Creationists dealt a blow in Calif.

I was going to include this with the Sunday Cult Watch since creationism really is a cult (within a cult), fitting the definition leading the Cult Watch post quite well: the adherents of various creationist cults invoke a particular form of worship that involves special creation of humans; animals created as “kinds;” a global flood that exterminated all but two of each “kind;” a planet that is only a few thousand years old; etc. And such religious ideals involve a special sort of attention in the way of being anti-scientific and opposing reason and rational thought when it conflicts with their wacky and superstitious ideals.

So, the cults of creationism (Answers in Genesis, Discovery Institute, et al) were dealt a blow even they can’t ignore in California last week. A federal judge in L.A. ruled that the University of California can “deny course credit to applicants from Christian high schools whose textbooks declare the Bible infallible and reject evolution.” Followers of Christian cults, particularly those cults of creationism, objected to UC’s policy, suggesting that it was a policy of “religious discrimination.”

Among the courses rejected by UC is a history course called Christianity’s Influence on America which utilizes a text that, “instructs that the Bible is the unerring source for analysis of historical events” and evaluates historical figures based on their religious motivations.” Another course, this one in science, uses a text titled, Biology for Christian Schools and, “declares on the first page that if (scientific) conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong.”

So UC doesn’t find cult school courses that preach inerrant “truth” to be favorable over those that favor free inquiry and evidence? The only thing questionable about that position is that it actually had to go to court. This is no more asinine than if the Flat Earthers forced the same litigation over refusing to give course credit for denying the sphericity of this two-dimensional planet; or UFO nuts demanding that their high school astronomy programs be accepted even though the first chapter of their textbook deals with the Roswell cover up and the Moon-landing hoax.

And what did the creationist nutters have to say about the ruling on their blogs and sites?

AiG can be quoted to say, “Ultimately, this case is representative of the public—and academia’s—continued refusal to acknowledge the role of presuppositions in shaping how we acquire knowledge, including in the scientific sphere.”

The tragic thing is, these nuts are serious. They assume that because they rely on presuppositions (i.e. that their mythology is assumed the literal word of an assumed god) that, therefore, no one else is capable of achieving objective reality. Which is utter bollocks. There is an objective, knowable truth that can be had more easily and quickly by applying the methods (as opposed to apply the methods of superstition). They presuppose that the Earth is only a few thousand years old based on a single source of information developed by stone and iron age goat herders, ignoring all scientific knowledge and evidence to the contrary because it doesn’t fit their preconceived and particular notion of god.

WorldNut Daily, through the dimwitted Johnathan Falwell, said, well… I’m not going to bother quoting that asshole. Suffice to say, he went on and on about how society pretends values diversity unless it’s his particular notion of god and how his superstitious and unfounded beliefs should be valued in the name of diversity, etc. It was all very nauseating to read. don’t believe me, click the link and see. Ugh. Falwell committed logical fallacy after logical fallacy in a very weak attempt to make a point that students are forced to accept an “atheistic” point of view.

Sorry pal. Call it what you will, no one is telling students they can’t believe in whatever deities, fairies, Jedi, or magic frogs they want. The University system is about gaining an education in reality and if they haven’t the proper scores in the proper prep classes, they’re going to have a difficult time of it, putting an undo burden on professors and making it unfair for the students who actually did obtain an education. Classes would have to be dumbed down, extra time spent on teaching the basics, and, perhaps, even spent on explaining the reality-based point of view versus the sub-natural one relied on by creationists nutters.

To be fair, the creationist nutters did make a fair point in a couple of the articles I read on their sites, which was that it cannot be assumed that because a student came from a school that used sub-standard texts that she wouldn’t be educated sufficiently in the sciences. But, if these same nutters actually bothered to RTFA, they might have noticed the the sentence, “students whose courses lack UC approval can remain eligible by scoring well in those subjects on the Scholastic Assessment Test.”
But, then, it isn’t characteristic of creationists to actually study, research and do their homework, so we shouldn’t be too surprised by their false assumptions. Indeed, the very title of Falwell’s article, “Christians Need Not Apply” at WorldNut Daily is fallacious even before the first paragraph. The unfortunate thing is, this sort of propaganda feeds quite well into the less-informed masses who happen to be religious and are being led to believe that if they accept science they’re denying their god.
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At least some school districts are getting it right

As if my link to AiG in a previous post weren’t enough, I’m going to toss out another to “Creation on the Web” where a former substitute teacher is prattling on about being “expelled” from his part-time teaching gig in a post there titled Censoring Intelligent Design.

