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Conspiracy Theories and Other Muddled Thinking

Illuminati and Conspiracy Theories Almost everyone laughs at Flat-Earthers, people who actually believe that the Earth is flat despite all evidence to the contrary. Most people also laugh at the Moon-Hoaxers, the folks who think that we never landed on the moon and that it’s all just a conspiracy with elaborately faked footage, photos, and reports. Conspiracy theorists in general provide a good laugh for most rational people, whether it’s talk of alien abductions, secret government programs with captured spaceships, crop circles, the Illuminati taking control of the world, or government mind control drugs in public water.

There’s a long history of conspiracy theory and one would think that that history would be just that… history… a thing of the past. Barring a few fringe groups, we don’t expect to see people outright denying scientifically proven facts or making accusations of secret, intricate, tangled webs of clockwork precision government cover-ups.

Yet we have just that… and not just among small "fringe" groups. Here’s a short list (in addition to the ones already mentioned).

  • 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists  – claim that the US government caused the twin towers to collapse.
  • Lizard-People Conspiracy Theorists – claim that lizard-people are running the world (seriously).
  • AIDS Conspiracy Theorists – claim that AIDS is a man-made disease cooked up in a lab.
  • Obama Birthers – deny that Obama is a US citizen (or that it hasn’t been documented).
  • Global Warming Deniers – deny that global warming is occurring or is affected by human activity.
  • Creationism Proponents – deny that evolution by natural selection explains the diversity of life on Earth.
  • Holocaust Deniers – claim the Holocaust never happened.
  • Anti-Vaxxers – claim that vaccines cause autism.
  • 2012 Alarmists – claim that, since the Mayan calendar ends in December of 2012, the world will end.

I’m sure there are many more. Some of the ideas are absurd because of historical evidence, some because of scientific evidence, and some because of their sheer implausibility (backed up by no evidence). Some are combinations.

A common thread, however, is that each of them ignores or denies actual evidence contradictory to its premise. In some cases, their proponents will fabricate evidence, making scientific or historical claims that are patently false in an attempt to bolster their case. Using outdated, no-longer-relevant data is also a common tactic, whether through ignorance or malicious intent.

What is the motivation for people to believe and perpetuate these absurd claims? Sometimes it’s politics. Sometimes it’s religion. Sometimes it’s an overactive imagination. There are plenty of other psychological reasons proposed.

sleestack01 Is this a big deal? Are conspiracy theories just good fun or are they harmful or dangerous? In some cases, like the lizard-people idea, they’re harmlessly silly and don’t gain enough traction in popular culture to cause anything other than snickering and pretend horror. In other cases, such as Holocaust deniers and 9/11 conspiracy theorists, they can cause emotional pain for those who are close to the event in question. In the worse cases, the conspiracy theories can gain enough traction to cause political turmoil, educational degradation, and even health risks. Global warming deniers, creationists, and anti-vaxxers are perfect examples of these.

Potentially dangerous effects aside, these conspiracy theories show a lack of critical thinking skills and/or a lack of understanding of science. Perhaps they demonstrate an innate distrust for any authority figure… to the point of automatically assuming that anything said by an authority figure is innately false or misleading (regardless of whether or not the figure in question has anything to gain by misleading the public). Perhaps they simply indicate a complete lack of curiosity, their proponents believing everything they hear without any skepticism at all. Politics and religion can also entrench someone firmly in a position that is rationally indefensible.

It’s the groups whose ideas have a tangible, negative effect on society that concern me the most. Folks who believe that lizard-people are controlling the Earth are relatively harmless and somewhat amusing. It’s the people who think that our activities don’t have an affect on our planet’s warming and who want to block any action we could take to limit that affect… or it’s those who feel that it’s okay to teach our children that our world was created by magic, corrupting science education, instead of teaching them the real science behind the wondrous way in which life evolved on our planet… or it’s the people who publicly mislead doting parents with bogus claims that childhood vaccines cause autism, leading those parents to forgo protecting their children which, in turn, leads to everyone else’s health being put in danger.

