Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why I Can’t Agree With the Bible: 2 Kings: Part 2

It’s been a while since I worked on this series. I’ll try to get back to doing it more regularly, but, since I’m back in school, no promises. So here is the rest of 2 Kings.
Where I left off, Jezebel was to be eaten by dogs. This seems to be a terrible punishment. Why would Yahweh choose something so gruesome? Jehu is then made king. He marches to conquer Ahab’s land and kill Ahab’s family. Jehu orders the messengers that are sent to him to ask if he is there peacefully (of course he’s not. The Bible isn’t exactly a book of peace) to join him, they do. Why would they be so willing to Join him? Jehu asks how there can be peace with all the witchcraft. What does witchcraft have to do with peace?
Jehu makes sure God’s prophecy about Ahab and Jezebel comes true. Jehu knew about the prophecy ahead of time and worked things out to happen as God said it would. That prophecy can’t really be said to be an accurate prophecy: we can’t say for sure whether it came true because God said it would or because Jehu made sure it would (provided it actually happened).
Jezebel puts on makeup to challenge Jehu. Why? She shouted at him out a window. Jehu says that she’s only to be buried because she is a kings daughter. So her only value as a person is based on who her father was. How incredibly sexist. Part of Ahab’s prophecy included the slaughter of his relatives, so 70 princes were slaughtered. Why did these princes deserve to be slaughtered? What had they done? Jehu is said to have killed all of Ahab’s family. Why all of them? What good did that do anyone? Why did they deserve to die?
Jehu then claims to be holding a sacrifice for Baal, but it is a trick to draw in Baal’s followers. He has them all killed. Were these all Israelites who were supposedly betraying God? Because I can kind of see Israelites wanting retribution from Israelites that they viewed as traitors. However, killing people seems like a terrible waste. And today we would call this a hate crime. Especially if they had never worshiped Yahweh. The place where they were killed was turned into a latrine. Lovely. I guess respect for others wasn’t something practiced in the ancient Middle East…
Jehu apparently didn’t turn away from the sins of Jeroboam. Is this still a useful claim? Did the peopleat this time even remember what Jeroboam’s crime was? He had been dead for quite a few generations already!
Jehoash was 7 when he became king. He did what was right in the eye of the Lord. What does that actually mean? Jehoash demanded that the temple be repaired, but the priests didn’t do so for many years. He finally had to force them to repair the temple.
The sins of Jeroboam continued. Whatever this means.
More people killing each other. Lovely.
Ahaziah is made king at 16.
Everybody seems to do evil in the eyes of God. One must wonder why he bothers with humans if he thinks everything we do is evil. God apparently afflicted Ahaziah with lepracy. Why?
Zachariah becomes king of Israel.
Shallum ruled for 1 month. He apparently led a cult of some sort. Why is he even mentioned? He didn’t do anything but lead a cult. And nothing is said of this cult. It’s just kind of mentioned.
Menahem took the throne. He attacked Tirzah and ripped open all the pregnant women. Sounds like a great guy…Why the pregnant women? What’s with all the murdering of innocent pregnant women?
The rulers of Judah live a lot longer than the rulers of Israel. I think that may be more a result of author bias that reality.
Menahem paid off the Assyrians to get them out of Israel. Ahaz, a later king, took apart the entrance to the temple to appease the Assyrians. So I guess they’re trying appeasement at this point. Why anybody ever expects this to work I’ll never know. The Israelite people were then taken to Assyria. While in Assyria, God sent lions to kill the people because they weren’t worshiping him. The Assyrian king had to teach the people how to worship their own god. How did they forget so easily and why did the Assyrian king know how to worship Yahweh? And why did God send lions? Why didn’t he just, you know, remind the people?
Hezekiah became king and took apart all the idols and defied the Assyrians. Hezekiah gave the gold from the temple to the Assyrians. Why? And, if the Israelites had been moved, how did he have access to the temple? Why hadn’t the Assyrians already sacked it?
The Israelites pray to God saying that the idols of the other nations were not gods but stone and wood. They say that only Yahweh is God. This is different than the types of things they said about those idols earlier. Before they spoke about them as if they had actual power. Now they speak in terms of Yahweh being the only god.
An angel killed 185,000 Assyrians because they were going to attack the Israelites.
Manasseh made the people do evil. How did he do this? And why? What was the evil?
God is angry because the people worship other gods. The king doesn’t suffer for it because he tore his clothes in God’s presence. The people had been worshiping other gods for many generations. Why is Yahweh only angry now? And what does tearing his clothes have to do with the worshiping of other gods?
The king (Josiah) got rid of the priests who worshiped gods other than Yahweh. Shouldn’t this make Yahweh happy and unwilling to kill his followers? Why didn’t any of the earlier kings do this?
The people were then attacked by the Babylonians. The bronze was removed from the temple to be taken to Babylon. The other precious metal was taken too. How is there even still a temple to loot?
The Babylonians put Gedaliah in charge of the Israelites.
This concludes 2 Kings. I was going to post another Mere Christianity review, but I think I’ll do that tomorrow.

