The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘morality’

Religious Extremism, the ISIS Attacks on Paris, and the Need for Honest Dialogue About Religion

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 14, 2015

**UPDATE (11-21-15): For those wishing to get informed about the way ISIS thinks (as in “know your enemy”), take a serious look at this article; it provides solid evidence that, yes, they really are an apocalyptic, fundamentalist religious cult. And you might want to pay particular attention to point #3 regarding what ISIS *really* fears (hint: it isn’t death).**

Like many, it was with both great sorrow and frustration that I read this morning about the attacks in Paris, France by members of ISIS. As I’ve argued many times before on this blog and elsewhere, such as on my post about the Charlie Hebdo attacks and Draw Muhammad Day and my numerous posts regarding creationism plus the one about the religiously-motivated attacks on Planned Parenthood, I think it is absolutely critical for us to openly and honestly examine religion and religious belief and their roles in our modern society in a critical manner.

Let me begin by stating that I am not inherently anti-religion, though I openly declare myself to be an atheist. I can and do see how religious belief can serve to give many people a feeling of purpose or hope where they might otherwise have none, and I understand how it can help motivate many others to do works of great good. That said, too often I hear people speak of religion in terms that are only positive, as if things like religious belief and faith can only be good. For example, how many times have we all heard some believers state that one cannot be moral without a belief in God? I view this argument as detrimental for two reasons:

  1. It argues that people who either don’t believe in God (or who believe in the wrong god, whatever that may be) are inherently immoral. The counter to this argument is that there are many forms of useful and functional secular morality, so one can be moral without religion. This is, I think, especially relevant given the fact that secularism and non-religiosity is on the rise here in the United States (up to ~25% by some recent surveys).
  2. It seems to implicitly assume that religion necessarily promotes morality. Given the recent events in Paris, I think this assumption is highly questionable, not to mention the fact that recent studies have shown that the religious are no more moral in their daily behavior than are the non-religious.

I think we should stop placing religion and religious belief on a pedestal, and we should take a reasoned and critical look at religion just as we do with any other human endeavor. We need to understand that there is nothing inherently special or moral about religion, and it can be used for good or ill regardless of the beliefs espoused by the faithful; yes, the reality is that religion doesn’t lead to any kind of objective morality. Some people think this critical analysis of religion is not only not necessary, but they say they are offended by it. To that I respond the same way I did in my post titled “The Dangers of NOT Offending Religious Sensibilities” in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year:

First, I think that there has been a fundamental error in how much of this discussion has been framed. Too many people, mostly those who wish to not have their “religious sensibilities” offended and their weak-kneed allies, are asking the question of what are limits to free speech and should “offensive” speech which attacks and/or ridicules religion be allowed? This viewpoint isn’t to be dismissed as trivial in light of the fact that almost 20% of Americans think religion shouldn’t be satirized.

I think this is entirely the wrong question to be asking, for the simple reason that it appears to place the onus for responsibility of religious violence in the wrong place: on people whose only crime is to speak their mind openly and freely. There is an implicit and dangerous naivety behind such framing: it makes the assumption that if only people wouldn’t be critical of religion or poke fun at religious figures then murderous violence such as that on display recently in Paris would be curbed.

Really?! Not mocking religion means that there’s going to be a reduction of religiously-motivated violence? Try telling that to the thousands upon thousands of Muslims (and others) who are, even now, being enslaved, victimized, and barbarically killed by the extremists in ISIS. I’ll wager that the vast majority, if not all, of those being brutally oppressed and killed by ISIS never said or wrote one offensive word about Islam or Muhammad. Yet they are being slaughtered in the name of radical Islam none-the-less.

