Questionable Motives

May 7, 2014

Are ‘honestly held beliefs’ reason enough to justify legal discrimination?

can of wormsWell, let’s look at the principle upon which all of us expect to be treated fairly and impartially before and by the law, namely, that

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Article 26, UN covenant on political and civil rights)

To support legal discrimination in a particular case means you must provide a reasonable justification to the benefit of all for that particular exemption against the general principle. This can be (and is) done when that justification can be shown to enhance the public good. For example, we can legally discriminate against all of us who have not achieved the age of majority or all of us who have been shown to be incapable of being responsible for our actions. Legal discrimination is permissible without breaking the principle of the covenant… but the justification must be the same FOR ALL.

Now let’s consider the idea of ‘honestly held beliefs’ to be the metric for varying what equality rights mean. The question can be formulated this way: does an ‘honestly held belief’ by another person constitute a reasonable justification to the benefit of all in your mind for the loss of your own equality before the law and the loss of its protection to guarantee them? Are you willing to have your legal rights be subject and hostage to the variability of another person’s honestly held beliefs?

There are a couple ways to come at answering this.

The straightforward answer here is either Yes or No. There is no middle ground. You are either willing to allow others (based on their ‘honestly held beliefs’) to determine the quality of your legal rights or you are not. The metric at work here is belief, and rests in the willingness to have your legal equality rights rights rest not with you, not empowered in and by the law, but in the belief-based opinion of others.  This breaks the principle that currently supports legal equality for all of us… not just against those whose legal rights and protection you wish to limit for whatever beliefs you may deem important enough but your own. Supporting the notion that ‘honestly held beliefs’ is sufficient to devalue equality rights to personal preference of beliefs means that you do not support the principle that upholds your own.

The extent of privilege our societies grant to religious belief and the institutions and speakers who represent them is truly astounding. For example, returning to the UN covenant on political and civil rights, we find the following:

“Discrimination is allowed if it is based on genuine religious beliefs or principles. This includes the actions of religious bodies or schools.”

Take a moment and think about that. What does it really mean?

Well, it means that the previous principle for all has been replaced in practice by the beliefs of some. It means all people are not equal before the law; our shared equality rights are in fact subject to the religious beliefs (and principles contained within them) of others, others who would deny them first for ‘honestly held beliefs… before any other grounds of justification are introduced! Where is the universal justification for this discrimination that demonstrates its fairness and impartiality to the good of all? It’s absent; what we have are lot of assumptions and attributions and arguments and conclusions unsupported by compelling evidence. This is faith-based belief in action… simply presumed to be justified because it is religious.  And that’s religious privilege in action and it undermines the very principle of YOUR legal rights, YOUR legal equality, YOUR legal protections. This religious privilege buolt on faith-based beliefs is incompatible with the very principle of equality law.

Another way to understand and appreciate the scope of craziness needed to sustain the argument of privileging ‘honestly held beliefs’ over and above and preceding equality rights for all is to apply the same reasoning, the same privilege, the same lack of independent justification to some other area of public interest. We have a host to choose from but let’s take a public water supply for our analogy and see how well the justification works.

The management of that public water supply is based on the principle of providing clean water for all… and we are all in agreement that this water should be safe for all to drink because all of us drink from it! But let’s say some people in the management team decide that certain privileged exemptions to that principle are justified by the ‘honestly held beliefs’ of those involved with providing this service, making the water supply safe for some but not for others. When people complain that their water supply is, in fact, contaminated – because some people honestly believe that the addition of industrial waste products containing toxins and carcinogenics to this part of the water supply but not that part at the request of certain industries to eliminate their waste is a net benefit to all, while reassuring the rest of us that we will continue to receive only a clean water supply – how is it a justification that doesn’t directly undermine the principle of clean water for all? Would the same exemption be allowed, for example, if the quality of everyone’s water supply – including the captains of these polluting industries and the management team themselves – were to be subject to the same vagaries of who received what quality of water when? Or would we as a municipality stand united and insist that the water supply be kept clean for all? Sure, the industrialists might complain that they have a real problem with their toxic wastes, but why should the quality of our water supply be their solution… any more than threatening our shared legal rights of equality be the solution to the demands of these religious for privilege to exercise their bias and discrimination in the name of the public good?

