January 26, 2019

Truth is only truth when it fits our narrative. Over at their Patheos blog Another White Atheist in Colombia, M. L. Clark is fond of starting posts, Let’s begin with a story. When it’s a vehicle for communicating ideas for others to interpret and engage (as Clark does), the story is useful and powerful. As the scandal at Der Spiegel shows us, however, this power has a downside. Sometimes when we begin with a story, we’re using its power but we’re not being fair… Read more

January 17, 2019

Beauty in nature goes against our simplistic understanding of evolution. A Thing Of Beauty Is a Joy For Ever The New York Times Magazine recently featured an article that explored how and why nature produces beauty. In “How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution,” we read about how scientists have conceptualized the role of beauty and courtship since Darwin’s day. The way we think of natural selection—competition for scarce resources and the avoidance of predation—makes it hard to explain physical… Read more

January 12, 2019

Why do we only care about animal rights when we can use them to bash Muslims and Jews? The Tip of the Iceberg Belgium recently passed an animal-rights law that prohibits the killing of conscious animals in slaughterhouses, and the controversy was covered in articles here at Patheos Nonreligious. The Freethinker posted an article called ‘A sad day for Jews’: Belgium bans religious slaughter, in which Barry Duke sneered at Belgium’s Jews and Muslims for expecting preferential treatment. Rick Snedeker… Read more

January 5, 2019

Book haul! And you thought atheists only read memes. I visited Portland, Oregon for the first time just after the holidays, and I went berserk in Powell’s bookstore. (Thanks for the gift card, Sharon!) For the record, we atheists do read books, just books about religion written by atheists. But Powell’s had so much more, and I’ll be reading these and providing feedback here throughout the new year. Check out my book haul, carefully curated by several cups of awesome… Read more

January 3, 2019

Disclaimer: I’ve never been to Wisconsin. In my Enemies of Freethought post, I claimed that we should be skeptical when people use the words reality and truth, because they’re typically invoked by those who want to make their beliefs seem self-evidently valid and resist having to enter into a process of justification with their peers. Rhetorical Service Chuck Johnson disagrees. His response describes the many ways we define reality, and the rhetorical uses of these definitions. First off, he makes… Read more

December 18, 2018

Critical thinking is an ongoing process. “The essence of fundamentalism, whether religious, political, or ideological,” writes Kenyan novelist and activist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, “is the idea that there is only one way to organize reality.” This powerful statement demands that we acknowledge the complexity of phenomena and the great responsibility we have for the way we conceptualize them. Scott Stahlecker’s recent post on the Rational Doubt blog called “On Becoming a Freethinker” really got me thinking, as Scott no doubt intended:… Read more

December 6, 2018

The CRISPR babies scandal should deeply disturb anyone who cares about science and ethical research. At the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong in November, researcher He Jiankui announced that he had supervised the creation of two twin girls with gene-editing technology. CRISPR babies are now a reality. The MIT Technology Review article that originally leaked the news reports the optimism that He shared in anticipation of this momentous innovation: “In this ever more competitive global pursuit… Read more

November 28, 2018

You’ll believe anything a celebrity tells you. Don’t believe me? Ask George Clooney! Celebrity Science Fan Says The folks at Science Alert tell us in an article called “George Clooney Can Probably Convince You That Evolution Is True” that celebrity endorsement doesn’t just work for selling sneakers or cars. They cite a published paper describing an experiment performed on Canadian undergraduates in which the students read an article that was either supportive or critical of the theory of evolution, then… Read more

November 20, 2018

Biology is all about variation, but entrenched knowledge narrows our vision, according to a maverick scientist. Last week, Prof. Karen Warkentin delivered the annual University Lecture at BU’s Tsai Performance Center. This marked a long-overdue recognition not only of her unique ideas, but also of the important collaboration between biology and gender studies. (Full disclosure: my wife and I have been friends with Prof. Warkentin’s partner for many years. Neither of them has read my blog and both would probably… Read more

November 8, 2018

Evidence—the word that we love to use even though it means nothing. Francisco Mejia Uribe recently wrote an article in the thought-provoking online magazine Aeon called “Believing without evidence is always morally wrong.” I don’t want to Poison the Well right off the bat, but the fact that the author is an executive director at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong makes my skeptic alarm go off loudly. The day I take advice from a Goldman Sachs exec concerning ethical behavior… Read more

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