Our auction is still running with three days to go: a multiply autographed and illustrated copy of Faith versus Fact

December 6, 2020 • 9:00 am

As I noted a few days ago, Kelly Houle and I are running an eBay auction for charity, with the object up for bid being a multiply-autographed hardback copy of Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible.  The copy for sale has 28 signatures of famous secularists, including the three surviving “horsemen”: Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, as well as others like Steve Pinker, James Randi, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker, and Julia Sweeney. It’s also signed by three Nobel Laureates: Harold Varmus, Adam Riess, and David Gross. See all the signers on my post or the auction site itself. It’s also signed by Kelly and me (I added a crude cat drawing.)

Further, the book has been illuminated with the calligraphy and artwork of our favorite natural-history artist, Kelly Houle, who did a superb title-page drawing and also a few cat drawings. Her artwork on the book can also be seen at the two sites.

Kelly and I did this previously with Why Evolution is True, earning more than $10,300 for a charity, in that case Doctors Without Borders. This year all auction proceeds go to Helen Keller International, an efficient and highly-rated charity that helps alleviate blindness and malnutrition throughout the world. (Peter Singer highlighted it as one of his favorite charities.) As a bonus, the Friends of Helen Keller International have pledged to double any donation, so whoever buys the book will have the satisfaction of contributing twice what they pay to a good humanitarian cause.

The price, with three days left to go, is still lower than I expected, as you can see from the screenshot below (click on it to join the fun). Remember, I schlepped that book around for five years from meeting to meeting, all to collect signatures for this auction. And Kelly labored through long nights doing the artwork. It’s worth more!

Kelly’s illumination of the title page (there are others) and one page of autographs.

One page also has Kelly’s anamorphic mirror drawing of James Randi, one of the signers; the mirror comes with the book:

If you have the dosh and want a unique book with great artwork and a collection of signatures never to be repeated (remember, Randi passed away recently), go over and bid. Or call the auction to the attention of those who might be interested. Remember, neither Kelly nor I make a penny from this, and Helen Keller International uses 82.5% of the donations for its programs—a very high proportion.

How can you overlook a book recommended by The Pinkah? (He also reviewed it favorably in Current Biology.)

Ex-Muslims of North America mounts a “Awesome without Allah” campaign, but aren’t allowed to put those words on billboards

September 9, 2019 • 9:00 am

Here’s the announcement I found on Twitter:

The Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) just put up billboards in three cities—Atlanta, Chicago, and Houston—basically stating that a substantial proportion of Muslims raised in the U.S. have become apostates, and implicitly affirming that that’s okay (of course, to many Muslims apostasy is a capital crime). According to the EXMNA announcement, they had some trouble doing this:

After several rounds of rejections, changes, and even one contract termination from companies afraid of offending religious sensibilities, the billboards are scheduled to be placed on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 3rd and 4th, 2019.

“In a dozen Muslim-majority countries, ex-Muslims are condemned to the death penalty”, said Muhammad Syed, President of Ex-Muslims of North America. “In the West, our existence is not a crime, but we still face isolation, threats, and abuse by our own families and former faith community. Unsurprisingly, many former Muslims choose to hide their lack of belief. But the first step to gain acceptance is coming out openly, without shame or fear.”

“We want closeted ex-Muslims to know they are not alone”, said Sarah Haider, Executive Director of Ex-Muslims of North America. “We also want them to know that while the prospect of coming out as nonreligious is frightening, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can make it to the other side, you can rebuild your life and find joy in the freedom from religion.”

Syed, Haider, and their colleagues are doing useful and courageous work. Putting up a billboard that, say, noted that a high proportion of Christians had become “nones” would be unlikely to be rejected in this way. As we all know, it’s a lot more dangerous to offend Muslims than Christians.

This page gives more details about the difficulty of getting the billboards displayed:

The billboards took months of planning and countless rounds of rejections from companies who were concerned about offending religious sensibilities. Unfortunately, the process diluted our message quite substantially. Our billboards went from challenging religious claims head-on to a simple declarative sentence about our existence. Many of our first versions were rejected. Even the proposed hashtags were rejected, and fearing a longer delay in publishing, we decided to remove the “Awesome Without Allah” hashtag entirely from the billboards.