The author opens his article by boasting about his “glory days” as the substitute teacher that put on “the biggest elementary school patriotic concert in Arizona state history” at the behest of a governor and a senator. Then he goes on to describe subbing for a science class that showed a movie which he described as “actively disrespecting the Christian families in the school.”

According to the substitute teacher (now author) the video “was a mix of science and anti-religious propaganda” and “the kids sat there like little sponges soaking it up.” It must have been painful for someone so steeped in superstition to have those superstitions challenged. Here’s a quote from the article:

To summarize, it portrayed early religious people—specifically Christians and Jews as it used biblical terminology—as primitive and superstitious. For example, when talking about comets it stated that religious people once thought they were signs from God or the devil. It then explained how science came to the rescue and explained what comets really were. A similar statement was made about lightning being a sign that God was angry. Once again science rescued man from religious superstition.

The author then described how he presented creationism (in the form of intelligent design) to the students as an alternative to actual science and reality and wondered why the district no longer has a need for his services. Duh.

This is the gist of his article. The rest is spent whining over losing his substitute teaching job and not getting an answer why (clearly, he knows why) and with attempting to argue the same tired and debunked social Darwinist, Nazi Holocaust, anti-science, science isn’t perfect crap that creationists do when they really don’t have a genuine and rational argument. Or, perhaps the author truly believes that nonsense -if so, the Washington School District (Glendale, AZ I think) made the correct decision in sacking the guy. He has no business pretending to be an educator.

So if you move to Glendale, AZ, at least you know the school district has something going for it. It’s willing to sack poor educators and willing to provide rational and objective education regardless of the sensibilities of the overly superstitious, like Roger Paull. Because not a single thing that Paull cited in the quote above is inaccurate. The video he remembers was probably The Soul of Science (Paull calls it “science of the soul”), which is a four part series originally published in VHS format in 1996 by Hawkhill associates. The series was designed to provide an overview of the “where, when and why of scientific research and discovery.”

Interestingly enough, this very video is included in the course syllabus for a class titled “History of Scientific Discovery: 1500 to Present (Great Moments in Science).” A class listed by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities no less!

The Undercover Atheist, John Hagee, and Speaking in Tongues

Obama had his religious nutter (Rev. Wright) and now McCain seems to have his own in the form of John Hagee, the televangelist and pastor for a Megachurch in San Antonio, TX (Cornerstone) was heard to state “biblical verses made clear that Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to chase the Jews from Europe and drive them to Palestine” [this quote is from this NY Times article, not Hagee directly]. The articled linked in the previous sentence goes in to far more detail and you’ve probaby already heard it all anyway.

But what I wanted to make note of was a new book that you might not know about. Written by Matt Taibbi, The Great Derangement [Amazon.com] is a first-hand account of an atheist who goes “undercover” with a church-group to a boot camp for new converts, encountering all sorts of madness, nutty behavior, and characters both scary and delightful along the way (mostly scary, it would seem). In an excerpt, which you can read here [Alternet.org], Taibbi shares his observations getting on the bus to go to the boot camp and with members learning to speak in tongues while pretending to get the holy ghost.

The excerpt is short and there are a host of comments defending either Taibbi & atheists or Hagee & religious nuts.

Evidence of Delusion: Cartoon Inspired Riots

The cartoon-inspired riots in the past few weeks over the reprinting of the infamous Danish Cartoons of Muhammad are clear evidence of religious delusion. Why else would someone call for the death of a cartoonist who drew and inked the image of another person who’s been taking a dirt nap for nearly two thousand years? The dumb-asses who riot and burn effigies and flags of Danes and Denmark don’t even know if the cartoonist was event close at approximating Muhammad’s likeness!

And what’s this fetish with creating effigies and buying flags for burning? That they truly think this hurts peoples’ feelings shows how ignorant, backward, and deluded these people are. If they weren’t so bent on killing someone over a bloody cartoon, it would be comical! Just this past week, about 150 nutjobs of the local Muslim cult in Jakarta, Malaysia  Indonesia demonstrated in front of the Danish and Dutch embassies after a reprinting of the infamous cartoons (one of which is shown above) by a Danish publication.

