Monthly Archives: May 2016

Why Skeptics Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Scientific Consensus.

Jeremiah Traeger

Jeremiah Traeger

As we navigate the landscape of arguments on theism, science, and politics it’s common for us to get caught up in playing logical fallacy bingo, naming every fallacy that comes up in our informal debates. We pride ourselves on being able to recognize a bad argument particularly when formal logical fallacies pop up, but one appearing to be caught up in the mix is when an appeal is made to scientific consensus. This is commonly cited when arguing topics such as climate change, vaccine research, and even mythicism. On the surface, appeals to scientific consensus appear to be both an argument from authority and an argument from popularity. Just because the arguments are coming from experts in the field doesn’t mean that it’s right. And just because lots of experts believe it doesn’t mean it’s correct.

But is that really all that we are saying? Are we creating an argument that simply states, “Lots of scientists believe A, therefore A”? While it’s true that this conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the premise, there are a few intermediate steps and a few assumptions tucked away in there that aren’t included in that argument. The power in the argument that cites scientific consensus is tied into the fundamental philosophy of scientific thinking. It’s tied into how scientists determine which models are accurate and which are not, so that our knowledge approaches the truth.


Where scientific consensus comes from


First of all, let’s review scientific consensus comes from. Modern science relies upon the peer-review process. When a researcher submits a paper to a journal for publication, experts in the same research area volunteer to review the paper to ensure that it’s fit for publication. If you get asked to be a reviewer, you are considered an expert in the field and you become well-respected for having referee experience. It is part of your responsibility to ensure that the journal publishes quality work and that your field has reliable information sent out. It’s also important to keep in mind the “publish or perish” mentality. The reviewers for a publication are likely to be competing for similar funding sources, so they will want to be meticulously looking through papers with a fine-toothed comb to find any flaws at all in the methodology. It also doesn’t help when two different researchers are trying to be first to publish similar data. It pays to have the most novel research in a field, so researchers will fight tooth-and-nail to compete with each other, meaning one independent reviewer will have a strong motivation to pick apart anything wrong they can find in an article. There are a variety of motivations to making sure that what gets put through peer review is quality work, so there’s a pressure for good data to come out of any given paper.

Not only is there basic filtering in the peer-review process for any given journal, but articles may also get retracted. Retractions are for articles that have so many problems that they shouldn’t be used as reference for further research. This can be due not only to terrible scientific methodologies, but due to fraud or unethical behavior on part of the researcher within the context of the experiment. Such is the case with when The Lancet retracted Andrew Wakefield’s study linking the MMR vaccine to childhood autism.

These procedures a pretty good start, but there are a few problems. The publish-or-perish mentality also pushes people to submit as many papers as they can. This causes the same problems that you expect anytime you run into places valuing quantity over quality: the quality suffers. Journals can often be overwhelmed with papers, and as a result the referees share this burden. I’ve mentioned that the reviewers are volunteers, so professors are spending hours on unpaid work. This dilutes the motivation for quality papers to get through the process. A researcher can save time by being less meticulous so they can get back to their paid job. This is one of many reasons why the peer-review process is far from perfect. In fact, Most Published Research Findings Are False (keep in mind that publications won’t necessarily support what the consensus will be).

What? So most of science is a lie? Not exactly, there’s a lot more to the system of modern science than that.


Independent verification and reproducibility


Reproducibility is the heart and soul of the scientific process. For a researcher’s experiments, it’s best to have multiple trials of an experiment for verification. One of the easiest ways to get rejected from a journal is by not performing enough trials of an experiment. The error bars you see on each graph can be related to this. The onus is on the individual researcher to verify that their own conclusions are valid. If an experiment is performed twice and has wildly different results, the scientist has to examine the methodologies closely and make sure they are capable of consistent results before putting them down on paper.

Then it becomes a point of independent verification. Each scientific paper has a section of experimental methodologies, equipment used, software, algorithms, and statistical tests.  These are supposed to be written such that any lab with comparable means could also do the experiment in a similar manner to achieve similar results. In reality, there isn’t a lot of funding to go around to simply redo somebody else’s study. That being said, research is often heavily interrelated from lab to lab, so there will tend to be a lot of work that supports similar conclusions.

Let’s give an example. A ligand is a molecule, typically in a biochemical system, that can physically “bind” with another molecule known as a receptor to give a signal or response. Say you are trying to compare the strength of binding between three different ligands: A, B, and C. You could use an Atomic Force Microscope to measure the amount of force it takes to unbind a ligand from its receptor. A plot for that experiment might look something like this:

Blog 1


Don’t worry about what exactly this graph is telling you; the important thing is that B has the highest force to pull apart a ligand from its receptor, while C has the lowest. Another lab may not be interested in the force between two molecules, but maybe they have a device that produces a specific signal as long as the molecules are bound. They also do a different study on the same molecules, and come up with data that look like this:


Again, don’t worry about the specifics. To a person not in the field, this may look like nonsense, but to an expert, these data sets corroborate each other. In the second graph, a distribution shows that ligand B has the longest signal distribution, and the numbers in the below table support this quantitatively. Basically, the first data set shows that B is the strongest, and the second shows that B stays together the longest. While many readers are foreign to the concept of ligand-receptor pairs, it makes sense that things held together more strongly will stick together longer, so it’s clear that both of these results agree with each other.

