Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Did Junipero Serra embody the church’s direction?

Edd Doerr (arlinc.orgposted online in the Washington Post on 9/24/2/2015  -in response to the story “Serra embodied church’s direction, pope says”  -------

The canonization of Junipero Serra, a process begun before Francis became pope, should be a source of great embarrassment to the Catholic Church. It is certainly a slap in the face to the Native Americans who suffered horribly at the hands of the Spanish missionaries. The abuse of the Indians in California was so bad that the Spanish civil governor of California (1775-1782), Felipe de Neve, severely criticized Serra and the missionaries. The missions' mistreatment of the Indians is detailed and documented in California Latino author Elias Castillo's important 2015 book, A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California's Indians by the Spanish Missions. After Mexico won independence from Spain its government expelled the Spanish missionaries and closed the missions. And all this was before California became part of the US.

Curiously, the Vatican never canonized Bartolome de las Casas, the earlier missionary who exposed and criticized the mistreatment of Native Americans.

It is embarrassing that Serra's statue stands in the US Capitol. It should be removed and replaced by the statue of Thomas Starr King, the real American that Lincoln credited with keeping California in the Union during the Civil War. Starr King's and Serra's statues stood in the Capitol since 1931 until Starr King's was replaced by that of Ronald Reagan. Serra's should now be replaced by that of Starr King. Jerry Brown should start the process. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Young Earth Arguments Like Trickle Down Economics Never Go Away

by Gary Berg-Cross

As part of progress it would be nice for some arguments like Flat and Young Earths to go away. Yet, with entities like the Institute for Creation Research one still run into images of cave men riding dinosaurs. The latest one that I bumped into was from the September 15 edition of VOB’s Down To Brass Tacks which featured Dr. Russell Humphreys presented a lecture called Scientific Evidence For A Young World presented on 
September 10 at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. He claimed to present 14 pieces of solid scientific evidence for a young world, contradicting the scientific view with a biblical time scale for the origin of planet Earth and its various species within just a few thousand years.

It's all summed up with Dr Humphreys, himself a former atheist, statement: “You can trust The Bible.”

I think one cannot even trust Dr. Humphreys. One can find his arguments on Evidence for a Young World on the Institute for Creation Research site.
Here we find a list of things like:
1. Galaxies wind themselves up too fast.
3. Comets disintegrate too quickly. and
12. Not enough Stone Age skeletons.

One gets the impression that these are new, never answered conundrums but that is far from true. You can see 
David E. Thomas answers to these going back almost 20 years to , 1998 “Creationist Physicist” Russell D Humphreys and his Questionable “Evidence for a Young World” 

for example on Galaxies wind themselves up too fast (maximum age: a few hundred million years). Humphreys shows off a computer simulation in which a very simple "galaxy," a line of stars about a center point, develops a spiral shape. This spiral then winds up and disappears in just a few hundred million years. In this way, Humphreys claims to "prove" that galaxies can not be billions of years old. In his super-simple simulation, however, the stars are attracted to a "galactic center" - but not to each other! As a result, more distant stars move more slowly about the "galactic center," just as planets do around our Sun. But Humphreys fails to mention that the situation in real galaxies is far more complex than this: for one, real stars attract each other with large gravitational fields. Only the outermost stars of real galaxies have the "Keplerian" orbits he assumes, while the inner stars of a galaxy can move very differently, often almost as a rigid disk. Humphreys dismisses one of the modern theories of spiral formation, "density wave theory," as too complex, but it's really his ideas that are far too simple

Not enough stone age skeletons (Upper limit for duration of Stone Age: 500 years).
"Perhaps, in a thousand centuries, some of those burial sites might just have been eroded away, or covered with tons of soil or debris. Predators or vandals might have disturbed some of the graves, and subsequent generations of cavemen may have even re-used some of the same traditional burial sites. In any event, it is clear that the number of discovered Stone Age graves does not provide a very accurate "clock" for finding the age of the Earth. "

The arguments, which on first blush seem good critical analysis turn out to be a distraction, a way of not accepting a hard truth about Hebrew Bible claims. It's the type of threat that things like Copernican theory started and the Renaissance picked up on. Hebrew scriptures assumed & asserted that everything had been created in 7 days and designed for the use of man. If the earth plays a much shrunken role as a mere speck in a vast, billion year old universe, mankind is knocked from its center. 

