Questionable Motives

September 13, 2011

Why is the creationist movement so dangerous?

Because it is anti-intellectualism writ large. It most often an anti-science, anti-evolution stance (even when it pretends to be compatible) and it is infecting half of the governing parties of the US to the extent that someone who recognizes evolution and global warming as built on scientific foundations commits political suicide in the Republican party. Nearly 70% of Republicans reject evolution. So how does this reflect anti-intellectualism and anti-science to believe in creationism?

Too often too many of us buy into a notion that this difference of opinion between – let’s pick one particular science-based position – evolution and creationism means a difference in where we place our beliefs: with one side claiming some form of belief in an active, intervening creator – one who intervened and created humans either directly or intervened at some historical moment to instil into humans qualities which links the specialness of being human to our divine Designer – and the other side presented as exercising the same kind of belief in science – that all life on earth today descended from common ancestors subject to natural selection over a great deal of time. But this framing is a false dichotomy – one that favours the notion that everyone is a similar kind of believer differing only where we place our faith-based beliefs: in god or science . This, of course, is simply not true.

Faith-based belief lies entirely on the one side that false divide, one that favours the POOF!ism (or POOF!-insertion) of an intervening diety. On the other side of this divide are not those who apply the same kind of faith-based belief whatsoever; people who respect evolution are those who respect science. They respect that inquiry into the nature of the universe means to inquire into it using a method that provides us with testable, practical knowledge about it, knowledge that works reliably and consistently well for everyone everywhere all the time. That’s not faith. That’s not a faith-based belief. That’s a method that uses reality. Because this inquiry relies on reality to arbitrate what’s true in nature, it is not a faith-based belief that relies on something supernatural to arbitrate what is and is not true by the authority of god… in whatever form that message may seem to appear (scripture and revelation). Confidence in the results of the scientific method is not – in any way, shape, form, or fashion – a similar kind of faith-based belief that presumes the truth of an untestable conclusion as a premise but rather a method of inquiry that follows the evidence wherever it may lead and that reveals only what’s true from testing in that reality.

These two positions are not similar, nor do they produce equality of confidence. They are neither compatible methods of inquiry nor mutually supportive ways of knowing. They stand diametrically opposed when in conflict – like they do between belief in creationism versus confidence in the mutually supportive and overlapping causal evidence of evolution (the micro/macro qualification introduced by theists is scientifically incoherent) and are uneasy allies only when faith-based beliefs align with what’s true in reality, although many organizations responsible for promoting good science will claim that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Although technically true if no conflict is present, the position is untenable when it is. Only creationism that places intervention in such a way to not stand in conflict with the irrefutable evidence for evolution seems at first glance to be compatible, but on closer inspection reveals a decisive incompatibly, namely, the difference between evolution properly understood as a mindless, agency-less natural process versus one that is guided in some way – presumably with purpose and intention – by some mind with agency. The two are not compatible descriptions of evolution at all, any more than it would be if someone were to insist that gravity or erosion is guided by mindful agency when no evidence is available to support these claims about these process in reality.

There is no middle ground to be found here that is mutually supportive; one position is either true in nature or it is not. With no way to test the faith-based claim that there really, really, really is agency, there is no way to avoid a fundamental conflict over whether evolution is a natural or an unnatural, supernatural process; whether evolution is a mindless, unguided, purposeless process or a mindful, guided, purposeful process. Evolution in reality cannot be both. Theistic evolutionists would argue it’s possible, but only when the language becomes so befuddling that no one knows what anyone is actually describing. Metaphysics plays a central obfuscating role in this regard. Clarity, however, is the first but by no means the last casualty in this rearguard action by the faithiests.

Creationism, then, is one expression of a faith-based belief that stands contrary to science. There are no scientific results that support it. Those who say there really, really, really are results that can only be ‘explained’ by inserting a supernatural agency (followed closely by the assumption that this divine mind just so happens to favour Jesus’ over Thor’s as the inevitable result by a vast margin) do so only by grossly misrepresenting data, exaggerating both what is known and unknown by ruling out any role for plausibility, and even outright lying by presuming they can speak as if informed on what they cannot by their own admission know… keeping in sight the same sense of the term ‘know’ as they do of the influence of gravity and erosion.

