Questionable Motives

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?

December 20, 2011

Is the Higgs boson really a particle of faith?

Alister McGrath would have you believe it is.

In this article he writes about equating the Higgs bosun particle (a link here for people unfamiliar with what the Standard Theory is and what carrier particles are) – scientists hunting the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider have revealed the first tantalising glimpses of the mysterious particle -  to a similar kind of belief in the causal agent for the order we find in the universe he calls god. I’ve added some bold type for emphasis:

Lederman (Nobel Laureate Leon) invented the name the “God particle” because it was “so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive.” Nobody had seen it back in 1994. And they’re still not sure whether they’ve really seen it today. Yet this isn’t seen as a massive problem. The idea seemed to make so much sense of things that the existence of the “God particle” has come to be taken for granted. It has become, I would say, a “particle of faith”. The observations themselves didn’t prove the existence of the Higgs boson. Rather, the idea of the Higgs boson explained observations so well that those in the know came to believe it really existed. One day, technology might be good enough to allow it to be actually observed. But we don’t need to wait until then before we start believing in it.

McGrath is saying we can start believing that the Higgs boson really does exist as a causal agent because it’s a really good explanation that fits the available evidence even if it’s invisible. And note that he equates an ‘explanation of observations’ with ‘making sense’. In fact, maybe it seems odd to McGrath that there is such an exciting kerfuffle over the same bumps in mass measured by two different research teams at the Collider – a mass between 124 and 126 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) – which shows strong evidence that the same thing is being measured, and that same thing may be a Higgs signal. Why be excited at all if simply believing something is true is adequate and equivalent?

Obviously, belief alone – meaning trust and confidence that something is true – in NOT adequate proof, which is why we call such a belief in scientific terminology an hypothesis… a potential explanation that may or may not be true and in need further empirical inquiry and stronger evidence. McGrath knows this but it it doesn’t suit his purpose here because he has no intention of suggesting god is merely an hypothesis in need of further empirical proof – like the same kind of dedicated search for empirical evidence of the Higgs boson. So we know he is being intentionally dishonest in the sense he wishes to misrepresent trust in the existence of the Higgs boson with the same kind of trust in an invisible, intervening, creative, sky daddy.

So what is his real purpose for this intentional misrepresentation between trust in the existence of the Higgs boson particle and trust in the existence of god?

There’s an obvious and important parallel with the way religious believers think about God. While some demand proof that God exists, most see this as unrealistic.

Is this “parallel” similarly reflected in the search for the Higgs boson? Do most of us think it is unrealistic to demand empirical evidence of the Higgs boson particle? Of course not. In fact, such evidence is exactly what is being sought, and rightly so, to INCREASE the confidence that the particle does in fact exist, for without it the Higgs boson remains only an hypothesis regardless of its explanatory power. That’s why these are not equivalent kinds of faith in action here and McGrath knows this. But it doesn’t even slow him down when he makes his final pitch:

Believers argue that the existence of God gives the best framework for making sense of the world. God is like a lens, which brings things into clearer focus. As the Harvard psychologist William James pointed out years ago, religious faith is about inferring “the existence of an unseen order” in which the “riddles of the natural order” can be explained.

Is McGrath being honest here? Does he hold his faith in god to be an equivalent hypothesis of inference in need of better evidence to INCREASE his confidence that it may be true? (I see no evidence for this.) Or is he, like religious apologists everywhere, merely cherry picking bits and pieces of scientific endeavors to misrepresent his faith – his certainty that his god is an active and causal agent in the universe and exists in reality – to be equivalent to honest scientific inquiry? (I see nothing but strong evidence for this cherry picking.)

When religious apologists stoop to misrepresenting the method of scientific inquiry to be equivalent to how they inform their religious faith, they show their intellectual dishonesty. They have no desire, no willingness, to search for explanations to the riddles of the natural order from the natural order itself but that if we order now, we can have this answer called god. But wait! There’s more! If we call right now, we can also get – absolutely free – an answer that can safely and without compromise be our final answer to whatever questions we have of this natural order! It’s so easy, anyone can do it, but don’t delay; call today! As a bonus, we’ll throw in the old canard that this one-answer-fits-all and call the ‘results’ equivalent to honest scientific inquiry… merely a different and compatible way of knowing.

