Archive for the 'Religion' category

PZ and the Pope - Take 2

Aug 31 2009 Published by under Religion

Judging by the comments, it would appear that I wasn't as clear in my last post as I should have been. I apologize. Let me try again.

Here's what PZ wrote:

I think I'd have a few questions for this pope. Like, "What about over-population, Ratzi dear? What's the devout Catholic plan for dealing with that rather serious environmental issue?" and "Hey, have you noticed all those hell-holes of destruction in Africa? How does catholicism help people achieve economic and individual autonomy, huh?"

I read that as covering two separate points: overpopulation, and the major problems faced by African (and by implication other developing world countries). Some of you appear to have read both as dealing only with birth control, and, since I just plain forgot to get back to the topic of birth control in the original post, I added to the confusion by never actually saying anything about at least half of what I was criticizing. I was also far too vague with the bulk of my complaints - a different form of intellectual laziness than what I was criticizing, but intellectual laziness nonetheless. Again, I apologize.

With regard to environmentalism and birth control:

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12 responses so far

The Pope and PZ Myers: Two Ways To Demonstrate the Perils of Blinkered Vision

Aug 30 2009 Published by under Religion

PZ Myers is upset - and rightly so - at something that Pope Benedict XVI said in a speech he gave at Wednesday's General Audience. The Pope, while speaking on the topic of environmentalism, suggested that disrespect for the environment stems from disbelief in God:

Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where is existence is denied? If the human creature's relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the "final authority," and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.

I have no doubt that the Pope is an extremely intelligent man, but he seems to have slipped into the intellectually lazy habit of allowing his opinion of others to warp his perception of reality. At the same time, part of PZ's response to the Pope's statement seems to fall right into the same trap:

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45 responses so far

Atheists are, apparently by their mere existence, offensive to many.

Aug 07 2009 Published by under Religion

Earlier this week, the Des Moines bus system abruptly removed ads from their vehicles that had been purchased by an atheist group. The bus system had received numerous calls and complaints, and apparently some people actually refused to ride busses that had the ad. The Governor of Iowa, when asked, said that he "was disturbed personally" by the ads:

Iowa Governor Chet Culver has commented on the controversy: "I was disturbed personally...by the advertisement, I can understand why other Iowans were also disturbed by the message that it sent. But, we'll see how it unfolds,"

Culver avoided giving his opinion on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a free speech right for atheists to advertise on buses: "I think it's a great question for the attorney general and for legal scholars to kind of sort through that, that balancing act between free speech and the type of message that is being sent. But I do again understand that people were actually not wanting to get on the bus, they were so disturbed by the message that was being sent."

The ads said, "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." They also had the website address for the group that purchased the ads. And nothing else.

That message - the simple message that there is, in fact, more than one person on the planet who does not believe in God - was so offensive that it "disturbed" the Governor of Iowa. It was so offensive that people didn't want to get on busses that carried the message. Apparently, it's so offensive that there needs to be some sort of "balance" between free speech and the messages being sent.

The bus system has apparently offered to work with the group to come up with a new ad that will be less offensive, but I'm having a really hard time believing that's a sincere offer - in large part because I'm having a hard time finding anything offensive about the first one.

And people wonder why there are angry atheists around.

Oh, and Des Moines residents? If you find that ad to be too offensive to allow you to get on a bus that bears it, I've got a suggestion for you: walk.

8 responses so far

The Unholy Wars and Flagrant Bigotry at the LA Times

May 18 2009 Published by under Religion

Yesterday, the LA Times ran an opinion piece that is nothing short of appalling. The column in question was titled, "Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining". Sadly, that remarkable headline does appear to very accurately reflect the content of the column. The LA Times apparently decided, for reasons passing understanding, that it was a good idea to give Charlotte Allen the opportunity to present a ~1300-word long explanation of why she doesn't like "atheists."

Just so we're clear, that's how she presented herself - not as someone who doesn't like some, many, or most atheists, or someone who doesn't like atheists who do X, but as someone who doesn't like atheists, full stop.

