American Humanist Association convention

Yesterday was actually the second day of the annual AHA meetings in Chicago, but the first day in which the conference was in full swing. I arrived in the late afternoon and so was able to make only one panel discussion: “Examining Honor Culture in Islam”, with Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider (co-founders of the Ex-Muslims of North America) as well as Mya Saleem, a former hijabi who works with that organization.

The discussion was pretty good, with Saleem questioning the notion of what “choice” means when it comes to religious covering like the hijab. Her own story belies the notion that a Western Muslim always wears the hijab by choice: she was forced to wear it in a religious school starting in her teens, and then was shamed by other girls when she tried to take it off after school: they said the “good girls” wore their hijabs all the time. Mya continued to wear it for over a decade after school. Haider said that she thinks there should be no laws in the West forbidding wearing religious clothing, but that even discussing such legal strictures is premature: first we must have a conversation about what wearing such clothing really means. And that conversation is only beginning.

The question I would like to ask those who celebrate the hijab as their “choice” is this:

“What criteria, exactly, would lead you to agree that wearing the headscarf is not someone’s choice?”

As a determinist, in this discussion I take  “choice” to mean “an action that was taken without any social pressure to perform it.” (n.b.: This does not mean that I accept a compatibilist version of free will.) Using that criterion, I think there’s much less choice than people maintain. If your parents or schoolmates tell you or pressure you to wear it, it’s not a choice. And in the vast majority of cases, I suspect, there’s parental and social pressure, eroding the narrative that it’s a “choice” in the sense above. How many Muslims living in the West don the hijab if they didn’t come from a family that urged them to wear it (many Muslim schools in the U.S. put the scarf on girls as young as 5), or didn’t belong to a group of hijab-wearing friends and coreligionists?

If you want to see the Authoritarian Leftist celebration of the putative choice, just check out the PuffHo Religion Page. For the past few months PuffHo has been celebrating the hijab: here are a few recent articles.

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.48.51 AM Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.49.05 AM

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.49.46 AM

Beautiful reasons?


Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.51.31 AM

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.52.16 AM

PuffHo’s motivations are good: to help dispel bigotry against Muslims; but their incessant pro-hijab campaign rings hollow, as they never discuss the difficult issue of whether wearing the garment is really a “choice”. Nor do they mention that in countries like Iran and Afghanistan, it’s not a choice, nor is it in places like Egypt or Turkey where, although wearing it isn’t mandatory, there’s intense social pressure to do so.

The evening’s banquet featured two notables getting awards: Bishop John Shelby Spong and Jared Diamond. (The noms were pretty good, too: a nice salad, chicken breast stuffed with greens, good bread basket and a lovely cheesecake for dessert. Sadly, there was no free booze, and the prices at the convention bar were outrageous: $10 for a glass of wine and $9 for a beer. Fortunately, Elizabeth Loftus offered me a “you fly and I’ll buy” deal, giving me $20 for drinks if I’d go and get them.)

I knew about Spong, of course, as he’s famous for being the Nonreligious Bishop: a man who, while Episcopalian Bishop of the Diocese of Newark for many years, wrote several dozen book about the silliness of conventional Christianity, all while preaching a doctrine of tolerance and nontheism. You can read about him at the link above, and about some of his beliefs here, but his religion is basically secular humanism. Spong doesn’t believe in a personal or anthropomorphic God, and sees the manifestation of God as our living of a good life and “wastefully” dispending love (he also mentioned the “Ground of Being”). He sees the Bible as a completely manmade document, and argues that in no sense should it be taken literally. (I’m not sure how he feels about Jesus.)

Spong’s speech, which he he gave after receiving the Religious Liberty Award, was magnificent: the perfect after-dinner combination of humor (we were in stitches much of the time) and seriousness (a commitment to equal rights for all)—all delivered in a wonderful, fluid style and an appealing North Carolina accent. I suspect the talk, which was filmed, will be on YouTube, as the AHA posts its award videos. I’ll thus put it up eventually, and leave you with one thing Spong said. During his life, he noted that he’d received sixteen serious death threats, and none of them were from atheists. They all came from his fellow Christians. Not much of a surprise there!

