Atheist Base
Pastor Terry Jones burns Koran again

Controversial US pastor Terry Jones has burned more copies of the Koran and a depiction of the prophet Mohammed to protest the imprisonment in Iran of a Christian clergyman, The Gainesville Sun reported.

Terry Jones

The newspaper said Jones and another pastor, who carried out their protest in front of their church in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday, demanded the release of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from an Iranian prison.

Jones said Nadarkhani faces execution.

According to the report, the Pentagon urged Jones to reconsider, expressing concern that American soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere could be put at greater risk because of the act.

In March 2011, Jones’ assistant, pastor Wayne Sapp, burned a copy of the Koran and broadcast the ceremony on the Internet.

The images incited violence in northern Afghanistan, in which at least 12 people were killed.

Read more: Raw Story

Original Article

Gay marriage: Pope representatives calls for Catholic alliance with Muslim and Jewish groups

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Apostolic Nuncio, called for closer co-operation with other faiths as well as Christian denominations to put pressure on the Government over its plans to allow same-sex couples to marry.

In an address to Catholic bishops from England and Wales, he echoed the recent comments of Pope Benedict who said the Church faced “powerful political and cultural currents” in favour of redefining marriage.

[caption id=”attachment_661” align=”aligncenter” width=”460” caption=”The new Nuncio with Archbishop Nichols”]The new Nuncio with Archbishop Nichols[/caption]

His comments come after a series of high-level interventions by some Muslim and Jewish leaders last month after the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, launched a national consultation on how same-sex marriage might be introduced.

Last month the Muslim Council of Britain voiced opposition to the plans, describing it as “unnecessary and unhelpful”.But, as the Islamic faith in Britain does not have the same hierarchical structures as Christian Churches, much of the Muslim opposition has been voiced through local alliances.

In Scotland, the Council of Glasgow Imams recently agreed a joint resolution describing same-sex marriage as an “attack” on their faith and fundamental beliefs.

Opinion in the Jewish community has been more sharply divided. The Liberal and Reform synagogues have given their support to same-sex marriage but rabbis within the main United Synagogues have expressed opposition.

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, who is retiring, has so far resisted pressure to voice opposition to the proposal.

But Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of Mill Hill United Synagogue in north London, who advises him on family issues, recently accused the Coalition of launching an “assault” on religious values.

Meanwhile Lord Singh, head of the Network of Sikh Organisations, recently said the proposed reforms represented “a sideways assault on religion”.

Addressing English and Welsh bishops at their plenary meeting in Leeds, Archbishop Mennini, warned them they faced a “lengthy and probably difficult campaign”.

“I wonder if we shouldn’t ask for and look for more support among other Christian confessions and indeed, persons of other faiths,” he said.

“It seems to me that, concerning the institution of marriage, and indeed the sanctity of human life, we have much in common with the position of the Jewish community, the Chief Rabbi and many of the more significant representatives of Islam.”

Speaking in London yesterday the second most senior active Catholic cleric in England and Wales, Archbishop Peter Smith, of Southwark, said there had been no “formal” contact with Jewish groups to form a united front on the subject of marriage.

But he said: “We will work with anyone who agrees with us that to redefine marriage is not a good thing for society and will lead to more confusion.”

He criticised the Government’s plans as “dangerous” and lacking in the usual consultation processes required for major legislation.

“It has not been thought through,” he said.

“It is a very dangerous way to go forward in terms of legislation on such a vital topic.”

Read more: Telegraph

Original Article

Irish priests say they will disobey new confession box law on child abuse

Irish priests have vowed to defy a new law forcing them to report details of sexual abuse revealed in the confessional box.

Ireland’s Justice Minister Alan Shatter is to introduce new legislation which will force the clergy to reveal all details disclosed in confession.

But priests have vowed to defy the law despite the threat of a 10-year jail sentence after the introduction of the mandatory reporting legislation.

[caption id=”attachment_657” align=”aligncenter” width=”419” caption=”People line up for confession in Knock Co. Mayo”]People line up for confession in Knock Co. Mayo[/caption]

The 800 strong Association of Catholic Priests has even told the Irish Independent newspaper that its members will flout the Shatter law.

Spokesman Fr Sean McDonagh told the paper: “I certainly wouldn’t be willing to break the seal of confession for anyone — Alan Shatter particularly.”

Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Raymond Field said: “The seal of the confessional is inviolable as far as I am concerned, and that’s the end of the matter.”

