Warren Jeffs sentenced; must serve at least 10 years

Polygamist cult leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced today for being an accomplice to rape by running his “Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints” as a sex farm for himself and older male members, forcing teenage girls into marriages with cousins and other men often old enough to be their grandfathers. Good riddance.

Now, I wonder how our pal Rhology will assess this situation. I assert, based on “personal” and “societal preferences” (yes, that slurping sound you hear are my eyes rolling yet again), that was Jeffs did was morally wrong because it is harmful to force any unwilling person into sexual submission and/or a marriage that they don’t want, and it’s especially bad to further manipulate them into consent by scaring them that they might jeopardize their rumored “eternal salvation” if they resist, when what’s really going on is that you have an oppressive theocratic society in which males dominate and subjugate the females and treat them like property. Freedom of choice, especially choices dealing with whom you marry and have sex with, should be left up to the individual. To remove that choice from a person simply because you wield power over them is abusive. I know these are not things I should ordinarily have to explain, but remember we’re dealing with Rhology here. Basic human nature eludes him.

So, I invite Rhology to explain whether he approves or disapproves of what Jeffs did, based on his vaunted “objective morality” that he still has yet to define. I invite him especially to give better reasons than the ones I’ve listed, based on this “objective morality,” as to why he think Jeffs was wrong for forcing underage girls into marriages, if indeed Rhology thinks he was.

Demerits for simply falling back on such unsupported presuppositions as “atheists don’t have objective morality so they’re in no position to condemn the acts of Christians.” (Though I suspect Rhology doesn’t consider Jeffs, leader of a splinter Mormon offshoot cult, to be Christian.) Remember, Rho, we’ve heard your premises over and over. We’re still waiting for you to defend and explain them. And whether my reasons are just “personal” or “societal” preferences, are my conclusions about the morality of Jeffs’ acts wrong? And if not, can we agree that your whole “objective morality vs. preferences” mantra is a big fat rhetorical red herring?

The inherent fallacies of Rhology’s presuppositionalism

Matthew Hughes wrote a funny science fiction novel a few years ago, Black Brillion, which contains one the greatest lines of dialogue I’ve ever read: “You have only just begun to gauge the depth of your ignorance yet you use it as the foundation for a towering confidence.”

In following Rhology’s attempts to debate us on morality, one notes that the bulk of his argument rests on the stated assumption atheists have “no basis” to determine right from wrong. Naturally, any atheist reading that will immediately know that Rhology’s full of crap. But why does Rhology feel so confident as to root his whole argument in such a bold and arrogant claim, and how does he think this claim will help support his conclusion that “the Christian worldview [is] a much more reasonable and fitting (not to mention existentially satisfying) alternative to the atheistic one”?

As the always interesting if long-winded Dawson Bethrick points out, presuppositional apologetics is rife with logical fallacies. And in this case, Rhology is taking a page from Greg Bahnsen’s book and employing the argument from ignorance fallacy. When presuppositionalists state that atheists cannot account for morality or whatever, if they were honest, they would have to admit that they simply are not aware of what basis atheists employ to draw such conclusions. But presups like Rhology, rather than honestly admit to their simple lack of knowledge as to how atheists think, would rather declare as an axiom that atheists just cannot draw any conclusions on moral or other issues. Stated as a syllogism, what the presup wants to argue is this:

  1. If the atheist worldview cannot account for morality (or whatever), then the Christian worldview is true.
  2. The atheist worldview cannot account for morality.
  3. …So the Christian worldview is true.

Where Rhology and his fellow presups fall on their faces is that they never present any evidence to support point 2. If any of them were actually able to state an example of any situation where the Christian, using only the Bible as his guide, was capable of accurately assessing the moral rightness or wrongness of the situation, and the atheist simply could not do so by using reason, then they might be on to something. But no presup ever does this, and I submit they cannot. On the occasions they actually confront atheists head-on with their declaration that we have no basis for right and wrong, as Rhology is balls-fully doing here, they are invariably shot down and given ample and detailed explanations of just how atheists do comprehend moral precepts. Yet they ignore or dismiss these explanations so as to hold on to what little argument they have — an argument which is propped up almost in its entirety by the ignorance fallacy, and which attempts to establish the truth of the Christian worldview and even the existence of God Himself based on the presumed inability of atheists to account for such things as right and wrong.

