"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Religious Conservative's Alt Universe

Welcome to the bizzaro world of the religious conservative! In this magical wonderland:

1. The Earth is definitely less than 10,000 years old. In fact, God probably made it on October 22 at 10am in the year 4004 BC.
2. The Founding Fathers were deeply Christian and believed in an orthodox, Evangelical Protestant version of their faith. Also, the Founding Fathers and the Pilgrims were totally the same dudez.
3. Our country was founded as a Christian nation. In fact, everyone was Christian until those damn Hippies in the 1960's came around (or maybe it was secret Communist nasties. Or possibly the Jews.)
4. Female anatomy involves various secretions and other gadgets to make sure that a woman couldn't get pregnant from rape.
5. There are no actual atheists. People who say they don't believe in God are just liars who have rejected God because they want to do whatever they want. Like take lots of drugs, sleep with prostitutes, and build Mosques. Which leads us to...
6. President Obama is a Muslim atheist socialist fascist. He's somehow figured out how to be all four at the same time.
7. All evidence that (1)-(6) are not only demonstrably false but largely don't even make conceptual sense (I can't even parse (6) for example) is just a massive liberal conspiracy.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Endorsements

/ Last night, during a late night party at a friends apartment, I came to learn that one of the individuals I was speaking to is a conservative Southern Baptist. The conversation was already focused on religion and I was easily slipping into "Instructor" mode. As the Baptist began to tell me about his views, I asked him how he felt about Separation of Church and State.

Very quickly, the response came that our country was "founded as a Christian nation" and that Christians were under attack.

This was the typical sort of rhetoric that one hears from the Religious Right as of late.

Of course, I explained that our country was founded neither by Christians nor by atheists, but by Enlightenment era Deists who largely rejected the religious Orthodoxy of their day. That Jefferson did distribute a version of the Bible, but it was a version stripped of supernatural claims and made Jesus into a philosopher. I carefully noted that the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by several of the Founding Fathers and ratified by Congress, states explicitly that we are "in no sense a Christian nation". And that Benjamin Franklin stated that light houses were more useful than churches.

I also began to explain two different kinds of endorsement.

"I've been working on this situation in Roanoke," I remember beginning. "The Board of Supervisors there has been opening their meetings with a prayer. As the law is currently understood, this is illegal."

"Prayer is illegal?" he responded incredulously.

"No, that's a common misunderstanding. Anyone can pray anywhere; it's not illegal. What is illegal is government endorsement of prayer."

This misunderstanding -- that there is a distinction between government endorsement and personal endorsement -- is one of the most pervasive and dangerous equivocations to be heard from some religious conservatives. Certainly, not all religious conservatives make this mistake, and there is a long tradition in some Baptist denominations of defending the Separation of Church and State. As I related to my fellow party goer, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is led by Baptist reverend Barry Lynn.

Nonetheless, this confusion is so common and so pervasive that I decided to write a blog article explaining it.

Government endorsement of x occurs whenever the government shows favouritism or preference for x over alternatives. There are some kinds of government endorsements which are not presently illegal; for example, a town government can endorse an electric company for the distribution of power to its residents. The government can endorse having a police force for the protection of its citizens and it can endorse its own laws.

However, at present, the United States government cannot legally endorse one religious perspective over another or over irreligion.

When the Roanoke Board of Supervisors sets aside meeting time to have a specifically Christian prayer, that's a direct endorsement of Christianity. It makes non-Christians feel unwelcome and is deeply exclusive. Additionally, it signals to the local Christians that their variety of religion is privileged by their government. The action reinforces divisions on the behalf of both Christians and non-Christians.

However, if an individual Board member quietly prays to him or her self at some point during the meeting, that's not government endorsement. That's personal or individual endorsement. It shows that he or she, as an individual, is a Christian, not that the government is affiliated with any particular religious perspective.

As far as I am aware, and contrary to the rhetoric of the Religious Right, no one has ever tried to get prayer removed from the public square. Instead, it is the unnecessary and illegal entanglement of government with religious viewpoints that people have fought against.

One often hears that disentangling the government from religion involves the creation of an atheistic government. But this is just patently false; what we want is a government that is neutral with respect to religion. We're not calling for "There is no God" to be emblazoned on our currency. We are not asking for our national motto to be changed to "In Reason, We Trust". Nor are we asking for government meetings to open with recitations from Dawkins' The God Delusion.