Mere Christianity Part 13

I know I said I’d focus on the Bible today, and I will. But first I want to write a few posts on Mere Christianity. This post will be on Chapter 2, “The ‘Cardinal Virtues,'” of Book Three.
C.S. Lewis begins this chapter by discussing what his cardinal virtues are. He states “According to this longer scheme there are seven ‘virtues.’ Four of them are called ‘Cardinal’ virtues…The ‘Cardinal’ ones are those which all civilized people recognize.” This is a problematic statement. First, what is a civilized person? This was a commonly used term that in general just means “people like me.” It is essentially a useless sentiment. And second, what virtues do all people actually follow? What anything do all people do/think/believe? Any statement claiming that “all people”…well, anything, really, is almost always false. Why? Because people are diverse. If it isn’t necessary for survival, then it is unlikely that everybody does, thinks, or believes it.
He then goes into defining each virtue. He claims that “These were called ‘cardinal’ virtues because they are, as we should say, ‘pivotal’…They are prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude.” How are these virtues pivotal? And why are these thought to be the important ones? Lewis doesn’t say why he picked these virtues over all others, or even why he thinks these are virtues. Lewis then states that “Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it.” Being prudent means being cautious or practical. I suppose you could define it as having common sense, but those seem to me to be two different virtues. And common sense is by its definition practical. But what is common sense? It’s not defined very well and it seems to be different from person to person. My step-dad would say that working 80 hours a week to pay off your mortgage in 25 years is common sense. I’d say that avoiding a mortgage as much as possible is common sense. Being as we’re from two different generations with two very different realities, it’s not surprising that we hold two very different views where home ownership is concerned. So how can Lewis say that there is any one common sense that is right for everyone? And if he’s not saying that, then what does it mean to have common sense?
Lewis then moves on to define temperance. He argues that “Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance,’ it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further.” What is the right length to take any activity or habit? When do you say you are going too far? Can you say you aren’t going far enough in certain habits? I wouldn’t call temperance a virtue. Yes, I think that moderation is a good thing and addiction can be bad for everybody involved. But the idea that there is a line that separates “the right amount” from “too much” is silly. And I don’t have a problem with people enjoying certain things “too much” so long as they don’t get to the point where they begin controlling the person. For example, if a person is overall healthy: they eat healthy food, they get exercise, and they don’t have any health conditions that make it dangerous, I see nothing wrong with a person drinking a 2 liter bottle of pop and eating a few bags of chips themselves while watching a movie marathon once in a while. None of that is very temperate, but I can’t see how it could be wrong. Lewis goes on to say that “One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he can not give something up without wanting everyone else to give it up.” This comment kind of amuses me. When I read it, I can’t help but think of the Christian organizations that want to force the laws in a given country to reflect their belief system regardless of the fact that not everybody in said country is Christian and many of those laws would infringe on peoples’ rights. Yes, other religious groups do this too, but as a Canadian I see this more from Christians than anyone else. If forcing others to give up the same things that you give up makes you a bad person, then aren’t the Christians (and Muslims, etc) who try to force everyone to accept Christian laws bad people as well? Aren’t they doing that very thing that Lewis says is the mark of a bad person? Finally, Lewis says of temperance, “A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the center of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as ‘intemperate’ as someone who gets drunk every evening.” Again, if the person is only affecting themself, who cares what they put at the center of their life? So long as they aren’t neglecting their family, who am I to say a motorcycle shouldn’t be the center of a persons life? I really don’t see why temperance is a virtue on Lewis’s list. I can think of so many better things.
Lewis then discusses justice. He states that “Justice means much more than the sort of thing that goes on in law courts. It is the old name for everything we should now call ‘fairness’; it includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life.” So many words, so much wrong. No, Lewis, fairness and justice are not the same thing. It is possible to be just without being fair or fair without being just. Justice is concerned with doing what is right, and fairness is concerned with doing what is equal. For example, a farmer dies and leaves his land to his nephew because he has no children of his own, but an old farmhand of his thinks that he should get some of the land because he worked very hard for the farmer. It would be fair for a judge to divide the land between the two parties. But would that be just? Fairness also has nothing to do with honesty (or truthfulness, since they are the same thing). You can lie to people while ensuring that they receive equal treatment. And sometimes it’s perfectly fair or just to lie.
Lewis never does discuss fortitude. He skips it and instead discusses all of the virtues together. He argues that “We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it-whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake.” There are whole fields of philosophy set up around morality. There are those, consequentialists, who would argue that the consequences of your actions are all that matters. Others argue that they don’t matter at all, only your intentions matter. Personally, I think the consequences matter more than the intent, but the intent does matter. However, I wouldn’t say that someone’s actions can’t be called good simply because they were grumpy while they did it. He then goes on to say that “We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.” Really? Where in the Bible is that claim supported? I’ve seen a lot of “do as I say because I told you to” and “nobody is worthy of my awesome,” but I haven’t seen any “follow me because you have personality traits x, y, and z.”
He concludes the chapter by saying “The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginning of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a ‘Heaven’ for them-that is, could make them happy with the deep, strong, unshakable kind of happiness God intends for us.” This very idea is just odd. Happiness is happiness, is it not? What kind of happiness is it that is necessary for a heaven to be made for you? What kind of happiness can a Christian feel that I can’t? I have a feeling that anybody who believes that they can feel a degree of happiness that others can’t is simply denying the emotions of others.

