Questionable Motives

July 19, 2011

What is true and how can we know?

In conversation with many people of faith and accommodationists, I often face a postmodern notion I find deeply disturbing: a claim that what’s true is in the eye of the beholder – whether a believer or non believer. The notion of respecting reality to be any kind of arbiter for claims about reality seems to be a trivial point for many believers when discussing metaphysical notions while the liberal use of the term ‘truth’ in its supposed multiple guises falls off the tongue with ease when they unfailing apply these same notions to matters OF reality.

That’s cheating.

Such an assumption about the nature of what’s true – to afford the believer a way to effortlessly cross this line of demarcation between the metaphysical and the physical – allows subjective faith claims about god to be presented as equally valid ‘truths’ that somehow compete successfully with the scientific sense of the word ‘truths’ about physical reality. This is a bait and switch tactic, of course, in that a scientific truth is different in meaning than a faith-based assumption. The relativist would have us accept that each of us can subjectively assign the word ‘truth’ to whatever claim we want to believe and that this has no significant and detrimental affect on what we can know is true for all. The common misapplication is that something can be true for some but not for others in matter within this universe, such as jesus really, really, really was the son of god and performed miracles… as if each of us has a separate and distinct claim that is equally valid merely because we assign belief or lack of belief to it. But conclusions held to be true in the scientific sense of the word do not work this way.
As Jerry Coyne writes over at WEIT:
Different theologies have different “answers,” and even within a single faith different people diverge in their notion of religious “truth.”  In contrast, scientists—regardless of religious creed, ethnicity, or nationality—converge on single, agreed-upon answers (of course there is still scientific disagreement about many cutting-edge issues). Water has two hydrogen and one oxygen molecules whether you’re a chemist in Africa, Eurasia, or America.  DNA in the nucleus is a double helical molecule consisting of sugars and nucleotide bases. Evolution is a fact for scientists in every land, for they can all examine the massive evidence supporting it.  There are many faiths; but there is only one science. The fact that different people from different backgrounds converge on the same scientific answers also implies that there really are objective truths about the universe.
And truths about reality that can be known, I will add.
Also, we need to recognize that a lack of evidence for certain faith-based truth claims about reality has an important bearing on the equivalency of faith-based beliefs and scientific conclusions that are at odds. And nowhere is this more evident than in the dishonest presentation of evolution by agenda-driven supporters of certain theologies as just another kind of belief similar to a faith-based one. This is an intentional misrepresentation – what many of us legitimately call ‘Lying for Jesus’ – of what is true in reality and an organized attempt to discredit the scientific method in this matter only to serve those who wish to pretend that reality in this matter only has no bearing on what we can know about its truth. These self appointed lovers of science in all other matters do not find this theologically driven hypocrisy to be disturbing to their equilibrium of intellectual integrity. Theology in this sense can be seen to exercise its power of selective anesthesia.
This use of the term ‘truth’ based on a shared materialistic and physical reality (existing separate from our subjective wishes but in which we are immersed) decries the believer’s failed postmodern notion that all truths are subjective.  In contrast to a scientific ‘truth’ that recognizes the submission of what is true to the constraints of reality – that we recognize and test through evidence found in reality and not what we simply believe or wish to be true –  if there were objective truth about God (and his nature and intentions and desires and expectations revealed to believers through revelation), scriptural authority, explanatory dogma we should find believers to be of the same faith. That within christianity we find well over 30,000 different sects should be seen as very strong evidence recognizable even by the postmodernists and other faith-based believers that subjective truth claims are not true in any reality-based and meaningful way comparable to a scientific truth claim. The word ‘truth’ is being abused by relativists-with-an-agenda where its central meaning – being in accord with a particular fact or reality – is simply ignored in order to co-opt its scientific sense for the believer’s own and dishonest purposes.

June 21, 2011

What are the differences between religious truths?

Filed under: belief,Religion,Truth — tildeb @ 2:42 pm

((h/t to OpenParachute)

March 6, 2011

What’s the problem with science/religious compatability?

