Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor “Atheists Not Fully Human”

Many previously thought that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was a little off his rocker. Earlier this week in an interview he stated that “atheists are not fully human” because we do not “search for transcendent meaning”. In other words, because atheists do not seek the answers to larger questions such as “why are we here?”, “Where do we come from?” and “Is this all that there is?”, atheists have not fully developed their humanity.

This is, from my perspective, a huge presumption on the Cardinal’s part. As an atheist, asking the bigger questions is one of the major reasons many people become atheists. Rather than reaching the conclusion that there is a higher power or grand designer involved, we choose to listen to science and let logic and fact answer those bigger questions. Skeptics weigh the information at hand, weed out the fact from the fiction and use the scientific method to evaluate the facts.

When Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor says things like this, he is speaking out of ignorance. I say ignorance and not stupidity because ignorance can be educated. He seems to be a cognizant man capable of clear thought. He is simply misinformed.

Yes, I understand that what I just said sounds like I’m delusional and living in a candy-coated world. I would just prefer to give the Cardinal the benefit if the doubt. Because if I don’t and he really did know what he was saying, that implies a number of horrifying thoughts.

If atheists and other non-believers are not fully human, or less than human then we can be treated the same way African-Americans were. They were once thought of as less than human and summarily treated like animals. Dictators through the ages have used that “logic” to commit genocide. If the Cardinal truly believes that we are less than human, to what lengths will he go to assure our “humanity”? Are we in for a  modern Inquisition? The ramifications of the Cardinal’s comments are horrifying.

The insult is secondary. I am fairly certain if he was sincere in his statement that it was meant to insult the atheist community as a whole. Perhaps he feels it is justified. After all, high profile individuals in the atheist and skeptical community have said some unkind things about the Catholic Church. Apparently it’s okay to stoop to petty vengeance. Again, that is IF he understands the ramifications of what he said.

I may want to live in a candy-coated world but I’m not naive. I believe that the Cardinal knew full well what he was saying and what it implied. And to that I reply, “Fuck you, you sonofabitch”.

Sorry, dear readers. Sometimes I just can’t be a good skeptic.

***Unfortunately YouTube removed the video of the interview for violations. Please google “Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor “Atheists Not Fully Human” for other perspectives on this interview.


Jumping on the Bandwagon

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called Bandwagon, also known as Peer Pressure. In this fallacy, the threat of rejection by a peer group (peer pressure) is used in place of fact or evidence.

This type of “reasoning” had the following format. Normally I would replace the big, scary X with something small, cute and fuzzy. But there’s only one in today’s format. So let’s take a deep breath, approach it slowly and talk quietly to it.

See? It’s a nice little x.

1) Person P is pressured by his/her peers or threatened with rejection.

2) Therefore person P’s claim X is false/true.

A real life adult example would be keeping up with the Joneses.

Jill: “Sweetheart, I heard that John is getting Marsha a new Porsche Cayenne for Christmas. No one drives mini vans in our neighborhood anymore. Let’s go get a new Cadillac Escalade. We HAVE to keep up appearances, after all.”.

Here Jill, Person (P) is feeling pressured to maintain an appearance of affluence in order to avoid possible or perceived rejection by her neighbors or community.

A simplified example would be:

Bob: Now Rob I know you believe that the earth is round but here in this community we don’t put up with that kind of nonsense

Rob: Don’t be silly! I never believed that.

This is a logical fallacy because a threat of rejection does not qualify as evidence.

Please note that the drive to “belong” can be a powerful incentive to overspend as in the first example or capitulate a firmly held belief as in the second example.

Newer Is Better 2

Sara was kind enough to point out to me that my example of Titanium Pony wasn’t a very accurate illustration of the logical fallacy Appeal To Novelty. In my example Titanium Pony doesn’t eat, doesn’t poop and is always ready. These are, as Sara kindly pointed out in her followup comment, improvements.

A better example might be “Buy the new WinMac 5.0! It’s new!!” This is implying that the product is better just because it’s new. Thus it falls into the Appeal To Novelty logical fallacy that I talked about previously here:

Thanks again to Sara for helping me out.

