Questionable Motives

November 28, 2010

Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?

Filed under: belief,Blair,Debate,God,Hitchens — tildeb @ 3:36 pm

Tony Blair vs The Hitch

November 25, 2010

What are the consequences of gay marriage?

Filed under: belief,Bias,Bigotry,Gay Marriage — tildeb @ 12:03 pm

(Hat tip to Ken)

November 18, 2010

Do your beliefs about global warming make you a champion of ignorance?

Okay, so it’s no surprise that I am a big fan of methodological naturalism and its epistemology. We call it the method of science. It’s trustworthy, practical, and yields knowledge that works. It’s what drives our technologies. Without knowledge, I don’t think we can understand, and without understanding I don’t think we can make good decisions. When we substitute belief for understanding, faith for knowledge, we are setting ourselves up to embrace ignorance and implement our questionable motives. Such motives are a disservice to others and intellectually dishonest. Hence, the name of the blog.
The latest and perhaps the most avoidable travesty of implementing policies based on such questionable motives has to do with a global problem that continues to be shuffled to the back of the room, the bottom of the agenda, behind other concerns. And that’s the issue of global warming and its effects on climate change within the halls of power… particularly in the US. This issue is an avid example of just how insidious and detrimental faith-based beliefs extended into the public domain can be, and how catastrophic might be the effects derived from such willful and malicious ignorance.
Not content to merely misunderstand and misrepresent why methodological naturalism yields knowledge that leads to understanding, which in turn empowers responsible and informed decisions, certain economic concerns and political forces have united to attack a vital source of our knowledge: the very workforce who toils on our collective behalf creating our knowledge:
For the past two decades, the United States has been officially committed to avoiding “dangerous” climate change. One Administration after another—Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama—has reaffirmed this commitment, even as they all have failed to live up to it. House Republicans and their Tea Party allies reject even the idea of concern. Not content merely to ignore the science, they have decided to go after the scientists. Before the election, congressional Republicans had talked of eliminating the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Why, after all, have a panel on energy independence and global warming if you don’t believe in either? Now James Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, who is likely to become the select committee’s chairman, is arguing that it should be preserved. His rationale? The panel provides an ideal platform for harassing the Environmental Protection Agency, which, in the absence of legislative action, is the only body with the power to regulate carbon emissions. At least one group of scientists is organizing a “rapid-response team” to counter climate misinformation, but, since the misinformation is now coming from the very people charged with solving the problem, that task seems a peculiarly thankless one. (Source)
It’s one thing to personally decide not to believe in gravity or germs. I will call you self-deluded if you choose to do so and suggest some honest self-testing to reveal why such a charge is fully justified. Step out a tenth story window or take a good whiff of ebola and let’s see where the evidence leads you. I’ll wait here. The choice, of course, is to submit your beliefs to personal verification and live with the personal consequences. That’s fine. I’m okay with that. More power to you for being honest enough to find out for yourself. That’s science in action.
But it’s another matter entirely for people wrapped up in the false certainties of the their faith-based beliefs to extend their delusions based on wishful and magical thinking into the public domain and subject the rest of us to the inevitable results of their chosen ignorance. Nothing good will come of it. Nothing good CAN come from it: the epistemology of faith-based beliefs is too biased to be of practical use beyond one’s self and more importantly, there is no way to know if one’s beliefs are wrong except in regards to facts. And either we’re back to science and back to relying on the methodology that empowers it or we delude ourselves to think our beliefs are equivalent because we prefer to view them this way.
The science that empowers so much evidence to be collected that yields knowledge that global warming is real, it’s a growing concern, it’s a problem that will continue to impose climatic changes at an increased rate, is as solid as any other scientific inquiry by tens of thousands of scientists around the world over decades that have produced available peer reviewed research. The science is ongoing yet for about three decades or more there has been a growing general consensus that today’s global warming is a man-made problem subject to man-made solutions… if we act sooner rather than later. We can be reasonably certain that all this science about climate change and its causes and influences has been carried out in a responsible manner and that the general conclusions reached are as valid as any other in the sciences. We know there is always quibbling about specifics in all scientific endeavors  and climate research will have its fair share. We will have some personalities we like, some we don’t, and that these kinds of discrepancies are not at all unusual for any human undertaking involving tens of thousands of people. But none of this disqualifies the science and the body of knowledge climate science has produced.
What we cannot do is simply choose to think that our personal beliefs are an equivalent and legitimate basis for coming to a different conclusion. Our beliefs are not equivalent. Our personal knowledge is not equivalent to the scientific consensus. Our cherry-picking of facts and points that favour only our contrary belief preferences without accounting for all those that do not support us is intellectually dishonest. Whether we wish to or not, we must respect the method of inquiry that yields knowledge – which we implicitly trust with our very lives in other areas like medicine and transportation and communication – in this matter of climate science if we wish to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. No matter how grudgingly we face the scientific consensus about global warming, we must respect its general conclusions  and if we wish to be responsible citizens within our various communities, we must begin to address our culpability to its root causes before we can address how we can begin to mitigate our effects on climate change through global warming.
I don’t for a minute think that we alone drive climate change or that global warming is solely the result of carbon emissions. But I respect the method of science enough to take heed when the consensus tells us that human activity is a major factor in these rapid environmental changes. Whether I want to believe it or not is not my call if I wish to continue to respect the method of science that informs the rest of my life. The results of climatic scientific research are what they are, and the science has built up a body of knowledge about the matter that I can understand. So can you. And we need to act on this understanding in a productive and positive way rather than allow the most ignorant and delusional among us to be voted into public office to then abuse the state’s public power to attack those who tell us something we believe we don’t need to hear.
If you support those who put all of us at such risk by such abusing the power of the state to undermine and attack and discredit by foul means those who produce knowledge, then I question your motives to present yourself as an intellectually honest person and someone worth listening to. As far as I can tell, if you support those who go after people whose job it is to create knowledge in the name of your beliefs, you are a danger to me, my family, my community, my nation, and my planet. You are a champion of ignorance. And that’s not something to be proud of.

