Questionable Motives

May 7, 2014

Are ‘honestly held beliefs’ reason enough to justify legal discrimination?

can of wormsWell, let’s look at the principle upon which all of us expect to be treated fairly and impartially before and by the law, namely, that

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Article 26, UN covenant on political and civil rights)

To support legal discrimination in a particular case means you must provide a reasonable justification to the benefit of all for that particular exemption against the general principle. This can be (and is) done when that justification can be shown to enhance the public good. For example, we can legally discriminate against all of us who have not achieved the age of majority or all of us who have been shown to be incapable of being responsible for our actions. Legal discrimination is permissible without breaking the principle of the covenant… but the justification must be the same FOR ALL.

Now let’s consider the idea of ‘honestly held beliefs’ to be the metric for varying what equality rights mean. The question can be formulated this way: does an ‘honestly held belief’ by another person constitute a reasonable justification to the benefit of all in your mind for the loss of your own equality before the law and the loss of its protection to guarantee them? Are you willing to have your legal rights be subject and hostage to the variability of another person’s honestly held beliefs?

There are a couple ways to come at answering this.

The straightforward answer here is either Yes or No. There is no middle ground. You are either willing to allow others (based on their ‘honestly held beliefs’) to determine the quality of your legal rights or you are not. The metric at work here is belief, and rests in the willingness to have your legal equality rights rights rest not with you, not empowered in and by the law, but in the belief-based opinion of others.  This breaks the principle that currently supports legal equality for all of us… not just against those whose legal rights and protection you wish to limit for whatever beliefs you may deem important enough but your own. Supporting the notion that ‘honestly held beliefs’ is sufficient to devalue equality rights to personal preference of beliefs means that you do not support the principle that upholds your own.

The extent of privilege our societies grant to religious belief and the institutions and speakers who represent them is truly astounding. For example, returning to the UN covenant on political and civil rights, we find the following:

“Discrimination is allowed if it is based on genuine religious beliefs or principles. This includes the actions of religious bodies or schools.”

Take a moment and think about that. What does it really mean?

Well, it means that the previous principle for all has been replaced in practice by the beliefs of some. It means all people are not equal before the law; our shared equality rights are in fact subject to the religious beliefs (and principles contained within them) of others, others who would deny them first for ‘honestly held beliefs… before any other grounds of justification are introduced! Where is the universal justification for this discrimination that demonstrates its fairness and impartiality to the good of all? It’s absent; what we have are lot of assumptions and attributions and arguments and conclusions unsupported by compelling evidence. This is faith-based belief in action… simply presumed to be justified because it is religious.  And that’s religious privilege in action and it undermines the very principle of YOUR legal rights, YOUR legal equality, YOUR legal protections. This religious privilege buolt on faith-based beliefs is incompatible with the very principle of equality law.

Another way to understand and appreciate the scope of craziness needed to sustain the argument of privileging ‘honestly held beliefs’ over and above and preceding equality rights for all is to apply the same reasoning, the same privilege, the same lack of independent justification to some other area of public interest. We have a host to choose from but let’s take a public water supply for our analogy and see how well the justification works.

The management of that public water supply is based on the principle of providing clean water for all… and we are all in agreement that this water should be safe for all to drink because all of us drink from it! But let’s say some people in the management team decide that certain privileged exemptions to that principle are justified by the ‘honestly held beliefs’ of those involved with providing this service, making the water supply safe for some but not for others. When people complain that their water supply is, in fact, contaminated – because some people honestly believe that the addition of industrial waste products containing toxins and carcinogenics to this part of the water supply but not that part at the request of certain industries to eliminate their waste is a net benefit to all, while reassuring the rest of us that we will continue to receive only a clean water supply – how is it a justification that doesn’t directly undermine the principle of clean water for all? Would the same exemption be allowed, for example, if the quality of everyone’s water supply – including the captains of these polluting industries and the management team themselves – were to be subject to the same vagaries of who received what quality of water when? Or would we as a municipality stand united and insist that the water supply be kept clean for all? Sure, the industrialists might complain that they have a real problem with their toxic wastes, but why should the quality of our water supply be their solution… any more than threatening our shared legal rights of equality be the solution to the demands of these religious for privilege to exercise their bias and discrimination in the name of the public good?

April 3, 2013

Is New Atheism a cover for racist hatred of Muslims?

wahhabi libertyI’ve come across this trope so many times that I realize people are actually falling for it… people (I presumed) who have great difficulty comprehending the written word. After all, I know that even in my country of Canada with its high standing in comparative public education achievements, nearly a third of the population is functionally illiterate. So it’s no surprise to find those who suffer from this unnecessary problem may have difficulty grasping the well written explanations describing why it’s a good thing to criticize ideas and doctrines that have profoundly negative effects in the public domain. And it requires a similar kind of illiteracy to fall for this lie that islamaphobia – an irrational fear of islam – is driven by racist motives rather than good reasons based on compelling evidence.

