The Commenters Delusion

I was toying with the Blind Commenter as a title, but decided it would be too obvious 🙂 . I have been reading some of the opinion blogs on the Times today, which is always enjoyable. The main three have been two by Ruth Gledhill (On Dawkins and on Scientology), and thanks to Nullifidian’s blog, I read one by William Rees-Mog, again on Dawkins. As is often the case the columns, being written by sensible journalists, are well presented (with the exception of Rees-Mog but he is different kettle of fish) and the arguments are structured.

Fortunately, for me, the same most certainly can not be said about the people who leave comments. Yes, some are sane and balanced, but others range from mildly confused to massively off the deep end. In this post, I will look at some of the more pertinent comments and explain why I think they are at least a little, ahem, confused.

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Oddness of Faith

Two online blogs have attracted my attention, and while there is only a tenuous link between them they are both based on articles of faith. One is slightly better than the other, but that is to be expected.

As mentioned previously, The BBC has a programme targeting Scientology and this has resulted in considerable online debates. One of the sites mentioning it (ReligionNewsBlog) seems more like an aggregator than a blog but it does have this transcript:

JOHN SWEENEY: So, would you say it’s a cult?

TOMMY DAVIS: …no right to whatsoever to say what and what isn’t a religion. The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees one’s right to practice and believe freely in this country. And the definition of religion is very clear, and it’s not defined by John Sweeney. And for you to repeatedly refer to my faith in those terms is so derogatory, so offensive and so bigoted. And the reason you keep repeating it is because you wanted to get a reaction like you’re getting right now. Well buddy, you got it. Right here, right now, I’m angry, real angry.

If you watch the video of this Tommy Davis comes across as a worrying person. If that is him “real angry” then he is a sociopath. There is no overt sign of aggression. No change to his tone of voice. He sounds like a nutcase who would kill you over a packet of crisps… I would be interested to learn what this “clear” definition of religion he talks about is. The blog also has some more, entertaining articles: Continue reading

Even More Wingnut Stupidity

Following on from the previous post, where it seemed the Archbishop of York was a strong contender for Idiot of the Year award, I have stumbled upon a post by Dinesh D’Souza (via Nullifidian’s blog once more) and Oh My Thor, if we don’t have an even stronger contender. Two wingnuts in one weekend. Loki must be having a field day!

In a post titled “Unbelief as a Form of Payback” Dinesh D’Souza rants on about Atheism (as he has done a few times previously, see Nullifidians blog for more links) and how it basically has nothing to offer the bereaved after an incident like the Virginia Tech shooting. He writes: Continue reading

Gross Stupidity

It seems we have a strong contender for the Department of the Stupid’s annual award for gross stupidity. (Thanks to Nullifidian for the heads up on this)

It seems the esteemed John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, has some completely off the rails ideas about what makes a “believer.” This is excerpt of interest:

Twenty-seven years ago I was chaplain to a young offenders remand centre, Latchmere House. Every inmate was asked to declare his religious affiliation, and four young men were registered as having no religion. One Sunday, all the inmates were offered the chance to go to worship. The four young men with no religion declined the offer, while their fellow inmates on the A wing took up the offer. The prison officer, not wanting the four men to remain locked up in their cells, asked them to clean the toilets on the wing. The following Sunday, our four non-religious young men took up the offer to go to worship. The prison officer was puzzled why they had opted in this week. “Why are you going to chapel?” he asked. The four replied, “Sir, we didn’t like the ‘No Religion’ place of worship”. Crudely as they put it, those four young men were saying in their naivety that we are all essentially religious. The question is not whether we worship, but rather one of who or what do we worship.

Blimey. What in Toutatis’ name was going through his mind when he first made this “conclusion” let alone repeated it? I am almost lost for words at the crass idiocy it demonstrates.

“Crudely as they put it” the four young men were saying that we humans all essentially avoid punishments. If I was given the choice between sitting in a church for a few hours or scrubbing the toilets, I am pretty sure I would be happy to pretend that the invisible sky elf existed. I suspect any sane person would be.

For the truly “devout” (note comment about sane people in previous paragraph) this may seem strange, as people with faith in whatever incarnation of the flying spaghetti monster appeals to them are notoriously stubborn. They will suffer all manner of injustices because of their loose grip on reality, and I suspect if given the choice of sit in a Mosque or scrub toilets the Archbishop of York would take the loo every time. This does not make it a rational choice and here Atheists really do have an advantage.

It really is mind boggling that the Archbishop of York could honestly come to the conclusion that because these four convicts chose to sit through a sermon rather than scrub ****, it means we are all basically theists. It is also interesting to note that the implication of what Sentamu Ebor says is that the vast majority of prisoners are Christians… So much for religion being the source of morality…

Response to Theist Crank

Following a somewhat off the rails comment made on a previous post by someone calling themselves “Atheists Don’t Get It,” Nullifidian made an excellent response. As lots of people miss the comments here, and the original post was quite old, I felt it would be worthwhile repeating Null’s comment – especially as he has cited the original sufficiently for anyone to work out the nonsense Atheists Don’t Get It was spouting. You can read a related, equally good, post on Null’s blog where he talks about the crazy website which this lunatic is trying to promote.

