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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Jerry Coyne is angry - and rightly so

I'll come back to this great post by Jerry Coyne, but for now:
I’m angry that these scams (that’s what I’ll call them) have such horrible effects on the world. I’m angry that millions of Catholic kids get permanently traumatized with visions of hell, and permanently riddled with guilt about “sins” like masturbation. I’m angry that priests, under cover of their own superior wisdom and spirituality, sexually victimize their flocks. I’m angry that mullahs are calling for their followers to kill innocent people, while other more “liberal” mullahs refrain from calls for murder but don’t decry those murders when they occur. I’m angry that thousands of Africans will die because the Pope and his priests won’t sanction condoms for their flock. I’m angry that many religions see, and treat, women as second-class citizens, stoning them, swathing them in burkas, or making them sit behind screens in the synagogue and purify themselves in ritual baths during menstruation. I’m angry at the stupid dogmatism that’s behind creationism, and behind the idea that even if evolution might have happened, God did it all. I’m angry at the faithful who dispute global warming, or environmental depredation, because they think God gave us stewardship over the earth. I’m angry at those people who oppose abortion or stem-cell research because of the absolutely stupid idea that a ball of cells is equivalent to a sentient person. I’m angry at the faithful who, on religious grounds, prevent suffering and terminally ill people from deciding to end their own lives. I’m angry that one of the greatest pleasures of being human, the act of sex, is subject to insane restrictions and prohibitions by many faiths — especially when it’s between two people of the same gender.

And I’m angry that religious people try to suppress freedom of speech when it deals with religion, trying to prevent us from calling attention to all this damage.

What is the proper response to all this religiously-inspired nonsense? Anger, of course. No, you don’t have to be a red-faced, sputtering jerk when confronting the faithful, but controlled anger is without doubt the right response to a form of superstition that wreaks uncountable harms on humanity. And not “transitory” anger, either — permanent anger.

Nor need anger turn you into a sour, embittered, and ineffective person. I’ve met the Big Four atheists — Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens — and they’re all delightful people, with not a trace of bitterness. They turn on the anger only when it’s appropriate. I’d rather have a beer with any of them than with a “non-angry” accommodationist like Chris Mooney. Really, in the end it’s the accommodationists who are angry — at us! They pretend to be oh-so-nice people, but underneath are deeply angry and aggressive because we’re not listening to them.
I'm also pissed off, though not in a deep, permanent way, just in a kind of pissed off way, whenever people of reason (but not others) are held to ridiculous and literal-minded standards of propriety. I'm pissed off whenever there's a fuss over the meaning of a word like "delusion", "bogus", or "scam", with no sensitivity to what is actually being conveyed to reasonable people in the relevant context. Whether or not religions are literally "scams", whatever the literal meaning of that word actually is, they're certainly bogus. Is that better?

19 comments:

Spencer Troxell said...

"Whether or not religions are literally "scams", whatever the literal meaning of that word actually is, they're certainly bogus. Is that better?"

I think 'bullshit' is the word you're looking for (and I say that with a heart filled with love).

Dimitri said...

I must respectfully disagree. I agree with the Roman Catholic Church deal (raping folks and whatever). I also agree 100% about "..that many religions see, and treat, women as second-class citizens.." Pisses me off too. A lot. However, I disagree with "stupid dogmatism that’s behind creationism...", even though I am in total realization that this is his personal opinion, and he is entitled to whatever opinion he wants, as is everyone. However, I would like some sort of rational explanation as to why Creationism is "dogmatic and stupid". I don't adhere to true Christianity (which I agree with) and won't say I'm a Christian when I'm not (even though many will), yet I have studied the argument between Creationism and Evolutionism extensively (for over 4 years) and have taken many classes with a bias toward one or the other. In the end I have decided that there is more evidence for Creationism then Evolution. I have read many of Dawkin's and Hitchen's works and have found them to be rather illogical at times. Main thing is Dawkin's "fake numbers" or whatever he said he uses and doesn't care if they are fake as long as they get his point across. I am prepared to argue that issue (Evolution/Creationism) until whenever.

