Skeptimus Prime » History One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Wed, 22 Apr 2015 06:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Catholic priest blames dualism for contraception and moral decay. Wed, 11 Jun 2014 01:10:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> This is one of the stranger articles I’ve ran across lately.

Contraception: The Gateway to Moral Decay

It starts by accurately quoting some statistics from a Gallup poll.

At the top of Gallup’s list of 19 issues was contraception, of which 90 percent of Americans approve, followed by divorce at 69 percent and premarital sex at 66 percent. Others making the top ten were embryonic stem cell research (65%), childbirth outside of marriage (58%), same-sex unions (58%), euthanasia (52%) and abortion (42%).

No disagreement here except that I don’t feel these statistics are an example of how far American society has fallen the way the author clearly does. One caveat, he points to these statistics as evidence that people are moving away from his positions, but the numbers on abortion have stated fairly static in America since Roe v. Wade.

Of course he brings up all the buzz words and ideas, blames “relativism” and the “sexual revolution” then goes on to say this has been a developing trend for hundreds of years.

Of course, it goes back more than a few decades. As is often the case, what seems like a sudden explosion was really the logical outcome of hundreds of years of growing confusion about who we are as persons.

No surprise here, what does surprise me is where he places this, more distant, historical blame, and why.

René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French scientist and philosopher who many credit with helping to launch what later became known, somewhat ironically, as “the  Enlightenment”. Among his contributions to the way people thought was to place body and soul in opposition to each other, later leading to the idea that the human body could simply be seen as an object one could manipulate according to one’s desires. Simply put, you are your mind, and you have a body; as opposed to the traditional Christian view that you are both body and soul. In this, Descartes followed Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who believed that the goal of human knowledge should be to successfully achieve not stewardship of, but domination over, nature.”

I’ve certainly seen my fair share of derision launched at the enlightenment by conservative religious apologists, but his attack on Descartes seems particularly odd since he was both a Christian and a Catholic. He is at least as well known for an ontological argument for God’s existence as he is for his work in dualism. He also ties Descartes’ philosophy to Bacon’s even though the history of philosophy tends to place each of them in the opposing camps of rationalism and empiricism respectively.

However, what strikes me as most odd is blaming of Cartesian dualism on the sexual revolution. For one thing, people who reject theism generally also reject Cartesian dualism, in fact it would seem that materialists are required to reject Cartesian dualism. Furthermore, most Christians are dualists of some kind though they may not know or agree with Descartes particular formulation. It is technically possible to reject mind/body dualism and be a Christian but most, including Catholics, do believe that the soul or mind can and does separate from the body upon death, only to reunited with it in the second coming. This is why I find statements in this article like this so odd.

Books are still being written about what became known in philosophy as mind/body dualism, a view that is rejected by the Church. This dualistic view is assumed by most today, even though most don’t realize it or see how it informs even their most basic assumptions about reality, and other people.

It should also be noted that Descartes formulated his version of dualism to deal with what he saw as a fundamental epistemic problem so trying to connect this in some way to modern sexual mores in American is tenuous at best.

The contraceptive mentality, so identified by the Church, is a perfect example of what happens when we embrace dualism. Notice how the promoters of contraception promise a consequence-free control over our lives if we could just control our fertility with their drugs and devices. All the pleasure, none of that inconvenient fertility. My body is not me, exactly, it is an object for me to control for whatever reason I want; so sex is just about my pleasure, maybe someone else’s too. It is not necessarily about giving myself to the one I love with the possibility of creating new life as a result of that gift.

And later in the article

To go against our true nature is to fracture our natural sense of responsibility towards another. Does anyone not see this happening today?

While he has been critical of our use of Cartesian dualism to justify contraception, he is quick to make use of an even older argument to justify why we shouldn’t do this. For those who don’t recognize it, this is an example of a teleological argument, which can be found in both Plato and Aristotle. The argument can also be found being made in a famous example by the great philosopher “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

“Winnie-the-Pooh sat down at the foot of the tree, put his head between his paws and began to think.
“First of all, he said to himself: ‘That buzzing-noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something. If there’s a buzzing-noise, somebody’s making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is that you’re a bee.’
“Then he thought another long time and said: ‘And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey.’
“And then he got up and said: ‘And the only reason I know of for making honey is so I can eat it.’ So he began to climb the tree.”

Teleological arguments are usually a poor justification and represent lazy thinking. One of the reasons for this is demonstrated in the previous quote, people assume, not only that a final purpose exists, but that it matches whatever they personally happen value most, in the authors case this is clearly reproduction. I should also point out that we don’t need mind/body dualism to justify premarital or non-reproductive sex.

He closes with this.

Obviously, seriously bad ideas have seriously bad consequences. Father Paul Marx, the founder or Human Life International, affirmed the Church’s point in his autobiography based on his broad experience in traveling the world:

Having traveled and worked in 91 countries, I find no country where contraception has not led to abortion, to increasing fornication among the young, to divorce, and to all those other evils we see today that make up the international sex mess.