Under the new law, every person in the state is obliged to report suspected sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults to police.

Minister Shatter said: “I would expect that if there was someone going to confession who was a serial sex abuser, I don’t know how anyone could live with their conscience if they didn’t refer that to the gardai (police).”

Shatter’s draft legislation, to be introduced later this year, has already drawn a strong response from the church.

Fr McDonagh also recalled to the Irish Independent how a New Zealand Columban priest, Fr Francis Douglas, was tortured to death by the Japanese during World War Two because he refused to reveal information received in confession about the Filipino guerrillas.

Read more: Irish Central

Original Article

Scientifically, God Does Not Exist: Science Allows us to Say God Does Not Exist

A popular objection to atheists’ arguments and critiques of theism is to insist that one’s preferred god cannot be disproven — indeed, that science itself is unable to prove that God does not exist. This position depends upon a mistaken understanding of the nature of science and how science operates. In a very real and important sense, it is possible to say that, scientifically, God does not exist — just as science is able to discount the existence of a myriad of other alleged beings.

[caption id=”attachment_650” align=”aligncenter” width=”460” caption=”Round Peg in a square hole”]Round Peg in a square hole[/caption]

What Can Science Prove or Disprove?

To understand why “God does not exist” can be a legitimate scientific statement, it’s important to understand what the statement means in the context of science. When a scientist says “God does not exist,” they mean something similar to when they say “aether does not exist,” “psychic powers do not exist,” or “life does not exist on the moon.”

All such statements are casual short-hand for a more elaborate and technical statement: “this alleged entity has no place in any scientific equations, plays no role in any scientific explanations, cannot be used to predict any events, does not describe any thing or force that has yet been detected, and there are no models of the universe in which its presence is either required, productive, or useful.”

What should be most obvious about the more technically accurate statement is that it isn’t absolute. It does not deny for all time any possible existence of the entity or force in question; instead, it’s a provisional statement denying the existence of any relevance or reality to the entity or force based on what we currently know. Religious theists may be quick to seize upon this and insist that it demonstrates that science cannot “prove” that God does not exist, but that requires far too strict of a standard for what it means to “prove” something scientifically.

Scientific Proof Against God

In God: The Failed Hypothesis — How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, Victor J. Stenger offers this scientific argument against the existence of God:

  1. Hypothesize a God who plays an important role in the universe.
  2. Assume that God has specific attributes that should provide objective evidence for his existence.
  3. Look for such evidence with an open mind.
  4. If such evidence is found, conclude that God may exist.
  5. If such objective evidence is not found, conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God with these properties does not exist.

This is basically how science would disprove the existence of any alleged entity and is modified form of the argument from a lack-of-evidence: God, as defined, should produce evidence of some sort; if we fail to find that evidence, God cannot exist as defined. The modification limits the sort of evidence to that which can be predicted and tested via the scientific method.

Certainty & Doubt in Science

Nothing in science is proven or disproven beyond a shadow of any possible doubt. In science, everything is provisional. Being provisional is not a weakness or a sign that a conclusion is weak. Being provisional is a smart, pragmatic tactic because we can never be sure what we’ll come across when we round the next corner. This lack of absolute certainty is a window through which many religious theists try to slip their god, but that’s not a valid move.

In theory, it may be possible that someday we will come across new information requiring or benefiting from some sort of “god” hypothesis in order to better make sense of the way things are. If the evidence described in the above argument were found, for example, that would justify a rational belief in the existence of the sort of god under consideration. It wouldn’t prove the existence of such a god beyond all doubt, though, because belief would still have to be provisional.


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Original Article

The persistence of superstition in an irreligious Britain

Andrew Copson, who runs the British Humanist Association, is a third generation post-Christian. “I grew up in a post-religious society in the Midlands. I went to an entirely secular primary school and secondary school; the popular culture I imbibed was things like Star Trek. I read fantasy and science fiction. I studied classics at university and some modern history.”

[caption id=”attachment_645” align=”aligncenter” width=”460” caption=”Dante, Heaven and Hell”]Dante, Heaven and Hell[/caption]

He was talking at a small conference on the study of non-religion and secularity last week. Sociologists and anthropologists have done a great deal of research on different forms of belief. But unbelief, or at least a life untouched in any serious sense by organised religion, is only just coming into scope for this kind of social scientific inquiry.