I have been described as a bitter individual who thinks that there is only one way to view this world. You scream, verify, prove, facts, figures. Wow. You (sic) view is coloured by extremists who think their religions are right and you try just as hard to scream that your way is the only logical way. Well, I suspect it would not be wise to ask this person for a character reference any time soon.

Of course, I don’t see my views this way. I try to explain that it’s important that we – not just I – respect what’s true, what’s knowable, and hold great esteem for the method of inquiry that allows us to find these answers, that provides us with a foundation upon which to build not only practical technologies that work but a way of inquiring into every nook and cranny of the universe… including ourselves… on an equal footing independent of our perspectives and world views. I’m sorry if I screamed that too loudly, but let me reiterate: I respect what’s true and I don’t think that is an extremist position at all.

What never fails to amaze me is how people who hold their faith-based preferences to be equivalent with what’s probably true, probably accurate, probably correct see themselves and their attitude somehow removed from the ongoing problems resulting from this widespread generous allowance to respect faith-based beliefs, and assume that anyone who disagrees (and provides good evidence for that disagreement) is some kind of fundamentalist or extremist. I take issue with that absurd caricature and I do point out the effects such allowances have in the public domain of the real world and at the expense of real people. That – apparently – makes me not only strident but militantly so. How is it that respecting what is true and holding others to that same standard is so often considered unreasonable if it interferes with the preference for equivalency of faith-based beliefs to what is actually true? Well, I think the answer goes back to the assumption that faith-based beliefs are magically superior to human knowledge as long as it places god at the top of some knowledge hierarchy. In a nutshell, this is the heart of the probelm of asserting compatibility between science and religion.

An excellent example is how someone with knowledge is held in contempt for enunciating that knowledge and whose life is actually threatened by those who assume a faith-based belief is not just equivalent but superior to what the method of science reveals. God’s truth – whatever the hell that means – is superior in this belief system to what the human mind can understand is true based on honest inquiry, verification, and its practical validity. Surely this cannot be the case here at home in technologically advanced society that relies on this science for its functioning infrastructure, can it?

It can. And does.

What does this respect for faith-based beliefs look like in a secular western democracy? The examples are many – legion, in fact – but I shall select merely one.

From The Independent with bold added:

A prominent British imam has been forced to retract his claims that Islam is compatible with Darwin’s theory of evolution after receiving death threats from fundamentalists.

Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, was intending yesterday to return to Masjid al-Tawhid, a mosque in Leyton, East London, for the first time since he delivered a lecture there entitled “Islam and the theory of evolution”.

But according to his sister, police advised him not to attend after becoming concerned for his safety. Instead his father, Suhaib, head of the mosque’s committee of trustees, posted a notice on his behalf expressing regret over his comments. “I seek Allah’s forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused,” the statement read.

And what offence did Dr Hasan commit? What exactly was this mistake?

Masjid Tawhid is a prominent mosque which also runs one of the country’s largest sharia courts, the Islamic Sharia Council. In January, Dr Hasan delivered a lecture there detailing why he felt the theory of evolution and Islam were compatible – a position that is not unusual among many Islamic scholars with scientific backgrounds.

Really? This was the offense, the mistake, reiterating this knowledge. But the good news is that this statement of knowledge is not unusual with Islamic scholars who apparently are qualified to judge science, we are assured. Phew. What a relief that this scientific knowledge meets with religious approval. Compatibilists everywhere must be breathing easier, right? Not so fast…

Most Islamic scholars have little problem with evolution as long as Muslims accept the supremacy of God in the process. But in recent years a small number of orthodox scholars, mainly from Saudi Arabia – where many clerics still preach that the Sun revolves around the Earth – have ruled against evolution, declaring that belief in the concept goes against the Koran’s statement that Adam and Eve were the first humans.

These are folk qualified to judge, eh? And compatiblists are seemingly okay with this.