Back to the Bible

I haven’t done my Bible review in quite a while. I had to take a break because school started and the beginning of the ear is hectic for me (that’s when I do a lot of the work for my clubs/volunteering). I also was sick for two weeks, so a lot of my work got pushed aside. I’m still not completely caught up, but I did get a good portion of it done, so now I can focus more on blogging.
I also really had to get that last series out there, which is why I didn’t start with the Bible sooner.
Anyway, I’m still going to be quite busy for a while, so I’m going to do a post on the Bible every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday if I can. Saturday and Sundays will be for Mere Christianity and the books that follow it. I don’t think I’ll be able to post anything most Tuesdays and Thursdays, but if I can they’ll just be random posts. Withteeth will be continuing with his GMO posts.
Since we’re back in school and surrounded by people where these subjects will come up, expect a good number of posts on feminism, LGBT issues, and interfaith as well. We’ll also try to talk philosophy a bit more indepth.

Tackling the GMO problem. Part 5. What the heck is a Genetic Modification anyway?

There are three general types of Genetic Modification as I define them, and will be discussing them as follows:

Artificial Selection (can be facilitated by radiation or mutagens.)


Direct Genetic modification (Via gene insertions, deletions, and controlled mutations)

Now, I’m not going it get down into the nitty gritty of how to do all these things. I’m just going to talk generally about how they work and what they mean for the genome of the resulting organism.

One important idea we need to understand about genetic modification (GM) is that GM is a tool. Genetically modified organisms are the final results. It’s very important we do not confuse the tool with the product: just like a hammer and saw is not a cabinet, GM is not a GMO. And like any tool it has it’s positives and negatives, and can be misused, but the process of modern Direct GM is difficult and time consuming and require a lot of resources, expertise, and knowledge before you can commence with creating a GMO that will do anything at all, let alone something useful. Hybridization and artificial selection (selective breeding) are both in turn much simpler and much more time consuming. Modern wheat, before any genetic tinkering in the lab, has had thousands of years of GM done to it already via selective breeding. The modern wheat in our bread does not closely resemble the wild wheat cultivated by early farmers many thousands of years ago. Though wheat isn’t necessarily the best example…

…Since wheat is a hybrid of two different grains that, from what I can tell, don’t exist anymore, but we’ll get back to hybrids soon enough.

