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No Cherry Picking!

Relevant to Kim Davis’s situation.

No cherry picking!

What religion does

Many faiths Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more stories in the news and on blogs about religious people speaking out on quite a few topics… from a religious standpoint. Whether the topic is competing religions, education, church-state separation, politics, science, or human rights, it seems that religious folks, be they Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, or some offshoot, seem to feel that they have sole access to universal truths and anyone who disagrees with them is immoral, unpatriotic, or just plain evil.

Some Christians in the United States are frequently lamenting how they are persecuted… how their religious rights are being curtailed… how their freedom to worship is being stripped away… how their religion is prohibited in any public setting. Many Muslims seem to spew outrage over words and pictures they feel disrespect their beliefs… over opposition to their teachings… over perceived persecution or unfair treatment.

Yet, at the same time, these religious people will attempt to push their beliefs into public policy, into education, into government… all the while seemingly completely unaware of their own hypocrisy; not seeing how their adamant proclamations of superiority are exactly the same as the adamant proclamations of competing religious claims.

Why is that? How is it that some religious people seem completely closed off to the very notion that there are competing ideologies? How is it that some religious people will dismiss conflicting ideological claims without even the passing wonder if their own claims could just as easily be dismissed? How is it that one argument can be discarded as absurd when referring to one religion but that same argument can be held in high regard when referring to another? Why does religion seem to generate so much unrest… so much controversy… so much intolerance?

I’ve created a partial list of ideas with my interpretation of each one. It is by no means complete, nor is it absolute. Based on what I’ve seen, heard, read, and experienced, this is simply my understanding about some of the consequences of religious teachings and religious beliefs. Feel free to correct, debate, or add to any and all of my points.

Religion teaches to be satisfied with not understanding.

This is one of the most pervasive problems with religions, in my opinion, and it’s always been a problem. If there is a phenomenon that isn’t understood… for which science has no current answer… the religious answer is “God did it.” Case closed. From the origin of the universe to the intricacies of biological development, “God did it” is a common refrain heard from religious proponents.

It’s not a real answer. It’s the religious way of saying, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” By attributing the cause to an invisible, all-powerful, undetectable entity, religion absolves its adherents from any investigative work… from any intellectual responsibility… from any curiosity.

Religion teaches to not question authority.

Pope Benedict Probably every deistic religion teaches its adherents to not question authority, whether that authority be a minister, the bible, the Pope, or God. The bible is true. The Qur’an is true. The Book of Mormon is true. L. Ron Hubbard’s missives about Xenu are true (for the right price, anyway). All these religions make absolute claims on the truth. If these claims are questioned, the questioner is branded a heretic… a non-believer… an enemy of God. Obviously, some religions are more strict about this than others, but the truth claims are still the same.

Question God’s motives when hundreds die in an earthquake and the likely answer is something about how He works in mysterious ways… that He has a plan… that all suffering is for a reason. In other words, it’s God’s will. Don’t question it. The Catholic concept of Papal Infallibility is a perfect example of discouraging the questioning of authority. Both Christian and Muslim religions claim that their holy books are the Word of God. In the case of the Qur’an, the claim is that the words (in their original Arabic) are the exact transcription of Allah’s words to Muhammad. If ever there was a demand to not question authority, that’s it.

The problem is that questioning authority is, in my opinion, necessary for a healthy, honest society… especially when the authority figure is making claims of a questionable nature. That doesn’t mean that every time an authority figures makes a statement, he should be challenged. Questioning the skydiving instructor when he says to pull the cord to open the chute probably isn’t prudent. Questioning the priest who says that 10% of your income has to go to the church because God needs your money… that’s a different matter.

Religion teaches a twisted concept of evidence and logic.

When questioned about the existence of God, a common religious response is something like, “God is all around you” or “God is self-evident.” If pressed further on the issue, the responses become more like, “Just look how beautiful the trees are. That can only be God’s work.”

