Quote of the week: Jerry Coyne on the incompatibility of science and religion

4 03 2009

Jerry Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, reviews two books by theistic evolutionists in The New Republic:

It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified. In other words, the price of philosophical harmony is cognitive dissonance. Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births. Without good cause, Giberson and Miller pick and choose what they believe. At least the young-earth creationists are consistent, for they embrace supernatural causation across the board. With his usual flair, the physicist Richard Feynman characterized this difference: “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” With religion, there is just no way to know if you are fooling yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

Quote of the week: Gene Witmer on how Christian presuppositionalists see us

25 02 2009

Warning . . . it’s a long one:

Key to the presuppositionalist position are two psychological claims about believers and unbelievers. I’ll use “unbeliever” here as a blanket term for anyone who fails to believe that God exists, including those who believe that there is no God and those who simply don’t believe either way.

The first claim: So-called unbelievers in fact already know that God exists. Their declarations to the contrary simply manifest a kind of willful self-deception and sin.

The second claim: This knowledge manifests itself in various things the unbeliever does and says. So, for instance, when the unbeliever reasons or makes moral judgments, he betrays this implicit knowledge. He in fact constantly, without acknowledgement, “presupposes” this knowledge. Hence the name “Presuppositionalism.” [. . .] Read the rest of this entry »

The Bill Muehlenberg Trophy: Garret Oden’s Burgess Shale of ignorance

18 02 2009
Lately I’ve been weighing in to a debate on Matt’s Notepad between the eponymous Matt and one Garret Oden, regarding the latter’s “A couple reasons [sic] to believe that God DOES exist.” Pointing out the manifold factual errors and logical fallacies in Oden’s list of arguments for theism, a plurality of which are based on the assumption that arguments against evolution are arguments for the existence of God, would (if you’ll pardon the expression) try the patience of a saint; you may do so at your leisure. His waterboarding of reasoned argument is replicated in his exchanges with Matt and myself, such that it is difficult to determine whether or not Oden is a Poe. A glance at his website makes it all the more tempting to draw that conclusion:

 Source: http://www.fredthespot.com/

(Source: Fred the Spot)

[UPDATE: BTW, Fred the Spot “evolves” into a crucifix, complete with Biblical texts so grovelling and self-abasing that they would make a BDSM sub blush. This guy should be writing Chick Tracts.]

Garret’s name links to the aforementioned website, so it is reasonable to conclude that it is his. Here are a few tasty morsels, both from his own Forever Christian blog and from pages linked to Fred the Spot. Read the rest of this entry »

A lie for Jesus repeated often enough . . .

13 02 2009

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16)

There it is. The warrant, Christian apologists would have us believe, for their moral injunction against telling lies. Why is it, then, that these same apologists have become so practised in the weaving of falsehoods and misrepresentations? Why are they so unwilling to follow the very set of ethical prescriptions they would have the rest of us observe, for no more compelling reason than a deity (whose existence is asserted but never demonstrated) compels it? Case in point—Ray Comfort, telling lies about what atheists believe:

Atheists think of themselves as being intelligent. But if you are an atheist, you are saying that you have no belief in a God — a Creator. Creation just happened. Everything you see — all the different breeds of dogs (both male and female), all the different breeds of cats (both male and female), all the different fish in the ocean (both male and female), giraffes, elephants, cattle, sheep, horses, birds, flowers, trees, the sun, the moon, the stars, the four seasons, night and day, the marvels of the human body, the eye with its 137 million light-sensitive cells — all these marvels of creation were made by nothing. They all just happened. That’s atheism at its core. What an intellectual embarrassment!

Comfort, you see, is the epitome of the “loving Christian”, given what “loving” and “Christian” have come to signify in the hands of right-wing fundamentalists like him. He “loves” his enemies (i.e. atheists) so much that he will happily distort evolutionary theory beyond all recognition, travesty-ing evolution as the belief that “everything you see” was “made by nothing,” and then attribute this belief to atheists. He “loves” atheists so much that he will happily accuse us, on no evidence whatsoever, of all manner of atrocious and immoral behaviour simply because we don’t “fear” his deity.

A wise man once said something like, “Most I fear God. Next I fear him who fears Him not.” An atheist will lie to you and steal from you without qualms of conscience because he doesn’t fear God. We have a generation who have given themselves to fornication, lying, theft and blasphemy. We have school shootings, violence, pornography, etc. and what’s the common denominator? They lack the fear of God. Atheistic evolution completely removes God and moral accountability. This is a cancer that destroys a nation from the inside.

