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Category Archives: Religion

I haven’t posted in some time. It hasn’t been because I haven’t anything to say, but because I have starte actually saying it. My brother B and I had been wanting to start up a podcast for some time, but with the arrival of my niece and nephew things got put on the back burner. I didn’t want to start things up on my own, but when a new homeopathy store opened up and started advertising on Facebook, I could no longer wait.

It was at this time that I put out a cattle all to my Center for Inquiry friends and was pleasantly surprised to receive numerous requests to be involved. We made our first recording a little after Xmas and we’re getting set to record our eighth episode tomorrow evening.

So what’s the podcast about? Well, the vision I have is quite broad. Essentially, it involves discussing topics anywhere that evidence-based thinking can be applied. This can involve public policy, woo woo, religion, science, education, etc. There are many great podcasts out there about atheism (The Non-Prophets, for example) or applied skepticism which exclude religious claims (e.g., The Skeptics Guide to the Universe), but almost none that make no distinction where critical thinking gets applied. (The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Skeptics with a K.)

As I like to say, I am an atheist for the same reason that I am a-reiki, a-homeopathic, a-yeti, or a-quantum healing. I see no difference in any of these claims or the requirements they need to meet before acceptance is justified. However, religion is a big component of the podcast for the simple reason that it pervades so much of society. I wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn about it except for one thing: Beliefs inform actions and believing in things without the requisite evidence often lead to harm, not to mention that it is an impoverished way of living. The universe is amazing enough without diminishing it by making up far less interesting stuff about it.

A case in point (which I would like to make into a podcast topic): a recent crime bill passed here in Canada increases prison time and takes funding away from programs which may help make inmates productive members of society when released. There is not one shred of evidence that increasing prison time makes society any safer or better off. Quite the opposite, in fact. But such thinking arises from and panders to an electorate with a religious conservative point of view that is demonstrably false. This is not how public policy should be created and does real harm to society.

The topics we discuss are as relevant to the Canadian prairies as possible (or at least nationally). There are already podcasts out there which ably cover the tribulations south of the 49th parallel. But topics which are of interst to everyone are covered as well, though we give them a decidedly local flavor.

In the first seven episodes we have talked about Xerion Homoeopathie (a Calgary purveyor of magic sugar pills) and their dissemination of anti-vaccination nonsense, the effectiveness so-called ‘liberation’ therapy as a proposed treatment of multiple sclerosis (which has a very high incidence in the prairie provinces), the absence of secular education in the town of Morinville (just north of Edmonton), and in the episode we are recording tomorrow we have an interview with rock star cosmologist Lawrence Krauss about science education and why the non-religious are labeled “strident” (or worse) just for daring to question religious claims. His new book A Universe From Nothing (which I guiltlessly plug here) is a great companion to the viral YouTube video of the same name.

Come visit us at the Legion of Reason and give us a listen, or you can find us on iTunes.

It’s getting tougher and tougher to find the time to blog, and I really wanted to get this one out. A while ago I was part of a discussion course entitled “God, Atheism and Morality” that used Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape as a back-drop, as well as Richard Holloway’s Godless Morality. Though Holloway still has some religious baggage to unload that keeps his goal of a morality that encompasses humanity out of reach, he’s a Christian (an Anglican bishop) who largely gets it. There are problems with Harris’ book as well, but as Matt Dillahunty notes he provides us with a language for discussing these issues.

I wish I had kept up with the class in my blog. Throughout the coarse my view of Harris’ book changed significantly. For instance, I agree with Massimo Pigliucci’s view that Science can not determine the values we should hold, but I think Massimo undervalues Science in evaluating the effects of values we do hold. Harris bizarrely never mentions the application of the social sciences to this evaluation, and I have a hard time seeing how a reduction of morality to the neurosciences can have anywhere near as much value as some of the work that Gregory Paul has done. But while I have mixed feelings about the contents of The Moral Landscape, Harris opened up a dialog that needed opening.

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Brother Andre, a Holy Cross Brother in Quebec and whose personage is said to have healed thousands, will be canonized a saint tomorrow, October 17.

Color me skeptical. As part of the process for beatification on the road to canonization, the Vatican must verify that two (it is now one) miracles involving the subject has occurred. Two? A measely two? I would think that the Law of Large Numbers mixed with human nature will produce quite a few ‘miracles’. The association of a human figure up for canonization with a large sampling in which statistically unlikely events will always occur, especially when the sample size is increased by weird associations, like the oil from a lamp that Brother Andre used. Here’s one of the so-called ‘miracles’ as described in the Montreal Gazette:

The second phenomenon involved a 9-year-old who was cycling when he was struck by a car in 1998, said Father Claude Grou, rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory. The boy suffered severe head injuries and his parents were told there was no hope of recovery. Friends of the family prayed at St. Joseph’s Oratory, bringing a bottle of “St. Joseph’s oil,” a medal and a prayer card back to the parents, Grou said.

