Questionable Motives

April 30, 2010

Faith-based sexual ethics: special sensitivity or outright bigotry?

Let’s ask a British judge.

The case brought to us by the Guardian and indented by us:

A marriage guidance counsellor’s bid to challenge his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexuals has led to a serious clash between the Christian lobby and the judiciary.

I can understand why a christian marriage guidance counselor  would not want to give sex therapy to homosexuals. Gay sex is so… so… icky, not to mention an act worthy of death according to certain writings dictated by an all loving creator.

In a powerful dismissal of the application to appeal, Lord Justice Laws said legislation to protect views held purely on religious grounds could not be justified. He said it was an irrational idea “but it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary“.

Oh my. That’s hardly an appropriately apologetic position to take before dealing with actions based on religious intolerance. The nerve! What’s a good christian to do? Call in the theological Big Guns for support:

The former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey had sent a statement to a judge hearing the appeal application by Gary McFarlane. The senior church figure called for a special panel of judges with a “proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues” to hear the case.

Yes, let us stack the court with judicial religious supporters. Then we’ll be see what an unbiased judiciary appropriately sensitive might look like in action.

I can’t help but wonder who might determine what the qualifications of “proven sensitivity’ should be? Perhaps religious Big Guns themselves? What a grand (and sensitive, not to mention almost unbiased) idea.

Lord Carey said recent court decisions involving Christians had used “dangerous” reasoning and this could lead to civil unrest.

Oh yes, very dangerous indeed… to those who wish to establish religious favouritism by the State. But hey, if the threat of religious violence works so well for Muslims, then isn’t it high time we see the same tactic by christians? It’s all about results in service to the lord… the supernatural one, that is, and not the judicial one. Not that violence has to actually be done, mind you… just the threat to help the judiciary to be a little more… sensitive.

Lord Justice Laws’s ruling said: “We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.

The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.”

What a remarkably clear and cogent argument. We cannot reduce the freedom of all citizens by using the state (through its laws) to make any one religious belief system ‘louder’ in a citizen’s life than any other.

Can we get this guy on the US Supreme Court? No? Oh well. He probably wouldn’t pass the religious test so heavily favoured by US senators in the vetting process anyway (shhh… not supposed to tell anyone about that).

Lord Carey said: “The description of religious faith in relation to sexual ethics as ‘discriminatory’ is crude and illuminates a lack of sensitivity to religious belief.

Well, it may seem crude and insensitive to a supporter who thinks sexual ethics is a branch of religious belief, but to the rest of us it’s still discrimination. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then calling it a duck isn’t really a question of sensitivity; it’s a question of accuracy and honesty.

The comparison of a Christian, in effect, with a ‘bigot’ (ie, a person with an irrational dislike to homosexuals) begs further questions. It is further evidence of a disparaging attitude to the Christian faith and its values.

Well, it begs no questions but may raise some.

Funny, isn’t it, how challenging a religiously inspired notion in the public domain is so easily characterized by religious supporters as some kind of attack – in this case a disparaging one – against religious belief in general rather than what it actually is: a legitimate public response to the threat against equal rights and freedoms of all from a religiously inspired  and biased imposition.

That any religion thinks itself justified to rule on what is and is not sexually ethical is itself merely an assumption of colossal arrogance and the obvious foundation for religious bigotry in this matter. Sure, anyone can have an opinion on the matter, but something more is required to elevate that opinion to a position of rule. Claiming favouritism by god may curry support from the devout for those religious leaders who would enunciate these rules on god’s behalf (He who always seems unable to speak for himself in these matters, somewhat surprisingly), but the assumption that religious leaders have any greater expertise than others offers us no reasonable justification of the unfounded claim. The medical expertise, the biological expertise, the social and philosophical expertise on sexual ethics may offer us some meaningful insight into the ethics of sex, but an Iron Age religious belief set unfettered by any need to justify and validate its assumptions? I don’t think so. Asserting as Lord Carey does that the belief set deserves special dispensation and sensitivity to have its rule on what is and is not sexually ethical be enforced by secular law in order to avoid violence by its adherents if that rule is denied, is a rationalization of the worst kind: it reveals a very disparaging attitude to the civil rights of all and does violence to reasoning itself.

