Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: Atheism is not a Philosophy by Sam Harris

sam harris

Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

— Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)

You can purchase Letter to a Christian Nation here.

Quote of the Day: Why Atheists Refuse to Respect Christian Beliefs

david mercerSomeone might ask me, “Why make things so unpleasant by arguing? Why not go on with your life and let people believe as they do?  Why can’t we all have mutual respect for each other?”

Mutual respect sounds pretty good to me, and it would be a great starting place.  We could all be quiet and let everyone have their own thoughts.

So how about this:

I’ll get quiet when the Evangelical Christians do.  When they stop their global campaign, I’ll stop writing and talking.  I’ll stop speaking up when they stop trying to condition the minds of little children with songs, stories, and threats.  When they quit trying to force the schools and the government to carry their message for them, I’ll stop protesting.

Many Christians accuse atheists of having a hidden agenda, which I think takes a special blend of nerve and insanity, considering that their highest priority is to convert the entire world.

By the way, there’s nothing secret about the atheist agenda.  Simply stated, we won’t be forced to believe in God.

— David Mercer, Deep Calls, Atheism Versus the Easter Bunny, May 25, 2019

Quote of the Day: Why Evangelicals Believe the Bible CAN’T Have Errors, Mistakes, or Contradictions

bart ehrman

My view was (and still is) that for personal religious reasons Rev. Firth [an Evangelical pastor Dr. Ehrman was debating on whether the Bible had contradictions] is committed to the idea that there can be no contradictions in the Bible.  He believes the Bible is the completely inspired and inerrant word of God with no mistakes of any kind whatsoever.  This is a religious view grounded on theological principles.  The view is beautiful in a way, in its simple elegance.  If there can’t be contradictions in the Bible, because God would never contradict himself, then there won’t be contradictions in the Bible.  And so anything that may “on the surface” (as Rev. Firth indicated) appear to be a contradiction is not actually one.  There is a way to explain everything.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, The Bart Ehrman Blog, Do My Biases Mean I *Have* to Find Contradictions?,May 20, 2019

Quote of the Day: Willie Nelson’s “God”

willie nelson

I think God is love, period. There’s love in everything out there — trees, grass, air, water. Love is the one thing that runs through every living thing. Everybody loves something. The grass loves the water. That’s the one thing we all have in common, that we all love and like to be loved. That’s God.

— Willie Nelson, Rolling Stone, The High Life, May 2018

Quote of the Day: Does Morality Require a God or Holy Book?

dr john messerly

Lacking good reasons or armed with weak ones, many will object that their moral beliefs derive from their Gods. To base your ethical views on Gods you would need to know: 1) if Gods exist; 2) if they are good; 3) if they issue good commands; 4) how to find the commands; and 5) the proper version and translation of the holy books issuing commands, or the right interpretation of a revelation of the commands, or the legitimacy of a church authority issuing commands. Needless to say, it is hard, if not impossible, to know any of this.

Consider just the interpretation problem. When does a seemingly straightforward command from a holy book like, “thou shalt not kill,” apply? In self-defense? In war? Always? And to whom does it apply? To non-human animals? Intelligent aliens? Serial killers? All living things? The unborn? The brain-dead? Religious commands such as “don’t kill,” “honor thy parents,” and “don’t commit adultery” are ambiguous. Difficulties also arise if we hear voices commanding us, or if we accept an institution’s authority. Why trust the voices in our heads, or institutional authorities?

For the sake of argument though, let’s assume: that there are Gods; that you know the true one; that your God issues good commands; that you have access to those commands because you have found the right book or church, or had the right vision, or heard the right voices; and that you interpret and understand the command correctly—even if they came from a book that has been translated from one language to another over thousands of years, or from a long-ago revelation. It is almost impossible that you are correct about all this, but for the sake of the argument let’s say that you are. However, even in this case, most philosophers would argue that you can’t base ethics on your God.

To understand why you can’t base ethics on Gods consider the question: what is the relationship between the Gods and their commands? A classic formulation of this relationship is called the divine-command theory. According to divine command theory, things are right or wrong simply because the Gods command or forbid them. There is nothing more to morality than this. It’s like a parent who says to a child: it’s right because I say so. To see how this formulation of the relationship fails, consider a famous philosophical conundrum: “Are things right because the Gods command them, or do the Gods command them because they are right?”