Along with Martin Luther King, Jr., Spong may be the preacher I most admire. Spong has fought tirelessly for women’s rights and gay rights, ordaining the first openly gay priest in his Church in 1989. He got in big trouble with his Church for that: they passed a resolution “disassociating” themselves from Spong’s diocese. But in the end he won, and there are now many gays and women who are Episcopal priests.

During the Q&A, I wanted to ask Spong (but didn’t) why he considered himself a Christian, for he rejects most of its tenets and doctrines. Someone did ask him why, if he valued Judaism so highly (he had a great spiel on the demonization of Jews by Christians), he wasn’t a Jew. He didn’t really answer, but gave his idea that the New Testament was really made up to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament, and that any ancient Jew would have immediately recognized the New Testament as a completely confected, nonliteral document.


Bishop John Shelby Spong

Would that all the world’s preachers were like Spong! Were that the case, with their flock believing likewise, I’d have no problem with religion.

The AHA’s Humanist of the Year Award for 2016 went to Jared Diamond, whom all biologists know as a man who has successful (and simultaneous) careers as a physiologist, avian ecologist, and anthropologist. (He’s still going strong at 78, and still making  expeditions to New Guinea.) Many of you will also know him as the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel, an analysis of why some human societies flourished and others didn’t.


Jared Diamond, also famed for his colorful jackets

Diamond’s 20-minute talk, which he said he wouldn’t have given nearly so passionately before a “regular” audience, was about the incompatibility of science and religion—a topic dear to my heart. He mentioned several scientific issues that, he said, didn’t necessarily show that two areas were wholly incompatible, but that theologians had yet to face.

One was the issue of other planets in the Universe harboring intelligent life. Diamond noted that of the nearly 3000 planets that we know of outside our Solar System, about 0.3%—nine—were in the “life zone,” with temperatures amenable to the evolution of carbon-based life. He is certain that there are many planets in the Universe that do harbor intelligent life, but said theologians haven’t settled on a doctrine of how God would deal with them. (Well, Michael Ruse has: he wrote about an “Intergalactic Jesus” who could fly from planet to planet, bringing salvation to all!) Diamond also wondered how theologians would deal with the salvation of hominins who didn’t leave descendants, like Homo erectus or the Neandertals, or how they’d deal with those early hybrids between “modern” humans and Neandertals.

Finally, Diamond discussed why he thought we’d never even learn about intelligent life elsewhere. The reasons were varied, including the notion that intelligent civilizations have only a limited window of time to send out “flying saucers”. For example, Diamond sees our society collapsing to the point that by 2050 we will no longer have the ability to send out space vehicles, so that over all of human history there was only a hundred-year window for interplanetary communication. Even the closest star is several light years away, making interplanetary travel nearly impossible. Further, the chances that a vehicle sent out by an intelligent civilization would find intelligent life on another planet would be low: such planets are rare.

In response to a question about why alien vehicles couldn’t home in on our electromagnetic signals—whether the signals come from SETI project or just regular t.v. and radio transmissions—Diamond said that endeavors like SETI angered him, because the meeting of two intelligent species would undoubtedly lead to Big Trouble. He used the examples of what humans have done to chimps and gorillas, and how different human cultures historically dealt with each other when they met.

All in all it was one of the best evenings I’ve had at a secular/humanist/atheist meeting, with great talks and good food.

Oh, and here’s the panorama from my room at the Hyatt. On the left is the Chicago skyline, and in the center looms one of my favorite buildings: the R. R. Donnelley Printing Plant (built 1912-1929), a great specimen of brick Art Deco architecture. I’ve heard that most of the telephone books in the U.S., as well as the Sears Catalogue, were made in this printing plant. It closed in 1991, 5 years after I moved to Chicago. You can see a bit of Lake Michigan to the right:

IMG_1055 (1)

Noms: I forgot to photograph the individual cheesecakes last night, each bearing a chocolate AHA symbol; but here’s a picture from the AHA Facebook page. It was scrumptious!



