Questionable Motives

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.

March 3, 2011

What might life without god be like?

Filed under: God,values — tildeb @ 10:07 am

November 28, 2010

Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?

Filed under: belief,Blair,Debate,God,Hitchens — tildeb @ 3:36 pm

Tony Blair vs The Hitch

October 15, 2010

Why does a ‘miracle’ look just like human ingenuity?

So here’s the thread of the religious thief making the rounds these days after the 33 Chilean miners were rescued:

Once feared dead, 33 trapped Chilean miners began to emerge Tuesday night after more than two months underground. Among the necessities that sustained them 2000 feet down were food, vitamins, supplemental air and, according to many reports, their faith. (Elizabeth Tenety, The Washington Post)

Prayers and well wishes from around the world reached the miners. Pope Benedict prayed for them after a mass in August, and the Vatican sent blessed rosaries “as a sign of the Pope’s closeness with them.” Priests and ministers visited the site in the predominantly Catholic country. The Baptist Press reported that two miners “accepted Christ” during their ordeal. The Seventh-day Adventists sent mini-bibles down to the crew, highlighting Psalm 40: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit … and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.”

So let’s see: how exactly did any religious knowledge help in this rescue? Other than perhaps raise flagging hopes with the absurd notion that some supernatural deity would intervene on their behalf, the miners were able to survive because of human preparedness that stocked a safe area with food and water, which allowed them to survive long enough for other humans to dedicate the necessary resources to solving the engineering problem of gaining access to a small area 2000 feet lower than the surface through layers of different kinds of rock to resupply them with food and water while a larger transit tube was built for their eventual removal. And it all worked.

So should we praise god for human ingenuity?

The truth of the matter is that we have no evidence that any god played any part in the success of the rescue mission. But rest assured that we will now we get to sit back and watch various religions try to steal the credit due solely to the hard work and dedication and tremendous effort of people like the engineer who led the Chilean rescue efforts Andres Sougarett and the international aid and expertise of other mining engineers who are the only ones who made manifest this successful conclusion. God didn’t transport these miners to the surface: Andres Sougarett and his team did. To say otherwise steals directly from their proper due

But that’s what fuels religious belief: thievery of favourable natural processes, thievery of favourable human endeavors, thievery of favourable and beneficial outcomes. It’s all owed to god, we are told, and is our just reward for believing in magic and invisible superpowers and specific kinds of superstition.

And where is this same argument – this same justification for evidence of god’s favour – when the natural processes are brutal and indifferent to the human suffering it causes? Where is god when human endeavors are disastrous? Where is god when bad luck and unfortunate timing yields pain and death? Oh… well… umm… we can’t allow god to be mature enough to accept both ends of the responsibility spectrum, you see… bad for the image, don’t you know. No, we must allocate to god only success and benevolence to match up with our claim that god is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere at all times, and – of course – benevolent. And any evidence against this template is simply dismissed because, well, you know… it’s god. (Now imagine how well we would serve ourselves if we practiced that same delusional and apologetic thinking on behalf of British Petroleum or President Obama or Prime Minister Netanyahu or Osama bin Laden.)

Let’s take a moment and appreciate just how neolithic is the human urge to grant power to superstition and divine agency when faced with adversity and helplessness:

The ninth man to emerge from the mine was Mario Gomez, a 63-year old who, CNN reported, “became the group’s spiritual leader and requested a crucifix and statuettes of saints so the men could construct a shrine.”

A shrine. Yes, that’s the ticket home.

Although it may be of psychological benefit to pretend that our actions curry favour from deities when we can do nothing else but sit back and wait, what rescued these miners was in no way supernatural; it was man-made, designed and empowered by a method of thinking that yields practical and consistent results. It enables knowledge to be gained and built upon, and then successfully implemented, and we should not for a single moment give thanks to Ooogity Boogity, nor pretend that religious belief has any right to ‘celebrate’ this human achievement in its own name rather than humanity’s. We should celebrate this shining example of human ingenuity – not religious hocus pocus – which again proves to ourselves that this method of thinking rationally – what is called methodological naturalism – has the potential to save lives when we use our ingenuity wisely. And the wisest way is to first get over the infantile belief that supernatural interventionist benevolent deities will act on our behalf if we pay proper homage to them. That kind of thinking stops ingenuity dead in its tracks and returns us to the wishful thinking that accompanies the shivering and hopeless cave-dwellers we once were, that these miners were without any means of escape. We have moved on, and we all have access to this escape tube built by man’s method of gaining natural knowledge. It’s high time more of us escaped our self-imposed caves and altering the associated thinking we carry with us from that distant and ignorant past. We move out of the cave when we abandon our willingness to accept ignorance. It’s time to leave the shrines behind in the caves where they belong.