Are they that stupid? Don’t they realize that the Danish embassy has no connection to a publisher that happens to be in the same nation the embassy represents? Being so wrapped up in their own sharia bullshit, banana court system and government, do they think that the rest of the world works the same way? Probably, which is still more evidence of their delusion by thinking that concepts of free press, freedom of expression, and free thought are non-existent.

Muslims are free to believe whatever batshit, superstitious nonsense they would like. So are Christians, Jews, Hindus, Fulani, and Wiccans. If they want to believe that creating an image of their silly prophet (penis be unto him) is offensive and against their religion, that’s fine. But they don’t have the right to bully, pressure, threaten and otherwise mandate that free press and the publications in free nations observe their batshit superstitions.

Sorry for the rant. I just ran across the story above and, having read several others recently, I had to get it off my chest. And its another good reason to publish a picture of Muhammad’s ugly mug. Next thing you know, I’m going to start using the word “theistard.”

A Spell to Break: the Belief in Transubstantiation

Transubstantiation

Transubstantiation – the ritual act of consuming bread and wine which are believed to transform into new substances, specifically the blood and body of Jesus Christ. This practice was defined as doctrine by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 then reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in 1551. Primarily a Catholic ritual, it is practiced among Protestant cults as well.

The idea is that the ritual reenacts, through a priest, the event where Jesus is alleged to have said, “this is my body,” and “this is my blood” to his disciples while having bread and wine at the Last Supper [1].

Interestingly enough, the act of endocannibalism, a method of incorporating the dead into the living by consuming substances that are of them isn’t limited to just Christianity. Amazonian natives once drank (and perhaps still do) a cocktail of cremation ashes of deceased villagers. For those that believe that the bread and wine truly transform into the new substances of flesh and blood, this is philosophically no different.

I doubt many of those that believe in transubstantiation would be unwilling to scoff at the South American Indian that drank a beverage for the sole purpose of ingesting the cremated ashes of the dead.

While there are doubtless many Christian adherents that view transubstantiation as a symbolic or commemorating gesture, through Christian doctrine it most definitely is not. Transubstantiation is the complete change of a substance.

This is an example of the types of superstitions held by devout, and even moderate, religious believers. And its the type of “spell” that ought be broke if we are to truly progress as a global society cease violence and bigotry in the name of two thousand year old books. My intent is to post a series of “Spells to Break” in the coming months as a way of disseminating information, hopefully to those who might be believers but have an inquiring mind. Maybe with enough outside perspectives on enough “spells” of religion and other paranormal beliefs, those that simply accepted the doctrines of their families and cultures without question might begin to have questions of their own. I’ll leave with quote from Sam Harris’ book, The End of Faith [2].

Is there any doubt that lone subscriber to these beliefs would be considered mad? Rather, is there any doubt that he would be mad? The danger of religious aith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.

References:

[1] Jones, Lindsey, ed. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed, Vol. 3. New York: Thomson – Gale, p. 1669.

[2] Harris, Sam (2004). The End of Faith. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 73.

Witchcraft: Taken Very Seriously in Africa

There are some things that even the most devout religious adherents in the United States would scoff atafrica.jpg that are held to be very serious beliefs of the supernatural elsewhere in the world. So much so, that lives are affected or even ended because of these supernatural beliefs and superstitions. I think it helps to examine these in order to put Western religious superstitions in perspective.

I’ve spoke with West Africans that point out that Christian missionaries would ridicule their beliefs which ranged from witches flying in the night abducting the hapless to talking baobab trees, but that these same missionaries would try to pass of their very strange beliefs in sorcery that turns wine to blood and that three gods are really one.

To illustrate just how real witchcraft is to traditional African culture, here are a few news summaries of recent witchcraft news:

Man gets 5 yrs for magical transportation

A man in Malawi is sentenced to five years of imprisonment for violating the Malawi Witchcraft Act, which criminalizes the practice and teaching of “witchcraft.” The normative and legal position of the Malawian government is that witchcraft doesn’t exist, but the very real situation is that people do believe it’s real. Because of this, they make claims and accusations against others and retaliate or participate in vigilante justice if they think witchcraft is being used.

The man in the story linked above, Chikumbutso Mponda, is alleged to have “fallen from his magical plane” while he was in transit to his home village. Apparently he flew over a “magically protected” building that brought him down. I tried to read the story a couple of times to determine if the author of this “news” article was reporting what the man believed or what his accusers believe. I couldn’t tell. It was written as though it is a given fact that “magical planes” exist and this guy fell from one.

