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.

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31 Flavors Of Skeptic

Just like Baskin-Robbins, there are many different flavors or types of skepticism. As a whole skepticism can be described as making a judgement about a claim based on the evidence presented. That evidence must be testable. Those results must also be repeatable within a specific margin of error ala statistics. In other words it is a logical fallacy to claim that just because one test yielded a specific result, that result proves the claim conclusively. (For new readers please see previous entries concerning the various types of logical fallacies.)

For instance I read on a science forum that some people are able to see into the near infra-red spectrum. This could explain the claim of being able to see auras. I have not had an opportunity to investigate this claim. There may be evidence to support this. There may not be. In the mean time I am keeping an open mind.

There is a fine line between skepticism and cynicism. A cynic dismisses claims out of hand because they may sound far-fetched like seeing “auras” in the above example. A skeptic, on the other hand, does the research and examines the data looking for credible sources to either verify or refute a claim. It can be really difficult not to be dismissive of a claim that you have already dismissed or accepted. That’s part of being a good skeptic though; learning how to put aside what you think you know and investigating the data even if it is personally uncomfortable or even painful.

I use to believe in all manner of things that do not have supporting testable scientific data. UFOs, magic, Reiki, crystal healing, psychics…name the woo and most of it I believed. Thanks to Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit” on Showtime I was introduced to the reality of psychics, auras and many other things. I was also introduced to logical thinking and skepticism. Their shows are a great place to start out. So is George Hrab’s Geologic Podcast http://www.geologicpodcast.com/

As I mentioned in the title of this post, there are many different flavors or types of skepticism. James “The Amazing” Randi, a personal hero of mine, has spent his life debunking psychics and those who cause harm with that practice. Other skeptics “debunk” ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, and Nessie.

Other skeptics work on educating the public. At http://www.whatstheharm.net there is information on the kind of harm caused by medical quackery like homeopathy. There are case studies and articles about people who have been permanently harmed or killed by colloidal silver, homeopathy and more.

There are those like the Skepchicks http://skepchick.org/blog that covers a wide array of feminine-related skepticism.

There are skeptics that deal solely with religion. They try to educate people about the fallacies in organized religion. As I said, sometimes being a skeptic can be painful. This is one of those sore points with many people, Here on Fledgeling Skeptic I generally try to avoid mentioning religion since it IS such a sore point.

Then there’s skeptics like me. I try to educate those who are new to the skeptic movement. I talk about what logical fallacies are, how to evaluate evidence, how to use skepticism in daily life and in between I talk about my own experiences and thoughts as a Fledgeling Skeptic.

Billboards

Driving through the rural areas in the South I find myself noticing billboards just out of boredom. Most of them are your standard advertisements. You know…hotels, restaurants, fruit stands. And then there are the religious billboards. These are the ones that say something vaguely snarky followed by the signature ” -God”.

“Don’t make me come down there.”. – God

From what I understand of the Christian religion, don’t they WANT the Second Coming? So why would they NOT want God to come down? As a former Christian I had looked forward to that. I also lived in terror of it. After all when you don’t know if you’re “good enough” and not being judged so means roasting and torture for all eternity the idea of being judged inadequate the idea of a Second Coming is a terrifying thing. It just doesn’t make sense to me to keep living in fear.

I have seen lots of those billboards. What I HAVEN’T seen are billboards for skeptical thinking. I’d love to see some that say simply “Think About It” and then some skeptic website. Maybe one like mine that introduces the basic premise of skepticism and the ideas behind logical thought.

Christians have billboards, TV and pint media. Atheists have busses. It’s about time skeptics have some kind of media exposure. I’m thinking about possibly starting a foundation for just such a purpose. Anyone interested in helping me organize this should email me.

Welcome to my new readers from NaNoBloMo! I hope you enjoy what you read here.

It MUST Be True!!!

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called “Appeal to Consequence of a Belief”.  It has the following format:

1) X is true because if people did not accept X as being true then there would be negative consequences.

2) X is false because if people did not accept X as being false, then there would be negative consequences.

3) X is true because accepting that X is true has positive consequences.

4) X is false because accepting that X is false has positive consequences.

Examples of this belief set look something like this:

1) God MUST be real! If God isn’t real then no one would know the difference between right and wrong! The world would be a terrible place!

2) Bad things like I see on the news won’t happen in our neighborhood. If I believed things like that could happen here, I would be too afraid to go anywhere or do anything.

3) I believe that if I am a good person and follow the teachings of the church I will go to Heaven.

4)I agree that I have no science-based proof for the existence of fairies and dragons. However I REALLY want to believe in those things. So it MUST be true!!

This line of “reasoning” is a fallacy because the supposed consequences of the beliefs have no impact on whether the stated belief is true or false. For instance, say I tell you I believe with all my heart that there is an invisible pink Unicorn in my backyard that only eats the purple flowers in my garden. If the Unicorn doesn’t really exist then I would be broken hearted and very depressed. Since I would be SO broken-hearted, the Unicorn MUST exist.

It’s pretty obvious that using feelings and emotions to justify a line of reasoning  isn’t useful in a logical argument. Also, the consequences in question are consequences that stem from belief.

It is important to distinguish between a rational reason to believe (RRB) something (evidence) to be true and a prudential (motivational) reason to believe. A RRB is evidence that objectively and logically supports the claim. A PRB is a reason to accept the belief because of some external factor (such as fear, a threat, or a benefit or harm that may stem from the belief) that is relevant to what a person values but is not relevant to the truth or falsity of the claim.

Death Of An Atheist

Here’s a little bonus entry for you. I was driving home this morning after a lovely bit of *facepalm* brought to you by hubby Ken. He left this morning for his new job in Atlanta and he left his backpack with his laptop sitting in the living room. So I drove part way to meet him.

I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I don’t drive with the radio on. It’s too distracting. Driving is the time that I get to myself to ponder the things that randomly pop into my head.

This morning, for instance, I was pondering the proper protocol for an atheist’s funeral.

No, no one close to me has died. I just think on the odd topic now and again.

It occurred to me that you can’t simply give the grieving family the usual “s/he’s in a better place” platitudes. Atheists don’t believe in any divine being nor an afterlife. It’s literally One Life To Live: The Home Game.

That leaves the awkward (as if funerals weren’t awkward enough) comments like “S/he had a helluva run, eh?” or the overdone, oft used “I’m sorry for your loss”. How many times can the family hear that second one without getting sick of it?

I’m a rather odd bird. When things like this come up I am reminded of John Cleese giving the eulogy of Graham Chapman. John walked out, sat on the coffin and proceeded to deliver this speech: (http://www.geocities.com/fang_club/chapman_memorial.html) “He is an ex-Chapman.”, he concludes.

James “The Amazing” Randi, said in an interview in SF Magazine recently that he doesn’t want a big memorial. He just wants to be cremated and his ashes blown in Uri Gellar’s eyes.

My hero.

Even when I was a True Believer I felt that we don’t mourn for the person who is gone. We mourn for ourselves because we will miss the one who died. Mourning is an act of self-indulgence. We cry and our heart breaks because we know that we will never see that person again and our life is  a little more diminished for not having that person in it.

So I ponder how to deal with the death of an atheist. What are the right things to say? Seriously, the whole ‘dirt nap’ saying doesn’t play well with others at a funeral. Neither does the Kevorkian plug-n-play euphemism.

I would love to be able to say something comforting that doesn’t sound like a platitude that might make the griever smile even just a little bit. And “I’m sorry to hear about his/her demotion to plant fertilizer” is just NOT gonna cut it.

Okay, okay, I know this post has degraded into really dark humor. All kidding aside, I wonder, is it appropriate to bring up fond memories you have of the deceased? Does that help or hurt? One would think it would help, but I really don’t know.  It’s obvious that even at my age my experiences with death are pretty theoretical.

Going to DragonCon!!

The Fledgeling Skeptic will be at DragonCon this year. Hubby and I are leaving this afternoon so that we can get a jump on the chaos of checking in on Thursday. Look for me there!

I can’t wait to spend time with other like minded people in the Science track, Skeptrack and the podcasting track!

See you there!!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist

I was over on the Think Atheist reading the Sunday services and I read an interesting article by someone who felt that Atheists are people who choose not to accept responsibility for their actions. The author feels it is because we don’t have a divine person to account to. I’d like to address some of these stereotypes.

The first one I’ve heard is that we’re all a bunch of assholes who think we can do anything we want. While there ARE a tiny percentage of atheists out there that use their non-belief as an excuse to hurt others, the larger percentage hold themselves accountable for their actions and even do charitable works. There have been food and clothing drives sponsored by atheist groups. There are even major secular charitable groups such as Oxfam International, Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF.