Let’s grow up enough to start to trust ourselves and our abilities. It is time to stand up to those among us who wish to steal our achievements in the name of their religion. Each of us needs to choose either to stay in the comfort of the cave with our beads and bone rattles, our magical chants and body paints and funny hats, or choose to drop the pretense of what we merely believe may be true for what is probably true, likely, accurate, and correct in order to explore what lies beyond our beliefs. We don’t need any imaginary hand-holding by our invisible Sky Daddy to undertake this scary but thrilling ascent. We really are brave and capable enough to go it alone. And the rewards are worth it.

September 4, 2010

Do we need some help understanding why Hawking thinks no god is necessary?

Here is an extract from The Times (no link because you have to pay) about Hawkings new book:

Modern physics leaves no place for God in the creation of the Universe, Stephen Hawking has concluded.

Just as Darwinism removed the need for a creator in the sphere of biology, Britain’s most eminent scientist argues that a new series of theories have rendered redundant the role of a creator for the Universe.

In his forthcoming book, an extract from which is published exclusively in Eureka, published today with The Times, Professor Hawking sets out to answer the question: “Did the Universe need a creator?” The answer he gives is a resounding “no”.

Far from being a once-in-a-million event that could only be accounted for by extraordinary serendipity or a divine hand, the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, Hawking says.

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist,” he writes.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going,” he finds.

There has been the predictable kerfuffle from the religious apologists about why Hawking must be wrong including this atrocious one from The Mail Online by Prof. John Lennox. Does he simply miss Hawking’s main point and concludes that the error must lie there? Or has Hawking made a blunder so obvious that even the creationist blowhards at the Discovery Institute pick up on it? Yes, it’s easy to believe that they are much more clever and insightful than Hawking. Even so, I wonder which it may be? Can anyone help?

Perhaps Prof. Sean Carroll can. Here’s quick summary of what Hawking means:

And The Wall Street Journal article written by Hawking and his co-author Mlodinow seems a pretty straightforward explanation to me (but I’m hardly of the same intellectual caliber of the Big Brained writers and Deep Thinkers and now humourists at the Disco-tute):

The idea that the universe was designed to accommodate mankind appears in theologies and mythologies dating from thousands of years ago. In Western culture the Old Testament contains the idea of providential design, but the traditional Christian viewpoint was also greatly influenced by Aristotle, who believed “in an intelligent natural world that functions according to some deliberate design.”

That is not the answer of modern science. As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.

In other words, no creator god is necessary.

July 22, 2010

Isn’t the science classroom the birthplace of atheism?

Filed under: Critical Reasoning,God,Science — tildeb @ 8:28 pm

Umm, no. I came across this interesting article that I think addresses the question very well. A physics teacher tells us about his job and how he handles questions about god in his science classroom and think it has a very important message, with some added boldface by me:

Despite appearances to the contrary, science in schools is not just about teaching facts and figures, it is about teaching the way in which humans have arrived at answers to questions ranging from how life reproduces itself to how the stars shine. Science lessons should equip students with critical thinking skills, the most important of which is to ask for evidence for claims about “truth“. If we’ve succeeded in teaching these skills, it’s inevitable that some of our religious students will ask “what is the proof for the existence of a god?” and it’s inevitable that some of these students will not be happy with the stock religious answers to this question.

If my colleagues and I do our jobs properly, our students should go away with a story about the history of life and the universe that is far richer, far grander and far more detailed than that presented in any religious text. More importantly, they should go away with an understanding of how and why this story has been written. (A) proper science education should equip young people to arrive at their own decisions about what to believe, and ensure that if they do conclude there is a god, it is a god who doesn’t stop them from fully appreciating the truth and beauty of scientific knowledge.

I heartily endorse this approach.

May 18, 2010

Dismantling creationism: how can this happen?

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

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

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

April 25, 2010

How can we get rid of the New Atheists’ reason for being?

From the Nigerian Tribune:
Citizen Oluwatoyin Oluseesin was killed recently by irate students of the Government Day Secondary School, Gandu, Gombe State, where, until her gruesome murder, she was a contract staff member.

The deceased was reportedly assigned to invigilate the SS1 students who were writing their Islamic Religious Knowledge paper when she observed that one of the students was attempting to smuggle some books into the examination hall. Sensing that a foul play was about to take place, she allegedly collected the books and threw them outside.

