Questionable Motives

July 6, 2014

Freedom: what does it mean?

Filed under: abortion,Hobby Lobby,Law,Media,Medicine,SCOTUS — tildeb @ 11:32 pm

stupid burnsFirst, we have the legal decision to declare no 35 foot buffer zone around abortion clinics because it infringes on freedom of speech.

Then we have the legal decision to allow an employer’s religious belief to determine employee healthcare coverage in the name of freedom of religion.

Note the term ‘freedom’. What does it mean?

For the addled judges and supporters of these terrible rulings who use this term in its legal sense, meaning liberty, let me suggest that  you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

How do I know?

Well, consider this full page ad bought and paid for by the recently victorious Hobby Lobby.

This ad demonstrates that these other freedoms – expression and religion – were really just a convenient cover for the kind of freedom needed to impose one’s religious beliefs on others without their consent. You know, the non-liberty kind of liberty favoured by tyrants of all pious and non pious stripes.

Freedom in the Hobby Lobby’s parlance and upheld by the highest court in the land means freedom to cherry pick quotations and revise history not because it’s true but because it is believed to properly represent the business owners’ historical revisions.

It means the freedom to misrepresent history in order to aid the addled judges to assume the separation of church and state was a mistake that they can now correct, to aid a government to act freely on behalf of the religious belief of some rich business owners for the state to sponsor their religious imposition wherever in in whatever way they believe best suits them. Impositions like religious indoctrination through public education.

This is what ‘freedom’ actually means for the religious who really care about a particular kind of equivalent freedom, another way to achieve equivalent freedom for all, meaning an equivalency that privileges a particular religious imposition so that ‘liberty’ can be enhanced for the few by limiting the liberty of the many.

And the five Catholic man majority on SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) went along with this legal doublespeak charade.

Can’t wait for sharia to make its publicly funded debut. Good times for all those other principled Hobby Lobby wannabes, eh?  (Check out The Young Turks video for a 12 minute rundown of the insanity of this ruling.)

Shame on these judges.

April 1, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Why does this matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh dear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 15, 2012

What is the Heartland Institute and why should we care how it gets its funding?

The Heartland Institute is supposedly a non profit think tank whose self-described mission is to “discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” Finding solutions for problems? That sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it? The problem is, that simply isn’t quite true; it’s goal is to lobby for corporate concerns regardless of the problems caused by these activities.

It’s major area of activity is to influence the The United States’ 8,300 state and national elected officials and approximately 8,400 local government officials in ways agreeable to its sponsors over issues it deems important… such as sustained criticisms against legitimate climate science and public education that attempts to deny parents the right to public money to pay for private schooling… schooling that includes altered curriculum to favour the corporate message.  As they explain:

people devote time to learn about subjects only if they believe acquiring specific knowledge will benefit them personally. Often, this seems unlikely. Consequently, most people choose rationally to remain ignorant about many public policy issues. The Heartland Institute has overcome the problem of ‘rational ignorance’ by inventing publications busy elected officials and the public will actually read and come to trust. Our publications are highly effective and inexpensive vehicles for communicating messages on public policy.

One might be tempted to think that a non profit doesn’t have any major sponsors so it would be less likely to follow a corporate, for profit, mission against governmental oversight and regulation wherever it may be found. One might be right… except this certainly doesn’t pertain to the Heartland Institute. It’s funding has been revealed at desmogblog to be very much a public relations arm of specific corporate interests.

According to its website, its mission is “to discover and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems”. Sourcewatch tells us that the Institute campaigns in support of:

  • “Common-sense environmentalism”, such as opposition to the the Kyoto Protocol aimed at countering global warming
  • Genetically engineered crops and products;
  • The privatization of public services;
  • The introduction of school vouchers;
  • The deregulation of health care insurance;

and against:

  • What it refers to as “junk science” (science that that could indicate a need for regulation);
  • Tobacco control measures such as tobacco tax increases (the Institute denies the health effects of second-hand smoke);

Regarding its current funding and responding to that assigned mission, Heartland’s central concerns are about disseminating anti-climate science messages and funding anti-climate science contrarians:

We expect to push up their level of support in 2012 and gain access to their network of philanthropists, if our focus continues to align with their interests. Other contributions will be pursued for this work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate policies.”