Another response about claims of Jesus’ divinity is the “Lord, Liar or Lunatic” argument (“Lewis’s Trilemma” originally popularized by C. S. Lewis). Logically, it’s flawed, yet I’ve heard it used multiple times in religious discussions that I’ve had in the past year… with complete sincerity.

These are just two examples of how religion twists the ideas of logic and evidence. “Trees are beautiful” is not evidence. Lewis’s Trilemma is not logical. Most of the apologetic arguments for the existence of God have huge gaps in logic (ontological, cosmological, etc). The fact remains that no actual evidence exists to support the existence of God, yet defenders of religious faith will present heaps of what they claim is evidence… because they don’t seem to understand what evidence really is.

The fallback argument is, of course, that it’s just a matter of having faith… which is no evidence at all.

Religion promotes narcissism and self-righteous superiority.

Narcissism and Politics Narcissism and a self-righteous feeling of superiority are byproducts of any religion that claims to be the only true religion. Teaching adherents that they are special because they alone hold the truth and they alone will be saved by an all-powerful god and that they alone are holy in the eyes of that god is a surefire way to create a feeling of supremacy. Teaching that humans are a special creation of an omnipotent creator who watches over them with love and mercy is a surefire way to generate strong feelings of narcissism… especially if the creator is the “right” creator.

These feelings frequently manifest themselves in politics, where religious politicians cry about being persecuted, all the while attempting to gain special privilege for their own religion of choice despite the unconstitutionality of their end goal. Another good example is Christians claiming that the United States is a “Christian nation” because they feel that their beliefs are somehow special… true as opposed to those other religions… solely worthy of influencing government policies (again, despite the Constitution)… even necessary for the United States to succeed. It’s completely false, but they cling to it because “they’re special.”

The narcissism and feeling of superiority create, maintain, and worsen divisions among people of differing beliefs. “I’m better than you” doesn’t make for strong relationships.

Religion advocates intolerance.

Intolerance Hand in hand with the previous point is the point that religion advocates intolerance… partly because of the previous point, but also because some religious tenants explicitly promote intolerance. Islam makes the news on a regular basis for this, but Christianity is no slouch, either. From homosexuality to sexism to disbelief, religions have forbidden people for breaking the (ever changing) rules and have condemned, damned, and killed people for doing so. And even though we don’t live in medieval times, most religions still do at least some of those things.

The nature of the major holy books is that they can be read, interpreted, and cherry-picked to back up almost any position imaginable… not just love and kindness, but also slavery, racism, pedophilia, bigotry, discrimination, murder, genocide, and a host of other positions that, without the holy books, would be not only morally reprehensible, but virtually unthinkable (they’re still morally reprehensible, but sadly, all too thinkable). If a religion’s tenants say that unbelievers should be killed or that people who don’t follow the rules will be tortured for all eternity or that women are inferior or that homosexuals are abominations, it doesn’t leave much room for tolerance and kindness.

Those religious people who are tolerant and loving cannot espouse all the teachings of their religion. They must, in order to maintain their faith, cherry pick certain parts of the bible and follow certain parts of the church’s teachings while rationalizing away other parts or ignoring them altogether. Taking religious teachings as a whole would put them in an untenable position.

Religion promotes immorality.

Prayer and forgiveness I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating… often. Religion, particularly versions of Christianity, certainly do not promote moral behavior. Sure, Christianity offers the whole “carrot and burning-in-hell-for-eternity stick” scenario for encouraging good behavior (which is morally questionable on its own), but based on Christian principles, you can ignore the carrot for as long as you like and simply ask for forgiveness later… with no consequences. That’s about as far as you can get from encouraging moral behavior… to the point of implicitly condoning immoral behavior.

“Go ahead and do your worst,” Christianity says. “Just ask for forgiveness and place you faith in Jesus later and all will be well.”