Unfortunately, that simple act of preventing the occurrence of fraud was to prove fatal for Mrs. Oluseesin. Unknown to her, a copy of the Holy Qur’an was among the books she allegedly collected from the aberrant student and threw outside. Newspaper reports claimed that she was attacked outside the school premises after the examination and beaten to death by the students for allegedly desecrating the holy book. Efforts made by the principal of the school, Mr. Mohammed Sadiq, to control the rampaging students, the reports further claimed, proved abortive. His attempt to protect the victim by hiding her in his office also failed. He was reportedly beaten up by the riotous students who also burnt down his car as well as three classrooms, the school’s clinic, library and the administrative block.

Acting on religious belief is unjustified. The sooner we accept this concept for judging any behaviour in the public domain that attempts to use religious belief as an excuse, the sooner religious apologists will have to stop pretending that religious belief’s intrusion into areas of public policy, law, education and governance is somehow acceptable. It isn’t. Religious belief has no business in the public domain because it is informed by nothing but assertion and assumption.

Want to get rid of the New Atheists’ reason for being and protect people like Oluwatoyin Oluseesin from the hatred of the religious mob? What better way than making public expressions of religious faith tantamount to an attack on religious freedom and supporting the return of religious belief to the private domain where each of us has the freedom to believe whatever delusion that comforts us the most and leaves our neighbours free from us attempting to reduce their rights and freedoms and dignity of personhood in the name of some unjustified religious belief?

April 20, 2010

Why is attribution to link cause with effect so important to determining what’s true?

I would have thought this question was pretty easy to answer but I have come across many religious believers who have serious difficulty understanding why. For example, I am told repeatedly (and I presume honestly) with great assurance that testimonials and revelation lead to a transformative experience that itself is strong evidence that god (or some ‘outside’ agency) exists and intervenes in meaningful ways in our world. When we unpack the meaning of this claim, we find that the link is very tenuous between having an experience and attributing some outside supernatural agency to what caused it.

I have found that believers in supernatural agencies are quite willing to attribute to these supernatural agencies to whatever cause is currently unknown, misunderstood, or poorly informed – what many call the god of the gaps, referring to assigning god to whatever gaps we have in our knowledge. But it goes much further than that, I think.

From demonic possession to the building of the pyramids, from the ghostly squeak in the floorboards in the dead of night to the influence of the stars on our fate, far too many people attribute these things or events or imaginings to a single, easy, completely unjustified source: it was oogity boogity! (Fill in whatever name to some supernatural agency you may wish here)

So what’s the harm, right? If people want to believe oogity boogity links cause to effect, who cares? People have a right to believe in whatever they want, so the excuse goes. And I agree… as long as this belief stays within the private domain where it belongs. People are allowed to delude themselves and pretend that their attributions to supernatural agencies are as valid an explanation as any repeatable, testable, measurable, falsifiable and reliable explanation that clearly links cause to effect by means of a consistent mechanism, one that works here as well as there today and tomorrow. But when that supernatural explanation is inserted into the public domain and people support the insertion because they happen to agree with the attribution rather than causal truth value, then we are opening the door to lunacy.

Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media (brought to us by Yahoo News). Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader. “A divine authority told me to tell the people to make a general repentance. Why? Because calamities threaten us,” Sedighi said. Referring to the violence that followed last June’s disputed presidential election, he said, “The political earthquake that occurred was a reaction to some of the actions (that took place). And now, if a natural earthquake hits Tehran, no one will be able to confront such a calamity but God’s power, only God’s power. … So let’s not disappoint God.”

Minister of Welfare and Social Security Sadeq Mahsooli said prayers and pleas for forgiveness were the best “formulas to repel earthquakes. We cannot invent a system that prevents earthquakes, but God has created this system and that is to avoid sins, to pray, to seek forgiveness, pay alms and self-sacrifice,” Mahsooli said.

When we allow attribution between a cause and effect to have no natural mechanism to measure its truth value but, instead, allow for whatever supernatural explanation people want to be inserted in its place, we are setting the stage for exactly this kind of lunacy. There is no known way to link dress to tectonic activities, so the attribution to god is as good as one that attributes the link to the nefarious deeds of intergalactic mushrooms.

So next time a politician tells you that he or she will support some oogity boogity to be inserted into public policy, take issue with it. Don’t allow your private preferences for assigning a favoured supernatural attribution to sway you; religious or not, your civic duty to all your neighbours is to keep all oogity boogity out of public policy altogether.

Prepare for the Raptor?

Filed under: Argument,Atheism,belief,commentary,God,Morality,Secularism — tildeb @ 9:46 am

Food for thought over at boing boing with an article from Adam Savage. Many good comments, too.

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