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Weiye Loh » Racial and religious offence: Why censorship doesn't cut it - 1 views

  • All societies use a mix of approaches to address offensive speech. In international law, like at the European court of human rights and more and more jurisdictions, there is growing feeling that the law should really be a last resort and only used for the most extreme speech – speech that incites violence in a very direct way, or that is part of a campaign that violates the rights of minorities to live free of discrimination. In contrast, simply insulting and offending others, even if feelings are very hurt, is not seen as something that should invite a legal response. Using the law to protect feelings is too great an encroachment on freedom of speech.
  • Our laws are written very broadly, such that any sort of offence, even if it does not threaten imminent violence, is seen as deserving of strict regulation. This probably reflects a very strong social consensus that race and religion should be handled delicately. So we tend to rely on strong government. The state protects racial and religious sensibilities from offence, using censorship when there’s a danger of words and actions causing hurt.
  • in almost all cases, state action was instigated by complaints from members of the public. This is quite unlike political censorship, where action is initiated by the government, often with great resistance and opposition from netizens. In a string of cases involving racial and religious offence, however, it’s the netizens who tend to demand action, sometimes acting like a lynch mob.
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  • in many cases, the offensive messages were spread further by those reporting the offence.
  • What is the justification for strong police action against any form of speech? Why do we sometimes feel that it may not be enough to counter bad speech with good speech in free and open debate, and that we must instead use the law to stop the bad speech? Surely, it must be because we think the bad speech is so dangerous that it can cause immediate harm; or because we don’t trust the public to respond rationally, so we don’t know if good speech would indeed triumph in open debate. Usually, if we call in the authorities, it must be because we have a mental picture of offensive speech being like lighting a match in a combustible atmosphere. It is dangerous and there’s no time to debate the merits of that match – we just have to put it out.

    The irony of most of the cases that we have seen in the past few years is that the people demanding government action, as if the offensive words were explosive, were also those who helped to spread them. It is like helping to spread a fire while calling for the fire brigade.

  • their act of spreading the offensive content must mean that they did not actually believe that the expression was really that dangerous in the sense of prompting violence through reprisal attacks or riots. In reposting the offensive words or pictures, they showed that they actually trusted the public enough to respond sympathetically – they had faith that enough people would add their voices to the outrage that they themselves felt when they saw the offensive images or videos or words.
  • This then raises the question, why the need to involve the police at all? If Singaporeans are grown-up enough to defend their society against offensive speech, why have calls for prosecution and censorship become the automatic response?

    I wonder if this is an example of the well-known habit of unthinkingly relying on government to solve all our problems even when, with a little bit of effort in the form of grassroots action can do the job.

  • The next time people encounter racist or religiously offensive speech, it would be nice to see swift responses from credible and respected civil society groups, Members of Parliament, and other ordinary citizens. If the speaker doesn’t get the message, organise boycotts, for example, and give him or her the clear message that our society isn’t going to take such offence lying down. The more we can respond ourselves through open debate and grassroots action, without the need to ask law and order to step in, the stronger our society will be.
    No matter how hard we work at developing media literacy, we should not expect to be rid of all racially offensive speech online. There are two broad ways to respond to these breaches. We can reach out horizontally and together with our fellow citizens repair the damage by persuading others to reject harmful ideas. Or, we can reach up vertically to government, getting the authorities to act against irresponsible speech by using the law. The advantage of the latter is that it seems more efficient, punishing those who cross the line of acceptability and violate social norms, and deterring others from doing the same. The horizontal approach works through persuasion rather than the law, so it is slower and not foolproof.
Weiye Loh

New Statesman - What we can learn from Harold Camping - 0 views

  • In all areas of life, people will often go to extraordinary lengths to maintain prior beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary.
  • Apocalypse Now is a much more interesting prospect than Apocalypse Some Time in the Distant Future.
  • If the Bible is both true and complete, it follows that it ought to be possible to decode it and so work out when the End will come.
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  • Each new prophet can explain why his prediction is going to come true where all previous predictions (sometimes including his own) have not.
Weiye Loh

Apple causes 'religious' reaction in brains of fans, say neuroscientists - 0 views

    Secrets of the Superbrands also looks at the likes of Facebook, which has enjoyed phenomenal success in just a few years. "Like Apple, mobile phones and social networks offer an opportunity for us to express our basic human need to communicate. And it's by tapping into our basic needs, like gossip, religion or sex that these brands are taking over our world at such lightning speed," Riley says. He concludes: "That's not to say that clever marketing and brilliant technical innovation aren't also crucial, but it seems that if you're not providing a service which is of potential interest to every one of the 6.9 billion human beings on the planet, the chances are you're never going to become a technology superbrand."
Weiye Loh

