Questionable Motives

April 29, 2011

Why is the NCSE wrong to accommodate creationism?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

April 28, 2011

What’s the problem with religious accommodation and why does it so annoy gnus?

Filed under: accommodation,Atheism,Criticism,Gnu Atheism — tildeb @ 9:45 am

Taken in parts directly from author Paul W. , comment#29, over at Butterflies and Wheels and an excellent overview of the issue why gnu atheists are so deeply annoyed at the accommodationist stance taken up and promoted by other atheists:

Gnu atheists think more people ought to regularly speak up critically about bad religious ideas, and that those bad religious ideas are common to “liberal” religion as well as, e.g., fundamentalism.

The reasons why gnus think there’s too little forthright criticism and accommodationists think there’s too much vary considerably.

Accommodationists typically think some or all of the following, in some mix:

0. Distinctively religious beliefs aren’t all false, or aren’t all inconsistent with science, or aren’t so importantly false as to be worth objecting to.

1. In terms of its effects on human well being, religion isn’t a bad thing overall. A lot of religion (e.g., fundamentalism) is bad, but a lot of religion (e.g., theologically moderate or liberal Christianity) is actually good for the world, on the whole, promoting civilized conceptions of morality, or at worst harmless. If we dispensed with religion, or just diminished the mindshare of religion across the board, we’d lose a lot of good along with the bad.

2. Liberal religion is our friend, because liberal religious people are our main allies in the fight against conservative religion. If we talk people out of being liberally religious, that won’t help anything much, and may hurt because it will weaken institutions that we should be strengthening, or leaving as they are. Liberal religion is a crucial part of the solution to the problem of bad religion.

3. You can argue against the worst sorts of religion effectively without arguing against the best sorts. Fundamentalism is he problem, not religion, and critiques of religion should generally focus on distinctive features of bad religion. We should argue against theological conservatism, as liberals, more often than we should argue against religion, as atheists.

4. Even to the extent that it might be advantageous to undermine religion across the board, it is strategically unwise to attempt to do so. It will mostly alienate potential allies and generate backlash, doing more harm than good. It is better to be very “civil,” and only gently criticize religion, and mostly focus criticism on especially bad religion. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Gnus, in contrast, tend to think at least some of the following to a greater extent than accommodationists:

0. Distinctively religious beliefs are generally false, are generally inconsistent with science, and are false enough to be worth objecting to, out of a more or less free-floating commitment to truth.

1. In terms of its effects on human well-being, religion is a bad thing overall. Some religion (e.g., very theologically liberal religion) isn’t especially harmful in its direct effects on people, and sometimes is even good, but most religion is a net negative, and religion as a whole could be dispensed with, and that would be a generally good thing, with lots of pluses and relatively few minuses.

2. Liberal religion is our friend in some senses, and not in others. On average, if we talk liberally religious people out of being liberally religious, that will be a good thing because they’ll be even better allies against religion, including especially conservative religion.

3. You can’t argue effectively against bad religion effectively without arguing against religion fairly broadly, because the most important features of bad religion—belief in God and souls and divinely or supernaturally inspired morality—are common to almost all religion. Once you grant those mistaken premises, or fail to challenge them, you’ve mostly given away the store, and are reduced to making the kind of lame-ass arguments that liberal religious people use so ineffectively against conservatively religious people. (E.g., justifying certain ways of picking and choosing religious beliefs—rather than explaining why it’s all a load of bollocks, for which there are much better more basic, and correct arguments.)

The root problem isn’t fundamentalism, but central premises of almost all religion, which are themselves stupid and dangerous ideas, acquiesence to which enables fundamentalism—and basic nonfundamentalist orthodoxy, which is a bigger problem than outright fundamentalism.

4. Criticizing religion does generate backlash and alienate some people, but fears of backlash are overrated, and it is important to challenge religious privilege and especially to shift the Overton window of public opinion. Being too afraid of short-term backlash—and too pessimistic about major shifts of popular opinion about religion—is a recipe for perpetuating religion’s privileged position and dominance. It is demonstrably untrue that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar—successful social movements generally require a spectrum of opinion, including relatively “extreme” views. Excessive moderation is a recipe for stasis, and you need both reformists and “radicals,” who more or less play good cop / bad cop.