Those are the conspiracy theorists that I have a problem with. Those are the people who have a detrimental effect on society. Those are the people whose blindness to rationality, evidence, and critical thinking cause harm to the rest of the world. They cheapen our existence, mislead our children, endanger our health, corrupt our national discourse, and create hostile divisions where there should be none… and they will defend their absurd positions with a ferocious certainty that is completely unwarranted by evidence.

What’s the solution? In my opinion… education. Starting in grade school, children need to be taught how to think, not what to think. Critical thinking skills are… well… critical. The scientific method needs to be understood… not just science facts, but the why and how of the facts. And these skills need to be taught, not just to school children, but to adults.

As for those adults who refuse to accept evidence and continue to scream their absurdities from the rooftops, they need to be countered… loudly, frequently, and eloquently. We cannot silence them by removing their right to free speech, but we can do everything in our power to point out their muddled thinking, debunk their bogus conclusions, and reveal them for the charlatans they are. They should be embarrassed by their own silliness and we need to hold up a mirror to them, giving them a perfect view of their intellectual ugliness. They will complain, accuse, deny, quite possibly lie… and they will be loud.

We need to be louder.

God Hates Children

God told me to!

In the Indian village of Solapur, residents mark the birth of a new child by tossing the newborn from a 50 foot Muslim shrine onto a sheet below. The bizarre tradition is over 500 years old.

God has ordered some pretty despicable things to be done during his tenure over mankind. The destruction of entire cities, blights, plagues, multiple smitings, disease, pestilence, and genocidal floods. It’s an impressive resume by any mass murderer’s reckoning to be sure but there’s more! God loves to torture and kill children or gutlessly order his minions to torture and kill children.

Every night on the evening news we hear about murder, rape or any number of brutal crimes being committed.  Horrible to be sure but society does become immune. Rarely is the water cooler abuzz with talk of any but the most disgusting of these crimes, unless a child is involved. Our society finds, rightfully so, that crimes such as this involving children are of the most heinous nature. It’s a fact that more often than not, child predators are the first to be beaten or killed by their fellow inmates once incarcerated. Even criminals agree that these choice individuals are fair game for a rather rude introduction into our penal system. God help himself should he ever take up residence within the American penal system, for he would certainly be due a beating.

God has always had a special place in his heart for children. I suppose that’s why he at times singles them out for his own particular brand of cruelty and barbarism. Jesus may “love the little children” but God…not so much. Here’ s some of God’s greatest hits:

  1. In the name of God, Jewish males have the grand fortune of being subjected to ritualistic genital mutilation.
  2. Children who fall ill are medically neglected by those of the Jehovah’s Witness cult.
  3. Children are tossed off buildings in parts of India for good luck.

These are examples of a modern day misinterpretation of God’s will by man, you say? These are not actions that God would ever have endorsed, you say? Nice try. These are actually rather “meek and mild” examples of God’s depravity. We can look to God’s divinely inspired instruction manual, the bible, for some of his most horrid and genocidal greatest hits.

    Do not withhold discipline from your children; if you beat them with a rod, they will not die. If you beat them with the rod, you will save their lives from Sheol.
    (Prov. 23:13-14)
    Pardon me if I don’t begin singing, “My God is an Awesome God”. God is not only in favor of strict discipline but he fully endorses all out beatings.
    From there Elisha went up to Bethel.  While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him.  “Go up baldhead,” they shouted, “go up baldhead!”  The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord.  Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces. (2 Kings 2:23-24 NAB)
    God  only knows what he would have done had the small boys taken his name in vain. Maybe he could have resurrected them and killed them twice. …”my God is an awesome God”…(keep singing, keep singing).
    If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins.  I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted. (Leviticus 26:21-22 NLT)
    NO, not the cattle!! Yes in God’s eye the loss of children is equated with the loss of one’s livestock.
    I could continue in this same vein, citing example after example of God’s pitiless hatred for those who are weak and guiltless but I think you get the point. I haven’t even begun to touch on all of the instances where God ordered the death of children for the inequities of the parents or their parent’s parents. God’s big on generational smiting.
    A society can often be judged on how it treats its weaker members. How a civilization treats its handicapped or helpless children can tell you a lot about that civilization’s foundational morality.  Christians love to suggest that God provides society with a moral compass and that atheists are immoral. Well I don’t kill, mutilate or maim helpless children. I don’t order others to do what I don’t have the guts to do myself, while holding eternal damnation over the heads of my witless  accomplices and I don’t worship anyone who does.
    If these forementioned acts are the acts of the loving Christian God then I want nothing to do with him or his ignorant, mentally retarded followers who would support such cruelty. Make no mistake, to be a Christian means you DO support these acts. The bible is allegedly the inspired word of God and is therefore infallible. You simply CAN’T be a Christian without believing God is omniscient and  omnipotent. If you truly consider yourself to be a Christian you are a willing supporter of all of these vicious decrees.
    …”my God is an awesome God”…(keep singing, keep singing)