That’s why faith-based sexual ethics is outright bigotry.

April 29, 2010

Why should feminism embrace reason and shun religion?

Because religious ideas harm women and restrict their lives on a daily basis.

There is a terrific article with rich resources by Amy Clare over at ButterfliesandWheels from which I have taken a few excerpts and indented below. I urge all readers to enjoy the well-argued and entire piece here titled Why feminism must embrace reason and shun religion.

This fact has been commented on before, and it should be well known among feminists; rather than waste space quoting verses, I will direct you to the website ‘The Sceptic’s Annotated Bible’, which contains lists of the verses relating to women in the Koran, the Bible, and the Book of Mormon. More about Islam can be found at the blog of Kafir Girl, whose article ‘Swimmin’ in Women’ is an irreverent and detailed analysis of the behaviour of Islam’s prophet Mohammed towards women and girls. While there is simply not enough space to fully analyse each religion’s treatment of women, there is some information about the inconsistency of the Hindu texts in relation to women’s rights here, an analysis of misogyny and Buddhism here, and this page shows that even the non-violent Jains apparently can’t handle a little bit of menstrual blood. The only reason that on-demand abortion is not available to women worldwide is the prevalence of religious (most notably Catholic) beliefs that a fertilised egg is a human being. The rise of unwanted pregnancies and STDs including Aids in many countries can be directly blamed on religiously-funded abstinence programmes which are based on beliefs that contraception and sex before marriage are evil. Strong beliefs about the sanctity of a girl’s virginity and the wickedness of female sexual behaviour lead to predictable, sometimes appalling and horrific results, such as girls being buried alive, lashed and stoned to death. And even as women are being harmed by such religious beliefs, they are told that the originator of these ideas, God, loves them.

It is as though mainstream feminism has a ‘blind spot’ when it comes to religion, but it is not alone in this. Religion has managed to carve itself a very nice niche in society whereby any questioning of religious faith is seen to be extremely bad form. Religion seems to have a monopoly on hurt feelings, entirely unfairly in my opinion. It seems to me that some feminists are afraid of a critical discussion about religious faith, because of the ever-looming label of ‘intolerant’, ‘prejudiced’, or, when it comes to any religion besides Christianity, ‘racist’.

Given all of the above, I anticipate in reaction: what business is it of yours what people believe? A person’s private religious faith is none of anyone’s business and you should tolerate it. You’ve got no right to tell people what to think! And so on. These are arguments atheists come across often. Indeed this seems to be the tack that many feminists take. It appears quite difficult to argue against, but here goes. First of all, as Sam Harris points out in his book ‘The End Of Faith’, belief almost always leads to action, therefore, beliefs are very rarely truly private. Believe that it’s going to rain, and you’ll take an umbrella out with you. Believe that a clump of cells is a sacred human life, and you will join a pro-life group and lobby the government to ban abortion; you may even be successful, in which case you will contribute to the suffering and even deaths of large numbers of women. As Harris says, “Some beliefs are intrinsically dangerous.” Indeed feminists do not tolerate every belief. We reject many commonly-held beliefs, most notably the belief that males are fundamentally different from, and superior to, females.

Also, people’s religious beliefs aren’t necessarily freely chosen. The vast majority of religious people are so because they have been brought up to be religious; it has been impressed upon them from an early age that there is a divine creator, and that he should be worshipped in the following ways, and so on. In this way, ‘telling people what to believe’ is really the preserve of religion. All atheists do, if anything, is ask people to question what they believe. If children were allowed to grow up without religious influence and then asked to evaluate the evidence and decide for themselves as adults if there is a god, then it would be a different matter entirely. But this doesn’t happen.

Even in the light of all of the above, there are some who will still insist that merely believing in a loving god – having ignored or ‘reinterpreted’ all the misogynist trappings of their faith – is harmless. I don’t agree. This belief is still based on blind faith, not on evidence, and such a mindset, while promoted by religions as a virtue, is in fact damaging to society. What is the difference between a person who simply ‘feels’ that there is a god, and a person who simply ‘feels’ that males are superior to females? Answer: nothing. Both ideas are uncontaminated by evidence. But the difference, for some feminists, seems to be that the latter view is to be fought against and the former to be tolerated and even praised.