 “No attack on Christianity is more dangerous than the infinite size and depth of the universe.” 

 Therefore it has to be denied and evidence has to be fabricated against it and against the scientific spirit which seemed very American to Walt Whitman. 

“I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try 

over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.” 

I'd say that a similar story applies to politically correct, economic theory like Trickle Down. That's an even longer story but a start is   a recent study published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has concluded that, contrary to the principles of “trickle-down” economics (Adding another nail to the coffin of Reaganomics) , an increase in the income share of the wealthiest people actually leads to a decrease in GDP growth.

NY Times Sept 21 editorial “The Pope and the Birth Control Ban”

Edd Doerr

The NY Times Sept 21 editorial “The Pope and the Birth Control Ban” is one of the best ever.
 It made all the right points and could not be condensed. Actually, it made exactly the same points that I have long been making in various venues. It needs to be read and circulated far and wide.

The only thing that could be added to it is that Pope Francis’s good words about action on climate change and social justice will fall well short if the Vatican does not reverse its perverse, damaging, misogynist bans on birth control and abortion. I made this point in a short piece published in the National Catholic Reporter in February. Overpopulation will thwart nearly all efforts to deal with climate change and its concomitants – atmospheric CO2 build-up, fossil fuel overuse, environmental degradation, toxic waste accumulation, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion and nutrient loss, rising sea levels, increasing sociopolitical instability and violence.

BTW, I recently  noticed that Bertrand Russell brought up the overpopulation problem in his 1929 book Marriage and Morals, when world population was about ¼ of what it is today.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Petition the University of Warwick students union

By Mathew Goldstein

Update: The Warwick SU now says they made a mistake and they apologized to Ms. Namazie, who apparently had consulted with lawyers regarding the feasibility of taking legal action against the student union or the university.

The Warwick Students Union made a pusillanimous decision to bar Maryam Namazie from giving a talk on campus to Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists, apparently because her apostasy offends some Muslims.  For those unfamiliar with Maryam, she is a secularist, a human-rights campaigner, a voice for reason, and leader of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.  There have been a string of such ugly double standard decisions over the past year by various university organizations in multiple different countries to refuse speakers who abandoned Islam.  People who abandoned Judaism, Christianity, or any other religion are never rejected as speakers by these same university organizations.  Tell the student union that they should not be coddling people who hold their religion to be sacred by forbidding speakers who reject religions as false and harmful.


This policy has the pope's blessing

By Mathew Goldstein

Advocacy emails, blogs, articles, web sites, petitions, by the hundreds are citing statements by the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.  He is often referred to as the Holy Father by other Catholics,  but we non-Catholics more often refer to him simply as the Pope (a colloquial substitute for the Latin word for father). He tells us that we should welcome refugees, protect the environment, abolish the death penalty, equalize income, stop manufacturing and selling weapons, etc.  Congress recently listened to him speak at the invitation of the Catholic Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Good policy needs champions and bad policy needs opponents.  Yet a policy is not good because someone supports it nor bad because someone opposes it.  Pope Francis must make the argument for why any policy he favors would be good in competition with the people who argue that the policy would be bad, like every other advocate must do.  The Catholic Church has millions of members in he United States, and many millions more throughout the world, yet all popes speak merely as human representatives of a human institution with no special insights or authorities.

Too often religious leaders are deferred to.  They are perceived by too many people as speaking with more authority and wisdom than others.  Taught from childhood that faith in the truth of religious doctrines is a highest virtue, some people are all too happy to follow too uncritically their holy guru wearing white robes.  Religious leaders too often self-claim to have sacred insights into the will of an alleged deity who is the ultimate supernatural authority for all of humanity.  Pope Francis, not withstanding his efforts to convey an image of humbleness, unavoidably carries some of this haughty attitude, inextricably weaved into his position as religious head of the Catholic Church, with him.

