Archive for April, 2010

TGD – Chapter 1

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I finished reading Chapter 1 last night.

The title of Chapter 1 is “A Deeply Religious Non-Believer”. I had hoped that it might be a chapter on how his atheistic views were a different form of religion, and while he did feel around in the dark touching on the idea in tangential ways, it wasn’t the point.

The Chapter is split in two sections, the first titled “Deserved Respect” and the second titled “Undeserved Respect”.

“Deserved Respect” is mostly about Einstein’s lack of religion as most westerners define it. Dawkins basic point is that many scientists make references to God and when they do, they’re referring to something entirely different than your average person. He makes a fairly compelling point that Einstein was one of them and his point is that this is the norm. What people like Einstein are talking about when they talk of God is the creator, whoever that might be, but most definitely it is not a “personal God”, a God that has defined morals for humanity and is interested in how we each personally respond to that call from God. Einstein’s God is a creator and nothing more. He set the wheels in motion, created the matter, setup the laws of physics and then let her run. That was the end of God’s role.

And I guess as far as it goes, it’s good to differentiate between these two different views of God, and to specify what he is arguing against (the personal God, to use his term) and that which he has no qualms with (the disinterested Creator, my term).

However, it wouldn’t be Dawkins if he didn’t jumble in the middle of reasonable groundwork, a bunchf of errors. His biggest error, was in applying Einstien’s God, which I would suggest Dawkins does well proving that it was what Einstein believed, to all scientists. He suggested that all those scientists who go to church, don’t REALLY believe what those religions say and are just going for either family or cultural reasons.

While I’m sure there are plenty of examples of people that act that way, and they need not be scientists, what in fact he’s doing is projecting what he wants to believe for all scientists who aren’t on his side, based on some anecdotal information, as if because Einstein was that way and Dawkins was that way at one time (he doesn’t go to church at all any more), it must be true of all scientists.

There is a particular example that shows just how blind he is and how much he’s forcing a confirmation bias. He speaks of an unnamed friend’s who is Jewish and his discussions with him. Dawkins admits that when he pressed said friend to admit “the truth” he couldn’t get him to. Instead his friend told him that his Jewish faith helps him have good morals. Dawkins insists this is proof of his point, his friend doesn’t REALLY believe, he’s just doing it for moral reasons. Could he really be so ignorant to see that his friend just doesn’t want to make a scene and instead of getting into a pissing match with Dawkins and is defusing the situation? Dawkins needs to accept his friends refusal to admit that there is no personal God on it’s face and he refuses to.

In any case, the point of this first part of the chapter appears to lay the groundwork that he has nothing against the disinterested creator that some call God and that the rest of the book is about attacking the “personal God” not the disinterested creator.

“Undeserved Respect”, the second half of the chapter, is about how there is far too much deference to religion in society. It tiptoes around the idea that the reason that he’s bringing it up in this groundwork laying chapter, is because he wants to say that he’s not doing this to offend anyone. At the same time, he doesn’t come out and say it because, and this is my inference, he’s honest enough with himself to know that actually fully intends to “offend” in the sense that he’s telling us we’re hugely misled, and how can that not offend?

The overall point though is that he feels that society shuns debate and conversation and he doesn’t think that’s appropriate. I’d agree with him if that was the extent of the point. Religion is a topic that deserves a vigorous debate and there are certain segments of society that don’t think it should be discussed.

But Dawkins sticks to his trend of looking at things through what he thinks is a wide lens but in fact is a very narrow one. He entirely blames this shunning of debate on the religious when in fact there are components on both sides. Sure there are those that are religious who think they’ve got the right to see their faith unquestioned, but at the same time there are those who refuse to allow any religions discussion in the “public square”. “Oh no no!”, they say. “You’ve brought up God and therefore you’re not allowed to be a part of this debate. Arguments that include discussions of God are not allowed, particularly when we’re talking about the general public or more specifically politics!”

Furthering his lack of rigor, he sites two examples as if they’re examples of the same thing, one about Christians fighting for their right to be heard in the public debate and the other about Muslims attempting to shutdown discussion. I wish I was making that up, but that’s exactly what the two examples are, but he suggests they’re both about religious people shutting down discussion.

He first brings up the Christian example. He starts by talking about how bad discrimination is and how society should shut it down (which I think we could all agree with him). Then he goes on to talk about how a Christian fought for the right to wear a T-Shirt at school that said “Homosexuality is a sin. Islam is a lie. Abortion is murder.” He suggests that this is an example of Christian discrimination.