Feminists can all perhaps agree on one thing: that the status quo in the majority (if not all) of the world’s societies is harmful in many ways towards women and girls. A large part of the harm is done by religion, both directly by influencing laws, attitudes and behaviour, and indirectly by promoting the idea that faith is a virtue and thus discouraging the questioning attitude that is so vital for debunking sexism and promoting equality. It is time for feminism to be brave and have a discussion about the real effects of religious faith on women’s place in societies worldwide, not placing the blame on a few extremists but critically examining the whole institution. Perhaps one day all feminists will end up at the same conclusion I came to many years ago: it is not just that the emperor has no clothes, it is that there is no emperor at all.

Separate but equal: are all religions merely different paths up the mountain?

Filed under: Religion,Truth — tildeb @ 8:49 am

In this article, Stephen Prothero explains why this sentiment is untrue, disrespectful, and dangerous.

What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: Something is wrong with the world. In the Hopi language, the word “Koyaanisqatsi” tells us that life is out of balance. Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” tells us that there is something rotten not only in the state of Denmark but also in the state of human existence. Hindus say we are living in the “kali yuga,” the most degenerate age in cosmic history. Buddhists say that human existence is pockmarked by suffering. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic stories tell us that this life is not Eden; Zion, heaven, and paradise lie out ahead.

We pretend that religious differences are trivial because it makes us feel safer, or more moral. But pretending that the world’s religions are the same does not make our world safer. Like all forms of ignorance, it makes our world more dangerous, and more deadly. The world is what it is. And both tolerance and respect are empty virtues until we actually know whatever it is we are supposed to be tolerating or respecting.

So religious folk agree that something has gone awry. They part company, however, when it comes to stating just what has gone wrong, and they diverge even more sharply when they move from diagnosing the human problem to prescribing how to solve it. Moreover, each offers its own distinctive diagnosis of the human problem and its own prescription for a cure. Each offers its own techniques for reaching its religious goal, and its own exemplars for emulation.

If diagnosing problems and prescribing rectifying actions are based on what is probably not true, probably not accurate, probably not correct, then by our uncritical tolerance for religious belief we are, in effect, tolerating and respecting unjustified beliefs – faulty truth claims – which translates directly into tolerating and respecting unjustified actions done in the name of those beliefs. Why should we respect and tolerate ignorant actions based on faulty truth claims just because they come wrapped in piety? We don’t respect and tolerate faulty truth claims in any other field of human endeavor but hold those who spread them liable for the damage they cost… except, of course, when it comes to safeguarding the faulty truth claims of the various competing religions. Then far too many of us have a tendency to put aside our reasonable concerns about what is and is not true and replace our justified concern with a special dispensation that exempts religiously inspired truth claims from the same critical examination. By doing so, we keep legitimate and justified concerns (like human rights, for example) away from the center of our attention and actions. We push them slightly to the side and tend to marginalize them somewhat to make room for meaningful concern about respecting and tolerating the unjustified religious beliefs that so often empower the disrespect and intolerance that cause the concerns to arise in the first place (like sectarian violence, sectarian gender inequality, sectarian genital mutilation, so on)!
If we want to bring about an end to these sectarian concerns and wish to promote a unifying notion about common humanity with a common respect for what is true, for what is justified, then we do not further our common cause by offering respect and tolerance to beliefs that are inherently disrespectful and intolerant of what is true empowered only by belief in what is probably not.

April 27, 2010

Why should we be ashamed of respecting religious belief in the public domain?

Canada is hosting a G8 summit and wants to promote a child and maternal health-care initiative for developing countries. But that will not include any money for funding abortion.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the health initiative should include access to safe and legal abortion. Why? Because safe abortions reduces women mortality – a fundamental concern when addressing issues about about child and maternal health-care. So access to therapeutic abortions is a health concern.

