Video: Dawkins vs. McGrath

I reviewed Alister McGrath’s book, Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life over a year ago and have been waiting ever since for Dawkins and McGrath to square of and hash out their disagreements.

John Loftus at, Debunking Christianity, has posted a link to the Google Video of their recent debate. I’m in the middle of watching it now, but, at just over an hour in length, I’m finding it to be a fascinating and the comments following the post are interesting.

Richard Dawkins Interviews Alister McGrath [Debunking Christianity]

Review- Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life [Hot Cup of Joe]

Advertisements

Blog Against Theocracy: Pastafarian Suspended From School


Pastafarian, Bryan Killian, was suspended from school because of his religious attire in North Buncombe, North Carolina. Apparently the school warned him repeatedly to not wear the clothing to school, yet Killian persisted, remaining true to his faith. Read more below the fold.

Okay, for those that don’t know (can there be anyone that doesn’t?), Pastafarianism is the religion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Its adherents believe that the world was created by a touch from his Noodly Appendage and that it is the worldwide decline in the pirate population which has directly contributed to global warming.

Pastafarianism and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are a farce. No doubt about it. But I find the introduction of it to be hilariously problematic for the fundamentalist nutbars that demand pseudoscientific claims and religion be taught in science classes and that the fact of evolution be denigrated to something less than a hypothesis despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that supports it. If you are a fundamentalist, how can you truly deny the FSM? How can you criticize it without criticizing your own beliefs? Indeed, that is probably the very point that Bobby Henderson was making when he wrote to the Kansas School Board during their ‘intelligent’ design hearings. Henderson’s open letter demanded that the FSM version of creation via Noodly Appendage be taught alongside ID and evolution or be sued.

The obvious criticism by the religious is that the FSM is concocted and not meant to be serious, but there’s absolutely no more way to demonstrate this than there is the same criticism of Yahweh, Allah, Brahma, Elohim, Jesus, etc. In fact, I’ll quote such a criticism that I recently encountered:

If a fool can concoct something and get attract a following in the name of religion it indicates that the understanding of religion has left the public sphere – just like if I could sell gold spray painted granite on the gold market it would indicate that the knowledge of what gold is has left the public sphere (even though people might say the word “gold” quite profusely)

My response was this: each of the religions of humanity may very well be nothing more than “golden spray.” And their followers are only willing to scrape away the sprays of cults other than their own, whilst believing that their own cult is gold all the way through. To the believer, there is no reason to scrap at the surface to see if its just spray, since their doctrine tells them it isn’t.

This is the beauty of the Pastafarian movement and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It exposes the religious for what they are as they go on about how its an “invented” religion and “obviously” not real.

The North Buncombe school that suspended Killian maintains that it was his pirate outfit which was the reason for the suspension, since it was disruptive. The very outfit that Killian stated was important for his religion and in appropriately representing his religion. I wonder if the school would be willing to extend its disruption policy to yarmulkes and kippas? Probably not. But what about a dishdasha or a hijab or even a burqa? What if a student wore a t-shirt with a graphic scene from the Passion of the Christ plastered on the front? Would school officials have the courage to be seen as insensitive to other cultures? Its easy enough to argue that there are public schools where Muslim girls wear abayas and hijabs every day without disruption. But, I assure you, there are public schools in Texas where such garb would be very disruptive if for the only reason that the students there have never seen the outfits before.

I don’t think schools should be in the practice of banning religious garb they feel is disruptive. I do, however, think that there should be some limitations: hijabs are one thing, complete obscured faces and burkas are another. An Errol Flynn shirt and a tri-cornered hat are one thing, a sword and live parrot are another. But whether or not the FSM and Pastafarianism are both purely invented or not, Killians school may have opened a can of worms it might wish it hadn’t.

The Blog Against Theocracy

Easter weekend, April 6-8, 2007, is the time. Your blog is the place. The Separation of Church and State is the topic. Thanks to beepbeepitsme, I found this planned blog swarm, which I’ll participate in. I’m not sure what my meager contributions will be yet, but I hope the overall project is a huge success.

The link beepbeep gave me was to the Neural Gourmet’s Blog with the best. Blog against theocracy, where he says

The idea is simple. Just post something related to, and in support of, the separation of church and state each of those three days. Something big, something small, artistic, musical, textual or otherwise. The topic is your choosing. Whether your thing is stem cell research, intelligent design/Creationism, abortion rights, etc., it’s all good.

. But the whole thing appears to be organized mostly by Blue Gal. She discusses the blog swarm, its purpose, and why its needed at The Blog Against Theocracy Blog Swarm. Easter Weekend 2007:

The post will be against theocracy, in favor of our Constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state. But there are a LOT of issues tied to this, as is pointed out in the First Freedom First website:

No religious discrimination.
PRO End-of-Life Care (no more Terri Schiavo travesties)
Reproductive health decisions made by individuals, not religious “majorities”
Democracy not Theocracy
Academic Integrity (like, a rock is as old as it is, not as old as the Bible says)
Sound Science (good bye so-called “intelligent” design)
Respect for ALL families (based on love, not sexual orientation. Hellooooo.)
And finally,
The right to worship, OR NOT.

So take your pick and write your post(s). Really, the wider variety of topics makes it all the more interesting.

Biblical Archeaology: Tomb of Jesus?

James Cameron is to release a documentary that claims to reveal the discovery of the tomb of Jesus Christ. He claims the evidence is statistical analysis and DNA… showing the Messiah was buried next to his wife, Mary Magdalene and their son, Judah (the “Grandson of God?”).

Before I read further in the article, my first thought was what were the comparators and controls?

