Latest Episode of “The Atheist Experience” (Ep. 812, 5-5-2013)

In a rare pairing, Jeff and Martin take calls.

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Episode of “The Atheist Experience” (Ep. 811, 4-28-2013)

With hosts Matt Dillahunty and Tracie Harris. Imagined Childhood Powers. Tracie describes her imagined childhood powers and invited others to contribute theirs.

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Latest Episode of “The Atheist Experience” (Ep. 810, 4-21-2013)

Atheist Parenting. Jen and Russell talk with Dale McGowan about atheist parenting.

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An Open Letter to the Secular Community: Joining the Collective Voice of Reason and Compassion

There has been a long, strange, perhaps ultimately necessary, kerfuffle going on within the atheist community about proper social interaction and feminism. I am perplexed and dismayed that a few atheists think that social justice should take a back seat to religious criticism or that exlussion of incessant bullying in a private sphere is a violation of their free speech. It is a sad episode to say the least. I haven’t really talked about it except privately with a few individuals.

Recently a group of prominent secular leaders released a joint statement about their views of the issues arising from “Elevator Gate” and online dialogue in general. I agree with what they have to say and append my name in approval. Here is the open letter in its entirety:

It is an amazing time to be part of the secular movement. Look at what’s happened in 2012 alone. We held the Reason Rally, the largest event our community has ever had, which brought over 20,000 atheists, humanists, and other secular people together on the National Mall. We are growing, attracting new people, and drawing more attention than ever before. A big part of that growth is thanks to our large and dynamic online community. Online secular communities have helped people encounter new ideas, deepen and broaden their thinking, and even change their minds.

A Problem with Online Communication

At the same time, the fact that so much of our community is online brings with it certain challenges. Communicating primarily online can make it difficult to recognize each other’s humanity. Online we don’t have the same vocal and physical cues to tell us what another person means by his or her comments, so it’s easier for misunderstandings to develop. The instantaneous and impersonal nature of online communication also makes it much easier for these misunderstandings to escalate, or for civil arguments to turn into bitter fights. Like many online communities, our comment and forum threads all too often become places for name calling and even threats, rather than honest dialogue based on mutual respect. Between the small but vocal number of abusive participants (often called “trolls”) who hurl threats and insults, and the overheated rhetoric of some ordinarily friendly and reasonable people, our online environment is in danger of turning toxic. Fortunately, our secular values of reason and compassion give us tools to rise above the lowest common denominator of online communication.

Our Position and Our Pledge

We, the leaders of the undersigned national secular organizations, pledge to make our best efforts toward improving the tone and substance of online discussions. The secular movement as a whole is friendly, welcoming, and committed to the use of reason and evidence as a means of resolving disagreements. We refuse to allow the deplorable conduct of a few to debase the reasonable, appropriate, and respectful conduct of the overwhelming majority of our community.

We seek to promote productive debate and discussion. We firmly believe open and candid discussion is the most reliable means of resolving differences of opinion and bringing about needed change.

Insults, slurs, expressions of hatred, and threats undermine our shared values of open and candid discussion because they move us away from an exchange of views supported with reasons.

Of course we will disagree with each other on some issues, but we can do a better job of expressing our disagreements. We can resolve to avoid mischaracterizing the positions of others, relying on rumors as the basis for our opinions, and using inappropriate tactics such as guilt by association. Instead, we can give one another the benefit of the doubt, strive to understand the whole story, and de-escalate rhetoric to foster more productive discussions. We can become better at disagreeing by treating each other like reasonable human beings.

It takes patience to educate people, but we can change how people think by having a constructive dialogue. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t bother in the first place to communicate online about important issues.

The Debate over Sexism and Feminism

Before listing some specific recommendations regarding improvement of online communications, we have observations about one particular set of interrelated issues that has engaged much of the secular community in the past year, namely sexism within the secular movement, the appropriate way to interpret feminism, and the extent to which feminism, however interpreted, should influence the conduct, policies, and goals of movement organizations. This set of issues is worthy of careful consideration, but in a few areas our positions should be very clear.