And it is quite a mess, isn’t it? The Gallup poll should serve as a wake up call. If we are serious about strengthening the family, promoting the well-being of children, reversing the growing number of broken marriages in our nation, ending abortion, upholding the dignity of the aged and ill, and promoting purity and chastity, then let’s be honest about where the moral breakdown begins.

I can’t speak for every country Marx has visited, but abortion rates have been falling in the U.S. steadily since the 1980’s. Promoting the well being and dignity of all people means that you have to actually listen to them, and consider the facts. Deciding for them, irrespective of their wishes, is not respect. Forcing an elderly person to suffer for months from a illness they cannot recover from, after they have requested they they be allowed to die, is not respecting them or their dignity. This article is clearly filled more with pejorative language and emotional manipulation than with factual information. With questions like this, like always, I highly recommend the use of well documented research like this paper, (conclusion quoted below)

Empirical study of the aggregate relationships between contraceptive use and induced abortion has to be limited to the few countries where reasonably reliable information exists on both. Despite this severe limitation, our review of the evidence provides ample illustration of the interaction between these factors. When fertility levels in a population are changing, the relationship between contraceptive use and abortion may take a variety of forms, frequently involving a simultaneous increase in both. When other factors—such as fertility—are held constant, however, a rise in contraceptive use or effectiveness invariably leads to a decline in induced abortion—and vice versa.

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Another blogger who thinks evolution is an atheist conspiracy… Tue, 17 Sep 2013 22:48:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Recently the Kentucky Board of Education updated their science standards, and surprisingly enough I don’t have much of a complaint about that. Usually when when I pickup a story about science standards being changed, particularly in highly religious states like Kentucky, it’s because some creationist group is trying to insert creationist propaganda into the science curriculum. Surprisingly, this time the Kentucky board actually backed reasonable standards. On evolution the board stated

the fundamental, unifying theory that underlies all the life sciences…“there is no significant ongoing debate within the scientific community regarding the legitimacy of evolution as a scientific idea.

They also rejected the idea of pulling information about climate change out of science text books. They point out that the standards do not advocate for a particular political response, but do present climate change scientifically supported which seems to be exactly the way a science class should handle the issue.

Unsurprisingly many creationists and unhappy with these standards. While looking up information on this story I ran across a particularly irrational screed on The Matt Walsh Blog.

Christianity has done more for science than atheism ever could

Of course he makes an error right in the title of the post by assuming that evolution and atheism are synonymous. Considering Kentucky’s religious background is is quite likely that that the school board is made up mostly of Christians. They are promoting evolution in the science curriculum because it is good science not because they are secretly atheist agitators as Matt seems to think. He gives two reasons that he thinks “progressives” are celebrating this decision.

1) It will put us in line with many other states, which is great because we all know a diverse and enriching education must be in utter uniformity with the national collective and in compliance with the federal agenda.

I always find it funny that a group of people who believe that everyone who doesn’t believe in their religion will suffer eternally in hell start criticizing atheists for our lack of “diversity,” but in the end they don’t actually understand what diversity is all about. I’m all in favor of diversity in regards to individuals personalities, likes and dislikes, etc. However, facts are still facts and to promote a version of diversity that allows people to have their own facts is to promote a relativist notion of truth. The odd thing is that I know for a fact that most Christians would regard this notion as false. Even Matt here wants Christianity taught in science class, not other religious beliefs just Christianity. How positively uniform of him.

2) The criteria calls for a renewed emphasis on man-caused climate change and, of course, evolution. Evolution — atheistic, nihilistic, materialistic, mindless evolution — must be taught as fact, without other ideas presented to compete with the theory.

All good science is technically materialistic because science is involved in measuring things it can actually measure. As soon as Matt, or anyone else, can propose a way for science to empirically measure supernatural entities and events then the supernatural can qualify as science. The thing is most Christians reject the notion that one can empirically measure such things. Christians often don’t want their beliefs to be potentially falsifiable the way scientific claims are so they reject the standards of science from the start and then demand that science respect their beliefs. It is not unreasonable to suggest that people like Matt pick one or the other. Evolution, on the other hand, is falsifiable and does meet scientific standards. If Matt thinks that those standards should be changed that is another discussion, but it is a philosophical one not a scientific one.

He then goes on to say that “members of the church of atheism” are the one really hostile to science, history, and philosophy. While I will admit that there are plenty of atheists out there who are ignorant on those topics, this is really entirely irrelevant to science standards since ideally those setting such standards should be knowledgeable about science regardless of their beliefs. The real irony, however, is that one sentence after he extols the Christians ability to properly value philosophy he uses the following quote from the apologist G.K. Chesterton

a multiplicity and subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is far beyond the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern philosophy

So he claims Christians are better and philosophy while simultaneously saying that philosophy is nothing but breezy platitudes?

He then tries answer the question of how science and religion are compatible with a litany of completely irrational arguments and biased ethnocentrism. He claims that Christians have the scientific high ground because:

As a Christian, you aren’t just a member of a religion — you’re a member of a rich intellectual tradition unmatched by any group, anywhere in the world.

