Questionable Motives

May 25, 2011

Why is this catholic report (Causes and Context study of priest pedophilia) a major setback in the movement towards Church accountability?

Filed under: Catholic Church,child abuse,Priests — tildeb @ 3:23 pm

Mary Celeste Hale explains:

Before I read the newly-released report, I tried to be as charitable and optimistic about it as possible, with the thought that “well, this is better than nothing”.

After finishing the report, though, I can say with certainty that both my charity and my optimism were unwarranted. I was wrong. Very wrong. This report isn’t better than nothing. It’s a major setback in the movement towards Church accountability.

She summarizes her reasons:

First, I want to explain why this report’s findings are neither credible nor insightful:

1. The conflict of interest created by the funding.

2. Limited and untrustworthy data.

Next, two of the major problems:

1. Methodology, and

2. Conclusion.

Mary Celeste has written many times about her being raised a catholic and the pernicious effects it has had on her life. She is a wonderful and passionate writer who expresses herself with wit and charm and I urge people to read not only her entire dismantling of this catholic funded, catholic approved, catholic biased report here but her other essays and posts and comments from her links.

In the meantime, here is a sample from her conclusion that I think is worth serious consideration:

Sometimes I think that I should stop writing about this issue, as I’ve written about it so many times before and it’s quite difficult not to repeat myself. But I can’t and won’t shut up about it, and neither should you. The day that we stop writing and talking about it is the day that the Church wins this fight.

Time and time again we have seen that the Church will do whatever it takes to downplay and/or cover up their failings and crimes. They have shown their willingness to fight dirty, and one of the most useful and effective tools in their arsenal is their dominance of the discourse and conversation (both in the media and elsewhere) about these issues. The Causes and Context study is a textbook example of this: when the media reports its “takeaways” without providing context, they are, in effect, doing the Church’s face-saving dirty work for them.

No, we must not shut up. We must not allow the Church to dominate the discourse. Speak out in whatever ways you can. On its own, what you or I say or write may not have any effect on the Church or the discourse surrounding this issue. Taken as a whole, though, our words provide a clear indication that there are many of us who will neither blindly accept the Church’s domination of the conversation nor quietly sit by while they evade justice time and time again.

Don’t shut up, even when you feel like you’re repeating yourself. It took me a while to realize that the reason I’ve sometimes been repetitive when writing about this is that the Church itself has repeated the same crimes and the same institutionally sanctioned cover-ups over and over again. They repeatedly refuse to admit their culpability or to face legal punishment when appropriate. And, most importantly, they repeatedly deny outsiders access to their files that contain information on the sexual abuse of children and the cover-ups of that abuse.

Until the day that they allow that access, until the day that the light of public scrutiny is finally able to illuminate and reveal the darkest and most disturbing aspects of the Church, we owe it to the victims to never, ever shut up.

I won’t shut up, and neither should you. The day that we stop fighting back is the day that they win.

Let’s make sure that day never comes.

I’m right there with you, Celeste.

(h/t WEIT, Surprise! Catholic Church whitewashes priest pedophilia)

May 23, 2011

Religion: what’s the harm?

Filed under: belief,Faith,Gnu Atheism,God,Religion — tildeb @ 3:57 pm

Plenty, it turns out, and some of it very personal. For example, Eric MacDonald was an anglican priest but became a gnu atheist when he began to experience just how insidiously our laws about end of life issues and personal dignity have been co-opted by the faithful to represent their beliefs and imposed on everyone as if they were justified. He says

I write this blog (Choice in Dying) because I want to see laws regarding assisted dying become the norm. I believe that opposition to reasonable and compassionate assisted dying legislation is almost entirely religious — though there are some outriders in secular movements which, for inadequate reasons (see my own criticism of Jennifer Michael Hecht), oppose assisted dying legislation, or at least would limit it in serious and, I believe, unjustifiable ways. This is only one example of religious regressive effect on law and society. It is a simple one, but it is characteristic.

In the last little while, Eric has revisited Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and has tackled many of the most critical reviews about it to see if they carry forward a good argument against its central thesis, that god is a delusion – the term meaning belief in the absence of corroborating evidence. Eric’s posts are always very well written and I urge readers to check them out. I know I am far richer for reading the thoughts so eloquently expressed by this highly articulate man. And I am not alone. Many of the commentators are just as literate and sharp and add their distinctive voices and styles to the very high quality of this site.

