Cognitive Dissonance Revisited

I have written about cognitive dissonance here before (here, here, here, here and here). In brief, cognitive dissonance is holding two contradicting ideas in your head at the same time and the emotional discomfort that causes.

Cognitive dissonance is something that we all experience to one degree or another on a fairly continuos basis. Most of the time, the dissonance is easily and painlessly resolved simply by making a decision. For example, say you know that you need complete a project deadline by the day after tomorrow and you have planned on completing it today, but then you get a call from a friend asking you to go out for lunch and shopping. You feel unease because you know you need to get the project done. If you decide to work on the project instead of go with your friend, you have resolved the dissonance and the unease gone now that you know you will complete your project today. If, on the other hand, you decide to go with your friend, the dissonance remains. You justify your decision by telling yourself that you have all day tomorrow to complete the project. In this case you haven’t really resolved the dissonance, but you have rationalized it to yourself effectively enough so that you are able to go out and enjoy your time with your friend, even if the dissonance may be nagging at you in the back of your mind.

We deal with situations like this all the time. The vast majority of times, we resolve it by making a decision that makes the dissonance go away. Sometimes, we choose to let the dissonance remain and we rationalize it away in order to allow ourselves to function without the emotional discomfort.

In situations where the dissonance involves a very important idea to us though, it becomes much harder to remove the dissonance because that could mean making a very big change in our worldview. A good example of this is religious belief.

I was a devout believer in god for much of my life, but was constantly changing my reasons for believing because the more I thought about it the more I saw that the evidence for god’s existence was non-existence. For a while I found ways to rationalize the dissonance that arose from keeping the ideas of a perfectly good and loving god and of suffering and evil in the world in my head at the same time. Eventually, I could no longer justify away the dissonance and accompanying emotion distress without abandoning either my rational, scientific view of the world, or my belief in god. As those of you who have been regular readers of this blog know, I abandoned the later.

How we deal with cognitive dissonance has huge implications for our society’s future because those who are devout believers in god are actively trying to interfere with and limit government funding for much important scientific research. From climate change to stem cell research, vital research into subjects that will have a profound impact on our future is in danger.

I will be continuing to research, think about, and write about cognitive dissonance and what can be done to successfully deal with it here on this blog.


The Antipathy Towards Science Is Killing Us

I’ve spoken here before of the harms of religious thinking. Today I want to talk about something that is a threat to our modern society and that is the religious antipathy toward science.

Science has done more to advance the health and welfare of the human race than anything else humans have yet devised. In the past 100 years alone, the average human lifespan at birth has almost doubled. Humans are healthier, taller and live longer than at any point in our history as a species. This trend is due almost entirely to the progress that science has provided.

Science has allowed us to understand how the world we live in really works which in turn has allowed us to improve sanitation, housing, agriculture, food safely and production, health care and more. Without an understanding of how the world really works, we would still be in the medieval ages in terms of our well being and technology, beset by famines, plagues and pandemics that, until the middle of the 20th century, killed millions annually.

To illustrate just why and how science is important, I’m going to discuss evolution as it applies to bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Evolution is a fact. Yes, it is a theory, but it is also a fact just as much as gravity, which is also a theory, is a fact. Gravity exists. We know this to be true because we can successfully launch space probes and satellites, and we can predict where an asteroid or comet will travel.

In the same respect, evolution is a fact. We know it is a fact, for example, because we can see how bacteria evolves resistance to antibiotics. Because of our understanding of evolution we are able to predict how certain bacteria will likely evolve and use this knowledge to provided new drugs in time to treat bacteria that became resistant to older antibiotics. **

The problem we are now running into is that the funding for research and development into antibiotic resistance is in jeopardy because of resistance to science funding by the U.S. Congress, driven mainly by the GOP due to religiously motivated ideology.

Another problem that is possibly even more serious is the general lack of education in evolution in public schools. This lack of evolution education is caused mainly by religiously motivated anti-evolution groups all across the country.

The effect of this is that most students who enter college have littler or no knowledge of evolution or even science in general. This has lead to students who have little or on interest in science, or if they do, they tend to get discouraged because of the extra classes and work they have to complete just to get up to the level to be able to do college work in science.