Apparently, construction workers were erecting an apartment complex when they found the 2,000 year old ossuaries in a burial cave on the West Bank in East Talpiot back in 1980. 1980!? The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has been pressuring archaeologists to publish or be punished lately, and there are excavations from the 1980’s that are just now finding their reports in publication, but, surely, such a discovery would have found academic publication far sooner than now!

The article linked above cites the IAA as noting that, of the 10 ossuaries found, 6 had the names Mary, Matthew, Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Jofa, and Judah son of Jesua. All very common Jewish names unless I’m mistaken. The article goes on to paraphrase the filmmakers as saying that their find in no way implies that Jesus wasn’t actually resurrected 3 days after being killed. They really didn’t need to, since modern medical science informs us in this regard.

What the article doesn’t tell us is what the comparators were in the statistical and DNA analyses James Cameron and his film crew used (or, ostensibly, outsourced to actual researchers). Presumably, one will need to pay $7.50 (not including popcorn and a drink) to find out.

Robert Park‘s list of the Warning Signs of Pseudoscience lists as #1 “the discoverer pitches his claim directly to the media.” I think this fits. As time goes on, perhaps other warning signs will emerge: a powerful establishment (religion? “mainstream” archaeology?) will seek to suppress the claim; the scientific effect at the limits of detection (we’ll have to wait for the statistical/DNA data sets to see); evidence is anecdotal (so far anyway); the discoverer worked in isolation (since 1980!?).

Or… maybe the data is genuine. I’m not holding my breath.

Atheism vs. Theism in Recent News

Afarensis recently posted a short review of the Newsweek article, The New Naysayers . A bit later, PZ Myers posted a more in depth discussion at Pharyngula.

The discussions at these two blogs are well-done and the comments are interesting, so I won’t attempt to duplicate what they’ve already accomplished here. Anything I could say would pale in comparison to either of these gentlemen and I highly recommend both of the links above.

I’d first like to list some videos that can be found on YouTube that have a fair amount of Richard Dawkins’ The Root of All Evil? There may be more, but these are the ones I’ve found and I’ve tried to list them in order:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AB2vmj8eyMk (Pt 1)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVQoxrrMftA (Teapot Atheists)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76UDVB-ofpI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmNjfpoRZpE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGeL1yFeK6I
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kcKInudkq4 (Pt 2.1)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T27Ef_xvYMs (Pt 2.2)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPBdz-TXlaI (Pt 2.3)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTKLM09FeNM (Pt 2.4)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwD9HOrjLRw (Pt 2.5)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGLPViVW5ms (Pt 2.6)

Dawkins was one of several figures that was discussed in the Newsweek article as issuing “bone-rattling attacks on what they regard as a pernicious and outdated superstition.” Other atheistic luminaries mentioned were Daniel C. Dennett and Samuel Harris, authors of Breaking the Spell and The End of Faith, respectively. Dawkins’ The God Delusion is due out in October.

The question (sometimes the accusation) arises in many discussions with atheists, particularly on the Internet, is religion evil? Certainly the very title of Dawkins’ recent BBC series is suggestive of the question, though it should also be noted that Dawkins was against the title, The Root of All Evil? and protested. BBC won, but the inclusion of the question mark was their consolation to Dawkins. As an anthropologist, I find religion a fascinating topic. Clearly, humanity is hardwired to “believe” and to engage in magical thinking. The evidence is abundant to support this hypothesis and found in neurology, biology, and anthropology. That there are so many religions in human culture, both geographically and temporally, is suggestive that there are none which are genuine in their claims of supernatural agency.

But to answer the question of whether or not religion is evil would require two definitions: one of religion and another of evil. To define religion, I agree with Daniel Dennett’s assessment: “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.” I won’t attempt to define evil, I think we can all come to some mutual agreement that evil means bad for you and others. But I’m afraid I cannot agree that religion, in the broad term of the word is “evil.” Certainly, there are those within specific religions that are evil and, certainly, there are those religious sects and cults that are evil in their deeds (most cults of Christianity and Islam come to mind). But religion on the whole is a social system and is not capable of being either good or evil.

Weinberg suggested that for man to be truly evil, religion is required, but I think this also gives too much credit to a social system. I do, however, think that religion enables the worst in humanity to come out and religion has traditionally been one of the main points of contention in wars and the justification for the persecution of “others.” Religion inspired civilizations of prehistory to build monumental architecture and develop agriculture. For that, ancient religion should be praised. But, in modern times, that same ancient religion is obsolete and getting in the way of the progress it once inspired. In the United States, the most religious nation in the so-called Developed World, those that consider themselves religious have all the problems they say are immoral: abortion, addiction, crime, adultery, etc. Moreover, religious superstition threatens the advancement of science and world peace. Crime in the United States exceeds that of the rest of the industrialized West -the secular states of Scandinavia, France, Japan and the like.

Sure. This correlation is casual. I admit it. But wouldn’t the religious have more ground to stand on if they were actually able to show that religion works? Instead, the religious act as though science and atheists are actually out to eliminate them and that atheists are organizing into some “movement” that will actively seek to destroy God and his believers. A recent study in the American Sociological Review (vol 71, April 2006) reveals that atheists are America’s least trusted group:

[t]hose surveyed tended to view people who don’t believe in a god as the “ultimate self-interested actor who doesn’t care about anyone but themselves.”

Yes, atheists are self-interested. Einstein gave nothing to the world; Susan B. Anthony’s efforts were only for herself; Carl Sagan made no attempt to share his knowledge; and Abraham Lincoln was obviously only thinking of himself with the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address. The religious of the nation don’t care that atheists aren’t out to get them and refuse to accept that atheism is only about not accepting a god based on critical thought and reason. They want a dichotomy. I’m with PZ, who closed his post linked above with:

Yes, let us choose sides. I’m on the side of enlightenment and knowledge and critical thinking and the rejection of dogma. Which side are you going to be on?