  1. GBJames
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Sounds like an excellent conference.

  2. colnago80
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Actually, it is my information that the number of exoplanets now exceeds 2000 and is growing rapidly.

    • Posted May 28, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      My mistake: he said 3000 exoplanets, I think, for 0.3% of that number is 9.

      • Posted May 28, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        On that 0.3%, it’s worth bearing in mind that we currently have a hugely biased sample, in that most detection methods are hugely biased to short-period planets that are too far in to be in the habitable zone of most stars.

        Factoring that in, the indications are that the fraction of stars that have a planet in the habitable zone will turn out to be nearer 1 than 0.1.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted May 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          Interesting. But then there are reasons why such a planet will still be barren, or die after a short period. I had seen that venus, earth, and mars are all in our stars’ habitable zone, and it looks like we may have life on only 1 out of 3 here.

          • Posted May 28, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            What fraction of planets in a habitable zone actually have life is one of the great unknowns.

            Venus and Mars are only marginally in our Solar System habitable zone (e.g. link), though this depends on how you model the greenhouse effect and similar, so it’s not clear cut.

            Of course “habitable zone” just means liquid water, so is not the only important factor.

            • Torbjörn Larsson
              Posted May 28, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

              An implied constraint here is the planet radius, because too massive planets tend to have massive Neptune type atmospheres.

              [One objection is why not mass, but radius correlate well and modeling implies all terrestrials are essentially Earth composition. I.e. one factor less to worry about.]

              Now the break point between terrestrials and neptunes are fairly narrow, but on the other hand the estimate varies. If it is 1.2 Earth radii which recent estimates gets from both unbiased estimates and bayesian estimates it is good news and bad news. [ ]

              The good news is that our system may be typical. (Earth is the superEarth we have been lacking; we have 3-4 neptunes give or take Planet Nine which is roughly the number of terrestrials. There is even a result now that accretion would result in at least one Moon impactor type collision at the time the Moon formed, and that there should be volatiles left on the planet.)

              The bad news is that there may be 2-3 known habitable planets as of yet, and that we need to look for smaller terrestrials around M stars. And in the latter case the number of unknowns explode, as you imply.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted May 29, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

          “habitable zone” remains a pretty moveable feast.
          For a start, it’s conventional to define “habitable zone” as the area where liquid water can exist at the surface.
          Sorry, but while we don’t have any known examples (we work on one datum), I’m unwilling to exclude the possibility of life in liquid ammonia, or ammonia-water mixes. (See the H20-H3N phase diagram, and the range could be buffered with CO2. Then there are temporal issues – it’s well accepted that Mars may be sterile now, but have hosted life up to about 3 Gyr ago. Sometimes I froth at the mouth a little at the stupidity of trying to terraform Mars (it’s a popular, silly, trope) and try composing much simpler terraforming scenarios for Venus which start with microorganisms that float in high-density atmosphere and turn CO2 into organic excreta which would char down to carbon black. It’s a stretch from bioengineering to actually naturally evolving life, but I’m not particularly ken on excluding it. Then there are all the “life under the ice” scenarios that are so discussed for the moons of the outer planets.
          While we have a sample of one naturally evolved biosphere, I’m not happy with keeping such a narrow definition of “habitable zone” as “liquid water at the surface”.
          I do accept it as a useful, easy to determine, working definition and particularly for communicating with the general populace. But I still think it’s a problematic concept. When a human-descended species has a dozen natural biochemistries to work with, then we might be able to look more closely at a functional definition – something involving the ecosystem’s energy fluxes and thermodynamics. But we’re 11 biochemistries from there.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted May 28, 2016 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Maybe colnago made a typo, but Diamond missed to update his manuscript as of the 10th of may this year. The Kepler collaboration released an astounding 1.284 new planets, making the total over 3.200. [ ]

        Diamond would be referring to habitable terrestrials with the previous nine; they are now 21. [Ibid.]