Skepticblog » The Immortalist - 0 views

  • There is something almost religious about Kurzweil’s scientism, an observation he himself makes in the film, noting the similarities between his goals and that of the world’s religions: “the idea of a profound transformation in the future, eternal life, bringing back the dead—but the fact that we’re applying technology to achieve the goals that have been talked about in all human philosophies is not accidental because it does reflect the goal of humanity.” Although the film never discloses Kurzweil’s religious beliefs (he was raised by Jewish parents as a Unitarian Universalist), in a (presumably) unintentionally humorous moment that ends the film Kurzweil reflects on the God question and answers it himself: “Does God exist? I would say, ‘Not yet.’”
  • Transcendent Man is Barry Ptolemy’s beautifully crafted and artfully edited documentary film about Kurzweil and his quest to save humanity.
  • Transcendent Man pulls viewers in through Kurzweil’s visage of a future in which we merge with our machines and vastly extend our longevity and intelligence to the point where even death will be defeated. This point is what Kurzweil calls the “singularity” (inspired by the physics term denoting the infinitely dense point at the center of a black hole), and he arrives at the 2029 date by extrapolating curves based on what he calls the “law of accelerating returns.” This is “Moore’s Law” (the doubling of computing power every year) on steroids, applied to every conceivable area of science, technology and economics.
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  • Ptolemy’s portrayal of Kurzweil is unmistakably positive, but to his credit he includes several critics from both religion and science. From the former, a radio host named Chuck Missler, a born-again Christian who heads the Koinonia Institute (“dedicated to training and equipping the serious Christian to sojourn in today’s world”), proclaims: “We have a scenario laid out that the world is heading for an Armageddon and you and I are going to be the generation that’s alive that is going to see all this unfold.” He seems to be saying that Kurzweil is right about the second coming, but wrong about what it is that is coming. (Of course, Missler’s prognostication is the N+1 failed prophecy that began with Jesus himself, who told his followers (Mark 9:1): “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”) Another religiously-based admonition comes from the Stanford University neuroscientist William Huribut, who self-identifies as a “practicing Christian” who believes in immortality, but not in the way Kurzweil envisions it. “Death is conquered spiritually,” he pronounced.
  • On the science side of the ledger, Neil Gershenfeld, director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sagely notes: “What Ray does consistently is to take a whole bunch of steps that everybody agrees on and take principles for extrapolating that everybody agrees on and show they lead to things that nobody agrees on.” Likewise, the estimable futurist Kevin Kelly, whose 2010 book What Technology Wants paints a much more realistic portrait of what our futures may (or may not) hold
  • Kelly agrees that Kurzweil’s exponential growth curves are accurate but that the conclusions and especially the inspiration drawn from them are not. “He seems to have no doubts about it and in this sense I think he is a prophetic type figure who is completely sure and nothing can waiver his absolute certainty about this. So I would say he is a modern day prophet…that’s wrong.”
  • Transcendent Man is clearly meant to be an uplifting film celebrating all the ways science and technology have and are going to enrich our lives.
  • An especially lachrymose moment is when Kurzweil is rifling through his father’s journals and documents in a storage room dedicated to preserving his memory until the day that all this “data” (including Ray’s own fading memories) can be reconfigured into an A.I. simulacrum so that father and son can be reunited.
  • Although Kurzweil says he is optimistic and cheery about life, he can’t seem to stop talking about death: “It’s such a profoundly sad, lonely feeling that I really can’t bear it,” he admits. “So I go back to thinking about how I’m not going to die.” One wonders how much of life he is missing by over thinking death, or how burdensome it must surely be to imbibe over 200 supplement tables a day and have your blood tested and cleansed every couple of months, all in an effort to reprogram the body’s biochemistry.

Weiye Loh

A 'Good Book,' Absent God - - 0 views

  • That focus on the deity, Mr. Grayling believes, distracts from seeking the good life in the short time we are allotted.
  • Mr. Grayling finds Judaism and Christianity almost self-evidently absurd: “I could never believe the sin committed by Eve in the Garden of Eden was all that serious,” he said. “It would seem to me that knowledge was a good thing to have.”

    And he does not fret that we need divine commandments to ensure that we treat one another well: “All the stories that fill the newspaper — war, chaos — they are there because they are unusual. They are not as great a story as the millions of acts of human kindness throughout human history.”

  • To make a non-bible look an awful lot like the Bible could be a bad idea. There is an unfortunate history of humanist movements co-opting the forms of religion. In the 19th century, the Frenchman Auguste Comte, for example, tried futilely to start a religion of humanity, modeled on the organization of the Catholic Church, with priests, weekly services and feast days, but without God. “It ignominiously failed, and I think it’s quite right it failed,” Mr. Grayling says.
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  • But while it may be unwise to imitate organized religion, the Bible has many imitable virtues. “One of the charms of the Bible has been you can take a short passage and reflect on it,” Mr. Grayling said. And by aping the form of the Bible, he added, “ ‘The Good Book’ is presented as another contribution to the same conversation as the Bible, about the nature of the good or the good life.”
  • “I think,” the master says, “this book provides resources for thinking about what the good life might be. But we have to think for ourselves. We have to take the Socratic challenge to lead the examined life. You must transcend the teachings and the teachers. Don’t be a disciple.”
Weiye Loh

Rationally Speaking: Don't blame free speech for the murders in Afghanistan - 0 views

