atheism, christians, education, health care, justice, Mormonism and other forms of child abuse, religion, religious right, Things We Should Know, willful blindness to absurd extremes

The Ultimate Responsibility

I am not a parent. It’s not that I didn’t want to be, I love children, and they seem to tolerate me well enough; events in my life have thus far prevented me from being a father. Which, of course, does not preclude it from happening in the future, and as time marches on, I have come to realize that I will in all likelihood become a ‘step’ to an older child or children, perhaps even adult children. I look forward to whatever life brings in that regard – I feel like I would have something to offer in terms of support, love, and guidance should the opportunity present itself.

I have great admiration for my close friends who are parents – you know who you are, and you know I admire you for persevering when times inevitably got tough and for producing incredibly intelligent and just thoroughly fantastic kids. Some of you have faced incredible hardship and adversity and still managed to bring up some resilient and loving children. You are the reason I feel like the future is in safe hands – your children will grow up to be independent, thoughtful adults who grew up to be just like you. Take that, Harry Chapin.

As proud as I am to know some amazing parents, and I know there are many more, I am still incredibly pained to hear of incidents like this. It is completely heartbreaking that parents would follow the pseudo-religious, Spanish Inquisition-like parenting style described in this abhorrent book.

book cover

As the article describes, some of the techniques advocated include:

  • Using plastic tubing to beat children, since it hurts a lot but leaves fewer marks to alert authorities
  • Wearing the plastic tubing around the parent’s neck as a constant reminder to obey
  • “Swatting” babies as young as six months old with instruments such as “a 12-inch willowy branch,” thinner plastic tubing or a wooden spoon
  • “Blanket training” babies by hitting them with an instrument if they try to crawl off a blanket on the floor
  • Beating older children with rulers, paddles, belts and larger tree branches
  • “Training” children with pain before they even disobey, in order to teach total obedience
  • Giving cold water baths, putting children outside in cold weather and withholding meals as discipline
  • Hosing off children who have potty training accidents
  • Inflicting punishment until a child is “without breath to complain.”

That children have died is horrifying, although frankly not surprising. A childhood should be a time of joy and learning about the world, it should never resemble a reign of terror. Any “parent” who decides this type of parenting is acceptable is not fit to lead a child into the world.

The fact that it is couched in religious overtones is not in the least surprising. Not only do some of the faithful adhere to the above child torture techniques (I’m the first to admit that not all do, however), some will also refuse medical treatment for their children on religious grounds. The only way we have to prevent abuse like this is to remove faith-based exemptions based on religious belief when a child’s health is at stake. Prayer in all its forms and manifestations have never, ever been proven to be effective in treating illness of any kind, and medical science has been proven unequivocally effective in saving lives, preventing infant mortality, and relieving suffering. Some of the cases listed here are absolutely horrifying. There is no excuse that could justify denying a child a chance at life simply because a parent believes illness is a test or part of a divine plan. Listen up, sunshine, if there were a deity, he created doctors and health care professionals as well as your weak-willed, deluded self. Get in the internal-combustion tool of satan horseless carriage and get your unfortunate spawn to the hospital. If you are lucky, the child will live – if we’re lucky, you’ll never see them again.

I realize I am not going to change anyone’s mind if they choose to follow an abusive religious creed, but if enough of us express our outrage at these types of abuses, perhaps the ruling classes will dilute the opiate just enough to prevent this from happening – even once. Religion, as a phenomenon of human behaviour, should never play a role in determining social or legal responsibility for anything. Marriage is not a religious ceremony, it is a legal one sanctioned by the state – they just let guys in weird dresses officiate. Voting is not a religious duty, it is a social one. I have no objection to religious faith as a private expression of a need for security or a need to feel special or to feel part of a community; however, when you start making decisions on other people’s behalf – what they can or cannot do or say or wear or who they can love – then, I object in the strongest possible terms. This applies to the act of parenting as well. If we value our children and want them to be responsible adults, let them choose to follow or not follow whatever creed works for them. When it comes to a child’s heath, however, your duty as a caregiver always supersedes any doctrine; the need to keep a child alive and to ease their suffering and seek a cure from sources that are proven to be effective is and always should be the moral imperative, not service to some imaginary, insecure dictator.

