A Personal Note

As I've said in the past, I don't usually write about myself or my personal life on this blog. But every so often, something forces me to break that rule. This is one of those occasions.

As of yesterday, I'm engaged to be married to the love of my life: a wonderful woman who, for the past eight years, has been my friend and companion. It's been my great good fortune and happiness to have been together with her this far, and I'm looking forward to making our commitment a formal one.

I'm going to schedule the next few posts for automatic publication, but I'll be around to approve and answer comments as I find the time.

July 13, 2008, 10:06 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink61 comments
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Book Update

It's been a long time in the making, but I've finished the tenth and final chapter of my book. Its title is "Into the Clear Air", and it discusses the process of becoming an atheist, on an individual level, and the effort to organize atheists on a political level. As before, I'm open to editorial review from my readers; if you've read previous chapters and are interested in reading this one, let me know.

What's next? I want to write a brief epilogue, then I need to go back over the book, do some editorial polishing, and straighten out all the footnotes. Then I think it will be ready for publication, assuming I can find a publisher who's interested. I intend to make a complete draft of the whole book available for critique when it's ready.

June 8, 2008, 6:44 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink20 comments
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Webcast: God, Design and Darwin

I was asked to pass along the following announcement:

On April 4, 2008 at 7:00 pm CT (GMT - April 5, 2008 at 12:00 am), Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University will give a talk entitled God, Darwin, and Design: Lessons from the Dover Monkey Trial. Miller was a lead witness in the Pennsylvania "intelligent design" case that began in September 2005, and which has been front-page news since it started.

We would like to invite members of your organization and/or visitors of your website to view our Live Webcast of the lecture, April 4, 2008 at 7:00 pm CT (GMT - April 5, 2008 at 12:00 am). If possible, posting a link to this event on your website or forwarding the information to your members who may be interested in this lecture is greatly appreciated. Our webcasts are very high quality, and viewers can submit questions to the speaker through our website and the speaker answers the online questions in real time. The webcasting software we use requires viewers to download a small plugin, but it is very simple and quick to install.

A link to the details of the lecture and the webcast could be found at:
http://www.esi.utexas.edu/outreach/ols/lectures/Miller

Could be worth checking into.

April 1, 2008, 10:18 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink1 comment
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Book Update

I've finished chapter 9 of my book, which is titled "Stardust" and concerns how we should handle death from an atheist viewpoint. As in the past, I'm making this chapter available to regular commenters on this site for editorial review and critique. If you fit that description and would like to review it, please let me know.

We're moving into the home stretch now! I have one more chapter tentatively planned, then an afterword. I'm soon going to begin work on pulling together a draft of the whole book, cleaning up and editing the text and ironing out the footnotes. I'll post updates on my progress as it happens.

March 22, 2008, 12:13 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink18 comments
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Book Update

I've finished chapter 8 of my book. (It's considerably longer than the last few chapters, which is why it's taken so long.) The chapter is titled "Universal Utilitarianism" and addresses the basis for an atheist's morality and the flaws in divine command ethics, drawing on my essays "The Ineffable Carrot and the Infinite Stick" and "The Roots of Morality".

As in the past, I'm making this chapter available to regular commenters on this site for editorial review and critique. If you fit that description and would like to review it, please let me know.

January 31, 2008, 8:49 am • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink18 comments
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Blogroll Meme

I don't normally do these things, but Greta Christina started this one, and it seemed the least I could do was to participate.

The idea of this meme is to pick three sites from your blogroll that, together, form a combination that no one else has, and that you think says something about the unique nature of your own blog.

I choose these three:

A Load of Bright: Toby may be taking a break from blogging, but I have little doubt that he'll be back sooner or later. Since he consistently writes some of the most insightful posts on religion I've seen, I hope it'll be sooner!

Dangerous Intersection: My good friend Erich and his stable of talented co-authors turn out some great posts on almost any topic you can imagine - politics, science, religion, culture, media. A great site that deserves to be more widely known.

Slacktivist: If more Christians were like Fred Clark, I think there wouldn't be nearly as many angry atheists out there. Plus the most entertainingly scathing dissection of the Left Behind books to be found anywhere on the internet.

My memes are non-viral, so I'm not going to single anyone out - but if you want to participate, consider yourself tagged!