Of course, if you don’t ask for forgiveness and place your faith in Jesus, then you get the fiery pit… forever. Interestingly enough, Islam doesn’t teach eternal punishment. There’s a “Hell” if you will, but it’s not eternal. It seems that, in this particular case, Islam is a much more merciful religion than Christianity. In Islam, simply asking for forgiveness doesn’t get you out of the punishment, either, so it lacks Christianity’s flaw in that regard. Of course, that doesn’t free it from its own promotion of immorality, including debasing women and pedophilia.

Religious rules can frequently be irrelevant or immoral in their own ways as well, and if you add multiple interpretations and cherry-picking to the mix, things get even more muddied. Certainly, you can dig out some gems of wisdom and kindness from religious doctrine, but you have to work through mountains of rubbish to find them.

Religion promotes inaction.

Religion promotes inaction by encouraging prayer. It’s as simple as that. Other than possibly creating a calming effect on the person praying, prayer does nothing. “Prayer,” as the saying goes, “is the best way to do nothing and still think you’re helping”… or “The hard work of one does more than the prayers of millions”… or “Nothing fails like prayer.”

Sometimes bumper sticker wisdom says it all.

Religion impedes progress.

I can't hear you! Say what you will about the debate on whether religion and science are compatible, the main opponents to scientific research are bible-thumping members of fundamentalist religions. They will deny scientific data, no matter how overwhelming, if it conflicts with their ancient dogma or challenges their ideological loyalties. From the time of Galileo to present day arguments about evolution and global warming an stem cell research, the people on the front lines of denialism are almost exclusively hyper religious.

Evolution versus creationism is probably one of the most publicized debates in this regard. The creationists want their mythology taught in science classes even though it isn’t science by any stretch of the imagination. They’ve tried to couch it in scientific language, calling it “Intelligent Design,” but it’s no more scientific with it’s fancy name. They reject factual data about the age of the universe, the age of the Earth, the age of fossils, the process of evolution, the effects of natural selection, and the unequivocal lineage of humans from ape-like ancestors.

Some of that can be credited toward a belief in a 6,000 year old Earth, but much can be credited to the narcissism addressed earlier. How can a religious believer admit that humans are just the most recent product of the evolutionary process and not a special creation of a loving, caring, all-knowing god? If the holy books are supposed to be true, contradictory facts must be eliminated… either by ignoring them or attempting to discredit them.

Religion is a self-perpetuating hindrance to honest, ethical, and yes, moral living. Despite a religious influence, many people still maintain just such a life… by compartmentalizing their beliefs, cherry-picking which doctrines to follow (“cafeteria Christians”), or simply ignoring doctrines altogether in favor of simply calling themselves “spiritual.” Those who lead a good and moral life do so not because of religious teachings, but because of an innate sense of morality combined with societal norms defining appropriate behavior.

Religion clouds the issue of morality… and many other issues. The disadvantages far outweigh the benefits. The promotion of perpetual ignorance is reason enough for religion to be abandoned. Sadly, that probably won’t happen in my lifetime. Religion doesn’t need the truth. It needs followers.

As Nietzsche said, “Faith [is] not wanting to know what is true.”

Sometimes bumper sticker wisdom says it all.

The How and Why of Denialism

From evolution to vaccinations to global warming, something I encounter on a regular basis while researching articles for this blog is denialism, rejecting the scientific evidence in favor of an alternative… an alternative which could be anything from pure woo to scientific-sounding arguments: “Just have faith” to “irreducible complexity.” Denialism is something that invariably causes a collective sigh an eye roll from the skeptic community because logical and fact-based responses seem to have no effect on denialists.

An article from the European Journal of Public Health defines denialism as “the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists.” The article goes on to identify five common characteristics of denialism. I’ve seen all of these “in the wild,” but items one through three are the ones I see most often.

These five characteristics were summarized by Debora MacKenzie in a New Scientist opinion piece titled Living in denial: Why sensible people reject the truth and are as follows:

  1. Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.
  2. Use fake experts to support your story. “Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility,” says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.
  3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.
  4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.
  5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.

MacKenzie also adds a sixth characteristic.

Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.

In the New Scientist piece, MacKenzie looks at the “why” of denialism.