Religion be damned, if you’ll pardon the expression.

atheism, censorship, christians, justice, law, minority rights, pedophiles/priests, religion, Things We Should Know

The Emerald Isle: Boldly Moving Forward into the 12th Century…

Let me preface these remarks by saying that if we were Irish nationals, both Kevvy and I would be criminals. Kevvy for his most recent post, and me for what I am about to write. Once more unto the breach, dear readers!

On January 1st, 2010, a new law came into effect in Ireland – the law is, according to legislators, primarily designed to modernise laws regarding defamation. Goodness knows, given the state of defamation laws in England, that area could use a bit of cleaning up in the Isles, so to speak. This, however, is not what is most troubling about this legislation. Contained within the law are provisions making blasphemy, the disparaging of religious beliefs which might offend practitioners of a given religion, illegal.  Of course, as one would expect, some, like Richard Dawkins, are speaking out against what is perceived to be a return to medieval thinking.

The Irish Constitution already contains provisions against blasphemy, however, Ireland and other countries which have similar laws or edicts have chosen largely to ignore them, given that they are impossible to define or enforce, and constitute an unreasonable restriction on free speech. Modern societies have largely recognized the importance of free speech and the benefits of the unrestricted flow of ideas. What is puzzling is that some commentators cannot even identify whose idea this was, or whether religious leaders of any denomination have pushed to have this law enacted.

Some will recall my post on the efforts of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to pass a United Nations resolution making disparagement of religion an offense around the world – even as a non-binding resolution, it is a terrifying prospect that such resolutions can even be seriously entertained in a global context.  This new law is an unreasonable and unwarranted attack on free speech and should not be tolerated. While we are turning our gaze toward Africa and threatening dire consequences if homosexuality is outlawed in Uganda, this type of petty, superstitious nonsense is actually happening in what is presumed to be the ‘civilized’ West. There are people around the world who are suffering unnecessary misery due to the efforts of supposedly well-meaning christians, and direct conflict between religious ideologies is killing hundreds, if not thousands of people a day in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Recently, a court in Malaysia decided it was acceptable for non-muslims to use the word ‘allah’, as long as it is not misused. Thousands are up in arms at what is seen as an insult to islam – never mind that the word ‘allah’ means ‘god’ in Arabic, and could conceivably come up in conversation in a respectful way – and this is just one of many instances where the rule of law has come up against the forces who encourage the growth of superstition and the suppression of competing ideas. The suppression of ideas, even ridiculous ones, is dangerous because it is a slippery slope from protecting one set of ideas from another to defining one idea, or ideology, as better or more worthy of promotion by a government.

Unless there are instances of demonstrable harm (such as are inherent in militant religions of any stripe), people should be permitted to share ideas and let the minds of others accept, debate or deny them as they see fit. It is the only way societies can grow and evolve – technology is great, but without ideas to determine its use, technology is just a tool. Moral ideas, divorced from the burden of religious dogma and developed to provide the greatest benefit for the greatest number, are the force that propels us forward as a race.

A restriction on speech is a restriction on thought, and any infringement on the right to think and speak freely is a violation of human rights, and should be regarded as a crime against humanity.

atheism, censorship, christians, creationism, culture, evolution, religion, religious right, science, Things We Should Know

Evangelicals: Growing Pains (In the Ass)

Former Growing Pains ‘star’ and current delusional paranoid evangelical xtian Kirk Cameron, has indicated that he plans to distribute to U.S. universities 100,000 copies of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, with a new 50-page foreword, to subvert the 150th anniversary of the publishing of the iconic science text on November 22nd, 2009 – “Darwin Day”.

The following from The Huffington Post:

Cameron explains that this “very special” edition of the “Origin of Species” will include an introduction explaining “Adolf Hitler’s undeniable connection” to the theory of evolution, and highlighting “Darwin’s racism” and “his disdain for women.” Cameron’s edition also exposes the “many hoaxes” of evolutionary theory, while presenting a “balanced view of Creationism.”