  • The most disturbing example of this response came from the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, who said, “I don't think we should be blaming any Afghan. We should be blaming the person who produced the news — the one who burned the Koran. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion, traditions.” I was not going to comment on this monumentally inane line of thought, especially since Susan Jacoby, Michael Tomasky, and Mike Labossiere have already done such a marvelous job of it. But then I discovered, to my shock, that several of my liberal, progressive American friends actually agreed that Jones has some sort of legal and moral responsibility for what happened in Afghanistan
  • I believe he has neither. Here is why.
    Unlike many countries in the Middle East and Europe that punish blasphemy by fine, jail or death, the U.S., via the First Amendment and a history of court decisions, strongly protects freedom of speech and expression as basic and fundamental human rights. These include critiquing and offending other citizens’ culture, religion, and traditions. Such rights are not supposed to be swayed by peoples' subjective feelings, which form an incoherent and arbitrary basis for lawmaking. In a free society, if and when a person is offended by an argument or act, he or she has every right to argue and act back. If a person commits murder, the answer is not to limit the right; the answer is to condemn and punish the murderer for overreacting.
  • Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Governments have an interest in condemning certain speech that provokes immediate hatred of or violence against people. The canonical example is yelling “fire!” in a packed room when there in fact is no fire, since this creates a clear and imminent danger for those inside the room. But Jones did not create such an environment, nor did he intend to. Jones (more precisely, Wayne Sapp) merely burned a book in a private ceremony in protest of its contents. Indeed, the connection between Jones and the murders requires many links in-between. The mob didn’t kill those accountable, or even Americans.
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  • But even if there is no law prohibiting Jones’ action, isn’t he morally to blame for creating the environment that led to the murders? Didn’t he know Muslims would riot, and people might die?
    It seems ridiculous to assume that Jones could know such a thing, even if parts of the Muslim world have a poor track record in this area. But imagine for a moment that Jones did know Muslims would riot, and people would die. This does not make the act of burning a book and the act of murder morally equivalent, nor does it make the book burner responsible for reactions to his act. In and of itself, burning a book is a morally neutral act. Why would this change because some misguided individuals think book burning is worth the death penalty? And why is it that so many have automatically assumed the reaction to be respectable? To use an example nearer to some of us, recall when PZ Myers desecrated a communion wafer. If some Christian was offended, and went on to murder the closest atheist, would we really blame Myers? Is Myers' offense any different than Jones’?
  • the deep-seated belief among many that blasphemy is wrong. This means any reaction to blasphemy is less wrong, and perhaps even excused, compared to the blasphemous offense. Even President Obama said that, "The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry.” To be sure, Obama went on to denounce the murders, and to state that burning a holy book is no excuse for murder. But Obama apparently couldn’t condemn the murders without also condemning Jones’ act of religious defiance.
  • As it turns out, this attitude is exactly what created the environment that led to murders in the first place. The members of the mob believed that religious belief should be free from public critical inquiry, and that a person who offends religious believers should face punishment. In the absence of official prosecution, they took matters into their own hands and sought anyone on the side of the offender. It didn’t help that Afghan leaders stoked the flames of hatred — but they only did so because they agreed with the mob’s sentiment to begin with. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the U.S. should punish those responsible, and three well-known Afghan mullahs urged their followers to take to the streets and protest to call for the arrest of Jones
Weiye Loh

Rationally Speaking: Sagan beats Dawkins. In related news, education overcomes supersti... - 0 views

    People are drawn to creationism out of emotional fears of personal annihilation, not by reasoned discourse.

    And It seems that education might trump people's fear of mortality enough to make them understand that science is more sound than religion when it comes to explaining the natural world.
Weiye Loh

'Gay cure' Apple iPhone app: more than 80,000 complain | Technology | - 0 views

  • Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights group Stonewall, said: "At Stonewall, we've all been on this app since 8am and we can assure your readers it's having absolutely no effect.
  • A new petition letter addressed to Steve Jobs, the Apple chief executive, posted on the site last week said: "Apple doesn't allow racist or anti-Semitic apps in its app store, yet it gives the green light to an app targeting vulnerable LGBT youth with the message that their sexual orientation is a 'sin that will make your heart sick' and a 'counterfeit'.
  • The technology giant is notoriously efficacious in deciding which apps it allows on to its popular iPhone and iPad handsets. Last year Apple withdrew a similar anti-gay iPhone app called Manhattan Declaration after, the online activism site, handed over an 8,000-strong petition.
Weiye Loh

Rationally Speaking: Is modern moral philosophy still in thrall to religion? - 0 views

