Tuesday, October 30, 2012

IDHEF - Chapter 5: The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe? (Part II)

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

Part II


   There's not a whole lot to say with this section as they are most likely operating off of that straw man argument about the first life being complex as life today. I do, however, want to cover some of the things that they say that is either them being stupid or them lying. Oh, and since the subsections are short, I'm not going to bother creating headers for them.

   I have to start out with this idea that "nature disorders, it doesn't organize things" (p124). This takes us back to that issue I had just moments ago related to chemicals. If nature doesn't organize things, then how did I go from being a single cell to the multicellular organism I am today? From what they suggest here, my growth from embryo to adult must not have been a natural process, because they say nature doesn't organize. Which is interesting, considering that in Chapter 4, one of the anthropic principles they list seismic activity and speak about how it cycles back "nutrients on the ocean floors" (p106). So they seem to know what they say here is not true. So are they being stupid or are they lying? (Another example I have considered myself is thunderstorms (or the water cycle). If you listen to a weatherperson, ze may refer to a storm as a "complex." Or ze may talk about a storm "building." So are storms supernatural then? How about hurricanes? Or what about stars? Right now, our sun is performing nuclear fusion, combining hydrogen atoms to form helium. Stars more massive than our own can form as much as iron through their normal fusion process. This is organization coming from natural processes. Or are they claiming nuclear fusion is a supernatural process?)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Theologians Respond! ...Laughably.

   I've seen some theologians respond to Mourdock's comments about rape. They have been mostly laughable from my perspective. Let's take a look at some...

From CNN...
Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the best-selling book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” said Mourdock’s remarks were off-base: “He’s invoking the will of God where it is not appropriate."
What does that mean...not appropriate? Better yet, when is it appropriate? This goes with many of the points I made in my post. It seems perfectly acceptable to "invoke the will of God" when good things happen or in regards to the survivors of a tragedy. But when bad things happen or in regards to those who died in the very same tragedy? Not appropriate!!! That is how I read this quote; it's not that Mourdock was wrong but rather that Mourdock violated the first rule of Fight Club (which is to not talk about Fight Club).

People “should have compassion for the person whose life is messed up by this and not make her an instrument for our idiosyncratic, theological commitment,” Kushner said.
Again, it still feels that this Rabbi is not disagreeing with Mourdock as much as thinks Mourdock needs to shut up.

“If you believe she has no right to terminate that pregnancy, you're free to believe that,” Kushner said. “But for you to write your preferences into law and compel another person to mess her life up because of what you believe, I think you're going too far.”
This is one of those quotes that really bothers me. Of course he's supposed to try to write this stuff into law! What is the purpose of laws, after all, if not to give or ban certain rights? I believe that no one has the right to own slaves. Should we not have this written into our laws? The real issue here is that this belief stems purely from Mourdock's religious beliefs. He has no good non-religious reasons for writing this into law, which, as a secular nation, is supposed to be par for the course.

"Once again, expressions of Christian faith that honor the rights of women to choose their own health care options and what happens to their bodies are not seen or heard," wrote the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel.
Yeah, and do you want to know why? Because the people who are honoring the rights of women are doing so not because their Christianity dictates it but because they are people who care about the rights of others. Get it? Mourdock's beliefs stem directly from his Christian beliefs. The beliefs of these other Christians do not. I will concede, however, that not all denominations of Christianity dictate the beliefs that Mourdock has.

Father Tom Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said he found Mourdock’s comments troubling from a Catholic perspective because “God does not want rape to happen.”
Hey, didn't we recently see someone else say we shouldn't be "invoking the will of God"...or something? Oh, but that's right! That comment was about doing it when it was "inappropriate." Yet, this goes to my point that it's fine to invoke this will when it has a positive feel to it.

“Someone getting pregnant through rape simply means biology continues to function,” Reese said. “That doesn’t mean God wills it.
I completely agree! But then you don't get to say that "God wills it" in regards to someone getting pregnant through consensual sex. What bothers me is how it's biology, except when it isn't. By which I mean it seems very convenient that it is biology only when it is inconvenient to be the "will of God." To be fair, I don't know if this particular person believes it to not be biology otherwise, but I do get such impressions from other people.