In my mind, a much more proper question to ask is this: What is it that it can so easily generate such a murderous certainty among the most ardent, fundamentalist believers of religion? The right way to respond to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and atrocities committed by ISIS isn’t to demand less scrutiny of religion but quite the opposite; we must demand more scrutiny of religion, especially radical, fundamentalist variations. …

… if we allow “offensive” speech to be curbed or outlawed, we run the risk of letting these vague notions of what is offensive to be defined by the most extreme members of religion. Take, for example, the case of Saudi Arabian blogger and dissenter Raif Badawi, who is undergoing a brutal punishment involving receiving 50 lashes a week for 20 weeks, followed by years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. His crime, according to the Saudi Arabian authorities, was “insulting Islam”; Raif had the audacity to run a website called Free Saudi Liberals (now closed down) where he advocated for a secular government in Saudi Arabia. Yes, political dissent is viewed as an insult to religion, justifying – in the minds of the extremists – the most brutal of tortures and disproportionate punishment. Raif Badawi’s torture makes the case that, if anything, religious sensibilities need to be questioned, and if that makes some people uncomfortable or offends them, so much the better!

Now, lest you think this discussion is exclusively about Islam, think again. It has become clear of late that many more than just some Muslims are jumping aboard the “curb offensive speech” bandwagon. Consider, for example, the reaction from various branches of Christianity to the Charlie Hebdo attacks:

Famous religious right and fundamentalist Christian broadcaster Bryan Fisher suggested that God allowed Islamic terrorists to carry out their attack in Paris as punishment for blasphemy. Further, in his radio broadcast he stated “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain… They [Charlie Hebdo] made a career out of taking the name of God, the God of the Bible, the father of the Lord Jesus [in vain].” So, according to Fisher, it wasn’t the satire of Islam that led to the attacks, it was the satire of Christianity and Jesus that is to blame! It should also be no surprise that Fisher is among those who would impose so-called anti-blasphemy laws in the United States.

Not to be outdone, prominent radical Catholic and head of the Catholic League Bill Donohue stated that the victims of the Paris attacks only had themselves to blame for insulting religion and angering people. “Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated,” he explained in a press release. “But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.”

Now one would expect such nutty rhetoric from commonly-known Christian fundamentalists such as Fisher and Donohue, but what is more disturbing is that the most widely known religious figure on the planet, Pope Francis, who is regarded by many as a “progressive Pope” appears to agree with these sentiments! “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,” the Pope stated on a recent trip to the Philippines. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others,” he continued. Wow, so much for that “turn the other cheek” nonsense that Jesus espoused.

What I see now is an emerging unholy alliance between right-wing extremists and naïve left-wing multiculturalists against secular critics of religion. The former want little more than power and control, and they view silencing criticism of religion and its related power structures as a way of attaining these goals. The latter are often well-meaning but clueless and unrealistic idealists who believe that sitting in a circle and singing “Kumbaya” will result in less religiously-motivated power grabs and violence. Both groups view secular critics of religion as either an enemy of the faith or callous and disrespectful loud-mouths who are somehow a threat to a healthy society. And this is not simply an academic debate; political correctness, introduced by the naïve among the multicultural left, has now been co-opted by right-wing fundamentalists to justify everything from the denial of contraception to women to the inclusion of pseudo-scientific notions of creationism in public schools. Under the guise of “religious liberty”, these fundamentalists insist that not allowing them to impose their religious beliefs upon the rest of society is offensive.

In closing, allow me one more criticism of religion and religious believers; but this criticism is not directed at the fundamentalists, it is directed at the moderate religious believers who, either knowingly or not, provide cover for the fundamentalists and their dangerous ideologies. As author Sam Harris argued so eloquently in his essay “The Problem with Religious Moderates”:

… While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God.

Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question-i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us-religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness. …

… Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable? Medicine? Engineering? Not even politics suffers the anachronism that still dominates our thinking about ethical values and spiritual experience. …

… With each passing year, do our religious beliefs conserve more and more of the data of human experience? If religion addresses a genuine sphere of understanding and human necessity, then it should be susceptible to progress; its doctrines should become more useful, rather than less. Progress in religion, as in other fields, would have to be a matter of present inquiry, not the mere reiteration of past doctrine. Whatever is true now should be discoverable now, and describable in terms that are not an outright affront to the rest of what we know about the world. By this measure, the entire project of religion seems perfectly backward. It cannot survive the changes that have come over us-culturally, technologically, and even ethically. Otherwise, there are few reasons to believe that we will survive it.

Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word “God” as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred. To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world-to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish-is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Fallibility of Prominent Skeptics: The Lawrence Krauss Fiasco

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 10, 2011

Every now and then there is a controversy which rips through the skeptical community, because – whether we like to admit it or not – skeptics are humans, too.  As such, we are subject to the same limitations & failings as are all people, and this latest frackus has certainly put that on display.

Apparently, prominent skeptic and defender of science Prof. Lawrence Krauss – a man whom I have admired for many years – has, how shall I put this, rather stupidly inserted not only his foot but the majority of his leg pretty firmly into his mouth.  He did this by coming out and at least giving the impression that he is publicly defending a known & convicted pedophile – oooh, ick.

I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time writing on this topic, and I’m certainly not going to get into the whole issue of underage sex, prostitution, pedophilia, and that related morass.  I choose to leave it to the reader to check out the Skepchick link on the matter (as well as the rather colorful comment section in which Krauss defends his remarks and others respond) and come to their own conclusions.  Suffice it to say, I think Krauss is on the losing side on this one, and rightly so.

What I’d like to speak to is something more general and, in my opinion, far more important that what I’ll call the Lawrence Krauss Fiasco has illustrated: even prominent skeptics & scientists are capable of making horrendously stupid mistakes, especially where emotions (such as one’s allegiance to a close friend) are involved.  In this, they are every bit as human as you and me.

I like the way in which the question was put on this post to the JREF Forum:

One reason I find this so disturbing is because it seems so obvious to the rest of us that Krauss is relying on nothing more than gut feelings right now, yet he’s 100% sure that this is enough to support his personal opinion. In other words, a well-known and well-respected skeptic is acting like a complete woomeister, it’s been pointed out to him repeatedly, yet he’s refusing to acknowledge it. Does this mean that any one of us could be subject to the same embarrassing lapse in judgement?

My response… in a word: yes.

We are all subject to cognitive dissonance, in one form or another.  I’m sure we can all relate to experiences in our lives where, upon looking back on them, our cognitive dissonance and lack of skepticism & critical thinking was obvious.  Thankfully, though, I’m guessing that most of us don’t take it to the extreme or do so as publicly as Prof. Krauss has done in this case.

This is why having a community of critical & skeptical thinkers is so important – it gives us the capability to hold each other to a higher standard.  By doing so we root out loose, sloppy, and – sometimes – downright repulsive argumentation & reasoning.  By not putting all of our intellectual eggs in one basket and engaging in demagoguery via some kind of twisted hero worship, we as a community can sit back & objectively examine the reasoning & opinions of our leaders.  And, as in the Lawrence Krauss Fiasco, we have seen that it can be a very useful method of calling out even our most prominent skeptics when they are dead, flat wrong.

And, for the record, the day the skeptical community ceases to engage in this necessary & vital form of self-reflection & criticism, then that’s the day I call it quits.  But that day isn’t anywhere close, from what I can see :)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Way to “Know the Bible” Tattoo Dude: How Christian Fundamentalists Aren’t Literalists

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 20, 2011

A hilarious photo is making the rounds on the Internet, and I thought it was worth a bit of analysis.  It is a photograph of a man’s arm, tattooed with the Biblical verse from Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as one does with a woman.  It is an abomination.” Here it is…

No doubt, this guy was expressing his disapproval of homosexuality – in fact, it seems he may have been involved in a hate crime, hence the photograph and media coverage.  I’m also guessing, given the emphasis on the Bible, that this fellow’s also a fundamentalist Christian, someone who claims that they get their morality from a “literal” reading of the Bible.