October 13, 2012

Religion in the public domain? What’s the harm? Perhaps a little a little prosody will help…

OUCH

My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m asking you—get off my foot.

You must forgive my clumsiness
I did not mean to cause distress
I so regret I did transgress,
As everybody sees!
It clearly wasn’t what I meant—
I mean, it was not my intent
I trod your toes by accident
I beg your pardon—please!

I do not know the way things went;
It might well be an accident.
My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m asking you—get off my foot.

I tell you, I was unaware!
It isn’t that I did not care
I didn’t know your foot was there!
It never crossed my mind!
I took a step; I did not know
That in my path, an inch below
My boot, there sat your tender toe,
Disastrously aligned!

The crucial point, is not, in fairness
The lack, or presence, of awareness
My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m asking you—get off my foot.

My friends and I—my awesome bro’s—
Have secret greetings that we chose;
We show our love by stomping toes
It’s good, you see, not bad!
You can’t assume I meant to harm
In truth, it shows a certain charm!
I take offense at your alarm—
It’s wrong that you’re so mad!

Your friends, of course, are not my friends
My toe is where their privilege ends
My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m asking you—get off my foot.

I do not care. I have the right
To leave my footprints where I might
I will not bend, nor feel contrite—
You ought to let it go.
I’ll step just where I damn well choose
If there’s a toe—I don’t care whose—
I’ll take my step. Some win, some lose…
Too bad about your toe

Your reasons are not my concern
But clearly you have much to learn
My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m telling you—get off my foot.

From Cuttlefish

October 6, 2012

What’s the harm of a little religious belief exercised in the public domain?

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) is member of the Science Committee of the House of Representatives and chairs the House Science Committee’s panel on investigations and oversight. He claims to be a scientist because he’s a medical doctor, which reminds me to remember that half of all medical doctors graduated from the bottom portion of their class.

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.

February 15, 2012

What is the Heartland Institute and why should we care how it gets its funding?

The Heartland Institute is supposedly a non profit think tank whose self-described mission is to “discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” Finding solutions for problems? That sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it? The problem is, that simply isn’t quite true; it’s goal is to lobby for corporate concerns regardless of the problems caused by these activities.

It’s major area of activity is to influence the The United States’ 8,300 state and national elected officials and approximately 8,400 local government officials in ways agreeable to its sponsors over issues it deems important… such as sustained criticisms against legitimate climate science and public education that attempts to deny parents the right to public money to pay for private schooling… schooling that includes altered curriculum to favour the corporate message.  As they explain:

people devote time to learn about subjects only if they believe acquiring specific knowledge will benefit them personally. Often, this seems unlikely. Consequently, most people choose rationally to remain ignorant about many public policy issues. The Heartland Institute has overcome the problem of ‘rational ignorance’ by inventing publications busy elected officials and the public will actually read and come to trust. Our publications are highly effective and inexpensive vehicles for communicating messages on public policy.

One might be tempted to think that a non profit doesn’t have any major sponsors so it would be less likely to follow a corporate, for profit, mission against governmental oversight and regulation wherever it may be found. One might be right… except this certainly doesn’t pertain to the Heartland Institute. It’s funding has been revealed at desmogblog to be very much a public relations arm of specific corporate interests.

