Questionable Motives

April 1, 2012

What’s the Tennessee ‘Monkey Bill’ and why does it matter?

“I ain’t kin to no damn monkey,” is a stereotypical religious response to the very notion of evolution by natural selection. But this isn’t the main reason for the stalwart position taken against the scientific consensus that we share common ancestry with other primates. The reason is religious.

As Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Society, explains,

The theory of evolution is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures. (E)volution and Christianity are incompatible.

The explanation of common ancestry is incompatible with any religious belief that tries to suggest that humanity is somehow a special creation of a god… a god that can be ‘known’ because it/he/she has bestowed special gifts and favours and privileges to the human branch of the primate family and is therefore clearly deserving of our obedience to him/her/it… as it has been opaquely revealed in various scriptures (Creationism 1.0). In effect this assumption means that, to the faithful who presume special creation and/or divine intervention for humanity without evidence, we are to assume these different and mutually incompatible scriptures are actually divinely inspired science textbooks… textbooks that fail to adequately explain the overwhelming evidence for natural selection we find throughout reality – a reality that has revealed no compelling evidence to indicate any such divine interference anywhere in the chain of evidence for natural selection.  In spite of soothing words from the science organizations like the NCSE and religious organizations that support the  Clergy Letter Project that if one squints just right there is no compatibility issue between creationism and evolution, the fact is that there is no scientific basis on which hang a creationist hat, meaning that to maintain a belief in some kind of creationism relies not on evidence from reality but a faith-based belief alone. Those who wish to insist that humans have been POOF!ed into existence or that at some point somewhere some divine agency intervened in natural selection fail to appreciate that key word: natural. To be clear, one can sometimes find religion without creationism but you will never find creationism without religion.

Why does this matter?

As Mohler quite rightly points out, accepting the scientific explanation for evolution – a foundation upon which all modern biological sciences are built – causes an exodus of evangelical young people. Although Mohler references these effects on his own preferred religion, the point he raises is also true for any religious tenet built on a divine role in human development for which there is no evidence in support and much against (the latest being genetic evidence that clearly indicates no original human couple like the fictional Adam and Eve – which is explained in simpler language here). As the PEW forum on religion and public life notes,

All but a small number of scientists regard Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection as an established fact. And yet, a substantial majority of Americans, many of whom are deeply religious, reject the notion that life evolved through natural forces alone.

In other words, evolution is a very real threat to this creationist tenet regardless of which religion attempts to maintain it.

What’s a creationist to do but find some way to counter this scientific knowledge… but without any science to back it up?

Enter the Wedge Strategy, designed (pun intended) to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies and to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God“.

Theists have been repeatedly thwarted by the courts in the US from including the creationist tenet in science class. The latest (Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover) directly addressed creationism in its most modern evolution, namely Intelligent Design (Creationism 2.0). The conclusion was clear: ID has no scientific merit so it doesn’t belong in the science classroom.

Oh dear.

Those who thought that perhaps this ongoing battle had finally reached a conclusion were premature; let us now be properly introduced to Creationism 3.0: Academic Freedom! Strengths and Weaknesses! Promote Critical Thinking! This – not scientific evidence – is the next evolution in the Wedge Strategy, brought to us from the Discovery Institute along with a standard petition on how to best promote it without being accused of promoting religion in the public domain.

In 2011, eight states considered bills to include ‘academic freedom’ into the science curriculum, as if this freedom rather than religiously inspired creationism was in some immanent danger of extinction. As Lauri Lebo so eloquently describes – revealing the common language source for all these state bills -

educators may not be prohibited from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Isn’t that grand? What’s so wrong with more critical thinking? What’s wrong is that the problems inherent in evolution – like any science – are trivial in comparison to the robustness of the general explanation. Trivial problems in fully understanding and describing human reproduction is not an invitation to bring Stork Theory into the science class. Somehow this point is missed when it comes to promoting the equally unqualified notion of creationism.

This language of academic freedom helped bring in the Louisiana it’s-okay-to-teach-creationism-in-science-class law (SB 733, LA Science Education Act) and is the template for the Tennessee Monkey Bill – coined accurately to be more  ‘stealth creationism’ by the indomitable Barbara Forrest who works tirelessly to show how this creationist influence remains dedicated to inserting faith-based belief into the science curriculum. This continues now in Tennessee in spite of student complaints and a dedicated campaign supported by 75 Nobel laureates by a Louisiana student Zack Kopplin showing how creationist dogma harms his educational standing for advancement and employment.

