Questionable Motives

August 26, 2013

Why is accommodating respect for faith-based beliefs stupid and irresponsible?

medical treatmentOver at  Jerry Coyne’s site, Why Evolution is True, he posted about a measles outbreak in Texas traced back to a mega-church and non vaccinated children.  Coyne titled his post, “Measles back again, thanks to religion,” and gave us information about the outbreak, the response from church authorities and its ‘medical’ team, and data on the disease, all very useful stuff (as usual). But I disagreed in one sense that the measles outbreak was due to religion. It was just as much back because of those who accommodate faith-based beliefs of any kind and smugly attack New Atheists for daring to criticize any of it publicly. This is what I wrote in my ridiculously long comment:

I apologize for the length of my comment, but this post highlights that the ‘enemy’ of reason and knowledge isn’t just religion per se but those who support and tolerate a methodology that is clearly broken, namely, the empowerment and public acceptance of any faith-based belief (an acceptance demonstrated by offering unjustified respect rather than justified criticism of those who exercise any faith-based belief. I’m talking to you, accommodationists).

Into the category of faith-based beliefs can be everything from religion to anti-vaccination, conspiracies to astrology, alternative medicine to Winfrey/Chopra/Dr. Oz-ian woo. Belief in these is all of a kind, and the root is faith- rather than evidence-based belief… a method of thinking that elevates possibility to be equivalent to probability, meaning that it’s a way to elevate any belief in something to be the same weight in consideration as not having belief in it. In other words, it’s a way to make any faith-based belief seem as reasonable as not believing… one either believes in alien abductions, for example, (by entertaining the possibility) or one does not (by seeming to be closed-minded when there is no compelling evidence in its favour). See? Equivalent: six of one, a half dozen of the other. How very reasonable and open-minded we are and not followers of scientism like those intolerant, strident, and militant folk who are Doin’ it Rong!

What’s lost, of course, is any meaningful way, a methodology we can trust, to allow reality to arbitrate the faith-based belief because the weight of evidence (supporting or not supporting the belief) plays no important role; the equivalency is already clearly established by believers, which is why any possible evidence for the most ludicrous of beliefs is drafted into service and used as if equivalent to the array of evidence contrary to them combined with the absence of compelling evidence where it should be if the belief were true. In this sense, the use of evidence (aka, reality) by the faith-based believer is only used in service to the belief, whereas in every other area of life we know enough to allow our beliefs to be in the service of reality… if we wish to function successfully in it.

Any method of inquiry that refuses to allow reality to adjudicate claims made about it is a guaranteed way to fool one’s self. Believers in faith-based beliefs fool themselves (along with the tacit approval of accommodationists who decide the appearance of being tolerant of foolishness is a higher standard of intellectual integrity than respecting reality to inform our beliefs about it). But it doesn’t end here and this is the point accommodationsits fail to appreciate. A measles outbreak doesn’t just threaten those foolish enough not to vaccinate; it threatens both the non vaccinated AND the vaccinated with exposure to a preventable disease! This is unconscionable stupidity and social irresponsibility in the face of spreading a very real disease because of acting on a faith-based belief. As if believing in such faith-based foolishness weren’t bad enough, acting on this foolishness carries with it a demonstrable cost to all of us that causes real harm to real people in real life. Faced with this reality, I must ask: where did all these ‘reasonable’ accommodationists suddenly go? This is where the rubber meets the road of why respecting faith-based beliefs by anyone including accommodationists is a public threat to the health and welfare of us all.

August 30, 2011

What were the five stupidest statements made at Gov. Perry’s Texas prayer rally?

Filed under: Politics,Religion,Texas — tildeb @ 9:39 am

#5 “Lord, I pray that we might see a reinstating of the display of the Ten Commandments in our classrooms. I pray Lord that we will again see freedom to pray in our classrooms.” This gem was from Vonette Bright, a co-founder of CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ).

#4 “Tens, even hundreds, of thousands of Jewish people in the last decades have come to their Messiah. And so Lord, we pray for the revival around the world, and for Israel to come to their own Messiah.” From Pastor Don Finto of the Caleb Company.

#3 “In the humanistic culture, people are talking about love without reference to Jesus Christ.” Can’t be good without god, can we? This from Mike Bickle, director of the International House of Prayer Missions Base of Kansas City.

#2 “There’s a crisis of truth in the pulpits today in our land. That, in the name of tolerance, even in the name of love, we are redefining love that is not on God’s terms. Jesus is god. There is no other god than Jesus. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All the world religions, they can say what they say. There is no other god besides Jesus. There is no other standard of truth. Jesus alone is the standard of truth. He defines morality. He defines marriage. He defines life. He defines righteousness. And in our allegiance to him, we say what he says. It’s time to come out in the open. It’s time to go public. Regardless what it costs us, we love you Jesus! The only god!” Yup, what’s a christian rally without insisting that Jesus was anti-choice and anti-gay? That’s Mike Bickle again. How handy is it, really, that jesus agrees with whatever Mike Bickle says?