I don’t know why I feel the need to make this obvious, but discrimination is an act, not a statement. You can say whatever you want, and not discriminate. It’s when you refuse to do something based on a bias that you’ve actually discriminated. So, if I had a rental property that I was going to rent and I chose to not rent it to a homosexual, THAT would be discrimination. The fact that I confirm that I think homosexual acts are sinful, that is not discrimination.

But going even further, can he not see how preventing people from wearing that shirt is shutting down debate, not increasing it? Sure, he doesn’t like what the other side of the debate says, but it is in fact debate. It’s another example where Dawkins is like all those people who think debate is only allowed on the topics THEY want to debate. On the rest, “the science is settled” and no debate will be allowed.

Then he goes into the example of the 12 Islamic cartoons that created a bunch of controversy 5+ years ago. Muslims burned down Christian Churches, threatened the life of the cartoonists and did all other sorts of thuggery. He’ll get no debate from me that this was unacceptable and the media’s cowardice was troubling.

But the fact that he equates the two examples as if they have anything to do with one another in their cause or that they’re even examples of the same thing, is what is truly troubling.

On to Chapter 2…

QH’s – Fundraisers, derangement and 20 weeks

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Quick Hitters for the day:

  • I’m someone who was a fan of Palin (to the degree that I knew who she was before she became the VP candidate, and endorsed her for that) who’s soured on her significantly. Turns out she’s nothing but a fundamentalist (both politically and religiously) tool of the neocons. Nevertheless, this whole controversy over her upcoming speech at CSU Stanislaus is stupid. What she’s doing isn’t uncommon (both being paid and the fee being confidential) and the false attempt to tie endowment foundations to the state government. Everything from Cal athletics to alumni associations to foundations for particular colleges at each University have ALWAYS operated independently and without oversight. Since they can’t take tax money, only contribute, why should they need to be? But that’s not the underlying issue here. This is just “Palin Derangement Syndrome” run a muck.
  • As a general question, is “politician X derangement syndrome” really a new thing? I’m a relatively young guy so anything before Bush #2 is before my political time. But it seems to have taken off with Bush #1 and we’ve seen it with Obama, Hillary and Palin since then, at least those are the most visible cases. It also seems like there’s some vestiges of it with Reagan, but it’s not as clear. It’s a really troubling trend to me, but perhaps it’s just the same old, same old.
  • I’m glad to see Nebraska taking a lead on abortion, limiting abortion to the first 20 weeks. One of the unknown truths of the abortion debate is that there is a popular middle ground of limiting abortion to somewhere between the 1st trimester (12 weeks) and 20 weeks. In fact, if you look at the 3rd most popular comment by ‘moxichick67′ in the linked article, and the heavily favored thumbs up to thumbs down, it shows that truth ( leans heavily liberal). I think the debate would be calmed down significantly if the 1st trimester limit were put in place (or at least if individual states were allowed to). Sadly, the debate has been hijacked by the radical pro-abortionist who’ve very successfully framed the debate as a binary issue, not a gradient issue of where it should be cut off. Of course, I’d prefer to see it outlawed entirely, but the reality is that the compromise that would best reflect the mind of the country is somewhere between the 1st trimester and 20 weeks.

TGD – The Preface

Monday, April 12th, 2010

If Dawkins had hoped to win a guy like me over with the preface, he most definitely failed. He starts off with an anecdote from his wife who went to her parents in adulthood to tell them how much she hated her (assumably religious) elementary school. Her parents asked her “Why didn’t you tell us?” to which she responded “I didn’t know that I could?”

He then launches into a page-long assertion that he thinks the reason most people don’t leave their faith is because they “didn’t know they could”. He hopes his book will show them that they can. I couldn’t help but physically ‘snort laugh’ when I read it.

Yeah, THAT’S the reason. Our society provides no visible avenue for people to walk away from their faith. I mean, it’s ridiculous just on the surface, much less as one delves into the idea.

I will give him this. It does appear when one is an atheist that everyone around you is religious and when you talk to them you never seem to get a sufficient answer for why that is the case. So I can see how it might appear that everyone feels trapped.

However, speaking from experience, it’s just a variant of the “everyone around me is an idiot” excuse. Seriously, how could one look at the openness of our society and conclude that people don’t know they can get out other than by thinking people are collectively dolts. In fact, even the story of his wife that he’s using is a story of his wife as a child and her preadolescent ideas of what she could or could not do. He’s then taking that preadolescent mindset and applying it to all the adults around him. He’s treating us all like little kids who are two immature to know that we don’t have to believe.