If things are right simply because the Gods command them, then those commands are arbitrary. In that case, the Gods could have made their commandments backward! If divine fiat is enough to make something right, then the Gods could have commanded us to kill, lie, cheat, steal and commit adultery, and those behaviors would then be moral. But the Gods can’t make something right if it’s wrong. The Gods can’t make torturing children morally acceptable simply by divine decree, and that is the main reason why most Christian theologians reject divine command theory.

On the other hand, if the Gods command things because they are right, then there are reasons for the God’s commands. On this view, the Gods, in their infinite wisdom and benevolence, command things because they see certain commands as good for us. But if this is the case, then there is some standard, norm or criteria by which good or bad are measured which is independent of the Gods. Thus all us, religious and secular alike, should be looking for the reasons that certain behaviors should be condemned or praised. Even the thoughtful believer should engage in philosophical ethics.

So either the Gods commands are without reason and therefore arbitrary, or they are rational according to some standard. This standard—say that we would all be better off—is thus the reason we should be moral and that reason, not the Gods’ authority, is what makes something right or wrong. The same is true for a supposedly authoritative book. Something isn’t wrong simply because a book says so. There must be a reason that something is right or wrong, and if there isn’t, then the book has no moral authority on the matter.

At this point, the believer might object that the Gods have reasons for their commands, but we can’t know them. Yet if the ways of the Gods are really mysterious to us, what’s the point of religion? If you can’t know anything about the Gods or their commands, then why follow those commands, why have religion at all, why listen to the priest or preacher? If it’s all a mystery, we should remain silent or become mystics.

— Dr. John Messerly, Reason and Meaning, Professional Ethicists Rarely Oppose Abortion, May 19, 2019

Quote of the Day: Science Literacy is the Cure for the Recent Measles Outbreak

anti-vaxxer

While the measles outbreak in Brooklyn is the worst in decades, it’s only the latest in a long line of crises that can be traced to a lack of science literacy and quality education.

Our public health and children’s lives are at risk because so many parents, community leaders and policymakers lack the science literacy and critical-thinking skills to decipher fact from fiction.

This widespread dismissal of science is a pandemic, and with each new crisis, it becomes clearer that we are treating the symptoms instead of the underlying disease. From vaccine skepticism to climate-change denial, ignoring proven science could have life-threatening or even catastrophic results.

We must address the root cause and support and invest in STEM education and public science literacy before the damage is irreversible. The health and safety of our communities and future generations depend on it.

— Maya Ajmera, president and chief executive of the Society for Science & the Public and the publisher of Science News, New York Times

Further Information

Please read an excellent article on the subject by Annie Laurie Gaylor titled, Is it a Measles Pandemic or is it Really a Crisis in Critical Thinking Skills?

Quote of the Day: The “Abortion Reversal” Myth by Dr. Meera Shah

abortion reversal

There is no scientific or medical evidence that proves “reversing” a medication abortion is possible: There are no clinical trials and no objective or credible data. It is only a theory that has been introduced by anti-abortion activists and politicians to further attack access. When misinformation spreads, it affects the patients who seek care in my exam room.

Medication abortion involves using an FDA-approved regimen of pills to end a pregnancy prior to 10 weeks. Two medications are included: mifepristone and misoprostol. Used first, mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone and prevents the pregnancy from growing. If taken alone, mifepristone will end the pregnancy in about half the patients who take it. Misoprostol is used six to 72 hours later to soften and dilate the cervix as well as cause uterine contractions to remove the pregnancy. Together, the medication abortion regimen is 98-99 percent effective.

In theory, it could be possible to stop the effect of mifepristone with high doses of progesterone, but this has never been proven. In medicine, we do not expose people to potential risks for no medical benefit, so we would never recommend this as an option for patients. In the unlikely event someone did not want to take the misoprostol, what healthcare providers would suggest is that there is a significant chance that the pregnancy could continue. If the patient wanted to continue the pregnancy after taking the mifepristone, we could advise to not take the misoprostol, and we would support a patient with that decision as well. Anti-abortion lawmakers have used very unethical and flawed research conducted by one anti-abortion doctor to push laws that require doctors to mislead their patients by telling them of this so-called option.

