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Ms. Cherish Goes to the Atheist Meeting September 17, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, religion.
Tags: atheism, , religion,

I’ve contemplated writing on this topic for a while.  At the same time, I haven’t wanted to.  Probably because I’m not sure what the point of revisiting this is other than to gripe.  But then I came across this article about misogyny in atheism and decided I was just irritated enough to say something.

What’s a blog if not a soapbox for such issues?  That being said, if you feel the need to vent about the article, please take to the site where it is published.

Let’s start with some background: I am an agnostic Quaker.  Yeah, such things do exist.  What this means is that I am a fence sitter on the concept of a god.  I don’t think there’s really any way to disprove that a god does or does not exist (and I have a pretty good background in both physics and math, so I’m fairly certain I know what such a proof would entail).  I know that makes me a heathen in some people’s eyes and an idiot in others.  I could think that way of other people, but that’s where the whole Quaker thing comes in, so I try to refrain.  If nothing, it’s at least a minimal attempt at humility and recognition of the respect everyone deserves…even when I really don’t feel inclined to give it to them.  Or when they aren’t giving it to me.  It’s hard, but I do try.  (In the words of Howard Brinton, it is better to be inconsistently good than consistently bad.)

Because of my varied interests, I have a friends who fall along the whole spectrum of belief not to mention diverse religious preferences among those who are believers.  It’s not a suprise, therefore, that a friend invited me to go to an atheist meeting a while ago.  He said that I would probably fit in very well because of the whole agnostic thing, the fact that I’m a scientist, the fact that my husband and I regularly read Skeptical Inquirer.

Except I didn’t.  And I fully didn’t expect to.  Part of this is because I used to read a lot of skeptical and atheist blogs, mostly for their scientific content.  I started getting irritated a while ago because the tone of such conversations often devolved into religion bashing.  I stopped altogether after the Watson/Dawkins debacle on PZ Myers blog (mentioned in the article above).  Why in the world would I want to spend my time associating with people as obnoxious as Dawkins?  (And I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson makes this point in the video below.)

First, there was the whole Quaker thing.  While a couple people were familiar with it and felt that it was kind of cool, there were others who were just plain stupid about it.  I was grilled on why in the world would I belong to any sort of religiously affiliated group.  “Traditions are inherently bad,” I was told.  I should have replied that sweeping overgeneralizations are not on the top of my list of good things.

Later in the discussion, something came up about raising children.  In particular, one person voiced an opinion that parents don’t have the right to make decisions about their children’s education and that the state ought to have the right to keep parents from passing on religious beliefs to children.  (Not surprisingly, this person isn’t a parent.)  Now, let’s start with the fact that I think this is an extreme view and not representative of most people I know how are non-believers.  But this is also the basis for many (overly vocal) atheists’ opposition to things like the homeschooling.  It seriously pisses me off.

I know that most of the people who are opposed to homeschooling use the whole socialization argument, so being as irritated as I was, I started asking questions to move the topic to that point of discussion.  Then I nailed the person with the fact that research shows that homeschooling is in fact a superior method of socialization compared with a typical educational environment.  As it turns out, I’d spent some time researching the topic and wrote a post on it.  Obviously this person wasn’t going to take me at my word, so I got his email and later sent the link to the article about it.  Silence.

Finally, there came the sexist comments.  They came in the form of praising a female atheist, going on at length about how it was nice to have such a ‘lovely and beautiful woman atheist’ in the group.  It felt like she was being flirted with on a public platform.  Obviously ugly women atheists aren’t all that interesting. Hello?!  I thought freethinkers understood that praising a woman based on her looks rather than her skills and abilities is sexist.

My whole irritation with the freethinker/atheist/etc movement is that it strikes me as the flip side of religious fanaticism.  Instead of fire and brimstone preachers, there are the charismatic (and often assholish) ringleaders who are just as vitriolic as the Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern types.  They are intentionally inflammatory and disrespectful.  Further, they’re an awful smart lot, and they can rationalize everything and they think they know everything.  This is a problem because that’s not what a skeptic or freethinker is.  It amazes me how many people will spew their opinions on topics as fact even though they haven’t done a lick of research.  The thinking from the most vocal atheists is just as black and white as a religious zealots and only sometimes better informed.