The principle that women and men should have equal rights flows from our core values as a movement. Historically, there has been a close connection between traditional religion and suppression of women, with dogma and superstition providing the rationale for depriving women of fundamental rights. In promoting science and secularism, we are at the same time seeking to secure the dignity of all individuals. We seek not only civil equality for everyone, regardless of sex, but an end to discriminatory social structures and conventions – again often the legacy of our religious heritage—that limit opportunities for both women and men.

Unfortunately, the discussion of these issues has suffered from the same problems that plague online discussion in general—although arguably to a greater extent. Some blogs and comments actually exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. Hatred has no place in our movement. We unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who resort to communicating in such a vile and despicable manner.

Our Approach

Here are some things that we plan to do to make our online secular community a place where we can exchange ideas and views instead of insults. We hope that others may also find this approach useful.

Here are some things that we plan to do to make our online secular community a place where we can exchange ideas and views instead of insults. We hope that others may also find this approach useful.

  • Moderate blogs and forums. Any organization or individual engaged in blogging or administering a forum has an obligation to moderate comments. Slurs, threats, and so forth beget more of the same. Keeping our online spaces free of these elements creates a civil climate that makes it much easier for people to engage issues productively.
  • Go offline before going online: pick up the phone. When you hear that an organization or member of our community is doing something that you think is wrong or bad for the community, call and talk with them, find out what they are actually doing and why they are doing it. If you don’t have a phone number, send a private email and arrange a time to talk. So much of the time there’s more to the story, and talking to another person on the other side of the issue can help us more fully understand the situation. Plus, a phone call makes it easier for people who are making mistakes to change course, because they aren’t on the defensive as they would be after being called out publicly.
  • Listen more. We miss the nuances and differences within “the other side” once an issue becomes polarized, while continuing to see our side as filled with nuance and distinctions. There is a tendency to stop listening and treat everyone associated with an opposing position as a monolithic group. People can be painted with views that aren’t their own just because they may disagree with some aspects of your own position. We should listen more so we can see distinctions among those with opposing views and start to move toward a more accurate understanding of the issues rather than being deadlocked into two entrenched camps.
  • Dial down the drama. It’s tempting to overuse inflammatory and derogatory rhetoric. It gets attention. We should be cautious about using this tactic within our community because of the long-term damage it does to relationships and morale. When critiquing people within our community, everyone should remember that our goal is to persuade our allies to see our perspective and modify their opinions. Insults don’t change opinions; they harden them.
  • Be more charitable. We should remember that the purpose of argument within our community is to come to shared and correct conclusions that move us forward, not to score points against the opposing side. To that end, we should apply the principle of charity, which tells us to aim our argument against the best interpretation of the opposing arguments rather than picking off weaker versions. By applying the principle of charity we will elevate the discussion so we’re actually talking about our real differences, not just engaging in a pointless exchange.
  • Trust but verify. Before we believe and repost something we see, we should ask ourselves about the evidence provided and the context. It’s easy for multiple people saying the same thing to look like a lot of evidence, but if their statements are all based on the same original source, they do not constitute independent verification. We should look for the original data and corroboration from independent sources before believing and spreading claims.
  • Help others along. We should remember that we weren’t born knowing the things we know now. To get to the reasoned conclusions that we’ve reached, we learned by reading, thinking, and talking with others. When we encounter someone espousing a view we think is based on lack of knowledge or experience, we should remember that we have all held ill-informed views. We should cultivate patience and try to educate instead of condemn.

By improving our online culture, we can make this movement a place that engages, fulfills, and welcomes a growing number and increasing diversity of secular people.

