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Posts Tagged ‘belief’

Truth v. Facts: The Reality-Based Community

Posted by dystressed on November 9, 2008

Sharon Begley at Newsweek has another article on what she hopes for the new Obama Administration: Reality-based Science.

We have lost so much due to misinterpretation (or perhaps dis-interpretation) of the facts. We have lost ground in the fight against global warming, stem cell research and other life sciences.

The truly poisonous legacy of the past eight years is one that spread to much of society and will therefore be much harder to undo: the utter contempt with which those in power viewed inconvenient facts, empiricism and science in general.

I would also contend that the ugly stepchild of this practice is the crass anti-intellectualism that has pervaded society in recent years. We need intelligence to lead our nation. Just because we would rather have a beer with John McCain or Sarah Palin, that doesn’t really qualify them for the White House more than a lawyer from Harvard.

Without a drastic change, we will continue to be mired down by anti-achievers and naysayers. We must embrace science and progress in order to overcome the ever mounting problems facing society.

Posted in Politics, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »

Newsweek Science Article Discusses the Biology of Belief

Posted by dystressed on November 2, 2008

There’s something to be said for the workhorse journalistic methods of print media. This in-depth article fascinated me because it really puts the science in very accessible terms, which is something that the masses need. I try to read Pharyngula and other science blogs, but there is only so much I can take before I just sort of give up.

The Newsweek story had me wanting more, which I think is really good for readers on the cusp of skepticism and rationality. It’s not perfect, of course and there are some things I don’t understand, particularly why a doctor would believe in reincarnation.

Posted in Science | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Salem Witch Trials

Posted by dystressed on September 14, 2008

Review: In Search of History, the Salem Witch Trials

Before the United States began, Massachusetts was filled with a small cult of Puritans who fled religious persecution in Britain only to bring it to the American shore.

Because life was hard in the early days of the colony, disease and starvation claimed many lives. People feared nothing more than death because they were so perversely religious, they weren’t sure they were going to heaven if they died. Even though they lived pious lives and prayed ceaselessly, they thought they deserved all of the bad things that happened to them as a form of punishment from God.

Along comes a mystic slavewoman who entertains some of the children with stories of ghosts, spectres and witchcraft.

The girls she is entertaining become wild and uncontrollable, and they blame it on the people in the village who they don’t like, stating that they used witchcraft and were in league with the Devil.

On and on this goes, men and women are killed, even the village’s former minister, until rational people at a higher court ban the use of so-called “spectral evidence” i.e. (the spectre of so-and-so made me shake and convulse and swear). It also helped that they accused several wealthy and influential people of witchcraft.

According to the video’s analysts, the girls who accused everyone of witchcraft were thrilled to be doing something other than their chores and praying and became so drunk with power that they just couldn’t help lying about seeing this person or that person with the devil.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I think that this speaks volumes on the state of history and the power of preying on the fears of our neighbors.

Women have always gotten the short end of the stick in history, all they way back to the Myth of Adam and Eve. The girls probably couldn’t read, and had no other way to distract themselves from the death, drudgery and tyranny of 17th century Puritanical life.  When the literal power of life and death was thrust upon these pre-teen girls, they didn’t know what do do except keep making the lies grander and more elaborate.

The religious zealotry of Purtanism was self-perpetuating. Fear of God makes one work harder, Fear of death makes one fear God more. The poor villagers when confronted with these tales had to take action. They were completely dominated by fear.

Looking at the matter skeptically was not even an option for the villagers. When you live a life of a subsistence farmer and the presence of evil threatens that God will blight your crops or livestock, you’d probably want to kill the person supposedly responsible too.

It’s always a bad idea to be ruled by fear.

The biggest reason I heard for believing is that if I weren’t saved, I would surely go to hell. But it seems to me that a God who would send part of himself to die for the world wouldn’t let me be born just to die and go to hell. Belief logic always seems to break down at the most fundamental premise. The belief that there is a soul and that the only way to save it is to believe in something even more improbable is simply a self-perpetuating abstraction of a myth, much like saying Zeus is raining down thunder from Olympus.

Posted in FreeThought | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ignorance is nonpartisan

Posted by neuralgourmet on June 28, 2008

Phil over at the Bad Astronomy Blog notes an interesting Gallup poll that asked participants whether they believed:

  1. that God created humans exactly as they are now sometime in the last ten centuries,
  2. or that humans developed over millions of years but with guidance from God,
  3. or that humans developed over millions of years and God had no part.