Heartland’s influence can be heard in misleading soundbites issued by legislators over climate science findings, which explains why it is commonly referred to as a global warming denial machine working hard to find funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the ‘alarmist’ AGW (anthropomorphic global warming) message.

Forbes Business magazine and other business press are favored outlets for Heartland’s dissemination of climate denial messages, and the group is worried about maintaining that exclusive space. They note in particular the work of climatologist Dr. Peter Gleick:

Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high-profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out.”

The Heartland Institute has a corporate sponsored agenda to fool people into supporting bad public policies by undermining good science to promote short term, short-sighted, unsustainable, harmful corporate interests. That – and not solutions to social and economic problems – is its real mission.

(h/t Cedric)

September 2, 2010

How can we tell if reports about science are biased?

Filed under: Critical Reasoning,Media,Medicine,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 11:20 am

First there was this study from Britain’s National Council for Palliative Care published in the Journal of Medical Ethics titled The role of doctor’s religious faith and ethnicity in taking ethically controversial decisions during end-of-life care, that concluded:

Greater acknowledgement of the relationship of doctors’ values with clinical decision-making is advocated.

In other words, a doctor’s values has an affect on the decisions advocated.

According to the study’s results, ethnicity has very little effect whereas the specialty of the practitioner has the greatest effect. Hospital doctors discuss and use methods that could hasten death in the terminally ill at 10 times the rate of palliative care specialists. Of particular interest is the finding that doctors who are agnostic or atheist are twice as likely to use such methods as deeply religious doctors.

How do we interpret what that means?

Steve Novella at Neurologica explains:

To me the most interesting result is that specialty had a ten-fold influence on decision-making. This does reflect my anecdotal experience – that doctors who routinely treat the terminally ill in an in-patient setting are more comfortable and practiced in raising treatment questions that could influence the duration of life. Palliative care specialists, on the other hand, are focused on palliation and may not be as comfortable suggesting withdrawal of care or measures that might hasten death.

That sounds quite reasonable and makes good sense. But that’s certainly not the conclusion reached by Doctor Seale:

Dr. Clive Seale, a professor at Barts and the London School of Medicien and Dentistry, conducted a random mail survey of more than 8,500 doctors. Almost 4,000 responded and more than 3,000 described deaths of a patient.

Seale found doctors. many of whom care for elderly patients or are neurologists, who describe themselves as “extremely” of “very nonreligious” were twice as likely to report that the care for their last terminally ill patient included euthanasia practices such as deep sedation.

He found religious doctors were also less likely to keep patients in continuous deep sedation or to support legislation allowing assisted suicides.

“If I were a patient facing end of life care, I would want to know what my doctor’s views were on religious matters – whether they are non-religious or religious and whether the doctor felt that would influence them in the kind of decisions they were looking at,” Seale said. According to an AP report, Seale wrote that “nonreligious doctors should confess their predilections to their patients,” so they know they could become victims. (Bold added by me for emphasis.)

Is that doctor Seale’s conclusion or the writer of the article from which I have taken the excerpt? I suspect it is Seale’s when he uses the word ‘confess’ as if a doctor talking about all available treatment options with patients and their families were a sin rather than selecting and discussing only those treatment options that the doctor found agreeable with his or her religious beliefs! And the article’s writer seems to be in agreement with that because he starts his article with:

Patients worried about becoming a victim of euthanasia should ensure they find a doctor who holds strong religious views. That’s because a new study out of Great Britain finds physicians who are atheist or agnostic twice as likely to make decisions taking the lives of terminally ill patients. (Again, bold added by me for emphasis.)

