Showing posts from May, 2010

Fransisco Ayala: Templeton Prize winner, nonsense purveyor

There's a popular refrain among more liberal-minded Christians who are not stupid enough to reject the foundation of all modern biology, but are still confused enough to believe in all the convoluted bogosity of their religion: that science and religion answer different questions. This is embodied by the liberal theology of the Templeton Foundation, an organization dedicated to muddying the line between demonstrably valid claims of truth and ones that people just pull out of their ass. This is Fransisco Ayala, who recently won the Templeton Prize, answering the question of whether science and religion contradict one another: The key bullshit phrase that Ayala uses is the term "properly understood". Last night I watched a BBC documentary about creationism in Tennessee, and the general difficulty teachers are having in teaching evolution if only because religious wingnuts have made it into a controversial issue. Ayala would like to live in this fantasy world where relig

How being an atheist has deepened my sense of morality

If there's any one issue that believers like to hang their hat on, it's morality. The exact criticism of secular morality varies by theologian, but they all suggest that for us, something is missing. Some suggest that without belief in God, our moral values are whimsical and arbitrary – that we have no basis by which to affirm whether anything is "right" or "wrong", because to do so would affirm that there is actually such a thing as right and wrong in a manner that transcends the whims of humankind. I've often been asked by Christians if the reason I'm an atheist is because there was some "sin" I wanted to commit, or if I just wanted to live a life free of moral responsibility. Bring on the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll! Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. It's not to say I haven't done my share of reckless things, but I'm pretty much a straight shooter. I don't lie to people I love. I don't hav

The Problem of Suffering

It felt both a little cliche and a little inaccurate to give this post the more predictable name: "The Problem of Evil". That's how it's generally written in Christian apologetic literature, but I think that, strictly speaking, "good" and "evil" are fairly abstract and often arbitrarily defined religious terms. "Evil" seems to work fine for things like murderers, rapists, child molesters, fascist dictators, and other behavior of generally unsavory characters in human history, but I think the acts of humans against each other could be (and generally is) theologically dismissed as a mere consequence of free will. "Evil" seems much less appropriate a descriptor when the subjects are things like natural disasters, cancer, disease, famine, and other natural occurrences that inflict great suffering on people indiscriminately – that is, cancer does not seem to care if you are a good person or whether you go to church. Bad things do hap

The Slaughter of the Canaanites: Why It's a Big Deal

I was doing some research for a forthcoming post when I came across an article by my favorite apologist punching bag, William Lane Craig, about the slaughter of the Canaanites as described in the book of Deuteronomy. This story, in which an army of Israel completely slaughters an entire culture — men, women, and children — at the behest of God is often held up by skeptics as a example of the perverse barbarism of the Old Testament god and a perfect illustration of the inconsistency of God's moral character in the bible. In this article over at , Dr. Craig attempts to rationalize this act of genocide and, in doing so, displays such disregard for logical fallacies and such wanton hypocrisy that I felt compelled to write a response. Just like all the Bible verses where God condones and commands slavery, the selling of girls into sexual slavery, the subjugation of women, and atrocious acts of cruel and unusual punishment for the most bizarre of offenses, the idea th

The Trolley Problem and Objective Morality

I've spent some time in this blog talking about two fairly well-known Christian apologists — Francis Collins, who is famous for being the head of the human genome project and, more recently, being appointed as director of the National Institute of Health; and William Lane Craig, a theologian mostly famous for debating secular-minded scholars and scientists. In Francis Collins' book The Language of God , he discussed what he called the "Moral Law". He argues in the book that our ability to discern right from wrong is a sign of God's existence, something that cannot be explained by evolution. I spent some time arguing against his position in my critique of his book here . William Lane Craig has posited a similar argument with his argument about "Objective Morality". Craig argues that if there is no God acting as an absolute authority, morality cannot be "objective"; thus what is considered right or wrong would be subjective and arbitrary, equa

Ravi Zacharias on morality

I'm interested mainly in what Zacharias says from about 1:00 to 1:50 regarding the existence of moral law. See if you can spot the fallacy... Ravi's argument for God's existence from morality can be summed up thus: To express moral judgments about good and evil, you must posit that good and evil exist If good and evil exist, you must posit a moral law by which we can distinguish between good and evil If a moral law exists, a moral law giver must exist Did you spot the fallacy? The fallacy is a use-mention error , which is confusing the mention of a word with the use of the word. In this case, Ravi is conflating the existence of the concepts of good and evil with the existence of good and evil. Surely we all agree, for example, that the concept of God exists. But that isn't the same thing as saying that God actually exists. Similarly, we all agree that the concepts of good and evil exist, but that isn't the same thing as saying that good and evil actua

