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You know you want one! June 18, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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You know you want one!

These are available now at Love InfinitelyGifts (on Etsy. Click the picture to navigate)

Last Day for discount hotel reservations for PA state atheist conference (get your tickets now!) August 18, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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From Margaret Downey, president of the Freethought Society:

On September 13, 14, and 15, 2013, the Freethought Society (FS) and other co-sponsors will host the 2013 Pennsylvania Atheist/Humanist Conference in Philadelphia at The Embassy Suites (9000 Bartram Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). To take advantage of discounted room rates that are good only until August 18, 2013, please visit:


(Mention group code 113 for the discount of $130 a night.)

Phone: (215) 365-4500

The weekend events will kick off with the opening of the world’s only Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center staffed by Friggatriskaidekaphobia doctors and nurses who will seek to cure attendees of their superstitions. The anti-superstition bash will include mirror breaking, dancing under a ladder, a magic show and many more activities. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own umbrellas for dancing inside. An interactive museum of superstition will disclose the origins of common and uncommon superstitions.

There will also be live musical performances, games, souvenirs, caricature artists and dessert.

The activities continue with a different focus on Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15. Local and national nontheist speakers will highlight the subjects of freedom of thought, maintaining separation of religion and government, building community and the promotion of a unified effort to attract supporters.

The program also includes a comedy show and two concerts.

To purchase tickets and to get more information, please see the following website:


The list of speakers and entertainers so far include:

American Humanist Officers and Board Members
Herb Silverman
Becky Hale
Debbie Allen
Maggie Ardiente


Others include:


Seth Andrews

Author, Blogger, Podcaster and Video Producer


Jamila Bey

Washington, DC Journalist and Podcaster

Rob Boston

Author and Senior Policy Analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State


James Croft

Representing the Harvard Humanist Community


Dave DeLuca

A rising atheist star debuting his Common Sense Comedy act


Jerry DeWitt

former minister and author


JT Eberhard

Blogger, Debater and Co-Founder of SkeptiCon


Sean Faircloth

Author and Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation


Fred Edwords

Activist and Executive Director of UnitedCOR


Steve Hill

Atheist Comedian


George Hrab

Popular Atheist Musician, Comedian, Podcaster and Gadfly


AJ Johnson

Writer, Promoter, Vice-President and Co-Founder of BeSecular


Amanda Knief

Author and Executive Director of American Atheists


Lauri Lebo

Journalist, Writer and Author of “The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma vs. Darwin in Small-town America”


Tracy Lockwood

Former religious cult member


Teresa MacBain

Former pastor and Executive Director of Humanists of Florida


Joe Nickell

Author and Skeptical Investigator of the paranormal


Edwina Rogers

Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America


Shelley Segal

Popular Australian Singer/Songwriter at the Top of the Charts!


David Silverman

President of American Atheist


Jamy Ian Swiss

Magician and Senior Fellow of the James Randi Foundation


David Tamayo

Podcaster and Founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers


Joe Wenke

Lawyer and Author

The conference fee is $113. The price includes the Friday night Friday the 13th party ticket, Saturday buffet lunch and dinner, plenary passes for Saturday and Sunday. A VIP package is available, as well as student pricing, day passes, and other options.

Please do not miss this great event on par with national conferences. Remember that the deadline for discount hotel rooms is August 12, 2013.


I will be there all weekend (I will be a volunteer performing all sorts of tasks), and will look forward to seeing you there!

So, remember Friday the 13th of September.  If you have not seen Maraget’s friggatriskaidekaphobia parties (she does them every couple of years), you should come for that and then decide to spend the entire weekend with awesome people (no, I’m not just talking about me).


See you all there.

Please, please, please read this post. September 18, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2012/09/please-please-please-read-this-post/ I’m in North Carolina for a wedding and mimi-vacation. I have no reason to believe that anyone who reads this blog would not already know about this. But in the very small set of universes where I might get some more votes for some organizations I urge support for, in order to get them some more funding, I post this. Shaun

Is polyamory a social justice issue? August 21, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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In reading about this new Atheist+ issue generated by Jen and others around her (especially Greta), I have seen various social issues included in the list of causes that people want to support.  Women’s issues, POC issues, trans issues, LGBT issues, neuro-atypicality issues, etc have been enumerated, for good reason, but I have seen no mention of issues related to polyamory.
So here is my question; am I being irrational in thinking that polyamory should be included in such lists, or are many people behind in not including this as a social justice issue?

As a quick note for those that don’t know; I live in a house with 4 other polyamorous people.  One is my wife, another my girlfriend, and the other two are my girlfriend’s husband and his girlfriend.  So these questions are not merely academic for me; they are real questions with potential serious significance.