It’s like he is just completely unaware of all of the rich intellectual traditions around the world that are unrelated to Christianity. He continues in this vein later on in his post so I’ll comment further there.

He then claims that an atheist recently told him that “Christians have always hated science.” I’ll actually agree with him that this is a rather bizarre thing to say. However, he metaphorically shoots himself in the foot when he calls atheists “historically illiterate fools,” and then later on in the post he complains that atheists are mean and insulting to Christians. He also claims that Modern science wouldn’t exist without religion which to me seems like an equally bizarre statement, as well as un-provable,

He claims that Christianity is the major driving force for science and he tries to demonstrate it by listing scientists who are Christian. In this he subtlety engages in a correlation vs. causation fallacy. He assumes that because these scientists were Christian that Christianity was the cause of their scientific achievements. However the pertinent question in the evolution vs. creationism debate is not whether or not Christians can be good scientists, I will happily acknowledge that they can.

The question is whether or not modern Christian fundamentalism is philosophically compatible with science. Anyone who knows history well, as Matt claims he does, would know that Christian fundamentalism is a movement that started in the 19th century in part as a reaction to what some people viewed as an encroachment into religious questions by science. This is important because beliefs like the scientific inerrancy of scripture, which are common to modern evangelical Christians in the U.S., were popularized if not outright developed by fundamentalism.  This is why it is particularly interesting that all of the scientists that Matt lists, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Descartes, Newton, Kelvin, Mendel, Boyle, lived before the 19th century. It is undeniable that their version of Christianity differed from the modern fundamentalism that informs Matt’s views is some significant ways.

He devotes a great deal of his article to just repeating the claim that Christianity is responsible for science because by listing a number of Christians who influenced western scientific development while simultaneously ignoring the fact that many of the Christians were maligned by other Christians from their time for undermining religious beliefs. I suppose Matt thinks those people weren’t real Christians like the scientists were.

He then criticizes an atheist who sent him an email full of personal attacks and insults. As I have said before I actually agree that this is a bad way for atheists to present themselves in these debates, but no one can prove their own position correct by simply pointing out that some people who disagree with them are doing so in an insulting manner. Further Matt made a point of being insulting towards atheists at multiple points in this post so all I have to say is this:


He does expand on his earlier ethnocentric statements with this gem.

When western scientific knowledge came to places like China and India in the 1600′s, it came by way of Christians and their science-hating Christianity

I’m not sure what to make of this. If I take this statement at face value he sounds like an 18th century imperialist who thinks the only good ideas come from western civilization. Perhaps he only said this because wrote himself into a corner by trying to claim that science owes Christianity everything.

Just so we know this is not true, other civilizations have invented great pieces of technology and advanced science in myriads of ways. China invented gun powder. The first blood transfusions were done by the Incas. The list could go on for days. However, it’s even a mistake to think that Christianity was around for all of the scientific developments even in the western world. Galileo may have proved the heliocentric universe, but Greek Mathematicians proved the earth was round using geometry (which they also invented) hundreds of years before Christianity existed. Last I checked both of these discoveries were instrumental in the development of western science, so by Matt’s logic we should still be worshiping Greek god’s for teaching us Geometry.

At this point he makes the most bizarre statement this entire post.

But are we Christians all “idiots”? Well, I don’t mind if you say that about me, but was Da Vinci an idiot? Aquinas? Shakespeare? Mozart? Washington? Locke? Martin Luther King Jr? Edison? Tesla? Alexandar Graham Bell? Adam Smith? Marconi? Chesterton? Lewis? MacDonald? Dickens? Faulkner? Tolkein? Marco Polo? Neil Armstrong? Magellan? Columbus? Henry Ford? All of these guys are idiots, along with the scientific pioneers I mentioned earlier?

His statement here clearly implies that everyone he just listed here is Christian, but this is untrue, at least by the these people’s accounts of themselves.. Edison was a deist. Tesla’s views are debated by historians, but he seemed to be some kind of universalist or possibly deist. Neil Armstrong was, again, a Deist. Adam Smith was at most a deist, and may have been an agnostic or an atheist. He was certainly close friends with David Hume who many consider an atheist, and smith never evokes god as an explanation in his any of his philosophy. Alexander Graham Bell considered himself agnostic.

Columbus I will give him, but also point out that Columbus was kind of an awful human being. Columbus wrote in his log when he first met the Arawak Indians that, “They would make fine servants,” and “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Also, he discovered America, not because he was brilliant, but because he reached a foolish conclusion and got lucky. That is he badly underestimated the size of our planet. The only reason he and his crew didn’t die in on a boat in the middle of the ocean due to his miscalculation was because there was a giant undiscovered continent half way between Europe and India.

Certainly, while most of the others were likely Christian the fact that he clearly got so many wrong makes me wonder how much he actually knows about history. He claims atheists are rewriting history to suit their narrative, but given his lack of knowledge about these well known historical figures how would he know?