Note that as in the Louisiana law, those theories protected under ‘academic freedom’ can include “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning,” tying in very nicely with the stated aims of the Wedge document. This is stealth creationism in action in spite of the ridiculous instructions to future judges contained in the bills that these religious-only, non scientific ‘strengths and weaknesses’ talking points are not “to be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine.” As the Sensuous Curmudgeon points out, this is comparable to saying

“Hey, Judge: Here’s how to construe this law” to a suicide-bomber’s explosive-laden vest being sewn with a tag saying: “Attention Bomb Squad Coroner: The deceased wearer of this garment should not be construed to be a suicide bomber.”

All of this legal and legislative and advocating aside for the moment, the real effect described by Dr. Paul Gross from this agenda driven religious attack against the cornerstone of the biological sciences is this:

(It) discourages teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

Really? Science education can be affected when so many attack it as ‘just another way of knowing’? And that affect produces poor student achievement results? Who could have possibly predicted this?

So just how poor is scientific literacy? Read it and weep.

This is the real cost all of us pay to keep creationists in business. Belief in creationism – no matter what form it may take – creates no new knowledge, opens up no new avenues of inquiry, produces no practical applications, and advances our understanding of the world we inhabit not one bit. It is a dead end resulting in thwarting, stymieing, and impeding real science, real progress, real technologies, real knowledge advancements. Seeing this pernicious religious effect in real people, who are convinced creationism deserves a passing nod of approval and wider public acceptance as a quaint alternative to contrary hard science, perhaps we can begin to better understand why biologists like Dawkins, Coyne, and PZ Myers spend so much time and effort counter-attacking this particular ignorance called religiously inspired creationism… for there simply is no other root cause for it.

Religious belief empowers creationism and it is religious belief that motivates its promulgation to infect and distort science. Some people will think themselves justified to doubt evolutionary science while accepting other branches like physics and chemistry conveniently forgetting that all are a single methodology. (But what can we expect with such poor scientific literacy?) Choosing to believe the physics of gravity here but not there to suit a religious belief about the aerodynamics of a flying horse for certain self-proclaimed prophets of god is as incoherent as accepting evolutionary biology within the framework of genetics here but not common ancestry there.

These kinds of Monkey Bills in public legislation matter a very great deal to all of us because they represent superstitious nonsense promoted and legalized and inserted under false pretenses in the public domain under the excuse of words that mean nothing more and nothing less that unsupported religious belief in divine POOF!ism. Rather than gain political capital from promoting poisonous religious beliefs imposed on the public domain, these politicians should be penalized by all of us even if some of us choose to remain privately dedicated to belief in creationism. Our future scientific literacy depends on it and all voters share in this current dismal failing grade we have achieved when we allow religious belief to have such a deleterious effect in our educational system. All of us need to smarten up and start complaining much more loudly and boldly whenever faith-based beliefs dare to enter the public square and demand effect.

October 27, 2011

Why is William Lane Craig not worth debating?

Filed under: apologetics,Dawkins,Debate,Morality,William Lane Craig — tildeb @ 9:44 am

Because it’s the wrong thing to do…. some might even consider it immoral.

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle over Dawkins’ refusal to ‘debate’ William Lane Craig on the basis – so Craig and his supporters insist – of intellectual cowardice. This is just too rich.

Dawkins has explained why he won’t debate Craig only to met with many times with this kind of typical journalistic dribble… widely accepted by apologists to fairly represent the legitimacy of Dawkins’ intellectual cowardice.

What I don’t see (other than on atheist websites like those found here, here, and here) are many apologists appreciating why Craig’s line of thinking is so dangerous and flawed. Sure, if we hold the man to the same standard as he would have us hold for Dawkins, he is at least as cowardly so that’s not it. I think those who endorse Craig’s stance as an apologist of intellectual heft need to be shocked back to reality. And the way to do that is to show that there is no difference between Craig’s line of thinking and that used by oneof the architects of the Nazi genocide: Himmler.

Craig is using the same line of reasoning as Himmler did, and that this fact should concern apologist supporters far more than it apparently does.

Here’s Craig:

“So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.”

Here’s Himmler addressing SS troops in Poland in 1943:

“Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred, or a thousand. To have gone through this and yet – apart from a few exceptions, examples of human weakness – to have remained decent fellows, this is what has made us hard. This is a glorious page in our history that has never been written and shall never be written.”

