The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

“The Limits of Skepticism?” Panel from Dragon*Con 2013

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 19, 2014

In honor of the upcoming Skeptrack at Dragon*Con 2014, I wanted to share the video of my favorite panel from last year’s Skeptrack, titled “The Limits of Skepticism?”  In this panel, we discussed a variety of heady topics related to skepticism, philosophy, religion, God, politics, cultural issues and how far skepticism can and cannot go.  I served as the moderator of the panel, which included philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, astronomer Pamela Gay, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) DJ Grothe, Center For Inquiry activist Debbie Goddard, freethought activist Margaret Downey, and author of “What’s the Harm?” website Tim Farley.

And, with that, here’s the video.  Enjoy! :)

The Limits of Skepticism?

The Limits of Skepticism 2 - DragonCon 2013

 

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How Secularists Should Respond to the SCOTUS Ruling on Sectarian Prayer at Government Meetings

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 7, 2014

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard the news about Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows sectarian prayers at government meetings.  My skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta at the Friendly Atheist has an excellent breakdown on the background of this case – check it out here.

Essentially, the SCOTUS ruled that explicitly Christian and other sectarian prayers are allowed in the opening of local government meetings (just as they have been for years in the federal and state legislatures) under the Constitution.  Regarding this ruling, I think the devil is in the details; specifically, the SCOTUS did not rule that only Christian prayers were allowed.  It ruled that sectarian prayers are allowed… from any religion (or non-religion)… which means that anyone can make a motion to pray at such meetings.  Further, Justice Kennedy stated in his opinion that:

“If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbeliev­ers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court.”

Whoops, that’s already happened; just look at how there are some self-righteous fundamentalist religious jerks who misinterpret this ruling as saying that “only Christian prayers are allowed” – which is exactly the kind of thing more reasonably-minded members of the SCOTUS noted might happen.  Indeed, the problem here is that this ruling has a huge potential to cause even greater religious animosity and division at the same time our country is becoming ever more (non)religiously diverse (with as many as 20% claiming “no religion”).  Specifically, Justice Kagan said:

“The monthly chaplains appear almost always to assume that everyone in the room is Christian. … The Town itself has never urged its chaplains to reach out to members of other faiths, or even to recall that they might be present. And accordingly, few chaplains have made any effort to be inclusive; none has thought even to assure attending members of the public that they need not participate in the prayer session. Indeed, as the majority forthrightly recognizes, when the plaintiffs here began to voice concern over prayers that excluded some Town residents, one pastor pointedly thanked the Board “[o]n behalf of all God-fearing people” for holding fast, and another declared the objectors “in the minority and … ignorant of the history of our country.””

So… what is a secularist to do?  Shall we bemoan our fate, lamenting that “this was another win for the religious right”?  I think not.  In fact, I think this ruling can lead to a really big problem for the religious right; but don’t take it from me, take it from an evangelical Christian writer (and constitutional scholar) for Christianity Today magazine:

“So what’s the harm of government prayer? First, it leaves a few deeply resentful, with hearts hardened to Christianity. One need look no further than the two complainants here. Many more of our fellow citizens are confused about evangelical methods and motives when we hitch our wagon to Caesar, and they are misled about the nature of Christ’s invitation and a person’s freedom in response to him. Moreover, because what goes around comes around, municipalities in less friendly territory than Greece, New York, will seize this newly approved legality and use it to offer up invocational prayers that will be unrecognizable to evangelicals. Already this is occurring in the Town of Greece, where a Wiccan priestess has offered up prayers to Athena and Apollo. An atheist has also petitioned, by appealing to “inclusion,” that she be allowed to take a turn at rendering the invocation. She did so, not because she wanted to pray, to protest the city policy by rendering it absurd. The Supreme Court’s ruling means we will be seeing more of this mischief.” [emphasis added]

Did you hear that?  Mischief!  :)

la-abcarian-satan-pix-20140505

At the next county board meeting, ask if you can get a “Hail Satan!” (image source)

