Weekly Link Roundup

The storm may rage and the winds may howl, but I’m still here! (So far.) Here’s a couple of interesting stories I didn’t have time to write more about this week:

• Following Rick Perry’s urgent prayers for rain in his drought-stricken state, Tropical Storm Don formed in the Gulf, headed toward Texas, and then dissipated before dropping any significant rain. The drought continues. How long will it be before Perry’s Christian supporters start to seriously consider if God is punishing him for something?

• The Filipino Freethinkers win “The One” category at the Tatt Awards! Congratulations to the FF, and thanks to everyone who voted for them.

• Following some very disappointing decisions at the United Nations, here’s one that’s a welcome change: the UN affirms that criticizing religion is a human right.

• Jon Huntsman torpedoes his chance at the Republican presidential nomination by announcing he doesn’t deny two of the foundational theories of modern science.

• The U.S. defense agency DARPA plans to award half a million dollars in seed money for a feasibility study for a ship that could send human beings to another star. This money is a drop in the bucket next to the trillions that would actually be needed to construct such a ship, but it’s good to see that some people still have the ability to contemplate the biggest and most adventurous questions.

• Sam Harris writes a superb article on Objectivism. “Many of my critics imagine that they have no stake in the well-being of others. How could they possibly benefit from other people getting first-rate educations? How could they be harmed if the next generation is hurled into poverty and despair? Why should anyone care about other people’s children? It amazes me that such questions require answers.” (Edit: But please see this disclaimer.)

• In a previous post, I wondered if the Irish government would match its harsh condemnation of the Vatican with action by seizing and auctioning church property to compensate the victims of church-sanctioned sexual assault. I’m extremely pleased to read that they’re doing just that, pressing the church to hand over control of land and schools and pay half the compensation bill for abuse victims in Roman Catholic children’s homes.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/ downtown dave

    Since the UN made it a right to criticize religion, and humanism is a religion (see Humanist Manifest I), then humanism falls into that catagory.

  • JLT

    @downtown dave:
    You are a sad person. Have you followed the discussion about the blasphemy laws at all? There are still countries where you can and will be killed for blasphemy or apostasy. Especially some islamic countries have fought to keep religion treated differently, basically excluded from freedom of expression and freedom of opinion. These are countries where non-muslims are persecuted, including Christians. Everyone should welcome this victory for human rights. Humanists definitely will.

  • Le Grolandais

    @JLT

    Let’s remember that blasphemy can be prosecuted in Irlande too.
    And yes, this is a huge victory for human right.

  • Le Grolandais

    Atheists are wrong, God exists and he is a kind of joker : the dissipation of the storm Don is a strong proof of that.

  • Alex Weaver

    Correction: Sam Harris wrote an article on Objectivism that was superb except for the absolutely inexcusable use of “autism” as a generic term of abuse.

    Also:

    Since the UN made it a right to criticize religion, and humanism is a religion (see Humanist Manifest I), then humanism falls into that catagory.

    Err. Has…anyone…ever…argued…that criticism of humanism should be illegal?

    What point are you trying to make here?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    As Alex pointed out (and wasn’t the only one to do so), Sam Harris’ article used “autism” as a generic derogatory term for selfishness. I noticed that when I first read it, but I thought the rest of the article was good enough to deserve reposting in spite of it. That was bad judgment on my part; I should at least have posted it with a disclaimer, and I apologize for that. So, here’s the disclaimer: Autism is not the same thing as selfishness or bad social behavior! Harris is a neuroscientist and should know better. I still think the rest of his arguments are sound and the article deserves reading, but please be aware of that.

  • Jeff

    Good news about Ireland. I hope this is the beginning of an international trend. I’d LOVE to see that evil institution brought to its knees, and for Ratzinger to find himself presiding over the destruction of everything he holds dear.

    Now if we could just find a way to do the same to the evangelicals…

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    I was also jarred by Harris’ use of autism as a pejorative, to the point that I thought it must have been a typo. Sam pulls crap like that sometimes though, and that makes him a hard thinker to love.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    I have to admit that I am pleasantly surprised that a country like Ireland, which recently promulgated a blasphemy law, is taking such a hard line stance against religious / legal communitarianism and on behalf of secularism and equal protection.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m thrilled that Ireland is standing up to the Holy See and telling them that no one is above or immune from secular civil law.

    If you are going to claim to represent not only a spiritual, but an earthly government, then I’m afraid that you are going to be held accountable according to earthly laws.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    I am amused at the classical economics response to Harris’ fear of substantial future unemployment. For those not aware, classical economics holds that there is no such thing as unemployment. It cannot happen, because production generates sufficient demand to buy all the products of the economy and anyone without a job would simply lower their wage requirements until employing them is useful to someone. Sound familiar?