The oratory distributes more than 100,000 bottles of the oil annually. In his day, Brother Andre offered a bit of oil to the sick from a lamp that was burning in front of a statue of St. Joseph. He would tell them to rub it on their bodies and pray to St. Joseph to heal them.

Soon after the parents of the boy started praying to Brother Andre, “the healing started to come,” Grou said. “In a few days, he was no longer in danger of death, and in a few days more, they found he was recovering his faculties; he started to talk.”

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From CBC News:

The Pope has called the raids carried out by Belgian police investigating priestly sex abuse “deplorable” and asserted the autonomy of the Catholic Church to investigate abuse alongside civil law enforcement authorities.

Pope Benedict XVI issued a message Sunday to the head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, Msgr. Andre-Joseph Leonard. In it, he expressed solidarity with all Belgian bishops for the “surprising and deplorable way” in which the raids were carried out Thursday.

Benedict said justice must take its course. But he also repeated that such crimes are handled by both civil and canon law “respecting their reciprocal specificity and autonomy.”

The raids targeted a retired archbishop and the graves of two prelates.

Again, Ratzi demonstrates more concern for bishops that have traditionally interfered with investigations of sexual abuse allegations by priests. The raid is simply a sign that law enforcement is no longer willing to put up with this and have not one whit of sympathy for the Belgian bishops. And considering its active interference in the investigations of allegations of sexual assault to this point, I give the benefit of the doubt to the Belgian police rather than to an organization that even the Mafia defers to. It simply astounds me that anyone listens to this prick. Fuck you, Ratzi, fuck of all of you who make apologies for Ratzi’s actions and fuck all of you who listen to this prick and blind themselves to how morally bankrupt the organization he represents actually is and just act as enablers.

And as for this perceived non-existent “right” of the Vatican to investigate these crimes alongside law enforcement agencies? Fuck off, Ratzi. All I see is just another attempt at covering up the aiding and abetting of pedophile priests that you have conspicuously never apologized for or even acknowledged in the face of overwhelimingy damning evidence.

The Vatican can do what it damn well pleases, but if its ‘investigations’ involve the almost traditional willful failure to report crimes, withholding evidence or even not willing to hand over evidence voluntarily, properly take care of the victims who haven’t seen half the compassion the perpetrators have received, then such church authorities should themselves be charged. The Vatican should have no expectation that law enforcement will work with them, and to maintain independence MUST NOT. There was a time when the Vatican was allowed to deal with pedophile priests on its own, and that is exactly how we got to this outrageous and dispicable state of affairs.

As I said, the Vatican can do what it wants, but if any bishop – or pope, for that matter – should interfere with investigations by legitimate law enforcement, those individuals should be unceremoniously treated like the criminals they are. We’re through with the Vatican dealing with these unspeakably heinous crimes.

There is only one course of action to be taken by the Vatican in order to remedy its scandalous behavior. That is, to completely take their hands off investigations, offer full co-operation with law enforcement, willingly hand over all evidence they have, let these investigations take their course and actually accept the consequences of their actions.

Yeah, when pigs fly.

Fuck you, Ratzi.

ABSTRACT. Like Ravi Zacharias, James S. Spiegel wrote a book. Good for him, too. Like Zacharias’s book, Spiegel’s (The Making of an Atheist , subtitled “How immorality leads to unbelief”) it is filled with the same flawed cosmological and moral arguments that all of us atheists have seen. But he makes the claim (and it’s an old one, too) that atheists are led to their unbelief through bad relationships with their fathers. In essence, we atheists all have “daddy issuess”. This causes us, so he claims, to reject father figures. But there are massive flaws in this argument. His sole evidence is a list subjectively characterizing the relationship of selected atheist thinkers with their fathers. Spiegel makes not even a pretense of providing us with a control group (e.g., believers and their relationships with their fathers). It is an ad hoc argument all the way. Additionally, it is one thing to reject a god that we believe exists because we had bad fathers. It is quite another to reject the claim of a god’s existence on the same basis. I don’t think Nietzshe rejected the existence of his father just because they didn’t get along. Supposedly, Spiegel is a philosopher. (It should come as no surprise that Taylor U is a evangelical Christian institution…) Maybe he is, but not in this book. For those looking for a philosophical and not a Christian apologetic book on why there are atheists, look elsewhere. Spiegel has definitely taken off his philosopher’s hat for this one, if indeed he even owns one. What Spiegel is really trying to do, it seems to this atheist, is to avoid addressing the shortcomings of his Christian theology by slandering us atheists as being psychologically damaged. It is pure ad hominem and in this way can convince himself that he has no need to respond to those of us who see no justification to his god claim. He claims that atheists are sufferring from “paradigm-induced blindness”, yet fails to see that this argument cuts both ways. Claiming atheists are damaged goods and glossing it over with a bunch of psychobabble is nothing short of Christian bigotry.