What accommodationists say that sets gnus off is usually a criticism of gnus that implies that we’re wrong to be as “radical” as we are, and that we should sit down and shut up, or do something else instead, because our anti-religious fight

1) isn’t worth fighting in principle, because religion’s not so bad, or

2) isn’t winnable, to any particularly useful extent, so isn’t worth fighting in practice, or

3) isn’t winnable by our overt, backlash-generating means, so we should all be nice moderates like the accommodationists instead of being noisy troublemakers who undermine sound, centrist political triangulation strategy.

We generally think all those things are false, and get really tired of hearing them from people who don’t seriously address the issues of fact, of worthwhile goals, or of effective political strategy.

Every time we hear strategic advice that amounts to “you catch more flies with honey” by somebody telling us what to do, who is apparently entirely ignorant of Overton window strategies, it pisses us off.

We get really, really sick of people telling us what to do without addressing our very good reasons for doing what we’re doing, and actually showing that their reasons are better than our reasons.

One thing that does frequently bring deep emotions into play is the sense that accommodationists frequently advise us what to do as though they think we’re simplistic strategically naive zealots, as opposed to thoughtful people with well-thought-out positions, good arguments, and an arguably excellent strategic rationale that is almost never even mentioned, much less properly addressed, by people who proffer an “obviously better” strategy toward apparently different goals.

Until accommodationists are willing to talk very, very seriously about Overton issues, we’re going to dismiss their strategic advice as the shallow, platitudinous crap that we think it is. As long as they act like we don’t even have a strategy, and criticize us for not going along with theirs, we’re going to be seriously annoyed when they tell us to do what they want us to do, instead of what we’re doing.

Talking about us as though we’re simply strategically naive and gratuitously confrontational is straw-manning us, and we are sick as shit of it. Its been going on nonstop for years, and doesn’t show any sign of stopping.

We do understand accommodationist arguments. Of course we do. We always have. It isn’t exactly rocket science. (Or even passable political science.) And we’ve always had good reasons for disagreeing with them, which are almost universally ignored by accommodationists, who continue to talk past us, and talk systematically misleading cartoonish smack about us.

That’s just seriously annoying, isn’t? Should we not be annoyed by that?

April 21, 2011

What do atheists hear when theology is debated?

Filed under: Atheism,belief,Hell,theology — tildeb @ 9:34 am

Amanda Marcotte has a pretty funny take over on Pandagon on a Chris Matthews round table ‘discussion’ about what if there is no hell? His panelists are fellow catholics Andrew Sullivan, Norah O’Donnell,  and Betty Quick, joined by Joe Klein who is jewish. The clip is under four minutes and the interpretation by Amanda only a few paragraphs long but is especially accurate. Her thesis is pretty simple:

Debating whether or not there is a hell on national television is one of those things that makes me wonder if we, as a nation, are collectively five years old. Since this is a claim that can’t really be dealt with on evidence, all the arguments basically fall along the lines of, “I believe X because I want result Y.”

For the answer to her question go here to see and read for yourself. After reading her short yet pithy article, you too will understand why it is pretty obvious (when such a discussion is interpreted by the rational mind of a non believer) why her answer is yes. But of course her answer doesn’t satisfy many who do not understand the humour, so a follow-up article is here.

April 19, 2011

Why are the Abrahamic religions blots on the dignity of humankind?

Because they they are misogynistic. Paula Kirby from the Washington Post explains why, from which I have extracted  the following but I know you’ll head on over to read the whole piece for yourself:

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Here, in Ephesians 5, attributed to St Paul, we have in a nutshell the church’s attitude to the respective positions of man and woman. The man’s role is to be the head, the woman’s to submit to him. The meaning is crystal clear, unmistakable; and yet, despite the fundamentalists who firmly believe such Iron Age prejudices still apply today, there are many liberal Christians who have the decency to cringe at the primitiveness of such instructions and who therefore bend over backwards to pretend they’re not as bad as they quite patently are. “Ah yes,” they say, “but Paul goes on to say that husbands must love their wives. And not just love them, but love them as they love themselves. So clearly this is a reciprocal arrangement, equal in value, imposing constraints of equal weight on both man and wife. All is well with the world and we can continue to pretend that Christianity is the friend of women.” But no. All is not well with the world, and only the deluded or the disingenuous could claim to see equality where there is only subservience.