According to the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women by 189 participating countries and more than 2100 non-governmental organizations, the resolution passed that access to family planning, safe and legal abortion and maternal health, are essential to achieving gender equality. The UN Treaty Monitoring Bodies (TMBs) have recognized that access to these essential reproductive health services is rooted in international human rights obligations. The Beijing PFA (Platform For Action) highlighted the impact of unsafe abortion on women’s lives and health and the need to reduce recourse to abortion through expanded family planning services. It urges governments to review punitive measures against women who have undergone illegal abortions and calls for women’s access to quality post-abortion care. In turn, over the last decade, human rights bodies and regional and national courts have increasingly recognized that restrictions
on access to safe and legal abortion interfere with women’s enjoyment of their human rights.

So access to abortions according to the UN is a human rights concern.

But rather than follow this previously agreed to PFA, Canadian officials say they will instead focus the G8 plan on other measures aimed at improving the health of women and children in poor countries — including safe drinking water and vaccination programs, an important issue about child and maternal health to be sure. But why not therapeutic abortion?

Access to therapeutic abortion (outside of Canada) according to Harper and his Canadian government is about “clarifying family planning,” which simply does not include any discussion about abortion. One must wonder why when it is widely considered both a health-care concern and a human rights concern. According to Harper, it is not a concern at all and certainly not one open to debate.

This omission is a cop out, a capitulation not to the best practices of modern medicine nor furthering the human rights of children and their mothers. It is a tacit nod of agreement to the religious belief that abortion under any circumstances is wrong. By refusing to fund abortion outside of the country, the Canadian government’s inaction supports the bizarre idea that a zygote is of greater value than is the life of a fully developed mother. This position simply ignores (or at least finds perfectly acceptable) maternal mortality when therapeutic abortions are unavailable. What lies behind the politics of abortion is neither any kind of informed debate about why it is a necessary part of health-care or a necessary plank in furthering maternal human rights; it is a position in favour of appeasing religious sensibilities at home about this controversial topic. And how informed is that sensibility by comparison? I think not at all. It’s simply an uninformed, unjustified belief that has no place at the table of discussion about child and maternal health-care.

And do religious sensibilities stop in areas of public health care?

Umm, no. Are we surprised?

In January (2010), the Ontario government introduced changes to the sex education component of the public school curriculum: Grade 1 children were to be taught to identify genitalia using the correct words, such as penis, vagina and testicle, Grade 5 children were to be taught to identify parts of the reproductive system and describe how the body changes during puberty, and in Grade 7, the plan was to teach kids how to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Children in grade 7 are usually 12 years old.

CBC News reported the following:

Religious groups objected to the revised curriculum and raised a voluble campaign against it earlier this week. They promised a huge demonstration on the front lawn of Queen’s Park (the Ontario provincial legislature) to protest the sex education changes.

“It is unconscionable to teach eight-year-old children same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Charles McVety, head of the Canada Christian College. “It is even more absurd to subject sixth graders to instruction on the pleasures of masturbation, vaginal lubrication, and 12-year-olds to lessons on oral sex and anal intercourse.”

So we know what McVety thinks is unconscionable and absurd in sex education at these grades and seems quite content to oppose any curriculum that promotes healthy sexuality, counteracts schoolyard misinformation, prevents teen pregnancy, gives information that shows how to avoid STDs, and so on. What does he offer in return as an alternative that still meets the goals of informing ht epublic about these issues? Nada. On what, then, does he base his opposition? His religious belief. And how is that uninformed religious belief comparable to the kind of consideration to what informs best practices in education? On what basis of knowledge is a religious belief about sex education equally worthy of consideration than curriculum development done by professionals and informed by evidence?

Only because the public tolerates unjustified religious interference and unwarranted intrusions in the public domain does ignorance and bigotry of uninformed religious belief become a potent political force, enough to adversely affect informed public policy in education to the likes of the sanctimonious self-righteous morons like McVety and his ignorant ilk, as well as adversely affect funding for promoting the health-care and human rights of women in developing nations. That’s the ongoing gift (and legacy) of religious belief in action in the public domain: promoting ignorance over knowledge, belief over health, misogyny over human rights.

These weak-kneed governments should be ashamed of themselves for appeasing the ignorant and foolish among us (including those within these parties) for political gain. That political behaviour – supposedly done in the name of good governance – is what is  truly unconscionable and absurd. For when we grant guanocephalic clerics and their supporters a place at the table of determining public policy like education and foreign policy aid because of some warped idea that the representatives of the public owe respect to religious beliefs of the few, we are damaging the welfare of all.