And he’s right.  Now that the SCOTUS has explicitly opened the door to sectarian (note, that’s a different word that “Christian”) prayers, then all those Christians who so badly wanted to win this case had better be prepared for people of other religious (or non-religious) beliefs to come calling for their turn to give invocations at local government meetings.  I’m guessing they won’t be too happy to have a Muslim imam, Jewish rabbi, Hindu priest, or humanist/atheist open with a prayer or statement; just look at how they threw a hissy-fit when a Hindu priest opened a session of the U.S. Senate with a prayer:

Well, these conservative Christians had better get used to it, because plenty of highly non-Christian folks are now more than ready to start attending local government meetings with the express purpose of opening them with non-Christian prayers/invocations.  For example:

**The American Humanist Association is planning to launch a program to “provide resources for atheists and humanists to deliver secular invocations during legislative meetings.”

**The Freedom From Religion Foundation has already announced “Nothing Fails Like A Prayer”, a nationwide contest for the best secular invocation delivered at a government meeting.

**And the Satanic Temple (yes, the same one that is petitioning to erect a statue of Satan outside the Oklahoma state house under their “religious monument” law) is getting in on the act, too.  In fact, they’ve already got the following prayer/invocation ready to go:

“Let us stand now, unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines born of fearful minds in darkened times. Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old. Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations. Let us reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true. Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of One or All. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is Done. Hail Satan.”

I have a message for all the conservative Christians hailing this ruling: Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it  :)

 

 

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Evolution and Creationism in 2013: The Year in Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2014

If you know anything about the evolution-creationism battle in the United States, you know that it is a long-running one.  You also know that the issue is heavily influenced by religious outlook (or lack thereof) and politics.  Some recent polling data has provided some very revealing information about trends in the U.S. on these issues: and a deeper analysis yields bad news for the creationists.

First, the poll itself: the Pew Research Center released their poll, titled “Public’s Views on Human Evolution” on Dec. 30th.  And it contains some interesting take-aways:

evolution2013-1

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” …

One of the most interesting things to see in this poll is the breakdown of religious and political affiliation:

… These beliefs differ strongly by religious group. White evangelical Protestants are particularly likely to believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Roughly two-thirds (64%) express this view, as do half of black Protestants (50%). By comparison, only 15% of white mainline Protestants share this opinion.

There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap. … [emphasis added]

Perhaps it’s no surprise that evangelical Protestants are the ones who reject evolution the most while the religiously unaffiliated (the so-called “nones”) embrace evolution.  The thing that is so surprising about this particular survey is the part I put in bold above: self-identifying Republicans are rejecting evolution in higher and higher numbers.  I think this presents a big problem for the Republican party, and my next discussion point illustrates why. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Yet More Evidence the Bible is Being Edited Even Today

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 29, 2013

One of the most popular posts I’ve made on this blog was about how the Bible has been edited in recent decades to promote a specific political agenda related to abortion. Since writing that post, it has become even more clear that the Bible continues to be edited in order to promote a very modern, right-wing, and fundamentalist worldview. What’s more is that those engaged in this effort, namely those paragons of intellectual honesty and virtue at Conservapedia (where they believe that Einstein’s physics theories are a “left-wing conspiracy”), are openly admitting what they are doing. But don’t take it from me, read what they have to say on their very own page for their Conservative Bible Project:

The Conservative Bible Project is a project utilizing the “best of the public” to render God’s word into modern English without liberal translation distortions. A Colbert Report interview featured this project. We completed a first draft of our translation of the New Testament on April 23, 2010.

Already our translators have identified numerous pro-abortion distortions that omit or twist clear references to the unborn child.

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning:

*lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
*lack of precision in modern language
*translation bias, mainly of the liberal kind, in converting the original language to the modern one.

Experts in ancient languages are helpful in reducing the first type of error above, which is a vanishing source of error as scholarship advances understanding. English language linguists are helpful in reducing the second type of error, which also decreases due to an increasing vocabulary. But the third — and largest — source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate. [emphasis in the original] …

So there you have it. The folks at Conservapedia abandon all pretense and openly admit their political agenda; no doubt the phrase “best of the public” refers only to those people who share the fundamentalist worldview of Conservapedia’s authors. But what about their so-called claims to be addressing “lack of precision in the original language” and “translation bias”? Well, this article has some interesting info on that…

Right-Wing Group Seeks Help Rewriting the Bible Because It’s Not Conservative Enough

The King James Bible and more recent translations are veritable primers of progressive agitprop, according to the founder of Conservapedia.

