Freethinkers of UTA

Promoting Science and Reason at the University of Texas at Arlington

One of our members got quoted in the Shorthorn! Students observe, sacrifice for Lent

Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 12:00 am | Updated: 12:40 pm, Wed Feb 18, 2015.

By April Agnew, The Shorthorn staff | 0 comments

Fat Tuesday is over, and today marks the beginning of a new season for Roman Catholics and other Christian denominations on campus.

Lent, the 46-day preparation for Easter, is a season of repentance and spiritual focus that allows Catholics and other participating Christians to give something up in order to reflect, said Jeff Hedglen, Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth director of young adults and campus ministry and UTA Catholic campus minister.

Lent commemorates Jesus’ 40 days in the desert when he was tempted by the devil before he started his public ministry, Hedglen said.

“We are, in a sense, walking the desert with Jesus for 40 days,” Hedglen said.

The season gives Catholics, as well as other denominations, like Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Evangelicals, the opportunity to sacrifice an aspect of their day-to-day life and be reminded of their longing for God each time they long for what they’ve given up, Hedglen said.

“The main idea behind it is you give up something you really enjoy, something you are going to miss,” Hedglen said.

Some common items he’s seen students sacrifice are social media, sweets, sodas and Starbucks. Some, but not all, who participate in Lent also add in community service, extra prayer time or extra church attendance.

Marissa Miller, nursing junior and student worker for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, gave up using hot water for her showers last year.

“It was a good reminder of all the many blessings that we have here, and the things that we take for granted,” Miller said.

The Lent season has a special meaning for Miller personally, she said. The 40 days of sacrifice allow her to learn discipline and to reflect on her faith.

“[Jesus] sacrificed his life for us, so we can sacrifice something,” Miller said. “Each time you think ‘Oh I can’t have that,’ it’s a little reminder of what the greater sacrifice is.”

Taking time to step back from something in day-to-day life in order to reflect can be beneficial to non-Catholics and non-Christians as well, Miller said.

Geology junior Sam Myers is a member of Freethinkers of UTA.

He said though he doesn’t participate in the tradition, he can see how it could allow people to see what their life is like without whatever they’ve given up.

“I could see it being worthwhile to do that,” Myers said.

Lent begins today with Ash Wednesday, and many attend a service where ashes are applied to their foreheads in the shape of a cross. The University Catholic Community is hosting an Ash Wednesday service at noon today in the Rio Grande Ballroom.


In Shorthorn: Freethinkers of UTA open discussion about feminism 

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 11:30 pm | Updated: 3:31 pm, Mon Nov 24, 2014.

By Dalton Sessumes, The Shorthorn staff | 1 comment

The Freethinkers of UTA decided that feminism must now become more inclusive to continue social progress.

The group met at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the University Center Palo Pinto Room to raise questions about the feminist movement. Some questions included “What is feminism?,” “How does it help women?,” “Is it still necessary?” and “Do some feminists go too far?”

“I think the principle is a good idea, but the term is exclusionary by nature,” psychology senior Melissa Daniels said. “I feel like if you want to have gender equality, you need to go at it from both ends, because there are inequalities on both ends of the spectrum.”

Daniels said that women and men both have specific gender roles that society is enforcing, and that is inherently sexist.

She said society needs to reach a point where people can be who they want, regardless of their sex.

Although the semantics of the word play a role, Arlington resident Bren Lawson said many feminists make the argument that males shouldn’t be involved in the movement.

“That’s another example of males trying to take over something that belongs to females and shift it toward themselves. It’s geared toward females,” Lawson said. “However, I think that argument is also unfair because feminism isn’t just about females. It’s about gender equality.”

Although sexism is somewhat a government issue that requires laws and regulations, Daniels said that the issue at this point is mostly a social issue.

“Legally everyone is equal and socially everyone should be treated equally,” geology junior Sam Myers said. “That shouldn’t need to be stated as a thing.”


This story has been updated with correct information.

In Shorthorn: Freethinkers to discuss feminism

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 8:00 am

By Dalton Sessumes, The Shorthorn staff | 0 comments

Freethinkers of UTA will be encouraging an open critical discussion of feminism to clearly define its ideals.

The group will meet at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the University Center Palo Pinto Room. The questions being raised for discussion include “What is Feminism?,” “Can it be anti-male?,” “When is Feminism fair?” and “Can men be objectified?”

“We value the input of everyone,” computer science senior Paul Holiday said. “Feminism seemed like a good topic to discuss, as some people are at odds with the movement and some of us accept the label 'feminist,' including myself.”

Holiday said the group values input from people of all religious, philosophic and political backgrounds, and they make a point to have discussions from a secular viewpoint.

“Our group values critical inquiry,” Holiday said. “So it may be over generalizations of certain aspects of culture, or some other discrepancy in the arguments that certain feminists like to bring up.”

Holiday said he thinks many people oppose feminism because of radical ideas about culture and society that feminists have recently presented in the media, and the discussion’s purpose is to help understand those ideas.


Video of our Graveyard of the Gods Event! 

See the video in link below. Freethinkers of UTA set up a graveyard of the gods Monday on the Central Library mall. 

They exhibited tombstones of various gods throughout the years to represent their organization and support the ideology of atheists, agnostics and skeptics.


In Shorthorn: Congressional candidates hold Q-and-A on campus

Posted: Monday, October 13, 2014 6:15 pm | Updated: 6:16 pm, Mon Oct 13, 2014.

By Mathew Shaw, The Shorthorn staff | 1 comment

Democrat David Cozad and libertarian Hugh Chauvin, candidates for Congressional District 6, answered questions submitted by students and faculty Saturday in the Lone Star Auditorium in the Maverick Activities Center.

They are both running against Rep. Joe Barton, who has represented District 6 since 1985.

The first question, submitted by Freethinkers of UTA, asked if Congress provides sufficient funding for higher education.

Chauvin said the government doesn’t do enough and education should be low-cost for anyone who wants it.

“We ship $30 to $40 million a year in developing countries,” he said. “I think a lot of that money needs to be redirected here to eliminate and alleviate student loans.”

Cozad criticized Barton for voting against the College Student Relief Act of 2007, which would have reduced student loan interest rates if passed. He said the university is where innovations that will grow and build society are made.

UTA’s DREAM Factory asked the candidates how they would vote on immigration reform.

Cozad said everyone should have legal status.

“We need education for everyone,” he said. “To help this country build its economy and our society in general.”

Chauvin said Congress has stalled for too long on immigration reform.

“We need a national debate. We do need to sort this out,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re having.

Physics professor Andrew Brandt asked if the U.S. should do more to prevent the Ebola virus.

Cozad suggested President Barack Obama put up to 10,000 marines in West Africa.

“We’ve got to stop this disease where it starts,” he said.

Chauvin said the Ebola virus needs to be contained and treated in Africa.

“Ebola needs to be addressed with the same rigorous finances that we’ve hit AIDS with,” he said.

As part of their closing remarks, Chauvin said he’s running as a libertarian to show people there are alternatives. He also said he’d donate 50 percent of his congressional salary to charities in his district.

Cozad praised Chauvin for being rational, something he said Rep. Barton is not.

“Mr. Barton is not a rational person to be in Congress,” he said. “He is basically a puppet, and I would rather see Mr. Chauvin in Mr. Barton’s seat next January.”

He implored the audience to vote for Chauvin if not for him, and said the country is approaching a lot of crises, such as the need for a transition to solar power and political factions stoking fear in the federal government.

Alumna Kim Feil said she wanted the candidates to discuss fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking involves shooting high-pressure water at underground rocks to stimulate the flow of natural gas or oil, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

“It takes 5 to 10 millions of gallons of water to frack,” she said. “We’re going to have an energy drought along with a water drought if we keep fracking.”

Melissa Daniels, psychology senior and UTA National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws director, helped organize the event and told the audience it doesn’t matter whom they vote for.

“I just want to encourage you to get out there and vote,” she said.

UTA will have early voting on campus Oct. 22 through 24. The general election will be Nov. 4.


In Shorthorn: Congressional candidates to visit campus 

Posted: Saturday, October 11, 2014 2:45 pm | Updated: 2:56 pm, Sat Oct 11, 2014.

By Mathew Shaw, The Shorthorn staff | 0 comments

Two candidates running for Congressional District 6, which includes Arlington, will answer questions from faculty and students from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the Lone Star Auditorium on Saturday.

The candidates, Democrat David Cozad and Libertarian Hugh Chauvin, will try to unseat Republican Rep. Joe Barton, who has occupied District 6 since 1985. Barton will not attend the event, his campaign staffers said.