    The concept of unlimited wants leading to unlimited demand is sheer nonsense. Demand is more than the mere aggregation of want. In order to have actual demand, several requirements must be met:

    (1) The item must be desired. [Want]
    (2) The entity desiring the item must be able to pay for it. [Affordability]
    (3) Stock of the item, or the relevant time or labor for the service, must be present. [Availability]
    (4) The item must be functionally, aesthetically, monetarily, or in some other way more attractive than any known available alternatives from the perspective of the potential buyer. [Superiority]

    If want alone could create demand and drive economies, we’d have no need for economists. I can’t say I expect better of someone who would voluntarily associate themselves with the American Enterprise Institute, though.

    Obviously in the “long run”, unemployment does solve itself. Either the system is modified to adjust to conditions peacefully, or it will be forcefully modified through violence. War isn’t good for much, but it sure does bring down unemployment quick.

  • vin720

    Speaking of hurricanes….I’m willing to place a bet. There will be a group of Christians who will claim that Hurricane Irene was part of God’s judgement on America and a group who will add this event as part of the signs of the end times. Any takers on this?

  • JLT

    @#3 by: Le Grolandais
    I know. Almost half of all European countries still have some blasphemy laws (Poland and Germany, for example, and the UK, IIRC). But in this case, it doesn’t matter. The UN human rights commission has been discussing about banning blasphemy laws for quite a while and it was vehemently opposed by almost exclusively islamic countries. Which, in contrast to most European countries, actually enforce their blasphemy laws and have a much more severe punishment.
    Besides, people like downtown dave seem to think that it’s all part of a “war” against religions. That it protects their rights as well never occurs to them.

  • CharlesInSoCal

    @vin720
    There will be a group of Christians who will claim that Hurricane Irene was part of God’s judgement on America and a group who will add this event as part of the signs of the end times.

    Glenn Beck says Irene was a blessing. Makes one wonder if the families and friends of the 21 dead see it as a “blessing”.

  • Tim

    I’m not sure why people are being offended by the comment about Objectivism being autism rebranded. Think about what it means to be autistic: “a disturbance in psychological development in which use of language, reaction to stimuli, interpretation of the world, and the formation of relationships are not fully established and follow unusual patterns.” Objectivism uses odd patterns of language, reacts differently to the same stimuli, interprets the world in an unusual way, and impedes relationship forming. Both are neurological phenomena whereby a person becomes overly self-focused.

    There’s no reason to take offense to that, he’s spot on. The only reason one might feel offended is if they buy into the notion that people with autism are equally as capable in social dynamics as one who is not. This is demonstrably false, and setting up false praise doesn’t help those who have such difficulties. Perhaps the reason you’re offended, then, isn’t that he compares Objectivism to autism…but that he compares autism to Objectivism. I ask you to consider if perhaps that’s the case.

  • Le Grolandais

    @ #12 by JLT

    If I specifically mention Irlande and not other European countries, it is because since 1st january 2010 (less than 2 years), a new anti-blasphemy law is in effect, and could be punish by a 25.000 € fine. It is not a legacy of the past like in Germany for example.

    http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2009/en/act/pub/0031/sec0036.html#sec36

  • JLT

    @#15 by: Le Grolandais:
    Well, that is only half of the story.

    The statute at the heart of the exhibition, which came into effect on Jan. 1, is actually an update to a dormant blasphemy law that had been included in Ireland’s 1937 constitution but proved too vague to be enforceable. A parliamentary committee set up to overhaul the constitution issued a report in 2007 recommending that the old law be dropped altogether. But Justice Minister Dermot Ahern led a campaign to clarify the law instead, defining blasphemy as any statement “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion” and adding a fine of up to $34,000 for offenders. And despite public protests against the updated measure, Parliament passed it last year. According to Ahern’s office, the minister felt that recasting the law was the only viable option.

    Source Or here

    The Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, on Sunday proposed holding a referendum later this year to remove the criminal offense of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution. Blasphemy is a punishable offense under section 40 of the constitution, but the language of the text had been deemed too vague to hold any prosecutions. Ireland’s Defamation Act of 2009, which went into effect in January, redefined blasphemy as publishing or uttering “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion” and imposed a penalty of a fine of up to 25,000 euros for those convicted. [...] Ahern has stated that he only saw the Defamation Act as a short-term solution and that he was under his constitutional duty in reforming the old blasphemy law.

    I lived in Ireland at the time this went down and he said the same thing even before the Defamation Act was enacted, so this is not some post hoc rationalisation after the fact. To clarify, I still think that he wasn’t obligated to do anything about it; after all, it had been in the constitution for over 70 years, so why the rush. Why not just take steps to change the constitution even if that probably is a much more complicated process and would’ve taken much longer. But still, at least in some way the Defamation Act is as much a remnant of the past as other blasphemy laws are in Europe.