I actually think that a lot of this does go back to that whole socialization argument I had with the fellow at the meeting.  Almost everyone I know who is a non-believer is very highly educated.  Most of them went through some sort of formal schooling environment where they learned that they were smarter than everyone else.  In fact, a lot of them will be very forthcoming on that point given their identity is very wrapped up in their intelligence.  And there is a lot of research that shows gifted kids left in that environment have problems, even as adults, relating to others.  The resulting behavior a form of maladaption that can follow people for the rest of their lives.  If they’re never around people who are as smart as they are, they don’t learn much in the way of humility, discussion with others as peers deserving of respect, and continue to underestimate and challenge people (because it’s an ego boosting behavior) as adults.

That’s what really bothers me about this.  Some of these people are incredibly smart and they assume they can figure anything out because they’re rational.  They fail to see complexities and nuance in discussion about difficult topics, particularly if those complexities involve emotions.  They assume that they can solve any problem with their reasoning without actually researching topics to understand where their reasoning may have faults and failures.  They fail to see their opinions as exactly what they are: a dogmatic response to something not always grounded in research or respect for others.  Agreement is the litmus test for whether or not you’re really a ‘good’ atheist.

It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of the most vocal ones. And it’s very off-putting for people (regardless of gender) who may otherwise be interested in what they have to say.

Making fun of Fix the Family September 13, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, religion, societal commentary.
Tags: , , ,

I came across a blog post on facebook.  It was one of those that’s so absolutely stupid that you simply can’t help but respond.  I realize I’m potentially feeding trolls here…but you have to see it to believe it.  The one redeeming value in this post was that, for once, it was actually worthwhile to read the comments.

What post is this? Six reasons not to send your daughter to college  Except it’s not six reasons: after posting, two more reasons were added.

Yeah, seriously.  Not only do people still believe this crap, they’re apparently stupid enough to post it in a public place for all to mock.  They begin the article by supposedly diffusing all claims that they’re misogynist and sexist (not to mention blatantly anti-feminist).  Here’s what they have to say:

  • You don’t believe in educating women.  Sure we do…as long as it’s to become a stay-at-home mother.
  • You believe in oppressing women. Bingo!  But we’re not going to call it that because we’re in denial about our position of privilege.
  • You believe in taking away opportunities for women and trapping them into a subservient role.  As long as she’s only subservient to her husband…cuz God says so.
  • God calls women to use their talents.  As long as those talents are raising children and keeping house.
  • A  woman needs to have something to provide income in case her husband dies, becomes disabled or leaves her.  But this never happens to people who are responsible.  If this is a problem, it’s because you stupidly didn’t take care of it when you could have, you idiotic woman.  Or you weren’t subservient enough to keep that dead-beat around.  Either way, you’re still stupid.

So now that we’ve established their real stance, let’s take a look at the actual reasons women shouldn’t go to college.  I tried to provide a translation to make the meaning more transparent:

  • She will attract the wrong types of men.  You see, college men are the wrong types.  They’re all lampreys, seeking the perfect woman to support them and take care of them while they sit at home and play video games all day.  Once they have the perfect woman trapped, they will inevitably give up their career goals and sit at home eating bon-bons all day while she wears the pants in the family.  None of them would consider actually being responsible, pursuing a career, or desiring to marry a woman who is actually an equal in the relationship.  Obviously, a man’s life goals are going to crumble in the face of that particular temptation.
  • She will be in a near occasion of sin.  You see, women are too inept to actually be able to handle sexual temptation.  They might find out they like having sex, and that’s not okay unless they’ve been duped into marrying someone.  Then it’s okay to like sex because it blinds women to mens’ faults (which is the only way to maintain a civil marriage), and more important, it makes teh babiez!
  • She will not learn to be a wife and mother.  College is useless, you see, because women are only there to raise kids and take care of their husbands (as long as they remain subservient to them).  So obviously it’s not teaching her the right skills.  If she wants to have the right skills, she must get hitched and start making babies immediately, obviously with a man who she meets at church because those college guys are just too lazy…otherwise she’s just wasting her life.  Baby bootcamp is the only way to go…and women should get there as soon as possible.
  • The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.  You see, men are obviously worth more in the marketplace, so it makes economic sense for women to only take on menial labor tasks until they can find someone who has real economic value to take care of them.  Then they can do the job that they were meant to do: make babies!
  • You don’t have to prove anything to the world.  Women only go to college because of peer pressure.  In reality, fulfillment and independence really have no place in the decision.  The only fulfilling thing a woman can do in her life is raise kids.
  • It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.  Parents are financially responsible for their children might not pop out as many babies as physically possible, so they’re just a bunch of sinners.  Parents should only be responsibly financial for their sons because girls don’t really need educations: they’re only going to be mothers, anyway.
  • She will regret it. Women may think they want to go to college after high school, but once they are a bit older, they’ll wish they’d made more babies instead.
  • It could interfere with a religious vocation.  If she doesn’t want to be a mother, she might want to be a nun, and college degrees are useless for nuns and may make them ineligible, as well.

I guess I’m lucky I don’t have any daughters and I’m not Catholic or I might be in a quandry right now.

Quakers like oats, not oaths August 22, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in personal, religion, younger son.
Tags: oaths, , religion,

Last spring, younger son came to me and said he wasn’t comfortable saying the Pledge of Allegiance. His reasoning was that one of the ten commandments says one should not pray to false idols, and he very much felt that saying the pledge was the equivalent of praying to a false idol.

I thought this was a very interesting perspective, and I admired his desire to be consistent.  It also felt like one of those ‘teachable moments,’ so it led into a whole discussion on the Quaker view that one should not take oaths. Not only does it have a basis in the new testament, but many quakers feel like it creates a double standard for truth. There’s also the issue that you’re making a promise to adhere to something whether or not it contradicts your conscience or beliefs.  (I previously discussed oath taking in this post.)

After our discussion, I sent an email to his teacher and principal discussing his decision and how this is part of our beliefs as Quakers. They said they understood, and there would be no problems.

I was glad to hear this.  The younger son actually attends a religiously affiliated school.  I have no problems with the beliefs of this religion, but I have found that there seem to be some differences in implementation of those beliefs.

I wasn’t sure how the younger son would handle things in a new class this year. I asked him if he said the pledge, and he said yes…and then realized he’d forgotten about what he said last year. So he immediately said he wasn’t going to say it any more. But then he said that he also had to say a pledge to the christian flag and an oath to the bible. But that was okay, because it’s really an oath to God.

That really disturbed me. First of all, I have no idea what the Christian flag even is. Who decided the Christians needed a flag? (Mike informed me that the Methodists did about 100 years ago.)

Yep...there really is a Christian flag.

Yep…there really is a Christian flag.

Second, many Quakers don’t hold to the notion of the Bible as the literal word of God.  I asked the younger son if he would make an oath to the bible if it said that slavery was okay. He said no, and I said that the Bible does in fact say that slavery is okay. We talked about how making oaths in general is a bad idea because people can put bad ideas into good things, and by making an oath or a pledge to something, you may unknowingly be agreeing to a bad thing. The Bible is a good book because, read with an understanding of the social context,  it can help us to become better people.  The point was also made that the men who wrote it were not bad people, but they had a lot of different beliefs back then that were incorporated into the Bible whether or not we think those ideas are okay today or were actually divinely inspired.

I think that was really rough for him. He’s still at the stage where he likes to see things in terms of black and white, good or bad. I just took something he’s been taught is all good and sacred and told him that there is evil in it. I could tell he felt bad learning that, and I felt bad for shattering that particular world view. But I also want him to understand that his conscience is the most important moral compass that exists for him, and he needs to learn to trust that instead of blindly following what other people tell him.

I am worried we’ll be hearing from his new teacher.  I’m also having trouble dealing with cognitive dissonance because my son was asked to make an oath to something that says not to take oaths.