Cozad, who ran against Barton in 2010, said his strategy for winning is to give himself and Chauvin more exposure because Libertarian candidates can win votes from Republicans.

“The Libertarians usually pull somewhere between 2 and 4 percent,” he said. “If I can get Hugh to get about 25 percent, then I win. He’s going to pull them out of Joe Barton’s side.”

Chauvin, who ran for the first time in 2012, said he feels strongly about the energy policy.

“I spent almost 30 years in the energy business,” he said. “I’m real disappointed at this administration’s war on coal. We get 80 percent of our electricity on coal.”

Besides energy, Chauvin said he expects to be asked about immigration and marijuana.

The event is being hosted by several UTA organizations: Dream Factory, University Democrats, UTA College Republicans, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws at UTA and Freethinkers of UTA. The candidates will answer questions submitted by faculty and students, said Melissa Daniels, psychology senior and NORML director.

“It provides particularly easy access to students,” she said. “The decisions that the older generations are making now will affect us in the future.”


In Shorthorn: Freethinkers group draws attention to harassment, abuse 

Posted: Tuesday, September 16, 2014 6:15 pm | Updated: 12:02 am, Wed Sep 17, 2014.

By Kenney Kost, The Shorthorn staff

Students lined up to toss water balloons at sinners during the Freethinkers of UTA Stone-a-Heathen event Tuesday on the Central Library mall.

For $1, students could throw a balloon at a club member holding the sign of their committed sin, such as “I spoke in church,” and the scripture the sin pertains to, said Paul Holiday, club member and computer science senior.

“We are drawing attention to people getting harassed and abused all over the world for being heretics or having different religious beliefs than what is accepted in their community,” Holiday said.

The event is being held as a fundraiser for the group. The proceeds are going toward having a guest speaker and other events the group wants to participate in this semester.

“We will have David Fitzgerald here in the [Lone Star Auditorium] in the [Maverick Activities Center] Oct. 2,” he said. “His topic is called Sexy Violence and Violent Sex: The Weird-Ass Morality of the Bible.”

Holiday said he joined Freethinkers of UTA because he was looking for a group of like-minded people to discuss his beliefs and philosophies on life.

“Atheists need a community so we can grow as a group, and more representation in government and really just in general,” he said.

Anthropology junior Ashley Wolff said most people think the event is hilarious and participation has been good.

“I’ve had a few balloons tossed at me,” Wolff said. “I think events like these can be eye opening for a lot of people. There have been some really good discussions that have come from this today. Whether it’s with Christians, Muslims or any other faith, this gives us the opportunity to let people know what we are about.”

For some students, like undeclared sophomore Mike Roske, the heat forced them to turn the tables on the event and pay to have balloons thrown at them.

“I paid $5 for them to hit me with water balloons,” Roske said while laughing. “It’s hot out.”

Roske said these types of events are important because they are fun, entertaining and bring people from different backgrounds and beliefs together.

“It’s a Christian-dominated area we live in,” Roske said. “It’s important for everyone to have the opportunity to express their beliefs and values.”


Posted in News, Campus on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 6:15 pm. Updated: 12:02 am.

Mentioned in a Shorthorn Article! Column: Students should explore full course catalog

Posted: Friday, February 14, 2014 10:00 am

Chandler Block The Shorthorn staff | 0 comments

There has been much debate recently about the usefulness of the core curriculum and whether there needs to be a reconstruction of the college class standards. The standards set now require undergraduate students to take 44 hours of basic math, science, writing and history. While some course selections might be limited to your Math Placement Test scores or previous science credits, there is room in the core curriculum to explore classes that interest you, and are not tailored directly to your degree.

Take, for example, the numerous fliers around campus advertising little-known courses that professors are trying to advertise. Just walking through Pickard Hall the other day I saw several fliers advertising classes in logic and freethinking. These classes might not be for everyone, but it’s niche courses like these that can provide a unique learning experience for students outside the basic classes. Too often, students sign up for courses based on how easy they think the courses will be and how little effort they will have to put in to achieve a high grade. More students should choose electives and courses that interest them. While they might not have the predisposed notion of being “easy,” if you are interested in the material being taught then retaining information will be much easier.

College is a unique time when students get their choice to take any class they want. From elementary to high school, there was always a set schedule that left little room for variety in classes students to take. College is a time when you can take courses and gain a unique perspective on the material that you would not learn anywhere else. Students need to explore their options of alternative courses beyond the required core curriculum, because college is more than just getting a degree. You attend a university to gain a superior education, and that should mean education in fields that you have interest in, beyond the cookie cutter American literature, psychology, etc. Connected to these classes are student-led organizations, like the Freethinkers of UTA, where students can follow the material taught in class with student debate and discussion. By taking the time to explore all the courses being taught by UTA you allow yourself to learn more about subject matter you otherwise would miss, and who knows? You might even reconsider your major after taking one of these classes.

Stone-a-Heathen Fundraiser!

Group raises money from expression

Andrea Fisher | Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2013 4:24 pm 

Visual communication senior Tannith Wallis hurls a water balloon toward members of the Freethinkers group as a part of their “Stone” a Heathen Fundraiser on Sept. 26 on the Central Library mall. The group used water balloons instead of stones for biblical stone-able offenses such as having tattoos. The fundraiser will help the club bring in guest speakers for the Freethinkers group. (The Shorthorn: Andrea Fisher)

In the Shorthorn: Freethinkers of UTA meet every other Wednesday to debate faith, science and reason 

Posted: Monday, October 24, 2011 12:00 am

Lindsey Juarez, The Shorthorn Staff | 0 comments

It was a little more crowded than usual at theFreethinkers of UTA meeting on Wednesday. The group of about 35 people was crammed in a room in the Life Science Building instead of its normal spot in the University Center Palo Pinto Room. The group also had a few more attendees, who said they came because of fliers handed out earlier in the week.

The room wasn’t too small for the group’s big topic: free will. Members sat in a circle of desks and exchanged thoughts and arguments. They brought up points such as the consciousness, the sub-consciousness and neurology.

For the group, no topic is off limits.

“I think it’s good to have a group like that for people to feel free to say what they actually feel without repercussions,” said Becky Robinson, founder of the group and psychology graduate student.

The group of atheists, agnostics, skeptics, rationalists, humanists and freethinkers meets every other week to debate various subjects with a focus on faith, science and reason. Since its creation in 2006, the group has invited people from all backgrounds, even religious ones, to engage in discussion.

Octavia Pinckney, an architecture freshman and a Christian, joined the meeting on Oct. 19 because she likes to debate.

“That’s the only reason I came: to learn and to argue with people,” she said. “I like that everybody’s coming from different perspectives. We learn from other people and we’re not trying to change each other’s minds.”

Robinson, an atheist, said she created the group because she felt there was a need for a place where people without religion could voice their thoughts. She noted how differently religion is viewed in Texas compared to her home state of Pennsylvania.

“Here, religion is more of the society,” she said. “I’m used to religion being more of a private matter. It’s between you and your god. And then I moved here, and it’s so ingrained and so pervasive.”

The reaction to the new group was positive overall, Robinson said. The first debate had a larger turnout than she expected.

“In our first meeting, I remember I would have been excited if five people showed up,” she said. “We had over 30 people come to our very first meeting.”

Robinson said there have been negative reactions as well such as Christian groups not wanting to participate in debates. Shawn Dunlap, a biology freshman and the current Freethinkers president, said the group is misunderstood because of preconceived notions about its members.

“People do peg us as the ‘atheist’ group, and that word does have a negative connotation, especially in Texas,” he said. “We’re just trying to present a new idea about how the world may actually be. That’s something hard for some people to stomach.”

Dunlap said the group is in the works to organize a food drive with the Baptist Student Ministry. He said it’s beneficial for the group to have religious people involved because it balances the argument.

“What’s the point of talking with a bunch of people you agree with all the time? It defeats the purpose of our discussion,” he said. “We had to play devil’s advocate sometimes because no one’s there to disagree with us.”

Robinson said the group never intended to be strictly for atheists or agnostics. Anyone who wants to logically approach a topic is welcome.

“I’ve always been an advocate of being much more of an umbrella group than the atheist group,” she said. “We definitely have members that are very atheist, but, as a group, we’ve always tried to maintain an open-door policy.”

The members do stress the importance of respecting one another during the debates.

“In our meetings, any idea is free for attack, but attack the idea not the person,” Robinson said.

The group does more than discuss different topics every other week. It also organizes fundraisers for charities and goes on field trips to places like Hell House, a Christian haunted house in Cedar Hill.

