Archive for the 'Church/State' category

When is a science/religion dispute about more than science and religion?

Dec 29 2009 Published by under Church/State

Jason Rosenhouse asks us if we think there's anything wrong with the following sentence, taken from Thomas Dixon's book Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction:

Historians have shown that the Galileo affair, remembered by some as a clash between science and religion, was primarily about the enduring political question of who was authorized to produce and disseminate knowledge.

Personally, I'm not actually sure that there's much wrong with that statement at all - at most, I'd question the use of the word "primarily". Jason, however, disagrees a bit more strenuously:

Why was Pope Urban VIII so threatened by Galileo's ideas? Why didn't the church simply laugh at Galileo, and tell him condescendingly to go keep playing with his telescope while the grown-ups talked about more serious things? The reason was that the Pope's authority was based entirely on the idea that he stood in a privileged relation to God, uniquely able to interpret scripture. If someone like Galileo could use science to challenge his claims, then the entire basis for the church's power would be seriously weakened. Ironically, DIxon himself explains this very clearly in the sentence immediately following the one above:

In the world of Counter-Reformation Rome, in the midst of the Thirty Years War, which continued to pit the Protestant and Catholic powers of Europe against each other, Galileo's claim to be able to settle questions about competing sources of knowledge through his own individual reading and reasoning seemed the height of presumption and a direct threat to the authority of the Church.

If that is not the description of a conflict between science and religion then I do not know what is.

That is, in fact, a good description of a conflict between science and religion, and I'd have to agree that Dixon's characterization of the event as one that's primarily political really doesn't do justice to the episode. At the same time, though, I'm almost as inclined to question any attempt to characterize the event as being primarily a science/religion conflict.

When you get right down to it, the Galileo affair was almost irreducibly complex. The very real conflict between science and religion over who gets to declare what the physical world was certainly a major factor, but it was only one of many. The political context - particularly as it involved challenges to the secular power of the church - was also important. So were the many longstanding interpersonal conflicts between the participants. So were the religious and political disputes involving various factions within the church. I'm not sure you can point to any one of those factors as being clearly the most important one involved.

While I'm at least partially in agreement with Jason over the problem with Dixon's view of the Galileo affair, I'm entirely on Dixon's side when it comes to the more modern ID/creationism issue. Here's Jason's perspective:

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22 responses so far

The problem with Rick Warren

Dec 19 2008 Published by under Church/State

Unless you're in a coma, you've probably heard that President-Elect Obama invited megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration. You've probably also heard that this decision has royally ticked off quite a few members of Obama's base.

I'm not going to get into the political benefits or pitfalls of this decision. It's clear that Mr. Obama and his staff feel that the potential benefits sent by what they see as a message of inclusion outweigh the costs. That's clearly their call to make, and it would hardly be the first time that a politician has expended some political capital on their left to try to buy some on their right.

Instead, I'd like to look at whether or not this is really a message of inclusion. Matt Nisbet has Obama's remarks and some talking points given to staff. I think the key issue was nicely summed up by one sentence in the President-Elect's remarks:

Nevertheless I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue I think is part of what my campaign's been all about, that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.

The problem comes with that whole "disagree without being disagreeable" thing. Rick Warren recently compared homosexuality to pedophilia, bestiality, and polygamy. That's not disagreeing without being disagreeable. That's being nasty without shouting. There's a very large difference, and it's a bit disappointing that Mr. Obama doesn't see that.

8 responses so far

Summary Judgment in California Creationist Case: Behe Shoots, Scores, We Get Point (Part 3 of 3)

Given that today really is April 1st, let me start by saying that although Behe is a fool, this post isn't a joke. Everything you're about to read is real. This is the third part of my post on the summary judgment decision in the California Creationist Case. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.

It would seem that Mike Behe has, once again, managed to shoot an own goal in the courtroom. The last time that he was an expert witness, during the Dover case, the judge quoted extensively from Behe's testimony, but not in a way that he particularly liked. Ultimately, it seems that he scored more points for his opponents than he did for his friends. He's also an expert witness in the California Creationism Case, and he seems to have once again managed to put the ball right through the wrong goal.