Appeal To Tradition

Today’s Logical Fallacy: Appeal To Tradition

This is borrowed from

Appeal to Tradition is a fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that something is better or correct simply because it is older, traditional, or “always has been done.” This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

  1. X is old or traditional
  2. Therefore X is correct or better.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because the age of something does not automatically make it correct or better than something newer. This is made quite obvious by the following example: The theory that witches and demons cause disease is far older than the theory that microrganisms cause diseases. Therefore, the theory about witches and demons must be true.

This sort of “reasoning” is appealing for a variety of reasons. First, people often prefer to stick with what is older or traditional. This is a fairly common psychological characteristic of people which may stem from the fact that people feel more comfortable about what has been around longer. Second, sticking with things that are older or traditional is often easier than testing new things. Hence, people often prefer older and traditional things out of laziness. Hence, Appeal to Tradition is a somewhat common fallacy.

It should not be assumed that new things must be better than old things (see the fallacy Appeal to Novelty) any more than it should be assumed that old things are better than new things. The age of something does not, in general, have any bearing on its quality or correctness (in this context). In the case of tradition, assuming that something is correct just because it is considered a tradition is poor reasoning. For example, if the belief that 1+1 = 56 were a tradition of a group of people it would hardly follow that it is true.

Obviously, age does have a bearing in some contexts. For example, if a person concluded that aged wine would be better than brand new wine, he would not be committing an Appeal to Tradition. This is because, in such cases the age of the thing is relevant to its quality. Thus, the fallacy is committed only when the age is not, in and of itself, relevant to the claim.

One final issue that must be considered is the “test of time.” In some cases people might be assuming that because something has lasted as a tradition or has been around a long time that it is true because it has “passed the test of time.” If a person assumes that something must be correct or true simply because it has persisted a long time, then he has committed an Appeal to Tradition. After all, as history has shown people can persist in accepting false claims for centuries.

However, if a person argues that the claim or thing in question has successfully stood up to challenges and tests for a long period of time then they would not be committing a fallacy. In such cases the claim would be backed by evidence. As an example, the theory that matter is made of subatomic particles has survived numerous tests and challenges over the years so there is a weight of evidence in its favor. The claim is reasonable to accept because of the weight of this evidence and not because the claim is old. Thus, a claim’s surviving legitimate challenges and passing valid tests for a long period of time can justify the acceptance of a claim. But mere age or persistance does not warrant accepting a claim.

Examples of Appeal to Tradition

  1. Sure I believe in God. People have believed in God for thousands of years so it seems clear that God must exist. After all, why else would the belief last so long?
  2. Gunthar is the father of Connan. They live on a small island and in their culture women are treated as property to be exchanged at will by men.Connan: “You know father, when I was going to school in the United States I saw that American women are not treated as property. In fact, I read a book by this person named Mill in which he argued for women’s rights.”
    Gunthar: “So, what is your point son?”
    Connan: “Well, I think that it might be wrong to trade my sisters for cattle. They are human beings and should have a right to be masters of their own fate.”
    Gunthar: “What a strange and new-fangled notion you picked up in America. That country must be even more barbaric then I imagined. Now think about this son. We have been trading women for cattle for as long as ourpeople have lived on this island. It is a tradition that goes back into the mists of time. ”
    Connan: “But I still think there is something wrong with it.”
    Gunthar: “Nonsense my boy. A tradition this old must be endorsed by the gods and must be right.”
  3. Of course this mode of government is the best. We have had this government for over 200 years and no one has talked about changing it in all that time. So, it has got to be good.
  4. A reporter is interviewing the head of a family that has been involved with a feud with another family.Reporter: “Mr. Hatfield, why are you still fighting it out with the Mcoys?”
    Hatfield: “Well you see young man, my father feuded with the Mcoys and his father feuded with them and so did my great grandfather.”
    Reporter: “But why? What started all this?”
    Hatfield: “I don’t rightly know. I’m sure it was the Mcoys who started it all, though.”
    Reporter: “If you don’t know why you’re fighting, why don’t you just stop?”
    Hatfield: “Stop? What are you crazy? This feud has been going on for generations so I’m sure there is a darn good reason why it started. So I aim to keep it going. It has got to be the right thing to do. Hand me my shooting iron boy, I see one of those Mcoy skunks sneaking in the cornfield.”

