Secular Street Car Ads in New Orleans

Colorful homes in New Orleans, 2001, from Cont...Image via Wikipedia

We have just learned that the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association is about to start running a street car ad. We do not have the details yet of exactly what the ad will say, but it is great to see reality being promoted in our area. I think street car ads are a great idea for New Orleans because they'll be very high visibility.

A Non-Believer in Church: Grace Bible Church at Oxford

Photograph of a medieval artwork, showing a gu...Image via WikipediaSchool has started back and I'm back to visiting area churches. If you are wondering why I'm slowing down, it because it is getting harder to write these posts with original content. This past Sunday I visited the Grace Bible Church over at the Oxford Community Center. Grace Bible Church is a young church at only three years old. It is not affiliated with any standard denomination (or any that is clearly evident). From the format of worship, the services are most similar to style seen at The Orchard of Oxford. From the brand of theology, they seem to be interdenominational. I've visited their services twice and all I can think about is that everything they say and do feels generic. I imagine that this is the version of Christianity that is best equipped to move into the future.

There were around 200 people in attendance. Mostly I saw college students. The music at the service consisted of an acoustic guitar, drums, and several singers. The person leading the music would add his own personal reflections on how worship is to be performed. The music was pretty good, but all of the performers seemed to be packed into a tight area. The cymbal player was practically sitting on the drum set. The stage at the Oxford Community Center doesn't have the space needed for they are trying to do.

There was a special treat for this Sunday. The church elders introduced themselves and talked about their core values. I thought this might be a chance to reveal the inspiration for starting this church or some of their doctrinal concerns. Instead, it was bland marketing. Worship should strive for excellence; we have multiple teachers for different styles of teaching; we really want to focus on our community groups; (and finally) we have a youth group. I wanted to know more about this church. I left with more questions than when I first considered visiting.

The lesson of the hour came from 1 Corinthians 12. It's the passage where Paul is talking about spiritual gifts that one receives when one becomes a Christian. Some of these gifts are skills, like administration or teaching. Some of these gifts are supernatural, like performing miracles, faith healing, or prophecy. Other gifts are just plain weird, such as speaking in tongues and translating tongues. Speaking in tongues was discussed as part of the lesson, but I didn't see anyone attempt it. Does this church really believe that within their membership is the ability to perform miracles, perform faith healing and see into the future? If the pastor talks about this as being part of Christianity in the lesson, then it is a fair question to ask. Of course, I'm going to want to see evidence (and then I'm going to refer them to James Randi's challenge).

I realize that this had little to do with his lesson, but as a skeptical thinker that was my focus. The pastor wanted to focus on this idea of diversity (we have different talents) and unity (we are members of one body) all at the same time. It is a noble message. The pastor said, "How humbling it had to be a Jew for them to hear that a Gentile ... one who was kept at a distance, a heathen, a barbarian, they called them dogs, they were unclean ... that they were one with the Gentile in Christ." I found it interesting that he mentioned that Jews called the Gentiles dogs. In Mark 7:25-30, Jesus called a Phoenician woman a dog. Maybe the pastor was alluding to that passage. I suspect Paul was trying to cover the mistakes of Jesus.

Later on in the passage, Paul refers to individual members of a church being similar to individual body parts in order to show that all Christians are useful. "All of the different parts of the body are needed to make the body effective," spoke the pastor. I hope I wasn't the only one in the room to think, "Hey... what about the appendix? Isn't that safe to remove?" Paul's analogy falls apart in the light of modern science. Then again, the pastor probably wants us to look at these passages in the light of their intended meaning rather than nitpick over the details. (Don't stop nitpicking.)

The lesson ended. The collection plate was passed during the final song. For the first time in all of my visits to churches, there was no warning that the collection plate was being passed. If there was one positive aspect that I liked about this church, this is it. College students are known for being poor so I bet they appreciate not being asked to give.

As for the "Non-Believer in Church" series, I'm running out of interesting churches to visit. I figure this will be ending soon.

Victor Stenger Coming to Memphis

Cover of Cover via AmazonI have just been informed that the Memphis Freethought Alliance has lined up Victor Stenger to speak in Memphis on October 18th. This is a big accomplishment for the group, and I congratulate them in their success.