Policy advocates should keep this in mind when they opportunistically cite this pope as favoring a policy that they also favor.  True liberals, whether they are religious or not, are freethinkers.  Policy can be defined as good or bad only on the secular criteria of merit and therefore must be identified from thinking and deliberation that is anchored as much as possible in what the available empirical evidence says regarding what best promotes human welfare. There are no shortcuts, there is no perfection, there are often trade-offs.  All religions are fictions, all gods are imaginary.  Advocacy groups that enthusiastically single out and cite this pope, as if his judgements should be understood to carry more weight than everyone else's, are not serving the public interest.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why Kim Davis will lose

By Mathew Goldstein

There is a legal distinction between policy making duties and ministerial duties.  The latter applies to contexts where the act or function is prescribed and involves following instructions to try to achieve uniformity and consistency of outcome and minimize discretion.  The function of issuing marriage licenses is ministerial.  

A court clerk must verify that a couple applying for a marriage license meets the requisite legal qualifications.  If the legal qualifications to be married are met then the court clerk has no discretion to deny the marriage license.  Conversely, if the legal qualifications to be married are not met then the court clerk has no discretion to issue the marriage license.  Whether the government bureaucrat is an elected official or not makes no difference, a ministerial duty is not discretionary.  Under Kentucky law, it is a class A misdemeanor for a government employee to refuse to carry out their ministerial duty.

Kim Davis has three honorable choices, and they are all bad.  She can carry out her ministerial duty against her will, resign, or spend the remainder of her days as the elected court clerk on an extended leave of absence from her job under court order (possibly confined to her residence or jail).  While she is absent from work, one of her deputies will issue the marriage licenses, possibly without the court clerk's signature. The county attorney, the governor, and the state attorney general have publicly asserted that the marriage licenses issued without her signature are valid.  Kim Davis is litigating on behalf of her claim that she has discretion to refuse to authorize the issuance of licenses to legally qualified couples and licenses issued without her authorization are invalid.  This is a sweeping claim with negative implications for the rule of law and thus will be difficult for judges to accept.

Her attempts to have the licenses declared invalid could result in a court decision requiring her signature to appear on the licenses.  Maybe that is her real goal because with her signature on the licenses she can then try to make a freedom of expression violation claim.  But a free expression claim would still be weak because her signature technically communicates only her judgement that the couple qualifies for the license under the law, it does not communicate that she personally endorses the marriages.  Her claim that by authorizing the licenses while serving as court clerk she would be personally condoning same gender marriage, regardless of whether her signature appears on the license, is a dubious claim.  Unfortunately, some legal precedents are excessively accommodating of such religious belief burden claims, thus encouraging them.  But there is no room for judges to agree with Kim Davis without contradicting the Supreme Court decision mandating same gender marriage, so even the bad precedents will not help her case.

In my opinion, it would be better for the SCOTUS to impose an enforcement delay when they file controversial decisions like this that extend civic equality to disliked minorities.  The length of the enforcement delay can be set to the length of time it typically takes an employed person to find alternative employment.  Most government employees tasked with implementing the revised law will comply immediately.  Those that refuse would have time to look for other employment before being confronted with the bad choices confronting Kim Davis.  Misguided bigots, such as Kim Davis, are often otherwise law abiding citizens who need employment to pay their expenses.  Government employees who continue to refuse to carry out their ministerial duties or resign after the enforcement delay expires would then find themselves coerced by the state into absenting themselves from their government employment.  This strikes a balance between a short term protection of the civil right to employment opportunity for those government employees tasked with implementing the revised law on the one hand and the need to promptly revise the law to extend civic equality to those who have been unjustly denied civic equality for far too long on the other hand.  

An enforcement delay could have postponed the day of reckoning until after the next Kentucky legislature session begins.  The Kentucky legislature could revise the law to allow a court clerk deputy to authorize licenses and place their own signature on the license.  Kim Davis has indicated that she would not stand in the way of granting licenses if they were authorized and signed by someone else.

People must be qualified for their employment, just like people must be qualified to obtain a marriage license.  Whenever someone's beliefs disqualifies them from their current employment they become responsible for finding alternative employment.  Freedom of expression and belief is not synonymous with freedom from being burdened by any negative consequences that result from following our beliefs.  Nevertheless, government arguably does have some responsibility to give government employees an opportunity to find alternative employment before forcing them out when they become disqualified from their current employment due to a conflict with their beliefs as a result of a change in the law that they are tasked with implementing.

