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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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I got this from a link by a commenter at Pharynguyla. It’s Thanksgiving Day here in The Great White North (not so white yet, however) and the believers are atheist bashing by expressing fake sympathy for atheists with no one to thank on this day come out of the woodwork. They’ll be back again for American Thanksgiving and Christmas, where for the latter they will change their spots, point to us and say “Look! Those atheists are celebrating the birth of baby Jesus!”, conveniently forgetting that Christmas (like Thanksgiving) has been utterly secularized and attaching religious meaning to a holiday (two in Canada, since we celebrate Boxing Day as the Brits do….) is a personal matter that one may or may not do. Not to mention that pagans can point to Christians and claim “Look! They’re celebrating the birth of Mithras!”, since Christmas itself was a co-option of already existing pagan celebrations.

And believers wonder why we atheists can get a bit cynical at times.

Well, in the long tradition of religious misapprehension of what it means to be an atheist, we have yet another one that openly exposes his ignorance to the world and proudly proclaims that he is a twit. The Vancouver Sun printed a story by Douglas Todd which begins with the question-

How do the almost two out five British Columbians who say they have no religion, and especially the 16 per cent who are atheists, approach a festive day that encourages humans to express a sense of thankfulness, particularly for life itself being a gift?

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This Calgary local news story is somewhat disturbing. Not disturbing in the same way that CTV Calgary News presented a homeopathic remedy as a viable method of treating food allergies (which the ‘patient’ – read: son-who-has-a-sucker-for-a-mother – was unlikely to have had in the first place) without any input from the evidence-based medical community whatsoever to explain why this ‘treatment’ can not be differentiated from quackery. That was one of the most irresponsible and unethical pieces of journalism (I use the term very loosely) I have ever witnessed. You can read more about that debacle here.

No. This story carried by Global TV Calgary News was actually quite good and I give full marks to Shane Jones for his professional journalistic skills. Some people might see this and only see the weight loss and not listen to what sound science has to say on the matter, but there’s only so far we can go before personal responsibility for actions kicks in.

The subject of the segue was the so-called hCG diet (it can be viewed here, and begins at the 33′ 40″ mark). hCG – short for human chorionic gonadotropin – is a glycoprotein hormone released during pregnancy that prevents the disintegration of the corpus luteum of the ovary, thereby maintaining progesterone production. This is critical since progesterone is involved in the menstrual cycle and maintaining its production extends the luteal phase of the cycle. In other words, it’s what stops menstruation during pregnancy.
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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.

They’ve done it again. Last October CTV Calgary News had (alongside an infectious disease expert) a homeopath espousing the virtues of discarding tried-and-true methods of fighting H1N1 – such as vaccination – in favor of ‘nosodes’, for which not one shred of evidence for its efficacy exists. Now this: On last night’s 6 o’clock news segue called Medical Watch (done by Karen Owen), a homeopathic treatment for food allergies was presented (link).
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This is an organization whose members purport to take an active interest in the welfare of those who place their trust in the Roman Catholic Church, but it is clear that it is a purely self-interested group that cares far more about how it looks to the outside world than caring for those who follow it. If there are two things I would ask the pope were I allowed this, they would be these:

1. Why on earth would you lie about condoms not being an effective public health care policy in the fight to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa?
2. Why is it that it is secular institutions – and not the Church – which creates public and open inquiries into the alarmingly large number of cases of sexual abuse by priests?

To Catholics who might read this, I ask: Do you feel safe allowing priests around your children without supervision? And don’t give me the lame “Oh, but the priests at our parish would never do that”. Parents of children who were abused thought that too. And the even more lame “Only a small percentage of priests commit the crime of pedophilia” doesn’t wash either. Why put your children unnecessarily in harm’s way? Why enter a lottery you don’t want to win?

We’ve seen a pope who, while known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (archbishop of Munich), approved treatment of confessed child abuser Peter Hullerman and then simply returned him to active duty as a priest. Six years later Hullerman began a prison sentence for child molestation. A decade later, while Ratzinger was head of the Vatican office charged with investigating accusations of pedophilia (once called the Inquisition, no less), intervened in the defrocking of Lawrence Murphy who sexually assaulted 200 boys at a Wisconsin school for the deaf. Two hundred! Murphy wrote to Ratzinger pleading “I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood.” Ratzinger, showing vastly more consideration to this monster than to its victims, complied. Murphy spent not one day in court, let alone prison, for his heinous crimes. The man who would be pope took away even the meager justice of defrocking from those Murphy assaulted. No closure for the victims yet again. Ratzinger similarly resisted defrocking California priest Stephen Kiesle, urging “as much paternal care as possible” for the sexual predator. Kiesle began serving a six-year sentence in 2004 and is a registered sex offender.

