Questionable Motives

December 31, 2010

What does Einstein mean by the mental grasp as the supreme goal?

Filed under: Einstein,Inquiry,non belief,Science — tildeb @ 2:26 pm

Excerpt from Albert Einstein’s Autobiographical Notes:

When I was a fairly precocious young man I became thoroughly impressed with the futility of the hopes and strivings that chase most men restlessly through life. Moreover, I soon discovered the cruelty of that chase, which in those years was much more carefully covered up by hypocrisy and glittering words than is the case today. By the mere existence of his stomach everyone was condemned to participate in that chase. The stomach might well be satisfied by such participation, but not man insofar as he is a thinking and feeling being.

As the first way out there was religion, which is implanted into every child by way of the traditional education-machine. Thus I came – though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents – to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true.

The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment — an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections.

It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the “merely personal,” from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.

(h/t to Releasing Religion)

December 28, 2010

What is the faith cake?

Filed under: belief,Critical Reasoning,Faith,Religion,Science,theology — tildeb @ 2:00 pm

(Thanks to QualiaSoup)

December 26, 2010

How urgent is it to rationally scrutinize the claims of religion?

Filed under: belief,Criticism,Religion,Russell Blackford — tildeb @ 12:06 pm

This recent article by Russell Blackford (of Metamagician and the Hellfire Club fame) is causing a bit of a stir and well worth reading.

Religious teachings promise us a deeper understanding of reality, more meaningful lives, morally superior conduct, and such benefits as rightness with a Supreme Being or liberation from earthly attachments. One way or another, the world’s religions offer spiritual salvation, or something very like it. If any of their teachings are rationally warranted, it would be good to know which ones.

At the same time, however, religious teachings can be onerous in their demands; if they can’t deliver on what they promise, it would be just as well to know that. I take it, then, that there’s a strong case for rational scrutiny of religious teachings. Even if reason can take us only so far, it would be good to explore just how far.

But just how urgent a task is the rational scrutiny of religion? Is it really needed in a modern, and apparently secular, liberal democracy such as Australia? Isn’t Australian religiosity rather unobtrusive and undemanding? In that case, is there any need to engage in strong, publicly prominent criticism of religious teachings, the organisations that promote them, or the leaders of those organisations? Perhaps rational critiques of religion should be available in peer-reviewed philosophy journals – but no great effort should be made to debunk religion in popular books, magazine or newspaper articles, or media appearances.

I disagree. All too often, religious organisations and their representatives seek to control how we plan and run our lives, including how we die. At various times, the religious have opposed a vast range of activities and innovations: anaesthesia; abortion; contraceptive technologies; stem-cell and therapeutic cloning research; physician-assisted suicide; the teaching of robust scientific findings, such as those of evolutionary biology; and a wide range of essentially harmless sexual conduct involving consenting adults. Even in Australia, churches and sects frequently lobby for laws that restrict our freedoms.

As in other Western democracies, religious organisations in Australia are not always politically liberal or even moderate. On the contrary, recent years have seen the increasing influence of very large Pentecostal organisations, such as Hillsong and Catch the Fire Ministries, which pursue a political agenda little different from that of the Christian Right in America. Conservative Catholics, such as Cardinal George Pell, actively seek to influence political affairs. We have seen considerable activism from Australia’s religious lobbies, and successive governments have pandered blatantly to Christian moral concerns.

It’s not surprising that so many contributors to The Australian Book of Atheism (Scribe Publications; ed. Warren Bonnet) are appalled by the promotion of religion by the Howard and Rudd governments, with Julia Gillard now following suit.

Public scrutiny and criticism of religion’s truth-claims and moral authority would be less urgent if the various churches and sects agreed unequivocally to a wall of separation between themselves and the state. Unfortunately, however, they often have good reasons, judged by their own lights, to oppose such a strict secularism. Some churches and sects do not distinguish sharply between guidance on individual salvation and the exercise of political power.

They may be sceptical about the independence of secular goals from religious ones, or about the distinction between personal goals and those of the state. They may be sceptical about the danger that liberal-minded people see when adherents of competing worldviews jostle to impose them by means of political power. Some religious groups do not accept the reality of continuing social pluralism. Instead, they look to a day when their views will prevail over others.

