Category: Culture

Jon Stewart Satirizes Atheists Over Ground Zero Cross

By The Intersection | August 6, 2011 8:00 am

By Jon Winsor

The Daily Show–still pretty funny. (The Atlantic Wire has a play-by-play on this story.)

Update: Is John Stewart “tone trolling” here? Maybe there’s something new atheists (gnu atheists, neo-atheists, etc.) miss in dismissing criticisms of “mere tone”?

MORE ABOUT: atheism

The Tablo Story: A Disturbing Case of Motivated Reasoning and the Internet

By Chris Mooney | July 27, 2011 2:10 pm

You have got to read this entire feature story in the Stanford Magazine about Korean hip hop star Daniel Lee (aka Tablo), whose fell under attack from websites who asserted that he hadn’t really graduated from Stanford. He had, but like the hard core birthers, Tablo’s detractors refused to accept any evidence he could provide to document his academic background (like, say, an official university transcript). Meanwhile, the Korean media covered the story by telling “both sides.” Excerpt:

Black [the Stanford registrar] repeatedly confirmed that Daniel Lee the English major was a graduate in good standing but that only seemed to create more agitation. Some emailed to question Black’s integrity, suggesting that he was colluding with Lee. Black got angry. “These people don’t want the truth,” he says. “They dismiss everything that doesn’t align with what they already believe.”

Lee continued to fight back. On August 5, 2010, he released his Canadian citizenship certificate to the press. To his astonishment, he was promptly sued by four anonymous Koreans who charged him with forgery.

“I was doing everything they asked and it was never good enough,” Lee says. “That’s when I realized that they weren’t looking for answers, they just wanted to destroy me.”

Korean media widely reported the suit, which only served to further sow doubt about Lee’s identity among the general population. Gossip-oriented celebrity sites pored over every detail of the charges; the mainstream press even covered the case. The fact that Stanford had officially confirmed Lee’s diploma did not seem to check the flow of articles. By midsummer, Lee’s travails had become one of the biggest news stories in the country.

When is humanity going, like, to wake up and realize that it is part of our nature to generate claims that comport with what we want to believe, and then refuse to admit any contrary evidence, often becoming even more sure of ourselves the more the factual refutations come in?

This part of human nature isn’t just irrational–it can be destructive, and the Internet compounds it. We need to see it for what it is, and broadly acknowledge that it is part of us.

Read the rest of the story here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Motivated Reasoning

Want to Save the Planet? Just Embrace Traditional Values

By Chris Mooney | July 19, 2011 12:05 pm

On first reading, this argument–from the right wing American Thinker–is actually kind of clever:

In fact, if the left truly cares about preserving the environment, reducing carbon emissions, saving the planet, and all that glop, then it should wholeheartedly embrace conservative social values. Consider stable and traditional marriage. According to the Census Bureau, 96.6 million Americans over age 18 are unmarried and 31.7 million Americans (27% of the all households) live alone. This trend towards Americans living alone or out of wedlock is rapidly accelerating — and it is destroying the environment.

A stable married couple lives in a single home, has only one set of utilities, illuminates the home with a single lighting system, and economizes on overhead in many other ways. Adult Americans who live alone or in unstable relationships dramatically increase the need for dwelling space, electrical power, heating and cooling systems, streets and city maintenance systems, and also cars on those city streets.

Moreover, in traditional marriages which reach a level of economic affluence, it is more likely that only one member of the family needs to work, reducing traffic congestion and all the myriad environmental problems of a large and commuting metropolitan population. If Americans married and stayed married, the impact on all those problems which leftists pretend to worry about would dramatically diminish.

There’s more along those lines, too. But two can play at this game. By the same logic, it’s time for the American Thinker and social conservatives to embrace gay marriage–due to the vast environmental benefits.

I’m sure that concession will be coming shortly.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservation, Culture

Will Atheists Rally Behind "The Ledge"?

By Chris Mooney | July 8, 2011 11:57 am

Today in New York and Los Angeles, “The Ledge” premieressee here for our Point of Inquiry episode–a landmark, by any reasonable estimation, in the cinematic depiction of atheism. Tell me another movie that has top tier Hollywood stars in it (Liv Tyler, Terence Howard), that has been nominated for best drama at Sundance, and  that actually advances the case that atheists are ethical, good, and even heroic people?

When Mel Gibson made The Passion of the Christ, evangelicals rallied around the film dramatically and made it a huge success. Seriously, the film grossed over $ 600 million!

You might think atheists would see their chance to do the same…but then, atheists are not like Christians, in many, many ways. Psychologically–this is my opinion, but actually grounded in a lot of data–they are highly individualistic, not followers, not into heeding any authority, marching to their own drum. That is, of course, what makes them atheists and what makes them reject the dogmas of religion. And it is also what makes them regularly criticize their own.