According to its website, its mission is “to discover and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems”. Sourcewatch tells us that the Institute campaigns in support of:

  • “Common-sense environmentalism”, such as opposition to the the Kyoto Protocol aimed at countering global warming
  • Genetically engineered crops and products;
  • The privatization of public services;
  • The introduction of school vouchers;
  • The deregulation of health care insurance;

and against:

  • What it refers to as “junk science” (science that that could indicate a need for regulation);
  • Tobacco control measures such as tobacco tax increases (the Institute denies the health effects of second-hand smoke);

Regarding its current funding and responding to that assigned mission, Heartland’s central concerns are about disseminating anti-climate science messages and funding anti-climate science contrarians:

We expect to push up their level of support in 2012 and gain access to their network of philanthropists, if our focus continues to align with their interests. Other contributions will be pursued for this work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate policies.”

Heartland’s influence can be heard in misleading soundbites issued by legislators over climate science findings, which explains why it is commonly referred to as a global warming denial machine working hard to find funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the ‘alarmist’ AGW (anthropomorphic global warming) message.

Forbes Business magazine and other business press are favored outlets for Heartland’s dissemination of climate denial messages, and the group is worried about maintaining that exclusive space. They note in particular the work of climatologist Dr. Peter Gleick:

Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high-profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out.”

The Heartland Institute has a corporate sponsored agenda to fool people into supporting bad public policies by undermining good science to promote short term, short-sighted, unsustainable, harmful corporate interests. That – and not solutions to social and economic problems – is its real mission.

(h/t Cedric)

January 4, 2012

How do Islamic nations abuse the United Nations?

I have written many times about this push by Islamic states at the United Nations to outlaw blasphemy through the UN Human Rights Council, to make it a ‘human rights’ violation to dare to criticize this odious religion. They have now succeeded. Resolution 16/18 is all about combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.

The problem here is that some religious beliefs like Islam are themselves intolerant and discriminating against universal human rights and are in desperate need of sustained reasonable and rational criticism. The irony of fooling western secular democratic representatives at the UN into supporting this obscene piece of tripe by those whose sole intention is to undermine human rights and put all of us under the yoke of their assumed religious authority is rank and shows just how colossal is our collective stupidity in thinking that tolerating intolerance under the guise of respecting religion magically enhances human rights. It doesn’t. It enslaves us by undermining our human rights and replacing them with religious authority.

All those who voted in favour of this Resolution are a menace to all people everywhere and every single western secular democracy should denounce this Resolution in the strongest possible terms. Our governments need to fire those who dared to use their democratic vote representing us at the UN to undermine our basic democratic right to freedom of speech. Such decisions as this Resolution are incompatible with showing support and respect for human rights. This Resolution is a travesty, an abuse of democracy at the UN to reduce human rights in order to protect vile religious sensibilities from criticism.

But perhaps the most disturbing part of this disgusting Resolution is the notion of resorting to use  ‘combat’ against those who dare to criticize anti-human, anti-life authoritarian religious belief.  This open door to combat justified intolerance, justified discrimination, justified condemnation of religious authority, now needs to be closed firmly in the face of these religious stormtroopers who have a Resolution from the UN Human  Rights Council to intrude into your home, your head, your thoughts, your opinions and cartoons and editorials and blogs and commentary, and subject you by threat of force to paying homage to their religious beliefs that reduce your human rights.

For shame, people. For shame.

September 24, 2011

When are words worth more than a thousand pictures?

Filed under: public domain,Public policy,Religion — tildeb @ 3:34 pm

September 23, 2011

Why is there still confusion between what’s personal and professional?

Over at Wintery Knight, I came across a post about doctors being forced to act “like atheists.” Heaven forbid, of course. Naturally, I wanted to find out what this terrible imposition might be so I read the post about a doctor dispensing theological advice and commented. As night follows day, so too does moderation and deletion of my thoughtful comments occur by another cowardly intellectually bankrupt religious blogger (not that I’m biased). What are these delicate people – and I’ve come across many – so afraid of with a comment critical of their conclusions? That the sky will fall? It can’t be because of loss of audience: the hit counters reveal that the controversial comments I make increases the number of visitors, increases the number of pages viewed on the site, lengthens the time people spend there, and increases the number of comments made about the topic. I take the time and make the effort to comment because I think bloggers willing to espouse an opinion that interests me should be treated to mine… especially if it is contrary because the reasons will be (or, at least, should be) interesting to consider even if they are found inadequate or insufficient to change anyone’s mind. It seems a fair exchange in the public square. But editing and deleting my comments undermines any possibility for an exchange to occur, turning the site into a love-in of groupthink rather than promoting honest discussion about controversial opinions.

