Religion


Oh the irony… this is all over teh Interwebs now, so who am I to avoid jumping on the bandwagon?

PZ Myers was expelled from a screening of the Creationist propaganda movie Expelled. Some background: some time ago, Myers, Richard Dawkins and a number of other high-profile scientists were interviewed for a movie due to be called Crossroads. The movie, so it was claimed, was supposed to explain some of the principles of evolutionary biology. Alas, it seems to have been a ruse, because Crossroads turned into an anti-evolution polemic. Hardly the first time that Creationists have misrepresented themselves when filming scientists.

After Myers booked tickets for the screening — under his own name, via their web interface, just like all the other viewers — he was threatened with arrest and tossed out. And this is despite Myers being thanked profusely in the movie credits for his assistance!

Amusingly, the film-makers didn’t notice Richard Dawkins, who has written more about the incident and the movie itself:

Now, to the Good Friday Fiasco itself, Mathis’ extraordinary and costly lapse of judgment. Just think about it. His entire film is devoted to the notion that American scientists are being hounded and expelled from their jobs because of opinions that they hold. The film works hard at pressing (no, belabouring with a sledgehammer) all the favourite hot buttons of free speech, freedom of thought, the right of dissent, the right to be heard, the right to discuss issues rather than suppress argument. These are the topics that the film sets out to raise, with particular reference to evolution and ‘intelligent design’ (wittily described by someone as creationism in a cheap tuxedo). In the course of this film, Mathis tricked a number of scientists, including PZ Myers and me, into taking prominent parts in the film, and both of us are handsomely thanked in the closing credits.

Seemingly oblivious to the irony, Mathis instructed some uniformed goon to evict Myers while he was standing in line with his family to enter the theatre, and threaten him with arrest if he didn’t immediately leave the premises. […]

More sinister than the artless Lord Privy Seals, and the self-indulgent and wholly illicit playing of the Nazi trump card, the film goes shamelessly for cheap laughs at the expense of scientists and scholars who are making honest attempts to explain difficult points. Cheap laughs that could only be raised in an audience of scientific ignoramuses (and here Mathis’ propaganda instincts cannot be faulted: he certainly knows his target audience). One example is the treatment of the philosopher Michael Ruse[…]

Asked to explain the origin of life, Ruse acknowledged that it was a difficult question, one that modern science has barely scratched the surface of, but suggested that a possible candidate might be something like the theory of Graham Cairns-Smith that modern organic life bootstrapped itself from replicating crystals on the surface of inorganic clays. Even if Cairns-Smith’s theory is wrong in detail — and it would be amazing if it were not — it demonstrates the critical properties of any successful theory for the origin of life: it must show how complex, complicated organic molecules can evolve from simple, robust, common inorganic molecules.

Dawkins continues:

Stein just loved it. Mud! MUD! The sarcasm in his grating, nasal voice was palpable. Maybe this was when Ruse realised that he had been had. Certainly it was at this point that he started to show signs of exasperation, although he may still have thought that Stein was merely stupid, rather than pursuing a malevolent and clandestine agenda.

Curiously, the mostly Christian Fundamentalist audience who finds nothing strange about the idea that God created mankind from clay and dust and ashes, finds it laughable that organic life might have its origin in… clay and dust and ashes. Go figure.

PZ Myers has more about the dishonesty of the Creationists involved, but the funniest comment comes from the jokers at the Landover Baptist Church:

Shocking information has reached us that PZ Myers trophy wife (paid for by the tax payers of state of Minnesota) was taking names of the movie goers to, and I quote her words, “be put first in line for the gas chambers once we overthrow the Constitution”. That is correct, this state funded mistress was making a list of local Christians for eventual extermination.

to which Myers simply replied:

All that money invested in her ninja training, wasted.

Advertisements

One of the slurs thrown around against atheists is that without religion, or at least without God, we’d be left with nothing. Atheists are popularly believed to be nihilists, believing in nothing, caring for nothing.

This could not be further from the truth.

PZ Myers has written a beautiful, brief piece, “An atheist’s creed”, that describes what he believes. We do not need to believe in fairy tales and engage in wishful thinking to see the meaning and beauty in the world.

People often ask, “But if there’s no God, what’s the point?” — life is the point, not some wished-for but never seen After Life. Life is a journey, and the purpose of the journey is to travel, not the destination. I’d like to live forever, and I’d also like a pony and a plastic rocket, but just because I won’t get any of them doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this Current Life. This is not a dress rehearsal, and a rose is not less beautiful because it is finite.

Nihilism
(Click image for larger view, or see here.)

I’ve posted this cartoon before. I think it’s important enough to post it again.