Here’s the funny part: in the very same book of the Bible quoted by this guy, there is a verse which expressly forbids tattooing. It’s in Leviticus 19:28:Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

Wow, you can’t make this stuff up :)

While hilarious, I think this points out something crucial in the mindset of most people who refer to themselves as Biblical “literalists”: they are, essentially, hypocrites.  You see, most Christians who claim that mantle for themselves are just posturing, though they may sincerely believe it, because what they want is to have their particular interpretation of the Bible to take precidence above all others (including those of many other Christians).  They are interpreting the Bible, just like anyone else, yet they refuse to accept that’s what they are doing.

In closing, as a way of sticking my thumb into the collective eye of these so-called Biblical “literalists”, I would like to reference the now-infamous “Letter to Dr. Laura” on the issue of homosexuality and the Bible…

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination… End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath.Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle- room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16.

Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Dear Dr. Laura,
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that <NOBR>Leviticus 18:22</NOBR> clearly
states it to be an abomination. End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.
a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord <NOBR>(Lev 1:9).</NOBR> The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in <NOBR>Exodus 21:7.</NOBR> In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness <NOBR>(Lev 15:19-24).</NOBR> The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you
clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. <NOBR>Exodus 35:2</NOBR> clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination <NOBR>(Lev 11:10),</NOBR> it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by <NOBR>Lev 19:27.</NOBR> How should they die?
i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? <NOBR>(Lev 24:10-16)</NOBR> Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? <NOBR>(Lev. 20:14)</NOBR>
I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.
Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.
Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

Posted in humor, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Our Godless U.S. Constitution

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2011

Okay, for some weird reason, I’m on a religion kick this evening, so I’m going to be publishing three (count ’em: THREE) blog posts that are pretty much explicitly about religion.  The first one has to do with a really good article I read on the Slacktivist blog (?) about the United States Constitution.  These days you’ll hear all manner of nonsense coming from various members of the religious right – you know, the in-your-face, fundamentalist Bible-thumping types who think that everyone in the country should cater to their particular whackadoodle interpretation of Christianity… because they say it’s in the Constitution.

Except, according to Slacktivist, it’s NOT in the Constitution; and I know that is correct, because I’ve checked it for myself.  If you read through the entire U.S. Constitution – which I have done, TWICE – you will not find one single mention of God, the Ten Commandments, Jesus, Christianity, or the Bible.  Nothing, zilch, nada! (You hear that, Glenn Beck?)  If you don’t believe me, read it for yourself!

So… that kind of makes it hard to argue that our laws should be based upon the various nutball interpretations of Christianity coming from some loons in the religious right; you know, seeing as how the Constitution is the very basis for all of U.S. law – duh!

In any case, I mentioned the really good Slacktivist article previously, so I should probably point out some of my favorite excerpts…

Reading the Godless Constitution

… What I’m most interested in watching for during this stunt, however, is to see if any of the more theocratically minded members of Congress notice what the Constitution does not say. Unlike these pious politicians, the Constitution never mentions God. At all.

The intellectual ancestors of the evangelical religious right once regarded this as the most glaring and dangerous supposed flaw in America’s governing document. But the godlessness of the U.S. Constitution was not an oversight, it was a matter of deliberate design — a principled choice for which the framers fought passionately. …

The bottom line is that when our Constitution was being hammered out way back in the late 18th century, there was a fundamental philosophical battle between the secularists and the ancestors of the religious right; the secularists won that fight – hence our Godless Constitution…

… But what is most valuable to me in this unfailingly interesting book is the collection of voices from the opponents of America’s “Godless Constitution.” I had read most of the other side of this argument — the side that won the argument because it was right. But I hadn’t previously read the vehement objections of the losing side.