But honesty is always the preferred casualty when confronting faith-based beliefs with criticism because maintaining faith-based beliefs is contrary to maintaining intellectual honesty that has to account for the criticism. The honest answer to some faith-based belief is, “I don’t know,” rather than an assumption of the truth of the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But this kind of honesty directly undermines the the legitimacy of any claim to some divine authority if it can be legitimately questioned and that’s why criticism and doubt are seen by so many religious bloggers to be ‘attacks against’ rather than ‘inquiries into’ faith-based claims. Because of this, faith of the religious kind naturally evolves into a garrison mentality because it is built on something that is need of constant shoring up of whatever cherry-picked defenses can be used. Consistency and accountability are dislocated from faith and this is necessary for the faith to survive. That is why at its root religious faith-based beliefs have no capability to be engage in honest dialogue by its supporters when it comes to inquiring into the faith-based beliefs of individuals; the beliefs can only be maintained by a willingness to first be intellectually dishonest, to reject the honest “I don’t know” and substitute the dishonest faith claim as if it were likely true, likely probably, likely correct, likely accurate… without any substantive reasons based in reality to tip the balance to that likely possibility. This is the intellectual dishonesty in practice.

To change gears for a moment (but I shall return to the entrenched loyalty to intellectual dishonesty by faith-based believers), let me now turn to issues of personal expressions carried out in professional settings and why this is a confused problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon.

Like I explained in my comment to Wintery Knight, let’s take a moment to consider police officer Bob empowered to enforce the law. Do any of us really want Officer Bob to use the professional powers of his office to promote his personal beliefs? I don’t think so; I think it is entirely reasonable to expect Officer Bob to act professionally while discharging his duties and obligations to enforce the law. While acting as that professional he will be subject to the code of conduct and ethical requirements demanded by that profession… and we should expect no less. But if Officer Bob decides to step beyond this line established by his professional obligations  and under which he is empowered to discharge his duties while acting in his professional capacities then he is open to professional censure. This is not unreasonable for Officer Bob any more than it is for a pharmacist or fire fighter or judge or soldier or doctor or teacher or any other profession who oversteps their professional boundaries into the private.

When a judge decides to use the court bench to favour personal beliefs (like the new appointee to Chief Justice of South Africa’s Supreme Court, who has a long and misogynistic history of doing just that) that are contrary to one’s professional obligations of impartiality (justice through the courts is supposed to be blind), then professional censure is only proper. When a teacher enters into a personal relationship with a student, then the professional boundary has been crossed and censure is only proper. When a doctor uses his professional standing to promote theological treatment (or non treatment for theological rather than medical reasons) at that medical office or hospital or clinic, then censure is only proper. It is the crossing of the line between what is professional while acting in that professional capacity and what is personal in a personal setting that should be acted upon. That is where the infraction has taken place and is need of professional censure.

I have found that many people become rather confused about what is being censured and seem to have great difficulty understanding that the personal aspect itself is not (necessarily) at issue. Quite often the personal aspect that has motivated the crossing of the line is religious, so the issue of non professional behaviour becomes distorted into a faux criticism of some personal religious behaviour… as if the stand alone behaviour under censure was about religion. This causes a lot of unnecessary confusion about what the problem actually is: crossing the professional/personal line and why that crossing requires professional censure when done in a professional setting; instead we have opinions like those expressed in Wintery Knight that mistakenly confuses the issue to be one of religious expression under attack by the secular state.That’s why I commented, to clarify this issue.

