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Bill Donohue is the President of the U.S. Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and one of the noisier Christians in the current wave of theist/atheist debates—notably he took great offence when a biology professor used some of his own spare time to post a compromising picture of an anthropomorphised cracker on his personal blog, and suggested that this was grounds for the university to fire him.

Bill Donohue, in other words, is effectively a spokesman for an organisation which he presumably considers a great force of moral good in the world. As such, it is not entirely irrelevant to consider the man’s own personal character. Since my words would clearly be dripping with negative bias, I suggest that if you harbour any respect for the man, listen to him in a radio interview and you will soon be disabused of the notion that he deserves it.

haggholm: (someone is wrong on the internet)

This is a pretty hilarious attempt at logic.

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Skeptical blogger Ziztur has a little project called Ray a Day wherein she (with the assistance of her boyfriend) go through one question a day from Ray Comfort’s book, You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics. The other week, she circulated an email among her awesome commenters, in which number I have been granted the honour of inclusion.

Here’s my contribution, wherein I address Ray’s “answer” to a question challenging the existence of Hell, and muse a bit on the motivation underlying such unapologetic apologetics. Go read it, then read the rest of Ziztur’s blog.

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I blogged about the resolution earlier. With that background knowledge, here’s one man’s feelings on the matter:

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Via Pharyngula: A 9-year-old girl in Brazil was raped, became pregnant with twins, and had an abortion. The Catholic church comments, through Marcio Miranda, a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife, that she should have carried the twins to term and had a c-section:

It's the law of God: Do not kill. We consider this murder.

A 9-year-old child should have carried twins to term?!

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Ray Comfort, the creationist dimwit behind the hilarious Atheist’s Nightmare video (and occasional enigma in the sense of Poe’s Law), has written a book that has garnered some pretty scathing reviews. He feels that the opposition is easily explained:

I simply expose atheistic evolution for the unscientific fairy tale that it is, and I do it with common logic. I ask questions about where the female came from for each species. Every male dog, cat, horse, elephant, giraffe, fish and bird had to have coincidentally evolved with a female alongside it (over billions of years) with fully evolved compatible reproductive parts and a desire to mate, otherwise the species couldn't keep going. Evolution has no explanation for the female for every species in creation.

Most people who make strawman arguments at least try to make the strawman resemble the real argument. This person apparently believes that someone claims that males and females evolved independently. Alternatively, he realises how stupid an idea this is, but aims the book at an audience who will accept that argument at face value. Either way, we have a prime example of truly comical stupidity, whether in the author or the readers who buy the book; hopefully the former, as I would not wish such an epidemic of irredeemable cretinism to be widely spread.

haggholm: (someone is wrong on the internet)

In the single most stupid and by far most offensive thing I have ever heard the UN do, they have passed a resolution (thankfully non-binding…for now) called Combating Defamation of Religions, widely referred to as an anti-blasphemy measure. The abrogation of human rights inherent in squashing free expression, no matter how offensive, let alone all criticism of religion, should be painfully obvious. (There’s also the problem, as mentioned in the article above, that defamation implies falsehood—since many religions contradict each other, a reductio ad absurdam interpretation would even restrict the expression of religion.)

Naturally, this was pushed by Muslim countries, who feel that it is religious persecution that is at the root of their bad press:

Muslim countries say they are only trying to cut down of what they see as extensive bias against Islam in the West. In the lead-up to Monday’s vote, many referred, for example, to the 2005 publication of Danish cartoons that satirized Muhammad, and which touched off riots through the Muslim world.

I’m hard pressed to tell which notion is the more disturbing: That this is a bald-faced lie and excuse and the UN council bought it; or that these Muslim spokesmen are honestly so stupid that they think that the Danish cartoon incident was more consequence than cause of contempt for the Muslim world. After all, the cartoons on their own were not terribly interesting or exciting, but those world-wide, violent riots wherein countless thousands of Muslims rose up to issue death threats or embark on violence in reaction to a fairly petty and insignificant insult—that made a difference. (Not that Muslims were the only ones who gave a poor showing: It’s been widely noted that the Archbishop of Canterbury chose that time to condemn not the Muslims who issued death threats, but the Danish cartoonist.)