As long as presuppositionalists insist on rooting their arguments in premises that they not only haven’t established as true, but which can easily shown to be false — like atheists’ having “no basis” to account for whatever the presup wishes to claim validates Christianity — then their entire method of arguing will be undermined by fallacies from the get-go. In ignoring these fallacies, and by insisting on restating their flawed premises as axioms no matter how often they are corrected, the presuppositionalist is like a homeowner who thinks that brand-new wall-to-wall carpeting is sufficient to deny the fact that all of their flooring has been eaten away by termites.

And now, for an example of that superior Christian morality in action, we take you to ORU…

Okay, so we all remember the recent series of scandals that has rocked Oral Roberts University in recent weeks, do we not? You know, where Richard Roberts and his family are accused of all manner of financial improprieties, as well as such sleazy activity as having ORU staff do their daughter’s homework for her? Well, I thought this would be an excellent example to put Rhology’s claims (see previous post) that Christian morality has a bulletproof foundation in God’s word, whereas atheist morality has no basis to distinguish right from wrong at all, to the test. What, exactly, was God’s word to ORU regents while the Roberts clan was skimming the university piggy bank for all they could get? Well, according to Chairman George Pearson, God was evidently an accomodating kinda guy.

When George Pearsons accepted the position of chairman of the ORU regents in May, he said in an address to the board: “I am standing here today because the Lord clearly spoke to me and said, ‘Do whatever Richard Roberts asks you to do,’” according to a copy of the address.

Wow. Carte blanche to do whatever. What a sound system of morals that is! God says it, I do it, that settles it. So if Richard Roberts decided, oh, “Let’s fly my daughter and a bunch of her friends to Florida on an expensive senior trip, and charge the whole thing to the university,” then that’s okay by God. And if we picky atheists raise our hands and say anything like, “Uh, hey, isn’t that a little dishonest and unethical, and possibly also illegal?” …Well, what do we know? All we live by are our “personal preferences,” and why should anyone else have to follow those if they don’t want to?

Heh. It’s always fun to have some pompous Christian turn up proclaiming the moral superiority of all Christians based on an ancient holy book, only to have the wind taken out of his sails by the mendacious and disreputable behavior of some of the most prominent Christians in our culture.

It’s clear that in the real world, the only people rooting their moral behaviors in their “personal preferences” are the ones shouting their Christianity from the rooftops. They just tell themselves that anything they do is all pre-approved by God, and alakazam, wrong is right, war is peace, and freedom is slavery. And it’s not like God can come down and correct them when he only exists in their minds, created in their own image. Christianity’s “morality” is like getting a Visa card with no spending limit, and someone else paying the bills every month, so that you never have to learn to be responsible on your own.

Rhology and Christianity’s misanthropic “morality”

A Christian blogger calling himself Rhology has discovered us, and is currently posting like mad in this comment thread with the usual run of “no morality without a God” canards. It’s interesting to read, mainly for the way in which Rhology argues, which involves telling us what we think (mainly, that we don’t believe in right and wrong), and just stating his assumptions, responding to challenges to those assumptions mostly by restating them. He demands we explain in detail what our basis is for deciding whether a situation is morally right or wrong, but does not himself provide a similarly detailed explanation for the basis he uses. It is sufficient for him to say, in essence, God lays down the law, it’s all in the Bible, and that’s all I need.

In repeatedly asserting the superiority of his “worldview,” he never actually gives an example of any circumstance where theistic morality would present a person with the ability to more accurately assess the right or wrong of a situation than a reason-based, secular morality. Is there any example Rhology can give where a Christian, using only the Bible as his moral guide, could more reliably decide when a situation is good or evil than an atheist could just by rationally assessing the situation using his poor, imperfect brain? I’d love to hear it.