This is how science tends to work; it gains strength by independently verifying each other on multiple studies. On their own, either of these studies may not be worth much. If I was a grad student studying ligand receptors and these two different papers showed opposite trends, I may not have much to work with. That’s ok. Science builds and builds on what it has to develop more knowledge over time. You can get science bonus points if you are able to verify things through alternative methodologies. These two data sets basically said the same thing about the strength of binding. Imagine another research group tested these same ligand-receptor pairs in living cells and the ones with ligand B performed a best-desired cellular function. The result delivers a conclusion quite different from previous experiments in terms of what is being measured, but still provides even better evidence that the “B” pair is the most functional, further affirming the previous results. It is similar to what we already know, and since everything ties together it confirms that this piece of the puzzle is in the right spot.

Here’s another important thing to keep in mind: research necessarily works only on the very cutting edge of what we know. Everything is already inconclusive. It is not one person’s responsibility to advance a certain field or body of knowledge. Any given paper is usually not good enough on its own. This is one of the reasons why science reporting is notoriously bad. A lot of science reporting is done with preliminary work. Other findings may have just had poor methodologies that got through peer review. This is not an uncommon occurrence.

This leads to why the consensus is important. Even though science continues to be the most reliable method for investigating reality, it will still never make us 100% certain of anything. But we can have better and better of ideas of what’s true or not over time. At a certain point, if I wanted to make a certain device that required strong binding to that desired molecule, I would be forced to make a decision. I might just have to choose B. In the future, it might turn out that for certain reasons, it’s not the best, and that’s ok. But new science depends on older science, and it’s a slow, gradual process. If I had to create an image to represent that idea, it might look something like this*:

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If some scientific findings were not accurate, then further research based on them wouldn’t be possible. For example, we can use ammonite species fossils to date ancient layers of geology. This wouldn’t be feasible if: A. Evolution weren’t true and B. Radiometric dating were inaccurate. But rapid speciation can and does happen over geologically short periods of time (a few million years), and we have a pretty firm grasp of many forms of radiometric decay. Many, many publications can verify this methodology of dating, and many more papers can be built on those papers to establish better natural history that also tends to corroborate with findings in other fields.

This is where the scientific consensus is most important. There needs to be a human element that helps decide when we “know” some science is accurate. There are lots of ways to determine when science is conclusive. One way is to form a “systematic review”, which compares multiple studies in a related field and compiles them to form a strong conclusion. But the way to compare these articles can be quantitatively simplistic, often categorizing studies as “supporting” or “not supporting” a hypothesis. These problems can be mitigated by “meta analyses”, which will try and statistically combine the data in these reviews. For areas without these analyses, there is going to be a human element that decides when something is confirmed or not.

This is why the consensus of a field is actually quite important. It really takes an expert to know what science “works” or not. In order to progress a field, scientists have to have a firm grasp on the related research. Things simply cannot progress if the researchers don’t have conclusive findings. Science is always subject to change of course, nothing is 100% settled, but nobody knows best what is “confirmed” or not better than these experts. They are in the know, their research relies on accurate models, and they have read all of the papers (with apologies to Sarah Palin).

When the evidence is not strong, there may be multiple competing hypotheses being thrown around. At the moment, for example, we don’t really know what causes the hydrophobic force. There is some effect that is known that is due to the entropy of how water molecules aggregate around hydrophobic materials, but there are some forces involved in protein and surface interactions that don’t appear to be simply due to that phenomenon. One hypothesis is that there is an orientational ordering due to hydrogen bonds, while another is a spontaneous nucleation of capillaries between the surfaces (obviously to the reader, these are easy to mix up). However, when more and more publications get sent out based on these topics and there is stronger and stronger evidence supporting one hypothesis, the body will shift to a consensus.

An example of this happening was the discussion of the best treatment for neuromuscular disease: Intravenous immunoglobulin treatment or plasmapheresis. It was at one point not clear which treatment was more effective for treatment of the disease, but that’s because the research had not been thorough enough to derive a conclusion. Yet over time, when more work was put into both treatment methods, it was found that both treatments returned positive responses, and the medical field has accepted both as effective.


Other small things to consider


To be a researcher it takes a lot of work for a long time. It will take four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in a broad major field of study, and then it will take at least four years (almost always more) to earn a Ph.D., 1-3 years as a postdoc to earn more research experience, until you can finally become a non-tenured professor with the opportunity to try and become a respected expert. It takes a long time to become acquainted with even a small field of study. Freethinkers take pride in thinking for themselves, but in almost every case they will simply never have the expertise needed to be well-informed on any given topic. There is simply too much information for one to be well-versed in everything. As a practical necessity, we must almost always defer to experts. This means your level of certainty on a topic probably won’t be as high as any expert, and that’s ok, you won’t have a high degree of certainty on most things. If you understand certain lines of evidence, by all means, use them in your discussions and conversations wherever you can. Just realize there’s far more to any given topic than you will probably know.

Another point is that there’s simply no strong mechanism to make the scientific consensus reach a false conclusion. For evolution to be false there would have to be massive cover-ups on a completely unprecedented scale that nobody has seen in the history of the Earth. Entire fields of genetics, agriculture, ecology, virology, geology, biochemistry, paleontology, medicine, and zoology would have to be false for creationism to be true, and I’m certain that I’m leaving more fields out. Climate change deniers claim that scientists want to keep government jobs and grants as motivation for accepting climate change as real, despite an overwhelming monetary pressure against accepting climate change. The most lucrative oil and gas companies would love for most scientists to state that the Earth is not, in fact, warming, yet with all the hundreds of billions of dollars of annual revenue they are still apparently incapable of bucking the consensus. To think somehow that scientists worldwide are engaged in a secret cover-up that is less lucrative than the other option is to imply a massive scientific conspiracy on an enormous, practically unbelievable scale. Anytime someone discounts a consensus like these in science, they are effectively engaged in a bigger conspiracy theory than the Kennedy assassination or chemtrails. There are simply far too many people involved in independent fields.