… Don’t know Aramaic, Hebrew or ancient Greek? Not a problem. What they are looking for is not exactly egghead scholarship, but a knack for using words they’ve read in the Wall Street Journal. They have a list of promising candidates on their website— words like capitalism, work ethic, death penalty, anticompetitive, elitism, productivity, privatize, pro-life—all of which are conspicuously missing from those socialist-inspired Bibles we’ve been reading lately. …

Uhhh, yeah. Because ancient societies totally used the word “capitalism”, despite the fact the word didn’t even exist until the mid-19th century. But wait, it gets better!

… To give a sense of how to go about your own retranslation, here are some examples of changes the editors have already made.

Take that story where the mob surrounds a woman accused of adultery and gets ready to stone her, but Jesus intervenes and says, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” (John 7:53-8:11). It might have been a later addition that wasn’t in the original Gospels, according to some right-thinking, or rather right-leaning scholars. So the editors have excised this bleeding-heart favorite from the Good Book, and they’ve also removed Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

“The simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing,” Schlafly points out, proving that, “Jesus might never had said it at all.”

Another thing Jesus might never have said at all is, “Blessed are the meek.” Change that one to, “Blessed are the God-fearing,” the translation’s editors advise, which is far less touchy-feely than the King James version.

Where Jesus teaches that, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:24) our mentors at Conservapedia recommend that we scratch the word “rich” and replace it with either “fully fed and entertained” or, if you prefer, “idle miser,” which have none of the Occupy Wall Street-ish sour grapes of the better-known translation.

When Jesus greets his disciples with the blessing, “Peace be with you” (John 20, 26), the editors cleverly change the wording to, “Peace of mind be with you,” so that nobody gets the wrong idea and thinks Jesus was some kind of lilly-livered pacifist.

Likewise where Jesus says, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but to save it” (John 3, 17), they change “world” to “mankind,” so it is clear the Christian savior is not advocating environmentalism here. Hey, you can’t be too careful!

Finally, when Jesus admonishes hypocrites to, “Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye,” the conservative Bible replaces the word “hypocrite” with “deceiver,” since hypocrite is often “misused politically against Christians.” Good point! …

I think you get the idea.

However, there is one overwhelming fact that should be emphasized in all this: regardless of what the “original Bible” (an oxymoron for many reasons) did or did not say, what this whole fiasco proves, without a doubt, is that the Bible – like all religious texts – are the work of humans! The fact that the folks at Conservapedia are doing what they’re doing in such a blatant manner shows that they are, like all religious believers, I think, simply projecting their own beliefs and value systems onto what they believe to be an all-powerful god.

And therein lies one of the great ironies of the entire thing: so many right-wing fundamentalists have justified their worldview in the past by pointing to the Bible and saying “See? It says so in the Bible!” Yet now we see a bunch who are so wedded to their right-wing political worldview that they are openly changing the Bible (which they often claimed is inerrant and unchanging) to be more in line with that worldview.

If this isn’t evidence that those espousing this right-wing ideology and religion are doing so in a blatantly subjective and relativistic manner, I don’t know what is.

It also makes you wonder just how many times in the past such holy books have been edited to promote a specific, and wholly human, agenda, doesn’t it?

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Satanic Temple Erects Monument at Oklahoma’s Statehouse

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 8, 2013

In the “truth is stranger than fiction” category, there’s this bit of news that I just read: the Satanic Temple plans to put up their own display on the grounds of the Oklahoma Statehouse (which is public property) right next to a display of the Ten Commandments.  And it’s all due to a law pushed through the OK legislature in 2009 by the religious right… message to all the right-wing fundamentalist Christians who wish to force their religious displays on public land: be careful what you wish for… LOL :D

