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….

Manifesto for Secularism

Our era is marked by the rise of the religious-Right – not because of a “religious revival” but rather due to the rise of far-Right political movements and states using religion for political supremacy. This rise is a direct consequence of neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism and the social policies of communalism and cultural relativism. Universalism, secularism and citizenship rights have been abandoned and segregation of societies and “communities” based on ethnicity, religion and culture have become the norm.

The Islamic State (formerly ISIS), the Saudi regime, Hindutva (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) in India, the Christian-Right in the US and Europe, Bodu Bala Sena in Sri Lanka, Haredim in Israel, AQMI and MUJAO in Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria are examples of this.

For many decades now, people in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the Diaspora have been the first victims but also on the frontlines of resistance against the religious-Right (whether religious states, organisations and movements) and in defence of secularism and universal rights, often at great risk to their lives.

We call on people everywhere to stand with us to establish an international front against the religious-Right and for secularism. We demand:

•Complete separation of religion from the state. Secularism is a fundamental right.
•Separation of religion from public policy, including the educational system, health care and scientific research.
•Abolition of religious laws in the family, civil and criminal codes. An end to discrimination against and persecution of LGBT, religious minorities, women, freethinkers, ex-Muslims, and others.
•Freedom of religion and atheism and freedom to criticise religions. Belief as a private affair.
•Equality between women and men and citizenship rights for all.

(The Manifesto for Secularism was adopted at the 11-12 October International Conference on the Relgious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights. The Conference called on people everywhere to join the International Front for Secularism and strengthen a human alternative to the religious-Right.)

(Source: secularconference.com)

Catholic Bishops scrap welcome to gays in sign of split

…bishops failed to reach consensus on a watered-down section on ministering to homosexuals. The new section had stripped away the welcoming tone of acceptance contained in a draft document earlier in the week.

Rather than considering gays as individuals who had gifts to offer the church, the revised paragraph referred to homosexuality as one of the problems Catholic families face. It said “people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and sensitivity,” but repeated church teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman….

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.

WHATEVER the origin of our belief in life’s meaning, it might seem to be a blessing. Some people find it reassuring to think that there really are no accidents, that what happens to us — including the most terrible of events — reflects an unfolding plan. But the belief also has some ugly consequences. It tilts us toward the view that the world is a fundamentally fair place, where goodness is rewarded and badness punished. It can lead us to blame those who suffer from disease and who are victims of crimes, and it can motivate a reflexive bias in favor of the status quo — seeing poverty, inequality and oppression as reflecting the workings of a deep and meaningful plan.

Not everyone would go as far as the atheist Richard Dawkins, who has written that the universe exhibits “precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” But even those who are devout should agree that, at least here on Earth, things just don’t naturally work out so that people get what they deserve. If there is such a thing as divine justice or karmic retribution, the world we live in is not the place to find it. Instead, the events of human life unfold in a fair and just manner only when individuals and society work hard to make this happen.

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Sam Harris Response to Reza Aslan Calling Him a Fundamentalist Atheist

But none of us like to believe that things that happen to us are coincidences. We’re all hard-wired to believe that things that happen to us are significant.

How to be Ultra Spiritual - with JP Sears

This funny video explains how you too can pretend to be better than everyone else because "spirituality."

Calif. atheist awarded $2 million after being re-jailed for refusing faith-based rehab

A Northern California man was awarded almost $2 million in a settlement after prison officials sent him back to jail for refusing to take part in a faith-based treatment program for drug offenders because he is an atheist.

According to the Redding Record Searchlight, Barry Hazle Jr. will receive $1 million from state officials and $925,000 from Westcare California, the contractor in charge of the program, which called for attendees to submit themselves to a “higher power” and pray.

“I’m thrilled to finally have this case settled,” Hazle said on Tuesday. “It sends a clear message to people in a position of authority, like my parole agent, for example, that they not mandate religious programming for their parolees, and for anyone else, for that matter.”…

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.

God's 12 Biggest Dick Moves in the Old Testament

Before Jesus arrived and his divine father chilled out, the Old Testament God was, ironically, kind of a hellraiser. He was not a nice guy. He really liked killing people. And he may have actually been insane, if his willingness to randomly murder devout worshippers like Moses was any indication. Here are the 12 craziest, most awful things God did in the Old Testament, back before that wacked-out hippie Jesus softened him up.

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As an allegory for nature dreamed up by ancient desert patriarchs, this God dude kind of makes sense. But as a literal being, one that is supposedly omniscient, omnipotent and omni-benevolent, he’s utterly ridiculous.

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.

7 Family Issues Pope Francis Should — But Won’t — Discuss

….I wish I could be cautiously optimistic that this “open” dialogue will bring about significant policy changes to an anachronistic institution, but the Vatican is not known for major changes. Here are some issues we won’t hear bishops discuss with Pope Francis, but might hear from the Nuns on the Bus or countless other Catholic women — if they were invited to participate.

1. The Church should stop treating women as second-class people, and not just in family issues. Women should have the same rights and privileges as men in the Church. We can only dream that one day there will be a Pope Frances. At this point, women cannot even be priests.

2. It’s time to end the Church’s celibacy requirement for priests and nuns. While promoting natural law, the Church fails to acknowledge how unnatural celibacy is. Here’s a novel idea: Shouldn’t priests be viewed as role models with families, rather than as unquestionable messengers who act as necessary intermediaries to God?

3. The Church should give high priority to eliminating family poverty caused by having too many children. Provide evidence-based sex education for young people, especially since abstinence-only programs have such a high failure rate. Permit abortion under some circumstances and encourage contraception. Pregnant teenagers are not ready to start families of two and are likely to drop out of school. Education for women is a primary method of reducing poverty.

4. The Church should recognize that masturbation is not a sin. It is natural and healthy safe sex, giving harmless pleasure to individuals without leading to unwanted pregnancies or venereal disease.

5. Regarding gays, Pope Francis, move away from “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” If two responsible and mature people love each other, are in a committed relationship, and would like to marry, you should be willing to bless such a union. And please stop telling people that the purpose of marriage is to have children, since you sometimes perform marriages for heterosexual couples who are incapable of having children.

6. Please recognize that it is degrading to have celibate male priests passing themselves off as experts on sexual advice for women, men, and children. Male leaders in the Catholic Church are obsessed with sex. Morality should not be viewed through the narrow prism of sexual conduct. Ethical and moral behavior is about treating everyone with respect. If there is any issue that is none of the Church’s business, it is the private sexual acts of consenting adults. Church leaders claim to be humble, but their treatment of women and people who don’t share their antiquated beliefs is the height of arrogance.

7. Don’t expect those outside the Catholic faith to behave like those in the faith. Stay out of politics and don’t prevent others from following the dictates of their conscience….

Full article here.