This depressing tale [about swine flu] is the latest incarnation of denialism, the systematic rejection of a body of science in favour of make-believe. There’s a lot of it about, attacking evolution, global warming, tobacco research, HIV, vaccines – and now, it seems, flu. But why does it happen? What motivates people to retreat from the real world into denial?

Her approach uses a softer glove than many skeptics use, avoiding outright condemnation of deniers but instead making an attempt to understand how denialism spreads: identifying common characteristics, tactics (above), causes, motives, and possible solutions.

The most notable common characteristic that MacKenzie defines is this.

All [denialists] set themselves up as courageous underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or foist a malicious lie on ordinary people.

I can anecdotally confirm that statement, both in my personal life and in my readings.

Where MacKenzie goes after that is to a hypothesis that what really triggers denialism is a sense of loss of control… a hypothesis that seems a good fit to the major denialist issues.

It is this sense of loss of control that really matters. In such situations, many people prefer to reject expert evidence in favour of alternative explanations that promise to hand control back to them, even if those explanations are not supported by evidence

All denialisms appear to be attempts like this to regain a sense of agency over uncaring nature: blaming autism on vaccines rather than an unknown natural cause, insisting that humans were made by divine plan, rejecting the idea that actions we thought were okay, such as smoking and burning coal, have turned out to be dangerous.

She goes on to explain that this position is not necessarily malicious or anti-science. They simply require a human reaction.

It only requires people to think the way most people do: in terms of anecdote, emotion and cognitive short cuts. Denialist explanations may be couched in sciency language, but they rest on anecdotal evidence and the emotional appeal of regaining control.

The origins of denialist claims are another matter, and MacKenzie talks about how many of the more prominent claims (tobacco, global warming) got their start with corporate backing, how deniers tend to attract other deniers, and how claims become politically and religiously charged.

The European Journal of Public Health article isn’t as philosophical in its analysis of denialist motivations, but hits home nonetheless.

Denialists are driven by a range of motivations. For some it is greed, lured by the corporate largesse of the oil and tobacco industries. For others it is ideology or faith, causing them to reject anything incompatible with their fundamental beliefs. Finally there is eccentricity and idiosyncrasy, sometimes encouraged by the celebrity status conferred on the maverick by the media.

Whatever the motivations (personal, political, financial, etc), the one thing that remains true among denialist claims is their distortion (or complete rejection) of the truth. For many issues, such as vaccinations and global warming, denialism has caused and will cause lives to be lost. For others, such as the rejection of evolution, their positions simply contribute to the “dumbing down” of America.

The frustration of dealing with most deniers is the almost impenetrable armor of ignorance they wear which deflects attempts at presenting actual evidence, be it factual or logical. They counter by trotting out any of the tactics listed at the beginning of this article, selecting the one that best fits the topic at hand. Cherry pick this evidence. Trot out this fake expert. Rage about this conspiracy theory.

When all else fails, bring up Hitler.

(h/t)

More Christian Nation Controversy

This topic of the United States as a “Christian Nation” is abused so often by the religious right that it’s gotten beyond tedious, but Sarah Palin managed to stir it up again with her ignorant ramblings at the Women of Joy conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

According to an ABC News story, Palin thinks it’s “mind boggling” to suggest that the United States is not a Christian nation.

From the article:

“God truly has shed his grace on thee — on this country,” Palin told the Women of Joy conference. “He’s blessed us, and we better not blow it.”

[…]

“And then, hearing any leader declare that America isn’t a Christian nation and poking an ally like Israel in the eye, it’s mind-boggling to see some of our nation’s actions recently, but politics truly is a topic for another day.”

[…]

“Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, our founding fathers, they were believers,” said Palin. “And George Washington, he saw faith in God as basic to life.”

Needless to say, her comments ruffled a few feathers and sparked a lot of commentary… mostly because she’s factually incorrect on multiple points, something that isn’t surprising based on her track record.