The viewpoint of that side is echoed today in the voices of the evangelical right calling for religious hegemony. Then, as now, the argument was that such hegemony was necessary to provide social order and a basis for morality without which the nation would be ungovernable. Then, as now, the advocates of a sectarian Constitution believed that only sectarian religion could provide a basis for such morality. And only their own sectarian religion at that.

So for the sectarian opponents of the Godless Constitution, then as now, the stakes were enormously high. The Constitution proposed by the framers in 1789, they said, was a form of national suicide. That Godless document — with its separation of church and state, its disregard for the overarching sovereignty of God, its absolute prohibition against religious tests for public office and against the establishment or privileging of any official sect — would bring rapid calamity and doom. Their warnings of the consequences of such a Constitution were dire, apocalyptic and unambiguous. If the Constitution did not establish an official sectarian Christian religion, they believed, then Christians would find themselves subjugated to some other established sect. …

But I think the most interesting part is the analysis of historical accounts whereby the extreme religionists who wanted to “Christianize” the Constitution made all manner of goofy claims about how the country would fall into ruin for dissing God so blatantly :)

… The Anti-Federalists, and especially those who argued for a sectarian Constitution with religious tests and established religion, were wrong. Demonstrably wrong. More than 200 years later, the Constitution still stands as the guiding document of a free and democratic nation and none of the calamities and apocalyptic consequences that they prophesied have come to pass. “If X, then Y,” they said, without reservation or qualification. If the godless Constitution is ratified, then America will break apart into ungovernable anarchy, or it will be subjected to the tyranny of Jews or pagans or some other established official religion. That is what will happen, they said, what will certainly and inevitably happen.

And it did not happen. They were wrong. They were proven wrong. And their heirs, the hegemonic evangelicals of the religious right, are just as wrong today.

Yup, the end did not come for the United States upon ratifying our Godless Constitution, much to the chagrin of those religious doomsayers who insisted that God’s wrath would surely rain down upon us.  Of course, there are those who keep on claiming that “any day now”, God’s gonna smack us good – more on that in my next post.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Conservapedia Disconnected from Reality: Einstein’s Theories Are a Left-Wing Conspiracy?!!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 15, 2010

We’ve all heard of Wikipedia, which tends to be a pretty decent source of info – at least most of the time – because it can point a reader to a lot of good primary sources of information.  It seems that some time ago, ultra-conservative religious fundamentalist nutbag Andrew Schlafly decided that Wikipedia had a “liberal bias” and started his own wiki called Conservapedia which has a very obvious conservative, right-wing bias.

In a post that is almost so crazy so as to be indistinguishable from parody – a phenomenon known as Poe’s Law – Andrew Schlafly has put an article up on Conservapedia claiming, no kidding, that Einstein’s theory of relativity is a sham & just part of a vast left-wing conspiracy. This recent article from Talking Points Memo Muckraker outlines the stupidity and down-the-rabbit-hole thinking from Schlafly…

Conservapedia: E=mc2 Is A Liberal Conspiracy

Andrew Schlafly and Albert Einstein.  One of these is a scientist who revolutionized physics in the 20th century, and the other is a religious fundamentalist douchebag who wants to rewrite history & ignore science in order to fit everything into his twisted little worldview (guess which is which).

To many conservatives, almost everything is a secret liberal plot: from fluoride in the water to medicare reimbursements for end-of-life planning with your doctor to efforts to teach evolution in schools. But Conservapedia founder and Eagle Forum University instructor Andy Schlafly — Phyllis Schlafly’s son — has found one more liberal plot: the theory of relativity.