For the “Stone a Heathen” fundraiser, the group sold water balloons and allowed students to throw them at the members on Sept.29, the group raised $64.25 for the Polaris Project, an organization aimed at stopping human trafficking. The group has also raised money forFoundation Beyond Belief, a secular charity with humanist and atheist members.

“We’re not different people,” he said. “We just share different views about the afterlife and what it means to be a human being. That doesn’t mean that we can’t help people that have it more difficult than us and not as well off as us.”

Robinson said the group also directs students to other secular organizations in the area such as the Secular Student Alliance and the DFW Coalition of Reason.

“I feel like we’re the gateway to these other organizations,” she said. “This is a great place to find like-minded people, but there’s a lot more out there. Once you’re done with school, it doesn’t mean that you have to leave that part of that community behind.”

Freethinkers of UTA meeting

Next meeting – “Is religion a natural phenomenon”

When: 5-6:30 p.m. Nov. 2

Where: University Center Palo Pinto Room

Attend one of the meetings to join the Freethinkers of UTA.

In the Shorthorn: Americans who are atheists know more than those who believe in a higher power 

Posted: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 12:00 am

Brianna Fitzgerald, The Shorthorn staff | 0 comments

A recent study claims that American atheists are more religiously savvy than those who believe in a higher power.

The Pew Research Center tested 3,400 Americans via telephone from different religious backgrounds on a basic religion test, which covered questions about dominant religious figures, and various religious origins and practices. Findings were released at the end of September.

According to the study, atheists and agnostics scored the highest on the quiz, answering an average of 20.9 correct out of a possible 32 questions, while Hispanic Catholics scored the lowest, answering an average of 11.6 questions correctly.

Becky Robinson, an atheist and Public Relations officer for the Freethinkers of UTA, said atheists’ scoring the highest on the survey has to do with their interest in investigating different religions.

“Atheists aren’t afraid to question and learn,” Robinson said, “A lot of atheists are intellectuals. They learn by asking questions and digging for answers.”

Robinson also said many atheists, like herself, come from religious backgrounds, but turned to atheism after questioning their own religion.

“Most of us are atheists because we rejected some religion,” Robinson said, “I grew up very religious. My atheism came from me asking a lot of questions that didn’t have answers.”

Sandra Reyes, a Catholic and international business junior, said knowing Catholics placed last in the survey isn’t surprising.

“It’s accurate,” Reyes said, “Most of us grew up with that religion and don’t know anything else. We aren’t encouraged to investigate other religions.”

Reyes, who has an agnostic brother, said that she and her brother discuss each others beliefs and remain very open minded.

“He knows more than I would about religion,” Reyes said. “He’s read a lot about it. I’m sure he would score higher than I would on the test.”

Joshua Price, Latter Day Saints Student Association adviser, took the quiz and said his first general thought was the people who scored higher had higher levels of education.

“More educated individuals would have a higher awareness of general beliefs,” Price said. “Maybe Catholics know a lot about Catholicism, but the quiz is also about other religions.”

Gary Stidham, Baptist Student Ministry director, said the quiz isn’t fair in distinguishing what people know about individual religions, its only quizzing the what they know about religions as a whole.

“It was a little misleading in that it asked questions of all religions,” Stidham said. “What it didn’t answer was did people know more about all religions, or their own religion.”

Undeclared sophomore Dustin Daniel said Christians’ lack of research into their own religion is what harmed them the most.

“A lot of atheists know more about the bible than most Baptists.” Daniel said.

Cody Robson, Freethinkers of UTA vice president, researches different religions and remains open minded.

“I own all of the religious books,” the management freshman said. “I go to various churches and try to associate with people from all walks of life and learn from them.”

CorrectionAn earlier version of this story appeared in print on October 6, 2010 and on with incorrect information. This version has been amended with the correct information.

Religious groups welcome students with open arms 

Posted: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 12:00 am

Monica Nagy, The Shorthorn assistant news editor | 0 comments

With about 25 religious groups on campus, UTA has something for all types of spiritual seekers and inquirers.

However different each organization may be, they all have something in common. They all welcome everyone. With centers ranging from Baptist Student Ministry to The University Catholic Community, there are many open doors to all UTA students.

Baptist Student Ministry

BSM director Gary Stidham, said membership is not required of the 400 to 500 students who attend BSM events weekly.

“We’re here to help students grow closer to God,” Stidham said. “Any student who wants to grow personally and spiritually — we have a place for you.”

BSM hosts wideAwake, a Tuesday night Bible study where students worship with the wideAwake band. Stidham said about 250 students usually show.

BSM also hosts International Friendship Night on Thursdays with free food and networking opportunities for international and American students, and NoonDays on Wednesdays which offers free meals and a short Bible study.

In cooperation with other campus ministries, BSM welcomes international students to UTA at the Big Howdy event. The Big Howdy is an event geared toward welcoming international students and providing transitory help.

Stidham estimates that about 750 students attended last year.

The Cornerstone

Grace Community Church’s college ministry, The Cornerstone, also participates in the Big Howdy and hosts Friday night gatherings for International students.

The Cornerstone is a church-sponsored ministry with a university presence that aims to be welcoming to all people. Free burgers are given out on Tuesdays during lunch, and on Sunday nights The Cornerstone hosts Life[LINE] worship and Bible study.

The Cornerstone director Loren Bieg said The Cornerstone’s slogan is “Come as you are,” and that people of other religions should not be apprehensive to come by and chat.

“My hope is the presence and impression people get when they come here will speak for itself,” he said. “They will see a people who are honest about their failures, sincere in their faith, and compellingly loving.”

The University Catholic Community

The University Catholic Community has been out of sight to students but is there to serve the UTA community, said University Catholic Community director Stephanie Milligan.

With an off-campus location, Milligan wants UTA students to know that the center exists and is open to any UTA student.

“We are here regardless of whether or not you’re catholic,” she said. “We don’t check your ‘catholic card’ at the door.”

Milligan said students can attend Bible study on Mondays, free lunch on Wednesdays and Mass on Sundays.

Muslim Students Association

MSA President Ndaa Hassan, biology and business senior, said MSA currently has around 60 members between the main group and the female branch of it, The Sisterhood.

MSA hosts events throughout the year and is open to everyone interested.

Hassan said the group plans to put on an event the first week of school for the Islamic holiday – Ramadan.

Hassan believes joining MSA enhances students’ college experience by allowing networking with other Muslims on campus.

Freethinkers of UTA Freethinkers of UTA founder and former president Becky Robinson said the biggest meeting her group had last semester was about whether Islam advocates violence with MSA members in attendance.

Freethinkers of UTA consists of atheists, agnostics, humanists and people who promote science who come together for events and discussion. Robinson said anyone is welcome.

“It never gets ugly,” Robinson said. “We respect the speaker but we don’t have to respect the idea.”

Topics such as “pro’s and con’s of religious co-existence” are discussed at meetings.

Baha’i Association Avinash Narayan, computer science graduate student and Baha’i Association secretary, said members believe there needs to be unity between science and religion.

Narayan said Baha’i members believe all religions are united, everyone is one.

Members have weekly discussions, volunteer and have guest speakers.

Mentioned in Shorthorn: Don’t be afraid to learn about others’ beliefs 

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2010 12:00 am

The Shorthorn editorial board | 0 comments

Thursday marked the end of Islam Awareness Week at UTA, but it doesn’t have to mark the end of our awareness for other’s beliefs.

The university is home to an assortment of people from various countries, upbringings and religious backgrounds. Muslims rub shoulders with Christians, Mormons with Catholics, Hindus with Buddhists, Bahi’is with atheists — and the list goes on.

If this week showed us anything, it’s that we can accept and understand other’s beliefs without denouncing our own.

In a previous The Shorthorn article, psychology freshman George Hiler said Muslim Student Association members went above and beyond in sharing information about Islam during the awareness week.

“It changed my views in a more positive light,” he said in the article.

Non-Muslim women adorned hijabs, or headscarfs, to show support for Muslim women. Those who wore the hijabs for an hour received a certificate and were allowed to keep them.

College is supposed to prepare students for the “real world,” whether it’s through education in a specific area of studies or the experience from associating with people with different beliefs than our own. Much of that preparation exists outside of the classroom.

Religion plays an important role in our daily lives, whether personally or otherwise. Our experiences and beliefs shape us as individuals. As individuals, we live with others to form our community. Being aware of other’s beliefs is a start to living harmoniously with fellow students — both for the short stint at the university and once we enter the workplace.