Cruelty does not become something else, just because it is imagined to be the command of a god. Yet supporters of Craig call this kind of thinking reasonable and I guess intellectually courageous when it clearly is neither reasonable not courageous at all. It is a rationalization to excuse the content of an atrocity – real suffering of real people in this temporal world – on the basis of the assumed sanctity of its source: scripture. This – what’s called the divine command theory – is what Craig is saying, what he is promoting, what he is proselytizing, and no ‘debate’ in the world will alter his position one iota because the line of reasoning he uses is demonstrably NOT reasonable. It is NOT intellectually courageous. It is immoral. Yet support for it is locked into position in Craig’s mind and those of his supporters as a matter of immutable faith, which is the mental groundwork necessary for atrocity to be done and called holy.

It’s the thinking Craig uses that is broken and it is broken across the board in his presentation because it is intellectually dishonest. No matter how much effort people put into correcting Craig’s broken line of thinking with fact – in his erroneous physics, in his erroneous mathematics, in his erroneous conclusions built upon these errors – he rejects factual correction and moral considerations of imposed cruelty and continues to spout the same intellectual garbage at every debate. He has immunized his mind from reality’s corrective input, and here his supporters continue to cheer him on while deriding others who exercise intellectual integrity for not helping this supporter of genocide draw crowds.

September 14, 2011

Who are stupid and ignorant people?

Filed under: creationism,Dawkins,Evolution — tildeb @ 4:52 pm

Those who deny evolution, of course!

I was just thinking of such people over at Eternity Matters where I was  concerned enough to craft a comment about a truly awful analogy that suggested an Oreo cookie slipped into a beaker of water represents equivalent evidence for the intentional design of everything by the Big Oogity Boogity Himself.  Understand that, as is usual on blogs where the admin is promoting a religiously inspired anti-evolutionary faith-based fairytale, my commentary is almost always moderated, usually left in moderation, published but edited, and quite often deleted if the argument is too well written … presumably because its just unwanted noise to the love-in of the harmoniously deluded reality deniers.

In this interview between Jeremy Paxman and children’s author Richard Dawkins (The Magic of Reality), Paxman asks if he really cares that there are stupid people around (after referencing 40% of Americans who believe the bible to be a literal and historical account). Dawkins says he does care, that he is concerned that children are being misled by stupid and ignorant people, because he thinks children deserve to learn what’s true and wonderful about the world into which they have been borne. No guff, eh? Furthermore, he says it’s a “crying shame” if children are denied that opportunity by stupid and ignorant adults as Paxman describes them. So why am I still thinking of Neil, the blog host, over at Eternity Matters? Hmmm…

Have a listen:

(h/t WEIT)

September 7, 2011

What is evolution and why is it true?

Filed under: Dawkins,Evolution,Jerry Coyne — tildeb @ 3:39 pm

For those who may not appreciate what evolution is nor why it is a fact, please enjoy this award-winning presentation by Doctor Jerry Coyne, Professor of Genetics at the University of Chicago, website host and author of the best-selling book Why Evolution is True:

August 25, 2011

Why is ignorance of evolution a litmus test for politicians?

Filed under: creationism,Dawkins,Evolution,IDiocy,Intelligent Design,stupidity — tildeb @ 9:57 pm

I know this is already done to death around the internet but it is so well expressed and so succinctly that I must re-post it here because it reflects my own opinion and disgust at voters who empower such politicians:

A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.

Just so.

The author, Richard Dawkins, has expressed it bluntly in this article: there is no excuse except pandering to the stupid for such willful ignorance to be held by anyone with a reasonable grasp of reality and the ability to learn. There is certainly no reason except stupidity to reward such idiots in politics. Those who do reward it with their vote need to be opposed in very blunt terms: they are exercising idiocy – or, in Discovery Institute wedge issue terminology about Intelligent Design, IDiocy. Voting for a creationist who denies the fact of evolution is an idiotic act that attempts to empower ignorance of those who hold a belief contrary to what is true in reality into positions of authority over all us in the public domain. Stupid is as stupid does. That’s what voting for a anti-evolutionist means: an exercise in stupidity.

(h/t pharyngula)

April 29, 2011

Why is the NCSE wrong to accommodate creationism?

Russell Blackford quite reasonably points out that When it comes to science education, public school systems in the United States and other liberal democracies generally have the secular goal of teaching students well-established findings, those that are generally accepted by working scientists.