The Fight for Unplanned Parenthood

Edd Doerr recommends a Gail Collins column in the 9/19 NY Times:

The Fight for Unplanned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood! Government shutdown!
Anti-abortion politicians are in an uproar over videos that supposedly show Planned Parenthood representatives negotiating on prices for tissue from aborted fetuses. Carly Fiorina was passionate about the subject in this week’s Republican debate. Nothing she said was accurate, but nobody’s perfect.
The House Judiciary Committee has been investigating the matter with lawyerly precision, starting with a hearing titled: “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” In a further effort to offer balance and perspective, the committee did not invite Planned Parenthood to testify.
(Coming soon: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce prepares to welcome Pope Francis with a hearing on “Papal Fallibility: Why He’s Totally, Completely and Utterly Off Base About Global Warming.”)
Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million a year from the federal government, mainly in reimbursements for treating Medicaid patients. Now the House Freedom Caucus, which specializes in threatening to shut down the government, has announced that its members won’t vote for any spending bill unless the money is eliminated.
At Wednesday’s debate, Jeb Bush issued a popular Republican call for transferring the money to other “community-based organizations” that provide women’s health services. “That’s the way you do this is you improve the condition for people,” he said. As only Jeb Bush can.
You may recall that Bush made a similar suggestion earlier in the campaign, in which he added — to his lasting regret — “although I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”
“I misspoke,” the former governor of Florida said later. Well, that does seem to happen a lot. But do you think it was really a slip of the tongue? Or are there other services Planned Parenthood provides that Bush would be happy to get rid of as well? He did once write a book that tackled the subject of how to reduce abortions without ever mentioning the word “contraception.”
This leads us to an important question about the Planned Parenthood debate: Are the people who want to put it out of business just opposed to the abortions (which don’t receive federal funds), or are they against family planning, period?
“I’m telling you, it’s family planning,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a phone interview. “They decided that was their target long ago.”
Let’s look at the even larger question: Can Congress really just move the Planned Parenthood money to other health care providers? Besides family planning services, Planned Parenthood offers everything from breast exams to screening for sexually transmitted infections. Many of its patients live in poor or rural areas without a lot of other options.
Another move-the-money presidential candidate is Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — he’s the one issuing round-the-clock insults to Donald Trump in the desperate hope of attracting a little attention.
Jindal cut off $730,000 in Medicaid reimbursements to his state’s two Planned Parenthood clinics, even though neither offers abortion services. They do, however, provide thousands of women with health care, including screening for sexually transmitted infections — a terrible problem in some parts of the state.
No big deal. When the issue went to court, Jindal’s administration provided a list of more than 2,000 other places where Planned Parenthood’s patients could get care.
“It strikes me as extremely odd that you have a dermatologist, an audiologist, a dentist who are billing for family planning services,” responded the judge.
Whoops. It appeared that the list-makers had overestimated a tad, and the number of alternate providers was actually more like 29. None of which had the capacity to take on a flood of additional patients.
When Planned Parenthood leaves town, bad things follow. Ask the county in Indiana that drove out its clinic, which happened to be the only place in the area that offered H.I.V. testing. That was in 2013; in March the governor announced a “public health emergency” due to the spike in H.I.V. cases.
Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, studied what happened when Texas blocked Planned Parenthood grants and tried to move the money to other providers. Even when there were other clinics in an area, she said, “they were overbooked with their own patients. What happened in Texas was the amount of family planning services dropped. And the next thing that happened, of course, was that unplanned pregnancies began to rise.”
If an elected official wants to try to drive Planned Parenthood out of business, there are two honest options: Announce that first you’re going to invest a ton of new taxpayer money in creating real substitutes, or shrug your shoulders and tell the world that you’re fine with cutting off health services to some of your neediest constituents.
If you get heat, you can always say you misspoke.

BTW, The Unplanned Parenthood Clinic is South Park's abortion clinic first seen in the Season Two episode, "Cartman's Mom is Still a Dirty Slut". The second time was in Season Five episode, "Kenny Dies".

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Choice’ Fragments Schools And Undermines Democracy

Edd Doerr (President, Americans for Religious Liberty, posted
this letter  which was was published in the Sept 9 Education Week  

“’Choice’ Fragments Schools And Undermines Democracy”

Doug Tuthill’s Commentary plugging school choice was a deceptive, “fifth column” attack on public schools and the right of citizens not to be forced to support special-interest private schools and undermine democratic public education (“School Choice, an Opportunity for Students, Teachers, and Parents,” Aug 5, 2015).

