Questionable Motives

April 1, 2012

What’s the Tennessee ‘Monkey Bill’ and why does it matter?

“I ain’t kin to no damn monkey,” is a stereotypical religious response to the very notion of evolution by natural selection. But this isn’t the main reason for the stalwart position taken against the scientific consensus that we share common ancestry with other primates. The reason is religious.

As Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Society, explains,

The theory of evolution is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures. (E)volution and Christianity are incompatible.

The explanation of common ancestry is incompatible with any religious belief that tries to suggest that humanity is somehow a special creation of a god… a god that can be ‘known’ because it/he/she has bestowed special gifts and favours and privileges to the human branch of the primate family and is therefore clearly deserving of our obedience to him/her/it… as it has been opaquely revealed in various scriptures (Creationism 1.0). In effect this assumption means that, to the faithful who presume special creation and/or divine intervention for humanity without evidence, we are to assume these different and mutually incompatible scriptures are actually divinely inspired science textbooks… textbooks that fail to adequately explain the overwhelming evidence for natural selection we find throughout reality – a reality that has revealed no compelling evidence to indicate any such divine interference anywhere in the chain of evidence for natural selection.  In spite of soothing words from the science organizations like the NCSE and religious organizations that support the  Clergy Letter Project that if one squints just right there is no compatibility issue between creationism and evolution, the fact is that there is no scientific basis on which hang a creationist hat, meaning that to maintain a belief in some kind of creationism relies not on evidence from reality but a faith-based belief alone. Those who wish to insist that humans have been POOF!ed into existence or that at some point somewhere some divine agency intervened in natural selection fail to appreciate that key word: natural. To be clear, one can sometimes find religion without creationism but you will never find creationism without religion.

Why does this matter?

As Mohler quite rightly points out, accepting the scientific explanation for evolution – a foundation upon which all modern biological sciences are built – causes an exodus of evangelical young people. Although Mohler references these effects on his own preferred religion, the point he raises is also true for any religious tenet built on a divine role in human development for which there is no evidence in support and much against (the latest being genetic evidence that clearly indicates no original human couple like the fictional Adam and Eve – which is explained in simpler language here). As the PEW forum on religion and public life notes,

All but a small number of scientists regard Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection as an established fact. And yet, a substantial majority of Americans, many of whom are deeply religious, reject the notion that life evolved through natural forces alone.

In other words, evolution is a very real threat to this creationist tenet regardless of which religion attempts to maintain it.

What’s a creationist to do but find some way to counter this scientific knowledge… but without any science to back it up?

Enter the Wedge Strategy, designed (pun intended) to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies and to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God“.

Theists have been repeatedly thwarted by the courts in the US from including the creationist tenet in science class. The latest (Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover) directly addressed creationism in its most modern evolution, namely Intelligent Design (Creationism 2.0). The conclusion was clear: ID has no scientific merit so it doesn’t belong in the science classroom.

Oh dear.

Those who thought that perhaps this ongoing battle had finally reached a conclusion were premature; let us now be properly introduced to Creationism 3.0: Academic Freedom! Strengths and Weaknesses! Promote Critical Thinking! This – not scientific evidence – is the next evolution in the Wedge Strategy, brought to us from the Discovery Institute along with a standard petition on how to best promote it without being accused of promoting religion in the public domain.

In 2011, eight states considered bills to include ‘academic freedom’ into the science curriculum, as if this freedom rather than religiously inspired creationism was in some immanent danger of extinction. As Lauri Lebo so eloquently describes – revealing the common language source for all these state bills –

educators may not be prohibited from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Isn’t that grand? What’s so wrong with more critical thinking? What’s wrong is that the problems inherent in evolution – like any science – are trivial in comparison to the robustness of the general explanation. Trivial problems in fully understanding and describing human reproduction is not an invitation to bring Stork Theory into the science class. Somehow this point is missed when it comes to promoting the equally unqualified notion of creationism.

