IN THE NEWS: FFRF complains about Clemson University's proselytizing football coach. Saudi Arabia declares "atheism = terrorism" and other countries threaten the death penalty for nonbelief. After hearing many freethought connections to Shakespeare and Prokofiev (born April 23), we talk with activist and philanthropist Todd Stiefel of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.
2014 PODCAST ARCHIVES
April 19, 2014
Guest: Todd Stiefel
April 12, 2014
Guest: Ellis Felker
IN THE NEWS: We listen to Ayaan Hirsi Ali's response after she was disinvited to give the commencement at Brandeis University when they withdrew her honorary doctorate for her remarks critical of Islam. After celebrating the birthday of the freethinking Charlie Chaplin, we talk with Ellis Felker, owner of Red Oak Greeting Cards.
April 5, 2014
Guest: Indre Viskontas
After hearing (and analyzing) the oral arguments in the Supreme Court "Hobby Lobby" case, challenging the reproductive mandate of the Affordable Health Care Act on religious grounds, we celebrate Tom Lehrer's birthday by listening to some of his songs, as well as Eric Idle's "The Galaxy." Then we speak with a modern Renaissance Woman, Indre Viskontas, an opera singer, scientist (Ph.D. in neuroscience), science podcast host, co-star of "The Miracle Detective" TV series (which aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network), science/music educator, and atheist.
March 28, 2014
Celebrate 75 Years of Oz
For the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, we celebrate the life and legacy of the freethinking lyricist Yip Harburg, who wrote “Over the Rainbow,” and many other songs. Listen to Yip himself singing “If I Only Had a Brain,” “Over the Rainbow,” “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and “Last Night When We Were Young.” Then we interview Yip’s son, Ernie Harburg, also an atheist, a scientist who is director of the Yip Harburg Foundation, about his father’s artistic life and social activism.
March 20, 2014
Guest: Marci Hamilton
In The News: "A Tale of Three Cities." FFRF complains about mixing religion and government in Green Bay (WI), Birmingham (AL), and Sand Point (ID). We welcome spring with music from Richard Rodgers and Yip Harburg, and celebrate the birthday of Elton John by hearing his freethought song "This Train Don't Stop Here Any More." Then we talk with prominent attorney Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. The Gavel, who argued and won a Supreme Court lawsuit challenging the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and who wrote FFRF's Supreme Court amicus brief challenging Hobby Lobby's refusal to honor the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds.
March 12, 2014
Guest: Ken Knighton
In The News: FFRF asks the Pope to "stay away from Green Bay"; tells a praying police chief in Birmingham to cease and desist; and chastises Florida schools for mingling with a local church. After hearing "The Stay Away Pope Polka" and "The Salt Lake City Blues," we talk with FFRF's 20,000th member, Ken Knighton, a former Mormon from Utah.
March 6, 2014
In The News: "Baby Messiah" judge censured; bibles finally removed from ISU hotels; Arizona atheist legislator offers another nonreligious "prayer" in the House; religious violence in Africa. We promote the premier of the new "Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey," and the Saudi movie Wadjda. Then we talk with Madison's own Bobby Hinds, 84, an FFRF Life Member who was just inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame.
March 1, 2014
Taking Liberties with Religious Freedom
In The News: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoes the controversial bill denying service to gays. We educate the bible-illiterate Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, about why the Christian scriptures are insulting. We talk about the movie Philomena and the Academy Awards, and about Ricky Gervais’s view on "something to live for." Then we talk with Rob Boston, of Americans United For Separation of Church and State, about his new book: Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do.
February 22, 2014
Guest: Katherine Spillar, Executive Editor of MS Magazine
In The News: FFRF removes bibles from another state-owned hotel room; and successful student activists in North Carolina. Hear Annie Laurie interviewed by Sean Hannity about the Iowa State victory. Celebrate the birthdays of Victor Hugo and W.E.B. Dubois. Then we talk with executive editor of MS Magazine, Katherine Spillar, about the religious war against women.
February 15, 2014
Guest: Professor Ronald L. Numbers, author, The Creationists
Guest co-host with Annie Laurie Gaylor: FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel
Radio Valentine to Susan B., Darwin
"Celebrating Darwin, exposing the creationists"
In the news: Annie Laurie and Andrew discuss FFRF’s new creationism law FAQ, Andrew’s complaint to New York officials over infant endangerment, deaths from ultra-Orthodox circumcision ritual. Birthdates honored: Charles Darwin, Galileo, Jeremy Bentham and Susan B. Anthony. Song: “It’s Only Natural,” Dan’s jazz love ballad inspired by Richard Dawkins’ book, “Unweaving the Rainbow,” paying homage to love, natural selection and Darwin, beautifully sung by Susan Hofer. Guest: the erudite and entertaining Professor Ronald L. Numbers, University of Wisconsin,-Madison, author of the definitive history, The Creationists.
February 8, 2014
Happy Birthday, Darwin! Exposing Religious Voucher Failures
In the News: Freethought Radio comments on international blasphemy prosecutions, UN committee evaluation of Vatican failings, and asks you to do your bit and buy Girl Scout cookies! (Antiabortionists have called boycott.) Birthdates honored: Charles Darwin, Philip Appleman and Phyllis Rose. Song: God’s Grandeur, words by Phil Appleman, music by Dan Barker. Guest: Patrick Elliott talks about a North Carolina state/church victory stopping a prayerful school coach that's grabbing national attention, and details shocking details his open records request uncovered about a religious voucher school in Milwaukee that closed its doors after receiving more than $2 million in tax dollars.
February 1, 2014
In Reason We Trust
In the News: FFRF files an amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court lawsuit challenging the Affordable Healthcare Act, and the government appeals FFRF's federal court "Parish Exemption" victory to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. We honor the life of folksinger Pete Seeger, and then talk with artist and filmmaker Scott Burdick about his new film, "In Reason We Trust."
January 25, 2014
In The News: public vouchers to religious schools, and revelations of hundreds of priests defrocked for raping children. We hear some of the music of nonbelieving composer Jerome Kern, then we talk with Valerie Tarico about her book Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light.
January 18, 2014
A Better Life!
What do “Winnie the Pooh” and the movie “Saving Mr. Banks” have to do with freethought? We will give you two different reasons. Then we talk with New York filmmaker and photographer Chris Johnson about his new gorgeous book of photography, A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God.
January 11, 2014
Guest: PZ Myers
Find out which famous singer/entertainer you may not have known is an atheist, and also which rock band leader you may not have known is an atheist. This week we talk about the religious war against women, and then interview science blogger and professor PZ Myers about his new book, The Happy Atheist.
January 4, 2014
Baby, it’s cold outside!
For the first show of the year, we talk about ObamaCare and religion, Justice Sotomayor and the nuns, vandalism of freethought solstice displays, and the freethinking views of author Zora Neale Hurston. After hearing the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” composed by freethinking songwriter Frank Loesser, we talk with Florida freethought activist Gary Whittenberger about his book God Wants YOU To Be An Atheist.
December 28, 2013
Happy 2014! We stop and rest at the end of the year, and listen to our selection of favorite freethought music, including Yip Harburg, Burton Lane, Tom Lehrer, Kristen Lems, George and Ira Gershwin, Joe Hill, Philip Appleman, Cole Porter, and Frank Loesser. We end with a Scottish version of freethinker Robert Burns' "Auld Lang Syne."
December 21, 2013
Away With The Manger!
Away With The Manger! The Winter Solstice is the reason for the season. After hearing news about FFRF's seasonal displays, countering nativity scenes and religious messages on public property, we devote the show to our favorite freethought seasonal music, including Tim Minchin, Tom Lehrer, Roy Zimmerman, South Park's "Merry Frickin Christmas," FFRF's musical albums, and, of course, the agnostic Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. We also hear the radio debut of Dan Barker's children's song "Time Never Stops," honoring the solstice.
December 14, 2013
It's That Time of Year!
It's that time of year -- for nativity scene violations! We report on a couple of FFRF creche complaints (out of 60+ so far this year), then then we talk with Tom Cara, director of FFRF's Metropolitan Chicago chapter, about the large atheist 'A' and the "nativity of the Bill of Rights" his group erected in downtown Daley Plaza. On the second half of the show, we interview Linda LaScola, one of the founders of the Clergy Project, and co-author of the new book (with Daniel C. Dennett) about clergy who have abandoned faith, Caught In The Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind.
