The Wages of Delusion; Virus Denying Pastor Dies Of COVID-19

Christian pastor who thought COVID-19 is just ‘mass hysteria’ among the first in Virginia to die from virus

By Sky Palma

One of the first deaths in Virginia from coronavirus was a 66-year-old Christian “musical evangelist” who fell ill while on a trip to New Orleans with his wife. As the Friendly Atheist’s Bo Gardiner points out, Landon Spradlin had previously shared opinions that the pandemic was the result of “mass hysteria” from the media.

On March 13, Spradlin shared a misleading meme that compared coronavirus deaths to swine flu deaths and suggested the media is using the pandemic to hurt Trump. In the comments, Spradlin acknowledged that the outbreak is a “real issue,” but added that he believes “the media is pumping out fear and doing more harm than good”

“It will come and it will go,” he wrote.

That same day, he shared a post from another pastor that told the story of a missionary in South Africa who “protected” himself from the bubonic plague with the “Spirit of God.”

“As long as I walk in the light of that law [of the Spirit of life], no germ will attach itself to me,” read a quote from the post.

If the truth instead of self-serving lies had been told from the first, from the bully pulpit, he might well still be walking around.

There will be more victims. Many more. Including victims who have never believed a word of the lies themselves.

Religion Kills. By artist Andrei Moga.

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The Arabic Translation of The God Delusion Has Reportedly Been Downloaded 10 Million Times

The Arabic Translation of The God Delusion Has Reportedly Been Downloaded 10 Million Times

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I’m not sure about the legality, but if Richard Dawkins isn’t bothered by the copyright ramifications, then neither am I.

An unauthorized PDF translation of Dawkin’s The God Delusion, by Iraqi emigrant Bassam Al-Baghdadi, who lives in Sweden, has reportedly been dowloaded ten million times,

with 30 percent going to Saudi Arabia. Bassam said that there were over 1,000 downloads on the very first day after he uploaded it, and the numbers only climbed as the translation was picked up and shared on the blogs, websites and forums of prominent Arab atheists. The book has prompted unprecedented controversy and debate in the Arab and Islamic worlds.


The translator received…

… you’ll never guess this!…

death threats and accusations of conspiring with the Zionists to corrupt the youth. He was forced to close his social media accounts and stop posting for a while. …

In the Arabic translation of The God Delusion, under the title, Bassam added the words: “This book is banned in Islamic countries.” It is fortunate and wonderful that the banning of books in the Arab and Islamic worlds is no longer feasible in our new age of information. I was able to read the book while I was still in Morocco, where I was born. Some atheist friends even managed to get hold of the book in Saudi Arabia. The dark times of censorship, in which knowledge for the people was confined to carefully curated books and resources, are gone and will never return.

According to Kacem El Ghazzali, writing for the Huffington Post, Dawkins was unaware of the translation until El Ghazzali brought it to his attention at a 2014 skeptics conference in Switzerland. It’s to the great biologist’s credit that he apparently raised no big stink about it.

As for El Ghazzali, who was born in Morocco but now makes his home in Switzerland, he says he owes

… a tremendous debt of gratitude to Richard Dawkins, and to others who guided my journey from the hells of religious dogma to the oasis of free thought and enlightenment.

If you’d like a copy of the Arabic God Delusion, you can download it here.

(Image via ScienceBlogs. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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Huckster of Woo Deepak Chopra Cocks Leg at Skepticism and Pisses on Self

Chopra Shoots at Skepticism and Misses

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Deepak Chopra apparently has no love for organized skepticism. This is not surprising and his particular brand of spiritual pseudoscience has been a favorite target of skeptical analysis. He is also not the only one who has decided to fight back against the skeptics – if you cannot defend yourself against legitimate criticism, then shoot the messenger.

In a recent article Chopra renews his attack against what he calls “militant skepticism.” This is a blatant attempt, of course, to portray skeptics as extremist and on the fringe, a strategy that has been used against “militant atheists.” Chopra also uses his article to conflate skepticism with atheism, almost as if he is completely unaware of the internal discourse that has been taking place for decades within the skeptical movement.