“Everybody is aware that there is a campaign in certain media to fuel the fire of incitement to hatred and to disfigure certain persons or figures through caricature,” said one Sudanese diplomat.

…And yet the hatred that was stirred was that of Muslims, not for them; and the only caricatures that stuck were the people who stood up for the rioters, the senders of death threats, the violent suppressors of free expression, and pretended that their brand of tolerance had respect for human dignity.

haggholm: (someone is wrong on the internet)

When I clicked a link and was transported to a column on Proposition 8 by Orson Scott Card, I was fully prepared to be offended. I didn’t expect to be so amused. For a writer so erudite, his arguments are remarkably vacuous. I honestly expected him to make a good case for a bad cause—not so. How can the author of Ender’s Game produce such vacuous drivel?

The premise of this editorial is that he promised to write a set of secular arguments to ban gay marriage, since even he realises that non-Mormons won’t be convinced by We Mormons think God doesn’t like it. I will not quote it in full—you have the link above—but will cite the parts that made me want to burst out with derisive retorts.

Quoted and indented parts are from Mr. Card’s column; the commentary is mine.


The first and greatest threat from court decisions in California and Massachusetts, giving legal recognition to "gay marriage," is that it marks the end of democracy in America.

These judges are making new law without any democratic process; in fact, their decisions are striking down laws enacted by majority vote.

Democratic process is great. I really think that constitutional, representative democracy is the greatest…well, the least terrible political system anyone has ever invented. However, a constitutional democracy does not base all of its laws and decisions on popular vote—if it did, it wouldn’t need a constitution (except to codify voting procedures and ensure that they are binding). Any civilised democracy has laws in place to protect the rights of minorities lest they be oppressed by majorities sufficiently large to win elections. Unpopular minorities need this protection sometimes—like gays. Or Mormons.

We already know where these decisions lead. We have seen it with the court decisions legalizing abortion. At first, it was only early abortions; within a few years, though, any abortion up to the killing of a viable baby in mid-birth was made legal.

Really?

I presume that he’s talking about partial-birth abortions; it certainly sounds like it. Now, partial-birth abortion is a stupid term to begin with; it’s not a much of a medical term, but a political one popularised by the opponents of late-term abortions. During a partial-birth abortion, the fetus is removed via the cervix, the same path as a birth, but that doesn’t mean that natural birth has begun. It’s one of the procedures used for abortions after the 21st week; it’s used in 15% of those cases. This means that it’s a procedure used for fetuses some of which don’t have any brain activity, let alone higher brain functions, consciousness, or anything psychologically human. Additionally, the procedure is used to remove fetuses that die of natural causes—it’s a method for removing a fetus, not killing it (although for abortive purposes, the fetus is of course killed before it is removed).

But Mr. Card’s rhetoric appears to take an already deliberately provocative term for this procedure and apply it by the most horrifying interpretation of the term itself, ignoring any facts about the procedure, to make it sound as though American courts allow doctors to murder infants in the delivery room (and of course legalising gay marriage leads down the same path). This isn’t merely dishonest; it’s ludicrous.

How dangerous is this, politically? Please remember that for the mildest of comments critical of the political agenda of homosexual activists, I have been called a "homophobe" for years.

This is a term that was invented to describe people with a pathological fear of homosexuals -- the kind of people who engage in acts of violence against gays. But the term was immediately extended to apply to anyone who opposed the homosexual activist agenda in any way.

A term that has mental-health implications (homophobe) is now routinely applied to anyone who deviates from the politically correct line. How long before opposing gay marriage, or refusing to recognize it, gets you officially classified as "mentally ill"?

I agree that it’s not a very accurate term. I commiserate. I feel the same way about using the term organic to mean not grown using chemically synthesised pesticides. However, given the prevalence of the terms in question, I think homophobe is roughly as subject to misunderstanding in context as the word organic applied in relation to produce.

Here's the irony: There is no branch of government with the authority to redefine marriage. Marriage is older than government. Its meaning is universal: It is the permanent or semipermanent bond between a man and a woman, establishing responsibilities between the couple and any children that ensue.