December 7, 2013
Guests: Judy Saint, IRS agent Robert Baty, Attorney Richard L. Bolton
FFRF wins major federal court victory! Also fifty-five freethought billboards in Sacramento! We talk with Judy Saint of the Sacramento chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the many local nonbelievers whose faces and phrases appear on billboards all over the country. Then we talk with FFRF’s attorney Rich Bolton and retired IRS attorney Robert Baty about FFRF’s significant federal victory declaring the IRS “Housing Allowance” exclusion for clergy unconstitutional.
November 30, 2013
Guests: Journalist Jamila Bey, activist Zack Kopplin
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving with gratitude in the face of the almost impossible fragility of human existence, and listen to Shelley Segal’s “Apocalyptic Love Song." We hear journalist Jamila Bey, of “Sex, Politics and Religion: SPAR with Jamila Bey,” addressing FFRF’s convention. Then student activist Zack Kopplin tells us how he is battling creationism in Louisiana.
November 23, 2013
Guest: TV reporter Stuart Watson
Three presidents! This week we play President Obama reading Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address without saying “under God,” and then hear John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about keeping state and church separate. Then we talk with North Carolina investigative TV reporter Stuart Watson about pastors who abuse the IRS “Housing Allowance,” and have other “financial questions” in their ministries.
November 16, 2013
Guest: Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers
After hearing a fun news story about our billboard in Janesville, Wisconsin that says “Enjoy Life Now: There is no afterlife,” we dissect the oral arguments heard in the Supreme Court "Greece vs. Galloway” case dealing with prayer at city council. Then we talk with a legal legend, a true hero of freethought, the plucky Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers (who has served since 1971), whose 1983 lawsuit resulted in the historic “Marsh vs. Chambers” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
November 9, 2013
Guest: Peter Boghossian
This week we announce FFRF's new lawsuit in state court, challenging official city prayer and City Chaplain in Pismo Beach, California. We hear Dan Savage's "Emperor Has No Clothes" award acceptance speech. Then we talk with Peter Boghossian, author of the new best-seller A Manual For Creating Atheists.
November 2, 2013
Guest: SSA's Jesse Galef
Happy Birthday Annie Laurie! We hear the Scottish ballad "Annie Laurie," then listen to a 1980 interview of Annie Laurie Gaylor (who was 24) talking about the harm of religion to women. We also celebrate the birthday of Bad Religion's Greg Graffin by playing the punk-rock tune "God's Love." Then we talk with Jesse Galef, Communications Director of the Secular Student Alliance, about the difficulties (and victories) in forming new freethought clubs on high-school campuses.
October 26, 2013
Guests: Candace R. Gorham and Juan Mendez
Freethought Radio will play an excerpt of Arizona State Rep. Juan Mendez' Emperor Has No Clothes Award acceptance speech at the recent national FFRF convention. Mendez is the only "out" atheist in elected state government and talks about why he gave a freethought invocation before the Arizona State Legislature last spring and what happened when he did.
Candace R. Gorham, author of the new book, "The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking Out on Religion — and Others Should Too." Candace was an ordained evangelist who holds a master's degree from Wake Forest University, is a credentialed counselor and founder of www.EbonyExodus.org.
October 19, 2013
Guest: Richard Dawkins discusses his new memoir!
Julia Sweeney says "OMG, there is no God!" on FFRF's Times-Square billboard, while Oprah Winfrey insults atheist swimmer Diana Nyad by claiming nonbelievers cannot experience "awe." We laugh at the mixing of religion and government with the government shutdown, hear the brave 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai defending education as an antidote to religious violence. Then we talk with scientist Richard Dawkins about his new memoir, An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.
October 12, 2013
Guest: Prof. Brian Bolton
This week we celebrate "Freethought Day," the anniversary of the October 12, 1692 end of the Salem Witch Trials, and the October 12, 1872 birthday of freethinking English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. After "FFRF in the News," we talk with professor Brian Bolton, who has endowed FFRF's graduate student essay contest, about the inefficacy of prayer and the myth that America is a "Christian nation."
October 4, 2013
Guest: Aisha Goss, Secular Coalition of America
36th Annual FFRF Convention wrap-up. Announcing Steven Pinker as new Honorary President of FFRF. Tennessee PTA prayer nixed. Five freethinking composers with birthdays this week! This week we talk with Aisha Goss, Deputy Director of the Secular Coalition of America.
September 26, 2013
Guest: Author Guy Harrison
"Why does all my money have to say 'In God We Trust'?" This week we challenge the motto on U.S. currency as well as on license plates. We hear a young Ellery Schempp in 1963 being interviewed by Eric Sevareid on CBS News about the historic Abington v. Schempp decision by the Supreme Court outlawing bible reading in public schools. Then we talk with Guy P. Harrison, author of the book, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian.
September 21, 2013
Happy Birthday, George Gershwin
FFRF tells high court to stop city prayer. We celebrate the equinox and end the summer by celebrating the birthday of nonbelieving composer George Gershwin, who wrote "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So." Then we discuss the amicus filed by FFRF in the Greece, NY, city-prayer case before the Supreme Court, with our two staff attorneys who drafted the brief: Patrick Elliott and Andrew Seidel.
September 14, 2013
INFIDELS! Guest: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
INFIDELS! We hear the only known recording of journalist H. L. Mencken, admitting he was an agnostic, commenting on his coverage of the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial." Then we hear Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the ex-Muslim Somali author of Infidel and Nomad, give her acceptance speech of FFRF's "Emperor Has No Clothes" Award.
September 6, 2013
Battle of Church and State
We stop football prayer and expose Hobby Lobby’s “crafty” and misleading ads about the founding fathers. Then we talk with Dan Savage, author and founder of It Gets Better, about his new book, American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics.
August 31, 2013
Atheist in the Foxhole
"The bases are loaded," as a federal judge this week gave FFRF the green light to proceed in our 3rd ongoing lawsuit against the IRS. On the second half of the show, we interview Joe Muto, a former employee of Fox News and an associate producer of The O'Reilley Factor, author of the new book An Atheist in the Foxhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media. (Photo credit: Alexis Lamster)
August 24, 2013
We celebrate the 93rd anniversary of Women's Equality Day and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. We talk about FFRF's state/church activism, including this week's federal court victory upholding standing to proceed in our IRS electioneering lawsuit. Then we talk with Hawaii state/church activists Holly Huber and Mitch Kahle who, as whistleblowers on behalf of the state, are suing churches who are underpaying millions of dollars for the use of public schools.
August 17, 2013
Guest: Susan Jacoby
Government prayer is run amok! Hear updates about FFRF complaints in Texas and Alabama, as well as the Cullman County "Prayer Caravan" saga, in which the governor takes sides against FFRF. Then we interview Susan Jacoby about her newly released book, The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought.
August 10, 2013
Guest: Chuck Roslof
This week we hear a sneak preview of our upcoming convention with music and commentary from Julia Sweeney and Jill Sobule's "Jill & Julia Show." We report our victory in the Ball State University "intelligent design" controversy, and hear of FFRF complaints over state church violations in Alabama. Then we talk with FFRF summer legal intern Chuck Roslof, who tells us about the problems that result when secular hospitals merge with Catholic institutions.
August 3, 2013
Why Tolerate Religion?
What is the afterlife to a fish? To answer that question, we play the debut of Dan Barker's new song, "Heaven," setting to music the poetry of Rupert Brooke. State/church entanglements in Alabama and Texas are in the news. Then we talk with University of Chicago Law Professor Brian Leiter, author of the new book, Why Tolerate Religion?
July 30, 2013
Freethought Radio Guest: Jerry Coyne
ALG: Hello heathens, I'm Annie Laurie Gaylor.
DB: And I'm Dan Barker, your friendly neighborhood atheist in the airways. This is July 13, 13!
ALG: Freethought Radio is the weekly production of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We have over 19,000 members, we have all kinds, we can welcome all kinds of new members who joined, signed up, from our ad campaign on July 4. Our 'Celebrate Our Godless Constitution Campaign," ad ran in twenty-five newspapers. Notably Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Seattle Times and the New York Times.
DB: It played in Peoria.
ALG: It played in Peoria. It got censored in Oklahoma City, home of Hobby Lobby. And we were actually countering the annual disinformation ad by Hobby Lobby that portrays the United States as based on a god and Jesus and so that was unfortunate censorship. So, welcome to all the new members of FFRF.
DB: Coming up on the second half of today's show, we're going to talk with Jerry Coyne again. He's the professor of biology at the University of Chicago and the author of, in freethought science circles, the bestselling book "Why Evolution is True." He's an intrepid blogger and we're going to go over some of the continuing saga at Ball State University in Indiana where the Freedom From Religion Foundation has a long standing complaint about proselytizing being done by a science professor and where they just hired a known creationist to join in their astronomy department. Jerry Coyne is one of FFRF's honorary directors.