November 13, 2010

Just how gullible does the Roman Catholic Church want Americans to be?

This is the US we’re talking about, land of the free, home of the brave, the shining city on the hill, the Nobel prize capital of the world. So, naturally, I thought the roman catholic church was so busy vilifying secularists and the great evil they represent – including such theistic affronts as human rights, political freedoms, dignity of personhood, respect for scientific understanding, and all that mundane, temporal jazz – that I assumed this conference was a bunch of modern day catholics poking fun at one of their absurdities from almost-ancient history.

Isn’t that the way most enlightened and educated Americans think about demonic possession?

But when it comes to treating demonic possession, the rc church is all business. It remains steadfast in bringing to bear all the modern weaponry at its disposal for the modern American citizen: exorcisms! That’s right, folks. There is growing need for them and the church needs to step up and do its theological duty. Cast that demon out. Use force if you have to. That very difficult and demanding expertise includes the brute force of using conjugated Latin, too. Very scary stuff to any demon to be sure… and even scarier to young people everywhere who need to learn it. Nevertheless, let us press on and read about what the rc church is doing behind closed doors at a hush-hush Baltimore conference:

There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists (it IS a university degree after all), but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil.

Now, American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.

Let’s ponder that last quote for a moment. Exorcism is needed when the devil is involved. Otherwise, one doesn’t really need that directed Latin. I see.

“But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary,” he said. “But we have to be prepared.”

Yes, I strongly suspect that is rare. And extraordinary. And supernatural, it goes without saying. But the church is on the job. Take THAT, you evil secularist doubter who stands by while that misogynistic Satan has his way with small boys and helps protect the pedophiles in his employ. Oh, wait… I’m thinking of… umm… (diversion is needed)… Squirrel!

Where was I? Exorcism. Right.

So how does one diagnose demonic possession?

Some of the classic signs of possession by a demon, Bishop Paprocki said, include speaking in a language the person has never learned (excluding Latin, I presume); extraordinary shows of strength; a sudden aversion to spiritual things like holy water or the name of God; and severe sleeplessness, lack of appetite and cutting, scratching and biting the skin.

A person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness, according to Vatican guidelines issued in 1999, which superseded the previous guidelines, issued in 1614.

1999. Yup. New guidelines. 1999. The age of rare, extraordinary, supernatural demonic infestations are being re-defined by Vatican bureaucrats for their version of the disease in DSM IV (under Demonic Possession, no doubt) while atom colliders are being built deep underground, genomes are being catelogued, and missions to Mars are being carried out.

