Questionable Motives

May 7, 2014

Are ‘honestly held beliefs’ reason enough to justify legal discrimination?

can of wormsWell, let’s look at the principle upon which all of us expect to be treated fairly and impartially before and by the law, namely, that

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Article 26, UN covenant on political and civil rights)

To support legal discrimination in a particular case means you must provide a reasonable justification to the benefit of all for that particular exemption against the general principle. This can be (and is) done when that justification can be shown to enhance the public good. For example, we can legally discriminate against all of us who have not achieved the age of majority or all of us who have been shown to be incapable of being responsible for our actions. Legal discrimination is permissible without breaking the principle of the covenant… but the justification must be the same FOR ALL.

Now let’s consider the idea of ‘honestly held beliefs’ to be the metric for varying what equality rights mean. The question can be formulated this way: does an ‘honestly held belief’ by another person constitute a reasonable justification to the benefit of all in your mind for the loss of your own equality before the law and the loss of its protection to guarantee them? Are you willing to have your legal rights be subject and hostage to the variability of another person’s honestly held beliefs?

There are a couple ways to come at answering this.

The straightforward answer here is either Yes or No. There is no middle ground. You are either willing to allow others (based on their ‘honestly held beliefs’) to determine the quality of your legal rights or you are not. The metric at work here is belief, and rests in the willingness to have your legal equality rights rights rest not with you, not empowered in and by the law, but in the belief-based opinion of others.  This breaks the principle that currently supports legal equality for all of us… not just against those whose legal rights and protection you wish to limit for whatever beliefs you may deem important enough but your own. Supporting the notion that ‘honestly held beliefs’ is sufficient to devalue equality rights to personal preference of beliefs means that you do not support the principle that upholds your own.

The extent of privilege our societies grant to religious belief and the institutions and speakers who represent them is truly astounding. For example, returning to the UN covenant on political and civil rights, we find the following:

“Discrimination is allowed if it is based on genuine religious beliefs or principles. This includes the actions of religious bodies or schools.”

Take a moment and think about that. What does it really mean?

Well, it means that the previous principle for all has been replaced in practice by the beliefs of some. It means all people are not equal before the law; our shared equality rights are in fact subject to the religious beliefs (and principles contained within them) of others, others who would deny them first for ‘honestly held beliefs… before any other grounds of justification are introduced! Where is the universal justification for this discrimination that demonstrates its fairness and impartiality to the good of all? It’s absent; what we have are lot of assumptions and attributions and arguments and conclusions unsupported by compelling evidence. This is faith-based belief in action… simply presumed to be justified because it is religious.  And that’s religious privilege in action and it undermines the very principle of YOUR legal rights, YOUR legal equality, YOUR legal protections. This religious privilege buolt on faith-based beliefs is incompatible with the very principle of equality law.

Another way to understand and appreciate the scope of craziness needed to sustain the argument of privileging ‘honestly held beliefs’ over and above and preceding equality rights for all is to apply the same reasoning, the same privilege, the same lack of independent justification to some other area of public interest. We have a host to choose from but let’s take a public water supply for our analogy and see how well the justification works.

The management of that public water supply is based on the principle of providing clean water for all… and we are all in agreement that this water should be safe for all to drink because all of us drink from it! But let’s say some people in the management team decide that certain privileged exemptions to that principle are justified by the ‘honestly held beliefs’ of those involved with providing this service, making the water supply safe for some but not for others. When people complain that their water supply is, in fact, contaminated – because some people honestly believe that the addition of industrial waste products containing toxins and carcinogenics to this part of the water supply but not that part at the request of certain industries to eliminate their waste is a net benefit to all, while reassuring the rest of us that we will continue to receive only a clean water supply – how is it a justification that doesn’t directly undermine the principle of clean water for all? Would the same exemption be allowed, for example, if the quality of everyone’s water supply – including the captains of these polluting industries and the management team themselves – were to be subject to the same vagaries of who received what quality of water when? Or would we as a municipality stand united and insist that the water supply be kept clean for all? Sure, the industrialists might complain that they have a real problem with their toxic wastes, but why should the quality of our water supply be their solution… any more than threatening our shared legal rights of equality be the solution to the demands of these religious for privilege to exercise their bias and discrimination in the name of the public good?

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May 18, 2012

What’s with all the censoring at religious blogs?