Chopra writes:

The rise of militant skepticism clouded the picture, however, beginning with its popular attack on religion. The aim of Richard Dawkins, as stated in his best seller, The God Delusion, was to subject “the God hypothesis” to scientific scrutiny, the way one would subject anti-matter or black holes to scrutiny. In fact he did no such thing with God, for the scientific method requires experiments that can be replicated and facts that can be verified. Dawkins offered no experiments to prove or disprove the existence of God. What he actually did was to subject religion to a barrage of scorn and ridicule, attacking it on the rational improbability – as he sees it – that a deity could possibly exist.

This is an interesting bit of historical revisionism, although I think it probably just reflects Chopra’s complete unfamiliarity with his subject matter. The modern skeptical movement predates Dawkins by decades. We have had a clear philosophy and scope long before Dawkins appeared on the scene.

Dawkins is a highly respected figure among skeptics because of his powerful writing, his popularizing of science, and his unflinching criticism of pseudoscience. Most skeptics are atheists, and we also respect his defending science from the intrusion of religion and spirituality.

Where many skeptics, myself included, disagree with Dawkins is precisely in treating “the God hypothesis” as if it were only a scientific question. I say “only” because certainly it is possible to treat any supernatural hypothesis as if it were in the realm of methodological naturalism, and there is general agreement among skeptics when approached in this way the only reasonable conclusion is that there is no credible evidence to support the conclusion that any god exists, or that the laws of the material universe need to be extended to account for any alleged supernatural phenomena. If you frame God as a scientific hypothesis, it can be scientifically refuted. Looked at another way, the psychocultural hypothesis is a far better and more parsimonious explanation for belief in God than the actual existence of such a being.

The big “but” is that not everyone believes in God as a scientific fact. Some people choose to have faith in an unfalsifiable god, one that resides outside the realm of science. Once someone’s faith has retreated outside the realm of science, then science is no longer the tool by which one should address such faith. Logic and philosophy are now more appropriate, but you cannot say, by definition, that an unfalsifiable God can be scientifically proven to not exist.

In practice most people blur the line between an empirical God and an unfalsifiable God, in which case I believe the best approach is to point out the self-contradiction, and force them squarely either inside or outside the arena of science. Once completely outside the arena, they must surrender any pretense to actual knowledge and admit their beliefs are solely personal faith. If any part of their belief dips into the arena of science, however, then it is scientific fair game.

This is the debate, at least, that has been raging ever since there has been a modern skeptical movement. There are two basic camps, loosely referred to as the atheists and the skeptics (yes, there are lots of permutations and subtleties, but that’s the basic picture). Over time the relationship between these two camps has waxed and waned. At times we predominantly celebrate our intellectual overlap and common cause, at others our philosophical differences come home to roost.

Chopra appears to be aware of none of this. This would not be a problem as he is not part of the skeptical movement, but then he should not presume to write on a subject about which he apparently has such complete ignorance (not typically an obstacle for Chopra).

After setting up and knocking down a couple more straw men, Chopra writes:

The God Delusion, aided by a handful of other best sellers attacking religion in the same vein, did have one decisive effect, however. Science became yoked to the tools of rhetoric and demagoguery, going so far as to lose any trace of objectivity.

I have no idea what Chopra is referring to here, but I can guess, based on his previous writing. Now that he has conflated skepticism and atheism, and then falsely accused atheism of demagoguery, he concludes that scientific skepticism is also about demagoguery. Every link in that chain of thought is incorrect. This all serves Chopra’s purpose of attacking skepticism – which really is nothing more than a scientific and logical criticism of his nonsense.

Chopra, however, does not want to have a war with science, because he wants to pretend that his new age spiritualism is science. So he needs a villain, something to blame other than the complete scientific bankruptcy of his ideas. Skeptics are his convenient villain, but skeptics are just scientists or science promoters who are bothering to apply scientific reasoning to his claims. This is something with which most mainstream scientists will not sully themselves (which I think is a mistake, but that’s another post). So he conflates skepticism with atheism, and he has created his villain.

Chopra’s skeptical villain is a complete fiction, but that is a realm in which Chopra apparently feels comfortable.

Chopra finally gets to the specifics of his current boogeyman:

A distressing example has been occurring at Wikipedia, where a band of committed skeptics have focused their efforts to discredit anyone whom they judge an enemy.