There are real-world fears around being polyamorous.  Coming out at poly has consequences similar to coming out as gay, for example.  Parental rights can get complicated with polyamorous families.  Visitation and end-of-life rights, afforded to legal spouses, becomes problematic when you have more than one serious long-term partner.  In short, all of the rights that one gets as a spouse cannot easily be extended to other partners, which can create problems.

The foundation of this problem is the cultural lack of familiarity with what polyamory is about.  We are not the same as swingers (although there are often overlaps).  We do experience some forms of social discrimination, stereotyping, etc.  I have been told that I have chosen this lifestyle, but I cannot choose how many people I love any more than I can choose what genders I love.  I have discussed my view on the issue of choice, or orientation, in terms of polyamory here, but I will briefly sum it up in saying that I do not choose my desires and my feelings, but I can choose to act on them or not.

And why would I repress my actual desires? Would I do so for the sake of cultural norms which make no sense? No.

I am not aware of large scale cultural campaigns to react against polyamory comparable to reactions against ‘the gay agenda’.  There are not common stories of poly people being beaten, fired, or killed.  There is a persistent social stigma against it, and it is presented as the conclusion of the slippery-slope for things like gay marriage (” if you allow anyone to marry, the next thing that will happen is 3 people getting married!” The horror!), and there are the many legal issues briefly mentioned above.

And I will briefly mention that advocating for polyamorous rights and protected status in society is made more complicated in context with polygamy and its relationship to fundamentalist Mormons, Islam, and the patterns of abuse against women, and young girls, in those communities.  So it is a complicated issue, but I do think it is a social justice issue.

I think that we need to keep that in mind during these discussions about adding social justice issues to our atheist activism.


Gary Gutting on Atheism and agnosticism August 31, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Gary Gutting is a professor at Notre Dame, in the department of philosophy.  About a month ago, he wrote this article for the New York Times.  I rather liked the article, as I remember.  But there was a small annoying catch that caught my attention.  It happens here:

In these popular debates about God’s existence, the winners are neither theists nor atheists, but agnostics — the neglected step-children of religious controversy, who rightly point out that neither side in the debate has made its case.   This is the position supported by the consensus of expert philosophical opinion.


I have addressed this.  I even re-addressed this.

No, Dr. Gutting, this is not the consensus of expert philosophical opinion.  This is ignorance displayed as consensus by gobshites who are so far removed from the atheist community and feel the need to feel superior.  OK, maybe they just have not thought this through….

I was moved to respond.  And so I hopped on my keyboard and churned out a quick response, while including my link from one of my favorite posts about agnosticism.  You know, the one linked above.

I didn’t hear from him after a few days, and forgot about it.

Then, the other day, I happened to glance over at my left-hand panel on my gmail page and noticed that I had a draft email.

What could that be? I thought

For some reason, the email to Dr. Gutting had never sent.  It was just sitting there, unsent, all this time.  So, I decided to send it, finally.

He replied to me today:

Thanks for your thoughts.

Of course, you can use the terms the way you think best.  But your way of putting things ignores two importantly different ways of not believing that God exists. You might not believe in the sense that you withhold judgment as to whether God exists OR in the sense that you believe that God does not exist.  In ordinary usage, the first sense of not believing in God is called “agnosticism” and the second is called “atheism”.  It seems to me that this is a useful distinction, and I don’t see what you gain by eliminating it.
I also think you confuse the discussion by assuming that the agnostic claim “I don’t know whether or not God exists” must mean “I am not absolutely certain whether or not God exists”.  In most contexts, knowledge doesn’t imply absolute certainty; it’s consistent with at least a small degree of uncertainty.  So, if someone says he knows that Paris is the capital of France, but admits that there’s some small probability that a coup in the last few hours moved the French capital to Lyon, we don’t think he’s contradicting himself.  Of course, you can insist that anyone who allows the slightest bit of doubt about a claim is agnostic about it.  Then almost everyone becomes an agnostic about almost everything, and the term has little use.  But  that’s only because of the artificially strong sense you’ve given to “know”.  And, even if you use “know’ that way, there is still the highly useful understanding of agnosticism in terms of belief (not knowledge): There are still many important cases in which people are agnostic about a claim in the sense of neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false.

Well, nice.  He responded quickly, if not tersely.  Of course I didn’t give him much to chew on, and I have no way to know if he ever read my post I linked him to.  I doubt he did.

So, what about his response? I thought he was still missing the point, so I sat and started typing, and eventually replied with the following:


I think you have misunderstood my perspective, and would like to try and be more clear, if I can.  I’m mot saying that I am reserving judgment NOR am I saying that I believe that god does not exist.  Neither of those positions are those of the atheist who has considered the philosophical implications of the question at hand.   That’s what you are missing, I think.  The position of the vast majority of atheists I know from the atheist community is that we are not convinced that a god exists.  Our judgment (again, not a reserved one) is that the claim has not been sufficiently demonstrated towards rational belief, while recognizing that we cannot say with absolute or high certainty that the proposed being cannot or does not exist.

