Questionable Motives

September 24, 2011

How can this kind of dedicated faith-based attack on Enlightenment values be accommodated?

It can’t.

This attack on the secular foundation of liberal democracies has to be fought in the public domain by anyone and everyone who thinks all of us have the same rights and freedoms to believe or not believe as each of us sees fit. No one is more at risk by this kind of fundamentalist evangelical advance into the political domain than those believers who value their religious freedom.Don’t be swayed by the notion that the state will favour the same one you do; what is lost is your freedom to choose otherwise and that’s not an insignificant right to sacrifice in the name of christian piety.

There is no middle ground in this battle.

(h/t sensuouscurmudgeon)

July 28, 2011

Religious belief: monsterous or the human comedy?

Filed under: Atheism,belief,Critical Reasoning,Religion — tildeb @ 10:07 am

Let’s listen for 34 glorious minutes to what fifty big-brained and rational people who respect what’s true explain why they think what they do about religious beliefs:

 

 

(h/t to pharyngula)

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 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 16, 2011

What’s the harm?

Filed under: Critical Reasoning,faith-based beliefs,Skepticim,woo — tildeb @ 1:33 pm

This is probably the most oft repeated question in response to criticisms of faith-based beliefs like religion, complimentary and alternative ‘medicine’, anti-vaccination position, various superstitions and pseudosciences, conspiracy theories, anti-anthropomorphic global warming, evolution denialism, astrology, and so on. An answer with specific causal harm would be very helpful, wouldn’t it?

To the rescue of the reasonable, rational, and critical thinkers comes this wonderful website What’s the Harm? It’s sub-header today reads 368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured and over $2,815,931,000 in economic damages . That grabbed my attention so I delved a little deeper to find out what the site was all about:

Not all information is created equal. Some of it is correct. Some of it is incorrect. Some of it is carefully balanced. Some of it is heavily biased. Some of it is just plain crazy.

It is vital in the midst of this deluge that each of us be able to sort through all of this, keeping the useful information and discarding the rest. This requires the skill of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this is a skill that is often neglected in schools.

This site is designed to make a point about the danger of not thinking critically. Namely that you can easily be injured or killed by neglecting this important skill. We have collected the stories of over 670,000 people who have been injured or killed as a result of someone not thinking critically.

We do this not to make light of their plight. Quite the opposite. We want to honor their memory and learn from their stories.

We also wish to call attention to the types of misinformation which have caused this sort of harm. On the topics page you will see a number of popular topics that that are being promoted via misinformation. Many of them have no basis in truth at all. A few are based in reality, but veer off into troublesome areas. We all need to think more critically about these topics, and take great care when we encounter them.

Many proponents of these things will claim they are harmless. We aim to show that they are decidedly not.

Isn’t that music to the sceptical ear? Yes, but one must remember that these are real people whose stories can mean something if we just pay attention and learn from them.

For example, take the case of Debra Harrison from Wichita, Kansas. She was the founder of Consegrity, a form of energy medicine and faith healing. She rejected medical treatment for herself or her family and died of undiagnosed diabetes.

How about 1100 patients in Montreal who found out the acupuncture needles used on them weren’t properly sterilized and had to get HIV and hepatitis testing?

Or have you ever been warned the all too common result of tinnitus from ear candles?

Informed consent is a key ingredient to granting knowledgeable permission. Our ability to do so in the face of the onslaught of woo brought to us by various public figures such as Dr Oz and Deepak Chopra means we need to do a little more mental work, use a little more critical thinking, exercise a little more our scepticism even when we would prefer to simply believe. Such a site as What’s the Harm makes that job just a little bit easier. I noticed some of the links are broken and suggest that even these stories may also be in need of some scepticism if the evidence for their veracity is lacking. After all, we must be fair and remember the old adage is just as applicable today: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

(h/t to Steven Novella over at  NeuroLogica Blog)

May 5, 2011

What do we do to keep from lying to ourselves?