I think we need to pay attention to words that indicate strong bias when we attempt to understand what studies mean and discriminate accordingly. As for this study’s conclusion, I think Novella gets it exactly right:

[…] this is not a controlled study but a self-reporting survey, and so the results are highly unreliable. At best it indicates that follow up research is warranted. But taken at face value, if anything this survey shows that culture in medicine still plays a large role in determining practice. And further it suggests that some doctors allow their religious faith to interfere with their decision-making when it comes to end-of-life care.

Accurate and informative science reporting is becoming something of a lost art these days. We need to be aware of the difference between what a study’s results may mean and how they are interpreted and reported to us. Going to the source is always a good strategy but we can also be much more aware of words that immediately reveal bias to affect our confidence in the accuracy of what we are reading.

July 19, 2010

What is all this about digital drugs and I-dosing?

Filed under: Entertainment,I-dosing,Media,Science — tildeb @ 10:04 am

The latest parental fluttering about the pernicious influence of the internet comes to us from Oklahoma’s Channel 9 about how i-dosing is the new ‘gateway drug’ and it’s turning some teens into stoners. (The video can be accessed from the site’s side menu.) The effects of street drugs are always a significant concern so how is it that wave files downloaded from the internet can alter brain function that leads to doing street drugs? Well, it turns out… they don’t. Are we surprised?

From Doctor Steve Novella at Neurologica:

According to the report, teenagers are listening to tracks containing binuaral beats, which alter brain waves and can create a high. There is one piece of information that is conspicuously missing from the (news) report, however. Binaural beats are complete pseudoscience – they don’t work, they don’t affect brain function. You cannot get high from listening to noise.

Thanks, Doctor Steve. Someday, maybe newscasters themselves will take a moment and insist that stories about to be aired actually meet some basic requirement to be true. It might help already overburdened parents from having to deal with more unnecessary stupidity.

May 30, 2010

Advocating for discrimination in Turkey – Does this make Rand Paul proud?

Filed under: Bigotry,civil rights,Media,Politics — tildeb @ 10:26 am

From the Daily News:

Turkish public opinion continues to advocate for a total restriction of rights for atheists and homosexuals, according to recent study conducted by Boğaziçi University and the Open Society Association.

An astonishing 53 percent of participants strongly believed that the right to freely express a different sexual orientation should be restricted. Similarly, 37 percent of the people sampled denounced the right of believing in no religion, with 59 percent standing against atheists flaunting their lack of religion. Moreover, 28 percent denounced the right of non-Muslims to be open about their religious identity.

Well, that’s Turkey. Such advocacy could never happen here in the West. Could it?

In the US this week, Rand Paul, who beat an establishment-backed candidate in a May 25, 2010 GOP primary to win the Republican senate candidacy in Kentucky, appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and, in a long exchange with the liberal host, repeated his belief in a limited government that should not force private businesses to abide by civil rights law. Maddow asked him, “Do you think that a private business has the right to say ‘we don’t serve black people’?” “Yes,” was Paul’s answer, although he tried to explain that in terms of freedom of expression. It was actually another attempt to explain his belief that a limited government that should not force private businesses to abide by civil rights law. In a 2002 letter Paul had written to a Kentucky newspaper, he argued that private individuals and businesses should have the right to discriminate, even if it is abhorrent.

Not only can it happen in the US,  it IS happening in the US with direct support from those who call themselves tea-baggers. Paul’s win is evidence for that support. Let us hope that the people of Kentucky will not elect him and his dangerous willingness to undermine civil rights legislation.

So why should we care?

If we don’t support civil rights laws and those who are willing to uphold them against people like the tea-baggers and their chosen candidates, then we open the door to once again to discriminate on the basis on race, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, and so on. We can reasonably expect similar advocacy for discrimination against identifiable minorities if they are elected. Those who allow discrimination to flourish are not just the politicians once they are in power; they are us – the ones who give in to our fear and biases and  bigotries and cast our vote in that direction. And that vote can have a direct cost that creates victims – real, live people – out of our willingness to tolerant bigotry.

May 25, 2010

The moral high ground: Is this how you teach atheists to play Nice?