Interestingly enough, one of the reasons that she gives for disliking atheists is that atheists have an over-developed sense of victimhood:

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14 responses so far

This is absolutely, completely, and utterly insane.

Mar 05 2009 Published by under Religion

The Catholic Church in Brazil is off its frigging rocker. I'm not talking about being a tiny bit nuts here. We're talking over-the-top sheer gibbering insanity. The kind of insanity that's indistinguishable from pure evil, and has much the same effect.

The BBC is reporting on a hideously tragic child abuse case - a nine year old girl was found to be pregnant, with twins, as the result of sexual abuse inflicted upon her by her stepfather. I know you really don't want to, but try to wrap your mind around that concept. A nine year old, reportedly raped repeatedly by this monster over a period of three years, reports to the emergency room with stomach pains and is found to be over three months pregnant.

In Brazil, there is very limited access to legal abortion. However, abortion is permitted in cases of rape, and it's permitted in cases where there is a clear danger to the life of the mother. Both of these conditions were very, very clearly met in this case. It should not need to be said that it is not possible for a 9 year old to consent to sex, so any pregnancy in a child that young is certainly the product of rape. The child - the baby - in question reportedly weighs 80 pounds, and doctors quickly concluded that she could not safely carry one child to term, let alone two.

Here's where things get much worse. And let's stop and think about that for just a second, because that's something that quite should simply not be possible. But here is where the Holy Roman Catholic Church decided to step in.

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13 responses so far

Let's Hear it for the Kids!

Feb 08 2009 Published by under Religion

The walking collection of pathetically cruel hominids known as Westboro Baptist staged a protest at a high school recently. This particular high school attracted their attention because last year it elected a gay male student as "prom king/queen". The students responded with a counter-protest:

The student body protest, as organized by Jake Davidson, a pupil and
representative, was a peaceful affair with the Phelps clan confined
mainly to the north side of the street and the student body
counter-protest to the south with a slew of over a dozen police
officers between them.

Shawnee students carried banners with
messages of support for the gay community and even held collections for
AIDS awareness and treatment charities, ignoring the Westboro Baptists'
derisive chants and vocal taunts.

Good. For. Them.

I hope that I could remain calm and peaceful and engage in productive activity in the face of the Westboro loonies, but I'm not sure I could pull it off now - much less when I was 18.

(HT: Greg Laden)

2 responses so far

Egnor shoots! He scores!

(another own goal, of course.)

There he goes again. Creationist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor's latest post over at the Discovery Institute's Why's Everybody Always Picking On Me blog may have actually reached a new standard for missing the point. And, as both my loyal regular readers know, that's not an easy mark for Egnor to hit.

The current contender is his latest post in a back-and-forth that he's been having with PZ and Orac. Once again, Egnor is attempting to argue that evolutionary biology has not provided any useful insights to the field of medicine. That much is familiar ground. What's new this time is the hypothetical that he's dredged up in an attempt to prove his point. His hypothetical is long and involved, which should provide you with your first warning that the argument is perhaps not as sound as he believes:

What I'm arguing is that the truth or falsehood of Darwinian stories is of no tangible value to medicine. Consider the following example.

I would suspect that careful epidemiological studies of the British population would show that the prevalence and incidence of spina bifida increased following World War One. To my knowledge, this has not been investigated, but it would make sense if it were true, for the following reasons:

Britain suffered enormous casualties during the Great War, as did many other European nations. (I'm just using Britain as an example). It has been said, with asperity, that Britain lost a generation of men on the Western Front. Britain suffered 2,300,000 war casualties -- forty four percent of mobilized men, with 703,000 men killed in battle or by disease. On just one day -- July 1,1916 -- 19,240 British soldiers died in the battle of the Somme. The young men who died were the best of their generation -- healthy, and by definition capable of meeting the rigorous physical standards required for military service.