While some carefully  designed “choice” plans within public school systems might be useful, who in his or her right mind cannot see that diverting public funds to a plethora of  assorted private schools, most of them by far sectarian institutions, cannot help but fragment student (and teacher) populations along religious, ideological, class, ethnic, and other lines – all while sabotaging public schools and breeding social disharmony.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Serious people should not cite David Barton

By Mathew Goldstein

Bloomberg View published a new article by Noah Feldman, a professor of law at Harvard University, titled "What 'So Help Me God' Meant to George Washington", that tries to defend the claim that George Washington ended his initial presidential oath of office with the words "So help me God".  Mr. Feldman overlooks the fact that George Washington avoided using the word "God" in his speeches or in his public and private writing.  He also fails to notice that the oaths that frequently concluded with SHMG were usually administered as religious loyalty test oaths. The Constitution, with GW’s signature at the top, made a radical break from earlier American history by proscribing religious test oaths. An example of GW’s attitude against religious test oaths is his May 7, 1778 General Orders that left the trailing SHMG outside of the quotation marks so that the printed oath certificates did not include SHMG.

Mr. Feldman cites David Barton's argument that GW said SHMG.  Mr. Barton identifies various federal government authorities who asserted in the past that president George Washington appended "So help me God" to his first oath of office.  That is exactly the problem.  To make a positive factual historical claim requires supporting evidence.  David Barton conveniently ignores that the federal authorities he listed have withdrawn this illegitimate factual assertion after it was pointed out that there is no such evidence.  

The books that first claimed that the first president uttered that phrase, which were published over 60 years later, after the adult eyewitnesses were dead, fail to identify an eyewitness.  Although the author of one of those books, Washington Irving, attended the ceremony in 1789 as a six year old child, he did not claim that he heard those words himself and from where he was standing at the time he would have been too far away to reliably hear anything that was spoken on the balcony.  Instead, Mr. Irving copied into his book a not yet published eyewitness account of the oath ceremony written by someone else (Memoir of the life of Eliza S. M. Quincy, ed. E S Quincy, Boston [Printed by J. Wilson] 1861,) without acknowledging the original author.  He then added the SHMG to that original account.

A detailed first hand account of the first presidential oath ceremony from the French ambassador, who was on the balcony with GW, quotes the words of the oath as he heard it (written in French).  We also have a statement from Mr. Samuel Otis saying he lifted the bible towards the new president's head.  Mr. Otis presumably did that because he knew they were following NY state law and kissing the bible was part of the usual mode of administering an oath in NY at that time.  Appending the divine codicil was not part of the NY state oath procedure, unlike in NJ and several other states which, conversely, did not instruct the oath taker to kiss a bible.

There is no evidence for either a bible or a divine codicil during the second inauguration oath ceremony, which was the first presidential inauguration under federal law.  Furthermore, contemporaneous eyewitness accounts consistently support the conclusion that no president appended this divine codicil until, at the earliest, maybe Lincoln during his second inauguration, although the evidence for this is thin and contradicted.  It appears more likely that the first president to say SHMG was Chester Arthur in 1881, based on the newspaper reports.  However, Chester Arthur did not recite the oath, he merely replied affirmatively to the Chief Justice's questioning if he agreed to the oath as recited by the Chief Justice.  FDR was the first president who we know recited the oath with the divine codicil appended.  No Chief Justice misrepresented the presidential oath by prompting for SHMG until the 20th century.  Contrary to what Mr. Feldman claims, there is every reason to think that eyewitnesses who reported on the presence and use of a bible would have also reported on a divine codicil.  That placing a hand on a bible and kissing a bible was standard practice did not discourage eyewitnesses from noting its use.