We do science.

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

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

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

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

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

So.

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

March 6, 2011

What’s the problem with science/religious compatability?

I have been described as a bitter individual who thinks that there is only one way to view this world. You scream, verify, prove, facts, figures. Wow. You (sic) view is coloured by extremists who think their religions are right and you try just as hard to scream that your way is the only logical way. Well, I suspect it would not be wise to ask this person for a character reference any time soon.

Of course, I don’t see my views this way. I try to explain that it’s important that we – not just I – respect what’s true, what’s knowable, and hold great esteem for the method of inquiry that allows us to find these answers, that provides us with a foundation upon which to build not only practical technologies that work but a way of inquiring into every nook and cranny of the universe… including ourselves… on an equal footing independent of our perspectives and world views. I’m sorry if I screamed that too loudly, but let me reiterate: I respect what’s true and I don’t think that is an extremist position at all.

What never fails to amaze me is how people who hold their faith-based preferences to be equivalent with what’s probably true, probably accurate, probably correct see themselves and their attitude somehow removed from the ongoing problems resulting from this widespread generous allowance to respect faith-based beliefs, and assume that anyone who disagrees (and provides good evidence for that disagreement) is some kind of fundamentalist or extremist. I take issue with that absurd caricature and I do point out the effects such allowances have in the public domain of the real world and at the expense of real people. That – apparently – makes me not only strident but militantly so. How is it that respecting what is true and holding others to that same standard is so often considered unreasonable if it interferes with the preference for equivalency of faith-based beliefs to what is actually true? Well, I think the answer goes back to the assumption that faith-based beliefs are magically superior to human knowledge as long as it places god at the top of some knowledge hierarchy. In a nutshell, this is the heart of the probelm of asserting compatibility between science and religion.

An excellent example is how someone with knowledge is held in contempt for enunciating that knowledge and whose life is actually threatened by those who assume a faith-based belief is not just equivalent but superior to what the method of science reveals. God’s truth – whatever the hell that means – is superior in this belief system to what the human mind can understand is true based on honest inquiry, verification, and its practical validity. Surely this cannot be the case here at home in technologically advanced society that relies on this science for its functioning infrastructure, can it?

It can. And does.

What does this respect for faith-based beliefs look like in a secular western democracy? The examples are many – legion, in fact – but I shall select merely one.

From The Independent with bold added:

A prominent British imam has been forced to retract his claims that Islam is compatible with Darwin’s theory of evolution after receiving death threats from fundamentalists.

Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, was intending yesterday to return to Masjid al-Tawhid, a mosque in Leyton, East London, for the first time since he delivered a lecture there entitled “Islam and the theory of evolution”.

But according to his sister, police advised him not to attend after becoming concerned for his safety. Instead his father, Suhaib, head of the mosque’s committee of trustees, posted a notice on his behalf expressing regret over his comments. “I seek Allah’s forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused,” the statement read.

And what offence did Dr Hasan commit? What exactly was this mistake?

Masjid Tawhid is a prominent mosque which also runs one of the country’s largest sharia courts, the Islamic Sharia Council. In January, Dr Hasan delivered a lecture there detailing why he felt the theory of evolution and Islam were compatible – a position that is not unusual among many Islamic scholars with scientific backgrounds.

Really? This was the offense, the mistake, reiterating this knowledge. But the good news is that this statement of knowledge is not unusual with Islamic scholars who apparently are qualified to judge science, we are assured. Phew. What a relief that this scientific knowledge meets with religious approval. Compatibilists everywhere must be breathing easier, right? Not so fast…

Most Islamic scholars have little problem with evolution as long as Muslims accept the supremacy of God in the process. But in recent years a small number of orthodox scholars, mainly from Saudi Arabia – where many clerics still preach that the Sun revolves around the Earth – have ruled against evolution, declaring that belief in the concept goes against the Koran’s statement that Adam and Eve were the first humans.