According to Mponela Police public relations officer Kondwani Kandiado, the court heard that on Christmas eve Mponda was traveling from Lilongwe to his home village in Ntchisi using a magic plane.

Due to lack of money for transport, he boarded a minibus to Mponela where he arrived at night.

Kandiado said since it was at night and fearing for their lives, the convict and a friend decided to use a magic plane for the remainder of the trip.

“Unfortunately, Mponda fell from the magic plane after it flew over a house at Mponela Trading Centre, which was heavily protected magically,” said Kandiado.

Nigerian Youths Brutally Murder Two Women Accused of Being Witches

After a brief illness, a two-year old girl died and her distraught father pointed a finger at the women who were then dragged out of their homes, tortured and killed:

A large and wild mob of angry youths stormed homes of the two women, dragged them out and later beat them to death. One of the women, who eked out a living from fishing, reportedly bled to death, after being stabbed in the breast, while the second was burnt alive.

The evidence of witchcraft? The father consulted with a witchdoctor before his daughter’s death and the witchdoctor claimed the two women were planning to murder the child through witchcraft. What is clearly at work here is that the “witchdoctor” was being consulted instead of a professional health practitioner and she hedged her bets in case the child died in her care. That way, the grieving father wouldn’t direct his revenge to the woman/witchdoctor whom he paid for services.

Kenyan Minister Blames Election Loss on Witchcraft

Apparently his opponents cast spells and buried live goats at each polling station, accusations which the minister, Suleiman Shakombo, says he can “prove in court.” Wouldn’t he be better off proving it at a polling station with a shovel?

Tanzania orders crackdown on witchcraft-related crime

Whether or not government officials in Malawi officially or unofficially accept that witchcraft is real, Tanzania’s government appears genuinely concerned with the rise in crime associated with witchcraft beliefs. Rape of infants to obtain good fortune or the trade of organs from infants and albinos to also obtain wealth are some of the more heinous beliefs. At least its clear that the Tanzanian government and perhaps the author of this article isn’t accepting a priori that witchcraft is real, as witchcraft is referred to as a set of “stupid beliefs.”

Out of Africa

Witchcraft is also an issue outside of Africa.

Tajikistan: Government Reacts To Economic Crisis By Banning Witchcraft

The Tajik government has taken a skeptical stance against witchcraft, fortune-telling, and the like in recent legislation. Many citizens have complained that there are more important issues for the legislative body to attend to, however, the Tajik authorities cite some 5,000 practitioners of witchcraft and divination, a figure that is rising fast, and the growing concern that the elderly and sick are more and more seeking assistance from charlatans and scam artists rather than professional medical help.

Sorcery and witchcraft beliefs remain prevalent in PNG

But all is not well in Papua New Guinea, where the author of the story above describes the brutal murder of a young woman accused of being a witch by a vigilante mob. The accusation: that she removed the heart of a man, killing him and that the heart was found under her bed. I’m betting the mob didn’t wait to see the heart or to get an autopsy report.

A group of men stripped her naked and forced her to walk the streets, torturing her with red hot iron bars and bush knives. She was in great pain until she died few hours later. No one mourned over her and there was no funeral. She was believed to have caused many deaths through sorcery, hence, even her blood relatives did not want to be seen to be on her side. Otherwise, they would also be blamed for sorcery practices, or making sorcery plans I found it very hard to believe that this young woman could possibly remove a human heart through “sanguma”. However, I couldn’t say anything at the time, and kept everything inside of me.

The author quotes an Australian member of the World Health Organization that cites a positive correlation between witchcraft related homicide and the increase in cases of HIV/AIDS, suggesting that fear is a strong motivator for superstition.

These cases of “witchcraft” are absurd, but they illustrate the true “spells” that humanity is susceptible to: belief. We tend to believe the absurd when it ties into hope, fear, and our own mortality or the mortality of those for whom we care about. The absurd belief that witches can remove a heart from a victim through “sanguma” or fly “magical planes” in the night aren’t really all that different from the unquestioned acceptance of “faith healing,” transubstantiation, zombie messiahs, virgin births, casting out demons and demons in the first place.

If you’re a Christian (or a Muslim or a Jew), and you don’t at least wonder for a moment whether or not your beliefs are any less absurd than that of the people in the stories above, then you are living in a delusional state.