        The science behind is exciting too. Kepler made a breakthrough there they can use statistics of plausible planets directly on their pipeline of vetted candidates. This will mean future observations, at least by the transit method, will be much quicker since there is no need for complementing methods. TESS is supposed to take 2 years to look at the entire inventory of nearby transit planets that we can observe, 1-2 % of the total on average has the right viewing angle, which will mean surveying many millions of stars.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted May 28, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink


          – May
          – 1,284 new planets.
          – total 3,200 planets.

  3. Posted May 28, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know that modest, muslim men and women could touch the same scissors. What a crazy, dizzy world we live in.

  4. tubby
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I’m tempted to put together a “my body isn’t my husband’s property, and my husband isn’t threatened by the idea of other people seeing me.” image for the next time one of the “I wear a burqa/hijab because my body is only for my husband/for modesty” memes makes the rounds.

    • somer
      Posted May 28, 2016 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

      or those nice hadiths
      “your wives are tilth for you to sow”

  5. Posted May 28, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Different styles of hijab = diversity?

    So an employer has achieved diversity when his/her white, redneck employees wear baseball caps with the bill forward, baseball caps with the bill backward, and confederate flag kerchiefs?

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted May 28, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      And the wash room paper rolls – PF, PB, PR and PL. (The two last options is for vertical mounting.)

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Quite early in his career, books by Spong showed up on various skeptic and humanist reading lists.

    He had an online essay (behind a paywall) on why he continues to identify as Christian, largely saying he still identified with the Christian mode of framing ethical and religious questions even if he had very different answers. His main theological mentors appear to be Paul Tillich and Reinhold Neibuhr, both of whom were also deep influences on Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Spong taught a course every summer at the school where I studied for Unitarian ministry, Pacific School of Religion. (He was also a tough paper grader re grammar and punctuation- he took great pains to point out my own improper usages of the comma.)

    I learned he has an interesting triple connection with the religious right.

    1 As a boy in his early teens, he had a paper route delivering newspapers to Billy Graham. (I find it amusing how much Spong’s intonations so closely resemble Billy Graham while the deliver almost opposing messages.)

    2 His first job as a clergyman was at a Episcopal Church very close to Falwell’s Liberty University.

    3 And I’ll just quote Wikipedia “Spong is the cousin of former Virginia Democratic Senator William B. Spong, Jr., who defeated the incumbent Absalom Willis Robertson, the father of television evangelist Pat Robertson.”

    His book on Jesus (Jesus for the Non-Religious) was a bit unsatisfying. He spend 3/4ths of the book debunking the classical view of Jesus, and only 1/4th on what he considered a more relevant view of Jesus, the opposite ratios of an more interesting book from the 1970s entitled in the original German “Jesus for Atheists?” by Milan Machovec lamentably retitled for the English world as “A Marxist Looks at Jesus”. (And while Bart Ehrman IMO exaggerates the strength of his own case for an existing Jesus, Spong’s defense of same in the book mentioned is perfunctory.)


    JAC, are you sure you remember your encounter with Elizabeth Loftus correctly?🙂
    (Readers who don’t get that inside joke are going to have to look her up.)

  7. Mark R.
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    In the same vein as Diamond’s questions about realities theologians have yet to face is what about all the people who lived before Jesus or those since who never heard of the man: people with little contact with the wider world. What about people who are born with weak cognitive skills and can’t understand the concept. I think I remember in Catholicism something about these groups of people (including babies) going to purgatory. Purgatory seems to be the answer to all these messy questions, but Evangelicals don’t believe in it. For them, hell must be a very crowded place.

    • GBJames
      Posted May 28, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Those people didn’t go to Purgatory, they went to Limbo.

      What the Catholics think now, having abandoned the idea of Limbo, is unknown to me.

      • Mark R.
        Posted May 28, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Oh yeah, Limbo…forgot about that convenient place.

        • Lars
          Posted May 28, 2016 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

          Easy enough to do. The bar is low.

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted May 29, 2016 at 3:20 am | Permalink


  8. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    P.S. The fellow ordained by John Shelby Spong, Robert William, was indeed the first openly gay man ordained in the Episcopal Church, although at least one open lesbian had been previously ordained.

    He was first to resign a year later due to remarks disparaging both celibacy and monogamy including as assertion Mother Teresa would have benefited from having sex!!

