Aggregating Skeptical Thought

Christopher Hedges doesn’t believe in atheists

Somehow I missed this really good interview with Christopher Hedges the author of American Fascists, a scathing attack on the Religious Right in America, about his new work I Don’t Believe in Atheists.

Christopher Hedges has debated by Dawkins and Hitchens,

I haven’t read the new book but it’s now on my evergrowing and seemingly never shrinking list of books to read. In his debates, watch the youtube video to see an example of this, his primary criticism is that there is this belief among the New Atheists, or Secular Fundamentalists as he calls them, is that once you remove religion the world will be great and that Religion was holding us back. And I have to agree that that criticism is legitimate in the sense that that does seem to be the way many of the New Atheists arguments seemed to get boiled down to. In addition, if you simply replace Religion with Atheism as the new set of “moral” standards you have essentially replaced something (religion) with a nothing (atheism) and therefore that criticism stands as well.

What I think perhaps Christopher Hedges best illustrates is that many of the New Atheists arguments are “against” religion but not specifically “for” anything and therefore leave a whole that must be filled. I personally think that is a legitimate criticism. There is a basis for morality or at least a basis for how we determine that morality.

What I anticipate happening in the coming years is a flood of books by authors whole we be dubbed as the New Moralists or New Philosphers. These books will actually put forward in laymen’s terms the basis for a new morality which anybody who reads this stuff will recognize as simply Humanism or some variant of it. These books will also come under attack as well but for different reasons. These new books will actually make “positive statements of belief” that can be directly attacked as opposed to the current batch of books whose “negative statements of belief” are really just attacks themselves. Of course, you will also have these new beliefs attacked as being morally relativistic however the current books by the New Atheists do a pretty good job of showing religions, particularly Christianity, are morally relativistic as well, although the phrase “subject to interpretation” is more appropriate, such as the rights of women, slavery and racism.

I think Hedges makes some great arguments that I hope some of the New Atheists and others will take to heart and  move the debate forward away from the irrational basis of religion and towards this so called “New Enlightenment”.

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Politics, , , , , , ,

The true meaning of Islam, Submission Part 1

Since I just posted on Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel I thought I would provide a link to the short film that her and Theo van Gogh created, called Submission, Part I. It is a damning commentary on muslim attitudes towards women. The video was so inflammatory that it ended up getting Theo van Gogh killed.

If you read Infidel this short film will have so much more power for you. You will also have a better understanding why this film pissed off so many muslims (the truth hurts).

Filed under: Atheism, Internet, Politics, Religion, , , , ,

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, A Review

Now that my work and a number of side jobs have slowed down in the last week or so I have been able to work my way through the backlog of books that I have been itching to read. My latest book was Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel.

Wow, wow, wow. I am utterly blown away about this book. I read it in two evenings and obviously couldn’t put it down. I was so engrossed in this other world. And let’s be honest she came from an entirely different world that Westerners like myself could hardly dare imagine.

There are a zillion reviews of the book so I’m not going to bore anyway with the same review, here’s the NY Times review. I actually don’t want to talk about the usual things that a reviewer might such as genital mutilation, refugees, immigration politics, islamic fundamentalism or honor killings.

I do want to talk about something that stuck out to me, the almost total lack of coverage in the U.S. of what was happening in the Netherlands over the last 5-7 years. We have been wall-to-wall coverage of WMDs and Iraq and Iran and Iraq and Britney Spears and Iraq and Eliot Spitzer and Britney Spears and Iraq and the 2008 elections. During all of this there was this major shift in Dutch politics, political upheaval surrounding Islam and a significant and growing muslim population in the Netherlands.

For years, the Dutch supported (and continue to support) a large refugee population, many from muslim populations. The Dutch went out of there way to accomodate the muslim faith of these refugees, but in that accomodation and tolerance they also facilitated the same isolation and lack of integration that inevitably plagues a large immigrant population. Even worse this immigrant population harbored a cultural hatred for the very country and Western culture that was signing their welfare checks. Here’s a rather lengthy quote from the book,

In those days, especially in Labor Party circles, people were always positive about Islam. If Muslims wanted mosques and separate graveyards and ritual slaughterhouses, such things were built. Community centers were provided. Islamic fundamentalist ideas were swelling in such centers, but Labor Party people usually dismissed this as a natural reaction. These immigrants had been uprooted, they said; they were clinging temporarily, to traditional ideas, which would gradually fade away. They forgot how long it had taken Europe to shake off obscurantism and intolerance, and how difficult that struggle was.