He is correct in that there is a project within skeptical circles to keep Wikipedia scientifically accurate. Chopra would like his readers to think this is “militants” attacking their “enemies.” From the skeptical point of view, of course, this is simply a project for Wikipedia to accurately present scientific information about controversial topics. The goal is to prevent promoters of nonsense and pseudoscience from using Wikipedia for free advertising and spreading propaganda.

The more neutral perspective is that Wikipedia is a common battle ground for ideological opponents. This is a serious issue for Wikipedia, as they have to deal with editing wars. They partly deal with this by labeling certain entries as controversial, and also allowing different sections within an entry for the various perspectives. I guess Chopra would like to have free reign in Wikipedia without any opposing opinions being expressed.

For example:

You can see the results at the Wikipedia entry for Rupert Sheldrake, the British biologist who has served as a lightning rod for militant skeptics for several decades. Intelligent, highly trained, an impeccable thinker, and a true advocate for experimentation and validation, Sheldrake had the temerity to be skeptical about the everyday way that science is conducted.

Chopra would have you believe that Sheldrake in an “impeccable thinker” wrongly targeted by “militant skeptics.” The most generous characterization, rather, is that Sheldrake is a highly controversial figure. He is trying to actually change the nature and scope of science. He should not be shocked that there is pushback. Sheldrake is also, in my opinion, completely wrong, and is a very sloppy thinker who is trying to erode scientific standards in order to admit his particular brand of supernaturalism.

Of course, that is the debate. Let’s have it.


In my opinion, the big picture here is that Chopra is desperately trying to avoid actually engaging with science and skepticism. If he thinks he and Sheldrake and others he would consider his intellectual allies have a point, then make it. Bring it on.

The best way to promote your ideas, especially if you have the hubris to think they are revolutionary, is to engage with your critics. There are many careful and thoughtful public intellectuals (Dawkins included) who have put forward very cogent philosophical and scientific arguments against what Chopra is selling. If Chopra wants to promote his ideas he should try to understand and engage with those critics.

Instead, Chopra is building a cardboard villain to rail against. In so doing he is exposing his intellectual shallowness.

You will notice what Chopra has not done is address any of the actual intellectual pillars of scientific skepticism. If he wishes to do so, I would be happy to engage with him on this issue.



Atheists and homosexuals were called perverts once. Why do we still see perversion where no harm is done?

by  Jesse Bering
Reclining Boy (1913) by Egon Schiele. Leopold Foundation, Vienna. Photo by CorbisReclining Boy (1913) by Egon Schiele. Leopold Foundation, Vienna. Photo by Corbis

Jesse Bering is a former academic in psychology whose writing has appeared in Scientific American, Slate and The Guardian, among others. His latest book is Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us (2013).

Perverts weren’t always the libidinous bogeymen we imagine when we think of the term today. Sexual mores have certainly shifted dramatically over the course of history and across societies, but the very word ‘pervert’ once literally meant something else entirely to what it does now. For example, the peculiar discovery that some peasant during the reign of Charles II used conch shells for anal gratification or inhaled a stolen batch of ladies’ corsets while touching himself in the town square would have been merely coincidental to any accusations of his being perverted (though it wouldn’t have helped his case). Seventeenth-century terms such as ‘skellum’ (scoundrel) or reference to his ‘mundungus’ (smelly entrails) might have applied, but calling this man a ‘pervert’ for his peccadilloes would have made little sense at the time.

Linguistically, the sexual connotation feels natural. The ring of it — purrrvert — is at once melodious and cloying, producing a noticeable snarl on the speaker’s face, while the image of a lecherous child molester, a trench-coated flasher in a park, a drooling pornographer, or perhaps a serial rapist pops into one’s head. Yet as Shakespeare might remind us, a pervert by any other name would smell as foul. For the longest time, in fact, to be a pervert wasn’t to be a sexual deviant; it was to be an atheist.