It is interesting to note the context in which this infamous passage occurs: immediately following the commandment to women to submit to their husbands we find the commandment to children to obey their parents, and to slaves to obey their owners. No amount of instruction to the husbands, parents and owners in question not to ruthlessly exploit their positions of power can alter the fact that women are classed with children and slaves when it comes to their social standing, freedom and self-determination and, like them, are called on to embrace their inferior status with cheerfulness and enthusiasm. In this same sequence of instructions slave-owners are exhorted not to threaten their slaves. Does this make slavery acceptable? Of course not. Only religion could attempt to present such a loathsome idea as though it were not a blot on the dignity of humankind, and the requirement for women always to submit to their menfolk is no less repugnant.

So isn’t this always the case even without these religious influences?

Show me a non-religious society that feels so threatened by the thought of female sexuality that it will slice off the clitoris of a young girl to ensure she can never experience sexual pleasure. Show me a non-religious society that feels the need to cloak women from head to toe and force them to experience the outside world through a slit of a few square inches. All three Abrahamic religions share the myth of Adam and Eve, the myth that it was through woman that evil was let loose in the world. They share the heritage of Leviticus, which declared a menstruating woman unclean, to be set aside, untouched, a revulsion that remains even today among some orthodox Jews, who will refuse to shake a woman’s hand for fear she may be menstruating. What kind of lunacy is this? It is the lunacy of a Bronze Age mindset fossilized by the reactionary forces of religion.

But of course the lunacies derived from religious beliefs neither begins nor ends here; it’s a fount for lunacy that keeps on giving.

Religion is one lie after another: the lie of original sin, the lie of eternal life, the lie of hell, the lie of answered prayer, the lie that life can have no meaning without religion, the lie that religion is the source of morality, the lie of creationism, the lie of a spy-in-the-sky who hears your every word and reads your every thought. And to this list we must add the lie that it views men and women as equal. It has got away for so long with the kind of lunatic word-games that allow death-by-torture to be presented as an act of love, and eternal torment in the flames of hell to be seen as a necessary act of justice, that we should perhaps not be surprised that it has also managed to dupe its followers into seeing the systematic suppression and silencing of women as an act of liberation and equality. Nevertheless, it is a lie, like all the others: a cynical and wicked lie. It is time women everywhere woke up to it.

That would be a good start.

April 17, 2011

What does that religious euphemism mean?

Filed under: belief,Humour — tildeb @ 7:52 pm

Re-posted in its entirety from ex-christian.net comes this handy reference guide written by atheistnurse:

I have often heard various phrases used over and over again to obscure the unexplainable Christian “truths.” But what do they really mean? Let’s look at some:

“It is a deep spiritual truth, too complex for us to grasp.”

Translation: “I don’t know what the fuck this means, but I am going to believe it anyway.”

This euphemism is commonly used to explain bullshit theology that any normal, thinking person would immediately chalk up to being ridiculous such as the trinity (1+1+11), a “loving and just” god’s cruel actions in the bible, predestination vs. freewill, eternal torturing of good people who don’t bow down and worship a megalomaniac god, etc.

“God works in mysterious ways.”

Translation: “Wow! We didn’t see that coming and we can’t explain it to save our lives, but…”

This is usually used when the reality doesn’t match up with what a christian would assume would happen according to god’s will.

“God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.”

Translation: “Suck it up and deal with it. We don’t want to have to think about why god would allow such a horrible thing to happen so stop your bellyaching.”

Hey, if you are breathing, you are bearing it, so there you go. Case closed.

“God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts.”

Translation: “We know this looks like he is a bad god, but we just have to believe he is doing this for a good reason otherwise…”

Child abuse, starving people, suffering, etc, can all be explained by god being so smart as to have a perfectly good reason for it all. Yeah, right.

