Tag Archive: Quote of the Day

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: 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

Quote of the Day: Should Christian Crosses be Permitted on Public Property?

peace cross

The right question for the [U.S. Supreme] court is whether a religious symbol on public property endorses one religion over others. The Peace Cross clearly does….At a time when Americans subscribe to a wide variety of religious beliefs — or none at all — it’s vital for government to be religiously neutral.

— Los Angeles Times Editorial, February 27, 2019, Via The American Humanist Association Newsletter

Quote of the Day: Churches That Value Protecting Their Reputations More Than Abused Children

value children over dogma

The egomaniacal and rapacious drives of a molester who blots out all sense of right and wrong, brutally disregarding the pain he is causing children, have often found a parallel in churches bent on protecting themselves at the expense of thousands of victims. That disregard is a malignancy in the church . . .

If religion or any institution depends on the sexual exploitation or subordination of children or women, then it is better that such institutions should cease to exist. If it is a question of the survival of the institution of the church versus the survival and safety of children, then our allegiance clearly must be with children.

— Dan Barker, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, Freedom From Religion Foundation, 1988

Betrayal of Trust is now out of print. You can read the book in its entirety here.

Quote of the Day: Is New Atheism Dead? By Steven Pinker

steven pinker

The entire concept of a “New Atheism movement” comes from defensive defenders of religion. I think of it not as a movement but as the overdue examination of an idea: Does a supernatural deity exist, and should our morality and politics be shaped by the belief that it does? For various reasons—the intrusion of theo-conservatism during the presidency of George W. Bush, the rise of militant Islam, an awareness of the psychological origins of supernatural beliefs, sheer coincidence—a quartet of books appeared within a span of two years, and pattern-spotters invented a “New Atheist Movement.” (I would not downplay coincidence as the explanation—random stochastic processes generate clusters of events by default.) Judged by degree of belief, the “new atheism” is not only not dead but it is winning: every survey has shown that religious belief is in steep decline, all over the world, and the drop off is particularly precipitous across the generations, as compared to just drifting with the zeitgeist or changing over the life cycle. This is reflected in laws and customs—homosexuality is being decriminalized in country after country, for example. These trends are masked in the public sphere by two forces pushing in the opposite direction: religious people have more babies, and religious communities turn out in elections and vote in lockstep for the more conservative candidate. If the “new atheist” message of Christopher Hitchens et al. was “Atheists should have more babies,” or “Atheists should form congregations and vote en masse for the same candidate,” then yes, it was an abject failure. But if it is “The evidence for a supernatural being is dubious, and the moral norms of legacy religions are often pernicious,” then it is carrying the day, or at least riding a global wave.

Steven Pinker, Why Evolution is True, Is New Atheism Really Dead?, February 15, 2019

Quote of the Day: Is New Atheism Dead? By Sam Harris

sam harris

I’ve always been skeptical about the utility of identifying as an “atheist,” because it rarely seems helpful to heap the false assumptions that surround this term upon one’s own head. For this reason, I’ve never been eager to wear the label “new atheist” either.

However, there was something genuinely new about the “new atheism.” The publication of our four books in quick succession moved the conversation about faith and reason out of rented banquet halls filled with septuagenarians and brought it to a mainstream (and much younger) audience. The new atheists also made distinctions that prior atheists tended to ignore: For instance, not all religions teach the same thing, and some are especially culpable for specific forms of human misery. We also put religious moderates on notice in a new way: These otherwise secular people who imagine themselves to be on such good terms with reason are actually abetting the forces of theocracy—because they insist that everyone’s faith in revelation must be respected, whatever the cost.

The new atheism has not disappeared. It has merely diffused into a wider conversation about facts and values. In the end, the new atheism was nothing more than the acknowledgement that there is single magisterium: the ever-expanding space illuminated by intellectual honesty.

Sam Harris, Why Evolution is True, Sam Harris Weighs In on “Is New Atheism Dead?” February 15, 2019