Questionable Motives

June 24, 2012

Can we have a meaningful life without an afterlife?

Filed under: afterlife,Atheism,meaning,Religion — tildeb @ 10:39 pm

What are the merits of a human life?

In this excellent video we hear from such strong atheist voices as AronRa, DarkMatter2525, DPRJones, Evid3nce, HealthyAddict, Laci Green, Thunderf00t and ZOMGitsCriss their reasons why they think we can.

(h/t onefuriousllama)

 

June 13, 2012

Why are blasphemy laws an abortion of reason?

Because you have to abort any reason to be concerned about what is true in favour of showing greater concern for what is believed to be true.  Therein lies the definition of legal blasphemy: the offence of speaking sacrilegiously about god or sacred things; sacrilege meaning the violation or misuse of what is regarded as sacred; sacred meaning anything regarded with great respect and reverence; reverence meaning to regard or treat with deep respect. Blasphemy laws enforce (with the misuse of secular law) only what is regarded to be worthy of respect, namely, some belief claim. Whether or not the claim is true doesn’t matter, you see, so whatever reasons are brought forward also don’t matter. This is the rejection of reason, raising the question How do we know if some belief claim is worth respecting? Blasphemy laws circumvent the answer to this question as irrelevant.

But surely I jest! People are far too reasonable to go along with this absurdity, you must be thinking; the laws are intended to promote toleration and mutual respect for the belief of others, right?

Wrong.

The catholic church is a fairly large religious organization claiming over  a billion members globally. Surely it wouldn’t stoop to standing idly by while some bishop undertook this kind of legal abuse. But, right on cue, the mass producer and protector of pedophiles has shown that it too doesn’t care about what’s true (is anyone surprised… anyone?); it doesn’t mind that its agents use these laws to attack reason that stands contrary to whatever earns them cash and uses the secular branch of the judiciary to do this dirty work for it… to bludgeon what’s true into irrelevancy if it interferes with catholic aims and catholic beliefs and gaining money.

From the Friendly Atheist:

 

Indian TV channel (TV-9)asked the President of the Indian Rationalist Society to visit the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai to offer his opinion on a supposed miracle. The President, Sanal Edamaruku, is like the Indian version of James Randi or Penn Jillette. He is well known in the country and has been debunking miracles for over 30 years.

The miracle in question involved the dripping of water from the feet of a statue of the crucifixion, a miracle that that seems to crop up all around the world… at least when pieces of toast with Jesus on them are in short supply.

Edamuruku was quickly able to pin the cause on a leaking drainage system, with water being drawn up through the nail holes in the statue’s feet by capillary action. Needless to say, the locals and the church were not happy.

Edamaruku accused the church of exploiting people for money, a tactic that did not go down well. Edamaruku later participated in a heated debate with the pastor of the church, Father Augustine Palett, on national TV. Father Palett had little time for actual debate and instead spent his time threatening action, by way of a blasphemy complaint, if Edamaruku refused to apologize. Edamaruku welcomed this, as it would be a chance to present his evidence in court with the priests and bishops on the witness stand. Of course, no apology was forthcoming and Palett has since made good on his threat.

Following the TV appearance, a group called The Association of Concerned Catholics (Think Bill Donohue, but Indian) lodged a complaint against him with the Mumbai police. They have now arrested him, charging him with “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.” This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals. The complaints against Edamaruku, however, are a grave misuse of these laws.

Edamaruku had applied for “anticipatory bail,” which would have meant he could have avoided jail during any trial. Bizarrely, this was rejected on the grounds that the judge thought jail would be the safest place for him.

Any democratic country with secular law cannot justify this poisonous intrusion of theocracy into its legal system. It’s an embarrassment to anyone who can think straight. Blasphemy laws must be removed if that country’s government doesn’t wish to advocate for the aborting of reason from its judicial system.

May 24, 2012

Is the prevalence of religious belief a sign of an unhealthy society?

Filed under: Education,Evolution,Religion,Society — tildeb @ 8:18 pm

Yes.

Oh, come on, you say. Religious belief helps us to deal with problems in a dysfunctional society… or so this favourite little religious meme assures us. But is it true?

Besides, how can anyone scientifically correlate religious belief to an unhealthy society? Surely the data must be cherry picked!