Artificial selection. This is maybe how we did it, and when I say that I mean artificial selection could be thought as one of the keys to human success. This is ultimately how we made agriculture work for us for the last 10’000 years. Artificial selection alone is responsible for historic agriculture and is still relevant today.  So what is artificial selection? Well it harnessing evolution by natural selection and bending that selection to the whims of humanity.

For those of you who are not familiar with the scientific theory of evolution via natural selection (there are other selection pressures, but you don’t need to know them to understand this), well first that’s a minor tragedy, but no worries, there is no shortage of good information out there for you, here’s a bare bones basic run down. (Disclaimer this is by no means complete, but it enough for this post)

  • You have population of living things.
  • There is an amount of generic variation in the population.
  • This variation lead to different morphological, and or behavioral traits.
  • Members of this population can reproduce with one another (they are the same species)
  • Some traits give an advantage or disadvantage to the individuals that possess them. (if no traits give those advantages or disadvantages then natural selection does not occur)
  • Over time individuals with advantageous traits will produce more offspring while individuals with less advantageous traits produce less offspring (offspring is best thought of in terms of how many grand children). Over many hundreds or thousands of generations this will gradually change the morphology/behaviors of the entire population. Some times to an extent that it no longer resembles it’s ancient ancestors.

So how does this relate back to artificial selection? Well instead of an unaided gradual change as some individuals do slightly better than others, in artificial selection the breed can exert much greater control. For example if you have individual with undesirable traits, like wheat with 6 foot tall stalks (as a historical example) then you only breed those wheat plants which have shorter stalks, and do not save the grain (sell it or what not) of the longer stemmed wheat plants. This ability to quickly remove undesirable traits speeds the process of changes from thousand or millions of years to decades or centuries.

Now that said, you only have so much control with artificial selection, prior to knowledge of genes let alone gene sequencing, you could only select individuals based on detectable traits. Like hair length, colour, and thickness. And if an undesirable trait is a repressive gene you can’t actually remove it 100% from the breeding population with out blind luck, and heterozygous individuals (individuals with an allele for both the recessive and dominate trait) will often look/behave just like homozygous dominate (having both alleles for the dominate trait) individuals.

Also when you using artificial selection you can’t simplely choose one trait. I apologize it I didn’t make this clear before. When your breeding an organism your getting the whole genome, so you can’t just choose one trait and cross only that trait. you have to cross all the traits in the organism and hope you get a good combination. If you do this over and over eventually you’ll eventually get many, though not necessarily all, the traits you where after.

Now allow me to give another example. Say you have two breeds of apple tree one is a common baking apple and another is a half wild crab apple which produces a compound which you find gives the apple a delicious after taste, though the whole apple is not very tasty and is very small.  So you try breeding the two lines together, and low and behold the resulting apples have none of the traits you where after, they are all small and sour with out the nice after taste you where after. However you expected this to happen so you cross that second generation with itself, and this time you get a more interesting mix, some trees have big apples and a sour taste, and some are small and sweet, and some have that after taste. You select those trees with traits closest you what you want and cross them, and do this six or so more times. Then you die. Because remember apple trees take a long time to grow and you got old, but don’t fret! Your grand child takes up your apple tree hobby and does a few more crosses and finally the Holy Grail of apples is born! Big, Tasty, and with your magic after taste! To bad you didn’t just isolate the trait and insert it into baking apples genome. Then you might of had the chance to enjoy it yourself… Now on to hybrids.

There are two terms you’ll need to understand if you look up more about hybrids: interspecific and intraspecific hybridization. Interspecific hybridization is the kind I’m talking about here and is between different species (generally closely related, although evolutionarily diverged to a significant degree, often to the point that they can’t normally reproduce in the wild). Intraspecific hybridization is hybridization within the same species and falls under general selective breeding above or just the natural crossing within the same species.

Hybridization is, in my opinion, the most uncontrollable, and therefore most problematic tool in the genetic modification tool box. Then again it is pretty safe as well, but the Africanized honey bees, killer bees, are an intraspecific hybrid species of the African honey bee and one of a number of the other subspecies of the western (European) honey bee. Hybrid plants are quite safe overall only posing environmental risks if they out compete native species, and I’m not currently aware of hybrid plant running amuck, it’s more that hybrid animals pose direct risks. Though, fun fact: there are a number of gentle Africanized honey bees which are now useable by bee keepers, and there is a move to try to make all Africanized honey bees gentled, though that’s a long ways off yet.