Wordless Wednesday December 21, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, food/cooking, math, older son, personal, pets, photography, religion, younger son.
Tags: , , , , ,
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Happy Hanukkah! December 20, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in religion, younger son.
Tags: , , , ,
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I think running myself ragged finally caught up with me the past couple days.  I was starting to get a cold a couple days ago and woke up this morning in bad shape.  Fortunately, it’s not an infection…just my immune system overreacting to everything and telling me that today was a day off, whether or not I wanted it.  I guess this is the up side to having the teenager home during the day now: his younger brother has this week off from school, so they kept each other entertained while I lay there in a cold- and cold medicine-induced stupor.

I thought this only happened as a student, but I guess not.  Teaching is just as tiring as learning.

Despite feeling cruddy, we managed to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah.  A couple weeks ago, the younger boy came to us and said he wanted to celebrate.  I wasn’t sure what to do, but a friend sent me some information and I spent a bit of time researching how to properly observe it.

I have to admit that I feel a little funny observing a holiday from a religion with which I have extremely limited familiarity.  I’m not sure why this is.  I would never feel funny if my non-Christian friends participated in Christmas (and I have a lot that do).  I’ve also been invited to participate in a Hillel meeting once.  (I had no idea what was going on, unfortunately…but I was still welcome!)  So I don’t think anyone would get annoyed…but it’s still an odd feeling.

We lit the first candle of the Menorah in our front window.  I don’t know if any of the neighbors saw it, but if they did, I suspect they’re going to think this explains why we never hang up Christmas lights.  Actually, we did hang them up one year, but we didn’t take them down until August.  So now we just never bother with hanging them up.

Overall, it was fun.  My friend sent us a card game that’s about Hanukkah, so we played that after lighting the Menorah.  I guess I thought we had to wait until indulging in fried foods, but I guess not.  Donuts, anyone?

An accessory to blowing people up… November 5, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, physics, religion, science, societal commentary.
Tags: , , , ,

Part of the reason I’m interested in teaching is because I feel like it’s a morally unambiguous effort:  teaching helps people to learn, and that is always a good thing.  However, I just came across one part of teaching that I don’t feel so good about.

I had a student come to talk to me about advising for coursework.  He said that he had difficulty with his actual advisor, and after a few minutes, the guy just signed his card and told him he was done.  (The professor is new and apparently has some difficulty with English.)  He wants me to sit down and help him plan out his coursework.  I’m fine with that.  In fact, once we started talking, it was clear he was in the wrong major: his major is computer engineering, and he hates coding.  I said the first thing he needs to do is switch over to an EE major because he’ll get a lot more opportunity to work on hardware there, which he said he really likes.

In the process of talking, I figured I should ask if he had any career plans.  He wants to do weapons development.


My dilemma is that I feel that because the student asked for help, I should help him.  On the other hand, I’m pacifist (or try to be) and don’t feel that helping someone find a way to blow up other people is in line with the Quaker peace testimony.

The best thing I’ve been able to think of is to tell the student that while I am very willing to help him plan out his coursework, I do feel like I need to say I really wish he’d use his intellectual abilities to save people rather than kill them.

The other option, in my mind, is to simply not help him.  I have considered this, but I believe strongly in setting an example through action.  If I refuse to help someone when they ask, I think I am only going to make this person less willing to try to see things from my perspective.

This is the hard thing about being in technical fields.  It’s like knowledge of nuclear processes: it can be used to provide a lot of energy for people, but it can also be used blow people up.  By training people in this field, however, there’s likely a non-zero chance you’ll end up with at least one student who does research on making bombs or things like that.  So does that make you an accessory to killing people?  I really don’t know.  And I guess I never really thought about the fact that by teaching engineering students, I could be in this position.  I have to say that it doesn’t make me terribly comfortable.  Of course, the same would be true in physics.

