Tag Archives: Religion

The Red Pill

(This is an old post I found sitting in my Drafts…)

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. — Morpheus from The Matrix

There is a minor war going on between the “new atheists” and the “new accommodationists”, the latter being namely Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, the hot wonder twins of atheist bashing.

PZ doesn’t like them, Jerry Coyne doesn’t like them and, frankly, I don’t like them. I’ll let the other guys speak for themselves, ’cause they do it a lot, and just chime in with my own two little cents.

First of all, let me agree with them — framing is a no brainer. Anyone who wants to convince people needs to frame their argument. PZ demeans framing as accommodation but that is not the case — framing is a tactic used to get people to drop their guard enough to listen enough to be convinced.

Now the disagreement — atheism is the red pill. Once you open your eyes to it, you can no longer tolerate wild, unfounded speculation, regardless of the source. Religion is nonsense and people who believe it are suspending rationality in favor of mystical faith-based bullshit. I’m not saying they are stupid, I’m saying that they do not think about religion the way they think about everything else. They give it a free pass, usually because they were brainwashed as children to do so.

When you swallow the red pill you can’t go back to a world where you respect people’s religion. You can respect the person without respecting the philosophy.

So the discomfort that Dawkins and PZ create is necessary. Kindness can’t win this one. There are always casualties in revolutions. The notion that atheists are mean or intolerant is not true and is really beside the point. The bigger issue is: religion is indefensible and more and more people are waking up to it.

Indistinguishable from fiction

When we see thinking that is wrong we have to say, in the kindest and most helpful tone possible, perhaps, that it is wrong. For example, the earth is roughly 4 billion years old. If someone wants to claim it is 10,000 years old, they need to be told they are wrong. The writings of superstitious Bronze Age mystics can’t be taken as credible evidence for such a theory given the overwhelming evidence for a very old earth. The two theories are unequal by a long shot.

When I dismiss the Bible as “the writings of superstitious Bronze Age mystics” I am not trying to be disrespectful, I’m trying to be accurate. A depiction of the authors of the Bible as holy men in direct contact with god is fanciful in any rational sense. The same is true with the notions of heaven, hell, original sin, divine conception, resurrection, Doom’s Day, and so on. They are indistinguishable from fiction. None of it meets any of the standards that we have for considering something “believable”. Every religion has as much direct evidence as the ancient Greeks and Romans had for Zeus and Venus. I’m not trying to be unkind, I’m stating an obvious fact.

But I recognize that this fact still befuddles many people. They believe in god and they believe in an afterlife and they are not at all ready to listen to what I’m saying. That’s fine. I’m not on a mission of conversion. I think it is important that people think rationally — religion is a corruption of the mind in this sense. It helps keep the door open to dogmatic, arbitrary and wholly unsupported thinking. Furthermore, such beliefs are considered to be “off the table”. Under the guise of respect we treat fanciful mythology as perfectly acceptable.

Why? The more you think about it the more it boggles the mind.

I must add my standard atheist disclaimer: I don’t know if there is a god or not and I don’t know what happens when you die. I’ve calculated the odds of each and found the likelihood vanishingly small. My calculation is subject to change. There is no faith in my position.

(This started as a comment.)

Fascinating debate

Two atheists, one, Sam Harris, a rather hardline but rational fellow and the other, Philip Ball, an “accommodationists” (at least in the view of PZ) are going at it and it is a pretty fascinating read.

Ball is arguing that it is folly to outright dismiss religious thinking as incompatible with science. He thinks that religion is here to stay and deeply ingrained and that we have to strive for peaceful coexistence. Harris on the other hand, similar to my last few blog posts, thinks that religion is a dangerous mindset that should be taken head-on.

I agree with them both. I agree more with Sam Harris but I am keenly aware of the difficulties surrounding (what appears to be) attacks on people’s sacred beliefs. Even though I think all of our beliefs are fair game, in a sense, many people feel they never have to defend their religious beliefs. So any “attack” (and by that I mean a debate of ideas) is seen as hostile. That undermines our argument if our goal is to convince people to open their minds to our ideas.