First, Obama didn’t say we are not a Christian nation, as is often mis-quoted. What he said was…

Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

(src)

Note the prepared remarks stated “we are no longer just a Christian nation” but he stumbled over it a bit during his speech. The key word, which tends to be omitted by the religious right when going off on a rant about how persecuted they are, is “just.” Factually speaking, we are not just a nation of Christians. There are many other religions practiced in our country and, as Obama stated, people who practice no religion (even if they’re not explicitly atheists).

So if the definition of “Christian Nation” is a nation populated by those of the Christian faith, then yes, we are a Christian nation. However, that same definition means that we are a Jewish nation… a Buddhist nation… a Hindu nation… a Scientologist nation… an Islamic nation… a Wiccan nation… and the list could go on and on and on.

However, I doubt the religious right goes with that definition. Their definition is probably more likely that we are a nation founded and based on Judeo-Christian principles, blessed and ordained by the Judeo-Christian god, and protected by Divine Providence. Of course, that’s nonsense and has no factual basis whatsoever.

Those who promote the idea that we’re a Christian nation frequently note the reference to “Nature’s God” and “their Creator” in the Declaration of Independence as bits of evidence in their favor. They also harp on the religious beliefs of our founding fathers. It’s true that many of the founding fathers were religious men. That argument is largely irrelevant, but if taken seriously, gives them no real support. Not all the founding fathers were religious men. Some had no affiliation and some were deists. Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence was a deist… so presumably, when he refers to “Nature’s God” or “their Creator,” he is referring to a god who created the universe and then walked away, never to be heard from again. He certainly was not referring to the Christian notion of a God who listens to and answers prayers or is otherwise involved in the daily workings of the world.

That aside, the Declaration of Independence is not a governing document. The Constitution is our governing document… and the only mention of anything godly in our Constitution is “In the Year of our Lord” when referring to the date… hardly an indication of Christian divine providence. There is nothing… nothing… in the Constitution that mentions God, Jesus, or anything else in the Christian faith. It is a decidedly secular document, regardless of the personal beliefs of the founding fathers.

Actually, the fact that many of the founders were religious men, yet chose to omit any kind of religious references in the Constitution, is a huge indication that they specifically did not want the country to be a “Christian nation.” So quoting a founder’s view on religious faith is mostly irrelevant because the document is what governs our country… not the personal views of select founders.

It’s disingenuous for Palin (and the religious right) to claim that this is a nation based on the Christian faith… disingenuous and dishonest. Based on the actual facts, it’s blatantly untrue. There isn’t really a valid debate to be had.

The religious right, however, is a group that considers faith without evidence to be a virtue, so I’m sure the issue, much to the dismay of those who know better, will continue to come up.

No doubt Sarah Palin will make sure of that.

Two wrongs make a right?

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of excuse-making in the form of, “Well they did it, too!”

I’ve seen this in relation to the sexual abuses by the Catholic Church (and yes… at this point, it’s not just priests, it’s the church), racism and bigotry by tea party protestors, and political activity (or non-activity, as the case may be). In most cases, the people making the statement are trying to justify the actions, as if calling out an opponent’s indiscretions somehow makes the indiscretions of the defended group acceptable.

  • Defenders of the Catholic Church have said, “We’re not the only people who have abused children.”
  • Tea Party supporters have said, “There was racism, bigotry, and hatred during the Bush administration, too.”
  • Political pundits (on both sides of the aisle) have said, “They (the other party) have done this, too, so it’s perfectly appropriate for us to use it.”

In every case, it’s a petty response made in an attempt to vindicate the accused. It’s also rationally and ethically indefensible. How can you defend child rape by saying, “He did it, too?” How can you defend overt racism, bigotry, and hatred by saying, “He did it, too?” How can you defend obstructionist, ethically dubious, divisive behavior by saying, “He did it, too?”

Raping a child is not suddenly acceptable behavior if you point out it’s been done by someone else. The Catholic Church has attempted to do just that. Shuffling pedophile priests to alternate locations for decades in order to avoid criminal charges or damage to the reputation of the Church is not morally defensible. It’s vile. It’s reprehensible. It’s immoral. It’s despicable. It’s illegal.