    Two years after that, he had died from AIDS at age 38!

  9. Posted May 28, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Spong seems like a “christian atheist.” Someone who doesn’t believe in god but likes the “love one another” commandment.

    • GBJames
      Posted May 28, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Our old friend Eric MacDonald, who evaporated himself from WEIT and his own blog, used to argue in favor of some kind of atheist christianity. To me it is an unnecessary notion, but if I could trade all of the “regular” Christians in for some atheist version I’d be happy to make the swap.

    • somer
      Posted May 29, 2016 at 12:26 am | Permalink

      Yes Ive read his Sins of Scripture book and that seems to sum him up. Wonderful man.

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I had really enjoyed reading Diamonds’ Guns Germs& Steel, but I wonder how historians and others view his thesis. What is the opinion on that?

    • Posted May 28, 2016 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      To me, it was good that Diamond portrayed himself as a self-hating Westerner even in the preface and so triggered my alarms early enough.
      My impression was that he started with conclusions and sought arguments for them afterwards, if at all.

      His main thesis is that the most devastating human pathogens were borrowed from domesticated animals and so became a biological weapon of established agricultural societies against hunter-gatherers and newly agricultural communities. This thesis clashed with the wish of Diamond to exaggerate the genocide of native Americans. As a result, he portrayed pre-Columbian Americas as densely populated and then made great efforts to explain why this numerous population failed to give the European invaders efficient pathogens. (Diamond disagrees with the New World origin of syphilis, among other things.)

      The most devastating Old World infectious disease – the plague, originates from wild rodents and so does not fit Diamond’s ideas. So it becomes the elephant in the room which the author carefully tip-toes around.

      Even a lay reader should ask why, according to Diamond, humans were blessed to be free from any species-specific pathogens worth mentioning, while the domesticated species happened to have more than their fair share of pathogens.

      There was a table in the book showing the alleged animal origin of different human pathogens. It is true that measles virus originated from rinderpest virus. However, smallpox virus did not originate from cowpox virus but from an African rodent virus:
      (To be continued)

    • Posted May 28, 2016 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      As for the tuberculosis bacterium, it was not the human pathogen derived from the bovine pathogen but the other way round:

      For the flu, Diamond gives “ducks” as original host and takes for granted that those ducks are domestic. Wikipedia states that “wild aquatic birds are the natural hosts for a large variety of influenza A”.

    • Posted May 28, 2016 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      About tropical malaria, Diamond writes that it originated from birds. This theory is obsolete (may have been accepted by the time he wrote the book), but as with flu, he immediately jumped to the conclusion that those birds were domestic. According to Wikipedia, “The closest relative of P. falciparum is P. reichenowi, a parasite of chimpanzees.” Plasmodium vivax was transmitted to humans from Asian macaques:

      This check took a lot of time, and I guess that lay readers would waste even more time or would be unable to do it at all. I checked the infectious diseases because, as a biologist, I know something about them. I suppose that other claims of Diamond have a similar proportion of mistakes, but as a lay person, I am unable to detect them.

      “Guns, Germs and Steel” is an interesting book. I’d wish someone more informed and more loyal to the truth to have written such a book. As it is, every fact given by it must be double-checked using sources free from Diamond’s agenda.

      • Craw
        Posted May 28, 2016 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for these superb comments mayamarkov.

        • somer
          Posted May 29, 2016 at 12:35 am | Permalink


        • Victoria
          Posted May 29, 2016 at 1:20 am | Permalink


    • somer
      Posted May 28, 2016 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      Im not a historian or trained in science but I read Guns Germs and Steel about 13 years ago and since and was fascinated by it. Im also interested to hear about the assumptions and errors in the book. For me his general argument holds true but some areas and aspects were not well argued and obviously flawed or simply untrue.