Now we return to the inherent intellectual dishonesty of supporting faith-based beliefs: because my comment was deleted there as well as at sites of other religious defenders who seem hell-bent on pretending their faith is under attack from the godless whenever religious behaviour is censured, I think they are misrepresenting the issue intentionally. Someone pushes the delete button. The issue of non professional behaviour in a professional setting is intentionally and dishonestly presented by these button pushers as the state arbitrarily trying to censure the religious… as if government agents are attempting to turn professionals into – gasp! – atheists. This is not only dishonest and intentionally so but downright ludicrous in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And defending this garrison mentality over religious expression takes away from this issue that is causing so much confusion elsewhere.

Government is far too often brimming with those willing and able to abuse their public offices to promote tolerance and respect and accommodation for religious behaviour in secular settings, and are rewarded with political gain for their supposed sensitivity and politically correctness for doing so.  Many in government and its bureaucracy are also are quite confused about this issue; they not only start inserting allowances for accommodating personal preferences in professional settings that are professionally inappropriate, but attempt to legislate this confusion into quasi-judicial kangaroo courts under the banner of human rights commissions and tribunals to enforce it and financially punish anyone daring to criticize this state-sponsored abuse publicly.

But governments are not alone in this abuse: professional oversight bodies themselves confuse where the professional obligations end and the personal expression begins, insisting that certain professionals must live under its codes of conduct and ethics all the time… even into their private lives and hold an individual’s professional recognition hostage to this end.

As you can see, the confusion is endemic and it is not clarified when religious defenders attempt to co-opt what is an important issue desperate for public exposure, debate, and change to be corralled into serving only in religion’s defense. The removal of this confusion is in defense of all, for all, by all.

September 13, 2011

Why is the creationist movement so dangerous?

Because it is anti-intellectualism writ large. It most often an anti-science, anti-evolution stance (even when it pretends to be compatible) and it is infecting half of the governing parties of the US to the extent that someone who recognizes evolution and global warming as built on scientific foundations commits political suicide in the Republican party. Nearly 70% of Republicans reject evolution. So how does this reflect anti-intellectualism and anti-science to believe in creationism?

Too often too many of us buy into a notion that this difference of opinion between – let’s pick one particular science-based position – evolution and creationism means a difference in where we place our beliefs: with one side claiming some form of belief in an active, intervening creator – one who intervened and created humans either directly or intervened at some historical moment to instil into humans qualities which links the specialness of being human to our divine Designer – and the other side presented as exercising the same kind of belief in science – that all life on earth today descended from common ancestors subject to natural selection over a great deal of time. But this framing is a false dichotomy – one that favours the notion that everyone is a similar kind of believer differing only where we place our faith-based beliefs: in god or science . This, of course, is simply not true.

Faith-based belief lies entirely on the one side that false divide, one that favours the POOF!ism (or POOF!-insertion) of an intervening diety. On the other side of this divide are not those who apply the same kind of faith-based belief whatsoever; people who respect evolution are those who respect science. They respect that inquiry into the nature of the universe means to inquire into it using a method that provides us with testable, practical knowledge about it, knowledge that works reliably and consistently well for everyone everywhere all the time. That’s not faith. That’s not a faith-based belief. That’s a method that uses reality. Because this inquiry relies on reality to arbitrate what’s true in nature, it is not a faith-based belief that relies on something supernatural to arbitrate what is and is not true by the authority of god… in whatever form that message may seem to appear (scripture and revelation). Confidence in the results of the scientific method is not – in any way, shape, form, or fashion – a similar kind of faith-based belief that presumes the truth of an untestable conclusion as a premise but rather a method of inquiry that follows the evidence wherever it may lead and that reveals only what’s true from testing in that reality.