Rhology’s vaunted “worldview” is chock full of deeply misanthropic presuppositions. Human beings are entirely evil and depraved, for one, with nary of hint of innate goodness. There is no difference in Rhology’s mind between being good and being perfect. One cannot be good at all unless one is perfect. Therefore, no one can be good, and we all need God. It’s a rather jaw dropping assertion, to be sure, and one that flies in the face of what anyone who actually, you know, interacts with people in the real world knows.

But it’s a necessary premise for Rhology’s arguments, because without that deep-seated misanthropic basis for his “worldview,” he would have to entertain the notion that maybe people can think for themselves, and reach a consensus morality sufficient for the success of our species and our society on our own. (In Aristotle’s words, that virtue arises from the proper application of reason.) If people can decide amongst themselves what’s right or wrong, then God looks less necessary. And Rhology cannot countenance that. So human reason must be denigrated at all costs. Rhology does this by trying to deride reason-based morality as nothing more than one’s “personal preferences,” as if everyone on Earth lives in a vacuum and just makes this stuff up. He cannot comprehend that human moral precepts are based on our shared experience of living together as a social species, and learning through endless trial and error what works for us and what doesn’t. There are things about human nature at a fundamental level that Rhology’s Christian indoctrination has rendered him incapable of understanding.

So hop on over to the thread and have a read, and pitch in if you can find more flaws in Rhology’s “worldview” than I and some other commenters already have. He’s an interesting example of how a too-dogmatic adherence to Christianity’s authoritarian teachings can cripple one’s understanding of — let alone respect and empathy for — his fellow man.

Punishing the Victim

This is a sick, twisted world that clearly needs to change:

The 19-year-old victim was sentenced last year to 90 lashes for meeting with an unrelated male, a former friend from whom she was retrieving photographs. The seven rapists, who abducted the pair and raped both, received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison.

The victim’s attorney, Abdulrahman al-Lahim, contested the rapists’ sentence, contending there is a fatwa, or edict under Islamic law, that considers such crimes Hiraba (sinful violent crime) and the punishment should be death.

“After a year, the preliminary court changed the punishment and made it two to nine years for the defendants,” al-Lahim said of the new decision handed down Wednesday. “However, we were shocked that they also changed the victim’s sentence to be six months in prison and 200 lashes.”

The judges more than doubled the punishment for the victim because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media,” according to a source quoted by Arab News, an English-language Middle Eastern daily newspaper.

Judge Saad al-Muhanna from the Qatif General Court also barred al-Lahim from defending his client and revoked his law license, al-Lahim said. The attorney has been ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Justice next month.

So many things are wrong with this situation that one doesn’t know where to begin fuming, or whether to end.

On the other hand, consider the implications of punishing victims with infinite torture in Hell. Think about it: the basic tenets of Christianity are infinitely worse than the barbaric actions described in the article.

This also needs to change.

Report on the Dan Barker talk

Tonight, the Atheist Longhorns campus group sponsored a talk by Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and author of Losing Faith in Faith and several children’s books.

Turnout was excellent. The talk was held in a UT lecture hall with a capacity of 250. Somewhere between 75 and 100 people attended. The great majority of them seemed to be members of either the Atheist Longhorns or the Atheist Community of Austin, with a few Christians scattered around the room. Most of the jokes were met with appreciative laughs, and most of the stories told for shock value were met with audible outrage.

Dan introduced himself and the Center for Inquiry, then went on to discuss the religious climate in America today. Despite an upswing in fundamentalism since 2001, Dan stated that he was generally optimistic and believed that we were gaining ground over time. He stated that England and other European countries have “grown out of” their preoccupation with religion, and he believes that America will too.

Which is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned with the trends that we do see. Both Democrats and Repubiclans still seem to think they need to pander to the religious right all the time, so you won’t see even a Democratic candidate fail to emphasize how important his or her faith in Jesus is. Still, Barker feels that the progress of secularists and progressives shows a clear upward trend over time. He made an analogy to the stock market: in the short term, the market may fluctuate wildly, as we just experienced a large short term rise in religiosity. In the long term, however, the zigs and zags surround an overall forward movement.