There we have it: The meaning of marriage is universal. For starters, it’s either permanent or not permanent. It’s between one man and one woman, or occasionally one man and multiple women. It doesn’t occur across racial barriers, or maybe it does; and the groom’s family always pays a price to buy the bride, or maybe the bride brings a dowry, or maybe neither happens.

Either way, you see what I mean: It’s universal.

The laws concerning marriage did not create marriage, they merely attempted to solve problems in such areas as inheritance, property, paternity, divorce, adoption and so on.

[...]

No matter how sexually attracted a man might be toward other men, or a woman toward other women, and no matter how close the bonds of affection and friendship might be within same-sex couples, there is no act of court or Congress that can make these relationships the same as the coupling between a man and a woman.

the same ≠ morally equivalent ≠ legally equivalent

Women are not the same as men; does that mean they should not have equal rights? Black people aren’t the same as white people; does that mean they should not have equal rights?

There is no natural method by which two males or two females can create offspring in which both partners contribute genetically. This is not subject to legislation, let alone fashionable opinion.

Thanks for telling us this. I’m sure the world was just about dying from uncertainty on this matter.

That many individuals suffer from sex-role dysfunctions does not change the fact that only heterosexual mating can result in families where a father and a mother collaborate in rearing children that share a genetic contribution from both parents.

Ah, there we have it! Only heterosexual couples (out of all couples) can produce and rear children (factually true, I agree); therefore, because X, only heterosexual couples should be allowed to marry.

The only X that makes this argument hold is X = only couples likely (or at least able) to produce and rear children should be allowed to marry. Clearly, this must be Mr. Card’s position.

When a heterosexual couple cannot have children, their faithful marriage still affirms, in the eyes of other people's children, the universality of the pattern of marriage.

…What, are we making exceptions already? Even though marriage is for procreation only is the only logical piece that fits, we are to make an exception because it’s just so important that children realise that, universally, marriages are usually between a man and one or more women, are or are not permanent, and do or do not entail the bride’s family, or possibly the groom’s family, paying a price?

Note also a rather sneaky introduction of the naturallistic fallacy here. Earlier, he was saying that this is what marriage is and has always been. Now, he proceeds as though he had established that this is what marriage should be. This does not follow from that.

We need the same public protection of marriage that we have of property. If we did not all agree that people continue to own things that are not in their immediate possession, then you could not reasonably expect to come home and find your house unoccupied.

We agree, by law, to make it a crime to take what belongs to others -- even when you need it more than they do. Every aspect of our lives is affected by this, and not for a moment could a society exist that did not protect the right of property.

Marriage is, if anything, more vital, more central, than property.

Husbands need to have the whole society agree that when they marry, their wives are off limits to all other males. He has a right to trust that all his wife's children would be his.

Wives need to have the whole society agree that when they marry, their husband is off limits to all other females. All of his protection and earning power will be devoted to her and her children, and will not be divided with other women and their children.

Apart from the rather obvious conclusions that men own women, and women are exclusive property and protegées of men (in spite of some of the universally identical marriages being polygynous, including within Mr. Card’s own deranged religion), I suppose the point is that (as Jesus taught us, maybe?) we shouldn’t really care about other people’s children, and (literal) bastards deserve no consideration whatsoever, because all that is important for a child to matter to a parent is genetic proximity.

Wait, wasn’t he saying something about adopted children? (Okay, you may not know this—I didn’t bother to cite it. You can check the article, or take my word when I say that Mr. Card is A-OK with adoption.) How does this tie into a necessity that the children he raise be biologically his?

These two premises are so basic that they preexist any known government. In most societies through history, failure to live up to these commitments has led to extreme social sanctions -- even, in many cases, death.

And if people two thousand years ago killed people for it, it must be morally wrong.

Only when the marriage of heterosexuals has the support of the whole society can we have our best hope of raising each new generation to aspire to continue our civilization -- including the custom of marriage.

Rephrased in semi-symbolic logic:

Only if X is supported by society will society continue to value X.

Similarly, an old-time southerner might say, Only when the segregation of blacks and whites has the support of the whole society can we have our best hope of raising each new generation to aspire to continue our civilization -- including the custom of racial segregation.

Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary.

Am I to understand that Mr. Card feels that civil war is a price he’s willing to pay to stop gay people who love each other from achieving legal rights commensurate with those of straight people who love each other?

