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The c̶o̶s̶m̶o̶l̶o̶g̶i̶c̶a̶l̶ Quranic argument for God

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As I was browsing YouTube today, I decided to see if users had posted any new or interesting videos about the existence of God. Since I have addressed a great many arguments from Christian apologetics on this site since 2009, I thought I would check out some arguments for God from Islam. As anticipated, while Islam has its own particular slant on the god question and in some ways is actually more accepting of scientific principles than evangelical Christianity, Muslims by and large use many of the same stock arguments for God as Christians.

Take the following video from Hamza Tzortzis:

Indeed, close your eyes, take out the accent, the Arabic and references to Allah and the Quran, one might imagine watching a diatribe from William Lane Craig.

In this video, Tzortzis tells us that he is going to provide the “Quranic argument” for the existence of God, which is really just the old cosmological argument that has been restated and refuted for hundreds of years now. In any case, Tzortzis identifies four “logical possibilities” for the existence of the universe as follows:

  • The universe came from nothing.
  • The universe created itself.
  • The universe was created by something else created.
  • The universe was created by something uncreated.

As you can see, possibilities 2-4 all commit a fallacy by assuming a priori that the universe necessarily had to be created — it very well could have just always existed, and while that is hard for our mind to grasp, it is nonetheless another possibility — but after ruling out the first three as impossibilities, Tzortzis then hones in on the fourth option, which he calls the “best explanation” for the existence of the universe. He begins to get on the right track when he concedes the point that the “something uncreated” doesn’t necessarily have to be Allah or any other god in human history, but when he then says that by using the “Quranic approach,” we can draw conclusions about the universe’s origins, we know where he’s going to take the argument.

Here are his basic “conclusions,” which we will more accurately call assumptions:

  • Assumption 1: “This uncreated creator must be powerful.” — Notice what he did there. He went from calling the entity an “uncreated” entity to an “uncreated creator” and then bestowed it with a certain power that was, up to this point, not part of the argument. Also as part of this first point, he implied that the mere existence of billions of atoms in the universe and the subsequent release of energy that occurs when an atom is split is somehow suggestive of a powerful god, although splitting just one atom does not produce anything near an atomic explosion, nor does the existence of atoms suggest anything other than the existence of atoms.
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  • Assumption 2: The creator must be “intelligent and all-knowing” because “it created laws in the universe like the law of gravity.” — Like many of his Christian apologist counterparts, Tzortzis, most likely is speaking to potential converts or people who may be amenable to accepting his brand of faith, uses some fast talking to blaze through these last points, apparently hoping that he can move quickly enough through the message before any sparks of logic creep into the listeners’ minds. But if we slow down and hear what he actually says, we can see that he is just begging the question and taking as an assumption that which he might hope to prove. Simply put, the existence of natural laws in the universe only prove the existence of the natural laws and does not imply a law giver, just like the existence of the universe does not imply by fiat a conscious creator. Attributing laws to the various attributes we observe in nature is just our way, as humans, to describe our world in a scientific way. Unlike God or the various characteristics commonly attributed to him, we can demonstrate these natural laws, which would exist whether we had ever evolved far enough to discover them or not.
  • Assumption 3: The creator must be “transcendent” and exist outside of space and time. — This is a common trope in apologetics and was presumably conjured to excuse God from being beholden and subject to the laws of nature. Thus, believers might say, if we just put God outside of the observable universe, we can say that he is a higher force than anything in this universe and that he is the progenitor of morals, of the natural laws and of life itself. Of course, by definition, we can’t experience anything that is outside of our space and time; indeed, there is nothing outside of space and time. To say otherwise is to just make unsubstantiated claims based on pure fantasy, not unlike fictional tales of unicorns, the Loch Ness monster and Flying Teapot making laps around Planet Earth.
  • Assumption 4: The creator must be eternal. — This is just an extension of the previous claim. Here again, Tzortzis just makes another assumption about an uncreated creator, with no basis in reality, other than, perhaps, a deep-seated desire for it to be true.
  • Assumption 5: The “uncreated creator” must have freewill. — By now, and based on the other points, we can pretty well take it for granted that Tzortzis thinks a transcendant, all-knowing creator pretty well has free reign over his own decisions, but Tzortzis spells it out for us, although Allah or Yahweh being browbeaten and lorded over by an even more powerful overlord is humorous to think about. One might wonder, though, if this uncreated creator was “intelligent” and “eternal,” why would he so freely and benevolently choose to create the universe if he knew beforehand that a good 50 percent of his creation would be doomed to suffer unspeakable torments for all eternity, unless, of course, he was also a sadist and sinisterly set this plot in motion. In fact, if we were to judge God or Allah on his success rate, that is, the number of people who were compelled to believe based on scripture or inspirational speaking or some kind of “revelation” versus those who were not convinced of any of it, a 50 percent rate of belief for the most powerful force in the universe has to be disappointing.
  • Assumption 6: Humans sense the nature of God as creator as part of their disposition, and God as the creator is the “best and most comprehensive explanation” for the existence of the universe. — The first part of this assumption is just an appeal to personal experience, and as any judge, attorney or psychologist will attest, personal testimony is a poor basis to substantiate truth claims. Millions of atheists in the world, some of whom have sincerely searched for a spiritual component, have precisely the opposite experience, having had no innate sense of something spiritual outside of themselves, while millions of Buddhists have no conception of a theistic creator at all.

