Questionable Motives

March 29, 2010

Is the tone of religious criticism important?

Richard Dawkins has written a short article answering the question, “Should the pope resign?”

As an atheist, Dawkins is often vilified as too strident, too aggressive, too unqualified about sophisticated theology to speak to the nuances of religious belief. His tone, in other words, is all wrong to be effective, we hear from so many ‘I’m an atheist, but…’ apologists.  Clearly, Dawkins has no respect for beliefs that are not concerned with what is true, and that central tenet of Dawkins’ philosophy must be kept in mind if one is to appreciate what the man brings to the discussion table regarding religious belief and its effects in the world. You may not appreciate the messenger, but the message is clear and truthful.

So when he Dawkins is asked to give his opinion, religious moderates and apologetic atheists need to gird their loins for what is to follow because they are about to hear the truth without the sugarcoating niceties so favoured by the apologetic faint of heart set.

“Should the pope resign?”

No. As the College of Cardinals must have recognized when they elected him, he is perfectly – ideally – qualified to lead the Roman Catholic Church. A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence: in short, exactly the right man for the job. He should not resign, moreover, because he is perfectly positioned to accelerate the downfall of the evil, corrupt organization whose character he fits like a glove, and of which he is the absolute and historically appropriate monarch.

No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice – the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution – while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.

The tone? Short, to the point, in your face, here’s the truth, now deal with it, kind of tone.

Shocking? So what? Is it true?

Now let’s look at what criticizing the tone really means.

Greta Christina has written a lovely response to those people who troll their concern about this very issue: tone.

Dear Believer:

Thank you for your concern about the well-being of the atheist movement, and for your advice on how to run it. I appreciate your concern for the image of the atheist movement, and I appreciate you taking the time to give us advice on how to get our message across more effectively.

In particular, I have received your observation that attempts to persuade people out of their religious beliefs are often seen as rude or offensive — along with your suggestion that we therefore should stop making our case altogether. I have also received your suggestion that, if we do feel it necessary to point out the flaws in religion, we do so gently and diplomatically, making the avoidance of any possible offense or hurt feelings our absolute top priority. I have received your observation that attempts to persuade people out of religious beliefs can be divisive, possibly alienating the progressive ecumenical religious community — and I have received your suggestion that we should therefore concentrate entirely on anti-discrimination and separation of church and state issues that we have in common with progressive believers, and abandon any focus on pointing out the flaws in religion or the harm done by it. And I have received your suggestion that we avoid any use of anger, humor, mockery, passion, and other traditional methods of drawing attention to controversial ideas, and that in the future we make our case soberly, moderately, and with little fanfare. These suggestions are certainly interesting, and I will give them all due consideration.

However, while your concern for the well-being of the atheist movement is certainly appreciated, I can assure you that it is unwarranted. rates of religious non-belief are going up at a substantial rate — a rate that even surprises many of us — all over the United States and all over the world. This trend is especially true among young people… arguably the most important demographic for any social change movement. What’s more, I personally have been told by several people that they left their religion and became atheists, in part, because of things I’ve written. And I know that I left my own religious beliefs, in large part, because of things that were written by people in the atheist movement. Clearly, we are doing something right.

It is difficult to avoid the observation that, whenever believers give advice to atheists on how to run our movement, it is always in the direction of telling us to be more quiet, to tone it down, to be less confrontational and less visible. I have yet to see a believer advise the atheist movement to speak up more loudly and more passionately; to make our arguments more compelling and more unanswerable; to get in people’s faces more about delicate and thorny issues that they don’t want to think about; to not be afraid of offending people if we think we’re right. I have received a great deal of advice from believers on how atheists should run our movement… and it is always, always, always in the direction of politely suggesting that we shut up.

You’ll have to forgive me if I think your suggestions on making our movement more effective would, in fact, have the exact opposite effect. What’s more, you’ll have to forgive me for suspecting that this, however unconsciously, is the true intention behind your very kind and no doubt sincerely- meant advice.

And you’ll have to forgive me if I am less than enthusiastic about taking advice on how to run the atheist movement from the very people our movement is trying to change.

And that’s the key point: the New Atheist movement recognizes the global danger unjustified religious beliefs that is organized and political brings to the world and is trying to do something about it not by violence or imposition but by discourse. The various styles and tones by which this is done are not the issue and never shall be; the issue is whether or not religious belief is justified to have say about anything. If we are concerned about what’s true, then we need to be very concerned with popular beliefs that are not.