Society gains no benefit whatsoever (except for a momentary warm feeling about how "fair" and "compassionate" we are) from renaming homosexual liaisons and friendships as marriage.

Aren’t justice and compassion held to be rather high virtues in most moral systems, including both secular humanism and most Christian sects? I suppose Mormons are different. Personally, I disagree; I think that justice and compassion are worth making sacrifices for, so that even if gay marriage were detrimental for society as a whole—which I do not believe for a moment—I expect I should still continue to support it, because some goods come only at a price.

Benjamin Franklin said it well: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. I rank justice right up there with liberty, and consider compassion to be a pretty high virtue, as well.

Married people attempting to raise children with the hope that they, in turn, will be reproductively successful, have every reason to oppose the normalization of homosexual unions.

…Because gay marriage causes infertility and/or low sperm count in straight people?

It's about grandchildren. That's what all life is about. It's not enough just to spawn -- your offspring must grow up in circumstances that will maximize their reproductive opportunities.

Personally, I think that life is about a lot of things other than reproducing. Indeed, I think that anyone who disagrees with me is an immoral and frankly terrible person. I also note that a straightforward implication of what Mr. Card here suggests is that infertile and sterile people have no purpose in life.

In a strict biological sense—if we speak of meaning in life strictly in terms of biological imperative—then he’s closer to being right (still wrong, of course, but not nearly as wrong). However, I thought we were talking about morality, which usually includes concepts like rising above our animal nature (to borrow a tedious cliché).

How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Yes, I guess he is advocating revolution and civil war to stop the gays. He seems rather less sane than I thought, and I wasn’t being generous to begin with.

Biological imperatives trump laws.

Then jealousy and rage trump laws against murder. Greed and desire trump laws against rape and theft. This isn’t a recipe for morality, but for anarchy, a Hobbesian State of Nature where life is nasty, brutish, and short.

I knew that Orson Scott Card was a man I profoundly disapprove of and disagree with, due to opinions he holds on religious grounds. However, if this is the best effort he can make to frame our arguments in completely secular terms; if this is an example of what he considers his compelling secular arguments in favor of giving permanent heterosexual pairings a monopoly on legally recognized status in all societies, then he’s not just blinded by religion—as many otherwise intelligent people are, compartmentalising their beliefs—he is also quite incapable of logic, stupid, and possibly insane.

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The Bible is historically accurate.

…Say what?

It actually astonishes me that anyone could utter such a breathtakingly inane argument in a religion-versus-atheism sort of debate, and that's saying something, because the bar isn't set high (often not on either side). How on Earth can anyone think that inserting some accurate statements, post hoc, makes a document more credible?

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Prelude (this post isn't really about parrots): Because I like parrots, because I like to be prepared, because I am fond of knowledge, and because it is a way of living vicariously through strangers, I frequent a couple of webforums dedicated to discussing said birds. Because I am who I am, what I am, and the way I am, it's probably fair to say that a few of the discussions I enter end up less ‘discussions’ than ‘debates’. It's not just me, though—there are some definite hot-button issues, and one of them is crossbreeding different species (hybreeding as some people call it, probably more due to poor spelling than clever coining of terminology).

Think what you will of the pros and cons (or harbour no opinions at all), my basic stance is that (ignoring conservationist issues for the moment) the important consideration is whether it is cruel or kind to the animals. After all, if you breed pets, just as if you own pets, you owe it to the animals to make their captive existence a good one, and breeding unhealthy animals merely to satisfy human aesthetics reeks of unnecessary suffering to me—Persian cats, deaf Dalmatians, many dogs prone to hip dysplasia, whatever kills English Budgies younger than the wild genotype…the list could be made quite lengthy (but mindful of you, o humble reader, I shan't make it so).

Imagine my horror, then, upon encountering this ill-conceived sentiment:

All I can say is that God made humans and the animals. God is THE top engineer. If he didnt want it to mix he makes it genetically impossible (ie: humans and animals) He also made Man the keeper and caretaker of all the animals. ALL of them, he gave us brains to think, study and create.