“God is testing you.”

Translation: “You must have pissed god off and now you are going to pay.”

Why in the world would an all-knowing god have to test anyone? Doesn’t he already know if they will pass or not?

“God is so good!”

Translation: “A random event has resulted in my good fortune. Gotta be god!”

It couldn’t possible be due to hard work, luck, determination, or any other plausible explanation. When bad things happen we never hear, “God is so bad.” (see “God is testing you” above)

“It is god’s will.”

Translation: “I don’t know what else to say, but this sounds good.”

When anything happens to a believer it is god’s will. It is god’s will I have cancer/my child died/I won the lottery – you name it. After all, his ways are not our ways (yeah, sometimes the euphemisms overlap).

“Their faith is weak.”

Translation: “Uh-oh. They are starting to think rationally.”

Anyone who doesn’t abide by the blind-leading-the-blind philosophy of Christianity has weak faith. Never, ever, question god. Period.

“We are praying for you.”

Translation: “We don’t want to go out of our way to actually help you, but we will say a five-second prayer for you once a month. This makes us feel really, really good about doing absolutely nothing for you. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Nuff said on that one.

I know there are tons of these, but you get the idea. Christianity is a made up, superstitious, cult that can’t stand on its own. Without these euphemisms, people might be force to just blurt out, “Holy crap!! That doesn’t make any goddamn sense at all! What kind of god would do that?”

April 16, 2011

Why is mainstream moderate religious belief poisonous (updated)?

From a previous thread come these comments:

From misunderstoodranter:

“I am not an atheist because ‘other’ people are atheists – I am an atheist because I decided I was.”

From Zero1Ghost comes this reply:

“this implies that believers are theists because they are engaged in group think. i think this notion is partially true. they are afraid not to believe in God yet they live their lives like there isn’t one and the “church” has no impact on their lives aside from where they get married, baptize their children, and where their funeral is held.”

This is a very typical characterization of the mainstream religious believer from those theists who do not see what pernicious and ongoing effect the tireless promotion of religious ideology has on their society… motivated solely by religious ideology. These same theists tend to individualize religious belief as if it were a simple choice made only on the personal level so take any criticism about religion per se as inconsequential and often misguided. From this attribution, these theists then generally fail to account for how their own preferences for empowering their personal religious beliefs in any public way support the insertion of religious ideology into the lives and business of everyone else. This is a purposeful disconnect done with the intention of deflecting criticism from the issue of religious motivation to an issue of individual actions that may or may not be considered misguided. In this way, these theists never have to deal with the growing problem religious ideology brings to the whole population as they stand idly by while this happens… but are sure to call atheists and others who complain too loudly names. Forget that these same theists offer their tacit support of the inserted religious ideology into the public domain while deflecting criticism to be too ‘militant’ and ‘strident’ and ‘fundamentalist’ to be accurate. No siree: complainers of religious insertion into the public domain are just as extreme as those other religious folk. And you don’t want to be one of those people! You’re too reasonable to be such an extremist. And yet the religiously motivated intrusion continues unabated seeking preferential treatment by means of law.

In the United States, for example, I wonder if most religious believers appreciate just how common, conniving, and downright underhanded are those who attempt to cross the state/church wall of separation to insert theology where it doesn’t belong: specifically in science class. I have trouble finding anyone who supports this insertion directly, who supports those who work against the First Amendment; instead I am overwhelmed by those who pretend such insertions are only attempted by religious extremists and fundamentalists and so we can safely trust governments to withstand their misguided assaults. They are wrong.

So let’s consider the facts: in 2011 we have seven states considering nine bills to do just this.

The National Center for Science Education offers us what they call the Antievolution Legislative Scorecard here. It lists each bill and quotes the bill’s aims. This is creationism in action. This is religious ideology actively being recruited to achieve a specific outcome. Its motivation is to undermine the teaching of evolution as if there were some other legitimate science theories kicking about in biology when there are none. This is pure religious belief common to most religious believers who assume the role of creator somewhere in humanity’s history masquerading as some kind of alternative science. And every year creationism rears its ugly little head and people work tirelessly to alter science textbooks, alter school curriculum, alter education legislation with one aim in mind: replace real science with religious belief in the public domain… or at least make room for religious beliefs about creationism in the curriculum. So can we blame only religious extremists? Well, it is not being carried out by religious extremists. It is not being carried out by fundamentalists. It is being done by politicians who stand to gain public favour by undermining the teaching of science in the name of religious belief.