The most controversial of the billboards we drafted and proposed featured a drawing of the Islamic mythological figure called the “buraq”. This figure sports the face of a woman, the body of a donkey, wings and a peacock tail. The idea was to provoke critical thinking by pointing out the absurdity of religious myths. However, all companies we worked with rejected this concept. It appeared that the most distressing aspect was the cartoon itself. Of course, the fear is not surprising. There is a record of extremist Muslims answering a drawing with violence, such as the murders of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and attacks on Danish cartoonists.

However, even after choosing a message as mild as possible, one of the contracts was cancelled. The company had not realized how near our billboard was to a mosque, and when they realized, they told us they could not honor the agreement.

The site has a number of short videos (“mini-documentaries”) of ex-Muslims explaining their departure from the faith. Here’s one of many, with the caption “A Canadian woman who converted to Islam in her late-teens, Stephanie married a Libyan Muslim man, and gave birth to two daughters.”

This is heartbreaking, for you see the mother’s anguish well up as she describes how her husband tricked her into going back to Libya and then basically kidnapped their daughters, whom she hasn’t seen in five years. I defy you to watch the whole thing without tearing up.


Join me in donating to EXMNA, which you can do by going here.  They are way short of their $25,000 campaign goal, and that’s not a large amount. If every reader gave just a dollar, that would more than double the amount targeted. How about a buck or five?

The weak laws against female genital mutilation in America

August 22, 2019 • 10:25 am

I wasn’t aware that Ayaan Hirsi Ali had started a foundation, the “AHA Foundation“, one of whose goals is to ban female genital mutilation (FGM) in the U.S. You may not be aware that although FGM is illegal in one form or another in 35 states, there’s no ban on it in fifteen states. Here are the offending states:

Washington (state)
New Mexico
Massachusetts (!!)
Connecticut, and

For two decades there was a federal law against the practice, but a 2018 federal trial of several people accused of practicing FGM wound up with a judge ruling that FGM was a “local criminal activity”: therefore the states and not the government should regulate it. Thereby the judge overturned a 20-year-old law.

But even the nature of the state laws against FGM vary widely. If you look at the article below at the AHA Foundation, you’ll see the various kinds of FGM that are practiced, a map of which states have laws (and what kind of laws) against FGM, and what you can do about it. I’ve added the map, the “surgeries”, and how the laws differ. To get the pdf, click on the first screenshot below:

The various forms of FGM:

And here are the laws graded in terms of severity (and desirability):


The provisions that correspond to the “grades” are based on things like whether “vacation cutting” is illegal (i.e., parents can’t go to another country or state to get their daughters mutilated), whether practitioners and guardians can be prosecuted, whether or not “ethnic/religious culture” can be used as a defense, and whether there are education and outreach programs for at-risk communities. To get an “A” grade, all of these provisions have to be in place in the right direction, and only three states—Arkansas, Utah, and Michigan—get that “A”.

This is unconscionable. Why should it be legal for a parent to horribly mutilate the genitals of their daughters when their daughters can’t give permission?

In case you want to know, I’ve come around to the view that circumcision should also be illegal until a male is old enough to ask for it. I don’t think that asking, however, should allow you to get FGM, as it has but one nefarious purpose: to reduce the sexual pleasure of females. And it has a number of horrible side effects: infection, incontinence, infertility, and the like, and also has led to lifelong trauma. You probably know that Hirsi Ali herself was a victim of FGM.

My only beef is that Hirsi Ali’s pamphlet barely mentions Islam as a promoter of FGM. As it notes:

. . . FGM is not particular to any religious group, nor prescribed by any faith. It is actually a culturally-based practice, a harmful tradition passed on through families and communities that pre-dates all major religions. FGM has been co-opted by some religious sects, but there is no major religion that requires FGM.

Well, this is technically true, but FGM is most prominent in Islam, and, as I understand it, several sects of Islam do promote it strongly. I think the de-emphasis on Islam is a tactic adopted by the Foundation as a way to reduce the harm of FGM without being accused of “Islamophobia” if you oppose FGM.