Mr. Feldman cites Mr. Barton as providing a counterargument to Professor Henriques who argues that we should stop declaring GW appended SHMG.  Mr. Henriques is a professor emeritus of history with impeccable academic credentials and integrity (he wrote 'Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington').  Mr. Barton is a many times over discredited professional propagandist with a long and ignoble track record of consistently promoting a biased, distorted, and misleading historical revisionism for the obvious purpose of advancing the political agenda of the religious right.  A little common sense is all that is needed to recognize whose argument merits be taking seriously and whose argument merits a large dose of skepticism.  People like Mr. Feldman who fail to make this distinction are unworthy of being published in any newspaper or magazine that is worthy of being taken seriously.  And the counterarguments appearing in the book by Mr. Church, who was not a historian and was also cited by Mr. Feldman, are mistaken.  See http://www.nonbeliever.org/commentary/inaugural_shmG.html.

Mr. Feldman does not ask what should be an obvious question:  Why would Washington add a personal statement to the Constitutional oath written at the Convention that he presided over?  Congress had already decided to remove the SHMG phrase from the proposed executive and legislative branch oaths bill prior to the presidential oath ceremony.  That the Chief Justice of the U.S. now makes SHMG part of the presidential oath when administered is an unconstitutional act because it takes it beyond being a personal statement on the part of the person being sworn in and makes it seem like it's part of the oath, which it is not.

Theism turns itself into a dependency and there are theists who think that good and pragmatic people everywhere recognize that dependency as being positive and want to nurture it in everyone.  Noah Feldman appears to be arguing from that perspective.  This perspective too often becomes a justification for the exclusion of non-theists from positions of authority or responsibility.  Mr. Feldman argues that secular oaths were about accommodating Quakers.  We agree that such accommodation played a significant role. However, there is evidence that civic equality for deists and atheists was on some people's minds even in the late 18th century.  Thomas Jefferson said atheism harms no one and merited consideration.   

As we learn more about how the universe functions we have a concomitant responsibility to apply that knowledge wherever it is relevant.  Relying on history to justify freezing in place old prejudices built on old ignorance via the law is a misuse of history.  Unfortunately, for people who are themselves still trapped in a prejudiced perspective, this can be difficult to understand.  So we need to point this out.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Link Between Unions and Children’s Prospects

For an interesting article on how labor unions have a positive and beneficial effect on children, Google to “A Link Between Unions and Children’s Prospects” by Noam Scheiber in the Sept. 10 NY Times. It’s too long to summarize...but it begins this way:

It is well established that unions provide benefits to workers — that they raise wages for their members (and even for nonmembers). They can help reduce inequality.....
Researchers at Harvard, Wellesley and the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, released a paper Wednesday showing that children born to low-income families typically ascend to higher incomes in metropolitan areas where union membership is higher.
 – Edd Doerr

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Too little, too late, alas

by Gary Berg-Cross

More and more, on so many fronts it seems that the adage of "too little too late" applies to the contemporary scene.  The refuges crisis pouring out of Syria, parts of the Near to Middle
East and North Africa comes to mind driven there by the latest, ghastly TV images of a multitude of suffering .   The Greek debt crisis lingers as another situation that organizations were unable to deal with early on.   Over time it slid from bad to worse and it is possible that the scale beyond worse still looms.  And of course we have the difficult problem
of climate change.  Sure there is a growing international community consensus for action as we near the  Conference of Parties in Paris in December. A small step towards some leadership on the climate has been provided by the US and China. But it all seems like too little to stop temperature rise, acidification of the seas, glacial melt, droughts and the like. It has always been hard to fix things, but it is getting to seems that we need to fix things in every direction. As European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard put it. we need more action:

“for Paris to deliver what is needed to stay below a 2°C increase in global temperature, all countries, including the United States, must do even more than what this reduction trajectory indicates”..

And it is hard to do more in the face of determined opposition. California, usually a trendsetter for climate change actions, illustrated that recently. Recently under focused
pressure from the oil industry, CA state leaders folded and lessened an important piece of climate change legislation. They dropped a provision that would have required a 50% cut in petroleum use in cars and trucks by 2030.  We get too little and it will be too late.

What we are likely to get down the road are apologies. . Polite apologies such as “mistakes were made in the Iraq invasion/occupation. But of course, these don’t fix the problems that were made, as we know from things like the refugee crisis.  Awareness and apologies are better late than never.  They are fine and good as moments, but they can be tragic when they come too late and miss windows of opportunity.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Crediting liberal religion for their secularism

By Mathew Goldstein

Many religious people evaluate public policy on the merits and reach the same public policy conclusions as non-religious people.  We non-religious folk are thankful that so many religious people have a secularist orientation.  We lobby together for our shared public policy goals.  So why would anyone publicly argue against religious belief?  Isn't religious belief the wrong target?