For instance, many decades ago, people like Margaret Sanger were jailed for supporting birth control. Today, birth control is so common that it is used by 90% of American Catholics, even when the pope said that it’s a sin. He also claimed that the victory in cases such as Kitzmiller v. Dover has been so complete that even creationists know that fighting the case in overt, honest ways is pretty much closed to them now.

Dan then went on to discuss the history of separation of church and state, noting along the way that although those exact words to not appear in the constitution, neither does “separation of powers”; nor does the word “trinity” appear in the Bible. The concepts are the important part.

He discussed George Bush’s faith-based initiatives. Essentially, according to Dan, there have been several examples of various organizations receiving government funding that didn’t do anything but proselytize, and ultimately didn’t even do what they claimed they were supposed to do (i.e., in the case of a group that purported to help former prisoners get jobs, their primary message was “read the Bible, trust Jesus, and then you’ll get a job”).

FFRF proceeded to sue some of these organizations, and win. In many cases, the state officials actually expressed gratitude over the outcome of these suits, noting that if FFRF hadn’t stepped in, they wouldn’t have even known that these abuses were occurring. Why is this? asks Dan. Shouldn’t states be doing oversight themselves, instead of waiting for some atheists to come along with a lawsuit?

Dan claimed that Congress has never approved any faith based funding, which would be illegal if done through official channels. Instead, Bush has a certain amount of money budgeted for general appropriation, which he then used to set up an office of faith-based intiatives at the White House. What this office does is invite religious organizations to come and hear talks which encourage them to fill out some forms and get cash for their church programs.

FFRF tried to sue the executive branch for violation of the first amendment, but the first judge they spoke to denied the case, on the ground that FFRF had no standing. They then appealed the case to the 7th circuit court and won. But the government appealed the loss, petitioning the Supreme Court to overturn the second ruling.

This was about the time that Alito and Roberts were placed on the supreme court, which meant that the overall composition of the court was very different from its state when the lawsuit began. By a 5-4 ruling, they agreed that no one could sue the government unless they had standing as a citizen who has been harmed, and not merely a tax payer. Although this case was similar to the various suits that FFRF had been winning around the country, suddenly the landscape changed. Now they couldn’t get these cases heard on their own merits anymore; everyone was throwing up roadblocks by bringing up the issue of whether they had standing. This brought us up to the present day.

At around 7:45 Dan started fielding questions. Don Baker asked how they raised enough money for all these court challenges, and Dan said that they have a legal fund that people donate to. Also, some lawyers are more than willing to work for free if it means they might get to argue a high profile case before the Supreme Court.

I asked Dan how he and Annie managed to land a gig with Air America Radio, and the answer was: lots of money. Originally they started advertising on AAR, and later they paid more up front to get a national show.

Several people in the back row asked very similar questions about the lawsuits that FFRF had brought. I suspect that they were all part of a Christian group, and the questions may have been planned, but they weren’t all that effective IMO. One asked: If these faith-based organizations receiving money had represented several different religions instead of just one, and if their work had proven effective, would FFRF still oppose them? The other two more or less repeated portions of the same question. In all responses, Dan said that 1. It was in fact mostly Christians that were courted by the office; 2. It wouldn’t matter if other religions were involved; 3. It wouldn’t matter if they did good things with the money, since the issue is government money going to religious programs. Dan made this analogy: If a white supremacist group set up a soup kitchen, and it was clear that they were using it for propaganda purposes, it should be opposed even if it is a really good soup kitchen.

Another guy asked Dan to expand on his comments about Europe “growing out of religion” while America didn’t, and expressed some pessimism about whether we have a lot more pain to go through before religious influence starts to recede. Dan reiterated his overall optimism, but did acknowledge that things could get much worse, especially if another catastrophic even such as 9/11 occurs. He also noted that in Europe, there is official state-sponsored religion, and so churches don’t have to “hustle” for money, since they are already receiving it from government. Over here, religion is a competitive enterprise, so churches work hard to get more private money as much as possible. That’s his explanation for why there’s so much more religious influence here even though it’s not supported by government.