The venue and time of Stenger's presentation are still to be determined, but I wanted to make sure you could reserve the date. Stenger is the author of God: The Failed Hypothesis, a good book I describe here. And with October so far off, you have plenty of time to read it first!

Carnival of the Godless #109 at Reduce to Common Sense

A Touch of the Sun...Image by Picture hunter via FlickrThe 109th edition of Carnival of the Godless has been posted at Reduce to Common Sense. If you are looking for some godless reading on your dreary Sunday, look no further. It is presented in an interesting format too.

How to Defend Science Education in Your State

FFRF BillboardImage via WikipediaScience education continues to come under attack in many states by creationists and their misinformed allies. Those of us in the reality-based community must remain committed to defending reason and promoting quality education in all fields. Fortunately, grassroots activism can be effective in reaching our elected officials and influencing public attitudes. Drawing on the recent example of Mississippi's HB 25, a measure that would require the board of education to affix anti-evolution disclaimers to science textbooks, I would like to provide this brief how-to guide for promoting activist efforts in the face of ignorance.

After learning of HB 25, we at Mississippi Atheists wrote a post to bring the issue to the attention of our readers and simultaneously informed members of the Mississippi Atheists group at Atheist Nexus. Through these actions, we estimate that roughly 100 people, mostly residents of our state, learned about the bill, what it would do to science education, and most importantly, what they could do about it.

Next, a couple of our authors used Meetup.com groups to spread the word among a wider circle of Mississippians. This sparked word-of-mouth communication in virtually every corner of our state. As word spread locally, a handful of bloggers outside our state picked up the story and informed their readers. This is a critical benefit of the blogosphere: compelling stories spread like wildfire.

Our focus at this point was in encouraging two specific actions: (1) writing letters to elected officials on the legislative committees considering the bill, and (2) writing letters to the editors of local newspapers to influence public opinion. Follow-up posts were designed to give readers multiple examples of both.

We also contacted the National Center for Science Education and Freedom From Religion Foundation to make sure they knew what was happening in our state. American Atheists even issued an action alert.

By this point, several letters had been sent to state representatives, and at least a couple letters to the editor had been published in nearly every paper in the state. The outpouring of support and willingness to engage in effective activism was truly astounding. We then received word that our efforts were having an impact and that the bill was expected to die in committee.

The status of HB 25 in Mississippi is uncertain, but we expect the bill will not make it out of committee. Best of all, I think we will be better prepared to tackle the next assault on science education that comes our way.

Here are some recommendations for organizing similar activist efforts to defend reality-based education in your state:
  1. Increase awareness. Use blog and forum posts to raise awareness among likely stakeholders. In these posts, be sure to address both what is at stake and what readers can do about it. Provide links for more information, and offer specific suggestions about who to contact, etc. Use relevant Meetup.com groups to inform others in your state. E-mail the story to some of the big blogs for whom such a story might be relevant.
  2. Promote action. As you are working to increase awareness, you want to simultaneously offer specific suggestions for what readers can do. Recognize that many of those learning about the issue may not have participated in previous activist efforts like this. Write follow-up posts in which you give specific examples of letters to elected officials, letters to the editor of local newspapers, etc.
  3. Enlist support from the heavy-hitters. For activism around science education, contact the National Center for Science Education. For issues that also raise church-state issues, consider the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, or Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The idea is to make sure some of the advocacy groups that have attorneys at their disposal know what is going on.
  4. Share any responses. Nothing reinforces activists quite like hearing that they are making a difference. Be sure to share any responses received from the decision-makers being contacted.
  5. Be patient but persistent. Even after being told that a letter I wrote to the editor of my local newspaper would be printed, it did not appear for more than a week. Not every letter will be published, and not every elected official will respond. Stick with it.
Everyone is capable of this sort of activism. While it can be time-consuming, it is for the benefit of our society and is certainly worthwhile.

Central MS Atheists Announce February Meetup

Central MS Atheists have announced that their February meeting will be held on February 18 at 7:00 PM in Jackson. For location and details, atheists in the Jackson area can join their group at their Meetup.com page.