Spewing lies, hate speech, racial epithets, bigotry, and intolerance is not acceptable behavior, no matter who does it. The Tea Party is obviously in the spotlight at the moment for this type of behavior, but it’s not unique to them. However, attempting to justify the behavior by pointing out that people behaved that way during the Bush administration does nothing to validate it. It simply makes the defenders look petty and vile themselves. Why would you even attempt to justify racism, bigotry, and hatred? Why would you not just condemn it outright… without qualifications… without caveats… without justifications?

Using questionable political tactics to obstruct progress as opposed to collaborating to create a nationally beneficial policy is not ethically defensible, either. Both parties have done it, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. When the only goal your political team supports isn’t to help the country, but is to thwart the other team, it’s time to look for another career.

Ethical and moral misbehavior should be called out and condemned regardless of whose actions are being called into question.

The defense of that behavior is, itself, ethically atrocious.

The Pope Is Drowning In God’s Tears

Warning! The Bible contains descriptions of violence, obscenity, and filth. KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN

For weeks now, the Pope has continued his long established policy of ignoring the allegations of rape being perpetrated on children by his cadre of priests. This is not only astounding for the obvious moral hypocrisy but also because the church has been through this before. The Catholic church dealt with all of these allegations years ago in the United States. Their policy of avoidance and subterfuge didn’t work then. What made them think it would work for this round of child rape charges that are originating from Europe?

Didn’t God give Moses a list of suggestions that we should try to live by? Hmmm… I think one had to do with baring false witness or something, you know, lying. You may be asking yourself, “why doesn’t the church just accept responsibility and apologize?”

Simple. Money.

It is sadly ironic that a church that bases its foundations on the teachings of Jesus Christ should be making rudimentary moral decisions based on economics. Remember, Jesus was alleged to be a man of the people who held the meek and impoverished in his favor. The meekest of Jesus’ flock, of course, being the children! The Pope has chosen to ignore and deny any opportunity for justice or protection from the very ones that Jesus loved the most. Remember, Pope Ratzinger knew for years that children were being raped and, instead of helping to bring the guilty under his charge to justice, he just moved them to a fresh and unsuspecting hunting ground. How many children could have been psychologically saved if Ratzinger had followed his “savior’s” example. In stark contrast, Ratzinger chose to be his brother’s keeper . And by brother’s keeper, I mean keeping his brothers out of prison.

All of this because he knew, and rightfully so, that lawsuits would start cropping up all over the place. In the end it comes down to money.

The Catholic church, with its ornately robed, gold jewel be-speckled leaders, and it’s opulent architecture should have learned one lesson long ago from Jesus. The love of money is the root of all evil.

Satire is a beautiful thing

Amazingly enough, there are still people who claim to understand the science behind global warming, yet make the mistake of thinking localized cold temperatures, such as the recent snowstorms in the Eastern United States, are somehow a refutation of global warming. It’s almost as if they don’t understand the meaning of the key word “global.”

Jon Stewart captures it (and mocks it) perfectly in this Daily Show clip.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Unusually Large Snowstorm
www.thedailyshow.com

That bit makes fun of the “local versus global” aspect of global warming denialism and it is amusing, but at its heart is a serious issue… the denialist combination of ignorance and arrogance fueled by political and/or religious ideology. It’s a combination that inspires deniers to manufacture evidence, take evidence out of context, twist and distort evidence, and cherry pick evidence in their attempts to bolster their cause.

What makes it worse is that the denialist propaganda seems to be having its intended effect. Despite overwhelming evidence showing that our planet is warming faster than what natural cycles would indicate and that the warming is strongly affected by human activity, fewer and fewer people accept the science. What makes the denialist position so successful? Is it because their “evidence” is valid? …because their position is somehow warranted? Or is it, perhaps, that climate science is complicated… and therefore boring to a lot of people? Could it be that it takes too much effort to research the basics in order to gain a modicum of understanding of the science? …that real science is hard?

