Friendly Atheist Podcast Episode 19: Dan Arel, Author of Parenting Without God

Our latest podcast guest is Dan Arel, author of Parenting Without God:

Dan has written articles about religion, science, and politics for websites like Salon, AlterNet, and the Huffington Post. His first book, called Parenting Without God, was released in August.

We spoke with Dan about how his religious teacher used to fast-forward through science videos, what it was like growing up in a Pentecostal Christian home, and why it’s important to discuss parenting without religion.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the podcast. If you have any suggestions for people we should chat with, please leave them in the comments, too.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, get the MP3 directly, check it out on Stitcher, or just listen to the whole thing below.

And if you like what you’re hearing, please consider supporting this site on Patreon and leaving us a positive rating!

Beyerstein and Oppenheimer

Lindsay Beyerstein, who is always great, interviews Mark Oppenheimer about his misogyny piece on Point of Inquiry. It’s a good listen. I was especially amused by his comments about the slymepit — not even worth bothering with — and the faint praise for Penn Jillette — nowhere near as bad as the slymepit.

Americans Now Think Evangelical Christians Are More Discriminated Against Than Atheists

A new survey out today by the Pew Research Forum shows that more Americans than ever before (72%) think religion is losing its influence on society… and, for some reason, many of them think that’s a bad thing.

Don’t get too excited. What that’s saying is that a lot of Americans *wish* religion had more influence in society, but they worry because they don’t think it does.

In fact, there’s an upswing when it comes to Americans wanting their church leaders to endorse political candidates — completely in violation of the law — or express positions on social issues:

The findings reflect a widening divide between religiously affiliated Americans and the rising share of the population that is not affiliated with any religion (sometimes called the “nones”). The public’s appetite for religious influence in politics is increasing in part because those who continue to identify with a religion (e.g., Protestants, Catholics and others) have become significantly more supportive of churches and other houses of worship speaking out about political issues and political leaders talking more often about religion. The “nones” are much more likely to oppose the intermingling of religion and politics.

That’s frightening.

In case you need more proof that our nation’s values and priorities in this regard are completely misguided, the Pew researchers also asked people which groups were discriminated against. For example, 65% of Americans said there’s a lot of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Only 27% of people, however, said atheists face a lot of discrimination. That’s a much lower number than it should be.

But you know who has it worse than us?

Evangelical Christians.


Yeah, it must be sooooo tough having all the power in the country… You know who else has it rough? White people. And men. And the rich.

I made a video not too long ago about just how good Christians had it in our country:

So how did that survey result come about? Part of it is that there are just more Christians in our country overall, and they’re the ones most likely to say that they have it rough. Which is kind of like the super-wealthy complaining about the taxes they have to pay. No matter what happens, at the end of the day, they’re still *way* better off than almost everyone else.

I dare anybody who really believes that evangelicals have it worse than atheists to perform a little thought experiment: I’m going to drop you off in a random part of the country and you’ll be wearing a shirt that makes very clear what your beliefs are. Would you rather wear a shirt that says “I love Jesus!” or one that says “Atheist and proud of it”?

I promise you you’ll be better off just about anywhere with the Jesus shirt.

If that thought experiment doesn’t do it for you, pick something else. My point is that, by nearly every measure you can think of, Christians have it pretty damn good. To say they are discriminated against at all, much less more than atheists, is ludicrous.

What counts as discrimination, anyway? That people sneer at them when they act like bigots? If anything, what you have are a bunch of Christians who consider themselves persecuted because it’s no longer politically correct for them to persecute other people.

Todd Stiefel, chair of the just-launched Openly Secular campaign, offered another interpretation of the data in a press release. He said the problem wasn’t so much that atheists were seen as less discriminated against than evangelicals, but that only a quarter of people felt we were discriminated against at all:

“It’s clear from today’s poll that people don’t realize the kinds of discrimination we face,” said [Stiefel]. “Our campaign clearly has a lot of work to do. The numbers reinforce the need to educate people about what it means when someone is nonreligious and the pattern of prejudice secular Americans face on a regular basis.”