It’s an absurd and obscene pitch McGrath is making, knowing full well that such snake oil trust he’s peddling in faith-based rather than reality based claims offers us nothing but turtles all the way down and answers nothing with reliable and consistent knowledge. All we have to do to gain access to this one answer for all questions about the natural order is to exchange our intellectual honesty and curiosity and demand for empirical evidence for the kind of empty confidence we can have in the final answer of godidit. That’s why it’s a toll free call. And McGrath would have us think that this is a legitimate and valuable exchange. I think it’s clear that his argument is, metaphorically speaking, no different than a crock of shit.

October 29, 2011

Can you solve for the value of religion in this equation?

Biologist Jerry Coyne (author of Why Evolution is True and the associated website of the same name) asked his new friend and former evangelical preacher Dan Barker (author of Godless and  co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation) what he thought of the acccommodationist argument about comporting science and religion to be of any value in moving the faithful toward science. Barker’s response was pretty clear: that in his opinion the opposite was true… that “there is no fruitful overlap between religion and science.”

Furthermore, Barker’s response explains why the advertised ‘good’ teachings to which religions lay claim are really human values that infuse the commonalities found in religions:

During my debates on morality I point out that all of the good teachings in the world religions (which show up in all of them) are really HUMAN values: peace, love, cooperation, and so on. Those values transcend religion, and are in fact the values we use when we are judging from the outside whether we think a particular religion is good or not. (So they must not originate from within religion.) When you factor out the common teachings shared by all religions (the good stuff, the humanistic stuff), what you are left with are NOT good teachings. The so-called “religious values” that Christians, Jew, Muslims and other groups hold are divisive, idiosyncratic, and unproductive to moral discourse: what day of the week you should worship, how women should dress, what foods are permitted, whose beards can be shaved, who is allowed to be married, and so on. Thinking of it like that, there is actually no overlap between “human values” (informed by science) and “religious values” (derived from holy scripture).

He then drives the point home by presenting us with clear algebraic equation:

Religion + Good Works = Good Works

Solve for Religion.

October 14, 2011

Can we know what’s true in reality?

I keep coming across this notion that all truth is relative, so that scientific findings accomplished by man should be understood to be less reliable that the certainties that can be assumed deduced from faith-based beliefs.

I admit, this argument drives me nuts. The latest was from reader Daniel who argues that Truth is a being with whom we can have a personal relationship, and that atheists lose effectiveness in theistic discussions when they fail to appreciate this special relationship the faithful have with their ‘truths’ cum manifestations of various gods. One responder wrote:

In a life filled with people whose individual realities depend on their personal perceptions instead of the true unprejudiced reality, our belief systems…our truths, if you will, are definitely biased. Everyone’s reference points are based on their perceptions of their experiences. Even our perceptions of the truths [...] are subject to unreliability because we are who we are and our eschewed views. Only one who has the life of God in him can hope to taste of truth and only as we constantly examine ourselves and stay in fellowship with Him can we hope to interpret that truth correctly.

So I responded:

I think Feynman’s quote here is apt when it comes to trusting beliefs and perspectives:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

How do we not fool ourselves? Respecting the method of science – by using what is known as methodological naturalism – is an excellent starting point. The products of this method speak for themselves: so far, they work for everyone everywhere all the time. How is that ‘relative’ just because it always maintains room for doubt?

This notion – that what is true is somehow relative to one’s subjective experience and beliefs – is probably one of the most common yet odious opinions bandied about as if it were widely accepted as correct. It’s not. It’s an epistemological placebo for the intellectually lazy.

Yes, Virginia, there is a reality, and we can actually know something about it if we choose to make the honest effort. Pretending that our subjective faculties prohibits this discovering of reality is the worst kind of apologetics because it assumes we cannot know without certainty… and confuses anything less than certain with something less than what’s true in reality. This little shell game of substituted word meanings tries to make anything less-than-certain equivalent – and that’s where it veers off the twin paths of reason and reality and inserts the term ‘relative’ as if that were appropriate answer to this warped thinking. It’s not. It’s dishonest.

The physical laws of nature are not relative just because someone is so intellectually impoverished that they can only appreciate probabilities of P=1 to equate with what’s true and knowably so. It does not bolster this misunderstanding to pretend that all other and lesser probabilities are equivalently ‘relatively true’. That’s absurd and demonstrably so. To assume that anything less than certain means it is equivalent to something unknown is ridiculous by all practical measurements unless someone is honestly and equally surprised each and every morning that the sun rises. Such a person isn’t intellectually lazy but brain-damaged. Even so, few people are actually so dull and unimaginative that patterns in nature are either unrecognizable or equally untrustworthy.