As you might expect, more Republicans said they believed in the first option than did Indepedents or Democrats. About 60% of Republicans answered that they believed in the first option, while only about 40% each of Independents and Democrats thought this way. To be sure, that’s a significant difference but I’m not cheered by the fact that only two out of every five of my party mates is a Creationist versus three out of every five Republicans.

It gets worse though. Another way of looking at the poll choices is:

  1. Creationism
  2. Intelligent Design
  3. Evolution

If we then add the Creationist and Intelligent Design responses together we get a very bleak picture. Some 92% (greater than nine out of ten) of Republicans and about 77% each (almost eight out of ten) of Democrats and Indpendents believe in either Creationism or Intelligent Design.

Have I depressed you yet? Well, there is something of a silver lining to this cloud, or at least there is if you choose to look at it this way. You see, Gallup has been asking this three-part question of Americans for a long time; since 1982 to be exact. Just as one expects to find more Republicans than Democrats who believe in Creationism, one might expect that after nearly thirty years of the country veering hard right that the numbers are actually much worse than they were in the early 1980s. That we’ve become more ignorant as a country.

That’s not the case though. The truth is these numbers have been fairly steady over the past twenty six years with no sharp fluctuations either way. As Phil says, you can’t blame Newt Gingrich and you can’t blame Bush. As a nation, we haven’t gotten any more ignorant, but then we haven’t gotten any more knowledgable either. Yeah, this silver lining isn’t a very shiny one.

What does it all mean? Phil speculates that party allegiance is very strong so people stick with their parties even when the stated goals and policies of those parties radically change over time. Similarly, religious views are also very strong and thus stay the same from year to year. That seems like a good enough explanation to me.

I think there’s something else to take away from this Gallup poll though. Religious belief is thoroughly entrenched in American society. It is weaved throughout our social fabric in a way that we can never hope to prize apart the threads of our cultural history that value rational thought and Enlightenment principles and those that value tradition and religious faith. While more strongly religious social conservatives might prefer the Republican Party of the past thirty or forty years, it hasn’t always been this way. Remember that at one time it was the Republicans that were the social progressives and the Democrats the social conservatives.

To phrase it as I did in the title to this post, ignorance is nonpartisan. It’s also highly impervious to change. When ignorance is coupled to religious belief, ignorance tends to get carved in stone. Can we wear down that stone?

Yeah, I think so. And I think there’s evidence that, at least on the science front, this is happening even today. One need look no further than that institution most impervious to change — the Catholic Church. Fifty years ago Pope Pius II implied that evolution “isn’t inimical to Christianity” and in 1992, Pope John Paul II said both that evolution was compatible with faith and that the Church was wrong to condemn Galileo. Later on, in 2005 Vatican Cardinal Paul Poupard said that Catholics should listen to what modern science has to offer.

That’s the God of the Gaps at work. As science provides us with greater and greater understanding of our world and our selves, the concept of god shrinks until it can only fill in the gaps left unexplained by science. That might be small comfort to those of us who’ve watched in horror as fundamentalists and the Republican Party wedded themselves together over the course of the past thirty years culminating in the Presidency of George W. Bush, but religiosity waxes and wanes at various points in our history and I have no reason to suspect that the sort of fervent religiosity we’ve seen in the past couple of decades isn’t already on its way out.

Where does that leave us? Well, obviously with the need to continue to promote and defend secular government because if theocracy comes to this land then surely it’s game over. Beyond that though there’s no easy answers. It’s all education, organizing, fundraising, and community involvement. If that sounds remarkably like politics, well, it is. That’s the same formula success used by politicians for as long as the U.S. has been around. That and a healthy dose of propaganda, but we’re the ones trying to encourage critical thinking so maybe we should skip that. Although it never hurts to relate science on an emotional level. Carl Sagan was a master of that.

With all that being said though, I’m with Phil. We’ve got a long, long way to go.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Beyond Belief relationship issues. (The mini-series continues)

Posted by Andy D. on June 18, 2008

This is a follow up from my earlier post and Mighty’s asking, “Are you out with your family and friends about not believing in the supernatural?”

I spent a week in northern Michigan with my grandparents, brother, and his fiancée. In the summertime it is unbelievably beautiful. See some of the pictures from my many hikes and wine tasting. My grandparents built a cottage (a summer house) in a small town off of Lake Michigan.

