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Archive for April, 2009

This is what I call good news.

April 30, 2009 Leave a comment

“40 Million Nonbelievers in America”

edit [5/3]: Some counter-evidence.

In the 2008 survey, 16% of Americans said they had no religious affiliations, but of that group, only 10% identified themselves as atheists and 15% as agnostics. Far from joining in religion-bashing, roughly 4 out of 10 currently unaffiliated said religion is at least somewhat important in their life. And many said they are still hoping to eventually find the right religious home. Among those who were raised Catholic or Protestant, the study says, “1 in 3 say they just have not found the right religion yet.”

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Torture, cont.

April 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Here Matthew Yglesias, writing for The American Prospect, wonders why if the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that some conservatives believe are so useful and lawful America doesn’t use them more widely.

I don’t hear the calls for a waterboarding apparatus in every American police station or for equipping the Afghan national army with fewer guns and more bug-filled boxes.

He also goes on to dismantle the idea that torture is really useful anyway.  BTW, has anyone thought of any responses to my 9 objections?
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A penny cut, a penny… cut.

April 28, 2009 Leave a comment

The Obama team thinking of cutting spending by $100 million:

Such bravery.
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Scientific Roundtable?

April 27, 2009 Leave a comment

A group of some of my favorite scientists (and 1 philosopher of science) sit down and have a wonderful conversation about the state of science, the process of science, the education of science, the spreading of science, and the unification of the disciplines of science (and some other things).  Another long one, but anyone with any interest in science as a general topic will really enjoy this. 

Feel free to check out the other videos on the site that might peak your interests – if anyone finds any gems let us know.  It will be our way of “refereeing” for quality control. (you’ll need to watch the video to understand the reference).  
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I’m a discriminated against minority

April 27, 2009 2 comments

Sean was skeptical that atheists are thought of as low as I suggested.  Well here is some polling to back up my claims.  

53% of Americans surveyed said they would not vote for a “generally well-qualified person for president” who was an atheist.  Compared to 43% for the next highest, homosexuals.  Also only 67% of liberals said they would vote for an atheist (29% of conservatives).
(data from 2007)
An older set of polls is not better in the prejudice department:
One poll from 1999 has 48% of Americans unwilling to vote for an atheist compared to 38% that wouldn’t vote for a muslim.    In 2003, the Pew Research Center found that “52% [of Americans] have a mostly unfavorable or worse attitude” toward atheists.  
In 2006, a University of Minnesota study found that “atheists are America’s least trusted group.”
In 2007, apparently (I could only find a secondary report) 61% of Americans would be less likely to vote for someone who doesn’t believe in a deity.  In that article it points out that even our presidential candidates are willing to put down atheists.  Mitt Romney was probably the most famous recent candidate to exclude and demonize non-believers, denigrating what he called the “religion of secularism.”  
Finally, George H.W. Bush famously described atheists as non-Americans. The incumbent vice president while campaigning for president actually said, “I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” Does anyone think if he said that about Jews he would have been elected?
So Sean, you’re worried that atheists are the ones that have the prejudiced views? 
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Fascinating Talk

April 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Check out this great presentation at a recent atheist convention on the scientific research about why people have religious beliefs.  I strongly recommend everyone watch the whole thing; it’s a bit long but very interesting and well worth it.

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Here’s something we can agree on

April 26, 2009 Leave a comment

A great column by George Will showing the ridiculous consequences of race-based hiring.  It’s not racist to hire people based on their merits.  It is racist to not hire someone because of the color of their skin.  When will everyone learn this?  

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Response to a common sentiment

April 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Gibbs commented on my torture post writing, “I think any means by which we get Intel that helps save American lives we should do it. Whether it’s water-boarding or tickling their feet.” (by the way, thanks for commenting! feel free to post what you like as well)
I totally understand that feeling. however I think any torture proponent has to overcome a higher hurdle than that.  For the time being we’ll ignore that torture is currently illegal and thus anyone ordering it has definitionally committed a war crime.  But if we could create a new policy, proponents would need to overcome all my objections. To me the problem with torture is not JUST that it is inhumane and morally objectionable but also that:

  1. It hasn’t been convincing shown that it is a reliable way to get information to save lives.
  2. Even if it was reliable, no one has shown that the same information couldn’t be gathered by means other than torture.
  3. If 1 and 2 were satisfied you’d still have to show performing the torture to gain the intelligence would save more lives than may be lost do to increased terrorist recruiting that the torture policy generates.
  4. Giving a government (and specifically an executive) the power to torture also conflicts with the notion of a free society and limited government.  I haven’t heard a convincing case that we can trust an executive with that much power.  Giving a president the power to order torture of those who he judges on his notion of what is necessary to save lives makes a mockery of civil liberties and individual rights.  If you can torture a foreign terrorist for information that lead to saving lives, why not give him the power to order the torture of an American citizen that may have information that could save a life?  If you think a president should have that power as well than you certainly don’t have respect for the type of government and society founding fathers were trying to create (which is fine if that’s the case, but i haven’t heard anyone make that case).  Entrusting the government with that much violent power over its citizens turns the idea of “government for the people” on its head.  Does anyone really trust politicians that much with such a serious decision.
  5. Torture lowers America’s standing in the world.  It’s not because I care, per say, about foreign opinion, but if it hurts our chances to work productively with our allies (or create new one) which could help save American lives it seems like a bad idea.
  6. Oppressed people who must live under authoritarian rule (those who get tortured by despots) look to America for hope and a higher ideal of human rights.  If they can’t look to us, who can they look to?
  7. If torture causes unreliability of testimony it may be harder to prosecute the terrorists later.  And forget about innocent until proven guilty under a torture regime.
  8. Torturing someone who was mistakenly thought to have actionable intelligence and is ultimately innocent would be too horrible to justify.
  9. Finally (off the top of my head) such a policy may cause (or help them justify) others to torture Americans when our servicemen (or civilians) are captured.

So, anyone willing to dispatch will all 9 objections (there could be more too)?  I await an effort.
Also, if the torture proponents thought that the torture was so justified, legal, and useful why would they destroy evidence, have lied multiple times, and obstruct the declassification of relevant documents and video (wouldn’t it be a helpful tool to learn how to do it better?)?  Hmmm… curious.

Our Next Meetings Secret Location:

April 23, 2009 Leave a comment


Is Tuesday May 5th good for everyone?  If so I’ll try to book this room for us on that date.  Please post in the comments if it is good or bad for you.  

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Who would choose to be gay?

April 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Some people in the society think people are not “born gay.”  Do others have an opinion on this? This to me is some of the strongest evidence that it’s more nature than nurture, so to speak.

Also Steven Pinker, one of my all-time favorite popular science writers and thinkers, wrote a column back in 2005 regarding research on the topic.    
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