Questionable Motives

August 26, 2013

Why is accommodating respect for faith-based beliefs stupid and irresponsible?

medical treatmentOver at  Jerry Coyne’s site, Why Evolution is True, he posted about a measles outbreak in Texas traced back to a mega-church and non vaccinated children.  Coyne titled his post, “Measles back again, thanks to religion,” and gave us information about the outbreak, the response from church authorities and its ‘medical’ team, and data on the disease, all very useful stuff (as usual). But I disagreed in one sense that the measles outbreak was due to religion. It was just as much back because of those who accommodate faith-based beliefs of any kind and smugly attack New Atheists for daring to criticize any of it publicly. This is what I wrote in my ridiculously long comment:

I apologize for the length of my comment, but this post highlights that the ‘enemy’ of reason and knowledge isn’t just religion per se but those who support and tolerate a methodology that is clearly broken, namely, the empowerment and public acceptance of any faith-based belief (an acceptance demonstrated by offering unjustified respect rather than justified criticism of those who exercise any faith-based belief. I’m talking to you, accommodationists).

Into the category of faith-based beliefs can be everything from religion to anti-vaccination, conspiracies to astrology, alternative medicine to Winfrey/Chopra/Dr. Oz-ian woo. Belief in these is all of a kind, and the root is faith- rather than evidence-based belief… a method of thinking that elevates possibility to be equivalent to probability, meaning that it’s a way to elevate any belief in something to be the same weight in consideration as not having belief in it. In other words, it’s a way to make any faith-based belief seem as reasonable as not believing… one either believes in alien abductions, for example, (by entertaining the possibility) or one does not (by seeming to be closed-minded when there is no compelling evidence in its favour). See? Equivalent: six of one, a half dozen of the other. How very reasonable and open-minded we are and not followers of scientism like those intolerant, strident, and militant folk who are Doin’ it Rong!

What’s lost, of course, is any meaningful way, a methodology we can trust, to allow reality to arbitrate the faith-based belief because the weight of evidence (supporting or not supporting the belief) plays no important role; the equivalency is already clearly established by believers, which is why any possible evidence for the most ludicrous of beliefs is drafted into service and used as if equivalent to the array of evidence contrary to them combined with the absence of compelling evidence where it should be if the belief were true. In this sense, the use of evidence (aka, reality) by the faith-based believer is only used in service to the belief, whereas in every other area of life we know enough to allow our beliefs to be in the service of reality… if we wish to function successfully in it.

Any method of inquiry that refuses to allow reality to adjudicate claims made about it is a guaranteed way to fool one’s self. Believers in faith-based beliefs fool themselves (along with the tacit approval of accommodationists who decide the appearance of being tolerant of foolishness is a higher standard of intellectual integrity than respecting reality to inform our beliefs about it). But it doesn’t end here and this is the point accommodationsits fail to appreciate. A measles outbreak doesn’t just threaten those foolish enough not to vaccinate; it threatens both the non vaccinated AND the vaccinated with exposure to a preventable disease! This is unconscionable stupidity and social irresponsibility in the face of spreading a very real disease because of acting on a faith-based belief. As if believing in such faith-based foolishness weren’t bad enough, acting on this foolishness carries with it a demonstrable cost to all of us that causes real harm to real people in real life. Faced with this reality, I must ask: where did all these ‘reasonable’ accommodationists suddenly go? This is where the rubber meets the road of why respecting faith-based beliefs by anyone including accommodationists is a public threat to the health and welfare of us all.


  1. Totally with you.

    Comment by onefuriousllama — August 26, 2013 @ 2:01 pm | Reply

  2. People can be really dumb! I agree with you on this.

    Comment by makagutu — August 26, 2013 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  3. I find myself on the other end of the argument. In that I don’t have a problem with religion. Even though I don’t believe in god. I do find the idea of community, charity, brotherly love, and tradition to be something I am fond of when it comes to religion. And I not alone in this. I have heard of many other atheist and non-believers to find aspects of the church and religious traditions to be plea sent.

