Responding to CognitiveFaith

I happened across a blog which criticized me for saying that empirical scientists and rational skeptics care more about truth than religious believers do.

Interesting thought.  Especially since Mr. Ra also believes that those who believe in God have no interest in the truth.  But is the truth rational skeptics, as Mr. Ra identifies himself as, care about the whole and complete truth, or is any partial truth ok?  Or is it that since, in Mr. Ra’s estimation, Christians have no real care for the truth that any care for the truth no matter how small or partial , would be more?  Somehow I get the impression that neither of these is what he meant.

What I meant is that scientists only care about how accurate their position can be shown to be, and not whether they’ve convinced anyone else. Meanwhile religious believers only care about how convinced they appear to be. Since nothing they believe is in any way implied by any testable data whatsoever, they have no reason to believe what they do. Yet somehow it doesn’t bother them that none of their beliefs are verifiably accurate to any degree at all. Thus they have virtually no probability of being even partially correct, and no possibility of being completely or certainly correct.

Many times theists have made public statements to the effect that whether they believe matters more than whether any of it is true, because they think there are consequences to believing differently or not believing any of it at all.  They imagine their god will punish them simply for not believing. According to their interpretations of man-made mythology, that is the one-and-only thing their god seems to care about. This to me is an indication that the god in question was created in the minds of people who really really want to pretend that they’re more important than they are, and that they have some destiny beyond what could really be due to them. I find it sad to see people in such a state.

The only thing that really matters is that we find some way to determine where and how we ourselves are wrong, what are the flaws in our position, and how do we correct them? Because that is the only way our understanding can improve. Faith prevents this. Even though it is an unsupported assumption asserted without warrant, faith makes the erroneous claim of certain knowledge of absolute truth, and often insists that it cannot even be wrong. This is just part of the reason why faith is the most dishonest position it is possible to have.

But my critic continues:

So if Mr. Ra is so committed to truth why does he have such an aversion to it?  While busily stating over & over , I suppose in the hope that repetition will make something true, that evolution has been proven, he steadfastly avoids calling evolution a law, the scientific proclamation of true, provable, and reproducible fact.  Fair enough, part of scientific law requires a theory to be reproducible, ie: standing on Earth, let go of an object and it will fall to the ground.
1. I have no aversion to truth.
2. Evolution is a provable, reproducible fact which is evidently true, but it would be inappropriate to call it a ‘law’, because there are actually many laws of evolution.
There are also many laws within the theory of gravity, some devised by Newton, some worked out by Einstein.  My critic’s problem is that, -like all creationists- he does not know what a ‘theory’ is.
But here is where Mr. Ra’s statements start to break down.  At 10:01 of his recorded lecture at Eastern Illinois University “Because it’s called the theory of gravity”.   Yes that’s right the theory of gravity.  Do you find it interesting that it is now the theory of gravity.  Has gravity been “Plutocized” from a law to a theory?  My guess is that the hope is by reducing certain laws of science to theories it will help elevate the theory of evolution in the public eye.
My critic goes on to accuse me of changing the meaning of the word he never understood. He even accuses me of lying about what a scientific theory is. So there would be no point in my citing where I have presented concise specific definitions from the Atheist Dictionary, even though I can prove that all those definitions are correct. Nor would it do any good for me to show him part 1 and part 2 of the video where I explain what a theory is. He doesn’t know what a law is either, but since he has already accused me of lying about these things, I suppose there would be no point in my explaining that either.
I could suggest that he do something he has obviously never done, and question his own assumptions: He should fact-check himself, look it up before pretending to know what he obviously doesn’t really know. But then, that’s what faith is all about, isn’t it?
On that note, I would like to mention that this weekend, I will finally get to meet Dr. Peter Boghossian at the 3rd Imagine No Religion conference in Kamloops British Columbia.

C- [creation] rap on Dogma Debate

Creationists are typically pretty wriggly and hard to pin down. So when I argue with them, I don’t often get the ‘corner-and-kill’ moment. I usually can’t get them into that position where it becomes obvious to all listeners that the quarry knows he was caught in a lie. It’s always interesting when your opponent realizes that he can’t defend his position, and is forbidden to concede some academic point that was clearly lost, but escape isn’t possible either because you won’t let him change the subject. If you can get him there, and press him to hold him accountable, you’ll either witness a psychotic episode, or a lie so blatant that it counts as an admission of defeat.  That’s what I got last night on the Dogma Debate podcast with creationist rapper, ‘Destiny Lab’.