As if this willful blindness to the very real danger to our secular principles islam contains isn’t bad enough, these people who criticize us – those who have the bad manners to point out why islam requires robust and public critcism – fail to see the obvious: what is truly disturbing is how easily this blindness, this abject stupidity to blame the messenger for the message,  morphs into support for the trope that any and all criticism of the doctrine that empowers islam to be so dangerous in reality is really racism in action.

What is remarkable is that this blatant lie is so easily embraced by those who can read, who can comprehend the written word, who can understand why this misrepresentation and misapplication of what the criticism is all about matters. And to add insult to injury, those who promote and extend this dangerous trope seem to suffer no qualms to attribute the real danger to be those of us who have the moral fortitude and intellectual integrity to point out why the doctrine of islam in particular is so dangerous to us all by standing contrary to the foundational principles that support the liberal secular democracies we have inherited, namely, the New Atheists.

The doctrine of islam is the teachings of koran. If you ask any muslim a specific, straight forward question like this, “Do you believe the koran is the perfect word of god?” be prepared for the fundamentalist answer: “Yes.” This answer does not come only from some fringe element, some extreme radical group of the religion, but the mainstream, from the average muslim. If pressed about what constitutes the difference between a good muslim and a poor one, you will find out from the muslim that how closely the koran is followed determines this status. Why we delude ourselves to think that there will be some maturation of this mainstream fundamentalist thinking with exposure to western secular values is simply as mystifying as it is foolish and dangerous. (The latest evidence is from a trio of high school graduates – who classmates describe as normal and nice and typical – from London, ON who converted to islam, and then participated in mass murder in an attack on gas workers in Algeria.) The motivating factor for this travesty of misdirected young lives was islam. It was not New Atheists!

Those muslims who speak publicly about the evolution of the religion from its violent origins to become what it is not, namely, a tolerant, moderate, living doctrine that respects the rights and freedoms of its members similar to liberalized christianity and judaism, are not speaking on behalf of the religion as good muslims and they know it. The listener – eager to show common cause in the name of secular values like tolerance and respect for the beliefs of others – is ripe for the picking. Such muslims who speak publicly about islam, as if it were an equivalently tolerant religion to those who wish it were, are not moderate muslims at all and do not represent the majority: they are poor muslims by definition… unless they are lying to your face in order to promote by stealth the advancement of islam and shari’a into the public domain. This technique is called taqiyya (for anyone unaware of its religious approval) and it describes why and on what koranic authority this intentional deceit (that fools well meaning but gullible people in secular democracies) is the right thing to do for a good muslim!

At the end of the day, the point of the doctrine of islam is to live a godly life, and by faith this means living under god’s law, which is not compatible with either the secular principles of tolerance and respect showered on its adherents in the West. This law is shari’a and it is incompatible in authority with your individual rights of autonomy, your individual freedoms for legal equality, your secular principles of tolerating and accommodating religious differences, your allegiance to your nation. Shari’a is incompatible with the foundational principles of western liberal secular democracies. These are the facts and not some imaginary racist assertions meant to to slander.

But don’t take my word for. Find out for yourself (first by reading and then by asking real muslims) why claims about the peacefulness of the religion of islam are not true in practice by good muslims. Ask about their interpretation about the  verse of the sword, the one used to overturn all the previous koranic claims about promoting peace and love, when defending the faith (or watch a short video about it here). Find out for yourself why islam and shari’a are not like the doctrines of any other liberalized religion but stand firmly against any social advancement past the seventh century morality that has been encoded in the koran. Check out ongoing violence done in the name of islam and ask yourself how and why this is any different from other religions. In other words, stop pretending that tolerating and respecting freedom of religion means that it is only right and proper for you to respect islam. By doing so, you are threatening the very values of tolerance and respect you are self-righteously exercising!

Now that we have compelling evidence from reality that the doctrine of islam is incompatible with western secular values, how much sense does it make – and who does it serve – to vilify New Atheists for talking about this compelling evidence in the public domain?

You guessed it: it serves only to grant more cover for stealth jihad. How can any literate person who supports western secular values be so stupid as to be intolerant of much needed criticism towards the doctrine of islam? Well, I think there are four possibilities: illiterate, ignorant, delusional, complacent, or complicit.

For those who are illiterate, get help.

For those who are ignorant, open your mind and eyes and ears and learn.

For those who are delusional, respect reality. Recognize that your beliefs – especially religious beliefs – do not create reality but require adjudication by it if you wish to have them respected.

For those who are complacent, who wish that these inherent conflicts between faith-based beliefs and our valued principles would just go away, wake up. Recognize the danger and join in the criticism or get out the way.

For those who are complicit, who try to lay the blame for islamic intolerance on some fringe element of it rather than the doctrine that empowers the whole, who will not think for themselves but go along with the charade that islam is a religion of peace and tolerance in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary, who will not see the danger to themselves –  to their own legal welfare and that of their neighbours – or others, who allow their complicity to enable the advancement of islam and shari’a unimpeded by legitimate criticism, know that you are exposed for the ethical hypocrites and moral cowards you are.