Towards the end he says we should not teach atheism in school, which is one of the few things he says which I actually agree with. I don’t want public schools teachers telling students god doesn’t exist anymore than I want them telling students he does. Where he gets it wrong is assuming that teaching evolution is equal to teaching atheism. This should be obviously wrong given that fully half of the U.S. believes in evolution while less than 10% of us are atheists.

His last paragraph really wraps all of his biases about atheists up into a nice package.

Really, we must get atheism away from education before we all end up like the modern atheist’s greatest prophet, Nietchsze, who died insane and naked, eating his own feces in a mental institution. This is not the sort of fate we should wish upon our children.

Think of the children, for goodness sake.

First of all Nietzsche (he misspelled his name) went insane because he had syphilis. Matt’s blasé dismissal of a serious illness which would cause insanity in anyone regardless of their religious predilections is both offensive and scientifically duplicitous. To assert that being an atheist will cause people to eat their own feces is not only factually inaccurate, it is blatant fear mongering. This is not the scientific and rational thought he claims to be arguing for. Earlier in the article he claimed that atheists have to twist facts to justify their position but what is he doing here if not blatantly twisting facts?

So Matt Walsh I assert that I am thinking of the children. I will be a father soon my self, and it is my devotion to objective moral ideals, scientific curiosity, and intellectual honesty that leads me to my atheism, my skepticism, and notions of social justice. I feel strongly about these things precisely because I want to leave this world a better place than I found it…you know, for the kids.

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David Barton’s grasp of statistics is just as bad as his grasp of history. Tue, 10 Sep 2013 00:24:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> So Barton gives a smug little speech in which he references a passage is Proverbs 1:7 that says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Of course he uses this to claim that our educational system is failing because we removed compulsive prayer. You can watch the whole video below.

If you watch this you will notice that one of his key points is that the U.S. literacy rates have fallen from 1st in the world to 68th. It turns out this is a problematic claim on multiple levels. One it seems to be a bald face lie or at least a demonstration that he is unable to do a Google search. The reason I say this is that every set of world literacy figures I can find places the United States in the 20’s, quite a bit higher than the number he offers. Figures placed in numbered order here, and here.

The second problem is that, even if he was correct, he confuses correlation with causation. There are plenty of other possible causes for the U.S. to have changes in it’s world literacy placement. For one, it isn’t like these other countries are just sitting around existing to make us look good. Many other countries have been working on improving their literacy rates; so our position could have fallen without our literacy rates dropping at all.

The main question he should be asking if he were actually concerned with whether or not his claims are true is if there is any evidence that a lack of prayer is schools actually causes literacy to decline. This isn’t a hard question to answer. We only need to go back to tables I previously linked to and see if there is any correlation between the religiosity of a country and literacy. It turns out there is, however unfortunately for Barton, it is a negative correlation. The countries with the highest literacy rates, countries like Finland and Greenland, are by and large not filled with religious people. Further the countries at the bottom of the list, countries like Somalia and Afghanistan, are typically very religious. In any case all of the first half of these lists are above 90% and it turns out that the United States, as a highly religious culture with high literacy, is actually one of the few exceptions. It turns out there is no evidence to suggest that prayer or “fear of god” has a positive effect on literacy. However, there is quite a bit of evidence that Barton does not care if the claims he makes are actually true.

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Mike Huckabee has really gone off the deep end on this one. Sat, 24 Aug 2013 09:17:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> So Mike Huckabee is really concerned about the state of education in this country, so am I, but this is where the similarities end. Huckabee wants to help kids learn about history, and he thinks he understands why kids aren’t interested in it anymore. Get this, the reason kids aren’t interested is because we aren’t selling American exceptionalism as hard as we used too.

America’s youth aren’t excited about our past because they’re being taught history in a way that minimizes what has made America a beacon of hope around the world for over 200 years. Instead, history lessons today often focus on America’s faults,” said Governor Huckabee.  “It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of giving our children a historically accurate and unbiased education that allows kids today to enjoy and understand our history, and build their pride in our great nation.

I suppose he has never heard the old saying, “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” It gives us a good reason to learn about our countries faults along with it’s successes. However, people like Huckabee seem to want us to forget our faults. It is ironic that he continues to speak about providing people historically accurate education after flat out admitting that his goal is to white wash history of any mistakes America might have made. And by what logic does one claim that kids base their interest in American history on whether or not we did good or bad things? I fail to see how that is something they even consider.

Lets take a look at one of these videos, a preview that talks about Regan’s rise to the white house.

Here is Huckabee’s own description of the videos.

“Each video we produce is developed in cooperation with a respected team of educators and leading historians to ensure both historical accuracy and a learning experience that children will love.

First off from a simple measure of video quality, (animation, voice acting, presentation) I’m fairly certain that children will love the experience of watching these video’s about as much as they love dense tomes about macro economics. As a nerd I’m some what of a connoisseur of cartoons, both American and Japanese. I’ve seen less stiff animation from old episodes of He-Man, and Regan looks like a deformed Muppet’s reflection in a fun house mirror. It’s done with CG, but the texturing is awful and the shading…well who are we kidding there isn’t any shading at all. I guess no one casts shadows in their universe. The voice acting is painful to listen to, and none of the writing makes sense for children. “the downturn in the economy is killing us,” twelve year olds do not generally speak this way. Frankly on the production values alone I’m embarrassed for Huckabee.