Well, Jerry Coyne (WEIT), the author of this paper published at Evolution, has collected a rather convincing stable of studies that does most of the arguing on his behalf. Granted, he is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and a member of both the Committee on Genetics and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, so he does have an agenda to promote a better understanding of evolution. But the numbers are quite clear: great swaths of Americans will not accept evolution. Jerry wants to know in particular why American resistance to accepting evolution is uniquely high among First World countries. This paper answers the question with an inescapable conclusion: religious belief.

What can be done to change this deplorable condition – what Jerry calls a “national embarrassment” – of believing in anti-scientific religious belief over a robust scientific explanation that works for everyone everywhere all the time?

The prevalence of religious belief in the United States suggests that outreach by scientists alone will not have a huge effect in increasing the acceptance of evolution, nor will the strategy of trying to convince the faithful that evolution is compatible with their religion. Because creationism is a symptom of religion, another strategy to promote evolution involves loosening the grip of faith on America.

Okay, if contrary religious belief is the problem, how can this grip be loosened?

Through difficult social change.

The reasons to correlate religious belief with a dysfunctional society are laid out clearly and succinctly drawing on dozens of recent studies. The data is compelling. I urge all readers to download the pdf and read this short paper for themselves, to see just how overwhelming are the various avenues of correlation, to think seriously about how and why this “disgrace” has come to be, what sustains it, what personal responsibility we share in pretending it’s not an ongoing problem accompanied by real life ramifications for our collective society. Don’t reject it out of hand because it disagrees with your religious beliefs. Think about it first.

We have to stop pretending religious belief is an accumulative good or something valuable enough in itself that its public face must be accommodated.  It’s not and we shouldn’t. It is a problem that breeds and excuses social inequity.

Concerned as he is with the problematic low level of understanding why evolution is true, Coyne concludes,

Ultimately, the best strategy to make Americans more receptive to evolution might require loosening the grip of religion on our country. This may sound not only invidious but untenable, yet data from other countries suggest that such secularism is possible and, indeed, is increasing in the United States at this moment. But weakening religion may itself require other, more profound changes: creating a society that is more just, more caring, more egalitarian. Regardless of how you feel about religion, that is surely a goal most of us can endorse.

May 18, 2012

What’s with all the censoring at religious blogs?

Filed under: belief,blogs,censorship,commentary,Criticism,Religion — tildeb @ 11:44 am

So here’s the motivating story:

Hannah Luce, daughter of Teen Mania founder Ron Luce, is continuing to improve as she recovers from a plane crash last Friday. She was the sole survivor among the five on board.

“The fact that Hannah is here with us is a miracle, and while I am overjoyed and so thankful to God that she’s here, I am also deeply saddened at the loss of Austin, Stephen, Garrett and Luke,” Ron Luce wrote Tuesday on his blog. “I can’t even begin to understand the pain their parents are feeling right now.”

And here’s the lovely poem (written originally about a case in which a man survived a fall from a skyscraper, with only 10 broken bones -both legs, right arm, multiple ribs, vertebrae. His brother was killed in the accident.) that was posted to Christianpost.com in response to the notion of this plane crash ‘miracle’:

I always found it rather odd
When people think to credit God;
The doctors helped, at least a bit,
The rescue workers didn’t quit,
The strangers there, who saw him fall
And made the first responder call
So many people did so much
But still we see His Holy Touch–
You see, it seems the signs are there
That show this man has seen God’s care:
The shattered ankle, broken shin
The shards of bone that pierce through skin
The massive bleeding in his gut–
Yes, every fracture, every cut–
This is the way that God Above
Displays His omnipresent Love.
And just in case He’s still denied
Remember, this man’s brother died.
Such agony makes Man aware
Of just how precious is God’s care
And when Humanity forgets,
God has a way to hedge His bets:
He’ll find a patsy, just some guy,
Like this Moreno, way up high–
When disbelievers start to scoff
God simply pushes this guy off;
With bleeding, pain, and broken bone,
God shows us that we’re not alone,
With just a little Godly shove,
He gets a chance to prove His Love.

Apparently, the comment was deleted (or so I read over at Digital Cuttlefish).