Filed under: belief,blogs,censorship,commentary,Criticism,Religion — tildeb @ 11:44 am

So here’s the motivating story:

Hannah Luce, daughter of Teen Mania founder Ron Luce, is continuing to improve as she recovers from a plane crash last Friday. She was the sole survivor among the five on board.

“The fact that Hannah is here with us is a miracle, and while I am overjoyed and so thankful to God that she’s here, I am also deeply saddened at the loss of Austin, Stephen, Garrett and Luke,” Ron Luce wrote Tuesday on his blog. “I can’t even begin to understand the pain their parents are feeling right now.”

And here’s the lovely poem (written originally about a case in which a man survived a fall from a skyscraper, with only 10 broken bones -both legs, right arm, multiple ribs, vertebrae. His brother was killed in the accident.) that was posted to Christianpost.com in response to the notion of this plane crash ‘miracle’:

I always found it rather odd
When people think to credit God;
The doctors helped, at least a bit,
The rescue workers didn’t quit,
The strangers there, who saw him fall
And made the first responder call
So many people did so much
But still we see His Holy Touch–
You see, it seems the signs are there
That show this man has seen God’s care:
The shattered ankle, broken shin
The shards of bone that pierce through skin
The massive bleeding in his gut–
Yes, every fracture, every cut–
This is the way that God Above
Displays His omnipresent Love.
And just in case He’s still denied
Remember, this man’s brother died.
Such agony makes Man aware
Of just how precious is God’s care
And when Humanity forgets,
God has a way to hedge His bets:
He’ll find a patsy, just some guy,
Like this Moreno, way up high–
When disbelievers start to scoff
God simply pushes this guy off;
With bleeding, pain, and broken bone,
God shows us that we’re not alone,
With just a little Godly shove,
He gets a chance to prove His Love.

Apparently, the comment was deleted (or so I read over at Digital Cuttlefish).

I am always disappointed that so many ‘christian’ blogs seem to be so willing and even eager to moderate and censor even the most gentle criticism of any kind… assuming they even allow for any comments at all. They are not alone, of course; I’ve been censored at non religious sites, too (usually by perpetual moderation or a sudden disappearance of a comment – I’m looking at YOU, Chris Mooney at The Intersection, and YOU Sabio Lantz at Triangulations), but it is almost unusual not to be moderated at religious ones.  So my hat is off to anyone willing to submit their religious ideas and beliefs and commentary to public scrutiny and allow criticism; they seem to be few and far between. My latest forays include Tough Questions Answered, The Berean Observer, No Apologies Allowed, Rachel Evans, and The Search for Truth.

So my question is, do you have any you favour? If so, give them a shout out here – good, bad, or even ugly ones – and feel free to share any stories about your experiences.

November 18, 2010

Do your beliefs about global warming make you a champion of ignorance?