This goes to your second point; I am not using the term “know” in this absolute sense either, but rather it’s more fluid common usage accepted by philosophers of many stripes.  I’m an agnostic because I recognize that there is information I do not have, perspectives I have not considered, and because it is not logically impossible for many concepts of god to exist.  Thus some god might exist beyond my current level of knowledge (or not exist beyond my current state of knowledge, depending, of course, on whether I actually believe in such a being currently) but this is not the point.  Again, this is not a epistemologically absolutist position, but rather one of relative strength in the vein of scientific knowledge; overwhelming evidence is sufficient for using the term “know.”

You said:

And, even if you use “know’ that way, there is still the highly useful understanding of agnosticism in terms of belief (not knowledge): There are still many important cases in which people are agnostic about a claim in the sense of neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false.

This does not touch my use of the term agnostic at all.  In fact, it coheres with it, somewhat ironically.  Allow me to explain;

The first clause I will not grant aside from the trivial point that any word could be used in any way a person chooses to use it.  But if we are striving for philosophical precision, we must try to maintain a consistency of terms insofar as they do not stray too far from usefulness in distinguishing concepts in context to the discussion at hand.  ‘Agnostic’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘knowledge’, and in the context of the question of god’s existence this term plays the role of the question of knowledge, rather than belief, because these are epistemologically different concepts (knowledge and belief) and thus need to be distinguished in being precise.  By allowing ‘agnosticism’ to bleed into the question of belief, one fails to recognize that this distinction is relevant.

And if you think that knowledge and belief are not that easily distinct, then you need to demonstrate why and how this impacts the question at hand.  I do not believe you have done so thus far.  However, I do think that this issue might be a point of our misunderstanding of one-another.  I’ll leave that aside for the moment.

In terms of your second clause from above,

There are still many important cases in which people are agnostic about a claim in the sense of neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false.,

this is possibly trivially true, but again you miss the point.  You are creating the wrong dichotomy to understand how I’m using the term ‘atheist.’  I’ll try and pry apart the relevant issues.

I accept, from the start, that there is no rational way to demonstrate that there are no gods of any kind.  I cannot prove a negative, nor am I trying to.  The problem here is that the antecedent ‘dis-‘ in ‘disbelieve’ is ambiguous in that it can mean both “opposite of” or “absence of,” and the logical distinction between these meanings is the very heart of this misunderstanding.  It’s precisely why I use the terminology of “lacking” belief, so as to get rid of this ambiguity.  The term “lack” implies that I’m not saying “there is no god” or “I believe that there is no god” but rather that “the evidence is insufficient to believe, and so I don’t believe.”

The implication of this is that I will go about my day as if said being does not exist even if I know, when pressed, that I cannot logically believe that it does not exist.  The further implication is that the position of “believing that it’s false” is off the table; it is not a position under consideration.  (At least for me.  There are some that try to move in this direction, especially about specific concepts of gods, but this is beyond atheism and into another topic, perhaps anti-theism or some other term that may be more appropriate.  But I digress….).

Thus the dichotomy that you, and many others, draw between [edit*] belief in and the belief of absence (“in the sense of neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false.”) is not the same one that I draw.  You are drawing a distinction between two beliefs, while I am drawing a distinction between believing and not believing.  Again, this is a judgment, just not in favor of any belief.  My judgment is that the evidence and reasons proposed for the existence of any gods fail to demonstrate what they seek to demonstrate towards rational belief, and thus I lack belief. I disbelieve. I am an atheist.  I am without belief.  I do not ‘believe that their is a lack of gods’, I ‘lack belief in any gods.’  I hope you understand the distinction now.

So those that can fall under “neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false” do not make the point I think you wish to make.  Why?  Your formulation of the statement fits the definition of ‘agnostic’ in the same way that a ‘carpenter’ could be defined as a person who either believes in fairies or that the proposition of fairies is false; the term has nothing to do with the dichotomy at all.  That was my point; whether one is a theist (believes), an anti-theist (believes a god does not exist), or an atheist (simply lacks belief) any of them could be an agnostic because agnosticism deals with what one knows, not with what one believes.  The term ‘agnostic’ has nothing to do with “neither believing that it’s true nor believing that it’s false” except in the trivial sense in which the formulation and the term are not mutually exclusive.  They do not touch each-other at all.