Sincerely,

David Silverman, President, American Atheists Rebecca Hale, President, American Humanist Association Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director, American Humanist Association Chuck VonDerAhe, President, Atheist Alliance of America Richard Haynes, President, Atheist Nexus Ayanna Watson, CEO, Black Atheists of America, Inc. Mandisa L. Thomas, President, Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Mynga Futrell, for Brights Central, at The Brights’ Net Amanda Metskas, Executive Director, Camp Quest Ronald Lindsay, President and CEO, Center for Inquiry Tom Flynn, Executive Director, The Council for Secular Humanism Jan Meshon, President, FreeThoughtAction Joseph McDaniel Stewart, Vice President, FreeThoughtAction Margaret Downey, Founder and President, Freethought Society D.J. Grothe, President, James Randi Educational Foundation Stuart Jordan, President, Institute for Science and Human Values Jason Torpy, President, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Edwina Rogers, Executive Director, Secular Coalition for America August E. Brunsman IV, Executive Director, Secular Student Alliance Todd Stiefel, President, Stiefel Freethought Foundation Fred Edwords, National Director, United Coalition of Reason

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Latest Episode of “The Atheist Experience” (Ep. 809, 4-14-2013)

Christian Message Subtext. Don describes what he hears in the subtext of the Christian message.

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A View of the 2013 American Atheist Convention

The 50th Anniversary American Atheist Convention was held from the 28th – 31st of March right here in Austin, TX! I haven’t had that much fun in a very long time. And that was all while mostly sitting at the Atheist Community of Austin table. It has been very fortunate that two of the latest big gatherings of freethinkers have been in Austin. I probably would not, or rather could not, have gone to either if that was not the case.

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 Here is me at the ACA table! Thanks to Russell Glasser for the photos.

I have been very negligent in writing about my experience at the event. The convention hours were long and started much earlier than my usual schedule. Each day was fun but exhausting. So I didn’t write about it during. Afterwards, I spent the next few days getting the ACA’s online Zazzle store up and running. And then some more things happened. ;-) I will not write very much, just some impressions, and a few details. Russell Glasser did a very fine series of posts over at Freethought Blogs http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp

There was apparently a round table discussion on Thursday between some of the speakers and local clergy. I didn’t get many details about it but heard it was enjoyable. My convention began very early on Friday. I met Russell Glasser who helped set up the table on the second story of the Hyatt hotel located just south of the river. The Hyatt staff were great all weekend and the facilities were good as well. We quickly began to sell items (along with my book) and speak with a wide range of folks. I found talking with all the intelligent, excited, and friendly convention goers to be the most enjoyable part of the whole experience. I exchanged dozens of business cards and made some new friends. It was also very cool to meet many of my online friends for the first time. Such conventions help strengthen bonds, generate new connections, and put hundreds of human faces on a deeply important movement.

2013-03-29-07_54_21 A small portion of the ACA merchandise lineup.

It was very touching seeing fan boys and girls meeting their favorite blogger, vlogger, or author! Here we saw celebrities gathering a crowd because they actual do something, something very very important. I was able to pass along my book to the likes of Seth Andrews, David Silverman, Jamila Bey, Greta Christina, Aron Ra, Jerry DeWitt, and a host of others. By the end of the day on Sunday my voice was sore, my brain full of new ideas, and my heart swelled with pride. We ended the day where we do most Sundays after taping “The Atheist Experience” at Threadgills resteraunt just a block from the hotel.

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Cast of “The Atheist Experience” enjoying a moment in the spotlight!

During all three days I was joined at the ACA table by nearly the entire casts of “The Atheist Experience” and “Godless Bitches” and other local members. It was great getting to know many of them better and witnessing the dedication and devotion of the great community we have in Austin. We really do have one of the most active and fun atheist groups in the U.S. I’m very lucky!

Saturday was as fun as Friday and we sold even more products. The last two days also several dozen Austinites attracted to AA13 convention asking what the ACA does, where we meet, etc. I was surprised that there were so many first-timers wanting to get involved. Our stack of info brochures ran out quickly and if even half of the individuals interested show up at our events in the next few months than we are in for some big gatherings. I guess that is the benefit of hosting a national convention!