Okay, so it’s no surprise that I am a big fan of methodological naturalism and its epistemology. We call it the method of science. It’s trustworthy, practical, and yields knowledge that works. It’s what drives our technologies. Without knowledge, I don’t think we can understand, and without understanding I don’t think we can make good decisions. When we substitute belief for understanding, faith for knowledge, we are setting ourselves up to embrace ignorance and implement our questionable motives. Such motives are a disservice to others and intellectually dishonest. Hence, the name of the blog.
The latest and perhaps the most avoidable travesty of implementing policies based on such questionable motives has to do with a global problem that continues to be shuffled to the back of the room, the bottom of the agenda, behind other concerns. And that’s the issue of global warming and its effects on climate change within the halls of power… particularly in the US. This issue is an avid example of just how insidious and detrimental faith-based beliefs extended into the public domain can be, and how catastrophic might be the effects derived from such willful and malicious ignorance.
Not content to merely misunderstand and misrepresent why methodological naturalism yields knowledge that leads to understanding, which in turn empowers responsible and informed decisions, certain economic concerns and political forces have united to attack a vital source of our knowledge: the very workforce who toils on our collective behalf creating our knowledge:
For the past two decades, the United States has been officially committed to avoiding “dangerous” climate change. One Administration after another—Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama—has reaffirmed this commitment, even as they all have failed to live up to it. House Republicans and their Tea Party allies reject even the idea of concern. Not content merely to ignore the science, they have decided to go after the scientists. Before the election, congressional Republicans had talked of eliminating the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Why, after all, have a panel on energy independence and global warming if you don’t believe in either? Now James Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, who is likely to become the select committee’s chairman, is arguing that it should be preserved. His rationale? The panel provides an ideal platform for harassing the Environmental Protection Agency, which, in the absence of legislative action, is the only body with the power to regulate carbon emissions. At least one group of scientists is organizing a “rapid-response team” to counter climate misinformation, but, since the misinformation is now coming from the very people charged with solving the problem, that task seems a peculiarly thankless one. (Source)
It’s one thing to personally decide not to believe in gravity or germs. I will call you self-deluded if you choose to do so and suggest some honest self-testing to reveal why such a charge is fully justified. Step out a tenth story window or take a good whiff of ebola and let’s see where the evidence leads you. I’ll wait here. The choice, of course, is to submit your beliefs to personal verification and live with the personal consequences. That’s fine. I’m okay with that. More power to you for being honest enough to find out for yourself. That’s science in action.
But it’s another matter entirely for people wrapped up in the false certainties of the their faith-based beliefs to extend their delusions based on wishful and magical thinking into the public domain and subject the rest of us to the inevitable results of their chosen ignorance. Nothing good will come of it. Nothing good CAN come from it: the epistemology of faith-based beliefs is too biased to be of practical use beyond one’s self and more importantly, there is no way to know if one’s beliefs are wrong except in regards to facts. And either we’re back to science and back to relying on the methodology that empowers it or we delude ourselves to think our beliefs are equivalent because we prefer to view them this way.
The science that empowers so much evidence to be collected that yields knowledge that global warming is real, it’s a growing concern, it’s a problem that will continue to impose climatic changes at an increased rate, is as solid as any other scientific inquiry by tens of thousands of scientists around the world over decades that have produced available peer reviewed research. The science is ongoing yet for about three decades or more there has been a growing general consensus that today’s global warming is a man-made problem subject to man-made solutions… if we act sooner rather than later. We can be reasonably certain that all this science about climate change and its causes and influences has been carried out in a responsible manner and that the general conclusions reached are as valid as any other in the sciences. We know there is always quibbling about specifics in all scientific endeavors  and climate research will have its fair share. We will have some personalities we like, some we don’t, and that these kinds of discrepancies are not at all unusual for any human undertaking involving tens of thousands of people. But none of this disqualifies the science and the body of knowledge climate science has produced.
What we cannot do is simply choose to think that our personal beliefs are an equivalent and legitimate basis for coming to a different conclusion. Our beliefs are not equivalent. Our personal knowledge is not equivalent to the scientific consensus. Our cherry-picking of facts and points that favour only our contrary belief preferences without accounting for all those that do not support us is intellectually dishonest. Whether we wish to or not, we must respect the method of inquiry that yields knowledge – which we implicitly trust with our very lives in other areas like medicine and transportation and communication – in this matter of climate science if we wish to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. No matter how grudgingly we face the scientific consensus about global warming, we must respect its general conclusions  and if we wish to be responsible citizens within our various communities, we must begin to address our culpability to its root causes before we can address how we can begin to mitigate our effects on climate change through global warming.
I don’t for a minute think that we alone drive climate change or that global warming is solely the result of carbon emissions. But I respect the method of science enough to take heed when the consensus tells us that human activity is a major factor in these rapid environmental changes. Whether I want to believe it or not is not my call if I wish to continue to respect the method of science that informs the rest of my life. The results of climatic scientific research are what they are, and the science has built up a body of knowledge about the matter that I can understand. So can you. And we need to act on this understanding in a productive and positive way rather than allow the most ignorant and delusional among us to be voted into public office to then abuse the state’s public power to attack those who tell us something we believe we don’t need to hear.
If you support those who put all of us at such risk by such abusing the power of the state to undermine and attack and discredit by foul means those who produce knowledge, then I question your motives to present yourself as an intellectually honest person and someone worth listening to. As far as I can tell, if you support those who go after people whose job it is to create knowledge in the name of your beliefs, you are a danger to me, my family, my community, my nation, and my planet. You are a champion of ignorance. And that’s not something to be proud of.

August 13, 2010

What kind of example is this for muslims?

Filed under: Canada,commentary,Faith,Islam,Religion — tildeb @ 6:59 pm

A terrific starting position, as it turns out (but in need of some clarification and refinement). I’ve added some bold.