Behe's contribution to the pro-science side of the case appears on page 40 of the written order:

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Summary Judgment in the California Creationist Case: The Lawyers for the Creationists Argue Like Creationists (Part 2 of 3)

(This is Part 2 of a three part post on Friday's summary judgment ruling in the ACSI v. Stearns creationism lawsuit. Part 1 is here; Part 3 will be up later today.)

If you read Judge Otero's ruling on the summary judgment motions in the California Creationist Case, you'll see that he discovered something that most of us already know: if you're looking for dubious argument tactics, you'll almost always find them when you're reading things written by professional creationists. In the case of the California lawsuit, the Christian schools are being represented by the law firm of Wendell Bird. Bird is no stranger to creationism battles - he served as the general counsel for the young-earth creationist Institute of Creation Research, threw a wrench into Arkansas' efforts to defend it's pro-creationsim policies in the McLean v. Arkansas case, and represented Louisiana's interest in promoting religion during the Edwards v. Aguillard case. After so much time spent working on behalf of creationist groups, it probably shouldn't be surprising that Judge Otero spotted many of the same argument tactics in the Christian schools' legal filings that we see when we look at the day to day output of anti-evolution groups such as the Discovery Institute.

There are some real gems scattered through the ruling. I'm just going to hit on a few of the high points.

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6 responses so far

Summary Judgment in California Creationist Lawsuit: Bottom Line, and What's Next (Part 1 of 3)

On Friday, Judge James Otero of the Central District of California issued a ruling granting the University of California's request for partial summary judgment in the California Creationist Lawsuit. I've written about this case several times before now, but it's been a long time since the last update, so before I get into the details of the ruling, I'm going to quickly review the details of the case.

In 2005, a group of plaintiffs that includes the Association of Christian Schools International, Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murietta, and the parents of several students filed a lawsuit against the University of California. In their suit, they claimed that UC unfairly and unconstitutionally refused to accept a number of courses taught at Christian schools as meeting UC's admissions criteria. The courses in question covered a range of topics, including English, history, religion, and government, but I've mostly focused my attention on the biology courses that failed to make the grade, because that's the area that I know the most about.

One of the specific issues that the Christian Schools are challenging in their lawsuit is UC's decision to reject any course that uses either the A Bekka Books or the Bob Jones University Press biology textbooks as the primary text for the course. As I've said before, this decision makes perfect sense to me. Even the most cursory look at some of the things that these books claim is enough to show that the unfortunate students who are forced to use this text are being taught things that are totally incompatible with science. The Christian schools, it should go without saying, disagree with my assessment.

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8 responses so far

Richard Dawkins, Bill O'Reilly, and Christmas in the Public Square.

Dec 16 2007 Published by under Church/State, Religion, Religion in Politics

When Richard Dawkins and Bill O'Reilly are on the same side of an issue, it's a surprise. When it's an issue that involves religion in the public sphere, it's quite possibly a sign that the apocalypse is drawing nigh. Nevertheless, that seems to be the case at the moment.

Bill O'Reilly's views on the Christmas season are well known. He thinks that the phrase "happy holidays" was cooked up by "secular progressives" in an attempt to wage some kind of "war on Christmas", and that all good Americans should fight back by saying "Merry Christmas" as loudly as possible. Most recently, he's declared victory in the "war on Christmas" because the ACLU is apparently not suing anyone over the issue this year. The whole "war on Christmas" thing is completely asinine, but it's been part of Bills schtick for a few years now, so it's no longer a surprise when he says things like this:

Well, former Philadelphia Daily News editorial board member Carol Towarnicky saw that and went wild, writing, "To that, this secularist pleads guilty. No religion should be in the public square, not even when the overwhelming majority of citizens practice it."

Is that unbelievable? Joseph Stalin, Mao, and Fidel salute you, Carol. Yes, that's the ticket. Let's ban all religion expression from the public square. Let's drive it indoors so it won't pollute the atmosphere.

There's no place in American public life for any expression of spirituality. No, because that's offensive to the secular-progressive movement, a beacon of tolerance.