Further, I don’t know which educators approved of the “history” in this video but whoever respected them clearly has no clue. It has clear racist overtones in at least one place. The mugger at 24 seconds is black. (and wearing a disco shirt for some inexplicable reason) Regan is promoted as some kind of divine savior who wanted to return us to godly values. There is also a separate video up dealing with the 9/11 attacks which paint Bush is essentially the same light. There is nothing even remotely like unbiased history here, it is blatant propaganda for Christianity and American exceptionalism.

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The post in which I beat up on liberal religion. Thu, 17 May 2012 05:59:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Most of my posts on religion naturally speak about more conservative or fundamentalists varieties of religion because those are the ones which tend to impact society the most, but my skepticism leads me to reject all religious claims including the more liberal types.
Sure liberal religious people aren’t actively trying to take dismantle church state separation or tech creationism in schools, but they usually have plenty of strange ideas. They usually keep those ideas to themselves, but  every so often I run into a liberal religious person who likes to take jabs at the atheist position, usually by accusing us of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  
Which brings us to this article: 
Most of the article is fairly innocuous, the writer seems to be just waxing about some of his experiences of fundamentalist religion and some of his criticisms of it.  I think some of his criticisms are wrong here too but where this persons thoughts go completely off the rails is when they start to address atheism.
Here is the opining paragraph: 

Of course, for some the whole issue of faith is resolved by flipping to the opposite side of the same coin—atheism, the belief that there is no such actuality as God in any sense. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have many followers these days, but their arguments are as silly and superficial as those that Catholics use for Jesus as God.

Now I automatically wonder if he has read any arguments by people like Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens, and he certainly gives no indication of why he feels the arguments are silly, though usually this criticism is leveled by liberal theists because they think that atheists are unaware of the liberal theology usually discussed by groups like the Jesus Seminar and other academic theology groups.  This seems a fair assumption given some of his criticisms of fundamentalist religion earlier in his article.  The problem is that this is false, I can’t speak to Dawkins’ knowledge on the subject but I studied under a lot of liberal religious professors during my undergrad, including a proponent of process theology.  The problem is that liberal theology often makes even less sense than the conservative variety.  Look no further than his next paragraph for an example.

There is not ‘a God,’ but there is God, if we non-intellectually understand God as an immanent intelligence, an infinite awareness within and beyond the material universe, rather than some kind of separate ‘Creator.’

Non-intellectually understand?  Immanent intelligence?  Infinite awareness?  If his way of describing god makes you go crossed eyed you aren’t alone.  It seems like his is advocating for some form of panentheism, but it seems like he is trying to make it sound like something new and deeply intellectual instead of a belief that has been around for thousands of years, and often held by people who were not even able to read.  You will want to hold onto your brains because it is about to get worse.

But what was Jesus’ relationship to that intelligence? Wasn’t Jesus’ mission, at the crossroads of people and place of the known world of his time, to bring about a radical change in the human heart? If he had succeeded, such an inner revolution would have complemented the one Siddhartha ignited in India a few hundred years earlier. Then Eastern and Western worlds would have developed in harmony and taken a very different course. Instead we got the world we got.

There is a common line of fallacious thinking that I most often notice coming from liberal groups where they seem to think that whatever group that isn’t us had a culture superior to ours. One of the biggest ones I often see in regards to religion is the notion that eastern religion is much better than those stuffy regulation filled Abrahamic religions of western culture.

The reality is that this is nonsense.  For instance, In Hinduism most people still practice what amounts to a form of social slavery called the caste system, (even though the caste system is now illegal in India).  This system is perpetuated by the notion of reincarnation, people argue that the lower classes deserve their lot because of actions in a previous life.

Also, Buddhism, often has many sexist notions (women are often not viewed as capable of enlightenment) and some Buddhist cultures have engaged in human sacrifice.

Then look at a lot of the so called eastern medicine like acupuncture which people in the U.S. seem to think is good stuff despite it’s inability to prove its effectiveness in medical trials.

The truth is that the founders of these religions were no more enlightened than the founders of any other religion, and there are plenty of examples of abuses of human rights and stupid choices by their followers.

Anyway, the article continues:

Christianity seems to have gone wrong from the beginning, but religions deteriorate into meaningless rituals and divisive beliefs because they lose their original insight and impetus, becoming mechanical and repetitious. That’s no reason to slide into indolent atheism however.

In a sense I actually agree, a particular religion’s practical failings is not actually a reason to stop believing in any gods.  The reason not to believe is the lack of any evidence for any god.  I don’t think this makes me indolent though.

He ends with more gibberish:

There is an inexpressible and inextricable wellspring of infinite intelligence, but religious insight is always new, arising from the awakening and direct experiencing in the individual every day. Yesterday I may have run with the gods, but today I crawl with criminals.

Inextricable wellspring of infinite intelligence? Seriously? Is there a book of pretentious pseudo-philosophical catch phrases that he gets these from?