Now that leaves me wondering what kind of doctor rules out mental or physical illness for a bat shit crazy person babbling incoherently (sorry… speaking in ‘tongues’ is the correct lingo I think) and exhibiting violent behaviours including self harm? I would tend to think it must be a bat shit crazy doctor who is no longer able to maintain a living as a general practitioner… for somewhat obvious reasons of having lost his mind and turning to Oogity Boogity! for his professional opinion. I’m glad that such a person is not my family doctor and the church is welcome to him (I assume no women would fit the employment criteria… having the wrong gonads and all).

“People are talking about, are we taking two steps back?” Father Vega said. “My first reaction when I heard about the exorcism conference was, this is another of those trappings we’ve pulled out of the past.”

But he said that there could eventually be a rising demand for exorcism because of the influx of Hispanic and African Catholics to the United States. People from those cultures, he said, are more attuned to the experience of the supernatural.

That’s religious-speak for too damned ignorant to know any better, which is just the way the church likes ’em. Especially those with an MD after their names. Always room at the inn, dontcha know, if you have the right gonads, the right frequency tuned to bat shit crazy, and the right gullibility to think modern medicine and demonic possession are mutually accommodating.

And people think science and religion are incompatible. I know! Those militant, strident, and arrogant atheistic secularists say the most ridiculous things!

November 5, 2010

How should we write about gnu atheists?

Filed under: accommodation,Bias,New Atheists,Religion,Skepticim — tildeb @ 11:38 pm

Well, there are the standard canards. One of my favourites and perhaps the most common is the one that puts forth the proposition that non belief is another kind of religious belief, albeit of the fundamentalist and dogmatic kind. And those who believe in it are the militant, strident, and arrogant atheists who dare not only to question the god hypothesis but who reach a conclusion of non belief as the evidence now stands. It seems to be a nice way to balance the whack jobs on both sides while appearing reasonable. Of course, it’s no such thing: it is the religious equivalent of racial apartheid: separate but equal. That’s what accommodation is all about.

So what are the rules to denigrate atheists successfully? Is there some kind of accommodation-friendly argumentative path to follow that would allow otherwise reasonable people to pretend that the god hypothesis is really a problem for atheists rather than the faithful, an approach that seems reasonable enough to fool the majority of people who would prefer to dismiss atheists without having to really think about the issues and questions they raise?

From Salty Current comes this satisfying guide to all those who wish to write and complain about the New Atheists. I have extracted a few paragraphs as a teaser but the short guide is a fast an enjoyable read.

Gnu atheists should be presented as uncivil, strident, aggressive, arrogant proselytizers and rigid fundamentalists. Don’t worry about finding concrete examples to support these generalizations. If you absolutely must quote from a gnu, keep it short and divorced from the complex background and context which would only confuse the reader. You’re firmly within the consensus, so you’re on solid ground. At the same time, whenever possible – as when discussing large-scale surveys showing declining rates of belief – present nonbelievers as merely having “doubts” about God. This is perfectly consistent.

Similarly, gnu atheism shouldn’t be presented as an intellectual position. Repeatedly emphasize their hostility to organized religion as the source of their disbelief. It helps if you acknowledge that there are some legitimate reasons for this hostility – shows you to be fair and balanced while leaving aside those pesky ontological matters.

You’re also safe presenting gnu atheists as cold, hyper-rational, solitary automatons who lack an appreciation of beauty or sense of wonder. Pay no attention to those who are artists, writers, or musicians, or to any of their works describing the wonder of scientific understanding and the sense of cosmic connectedness that follows from this deeper empirical knowledge. Leave aside the enormous spectrum of atheist writing on any number of ethical issues. And no need to discuss gnu atheists as people with families, friends, and communities. There’s nothing dishonest about this. You’re writing about that one dimension that is the guiding focus of their lives: rejecting religion.

Enjoy the entire guide and comments here.

(h/t to WEIT)

November 2, 2010

Why do atheists seem to always act so superior-ish?

Filed under: Atheism,Harris,Religion — tildeb @ 4:59 pm

Atheists get their knickers in a knot when someone accuses them of being another kind of religious fundamentalist believer who are just as certain in their belief that there is no god as those who believe there is. So what’s the big deal with this accusation?