These two positions are not similar, nor do they produce equality of confidence. They are neither compatible methods of inquiry nor mutually supportive ways of knowing. They stand diametrically opposed when in conflict – like they do between belief in creationism versus confidence in the mutually supportive and overlapping causal evidence of evolution (the micro/macro qualification introduced by theists is scientifically incoherent) and are uneasy allies only when faith-based beliefs align with what’s true in reality, although many organizations responsible for promoting good science will claim that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Although technically true if no conflict is present, the position is untenable when it is. Only creationism that places intervention in such a way to not stand in conflict with the irrefutable evidence for evolution seems at first glance to be compatible, but on closer inspection reveals a decisive incompatibly, namely, the difference between evolution properly understood as a mindless, agency-less natural process versus one that is guided in some way – presumably with purpose and intention – by some mind with agency. The two are not compatible descriptions of evolution at all, any more than it would be if someone were to insist that gravity or erosion is guided by mindful agency when no evidence is available to support these claims about these process in reality.

There is no middle ground to be found here that is mutually supportive; one position is either true in nature or it is not. With no way to test the faith-based claim that there really, really, really is agency, there is no way to avoid a fundamental conflict over whether evolution is a natural or an unnatural, supernatural process; whether evolution is a mindless, unguided, purposeless process or a mindful, guided, purposeful process. Evolution in reality cannot be both. Theistic evolutionists would argue it’s possible, but only when the language becomes so befuddling that no one knows what anyone is actually describing. Metaphysics plays a central obfuscating role in this regard. Clarity, however, is the first but by no means the last casualty in this rearguard action by the faithiests.

Creationism, then, is one expression of a faith-based belief that stands contrary to science. There are no scientific results that support it. Those who say there really, really, really are results that can only be ‘explained’ by inserting a supernatural agency (followed closely by the assumption that this divine mind just so happens to favour Jesus’ over Thor’s as the inevitable result by a vast margin) do so only by grossly misrepresenting data, exaggerating both what is known and unknown by ruling out any role for plausibility, and even outright lying by presuming they can speak as if informed on what they cannot by their own admission know… keeping in sight the same sense of the term ‘know’ as they do of the influence of gravity and erosion.

Yet there are scientists who support creationism, so surely there must be something scientific to their belief. Nope. When their theistic evolutionary beliefs are examined, we find they believe for entirely the same reason as anyone else: as a faith-based faith.

So why is creationism so dangerous?

It is dangerous because it is politicized to bring benefit to those politicians who elevate faith-based beliefs over and above the findings of science if they just so happen to be contrary and incompatible to the faith-based claim. This means that respect for science as a method of inquiry and respect for why science’s findings inspire a higher level of confidence when something is true for everyone everywhere all the time are held as a value to be lower than, and secondary to, faith-based beliefs that have no such requirements. When this trust in faith-based beliefs plays out in other political areas where the results from scientific inquiry is incontrovertible but contrary to some faith-based belief, guess which side these politicians will support? Faith over science… what is believed to be true over and above what is true in reality. And this is exactly what we see in the political considerations from climate science; the results show anthropomorphic global warming leading to significant effects in climate refuted by many of the pious not on the basis of good science where 98 out of every 100 climate scientists concur, but by the faithful elevating the 2 scientists who disagree on theistic grounds to be an equivalent ‘side’ of some imaginary ‘debate’. But the debate is not in the scientific community (other than very normal, highly typical, quibbles); it is between those who respect faith-based beliefs as the primary revelation of what is true in nature and those who have confidence that reality arbitrates what’s true in reality. When leadership hopefuls don’t really care about reality, then surely the vast majority of citizens being asked to vote will judge this lack of caring to be a significant liability. It is a liability in every other area of life, so that should offer us a clue if we aren’t sure.

