Our prejudices: Implicit associations

We all have biases that we should try to be aware of. Our implicit prejudices may be at odds with our explicit attitudes. One problem when discussing issues such as racism and sexism especially is that surprisingly many people seem to think that such things have been largely dealt with in the 20th Century and are now of minimal importance.

https://implicit.harvard.edu has several tests designed to measure our implicit biases. As with any scientific test, there could be issues with methodology etc and, in addition to discussion of implicit biases (e.g. the psychology of them, how they affect our skepticism), that also seems an appropriate topic for discussion here.


How does the (life and) death of Jesus atone for our sins?

The Jews before Jesus believed that blood had redemptive powers:

all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness

(Hebrews 9:22)

To regard a substance as having such abstract powers invariably comes from a form of thinking known as sympathetic magic. JG Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1889) extensively documents and elucidates such rituals. The Jewish belief in the abstract restorative powers of blood stems from a naive essentialism that should be anathema to the modern educated mind:
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Snakes, suicide, and selective statistics

VJ Torley has a post at UD where he claims that

Atheism destroys many more innocent human lives than religion ever will.

His argument is that atheists commit suicide at a higher rate than theists. While this is true, “disingenous” is a charitable word for his failure to include, at the very least, statistics on murder.
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The inconstancy of Christian morality

In the fifties, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released records as that most familiar American duo, Tom & Jerry. It was the sixties before their now famous Jewish names were allowed an airing. A similar thing happened with Jesus. Truth is, without Paul, Jesus may have been simultaneously too Jewish, too old fashioned, and too radical to make it big. Jesus in the Gospels is not quite the laissez faire hippie that many Christians want him to be. He is quoted as saying

Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery

(Matthew 19:9)

yet good Christians divorce for reasons other than infidelity all the time. Society’s moral values have changed, and the moral values of Christians have changed with them. Jesus says nothing against slavery whereas a modern Christian placed in his situation and time might feel compelled to speak out.

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Who would die for a lie?

In a comment at UD, Sal Cordova says:

One could of course argue the New Testament is a fabrication and exaggeration, but then it is well attested that the Romans inflicted cruel deaths upon Christians, some of whom claimed to be eye-witnesses of Jesus. Why die such a horrible death for a lie?

It lends too much credibility to the New Testament.

Sal seems to be unaware of phenomena such as cult suicides and suicide bombings.

The “who would die for a lie?” Christian trope confuses conviction with truth. It is a persistent apologetic, since the confusion of conviction and truth is the fundamental error of the religious. It is something all humans are vulnerable to. Hence we always have to be wary of con artists and other charismatic people, governments, authority figures, and the media.

Over to you. Who would die for a lie?


Reification of the tree metaphor

A brief note to a regular reader.

The Darwinian “tree of life” is not an actual tree. It is a diagram of relationships. Therefore it can survive without having established its “roots”.

It could be granted that the origin of life was artificial, or even supernatural, and the theory of evolution would still be applicable within its domain.

This is not the first time the error in the essay challenge has been pointed out, but it costs us little to hope that a sincere individual, in no way guilty of peddling a religiopolitical agenda, would acknowledge the mistake.


Totalitarianism at the Heart of the American Intelligent Design Movement – Part II

Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.

– Phillip E Johnson, American Family Radio, Jan 10, 2003 broadcast.

Open the book “Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds” and you will find an affectionate dedication:

To Roberta and Howard, who understood “the wedge” because they love the Truth.[1]

Howard Ahmanson, the sinister theocrat we met in Part One, and his wife Roberta are friends of the author, Phillip E Johnson. Roberta is no better than her husband. She defends RJ Rushdoony’s desire for the reintroduction of biblical law, and asks “What is so bad about theocracy?”[2]

Phillip Johnson is often called the father, or godfather, of the intelligent design movement.[3][4][5] He is the brains behind the “wedge strategy”, the co-ordinated attack on all fronts to insinuate Christian theology masquerading as science into all areas of public life, until Christianity is the ruling ideology.[6]

In a November 2000 interview, Johnson describes how his “wedge strategy” became the focus of the Intelligent Design movement:

I met Steve Meyer, who was in England at the time. Through Steve, I got to know the others, who were developing what became the Intelligent Design movement. Michael Denton stayed in my home for three days while he was in the United States. Meyer introduced me to Paul Nelson, and so on. One by one, these people came together.
At that time there was a little funding to pay for people to come to Seattle occasionally for a conference. So they had me speak at one in 1989 to look me over. I soon became the leader of the group.[7]

The NCSE has a neat summary of the history of ID:

Intelligent Design creationism (IDC) is a successor to the “creation science” movement, which dates back to the 1960s. The IDC movement began in the middle 1980s as an antievolution movement which could include young earth, old earth, and progressive creationists; theistic evolutionists, however, were not welcome. The movement increased in popularity in the 1990s with the publication of books by law professor Phillip Johnson and the founding in 1996 of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (now the Center for Science and Culture.) The term “intelligent design” was adopted as a replacement for “creation science,” which was ruled to represent a particular religious belief in the Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987.[8]

The popularity of the term “intelligent design” as used by modern creationists to denote a putative scientific field stems from the 1989 edition of the book “Of Pandas and People”.[9]

The ID movement has a temporal home in Seattle at the headquarters of the Center for Science and Culture, part of the Discovery Institute.[10]

The goals for ID, as outlined in the infamous leaked Wedge Document[11] drafted by Discovery Institute staff, are sweeping. They include the objective

To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral, and political life.