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Russell engaging with a speaker.

I didn’t get to see any of the events in the main ballroom. That’s fine. It was better to give the other ACA members more opportunities to do so. One event I regret seeing was Jerry DeWitt’s Sunday morning “sermon!” Jerry is a former preacher and I could hear him and his rambunctious crowd through the heavy doors. I really got everyone whipped up in a funny and reason thumping way!

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The “Godless Bitches” pose with a fan and their new t-shirts.

For alot of great pics follow this link

http://www.flickr.com/photos/43281825@N08/sets/72157633157988375/

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Latest Episode of “The Atheist Experience” (Ep. 808, 4-07-2013)

Matt Goes to Church. Matt describes his latest visit to a local Austin church.

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The Presumptuous Hubris of an Exuberant Freethought Novice, Or: Why You Should Hound Experienced, Qualified Freethinkers to Write a Truly Great Guide & So Can You!

This post is a bit hyperbolic and more than a bit from the heart (or is it the head?). At any rate, the following is derived from wherever it is my feelings and aspirations come from. This post is also a proud declaration of independence and interdependence! This post is self-reflective, an expression of how I feel about my first book the “Freethought Resource Guide (FRG)” and its role within the community.

Before articulating what an egoistic smart-ass I was for writing it, I’d like to begin with some positive points. After extensive research, I am supremely confident that the FRG represents a unique entry into the pantheon of freethought literature. It is a huge leap forward in sorting through, vetting, and cataloguing the mass of information available to the independent and critical thinker. There really is no other work like it available. I think I have discovered, to my chagrin and excitement, at least two reasons why this is the case.

There is no concise or unanimous consensus about what it exactly means to be a freethinker. It is certainly a bit of an open question. So who on earth was I writing for? Freethinkers are independent rationalists? Atheists? Secular humanists? Perhaps, God forbid, even Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Pastafarians?

Whatever one’s definition of freethought is, I personally did emerge with a few key aspects which I think are essential to my interpretation of the term. As I worked through the mass of material it became clear I was writing to and for non-believers. Since reason, logic, and science are central values to freethought, it should not come as a surprise that much of the guide focuses on world-views which are in opposition to these values. I do not consider religious or spiritual folks freethinkers. That being said, I do support those, of whatever world-view, who are earnestly seeking to think more freely, reasonably, and skeptically.

There is also the “marketability” factor. I approached several publishers with the FRG concept and was rejected by all of them. Those who responded told me that they thought it was a great idea but that since much of the information was available on the internet they didn’t see how such a project could be profitable. I understand that position. Yet, it was precisely because there was such a vast array of information that I thought such a “guide” was necessary in order to makes sense of it all. Not only is much of the internet info incomplete and spread out over hundreds of sites but much of it is unvetted and not sourced properly. Well, damn marketability! I wanted such I guide and I thought others might want it as well.

I hope it is clearer why such a work as the FRG has not been created before. Not only is freethought a somewhat nebulous concept, but the very values most freethinkers do share lend themselves to individuals who pursue innumerable other interests, perspectives, moral precepts. Freethought necessarily sparks diversity, creativity, and non-conformity. A few individuals have told me that freethought and guide is necessarily an oxymoron. I had the same initial reaction when I came up with it. Yet, I don’t currently agree with the sentiment for the FRG is simply an educational tool, a list of recommended works, not the ultimate “freethinker credo” or doctrine. I wished there had been a book like it when beginning my own journey. I thought others might benefit from my site seeing tour through the halls of this amazingly rich, varied, and rewarding perspective which has helped profoundly shape the world in which we live and enjoy. Take what you will from it, call me out on my mistakes and omission, but please don’t accuse me of indoctrination…. freethinkers hate that! ;-)

Uncle CharlesShortly after deciding to write the FRG, I realized how arrogant and inevitably error ridden the project would become. What a fool to think that I, so young and so inexperienced, could create something which would be useful and appealing to the large diverse herd of cats that is the freethought community! What was I thinking? Take from the guide what you will. I do not think you will be disappointed. Buy it for the 80 poems alone, the huge list of references, the hundreds of songs, the 25 common logical fallacies, or the 36 arguments for the existence of god; hell, buy it because you pity a young man who spent more than 2 years of full-time work to put it together.