Ah yes, we can’t have knowledge – the ‘good’ kind, that is – without getting the order right: god-approved knowledge first, meaning whatever knowledge doesn’t compete with faith-based beliefs about that god, and all scientific knowledge second. And therein lies the explanation why science and religion are incompatible methods of inquiry:

What’s true, accurate, and correct is a secondary consideration in this compatiblist mind set. And that’s what makes faith-based beliefs that science and religion are compatible a bald-faced lie: we either respect what’s true and knowable first, or we respect what we believe must be true for our faith-based beliefs and preferences to remain unchallenged and supreme. Faith in the latter is a virtue but a failure in the former. These two positions are simply not compatible because of this and those who would like to pretend that they are are not only deluded but continue to grant intellectual respectability to those whose faith-based beliefs contrast honest knowledge. These are the people who need to be taken to task for this capitulation of intellectual integrity to respect that which deserves none: faith-based beliefs.

February 16, 2011

What is the role of New Atheism?

I simply have to re-post a comment because it is so articulately expressed by thephilosophicalprimate that I think nails the role of New Atheism. It involves a responding to a couple of posts by Eric MacDonald over at Choice in Dying – a wonderful new blog that is rich in good writing, interesting commentary, and important topics in need of our consideration – that deal with what’s missing from the New Atheist’s contribution to the world today and responds well to the issues Eric raises:

Here is where I think our prior discussion about the values at the heart of New Atheism has more potential than has yet been explored. New Atheists don’t just agree on a set of conclusions, but on a set of common underlying epistemological values, the norms which both motivate and structurally determine the arguments which we make in support of those conclusions. When I brought this up before, I mentioned in parentheses that I don’t think epistemological values and moral values are entirely separable. What you are talking about in this post, Eric, starts to touch on the territory where I think they intersect and overlap.

So what are those shared values? To rehash a bit: Atheists, for the most part, care a great deal about attempting to discover the truth rather than assuming that we already know it (i.e. fallibilism), and we reject anyone’s insistence that some claims can be or should be off-limits to rigorously applied critical thinking. Atheists care about evidence and reasoning, and think that claims ought to be accepted as true only to the extent that they can be justified. But why do we prize fallibilism and genuine truth-seeking justification so highly, and reject the opposite — faith — so thoroughly?

One answer is pragmatic: These are the epistemic norms that work! That is, consistently following such norms gives us the sort of reliable knowledge that we can use to accomplish our aims in the world, whatever those may be. And that’s fine as far as it goes.

However, a deeper answer points towards core moral values, not just instrumental/pragmatic values. Ultimately, faith almost always consists in relying on or accepting some authority: the authority of a holy book; the authority of the writers of such books who claim to speak for a still higher, divine authority (evidence for which is nonexistent); or, most commonly, the authority of those who claim the right to interpret the meaning of holy books and the wills of gods (but again, offer no evidence to back that claim to authority). Rejecting faith not only manifests epistemic values that treasure authentic truth-seeking over comforting or self-serving delusions, it manifests moral values that treasure human freedom and self-determination over bowing to illegitimate authority*. New Atheists value both intellectual and practical liberty, both freedom of thought (within the limits of legitimate concessions to the universe itself, i.e. epistemic norms such as fallibilism and evidence-driven reasoning) and freedom of action (within the limits of legitimate concessions to the similar freedom enjoyed by others). And when I say “New Atheists value” such and such, I am suggesting both that the extant New Atheists I’ve read and engaged with do in fact demonstrate that they embrace such moral values, but also that these moral values are logically connected to the epistemological values which drive the movement: A New Atheist who rejected such values (if there were such a creature) would be inconsistent in doing so.

Moreover, the pragmatic answer and the moral answer converge, at least by implication. Valuing sound epistemic norms because of their pragmatic value — they give us reliable knowledge useful for accomplishing our ends whatever those ends might be — directly implies that accomplishing our ends is, generally speaking, a good thing. (The “generally speaking” caveat is not trivial: Individually, we each consider accomplishing our own ends to be good, but the actual ends any given person is attempting to accomplish may or not be good in some universalizable moral sense.) However, the disconnection of pragmatic value from any particular end also implies, albeit indirectly, a live-and-let-live attitude towards choosing ones ends. In other words, valuing epistemic norms which let us accomplish our ends (whatever those ends might be) is integrally interrelated with valuing human freedom, for if the word “freedom” has any meaning at all, surely that meaning includes determining and pursuing one’s own ends.