Here’s a hint. It’s not because denialist “evidence” is valid (and yes, the scare quotes are warranted).

Certainly, it’s far, far easier to look out the window at an above-average snowfall and conclude that no warming is occurring… and if that nicely-boxed conclusion is spruced up by your strongly-held ideology or by a level of (perhaps understandable) apathy that makes you susceptible to the loud voices of denialism, then it’s fairly easy to consider the matter closed and ignore any further evidence to the contrary.

That’s the scary result of politics trying to invalidate science… or religion trying to invalidate science. People get bad information and then they get the idea that there’s a controversy (where none should exist), or they start to think that scientists are full of crap, or that a biologist is the same as an astrophysicist (ie… a scientist is a scientist is a scientist), or that politicians have some sort of special “in” when it comes to the truth. People start to think that the scientific process is broken, or that a single mistake invalidates years (or even decades) of research, or that a scientist in a bitchy mood indicates that scientists are corrupt, or that scientists should be automatons who never get cranky when quote-mined by some junk-science-peddling politician.

The denialists’ position against global warming science is political, pure and simple. It can be summarized by the idea that, because the fix would be a hassle (or expensive), they want nothing to do with it. On that foundation is built their structure of misinformation… with twists, distortions, and lies… that only continues to stand because they yell loudly, they yell repeatedly, and they yell authoritatively. They do it with a self-righteous arrogance, implying that anyone who disagrees is not only wrong, but unpatriotic and stupid… perhaps socialist, too. They set up towering straw men to burn to the ground with their trite arguments, paying no mind to whether the argument is scientifically valid.

Despite all the denialists’ blustering, the thing they lack is truth. Perhaps truth isn’t important to them as long as they get their way, but truth is the intended destination of science.

The scientific process is self-correcting. Mistakes are sometimes made, but through the process, those mistakes are found and corrected. Science moves on, leaving behind an understanding of our world that is just a little bit better than before. That’s what science does. It moves. It progresses. It refuses to settle. It refuses to stop.

…and all the denialist blustering in the world won’t keep it from moving ahead.

Those stupid scientists!

Calamities of Nature - Hot Debate From Calamities of Nature comes this comic (the image here is just the first panel). I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I’ve heard a similar argument made by Sam Harris concerning the word “elite” in a Newsweek essay about Sarah Palin and politics last year. Not exactly the same argument, but related.

The comic brings up a valid point (though highly simplified to fit into three panels) and I’ve commented on it before… with no small amount of disdain. The point is relevant to more than the topic addressed and I’ve encountered the same seeming inconsistency-of-thought regarding evolution, the age of the Earth, cosmology, and a few other science-related topics.

It’s an attitude that science is great… unless it conflicts with your political or religious ideology… that it’s better, in that case, to trust someone who’s not too educated, not too intelligent, not too well informed, not too “elite”… rather than someone who is highly trained in the related field.

Here’s the excerpt from Sam Harris’s article (to save you the time of searching the Newsweek article for it):

Ask yourself: how has “elitism” become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn’t seem too intelligent or well educated.

It’s a huge problem in this country today.

Tea baggers praying for Senator Byrd to die

Just a quick note to highlight a post by Jesse Galef on The Friendly Atheist blog.

The Washington Post reported an interesting statement by Senator Tom Coburn (emphasis mine).

[Senator] Robert Byrd was wheeled in at 1 a.m. to break a filibuster on the manager’s amendment. Byrd’s presence was not required, especially considering that he’d clearly telegraphed his intention to vote to break the filibuster. But Republicans forced him to travel to the chamber. Indeed, shortly before he arrived, Sen. Tom Coburn headed to the floor to propose a prayer. “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight,” he said. “That’s what they ought to pray.”

Putting aside the fact that prayer does nothing, that’s just nasty and uncalled for. Coburn doesn’t specifically say that he wishes Byrd would die or become too ill to make the vote, but it’s not hard to infer it from his words. Here’s a link to the video, which also includes Senator Dick Durbin’s request for clarification of Coburn’s remarks.