Why do I find hybridization more problematic? Well, because you have whole genomes, and your mixing them together and seeing what you get before selectively breeding in the conventional sense. This leaves the very real opportunity for unexpected events to occur since you are less able to control which genes will be crossed with which. While generally this effect is muted by the fact that only very similar organisms are able to be crossed, generally sub species or sister taxa are the limit of successful and fertile hybrid crosses. Though so long as two organisms are in the general area of the tree of life, fill similar niches, and have the same or close to the same number of chromosomes, you might be able to get a hybrid, but there is not clear cut rules for what will work, so some very odd combination might be possible. Plants are much easier to work with compared to animals, since you can keep a line going even if it’s infertile through numerous asexual mechanisms, such as runners cutting, or the artificial method of taking plant cells (normally from apical meristem or an embryo from a seed) and growing them in vitro to produce a large number of genetically identical plants from a single source.

Finally, we have genetic manipulation on the gene level. This is the most complex method in its totality, but actually producing the plants is not that difficult once you’ve isolated the gene(s) in question. The first step in adding or taking away a gene or genes is to identify what your after. Identifying a gene is not a simple task and requires much work, to such an extent that to adequately inform you all would be a series in itself. So rather than give a good explanation I’ll give a basic run down of one common type of method used in plants:

To identify a gene, researcher will often attempt to “shut it off” or disable the gene by mutating plant seeds and looking at the morphology of the mature plant and seeing if the desired traits have been lost or altered. If they have, the genes of those plant will be sequenced and comparing to a linage which has not been mutated.

Once the comparisons are made, the mutated genes are located and can be produced and inserted into bacteria, yeast or viruses for further testing. You need to test more since you only know which genes were mutated at this point, not which one(s) effect the trait your interested in. So you see what each of the genes do, and which proteins they are responsible for. This too is no simple task, but for the sake of brevity I won’t go into it further.

So now we have the gene(s) in question, and now it is time to put them into the plant you want. There are two main ways of to do this: Agrobacterium and Gene guns.

Gene guns? Yep you can shoot genes into a cell! Generally how this is done is a large number of plant cells are cultivated in the same manner I mentioned in the part of this post about hybrids. And then microscopically small gold pellets coated in the gene in question are fired in to the plant cells using a high powered air gun/microscope thingy called a gene gun. Some of those genes will enter some of the cell nuclei. From there you grow those cell into mature plants and pick out those plants which have the traits you want (most of them will be unsuccessful and will be unchanged). Then you sequence those plants and select those which have taken up the gene best, and then breed them into an existing line for several generations to produce a seed stock.

Agrobacterium works similarly to a gene gun, but instead uses the mechanism of the Agrobacterium to insert the genes in question. Otherwise it is basically identical.

All this work and you get one highly control change in a plant, with many inbuilt checks and controls, plus all of what happens above can be contained 100% in lab, and much of it has to happen in the lab, so the escape of seeds is exceedingly unlikely.

So that’s a bare bones run down of the three basic forms of genetic modification, and why Genetic insertion and deletion are not scary, but a very precise tool, which gives us a scalpel to broad strokes of Hybridization and artificial selection.