At Tam7 (the seventh annal Amazing Meeting, a conference for non-believers, free thinkers, secular humanists and the like) there was a wedding of two major players in our skeptics community. Rebecca Watson of Skepchick.org and Sam Rodriguez said their I Do’s in a beautiful ceremony that really showed their love for one another. You can see the video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yi2KTaieDs

Skeptics and non-believers also have their little quirks like everyone else. I name my cars. My current car, a 1993 Honda del Sol is named Maz because he thinks he’s a Maserati. This doesn’t mean that I believe that my car has an actual personality. I know that it is just a machine. It’s just fun to pretend once in a while. This is simply a carry-over from my childhood when we named our cars.

I have met many skeptics and non-believers out there more than willing to apologize if they are wrong or if they hurt someone’s feelings. Most people I have met on various forums are tactful when dealing with believers. We HAVE to be. People are easily offended when their beliefs are even gently put into question.

I think that people feel threatened because they don’t want to appear stupid if their favorite belief is proved to be in error when put to a real scientific test. When people get scared they tend to lash out. So a skeptic has to be careful.

Even when we’re being kind and gentle in helping people question their beliefs in things that may not be scientifically  sound, many still see us as baby eaters who are out to consume their souls and destroy everything that is good in the world. For me, babies are too stringy, souls are too insubstantial and I LIKE stuff that’s good.

Just because you understand that rainbows are refracted light or what a shooting star REALLY is, that doesn’t have to take the wonder and joy from the experience. The world isn’t magical, but it IS wonder filled. So talk to a skeptic. Get to know an atheist. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Prelude to Rational Thought

I have always been a skeptic. I just didn’t know it.

When I was 12 I wrote an essay about why December 25th is not the anniversary of the Christian savior’s birth. Unfortunately i was raised in a home where magical thinking was encouraged. My mother, an artist, believes in psychics, astrology, influencing outcomes with positive thought and other standard woo. My Dad is in radio and had quite a few characters he portrayed on air. Needless to say, playing pretend played a huge role in my family life.

While my parents are Christian, we very rarely went to church. Sunday was my Dad’s only day off. So I was never really indoctrinated formally. Although there were a couple summers when I was sent to Bible camp. I think I ticked a few people off with some of the questions I asked. Many of the teachings just didn’t make sense to me.

When I was 16, I had a very emotional experience at a church get together for teens and I became a believer. I still didn’t go to church and I still had questions that had no answer. Finally I accepted the “God works in mysterious ways” reasoning. I got beaten over the head enough times with it so eventually I capitulated.

When I was 17, I spent the night at my Mom’s friend’s house and she played a tape that I just fell in love with. I didn’t understand at that moment but that was my first introduction to Wicca. The Old Ways made more sense to me. In that religion god was both male and female and there were many gods to choose from. If you didn’t like one, you could choose another. It was a taste of free thought.

The more I investigated, the more I really liked the precepts that Wicca followed. “If it harms none do what thou wilt”. Short, sweet and to the point. “Whatever you do, be it good or ill, comes back to you three fold”. Fantastic. A religion that taught that you were capable of policing yourself without fear of some Mighty Smiter coming along and condemning you to Hell.

For about 10 years I followed Wicca. Eventually I became a High Priestess, though I was mostly a solitary practitioner. I even cast spells and did ceremonies. Eventually though I began to realize that the spells I was casting weren’t working. They weren’t making a difference in my life. I had also never looked very deeply into Wicca and it’s foundations.

When my Christian boyfriend asked me “Why do you worship the Creation and not the Creator” I genuinely didn’t have an answer. So, back to Christianity I went. And it got pretty bad for a while. I got sucked in deeply this time. I started going to his church, a Church of God (aka Holy Rollers). I even started speaking in tongues and giving the translation during the weekly tongues and interpretation segment.

After a year or so, my logical thinking abilities REALLY went south. I went to visit my best friend in California. We were on a road trip to see another friend of ours. While she was in a convenience store I started having a flashback to the time I was anally raped by my first husband. She came out to find me curled up on the front seat, sobbing.

Her solution was to hand me two crystals and have me place them at either temple.

To this day I still do not understand what happened. It felt like a bolt of electricity went from temple to temple and I was momentarily blinded. When the darkness cleared it was like a veil had been removed. The world seemed clearer. Color were brighter and everything was thrown into sharp focus. I was enthralled by the bark of trees and the texture of brick. It was like the world was brand new.

This is getting a little long so I’ll continue this in my next post.