ALG: And we will be talking about Ireland and state/church separation there. Dan and I just got back from an atheist Ireland conference.
DB: It's nice to be back in a country where we literally drive on the right side of the road.
ALG: We took some vacation time after that conference and Dan was the brave driver. And we learned a lot about the Catholic Church's role there in banning abortion, even to save women's lives. And were also going to talk about the threats by the religious right here at home. Including how the anti-abortion crusade is hitting home here in Wisconsin. But— before all that is sobering news —how about a little humor? June 17th is the birthday of comedian Phyllis Diller.
DB: Phyllis Diller was a woman pioneer in standup comedy and made a career out of her self-deprecating humor. She was born in 1917, and she died last summer at the age of 95, after living what she called a happy and fulfilled life. Phyllis Diller was talking with John Palmer on his show "Encore" about a secular self-help book that she found very useful.
Phyllis: It got to me cause it didn't involve god or anybody else. Just me, and making yourself a better person. Use your mind, use your thoughts, use them, don't throw them away. Just don't let them lie there.
ALG: So she was an atheist for most of her life and said kindness was her religion. In an interview with A&U Magazine from November 2001, Phyllis Diller said, "Religion is such a medieval idea. Don't get me started. I have thought about every facet of religion and I can't buy any of it."
DB: When Rosie O'Donnell asked Phyllis Diller what she thought about the book "The Secret," Phyllis replied that she could do without all the religion. She prefers to read books that are entirely secular.
Phyllis: I didn't want to stop and bother with god. I just wanted the magic.
Rosie: I understand. Take what works for you.
DB: So Rosie even acknowledged that some nonbelievers, we take what works for us and what works for us is freethought.
ALG: Dan and I just got back from a week in Ireland, starting with that conference in Dublin hosted by Atheist Ireland. And abortion was the big topic because of the ban on abortion in the Republic of Ireland.
DB: Just last week while we were there in Ireland, the Irish parliament preliminary voted in favor of the protection of life during pregnancy bill. Referring to saving the pregnant woman's life, believe it or not, this remains controversial in Ireland. We flew back Saturday, so we missed the huge anti-abortion demonstration in Dublin. Which unfortunately attracted some 35,000 faith heads who think it's ok if women die unnecessarily during pregnancy.
Atheist Ireland and other secularist and feminists counter picketed that rally. There were about 1,000 of them in Dublin. And Jane Donnelly who is with Atheist Ireland sent us a little video footage of the pro-choice demonstrators being impressively loud as they shouted "Shame on you!" to the antis.
VIDEO: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!
ALG: The bill is the weakest possible response to the shocking brutal death late last October of a woman named Savita Halappanavar. She was a dentist with the misfortune to be living in Galway, Ireland. She was 17 weeks into a wanted pregnancy that went wrong. She of course was from India and had this happened in India she'd be alive today. She started to miscarry. And under amendment eight of the Irish Constitution passed in 1983, fetal life is put on par with the woman's right to life. The way that works in practice is fetal life is put above the woman's life. The Galway hospital where this dentist ended up, refused to abort her pregnancy until there was no detectible fetal heartbeat even though her uterus was rupturing. Sevita and her husband pleaded to end her doomed pregnancy. They refused to do so until it was too late, blood poisoning had set in and she died.
DB: In 1992 in the landmark Irish X case—it's called X because they didn't reveal her name—a 14-year-old girl who was pregnant from rape was barred by the government from traveling to Britain to have a legal abortion. She had threatened to kill herself if not permitted to end that pregnancy. A 4 to 1 ruling by the Irish Supreme Court was issued, allowing her to travel to Britain for the abortion, establishing the right to abortion in Ireland, if the pregnant woman's life is at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide. X ended up miscarrying in an English hospital, which clouded the precedent of that court ruling.
ALG: These outrages in Catholic controlled countries just keep on happening. You may have seen the news last week, outrageous news, that a pregnant 11-year-old girl, a fifth-grader, raped in Chile, over the course of two years by her mother's partner, is being denied an abortion there. This archconservative, arch-Catholic country admits no exception of its abortion ban.
Irish women have really been in reproductive hell, thanks to the Catholic doctrine. Contraception was only legalized in Ireland in 1985. This was over the vociferous campaigning of the Catholic Church. Today, 4,000 to 5,000 Irish women routinely fly over to Britain or elsewhere to get abortion care. If they have the funds and connections.
It was nice, Dan, at the end of our conference, you, I and Taslima Nasrin and other feminists and atheist Ireland directors attended a fundraiser. It was a stand-up comedy show to raise funds for an Irish organization that collects funds to aid women in Ireland to travel to Britain for the purpose of illegal abortion. But right now, the abortion rights campaign in Ireland is focused very narrowly on amending things, to make sure that women don't die, women like Savita.
DB: Does that fundraiser remind you of something?
ALG: Well I'll get to that. So, when we got back, we just got back late Saturday night and we came back to work Monday and boy did I have a terrible case of déjà vu because I got back to work and learned abortion clinics in our state of Wisconsin had been shut down as of that morning. While we were away in Ireland, Wisconsin's aggressive, reactionary governor, signed an anti-abortion bill, a week ago Friday, requiring that abortion physicians have admission privileges at a hospital within 30 miles at a clinic. This effectively shut down two of Wisconsin's four abortion clinics. We don't have many clinics and women have to drive long distances in Wisconsin. This is very close to home. My mother, Anne Gaylor, who is the principal founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is 86 now, and remains the volunteer administrator of the Women's Medical Fund charity that helps to pay for abortion care. It has helped pay for more than 20,000 women to get abortion care in Wisconsin, women without means. She had patients with upcoming appointments at the shuttered Milwaukee clinic, Affiliated Medical Services. We were on the phone, wondering, do we need to call these women and direct them to a Chicago clinic. It was just like the bad old days. For many of these indigent women, this would just be an insuperable barrier.
DB: National Planned Parenthood and Milwaukee's Affiliated Medical Services have filed a challenge as soon as that law was signed July 5 and a federal judge, whose bio described him as from a large Irish-Catholic family, had set the hearing date for an injunction as late as July the 15th.
ALG: And so we were all in great suspense, was he going to hold an emergency teleconference? Was it going to wait? Keep abortion clinics closed two weeks. Fortunately, by Monday the Judge Connelly announced that he would be having a hearing about and by Monday night he had issued a temporary restraining order, a strong 19-page ruling granting the injunction and noting there is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement.
This is all that we talked about in Ireland. My opening remarks at the conference there were about empowering women through secularism. I decided to talk about the circumstances in Wisconsin in the early 1970s with abortion that ultimately led to the creation of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We had a ban somewhat analogous to Ireland's ban. It was witnessing the role of religion, particularly that of the Catholic Church in legislating its dogma into our civil laws that woke my mother and I up to the dangers of religion controlling government. In that speech, I recalled this terrible time in 1971, when the Roman Catholic district attorney, here in Dane County, Madison, Wisconsin, illegally raided Wisconsin's first lawfully opened abortion clinic. It has been open about three weeks after federal court ruling in 1970 overturned our criminal law. The sheriffs forced their way into the clinic, absconded with the records of 300 pending appointments, took into custody the 17-year-old patient whose feet were in stirrups when they burst into the examining room.
Hundreds of us swelled into the City County Building to protest this tyrannical act. My mother was brought into help women. Women died because of this. It was the beginning of the Women's Medical Fund because she raised money to send women to travel to New York. So, these assaults are continuing.
DB: At the state level, assaults on abortion rights, with 43 restrictions adopted this year today according to the Guttmacher Institute. The US House passed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks that the few abortions after this point are limited to extreme cases.
ALG: That should die in the Senate and of course would be vetoed by Obama, but what a commentary that the House could command such a vote. Challenges are ongoing of bans of 6 and 12 weeks in North Dakota and Arkansas respectively. Texas, despite State Representative Wendy Davis heroic filibustering, is hell-bent on passing its own version of Wisconsin's law that would shut down nearly every clinic in that state.
DB: We are going to talk about the merging of Catholic and public hospitals in a future show. Our attorney Andrew Seidel is working with an intern, Charles Roslof about the state of Washington.
ALG: Washington residents are threatened with not being able to get any of these services that are barred by the Catholic Church. 50% of hospital beds will be controlled by the Catholic Church because of mergers. You can find out more at ffrf.org/news.