Status of Mississippi HB 25

The Clarion-LedgerImage via WikipediaIt looks like there have been no updates to the status of House Bill 25 since we posted that it has been referred to the Education and Judiciary A committees. Despite unofficial reports from the Education Committee chair, Rep. Brown, that the bill would die in committee, we have heard nothing official. I suppose that means that the we should keep up the pressure until we have confirmation that the bill has in fact died. It would be good to have at least a couple letters in the Clarion-Ledger. Does anybody know whether they have already printed letters on HB 25? I know we've had a couple letters printed in the Sun Herald and a couple in the Hattiesburg American.

Louisiana Public School to Take Children on Christian Field Trip

Seal of Ouachita Parish, LouisianaImage via WikipediaIt appears that a public school in neighboring Louisiana is planning to take students on a field trip to a "Just for Jesus" event. I have included the full press release from Americans United for Separation of Church and State below. Do you ever feel like those of us in the reality-based community are trying to bail out a rapidly sinking cruise ship with a teaspoon? We may already have our hands full in Mississippi, but I hope our friends in Louisiana will let us know how we can help with their latest fight.

PRESS RELEASE
Americans United for Separation of Church and State

You can view an HTML version of this email at the following address:
http://www.au.org/site/R?i=n_Gl7yJ2eRY7GqicP2hPvQ..

January 16, 2009

Louisiana Public School Support Of Christian Field Trip Would Violate
Constitution, Says Americans United

Church-State Watchdog Group Warns Against School-Sponsored Field Trip
To "Just for Jesus" Event

A public school in Louisiana would violate the U.S. Constitution if it allows a school-sponsored field trip to a Christian event called "Just for Jesus," according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

At its next meeting on Jan. 27, the Ouachita Parish School Board will discuss whether the district should allow students to take this field trip and provide transportation to the event.

"Just for Jesus" is described by local media as a "prayer and praise crusade for students in grades 4-12" and is clearly proselytizing in nature. In the past, the event featured Christian music, skits dramatizing the effect of being saved and sermons from local preachers.

In a letter sent today to the school's superintendent and board, Americans United advised the school district not to approve the field trip.
Letter PDF link: http://www.au.org/site/R?i=J4k8r_3zCTUpGiCysq6nyQ..

"A public school has no business transporting students to an evangelistic event," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Ouachita school officials should stick to offering education in secular subjects and stop meddling in the religious lives of students."

AU's letter makes it clear that if a religious student club is behind this field trip, the board can provide transportation and give students the day off only if it allows all other student clubs, on an equal basis, transportation and days off to attend their events.

"Ouachita Parish School District cannot finance, sponsor or otherwise support a field trip to a clearly religious event such as Just for Jesus," reads the AU letter.

As far as AU is aware, the "Just for Jesus" field trip is not a school club-sponsored trip.

Americans United notes that problems over religion in school have frequently occurred in Ouachita Parish. In 2000, Americans United and the Louisiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the school district on behalf of families who disagreed with the school's policy of broadcasting Christian prayers over the intercom.

In 2006, the school board approved a policy watering down the teaching of evolution; last year, school officials engineered votes on graduation prayers, saying the majority should rule.

"It's time for the Ouachita schools to lay off the preaching and get back to teaching," Lynn said.

Americans United's letter was drafted by Senior Litigation Counsel Alex J. Luchenitser and Staff Attorney Ian Smith.

************************************************************

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C.
Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance
of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Opposing HB 25: Letter in the Hattiesburg American

As outrage over HB 25 continues to spread across Mississippi, we have another letter. This one comes from the Hattiesburg American as was written by Julie Shedd. Not only can you recommend this letter by visiting the paper's website, but you can also contribute to what I suspect will be a lively discussion in the comments. I've included the full letter below.

An open letter to Mississippi lawmakers

By Julie Shedd • January 15, 2009

Respectfully, sirs and madams: Are you trying to make Mississippi the state with the least well-educated and most helpless population in this country?

Last week we learned that due to disastrous and disproven abstinence-only education, we have the nation's highest rate of teenage pregnancy. Now we have House Bill 25, which aims to place stickers on science textbooks questioning the validity of evolutionary theory.