“If we look at the Scriptures, we see a God who weeps with those going through pain, who is compassionate for those who suffer and condemns those who do injustice,” Reese said.
I saw pretty much the same comment from another theologian on Raw Story (posted later below). Some of the reaction there amounted to, "Umm... have you read your Bible?" I would assume this person has. I grant that you can find parts in the Bible that sound much like this (probably without the weeping deity, though). There are a lot of parts that portray much the opposite, especially in the Old Testament. The New Testament is more mixed. In one passage, you may have a Jesus who seems to care about helping people. The next? A Jesus who threatens people with hell mobster style! (In other words, the threats are indirect. A mobster may threaten someone's family by saying, "That's a nice family you have there. It'd be a shame if something happened to them!" Such indirectness has, unfortunately, made it easier for Christians to deny that such threats exist.)

Paul Root Wolpe, the director for the Center of Ethics at Emory University, said Mourdock’s comments were the equivalent “of saying you shouldn't pull people out of the rubble because God intended the earthquake to happen or we shouldn't try to cure disease because it's God who gave us the disease,” Wolpe said.
First, where, exactly, was Mourdock saying we shouldn't help rape victims? He was just saying that they have to keep any pregnancies that may result. Maybe (I doubt it, but maybe) he's all for providing them with some financial assistance while they go through the pregnancy and perhaps afterward as well if they decide to raise the child themselves? I see what he is trying to do with these analogies, but they don't fit. Second, notice that he isn't denying that his god intends earthquakes, disease, and (probably) rape.

[Mike Deeg, the pastor of Mourdock's church] said of what he has read about Mourdock’s remarks, they largely lined up with the church’s teachings on the sanctity of life and their belief that life begins at conception.

“I think rape is a horrible thing, and I think God would condemn rape as horrible,” Deeg said. “I think we’re made in the image of God regardless,” he added, “I don’t think the circumstances dictate whether God knows us and loves us, regardless of how our conception comes about.”
He agrees with Mourdock. Color me shocked! (not)

And just an extra, since it stuck out...
[John] South, the chaplain in Phoenix, said the 12-year-old girl he met years ago opted for an abortion and her father was ultimately convicted of rape. He said he grappled often with “why she was subjected to such horrendous pain and torture, mentally, physically and emotionally.”

“Did it shake my faith? No,” South said. “Did I ask God why? Of course.”
Did you get an answer?

So let's recap. What did our theologians/rabbis/pastors actually say in regards to Mourdock (paraphrasing)?

Rabbi Harold Kushner - "Don't talk about it!" Doesn't say Mourdock is wrong. Sure, doesn't say Mourdock is right, either, but he sure blew an opportunity if he does disagree.
Father Tom Reese - "God doesn't intend rape!" But Mourdock didn't say that about the rape. He said it about the pregnancy. People have inferred that means the rape must be intended as well. I disagree.
- "Pregnancy from rape is biological!" This one addresses what Mourdock actually said and shows clear disagreement. But what are his thoughts toward pregnancies that are from consensual sex? Are there inconsistencies?
Paul Root Wolpe - "We help people who are in crisis!" Mourdock never said we don't; doesn't address issue.
Pastor Mike Degg - "Yep, everything he said we teach in my church!" Proud pastor!

Out of all those quotes in that post, we found merely one paragraph that actually countered what Mourdock said. Everything else either agrees with Mourdock (Degg), dances around the question (Kushner, South), or answers the wrong questions (Reese's first quote, Wolpe).

From Christian Science Monitor (via Raw Story)...
What Mourdock said “is offensive,” says Richard Lints, a theologian of the Reformed tradition... “The clumsiness is [to] so align God with evil that God becomes a horrific figure. It’s contrary to anything you read in scripture, and it removes the human responsibility.”
This is the quote I referenced above that had an "Umm... have you read your Bible?" reaction. Of course he has, but I would guess he's aiming for an audience that hasn't...unless he has actually convinced himself that what he speaks of the Bible is true.

