Many people who know me will know that I hold little truck with religion. At best, I consider religions woe-begotten variations on reasoned ways to live one’s life humanely. However, as much as I find religions untenable, I shall defend folks’ right to espouse religious—or anti-religious and especially non-religious—views. Thus I was thrilled to hear the US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “Remarks at the Release of the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report” in which she delivered one of the most inspiring defenses of religious freedom I can remember hearing.
Whether you might agree or disagree with Ms. Clinton’s political positions, I think most people will agree that the core of her remarks are a spirited defense of foundational principles of human freedom. I hope people everywhere, regardless of political stripe, can watch or read this talk. There are, to be sure, the usual segments of the talk that have to do with thanking contributors to the talk, thanking allies, and calling out miscreants. But there are, as I heard it live while driving home from a meeting yesterday AM, sections of the talk that discuss fundamental human aspirations. Reminders of the ideas of principles on which the US and other democracies were based hundreds of years ago.
Wooohooo! I’ll just run the 1st three paragraphs of the press release here:
Ottawa, Ontario — (SBWIRE) — 09/30/2010 — Atheist Alliance International (AAI) in collaboration with Humanist Canada (HC) announce their joint convention, to be held October 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 2010, uniting atheists and humanists in an international movement transcending political and cultural borders.This will be the first ever explicitly atheist convention in Montreal, as well as the first North-American AAI convention held outside the U.S.A. The event, organized with local support from Atheist Freethinkers and CFI Montreal, will welcome hundreds of participants and be held at the Delta Centre-ville Hotel on 777 University St. in the heart of the city.
This bilingual event will feature a plethora of both anglophone and francophone convention speakers. A partial list of those confirmed so far includes: anthropologist Daniel Baril speaking on the evolutionary origins of religion; Philippe Besson, French freethought leader; Daniel Dennett, celebrated philosopher and author of Breaking The Spell; Belgian historian of atheism Serge Deruette; Belgian philosopher and secularism advocate Nadia Geerts; Louise Mailloux, founder of Citizens’ Collective for Equality and Secularism; famous evolutionary biologist and Pharyngula blogger P.Z. Myers; Jeremy Patrick, legal expert on blasphemy legislation; screenwriter and comedian J.D. Shapiro; Skeptical investigator Karen Stollznow, a.k.a. SkepChick; Rodrigue Tremblay, economist and author of The Code for Global Ethics.
The 2010 Richard Dawkins Prize will be awarded to Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. Several other activities will take place in conjunction with the convention: for example the September 30th party to mark International Blasphemy Rights Day and underline the importance of freedom of expression; and an evening of stand-up comedy on Comedy Night.
I read with interest Damon Linker’s column in the Washington Post on Sunday 19 September 2010, “A religious test all our political candidates should take.” Given my resistence to mixing political and religious views, my first reaction when I read the headline was to disagree. After all, I know quite well that Article VI of the US Constitution very plainly states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification [for] any office or public trust under the United States.”
During dinner tonight (Sun the 6th here in Asia), we heard a tremendous assortments of fireworks and saw the restaurant staff exiting the front door. Our friend and local resident said that there was a parade coming to the restaurant. We hastened outside to watch, and I filmed some of the events. The accompanying image is extracted from one of the video clips, so it’s not particularly clear.
The parade came in three waves, each with a musical ensemble, dancers, and a brightly-lit portable alter. Loud! Fireworks. Loud! Music. Mostly youths seemed to be carrying the alters as if they were sedan chairs. A team with wheeled generators trailed each alter.
The restaurant staff stood in ranks on the sidewalk between the restaurant door and the curb. They held their hands together in front of their chests, bowed, burned incense, and watched intently. The dancers, musicians, and alter carriers came up to the curb. The restaurant people gave offerings (rice wine and cigarettes, we learned later) to them. In the image, one of three oversized dancers from the second troupe approaches the cooking staff, represented by the man in the white chef’s jacket at the bottom right.
Apparently, this was an opportunity to hope for a good harvest in the future. Quite an event!
Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?
- 38% Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process.
- 12% Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, and God had no part in the process.
- 38% God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago.