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ABSTRACT. Ravi Zacharias wrote a book. Good for him. It’s called The End of Reason, and it is aptly named. For those looking for logic and reason in believing in a God, I suggest looking elsewhere. No one but those seeking to entrench their bias will find anything other than tired, old and debunked arguments filled with logic fallacies that no grade schooler would be fooled by. Arguments from consequences and false dichotomies abound. It is supposedly an answer to the New Atheist books. In particular, to Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation. If so, it is an answer to a question no atheist asked…

In this first of two parts, I go over some of the bad reasoning up to and including his discussion of cosmological arguments.
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I was listening to CBC Radio’s The Current this morning, as I am wont to do while driving in to work, when a story that boiled my blood came on. Indeed, any time secular government considers funding sectarian activity I go into a blood rage. You believers out there can do what you want within limits, but not on my dime! The podcast of the full discussion from diverse points of view (one of the reasons I love listening to The Current) can be listened to below (23 min running time).


A walk-in proposal to Winnipeg city council by Crusade for Christ for an inner city youth facility at Main and Higgins will be voted on today. The proposal was a rush job, today being city council’s first look at the proposal. To be fair, such rush-to-vote issues occasionally happen. The MTS building proposal was apparently one such. However, I fail to see that the ethics of erecting a building that houses the headquarters of a telecommunications company compares to the questions surrounding the public funding of a facility run by an organization whose stated objective is converting people to their form of superstition.

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Well, I don’t like talking about Bill Donohue, but he does provide amusement when his can-do-no-wrong view of Catholicism is threatened, whether the threat is perceived or real. And it’s never real. His view is that the Church is above reproach and that any criticism, no matter how apt, is an act of oppression. Bullshit, Bill.

Speaking of Bill Donohue and bullshit (the two go hand-in-hand, like peanut butter and jelly…. Mmmmmm….), I am shocked that there is no obituary for Bill after the airing of the latest episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, which took the Church head on and pulled no punches. Unfortunately for Bill, there’s nothing in it which can’t be backed up.

Here’s Bill’s latest press release (which the rest of the world will – correctly – ignore):

MASS MAILING OF PENN & TELLER SHOW

August 31, 2009

Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on the latest developments regarding the Catholic League response to Penn & Teller’s incredible episode on Showtime last Thursday:

I was happy to finger CBS this morning on “Fox and Friends” as the ultimate culprit: Penn & Teller’s Nazi-like assault on Catholicism that took place on August 27 will go down in history as one of the most vile, obscene programs ever aired in any nation. That CBS, which owns Showtime, allows this to go on is positively unbelievable.

We are now getting copies made for a mass mailing later this week. We will send a copy of this episode to 414 bishops, and to hundreds of influential Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox Christian, Muslim and Mormon religious leaders across the United States. We will also send a copy to hundreds of activists and members of the media. Then we will feature what Penn & Teller have done in the next edition of Catalyst, our monthly journal; that will reach a huge audience. Moreover, I am already scheduled to do several radio shows on what happened.

We want everyone to know about what CBS considers fair game. There is no way to undo the damage already done, but CBS/Showtime can still drop Penn & Teller. The ball is in their court.

Contact CBS rep Nancy Tellem at nancy.tellem@tvc.cbs.com

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Something I’ve been wanting to tackle for a long time is Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism which he presented to a Christian lay audience in an article published online in Christianity Today. Here’s a spoiler: it’s awful. According to Plantinga,

As I see it, this is a whopping error: evolution and naturalism are not merely uneasy bedfellows; they are more like belligerent combatants. One can’t rationally accept both evolution and naturalism; one can’t rationally be an evolutionary naturalist. The problem, as several thinkers (C. S. Lewis, for example) have seen, is that naturalism, or evolutionary naturalism, seems to lead to a deep and pervasive skepticism. It leads to the conclusion that our cognitive or belief-producing faculties—memory, perception, logical insight, etc.—are unreliable and cannot be trusted to produce a preponderance of true beliefs over false.

I have no problem with skepticism. I think everybody should be a skeptic. For those who don’t, I’m offering up the Brooklyn Bridge… Cheap!

Nor do I have a problem with anything in that last long sentence. Our memory is quite fallible. So is our ‘logical insight’, since it is based on heuristic and not rigorous logic. It just happens to work most of the time and is fast, and for the times it doesn’t it typically doesn’t matter. For instance, our natural instinct when out in the dark we hear a rustling in the bushes our impulse is to take flight. But whether the rustling in the bushes is a real danger (the tiger that Plantinga likes to use) or a prankster is not considered by our subconscious. With the former, our chance of survival increases because we don’t go over to the bush to check the source of the disturbance. With the latter, we just feel foolish. In both cases, our lives continue.

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I want to say this at the get-go before I am accused of being prejudiced and bigoted: I do not think that only atheists can do science. I do not think that only atheists can determine science policy. In searching for someone to head the NIH, such a policy would reduce the field considerably and exclude many excellent candidates that we would be justified in predicting they would do a fantastic job.

Francis Collins is not one of them. Yes, he has shown his ability to administer very large scientific projects. Yes, he has demonstrated his ability to do good science. But these are not the only requirements for heading the National Institutes of Health, the largest funding agency for biomedical research in the US. Something less well known is that it also funds research outside the US if certain conditions are met.

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