Recently, I finished reading Lawrence Wright’s new book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollwood, & the Prison of Belief, about Scientology. It’s a lucid history and examination of the movement. [More . . . ]
I’ve previously written about the works of Paul Kurtz. I’ve long admired his Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Principles. I also agree with his concerns about “fundamentalist atheists.” In fact, it was his position on “fundamentalist atheism” that likely gave rose to his contentious departure from the Center for Inquiry.
More recently, Kurtz has made the argument that atheists, agnostics and other disbelievers would be best served characterizing themselves as “skeptics” rather than as atheists, agnostics or non-believers.
I would like to introduce another term into the equation, a description of the religious “unbeliever” that is more appropriate. One may simply say, “I am a skeptic.” This is a classical philosophical position, yet I submit that it is still relevant today, for many people are deeply skeptical about religious claims. Skepticism is widely employed in the sciences. Skeptics doubt theories or hypotheses unless they are able to verify them on adequate evidential grounds. The same is true among skeptical inquirers into religion. The skeptic in religion is not dogmatic, nor does he or she reject religious claims a priori; here or she is simply unable to accept the case for God unless it is supported by adequate evidence.
Kurtz lists additional reasons for the use of the term “skeptic.”
[S]kepticism based on scientific inquiry leaves room for a naturalistic account of the universe. It can also recommend alternative secular and humanist forms of moral conduct. Accordingly, one can simply affirm, when asked if he or she believes in God, “No, I do not; I am a skeptic,” and one may add, “I believe in doing good!”
Today, Amy Goodman interviewed Richard Muller:
The following excerpt is from Democracy Now:
After years of denying global warming, physicist Richard Muller now says “global warming is real and humans are almost entirely the cause.” The admission by Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley and founder of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, has gained additional attention because some of his research has been funded by Charles Koch of the Koch Brothers, the right-wing billionaire known for funding climate skeptic groups like the Heartland Institute. “We can make the scientific case more solidly than had been made in the past,” Muller claims. “I think this does say we do need to take action, we do need to do something about it.”
I recently read Penn Jillette’s 10 Commandments for atheists, written as a response to a challenge by Glenn Beck. Most of Penn’s rules made good sense. But one went off the rails, I opine.
He included one found in most mistranslations of the Christian Ten: “Don’t Lie.” Penn explicitly adds the caveat: “(You know, unless you’re doing magic tricks and it’s part of your job. Does that make it OK for politicians, too?)”
But the premise is basically flawed. The original line in Exodus 20:16 (KJV) is Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. This is a very specific form of lie. Even too specific. Not only is it an injunction against perjury, but only against perjury against your landholding neighbor, as opposed to people from other places, or to property such as women and slaves.
Of course we all must lie on occasion. How else can we answer, “Isn’t she the most beautiful baby ever?” or “Honey, do I look puffy?” Would it be false testimony to confirm a harmless bias one on one?
Yet I suggest that the proper commandment should be, “Don’t bear false witness.” Period. Don’t testify to things of which you are not absolutely sure; that you have not personally experienced. Not in a public forum. Don’t repeat “what everybody knows” unless you preface it with an appropriate waffle, such as “I heard that someone else heard that…”
But this might make it difficult to testify to the all-embracing love of a demonstrably genocidal God. A Google image search of “Testify” gives mostly Christian imagery.
I didn’t write anything for yesterday’s commemoration. Many others, most far better suited to memorializing the day, said a great deal. My paltry mutterings would add little to what is, really, a personal day for most of us. Like all the big anniversary events, the “where were you when” aspect makes it personal and maybe that’s the most important part, I don’t know.
Instead it occurred to me to say something about the element of the disaster that puzzles most of us, even while most of us exhibit the very trait that disturbs us deeply in this context. One of the most common questions asked at the time and still today is in the top 10 is: how could those men do that?
Meaning, of course, how could they abandon what we consider personal conscience and common humanity to perpetrate horrible destruction at the cost of their own lives.
The simple answer is also the most complex: they were following a leader.
I’m going to string together what may seem unrelated observations now to make a larger point and I will try to corral it all together by the end to bring it to that point.
Firstly, with regards to the military, there are clear-cut lines of obligation set forth, the chief one being a soldier’s oath to defend the constitution. There is a code of conduct consistent with that and we have seen many instances where an officer has elected to disobey orders he or she deems illegal or immoral. There is a tradition of assuming that not only does a soldier have a right to act upon conscience, but that there is an institutional duty to back that right up. The purpose of making the oath one to the constitution (rather than to, say, the president or even to congress) first is to take the personal loyalty issue out of the equation.
To underline this a bit more, a bit of history. The German army prior to WWII was similarly obligated to the state. German soldiers gave an oath to protect Germany and obey its laws. Hitler changed that, making it an oath to him, personally, the Fuhrer. (He left in place a rule explicitly obligating the German soldier to disobey illegal or immoral orders.)
Unfortunately, human nature is not so geared that people find it particularly easy to dedicate themselves to an abstract without there also being a person representing it. (We see this often in small ways, especially politically, when someone who has been advocating what is on its own a good idea suddenly comes under a cloud of suspicion. Not only do people remove their support of that person but the idea is tainted as well. People have difficulty separating out the idea from the person. The reverse is less common, that a bad idea taints a popular leader.) Dedicating yourself to supporting the constitution sounds simple in a civics class, but in real life people tend to follow people. (Consider the case of Ollie North, whose dedication to Reagan trumped his legal responsibility to uphold the constitution and its legally binding requirement that he obey congress.)
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There is currently a strong suite of Discovery Institute bills running through state legislatures to allow “alternative theories” to be taught in science classes. See list here: Antievolution Legislation Scorecard. There is not a direct link back to the Discovery Institute, but it is their wording, seen before and passed in places like Texas and Louisiana and Tennessee.
From a legal standpoint, the bills look harmless, closely resembling intellectual freedom policies. But the point is clearly to sow confusion about the difference between science and just making things up, especially in regard to evolution and climate science.
Hemant Mehta suggests that it would only be fair to show this video in churches where the churches put their books into science classes.
Homeopathy DOES NOT WORK. It’s quackery, pure and simple. It’s a farce, a fake, and flummery. Prove it works, and win the million dollars.
On Saturday, February 5th, he released a statement challenging the homeopathic manufacturers to submit to a double blind test and to the retail outlets to label the products for what they are – NOT MEDICINE!
Erich posted a piece “Overdosing on homeopathic drugs” last May which has enough links for someone to see for themselves how absurd this concept is. By their philosophy, we should all be sick from some harmful strain of e. coli because at some point all water has been touched by such, and it will, of course retain that memory. Or does it only retain the memory of the “good” stuff?
Go get ‘em, Mr. Randi!
This question from The Edge and the dozens of thoughtful answers make for some good reading. Basically, each author picks a single idea they feel is necessary for everyone to “get” in order to understand the world we live in; to have a successful technological civilization.
I found this via Pharyngula, who suggested that the Mediocrity Principle may be The One. That is, the basic understanding that we are not the special reason for the existence of the universe. His argument is that basic math skills would help. We’re talking about skills that even average college students seem to lack, but are nominally taught to most people who graduate secondary schools.
Adjacent to PZ, Sue Blackmore argues for the primacy of understanding that CINAC (Correlation Is Not A Cause). Apparently this lesson is hard to drum into even college students who are nominally studying science.
Most of the answers are direct explanations of ideas necessary to scientific understanding. But a few are more of the “what would be nice to discover” variety. But go see for yourself. There are many insightful replies to this question by 160 authors.