As a shining example of what it is we face as New Atheists in this battle to get more of us to respect reality rather than faith-based beliefs about it, consider this exchange between one the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, Sam Harris, and the usually reasonable columnist Glenn Greenwald. I have extracted Sam’s final reply and added the bold for emphasis:

The idea that “new atheism” is a cover for a racist hatred of Muslims is ridiculous (and, again, crudely defamatory). I have written an entire book attacking Christianity. And do you know what happens when I or any of my “new atheist” colleagues criticize Christians for their irrational beliefs? They say, “Of course, you feel free to attack us, but you would never have the courage to criticize Islam.” As you can see, our Christian critics follow our work about as well as you do.

Needless to say, there are people who hate Arabs, Somalis, and other immigrants from predominantly Muslim societies for racist reasons. But if you can’t distinguish that sort of blind bigotry from a hatred and concern for dangerous, divisive, and irrational ideas—like a belief in martyrdom, or a notion of male “honor” that entails the virtual enslavement of women and girls—you are doing real harm to our public conversation. Everything I have ever said about Islam refers to the content and consequences of its doctrine. And, again, I have always emphasized that its primary victims are innocent Muslims—especially women and girls.

And for the money quote:

There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.

Exactly:, propaganda.

Are you falling for it?

November 11, 2012

Lest we Forget… Why is Remembrance Day a purely secular event undermined by religious inclusion?

Filed under: public domain,Religion,Remembrance Day,Secularism — tildeb @ 11:52 pm

As a trumpet playing member of various community music groups, I play at a lot of Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Yeah, so?

Wikipedia reminds us that Remembrance Day (also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. This day, or alternative dates, are also recognized as special days for war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries.) In my experience, all of the ceremonies I have attended (and I always attend because I do not forget) are thoroughly soaked with the christian message of Jesus and god and a heavenly afterlife (hellfire and damnation are for another day, I guess). Having performed at two such ceremonies today, for example, I watched several hindu and muslim veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces have to endure the christian hymns and the christian prayers and the repeated calls to the christian faith by a christian minister in uniform, as if service to these christian goals was the central feature of why all people – even those who do not share any version of the christian faith – served and sacrificed in the various wars, police actions, conflicts, and United Nations peace keeping missions Canada had asked these folk to undertake on its behalf.

Was I mostly alone in seeing the gross unfairness of imposing this particular religious ownership of the Remembrance Day tribute? Apparently so. Was I mostly alone in having visited several of the war cemeteries of fallen Canadian soldiers overseas and noted the small but significant number of headstones marked with the Star of David and the Crescent? Apparently so. Was I mostly alone in knowing service men and women who held no commitment or allegiance to any religious beliefs? Apparently so. But then, we Canadians are a very tolerant bunch. It’s difficult to imagine that this forgetfulness could be the case… in spite of the presence of non christian uniformed people, but if not so forgetful then why is there a general amnesia about properly honouring and respecting these non christians who had equally served and sacrificed?

Can a christian Remembrance Day ceremony pay proper respect to all those who deserve equal and fair treatment?

I don’t think so. I think the insertion of religious overtones undermines exactly what Remembrance Day represents and acts contrary to intention that brought about the need for it: to remember why what was won is so important, lest we forget the cost of this forgetfulness.

I think Remembrance Day is purely a secular event allowed by the faitheists and religious apologists of all stripes among us to be hijacked and abused to serve a different purpose, a very specific religious master, namely, christianity. (Is there a public tradition and/or ceremony not stolen by the christians and claimed for its own? None come to mind.) This hijacking, this theft of the meaning behind this event to remember, is a travesty, a way to disrespect and dishonour what these men and women have done in defense of the very values they held to be worth fighting and dying for:

Secular values.

Let’s take just a moment and understand what this term properly means unencumbered by what the religious have warped it to mean:

From Wikipedia we get a pretty good idea:  namely, from Latin saecularis meaning “worldly” or “temporal” that describes the state of being separate from religion, or not being exclusively allied to any particular religion.

The religious attempt to have this term mean something quite different, that anything that applies to anti-religious sentiment defines secularism, but this isn’t true. It’s another hijacking, another theft in the service of a religious goal.  Secular values refer to values that are independent of any religious authority. This is why the Wikipedia entry clearly shows that modern usage means exactly this (go check it yourself and then wonder why the religious are so motivated and determined for it to be considered a pejorative rather than unifying term).