However, it gets worse. On a CSPAN program, a caller asked Senator John Barrasso what went wrong. Here’s the video. The transcript of what the caller asks is below.

The transcript of the caller’s words:

CALLER: Yeah doctor. Our small tea bag group here in Waycross, we got our vigil together and took Dr. Coburn’s instructions and prayed real hard that Sen. Byrd would either die or couldn’t show up at the vote the other night.

How hard did you pray because I see one of our members was missing this morning. Did it backfire on us? One of our members died? How hard did you pray senator? Did you pray hard enough?

Assuming the caller isn’t a Poe, I find two things appalling about this call. First, obviously, that the caller and his “tea bag group” actually got together and prayed that Senator Byrd would “either die or couldn’t show up.” That’s a pretty good example of evil and immorality right there.

The second thing that is just as troubling is the response from both the CSPAN commentator and Senator Barrasso. Neither of them even acknowledges the fact that a caller just openly admitted to getting a group together and praying for the death of a United States Senator. It’s as if they felt that it was a perfectly rational thing to do, therefore not deserving of any attention.

Jesse Galef said…

Obviously I don’t believe prayer will have an effect, but it says a lot about the people praying. It’s indicative of the sad state we’re in that I can’t tell whether the caller was sarcastic or not – those could have been tears or laughter making him choke up. But I’m astounded – and disgusted – that neither Barrasso nor the moderator commented on it.

Astounded and disgusted, indeed.

Right turn, Clyde… or not.

I’ve mentioned before that I wish the Republican party would “go back to being the fiscally conservative, small government party they used to be instead of the religious, anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-environment party they are now.”

Andrew Sullivan, over at The Daily Dish,  seems to have the same idea, but in more detail. Andrew and I are not alone, either, since I’ve seen links to his post from two other blogs today, as well as a post by Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs who also put together a list of why he’s parted ways with the Right. No doubt there are plenty more who agree with these folks.

Here’s a sampling of items from both posts that I find particularly noteworthy (though I recommend going through the full posts of both blog authors).

From Andrew Sullivan:

  • I cannot support a movement that holds torture as a core value.
  • I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.
  • I cannot support a movement that would back a vice-presidential candidate manifestly unqualified and duplicitous because of identity politics and electoral cynicism.
  • I cannot support a movement that does not accept evolution as a fact.
  • I cannot support a movement that sees climate change as a hoax and offers domestic oil exploration as the core plank of an energy policy
  • I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.
  • I cannot support a movement that believes that the United States should be the sole global power, should sustain a permanent war machine to police the entire planet, and sees violence as the core tool for international relations.

From Charles Johnson (reasons why he parted ways with the Right):

  • Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)
  • Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)
  • Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)
  • Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)
  • Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)
  • Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)
  • A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)
  • Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

I think all of those issues are critical issues with the Right, but I tend to focus in on the anti-science, anti-intellectual issues like evolution and climate change… and then I just continue down the path of monumental incredulity at the crap that is touted, supported, and defended by what used to be a fiscally and bureaucratically conservative and responsible party.

I will grant that not all Republicans are this way, but the party in general (or as Andrew Sullivan puts it… “in so far as it means the dominant mode of discourse among the institutions and blogs and magazines and newspapers and journals that support the GOP”) has taken on the self-righteous air of superiority, while in practice, promoting ignorance, hatred, and the idea that the better educated you are, the smarter you are, and the more experience you have, the less qualified you are to partake in intellectually challenging endeavors.

If this country is going to improve its status (and it does need improving) or even maintain its current position in the world, the Right needs to change its ways or get out of the way, because its current pattern of blocking science and education, glorifying ignorance, and pounding its virtual fists on the podium of bigotry doesn’t cut it and it won’t cut it in the future.

As Charles Johnson said:

The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.

I won’t be going over the cliff with them.

I won’t be jumping off that cliff, either.