Current challenges to evolutionary theory are not based on science. They are based on religious beliefs and the ideas of so-called "think tanks" such as the Discovery Institute, which studies the pseudoscience of "intelligent design." Therefore, they have no place in science classrooms, let along our public school system.

I could go on an infuriated rant, but instead, I'll take apart some of the stickers' claims.
"The word 'theory' has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations."
Here we have the first refuge of the ignorant-of-evolutionary-science. In science, "theory" has only one meaning. It denotes a hypothesis which has been tested so often and in such varied ways that it can be relied upon.

Yes, the theory can change if new scientific observations are made. That's the beauty of science. This does not mean that every challenge to a theory can be taken seriously.
"This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things."
This theory is not controversial; at least, not among those who have a working knowledge of the theory. And if the phrase "some scientists" refers to "the vast majority of reputable, knowledgeable scientists," then sure, "some scientists" are behind it.
"No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered a theory."
Incorrect. Mere statements about life's origins should be considered ideas, or at best, hypotheses. As stated above, theories have been tested.
"Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things."
Scientific theories are often not complete explanations of everything that ever happened. Yes, there are unanswered questions. There are billions of years of history behind us, after all. At least two of these claims, however, have been reliably disproven.

First of all, the common creationist/"intelligent design" claim that we have no transitional forms. We have thousands of them. Ever hear of Archaeopteryx? Visit a museum. Secondly, the issue of a set of instructions: There is none. Why would there be? Living beings are not transistor radios or IKEA bookshelves; they do not come with instructions.
"Study hard and keep an open mind."
That's not easy to do when you're closing it for me.

People who take issue with evolution usually do not have a complete knowledge of how evolution works. (A good layman's overview can be found at http://www.toarchive.org/faqs/evolution-fact.html.)

Mississippi's children will carry this incomplete knowledge with them if this sort of thing is what we teach them. Without understanding evolutionary theory and other scientific concepts, we are set up to remain not only the poorest and most pregnant state, but also the least-educated.

People: Please follow the lead of other states in this matter and do not support this bill. Debate it if you must (preferably in church, which is where the anti-evolution debate belongs), but please, allow your children to learn.


Opposing HB 25: Another Letter in the Sun Herald

Tarbosaurus fossil. Non-avian dinosaurs died o...Image via WikipediaThe Sun Herald printed another letter to the editor regarding HB 25, the anti-evolution bill that would require erroneous disclaimers on textbooks in which evolution was mentioned. Even if HB 25 ends up dying in committee, it is great to see that the people of Mississippi are being exposed to accurate information about evolution. I have included the full text of the letter from Clay LaHatte below.

Evolutionary theory does not address ‘life’s origins’

Regarding Mississippi House Bill 25, on placing a message that “evolution is a theory” in school textbooks: We have been through this before (Georgia), and such a measure will eventually be struck down. Please, let us put a stop to this now, and not waste additional taxpayer dollars on a fruitless, and entirely religious-based cause.

Indeed, there is a theory that attempts to explain the facts regarding species evolution. However, evolutionary theory in no way attempts to explain origins of life, as is mentioned in HB 25. That mention is a clear mistake, or misrepresentation. In other words, it is wrong. Evolutionary theory does not address “life’s origins.” Evolutionary theory informs us as to how species change over time, and how new species emerge through that change. The ultimate origin of life is not a part of evolutionary theory.

Did you know … gravity is also a theory, yet we don’t see groups “warning” people about that one (however, for an example of how silly this kind of thinking can be, see “Intelligent Falling”). Also, education makes use of a theory (Instructional Theory). Probability is also a theory. Etcetera. So, to be fair, students must also be “cautioned” about all of these theories that are associated with teaching and with what is being taught. To single out evolution is a clear attempt to insert religious thinking and biases into classrooms, and such an attempt will and should fail.

Religion is a private matter, and is not in any way a part of scientific learning.

Please, let us not waste any more of my and your tax dollars on this issue. Please, let us not make Mississippi look more foolish than it already does.

Clay LaHatte

Vicksburg

Olive Branch Atheists Host Fondue Party

For the atheists near Olive Branch who might be looking for something to do this weekend, the Olive Branch Atheists are having a fondue party at Dale and Michelle's house on January 17th at 6:00 pm. For more information visit the group's Meetup page.