The ongoing Republican Party effort to defund Planned Parenthood illustrates why publicly arguing against religion is what we should be doing.  Almost 100% of the slander campaign against Planned Parenthood originates with religious institutions.  Some of the people who actively join this campaign against Planned Parenthood are not themselves religious.  These people are often career Republican party loyalists who probably could not care less if Planned Parenthood was funded or not and will advocate for whatever is popular among rank and file Republicans.  If we experience another government shutdown over defunding of Planned Parenthood, as Republicans are currently threatening, then everyone who voted for the majority Republican Congress will share responsibility for the negative consequences.

As for the religious institutions and believers who have a secularist outlook, they have a secularist outlook despite their religious belief, not because of it.  They may self-claim that their secularist outlook is rooted in their religious belief, but then they are mistaken.  If they abandoned their religious belief they would still have a secularist outlook.  To the extent abandoning religion has a political impact, the impact will be to move public opinion further towards secularism.

However, it is not any political calculus that justifies criticism of religious belief.  Religious belief and the campaign to defund Planned Parenthood both merit criticism because they are both built on false assertions and false premises.  To criticize religious belief only when it is anti-secularist is to politicize criticism of religious belief.  It is wrong to politicize everything this way.  There are such things as true and false, better and worse, good and bad.  Politics is important, but merit is even more important. After all, good politics is built on merit. We should not limit ourselves to one, we can and should argue both ways.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Linda LaScola & Caught in the Pulpit

By Gary Berg-Cross

Daniel C. Dennett &  Linda LaScola’s book,  Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind  is now out in paperback.  It’s full of philosophical and
sociological insights. But in addition as Mary Johnson, author of An Unquenchable Thirst notes, reading the sometimes confessional stories of doubting clergy has been likened to listening in on intimate, even confession-like conversations.

As A.C. Grayling, he of The Good Book, notes the conversations reveals an important truth.  It uncovers the doubt within religious professionals and adds to our sense that religion itself is a lie propped by an hypocrisy that some choose to keep living what they come to see & know is a lie.

You can see Andy Thomson of the Richard Dawkins Foundation interviewing Linda LaScola on "Caught in the Pulpit" here.

And/or you can see Linda in person this Oct. 2-4 at the WASHcon15 Regional meeting in. Lynchburg Downtown Holiday Inn.  She may have some updates on the Play version of Caught in the Pulpit.
The WASHcon15 event will feature actor, speaker and entertainer John Davidson on Saturday night and activist Margaret Downey as MC during the event. 

Other announced speakers besides Linda LaScola are Andy Thomson (author and psychiatrist) himself and:

·                     Ron Lindsay, Center for Inquiry President and CEO , 
·                     Julien Musolino, author and scholar 
·                     Tom Flynn, Executive Director Council for Secular Humanism 
·                     Dr. Jason D. Heap, United Coalition of Reason Executive Director  

Friday, September 04, 2015

Pragmatic Progressive Ethics and Penny-wise Issues

by Gary Berg-Cross

The observation of being penny-wise but pound foolish probably covers lots of example of poor reasoning, some of it public that misses the big picture because of things like niggling adherence to narrowly interpreted dogma. We don’t conduct witch trials anymore, although there is still a non-enforced, minority belief that the devil is abroad and the anti-Christ may be with us.  It is reassuring to observe that we’ve slowly come to the realization that religious beliefs, such as from the Hebrew Bible, change as our knowledge and understanding of reality advances. Religious prescriptions, such as women’s rights or the inherent evilness of people, are not anchored in granite; and thus do not provide an ethical basis for establishing just & durable laws. Instead a good portion of society has come to understand that ethics and morality can be and are best
separated from religion. There is a pragmatic element to laws which are based on experience with lessons than come to be rationalized and mutually accepted.  These are then empirical, rational and institutionally vetted beliefs that in turn ground ethics and morality. As Ron Lindsay (A featured speaker at our regional WASHcon15 in Lynchburg, VA., October 2-4, 2015.) put it in Future Bioethics: OvercomingTaboos, Myths, and Dogmas  we want 
"a well-reasoned, pragmatic approach" with substance.