Dawkins then continues on with a series of paragraphs addressing how the book is organized. Basically, he listed a whole bunch of reasons people are reluctant to leave and then points them to the chapters he think will most help them do so. To give him full credit, the list of reasons is a reasonable one and his methodology for attacking them is reasonable on its surface. Of course the content of the attacks will have to wait until I get to each of those chapters. Nevertheless, he does seem to be taking a reasonable approach to methodically addressing the assertions of religion.

My preconception about the book mostly being about why religion has caused more harm than good, assuming his preface can be trusted as to what he accomplishes, seems to be only partially true. While he did spend a couple paragraphs rattling off a list of all the evils of religion (and being a list it lacked any of the necessary critical assessments I complain about, but one shouldn’t be too harsh when it’s a list) but it appears most of the book will be more methodical than that.

His bigger bias, based on the preface, seems to be that the mere raising of kids in a religion does harm to children and thus to society. It seems this is the wedge he’ll be using, basically calling it a form of abuse. We’ll see how this plays out as the book continues and whether this theme becomes a tired yet broken record.

Its a funny assertion because I’m sure he wouldn’t object one bit to children being taught that there is no God. No, those would be “brave” parents who escaped the terrifying grip religion has on society and are making sure to pass it on their children before they’re caught in it’s terrifying grasp. His argument that kids should be allowed to decide for themselves apparently doesn’t apply to his viewpoint.

Along these lines he brings up the fact that most people are the religion that their parents are. He uses this to suggest that religion is false just because he can take one kid and move them somewhere else and they’ll believe something else. He argues that shows the beliefs are arbitrary.

That doesn’t address two things however:

1. I’m most definitely not the religion of my parents and there are tons of people who aren’t. I went from lack of faith to faith. Others go from one faith to another. Still others go from faith to no faith, like his wife. So it’s clearly not a logical truth, it’s a loosely true demographic truth. He’s treating it like a logical one. The reality is that every adult has to decide for themselves what of their upbringing to maintain and what to reject. In the end we’ll own our own faith, or lack thereof, no matter what our parents did.

2. The corollary of that point is that demographics change. The Roman society was pagan and over the course of a couple hundred years became Christian. How does that happen if his assertion is correct? The reality is that while we are biased towards the religion of our parents, we can and do change and over the course of multiple generations, huge shifts DO occur and those changes reflect how compelling the religious arguments made during those centuries are. So the fact that we in the west are mostly Christian does not mean we’re dolts who are just doing what our parents did (notice the stupidity theme) it’s that over the centuries our collective intelligence showed Christianity to be the most appealing religious belief. (I would say “true” in the place of appealing, but to be generic, that’s as much as can be asserted based solely on demographics.)

In any case, the preface wraps up, after the tirade/list about the evils religion has done, the list of objections to his views and which chapters he addresses that, followed by a return to why “indoctrinating” children is a bad thing, by coming full circle back to his ridiculous “they didn’t know they could” assertion and driving it home as if its a compelling thought.

He’s going to let us know, “YES WE CAN!”

And with that we’ll move on to Chapter 1…

TGD – What I’m expecting

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

(Note: As mentioned in my It’s Alive!?! post I’ll be reading and reviewing The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (TGD). Click on the Catholicism – The God Delusion category to see all of these posts, including this one.)

Here’s a quick overview of what I’m expecting based on what I’ve heard from others, before I’ve ever picked up the book:

I’m expecting a lot on all the evils done by religion and I’m expecting it to be highly Christianity focused, although I’m sure the recent evils of Islamic Jihadism will get some play as well. I thought of reading the book after a discussion online, ironically on a sports blog, where TGD was repeatedly referenced by numerous people for how convincing it was that religion wasn’t just benign but actually makes the world a worse place.

So I’m expecting lots of examples of the bad things done in the name of religion. I’m quite confident there will be no statistical analysis of how this compares to the evils done when no religion was involved (what a scientist would call a “control group”). I’m also quite confident there will be no attempt made to determine whether the evil was truly done as a result of religious conviction or whether it just happened to be done by people who are religious (what a scientist would call “causation”). I also expect that there will be no attempt to discover in cases where it was done “in the name of religion” if what was done was actually in line with the dogmas and doctrines of their religion or whether the individuals were mistaken as to what their religion teaches (another aspect of “causation”). Finally, for those cases where in fact the religion can actually be blamed, I suspect there will be no attempt to differentiate between religions, as if one religions theological errors are the fault of all religions (another example of lacking an appropriate “control group”), and further there will be no attempt to understand the rationale behind the move, that it will be analyzed through secular eyes as if that’s the only way to view the world.