The Atheist Sex Scandal Part 6

Now onto the sixth and final post. And this one involves no extra reading! This one will be on whether or not I believe that atheists in general have been reacting rationally where the sex scandal is concerned. My overall answer is no. Of course there are atheists who have been reacting perfectly rationally to the whole thing, but I think a good portion of the most vocal members have been reacting very irrationally.
Why? Because they automatically assume that the sexual assault accusations are false. As Withteeth showed in an earlier post (see his 5 part series in reply to “Why I Don’t Identify As A Feminist”), only about 2% of rape accusations are false. That in itself makes it very unlikely that any of the accusations are false. Of course, we live in a society where we are taught to view women as liars and rape victims as somehow responsible for the crime committed against them, so it’s not really all that surprising that atheists and skeptics view these accusations as false. However, we claim to be rational and logical. If we are so much better at logic and rationality than the mainstream population, why do we still fall into such socially constructed false belief systems? As was stated in the comment section of my last post, as people who value rationality and logic, our best bet is to withhold judgement until we have evidence one way or the other. Being rational does not mean assuming that a claim is false until it is proven otherwise. That is still making an assumption. It’s making a judgement call that very easily could be false.
I don’t know whether or not the accused men are actually guilty of anything. Maybe they are innocent. I will remain agnostic where this issue lies. However, I’m more than willing to admit that I do have a belief in this matter. I believe that Radford, Grothe, and Shermer are guilty. Why? Because a number of people came forward to accuse all of them. When Stollznow came forward and said that someone assaulted her, others said “I know who did it.” How did they know who did it? Because he had done it to them. Does that really sound like a false accusation to anyone? Grothe and Shermer also both had histories. Grothe knew that Shermer was sexually assaulting people because he had dealt with earlier accusations, but he kept inviting Shermer back to speak at TAM. Randi likewise knew that Grothe was sexually assaulting people, but he just viewed it as “boys being boys.” Even if false rape accusations were more common, their history of being accused of sexual assault makes their guilt far more likely. Yes, all we have is peoples word. It would be nice to have more evidence, and if this were a scientific study it would. But we’re not talking about science. We’re talking about people’s lives. Should Stollznow have worn a camera on her at all times? She wasn’t even planning on naming Radford, so why would she? What about the People that Shermer raped? Should they have planned to be raped ahead of time so that they could collect evidence? After all, all Shermer needed to do to prevent there from being any biological evidence is where a condom. While evidence is a nice thing to have, we need to remember that we have to keep our demands reasonable. Rape is not an extraordinary claim. It happens all the time. And the seeming randomness of crimes makes it difficult to collect any level of significant evidence even for crimes like theft.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that I said nothing about Krauss. There aren’t a large number of accusations against him. I’d still be careful to call anyone a liar, even with redacted claims, since redactions can easily be the result of further harassment. But I won’t say anything one way or the other. I don’t know anything about the accusations against Bill Nye, so I’m withholding judgement there too. I believe that that is the most reasonable position that I can take right now.
So no, the atheist community at large is not being very rational where the sexual assault scandal is concerned. How can we be rational about it? Withhold an opinion where you do not have enough information to hold an opinion, do some research into the accusations before you assume one side or the other, and follow the evidence. And don’t forget to keep your evidence demand reasonable to the claim. It’s “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” not “common occurrences require the same level of evidence as proving God.” And please remember that we’re dealing with people, not science.
I’ve heard people claim that sexual assault accusations ruin lives. Sadly, that doesn’t really seem to be the case: R Kelly and DMX don’t seem to be any worse off for it, neither does Kobe Bryant. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge that they were accused. Either that or people just don’t care. Shermer hasn’t lost many fans yet, and I can’t see him losing many more in the future as a result of these accusations. Can rape accusations ruin lives? Sure, but since only 2% of rape accusations are false, I can’t see many lives getting unfairly ruined if any do. I think the victims are the only ones whose lives are likely to be ruined, and I think that investigating the claims is the only way to keep that from happening. The people who say that these accusations will ruin the lives of the accused seem to forget that the victims have lives to. Are the 5 accused men’s lives that much more important than the lives of the people’s that they are accused of assaulting? Isn’t investigating the claims and finding out the truth the best way to prevent lives from being destroyed?
These are obviously very serious issues to consider. And I urge you to think carefully before coming to any conclusions. As I said, this post doesn’t require any extra reading. However, here are two papers that look at this issue from a different angle:

