Viewing religion through Panglossian spectacles

Let’s ruin a perfectly pleasant Friday with a poll full of ugly reality.

The poll of 2,455 U.S. adults from Nov 7 to 13 found that 82 percent of those surveyed believed in God, a figure unchanged since the question was asked in 2005.

It further found that 79 percent believed in miracles, 75 percent in heaven, while 72 percent believed that Jesus is God or the Son of God. Belief in hell and the devil was expressed by 62 percent.

Darwin’s theory of evolution met a far more skeptical audience which might surprise some outsiders as the United States is renowned for its excellence in scientific research.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said they believed in Darwin’s theory which largely informs how biology and related sciences are approached. While often referred to as evolution it is in fact the 19th century British intellectual’s theory of “natural selection.”

I keep hearing from people that criticizing religion is over-generalizing, that we shouldn’t judge it by the minority of fundamentalist loons who get all the attention in the media, or by those few, rare exploiters who represent religious beliefs poorly. I am sick of it. Ask people directly whether they believe literally in a damnable stupid doctrine like hell, and they don’t waffle, they don’t pose like pedants and maunder on about metaphysics and socioeconomic influences and tradition, the majority simply say “yes”. This is the reality. The majority of Americans do not think, they just accept this nonsense at face value, and we have to deal with stupidity on a national scale.

This is what it means:

[Read more…]

Pope Benedict denounces god!

Good news, everyone! In a new encyclical that reveals the papacy is feeling the heat from all those vocal atheists, the pope makes a startling admission:

Reciting arguments made by atheists, he said: “A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God.

Exactly. Good on yer, Ratzi. I knew you’d see the light someday.

The rest of it is pious noise, about what you’d expect from the lunatic leader of a globe-spanning cult of ridiculous mythology, and I give bugger all for what a puffed-up theologian in funny robes says. Those two sentences, though, give me some hope that his rational humanity might someday shine through.

Nah. Just kidding. That’ll never happen.

Mathis on talk radio

Mark Mathis, the guy who did the interviews for the creationist movie Expelled, has been doing the Christian talk radio circuit lately. He was on in the Twin Cities yesterday, although I missed it … but he’s about to go live on WAMT 1190 in Florida, at 11:05 ET. Listen in, or even call in…make him dance.

The call-in numbers are 407-273-1190 and 888-300-3776, by the way. And the KKMS interview in the Twin Cities might be accessible here, I haven’t tried it myself.

OK, all done. What an amusing show! Mathis is your classic, standard creationist, constantly claiming (falsely) that evolution is about nothing but pure chance. He made the usual bogus statement that we biologist teach evolution as a fact rather than as a theory, which is precisely the reverse: we consider theory to be a higher order description of a phenomenon than a mere collection of facts, so we teach it as a theory and thereby emphasize its importance. We’d be trivializing it if we taught it as just a fact.

He also played the equivocation game: these are just different “views” and we should let students learn about “views” and express their “views”. Science isn’t just about opinions. We build a story on a framework of hard evidence, every step of the way. We don’t just say that such-and-such is our opinion, we have to present observations and experiments in support. We cannot do that with ID. They have no experiments. They have no observations that can’t be explained in better ways by evolutionary biology.

Finally, he was rather frantic about trying to turn the audience against me by declaring me an atheist, even plugging Pharyngula and urging everyone to go look and see that, oooh, PZ Myers has an atheist blog!

That ploy doesn’t work on me. I proudly admit to being a militant atheist and own up to my beliefs, unlike the Intelligent Design creationists, who are clearly ashamed to be Christians.

Religion kills

So this young man, Dennis Lindberg, refused a blood transfusion and died. This was a completely useless, futile death; it wasn’t a sacrifice that helped someone, and it was avoidable by a routine medical procedure. So what could possibly have driven him to this behavior?

Earlier Wednesday, Skagit County Superior Court Judge John Meyer had denied a motion by the state to force the boy to have a blood transfusion. The judge said the eighth-grader knew “he’s basically giving himself a death sentence.”

“I don’t believe Dennis’ decision is the result of any coercion. He is mature and understands the consequences of his decision,” the judge said during the hearing.

“I don’t think Dennis is trying to commit suicide. This isn’t something Dennis just came upon, and he believes with the transfusion he would be unclean and unworthy.”

So he wasn’t coerced; he was mature and capable of rational thought; he wasn’t suicidal; this wasn’t an expensive treatment his family couldn’t afford; he did not make the world a better place by dying. He simply calmly decided on the basis of certain premises that were planted in his brain at an early age by an aunt who was a Jehovah’s Witness that he had to do something both lethal and stupid. His head was filled with garbage, and this is the end result.

Religion is child abuse. It strips kids of the critical reasoning abilities that can save their lives. His crazy aunt killed him as surely as if she had beat him to death with a baseball bat.

The real scoop on the Texas science curriculum director’s resignation

Texas Citizens for Science has posted a summary of the political pressures:

TEA has a new policy, one of neutrality between biological evolution and Intelligent Design Creationism. This new policy was put in place when Dr. Don McLeroy–an outspoken Creationist and activist for Intelligent Design Creationism and its marketing campaign–was appointed the new Chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). By publicizing a lecture by a Louisiana State University professor of the philosophy of science that supported evolution–as required by the state’s science standards–and opposed Intelligent Design Creationism, Chris Comer ran afoul of the new policy and was asked to resign or be fired immediately. The memo to her from the TEA contained several other excuses, all of which were bogus, trumped-up, or common among employees. Amazingly, this memo is now available for the public to read thanks to the American-Statesman (see below), and it reveals the lengths to which the top administrators of our state’s public education agency will go to silence dissent from their new policy of not criticizing Creationism.

The real reason she was forced to resign is because the top TEA administrators and some SBOE members wanted her out of the picture before the state science standards–the science TEKS–were reviewed, revised, and rewritten next year. Plans are underway by some SBOE members and TEA administrators to diminish the requirement to teach about evolutionary biology in the Biology TEKS and to require instead that biology instructors “Teach the Controversy” about the “weaknesses” of evolution, that is, teach the Creationist-inspired and -created bogus controversy about evolution that doesn’t exist within legitimate science. There are no scientific weaknesses with biological evolution as the natural process is understood by scientists. At the level at which it is taught in high school, evolutionary biology has no weaknesses, gaps, or problems. Therefore, it is duplicitous to pretend such “weaknesses” and “controversy” exist.

I knew McLeroy was trouble from the very beginning.

Christians behaving badly

It’s ben a terrible couple of days for Christianity — I’ve gotten an awful lot of e-mail reporting indiscretions by those trusted members of the clergy.

I should clarify something, though. Many people assume I post these little tales of deplorable behavior by the religious in some misguided effort to show causality, that I’m trying to argue that they do these wicked things because they are Christian. This is not correct. It’s far, far from the truth — I know many good people are also Christian or Jewish.

The point is simpler: Christianity claims to be a force for morality which encourages good behavior on the part of its practitioners. It’s quite clear that it is not when even its clergy seem unable to find their religion to be a source of moral suasion. Religion doesn’t make you bad, necessarily, but it sure doesn’t make you good, either.