Dale Neumann let his daughter die

Dale and Leilani Neumann There’s been a lot written in the atheist and skeptic blogospheres lately about Dale Neumann, who killed his 11-year-old daughter Madeline by refusing to take her to the doctor, instead choosing to pray for her recovery. He’s been charged with second-degree reckless homocide (back in March of 2003) for his daughter’s death from undiagnosed diabetes. Madeline’s mother, Leilani, has already been convicted of second-degree reckless homicide and faces up to 25 years in prison, according to an MSNBC article.

On Thursday the July 30th, He was the last person to testify in his trial, stating that he felt that he couldn’t take his daughter to the doctor without disobeying God. He evidently read from the bible during his testimony, preaching to the jury about his faith and God’s ability to heal.

Dale Neumann said, “Who am I to predict death when death is an appointed time for all of us?”

From the MSNBC article

Dale Neumann told the jury he didn’t seek medical help for his child because “I can’t do that because Biblically, I cannot find that is the way people are healed.”

He added: “If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God. I am not believing what he said he would do.”

[…]

Prosecutors say he should have taken the girl to a hospital because she couldn’t walk, talk, eat or speak.

Instead, Madeline died on the floor of the family’s rural Weston home as people surrounded her and prayed.

Prosecutors say that she couldn’t walk, talk, eat, or speak and should have been taken to a doctor. Lynn Wilde, who testified in Newmann’s defense, said that she thought Madeline had the flu and that she looked a little pale and was weak. She also made noises and moved her head.

Wilde, a loyal member of Neumann’s Bible study group, testified for the defense as Neumann’s attorney tried to show the father didn’t know how ill his daughter was. Wilde said the five adults and three other children at the home prayed and took communion in an effort to heal the girl. She went home and took a nap, expecting the Neumanns to call later and say Madeline was fine and walking again.

“I believe in the power of prayer,” Wilde testified.

Madeline died about two hours later, whereupon someone called 911.

Two points come to mind. First, the instantaneous one, is that both parents should be locked up for murder. Neither should get off on an insanity plea, though, in my opinion, they are both clearly insane… also negligent, abusive, ignorant, and immoral. Their daughter would probably still be alive had they sought medical treatment when she exhibited symptoms. She would have had an even better chance had she received regular checkups prior to developing outward symptoms.

That’s the point that most of the blog entries I’ve read have emphasized and I agree.

The other point that came to mind (and some blogs have probably brought this up, too) is that, if other religious people believed what they profess to believe, they would all do the same thing that the Neumanns did. If they believe in a god who is all-powerful, loving, and benevolent, who can heal the sick and perform miracles, who created the very universe by simply willing it to be so, who listens to and answers prayers… then why would they do anything other than pray for their sick loved ones?

Lynn Wilde said, “I believe in the power of prayer.” How many other religious believers make the same statement of belief? How many profess to believe it absolutely? Yet how many of them act as if they believe it absolutely? I doubt the numbers are very large.

Most people take sick children to the doctor. Most people go to the doctor themselves when symptoms indicate something serious. Most people take pain medication when they have a headache. Most people behave in a rational way that has nothing to do with believing in an all-powerful, loving deity… despite any claims to religious belief they may profess.

So I have to conclude that, when people actually act on their professed religious beliefs… when they trust in the “power of prayer” and their benevolent, loving deity to do what’s right for their children… when they refuse to get professional medical treatment for serious health conditions, instead choosing to do nothing but pray… when they put their full trust in their almighty god to save them… people die and they get convicted of murder.