From the Canadian Council of Imams come this seven part declaration:

We, the imams who have signed below, hereby affirm and declare the following fundamental points:

1. We believe in the oneness of Allah (God) and in the oneness of humanity and that all the Messengers of God, including the final Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), have taught human beings how to come closer to God and closer to one another. Islam is a religion of nature and humanity, one that teaches that a person cannot be a good Muslim until he/she becomes a good human being. All human beings are equal, and all of them are the children of Adam and Eve (peace be upon them). The best Muslim is the one who is good to his/her family and neighbors and one who avoids harming others with his/her hand or tongue.

2. We believe in peaceful coexistence, dialogue, bridge building, and cooperation among all faiths and people for the common good of humanity. Islam does not permit the killing of innocent people, regardless of their creed, ethnicity, race, or nationality. The sanctity of human life overrides the sanctity of religious laws. Islamic rulings do not – and should not – contradict natural laws. Islam is a religion that promotes peace, justice, equality, dignity, and freedom for all human beings.

3. We believe in the preservation of all the necessities of life. Islam upholds the sanctity of religion, life, intellect, family/society, and property.

4. We believe that the well-being of our fellow citizens is the well-being of Muslims, and that the well-being of Muslims is the well-being of our fellow citizens. Being law-abiding people is part of the Islamic practice, and following the pristine teachings of Islam leads to good citizenship.

5. We believe in gender equity and each man and each woman’s divine right to education, social contribution, work, and treatment with respect and dignity. Men and women complement each other, and healthy relationships between them are essential to a healthy society.

6. We believe that it is the right of every individual adult person to determine for themselves their conduct towards and within their society (for example, in matters of dress or good manners), and their personal conduct in matters of faith and belief as well, as long as their conduct does not threaten the common good. Likewise, we believe that every society must be allowed to express and celebrate humanity’s profound cultural diversity, as long as the expression of that diversity does not include the compulsion of any individual to violate their own human rights, or their personal values, or their human nature, or otherwise threaten the common good of all people.

7. We believe and strongly encourage Muslims to seriously engage in civic life and contribute to their communities and society as much as they can.

Islam must evolve into accepting these tenets as central to practicing muslims it if it is to mature into a responsible modern religion.



June 12, 2010

What’s with the militant and strident tone of New Atheists?

Filed under: Atheism,belief,commentary,Dawkins,Dennett,Harris,Hitchens,Religion — tildeb @ 5:00 pm

I read this complaint all the time: that the New Atheists are militant and strident and should take the advice of religious apologists and change their tone if they wish to communicate more effectively.

“I feel quite certain that a less emotional and less evangelistic atheism would garner far more influence. Atheism has a brand problem.  Lots of the people who do not believe in God refuse to call themselves atheists. Why? Because they don’t want to be associated with proselytizers” says Stephen Prothero over at Killing The Buddha.

Yes, atheism require some help to get its message out, and who better than religious apologists to explain to the likes of Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens why their best-selling books and sold out speaking engagements need more tweaking to be really effective. Yes, it must be all about tone.

It is very frustrating to be told repeatedly that one’s tone is of such tremendous concern when it dares to criticize the central and unjustified motivation of flying of planes into buildings, inserting theology into the science classroom, and undermining human rights and freedoms. The false charges of militancy and stridency about the tone of the message from New Atheists by religious apologists of all stripes is about trying to avoid the very real issue of being called to account, of being held responsible for appeasing the insertion of unjustified and caustic religious belief into the public domain where it has no legitimate place. That’s the issue – one ignored by far too many, and certainly by those of us coddled in the West who should know better.

Rather than be so concerned about the New Atheist’s tone, more of us should give thanks to those willing to stand up and express their (if not our) commitment to respect what is true with intellectual integrity against the excreta spewed by those of us who wish to excuse religiously inspired bullying, intolerance, and ignorance, who stand by and allow a concerted attack by religiously inspired policies, laws, and practices to directly undermine secular enlightenment values, human rights, and the dignity of personhood in the name of piousness and cultural relativity. The practices of religious belief in the public domain need more – not less – public criticism and the undermining of secular rights and freedoms need more – not fewer – public defenders. And if the tone by which this must be done offends, then so be it; it’s high time the tables were turned on those whom, by comparison, seem so accepting of the tone of religious offenders.

