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 »

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Great Moments in the History of “Christian Love” (TM): How Religious Fascism Poisoned Little Axe

28 02 2009

A recent episode of Ed Brayton’s Declaring Independence podcast (Feb 5th 2009) featured an interview with Joann Bell, one of the plaintiffs in a 1980s suit against the school district of Little Axe, Oklahoma. In 1981, the town’s elementary school was allowing a “voluntary” teacher-sponsored student prayer group called the Son Shine Club to operate on school grounds before classes began. The school buses used to drop students off in front of the school 30 minutes before classes began, and since school rules dictated that no student was allowed inside the building without permission before the first class, students had to choose between standing outside in the rain or cold, and joining the prayer meeting inside the school. Eventually, peer-pressure forced more students to attend Son Shine Club meetings, which would sometimes run over into the first class.

Bell, who belonged to a different denomination than the Baptist Son Shine Club, brought up the issue with the school board, where she was told to take it up with the ACLU. When she along with other parents brought a lawsuit against the school district (which the plaintiffs won on appeal), that’s when all hell broke loose: including death threats, assaults on herself and her children, and eventually the firebombing of her family home, forcing the family to move away from the town.

More details are available at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, where we also learn the school superintendent’s response to his community’s loving Christian treatment of the plaintiffs: “The only people who have been hurt by this thing are the Bells and McCords. The school goes on. They chose to create their own hell on earth.”





Religious misanthropy and the case of the Muslim-only housing development

7 01 2009

OzAtheist posted recently on a Muslim-only housing development and recreation centre planned for the Perth suburb of Rivervale:

Islamic Council of WA spokesman Rahim Ghauri said the group had an architect-designed concept plan for a six-storey housing development, an underground carpark and a hall for weddings, conferences and religious and recreational activities.

Mr Ghauri rejected claims the housing would further isolate sectors of the Muslim community from mainstream society, claiming the venue would be used to teach Islamic youth how to become good Australian citizens.

The West Australian did not report Ghauri’s explanation of how Islamic youth the children of Muslim parents might learn how to become good Australian citizens by hermetically sealing them off from Australian society—you know, where Australian citizens live. In a sign that the Islamic Council of WA ought to consider firing whoever is in charge of their PR, the organisation’s religious spokesperson offered the following apologia: Read the rest of this entry »





It’s World Philosophy Day

20 11 2008

And at ABC News Online there is call for more philosophy and critical thinking in Australian schools. I share this view, though I find much to disagree with in Kellie Tranter’s article—especially her uncrtical citing of the think-tank Future Directions’ yearning for “a recognisable spiritual set of values and hierarchy.” But I have long felt that explicit instruction in critical thinking is at least as important as functional English.

Anyway, in the spirit of World Philosophy Day . . . .

By the way, if you haven’t done so already, do (as Ninglun would say) train your podcast feeds on The Philosopher’s Zone and Philosophy Bites.

And I might take the opportunity to bleg: if anyone is aware of decent philosophy/critical thinking in ESL resources, please let me know.





Too much book-learning makes baby Jesus cry

19 11 2008

In 1378 John Wycliffe first translated the Bible into English . . . and it appears certain rightwing Catholics are rueing the day.

The Rt Rev Patrick O’Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster, has claimed that graduates are spreading scepticism and sowing dissent. Instead of following the Church’s teaching they are “hedonistic”, “selfish” and “egocentric”, he said. [. . .] While not naming names, he suggested that such people had been compromised by their education, which he said had a “dark side, due to original sin”.Prominent Catholics in public life include Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director general, and Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister.

Bishop O’Donoghue, who has recently published a report on how to renew Catholicism in Britain, argued that mass education has led to “sickness in the Church and wider society”

In short, too much education is teh evil, because those Catholics who have eaten of this forbidden fruit and have become influential have “corrupted the faith of those who had not gone to university.” And what’s worse,

In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical scepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism.”Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him.

Just think . . . all this time I’ve been depressed and unproductive because I lack belief in the existence of deities. Ditto, these sad and lazy fools.

