Questionable Motives

July 21, 2011

What’s wrong with religious belief and why is its exercise so bad for you?

Filed under: abuse,belief,Bias,Catholic Church,child abuse,theology,Vatican — tildeb @ 12:17 pm

What’s wrong is that by granting faith-based beliefs merit we end up warping our thinking to suit its assumptions about what is true, and when put into practice these beliefs often make the believer cause real harm to real people by exercising those beliefs in reality. Hitchens argues religion poisons everything; I argue that exercising faith-based beliefs poisons yourself… it’s bad for you because it interferes with your ability to interact honestly with reality.

So what?

What’s the harm in believing in some set of theological precepts that helps me to feel good about myself, helps me feel connected to some mysterious agency that cares about me, that has a plan with purpose for my life and helps to provide it with meaning? How can this be a bad thing?

Well, theological beliefs undermine our critical faculties by removing any possible constraints offered by reality. Reality is not accepted as the benchmark against which we can compare and contrast and test the beliefs’ truth claims  to determine their truth value. That is why theological beliefs require ‘faith’ in the religious sense of the word, meaning trust and confidence in the truth value of the central tenets of the theology without strong supporting reality-based evidence… a ‘I heard it from a guy who knows this guy who read about this guy who was there…’ kind of witnessing. It supports taking actions in support of faith, trimmed from what’s true in reality, that are in every way indistinguishable from support of delusion. This harms one’s intellectual credibility and integrity.

As weak and tepid that evidence may be to earn trust and confidence for some extraordinary claim about reality – a claim in conflict of the laws that govern reality as we know it to be – we must embrace the theology’s truth claims as if they were true first in order for us to enter the sacred domain where the really powerful evidence for the truth of the claims exists.

This is the same path to gullibility that provides con artists a means to make a living: don’t trust reality nor use it as an arbiter of what’s true… trust first how the con makes you feel.

So. What does it matter if a few billion people reduce and minimize the evidence provided by reality and first maintain a set of faith-based precepts that are in conflict with what we know about it?

A lot, it turns out.

For example, let’s first assume the catholic version of christianity is true. Let’s assume that the vatican’s leadership absorbs revelations from its god for enlightening its moral leadership in the world community. Let’s trust these assumptions as true for a moment first and see where it leads in the case of caring for Irish children.

We are naturally shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – that a great deal of sexual abuse took place involving tens of thousands of children under the watchful eye of catholic clergy charged with their care. We are shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – that the local church leadership in Ireland failed at every step to put the safety and welfare of children in their direct care ahead of protecting the reputation of the church when all kinds of abuses took place. We are shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – to find out that they put the interests of the church first and did so under specific direction of the vatican leadership over many, many decades. We are shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – that for many, many decades abusers were protected and that the increasing numbers of victims over many, many decades were blamed for their own abuse including rape. Of children. By clergy. And we are further shocked – but not so much in this case – to find out that sometimes even those in positions of public trust within various secular authorities – both in government and law enforcement – helped the church cover up the misdeeds of its agents, assuming first that such widespread abuse had to be the work of ‘a few bad apples’, the exception of rare abuse, a temporary and unfortunate set of misdeeds by some of those church agents too easily swayed by the secular times and secular expectations of behaviour. But public officials in government and law enforcement are not in the business of being agents representing god’s vicar on earth as are the catholic clergy; their job is to make and enforce secular law. And raping children – even in Ireland – just so happens to be against the secular law.

In spite of previous investigations and settled law suits and orders to make changes and agreements how to implement these changes, there remains a problem of catholic compliance. I wrote about it here. And, yet again, we find the vatican interfering to first protect its reputation.

So.

Another report was commissioned by the government called the Cloyne report.  In its finding we are shocked – Shocked!, I tell you – to hear the author of the report tell us that ““words are not enough nor is condemnation sufficient” to describe what has been allowed to continue to happen. But how can this be?