From the untalented hack’s own mouth:

A clever response from another YouTube user:

There are no limit to the ways I can object to this, and to how offended this makes me. To suggest that someone has the right to potentially alter the text of a seminal work (as suggested here)  is offensive. There is no requirement to be fair in the discussion of established scientific fact – there are no alternate explanations. What discussion happens in the field of evolutionary science concerns the processes within the general theory, not whether the basic theory is true. There is no internal conflict as to the truth of the statement “Organisms evolve and adapt to their environments”, the question of how it happens in specific instances are the subjects of discussion. There is, nor will there ever be, a requirement for ‘fairness’ or for providing time for alternate explanations, unless these explanations are derived from the same methodology. Otherwise, you are comparing scientific apples to schizophrenic oranges.

I propose to give away, for free, 100,000 copies of the Revised Edition of the Bible, which includes extensive references to historical, archaeological and physical scientific records to disprove the assertions of that book phrase-by-phrase. Hey, it’s only fair, right?

Science has no comment on religion (other than in behavioral terms), and religion should not try to usurp the expertise of science. To rehash the tired cliches about Hitler and evolution (let’s have a chat with the American originator of Eugenics, Charles Davenport, before drawing conclusions – Hitler couldn’t have enacted the idea without an American’s help – nice going), and Darwin’s supposed racism (he was, by all accounts, fairly tolerant – as least as much as an Englishman of his time could be) and misogyny (same notation) are idiotic, and will not convince anyone that evolution is not a scientific fact. You are, if you’ll excuse the phrase, preaching to the choir – the only purpose of this farce is to reinforce the religious views of those who already believe.

The evidence – ALL the evidence: physical, archaeological, biological, geological, etc., etc., adds up to ‘proven’, no matter how uncomfortable an untalented former teen idol is with the concept.

429px-Charles_Darwin_seatedWay to go, Mr. D.

Fuck you, Kirk Cameron.

No matter what you do, Kirk, Charles Darwin will always be more famous than you. Deal with it.

atheism, christians, creationism, evolution, media, religion

False Compromise: The Purpose of Purpose

The New York Times Op-Ed page on Saturday posted a piece by Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God, on the possibility of common ground between creationists and evolutionists, or, more basically, the religious and the atheists. Even more basically, I believe he has missed the point of human existence entirely, or at least that part of human existence that is explicitly social. Rather a strong indictment, I realize, but let me explain…

Before I begin in earnest, a caveat or two: First, Wright’s book, referenced above, seems by all appearances to be  an interesting exploration of the history of religion, for the most part, so I wouldn’t consider him an apologist or someone attempting to rationalize the validity of creationism.  Second, I appreciate his apparent attempt to reconcile or at least dial down the rhetoric between creationists and atheists – can’t fault the intent, but I sincerely differ with him on the method.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter. Wright, somewhat curiously, see the potential for detente in the acceptance by both parties of the idea that morality, or the ‘higher purpose’ reflected by the development of moral definitions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, can be seen as universal constants that exist outside the normal course of evolution, or something that may have predated human society. In his own words, Wright describes a conversation with psychologist and atheist Steven Pinker:

As Mr. Pinker once put it in conversation with me: “There may be a sense in which some moral statements aren’t just … artifacts of a particular brain wiring but are part of the reality of the universe, even if you can’t touch them and weigh them.” Comparing these moral truths to mathematical truths, he said that perhaps “they’re really true independent of our existence. I mean, they’re out there and in some sense — it’s very difficult to grasp — but we discover them, we don’t hallucinate them.”

Mr. Pinker’s atheism shows that thinking in these cosmic terms doesn’t lead you inexorably to God. Indeed, the theo-biological scenario outlined above — God initiating natural selection with some confidence that it would lead to a morally rich and reflective species — has some pretty speculative links in its chain.