I am always disappointed that so many ‘christian’ blogs seem to be so willing and even eager to moderate and censor even the most gentle criticism of any kind… assuming they even allow for any comments at all. They are not alone, of course; I’ve been censored at non religious sites, too (usually by perpetual moderation or a sudden disappearance of a comment – I’m looking at YOU, Chris Mooney at The Intersection, and YOU Sabio Lantz at Triangulations), but it is almost unusual not to be moderated at religious ones.  So my hat is off to anyone willing to submit their religious ideas and beliefs and commentary to public scrutiny and allow criticism; they seem to be few and far between. My latest forays include Tough Questions Answered, The Berean Observer, No Apologies Allowed, Rachel Evans, and The Search for Truth.

So my question is, do you have any you favour? If so, give them a shout out here – good, bad, or even ugly ones – and feel free to share any stories about your experiences.

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 1, 2012

How are scientists like rapists?

Filed under: Religion,Republican Party,Science — tildeb @ 1:55 pm

The Blue Collar Atheist has a vimeo clip from the Daily Show I wish to post but cannot that reveals the dastardly plot by scientists to scam us all. So pop over and see what’s causing all the laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

Why does this matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh dear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 3, 2012

What does accommodating religion and science mean?

Filed under: accommodation,Critical Reasoning,Religion,revelation,Science — tildeb @ 10:45 am

It means we must suspend our confidence in the scientific method. Temporarily, at least.

It means we must put aside how we know anything about the reality we inhabit, put side our technologies that work based on this knowledge, put aside our trust and confidence in explanations about how reality operates, and politely make room for these conglomerations of fear and ignorance called religion to be welcomed guests on the stage of knowledge about reality.

It means we must conveniently forget that religious belief produces no equivalent knowledge itself but mounts whatever favourable notion is handy, rides piggyback, and claims this notion  – love, beauty, justice, fairness, altruism, compassion… you get the idea – as a causal effect of some divine source. In many religions, whatever notion is unfavourable – hate, ugliness, unfairness, selfishness, yada, yada, yada – is attributed to be a causal effect of man’s undertaking to live without divine guidance. Yet left to its own metaphysical devices, religious belief alone produces no insightful knowledge about reality and by no stretch of the imagination any equivalent knowledge about it.

Religious belief is saddled with a problem too many ignore: it produces no library of knowledge about reality’s workings… which is a clue that may explain why religious belief produces no practical applications that work. Its parasitic function is to assert, attribute, assume, and make truth claims about reality… claims that we are asked to politely accept, based on some other standard than on applicable and testable knowledge, by allowing these inspired and revealed claims to be immune from any reasonable equivalent requirement to produce equivalent evidence to link this believed-in cause with a believed-in effect. To do this, we are asked to put aside the method of science for these specific religious claims, receive a metaphorical pat on our head for being good little boys and girls for doing so, and expected to silence our critical faculties and keep our collective mouths shut in order to be considered polite. Anything more makes us angry, shrill, and militant.

That’s what accommodationism means in action: an intellectual capitulation that making shit up in the name of religious belief is to be privileged, held to a different standard, than the made up shit from other sources. We are to assume, assert, and attribute that doing so shows tolerance and respect for others (under different names, of course, like cultural traditions, ethnic sensitivities, worldview perspectives, etc). We are told by accommodationists that it is tolerance in action to allow others to believe these unfounded and untrustworthy truth claims without criticism because the metric for determining what is true through religious belief is necessarily different… but an equivalent way of knowing, to be sure.

This is simply a lie.

Accommodationsists fail to acknowledge that we gain no equivalent knowledge from inquiries that include supernatural and paranormal speculations equivalent to made up stuff… speculations which have a very long and ‘rich’ theological history of claims about reality being startlingly inaccurate, unnecessary in complexity, untrustworthy in results, and claims assumed to be true but without any means for independent verification. In fact, we gain zero knowledge once we accept causal effect from the supernatural. But this sad fact doesn’t seem to matter to accommodationists. We are to respect and tolerate without sustained criticism these non-knowledge producing faith-based beliefs to be imposed on the reality we share and, furthermore, to consider this imposition an equivalent method of inquiry to the scientific method that extracts evidence from reality to inform truth claims made about it, that produces knowledge, that informs practical applications that work for everyone everywhere all the time.