They should be convicted, but it underscores my point… that most people who claim to be devout religious believers and who claim to put their full trust in their god really aren’t and really don’t. They put their trust in other people… doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, engineers, scientists, teachers… friends.

That’s where the trust really belongs, anyway.

Creationist misinformation by The Good News website

Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe? The site The Good News – A Magazine of Understanding advertises a free book titled Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe? along with a free subscription to their magazine. On Pharyngula, PZ Myers recommended that his readers order a copy, read it, and thoroughly debunk it… because it surely will need debunking.

I placed my order and perused the website for a bit and found a gem of an article about Charles Darwin, evolution, and “collateral damage.” The article by David Treybig is titled Collateral Damage: The Darwin Bomb and it’s filled with antiquated information, misinformation, and woo. The overarching idea proposed is that the theory of evolution has had unintended consequences and continues to “relentlessly pummel society”… oh, and that the theory of evolution is unsupported by the evidence. In an attempt to create doubt about evolution, they don’t consistently call it a “theory” but also refer to it as “Darwin’s supposition” or “his hypothesis.”

The lead-in to the (rancid) meat of the article is priceless.

How the theory of evolution evolved and how it has been defended is a story filled with irony, deceit and even religious-like faith held by nonreligious people.

The claim is made that Darwin offered his “completely unproven theory that was in opposition to the Bible” because he wasn’t “well-grounded in the Scriptures.” The implication seems to be that being well-grounded in biblical scriptures will protect you from facts… shield you from evidence. Actually, in many cases, that seems to be true (as with any creationist).

One reason given for why the theory appealed to people was the following:

In holding to Darwin’s theory, some mistakenly think they are free from the rules and laws of a Creator and are free to decide for themselves what is right and wrong.

That tired argument has been heard countless times by evolutionary biologists, atheists, and anyone who doesn’t kowtow to the creationist worldview. It’s absurd. The reason that the theory of evolution is accepted is because it’s based on overwhelming scientific evidence which leaves virtually no doubt as to its credibility. The idea of “I can get away with stuff” isn’t a factor.

The introduction of Darwin’s theory opened up an all-out debate over truth. Ironically, Darwin’s supporters claimed that religion was just a humanly devised invention to help people during times of trouble. Ah yes. Humanly devised—as if the theory of evolution wasn’t . . .

The difference between humanly devised religion and humanly devised theories are that the theories are based on observable, testable, natural evidence, while the religion is based on… nothing? Faith? Imagination? It may not seem to be a big difference to creationists, but it’s a huge, huge difference for anyone with a penchant toward rationality.

At this point, the article starts to present its antiquated information to show how evolution is a weak theory which scientists no longer accept. The claim that Darwin had doubts about his theory (sorry, his “hypothesis”), had some problems explaining some things like the human eye, and acknowledged that the fossil record didn’t show what he was proposing show that Treybig isn’t interested in the evidence discovered in the past 150 years that backs up almost every point Darwin made in his theory of evolution (by natural selection). It’s no surprise that Darwin had more doubts about his theory than today’s scientists have. We have a mind-boggling amount of evidence for evolution that Darwin never did.

But Treybig goes further and enters the realm of misinformation.

Yet under the microscope of inspection, scientists and competent thinkers have jointly discovered serious flaws with Darwin’s theory. A number of the theory’s supposed proofs have been found inadequate (see “Myths of Evolution Part 2“).

The claim that scientists and “competent thinkers” have decided that evolution is flawed and the evidence is inadequate is preposterous, disingenuous, and dishonest. Following the link in the previous quote leads to an article with blatantly incorrect information. Whether the misinformation is accidental or by design, I can’t say, but to write about a topic and get the facts so monstrously wrong smells of either deceit or willful ignorance… perhaps both.

Treybig continues his shenanigans with claims that Darwinian evolution has no valid evidence and… well, here’s what he says.

With no valid evidence to prove Darwinian evolution and mounting scientific evidence against it, supporters of evolution find themselves increasingly challenged to maintain their faith. It’s an awkward position demanding unquestioning adherence.