Yet there are scientists who support creationism, so surely there must be something scientific to their belief. Nope. When their theistic evolutionary beliefs are examined, we find they believe for entirely the same reason as anyone else: as a faith-based faith.

So why is creationism so dangerous?

It is dangerous because it is politicized to bring benefit to those politicians who elevate faith-based beliefs over and above the findings of science if they just so happen to be contrary and incompatible to the faith-based claim. This means that respect for science as a method of inquiry and respect for why science’s findings inspire a higher level of confidence when something is true for everyone everywhere all the time are held as a value to be lower than, and secondary to, faith-based beliefs that have no such requirements. When this trust in faith-based beliefs plays out in other political areas where the results from scientific inquiry is incontrovertible but contrary to some faith-based belief, guess which side these politicians will support? Faith over science… what is believed to be true over and above what is true in reality. And this is exactly what we see in the political considerations from climate science; the results show anthropomorphic global warming leading to significant effects in climate refuted by many of the pious not on the basis of good science where 98 out of every 100 climate scientists concur, but by the faithful elevating the 2 scientists who disagree on theistic grounds to be an equivalent ‘side’ of some imaginary ‘debate’. But the debate is not in the scientific community (other than very normal, highly typical, quibbles); it is between those who respect faith-based beliefs as the primary revelation of what is true in nature and those who have confidence that reality arbitrates what’s true in reality. When leadership hopefuls don’t really care about reality, then surely the vast majority of citizens being asked to vote will judge this lack of caring to be a significant liability. It is a liability in every other area of life, so that should offer us a clue if we aren’t sure.

This incompatibility between faith-based beliefs and science cannot inform wise public policies when we have conflict between them. And because those who support faith-based beliefs cannot even agree among themselves what is true in nature, I see no reason to think that anything will or even might change should such people get into public office intent as they are on serving first and foremost those reality-deniers who put them there. Not only will science be relegated to a supportive role of faith-based beliefs, which I think is bad enough, but to the shock of no one except the colossally stupid I think we find it inevitable that we will have public conflict between those who support competing faith-based beliefs. How can those who view faith-based beliefs as equivalent to what’s true in reality not make faith positions part of our political discourse? How can they not use the state to influence policies that will tend to favour one set of faith-based beliefs over another? Even those who hold faith-based beliefs superior to what’s true in reality really have almost as much to lose as those who respect science by supporting a winning faith-based politician. This is where accommodationism leads, where belief in the compatibility between science and religion will take us: into the political and into public office and into the public domain and all its institutions. We already see this on the Supreme Court of the US, its military, its public education in ongoing battle with ‘teach the controversy’ and ‘academic freedom’ to teach Oogity Boogity as some kind of alternative yet compatible science.

The danger of the creationist movement is to replace our quest to know about reality backed up by what’s true in reality with the assumption we already have the ability to answer all the questions we might have through faith, and can then safely ignore – like we are doing with AGW’s causal link to climate change – reality’s role in telling us we are wrong in our beliefs. Nothing good can come from this delusional trust of Oogity Boogity, and that’s why it’s dangerous to have any confidence in those who are so willing to reject reality and present themselves as the champions of what is indistinguishable from a collective of ignorance.

September 12, 2011

What defines a religion?

Filed under: Religion,sex — tildeb @ 11:18 am

There are many attempts at defining the term but as long as the state offers tax incentives and benefits for religious practices, I see nothing different in this kind and I think a good case can be made to argue for religious discrimination here.

 

September 10, 2011

What are the boundaries of religion?

Religions recognize no boundaries. There exists no issue in human affairs about which the religious think their faith should have no determining say.