This series of cases studies from 2012 that was completed at a Catholic university where a few women who had taken mifepristone, changed their mind about the abortion and then continued their pregnancy after receiving progesterone. The report was not supervised by an Institutional Review Board (a committee which protects the rights of human subjects) which would have raised ethical concerns. Second, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (ACOG) found that there is not enough evidence from this report to say that the pregnancies continued due to the progesterone. The ACOG called abortion reversal “unproven and unethical.”

The same researcher did another study in the same year with more participants and claimed that he confirmed that progesterone can reverse the effects of mifepristone. But again, his research methods were found to be flawed and there is rigorous systematic review to show that pregnancy continuation was not more likely with progesterone administration. The ACOG, the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood do not recommend administering progesterone if a patient tries to continue their pregnancy after using mifepristone. There just isn’t enough data to support this.

Dr. Mitchell Creinin, an OB/GYN at the University of California, Davis, who has done significant research in family planning, decided to put this issue to rest. He is currently enrolling patients in a study to determine if progesterone can block the effects of mifepristone and increase the chance of pregnancy continuation. He doesn’t believe that that it will and he’s hoping that his findings will be used to prevent lawmakers from mandating physicians from providing patients with misinformation about medication abortion reversal.

— Dr. Meera Shah, Jezebel, Shattering the ‘Abortion Reversal’ Myth, April 22, 2019

Quote of the Day: Why I’m an Atheist by Ira Glass

ira glass

It’s not like I don’t feel like I’m a Jew. I feel like I don’t have a choice about being a Jew. Your cultural heritage isn’t like a suitcase you can lose at the airport. I have no choice about it. It is who I am. I can’t choose that. It’s a fact of me. But even when I was 14 or 15, it didn’t make that much sense to me that there was this Big Daddy who created the world and would act so crazy in the Old Testament. That we made up these stories to make ourselves feel good and explain the world seems like a much more reasonable explanation. I’ve tried to believe in God but I simply don’t.

— Ira Glass, This American Life, November 6, 2009

Quote of the Day: Theological Beliefs Force People to Endure Needless Suffering

assisted suicide

Cartoon by Ted Rall

Granting dying patients the power to determine when their lives will end has long been a serious point of contention with some American religious groups who view these right to die laws as government embracing a “culture of death.” Well-known right to die activists such as Jack Kevorkian have countered that religious ethics should not subvert sound medical reasoning. As of now, the argument against establishing right to die laws remains the dominant American position as only six states and the District of Columbia currently allow physicians to prescribe medications that hasten death. Another, more blunt way to put it, is that a theological belief is forcing millions of families and individual Americans to endure needless suffering that most of us spare our pets.

On its face, the religious objection to right to die laws is based on an otherwise morally praiseworthy worldview that all human life is sacred. Understanding how this seemingly positive belief became the chief impediment to ending so much needless human suffering presents a great lesson in the underlying conflict between science and dogmatic belief.

To be clear, I do not think this conflict needs be a zero-sum game. Indeed, the Constitution provides a great blueprint for how religious faith and science can interact in the same space to overall mutual benefit. Moreover, a strong argument can be made that a constant state of tension is how our market of ideas should function under. That said, I do agree with the critics of dogma such as neuroscientist and author Sam Harris in one very important respect; the main problem with dogma, no matter how benign, is that it is unresponsive to new evidence and discoveries.

The practical issue is the period in which most religious scripture takes place is centuries apart from the time period when modern science came about. Therefore, it is utterly impossible for scripture to take into account the evidence that modern science has produced. This places literal, dogmatic interpretation of spiritual text often in conflict with readily provable realities that modern science has revealed. For instance that the earth is billions, not thousands of years old. Often times, the descriptive conflict between religious dogma and modern science does not bear any direct impact on the everyday lives of most. When the subject matter spills into medical ethics however, the debate can have very real consequences.