  • Recently I re-read Richard Taylor’s An Introduction to Virtue Ethics, a classic published by Prometheus
  • Taylor compares virtue ethics to the other two major approaches to moral philosophy: utilitarianism (a la John Stuart Mill) and deontology (a la Immanuel Kant). Utilitarianism, of course, is roughly the idea that ethics has to do with maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain; deontology is the idea that reason can tell us what we ought to do from first principles, as in Kant’s categorical imperative (e.g., something is right if you can agree that it could be elevated to a universally acceptable maxim).
  • Taylor argues that utilitarianism and deontology — despite being wildly different in a variety of respects — share one common feature: both philosophies assume that there is such a thing as moral right and wrong, and a duty to do right and avoid wrong. But, he says, on the face of it this is nonsensical. Duty isn’t something one can have in the abstract, duty is toward a law or a lawgiver, which begs the question of what could arguably provide us with a universal moral law, or who the lawgiver could possibly be.
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  • His answer is that both utilitarianism and deontology inherited the ideas of right, wrong and duty from Christianity, but endeavored to do without Christianity’s own answers to those questions: the law is given by God and the duty is toward Him. Taylor says that Mill, Kant and the like simply absorbed the Christian concept of morality while rejecting its logical foundation (such as it was). As a result, utilitarians and deontologists alike keep talking about the right thing to do, or the good as if those concepts still make sense once we move to a secular worldview. Utilitarians substituted pain and pleasure for wrong and right respectively, and Kant thought that pure reason can arrive at moral universals. But of course neither utilitarians nor deontologist ever give us a reason why it would be irrational to simply decline to pursue actions that increase global pleasure and diminish global pain, or why it would be irrational for someone not to find the categorical imperative particularly compelling.
  • The situation — again according to Taylor — is dramatically different for virtue ethics. Yes, there too we find concepts like right and wrong and duty. But, for the ancient Greeks they had completely different meanings, which made perfect sense then and now, if we are not mislead by the use of those words in a different context. For the Greeks, an action was right if it was approved by one’s society, wrong if it wasn’t, and duty was to one’s polis. And they understood perfectly well that what was right (or wrong) in Athens may or may not be right (or wrong) in Sparta. And that an Athenian had a duty to Athens, but not to Sparta, and vice versa for a Spartan.
  • But wait a minute. Does that mean that Taylor is saying that virtue ethics was founded on moral relativism? That would be an extraordinary claim indeed, and he does not, in fact, make it. His point is a bit more subtle. He suggests that for the ancient Greeks ethics was not (principally) about right, wrong and duty. It was about happiness, understood in the broad sense of eudaimonia, the good or fulfilling life. Aristotle in particular wrote in his Ethics about both aspects: the practical ethics of one’s duty to one’s polis, and the universal (for human beings) concept of ethics as the pursuit of the good life. And make no mistake about it: for Aristotle the first aspect was relatively trivial and understood by everyone, it was the second one that represented the real challenge for the philosopher.
  • For instance, the Ethics is famous for Aristotle’s list of the virtues (see Table), and his idea that the right thing to do is to steer a middle course between extreme behaviors. But this part of his work, according to Taylor, refers only to the practical ways of being a good Athenian, not to the universal pursuit of eudaimonia.

    Vice of Deficiency Virtuous Mean Vice of Excess
    Cowardice Courage Rashness
    Insensibility Temperance Intemperance
    Illiberality Liberality Prodigality
    Pettiness Munificence Vulgarity
    Humble-mindedness High-mindedness Vaingloriness
    Want of Ambition Right Ambition Over-ambition
    Spiritlessness Good Temper Irascibility
    Surliness Friendly Civility Obsequiousness
    Ironical Depreciation Sincerity Boastfulness
    Boorishness Wittiness Buffoonery</t
  • How, then, is one to embark on the more difficult task of figuring out how to live a good life? For Aristotle eudaimonia meant the best kind of existence that a human being can achieve, which in turns means that we need to ask what it is that makes humans different from all other species, because it is the pursuit of excellence in that something that provides for a eudaimonic life.
  • Now, Plato - writing before Aristotle - ended up construing the good life somewhat narrowly and in a self-serving fashion. He reckoned that the thing that distinguishes humanity from the rest of the biological world is our ability to use reason, so that is what we should be pursuing as our highest goal in life. And of course nobody is better equipped than a philosopher for such an enterprise... Which reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s quip that “A process which led from the amoeba to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress, though whether the amoeba would agree with this opinion is not known.”
  • But Aristotle's conception of "reason" was significantly broader, and here is where Taylor’s own update of virtue ethics begins to shine, particularly in Chapter 16 of the book, aptly entitled “Happiness.” Taylor argues that the proper way to understand virtue ethics is as the quest for the use of intelligence in the broadest possible sense, in the sense of creativity applied to all walks of life. He says: “Creative intelligence is exhibited by a dancer, by athletes, by a chess player, and indeed in virtually any activity guided by intelligence [including — but certainly not limited to — philosophy].” He continues: “The exercise of skill in a profession, or in business, or even in such things as gardening and farming, or the rearing of a beautiful family, all such things are displays of creative intelligence.”
  • what we have now is a sharp distinction between utilitarianism and deontology on the one hand and virtue ethics on the other, where the first two are (mistakenly, in Taylor’s assessment) concerned with the impossible question of what is right or wrong, and what our duties are — questions inherited from religion but that in fact make no sense outside of a religious framework. Virtue ethics, instead, focuses on the two things that really matter and to which we can find answers: the practical pursuit of a life within our polis, and the lifelong quest of eudaimonia understood as the best exercise of our creative faculties
  • > So if one's profession is that of assassin or torturer would being the best that you can be still be your duty and eudaimonic? And what about those poor blighters who end up with an ugly family? <

    Aristotle's philosophy is ver much concerned with virtue, and being an assassin or a torturer is not a virtue, so the concept of a eudaimonic life for those characters is oxymoronic. As for ending up in a "ugly" family, Aristotle did write that eudaimonia is in part the result of luck, because it is affected by circumstances.
  • > So to the title question of this post: "Is modern moral philosophy still in thrall to religion?" one should say: Yes, for some residual forms of philosophy and for some philosophers <

    That misses Taylor's contention - which I find intriguing, though I have to give it more thought - that *all* modern moral philosophy, except virtue ethics, is in thrall to religion, without realizing it.
  • “The exercise of skill in a profession, or in business, or even in such things as gardening and farming, or the rearing of a beautiful family, all such things are displays of creative intelligence.”