This incompatibility between faith-based beliefs and science cannot inform wise public policies when we have conflict between them. And because those who support faith-based beliefs cannot even agree among themselves what is true in nature, I see no reason to think that anything will or even might change should such people get into public office intent as they are on serving first and foremost those reality-deniers who put them there. Not only will science be relegated to a supportive role of faith-based beliefs, which I think is bad enough, but to the shock of no one except the colossally stupid I think we find it inevitable that we will have public conflict between those who support competing faith-based beliefs. How can those who view faith-based beliefs as equivalent to what’s true in reality not make faith positions part of our political discourse? How can they not use the state to influence policies that will tend to favour one set of faith-based beliefs over another? Even those who hold faith-based beliefs superior to what’s true in reality really have almost as much to lose as those who respect science by supporting a winning faith-based politician. This is where accommodationism leads, where belief in the compatibility between science and religion will take us: into the political and into public office and into the public domain and all its institutions. We already see this on the Supreme Court of the US, its military, its public education in ongoing battle with ‘teach the controversy’ and ‘academic freedom’ to teach Oogity Boogity as some kind of alternative yet compatible science.

The danger of the creationist movement is to replace our quest to know about reality backed up by what’s true in reality with the assumption we already have the ability to answer all the questions we might have through faith, and can then safely ignore – like we are doing with AGW’s causal link to climate change – reality’s role in telling us we are wrong in our beliefs. Nothing good can come from this delusional trust of Oogity Boogity, and that’s why it’s dangerous to have any confidence in those who are so willing to reject reality and present themselves as the champions of what is indistinguishable from a collective of ignorance.

September 10, 2011

What are the boundaries of religion?

Religions recognize no boundaries. There exists no issue in human affairs about which the religious think their faith should have no determining say.

This is the problem the evangelical faith-is-a-gift always brings to us all: a willingness to insert some tyrannical element of their faith into any and all human affairs regardless of the topic. This is why faith – built on the foundation of its own colossal arrogance that what is true in reality is arbitrated by faith rather than reality  – attempts to determine pious science, determine pious justice, determine pious rights and pious freedoms, determine pious morality, determine the very nature of the universe and everything within it. Not even satisfied by this boundary of the natural universe, the religious think themselves justified to define what lies beyond the natural – from ghosts and goblins and spirits to angels and devils and demons… right up to the Big Oogity Boogity Himself (BOBH): god. Suspending physical laws and inserting miracles galore as if they were true into the natural world is child’s play to the mind that has suspended all boundaries under which all of us do live – in the name of promoting this faith over that one –  for even reality itself is no boundary worthy of recognition by the faithful.

The gift that is faith is taken to be an open invitation to impose these beliefs by hook or by crook wherever and whenever possible – and any inconvenience to the rest of us busy dealing with reality by these enthusiastic and earnest and nice faith-heads is excused (by the faithful, of course) as simply a necessary burden (and the root cause of persecution should the response be anything less than nice… meaning having their offered tyranny denied). It’s hard work being the messenger, you see, self-aggrandized as having been selected – called into service! – by no less than the Big Oogity Boogity Himself (BOBH) to deliver the important Good News.

And this mission (and here) would be so much more effective if only the state would help impose this tyranny.

That’s why this warped thinking – that religion has a place in the public domain supported by the state – is a problem that will never, ever, fade away as long as there is a public domain that needs to be conquered, no matter how accommodating and forgiving and tolerant the average citizen may be of this arrogant and militant faith-inspired attack against our secular public domain. Always, and forever, the religious – armed by pious faith that their gift is necessary to the welfare of all, owned as we all are by BOBH who ‘gave’ us our lives – will push and push and push and push… never to take ‘NO!’ as an answer without disappointing the boss man himself, BOBH. It is for this reason, this recognition that faith drives this everlasting, never-ending, eternal conflict between the secular and the religious – sought out and initiated by jack-booted faitheists bent on dominion over the public domain through the abuse of state power – that the only rational response from those willing to support the separation of church and state in defense of freedom from this particular religion as well as that one requires a dedicated and determined push-back by those citizens – religious or not – who understand the need for a boundary between the two in law.