Great Southern Humanist Society Promotes Obama's Call to Service Event

The Great Southern Humanist Society is answering President-elect Obama's call for a National Day of Service on January 17th. The group is calling on anyone in the Gulfport/Biloxi area who is eligible to give blood to attend the Red Cross blood drive at the Edgewater Mall between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.

The group is also promoting a secondary effort for those who cannot give blood. Bring donations and supplies to the Goodwill in Gulfport on Sunday, January 18th between 1:00 and 5:00 pm.

For more information, visit the Great Southern Humanist Society's Meetup page.

Opposing HB 25: Letter to the Editor of the Sun Herald

Opabinia regalis, an enigmatic animal from the...Image via WikipediaWhile we remain optimistic that HB 25 might be dead in committee, I want to continue sharing some of the outstanding activist efforts we are seeing across Mississippi in response to this anti-evolution bill. Our own Mims had a letter to the editor published in the Sun Herald yesterday. If there is one thing of which we can be confident, it is that creationist efforts will continue in our state for the foreseeable future. For that reason, I am going to reproduce Mims' letter below for our future reference once the newspaper no longer links to it.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Jan. 14

I recently read HB 25, which was introduced in the Mississippi House last week for consideration in this session. This bill requires a sticker be placed on every text in Mississippi schools that deals with the theory of evolution. The text of this sticker is extremely misleading and inaccurate.

Here are just a few of the inaccuracies:

n “This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things.”

Evolutionary theory is about the development of life from its simple beginnings. It does not attempt to explain the origins of life in the first place.

This is not to say that scientists aren’t working on a natural explanation for how life began on earth, and getting closer all the time.

Evolutionary theory is not controversial in the scientific community. Scientists overwhelmingly support this theory. The controversy is cultural, not scientific.

n “There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things.”

I am stunned that these topics are not discussed in our textbooks. They should be. The Cambrian Explosion is explainable in evolutionary theory. New fossil evidence and advances in molecular biology are giving us a better picture of this era all the time, including the fact that it wasn’t really so sudden.

We have many well-documented transitional species. To claim otherwise is just factually wrong. We do have complete and complex sets of instructions for building a living body, including our own. This is the field of genetics, or more specifically, genomics. Have the authors of this sticker never heard of the Human Genome Project?

Even if they haven’t, our children surely should by the time they leave high school. In fact, they should know enough about science to point out all the inaccuracies contained in this sticker by the time they leave our secondary schools.

n “Study hard and keep an open mind.”

This, at least, I can agree with. I would add, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell, “but not so open your brain falls out.”

Mims H. Carter

Pass Christian

Mississippi's HB 25: Dead in Committee

The lonely runnerImage by ~jjjohn~ via FlickrWe have just learned from Representative Cecil Brown, chair of our state legislature's education committee, that HB 25 is dead. Assuming that Rep. Brown's word on the matter is sufficient, I think we can all breathe a sign of relief. There will be future anti-evolution efforts in our state, but we have demonstrated that we can mount significant opposition quickly. This is encouraging, and thanks are in order to all those who wrote letter to their representatives, newspapers, etc. This type of activism can be time consuming, but it is refreshing to see it work even in a state like ours. Thanks to all those who helped.

American Atheists Issues Action Alert on HB 25

American AtheistsImage via WikipediaBelow you'll find an action alert issued by Blair Scott, the National Affiliate Outreach Director of American Atheists and Alabama State Director. This alert will go a long way toward making sure that other atheists in the U.S. know what we are dealing with here regarding House Bill 25.

ACTION ALERT: MISSISSIPPI
Proposed Mississippi legislation will put “just a theory” stickers in biology textbooks.


Representative Gary Chism from District 37 in Mississippi, has sponsored legislation to amend the state’s constitution in order to place “just a theory” stickers in Mississippi biology textbooks. The legislation, HB25, has been referred to the Education and Judiciary A committees for review and has a good chance of passing the committee for a House review.

You can read the entire proposed legislation, which will enact a constitutional amendment, online at:
http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2009/pdf/HB/0001-0099/HB0025IN.pdf

The proposed constitutional amendment includes different definitions of the word theory instead of the scientific one.