A secular value means its authority is a bottom-up one, a value that is owned first by each and every individual, which is then considered common to all, and commonly upheld in the public domain, meaning those areas of governance and administration that serve the entire public and not simply some privileged part of it, public institutions such as defence, foreign policy, education, law, etc.. Think of the value of ‘equality’, for example; its authority does not come from somewhere else, is not bestowed upon us by a sovereign or granted by some social oligarch; the authority for this value comes from each of us based on the desire for justice, equity, and fairness in public dealings. This creates a demonstrable social benefit. The value is not granted power by nor dependent on some other authority; it is a value upheld by all of us and implemented by all of us in our daily lives. We expect to be treated fairly, with reasonable consideration shown for our equivalent status with other citizens. The principle (although not always in practice) is for all have equal access to legal representation, equal access to education, equal access to health care, equal consideration of merit, and so on. It is a value we hold in common to each other and not based on some other authority granting equality here but not there, for these folk but not those, to privilege this group but not that. So is the value, for example, of religious freedom, one owned by each and every individual which is common to all. Its authority does not rest with some court, nor is it defined only by some legislation; it rests within each of us and we reasonably expect to exercise this right in our private lives. As strange as this will sound to the ears of the religiously confused, religious freedom – like equality – is a SECULAR values independent of any other authority that attempts to co-opt it in its name.

So when I talk about a secular values, what I’m referring to is a set of values held in common and possessed by each individual… an authority over and above any other value system in the public domain that attempts to makes these values subservient to its authority. Secular values are not a top-down affair; their authority comes from the bottom up and belongs to each and every citizen. Canadian values are secular values because they are not granted by some authority figure like a king or a pope or judge to empower them; our political system itself is legitimate only because it is based on authority resting with each of us… each of us who then gives consent (through voting) by this inherent authority we individually own to be governed, to understand that legislation is passed by representation in OUR name, that laws are made in OUR name, internal governance made in OUR name, fund public education, implement foreign policy, maintain defence, upgrade health care, invest in research and development  in OUR name. The authority for all of this comes from each of us, the citizen who owns the very political authority that legitimizes governance and administration of the public domain.

To be absolutely clear, all western liberal democracies are secular not because they are anti-religious per se but because they draws their authority for legitimacy to act in the public domain only from the sum of authority from each citizen they represent. This is why we call it representative government. Government IS us. That is its only legitimate authority: the consent of the governed.

I hope it’s clear that secular means individual authority, and it’s a fundamental pillar to our way of liberal democracy. It is based on the very reasonable rule of reciprocity – what the religious like to co-opt and pretend to own under such a name as the Golden Rule, for example – that the rights and freedoms I want to enjoy places on me the burden that you, too, can enjoy the same rights and freedoms I am willing to grant to myself. Where my rights and freedoms end is where they infringe on the same rights and freedoms held by you. This method of legitimate governance by the consent of the governed – the source of its authority resting in each individual – works to produce peaceful, prosperous, and civil societies based on rights and freedoms owned by all, expressed by all, and maintained by all. And when an infringement does occur, (I can only speak of my Canadian perspective) at home or abroad, many of us who voluntarily join the military and police ranks do so because we wish to uphold this secular value of fairness and equality based on individual authority.

Don’t take my word for it, of course; go talk to those in these uniforms and ask them why they serve. This prime motivator of an important secular value – of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves – becomes very clear very quickly. Most of us do not aspire to become bullies not agents of a bullying authority (although this danger is always present with power).

But I claim that secular value of protecting and sacrificing for this way of life, when individual authority is endangered by bullies, is what we intend to respect when it comes to the reason to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies; we just forget to honour this prime motivator, this prime secular value, during all the praying and singing of hymns foisted on us by those who assume values worth having must come from some god.

For those not familiar with the spontaneity of Canadians in regard to honouring their military, a quick word to the wise: because our founding peoples were a triad of warring and shifting allegiances between French, English, and First Nations, we’ve had a difficult time coming to the modern era of tolerance and respect for all within a single national framework, with relatively cohesive national policies and practices that do not intend to make victims out of one of these three groups. It’s always a work in progress, combined with a long history of terrible injustices, bumbling governance, and brutal arrogance, yet through it all we have come a very long way to achieve to various degrees a remarkable and vibrant multi-cultural country that is peaceful, prosperous, and dedicated in practice to secular values.( Oh, and we play a lot of hockey, too.)

Why is this important to understand? Well, it’s important because most Canadians hyphenate our identities to a similarly remarkable degree. (Homogenous we aren’t.) This matters when we consider the following:

A Canadian soldier is killed in, let’s say, Afghanistan. At the main airbase, all the troops are assembled for what’s called a ramp ceremony where there is an official recognition of a fallen comrade being sent home by plane. Upon arrival, the plane’s ramp is lowered to an official reception by the family, and usually in some combination the highest ranking officer available i s present, sometimes like the Chief of Defence Staff, the Minister or Deputy Minister of Defense, the Prime Minister, the Governor General and of course the Base Commander and the highest ranking unit officer of the branch of the service of the killed soldier. Each soldier matters, you see, and this shows the family on hand that their son’s or daughter’s sacrifice is recognized on behalf of the public. The public is kept away during this private ramp ceremony while the soldier’s flag-draped coffin is moved from the plane into a waiting hearse for transportation to the country’s chief coroner in a city two hours away by car. The family accompanies the coffin’s journey by limousine as does the military guard in a convoy of black unmarked vehicles.