Whether we like it or not, all of us are involved – and are participants even if we do nothing and care even less  – in this battle. The choice is clear: we must either protect ourselves by supporting secular law to set the boundary that religions will never set for themselves or we fail to do our duty to the nation.  We lose, we capitulate, to religious faith gaining control of the public domain. There is no middle ground. The sooner the majority of us appreciate this fundamental truth and protect and support the role of secular law to separate our rights and freedoms and dignities from the authoritarian and dictatorial rule of the religious overlords, the sooner religious belief can be defeated from conquering this, our public domain, our public institutions, our public offices and public policies. Government of the public domain by those who insist we all bow down to their particular god’s authority is not governance of the people, by the people, for the people. It is tyranny in a clerical collar, dressed in an imam’s robes, topped by a turban, surrounded by the submission of the burka, and the defeat of its authority is a defeat that is worthy of our efforts, worthy of defending against all enemies, foreign and domestic who try to undermine our secular liberal democracies.

Our secular law is all that stands between us as free citizens and as subjects to what god’s secret-ballot representatives believe is what god wants… these arrogant pious self-appointed agents who just so happen to have privileged access – revealed to them because they were called to witness – to the wishes and desires and intentions of the Big Oogity Boogity Himself. Furthermore, we are told in so many ways that we really should obey the BOBH’s agent and alter our secular law to further his/her/its wishes in some human affair. It’s so palpably ludicrous a basis for political action that such charlatans and rogues and hucksters should be laughed out of the business of influencing governance. But we the public don’t do that because too often those villains are us, our neighbours and our friends, our families, and it would be disrespectful to the BOGH and those who believe in him/her/it… so let’s add insult to injury to the Enlightenment’s values that have led to the greatest emancipation from tyranny in world history and the primacy of reason in the public domain on which is has been founded and sacrifice these value and principles altogether to prove the depth of our gullibility faith to our various imaginary sky-fathers. In the meantime, we grant this faitheist insanity legitimacy by allowing the vatican statehood  and its child raping apologist agents as if they were diplomats, donate time and money to the campaigns of religious kow-towing anti-science Republican leadership hopefuls, re-direct public funds away from public educational boards to favour the parents’ religious biases to be indoctrinated into their children’s lives without their informed consent, assign parliamentary seats and parliamentary committee chairs to church officials who never have to face any electorate over which they exercise power, grant to ‘community’ spokesmen places on advisory councils, give platforms to religious representatives on international to local committees to examine and make recommendations on public policies. Ludicrous exemptions and special privileges for the self-deluded to feel special through faith rather than merit.

The latest effrontery, and the main reason for this post,  is to allow a faith-based directive to be give a place as  a proposition vote on the upcoming Mississippi ballot to change the law and constitute personhood  to begin at the point of conception. This vote – if the anti-choice religious fanatics are successful in fooling the majority of the voting population to go along with their lexicographical fraud (for by no stretch of the imagination is a zygote a person) – will have a profound and dramatic impact on the legal status of any woman as a fully franchised citizen under the law; she will become co-owners of her body with the introduction of a zygote – an incubator by law – and many will support this notion, believing as they do that the BOBH wants the law to be this way for everybody to align with their standard christian misogyny rather than support access to abortion as the medical service it is in reality that puts a boundary directly between that imposed faith-based  misogyny and the rights and freedoms and dignity of each fully adult, fully developed, fully human woman. Don’t believe me? Look to countries that have failed to maintain that boundary and see what such tyranny looks like in action.

All of us need to step up to the secular plate and get loud, get strident, get insistent that the boundary no religion will respect will be imposed out of necessity by secular law and enforced by the secular state, and that our active political support to  maintain that boundary will translate into making those who wish to insert religion into the public domain a burden and fatal liability for politicians to get elected. It is high time that citizens – believers, agnostics, and non believers alike –  grew up. It time they grew a pair and insisted that religion in the public domain – regardless how favourable to one’s own beliefs it may be – is out of bounds now, tomorrow, and forever. There is no longer any excuse under the sun except a willingness to support religious tyranny for anyone except an enemy of the secular state, an enemy of personal rights, personal freedoms, and personal dignity, to fight the establishment of that firm secular boundary.

This far, but no farther.

Now get loud about it.

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