This is the problem the evangelical faith-is-a-gift always brings to us all: a willingness to insert some tyrannical element of their faith into any and all human affairs regardless of the topic. This is why faith – built on the foundation of its own colossal arrogance that what is true in reality is arbitrated by faith rather than reality  – attempts to determine pious science, determine pious justice, determine pious rights and pious freedoms, determine pious morality, determine the very nature of the universe and everything within it. Not even satisfied by this boundary of the natural universe, the religious think themselves justified to define what lies beyond the natural – from ghosts and goblins and spirits to angels and devils and demons… right up to the Big Oogity Boogity Himself (BOBH): god. Suspending physical laws and inserting miracles galore as if they were true into the natural world is child’s play to the mind that has suspended all boundaries under which all of us do live – in the name of promoting this faith over that one –  for even reality itself is no boundary worthy of recognition by the faithful.

The gift that is faith is taken to be an open invitation to impose these beliefs by hook or by crook wherever and whenever possible – and any inconvenience to the rest of us busy dealing with reality by these enthusiastic and earnest and nice faith-heads is excused (by the faithful, of course) as simply a necessary burden (and the root cause of persecution should the response be anything less than nice… meaning having their offered tyranny denied). It’s hard work being the messenger, you see, self-aggrandized as having been selected – called into service! – by no less than the Big Oogity Boogity Himself (BOBH) to deliver the important Good News.

And this mission (and here) would be so much more effective if only the state would help impose this tyranny.

That’s why this warped thinking – that religion has a place in the public domain supported by the state – is a problem that will never, ever, fade away as long as there is a public domain that needs to be conquered, no matter how accommodating and forgiving and tolerant the average citizen may be of this arrogant and militant faith-inspired attack against our secular public domain. Always, and forever, the religious – armed by pious faith that their gift is necessary to the welfare of all, owned as we all are by BOBH who ‘gave’ us our lives – will push and push and push and push… never to take ‘NO!’ as an answer without disappointing the boss man himself, BOBH. It is for this reason, this recognition that faith drives this everlasting, never-ending, eternal conflict between the secular and the religious – sought out and initiated by jack-booted faitheists bent on dominion over the public domain through the abuse of state power – that the only rational response from those willing to support the separation of church and state in defense of freedom from this particular religion as well as that one requires a dedicated and determined push-back by those citizens – religious or not – who understand the need for a boundary between the two in law.

Whether we like it or not, all of us are involved – and are participants even if we do nothing and care even less  – in this battle. The choice is clear: we must either protect ourselves by supporting secular law to set the boundary that religions will never set for themselves or we fail to do our duty to the nation.  We lose, we capitulate, to religious faith gaining control of the public domain. There is no middle ground. The sooner the majority of us appreciate this fundamental truth and protect and support the role of secular law to separate our rights and freedoms and dignities from the authoritarian and dictatorial rule of the religious overlords, the sooner religious belief can be defeated from conquering this, our public domain, our public institutions, our public offices and public policies. Government of the public domain by those who insist we all bow down to their particular god’s authority is not governance of the people, by the people, for the people. It is tyranny in a clerical collar, dressed in an imam’s robes, topped by a turban, surrounded by the submission of the burka, and the defeat of its authority is a defeat that is worthy of our efforts, worthy of defending against all enemies, foreign and domestic who try to undermine our secular liberal democracies.

Our secular law is all that stands between us as free citizens and as subjects to what god’s secret-ballot representatives believe is what god wants… these arrogant pious self-appointed agents who just so happen to have privileged access – revealed to them because they were called to witness – to the wishes and desires and intentions of the Big Oogity Boogity Himself. Furthermore, we are told in so many ways that we really should obey the BOBH’s agent and alter our secular law to further his/her/its wishes in some human affair. It’s so palpably ludicrous a basis for political action that such charlatans and rogues and hucksters should be laughed out of the business of influencing governance. But we the public don’t do that because too often those villains are us, our neighbours and our friends, our families, and it would be disrespectful to the BOGH and those who believe in him/her/it… so let’s add insult to injury to the Enlightenment’s values that have led to the greatest emancipation from tyranny in world history and the primacy of reason in the public domain on which is has been founded and sacrifice these value and principles altogether to prove the depth of our gullibility faith to our various imaginary sky-fathers. In the meantime, we grant this faitheist insanity legitimacy by allowing the vatican statehood  and its child raping apologist agents as if they were diplomats, donate time and money to the campaigns of religious kow-towing anti-science Republican leadership hopefuls, re-direct public funds away from public educational boards to favour the parents’ religious biases to be indoctrinated into their children’s lives without their informed consent, assign parliamentary seats and parliamentary committee chairs to church officials who never have to face any electorate over which they exercise power, grant to ‘community’ spokesmen places on advisory councils, give platforms to religious representatives on international to local committees to examine and make recommendations on public policies. Ludicrous exemptions and special privileges for the self-deluded to feel special through faith rather than merit.