You see this in the blog comments on The Ledge wherever you go–a lot of negativism directed towards the film. I know that those who comment on blogs are only a small proportion of those who read them, but–if you want to have an effect through popular culture, this does not bode particularly well.

The film may cascade to prominence anyway–Bill Donohue’s Catholic League has been baited into attacking it, which is great PR for the film, and it does after all feature a star studded cast. But this weekend is crucial–the opening in New York and LA has to be strong in order to spread to more theaters. Will atheists come out, in these two cities that are absolutely full of them?

Let’s hope so–you can find a theater here. And for those who aren’t based in our two bi-coastal megacities, you can still stream the movie via Sundance.

Meantime, here is a clip of the central “debate over God” scene:


Bill Donohue and the Catholic League Attack Matthew Chapman's New Atheist Film, "The Ledge"

By Chris Mooney | July 6, 2011 1:48 pm

I kinda suspected this new film, The Ledge–the topic of the latest Point of Inquiry–would raise a culture war brouhaha. When do you know you have such a brouhaha? Well, one early barometer is often Bill Donahue–whose conservative Catholic League is always trying to police depictions of religion in the public square.

And now Donahue has weighed in on the film–negatively, of course. Here’s his statement [warning, spoiler alert below]:

People of faith, especially Catholics, are used to being trashed by Hollywood, but they are not accustomed to films that promote atheism. Yes, there was “The Golden Compass,” an atheism-for-kids effort which the Catholic League successfully boycotted (in fairness, it was the book upon which the movie was based that triggered our response, not the screen adaptation). “The Ledge” is different in that its backers are selling themselves as the real pioneers: they expect it to be a ground-breaker. In short, they are relying on its potential fan base accessing the film through Video on Demand (it opens in only two theaters). Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, point of inquiry

Four Days in Cairo

By Chris Mooney | July 6, 2011 9:28 am

I’m back in the U.S.–a tad disoriented, but back. Jon and Jamie have done a great job blogging in my absence, and today I will seek to get back in the swing.

It will be slightly hard, though, as I’m still taking in my first experience of the Middle East. Doha, Qatar reminded me a lot of Las Vegas, only hotter and much less interested in its visitors having fun (e.g., it is nearly impossible to find a beer there unless you are at an American hotel). You spend your time inside consuming vast amounts of air conditioning, and trying to imagine just how much water it takes to fuel the artificial lawns outside the window. The thing that most struck me was the oxymoron (no longer) of standing outside in a hot wind.

The more amazing experience was post-revolution Cairo. Many foreign tourists are unreasonably terrified of the place–due in part to media coverage of riots and protests–and their absence has damaged the economy. In fact, it’s a very safe place to visit–unless, perhaps, you deliberately stand in the middle of a protest in Tahrir Square (my picture above is of a burned building there). And the people are wonderful–even when they’re pushing you to buy something, a phenomenon we encountered in a rather extreme form, since we were among the few tourists around.

We were there–myself and science journalists Deborah Blum, David Dobbs, Beryl Lieff Benderly and Curtis Brainard–for a workshop, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, with our Egyptian media counterparts. We went in wrongly assuming that they were more focused on politics and didn’t know a great deal about science journalism, and were very surprised–the participants were quite sophisticated about the challenges of our field and very dedicated to covering public health and the environment (the Nile Delta, in particular, is greatly threatened by sea level rise).

The result was a wonderful exchange that I hope can continue–as frankly, I had at least as much to learn from them as they had to learn from me.  In the meantime, we have to watch Egypt closely as the search for post-revolution stability moves forward–and hope that science and research will play a central role in a long-term economic recovery.

Caltech Nobel Laureate chemist Ahmed Zewail (sometimes mentioned as a possibility for Egypt’s first Democratic president) has founded a “Science City” to that end–a project that was endorsed by the Mubarak government but has only gotten traction since the Revolution. I sincerely hope this mega-initiative succeeds: It’s precisely the kind of innovation that will set the groundwork for a future democratic, and economically progressive Egypt.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Personal

New Point of Inquiry: Matthew Chapman–The Ledge

By Chris Mooney | July 4, 2011 8:50 pm

Recently I blogged about Matthew Chapman’s “The Ledge,” which I called a “true atheist movie.” Now, Chapman is the guest of our latest Point of Inquiry episode, where we discuss the film. Here’s the write-up:

It’s not often that Hollywood takes up the subject of atheism directly—much less sympathetically.

Even rarer is finding this in a film starring major names like Liv Tyler and Terence Howard.

But that’s what Matthew Chapman has achieved in The Ledge—which also stars Patrick Wilson and Charlie Hunnan.

Besides being a screenwriter and author, Chapman himself is an atheist, freethinker, science advocate, and great-great grandson of Charles Darwin.

