bookmark_borderChristian deception about The Art of Deception

I recently read a review of Robert Morey’s 21-year-old book The New Atheism at Bill Muehlenberg’s CultureWatch blog, which describes Nicholas Capaldi’s The Art of Deception as “a famous atheist debating guide, in which every trick in the book is offered to fellow atheists as they attack theists.”

There are just a few problems with this statement–Capaldi is a Catholic, not an atheist; the book is an introduction to informal logic, not an atheist debating guide; and most of the few examples in the book which address theistic arguments are demonstrating deception in arguing for, rather than against, the existence of God. Morey seems to have gone so far as to fabricate quotations from Capaldi’s book as part of his argument against the honesty of atheists.

And upon reviewing Morey’s Wikipedia entry, there are yet further reasons that he seems not to be a very good personal example for the superiority of the ethics of Christians over atheists.

I’ve gone into the above in more detail at my own blog.

bookmark_borderGlobal trends towards secularization

Brink Lindsey has an interesting post at his blog about the increasing numbers of nonreligious people globally over the last five decades, and speculation about why the U.S. remains so religious. He suggests that it’s not the separation of church and state (with Australia and New Zealand as counter-examples to the U.S.), but ethnic heterogeneity and geographic mobility–that church membership acts to ease the transition of a move to a new geographic region.

The post that inspired Lindsey’s commentary, by Razib at Gene Expression, is also well worth reading. He throws some cold water on the idea that a decline in organized religion entails an increase in a scientific, naturalistic view of the world (as opposed to, for example, a nontheistic supernaturalism).

And Razib’s commentary is itself a response to a piece at Edge: The Third Culture titled “Why the Gods are not Winning” by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman.

Enjoy reading all three…

bookmark_borderClark Adams, RIP

I received the unfortunate news this morning that Clark Adams has died, and that he took his own life.

Clark was a long-time board member of the Internet Infidels (and for many years its public relations director) and a frequent speaker and attendee at atheist, freethought, humanist, and skeptical events. He was a jovial, funny man whose talks about atheism in popular culture were always crowd-pleasers. He was not particular about what label to put on his nonbelief, and was supportive of all groups that promoted rationality and critical thinking, including the “brights”–though he did not care for what he called “religion without the god stuff.”

There have been many touching tributes to Clark posted today, and I’m sure there will be many more to come:

All are agreed that Clark was an active atheist who was a great person to be around, who knew and was known by a vast number of people in atheist, freethought, humanist, and skeptical circles, and who will be missed.

bookmark_borderPat Robertson’s continuing influence on the Bush administration

Complementing Jim Still’s post about “The Family,” Ed Brayton writes at Dispatches from the Culture Wars about how Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School, a 4th-tier law school barely half of whose graduates pass the bar exam, has managed to be the source of at least 150 appointees to the Bush administration. Perhaps the fact that Bush appointed former Regent University law school dean Kay Coles James as the director of the Office of Personnel Management has something to do with it?

Not surprisingly, these appointees seem to have been chosen for ideological loyalty rather than competence, a longstanding pattern for the Bush administration.

bookmark_borderWe live in the land of biblical idiots

That’s the headline of an opinion piece in today’s Los Angeles Times by Stephen Prothero.

Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University, is author of a new book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–And Doesn’t. Part of his book is based on a “religious literacy quiz” he has given to his undergraduate students for the last two years, the results of which show that the majority consider themselves to be religious Christians, but are profoundly ignorant of Christianity and the Bible.

He argues that there should be mandatory Bible courses in public high schools, presumably based on the curriculum from the Bible Literacy Project (which he mentions in his opinion piece), rather than the abysmally bad, biased, and unconstitutional curriculum which is actually being widely taught in U.S. public schools, from the National Council on Bible Curriculum.

I agree with Prothero’s idea in principle (though I don’t think it should be mandatory, and I think a world religions course is a better idea), but I’m not sure how well it would work in practice. Even with the Bible Literacy Project’s book as the basis for the curriculum, I think there’d likely be many teachers turning it into one like the NCBC’s–like David Paszkiewicz at Kearny High School. P.Z. Myers suggests that this problem be resolved by having a world religions course taught where each religion is only be taught by someone who is not an adherent of that religion.

There’s also the problem that those teachers who did teach objectively could find themselves involved in lawsuits from parents who don’t think anyone should teach their children that there are other worldviews–though presumably once a precedent was set that problem might fade.

(Also see Wonkette’s “Jesus-Loving Americans Totally Ignorant of Jesus, Religion.”)

bookmark_borderThe Greek gods are back

Or rather, are being worshipped again in Greece:

To the astonishment of onlookers, [Doreta] Peppa also began babbling Orphic hymns, before thrusting her arms upwards into the Attic skies and proceeding, somewhat deliriously, to warble her love for the gods of Mount Olympus. But, then, for the motley group of modern pagans coalesced around the temple’s giant Corinthian columns, this was a special moment. Not since the late fourth century AD, when the newly Christian Roman state outlawed all forms of pagan worship, had a high priestess officiated on the sacred site.