And at the top of that list is religion. It is the criticism of unjustified beliefs that is important if one thinks that what’s true actually matters more the tone by which it occurs. Those whose opinions are more concerned with tone than what’s true are simply an impediment to meaningful discourse.

March 27, 2010

What is wrong with liberal apologists?

Nick Cohen brings us an answer from Standpoint magazine about how the far left has joined the far right:

The Conservatives’ main complaint about the borderless Left used to be that it allowed huge double standards. Polite society embraced ex- or actual communists and Trotskyists and treated them with a consideration they would have never extended to ex- or actual Nazis. The refusal of 21st-century left-wing and liberal opinion to separate itself from radical Islam is, however, a living disgrace with disastrous consequences for Europe.

You can see them everywhere if you are willing to look. In January, for instance, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband attended a “Progressive London” conference packed with the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which believes in the establishment of a totalitarian theocracy. George Galloway, who saluted the courage of Saddam Hussein, was there too, inevitably, as was Tariq Ramadan, the shifty academic who thinks there should only be a “moratorium” on the stoning to death of adulterous women rather than an outright ban. Imagine the fuss if, say, William Hague and Michael Gove had gone to a conference on the future of right-wing politics in London and joined members of the BNP, a far-right politician who had saluted the courage of Augusto Pinochet and an academic who argued for a “moratorium” on black immigration to Britain. The BBC would have exploded. It, along with everyone else, kept quiet, of course, about Harman and Miliband because they were from the Left and therefore could never be beyond the pale.

Nominally left-wing politicians’ appeasement of religious reactionaries is so routine that it takes a convulsive event to reveal the extent of liberal perfidy. The reaction of University College London to the news that its alumnus Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had tried to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day should have provided the shock therapy. The connection between British-bred extremism and mass murder was there for all to see, except that the authorities did not want to look.

I can see no more important task at present than working out how European liberalism has gone so badly wrong. Why does a culture that prides itself on its opposition to bigotry become so feeble when it confronts bigots dressed in the black robes of clerical reaction? Until we understand, we cannot cure, and there is an emerging understanding among those who worry about the dark turn liberals have taken that Western guilt lies at the root of their moral failure.

Ever since the Rushdie affair, the fear of religious violence has buzzed in the heads of liberal Europeans. The Islamists bombed London and Madrid, murdered Theo van Gogh, drove Ayaan Hirsi Ali into exile and forced politicians, most notably Muslim women politicians, to accept armed guards. On the scale of suffering in the world, Islamist violence in Europe is nothing remarkable. But a little fear goes a long way in rich and comfortable societies and sometimes the trouble with the liberals is not their guilt but that they do not begin to feel guilty enough about their cowardice and complicity.

March 23, 2010

Creeping religious accommodation: why should we enforce respect?

We shouldn’t.

Excerpts from John Hari’s article in The Independent:

In 2005, 12 men in a small secular European democracy decided to draw a quasi-mythical figure who has been dead for 1400 years. They were trying to make a point. They knew that in many Muslim cultures, it is considered offensive to draw Mohamed. But they have a culture too – a European culture that believes it is important to be allowed to mock and tease and ridicule religion. Some of the cartoons were witty. Some were stupid. One seemed to suggest Muslims are inherently violent – an obnoxious and false idea. If you disagree with the drawings, you should write a letter, or draw a better cartoon, this time mocking the cartoonists. But some people did not react this way. Instead, Islamist plots to hunt the artists down and slaughter them began. Earlier this year, a man with an axe smashed into one of their houses, and very nearly killed the cartoonist in front of his small grand-daughter.

This week, another plot to murder the cartoonists who drew caricatures of Mohammad seems to have been exposed, this time allegedly spanning Ireland and the United States, and many people who consider themselves humanitarians or liberals have rushed forward to offer condemnation – of the cartoonists. One otherwise liberal newspaper ran an article saying that since the cartoonists had engaged in an “aggressive act” and shown “prejudice… against religion per se”, so it stated menacingly that no doubt “someone else is out there waiting for an opportunity to strike again”.