The Wedge Document outlines a concerted attack on “materialism”; this effectively means an attack on secular elements of society. For example, modern approaches to criminal justice and welfare are criticized. While it would be very worrying even if the justice and welfare models sought were Victorian, Johnson and his cohort seek to go back much further than that.

Johnson rejects the utility of secular rationality, and he says

[T]he nihilism permeating contemporary life is the inevitable consequence of apostasy.

For him, a Christian society is the only long term option:

As modernist rationalism gives way in universities to its own natural child—postmodernist nihilism—modernists are learning very slowly what a bargain they have made. It isn’t a bargain a society can live with indefinitely.[12]

It becomes clear from his writings that by “modernist rationalism” he means The Enlightenment and its legacy. His proposed solution is desecularization via a religious revival.[13]

Dembski is of the same mind as Johnson. Of science, he says

[T]he scientific picture of the world championed since the Enlightenment is not only wrong, it is massively wrong.[14][10][15]

It may be startling to realize quite how radical the approach to science of Johnson and his most well known satellites really is. Some “evolutionist” scientists are sympathetic to the principle of detection of the supernatural and/or the detection of design in nature. However, such concessions would not satisfy their opponents. Dembski and Johnson and associates believe that science should be essentially theistic. Dembski insists on seeing science through the lens of fifth century theology:

If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient.[16]

Upon his appointment as Professor of Theology and Science at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dembski said

This is really an opportunity to mobilize a new generation of scholars and pastors not just to equip the saints[17] but also to engage the culture and reclaim it for Christ. That’s really what is driving me.[18]

When Dembski says Christians have a mandate to bring “every aspect of life under the influence of [Christianity]”[19] he means it. There is a word for a society where religion, culture, ethics, politics, criminal justice, and legal reform are predicated on the reality of a god.

Dembski is intolerant of Christians who interpret scripture differently to him, let alone the non-religious:

[H]eresy has become an unpopular word. Can’t we all get along and live in peace? Unfortunately the answer is no.[20]

While it is fair to say that Dembski does not advocate an imperialistic approach to creating a world where his fundamentalist brand of Christianity informs everything, the outcome could not be anything other than totalitarian.

The new theocrats, some of them at any rate, may feel that their single authority world would be different because it would be based on “love”, but in the belief that pre-modern values are the highest expression of love they display the symptoms of a dangerous sickness.

Read Part One here

[1] Defeating Darwinism By Opening Minds. Phillip E Johnson. InterVarsity Press 1997.
[2] Interview with Roberta Ahmanson for Christianity Today. 19th January 2011.
[3] Defending Intelligent Design. PBS Nova website.
[4] Intelligent Design: The real issue according to Johnson. The Panda’s Thumb.
[5] Father Of Intelligent Design. Center for Science & Culture website
[6] Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, Barbara Forrest and Paul R Gross, OUP, 2003.
[7] Berkeley’s Radical. An interview with Phillip E Johnson. Touchstone. June 2002.
[8] What Is “Intelligent Design” Creationism? NCSE website.
[9] “Biological design in science classrooms”, Eugenie C. Scott and Nicholas J. Matzke, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May 15, 2007. vol. 104 no. suppl 1.
[10] Understanding the intelligent design creationist movement: Its true nature and goals.
A position paper from the Center For Inquiry office of public policy. Author: Barbara Forrest. July 2007.
[11] The Wedge Document. Copy at antievolution.org
[12] Ethics in a Vacuum. Phillip E Johnson. Touchstone. October 2002.
[13] Nihilism And The End Of Law. Phillip E Johnson. First Things. March 1993.
[14] Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology.William A. Dembski. InterVarsity Press 2002. p224.
[15] Scientific Values and Civic Virtues. Noretta Koertge. OUP 2005. p203.
[16] Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology. P206
[17] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16.

[18] Dembski to head seminary’s new science & theology center. Baptist Press website.
[19] “Introduction: Reclaiming Theological Education”, William A. Dembski & Jay Wesley Richards, in Unapologetic Apologetics: Meeting the challenge of theological studies. Eds. William A. Dembski and Jay Wesley Richards. InterVarsity Press 2001. p18.
[20] “The Task of Apologetics”, William A. Dembski, in Unapologetic Apologetics: Meeting the challenge of theological studies. p43.