Something really interesting happens at this point. All along the route, the convoy begins to encounter Canadians who are aware a soldier is coming home for one last time, who take a moment to stand along the multi-lane highway waiting for this string of black vehicles to pass by. They come out of schools and businesses, stop their cars, get off buses, stand on overpasses, raise some personal flag or drape this national symbol over the side of an overpass. Officers of other serving branches come to the highway, turn on their emergency lights: national, provincial, municipal police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, silent flashing sentinels. Sometimes small signs with heartfelt messages will displayed, and all done spontaneously for the members of the grieving family to see and perhaps understand that their grief is recognized and perhaps shared in some small but meaningful way while on their terrible journey. We care, and we want to show our respect for their loss, honour the sacrifice of a real person, one of us,  made in OUR name.

In the nation’s capital at the end of the official Remembrance Day ceremony, and in symbolic sympathy throughout this huge and diverse land at local cenotaphs and small monuments to the war dead, Canadians do another peculiar thing: we take off the poppies we have been wearing to show that we remember their sacrifice in the weeks prior to the official day of remembrance, and lay them on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier… individually… amounting one by one until by their tens of thousands they make a blanket of tiny little flowers blood red with black centers.

None of this is organized. None of these symbols is religious. The intention is purely secular, purely individual, meant to show by each participant that this soldier is one of us, one of OURS. The poppy of remembrance belongs to each and every one of us, a common remembrance owned not by the state, not bestowed on us from some divinity, not sanctified by anything other than the value we hold in trust for the next generation, purchased individually by donation to a veteran, to demonstrate an individual debt owed to those individuals who came before and who protected our individual authority it from being usurped by force of arms. Remembrance Day represents OUR sacrifice in defence of OUR authority that empowers OUR secular rights and freedoms.

All people, religious and non religious alike, need to be reminded why their secular values are worth dying for. A good start would be to get religion out of Remembrance Day altogether…. lest we forget.

October 13, 2012

Religion in the public domain? What’s the harm? Perhaps a little a little prosody will help…


My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m asking you—get off my foot.

You must forgive my clumsiness
I did not mean to cause distress
I so regret I did transgress,
As everybody sees!
It clearly wasn’t what I meant—
I mean, it was not my intent
I trod your toes by accident
I beg your pardon—please!

I do not know the way things went;
It might well be an accident.
My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m asking you—get off my foot.

I tell you, I was unaware!
It isn’t that I did not care
I didn’t know your foot was there!
It never crossed my mind!
I took a step; I did not know
That in my path, an inch below
My boot, there sat your tender toe,
Disastrously aligned!

The crucial point, is not, in fairness
The lack, or presence, of awareness
My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m asking you—get off my foot.

My friends and I—my awesome bro’s—
Have secret greetings that we chose;
We show our love by stomping toes
It’s good, you see, not bad!
You can’t assume I meant to harm
In truth, it shows a certain charm!
I take offense at your alarm—
It’s wrong that you’re so mad!

Your friends, of course, are not my friends
My toe is where their privilege ends
My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m asking you—get off my foot.

I do not care. I have the right
To leave my footprints where I might
I will not bend, nor feel contrite—
You ought to let it go.
I’ll step just where I damn well choose
If there’s a toe—I don’t care whose—
I’ll take my step. Some win, some lose…
Too bad about your toe

Your reasons are not my concern
But clearly you have much to learn
My point, dear sir, is simply put:
I’m telling you—get off my foot.

From Cuttlefish

October 6, 2012

What’s the harm of a little religious belief exercised in the public domain?

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) is member of the Science Committee of the House of Representatives and chairs the House Science Committee’s panel on investigations and oversight. He claims to be a scientist because he’s a medical doctor, which reminds me to remember that half of all medical doctors graduated from the bottom portion of their class.

April 5, 2012

What do you think about this ten point secular plan?

Although American in detail, I think the plan is a really good starting point for all secular liberal democracies. Get religion out of the public domain where it has no business being imposed on all. Here’s a recent list:

1. Respect Our Troops – Our military shall serve and include all Americans, religious or nonreligious with no hint of bias and with no hint of fundamentalist extremism coloring our military decisions at home or abroad.

2. Reproductive Information Based on Science – Any federal or state funded program, whether offering services domestic or foreign, that relates to reproductive decisions shall be based on science and public health; not on religious bias or the denigration or women or secular minorities.

3. Healthcare Professionals Fulfill Professional Duties – Healthcare professionals shall fulfill their professional duties and they must do so without a hint of religious bias or they must find another job. That includes fundamentalist pharmacists that turn away rape victims from Plan-B (Morning After Pill Emergency Contraception).

4. No Religious Bias in Land Use or Employment – There shall be no bias in land use planning or environmental law or employment law based on religion or lack thereof.

5. No Bias in Marriage Law – Marriage can be defined by religious congregations howsoever they choose within their own services but marriage under American law shall have no bias whatsoever.