But this isn’t reasonable enough for the NCSE (National Center for Science Education) when it comes to evolutionary biology. Unlike its treatment of all other scientific topics, when it comes to evolution in public education, they feel we must deal more delicately with the religiously inclined. They feel we should be more respectful dealing with christians even though many hold different views about how creation has actually taken place. They feel it wise to avoid dealing with the fact that most of them are wrong, can be proven wrong, and should, at least implicitly, be demonstrated to be wrong. Holding to some form of creationism – it is merely a matter of degree and not kind between Young Earth Creationsim and theistic evolution – avoids the fact that nothing in biology makes sense in light of creationism.

If the Pooh Bahs over at the NCSE wish to respect the notion in policy that parts of the bible remain divinely written or inspired, then is a matter of honesty to admit that the organization, as Coyne argues, is taking itself out of the ambit of empiricism and reason. You’re making a purely subjective decision based on revelation.

This is why the issue is important for the integrity of science education as a whole and the National Center for Science Education in particular to realize that’s why science organizations that endorse some brands of theology, while decrying others, are making a serious mistake. As Jerry Coyne points out in his open letter to the NCSE (motivated by repeated negative articles posted at The Chronicle of Higher Education , let the science of evolution speak for itself.

When this policy is altered to accommodate the kind of theology that presumably (there is little evidence of efficacy) allows for some kind of wider public acceptance for some kind of evolution, then the NCSE is choosing to support a theology that is favourable and good to its aim. Note this is not done for geology and plate tectonics, vulcanism and geography in spite of providing strong evidence against the christian doctrine of a great Flood. No special allowance is made for those who believe the tenets of astrology in the curriculum for astronomy. Alchemists don’t get special consideration and accommodation in chemistry. The subject of physics is not enhanced by pretending that it doesn’t interfere with belief in immaterial things. Yet when it comes to creationism and evolutionary biology, suddenly the wise people at the NCSE think special consideration for christian religious beliefs is necessary and thus warranted. That’s bizarre and, I think, highly counter productive for an organization concerned about educating our youth about science. As Coyne quite rightly points out, who are they (the NCSE) to decide what is “good” theology? What they mean by “good”, of course, is not “theology that gives us a more accurate sense of the divine,” (as stated in their policy) but “theology that best comports with our desire to sell evolution to the public.”

And I think Coyne’s conclusion – supported directly as it is by such people as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and many other highly reputable scientists in evolutionary biology – is worth serious consideration because it raises an issue that I think many at the NCSE fail to understand:

First, your repeated and strong accusations that, by criticizing religion, atheists are alienating our pro-evolution allies (liberal Christians), has precisely the same alienating effect on your allies: scientists who are atheists. Second, your assertion that only you have the requisite communication skills to promote evolution is belied by the observation that you have, by your own ham-handed communications, alienated many people who are on the side of good science and evolution. You have lost your natural allies. And this is not just speculation, for those allies were us, and we’re telling you so.

June 12, 2010

What’s with the militant and strident tone of New Atheists?

Filed under: Atheism,belief,commentary,Dawkins,Dennett,Harris,Hitchens,Religion — tildeb @ 5:00 pm

I read this complaint all the time: that the New Atheists are militant and strident and should take the advice of religious apologists and change their tone if they wish to communicate more effectively.

“I feel quite certain that a less emotional and less evangelistic atheism would garner far more influence. Atheism has a brand problem.  Lots of the people who do not believe in God refuse to call themselves atheists. Why? Because they don’t want to be associated with proselytizers” says Stephen Prothero over at Killing The Buddha.

Yes, atheism require some help to get its message out, and who better than religious apologists to explain to the likes of Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens why their best-selling books and sold out speaking engagements need more tweaking to be really effective. Yes, it must be all about tone.

It is very frustrating to be told repeatedly that one’s tone is of such tremendous concern when it dares to criticize the central and unjustified motivation of flying of planes into buildings, inserting theology into the science classroom, and undermining human rights and freedoms. The false charges of militancy and stridency about the tone of the message from New Atheists by religious apologists of all stripes is about trying to avoid the very real issue of being called to account, of being held responsible for appeasing the insertion of unjustified and caustic religious belief into the public domain where it has no legitimate place. That’s the issue – one ignored by far too many, and certainly by those of us coddled in the West who should know better.

Rather than be so concerned about the New Atheist’s tone, more of us should give thanks to those willing to stand up and express their (if not our) commitment to respect what is true with intellectual integrity against the excreta spewed by those of us who wish to excuse religiously inspired bullying, intolerance, and ignorance, who stand by and allow a concerted attack by religiously inspired policies, laws, and practices to directly undermine secular enlightenment values, human rights, and the dignity of personhood in the name of piousness and cultural relativity. The practices of religious belief in the public domain need more – not less – public criticism and the undermining of secular rights and freedoms need more – not fewer – public defenders. And if the tone by which this must be done offends, then so be it; it’s high time the tables were turned on those whom, by comparison, seem so accepting of the tone of religious offenders.