So if you want to understand what moral values underlie New Atheism, I think you need look no further than John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. (Which, coincidentally, was published in 1859, the same year as another book of some considerable importance to New Atheist thought…)

That said, I’m not sure how far Mill’s very individualistic liberal political philosophy responds to the exact concerns you point towards here, which are all tied up with communal identity and activity. Then again, there is nothing in even the most individualistic liberalism which in any way undermines the value of communities and communal identities; it only demands that participation in such communities must always be wholly voluntary for all involved — which is exactly what New Atheists are fighting for. To elaborate a bit, for membership in any community or collective identity to be genuinely and wholly voluntary, no community or shared identity or set of beliefs (or institution formed by the like-minded) can occupy a place of special privilege or power above and beyond the basic freedom of its individual members. Guaranteeing voluntary participation in turn requires that the beliefs and commitments underlying any and every such community must be adopted or rejected by potential community members in a context where there is absolute freedom of thought and discussion, where no ideas or beliefs receive any special protection or privileged status that places them beyond question or criticism. Without freedom of thought and discussion, privileged positions or institutions (i.e. walling off religion from criticism) have an intellectually coercive power over citizens that undermines the very possibility of genuinely and wholly voluntary participation OR rejection of the position.

In other words, the fight New Atheists are already fighting springs from the same set of interrelated epistemic and moral values that I’ve been discussing here. The persistent and insistent claims that “something is missing” from the New Atheist world view is true; what is missing is the siren call of easy assent to illegitimate authority — the human instinct to blend in and concede our autonomy to parent-mimicking authorities who, unlike actual (good) parents, do not have our genuine best interests at heart. What is missing are some of the worse aspects of our human nature, not the better ones. Humanity is well and truly better off being rid of what is “missing” from the New Atheist value system, and I have yet to see any argument or evidence that the genuinely worthwhile value of community and collective identity are in any way excluded or undermined by our value system. Instead, serious commitment to human intellectual and practical freedom offers us the means to strip away the coercive and exclusive** components that make community and collective identity such a mixed blessing.

—–
* What constitutes legitimate authority? I think the most basic answer — the conception of legitimate authority settled on by everyone who thinks seriously about it, and the one that appears to have risen to the top on the tide of history — is some form of democratic authority. Authority is legitimated by the consent of those governed by the authority, and authority in the absence of consent is illegitimate by its very nature. Genuine consent, of course, cannot be produced by force or deception — and faith is the ultimate form of deception, since the deceived are persuaded to actively deceive themselves for the most part. (Although religious authorities engage in lots and lots of plain old deception as well as encouraging self-deception; you don’t think those statues *really* weep by themselves, do you?) Therefore, the authority of religion is always and forever illegitimate authority. It is no coincidence that religious traditions which place the least emphasis on faith — Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism and other broadly ecumenical traditions — are also the least authoritarian, and vice versa. And notice that this discussion of illegitimate authority and the coercive nature of privileged positions connects very closely to the discussion of the role of freedom of thought and discussion above.

** By “exclusive components,” I mean all the potential for communities and communal identities to manifest ugly in-group/out-group, us/them dynamics that undermine basic respect for the rights and basic worth of those outside the group — the foundation of genocides, religious wars, and simple bigotry. How does attention to human freedom strip out the exclusive elements of community? Because it is rooted in the fundamental recognition of all other humans as beings with the right to think for themselves, to decide what they think is worthwhile and to pursue what is worthwhile with the greatest freedom consistent with a similar freedom for all. Such a live-and-let live, individualistic morality undermines bigotry in all its forms, whereas more authoritarian values actively encourage it.

February 15, 2011

Why should we be more intolerant?

Filed under: belief,Science,theology,Truth,vaccination,woo — tildeb @ 8:57 am

Because for far too long we have been tolerant of these post-modern ideas that more than one truth is valid, that as a result of this misguided tolerance many kinds of pseudo-science and other forms of woo is pernicious and growing and is a significant danger to all of us.

(UK) Government Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington is stepping up the war on pseudoscience with a call to his fellow government scientists to be “grossly intolerant” if science is misused by religious or political groups.