Monday's scare here in Wisconsin is a wakeup call, showing how close we are to losing reproductive rights in the United States under the relentless campaigns of the religious lobbies and their rightwing political allies. My question is, does the Pope rule Wisconsin and Ireland and Texas and Chile and you name it?
DB: Annie Laurie was talking about — your mom's group, the Women's Medical Found.
ALG: Yep, and I'm secretary. It has been an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) charity that has helped more than 20,000 women without means; mostly in the state of Wisconsin to pay for abortion care.
DB: How can people help?
ALG: We need your help. We are pure as Ivory soap, a lot purer actually. 99% of the money goes to fund abortions for poor women. It really is a pure charity. It's tax-exempt for contributors and you can send your check to the Women's Medical Fund, P.O. Box 248. Madison Wisconsin, 53701. Help women. A typical allotment is about $200. Women come up with the rest.
MUSIC OUT: OUTRO "Summertime" Miles Davis 1:00
DB: Before we talk with Jerry Coyne in the second half of the show, let's have a change of pace. It's summertime and the livin' is easy. The song "Summertime" is from the musical Porgy and Bess, written by George and Ira Gershwin, who were both nonbelievers.
ALG: Yet another example of secularists and nonbelievers to the arts.
MUSIC: "Summertime," sung by Kiri Te Kenawa.
DB: We're going to talk with Jerry Coyne. We've had him on the show before.
ALG: He's a University of Chicago prof.
DB: And author of the book "Why Evolution is True" and blog "Why Evolution is True."
ALG: Which is very assertive on state-church issues. He's an honorary officer of FFRF and helping us with the controversy in Indiana so stay tuned to learn more about that.
DB: There's a professor in Ball State who's pushing creationism in a science class.
MUSIC OUT: OUTRO "Summertime" Miles Davis 1:00
DB: We're back to talk with Jerry Coyne as we've been promising you. Jerry is an author, he's a professor of biology, he's pretty well known for his constant commenting on the intelligent design debate. He's a prolific scientist. I called the phone at his office and it said, "If I am not here to answer the phone, I'm out doing science somewhere." He has published dozens of papers. He's currently a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, or as they say "Ecology and EE-volution" over in Britain. His concentration is speciation and ecological evolutionary genetics, especially dealing with the fruit fly. He's the author of the best-selling science, popular book, called, "Why Evolution is True." He maintains a website by the same name. You can go to whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com and look for that.
Welcome back Jerry.
JC: It's good to be here.
DB: So you're not in Chicago right now, you're in Las Vegas for the Amazing Conference?
JC: The Amazing Meeting, it's the annual Randi Foundation meeting. It just started, so I haven't seen much, but it's promised to be a good one.
DB: And you're talking there?
JC: I'm giving a speech on the incompatibility of science and religion. That will be Saturday afternoon.
DB: You told me earlier that that is the major topic of a new book you just started working on: "Are religion and science compatible?"
JC: Yes. That's not the title. That is the last thing to be decided, but yes, it is definitely the topic. It is going to take me about a year to write it, so don't look for it at your bookstores anytime soon.
DB: But have you made up your mind yet?
JC: About compatibility? I am thinking anybody who knows me knows the answer to that question.
ALG: We will look forward to it.
JC: Thank you.
ALG: We thought it was time to have you on to talk about something that you have done a lot of very important blogging about, which is this controversy at Ball State University in Indiana. Maybe you want to tell the story?
JC: Are you referring to both Eric Hedin and Guillermo Gonzalez? I'll try to be brief. I was informed by somebody, one of my blog readers, who is in that area, that a student had complained to her that he or she was taking this science class in which the professor was proselytizing Christianity constantly and teaching intelligent design, which as we know is creationism in a cheap tuxedo. The informant sent me, which is public information; the syllabus of this course by Eric Hedin, which I think is called "The Boundaries of Science." It's a science course, students get science credit for it. I was pretty appalled. It was all Christian apologetics and intelligent design. There were books from Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer, the well-known co-president of the Discovery Institute. There was even a book by C.S. Lewis.
Of the three textbooks, two of them were religious, one by a Christian, it had a cross on the cover, one was by an Orthodox Jew, and then another textbook that nobody would read because although it was secular, it was extremely complicated. There were no books by physicists or scientists who claimed there is no evidence for god in the universe. People like Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Victor Stenger, Sean Carroll. It was a one-sided thing. The student was complaining because that student was a nonbeliever and was offended by the constant proselytization by Professor Hedin in the class.
Basically, I wrote to the chairman of Hedin's department, which is astronomy and physics, and said, "Hey, you know this is going on in your department? Here's the syllabus. It seems to violate the Constitution because it's religious proselytizing in a science class in a public university. You might want to look into it." Shortly thereafter, I got an email back from the chairman who said basically, "Look, this syllabus is approved by the university. We don't have any problem with the work Professor Hedin is doing. It gives the students the opportunity for open-minded discussion on the topic."
Of course, it didn't, because it was only a one-sided viewpoint represented: that science shows evidence for god. At that point I gave up, and forwarded it to you guys, the FFRF, and the rest is history. I have no leverage with Ball State University. You apparently did.
ALG: Andrew Seidel was the attorney who wrote the letter.
JC: He copied every big-macher there, the president, the provost, saying this is going on. It was shortly thereafter that they decided to have an investigation of the course. I think they appointed a five-person panel to study the issue.
ALG: We just got confirmation that a panel of four professors is investigating the claim that astronomy professor Eric Hedin is misusing his teaching to proselytize.
JC: I thought there was one other person off-campus.
ALG: Maybe there are four professors and someone else. It has taken a long time.
JC: To do the investigation?
ALG: To get somewhere.
JC: Actually, I thought it was remarkably short. I don't know how this stuff works because I don't deal with legal stuff.
DB: Well, you are dealing with millions of years of evolutionary time.
JC: Yeah, that's right. I've been told that it's not going to be too long before they make a decision. Yesterday, Ball State, one of their spokespersons, said Ball State does not think intelligent design should be taught in science courses.
ALG: I guess that we should say hallelujah.
JC: That's a pretty clear indication of how this case is going to come out, I think.
DB: You're not necessarily objecting to the idea of a class like this, it seems like interdisciplinary, more like philosophy rather than straight-science. But what you're, we're objecting to is this particular professor abusing that class to push his own religious views.
JC: Well, I am sort of objecting to the way the class is run. Some of our readers have said as well, move it over to philosophy or religion departments. But if you look at the content it is still a one-sided course that proselytizes Christianity. I don't think such a course is appropriate even as a philosophy course because it is unbalanced and basically pushing a certain form of religion at a public university. The course is unbalanced. Hedin would continue to proselytize Christianity. The famous statement he made in the science class was, one of his students, who was an atheist, said, "Well, how do you know the Christian god made the universe?" Which is what he was teaching the students. He responded snarkily, "Well, it's not like some Hindu-monkey god could have done it."
ALG: He's far out.
JC: Yes he is. I called him a kook. I felt a little bit bad about that, but upon second thought, somebody who does that is a kook.
ALG: Also, he's had all of these students at his mercy. Here they are depending on him for their grade and they go to officials and nobody does anything. They are filling out their evaluations and those were very clear.
JC: It's not yet clear whether those evaluations were actually read by anybody. The ratemyprofessors.com stuff was. They should pay attention now, that's for sure.
ALG: You've been very, very helpful in publicizing all this because you've done so many blogs on this and we wanted to get your response on, what we thought was a very bogus rejoinder, that this somehow involved academic freedom.
JC: Academic freedom, I think, is a concept that is misunderstood by, even academics. Bloggers like PZ Myers and Larry Moran have defended him by saying, "Well, it's academic freedom. The professor has the right to teach whatever he or she wants in the classroom." But, that's not what academic freedom is all about. It's a freedom to pursue researching what you want. It's not a freedom to teach anything you want to a student. If you take that to its limit you could teach homeopathy in a medical school class or astrology in a psychology class as a theory of human behavior. A professor does not have a right at any university to teach whatever he or she wants in class. There are certain scholarly standards they have to adhere to. If you don't adhere to them, you're subject to sanctions from that administration.
DB: And academic freedom necessarily requires academic responsibility. You have a responsibility to present the best information in that field that your teaching.
JC: Absolutely. Intelligent design is not the best information in either natural history or cosmology. I should add that there is no provision for academic freedom enshrined in the Constitution, but the First Amendment is. So, it certainly is subsidiary to what Hedin was doing, which was proselytizing Christianity in his class.