It describes evolution as a “controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things.” It goes on to state that, “No one was around when life first appeared; therefore statements about life’s origins should be considered a theory.

It then makes the statement that, “Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random undirected forces produced living things.” It then goes on to list a creationist manifesto of “problems with evolution” such as the Cambrian Explosion, “lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record,” “lack of transitional forms,” and the “complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body” (read as Irreducible Complexity).

The proposed legislation, while unconstitutional in and of itself, is full of scientific misunderstanding, a misrepresentation of scientific theory, false statements about evolutionary biology, and a gross ignorance of the Theory of Evolution.

What can you do about it? You can contact Rep. Gary Chism and the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the Education and Judiciary A committee and ask them to vote against this bill and keep it from being forwarded to the floor for a vote.

You can contact Gary Chism via email at [email protected], by phone at (662) 327-0777, or via USPS at PO Box 1018, Jackson, MS 39215. His online biography is located at: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/members/house/chism.xml

The Chairman of the Education Committee is Cecil Brown ([email protected] or (601) 359-3330). The Vice-Chairman of the Education Committee is Sara Thomas ([email protected]).

The Chairman of the Judiciary A Committee is Edward Blackmon, Jr. ([email protected] or (601) 859-1576). The Vice-Chairman of the Judiciary A Committee is Angel Cockerham ([email protected] or (601) 783-6600).

Make sure you reference HB25 in any email, letter, or phone call. Do not insult the Representatives or use derogatory language. Please keep letters and phone calls polite and professional.

For legal purposes, you can reference the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf) and Selmer v. Cobb County Schools (http://alt.cimedia.com/ajc/pdf/evolution.pdf).

You can also contribute funds to American Atheists, Inc. to help fight legal battles just like this. You can designate your contributions to the “Legal Action Fund” and your donation will be spent exclusively on legal action against those that would infringe upon the Separation of Church and State. Please visit http://atheists.org/contribute to donate.

Thanks to Micah C. for bringing this legislation to our attention. It is the work of volunteers that help catch SOCAS violations and report them. Without the diligence of local volunteers many more violations would go unreported and unchallenged than already do.

At Least One Positive Response on HB 25

Modification of Image:Huxley - Mans Place in N...Image via WikipediaI just learned from Mims that we have at least one positive response so far from a Mississippi state representative to a letter sent regarding House Bill 25. In the response, this particular representative he sees no conflict between evolution and what he believes about creation. Therefore, he plans to vote against the bill.

We may not be great in numbers, but I believe that we can influence public opinion and help motivate our elected officials to sink this anti-evolution bill.

Oppose HB 25: Writing Letters to the Editor

Front page of the New York Times on Armistice ...Image via WikipediaAnother useful tactic in opposing House Bill 25 involves writing letters to the editors of our local newspapers. This has real potential to inform and influence public opinion. If you have not done this before or it has been awhile since your last letter, here are some tips:
  • Keep it brief. My local paper allows only 275 words.
  • Focus on facts and avoid criticizing opinions.
  • Do not attempt to make more than a couple points per letter.
  • Avoid anger or sarcasm.
  • Don't give up. It may take several tries before a large newspaper publishes a letter. Hang in there and keep sending them.
For more suggestions, see the NCSE's Ten Tips for Writing a Letter to the Editor

Oppose HB 25: Another Sample Letter to State Representatives

The exuberant tail of the peacock is thought t...Image via WikipediaI sent the letter below - actually, I sent it via e-mail - to the state representative for my district. Since my representative is not on the Education Committee, I also sent a modified version to the chair and co-chair of the committee. Instead of asking them to vote against it, I tailored the letter a bit to inform them of the inaccuracy of the language in the bill. If you have not yet written to your representative in the state legislature, maybe this letter will give you some ideas.

Dear Representative Fillingane:

I am writing to urge you to oppose House Bill 25, introduced by Representative Chism and referred to the Education Committee. HB 25 requires that all textbooks containing material on evolution used in Mississippi schools include a disclaimer describing evolution as “a controversial theory” and “the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things.”