Each of these guys had a great quote (among others) that I thought was worth sharing. Sam Harris describes Christianity accurately but severely:

Jesus Christ, a carpenter by trade, was born of a virgin, ritually murdered as a scapegoat for the collective sins of his species, and then resurrected from death after an interval of three days. He promptly ascended, bodily, to “heaven”—where, for two millennia, he has eavesdropped upon (and, on occasion, even answered) the simultaneous prayers of billions of beleaguered human beings. Not content to maintain this numinous arrangement indefinitely, this invisible carpenter will one day return to earth to judge humanity for its sexual indiscretions and sceptical doubts, at which time he will grant immortality to anyone who has had the good fortune to be convinced, on Mother’s knee, that this baffling litany of miracles is the most important series of truth-claims ever revealed about the cosmos. Every other member of our species, past and present, from Cleopatra to Einstein, no matter what his or her terrestrial accomplishments, will (probably) be consigned to a fiery hell for all eternity.

On Mr. Ball’s account, there is nothing in the scientific worldview, or in the intellectual rigor and self-criticism that gave rise to it, that casts such convictions in an unfavorable light.

Ball, who I agree with in the sense I described above, is a bit desperate and outmatched, I think, but he does sum up a view of agnostics that is well said:

I share your view that many of the alleged ‘facts’ that comprise most religious belief – the existence of a deity (or deities), that deity’s capacity to intervene in the world in supernatural ways, the whole paraphernalia of miracles, afterlife, saints, sin, absolution, virgin births, resurrections – are not just outside of science but fundamentally incompatible with a scientific view of the world. And while some agnostics might insist that we cannot ‘know’ that a god does not exist, this does not compel us to give the ‘for’ and ‘against’ possibilities equal weight. We shouldn’t imagine things into being without good reason to do so.

The real lesson of the Westboro Baptist Church

Here’s the deal — almost every thinking person thinks the Westboro Baptist Church is completely full of shit. They are evil, intolerant little fucks who put words into God’s mouth and act as if they have the complete and utter backing of the most supreme being in the universe, even as they spread hate and intolerance throughout the nation.

The problem is — they are no different from any other religious sect. ALL OF THEM make assumptions about what God wants and what God likes and doesn’t like. I don’t believe that any of you know what God wants. I don’t believe that any of you have some direct line of communication to God and I don’t believe that an ancient, tortured text like the Bible includes the true word of God in any way, shape or form.

So religion is arbitrary. It’s made up.

Now if you take as your initial premise that there is a God and that he did create and does interact with us pitiful humans, things get complicated. If you pull this initial premise out of your ass, it changes how you think about this stuff. You are assuming there is truth and you need to find those things which support it. You pick and choose from the Bible and make your own cafeteria-style faith based on your intuitions. It’s still just as arbitrary as the Westboro Baptist Church.

People accuse atheists of being moral relativists, but really it is religious people who invent a confused and contradictory morality out of thin air. This is why we have extremist Islam, fag-hating Christians and cults like the Mormons who have sex with minors and systematically abuse women.

Yes, many religious people are good people and many religious organization do good things in the world. But it’s all based on a house of cards and a fictional God and we are right to reject it.

A Real Cause of Atheism

After having recently interviewed Ernan McMullin I found this page on writings by Christian scientists. These are the lot that Myers and Dawkins tend to not talk about because they make sense. I still tend to think their theology is silly but at least it doesn’t conflict with scientific principles.

I found this quote interesting from Is Evolution Atheistic? by Dr Denis Alexander:

Evolution itself is not atheistic. A robust Christian theism readily encompasses evolution as an expression of God’s creative actions. But, sadly, there are prominent scientists, like the Harvard sociobiologist E.O.Wilson, who left their earlier Christian experience to become atheists because they faced hostility to evolution. Arguably, attacks by well-meaning Christians on evolution promote rather than counteract atheism.

It makes two great points: 1) Evolution does not at all deny the existence of God; and 2) Ignorant attacks on evolution by well-meaning Christians actually undermines their aims.

Framing: Duh

Over at scienceblogs there is a recurring argument debate about “framing”. My definition of framing is wording an argument in a manner that your audience is going to be most receptive to. It’s crafting an argument carefully with the goal of convincing people of its authenticity.

Using this definition its literally self-evident that if you want to convince people of something that you should approach your argument in a manner most likely to do so! That’s just obvious.