    So if one's profession is that of assassin or torturer would being the best that you can be still be your duty and eudaimonic? And what about those poor blighters who end up with an ugly family?
Weiye Loh

Humanist census posters banned from railway stations | UK news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • The posters, bearing the slogan "If you're not religious, for God's sake say so", have been refused by the companies that own the advertising space, which say they are likely to cause offence.
  • The British Humanist Association (BHA), which published the posters, said it was astonished that such an everyday phrase should be deemed too contentious for public display. "It is a little tongue-in-cheek," said the BHA chief executive, Andrew Copson, "but in the same way that saying 'bless you' has no religious implication for many, 'for God's sake' is used to express urgency and not to invoke a deity.
  • "This censorship of a legitimate advert is frustrating and ridiculous: the blasphemy laws in England have been abolished but we are seeing the same principle being enforced nonetheless."
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  • The posters ask those who are not religious to tick the "no religion" box when they fill in forms for the 2011 census.

    "We used to tick 'Christian' but we're not really religious. We'll tick 'No Religion' this time. We're sick of hearing politicians say this is a religious country and giving millions to religious organisations and the pope's state visit. Money like that should go where it is needed," says one of the banned posters.

  • The ban followed advice from the Advertising Standards Authority's committee of advertising practice that the advert had the potential to cause widespread and serious offence.

    The poster display company involved also said it did not want to take adverts relating to religion.

  • British Humanist Association has amended the campaign slogan on the adverts to read simply: "Not religious? In this year's census say so." The posters are being displayed from this weekend on 200 buses in London, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, Cardiff and Exeter.
    The posters, which encourage people to tick the 'no religion' box if they do not believe in God, were judged too likely to offend
Weiye Loh

The Free Speech Blog: Official blog of Index on Censorship » Thank God for th... - 0 views

  • The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday by an 8-1 vote that the bizarre anti-gay funeral picketers belonging to the Westboro Baptist Church have a First Amendment right to free speech. Rev Fred Phelps and his crew have been waving placards with messages such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “AIDS Cures Fags” at military funerals to promote their belief that God is punishing the US for accepting homosexuality.
  • The Supreme Court decision (see below) overruled a previous award of over $10 million (reduced on appeal to $5 million) to the family of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder in relation to a protest at his funeral.
  • First, undoubtedly debate about war, its causes and casualties is important. This was “speech” in a public place on an issue of public concern, even though the particular hypothesis is ridiculous and offensive. Free speech protection can’t, however, just be for views already presumed to be true.

    Secondly, protestors were scrupulous about staying within the letter of the law. They knew that they had to remain 1,000 feet from the funeral, for instance, and did not shout or otherwise disrupt the service. Preventing such orderly protests on issues of importance would have been a serious attack on civil liberties, even though the protestors displayed gross insensitivity to those mourning.

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  • we should welcome this decision even though it protects bigots of limited reasoning ability about cause and effect who are indifferent to the feelings of the recently bereaved. The best response to hateful speech is surely counter-speech. At many recent military funerals, counter-protestors have arrived early in their thousands and occupied the prime spaces in the surrounding area. That is a far better reaction than a legal gagging order.
Weiye Loh

Epiphenom: If God loves you, why take medicine? - 0 views

  • Sarah Finocchario-Kessler, at the University of Kansas, used data from one such drug trial to see what the effect of religious beliefs (and other psychological factors) was on medication taking.

  • One recent study looked at whether people with HIV took their medicine as they were supposed to. Most trials of new drugs monitor this, and it can be done very easily simply using special bottles that record each time they're opened.
  • people who used a passive religious deferral coping style (e.g. "I don’t try much of anything; simply expect God to take control") were less likely to take their medicine as often as they were supposed to.  On the other hand,  collaborative religious coping "I work together with God as partners" or self-directing religious coping (e.g., "I make decisions about what to do without God’s help" had no effect on whether people took their medicines.
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  • The biggest effect was with those people who scored high on the "God as locus of health control" measure - that means people who agreed with statements like "Whether or not my HIV disease improves is up to God."
    Although this had no effect on medication taking at 3 months, the halfway point of the study, by the end of the study (at 6 months) people who scored high on this measure were 42% less likely to be taking their medication regularly.
  • This study is interesting because these aren't folks who have any crazy ideas that medicine is useless. Remember, they signed up to take part in a drug study, presumably because they thought they might benefit.

    What's more, they stayed in the study right to the end, and did take their medicine most of the time. It's just that they were more likely than others to 'forget' it.
  • Now, this is a complicated picture in other ways. People who are at death's door (unlike the mostly healthy people in this study) seem to be more likely to ask for 'heroic' interventions to try to keep them alive if they have strong beliefs in God's will.
  • Maybe confronting your own imminent death triggers some reconsiderations about the mysterious workings of the almighty!
Weiye Loh

Hands Off Higher Ed in the Statehouse? Hardly. - Government - The Chronicle of Higher E... - 0 views

  • Republicans dominated state elections in November, promising to shrink the size and cost of government to help erase tens of billions of dollars in budget shortfalls. But the proposals they've floated since taking office look more like political point-scoring than serious cost-cutting.
  • much of the recent legislation aims to curb what some lawmakers apparently imagine as commonplace excesses of faculty
Weiye Loh

takchek (读书 ): When Scientific Research and Higher Education become just Poli... - 0 views

  • A mere two years after the passage of the economic stimulus package, the now Republican-controlled House of Representatives have started swinging their budget cutting axe at scientific research and higher education.

    One point stood out in the midst of all this "fiscal responsibility" talk:

    The House bill does not specify cuts to five of the Office of Science's six programs, namely, basic energy sciences, high-energy physics, nuclear physics, fusion energy sciences, and advanced scientific computing. However, it explicitly whacks funding for the biological and environmental research program from $588 million to $302 million, a 49% reduction that would effectively zero out the program for the remainder of the year. The program supports much of DOE's climate and bioenergy research and in the past has funded much of the federal government's work on decoding the human genome. - Science , 25 February 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6020 pp. 997-998 DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6020.997

    Do the terms Big Oil, Creationism/Intelligent Design come to your mind?
  • In other somewhat related news, tenure rights are being weakened in Louisiana and state legislatures are trying to have greater control over how colleges are run. It is hard not to see that there seems to be a coordinated assault on academia (presumably since many academics are seen by the Republican right as leftist liberals.)

    Lawmakers are inserting themselves even more directly into the classroom in South Carolina, where a proposal would require professors to teach a minimum of nine credit hours per semester.

    "I think we need to have professors in the classroom and not on sabbatical and out researching and doing things to that effect," State Rep. Murrell G. Smith Jr., a Republican, told the Associated Press.

    I think they are attempting to turn research universities into trade/vocational schools.
Weiye Loh

TOC - selective censorship? | The Online Citizen - 0 views

  • A recent article on Temasek Review has raised the issue of TOC’s moderation policy again. Titled ‘TOC: The overkill censor‘ the article’s main contention was that TOC practices selective censorship especially with regards to ‘Western style social issues’. Specifically, it points to the discussion on an article regarding LGBT issues as an example of how TOC tries to skew the discussion to its stance
  • We make no apologies on being stricter with our moderation on the LGBT issues, not only because past experiences have shown that such discussions can easily degenerate into name-callings (words like ‘fags’ are disallowed) and derogatory remarks from both sides, but also because it also touches on religion.

    We have taken pains to ensure that anyone’s religion is not derided simply because the person opposes LGBT rights. We have also made sure that no religious scriptures are referred to, as we feel that discussions on theology and intepretations of scriptures should best be discussed separately elsewhere.  As such we have moderated references to scriptures, be it from people who are for, or against LGBT rights.

  • There were other allegations made against TOC as well especially whenever we publish articles on LGBT issues:

    TOC is pro-gay.

    Actually, TOC is pro-a-lot-of-things.  TOC is a platform for the disenfranchised. And this includes gay people who’re fighting for rights – the same way those anti-death penalty folks are, or those like TWc2 and HOME are fighting for migrant rights. So, really, it is not that TOC supports the gay community per se but more that it supports what they’re fighting for. There is a difference which people who discriminate against LGBTs do not seem to understand. We understand that this may not be a popular stance. However, it would be far more hypocritical to not speak up on the LGBT issue simply for the sake of fearing a loss of readership.

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  • As for the allegations in the articles that TOC seem more concerned with ‘Western social issues’, we suggest that readers do a count of the number of articles on LGBT issues as opposed to the articles we have done on the daily concerns of the average Singaporean. It is inaccurate to suggest that we have also not campaigned for these issues. We have held a Speakers Corner event to protest fare hikes. We have in our individual capacity written letters to the mainstream press on several issues, such as homelessness, some of which were published. Ironically, the one thing that TOC has not held a Speakers Corner event for, was on LGBT rights!
  • There those who have accused us of being anti-Christians or anti-religious.  That is untrue. The TOC team and its contributors consists of Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, atheists, agnostics, etc.

    TOC has survived all these because of one simple reason – it continues to tell stories of the disenfranchised and it lets readers be the judge.

Weiye Loh

Tom Morris - Catholicism and copyright - 0 views

  • One of the most amusing things about Scientology
  • is the fact that the scriptures of the church are copyright and some are kept very secret. The business model is simple: you have to pay to read more
  • The Bible isn’t copyright. The Qu’ran isn’t copyright. If you want to publish your own version of a huge range of religious texts, you can. Pop over to Wikisource and you can read copyright-free editions of the Bible, prayers, the Apocrypha and the Tao Te Ching among many thousands of other religious texts (and why not some atheist/humanist manifestos too?). This enables scholarship: theologians, historians and others can make their own commentaries building atop these scriptures. Critical scholarship of the sort Biblical commentators do is helped by not having the threat of a lawsuit hanging over one if one quotes a bit too much from the text.
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  • What makes the Scientology situation so egregious is that no independent theological, philosophical or critical reflection can happen when the text is locked away. There seems to me to be a conflict here. If you believe you have access to a truth that has the ability to save people in the afterlife or to dramatically make their life better in this one, you have some kind of duty to share it. Or rather, if you are keeping your religious truths to yourself and not sharing them, people have very good reason to believe you might be a huckster.
  • But I found out today that Scientology is not alone in locking up their teachings behind the wall of copyright. The Catholic Church does too. All of the copyright in the papal writings of Pope Benedict XVI now belong to the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
  • The writings of the Pope will not go out of copyright until 70 years after his death.
  • What benefit is this to anyone? Did the lack of copyright protection for writings of Popes before the current copyright regime prevent the spread of Catholicism? If everything the Pope wrote was in public domain, would it prevent the development of the “useful Arts and Sciences”, as the U.S. Constitution puts it? The motivation of the Pope is really not the same as the motivation of the Walt Disney company. Without copyright protection, the Church will not fall to bits.