Blasphemy in Bangladesh

I’m just relaying a tragic story. Hundreds of thousands of activists gathered in Dhaka Bangladesh last Friday, protesting against blasphemy laws and the severe penalty associated with them.

“Atheists must be hanged” shouted scores of armed Islamists who descended on the demonstration, assisted by local police. Violence erupted with cudgel canes and rubber bullets. Dozens of people were killed or maimed in an attack by the religion of peace. Ironically the activists were only protesting religion’s long-standing practice of inhuman oppression of dissent, and the Islamists reacted the way religion has always reacted, the only way it knows how -senselessly and without reason.

If you are up for a protest of Ken Ham; he will be in Texas promoting Creationism to homeschoolers

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character.  In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned.   My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram. In her spare time she is also a None. Read the comment policy before posting.

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character. In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned. My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram. In her spare time she is also a None. Read the comment policy before posting.

Ken Ham was asked by the Texas Home School Coalition, the most prominent home school lobby in Texas, to speak at their convention on Aug 1 through 3. While I agree with the right to home school, if it is done by parents, who are educated in the subject they are teaching, or if they aren’t, have access to certified teachers through online public schools or home school co-ops. I don’t agree with homeschooling being abused to mislead children about the science behind evolution.

I am not exactly sure why the THSC, whose stated mission is to support parental home-schooling rights, would want to invite Ham to speak at their convention.  The thought of children at the mercy of outdated pseudoscience makes me ill.  This organization must know AIG’s mission…

“to train others to develop a biblical worldview” and “to expose the bankruptcy of evolutionary ideas, and its bedfellow, a ‘millions of years old earth’ (and even older universe).”

My more cynical side thinks they do know AIG’s mission and agree with it, or he wouldn’t have been invited. My personal experience growing up as an old earth creationist in the city where this convention is being held tells me that many of THSC members most likely support him speaking there. This part of Texas once had the Revisionist Terri Leo at the helm of the State School Board.

The Texas GOP has such contorted districts that they are being disputed in the Supreme Court. It is part of a Republican effort here to gerrymander conservative districts around Houston in a desperate attempt to keep the state Red. The growing minority population is predicted to shift the state at least to purple in as little as 6 years.

More urban parts of Houston are diluted with suburban areas.

More urban parts of Houston are diluted with suburban areas.

*Edit for comparison look at this map…

 

Texas's major populated areas Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas/Fort Worth are Blue.

Texas’s major populated areas Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth are Blue.

In fact Obama carried those cities in 2012.

Politics may seem mostly unrelated to Ken Ham’s appearance to speak to avid, creationist home-schoolers in one of the most religious parts of the state. However, it does gives you a snapshot of why there is a demand for young earth creationism.

In any case, I think this is a good opportunity to protest children being indoctrinated with young earth creationism.  The family is seriously considering making a trip down there to say no to ignorance. The date is really close to Camp Quest Texas sleepover camp starting on August 4th.

*PS If you aren’t already aware Aron is trying to raise 5,000 dollars for Camp Quest Texas before two other certain known atheists. He has 24 days left, and at this time he has 1270.00 raised. His most dastardly rival is at 2810.10 raised as of now. If he defeats this guy, he will dress up like a nun and recite the Lord’s Prayer. He won’t even need to shave off his beard for realism.  Everybody wins no matter, who you donate to, because Camp Quest Texas educates children in science and critical thinking.

Why do atheists have to be so mean? Podcast Today 5/5 with Actress Hayley Myers, Tom Melchiore, and NAP’s Flash Kellish and Sheila Blackadder

Specifically why doesn’t anyone want to ally with us, even other secularists sometimes?  We’re like red headed stepchildren; we can’t do anything right for a lot of people. We will also be discussing atheist vitriol to each other on The Nones . It is approaching toxic levels on the topic of feminism. Hayley wants to be a more vocal atheist, and she will be sharing her experiences growing up as an atheist in the Midwest.  She ‘s an actress who appeared in The Ides of March. Shayrah, Aron, and myself are hardened atheists from living in atheist Hell here in the South. Flash and Sheila have the East Coast covered, but somehow they don’t sound as if they have the street cred in comparison.  But they do!  They are out there trying to organize atheists politically.  Politics are the other fighting words with a lot of atheists. Flash is on the Executive Board of the National Atheist Party; soon to be the American Secular Party.  Sheila blogs for NAP on Daily Kos also has the Feminatheist discussion group on Facebook. A lot of people know Tom Melchiorre, writer and editor of Secular Nation the voice of Atheist Alliance International. They brought us that lovely Atheist Census.  Over 200,000 atheists have been counted; have you?  Numbers Matter.