  • http://www.the-attempts.blogspot.com Darrick Lim

    Tim wrote:

    I’m not sure why people are being offended by the comment about Objectivism being autism rebranded. Think about what it means to be autistic: “a disturbance in psychological development in which use of language, reaction to stimuli, interpretation of the world, and the formation of relationships are not fully established and follow unusual patterns.” Objectivism uses odd patterns of language, reacts differently to the same stimuli, interprets the world in an unusual way, and impedes relationship forming. Both are neurological phenomena whereby a person becomes overly self-focused.

    I agree with Tim re Harris’s use of the word ‘autism’. It’s clear that he didn’t use the term to mean selfishness so much as the inability to empathise with others.

  • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

    The two things Huntsman doesn’t deny appear to be evolution and anthropogenic global warming. There’s no question that evolution is a foundational theory of modern science, but AGW certainly isn’t one.

    I don’t mean that it isn’t right (it almost certainly is) or that it isn’t important (it certainly is) or that the widespread doubt about it isn’t largely the result of deliberately deceptive propaganda (it certainly is). Just that it isn’t foundational; there’s not a lot of other science built on top of it.

  • CSN

    Maybe “voluntary autism” would have fit better than “autism rebranded” as it’s not very fair to equate a developmental disability with a chosen philosophy. His comparison is however, as Tim put it, “spot on.” Insensitive, perhaps, but accurate.

  • Alex Weaver

    Think about what it means to be autistic: “a disturbance in psychological development in which use of language, reaction to stimuli, interpretation of the world, and the formation of relationships are not fully established and follow unusual patterns.” Objectivism uses odd patterns of language, reacts differently to the same stimuli, interprets the world in an unusual way, and impedes relationship forming. Both are neurological phenomena whereby a person becomes overly self-focused.

    Contrary to what you apparently learned in your University of Merriam-Webster Psychiatry Program, Autism’s symptoms include delayed language development, difficulty grasping social norms and conventions (including those for language use) at an intuitive level, difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues and body language (including those that would normally inform empathetic behavior), a tendency to display something akin to inertia in terms of cognitive processes which can result in needing more time to process certain kinds of input and make rapidly changing focus and attention difficult, a connected tendency to be more comfortable with depth rather than breadth in terms of learning, applied in a somewhat arbitrary fashion, often motor clumsiness, a common tendency to find certain kinds of physical or sensory stimulus to which “people” don’t usually have a strong response either therapeutic (often in the case of proprioceptive and mechanoreceptive input, hence stereotyped patterns of movement referred to as “stimming”) or intolerably distracting (sounds like a ticking clock, for instance, may be very difficult to tune out), and, as they become aware of their difficulties interacting with other people without breaking the complex web of mostly entirely arbitrary unwritten rules governing human social interaction, often the development of a reluctance to socialize with people (for fear of “screwing up” and being mocked or resented), a tendency to find trying to navigate social interaction in an analytical rather than intuitive fashion exhausting, and in some cases bitterness and resentment due to bullying, seemingly arbitrary rejection, and either having their difficulties blithely dismissed as a character flaw or being insensitively treated as essentially not people.

    Reducing this to “a disturbance in psychological development in which use of language, reaction to stimuli, interpretation of the world, and the formation of relationships are not fully established and follow unusual patterns” and comparing it to the view of the world advocated by Objectivists, which can sorta be twisted to vaguely resemble that wording except that they don’t have disabilities with social functioning, they either genuinely don’t give a shit about anyone else or consider it a shameful personal failing if they do, is like saying that volcanoes and women are basically the same thing because “warm red stuff comes outta them some of the time.” And if you actually thought of people on the spectrum as, you know, PEOPLE, you wouldn’t be so dismissive.

    If you want to look at a condition that matches Objectivist philosophy, I suggest Narcissistic Personality Disorder and/or Malignant Narcissism. Sociopathy in more extreme cases.

    I agree with Tim re Harris’s use of the word ‘autism’. It’s clear that he didn’t use the term to mean selfishness so much as the inability to empathise with others.

    1) With autism-spectrum disorders, the difficulty with functioning empathy is one of signal transmission and reception. It is radically different from just not caring. See my comment above.

    2) That’s mighty white of you. Well, I think it was totally gay! I bet he jews the price on his next book, too. (Please don’t be too thick to get the message here.)

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    Bravo, Alex.

  • http://www.theelectoralcollegestudent.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    Thanks, Alex. I was going to say almost all of what you said, but not nearly as well as you have. I’ve heard Vox Day use autism as an insult; I’d think Sam Harris would be above that skullduggery. He should watch the company he keeps.

  • Scotlyn

    New Episode:
    Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny v. Vatican

    The Vatican has now replied officially to the Irish government’s statements both in personal meetings with its representatives and in the Dail (Parliament).

    If you don’t wish to wade through those 26 pages of self-serving waffle, a summary of the latest interaction is here.


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