The latest effrontery, and the main reason for this post,  is to allow a faith-based directive to be give a place as  a proposition vote on the upcoming Mississippi ballot to change the law and constitute personhood  to begin at the point of conception. This vote – if the anti-choice religious fanatics are successful in fooling the majority of the voting population to go along with their lexicographical fraud (for by no stretch of the imagination is a zygote a person) – will have a profound and dramatic impact on the legal status of any woman as a fully franchised citizen under the law; she will become co-owners of her body with the introduction of a zygote – an incubator by law – and many will support this notion, believing as they do that the BOBH wants the law to be this way for everybody to align with their standard christian misogyny rather than support access to abortion as the medical service it is in reality that puts a boundary directly between that imposed faith-based  misogyny and the rights and freedoms and dignity of each fully adult, fully developed, fully human woman. Don’t believe me? Look to countries that have failed to maintain that boundary and see what such tyranny looks like in action.

All of us need to step up to the secular plate and get loud, get strident, get insistent that the boundary no religion will respect will be imposed out of necessity by secular law and enforced by the secular state, and that our active political support to  maintain that boundary will translate into making those who wish to insert religion into the public domain a burden and fatal liability for politicians to get elected. It is high time that citizens – believers, agnostics, and non believers alike –  grew up. It time they grew a pair and insisted that religion in the public domain – regardless how favourable to one’s own beliefs it may be – is out of bounds now, tomorrow, and forever. There is no longer any excuse under the sun except a willingness to support religious tyranny for anyone except an enemy of the secular state, an enemy of personal rights, personal freedoms, and personal dignity, to fight the establishment of that firm secular boundary.

This far, but no farther.

Now get loud about it.

September 7, 2011

What is evolution and why is it true?

Filed under: Dawkins,Evolution,Jerry Coyne — tildeb @ 3:39 pm

For those who may not appreciate what evolution is nor why it is a fact, please enjoy this award-winning presentation by Doctor Jerry Coyne, Professor of Genetics at the University of Chicago, website host and author of the best-selling book Why Evolution is True:

September 2, 2011

How does sharia law explain why islam is an inquistition?

Filed under: Criticism,Islam — tildeb @ 1:30 pm

Maryam Namazie explains how sharia law enables anti-human theology to infect the public domain to practical effect and why islamicists are such a direct threat to the enlightenment values – through a willingness to engage in intimidation and violence against those who support and exercise them – upon which tolerant western secular democracies have been built.

(Note: the speech itself is only about 18 minutes long)

September 1, 2011

What is the medical version of the Courtier’s Reply?

Filed under: Homeopathy,Medicine,oogity boogity,Science,woo — tildeb @ 11:22 am

We find a perfect example of this detestable apologetic accommodationist approach for ‘sophisticated’ thinking over at Sabio Lantz’s popular Triangulations, offered up on platter in his post Why do you reject Homeopathy? This is the medical version of the Courtier’s Reply that invokes the need for some level of sophistication to be exercised in order to reject the tenets of homeopathy properly… while making room for what starts out to be hypothetical efficacy derived from it and morphs into actual efficacy associated with it.

Sabio lists three main categories into which a reader’s rejection may fall: tribal doubt (no other ‘tribe member’ accepts it so, being part of this ‘tribe’, you don’t either) , mechanism doubt (the mechanistic explanation is inadequate), and smattering of science (you believe some studies you’ve heard in passing that claim no evidence of efficacy). A fourth classification is for those who have done in-depth research into the applicable science and waded through all the counter evidence of non-efficacy before arriving at an opinion of rejection (similar to the level of knowledge about the finery that is needed before one is allowed to comment of the nakedness of the Emperor).

