Questionable Motives

March 22, 2011

Why are Priests for Life theological thugs?

First, who is Baby Joesph Maracchli and second, what’s the big deal about his medical care?

Joseph Maracchli, the son of Lebanese immigrants, was born on January 22, 2010, and his parents say they noticed he couldn’t eat or breathe properly and wouldn’t open his eyes or cry. The family, who lives in Windsor, Ontario on the Canada – United States border near Michigan, took him to a Michigan hospital in June 2010, where he was diagnosed with a metabolic brain disease, which the doctor said would make him developmentally delayed. Maracchli was treated and returned to normal after a month. However, in October 2010 he developed a fever and was breathing rapidly and was rushed to the emergency room and later transferred to the London Health Sciences Centre in London (LHSC), Ontario. The hospital said he was in a persistent vegetative state from which he would never recover. Maracchli’s family wanted the staff there to do a tracheotomy so that they could take him home and he could die in the care of his family instead of a hospital. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?

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.

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.

Enter our heroes, the Priests for Life, those celibate men of the cloth who (incredibly and without shame) think their religious beliefs equip them with the kind of god-soaked moral knowledge necessary to determine proper medical treatment over and above a team of highly trained and specialized medical professionals who actually care for children as their daily job. Let us keep in mind that there has never been a suffering life these meddling priests have not tried to prolong. The Terri Schiavo debacle immediately comes to mind.

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University picks up the story:

Little Joseph Maraachli is a new poster boy for the “pro-life” movement. But what has happened to him should instead teach us what to do – and what not to do – if we are really serious about saving human lives. The 13-month-old from Canada, who has been having medical treatment for most of his short life, suffers from a severe neurodegenerative disease. He has difficulty breathing on his own. His head is small for his age and has not grown for three months. He has seizures. His pupils do not respond to light or follow a moving object. His movements are not purposeful.

Then Priests for Life, a Catholic -abortion and anti-euthanasia organization stepped in, chartering an air ambulance to fly Joseph from Canada to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, a Catholic hospital, in St. Louis, which will perform the operation the parents requested.

“We Rescued Baby Joseph!” says a page on the Priests for Life website. The organization’s director, the Rev. Frank Pavone, says he has been told that it could cost as much as $150,000 for Joseph’s stay in the pediatric intensive care unit. That doesn’t include the cost of the aircraft, which would have added thousands more to the bill. Priests for Life is, of course, asking its supporters to donate to pay these costs.

Here’s the irony. According to the most rigorous charity evaluation agency in the country, GiveWell.org, you can save a child’s life for about $1,000. All you have to do is give the money to their top-rated charity, Village Reach, which delivers vaccines and other urgently needed medical supplies to rural areas in developing countries.

If Priests for Life were really serious about saving lives, instead of “rescuing” Joseph so he can live another few months lying in bed, unable to experience the normal joys of childhood, let alone become an adult, they could have used the money they have raised to save 150 lives – most of them children who would have gone on to live healthy, happy lives for 50 years or more.

We’ve seen such things happen before. In 2005 the anti-abortion movement put a huge effort, and large sums of money, into “saving” Terri Schiavo. In the end, after Congress had been recalled specifically to enable a federal court to hear the case, she was allowed to die. An autopsy showed her brain had been severely and irreversibly damaged.

We can obsess over Joseph and Terri – or we can make an honest effort to save the lives of countless children whose names we may never know. It is our choice.

But the Priests for Life don’t want to save lives in the sense of protecting the dignity of those who are already alive yet suffering; they want to prolong the biological functioning of a body regardless of the suffering… the younger the better and a fetus especially, even if it kills women to do so. Since becoming involved in the medical treatment of Baby Joseph, the Priests for Life have mobilized support from the likes of the Hope Network and the legions of catholics and christians who think these groups do god’s work. Now the medical staff at LSHC have been the recipients of the kind of faith-based love the anti-abortion crowd – championed as they are by Priests for Life – sends out to those who disagree with their beliefs: hate mail and death threats.

Oh, I can hear the faithful claiming loudly that those extremists don’t represent the mainstream religious.

But they do.

You see, Priests for Life and the anti-choice crowd are no different than the mainstream believers in that they don’t give a rat’s ass respecting your life;  they care only for life, which according to their beliefs belongs not to you but their god. And they will continue to act accordingly not to respect your rights and freedoms as an autonomous individual where dignity of personhood must reside, if the term ‘personal dignity’ is to have any personal meaning, but as god’s Stormtroopers out to protect what belongs to him. That’s why they’re theological thugs and are empowered by those who respect their beliefs about what god owns over and above respecting your personal dignity.