May 17, 2010

Threatened by clarity?

Filed under: Atheism,Dawkins,Religion — tildeb @ 10:14 am

What a nice way to put it… for someone assumed to be so strident, militant, arrogant, and so on.

May 9, 2010

What is the difference between scientific and relgious truth claims about the world?

Filed under: Dawkins,Faith,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 5:42 pm

Dawkins shows us a side by side comparison. Why is the religious one so funny?

April 13, 2010

Why is the pope a criminal? Consider these three strikes…

From Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic article:

The AP’s story on Joseph Ratzinger’s direct involvement in delaying for six years the defrocking of a priest who had confessed to tying up and raping minors ends any doubt that the future Pope is as implicated in the sex abuse crisis as much as any other official in the church. The facts are as clear as they are damning.

The Pope cannot blame the local bishops this time – they desperately tried to get the priest fired.

He cannot claim he was out of the loop: his signature is on the letter.

He cannot get an underling to take the fall: it’s his name and his office behind the unconscionable delay and behind the actual, despicably callous and self-serving reasons to protect a man who tied children up and raped them.

It’s over now.

When we look at this Pope we see a man who knew that one of the priests he had authority to fire had restrained and raped children. Yet he did nothing for years, and finally sided with the priest. He had more sympathy for the relatively young age of the rapist, rather than the innocence and trauma of the raped children.

We see a man utterly corrupted by power and institutional loyalty.

Strike one.

From Richard Dawkins’ Guardian article:

Lashing out in desperation, church spokesmen are now blaming everybody but themselves for their current dire plight, which one official spokesman likens to the worst aspects of antisemitism (what are the best ones, I wonder?). Suggested culprits include the media, the Jews, and even Satan. The church is hiding behind a seemingly endless stream of excuses for having failed in its legal and moral obligation to report serious crimes to the appropriate civil authorities. But it was Cardinal Ratzinger’s official responsibility to determine the church’s response to allegations of child sex abuse, and his letter in the Kiesle case makes the real motivation devastatingly explicit.

This pattern of putting church PR over and above the welfare of the children in its care (and what an understatement that is) is repeated over and over again in the cover-ups that are now coming to light, all over the world. And Ratzinger himself expressed it with damning clarity in this smoking gun letter:

“This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favour of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the universal church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.”

Suppose the British secretary of state for schools received, from a local education authority, a reliable report of a teacher tying up his pupils and raping them. Imagine that, instead of turning the matter over to the police, he had simply moved the offender from school to school, where he repeatedly raped other children. That would be bad enough. But now suppose that he justified his decision in terms such as these:

“Although I regard the arguments in favour of prosecution, presented by the local education authority, as of grave significance, I nevertheless deem it necessary to consider the good of the government and the party, together with that of the offending teacher. And I am also unable to make light of the detriment that prosecuting the offender can provoke among voters, particularly regarding the young age of the offender.”

The analogy breaks down, only in that we aren’t talking about a single offending priest, but many thousands, all over the world.

Strike two.

And from Christopher Hitchens’ Slate article:

It must be noted, also, that all the letters from diocese to Ratzinger and from Ratzinger to diocese were concerned only with one question: Can this hurt Holy Mother Church? It was as if the children were irrelevant or inconvenient (as with the case of the raped boys in Ireland forced to sign confidentiality agreements by the man who is still the country’s cardinal). Note, next, that there was a written, enforced, and consistent policy of avoiding contact with the law. And note, finally, that there was a preconceived Ratzinger propaganda program of blaming the press if any of the criminal conduct or obstruction of justice ever became known.

One should not blame only the church here. Where was American law enforcement during the decades when children were prey? Where was international law while the Vatican became a place of asylum and a source of protection for those who licensed or carried out the predation? Page through any of the reports of child-rape and torture from Ireland, Australia, the United States, Germany—and be aware that there is much worse to come. Where is it written that the Roman Catholic Church is the judge in its own case? Above or beyond the law? Able to use private courts? Allowed to use funds donated by the faithful to pay hush money to the victims or their families?

Good questions and salient points one and all.

And the conclusion…? Again from Hitchens’ Slate article:

Ratzinger himself is now exposed as being personally as well as institutionally responsible for obstructing justice and protecting and enabling pederasts.

Strike three.

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