We're simply asking that the government not take sides in these issues.

Libere is a Proud Supporter of A+

From Jenn McCreight's suggestion to create "Third Wave Atheism" -- what has been termed "A+" -- I would just like to state the full support of this blog for A+.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Diatribe on Genesis

The literal interpretation of Genesis isn't just bad on scientific grounds, but it is also bad on theological grounds. Genesis, like the rest of the Old Testament, is a rich, interwoven tapestry, each containing many, many ancient voices singing out their praises for Yahweh, Elohim, and His kingdom. We have here recounted the folkloric traditions of the Israelites, their stories of origination and a narrative of their struggles with the divine presence.

If one reads Genesis as literal truth, then one misses the point entirely. The first few chapters are a story of a movement from some naive, remembered past, a golden age of prehistory, in which some (if not all) of the ancestors of the Israelites apparently occupied an area in what was to become southern Mesopotamia (which is the location indicated for Eden in Genesis chapter 2.)

Having overcome that naive existence, and wandering forth into what would have seemed a more civilised era, is represented in the eating of the apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

It is this advancement of knowledge which simultaneously brings them out of a golden era of naivety and into the more modern era. When the culture diverts from that naive golden age, with the advancement of knowledge, a severe price is paid -- one can never return to the garden.

Lessons have been learned which cannot be undone. This is represented with the placement of cherubim (mythical creatures which are part eagle, lion, and human) and a flaming sword, to gaurd Eden from ever being entered again. This is not meant as a literal history, but it is meant to contain deep Truths. It disheartens me to see that some of the people who hold this book so highly are so woefully ignorant of its content, and the lessons that may be gleaned from it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kansas Doctor's License Revoked for.... Not Forcing a Ten Year Old Rape Victim to Give Birth

I don't understand people.

I really don't.

A ten year old girl is brutally raped by her uncle. The girl is then apparently taken to a physician who performs an abortion. The physician is Dr. Ann Neuhaus, whose colleague was brutally shot to death while attending church for performing abortions.

The not-so-unbiased Kansas Medical Board is partially composed of members of Operation Rescue, a Conservative Christian organisation that has been tied to the murder of at least one medical doctor in the past and is labelled as a "domestic terror" group by many. In fact, the murder which Operation Rescue was tied to was of Dr. Neuhaus' colleague. I'm not kidding.

Not surprisingly, the Board has gone to great lengths to attack Dr. Neuhaus, including stripping her of her medical license.

Angry?  Want to do something about this? I'd recommend donating to Planned Parenthood.

For more information, you can read the articles at Addicting Info, care2, and RH Reality Check.

Show that Science is a Priority -- Sign the APS's Petition

This afternoon, I received an e-mail from the American Physical Society (APS) alerting me to some troubling events in Congress. The APS is concerned about a large number of budget cuts in the Federal government which are likely to negatively affect scientific research and has created a petition in protest. In the United States, scientific research is often funded, in part or full, by the Federal government. Corporations are unlikely to take the sorts of risks involved with certain kinds of R&D; nonetheless, this kind of research is beneficial to all of us.

The Federal funding of scientific research is largely motivated the same way that government maintenance of public parks and roads is motivated. As in the Tragedy of the Commons, single individuals cannot be expected to be motivated to maintain parks or roads even though it would be directly beneficial to all of us; corporations performing simple cost benefit analysis will often quickly find that it is cheaper for them to simply dump trash in the park, as opposed to cleaning it. Similarly, the kinds of pure scientific research that delivers insights into how the world works -- which historically have given us the computer, the atomic bomb, the Internet, transistors, radio technology, and so on -- are often very poor investments for corporations. Federal funding of scientific research, often performed at university laboratories, is crucial for our country's continued advancement.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

James Croft Interview, Part 2

Part 1 is available here.

Chik-Fil-A & Intolerance

I keep seeing people trying to defend Chik-Fil-A by saying that we have freedom of speech and of belief in this country.

News flash: Freedom of belief, speech, etc, are not freedom from ridicule or contempt. When I am accused of being intolerant to those who are intolerant, I have only to say that, "Yes, I am precisely that."