Let’s state some principles that – if religion wasn’t involved – would be so obvious it would seem ludicrous to have to say them out loud. Drawing a cartoon is not an act of aggression. Trying to kill somebody with an axe is. There is no moral equivalence between peacefully expressing your disagreement with an idea – any idea – and trying to kill somebody for it. Yet we have to say this because we have allowed religious people to claim their ideas belong to a different, exalted category, and it is abusive or violent merely to verbally question them. Nobody says I should “respect” conservatism or communism and keep my opposition to them to myself – but that’s exactly what is routinely said about Islam or Christianity or Buddhism. What’s the difference?

This enforced “respect” is a creeping vine. It soon extends beyond religious ideas to religious institutions – even when they commit the worst crimes imaginable. It is now an indisputable fact that the Catholic Church systematically covered up the rape of children across the globe, and knowingly, consciously put paedophiles in charge of more kids. Joseph Ratzinger – who claims to be “infallible” – was at the heart of this policy for decades.

And the ever perceptive Jesus and Mo:

March 17, 2010

What is the key to accepting unjustified beliefs as true?

Several posts ago we looked at the issue of homeschooling biology textbooks out of Bob Jones University that endorsed creationism as a legitimate alternative to evolution. Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist and author of the excellent book Why Evolution Is True was asked to respond to a homeschooling parent who was concerned about this issue. He was then quoted in the New York times saying that these science textbooks lied to children by misrepresenting the science of biology and how irresponsible it was for parents to support this kind of lie for the maintenance of religious sensibilities over and above what is true.

I think to better understand how people can wholeheartedly believe unjustified notions (like creationism, for example) as if they were just as likely to be true as some notion informed by evidence and supported by a very high probability of the notion being true  (like evolution, for example) lies not in the facts as we find them but in the way we approach those facts.

Michael McHugh is head of a young-earth creationist organization, CLASS, that sells home-school materials on biology to parents. He states (on audio clip 100316 here) that the biology textbooks in question can select whatever ‘facts’ best supports the creationist worldview, that there are “no neutral facts.”  That is, every fact militates either for or against a certain worldview.  His suggestion for how to educate your kids involves choosing which worldview the parent believes suits them best, and then selecting the “facts” that fit this worldview.

That assertion is jaw-dropping stupid. It is so stupid, it burns. It is unconscionable in an educator, but it does explain an extraordinary phenomena we come across time and again of how people can remain fixated on some belief being true regardless of overwhelming contrary evidence. How can this be possible?

The mindset described by Michael McHugh explains exactly how so many otherwise rational people can become so selective in the ‘facts’ they already believe are representative of and meaningful to their worldview, while able to so callously disregard other ‘facts’ that are in direct conflict with the worldview. What this essentially means is that anyone who says “…there are ‘no neutral facts’…that is, every fact militates either for or against a certain worldview…” holds a worldview which cannot be changed by facts and will ignore or refute any evidence counter to their absolute premise. (Tip to #7 Oldfuzz commenting on WEIT about this subject.)

The facts don’t matter to someone who subscribes to this approach that no facts are neutral, that all facts militate for or against a worldview. But this approach means that all evidence does not count but only selected evidence, and this is exactly what we find with people who hold unjustified beliefs. They are only unjustified when all the evidence is considered, but appear highly justified when only carefully selected evidence is considered. In other words, to such people truth dos not matter. Inquiry is not needed. Intellectual integrity is disregarded. Knowledge is subordinate to and dependent on belief in that worldview.

And that’s exactly how ignorance becomes champion and can be promoted by so many well-intentioned homeschooling parents.

March 14, 2010

What are Mark Twain’s thoughts about god?

From Intelligent Design to the problem of suffering, Mark Twain cook up an answer to this question in this article with his usual humor and aplomb.

First the dash of humor:

How often we are moved to admit the intelligence exhibited in both the designing and the execution of some of His works. Take the fly, for instance. The planning of the fly was an application of pure intelligence, morals not being concerned. Not one of us could have planned the fly, not one of us could have constructed him; and no one would have considered it wise to try, except under an assumed name. It is believed by some that the fly was introduced to meet a long-felt want.

and then a bit of the aplomb:

We hear much about His patience and forbearance and long-suffering; we hear nothing about our own, which much exceeds it. We hear much about His mercy and kindness and goodness—in words—the words of His Book and of His pulpit—and the meek multitude is content with this evidence, such as it is, seeking no further; but whoso searcheth after a concreted sample of it will in time acquire fatigue. There being no instances of it.

Read the entire reproduced article here from Project Reason.