Ignore the spelling and grammar for now. Ignore also the religious sentiments, because for the purposes of this discussion (and of that discussion), it doesn't matter whether life evolved naturally or under the guidance of some magical entity that wanted it this way. The simple and obvious fact of the matter is that either way, life is full of very nasty things, from anthrax spores to intestinal parasites, birth defects and cancer; the naturalistic fallacy gains nothing from being dressed up in holy robes. Of course, I spelled this out—and of course, the poster in question seems quite immune to reason, but I chiefly wrote it in the hope that someone less committed to fallacy will be swayed by it.

What I didn't say over there, because it would be a little too inflammatory and distract from the real subject (what was important there), is what disturbed me most about the cited sentiment: It is a total abdication of moral responsibility. The individual I quoted breeds animals, and takes the moral position that it is physically impossible for her to do wrong in so doing—the corollary is presumably that she therefore doesn't need to think about whether it's good or bad, because—it's impossible for it to be bad. (If you sense a minute earthquake just as you read these words, I suppose I am wrong and there is an afterlife—that'll be Ayn Rand, spinning in her grave.)

This crystallises exactly what I despise about even the non-violent manifestations of dogmatic religion. God wills it—case closed. No need for such a believer to exercise judgement, no need to carefully consider your actions, no need to analyse your own behaviour and check your motivations—most of all, no need to check whether your motivations ultimately result in harmful consequences! After all, God makes it impossible to do wrong.

It is entirely likely that this person will never cause any greater evil as a consequence of this version of faith than cross-breeding two birds of too-far diverged genomes and create a generation or two of genetically unfortunate animals; it's quite likely that even this won't happen (this is a breeder of birds but not necessarily a breeder of hybrids, and hybridisation isn't necessarily a bad thing). But consider the morality of a person like this! Couple it with the very best intentions and the very greatest kindness, and such a person may well commit atrocities, because if you hold a deeply-felt belief that it is just not necessary to consider the consequences of your actions, you have no idea what evils you may do. You have blind-folded yourself to them.

In that famous paraphrasing of Voltaire,

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

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When you read this, keep in mind that it's not the Onion.

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Over at this blog, an anonymous poster quoth as follows below, and I find it strange and simultaneously amusing and disheartening that people apparently believe in this stuff, according to this reasoning.

Hi ReligionProf, I am paraklete from uncommondescent.com...

I really think that the mind-as-emergent property-of-matter view needs to be thought through some more. When we consider all the different views, from reductive materialism to dualism to emergentism, we need to bring in background information to help us determine which view makes the most sense. From what we know of matter, that it is basically "stuff" that follows natural laws, it is as you know very difficult to see how mental properties - non law like properties - could "emerge" from physical properties. This difficulty does not just appear to be our inability to imagine it, it seems to be based on the very nature of the two phenomena, mental and physical. Not only that, but there's the question of how a network of matter can unify itself into a single stream of consciousness - the "I".

Now on the flip side, when we consider dualism, I believe we have some interesting background information to consider. First, we have a virtually universal ability to conceive of minds without bodies. The vast majority of the world actually believes in minds without bodies, whether it be angels, demons, ghosts, dead ancestors, out of body experiences, and the near universal belief in life after death. Next, we have religious sources telling us about minds without bodies. From the Bible, which you cited regarding Adam, we have a consistent belief in dualism, contrary to what you stated. The psychosomatic unity conception does not at all contradict dualism, for there are forms of dualism that see a deep interweaving of the body and the soul, most notably Thomistic dualism, a view defended by J.P. Moreland in "Body and Soul." For a book that lays out the dualism found in the Bible, I recommend "Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting" by John W. Cooper. Indeed the Hebrew conception of Sheol clearly implies dualism. And Jesus himself was a dualist (e.g. Luke 16:19-31)

So in my opinion, I think the background information should lead us to a dualist view. The only criticism that I have seen against dualism is the "ghost in a box" argument, which basically asks how spiritual substances can interact with physical substances. There does not appear to be any mechansim linking the spiritual to the physical. But I think this is a weak objection, because a child has no problem conceiving of a spirit acting on the physical world, and never does a child think, "Wait, what mechanism is there for this interaction?" The demand for a mechanism is circular reasoning, I think, for a mechanism is itself a physiconcept.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, and I appreciate how you have shared your thoughts with a respectful tone.

