In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe; natural wonders and supernatural blunders.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

A Healthy Dose of Islamophobia – In Defense of Sam Harris

…Obviously, a peaceful Muslim does not logically equal a peaceful Qur’an, or a peaceful religion. Many Muslims have never even read the Qur’an in any language (79% of people in Pakistan are illiterate). It is not, nor should it be, enough to meet a nice communist to conclude whether or not communism is a useful economic system. It is not enough to meet a lovely group of Anti-Vaccination believers in order to determine whether or not vaccines cause Down syndrome. I, for example, live in Santiago, Chile, and Chilean people (in very general terms) are tremendously racist against different ethnic minorities, particularly Blacks or Asians, and openly so. However, it is not a stretch of logic to believe, as I do, that Chilean people are extremely kind and hospitable, while at the same time holding their racist beliefs in contempt. Indeed anyone, from any western country, in all likelihood has met at least one Christian family who perhaps is deeply homophobic, or does not believe in any form of sexual contraception, or believes that creationism should replace evolution in science classrooms. This Christian family might be the most delightful family that has ever invited you into their home, but this is not to say that their beliefs on specific subjects do not fall under scrutiny, nor should it be free from criticism no matter how offended they might feel. Pointing out bad ideas, that small or large quantities of people hold, is not an attack on their personality or affability, it is only an attack on an idea….

The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are united in their belief in God and the Prophet Muhammad and are bound together by such religious practices as fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and almsgiving to assist people in need. But they have widely differing views about many other aspects of their faith, including how important religion is to their lives, who counts as a Muslim and what practices are acceptable in Islam, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The survey, which involved more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in over 80 languages, finds that in addition to the widespread conviction that there is only one God and that Muhammad is His Prophet, large percentages of Muslims around the world share other articles of faith, including belief in angels, heaven, hell and fate (or predestination). While there is broad agreement on the core tenets of Islam, however, Muslims across the 39 countries and territories surveyed differ significantly in their levels of religious commitment, openness to multiple interpretations of their faith and acceptance of various sects and movements.

Pakistani Christian woman is sentenced to hang for 'blasphemous' comments about prophet Mohammed

A Pakistani Christian woman has been sentenced to hang after she was accused of making ‘blasphemous’ comments about the prophet Mohammed during an argument.

While working as a berry picker in 2009, 46-year-old Asia Bibi got into a dispute with a group of Muslim women who objected to her drinking their water because as a Christian she was considered ‘unclean’.

Hours after the incident one of the women reported mother-of-five Ms Bibi to a local cleric, claiming she had made disparaging remarks about the prophet Mohammed during the row.

As a result of the allegations, a furious mob arrived at Ms Bibi’s home and savagely beat her and members of her family. She was later arrested, charged with blasphemy and eventually sentenced to death - with her entire family forced to go into hiding after receiving threats on their lives.

This week, despite international outrage and hundreds of thousands of people signing a petition for her release, Ms Bibi lost an appeal to have her sentence overturned, meaning she now faces death by hanging.

The shocking case hit global headlines after two prominent politicians who tried to help Ms Bibi were assassinated, one by his own bodyguard. Lawyers showered the killer with rose petals when he appeared in court and the judge who convicted him of murder had to flee the country.

ISIS Defends Enslaving Women in New Magazine

An article in the fourth issue of Dabiq (ISIS’ online magazine, page 14) said the practice of taking women and girls of the enemy is firmly established in the Quran and allowed under the strict laws by which they claim to abide. Anyone who criticized the group’s taking of women and girls as sex slaves, the article continued, would be criticizing Islam and mocking the Prophet Muhammed.

Sam Harris | On the Mechanics of Defamation

Aslan and Greenwald know that nowhere in my work do I suggest that we kill harmless people for thought crimes. And yet they (along with several of their colleagues) are doing their best to spread this lie about me. Nearly every other comment they’ve made about my work is similarly misleading.

