Posts tagged “religion”

Mike Rowe & Mike Huckabee

December 21st, 2017

I’ve always enjoyed Mike Rowe’s television series Dirty Jobs. It was a celebration of the working class, and was presented with just the right amount of light-hearted, gross-out humor.

That’s why I was disappointed to see Rowe’s new series, Somebody’s Gotta Do It, being hawked by Republican politician and Christian con-man Mike Huckabee. Perhaps best known for his failed 2016 presidential candidacy, Huckabee holds pretty much every far-right political position you would expect: he opposes abortion, universal health care, marriage equality, and the teaching of evolution. He is truly odious.

Huckabee does not appear in Somebody’s Gotta Do It, which seems similar to Dirty Jobs minus the “dirty” theme, but the show airs on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), and Huckabee hosts one of its most popular programs. (A previous incarnation of Somebody’s Gotta Do It, with a different format, aired on CNN until it was cancelled last year in favor of increased coverage of the aforementioned presidential race.)

I was gratified, then, to learn that Rowe had addressed the issue on his blog, in response to a reader who raised concerns about his affiliation with Huckabee and TBN:

Somebody’s Gotta Do It is a non-religious, non-partisan, family friendly show. Like Dirty Jobs, it celebrates the kind of Americans I most admire—hardworking, passionate, ambitious individuals who make our country a better place.

Isn’t this the sort of content you’d like to see more of? I get that you despise TBN. I get that you despise Mike Huckabee. But given your affection for me, your fondness for the shows I produce, and your admiration for my charitable work—I would think you’d want my message to reach as many people as possible. Well, TBN reaches 98% of the country. Wouldn’t you like their audience to see Somebody’s Gotta Do It? Moreover, wouldn’t you like TBN to purchase more shows like this, and maybe evolve into the kind of network you don’t despise?

Here’s the thing, Carsen—I don’t have my own network, or my own channel. I make the programs I like, and hope someone buys them.

Rowe goes on to note, not with a little irony, that he received a similar response from the other side of the fence when his more conservative fans learned that the previous version of the show was going to air on CNN.

The idea of TBN transforming that much by broadcasting more areligious programming is frankly laughable. The problems with the network, its programming, and its audience, are too fundamental.

But the rest of Rowe’s point is well made. I’m disappointed to see a host I otherwise admire end up on a network like TBN, but I’m glad he’s been able to find a home for a show he’s clearly passionate about, and bring it to an audience who might otherwise never have been exposed to it.

Prayer is the religious equivalent of alternative medicine

August 30th, 2017

Among all the news about Hurricane Harvey, I came across this story about a Texas Pastor who opted not to evacuate because “we’re just praying and believing that it’ll slow down or something miraculous will take place.” In reading the criticism of his decision to rely on prayer in lieu of action, I was struck by how similar the argument is to that against alternative medicine.

Pastor Freddy Naranjo

Like alternative medicine, we know that prayer doesn’t actually work. (By which I mean it has no measurable, external effect; it can certainly be psychologically beneficial for the person praying, and can have placebo effects.) Like alternative medicine, it’s usually harmless in itself. (Though a lack of regulations means that you don’t always know what you’re getting with alternative treatments such as dietary supplements, so they certainly have the potential to be dangerous—that is different from prayer, at least.) But also like alternative medicine, using it to justify inaction can cause real harm: this year alone, there were at least two high-profile cases of children dying when their parents opted for faith healing instead of medical treatment.

This is why the “what’s the harm?” defense fails for both prayer and alternative medicine, as well as for pretty much every pseudoscientific, supernatural, or paranormal claim out there. Leaving aside that believing false things is bad unto itself, these things do in fact cause harm sometimes. And even when they don’t, they’re still promoting the same kind of dangerous thinking, and for no real benefit.

As we know, Hurricane Harvey has turned out to be every bit as devastating as predicted to Texas’ gulf coast. I have been unable to find information about Pastor Naranjo, his congregation, or his church since Harvey’s landfall last week. I hope (but do not pray) that they are safe.

Mayim Bialik on science and religion

May 9th, 2017

Actor and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik recently recorded a video in which she defends her religious beliefs and their apparent inconsistency with her work as a scientist:

It sounds like Ms. Bialik thinks atheists don’t “have a tremendious sense of gratitude and humility for our place in the natural and scientific world.” She asks, “Do you ever get that feeling like ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we exist’?” I do, and it instills in me a profoundly humbling sense of awe. But of course it would be wrong to think that’s evidence for the divine. In fact that’s such a common error that there is a specific name for it.

She goes on to name all of the ways she benefits from her religious beliefs (among others, she’s “inspired by the notion of a responsibility to a universe that is governed by something bigger than me”), and of course that’s a personal value judgment that is completely valid and which no one can discount. But that has nothing to do with the scientific question of whether those beliefs are true, so in that sense, I think she fails to reconcile her belief in religion with her practice as a scientist. Yes, religion and science are compatible “in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind.” That’s a testament to the power of compartmentalization, and has little to do with the ability of religion’s emprical claims to withstand scientific scrutiny.

Carroll vs. Craig on God and Cosmology

February 22nd, 2014

I attended a debate between physicist (and atheist) Sean Carroll and Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig on “The Existence of God in Light of Contemporary Cosmology” last night at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

I thought it was a pretty good debate. The main issue I had was that both speakers, but Craig in particular, spoke in highly technical language about physics and cosmology, to an audience that I don’t think was quite that familiar with either subject. The most egregious example is when Craig invoked something called the “Boltzmann brain” in defense of the fine-tuning argument, without really explaining what it is. Carroll gave a cursory explanation during his turn, but it was brought up repeatedly throughout the debate, and while I eventually came to a basic understanding of the argument, it was still too far over my head for me to meaningfully consider the argument. The moderator even joked about this, suggesting that the audience Google it during intermission.