In closing remarks to an annual conference in London of around 300 scientific civil servants on 3 February, Beddington said that selective use of science ought to be treated in the same way as racism and homophobia.

“We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality… We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method.”

Beddington said that he intends to take this agenda forward with his fellow chief scientists and also with the research councils. “I really believe that. . . we need to recognise that that is a pernicious influence, it is an increasingly pernicious influence and we need to be thinking about how we can actually deal with it.”

In closing, Beddington said: “I’d urge you—and this is a kind of strange message to go out—but go out and be much more intolerant.” (Source).

Clearly, we should not tolerate a kind of thinking and acceptance of what Beddington says can “seriously undermine our ability to address important problems.” One needs to look no further than the ill-informed yet widespread media distortions about vaccines and global warming to see how tolerating relativistic so-called ‘balanced’ reporting of pseudo-science seriously undermines concerted efforts to responsibly address these pressing global issues.

(h/t to Pharyngula)

December 21, 2010

Why is Ricky Gervais an atheist?

Filed under: Atheism,Freedom,honesty,Science,Truth — tildeb @ 8:59 am

Because it leads one to living an honest life:

But living an honest life -– for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.

So how do we get there? How can we find out stuff that we can respect as true?

Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

Read his full and entertaining article here.

June 22, 2010

Why should we care about what’s true?

Filed under: Greta Christina,Truth — tildeb @ 7:15 pm

For me, caring about what is true is central to how I inform my perspective about the world. If what I think is true turns out to be false, then my perspective by necessity must be skewed. The more falsehoods I empower, the greater is my skewed perspective until what I think is true and what is actually true finds me caught between incompatibilities. I cannot feel enabled to offer what I can to function well and help solve real world issues if what I have to offer is, to put it bluntly, wrong. My actions would add to rather than reduce the very problems I was hoping to mitigate by my actions. So what is true truly matters.

From one of my favourite atheist writers, Greta Christina, comes this thought-provoking article asking the question Do you care whether the religious ideas you believe in are true or not? and explains in much greater detail and humour why we should.

She adds:

Perspective is more than an intellectual discipline. It’s a moral obligation. The willingness to step back from our experience, to examine our beliefs about the world and let go of them when the evidence contradicts them, is a huge part of how we gain the humility we need to see our true place in the world. Caring whether the things we believe are true is a crucial part of caring, period.

We need to understand reality, so we know how to behave in it. If we believe things about reality that aren’t true, we’re going to make bad decisions. Understanding reality is how we know how to behave in it. Understanding cause and effect, which causes lead to what effects, is how we make better decisions — decisions that are more likely to lead to outcomes we’re hoping for. And if we’re going to understand reality, we have to care whether the things we believe are true.

And here’s the money quote:

Skepticism is a discipline. It does not come naturally to the human mind. The human mind is wired to believe what it already believes, and what it wants to believe. The habit of questioning whether the things we believe are true — and letting go of beliefs we’re attached to when the evidence contradicts them — takes practice.

And that’s the tough job each of us faces. But it starts with caring about what’s true.

May 26, 2010

How can you turn a functional and healthy brain into mush?

Filed under: belief,commentary,Criticism,failed logic,Faith,Ignorance,Truth — tildeb @ 1:06 pm

Simple: add religion, wait for its incoherencies to ferment, and then do what Andrew Pessin did – submit a radical idea to the Huffington Post for publication to show what it can do. Here is the excerpted central thesis with a bit of bold added by me. Follow along if you can:

To believe of each and every sentence that it is true is to believe, in effect, that not one of the sentences is false; but to believe that there is at least one error in the work is to believe that at least one of the sentences is false, and thus to contradict the first belief.

And yet both beliefs can seem so plausible! Indeed — and here’s the key — even after we become aware of the implicit contradiction, both the contradictory beliefs remain quite appealing in their own right.

Thus the paradox.

What I suggest instead is that we simply acknowledge the paradox: that is, recognize that both contradictory propositions are, in their own right, extremely plausible. In the preface case this actually seems quite easy to do. My ultimate hope, then, is that world peace will break out when enough people simply acknowledge the paradox as well and begin applying it more generally.

Why is that?