I have heard or read a number of individuals exclaim to me, “Who do you think you are!?” This dismissive rhetorical question is a verbal ejaculation quit often arising from the logical fallacy known as an appeal to popularity. “Who are you,” the person is thinking, “a single ignorant 30 year old kid,” they continue with a bewildered huff, “to question thousands of years of eminent thinkers and billions of believers? How outrageously foolish and silly!” I am perplexed that if a claim is asserted by enough people for a long enough time it becomes defacto true to many individuals simply because enough people for a long enough time asserted the claim. Yet, a great number of believers a truth does not make. To be fair, I understand why we often succumb to this fallacy. “We” as in you, I, and the lot of us. We all do it far more often than we should. We pick a group of authorities on a subject and have a very great tendency to trust every utterance they make. Theists often trust theologians. I often trust scientists or freethinkers whom I’ve admired in the past. So I get it. I also understand the knee-jerk reaction which induces such incredulous utterances to statements coming from the crowd of individuals I least trust.

My book is first and foremost a call to action! In some form or another such a guide is necessary for inspiring, informing, and connecting freethinkers. Sure, the internet and meet ups are great for organizing and learning. However, a comprehensive text is vital for connecting the various threads of our movement. I hope the guide puts all aspects of the perspective into a clear and interconnected context. If you think you can do better, by all means, please, I implore you to do so. More importantly, urge the leaders in the freethought community to create something like it. We urgently need their wisdom in a world dominated by well-organized religions.

It might be a bit old-fashioned, but I think experienced freethinkers need to set down on paper or air-waves or the intertubes what they have learned and what resources it took for them to learn it. And I think that you should demand it from them! We should demand such expression and collaboration from all corners of the rational community. We cannot and will not succeed in isolation. I have attempted to pass along what little nuggets have come my way in the hope that others will be better for it. If we all do the same the world will be better for it!

It might be presumptuous for me to hope that the atheism of today, while like a rolling thunder-clap of an approaching storm, full of sound and fury, becomes, after its passing, the nourishment for a perspective signifying something. Something that, through an atheistic saturation, the cleansing away of dead ideologies, becomes fertile ground for a truly secular and humanist approach to life which may enrich rather than diminish the scope, truth, and beauty of the human experience.

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You’ve Been “Big Banged”… An Update on Some Fun With Richard Dawkins Magnet

Ray Comfort knows perfection when he sees it!

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Otherwise I won’t remember where I put that… Yes, that!

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What’s that lurking behind the bushes? Might it be a summary of the best conclusion we have of the age of the universe based on the evidence thus far collected?

 

 

And my personal favorite….

Darth Creationist plots to destroy your hope and reason!

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From Tracie Harris:

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It is clear we have different visions of perfection… her’s being a bit more ironic! True in all cases… provisionally true in all cases.

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Fun with Richard Dawkins Magnet!

At the recent American Atheist Convention, Tracie Harris and I were having a bit of fun with a stack of magnets we received from the fine folks over at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. The magnet reads “It took 13.7 billion years to make something this perfect… So don’t mess it up!” The message looked best on t-shirts but we thought it could apply to just about anything. Since the convention we have been posting our tagging antics on facebook. What do you think?

Tracie kicked it off with:

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I responded with:

Almost as long as the average chess match…

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Thus speaketh Ganesh…

 

 

 

 

Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl With a Very Old Earring”

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And Tracie…

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Wanna join in on the action? Here is a pic of the magnet or you can order one of your own directly from the Richard Dawkins site: http://store.richarddawkins.net/products/refrigerator-magnet

Dawkins Magnet

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