In 1656, the British lexicographer Thomas Blount included the following entry for the verb ‘pervert’ in his Glossographia (a book also known by the more cumbersome title A Dictionary Interpreting the Hard Words of Whatsoever Language Now Used in Our Refined English Tongue): ‘to turn upside down, to debauch, or seduce’. No doubt all of these activities occur in your typical suburban bedroom today. But it’s only by dint of our post-Victorian minds that we perceive these types of naughty winks in the definition of a term that was floating around the old English countryside. In Blount’s time, and for several hundred years after he was dead and buried, a pervert was simply a headstrong apostate who had turned his or her back on the draconian morality of the medieval Church, thereby ‘seducing’ others into a godless lifestyle.

If we applied this original definition to the present iconoclastic world of science, one of the most recognisable perverts in the world today would be the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. As the author of The God Delusion (2006) and an active proselytiser of atheism, Dawkins encourages his fellow rationalists to ‘turn away from’ canonical religious teachings. As I’ve written my own scientific atheistic screed, I’m not casting stones. I’m proudly in possession of a perverted nature that fits both the archaic use of the term, due to my atheism, and its more recent pejorative use, due to my homosexuality.

Only at the tail end of the 19th century did the word ‘pervert’ first leap from the histrionic sermons of fiery preachers into the heady, clinical discourses of stuffy European sexologists. Today, the term is more likely to be used less as a diagnosis and more as an insult, hurled at the likes of sex offenders. This gradual semantic migration of perverts, from the church pews to the psychiatric clinic to the online comments section of salacious news stories, hasn’t occurred without the clattering bones of medieval religious morality dragging behind. Notice that the suffix –vert means, generally, ‘to turn’: hence ‘to convert’ (to turn to another), ‘to revert’ (to return to a previous state), ‘to invert’ (to turn inside out), ‘to pervert’ (to turn away from the right course), and so on. Of those, ‘pervert’ alone has that devilishly malicious core ­— ‘a distinctive quality of obstinacy’, as the Australian psychoanalyst Jon Jureidini has called it in the paper ‘Perversion: An Erotic Form of Hatred or Exciting Avoidance of Reality?’(2001). He goes on: ‘petulance, peevishness … self-willed in a way that distinguishes it from more “innocent” deviations’.

A judge accusing someone of ‘perverting the course of justice’ is referring to a deliberate effort to thwart moral fairness. Similarly, since the modern noun form of ‘pervert’ is synonymous with ‘sex deviant’, the presumption is that the person thus described is a deviant by his (or her) own malicious design. In other words, he is presumed to have wilfully chosen to be sexually aberrant — that’s to say, to go against what is right.

It’s striking how such an emotionally loaded word, one that undergoes almost no change at all for the first 1,000 years of its use, can almost overnight come to mean something so very different, entirely eclipsing its original intent. Exactly how did this word ‘pervert’ go from being a perennial term for the ‘immoral religious heretic’ to referring to the ‘immoral sexual deviant’?

One key reason for this shift can be found in the work of the British scholar Havelock Ellis, who back in 1897 popularised the term ‘pervert’ in his descriptions of patients with atypical sexual desires. Earlier scholars, among them Richard von Krafft-Ebing, the Austro-German psychiatrist regarded by many as the father of studies in deviant sexuality, had already sexualised the term, but Ellis’s accessible writing found a wider general audience and ultimately led to this meaning of ‘pervert’ becoming solidified in the common vernacular.

The provenance of the term in Ellis’s work is still a little hard to follow, because he initially uses ‘perverts’ and ‘perversions’ in the sense of sexual deviancy in a book confusingly titled Sexual Inversion (1897). Co-authored with the gay literary critic John Addington Symonds and published after Symonds’s death, the book was a landmark treatise on the psychological basis of homosexuality. In the authors’ view, ‘sexual inversion’ reflected homosexuality as an inside-out form of the standard erotic pattern. That part is easy enough to understand. Where the language of Ellis and Symonds gets tricky, however, is in their broader use of ‘sexual perversions’ to refer to socially prohibited sexual behaviours, of which ‘sexual inversion’ (or homosexuality) was just one. Other classic types of perversions included polygamy, bestiality, and prostitution. The authors adopted this religious language not because they personally believed homosexuality to be abnormal and therefore wrong (quite the opposite, since their naturalistic approach was among the first to identify such behaviours in other animals) but only to note that it was salient among the categories of sexuality frequently depicted as ‘against what is right’ or sinful. Theirs was merely an observation about how gays and lesbians (‘inverts’) were seen by most of society.