More nonsense about the lack of evidence is stated along with the absurd proposition that there must be “unquestioning adherence” to keep the theory alive.

As if Treybig weren’t far enough off the deep end at this point, he starts to talk about intelligent design as if it were an actual science with actual evidence and an actual scientific theory.

When evolutionary theory is challenged by scientific evidence such as that offered by the intelligent design movement…

I’m not even going to continue the quote (it goes on to say that ID isn’t based on religion, but is based on scientific evidence) because it’s drivel of the worse degree. Intelligent design is creationism, pure and simple. Not only is it creationism, but it has no evidence. It claims no testable hypothesis. It offers nothing in the way of understanding how the natural world works. It contributes nothing to the world of science. It hinders science by muddling the public understanding of both evolution and the scientific method.

Treybig makes repeated references to scientific information undermining the theory of evolution, but mentions none of it. The reason, of course, is that there isn’t any. There is no “mounting evidence” that the world has “fingerprints of the Creator” or that intelligent design is any more valid than flat-Earth theory. He finishes this section of his article with the Ray Comfort’esque statement…

Ironically again, these days it seems to take more faith to believe in Darwinism than it does to believe in the Creator God of the Bible.

No. No it doesn’t. When given a choice between accepting something for which there is a huge, growing body of evidence versus accepting something for which there is no evidence… I’ll take the choice supported by evidence without having to use much faith at all… if any.

Next, Treybig starts talking about Stalin and Hitler and “materialistic worldviews” as consequences of “the Darwin bomb’s blast wave” as if the theory of evolution was responsible for the atrocities committed by these men. It’s been debunked many, many times before, and again Treybig is showing his use of both antiquated and misleading information.

He back peddles a bit, saying…

Is the killing of millions of people the outcome Charles Darwin desired in writing The Origin of Species? Of course not. But the collateral damage associated with Darwinism doesn’t end with Stalin and Hitler. It has continued its relentless march through numerous fields with perhaps none more striking than that of moral conduct.

So he’s saying that it’s not the theory directly, but it’s collateral damage of the theory… the theory of evolution by natural selection didn’t cause Stalin and Hitler to commit atrocities, but they committed them because of the theory of evolution by natural selection. I’m not sure if I understand the difference in Treybig’s assertion.

But he mentions moral conduct, which set me up to expect that he was going to say something entirely absurd, ideological, and unsupported by evidence. He delivers.

If people are simply animals, as Darwin suggested, there is nothing wrong with them mating with whomever they wish whenever they wish. Disregarding biblical instructions governing our sexual conduct has led to the destruction of numerous families and untold heartache. Chalk it up to collateral damage.

Furthermore, if people are simply animals, then it really doesn’t matter if a woman chooses to have an abortion or not. With this mind-set, millions of babies have been aborted before they ever drew their first breaths. More collateral damage.

Disregarding biblical instructions… I wonder to which instructions Treybig is referring. He doesn’t specify, but the bible is filled with “instructions” for all kinds of things and it’s fairly easy for someone familiar with the bible to come up with “instructions” supporting many different positions.

As for abortion, Treybig chooses the phrase “babies have been aborted” instead of “fetuses” or “zygotes” or “pregnancies” because it adds to the inflammatory nature of the statement, conjuring up images of gurgling, cooing infants with sparkling blue eyes wrapped up in cozy baby blankets.

Regardless of his rhetoric, to make the claim that Darwin’s theory of evolution is responsible for the destruction of families or for abortions is a paltry attempt to discredit the theory through an emotional appeal. The claim has got no basis in fact, but is (as expected on a religious website) purely and undeniably based on a fundamentalist religious mindset which gets its “evidence” from a 2,000-year-old book of woo.

The last sentence offers the free booklet I mentioned at the start of this post “for more information.”

I can’t wait to read it.

Dembski gets things wrong… as usual

I hate to link and run, but I just read this post by Ian Musgrave at the Panda’s Thumb blog and found it eminently worthwhile to pass along. It’s about what he calls “Science Envy” by the pretend scientists at the Discovery Institute, referring to an article by William Dembski who is noteworthy for spreading misinformation (and indeed, disinformation) about science-related issues… which is pretty much the modus operandi for the Discovery Institute in general.