    I think the greater problem is like what Einstein said. The problem with religion is when they make claims that belong to the domain of science. And the other problem I see is when a particular religious or (non-religious) )believe that sole proprietors of true and morality. Granted this particular area has been a sore spot for radicalism of the church historically. But in the last 20 years many churches and other religions have made strides in this area.

    Comment by M. Rodriguez — August 26, 2013 @ 7:51 pm | Reply

    • I am not trying to argue that people don’t have the right to believe whatever they want; I’m trying to argue that they don’t have good reason to do so if exercising that belief harms others. No amount of music and architecture and cozy traditions and secret handshakes will make faith-based claims about reality true. And this is the danger accommodationists fail to appreciate in their haste to make room at the grown-ups discussion table about public policies for the guests from Crazy Town while busy vilifying anyone who questions their right to be included.

      Comment by tildeb — August 27, 2013 @ 8:58 am | Reply

      • I completely agree with you on this! I have no issue with people believing as they wish. When these people ACT on their belief, to the detriment of impedment of others’ lives, a line must be drawn. Just as a person can think about killing another person, either in jest or in some level of actual coherence, you can’t deny that person the right to think that way. When the person ACTS on that thought process and actually tries to kill another person, they have actively gone against the human rights of others by denying that person life. Religion not only breeds a mindset of superiority and pomp in people with beliefs, it breeds a sense of obligation to act on beliefs because religion strengthens itself as a tool of power and control by empowering its followers to assume knowledge and truth instead of faith and beliefs.

        Comment by Rana — December 18, 2013 @ 9:19 pm

      • A voice of reason! How pleasant. Of course we can’t police people’s thoughts and beliefs, but if someone can’t control their own behaviour then a responsible person must intervene… and this is how I think of dealing with those who act on their religious beliefs as if were a legitimate justification to cause effect with others.

        Comment by tildeb — December 18, 2013 @ 11:37 pm

  4. Religious people who disavow the efficacy of vaccination are a danger to the larger body politic. One can only hope that they contract whatever disease for which they refuse vaccination and die from it, thus removing themselves from the gene pool.

    Comment by Davey — August 31, 2013 @ 10:48 am | Reply

    • Well, not just religious people, but those who put us all at risk are the ones following your hopes. I would prefer to see these diseases eradicated so that no one would suffer from them. But I also think the threat to public safety constitutes a compelling reason for mandatory inoculations.

      Comment by tildeb — August 31, 2013 @ 11:24 am | Reply

  5. My belief is based on faith…the evidence I have is what he has done in my life. There’s no way it’s chance, it’d definitely God.

    Comment by Felicia I. Pacheco — September 6, 2013 @ 12:59 am | Reply

    • You’ve got to decide now, mate. Is it based on the evidence or on faith? Can’t be both.

      Comment by FreeFox — October 18, 2013 @ 12:17 pm | Reply

      • Hey, long time, no hear, FF. Hope all is well with you. You might want to check out Elucidations on Atheism where I and other (better) writers occasionally post.

        Comment by tildeb — October 18, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

  6. See, if you’d defined it like that, I’d never have disagreed with you. Totally with you on the evidence based side of dealing with reality, and no patience for authority- or faith-based decision making. (Though sometimes intuition/personal experience has to stand in when snap decisions are of the essence. They have to be reevaluated critically later, though, to add constructively to the experience pool.)

    Still see no conflict with my theism… :p

    Comment by FreeFox — October 18, 2013 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

    • Incompatible methodology, my friend, incompatible methodology.

      Comment by tildeb — October 18, 2013 @ 3:16 pm | Reply

  7. I stopped by to check on you, it has been some time since you have been by my blog.

    I point out ‘Science’ has killed and maimed many more than a measles outbreak in Texas could ever kill.

    In the name of ‘Science’ ‘Scientists’ support politicians and the destruction of millions of people around the world.