Global warming: lot of hype over not a lot, and Christians aren't the only ones who disagree. Ditto on the whole "go green" issue. It is physically, as in physics physically, impossible to get enough solar energy from the state of Kansas (if entirely covered in solar panels) to power all of Colorado, even all of Kansas for any permanent amount of time. Abortion: a crappy way of looking at life no matter what stage, be it a "cell" or a 1 hour baby or an adult. Abortionists look at life as nothing (comes from an Evolutionist standpoint). If cells make up a 5 year old, then why isn't a "ball of cells" a person as well? Even though it isn't a "ball of cells".
I would like an example of "the faithful who, on religious grounds, prevent suffering and terminally ill people from deciding to end their own lives." Sure it's their decision, but true Christians value life highly, since it is something to be valued greatly. Thus "suicide prevention" is kind of something that is important.
The sex thing, "same-gender" sex is *not* genetically passed down, it is due to circumstances and the choice of the person/their upbringing and/or indoctrination. *True* Christians don't shun and ridicule gay people, they try and help, not force, just help. Gay is their choice, and why aren't Christians allowed to give their standpoint on the issue, when gay folks are allowed and invited to voice their opinion and complain about "Biblical Marriage" and shun that. If you want to be gay, fine. Just be it and don't complain about everything non-gay and don't impose certain rules and whatever (and complain about "anti-gay decisions) on everyone else. *That* pisses me off.

Hmm. "What is the proper response to all this religiously-inspired nonsense? Anger, of course"..."And not “transitory” anger, either — permanent anger." Isn't that exactly what people blame religious people of being? Do you think that one will be listened to more if they are filled with anger, or calm reason? Just a thought. How do you know that "..they pretend to be oh-so-nice people, but underneath are deeply angry and aggressive because we’re not listening to them."? Just saying.

Kirth Gersen said...

"In the end I have decided that there is more evidence for Creationism then Evolution."

Then you've never seen the fossils, in the rocks, in situ. There's a reason that paleontologists and practicing field geologists are, along with biologists, the least likely professionals to espouse young earth creationism.

tomh said...

Dimitri wrote:
In the end I have decided that there is more evidence for Creationism then Evolution.

You must have an interesting definition of the word "evidence."

Charles Sullivan said...

What I found annoying was Pigliucci's broad generalization of atheists' motives for being angry.

It really is like what PZ says when he compares it to believers claiming that atheists really do believe in god, but that deep down they're just angry at god.

Here's Pigliucci's point that I found especially presumptuous and unfounded:

"I get it, a lot of atheists are recovering from religious indoctrination, often of the harshest fundamentalist kind, and they are therefore angry about all the time they have wasted and all the emotional suffering they have endured. I went through my own short anger phase in atheism after I moved to Tennessee (where religion was as in your face as it could possibly get, the place priding itself in being the buckle of the Bible Belt)."

Does he think that most atheists in the US were once dyed-in-the-wool evangelicals?

Most American atheists come from liberal Protestant and liberal Catholic backgrounds (liberal Jews should be included here as well).

Most of us are rebelling against these strange evangelicals, who, in truth , were not part of our upbringing, but who wish to control our culture.

Dimitri said...

It is because I have "seen the fossils, in the rocks, in situ" that I conclude what I do. Basic Evolutionary fossil theory: slow silt process layed down the sedimentary layers over millions of years. With the most basic of organisms at the bottom and the most complex (us) at the top. "The intelligent layman has long suspected circular reasoning in the use of rocks to date fossils and fossils to date rocks. The geologist has never bothered to think of a good reply, feeling that explanations are not worth the trouble as long as the work brings results. This is supposed to be hard-headed pragmatism." (O’Rourke, J.E., "Pragmatism Versus Materialism in Stratigraphy," American Journal of Science, vol. 276, 1976, p. 47).

"One might imagine that direct methods [radiometric dating] of measuring time would make obsolete all of the previous means of estimating age, but these new ‘absolute’ measurements are used more as a supplement to traditional methods [index fossils] than as a substitute. Geologists put more faith in the principles of superposition and faunal succession than they do in numbers that come out of a machine. If the laboratory results contradict the field evidence, the geologist assumes that there is something wrong with the machine date. To put it another way, ‘good’ dates are those that agree with the field data." (McKee, B., Cascadia: The Geologic Evolution of the Pacific Northwest, 1972, p. 25.)

There is plenty more evidence/science for this issue (fossils) and more.