April 25, 2010

How can we get rid of the New Atheists’ reason for being?

From the Nigerian Tribune:
Citizen Oluwatoyin Oluseesin was killed recently by irate students of the Government Day Secondary School, Gandu, Gombe State, where, until her gruesome murder, she was a contract staff member.

The deceased was reportedly assigned to invigilate the SS1 students who were writing their Islamic Religious Knowledge paper when she observed that one of the students was attempting to smuggle some books into the examination hall. Sensing that a foul play was about to take place, she allegedly collected the books and threw them outside.

Unfortunately, that simple act of preventing the occurrence of fraud was to prove fatal for Mrs. Oluseesin. Unknown to her, a copy of the Holy Qur’an was among the books she allegedly collected from the aberrant student and threw outside. Newspaper reports claimed that she was attacked outside the school premises after the examination and beaten to death by the students for allegedly desecrating the holy book. Efforts made by the principal of the school, Mr. Mohammed Sadiq, to control the rampaging students, the reports further claimed, proved abortive. His attempt to protect the victim by hiding her in his office also failed. He was reportedly beaten up by the riotous students who also burnt down his car as well as three classrooms, the school’s clinic, library and the administrative block.

Acting on religious belief is unjustified. The sooner we accept this concept for judging any behaviour in the public domain that attempts to use religious belief as an excuse, the sooner religious apologists will have to stop pretending that religious belief’s intrusion into areas of public policy, law, education and governance is somehow acceptable. It isn’t. Religious belief has no business in the public domain because it is informed by nothing but assertion and assumption.

Want to get rid of the New Atheists’ reason for being and protect people like Oluwatoyin Oluseesin from the hatred of the religious mob? What better way than making public expressions of religious faith tantamount to an attack on religious freedom and supporting the return of religious belief to the private domain where each of us has the freedom to believe whatever delusion that comforts us the most and leaves our neighbours free from us attempting to reduce their rights and freedoms and dignity of personhood in the name of some unjustified religious belief?

April 24, 2010

Is belief innocuous?

A common criticism of atheism is that it promotes a militant version of liberal conventional wisdom as the all-purpose solution for human ills, another kind of belief (like religious belief) that the solution to the world’s problems can be found by the withering away of religion through the continuing advancement of science and knowledge. The old and flawed canard to argue against this wisdom relies on pulling in Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot to represent this other-kind of belief identified as atheism in action, as if religious belief is not only a reasonable alternative to this cold and barbaric totalitarianism diametrically opposed to liberalism but one that is necessary to protect us from the inevitable ravages of atheism in action.

I have already explained why atheism is by definition is not another kind of belief (hence the importance of precursor word ‘non’) but simply a label that refutes the acceptance of any kind of supernatural mechanism to explain cause with effect. When any kind of supernatural mechanism is suggested as this link between cause and effect, I think we have a duty (at least to intellectual honesty) to dismiss the claim as unjustified. No matter what the claim may be – be it about homeopathy and the claim that water retain a ‘memory’ to demonic possession, from a tripartite god who cures leprosy to one who causes geological vengeance because of the attire of women – we need to reject that belief on the merit that it is an unjustified belief. Belief in a specific yet unknown supernatural mechanism between cause and effect simply is not justified because it is an incoherent assumption masquerading as something real and knowable. But under consideration is the question whether or not holding such beliefs is innocuous?

Consider this excerpt from this article Akwa-Ibom Child Witches:

From Nigeria to Congo, Kenya to Tanzania, The Gambia to Cameroon, there are reported cases of teens been hacked to death, toddlers being drowned in rivers, adolescent being macheted by frustrated men and women all because someone CONFIRMED spiritually that THEY ARE WITCHES! As an African, belief in witchcraft is not alien to me neither is the news of stoning to death of many confirmed by native spiritualists to be a witch.