But O’Donoghue isn’t the first British Catholic clergyman to attack thinking: earlier this year the highest-ranked Catholic in the land warned that reason leads to terror and oppression. It’s just O’Donoghue is far more abrupt about what is at stake: educated Catholics, their minds poisoned by the “dark side” of their education—“original sin and concupiscence”—leading the sheep astray. Is this the voice of an institution worried about its waning power and influence, and increasing irrelevance? Or is it the voice of an institution that is in so much despair about its ability to defend its theological claims with reasoned argument and evidence, that it simply falls to demonising reason itself and demonising those who, having set foot inside the gates of a university, have developed the capacity to question Catholic dogma (and we can’t have that)?

Perhaps it’s both.





In which various media outlets and bloggers prove that Dawkins

30 10 2008

makes for a very convenient strawman.

Dawkins responds: Read the rest of this entry »





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

11 10 2008

Before I proceed, some breaking news. Pfc. Jeremy Hall, the atheist US soldier who suffered discrimination, harrassment and death threats at the hands of his loving Christian superiors and fellow soldiers, is dropping his lawsuit against U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Defense Department, and plans to leave the Army. (According to the American Freethought podcast, Hall was denied permission to attend the recent Atheist Alliance convention, where he was listed as a speaker.)

The week in fundie:

  1. For an example of how it is possible for Catholics to be as demented as the fundiest fundagelicals, look no further than Matt C. Abbott’s column on the RenewAmerica* website, “As the ‘Obama-nation’ nears, priests sound alarm“. There you’ll hear from Father James Farfaglia, who is unhappy with the recent US bishops’ statement, Faithful Citizenship, which counsels “the Church’s leaders [. . .] to avoid endorsing or opposing candidates or telling people how to vote.” Farfaglia wants the Church to tell people to vote against Obama and for McCain, because, among other reasons, “McCain will appoint a pro-life Supreme Court justice; Obama will appoint a pro-abortion one.” He also speaks highly of Catholic convert, long-time anti-abortion activist and theocrat Randall Terry, who in 1993 said: “I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.”You’ll also hear a goodly dose of Christian persecution mania from Father Richard Perozich. Jumping at the shadows of government spooks waiting around the corner to clap him in irons for being an ultraconservative Catholic (“we may not be in jail (at least at the moment)”), Perozich accuses the state of “encroaching on our religious beliefs, our freedom by passing laws which indoctrinate us, penalize us for non conformity, and take away our liberty.” The chief agents of this anti-Catholic persecution , in his view, are (self-hating?) Catholic politicians who, by not always voting in strict accordance with Catholic dogma, have become “slaves to people with evil ideas” . . . those ideas being “abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual activity.” TEH EVIL, you see, infects the souls of individuals who then force teh evil onto everyone else. How, you may ask? Perozich reaches under his cassock and pulls the following theory out of his wrinkled arse: “First evil forms people into groups to organize and express itself. [. . .] Evil then beings to take over in 4 ways: infiltration, indoctrination, intimidation, and imposition.” The examples he provides are just priceless:

    When we know persons with same sex attractions who have not learned to master chastity, we feel sorry for them. We want them to feel better. They infiltrate by asking for tolerance. They reinvent themselves saying that this is who they are. They indoctrinate with false ideas that they are genetically created this way, that they cannot change, that their sex is just as good as, or even better than, normal people because they don’t create overpopulation. They intimidate, calling us bigots, hate-filled people, intolerant. Finally they impose laws forcing us to learn about their sinful lifestyle, to accept it, to take away our freedoms if we don’t accept it, to teach this as normal in schools, nursing programs, to celebrate it publicly in parades, schools, and the work place as ‘diversity’ when in fact it is perversity. [Emphasis added]

    Read the full article to learn more about the INFLITRATE–>INDOCTRINATE–>INTIMIDATE–>IMPOSE strategy is deployed against unsuspecting hard-right Catholics by “unrepetant” woman abortionists and “famous people with diseases” calling for embryonic stem cell research funding. Read the rest of this entry »