Pat Robertson Persists

This morning Pat Robertson continued to insist that the reason for Haiti’s troubles is the supposed pact with the Devil that we discussed yesterday. He claims here that since the Dominican Republic is prosperous that this supposed “pact” MUST be the reason that Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the world.

Obviously Mr. Robertson’s research team failed to mention to him that, although there are resorts, the Dominican Republic is still a third world country. There is also a difference ing governmental styles. Haiti is a socialist nation run by a dictator. The Dominican Republic stopped being a dictatorship in 1961.

Because of the governmental style, Reagan levied heavy import tariffs against Haiti. That also contributed to the impoverished state of the country. Add to that the weather-related issues and the drug issues and it’s no wonder Haiti has problems.

And yet, Robertson continues to attribute these troubles to a being that no one has been able to prove even exists. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence because a story cannot be tested repeatedly to get the same results. An anecdote is the result of human observation. Personal biases color those observations. When someone like Pat Robertson observes the world, he sees demons and the Devil as the reason for worldly woes. A scientific, skeptical approach shows us that weather and politics are largely contributing factors.

Not the Boogeyman.

Pat Robertsons on Haiti

This morning on the Christian Broadcast Network Pat Robertson made a claim about the reason Haiti has had so many troubles. He states it is because they made a deal with the Devil in the 19th century for their freedom from France.

It’s times like this when it is very hard not to be a cynic. A cynic would have followed that claim up with something like “WTF Pat? Are you stupid?? What kind of crack are you smokin’??”

Haiti should be very proud of its history. In 1791, their ancestors started the only successful slave revolt in human history. It was the first black-run country. They have a rich heritage that deserves to be celebrated. Their revolution is considered a defining moment in African history in the New World.

Pat Robertson isn’t necessarily full of crap though. At least not from certain perspectives. According to the Wikipedia entry on the Haitian revolution (, “Historians traditionally identify the catalyst to revolution as a particular Vodou ceremony in August 1791 performed at Bois Caïman by Dutty Boukman, a priest.”.”

At one point in my life I was a Fundamentalist Christian so I understand the “logic” behind Pat Robertson’s claim. From his perspective Vodou is devil worship. The priest, Dutty Boukman, called on demons and the Devil, by fundamentalist reasoning, to free his country. When an entire country is given over into the hands of the Devil, no good can ever come of it.

This is, of course, no longer my perspective. This is an observation and explanation on Robertson’s reasoning. It in no way is meant to support his argument by Appeal To Widespread Belief.

This logical fallacy states that because something is widely believed, that makes it factual evidence. This reasoning is fallacious. We used to believe the world was flat. We know better now because evidence has shown otherwise. A belief is not necessarily factual. In this case, there is no scientific, testable evidence of a Devil. There is no scientific, testable evidence that Vodou has been effective.

Haiti has simply had to deal with unfortunate circumstances.  The recent earthquake is one more instance in a string of natural occurrences. There is nothing paranormal about it. This country has simply been victim to a host of natural disasters ranging from flooding and hurricanes to disease and drug trafficking. These, along with a public that lacks education, are the things that keep Haiti impoverished.

I would urge you to go to and contribute to the Haitian relief effort if you haven’t already.


I’ve noticed that there are days when places like the Skepchick site has what I would consider filler. Opinions are bandied about concerning a multitude of fluff topics. Often such issues as the Facebook bra color thing and how we fill our down time have been par for the course. Please understand that this is not a criticism of Skepchicks. They rock and I really wish I was one of them.

This is an observation.