Another important point is that the consensus is rarely wrong. People bring up the flat Earth as a counterexample, but let’s be honest, there was no scientific methodology before that time, so there was no scientific consensus, even though there was a consensus among proclaimed authorities. A common cry against global warming is that scientists used to think the Earth was headed towards a massive cooling event in the 70s, but while some scientists predicted that there was hardly a consensus. In fact, scientists then still thought the Earth was going to heat up over time, not cool. Even when scientists have tended to overwhelmingly agree on things that are false in the past, there hadn’t been thorough studies on the topic, and when the studies had been performed the common view became overturned. Again, science is self-correcting.


Back to the formal argument


At the beginning of this post, I set up an argument that looked something like this:


  1. People who believe in X are authorities in the field.
  2. There are a lot of them.
  3. Therefore, X is right. When we bring up the scientific consensus, it’s not in the form of a logical, formally stated argument like this. There are many unstated assumptions and implications that come with the consensus. To summarize:


-These people have work that needs to be independently verified.

-They are critiqued by other experts who rely on quality information and are often in competition with each other for novel results.

-Consensus only shows up with a variety of lines of evidence supporting something.

-These people have spent years becoming experts that require deep knowledge of their field, and they have to continue to be in the know to keep their jobs.

-Consensus appears even when the financial incentive is against it.

-When applicable, consensus appears when widely different branches of study converge on the same answer.

-You would have to manufacture a conspiracy on a massive scale to get so many scientists agree on something otherwise.


These don’t automatically mean the consensus is true, and it shouldn’t be taken to mean that. But if you’re in an argument with someone, it is very likely that the experts are, in fact, privy to far more understanding than either you or the person you are talking to. It’s not a logical conclusion of some stated premises; it’s a large list of evidence that leans in a particular direction. Understanding the actual science and arguments behind a position will always be preferable, of course. But understand that the scientific consensus is a very useful argumentative weapon that we shouldn’t be shy about using once we know what’s involved.


*There’s a lot more that we don’t know than what we do know. So a more accurate picture would look like this.



Why do YOU care about the god hypothesis?

Artwork 1 LabeledIt’s one of the most frequently presented straw men used against atheist voices. As a question asked and answered by person A in reference to person B, it’s a way for person A to assume motivations in order to potentially understand or dismiss the position of person B, and in those capacities, it is a boring and potentially harmful question. Yet, when asked personally about one’s self, it can be a fascinating, introspective piece.

“Sai,” (let’s pretend my real-world contacts call me by my pseudonym), “why do YOU care about the god hypothesis? If God doesn’t exist, why do you focus you energies on Him? Why do you write? Why do you podcast? Isn’t your spiritual journey proof that you yearn for God? Not like a box that is too dumb to yearn for contents but like a stomach that yearns for sustenance, so your soul longeth after God.”

I cannot deny that possibility. Nor can I refute the apologetic that Yahweh makes up for his divine hiddenness by instilling that yearning that will one day lead me toward a relationship with him. There’s no way to disprove those claims directly. At best, I can state that to me, such claims do not best explain the nature of my being and the universe I find myself a part of.

So if I reject the claim that my interest in the god hypothesis stems from a deity, why do I care? An answer I have heard many of my heroes in the atheist movement say in unison is, “because there is a religious right which is trying to impose its morals on the rest of us.” That’s a good answer, and it may be a sufficient one for those voices; however, I cannot say that it is true for me. I agree that the desecularization of America needs to stop and reverse (and I will likely find myself using my energies to combat the religious right in the future), but those are a consequence of my interest in the god hypothesis, not a cause.

Am I brainwashed? Do I care about the god hypothesis purely because I was indoctrinated as a child? Were I raised in an atheist household, would I devote my energy toward science journalism or Lord of the Rings fan fiction? What if my fascination stems purely from the fact that the majority of the people around me view the world through a lens that seems utterly foreign to me? Could it be that humans innately desire the potential for supernatural explanations to put an end to the nagging whys in the universe?

The problem with all these potential reasons is that none of them are verifiable. An action taken by a hidden being is necessarily unverifiable. Any biological or acquired traits or defects would necessarily be outside of any unbiased field of study that I could initiate. Any mission statement stemming from humanism or anthropological curiosity could very feasibly be a post hoc rationalization of a hunger that I cannot comprehend due to my lack of belief in a hidden deity that instilled it there.

So why even ask the question? Why ponder something that is likely to be beyond your grasp? I have found two reasons that are meaningful to me: for one, if you are an atheist activist interacting with theists, you WILL be asked this question at some point. How will you respond? Do you have an honest answer that satisfies your skepticism? If not, will you still pick up the banner of your heroes, regardless of it’s pertinence to your life? I think it’s important to reflect on this before you’re asked the question, lest you look unprepared. The other reason is that attempting to identify the forces that move you will generally make you more aware of where you will end up, whether it’s seeking a hidden god through metaphysics, taking action against desecularization, or seeking out atheist voices to keep the god hypothesis on the front burner of your brain. I would say that all these have their merits, all have an impact, and all have the means to satisfy the hunger felt by all of us who reserve a forum in our waking minds for the god hypothesis.

College student asks good question at Ask an Atheist event (no he did not)


Don Armel

I was dumb founded at our latest Ask an Atheist day. Most of the questions were good, curious and the SSA students responding did their best to address the issues. One of the recently graduates SSA members came back for the event and so loved to panel discussion, he has to join the head table. Joe just wanted to mix it up with the discussion and to his credit, he is a well read and well informed atheist.