And when the inquiries from science and religion yield incompatible conclusions, what then? When among different religions comes opposing conclusions, how do we arbitrate? Easy! To the accommodationist, this is the icing on their cake: we throw away the notion that what’s true actually matters, that the foundation for knowledge requires one and only one coherent and consistent and reliable base! Everything’s equivalently true under the accommodationist’s tent, you see… relatively speaking. Incompatible conclusions are all equally true. Contrary conclusions are equally true. Knowledge plays no role here because belief alone is sufficient for respect.

If we have already rejected reality’s role in determining what is true about it in favour of respecting whatever made up shit people wish to believe about it, then what do we have left?  We have relativism. The price we pay for attaining this enlightened relativism comes directly from respecting both what is demonstrably true in reality and what can be demonstrably known about it. This is the sacrifice mewling accommodationists wish all of us to make in the name of religious tolerance and acceptance, and they want us to accept that the exchange for this ‘other way of knowing’ is peace in our time. But it’s not. It is the opposite. It is a way to guarantee the continued promotion of superstitious fear and ignorance under the religious label.

This is what accommodating religion and science means in practice: undermining what’s true and what’s knowable in exchange for protecting the sensitivities of those who like to believe in made up shit. I’m not willing to pay that price and I think those who are willing should be reminded of the final cost their Chamberlain-esque appeasement policy can bring about. That’s why accommodationsits need to be soundly and roundly criticized for their short-sightedness because at the end of the day what is true does in fact and practice matter more than offending people’s religious sensitivities.

January 12, 2012

Why does the Pope want to screw your child?

Because he can.

I have been remiss in not posting on the pope’s year end message but I continue to hope that the man and his organization will simply disappear after every supporter justly walks away from it.

I can dream, can’t I?

Christopher Hitchens once described the entire career of this current pope, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Palpatine, aka The Rat, as having “the stench of evil about it.” He was writing specifically about the depth of responsibility carried by this man towards creating and maintaining the catholic church’s ongoing child abuse scandal and protecting those criminals who participated in the raping of children. Clearly, Ratzinger’s concern has been and continues to be focused on insulating the hierarchy of the catholic church from its deeds by sidestepping responsible accountability rather than instituting meaningful change to protect the health and welfare of children in its care.

It is richly hypocritical then to read pope Palpatine’s latest attempt to try to deny gays and lesbians equality in civil law and social policies, in what The Rat calls settings… all in the name of protecting the family regarding child welfare! This is the evil Hitch describes, a pernicious and malevolent intent to harm others in the name of bigoted piousness and religious doctrine:

Among these (settings for teaching children), pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue. It is in the family that we become open to the world and to life…

In this context of openness to life, I note with satisfaction the recent sentence of the Court of Justice of the European Union forbidding patenting processes relative to human embryonic stem cells…the European Court of Human Rights upholding the presence of the crucifix in Italian schoolrooms… I am convinced that legislative measures which not only permit but at times even promote abortion for reasons of convenience or for questionable medical motives compromise the education of young people and, as a result, the future of humanity. There is a need to implement educational policies which ensure that schooling is available to everyone and which, in addition to promoting the cognitive development of the individual, show concern for a balanced personal growth, including openness to the Transcendent. The Catholic Church calls for respect for religious freedom. This freedom has individual, collective and institutional dimensionsFinally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation….

And so on, and so on. It positively reeks of duplicity and dishonesty.  

For example, note carefully how insidiously this vile man circumscribes his way completely around the gay marriage bush without coming right out and saying it and how pleasing it is to him when public institutions kowtow to the Catholic church’s ignorant anti-life and bigoted positions. As Macdonald describes so well,

No, the pope doesn’t mention gay marriage at all, but he does speak about “policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself,” in a context where the heterosexual family — as the place where education for the future is to take place – that is, the restriction of marriage to a man and a woman (and the issue of that relationship), is the issue, and we know, from what the bishops in New York were up to recently (as the most salient recent case that I can think of), that when Roman Catholics say this, what they’re saying is that the very idea of gay marriage undermines the family, threatens human dignity, and the places the future of humanity itself in danger.

In other words, please stop whinging and complaining about nothing meaningful being done about the global scandal that is the Roman Catholic Church. It’s the fault of everyone but us. Now get to work incorporating our bigoted anti-enlightenment, anti-knowledge death cult doctrine into your secular institutions, your secular legislatures, your secular laws and into your secular schools. We who are Roman Catholic don’t just want to screw with our own children; we want to screw with yours, too!

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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