Because acknowledging the paradox allows you simultaneously to say two things.

Choose some important, life-governing, very controversial thing you happen to believe in with great fervor: the existence of God (or perhaps atheism) {Arrrggghhh!!}, the truth of Christianity (or Islam or Hinduism, etc.), absolute morality (or relativism), etc. Focusing on religion as our example, you can now say, first, that you believe, with certainty, on the basis of reason and evidence and testimony, in the truth of, say, the various individual tenets of your version of Christianity, and thus believe, with equal certainty, in all the things entailed by that belief: that, say, all other competing religions and doctrines are simply false.

But then you can say, second, something else: that you may be wrong.

Got it? You can simultaneously be certain that Christianity is true and everything conflicting with it is false, and yet acknowledge that you may be wrong without taking away your certainty. You can thus keep your certainties without having to claim that you are, in fact, and grossly implausibly, infallible. It’s what everyone (other than bakers) has yearned for since time immemorial: the proverbial cake, both eaten yet had!

Yup, to make something true and be justifiably certain it is true, all you need to do is  just assert it, or its opposite, and add some certainty! See how simple that is? That’s religious belief in a nutshell.

More and more, I am beginning to see that religious belief turns the brain into a digestive tract where theological questions go in, are processed, and waste comes out. Christianity is the most popular local end product.

May 25, 2010

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

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

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

What did Coyne actually write in The New Republic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 29, 2010

Separate but equal: are all religions merely different paths up the mountain?

Filed under: Religion,Truth — tildeb @ 8:49 am

In this article, Stephen Prothero explains why this sentiment is untrue, disrespectful, and dangerous.

What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: Something is wrong with the world. In the Hopi language, the word “Koyaanisqatsi” tells us that life is out of balance. Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” tells us that there is something rotten not only in the state of Denmark but also in the state of human existence. Hindus say we are living in the “kali yuga,” the most degenerate age in cosmic history. Buddhists say that human existence is pockmarked by suffering. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic stories tell us that this life is not Eden; Zion, heaven, and paradise lie out ahead.

We pretend that religious differences are trivial because it makes us feel safer, or more moral. But pretending that the world’s religions are the same does not make our world safer. Like all forms of ignorance, it makes our world more dangerous, and more deadly. The world is what it is. And both tolerance and respect are empty virtues until we actually know whatever it is we are supposed to be tolerating or respecting.

So religious folk agree that something has gone awry. They part company, however, when it comes to stating just what has gone wrong, and they diverge even more sharply when they move from diagnosing the human problem to prescribing how to solve it. Moreover, each offers its own distinctive diagnosis of the human problem and its own prescription for a cure. Each offers its own techniques for reaching its religious goal, and its own exemplars for emulation.

If diagnosing problems and prescribing rectifying actions are based on what is probably not true, probably not accurate, probably not correct, then by our uncritical tolerance for religious belief we are, in effect, tolerating and respecting unjustified beliefs – faulty truth claims – which translates directly into tolerating and respecting unjustified actions done in the name of those beliefs. Why should we respect and tolerate ignorant actions based on faulty truth claims just because they come wrapped in piety? We don’t respect and tolerate faulty truth claims in any other field of human endeavor but hold those who spread them liable for the damage they cost… except, of course, when it comes to safeguarding the faulty truth claims of the various competing religions. Then far too many of us have a tendency to put aside our reasonable concerns about what is and is not true and replace our justified concern with a special dispensation that exempts religiously inspired truth claims from the same critical examination. By doing so, we keep legitimate and justified concerns (like human rights, for example) away from the center of our attention and actions. We push them slightly to the side and tend to marginalize them somewhat to make room for meaningful concern about respecting and tolerating the unjustified religious beliefs that so often empower the disrespect and intolerance that cause the concerns to arise in the first place (like sectarian violence, sectarian gender inequality, sectarian genital mutilation, so on)!
If we want to bring about an end to these sectarian concerns and wish to promote a unifying notion about common humanity with a common respect for what is true, for what is justified, then we do not further our common cause by offering respect and tolerance to beliefs that are inherently disrespectful and intolerant of what is true empowered only by belief in what is probably not.
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