The last few seconds of Tzortzis’ video — and this ties into the sixth assumption — seemed to take a swipe at the Christian concept of the trinity in suggesting that God is one, rather than three separate, autonomous beings as in the Christian godhead.

Interestingly and ironically, Tzortzis says this concept is “irrational because it creates far more questions than it solves,” which would, on the surface, seem like a tip of the hat to Occam’s razor, if he hadn’t just spent the last five minutes making arguments about God that, themselves, raise more questions than they answer.

While it is true that we do not have an answer for why the scientific laws exist as we observe them in the universe, there is no reason to think that the eventual explanation will spring from anything other than a natural cause, as has been the case with every other question about the universe we have answered from science in the last 250 years. Why some believers think that questions about our origin are somehow exempt from having to be explained by natural processes, when all of our other knowledge about the universe comes to us this way, escapes all comprehension.

In the end, suggesting that an all-powerful, highly complex deity who sits outside of space and time is responsible for everything that we see in nature is, number one, a cop-out for having to come up with any kind of real explanation, and number two, complicates questions about our origin exponentially. For more on this, see my post, Response to Apologetics III: Aquinas and Occam’s razor.

Written by Jeremy

May 3rd, 2015 at 8:29 am

Liberalism without a backbone

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Just at a time when we as a society need courageous voices to stand firmly behind free expression and the rights of writers, comedians and cartoonists to engage in robust satire and criticism of dangerous ideas, such as are found in the Koran and the hadith, certain weak-kneed, PC-infected liberals like Ben Affleck, Reza Aslan and the like threaten to pull this program of progress ever backward.

Six members of the PEN American Center, Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have chosen not to attend a gala set for next month in New York, in which the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo will receive the Freedom of Expression Courage award for its poise and resolve amid the controversy over its cartoons and the subsequent terrorist attack on the newspaper offices earlier this year for its satirical depictions of Muhammad.

In a report from The New York Times, Kushner bowed out of the gala for what she described as Charlie Hebdo’s “cultural intolerance” and “a kind of forced secular view.”

Although Pen president Andrew Solomon said those were the only six members who have pulled out of the event to his knowledge, at least one writer, Deborah Eisenberg, who was not attending the gala anyway, also spoke critically of giving the award to Charlie Hebdo:

What I question is what PEN is hoping to convey by awarding a magazine that has become famous both for the horrible murder of staff members by Muslim extremists and for its denigrating portrayals of Muslims. Charlie Hebdo’s symbolic significance is unclear here.

I hope Eisenberg’s writing is better than her ability to analyze satire. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons did not denigrate Muslims, of course. It poked fun at the ridiculous notion in some circles of Islam that depictions of Muhammad — and by extension, depictions of anyone — are somehow off limits, and that in a free society, certain elements in culture are and should be considered sacred cows, even to those who don’t recognize them as such.

For his part, Salman Rushdie called the authors who decided to pull out of the event “horribly wrong:”

If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name. What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.

And here is Sam Harris, who has been vocally critical of the weak brand of liberalism that might find offense or even a strain of xenophobia in the Charlie Hebdo cartoons or other critiques of Islam, as is apparently represented by these authors:


Written by Jeremy

April 27th, 2015 at 7:40 pm

How does that happen?