Totalitarianism and The American Intelligent Design Movement – Part I

The Chalcedon Foundation are a Christian Reconstructionist [1] [2] organization [3], founded by the late RJ Rushdoony.

The Chalcedon Foundation propose

an explicitly Biblical system of thought and action as the exclusive basis for civilization


[t]he role of every earthly government including family government, church government, school government, vocational government, and civil government is to submit to Biblical law.[4]

Rushdoony subscribed to the postmillenial notion that Christ will only return to earth when biblical law is the only law throughout the world. In his 1973 890 page effluvium, “Institutes of Biblical Law”, the first of three movements, Christianity and democracy are “inevitably enemies.” Rushdoony envisages the church as the final dictatorship. Nothing less than world domination will do.

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Do ID proponents deserve charity?

A post at UD, insidiously tagged with “academic freedom”, promotes charity. Contributor johnnyb highlights a piece on NPR’s website which calls for recognition that

other people’s religious and scientific commitments can be as deeply felt and deeply reasoned as our own.

Sure, ID proponents are passionate about the tenets of their faith, and indeed the theist keeps on digging when the soil runs out. As Kierkegaard noted, there is always an unbridgeable emptiness for the theist, the “leap of faith.” So no matter how much reason one applies to religion, religious belief is at heart irrational. Those who attempt to trowel reason over the gap are foolish, and cowardly in their attempts to divert from the irrationality of their belief.

We already understand why people believe in ID. It is because they belong to sects which cannot accept that an upgraded Canaanite storm god did not create beasts and birds and plants fully formed, in many cases a few hours after finishing the planet. In the twenty-first century, this is a ridiculous idea, utterly contrary to the firmly established science based upon mountains of evidence. Furthermore, to preserve the fiction that ID is science, its supporters must fall back on a conspiracy theory which grants inordinate power to an atheist minority despised and marginalized in much of the world, especially the United States.

This is not all. We know that prominent figures associated with ID, and particularly the intelligent design advocacy organization, the Discovery Institute, have a theocratic, anti-science agenda. They do not balk at lies. This is all well documented.

The public face of ID is political. The politics are those of the American Christian right. Those of us who value reality, science, progressiveness, inclusiveness, social justice, and opportunity for all make a grave mistake by being charitable to proponents of ID. The American Christian right deserve no more charity than any other would be totalitarians. If the odd nice, deluded, and ignorant but honest creationist is offended by a lack of charity, that is tough as far as I am concerned. Obliviousness is no excuse for assisting the enemies of humanity.


Of herrings and miracles

Never one to turn down an opportunity for learning, I took the opportunity to read VJ Torley’s analysis of a clip of Stephen Fry on the wonderful ‘miracle of the herrings.’

Since I already know that people (even game show researchers and VJ Torley) can get facts wrong, and I am confident that most at TSZ don’t give a flying fish about the infallibility of Stephen Fry or anyone else, I’ll stick to what Torley’s article reveals regarding miracles, canonization, the Catholic Church, life, and everything.

1. The miracles performed by a candidate for sainthood don’t have to be authentic miracles.
2. One “miracle” is not sufficient to be declared a saint. Two inauthentic “miracles” are the minimum.
3. The probabilty of an erroneous witness report isn’t too high.
4. If only Hume had realised that witnesses are generally reliable, he would never had made his argument against the authenticity of miracles.
5. From 3, the probability that the testimony of a reliable witness is in error is 0.001
6. It takes 8 independent witnesses to warrant belief in a miracle.

Allowing me to conclude:

Sensory illusions are rare.
The statue of Fortuna really did speak (Plutarch’s Life of Coriolanus 37-38)
Asclepius healed thousands.
Melinda Braithwate in the fourth year (eighth grade) really would have ‘done it’ for a pound.
Darren Clowes really was eaten by wolves (also eighth grade).
Belief in many manifestations of the divine is warranted.

…I am now a Hindu.

Thanks VJ Torley!

My only confusion is as to why saints have to be attributed miracles at all, if the miracles don’t have to be real ones.


C14 Dating of Dinosaur Bones

Jean De Pontcharra, a Phd in Physics, has a presentation for creationist conferences entitled “Is Radiocarbon dating reliable?”

De Pontcharra and a colleague got hold of some dinosaur bones and decided to date them with C14. This was reported at Uncommon Descent. Could someone who knows something about science spot the error? Bueller? Cordova?

So why did Pontcharra do what he did? Why has this been reported in various places on the web as evidence of a young Earth?

On a charitable interpretation, the best we can say about this story is that ID has always been plagued by gross incompetence.

An uncomplicated mind might conclude that the Intelligent Design movement is all about creationist propaganda for the uneducated and uninquisitive.