In short, I’m expecting it, despite the authors claims, to be very short on logic and scientific analysis. Lots of assumptions will be made. Possibility sets will be artificially small (often because the author lacks the imagination to see additional possibilities). Generally speaking, there will be claims of scientific rigor, when in fact it will be completely lacking.

For the critical reader, they might be thinking that I’m starting the book making a lot of assumptions, which is quite true. This bias comes both from what I’ve heard about the book from all sides and how it leads me to believe that Dawkins fits a stereotype I have of the “arrogant scientific atheist”. I’ve talked with many people who more or less fit the stereotype, so it comes from personal experience, not 3rd party accusations. But more than that, it comes from from within me as I once could be properly labeled similarly. I personally know what it is to feel that God doesn’t exist and thinking that all religions and religious were barking made. I’ve been there. His arguments in principle won’t be foreign to me as I’ve likely made most of them, or at least a similarly minded one, in the past.

But thanks be to God he revealed Himself to me and I’ve been a fervent Catholic ever since.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t mitigate that I go into this book with a bias and I won’t deny it. For those who would snicker at the thought, I’ll only justify it with this: I’m reading the book. Generally the charge leveled at those with a bias is that they refuse to consider other points of view. That would be justified if I stuck to my bias and refused to read it (note that there are other reasons besides bias not to read it such as time limitations, etc, so I don’t hold anything against those who don’t). But that is not the case. I am reading it. Frankly I hope that I’m surprised, that he gives religion its full due while defending atheists. There are those atheists out there who both think there is no God but also are fair enough in their mind to recognize the intellectually sound arguments for the other side and I’ve yet to find a book that communicates that.

That book would one everyone should read because it would help everyone understand exactly what is at stake, not what each side claims is at stake, which is generally artificially skewed favorably in their direction, at least as far as the public perception goes. It would help people understand what is indeed fact and what must be filled in with belief, whether that be belief in a single God, multiple competing spirits, perhaps an after life or reincarnation, or whether one would believe that none of that exists.

And so I’ll open the book and give Dawkins his opportunity to prove me wrong, that my bias was unjustified.

QH’s – worn down, hungry and not paying taxes

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Today’s quick hitters:

  • Man I’m tired today. I was up until 1 AM last night working on a computer project that I decided today was a bad idea. Nothing like wasting time when the oil lamp is burning.
  • I saw this joke on the Disputations blog. If this verse, ‘While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”‘ (Luke 24:41), proves Jesus “was a Dominican”, it most definitely proves I am too.
  • There’s been a lot of discussion around the country about the percentage of people who pay federal income taxes (how low it is). I’ll admit it, I paid ZERO dollars in federal income tax. I’m the perfect storm of government incentives: big mortgage, 3 kids, stay at home wife, donate to Church, and pay plenty of property and state tax. So even though I make a reasonable sum as an engineer, between all of the deductions and even more importantly the credits, I was actually paid (a very small amount) by the federal government to live here. Make of it what you will.

50% Proud

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Recently I got the term hypocrite thrown at me, a term that no one likes thrown at them. And the shameful part is that, in this case (and there are others), it was perfectly accurate for them to call me one.

But what occurred to me as I was taking my lumps was that I was being called a hypocrite not to attack the negative thing that I had done, but to attack that which I promote as a Catholic that I had failed to live up to. The point was not to get me to change my sub-optimal actions, the point was to get me to stop promoting the optimal ones. And when I realized that, I realized what was really at stake and I fought back.

I looked up the definition of the word hypocrite. states it this way:

A person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, esp. a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

If we go by the dictionary definition, I’m not a hypocrite. I don’t “pretend” to have religious beliefs and principles. I very much have them. But I also admit that I fall short of them at times. By that definition, I’m not a hypocrite. At the same time I think the dictionary definition is more precise than the term’s broad use, the way it is most frequently used today. In broad use I would define it this way:

A person who supports one set of behaviors but does not always (or perhaps never) follow them.

I admit to that definition of being a hypocrite. There are times when I do not live up to the standards I create for myself and promote for others. I would never deny that.

But here’s the thing, and the reason for this post:

I’m proud that I promote the standards that I promote and no amount of my falling short of those standards will shame me into no longer promoting those standards.

So, I’m 50% proud to be a hypocrite. I’m proud that I stand up for what is right. I’m ashamed that I don’t always life up to it. I’m convinced that what I promote is right and good. I’m ashamed that I don’t always do what is right and good. I will do every thing in my power to continue to be a voice in society that encourages others to do the right thing. I fear, in fact I’m nearly downright confident, that I’ll continue to fall short of those same standards.