And indeed, you should oppose it. If you live in one of the many states with no laws against FGM, or deficient laws, write your Senators and Congresspeople.

You can donate here, and I already have.

Although Hirsi Ali has been demonized, threatened, and put on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “anti-Muslim extremists”, she’s been engaged in positive activity her whole political career, including writing her last book, Heretic, on how to reform Islam. And now she’s largely putting Islam aside to fight against a horrible form of anti-woman violence.

Note too that Maajid Nawaz was also on the SPLC’s list, which no longer exists (he sued them), and on the first page of the pdf the AHA Foundation thanks Nawaz’s foundation, Quilliam, for partnering on the FGM report.

These are people who are not keyboard warriors, but activists who take direct action to reduce palpable harm. I admire them and urge you to support them.

Here’s a list of the Foundation’s general goals:

Established by Ayaan Hirsi Ali to put the ideas she writes into practice, the AHA Foundation works to protect women from honor violence, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. Our programs advocate for freedom of speech on campuses and in public debate, and amplify the voices of Muslim reformers and ex-Muslims.

Worth supporting, no?

You helped save Frank the Kitten’s life

July 21, 2019 • 3:45 pm

A few weeks ago I made one of my sporadic appeals for funds for the Official Website Charity™: Feline Friends London. This was a cat-specific appeal, meant to raise about £1000 for an operation to save Frank, a 15-week-old kitten with a liver issue that caused seizures. His owners, who didn’t have the dosh, turned the cat over the FFL to see if the organization could do anything. They expected that Frank would either die or be given to someone else.

I asked readers to pitch in a pound or two if they could, and, mirabile dictu, you came up with over 2000 pounds, enough to give Frank his operation and help rescue dozens of other cats.  I’m pleased to report that a cat scan (a real one), or something like it, has shown that Frank’s condition is indeed operable with a very high chance of saving his life. His operation is scheduled in a week or so, and assuming he comes through okay, he’ll be returned to his owners, who love him a lot. They are, needless to say, over the moon about this.

So fingers crossed for Frank, and thanks to everyone who was kind enough to make a donation to Feline Friends London. Here’s the kitty you’re helping:



Donations to Frank the Kitten more than double the amount requested; his life saved and many other cats helped

July 5, 2019 • 10:00 am

On July 1, I asked readers to contribute a few pounds toward saving the life of Frank the Kitten, who had a fatal liver issue that could almost certainly be cured with an operation. In fact, his owners, who could not afford the operation, sadly gave their beloved kitten to Feline Friends London (FFL; our Official Website Charity™) so that they could try to save him—not expecting to get him back again.

I am immensely happy to report, via the head of FFL (a completely volunteer operation, with all donations going to cat rescue), that the appeal raised more than twice the requested amount of £1000, so not only will Frank’s life almost certainly be saved with the operation, but we also have over £1300 pounds left over going to help other rescued kittens and cats.

Thanks so much to every reader who coughed up the dosh. I thank you, Barbara thanks you, Frank’s owners (who will get him back) thank you, other stray cats thank you, and as for Frank the kitten, well, that goes without saying.

Thanks for saving me!

Barbara, FFL’s head, sent me the email below, and, when I asked, gave me permission to post it.

Barbara’s email:

Hello Jerry

I’ve just counted up the donations to our appeal for Frank, the 15 week old cat who was diagnosed with a liver shunt as a kitten. We have received 135 donations at the time of writing, totalling £2312, so more than twice our target.

Thank you so  much for achieving this for Frank and, since we have received far more than the anticipated cost of Frank’s op, for our other cats in need too. I would like to thank those of your subscribers who have donated, for their generosity towards this young cat. I am truly moved. I have also been moved by the genuine and heartfelt gratitude of Frank’s owners, who are clearly overjoyed and relieved that they can get Frank the treatment he needs. They had originally asked us to take in Frank as they couldn’t afford his treatment but nevertheless wanted to save Frank’s life, and didn’t expect we would offer to do an appeal to fund Frank’s treatment and also allow them to keep Frank.