Dr. Karl Giberson, a professor at Eastern Nazarene College and co-president of the BioLogos Foundation, tells us in his article published in USA Today that New Atheists need to learn how to play well with others.  His main argument here is that because some well-respected scientists are christian, christianity is compatible with science. Supposedly he’s just as fine with the same logic that because some catholic priests are pedophiles, pedophilia is compatible with catholicism. Setting aside the main thrust of this very stupid argument, he admonishes the New Atheists for countering such very stupid arguments and pretends to take the moral high ground to do so, and reminds us that Nothing is gained by loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited assaults on the beliefs of fellow citizens. In addition, he tells us that it appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies.

Mean-spirited assaults. Boorish bullies. Yes, those New Atheists are a mean and boorish bunch and they are loud because they wish to promote themselves. Terrible people, really. How do we know this? We know this because people like Giberson keep telling us it is so. It’s the standard ‘tone’ argument; religious apologists keep telling atheists that they need to change the tone of their arguments to be more effective countering very stupid arguments offered up by religious believers that in turn counter the claim that science and religion are compatible ways to know what’s true. ‘Tone’ is often code for ‘Just shut the fuck up and keep your filthy mouth closed because what you are saying is disrespectful of my very stupid arguments and therefore disrespectful of my god.’ As evidence for this mean-spirited assault, Giberson tells us that New Atheist Jerry Coyne raked Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller and him  over the coals in The New Republic for their claims that Christians can unapologetically embrace science. Now isn’t that mean-spirited? Downright boorish and bullying, too.

What did Coyne actually write in The New Republic?

Giberson and Miller are thoughtful men of good will. Reading them, you get a sense of conviction and sincerity absent from the writings of many creationists, who blatantly deny the most obvious facts about nature in the cause of their faith. Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/ evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design. Yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people’s religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.

See how mean-spirited that is? Why the boorishness and intellectual bullying almost leaps off the page, doesn’t it?

The truth of the matter is that it is liars like Giberson, who paint New Atheists inaccurately and then have the gall and temerity and lack of moral integrity and intellectual honesty to deal with legitimate criticism against their religious ideas like grown-ups, resort instead to name calling and spreading false rumors. In religious terminology, I think it is relevant to call what Giberson does bearing false witness.  And it is offensive because it undermines exactly the supposed point of why the article was published in the first place: that playing nicely results in more respect for compatibility.

As Ophelia Benson writes about the mean-spirited and boorish bullying accusation,

That’s a really offensive claim. Not offensive in the frivolous sense the word is so often used to convey, but genuinely offensive, because it is untrue. Coyne doesn’t rake Miller and Giberson over any coals; he says good things about both of them in that long review in The New Republic; he also disagrees with much of what they claim in their respective books. He does it honestly, and carefully, and with detailed argument. That is not the same thing as raking people over the coals! It is offensive for Karl Giberson to make that accusation in a large-circulation national newspaper. Yet here he is telling other people how to play nicely. It’s so typical – say things about atheists that are not true, in the very act of telling atheists to be Nicer.

Giberson is not alone. Typical criticisms by religious apologists against the New Atheists – for daring to criticize religious beliefs by pointing out the incompatibility between science and religion – can’t win on intellectual merit. Nor can Giberson and his religiously apologetic ilk win the argument on honest moral grounds; what we do see is that the New Atheists have to be demonized first by mean-spirited and boorishly bullying methods even if it requires blatant unapologetic lying to do so. You see, by hook or by crook, any method to inaccurately portray New Atheists poorly and get the false message out there that they are terrible people to the broadest audience possible is really all that matters to people like Giberson. Playing nice, as you can plainly see, has nothing to do with the point of his article and is just another example of duplicity by the faithful to support the maligning of atheists themselves rather than deal honestly, openly, and fairly with their legitimate criticisms. Such people as Giberson who prefer to believe the worst about atheists in spite of contrary evidence and those who prefer to agree with their boorish and bullying tactics are really nothing more and nothing less than intellectual cowards.

February 28, 2010

Are we surprised?