Dembski seems to think that scientists are all-powerful and demand that society does what they say in order to avoid catastrophes… and that these scientists need a lesson in humility blah, blah, blah. Along the way, Dembski brings up all kinds of nonsense that Ian refutes with panache.

Give it a read.

Lying for Jesus in the Sunshine State

From Ron Gold at The Invisible Pink Unicorn comes this gem. Read his post for more info, but here’s the summary.

The Community Issues Council is putting up billboards across Florida similar to the one pictured below.

Community Issues Council Billboard

Where’s the lying bit come into play? Here’s a statement by Terry Kemple, the group’s local chapter president, where she refers to a billboard with the quote "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible" attributed to George Washington.

I don’t believe there’s a document in Washington’s handwriting that has those words in that specific form," Kemple said. "However, if you look at Washington’s quotes, including his farewell address, about the place of religion in the political sphere, there’s no question he could have said those exact words.

So they’re making up at least one quote about church/state separation issues and falsely attributing it to our first president. So not only are they attempting to discard the establishment clause of the second amendment, but they’re lying to do it.

…but they’re doing the Lord’s work.

Tibetan Demons and Dead Authors

Brannon Howse of the Christian Worldview Network The most recent podcast from my favorite right-wing, fundamentalist, conspiracy theorist Brannon Howse is a shining example of the effects of unrestrained ingestion of a toxic mish-mash containing equal parts religion, politics, and crazy.

The topic?

“The Spiritual Battle of Alice Bailey’s New Age Movement and its influence on America, the United Nations and its New World Order.”

Alice Bailey (1880-1949) is the author of New Age “woo” books such as A Treatise on White Magic or The Way of the Disciple, Rays and Initiations: A Treatise on the Seven Rays, The Consciousness of the Atom, and Soul and Its Mechanism. The Amazon description of Soul and Its Mechanism seems to be a good general example of her writing.

Here’s Howse’s take on her and her connection with Satan and what’s happening in the United States right now (emphasis mine).

Alice Bailey wrote twenty-four books that total thousands of pages. Bailey claimed to have written these books while under the guidance of a spirit guide she called Djwhal Klul or the Tibetan. Clearly Bailey was communicating with a demon which is strictly forbidden in God’s Word. It is quite clear that Satan and his army of demons have used the writings and worldview of Alice Bailey to grow their spiritual lies and to lay the foundation for the acceptance of a one-world government, one-world religion and one-world economy that will be led by Satan’s one-world leader the Antichrist. Are you coming to the clear and undeniable reality that what is happing in America and the world right now, is a spiritual battle and while in the coming months and years Satan will appear to have won, rest assured he will be defeated and God’s Kingdom will be triumphant and of God’s kingdom there shall be no end.

Wow.

Evidently, in Howse’s world, Satan and his “army of demons” are acting in a way that is blatantly obvious… using the writings of an author who’s been dead for sixty years to infiltrate their way into all the governments and religions of the world in order to bring about Armageddon. But Howse has no fear, despite his dire words, because God will prevail… against dead authors and demons?

In Howse’s world of demons and devils, one-world governments, one-world religions, and one-world economies, and one-world leaders, there’s a hidden conspiracy around every corner and shadowy figures lurking in all the dark recesses on Earth just waiting to activate their secret agendas, seize power, and bring about the end of the world.

Even Alice Bailey, if she were alive, would probably raise an eyebrow at that.

What kind of person?

Ummm... huh? With the 40th anniversary of the moon landing last week, the images of the Apollo landing sites taken recently by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter were of particular interest. They show all three landing sites along with some equipment left behind and disturbances by the astronauts’ boot prints. That’s very cool, and the LRO isn’t even as close to the moon as it will be once its orbit is finalized, so we’ll be seeing even better, higher-resolution shots of the landing sites.

Of course, none of these images will hold sway with any of the moon-landing-hoax conspiracy theorists. If you can’t trust NASA about the original landing, why would you trust them to show you more "evidence" of the landing, right?