I will send updates on Frank. He wasn’t vaccinated so I asked Olivier, his owner, to start Frank on vaccinations, which he did earlier this week. Frank has been booked in for the second part of his vaccination course on 25 July and the operation to cure his liver shunt will be organised for soon after then. I asked Frank’s owner to get Frank vaccinated due to the risk of cat flu at a charity clinic, where they treat a lot of cats, many of whom are strays and could be cat flu carriers.

The success rate for this type of operation I believe is 90%. Although I know you are an atheist I will be praying for Frank’s op to be a success. When I look at cats and experience how they continue to inspire me day by day, I know only a force for good could have created a being so pure, so captivating and infinitely worthy of love and yet so vulnerable and desperately in need of all the help they can get from us mere humans.

Thank you again. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all you have done in giving this little cat Frank, a chance and for helping other cats too.

Warm wishes

Please donate to save Frank the Kitten’s life

July 2, 2019 • 8:00 am

Yesterday I appealed to readers to donate just one or a few pounds to save the life of a kitten, Frank, who needs an operation that will almost certainly save his life. If you can spare as little as one pound to give to Feline Friends London (FFL), please read the post and dig down a bit. His owners lost their jobs, and can’t afford the money, but they love him very much and so went to FFL for help.

Here’s Frank:

Please save my life!

You can donate here (and you can specify that the funds go to Frank’s medical care). We have about 300 of the 1000 pounds needed, and I appeal to you once again.

Many thanks!

An appeal for funds to save the life of Frank the kitten

July 1, 2019 • 8:45 am

As you may recall, our Official Website Charity™ is Feline Friends London, a stray-cat rescue organization that relies entirely on volunteer work and which uses 100% of donated funds to rescue cats, foster them, and adopt them out, with most of the dosh going for vet bills. I am a patron of this organization.

Today we have an especially poignant appeal to save an already-owned kitten whose owners can’t afford the vet bills. The cost to save Frank’s life is only about £1000, and I’m appealing to readers to help cover that fee. The story and pictures below come from Barbara, who runs FFL.

We have a couple of cats we are trying to raise funds for to cover vet costs. One is Frank, the kitten in the attached photos. He began having seizures when he was 9 weeks old. His owners asked us to take him on as they cannot afford the life-saving vet treatment he needs. His story is below.

Frank kitten began having seizures when he was 9 weeks old. He presented as being in a permanent daze, with excessive drooling and he could hardly eat. When his owners brought him to the vet, he was diagnosed with a liver shunt, a genetic condition where a blood vessel bypasses the liver. The proteins are not properly broken down, which produces ammonium in the blood, which then damages the brain and the internal organs.

The vet had to keep Frank on antibiotics, lactulose and a prescription diet. He is now 15 months old and doing better, but it is only a question of time before the antibiotics lose their effect and the seizures return. With high levels of ammonium in the blood, Frank may suffer again from seizures, hallucinations, loss of appetite, dizziness, vomiting and eventually kidney stones.

The good part is that Frank can be cured. An x-ray scan followed by surgery would be enough. However both are very costly and his owners lost their jobs earlier this year and struggle to pay their rent,  let alone to cover the cost of complex vet treatment. They both love Frank very much and want to save him, and so have asked Feline Friends London to take Frank into their care. Any donation would make a world of a difference in making this operation happen, to cure this sweet kitten’s liver shunt and give him a future.

We have over 60,000 readers now, and if everyone gave just a dollar, that would save Frank’s life sixty times over. I know that’s not feasible, but if some of you could just give $1, or $5, or $10, it wouldn’t take long until we could cover the costs of the operation.

I almost never ask readers to donate to a cause, and of course make no money off this website. If you could kick in just a few bucks for the kitties—think of it as recompense for what you learn here—I’d be immensely grateful.

You can donate to Frank’s surgery by CLICKING ON THIS SECURE LINK. You can donate any amount using your credit card.

Reader Peter says that you can direct the money toward Frank’s operation, but I think Barbara knows that the surge of donations in the next few days will go for that. His comment:

I think the link you included is their all-purpose donation page. They do have a “comment” field at the end of the donation process, where I indicated I was donating toward Frank’s medical costs.

Please help if you can. I thank you, Barbara thanks you, and as for Frank, well, that goes without saying.