From Radio Netherlands comes this peek into the RC church and its claim that it holds the moral high ground:

Amid the high-profile child sexual abuse scandals in the United States and other European countries, the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands has remained unsullied. But a joint investigation by Radio Netherlands Worldwide and NRC Handelsblad reveals that this is unjustified.

And imagine this:

Two years ago, dissatisfied with the attitude taken by the Dutch bishops, Yvo van Kuijck, now vice-president of the District Court in Arnhem, resigned along with the entire Assessment and Advisory Committee. Priests guilty of abuse in one parish were simply transferred to another parish where they were free to find new victims. “Not only is that unprofessional, it’s inconceivable.”

Inconceivable? Really? After the “Crimen Solicitations” document was made public?


It would be inconceivable if the sexual assaults and rapes of children did NOT continue with such officially sanctioned protections from the pope himself solidly entrenched in the policies and procedures for the abusers.

This story isn’t surprising; it shows that as far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned , it’s just business as usual.

February 3, 2010

What is the 10^23 campaign?

Filed under: belief,CAM,Homeopathy,Media,Medicine,Science — tildeb @ 1:32 pm

Excerpts from Neurologica Blog:

6.022137 × 10^23 – that’s Avogadro’s number. It’s the number of atoms or molecules of a substance in a number of grams of that substance equal to its atomic mass. So 1 gram of elemental hydrogen or 12 grams of carbon12 will have Avogadro’s number of atoms. This amount is also called a mole – so a mole of anything has Avogadro’s number of elementary particles – a mole of water has Avogadro’s number of water molecules.

Samuel Hahnemann invented the principles of homeopathy (he “discovered” nothing, it turns out) in the 1790s and published his first article on the topic in 1796. Hahnemann claimed that the more a substance is diluted the more potent a medicine it becomes, in violation of the chemical law of mass action which dictated that chemical reactions proceed more quickly the more substrate there is. Hahnemann also advocated such extreme dilutions, still used by homeopathy today, that many of his potions vastly exceed the dilutional limit – the point beyond which there is likely not a single atom or molecule of substance remaining. That is where Avogadro comes in .

To honor Avogadro further, and highlight the absurdity of homeopathy in the face of basic chemistry and physics, a UK group has started the 10^23 campaign. Their basic purpose is to protest continued support for homeopathy in the UK and elsewhere and to raise public awareness as to what homeopathy really is (nothing). They surmise (correctly, in my opinion) that the more people know about homeopathy the less popular it will be.

Their first major act was a mass public homeopathic suicide:

At 10:23am on January 30th, more than four hundred homeopathy sceptics nationwide took part in a mass homeopathic ‘overdose’ in protest at Boots’ continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic remedies, and to raise public awareness about the fact that homeopathic remedies have nothing in them.

It is a dramatic demonstration of the inactivity of homeopathic potions – take a massive “overdose” and suffer no ill effects. This is actually more than a stunt – it demonstrates the lack of a dose-response effect from homeopathic nostrums, which is convincing evidence that there is no effect.

January 28, 2010

Is atheism fundamentally a Straw Man argument?

There is a reprehensible opinion piece posted online at the New York Times by Ross Douthat that supposedly offers us an “illustration of militant atheism’s symbiotic relationship with religious fundamentalism.”

Specifically, Douthat criticizes Dawkins for using Pat Roberston and his diatribe of god-sanctioned blame for the devastation suffered by Haiti as an example of a ‘real’ christian (read my previous comment on Dawkins’ article and why he argues as much). This is a failure of critical thinking by Douthat. By asserting that atheism requires a Straw Man approach, Douthat fails to comprehend Dawkins’ central argument: that a willingness by today’s theological apologists to grant any credence to a religious interpretation of some holy text that focuses on what is meek and mild without accounting for the parts that are vicious and genocidal is intellectually dishonest.