And then there was this question, “then, how did life start?” I was sitting near the back of the room and I looked at the panel and they looked at me as if to say, “did we just hear that?” One of the SSA students said evolution. “What’s that, how does it work?”

This is where my jaw dropped and I wanted to ask what rock he has been living under. A college student really just asked that question. The panel did their level best to be polite and add some content to evolution. Even other audience members started to chip in about carbon chains and “primordial soup.” The difficulty with the question is that the answer is a full biology course. This guy must have taken Astronomy for his core course.

We have heard Christians say this before, “I don’t know any atheists,” or “I have never met and atheist.” So, it is my turn, I have never met a college student so poorly educated or ill informed. What does that say about our education system that a young person cannot answer that in some form. Home schooled, possibly and if that is the case, what a telling comment of the quality of that education. I really do not know his education background but maybe the way the question was formed suggests he wanted to know why we did not accept the creation myth. The student did not argue and state that creation was true and we were wrong. He was saying tell me about evolution.

The meeting finally wrapped up, but there were still small groups of student continuing to interact. It was great, polite and the SSA students did an excellent job of portraying a positive image.

As we were finally walking out, Evolution Boy’s friend decided to invite us all to a Christian rally that weekend. I said no! “Why not, we came to your meeting?” “Look, it does not work like that, just because you came to the Ask an Atheist event does not obligate me to attend yours.” And that was not a good enough answer for him. “It will be different.” “No it won’t.”

You Don’t Believe In God So Why Bother?

no god


There is a trope that is often put out there by believers directed to atheists- if you don’t believe in god, you think you are just a brain in a vat,  when you die there is nothing else, why not just, live your life and not do this? I get tired of this shit.


Why do I want to be an activist? I will tell you but first I am going to preface this by saying I am offended why have to have an atheist movement. I am offended for the same reason we have to have a feminist movement. I am offended we have to have the Black Lives Matter movement. I am offended we have to have a movement FOR vaccines and immunizations. I am offended we have to have the LGTBQ movement. I am offended that we have to have a Deaf rights movement. I am offended that we live in a society where these people do not have equal rights as those of us like me who are white, straight, cis-gender, hearing, and male. We should not need to fight for these basic rights because they SHOULD be granted without question. But they aren’t. I am not a direct member of any of the above groups. I am, though, a staunch ally. The one group that I belong to directly where I don’t have privilege is the atheist movement in America. This is the group where I can make a difference fighting. So, to those who ask why I bother fighting against a god I don’t believe in my answer is this- I am not fighting against a god I don’t believe in. I am fighting against the privilege that you have. I am fighting to help the JWs kids that are trapped in homes and can’t leave without the punishment of ostracism for disagreeing on one tiny issue that their parents and other friends believe.

JWs ask this question amongst themselves about the evil apostates. I remember asking that when I was a believer. Now I understand. While I am not fighting in the ex-JW world we have a similar goal. I have a broader goal of the relegation of religion to the realm of the insignificance.

Back to JWs. I have an interesting PEW research polling survey with data that shows that it can be extrapolated there are about 10% of JWs who attend but don’t believe.

50% of JWs believe in heaven. This is probably due to the semantics of the question and how the reader interpreted it. JWs teach that heaven is real but only 144,00 go so those who replied no they don’t probably thought of the traditional view of heaven. JWs reject the traditional Christian view of heaven.

7% say they believe that hell is real. JWs teach emphatically that hell is not real in the Christian sense of a fiery torment. While a few of these people may have misread the question and answered they believe it is real, with such a small result I feel that most of the 7% view hell as real in the traditional Christian sense.

83% of JWs say their faith is the one true faith. This is telling. While the above two questions could be a matter of interpretation or semantics, this is not. JWs theology teaches that they, and ONLY they, are True Christians. NO ONE ELSE will survive Armageddon. That means that 17% aren’t convinced but still adhere to the religion. I think is within my rights to extrapolate that they stay while not fully believing due to the shunning policy and not due to the fear of death at Armageddon.

85% of JWs attend meetings regularly. That doesn’t surprise me. I have seen many believers who don’t attend but JWs continue to count those who don’t attend. For those who don’t attend it is fair to assume that a descent proportion of that 15% DON’T believe but don’t care enough or are afraid to disassociate themselves from WT.

90% pray daily. JWs are told to pray constantly. They believe in intercessory prayer. They don’t believe that JH will help them with their car keys but the doctrine is that if you pray enough times and it is God’s will, he will give you want you ask for. This is a strong tenant. To see that 10% of people who claim to be JWs but don’t pray daily tells me that a large portion don’t really believe. To be fair, JWs teach that if you have done something wrong your prayers won’t be heard and you aren’t worthy to pray so a portion of that 10% probably are plagued with guilt of sinning. Sins like having a sex drive, being gay or transgendered, looking at porn, et cetera.