Nullifidian’s comment reads as follows: Continue reading

Selfish Theists

In today’s newspapers (front page news even!), there is a bit about a nun who wrote down the Pope John Paul II’s name and was cured of Parkinson’s disease. The Catholic church is using this as one of the miracles towards JP’s saint hood. When I read it, I had to do a quick calendar check to make sure it wasn’t 1 April yet – phew. (It will be when this gets posted but never mind) I am not for one second going to doubt she had Parkinsons, nor will I doubt she is now cured.

Now, while I am glad that this nun was cured I think it is remarkably selfish of her to have asked for the cure – surely the fact she had Parkinson’s was part of God’s great plan? Is it not arrogant of her to ask to be “cured” of the same ailment John Paul II was suffering from? Is the suffering not the way God “tests” his followers?

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the “Why Wont God Heal Amputees?” web site. What is so special about this nun that JP2s powers were spent healing her? This is especially strange when he could have been doing so much more. 2005 was a harsh year, and surely there were millions of the faithful begging for help in one way or another. I mean, it is not as if he isn’t capable:

On June 2 2005, two months after the pontiff’s death, Marie-Simon-Pierre accepted her condition was so bad that she would have to resign from work. It was a difficult decision, being from a deeply observant Catholic family of five in northern France she had always felt a calling to serve in maternity. Her superior told her not to give up hope. “She asked me to write Jean Paul II on a piece of paper to give me strength. I didn’t want to write in front of anyone because I had such difficulties, and if someone was watching me, it would be even harder. But I wrote Jean Paul II. It was almost illegible.” Later the nun was “seized by a need to write”. It was such an unusual urge that she couldn’t even find a pen to hand. She wrote a few lines. “I looked at my writing and thought that’s funny, your writing is very readable.”

In the morning she was aware of a lack of the usual stiffness and pain. She said she felt an “inner strength”. She went to the chapel at 4am, with none of her usual difficulty walking. “I realised that my body was no longer the same. I was convinced that I was cured.

Seriously, if you were a saint, would you waste time healing nun’s in the backwaters or would you be putting paid to hunger, disease and the like all over the world?

Are saints limited in what they can do? (And if so, why and how much?). Is God a bit jealous about what powers he lets them have – if so, can some one in the Church have a word with God and tell him to unclench a little. How about the millions of people who died during that time – why couldn’t JP2 have saved them?

Maybe, just maybe, we are in fact slipping back to the eleventh century. The Catholic Church is indeed favoured by God and it’s workforce get special privileges. Time to get down to church, hand over some money and ask for a few indulgences. Obviously these guys and gals have the hotline to God and his saints, which no body else does.

Prove or Disprove

Short one as not much to rant about today, however some general web surfing has made me think about a few issues in science related to Evolution / Creationism.

The scientific method is well established and is certainly the “generally accepted” way of defining what is scientific and what isn’t. This method, not some half baked 2000 year old text which has been re-written more times than I can count, provides the yardstick against which all science is measured – be it Evolution, Relativity, Electromagnetism, anything. Without it, well, it’s back to the dark ages.

The crux of the method is the ability to make testable predictions and carry out proper experiments which can falsify the theory. You dont actually have to prove the theory wrong for it to be scientific (although this is a common misconception of the term) but you need to be able to construct an experiment which could prove the theory wrong. This is important so make a note of it.

Now, on to the wonders of creationism. Most, if not all, creationist propaganda carries the sole message that “Evolution is Wrong.” If you do a YouTube, Google or (especially) a MySpace search you come across all manner of idiocy and madness about the topic. People saying “evolution is wrong because … [insert nonsense].” Things range from the “missing link” oddity to crazy arguments like irreducible complexity. The main thing they all have in common is the nonsense and bad science which tends to back them.

The important thing, in the context of this post anyway, is the issue about disproving evolution.

First off, the fact that the lunatics (ID, YEC et al) are capable of coming up with a possible experimental circumstance which could disprove evolution reinforces the fact that evolution is scientific. Scientific does not mean true or correct. Newtonian Gravity was a scientific theory which turned out to be incorrect. This is part of the way science works. A scientific fact has more caveats than the average person would ever think of applying to something “factual.”

Secondly, and possibly more importantly, even if the lunatics did manage to disprove the theory of evolution, that does not mean Creationism takes a default win. That is not how science works. A flaw in general relativity (eg, interactions on the quantum scale) does not mean Newtonian Gravity is correct – or to be a more accurate analogy, a flaw in GR does not mean gravity is caused by bananas. Finding something in a theory which is wrong is the “Holy Grail” (all puns intended) of science. It means people get to advocate new Scientific theories (sorry, creationists, you dont count). People get Nobel prizes. People get huge amounts of funding. (and so on).

Intelligent Design / Creationism / whatever, is not scientific. It really isn’t. Saying “God Did It” is not science – even changing God to something you think will slip under the radar still does not make it science. If anything it is the end of science. It blocks further investigation because if anything is unknown or fails to meet the predictions you can just say “the creator wanted it that way and who are we to second guess the all-mighty one?”

Falsifying evolution would be a good thing, but it certainly would not mean creationism was the correct science. The theory of evolution is scientific. It almost certainly is not the endstate for our understanding of life and it makes no predictions about how life started, but it is a valid, solid, theory. Just like gravity. I am not going to even think of getting worked up about the “it’s just a theory” crap…