These are the words of a “loving Christian”, who sees “nothing wrong with debating, as long as we speak in love and in gentleness.” I see little point in debating with the likes of Comfort, for he debates with his fingers wedged firmly in his ears, content to contend with strawmen.  The degree of vitriolic chauvinism he evinces, in whatever form it takes or has taken historically, certainly does have the capacity to destroy a nation from the inside, and more than once in its history has the United States which Comfort calls home been taken to the brink. Fortunately, there have also been voices of reason and enlightenment who have refused to allow the medievalists and tribalists to hold complete sway. Long may their struggle continue.

Update: watch Joseph Farah fellate Comfort at World Net Daily (warning: you may catch a glimpse of Ann Coulter’s homely mug). HT to Personal Failure, who points and laughs.

Feel like bashing a disgusting religious apologist?

15 01 2009

Have a crack at Madeleine Bunting, who not only completely misses the point of the atheist ad campaign on London’s buses, but in the same breath manages to be excruciatingly patronising about religious working poor (but we’ll get to that).

At first I thought it just plain daft; why waste £150,000 putting a slogan on hundreds of London buses: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” It managed to combine so many dotty assumptions – belief in God as a source of worry or as a denial of enjoyment – that I couldn’t see who it was supposed to convince. Besides, how can “probably” change someone’s mind?

What is the point of the campaign, by the way? Let’s take a look at the FAQ section of the campaign’s official website, which is more than Bunting bothered to do:

The campaign began when comedy writer Ariane Sherine saw an advert on a London bus featuring the Bible quote, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on this Earth?” [sic]. A website URL ran underneath the quote, and when Sherine visited the site she learned that, as a non-believer, she would be “condemned to everlasting separation from God and then spend all eternity in torment in hell”.

Incidentally, some Christians in the UK have complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the ad—which reads “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”—is “offensive” (while, presumably, ads condemning non-believers to eternal torment and hellfire are not offensive).

Anyway, Bunting continues:

Then I thought about how it might look through the eyes of some of the people who travel on the buses I use from Hackney. The ones who look exhausted returning from a night shift of cleaning. Often they have a well-thumbed Bible or prayer book to read on their journey. And along comes a bus emblazoned with that advert. A slogan redolent of the kind of triumphal atheism only possible when you have had the educational opportunities, privileges and material security of the British middle class. The faith of this person is what sustains their sense of hope and, even more importantly, their sense of dignity when they are confronted every day by the adverts of affluence that mock them as “losers”, as failed consumers. Ouch, I winced that we can be so blindly self-indulgent to this elitist patronising.

Yes, Bunting: how can you be so elitist and patronising—not to mention positively Straussian? Suggesting that while we middle-class types can afford the luxury of our non-belief, the poor benighted plebs with whom you are forced to share a bus, and into whose psychology you claim profound insight in spite of such a fleeting acquaintance, need a faith to cling to. And who do those mean and nasty atheists think they are, with their mean and nasty bus slogans, making her fellow passengers, whose inner life Bunting purports to know intimately, feel bad about themselves? Perish the thought that the atheist bus campaign might be directed at these passengers also. No, no, says Bunting: they haven’t the education to cope with that.

Madeleine Bunting is a textbook illustration of the argument that religious moderates give cover to religious fanatics. Not in the least because, like many other religious moderates, she seems more concerned with demonising non-believers than with combating extremism and fundamentalism. To a moderate like Bunting, secularism, not fundamentalism, is the real Enemy.

Oh, and she doesn’t miss the opportunity to scoff at atheists’ support for Obama:

The irony of course is that the trio of intellectuals roped in to launch the advert, led by Richard Dawkins, are in all likelihood going to be celebrating the presidential inauguration of a passionate Christian, Barack Obama, next week – a man commonly agreed to be one of the most intelligent politicians of our age. But what they might prefer to overlook is that he chose – after an agnostic upbringing with doses of atheism from a distant father – to become a Christian in his 20s. “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me and I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth,” he writes in his book, The Audacity of Hope. You can’t do pick and mix on Obama: he is pretty forthright that Jesus died to redeem his sins.