When Somalis told me they didn’t want to live in gaalo neighborhoods, I knew they wanted to avoid contact with the ungodliness of Holland. But Dutch officials always saw it as a natural desire to form a community. When Muslims wanted their own school, I saw it as forcing children to obey ideas unquestioningly; the Dutch saw no harm in funding them. When satellite dishes began bristling from every apartment in municipal housing projects, tuned to Moroccan and Turkish TV, my Labor Party colleagues saw this as a natural desire to maintain contact with home.

But with the dishes came preaching, indoctrination. There were door-to-door preachers passing out cassettes in most Dutch cities… Most migrant neighborhoods had shops selling traditional clothes and carpets and tapes, DVDs, and books on how to be a good Muslim in infidel territory. When the number of women wearing headscarves on the street became impossible to ignore, my Labor Party colleagues thoght it was only recent immigrants, who would soon abandon the practice. They failed to realize that it was the second generation, who were rediscovering their “roots,” brainwashed by jargon I recognized: tawheed, kufr, the evil Jews.

Unfortunately at the same time that the U.S. was bombing Iraq back into the Stone Ages, the Dutch people were being confronted with a culture seemingly still stuck in the Stone Ages right in their backyards. And Ayaan Hirsi Ali played a significant role in bringing this other culture into the light, and to borrow the metaphor, evil cowers from the light.

I won’t go into the details but Ayaan tried to convince the Labor Party that there were things happening in this muslim population that were completely and utterly outside of the moral values of the Dutch culture that harbored them. Ayaan eventually got herself elected to the Dutch parliament where she was able to bring these issues into the public square.

One issue that Ayaan wanted to bring to the light were the honor killings that were taking place in Holland every year. And here’s the important lesson, instead of posturing, politicking or going on an endless “trust me it’s happening” campaign she did what any good scientist or skeptic would do. She was able to get 2 of the 25 Dutch police precincts to simply document how many murders were considered “honor killings”. This was significant because previously the police weren’t allowed to document that information for fear of “stigmatizing” a population. After a mere 6 months or so, 11 girls, many teenagers, were documented as having been killed as a result of an honor killing. 11 girls in 6 months from only 2 of 25 precincts. This horrified the Dutch people.

The Dutch people were being confronted with the reality that their religious tolerance which had worked so successfully with the native Catholic, Protestant and Secular populations was utterly failing them. In one respect they were maintaining the value of religious tolerance while unwittingly withholding the value of individual liberty and freedom from women and children.

Ayaan Hirsi realized that the only way to bring freedom to half this immigrant population was for the Dutch to actually pursue integration. Not necessarily forced integration but at least stop funding so many of the self-segregationist policies that the Muslim community was creating, such as separate Muslim schools. She also later on convinced the Liberal Party (which could be loosely compared to Republicans here in the States but that would be unfair to the Liberal Party) to provide separate residence papers to women brought to Holland by legal immigrants, it wasn’t easy but she sold it by,

“…talking about the women themselves brought to Holland by men they barely know, after arranged marriages, beaten until they ended up in the hospital, but who cannot file for divorce because if they did, they would have to leave Holland and return to their families, where they would be punished. The motion was passed by a majority of the parties in Parliament, although we had to do without the Christian Democrat’s vote. (So much for brotherly love.)”

Ok so that last part might have been a cheap shot but they so deserved it. I admire her restraint.

 And perhaps most disturbing of all is that there was little if any coverage of any of this here in the States. I remember Pim Fortuyn being shot and killed but he was portrayed as some kind of xenophobic, right-wing, neo-fascist. That guy was more liberal than Hillary Clinton. I am sorry I didn’t know any of this was going on. I am the typical Ameri-centric citizen after all.

I could go on and on (and it looks like I already have) but I did want to leave you with some more information.

Here’s Christopher Hitchens thoughts on the Dutch treatment of Ayaan (her citizenship was revoked while still serving in Parliament, seriously, I couldn’t possibly make it up)

Interview with Ayaan at

Lengthy article over at the Washington Post

and, of course, her personal website.

Filed under: Atheism, Politics, Religion, , , , , , ,

Neutral on Net Neutrality

Being of the uber-geek kind of person, these topics interest me more than the average Joe. I also think being in the IT industry (and having started as the lowly help desk guy and worked my way through network administrator and then back down as a lowly developer and now up to software development manager) I may have more insight into the positive or negative impacts that some seemingly innocuous laws can actually have.

