FLDS. Christ wept.

I’m somewhat surprised at myself for having not gone on a series of rant-rampages about this nutjob sect. But here I am–it’s 3 AM, and now I’m ready to spew.

Age of pregnant FLDS ‘girls’ disputed

When Texas child welfare authorities released statistics showing nearly 60 percent of the teen girls taken from a polygamist sect’s ranch were pregnant or had children, they seemed to prove what was alleged all along: The sect commonly pushed girls into marriage and sex. “

But in the past week, the state has twice been forced to admit “girls” who gave birth while in state custody are actually adults. One was 22 and said she showed state officials a Utah birth certificate shortly after she and more than 400 minors were seized from the West Texas ranch in an April raid.

The state has in custody two dozen other young mothers and others whose ages are in dispute. If most of them also turn out to be adults, it would be a severe blow to the state’s claim of widespread sexual abuse.

So the claim is that one of these females turned out to be legit, and now the reporter (or some other asshole) is trying to claim that the Texas authorities may be on a statistical slippery slope?

It seems that the author has made a mistake here. Even if it turns out to be the case that the state was wrong about its claim about the “60 percent,” it wouldn’t follow that the abuse was not widespread. Because (1) the number the author is pushing reflects only the supposed victims and not the number of abusers (I’ll return to this in a second) and (2) “Widespread” is sufficiently vague and could tolerate a connotation of even less than half.

But point 2 is sketchy. I’ll stay with 1. If it was common knowledge in the sect that underage girls were being abused by being forced to marry, etc., then the abuse was widespread. In other words, you had accomplices and accessories in a system of wrongdoing towards these girls. (I’m not exactly making a legal case, but a moral one. The legal definition of “accessory” may differ from the one I’m pushing.) In other words, the supposed new lower-than-expected number of abused girls is irrelevant, because the community of adults shared in the responsibility in the crimes that were committed.

Man, I miss the Heaven’s Gate crew….

-MC Spanky McGee

In what sense might science require faith?

A bunch of us (MC Spanky McGee, Griff, me, et al.) were out last night at Joe’s Place:

And amongst other things we started talking about god, religion, and atheism. At one point, our homeboy MC Cigar (aka YoMama) brought up the issue of science requiring faith. Rather than recount the details of that conversation (which I couldn’t do anyway), I thought I would piece together various things here from other sources.

At answersingenesis.org, they make the following claim:

Much of the problem stems from the different starting points of biblical creationists and Darwinists. Everyone, scientist or not, must start their quests for knowledge with some unprovable axiom—some a priori belief on which they sort through experience and deduce other truths. This starting point, whatever it is, can only be accepted by faith; eventually, in each belief system, there must be some unprovable, presupposed foundation for reasoning (since an infinite regression is impossible).

There are a number of sticky issues here, but one of the problems with the above is that science is founded on experience and it is experience that is what, in some sense, stops the regress. That is, science is based, among other things, on the observation that the world behaves in a law-like fashion. That the world appears to behave in a law-like fashion is not an a priori (i.e., prior to or independent of experience) belief. There is of course the little ol’ problem of induction (thank you Hume) concerning whether there is any possible justification for believing that the world outside of one’s actual experience (say in the distant past, in the future, or just outside of the range of one’s sense organs) behaves in the law-like way that one does experience it (see here for more details). However, it is not clear that belief in induction requires faith in the sense claimed in the above answersingenesis paragraph.

More interesting than the answersingenesis claim is the following from the Transterrestrial Musings blog:

Belief in the scientific method is faith, in the sense that there are a number of unprovable axioms that must be accepted:
1) There is an objective reality
2) It obeys universal laws
3) Its nature can be revealed by asking questions of it in the form of experiments
4) The simplest explanation that fits the facts is the one that should be preferred