      For example he makes a really interesting argument that there are actually very few plants capable of being domesticated as reliable, high yielding high quality crops, and even fewer wild animal types with the qualities that would enable them to be domesticated and he gives interesting descriptions of what those qualities need to be and why. I can more readily believe the latter (re animals) than the plant argument because in many places local plants have traditionally been raised because they are hardy and reliable (e.g. Teff in Africa) – but they are not grown elsewhere and not well known.
      Likewise with disease his argument about it being spread by domesticated animals is bunkum (thanks Maya) but in terms of his argument about the emergence of civilisation and high technology in particular places largely being due to natural and geographical endowments it doesnt necessarily undermine it. Tropical regions are known to have much more diseases. Africa overall also has more diseases cos they had more time to coevolve with humans (or is that wrong). Sleeping sickness, for example, is only found in Africa.

      I see, thanks Maya, he overstates the negative impact of western civilisations in a number of areas. To some extent Diamond almost thinks the decline of high tech culture is inevitable due to environmental effects – Ive read his Collapse and I don’t agree with him but of course civilisational decline generally is a risk in the coming century. The SJW left expect him to give a moral argument (not even an attempt at nasty scientific explanation) for the desirability and likelihood of the ascent and dominance of a non or anti Western anti capitalist anti technology order of things. Diamond is ambivalent whether he thinks modern society is desirable. I think on balance it is and where it isn’t it uniquely contains possibilities for good change in the world. There are counter arguments to both Diamond and SJWs that are scientific from a molecular biologist Prof Robert Wyman – Global problems of population growth.

      The impact of the west has been awful on many places, but in the context of history (which is one of slow globalisation) human inter societal interactions have very seldom been pretty. Moreover Diamond himself asserts that hunter gatherer and non settled societies are more violent than others even if hunter gatherer societies have other things that are good and that’s another thing he’s been excoriated for by SJW academics.

      I did like Diamonds argument about sophisticated technological civilisations first emerging/more likely to emerge in certain areas on account of things like climate zones, soils, communication routes (e.g. access to coastline, massive plains or plateaus connecting areas. Arguments like the numerous thin strips of climate zones in the Americas cos the continent is long and thin making it hard to transmit plants and animals and ideas across the whole continent seem to make good sense to me.

  11. p. puk
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    The hijab is simply a means to control women. To subjugate them. It works like this:

    Here, wear this garment because it’s what good Muslim women wear. Great. Now that you are a good Muslim woman you need to act like a good Muslim woman.

    If women are free to dress as they please then they are also free to act as they please and we wont be having any of that now, will we.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 29, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      If women are free to dress as they please then they are also free to act as they please and we wont be having any of that now, will we.

      You mean that it’s an extension of their fear of discussion of even the existence of apostasy, let alone lifelong disbelief. Even allowing people to be aware of the existence of different ideas is dangerous.
      Education – dangerous thing.

  12. Vaal
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Thank you very much for that report on the conference, Prof CC. I really appreciate all the detail.

    I generally agree with your views on the “choice” or not to wear the hijab, in terms of coercion.

    BTW, since you argued from a determinist perspective, though you disavow it, it’s hard to avoid talking like a compatibilist🙂 You aren’t using the term “free” to help distinguish types of choices, but it’s hovering in there nonetheless, since surely, even when coerced someone “makes a choice” to wear the hijab. It’s just made under different circumstances than when not coerced, which is why most people employ the terms like “freely chosen” to discern between the two.

    The definition you give for “choice” – “an action that was taken without any social pressure to perform it” – seems to skip over the elements of what most people would think of as “having a choice.” It’s hidden under “an action taken” which, if it’s to look anything like the normal concept of “choice” would mean:

    choice; plural noun: choices

    1. an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

    (Sorry to be a pain in the arse when the subject comes up. I have no choice).

  13. Posted May 28, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink


  14. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Now I am curious:

    but gave his idea that the New Testament was really made up to represent the fulfillment of the Old Testament, and that any ancient Jew would have immediately recognized the New Testament as a completely confected and nonliteral document.

    How does Mohammedanists play this?

    Are Mohammedanists saying that Mohammed wasn’t Jesus, and Jesus wasn’t either. I.e. that both mythical figures were supposedly prophetical but not (yet?) the OT fulfillment?