76% share their faith once a week. This is HUGE! JWs are supposed to put in about 2.5 hours of field service, or preaching, a week. They are told to preach EVERYWHERE. Door-to-door, at the store, in parking lots, at work, at school (see my blog My Two Mommies), on a plane, on a train, in a box, with a fox, in a house and with a mouse. Shit, I went into Dr. Seuss. I know that most JWs hate going in service. They hate it because on Saturday morning they show up for the meeting for service at 8:59 am and the meeting starts at 9am. The conductor starts 10 minutes late. It is supposed to be a 10 minute meeting. It will go for 15-20 if possible. The final prayer is around 9:25-9:30am. They are supposed to go potty, get in their cars, and leave to save souls. They stand around talking for another 10-15 minutes. They finally pile into their cars around 9:45am. They drive 15-30 minutes to the territory and go door-to-door for 30-50 minutes. Around 11am, they decide to talk a break. Well, it has been an exhausting 40 minutes of slaving for the Lord waking people up on Saturday mornings. Breaks are supposed to be 10 minutes but typically go for 30. Back to the territory around 11:30 for one or two return visits and back to the Kingdom Hall or preaching group home by 12. So in a 3 hour time frame they did MAYBE 45 minutes of actual preaching. OF COURSE the publishers don’t like doing it. No one does. If someone says they like preaching they are fucking lying to themselves and to you. Notice the previous statistics of meetings attendance and now this 85/100 attend meeting and 76/100 preach. There are avenues to allow for those who can’t go door-to-door to proselytize, e.g., letter writing, nursing homes, telephones, handing a tract to a person in line at the fucking grocery store, ANYTHING they can do to show Jehovah that they tried to help those whom Jehovah will kill and then not kill THEM.  So to tell me that there is a 9% difference between those who go to meetings regularly and those who preach regularly tells me that in that 9% there are those who attend but but really believe.

I show these statistics to make a point and the point is that I feel it is safe to assume that 5-10% of JWs state publicly that they believe but internally they don’t. To place this data against the data known among generations and the millennials today, that number can be safely assumed to rise to 20% with it continuing to grow. WT is doubling down on its abhorrence of higher education, independent thinking, and how close the end is which implies that it is hoping fear tactics will keep most of these new generation in line. This has always been their tactic but with the rise of the information age they, as with most religions, are losing.

SOOOOO, back to my point. Why do I want to be an atheist activist? Because of these people, these 5-10% who don’t believe or at least are questioning. I am not trying to deconvert them, though I would like them to become atheists. I DO want them out of WT and I DO want them to humanists, and I DO want them to be educated voting members of our society. Those are acts the WT tells them not to do on pain of death from their god. I don’t want anymore kids to grow up hoping that their “worldly” family members die so they will be resurrected into the New World. I don’t want any more kids killed because their parents refused a simple medical procedure like a blood transfusion. I don’t want any else shunned or ostracized from friends and family because of a difference of opinion. I WANT that wall of separation of church and state built and reinforced. I WANT the end of religious dogma influencing our laws ended. I WANT there to be no need for a civil rights movement because it will be collectively assumed that all people DO matter. I WANT there to be no need for the LGTBQ movement because it will be assumed that same sex marriage is equal to heterosexual marriage and that trans rights are normal and that the rights of anyone who does not fall into the category of straight and cis-gender is deserving of our respect. I want there to be no need for a feminist movement and that there is no pay gap and no one legislating what happens in a woman’s uterus. I want there to be no need for the atheist movement because there will be no infringement of religion into law and there will be no more families split apart simply because a member does not believe the same as their parents or other family members. I WANT there to be no need for the Deaf movements because the Deaf have equal access to language and communication and education. At the current state of affairs that is not happening.

When YOU on the religious right, both individually and collectively, end what I have listed as grievances, I will end my activism. That is my answer to the question.

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Hate, Activism and Bathrooms


Celes Dreyer

The issue of hate has existed in this country since its very inception, when the native people were callously tossed aside. That being said we cannot fix the past and simply feeling guilty is not a solution.  We have to strive to create a future that helps remove hatred that comes from fear and lack of understanding.  Hatred is a stain on our country and it continues to grow as bigotry continues to exist largely unchecked in the present.  Surely things are slightly better, because laws have been passed to protect people from the actions of those who hate them. That does not, however, stop hatred from existing, and it does not stop people from getting hurt or killed by it.  I’m writing this article from my own personal view of the world as a transgender woman, but transphobia is only one part of the bigger problem, and even though that is going to be the focus of what I talk about, I have to recognize all the other hatred that exists.  Unarmed citizens are being shot due to the color of their skin, people are being pulled off planes for speaking in a language that people are uncomfortable with, a math professor was pulled off a plane because someone was scared and thought they were writing in another language, transphobia and homophobia are fueling laws that promote discrimination, hate permeates anything that mentions a religion other than Christianity, and often when atheism is simply mentioned, it is responded to with hate and derision.  It is really hard for me to keep up with current events as of late, but I continue to pay attention.

I am a pretty strong individual.  I have been through bullying, sexual abuse, and I have lived through my entire persona being shattered.  Despite all of that, I am graduating in a few days with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science.  I strive to be out publically as a transgender woman so I can be a resource to help others who are struggling, and I talk about my experiences so that others can learn.  That being said when I get online and read comments, articles and watch videos that are about bigotry it is rough.  But I am not going to stop paying attention, and I am not going to hide.  If I did this, I would be doing a disservice to anyone that does not have my privilege of being a white, middle class, college educated person.  By paying attention and using my platform to speak on my own experiences it helps create a space that I can use to give others that have less privilege a place to speak.  And that is the most important part of activism to me.  I not only strive to make the world a better place for myself, but for others as well.  So I am not going to ignore the horrible comments, I am not going to keep my head down and be quiet, I am not going to let others suffer while I gain more rights, and I am not going to hide from the world.