May 26, 2010

How can you turn a functional and healthy brain into mush?

Filed under: belief,commentary,Criticism,failed logic,Faith,Ignorance,Truth — tildeb @ 1:06 pm

Simple: add religion, wait for its incoherencies to ferment, and then do what Andrew Pessin did – submit a radical idea to the Huffington Post for publication to show what it can do. Here is the excerpted central thesis with a bit of bold added by me. Follow along if you can:

To believe of each and every sentence that it is true is to believe, in effect, that not one of the sentences is false; but to believe that there is at least one error in the work is to believe that at least one of the sentences is false, and thus to contradict the first belief.

And yet both beliefs can seem so plausible! Indeed — and here’s the key — even after we become aware of the implicit contradiction, both the contradictory beliefs remain quite appealing in their own right.

Thus the paradox.

What I suggest instead is that we simply acknowledge the paradox: that is, recognize that both contradictory propositions are, in their own right, extremely plausible. In the preface case this actually seems quite easy to do. My ultimate hope, then, is that world peace will break out when enough people simply acknowledge the paradox as well and begin applying it more generally.

Why is that?

Because acknowledging the paradox allows you simultaneously to say two things.

Choose some important, life-governing, very controversial thing you happen to believe in with great fervor: the existence of God (or perhaps atheism) {Arrrggghhh!!}, the truth of Christianity (or Islam or Hinduism, etc.), absolute morality (or relativism), etc. Focusing on religion as our example, you can now say, first, that you believe, with certainty, on the basis of reason and evidence and testimony, in the truth of, say, the various individual tenets of your version of Christianity, and thus believe, with equal certainty, in all the things entailed by that belief: that, say, all other competing religions and doctrines are simply false.

But then you can say, second, something else: that you may be wrong.

Got it? You can simultaneously be certain that Christianity is true and everything conflicting with it is false, and yet acknowledge that you may be wrong without taking away your certainty. You can thus keep your certainties without having to claim that you are, in fact, and grossly implausibly, infallible. It’s what everyone (other than bakers) has yearned for since time immemorial: the proverbial cake, both eaten yet had!

Yup, to make something true and be justifiably certain it is true, all you need to do is  just assert it, or its opposite, and add some certainty! See how simple that is? That’s religious belief in a nutshell.

More and more, I am beginning to see that religious belief turns the brain into a digestive tract where theological questions go in, are processed, and waste comes out. Christianity is the most popular local end product.

May 25, 2010

The moral high ground: Is this how you teach atheists to play Nice?

Dr. Karl Giberson, a professor at Eastern Nazarene College and co-president of the BioLogos Foundation, tells us in his article published in USA Today that New Atheists need to learn how to play well with others.  His main argument here is that because some well-respected scientists are christian, christianity is compatible with science. Supposedly he’s just as fine with the same logic that because some catholic priests are pedophiles, pedophilia is compatible with catholicism. Setting aside the main thrust of this very stupid argument, he admonishes the New Atheists for countering such very stupid arguments and pretends to take the moral high ground to do so, and reminds us that Nothing is gained by loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited assaults on the beliefs of fellow citizens. In addition, he tells us that it appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies.

Mean-spirited assaults. Boorish bullies. Yes, those New Atheists are a mean and boorish bunch and they are loud because they wish to promote themselves. Terrible people, really. How do we know this? We know this because people like Giberson keep telling us it is so. It’s the standard ‘tone’ argument; religious apologists keep telling atheists that they need to change the tone of their arguments to be more effective countering very stupid arguments offered up by religious believers that in turn counter the claim that science and religion are compatible ways to know what’s true. ‘Tone’ is often code for ‘Just shut the fuck up and keep your filthy mouth closed because what you are saying is disrespectful of my very stupid arguments and therefore disrespectful of my god.’ As evidence for this mean-spirited assault, Giberson tells us that New Atheist Jerry Coyne raked Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller and him  over the coals in The New Republic for their claims that Christians can unapologetically embrace science. Now isn’t that mean-spirited? Downright boorish and bullying, too.

What did Coyne actually write in The New Republic?

Giberson and Miller are thoughtful men of good will. Reading them, you get a sense of conviction and sincerity absent from the writings of many creationists, who blatantly deny the most obvious facts about nature in the cause of their faith. Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/ evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design. Yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people’s religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.