— Tyler Broker, Above the Law, The Right to Die, March 12, 2019

Quote of the Day: Bringing Something Into Existence With an “If”

if

I found the following quote from Bob Seidensticker to be an excellent explanation of Evangelical presuppositional apologetics. If you have ever had a discussion with someone who is a presuppositionalist, you know how frustrating such discussions can be. This quote doesn’t provide an answer to presuppositionalism as much as it shows how presuppositionalists think. You will likely never win an argument about the existence of God with a presuppositionalist since they reject an evidentiary approach when it comes to the existence of God and supernatural nature of the Bible. It does, however, help to know HOW such people think. This will keep you from wasting hours talking with someone about God or the Bible, only to have them default to “the Bible says.” End of discussion.

Christian use of “If”
Christians can also make daring use of this word, but it’s a different kind of daring. Here are some examples where they conjure up the supernatural with an If.

If God exists, it makes not only a tremendous difference for mankind in general, but it could make a life-changing difference for you as well. —William Lane Craig

If Jesus was literally God incarnate, and if it is by his death alone that men can be saved, and by their response to him alone that they can appropriate that salvation, then the only doorway to eternal life is Christian faith. —John Hick

If Jesus rose from the grave, that’s the most important event in history. It proves Jesus is who He said He was, that Christianity is true, that you will be resurrected and brought before God to account for your crimes against Him. —Alan Shlemon

If God had the power necessary to create everything from nothing [that is, create the universe], he could probably pull off the miracles described in the New Testament. —J. Warner Wallace
(Sometimes the if is assumed. For example, the atheist raises the Problem of Evil, and the apologist replies, “[If we first assume God,] Who are you to question God?”)

Perhaps you can see the problem. Yes, if that amazing and unevidenced claim about God or Jesus is true, then your conclusion holds, but why would you think it would? It’s like saying, “If Santa exists, I’ll get lots of presents” or “If friendly aliens are among us, they’ll give us lots of cool technology” or “If I can speak to the dead, I will gain great wisdom.” The conclusion might logically follow, but why accept the ridiculous if premise? No reason is given.

In Christians’ Alice-in-Wonderland logic, the premise is the conclusion. The four quoted examples above simplify to “If God exists, then God exists.” The Christian apologist could cut to the chase, declare that God or Jesus exists, claim victory over the atheist, and be done with it, but then of course they admit the sleight of hand. The second half of the “If God exists . . .” statement is window dressing compared to the fundamental claim that God exists. The conclusion was buried in the premise all along.

This is the Hypothetical God Fallacy. It’s a fallacy because no one interested in the truth starts with a conclusion (God exists) and then arranges the facts to support that conclusion. That’s backwards; it’s circular reasoning. Rather, the truth seeker starts with the facts and then follows them to their conclusion. Christians don’t get an exemption, and they must do it the hard way, like any scientist or historian, showing the evidence that leads unavoidably to the conclusion.

— Bob Seidensticker, The Cross Examined,  A Popular Blunder: Bringing Something Into Existence with an “If”, March 11, 2019

Quote of the Day: Dr. Jerry Coyne Reviews Michael Behe Latest Book — Darwin Devolves

dr jerry coyne

Excerpt from Jerry Coyne’s Washington Post review of Michael Behe’s latest defense of creationism’s sexy sister, intelligent design.

The notion of “intelligent design” arose after opponents of evolution repeatedly failed on First Amendment grounds to get Bible-based creationism taught in the public schools. Their solution: Take God out of the mix and replace him with an unspecified “intelligent designer.” They added some irrelevant mathematics and fancy biochemical jargon, and lo: intelligent design, which scientists have dubbed “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.”

But the tuxedo is fraying, for intelligent design has been rejected not just by biologists but also by judges who recognize it as poorly disguised religion. Nevertheless, its advocates persist. Among the most vocal is Michael J. Behe, a biology professor at Lehigh University whose previous books, despite withering criticism from scientists, have sold well in a country where 76 percent of us think God had some role in human evolution.

….