This language of academic freedom helped bring in the Louisiana it’s-okay-to-teach-creationism-in-science-class law (SB 733, LA Science Education Act) and is the template for the Tennessee Monkey Bill – coined accurately to be more  ‘stealth creationism’ by the indomitable Barbara Forrest who works tirelessly to show how this creationist influence remains dedicated to inserting faith-based belief into the science curriculum. This continues now in Tennessee in spite of student complaints and a dedicated campaign supported by 75 Nobel laureates by a Louisiana student Zack Kopplin showing how creationist dogma harms his educational standing for advancement and employment.

Note that as in the Louisiana law, those theories protected under ‘academic freedom’ can include “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning,” tying in very nicely with the stated aims of the Wedge document. This is stealth creationism in action in spite of the ridiculous instructions to future judges contained in the bills that these religious-only, non scientific ‘strengths and weaknesses’ talking points are not “to be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine.” As the Sensuous Curmudgeon points out, this is comparable to saying

“Hey, Judge: Here’s how to construe this law” to a suicide-bomber’s explosive-laden vest being sewn with a tag saying: “Attention Bomb Squad Coroner: The deceased wearer of this garment should not be construed to be a suicide bomber.”

All of this legal and legislative and advocating aside for the moment, the real effect described by Dr. Paul Gross from this agenda driven religious attack against the cornerstone of the biological sciences is this:

(It) discourages teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

Really? Science education can be affected when so many attack it as ‘just another way of knowing’? And that affect produces poor student achievement results? Who could have possibly predicted this?

So just how poor is scientific literacy? Read it and weep.

This is the real cost all of us pay to keep creationists in business. Belief in creationism – no matter what form it may take – creates no new knowledge, opens up no new avenues of inquiry, produces no practical applications, and advances our understanding of the world we inhabit not one bit. It is a dead end resulting in thwarting, stymieing, and impeding real science, real progress, real technologies, real knowledge advancements. Seeing this pernicious religious effect in real people, who are convinced creationism deserves a passing nod of approval and wider public acceptance as a quaint alternative to contrary hard science, perhaps we can begin to better understand why biologists like Dawkins, Coyne, and PZ Myers spend so much time and effort counter-attacking this particular ignorance called religiously inspired creationism… for there simply is no other root cause for it.

Religious belief empowers creationism and it is religious belief that motivates its promulgation to infect and distort science. Some people will think themselves justified to doubt evolutionary science while accepting other branches like physics and chemistry conveniently forgetting that all are a single methodology. (But what can we expect with such poor scientific literacy?) Choosing to believe the physics of gravity here but not there to suit a religious belief about the aerodynamics of a flying horse for certain self-proclaimed prophets of god is as incoherent as accepting evolutionary biology within the framework of genetics here but not common ancestry there.

These kinds of Monkey Bills in public legislation matter a very great deal to all of us because they represent superstitious nonsense promoted and legalized and inserted under false pretenses in the public domain under the excuse of words that mean nothing more and nothing less that unsupported religious belief in divine POOF!ism. Rather than gain political capital from promoting poisonous religious beliefs imposed on the public domain, these politicians should be penalized by all of us even if some of us choose to remain privately dedicated to belief in creationism. Our future scientific literacy depends on it and all voters share in this current dismal failing grade we have achieved when we allow religious belief to have such a deleterious effect in our educational system. All of us need to smarten up and start complaining much more loudly and boldly whenever faith-based beliefs dare to enter the public square and demand effect.

November 21, 2011

What is the religious believer’s challenge?