Bill Maher is right to condemn religious practices that violate fundamental human rights. Religious communities must do more to counter extremist interpretations of their faith. But…

Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself? | Sam Harris breaks down his clash with Ben Affleck

…..Contrary to what many liberals believe, those bad boys who are getting off the bus in Syria at this moment to join ISIS are not all psychopaths, nor are they simply depressed people who have gone to the desert to die. Most of them are profoundly motivated by their beliefs. Many surely feel like spiritual James Bonds, fighting a cosmic war against evil. After all, they are spreading the one true faith to the ends of the earth—or they will die trying, and be martyred, and then spend eternity in Paradise. Secular liberals seem unable to grasp how psychologically rewarding this worldview must be.

As I try to make clear in Waking Up, many positive states of mind, such as ecstasy, are ethically neutral. Which is to say that it really matters what you think the feeling of ecstasy means. If you think it means that the Creator of the Universe is rewarding you for having purged your village of Christians, you are ISIS material. Other bearded young men go to Burning Man, find themselves surrounded by naked women in Day-Glo body paint, and experience a similar state of mind.

After the show, Kristof, Affleck, Maher, and I continued our discussion. At one point, Kristof reiterated the claim that Maher and I had failed to acknowledge the existence of all the good Muslims who condemn ISIS, citing the popular hashtag #NotInOurName. In response, I said: “Yes, I agree that all condemnation of ISIS is good. But what do you think would happen if we had burned a copy of the Koran on tonight’s show? There would be riots in scores of countries. Embassies would fall. In response to our mistreating a book, millions of Muslims would take to the streets, and we would spend the rest of our lives fending off credible threats of murder. But when ISIS crucifies people, buries children alive, and rapes and tortures women by the thousands—all in the name of Islam—the response is a few small demonstrations in Europe and a hashtag.” I don’t think I’m being uncharitable when I say that neither Affleck nor Kristof had an intelligent response to this. Nor did they pretend to doubt the truth of what I said.

I genuinely believe that both Affleck and Kristof mean well. They are very worried about American xenophobia and the prospects of future military adventures. But they are confused about Islam. Like many secular liberals, they refuse to accept the abundant evidence that vast numbers of Muslims believe dangerous things about infidels, apostasy, blasphemy, jihad, and martyrdom. And they do not realize that these doctrines are about as controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus is under Christianity.

However, others in this debate are not so innocent. Our conversation on Real Time was provoked by an interview that Reza Aslan gave on CNN, in which he castigated Maher for the remarks he had made about Islam on the previous show. I have always considered Aslan a comical figure. His thoughts about religion in general are a jumble of pretentious nonsense—yet he speaks with an air of self-importance that would have been embarrassing in Genghis Khan at the height of his power. On the topic of Islam, however, Aslan has begun to seem more sinister. He cannot possibly believe what he says, because nearly everything he says is a lie or a half-truth calibrated to mislead a liberal audience. If he claims something isn’t in the Koran, it probably is. I don’t know what his agenda is, beyond riding a jet stream of white guilt from interview to interview, but he is manipulating liberal biases for the purpose of shutting down conversation on important topics. Given what he surely knows about the contents of the Koran and the hadith, the state of public opinion in the Muslim world, the suffering of women and other disempowered groups, and the real-world effects of deeply held religious beliefs, I find his deception on these issues unconscionable.

As I tried to make clear on Maher’s show, what we need is honest talk about the link between belief and behavior. And no one is suffering the consequences of what Muslim “extremists” believe more than other Muslims are. The civil war between Sunni and Shia, the murder of apostates, the oppression of women—these evils have nothing to do with U.S. bombs or Israeli settlements. Yes, the war in Iraq was a catastrophe—just as Affleck and Kristof suggest. But take a moment to appreciate how bleak it is to admit that the world would be better off if we had left Saddam Hussein in power. Here was one of the most evil men who ever lived, holding an entire country hostage. And yet his tyranny was also preventing a religious war between Shia and Sunni, the massacre of Christians, and other sectarian horrors. To say that we should have left Saddam Hussein alone says some very depressing things about the Muslim world.