Curiously enough, Ellis, the scientist of the pair, and the one usually credited with christening homosexuals as sex ‘perverts’, had his own unique predilection. Ellis’s urophilia — a strong sexual attraction to urine, or to people who are in the process of urinating — is documented in his various notes and letters. In correspondence with a close female acquaintance, Ellis chided the woman for forgetting her purse at his house, adding saucily: ‘I’ve no objection to your leaving liquid gold behind.’ He gave in to these desires openly and even fancied himself a connoisseur of pisseuses, writing in his autobiography: ‘I may be regarded as a pioneer in the recognition of the beauty of the natural act in women when carried out in the erect attitude.’ In his later years, this ‘divine stream’, as he called it, proved the cure for Ellis’s impotence: the image of an upright, urinating woman was the only thing that could turn him on. And he was entirely unashamed of this sexual quirk: ‘It was never to me vulgar, but, rather, an ideal interest, a part of the yet unrecognised loveliness of the world.’ On attempting to analyse his own case (he was a sexologist, after all), Ellis concluded: ‘[It’s] not extremely uncommon … it has been noted of men of high intellectual distinction.’ He was also convinced that men with high-pitched voices were generally more intelligent than baritones. That Ellis himself was a rare high tenor might have had something to do with that curious hypothesis as well.

Ellis was among a handful of pioneering sexologists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who had set out to tease apart the complicated strands of human sexuality. Other scholars, among them Krafft-Ebing and Sigmund Freud, as well as Freud’s early follower, the Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Stekel, were similarly committed to this newly objective, amoral empirical approach to sexual deviance. Their writings might seem tainted with bias to us today (and in fact they are) but they also display a genuine concern for those who found themselves, through no doing or choice of their own, feeling aroused in ways that posed major problems in the social conditions under which they lived.

With their inverted pattern of attraction, homosexuals became perverts in essence, not just louses dabbling in transgressive sex

The early sexologists found themselves confronted by angry purists who believed that their novel scientific endeavours would bring about the collapse of cherished institutions such as marriage, religion, and ‘the family’. Anxieties over such a ‘slippery slope effect’ have been around for a very long time and, in the eyes of these moralists, an objective approach to sexuality threatened all that was good and holy. Conservative scholars saw any neutral evaluation of sex deviants as dangerous, for it legitimised wicked things as ‘natural’ variants of behaviour and lead ‘normal’ people to embrace the unethical lifestyles of the degenerate. Merely giving ‘horrific’ tendencies such as same-sex desires their own proper scientific names made them that much more real to these moralists, and therefore much more threatening. To them, this was the reification of sexual evil. For instance, in 1897 William Noyes, a psychiatrist at the Boston Lunatic Hospital, wrote a scathing review of Ellis and Symonds’s Sexual Inversion in which he chastised the authors for ‘adding 300 more pages to a literature already too flourishing … Apart from its influence on the perverts [homosexuals] themselves no healthy person can read this literature without a lower opinion of human nature, and this result in itself should bid any writer pause.’

Looking back, it’s evident that Ellis and Symonds’s careful distinction between homosexual behaviour and homosexual orientation was an important step in the history of gay rights. It might seem like commonsense today, but these authors disentangled the two elements, which in turn informed our modern understanding of homosexuality as a psychosexual trait (or orientation), not just something that one ‘did’ with the same sex. Their contribution to the way psychiatrists’ think about homosexuality had long-lasting implications for gays and lesbians. On the positive side, homosexuals were no longer perceived (at least by experts) as fallen people who were simply so immoral and licentious that they’d even resort to doing that; instead, they were seen as having a psychological ‘nature’ that made them ‘naturally’ attracted to the same sex rather than to the opposite sex.

On the negative side, this newly recognised nature was also regarded as inherently abnormal or flawed. With their inverted pattern of attraction, homosexuals became perverts in essence, not just louses dabbling in transgressive sex. Whether or not they ever had homosexual sex, such individuals were now one of ‘those people’. Also, once homosexuality was understood to be an orientation and not just a criminal behaviour, it could be medicalised as a psychiatric condition. For almost a century afterwards, physicians saw gays and lesbians as quite obviously mentally ill. And just as one would treat the pathological symptoms of patients suffering from any mental illness, most clinicians believed that homosexuals should be treated for their unfortunate disorder. Needless to say, such ‘conversion’ treatments, in all their shameful forms, didn’t involve encouraging gays and lesbians to be themselves.