This sad state of affairs means that the United States, once the undisputed leader in science and technology in the world, is quickly becoming a scientific has-been in the world. It is now countries like China, Russia, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the European Union that lead the world in science and technology. It is no accident that these countries have very weak or nonexistent religiously based political groups.

In fact, if you look at countries that have the greatest infusion of religion in society and government, you will see that these countries are all scientific and technological backwaters. The Middle East is a prime example. Yes, they might embrace technology, but that technology is bought, not developed. Soon, unless we do something to change the current trend, the U.S. will also be a buyer of other’s technologies. We will become a nation of consumption instead of creativity and innovation. We will be entirely dependent on other countries for almost everything we need to function as a society. That is not a future that I think any of us wish to live in.

What is the solution? Get religious ideology out of government and public institutions. Base science funding and policy on what is proven to work or has the potential to work, not on religious dogma and ideology. Make science education as important as reading and arithmetic, just like we did in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

It is time to put religion back where it belongs, in our homes and churches, and keep it out of where it doesn’t belong, in government and our public institutions. If we fail to do this, we will soon find ourselves the greatest has-beens of world.

**Wikipedia, Antibiotic resistance,

The New Freethinking For Dummies Media Site

I’ve set up a site, the Freethinking For Dummies Mediasite, where I’ll be posting audio and video related to the topics I cover on this blog.

If you have any videos or MP3s that you think might be of interest, please let me know so I can post them there.

The Risks vs Benefits of Vaccines. Now Stop Being An Ignoramus And Get Vaccinated!

There was a comment on my post, Vaccines – The Need For Informed Consent, that caused a flare up of my Tourette’s syndrome.

““I told her that my coworkers held common misconceptions about vaccines, like they cause autism and brain damage, or that there is mercury in them and since they were misinformed they couldn’t make an informed decision about it.”

But then you are the misinformed one, because if you look at vaccine court cases won, there are plenty that were for brain damage and even autism.”

Ok, let’s get some facts straight here. This is directly from testimony by Dr. David Satcher, Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Surgeon General of the United States before the House Committee on Government Reform, August 3, 1999:

“Today there are far fewer visible reminders of the suffering, injuries, and premature deaths caused by diseases that can now be prevented with vaccines. So that we do not forget the past, allow me to share some examples:

Polio vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1955. During 1951 to 1954, an average of 16,316 paralytic polio cases and 1,879 deaths from polio were reported each year. As of 1991, polio caused by wild-type viruses had been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere. We have a goal that by the end of the year 2000, polio, like smallpox, will be a disease of the past.

A physician entering practice today may never see a case of meningitis due to Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Before the introduction of effective vaccines, in 1988, approximately one in 200 children, under the age of five, developed invasive Hib disease. Hib was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children under age five– accounting for about 60 percent of all cases. From 15 to 30 percent of affected children became hearing impaired and about 420 children died every year despite antibiotic therapy. In addition, Hib vaccine has prevented the leading cause of acquired mental retardation in the U.S. By 1998, vaccination of pre-school children reduced the number of Hib cases by more than 99 percent.

In the 1960s, many people witnessed first-hand, the terrible effects of rubella, commonly known as German measles. During an epidemic between 1964 and 1965, about 20,000 infants were born with deafness, blindness, heart disease, mental retardation, and other birth defects because the rubella virus infected their pregnant mothers. Today, thanks to nearly universal use of an effective vaccine, the rubella virus poses virtually no threat to the children of expectant mothers.

The costs of caring for a child with congenital rubella syndrome are staggering, which brings me to my next point. Vaccines not only save lives, reduce pain, suffering and disability, they save money. The individual and community protection provided by vaccines help make immunization one of our most cost-effective medical and public health interventions. Most vaccines recommended are cost-saving even if only direct medical costs–and not lost lives and suffering–are considered. Our country, for example, saves $8.50 in direct medical costs for every dollar invested in diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. When the savings associated with work loss, death, and disability are factored in, the total savings increase to about $27 per dollar invested in DTaP vaccination. Every dollar our Nation spends on measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination generates about $13 in total savings—adding up to about $4 billion each year.” **

Vaccines mitigate suffering, they save money and most importantly they save lives! Got it! Good!