Filed under: belief,Critical Reasoning,Faith,Religion — tildeb @ 8:53 pm

The believer’s challenge, according to Julian Baggini, is to determine if the religious faith believers hold is intellectually respectable as a 21st-century faith. Answering the challenge honestly forces religious believers to make a choice between beliefs which can be considered intellectually respectable, and those which cannot, either shutting gnu atheists up for attacking a straw man faith no one believes in as they are often accused of doing,  or revealing that the beliefs gnu atheists do criticize really are intellectually dishonest:

Preamble. We acknowledge that religion comes in many shapes and forms and that therefore any attempt to define what religion “really” is would be stipulation, not description. Nevertheless, we have a view of what religion should be, in its best form, and these four articles describe features that a religion fit for the contemporary world needs to have. These features are not meant to be exhaustive and nor do they necessarily capture what is most important for any given individual. They are rather a minimal set of features that we can agree on despite our differences, and believe others can agree on too.
1. To be religious is primarily to assent to a set of values, and/or practise a way of life, and/or belong to a community that shares these values and/or practices. Any creeds or factual assertions associated with these things, especially ones that make claims about the nature and origin of the natural universe, are at most secondary and often irrelevant.

2. Religious belief does not, and should not, require the belief that any supernatural events have occurred here on Earth, including miracles that bend or break natural laws, the resurrection of the dead, or visits by gods or angelic messengers.

3. Religions are not crypto- or proto-sciences. They should make no claims about the physical nature, origin or structure of the natural universe. That which science can study and explain empirically should be left to science, and if a religion makes a claim that is incompatible with our best science, the scientific claim, not the religious one, should prevail.

4. Religious texts are the creation of the human intellect and imagination. None need be taken as expressing the thoughts of a divine or supernatural mind that exists independently of humanity.

(h/t to Eric)

November 1, 2011

Of what value is atheism?

If you happen to respect what’s true in reality and how we can know anything about it, then the value of atheism is pronounced.

How so? Well, reader Joshua has asked me the following questions:

Where’s your positive case for atheism? Why is it a superior worldview? What explanatory power does it have for anything? What has atheism contributed to the advancement of the human species? Those are questions I want you to address. Not here, but on your blog.

Okay. Let’s take a look at these one at a time.

1) Where’s your positive case for atheism?

My answer to this is two-fold.

In the first case, atheism in regards to religious claims means non belief. The question is the wrong one in this regard to establish good reasons for not believing. This becomes apparent if we test the same question against, let’s say, non belief in the Easter Bunny. Where’s your positive case for non belief in the Easter Bunny? It’s a silly approach to understanding the role atheism plays in finding out what’s true in reality. Non belief is a negative claim, meaning that because there is no positive evidence for the positive religious claim that it is true, non belief is reasonable alternative. We do this all the time in the face of every absurd claim that has no reasonable case in its favour. Because there are no good reasons to believe in the religious claim based on evidence available to all, there is no reasonable case to be made in its favour. The default, therefore, is non belief in exactly the same way the questioner does not demand of himself a positive case to be made for not believing in faeries, not believing in wood sprites, not believing in Zeus, and so on.

In the second case, my answer is that non belief in the absence of good reasons to believe something is true provides us a tangible benefit, namely, a healthy dose of scepticism to protect one’s self from being foolish and gullible. The shell game, played by religious supporters who cannot provide coherently good reasons independent of their favoured beliefs to make a positive case for their positive religious claim, becomes in this light rather obvious: they believe the religious claim because they have had to elevate belief itself to be a good enough reason in the absence of good reasons based on independent supporting evidence. And here’s the problem: once you accept belief itself as the benchmark for establishing the validity of a truth claim about reality, you have fallen into a rabbit hole of foolish gullibility. There are no longer any belief claims that can be ruled out as false because one has already capitulated any means to establish and inform what’s actually true in order to maintain the validity of holding the religious belief.

2) Why is it a superior worldview?

