Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini Get Wrong

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini are no creationists, but 'outright, card-carrying, signed-up, dyed-in-the-wool, no-holds-barred atheists'. That, however, only makes worse the incoherence of their understanding of Darwinism. There is much that Darwin got wrong, from his views of racial struggle to his occasional espousal of Lamarckism. There is nothing in this book, however, to suggest a fundamental flaw in his central argument about evolution by natural selection.
-- Kenan Malik, in "Pigs Won't Fly", his review of What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (Profile Books 262pp £20).

Poll: "Milennials" ain't very religious

A Christian polling agency has determined that the members of the Milennial generation are not very religiously observant, according to an article in USA Today:
Most young adults today don't pray, don't worship and don't read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.

If the trends continue, "the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships," says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group's survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they're "really more spiritual than religious."
Feel free to join a discussion of this latest development in the demystification of American youth, over at the Boston Atheists message board.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Weighing intelligence in Atheists and the religious

In an article for Psychology Today, Satoshi Kanazawa -- "the Scientific Fundamentalist" -- examines the hypothesis that Atheists are more intelligent than the religion (since it requires novel features associated with intelligence to overcome the evolved tendency to believe in gods).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Christian healthcare in the Houston Chronicle

Citizens Against Altruism
Apparently if you watch the sex and the smokes, your fellow churchgoer may pitch in to cover your medical bills. It wouldn't hurt if you drop in a little prayer to make sure they pay, though, since they won't be under any legal obligation to do so. That's the thing with insurance: it's assured. It should also be non-profit, but that's another blog post.

From an article in the Houston Chronicle:
Here's how it works at Christian Healthcare: Members send in a monthly fee, resembling an insurance premium, which can range from about $50 for a single person to $450 for a family of four. That money, along with the payments from thousands of other members, is then distributed to pay sick members' medical bills. [...]

But they've been steadily growing in numbers and prominence — so much so that the recent federal health reform legislation has language exempting members from paying penalties most uninsured Americans will eventually have to pay. [...]

Said Chandler, the UH law professor: “People participating in this do need to have a little concern about solvency. You've sort of got to be relying on God here that this scheme will work out.”[...]

There are, however, a few catches. The ministries require members to be Christian, and they check with pastors for confirmation.[...]

There are also health care costs that can't be shared, most notably abortions or sexually transmitted diseases contracted out of marriage. Participants must also refrain from using tobacco and avoid sex outside of marriage, among other lifestyle requirements. [...]

Instead of paying more than $700 per month for premiums, Mark McLeod, a self-employed Houston geologist, currently pays Samaritan Ministries about $300 per month to cover himself, his wife and four of his children in a sharing plan.

“Who is going to take care of you — a company or people? I'd rather put my faith in people who believe in God.” McLeod explained.
Emphasis mine. Judging from the people I've met in the non-god-believin' community, I'm glad to say that Mark McLeod would be happily surprised to see how much he can rely on people of evolved ethics who happen not to share his religion. I've got no problem citing Scripture on this one, Galatians 6:2, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."

Oh, you Bible you. Even a stopped clock is correct twice a day. For "law of Christ" here, read "the law of decency."

Dennett in the Globe on the unbelievers

Doubt is healthy.

The Boston Globe today has an interview with Daniel Dennett, on his research into the number of clergy that lack belief in a higher power:
It’s true, here are these young people in seminary, they have come with the purest of hearts and the noblest of intentions and they’re going to devote their lives to God. And one of the first things they learn is textual criticism. They’re looking at all the existing papyruses and scrolls and so forth and learning about the recension of the texts — the tortuous and often controversial historical path from Hebrew, Greek, and Latin versions of the books of the Bible — and all the Apocryphal books that got rejected — to the King James Version and all the later English translations. And that’s not what they taught you in Sunday school.

That’s the joke that we often provoke from people when we talk about this: Anybody who goes through seminary and comes out believing in God hasn’t been paying attention.
The article cited in the interview, containing initial anecdotal results from Dennett's collaborative investigations, appears at the Washington Post website. An excerpt:
The interviews were all conducted by Linda LaScola, a clinical social worker with years of professional experience as a qualitative researcher and psychotherapist, and, until recently, a regular churchgoer. Like her co-author, philosopher Daniel Dennett, the author of Breaking the Spell, she is an atheist who is nevertheless a sympathetic and fascinated observer of religious practices and attitudes. For this pilot study we managed to identify five brave pastors, all still actively engaged with parishes, who were prepared to trust us with their stories. All five are Protestants, with master’s level seminary education. Three represented liberal denominations (the liberals) and two came from more conservative, evangelical traditions (the literals). (We decided to concentrate this first project on Christians, and we would have included a Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox priest, for instance–if we had encountered any, but we didn’t.) We initially had six participants, but one, a woman in the Episcopal church, had a change of heart as we were about to go to press and, at her request, all further references to her and quotations from her interviews have been removed.

Dawkins, Hitchens support legal challenge against Ratzinger

Richard Dawkins writes, in response to a Times article suggesting that he plans to arrest Joseph Ratzinger:
Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.

What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my 'Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope' article here: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5341

Here is what really happened. Christopher Hitchens first proposed the legal challenge idea to me on March 14th. I responded enthusiastically, and suggested the name of a high profile human rights lawyer whom I know. I had lost her address, however, and set about tracking her down. Meanwhile, Christopher made the brilliant suggestion of Geoffrey Robertson. He approached him, and Mr Robertson's subsequent 'Put the Pope in the Dock' article in The Guardian shows him to be ideal.

The case is obviously in good hands, with him and Mark Stephens. I am especially intrigued by the proposed challenge to the legality of the Vatican as a sovereign state whose head can claim diplomatic immunity.

Even if the Pope doesn't end up in the dock, and even if the Vatican doesn't cancel the visit, I am optimistic that we shall raise public consciousness to the point where the British government will find it very awkward indeed to go ahead with the Pope's visit, let alone pay for it.
Also from the Times, an article surmising that the practice of sending abusive priests to therapy (rather than jail) contributed to high abuse rates.

What do members of the Boston-area nontheist community think -- how should the man known as Pope Benedict XV be held to account for the crimes of Catholic priests protected by the Church? Submit your vote.

Members of the Boston Atheists will be collaborating on a letter to the Archdiocese of Boston. We think the Catholic leadership should know what their secular neighbors think of the current situation. We're all in this together, eh? I don't think it is a legitimate argument that this is a Catholic problem to be dealt with by Catholics; rather it is a social problem to be dealt with by whomever is willing to step up and be counted as adult enough to accept responsibility for enforcing a durable ethics.