These are folk qualified to judge, eh? And compatiblists are seemingly okay with this.

Ah yes, we can’t have knowledge – the ‘good’ kind, that is – without getting the order right: god-approved knowledge first, meaning whatever knowledge doesn’t compete with faith-based beliefs about that god, and all scientific knowledge second. And therein lies the explanation why science and religion are incompatible methods of inquiry:

What’s true, accurate, and correct is a secondary consideration in this compatiblist mind set. And that’s what makes faith-based beliefs that science and religion are compatible a bald-faced lie: we either respect what’s true and knowable first, or we respect what we believe must be true for our faith-based beliefs and preferences to remain unchallenged and supreme. Faith in the latter is a virtue but a failure in the former. These two positions are simply not compatible because of this and those who would like to pretend that they are are not only deluded but continue to grant intellectual respectability to those whose faith-based beliefs contrast honest knowledge. These are the people who need to be taken to task for this capitulation of intellectual integrity to respect that which deserves none: faith-based beliefs.

January 10, 2011

Where’s the line between your god and me?

Why do I keep harping about the dangers of religious beliefs in the public domain?
Many people assume I must have a vendetta or something against some past religious sleight, that I was abused by a religious person and am angry, that I must be searching for god because I stay involved in speaking out against faith-based beliefs. None of these is true.
I try to explain that I made a necessary decision long ago – one that all of make at some point – about what happens when one gives in to pimping out one’s conscience (conveniently forgetting the Golden rule) in favour of something else, something practical and self-rewarding. I try to explain a series of events that happened to me to bring it home when I was much younger.
I could see a direct correlation between being spat on at a bus bench in apartheid South Africa by a white woman for sitting on the wrong side of the painted bench that read ‘Whites Only’ and ‘For Coloureds Only’ to standing beneath the gate at Auschwitz and appreciating what had to have happened to make industrialized death possible. I could plainly see in my young mind that acquiescence to the faith-based belief that race is real and more important than human rights and freedoms for all is no different in principle than the faith-based belief that god is real and more important than human rights and freedoms.
The pimping of one’s conscience is to put aside the PRIMACY of fundamental respect for our common and shared humanity in favour of some faith-based belief, to then excuse acting on this belief as if IT were more important to uphold (in whatever name you care to insert) than the person acted upon.
I could plainly see then as I do now that placing some faith-based belief higher in consideration than the rights and freedoms of real people is the cause in practice to gross injustices. And this is what I see whenever faith-based beliefs are allowed to be the justification for actions in our world: that potential and far too often actual gross injustices.
Those who excuse or support actions in the name of faith-based beliefs – whether positive or negative  – are a great threat to humanity (not just because I think that their brains are addled but) because they do not have the intellectual discipline or fortitude or honesty to follow their faith-based sympathies to their logical conclusions – to the gates of their own supported version of Auschwitz. People continue to support faith-based beliefs without clearly seeing the very real danger to others they bring to the table of their communities; instead, they mollify their capitulated consciences with excuses under various banners already predetermined to matter more in importance than the rights and freedoms of others.
To me it is obvious: moving away from respecting FIRST the rights and freedoms of others and inserting something else in this position is wrong – it is morally reprehensible and ethically self-destructive – no matter what that something else may be. The worst offender is, of course, god but it could be nation or tribe or political affiliation or gender or whatever. It doesn’t matter what the selected particular may be. What matters is the willingness that something ELSE is more important, of greater consideration, than respecting the rights and freedoms of others. And that respect cannot be simply interpersonal but systemic: we must offer our primary support in the name of our conscience to the social and political and legal framework necessary to keep our rights and freedoms equal for all.
This is the battle I undertake because my conscience demands it be done. Do we have the moral courage to make right choices in our lives, to find and recognize that line of conscience we will not cross?
Here’s a little story about that line… one I found poignant yet strangely personal that shows exactly what I mean (h/t to Dead Wild Roses).
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