Now go and get yourself and your children vaccinated so that you, they or someone you know doesn’t become another statistic.


Time To Be A Dick!

A scant four days ago, I posted my views about Phil Plait’s Don’t Be A Dick talk at TAM 8. The upshot of which was that we need to engage people with civility, but there are times when ridicule is in oder. This, I think, is one of those times.

Today, I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I want to organize a vaccination drive in my area and requesting help to get it organized.

The only response I received so far was from one, Zack Wellington, of Brattleboro, Vermont, who, according to his profile, is looking for free-thinking canines to romp with. It’s too bad that Zack isn’t a free-thinker himself. He seems to have a very serious case of alt-med delusion.

There were three separate comments, each with responses. Let me give you the ensuing tet-a-tet in it’s entirety:

Jay Walker: I want to do vaccine drive in the Omaha, NE but have no idea how to go about it. If you know, send suggestions to

Zack Wellington: you are protesting vaccines? good boy! 🙂 LIKE

Jay Walker: Um..No.

Zack Wellington: sorry.

Jay Walker: Another reason to vaccinate, as if there weren’t enough already:

Zack Wellington: oh. oops. how about reasons NOT to vaccinate. more of those. Like autism, learning disabilities, brain damage…, not to mention contracting the thing you’re trying NOT to get.

Jay Walker: How about all of those things have been proven, time and time again not to be true? How about the thousands of children stricken with polio in the early 20th century and then vaccines came along and polio went away? How about the eradication of small pox and the millions of people who died from it before a vaccine? How about the three infants who died recently in California of whooping cough because the people around them hadn’t been vaccinated?

Zack Wellington: as Richard Bach said, “Argue for you limitations and they are yours.”

Zack Wellington: one of the great things about being “scientific” is that you get to focus on things you don’t want, sometime to the exclusion of all else

Jay Walker: Vaccinating saves lives. Not vaccinating cause avoidable death and suffering. Just ask the World Health Organization. Ask the parents of babies who died from whooping cough in California and Australia. Even if vaccines did have a risk of autism disabilities, which study after study have show they don’t, those small risks are far out weighed by the huge risk of death and disability when you don’t vaccinate.

First off, what the hell does, “Argue for you limitations and they are yours.” and “one of the great things about being “scientific” is that you get to focus on things you don’t want, sometime to the exclusion of all else” have to do with the point I was trying to make? What does that even mean?

How much freaking harm is going to have to be allowed to occur before people wake up to the fact that this anti-vaccination crap is just that, crap?!

People like Zack epitomize the credulous, unthinking, mindless magical thinking that runs rampant in our society. “Modern medicine is bad!”, “Vaccines cause autism!”, “Natural is good!”

I was born in 1960, at 28 weeks. The local hospital had just opened a state of the art NICU with incubators and doctors and nurses who were highly trained in the latest modern medical treatments. I should have died, and if I’d been born anywhere else, I probably would have. But I survived. I survived because modern, science based medicine had provided the tools, theories and training to save me. There was no shaman waving leaves over my head, no Wiccan priestess casting incantations in my direction, no priest with the last rights, just doctors and nurses who spent years in medical school and residency who knew what to do because science and critical thinking taught them how premature babies worked.

Show me one example of a time when an alternative medicine or natural remedy saved someone’s life. I’m not talking about eased their pain, helped them sleep or settled their stomach. I’m talking about treating their heart disease, curing their cancer, saving their freaking lives!

Of course they can’t show me. The trail of alt-med is littered with the bodies of those who sought healing in it’s magical, natural arms only to find out too late that it offered nothing but broken promises and squandered time.

I can show you millions of people who are alive today whose cancers are in remission and whose hearts and arteries have been mended by chemotherapy, radiation treatments, surgery and modern pharmacology, people who now have years more to spend with their loved ones and enjoy the gift of life.