The die had also been cast for the disparaging term pervert and its enduring association with homosexuality. Not so long ago, some Neo-Freudian scholars were still interpreting anal sex among gay men as an unconscious desire in the recipient (or the ‘bottom’) to nip off the other’s penis with his tightened sphincter. ‘In this way, which is so characteristic of the pervert,’ mused the influential South African-born psychoanalyst Mervin Glasser in the paper ‘Identification and its Vicissitudes as Observed in the Perversions’ (1986), ‘he [is] trying to establish his father as an internal object with whom to identify, as an inner ally and bulwark against his powerful mother’. That might sound as scientific to us today as astrology or tarot cards, but considering that Glasser wrote this 13 years after the American Psychiatric Association formally removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, it shows how long the religious moral connotations stuck around, even in clinical circles. Glasser’s bizarre analysis of ‘perverts’ was the type of thing a gay man could expect to hear if he ever sought counselling for his inevitable woes from living in a world that couldn’t decide if he was sick or immoral, so simply saw him as both.

Today, the word pervert just sounds silly, or at least provincial, when used to refer to gays and lesbians. In a growing number of societies, homosexuals are slowly, begrudgingly, being allowed entry into the ranks of the culturally tolerated. But plenty of other sexual minorities remain firmly entrenched in the orientation blacklist. Although, happily, we’re increasingly using science to defend gays and lesbians, deep down most of us (religious or not) still appear to be suffering from the illusion of a creator who set moral limits on the acceptable sexual orientations. Our knee-jerk perception of individuals who similarly have no choice whatsoever over what arouses them sexually (be they paedophiles, exhibitionists, transvestites, or fetishists, to name but a few) is that they’ve wilfully, deliberately, and arrogantly strayed from the right course. In other words, we see them as ‘true perverts’. Whereas gays and lesbians are perceived by more and more people as ‘like normal heterosexuals’ because they didn’t choose to be the way they are, we assume that these others somehow did.

As a society we’ve become so focused on the question of whether a given sexual behaviour is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ that we’ve lost sight of the more important question: Is it harmful? In many ways, it’s an even more challenging question, because although naturalness can be assessed by relatively straightforward queries about statistical averages — for example, ‘How frequently does it appear in other species?’ and ‘In what percentage of the human population does it occur?’ — the experience of harm is largely subjective. As such, it defies direct analyses and requires definitions that resonate with people in vastly different ways.

When it comes to sexual harm in particular, what’s harmful to one person could be not only completely harmless to another but might even, believe it or not, be helpful or positive. A gay Muslim who dies only to find himself in an afterlife thronged with 72 beautiful female virgins, as the Koran promises its faithful, will be in hell, not in heaven. One man’s angels are another’s demons.

Morally, all that matters is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful

And it’s not just overtly physical sexual acts that can be experienced differently in terms of harm but also entirely ethereal sexual desires. For the religiously devout, this whole conversation is a lost cause. Yet once one abandons the notion that one can ‘commit’ a sin by thinking a thought, it becomes quite clear that sexual desires — no matter how deviant — are intrinsically harmless to the subject of a person’s lust, at least in the physical sense. Mental states are ‘a mere breath on the air’ as the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote. Sexual desires can, of course, be thought bubbles with thorns and wreak havoc on a person’s own well-being (especially when they occur in the heads of those convinced such thoughts come from the devil and yet they just can’t stop having them).

Still, it’s only when this ‘mere breath on the air’ is manifested in behaviour that harm to another person might or might not occur. Treating an individual as a pervert in essence, and hence with a purposefully immoral mind, because his or her brain conjures up atypical erotic ideas, or responds sexually to stimuli that others have deemed inappropriate objects of desire, then becomes medieval in both its stupidity and its cruelty. It’s also entirely counterproductive. For example, research in the 1980s on the ‘white bear effect’ by the social psychologist Daniel Wegner and colleagues at Trinity University in Texas has shown that forcing a person to suppress specific thoughts leads to those very thoughts invading the subject’s consciousness even more than they otherwise would. (Whatever you do, don’t — I repeat, do not — think about a white bear during the next 30 seconds.)