Please donate to Feline Friends London

March 14, 2019 • 8:15 am

I must admit that I was a bit disappointed in the response when I asked readers yesterday to kick in a few bucks (or pounds) to support the Official Website Charity®, now Feline Friends London, a no-kill and all-volunteer cat rescue organization that re-homes felines taken from the London Streets. I thought that people who read this site regularly and enjoy at least some of it wouldn’t mind paying, say, $5 for ten years worth of entertainment.

A lot of people did donate (and said so in the comments, which enters them in a book contest), and I’m immensely grateful for their response. However, only about 50 people responded in the comments, and I had expected 100. After all, if every subscriber gave just one pound (donations are in pounds), the charity would get $77,781.45! One pound isn’t a lot, is it? (I recognize that some who donated might not have registered with a comment.)

I’ll be repeating this appeal every other day for about a week, and then leave you be. But if you haven’t donated yet, please consider doing so, as it’s a terrific cause and the organization is not flush with cash. You can donate as little as you want (donations at the site below—click on screenshot—start at ten pounds, which is only two Starbucks lattes, but you can write in less, using your credit card).

Please click on the site below (or this link) to donate to the organization, described in my earlier post.  The cats thank you, Feline Friends London thanks you, and for myself, well, that goes without saying. If you donate, put your name in either the comments below or at my first post, and you’ll get the chance to win an autographed book with a cat of your choice drawn in it.

Here are some of the cats who need homes:

Encomiums for Doctors without Borders

April 18, 2015 • 10:30 am

I want to tout the Official Website Charity™ today, Doctors Without Borders (DwB), or, to use its official name, Médicins Sans Frontières. Reader Pyers pointed out to me an article in today’s Torygraph that describes the organization and its efforts. And believe me, I vetted this organization thoroughly before I designed it as the site’s charity: it’s completely secular, full of dedicated people, and the vast bulk of donations (over 87%) go for medical assistance. It gets the highest rating from Charity Navigator.

Of course, one of the reasons I want you to read this piece is because eventually I’ll ask readers to donate again, as I’m thinking of having a raffle for Faith versus Fact when it comes out, with a specially autographed first-edition hardcover copy (with a drawing to the winner’s specifications) going to a randomly selected reader who donates a modest sum to the organization.

At any rate, the Torygraph piece is long, dealing largely with a description of how DwB operated during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. I doubt that I would have had the courage to work with Ebola victims! After that, the piece talks a little about the organization:

For four decades MSF volunteers have worked in war zones and disaster areas, but probably never in conditions as harrowing or lonely as this. ‘It was awful, really, really awful, seventh level of hell stuff,’ Henry Gray, the British operations manager of MSF’s Ebola Response Team, said.

It is easy to be sceptical about large international NGOs, to see them as bloated, bureaucratic and ineffective. I was appalled by the way they used the Haiti earthquake of 2010 to raise vast amounts of money, little of which benefited the victims. But I have long made an exception for MSF, not least because I have repeatedly found their volunteers quietly working away in appalling conditions in some of the world’s worst hell holes.

Long after most of the other NGOs – and television cameras – had left Haiti, for example, I found MSF in Cité Soleil, reputedly the Western hemisphere’s worst slum, treating legions of destitute Haitians racked by cholera. In 2012 I found them secretly helping the bombed and traumatised civilians of rebel-held northern Syria when no other major NGO dared operate there.

Founded in 1971 by a group of French doctors outraged by Nigeria’s blockade and starvation of the secessionist province of Biafra, and by the international community’s silent complicity in that atrocity, its medics have since worked on the front line of countless catastrophes. They have delivered aid to beleaguered civilians during wars, genocides, revolutions, plagues, earthquakes, floods and famines. They have risked their lives in all the world’s most notorious ‘beauty spots’ – Rwanda, Congo, Somalia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Chechnya, Gaza, the Central African Republic, Darfur, South Sudan, eastern Ukraine. ‘First in, last out’ is their mantra.

Can you beat that? There’s more, and I’ll have to limit myself lest I reproduce the whole piece:

MSF has had scores of volunteers killed, wounded and abducted, but curtails a mission only in extreme circumstances – after five of its staff were kidnapped in Syria, the murder of five others in Afghanistan, and multiple killings and abductions in Somalia. In 1999 it won the Nobel Peace Prize.