Atheism itself is not a worldview. It is non belief in religious truth claims. How is one’s worldview altered, for example, by not believing in the literal truth of the Tooth Fairy? The absence of the Tooth Fairy doesn’t alter anything; again, it’s the wrong question. Believing in the Tooth Fairy, however, most assuredly does alter one’s worldview. Accepting the belief itself as valid means one has accepted the reality of the supernatural, and has accepted this double blueprint of a singular reality. That’s why religious believers have to compartmentalize religious beliefs in reality over here and reality as it is over there. We get evidence of this intellectual duplicity all the time with phrase like, “I’m a great fan of science, but…”, and “Religious belief is compatible with science because science doesn’t know everything…” This belief in belief stands in stark contrast to the lack of positive evidence for this positive claim. But the believer has already isolated the religious belief from legitimate critical review not vbecause it isn’t deserving but because what’s true in reality doesn’t matter; the only thing that matters in faith-based beliefs is the application of faith itself, which is why only in religion is faith considered a virtue. This worldview is a distorted worldview because it accepts belief without evidence as the arbiter of what’s true in reality.

Compare the products of belief in the supernatural with the products of methodological naturalism. Belief in the supernatural produces easy pseudo-answers to whatever questions about reality one has; when in doubt, pretend that the supernatural is just as likely a cause and look at what is produced: superstition and ignorance and all the negative effects these produce. Why is the sky blue? Because god made it that way. Where do we come from? We come from god because he created the heavens and the earth and everything in it. These aren’t answers; these are childish pseudo-answers that cannot withstand critical scrutiny. This is why no useful and practical applications have ever been produced by elevating belief to be ‘another way of knowing’. It doesn’t produce knowledge. That’s the brute fact believers don’t care to face. It doesn’t produce consistent explanations of cause and effect that are in any way useful, practical, or reliable because it cannot reveal an understandable mechanism by how it works to cause effects. It’s magic, you see, done by critters that leave no evidence of their time spent among us. It’s intellectual hand waving, a rationalized sleight-of-mind that produces nebulous terminology to infuse the beliefs with the appearance of meaning. But let’s be honest: behind such an appearance we find that belief produces no new knowledge. As ‘another way of knowing’ about anything other than the imagined, belief is an abject failure. Atheism, if understood to be a worldview that simply respects what’s true by allowing reality and not belief to arbitrate our claims to knowledge, is superior because it does produce the intellectual ground for knowledge to be honestly extracted from the universe we inhabit…knowledge that translates into reliable and consistent applications that work for everyone everywhere all the time. That’s not a trivial achievement.

3) What explanatory power does it have for anything?

Atheism as non belief doesn’t try to explain anything because it makes no positive claim. But the mindset to respect reality’s role in arbitrating what’s true about it has the benefit of clearing the table of our preconceived notions and biases and prejudices and allows us to respect a method of inquiry  that we know produces consistently reliable and practical results for everyone everywhere all the time that works… regardless of our beliefs. When one starts with an open mind that doesn’t have to filter incoming information through a belief screen first and judged to be friendly or hostile to the belief, one can allow an epistemology to prove itself, to yield to its own judgement of real value in this universe. This has the immediate benefit of keeping one’s mind sceptical about all claims until the preponderance of evidence from reality lends its weight. Claims about stuff outside of reality with no way to test them have no business being presented as if true in this one without this preponderance of evidence. Those dishonest enough to pretend this drawback to the veracity of  supernatural claims isn’t really much of problem to being compatible with the scientific method are absolutely wrong. Truth claims of supernatural causal effect are a priori statements of belief only, equivalent to making shit up. To consider these supernatural belief claims are in any way compatible with claims derived post facto  from our scientific method are without merit… regardless of how sophisticated and nuanced the belief claim may sound to the uncritical mind, the willingly deceived, the defenders of the faith, the pretenders of respecting what’s true in reality. These religious claims remain solely a belief only… equivalent to and indistinguishable from a delusion.

4) What has atheism contributed to the advancement of the human species?

Non belief – and not respecting the beliefs of others as equivalent to knowledge – has freed our minds to pursue what’s true in reality. The advancements in our collective knowledge over the past two hundred years are directly attributed to developing applications that have greatly enhanced every aspect of human life in every appreciable way. From healthcare to technology this increase in knowledge has yielded tangible and practical benefits. In addition, the reasoned-based approach to political expression and governance derived from Enlightenment values has come unprecedented advances in recognizing human rights as the foundation for our freedoms from the indifference and mindless cruelty of a brutal world. Although we still have much to achieve in respecting equal rights and freedoms of all the world’s citizens, we are on the right path. The evidence for this is overwhelming.