He apparently gets his writing style from Calvin and Hobbs.

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Don McLeroy is NOT a skeptic Tue, 24 Apr 2012 21:20:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> So last night Don McLeroy was on Colbert Report and I happened to catch the episode this morning on Hulu.  McLeroy is the former member of the Texas state board of education that used his position to foist his beliefs about evolution and American history on children.  He is a young earth creationist and worked to change the science standards in Texas to weaken science standards.

Could get the video to insert so I just linked to it.

He makes the audacious statement that his position against evolution is because he is a skeptic.  This is absurd.  He honestly believes that the scientific support for evolution is based upon a liberal conspiracy with the goal of getting rid of his religion.  There is a difference between being a skeptic and a conspiracy theorist, and if you listen to anything he has to say on the topic of evolution it is clear he is ignorant about the most basic principles in it.

Here is a great video of him showing how little he understands while he argues that the Cambrian explosion is a problem for evolution because of how quickly animals appeared.  Apparently he couldn’t be bothered with doing a Google search to find out that the Cambrian explosion lasted 60 to 70 million years.  This is because, in evolution, faster than expected is still pretty damn slow.

He also tried to argue that Thomas Jefferson was a conservative Christian.  I think he somehow missed that he was only brought on so that Colbert could make fun of him, every time Colbert asked him a question which would make him look crazy he would simply move on and say something even more ignorant.

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True reason ain’t what it used to be. Fri, 23 Mar 2012 06:09:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Some of you may know about the Reason Rally going on in Washington D.C. this weekend.  I am unfortunately unable to attend, but I did come across a website for a Christian group calling themselves True Reason.  (humble I know) This group is planing an “outreach,” which is another word evangelism, at the Reason Rally to convince us that Christianity is the most logical position and they even wrote a book entitled “True Reason” for the occasion.

I realize that most of you have no time to read through arguments by Christian apologists so I have gracefully done it for you.  Let me say that every time I pick up a book by an apologist I think to myself that this could be the one that convinces me.  Perhaps Christianity is reasonable after all and I just missed it.  Of course  I don’t feel this as strongly as I did a few years ago but I always hope, at least for their sake, that theist in question has managed to come up with something new.  Anyone willing to bet money on that?  I didn’t think so.

The book is a compilation of essays by a host of the “most reasonable” fundamentalist Christians so of Course William Lane Craig makes this list.  For those who pay attention to apologetics you might remember Craig as they absolutely horrid person who tried to justify the biblical genocide of the Canaanites by saying that the true victims where the Jewish soldiers who must have suffered a lot from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after all that baby killing god order them to do.

I quote from his article here:

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

Now I don’t care what degree’s Craig has, if this is the standard for high levels of rationality in Christianity then they have already lost their argument before it began.  However, In the books defense Craig’s chapters mostly focus on the Kalam Cosmological argument, an argument which has been dismantled so many times I won’t even bother.  Check out the Iron Chariots Wiki for a detailed rebuttal.  However, writers of the chapters dealing with moral arguments fair little better than Craig does.

Now, it would be impossible for me to go into all of the failures in reason I found in this book even in the chapters I have read thus far. So for the moment I will focus on on Chapter Fifteen by Glenn Sunshine which is about Slavery.  The reason for this is that history happens to be a topic I am better versed in than many of the others, and one that Sunshine is apparently quite ignorant (or just lying) on despite his degree in the subject.

So here is the first mistake I noticed, he says:

Whatever the reasons for being enslaved, throughout the ancient world slaves were legally property, not persons, and their status was permanent unless for some reason the master chose to set the slave free.  The sole exception to this was Israel.

Now, this is a gross oversimplification of the issue to the point of being inaccurate.  First, the notion that slave status was permanent in all other ancient cultures is wrong.  In Rome, for instance, though it was not common it was possible for a slave to buy his freedom.  Secondly the institution of slavery in Israel according the bible was not the kind and gentle institution he seems to want us to believe.  The exception he speaks only allows one to be slave for 6 years, however, of it only applied to Jewish men, all women and foreign men could be enslaved forever.  Further, in Exodus 21:4-6 the law gave the owner a way to turn someone into a permanent slave.  He could give the man a wife from his female slaves and upon manumission the slave would have to pick between his freedom and his family, since his wife and children would still belong to the slave owner.

He also engages in very selective reinterpretations of various passages.  Take this quote.

…and if a servant died soon after being struck by a master, the master was considered guilty of murder.  (Ex:21:20)

Uh….is that really what that passage says?  Lets take a look.

When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished.  But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.  Ex: 21:20:21

Does anyone notice how he doesn’t quote the second verse?  He doesn’t even correctly reference verse 20, the passage does not say the owner is guilty of murder, it says he will be “punished.”  True it doesn’t name the punishment, but considering this is the book that makes being an unruly child a capital crime I think we can assume that if they had wanted the person killed for it they would have said so.  So this is clearly not considered murder, in fact as long as you only beat the guy bad enough to make live a few agonizing days before he dies then you get off with no punishment at all, after all he is your property.