I’ll end with Zack’s favorite quote, according to his Facebook profile:

“He is happy in his work because he is in harmony with his group and his emotions are flowing. He is free.”
~Natural Dog Training, Kevin Behan

You know, I wonder if he would have his free-thinking dogs vaccinated for rabbis or distemper? Somehow I suspect he would.

Have I been enough of a dick? Good!

Dealing With Magical Thinking In Friends and Family

As skeptics we are used to refuting pseudoscience and magical thinking that we read, see or hear around us. But how do you deal with a situation where a good friend deeply believes in not just one pseudoscience, but many, including some conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure?

I was presented with this very scenario today in a conversation with a good friend of mine. We began talking something we have in common, polyamory.

But after a few minutes of that, the subject of atheism came up. She said that she considers atheism to be an extreme view because it is on one end of the spectrum with believing in many gods. I disagreed and explained my view that atheism is non-belief in any god or gods and that I arrived at it by careful, evaluation and rational thinking.

She said that she believes that she is one of the about 3% of people who can experience spiritual things. I told her that I experience the same thing when I look at a beautiful sunset or think about quantum mechanics.

She said that she meant that she also can sense things other people can’t to which I replied that science has shown that these types of experiences are internal to our minds and not caused by outside supernatural things.

She then suggested that I read The Secret because it is a very scientific way of looking at the spiritual world. She said that it was too dry and scientific for her, but thought that I’d really like it.

She said that we are all responsible for what happens to us. Not just responsible in the sense of taking responsibility for what we say or do, but that we are responsible for what happens here on earth in all respects. I told her that I can see how that could be given things like over population, global warming, and such, but that there are definitely things that we have no control over, like the weather or if an asteroid hits the earth. She then said that we, in fact, are responsible, maybe not on a personal level, but if the energy of enough people wish for an asteroid to hit earth, or if there is enough negative energy to attract one, then we are responsible. I asked her if she meant to say that this energy we have extend across the whole universe and she said yes.

Later, when politics came up, she expressed the belief that Bush had an hand in 9/11. She told me that there are plenty of web sites out there where I can get that information.

Well, by this time, I wasn’t saying very much. After all, she’s a dear friend and I love her, so I didn’t want to start arguing every point with her.

I have to admit that I’m at a lose, intellectually, with her. My instinct is to just let it go. Her friendship means a lot to me, much more than being right about these things. Still, there is so much magical thinking and pseudoscience going on in her head that it’s hard for me to even know where to start the next conversation.

Has anyone else had a similar experience with a friend or family? If so, please share it.

The BBC Puts Its Foot In Its Mouth. What Next; Bat Boy?

In an article on the BBC website on August 23, titled Space is the final frontier for evolution, the heading stated:

“Charles Darwin may have been wrong when he argued that competition was the major driving force of evolution.”

This is something I’d expect to read on the Fox News or Answers In Genesis sites, not the BBC site.

The article references a study by PhD student Sarda Sahney and colleagues at the University of Bristol. The study finds that;

really big evolutionary changes happen when animals move into empty areas of living space, not occupied by other animals.

For example, when birds evolved the ability to fly, that opened up a vast range of new possibilities not available to other animals. Suddenly the skies were quite literally the limit, triggering a new evolutionary burst.

Similarly, the extinction of the dinosaurs left areas of living space wide open, giving mammals their lucky break.”

This concept challenges the idea that competition for resources in crowded habitats is the major driving force of evolution and concludes that competition did not play too large a role in the pattern of evolution

The article does offer a alternative explanation for the findings:

Professor Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University, US, told BBC News he “found the patterns interesting, but the interpretation problematic”.

He explained: “To give one example, if the reptiles had not been competitively superior to the mammals during the Mesozoic (era), then why did the mammals only expand after the large reptiles went extinct at the end of the Mesozoic?”

“And in general, what is the impetus to occupy new portions of ecological space if not to avoid competition with the species in the space already occupied?””

I have to strongly agree with Professor Stearns. Just because there was more space available doesn’t mean that natural selection was not in play, it more likely means that the species that did survive thrived in greater numbers than they otherwise might have. The increase in space and corresponding resources, while allowing more of a species to proliferate, doesn’t diminish the role of natural selection in the least; it just changes the outcome of its effects.