March 10, 2010

Why not contrast the teaching of evolution with a little creationist “cdesign proponentsists” in biology class?

Excerpts indented from this article at the New Scientist:

One of creationists’ favourite claims is that an organ as intricate as the eye could never have simply evolved. Fresh evidence to the contrary has now arrived, courtesy of a creature related to jellyfish.

The tiny freshwater hydra has no eyes but it will contract into a ball when exposed to sudden bright light. David Plachetzki and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have found that hydras “see” light using two proteins closely related to those in our own eyes.

“If you look at something as complex as an eye, you might be at a loss to explain how the whole structure evolved at once,” says Plachetzki, now at the University of California, Davis. “But if you look at its components you can start to piece together how it happened.” That’s especially feasible now that genes from the earliest animals, such as the hydra, are being sequenced.

Rod and cone cells in the human retina contain proteins called opsins that change shape when light strikes them. This causes another type of protein, an ion channel, to generate an electrical signal along nerves connecting the eye to the brain – a process called phototransduction.

Hydras have the same types of opsins and ion channels as we do.

Why? Why does a critter with no eyes have the same opsins and ion channels as we do? According to creationists, the ‘explanation’ is that god made the freshwater hydra this way, an explanation empty of meaning because it is empty of evidence to inform it. “God made it this way” is an unverifiable assertion, an assumption that the hypothesis is true without any means to test that truth claim. “god made it this way” is not a meaningful explanation because it provides no meaningful answer. Its explanatory power is zero, the equivalent of a null set. Many people think that this null set approach is legitimate ”science’ (creationists call it by another name in the world of scientific education: Intelligent Design, a term substituted into newer texts from older creationist tracts to present a different more modern face to this very old theological belief). Proponents of ID pretend that some ‘force’ must have produced the complexity we find in nature, making it, they claim, a legitimate alternative scientific theory to evolution without also proving us an explanatory framework within which we can find various ways and means to produce testable, verifiable, falsifiable, and predictable causal and correlational answers informed by evidence rather than meaningless assertions of supernatural intervention and divine design based on an assumed belief that such an assertion is true. On this scientific scale, ID is theological creationism repackaged and re-branded.

The theory of evolution offers an explanatory framework in which we can deduce that because both humans and freshwater hydras possess the same opsins and ion channels, we therefore should share a common ancestor. Critters who have different opsins and ion channels should not.

If biologists accepted this assertion and assumed that the word should means the same thing as the word does, without any further investigation to inform the assertion, then they would be open to the legitimate charge of merely holding a different belief than creationists. But real scientists don’t stop their investigations with assertions and simply assume them to be true. Real scientists must inform their hypothesis with something more than assertions and assumptions… a little thing called evidence. In the case of the freshwater hydra, real biologists ask the important question How might we determine, even indirectly, if we do share a common ancestor? and then attempt to account for any evidence that supports or refutes the hypothesis.

One avenue of investigation: as already mentioned, gene sequencing.

Plachetzki’s team then built a family tree of opsin gene sequences from 22 highly diverse creatures, and found that opsins in hydras and humans evolved from those in a common ancestor. Another line of descendants from the same ancestor gave rise to somewhat different opsins and ion channels in insect and mollusc eyes. This supports other indirect evidence, says Nilsson, that the hydras’ light-sensing equipment was the original model, and the insects’ came later.

The hydra is the most primitive animal with functioning opsins, so the team concludes that it represents “the very origin of animal phototransduction”, which was incorporated into more complex eyes as they evolved.

This finding is more evidence of the power of explanation that the theory of evolution offers us. That god made insect eyes to rely on a mutated version of the opsins and ion channels common to the freshwater hydra and humans is no explanation whatsoever answering the related question of why they are different so-called ‘designs’; using the theory of evolution, we do find an explanation that accounts for the evidence. The theory works. Again.

To those who promote creationism as an alternative explanation so beautifully explained by evolution’s overwhelming multi-branched mutually supporting natural evidence as just a different way to ‘know’, who wish to teach the next generation of citizens that a belief that offers no meaningful explanation is as good as one informed by one that consistently does, I say Shame. Shame on you for choosing to promote your supernatural beliefs as if they were equal methods to the harder but more rewarding obtainment of real knowledge through informed biological science. Shame on you for equating that the two explanatory approaches are equal in the quality their respective inquiries. They’re not, you know it, and you as the responsible adult and parent and citizen should know better than to lie to children to soothe your conscience in maintaining your superstitious beliefs as a legitimate but different kind of attainable knowledge about the natural world when it is no such thing: creationism in all its disguises that answers questions with “Because god made it so”  is an unjustified belief in the legitimacy of supernatural causation. The explanation contains no  evidence in which to inform it. Foisting that unjustified belief on the next generation masked as an equally valid scientific theory, implying without cause that there actually exists some imaginary scientific controversy, is an exercise in promoting and teaching willful ignorance.