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A gay hotel owner named Ian Reisner, who runs a facility called OUT NYC, was apparently shocked and befuddled when, upon holding a small dinner with Sen. Ted Cruz at his apartment, he learned that Cruz was actually adamantly against same-sex marriage on religious grounds. As a result of holding the dinner, Reisner and his partner, Mati Weiderpass, were met with a sizable backlash from the gay community.

Reisner had this to say:

I was ignorant, naïve and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights.

I’ve spent the past 24 hours reviewing videos of Cruz’s statements on gay marriage and I am shocked and angry. I sincerely apologize for hurting the gay community and so many of our friends, family, allies, customers and employees. I will try my best to make up for my poor judgment. Again, I am deeply sorry.

I’m sure he is “deeply sorry,” but how can a person who is actually part of the gay community be that ill-informed about the social policies of any high-profile politician he invites into his home, much less a self-professed ring leader of the evangelical right?

It almost defies comprehension.

Written by Jeremy

April 27th, 2015 at 7:40 pm

SeaWorld of exploitation and desperation

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SeaWorld-separates-moms-and-calves

After the release of CNN’s “Blackfish,” SeaWorld has continued its ad campaign to try to improve an image that has been thoroughly tarred and feathered as of late. I will be the first to admit that, after watching “Blackfish,” I wish that CNN had made more of an attempt to offer SeaWorld’s point of view, even if the theme park declined to participate in the documentary. Former SeaWorld trainer Mark Simmons, for instance, seems to have more of an objective point of view, yet he claims to have been interviewed by CNN for the better part of three hours for the film, only to have just a snippet of it to appear in the final cut.

Here is Simmons, who worked at the park from 1987-96, in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News:

I was physically present during many of the events that (the trainers) talked about in the movie, and I can tell you firsthand they completely misrepresented, provided disinformation and in many cases blatantly lied about those events.

I think CNN did have a clear agenda, and as a bit of failed journalism, did not put forth enough effort to portray multiple sides of the story as it relates to the treatment of orcas at SeaWorld.

That being said, SeaWorld has not done itself any favors in public relations in first, declining any and all interviews with CNN in responding to criticism. I suspect that SeaWorld has done this with the mindset that if officials respond, that would automatically give legitimacy to its critics, but I think it conveys the opposite message. By refusing to tell its side of the story to the media and the public and just releasing its own barrage of ads in an attempt to passively save face, it is operating as if it’s in its own insular cocoon, ever evasive and skirting transparency, not unlike Scientology or other subversive outfits coming under public scrutiny.

In any case, SeaWorld, cultish as it is at this point, has chosen it’s path, so let’s take a look at one of its ads currently making the rounds on TV:

First off, let me say that I went to SeaWorld in San Antonio once as a child, and excited as I remember being about seeing the whale show — Shamu, now deceased, was all the rave at the time — I always thought it was a little bizarre that having the whales simply do tricks in the water was not enough. SeaWorld had the whales get up out of the water and onto this platform at the front of the pool, do more tricks, splash the crowd, etcetera, like some clown of the deep.

Memory fails me on whether the particular whale I saw that day in the late 1980s or early 1990s had a bent dorsal fin, but watching the videos as an adult and seeing this deformed physiology seems now like a perverse show of exploitation, and however safe and humane SeaWorld may be in its treatment of orcas, the setup is certainly far from natural, as anyone can see. As this paper from Dr. Ingid Visser suggests, the prevalence of bent dorsal fins in wild male orcas is very low in most locations, at less than 5 percent in British Columbia and less than 1 percent off the coast of Norway. In captivity, however, this phenomenon is common.

According to a paper from the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

The collapsed dorsal fins commonly seen in captive killer whales (Hoyt 1992) do not result from a pathogenic condition, but are instead thought to most likely originate from an irreversible
structural change in the fin’s collagen over time (B. Hanson, pers. comm.). Possible
explanations for this include (1) alterations in water balance caused by the stresses of captivity or
dietary changes, (2) lowered blood pressure due to reduced activity patterns, or (3) overheating
of the collagen brought on by greater exposure of the fin to the ambient air. Collapsed or
collapsing dorsal fins are rare in most wild populations (Hoyt 1992, Ford et al. 1994, Visser
1998, Ford and Ellis 1999) and usually result from a serious injury to the fin, such as from being
shot or colliding with a vessel.

In any case, in one of its latest ads, two doughy-eyed SeaWorld workers outline some “facts” SeaWorld would like to clear up about its handling and care of orcas.

