Explanatory Magisteria

In Beyond Belief 2, chemist Peter Atkins makes an inflammatory remark that philosophers get in the way of understanding.

Even though the bulk of my education has been within the sciences, I think that his comment is unhelpful (except in relation to some of the personal philosophies that have espoused unhelpful worldviews).

I decided to attempt to illustrate my point. Before the rise of science, theologists and philosophers claimed to examine the only modalities that explained the natural – lavendar – world.

Scientific methodology ultimately displaced much metaphysical philosophy, yet most modern scientists would not claim that science can answer all questions, particularly value-laden, psycho-philosophical questions. In this sense, scientism is dead.

Human psychology-come-cognition can be examined by science, yet it is also responsible for much that is beyond scientific experimentation, including mythological thinking. This broad psycho-philosophical area includes morality, which theists falsely claim cannot exist exclusive of belief in God.

Theists also claim that the areas that are inaccessible to methodological naturalism include a supernatural realm – another (cream) dimension outside the physical, yet interfering with it. This convenient device, invented to explain human inability to decipher the natural world, has enabled deists and theists to provide a witness protection program for theistic apologetics.

The problem, of course, is that it is not reasonable to claim that something can exist outside physical scrutiny, outside the physical world, and yet can impact the physical world without immediately becoming part of the physical world. To claim such a physical-not-physical arena is a deliberate category error.

...section index...

atheism, cognition, cosmology, deism, education, moral philosophy, moral psychology, naturalism, philosophy, religion, science, supernatural, theism,

Germane to Enlightenment 2.0

modified from Philosophe en méditation, by Rembrandt, 1632, in Musée du Louvre, Paris.The New Humanist ran AC Grayling's response to yet more theistic apologetic nonsense.

"I wonder if today’s liberal Western democracies would exist, and with them the rule of law, freedom of speech, liberty of the individual, the enfranchisement of women in political, economic and social respects, saner attitudes to sex and sexuality, and some of the other characteristic goods of contemporary secular society, if all the efforts to overturn the hegemony of religion and the Divine Right of Kings had failed in the mighty endeavour to break free of both during the centuries including and since the sixteenth?"
On the topic of the legacy of the Enlightenment, historian, Darrin McMahon ends his quotation-laden talk at BB2 with the conclusion that we need to continue the incomplete work of the Enlightenment rather than creating a new Enlightenment:

“Just how radical were, indeed are, many of the values and mindsets standing behind the Enlightenment: the disposition to live without fear in what might well be a fatherless world; the disposition to chart our own course and our own ends for ourselves; the disposition to subject even our most cherished assumptions to constant criticism and investigation, to take nothing on faith.

Those are challenging injunctions. As are the package of values that grew out of their sustained application in the 17th and 18th centuries: the adoption of mathematical, historical reason as the sole criterion of truth; rejection of the supernatural agency, magic and disembodied spirits, divine providence of any kind; a defence of the equality of all humanity, including racial and sexual equality; the belief in a secular universalism and ethics, based on equity, justice, and charity; the vindication of freedom of expression; the adoption of democratic republicanism as the most legitimate form of political organization; personal liberty of lifestyle of sexual and other matters; and, comprehensive toleration of freedom of thought based on independent critical thinking.

This package of values, like the disposition that underlies them, is threatening, unsettling, difficult, frightening to those who have not yet emerged from their own imposed or self-imposed immaturity.”

AC Grayling, Dec '07: The "New Atheists" are responding to provocation, not mounting an arbitrary attack.

More from Grayling.

enlightenment, AC Grayling

Science does not rest on faith

Science operates upon rational empiricism, faith operates emotionally despite lack of evidence.A while ago, I became rather irate about a deistic op-ed by astrobiologist, Paul Davies.

British philosopher AC Grayling tackles Davies' early contention that, "science has its own faith-based belief system." Grayling is as quotable as ever:

"Making well-motivated, evidence-based assumptions that are in turn supported by their efficacy in testing predictions is the very opposite of faith. Faith is commitment to belief in something either in the absence of evidence or in the face of countervailing evidence. It is seen as a theological virtue precisely for this reason, as the story of Doubting Thomas is designed to illustrate. In everyday speech we use the phrase "he took it on faith" to mean "without question, without examining the grounds"; this captures its essence.

. . . .

The public and repeatable testing of hypotheses distinguishes science as the most successful form of inquiry ever. Among other things it shows that it is officially not in the business of accepting anything "without question, without examining the grounds". Davies and others who describe science as "ultimately resting on faith" are thus not only wrong but do much irresponsible harm to it thereby."

From article : Commentary: No, science does not 'rest on faith' :

I subsequently realized that my level of irritation had led to my tackling one aspect of the claim that science relies on faith, but not Davies' tack. I later addressed more directly Davies actual, nevertheless equivocal, point.

I view the nonsense of intelligent [sick] design creationism as falling on the theistic side of deistic apologetics. Deism, which was an early philosophical form of atheism (insofar as it rejected full theism) confines supernatural interference to cosmological first causes. Modern pseudointellectual apologists attempt to monopolize both on the apparent glamor as well as the ineffability of purportedly transcendent first causes.

I'm tired of being polite

The Mythical SkyDaddy creates our cosmos (actually Kepler's supernova)I'm not merely tired of being polite about religion, I am tired of being polite about stupid theistic apologetics.

Most theists whom I have encountered on the Internet could not reason their way out of a wet paper bag.

Here’s a critique of a rather nauseating pod-cast of a Christian interviewer asking leading questions on the topic of “The New Atheism” for Dr William Lane Craig. I have transcribed Craig incompletely but literally, poor grammar included.

atheism, apologetics, William Lane Craig,

Martian Ontology

Do you believe that the planet Mars exists? Of course you do.


Abundant good evidence for Mars' physical existence is to be found. So, even though you have not visited the planet or watched it rise behind Elephant Rock (below), you believe that it exists.