I think nihilism gets a bum rap. Perhaps the term itself is now so indelibly linked to negativity, anomie, cynicism (according to George Bernard Shaw, “The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don’t have it”) and despair at the pointlessness of existence that the term itself is poison, but then two years ago I might have said the same thing about atheism. But I think people get it wrong. Existence isn’t pointless. Existence is the point.

Remember: there are squirrels.

It seems that leopards aren’t the only ones that don’t change their spots, neither does the Catholic Church.

In Ireland, Cardinal Desmond Connell (who was previously urged to resign over his indifference to the child abuse committed by priests under his responsibility) has suddenly gone to the Irish High Court to block the publication of Church documents relating to the child abuse — after promising full disclosure.

The move has lead to a battle in the Church, with at least one figure publicly accusing Cardinal Connell of a cover up:

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a former Vatican diplomat and rising star of the Irish Catholic church, wanted to hand over the files as part of his policy to create more openness in the Dublin diocese.

But without informing Martin, Connell went to the high court on Wednesday night to seek an injunction preventing the files from being handed over.

[…]

Leading Irish canon lawyer and priest Tom Doyle has openly accused Connell of a cover up.

“The only reason why Cardinal Connell would seek to prevent access to the files is because they contain incriminating evidence. He is attempting to hide behind legal doctrine. This is not privileged information,’ he said.

They pander to intolerant Christian Fundamentalists who hate free-thought:

Social networking site, MySpace.com, panders to religious intolerants by deleting atheist users, groups and content.

Early this month, MySpace again deleted the Atheist and Agnostic Group (35,000 members). This deletion, due largely to complaints from people who find atheism offensive, marks the second time MySpace has cancelled the group since November 2007.

More here.

An interesting example of the bellwether principle: all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, a dozen people suddenly send PZ Myers links to a story about an American atheist couple who were prohibited from adopting a child because of their lack of religious beliefs — from 1970.

As Myers writes:

Yeesh — now I discover this is old news, from 1970. Why did so many people suddenly send this in to me, anyway?

Good question. The story was on reddit, and digg, and probably other sites as well. It was the second most emailed story on the Time website. Is there a Pip on the Internet?

Silly question. Of course there is.

The story might be nearly forty years old, but it is still relevant today:

Judge Camarata denied the Burkes’ right to the child because of their lack of belief in a Supreme Being. Despite the Burkes’ “high moral and ethical standards,” he said, the New Jersey state constitution declares that “no person shall be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshiping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience.”

Hmm… one wonders what would happen should somebody decide that Almighty God demanded human sacrifice? Sounds like New Jersey would be the state to move to.

Judge Camarata was concerned that atheist parents would prejudice or prevent the child from freely choosing a religion. Judges are generally quite intelligent, trained in law, well over the average in IQ, but notice that they can still have mental blind spots. Camarata no doubt would not have batted an eye at the thought that religious parents, be they Baptist or Catholic or Jewish or Methodist, prejudice or prevent their children from freely choosing any other religion. At least for religions he approved of.

The ruling against the Burkes was reversed in 1971. I imagine that part of the reason for the reversal was the very next clause of the law, which Camarata conveniently didn’t quote: “…nor under any pretense whatever be compelled to attend any place of worship contrary to his faith and judgment”.

Like Richard Dawkins, Myers believes that the religious indoctrination of children is a serious problem, a real form of child abuse. The typical reaction from the more… excitable… Christians and Creationists has been hysterical claims that Dawkins wants to steal your children if you take them to Sunday School. Myers says:

Now we can understand it all as a perfect example of projection: if you don’t take your children to Sunday school, the Christians will try to take your children away.

[…] I hadn’t known that theists had in the past tried to remove children from atheists. No wonder some freaked out at Dawkins’ description of religious indoctrination as child abuse…again, it’s projection.

Pope Benedict XVI’s chief exorcist, Rev. Gabriele Amorth, has declared that Harry Potter (you know, the fictional character) is actually Satan:

Amorth compared the Potter character to dictators Stalin and Hitler, saying they were possessed by the devil.

“You can tell by their behavior and their actions, from the horrors they committed and the atrocities that were committed on their orders. That’s why we need to defend society from demons,” said Amorth, who has reportedly performed 30,000 exorcisms.

Amorth first became an official Vatican exorcist in June 1986, at age 61. However, he was ordained as a priest in 1954, so let’s assume he’s been fighting demons since then.

For him to have performed 30,000 exorcisms, he would have needed to average more than ten per week, or three every two days. What sort of puny demons has he been fighting? I’ve seen The Exorcist, any half-decent demon should take days, weeks even, of the most strenuous struggle, a battle not only physically and mentally dangerous, but also emotionally and spiritually exhausting. You shouldn’t be able to knock over a couple of exorcisms between lunch and supper and still have time to read the Harry Potter series.

(Link courtesy of PZ Myers.)