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

 

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.

Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death

…Article 262 of the Islamic Penal Code states insulting the Prophet carries a punishment of death, however, article 264 of the Penal Code says if a suspect claims to have said the insulting words in anger, in quoting someone, or by mistake, his death sentence will be converted to 74 lashes.

The anonymous source claims: “Unfortunately, despite this Article and the explanations provided, the judges issued the death sentence.

Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly—but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists?

Sam Harris

If ISIS Is Not Islamic, then the Inquisition Was Not Catholic: There is no such thing as 'true' religion

…ISIS has an extreme and fundamentalist interpretation of Muslim doctrine. But in exactly the same way, dogma about the immorality of abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, and divorce have become part of Catholicism. They are theological interpretations of scripture that appeal to some people’s sense of morality. Others disagree. Whose faith is “truer”?

In the end, there is no “true” religion in the factual sense, for there is no good evidence supporting their claims to truth. Nor are there “true” religions in the moral sense. Every faith justifies itself and its practices by appeal to authority, revelation, and dogma. There are just some religions we like better than others because of their practical consequences. If that’s what we mean by “true,” we should just admit it. There’s no shame in that, for it’s certainly the case that societies based on some religions are more dysfunctional than others. Morality itself is neither objectively true nor false, but at bottom rests on subjective preferences: the “oughts” that come from what we see as the consequences of behaving one way versus another.

By all means let us say that ISIS is a strain of Islam that is barbaric and dysfunctional, but let us not hear any nonsense that it’s a “false religion.” ISIS, like all religious movements, is based on faith; and faith, which is belief in the absence of convincing evidence, isn’t true or false, but simply irrational.

Everyone who is religious picks and chooses their morals from scripture. And so, too, do religious apologists pick and choose the “true” religions using identical criteria: what appeals to them as “good” ways to behave. The Qur’an, like the Bible, is full of vile moral statements supposedly emanating from God. We cherry-pick them depending on our disposition, our politics, and our upbringing.
In the end, there is no “true” religion in the factual sense, for there is no good evidence supporting their truth claims. Neither are there “true” religions in the moral sense. Every faith justifies itself and its practices by appeal to authority, revelation, and dogma. There are just some religions we like better than others because of their practical consequences. If that’s what we mean by “true,” we should just admit it. There’s no shame in that, for it’s certainly the case that societies based on some religions are more dysfunctional than others. Morality itself is neither objectively “true” nor “false,” but at bottom rests on subjective preferences: the “oughts” that come from what we see as the consequences of behaving one way versus another. By all means let us say that ISIS is a strain of Islam that is barbaric and dysfunctional, but let us not hear any nonsense that it’s a “false religion”. ISIS, like all religious movements, is based on faith; and faith, which is belief in the absence of convincing evidence, isn’t true or false, but simply irrational.

Jerry Coyne. 2014.

(TitleWhat is a “true” religion?)

The Sacred Texts of Various Religions

There’s quite a few, to say the least.

And you know your particular book is the true one because you must have evaluated the truth claims of all of the others and weighed them against the evidence. Right?

Either that, OR you were just raised to believe in one and to be ignorant of all the others…

Richard Dawkins is Right About Islam, And Everyone Knows It

…There is no part of core Islamic belief that’s liberal. If you do anything good, it’s not because it’s good inherently - it’s because an all-powerful tyrant says so and will slaughter those who defy Him: Basically the same moral origin as fundamentalist Christianity, only with scriptural examples of militant political religion by the central spiritual figure and his followers. God is not good in the Islamic framework, but “Merciful” - i.e., one who is malevolent but restrains himself if you are obedient. And the concepts of “peace” and “submission” are thus considered identical…

…Where religion is about controlling people, Islam is nothing but control - except in the few places where people are allowed to unleash their violent passions against designated scapegoats. All other competitors for passion are strictly regulated or prohibited: Women, alcohol, art, music, everything. Christianity is less explicit on these subjects, and where it is, Christians mostly ignore it because (a)most of them know it’s crap, and (b)people who say it’s crap aren’t targeted for murder, dismemberment, or imprisonment….

…Texas evangelicals can only fantasize about the level of fear, ignorance, and conformity that people are born into in the Islamic world. I find it infuriating that someone in another part of the world could be exactly like me in their minds, but if they spoke the scientific / curious / inquiring thoughts that have been going through my head since childhood, they would be endangering themselves and their families - possibly facing danger from their families….

carpediamn asked
I saw the video you posted with ISIS, and I just wanted to tell you that that is not Islam. Islam does not allow for killing people based on religion, and strictly tells us that it is our obligation to protect people of other religions and to not damage any places of prayer, even non-Muslim. ISIS is not muslim, it's an extremist religion. Don't let them make you look at the rest if Islam badly. What they are doing is disgusting and is in no way justified in Islam.