DB: I remember looking at the syllabus to that class and it struck me, you would think that a class about the boundaries of science, the very first item in that list should have been the Dover decision, the Kitzmiller decision, where the issue was tried in a court of law. It's wonderful reading. I think that decision should be required reading in science classes.
JC: Absolutely. You know Hedin is not going to present that. There is not a single article in that syllabus, and there are three textbooks and I think 20-odd articles, that gives an opposition to a religiously based view of the universe, that is that science, physics, biology, cosmology give evidence for god, and in particular the Christian god. I mean, putting C.S. Lewis on a syllabus for a science class, for crying-out-loud, that is just unconscionable.
ALG: Yes, it is. Now, I was wondering Jerry, if you feel as uncomfortable as I do about the news that came out that Ball State University, a public university in Indiana is set to hire a creationist for their astronomy department?
DAN: We'll talk about that after the break . . .
MUSIC OUT: Pearl Jam "Evolution" excerpt 1 0:24
MUSIC IN: "Creation Science 101" Roy Zimmerman excerpt 0:32
"God made the world in seven days,
Well, that's one week to be specific.
Now, that's what I call scientific,
Say Hallelujah, sing his praise!
Creation Science 101,
In the beginning it begun,
And you are just beginning to
Educate yourself when you shun evolution."
ALG: Let's not pull any punches about the latest development at Ball State University. You were talking about just before the break, where there's been a problem with a professor proselytizing instead of teaching, in science. And now we get word that Ball State University is planning to hire a known creationist to teach astronomy. What is your opinion about that, Jerry Coyne?
JC: The creationist in Guillermo Gonzalez, who is quite notorious if you hang around the evolution/creation debates. He was at Iowa State University, I think as a physics professor, and he is also a fellow at the Discovery Institute, which is the intelligent design outfit in Seattle. While he was at Iowa State he engaged in publishing a book called "The Privileged Planet" and a movie of the same name that he worked on, which basically makes the assertion that the earth was put in its position by god . . .
JC: . . . so humans could observe the universe. It's not only that the parameters of physics are such, you know the entropic principle, that god made the laws of physics so that humans could arise, but also we happened to arisen on earth, which just happens to be fortuitously positioned in a place in the universe where we could study the universe most effectively. (laughs)
It is sort of the ultimate anthropic argument. I've watched the movie and read part of the book. It is pretty dire. Anyway, he didn't get tenure at ISU. They booted him out. He claimed it was because of his work on intelligent design. The evidence is pretty strong, however, that he just failed to meet minimum standards of scholarship: get enough grants, publish enough papers. He moved to a small, religious school called Grove City College and then Ball State hired him not that long ago, in the same department where Eric Hedin is, physics and astronomy, which to me is a bit suspicious.
ALG: I think so.
DB: It's the hand of god, Jerry.
JC: (laughs) Well, the hand of the Chairman.
ALG: Well, I've been talking about this with some people who say, "Oh well, you know, you could teach astronomy professionally and rationally and still hold creationist views. But, the way you're describing it, how can he be a good professor? How can he even understand what he's teaching if he rejects evolution and thinks god placed the planets in a particular place for us to observe?
JC: That's a very good question. Gonzalez has been quoted the last couple of days by the Associated Press as saying he's promised Ball State he is not going to teach intelligent design, and he better not because he will get in the same mess you guys put Hedin into. You could do it, if you have the sort of cognitive dissonance,where you teach a naturalistic view in the class, but privately believe something else. But my view is someone who does that is not really a very good scientist.
JC: It's almost as if he is teaching what he doesn't believe to the students.
JC: I don't think you can do that with conviction or enthusiasm. But they made this decision if he doesn't abrogate the Constitution as a professor there, then I can't say they should get rid of him. I just say it is deeply suspicious that they have these two I.D. guys in the same department.
ALG: Right. To me, it sends a message. It's the university, in a fundamentalist state, sending a message to students that, "Gee, we think it's fine if our "scientists" are creationists."
JC: Yeah, it is. At Lehigh University, where I.D.'er Michael Behe works as a biologist, the department has a disclaimer on its website saying none of the rest of us believe intelligent design, and maybe they'll have to do that at Ball State. This came out this morning, it is public record that the job Gonzalez is hired for, the deadline is July 1 of this year. He appears to be hired before the deadline, which means other people were applying, when the decision was already made to hire him. To me, it's again suspicious, that there is some "cosmic hand" at work here in favor of intelligent design.
ALG: It kinda stinks.
JC. The whole thing stinks like old fish to me. Who knows, it could be a magnificent coincidence, but it seems too much for me to accept that.
DB: In their minds there is no such thing as coincidence. It would be like a geography professor asking students, "How do you think all those rivers were made to flow right along the state boundaries? How did that happen? That must have been designed like that."
ALG: Wouldn't it be like a geologist believing in a flat earth?
JC: Yeah it would, but then you have to teach that there is a round earth. I don't know how anybody could have intellectual integrity and do something like that.
ALG: No. I don't see how you can be a scientist and a creationist at the same time. How you could be a good scientist.
JC: Well, you can't. The facts are that if you look at the quality of scientists: scientists, and then scientists at elite universities and then scientists at the National Academy, the higher up you go, the more atheistic they become. By the time you get to the National Academy, 92% of its members are atheists. It's about 70% of scientists at elite universities and about 60% and I think it's 40% of scientists in general. The better you are as a scientist the less you believe. This is certainly going to besmirch Ball State's reputation. I think they know they put their foot in it, largely because of what the FFRF has done and I don't think we are going to see much I.D. taught there in the future.
ALG: I hope not. Listen Jerry, you might keep an eye out for FFRF's ads that are running every month now in Scientific American.
JC: I don't know, I haven't seen that.
ALG: We ran our first one and our next one's coming up. We have one on Darwin and evolution. They are theocracy alerts, the problems we are facing because of religion in our government and in our schools. We will be tackling creationism and we will be talking about how elite scientists tend to be atheists in another ad too.
JC: You say this is in Scientific American?
ALG: They are one-third of a page color ads, so everyone can look for them.
JC: I look forward to seeing those.
DB: That's my favorite magazine. I read it first every month.
ALG: Thank you so much Jerry Coyne for joining us on short notice. We appreciate all your activism. People can get "Why Evolution is True" at bookstores and they can look up your blog.
JC: Yup, it's whyevolutionistrue.com.
DB: Why thank you Jerry.
JC: It's my pleasure. And you guys keep up he good work, this is basically your doing, not mine.
ALG: Well, thank Andrew too. (Andrew Seidel is the FFRF Staff Attorney who sent the complaint)
DB: We are all collaborating.
We are out of time.
MUSIC OUT: OUTRO "Summertime" Miles Davis 1:00
July 25, 2013
Nothing Fails Like Governmental Prayer
Nothing fails like governmental prayer! This week we point out that today's Florida governor got it just as wrong as those who prayed at the 1774 Continental Congress. We also report on the fact that atheists make up only 0.02% of the federal prison population. Then we talk with philosopher Lawrence Shapiro, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, about miracles, science, and religion.
July 22, 2013
Freethought Radio, June 29, 2013
Guest: Daniel Dennett
[The audio of this show can be heard at: Freethought Radio Broadcast, June 29, 2013.]
This is Freethought Radio, I’m Dan Barker. This is the June 29, 2013 show. Freethought Radio originates from Madison, Wisconsin, on the Progressive Talk, The Mic 92.1. WSXM. We broadcast on Saturday mornings here in Madison.
Annie Laurie Gaylor is not here today. She was ready to get in the car and drive over to do the show—and we worked on the show together—but she said she just couldn’t. There are so many pressures, so many deadlines. She’s happy to do it all, but the ad rep from the Scientific American came in, we got the building expansion pressures going on right now, she’s doing a lot of media and planning a trip to Dublin. She says, “I can’t, I just can’t ,can you do it on your own?” So I’ll try to do half of a good show without her being here. She’ll be back next week. Next week we’ll be talking with Jerry Dewitt.
Today, June 29th, is the birthday of the songwriter Frank Loesser, a major songwriter. Frank Loesser was born in 1910. He wrote the musical Guys and Dolls, which includes the songs “Luck be a Lady,” and “If I Were a Bell.” He wrote the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which has “The Brotherhood of Man” and the song, “I Believe in You.”
Frank Loesser was not a believer. We talked with his daughter Susan last year on this show. She told us that her dad’s family was Jewish by blood only, but not by thought or deed. No religion was practiced at home.