“The Calvinist would say God has permitted [bad] things to happen” because humans have free agency, says Gary Scott Smith, a Presbyterian minister and historian at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. “But we should not attribute [evil things] to God, even though God can bring good things out of them.”
This is the more interesting one. It's on the verge of being contradictory, if not so. The issue is that the free will defense* is used to explain why bad things happen. But, to be consistent, it should be all-or-nothing. Either this god does get involved in things both good and bad or not at all. The way this is stated, I get the impression from the "God can bring good things out of them" remark that this god can be involved, but this involvement is one-sided. Now, this is a Presbyterian minister talking about Calvinist beliefs, so perhaps he is not agreeing with the free will defense. But then how is he justifying this point about how "we should not attribute [evil things] to God"?

Moreover, there is nothing here that is in disagreement with what Mourdock said. This appears to be addressing the rape. Again, Mourdock said the pregnancy, not the rape, was intended by his god. The pregnancy could be viewed by someone like Mourdock as a "good thing" brought out of the rape.

Here's one I like...
What’s more, some also worry that “if you start restricting the scope of providence, that’s a slippery slope to atheism,” says [Peter] Thuesen, a professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “It calls into question whether there really is a God who controls all things.”
He appears to be saying that if you apply this god's care or intervention with a limited scope, this could lead to a lack of belief. I somewhat agree, mostly if people would actually sit down and think about their beliefs. But I find that a lot of people already do limit that scope, which was much the point to my first post on this Mourdock topic. Yet, they're not atheists.

This confuses me, though. Can someone explain?
Mourdock isn’t part of any obscure sect. He reportedly attends Christian Fellowship Church in Evansville, Ind. It’s a “fairly typical Evangelical megachurch,” not a hub of fringe theology, according to Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illinois. Insofar as Mourdock seeks to emphasize God’s sovereignty in all things, he belongs to a “vocal minority subculture” in the United States, Thuesen says.
So...he isn't part of any obscure sect...but...he belongs to a "vocal minority" all at the same time. Yes, yes, I see the "insofar" which is limiting the topic, but why doesn't the rest of this sect share his view? We have quotes from the pastor from the previous link in agreement with Mourdock, after all. Or do they share this view, but are just not vocal about it?

Summarizing this link, we once again have theologians who aren't clearly saying Mourdock is wrong. Or where they appear to be doing so, they are once again either misrepresenting their scripture or referring to the rape itself, which Mourdock never said was intended.

Which all goes to the point I was making in my earlier post that nothing Mourdock said was wrong theologically.

* For those who are unfamiliar, the idea is that this god does not intervene in human affairs because allowing us free will is preferred to stopping bad things from happening. But this means this god is supposed to stay out of causing good things to happen as well. I find it to be a problematic defense for Christianity largely because there are many stories that have their god intervening. Also, many Christians don't believe in it. If they did, then they wouldn't have believed that their god was responsible for the Denver Broncos winning football games with Tim Tebow as quarterback.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sorry I am slow on the binders!

   I did not watch much of the second presidential debate. I thought I'd just catch up on the highlights that Wednesday morning. It took me off-guard that the highlight from the debate was Mitt Romney speaking about "binders full of women." When shown the context in which the statement was made, it was clear that he was trying to say something more along the lines of "binders full of women's resumes" and that he had a slip of the tongue. I could see the humor behind such a slip, but — come on! — this is supposed to be serious. I initially felt that Romney could have been given a break. The bigger concern was whether or not the story were true, which it is not.

   And for not getting it, I am sorry. I consider myself a feminist, so equal rights (and equal pay) for women is important to me. Unfortunately, I am still blinded by my male privilege. Mitt Romney, and especially the Republican party in general, have been quite horrible toward women's rights this election cycle. They have displayed such a disregard for women that they've run out of breaks. This is something I should have realized. But, again, male privilege. I don't have to suffer the consequences of policies that hurt women. (Or rather my suffering is much less visible/obvious. The reality is that we all suffer from inequality, but many don't realize we are suffering because we don't have a state where there is no suffering with which to compare.) More important to this particular issue, I never have to deal with being treated as a non-person. Or, in other words, as an object. So when Romney said something that objectifies women, I was slow to grasp why the outrage because he wasn't objectifying me.

   Once again, I apologize and will work to improve my awareness.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's consitent, not outrageous.