Twenty-four religious organizations are listed on the Student Organizations website, and the Freethinkers of UTA, while not a religious organization, hold regular meetings and sponsor an occasional debate.

Visit a meeting or two, start a conversation with someone from another religious preference, try to understand their perspective.

Awareness starts with asking questions, and it doesn’t have to end this week.

- The Shorthorn editorial board consists of editor-in-chief Mark Bauer, opinion editor Ali Amir Mustansir, news editor Dustin Dangli, design editor Marissa Hall, and copy desk cheif Bryan Bastible

In the Shorthorn: ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Theists and atheists discussion includes evolution, The Big Bang Theory 

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009 12:00 am

Sarah Lutz, The Shorthorn staff | 0 comments

The Freethinkers of UTA hosted an open dialogue Thursday night about religion, moral values and their affects on man’s pursuit of happiness.

John Ferrer, Tarrant County College adjunct philosophy professor, and author Michael Craven represented the theists, and Kip Lewis and Zach Moore of the North Texas Church of Freethought represented the atheist viewpoint.

Lewis said that while everyone values happiness, each person’s values are subjective. Lewis said when trying to determine if the ends justify the means, he turns to, essentially, the Golden Rule.

Craven responded by saying that society cannot depend on happiness alone in order to find moral truth.

“Happiness as a source of morality, the problem with that is human experience belies that,” he said. “We have an overwhelming body of evidence and experience that demonstrates that there are a lot of people in this world who if motivated by their personal desire are perfectly willing to violate your happiness.”

The two sides first discussed evolution and The Big Bang Theory. Both sides agreed there were unanswered questions but disagreed on God’s role in those unanswered questions.

“The real answer here is we don’t know, but we don’t stop there,” Lewis said. “And we don’t say therefore God did it, you say lets look into it, lets examine it.”

Ferrer said when considering origins, he could not accept that life came from non-life, or nothing came from nothing. Ferrer said there is no explanation of where the explosion came from in the big bang theory or how life evolved from non-life.

“That really requires more faith to believe that something came from nothing on its own, then to say that something brought something out of nothing,” he said.

Math sophomore Chris Mitchell said he thought both sides discussed the issues well and fairly presented facts.

“The morality issues was a huge thing, on everybody has an innate moral compass that points them in the right direction and where do we get that from,” he said. “I don’t think we can get that from ourselves I think that it has to come from somewhere else or something else, so that was a huge thing that I thought they hit well on, and both sides were good issues and facts on all the issues that were discussed.”

Music senior Andrea Lewis said he felt the dialogue didn’t effectively go anywhere because the argument for religion is always the same.

“They don’t really go anywhere they just go ‘I believe this I don’t believe this,’” he said. “Reality always wins in my opinion, but faith they still hold with, because that’s what they believe. It’s like ideas versus reality, that’s what it boils down to in my opinion.”

In the Shorthorn: The Biology Department celebrates Darwin’s birthday 

Posted: Friday, February 13, 2009 12:00 am

Erika Rizo, Contributor to The Shorthorn | 0 comments

The Biology Department celebrated Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, and the 150th anniversary of the publishing of his book The Origin of Species, on Thursday by sponsoring the day-long event “Darwin Day.”

The event included lectures, a discussion and a vendor fair in Nedderman Hall. The vendor fair had 13 scientific vendors, like VWR International, that displayed things commonly used in the biology lab, like lab pipettes and petri dishes.

Bruce Lahn from The University of Chicago talked about exploring and investigating the genetic basis of human brain evolution. Harry Greene from Cornell University talked about the natural history, aesthetics and different conversations about evolution.

There was also a session of short talks and panel discussions about the state of evolution education in Texas.

Biology assistant professor Ellen Pritham was in charge of setting up the event. She said she was very pleased the event turned out well — the talks, documentary and vender fair were well-received.

“I’m so glad everyone took the opportunity to celebrate achievements and to learn of evolution and the progress made,” she said. “This event allows people from the area to talk evolution and its importance.”

Many science and nonscience majors attended the event.

“I like the direct face-to-face interaction of them being here to help us with questions instead of calling or setting up appointments,” biology senior Jyotiska Chaudhuri said.

The Freethinkers of UTA also attended the event. They set up an informational table about their organization for interested students.

“I’m glad to see UTA embracing Darwin Day,” said Becky Robinson, Freethinkers of UTA president. “In the current Texas climate, it is very important to advocate sound science.”

After the event, the Freethinkers of UTA offered pizza and cake in the Life Science Building as they showed a documentary about the evolution wars in Kansas, followed by a discussion on how it impacted Texas.

In the Shorthorn: Biology Department celebrates Darwin’s birthday 

Posted: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 12:00 am

Bryan Bastible, The Shorthorn staff | 0 comments

Darwin Day timelineWhere: 100 Nedderman Hall

9 a.m. Introduction and opening remarks

9:30-10:45 a.m. Dr. Bruce Lahn — The University of Chicago Department of Human Genetics, “Probing the genetic basis of human brain evolution.”

10:45-11:10 a.m. Coffee Break and Vendor Fair starts in the atrium

11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Documentary Great Transformations screening

12:15 p.m.-2 p.m. Lunch break

2:00-3:15 p.m. Dr. Harry Greene — Cornell University Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology “Natural history, aesthetics, and conservation”

3:15-3:30 p.m. Coffee break

3:30-5 p.m. The state of evolution education in Texas, featuring short talks and a panel discussion.

Speakers and panelists: Chris Comer, former Texas science curriculum director and Ray Eve, UTA Sociology and Anthropology Departments

Discussion chairman: Biology assistant professor Shawn Christensen

5 p.m. Birthday cake cutting and closing remarks

To celebrate Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publishing of his book The Origin of Species, the Biology Department is sponsoring a day-long event Thursday.

Darwin Day includes lectures, a discussion, a vendor fair and a birthday cake cutting. The event is free and open to the university and general public. The lecturers will speak in 100 Nedderman Hall and the vendor fair will be in the Nedderman Hall atrium. All of the lectures will be geared toward nonscience majors, so attendees will not need a scientific background.

Biology assistant professor Ellen Pritham said the organizers have spent months preparing for Darwin Day.

The event’s main purpose is to celebrate Darwin’s contribution to science and to help people understand what evolution is and how it affects daily life, she said.

“Darwin is one of the most influential scientists,” she said. “Even though he was born in the 1800s, his discoveries have changed the face of science.”

For example, his theory helped scientists understand how viruses evolve, which helps scientists develop vaccines, she said.

At the vendor fair, the scientific vendors will display things commonly used in the biology lab like lab pipettes and petri dishes.

“They are there to talk about things they sell,” she said. “It’s just informational.”

Biology professor and chairman Jonathan Campbell said the event gives everyone a reason to come together and appreciate all of Darwin’s accomplishments.

“Darwin Day allows us to bring in very prominent people in the area to talk about evolution,” he said.

Freethinkers of UTA president Becky Robinson plans to attend the event.

The event is important now because evolution gets challenged on a regular basis, she said.

“His theories were the foundation for the life sciences,” she said.

In the past, the group has celebrated Darwin’s birthday and is planning a social event afterward in 101 Life Science Building.

In the Shorthorn: Speaker talks on secular gov’t 

Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2008 12:00 am

Jason Boyd | 0 comments

Freethinkers of UTA bring a speaker to lecture about the state of science and evolution

Science and separation of church and state are under attack, according to a student group and its invited speaker.

Secular Coalition for America director Lori Lipman Brown will speak at 7 tonight in University Center San Saba Room.

The Freethinkers of UTA host the event, “Science under Fire.”

SCA is a lobbyist group for “non-theistic” Americans, according to their Web

Brown’s speech will focus on what she calls attacks on both science and a secular governmental model.

“I will focus on our secular government’s requirement that civil law not be based in theology,” she said. “The current attack on science should be of concern to all Americans — theist and non-theist alike.”

The attacks include limitations on stem cell research, creationist earmarks and abstinence-only sex education.

“A few decades ago, no one would have expected that reasonable arguments about viable fetuses would, in the 21st century, be replaced with attacks on cells in medical research and access tobirth control,” she said.

She said she hopes the audience isn’t all atheists, since her topics affect everyone.

Freethinkers president Becky Robinson said especially science majors should attend.

“Anyone who works in the science field should be aware of what’s going on,” she said.

She believes the country’s view of Texas’ science prowess becomes diminished with creationist leanings, which can affect the job market for science graduates.

“We’re seen as backward,” she said. “We’re seen as anti-science.”

There hasn’t been hiring decreases for Texas science graduates, said Tim Henry, Freethinkers adviser and biology instructor. But, he said, there have been some political signs in the state.