Our critical evaluations should fall upon harmful sexual actions with the heaviest of thuds, but not upon a pituitary excretion that happens to morph into an ethereal image in the private movie theatre of someone’s mind. Morally, all that matters is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful. If it’s not, and we reject the person anyway, then we’re not the good guys in this scenario: we’re the bad guys.

Excerpted from PERV: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering, to be published  October 8th by Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by Jesse Bering. All rights reserved.

The End Game: Taking the Bet of Pascal

The End Game: Taking the Bet of Pascal

Dr. Charles G. Cogan

In the Sunday Review section of the New York Times on Jan. 6, Susan Jacoby, a self-described atheist, secular humanist and freethinker, wrote an op-ed entitled, “The Blessings of Atheism: It is Here & It is Now.” In it she argues that atheists should be more assertive about spreading their point of view, and she makes the claim that “the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth.”

The “blessing” of atheism, Jacoby seems to say, is that death puts an end to suffering: “atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect. Those we love suffer no more.” The author of a forthcoming book on Robert Ingersoll, the well-known American freethinker, she quotes from Ingersoll to reinforce her point: “The larger and the nobler faith … tells us that death, at its worst, is only perfect rest … the dead do not suffer.”

Those who lack the atheists’ certitude that there is no afterlife, and who have never seen, and never will see, proof of the existence of God, are the thousands of agnostics — those who do not “presume to know.” Some are tempted toward the notion that underlies the famous bet of Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher.

The reasoning of Pascal is the following: in the absence of any proof of the existence of God, reason does not indicate to us whether to believe in Him or not. Since the choice is free, it is reasonable to lean, by calculation, against agnosticism: in effect, to decide to believe in God and live in consequence of that decision. If one leads a life in conformity with a belief in God, this guarantees inestimable benefits if it is revealed, after death, that God exists — and costs nothing if he does not exist. Whereas agnosticism, in the latter case, does not bring any benefits, and on the other hand it is met with infernal punishment if God indeed does exist. Thus, it is rational to put faith in a belief in God and to lead a life that conforms to it.

Consequently, it is rational to act as though God exists and to decide to believe that he exists. But is this too deceptive, too “utilitarian”? Not really, given the fact that one is operating from a state of total ignorance as to what comes after life. In this regard, it is interesting to recall that Francois Mitterrand, a noted secularist, asked to be given the sacrament of extreme unction shortly before his death.

Richard Dawkins, one of the leading writers in the “new atheism” current, and the author of “The God Delusion,” brings an implacable reasoning to this dilemma that haunts the many — especially those approaching the end game:

“As long as there is no certitude either for or against the existence of God, a number of intelligent men will continue to believe in him, just as other intelligent men will believe in other things for which they do not have a convincing argument … What evidence could verify or falsify the hypothesis of God? … The only thing that can resolve the question is an experience beyond the grave … If the options after death are either a beatific vision (God) or nothingness (no God), it is therefore poignant to consider that believers will never discover that they are wrong, whereas atheists will never discover that they are right.”

Not To Be Missed | Freethinker Richard Dawkins and Catholic Fascist George Pell

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Tony Jones is one of Australia’s most respected journalists. As host of Q&A he brings over 20 years of award winning journalism to the table.

Tony is known for his incisive and probing interviews on the breaking issues of the day. His role on Q&A capitalises on his ability to tap into the political zeitgeist and keep the discussion focused and on track.

Tony Jones has won pretty much every award an Australian journalist could wish for. He’s covered the seminal news events of the last two decades – from the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, through the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, to the rise of the Taliban and, closer to home, the revelations of sexual abuse in remote Aboriginal communities.
Now with Q&A Tony is embarking on a new kind of inquiry.

He wants to put the Australian public directly in touch with the politicians and playmakers – to give them the opportunity to get some answers, eye to eye.
Public democracy, open dialogue, transparency – it’s what every good journalist strives for.