It’s important to understand why the notion of belief in the religious sense applied to atheism is antithetical to what it is that drives the atheist to publicly criticize religion: that far too many people simply don’t value the principle of reasoning when it comes to believing in their religious viewpoints and how that belief adversely affects their society. This is no small matter.

Faith as an intellectual condition is, as Sam Harris accurately describes, conviction without sufficient reason, hope mistaken for knowledge, bad ideas protected from good ones, good ideas obscured by bad ones, wishful thinking elevated to a principle of salvation, and so on. The response to this criticism when pointed out in unreasonable specifics is almost always along the lines of “Well, that’s not MY religious faith…,” yet 57% of Americans believe that one must believe in god to have good values and be moral agents, 69% want a president who is guided by strong religious beliefs, 81% believe in heaven, 78% in angels, 70% in Satan, and 70% in hell. Yet on almost every measure of societal health, the less religious it is the better off its members are: life expectancy, infant mortality, crime, literacy, GDP, child welfare, economic equality, economic competitiveness, gender equality, health care, investments in education, rates of university enrollment, internet access, environmental protection, lack of corruption, political stability, charity to poorer nations, and so. These levels are all negatively correlated to the rate of religious belief in the society. In addition, the bonus feature of religious commitment in the US is highly correlated with racism. Where’s the discussion about how to change all of this in the forums and blogs of the religious, how to reduce this negative influence? What we see are popular religious sites that make no such attempt to reduce this religious influence in the public domain in the service of their fellow citizens but actively work to support its promotion and influence and continuation.

These hard facts speak out loudly against the claim that religious belief is associated with better societal health, that religious belief is a force for good. Yet when people do speak out against the assumption that religious belief is good, that it is beneficial, that it offers more solutions than it does problems, they are marginalized and criticized for their ‘militancy’ and ‘stridency’ and ‘arrogance’ and ‘fundamentalism’ to the ‘dogma’ of atheistic human secularism. When reasonable folk raise the uncomfortable fact that religious belief is a negative correlate in so much of what makes society beneficial to its members, they are criticized for their alleged incivility, bias, and ignorance how ‘sophisticated’ believers practice their faith.

So where are all these ‘sophisticates’ and why isn’t their influence mitigating the religious adverse affects? They certainly are not the majority of religious believers. Yet the sophisticates play a central role in defending religious belief from legitimate criticism, from religious believers having an honest dialogue about the overwhelming negative effects religious belief correlates to people’s well-being as a society and make it next to impossible to come up with a strategy to implement necessary change to get religious influence out of the public domain where it continues to be a root correlate of societal harm.

Beliefs have consequences. How we arrive at them matters a great deal. It is possible to arrive at them poorly. To paraphrase Harris from his final chapter in The Moral Landscape, it is possible to be wrong and not know it. We call that ignorance. It is possible to be wrong and to know it but be reluctance to admit that we do so to avoid the social stigma of not going along with the majority. We call this hypocrisy. It is possible to dimly glimpse that we may be wrong in our beliefs but allow the fear of being wrong to drive our urge to increase our commitment to the belief set. We call this self-deception. These are not unusual thinking tools used in the service of religious belief. And there is a growing epidemic of scientific illiteracy and ignorance and anti-intellectualism in much of the world that fails to appreciate that few scientific truths are self-evident and many are counter-intuitive. It is intellectual work and effort and discipline of method to come to understand how and why empty space is structured, that we share a common ancestor with fruit flies and carrots. And few things make thinking like a scientist and understanding the world as it really is more difficult than a deep attachment to religious beliefs that offer simple answers regardless if they are true. What some might perceive to be “superior-ish” disrespect for those who think themselves justified to maintain religious beliefs in the face of contrary knowledge, I think is a sense of disdain for those who are unwilling to do this work, to respect the principle of reason, that the product of good reasoning reveals what’s knowable and what’s true, and that what’s true matters more than what one simply wishes to believe.

To then be accused of substituting a simplistic set of answers based on wishful thinking for another such set reveals the depth of just how wide is the gulf between those who respect the principle and product of good reasoning and those who choose to know far too little about it in the service of their religious beliefs.

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