Chris Comer, Texas Education Agency science curriculum director, resigned to avoid being fired after accusations of pushing evolution too strongly, she said in a Dallas Morning News article. The upcoming elections host a few battles for separation of church and state, Robinson said.

An Oct. 27 Associated Press story about down-ballot races highlighted State Board of Education races that could swing the board to the creationism or intelligent design side.

The board sets school curricula, textbooks and manages the $25 billion Permanent School Fund. The story said some close races could oust long-supporters of keeping creationism and intelligent design out of schools.

The board will re-examine the science curriculum later this year.

Robinson said that since Texas is one of the largest textbook buyers, some national textbook makers conform to Texas standards to streamline the process, so the decisions could have a domino effect.

Henry said creationism or intelligent design should be taught in a philosophy class.

“It’s not science,” he said. “It will never be science.”

In the Shorthorn: The Difference Between Good and Evil 

Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 12:00 am

Sarah Lutz | 0 comments

The debate sponsored by the Freethinkers will attempt to answer this philosophical question.

The Freethinkers of UTA are presenting a debate asking “Is God Good?,” at 7 p.m. Thursday in Room 124 Life Science Building.

The debate will be between Tarrant County College adjunct psychology professor John Ferrer and Zachary Moore, executive director of the North Texas Church of Free Thought.

Moore and Ferrer discussed many different topics before choosing the one to be debated.

“It taps into a specific philosophical question,” Moore said. “If there is a god who is all good and can do anything, why does evil exist?”

He wanted to debate this topic because it’s not necessarily an argument for atheism.

“It’s also good because it allows us to bring up the subject of what is good, what is evil, and how do we even determine these things,” he said.

Ferrer, who is arguing the “pro” side, wants to debate because he feels the religious side doesn’t always give strong representation backed by intelligent argument that can go past repeating what a pastor said in a sermon.

“I’m going to be arguing that while evil in the world is tough to deal with, it is not evidence enough to disband religion,” he said.

Ferrer went to what was supposed to be a similar debate between Kevin Harris, moderator for the “Is God Good?” debate, and Dan Barker, member of the Freethinkers. Ferrer after Harris canceled, the debate turned into a two-hour sermon conducted by Barker on atheism.

“I approached the president of the Freethinkers and said I would be willing to represent the Christian side in a future debate,” he said.

Harris, the debate’s moderator, said the debate in which he was previously scheduled was to argue God’s existence. Harris couldn’t attend the debate because his wife became sick only hours before the debate started.

“I think because of my media experience, as well as experience in philosophy and debate, they wanted me to moderate at this one,” Harris said.

Becky Robinson, physiology graduate student and Freethinkers of UTA president, organized the debate and the organization’s past events.

“As the resident Freethinkers, we try to bring events to campus,” Robinson said. “We have distinct organizations but do joint events together because we have two like-minded organizations.”

Robinson said the Freethinkers of UTA asked Harris to moderate to assure the debate’s fairness.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” she said. “It will be an interesting debate. Yes, we’re sponsoring it, but the moderator is a minister, which other people may see as the other side.”

In the Shorthorn: Student behind 1963 ruling shares experience 

Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008 12:00 am

Jhericca Johnson, The Shorthorn staff | 0 comments

Ellery Schempp speaks with students about Supreme Court ruling

When Ellery Schempp’s high school required students to read ten Bible verses every morning “to learn valuable moral lessons,” he began to wonder if the students of Abington High School had fewer morals than students everywhere else.

Schempp was the main student involved in the 1963 Abington School District v. Schempp Supreme Court case which declared school-sanctioned Bible reading unconstitutional. He spoke Thursday in the University Center Red River Room to tell the campus community about his experience.

At the event, which was sponsored by Freethinkers of UTA, Schempp told students how the event occurred and his thoughts during the case.

In 1956, Schempp was a student in the Abington School District in Abington, Pennsylvania, and was told to read Bible verses every morning. On the Monday after Thanksgiving break, Schempp decided to bring a copy of the Quran to school and read it instead. His said his decision came from reading the First Amendment of the constitution and his own religious choice — Unitarianism.

“There is nothing in the constitution about the Bible, and there is nothing in the Bible about democracy,” he said. “And the word ‘religion’ is only in the constitution twice — in the First Amendment and the Sixth.”

After bringing the Quran to school and reading it quietly to himself, Schempp stayed seated while his classmates said the Lord’s Prayer and stood up for the Pledge of Allegiance. Immediately, his teacher asked him why he was disobeying.

Once he explained his position, Schempp was sent to the school disciplinarian.

“He told me that there were 1,300 other students following the rule and that it was all a matter of respect,” he said. “He said that he felt like I was being disrespectful.”

It wasn’t a matter of disrespect to Schempp, however. Schempp said he felt his actions were within bounds because of the constitution.

Schempp graduated from high school in 1958, but said his brother and sister, who were still in school, enabled the case to continue to the Supreme Court.

“If my brother and sister had not still been in school, the case never would’ve went forward to the Supreme Court,” he said. “Because a case cannot continue unless it directly affects you.”

Schempp said he still faced obstacles after graduation. His principal sent letters of dis-recommendation to every college he applied for. In addition, his brother was subjected to acts of violence from fellow students, and his sister, who was 12 years old at the time, lost friends and her social life.

“We got nearly 500 letters, too, some supportive and others not. Most of them asked us, ‘What are you?’,” he said. “I knew people were mad when they called us ‘communist atheist.’ ”

In 1963 the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court and it was ruled that school-sanctioned Bible reading was unconstitutional.

Interdisciplinary studies senior Rick Jackson said he is passionate about religious cases.

“Mr. Schempp fights for our freedom to believe what we want,” he said. “In that way, he’s a hero to me.”

Becky Robinson, graduate student and Freethinkers president, said she brought Schempp to campus because his story was interesting to her. Robinson heard Schempp speak before and enjoyed it.

Robinson agrees with most of his constitutional views.

“Everyone has the right to decide what’s true for them,” she said. “They just don’t have the right to choose for everyone else.”

Darwin Day Celebrations at UTA

Darwin Day Celebrations at UTA

Submitted by Lyz on Fri, 2008-03-28 15:53.
Darwin Day at UTASecular Student Alliance Board Secretary Becky Robinson leads the Freethinkers of the University of Texas at Arlington.  Here, she writes  about her group's exciting and successful events on Darwin Day this year.

As we did last year, the Freethinkers of the University of Texas at Arlington planned an all-day Darwin Day event on February 12th, the 199th birthday of Charles Darwin.  We hoped to spread awareness of science and education, mixed in with some political activism and good old celebration with birthday cake!

Our Darwin Day festivities began with a tabling event in which we were set up in the University Center with a table full of information both on the group and on evolution.  We had handouts with our spring schedule and an evolution FAQ in an attempt to address common misperceptions about the theory of evolution.  
Tabling for Darwin at UTA
We had a small PA system set up, through which we read aloud facts about evolution and Charles Darwin.  This set up some interesting interactions.  One woman walked by, and when we wished her a Happy Darwin Day, she got flustered and exclaimed, “I love Jesus!”  Ah, good times. 
One particularly interesting interaction occurred during the day, as a creationist came to our table, espousing that evolution defies the second law of thermodynamics.  Now, we have all heard this creationist claim before, but the outcome of this interaction was much different than what I am accustomed to.  One of our members, Matthew Benson, took the time to explain how this was not the case and that the man was mistaken about what the second law of thermodynamics really entailed.  He explained to the man, using examples from the internet to further clarify. And the man changed his view!  It was quite exciting to witness.
During our tabling event, we had people fill out postcards in support of sound science in Texas classrooms. The Texas Freedom Network’s “Stand Up For Science” campaign is collecting these postcards to then mass mail them to the Texas Board of Education to show that we, the voters of Texas, are paying attention to their upcoming textbook selections.  For those of you who do not follow Texas politics, our creationist-laden Texas State Board of Education will be choosing the new textbooks for science and health later this year.  Since Texas is one of the biggest consumers of textbooks, many smaller states go along with what Texas chooses, as the more books that are produced, the cheaper they are.
Our Darwin Day continued as we had UTA biology professor Dr. Tim Henry give a talk about the history behind evolution, various creationist legends,  and how the Christian creation myth is recycled from earlier creation myths.  Evolutionary psychologist Dr. Roger Mellgren spoke about his field of study and how we can find evolutionary patterns in our behavior across cultures.
Happy Birthday Chuck! Following the talks, we paused to eat some Darwin birthday cake and socialize.  We continued on with an Activist Training on the Texas Board of Education in an  attempt to bring more awareness to the recent events taking place that seem to favor the far-right faction of the Board.  We finished up our Darwin Day by viewing the documentary A Flock of Dodos.
All-in-all, it was a long and eventful day.  We hope we accomplished our goals of bringing to light our group, the subject of evolution, and the current battle with the creationists in Texas. To us, Darwin Day is about education, outreach, and fun.  We are already looking forward to next year, where we will have to outdo ourselves for the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday.