When religion claims authority in the political sphere, it is unsurprising and totally justifiable that atheists and sceptics question the source of this authority. If religious organisations or their leaders claim to speak on behalf of a god, it is fair to ask whether the god concerned really makes the claims that are communicated on its behalf. Does this god even exist? Where is the evidence? And even if this being does exist, why, exactly, should its wishes be heeded, let alone translated into laws enforced by the state’s coercive power?

These questions are being asked more often, and so they should be. When they’re asked publicly, even with a touch of aggression, that’s an entirely healthy thing.

Dr Russell Blackford is a Conjoint Lecturer at the University of Newcastle and a contributor to The Australian Book of Atheism.

December 25, 2010

What does the bible say about the Nativity?

Filed under: belief,Bible — tildeb @ 10:01 am

Why let what’s true interfere with a good story?

(h/t to Dead Wild Roses)

December 21, 2010

Why is Ricky Gervais an atheist?

Filed under: Atheism,Freedom,honesty,Science,Truth — tildeb @ 8:59 am

Because it leads one to living an honest life:

But living an honest life -– for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.

So how do we get there? How can we find out stuff that we can respect as true?

Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

Read his full and entertaining article here.

December 16, 2010

What is wrong with our education system (that Ritalin can’t fix)?

Filed under: Education — tildeb @ 8:13 pm

A lot, I think.

As an adult educator, I see exactly these results trudge into my classes all the time. Once I reveal to these brow-beaten people that they already know what they need to show – that each is easily intelligent and capable enough to excel if they only know how to show it –  my job becomes simply that of a helper. These ‘students’ inevitably try to blame me for their later successes but I will not stand for it. People own their education… once defined succinctly as what you have left after you’ve forgotten everything you’ve learned.

I can think of no reason belonging to these students why almost every one of them (publicly educated at the taxpayer’s expense) should not be successful in whatever academic pursuit aids them in achieving a high level of expertise in whatever field they wish to participate. But I do know that the education system itself here in Canada is fractured into trying to be a job training program based on standardized skill attainment rather than an educating system that allows people to think better (and I don’t for a moment mean to suggest that we do so by some exclusion of the passions. The passions are central to our learning).

We learn through experience, by making meaning, by being present and engaged in something interesting and applicable and moving  and helpful and important. We need an assortment of ways and means to bring to bear on whatever it is we are trying to learn to facilitate the richness of this interaction with all the bits and pieces and patterns and people of the world. We need an intellectual toolbox that incorporates and utilizes and enhances our natural responses to learn and broaden our understanding, gain knowledge, and create meaning from our interests. A standard curriculum (to suit standardized testing that allows comparisons to be the benchmark spectrum for defining academic excellence) that tries to encompass just about everything through skills achieves (at best) the lowest possible common denominator as its crowning glory. We should expect more – much more – from an education system. This video explains very well how we have come to educationally produce exactly this:

December 9, 2010

How does the long arm of American evangelical beliefs threaten people’s lives in Uganda?

Ignorance in action so often aided and abetted by religious conviction continues to cause unnecessary suffering. This is especially true regarding the treatment in law of homosexuals and the active advocacy of religious organizations to promote bigotry and misogyny in the name of god.

From HuffPo:

Rachel Maddow devoted almost half of her Wednesday show to a lengthy interview with David Bahati, author of the infamous bill in the Ugandan Parliament that calls for gay people to face life imprisonment or, in some cases, execution if they are convicted of having practiced homosexuality.

Bahati is also a member of The Family, the religious organization that carries substantial power on Capitol Hill (ever heard of the yearly National Prayer Breakfast?) .

Maddow asked him how gays living openly in Uganda harmed children. “It hurts my family when my child goes to school and is converted into gay…when the purpose of procreation is undermined,” Bahati said.

He also said that he was concerned about following “God’s law.” Maddow pressed him on this point, finally getting him to acknowledge that, in his view, the “appropriate punishment” for violating God’s law is death. “We need to turn to God,” he said.

Watch the entire interview (in two parts) here.

December 8, 2010

What do religious beliefs look (and sound) like when compared to religious knowledge?

Filed under: 10 commandments,belief,Bible,Critical Reasoning,Debate — tildeb @ 6:53 pm

Foolishness from ignorance.