Copson had a varied intellectual and social experience when he was growing up, but he says: “What didn’t feature in any way in my account was religion. What’s not in any sense contributed to making me what I am is religion, and I think that story is increasingly typical of non-religious people.”

So it was quite a shock to him to move to south London and discover a place where a great many of the social services were provided with or through religious bodies.

This was part of a story he told last week, at a meeting of an academic group devoted to the study of non-religion, and of secularity as a sociological phenomenon. The story disconcerted me, productively: it made me realise the extent to which Greek, Latin and Christianity appear in one cultural bundle in my eyes. Of course there are lots of Christians who are ignorant of Greek, and probably still more of Latin, since many people learn New Testament Greek. But to learn Latin and Greek after an upbringing innocent of Christianity is something that was pretty much impossible in Europe during the last 1,500 years.

Another rather lazy assumption was dynamited later in the day by David Voas, the sociologist behind the informative British Religion in Numbers. He showed us any number of graphs showing a steady falling off of religious belief in England over the past 50 or 60 years, but ended with one in the shape of a shallow X. One line, sloping down from left to right, showed the familiar decline in religious belief. The other, sloping up over the same decades, showed the corresponding rise in a faith in life after death.

Read more: The Guardian

Original Article

Logic Quashes Religious Belief, New Study Finds

According to the Bible, “doubting” Thomas, who was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, reacted to reports of the resurrection with disbelief. He required proof, and he was not convinced until his demand to poke his finger into Jesus’ wounds for verification was satisfied. After the probing, Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you believe, blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” This biblical story captures the essence of a new discovery about religious disbelief published in tomorrow’s edition of the journal Science.

Psychologists William Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, set out to determine whether or not critical thinking promotes religious disbelief. Their cleaver experiments show that this is indeed true, and the results illuminate how our two minds — one analytical and the other intuitive — compete in reaching a decision about what we believe.

But before we risk launching off on another crusade of science against religion, a bit of background will be helpful. Pascal Boyer, at the Departments of Psychology and Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, argued in an essay published in Nature in 2008 that religious thinking is an inescapable property emerging from the human cognitive system, but that “disbelief is generally the result of deliberate, effortful work against our natural cognitive dispositions.” This is why atheists will never predominate, he argues.

Jonathan Evans, at the Centre for Thinking and Language at the University of Plymouth in England, argues that when it comes to belief, we in fact have two minds — that is, two distinct cognitive systems in our brain that contribute to belief. The first cognitive system is an evolutionarily ancient one, shared with animals, that runs on instinct and intuition. The second cognitive process is an evolutionarily recent invention, unique to humans, that permits abstract reasoning. Somehow, these two minds have to come to terms. In fact, Evans argues, our two minds constantly battle for attention in our decision-making process, and functional brain imaging provides evidence that different regions of our cerebral cortex are involved in either analytical reasoning or intuition.

A prime example of the more ancient cognitive system at work is President George Bush, who famously relied on his “gut instinct” to guide his decision-making process. Albert Einstein, the epitome of rational, analytical thinking, exemplifies the other cognitive system. Both men, incidentally, spoke publicly and frequently of their belief in God, although their religious concepts differed in more fundamental ways than even the Christian and Jewish traditions that separated them. “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind,” Einstein concluded. In a subtle way, Einstein’s pithy remark seems to recognize the internal struggle between reason and intuition that wrestle out our individual beliefs.

All of this is great fodder for philosophers, but how to design a scientific experiment to answer the question, going back to the Apostle Thomas and even earlier, of whether logical thinking and analysis promotes disbelief in religion?

Gervais’ and Norenzayan’s first experiment tested the idea that analytical thinkers tend to be less religious. They recruited 179 Canadian undergraduates and gave them analytic thinking tests, followed by a survey to gauge their religious disbelief. As expected, the results showed that higher scores in analytical thinking correlated with greater religious disbelief. But this is just a correlation.

To test for a causal relationship between analytical thinking and religious disbelief, the researchers devised four different ways to promote analytic thinking and then surveyed the students to see if their religious disbelief had increased by the interventions that boosted critical thinking. Varieties of these interventions had already been shown in previous psychological studies to elevate critical thinking measurably on tests of reasoning. In one intervention, when people are shown a visual image that suggests critical thinking (for example, Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker,” seated head-in-hand, pondering) just before taking a test of analytic reasoning, their performance on the test increases measurably. Subconscious suggestion about thinking apparently gets the cognitive juices flowing and suppresses intuitive processes. The researchers confirmed this effect but also found that the self-reported religious disbelief also increased compared with subjects shown a different image before being tested that did not suggest critical thinking.