Of news to no one is the idea that systemic child abuse within any organization is morally wrong. That such abuse is allowed to continue in order to protect that organization’s reputation – a reputation clearly contrary to what is practiced in reality – is morally wrong. That no one who has ordered this skewed protection (not only in Ireland but around the world) is held accountable and culpable is morally wrong.

How do we know?

Well, if we lifted this entire mess out of the workings of the catholic church and its Irish and placed it, let’s say, in the public school system of a secular country, the vatican and catholic supporters would be clamoring to be first in line to condemn this abuse of secular power. (Secularism, after all, is assumed by most religious believers first to be a bad thing because it is not beholden and submissive to some theologically acceptable doctrine.) But when the abuse occurs under an organization that claims moral leadership by the assumption that it is in such a privileged position because of the truth of its theological claims, then we have a never-ending stream of inadequate excuses and apologies and promises to do better later. I am not aware of god serving a summation to those charged with crimes for a specific and public court date. That’s why the abuse has gone on for as long as it has; no one is accountable for their criminal behaviour except under legal decisions of secular law.

In total, then, what we see in practice is a moral capitulation by all those who continue to support the catholic church from its rightful responsibilities in order to protect its ‘reputation’ as an assumed  moral authority. Evidence from reality contrary to the truth value of the assumption doesn’t matter, you see. Belief is not beholden nor constrained nor restrained by what’s true in reality. And left in this belief’s wake in Ireland is tens of thousands of abused children with an unknown number yet to be sacrificed on the alter of the church’s reputation as a moral authority. For as long as the church is assumed first to be a moral authority as a matter of faith-based belief, then no evidence gathered from reality contrary to that belief will matter. And that belief – in action – causes ripe conditions for ongoing abuse that produces real victims of real people.

Whether the specific faith-based belief justifies this act or that, what we see are the symptoms. It can be argued that some faith-based symptoms are benign – like charity and aid and community work – while others are malignant – like misogyny and bigotry and abuse. What I am suggesting is that we have a faith-based problem: that reality and not belief must be granted primacy in arbitrating any truth claims. To grant theology the right to establish assumption and assertion and wishful thinking as equivalent in truth value without any outside checks and balances is to invite the conditions pregnant for abuse.

What is the vatican’s response to this report? I’m almost, but not quite, shocked – not quite Shocked!, I tell you – to find that they disagree:

Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, denied that a letter sent by the former Papal Nuncio to Irish bishops encouraged them to cover up abuse allegations. (He said that) harsh criticisms of the Vatican following the report were “curious”, claiming they “demonstrate little awareness of what the Holy See has actually done over the years to help effectively address the problem.”

And how did they help effectively address the problem of clergy raping children and avoiding prosecution? I’m sure it had nothing whatsoever to doing with failing report cases of abuse to the civil authorities as required under Irish law, failing to put a system of support for victims in place after promising to do so, failing to appoint an independent advisory panel after agreeing to do so, and failing to properly record cases of sex abuse (we wouldn’t want to help any secular investigators, now would we?). See how the lack of awareness is on the part of secular authorities? The proof – exempt from reality as usual – is how the Holy See says it is doing everything it can to be as helpful while not doing whatever it can to be as unhelpful as possible.

When you are not beholden to reality to be arbiter of what is true, you are free to just make shit up and pretend it’s true. That’s what’s wrong with theology in that there is no way to tell in theory if it’s just made-up shit. And it’s bad for you because the inevitable result is behaviours justified within the context of the made-up shit that act contrary to what they pretend they are supporting. That’s why misogyny is presented as respect for women, bigotry against gays as loving the sinner but hating the sin (as if the two were separate entities), cruelty in law to honour god’s concern for us, and so on. Up means down, white means black, catholicism means moral.

July 19, 2011

What is true and how can we know?

