Faith Cake

2 02 2009

Creationists Infest Public Schools

21 05 2008

A new study suggests that 18% of US science teachers are creationists and:

Despite a court-ordered ban on the teaching of creationism in U.S. schools, about one in eight high-school biology teachers still teach it as valid science, a survey reveals. And, although almost all teachers also taught evolution, those with less training in science — and especially evolutionary biology — tend to devote less class time to Darwinian principles…

We need to get these nutjobs out of the schools – although I wonder how many highschool students buy into their crazyness . . . .

Einstein on Religion: “Childish Superstitions”

13 05 2008

From the Guardian:

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” So said Albert Einstein, and his famous aphorism has been the source of endless debate between believers and non-believers wanting to claim the greatest scientist of the 20th century as their own.

A little known letter written by him, however, may help to settle the argument – or at least provoke further controversy about his views.

Due to be auctioned this week in London after being in a private collection for more than 50 years, the document leaves no doubt that the theoretical physicist was no supporter of religious beliefs, which he regarded as “childish superstitions”.

Einstein penned the letter on January 3 1954 to the philosopher Eric Gutkind who had sent him a copy of his book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt. The letter went on public sale a year later and has remained in private hands ever since.

In the letter, he states: “The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”

Einstein, who was Jewish and who declined an offer to be the state of Israel’s second president, also rejected the idea that the Jews are God’s favoured people.

“For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

The letter will go on sale at Bloomsbury Auctions in Mayfair on Thursday and is expected to fetch up to £8,000.

Science, Religion, and John Haught

18 12 2007

Salon has an interview with theologian John Haught on Darwin, Camus, Dawkins, and the so-called “new atheism”.  Haught makes some good arguments – or at least, arguments that would be good if they didn’t ignore several very important key issues.  Let’s take a look:

The new atheists don’t want to think out the implications of a complete absence of deity. Nietzsche, as well as Sartre and Camus, all expressed it quite correctly. The implications should be nihilism.

Haught is at least a little right; in all of my readings of the ‘new atheists’ I don’t recall any of them coming to the conclusion of nihilism.  In fact, just the opposite.  A life of logic simply does not equate to a life without hope – I know, it may be hard to believe, but life without god can still have meaning. 

How do we account for the courage to go on living in the absence of hope? As you move to the later writings of Camus and Sartre, those books are saying it’s difficult to live without hope. What I want to show in my own work — as an alternative to the new atheists — is a universe in which hope is possible.

Hold on a second.  Didn’t you just say that the new atheists differ from the old atheists in that they don’t find a connection between atheism and nihilism?  Who are you arguing against here?  I’m interested to read Haught’s upcoming book: God and the New Atheism, in which he will hopefully make an argument as to why life without god is hopeless.

But why can’t you have hope if you don’t believe in God?

You can have hope. But the question is, can you justify the hope? I don’t have any objection to the idea that atheists can be good and morally upright people. But we need a worldview that is capable of justifying the confidence that we place in our minds, in truth, in goodness, in beauty. I argue that an atheistic worldview is not capable of justifying that confidence. Some sort of theological framework can justify our trust in meaning, in goodness, in reason.

Oh.  There’s the answer.  But wait – didn’t he just say that hope isn’t possible without god?  Ok, so it is possible, but not justified?  How dare people have hope without justifying it!  I would refer Haught to Dawkins in particular, who does a nice job of explaining goodness without god.  Well, on to evolution, in which even the interviewer demonstrates his ignorance:

I would think the biggest challenge that evolutionary theory poses to most religions is the sense that there’s no inherent meaning in the world. If you look at the process of natural selection — this apparently random series of genetic mutations — it would seem that there’s no place for ultimate purpose. Human beings may just be an evolutionary accident.

For the umpteenth time, there is nothing “random” about natural selection.  It is a process which favors the best equipped – and since it favors something, it isn’t fucking random.  Sorry, that’s a pet peeve of mine, along with people who say “I could care less”.  Anyway, here’s more from Haught:

A good example is the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg. In his book “Dreams of a Final Theory,” he asks, will we find God once science gets down to what he calls the fundamental levels of reality? It’s almost as if he assumes that science itself has the capacity and the power to comment on things like that. Similarly, Dawkins, in “The God Delusion,” has stated that science has the right to deal with the question of God and other religious issues, and everything has to be settled according to the canons of the scientific method.

The idea that god exists outside of the realm of scientific understanding is, to put it mildly, the very definition of a cop-out.  Haught is essentially saying, ‘I want god to exist, and since science is potentially a threat to that, I’ll insist that God can’t be touched by it.’  And yet, Haught continues to state (I would say argue, but that would imply that he provides evidence and support for his view) that religion has the capacity to comment on everything.  He also claims that some states of reality simply can’t be spoken about in scientific terms: “The only way we can talk about them is through symbolic and metaphoric language — in other words, the language of religion.”  Wow – that’s right.  Since religion can only talk about things through symbols and metaphors, it must be the only way we can talk about things.  Come on!  Last I checked symbolism and metaphor were literary devices, and religion wasn’t the sole user of them.

The theologian continues to say:

We have to distinguish between science as a method and what science produces in the way of discovery. As a method, science does not ask questions of purpose.

The idea that the scientific method has nothing to do with purpose is preposterous.  Jonas Salk didn’t say, “hey – let’s inject people with the dead polio virus just for the hell of it.”  The scientific method is built around the very concept of finding purpose.  Without purpose looming over it, science would not exist.

The purpose [of the universe] seems to be, from the very beginning, the intensification of consciousness. If you understand purpose as actualizing something that’s unquestionably good, then consciousness certainly fits.

Why is Haught trying to insert his sense of morality into the purpose of the universe?  Because he’s overly subjective in his analysis of everything?  You don’t say . . . But if you understand “subjective” as actualizing a completely objective view, than he’s right.

I’m looking for an explanation that’s robust enough to account for the kind of universe that is able, from within itself, to develop and unfold in this ongoing process of complexification. So the idea that some sort of providential presence is accompanying this process seems not at all irrational. And I like to think of God in these terms.

Let’s face it Haught.  You’re looking for an explanation that allows for your concept of God.  The idea that ‘some sort of providential presence is accompanying the process’ only illustrates that you don’t understand the process.  Evolution is remarkable in that it explains itself perfectly – and just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it needs your god’s help.

I believe every thought we have has a physical correlate. But at the same time, I believe there’s something about mind that does transcend, while at the same time fully dwelling incarnately in the physical universe. I see that as a microcosmic example of what’s going on in the universe as a whole. So I want a worldview that’s wide enough to ask the question, why does the universe not stand still? Once radiation came about early in the universe, why didn’t the universe say, “Well, we’re just fine here. This is a pretty good universe.” Instead, there’s a restlessness, a tendency of the cosmos to go beyond itself.

And why do you believe that consciousness transcends the physical?  I don’t know – because you found it convenient not to explain that particular point – probably because the only explanation you have is that you want it to be true.  Also, your example of the universe being restless is bogus, if nothing else than the universe doesn’t say anything, what it being inanimate and all.  It didn’t occur to stop at radiation because nothing occurs to it – it really didn’t think about it that much.

But if you ask me whether a scientific experiment could verify the Resurrection, I would say such an event is entirely too important to be subjected to a method which is devoid of all religious meaning.

So if a camera was at the Resurrection, it would have recorded nothing?

If you had a camera in the upper room when the disciples came together after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we would not see it. I’m not the only one to say this. Even conservative Catholic theologians say that. Faith means taking the risk of being vulnerable and opening your heart to that which is most important. We trivialize the whole meaning of the Resurrection when we start asking, Is it scientifically verifiable? Science is simply not equipped to deal with the dimensions of purposefulness, love, compassion, forgiveness — all the feelings and experiences that accompanied the early community’s belief that Jesus is still alive. Science is simply not equipped to deal with that. We have to learn to read the universe at different levels.

Alright.  I’m not going to try to count the number of fallacies in that argument.  Something isn’t beyond science because you say it is.  Purpose, love, compassion, forgiveness, all of these are phenomenon that can be explained, and for the large part have been explained, through science.  It’s unclear if Haught is taking the social sciences into consideration, but even if he is not, my previous statement remains accurate. 

Throughout the interview he seems unwilling to accept that he won’t be rewarded for his good deeds after he dies – in fact, he seems to advocate doing good deeds in order to be rewarded.  Eesh.

Haught’s entire argument (as presented in this interview) comes down to this – Haught just can’t accept the possibility that god is not necessary.  If you ask me, that’s a pretty shitty argument.

 John Haught, seen here, believing in god.

Scientists Can Turn Appetite On and Off

6 11 2007

From Reuters:

“Our bodies send complex chemical signals to our brains, which interpret them and send back responses, in this case eat or don’t eat. Our research indicated that MIC-1 is a previously unrecognized molecule sending a don’t eat signal to the brain,” Herzog said.

The researchers said it was hoped that in the near future, the MIC-1 findings will prevent a sizeable proportion of advanced cancer patients from “literally wasting away”.

The Australian scientists have found a way to turn on and off a person’s desire to eat.  While this will inevitably show up on the black market of people with eating disorders – it does have great potential for helping people – and god damn it, that’s just plain ole great.

Quote of the Day – Galileo Galilei

16 10 2007

By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox.

Galileo Galilei

The Material Brain

15 10 2007 has a great interview with Steven Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein in which they discuss, among other things, the idea of consciousness going beyond the physical mechanics of the brain.

Virtually all religious believers think the mind cannot be reduced to the physical mechanics of the brain. Of course, many believe the mind is what communicates with God. Would you agree that the mind-brain question is one of the key issues in the “science and religion” debate?

PINKER: I think so. It’s a very deep intuition that people are more than their bodies and their brains, that when someone dies, their consciousness doesn’t go out of existence, that some part of us can be up and about in the world while our body stays in one place, that we can’t just be a bunch of molecules in motion. It’s one that naturally taps into religious beliefs. And the challenge to that deep-seated belief from neuroscience, evolutionary biology and cognitive science has put religion and science on the public stage. I think it’s one of the reasons you have a renewed assault on religious beliefs from people like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.

The neuroscientific worldview — the idea that the mind is what the brain does — has kicked away one of the intuitive supports of religion. So even if you accepted all of the previous scientific challenges to religion — the earth revolving around the sun, animals evolving and so on — the immaterial soul was always one last thing that you could keep as being in the province of religion. With the advance of neuroscience, that idea has been challenged.

This question has always been fascinating to me, partly because I know a lot of progressive people who see the hypocrisy of religion, and the brilliance of scientific thinking, and yet have such a hard time with the idea that everything you think and feel can be reduced down to material mechanisms in the brain.  Some are even offended by the notion that feelings such as love don’t have some sort of extra-physical existence.


To me, complexity does not mean that we need to step out of the realm of the physical to attempt to explain something.  The brain is truly a remarkable organ, and every day we learn more and more how remarkable it is.  People have always turned to religion, to spirituality, to explain what they could not understand – and the workings of the brain are perhaps the last refuge for these people.  It’s the last pillar of religious belief to fall.