Statistical evidence that religion leads to immorality

A Pew poll finds that church attendance is correlated with willingness to torture.

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

I can’t be too smug about it, though: that difference isn’t exactly huge, and 42% is a depressingly large number of non-church-goers favoring barbarous behavior. I wouldn’t be happy with anything larger than 0%.

What are you doing, Alberta?

The province of Alberta has decided to make education optional. If there’s something in the real world that you don’t like, such as that you evolved from other apes, or that gay people exist, or perhaps that understanding the motion of bodies requires some of that difficult math stuff, students will be allowed to close their eyes and plug their ears and pretend those uncomfortable complexities don’t exist. How sweet! And then they can graduate without ever learning anything new, and go on to be ignorant voters who will no doubt continue the trend of dumbing down everything.

This is a very stupid move by stupid people that will produce more stupid people.

It neglects a fundamental property of education: that in order to learn, you have to be exposed to many new and sometimes difficult ideas. We teach about subjects that no one thinks are good, because you need to know about them to have an informed opinion. The Holocaust was horrible and painful — shall we allow children to avoid exposure to it? Fundamentalist parents may gnash their teeth in fury at the very idea of evolution — but how can they disagree with it rationally, if they don’t even know what it is?

Somehow we’ve acquired this bizarre notion that learning is about being eased along, never stressing ourselves, never facing a challenge. We’ve mistaken education for an exercise in affirmation. And now Alberta wants to enshrine that idea in their educational system.

Well, at least if the future creates a lot of demand for jobs that require smugly oblivious, incompetent people, industry will know precisely where to go for them.

Double reminder

I know it hurts, it hurts so bad, but I have to ask you again to keep clicking to help me win that iPod Touch from Eric Hovind. It’s only a little pain, after a few clicks you’ll be numb.

But that reminder also reminds me that I’ll be judging a video contest after 1 June — you only have one more month to put together an entry to explain evolution in two minutes or less. Eric Hovind is welcome to enter — a little comedy relief is always nice — but I think his videos are more of an anti-inspiration. Put him to shame with some substance! Look at his shoddy work and resolve to show the world how it is realy done!

Say…wouldn’t it be handy if I had an iPod Touch I could fill with the contest entries?

That explains a lot

The Huffington Post has been getting a lot of grief around scienceblogs lately, since they’ve been letting some astounding woo slip through under the guise of medicine and science. Now it is partly explained: their “wellness” editor is Patricia Fitzgerald. Here are her qualifications:

Patricia Fitzgerald is a licensed acupuncturist, certified clinical nutritionist, and a homeopath. She has a Master’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine and a Doctorate in Homeopathic Medicine.

Words fail me. What is a doctorate in homeopathic medicine? A blank piece of paper taped to your wall?

(via Mike the Mad Biologist)

Intelligent Design is warmed-over creationism

Melanie Phillips is irate. Why? Because Ken Miller says Intelligent Design is nothing but creationism relabeled. Miller is right, Phillips is once again raving in ignorance.

In an item on the growing popularity of Intelligent Design, John Humphrys interviewed Professor Ken Miller of Brown University in the US who spoke on the subject last evening at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. Humphrys suggested that Intelligent Design might be considered a kind of middle ground between Darwinism and Creationism. Miller agreed but went further, saying that Intelligent Design was

nothing more than an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable.

But this is totally untrue. Miller referred to a landmark US court case in 2005, Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, which did indeed uphold the argument that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism in its ruling that teaching Intelligent Design violated the constitutional ban against teaching religion in public schools. But the court was simply wrong, doubtless because it had heard muddled testimony from the likes of Prof Miller.

No, the court testimony was crystal clear, and it wasn’t just Miller who demonstrated the fact that Intelligent Design was a false front laid over old-school creationism. The lawyers demonstrated, among other things, that a) the textbook in question had been crudely revamped from a creationist text by simply substituting “design” for “creation” (with revealing errors — anyone remember “cdesign proponentsists“?); b) that the books were bought with money collected by a conservative church, and that the defendants lied about the source; c) that the people who tried to introduce ID into the Dover schools were motivated entirely by their religious goals (Bill Buckingham to the school board: “Nearly 2,000 years ago someone died on a cross for us; shouldn’t we have the courage to stand up for him?”); and d), that the instigators didn’t have the slightest clue what ID was. We can also go directly to the words of the big names in ID, like Bill Dembski (“Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory“) or Phillip Johnson:

I have built an intellectual movement in the universities and churches that we call The Wedge, which is devoted to scholarship and writing that furthers this program of questioning the materialistic basis of science…Now, the way that I see the logic of our movement going is like this. The first thing you understand is that the Darwinian theory isn’t true. It’s falsified by all of the evidence and the logic is terrible. When you realize that, the next question that occurs to you is, well, where might you get the truth?…I start with John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning was intelligence, purpose, and wisdom. The Bible had that right. And the materialist scientists are deluding themselves…

In summary, we have to educate our young people; we have to give them the armor they need. We have to think about how we’re going on the offensive rather than staying on the defensive. And above all, we have to come out to the culture with the view that we are the ones who really stand for freedom of thought. You see, we don’t have to fear freedom of thought because good thinking done in the right way will eventually lead back to the Church, to the truth-the truth that sets people free, even if it goes through a couple of detours on the way. And so we’re the ones that stand for good science, objective reasoning, assumptions on the table, a high level of education, and freedom of conscience to think as we are capable of thinking. That’s what America stands for, and that’s something we stand for, and that’s something the Christian Church and the Christian Gospel stand for-the truth that makes you free. Let’s recapture that, while we’re recapturing America.