March 13, 2011

Why is suffering a fatal flaw for belief in a benevolent creator?

Most of us know of Epicurus’ succinct summation evil causes belief in a benevolent god:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

The slippery term in this paradox for believers is ‘evil’. I think we can reveal the same fatal paradox without the metaphysical baggage that accompanies such a term by replacing it with the word ‘suffering’. I am certainly not the first to do so and I think it tears away the comforting veil of ignorance that infuses belief in a benevolent god when we look at how the world actually and factually operates.

Life and death on this planet has come about as we know it by the process of evolution, a system Lord Tennyson accurately describes as “red in tooth and claw.” Suffering by sentient beings is simply part and parcel of this mindless, unguided, undirected, indifferent biological mechanism. This is a problem for those who would prefer to believe in a benevolent creator. As blogger and ex Anglican priest, Eric MacDonald so eloquently describes the problem evolution creates for the believer this way:

If this is a consciously designed process (evolution by design as held by many notable people such as Francis Collins and those allied to the same notion endorsed by the rc church and many other denominations), as Christians must maintain — for, from the Christian point of view, god’s first priority is the creation of human beings and their redemption — then all the suffering is an intentional part of god’s purposes. And this is simply intolerable. It cannot stand a moment’s moral reflection, and certainly the doctrine of double effect won’t change the mind of a reasonable person on this matter, for you cannot not intend suffering if you create by means of natural selection.

From an academically and scientifically honest standpoint, evolution is fact that is fatal to the argument that a creator god is benevolent.

So what’s a believer in a benevolent creator to do? In England, an imam with the audacity to suggest evolution is compatible with islam if the Koran is interpreted just so, one must apologize and retract such a statement if one wishes to avoid being killed as an apostate. In the US, one must contend with repeated attempts by the religiously misguided to keep creationism from being inserted into the science classroom, spending untold millions  of taxpayer dollars to continue this separation intact. The latest attack against science is in Tennessee. The one is Kentucky has just died… for this session. The one is Texas is still going strong as it works its way towards approved legislation. Florida tries every year and this one is no different. Louisiana has already passed it’s anti-evolution bill as if this will magically improve the state’s dismal showing in student science knowledge. And so on, and so on, and so on, even after creationism has been soundly defeated in every federal court case brought against its insertion into the public school science curriculum. (The latest was in Dover in 2005.) Religious beliefs about a creator – no matter under what recent title it tries on for public acceptance – have no scientific credibility nor validity. This is not a preference or belief by people who would prefer this not to be so: it’s a fact… and a fact that far too many religious people seem unable and unwilling to grasp. When such facts are contrary to what is believed to be true by those who respect faith-based beliefs, then obviously the facts must be wrong! There’s nothing like a legislative act to set the facts on the path to redemption.

Good grief.

The world, however – and  no matter where we look at it – continues to offer up the brutal fact that creationism is not only a fairytale but that its supposed benevolence is identical in all meaningful ways to that of a delusion. For example, the latest and devastating earthquakes in New Zealand and China and  Japan is accompanied by undeniable indiscriminate death and much human suffering.  Tsunamis add their additional effects. Plate tectonics and the accompanying geological and hydrological effects are just as mindless, unguided, undirected, and indifferent a physical mechanism as biological evolution is and the resulting human suffering just as obvious. The physical evidence for mindless cause and effect of these mechanisms is overwhelming. Where is the evidence for benevolence versus the suffering these mechanisms cause?

No where.

Let us now turn to the pious who feel some level of compassion and empathy for the suffering of their fellow creatures in the wake of these disasters. A.C. Grayling offers us this glimpse into the reasoning that is avoided by those who decide to offer up their prayers to some benevolent creator for these distant folk suffering from calamity. Following the same reasoning of Epicurus’s paradox, he wonders about why anyone would show fealty to such an obvious metaphysical monster some think of as a benevolent creator:

For if he is not competent to stop an earthquake or save its victims, he is definitely not competent to create a world. And if he is powerful enough to do both, but created a dangerous world that inflicts violent and agonizing sufferings arbitrarily on sentient creatures, then he is vile. Either way, what are people thinking who believe in such a being, and who go to church to praise and worship it? How, in the face of events which human kindness and concern registers as tragic and in need of help – help which human beings proceed to give to their fellows: no angels appear from the sky to do it – can they believe such an incoherent fiction as the idea of a deity? This is a perennial puzzle.

Indeed it is.