Frank Loesser wrote the lyrics to the song “Heart and Soul.” He wrote the music to many other songs including, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You Baby,” which Irving Berlin said was the best song that he had ever heard. That’s quite a compliment coming from Irving Berlin! Loesser wrote, “Slow Boat to China,” “Standing on the Corner,” “Two Sleepy People,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” and the music for the movie “Hans Christian Anderson.”
During the second half of today’s show we’re going to talk with Daniel Dennett, our favorite philosopher. Daniel Dennett has a new book out. It’s called “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.” It’s a book about how to think about thinking. It’s one of the most enjoyable philosophy books I have ever read. I’m almost half way through it, so there is more enjoyment to come.
In the news, we have some victories to report. Well, I guess I should say, I have, because Annie Laurie sent me here on my own. I have some victories to report, and a loss to report. First, we’re making some headway in our complaints; our interns and attorneys are working real hard.
There was a top of the fold story out of Tucson, just this week, about one of our complaints. The story says:
“Not on public property. That’s the demand an out-of-state group is making over something on Tucson’s west side. The organization is arguing that a group of mountainside shrines needs to go. But the city doesn’t plan to lift a finger. The shrines are of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They are around the southeast base of A Mountain, where Mission Road meets Star Pass. They include two hidden grottos as well as a manmade shell covering a statue of Mary.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the city of Tucson stating that those shrines need to be removed because right now they are on public property. A local member of our group first brought the concern to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Annie Laurie says it’s always a big deal when the First Amendment is violated. If we want to honor the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, we have to uphold it.
The letter we sent argued that the mountain display confers government endorsement of Christianity in an extremely public way. But, some other Tucsonians disagree. “This mountain, as very many mountains are, is very sacred,” said Cardenas, a native Tucsonian. “There’s earthquakes, there’s crime, there’s murder, if you want to be focused on something that saves our soul, why take that away from us?” She said the shrines are a reminder of local culture, history and faith. “It signifies who we are,” she said.
But Annie Laurie said, and she’s quoted in the paper saying, “There’s always a quote-unquote ‘good reason’ to make an exception and violate the provision of the separation of church and state. I don’t actually see any good reason here. I mean, it’s just litter. It belongs on private property.”
Our letter suggested: don’t tear it down, but just move it down to ample private and church grounds. The city said: “We’ve looked at the shrine and determined it does not pose any public safety or health issue and there is no plans to move it.” Of course, that misses the point. We’re not complaining about public safety or health. It’s about its constitutionality.
You know, it’s too early to talk about a lawsuit on something like this. We get thousands of complaints like this from around the country. We would hope that with some more legal pressure the city would see that it would make more sense to move those shrines to a more appropriate location like a church or private property where those people can advertise their views.
I have a victory out of the Freedom From Religion Foundation about immigration. Here’s from our press release at ffrf.org.
“FFRF has successfully stood up for equal rights of the nonreligious by forcing the U.S. Office of Customs and Immigration Services to strike down an unconstitutional requirement for religious documentation that would have barred an atheist from becoming a citizen.”
A woman named Margaret Doughty—she’s a 30 year resident of the U.S., and she’s also an atheist—she applied to the Houston office of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services to become a citizen.
Doughty is 64 years old and she has lived in the United States for more than 30 years as a permanent resident running a non-profit, an adult literacy organization. She has been honored by Queen Elizabeth II for her service to education. All applicants must take an oath if they want to become a citizen to bear arms for the United States before full citizenship is granted. Exceptions to this oath are permitted to those who object to war based on “religious training and belief.”
Freedom From Religion Foundation Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter on June the fourteenth noting that U.S. Supreme Court precedent does not require any religious test to receive an exemption to bear arms. It only requires a deeply held belief.
Ms. Doughty asked for that exemption based on her deeply held non-religious belief. She said “I’m sure the law would never require a 64 year-old woman to bear arms, but if I am required to answer this question I cannot lie. I must be honest. I would not be willing to bear arms. Since my youth I have had a firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war or bearing arms in any form. I sincerely believe it is not moral or ethical to take another person’s life.”
At first the Houston office admitted the sincerity of her believes, but in violation of the precedents cited by Seidel, still required her to submit religious documentation. It had to be like a letter from your religious congregation.
Well, failure to submit the document could have resulted in a denial of her application. But, she did get in touch with FFRF. We protested this illegal burden in strong language. “It is shocking that the U.S.C.I.S. would not be aware that a nonreligious, yet deeply held belief would be enough to obtain this exemption. Either the officers in Houston are inept or they are discriminating.”
On June 20, Doughty was informed that her case was escalated to the highest level and the request for evidence was withdrawn.
This was a victory! In a phone conversation with Seidel she expressed her gratitude for our prompt action in defense of atheists.
You can become a U.S. citizen without believing in god.
We have some more news to talk about: the Boy Scouts ad, and we’re going to talk about the Big Mountain Jesus decision out of Montana. In the second half of our show today we’re going to be talking to the philosopher Daniel Dennett. So stay tuned for more Freethought Radio. I’m Dan Barker, and Annie Laurie Gaylor is unable to be with me today. She can talk twice as much next week.
MUSIC OUT: OUTRO "Baby, It's Cold Outside" Loesser 1:00
We told you last week about the Boy Scout ads that we have been running. There was last Sunday in the New York Times an ad about the Boy Scouts of America that the Freedom From Religion Foundation ran, a quarter page ad. It has a picture of a Boy Scout pointing to all these merit badges saying, “This one’s for swimming, this one’s for woodcraft, this one’s for religious bigotry.”
We told you last week how we congratulated the Boy Scouts for lifting their ban on homosexual young people, although not leaders, and yet we point out:
“Why are you still discriminating? You’re going so far to lift the ban on gay members, what about the atheists? Every Boy Scout has to swear an oath to duty, to god, and that is unfair to the students and to the families that are good people and want to join.”
I might want to join and a Boy Scout leader told me, “No, you’re not good enough.” Nor is my grandson good enough to join the Boy Scouts of America.”
This ad itself has run in other papers and it has generated some news and commentary around the country, including in Houston and then on the Christian Post, which is a religious webpage. They reported on our ad. They quoted a man named Rob Schwarzwalder of the Family Research Council. The Family Research Council is a rightwing Christian organization that is anti-gay rights. They want, essentially, a Christian nation to go back to what they think was the Christian founding of our country. But ironically this Rob Schwarzwalder of the Family Research Council agreed with us, because he’s angry at the Boy Scouts of America for bending their rules.
The Christian Post quoted him saying, “The bottom line is scouting has now removed any logical or legal basis for protecting against the inclusion of openly gay scout masters, so in a sense, this group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is perfectly correct.”
The religious right is chastising the Boy Scouts saying, “You’ve opened the floodgates! Look, if you’re going to allow gays in, guess what’s next? It’s a slippery slope. You’re going to have to allow (gasp!) atheists and agnostics students to join the Boy Scouts.
Well “here, here,” as Annie Laurie would say. We have also talked about a federal lawsuit of ours about the Jesus statue on public property, federal property on a ski slope called Big Mountain. We lost that case this week, but we’re going to appeal that case. The judge issued a very bad decision.
Annie Laurie and I were working late the other night. A phone call came into the office from a man in Montana. We didn’t know the decision had come in. We get a lot of crank calls, a lot of crank mail. By the way if you do call us and want to harass us, we’ll listen once. We’ll listen to what you say once, but if you keep calling back we’ll very politely put you on hold and you can listen to our freethought music on hold as you rant and rave.
Anyway, Annie Laurie was bracing herself for another crank call, but this guy surprised her by saying he just heard the news that FFRF just lost the case. He said it’s incredible to him that the facts were so clear that the Jesus statue did not belong on public land, and then he wanted to join the Freedom From Religion Foundation. So other people have shared our dismay and our shock that we lost this time, not on standing, the judge actually upheld our standing. We lost on merits with an Obama appointee.
Briefly—and you can read more about this on our website at ffrf.org/news—briefly, the judge said that a shrine to Jesus has a secular purpose. A ski slope on federal property is like a museum. We talked about the Lemon Test after the recent death of Alton Lemon. The Lemon Test requires a government action to have a secular purpose. Yet, although the application for the Knights of Columbus says in writing that the purpose was to erect a shrine to Jesus, the judge says the secular purpose was simply to lease federal land. The judge said that if the government’s actions are motivated in part by secular purpose, well then, it’s ok. The judge went on to say some people are upset, it’s a religious shrine, but some people want to worship. Most people are not upset, so he let it stay.