What is surprising is that Richard Dawkins seems to have a similar view on the whole "happy holidays" thing:

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13 responses so far

Disclosure and the Discovery Institute

Nov 12 2007 Published by under Church/State, Creationism, Intelligent Design, Religion

The fine folks at the Discovery Institute aren't happy with tomorrow's PBS documentary on the Dover Intelligent Design case, and they're doing their best to make sure that everyone knows just how unhappy they are. They've been frantically tossing articles up on their Media Complaints Division Blog trying to make sure that their version of reality gets some exposure. I'm not going to bother going through all of their complaints right now. Most of their new material consists of a rehashing of discredited arguments from when the ruling came out. There's one post that caught my eye, though, mostly because it's such a fantastic exemplar of the level of honesty and academic discourse that makes Discovery what it is.

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17 responses so far

James Watson, Westboro Baptist Church, The Right to be Vile, and the Edges of Free Speech

Nov 01 2007 Published by under Church/State, Politics, Religion

It's not often that I start a post with an apology (that usually comes later) but I think I have to this time. Dr. Watson, I'm sorry that I've got your name in the same title as Westboro Baptist. As unpleasant as you've been at times, you're not anywhere close to being in the same league as the Phelps infestation. It's just that I've got a pretty good reason for talking about you and the villainous horde in the same post, and splitting up the names in the title didn't read well. I'm pretty sure that I can keep the two of you out of the same sentence in the remainder of the text.

By any reasonable measure, Fred Phelps and his extended family (who together make up most of the congregation of Westboro Baptist Church) are among the most vile people in the United States. They profess hatred for pretty much anyone who isn't them. They express this hatred frequently, loudly, and with amazing venom at every possible opportunity, and take positive delight in inflicting emotional anguish on already suffering people. I'd call them ghouls, but the comparison really doesn't fit. The Phelps's are delighted by the idea of people burning in hellfire for eternity. The undead merely want to suck out your brains and devour your flesh.

It's very hard to be anything but delighted by the news that something bad has happened to the Westboro Baptist crowd, particularly when it's something that has the potential to put a crimp in their efforts to spread hatred. The news that a jury just slapped them with more than 10 million in actual and punitive damages brought a smile to my lips. But only briefly. Once I got over the first burst of schadenfreude, I found myself wondering if the verdict was really a good thing.

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19 responses so far

McCain: Just when you thought he couldn't go any further around the bend

Sep 30 2007 Published by under Church/State, Religion, Religion in Politics

It's hard to believe, but there was once a time when I had some respect - even admiration - for John McCain. Now, all I have is pity. The guy sold his soul to the Christian Right, but they haven't paid up. So what does he do? He tries to get them to take the last pitiful shreds of his intellectual integrity, too. He just did an interview with Beliefnet, and tried his best to make sure that he said all of the things that they wanted to hear. I just hope - more for his sake than anyone else's - that he doesn't actually believe them himself.

Beliefnet questions are in bold; McCain's drivel is not:

Has the candidates' personal faith become too big an issue in the presidential race?

...But I think the number one issue people should make [in the] selection of the President of the United States is, 'Will this person carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?'"

OK. McCain is obviously trying to see how many trite phrases he can pack into a single answer, and given that he's talking to Beliefnet we probably shouldn't expect him to say that religion is too big an issue. But that was the fluff question. Let's see how he does with what passes for real questions:

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8 responses so far

More Bob Jones "Biology for Christian Schools" Howlers

A couple of weeks ago, I posted two ridiculous quotes that are found in the Bob Jones textbook that's involved in the California Creationism lawsuit. I'm still wading through these texts and Behe's report explaining why it's really a very good book for high school students to use to learn biology. It's a slow process, and a painful one, but I've found another couple of outstanding quotes to share with you.

This time, I'm including three different types of quote. There are a couple where the authors say things have absolutely nothing to do with science of any kind (and are totally out to lunch even by the standards of a lot of religious people I know). There's one where the book takes a brief detour into right-wingnuttery. I've also got one quote that I'm including as a special treat for those of you who might still want to claim that the book's fine if you just overlook the insane religious stuff - an example of a case where the authors manage to mangle a very basic concept from genetics.

We'll start with the insane, and move from there to the political, then conclude with the merely wrong.

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78 responses so far

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