This desire by the pious to believe in a literal Santa Claus-ian benevolent creator is not just foolishly childish and comforting as only a delusion can be; it is a faith-based belief that incessantly gives god-sanctioned motivation to those who directly attack both evidence-based fact as apostasy and intellectually honest reason as some kind of evil plot to undermine god. That some continue to insist that we can accommodate religion and science – allow respect for what some believe is true as well for what IS true – is foolhardy as well as intentionally dishonest. It is foolhardy because it interferes with folk who think there is a legitimate choice to be made between accepting what is factually true and faith-based beliefs as some kind of equivalent source for knowledge in spite of no evidence for this to be the case (and much evidence in stark contrast to this case), and dishonest because for these same folk it reduces  what is true to be conditional on some collection of faith-based beliefs they have chosen to accept as true first. Yet faith-based beliefs add nothing honest to our understanding of the world nor any true appreciation for the dependent role we suffer for our lives on it and much disinformation and misrepresentation of how the world actually is and how it actually works and how we actually cause effects in it.

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).

December 28, 2010

What is the faith cake?

Filed under: belief,Critical Reasoning,Faith,Religion,Science,theology — tildeb @ 2:00 pm

(Thanks to QualiaSoup)

December 5, 2010

How do the religious undermine the Golden Rule?

I read many comments and articles by ‘moderate’ theists who suggest that, at their core, religious beliefs are really all the same, that what people are responding to with various kinds of religious faiths is recognizing the transcendent, honouring the spiritual, paying homage to a felt but never seen creative and loving force. It all sounds so… well, kumba ya-ish. And heart-warmingly lovely, mitigating the trivial differences that so easily separate us and acts like a special kind of blessed force (unseen by athiets, of course) that promotes the common good.

And then I read something like this and have to remind myself that the metaphorical holding of religious hands argued by different theists about life-enhancing nature of religious compatibility is nothing more than soothing lies we find in the daily practice of religious beliefs that inform how we behave towards others.

A 17 year old girl lived a hellish life and died a horrible death because of people acting on their religious convictions. More religion will never solve this ongoing and familiar tragedy played out in the lives of us little people who grant their religious convictions and the convictions of others a legitimate role in determining how to behave in ways that supposedly honour a god.

This is insane. And it’s insane because doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – some divine enhancement in the lives of humans – is not a rational nor reasonable expectation. Such a belief that a different result will occur is maintained in spite of contrary yet consistent evidence of harm caused by acting on religious convictions. When we choose to empower such beliefs with an assumption that they are legitimate because they involve some homage to a deity, then we have left the arena of what is rational, what is reasonable, what is probable, what is likely true, and entered the arena of what is is merely hoped for, what is wished, what is improbable, what is likely false. And this legitimizing of what is hoped for in spite of evidence to the contrary is not compatible with empowering respect and audience for what is true. Expecting more religious belief to magically find some way to stop the kind of human abuse people commit in the name of some god is crazy talk. It’s delusional. It’s dangerous and, in the case of Nurta Mohamed Farah, deadly.

Anyone who thinks that religious belief has a legitimate and compatible role to play in helping anyone determine how to treat other human beings with dignity and respect is guilty of helping to legitimize the actions of people to do terrible things to other people for exactly the same reasons. By legitimizing the intentions of those who act to honour some god, we legitimize the basis of such assumptions that they are true, that they are accurate, that they are correct. Such assumptions help to legitimize delusion and insanity rather than what’s rational and reasonable and backed by consistent evidence. Those who assume that religious belief is equivalent to rational thinking have no evidence to insist the two are compatible methods of inquiry, compatible voices that need to be heard, compatible means to inform morality and ethical behaviour, compatible avenues to establishing respect not only for the rights and freedoms and dignity of other people but how to act in ways that achieve these results. The evidence does not support this assumption. What evidence there is shows that by legitimizing delusional thinking, we legitimize its failure to respect other people’s claim to equal rights, legitimize its failure to establish equal freedoms, legitimize its failure to support equal respect between people, and we see this failure played out in religious inspired tragedy after religious inspired tragedy.

Isn’t it high time in the 21st century to stop tolerating and legitimizing this failed voice offered up as a compatible way of achieving noble goals and Enlightenment values by the religiously deluded? The religious perspective has nothing to offer any of us but more failure to be reasonable and rational and consistent with the evidence in every area of human endeavor in which it is granted a fair hearing. Isn’t it time we recognized its failure? Isn’t it time that we gave full credence to the rational and reasonable voice  of a basic equality and dignity for all in shared rights and freedoms and reject the anti-rational voice of delusion? Is that not the least we can do on an individual basis if for no other reason than in memory of this one girl whose sad life was warped and twisted and ended by the deluded in the name of their religious beliefs? Isn’t a human life more important in and of itself to be treated as we ourselves wish to be treated – with the same level of dignity and respect – than simply as a piece of property of some god to be used and abused by the faithful who claim to be fulfilling god’s wishes?