We will appeal this bad decision because the judge was off the point. The federal government is endorsing religion by putting that religiously purposed item on public property. We would complain even if it was Buddhism, or if it was Islam, or if it was Hinduism, or whatever the religion was.
MUSIC OUT: OUTRO "Standing On The Corner" Loesser 1:00
Daniel Dennett. We’ve talked with Daniel Dennett on this show before. He’s spoken at the Freedom From Religion Foundation convention before and he’s received an award from us. Daniel Dennett, the philosopher and author, is one of those really rare people. Not only has he written a lot of books that widely read and influential. He is one of those people about whom books are written. That’s a totally different level. You can go into the store and find books not just by Daniel Dennett, but about Daniel Dennett.
He’s the author of the book “Breaking the Spell” — which we talked about a couple of years ago on this show — the book “Freedom Evolves,” and the powerful book “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.” Dan Dennett is university professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. Other books include “Content and Consciousness,” “Brainstorms,” “Elbow Room,” “The Intentional Stance,” “Consciousness Explained” another of my favorites, “Kinds of Minds,” and “Brain Children.” He also co-edited the book, which I also read, called “The Mind’s I” with Douglas Hofstadter back in the 80’s.
He’s written over 300 scholarly articles on various aspects of the mind in such journals as “Artificial Intelligence,” “Behavioral Brain Science,” “Poetics Today” and “The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.”
His most recent book, which I am reading now, is “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking,” an intriguing title. It’s by Norton in the U.S. and by Penguin in the U.K. Dan Dennett, his bio says, spends most of his summers on his farm in Maine, where he harvests blueberries, hay and timber, and makes Normandy cider when he’s not sailing. What a versatile person.
Welcome back to Freethought Radio, Dan.
DENNETT: It’s great to be back, Dan. You’ve spent so much time listing my books we won’t have time to talk.
BARKER: That’s right. Now we’ll end the show and you’ll all have to go out and read Dan’s books. I’m really impressed by his new book I have to say, because of how accessible it is.
DENNETT: That was the point.
BARKER: Yeah, and I love your other writings as well, but tell us about the freshmen students and the whole idea behind this book.
DENNETT: Well, for some time I’ve been thinking that what makes us smart is actually the tools that other people, mainly, have invented that we use, thinking tools. I’ve invented a few of my own, some of them quite elaborate thought experiments and some of them very simple. I’ve began thinking about how many of those I have to tell people about and I wanted to sort of demystify the whole business of doing philosophy and say, “Hey look, you can do it to if you equip yourself with the right tools.” So this is my “Uncle Dan’s collection of thinking tools for the would-be philosopher,” and some of them are very simple. They are just very simple tools; one of my favorites is the “surely” alarm. I tell my students, “Anytime you see the word ‘surely’ a little bell should ring—‘ding’—alerting you to the fact that this is probably the weakest point in the author’s argument. It’s not quite so obvious that it goes without saying and the author doesn’t want to argue for it, so maybe that’s where the wool is being pulled over your eyes.
BARKER: It’s like a hand waving, quickly saying “surely we all know this.”
DENNETT: “Nudge, nudge. Surely.”
One of the funny things is that since the book has come out I give talks where I encourage people to send me examples of their surely alarm going off and being a case where in fact that was the weak point. I’ve got a few now. It does work. That’s a very simple one. Other ones are quite elaborate thought experiments. It takes more time to present them than we have time for here.
BARKER: You explained in your book that the book was vetted not by grad students or other philosophers but by first-year Tufts students, and surely they’re not going to understand this, are they?
DENNETT: ‘Ding!’ Well, that was the challenge. I thought, “I want this book to be super accessible.” I don’t want graduate students or undergraduate majors being my target audience for the read-through. This was something I’ve done with all my recent books is to do a sonar on the book and have my students hold my feet to the fire and object, because, you know, graduate students want to impress you and undergraduate majors are eager to not reveal that they don’t understand something. But you get a lot of freshmen, and they’ll ask the tough, embarrassing questions because they don’t know any better yet. It really makes an ideal test bed for a book like this. So, I simply took the first dozen that signed up and they had at it. I was actually amazed at how often they showed me, “This is clear Professor Dennett, but it could be clearer.” It created misunderstandings on their part, which instead of making me angry, I thought, “Oh great, I never thought anybody could misunderstand it that way. Let me rewrite it.”
BARKER: So it was Daniel and the twelve disciples, something like that?
DENNETT: Actually, 13 because of a clerical confusion.
BARKER: I think that’s a great tactic because you’re writing a book for a popular audience, for someone like me. I’m not a trained philosopher. I think I’m conversant, but nothing like you. I can pick this book up, and probably that freshmen class represents sort of a median of the general popular readership. People who are smart, who care, who are plugged in but want to learn more.
DENNETT: In fact, I think it is better than that, I think the only people that don’t benefit from this are fellow paid professional philosophers and that’s a very small and arcane group and they can read it for pleasure and insight too, but so many of my colleagues write books only for their colleagues and I think that explains largely why so little philosophy that is written these days is read by anybody else.
BARKER: I went out on the hammock to start reading this book and I have to say I was chuckling, I was laughing, I was smiling: This is fun! When was the last time it was fun to read a philosophy book? So thanks for doing it.
DENNETT: Well you’re welcome, thank you for saying it.
BARKER: How many tools are there? It looks to me in the Contents that there are seventy.
DENNETT: There are over seventy tools, but how do you count, some of those little chapters have more than one tool in them. There are somewhere between seventy and eighty, I guess.
BARKER: What is “jootsing”?
DENNETT: That’s a term that I got from Doug Hofstadter. It’s an acronym that stands for Jumping Out Of The System. It is something we would all like to do because some of the great creative moods are when you manage to jump out of the system. You can’t teach anybody how to do it, but you can alert them to the fact that this is a great thing to do if you are lucky enough to be able to, and at least if you know about it, if you ever do jump outside the system, you may be able to discover or recognize that this is something to treasure. You’ve managed to find a new perspective. I don’t recommend you siting around thinking, “Well now let’s see, how do I jump out of the system?” That won’t work. That’s like the advice buy low and sell high. It’s good advice, but it’s hard to follow.
DENNETT: I remember when I was a preacher, an ordained minister, re-evaluating my faith, not imagining I was going to end up an atheist at the time, but just going through it. Part of that—I guess I could use the word JOOTSing—part of that was kind of getting outside of my system and myself and, you know, how would I feel if a Muslim in Baghdad were to rise above the culture and think for himself or herself, and say, “Wait a minute, I’m rejecting…”? I would have applauded that. I remember thinking, well why should we not equally applaud Christians in the United States who do the same thing. I remember kind of that feeling of getting outside, like John Loftus writes abut in “The Outsider Test.”
DENNETT: I think that’s right, and when you jump outside of the system what you’re doing is simply questioning which you never thought to question before that you think well nobody would question that would they. Give it a try, give it a try.
BARKER: And why not question?
DENNETT: Yeah. The worst that could happen is that you reestablish your confidence in something that everybody else believes anyway.
BARKER: Your book breaks into, looks to me like four general groups: tools for thinking about meaning and content, and then for thinking about evolution, and then for thinking about consciousness (my favorite), and then for talking about free will. Let’s continue talking about consciousness a bit.
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BARKER: I wanted to remind you Dan, I think I sent you an email about this, but there was a movie out this year, with Tina Fey called “Admission.”
DENNETT: I haven’t seen it.
BARKER: In one of the scenes a student is interviewing to get into Princeton. During the interview they tell this kid, “Tell me about yourself.” The student says, “What do you mean by ‘self?’ Do you mean self as in the center of narrative gravity?”
DENNETT: Laughs. Wonderful!
BARKER: So you’re in the movies!
DENNETT: Woo, that’s great.
BARKER: So, what is that? Is that a meme?
DENNETT: It’s a meme, yeah.
BARKER: It has become a part of culture, and now you’re in popular culture. Tell us a little bit about consciousness and what are some of the tools for thinking about consciousness?
DENNETT: Well, consciousness is everybody’s favorite mystery now that we’ve pretty well cleared up scientifically all of the other great mysteries. We understand how procreation happens, how reproduction happens. We have a pretty good handle on how life got started and how gravity works and all the rest of this--how light works. Consciousness is the last great puzzler, the stumper. For that very reason a lot of people inflate it, they really don’t want consciousness explained. They want to make sure that the phenomenon is, to use the technical term, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Well, consciousness might instead be a bag of tricks, like just about everything else in nature. It’s very hard for people to see that. One of things that my tools are designed to show is how we might take consciousness and divide and conquer. Break it up into its parts and show that it’s wonderful, it’s flippin’ wonderful, but it isn’t that wonderful. It is not so wonderful that it can’t be explain with neurosciences and evolution. Evolution plays a big role because going back a million years there wasn’t any consciousness, and now there is. So how did it arise, and why? Those are the good questions.