I was talking about this exact thing with a co-worker this morning and we were laughing about the moon-hoax people. He said, "What kind of person really believes that the landing was a hoax?" Then, after a chuckle, he added, "The kind of people who think the Earth is flat?"

Knowing that he is a young-Earth creationist (we’ve had great discussions and he’s a delight to debate/talk with), I said, "Or the kind of people who think the Earth is only 6,000 years old?"

He replied (without a hint of sarcasm), "I don’t know about that."

*facepalm*

More Trouble for Texas Education

schooldesk Texas just hosted a long, drawn-out debate about science standards (specifically pertaining to biology and evolution) which resulted in a mixed bag of results. Some major points were made in favor of actual science while other points in favor of non-science (ie… creationism) were slipped in as minor addendums to the policy.

It seems that the shenanigans are now heading over to the subject of American history.

Outside “experts” (quoted because obviously some of them aren’t) reviewing the Social Studies curriculum in Texas evidently want to make changes in the history classes. As this article in the Wall Street Journal states:

Three reviewers, appointed by social conservatives, have recommended revamping the K-12 curriculum to emphasize the roles of the Bible, the Christian faith and the civic virtue of religion in the study of American history. Two of them want to remove or de-emphasize references to several historical figures who have become liberal icons, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall.

This is beyond absurdity. These are people who are obviously driven by a fundamentalist agenda that want to insert their religious dogma into, it seems, every aspect of public education in an attempt to force it down the throats of our children. Not only do they want to indoctrinate their own children with their baseless beliefs, but they want to indoctrinate everyone else’s children, too.

There are some voices of reason involved in the issue, fortunately.

But the emphasis on Christianity as a driving force is disputed by some historians, who focus on the economic motivation of many colonists and the fractured views of religion among the Founding Fathers. “There appears to me too much politics in some of this,” said Lybeth Hodges, a professor of history at Texas Woman’s University and another of the curriculum reviewers.

However, if the science debates were any indication, some on the Texas Board of Education (think McLeroy, who thankfully is no longer the board chair) think that there needs to be someone who stands up to these real experts. It seems they think we can’t have experts making determinations about issues relating to their fields. That would evidently be crazytown.

In that one little WSJ article, there is so much infuriating ignorance. Here’s a small sampling.

  • The conservative reviewers say they believe that children must learn that America’s founding principles are biblical. For instance, they say the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution stems from a scriptural understanding of man’s fall and inherent sinfulness, or “radical depravity,” which means he can be governed only by an intricate system of checks and balances.
  • “The foundational principles of our country are very biblical…. That needs to come out in the textbooks.”
  • “We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it,” said Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister and one of the reviewers appointed by the conservative camp.
  • Reviewer David Barton suggests swapping out “republican” for “democratic” in teaching materials. As he explains: “We don’t pledge allegiance to the flag and the democracy for which it stands.”

Evidently, David Barton is ignorant, not just of American history, but of the different between “democratic” when used to refer to a form of government and “Democratic” when used to refer to a political party.

This nonsense has to stop. Texas, because of its size, has a huge influence on the textbook market, and the crass, ignorant, fundamentalist proselytizing by these right-wing school board members and their advisors is hurting not just children in Texas, but children across the country. I wrote recently about how education is the key to overcoming theistic intrusion into our government, schools, and private lives… but I specified that it needs to be real education, not this kind of god-soaked, ideological make-believe that some of the Texas BOE are proposing.

Texans should be up in arms over this.

(thanks to Hemant at The Friendly Atheist)

Religion, Criticism, and Education… Oh my!

Science education Atheists tend to deliver a lot of criticism of theology, be it Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or some other flavor. We find fault with the resurrection of Jesus, the winged horse of Muhammad, Moses and the Ten Commandments, the Holy Trinity, and a myriad of other theistic claims made by these religions. We debunk their holy books, criticize their faith-based messages, argue against their primitive views of morality, and generally demand evidence for their extraordinary claims.

All of these issues, however, rest on one basic foundational principle of theistic beliefs… that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god exists and has always existed without a creator of its own.