The ad really only presented two actual “facts,” so I’ll take a look at these here:

  • “We don’t collect killer whales from the wild and haven’t for 35 years” — While it is nearly impossible to substantiate this claim, SeaWorld is, as we speak, profiting from a number of orcas that were indeed captured in the wild, whether directly or from third-parties. Corky II, 47, currently living in SeaWorld San Diego, was captured off the coast of British Columbia in 1969 and is the longest surviving captive killer whale in the world. Although she does not have the bent dorsal fin like a lot of her fellow captives, this characteristic is mainly seen in males of the species. Katina, who lives in SeaWorld Orlando, was captured in Iceland in the late 1970s. Tilikum, of course, is currently living in Orlando and was caught off Vancouver Island in Canada. The whale first lived at Sealand of the Pacific. Ulises, captured in 1980 in Iceland, currently resides in Seaworld San Diego. So, while it may be true that SeaWorld has not and does not currently engage in catching orcas in the wild, the company has by this time bred enough of the animals that were previously captured, either directly or indirectly, to continue profiting off these animals for years to come. Yet, its current attempt to now wash its hands of the practice is disingenuous at best. Imagine a plantation worker in the antebellum South who once bought and profited off the back of slaves. Although most of them were no longer engaged in human trafficking by the mid-18th century, they were still benefiting from the practice and were very much a part of the legacy of that noxious system. By the same right, merely putting up a barrier of years between the present and the shameful years in which hunters were engaged in a veritable free-for-all of animal poaching does not allow SeaWorld to escape complicity.
  • “Our whales are healthy” and “thriving” and “they live just as long in the wild.” — PolitiFact rated this claim as half true and partially misleading. First, of course, whales have the potential to live longer in a facility because they don’t have to worry about predators and other environmental factors, so while the lifespans may be comparable, this claim doesn’t offer a full picture. Second, the argument that the whales are “thriving” is nothing more than pure conjecture and wishful thinking. They may look happy enough performing tricks on the pool platform, but the evidential record that captive whales can become understandably aggressive because of their cramped confines, develop bent dorsal fins, sustain injuries and undergo other mental and physical issues is so substantially documented that to suggest orcas thrive more so in captivity than they would in their own free-ranging environment is laughable.

    Here is PolitiFact’s conclusion on this claim:

    At its core, this claim is an oversimplification of a much more complex issue. Recent independent data suggests that survival rates for captive and wild orcas are about equal, but that by itself isn’t all that significant, experts told us. The data is limited and comparisons between orcas in captivity and in the wild are tenuous. Experts also noted that logic suggests captive whales should live longer because they don’t face predators and receive medical care, which makes SeaWorld’s claim further misleading.

While the public may be led to believe that the ads are purely the result of SeaWorld trainers wanting to clear up misrepresentations and assert how much they care for the whales, significant losses in attendance and revenue are really what’s behind this PR campaign that smacks of corporate desperation.

I have no doubt that most or all of the trainers currently working at SeaWorld facilities “love” the animals and may want to see them thrive, the common sense stands on its own: Killer whales, nor any other species of wild animal, can’t possibly be happier living in a cage or pool than they would be in an open world environment, of which, so long as the operation of their theme parks are profitable, suits at the corporate offices at SeaWorld presumably don’t care two wits.

So long as the largely ignorant and uninformed public continues supporting places like SeaWorld and helping the company churn out hundreds of millions in profits, the exploitation will continue. For, if SeaWorld really “loved” these animals from the board room right down to the training staff, they would simply find another, less injurious business model and cease profiting off the exploitation of the natural world.

Written by Jeremy

April 26th, 2015 at 2:47 pm

No ‘debate’ on evolution

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Scientific theory versus conjecture

Scientific theory versus conjecture

Herein lies one of the many problems with scientist Bill Nye deciding to debate the disingenuous supreme leader of creationist sophistry Ken Ham: As I anticipated last year shortly after the debate, fruitless exercises like this with creationists, who have no interest in examining or considering any real evidence, serve no purpose and only legitimizes the fairy tales, such that a guy like Brandon Pettenger, a high school scientist teacher from Arroyo Grande (Calif.) High School, can point to the exchange between Nye and Ham and surmise that there must be a “debate” surrounding evolution and creationism after all. If there wasn’t a debate, why would a high-profile scientist like Nye even bother?