It is really sad to see an organization as respected as the BBC participating in sensational journalism by making unfounded claims, especially about something as easy to fact check at natural selection.

The Midwest Humanist Conference

The Midwest Humanist Conference was held at the Country Inn and Suites in Lincoln, NE on August 22, 2010. This is the first conference like this that I’ve ever been to, and so I was very excited. This was also the first chance I was going to have to meet fellow members of The Omaha Atheists.

I want to give you my impressions of all of the speakers and speeches. While I did take some notes, they weren’t particularly copious, so please don’t take this as a blow by blow report so much as it is what I took away from them.

The conference was kicked off by Jason Frye, the organizer of the conference. He began by highlighting the day’s speakers and then showed us a hilarious video call Jesus Beer.

The first speaker was August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists and a Camp Quest Minnesota Board member. His speech was titled, Humanity of Atheism.

He started off by saying that atheist should not be capitalized (unless, of course, it is in the title of something or at the beginning of a sentence). His reason for this is that atheist is a descriptor, not a proper noun. It describes a state of non-belief in any supernatural being, not a description of the person themselves.

He went on to promote the idea that humanism and atheism need to merge. In this way, humanism gains from the higher public visibility of atheism and atheism gains from being associated with a philosophy of high ethics and morality, something that it unfortunately lacks in the public perception today.

I found August to warm and approachable and he brought great intelligence to his arguments.

The next speaker was Greg Lammers, American Atheists Missouri State Director.

He began his speech with, “Once upon a time…” and went on to describe how every sixth Thursday of the month he goes to the Catholic center to meet with “Monsignor Scarface” where they have a conference call with the Pope so he can inform the Pope as to the latest going-ons of the atheists in Missouri.

The point, of course, was to illustrate that we shouldn’t just believe things because someone tells us they are so. He has a very humorous delivery which really made the talk very enjoyable.

His main point was illustrated by a quote from Proverbs 1:7:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”

He talked about how insidious it is that a religion would choose fear as its foundation of wisdom, giving some very humorous, but poignant examples of this (none of which I can specifically remember, unfortunately).

He ended by stating that he believes that the better response would be:

“Doubt is the beginning of wisdom.”

For it is through questioning everything that we learn the truth about our world.

After lunch, was the keynote speaker, D.J. Grothe, president of The James Randi Educational Foundation. His talk was titled, The Humanism of Skepticism.

D.J is a very engaging and well polished speaker who exhibits great enthusiasm, grace and humaneness to every subject he speaks on.

He began by explaining what, as he sees it, true skepticism is. A true skeptic is not someone who, out of hand, dismisses things that are improbable or on the fringe, but someone who is always open to all possible explanations and insists on questioning and testing all of them, if possible. They will then conclude that something is probable based on the evidence. But they are always open to new evidence that may cause them to change their conclusions. This is a very naturalistic way of looking at the world.

He stressed that, although skepticism has traditionally concerned its self with the investigation of the paranormal, alternative medicine, or just plain fakery, that in the past seven years or so, religious claims have begun to come under its purview.

He posited that religious claims, including the very existence of God or gods, should be investigated using the same methods as those used to investigate the paranormal, especially given that both claim supernatural causes.

He then tied this into atheism by saying that atheists should use the skeptical tool kit, as it were, to support their ideas. In this way, skeptical thinking can inform atheistic thought, creating a solid, empirical foundation for its conclusions.

My favorite speaker was Amanda Knief, cofounder of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, Humanist Celebrant, and public policy attorney.

I was not previously familiar with her or her work and this was a fantastic introduction for me. She spoke about atheism in the workplace with emphasis on the legal rights of atheists.

I learned that atheists are protected from discrimination in the workplace by the same laws that protect people of all faiths (even though atheism isn’t a faith). By using several court cases as examples she illustrated how these protections came about.

She has a wonderfully engaging speaking style, strong, yet graceful and humorous. I came away highly impressed and deeply moved by her presentation. She is someone I’d gladly go to hear speak at any and every opportunity.