What's wrong with this argument? )

Never mind the religious and supernatural implications. The true tragedy is that this is apparently what to some people passes for intellectual discourse.

Faith

May. 23rd, 2007 03:31 pm
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Written about a month ago when I got involved in a debate forum, which I subsequently abandoned because it inspired me to write this.

One of the psychological phenomena most puzzling to me is the one called faith. I do not mean in the secular sense in which the word is sometimes employed (I have faith in your ability to do this), but the religious sense, which I define as belief without evidence. It may be that some theist reading this takes offence at that statement, but I have never once seen the word employed in a context where evidence is available. Rather, You must have faith! is a statement frequently used or resorted to when no evidence exists (or when purported evidence is overthrown).

Let me reiterate this, because it's important and easily leads to a debate about semantics—well, semantics (the meaning of words) do matter, so let's nail them down for the purpose of this debate! If you tell me (actual example of what I've been told) You have faith that the building you are in will not collapse, I will assert that it is not the same thing. This is faith based on reason and experience. There are thousands of similar buildings around that do not spontaneously collapse, and there is no reason to believe that this one differs in a crucial way from those. It has stood for a long time and shows no sign of structural damage. Architects have staked their reputations and livelihood on the safety margins, and engineers and construction workers staked their lives in working on it. In other words, there is plenty of evidence that the building won't collapse. You can call this faith if you like; I call it reasonable belief and use the word faith to refer to belief not based on such tangible evidence. Like this definition or not, please keep it in mind as you read on.

So what's this religious faith about, then? It seems to be about believing what you have been told without being given any specific reason to believe that it is true. It may take the form of believing everything you are told by your pastor, rabbi, yogic guru, or imam. It may consist in considering the Bible, the Qur'an, the Veda scrolls, or the Elder Edda inerrant. Strangely, it may sometimes consist in taking one of these scriptures—the Bible, say—and believing some of the things it says based on no other evidence, whilst discarding other bits (generally ones that offend the believer's moral sensibilities). It seems to me that this is based on an a priori assumption that the scripture as a whole is true, and each statement should be held true unless proven false; whereas a rationalist world view (one to which I adhere) demands that we consider every claim suspect unless some evidence can be shown to support it.

Sometimes excuses are offered up to this; the most recent, the lamest, and the most amusing that I have heard to date it this, to paraphrase: The Bible contains scientific accuracies. It's hard to believe that's not a joke, is it not? Pretty much every book in existence makes some mention of things that are scientifically verifiable—the Bible, the Qur'an, the Illuminatus! trilogy, and even, I expect Mein Kampf; this in no way lends credibility to their general contents. I could take any load of nonsense and insert some facts.

But most of the time it seems to come down to…well, to nothing at all, really; just blind faith without any kind of rational, evidentiary, or logical support.

And people use the word faith as though it had positive connotations!

There is another word that describes the same phenomenon, and one which, although its meaning (within the context being discussed) appears closely related to faith, has very different connotations; that word is credulity—though in a very contextual form. I'm sure that many readers (or at least `many' relative to the total size of my readership…) will consider this an offensive statement when applied to religion. Oddly, the same is probably not true with respect to any other topic. Consider a text that is some two thousand years old, and consider a person who, although he has no corroborating evidence for its claims, believes whole-heartedly in it and will allow nothing to change his mind. If it is a text on astronomy, or anatomy, or physics (on an earthly scale), I am sure we will all agree that he is just plain wrong-headed. If it is a text on religion—on the origins of life—on the nature of the universe on a grander scale—why, then, nothing could be more sound than believing; it is not credulity, but faith!

(Since I first wrote this little essay, this comic went up, rather neatly accentuating the above.)

What really puzzles me is that some people go on to describe this as a virtue. Some people would have us believe that it is better to go on blind faith than to use reason and critical thinking. I can see why they should like people to do so—but what benefit can this possibly have for the followers of the creed?—it is all too obvious how it benefits the leaders.

