Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Eugie Foster, 1971 - 2014

I only just heard. This is from her Facebook page, dated 27 September 2014:
Eugie Foster, author, editor, wife, died on September 27th of respiratory failure at Emory University in Atlanta.

In her forty-two years, Eugie lived three lifetimes. She won the Nebula award, the highest award for science fiction literature, and had over one hundred of her stories published. She was an editor for the Georgia General Assembly. She was the director of the Daily Dragon at Dragon Con, and was a regular speaker at genre conventions. She was a model, dancer, and psychologist. She also made my life worth living.
Memorial service will be announced soon.

We do not need flowers. In lieu of flowers, please buy her books and read them. Buy them for others to read until everyone on the planet knows how amazing she was.

--Matthew M. Foster (husband)
Eugie Foster wrote the short story "Oranges, Lemons and Thou Beside Me" which I narrated for Pseudopod in December 2006. It's one of the most disturbing stories I have ever read, let alone narrated, causing some controversy in the Pseudopod discussion forum and comments on the blog entry.

In 2008 I wrote reviews of podcast short fiction for TTA Press's now defunct The Fix Online, of which Eugie Foster was the managing editor.

A sad loss indeed, but the fruits of her creative imagination live on. You should check them out.

(photo snagged from her Facebook page)
Eugie Foster

Skepticule 86 is available for download, streaming and what-have-you

Long overdue — but delayed gratification is character-building, so they say:

Skepticule 086: Death of Christmas; God's own prayers; Anon Steve's slippery slope ECHR update; NSS AGM; Adam Rutherford on James Watson; Johno's just world for oven doors.



Saturday, 17 January 2015

Your choice to attend religious services? Apparently not.

Freedom of expression is an important right, as has been highlighted in recent days with the Charlie Hebdo affair. But what about the freedom not to attend a religious service?

Skepticule host Paul Orton explains the case of Anonymous Steve (a Skepticule contributor), who has been ordered by a judge to attend Roman Catholic Mass with his children:
Steve, a British citizen of my acquaintance, has been instructed by a British judge to attend Roman Catholic mass with his children when he has custody of them, as part of a divorce settlement.

The instruction to attend church* was something the judge introduced without being requested by the mother. The judge declared his Roman Catholicism to the court. The children only occasionally attended church with their mother before the divorce.

Steve appealed the judgement as far as he could as a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) but the Appeals Court has ruled that the original ruling should not be overturned. This would appear to set a precedent whereby it is in the remit of the British court system to demand that citizens attend services of a particular denomination.

Steve chooses not to take his children to mass, thereby leaving himself open to a charge of Contempt of Court and a prison sentence.
Read more on Paul Orton's blog, Missing God Gene.

*UPDATE 2015-01-17: "court" corrected to "church"

Burnee links — Creationism, scientific evidence and AI. And free speech, of course.

The only way to repeal blasphemy codes is to breach them | Lawyers' Secular Society
"A blasphemy code represents the very end of human progress..."

Creationism is inherently homophobic and misogynistic
Why bother arguing against creationism? After all, what's the harm? Well, this.

BBC News - Paul Nurse accuses politicians of 'cowardice' over scientific evidence
The shadow of David Nutt is cast silently over this article...

Add faithophobia to my crimes: I have no respect for religions that have little respect for me | Suzanne Moore | Comment is free | The Guardian
Religionists can say pretty much what they like as far as I'm concerned, but I don't have to respect what they say, and I have the right to say that they're wrong.

National Secular Society - Charlie Hebdo Editorial: Je Suis Charlie Means Je Suis Secularism
It's about secularism.

Can We Avoid a Digital Apocalypse? : A Response to the 2015 Edge Question : Sam Harris
Could we build an "artificial general intelligence"? Perhaps a better question is, should we?

Does Humanism require God? (Doesn't everything?)

Today's Unbelievable? — scheduled to broadcast at 14:30 this afternoon — has already been downloaded by my podcatcher. It's a discussion between Angus Ritchie, co-author of a recent Theos paper on humanism, and Stephen Law, Provost of the Centre for Inquiry UK, who has critiqued the paper on the CfI blog. I listened to the show yesterday evening and posted the following comments in the Skepticule aka The Three Pauls Podcast Facebook group while listening:
Paul S Jenkins Listening now. Trying to resist the temptation to cheer on Stephen Law's points.
13 hrs · Like

Paul S Jenkins Angus Ritchie's reasoning is tied up with "intrinsic values". This is absolutism, and that's why it won't fly as a reasoned argument.
12 hrs · Like

Paul S Jenkins Stephen Law has just asked Angus Ritchie a serious and extreme question. Angus has not yet answered it.
12 hrs · Like

