

We've seen a surge in our web traffic today, which must have something to do with Channel 5's feature on the nonreligious community, those of us who are good without gods.

To those of you who are here looking for more information about the secular community in Boston, I suggest you start with the website of the Boston Coalition of Reason. This website will lead you to the individual websites for all of the most active local secular resources -- social groups, campus organizations, and secular congregations.

Attending a Boston Atheists brunch or pub night is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people in the area. Our events calendar is managed at our page.

Jackie Lavache is the Boston Atheist Examiner, and writes about life in Boston from an Atheist perspective as well as about events of interest to the secular community. Her articles are a great and often entertaining blend of blogger commentary and journalism -- check it out at

As the Director of the Boston Atheists, I work with our group's assistant organizers to plan events, create a programming calendar, and work toward a greater sense of shared interests among our members. Feel free to email me if you'd like to ask questions directly about our organization. I am also the State Director of the American Atheists, and happy to answer your questions about that educational organization.

The Chronicle broadcast could only offer a limit ed view of our community. We're happy to meet new people, answer questions, and share our experiences. So please, come on out!

UPDATE 11:51 pm, 10/27/09:
PS: I am marginally irritated that the Mormons are riding on our bespoke secular coattails. The video advertisement preceding the fourth segment of the Channel 5 Chronicle web broadcast is selling LDS snake oil.

A recent poll...

... suggests that the frequency of rationality among Channel 5 viewers is unusually high. Note: this poll did not control for the higher percentage of rationalists who enjoy participating in web surveys. Nonetheless, it is an exciting number to see. I think we should aim at such numbers, and even higher.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Neumanns are sentenced, Kara still dead

Madeline Kara Neumann, born Dec 31, 1996; died Mar 22, 2008. Cause of death: religious delusion.

Dale and Leilani Neumann prayed over their suffering daughter, instead of procuring medical treatment for their condition. Their 11-year-old daughter died. Now, the Neumanns have been sentenced -- one month a year for the next six years, an unorthodox penalty which the judge hopes will give them time to "think about Kara and what God wants you to learn from this."

I want to view this as a Parthian victory of reason over superstition, but this judge's comment sets me straight. The conflict here was not between modernity and religion but between a religious couple that failed to do what their religious neighbors all do: dilute their faith with enough practical technology so as to avoid the unfortunate and inevitable fallout that occurs when one places one's fate in the hands of nonexistent beings. "Think about what God wants you to learn from this" -- not, "Your child died because you were playing make-believe."

An interesting point was made in the comments section:
And The Lord Said: don't eat shellfish. Because it's easier to say a god disapproves rather than telling people not to s**t in the water near where the bivalves are filtering the water and ingesting the toxins.
The implication here seems to be that religion is a way of spoon-feeding common sense to human beings that prefer to spit out their spinach all over their bib. Faced with such options -- a religious majority that uses just enough science to get through the day without upsetting their mythological sensibilities, and a secular minority that employs religious doctrine to save the great mass of humanity from their own self-destructive impulses -- I yearn for a third way.

More views at The New York Times, The Friendly Atheist, and BBC.

Please support the work of Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty, the non-profit national membership organization established in 1983 to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Jason Vines rebutts ahistorical wonkiness

Carl Wieland's editorial, "The blood-stained 'century of evolution'", is a howler. His opinions seem not to have been formed according to the highest standards of factual accuracy, let us say. As Beltway Atheists member Jason Vines -- operator of the Hypersyllogistic Forums -- writes, "this article has numerous problems." I saw Jason's response making the rounds on a mailing list, and thought it would be worth the read for readers of the BA Blog. Here is his ordered list of concise and matter-of-fact debunkings. - ZB

First, it engages in the logical fallacy we call the appeal to consequences. Any consequences of a proposition, be they good or ill, has no impact on whether the proposition is true or false.

Second, throughout most of human history, religion has sought totalitarian control over everyone's beliefs, thoughts, and actions. Within a religion's dominion, whoever did not submit to the religious authorities faced torture and death. Whomever lived outside religious authorities' control, these authorities often tried to convert through conquest. Few places on Earth have been free of the misery, oppression, and warfare that has resulted. The histories of Europe and Asia are particularly riven with suffering and bloodshed stemming from heretical dissent, sectarian rivalry, and interfaith hatred. If religion hasn't quite achieved the body count of Nazism and Communism, the only reason is that religious police and faithful combatants didn't have remote surveillance, gas chambers, machine guns, warplanes, battleships, tanks, missiles, and nukes.

Third, as a corollary to the above point, no ideological construct in human history has done more than religion to divide people into opposing groups, most of which believed they were the favored of God and hated the other groups. For example, Christians and Muslims hated Jews for centuries, the Christians because they nonsensically held Jews responsible for Christ's death, the Muslims because a group of Jews supposedly thought Mohammed was a charlatan when he told them God was communicating with him. The Nazis didn't invent the anti-Semitic hatred that drove the Holocaust; it was an ancient though still vibrant relic of religion.

Fourth, whereas some individual clergymen bravely resisted the Nazis, the Catholic Church as a political institution supported fascism around the world and collaborated with the Nazis, even to the extent of revealing files to them to help them determine who was sufficiently "pure" to avoid the gas chambers (and who was not). Many Protestant churches also cooperated with the Nazis. And, in Russia, the Orthodox Church served as a puppet of the state instead of resisting. And, of course, in both Germany and Russia, most people were Christians of one kind or another. Even Adolf Hitler was a member of the Catholic Church in good standing, although he made embellishments to the Christian mythos. And Joseph Stalin, even though he became an atheist, had trained as a monk; I guess extensive religious teaching didn't dampen his homicidal tendencies.

Fifth, to the extent that the Nazis and the Communists did aim to supplant religion, the replacement was another kind of unreasoning faith: worship of an all-encompassing state. The totalitarianism that flowed from that had nothing to do with unshackling man's reason or Darwinian evolution by natural selection, but with squashing them.

Sixth, the article mischaracterizes Darwin's work. Darwin was a scientist who merely studied life and recorded what he found. "Might makes right" and other such drivel has nothing to do with Darwin or with evolution, which just concerns inheritance of traits through successive generations and fitness for particular environments. I must note, though, "might makes right" adeptly describes much of religious ideology and history. Think of the admonitions in many religious texts that if the will of a particular deity isn't followed, divine and earthly punishment will ensue.

Seventh, I disagree with the article about the implications of abandoning God and embracing evolution. As I've written before, God is not an alternative to man's will but serves as a vessel into which man pours his will and hopes to escape responsibility for it. The erosion of the God concept doesn't mean an ill-equipped humanity starts making moral decisions; humanity has done that all along. But society might become more self-reflective and willing to deal with its flaws without a divine scapegoat for them.

Also, I think realizing that man is only another animal that evolved over billions of years from microscopic life, and that genetics shreds arbitrary notions of "race" while confirming everyone's unqualified and equal membership in the human species, would encourage treatment of the planet and each other with more humility and respect than religion has engendered. In that respect, Darwinian evolution isn't divisive but unifying.