Dale Hilderbrant is a magician and mentalist. His topic was Psychics: Tricks of the Trade.

He did some neat tricks using exaggerated techniques to highlight just how the sham psychics do it.

During dinner, I found that he has an in-depth knowledge of magic and mentalism and has written several books on magic.

The next speaker was Darrel Ray, author of The God Virus. His talk was provocatively titled Religion: A Sexually Transmitted Disease.

He began by giving two examples that illustrate that what we in the west consider normal sexual behavior is, in fact, not normal at all.

The first is the Hazda tribe of Tanzania. These people have no known gods or religion. They have no concept of marriage as we would understand it.

In this society, multiple partners are the norm, with the woman being the dominant one in establishing relationships. All children are raised by the entire community. They have no concept of adultery or anything of that sort and a high value is placed on sexual pleasure as an integral part of their lives. Sexual pleasure is discussed openly among everyone, including children, who learn about sexuality and sexual practices from observing their parents and listening to adults talk about them.

The second culture is the Hawaiian culture before contact with the west.

Here again, we have a society where monogamy is unknown. In this culture, religion deals mainly with prohibitions on different types of food, rather than different sexual practices. Here, there can be different types of relationships; sexual relationships for love, sexual relationships for procreation, and sexual relationships for pleasure. In all of these relationships it is very common that a different partner is involved for each type of relationship.

Again, as with the Hazda, children are raised by the community. Children are not only taught, but prepared for their sexual coming of age by either their grandparents or aunts. The boys have their penises blown on from infants up to the age of seven, as this was believed to prepare them for future sexual relationships. The girls would, almost daily, have their clitorises pulled and stretched to make them larger over time to heighten their future sexual pleasure.

These examples then led into what Darrel called infection of The God Virus. The premise of this is that our concept of what constitutes “normal” sexual behavior in the West was shaped by the Judeo/Christian religions which manufactured prohibitions on various sexual practices and relationships.

He used examples from the Bible that showed that, in the Old Testament, the only prohibitions of sexual relations were for homosexuality and promiscuous women. We were shown that Abraham, David, Solomon and others were certainly polygamists, yet both Christianity and Judaism, beginning right around the time of Jesus, prohibit polygamy without any biblical basis.

He went on to show that it was early Christian writers and theologians who were both preoccupied and terrified of sex. This was tied very closely to a hatred and condemnation of women.

He then moves onto the New Testament. Here he relates that, to be called “rabbi” in the Jewish culture both in Jesus’ time and today, it was not just presumed, but expected, that the man in question would have to be married. About the only examples of unmarried rabbis are those that are widowed (my statement, not his.) Yet, nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus’ being married mentioned. In fact, none of the disciples are mentioned as being married, but we can conclude that some of them must have been for Jesus tells them:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. “ Luke 14:26

Who, Darrel asks, removed or suppressed the mention of their wives from the Bible, and why?

He gave numerous examples from his years of practicing clinical psychology where it became obvious to him that married people, over time, because satiated with each other. In other words, they no longer find sex with their partner exciting or interesting and the urge to have sex with someone else becomes stronger and stronger until it tears the relationship apart. This isn’t a flaw with any of these people but a fact of human nature.

Satiation is a well established fact of human psychology that we can no more ignore that we can other feelings. He used the example of if you eat chocolate every day; you eventually get sick of eating chocolate. This is something I’m sure we can all relate to.

He goes into primary and secondary sexual characteristics. For example, primary sexual characteristics would be things like heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual.

Secondary sexual characteristics would be things like fetishes or other specific sexual activities that arouse us, for example pornography, shoe fetish, or a particular attraction to specific body parts. It is the pursuit of these secondary sexual characteristics that we spend most of our time and energy perusing, and therefore it is these that are often the cause of the stress and anxiety around sex in relationships. We often have been conditioned by The God Virus to feel ashamed or degenerate because of these desires we have, but everyone has them.

He suggests that openly talking with our partners about sex and, especially, these secondary sexual desires that we have is critical to a healthy, long term relationship.