SC committee quashes call for meditation, prayer room

SC committee quashes call for meditation, prayer room

Written by Abigail Howlett   
Wednesday, 12 March 2008 07:47 PM
A resolution asking for a prayer or meditation room was killed at Tuesday night’s Student Congress committee meeting.

The resolution called for a nondenominational reflection room, but died with four votes against and two abstentions. William Knisley, SC community affairs chair, said the committee voted against it because their research showed no permanent space available on campus, and they felt housing different religious organizations in one room would create problems.

SC science senator Marjana Sarker said she originally authored the resolution because she thought the university needed a common prayer and quiet room.

“I think that something like this would really promote diversity and unity, and make people understand each other better,” Sarker said.

Though Sarker is Muslim, she said she wanted to make it clear that the room would have been for every student.

Becky Robinson, graduate psychology student and Free Thinkers of UTA president, said she didn’t understand why the resolution was needed. She said she feels there are plenty of quiet spaces on campus.

“[Free Thinkers of UTA] just think it should be an even playing ground for all faiths, including those who have none,” Robinson said. “It seems like a bit much to expect the university to provide it.”

Organizations are permitted to reserve and use buildings and grounds as long as it doesn’t contradict the constitutional and statutory restrictions on the use of state property for religious or political purposes, according to Section 1 of the UT System rules and regulations.

Carter Bedford, Student Governance and Organizations associate director, said any organization could come to him and reserve a room.

“Room reservation policies are there for students in organizations, but I am not sure about availability every day,” Bedford said.

He also said he couldn’t guarantee the same room every time.

Changing rooms every day would be confusing and a last resort, said Azim Ansari, architecture freshman and Muslim Student Association president.

“If you have 30 people showing up at a different room every time, there would be so many communication errors,” Ansari said.

UTA is not the only university to have students request a reflection room.

Southern Methodist University has a quiet room for students to get away, said Aisha U-kiu, SMU political science senior and Muslim Student Association president. She said the room houses about 20 students and is for all groups on campus, though the Muslim students use it the most.

“Whatever faith you are from, college is a time when you are swamped with all sorts of things,” U-kiu said. “You need a place to get away from it all.”

She said SMU helped accommodate Muslim students by reserving four rooms for a Friday prayer time. Because the Muslim faith has specific requirements for praying, three of the rooms are used for praying while the fourth room holds their shoes and belongings. The university helped the students acquire the fourth room because their shoes, which were left in the hall, were disturbing other students.

U-kiu said SMU’s Student Senate has been working with about 150 members of its Muslim Student Association to improve accommodations.

John Hall, Administration and Campus Operations vice president, said he thought the resolution was a church and state issue. He also said what the room was named would impact establishing a room to pray or meditate.

“If you called it the ‘prayer room’ it would probably raise the eyebrows of some,” Hall said.

Radio Interview with Becky Robinson

Becky Robinson was recently interviewed on The Samantha Clemens Show on WMFO 91.5 FM.  The audio files are posted on Sam Clemens' website:

Of Science, Fact and Fiction

Jon Snow has written a response to Daniel Holcomb's ridiculous article:

Of Science, Fact and Fiction

Science can give us information about the past

Re: “O Ye of Too Much Faith,” March 9.

Daniel Holcomb suggested that evolution is not scientific — or, at the very least, that evolution is an example of “bad” science.

Chuck Missler, engineer and biblical scholar, posed a similar argument. If the creation of life from non-life requires only that matter be subjected to energy, he asks, how come we don’t observe, every now and then, new life popping out when we open a can of peanut butter?

Missler commits a fallacy here. Evolution and the origin of life, though similar, are two different fields of inquiry. The latter asks where life came from and is theoretical. Evolution, on the other hand, considers the processes involved in the transformation of life-forms.

That evolution occurs should no longer be debated. The fact that a French poodle didn’t exist prior to the domestication of animals is one proof. Evolution, in this sense, is artificial selection. Natural selection is, strictly speaking, about “natural” processes. The science is pretty solid, albeit controversial among certain religious creeds.

Holcomb’s argument is similarly fallacious, though a more damning indictment of science. “Science can only explain what is happening now, and not in the past,” he says. If that’s the case, then why even bother with it? We might as well throw history into the dustbin as well. A social science, history is considered by most to be weaker than the so-called “hard” sciences. Yet those who deny the Holocaust or question the moon landing are called wackos.

The historical process is evidence-based inference. You may not have been there, but you can infer that it happened based on the evidence. Holcomb grants that you may have evidence but claims that you can’t infer anything from that. He might as well debate whether or not the Civil War occurred. He wouldn’t have to alter his argument.

The past is knowable even though our knowledge of it may be imperfect. Science is one tool that allows us to better understand the past, so that we can make sense of the present and have some hope for the future.

—Jon Snow is a political science senior.

Jon Snow

And here is Jon's unedited version:

Evolution v. Peanut Butter
Chuck Missler, peanut butter, and Daniel Holcomb: What do these have in common? If you take the first two and perform a search on YouTube, you’ll find an interesting clip that alleges to debunk evolutionary theory with an unopened can of “creamy-style” peanut butter. Daniel Holcomb, guest columnist for The Shorthorn (“O Ye of Too Much Faith,” March 9), suggests that evolution is not scientific—or, at the very least, that evolution is an example of “bad” science.

Chuck Missler, engineer and biblical author, commits what those in the business of conducting experimental science call a logical fallacy. If the creation of life from non-life requires only that matter be subjected to energy, he says, how come we don’t observe, every now and then, new life popping out when we open a can of peanut butter? For some people, that argument is persuasive. A detailed response is not the purpose of this column, but let’s suffice it to say that the environment of the earth’s surface billions of years ago is not the same as a can of peanut butter that’s been sitting in your pantry for however many months. (Warning: If you have a million-year-old can of peanut butter sitting in your pantry, GET RID OF IT!)

Missler commits a logical fallacy when he claims to have debunked evolution. Evolution and the origin of life, though similar (we’re talking about biology after all), are two different fields of inquiry. The latter asks where did life come from, and is very theoretical. Evolution, on the other hand, is about the processes involved in the transformation of life-forms. That evolution occurs is no longer debatable. The fact that your French poodle didn’t exist prior to the domestication of animals is one proof. Evolution, in this sense, is artificial selection. Natural selection is, strictly speaking, about “natural” processes. Again, the science is pretty solid, albeit controversial among certain religious creeds.

Holcomb’s argument is similarly fallacious, though a more damning indictment of science. “Science can only explain what is happening now, and not in the past,” he says. If that’s the case, then why even bother with it? We might as well throw history into the dustbin as well. A social science, history is considered by most to be weaker than the so-called “hard” sciences. And yet, those who deny the Holocaust or question the moon landing are called “wackos.”

The historical process is evidentiary-based inference. You may not have been there, but you can infer that it happened based on the evidence. Holcomb grants that you may have evidence but claims that you can’t infer anything from that. He might as well debate that the Civil War never occurred as to whether evolution is science. He wouldn’t have to alter his argument.

The past is knowledgeable even though our knowledge of it may be imperfect. The scientific method is one tool that allows us to better understand the past, so that we can make sense of the present and have some hope for the future.

Here We Go Again. . .

Another article has been published in the Shorthorn.  This is a response to my article:

Guest Column

O Ye of Too Much Faith

Evolution is no more scientific than creation

Click to enlarge
The Shorthorn:
Picture Blurb
Becky Robinson, Freethinkers of UTA president, wrote a guest column recently (“More Freethinking Needed,” March 2) defending evolution. Unfortunately, she misrepresented science and the origins debate in her column.

The gist of the essay was that evolution is science in and of itself. That is not the case.

First, the statistic from that stated 99.85 percent of scientists believe in evolution was from a 1987 issue of Newsweek. Not only is this outdated, but there is no way to tell if it is a real statistic or how the participants were selected. A search of statistical databases revealed no statistics on scientists’ beliefs in evolution or creation. As usual, the support for evolution is exaggerated, if not entirely off.