One of the issues that I follow is the debater currently in the Congress regarding “Net Neutrality“. Basically, the issues centers around whether or not ISPs can restrict (or price discriminate) the different kinds of traffic that is sent/received on their networks. An example of this would be charging customers more to play broadband video from their websites than simply hosting webpages or static image files. Using this example the local internet provider could charge YouTube more for internet access (because of their content) than say if YouTube simply had pictures that you could download.

This issue is one that is separate from bandwidth. Chargin for bandwidth is simply *how much* traffic you pay for versus *what kind* of traffic you pay for. I and others have no problem with being charged more for bandwidth. That’s like being charged for having multiple phone lines. Of course you should be charged for this. Applying Net Neutrality issues to phone lines, this would be like being charged more use your phone line to send a fax versus calling your mother on Mother’s Day.

Some of the underlying issues regarding Net Neutrality are highlighted by the phone analogy.

  1. It doesn’t cost the telephone company anymore or less for me to call mom or send a fax, the cost of the resource is fixed.
  2. The only way for a telephone company to know when to charge me differently is to actually listen to the phone calls, which raises privacy issues
  3. And perhaps most importantly being charged to do different things has the potential to stifle innovation using these resources. Would fax machines have been invented? What impact would pricing teirs have had on the early days of the Internet when most people’s mode of access used a dial-up modem (which is fundamentally the same and indistinguishable from a fax signal*). Would people have been willing to pay more to connect the Internet on top of the charge from Compuserv or AOL?

In the 3 examples above simply substitute ISP for telephone company (and mom for webpages and fax for broadband video ) and you now understand what Net Neutrality means. has an article, Bill Bars Web Traffic Discrimination, details recent legislation introduced reaffirming the “Neutrality” of the Internet. Or more specifically it,

“… suggest[s] that the principles which have guided the Internet’s development and expansion are highly worthy of retention, and it seeks to enshrine such principles in the law as guide stars for U.S. broadband policy”

Perhaps the most valid complaint (at least in my mind) is that this new legislation while establishing Net Neutrality as a guiding principle for the U.S. it also gives the FCC additional regulatory powers over what ISPs can and cannot do. For example, Comcast was recently smacked around for throttling certain customers bandwidth, which they pay for,  specifically regarding peer-to-peer file sharing in order to provide adequate bandwidth to additional customers. As a customer, would you be happy when you call Comcast to complain that your Internet is slow and they tell you it’s because your neighbor is downloading music and using up a larger piece of the shared pie and that because of “Net Neutrality” their is nothing they can do?

* Technically not true but for the sake of this example we’ll just keep things simple.

Filed under: Internet, Politics, , , ,

I Don’t Heart Huckabee

Oh Huckabee, you silly guy, if only you were smrt, like Homer Simpson.

Filed under: Internet, Politics, , ,

The US is not a Christian nation… amen

Ok I didn’t make it very far through this book (more Brain Food) before I felt compelled to post again…

Michael and Edward Buckner have an essay titled, The US Is a Free Country, Not a Christian Nation. Man… are they on it or what? The essay begins by putting forward the following structure for their argument,

…But anyone who wants to claim that our government should support Christianity (or any other religion) must explain away American history, contradict our decidedly unchristian form of government, and, finally and most crucially, demonstrate that separation of church and state is not in everyone’s best interest.

And they back it up. They put the Declaration of Independence in its proper context, expose a number of fallacious (at worst) or unsupported (at best) quotes from some of our Founding Fathers that seem to support a Christian origin to our government and show that the Constitution imposes rules and restraints that are decidedly unbiblical.

They finish up with a kind of, Ok, fine. You reject everything we say. Then what would a perfectly Christian US look like, of course, don’t base anything on the Trinity (because not all Christians accept that). When should everyone be baptised or should they? Good luck finding a happy compromise on that one.

You say, let’s just say Christianity in general and not anything specific. Fine, but as James Madison wrote (in a petition to stop legislation in Virginia that would have allowed using taxpayer’s money to support Christians of all denominations),

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity in exclusion of all other religions may establish, with the same ease, any particular sect of Christians in exclusion of all other sects? That same authority which can force a citizen to contribute threepence only of his property for the support of any one establishment may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

Oooh… pre-Victorian smackdown.

Filed under: Atheism, Law, Politics, Reviews, , , , ,

Hitchens and Iraq

Christopher Hitchens has written an article, Fighting the “Real” Fight, over at regarding the “foolish myths about Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia”. Mr. Hitchens is an incredibly smart man unfortunately he still holds on to this foolish belief in the validity of the War in Iraq.

I can’t help but cringe when I read this article. Maybe I don’t understand the issues the way he does but some of his arguments seem to confirm what he is trying to deny and either way I have to wonder who the hair-splitters really are. He complains of

“hair-splitting secularists who cannot accept that al-Qaida in Mesopotamia is a branch of al-Qaida itself.”