As part of the observation, I wonder why this happens. Are there simply not enough news-worthy skeptical topics to cover? Is it that, after a while they simply run out of educational things to talk about all the time? Is it because it offers a break from those times when the stupidity of anti-vaxers, the Catholic Church, religious extremists and conspiracy theorists makes you want to ram your head through a wall??

I think I’ll take door number three.

This is just a guess mind you. After all, I don’t always talk about educational aspects of skepticism. Sometimes we all need a break from the serious.

And so, today we have…Filler!! TADA!

The Amazing Adventure 5

The JREF’s Amazing Adventure 5: Skeptics of the Caribbean is fast approaching. The cruise leaves Fort Lauderdale March 6 and returns on the 14th. So far there are 85 skeptics set to sail. Provided his health allows, the Amazing One himself, James Randi, will be joining us on the cruise!

Here is a link to the itinerary and information about the cruise During the lovely sun-filled, rum-sodden days, talks will be offered on a myriad of topics. I’m scheduled to give one on skepticism in daily life. As if going to the Caribbean, hanging out with like minded people and spending time with The Amazing One wasn’t enough of a thrill…you get ME!

What I would like to know is this: What would you like to hear about in a talk/discussion about skepticism in daily life? Leave a comment here or email me at

Pity Party

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called Appeal to Pity or Ad Misericordiam

There’s no Scary X in this formula so we don’t have puppies or duckies guest starring today. It’s a pretty straightforward fallacy whose structure looks like this:

1) P is presented with the intention of evoking pity

2) Therefore claim C is true

The use of pity as “evidence” is a fallacy because emotion cannot be substituted for real evidence. Evidence is testable while emotion is far to erratic to be used as evidence.

Please note that there are times when an claim that serves as evidence can also evoke pity. For instance:

Claimant P calls in to work: Boss I can’t come in today.

Boss: You know this is your second time this month calling in.

Claimant P: I know but I got hit on the way home last night. I’m in the hospital with a broken shoulder that needs to be repaired surgically and my car is wrecked

See? Instant pity. But there is also evidence to support the claim:A broken shoulder and a totalled car. So while this IS a logical fallacy, it is sometimes a fact.

An example of the actual logical fallacy would look something like this:

Claimant P:  I really need this job

Interviewer: You’re underqualified according to your resume

Claimant P: I’m a single Mom. I have three children and my ex won’t pay child support. Our electricity is going to get shut off if I don’t get this job and it’s the middle of winter.

Interviewer: I suppose we can make an exception in your case.

Again, instant pity. But the fallacy comes in at the point where she’ll get the job because the interviewer feels bad for her. She isn’t qualified and the evidence, her resume, shows that she isn’t. BUT because of her situation, the interviewer feels pity and capitulates on the company policy of not hiring the under qualified.

Skepticism vs Cynicism

As skeptics we walk a fine line. We use logic and science to look at and assess the information available on a wide variety of topics.  Skeptics don’t just “debunk” ghosts or point out why homeopathy is just a placebo. It’s our job to critically examine our world. If we are open to evidence and yet still maintain a critical eye, then we can avoid the pitfall of cynicism.

A cynic is one who, for example, watches an ad for a new weight loss tool on TV and automatically dismisses it out of hand. Perhaps it looks like a gimmick. Perhaps the cynic has seen something similar previously and dismisses it out of hand because of the similarity.

Remember the “Balloon Boy” incident late last year? When it was revealed to be a hoax, so many people became instant cynics. Be it the size of the container below the jiffy pop balloon or the way it spun on it’s axis, thousands of people suddenly “knew” after the fact that there was no kid in the balloon. That’s where cynicism and skepticism split.

A cynic “knows” it’s BS because . A skeptic examines the information at hand but still retains an open mind until all of the data has been examined and a conclusion has been reached. This is also one of the things that makes being skeptical so difficult. We can reach conclusions about a topic BUT we must constantly be reexamining those conclusions with the appearance of new data. That’s how any good scientist approaches a theory. Examine the data, posit the theory and be willing to revise that theory as new data surfaces.

Beware the cynical pitfall, dear Alice.  It doesn’t lead down the Rabbit Hole.

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