But like anyone trying to reach the age of maturity, we have to face the difficult task of letting go of our childish need for parents as well as letting go of our adult children from our desire to over-nurture so that they can find their own way. Faith-based religious beliefs stand opposed to this letting go, insisting that we need to rely on some authority other than our own because we just can’t be trusted. One of the most common comments from theists who have become atheists is facing this fear of independence and finding liberty as well as responsibility. Autonomy and responsibility go hand in hand and it can yield many results both good and bad. But at least both outcomes are personally owned rather than attributed to some oogity boogity. It is a recognition that the world’s problems are our problems to be solved by us who must live with the consequences of our collective actions. Maturity in this context is recognizing the need for each of us to find that balance between human needs and wants and what the world is willing to tolerate. Atheism means the opportunity for intellectual maturity and intellectual honesty, to grow up and leave the belief-feathered bed of wishful thinking and childish dreams behind, to realize the truth in reality that irresponsible actions will not taken care of by some concerned sky daddy, to become fully human in the here and now with all its personal foibles and take ownership of how we live our lives as well as we can under whatever circumstances in we may find ourselves, all the while working towards helping others achieve their own birthright of intellectual independence from the ancient ignorances and false idols of that are the foundation for all faith-based beliefs.

It’s time to let go of faith-based beliefs and grow up. Reality beckons and we have one shot at it. Let’s grab it, respect what it offers, and live a life worth living.

September 29, 2011

What is the fundamental error we make of religious scripture?

Presuming it’s true.

Once this fundamental error is made, there is a cascade effect that greatly impairs one’s cognitive ability to make later corrections for it; instead of simply correcting the original error in the face of mounting contrary evidence to its veracity, we see otherwise rational people perform amazing feats of mental gymnastics to accommodate its fundamental irrationality.

One of the most common ways for the believers to maintain the presumption of scriptural truth in the face of a contrary reality is to alter the language we use to describe that reality, and then shift blame for the obvious scriptural failure unto reality itself as some kind of dirty and obnoxious pollutant. This is where denial of reality finds sustenance in the religious community and offers aid and comfort to anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-rational proponents.

Surely such deluded and intellectually dishonest people as reality deniers must be at the fringes of society, wouldn’t you think?

Apparently not.

Consider the legal wisdom delivered by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during his recent lecture at Duquesne University Law School, a catholic university in Pittsburgh:

“The Rule of Law is second only to the Rule of Love. The here and now is less important than the hereafter.”

Now think about that for moment.

His priority as a Supreme Court Justice is not about the rule of law in the here and now but about love leading to something he calls the “hereafter”. This is religio-speak for obeying the authority of scripture first and foremost. This blind obedience to the vagaries of biblical scripture to outline appropriate religious behaviour is what Scalia calls love, and its purpose is to exchange the legal respect owed to the individual here and now to some earned eternal bliss… the fulfillment of a nebulous contract to be fulfilled by god after that individual’s death.

That’s an insane contract in any other connotation: for example, how big a fool must you be to seriously accept the contract to pay me all your money throughout your life on the promise that I will pay you back a thousandfold after you’re dead.  It’s an insane presumption based as it is on no evidence outside of its religious connotations that it might be true. Yet for anyone inside its religious connotations such a presumption is fine for a catholic Supreme Court Justice, no matter how nutty, how batty, how foolish, how flipping crazy exactly the same thinking is without the religious connotation. For many, it’s peachy that we waive the requirement for rationality in and respect for the here and now in the name of respecting religious gullibility and delusion about the hereafter.

It seems to come as a shock to some people that making allowance for the religiously deluded might actually carry some small cost when it comes to following and implementing scripture. But is it really such a small price to pay?