There were a few other results from the survey worth mentioning:

When it comes to political parties, the Democrats have the Unaffiliated vote locked up:

At the same time, those Unaffiliated Americans are the least likely to actually vote…

You would think this would give Democrats an incentive to reach out to the Nones so that we get off the Internet and go to the ballot box… yet they never seem to do that. There’s little online outreach and most Democrats are even afraid of identifying as non-religious. It’s pathetic. Meanwhile, Republicans have the White Evangelicals and (to a lesser extent) Catholics on their side — and those groups are far more likely to vote.

Man, if we could ever get our shit together, we’d be one hell of a political force.

That’s a big “if.”

The full report can be read here.

(Thanks to Greg for the link)

John Oliver Brilliantly Debunks the Scholarship Claim Made by Miss America Pageant Organizers

In case you missed it last night, John Oliver‘s team on Last Week Tonight did what all good skeptics do: They heard a claim that everyone just takes for granted (in this case, made by Miss America Pageant organizers), dug into the details, and discovered the evidence for it was incredibly dubious.

The whole segment is terrific, but the relevant portion begins at the 7:23 mark:

Hats off to the writers and researchers on that show for doing the work on this story. And if you’d like to help a different organization become the nation’s largest scholarship program for women, consider donating to any of these other groups mentioned on the program:

Society of Women Engineers

Jeanette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund

Patsy Mink Foundation

Paciffic Painted Painting Decoration Unstretch

5 Pics Paciffic Ocean Big Wave Large Modern Art 100% Hand Painted Oil Painting On Canvas Wall Art Deco Home Decoration

Atheist Group Helps to Clean Up Southern California River (Again)

In our continuing series, “Atheists Caught Being Good,” here is another chapter about a local group of atheists joining in with their community to make things better for everyone.

(Photo courtesy Gerrie Titcomb)

For the last 20 years, the City of Santa Clarita, California has held an annual “River Rally,” where hundreds of people converge to clean up a section of the Santa Clara River, southern California’s last river still in its natural state. Running right through the center of town, it is home to many plants and animals including 14 endangered bird species and 6 endangered plant species, and it is an important wildlife corridor. It’s also a source of about half of the city’s precious little water. All rivers in this area are mostly dry during the summer, so it’s a good time to clean out the trash and debris that can harm wildlife and pollute the water.

Just like last year, last Saturday morning the Santa Clarita Atheists and Freethinkers took part and helped 1,700 other members of the community clean out 25,000 pounds of trash and debris.

It is my pleasure to be a part of this group of about 30 active members, and six of us worked that morning as a team. In our distinctive t-shirts, we attracted the curiosity of people who asked us about who we are and what we’re about. Before and after the time working in the riverbed, we had cordial conversations with several people, including meeting City Mayor Laurene Weste, who can be seen in the center of our group photo. At the very least, she now knows that we exist and we’re participating in the well-being of the community.

Waiting for things to start, I met a very sweet and very young woman who, with two others, is on a missionary assignment here for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was clearly curious about us, but she asked her questions hesitantly. So I turned on all my easy-to-talk-to-counselor charm, and we had a pleasant and constructive chat. She asked what we do as a group, and I explained that because society is generally very hostile to atheists, many are closeted and isolated, not knowing anyone else who thinks the way they do. The Internet has helped us find each other, and so groups like ours can form at first to give each other mutual support and like-minded companionship. I said that such groups often gradually grow beyond that first purpose, and they begin to want to use their group cohesion as a positive force in the community. Our being at the River Rally is an example.