I cannot speak for anyone else, so I am here to talk about the bigotry that affects many of my friends, my family, my girlfriend, myself and many others. This is the anti-LGBTQ legislation and particularly the bathroom bills that conservative lawmakers are trying to pass in many states.  These laws are very clearly based on hatred and prejudice.  All of the religious freedom restoration act laws are just a license to discriminate against people.  Church and state should be separate, there should not be government protections for hatred or discrimination due to religious beliefs.  I am mainly here to talk about the bathroom bills.  As I write this there, are 11 states that have introduced bills in the guise of protecting women and children from other women.  There have been no cases of an actual transgender person using their identity to gain access to assault other people.  Quite frankly we are more scared than anyone else when we use the bathrooms.  I sometimes wish I could ignore my bladder in public and pee at home safely.  Unfortunately, our bodies do not work that way, and holding it can cause many health issues.  They also have stated it is about stopping perverts from pretending to be a transgender person.  Well I have some news for them, people can walk into either restroom without claiming to be a transgender person.  If someone is going to break the law and assault someone do they think another law is going to stop them?  That is not how this works.  And if conservatives care so much about sexual assault and abuse, they should be focusing on preventing and stopping it through funding the organizations that are actually working to do this.  Not policing everyone’s genitals at the restroom.

What Am I?


Shari Smith

I have anxiety and depression, PTSD, insomnia, and suicidal ideation. I struggle with self-harm. I’ve been in the hospital and had to get stitches. I’ve been in a mental hospital. Meeting new people is extremely hard for me. Being in situations where I’m around a group of people I don’t know is hard for me. Despite that, I recently pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone, out of my bubble so to speak. I went to meet some atheists and had the pleasure of spending the weekend with them. I can honestly say that I have never felt more welcome, accepted, and comfortable around anybody that I didn’t know as I did when meeting another atheist. For every atheist I have met so far, I have felt immediately accepted for who I am. I didn’t feel the need to hide my scars or anything. I could just be who I am without fear of being judged. And that is a huge deal for me.

Alas, when I got home that Monday my dad and I got into an argument about religion and “God”. He asked me what I was, if I was a Christian or an Atheist. I didn’t know how to answer him. I don’t feel I can quite say I’m an atheist yet because I still struggle with some things being brought up going to church, including all the shit that was shoved into my head that I was taught to believe. I simply said, “Well, I don’t believe in god.” Even though I know that I don’t believe in “god” when I’m going through something, I still find myself thinking about asking “god” to help me through whatever it is. I know that it will do no good, but I still have that mentality of going to church, being taught to “ask and you shall receive”. Bullshit. Where was he when I felt so alone even though I was surrounded by family, when I just wanted to be left alone, when I slept all day, when I went without eating? Where was he then? Where was “god” when I was raped? Oh wait, I forgot that according to the Bible, that’s ok. And why did he allow me to get an STD? I didn’t sleep around. I wasn’t a “Slut” or a “Whore”. Where was he when I was sitting in the bathroom floor alone with my razor blades, alcohol pads, and baby wipes, listening to my music and smoking a cigarette? I’m going to share something I wrote a while ago here. Maybe this will help everyone to understand.

“My mind’s playing tricks on me. Making me think I’m happy one moment, I’m ok with the way things are, and how my body looks. After all, I was taught that GOD made me this way and I am perfect, right? I’m content with the thought that I don’t care what others think of me when they look at me, because when I look at me, I feel ok with what I see in that moment. I allow myself to get caught up with the festivities, the excitement of it all, the euphoric feeling of happiness being surrounded by the people I love and who love me back. Then there comes the overwhelming let-down moment when you yourself as you know all the others must. A pic from the back, a wall of white waves standing out from the sea of dark skies, and brightly colored explosions like little bombs going off in your mind. A fat, hairy mess. Nobody wants to see this. Put your shirt back on. I push that to the back of my mind, because now there is a liquid elixir of I don’t give a flying fuck in front of me and I start to drink it. As the night wears on I don’t care. My emotions are there. My heart. my weakness. It throws itself out like it has so many times before and the cape of hope with it. I know that I’m being forward, but I think that things are going ok. I’m letting myself believe that something could be there, when really deep down I know it isn’t. But my intoxicated mind doesn’t care. It does not think of what the consequences will be later. The damage is done. I let myself believe again and now my mind plays another trick. Nobody wants you. You have an STD. You’re not worth being loved. Who would ever want to be with someone who has so many obvious issues? And those are just the outside physical ones. I have come to the conclusion I will never be happy. Not genuinely. My mind will keep playing tricks, false hope. My heart feeling its wrath. The constant battle between the two wears on me.”

I’m home now and I’m ready for bed, but I’m not feeling right. The constant shaky feeling I’m getting used to is everywhere. I can feel my heart beating through-out my entire body. I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep. I feel as if my eyelids are see-through, I even touch them to make sure they are really closed and they are but it doesn’t feel like they are. I feel as if my eyes are still wide open, I’m seeing everything as it was when my eyes were open, accompanied by odd lights waving around and a pain behind my left eye. Another headache. It’s all driving me crazy. I just want to go to sleep. But the odd waving lights playing on the inside of my closed eyelids won’t let me. I open my eyes and close them, GOD MAKE THEM GO AWAY!!! They won’t. This so called GOD isn’t there, and I can’t tear my mind away from the razor blade, tucked away. Yet again, I try. God, please. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to hurt those who care, I don’t want to disappoint them. I wait. There is no divine intervention. I don’t hear the voice of “god” telling me that he loves me and not to do this. I give in and grab it, flip it around in my hands, and get up to grab my supplies: my phone and headphones, my last 2 smokes from the kitchen and the lighter from outside, baby wipes from in the living room, and a few of dad’s alcohol pads. I head to the bathroom and lock the door. I spread a towel on the floor and I take my shorts off and sit.