See how mean-spirited that is? Why the boorishness and intellectual bullying almost leaps off the page, doesn’t it?

The truth of the matter is that it is liars like Giberson, who paint New Atheists inaccurately and then have the gall and temerity and lack of moral integrity and intellectual honesty to deal with legitimate criticism against their religious ideas like grown-ups, resort instead to name calling and spreading false rumors. In religious terminology, I think it is relevant to call what Giberson does bearing false witness.  And it is offensive because it undermines exactly the supposed point of why the article was published in the first place: that playing nicely results in more respect for compatibility.

As Ophelia Benson writes about the mean-spirited and boorish bullying accusation,

That’s a really offensive claim. Not offensive in the frivolous sense the word is so often used to convey, but genuinely offensive, because it is untrue. Coyne doesn’t rake Miller and Giberson over any coals; he says good things about both of them in that long review in The New Republic; he also disagrees with much of what they claim in their respective books. He does it honestly, and carefully, and with detailed argument. That is not the same thing as raking people over the coals! It is offensive for Karl Giberson to make that accusation in a large-circulation national newspaper. Yet here he is telling other people how to play nicely. It’s so typical – say things about atheists that are not true, in the very act of telling atheists to be Nicer.

Giberson is not alone. Typical criticisms by religious apologists against the New Atheists – for daring to criticize religious beliefs by pointing out the incompatibility between science and religion – can’t win on intellectual merit. Nor can Giberson and his religiously apologetic ilk win the argument on honest moral grounds; what we do see is that the New Atheists have to be demonized first by mean-spirited and boorishly bullying methods even if it requires blatant unapologetic lying to do so. You see, by hook or by crook, any method to inaccurately portray New Atheists poorly and get the false message out there that they are terrible people to the broadest audience possible is really all that matters to people like Giberson. Playing nice, as you can plainly see, has nothing to do with the point of his article and is just another example of duplicity by the faithful to support the maligning of atheists themselves rather than deal honestly, openly, and fairly with their legitimate criticisms. Such people as Giberson who prefer to believe the worst about atheists in spite of contrary evidence and those who prefer to agree with their boorish and bullying tactics are really nothing more and nothing less than intellectual cowards.

May 20, 2010

Trouble in (before) paradise?

  • Of the 1,050 pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • 90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out).
  • 89% of the pastors we surveyed also considered leaving the ministry at one time. 57% said they would leave if they had a better place to go—including secular work.
  • 81% of the pastors said there was no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people or teaching them to deepen their Christian formation at their church (remember these are the Reformed and Evangelical—not the mainline pastors!). 
  • 77% of the pastors we surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage!
  • 75% of the pastors we surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others. This left them disheartened in their ability to pastor.
  • 72% of the pastors we surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons. This left only 38% who read the Bible for devotions and personal study.
  • 71% of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.
  • 38% of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • 30% said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner. (This and the previous statistic raises an interesting reflection on what Family Values look like to those in the ministry – tildeb.)
  • 26% of pastors said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality.
  • 23% of the pastors we surveyed said they felt happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home!
  • Of the pastors surveyed, they stated that a mean (average) of only 25% of their church’s membership attended a Bible Study or small group at least twice a month. The range was 11% to a max of 40%, a median (the center figure of the table) of 18% and a mode (most frequent number) of 20%. This means over 75% of the people who are at a “good” evangelical church do not go to a Bible Study or small group (that is not just a book or curriculum study, but where the Bible is opened and read, as well as studied). (I suspect these numbers are actually lower in most evangelical and Reformed churches because the pastors that come to conferences tend to be more interested in the teaching and care of their flock than those who usually do not attend.)

From the article Statistics on Pastors over at the Schaeffer Institute.

These stats line up nicely with Daniel Dennett’s latest work about preachers who are not believers (pdf here). And their numbers are growing . What is striking in this compilation of stats is that more than half would leave if they could. Three quarters are fighting depression and nine in ten can’t cope with the challenge of ministry. But why? If religious belief added some measurable quality of life and comfort as we have been led to believe, then these numbers should be strikingly different by those who champion it. But as I have long suspected, the show-and-tell of religion are quite different: we see the show of happy and well-adjusted people who pretend religious belief is a marvelous way to live – even a necessary element to living morally well – but underneath that facade we find a very different story.