Paul S Jenkins Damn. Justin has moved the argument on, giving Angus a breather.
12 hrs · Like

Paul S Jenkins Now Angus is obliquely referencing Plantinga's EAAN.
12 hrs · Like

Paul S Jenkins Justin reminds us that Stephen Law debated Alvin Plantinga on a previous _Unbelievable?_
12 hrs · Edited · Like

Paul S Jenkins Justin is paraphrasing Angus's argument, and diluting it at the same time.
12 hrs · Like

Paul S Jenkins "If nothing ethically matters, it doesn't matter that nothing ethically matters." Brilliant. An excellent performance by our favourite Scruffy Philosopher.
12 hrs · Like
Worth a listen if you have views on humanism and what it entails (and what it doesn't).

(At the end of the show, host Justin Brierley read out some feedback on a previous one in which William Lane Craig apparently claimed that the existence of mathematics was evidence for the existence of God. For me, Norman Bacrac's feedback hit the nail on the head by stating that mathematics is a property of physical reality. I don't think I'll be listening to that one.)

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Why religious taboos need to be broken

More on the Charlie Hebdo affair, from Coel Hellier. It's full of nuggets:
Free speech is not an end in itself, we value it because we use it to examine and criticize influential ideas.
That's the point; Islam is influential. If it weren't influential we wouldn't bother with it.
The Islamic ban on drawing Mohammed is a theological taboo. The whole idea is to place Mohammed, and thus Islam, above human criticism. Drawing Mohammed is seen as disrespectful because it involves the drawer thinking for themselves about Mohammed and possibly coming to un-Islamic conclusions.
Organised religion does this kind of thing very well. Over the centuries religion has managed to insulate itself from criticism in such a way that the very notion that religion might be somehow incorrect about something has become abhorrent to many otherwise sensible people.
...we have a moral duty to question Islam, and that means a moral duty to flout the Islamic taboos that are there precisely to prevent us doing that. 
That looks like a call to action.
The cartoons drawn by Charlie Hebdo are not offensive by any proper standard — they are mild compared to those directed routinely at Western politicians — they are offensive only by the standards of a taboo that is there to protect Islam from scrutiny.

We simply cannot accept this taboo, since it conflicts with the basic principles that have raised the free West to the highest standards of economic prosperity, political freedom, and quality of life that the world has ever known. It is impermissible to try to impose one’s own religious rules onto other people, by means of taking “offense”, since that is to subject others to one’s own religion, which is exactly what Islam would like to do. 
Coel also highlights the dire plight of indigenous apostates such as Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1000 lashes for hosting a website critical of Islam:
If we in the West accept Islamic taboos, and acquiesce to Islamic strictures, then how can the Raif Badawis be expected to challenge Islam? To refuse to publish Mohammed cartoons is to say that the reformers are in the wrong! Surely we should stand in support of those who want to reform Islamic society from the inside.
Good points, clearly expressed — go read the whole thing.

Freedom of expression — who's responsible?

I consider freedom of expression to be a right, but I also acknowledge that I must take responsibility for my actions. If my actions include writing or saying offensive words, or drawing offensive pictures, I must take some responsibility for the offence. But I'm not responsible for unreasonable definitions of "offence", neither am I responsible for the actions of others when they react unreasonably to my actions.

To explain what I mean by "unreasonable" I will invoke Newton's Third Law of Motion: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Would that this were a legal as well as a physical law. Being unexpectedly gunned down is not an equal and opposite reaction to publishing cartoons in a magazine. The proportionate response to offensive cartoons is criticism, not bullets.

John Scalzi, at his blog Whatever, gives what he calls "Disorganized Thoughts on Free Speech, Charlie Hebdo, Religion and Death". It's a meandering examination of the issues and how he feels about them, and worth reading.

at the HuffPo, on the other hand, seems to have missed the point of why free speech needs defending.
Lampooning racism by reproducing brazenly racist imagery is a pretty dubious satirical tactic. Also, as the former Charlie Hebdo journalist Olivier Cyran argued in 2013, an "Islamophobic neurosis gradually took over" the magazine after 9/11, which then effectively endorsed attacks on "members of a minority religion with no influence in the corridors of power".
Dubious? Possibly. Deserving death? I think not. This article misses the mark. Sacking, censure, criticism, or other forms of disapproval are in no way equivalent to what happened to the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. Summary execution is not equivalent to a strongly worded letter to the Times. This is not about political correctness.

And just today we have the Pope weighing in on the issue, but with a degree of equivocation that is really no help at all:

It's a bit worrying that the Pope is advocating violence in retaliation for perceived insult, but he's a religionist with a lot at stake, so the fact that he's taking the same line as Muslim extremists shouldn't be that surprising.
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