Atheist Secular

Anyways, I also wanted to thank everyone that supported the first 2 podcasts even though Shayrah and I are trying to figure out the technology thing.  A lot of great atheists are supporting us by coming on the show.  They are going to start messing with our mean image. Plus added on us pressure to not let them down.

The show will stream live to our youtube channel, and you can join via the google hangout page. We are also looking at uploading an audio version to www.blogtalkradio.com/thenones

*Update link to the video of the show…

The Struggle for a Fully Secular Iceland

I’ve become rather interested in Icelandic politics of late. The following article was written by fellow humanist, Dr. Svanur Sigurbjörnsson, and sent to me at the request of Thor Viðar Jónsson, director of sidmennt.is, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association.
[Edit: Thor is NOT the director of Sidmennt.is, Hope Knutsson is. Thor asked me to correct that.]
Dr. Sigurbjörnsson says he is now in a group with the Pagans (Asatruarfelag) and Bhuddists to continue the fight for separation of church and state. I found his article interesting and asked to share it here.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Iceland was under the Norwegian and then the Danish crown from 1262. Its first step towards independence was in 1874 when the Danish king handed the nation its first constitution. In it the freedom to choose one’s religion or life stance was secured for the first time since the Christian (Catholic) takeover in the year 1000. There had been a few attempts by individuals to acquire another belief before that but at the time around 99% of Icelanders were registered Christian. Slowly other congregations formed, at first mainly some free Evangelical Lutheran splits from the main Evangelical Lutheran church which is known as the National Church. Its official name is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland or ELCI. Also the Catholic Church sprung up again with the help of nuns and priests sent from Europe. Mormons and others followed suit.
Now there are 39 religious groups registered at the National Registry, 29 thereof are Christian. A new law was ratified on January 30, 2013 in the Icelandic Parliament (Althing), granting non-religious life stance groups almost an equal legal status and funding with religions. Soon the 23 year old Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, which is called Siðmennt in Icelandic, will be granted registration. Still the ELCI has deeply rooted special privileges in financial, legal and social matters.

THE STRUGGLE FOR SEPARATION
At the turn of the 20th century there was an unsuccessful struggle for total separation of church and state, but in Iceland, the left wing politicians and workers unions (which favored separation) didn’t have enough power. The country was governed by right wing conservatives, business owners and other powerful classes which strongly supported the clerical system. So unlike Central, Western Europe, and the United States separation of church and state didn’t have strong support here. Politics evolved in many ways towards a secular democracy, but a theocratic leech was allowed to be attached to it. In 1907 (and well before that) it was apparent that the ELCI could not be sustained financially by its huge ownership of farm land because the country was changing rapidly from being mainly agricultural into being urban and depending on fisheries. The ELCI, due to its stronghold within the political sector and its special protection clause in the constitution, was able to make a very comfortable deal with the state back then which was repeated and secured in a law passed in 1997. It ensured the ELCI a handsome salary for all its priests, bishops, and office staff, for an unlimited amount of time into the future, in return for all the land previously owned by the ELCI except the land that churches were built on.
By 1987 the ELCI had run into difficulties collecting its member fees and got another good deal with the authorities, namely that members’ dues were turned into a form of tax that ensured the ELCI and other registered religious groups their monthly fee, irrespective of their members’ ability to pay it. Additionally the ELCI got an exclusive 30% extra for special funds to cover costs of housing, teaching theology, holding administrative conferences, and much more. For this system to work the registration of all Icelanders at the National Registry into either a religious organization or not had to be used.
That registration began earlier and at the start of it the default registration was the ELCI and all newborn babies were automatically registered into their mother’s church without asking the mother or the father. This was partly changed with the new law from January 30th so that the automatic registration of babies only applies if both parents are members of the same church. This is to ensure equal rights of the sexes but does not protect the rights of the child to stay out of a life stance organization (religious or secular) in order for it to decide for itself when it has reached the age of legal and financial independence. This church tax is collected for every
member aged 16 and older but children are not legally adults in Iceland until the age of 18. The new law is a step in the right direction but still contains many inconsistencies.