I realize that most people don’t have this particular dilemma, and it’s one I never thought would come into play with teaching students.  I’ve contemplated this a lot because good chunks of my paycheck right now come from military organizations.  I’ve tried to look at the things I’m working on and see if these are morally questionable.  In pretty much all cases, the things I’ve been working on could easily be used for good things: research into ionospheric physics, devices used for communication that could also go into things like cell phones, and RFID for asset tracking.  (I do say that I feel a big funny about working on things that encourage materialism, like the constant push toward new and better cell phones, for instance.  I also know that there’s pretty much no stopping it when we live in an economy that only functions because of materialism…but that’s a dilemma for another post.)

It’s making me realize how very hard it is to completely extricate one’s self from things that are morally questionable despite best intentions.  Maybe the Amish have it right.

I swear not to take an oath August 23, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, religion, societal commentary, teaching, work.
Tags: affirmations, oaths,

I signed my contract to teach this semester, and when I did, I received something new: an oath.  When I was teaching before, I had never had to sign one.  However, I was presented with one when I did some tutoring for the California community college system a long time ago.

Oh brother, I thought.  There goes the teaching stint.

I told the person I can’t take an oath…which led to some funny looks and questions.

You see, I ran smack dab into something that really is uncomfortable.  I have strong tendencies toward Quakerism, and one of the things that Quakers have generally agreed upon is that oaths are a bad thing.  While the practice of refusing to take oaths has a Biblical basis, it can also be viewed as a logical point.  Taking an oath establishes a double standard: your word should be good without it being necessary to take an oath.  It also implies that it’s okay to not be truthful when one is not under oath.

(On a slightly tangential note, can you imagine the irony of someone hacking the wikipedia entry on the truth testimony?)

Fortunately, there is a way around this, and many places give you the choice of making an oath or affirming your intentions.  Upon closer inspection, it turned out that I was allowed to affirm that I would actually fulfill my duties without having to take an oath.  (Although, this hasn’t always worked.  You may remember the story about the Quaker in CA who modified her affirmation and was fired from her job as a teacher.)

I guess I’ve never understood oaths other than as CYA.  Legally, that’s what most of them are.

I feel similarly about the Pledge of Allegiance, which makes me more frustrated with those who claim that not saying the pledge somehow makes one unpatriotic.  I find it ironic (even moreso than fudging up the truth testimony site) that people are complaining about taking the words “Under God” out of the pledge when the pledge itself is a violation of the Biblical stance on oaths.

So have any of you had to ever take an ‘oath of office’?  How did you feel about it?

The Easter Bunny is a closet geologist April 24, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in geology, religion.
Tags: , , ,

I was shopping for Easter supplies (i.e. materials to color eggs) when I came across this gem:

Yes, folks, it is possible to enjoy science and religion at the same time.  For some lucky children (like my own), they will be getting their candy-filled eggs in fossil replicas.  If you’d like a closer look, here are the ‘fossils':

As you can see, we have some sort of mollusk shell along with some sort of green contaminant.  (Apparently the Easter Bunny isn’t the best at keeping samples isolated.)  There is also the skeleton of a young reptilian creature…maybe a dinosaur of some kind.  The the best is the bony fish skeleton along with some green or brown things.  Hmm.

The brown things look like they could be some sort of trilobite.  Given I can’t figure out which trilobite order it belongs to, I will assume it’s an extremely primitive variety that showed up in the very early Cambrian.  Definitely not Burgess Shale material.

It’s also difficult to tell what types of rocks these fossils formed in as they have an amazing lack of identifying texture or chemical reactivity.  I guess I will have to leave the mysteries in the hands of more experienced paleontologists.

Despite all these questions, I quite approve of the eggs (since I bought a pack).

For those who celebrate have a Happy Easter!

Stargate: another example of the liberal agenda December 23, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, religion, science fiction, societal commentary.
Tags: liberal, stargate
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One my fondest memories of the younger boy’s toddler years are when he saw our jogging trampoline sitting on its side, so the bottom was exposed. He pointed to it and said, “Wook, Mommy! Targate!” (This of course translates to, “Look Mommy! Stargate!”) As you can tell, I’ve passed my love of sci-fi, and Stargate in particular, onto my kids.

Recently, however, my older boy came up to me and asked, “Mom, do you think Stargate is liberal?” My answer was not particularly, although it certainly has been at times. Apparently someone he knows refuses to watch the show, though, because it’s too liberal.