She was intrigued, but, still with caution, she haltingly asked if we “oppose religious belief.” I replied that I wasn’t sure what exactly she meant by “oppose,” but that most atheists simply lack belief in gods because we need more than arguments or testimonials to be convinced of such things. We need evidence. Thinking that by “oppose” she might have meant wanting to prohibit belief by others, I added that many atheists are very passionate about protecting religious freedom for everyone, that we must all be free or none of us will be free. By the look on her face, that seemed to have demolished some important misconception she had had.

I shared a little about being a counselor and writing the advice column, describing how I have spoken as a guest atheist at church meetings not to try to change people’s beliefs about their god, but to change their beliefs about atheists. Those misconceptions do terrible and unnecessary damage to families when a young person stops believing, and I would like to prevent that if I can.

I amended my remarks by saying that not all atheists are like me in every way, that we can have very different views on just about any issue, using the joke about “herding cats.” Nevertheless, I think she came away with a more positive and accurate impression and a willingness to see us as generally good, decent people. The announcement was made to start heading into the riverbed, and so we said our goodbyes and mixed into the crowd.

More often than you might think, prejudice and fearful mistrust can be prevented or turned around one person at a time with just a brief, relaxed, and good-natured chat. Patience, diligence, patience, diligence, repeat.

Lewis’s Law confirmed again

You’ve seen Emma Watson’s speech to the UN. Go ahead, watch it again. It’s worth it, and it’ll highlight the contrast with 4chan’s reaction to it.

Members of 4chan’s b board lost their very minds over this, and embarked on a campaign against Watson almost immediately.

So far, this has included a threat to release hacked nude pictures of her in the manner that other celebrity photos have been leaked over the past two months–complete with a sad little countdown website titled Emma You Are Next. Although this is almost definitely a hoax, it is an incredibly sick one.

It gets sicker.

In addition to this, b board members are attempting to get #RIPEmmaWatson trending on Twitter, along with incredibly disturbing fake news website pictures announcing that the actress was found dead in a hotel room.

There are also the usual misogynistic comments.

It is real and going to happen this weekend. That feminist bitch Emma is going to show the world she is as much of a whore as any woman.

How do members of 4chan manage to hold on to their own pride? Do they all feel a deep shame at their participation, and refuse to admit their association in public?

Iran, Bibles and censorship

At the top of a Wiki list of banned books in Iran are The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, and Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Hardly surprising, really, but Lessons to Avoid AIDS … ?

Anyway, what started my brief investigation into Iranian censorship was a cutting from today’s Times emailed to me by a Freethinker reader. It was a report that a new Persian translation of the Bible will be smuggled into Iran to feed a growing Christian community in the Islamic republic.

Publishers of the new edition, unveiled at a ceremony in London today, plan to dump 300,000 copies on Iran over the next three years. Iranian clerics have denounced the move, but missionary groups claim Iran’s Christian community is the world’s fastest growing, rising by 20 percent a year.

My own view is that Iranians need the Bible like aardvarks need aromatherapy, but those intent on defying the authorities in Iran naturally think otherwise, and believe the Bible will  satisfy a hunger among young Iranians for a new set of superstitions.

In announcing a “100,000 Bibles for Iran programme”, one outfit – World Compassion – made an astonishing claim a while ago:

About 90 percent of the under 30 generation is searching for something other than Islam to believe in. This search for truth presents an opportunity to share the Gospel that has been banned for over 30 years.

According to this 2011 report, the Iranian authorities seized 6,500 copies of the Bible in northwest Iran. At the time Dr Majid Abhari, adviser to the social issues committee of the parliament in Iran stated:

These missionaries with reliance on huge money and propaganda are trying to deviate our youth.

In a government interview with Mehr news agency, Abhari explained that the Bibles were taken because of governmental concerns that Christian missionaries mean to “deceive” young Iranians with “false propaganda”.

• The photo of an Iranian man with a Bible used to illustrate this post was taken from the Images of Iran site.

Hat tip: Ian P.