Without giving away the plot of The Ledge—which opens on July 8 in New York and Los Angeles—suffice it to say that it is a gutsy defense of freethinking and unbelief, framed as a star-studded romantic thriller. And perhaps even more than any work of nonfiction, it may have a unique potential to drive a national conversation about atheism.

So recently, Chris Mooney caught up with Matthew Chapman for lunch in New York City to interview him about the film, what inspired it, and what he hopes its impact will be.

You can listen to the interview here. And here, again, is the trailer for The Ledge, which premieres this July 8 in New York City and Los Angeles (details here):

A True Atheist Movie: The Ledge

By Chris Mooney | June 21, 2011 8:50 am

I’m in New York today to interview Matthew Chapman about his new film, The Ledge. Chapman, if you don’t know of him already, is a screenwriter, director, author, and the great great grandson of Charlie Darwin. Here’s the trailer–I think people are going to like this one. Early buzz suggests it could be the “Brokeback Mountain moment for atheists.” Starring Liv Tyler, Terence Howard, and Patrick Wilson.

The film was nominated for Best US Drama at Sundance, can be seen now On Demand, and hits theaters July 8.


Miss USA 2011, "A Huge Science Geek"

By The Intersection | June 20, 2011 11:12 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D.

Last night, the unlikely happened in Las Vegas, Nevada when Miss California Alyssa Campenella, a self-professed “huge science geek,” was selected to be the next Miss USA. The pageant appeared on my radar Friday afternoon when Bora Zivkovic tweeted that the Miss USA pageant contestants had been asked a science-related question, “Should evolution be taught in schools?”

Subsequently, much of the internet chatter focused on the contestants from states known for their anti-evolution policies such as Kansas, Texas and Kentucky. I decided to go the other route and find out which of these women supported the teaching of evolution. I was disheartened to find that only a few of them really understood the issue. Many were apparently unaware that evolution is currently taught in schools. And, most of them thought creationism or “the other side” should be taught, as well.

The pre-pageant interviews revealed how much work remains to be done in order to improve science literacy in America. However, Campanella’s answer demonstrated that she possesses a respectable appreciation and understanding of science.

The evolution issue is addressed in the second question in the video:

Her forthright and honest, not to mention scientifically accurate, answer established her geek status even before the pageant. She reinforced her geek credentials during the pageant by deftly answering a question about whether the U.S. should legalize the use of marijuana:

“Well, I understand why that question would be asked, especially with today’s economy, but I also understand that medical marijuana is very important to help those who need it medically,” she said.

“I’m not sure if it should be legalized, if it would really affect, with the drug war,” she said. “I mean, it’s abused today, unfortunately, so that’s the only reason why I would kind of be a little bit against it, but medically it’s OK.”

I believe in Campanella we will have a science ambassador representing us in the Miss Universe pageant come September and you better believe I’ll be supporting her. My only hope is that someone will get her to talk about science a little more so the next generation will know that beauty and intelligence are one and the same.

The Conservative "Class War" against Expertise

By The Intersection | June 18, 2011 11:11 am

By Jon Winsor

One of the most surprising things about the Santorum interview on Limbaugh last week was how completely unsurprising it was. Here’s Santorum’s take on climate science:

There’s a variety of factors that contribute to the earth warming and cooling, and to me this is an opportunity for the left to create — it’s a beautifully concocted scheme because they know that the earth is gonna cool and warm. It’s been on a warming trend so they said, “Oh, let’s take advantage of that and say that we need the government to come in and regulate your life some more because it’s getting warmer,” just like they did in the seventies when it was getting cool, they needed the government to come in and regulate your life because it’s getting cooler.  It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life…

Got that? Scientists (who we can assume are included under what Santorum means by “the left”) are secretly “concocting” the science, because they want government to “control your life.” Obviously, this is not much of a scientific argument. But it’s a very recognizable political argument, and the kind we hear repeatedly. And some of us may remember the early 80’s when it was a new argument, at least in the mass-circulated form that we we see it in today. I would argue that the person most responsible for putting that argument into circulation was Irving Kristol. In 1975, he wrote:

[The] “new class” consists of scientists, lawyers, city planners, social workers, educators, criminologists, sociologists, public health doctors, etc.-a substantial number of whom find their careers in the expanding public sector rather than the private. The public sector, indeed, is where they prefer to be. They are, as one says, “idealistic”-i.e., far less interested in individual financial rewards than in the corporate power of their class. Though they continue to speak the language of “Progressive-reform,” in actuality they are acting upon a hidden agenda: to propel the nation from that modified version of capitalism we call “the welfare state” toward an economic system so stringently regulated in detail as to fulfill many of the traditional anti-capitalist aspirations of the Left.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Politics and Science

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