To call anything less than certain ‘relative’ is a gross distortion of how much we can know and trust about that knowledge of reality we have gained. Relativism is an intentional and misleading excuse to try to make equivalent faith and fact, as if Ergo Jesus is a legitimate answer in place of I don’t know because I have some element of uncertainty. Relativism argued on the basis of this subjectivity is just broken thinking petrified into ignorance by a lack of intellectual honesty.

Any thoughts?

October 12, 2011

Are the religious more socially responsive through charity and volunteering than the non religious?

It is not unusual for me to be presented with this notion by supporters of various religions in full agreement with each other on this issue… as if it were unquestionably true. After all, there really are many religious charities and organizations doing socially responsive work. I even see some advertised on the local public transit. Fortunately, we have some census data out of Great Britain that may surprise these supporters (I have added some bold):

In terms of civic engagement and formal volunteering, the figures show no significant difference between those with a religion and those with no religion (57% and 56% respectively). There is scarcely any difference in participation between those with no religion and self-described Christians (56% and 58%). At 44%, the proportion of Hindus and Muslims participating in civic engagement and formal volunteering is actually lower than the proportion of non-religious people doing so, and the lowest of all groups. This is no flash in the pan – it is a continuing feature of the figures over a number of years.

The figures supplement other data that makes the same point, not only from previous years’ citizenship surveys. In 2007, Faith and Voluntary Action, from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations found that “religious affiliation makes little difference in terms of volunteering”, and as a matter of simple numbers, the overwhelming majority of the voluntary, community and charity sector in the UK are secular.

I think the Guardian article helps explain further:

Non-religious people are volunteering all the time, but don’t feel the need to do it in the name of being non-religious. They may even do it for charities that have a nominally religious origin. Being therefore less visible than specifically religious contributions to society, this can support the myth that non-religious people do less community work. This anecdotal misconception can only be corrected by data, which is not something to which most people have access.

So I’m just doing my bit to spread the data to a wider audience (and even I have donated through religious organizations for specific charity work and I wouldn’t consider myself much of a religious supporter). Yes, Virginia, you really can be good without god  Now… where’s a bus to carry that message? Oh right… this atheist campaign to adorn buses with reassuring messages that morality is not dependent on religious affiliations was refused access to advertise on public transit in my hometown. Too… militant and strident and divisive for the public transit commission officers making the decision to reject it. That the message happens to be true in fact doesn’t seem to carry much weight in such decisions made on the public’s behalf. No surprise there.

October 10, 2011

Which religious movement is the correct one?

This, of course, is a fatal argument ignored by religious folk everywhere: which religious movement is the correct one and how can you know? On the up side, if a lack of evidence from reality is merely a convenience rather than a hindrance for maintaining this faith-based belief over that one, then the downside is that any and all beliefs in agencies of oogity boogity are equivalently empty.

Contrary claims between competing faiths are very amusing to behold as supporters bandy irrational arguments about undefinable agencies and their unknowable intentions. Perhaps this picture will help reveal why:

(vie Saint Thomas the Doubter Church)

September 28, 2011

What ever happened to Baby Joseph, ‘saved’ by the Priests for Life stormtroopers from the evil clutches of Canadian health care?

Back on March 22 of this year, I posted about why Priests for Life are theological thugs, fanatical religious stormtroopers who prey on the hopes of others to aid and abet and revel in the unnecessary suffering of others in the name of  honouring their god. Their latest victim was Baby Joseph Maracchli who, in October of 2010 at 10 months of age developed a brain fever and became vegetative just like another previous child of the Maracchlis. The family wanted a tracheotomy performed so that they could take the baby home to die but the hospital disagreed on compassionate medical grounds:

Eight physicians at LSHC were unanimously of the opinion that Joseph had no hope of recovery, and there was no possible treatment that could reverse his condition. They quite rightly pointed out what was obvious that he would never get out of bed nor interact meaningfully with his environment. As responsible and caring medical professionals, the doctors sought a second opinion from colleagues in Toronto. The director of the critical care unit for Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto (a world class facility and recognized leader for pediatric medical care) there agreed that further treatment was futile. Joseph’s doctors therefore proposed removing the tube that was assisting his breathing. If he could breathe unaided, he would go home to be cared for by his parents. If not, he would be given medication to ensure that he did not suffer, and allowed to die. A Canadian Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Canadian hospital, ordering the life support removed.

This is when the Priest for Life entered and through their efforts helped make this sad story into a fundraising campaign, where they spent a considerable amount of donated money to fly the baby to St. Louis and have the tracheotomy. From their warped point of view, the priests were ‘saviors’ of the baby, vilifying the baby’s Canadian health care team in the process. The baby was released at the end of April and went home to Windsor Ontario.