But the point is just that these speculations are compatible with the standard scientific theory of human creation. If believers accepted them, that would, among other things, end any conflict between religion and the teaching of evolutionary biology. And theology would have done what it’s done before: evolve — adapt its conception of God to advancing knowledge and to sheer logic.

Those of us who are interested can see the inherent flaw in this proposed compromise: introducing an invisible, unverifiable causal relationship to an accepted and observed phenomenon is unnecessary and constitutes an abrogation of the scientific method. One can hear Occam’s Razor plummeting toward us as we read.

The ultimate reasoning ere seems to be that Wright (and others) need an answer for why evolution (the example given) happens the way it does; what is wrong with the way the question is being asked is that the scientific ‘why’ is fundamentally different from the spiritual ‘why’. One seeks to explain cause-and-effect logically, while the other seeks to understand what the purpose of a phenomenon is – eminently comforting to those who cannot accept the idea of a random, disordered, chaotic universe.

To me, the essay echoes what I could call the “Von Daeniken Sydnrome”, after the author Erich von Daeniken, who postulated, very simply, that pyramid construction could only have been accomplished through the timely assistance of visitors from outer space. The basic premise of this is that humans lack the ingenuity and skill necessary to develop such an engineering marvel. Wright dismisses the possibility that phenomena like altruism could have developed independent of outside ‘cosmic’ influence, due to the fact that altruistic actions cause imbalances – if I give you my last apple because you are hungry, I gain nothing. Am I being influenced by the cosmic morality of the universe by making such a sacrifice?

Not at all. In fact, despite being deprived of a material benefit (the apple), I gain a social benefit (gratitude, positive assessment of my character by others) which may in fact far outweigh the short-term gain of keeping the apple to myself as you starve. Humans are social animals – their ways of interacting with one another have evolved just as they themselves have, but underlying all of the gradual changes to societal mores and values are certain constants that had to develop through interactive processes that involved the understanding of actions and consequences, positive and negative judgments by one’s ‘cultural peers’, and their gradual distillation into concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. These are social constructs, not universal, cosmically-bestowed moral commandments.

Human beings by nature are compelled to impose order on perception, be it physical or social, so it is only natural that a lack of understanding of ever-changing societal dynamics could lead to the imposition of a ‘supernatural’ influence on human morality. The problem is, imposing a cosmic absolute or the fulfillment of some purpose larger than ourselves on the expression of cultural rituals and ideas runs counter to the basic tenets of science as a human endeavor in its most idealized form. This is not a compromise, this is an attempt to impose meaning that isn’t there on emotions and cultural rituals that, ironically, make no sense to religious believers. It is another attempt to paint humans and the rest of the world as ‘special’ and ‘tuned into the universe’.

It is a curious and basic mistake for someone with the apparent credibility of Wright to make, and an even more curious one for a psychologist to make. The Cosmic Game Theory just doesn’t work for me, I’m afraid. I, and many others, have more faith in the ingenuity, resilience and adaptability of humanity for that idea to become more than a curiosity, or a hastily constructed backdoor to divinity.

atheism, censorship, christians, culture, education, religion

A More Palatable Alternative?

Manhattan’s version of the Atheist bus ads:


Even the rep from the Archdiocese of New York doesn’t find this offensive. You could expect, however, that the broad and harsh thumb of political correctness would be turned down at the very idea of such a sign here.  Metro Transit has a few things to learn about being an actual, functioning, modern transit system – this is but one of them.

atheism, christians, culture, religion, science, willful blindness to absurd extremes

Fish Story

So, Stanley Fish has felt the need to reply to the flood of reader responses to his blog post about religion, as I commented on here. His post begins thus:

According to recent surveys, somewhere between 79 and 92 percent of Americans believe in God. But if the responses to my column on Terry Eagleton’s “Faith, Reason and Revolution” constitute a representative sample, 95 percent of Times readers don’t.

Need I say, kudos to New York Times readers. He is gracious enough to indicate that the arguments against his original writing were not just name-calling, but contained some arguments to back it up. I will give credit where it is due, he did not have to acknowledge that his readers are actually intelligent, but he did. From there, however, Fish careens off the rails and into a mud hole of obscurity and postmodern blather.