Dimitri said...

tomh wrote: "'You must have an interesting definition of the word "evidence.'"
Evidence: large amounts of C-14 in "C-14 dead" rocks, very inaccurate dates for newly formed fossils and what-have-you (Mt. St. Helens),comets disintegrate too quickly when close to the sun (most comets have a life span of about 10,000 years, not 5 billion), not enough mud on the sea floor (if the earth is billions of years old why isn't there a corresponding amount of mud?), the earth’s magnetic field is decaying too fast (the decay rate shows evidence for a "young earth"),many strata are too tightly bent (bent without cracking, if they were 100 million years old before they bent, then they would have cracked), Biological material decays too fast (bacteria supposedly 250 million years old apparently have been revived with no DNA damage), fossil radioactivity shortens Evolutionary “ages” to a few years (“Orphan” Polonium-218 radiohalos, having no evidence of their mother elements, imply accelerated nuclear decay and very rapid formation of associated minerals, not ages and ages), etc, etc. etc. I can provide references for any of these statements, and stand by them. I, unlike most of America's public schooled 16 year olds, do not take everything at face value. Not even religion (as in "just because I grew up "as" whatever doesn't mean I follow it blindly, same with anything I believe). I have only been to one Private Christian school, and they were not in the habit of "indoctrination" of Creationism. People in the class argued both sides, and those who knew why they believed in Creationism and actually knew what they were talking about, easily won the debates. Creationism doesn't = being whatever religion (although it plays a significant part in that), it = coming to terms with facts. Real evidence.

Kirth Gersen said...

"The intelligent layman has long suspected circular reasoning in the use of rocks to date fossils and fossils to date rocks. The geologist has never bothered to think of a good reply."

Outright misrepresentation. I'm a geologist. We look at the assemblage of rocks first (place relative to other units in the stratigraphic column), second at the fossils, and then at the radiometric results (generally NOT C-14; rocks are too old. K-Ar is better). When all three match, then we say we have it nailed.

Kirth Gersen said...

"not enough mud on the sea floor (if the earth is billions of years old why isn't there a corresponding amount of mud?)"

Hint: Google "Plate Tectonics." Read about "subduction zones." A person who totally ignores basic geology shouldn't be so quick to make absolute statements about geologic principles. I don't personally feel qualified to analyze the exact meaning of the Hebrew "elohim" in Genesis, for example, because I'm not a Hebrew scholar, and know nothing about ancient Hebrew.

Kirth Gersen said...

Dimitri, you're obviously a bright kid, and I can see how you could be suckered -- I read a lot of the same Creationist sites you do. The thing is, I'm also a practicing field geologist, and what we do isn't the same as what they're telling you that we do. I'd strongly recommend a college-level geology course. Ask the prof about radiometric dating -- at a good university, they'll have a lab that does the procedures, and you'll be able to see for yourself. A good paleontology course with field trips would allow you to see how the fossil assemblage actually fits in as well. Reading YEC propaganda is no substitute for doing the real thing.

Rorschach said...

"if the earth is billions of years old why isn't there a corresponding amount of mud?"

Define "corresponding". Then specify exactly what amount of mud would be satisfactory for you. Then shut up, grab a broom, and do something useful and help clean up some mud in Queensland, since you seem to like the stuff.
As an aside, please explain

"I have studied the argument between Creationism and Evolutionism extensively (for over 4 years) and have taken many classes with a bias toward one or the other. In the end I have decided that there is more evidence for Creationism then Evolution."

...this. Which texts did you study, what scientific evidence did you produce, where was it published, to "decide" that there is more evidence for creationism ?

As to the "scam" billboard, I just thought the term was imprecise, open to interpretation, and the whole thing just looked completely amateurish.

Russell Blackford said...

Even Jerry didn't like the billboard. I'm not a great fan of it either, but nor am I outraged by it.

Dimitri said...

Ok, first the books I've read (or at least major ones, that I still have):

Dawkins, R. 1986. The Blind Watchmaker. Norton & Company, New York

Hoyle, F. 1999. Mathematics of Evolution. Acorn Enterprises, LLC, Memphis, TN.

Kimura, M. 1983. Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution. Cambridge Univ. Press, NY, NY. (lots by him)

R.F. Flint. 1957 Glacial and Pleistocene Geology. Wiley, New York.