Today, the Windsor Star reports:

Br. Paul O’Donnell, Major Superior at Franciscan Brothers of Peace, posted a message posted early Wednesday reported Baby Joseph had died.

“It is with great sadness that I report to you the passing of our dear Baby Joseph Maraachli. He passed away peacefully at home with his parents and family at his side. Praise God he had seven precious months with his family to be surrounded by love and was not put to death at the hands of doctors. May Joseph rest in the loving arms of his Heavenly Father surrounded by all the angels.”

Back in March, I pointed out that:

What is not reported very widely is that the couple’s first child who suffered from the same condition did receive a tracheotomy, at the parents insistence, and died a horrific death at home. That child suffered from infection, followed by pneumonia and eventually choked to death… it just took six months of additional suffering for this to happen. The physicians were rightly concerned on behalf of the quality of life of their patient to do as the family asked.

This time it took only five additional months for the baby to die after our priestly heroes intervened. They’re slipping as they get older, I guess, but any additional unnecessary suffering is a real feather in their theological caps.

September 26, 2011

Why is it okay to say “I don’t know?”

Filed under: Argument,faith-based beliefs,Knowledge,reality — tildeb @ 8:43 pm

Faith-based beliefs are extraordinarily common but their popularity is not a vote in its favour. From religions to pseudosciences, superstitions to conspiracy theories, faith-based beliefs feed their roots. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can control our gullibility, our ignorance, and hesitate long enough to stop ourselves from taking that final step into believing assumption and assertions to be equivalent to trustworthy knowledge. When we come across something interesting and/or intriguing and have no answer to explain the effects we find, we have an opportunity to be intellectually honest and admit that we don’t know. As Steve Novella points out, in a post about a coroner taking that dishonest step into gullibility and reporting that an unknown fire was actually spontaneous human combustion, all of us are vulnerable of doing the same unless we make the effort to exercise critical thinking:

It’s therefore a good opportunity to teach critical thinking skills. People’s brains are clogged with myths and false information, spread by rumor and the media, and accepted due to a lack of having the proper critical thinking filters in place. It’s disappointing, however, when people who should know better, or whose job it is to know better, fall for such myths.

But he has a warning, too, that:

Knowing a lot of information about a complex subject area does not necessarily also grant critical thinking skills – knowledge of logic, heuristics, and mechanisms of self-deception. This is why scientists fall prey to magicians or con-artists, and sometimes even deceive themselves and take their careers down the rabbit hole of pseudoscience.

He suggests that all of us keep firmly in mind that:

For any frequent phenomenon there will be a certain number (a residue) of cases that defy explanation, just by chance alone, because there are quirky, unique, or highly unlikely circumstances. Very unlikely things happen all the time, given enough opportunity. It is therefore not only the argument from ignorance, but utter folly to conclude that such cases have a paranormal or fantastical explanation, rather than they are just unusual but still mundane cases.

And that is something we need to take to heart: that when we use these unknown effects to support our trust in some faith-based belief of supernatural cause, we have left behind our critical thinking and stepped fully into out own willingness to be gullible. Once we decide to accept some supernatural agent of causation to explain some natural effect, we have cancelled the natural universe to be our arbiter and substituted out belief in its place. This is the common recipe – the identical thread of bad thinking, a broken epistemology – for protecting the faith-based beliefs too many of us cherish that fuel religions to pseudosciences, superstitions to conspiracy theories as well as defend those beliefs from legitimate and honest inquiry based on evidence found in reality, in the natural universe. In all cases of faith-based beliefs presented as true in reality, the believer has taken one step too many away from critical thinking and honest inquiry that should result in an “I don’t know” and makes an illegal substitution (to borrow a sports term) of some untrustworthy belief to masquerade as a ‘different kind’ of knowledge… indistinguishable in all ways from delusion and ignorance. It really is okay for each of us to admit that sometime “I don’t know” is the best answer we have. And that’s the starting position all of us have shared. That’s the statement that begins honest inquiry and that’s the only answer to the unknown that starves the root of ignorance that nourishes faith-based beliefs. Unlike faith-based beliefs that clouds our vision into what is true in reality with our own imagined beliefs, “I don’t know” prepares the intellect for learning trustworthy knowledge about the universe we inhabit.

August 17, 2011

What’s in a good editorial?

Filed under: accommodation,faith-based beliefs,reality,Religion,Science — tildeb @ 7:14 pm

Nothing but good reasoning, as far as I can tell, based on respecting what is true in reality.