In conversation with many people of faith and accommodationists, I often face a postmodern notion I find deeply disturbing: a claim that what’s true is in the eye of the beholder – whether a believer or non believer. The notion of respecting reality to be any kind of arbiter for claims about reality seems to be a trivial point for many believers when discussing metaphysical notions while the liberal use of the term ‘truth’ in its supposed multiple guises falls off the tongue with ease when they unfailing apply these same notions to matters OF reality.

That’s cheating.

Such an assumption about the nature of what’s true – to afford the believer a way to effortlessly cross this line of demarcation between the metaphysical and the physical – allows subjective faith claims about god to be presented as equally valid ‘truths’ that somehow compete successfully with the scientific sense of the word ‘truths’ about physical reality. This is a bait and switch tactic, of course, in that a scientific truth is different in meaning than a faith-based assumption. The relativist would have us accept that each of us can subjectively assign the word ‘truth’ to whatever claim we want to believe and that this has no significant and detrimental affect on what we can know is true for all. The common misapplication is that something can be true for some but not for others in matter within this universe, such as jesus really, really, really was the son of god and performed miracles… as if each of us has a separate and distinct claim that is equally valid merely because we assign belief or lack of belief to it. But conclusions held to be true in the scientific sense of the word do not work this way.
As Jerry Coyne writes over at WEIT:
Different theologies have different “answers,” and even within a single faith different people diverge in their notion of religious “truth.”  In contrast, scientists—regardless of religious creed, ethnicity, or nationality—converge on single, agreed-upon answers (of course there is still scientific disagreement about many cutting-edge issues). Water has two hydrogen and one oxygen molecules whether you’re a chemist in Africa, Eurasia, or America.  DNA in the nucleus is a double helical molecule consisting of sugars and nucleotide bases. Evolution is a fact for scientists in every land, for they can all examine the massive evidence supporting it.  There are many faiths; but there is only one science. The fact that different people from different backgrounds converge on the same scientific answers also implies that there really are objective truths about the universe.
And truths about reality that can be known, I will add.
Also, we need to recognize that a lack of evidence for certain faith-based truth claims about reality has an important bearing on the equivalency of faith-based beliefs and scientific conclusions that are at odds. And nowhere is this more evident than in the dishonest presentation of evolution by agenda-driven supporters of certain theologies as just another kind of belief similar to a faith-based one. This is an intentional misrepresentation – what many of us legitimately call ‘Lying for Jesus’ – of what is true in reality and an organized attempt to discredit the scientific method in this matter only to serve those who wish to pretend that reality in this matter only has no bearing on what we can know about its truth. These self appointed lovers of science in all other matters do not find this theologically driven hypocrisy to be disturbing to their equilibrium of intellectual integrity. Theology in this sense can be seen to exercise its power of selective anesthesia.
This use of the term ‘truth’ based on a shared materialistic and physical reality (existing separate from our subjective wishes but in which we are immersed) decries the believer’s failed postmodern notion that all truths are subjective.  In contrast to a scientific ‘truth’ that recognizes the submission of what is true to the constraints of reality – that we recognize and test through evidence found in reality and not what we simply believe or wish to be true –  if there were objective truth about God (and his nature and intentions and desires and expectations revealed to believers through revelation), scriptural authority, explanatory dogma we should find believers to be of the same faith. That within christianity we find well over 30,000 different sects should be seen as very strong evidence recognizable even by the postmodernists and other faith-based believers that subjective truth claims are not true in any reality-based and meaningful way comparable to a scientific truth claim. The word ‘truth’ is being abused by relativists-with-an-agenda where its central meaning – being in accord with a particular fact or reality – is simply ignored in order to co-opt its scientific sense for the believer’s own and dishonest purposes.

July 6, 2011

How did Chris discover what’s true?

Filed under: belief,Critical Reasoning,Mormons — tildeb @ 8:07 pm

By asking an honest question and seeking an honest answer and discovering a richer, more meaningful life.

 

(h/t Project Reason – 23 minutes)

Does creation ‘science’ disprove biblical creationism?