Or how about this from Johnson?

My colleagues and I speak of “theistic realism” — or sometimes, “mere creation” –as the defining concept of our movement. This means that we affirm that God is objectively real as Creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology. We avoid the tangled arguments about how or whether to reconcile the Biblical account with the present state of scientific knowledge, because we think these issues can be much more constructively engaged when we have a scientific picture that is not distorted by naturalistic prejudice. If life is not simply matter evolving by natural selection, but is something that had to be designed by a creator who is real, then the nature of that creator, and the possibility of revelation, will become a matter of widespread interest among thoughtful people who are currently being taught that evolutionary science has show God to be a product of the human imagination.

Intelligent Design creationism is all about hiding Jesus under a blanket of pseudoscience and smuggling him into the public schools. Nothing more, nothing less.

Melanie Phillips clearly knows nothing about the case. So what possible reason could she have for claiming ID is distinct from creationism?

Whatever the ramifications of the specific school textbooks under scrutiny in the Kitzmiller/Dover case, the fact is that Intelligent Design not only does not come out of Creationism but stands against it. This is because Creationism comes out of religion while Intelligent Design comes out of science. Creationism, whose proponents are Bible literalists, is a specific doctrine which holds that the earth was literally created in six days. Intelligent Design, whose proponents are mainly scientists, holds that the complexity of science suggests that there must have been a governing intelligence behind the origin of matter, which could not have developed spontaneously from nothing.

Intelligent Design creationism does not come out of science. The initial founders of the Discovery Institute were lawyers, philosophers, venture capitalists, businessmen, and theologians, with a scarce few recruits who were once scientists, like Michael Behe. Science emerges from evidence, not ideology, and these gomers had none, and still have none. They have a claim that there is a “governing intelligence”, but have shown no evidence for such a being, nor have they even speculated openly about the nature of that intelligence…because when they do, they have to admit that they believe it was the Christian god. Again, without supporting evidence.

This is why Miller is completely correct to say Intelligent Design creationism is “an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable”. Overt admission that their ideas are based on religion means they are non-scientific, and gets them excluded from science classes. By lying and concealing their motives, they hope to sneak it in past people who are too stupid to recognize the obvious, or who share similar underhanded motives for denying the truth. I wonder which of those two alternatives best fit Melanie Phillips?

Our own Jonas Brothers?

There’s a funny Cat and Girl comic that makes fun of our success as atheists, saying that we’ve gone mainstream. Read it, I got a chuckle…but one of the panels listing factors in our loss of indie cred says, “We have our own Jonas Brothers.” Now I’m stuck. I can’t figure out who our equivalent would be.

In case you don’t know, the Jonas Brothers are a band that plays a kind of Christian pop — they’re on the Disney Channel and appeal to prepubescent girls like David Cassidy did to my generation, only they are even more wholesome and extremely overt in their religiosity.

I’m pondering this, and can’t even imagine a proudly atheist band that plays bubblegum for kiddies, or has a show that sucks in adolescent eyeballs quite like the Jonas Brothers do. Maybe the cartoon is wrong. Maybe we aren’t quite that mainstream yet. Or maybe I’m just so out of it I’ve missed the latest godless sensation.

ICR loves them some scientists!

What do Louis Pasteur, Robert Boyle, Charles Bell, William Kirby, James Clerk Maxwell, and George Washington Carver all have in common? They all have facebook fan pages…created by the Institute for Creation Research!

Carver is representative: here’s the kind of thing the ICR writes about each one, and is the actual reason they’ve created these fan pages.

George Washington Carver was one of the great scientists who honored God as the Creator. Carver revolutionized agricultural science, and his studies of nature convinced him of the existence and benevolence of the Creator.

They don’t give a damn about the science — all that matters is that they were creationists. It seems a rather dishonorable reason to honor people known for their scientific works. It’s also absurd, in that all but Carver lived and worked before Darwin … heck, I would have been a creationist if I’d been a 18th century scientist, too.

Looking at the list, though, there’s a significant omission. Where’s Louis Agassiz? You’d be hard pressed to find a more vehement opponent of Charles Darwin who was also a contemporary and a renowned scientist…you’d think they’d rush to embrace him. He was also such a friend to the southern conservatives who wanted a scientific argument to support slavery…

(via Jokermage)

Say, Ireland, you might want to pay more attention to this blasphemy law

It looks like trouble, and some ministers are defending the proposed blasphemy law — you people aren’t going to let this violation of civil rights pass, are you?

We have some more details on the law, too: it authorizes fines up to €100,000, and gives the police the right to seize blasphemous materials from your home. If you’re reading Pharyngula right now on your home computer, you may have broken that law, and they can come take your computer away…and then they’ll notice all those books by Hitchens and Harris and Dawkins and so forth on your bookshelves, and next thing you know, you’re locked up in the Catholic Prison, stamping out communion wafers for 20 years.

And then there are the other implications. The Scientologists must be rubbing their hands with glee: their outrage will be sufficient to arrest people who protest their cult. If you draw a doodle that looks vaguely like Mohammed, and some nearby Moslem is outraged, you are guilty, guilty, guilty.

I know that Turkey is one of those countries I’d be wise to avoid unless I want to risk arrest…do you really want Ireland to share that distinction, too?