The same result was found after boosting critical reasoning in three other ways known to stimulate logical reasoning and improve performance on reasoning tests. This included having subjects rearrange jumbles of words into a meaningful phrase, for example. When the list of words connoted thought (for example, “think, reason, analyze, ponder, rational,” as opposed to control lists like “hammer, shoes, jump, retrace, brown”), manipulating the thought-provoking words improved performance on a subsequent analytic thinking task and also increased religious disbelief significantly.

Belief is a fascinating and difficult subject of study for neuroscientists, psychologists, and theologians. These new findings provide new understanding of the different cognitive strategies that are associated with religious belief, but Norenzayan cautions, “Analytic thinking is only one of several factors that contribute to disbelief. Belief and disbelief are complex phenomena that have multiple causes. We have identified just one factor in these studies.”

Furthermore, one should not consider either cognitive strategy superior to the other. “Both intuitive and analytic thinking are useful ways of thinking about the world; they both have their costs and benefits,” he says.

Read more: Huffington Post

Original Article

Air Force bows to atheist complaints: Will remove bible requirement for on-base lodging

Military atheists are increasingly making their voices heard. The Blaze has previously reported about the Rock Beyond Belief concert at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Now, there is a situation developing in which non-believers in the military (and their supporters) are attacking a policy that has led to Bibles being placed in on-base lodging facilities.

[caption id=”attachment_634” align=”aligncenter” width=”460” caption=”Bible - Photo via Flickr user Erwin Vogelaar”]Bible - Photo via Flickr user Erwin Vogelaar[/caption]

According to WRWR, Air Force officials have agreed — at least in principle — to remove Bibles from rooms after being pressured by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF), an atheist group that is led by Jason Torpy. The MAAF’s self-described goal is to combat “…insensitive practices that illegally promote religion over non-religion within the military or unethically discriminate against minority religions or differing beliefs.”

The group apparently maintained that the presence of Bibles, which are placed in the rooms by Gideons, is “a special privilege for Christianity.” While the Air Force has not demanded that the holy books be removed from inns, a revised checklist will take effect on October 1 (at the start of the 2013 fiscal year). The books, of course, will be removed from the required items.

A legal review, according to Air Force Services Agency Spokesman Michael Dickerson, found that there is “no requirement to have Bibles in the lodging checklist.” According to WRWR, he also said, “We continue to review the situation and weigh our multiple First Amendment practices and obligations.”

According to One News Now, Dr. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain and the head of The Pray In Jesus Name Project, is less than pleased with the military’s decision. Rather than making a move to create a non-discriminatory environment, Klingenschmitt believes the Air Force is merely bowing to the demands of the MAAF, among other atheist groups.

Read more: The Blaze

Original Article

Catholic schools face ‘indoctrination’ claims over gay marriage

Church education chiefs last night defended theselves against allegations of “political indoctrination” insisting they were “proud” to promote traditional marriage.

The Catholic Education Service contacted 385 secondary schools asking them to circulate the recent letter read in parishes defending the traditional definition of marriage.

[caption id=”attachment_630” align=”aligncenter” width=”460” caption=”Catholic schools face ‘indoctrination’ claims over gay marriage Photo: Getty Images”]Catholic schools face 'indoctrination' claims over gay marriage Photo: Getty Images[/caption]

Schools were also invited to promote the petition organised by the Coalition For Marriage opposing the Government’s plans to allow homosexual couples to marry.

Last night almost 470,000 people had signed the petition, backed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, the biggest active petition in Britain at present.

Last month a letter penned by the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols and the Most Reverend Peter Smith, was read at masses attended by around a million worshippers.

It defended marriage as a “natural institution” and said that redefining it would be a “profoundly radical” step.

Schools were invited to use the letter in assemblies or distribute copies to parents as well as highlighting the petition.

But a pupil at one London secondary school complained to the website PinkNews saying that they were “appalled” by the way the issue had been presented.

Secularist campaigners warned that schools which read the letter could be breaking equality laws as well as rules against promoting political causes in schools.

Read more: The Telegraph

Original Article

Virginia ‘conscience clause’ allows discrimination in adoption

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill into law this month that will allow state-subsidized adoption agencies to reject potential parents because of their sexual orientation.