You can call me what you want. You can point out my hypocrisy. (I’ll even agree with you.) You can call me a hypocrite. You can mock me and deride me, but I will not be stopped. I refuse to ignore the truth. I refuse to stop sharing the truth. I refuse to be ashamed of promoting the truth. Plainly stated:

I’m 50% proud to be a hypocrite.

QH’s – Coal mining, Cardinal Mahoney and TGD

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Today’s quick hitters:

  • It’s always terrible to hear about tragedies like the coal miners in West Virginia. What frustrates me is when I see people use incidents like this to make political points. Why we need nuclear (of which I’m a big fan) or solar (like it too) or hydro (thumbs up) or wind (I’m a sailor for crying out loud, we love wind!). But is this really the time for that? A year from now when debating the issue, bringing up statistics of how many people die mining coal, that’s a reasonable thing to do. But right now, it’s just a time to mourn those who have died and help save those trapped and comfort those who have lost loved ones.
  • For those not involved in “inside” Catholic politics, they wouldn’t make much of this, but it’s a big deal: Pope Names San Antonio Archbishop José Gomez Coadjutor Archbishop Of Los Angeles. This means that existing archbishop/Cardinal Mahoney, who’s both a liberal in the Church and has not had the best handling of the sexual abuse crisis (he’s a stone-wall’er) will be replaced when he reached his “mandatory” retirement age of 75. The reality is that a guy of Mahoney’s stature is generally allowed to keep going long after the retirement age or at a minimum the Pope doesn’t start looking for a replacement until after the guy’s 75th birthday. In this case, he’s named the successor a full 9 months in advance. That’s not insignificant. Here’s a fairly balanced commentary on it. Also interesting to see the local paper with an article on it.
  • I finally got my copy of The God Delusion (TGD) from the public library (as to put as little money in the pockets of Dawkins as possible. Expect to see the reviewing start shortly.

QH’s – Easter and Scandal

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Today’s Quick Hitters:

  • A blessed Easter to everyone! I had a great end to Holy Week and a wonderful Easter that lifted my spirits. I hope everyone else was similarly blessed.
  • I was pointed to an article by Peggy Noonan about the priestly abuse scandal. In many ways she’s right, but I think her ennobling of the press is a stretch, particularly this “round”. There’s nothing new here in 2010. What happened in 2002, that I could agree with the value of the press’s role. But guess what, there’s nothing new here. There’s just a renewed attempt to tear down the Pope (and a very stretched attempt at that) based on the same old stuff. The reality is the Church has already changed and will continue to change in this regard whether or not the 2010 influx of reporting had happened. Now it’s just an attempt to tear down the Church.
  • I must say that up until today I’ve been able to keep a healthy distance from all the articles about the scandal because I knew what was going on. But today, the shear magnitude of it, the unrelenting links to hit piece after hit piece got to me. And what is most frustrating about it is that, unlike Ms. Noonan’s assertion that they already are, the press COULD be a force for the right changes. There’s no doubt the Church has needed change and continues to need some. And with an enlightened approach the press could be catalysts for the right changes. The could encourage the Pope to continue making the changes he is already in the process of or encourage tweaks or improvements that would make the Church even stronger. Instead, the Pope and the Church as a whole have to struggle to make those right changes DESPITE the press. Such a shame.

QH’s – Holy Thursday, April Fools and a sad death

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Today’s quick hitters:

  • A blessed Holy Thursday to everyone. Of course today is most remembered for the Last Supper and for Catholics we think of the Institution of the Eucharist. We often forget the other big thing He did at the Last Supper which is wash the disciples feet, a reminder that no matter how important and prestigious our position in life is that we must use that position to serve others with great humility, being willing to get down on our hands and knees and do the dirty work.
  • Along those lines there will be no blogging tomorrow (and I usually don’t blog on weekends) in reverence for the sacrifice that Christ make for us on Good Friday. So I’ll wish you a blessed Good Friday a day in advance instead.
  • Bravo to Google and their April Fools joke today. Well played!
  • I saw a quote today “Humanae Vitae would have us believe that there is an important moral distinction between a married couple temporarily delaying conception through NFP and the same couple doing the same thing with some barrier method.” which brought to mind a thought I’ve had for quite a while: People who bash NFP like to say ‘there’s no difference’ between it and contraception, which is quite obviously not the case based on how much they protest/bash. If it was “the same” people who were even the most lightly inclined to follow the Church would do it, because it was easy. But it’s not. It’s DRASTICALLY different and the war over it is the fundamental proof of just how incompatible the two views on it are.
  • How can one not laugh at this?
  • I had hoped this would have turned out better, but sadly no. A quick prayer for him and his family: God bring healing those are suffering and peace to those who have died.