From his latest post about H. Allen Orr’s review, Eric addresses the topic of my post, namely, why do gnu atheists go after something that apparently brings so much comfort to so many? Where’s the harm in believing in that which has no corroborating evidence? I think he addresses in the following some of the very points raised by various commentators here at QM.

For example, it is common to have someone insist that the criticisms put forth don’t accurately describe the particular religious beliefs of the commentator:

It is widely thought that being forthright and deliberately offensive about the poverty or religion makes it impossible for Dawkins, and those who think like him, to engage in cooperative efforts with so-called “people of faith”. Since liberal religious believers often remark that Dawkins is overturning god beliefs which they do not themselves hold, there is no reason why this should be so. Even if Dawkins thinks that these “believers” belong to the Neville Chamberlain school of apologetics, enabling the worst kinds of religious believing to do their damage to others and to the world at large, there is no reason for them not to make common cause with Dawkins in an effort to diminish the harm that religion can do. If they do not think that extremist forms of belief, even mildly extremist forms of belief, are not dangerous, then they simply are a menace to the future of humanity. If they are not, they should forthrightly say why they reject such forms of belief, and why they cannot associate with them, or allow their own more liberal beliefs to be a flag of convenience for extremists who claim to speak in the name of the religion they apparently share.

But how can so many ‘believers’ be wrong? Surely atheists must recognize that they are but a tiny minority awash in a sea of believers and so are missing something in their own understanding:

There are, I should think, at a rough estimate, millions of people who are caught between the devil and a hard place, people for whom religion is empty and meaningless, but who are bound to religious traditions and religious affirmations which they dare not, for many reasons, publicly question. If doubt is an essential part of religious faith, as so many of Dawkins’ detractors claim, then this doubt must have carried many of them over into real, corrosive doubt, even though they remain trapped within networks of beliefs and believers which they feel unable to escape. Providing subtle distinctions in such a context would not help. It would bind the believer that much more inescapably to the wheel of affirmation and reaffirmation, however desperate they may be to escape the trammels of religious belief and the sometimes cloying web of religious community.

Religion has always been with us and always will. Gnu atheists are just going to have to accept the fact that their efforts are doomed, their points matter little, that too much good comes from religious belief to tilt against its windmill, that finding common ground and accommodating differences of opinion is far more beneficial than to follow and support the stridency, militancy, and arrogance of a Richard Dawkins:

Whether a world without religion would be a better one is certainly worth asking. Whether Dawkins is a bit naive in supposing that it would be greatly better may certainly be discussed. But that religion is now, at this present time, a threat to world peace and human rights, seems to me irrefragable. The religious believe that they have final answers to some of our most pressing social and personal problems. For some, obviously, religious answers do provide the basis for personal revaluation and change. The real problems arise when religion interferes uninvited in the lives of others, and the problem is that religion simply cannot help itself. Since it believes in moral absolutes which must be applied whatever the consequences, religion is in the forefront of forces which would limit human freedom and subvert open societies.

This is why gnu atheists continue to do what we do: criticize that which is in desperate need of criticism, namely, pointing out the danger and refusing to respect the delusions of faith.

May 22, 2011

How can real scientists pretend that accommodationism between science and religion has any integrity?

Filed under: accommodation,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 3:23 pm

Natalie Angier writes that she has a god problem. Although that may be true, it’s not quite the subject she tackles in this brilliant article: her problem is understanding how scientists can on the one hand complain about scientific literacy and respect for such science as evolution yet on the other one pretend accommodationism that privileges religious belief from the same kind of critical thinking that informs good science are compatible positions… except in terms of concerns about access to grant money… if one wishes to promote the kind of thinking that leads to appreciating our best science. Like evolution.

For a small taste of her writing style, try this, but I know you’ll want to read and enjoy her entire piece:

Consider the very different treatments accorded two questions presented to Cornell University’s “Ask an Astronomer” Web site. To the query, “Do most astronomers believe in God, based on the available evidence?” the astronomer Dave Rothstein replies that, in his opinion, “modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of God . . . places where people who do believe in God can fit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating any contradictions.” He cites the Big Bang as offering solace to those who want to believe in a Genesis equivalent and the probabilistic realms of quantum mechanics as raising the possibility of “God intervening every time a measurement occurs” before concluding that, ultimately, science can never prove or disprove the existence of a god, and religious belief doesn’t—and shouldn’t—”have anything to do with scientific reasoning.”