Whatever the prospects are for moving Islam out of the Middle Ages, hope lies not with obscurantists like Reza Aslan but with reformers like Maajid Nawaz. The litmus test for intellectual honesty on this point—which so many liberals fail—is to admit that one can draw a straight line from specific doctrines in Islam to the intolerance and violence we see in the Muslim world. Nawaz admits this. I don’t want to give the impression that he and I view Islam exactly the same. In fact, we are now having a written exchange that we will publish as an ebook in the coming months—and I am learning a lot from it. But Nawaz admits that the extent of radicalization in the Muslim community is an enormous problem. Unlike Aslan, he insists that his fellow Muslims must find some way to reinterpret and reform the faith. He believes that Islam has the intellectual resources to do this. I certainly hope he’s right. One thing is clear, however: Muslims must be obliged to do the work of reinterpretation—and for this we need honest conversation.

Ben Affleck lampooning Catholicism in Dogma. He must be an expert on its “officially codified doctrine”! For he seems to think that is a prerequisite to making general comments on a religion.

Ben Affleck lampooning Catholicism in Dogma. He must be an expert on its “officially codified doctrine”! For he seems to think that is a prerequisite to making general comments on a religion.

Reza Aslan is Wrong About Islam and This is Why

[Bill] Maher stated (among other things) that “if vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe, and they do, that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea or drawing a cartoon or writing a book or eloping with the wrong person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS.” Maher implied a connection between FGM and violence against women with the Islamic faith, to which the charming Aslan seems to be providing a nuanced counterbalance, calling Maher “unsophisticated” and his arguments “facile.” His comments were lauded by many media outlets, including Salon and the Huffington Post.

Although we have become accustomed to the agenda-driven narrative from Aslan, we were blown away by how his undeniably appealing but patently misleading arguments were cheered on by many, with the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple going so far as to advise show producers not to put a show-host against Aslan “unless your people are schooled in religion, politics and geopolitics of the Muslim world.”

Only those who themselves aren’t very “schooled” in Islam and Muslim affairs would imply that Aslan does anything but misinform by cherry-picking and distorting facts.

Nearly everything Aslan stated during his segment was either wrong, or technically-correct-but-actually-wrong. We will explain by going through each of his statements in the hopes that Aslan was just misinformed (although it’s hard for us to imagine that a “scholar” such as Aslan wouldn’t be aware of all this).

Aslan contends that while some Muslim countries have problems with violence and women’s rights, in others like “Indonesia, women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men” and it is therefore incorrect to imply that such issues are a problem with Islam and “facile” to imply that women are “somehow mistreated in the Muslim world.”

Let us be clear here: No one in their right mind would claim that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh are a “free and open society for women.” Happily, a few of them have enshrined laws that have done much to bring about some progress in equality between the sexes. But this progress is hindered or even eroded by the creeping strength of the notoriously anti-woman Sharia courts.

For example:

•Indonesia has increasingly become more conservative. (Notoriously anti-women) Sharia courts that were “optional” have risen to equal status with regular courts in family matters. The conservative Aceh province even legislates criminal matters via Sharia courts, which has been said to violate fundamental human rights.

•Malaysia has a dual-system of law which mandates sharia law for Muslims. These allow men to have multiple wives (polygyny) and discriminate against women in inheritance (as mandated by Islamic scripture). It also prohibits wives from disobeying the “lawful orders” of their husbands.

•Bangladesh, which according to feminist Tahmima Anam made real advancements towards equality in its inception, also “created a barrier to women’s advancement.” This barrier? An article in the otherwise progressive constitution which states that “women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the state and of the public life” but in the realm of private affairs (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody), “it acknowledges Islam as the state religion and effectively enshrines the application of Islamic law in family affairs. The Constitution thus does nothing to enforce equality in private life.”

And finally we come to Turkey, a country oft-cited by apologists due to its relative stability, liberalism, and gender equality. What they consistently choose to ignore is that historically, Turkey was militantly secular. We mean this literally: The country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, created a secular state and pushed Islam out of the public sphere (outlawing polygamy, child marriages, and giving divorce rights to women) through (at times, military) force. He even banned the headscarf in various public sectors and is believed by some to have been an atheist.

Only apologists would ignore the circumstances that led to Turkey’s incredible progress and success relative to the Muslim world, and hold it up as an example of “Islamic” advancement of women’s rights. In fact, child marriages (which continue to be widespread in rural Turkey), are often hidden due to the practice of “religious” marriages (Nikah) being performed without informing secular authorities. Turkey was recently forced to pass a law banning religious marriages with penalties imposed on imams for violations…..