Oddly enough, I feel numb. No emotions but the two. First, the anger towards “god” for letting all this happen, for letting me get raped. for letting me get an STD, letting me feel the way I do, for allowing me to give in and ever start cutting again, for not being there when I needed him. Second, the need. I need to cut. I picture it in my mind. I want to go deeper than I ever have. My hands are visibly shaking and I feel as if my whole body is too. Headphones in, I start listening to my music. I clean the blade with a pad and the first few cuts aren’t deep. They bleed but they are really just scratches. The next few are deeper. I push the blade harder, forcing it more into my skin and as I slowly drag the blade across my leg. I see the skin start to pull apart the blade slicing it and opening my leg. I feel better but it’s still not deep enough. I cut a few more times, because I am in control now. The blood on the blade catches the light as does the razor blade itself. I still feel numb. I see as my skin parts. Each cut fills with blood before it spills out and runs down my leg onto the towel I’m sitting on. I can see as the first cuts blood pools on the towel and starts to thicken. It’s more like jelly now. I cut wanting to go deeper, wanting to see my skin part more, wanting to see more blood. An odd little smile quivers at the corners of my mouth as I pull the blade across my skin a few more times. I get up off the towel and sit on the edge of the tub and open the bathroom window a bit and light one of the 2 smokes. I sit in silence smoking, watching the blood. It’s starting to run down my leg in different directions. Now, gravity taking over, I feel it running down the back of my leg and I stand up, watching as it makes its own path down my calf and around my ankle leaving another spot of blood on the towel.

I can feel something stirring inside me now. Does God see this? What I have done? Is he displeased? I don’t care. I admire the blood running down my leg in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door. I am pleased it’s bleeding that much. As I sit and smoke, the blood branches off taking other paths down my leg, over and around my knee. Like little rivers. I stand and admire it for a bit longer before starting the water. I want it cold. I get it right and step in. My body still feels shaky on the inside but the cold water feels amazing. I stand there looking down watching as the water hits and runs down my leg turned red from the blood, swirling around my feet. I rub the fresh cuts to clean off the blood the water turning a brighter red. I stop and just stand there under the water, my hands on the wall of the shower, just letting the cold water fall over me. I wash my hair and body scrubbing the blood off my leg. I scrub hard over the cuts, partly to get the dried blood off, partly to make the cuts bleed even more. I step out of the flow of the water and watch as the cuts start to bleed again, mixing with the wetness of my skin and the drops falling from my face. It looks like a slow moving bloody waterfall, falling from the crevices that are my open skin. I step in and out of the water a few times, watching it again and again do the same thing. I’m disappointed I didn’t cut deeper. I keep thinking that I want to take the rest of my anti-depression and insomnia meds. Not to overdose or die but to sleep. To be able to force my mind into submission. To stop all the swirling madness like the water in the toilet when you flush. That’s it! I want to flush my mind. I think I have a few of each pills left. It’s time to get out of the shower. I take the towel and dry off, sitting again on the edge of the tub to smoke my last cig. I’m already starting to feel numb of all emotions again. I clean up my mess, folding up the bloody towel and throwing away the alcohol pads. I get dressed and go to the kitchen where meds are, only to find I have only 2 pills to take, one of each. I take them and go back to my room and lay down. I’m oddly peaceful and comfortable in my bed even though the stupid lights are still there when I close my eyes. I don’t want to move anymore and eventually I start to fade and I fall asleep.

When I wake up again I still feel this overwhelming sadness like a dark well I can’t climb out of, the walls are slippery and coated with my blood. I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to see the light outside, I don’t want to face the world. I just want to lay there in the comfort of my bed and sleep. I try. I keep waking up knowing that my blade is tucked in its hiding spot right above me, and I reach my hand up to touch it. I hear my dad moving around in the living room and in the kitchen. My stomach hurts from not eating and I ignore it. I still don’t want to face anything. My mind is racing with the thoughts that are driving me insane: my non-existent life, how much I hate my body and the way I look, the picture. I hated that picture. That’s how people see me. I try so hard not to care what people think. I try not to care as I feel the stares, each one like little knives stabbing into my flesh, but it doesn’t bleed. It leaves a scar but not a visible one. If there is a god, then he must hate me. I look at my scars, each one a battle I fought with myself, and I won. Each one is a badge I wear because even though other people don’t see it this way, they are my strength. I don’t cut to die. I cut to live. If I didn’t cut, I wouldn’t be here. Cutting is my release, my way to get through the battles that rage on inside me. I cut to feel. It may be hard for other people to understand.

I’m still laying there in my bed. I make myself get up and eat something. Daddy is there but he doesn’t know what I’ve done, not yet. I eat a small bowl of spaghetti and I go back to my room, to my bed. It’s getting dark again and I can’t sleep. All I can think of is the blade. I grab it and go to the bathroom. I want to feel better. Last night wasn’t enough. I see the bare spot on my arm under the scars from the other battles I won. I take my blade and I slice open my skin. It stings at first but then it feels amazing, and I feel better. My mind’s at ease. I cut in the same line again and again making it deeper each time, watching as my skin opens and the blood slowly fills it. I stare at it and I smile. It’s working. I don’t know how many times I cut in that first crevice, but I want to do more. I slice my skin open again. Each time I start a new cut I cut in the same line so deep it becomes numb. Then I do another, and another, and I know that I need to stop. I know I have already let everyone down again and they don’t even know it yet. I look down at my arm and watch as the blood fills and falls. I make 2 more cuts in an X over the cuts I’ve just done. I slice the same cuts a few times to make them deeper.