As a scientist, I must point out that evolution is not at all controversial within the scientific community. Rather, it is accepted as the foundation of the modern biological sciences. This is why 17 organizations, Including the National Academy of Sciences and National Science Teachers Association, recently called on the scientific community to become more involved in promoting evolution as an essential part of sound science education. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080102083754.htm

Moreover, the description of evolution contained in this bill is simply inaccurate. Natural selection, the process driving evolutionary development, is anything but random. HB 25 asks that science textbooks used in our schools present erroneous information to students.

Our children deserve a quality education based on the best available scientific data rather than manufactured controversy and superstition. We face dire economic times, and we must prepare our students to compete in an increasingly complex world. See http://www.ascribe.org//cgi-bin/behold.pl?ascribeid=20070215.134058&time=1445PST&year=2007&public=1

In case it is helpful, here is some good information on evolution and the many misconceptions about it from reputable sources:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13620?DCMP=NLC
http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/misconceptions_faq
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=15-answers-to-creationist


Sincerely,

[Signature]

Oppose HB 25: Sample Letter to State Representatives

The letter below concerning HB 25 was written by our very own Mims H. Carter. You can find another great one at Sappari, Zenzen. I will add mine as soon as I finish it. My next task will involve drafting a letter to the editor of my local newspaper, but one thing at a time. This is simply too important to stay on the sidelines.
Dear Representative Peranich,

I just heard that Representative Chism has introduced H.B. 25, requiring that all textbooks in the state that discuss evolution contain a disclaimer that evolution is a controversial theory and that it can't explain certain observable facts about the history of life on our planet. I can't begin to tell you how wrong the whole text of the bill is. The last paragraph detailing the Cambrian explosion, the lack
of transitional species, and the lack of 'instructions' to create complex life - all of this is wrong. I don't know where these ideas comes from, but current evolutionary theory has very cogent explanations for all of these things. Evolution is not a controversial theory except in the minds of a scientifically ignorant cadre of anti-science extremists, who unfortunately wield influence far beyond their intellectual capacities and scientific understanding. The fact that it hasn't answered all questions about the history of life on our planet does not mean that evolution is not the best current theoretical framework we have, and 150 years of research, study and constant criticism has only proved how powerful this theory is.

Coming on a day when we just found out we lead the nation in teen-age pregnancy, a tragedy which we can also lay at the feet of extremist s who won't allow a rational sex education curriculum in our schools, I fear for our young people, including my own daughter and her schoolmates.

Shall we put caveats on our geology textbooks that the theory that the earth is round is only a theory? Shall we caution that the germ theory of disease can't explain every illness and so therefore we should not trust it? Should we add astrology to our astronomy curriculum?

We need to provide the best education we can to our children in all subjects and at all levels.

To paraphrase the great mathematician and philosopher of science Bertrand Russell, yes, we should study hard and keep and open mind, but not so open that our brains fall out.

Sincerely yours,

Mims H. Carter
Pass Christian

Contact the Education Committee About HB 25

Mississippi State CapitolImage via WikipediaSince posting about HB 25, a bill before the Mississippi State Legislature designed to misinform students about evolution by slapping ridiculous stickers on science textbooks, I've been busy. My first task involved determining exactly who we need to contact with regard to HB 25. It ended up taking quite a bit longer than it should have, but I think I now have an answer. The bill has been referred to the House Education Committee. The members of this committee include the following state representatives:
  • Cecil Brown, Chairman
  • Sara R. Thomas, Vice-Chairman
  • Noal Akins
  • Toby Barker
  • Billy Broomfield
  • Kelvin Buck
  • Kimberly Campbell Buck
  • Clara Burnett
  • Bryant W. Clark
  • Alyce G. Clarke
  • Linda F. Coleman
  • Reecy L. Dickson
  • Bob Evans
  • Herb Frierson
  • Joe C. Gardner
  • Esther Harrison
  • Gregory Holloway
  • Wanda Jennings
  • Brandon Jones
  • Sherra Hillman Lane
  • John Mayo
  • Kevin McGee
  • David W. Myers
  • Russ Nowell
  • Jimmy Puckett
  • Rufus Straughter
  • J. Shaun Walley
  • Greg Ward
  • Joseph L. Warren
  • Tom Weathersby
  • Linda Whittington
I realize that this is a large committee. Fortunately, they all have e-mail addresses so contacting them may be a simple cut-and-paste job. If you'd like to focus on the representative(s) of your district, you can find out who represents you by entering your zip code. My particular representative is not on this committee, so I will contact other members as well.