Well, they have their Islam and you have yours. As for the “true” Islam, that doesn’t exist. Every religious believer thinks they have the right view or they would have a different one. And maybe these actions are not justified in your Islam (and your fellow humans thank you for that), but their Quran contains verses such as these below which, meh- could go either way I suppose.

If only there was a way for god to deliver a message of love and tolerance that wasn’t steeped in violent hyperbole. But since Yahweh got his start in the role of war god in a polytheistic pantheon, it’s not all that surprising that he would slip into homicidal metaphors now and then…


Quran (2:191-193) - And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief] is worse than killing

Quran (4:104) - And be not weak hearted in pursuit of the enemy; if you suffer pain, then surely they (too) suffer pain as you suffer pain…

Quran (8:12) - I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them

Quran (8:15) - O ye who believe! When ye meet those who disbelieve in battle, turn not your backs to them. (16)Whoso on that day turneth his back to them, unless maneuvering for battle or intent to join a company, he truly hath incurred wrath from Allah, and his habitation will be hell, a hapless journey’s end.

Quran (9:5) - So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.

There seem to be at least 104 more of these.

ISIL/ISIS Propaganda Video

Every sentence that falls out of this imbecile’s face is preceded with the qualification “insh’allah…” (God willing) and is punctuated with “…humdallah” (Praise God). Every sentence.

It gets just a little bit repetitive. I picture this Allah character going, “ALRIGHT! For fuck’s sake, I get it!”

I’d blow my fucking brains out if I had to listen to this shit all day. Or more likely, they would do it for me, once I tried to tell them how idiotic it is.

Fox News’ No. 1 fear: Atheists

In a recent online video for Crossfire, CNN political pundit and self-proclaimed atheist S.E. Cupp claimed conservative atheists are “better” than liberal atheists, and said she does not believe the “myth” that conservatism is “hostile” to atheism. “In fact, I’d go so far as to say conservatism is far more intellectually honest and respectful of atheism than liberalism has been,” she said.

Wait, what?

Cupp says she believes it is atheists who are disseminating “the idea that they are somehow disenfranchised or left out of the political process,” but that has not been her experience as a conservative.

Now, CNN is not Fox News, but she acts like she has never heard of the Republican Party’s media arm: Fox News.

For the past few years, Fox News and its right-wing talking heads have waged a relentless war on atheism. Their annual war on Christmas spoof-ganza is their reverse victimhood effort to convince viewers that America’s godless community is coming to take away your toys and your right to say, “Merry Christmas.” In other words, bah humbug.

Comparing atheists to Dr. Seuss’ Grinch is one thing, but on Wednesday Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck asserted that Christianity should be kept in schools because Islamic militants in Iraq were persecuting Christians. Ipso facto, atheists are as dangerous as al-Qaeda, which is exactly what they want their conservative audience to believe without Fox News having to actually say it.

After reading a select few comments from viewers who accused atheists of demanding to have more rights than Christians, Hasselbeck connected the situation to violence in Iraq. “You know, in light of what’s going on in the world and the persecution of Christians right now, how close do we want to get to eliminating religious freedom in the globe?” she asked.

It’s so accidently Orwellian it’s almost adorable. Or more likely she was reading from a script handed down to her from the string-pullers high above. The only way she could’ve been less subtle was if she said, “Some people say atheists are terrorists.”….

..On Fox News, Obama is coming for your guns; Madonna is coming for your straight kids; immigrants are coming for your jobs; liberals are coming for your way of life; and atheists are coming for your Bibles..

…Since atheists represent such a small percentage of the population, and an even smaller percentage of both the conservative base and the network’s audience, it’s a no-brainer to blame the decline of American civilization on atheists who wish to take away school prayer, rather than talk about problems whose solutions require a pro-government response i.e. safety nets, regulation, workers’ rights, and environmental protection.

Cleverly, Fox News conflates atheism with big government i.e. secular government officials want to take away your religious freedom. The narrative becomes: atheists are bad, the government is atheists, and therefore the government is not part of the solution, the government is the problem….

Islamic State: What do young British Muslims think about ISIS and the Caliphate? BBC News