No more. I’m done. I go back to my room and put something over the cuts. I know it’s in a spot everyone is going to see. I’m already thinking of ways to hide it. Short of wearing long sleeves again, there is nothing. They will know anyways. I lay there for a bit trying to close my eyes and just go back to sleep. I’m back to escaping the real world. It’s 7 AM and I know Daddy has a doctor’s appointment this morning, so I wait. I want to tell him and I don’t. I know I need to. But I don’t want to wake him up. I decide to anyways and walk to him room. I ask him what time his appointment is. It isn’t for another couple hours and he asks me if I’m ok. I don’t want to tell him what I’ve done. I stand there for a bit and tell him I don’t feel good. I tell him what I have done. He sits up and tells me he doesn’t understand why I do this. He says God doesn’t want me to this. I don’t expect him to. And I couldn’t give a fuck less what God wants. Not once have I shed a tear through any of this, but when I hear the pain in my dad’s voice, it’s then that I cry. The tears fall down my cheeks. My chest hurts. No, not my chest, my heart. I know I’m hurting the ones that love me. I have won all my battles but they see the opposite of that. They don’t get that I cut to live. If I didn’t cut. I wouldn’t be here anymore. Cutting is my way of coping.”

Anyways, I apologize for going so off topic, back to my dad. I told him I didn’t believe in god. He told me look at everything that has happened to me! Oh, you mean the church paying your bills after you had your heart attack? Yeah. How about thanking the people who took their hard earned money to pay your bills instead of thanking God. You haven’t even stepped inside a church in forever before this but now that your bills are being paid it’s “Thank God!!!” Fuck that. In response to his question, I asked him if he hated me. Because according to God and the Bible, he must hate me and everyone else in order to be his disciple. He asked where in the Bible it said that. I pulled up Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple” and read it to him. Then I opened his Bible and let him read it himself. He said nothing, not a word. I asked him again if he hated me. I then said, “cause I don’t hate you.” Then I walked away. He stood there staring down at the Bible for a good 2 or 3 minutes and then said “Well, I will bring it to someone’s attention, I’m sure there is another meaning.” He then mumbled some other stuff about “when the time comes, everyone will know.” And “you believe what you want.” OK! I will! Stop getting an attitude with me and ask me how I feel if you know damn well you are not going to like what I have to say. I then quoted Matthew 10:37 “One who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” So, if you love anyone more than you love god then you are not worthy of him anyways. So why follow blindly, if according to him you aren’t even worthy of him unless you’re telling me you love your imaginary friend more than you love me? Cause I damn sure don’t love an imaginary being more than you.

I’m still trying to work through a lot of my issues. One thing I know is that god has not been anywhere in helping me get through this. It’s the people I choose to be around that has helped me get through it. It’s the people who has showed me the love and the kindness I needed and shown me that I am strong and can get through this, not god. If I’m not an atheist, I’m pretty close to it.


Do Atheists Have Morals?


Bobby C.

Before I can get in to the topic of this week’s article, I want to thank my very good friend Reverend Alex Moreschi for giving me this week’s topic. Do atheists have morals? That is a question many atheists are asked by Christians. Most Christians, notice I said MOST not ALL, feel that atheists cannot have morals without a belief in a God. What does it mean to be moral? What is morality and who is to say what is morally right or wrong? When I think of morals, I think of the many terms that I don’t understand being tossed around during conversations between believers and nonbelievers.


For the purpose of this article I want to present some of these terms with the hope that not only will I learn something by it but so will others by reading it. I will be relying on for the definition of the following terms:

Morals (or ethics): is concerned with questions of how people ought to act, and the search for a definition of right conduct (identified as the one causing the greatest good) and the good life (in the sense of a life worth living or a life that is satisfying or happy).

Moral Relativism: the position that moral propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances.

Moral Absolute: is the ethical belief that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are right or wrong, regardless of the context of the act. Thus, actions are inherently moral or immoral, regardless of the beliefs and goals of the individual, society or culture that engages in the actions. It holds that morals are inherent in the laws of the universe, the nature of humanity, the will of God or some other fundamental source.

Moral Universalism: The position that there is a universal ethic which applies to all people, regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality or other distinguishing feature, and all the time.

I realize these aren’t the only terms used for morality but they are the ones most commonly used when having a discussion with a believer. When I look at the above terms and make a final decision about what I think about morality, I find myself leaning toward calling myself a moral relativist. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is of no importance to me at the moment. What is important is my understanding that the way I perceive morality will dictate the standards of how I will live my life and how I treat others.

Now to the original topic; Do atheists have morals? Absolutely Yes! As an atheist I do not anchor my morality to any specific deity or holy book. My morality comes from my community, my family and friends, my sense of empathy for my fellow human beings and  Consequentialism (those moral theories which hold that the consequences of one’s conduct are the true basis for any judgment about the morality of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence).

I resist hurting others because I know how it feels to be hurt by someone else. My morality stems from my desire to do the least amount of harm to other human beings. It goes much farther than living according to the Golden Rule presented in the Bible, which I find to be absolutely ridiculous. The concept of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31) falls short on many levels. What if I am a masochist – someone who enjoys pain? Am I expected to cause pain to others simply because I enjoy experiencing pain? Isn’t that essentially what the Golden Rule is implying?

I would rather present something I like to call the Platinum Rule – treat others the way THEY wish to be treated. Living according to this simple rule significantly decreases physical, psychological and verbal abuse, racism and discrimination between races, genders and sexes. If we were to live according to this rule we would not see the horrific house bills being passed all over the country discriminating against the transgender community. We would not see racially motivated hate groups forming in many communities in our country. We would see a decrease in the nationwide murder and suicide rate. I’m aware that what I am describing can be seen as a utopia but without the hatred we see throughout humanity wouldn’t we live in a more peaceful world? A world free of religion based wars? Wouldn’t we start to see humanity take a turn towards love, respect and compassion for our fellow man? Sounds great doesn’t it? Is it possible? I suppose anything is possible but is it doable? That is the ultimate question.

So can atheists have morals? You damn right we can and we did it without a God.



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