Surely that insanity, that irrationality, stops when it comes to practicing and implementing actual individual legal equality, doesn’t it? Well…

Scalia again:

“Our educational establishment these days, while so tolerant of and even insistent upon diversity in all other aspects of life, seems bent on eliminating diversity of moral judgment – particularly moral judgment based on religious views. I hope this place will not yield – as some Catholic institutions have – to this politically correct insistence upon suppression of moral judgment, to this distorted view of what diversity in America means.”

What is he talking about? He’s bitching about the requirement that student clubs that receive university support and backing must be open to all students, even gays. Exercising this legal equality on behalf of all students who pay the same tuition and fees, who attend the same classes as everyone else, who meet the same academic expectations as all, suddenly becomes – in the confused mind of Supreme Court Justice Scalia – the distorted suppression of a religiously acceptable yet bigoted moral judgement.

This catholic moral judgement is not understood to be just another example of religiously inspired bigotry; after all, it comes from scripture, which is presumed to be true. That means that correct moral behaviour is considered by the religiously minded like Scalia to be bigotry in action. And that causes him not the slightest intellectual discomfort. In his mind befuddled and addled by catholicism all other considerations – like legal equality – must first fit this faith-based model on what is moral under scriptural authority, and if that means abusing the language to do so – by presuming that a bigoted moral judgement is sanctioned by god through the authority of scripture – then legal equality must be an imposition indeed.

The blame for this imposition – this insistence on legal equality by the secular state – is flung back at reality, claiming that legal equality of diverse people is actually a distorted view under catholicism, clashing as it does with the presumption of scriptural authority that allows a special exemption for religious bigotry under the intentional misnomer of moral judgement. It’s as if to say it isn’t up to me as a Supreme Court Justice to judge legal inequality when it is upheld by the religiously deluded; my hands are tied by the religious view that god has judged this inequality to be right and proper on moral grounds. Bigotry becomes moral and is then brought forth from the wastelands of scripture into the confusing world of real people in real time where what should be a cut and dry legal issue of equality  becomes a confused religious issue about permissive legal bigotry sanctioned on theological moral grounds.

And Scalia is okay with this contorted pretzel of rationalizations in the service of maintaining the supremacy his religious presumptions even in his high public office. The fact that such a dimwit and badly confused idiot as Scalia could be selected and then promoted to the highest secular court in the land is damning evidence of just how in need of repair and support is the wall of separation between church and state… if you care about legal equality, of course.

And on that issue I shouldn’t presume…

September 28, 2011

What ever happened to Baby Joseph, ‘saved’ by the Priests for Life stormtroopers from the evil clutches of Canadian health care?

Back on March 22 of this year, I posted about why Priests for Life are theological thugs, fanatical religious stormtroopers who prey on the hopes of others to aid and abet and revel in the unnecessary suffering of others in the name of  honouring their god. Their latest victim was Baby Joseph Maracchli who, in October of 2010 at 10 months of age developed a brain fever and became vegetative just like another previous child of the Maracchlis. The family wanted a tracheotomy performed so that they could take the baby home to die but the hospital disagreed on compassionate medical grounds:

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

This is when the Priest for Life entered and through their efforts helped make this sad story into a fundraising campaign, where they spent a considerable amount of donated money to fly the baby to St. Louis and have the tracheotomy. From their warped point of view, the priests were ‘saviors’ of the baby, vilifying the baby’s Canadian health care team in the process. The baby was released at the end of April and went home to Windsor Ontario.

Today, the Windsor Star reports:

Br. Paul O’Donnell, Major Superior at Franciscan Brothers of Peace, posted a message posted early Wednesday reported Baby Joseph had died.

“It is with great sadness that I report to you the passing of our dear Baby Joseph Maraachli. He passed away peacefully at home with his parents and family at his side. Praise God he had seven precious months with his family to be surrounded by love and was not put to death at the hands of doctors. May Joseph rest in the loving arms of his Heavenly Father surrounded by all the angels.”