Matt asked whether Dan opposes tax exemption for churches. Dan said: Yes, I think it shouldn’t exist, but it’s so entrenched that it’s not a battle worth fighting for the time being. He did go on a semi-rant about how churches still use fire stations and police stations and roads, etc., but do not pay for them, which means that the rest of us must pay their share.

After the talk, the Texas Longhorns got a group picture taken with Dan. I introduced myself and had him sign one of his children’s books (“Maybe Right, Maybe Wrong”) for me and Ben.

I hung around to see some of the Christian students that were starting up various conversations. One group was very friendly, said they had seen our show, and that they agreed with Dan on most points about separation of church and state. That was a very positive conversation.

I also came across Matt arguing with a fairly aggressive Chri
stian about the philosophical issues of “ultimate morality” and his notion that atheism requires purposelessness. This discussion got somewhat heated and ranged among topics like the Euthyphro dilemma, societal construction of laws (the apologist insisted that laws don’t “exist”, and threw out the usual claim that he’d be killing people if he didn’t believe in God), and some of the nastiness in the Bible. It was hard for me to get a word in edgewise, as the apologist was very strident and had a tendency to talk louder when interrupted; and of course Matt was doing most of the talking on our end. I threw in a few points, but basically I considered the conversation pretty much ended when Matt got the apologist to state that stoning children to death USED TO BE morally correct.

However, that apparently wasn’t the end of it; Matt continued the conversation for a while longer and I think is getting roped into an email discussion. I’ll look forward to that.

Anyway, I enjoyed the evening. Dan Barker’s a good speaker, and a good image of the “friendly neighborhood atheist,” as he likes to say.

Studying faith leads to loss of faith — twice

Recently, two, count ’em, two major religion writers have quit their job, and both for similar reasons. Namely, the more you learn about faith, the less faith you actually have.

Stephen Bates, now former religious affairs writer for the London Guardian, writes:

“Now I am moving on. It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.”

Meanwhile, William Lobdell, who describes himself formerly as “a serious Christian,” similarly writes:

My soul, for lack of a better term, had lost faith long ago — probably around the time I stopped going to church. My brain, which had been in denial, had finally caught up.

Clearly, I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded, requires at some point a leap of faith. Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t. It’s not a choice. It can’t be willed into existence. And there’s no faking it if you’re honest about the state of your soul.

No wonder religions claim that the ways of God are mysterious and inscrutable, and cannot be studied. It turns out that when people actually do study those ways, they have the unfortunate tendency to stop believing.

Welcome out of the fold, Stephen and William!

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Liveblogging the PBS Dover trial special, hour 2

Continued from previous post

8:02 – The Kitzmiller family is getting scary mail and, I assume, death threats. They now mention that eight of the nine school board members (!!!) resigned.

8:05 – Enter the villains! Eight members of the Discovery Institute are shown, all of whom originally wanted to testify. For unknown reasons, five dropped out. (Or not so unknown. See Martin’s comment below for more information.)

8:06 – ACLU guy says “It was pretty clear that everything [for the defense side] rested on Michael Behe’s testimony.”

8:07 – Dramatization of Behe’s testimony. That’s definitely an actor. Now I am not so sure that’s really Jones either. He’s mugging too much. I think they’re all actors.

8:08 – Flagellum bullshit, with Behe’s favorite diagram. Now they show animations illustrating the flagellum up close.

8:14 – Now they’re also showing a similar genetic thing to the flagellum, which does not spin but serves a completely different purpose. It is made up of many of the same components as a flagellum. This is a great illustration of adapting pieces that may have evolved for different reasons.

8:15 – Ken Miller picks apart the irreducible mousetrap analogy.