#1 But by far the stupidest statement was by the governor himself, Rick Perry, who tells us why god is against such political prayer rallies. But Perry so immersed in his own stupidity that he doesn’t see the irony: “His agenda is not a political agenda. His agenda is a salvation agenda … He is a wise, wise god, and he is wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party. Or for that matter, He is wise enough to not be affiliated with any man-made institutions.”

(h/t Secular News Daily)

May 22, 2010

What’s wrong with starting some governmental business with a prayer?

Filed under: belief,prayer,Religion,School Board,Texas — tildeb @ 4:30 pm

The Texas state board of education meeting to discuss upcoming changes to the curriculum:

Pious tidbits:

I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses.

Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia, or the charter of New England…the same objective is present — a Christian land governed by Christian principles.

I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country.

This kind of prayer is an act of intellectual cowardice.

Dunbar, the woman giving the prayer, is using it to pretend that god is guiding them to revise history is way that doesn’t allow anyone who also happens to be respectful of this kind of religious cowardice to interrupt and call her on her duplicity. What is obvious is that Dunbar is using prayer to promote her specific political and religious points not yet discussed by the committee in a way that appears to be pious. It isn’t; it’s sanctimonious cowardliness. It’s underhanded political posturing, inane, and completely unnecessary for the business at hand. That’s what’s wrong with including prayer in government business.

February 15, 2010

Why do the Texas state school board curriculum decisions matter so much?

Here are some excerpts from a fantastic article by Russell Shorto published in The New York Times Magazine that answers this question:

Public education has always been a battleground between cultural forces; one reason that Texas’ school-board members find themselves at the very center of the battlefield is, not surprisingly, money. The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State. California is the largest textbook market, but besides being bankrupt, it tends to be so specific about what kinds of information its students should learn that few other states follow its lead. Texas, on the other hand, was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the guidelines it came up with (which are referred to as TEKS — pronounced “teaks” — for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) were clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own.

The cultural roots of the Texas showdown may be said to date to the late 1980s, when, in the wake of his failed presidential effort, the Rev. Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition partly on the logic that conservative Christians should focus their energies at the grass-roots level. One strategy was to put candidates forward for state and local school-board elections — Robertson’s protégé, Ralph Reed, once said, “I would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school-board members” — and Texas was a beachhead. Since the election of two Christian conservatives in 2006, there are now seven on the Texas state board who are quite open about the fact that they vote in concert to advance a Christian agenda. “They do vote as a bloc,” Pat Hardy, a board member who considers herself a conservative Republican but who stands apart from the Christian faction, told me. “They work consciously to pull one more vote in with them on an issue so they’ll have a majority.”

The one thing that underlies the entire program of the nation’s Christian conservative activists is, naturally, religion. But it isn’t merely the case that their Christian orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government spending. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that the United States is a “Christian nation,” they are not referring to the percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census but to the country’s roots and the intent of the founders.

The Texas board’s moves to bring Jesus into American history has drawn anger in places far removed from the board members’ constituencies. The issue of Texas’ influence is a touchy one in education circles. With some parents and educators elsewhere leery of a right-wing fifth column invading their schools, people in the multibillion textbook industry try to play down the state’s sway.Tom Barber, who worked as the head of social studies at the three biggest textbook publishers before running his own editorial company, says, “Texas was and still is the most important and most influential state in the country.” And James Kracht, a professor at Texas A&M’s college of education and a longtime player in the state’s textbook process, told me flatly, “Texas governs 46 or 47 states.”

It’s one thing that 60% of American Republicans and about 38% of Democrats believe that humans were created in their present form 10,000 years ago, but when that religious belief translates into electing creationist school board members who vote accordingly for sympathetic curriculum in a state that effectively writes the texbooks for almost all of the states, then we have a titanic problem.

And it’s not just in the United States where this attack by theology into educational curriculum is such a growing concern.  In Britain, the numbers are approaching parity: about a third of people believe the same fairytale as their American counterparts and a majority think that evolution is insufficient to explain life without some Oogity Boogity to solve the really hard problems.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the move of unjustified beliefs from theology into educational curriculum does not stop with science. This year’s focus in Texas is mostly on rewriting history to favour evangelical christianity as the theological framework within which the founding fathers wrote their documents. The intention is to falsely present the US as a christian rather than a secular nation.

One thing we know for sure: the battle between theology and education for school curriculum will keep Texas a vital strategic theatre of operations. Stay tuned…

February 1, 2010

How can the United States become a loser in a competitive world?

It’s easy: just follow and implement the Texas State Republican Platform!

With its clearly laid out plan that says one thing that seems a step in the right direction only to advocate guidelines that will achieve its opposite, this is a timely and important document to turn a great state into a laughing stock, a proud state into a righteously pious theocracy, an able state to alter intelligent and capable children into idiots.

Well done,  Texas!

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