Back in March, I pointed out that:

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

This time it took only five additional months for the baby to die after our priestly heroes intervened. They’re slipping as they get older, I guess, but any additional unnecessary suffering is a real feather in their theological caps.

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 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.

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 16, 2011

Why is mainstream moderate religious belief poisonous (updated)?

From a previous thread come these comments:

From misunderstoodranter:

“I am not an atheist because ‘other’ people are atheists – I am an atheist because I decided I was.”

From Zero1Ghost comes this reply:

“this implies that believers are theists because they are engaged in group think. i think this notion is partially true. they are afraid not to believe in God yet they live their lives like there isn’t one and the “church” has no impact on their lives aside from where they get married, baptize their children, and where their funeral is held.”

This is a very typical characterization of the mainstream religious believer from those theists who do not see what pernicious and ongoing effect the tireless promotion of religious ideology has on their society… motivated solely by religious ideology. These same theists tend to individualize religious belief as if it were a simple choice made only on the personal level so take any criticism about religion per se as inconsequential and often misguided. From this attribution, these theists then generally fail to account for how their own preferences for empowering their personal religious beliefs in any public way support the insertion of religious ideology into the lives and business of everyone else. This is a purposeful disconnect done with the intention of deflecting criticism from the issue of religious motivation to an issue of individual actions that may or may not be considered misguided. In this way, these theists never have to deal with the growing problem religious ideology brings to the whole population as they stand idly by while this happens… but are sure to call atheists and others who complain too loudly names. Forget that these same theists offer their tacit support of the inserted religious ideology into the public domain while deflecting criticism to be too ‘militant’ and ‘strident’ and ‘fundamentalist’ to be accurate. No siree: complainers of religious insertion into the public domain are just as extreme as those other religious folk. And you don’t want to be one of those people! You’re too reasonable to be such an extremist. And yet the religiously motivated intrusion continues unabated seeking preferential treatment by means of law.

In the United States, for example, I wonder if most religious believers appreciate just how common, conniving, and downright underhanded are those who attempt to cross the state/church wall of separation to insert theology where it doesn’t belong: specifically in science class. I have trouble finding anyone who supports this insertion directly, who supports those who work against the First Amendment; instead I am overwhelmed by those who pretend such insertions are only attempted by religious extremists and fundamentalists and so we can safely trust governments to withstand their misguided assaults. They are wrong.

So let’s consider the facts: in 2011 we have seven states considering nine bills to do just this.

The National Center for Science Education offers us what they call the Antievolution Legislative Scorecard here. It lists each bill and quotes the bill’s aims. This is creationism in action. This is religious ideology actively being recruited to achieve a specific outcome. Its motivation is to undermine the teaching of evolution as if there were some other legitimate science theories kicking about in biology when there are none. This is pure religious belief common to most religious believers who assume the role of creator somewhere in humanity’s history masquerading as some kind of alternative science. And every year creationism rears its ugly little head and people work tirelessly to alter science textbooks, alter school curriculum, alter education legislation with one aim in mind: replace real science with religious belief in the public domain… or at least make room for religious beliefs about creationism in the curriculum. So can we blame only religious extremists? Well, it is not being carried out by religious extremists. It is not being carried out by fundamentalists. It is being done by politicians who stand to gain public favour by undermining the teaching of science in the name of religious belief.

There’s the rub.

It is the wider public made up of religious moderates and liberals, apologists and accommodationists, who are to blame for this travesty… including the NCSE itself that states “[t]he Bible is a record of one particular people’s developing moral relationship with God, and enshrines timeless ideals about the integrity of creation […]! Without the support of so many religious accommodationist of all stripes- tacit or actual – no politician would dare undermine the First and expect to curry public favour. For that to happen, the mainstream must accept the promotion of religious ideology in the public domain as legitimate.  And that’s why every religious believer must be challenged who dares to suggest that their religious beliefs beyond the merely personal are either innocuous or good. They’re not. They are just as likely to be poisonous.

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