March 6, 2010

What is the matter with atheists?

Other than causing unnecessary conflict and division by failing to support and daring to criticize those who wish to create a theocracy, probably everything. This Just In:

Monash University Professor Gary Bouma says people without a specific faith are fuelling sectarian conflict and cause division in society.

“Conflict comes up when groups vilify, deny the right to build the mosques,” he told the Studies of Religion in Focus conference in Sydney today.

“Or when the ‘nones’ – those who are anti-theist – [say] ‘You’re stupid’, that religious voices should be driven out of the public policy area, that religion shouldn’t be in schools, etc.

“That is conflict, and that is highly divisive in this society.”

Professor Bouma says a growth in religious diversity in recent years has created problems for Australian schools.

He says schools have to work out to how to encourage respectful engagement between students and teachers of various religions.

“Schools have a whole variety of competing loyalties within the teachers and within the students,” he said.

“It can sometimes go to conflict if there’s a viewpoint that some don’t want expressed.

“But how is it that you accommodate the diversity? How is it that you develop respectful engagement between diverse groups?”

Yup, those atheists sure are trouble. First they take away your rights by supporting your rights above the religious beliefs of the supernaturally informed righteous believers and then they dare stand by their convictions. How pathetic.

Don’t atheists know that “respectful engagement” means keeping one’s mouth closed and remaining silent when secular rights are undermined and religious folk implement their beliefs in the public domain using public funds? Can’t they see that by respecting what’s true over respecting unjustified supernatural claims, daring to suggest that the rights of all need to be respected equally, these poor misguided non believers are solely responsible for creating the ensuing conflict and division? I mean, really; what’s wrong with atheists?

March 1, 2010

Identity politics: Does pandering to superstitious beliefs help or harm the public good?

Excerpts from Muriel Gray’s article in the online HeraldScotland:

I believe in the Norse Gods. Everyone from our own dear First Minister, to the current UK Labour Government and the likely incoming Conservative administration firmly holds the view that a belief in the supernatural, and the indoctrination of supernatural beliefs in our children by state-funded schools, is a good thing. This is marvellous news. When we finally get our state-funded school, Odin’s will and the family values that he laid down for all mankind will finally be taught as fact. About time too.

For too long our children have suffered under the bigoted education system that teaches them lightning storms are a result of charged electrical particles in the atmosphere, when the faithful know it is our lord Thor beating his mighty anvil with his Divine hammer. And our truths, we believe, are particularly important in sex education. Our school will teach no nonsense about homosexuality being natural and contraception being important because we know that the jotuun Ymir’s son, from whom Odin descended, bred a man and a woman from his armpits. So we will be insisting that armpit reproductive health will trump all other considerations. We will teach young boys and girls to cover their armpits modestly, and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies from the oxters. Happily, Ed Balls has made provision for this in law, so our children can grow up with these all-important values in place.

Meanwhile, the astonishing decision by Ed Balls to allow faith schools to tailor sex education towards teaching their “values”, such as making gay children feel they are abominations and declaring that the only contraception for the unmarried is abstinence, is just another nightmarish example of this insane trend to appease the superstitious, despite the damage it will do to the innocent. It is the ultimate journey into identity politics, imagining the faithful as one-dimensional beings who do as they’re told and that the ballot box is an extension of the pulpit.

But the beam of hope amid this idiocy is that it doesn’t work. Catholic voters have rarely voted as sheep instructed by a priest. If it were otherwise then legislation in this country would look very different. In fact, they vote like any other citizen on matters of the economy, education and health, and while their beliefs may guide aspects of their personal life it would seem it is not the only factor in their choices. Similarly, Muslim voters still largely vote Labour despite the Iraq war, because the majority of UK Muslims currently remain working class and vote on pragmatic issues of unemployment and housing rather than obeying fatwas.