To his detriment, Nye did agree and go through with the debate, so it’s a fair question. In any case, Pettenger, who admits to being a Christian, showed the Nye-Ham debate to his students as a way to present “both sides of the argument,” as he said in this defense, after being called out by the Richard Dawkins Foundation and the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

I understand that you might be worried I am teaching religion in a public school science class which is not the case. There is debate within the scientific community about how to answer the question where did life come from (italics mine). I feel it would be a disservice to my students not to present both sides of the argument. We are investigating the main theories that are presented in this debate and the evidence used to support those claims. I am very clear beforehand that I am a Christian but I am trying to present the scientific evidence. It is up to each student to decide for themselves which side they believe based on the evidence. I will be asking each student to write an argumentative essay stating their position in the debate and to support their position with scientific evidence. I am trying to give students tools to use in their essays.

As Hemant Mehta points out, of course, the question of our origin from simpler forms only has one legitimate side, which is the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection. All other “theories,” including creationism and intelligent design and all other origin tales from religion, are just that — theories in the most laymen-esque, conjectural sense of the word.

Pettenger can ask his students to write essays and support their positions all they want to, but if any of them happen to agree with Ham, the teacher will be waiting a long, long time for that “scientific evidence,” since none exists.

Written by Jeremy

April 25th, 2015 at 9:56 am

This message paid for by the Koch bros.

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Credit: Pat Bagley

Credit: Pat Bagley

Iowa State University’s school of journalism celebrated First Amendment Day earlier this week thanks to a “generous donation” from the Charles Koch Foundation. If the Koch brothers appreciate anything, it’s certainly the First Amendment, as the company has went to great lengths, and even cited the First Amendment, to deny members of the Senate information on its support of climate change deniers.

Here is Koch general counsel Mark Holden summoning said amendment:

The activity efforts about which you inquire, and Koch’s involvement, if any, in them, are at the core of the fundamental liberties protected by the first amendment to the United States constitution. I did not see any explanation or justification for an official Senate committee inquiry into activities protected by the first amendment … We decline to participate in this endeavor and object to your apparent efforts to infringe upon and potentially stifle fundamental first amendment activities.

But for Iowa State University to accept a donation from a subsidiary of such an overtly anti-scientific and anti-intellectual company like Koch Industries, which has, according to Greenpeace, provided an estimated $79 million since 1997 to groups that deny climate change, seems counter-intuitive for a publicly-funded institution of higher learning that, presumably, seeks to teach college students to think critically and to trust accepted science.

Written by Jeremy

April 23rd, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Skeptic group publicly shuns PZ Myers for ‘harmful and hateful rhetoric’

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“That shepherd of Internet trolls.” — Sam Harris on PZ Myers

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I haven’t read PZ Myers for years because his scorched-earth brand of criticism, whereby he abuses the wide influence he has at Free Thought Blogs — particularly among an easily led college demographic — by dismissing everyone he disagrees with as cretins, goons and halfwits, belies the honest conversation we should be having in the freethought community about civil rights, social justice, secularism and the influence of religion in public life.

But one skeptic organization, Atheist Ireland, seems to have had enough in a rare, public rebuke of another high profile “spokesman” in the community, and Atheist Northern Ireland recently followed suit.

In a post titled, “Atheist Ireland publicly dissociates itself from the harmful and hateful rhetoric of PZ Myers,” the organization laid bare its evidence against Myers, and Michael Nugent, chairman of that organization, has kept a running log of what he calls Myers’ various “misrepresentations and smears.” Alex Gabriel, FTB blogger, provided a link to all the claims in the AI post about Myers, noting that he did so “for the sake of ethical conduct.” Gabriel prefaced his post with the statement, “Michael Nugent doesn’t much like PZ Myers,” but I think it’s safe to say the feeling is mutual. Presumably, if you like someone, you don’t call them a “demented fuckwit,” as Myers did in a comment on Nov. 18, 2014.

Here are AI’s ending thoughts:

These are only some examples of his harmful rhetoric. He also regularly accuses others of sexism without applying the same judgment to his own behaviour over the years, and he has accused a named person of committing a serious crime without employing the journalistic ethics expected in reporting on such an allegation.

It might be possible to interpret any one example of this behaviour charitably, if he was normally charitable himself and was misinformed or writing in anger, or if there was a particular context, or if he was willing to change his behaviour. However, the relentlessness of his abuse and hatred and smears across so many contexts, and his reluctance to even consider changing his behaviour, create the extra problem of the cumulative impact of his behaviour as a pattern.