The Atheist Sex Scandal Part 5

Now that I have discussed how both parties have dealt with the sexual assault within their organizations, so now lets compare the two. How have atheists been at dealing with this issue compared to the Catholic Church?
My conclusion is not well. Why? Because atheists, like the Catholic Church, seem to take two steps back for every one step forward. On one hand we have the people blogging on Freethought Blogs who are doing all they can to bring the harassment to light and put an end to it. The Catholics, too, have people who are very concerned with the issue and are being quite vocal about putting an end to it. However, it seems as though for every person speaking out against the harassment there are ten more to defend the harassers, send threats to those speaking out against it, and overall be rape apologists. But this is getting into territory that I want to discuss next time. This time I just want to compare the two reactions and look a bit at the criticism that the groups have used against each other.
So first the comparison. John Paul ignored a lot of the harassment. It’s one of the biggest things that he gets criticized on. It’s also something that James Randi had been criticized for. He’s the head of JREF, and a lot of the harassment happened within his organization. It had become common knowledge that certain employees were serial harassers years before elevatorgate, but those harassers were allowed to continue working for the organization for years, or got repeat invites as speakers. Randi couldn’t not have known about the harassment. In fact, when asked about it, his response was basically “boys will be boys.” He had the power to deal with it, but he didn’t.
Benedict is a bit more controversial than his predecessor. One one hand, while he was in office he did more to punish priests who were found to be abusing children. But on the other hand, before becoming Pope, he actively covered up a number of abuse cases. Likewise, Grothe tried to cover up a number of the sexual assault accusations made against Shermer and Radford. Grothe has also been accused of sexual assault, so I’d say he’s worse than the Pope in that regard, but his response was still similar.
Francis has been the best Pope so far for dealing with the sexual abuse within the church, but he’s not without his problems. He tried to excuse the lack of action done previously by saying that “nobody else has done as much.” Quite a few other Catholic leaders have said similar things, as have lay-Catholics. I’d say that that action is comparable to what has been said by a number of atheists. First there’s Richard Dawkins who claimed that date rape “isn’t as bad as stranger rape at knife point.” Then there’s Sam Harris who said that if everybody sexually harasses then there can be no sexual harassment. And then there are the Youtube atheists who argue that the sexual assault accusations are just a result of entitled feminists trying to take over and change the atheist movement. Is change really that terrible?
The issues within the two movements are not completely the same. For one thing, the Catholic Church is dealing with abuse against children. Whereas the victims within the atheist movement are largely women, though men have been harassed too. A number of people believe that another huge difference is the cohesion within the groups. Atheism in and of itself is not a movement. You can easily be an atheist who has nothing to do with the movement. But can’t you also be a Catholic who has nothing to do with the Catholic Church? The atheist movement also doesn’t have a clear leader. It’s for the most part a number of small groups with cohesive goals that are connected to other groups simply by their members lack of belief in gods and their willingness to to bring about acceptance for atheism as an ideology. But is the Catholic Church really that much more cohesive? They have the Pope as their leader, and the priests are theoretically supposed to heed his guidance, but how well does that really work out? There are over a billion Catholics out there. Sure, the Pope can keep some semblance of order with the highest members of the Church, but all of the churches out there cannot be controlled very effectively. As such, there are a great deal of differences between one church are the next. For example, some are very liberal. They want to remain separate from politics, they are accepting of the LGBT community, and they accept evolution and the big bang as scientifically accurate. But others are very conservative. They are willing to tell their parishioners who to vote for, they believe that homosexuality is a sin, and they deny science. The pope can’t possibly endorse both of these church styles. But then, even Popes don’t agree: Benedict said that homosexuality was a sin, but Francis has been more inclusive towards the LGBT community. Yes, atheism is not one big cohesive group, but neither is the Catholic Church.
And to go on with the similarities, both groups have condemned the other for the sexual assault within there ranks. Here’s a Catholic site’s criticism the atheist sex scandal: And here are some other Christian criticisms:,, And here are some atheist pages criticizing the sex scandal in the Catholic Church:
You get the idea. Are these criticisms unfair? I’d say not. If there is something wrong, then it should be called out. No issue can be fixed by being ignored, and some times it’s easiest to draw attention to a problem if you are on the outside.
So what does all this mean? I’ll get more into that in my next post, but basically it means that we have a problem within the atheist movement and it’s only going to get worse if we ignore it. It means that instead of fighting over the likelihood of a single claim being true or false we should be ensuring that future claims are unlikely because sexual assault is prevented to the highest degree possible.

U of C Freethinker’s Conference

As we’ve mentioned a few times, our university club, the Freethinkers, is putting on a conference. It will be in January or February and will be on the intersection between freethinking and social justice. We will have a few speakers talking about LGBT and Trans* (I separated those two because one of our speakers is predominantly interested in Trans* issues) activism as freethinkers or atheists. We will also have a speaker or two discussing social justice as an atheist.

I’m bringing this up because we finally got ourselves set up on Go Fund Me. If this conference sounds at all interesting to you, please check us out at If you can, we’d appreciate any and all donations. And regardless of whether or not you donate, please share our campaign on facebook and twitter. Any sharing is much appreciated 😉 .

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