6. Autonomy for End-of-life Choices – When facing end-of-life decisions, all Americans shall be guaranteed control over their own bodies without being thwarted by religious bias.

7. No Religious Bias in School – America’s youth shall never be subjected to bias in education. If there is one penny of government funds there can’t be one iota of religious bias.

8. Congress Shall Include Secular Americans – The composition of Congress and legislature shall include secular Americans and there shall be no bias against secular candidates.

9. Children Protected from Religious Abuse –  There should be one consistent standard pertaining to the health and welfare of children regardless of a child’s parents, school, or child care center. They are all human beings that deserve human rights and protection.

10. Medical & Scientific Innovation Shall be Dedicated to Health & Advancement – Medical, technical, and science innovations shall be dedicated to the health and advancement of our fellow citizens and must never be impeded by religious bias.

Sean Faircloth is the new Richard Dawkins Foundation Director of Strategy and Policy and the author of this plan. His explanation can be viewed here (all ten points come up towards the end):



(h/t Russell metamagician and the hellfire club)


April 4, 2012

What is Evidence Based Education?

Filed under: Education,Project,Psychology,public domain — tildeb @ 7:56 pm

Donovanable of Pervasive Goodness has started a worthwhile project and we need to get the word out. As she writes,

Are you a prospective undergrad or graduate student, looking for a psychology program that’s rigorous and will train you to do the most good? A program that will teach evidence-based therapy, and teach you to understand current research in psychology?

The site she has started is called Evidence Based Education. Tired of the bullshit woo that seems to infect so many of her psych courses and textbooks, she has decided to do something about it and create a database by means of anecdotal evidence which schools offer the best value of evidence based courses for the tuition money. The more people that hear of this and spread the word, the greater the depth and usefulness of the database. So click on over, give a bit of love and say hihowRU, and let’s promote evidence based education wherever it may be found.


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.

January 16, 2012

What’s the harm in believing vaccinations are too risky?

In 2002, the World Health Organization declared measles eradicated from the Americas. In 2011, 763 cases were reported in Canada’s province of Quebec – including 30 children and adults who had been previously vaccinated against the disease – with 89 requiring hospitalization. The cluster was centered in particular schools in Drummondville, with a student population of about 11,000. Some adults were incapacitated for over four months during their recovery and others recovered but with hearing loss. And all of this was preventible.

About 4% of the infected students who had been vaccinated in the outbreak schools contracted measles. Of those children who had not been vaccinated, about 82% contracted the disease which can disfigure and even kill. Of all the students, about 85% had been vaccinated but as we can see, once the vaccination rate falls below about 95% of all children, we start to lose the ‘herd’ immunity (where isolated cases of highly infectious disease do not spread) and all of us – vaccinated and not vaccinated – become endangered.

Why do parents opt their children out from receiving vaccinations? Well, because they would prefer to not run the risk of exposing their children to unnecessary harm from vaccinations. What is this risk? Fevers from the MMR shot (measles, mumps, and rubella) run about 1 in 168 that result in a hospital visit. About one in a million will develop encephalitis (a potentially deadly inflammation of the brain). About one in a thousand with measles will develop encephalitis. The means that the risk for this potentially deadly result is thousand times greater for children exposed to highly contagious diseases whose parents decided vaccinations were too risky.

Let’s look for a moment at the numbers of children who contracted highly contagious and common childhood diseases PER PEAK YEAR before and after vaccinations became standardized prior to 2011 (from the Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion):

Rubella: 69,000 cases compared to 9

Polio: 20,000 cases compared to 0

Mumps: 52,000 cases compared to 32

Measles: 300,000 cases compared to 7

Diptheria: 9,000 cases compared to 1

Obviously, parents who decide the risk is too high from vaccinations are not balancing that risk with what’s true in reality, that the risk from getting these common diseases is not only vastly greater but far more deadly once contracted.

So which parents aren’t vaccinating their children? The poor? The uneducated? Those from broken homes? Those from minorities?


Today’s non vaccinated kids are most likely from white, affluent, with a married mother and father with a college education. These fine upstanding folk are more likely to seek alternative healthcare and use the internet more as an information source. They also tend to live closer together with like-minded people, usually drawn together by some alternative school, church, or politician. This is why outbreaks of preventable diseases usually occurs in geographical pockets (New England journal of Medicine, 2009).

Now let us consider Tajikistan in 2010, previously declared polio free in 2002, with a vaccination rate for polio at about 87%. Now they have a polio outbreak that has no cure, causes paralysis, and often ends in death. In an editorial from the Canadian Medical Association Journal about the similar risk we face in Canada, it tells us:

“We are only one asymptomatic infected traveller away from an outbreak because of low vaccination rates.”

We know vaccination rates are too low. We know that we put EVERYBODY at greater risk for these highly contagious diseases when the rate falls below a minimum of 90% (current estimates put the rate in Canada at about 62% for two-years-olds up to date for all standard vaccinations). We also know outbreaks can and do happen and these risks of not vaccinating everybody are vastly greater than complications from the vaccines themselves. So what is stopping responsible parents from not only protecting their children but doing their civic duty to the rest of the nation?