May 18, 2010

Dismantling creationism: how can this happen?

Over at Neurologica there is a wonderful post about a conversation between Novella and a creationist named Duane. It covers many of the standard creationist canards hostile to the science of evolution and clearly reveals how someone like Duane can pretend to respect logic and evidence and appear to be inquiring yet remain firm and steadfast in religiously inspired ignorance when those methods and the provided evidence counter some quacked-up theological beliefs. But half the fun of reading a calm and patient smack-down of hostile creationism is reading some of the comments. My favourite comment is from Weii, the tenth comment down (May 14th, 10:21 pm), who perceptively notes:

He is a typical believer who relies on his faith to answer his questions. Evidence doesn’t convince him as he will only seek evidence that confirms his belief and ignore it if it doesn’t, as we all will. A creationist that is also a scientist is an oxymoron, unless they are in a totally unrelated field. Creationists believe things and only see confirmation. Scientists make certain assumptions about the world and then test them. Someone who believes that toast always lands on the buttered side down, when faced with it landing buttered side up, will think that he buttered the wrong side.

And that is exactly what I have found as I venture through the blogosphere: those who insist that truth must be compatible with their theology have already made the decision to rank what is true to be less valuable than maintaining a religious belief, and will then bend, distort, excuse, and ignore the fruits of honest inquiry that run counter to these comforting beliefs in order to protect and promote religiously inspired ignorance. But with enough cognitive dissonance created by good reasoning about the overwhelming evidence counter to claims about special human creationism, then perhaps some will dismantle their walled religious beliefs one brick at a time and wake up one day to the beautiful dawn of an open mind and wonder “How did this happen?”

April 22, 2010

Are scientific and supernatural claims compatible?

Over at ButterfliesandWheels, Ophelia Benson has posted her argument why the supposed wall of separation between science and the supernatural that allows them to be compatible is a “crock of shit.” She writes:

(T)here’s no such thing as “the supernatural.” Nobody cares about some general thing called “the supernatural.” People care about particular things that could be put under the heading “supernatural” but are not “the supernatural” themselves. And many or most of the things that people care about and that can be put under the heading “supernatural” are not really supernatural in a sense that would make science unable to say anything about them. And that includes “God” – except when the deist god is meant, which in fact it almost never is.

“The supernatural” is just the name of a category, but what’s really in dispute is not a category, but a person, an agent. The supernatural is one thing, and “God” is another, and it’s a distraction to pretend that by walling off “the supernatural” from science it is possible to get science to agree that God is beyond dispute.

Now consider astronomer Dave Chernoff’s response on “Ask an astronomer” about whether or not astronomers believe in astrology:

“No, astronomers do not believe in astrology. It is considered to be a ludicrous scam. There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.” He ended 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.”

Clear, concise, and definitive: The burden of proof for people who claim that astrology is true lies on those who make that claim. Yet when it comes to claims that the supernatural is true under the heading of religious belief, let’s watch the wheels fall of this skeptical bus. Chernoff tells us that modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of god and that people who believe in god can fit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating contradictions. After giving a couple of examples of how this might be possible – the Big Bang does not contradict a Genesis equivalent (whatever that means) – Chernoff concludes that, ultimately, science can never prove or disprove the existence of god and religious belief doesn’t, and shouldn’t have anything to do with scientific reasoning. (Tip to commentator #4 Kenneth.Pidcock)

So what happened to skepticism as the default position – a very useful and beneficial guideline for examining any and all truth claims – when the truth claim fell under the category of religion? How can reasonable people like Chernoff suddenly have their reasoning faculties shut down and allow themselves to pile up banal excuses on behalf of favouring religious claims to be exempt from legitimate skepticism? Some may claim that god works in mysterious ways, but so too does the mind of religious apologists… very mysterious indeed.

I agree with Benson that this skeptical exemption for religious claims about the supernatural, which is necessary for the claim of compatibility with science to remain true, is a crock of shit. And it’s full of shit because the skeptical constraints are changed. That’s not compatibility: that’s an abdication of fair play, a failure to keep the rules of inquiry the same for both categories, resulting in an intellectual capitulation by those who merely want to believe that science and the supernatural are compatible when an honest investigation is subverted right from the start.

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