Like his creationist kin, Behe devotes his time not to giving evidence for intelligent design but to attacking evolutionary biology. As Herbert Spencer said, “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” But Behe’s theory, promulgated by the Discovery Institute, Seattle’s intelligent-design organization, does demand support. Who, exactly, is the designer, and what evidence is there that this designer makes nonrandom mutations? Is the designer an immaterial god, in which case we need to know how this god violates the laws of physics by causing mutations, or is the designer material, like a space alien, in which case we must understand the physical methods whereby aliens change our DNA?

And what is an example of a designed mutation? (Behe is silent here.) Since humans are placed in the same family as other great apes (Hominidae), Behe’s theory predicts that we arose without a designer’s intervention. But here he backpedals, asserting that there are “excellent reasons to suspect those differences [between humans and other apes] are well beyond Darwinian processes.” Sadly, he doesn’t give these reasons, but I’d guess they stem from the Christian belief that Homo sapiens is a special creation of God. Such ad hoc claims, derived from religion, explain why intelligent design has been deemed by the courts as “a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

In 1998, the Discovery Institute drafted the “Wedge Document,” a secret plan (leaked in 1999) to spread Christianity in America by teaching intelligent design and fighting materialism. One of the plan’s 20-year goals was “to see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.” Well, now it’s 20 years on, and despite the efforts of Behe and other neo-creationists, intelligent design has been discredited as science and outed as disguised religion. It’s no surprise, then, that “Darwin Devolves” was published by HarperOne, the religious, spiritual and self-help division of HarperCollins.

You can read the entire review here.

Books by Dr. Jerry Coyne

Why Evolution Is True

 Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible

Books by Dr. Michael Behe

 Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution

Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution

Quote of the Day: The FACTS on the Born-Alive Debate

abortion facts

What statistics are available on cases of failed abortions in which a baby is born alive? How often does this happen?

There is some limited data on babies born alive as the result of an abortion procedure, but it’s unclear what the medical circumstances were in each of these cases. There is more extensive data on when abortions are performed. We’ll go through the available numbers.

First, in terms of a baby’s viability — the ability to survive outside the womb — one 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine on preterm births said: “Active [lifesaving] intervention for infants born before 22 weeks of gestation is generally not recommended, whereas the approach for infants born at or after 22 weeks of gestation varies.” The study noted the “extremely difficult” decision on whether to use treatment for infants “born near the limit of viability,” saying that while in some cases treatment is clearly indicated or not, “in many cases, it is unclear whether treatment is in the infant’s best interest.”

The study looked at the cases of 4,987 infants “without congenital anomalies,” or birth defects, born before 27 weeks gestation. It found that 5.1 percent of babies born at 22 weeks gestational age survived and 3.4 percent survived “without severe impairment.” Several weeks further into gestation, at 26 weeks, 81.4 percent of babies survived, 75.6 percent without severe impairment.

Abortions in such later stages of pregnancies (which typically are 38 to 42 weeks full term) could be performed because of congenital anomalies, but that study provides some sense of when a fetus without birth defects could be viable and when decisions on medical interventions could be made.

Late-term abortions are rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1.3 percent of abortions in the U.S. were performed after 21 weeks gestational time, according to 2015 data. The CDC’s report showed that 65 percent of abortions that year occurred in the first eight weeks of pregnancy.

Forty-three states have banned “some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive health issues.

What about abortions that result in a live birth? One CDC report on death certificates for infants for 2003 to 2014, showed “143 deaths involving induced terminations” of pregnancies during that 12-year period, 97 of which “involved a maternal complication or, one or more congenital anomalies.” The data “only include deaths occurring to those infants born alive; fetal deaths (stillbirths) are not included.”

The CDC notes that the 143 number could be an underestimate of induced terminations of pregnancies. In looking at the data, the CDC found some cases where it was unclear whether a pregnancy termination was induced or spontaneous. In such cases, if congenital anomalies and maternal complications also were involved, the CDC assumed those were spontaneous terminations, due to the “strong association between severe congenital anomalies or maternal complications and premature labor and birth.” In other words, the CDC assumed such cases were premature labor as opposed to a decision to induce labor or end the pregnancy.

The Facts on the Born-Alive Debate, March 4, 2019