    Indeed, one interesting question is what the copyright status of the Catholic Catechism is. This is the basic doctrine of the Catholic faith. I would presume it is copyright in much the same way. If we criticise Scientology for locking it’s scriptures up behind copyright, surely the same could be said for the Catechism?

    For a body like the Catholic Church, it would seem totally reasonable and straight-forward to simply release all their materials completely as public domain.

Weiye Loh

God hates hackers: Anonymous warns Westboro Baptist Church, 'stop now, or else' - 0 views

  • Vigilante “hacktivist” group Anonymous has a new target: Westboro Baptist Church. In an open letter to the notorious Kansas-based church, Anonymous promises “vicious” retaliation against the organization if they do not “cease & desist” their protest activities.
  • Led by pastor Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist has become infamous for picketing the funerals of US soldiers — events know as “Love Crusades” — and for their display of signs bearing inflammatory messages, like “God hates fags.” The church has long argued that their Constitutionally-protected right to freedom of speech allows them to continue their derogatory brand of social activism.
  • Anonymous also considers itself an “aggressive proponent” of free speech, having recently launched attacks on organizations they consider to be enemies of that right: Companies like PayPal, Visa and Master Card, who stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks after the anti-secrecy organization released a massive cache of US embassy cables; and the government of Egypt, which attempted to cut off its
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  • Other Anonymous targets include the Church of Scientology and, most recently, cyber-security company HBGary, which attempted to infiltrate Anonymous. In response, the lose-knit hacker group released 71,800 HBGary emails, which revealed highly dubious activities by the company, almost instantaneously destroying HBGary’s reputation and potentially setting it on a path to financial ruin.
Weiye Loh

Religion: Faith in science : Nature News - 0 views

  • The Templeton Foundation claims to be a friend of science. So why does it make so many researchers uneasy?
  • With a current endowment estimated at US$2.1 billion, the organization continues to pursue Templeton's goal of building bridges between science and religion. Each year, it doles out some $70 million in grants, more than $40 million of which goes to research in fields such as cosmology, evolutionary biology and psychology.
  • however, many scientists find it troubling — and some see it as a threat. Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, Illinois, calls the foundation "sneakier than the creationists". Through its grants to researchers, Coyne alleges, the foundation is trying to insinuate religious values into science. "It claims to be on the side of science, but wants to make faith a virtue," he says.
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  • But other researchers, both with and without Templeton grants, say that they find the foundation remarkably open and non-dogmatic. "The Templeton Foundation has never in my experience pressured, suggested or hinted at any kind of ideological slant," says Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic, a magazine that debunks pseudoscience, who was hired by the foundation to edit an essay series entitled 'Does science make belief in God obsolete?'
  • The debate highlights some of the challenges facing the Templeton Foundation after the death of its founder in July 2008, at the age of 95.
  • With the help of a $528-million bequest from Templeton, the foundation has been radically reframing its research programme. As part of that effort, it is reducing its emphasis on religion to make its programmes more palatable to the broader scientific community.

    Like many of his generation, Templeton was a great believer in progress, learning, initiative and the power of human imagination — not to mention the free-enterprise system that allowed him, a middle-class boy from Winchester, Tennessee, to earn billions of dollars on Wall Street. The foundation accordingly allocates 40% of its annual grants to programmes with names such as 'character development', 'freedom and free enterprise' and 'exceptional cognitive talent and genius'.

  • Unlike most of his peers, however, Templeton thought that the principles of progress should also apply to religion. He described himself as "an enthusiastic Christian" — but was also open to learning from Hinduism, Islam and other religious traditions. Why, he wondered, couldn't religious ideas be open to the type of constructive competition that had produced so many advances in science and the free market?
  • That question sparked Templeton's mission to make religion "just as progressive as medicine or astronomy".
  • Early Templeton prizes had nothing to do with science: the first went to the Catholic missionary Mother Theresa of Calcutta in 1973.
  • By the 1980s, however, Templeton had begun to realize that fields such as neuroscience, psychology and physics could advance understanding of topics that are usually considered spiritual matters — among them forgiveness, morality and even the nature of reality. So he started to appoint scientists to the prize panel, and in 1985 the award went to a research scientist for the first time: Alister Hardy, a marine biologist who also investigated religious experience. Since then, scientists have won with increasing frequency.
  • "There's a distinct feeling in the research community that Templeton just gives the award to the most senior scientist they can find who's willing to say something nice about religion," says Harold Kroto, a chemist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, who was co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and describes himself as a devout atheist.
  • Yet Templeton saw scientists as allies. They had what he called "the humble approach" to knowledge, as opposed to the dogmatic approach. "Almost every scientist will agree that they know so little and they need to learn," he once said.
  • Templeton wasn't interested in funding mainstream research, says Barnaby Marsh, the foundation's executive vice-president. Templeton wanted to explore areas — such as kindness and hatred — that were not well known and did not attract major funding agencies. Marsh says Templeton wondered, "Why is it that some conflicts go on for centuries, yet some groups are able to move on?"
  • Templeton's interests gave the resulting list of grants a certain New Age quality (See Table 1). For example, in 1999 the foundation gave $4.6 million for forgiveness research at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and in 2001 it donated $8.2 million to create an Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (that is, altruism and compassion) at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

    "A lot of money wasted on nonsensical ideas," says Kroto. Worse, says Coyne, these projects are profoundly corrupting to science, because the money tempts researchers into wasting time and effort on topics that aren't worth it. If someone is willing to sell out for a million dollars, he says, "Templeton is there to oblige him".