He goes on to suggest that we may have to renegotiate our relationships to accommodate these issues, but strongly urges that we be open and honest with our partners. For example, if we feel the strong need to have sex with someone else, we need to tell our partner that and negotiate something that we are both comfortable with.

Jason Frye, the organizer of this conference, was the next speaker and his topic was Homosexuality & Humanism.

He covered the creation of the LGBT Humanist Council, which is an important step forward for humanists. He went on to stress, using hilarious videos, why LGBT issues are humanist issues, which basically boils down to the fact that LGBT issues are, at their heart, human rights issues no different than other human rights issues that affect people of color or women, for example.

I was surprised to learn that domestic partnerships lack over 1000 rights otherwise afforded to married couples, including such basic rights as the right to hospital visitations, the right to time off for funerals, the right to Social Security Survivor benefits, among the thousands of others.

One very astonishing thing he said is that most gay men are not allowed to give blood:

“Gay men remain banned for life from donating blood, the government said Wednesday, leaving in place — for now — a 1983 prohibition meant to prevent the spread of HIV through transfusions.

Before giving blood, all men are asked if they have had sex, even once, with another man since 1977. Those who say they have are permanently banned from donating. The FDA said those men are at increased risk of infection by HIV that can be transmitted to others by blood transfusion.” (Associate Press, Thursday, May 24, 2007)

This, even though gay men are not the highest HIV risk group. That sad statistic is held by Black Women, who have no over-reaching ban to giving blood. (Diagnoses of HIV infection and AIDS in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2008,; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The final speaker was Dan Barker, co-president of The Freedom From Religion Foundation.

His topic was titled, America Doesn’t Have a Prayer, in which he discussed the history of, reasons for and current status of their lawsuit against the U.S. Government over the National Day of Prayer.

This was a suit that was brought earlier this year to stop the President from declaring a National Day of Prayer, as mandated by a 1950’s law passed by Congress at the height of the Cold War.

The current status of this is that a federal judge in Wisconsin determined that this law was unconstitutional and enjoined the President to not issue the yearly proclamation, pending appeal of her decision.
The case is slated to go before an appeals court this fall.

The basis for their suit is that since the proclamation applies to all citizens, all citizens are affected, even those who don’t pray or aren’t religious as stated in the ruling:

“It goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context. In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience. When the government associates one set of religious beliefs with the state and identifies nonadherents as outsiders, it encroaches upon the individual’s decision about whether and how to worship.”

He went on to describe how the National Day of Prayer was created by the evangelical religious right, who consider this their pet project and have a documented history of denying participation by other, non-evangelical, religious groups. He claims that the supporters would lose nothing if Government did not support the National Day of Prayer as they would still be able to organize and promote it, as they always have and continue to do.

The whole conference was a fantastic experience for me. Being new to the skeptical movement and humanism, it was wonderful to interact with everyone involved.

I wish I was able to give all the speakers as an in-depth review as I did for Darrel and Jason Frye, but I just couldn’t remember enough details to do them justice and I certainly didn’t want to report erroneous information.

I would strongly recommend anyone with an interest in humanism (and who shouldn’t be interested in helping their fellow human begins?) to check out the links I’ve provided. There is an enormous wealth of great information to help you get involved in a wide variety of different causes if you so choose.

Even if you can’t get involved, you can certainly learn some things that you didn’t know before. Sometimes knowledge is its own reward.

You can see pictures from this event on my Facebook page or my Mobile Me page. I apologize for the poor quality; I should have brought my good camera.

The event was sponsored by American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry, Council for Secular Humanism, Humanist Association of San Diego, Humanist Community of Silicon Valley, Lincoln Secular Humanists, Planned Parenthood of Nebraska & Council Bluffs, Scouting for All, The God Virus, The James Randi Educational Foundation, LGBT Humanist Council, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, The Lincoln Atheists, The Omaha Atheists, The Thomas Jefferson Humanist Society

Coming Soon – The Midwestern Humanist Conference

I just got home from the Midwestern Humanist Conference in Lincoln, NE. There were wonderful speakers, excellent speeches and a lot of really nice people. I’ll be blogging all about it tomorrow. I’m tired after a great day so its off to bed.