More recently, the Vatican has finally said law enforcement should be notified. “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed,” the Vatican guidelines said. Ya think? Why did any of these bishops need to be told this in the first place?

Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican’s U.S. attorney, has argued that there was nothing in the canon law that guides the church that precluded reporting.

“It’s beyond dispute that the canon law does not mandate non-reporting,” he said. “These guidelines may help clarify that point for people who are less familiar with canon law.”

Let me say something here: When it comes to reporting crimes – especially those involving abuse! – why the fuck would anyone even consider “canon law”? Who cares? This is exactly the kind of thinking that got the Vatican into this mess in the first place! And why is it that where a physician has knowledge or or even suspects incidents of sexual or physical abuse is mandated BY LAW to notify law enforcement agencies and the clergy is not? That must change. The Church has policed itself for far too long and is completely unworthy of any trust in this matter.

And now some high-up clown in a funny hat, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has come out to say that it is homosexuality and not celibacy that is to blame…

“Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true,” he told a news conference. “That is the problem.”

Let me get this straight… He was told this so it must be true? Told by who? What published studies can he point to which actually show a link between homosexuality and pedophilia? These people must get stoned on all that incense.

Nor is this at all relevant. I wouldn’t care if there were indeed a relationship (there’s not) between the two. This is a smoke screen. The problem lies with covering up sexual assault and not dealing properly with those committing the crimes. Heck, they coddle them. There is only one appropriate and morally justifiable action to take, and it’s nothing to do with the centuries old “how will the Church look”. The perpetrators must be brought to justice for the sake of the victims and the victims themselves aided through their pain. Defrocking is an afterthought. It’s not even a real punishment.

Robert Cornellier, whose brother was assaulted in the 70’s has some great advice. In a Canada AM interview, he said

“It’s a PR reaction because the world is reacting to what has come out in the past weeks,” he told Canada AM from Montreal. “I say to the victims, don’t go to the bishop or the clergy, go to the police, that’s the only way people can get some kind of justice”

Amen. This is particularly relevant in light of the FACT that children in Ireland who were abused were coerced into vows of silence. The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland – Cardinal Sean Brady – was present during these blatant attempts at hiding these crimes. This link has an overview of allegations of abuse and cover-up in a number of countries. The sheer magnitude of the whole thing when seen together like this makes me sick.

And now it’s the media’s fault. An interesting defence. Is it the media’s fault that priests assaulted children? No. Is it the media’s fault that the Church failed in its moral duties to bring these cases to light and willingly make restitution to the victims? No. And the pope’s weak apologies are hardly worth mentioning. Much more than an mere apology is needed. “So sorry. Too bad you are going through a rough spot. Stiff upper lip, old chap! Ta ta!” I sense nothing sincere or contrite in the pope’s apologies.

I’m not talking necessarily about financial restitution, though that should be an option. Counseling for the victims – no matter how long ago the assault occurred! – would be nice. And these should be given without resorting to legal action. Getting anything out of the Church – no matter what its representatives did to their victims – shouldn’t be like a modern-day Sisyphus story thousands of times retold.

A recent Vatican editorial says the claims were an “ignoble” attack on the Pope and there was no “cover-up”. I don’t actually believe that there was a cover-up in the sense that there was some arch-conspiracy from the get-go. I do think that there were many incidents of cover-ups resulting from a shared mindset that the image of the Church was paramount, even over the welfare of those its representatives harmed. And that is where the insidiousness of all this lies. While it may not be written down anywhere, it is a de facto doctrine that how the Church looks takes precedence rather than the welfare of its flock. This leads to poor and sometimes criminal actions aside from the sexual assaults by officers of the Church. To describe them as “well-meaning” would be misguided and can only be viewed as such from within the Church itself, not from outside. It’s just another (and ongoing) example of how religion poisons everything. But to say that the pope was not involved and didn’t share this mindset that pervades the church hierarchy is demonstrably nonsense. I urge the Vatican to get out of this damage control activity and just do right by those it wronged.