There is no irony, of course, because simply being an atheist or a secularist does not preclude one from supporting public figures who have strong religious beliefs. (Even when they invite bigots such as Rick Warren to preside over the inauguration.) What matters is whether they advocate policies based on an appeal to reason, evidence and reality . . . and not on the basis of “because my sky-daddy says so.” And on that score, I’ll give Obama himself, c. 2006, the final word:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Another apologist flushes his brains down the toilet wrt to ethical reasoning . . . and counsels the rest of us to do likewise

22 12 2008

Prepare to stifle a yawn as yet another Christian apologist deludes himself that he is saying something insightful about atheism and morality:

. . . while we can certainly agree with Harris that we can know objective moral truths “without reference to scripture,” we are left wondering how human value and dignity could emerge given naturalism’s valueless, mindless, materialist origins. If, on the other hand, humans are made in the divine image and are morally constituted to reflect God in certain ways, then atheists as well as theists can recognize objective right and wrong and human dignity-without the assistance of special revelation (Rom. 2:14-15). But the atheist is still left without a proper metaphysical context for affirming such moral dignity and responsibility. And despite Harris’s claims, naturalism seems to be morally pretentious in claiming the moral high ground, though without any metaphysical basis for doing so. No, biblical theism, with its emphasis on God’s creating humans in his image, is our best hope for grounding objective moral values and human dignity and worth. (Via Richard Dawkins)

What makes biblical theism—which basically boils down to “right and wrong are what God judges to be right and wrong”—a proper metaphysical basis for morality? All the apologist is doing is allowing his holy book to do his thinking for him. Far from accepting responsibility for his views on morality, he simply passes the buck upstairs. “Don’t ask me, man. I’m just following orders.”

You want to be taken seriously when you claim the moral high ground over the unbelievers? You’re going to have to ask, and make more than a half-assed attempt at addressing, some pretty hard questions about your deity’s ethical philosophy. Let’s take, for instance, the injunction against murder. All we can garner from the Bible is that God thinks that murder is wrong. We don’t know why God thinks murder is wrong. We have no means of subjecting his arguments in support of his position to critical scrutiny because, well, he offers none. Murder is wrong, my dear sheeple, because God says it’s wrong. That is all ye know, and all ye need to know.

I am of course highly dubious about the concept of “objective right and wrong.” There is a difference between simply asserting that these exist—which is a very simple exercise which can be performed by anyone, and has been performed by many—and showing that they exist. Demonstrating that theists and atheists alike can have ideas about objective right and wrong does not solve the problem (and certainly does not constitute evidence that humans are made in the image of a deity, as the apologist presumes): all it demonstrates is that we have certain ideas about morality. That the “hardwiring” of such ideas may have given our ancestors a survival advantage is the subject of fruitful research in psychology and neuroscience, and is certainly more parsimonious an explanation (i.e. for why we have such ideas about morality as opposed to why they may or may not be the correct ideas) than the “Goddidit” argument from ignorance the apologist is serving us.

Things they’d have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City XXIX

27 11 2008

The week in fundie:

  1. The UN General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution calling on governments to ban the “defamation of religion.” (EuropeNews)
  2. The retired Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Biffi, revels in the stagnant pool of non-thinking that is conservative Christianity by insisting that Christian teachings do not change with the times. That’s nothing to be proud of, Biffi: it merely serves to demonstrate the irrelevance of your belief system and its wilful disconnection from the real world. (Catholic News Agency)
  3. Islam is the only religion that ensures protection and respectable status to women in society” says an academic in Pakistan. (The News International)
  4. Yoga is banned in Malaysia because “The Islam religion does not find efforts or actions which have no purpose and are done just for the sake of doing something, to be appropriate,” and “A soul returning to the world in another form conflicts with the principles of being punished or rewarded in the afterworld.” Transmigration of the soul? That’s crazy-talk. Post-mortem hellfire and torment for not being a Muslim? Perfectl reasonable. (Sabah)
  5. Morality and ethics, observed an American cleric recently, cannot be divorced from their religious antecedents. Indeed. (ABC News Online)
  6. Morality and ethics, observed an American cleric recently, cannot be divorced from their religious antecedents. Indeed part deux. (Pharyngula)
  7. A loving Catholic blogger lovingly declares: “Was there ever a sub-species of human being as useless as atheists??” (via Fundies Say the Darndest Things)
  8. A loving Baptist pastor lovingly declares that Jews are going to Hell and face—and I quote—“a fate worse than the Holocaust.” (via Fundies Say the Darndest Things)
  9. In India, a teenage boy committed the horrible crime of courting a girl from a lower caste. So of course he justly deserved the punishment of being beaten, paraded through the streets with his head shaved, and then thrown under the wheels of a train. (via Fundies Say the Darndest Things)
  10. The anti-vac movement has a following in the Islamic world, too. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan has issued a fatwa against vaccination, declaring it to be a Jewish/Freemason conspiracy to rule the world. (via Fundies Say the Darndest Things)
  11. In South Africa, a 52-year-old woman was hacked to death with an axe by four men for being a “witch.” (Sowetan)