In the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick (health care is a provincial matter), children must be vaccinated to attend public school. But parents are allowed to (and do) opt out based on medical concerns. Unfortunately, parents can also opt out for religious beliefs as well as matters of conscience! So although there is a legitimate reason for medical considerations backed up by excellent evidence of harm, there is no equivalent evidence on which to base religious or conscience matters.

Matters of conscience are based on a belief that the correlation of childhood health problems stemming from autism, learning disabilities, asthma, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, allergic and anaphylactic disorders, neuroimmune and autoimmune disorders and other chronic diseases indicates causation with vaccinations.

This belief is wrong. It is dangerous. It is woo. There is no good evidence to back up these claims but exhaustive evidence that they are not causally linked. The conclusion is clear:

There is no excuse for maintaining such willful ignorance and blind stupidity for  not vaccinating children today (with an exemption for medical reasons) except by elevating a trust in faith over and in conflict with evidence from reality… which is yet another in a long list of examples of private faith being exercised in the public domain that causes very real harm to very real people.

January 11, 2012

Why is being called an ignorant creationist redundant?

I like the Catholic Encyclopedia definition of ignorance in the sense I am using here, namely, a lack of knowledge about a thing in a being capable of knowing rather than the standard notion of it meaning merely a lack of knowledge, education, or awareness… for which one may not be responsible. Creationists here in the West have no such similar excuse; instead, they are perfectly capable of knowing why genetics and the geologic time scale and evolution are not just true in some theoretical sense but true in the fact that they inform our technologies and practices that work consistently and reliably well for everyone everywhere all the time. We are populated by large numbers of people who doubt specific scientific inquires in order to maintain a belief in some kind of religiously motivated ‘creative’ agency… something I call divine POOF!ism. This is intellectually bankrupt and teaching it is as if it were compatible and supportive of science is simply not true. It is religious selfishness in action.

What excuse beyond selfishness do we find for so many Protestant pastors from this Southern Baptist Convention survey? Consider the following:

America’s Protestant pastors overwhelmingly reject the theory of evolution and are evenly split on whether the earth is 6,000 years old, according to a survey released Monday by the Southern Baptist Convention.

When asked if “God used evolution to create people,” 73% of pastors disagreed – 64% said they strongly disagreed – compared to 12% who said they agree.

Asked whether the earth is approximately 6,000 years old, 46% agreed, compared to 43% who disagreed.

A movement called Young Earth creationism promotes the 6,000-year-old figure, arguing that it is rooted in the Bible. Scientists say the earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

The Southern Baptist Convention survey, which queried 1,000 American Protestant pastors, also found that 74% believe the biblical Adam and Eve were literal people.

“Recently discussions have pointed to doubts about a literal Adam and Eve, the age of the earth and other origin issues,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention, in a report on LifeWay’s site. “But Protestant pastors are overwhelmingly Creationists and believe in a literal Adam and Eve.”

Not only do so many of these people not keep their bizarre beliefs private but actually promote them through congregational teachings. And what many are teaching, even though they are beings quite capable of knowing differently, is if not factually wrong then grossly misleading because it is incompatible with what we do know based on what works consistently and reliably for everyone everywhere all the time. In addition, these teaching are pernicious in that they cause intended harm through the promotion of willful ignorance contrary to the teaching of knowledge.

How can I say such things?

Well, consider the incompatibility of belief in an historical and literal Adam and Eve. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understanding of genetics. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about how genetics work in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand heritable diseases and crop sciences, as but two examples. In fact, this belief is in direct and uncompromising conflict with our understanding of genetics that works for everyone everywhere all the time. There is very strong genetic evidence unaccounted for by such a belief that the smallest human population from whom we come was no smaller than about ~10,000.  To believe in a literal and historical Adam and Eve means that believers really do reject this part of science we call genetics.

Consider the incompatibility of belief that the world is fewer than ~10,000 years old. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of the term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understanding of geology. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about the age and formation of rock strata and the forces that have affected them over time that works in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand resource exploration and extraction and erosion and tectonics, as but four examples. In fact this belief in young earth creationism is in conflict with our understanding of geology (and radioactive decay) that works for everyone everywhere all the time. There is very strong geological evidence unaccounted for by such a belief that we live on planet that has undergone significant change over a great deal of time. To believe in a created earth means that believers really do reject this part of science we call geology (and, by extension, the age of other planets).

Consider the incompatibility of belief that our biological heritage is from divine creation by an interventionist agency. This doesn’t mean people are rejecting ‘science’ in the larger sense of the term but it does mean that people are rejecting our current understand of evolution. Such a belief ignores the evidence we have about biological development and change over time by what is known as natural selection (it would not be ‘natural’ if traits were selected by some interventionist agency) that works in highly predictable ways… ways we rely on to understand biology and medicine, to name but two. There is very strong evolutionary evidence unaccounted for by such a creationist belief that life on earth is related yet differentiated by natural selection over a great deal of time. To believe in creationism means that believers really do reject this part of science we call biology.