It’s a separate question whether you should have that goal or not. I.E. it would be a tedious world if everyone always spoke with utter care for maximum convincing power. I’m going to talk about religion differently if I’m with a bunch of atheists than I do if I’m at a funeral. Sometimes we preach to the choir and enjoy reveling in our superior views.

But, yes, if your goal is to convince, framing is a no-brainer.

Generally the framing debate at scienceblogs relates to the “new atheists” and the “battle of science and religion”. Dawkins and Myers alienate the people they are trying to convince, says one side. Dawkins and Myers respond: fuck you, we have every right to speak our opinions when and how we feel.

They are both right.

Dawkins and Myers do alienate the people they are trying to convince by focusing on the most radical and ridiculous examples of religion. That’s not all they do, by a long shot and I agree with them on literally almost everything. But they do alienate people. That’s a fact whether you like it or not. Religious moderates, who are an important political ally of secularists, are painted with the same broad brush as loonies like young earth creationists.

But on the other hand, and really more importantly, what Dawkins and Myers have done is say what they think. They used their best judgment. They have no responsibility to religious moderates, secularists or anyone else. Their words have been a very important part of the debate and we would be much poorer without them. We’re all grown ups and we should be able to handle it if it gets a little rough sometimes.

The Lolife Podcast No. 75

Here is a very interesting interview I did with Ernan McMullin. He is a fascinating guy who knew Schrodinger and Carl Sagan. He is a priest and he studied theoretical physics. He is currently the O’Hara Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and the godfather of a good friend of mine. I blogged about him before in regards to Intelligent Design, which he thinks is nonsense on both scientific and theological grounds. It’s a fairly long but highly interesting interview. Check it out!

Download/Listen (MP3, 01:13:19, 34.4MB)
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Why IDiots are idiots

Here’s what we know:

1. 13.73 billion years ago, the universe was created.
2. Somewhere around 4 billion years ago the Earth was created.
3. Around 3 billion years ago, life formed.
4. Life evolved and grew more and more complex and diverse.
5. Today there are millions of species.

The Intelligent Design (ID) movement, exemplified by the movie Expelled, has a problem with #4. They think God mucked around in #4. Science doesn’t have a theory (yet) for how the universe was created (#1). We know exactly what happened milliseconds after the Big Bang, but we don’t know how the Big Bang banged. We don’t have much of a theory about how life was created (although we are making significant progress) (#3). We have really, really good theories of #2 and #4. They are based on hardcore science and have been argued about and tested very thoroughly.

So if you are fervently religious and want to believe that God did #1 and #3, fine, great, have at it. We’ll probably prove you wrong on #3 someday but for #1, God snapping his fingers is as good of theory as any.

But why would you argue with #4? Evolution is obvious. Natural selection is obvious and if you think God is smart then he might think of a way to do things that was clever! He didn’t zap fully formed humans into existence He created a beautiful machine that opened up like a flower over billions of years from which stepped a mind capable of wondering and worshipping. Evolution is a testament to the patience and the brilliance of God. Science is never and could never be at odds with the will of the Creator.

So ID isn’t just bad science, it’s bad theology, it’s bad philosophy, it’s bad everything. It’s especially destructive because it falsely presents itself as being on the side of believers. That is nonsense. True believers are in awe of God’s creation, including the Big Bang, the old earth and natural selection. Science studies God’s creation, it doesn’t oppose it.

I-35 — A holy road to the insane

I heard this story mentioned on NPR and if you do a Google search you’ll see it was on a lot of national media.

They call it the “Highway of Holiness.” Others call it Interstate 35.
Evangelicals throughout the Midwest, from Laredo, Texas, to Duluth, Minn., have been praying at 24-hour prayer rooms for a month for Interstate 35 in order to “light the highway.”

…The scriptural basis for the new movement comes from Isaiah 35:8, which reads, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.” Because of chapter 35, believers say the highway mentioned must be Interstate 35. In addition, a number of people in the “Highway of Holiness” movement claim to have had prophetic experiences that involve Interstate 35.

Now there is a phrase for this: COMPLETELY FUCKING CRAZY. I was appalled at how “respectful” everyone was being about this. This is insane. You are insane if you believe that Interstate 35 is written about in the Bible. This sort of quackery should be ridiculed and these people evaluated for possible institutionalization. They should be arrested for abusing their children with this insanity. The last thing we should treat this tripe with is respect.