The short answer is Yes.

The long answer can be found in two papers, here and here.

Creation ‘science’ (an oxymoron if there ever was one) posits that animals fall into types, or baramins, which were created independently, but have diversified since. I’m sure you are aware of the creationist campaign to allow for microevolution but not macroevolution. Obtuse reasoning, but there you have it. Baramin is a word used to describe a kind of critter, say a cat to which all members of the cat ‘family’ (like lions and tigers) belong. The argument is that Noah’s ark brought on board not all animals we see today but only the essential kinds necessary to repopulate the world after the love of god was expressed by a murderously cleansing flood. Morphological gaps in the fossil record are used as ‘evidence’ for distinct baramins that could only have come about by a designing creator.

I know, but bear with me.

Dr Senter’s first paper – described in this BBC Nature Wonder Monkey article by editor Matt Walker – points the obvious, that if the fossil record for dinosaurs:

do show transitional forms, and are in fact genetically related to each other, then creationists are in a bit of a bind. Either they must accept that to be true, and therefore contradict their own position that these groups appeared without evolution. Or they must throw out the assertion, but also reject their own methodology, which they have used to validate their creationist claims. Dr Senter’s 2010 study, did of course, show that coelurosaurian dinosaurs are related, in particular that tyrannosaurs (to which T. rex belongs) form a continuous group with other dinosaurs belonging to a group called the Compsognathidae.

In the second and latest study, Senter looks at another creationist science method called taxon correlation, which is also a baraminological technique, and shows enough morphological continuity between dinosaurs to prove, by creationist standards, that dinosaurs are genetically related.

So what?

Well, it shows that dinosaurs can be grouped into eight kinds, or baramins, which would seem to make creationists happy. Eight kinds of dinosaurs are easier to load on to an ark than, say dozens of the huge monstrosities or thousands of smaller ones. So far, so good in the creationist camp. Ain’t life grand?

But hold on a second! This raises a rather sticky problem, namely, that:

in just a few thousand years, each “kind” of dinosaur begat the huge variation in fossils we see today.

In other words, incredibly rapid microevolution leading to macroevolution.

Bugger.

Heads, evolution wins. Tails, creation science loses.

Are we really surprised? Of course not… not if one honestly and with an open mind takes the time to understand why so many branches of science concludes that evolution is true. The evidence painstakingly gathered from every strand of inquiry except theology (again showing why theology is not an inquiry at all but a position of trust in certain assumptions) is mutually supportive and overwhelming. It takes a very firm belief to counter what is true in reality with what is simply believed to be true about it, and this is what theology does: it tries to convince people that reality and causal evidence should be no constraint to a good belief.

(h/t to MUR)

June 21, 2011

What are the differences between religious truths?

Filed under: belief,Religion,Truth — tildeb @ 2:42 pm

((h/t to OpenParachute)

June 20, 2011

What are intellectual black holes?

Filed under: belief,Critical Reasoning,woo — tildeb @ 8:11 am

Intellectual black holes are belief systems that draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves of claptrap. Belief in homeopathy, psychic powers, alien abductions – these are examples of intellectual black holes. As you approach them, you need to be on your guard because if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again.

Stephen Law provides us with a field guide on how to avoid falling into these black holes of bullshit by recognizing the signs of intellectual dishonesty relied upon by those who promote them. In this question and answer article from New Scientist, Law explains more.

June 8, 2011

Is it true? How do we know?

Filed under: Atheism,authority,belief,methodological naturalism,Science — tildeb @ 10:36 am

These two simple questions sit atop the watershed dividing the claims of theists from the criticisms of atheists.

If the first question is to have any merit and respect independent of who attempts to answer it, then the second question matters a very great deal. It is here in the epistemology of informing an answer where one faces a stark choice: one can either accept that belief based on some self-proclaimed authority is somehow sufficient or it is not.