Oklahoma’s 10 Commandments To Get A Sister Memorial … From The Satanic Temple

prayer-in-school

Remember the Satanic Temple, which performed a ritual to turn Fred Phelps’ dead mother gay? They are still at it, now in Oklahoma. The Satanic Temple has filed the papers to put up a memorial on statehouse grounds, next to the state’s display of the 10 Commandments. They are doing this by citing Okla.’s religious displays legislation, signed into law in 2009. And they are absolutely serious about it. …

… Okla., thanks to its argument for religious monuments on public display, now must accept the Satanic Temple and their memorial. The law allows them to put it right next to the 10 Commandments, if they so desire. Next week, who knows, perhaps the Satanic Temple will get the opportunity to name a new public school. It’s not like the state would be hypocrites who would only accept their own narrow religious views in direct violation of the US Constitution after all. Wouldn’t that be something to witness?

Incidentally, my skeptical colleague Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist interviewed Lucien Greaves, the Satanic Temple’s spokesman for this issue.  Check out the interview if you’re interested.

I, for one, will be watching this situation with a great deal of interest.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the Oklahoma legislature and governor decided that all of this business about putting religious displays on public land is just too much trouble and banned them all?  It’d be nice if they, you know, actually respected the separation of church and state.

Until such a time as that day comes, however, I shall have quite a lot of fun watching the goings on in OK.

 

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Vatican Pulls a Boner with St. Peter’s Alleged Remains

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 29, 2013

In light of the upcoming Holiday Season, I wanted to do a quick post regarding an interesting bit of news out of the Vatican recently; apparently, the Vatican is putting the supposed bones of St. Peter on public display for the very first time.  However, these may not be the bones true-believers are looking for…

Saint Peters Bones - maybe

It would be a real boner if the remains turned out to not be those of Saint Peter, wouldn’t it?(image source)

St. Peter’s Bones: Vatican ‘Verifies’ Remains Despite Archaeological Skepticism

As far as St. Peter’s bones go, many Catholic’s will no doubt be planning a pilgrimage to the Holy See, to view the bones purported to belong to St. Peter. The remains were revealed Sunday at St. Peter’s square, and the revelation was performed at St. Peter’s Square at the conclusion of the Catholic church’s “Year of Faith.”

This also happens to the first time St. Peter’s bones have ever been put on display since being discovered in 1939. But there is no DNA sample with which to make a comparison and no way of proving who the skeletal remains actually belong to. But the Vatican is declaring their “verification” regardless.

Pilgrims 8.5 million strong have journeyed to see the Vatican’s relics collection over the last year, but many are questioning whether or not the bones really belong to St. Peter. Peter was believed to have been martyred in Rome in 64 C.E. by being crucified upside down, and then buried in the city. Pope Paul VI said of St. Peter’s bones:

“[They had been identified] in a manner which we believe convincing.”

… Despite the lack of verification, and the fact that archeologists have disputed that they actually found St. Peter’s bones, the Vatican has found the identification “convincing” and has officially declared the bones to belong to St. Peter.

Pardon me if I’m just a bit skeptical of these claims, especially since there has been no independent verification that the remains are indeed those of St. Peter.  Sadly, the history of the Catholic Church is full of examples of pious frauds (such as the much-lauded Shroud of Turin) passed off on the faithful as the real thing when, at best, their authenticity is highly dubious.

Of course, in a time when the Church is struggling to keep asses in pews and money coming into the coffers, I suppose they’ll grab onto anything – no matter how questionable or tenuous – that they can.

 

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Karen Stollznow’s TAM Talk: What an Excellent Day for a Talk about Exorcism

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2013

In the spirit of both Halloween and skepticism, I wanted to pass along to you this very well done talk on demonic possession and exorcism from Karen Stollznow.  Enjoy!  :)

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack Panel – Limits of Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 6, 2013

The second panel in which I participated this past Labor Day weekend at DragonCon was a Skeptrack panel titled “Limits of Skepticism”.  I served as the moderator of the panel, which included philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, astronomer Pamela Gay, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) DJ Grothe, Center For Inquiry activist Debbie Goddard, freethought activist Margaret Downey, and author of “What’s the Harm?” website Tim Farley.  In this discussion we ranged far and wide on the question of what is skepticism, what are the tools of skepticism, what are the limits of skepticism, and how skepticism can apply beyond the so-called “traditional” topics (UFOs, Bigfoot, creationism, etc).  I recorded the audio of the panel and share it with you below – enjoy!