He is following the tried and true method of the accommodationist so that he can ask with a straight face, Do you agree that something can work in spite of the explanation offered? Notice the words ‘CAN WORK’. That sounds like a reasonable question, doesn’t it? But then, Poof! ; suddenly we’re talking about homeopathy as if it DOES WORK – even if this explanation is absolute bunk – which is slowly revealed to be Sabio’s position all along… beginning with the comment that “I strongly agree that much is to be learned from alternative medicines which has nothing to do with the science behind their treatments.” Really? And what might that be? How gullible people are? How undermining healthy scepticism helps woo-peddlers? How faith-based belief can be accommodated with conflicting knowledge? Do tell, Sabio; do tell. In this post, of course, we never do find out.

What he means by has nothing to do with the science behind their treatments , of course, is the LACK of good science, plausible science, that informs these alternative, complimentary, integrated, holistic, natural treatments… treatments  that are somehow qualitatively different from what we call efficacious medicine but still cause effect, but once you start down the path to presenting the Emperor as if he could be clothed – that woo treatments CAN WORK even if the explanation is wrong  – it is difficult to regain one’s intellectual footing. But intellectual integrity is never the goal of accommodationism; it’s all about appearing to be non judgmental about woo and hyper-critical of justifiable scepticism. The real goal at the end of the day for the accommodationist is to present himself as both a supporter and defender as well as a reasonable sceptic of woo (unlike those ranters and hyper-rational people who dismiss woo claims out of hand because they have no good reasons to believe them in the first place).  It’s tricky ground for accommodationists when the two – woo and scepticism – are in conflict from the get go (see here for why the treatment should banned according the British Medical Association).

Well, what is the explanation of homeopathy that is being dismissed by some level of ‘sophisticated rejection’?

Orac explains:

Most skeptics are aware of the two main principles of homeopathy, neither of which is based on anything resembling good science. The first principle is known as the Law of Similars, which is commonly phrased as “like cures like.” The concept is that the way to choose a homeopathic remedy is to choose something that causes the symptoms the practitioner wants to alleviate. Of course, there’s no general scientific or biological principle to support the Law of Similars. In reality, it’s nothing more than a variant of ancient concepts of sympathetic magic. Yet it is the main basis of all of homeopathy.

The second big law of homeopathy is known as the Law of Infinitesimals. This is the most famous principle of homeopathy that states that the way to make a remedy stronger is to dilute it, a principle that laughs at chemistry, physics, and biology. Indeed, common dilutions of homeopathic remedies (for example, 30C, which is 30 serial 100-fold dilutions, or a dilution of 1060) have been diluted so much that the odds that even a single molecule remains in the remedy are, well, infinitesimal. That’s why it’s not for nothing that skeptics frequently point out that homeopathy is nothing but water. It’s even loonier than that, though. The reason is that dilution is not enough. At each step, we are told by homeopaths in all seriousness that the succussion at each dilution step is critical to “potentize” the remedy. Samuel Hahnemann himself, the inventor of homeopathy, used to succuss his remedies by slapping them against a Bible. These days, in at least one case, a big company like Boiron have machines that do the succussion automatically for remedies like oscillococcinum up to 200C, which represents a 10400-fold dilution. Given that there are only around 1080 atoms in the known universe, readers can easily see the ridiculousness.

So here’s the thing: what is it that is actually being rejected? I think it’s the central tenet of any woo claim about efficacy  – a faith-based belief that supernatural forces can cause through natural treatment natural effect. Sabio suggests that there really, really, really is evidence of efficacy in some of these woo treatments (“I have demonstrated acupuncture to many folks (not just patients). What is real fun is to get a hyper-rational person to experience things they don’t believe exist”) and that this evidence is available (“But I wager you have not read the studies published by homeopaths showing effectiveness. I worked with an MD homeopath who published in Pediatrics about her research in Guatemala with homeopathic remedies used to treat diarrhea and showed an effect”). See? Homeopathy, says Sabio,  DOES produce evidence of efficacy, and there it is: the switch in language from the reasonable CAN WORK to DOES. But he doesn’t really mean supernaturalism at work, does he?