So it would seem that all this genuflecting to the pedlars of mythology is a waste of politicians’ time. Still, it’s been useful. Mr Murphy’s strong implication in his speech was that people who don’t believe in a god know less about “family values” than those who do. It’s good to know where you stand in your Government’s affections. I’ll certainly be keeping that in mind come the election. I imagine many of you faithless heretics who sneer at Odin’s power will think likewise. .

February 21, 2010

Does suffering improve us?

Filed under: belief,Christianity,God,Religion,Suffering — tildeb @ 3:01 pm

One of the old canards about explaining suffering in a world with a omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and benevolent god is that suffering is somehow good for us, a necessary condition if we are to come to god with free will. It’s a very silly explanation about a very serious and all too real condition. Ophelia Benson takes a crack at answering the question here. I’ve included a few excerpts for your consideration:

Whether or not suffering improves us depends first of all on how we define “suffering”. Real suffering – pain, disease, thirst, starvation – don’t improve us; they don’t leave us room to improve. “Improvement” is an activity for healthy people in tolerable circumstances; when things are desperate improvement becomes a luxury.

The idea that hardship improves us looks like a rationalisation of an old superstitious fear that too much prosperity will trigger the opposite. The gods are jealous, and if we don’t have any suffering, they’ll see that we get some – and they always overdo it, the bastards, so it’s much better if we do it to ourselves first so that they don’t come along and wallop us. It’s a good bargain if it works: I give up chocolate for a month and the gods don’t drop an asteroid on my head.

There are some sick views on all this in Christianity, doubtless thanks to its preoccupation with torture as atonement. (Before you swell with outrage, remember that it’s Christianity that has an implement for execution by torture as its central symbol, worn as a necklace and decorating the covers of hymnals.) There is “Mother Teresa” for example. Dr Robin Fox, editor of The Lancet, visited her hospice in Calcutta in 1994 and reported, “I could not judge the power of their spiritual approach, but I was disturbed to learn that the formulary includes no strong analgesics.” This was not for want of money, it was policy. It is notorious that she once said in a filmed interview that she told a patient suffering the agonies of the final stages of cancer, “You are suffering like Christ on the cross.”

Ultimately this has to do with the obvious fact that the world is full of suffering, so people who want to believe in a benevolent God have to reconcile the two in some way. Claiming that suffering improves us is one such attempt.

But it’s still silly.

February 19, 2010

Human genome: is there evidence for Intelligent Design?

Filed under: Genetics,God,human genome,Intelligent Design,Science — tildeb @ 12:25 pm

Um, no.


From the Culture Lab over at New Scientist:

Lesch-Nyhan syndrome causes compulsive self-mutilation. Children eat their lips or fingers, and stab their faces with sharp objects. They feel the pain, but they cannot stop themselves. Why would a loving, all-powerful creator allow anyone to be born with such an awful disease?

Lesch-Nyhan is just one of the tens of thousands of genetic disorders discovered so far. At least a tenth of people have some kind of debilitating genetic disease, and most of us will become sick at some point during our lifetime as a result of mutations that cause diseases such as cancer.

The reason? Our genome is an unmitigated mess. The replication and repair mechanisms are inadequate, making mutations commonplace. The genome is infested with parasitic DNA that often wreaks havoc. The convoluted control mechanisms are prone to error. The huge amount of junk, not just between genes but within them, wastes resources. And some crucial bits of DNA are kept in the power factories – mitochondria – where they are exposed to mutagenic byproducts. “It is downright ludicrous!” declares John Avise, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of California, Irvine.

The human genome, Avise concludes, offers no shred of comfort for those seeking evidence of a loving, all-powerful creator who had a direct hand in designing us, as not just creationists but many believers who accept evolution think was the case. If some entity did meddle with life on Earth, it either did not know what it was doing or did not care, or both.

So what effect might this assumption have on religious belief in an intervening creator? Does it emasculate religious belief? Not according to Avise:

“Evolution by natural selection emancipates religion,” Avise writes. “No longer need we agonize about why a Creator God is the world’s leading abortionist and mass murderer. No longer need we query a Creator God’s motives for debilitating countless innocents with horrific genetic conditions. From this refreshing perspective, evolution can and should be viewed as a form of philosophical salvation of theology and religion.”

Our ethics, writes editor Mike LePage, have been so hideously distorted by superstitious nonsense that we cannot see the clear moral imperative: we need to start sorting out the mess of a genome evolution has left us as soon as we can.

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