The main reason they choose that area is due to a very friendly and, I fully admit, fun Lutheran camp and resort. They vacationed there in the late 60’s and it does feel heavenly during the summer months. (It isn’t so nice in the winter.) This to them was the perfect vacation spot for all the extended family. After the cottage was built we crammed into every room and visited cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles each summer. We all had an incredible time from the beach, playing tennis, volleyball, softball and hiking. That beach is where I experienced my first kiss and make out session. There was a lot of sand everywhere after words….

As a kid, I went to all the youth group activities at the camp, and I believed and sang along. In my later teen years, I attended the adult lectures. I enjoyed listening to the very smart and charismatic pastors and theologians such as Paul Maier give lectures on defending the faith. I never received any skepticism training until recently so I didn’t know people were criticizing the faith. Of course, I didn’t buy it due to all the other religions and the nasty reaction religious people had to the present day messiahs. (Isn’t that normal and what would of happened in Jesus’ time?) Paul proudly lectured on how he was able to prove Jesus’ existence by secular methods. Think Josephus, etc. I had no idea what he was talking about. He even played back a debate he had with a secular scholar. It seemed to us he won, and his point at the end of the session was he could prove Jesus existed but he cannot prove Jesus was who they say he was…. In other words, the miracles and divinity were not provable via evidence. Looking back, I think that turned out to be my first look at Christian apologetics. I was mostly disinterested and had other things to do. I would have some questions now!

More recently, I was amazed when Penn and Teller had Paul on their Bull Shit show about the bible. They pointed out the faulty logic Paul used when explaining away the miracle of Moses parting the Red Sea. Paul said that it was probably the REED sea that the Hebrews walked across and it was a marsh so they could walk across it. Penn asks where is the miracle then? Paul knows his scholarship and is very bright, yet he begins like all of us do most of the time with what he thinks is true and then follows that up with reasoning. Critical and scientific thinking are not very natural.

Ok since this recent visit was in the early summer, the camp wasn’t really started yet. I spent my time hanging with my brother and visiting the grandparents. My grandfather is in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It was tough to have to tell him every day that I was no longer at my old job. This was quite the shock to me because grandpa was always very active and sharp. (I am not sure how people still hold on to the soul concept when you can see a mind degenerate right in front of you). He could beat me at tennis just a few years ago. (I don’t play but still that is quite good.) My grandmother is very sweet and is very much with it. We had a great visit and I had plenty of time to reflect.

The grandparents are the only ones in my family who do not know I have embraced reason instead of myths. It would upset both of them greatly. I prayed with them at dinnertime. We all did including my brother. (As I said in the earlier post, engaging in the religious activity doesn’t affect our worldview.) It would be cruel to tell them or not pray. I am frustrated with the established power religion has on me even now and it wedges me from being able to share with my loved ones this great journey of discovery. Suddenly, I am a jerk if I am truthful. Our intention is not to harm or upset but to share. I guess many folks are like this. With the status of my grandfather’s mind he could not handle it or even grasp it.

He picked up a book I was reading by Paul Kurtz entitled “Science and Ethics,” and he said it looked like a deep book while flipping a few pages. He instinctively put down the book and did not dig deeper. Later, I answered the phone and it was a far right wing organization calling to warn Grandpa of the dangers of the ACLU. I thought, “You mean the folks who actually protect our civil rights and the constitution!” I gave the phone to my grandfather and he hung up on them. He didn’t understand what they were saying. Yes, somehow my grandfather supported some of these right wing organizations earlier. I don’t think he knows why. He has been republican for his entire life and his Christian background has made that decision for him. (An evolutionary meme shortcut instead of thinking critically?) Yes, I know there are many religious folks on the democratic side, like my parents, but there is something powerful about the values argument with overly religious folks that is silly and against freedom when you actually look at it. I love free markets and low taxes but this crazy religious zeal on that side makes my stomach turn…

My grandfather thinks being a Christian is the right thing to do and it is the most important thing someone should be. He is a good person, he works hard, invests, studies, stays physical, gives, loves, and he is leaving a wonderful legacy. Those ways of living are secular principles and deal with this world. They can apply to all faiths and those who have none. I learned those qualities from him. These are truly transcendent and universal. I want him and Grandma to live the rest of their lives in bliss and in love. I won’t break the spell for them, but we need to turn the tap of ignorance off at younger ages. Religion gets a free ride from criticism and that is changing. I would have loved to share my entire joy with them. Love is definitely enough but I would have enjoyed sharing more. To be continued….

Posted in Religion, Science, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »