Monday, January 21, 2013

Skeptical briefs

Because nothing says 'Jesus' like combat gear

This is just an assortment of links, all from CFI's Morning Heresy last week (including the photo above), which I won't have time to blog about extensively:

In Florida, a group of freethinkers will be distributing atheist literature in public schools, since the school board has allowed Christians to distribute Bibles.
The Central Florida Freethought Community, a chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has obtained consent this week from the Orange County (FL) School Board to distribute materials about atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism to students in public schools. This permission comes after the School Board allowed a group of Christians to distribute Bibles to students on campus during school hours for Religious Freedom Day on January 16.

David Williamson, of the Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC), said, “This group of Biblical Literalists has somehow convinced the School Board that our public schools should be a religious battleground of sorts. This is unacceptable to freethinkers and persons of all religious traditions, including many Christians. But because the school board insists on opening the schools up to Christian proselytizers, we think it’s important that students receive materials countering their religious propaganda.”

I wonder how popular that will be among the faith-based idiots who are so opposed to America's separation of church and state? (I suspect that it will be even less popular than if non-Christian religions - Muslims, Scientologists, Moonies - start taking advantage of this school board decision, too.)

Oh, and speaking of non-Christian religions, did you know that gun control is "pagan"? So says Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America (a group that thinks the NRA is too liberal):
Frankly, it almost would seem that animism won’t go away. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will. That’s animism, that’s a return to the most pagan of paganism and look at what nutty political views it ends up supporting.

Yeah, we liberals think that inanimate objects possess their own will, don't we? Don't tell me what I think, Larry. Admittedly, you're right that I don't think Jesus Christ's blood was magic. Why would anyone? Haven't you ever heard of science?

But scientists are biased, right? Indeed, these days, only 6% of scientists identify with the Republican Party. I wonder why?
One of the great political shifts in the past decade has been the move of scientists toward the Democratic Party, a casualty of the Republican Party’s war on reality. It’s not about politics for scientists, it’s about the fact that only one party accepts scientific findings on everything from global warming to evolutionary theory to what does and doesn’t prevent pregnancy. Only 6 percent of scientists identify as Republican, whereas 55 percent identify as Democratic. In October of 2012, 68 Nobel-winning scientists co-signed a strong endorsement of Obama, saying the President “has delivered on his promise to renew our faith in science-based decision making.” Which is why it was so strange to read Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes at Arizona State University, argue in Nature that it’s wrong for scientists to throw their weight behind electing Democrats. ...

He argues that the perceived liberal bent of the social scientists has caused Republicans to be wary of that field and to defund it, and warns that if scientists in other fields—he names public health and environmental science—don’t stop supporting Democrats so openly, Republicans will come after them, too. But the cause-and-effect relationship is reversed. Republicans started it when, as early as the environmentalist movements of the ’70s, they began to morph into the party that defended corporate profits over public health and environmental good. Why would scientists support a party that ignores and refuses to fund important scientific initiatives like efforts to fight climate change, stem cell research, and advances in improving sexual health, like development of the cervical cancer vaccine? Sarewitz blames scientists for the politicization of science, when any fool can see that Republicans attacked first and scientists are just defending themselves.

That one is worth a longer read, because it explains how Republicans started out trying to fight scientific findings they didn't like and decided that it was more efficient just to combat science itself. After all, Republicans are nothing if not faith-based, so evidence-based thinking is anathema to them.

Scientists didn't abandon the Republican Party; the Republican Party abandoned them. Note that that study, which showed that only 6% of scientists are Republican, was from 2009. I suspect it might be even less than that now. And it's not as though 94% of scientists are Democrats (it's 55%), since the Democratic Party isn't all that great when it comes to faith-based thinking either!

Finally, I have to point out this column at the Center for Inquiry, itself. The question was about how consoling religion can be, versus atheism, when tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings occur.

Now, I happen to believe that atheism can be consoling, since you don't have to believe that tragedies were your fault, that 'God' was punishing you for some infraction or another (voting to allow gay marriage?) by attacking your children or allowing them to be attacked. If you think the parents of those children, many of them, aren't feeling guilt over something they couldn't have prevented, you don't know grief.

However, as this essay points out, that whole argument is missing the point. The point is whether or not your faith is true. Atheists like me value the truth. I don't want to believe in a lie, even if it's a pleasant lie. I don't think it's a good idea to believe lies, and certainly not to base your life on a lie.

True, I wonder if religious faith is all that comforting anyway, since religious people seem to grieve just as much as atheists do. And they definitely seem confused by the terrible things that happen, despite a supposedly-benevolent god - often reduced to "God works in mysterious ways" to shrug off what makes no sense by their theology.

But that's not really the point. The point is that we have no good reason to believe that a god exists at all - any god, let alone a specific one who really wants to be worshiped and who cares about your diet, your clothing choices, and/or your sex life.

Reality is the point. Atheists don't usually insist that a god couldn't exist (although some specific ideas of various gods are mutually contradictory), but that there's no good reason to believe it. And we tend to think that the truth is actually... important - more important than a fantasy, no matter how consoling.

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