Attorney General Eric Holder: Federal Government Must Recognize Same-Sex Marriage in Three Key States

Respect for Marriage Coalition urges federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in AR, IN, and WI.

A Personal Relationship With Jesus

I’ve had the privilege to see Vyckie Garrison give the speech above twice (and to read it over in advance of her giving it). In it she explains how the warning signs that a domestic violence counselor asked her about in order to assess the health of her marriage all involved things that Vyckie and her [Read More...]

Gay Couple Told by Catholic Priest That They Must Divorce if They Want to Remain in the Church

Here’s another example of religion making an otherwise decent person act like an asshole — because it’s what his faith teaches him to do.

Rev. Samuel Spiering became the administrator of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church (below) in Lewistown, Montana early last month. And one of his first orders of business was to pry into the private lives of parishioners Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick, both volunteers at the church.

The two had recently gotten married, word reached Spiering, and he took the loving Catholic approach:

Spiering dismissed the pair from their volunteer posts in the church and told them they could no longer receive Communion, a sacrament at the core of a believer’s faith.

Wojtowick and Huff were stunned and stung by the action. It sprang from the Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and its belief that homosexual behavior is a sin.

Wojtowick, 66, and Huff, 73, lifelong Catholics, have been partners for more than 30 years. The two men, both members and active at St. Leo’s and the community, married in Seattle in May 2013 to have the legal rights of spouses in their later years.

A committed elderly couple… treated like shit because Catholic doctrine doesn’t have the heart to say “you’re a part of this Church.”

It gets worse. After conversations with Spiering and Bishop Michael Warfel, the couple said they would sign a “restoration statement” which said marriage is reserved for one man and one woman — essentially denying their own right to love each other.

“It was not our intent to challenge that (concept), but to have the rights of civic protections in our old age,” Wojtowick wrote.

It gets worse. Spiering told the couple that wasn’t enough:

… Wojtowick said the priest told him they would also have to set up a timeline for the two men to separate and divorce, which Wojtowick said he and Huff did not agree to.

The Catholic Church: Protecting the sanctity of marriage when they’re pressuring you to get divorced. Classy.

How much more evidence do people need that this is an awful, immoral institution? I’ve seen some comments online claiming that many of the churchgoers oppose the way the gay couple is being treated… but it’s not like they’re leaving the Church. And as long as the attendance doesn’t change, the anti-gay bigotry won’t stop. Even under Pope Francis, the judging of others is in full force.

(Thanks to Joel for the link)

British Humanist Association Launches New Ad Campaign Answering the Question, “What’s It All For?”

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is the largest broadcaster in the world, runs a daily segment called “Thought for the Day,” offering a religious perspective on current events. We’ve posted before about how Humanists have long pushed to be included in the mix, to no avail.

Today, the British Humanist Association launched a campaign called “Thoughts for the Commute” to show that atheists have plenty to offer the public when it comes to making them think. The four posters below, created by designer Alexander Taylor, can be seen for the next two weeks in more than 100 London Underground stations before it moves on to other cities.

The BHA said of their campaign:

Humanists and the non-religious have played an important role in shaping our laws and in championing human rights and a fairer society for everyone. It only makes sense that their views should be included [in the "Thought for the Day" segment] as well.

Our campaign, Thought for the Commute, presents four humanist perspectives on one of life’s biggest questions: ‘What’s it all for?’ The campaign encourages everyone, whether religious or non-religious, to reflect on what helps create meaning in their own lives.

The BHA’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson put the campaign in a broader context:

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, said he hoped the campaign would give stressed commuters a momentary escape from the daily grind but offer others a “first glimpse” of a different way of thinking.

“Despite over half the population in the UK describing themselves as non-religious, humanist perspectives on life’s big questions are still far less available to the public than religious ones,” he said.

“In our state schools, religions are taught about but non-religious world views like Humanism are seldom given the same treatment.

“In our state media, the BBC, sermons and prayers are broadcast but rarely any content engaging with questions of value and meaning from a humanist point of view.