Since then, I’ve been trying to look at the show and see how it might be interpreted that way. I think the premise of the show is neutral, and being about the military, could even be perceived as conservative. In fact, the show has won awards from the Air Force because of how it represents the military.

Looking at it one way, there is a definite power structure and hierarchy. The whole thing is a big, secret government operation. One of the major enemies ends up being an international oversight committee. They are trying to protect the interests of the US, as well as everyone on Earth.

Things that might be construed as liberal seem to involve the individual teams. I’ll look at SG-1 only, but some of these can apply to the other shows as well. First, while there is a rank and command in the team, the team leader tends to respect and follow the advice of the other team members, making it, in effect, more egalitarian. There is, of course, Daniel Jackson, who is always arguing for a non-military way of handling things. The interaction with aliens tends to be a bit more friendly (at least with friendly aliens) than you might expect.

Is it the notion that what someone perceives as a god might, in fact, be someone who is just more powerful but not necessarily omnipotent? Or the fact that we care about everyone on Earth, and not just the US? That there is the expectation of humanitarian treatment among the aliens with whom the SGC interacts?

The most obvious ‘liberal’ issue was during the last couple seasons, when the Ori showed up. During those seasons, there seemed to be a lot of discussion about religion and its role in politics. There were more than a few times where I remember thinking that much of the dialogue could easily apply to some political situation in the US.

But that was part of the reason I enjoyed the show. While I could easily see myself taking sides with one or another character or viewpoint, most of it was presented as a discussion or conflict between those sides. The answers were seldom cut and dried, and many times when a character did do the ‘right thing’, they ended up face to face with the law of unintended consequences. The real world is messy, and I felt like the show did a good job of showing how muddy the waters can be despite one’s best intentions.

Or is that the problem: shades of grey is liberal?

Perhaps I’m just not getting it, my objectivity out the window because I like the show too much.

What do you think?

The atheists strike back December 21, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in religion, science.
Tags: gaskell,

There has been a lot of discussion the past couple days about Martin Gaskell, the astronomy professor who is suing University of Kentucky because he believes he was denied a job offer based on his religious beliefs. From the accounts I’ve read, it sounds like they flat-out asked him about his religious beliefs during his interview.

I have to concur with Gaskell: if they did in fact ask about his religious beliefs and his answer was used as a factor in his hiring, that is discriminatory.

The problem, however, is that I can understand why they were doing it: Gaskell’s background led them to question if he was going to misrepresent science through a religious lens. (After the many things I’ve read, it’s a question in my mind, too.) It is wrong to choose someone for a job based on their religion or lack thereof. However, it’s also stupid to hire someone for a position when they may be expected to do something as part of their job when it is likely that they will refuse due to religious issues. That, quite honestly, is an expensive lawsuit waiting to happen, and no one benefits (except the lawyers).

The focus, however, should not be on one’s religious beliefs: it should be on how one intends to do the job. If someone is religious, that shouldn’t factor into the hiring equation unless there is potentially a conflict of interest. The University of Kentucky apparently expected that this was the case. Rather than asking Gaskell about his religious beliefs, they should have asked what would have been a more relevant question: if you were approached by a child who told you that the Earth was 6000 years old but wanted to know what you thought, how would you respond?

If the response is that Gaskell would agree with the child, then I think it’s fair to say that he doesn’t have or is choosing not to utilize their background in science. He is instead choosing to ignore reams of data that show otherwise as well as letting their religious beliefs stand in place of his background knowledge and critical thinking skills. He is letting opinion or belief substitute for an understanding of the evidence. This is not a person you want to hire to do scientific work.

I don’t believe one should use religion as a criterion for hiring. On the other hand, I do believe that it is fair to expect that a candidate will uphold a standard of scientific integrity when the job is fundamentally that of a scientist. I think it is fair to ask how that person intends to uphold that standard. Because of the attacks on scientific integrity by the religious right, I think there has been a lot of anxiety about religion’s potential conflict with science. Scientists need to stay rational, however, and remember that religion isn’t the enemy: ignorance is.


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