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

 

Ultra-Orthodox Jews cause '11-hour long nightmare' on board flight to Israel

A flight from New York to Tel-Aviv descended into an “11-hour long nightmare” after ultra-orthodox Jewish passengers on board refused to sit next to women, delaying take-off and causing further disruption during the flight.

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.

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

Saul Bellow

Looking back at the worst times, it always seems that they were times in which there were people who believed with absolute faith and absolute dogmatism in something. And they were so serious in this matter that they insisted that the rest of the world agree with them.

Richard Feynman, theoretical physicist (via whats-out-there)

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

When you whip the ones you love, it’s not about abuse, but love.

Bonita Jackson, mother of NFL player and accused child abuser Adrian Peterson, in defense of her son’s alleged actions.


Why do I get the feeling that this is church influenced? This is the “spare the rod, spoil the child” school of thought. I beat you because I love you! It starts with parents engendering in their children this Sadomasochistic idea, which in turn leads to a culture of general domestic violence and its apologists.

If you’re taught to inflict physical pain on people “because you love them” is it any wonder that might lead to more child and spousal abuse??? This is cycle of violence of biblical proportions!

Regardless what you think and believe, science shows human beings know very little. Our eyes register only 1 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum in the universe. Our ears detect less than 1 percent of its sound wave frequencies. Human senses—our brain’s vehicles to understanding the world—leave much to be desired. In fact, our genome is only 1 percent different than that of a chimpanzee. Amazingly, despite the obvious fact no one really knows that much about what is going on with ourselves and the universe, we still insist on the accuracy of grand spiritual claims handed down to us from our barefoot forefathers. We celebrate holidays over these ancient religious tales; we choose life partners and friends over these fables; we go to war to defend these myths.

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.