BARKER: One of the tools in your books, I think it’s one of the tools in your book, because it stuck with me, you know I think we pretty much agree is that the homunculus has been debunked, there is no little person in the brain. Otherwise, what’s in its brain, and what’s in its brain? But you suggest an alternative hypothesis what you call “a sorta homunculus.” Did I get that right?
DENNETT: Yeah and a cascade of homunculi. Let me expand on that. Everybody knows that, oh, you got a homunculus in your theory. They think that this is a clearly bankrupt theory, because you just got a little man in there and what’s going on in the little man’s brain? Does he have a little man in his brain? And so forth. Well that would certainly be bad. That would be a postponement of theory, not any kind of theory.
But what about if you took a whole human being, a whole homo sapien, and divvied up that homo sapien’s brain into a bunch of lesser entities, proper parts that were specialists. No one of them knows everything or is in charge of everything, or perceives everything, but they specialize in calculating different parts of the perceptual scenes and keeping track of certain sorts of memory jobs and so forth. And then what about, what’s inside their brains? More homunculi, but with even simpler jobs so that you don’t get an infinite regress of homunculi, you get a finite regress of homunculi, eventually you bottom out with homunculi that are so simple they can be replaced by a machine.
BARKER: Like a cell.
DENNETT: Yeah, like a cell. Look at individual neurons, they’re really quite enterprising little cells, so they’re not, to replace one of them with a machine is way beyond the capacity of engineers now, but their parts could be mechanical.
BARKER: So you call each one of those a “sorta homunculus” but to a lesser degree, the lower you go.
DENNETT: Each of those several hundred billion neurons is a “sorta homunculus.” When you get proper parts that have some serious competence, they can do some interesting cognitive work when you put them all together you can get teams and armies that are capable of breaking that mystery of consciousness down into manageable hunks.
BARKER: So where does the soul go?
DENNETT: The soul remains as an organization. I was once interviewed by a wonderful Italian journalist, Giulio Giorello, and the next day the paper’s headline was, Sì, abbiamo un anima. Ma è fatta di tanti piccoli robot. (“Yes, we have a soul, but it’s made of lots of tiny robots.”)
DENNETT: Yes! Bingo! That’s it. that’s my view. We have a soul in this sense, the organization of those tiny robots, is such that it is capable of making responsible, morally responsible decisions, of remembering, of loving, of honoring the law of being a lovable human being. All the roles that the soul in tradition play are played by this organization of homunculi, this team of little robots. It differs, the soul of a human being is something—that’s an organization that no bear or monkey or whale has.
BARKER: It’s not a thing at all.
DENNETT: It’s an organization.
BARKER: So, like, if a corporation can be a person, then consciousness can be a committee, let’s say.
DENNETT: Actually, that’s not such a wild parallel. Consciousness—we can even imagine cases where we took great, large teams of people and put them together into an organization—it has to be the right organization—then there would be a consciousness, which was its consciousness, not just the individual consciousness’s of all the people.
BARKER: You also talk about freewill, I haven’t gotten to that section yet, but you have some tools for thinking about freewill. What about freewill?
DENNETT: Well, let’s see, what can I do really quickly. How about two lotteries? Here’s two lotteries. One, the tickets are sold, the winning stub is randomly drawn from a big batch of stubs after the tickets are sold. That’s lottery A. That’s after.
In lottery B, the winning stub is chosen and put in a safe before the tickets are sold. Now the question is, are both lotteries fair? And I think mot people agree, yeah, both lotteries are fair. You have as good of a chance in one as in the other. Well, if that is true then the winning ticket was already determined before you even bought your tickets. How can that be fair? Well, if you think about it, you realize this can be fair. If determinism is true then basically all of your lottery tickets were chosen before you were even born. But that’s all right because everybody’s got roughly an equal number of lottery tickets and you win some and you lose some. But it’s all perfectly fair. Determinism isn’t so horrible after all. There’s no reason to hope that at the moment you decide something your choice is undetermined.
BARKER: Well, I have no choice, Daniel! We’re out of time. Thank you! If you want to know more about all of these topics, Daniel C. Dennett’s new book is called “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.” Thank you Dan for a great interview today.
Tune in next week for more rational radio and blasphemous broadcasting.
MUSIC OUT: OUTRO "If I Were a Bell" Loesser 1:00
[Thanks to Sarah Eucalano for transcribing the show.]
July 20, 2013
Guest: Mandisa Thomas, president of Black Nonbelievers
This week we report on FFRF's victory in Ohio, removing a Jesus painting from Jackson High School. We hear George Carlin's monologue on "God and Religion." Then we talk with Mandisa Thomas, president of Black Nonbelievers, who is planning the historic "Blackout Rally" in New York City on July 27, celebrating the contributions of nonbelievers of color.
July 13, 2013
Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne
This week we talk about abortion and the religious right in Ireland, Texas and Wisconsin. Then we interview science professor Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, about the ongoing controversy at Ball State University (Indiana) where a creationist professor is preaching Intelligent Design in the science classroom.
July 6, 2013
Independence From Religion!
On this July 4 weekend, we celebrate our nation's independence from religion. Then we talk with a former pentecostal preacher of 25 years from Louisiana, Jerry Dewitt, whose new book is out: Hope After Faith: An Ex-Pastor's Journey From Belief to Atheism.
June 29, 2013
Tools for Thinking
This week we talk about songwriter Frank Loesser, immigration, the Boy Scouts ban on atheists, and religious symbols on government property. Then we interview philosopher Daniel C. Dennett about his new book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking.
June 22, 2013
Get Off Your Knees, and Get To Work!
"Christmas is early this year!" Texas Governor Perry signed into law this month the "Merry Christmas" bill, encouraging public schools to promote religion, taking pot shots at FFRF. Hear coverage of our Florida school distribution lawsuit. Then we talk with Arizona State Representative Juan Mendez, who opened a session of the House of Representatives with a freethought invocation instead of a prayer.
June 15, 2013
50th Anniversary of Abington v. Schempp
We file another lawsuit in federal court this week, challenging censorship of freethought literature in Orange County, Florida high schools. FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel gives us the details. Then we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 Abington v. Schempp decision by the U.S. Supreme Court by talking with Ellery Schempp, who was the high-schooler in 1956 who took his complaint to the highest court.
June 8, 2013
Guest: Author and Journalist Linda Greenhouse
There is no reason to keep hating. Women's rights, Roe v. Wade, and the current "marriage equality" cases before the U.S. Supreme Court are this week's topics. We hear Roy Zimmerman's hilarious song "Defense of Marriage" and Dan Barker's "No Gods, No Masters" (about Margaret Sanger). Then we talk with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Linda Greenhouse, who has covered the Supreme Court for 3 decades for the New York Times, author of the books Becoming Justice Blackmun and Before Roe Against Wade.
Read the transcript here.
June 1, 2013
Guest: Particle physicist Victor Stenger
Happy Birthday to composers Edward Elgar and Charles Strouse! This week we hear an update on the Ball State professor who is preaching creationism in the classroom. Then we talk with Victor Stenger about his new book, God and the Atom.
May 25, 2013
Guest: HS activist Gage Pulliam
Nonbelievers in the news! Tornado victim interviewed on CNN says she is an atheist, while Ricky Gervais sends money, not prayers, to Oklahoma relief. An Arizona representative delivers a secular humanist invocation before the assembly, and an Australian TV host delivers an "Aussie" version of the Ten Commandments. Then we talk with high-school activist Gage Pulliam, whose complaint to FFRF resulted in the Muldrow, Oklahoma, schools removing hundreds of Ten Commandments plaques from the walls of public classrooms.
May 16, 2013
It's That Time of Year!
May 11, 2013
Guest: HS senior activist Daniel Koster
It's Irving Berlin's 125th Birthday, and we celebrate the life of the nonbelieving songwriter by playing some of his famous music. Listen to George Carlin rail about religion, hear about FFRF's graduation prayer victory in Georgia, and learn about FFRF's May 2 full-page Washington Post ad challenging the National Day of Prayer. Then we talk with high-school senior Daniel Koster, who distributed freethought literature at Wekiva High School, Florida, protesting Bible distribution in 11 Orange County schools.