Skeptrack
DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack – Limits of Skepticism

Posted in philosophy, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

When Faith Fails: Vaccine-Denial Gets Religion

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2013

Many times we think of vaccine deniers and picture Jenny McCarthy as the spokesperson for the anti-vaccine movement.  She goes on and on about how her “mommy instinct” trumps all of modern medicine and insists it’s acceptable to prevent them from getting vaccinated; this despite the fact that kids can die without their vaccines.

Well, there is a disturbing new trend in the anti-vaccine movement: some parts of it have gotten religion… literally.  Apparently there is now a confluence of faith-healing with anti-vaccine sentiment, and it has gotten popular enough in some circles that it is – surprise – causing the outbreak of diseases such as the measles which were once thought to be practically wiped out.

Read on for more information:

There’s a Measles Outbreak at Vaccine-Denying Pastor Kenneth Copeland’s Fort Worth Church

KennethGloriaCopeland-thumb-565x376

Image source

For several days now, state health officials have been sounding the alarm about a nascent measles outbreak in North Texas. As of Friday, there had been nine confirmed cases, a number that will grow as new reports from local health agencies filter up to the state.

The epicenter of the outbreak is Tarrant County, which has now confirmed 10 cases, and the epicenter of cases in Tarrant County seems to be at Eagle Mountain International Church.

Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons delivered the news in a sermon last Wednesday:

“There has been a … confirmed case of the measles from the Tarrant County Public Health Department. And that is a really big deal in that America, the United States has been essentially measles free for I think it’s 10 years. And so when measles pops up anywhere else in the United States, the health department — well, you know, it excites them. You know what I mean I don’t mean. I don’t mean they’re happy about it, but they get very excited and respond to it because it doesn’t take much for things like that to spread.”

The sermon was awkward, to say the least. Pearsons is the eldest daughter of megapastor Kenneth Copeland, and her church is one of the cornerstones of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, his sprawling evangelical empire. He’s far from the most vocal proponent of the discredited theory that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism, but, between his advocacy of faith healing and his promotion of the vaccine-autism link on his online talk show, he’s not exactly urging his flock to get their recommended shots. …

Hmm… a plague has struck these supposed chosen people.  The way I see it, you can have all the faith you want, but the infectious diseases out there don’t give a crap how devoted you are to your particular religion and/or god; it’s that simple.

In closing, if you’ll permit me a snarky comment directed towards the faith-healing crowd: perhaps this plague a sign from God, people… that you should vaccinate yourselves and your children!!!

Posted in medical woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Supreme Court Strikes Down Prop 8 and DOMA, Religious Right Collectively Loses Its Sh*t

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 26, 2013

Well, if you haven’t heard the news, here it is: today the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) struck down the discriminatory Prop 8 law in California outlawing gay marriage and aspects of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which denied federal benefits to married same-sex couples.

**Applause!** :)

I applaud because, at it’s heart, these discriminatory laws are purely religiously based; that is, they have been pushed by those who wish to impose their particular religious belief upon the rest of us.  The religious right whack-a-loons want to use their narrow view of religion as the law of the land; in short, they wish to impose a theocracy here in the U.S.

If you have any doubt that the motivations behind these anti-gay laws are not rooted in fundamentalist religion, just look at the reaction of one of the biggest religious right-wing groups out there, the American Family Association, wherein they claim that this decision will lead to God’s judgement/wrath:

And everywhere I’ve looked so far, pretty much every religious right outlet is having the same reaction…

thestupiditburns

Of course, now that the religious bigots have lost in the courts, watch them start to get even crazier in the states. Expect to see different laws proposed placing more restrictions on gay couples getting married, “pro-family” laws, and similar nonsense. In short, the religious right is going to head into meltdown mode over this, but then they will only hasten their own collective demise because as they get ever more extreme and crazy, they will increasingly marginalize themselves from civilized society.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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