- 12% Don’t know
Fifty-one percent of the people living in Texas and responding to a survey about their beliefs about and understanding of life say that they disagree with the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” and 31% agree with the statement, “The earliest humans
lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.” One in five said that humans had always existed in their present-day form. I am using a winch to raise my jaw off the floor.
Equally amazing to me is the result shown in the accompanying box; please do the arithmetic. I’ll come back to it. And there’re lots more in these data.
I drew these data from a survey conducted the first week in February 2010. The researchers interviewed 800 registered voters and the results of the survey have a margin of error of ± 3.5%. The survey was conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. The interviews also asked about people’s religious and political affiliations as well as the political candidates they endorse, their church attendance, and other factors. The cross-tabs on these are fascinating.
So, when I walk along the street in TX, I should expect that three of every four people whom I pass, on average, believe that a mystical being or force was, at least, guiding human development. It might be as high as four of every five or as low as a little better than seven of every ten people.
In his report, Ross Ramsey uses the headline, “Meet the Flintstones.” Download the crosstabs and the raw data (all questions).
Over on Skepticblog in “Never Say Anything That Isn’t Correct,” Daniel Loxton examines the ethical responsibilities of those of us who doubt some of the beliefs common in human thinking. People who publicly express reservations about things ranging from overgeneralization to god, Mr. Loxton recommends, should exercise great care in avoiding the very errors in evidence and reason to which they are pointing and—sometimes politely, sometimes shrilly—calling “BS.”
That is to say: skeptics bear a heavy due diligence burden. The more we present skepticism as “the scientific perspective,” the heavier that burden becomes. People turn to us for reliable information and science-based analysis. That is exactly what they should get.
Nor is it only skeptical magazines who bear this burden. All public skeptics — TV celebrities, podcasters, and bloggers included — have an unrelenting ethical responsibility to do their homework, stay close to their expertise, and get the facts right.
To deal with that burden, here’s the simple rule I propose: No skeptic should ever say anything that isn’t correct.
Mr. Loxton’s rule presents a demanding standard—and, to be sure, it is a bit of an overstatement in itself. However, as he argues, the direction it takes skeptics is a good one. Read “Never Say Anything That Isn’t Correct.” Having read it, I’ll work on watching my words a bit more carefully.
There is a blog at least loosely associated with Mr. Deity: Mr. Deity Fan.
You know, Christie, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you will get us free from the French. True story. And so the devil said, “O.K. it’s a deal.” The Haitians revolted, got themselves free, but ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another, desparatetly poor.
(See video of Rev. Robertson’s comments
In a letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Lily Coyle assumed satan as a persona and responded to the remarks of the Reverend Pat Robinson about the people of Haiti having made a pact with the devil, thereby causing all their grief. My transcription of Rev. Robertson’s remarks are in the box at the right. Following is the beginning of Ms. Coyle’s letter to Rev. Robertson
Dear Pat Robertson, I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I’m all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating.
This is well worth a read. Letter of the day: Haiti suffers, and Robertson sees the hand of Satan. For a variation on the theme, see Gavin An open letter to Pat Roberston from Satan.
As one or two of the two or three regular readers know, I’m impressed by the Mr. Deity shorts. Well, after a delay following the second season, the third season is available. I recommend it.
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In “Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man,” John Markoff reports on concerns about whether machines might overrun their human creators. It’s the stuff of science fiction, no? Reminds me of the endgame in Sim Earth.
A robot that can open doors and find electrical outlets to recharge itself. Computer viruses that no one can stop. Predator drones, which, though still controlled remotely by humans, come close to a machine that can kill autonomously.
Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.
Although I pretty much dismiss this concern out of hand (who would build a machine that’s out of control?), I did have a what-if moment.
- If machines ran the world, would they wage wars?
- If machines ran the world, would they immediately take steps to resolve global heating?
- If machines ran the world, would there be capital punishment?
- If machines ran the world, would they behave differently toward each other based on the color of their paint?
- If machines ran the world, would they prevent each other from saying or writing things?
- If machines ran the world, would they worship humans?
Link to Mr. Markoff’s article from the New York Times.