I was just listening to a caller on an old episode of The Atheist Experience (about 1 hr 3 min in – I love that show). The caller was quite disingenuous, asked Matt and Jeff what their degrees were (they have none), went on to present his own bona fides (computer programmer “degree”), and then asked what their proof was for the origins of the universe. Matt headed the caller off at the pass quite nicely. He said (quite rightly) that that did not matter, since even if we had no explanation this lends no credence to any other hypothesis. Competing ideas are simply not necessarily equal in terms of their truth value, and just because someone considers one false does not make their own idea true, unless we are speaking of a true dichotomy (which this most definitely is not). A further problem is the caller desired “proof”. The only place the word “proof” is applicable is in mathematics and logic. In the natural sciences, conclusions are drawn based on evidence – we do not deal in “proof”.

The caller also committed another fallacy, claiming that if we do not observe something directly then it is not scientific. We did not observe the universe come into existence, therefor we can not say that Big Bang model is correct. That is patently absurd. All experiments – even those in a laboratory – are indirect measurements. When we mix chemicals in order to observe how they react, we are not directly looking at the individual molecules. We might see a color or temperature change in the mixture, but does the fact that these are indirect observations of what is going on invalidate the idea that a reaction has taken place? Even if we identify the product, it is still historical even if it happened only a few minutes ago. Historical evidence is simply another type of indirect observation. Jeff made a good point that since we have only known of Pluto’s existence for about six decades – far less than it takes Pluto to make a complete orbit – the caller must conclude that we can not know that Pluto orbits the sun!

Think of it this way. You come home to find the family cat looking guilty in front of an overturned plate of unsecured leftovers. There are many possible explanations for this scene, but are they all equally likely? Perhaps it was death rays from Mars – in a plot by Martians to assassinate my cat who is secretly the only thing standing between us and a planetary invasion – missed, the rays striking the plate on the counter sending it careening onto the floor. Does anyone really think that this explanation is on a par with the possibility that the cat (in its gastronomic zeal) pushed the plate off the counter and followed it onto the floor to finish off the leftovers? I don’t think so. Yet each explains the scene fully.

The truth is, each and every one of us uses historical evidence daily, yet this caller chose to claim that in this specific instance – coincidentally one in which he found it convenient to do so – one could not validly arrive at a scientific conclusion in this manner. This is obviously nonsense. Certainly, the caller is correct in one aspect – that we did not directly observe the Big Bang event. But this event gave rise to observable consequences. From astronomical observations (such as Hubble’s observation of a red shift proportional to the distance a galaxy is from ours) and particle physics cosmologists have built a model to explain what they see. Even more importantly, this model makes testable predictions – observations that weren’t been made at the time the model was proposed but what would be expected to be observed if we look, such as the cosmic background radiation and relative abundance of primordial elements such as hydrogen, helium and lithium.

Evolution as Darwin presented it similarly relied on historical evidence (it no longer does – evolution is being observed in action, such as the Pod Mrcaru lizard introduced onto the Croatian island in 1971 for this specific purpose). Predictions came fast and furious. It was hypothesized that horses evolved from mammals with more than one toe. This hypothesis was rapidly followed by its confirmation, particularly from North American fossil finds. There have been thousands of such finds. The whale evolved from a land mammal and its fossil lineage is incredibly well defined, right down to our ability to see how the position of the nasal passage moved from the front to the top of the head. Lineages derived from comparative morphology match those derived measuring genetic differences as predicted by the modern synthesis. These evidences all confirm predictions made by evolutionary theory and thus strengthen it greatly.

In short, conclusions based on historical evidence are perfectly valid and scientific. The only difference between doing an experiment in a lab and drawing conclusions from historical evidence is that there are tighter controls and a greater ease in adjusting variables in former. That’s it. The Earth, the universe- these are laboratories and nature itself has done the experiments. In both situations we are observing the results and explaining them. Rejection of this always seems to be associated with an incompatibility between closely-held ideas and reality. For those who deny evolution and Big Bang cosmology, grow up. If you think that when science conflicts with a held belief, so much worse for science, then you have abandoned reason and the only thing left which might get through to you is mockery.

Matt had as good a response. He hung up on his ass.

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. A continuation of my last post dealing with not the second half of Ravi Zacharias’s The End of Reason, but the second half of what my stomach could stand. Here, the Argument from Morality, the stereotypical “evil atheist” argument, among other bric-a-brac and detritus, are discussed.

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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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