Any long-time readers of this iteration of Blevkog and of its predecessor will recall that I have somewhat of a… problem with the idea central to postmodern thought: all forms of knowledge and understanding are valid, ergo none are. (I direct you to Francis Wheen’s Idiot Proof for a more fulsome discussion on the matter – I highly recommend it)

His main example is a dispute over the authorship of a poem – people, as he puts it, presuppose who the author may be, and see evidence to support it within the text. He extrapolates this to scientific endeavor, with people assuming they will see no evidence of god, so they see none. Conversely, those who accept god will see evidence of his works everywhere. I need not point out to rational readers that this is a classic example of a false analogy, a rationalization built on a faulty premise. The point, to adapt his example, is not to establish which author is reponsible for a particular work, but to establish that a human being wrote it, and that it did not spring from supernatural causes. The assumption of one author or another excludes its’ composition by ghosts or aliens, therefore it is a rational process. The problem arises when you ignore the central tenet of Occam’s razor, and add layers of explanation that require additional assumptions. If I assume Shakespeare wrote a sonnet attributed to him, there are rational and generally accepted ways to analyze the text to look for some clues for alternative attribution. I cannot, however, assume that it was written by a poet in the 30th century who travelled back through time and assumes Shakespeare’s identity when composing the work. It is accepting the limits of reasonable, and indeed possible, explanations that makes the poem analogy work as a metaphor for science.

As the whole piece is built on a faulty premise, Fish must struggle to reconcile the weakness of his analogy with his inability to refute his readers:

To bring all this abstraction back to the arguments made by my readers, there is no such thing as “common observation” or simply reporting the facts. To be sure, there is observation and observation can indeed serve to support or challenge hypotheses. But the act of observing can itself only take place within hypotheses (about the way the world is) that cannot be observation’s objects because it is within them that observation and reasoning occur.

While those hypotheses are powerfully shaping of what can be seen, they themselves cannot be seen as long as we are operating within them; and if they do become visible and available for noticing, it will be because other hypotheses have slipped into their place and are now shaping perception, as it were, behind the curtain.

By the same analysis, simple reporting is never simple and common observation is an achievement of history and tradition, not the result of just having eyes. And while there surely are facts, there are no facts (at least not ones we as human beings have access to) that simply declare themselves to the chainless minds Hitchens promises us if we will only cast aside the blinders of religion.

The fact that this makes his argument invalid as well seems to escape him.

History and tradition govern the operation of science as well – methods are tested and developed, theories and hypotheses are tested and re-tested, we learn from the past. What we should not do is allow the superstitions of the past to overwhelm our reason. If, as Fish asserts, religions are as valid a way of knowing the world as any other, are we to accept the resurgence of human sacrifices to assure bountiful harvests, or to make the sun rise as necessary for our survival? If not, are we to assume that some religions do in fact have a premium over others in their interpretations of reality? Who decides? Is Fish actually preaching the supremacy of his own religion over others, and, if so, doesn’t that violate one of the fundamental ideals of religion (or in fact does it just represent the bias inherent in religious thought)?

We assume the relative importance of things around us, that is true, but that reflects these individual parts’ varied utility to us as we proceed through our daily life – everything around us is simply not as important as everything else. While the ojects in our homes are probably of greater importance to us than the average, they still are relatively more or less important dependent on context – the TV becomes less important as the pipes burst (at least, unless it’s the playoffs – remember, there are priorities). The same applies to facts, particularly about the natural world – they exist, and they do present themselves, but we do have to focus on them and apply the scientific method to discover them in a way that is transparent and rational, and, perhaps most importantly, can be re-discovered by others following the same method. ‘Facts’ in a scientific sense do not come onstage and dance for us unless they pass the auditions, thank you, to borrow from Fish’s artistic metaphor. The assumptions that make science what they are, of precision, of testing and re-testing, of openness to criticism and sharing of knowledge, have nothing in common with the blind faith required from religion – religious ideas fail as knowledge because they require no rigor, only a decision to consciously omit rigor in our thought.