(Click through to continue)

We believe that Islam badly needs to be reformed, and it is only Muslims who can truly make it into a modern religion. But it is the likes of Reza Aslan who act as a deterrent to change by refusing to acknowledge real complications within the scripture and by actively promoting half-truths. Bigotry against Muslims is a real and pressing problem, but one can criticize the Islamic ideology without treating Muslims as themselves problematic or incapable of reform.

There are true Muslim reformists who are willing to call a spade a spade while working for the true betterment of their peoples — but their voices are drowned out by the noise of apologists who are all-too-often aided by the Western left. Those who accept distortions in order to hold on to a comforting dream-world where Islamic fundamentalism is merely an aberration are harming reform by encouraging apologists.

Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider. They are co-founders of Ex-Muslims of North America,

(Source: patheos.com)

skepticalavenger:

thegodlessatheist:

atheistrepublic:

Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (865-925 AD) on Islam

Reading the date of when this was said is a eye opener

Well, it seems that people have recognized that there could be a problem here for a little while now.  O.o

skepticalavenger:

thegodlessatheist:

atheistrepublic:

Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (865-925 AD) on Islam

Reading the date of when this was said is a eye opener

Well, it seems that people have recognized that there could be a problem here for a little while now.  O.o

UN vote exposes global fault lines over gay rights.

UN Resolution: While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of states, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms...

Muslims, Africans and Russians: Nah ah! No way Jose!

How to Defeat ISIS

…Well-meaning Muslims claim that these Islamists have simply ‘misinterpreted’ the Quran. But have they?

As I wrote in a previous post, ISIS’s interpretation of the Quran is a very plausible one and this explains why ISIS has no trouble using the Quran as a recruiting tool.

Even according to Yusuf Ali, the very much mainstream and respected interpreter of the Quran, fighting for the cause of ‘truth’ is a duty for Muslims under a ‘rightly guided Imam.’ The definition of ‘truth’ and ‘rightly guided Imam,’ unfortunately, is not that clear cut.

For those of us who have been indoctrinated with the idea that the Quran is God’s literal and most perfect word to man, the Quranic commands for true believers to wage war against ‘oppressors’ and ‘hypocrites’ can cause a tugging at the heartstrings.

Still, plenty of Muslims have condemned ISIS while angrily claiming that they have ‘misinterpreted’ the Quran to justify their barbarity. This is not surprising, since the vast majority of Muslims are decent people who find the brutality of ISIS abhorrent just like everyone else. Muslim leaders like Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf have proclaimed that ISIS and other Islamists have got it all ‘wrong’ by referring to some peaceful verses in the Quran. Unfortunately these proclamations haven’t dissuaded ISIS or the wannabe Jihadis in the west. After all the ISIS claim is that they are the ones following the ‘true’ Islam.

We can continue to be in denial and claim that ISIS’s ideology has nothing to do with Islam, hoping to dissuade the jihadis and silence the anti-Muslim bigots. Thing is, with the Quran at so many people’s fingertips these days, neither the jihadis nor the anti-Muslim bigots are believing this anymore and we are simply hurting our own credibility.

If we want to really solve the problem and maybe even regain some credibility, we need leaders who are willing to put forth the idea that we have to change the way we regard the Quran. Treating the Quran as God’s perfect and literal word to man is creating too much havoc.

Only when the notions of Quranic infallibility and inerrancy are challenged, will it be possible for believing Muslims to openly admit that according to literalist interpretations at least, violent and hateful passages exist in the Quran: passages that call for fighting those who don’t believe in Allah, that support ISIS’s ideology and help them recruit young Muslims like Aqsa Mahmood.

After all, only when a critical mass of Muslims propagate the idea that the Quran may not be God’s literal and perfect word to man and denounce the violent and hateful verses in the Quran that support ISIS’s ideology, will we successfully counter ISIS’s propaganda and stop the flow of wannabe jihadis crossing that Turkish border.

Until then, families like the Sotloffs and the Mahmoods and countless others in the Middle East and elsewhere will continue to suffer.