Consider this an open thread. And while we're at it, let's make this a blog self-promotion thread. If you've got a blog you'd like to be more widely known, tell us about it in the comments and explain why it's worth checking out.

January 4, 2008, 12:17 am • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink14 comments
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Open Thread: The Internet Infidels Situation

In light of the continuing, and in fact worsening, fiasco at the IIDB discussion forum, I'm creating an open thread to document the continuing misuses of power. The Internet Infidels Board of Directors is now engaged in a full-scale effort to rewrite history, shuttering feedback forums, deleting countless threads on IIDB that have been critical of their recent actions, and banning numerous members without warning as punishment for dissent. (The stated reason for those bans is "useless complaining", which I think speaks volumes about the Board's attitude.)

In response, I want to document their actions and disseminate that information as widely as possible, so that new users who are considering joining IIDB will have the best chance to make an informed decision. If you are a former or current IIDB member who'd like to post your story, please do so here. I'll also compile posts and threads from other forums that are relevant.

Post from IIDB Board of Directors announcing that complaints about board management "will no longer be accepted as a topic for discussion"

• Reposted statement from II board member "The Other Michael": "There's only room for one prima donna in this ballet troupe, and that's gonna be me"

Thread on the RichardDawkins.net forum, containing numerous testimonials from veteran posters, moderators, and administrators explaining why they left IIDB

Detailed timeline of events at Rants & Raves

Another timeline at Rants & Raves

List of moderators and administrators who've resigned, at Heathen Hangout

I also recommend the following internet discussion forums instead of IIDB:

Rants & Raves

Freethought Forum

RichardDawkins.net Forum

December 18, 2007, 8:41 am • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink31 comments
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Book Update

I've finished chapter 7 of my book. The chapter is titled "Shattering Stereotypes" and refutes some of the most widely held misconceptions about atheism. It draws on several posts from this site and essays from Ebon Musings, including "Red Crimes", "Turning Away Anger", and others.

As in the past, I'm making this chapter available to regular commenters on this site for editorial review and critique. If you fit that description and would like to review it, please let me know.

November 27, 2007, 8:47 am • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink13 comments
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A Note on the IIDB Situation

There are many reasons why I didn't want to write this post. Unfortunately, they are outweighed by the reasons why I did have to write it. A serious wrong has been done to a friend of mine, a once-thriving atheist community has been mortally wounded by an unaccountable few whose actions reflect poorly on the freethought movement, and I fear that if I don't report on this matter, those same few may erase the fact of its occurrence from history. I detest politics, gossip, and drama, and alas, this post contains all three, but these things have to be said.

Here's my conclusion, and if you read nothing else of this post, read this:

So long as the current management persists, I will no longer be supporting the Internet Infidels organization (www.infidels.org). I will also no longer participate in or support the Internet Infidels discussion board (www.iidb.org). I strongly recommend that all my readers do likewise.

If you're still reading and are interested in the gory details, I'll try to summarize what brought me to this point.

The Internet Infidels organization, and secondarily the IIDB, is owned and run by a Board of Directors. In November 2005, the Board voted to approve the addition of a new member: Janice Rael, a.k.a. "EverLastingGodStopper", the president of the Delaware Valley chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.* (Full disclosure: Janice is a personal friend of mine.) In December 2006, she became the Board's official PR representative and their liaison to the larger atheist and freethought community, representing Internet Infidels at conferences and other events, organizing fundraising drives, and soliciting donors to help support the II.

Consistent with her mission of helping IIDB grow and reaching out to former and prospective members, in early October 2007 Janice raised the issue of whether the IIDB should allow theists to act as moderators of its forums, or whether it should seek to have an all-atheist staff consistent with its mission of defending metaphysical naturalism. This was a perennial hot-button issue for the IIDB, and Janice's bringing it back up was not well received by some members of the Board.

In the meantime, conditions were deteriorating at IIDB, which had recently taken on several new moderators who were criticized as being overzealous and inconsistent in the enforcement of forum rules. Janice felt (correctly, I believe) that this issue reflected on II's public image, and that as their PR rep, she had the right to suggest some policy changes that would improve matters. These suggestions drew a heated response from fellow Board member Michael Moore (not that Michael Moore), a.k.a. "The Other Michael", who was the Board of Directors' official liaison to the IIDB and felt that these suggestions were "intruding on his turf". When the issue was not addressed and Janice persisted in bringing it up, Moore made a motion to have her expelled from the Board.