Tradition is, and always is, an insufficient argument to establish anything – scientific methods have come down to us over time, ’tis true, but it’s because they have been proven to be consistent and reliable. Other traditions, like the aforementioned human sacrifices, or prohibitions against women voting, or owning property, etc., simply have no utility in an advanced society – they have no utility in practice.

Science and religion do not compare to one another, and they are not compatible with one another, no matter what anyone says – you do either your work or your faith an injustice if you try to have it both ways. Fish tries, and fails, to denigrate rationalism by indicating that religion is immune from the criticism that it relies on faith. The point is meaningless, and ill-considered for a university professor – it is comparable to saying that I must not be a white male because I have never said that I am (I am, and I have said so, repeatedly – but you take my point).

Perhaps the most telling portion of Fish’s post is the last line, which is simultaneously the most arrogant and ignorant comment I have ever seen, made all the worse because he refers to himself:

I refer you to a piece by syndicated columnist Paul Campos, which begins by asking, “Why is Stanley Fish so much smarter than Richard Dawkins?” Darned if I know.

The article would havc been more informative if it consisted of just that statement. We would then know clearly what Stanley Fish’s thesis was: I’m smarter than anyone else.


atheism, blogger, christians, culture, media, religion, religious right

Wow. You’re an Idiot.

Stanley Fish, on his blog for the New York Times, reviews a book by Terry Eagleton (what an American sounding name), Reason, Faith and Revolution. The book and the blog post are rife with inaccuracies about the structure, function, and basic nature of science and reason. Some choice excerpts, and my responses:

British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

The most universal and absolute of truths? Truths for whom? Certainly not me, nor many other countless millions of men and women, who regard religion as utter balderdash. And regarding direct links, I assume you write on a computer, which is connected to a huge network of other computers we call the Internet. Do you work from your climate-controlled, well-lit home? If not, did you drive your automobile with the internal combustion engine to your well-lit, network-connected structurally sound place of employment? I think you’re getting the idea as to my view of what is intimately connected to the lives of men and women in the bulk of the Western world, most of Asia and Oceania, and so on. The commonality of technology, and its’ integration into everyday life, didn’t come from divine inspiration, it came from the work of those you devalue: people engaged in the practice of science and reason.

…“A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.” By theological questions, Eagleton means questions like, “Why is there anything in the first place?”, “Why what we do have is actually intelligible to us?” and “Where do our notions of explanation, regularity and intelligibility come from?”

Certainly not from religion – the inherent contradictions within religious traditions render them as questionable sources of wisdom – even then, it was wisdom that may or may not have been useful 2000 years ago in the Middle East, among superstitious tribesmen. In terms of a question like “Why is there anything in the first place?”, I don’t need to point out how vague it is, but I will indicate quite simply that science and reason don’t generally get applied to questions of that nature – ‘Why’ in a philosophical sense is generally irrelevant. ‘Why’ in a cause-and-effect sense is relevant, and takes a great deal of experimentation, observation and careful documentation before we can find an acceptable answer. Ponder why humanity is here if you must, but don’t fault science for not finding answers to unanswerable, and inherently illogical, questions.

…Eagleton, of course, does not tell us [what religion is after], except in the most general terms: “The coming kingdom of God, a condition of justice, fellowship, and self-fulfillment far beyond anything that might normally be considered possible or even desirable in the more well-heeled quarters of Oxford and Washington.” Such a condition would not be desirable in Oxford and Washington because, according to Eagleton, the inhabitants of those places are complacently in bondage to the false idols of wealth, power and progress. That is, they feel little of the tragedy and pain of the human condition, but instead “adopt some bright-eyed superstition such as the dream of untrammeled human progress” and put their baseless “trust in the efficacy of a spot of social engineering here and a dose of liberal enlightenment there.”