For years, Orthodox clerics believed that they had defeated Greeks wishing to embrace the customs and beliefs of the ancient past. But increasingly the church, a bastion of conservatism and traditionalism, has been confronted by the spectre of polytheists making a comeback in the land of the gods. Last year, Peppa’s group, Ellinais, succeeded in gaining legal recognition as a cultural association in a country where all non-Christian religions, bar Islam and Judaism, are prohibited. As a result of the ruling, which devotees say paves the way for the Greek gods to be worshipped openly, the organisation hopes to win government approval for a temple in Athens where pagan baptisms, marriages and funerals could be performed. Taking the battle to archaeological sites deemed to be “sacred” is also part of an increasingly vociferous campaign.

But Ellinais, whose members range from elderly academics to young professionals, is not the only sect to practise the ethnic Hellenic faith. Those who claim to “defend the genuine traditions, religion and ethos” of pre-Christians say there are at least 2,000 hard-core followers and, nationwide, more than 100,000 sympathisers. Nationalist extremists, attracted by the creed’s emphasis on Hellenic glories, are helping to boost the revival.

More at Guardian Unlimited.

bookmark_borderBelief, behavior, and bumper sticker religion

I’ve occasionally remarked that I don’t care so much what people believe as I do how they act. The people I enjoy spending time with are not always those who share my beliefs, but are those who demonstrate integrity, respect, honesty, and other virtues. These virtues are associated with not just holding beliefs in the sense of a mere tendency to agree with a statement, but a deeper belief that actually has consequences for one’s behavior. When I was a born-again Christian, I heard many sermons to the effect that many Christians were Christian in name only, paying only lip service to the doctrines while not living their lives in accordance with them. Clearly, there are a lot of such people out there.

There are a number of arguments that have been made by atheists to the effect that typical Christian behavior demonstrates that they do not really believe what they purport to believe. One such argument (a relatively weak one) is that Christians grieve at the funerals of fellow Christians.

Another is one that I’ve used myself, that applies to Christians of the sort who have bumper stickers on their cars that say “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” If these people really believed in an imminent pre-tribulation rapture, they would not just be putting stickers on their cars, they would refrain from engaging in activity that would put others at risk of not just death but condemnation to hell. Specifically, these people are purporting to believe that

(1) We are living in the End Times. Armageddon is near, and the rapture may occur at any moment.
(2) At the rapture, all believing Christians will be taken bodily up into heaven, while nonbelievers are left behind.

They also typically believe that

(3) During the seven-year tribulation that will follow the rapture, nonbelievers who convert to Christianity will achieve salvation and make it to heaven (though they will likely suffer persecution at the hands of the Antichrist and be martyred).

and

(4) Those who die without converting to Christianity will suffer eternal torment in hell.

But combine this with the following common sense belief that I think most would agree with:

(5) Driving an automobile, flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment while in a state in which one may lose control at any moment (e.g., being intoxicated, being subject to epileptic seizures or narcolepsy) recklessly endangers the lives of other human beings and is immoral.

and you get a problem for anyone who actually believes their own bumper sticker slogan yet thinks that they are not doing anything wrong by driving, that

(6) Christians do not act immorally by driving an automobile, flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment.

The items (1)-(5) cannot be held consistently with (6). At least one of them has to give in order for (6) to be the case. I suspect that most Christians don’t really believe (1), and hold that the probability of the occurrence of the rapture during the immediate future (such as within the duration of a drive or airplane flight) to be significantly lower than the probability of an accident due to the other factors listed in (5).

bookmark_borderGodless Professors

At the Overcoming Bias blog, Robin Hanson raises the question of how to interpret the fact that more of the U.S. public believes in God than university professors do, more of whom in turn believe in God than their counterparts at elite universities. He offers the following as possibly relevant considerations:

  1. Information – Elite academics have better information and analysis.
  2. Social pressure – Random variations in local social pressure are a generic explanation for all behavior differences.
  3. Calm – Tyler says the academic neutral tone fits badly with charisma.
  4. Unfeeling – Academics prefer explicit reasoning, and neglect our feelings, which some call our best evidence for God.
  5. Safety – Anders suggests the safe cushy academic world doesn’t inspire fear, which inspires hope in God.
  6. Contrarian – Academics distinguish themselves from others via differing beliefs.
  7. Jealousy – God would be a threat to academics intellectual authority.
  8. Mystery – God is too hard to understand for academics to make progress using him as an explanation for things.

Hanson suggests that factors 6, 7, and 8 favor the existence of God, factor 1 favors the nonexistence of God, factor 4 is hard to interpret, and the rest seem neutral.

The post generated many comments, some of which are interesting and insightful.

bookmark_borderEmbezzlement in the Catholic Church

As if covering up molestation by its priests were not bad enough, Trent Stamp of Charity Navigator points out that, according to researchers at Villanova University, 85% of Roman Catholic dioceses have discovered embezzlement in the last five years, and 11% report that more than $500,000 was taken.

As Stamp suggests, if this were reported by a secular charity, it would likely lose its tax-exempt status.