He continues his series of audacious claims by saying that Christianity was alone responsible for the  decline of slavery in western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.  This is a typical post hoc fallacy.  It is true that slavery did decline after the fall of the Roman Empire, but the causes for its decline were varied.  Even his own arguments seem to defeat this position, for instance he mentions that one of the reasons that most Christians in the Roman empire where not abolitionists was because it slavery was such an intrinsic part of Roman culture and economics.  One of the reasons slavery declined was the total collapse of the economy rendered it infeasible for most people to own slaves, and the collapse of the legal system meant that slaves who escaped could not have been tracked down as easily as they could have been prior to the fall.  Owning slaves was simply more difficult after Rome’s fall.

In fact, even as Sunshine begins to talk about the middle ages he points out that Clovis II passed laws against slavery because of the influence of his wife, Bathilda, who was a former slave.  Exactly where was the influence of Christianity in this?  However, the truly humorous part of this is when he mentions that by the 11th century a law that banned the enslavement of Christians

…effectively abolished slavery in medieval Europe, except at the southern and eastern interfaces with Islam where both sides enslaved one another’s prisoners.

So Christianity ended slavery…except for the slavery they didn’t end?  Why did non-Christians not get protection under the law?  Also, how can you argue that slavery is not a religious issue when people started drawing legal lines on who you could enslave based upon the religious beliefs of the individual?

Most of the rest of the article devolves into a string of no true Scotsman fallacies.  He basically admits that a lot of people who practiced slavery used the bible to justify it, but they weren’t “true” Christians.  Even Pope’s like Innocent the VIII don’t escape his quick dismissal.

In the end Sunshine manages to completely miss the point of the criticism that atheists bring to bear on this point.  His entire argument is a straw man of the position of most atheists on this issue.   When we point out that Judaism institutionalized slavery we are not saying their culture was horrible or that it was worse than any other culture of the time.  We are pointing out that it is exactly the same, and thus the notion that the book was inspired by an all powerful being is in question. 

Sunshine’s argument amounts to saying that the Jewish or Christian cultures he writes about are very slightly better than the other cultures around them, and even if I were to grant that argument, which I don’t, it would be an incredibly weak one.  If the Bible were only the work of men living in that time it looks rather like we would expect, but if it were the work of the creator of the universe we ought to expect much better, not slightly better.

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I’m back….also, what the hell is wrong with people. Wed, 15 Jun 2011 14:37:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I ran across an article on the Washington Examiner this morning by a guy named
Gregory Kane.  I had never heard of him, but apparently he once won a Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Journalism, and he thinks Roy Moore is “too honest.”

For those of you who don’t know or remember Roy Moore was Chief Justice of the Alabama supreme court who refused to remove the rather large stone display of the 10 commandments he posted in his courtroom at the behest of a court order.  This, of course, resulted in his removal from office.  

So, now jobless, Moore did what every religious/pseudoscience nut does, he goes out on a lecture circuit leaching money off of people who are willing to pay to hear him whine about how the establishment is out to get him, and destroy whatever nonsense he happens to pedal.  It appears he has now been doing that at least 8 years now.

Moore’s particular nonsense, if you haven’t guessed, is typical of Christian dominionists.  He thinks homosexuals are evil,  that there is no church/state separation in any meaningful sense and that there is a huge liberal conspiracy to silence Christianity.  He has also stated clearly that he believes our justice system is based upon Christianity and the 10 commandments.

I could write a huge article talking about how inane and ridiculous Moore’s ideas are, but I wouldn’t be saying anything I haven’t said before.  What really bothered me was a post that was made in response to the article.

I’m not religious. I belong to no church. I RESPECT everyone’s right to believe, or not, in God, Allah, the hereafter, nothing, or whatever.  I understand that a crucifix is a symbol of death, predating Christianity. The 10 Commandments have always seemed to me to be a good set of rules, along with the Golden Rule, of living life in a satisfactory way. I have also observed, in my long life, that people who live this way seem to be more secure, happier and content than those who would rather impose their intolerance on others,

This post reminded me of an odd phenomenon I have noticed from some people ever since I left my religion behind, people who though not religious seem to think that religious ideas on the whole are positive and good for society.  The part on the 10 commandments caught my eye most of all since I have to conclude that anyone who is not a believer and thinks they are a “good set of rules” has clearly never read them.

I expect Moore and his ilk to irrationally make claims that our justice system is directly based upon these 10 rules, but anyone who would claim to be skeptical of religion ought to know better.  Therefore, I have decided to do a series of posts debunking the notion that the 10 commandments are good rules, 1 commandment at a time.

Moore and others like him would like to turn this country effectively into a theocracy, so I think it would be good for everyone to see exactly what is being promoted when judges post the 10 commandments on the wall of a courtroom and see for yourself if it seems reasonable to say our legal system is based upon it.