Douthat’s counter argument that quotes New Testament passages to negate Robertson’s interpretation is exactly Dawkins’ point: one biblical reference is not any closer to being true or accurate than the other. The only difference is that Robertson’s interpretation takes into account the capriciousness and violence of the christian god, making such an opinion based on biblical interpretation more ‘real’ in a christian vein than one like Douthat’s which simply ignores the Old Testament’s accounts of a god that is unconscionably cruel and immoral in favour of specific passages that casts Jesus as benevolent and forgiving. Let us all remember, however, that it is from Jesus we first gain a biblical account for eternal damnation… hardly one that enhances the CV of hope and love people so often attribute to Jesus’ message.

I have read repeated criticisms of Dawkins and other New Atheists as creating a Straw Man religious argument, that is to say, that these atheists create a Robertson-ian god as the one that defines the christian god and then tear it down by revealing its obvious malevolence. But the god worshiped by most christians, this argument points out,  is not this god – the one believed in by some fringe and/or extreme fundamentalists as the one so vehemently opposed by ‘militant’ and ‘strident’ atheists – but one that is actually benevolent and wise and compassionate. The faulty conclusion then held by so many moderate religious apologists is that Dawkins and his cohorts aren’t criticizing their religious beliefs but merely the ones held by hard core fundamentalists.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

New Atheists care about what is true. They care about knowledge – about what’s probably accurate, probably correct, probably true. They care about coming to a better understanding of the natural world, of promoting honest intellectual and scientific inquiry. They also respect the rights and freedoms and dignity of individuals within a secular society. They are concerned about any influence that intentionally impedes any of these cares, and there is no greater single impediment than the false certainty of religious belief. But rather than criticize specific people’s beliefs, the New Atheists’ approach is to enter the public forum and expose unjustified beliefs – regardless whether the unjustified belief is religious, superstitious, supernatural, or just poor thinking. To do this, New Atheists point out why the unjustified foundational belief of a Robertson is no different in quality of belief than someone who insists on holding a Jesus is Love assumption. Nor is there any difference in the unjustified foundational beliefs upon which the complimentary and alternative medicine industry has been built. Belief in the supernatural, whether it be god or evil spirits or the memory of water, cannot be honest knowledge: because such ideas are beyond our ability to be examined in the natural world under natural conditions subject to natural forces and natural efficacy all which can be naturally measured, supernatural belief cannot be justified by any other measure other than more assumption and assertion. Assumption and assertion that cannot by definition undergo natural testing and rational criticism because it is supernatural is immune from honest critical inquiry. Asserted beliefs are assumed to be true because they are believed to be true. That is not a justification for the truth value of the belief but an excuse, an allowance, a willingness to suspend critical inquiry. So it doesn’t matter whether or not it is a Pat Robertson’s unjustified belief or an Ayatollah’s unjustified belief or a Pope Benedict XVI’s unjustified belief or a Sarah Palin’s unjustified belief – the common denominator pointed out by New Atheists like Dawkins is that supernatural beliefs in their entirety are equally unjustified.

When a Pat Robertson makes another disparaging public statement about suffering people deserving their suffering and backs it up with theology, it is an opportunity and not a requirement for atheists to once again point out that if not for the acceptance of the moderately religious, then the foundation of unjustified religious beliefs would be treated with the same scorn and disgust aimed at Robertson for his outrageous truth claims. Robertson and his ilk have an audience because there is widespread acceptance by religious apologists to excuse, allow, and suspend legitimate criticism in matters of religious belief. That’s a public problem and it requires a public solution.

Is unjustified belief in the supernatural and all its various promotions in the public domain in need of public criticism? My answer is an unequivocal Yes. The New Atheists like Dawkins don’t just say a meek and mild yes to this question in the privacy of their own minds; they DO something about it by bringing their arguments and expertise into the public domain to tackle the problem of a Robertson, an Ayatollah, a Pope, a Palin, head on.

So the answer to the title is No, atheism is not fundamentally a Straw Man argument but a call to action, a growing movement that will continue to challenge anyone who doesn’t care about what is true but what is unjustifiably believed to be true, and who would allow unjustified beliefs the right to take a place at any table in the public domain.

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