If it is sufficient, then the first question Is it true doesn’t matter; what matters is adhering to the belief, in the case of theism by submitting to authority. This is the epistemological basis of theism: faith-based belief, and it is this same engine that drives belief in all woo.

If it is not sufficient, then what is true must be revealed some other way, not by authority but by a trustworthy method where the consistency and reliability of the results are the measurement. This is the basis of good science:  methodological naturalism (MN), with four centuries of spectacular results.

The two positions cannot be accommodated because the epistemologies are in direct conflict. And this is revealed very clearly when claims of what’s true in nature based on religious authority conflicts with the findings from MN. One of them must yield, but which one?

In considering this choice – because it really is a choice to be made – I ask why should we pay any attention at all to the religious authority if we know ahead of time that its methodology does not value what IS true but merely BELIEVED to be true?

Many argue that pointing out this conflict is rude and that it detracts from slowly and carefully separating individuals from their fantastical beliefs, that it is counter-productive to challenge believers in such an uncompromising way. My response is that reality (what’s true) is a pretty harsh place to begin with and the sooner we come to terms with that fact, the better off we’ll be coping with what IS real (like rapid climate change due to human activities that increases global warming) rather than diverted by those who insist that reality is determined by what is BELIEVED to be true (global warming is all a hoax). In addition, I think that if one honestly cares about what’s true (Are we really screwing up our own climate?), then pointing this out is a very powerful tool of deconversion (See this week’s series on TVO about energy, power, and ecology – and the key question raised at the 27 minute mark by Robin Batterham about what it may take to get angry enough to actually force energy policy change).

Writer Paula Kirby agrees. In her latest article, she describes exactly this process she underwent decoupling her mind from the grip of belief to respecting what is true. And she simply asked that second question and attempted to answer it honestly.

June 2, 2011

Could Adam and Eve have been real people?

Filed under: belief,Bible,Evolution,Faith,Genesis,NOMA,Science — tildeb @ 3:20 pm

No.

The evidence is clear – from a scientific perspective. And this is incompatible with the claim from Genesis that there was an Adam and there was an Eve living in the same place at the same time that brought about an act that upon which human sin and the need for redemption hinges.

It’s factually wrong.

These individuals – humans in the modern sense and not apes or australopithecines – are claimed to be literally true and this means that this claim is open to scientific investigation and verification. So what does the science actually tell us to a very high degree of certainty?

From Why Evolution is True (and a contest!):

Mitochondrial DNA points to the genes in that organelle tracing back to a single female who lived about 140,000 years ago, but genes on the Y chromosome trace back to about 60,000-90,000 years ago, and nuclear genes all trace back to different times—as far back as two million years.  This shows that any “Adam” and “Eve” must have lived thousands of years apart, but also that there simply could not have been two individuals who provided the entire genetic ancestry of modern humans, for each of our genes traces back to different ancestors, showing that, as expected, our genetic legacy comes from many different individuals.  It does not go back to just two individuals, regardless of when they lived.

So there you have it. Now we can sit back and watch (and wait) for some new theological argument to revisit Genesis and ‘properly’ reinterpret it in this scientific light of fact.

But please note that the theology based on a belief claim (like Adam and Eve as the parents of the human race) doesn’t correct itself. It has no self-correcting mechanism to do so, no means for honest and knowable inquiry; instead, we find the science of methodological naturalism stepping into the knowledge void – maintained and often violently protected by those who assume that respect for religious beliefs is an equivalent respect for what is true and knowable by a different means (NOMA) – and providing us with honest and knowable answers. But there is no way we can determine if such faith-based beliefs are true unless and until we invest our respect into a method of inquiry that allows us to test and verify these kinds of claims. Faith-based beliefs are insufficient and whatever pseudo-answers they provide are untrustworthy. Belief in a literal Adam and Eve is a typical example of a faith-based belief that seems like an answer but is, in fact, simply wrong.

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.

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.

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