It is now the world’s largest medical humanitarian organisation, with 23 national associations, an annual budget of well over $1 billion and more than 35,000 local and international staff in more than 60 countries. Yet it remains more of a grass-roots movement than an organisation – a small army of doctors, nurses, engineers and logisticians all committed to the ethos of its founders.

Its primary goal is to provide health care to people in need regardless of their race, religion or affiliations. To do that it remains resolutely neutral in any conflict, and independent of any political, religious or economic powers. It will talk to the most brutal terrorist organisations and repressive regimes to access the civilian populations they control – the Taliban, Islamic State, Somalia’s al-Shabaab, Boko Haram. It insists only that its staff’s safety is assured, and that it can deliver aid without interference. It withdrew from North Korea in 1998 because the regime was diverting MSF aid, and spurned the US-led humanitarian programme in Afghanistan because it was part of the battle for Afghan hearts and minds.

By the same token MSF medics will treat anyone – wounded al-Qaeda fighters, Syrian soldiers or Sudanese cattle raiders who have attacked villages and slaughtered women and children – provided they leave their weapons outside. It knows that they may well resume their killing once they have recovered. ‘We don’t do good or bad. It’s not for us to judge,’ Paul McMaster, the retired NHS surgeon who chairs MSF UK, insists.

Now how can you do worse than help an organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize? Finally, if you’re not convinced, have a look at this:

MSF’s pursuit of neutrality and independence extends to fundraising. Almost all its income is from private donors – five million of them. It seldom accepts money from governments, but never from the defence, oil, mining and pharmaceutical industries. Unlike other NGOs, moreover, it does not exploit specific disasters to raise funds for general use, or use emotionally manipulative images. Six days after the 2004 Asian tsunami it infuriated other NGOs by announcing it had raised enough.

MSF is lean. The base salary for a field worker is less than £12,000 a year, and Joanne Liu, the president, earns a mere £76,000. Even top officials fly economy. Life in the field is so spartan that the MSF house where I stayed in Freetown turned off its generator all day to save money.

The piece is much longer than the excerpts I’ve given here, and describes the organization as egalitarian, full or arguments, contentious, but above all immensely dedicated. Running it is apparently like herding cats. But it is about as good as a secular organization can get (that’s not to imply that religious ones are better!), and if we atheists are going to do something tangible to make a better world, this is a very good way to do it.  Best of all, DwB is not American or British, or anything. They’re cosmopolitan in both composition and the people they help; and, after all, shouldn’t aid go not just to those who happen to live in your country, but to those on the planet who have the greatest need?


Ricky Gervais causes a stir by suggesting that people send $$ rather than prayers to Oklahoma

May 23, 2013 • 7:37 am

I didn’t even know there was a “send prayers to Oklahoma” Twitter site, but apparently there are two. So when everyone is busy tweeting useless prayers to the injured and homeless, atheist comedian Ricky Gervais decides to actually do something. According to Yahoo! TV:

In response to trending hashtags #PrayForOklahoma and #PrayersForOklahoma, the proud atheist popularized hashtag #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma, suggesting his 4.6 million followers give $10 to the American Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts.

Gervais, who reguarly spars with believers, began his growing online movement by responding to an MTV News tweet reading, “Beyonce, Rihanna & Katy Perry send prayers to #Oklahoma #PrayForOklahoma.”

“I feel like an idiot now,” he tweeted on Tuesday morning. “I only sent money.”

Gervais’ message has been retweeted 14,140 times. Predictably, however, #PrayForOklahoma is currently winning out as one of the social media site’s top-ten trending topics.


I wonder if these prayer-tweeters actually think that they’re really accomplishing anything, or merely that they get to feel they’re doing something without having to exert themselves in the least. After all, if prayerful intercession works, why did God send the tornado to Oklahoma in the first place?

I’ve given my mite, and I suggest you follow Gervais by donating to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund here (I couldn’t find a place to channel funds directly to Oklahoma).

h/t: Diane G.