    Just a thought: May you someday stand against the tyranny of this world, instead of supporting it?


    Comment by Wayne — October 22, 2013 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

    • No mate. Science as a method hasn’t killed very many people. The Curies maybe. The result of scientific endeavor in the hands of humans has, of course. But that’s human behaviour. Would you seriously want to go back to living in caves and having no tools more sophisticated than sticks? Sure, if all we had was our bare hands, we could kill much less efficiently… Lack of civilisation would still kill more people than its existance. Religion may have resulted in lots of great art and some nice philosophical sentiments, but as a method of thinking it clearly kills a lot more people than science: It promotes dogmatism, prejudice, tribalism, and ignorance, all of which are the prime causes behind the conflicts that then use the result of science to efficiently kill people.

      Comment by FreeFox — October 23, 2013 @ 2:27 am | Reply

      • Great play on words there —

        You use the same argument to protect Science that you use to condemn Religion …..

        Logically, you cannot have it both ways. Either your Science is as dirty as your Religion, or my Religion is as clean as your Science.


        Comment by Wayne — October 23, 2013 @ 2:39 am

    • Hi Wayne. Thanks for stopping by. But until you’re ready to allow reality to arbitrate your beliefs about it, you’re just blowing wind. You may feel your contrary opinion is equivalent to the consensus of the scientific community in matters such as evolution and climate change but I don’t because your opinion isn’t informed by reality; it is informed by your faith-based beliefs imposed on it. This is not only a guaranteed way to continue to fool yourself, but – with enough people willing to not act because of their uncertainty or disbelief – a guaranteed way to cause real harm to real people in real life in the name of faith. You’ve gone to the radical extreme of trying to present ‘science’ as a a willing partner to promote death. This ludicrous assertion is very typical of the kind of opinions you hold: claimed but unsupported by reality and so equivalent in all ways to delusional thinking.

      Comment by tildeb — October 23, 2013 @ 10:33 am | Reply

      • Your reality is based upon your FAITH.

        Mine is based upon mine.

        The difference? I know mine is. And I do not adulterate results to prove my point.

        No, I did not say Science was a willing partner, but without Science, you could not have had the wars of the last 2 centuries.

        Me? I am a realist. If God does not exist, the mention of him should not send you off into pages of response.


        Comment by Wayne — October 23, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

      • Without men wearing mustaches, we wouldn’t have the wars of the last two centuries. Without livers, we wouldn’t have had the wars of the last two centuries. Without wheels, we wouldn’t have had the wars of the last two centuries. Can you spot the problem with this kind of thinking you attribute to science?

        My reality is identical to yours. The question is how either of us can access it. I do not impose my beliefs on it but allow it to inform my opinions about it. You seem unwilling to allow reality this role and impose your faith on it and then assume it’s true. This is why you continue to make groundless accusations against me and then condemn me for supposedly making them!

        Comment by tildeb — October 24, 2013 @ 11:12 am

  8. Further, ‘Science,’ not ‘science’ – you should know the difference, has been a willing partner.

    No one put a gun to Nobel’s head when he turned Bofor’s into an arms manufacturer …. Or, to Einstein’s head as he helped develop the Nuke.

    ‘Science’ has always been controlled by those in power, and abused by those in power. You continue to blame faith for what MAN has done …..


    Comment by Wayne — October 23, 2013 @ 12:47 pm | Reply

  9. Depending on the state “religious exemption” can be incredibly easy to get. Some acquaintances of ours had their friend (an ordained internet minister) sign the form that said vaccinations went against their ideological beliefs. I was raised in a religion which frowned upon (but not officially, it was a rather grey zone) vaccinations. I’ve chosen to vaccinate my children, and my friends and family who are still “in” the religion openly question my decision, and my fellow Principia College graduates who insist on getting religious exemptions (

    Comment by kat @ kindism — October 24, 2013 @ 10:40 am | Reply

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