How much less velveteen is the response to the reader asking whether astronomers believe in astrology. “No, astronomers do not believe in astrology,” snarls Dave Kornreich. “It is considered to be a ludicrous scam. There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.” Dr. Kornreich ends 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.”

In other words, for horoscope fans, the burden of proof is entirely on them, the poor gullible gits; while for the multitudes who believe that, in one way or another, a divine intelligence guides the path of every leaping lepton, there is no demand for evidence, no skepticism to surmount, no need to worry. You, the religious believer, may well find subtle support for your faith in recent discoveries—that is, if you’re willing to upgrade your metaphors and definitions as the latest data demand, seek out new niches of ignorance or ambiguity to fill with the goose down of faith, and accept that, certain passages of the Old Testament notwithstanding, the world is very old, not everything in nature was made in a week, and (can you turn up the mike here, please?) Evolution Happens.

May 21, 2011

What happened after the Rapture?

Filed under: comedy,rapture,Religion — tildeb @ 11:42 pm

How does religion unite people?

Filed under: ACLU,Graduation,prayer,Religion,School Board — tildeb @ 1:34 pm

It doesn’t, but why let what’s true interfere with a good belief?

Bastrop High School has a problem and his name is  Damon Fowler.  He has the arrogance, the militancy, the stridency, to insist that the school follow the law and not include a school-sanction prayer in their graduation ceremony. But if the practice ceremony is any indication, the school will still allow the prayer to happen while pretending that it is against it (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, you are a naughty girl) to avoid a law suit. And look at the public response to giving the Constitution the finger in the name of god. (Why does this remind me of Padme’s observation during Senator Palpatine’s ascendency to Emperor that this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause?)

Now let us watch the overwhelming tide of condemnation of these people from the true Christians who are nice people who wouldn’t stand for this sort of bullying behavior.

Any minute now…

Perhaps we should await an accomodationist to show up to tell us this could have been avoided if only atheists were more civil?

Still waiting…

A scholarship has been set up in Damon’s name for those who think taking a principled stand against religion promoted in the public domain is the real problem.

May 5, 2011

What do we do to keep from lying to ourselves?

We do science.

This site posts about these lies all the time and continues to urge that we respect the knowledge science produces. That may sound very reasonable and perhaps even self evident in almost every area of our lives where the results of science have produced practical and beneficial applications we can rely on. The screen in front of you is just one.

But it’s much more difficult to convince anybody to continue to respect the results of good science when it contradicts or appears hostile to our privileged biases and comfortable prejudices and favoured perspectives. We switch mental gears to rationalizing why this exemption is allowable in order to keep them  safe and sound from the harsh glare of sceptical and critical thinking that drives good science. It’s important that we begin to recognize that our motivations for doing so are thus questionable (hence the blog label).

Many of the posts I have made are about religion – probably the single most powerful bias we as a society privilege from critical review. But I have also posted about other biases many of us have… from questioning the anti-vaccine movement to dowsing, from what is ironically called complimentary and alternative medicine to misogynistic cultural practices… and tried to show that the same method of privileging faith-based beliefs from critical review through weak rationalizations is also prevalent in many areas of our lives. It’s all the same thing and we are all susceptible to its easy charms.

But this privileging carries with it an inherent danger from recognizing what is knowable and true… out of preference to believe what is not necessarily true but what we believe is knowable and true.  And nowhere is this danger more important to recognize than in looking at the results of climate science and respecting its conclusions.

The effects of allowing greenhouse gas emissions to continue rising while we pretend that the science is inadequate to even be able to draw good conclusions about what this means carries with it the cause of significant climate change. Our inaction – for whatever reasons we may think we have through our rationalizations and privileging our favoured beliefs about the topic – carries with it a considerable cost to everyone now and in the future. The cost of this change will be enormous in many ways, not least of which is an increased threat to human life and well being not just for us but for generations yet unborn. What these effects will be specifically is very difficult to calculate but we know enough to know that doing little will mitigate it not at all. If we wish to mitigate the effects, the very first step is to recognize that we even have a problem about which we can actually have an effect.


Is the science of climate change dependable and, if so, what is it telling us? To this end I am posting the following video to help explain why we need to start respecting the scientific consensus that informs today’s climate science :

Blog at