  • At the same time, says Marsh, the 'dean of value investing', as Templeton was known on Wall Street, had no intention of wasting his money on junk science or unanswerables such as whether God exists. So before pursuing a scientific topic he would ask his staff to get an assessment from appropriate scholars — a practice that soon evolved into a peer-review process drawing on experts from across the scientific community.
  • Because Templeton didn't like bureaucracy, adds Marsh, the foundation outsourced much of its peer review and grant giving. In 1996, for example, it gave $5.3 million to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC, to fund efforts that work with evangelical groups to find common ground on issues such as the environment, and to get more science into seminary curricula. In 2006, Templeton gave $8.8 million towards the creation of the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi), which funds research on the origins of the Universe and other fundamental issues in physics, under the leadership of Anthony Aguirre, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
  • But external peer review hasn't always kept the foundation out of trouble. In the 1990s, for example, Templeton-funded organizations gave book-writing grants to Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist now at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, and William Dembski, a philosopher now at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. After obtaining the grants, both later joined the Discovery Institute — a think-tank based in Seattle, Washington, that promotes intelligent design. Other Templeton grants supported a number of college courses in which intelligent design was discussed. Then, in 1999, the foundation funded a conference at Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin, in which intelligent-design proponents confronted critics.

    Those awards became a major embarrassment in late 2005, during a highly publicized court fight over the teaching of intelligent design in schools in Dover, Pennsylvania. A number of media accounts of the intelligent design movement described the Templeton Foundation as a major supporter — a charge that Charles Harper, then senior vice-president, was at pains to deny.

  • Some foundation officials were initially intrigued by intelligent design, Harper told The New York Times. But disillusionment set in — and Templeton funding stopped — when it became clear that the theory was part of a political movement from the Christian right wing, not science. Today, the foundation website explicitly warns intelligent-design researchers not to bother submitting proposals: they will not be considered.
  • Avowedly antireligious scientists such as Coyne and Kroto see the intelligent-design imbroglio as a symptom of their fundamental complaint that religion and science should not mix at all.

    "Religion is based on dogma and belief, whereas science is based on doubt and questioning," says Coyne, echoing an argument made by many others. "In religion, faith is a virtue. In science, faith is a vice." The purpose of the Templeton Foundation is to break down that wall, he says — to reconcile the irreconcilable and give religion scholarly legitimacy.

  • Foundation officials insist that this is backwards: questioning is their reason for being. Religious dogma is what they are fighting.

    That does seem to be the experience of many scientists who have taken Templeton money. During the launch of FQXi, says Aguirre, "Max and I were very suspicious at first. So we said, 'We'll try this out, and the minute something smells, we'll cut and run.' It never happened. The grants we've given have not been connected with religion in any way, and they seem perfectly happy about that."

  • John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, also had concerns when he started a Templeton-funded project in 2007. He had just published a paper with survey data showing that religious affiliation had a negative correlation with health among African-Americans — the opposite of what he assumed the foundation wanted to hear. He was bracing for a protest when someone told him to look at the foundation's website. They had displayed his finding on the front page. "That made me relax a bit," says Cacioppo.
  • Yet, even scientists who give the foundation high marks for openness often find it hard to shake their unease. Sean Carroll, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, is willing to participate in Templeton-funded events — but worries about the foundation's emphasis on research into 'spiritual' matters. "The act of doing science means that you accept a purely material explanation of the Universe, that no spiritual dimension is required," he says.
  • It hasn't helped that Jack Templeton is much more politically and religiously conservative than his father was. The foundation shows no obvious rightwards trend in its grant-giving and other activities since John Templeton's death — and it is barred from supporting political activities by its legal status as a not-for-profit corporation. Still, many scientists find it hard to trust an organization whose president has used his personal fortune to support right-leaning candidates and causes such as the 2008 ballot initiative that outlawed gay marriage in California.
  • Scientists' discomfort with the foundation is probably inevitable in the current political climate, says Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The past 30 years have seen the growing power of the Christian religious right in the United States, the rise of radical Islam around the world, and religiously motivated terrorist attacks such as those in the United States on 11 September 2001.

    Given all that, says Atran, many scientists find it almost impossible to think of religion as anything but fundamentalism at war with reason.

  • the foundation has embraced the theme of 'science and the big questions' — an open-ended list that includes topics such as 'Does the Universe have a purpose?'
  • Towards the end of Templeton's life, says Marsh, he became increasingly concerned that this reaction was getting in the way of the foundation's mission: that the word 'religion' was alienating too many good scientists.
  • The peer-review and grant-making system has also been revamped: whereas in the past the foundation ran an informal mix of projects generated by Templeton and outside grant seekers, the system is now organized around an annual list of explicit funding priorities.
  • The foundation is still a work in progress, says Jack Templeton — and it always will be. "My father believed," he says, "we were all called to be part of an ongoing creative process. He was always trying to make people think differently."

    "And he always said, 'If you're still doing today what you tried to do two years ago, then you're not making progress.'" 

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