Of course, other British men with debilitating genetic disorders, such as men with spina bifida (which renders the afflicted congenitally paralyzed), were not in the trenches that day, because they were physically unfit for military service, or at least service on the front lines as infantrymen. It's safe to say that military age British men without spinal bifida were at greater risk of death in the war than were military age British men with spina bifida. Whatever the impediments faced by people with spina bifida -- and they face many impediments -- they were not called to serve and die in the trenches.

Spina bifida would then be a fine example of an environmental adaptation; it was protective against "acute lead poisoning" -- protective against being mowed down by German machine gun fire on the Western Front. So, assuming for argument's sake that my hypothesis about the post-war epidemiology of spina bifida is true, the genes that give rise to spina bifida conferred a selective advantage on young British men in the period 1914 to 1918, and the differential survival (and reproduction) of that age cohort would explain a (hypothetical) increase in the incidence and prevalence of spina bifida in England in the post war period.

Where to begin?

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46 responses so far

Quality Education Wins Again in the California Creationist Case

Aug 11 2008 Published by under Creationism, Education, Religion

The initial phase of the California Creationist Lawsuit is over, and quality education is the decisive winner. Kevin Vicklund has Judge Otero's decision, as well as a very nice analysis of the ruling up over at his blog. If you've been following the case closely, you can probably jump right over there for the details. If you haven't been tracking the events closely, or want a quick review of the case, keep reading. I'm going to go over the history first, then I'll talk a bit about what Friday's decision means, and what is likely to happen with the case in the future.

The lawsuit (ACSI v. Stearns) was filed in federal court in August of 2005 by the Association of Christian Schools International, Calvary Chapel Christian School, and parents acting on behalf of their children, who were students at Calvary Chapel. They were challenging the University of California's decision to refuse to accept several of their courses as fulfilling UC's admissions requirements. The rejected courses covered the academic spectrum, with English, history, and science classes all failing to meet UC's scrutiny. The common element in the rejected courses was that they did not actually teach the material that UC requires from incoming students. Instead, the rejected courses taught a radically wrong "Christian perspective".

For most of us, the rejection of the courses was nothing more than the natural consequence of the Christian schools' decision to reject reality and teach fantasy. From their perspective, it represented an unconstitutional attack on their freedom of religion. The court, obviously, did not agree. To see why, we really need look no farther than the introduction to the biology textbook used in one of the rejected courses:

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53 responses so far

The perfect post on the Myers eucharist issue.

Jul 16 2008 Published by under Religion

Apparently, Chad's dog has at least some of the issues surrounding the PZ Myers/Eucharist desecration issue figured out. I'm not sure, but I think she understands them much better than some of the folks who have been commenting here. And she expresses things with so much more grace and panache than I usually manage.

2 responses so far

A 'cracker' is not a cartoon

Jul 12 2008 Published by under Religion

I really had no plans on posting more about the whole PZ and the eucharist thing. I got my own views off my chest last night, and there haven't been any new developments in the case itself. The initial reactions to Paul's post are in, and the commenters have sorted themselves into three groups ("Rock on!", "Dude. Not cool.", and "Where's the firewood?"). It's unlikely that there's going to be a lot of movement from one group to another. Under the circumstances, writing another post on this issue has all the appeal of sticking my finger in a pencil sharpener.

But then there was the side issue. It was probably inevitable, but some of the discussion surrounding all of the lunacy has actually brought up a point that is worth discussing: what's the difference between what Paul said, and the publication of the infamous "Mohammed" cartoons a couple of years ago?

This point was raised by a couple of posts at Andrew Sullivan's blog. In the first, he condemned PZ's threat to desecrate the Eucharist. In the second, he responded to readers who wondered if he might be suffering from a double standard. Sullivan, after all, was a very vocal supporter of the Danish newspapers that received threats after publishing cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.

Jason Rosenhouse was among those who weren't very thrilled with Sullivan. To a certain extent, this is understandable. It's very easy to get the impression, Jason points out, that the different reactions might have been sparked more by the fact that in only one of the two cases was Sullivan's own religion insulted. There's another point Jason makes, however, where I think he misses something very important:

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53 responses so far

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