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This is a different kind of post altogether from what I have written before: Although I probably squeezed in a few new thoughts in some of the corners, this is mostly rehashing things that in my view are very obvious. I just want a post up to refer people to when those who choose to engage me in debate return to the same tired questions, because I quickly grow bored with responding to requests to explain in my own words what is wrong with Pascal's Wager, why it's not weird that people naturally fear death, and so forth. I will probably add to this debating FAQ if more such issues arise…


Pascal's Wager )
Russell's Teapot, or `You can't disprove God!' )
Fear of death )
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I recently had an email exchange with someone (on a pretty good and amicable level, fear not) on the topic of religion. One thing that came up was the common Christian theme of free will, which supposedly justifies Hell. Humans, the argument goes, enjoy the privelege of free will. We may freely choose to believe in God and go to heaven and enjoy eternal bliss; or we may freely choose to reject God, in which case we will go to Hell. (I disagree that belief is a simple matter of choice, but this is tangential to the topic du jour.) I responded to this with an analogy:

Suppose I am the supreme ruler of a kingdom. I make a royal decree: You may wear any colour of clothing you want. You have a totally free choice in the matter. Your will is unbonded by mine. The only catch is that if I catch you wearing anything but green, I'll throw you in the dungeon, pull out your nails with pincers, and crush all the bones in your hands and feet. Still, you're free to choose that.

The analogy should be pretty obvious. The law of the land does not, in effect, say that you are free to choose what clothes to wear. Rather the law (whether we call it such or not!) demands that you wear green, and enforces it with a grisly punishment. If I tell people you're free to choose, that is merely a cruel mockery. Free will is not applicable under coercion.

The chief differences between my analogy and the biblical version is that the crime being considered is of a much more totalitarian nature in the Bible: Not a matter of doing, but a thought crime—I am, in this view, to be punished for the crime of not believing in a story that reason and evidence do not (in my view) support; and that the punishment is much worse—my hypothetical king merely tortured you for a little bit, while the Christian Hell is eternal torment! (Mark 9:43, Luke 16:19–28, …)

As an aside, I think that this issue is morally important. I consider any mainstream Christian who believes that I will go to Hell for my views malicious. I am of course personally quite untroubled by thoughts of Hell, being very skeptical indeed of its existence. However, if a person believes that I: God exists; II: God is all-powerful; III: God is perfectly just; IV: I will go to Hell for my unbelief, then I think that said person bears me malice. The reason is simple: If you believe that God will send me to Hell for my unbelief (IV), and God is all-powerful (II), then clearly (you believe) he has a choice in the matter and chooses to subject me to eternal torment. (I do not believe in any gods at all, but I assure you I would not make the choice of eternal torment, so this is not a simple free will issue.) As per (III), his decision was, in your opinion, a just and fair one. Ergo, you think it is fair that I should suffer eternal torment for not believing.

I've actually had someone tell me that they hold all of the aforementioned beliefs, and this person had the gall to take offence at my reacting unfavourably.

haggholm: (Default)

We are in a battle for the minds of men and women and boys and girls. To win, we must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, which means taking every thought captive to the teaching of His Word.

—Dr. Terry Mortenson¹, Answers in Genesis

The most blatant admission of and admonition for mind control that I've seen.

¹ Note that although Dr. Mortenson appears to have a real doctorate from a real university, it's in the history of geology (which he presumably knows), not geology itself (which…no, I can't even guess what goes on in the mind of a six-day creationist, if anything). If anyone should feel persuaded by the text, please talk to me; this is simple-minded enough that I can probably help cure you.

haggholm: (Default)

You are all quite wrong to criticise the creationists. They should be congratulated as the first group of people to have disproved Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and, importantly, they have done so using sound scientific methods. Their argument runs as follows: On Darwin's theory, it is impossible for humans to give birth to turnips. We are living proof that humans can do just that. Therefore Darwin's theory is falsified. QED.

Jonathan Cutbill (a RichardDawkins.net article discussion, comment #147)

haggholm: (red)
Pope Ratzinger was in charge of the Vatican's “protect child-molesting priests” policy. That's … wow. I already had the impression that he was an evil man, but this

Crimen Sollicitationis was written in 1962 in Latin and given to Catholic bishops worldwide who are ordered to keep it locked away in the church safe.

It instructs them how to deal with priests who solicit sex from the confessional. It also deals with "any obscene external act ... with youths of either sex."

It imposes an oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest dealing with the allegation and any witnesses.

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