Ironically, the sheer quantity of his harmful rhetoric can seem to minimise the harm of each example, as each example can hide behind a wall of other examples. It is easy for us to become desensitised to the harm caused by this gradual undermining of reasonable discourse. We can disagree robustly about ideas and behaviour, including using strong language that some may be uncomfortable with, but without unjustly attacking the people we disagree with.

Many within the atheist movement have been concerned about his behaviour for years. Some have responded by publicly ignoring it, either to avoid giving him the credibility of a response, or to avoid becoming his next target. Some have responded by attacking him back using similar rhetoric, thus adding to the problem and enabling him to deflect attention away from his own behaviour. Some, including Atheist Ireland, mistakenly believed that privately asking him to change his behaviour might eventually be productive.

So Atheist Ireland is now publicly dissociating ourselves from his hurtful and dehumanising, hateful and violent, unjust and defamatory rhetoric. We are asking all ethical organisations and individuals to consider how you can help to reverse the harmful impact of his behaviour. We look forward to continuing to work with others to promote an ethical secularism based on robust inquiry, empathy, compassion, fairness, justice and integrity.

Many in the community have long-since concluded, not only that Myers “does not speak for us” and that he is ill-fit to lead this community in any capacity, but that his approach is counterproductive to the goals set forth by AI and other skeptic organizations in the United States.

That he would rather be polarizing and launch hack campaigns against everyone from Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris and most recently, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, than help move secularism in a positive direction where we might actually be able to have civil conversations with dissenting voices without resorting to name-calling and arrogant, hyperbolic rhetoric, is a real shame. That the “leaders” over at the FTB network seem to be enabling and even appearing to be passively apathetic toward repeated concerns about behavior of this kind is doubly shameful.

Written by Jeremy

April 9th, 2015 at 4:37 pm

April 9, 1865

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general-grant-meets-robert-e-lee-english-school-

Lee surrenders to Grant.

The anniversaries of noteworthy historical events come and go all the time, but I would be remiss if I didn’t note that 150 years ago today, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

Here is how Michael Bailey, with The Boston Globe, began his reflection on location:

APPOMATTOX COURT HOUSE — Walk along the red dirt remnants of the Richmond-to-Lynchburg stagecoach road here, the quarter-mile from a tiny Confederate cemetery to the place of surrender in a private parlor, and carry with you the thought of Robert E. Lee. Astride his horse Traveler and dressed in a resplendent uniform, the lionized general rode away from Appomattox on this road on a Palm Sunday 150 years ago finally beaten, a knot of Union officers silently saluting him, his starving Confederate soldiers giving him a rousing cheer as he approached, then crumbling to the ground in sobs as he passed.

Think of Ulysses S. Grant, in a soldier’s shirt, spackled with mud, riding this road after writing and presenting to Lee the simple, generous terms of a surrender that would begin the generations-long process of binding the nation’s wounds, this the same man who had to corral personal demons of the bottle before conquering the rebels in battle.

Yet on your short walk amid the scent of fresh-cut hay, carry also in your reflections Jesse H. Hutchins, an infantryman who enlisted in the Confederate army days after the opening blasts of Fort Sumter, survived through four years and dozens of such brutal battles as Gettysburg, gave the last of his loyalty, in vain, during a skirmish on this battlefield, and lay now in that small cemetery, about 400 paces from the place of surrender and 690 miles from his Alabama home.

Mythologized figures haunt this land. Yet, the story of our Civil War and its climax are often best revealed in the hopes and horrors of the grunt soldier, the anxious townswoman, the slave. ….

And as David Blight, with The Atlantic tells us, the work started in the Civil War, the struggle for true civil rights and the final realization, in both theory and practice, that “all men are created equal” is not complete.

Written by Jeremy

April 9th, 2015 at 4:27 pm

His kingdom cometh, haven’t ya heard?

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Doesn’t the Book of Revelation say a thing or two about a prohibition against adding or taking away from the Bible? No matter. A would-be prophet in Arkansas has apparently divined a revelation of her own from on high, Joseph Smith-style, that she deems the “True and Unfolding Story of Revelation 12″:

FROM THE MOUNTAIN PROPHECIES

BOOK TWELVE

CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED AND TWO

The Kingdom of our God is coming into the Earth!