Secondly, the author missed the boat when she defined science. Science can only explain what is happening now, and not in the past. Scientific experimentation rests entirely on events that can be observed at the time of their occurrence and repeated in experiments. The claim that men and apes split from a common ancestor does not meet such requirements.

The technical terminology for this is the scientific rule of validity. For a measure to be valid, it must measure the exact event hypothesized at the time of its occurrence. This is also true according to the Principle of Falsification, which requires that a hypothesis be falsifiable, hence, testable. In other words, past history will never be scientific, no matter how it is represented. This means all ideas of origins are based on presuppositions.

Everyone has a set of beliefs that rely on presuppositions, or assumptions. In the origins debate, these are all that exist. This is because science cannot test past events. We do have facts — evidence or data — but their stories only exist in the past. These facts do not speak for themselves — they must be interpreted from our assumptions. In fact, everything is evidence, and we all have it. A pet in the home is evidence, but that does not mean we can know the story of its ancestors.

A discussion of evolution that gets this far usually ends up backing evolution into a corner, where the only recourse is to claim evolution is scientific because it is happening now. Examples of so-called “evolution in action” are misrepresentations of what is going on biologically. Natural selection — discovered by creationist Edward Blyth 25 years before Darwin’s work — reshuffles genetic information already present in the genome.

This is simply variation, not evolution. Evolution needs new, previously nonexistent genetic information to turn bacteria into biologists. A genetic “change” is not enough. This leaves mutations, which is usually the last defense for evolution. Mutations, however, are also not evolution, as they are copying mistakes that cause a loss or corruption of genetic information. As can be seen, nothing in science suggests that today’s chemical soup can turn into tomorrow’s chemistry teachers.

That conclusion is a matter of blind faith.

— Daniel Holcomb is a sociology junior.

Daniel Holcomb

Articles in the Shorthorn

Cliff Hale had a brief encounter with the Freethinkers of UTA during our Darwin Day event.  He wrote an article about his experience:

Liberate your ‘Free’ thinking

Open yourself to other viewpoints

The Freethinkers of UTA had tables set up, literature displayed and a public address system wishing passersby a “Happy Darwin Day” in the University Center on Monday.

I stopped and asked if the group had ever really looked at the evolution debate’s other side. The leader, Becky Usher, said she had been raised in the church. I clarified that I was talking about science, not religion. She had never heard of the Institute for Creation Research, so I knew she was unaware of the best available contra-evolution science.

I mentioned that the folks at the institute are published scientists and professors with multiple doctorates in fields including geology and physics. One of the trio at the table changed the subject inadvertently and our conversation died, as I had to get to my next class.

Before I got out of earshot, a bystander remarked that he had heard of a Ph.D. who believed in Bigfoot. The only reason the bystander would bring up that anecdote is to discount the institute’s experts.

The group members made a point of boasting that 99-point-whatever percent of “experts” agreed about evolution. Apparently their experts have some level of academic and professional achievement above and beyond other scientists.

In drawing a box around the experts at the institute, the Freethinkers expose the box in which they themselves reside. If the overwhelming majority of experts proclaim Darwinian macro-evolution, why is there a need for the Freethinkers to snipe pedestrians and evangelize them into the common cause?

They invited me to debate at their weekly meeting. When I was younger, I liked the rush from intellectual Tae Kwon Do, but recently I have wearied of stumbling across better-armed opponents and their unexpected arguments. When someone with more information or better credentials presents something I have no rote answer for, I stammer and worsen my position.

Now I direct people to the sources of my convictions. Let them discover, as I have, the same information. The most ethical — and tactical — thing I can do is step aside and let my betters speak. Denigrating an issue’s proponents without giving them a fair hearing indicates immaturity of unrefined thought. I recognize it in others only because I discovered it in myself.

— Cliff Hale is a film sophomore and a page designer for The Shorthorn.

Cliff Hale


Becky Robinson, the president of Freethinkers of UTA responded to Cliff Hale's article:

More Freethinking Needed

UTA group shouldn’t be dismissed as uninformed or close-minded

Cliff Hale recently wrote an opinion column reprimanding the Freethinkers of UTA for exposing “the box in which they themselves reside.” That’s true. We reside in a box that requires scientifically backed evidence for claims related to science.

Hale then went on to insist that the Institute for Creation Research has the best-available contra-evolution science.

Creationism is not science. The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines “science” as “the investigation of natural phenomena through observation, theoretical explanation, and experimentation, or the knowledge produced by such investigation.”

By including “natural phenomena,” this explanation rules out any supernatural claims. Supernatural claims, including creationism and intelligent design, do not belong in science. This has been backed by the leading scientists and the judicial system.

Hale asked why there was a need for a group such as the Freethinkers of UTA if the overwhelming majority of experts support Darwinian evolution. According to, 99.85 percent of America’s earth and life scientists support evolution. The National Academy of Sciences states “the scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming” and that “creationism has no place in any science curriculum at any level.”

Do I hold 99.85 percent of the leading experts in the field’s word over an unscientific claim? Certainly. Most historians concede that millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust, but there are historians who deny the Holocaust ever happened. Should we then teach in our history classes that both the Holocaust did and did not happen? Absolutely not.

The majority of experts support Darwinian evolution. It’s the American public that is sadly misinformed. According to, comparing people’s views in 34 countries, only Turkey scored lower than the U.S. when it comes to public belief in evolution.

Hale claimed “denigrating an issue’s proponents without giving them a fair hearing indicates immaturity of unrefined thought.”

Just because I have not visited one of the many creation-science Web sites does not mean I am immature or have unrefined thought. But I will dismiss a supernatural claim that has no scientific backing. I don’t think that makes me closed-minded. It just means that I am not gullible.

— Becky Usher Robinson is a psychology major and the president of Freethinkers of UTA.

Becky Usher Robinson

Becky Robinson's Rebuttal to Cliff Hale

As previously mentioned, Becky Robinson wrote a response to an article written by Cliff Hale in the Shorthorn.  She had to cut back her response considerably, due to space restrictions.  Here is her original response submitted to the Shorthorn before editing:

Re: “Liberate your ‘Free’ thinking”

A response to Cliff Hale’s 2/16/07 opinion article


Cliff Hale recently wrote an opinion article in which he reprimands the Freethinkers of UTA for “exposing the box in which they themselves reside”.  That is true.  We reside in a box that requires scientifically-backed evidence for claims related to science.  Hale then went on to insist that the Institute for Creation Research has the best available contra-evolution “science”.  Some claims from the ICR are:

  • The physical universe of space, time, matter, and energy has not always existed, but was supernaturally created by a transcendent personal Creator who alone has existed from eternity.
  • The phenomenon of biological life did not develop by natural processes from inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created by the Creator.
  • Processes today operate primarily within fixed natural laws and relatively uniform process rates, but since these were themselves originally created and are daily maintained by their Creator, there is always the possibility of miraculous intervention in these laws or processes by their Creator.

The argument boils down to the Creation/Evolution “controversy”.  First of all, Creationism is not science.  Period.  According to The American Heritage Science Dictionary, science is defined as: “the investigation of natural phenomena through observation, theoretical explanation, and experimentation, or the knowledge produced by such investigation.”  By including “natural phenomena” in its definition, it rules out any supernatural claim.  Supernatural claims, including Creationism and Intelligent Design, do not belong in science.  In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, Judge John E. Jones III declared that, “the overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID (Intelligent Design) is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”


Hale claimed that “apparently their experts (those who support evolution) have some level of academic and professional achievement above and beyond other scientists.”  According to, 99.85% of America's earth and life scientists (those that are experts in the field) support evolution.  The National Academy of Sciences states: “the scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming” and that “creationism has no place in any science curriculum at any level.”  So, do I hold 99.85% of the leading experts in the field’s word over a small, un-scientific claim?  Yes, certainly.  Just because there is a different view does not mean that is has merit.  For example, most historians concede that millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust, but there are historians out there that deny that the Holocaust ever happened.  Should we then teach in our history classes that both the Holocaust did and did not happen?  Absolutely not.  When the consensus of the experts in the field support an idea, that is the idea that is accepted and taught until a better idea with scientifically supported evidence can replace the current one.


Cliff Hale asked: “If the overwhelming majority of experts proclaim Darwinian macro-evolution, why is there a need for the Freethinkers to snipe pedestrians and evangelize them into the common cause?”  First of all, celebrating Darwin Day (which is celebrated world-wide) and reading aloud scientific facts is hardly evangelizing.  Secondly, the overwhelming majority of experts do support Darwinian evolution; it is the American public that is sadly misinformed.  According to, in a comparison of peoples' views in 34 countries, only Turkey scored lower than the U.S. when it comes to public acceptance of evolution.  We are vastly behind other nations in our grasp of genetics and evolutionary theory.  It is this reason that a group which supports science and reason is so necessary.