William Lane Craig and the appearance of design

First, watch this quick video of Dr. William Lane Craig, a Christian apologist whose arguments I've discussed a few times in this blog, talking about what he calls "specified complexity", an argument for the existence of an "intelligent designer": You may have heard this kind of argument before. When ID "theorists" talk about the improbability of complex life arising from random mutation and natural selection, a common response is the "deck of cards" analogy — that if you shuffle a deck of cards, the probability of any one arrangement of the cards is one in 10^68, or 1 with 68 zeros after it. To give you an idea of how improbable that is, if you shuffled the deck every second, you could expect to repeat the same order once every 10^60 years. The current age of the universe, incidentally, is a little over 10^10 years. Yet you don't consider it miraculous or divinely designed every time you shuffle the cards, because you knew that some

Near-death experiences as evidence for the afterlife

I stumbled onto a website yesterday called Skeptiko , which, despite the skeptical-sounding name, seemed more like a platform for people trumpeting the validity of near-death experiences (NDEs) as compelling evidence for the afterlife than a forum for the skeptical dissemination of scientific ideas. When I found the site, I stumbled on to the most recent post, in which Steve Novella, neurologist and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society, is criticized for apparently missing the boat on the research on near-death experiences. The article is a long-winded and detailed critique of Novella's criticisms, and frankly I had no interest in reading it. I hadn't listened to podcast to which they were referring anyway. But it got me thinking about how, as a skeptic, I ought to approach something like this. I'm a big believer in following the evidence. NDEs, to me, seem founded on specious premises – the very idea of mind/body dualism is something that has never been substa

Do not teach the controversy

I do sometimes wonder, when people debate with me about evolution (it happens way more often than you might imagine, or that I would like), if they realize the implications of what they're saying. The debates get tiresome. I get weary from repeating the same points to different people (or, sometimes, the same people), and it's frustrating to know that the only reason they're questioning modern science is because it doesn't jive with their religion. The Bible says the earth is flat too, but nobody puts up much of a fight about that one. "Oh, that's just a metaphor" is the typical weasel refrain of theological accomodationalism.  This is why talking about evolution with creationists is really, really important. Evolution is not just some "best guess" to explain human origins – it is the cornerstone of all modern biology. There is even a field of study called "evolutionary medicine" in which our knowledge of evolution is directly appl

William Lane Craig slapped around

If you don't subscribe to AndromedasWake's channel on YouTube, you should. I first heard about him when he was making videos to debunk creationist cosmology. Well, in his most recent video he's laid the smackdown on my favorite charlatan, William Lane Craig. I've discussed Craig's many stupid arguments, which he spews with a remarkable amount of hubris, and it's always nice to see someone else take a stab at it and, as in this video, do a damn fine job of it. By the by, I addressed the exact same video myself in my old blog , though I kept it pretty short.

You can have your opinion, but you don't get to be wrong

I recently caught a little flak from some conservative friends of mine after I posted a sarcastic status update on my Facebook regarding Sean Hannity's "Freedom Concert", which I loathe to say is festering its way to my hometown of Tulsa. Apparently you're not supposed to say insensitive things, like "Sean Hannity is a colossal douche". I was similarly taken to task about some comments I directed at a pastor who posted some inane drivel on one of my wall photos. I suppose that I view myself as more of a PZ Meyers than a Michael Shermer (not that I don't love Michael Shermer, because I do). I don't pass up an opportunity to ridicule overt ignorance and stupidity. I don't have any respect for uncritical adherence to false and dogmatic ideologies, be they religious, political or otherwise. My problem with Sean Hannity isn't that he's conservative; it's that he's a liar . He lies so much that it's probably pathological – unfor

Theories, facts and laws

I'm a big fan of neurologist and renowned skeptic Steve Novella's blog Neurologicablog , and his latest post brought to light an issue that continues to be a big source of misunderstanding among the public. Novella details an email exchange he had with a creationist (identified only as "Duane") debating the facts of evolution. He has a saintly amount of patience with someone who is clearly in serious denial, and who repeats – in his own words – the old "evolution is just a theory" canard: "...if it is a slam dunk then why is macro-evolution still a theory and not a scientific law?" I'll resist the temptation to get into a big post about "macro-evolution" (I already did , a good while back) and instead address that common misconception: that "theory" and "law" is some sort of scientific hierarchy. People like Duane here apparently think that a scientific theory is just sort of a "best guess" or hypothesi

Closet Doubters in the Church — on Both Sides of the Pew

At AAI9 2009, Daniel Dennet — cognitive neurologist and author of Breaking The Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon — discussed some research he and some colleagues are conducting into the phenomenon of "closet atheists" in the clergy. That is, pastors, priests and ministers who have reached not just a point of serious doubt, but have gone beyond the fold and truly have lost the faith — yet stay their positions in the church, for a variety of reasons. For some, their only education is in theology. They have families to support, houses and cars to pay for, college funds to maintain, etc.; what else would they do for a living? Still others understand that their friends and loved ones are deeply rooted in the church. A pastor who comes to reject his faith risks losing not only job security, but the trust and companionship of family and friends as well. Remembering my own time in the church, it was hard enough for me to walk away — and I was only in my late teens when I reje