Monday 16 July 2012

Bishop accidently gets it right

As reported in the Irish Times today, Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore inadvertently tells it like its, when discussing Irish government plans for reducing Catholic control of national schools:
“It’s a position that essentially suggests freedom of religion is freedom from religion . . . That’s a crucial distinction and worrying in itself,” he said.
“They apparently want no prayers in school and that anyone without faith to not be impinged upon in any way by any religious content as if it were some kind of an infection that could be damaging to their health,” he said.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

There's Only One Way Of 'Knowing': Why We Need Science In One Simple Diagram

Following on from this post on Pharyngula on the limits of what we can see and hear, I thought I’d take a different tack. The diagram shows on the vertical axis the electromagnetic spectrum and the vertical length of the tiny yellow bar is how much of it we can see (not a lot is the answer).  The horizontal axis is the life of the universe from big bang to heat death. Average species life span is apparently about one million years – the yellow bar is thicker than this so you can actually see it. So unaided, humans will most likely exist for a blink of an eye in the life of the universe and even then we will be blind to most of what is going on around us.

To the left and right of that little yellow blob are the vastnesses of time.  Religion fills these with gardens and talking snakes on one side and burning pits and bliss-palaces on the other. Science fills these with the wonders of those first strange moments of time after the big bang, with galaxies, stars, planets forming, with evolution, great ice ages, strange creatures on one side and the giant lonely tapestry of the death of a universe on the other.

Above and below, science fills in with gamma rays, with planets orbiting stars in distant galaxies, black holes, nebulae, quantum mechanics… Religion gives us crystal spheres, turtles and angels…

So science already extends that yellow blob vertically all the way across the spectrum. If we’re lucky, it may find some way to help us beat the odds on a million year extinction and looking further ahead, make sure we’re off this planet before two hundred million years goes by and it becomes uninhabitable due to an aging sun.

So which would you put your trust in?

Saturday 24 December 2011

Thought For The Day (That's In It)

Did Mary, after the horrible death of her son at such a young age, ever regret coming up with the 'god shagged me' excuse, which while it clearly helped her escape from awful punishment for being an unmarried mother (and not by her betrothed) in her misogynistic society, clearly damaged her son to the extent that by the time he was thirty he believed it himself and ended up dying as a crazy end-of-the-world preacher?

Monday 19 December 2011

Sucker Punch

The Irish Times reported earlier this week that according to a recent report by the Catholic Dublin Diocese,

“weekly Mass attendance in Dublin is down to 14 per cent (164,000 out of a Catholic population of 1,162,000).”

According to this summary the 2006 population within the Dublin Diocese was 1,291,599, of which 1,087,361 or 84.2% were Catholic.

None of this is a surprise (see previous posts for example) but nobody seems to have picked up on the sneaky trick the Catholic church has pulled here – while admitting that most people are ignoring them, they still manage to claim a million people as Catholics, even though none of those million can be bothered to go to mass. And of course, these numbers get picked up uncritically in the media, re-enforcing the false view that Ireland is a majority Catholic country in a religiously meaningful sense. This allows the church to claim it is a representative voice in Irish society and gives religious bigots the confidence to tell the rest of us how we ought to behave (and legislate for it).

Where do these numbers come from? The Census. And what question is asked in the census?

It has been pointed out repeatedly that this is a misleading form of questioning that overestimates the number of religious. Instead of ‘What is your Religion?’, what should be asked is, ‘Do you have a Religion? Is so, what is it?’ That the form of the question is important is shown by the following trend in Australia:

“Correspondingly, there has been a large increase in those claiming to have ‘no religion’: up from 27 per cent of the population in 1993 to 43 per cent in 2009. This figure is much higher than the figure of 19 per cent who said they had no religion in the 2006 Census as well as previous ISSP surveys. The difference is partly due to the fact that the 2009 ISSP asked people first if they had a religion before asking what was their religion. In other surveys and the Census, people have simply chosen their religion from a list in which 'no religion' was an option.”

So ask the question differently and you will add, in Australia’s case anyway, another fifth of the population to the no-religion group.

Or closer to home, try the UK:

“When asked the census question ‘What is your religion?’, 61% of people in England and Wales ticked a religious box (53.48% Christian and 7.22% other) while 39% ticked ‘No religion’.
But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ only 29% of the same people said ‘Yes’ while 65% said ‘No’, meaning over half of those whom the census would count as having a religion said they were not religious.”

We need to challenge statements claiming most people are Catholic as they are fundamental to ensuring that politicians feel they cannot ignore the church. If we could get across how much people are not religious (even if culturally ‘Catholic’), then we might see a more ethical and secular debate in our society.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

No sir, we Irish are not that sort of Catholic

This post, worth reading as well, in WEIT reminded me to check out the latest Iona Institute survey. Like the 2010 Bishops Conference survey, they have no real good news if you're a Catholic leader.

I've plotted up the first table in the survey as well as total adults in Ireland by age group (blue), collated from the 2006 census figures. In red is the number of adults identifying as Catholic and in green is the number of those Catholics that attended mass in the past week.

It clearly shows that the the younger you are in Ireland, the less likely you are to call yourself a Catholic and very much more so the less likely you are to attend mass regularly. Given how fundamental mass is to the Catholic religion, I think this is a good barometer of how committed someone identifying as Catholic is to their religion. It points towards a big decline in religious Catholics even if people still consider themselves cultural Catholics.