SOCIAL AWARENESS KEPT LOW
After the mid-20th century the issue of separation of church and state disappeared from political discussion and was never an issue in any election. The ELCI cleverly made sure that politicians believed that any movement for separation would cost them votes. Until the late 20th century religious education in elementary schools was only about Christianity and totally without any critical element in it. Some prominent thinkers and writers such as the Nobel prize winner in literature Halldór K. Laxness praised humanism and criticized the anachronistic church in the 1960’s. Well educated people were aware of the huge impact the Age of Enlightenment had had on our culture but philosophy, ethics, secularism and humanism were carefully excluded from the curriculum. Instead a lot of Icelanders are convinced that Christianity was the sine qua non for the rise of democracy and all good things acquired in society. The strategy of the ELCI of giving generations of Icelanders only a tunnel vision look of the wide variety of life stances and philosophies of life, succeeded in most cases and the result is a population largely ignorant of what a secular society is and what it is worth. Icelanders are rather naïve in discussing life stances, religion, and philosophical issues. This is also reflected in the relative scientific illiteracy and gullibility of Icelanders regarding health hoaxes, supernatural phenomena, and spiritual mediums.
Over the past 15 years or so this has begun to change for the better because of the efforts of organizations like Vantrú (Disbelief) and Siðmennt (Iceland Ethical Humanist Association). The younger generation is now much more atheistic and almost half of people under 40 years old say that they are not religious compared to only around 15% of those over 60 years old.

IN FAVOR OF SEPARATION BUT REFERENDUM RESULTS AT ODDS
In polls taken over the last 16 years there has been almost consistent support by 60-75% of the population for separation of church and state. Still, in October 2012, when the only national referendum since the ratification of the current constitution in 1944 took place, 59% of the voters voted “yes” on the question of whether the ELCI should be mentioned in a new constitution or not. The question did not state directly that the ELCI should continue as a state church and some people who favor separation accidentally voted “yes”. In the run-up campaign before the national referendum, the ELCI used all its superior resources and access to state radio and several newspapers to justify their position. They inspired fear that if the ELCI lost its constitutionally protected status people living out in the countryside would not get burial services because the state church is irreplaceable for all kinds of social assistance. The ELCI suggested that all other religions and life stance organizations should also be mentioned in the constitution and be granted similar rights as itself. It presented a soft front and its position gained momentum because of the new and popular first female bishop. After its victory that positive suggestion was forgotten and never mentioned by them again. The ELCI suggestion of more equality was a campaign strategy rather than a genuine push for equality.
The only time that the media asked the members of government whether we should continue having a state church was in 2010 when a sexual misconduct charge against a former bishop of the ELCI reached its height and the bishop at the time (Karl Sigurbjörnsson) said that it was up to God to judge his predecessor. The question of separation seemed to be raised more as a punishment for the ELCI than a true interest in separation. The politicians did not follow up on it.

OUR CURRENT POSITION
As medieval as it may sound, today all tax payers still pay a church tax. In 2012 93.6% (3.67 billion Icelandic crowns) of it went to the ELCI although its members are 76.2% of the nation and decreasing each year. Its priests are government employees and have around 40% higher salaries than unspecialized physicians and
around 70% more than psychologists. They have all kinds of financial and status privileges beyond that of the leaders of other life stance organizations and are alone enjoying the spoils of 874 years of religious monopoly and religious taxation (10% of income since the year 1067) for which the whole nation had to pay dearly. With the law from 1997 the state church was given autonomy over its internal affairs so government authorities no longer have a say in how the ELCI spends its billions. That has given many of the ELCI spokespersons a reason to have the audacity to say that the ELCI is in fact separated from the state! With that twisted view they try to invalidate the demand for separation.
A few years ago, the Ásatrúarfélag, pagan society of Iceland, sued the state for discrimination and asked for their share of one of the funds that only the state church has access to, but the Supreme Court of Iceland ruled that although they had logical grounds for their claim, the ELCI was given the right for special handling according to the constitution. This was allowed even though it is also stated in the constitution that no citizen should be discriminated against on religious grounds. Another justification was that the ELCI provides its service to all Icelanders irrespective of their life stance. The ELCI states on its web page that “all are welcome to its service and no questions are asked of people´s religion”. On the other hand it is stated in its internal bylaws that their housing cannot be used to service other than Christians and in order for their priests to perform a wedding service at least one of the to-be-wed has to be a Christian. The ELCI is then only for Christians, not the whole nation.
What the future holds is unclear but there are some signs of improvement in understanding the nature of this issue and its importance. Humanists, Pagans, Soka Gakkai Buddhists and various atheists individually or in groups are joining forces in continuing the struggle and they are optimistic that a secular society can be achieved in Iceland.

-Svanur Sigurbjörnsson.  Thanks to Hope Knútsson and Svavar Kjarrval for their proofreading, input and corrections.