“As a result, many people whose beliefs are essentially humanist are unaware of the fact.”

I love the posters — they’re a great way to show, even briefly, how atheists have meaning in their lives without resorting to the supernatural.

You can learn more about the campaign here.

End of an Era

I started this blog in October, 2009. I've gone on quite a ride, both through this blog and through life in general. Ups, downs, and all the stuff in between. I have learned about myself, I have grown as a person, I have processed many personal issues through writing here. I've made friends here. And a couple enemies. It's been a good ride. But Dead-Logic has served its purpose for me. I started as a heretic, confessing my "sins" of daring to ask questions and seek truth; applying logic and reason and curiosity and wonder while refusing to take "accept it on faith" as an appropriate answer. Along the way I figured out who I am, where I stand, and though I still have much to learn and an entire world to discover, I've learned who I am, and with that understanding comes a level of acceptance of who I am. In the end, I've discovered that this has been my most difficult battle. Depression told me I was hopeless. Regret told me I was a failure. My ex-wife told me I was a monster. Self-doubt bred from bad experiences told me I'd be better off alone, where no one can hurt me and I can't disappoint anyone. There was a time when I believed them. There are times even now when I still believe them. When you feel worthless and useless and hopeless for so long, well, those habits are hard to break.

I've made progress, though, and it's this progess, in fact, that's led me to this blog post. I've reached the point in which Dead-Logic is no longer what it once was for me. Like I said, I haven't figured out everything or answered all the questions, but I've laid the foundation upon which I now stand. This blog was my means of building that foundation. I've struggled for a while with what to do with Dead-Logic. Given how instrumental it's been in helping me get a grip on my life, I've resisted the idea of shutting it down. And I don't plan to. But this is, more or less, the end of the road. Or perhaps I should say the end of an era. Dead-Logic will no longer be a regularly updated blog. It's time for me to move on to other things.

I'm not giving up my online presence entirely. I'm still active on Twitter. I still update my Tumblr periodically. I still have the Carl Sagan Google Doodle Campaign. And I'll still post the occasional blog entry here (next one most likely on November 5th) until I figure out what I want to do next. Mostly, though, Dead-Logic will remain here as an archive of my past writings.

I have plenty of ideas of what I'd like to do next. I've dabbled just a little bit with videos and podcasting. I've talked with my brothers-in-blog about doing a collaboration of some sort. We'll see what happens next. Oh, speaking of collaborations, I also got the opportunity to dabble in writing (like, in a book, not just on a blog). If you haven't bought this book yet, you should:

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you around the blogoverse.

- Bud

MAAF Gets the Guidestar Gold

The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers Has Reached the GuideStar Exchange Gold Participation Level as a Demonstration of Its Commitment to Transparency Washington, D.C. – The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF) today received the GuideStar Exchange Gold … Continue reading

The post MAAF Gets the Guidestar Gold appeared first on Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers.

Are lncRNAs really mRNAs in waiting?

Biology News Net has become a joke. It's rare to see a paper that it hasn't mangled or a press release that it hasn't fallen for, hook line and sinker. I read it for amusement.

A recent report began with ... [Parts of genome without a known function may play a key role in the birth of new proteins]
Researchers in Biomedical Informatics at IMIM (Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute) and at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) have recently published a study in eLife showing that RNA called non-coding (lncRNA) plays an important role in the evolution of new proteins, some of which could have important cell functions yet to be discovered.
That sounds intriguing. Maybe I should read the paper even though it's in eLife.

It took a little more work than I expected, but eventually I found the paper (Ruiz-Orera et al., 2014). Here's the abstract.
Deep transcriptome sequencing has revealed the existence of many transcripts that lack long or conserved open reading frames (ORFs) and which have been termed long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs). The vast majority of lncRNAs are lineage-specific and do not yet have a known function. In this study, we test the hypothesis that they may act as a repository for the synthesis of new peptides. We find that a large fraction of the lncRNAs expressed in cells from six different species is associated with ribosomes. The patterns of ribosome protection are consistent with the translation of short peptides. lncRNAs show similar coding potential and sequence constraints than evolutionary young protein coding sequences, indicating that they play an important role in de novo protein evolution.
The study suggests that a lot of "noncoding" RNAs are being translated. The products appear to be short polypeptides of less than 100 residues.

New protein encoding genes do arise from time to time although the number of proven examples is very small. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that a new gene arises about once every million years in a given lineage. That would mean about five new genes in humans since they split from chimpanzees and that seems about right for an upper limit.

Now, if you make a lot of junk RNAs by randomly transcribing junk DNA, then some of them will undoubtedly make short polypeptides. There's a chance that random mutations will create a peptide that takes on a functional role of some kind. There's an even smaller chance that this function will confer a selective advantage on the individual carrying the mutation. That's one way new genes are born.

Is this a reason for carrying a huge amount of junk DNA in your genome and making thousands of lncRNAs? Is the potential to make a new gene one million years in the future sufficient explanation for the preservation of junk DNA? The answer is "no."

You don't have junk DNA because it might proven useful in the future. You have it because you can't get rid of it. You don't transcribe your junk DNA because it might be useful, you transcribe it because the general properties of RNA polymerase and transcription factors don't allow for perfect discrimination between real genes and junk DNA. Junk transcripts aren't translated because they contain potential coding regions, they are sometimes translated because they must, by chance, contain some open reading frames.

Sloppiness might, by accident, lead to new genes but that's not why things are sloppy. If having junk DNA were a clear advantage for future evolution then the genomes of all extant lineages should have lots of junk DNA and should make lots of lncRNAs.

Ruiz-Orera, J., Messeguer, X., Subirana, J.A., and Alba, M.M. (2014) Long non-coding RNAs as a source of new peptides. eLife 2014;3:e03523 [doi: 10.7554/eLife.03523]

Americans United: Teen Who Took Pic of Himself Getting Blown by Jesus Statue Doesn’t Deserve “Desecration” Charge

I posted a couple of times now about a 14-year-old boy from Pennsylvania who thought it would be hilarious to take pictures with a local Jesus statue as if he were getting a mock-blowjob from the Lord:

He’s currently facing two years in prison for this supposed desecration, a charge that is wildly out of proportion for what he did. As I said before, I don’t condone his actions, but bad taste and immaturity aren’t crimes.

Today, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins (who has an interesting past of his own) urging him not to prosecute this child:

The teenager has been charged not because he trespassed, defaced, or damaged the statue. Rather, the statute contemplates — and your statements confirm — that the teenager is being prosecuted because of the County’s disagreement with the message conveyed by his conduct, including the teenager’s apparent disrespect for a symbol of the Christian religion. You yourself recently stated, “this troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of OUR community” and that if the prosecution “tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”

By prosecuting this teenager because of the message conveyed by his actions — and because these actions may have “outraged the sensibilities” of others — the County is violating both the Free Speech and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment. Even if the County obtains a conviction, it is almost certain to be overturned, and the County would also be vulnerable to a lawsuit for civil rights violations.

AU added in a press release:

“While I don’t condone the sort of behavior in which this teen engaged, he didn’t do anything that should be considered illegal,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United’s executive director. “Just because a religious group might find a particular action to be offensive is not a justification for jail time.”

“The government may not throw citizens in jail just because others find their speech offensive or blasphemous,” said AU Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper. “We urge the district attorney to drop this religiously motivated criminal prosecution.”

So far, Higgins hasn’t shown any sign of easing up on the kid, but pursuing legal action against this kid for desecration would inevitably backfire, as AU points out. The kid may be immature, but he didn’t commit the crime they want to pin on him.

(Portions of this article were posted earlier)