If we move away from the specific and horrific actions justified by this specific belief – in this case the veracity of witchcraft – and look at any kind of belief as a stand-alone means to legitimately know anything whatsoever about linking cause with effect, then it becomes apparent that belief is an ending point to any gaining of knowledge. Believing something to be true and being satisfied with this assumption cannot be the beginning of an honest inquiry but its ending. It is a substitute answer – and one empty of knowledge. Belief is not an equivalent kind of knowledge whatsoever for any truth claim, as is suggested by those who wish to protect us from the ravages of atheistic belief that leads to totalitarianism and who support and apologize for the absurdity of non-overlapping magisteria for knowledge (those who support the notion that science answers one kind of question – the ‘how’ questions – while religion answers another kind of question – the ‘why’ questions) . Belief is a shortcut that attempts to persuade us to accept ignorance as another kind of knowledge, a different way to know, pretending to answer ‘why’ questions with anything other that pure speculation and assumption. This is false because at its root, belief in a supernatural intervention between cause and effect is simply a hypothesis – a truth claim unsubstantiated and unverified presented as some kind of informed answer when it clearly is not. It remains an assumption that is held to be true. Non belief, then,  is the opposite of this assertion – an insistence that any truth claims about the natural universe and anything within it must be substantiated and verified by some natural means other than more assumption to count as knowledge, to be considered informed.

Any time anyone acts on the conclusion that some belief is justified by merit of it being based on a belief, then that action  is unjustified. When we allow belief to be any kind of legitimate engine that drives actions rather than knowledge, then we are arguing that acting out of ignorance is synonymous to acting out of knowledge and both as legitimate as the other. This is patently false and people – believers and non believers – do not act this way: we don’t rush a injured or sick loved one to a brick layer because we honestly think that medical ignorance is the equivalent of medical expertise; we recognize that having knowledge is opposite to not having knowledge. Yet when it comes to belief and non belief, many seem to struggle with the notion of opposites.

Belief removed from any action in its name may seem to be innocuous but when ignorant beliefs informs ignorant actions, then belief is not innocuous. The children accused of witchcraft and treated accordingly by believers of witchcraft stand in testimony of the very real cost of belief in action.

April 22, 2010

Are scientific and supernatural claims compatible?

Over at ButterfliesandWheels, Ophelia Benson has posted her argument why the supposed wall of separation between science and the supernatural that allows them to be compatible is a “crock of shit.” She writes:

(T)here’s no such thing as “the supernatural.” Nobody cares about some general thing called “the supernatural.” People care about particular things that could be put under the heading “supernatural” but are not “the supernatural” themselves. And many or most of the things that people care about and that can be put under the heading “supernatural” are not really supernatural in a sense that would make science unable to say anything about them. And that includes “God” – except when the deist god is meant, which in fact it almost never is.

“The supernatural” is just the name of a category, but what’s really in dispute is not a category, but a person, an agent. The supernatural is one thing, and “God” is another, and it’s a distraction to pretend that by walling off “the supernatural” from science it is possible to get science to agree that God is beyond dispute.

Now consider astronomer Dave Chernoff’s response on “Ask an astronomer” about whether or not astronomers believe in astrology:

“No, astronomers do not believe in astrology. It is considered to be a ludicrous scam. There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.” He ended his dismissal with the assertion that in science, “one does not need a reason not to believe in something. Skepticism is the default position and one requires proof if one is to be convinced of something’s existence.”

Clear, concise, and definitive: The burden of proof for people who claim that astrology is true lies on those who make that claim. Yet when it comes to claims that the supernatural is true under the heading of religious belief, let’s watch the wheels fall of this skeptical bus. Chernoff tells us that modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of god and that people who believe in god can fit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating contradictions. After giving a couple of examples of how this might be possible – the Big Bang does not contradict a Genesis equivalent (whatever that means) – Chernoff concludes that, ultimately, science can never prove or disprove the existence of god and religious belief doesn’t, and shouldn’t have anything to do with scientific reasoning. (Tip to commentator #4 Kenneth.Pidcock)

So what happened to skepticism as the default position – a very useful and beneficial guideline for examining any and all truth claims – when the truth claim fell under the category of religion? How can reasonable people like Chernoff suddenly have their reasoning faculties shut down and allow themselves to pile up banal excuses on behalf of favouring religious claims to be exempt from legitimate skepticism? Some may claim that god works in mysterious ways, but so too does the mind of religious apologists… very mysterious indeed.