[caption id=”attachment_641” align=”aligncenter” width=”360” caption=”Virginia State Capitol building.”]Virginia State Capitol building.[/caption]

Virginia will join North Dakota and become the second state to allow a “conscience clause” when the law takes effect on July 1.

The conscience clause bill,Senate Bill 349, states that no private child-placing agency shall be required to consent to the placement of a child in foster care or an adoptive home if such placement would violate the agency’s “religious or moral convictions or policies.”

The bill codifies a State Board of Social Services decision from 2011 that refused to add protections to forbid discrimination in adoption on the basis of sexual orientation, age, gender, political beliefs, religion, disability or family status (i.e., single parent, person in unmarried couple, divorced person, etc.). Private agencies are only prohibited from discriminating against potential parents based on race, color or national origin, as is required by federal law.

It was already illegal for same-sex couples or unmarried couples to adopt jointly in Virginia, meaning that only one person in such a couple could have legal custody.

Advocates say the law will allow faith-based agencies like Catholic Charities to exercise their religious freedom, but opponents say it amounts to state-sponsored discrimination and will prevent children from finding permanent homes.

According to a report from UCLA’s Williams Institute, about 2,100 adopted children are being raised by LGBT individuals or couples in Virginia. The report, which was presented in opposition to SB 349, said that 40,000 lesbians and gay men might be prospective adoptive parents in Virginia.

One adoptive mother in a same-sex partnership in Virginia told The American Independent that she and her partner were considering adopting a child into their relationship, but that recent legislation made them more hesitant.

“This law could very well deny many children who need happy, healthy, loving homes and role models … stable relationships and the opportunity to have them,” said the mother, who requested anonymity. “Even prior to this law, there were too many children languishing in the system, needing homes. Now, my fear is that it will only get worse.”

The conscience clause allows faith-based organizations to discriminate based on their convictions, but it also allows any other private agencies to do the same. As such, any of Virginia’s 77 private adoption agencies could reject potential parents because of their sexual orientation.

“I do have faith that there will be adoption agencies out there that have the great wisdom and love in their hearts to do the right thing and realize that loving, stable parents can be same-sex or heterosexual,” the mother said. “The experiences that adoptive same-sex parents have with these agencies going forward will be a true indicator of the effects of this bill.”

LGBT rights advocates condemned the law.

Read more: American Independent

Original Article

Humans Evolve… Rapidly, Too

People in denial about evolution often ask why humans aren’t still evolving; even some who accept the reality of evolution wonder about this. In fact humans do continue to evolve, and can do so at fairly rapid rates. The best example might be the evolution of resistance of kuru in the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea. Kuru is similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and is acquired through consuming human brains, something done by the Fore because they believed that they should consume all of the body of loved ones who die.

[caption id=”attachment_626” align=”aligncenter” width=”200” caption=”Human Evolution - Skulls NYT / Getty”][/caption]

Kuru could have destroyed the Fore tribe, but a single mutation in a single woman just 200 years ago spread widely, providing resistance until cannibalism was outlawed.

[quote]The emergence of kuru resistance is one of the clearest examples of very rapid human evolution but it is far from the only one. Around 3000 years ago, the ancestors of Tibetans split from the population that gave rise to the Han people of China. As soon as they began living at altitude, the population began to adapt. While some of the adaptations are a result of living in the mountains - a bit like altitude training in athletes - some are genetic.

One variant in a gene controlling the production of red blood cells, for instance, is found in 78 per cent of Tibetans but just 9 per cent of Han people. And the process has not stopped. “We think the selection process is ongoing,” says Rasmus Nielsen of the University of California, Berkeley, who led the study (Science, vol 329, p 75).

More evidence comes from a study of Tibetan women living above 4000 metres. Those with high levels of oxygen in the blood had 3.6 surviving children on average, whereas those with low oxygen levels had just 1.6, due to much higher infant mortality. That suggests the genetic variant thought to be responsible for higher blood oxygen levels is being passed on in greater numbers and becoming more common (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 101, p 14300).

Source: New Scientist, April 2, 2011[/quote]These might not seem like especially dramatic examples of human evolution, but there is no doubt that they are evolution in action. They key in examples like this is the presence of some sort of selective, environmental pressure. There won’t really be any evolution without some sort of pressure from the environment — something that creates competition between individuals with slightly different genes.

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Original Article