Compared to the last post here on QM, this one I’m posting (taken from an editorial of the St. Louis JewishLight) may give you hope that you are not one of the few who can actually think without having to draw upon some supernatural agencies to make sense of the natural universe.

Now sit back and enjoy the parts I have extracted or head over and read the whole thing yourself. You’ll be glad you did:

There are millions of Americans who want to kill science, including some who have announced they are running for President of our dear nation.  And this is not in any way a good thing.

These Americans of course don’t see it that way.  They’ll gladly drive to work, use their smartphones and watch their TVs (physics), take their medicine and cure their ills (chemistry and biology), tend to their lawns and landscaping (botany).  They are fully able and willing to accept those benefits of science that endlessly improve their own lives.

But when the identical method of scientific discovery is applied to subjects that they deem to conflict with their religious beliefs – creationism, age of the earth, climate change (the latter because in their view, God could not possibly have made an earth susceptible to destruction by humans, or alternately, that God put the world here for humans to exploit it to our advantage) – they’ll put a bullet to the head of science as fast as you can say “carbon credits.”

This attempt at assassination cannot fairly be labeled as an assault by atheists against religion.

Refreshing, eh?

How about this paragraph:

When creationists say they don’t “believe in” evolution, they are spewing an oxymoron and polluting the rhetorical environment. Evolution isn’t something you believe or not believe – it is a way to describe well-researched phenomena in the most plausible way possible. Those who oppose the teaching of evolutionary science, or insist on teaching a belief system (i.e., creationism), alongside science, see it differently, and wrongly.

I’m in love.

And this:

But therein lies the rub: There is absolutely nothing different about the basic research methodology in earth and climate science than applies to other scientific fields and endeavors. If you destroy science in one area, you are destroying it in all.

You mean relying on the method of science in this bit of life but not that bit is actually hypocritical? Gee… whodathunk?

From a comment received yesterday, I was asked, “But why do they (atheists) use so much energy in being anti-God (tildeb: that’s what criticizing woo earns you as a label… I have no good reason to think such a critter is real yet that makes me anti-what-isn’t-real. If you figure it out, let me know)? Seems like a waste of time. If I don’t believe in something (like the Easter Bunny) I just move on. If someone else does, it is their business. Atheists aren’t any more arrogant than “Saved Christians.” They’re all a crushing bore.”

Fortunately, my answer seems to find an echo – okay, an echo that is actually a much better enunciated and coherent answer, to be honest – in St. Louis, home of my beloved Rams:

Ignore this controversy at your personal and national peril.  If you are comfortable with America becoming a nation of Luddites, then by all means, embrace the attacks on evolutionary and climate science (tildeb: and I would include any faith-based belief system that is contrary to respecting what is true).  But in our case, we think being smart about science is hip, cool and quite frankly, essential to America’s continued leadership role in the world.

Exactly right.

(h/t SC)

August 16, 2011

What do you mean our eyes don’t see?

This very short video shows why our brains, and not our eyes, see.

Our brains are also very good at tricking us. When we experience something, we try to make sense of it. What fills in the details is our brain – based on what aligns with our expectations and prior beliefs. These beliefs may or may not be based on what’s true in reality. That’s why it is so very important that we understand and appreciate that our attributions (to what we assign cause for the effect we have just experienced) may be wrong. Once we understand and accept that our attributions can be and often are wrong, we realize the importance of independent verification. This is where the method of science plays such an important role in determining reality and why we can’t arbitrarily suspend laws of nature to suit a particular faith-based belief without understanding at some level that we’re cheating. Our attributions for experiences we may not understand are not an authority for our faith-based beliefs if we are not willing to first submit them to independent verification and respect the results. When we protect our attributions from being subject to the arbiter of reality, we are allowing closing our minds to what is true (if we think it will go against what we believe to be true) and substituting belief in its place. Whatever conclusions we draw from this dishonest method to protect our beliefs has to be an untrustworthy guide to what is true in reality.

So when someone proposes some faith-based belief to be true on the merit that the person experiences something but is unwilling to submit those same beliefs to the arbitration of reality, they are not seeking what is true at all. They are really asking you to grant to them a special exemption of what is true in reality on behalf of their belief. If you agree to respect their beliefs, you are complicit in the cover-up of reality in the name of faith. This makes you an accomplice in religion’s role to respecting what’s believed to be true over and above what’s true in fact.

This is why religion and science can never be friends. The contrasting methods of inquiry cannot be complimentary ways of knowing. Because respect for what’s true in reality is subverted by the process of faith in beliefs the two must remain in conflict and contrary to their very core.

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