Oh Lord, my God, this is an evil world, truly a wicked and perverse generation! And, oh Lord, a nation of mockers has arisen before Your face, this nation of America, a nation, which loves a lie, a nation, which loves every kind of perversion, a nation, which takes pride in the killing of the innocent and the unborn! Planned Parenthood is now posting it and surely bragging that they killed more than 325,000 of the unborn and innocent babies in 2014! Oh, God, how we have fallen!

Oh, America, how you have fallen! Witchcrafts, pornography, adulteries, fornications, lying and stealing and covetousness abound! Oh, Blessed Saviour, how the people have fallen into these and into every pit of the flesh!

Oh, Blessed Saviour, hear my cries; for a great wickedness is upon this nation and upon all nations! Oh, Blessed Saviour, hear my cries! For a great wickedness is upon the nations and evil is thick and covering this nation and all nations …

And it goes on at length from there, rattling on about a mouse crawling up Obama’s leg and — spoiler alert — the mouse is none other than Pope Francis himself.

This is proof positive that anyone — and I do mean anyone — can put pen to paper, claim divine revelation out of thin air and it has precisely the same amount of legitimacy as anything written 3,000 years ago in Palestine.

Written by Jeremy

April 9th, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Codified discrimination and corporate personhood

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I posted this meme to social media yesterday and intended to add a few words about the controversy in Indiana here.

This photo shows pretty damning evidence that Indiana’s religious freedom law is a veiled — thinly veiled — attempt to legislate discrimination, no matter how much Gov. Mike Pence claims that is not the case:

Credit: Glaad

Credit: Glaad

This whole issue boils down to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Hobby Lobby erroneously declaring that a corporation can be considered “a person” under the federal religious freedom law in denying employees insurance coverage. Essentially, thanks to the court, companies can now claim an exemption from federal law based on religion. Indiana and Mississippi are the only states to have passed their own religious freedom laws, while similar bills in Oklahoma and Georgia have more or less been scrapped.

Pence has claimed that Indiana’s bill is the same as the federal law that was signed into law in 1993 under then-President Bill Clinton, which, of course, begs the questions: If the bill is no different, isn’t it also redundant?

As Jay Michaelson, with The Daily Beast, points out, the Hobby Lobby decision and the notion of corporate personhood “changed the game”:

Now, does Gov. Pence know this? Of course he does. The law’s own supporters have used the same examples for years: the baker who shouldn’t have to bake a cake for a gay wedding, the photographer, the florist. To most of us, that looks like discrimination—putting a “No Gays Allowed” sign up on your storefront window.

And those are the best cases. RFRAs allow hospitals not to honor same-sex visitation rights, and doctors not to treat the children of lesbians.These are actual cases.

Is Pence just lying, then? Well, not quite, because of … the right-wing echo chamber.

No matter how many times Gov. Pence says this isn’t about gays and isn’t about discrimination, the people standing behind him when he signed it are a who’s-who of anti-gay social conservatives.

Indiana is an example of what can happen when the bad precedent is set that the nation ought to start considering corporations as people and bestowing them with the power to serve the public or not based on religious preferences and priorities. It’s nothing more than civil rights codified in reverse, with race as the basis for discrimination simply replaced with religion. And it was as unethical in 1950 as it is in 2015.

UPDATE: As of Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers in Indiana were apparently working on a “fix” to the religious freedom bill that, according to the Indianapolis Star,

does not authorize a provider — including businesses or individuals — to refuse to offer or provide its services, facilities, goods, or public accommodation to any member of the public based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, or military service.

The proposed language exempts churches or other nonprofit religious organizations — including affiliated schools — from the definition of “provider.”

The proposal was being “vetted” by Republicans in the state House and Senate, according to the newspaper. Micah Clark, with the American Family Association of Indiana, called the proposal a “water-down” (sic) version of the plan, while people who want the bill tossed out said it didn’t provide enough protections. Here is Katie Blair, with a group called Freedom Indiana:

We understand that lawmakers are working to ‘fix’ the Indiana RFRA that has done so much harm to Indiana over the past week, but we want to make it clear that we need full protection from discrimination against all LGBT Hoosiers across the state and a guarantee that this RFRA cannot be used to undermine any nondiscrimination protections. According to current media reports, the proposal being considered falls far short of these principles, leaving the door wide open for discrimination.”

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