    And I am angry:

    Diamond said that endeavors like SETI angered him, because the meeting of two intelligent species would undoubtedly lead to Big Trouble.

    Seems like Diamond has bought in to Hawking et al ideas of a physical meeting.

    Never mind that Fermi’s hypothesis still stands, either intelligent life is rare (the biologist consensus) or space travel is too hard (the physicist consensus, I think). Or that SETI isn’t about physical meetings in the first place.

    But speaking of;

    basically secular humanism

    The first secular burial plots have been granted in Sweden.

    Earlier you had the option to be burned and ashes spread on non-denomination places for that. The plots is in next to a church burial place, but it is considered neutral grounds, so another option for nones.

    [ ]

    • Richard
      Posted May 29, 2016 at 4:01 am | Permalink

      What, you don’t think a non-physical meeting, just an exchange of information, could be dangerous?

      “Now, kiddies, once you have your U235 hexafluoride solution…”

    • colnago80
      Posted May 29, 2016 at 5:06 am | Permalink

      Never mind that Fermi’s hypothesis still stands, either intelligent life is rare (the biologist consensus) or space travel is too hard (the physicist consensus, I think). Or that SETI isn’t about physical meetings in the first place.

      There was a discussion on the Internet on this issue in the 1990s between Carl Sagan and Ernst Mayr where, indeed, Sagan thought that intelligent life was plentiful and Mayr thought it was rare.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 29, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      But speaking of;

      basically secular humanism

      The first secular burial plots have been granted in Sweden.

      Odd, we’ve had thse in Britain for – well over a decade. Possibly over two decades.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 29, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink
      any ancient Jew would have immediately recognized the New Testament as a completely confected and nonliteral document.

      How does Mohammedanists play this?

      I don’t think they’d give a damn. Mo (contempt be upon him for listening to his wife, instead of accepting his visions as insanity) was definitively the last and final and one correct prophet. Errors by previous prophets (including Jeebus, and most of the others back to Abraham) are simply unimportant.

  15. Craw
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think PuffHo’s motives are good. Their motive is virtue signaling. That is a bad motive.

  16. lonefreethinkers
    Posted May 29, 2016 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Check this image illustration..hilarious

  17. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 29, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Diamond also wondered how theologians would deal with the salvation of hominins who didn’t leave descendants, like Homo erectus or the Neandertals,

    Hmmm, being neither a Neanderthal nor an erectus, yet leaving no descendents, does that mean that I’m saved, unsaved, or simply don’t care wht happens when the worms will eat me?

  18. Andrew West
    Posted May 29, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I run into problems of definition when I talk about free will (I’m with Jerry on it). It’s hard to explain to people that you can have choices and make decisions, but also have no free will.

    I go with something like: I’m presented with choices, and I decide based on the contents of my brain and the contents of my environment. It’s just that I’d always pick the same thing if time were re-run.

    • Vaal
      Posted May 29, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      ” It’s just that I’d always pick the same thing if time were re-run.”

      Which unfortunately doesn’t tell you the interesting stuff you need to know about your capabilities when making choices.

      When faced with a choice, if you want to know whether you are capable of choosing either one, you have to have a conception of yourself that stretches through time, not one that is stuck at some precise point.

      In other words, if you are deciding between buying a car, and you are pondering the option of automatic or standard transmission,
      your inference about whether both are an option depends on assumptions such as: “The ‘I’ who I’m thinking of now is the I who in the past learned to drive standard transmission” and hence you can infer your capabilities “I’m capable of driving either standard or automatic” and in that sense – the only sense useful for making such choices – both options are possible.

  19. Diane G.
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 4:19 am | Permalink

    What a super convention line-up!

  20. Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Diamond’s point about theologians not settling on a ET-compatible Christology is of course right. And it is interesting, given how popular CS Lewis is, that his solution is not adopted.

  21. Posted June 14, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    If the hijab were so great, men would be wearing them.

    BTW, that photo of a man and two women cutting the ribbon to open a store for hijabs and etc. looked, at first glance, like the man was holding a knife and its point was aimed at the woman in white, right where it would suggest FGM. Notice the smiles. What a picture!

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