I agree with Benson that this skeptical exemption for religious claims about the supernatural, which is necessary for the claim of compatibility with science to remain true, is a crock of shit. And it’s full of shit because the skeptical constraints are changed. That’s not compatibility: that’s an abdication of fair play, a failure to keep the rules of inquiry the same for both categories, resulting in an intellectual capitulation by those who merely want to believe that science and the supernatural are compatible when an honest investigation is subverted right from the start.

April 21, 2010

Who will the church blame today?

Stay up to date on the latest catholic church blame game. Because we know for certain that no blame can be attributed in any way to the institution for aiding and abetting and covering up child abuse by clergy within the church on a global scale, and we know this to be true in spite of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, we are left wondering: who is to blame? To our rationalizing rescue comes this site where we find we can find out the daily answers here.

April 20, 2010

Why is attribution to link cause with effect so important to determining what’s true?

I would have thought this question was pretty easy to answer but I have come across many religious believers who have serious difficulty understanding why. For example, I am told repeatedly (and I presume honestly) with great assurance that testimonials and revelation lead to a transformative experience that itself is strong evidence that god (or some ‘outside’ agency) exists and intervenes in meaningful ways in our world. When we unpack the meaning of this claim, we find that the link is very tenuous between having an experience and attributing some outside supernatural agency to what caused it.

I have found that believers in supernatural agencies are quite willing to attribute to these supernatural agencies to whatever cause is currently unknown, misunderstood, or poorly informed – what many call the god of the gaps, referring to assigning god to whatever gaps we have in our knowledge. But it goes much further than that, I think.

From demonic possession to the building of the pyramids, from the ghostly squeak in the floorboards in the dead of night to the influence of the stars on our fate, far too many people attribute these things or events or imaginings to a single, easy, completely unjustified source: it was oogity boogity! (Fill in whatever name to some supernatural agency you may wish here)

So what’s the harm, right? If people want to believe oogity boogity links cause to effect, who cares? People have a right to believe in whatever they want, so the excuse goes. And I agree… as long as this belief stays within the private domain where it belongs. People are allowed to delude themselves and pretend that their attributions to supernatural agencies are as valid an explanation as any repeatable, testable, measurable, falsifiable and reliable explanation that clearly links cause to effect by means of a consistent mechanism, one that works here as well as there today and tomorrow. But when that supernatural explanation is inserted into the public domain and people support the insertion because they happen to agree with the attribution rather than causal truth value, then we are opening the door to lunacy.

Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media (brought to us by Yahoo News). Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader. “A divine authority told me to tell the people to make a general repentance. Why? Because calamities threaten us,” Sedighi said. Referring to the violence that followed last June’s disputed presidential election, he said, “The political earthquake that occurred was a reaction to some of the actions (that took place). And now, if a natural earthquake hits Tehran, no one will be able to confront such a calamity but God’s power, only God’s power. … So let’s not disappoint God.”

Minister of Welfare and Social Security Sadeq Mahsooli said prayers and pleas for forgiveness were the best “formulas to repel earthquakes. We cannot invent a system that prevents earthquakes, but God has created this system and that is to avoid sins, to pray, to seek forgiveness, pay alms and self-sacrifice,” Mahsooli said.

When we allow attribution between a cause and effect to have no natural mechanism to measure its truth value but, instead, allow for whatever supernatural explanation people want to be inserted in its place, we are setting the stage for exactly this kind of lunacy. There is no known way to link dress to tectonic activities, so the attribution to god is as good as one that attributes the link to the nefarious deeds of intergalactic mushrooms.

So next time a politician tells you that he or she will support some oogity boogity to be inserted into public policy, take issue with it. Don’t allow your private preferences for assigning a favoured supernatural attribution to sway you; religious or not, your civic duty to all your neighbours is to keep all oogity boogity out of public policy altogether.

Prepare for the Raptor?

Filed under: Argument,Atheism,belief,commentary,God,Morality,Secularism — tildeb @ 9:46 am

Food for thought over at boing boing with an article from Adam Savage. Many good comments, too.

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