   I've discussed in the past a bit about inconsistencies in liberal* Christianity and I'm finding I need to discuss it again as some news items have been causing me to facepalm.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

7% or more of US population are atheists (some just don't know it)

UPDATE: It would appear that I am not having a very insightful day! I think I was too caught up crunching numbers that I didn't see that the numbers were actually there in front of me. It says right on that second chart that the percentage of those affiliated with a religion but are neither spiritual nor religious is 8% of that group. This would be around 6% of the overall population, a couple points more than my conservative estimate of 4%. /UPDATE

UPDATE_2: To be fair and honest (at least as much as I can be since I am working with somewhat contradictory data), I must also note that a portion — 18% — of the nones describe themselves as "religious." Much like I wondered if those who are affiliated with a religion but don't consider themselves religious should be counted as part of the nones, I must likewise wonder if this group should not be counted. In which case, perhaps the 20% estimate is, overall, a reasonable estimate since there could be both additions and subtractions of people who were incorrectly categorized. /UPDATE_2

   Many blogs have been covering the news yesterday from the Pew Forum about the rise in those who are "unaffiliated," which will be henceforth referred to as "nones." It is cool news, as far as I am concerned. One thing that has been pointed out (as it has in the past) is that not all of the nones are atheists. It is correct to point this out. But I find it odd that no one seems to actually proclaim what the overall percentage of atheists is. From the survey, it would seem that number could be 7%.

   If you look at the chart below, it says that the number of atheists is 2.4%.  But this is based on the number of people who identify as atheists.  This does not include the number of people who are atheists but may not identify as such or not be aware that they are atheists.

   Something I wrote a long time ago was about what an atheist is. Simply, and atheist is someone who does not believe in a god. In the survey, Pew Forum apparently collected data on the question of the existence of a god (or "universal spirit"):

   7% said they don't believe in a god*, and that should be the minimum number of atheists. I say should and minimum because there are some...discrepancies...in the data:
  • 27% of the nones are atheists, based on this data. But this only accounts for 5.4% of the overall population at most, assuming 27 comes from rounding down from near 27.5. This leaves at least a full percentage of atheists that are affiliated. This, though, is not necessarily unheard of as there have been atheists who affiliate themselves with a religion for cultural reasons. The main example are Jewish atheists, who are atheists that come from a Jewish family background. There have been suspicions that there are a number of atheists who are culturally Catholic and label themselves as Catholic. This may account for this discrepancy.
  • This same chart notes that 15% are "neither spiritual nor religious." This would suggest that there could be as many as half of the people who make this claim who may also believe in god. This isn't necessarily a contradiction and, even if it were, doesn't mean people cannot hold contradictory beliefs, but it is still a seemingly high percentage in my opinion. The key may be that one of the answers for the god belief question is "Yes, but less certain." Perhaps there are some people who are very much less certain...so uncertain that they would have been better off to answer "No."
    But this discrepancy is even harder to explain as it also has much the same discrepancy as under the first bullet. In this case, the nones that are neither spiritual nor religious only account for 8.3 of the overall population at most. There could be 4%** of this neither spiritual nor religious group that are affiliated with a religion! Now that is contradictory. Once again, it could be that there are people culturally affiliated with a religion, but don't really believe what the church is selling them.
   Could this then mean there is a good size of the population that is very close to becoming atheist? I suspect the answer could very well be "Yes," and this could put the atheist population at as much as 13%. At the very least, it may be that the actual percentage of nones could be closer to 23-25%. What I would like to see in future surveys is a question (or questions) for that affiliated group relating to whether or not they affiliate for cultural reasons or because they actually believe the church doctrine, much like what the Richard Dawkins Foundation did in the UK.

* May there be a need to note that they capitalize the word "god"? What about polytheists who believe in multiple gods? I would suspect such people would still answer "Yes" to the question, so this is likely not an issue.

** On the math: This assumes "worst case scenario" in which the 15% is rounded up from 14.5%. It is noted that 2% of the population answered "Don't know" to the question of affiliation and then it is assumed (worst case scenario, again) that all 100% of these are neither spiritual nor religious. Assuming this number was rounded down from just less than 2.5, this gets us to 8.3 + 2.5, or 10.7%. This is 3.8% away from 14.5%, or about 4% when rounded.