Mr. Hale claimed that “denigrating an issue’s proponents without giving them a fair hearing indicates immaturity of unrefined thought.”  I certainly wanted to speak at further length on the subject, but he had to leave for class.  I invited him to attend one of our meetings which have open discussions (not debates), but apparently he in not comfortable with that.  Just because I have not heard of one (of the many) “creation science” website does not mean that I am immature or have unrefined thought.  But I will dismiss a supernatural claim that has no scientific backing.  Does that make me closed-minded?  I think it makes me informed.


-Becky (Usher) Robinson is the President of Freethinkers of UTA



SSA Interview


Alison Bates, a Secular Student Alliance Campus Organizer, interviewed Becky Robinson, the President of Freethinkers of UTA, about the organization.

Here is the link:



We have been officially recognized by the University!!

In the Shorthorn: Monkey Morality 

Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 12:00 am

Camille Rogers | 0 comments

Many people — generally those of faith — tend to ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” when faced with a tough decision.

D.J. Grothe thinks that people should instead ask themselves, “Why would Jesus do what Jesus would do?”

As an atheist, D.J. Grothe himself does not accept Jesus as his lord and savior but uses the variation of the popular Christian mantra when he argues about the true origin of human ethics.

Grothe, director of Campus and Community Programs at the Center for Inquiry and editorial associate of Free Inquiry magazine, hosts the popular radio show “Point of Inquiry” and regularly lectures and debates at college campuses about science and religion.

Friday, in an event sponsored by the Freethinkers of UTA, he lectured on “Darwin Made Me Do It: Secular versus Religious Ethics.”

Much to the dismay of evangelists everywhere, he said that religion and morality can be mutually exclusive. 

“Evolutionary ethics” is the idea that ethical principles are derived from human nature and not a supernatural entity or a god. Social taboos, human emotions and even facial expressions are examples of how ethics is evolutionary and a form of adaptation.

In his book The Evolution of Ethics, S. E. Bromberg explores the relationship between biology, human behavior and the evolution of social rules. The reasoning behind evolutionary ethics is rooted in fact, observation and human experience.

Bromberg’s general message coincides with Darwin’s theory of evolution that human ethical systems evolve as a means for human survival. Moral codes are the result of personal experience and insight. Humans have learned over time that certain actions can result in unfavorable consequences, such as sickness, unhappiness and death.

A system of social morality was created and passed down from generation to generation to help people avoid life’s pitfalls. Because of this, individuals and subsequently the human race have a better chance of survival.

There are objections to the idea of evolutionary ethics. Some would argue that no one but their Lord can tell them what is right or wrong. They should realize that the theory claims only that evolution explains the “how” and not the “why” of human morality. It explains how a system of ethics might have arisen; however, it does not seek to justify these ethics. It only shows that people can have a moral standard in the absence of a god, gods or an organized religion.

If they had their way, religious political activists like Pat Robertson would have everyone believing that the only way to lead a good life is have the Ten Commandments tattooed on your back. They’re taking their platform from people in history like William Jennings Bryan, who once said that the mere knowledge of evolution creates immoral behavior.

Thankfully there are also people in history like Thomas H. Huxley, an English biologist often referred to as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his unwavering support of the theory of evolution. Secular ethics isn’t an oxymoron. In fact, it makes much more sense than the outdated ethical system offered by many organized religions.

— Camille Rogers is a biology senior and a columnist for The Shorthorn

In the Shorthorn: Campus Briefs 

Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2006 12:00 am

Deborah Threlkeld | 0 comments

Freethinkers meet to bash superstitions Friday night

The Freethinkers of UTA will host the Superstition Bash at 7 p.m. Friday on the University Center mall.

Psychology senior Becky Usher, organization president and founder, said this is the group’s first open event of the semester.

“We were thinking of our first event, and we wanted it to be fun, not controversial,” she said. “A lot of what we do is controversial.”

The organization will educate on and partake in common superstitions like throwing salt when it is spilled and breaking mirrors.

The event is free and open to the public. Members will dress in costumes matching their favorite superstition, such as witches and vampires, but costumes are optional.

The group will sell fortune cookies, baked goods and rabbit feet and will provide drinks.

— Deborah Threlkeld

Superstition Bash - Location Change

Due to a scheduling screw-up, the Bluebonnet will not be available on Friday night.  Have no fear, we are just moving the Superstition Bash outside. We will now be on the U.C. Mall, right outside of the University Center.

Everything else will go as planned. 

I wonder if almost having to cancel your 1st event is a bad omen???


Making Our Presence Known

As mentioned at the meeting, Dr. Badon was going to give extra credit to the students of her Nursing Microbiology course for attending her bible study.  I e-mailed Dr. Campbell, the chair of the Biology Department:

Dr. Campbell:


I am the president of the student organization Freethinkers of UTA.  At our latest meeting, it was brought to my attention that in Dr. Michelle Badon’s Nursing Microbiology course, she is offering extra credit to attend the bible study that she heads.  During the exam today, the projection screen showed:


Extra Credit

4th Mondays


Bible Study

7.30 to 8.30 PM


One of our members is enrolled in this course and was outraged, as am I.  I do not comprehend how a bible study is relevant to a Microbiology course. I certainly cannot grasp how giving extra credit to attend the professor’s church can be condoned by a Biology Department in a public university. 


I wanted to first know if you were aware of the situation.  Now that I know that you are, I wanted to know what actions will be taken to rectify Dr. Badon’s unethical behavior and gross misuse of authority. 


Thank you,


Rebecca L. Usher

President of Freethinkers of UTA


Dr. Campbell was quick to respond:

Dear Ms. Usher:

I was unaware of this situation and I absolutely agree with you that this is totally inappropriate.  I can assure you that will speak today with Dr. Badon and that it will be brought to a stop and no extra credit will be given.  If I were in the student's position, I would be similarly upset.  I appreciate you making me cognizant of this untenable situation and urge to let me know if you find there is not an immediate resolution of of any other problems that arise.

Best wishes—Jon Campbell


We are now officially activists! 

Superstition Bash

We have decided on our first event:

Freethinkers of UTA will be sponsoring a Superstition Bash on Friday, October 13th.

Start Brainstorming!!

We Made the Shorthorn!

A big "Thank You" to Krista Pugh on her article about our group.

Freethinkers Unite

Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 12:00 am

Discussing controversial issues and tough subjects doesn’t scare one new organization geared toward opening the channels of communication on campus.

The Freethinkers of UTA promotes free thought by students who consider themselves atheists, agnostics, skeptics, rationalists, humanists, believers and non-believers or freethinkers.

Group president Becky Usher, a psychology senior, said the group is not exclusive.

“We are not an anti-religious group,” she said. “We are a pro-science group.”

Usher said she developed the idea for the group when she went to a leadership conference at the Center for Inquiry, where she was exposed to others who shared her views.

She felt that starting this group would give a voice to some who have been silent.

“Instead of uniting around what we don’t believe in, let’s unite around what we do believe in,” Usher said.

The members discuss issues ranging from stem-cell research to phasing out the teaching of evolution in science classes.

Group secretary Megan Rorie, an architecture senior, said she was invited through Facebook and was intrigued by the group.

“I wasn’t set on joining,” she said. “I found out it wasn’t a religion-bashing group. A couple groups I’ve attended have ended up being religion bashing.”

The group will be officially recognized once the constitution and paperwork are completed. A faculty adviser is also needed to approve meetings, budgets and expenditures, though the adviser is not obligated to attend all meetings.

As of now, the group does not have a budget, but Usher isn’t worried.

“When the time comes, we will deal with it,” she said. “We could have a bake sale.”

She also plans to apply for grants through the Center for Inquiry once the group is recognized by the university.

The group is hesitant about charging membership dues, so everyone is welcome free of charge.

“I have a problem charging money for people sharing ideas,” she said.

Rorie said she thinks the group will provide a great forum for discussion.

“In this group, the vast majority is very tolerant of religions and beliefs,” she said. “It will be a good place to have debates about things that aren’t usually debatable in a school setting. I hope it can help to bring together various religious and non-religious organizations on campus.”


We have been recognized as an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance:

We will be recognized by the Center for Inquiry - On Campus soon.

We Have Sponsors!!

Dr. Daniel Levine - Psychology Professor


Dr. Tim Henry - Biology Professor

have agreed to be our faculty sponsors/advisors.