This motion was seconded by Scott Wittman, the Board's president, and drew enough affirmative votes to succeed, probably thanks to residual ill will over the theist moderator issue. Another issue was some derogatory comments Janice had made on a separate, private forum some months prior expressing unhappiness with IIDB moderation. I haven't seen these specific comments, so I can't pass judgment on them. In her defense, a personal friend and longtime fellow activist, Clark Adams, had recently committed suicide. (Clark was also a former president of the II Board.)

Janice was offline during these events and didn't find out about the vote until it had already taken place. She's since said that she would have been willing to resign if they had approached her about it. When she sorrowfully announced on IIDB that she had been removed from her position on the Board, the remaining members, in a stroke of supreme spite, banned her from IIDB altogether for "revealing confidential information" about Board proceedings - despite the fact that her change of status was already publicly visible on her user profile. (Here's Janice's own timeline of all these events. I'd present the II Board's version of events if I could, but they haven't provided one.)

When these events were discovered on IIDB, it set off a firestorm of criticism. This was not just because Janice was one of IIDB's best-known and most active members, but because many IIDB administrators and moderates were themselves not told about the Board's sudden action and could not explain what had happened or why. Making things more explosive, the Board and the IIDB administrators reacted to the community's fury in the worst imaginable way - remaining tight-lipped about events, making a few vague and jargon-heavy public statements, and clamping down on dissent by moving or deleting dozens of angry posts. One IIDB administrator, Spherical Time, was demoted for his support of Janice; the Board claimed that this was due to a repeated history of insubordination, although he had only been made an administrator eleven days prior.

As of this writing, literally hundreds of veteran IIDB users have left to seek other forums, numerous moderators and administrators have resigned in protest, and a petition demanding The Other Michael's resignation is running approximately 20-to-1 in support. The Board continues to be hostile and intransigent; thus far, their only response has been to assert their authority and claim (correctly) that IIDB is private property and therefore they can treat its users any way they wish. A recent announcement disturbingly escalated their demands for loyalty and obedience among the remaining users:

Anyone at IIDB (staff or not) needs to act to support II's goals or at least act in a neutral fashion that doesn't interfere with the reason for II Inc existing.

I'd like to make it clear that this is not a factioning of the freethought community; we are not splitting into sects. What has happened, instead, is a mass community revolt against an unaccountable few who have unconscionably abused their power. Even setting aside the validity of Janice's banning, the Board's subsequent behavior has justified every complaint ever raised about hostile and arbitrary moderation at IIDB. And the Board's secretive and defensive reaction implies that they seem more interested in asserting their own power than in truly helping to build a freethought community by being responsive to the wishes of that community's participants.

I'm greatly saddened and dismayed by all of this. I've been a longtime member of IIDB, and I considered it a wonderful and informative forum for atheists and freethinkers of all stripes, but it seems the Board of Directors is uninterested in any of that and is doing their best to run it into the ground. In the current climate, absent a dramatic change in management or policy, I will no longer participate. I've donated money in the past to support its upkeep, but I will no longer do that either.

If you're seeking a new source of atheist community, I recommend either Rants 'n Raves or Freethought Forum. Both seem like promising boards and both have seen an influx of disgruntled IIDB members. I've registered at both and may check in from time to time. A grassroots effort is also underway to buy control of IIDB from the II Board, but success seems unlikely. I'll keep this thread updated with new information as it becomes available to me.

* Lest anyone have reason to doubt Janice's commitment to the freethought community, she is also on the board of directors for the Secular Coalition for America, the board of directors for the Atheist Alliance International, and the vice-president of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, in addition to her work at DVAU.

November 5, 2007, 8:11 am • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink38 comments
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Book Update

I'm pleased to announce I've finished the sixth chapter of my book, which lays out the case for atheism as a positive worldview. This chapter draws on my essay "Life of Wonder" on Ebon Musings and from several posts from the Garden here on Daylight Atheism.

I think you all know the drill by now. Who's interested in reading it?

October 3, 2007, 9:15 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink18 comments
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