There’s the rub.

It is the wider public made up of religious moderates and liberals, apologists and accommodationists, who are to blame for this travesty… including the NCSE itself that states “[t]he Bible is a record of one particular people’s developing moral relationship with God, and enshrines timeless ideals about the integrity of creation […]! Without the support of so many religious accommodationist of all stripes- tacit or actual – no politician would dare undermine the First and expect to curry public favour. For that to happen, the mainstream must accept the promotion of religious ideology in the public domain as legitimate.  And that’s why every religious believer must be challenged who dares to suggest that their religious beliefs beyond the merely personal are either innocuous or good. They’re not. They are just as likely to be poisonous.

April 12, 2011

What is Big History and why is it important?

In spite of never-ending creationist pushes into public education (the latest in Tennessee) to replace what is true and knowable with what is believed to be true and unknowable, Big History allows us to better understand how the universe operates and our place in it. Enjoy this TED talk from David Christian who wants everyone to know this story (it picks up speed at about the 4 minute mark).

April 9, 2011

Excluding religion, what are some of the modern expressions of faith-based beliefs?

Filed under: Bad Science,belief,Bias,Science — tildeb @ 9:26 am

Although I’m late to the party, this short by Tim Minchin deals with many of today’s expressions of faith-based beliefs and why they are so lacking in intellectual honesty. Enjoy.

 

April 1, 2011

Why does the state of Indiana want to make pregnant mothers second class citizens?

Filed under: abortion,Catholic Church,Crime,Criticism,hypocrisy,Law,Priests — tildeb @ 12:25 pm

From the ACLU’s Blog of Rights comes this prosecution:

The facts of this case are heartbreaking. On December 23, 2010, Shuai, a 34-year-old pregnant woman who was suffering from a major depressive disorder, attempted to take her own life. Friends found her in time and persuaded her to get help. Six days later, Shuai underwent cesarean surgery and delivered a premature newborn girl who, tragically, died four days later.

On March 14, 2011, Shuai was arrested, jailed, and charged with murder and attempted feticide. Had Shuai, who is being represented by National Advocates for Pregnant Women and local attorneys, not been pregnant when she attempted suicide, she would not have been charged with any crime at all.

Of course, no one would deny that what happened in this case is terrible and tragic, and probably no one feels that more than Shuai herself. But this case is about so much more than whether attempted suicide should be a crime — in Indiana it is not — and the death of her daughter; its implications go much further.

The state is misconstruing the criminal laws in this case in such a way that any pregnant woman could be prosecuted for doing (or attempting) anything that may put her health at risk, regardless of the outcome of her pregnancy.

Allowing the government to exercise such unlimited control over women’s bodies, decisions, and every aspect of their lives, and to send them to jail when they disapprove of a woman’s behavior, would essentially reduce pregnant women to second-class citizens by denying them the basic constitutional rights enjoyed by the rest of us.

So how are these constitutional rights exercised in each state? This map allows you quick access to determine each of the state’s and the legislation on the books. Check out Utah especially, a state that has passed legislation to allow criminal homicide charges against women if they should induce a miscarriage.

Of course, there is no such similar law nor advocacy for such a law against men who counsel and provide the means for women they have impregnated to get abortions… sorry… induce miscarriages. That would be too much equality in responsibility, I guess.

But wouldn’t it be a grand spectacle to put these men under the same law and on trial, like those priests who forced nuns into sexual relationships with them and who counseled those who became pregnant to get rid of the evidence of their dalliances? Why should these misogynistic pricks not enjoy the same legal privilege and be charged with aiding and abetting criminal homicide? But if they did charge them, where could I buy tickets? Not, apparently, in Indiana where only women are to be held criminally accountable when it comes to the health and welfare of fetuses.

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