You make the claim that “there is still the highly useful understanding of agnosticism in terms of belief (not knowledge)” but do not support this.  I tried to show here why your subsequent clause did not wed agnosticism to belief in any way but a trivial one of non-exclusivity.  In other words, I have not seen sufficient evidence (or reasoning) for your claim, thus don’t believe it.  It may still be true, but that’s for you to demonstrate.  The burden of proof still resides with you.  See the analogy?

I’ll state my position again, and hope you’ll understand this time.  I’m an agnostic; I don’t know if any gods exist.  This is a given because nobody knows, either absolutely or by use of the term ‘know’ in a less absolutist sense.  The term is thus redundant and thus useless; I toss the word to the side because it does not clarify my position in any way, except in the semi-trivial sense of being clear about my use of the term.  Anyone who says that they know there is a god (or that they know there is not one) has the burden of proof, and I shall await their proof or overwhelming evidence.

I have not been convinced either way. The theist has not convinced me, and neither has the one claiming that there are no gods. I have judged both of their arguments to be insufficient to demonstrate their propositions.

Since I have not been convinced by the proposition (again, either one), even in light of attempts to demonstrate said being(s) existence (or against it’s existence), I lack belief in the proposed being (and the proposed lack of being), and lack belief.

Atheists are not going around trying to show why god does not exist (except in rarer cases, who are the extreme exception.  These people are atheists, in that they lack belief, but are trying to take a further step in presenting an argument that gods do not exist, which goes beyond the definition of ‘atheism’ when we are being precise).

No, atheists are going around talking and writing about why they don’t believe in gods.  They are presenting their arguments as to why the arguments proposed for gods fail to be rationally, empirically, or emotionally compelling.  They are reacting to theology, not doing some bizzaro-world anti-theology (again, except for rare exceptions).

Don’t get caught up in the strong language of people saying “there is no god” because they are saying this in the same non-absolute sense that you objected to using “know” in your response above; They are not saying “there absolutely is no god” but rather “there is no reason, as far as I can see, to believe in one.  Thus, I go about my days as if there is no god.”


What Atheists Can Learn from the LGBT Movement August 13, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I watched this video of a presentation by Greta Christina earlier this week and many of the points have been swimming around my brain since then.

I have heard many people compare the recent atheist activism to the activism of gays 20-30 years ago, and this is perhaps the best presentation on the subject I have seen to date. (This is not to say there are no more comprehensive presentations, only that I have not seen them. If you know of another comparable one, direct me to it, please.)

And certainly there are parallels between the two movements, but since I am not gay (even though I have done activism in support of issues relating to LGBT rights) my commentary will not carry tremendous weight, so I will not say much about how similar they are. I’ll leave that to more authoritative commentators, such as Greta Christina herself, who does talk about many of the same issues as this very blog.

I will point out that the OUT campaign, affiliated with the  Richard Dawkins foundation, is in part modeled on the movement to “come out of the closet” that was started by queers of all types, and which has become part of our cultural language such that atheists’ use of the phrase automatically draws the parallel for most people.  I often wear a scarlet letter T-shirt that signifies this coming out, and will often get asked if I’m an adulterer, making obvious reference to The Scarlet Letter.

(The irony, as some friends have pointed out, is that the concept of adultery takes on different connotations as a polyamorous person.  This is not to say that adultery is impossible within poly lifestyles, only that not all extra-marital sexual relationships will be considered infidelity, causing one to re-think the concept of adultery in such contexts.)

Now, the double reference of the scarlet letter and the coming out movement, wrapped in a symbol like this will cause confusion for most, but it is one that leads to conversations.  Conversations are important to have.  I have have countless (and often) short and friendly conversations explaining what the symbol stands for, what atheism is all about, and why I wear it.  Small steps.

Now, whether the larger atheist community will learn from the mistakes of the LGBT movement or not, is yet to be seen.  I know I am certainly guilty of some of the errors of which Greta Christina speaks.  But it is important for us to keep in mind the lessons that previous social movements have to teach, so that the future will not reflect the past that we have learned from.

And I do believe that there will be a time when atheist (as well as polyamorous) social movements will be unnecessary.  As she says in the video, it is the goal of a social movement to make itself obsolete. Will this happen in my lifetime? I don’t think so.  But if we stop now, it may never happen.

Here’s to making social activism obsolete!

Atheism: definitions June 14, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I while back, I wrote this blog post about how I viewed the distinction between agnosticism and atheism, and offering a definition of atheism that I thought stood up to scrutiny in the world of discourse about such things. And despite some argument from some, I still hold that the best definition of atheist is someone who lacks beliefs in any gods.

Then just today I watched this video, whch makes many of the same points, and does so in a very tight little presentation.

It is a new video in a great series by Evid3nc3, all of which I highly recommend to theists everywhere.  He does a great job of charting his course from being a Christian with questions and becoming an atheist.