One might talk about this in terms of pragmatic ethics , a theory of normative, progressive philosophical ethics going back to ethical pragmatists, like John Dewey. The idea is that some societies have progressed morally in a way that is similar to scientific progress. Progress is based on inquiry into testing ideas.  Is no fault divorce a good idea?  Let’s test it and if it proves useful future generations can refine, build on or replace is as social principle.

So as we still find enemies enough and have institutional cruelty in some areas of society there is preponderance of pragmatic sense and we’ve seen some cultural progress on a large scale.  One example is growing acceptance of gay marriage.  But bucking the trend are some penny-unwise spots of resistance on very narrow symbolic grounds provided by a blend of religious, emotional and ideological roots. 
In the gay marriage case it is some free floating belief in the idea of the “sanctity” of marriage. Exhibit A might be from fundamentalist Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis (she had served a deputy role in that office for many years) who pitches a penny-narrow definition of a religious, civil right. Indeed the Davis family has a long history in Rowan County, Kentucky.  She ran her election campaign to replace her mother who was Rowan County Clerk before her.  Among Kim’s arguments for the office was efficiency - the public needed a seamless transition from mom Davis and Kim could provide uninterrupted services including for things like marriage licenses. This sounds ironic now, but daughter Davis was (narrowly) elected in 2014 to be County Clerk.

Now in office, rather than keeping her “civil (religious freedom) rights” to herself, she seems to feel privileged as a public official to pick and choose from ancient prescriptions as her guide to public behavior.  This seems surprising since she was elected to a public, secular office she know well and there are laws governing behavior. We expect that public officials will understand that to operate efficiently we have a pragmatic, modifiable Constitution that is not based on faith this side of the Enlightenment.  Our founders themselves realized that basing laws and governmental practices on religious beliefs would be ultimately unworkable at the public level. But Kim’s penny foolishness, like others, anchors itself in frozen, fundamentalist ethical judgement on things like marriage.  And as Ron Lindsey points out they can defensively externalize their own real dogmatism to attribute righteousness on others:

"Any attempt by humans to control and shape their lives in ways not previously contemplated by some religious tradition results in the claim that we are trying to 'play God.'"

Projection may not be the only psychological process going on here. Pragmatic agreements take time, effort and compromise.  They require "thinking slow" and critically and taking many things into account.  It is not at all playing God to do the hard work and getting agreement. So one suspects that selective “articles of faith” provide an unreasoned rationalization for "believer's"  distaste for things just can’t relate to and don’t like. It’s part of the take back America and “making America great again” slogan we hear as part of the cultural wars.

Unfortunately articles of faith, such as the earlier belief in witches, provide ready-made, emotion-laden explanations rather than reasoned one for when “bad” things happen in the new America. Recently we had Bill O’Reilly explain away the phenomena of mass shootings. It’s not guns or mental illness he argued but atheism. This taps into a cauldron of witchy beliefs common among fundamentalists and perhaps Kim— that morality derives from religion. It follows that: "Bible good", "atheists bad", since they lack any real basis for ethics or morality and live empty lives in pursuit of pleasure in this world.

Not all religious folk are like that and at least think through what is ethical for them and could step aside if religious values kept them from doing their jobs.  United Church of Christ's Rev. Emily C. Heath described how she handled the dilemma of private belief vs public service. She decided not to apply for a job with the Federal Bureau of Prisons because she of the death penalty, which went against her religious beliefs. As she observed:

"Religious liberty is guaranteed in this country. But that does not mean that every job needs to bend to your particular interpretation of your faith....If you really believe doing your job is violating your faith, then stepping aside would be a small price to pay for the love of the Gospel." 

But, unfortunately a rational stepping-aside approach is not what we see as faith intrudes into our civil processes.

You could hear more pragmatic takes from the WASHcon15 speakers:
·                     Ron Lindsay, Center for Inquiry President and CEO , 
·                     Julien Musolino, author and scholar 
·                     Tom Flynn, Executive Director Council for Secular Humanism 
·                     Dr. Andy Thomson, author and psychiatrist
·                     Dr. Jason D. Heap, United Coalition of Reason Executive Director , and 

·                     Linda LaScola, author and researcher .