There is a similar problem here as with the other. The problem of induction is forever looming, but that aside, 2)-4) seem to be grounded in our experience of the world in general and in the process of formulating hypotheses and testing them. So, for example, with 4) it typically turns out that if my wife’s car is gone and she is gone at the time when I know she works, the reason she and the car are gone is not that aliens visited Jerry Seinfeld, brainwashed him into being a kidnapper, dropped him off at our house and he took my wife., but rather she is at work (i.e., the simpler explanation is the correct one). (Another question concerns how we should read the “unprovable axioms.” That is, what are the provable things that we are supposed to be contrasting with these axioms, if the axioms themselves are unprovable.) “Axiom” 1) from above is more complicated: while most scientists may accept 1) without much thought, it certainly is something that has been heatedly debated in philosophy using various arguments, i.e., reasoning. As such, even if it is just assumed by many, it is not therefore groundless or faith-based. Much more could, of course, be said concerning all of this.

Much more interesting, to my mind, than the claims above concerning science requiring faith is the following from Robert Pollack:

Science makes the following claim for itself, legitimately: most of what is knowable is unknown at this moment, and most of what is unknown will be knowable eventually through science. The faith of science makes a further claim: all that is unknown will be knowable through science. The distinction between the two turns on the question: Is there anything unknown now, whether or not it lies on the outer edge of what is knowable, that will never be understood, anything that is ultimately unknowable? No one denies that science will push the margin ever closer to full knowledge. The issue is whether some unknown will always remain. That question about science is by its very nature not answerable by science. Therefore to claim there is nothing unknowable is an act of faith, and to affirm this statement makes science into a faith. [From Practicing Science, Living Faith, Eds. P. Clayton and J. Schaal. Page 229]

Importantly, he goes on to make clear that he does not think that all scientists make the claim that “all that is unknown will be knowable through science.” And that may simply be because there are questions that science cannot answer as a result of contingent human limitations (e.g., whether there are extraterrestrials). Thus he is not claiming that the practicing of science necessarily requires faith. Rather, his claim is that a certain way of viewing science and knowledge requires faith. The crucial move in Pollack’s argument is “The issue is whether some unknown will always remain. That question about science is by its very nature not answerable by science. Therefore to claim there is nothing unknowable is an act of faith, and to affirm this statement makes science into a faith.” It would be great to see what others think about this move.

Nussbaum and Moyers on Religion, Equality, and the Separation of Church and State

Here is a link to a video of Bill Moyers interviewing the philosopher Martha Nussbaum: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04182008/watch2.html

Here is part of the transcript of Moyers’s introduction:

BILL MOYERS: … Consider one of the highest rated news shows on cable television this week:
BROWN: Tonight, we bring you something different in this already extraordinary campaign year. We are calling it the Compassion Forum…
BILL MOYERS: The compassion forum on CNN was touted as an opportunity for the candidates to “discuss how their faith and moral convictions” might guide them as president of the United States.
BROWN: You said in an interview last year that you have actually felt the presence of the Holy Spirit on many occasions. Share some of those occasions with us.
MEACHAM: Do you believe God wants you to be president?
BROWN: If one of your daughters asked you, “Daddy, did God really create the world in six days?” What would you say?
MEACHAM: Senator, do you believe that God rewards or punishes people or nations in real time?
BILL MOYERS: If you don’t think those questions at least imply a religious test for office, try to imagine what would have happened if one of those candidates had answered, “Well, I find the concept of the supernatural rather shaky and the evidence for it insubstantial. To be honest, I’m agnostic. So let’s talk instead about how we’re going to find the money to rebuild our infrastructure.”
That candidate would be burned at the metaphorical equivalent of the heretic’s stake. So I have a suggestion for the next compassion forum. Turn the tables, and insist that the candidates get to quiz the moderators on how well they have read Martha Nussbaum’s new book: LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE: IN DEFENSE OF AMERICA’S TRADITION OF RELIGIOUS EQUALITY.

Humans nearly wiped out? Damn. So close…

http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/04/24/close.call.ap/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age.

Ah, the little virus-with-shoes almost didn’t make it.

1. Every article that tells us that the world is older than 3,000 years delights me immensely. This move surely drives fundamentalist Christians nuts, and I love it when fundamentalist Christians are irritated. I won’t bullshit you here. I delight in it. Look, evolution occurred, and if you can’t handle that, you deserve irritation.