Now this is entertainment: Mike Huckabee and his ‘beliefs’ about the commandments taken to school by Alan Dershowitz and his historical knowledge about the commandments.


December 5, 2010

How do the religious undermine the Golden Rule?

I read many comments and articles by ‘moderate’ theists who suggest that, at their core, religious beliefs are really all the same, that what people are responding to with various kinds of religious faiths is recognizing the transcendent, honouring the spiritual, paying homage to a felt but never seen creative and loving force. It all sounds so… well, kumba ya-ish. And heart-warmingly lovely, mitigating the trivial differences that so easily separate us and acts like a special kind of blessed force (unseen by athiets, of course) that promotes the common good.

And then I read something like this and have to remind myself that the metaphorical holding of religious hands argued by different theists about life-enhancing nature of religious compatibility is nothing more than soothing lies we find in the daily practice of religious beliefs that inform how we behave towards others.

A 17 year old girl lived a hellish life and died a horrible death because of people acting on their religious convictions. More religion will never solve this ongoing and familiar tragedy played out in the lives of us little people who grant their religious convictions and the convictions of others a legitimate role in determining how to behave in ways that supposedly honour a god.

This is insane. And it’s insane because doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – some divine enhancement in the lives of humans – is not a rational nor reasonable expectation. Such a belief that a different result will occur is maintained in spite of contrary yet consistent evidence of harm caused by acting on religious convictions. When we choose to empower such beliefs with an assumption that they are legitimate because they involve some homage to a deity, then we have left the arena of what is rational, what is reasonable, what is probable, what is likely true, and entered the arena of what is is merely hoped for, what is wished, what is improbable, what is likely false. And this legitimizing of what is hoped for in spite of evidence to the contrary is not compatible with empowering respect and audience for what is true. Expecting more religious belief to magically find some way to stop the kind of human abuse people commit in the name of some god is crazy talk. It’s delusional. It’s dangerous and, in the case of Nurta Mohamed Farah, deadly.

Anyone who thinks that religious belief has a legitimate and compatible role to play in helping anyone determine how to treat other human beings with dignity and respect is guilty of helping to legitimize the actions of people to do terrible things to other people for exactly the same reasons. By legitimizing the intentions of those who act to honour some god, we legitimize the basis of such assumptions that they are true, that they are accurate, that they are correct. Such assumptions help to legitimize delusion and insanity rather than what’s rational and reasonable and backed by consistent evidence. Those who assume that religious belief is equivalent to rational thinking have no evidence to insist the two are compatible methods of inquiry, compatible voices that need to be heard, compatible means to inform morality and ethical behaviour, compatible avenues to establishing respect not only for the rights and freedoms and dignity of other people but how to act in ways that achieve these results. The evidence does not support this assumption. What evidence there is shows that by legitimizing delusional thinking, we legitimize its failure to respect other people’s claim to equal rights, legitimize its failure to establish equal freedoms, legitimize its failure to support equal respect between people, and we see this failure played out in religious inspired tragedy after religious inspired tragedy.

Isn’t it high time in the 21st century to stop tolerating and legitimizing this failed voice offered up as a compatible way of achieving noble goals and Enlightenment values by the religiously deluded? The religious perspective has nothing to offer any of us but more failure to be reasonable and rational and consistent with the evidence in every area of human endeavor in which it is granted a fair hearing. Isn’t it time we recognized its failure? Isn’t it time that we gave full credence to the rational and reasonable voice  of a basic equality and dignity for all in shared rights and freedoms and reject the anti-rational voice of delusion? Is that not the least we can do on an individual basis if for no other reason than in memory of this one girl whose sad life was warped and twisted and ended by the deluded in the name of their religious beliefs? Isn’t a human life more important in and of itself to be treated as we ourselves wish to be treated – with the same level of dignity and respect – than simply as a piece of property of some god to be used and abused by the faithful who claim to be fulfilling god’s wishes?

We really do have to choose eventually because these different perspectives and antithetical methods of achieving our goals are not compatible. Agreeing at the very least to empower the Golden Rule seems to be a good starting point for everybody… unless you are deluded, in which case your opinions should not be invited to the grown-up’s table.

December 2, 2010

Do you know what abstinence only sex education through taxpayer funding look like in practice?

Filed under: Morality,Public policy,School Board,Sex Education,values — tildeb @ 10:08 am

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