We really do have to choose eventually because these different perspectives and antithetical methods of achieving our goals are not compatible. Agreeing at the very least to empower the Golden Rule seems to be a good starting point for everybody… unless you are deluded, in which case your opinions should not be invited to the grown-up’s table.

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.

November 13, 2010

Just how gullible does the Roman Catholic Church want Americans to be?

This is the US we’re talking about, land of the free, home of the brave, the shining city on the hill, the Nobel prize capital of the world. So, naturally, I thought the roman catholic church was so busy vilifying secularists and the great evil they represent – including such theistic affronts as human rights, political freedoms, dignity of personhood, respect for scientific understanding, and all that mundane, temporal jazz – that I assumed this conference was a bunch of modern day catholics poking fun at one of their absurdities from almost-ancient history.

Isn’t that the way most enlightened and educated Americans think about demonic possession?

But when it comes to treating demonic possession, the rc church is all business. It remains steadfast in bringing to bear all the modern weaponry at its disposal for the modern American citizen: exorcisms! That’s right, folks. There is growing need for them and the church needs to step up and do its theological duty. Cast that demon out. Use force if you have to. That very difficult and demanding expertise includes the brute force of using conjugated Latin, too. Very scary stuff to any demon to be sure… and even scarier to young people everywhere who need to learn it. Nevertheless, let us press on and read about what the rc church is doing behind closed doors at a hush-hush Baltimore conference:

There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists (it IS a university degree after all), but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil.

Now, American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.

Let’s ponder that last quote for a moment. Exorcism is needed when the devil is involved. Otherwise, one doesn’t really need that directed Latin. I see.

“But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary,” he said. “But we have to be prepared.”

Yes, I strongly suspect that is rare. And extraordinary. And supernatural, it goes without saying. But the church is on the job. Take THAT, you evil secularist doubter who stands by while that misogynistic Satan has his way with small boys and helps protect the pedophiles in his employ. Oh, wait… I’m thinking of… umm… (diversion is needed)… Squirrel!

Where was I? Exorcism. Right.

So how does one diagnose demonic possession?

Some of the classic signs of possession by a demon, Bishop Paprocki said, include speaking in a language the person has never learned (excluding Latin, I presume); extraordinary shows of strength; a sudden aversion to spiritual things like holy water or the name of God; and severe sleeplessness, lack of appetite and cutting, scratching and biting the skin.

A person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness, according to Vatican guidelines issued in 1999, which superseded the previous guidelines, issued in 1614.

1999. Yup. New guidelines. 1999. The age of rare, extraordinary, supernatural demonic infestations are being re-defined by Vatican bureaucrats for their version of the disease in DSM IV (under Demonic Possession, no doubt) while atom colliders are being built deep underground, genomes are being catelogued, and missions to Mars are being carried out.

Now that leaves me wondering what kind of doctor rules out mental or physical illness for a bat shit crazy person babbling incoherently (sorry… speaking in ‘tongues’ is the correct lingo I think) and exhibiting violent behaviours including self harm? I would tend to think it must be a bat shit crazy doctor who is no longer able to maintain a living as a general practitioner… for somewhat obvious reasons of having lost his mind and turning to Oogity Boogity! for his professional opinion. I’m glad that such a person is not my family doctor and the church is welcome to him (I assume no women would fit the employment criteria… having the wrong gonads and all).

“People are talking about, are we taking two steps back?” Father Vega said. “My first reaction when I heard about the exorcism conference was, this is another of those trappings we’ve pulled out of the past.”

But he said that there could eventually be a rising demand for exorcism because of the influx of Hispanic and African Catholics to the United States. People from those cultures, he said, are more attuned to the experience of the supernatural.

That’s religious-speak for too damned ignorant to know any better, which is just the way the church likes ’em. Especially those with an MD after their names. Always room at the inn, dontcha know, if you have the right gonads, the right frequency tuned to bat shit crazy, and the right gullibility to think modern medicine and demonic possession are mutually accommodating.

And people think science and religion are incompatible. I know! Those militant, strident, and arrogant atheistic secularists say the most ridiculous things!

August 28, 2010

Do these claims against atheists look familiar?

