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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.

Last night I was a panelist on the monthly FDA podcast (link to follow once it is on iTunes) discussing the question of whether or not political parties based on religious principles should be allowed to form in democratic countries. Besides me, there were a couple of representatives from the Party of Concerned Christians (Artur and Jim) that do indeed base their platform directly on the Bible, one very excitable member of FDA (Dan) and the moderator and founder of FDA (Stephen).

An interesting topic, but I think the question is ill-formed. I have no problem with the formation of any political party regardless of platform (within the limits set out on free speech). I think placing any unreasonable limitations on what a political party can stand for (again, with the same caveats) is fundamentally and fatally antidemocratic. Dan was the only dissenter on this, and I think he’s plain wrong. What he’s afraid of is theocracy. No argument there, particularly if one uses the Bible as the basis of political platforms. The two Christian members of the panel disagreed, of course, but offered absolutely no substance in rebuttal. Let’s face it – the Old Testament is strong evidence of a patently evil god and if that god were to exist there is no way I would possibly even consider worshiping it. Read More »

On the weekend of September 9, I and a fellow member of the Center for Inquiry attended a creationism “conference” (I’d have called it a lecture series, but hey, whatever). My overall impression is that if this is all that creationists have, evolutionary theory is not at all in jeopardy. Of course, I never thought it was. I just wanted to experience what people who believe the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs co-existed with humans had to say. The whole thing could only be accepted by those who have drunk the Kool Aid. There was nothing convincing in anything I saw, and some stretched my credulity well past the breaking point. Read More »

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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Hi folks! I haven’t written in some time, but I thought perhaps this might be of interest. To keep those who might balk at the length of this diatribe interested enough to read further, I’ll just say that a situation has arisen in a town called Morinville, Alta, where it is not possible for parents to select a secular education for their children. For those that want to skip the history lesson, scroll thine eyes down five paragraphs. But the history lesson itself will surprise many people. I met someone who recently moved to here from British Columbia who had no idea that Alberta has a faith-based publicly-funded school system.

Canada does not have an explicit church-state separation. I wish it did. Had the Canadian Constitution been drawn up now rather than 30 years ago, I think it would. Religiopolitics in the US scares the bejesus out of us. Well, most of us. The current constitution relies very heavily on a previous act of British Parliament passed in 1867, the so-called British North America (BNA) Act. In it, it allows for religion-based school systems to remain publicly funded. This was a historical reality at the time, but has long since become an anachronism. Regions were settled by people of a single predominant faith and built public institutions before they entered Confederation and became provinces. These were predominantly Catholic, with a bit of Anglican thrown into the mix. The BNA Act provided for publicly-funded separate school systems for schools of religious faiths that existed prior to their entering into Confederation. (This led to an interesting situation when about 30 years after Manitoba entered into Confederation the provincial government decided to cease funding the Catholic school system, causing Pope Leo XIII to write a papal encyclical condemning the whole action. Fortunately, no one listened….) Read More »

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged on anything of substance. Busy, busy, busy. Last month, my wife pointed out to me a new class being offered through the Continuing Education program at the local university called God, Atheism and Morality. It’s a discussion class using Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape as the backdrop and led by an ex-Lutheran pastor. A nice fellow, but maybe too nice for the things likely to come…

There are nine of us, from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. There’s a non-believing Teacher who wants to return to university, perhaps to get a PhD in the philosophy of science; a Lawyer who deals with immigrants and who made an excellent point on refugee claimants that I have suspected for some time that I will get to later on; another who grew up in a Secular household and does not understand faith (I do – I just don’t understand why anyone in their right mind discards reason and evidence in favor of wishful thinking); the Spiritual woman that made the claim that most atheists are really agnostics (which underscores a problem of definitions that might produce some trouble); another that wants to see if there are reasons to discard her Faith (burden of proof shift, anyone?) and “dragged” her husband along (well, according to him, anyway…); a retiree with a Physics background who didn’t really say much about himself; a believing Moral Relativist (!) who knows too much about philosophy, an intellectual pursuit that I have little patience for (and who actually told me that string theory is not testable, that I should Google it! Ah, the University of Google, where you can get a degree in 9/11 truthing! Michio Kaku, where are you when I need you?); and yours truly, who described himself as “the most unspiritual person that you will ever meet”. Quite a wide spectrum of beliefs which is a good start.
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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.

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.

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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