2. One thing that irritates ME, however (and perhaps you delight in my irritation–good for you), is the use of such phrases as “Mitochondrial Eve.” It gives way too much credence to the Talking-Snake theory of origin (Thank you, David Cross). On the other hand, it does hijack the term “Eve” and bastardize it to an extent that fundies can’t swallow.

I bet the ID people will try to turn it around and invoke “Mitochondrial Eve” as evidence for their belief in the Intelligent Designer… I think you can see how such an argument would go….

-MC Spanky McGee

Pope passes the buck: “It’s not our fault…”

http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/04/16/pope.wed/index.html#cnnSTCText

He spoke at a prayer service with U.S. bishops at Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America.

Benedict said the sexual abuse of children by priests has caused a “deep shame” and called it “gravely immoral behavior.” “

“What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?” he asked.

Benedict urged the media and entertainment industry to take part in a “moral renewal.” “

Ok, Benny, I see the strategy.

Maybe the video game industry should stop making your priests and bishops play Grand Theft Auto. That’s surely corrupting them. I bet Law and Order has some adult themes. The makers of that show should stop targeting these helpless souls.

BAH!

The Pope is passing the buck. We’re talking about clergy, people. Tell them to turn off the TV and the XBOX (which, I assure you, they’re NOT playing).

Is the Pope serious? How is he going to blame the media? Don’t the priests and bishops have the self-discipline (1) to recognize these bad influences and (2) to get away from them? The Pope is full of shit here.

I suspect the problem is deeper. What do you think happens when you tell a man not to have an orgasm? Where does that pent-up sexual energy go? When a priest tries to deny his impulses, the result is simple repression. In all seriousness, a priest needs to masturbate. That will give him a way to channel his “energy.”

-MC Spanky McGee

“If you’re 555, then I’m…. “

“General Butt Naked”

http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/01/21/liberia.general.ap/

Before he led his fighters into battle, wearing only a pair of lace-up boots, Blahyi [Gen. Butt Naked] said he made a human sacrifice to the devil.

The sacrifice was typically “the killing of an innocent child and plucking out the heart which was divided into pieces for us to eat,” he told The Associated Press on Saturday. He appeared before the commission Jan. 15.

Between the time he made a pact with the devil circa 1980 and began his rampage and the time he stopped fighting in 1996, he said “more than 20,000 people fell victim (to me and my men). They were killed.”

In 1996, while charging naked into a battle, Blahyi said God appeared and told him he was a slave to Satan, not the hero he considered himself to be, according to an earlier interview with The Associated Press.

He became a born-again Christian and for a while, traversed the war-wracked streets of Monrovia selling cassettes of his sermons.”

Ok, there are a few points of interest here. (1) this guy is a real asshole (2) his nickname seems like it should be a Halo 3 gamertag, although to use it while having been inspired by Blahyi would be seriously wrong and (3) note the religious narratives involved here.

Yeah, he found Baby Jesus in the end. Whoopdie doo. But notice the power of the Satan story before his little rebirth–he killed 20,000 people. I’m so tired of this nonsensical story about the fucking devil. “There’s some dude, and he’s red, and he lives in a really really hot place, and he tempts you into doing bad things…” It’s sure as hell ain’t the devil that tempts me. It’s ordinary objects themselves. It’s the goddamned XBOX 360, the spicy chicken sandwich, and the… but it ain’t some guy that God can’t or won’t destroy.

The Satan narrative is standard on the Jesus package. The pope can rail against atheists all he wants, but he seems to forget all the crimes perpetrated by believers who kills their kids in all sorts of deranged ways–all in the name of the characters of an incoherent story: “An angel told me to…” “The devil told me to…” “God told me to…..”

How many innocents have died as a result of this phenomenon?

These assholes are responsible. But note the ideology they invoked. And the pope pulls the same move I am making with individual atheists who do perpetrate crimes. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, Benedict.