Excellent article by Edmund Standing over at Butterflies & Wheels well worth the reading in its entirety from which I have taken these excerpts:

Claim 1: If an atheist reads a religion’s ‘holy book’ and find it to be full of vile, ignorant, and divisive material, the atheist is being unsophisticated in his or her approach. The atheist is ‘siding with the fundamentalists’ and consequently is not worth listening to.

Claim 2: If an atheist is to understand a ‘holy book’, they cannot simply read it, but must instead read it through liberal theological interpretive frameworks, and must understand that the ‘true message’ of the ‘holy book’ is something that emerges through the reflection of generations of interpretive communities, not through the plain and clear words that are actually printed on the page.

Neither of these arguments holds water, and are no more impressive when put forward by liberal Muslim apologists than when put forward by liberal Archbishops. These ‘arguments’, in Islam and in Christianity, are fundamentally intellectually dishonest and can only be the result of massive self-deception on the part of their proponents. There is really no case to answer, but I shall quickly knock down these claims again:

Response to Claim 1:

There is no logical reason why a supposed ‘holy book’ should not be taken at face value. This is especially the case in Islam, given a central belief in Islam is the claim that the Qur’an is a perfect, divinely authored text. This is not simply a ‘fundamentalist’ belief, but rather a mainstream belief. In fact, given the centrality of this belief, the use of the term ‘fundamentalist’ in regard to Islam is more problematic than with Judaism and Christianity because, as Sam Harris notes, ‘most Muslims appear to be “fundamentalist” in the Western sense of the word’. That is not to say that most Muslims are violent extremists, but that most at least pay lip service to the idea that they intrinsically view the nature of the Qur’an itself in exactly the same way as the extremists do.

Response to Claim 2:

The idea that ‘scholars’ who present Islam as dividing the world into believers and unbelievers and believe that Islam is supreme amongst religions have somehow ‘misinterpreted’ their faith is farcical, for throughout the Qur’an this is precisely the worldview that emerges. When religious liberals sugarcoat the clear meaning of their religious texts by claiming that we should not look directly at the text but rather at the writings of liberal ‘interpreters’ of the text, they are not basing their argument on anything approaching a logically coherent position, but rather on wishful thinking and self-deception, and they offer no firm, objective criteria by which such ‘interpretation’ can be seen as authentic.

Why attack moderates?

During the debates over religion that occurred during the Enlightenment, which were often framed in extremely harsh language, it was not violent extremists under attack, but the very notion of God, supernatural authority, and so on. The result of those debates ultimately was that religion in Europe took a beating and no longer represents any sort of threat to liberal democracy. Likewise, religious arguments in the political sphere are longer accepted on ‘divine’ authority, but must be articulated in such a way that they make sense in a secular context. While Muslim moderates are doing – or trying to do – good work in hindering extremism, they must also accept that the Enlightenment critique also applies to their beliefs, and that in the adult world people have every right to make criticisms, even of liberal religion, that may appear ‘nasty’ on first reading. If liberal Muslims are willing to trample on the beliefs of their less moderate co-religionists, then they must also be prepared to have their beliefs trampled on as well. No-one would consider that their personal political views should be exempt from criticism just because they are non-violent political views, and it would be an absurd and worrying precedent to be set were that the case. Religion is no different. Despite the fact that religious people seem to have a lot emotionally invested in their ‘faith’, the fact remains that religion, just like politics, is an ideology, and as such it is a perfectly legitimate target for criticism and debate, even if it is liberal and moderate in its nature.

There is one further point about moderates which has been well articulated by Sam Harris. It’s an argument worth considering. In the short run, pragmatically speaking, moderates appear to be a good thing, but their continued identification with a belief system that is extremely open to far less liberal interpretations may actually perpetuate the survival of its more irrational and beligerent forms. While moderate Muslims can criticise Islamism and offer alternative ‘interpretations’ of the Qur’an, they still maintain in doing so that the Qur’an does have some kind of authority.

Ultimately, Islam and the Qur’an do not pose problems because of ‘misinterpretation’, but rather because they belong to a world far from modernity and are actually of no relevance to modernity. Atheists have every right to point this out, even if it means criticising those who are nonetheless doing good work against extremism. Moderate Islam and moderate Quran’ic ‘interpretation’ offer no real bulwark against those who read the text of the Qur’an and take it at face value, as a perfect and divinely authored text. Only by acknowledging that any notion of a divinely authored book is simply false, by accepting the harsh reality that this book is in fact useless (and indeed dangerous) in the modern context, and by embracing human reason and freethinking will the curse of Islamic extremism ultimately be overcome.

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.



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