Let’s look.

Sabio actually means efficacy of placebo when he talk about efficacy: “It is funny how people can allow various placebos (to) work for them and yet now (sic) allow others.” Now think about that comment for a moment because it reveals the sneaky way accommodationists forgive promoters of woo for their lack of specificity… through the subtlety of language.

Sabio is suggesting that placebo is more than what it actually is:  self-reporting of feeling better. He present it as a thing, something you can allow or reject, something that works for you. But that’s not what placebo is, not what placebo means. What placebo means is that mood and belief can have a significant effect on the subjective perception of a treatment’s efficacy. Placebo is not any kind of additional ‘thing’ brought to bear by health care practitioners. Placebo comes only from the patient and its ‘efficacy’ is not directly physiological (although to be clear there are biological mechanisms by which mental processes can affect pain). That’s why placebo is often – and confusingly – referred to as an ‘effect’. But to be equally clear, the more concrete and physiological the outcome, the smaller the placebo effect. At its explanatory extreme, that’s why amputees don’t grow back new limbs no matter how much they may wish it to be.

Notice how Sabio slips in the notion that placebo works ‘for’ someone…as if to say if we build it they will come, that putting efficacy of placebo into the patient’s domain means the same thing as putting efficacy of woo treatments under the control of the patient.  This subtle change in language is insidious because it alters what placebo is – self reporting perception – into something it is not – an efficacious deliverable element of treatment with the patient’s permission. This confusion is rampant in the public domain and, in a nutshell, is the main driver of woo in health care: confusion about causal effect.

From wi-fi fears to chlorination of water, from acupuncture to reiki, from faith healing to anti-vaxers, the confusion about the need to link causal effect is neither clarified nor confirmed by accommodationists who pretend we can put aside causation to better respect faith-based beliefs while maintaining intellectual integrity. We can’t. It’s sneaky, dishonest, and cowardly, and comes at a high cost to respecting knowledge . And here’s why:

I think the notion of what’s true in fact (information that is reliable, consistent, and practical in reality) is knowable and dependable. This is what science is built on and we use practical applications based on exactly this everyday in every way of our lives. Accommodationists and apologists for woo take all this and assume it’s equivalent to some democratic vote. (Sabio: I hope to help interested readers to understand why people practice homeopathy and why millions of patients swear to its effectiveness.  So I am talking to those who are willing to consider not dismissing homeopathy out-of-hand, and instead make an effort to understand why others value it so strongly.) That’s not how reality works. You can’t vote against gravity and expect efficacy because millions want to lift its effects to make room for their anti-gravity beliefs any more than you can vote against evolution to make room for the oogity boogity of creationism or vote against science-based efficacious medicine to make room for homeopathy and expect me to sit by and nod and say how wise that is. It’s not. It’s a denial of what’s true in reality (see above description of what that means)… not a philosophical difference, nor a lack of rejection sophistication, nor any other mitigating term accommodationists would prefer to call it. Belief in woo is a denial of what’s true in reality (remember, see above description of what that means).
And it is downright dishonest to pretend that what’s true in reality (see above description of what that means) is only empirically available in some lab. It’s right in front of our faces all the time and we rely on accurate knowledge about it to function. We really must stop pretending that people who sow doubt about trusting in this knowledge (immediately testable and verifiable) rely on the same kind of faith woo believers exercise to maintain their ‘spiritual explanations’ about the supernatural. It’s not just different; it an exercise of hypocrisy that trusts this knowledge on behalf of their lives on a day to day, moment to moment, basis but then a rationalization using such fallacious arguments like the Courtier’s Reply and sneaky word substitutions to suspends this same knowledge to make room for some woo-soaked apologetic belief in oogity boogity.
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