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Bible studies in public shools Fri, 18 Feb 2011 18:59:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Bible Classes In Public Schools Debated
So Kentucky it trying to push a bill through offering a bible study class in public schools.  I know, hard to believe from the state that brought us the Creation Science Museum, but its true. Not really much to be said here, though the article does start out with the writer parroting the old canard:

Did you know the well-used governing phrase is not in the U.S. constitution?

This tells me that the writer clearly needed a better history education not more Bible study while he was in school.

Personally I have no problem with teaching students about the bible if it is done from a secular perspective.  I strongly believe that most people who read the bible in a more scholarly fashion will come away with more doubts about Christianity, not fewer, so by all means have the kids seriously study it using modern historiography.

I do doubt, however, that a teacher who refers to the bible as “the holy book” is the correct choice for such a endeavor.  I suspect that he will spend much of his time telling his students why Christianity is true and far better than all those “heathen” religions.  Though considering he admits to already using the bible in other classes he may well be doing that already.  

I also found some of the comments on this article rather funny as well.  One in particular by a person who’s screen name read “praise God.”  He says:

God is the forefront of this country!!! Religion should BE our schools!! maybe then we wouldnt have so much violence in this world…    …it is also possible that a Bible class could cut down on teen suicide..think about it!! kudos to this school!! God Bless!!

So horrible writing aside, (does he really need exclamation points after everything?) I found this funny since a study of history shows that religious beliefs seem to have no correlative effect on the level of violence in a society.  Furthermore, it is also true that the level of violence in most modern societies are lower than they ever have been in human history. 

Further, one group of teenagers that have a suicide problem are gay students, and I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest there might be a correlation between gay bashing and passages in the bible like Leviticus 20:13 which says,

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

In short this bill seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to use the government to push religious teachings on students.  hopefully it will be seen as such by the Kentucky house of representatives who are currently debating the bill…but I wouldn’t count on it.

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Thomas Jefferson vs. Clebe McClary. Who will emerge victorious? Thu, 03 Feb 2011 19:12:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has for an injunction to block Clebe McClary from speaking at the Marine academy prayer luncheon.  This has prompted another shit storm of controversy about what role religion should be able to play in the public sphere and over the interpretation of the constitutional rules regarding this divisive issue.

So, Is Clebe McClary’s speaking engagement at the Marine academy prayer luncheon unconstitutional?  This is not a simple question, and to answer it we really need a history lesson.  Many people in favor of McClary’s right to speak have been intoning that old canard that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the constitution.  Of course they are technically correct which, as I shall attempt to show, is a very long way from actually being correct.

The exact phrase used in the first amendment is, “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” First, I very rarely hear people make the argument that since the amendment only mentions congress that all other parts of government, particularly the state governments are able to ignore this rule.  However, the Due Process and Equal protection clauses in the fourteenth amendment passed in 1868 have consistently been cited in rulings by courts to extend most of the regulations in the bill of rights (the first ten amendments) to extend to states.

Second, while the phrase “separation of church and state” do not appear in the U.S. Constitution, it does appear in a letter penned by then president Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptist association.  In this letter he makes the following statement:

I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

 The entire letter is posted in the library of congress.

Many people have argued that Jefferson’s statement, and the establishment clause in the 1st amendment which he references is only meant as a one way wall, preventing the state from injecting itself into religion but not preventing the reverse.  Such a position requires that one completely ignores the historical context in which both the 1st amendment and Jefferson’s letter were written in.  The Danbury Baptist association, to which Jefferson’s letter addressed, was only being persecuted by Connecticut’s government in a very technical sense.  That is to say, the government of Connecticut had been taken over by a group of Christians which were theologically Calvinist.  This group was using the government to engage in the persecution of non-Calvinist people living in that state, including an extra tax that non-Calvinists were required to pay.  Baptist groups, which believed in free will, were at the top of that list.  The issue Danbury Baptist was having was not that the government was persecuting them, but that another religious group used the government as a vehicle for their abuse.  This is exactly what the first amendment was meant to prevent, and exactly what Jefferson was speaking about.

The odd thing is that Calvinists had not fared better in Europe, one of the primary reasons Calvinists had come to the colonies in the first place was to escape persecution by the English government which was connected with the Church of England.  Indeed this sort of escape from persecution for religious or political beliefs was quite common among many of the groups who had moved to the Americas during the early period of colonization.

The idea I am trying to get across here is that to make the “wall of separation between Church and State” only work in one direction would essentially make it work in neither direction.  To allow people to inject their religious beliefs into politics will always result in the state taking actions that interfere with religious freedom.

McClary clearly has a particular religious view that not every citizen, or Marine for that matter, shares, and a rather sectarian view at that, but no matter who speaks some people will not agree with their theology.  The real question I have is not whether this particular person should have the right to speak at the Marine’s prayer luncheon, but why the Marines are having a prayer luncheon in the first place?

As long as religion is allowed an official place in state institutions, and politics, the first amendment is effectively being ignored, and issues like the one that the Danbury Baptist association was forced to endure will continue to occur.  Only time will tell whether or not people will heed the lessons our countries founding fathers learned, or if those who wish to circumvent the establishment clause will need to relearn the folly of merging religious belief with government the hard way…at our expense.

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