Once again, thanks to Pharyngula and Tony's curricublog for breaking this one.

HB 25 Threatens Science Education in Mississippi

Geographical isolation of finches on the Galáp...Image via WikipediaOkay gang, we have a dire need for some activism to oppose House Bill 25. If passed, this bill would require an anti-evolution sticker on every science textbook in which evolution was discussed. I have already contacted the National Center for Science Education to make sure they are aware of this bill. The next step probably involve contacting our representatives in the House. It may also be worthwhile to consider writing letters to the editors of our local papers (although I often wonder whether that could do more harm than good in a state like ours). This is an important issue, and we at Mississippi Atheists will certainly do what we can to defend science education in our state.

H/Ts to Pharyngula and Tony’s curricublog


Promoting Superstition Over Reality Has Consequences

WASHINGTON - MARCH 27:  Actress Kate Walsh loo...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeOh Mississippi, are you really so proud of your many tragic failings that you prefer wallowing in ignorance to progress? Is religion so important to you that you'd harm your own future simply to preserve it?

We now have the distinction of having the highest teen birth rate in the U.S. Clearly, all that abstinence-only sex "education" is not working. Sure, we could continue to cling to ineffective methods because they fit with our shared religious delusion. That is exactly what many Christian extremists will say we should do.

On the other hand, it might be nice to at least try a reality-based approach to the problem. Exsisto Sane is right - we do need an intervention.

“But you’re such a nice person!”

That’s an actual quote from a good friend of mine when we were talking the other day about the time he found out I was an atheist. “But you’re such a nice person!” It was echoed by his wife who was equally shocked, saying she couldn’t believe it because I was, “so sweet to (my) wife.” I found it funny. He even added, “Not that I expected all of you to have horns or anything.” That really made me laugh out loud. But this is an example of what I mean when I say that we’ll get infinitely more progress from us atheists/agnostics/free-thinkers/etc just being good and decent people while not being shy about our lack of faith than all the lawsuits and add campaigns (although I do love the “Why believe in a god” bus adds) in the world.

I do know that before we became friends this friend did indeed have a pretty unsympathetic view of atheists. And the thing is, he and his wife are good and decent people. But never having known any atheists in real life, the only thing they had to form an opinion on was what they heard from preachers and the news clips of people suing to have “In God We Trust” removed from our money (not that I disagree with that).

It makes me think of that song I used to sing when I was a born-again Christian, “You’re the only Jesus some will ever see.” I forget the theologian who said about witnessing that if you have to tell people you’re a Christian, you aren’t living as a Christian. Well, I disagree with him there, but the sentiment is a useful one. If they only atheist most people ever know are the sound bites on FoxNews then we’ll never make any progress. But if all the non-theists out there who they’re already friends with just admit their lack of faith when it comes up, I think we’d be surprised at how powerful that can be.

My Christian wife also got a kick out of their reaction, especially the part about me being so “sweet” to her.

Butch

Lecture on Science, Evolution, and Creationism at LSU

National Science Foundation (NSF) Logo, reprod...Image via WikipediaDr. Jay Labov from the National Academy of Sciences is scheduled to speak at LSU on January 7 at Noon in Room A101 of the Life Sciences Building. Dr. Labov's talk will be titled "Science, Evolution, and Creationism: The Critical Need for Science as a Liberal Art in the 21st Century." The presentation is free and open to the public.

This is the keynote lecture for STAR, an NSF-supported mini-institute on scientific teaching, which is being held at LSU, January 6-8, 2009.

Dr. Jay B. Labov serves as a senior advisor for education and communications for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council.

Olive Branch Atheists February Meetup

Location of Olive Branch in the State of Missi...Image via WikipediaThe Olive Branch Atheists have announced a February meetup on February 15, 2009, at 4:00 PM. A location has not yet been selected, but interested parties can learn more at their Meetup.com page.

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