8:16 – This actor who plays Behe is pretty good. He’s portraying exactly the right amount of smugness and condescension.

8:17 – Rothschild-actor enacts the amusing stunt of stacking up a pile of books which refute his claim that there are no publications about evolution of flagellum. Behe-actor sits there opening and shutting his mouth, fishlike. Okay, that’s probably a bit over the top.

8:24 – Now Judge Jones (the real one) is talking about first amendment, establishment clause issues. We’re getting into the “smoking gun” evidence that Pandas & People was once explicitly billed as a creationism book. Lots of shots of Eric Rothschild googling things with an intense look in his eye.

8:27 – Barbara Forrest uncovers the famous typo. One of the lawyers pronounces the words “cdesign proponentsists.” Hilarity ensues, in my house anyway.

8:31 – ACLU guy gives Forrest major props as the hero of the trial. Then they re-enact the scene where Behe admits that his definition of “science” applies to astrology. They’ve now hit both of the high points of Behe’s testimony, IMO. And, again with the fish-mouth. In my house, Paul says: “And the Discovery Institute didn’t take him home and lynch him, after that performance?”

8:34 – A nice image of the wedge document. Then Barbara Forrest explains its significance. Then an announcer explains its significance some more, with close-ups on significant phrases. Phil Johnson bloviates on camera: “I know it SOUNDS conspiratorial and sinister. But it’s really very simple. I just want to chop the theory of evolution into little pieces. And I’m just a humble lawyer, but surely SOMEBODY must know more than me and still support my position. The wide end of the wedge would be smart sciency sounding people like Michael Behe and, um… well, pretty much just Michael Behe.” (That’s a paraphrase, if it wasn’t obvious.)

8:38 – Scenes of Buckingham replay on video footage, where the dumbass says “creationism” many many times, thereby completely tipping his hand about promoting religion. In the courtroom enactment, Buckingham pleads that he “just couldn’t think of the words Intelligent Design at the time.” This is, of course, contrary to how he was portrayed earlier, where he just wanted to stick in creationism and had never heard of ID before.

8:39 – Buckingham apparently lies under oath, saying he doesn’t know where the money came from to buy the Pandas & People copies, or who donated them. Turns out he collected the money from his church personally. Then gave that money to a businessman. Who gave it to Buckingham’s dad. Who bought the books. Asshat.

8:43 – Rothschild-actor gives a theatrical summation. Defense attorney-actor also gives quite a stirring summation himself, doing a passable imitation of Alan Shore as he makes an impassioned plea to think of the children and please just let them decide for themselves on the validity of Intelligent Design.

8:45 – Clip of Pat Robertson is shown, threatening Dover with the wrath of God for rejecting Him from their city. And here I am without any popcorn to throw.

8:46 – Fourteen minutes left, and they’re just now getting to Judge Jones’ lovely ruling on the case. But at least they have him reading it out loud. Actually that’s not so great; he’s kind of an awkward and slow reader. Soon an announcer takes over to explain the ruling instead of listening to Jones tell it. Speaking freestyle and not reading, Jones then expounds on the ruling and sounds much better. They replay highlights including showing the term “cdesign proponentsists” again.

8:49 – Bill Buckingham: “To put it bluntly, I think he’s a jackass. I think he went to clown college instead of law school.” He does not add: “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!”

8:50 – Other members of DI fall all over themselves to alternately bad-mouth Judge Jones and distance themselves from the rotten performance of their colleagues. Jones talks about receiving death threats.

8:52 – You know, Phillip Johnson really looks a lot like Skeletor on camera these days. “I’ll get you next time, evolution! Next time!” No wait, that’s Dr. Claw.

Final verdict on this show: It was not bad, but I wouldn’t call it riveting television. For people who didn’t follow the trial closely, it’s a decent academic introduction to the events. For those of us who did, it’s mostly a retread that didn’t offer a lot of new stuff. The re-enactments were a bit distracting in their amateurishness. The interviews were the most interesting part, and I would have liked to see more of that. Plus, as I said before, much more creative computer animations.