But there was still plenty that I did understand, and I thought Carroll did an excellent job holding his own, and possibly even besting, someone who is easily among the strongest debaters that Christian apologetics as to offer.

Something that stood out to me was when Craig characterized Carroll’s model of the multiverse as entailing that the universe simply “pop into existence.” Craig continued to use that phrase in subsequent rounds, with barely any recognition that Carroll has specifically repudiated that characterization. It emphasizes something that’s been clear to me from listening to past Craig debates, that he has a script and he tends to stick to it.

Another thing that impressed me about the debate was the quality of the audience questions during the question-and-answer session at the end. They were almost all thoughtful questions that elicited meaningful and interesting responses. There was also very little rambling or lecturing from the audience, which I find can often be a problem at events like this. The moderator had explicitly warned the audience beforehand that they would not be permitted to lecture, but I find that even that sort of warning is usually ineffective. But it turned out not to be an issue here.

Overall, it was a fun if sometimes frustrating debate, and I am very glad to have attended.

Science and Religion Are Not Compatible

May 14th, 2010

In a recent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mano Singham discusses “The New War Between Science and Religion.” The article is well written, and worth reading, not least of all because Singham takes a position all too rare among the mainstream media, and one with which I whole-heartedly agree: that science and religion are not compatible.

There are certain areas in which the conflict between science and religion is especially visible, such as the Creation/Evolution debate. Frequently, people attempt to resolve these differences by asserting that there is no conflict, because science and religion address fundamentally different issues. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould famously described this principle as “non-overlapping magisteria.” Science answers questions about the physical, observable world, proponents of this view assert, while religion answers questions about spirituality and morality.

Stephen Jay Gould

This view is naïve. Worse, it’s incorrect in practice. Like it or not, religions do make claims about the physical world. The three Abrahamic religions, for example, assert that God exists, that he responds to prayers, and that he sometimes intervenes in human affairs. This is a scientific claim! We can investigate it, compare it to our actual observations of the workings of the world, and determine how well it reflects reality. And unfortunately for religious adherents, claims based on religious texts, except when they’re so vague as to be virtually meaningless, are virtually always not borne out by the evidence. Consider Biblical claims about the age of the Earth and its place in the Universe.

I am a firm believer in the freedom of individuals to practice any religion they like. But I also care greatly about knowledge and truth, and I don’t believe that religion deserves a privileged position such that its claims are somehow above the inquiries we make with regard to any similar but non-religious claim. If someone claims that the all life on Earth was created more-or-less in its present form within the last 10,000 years, or that all life except for eight people and two of each animal was wiped out in a worldwide flood, why shouldn’t we compare these claims against the physical and historic evidence to determine whether or not they’re true? Truth is important.

Of course, most religious adherents aren’t fundamentalists, and don’t believe every story of their holy text to be literally true, so they don’t have beliefs that are so obviously disconnected from reality. This makes it easy for apologists to cite the myriad examples of scientists who are religion as evidence of the mutual compatibility of science and religion. This is a silly argument that Singham ably dismantles. I like this quote he borrows from Jerry Coyne: “this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind.” I am also fond of P.Z. Myers’ stock retort to this like of thinking; he invokes Dennis Rader, the “BTK killer,” a serial killer who was also a Lutheran Deacon. Does this mean that Christianity and serial murder are compatible?

Ultimately, science and religion are not compatible because they represent two fundamentally different ways of looking at the world. Science asserts that we can discern facts by empirically studying the world around us. Religion makes assertions which aren’t backed by any such evidence (in fact, are frequently in conflict with the evidence). Since we are always making new discoveries and learning new things about our world, science is ever-changing, always bringing our understanding ever-closer to the reality. Religion, in contrast, believes that it already has the answers; it provides no incentive to learn anything new, and has nothing worthwhile to contribute to our understanding of the Universe or our place in it.

Abortion

January 25th, 2010

In May of last year, late-term abortion provider George Tiller was shot and killed at his Kansas church. Scott Roeder of Kansas City, Missouri, confessed to the killing, and was unapolagetic about his actions. In an interview with the Associated Press, Roeder explained: “Because of the fact preborn children’s lives were in imminent danger, this was the action I chose…Defending innocent life—that is what prompted me. I mean, it is pretty simple.”

George Tiller

I think it’s kind of surprising that incidents like this one don’t happen more often. There are a lot of people in the United States who believe that abortion is literally murder, no less horrible than the taking of any other human life. Figures on the percentage of people who hold this belief are surprisingly difficult to find. A Gallup poll conducted last May found that more than half of all Americans consider themselves “pro-life.” Many of those pro-lifers would probably not agree that abortion is exactly equivalent to murder, but at least some do, particularly among the far-right religious crazies.

Practically everyone agrees that it’s acceptable to take a person’s life in defense of one’s own or of someone else’s. Wouldn’t Roeder’s killing of Tiller fall under this category? If Roeder really considered the fetuses that Tiller aborted to be fully human individuals (which, again, is apparently a common, everyday belief), then thier lives really were in danger, and wasn’t Roeder perfectly justified in killing Tiller to protect them?

Scott Roeder

I am not against abortions; despite what the religious zealots would have you believe, fetuses really are just clumps of cells (to be fair, Tiller performed late-term abortions, where the person-or-not issue is less clear, but let’s ignore that special case for the sake of the current argument). I am, however, against hypocrisy, and it’s hypocritical to claim that abortion is murder, and yet respond to it with any less force than one would employ against any other act of murder.

I guess we should be thankful, then, that fundamentalist Christians are such hypocrites.

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