Ah, I love the smell of demonization in the morning. Smells like… sour grapes. And, yes, I’m well aware that I’m doing the same thing – this is a rebuttal of sorts, not a news story. By the way, I work for the government (not the U.S. government, but still…), and I have been pleased to work with some of the most caring, dedicated individuals you could ever hope to meet. They feel the tragedy and pain of the human condition as keenly as anyone else, and strive daily to alleviate it.

(In response to the basic question, “Who needs religion?”) Eagleton punctures the complacency of these questions when he turns the tables and applies the label of “superstition” to the idea of progress. It is a superstition — an idol or “a belief not logically related to a course of events” (American Heritage Dictionary) — because it is blind to what is now done in its name: “The language of enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy,” all in the service, Eagleton contends, of an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value.

First, historians are an edgy bunch, I wouldn’t pick on them if I were you. Second, scientific principles of human behavior can and are applied to the past to help illuminate our shared history, and, as indicated above, have been intimately connected with humanity’s everyday life, and indeed, with its’ history, particularly over the last century and a half. Longer lifespans came because of better understanding of population health, the current level of access to information is unprecedented, the potential to view firsthand the countries and cultures previously inaccessible to most people (with the added bonus of fun diseases!), these are just a few of the important ways in which science and reason have positively intertwined themselves with human affairs. Not to mention military technology, but there’s no point in going there for the moment.

… Science, says Eagleton, “does not start far back enough”; it can run its operations, but it can’t tell you what they ultimately mean or provide a corrective to its own excesses. Likewise, reason is “too skin deep a creed to tackle what is at stake”; its laws — the laws of entailment and evidence — cannot get going without some substantive proposition from which they proceed but which they cannot contain; reason is a non-starter in the absence of an a prior specification of what is real and important, and where is that going to come from? Only from some kind of faith.

What is real and important, again in a philosophical sense, is only relevant to an individual as it is relative to the utility of the ideas presented. The laws of evidence do indeed need to start somewhere – without a theory to lend context to evidence, it is not evidence, merely a collection of items, facts, statements, what have you. The context arises from the culture in which the science is embedded, which, in the case of scientific culture, is more universal across international borders than any religious tradition. And you may read up on Dr. Robert Oppenheimer (as just one example) as an introduction to the efforts of some scientists to curb excesses. Who curbs religion’s excesses? Not a lot of trials for those who inflicted the Inquisition, were there? Not much in the way of censure for the religious officials who supported fascism, hmm?

If this is so, the basis for what Eagleton calls “the rejection of religion on the cheap” by contrasting its unsupported (except by faith) assertions with the scientifically grounded assertions of atheism collapses; and we are where we always were, confronted with a choice between a flawed but aspiring religious faith or a spectacularly hubristic faith in the power of unaided reason and a progress that has no content but, like the capitalism it reflects and extends, just makes its valueless way into every nook and cranny.

It is valueless to you if you feel it is so. If that is the case, feel free to disassociate yourself from it and live in a cave with your stone knives and bearskins. If not, if you do truly care about your fellow human being and aren’t just concerned with YOU and how YOUR soul cries out for help from YOUR god and YOU are involved in a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with an all-powerful deity, then try to make it better. Don’t just throw stones and ask us to abandon the benefits of science and reason in favor of superstitious falderol.

Religion may have a useful place in people’s lives – fine by me, as long as they keep their religion to themselves. I frankly don’t care if they feel it will help me – I don’t want or need that kind of help. I recognize the weaknesses inherent in humanity and how progress can rush headlong in front of morality and law, but that doesn’t mean I throw up my hands, close my eyes, plug my ears and give up. That is cowardice, intellectual and moral cowardice. To help the world, you must understand the world – to understand it, you must systematically observe and record it. There is no salvation for humanity except through the work of dedicated women and men who are curing disease, building stronger structures, and linking us together to facilitate the exchange of ideas.

It’s when you fragment the world into the personal, superstitious fiefdoms of religion that we lose touch with each other and we fail utterly to lend a hand to others without a price. Religions preach peace, but fail to use the tools with the most potential to help achieve it. If you’ll excuse a cliche from the ’80s: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.