Many atheists spend time refuting the existence of a god while at the same time acknowledging that it’s not possible to prove the nonexistence of said entity. The refutations generally come in two main forms: pointing out the complete lack of any credible evidence and dismantling apologetic arguments (such as the cosmological argument). Many of the apologetic arguments consist of so much circus-like, semantic, hoop-jumping that they really should be dismissed out of hand for their absurdity, but we still go through the mental exercise of pointing out the fallacies or refuting the (attempted) logic or issuing counterpoints to invalidate the conclusions.

If the existence of a god cannot be proven (or even demonstrated), then why do we need to continually debunk the other theistic claims of specific religions? Why do we have to repeatedly explain how the biblical flood didn’t happen? Why do we need to point out flaws in the bible? Why do we need to show how the Qur’an is riddled with statements demanding violence? Why do we need to present evidence for evolution… again? Why do we need to do any of this since its validity all rides on the existence of a supernatural, all-powerful deity whose existence cannot be proven, demonstrated, or sometimes even coherently defined?

If there is no god, theistic religions are bunk.

Whatever the biological or psychological need is that nudges humans toward superstitious beliefs, it works fairly well. Most people believe in a god of some sort. Most people are brought up believing in a god, indoctrinated from birth to believe in, not just a deity, but in an entire system based upon stories of miracles and supernatural wonders that defy all rational understanding. It’s a system that can rarely be dismantled simply by attempting to remove the foundational block of god-belief. In most cases, the only way for it to be taken apart is from the top down, starting with the doctrinal beliefs.

The goal, for me anyway, isn’t to rid the world of religion. The goal is to keep religions from being forced upon unwilling recipients, be it via government intrusion, corruption of education, or imposition of archaic moral philosophies. I don’t care if John Q. Public believes in a deity. I care if he lets that belief affect decisions that effect me. I care if he wants to base public policies on unsupported religious doctrine instead of rational thinking. I care if he wants to impose his 1st-century view of morality on me and my family. I care if his religion dictates to me what I can and cannot do.

Most religious folks can handle this just fine. Their day to day living and decisions are based on societal norms and they don’t go around preaching to everyone they meet about how Jesus is the only way to be saved from eternal damnation. They’re generally friendly, fun, trustworthy, and enjoyable to be around. Many don’t even discuss religion except when they go to church on Sunday. It’s just not that important them in a social sense.

Sadly, the religious loud-mouths ruin it for them. From self-righteous abortion protestors to fire-and-brimstone evangelists to morally dubious right-wing politicians who attempt to push biblical policy into our political system, religious fundamentalists are a significant cause of atheists’ vociferous criticisms. And since asking them nicely to keep their religious ideology out of the political system tends not to work, the only way to combat their insidiousness is to speak out, often and loudly, against their theology… and since saying "there is no evidence for your god" tends not to work, the only way to block their religious tentacles from insinuating themselves into our government is to debunk their dogma… debunk their holy books… debunk their claims of biblical truth… debunk their muddled, 2000-year-old ideas of morality.

That’s what we have to do now to maintain our religious freedoms, but how do we keep the situation from continuing ad nauseum? How do we make sure that our children, and our children’s children, don’t fall prey to the same ideological black hole into which we are threatened to be pulled?

Polls show there is an inverse correlation between education levels and religious belief. It would seem that the best approach to stemming the tide of religious fundamentalism and its attempts to creep further and further into our governments, our schools, and our private lives is better education. Real education… education that includes not just memorization of numbers and historical facts, but tools for critical thinking and problem solving.

We need to teach our children to have a sense of wonder and curiosity about the universe instead of settling for the unenlightening answer of "God did it." We need to show them how science is the best way we have for understanding how things work and how language and communication skills are key to spreading knowledge. We need to help them learn the tried and true methods for evaluating evidence and reaching conclusions. We need to teach them that it’s okay if the facts leads somewhere new. We need them to understand that claims of truth require evidence. We need them to learn… learn… learn.

Until then, we’re destined to continue in the fight against superstitious ideology that fundamentalists want to impose on us. We’ll keep debunking, keep criticizing, keep educating, and keep learning… until we have dismantled the ivory tower of theistic dogma.

…from the top down.