Belief simply signifies the mental state of holding something to be true. Stating belief demonstrates no more than the personal possession of a mental state. Even a passionate or long-held belief is not necessarily a realistic belief. It boggles the mind, but some people believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

Do you believe that electrons exist? I can't show you a photo of an electron. With a rest mass of only 9.109 x 10 -31 kg, you could never see an electron. However, the activities of electrons are detectable as electricity, and you could not be reading this post without the benefit of electricity.

Do you believe that little green men live on Mars? Let's call them Martians. Here's a picture of one.


Do you think that you do not have enough evidence to rule Martians in or out? After all, human missions to Mars have not scoured every nook and cranny of the planet.

How could one disprove the postulated existence of something that does not exist?

It is not logically possible to categorically prove that something non-existent does not actually exist. The logical inability of disproof would not indicate that the claim for existence necessarily had any validity. To insist otherwise is illogical. Fallacious arguments from ignorance erroneously insist either that lack of proof must render a claim false, or that lack of disproof must render a claim true.

Lack of proof could result from practical difficulties in obtaining evidence for a true claim, just as lack of disproof could accompany a false claim. The point is that it is illogical to extrapolate from proveability to insistence.

Should atheists respond to demands for proof that deities don't exist? No. To do so is to submit to the theistic fallacy of shifting the burden of proof. The theists make the claim for existence, so it is their burden to provide proof.

Back to the little green fella.

I'll assume that there is no need to send any men in white coats to collect you, because you undoubtedly are not fooled by the picture of the Martian.

No doubt, you realize that someone before me invented the fantasy of Martians, and you further realize that I doctored the image. (Need proof? I admit to doctoring the image.)

Since it is known that Mars has no liquid water and almost no atmosphere, not to mention inhospitable surface temperatures, the physical data suggest that Mars could not support such life. Toss the physical data together with your recognition of the fantasy element, and you probably think that you can make a decision concerning Martian ontology.

Since it is logically impossible to prove non-existence, do you think that even though you don't believe, you must be a purist and declare yourself agnostic about Martians? If you have even a smidgen of belief, then you are a believer and not an agnostic. Even a smidgen of belief is equivalent to Faith in Martians, no matter the evidence. After all, faith is belief despite absence of evidence. Specifically, absence of evidence – or absence of correctly interpreted evidence.

Same thing expressed differently, right?

"I don't believe in the existence" is logically equivalent to "I believe in the nonexistence."

A strong conviction that we “know” something does not count as knowledge. The conviction is merely belief passed off as knowledge unless it coincides with reality. We require both logic and unbiased evidence, even that aquired by others, to make any claim to knowledge. Knowledge is defined as having a true belief – accurately holding something to be true, even if you have not personally encountered the reality.

Circular evidence is not unbiased evidence. The Bible tells us God exists. Why do people believe this? Because they also believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Why do people believe this? Because they are instructed to believe this under threat of eternal punishment or loss of eternal rewards. In face of religious repetitis, they cannot conceive of, or entertain, a more realistic explanation for the written recording of myths.

Back to Mars.

Given that conditions on Mars are inhospitable to life and that we know that human imagination is responsible for the concept of Martians, we are quite justified in saying that Martians do not exist. We don't have to never meet a Martian to know that there are no little green men running around Mars, no matter what Disney cartoonists or Hollywood producers would have us believe. The fantasy does sell tickets, though.

See the point?

agnosticism, atheism, logic,

Religionist versus Religious

An ocean of Hassidic hats.Just as nonbelief ranges from agnosticism to strong atheism, belief ranges in its extremity of devotion to supernaturalism and dogma.

Religionist : "a person addicted to religion or a religious zealot." (religionist)

Fundamentalist : "In comparative religion, fundamentalism has come to refer to several different understandings of religious thought and practice, through literal interpretation of religious texts such as the Bible or the Qur'an and sometimes also anti-modernist movements in various religions." (fundamentalist)

Dawkins and Hitchens consider all religious delusion as problematic, and, to the extent that belief in the nonexistent requires suspension of empiricism and logic, I agree with them. However, I am not convinced that mild-mannered acquiescence to various varieties of inculcated magic-thinking is any more socially problematic than belief in ghosts. Silly yes, malignant no.

A bullet-riddled mural of the Ayatollah Khomeini; LebanonThe malignancy, and it is merely the same defect that inflicted the original inventors of religious mythologies, is essentially psychological. These personality defects show up in fundamentalism in its various forms. The rigidities and paranoid hatreds that manifest in fundamentalisms actually run counter to any humanistic ethos in core religious teachings.

At their inception, fundamentalisms are a reaction to unresolved social stresses. However, the continuation of fundamentalist rigidities beyond resolution of the initiating stresses, or beyond sufficient time for emotional adaptation to change, reflects a combination of cognitive and psychological deficiencies. In this regard, American Christian fundamentalism is probably the most pathological because it invents stresses. American fundamentalists, Fistians, have taken to referring to themselves as "evangelicals" to avoid the negative connotations attached to the Scopes fiasco.

...section index...

atheism, Christianity, fundamentalism, Islam, Judaism, psychology, religion, society

Confidence and Ignorance

The library at Melk monastery.The more that I know, the more that I know I don't know.

Self-awareness of personal lack of knowledge can be uncomfortable because it leaves us feeling overwhelmed, impotent, or frustrated. However, it is realistic to be cognitively aware of the limitations of personal and human knowledge. It is awareness of ignorance that drives scientists and free thinkers onward. Not so, religionists.

Religionists attempt to cope with feelings of ignorance by assuring themselves and one another that they alone are privy to the Truth. Creationists compensate for potential feelings of inadequacy concerning their inability to comprehend science by assuring themselves and one another that scientists admit that they don't know everything. If scientists are not sure, then it is admirable to deny science for the sake of creationism and the paranormal. God will reward them for their intransigence.

Wells Cathedral sinking in the Sands of Ignorant Hubris. (Wells is actually my favorite cathedral.)I suspect that this self-congratulation concerning belonging to an exclusive club lies beneath the current tolerance of Christian religionists for other religions. To religionists of any particular faith (Fs) the devotees of different faiths (Ws) are wrong in their specific beliefs (and isn't this a satisfying excuse for Fs to feel superior to Ws!). But the fact that Ws also believe in some kind of religious nonsense indicates that Fs must be justified in believing in religion. I kid you not, religionists with whom I have chatted have pulled this argument from their bag of apologetic tricks.

This line of unreasoning means that atheism must be the new enemy, whereas other religions are acceptable because "you must believe something!" If atheists are correct (and we are, on the basis of lack of evidence) that the supernatural almost certainly does not exist, and that scientific understanding definitely discredits all naturalist claims in the Bible, then the biblical literalist must recognize that F is built on sand. Not a comfortable thought for those whose playground-level comfort is that God will reward them and punish their enemies.

In line with several of my posts:

F in science, A in self-esteem:

"So what if American students ranked 21st out of 30 industrialized nations? So what if we're even worse in math -- 25th?"
I'm not sure where those numbers came from – looking at the tables provided in the official PISA document, I count 28 nations ahead of the US on the science scale (35 ahead in proficiency levels) and 34 ahead of the US on the mathematics scale.

"When asked to rate their own scientific abilities, they put themselves at the top with their better-educated peers. This is the real trend in American education. No one can match us when it comes to self-esteem."

There have still been very few comments on these results on the Planet Atheism blogs. I should have thought that these dismal results would provide ammunition in the war against anti-science, creationist ignorance.

Still, as Maureen Dowd pointed out, "The world is globalizing, nuclear weapons are proliferating, the Middle East is seething, but Republicans are still arguing the Scopes trial."

While looking for church images, I came across this handy idea – inflatable churches. They probably pump them up with hot air.

Blog posts re religious credulity in the US : The Recent Harris Poll on Belief : Americans will believe anything

...section index...

apologetics, atheism, Christianity, creationism, education, religion, science, theism, Maureen Dowd, PISA.

Delusion inversely correlated with FLQ

Politically correct statements have their place, but a majority of studies indicate that those who are atheistic are more likely than theists to have completed post-secondary education, particularly science education, and to score higher on IQ tests.

Let's refer to this combination of IQ, education, and predilection for rational thinking as the Functional Level Quotient, or FLQ.

(I probably should have drawn the "escape delusion" circle as an oval that extends lower than I have indicated, but the point is that there is both overlap and separation according to numerous meta-analyses.)

The studies indicate that the average FLQ of atheists is higher than the average FLQ of theists. Although the believer category undoubtedly does include some highly intelligent individuals, belief is statistically more likely to be correlated with lower FLQ.

"Of 43 studies carried out since 1927 on the relationship between religious belief and one's intelligence and/or educational level, all but four found an inverse connection. That is, the higher one's intelligence or education level, the less one is likely to be religious or hold "beliefs" of any kind." ~ Bell, Paul. "Would you believe it?" Mensa Magazine, Feb. 2002, pp. 12–13

Several posts have appeared lately that are internally contradictory concerning this point. However, I do agree with the chaplain that there is also a basic difference in the "mindset" of atheists versus theists. I think that those who de-convert are more rational than those who remain deluded.

American fundamentalist religionists, in particular, sometimes exhibit quite extraordinary levels of misinformation and illogic when one considers that America is a wealthy nation, which does boast some excellent universities. Religious indoctrination beginning in early childhood and protected by home-schooling, anti-intellectual propaganda and general antagonism toward learning, pseudoscientific polemics, outright 'misinformation', widespread rhetoric employing emotional fallacies of logic, coupled with a beleaguered educational system may explain the recent very poor test results of American 15 year olds.

The intriguing question is which is the chicken, and which the egg. Does indoctrination into religious belief, particularly into fundamentalist religious beliefs, actually discourage logical thinking and encourage conservatism? I strongly suspect so.

Many studies indicate that IQ scores generally correlate with educational levels – kids who are moved into a more stimulating environment display a jump in their IQ score. There is also abundant evidence that a nation's IQ scores correlate with its socioeconomic status – wealthier nations have more resources to devote to education, which ideally stimulates analytical thinking.

Graph of national IQ scores versus level of religiosityThe intriguing question is not so much why lower levels of education are more likely to be correlated with higher levels of religiosity, but how the US came to have such inordinately high levels of religiosity for its socioeconomic status.

I have not finished reading Karen Armstrong's The Battle for God yet. However, one thing struck me about Protestantism and evangelical preaching on America's frontier. When Martin Luther emphasized the priority of personal scriptural study rather than reliance on the authority of priests, he set people up to assume that their personal opinion carried weight regardless of their educational training.

The paucity of preachers available to minister to Protestants scattered along America's early frontier forced reliance on personal interpretation of the homesteaders' Bibles. Luther's emphasis on individual exegesis was ideal under these conditions, perhaps adding to American contempt for intellectualism – after all, these people had been instructed to consider personal opinion paramount.

This arrogance concerning personal opinion and fundamentalist indoctrination, coupled with ignorance of science, logic, and critical thinking, may have set America up for obstinate, literalist interpretation not only of the scriptures but of many areas of knowledge. A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but obstinate confidence in a very little knowledge is an obnoxious and potentially very dangerous thing.

Readability Scam

This version is NOT a scam
You might find the readability test amusing, but alter the code if you plan to post the image. However, you could do what I have done here – posted a modified version of the image and code.

The test is very rapid, so I suspect that it only scans the most recent post/s. You probably already have some idea of the readability level of your latest post.

Feel free to copy this image and post it to your blog, modified if necessary.

Just for fun, I rechecked this blogs "readability" level today (1/26/09). It came up as "college undergrad". I might have been insulted had not Pharyngula been assessed as "high school". PZ must not have used any interesting words, such as logodaedaly, in his few most recent posts.

Did you take the “blog readability test”?

Religionists Behaving Badly

Modified from Satan, Sin and Death by Hogarth; based on Milton's Paradise Lost
No need for much elaboration on the higher than average prevalence of pedophilia by Catholic priests.

In, Christians behaving badly, PZ Myers chronicles still more naughty and obnoxious antics by religionists:

"It's quite clear that it is not when even its clergy seem unable to find their religion to be a source of moral suasion. Religion doesn't make you bad, necessarily, but it sure doesn't make you good, either."

AThinkingMan at de-conversion states the following:

"There is mounting evidence from several sources continuing to challenge the myth that religion is somehow helpful to society. . . The analysis revealed that higher rates of belief in a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion."

One of the obvious questions is this: if God created humans and wanted his creation to behave well, as witnessed by all the scriptural edicts and proscriptions, then why would God have endowed humans with wicked urges? Theologians 'apologize' for this deic oversight by citing free will. The factual answer is that we were not created by a deity, but instead evolved with urges. Our ancestors survived to be our ancestors because they took what they could get from the world around them, so the human urge to steal should hardly surprise us. Similarly, we would not be here at all if our would-have-been-ancestors lacked sexual urges.

The next obvious question concerns why religion so often fails to guarantee good behavior in its most fervent advocates and followers. Clearly, the reasons must be as complex and varied as human psychology, but a few obvious possibilities spring to mind.

Religions impose a set of illogical doctrines that require that practitioners suspend disbelief and develop an inconsistent rationalization. Such an anti-empirical, illogical belief set is hardly designed to promote a rational worldview – encouraging, even applauding, deceitfulness. Statistically, lower levels of intelligence and a lack of education make the assumption of a dogmatic, credulous worldview much more attractive.

Fundamentalist religionists are more likely than atheists to come from conservative, highly authoritarian backgrounds. It has been repeatedly observed that children who have experienced authoritarian parenting styles are more likely to exhibit poor impulse control as adults.

In contrast to good, authoritative parents who explain moral principles and encourage good behavior for its own sake, authoritarian parents emphasize threats and punishment. In essence, authoritarian or punitive parents impose an external locus of control rather than encouraging an internal impetus toward self-control and socially-cooperative behavior. Some parents place their religion higher on their priorities than they do their children. Even worse, some authoritarian parents step over the punishment line from emotional abuse into physical abuse. Such abuse adds a layer of psychological damage that exaggerates difficulties and generates anger and emotional neediness.

Any religion that demands celibacy of its priests is more likely to appeal to young men who have no sexual interest in women of mature age, appealing to those who have more inclination toward the same sex or toward children, and who hope that prayer will diminish their unwelcome urges.

Religions extend authoritarianism and the use of threats and shaming, while creating a sense of alienation and failing to promote emotional health. More than this, religions delay the threatened punishment until the 'next' life and give believers a get-into-heaven-regardless escape clause. Believers almost invariably seem to think that it is the other guy, and not they, who will suffer the fires of eternal damnation – all they have to do is believe effusively and suck up to God. So, for the believer, religion promises an exemption from punishment – they call it salvation. Isn't it convenient that Jesus died so that they could selfishly escape the consequences of their sins?

Not only this, but religions applaud those who are hateful or hypocritical, provided that their animosities, vitriol, and dalliances are cloaked with a religious disguise – and provided that they say 'God bless' after a hateful utterance. It's even praiseworthy to break commandments against murder when the killings are committed for the sake of religion.

Religions also promise emotional succor that, in the absence of the promised God, religions are unable to deliver. Thus, those who believe that religious devotions will save them from shameful impulses will merely find that these unrelieved urges will build to an explosive level, accompanied by heightened shame that their faith has not been strong enough to conquer the urges.

It really isn't at all surprising that so much bad behavior emanates from the religiously devoted, while atheists are comparatively underrepresented in America's jails.

bigotry, fundamentalism, psychology, religion, society


ID-advocate Michael Behe caught in own illogical, scientifically discredited trap."Scientists, universities, even nations are finally having the courage and resolve to expel biased anti-knowledge delusions and delusionists.

"Baylor was involved in asking for the grant that brought Dembski back, but when his return was made known to the administration, Baylor returned the grant, effectively terminating his position.

The administration said it was initially unaware of Dembski's inclusion in the grant proposal because the proposal did not go through the proper academic channels. In documents obtained by The Baylor Lariat, Marks claimed otherwise but also called his collaboration with Dembski "stealth until others made it visible."

Marks became involved in another academic controversy this fall when his Web site containing research related to intelligent design was removed from Baylor's server."
The battle between science and creationism has reached the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where a creationist researcher refused to conduct work on "evolutionary aspects" of a grant for which he was hired.

"I am so amused. A creationist lost his job at Woods Hole, and he was a zebrafish developmental biologist. The creationist, Nathaniel Abraham, briefly held a post-doctoral position under Mark Hahn at Woods Hole."" PZ Myers, developmental biologist
The project had clearly required scientists to use the principles of evolution in their analyses and writing, so Nathaniel Abraham had obtained the research position through false pretenses. Abraham's supervisor asked him to resign, pointing out that Abraham "should have known of evolution's centrality to the project because it was evident from the job advertisement and grant proposal." Abraham, who completed graduate training at Catholic St John's University, now works at Liberty University, a Christian university founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, in Lynchburg, Va..

The Department of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University have posted an anti-IDiocy disclaimer on their official website:

"The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this
position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of "intelligent design." While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific."
So-called Discovery Institute fights a campaign for creationist pseudoscience in fancy disguise.If these biased individuals could not find work at Christian colleges with low academic standards, they could always take refuge at the so-called Discovery Institute and devote themselves full-time to anti-science polemics. After all, it does not matter to the Anti-Discovery Institute whether or not its Fellows know any science.

Just to demonstrate how dishonest these people are, this is a talk given by Dembski in which he misrepresents the material in a plagiarized video. Apparently, they tried to pass this material off as supporting ID in their ridiculous, box-office flop.

creationism, intelligent design, religion, science, Nathaniel Abraham, Michael Behe,
William Dembski.


Center for Inquiry, Home Support the Center for Inquiry

"The naturalistic outlook is first and foremost a commitment to a distinctive method of inquiry. The term inquiry refers to the evaluation of belief claims, many of which are largely unexamined in contemporary society-particularly basic beliefs. Many modern thinkers have argued that we should examine our beliefs and theories carefully and assent only to those for which there are adequate grounds. Wherever possible, inquiry should provide rational guidelines for thought and conduct[1].

Skepticism is an essential aspect in this process of inquiry, and it contributed to the development of reliable knowledge. It is used effectively within the sciences. The basic premise is that we need to question our beliefs, particularly those that are central to life, to see if they are well grounded by reason and evidence. We do so in order to advance human knowledge and enhance life. Bertrand Russell held "that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true." He thought that this doctrtine appears to many people to be "widely paradoxical and subversive," for if consistently applied it would overturn some of the most cherished beliefs and sacred cows of society[2]. At the very least, one might agree with Russell's recommendations:

1. we should not accept a belief as true if there is a preponderance of evidence against it, or if it is found to be rationally inconsistent with other well-founded beliefs, or both. To cling to beliefs for which there are abundant evidence and reasons to the contrary is irrational. Another application of this rule is reasonable, that is,

2. that we ought not to accept a belief as true if there is inadequate evidence and insufficient reasons to do so, and conversely,

3. we should accept a belief claim only if it is based on adequately justifying reasons and sufficient evidence. A corollary of this is that

4. where we do not have adequate grounds for believing that something is the case, then we should, wherever possible, adopt the stance of the skeptic and suspend judgment. Reason also dictates that

5. we should always leave the doors open to further inquiry; we should not censor or block the objective examination of truth claims, and any belief claim that is accepted on adequate reasons and evidence should not be insulated from further inquiry."

....more, at cfi

Authoritarianism against Morality

"There is mounting evidence from several sources continuing to challenge the myth that religion is somehow helpful to society. Gregory Paul compared data on the level of religiosity of people in 18 developed countries with data on various social ills. If religion is beneficial the level of faith in the population should correlate with people doing fewer bad things. But it doesn’t. The analysis revealed that higher rates of belief in a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion." AThinkingMan at de-conversion.

A Must See

If there were any rational foundation for believing in religion, then there would be no need for rampant Christian paranoia about anything and everything that hints of disbelief. Purely on the basis of its boycott by neurotic religionists, I'd want to see The Golden Compass but this trailer suggests that the movie is probably worth seeing. . . or maybe not.

I liked Black Sun's tempered review, which takes a balanced view of the challenges facing the movie's director in trying to adapt a complex book for an audience of children: The Golden Compass.

There are more trailers here.

Rev Jo All Revved and Ready to Roll


I'm not normally on the side of religion, but this farce demonstrates the idiocy of control-freakism.

One of my prime objections concerning religion concerns the fact that some conservative, fundamentalists are prone to control-freakism. The bottom line is that unfair stupidity is a problem no matter whether it emanates from religion or is directed against someone who just happens to be a minister of religion.

After 19 years with "REV JO" on her licence plates, some anal retentive at the Ministry of Transport decided that Reverend Joanne Sorrill's plates were suggestive of an invitation to road racing and refused to renew the plates. A Canadian-level uproar (read, subdued) ensued because a middle-aged minister is hardly likely even to appear to promote road racing, let alone do it.

Next, the MOT shifted their reasons for denial. A government review panel determined the letters "REV'' could denote an "alcoholic, cooler-type beverage'' of the same name, and denied the plate on the grounds it could be construed as promoting drinking and driving.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty stepped in and overruled this ridiculous decision, saying, "Every once in a while governments do things that bring themselves into disrepute; we can also do things that make ourselves outright laughable, (and) this is one of those instances.''

McGinty's overruling means that another resident will be able to replace his aging "HVF8TH (have faith)'' licence plates, despite having being told by the ministry they were unacceptable. Nauseating maybe, but even a life-long atheist such as I does not consider that objectionable.

Transportation Minister Jim Bradley reportedly defended the nine-member review panel that makes the decisions on vanity plates, insisting they have a tough job and that their work "is a difficult science.''

Please, please, Mr Bradley, matters are bad enough without taking the name of science in vain!

Weird, Weird, Weird, and Weirder

Make that hiccuping some posts in quadruplicate and posting headers that link to other blogs than the topic indicates.

Is this part of a 1 in a million fallacy experiment, Pedro?

Speaking of Naming

Muhammad enjoys a bath.
You've heard of a boy named Sue, so why not a pig named Muhammad? I hear that they are intelligent animals.

Muhammed leads the pigs
Who needs a horse when pigs can race?

If Pigs could fly, who'd need a flying horse?

Especially when pigs can fly!

If you really want to view some irreverence against control-freakism, here are some cartoons.

No Mention? No Surprise

I have not seen any mention of these recently released results on American blogs. One might have briefly wondered why, but the figures will explain.


"The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardised assessment that was jointly developed by participating countries and administered to15-year-olds in schools. The survey was implemented in 43 countries in the 1st assessment in 2000, in 41 countries in the 2nd assessment in 2003, in 57 countries in the 3rd assessment in 2006 and 62 countries have signed up to participate in the 4th assessment in 2009.

Tests are typically administered to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country. The PISA 2006 results were released on 4 December 2007."

However, the results for science were reported early.

Finland 563
Hong Kong 542
Canada 534
Taiwan 532
Estonia 531
Japan 531
New Zealand 530
Australia 527
Netherlands 525
Liechtenstein 522
Korea 522

The point is that 35 countries ranked ahead of the US in aggregate science scores and 34 countries performed ahead of the US in mathematics. The US appears not to have participated in reading testing.

For comparison, scores for science, math, and reading:
Finland ranked 1st, 2nd, and 2nd in reading - congratulations, Finland!
Canada ranked 3rd, 7th, 4th.
Australia ranked 9th, 13th, 7th.
UK 21st, 24th, 17th.
US, 36th, 35th, -.

What's wrong with this picture? What happened to "no child left behind"? The US is one of the wealthiest developed nations – it certainly brags that it is – and the US does have some fine postsecondary schools and has historically performed well in research, but these numbers suggest that this advantage will not continue.

"While in every country, student performance tended to be stronger for students with more favourable home backgrounds, this relationship (or “socio-economic gradient”) was much more powerful in some countries than others."

In those countries that performed well across the board, the impact of socio-economic disadvantage was less than average, while for the US it was higher than average, indicating that education is very 'spotty' in the US. No surprise. Inner city schools and rural schools, particularly in the Bible Belt probably perform well below par. Widespread anti-science and anti-expert polemics in the US can't be helping matters.

Things also seem to have changed with time. My education took place in England (primary and grammar school), Australia (high school and degree), and Canada (degrees). At the time that I completed my second university degree (in Canada), I would have guesstimated that the educational ranking would have been England > Australia > Canada. It appears that the current situation is the reverse of this, at least for 15 year olds. I'm glad about this because I live in Canada, so the taxes that I pay toward education appears to be money well spent. Now, if we could just get rid of our uranus of a PM!

If I lived in the US, I'd be furious about these results. But then, even though I consider the US a nice place to visit, it would take a great deal to induce me to live there.

Weird, Weird, and Weirder

Planet Atheism has been hiccuping double copies of some blogs for a while, but now it's posting in triplicate.

Battle to Regress

I finally completed The Discoverers and have begun to read The Battle for God by former nun, Karen Armstrong (NYT book review). She first traces the historical backdrop to the evolution of fundamentalist movements in the Abrahamic monotheistic religions. (I have only reached the chapter on Christianity, and might post more later.)

I shall use color to distinguish between her ideas and mine. Armstrong is an engaging and convincing writer. She makes two basic points: human thinking can be characterized as governed by mythos or logos, and fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon that has arised out of religionist fear of secularism.

Modern Western societies since the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution have increasingly embraced rational thinking: logos. Armstrong points out that this shift to evidence-based thinking has necessarily pushed mythologies into the background.

"Myth was regarded as primary; it was concerned with what was thought to be timeless and constant in our existence. Myth looked back to the origins of life, to the foundations of culture, and to the deepest levels of the human mind. Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning. Unless we find some significance in our lives, we mortal men and women fall very easily into despair. The mythos of a society provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal. It was also rooted in what we would call the unconscious mind. The various mythological stories, which were not intended to be taken literally, were an ancient form of psychology."

Unfortunately, despite also advocating tolerance and compassion towards others, religions do not, in fundamentalist practice, actually promote healthy human psychology. Instead they issue authoritarian, moralistic edicts concerning prescribed behaviors that are of more benefit to control-needs in the prescriber than to those whose behavior is dictated. Societies and groups witin societies reflect the collective emotional psychology of their members. The influence of the "Baby Boom" generation is a case in point — the relatively disproportionate numbers of those born between 1946 and 1964 had an unprecedented impact on society, particularly in the US.

Fundamentalism appeals to those who react to others with fear and intolerance, and who wish to impose a rigid morality on others and on the political scene.

Concerning the difficulties experience by societies in navigating the transition from agrarian to technological secularism:

"As a result, men and women are trying to find new ways of being religious; like the reformers and prophets of the Axial Age, they are attempting to build upon the insights of the past in a way that will take human beings forward into the new world they have created for themselves."

Interestingly, Armstrong cites the Shabbateans as an example of the negative impacts of attempting to translate mythos into logos, of acting out millennial beliefs in political action.

fundamentalism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, society, Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God.

Anthropic Apologetics

The anthropic principle was first suggested in 1973 by Cambridge cosmologist, Brandon Carter, much to the delight of deists and theists who have usurped it for their apologetic purposes.

The anthropic (cosmological) principle proposes that if the value of the fundamental constants of physics and chemistry were other than they are, then the life-supporting universe would not exist as we know it.

It goes without saying that if the universe were inhospitable to life, then humans could not have evolved and would not be pondering the nature of cosmic fundamentals. It also seems eminently reasonable to accept the calculations of physicists, which indicate that there is a narrow range of values for the fundamental constants that permit those chemical and physical properties that manifest in this universe. There could indeed be some deep reason, other than randomness, for why the fundamental constants have the values that they exhibit in this universe. However, this said, there is no foundation for a deistic, teleological assumption that the values of fundamental constants were tweaked by SkyBrain so as to ensure abiogenesis and biological evolution.

Let's call this the 'argument from fortuitous fundamentals'. This is, of course, the outcome of arguing from the conclusion that the ancient meme of miraculous interventionist/s has foundation. That is, the anthropic cosmological apology begins with the received assumption that the supernatural exists and proceeds to argue that the fortuitious combination of fundamental values indicates purposeful design interference by God. Theists begin with an acceptance of the mythology and then concoct apologetic arguments to support the conclusion from which they begin their arguments. Such arguments are both unfounded and fatally circular. The anthropic apologetic argument is mathematical prestigitation.

I have adapted the following from Paul Davies', The Goldilocks Enigma:

The possibilities are:
. 1) the fundamental constants could have been otherwise, or
. 2) the fundamental constants could not have been otherwise

If 1), then
. a) this singular universe happened by 'chance',
. b) this universe is one of many (multiverses) in which we happened to have evolved,
.. b ii) in a process of cosmological natural selection, fecund universes have "offspring" which are more plentiful if they happen to have features common to our universe

If 2), then 2) might obtain because:
. c) that just happens to be the way things are,
. d) there is a deep underlying unity in physics which necessitates the universe being this way,
. e) there is an underlying principle that constrains the universe to evolve towards life and mind, . f) perhaps only universes with a capacity for consciousness can exist
. g) an 'intelligent designer' pre-set the constants to fine-tune the universe for life
. h) it's all an illusion and we are living in a virtual reality simulation

i) it could be that the universe progresses through cycles of 'implosion' and 'explosion' in which the fundamental constants gradually progress in value (against this is the fact that our universe appears to be undergoing an accelerating expansion, but this could merely be a novel end-event).

[labels: b='multiverse' bii='cosmological natural selection', c='absurd universe', d='unique universe', e='life principle', f=s'elf-explaining universe', g="IDiocy", h='fake universe', i=my variation]

In Paul Davies' recent NYT article entitled Taking Science on Faith, Davies falsely implies that there are only two possible cosmological explanations – the anthropic apology (g) or multiverses (b). Since Davies expounded on more possibilities in his book, this implication probably reflects space constraints rather than dishonesty or incompleteness.

In reality, there is no good reason to assume that some potent agency exists beyond the fundamentals of existence. It is possible that the fundamental constants could not have been other than they are despite lack of supernatural interference. It is also possible that the constants could have been other than they are, but that the cosmos 'lucked onto' the values that have permitted our evolution. It is beyond the bounds of reasonable possibility that some intelligent agency of sufficient complexity and potency to perform the fine-tuning could exist and yet have proven undetectable. Like all deistic and theistic apologetic arguments, the anthropic apologetic argument fails.

Lee Smolin explains:
The logic of the argument of Weinberg and others runs:

A implies B
B is observed
B, together with theory C implies D.


A is any form of the Anthropic Principle of Principle of Mediocrity, together with assumptions about priors, proabability distributions on universes etc, plus our own existence, that leads to the conclusion that we should observe B.

B is that galaxies have formed.

C is the theory of structure formation,

D is that the cosmological constant is not too large.

The fallacy is not to recognize that the first line plays no role in the argument, and the prediction of D is equally strong if it is dropped. One can prove this by noting that if D were not seen, one would have to question the theory C [assuming the observation is correct, as it certainly is here.] One would have no reason to question either A or the assertion that A implies B.

The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the universe just right for life? Allen Lane, the Penguin Press (2006). Published in the USA by Houghton Mifflin under the title Cosmic Jackpot (2007) . . . taken from Wikipedia, Anthropic principle.

Edge: SMOLIN VS. SUSSKIND: THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE . The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford Paperbacks) by John D. Barrow (Author), Frank J. Tipler (Author), John A. Wheeler (Author)

Google search for 'anthropic'

At Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0 Sean Carroll speaks on the possibility that "something" pre-existed the Big Bang.

apologetics, cosmological argument , cosmology, deism, intelligent design, Paul Davies,


In physics, a fundamental force or interaction is an irreducible, or base-level mechanism that cannot be explained by recourse to a deeper level of physical entity.

Successively higher levels of particles and interaction originate within the fundamental forces. Such fundamental forces are the bottom-line of explanatory regressions. The currently recognized fundamental forces are weak and strong interactions, electromagnetic force, and gravitational interaction.

The modern quantum mechanical view of weak, strong, and electromagnetic postulates that the elementary particles of matter, protons and electrons (fermions) do not interact directly with each other. Instead, they are carry a charge and are postulated to exchange virtual particles (gauge bosons), which are the interaction carriers or force mediators of the fundamental forces of Nature. Photons mediate the interaction of electric charges; and gluons mediate the interaction of color charges.

The fortuitous values of the fundamental constants are evoked in the teleological, anthropic apologetic argument.

Crimes involving Bears

The internet is currently crammed with topical pictures of teddy bears – some sporting turbans, at least one holding a grenade, many named with variant spellings of Muhammed.

I get the impression that the lunacy of Islam has gone too far this time. Demands of respect for religion are more contemptible than ever when crowds of hate-filled lunatics take to the streets demanding that someone be killed for allowing children to endow a bear with the commonest male name in Islam.

I was delighted to hear that the sentence was judiciously lighter than the maximum, though even jailing is excessive. To suggest that anyone be killed for such an innocent trifle is utterly contemptible. These people verge on self-obsessed insanity. Not all Muslims, obviously, just the ignorant fundamentalists.

However, it's impossible to have any respect for a religion whose adherents subjugate and mutilate their own women, and who demand cruel and unusual punishments for even the most minor of transgressions. Perhaps we should dub this phase, the Deflowering of Islam, because what was once a sophisticated and tolerant religion has become regressive and intolerant.

Less notorious, though certainly dangerous, the sad, bedraggled little Paddington bear above left was implicated in 2,500 deaths in 2006.

Deaths of trout at a hatchery in Milford, New Hampshire, that is. It appears that the bear clogged a drain, blocking oxygen flow, and suffocating the hapless trout.

Speaking of 'crimes' associated with bears, the better dressed Paddington below right costs £139.00[$264.10]. Cute but costly.

Speaking of money and Islamic malevolence – the Dutch government, who should be ashamed of themselves, have abandoned Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Sam Harris has set up the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust to assist with the cost of protecting her from Islam for daring to speak out against some of its outrages. Also, RichardDawkins.net is donating all proceeds from the sale of the AAIC 07 DVD to the fund.

The other crime involving bears concerns real live bears who are shot because their gallbladders, bile, and paws are valued as (utterly ineffective) alternative medicine by the Chinese. Whenever you read 'alternative medicine' consider that you are reading of a treatment that is ineffective – if it were effective and safe, then it would have been adopted as mainstream medical treatment.

Some people really are quite abominable.

...section index...

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Infidel, Islam, Gillian Gibbons, Muhammed, Sudan, teacher.

On Further Thought

God of the Gaps pens the Misleading Pseudoscience for Dummies, and allegorical text that scores Z- in science.The best aspect of apologetic articles by creationists, deists, religionists, IDiots, besotttists, and reactive theists is not to be found in the articles themselves but in the spate of reactive critical thought provoked from atheists, evolutionists, humanists, and scientists.

After responding too hastily to Paul Davies' cosmological implication for design, I later read reactions from scientists and philosophers of science. I have not changed my mind that Davies' article was an attempt to twist science to deistic purposes, but I think that I am clearer about the nature of Davies' errors. I'll get back to that potentially lengthy topic later. In the meantime, I gave more thought to the important issues facing education in science and philosophy.

I am ever more convinced that all university degrees ought to include a core of critical thinking courses. In fact, my alma mater recently expanded all baccalaureates to 4-year programs and instituted compulsory, core courses on canons of critical thinking.

I think that this became necessary because high school standards had been steadily falling as the bar was lowered post-baby-boom. Matters became so dire, thanks to "whole language" primary teaching, that the universities brought in mandatory English testing for those who had not completed grade 13 English and had completed one year of university courses. Those who failed the compulsory test were required to take remedial English courses. (I considered this delay cruel – far better, I think, to ensure that students have adequate English skills before they lose money, and time, and confidence flunking their first year courses.) Eventually, the provincial government took action and instituted tougher, province-wide educational standards. Teachers complain that these demand more than the kids are ready for. I think that part of this problem stems from the fact that streaming of classrooms has not yet been reintroduced.

While I was completing my university education in science, philosophy of science was not a required subject for science students. Medical ethics and epidemiology were part of the medical curriculum, though many regarded them as a nuisance time-waster that distracted from the voluminous life-and-death material. Many of the humanities degrees did include a core requirement for a basic course in statistics, much to the dismay of students seeking to escape math and science.

Within the science faculties, the topic of philosophy of science was not even discussed amongst my friends and classmates. I suspect that those of us studying science subjects probably mostly dismissed PoS as superfluous. After all, we were already learning how to think along the lines of scientific methodology and interpretation of results. We did not need PoS to know what science did. Philosophy was regarded as that nebulous subject that obsessed itself with long-obsolete thinkers and self-obsessed, fanaticist fantasists who could not make up their minds.

Ironically, the creationist stupidity emanating from the US may be providing a much needed prompt to scientific and philosophical thinking. In the good old days – before YECers and IDiots set about giving the science-ignorant the impression that their religiously-motivated, uneducated opinions were just as valid as the hard-won knowledge of highly-educated experts – science and philosophy were rather rarefied, arcane, esoteric, and inaccessible mysteries about which most of us need not trouble our pretty little neurons.

Belatedly, and thanks to religiously-motivated pseudoscience and usurpation of science, scientists and philosophers have realized that the irritating gnat will not stop buzzing loudly around the ears of the uneducated. Finally, the public has become interested, and scientists and philosophers are beginning to team up to bring a semi-coordinated voice of reason and explication down to the level of those who did not chose to study science or philosophy at university.

...section index...

apologetics, atheism, creationism, deism, intelligent design, naturalism, philosophy, religion, science, theism, Paul Davies,

Regressive God

My parents inform me that I asked "why?" incessantly. Having been provided with an explanation, I would then ask, "Yes, but why?"

This "yes, but why?" question illustrates the principle of regress – for each explanation, we can seek a deeper, underlying explanation until we hit bottom.

"This means that any proposition whatsoever can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned, like a child who asks "why?" over and over again."
(I must have driven my poor parents nuts! It's scarcely a surprise that I should have been drawn to science because scientific method examines explanatory regression in the most satisfactory way.)

"Bottom" is that ultimate, necessary condition for which there is no logical explanation, but which is merely the situation of inexplicable existence. What the just-God theists deride as being "just-so". Necessary conditions describe the fundamental physical forces and constants that underlie the nature of our cosmos: "All we currently know from fundamental physics and cosmology remains consistent with a universe that evolved by purely natural processes." (Stenger)

The NY Times has an op-ed argument entitled Taking Science on Faith. The piece was written by astrobiologist and deistic Christian apologist Paul Davies, whose career seems to have involved progression through increasingly less prestigious universities. This may be linked to his having won the Templeton Prize in 1995. His piece illustrates the problem with fallacious argument from regress.

Davies starts out with a little quote mining and a fallacious tu quoque that is lamentably common in Christian apologetics:
"The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system."

First, the notion of "non-overlapping magisteria" has been rejected by philosophers of science who are no longer bending over backwards to avoid offending twitchy religious sensibilities. If you make the claim that "supernatural" agencies interact with the natural world – by creating the cosmos or interceding in health outcomes, for example – then your claims can be tested by the scientific method. Period. Goodbye NOMA.

Second, although scientists must, for the sake of time-saving efficiency, accept that much received scientific wisdom established by other scientists is valid, the use of the term "faith" is a fallacious equivocation. Knowledge, in general, could not move forward if we did not accept the expert authority of Newton's giants. Religious "Faith" requires that believers adhere to doctrinal tenets despite the complete lack of any empirical evidence for belief – this is the exact opposite of received scientific wisdom. Davies' employment of this term is either ignorant, illogical, or deliberately deceitful. Given that Davies is a trained scientist, one must assume the latter.

Davies continues to expound upon this basic, fallacious argument as a build-up to his fallacious argument from regress:

"Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to "nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational."
Notice that he says "anti-rational" and not irrational. He is relying upon the unquestioning Newtonian-based experience of the theistically duped amongst his readers. It is neither unreasonable, anti-rational, nor illogical, to accept that some things simply exist without (yet) scientific explanation. (In fact, our day to day experience is that things do exist without an obvious explanation. Theists, however, have been instructed to believe that everything has an ultimate supernatural explanation.) It maybe intellectually unsatisfying not to be able to answer "why?" at this level, but this lack is no good reason to toss a God of the Gaps into the regression.

Davies moves on, after more anthropic waffle, to the fallacious implication that explanations of the cosmos must either be a counterintuitive multiverse version or his deistic anthropic principal pseudoexplanation.

"There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them."
Has to be? In whose cosmos must there necessarily be a further physical mechanism that bestows basic physical "bylaws". Notice the "by" in "bylaws"! It attempts to reduce our basic physical laws to a subordinate position. Subordinate to what? Why to Davies' Regressive God, of course. This is conclusion implied by terminology – a car salesman's ploy.

Davies ends with one of the most illogical non sequiturs that I have ever seen: "But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus."

That sentence is so illogical and ridiculous, that I need not comment beyond pointing out that science is about finding explanations for phenomena and it is not part of the requirement of methodological, or even metaphysical, naturalism that science must provide an (impossible) explanation for necessary existence. Part of Davies' flawed argument is that scientists do not presume to provide an explanation for the fundamental cosmic laws – to do so would indeed be to make a leap of faith, and Davies complained that scientists do not do this. He's trying to have it both ways and he probably is not even aware of this philosophical tension in his argument.

I really do believe that deists and theists, even those as well-educated as Paul Davies, ultimately have been forced away from logic by their emotional need to protect inculcated delusional beliefs.

atheism, deism, theism, naturalism, science, Paul Davies, New York Times,