Umm… Ok. He continues with the following of which I definitely subscribe to #2 and #1 is arguable.

Objections to this self-evident fact take one of two forms. It is argued, first, that there was no such organization before the coalition intervention in Iraq. It is argued, second, that the character of the gang itself is somewhat autonomous from, and even independent of, the original group proclaimed by Osama Bin Laden.

He spends a considerable amount of the time talking about Al-Zarqawi (the recently deceased leader of al-Qaida in Iraq). He attempts to discredit the #1 argument above by explaining that after our intervention in Afghanistan, Al-Zarqawi fled to Iraq and then was granted the “local al-Qaida franchise” by Bin Laden/Zawahiri. I don’t mean to be a hair-splitter here but if your argument was that al-Qaida existed in Iraq prior to our invasion I wouldn’t try to explain your argument without out at least… um… some actual dates. Nowhere in the article does he give any dates just a story.

You could lay this story out in two ways but without dates we have no idea which is correct. The scenario descibed by Hitchens could be laid out to confirm or refute his own argument.

#1) We invade Afghanistan
#2) Al-Zarqawi flees to Iraq
#3) Al-Qaida franchise granted to Al-Zarqawi
#4) We invade Iraq

#1) We invade Afghanistan
#2) Al-Zarqawi flees to Iraq
#3) We invade Iraq
#4) Al-Qaida franchise granted to Al-Zarqawi

I suggest you re-read his article and tell me why I can’t refute his own argument with his own story. I understand that the purpose of this article is not to be a full dissertation on the Iraq War and that he is attempting to address certain criticisms of this war but I think the bigger question should be, “Were we morally justified in attacking Iraq?” and more pressing, “How do we end the suffering and death and bring peace back to the region?”

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Politics, Religion, , , , , ,

Someone needs to shutup

Apparently I go on vacation for a few days and this idiot has to go and open up his big mouth. The president of ACORE allegedly sent a letter to a global warming expert telling him that he would ruin this guys career. If this turns out to be true I hope this guy is asked to resign from his position. He is clearly ready and able to do some damage to someone.

He should be fired for 2 reasons a) this is clearly an immoral thing to say and even further to do and b) he has clearly exposed the global conspiracy to control the world. This cannot be allowed. Of course, those who claim there is some kind of conspiracy only have to look at this example of idiocy to see that any attempt at such a conspiracy would fail very, very quickly. Unfortunately I have failed to find any confirmation from ACORE or Michael Eckhart on this one.

Filed under: Environment, Politics

Will no one stand up for Laura Lopez?

Laura Lopez would like your children to immediately stop reading anything she disagrees with. She would also like all children to be held in separate hermetically-sealed rooms devoid of light, sound and germs.

Upon reaching adulthood, your children who have spent their entire adolescence using this method of sheltering children from reality, will be presented with a world they cannot understand and will spontaneously explode. Completing their journey to heaven.

Read more…,0,5513418.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines

By the way, I made up everything but the first sentence and obviously the link to the article… or did I?

Filed under: Politics, Religion

Why I love

I think this is appropriate for a 4th of July week. has taken on a recently written about an email circulated (or recirculated since I get this email about this time of year every year) during this week. Many of us have received the “The Price They Paid” email detailing what ultimately happened with the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Like many of these kinds of emails there are some true and some false and many that are both or misleading.

I just can’t understand why the true events aren’t compelling enough for people. Why do we have to romanticize the real lives of people to make them more dramatic. Isn’t the truth of the circumstances of their lives enough. I was go to make a comment about how we have to put a Hollywood spin on everything but even during the lives of Jefferson and Adams they were keenly aware of the embellishments and mythologizing of the very, very recent events of the American Revolution (and for those who don’t know their history that was before Hollywood).

I think this is a good quote about how or why these emails go around.

So great is our need for simplified, dramatic events and heroes that even the real-life biographies of the fifty-six men who risked their lives to publicly declare American independence are no longer compelling enough. Through multiple versions of pieces like the [email in question], their lives have been repeatedly embellished with layers of fanciful fiction to make for a better story.

By the way, when you receive an email that tells you something clearly wrong and tries to pass it off as truth that your parents or grandparents send you. I’m thinking the email that tries to show how your taxes are used to support illegal immigrants who are just coming here to have babies and sell drugs (or is that to take drugs and sell babies).

Check they are an easy link to send back to the person plus they do a great job of documenting their facts.

Filed under: Internet, Politics


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