So what’s the harm maintaining such a dismissive belief? After all, we are assured repeatedly by many earnest religious believers and apologetic accommodationists that ‘science’ and ‘religion’ are actually compatible… and even mutually supportive! So my question is – as always – Is this claim true?

I need to divert for a moment and look at ‘science’ in the larger sense and understand why this argument about creationists respecting science – but not these specific scientific avenues – is just not true.  Science, let us recall, is a METHOD of inquiry and not the results of an inquiry. In other words, exactly the same METHOD is used to investigate, say, genetics as it is germs, aerodynamics as it is astronomy. It makes no sense to suggest that it is somehow compatible and supportive to reject that METHOD here but not there in order to privilege some prior religious belief. It’s actually dishonest. It is neither compatible nor supportive to suggest that the belief in geocentrism does not stand in contrast and competition with heliocentrism when the two notions are incompatible – they are necessarily in conflict – any more than it does to suggest biblical inerrancy should be granted to the story of Adam and Eve but not biblical inerrancy to the sixty some odd reference to the earth as the center of the universe. To reject the specific science that informs genetics and geology and evolution to privilege religious beliefs incompatible with them is contrary to being supportive of the METHOD of science used to inform all other scientific inquiries. It is that identical METHOD that shows us that the geocentric model fails where the heliocentric model succeeds for everyone everywhere all the time. It is that METHOD that informs all these practical applications and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time derived from the specific scientific inquiries so vilified by supporters of creationism. By rejecting genetics and geology and evolution to favour and prejudice some holy scripture, creationists are rejecting the METHOD of science used to inform not just these specific scientific inquiries but ALL OF THEM.

This has a pernicious effect… especially in medicine.

Evolutionary theories are critical for understanding human disease. They are used to understand the origins of cancer and to better design therapies, which directly help our understanding through evolutionary history to explain modern health problems (such as type-II diabetes and obesity). It is upon these evolutionary theories that we have learned to appreciate viral evolution, which is used to design safe and effective vaccination strategies that work. For example, an evolutionary viewpoint is the only way to understand the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and to develop effective methods for stopping or slowing it. Defining the evolutionary process of cancers is leading to new, more targeted approaches in cancer treatment. How we incorporate these evolutionary ideas into medical education enhances the education of health professionals, which is in stark conflict with creationist belief (that usually blames sin for our earned deaths… such a cheerful and optimistic bunch). Our biomedical science gains from understanding human evolution and allows us to design and implement solutions to our vulnerability to disease. The evolutionary approach to medicine and public health is enormous, informing areas of research and providing predictions and guidance for novel interventions.

All of this medical knowledge and its pursuit is at dire risk when we continue to pretend that teaching creationism is somehow compatible, somehow a legitimate and equivalent alternative, with the scientific quest to know.

It isn’t. At all.

Now consider the incompatibility creationism presents as an alternative to the benefits from informed medicine and how many future doctors and medical researchers are turned away from this pursuit in the name of honouring the religious beliefs of their parents and pastors about creationism. Think of how many students are affected when creationists in all their various lying for Jesus and Allah guises try to insert this theology into science classrooms or religious students who do everything they can to remove specific scientific inquiries like evolution from their educational curriculum.

All of this medical knowledge and its pursuit is at dire risk when we continue to pretend that teaching creationism is somehow compatible, somehow a legitimate and equivalent alternative, with the scientific METHOD. It’s simply not true.

Creationism – and its gaggle of handmaidens of other necessary beliefs contrary to specific scientific inquiries – is in direct conflict with the METHOD of science that produces what works for everyone everywhere all the time. This is why such belief that sidelines legitimate and honest inquiry into reality is not a ‘different way of knowing’ or some separate but equivalent Magesterium. Creationism is a turning away from honest scientific methodology (methodological naturalism) and insisting on a return to ignorance. Ignorance is the real alternative people are choosing when they reject and ignore knowledge we have that works for everyone everywhere all the time, knowledge upon which companies invest trillions of dollars, knowledge that has the effrontery to work consistently and reliably well in reality over time. By staying faithful to beliefs that are wholly inadequate to reveal what works in reality by comparison, people are choosing ignorance over knowledge to maintain their religious belief. The sacrifice costs. Yet still many are teaching  creationism to their kids and want it taught to the general public. They want respect for this ignorance established in law and want to base public policies on extensions of it in areas like research and human reproduction and foreign aid. It’s ignorance in action, what we atheists like to call ‘turtles all the way down’. It’s a ruse, a lie, an intentional deception, a willful disregard for what is true in reality to pretend creationism is an equivalent and respectable alternative to specific scientific inquiries rather than the ignorance in action it honestly is.

It’s high time more of us reminded creationists determined to insert their beliefs into the public domain of this brute fact, that being an ignorant creationist is in fact and deed redundant.

(h/t Pandasthumb)

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