If the trends shown extrapolate into the new generations then we might expect a ongoing but not precipitous fall in religious affiliation but I think the key thing is actually the mass going percentage - that really suggests that even if Ireland remains on paper significantly Catholic for the time being, the reality is that they are mostly cultural or plastic Catholics.

This fits with the results of the 2010 survey which found that only half of Irish Catholics believed in Hell and only three-quarters believed in Heaven, while 10% didn't believe in God. It's also reflected in the perception of their church amongst Catholics in the Iona survey:

Again the 55's and older appear to prop up the figures. So how much of the population is that cohort as a percentage? 

Looking at the CSO website in the 2006 census, they account for 20% of the total population (or 26% of everyone over 14 years old) while the 15-54 age group is 59% of the total population (or 74% of everyone over 14 years old)

Of course, as it's actually 77% of the over 54's that are Catholic, that means the older religious group corresponds to 20% of the total adult population of Ireland.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Craig's Law

The following is a description of drowning. It seems to be a particularly disempowering, lonely way to die. To set the scene for this post, imagine 20 million young children drowning altogether like this in a great sea. I'll come back to this at the end.

1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary, or overlaid, function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs. 2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe. 4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment. 5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.
As I said, I'll come back to this at the end of this post. The image of 20 million children dying scared, alone and unable to do anything about it should resonate through the "explanations" and "justifications" that follow.

The recent furore over William Lane Craig's comments on genocide in the Bible made me wonder is he alone in his viewpoint or is it a comment Christian view that genocide is okay as long as God told you to do it.

To recap, Richard Dawkins refused to debate Craig recently on Oxford citing his views on genocide as part of the reason. Craig managed a lot of mileage out of it by putting up an empty chair on stage during his talk for Dawkins.

Before we get on to Craig's comments, here are some examples of god-crimes in the bible:

NUMBERS 31: 7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males. 9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, … Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.  15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? ... 17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. 18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

And in case you're wondering how many young innocent girls were taken forcefully by the Israelite men and presumably raped, having just seen them kill their mothers and brothers and older sisters, Numbers 35 kindly tells us:

And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of women that had not known man by lying with him.
Another one:

Deuteronomy 20:13-15 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. ...15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

Samuel 15:3 Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 
You get the idea. God is quite keen on genocide, slavery and the rape and killing of young children. Craig has written specifically about the genocide of the Canaanites:

God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God. 
Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  
So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.
How can someone argue that we should feel pity for baby-killing fanatics and not their infant victims?  I find it astonishing that someone could write these words and mean them. There is no need to even comment further on them, is there? Words fail me. 

I had a look around the web to see if this is a common viewpoint. It seems to be amongst those that are aware of the atrocities in the bible and in true theological fashion, instead of letting the data inform the theory, tortuously reinterpret the data so as not to have to revise their theory.

A random example is a site called Rational Christianity of all things. The genocide justifications are the same as Criag's but this person has thought about it to a disturbing degree and I just could not read past this bit:

It's worth noting that being killed with a sword (perhaps beheaded) was at the time one of the quickest ways for the children to die (as opposed to suffocation/strangulation, starvation, disease or being torn apart by wild animals

When the discussion has got to the point where you are arguing that God is good because he orders foreign soldiers to kill your children with swords and not by any other brutal method, we have definitely moved into some theological variant of Godwin's Law. Craig's Law anyone?

To finish off and loop back to the bit about drowning at the start of this argument, let's look at the ne plus ultra in God's genocide oeuvre, the Great Flood. If we use Ussher as a date for this event, it apparently occurred in 2348-49BC (we'll forget about how the existing civilizations never noticed it was getting very damp). Calculations of the worlds population vary widely but an number of 66 million is one estimate. If we assume, conservatively in my opinion, that 30% of the population were children, then we have a figure of 19.8 million children killed by God when he pressed the reset button.

But hey, they were innocent so it was alright to kill them! And at least he didn't do them in with wild animals right? This is not a basis on which to build a moral or ethical system, in my opinion.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

'An Unprecedented Juncture'

Enda Kenny says what needs saying (my emphasis):

"The revelations of the Cloyne report have brought the Government, Irish  Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture. It’s fair to say that after the Ryan and Murphy Reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order.

Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic…as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism....the narcissism .......that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.

The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.
Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s “ear of the heart”......the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.
The behaviour being a case of Roma locuta est: causa finita est. Except in this instance, nothing could be further from the truth.

A day post-publication, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade met with the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza. The Tánaiste left the Archbishop clear on two things: The gravity of the actions and attitude of the Holy See. And Ireland’s complete rejection and abhorrence of same. The Papal Nuncio undertook to present the Cloyne Report to the Vatican. The Government awaits the considered response of the Holy See.

...this is not Rome. Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world. This is the ‘Republic’ of Ireland 2011.

A Republic of laws.....of rights and responsibilities....of proper civic order..... where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version..... of a particular kind of ‘morality’..... will no longer be tolerated or ignored.

...those who have been abused can take some small comfort in knowing that they belong to a nation...[w]here the law - their law - as citizens of this country, will always supercede canon laws that have neither legitimacy nor place in the affairs of this country....

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger said “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.”

As the Holy See prepares its considered response to the Cloyne Report, as Taoiseach, I am making it absolutely clear, that when it comes to the protection of the children of this State, the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not, be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic.Not purely, or simply or otherwise. CHILDREN.... FIRST."