Gignoux, M. 1955. Stratigraphic Geology. W.H. Freeman & Co. San Francisco

Krumbein and Sloss. 1951. Stratigraphy and Sedimentation. W.H. Freeman & CO. San Fransisco

Darwin, C. 1968. On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Penguin Books, London. (I highly recommend this publisher)

I have of course read/bought many texts that come from a creationist standpoint. Many from whom I bought a earlier text that came from a strong Evolution standpoint, and then a few years later from a Creationist point and from then on. As I collect "old books" I find it interesting to note the differences in the theories stated by 1800's scientists and today's modern scientists. On general ideas. If you need more texts (voicing either view), I am happy to give more that I have read. I don't quite know what "what scientific evidence did you produce" is supposed to mean. I didn't do too many actual experiments myself (although I did do some, and lots of mathematical junk), if that's what you mean.

Dimitri said...

K-Ar, I'll get back on that later. I have to do some research, but I have got..:

T. B. Karpinskaya, I. A. Ostrovskiy and L. L. Shanin, “Synthetic Introduction of
Argon into Mica at High Pressures and Temperatures,” Isu Akad Nauk S.S.S.R.
Geology Series, 8 (1961): pp. 87–89.

T. B. Karpinskaya, “Synthesis of Argon Muscovite,” International Geology Review,9 (1967): pp. 1493–1495.

..to read (on those pages). My Prof. suggested reading..:

D. B. Patterson, M. Honda and I. McDougall, “The Noble Gas Cycle Through
Subduction Systems,” in Research School of Earth Sciences Annual Report 1992
(1993, Canberra, Australia, Australian National University), pp. 104–106.

...when I brought up the Argon to potassium issue. He's in the same school of thought as you are, just in case you were wondering. I'll get back on this.

Kirth Gersen said...

Dimitri,

One of the common Creationist arguments involves a discussion of loss of daughter product, through degassing or whatever (never mind that there are means of double-checking for decay and to contain subsequent loss -- fission tracks and annealing).

They'll also bring in claims that decay rates are not constant. The thing to watch out for -- and I think you've got the math ability to check this for yourself -- is why K-Ar and/or Rb-Sr dates also match dates derived from other methods (e.g., U-Pb). Not exactly -- errors can be thousands of years -- but to within a VERY close margin, percentage-wise (when you're dating rocks to tens of millions of years, thousands of years represent a 1/10 of 1% margin of error!).

So take two rocks of different ages (say 50M years and 270M) and calculate the change in decay rates for any two methods, that would STILL yield matching ages for both samples. Add a third sample of a different age (maybe 550M years) and see if the math still works.

Using multiple dating methods on multiple samples, and seeing them match, is just one way we can check on the validity of these methods. We can check those numbers against, say, magnetic orientation (for iron-bearing rocks) vs. "polar wander," and see if THAT number matches, too. There are so many ways of independently confirming dates, all of which tend to match, that the only way for them NOT to work is if God mischievously changes all the results to appear to match, solely to fool us. Some people do believe that, but it turns the standard notion of God on its ear.

Dimitri said...

I agree with the last comment, I find it rather screwy that people think that about God. I have no reason to believe that he would do that. Your right about multiple dating methods, thus I am wondering what your take on radioisotope dating is. I have to look up the whole deal on rubidium-strontium and friends (thank god for text books!). Thanks, I will keep that in mind and do some research on it. This could go on forever I just realized.

Kirth Gersen said...

Dimitri,

You've exactly hit upon the real beef I have with most Young Earth Creationists: when faced with the sheer number and sophistication of the methods that geologists have derived to determine these things, it's seductively easy to learn a little bit, stop there, and then throw up one's hands and say "This is too much to learn; God must have done it."

I wish you the very best in your studies, and have no doubt you'll be able to tackle these problems -- it's just a matter of continuing to learn, and not giving up.

Dimitri said...

Thanks, even if I still stand by my views and you by yours (I wasn't trying to "convert" you to YEC :), I still learn things and am open to reading material and argument. Any comment on the radioisotope dating method?

Kirth Gersen said...

"Any comment on the radioisotope dating method?"

Like I said, your best bet (your professor friend can help find good references) is to check cases in which the same rocks have been dated with two (or more) different isotopic methods. Find two or more sets of rocks of different ages, and then look for resutls from the different methods that converge on similar ages (within a reasonable margin of error: 5% or so) for the each set of samples.

Then start with the YEC assumption that these ages are false, because the decay rates were much faster in the past. Use basic calculus to estimate the rate of change of decay rates that would still yield the apparent dates you see, but would also be consistent with a young Earth.

Repeat the math for the second set of samples (and third, if available). Are the rates of change of the decay rates similar (in which case you've hit the nail on the head), or do they totally fail to match (in which case the YEC hypothesis doesn't hold up)?