If you’re behind on your physics, the Theory of Relativity was Albert Einstein’s formulation in the early 20th century that gave rise to the famous theorum that E=mc2, otherwise stated as energy is equal to mass times the square of the speed of light. Why does Andy Schlafly hate the theory of relativity? We’re pretty sure it’s because he’s decided it doesn’t square with the Bible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in conspiracy theories, physics denial/woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Can Science Answer Moral Questions?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 1, 2010

I just watched a fascinating video presentation by Sam Harris titled “Science Can Answer Moral Questions” which he gave at the TED Talks this past February.  One of the key questions it addresses is the notion that science & morality (and hence, religion) must, by definition, occupy different spheres of influence.  While I don’t agree with Harris on everything, I certainly think he makes a very compelling argument in this presentation, and I encourage you to watch it.

Hat tip to Phil at Skeptic Money for directing me to this video!

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

Pat Robertson is an Asshole

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 14, 2010

I’m taking a bit of a departure from my usual routine to state something which should be patently obvious to anyone with even a shred of common, human decency: Pat Robertson is an asshole. Actually, to say as much would be an insult to assholes, but I cannot think of any other way to put it.

Of course, I’m referring to his recent comments regarding how the people of Haiti somehow deserved the earthquake which has killed & maimed so many because it is a punishment from God for Haitian slaves practicing voodoo (and swearing “a pact with the devil”) hundreds of years ago when they revolted against the French.  But don’t take it from me, take it from the Big Asshole himself…

Wow… I… am… speechless… well, not quite.  But these comments are truly shocking in their insensitivity, immorality, and intellectual vacuity.  They are insensitive for obvious reasons.  I contend that they are immoral because Robertson is using this tragedy to push his own narrow, fundamentalist version of Christianity – while neglecting the fact that roughly 85% of the population of Haiti is Catholic!  Of course, some jerks like Robertson will rationalize the argument by saying something like “Catholics aren’t real Christians” (which is a version of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy) while conveniently ignoring the fact that Catholics (with the exception of Eastern Orthodox Christians) were the only Christians for about 1500 years of history!  Arrgh!

**Aside: not that it should matter what the victims’ religious, or lack thereof, beliefs are; basic human decency should sway us to help them in their hour of need.

The comments are intellectually vacuous because they display the logical extension of a worldview rooted in superstition instead of science, reason, and rationality.  In Robertson’s worldview, there is absolute good and absolute evil (personified in his versions of God and Satan), and he creates a false dichotomy of a pure black-and-white world where those who share his beliefs are on the side of good (God) while those who disagree with him are on the side of evil (Satan) – recall how he made similar comments right after 9/11 about how the U.S. “deserved” to be attacked. Of course, his ignores the reality of how the world is rarely so simplistic, and there are complexities & shades of gray that pop up in many aspects of life.

Another aspect of Robertson’s commentary is disturbing: it views the world through the lens of supernatural forces beyond the understanding of humanity.  There isn’t a natural world which can be examined and understood through a reasoned analysis of natural causes (i.e. the scientific method); rather, the world is governed by good and evil spirits.  It’s all about God & angels versus Satan & demons – a view which, more than anything, propagates fear, ignorance, division, and humanity’s most negative tribal tendencies.

Alas, now that I’ve vented my spleen about Robertson’s stupidity, I shall cease cursing the darkness by lighting a candle (to use Carl Sagan’s analogy)… perhaps the best way to deal with assholes like Pat Robertson is to stay rooted in the real, natural world and actually deal with problems using reason & rationality as opposed to moaning about ghosts, goblins, fairies, and other vestiges of superstitious nonsense.  In other words, we are empowered and can actually do something because we realize that we live in the real world and can change it for the better – we are not slaves to supernatural powers beyond our control and/or comprehension.

If you want to help the people of Haiti (and I sincerely hope you do), a good start is to consider making an immediate cash donation to a reputable international relief agency, such as the Red Cross.

Go forth and light candles.

Posted in philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

Chicago Coalition of Reason puts up “Good Without God” billboard

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 20, 2009

Whew! I had a hard time keeping a lid on this one :)

I’m part of a coalition of folks who have been working to bring this billboard to downtown Chicago…

Godless Billboard Appears in the Chicago Loop

“Are you good without God? Millions are.”

These words are part of a coordinated multi-organizational advertising campaign designed to raise awareness about people who don’t believe in a god. It fits into a nationwide effort that has now come to the Chicago area. The prominent ad appears on a downtown billboard at LaSalle Boulevard and Grand Avenue and can be read by those traveling north who will see it on their left. Placed by the Chicago Coalition of Reason, with funding from the United Coalition of Reason, the billboard features an image of blue sky and clouds with the words superimposed over.

“The point of our national billboard campaign is to reach out to the millions of humanists, atheists and agnostics living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, head of the United Coalition of Reason. “Nontheists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community out there for them because they’re inundated with religious messages at every turn. So we hope this will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”

Reaching out to nontheists isn’t the only goal of the campaign. “We want people to know they can be good without belief in a god,” said Hemant Mehta, coordinator of the Chicago Coalition of Reason. “There is a lot of misinformation out there about us. But we humanists, agnostics and atheists are as normal as anyone else. We’re your friends, neighbors and family members. We care about our communities and are true to our values.”

The Chicago billboard officially launches Chicago CoR. It is also timed to coordinate with the launch of a new book called “Good Without God” by Greg Epstein, which is being released by William Morrow. Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, is giving talks and holding a book signing the afternoon of October 26 at the Interfaith Youth Core Biannual Conference, Center for Civic Engagement, at Northwestern University in Evanston. The next day he will speak at the University of Chicago Hillel lunch at 12:00 Noon. At 5:30 PM that evening he will speak at the Harvard Club of Chicago. From 8:00 to 10:00 PM he will lead a discussion at the University of Chicago Chaplains Office, Divinity School.

The billboard is one of many that have appeared around the country this year. Billboards and transit system ads funded by the United Coalition of Reason have gone up in places as far flung as Charleston, South Carolina; Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; Morgantown, West Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Subway ads will appear next week in New York City and a billboard will go up in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In a month, more are slated for California and elsewhere.

Of course, this advertising campaign is an excellent example of fighting a common logical fallacy (called a false dichotomy) posed by far too many ultra-religious believers: that without a belief in the supernatural or a god, one cannot be a good person.  One can be “good without god”, but I should also point out to my fellow atheists & skeptics that just because someone is religious doesn’t mean they also cannot be a good person.  I know plenty of good people, both religious & non-religious, and I don’t think that painting with a wide brush by labeling one side or the other as morally inferior is conducive to critical thinking when dealing with such issues.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

William Dembski & the Anti-Science Crusade

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 4, 2009

Those of you who have followed the evolution-creationism battles for the last few years will recognize the name and infamy of William Dembski. Dembski is one of the top talking heads for the Discovery Institute, the intelligent design “think-tank” which rose to prominence in the 1990s, and he is guilty of pretty much every logical fallacy & dishonest debating tactic in the book in his promotion of ID-creationism.


But now, Dembski has decided to branch out from telling lies about evolutionary science, because apparently after the Discovery Institute’s embarrassing smackdown at the Dover trial in 2005, the creationist movement has decided to take their anti-scientific agenda into other areas, such as environmental science.  For details, see the following article on the Southern Baptist Conference’s website where Dembski recently outlined this broader attack on science.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Science, Morality, and Meaning

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 1, 2009

Sometimes people are turned off from science because they view it as a sterile & cold process.  Often the argument is made that if one takes a science-oriented view of the world that it doesn’t necessarily foster a good moral life.  Many argue that only religion, as opposed to science, can offer any guide for morality, ethics, and the philosophy of the good life.  I think those critics of science are wrong.

That is why I wanted to pass along a great podcast from the folks at Point of Inquiry which touches on all of these topics.  On May 1st, D.J. Grothe interviewed Dr. Jeffrey Schweitzer about his book Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World.

Here is a quick summary of the interview…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in philosophy, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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