delusions

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As The Scotsman reports (Anger as Primate refuses to resign – Scotsman.com), Cardinal Brady won’t resign over the Catholic child abuse scandals.  Apparently

Cardinal Brady, 70, was in defiant mood outside his residence at Armagh Cathedral, vowing to stay on and lead the Church’s efforts to improve child protection safeguards [my emphasis].

The irony does seem lost on the Catholic Church. But then again, a potty belief system does lead to a belief in support:

But the Primate and Archbishop of Armagh insisted that the majority of people he had spoken to over the last two months had urged him to stay.

He said: “I was on pilgrimage to Lourdes yesterday with 800 people from this diocese, and not one said they had no confidence in me. They said they wanted me to stay and continue this work.”

Like a bunch of people who believe in miracles in Lourdes are going to disagree with a Cardinal, aren’t they!  But this is the same man who was instrumental in covering up child abuse:

Dr Brady has faced calls to resign since it emerged on 14 March 2009
that in 1975 he conducted an investigation into allegations of child sex
abuse by Fr Brendan Smyth which involved him swearing two teenagers to
secrecy. Standing outside Armagh Cathedral, the 70-year-old cleric
acknowledged there were some who would not agree with his decision but
vowed to lead the Church’s efforts to improve child protection measures.
It certainly wasn’t an easy decision” he said. “I have
listened to a lot of people, reflected as I said I would, I listened to
survivors, to priests, to religious people up and down the length of
this diocese and I have decided to continue in my present role, to play
my part in this diocese. “
Because I want to maintain the momentum
towards better child safeguarding and not alone that, also the momentum
towards renewal of the faith, which is essential here and a big
challenge.

The bottom line seems to be that the Catholic Church just doesn’t get it.

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The Templeton Prize was recently awarded, garnering considerable criticism and gossip in the scientific blogosphere.  Partly this was due to the venue chosen to host the event (the American National Academy of Sciences), but also in part due to the sport of guessing who would be the recipient (the Templeton Foundation appeared to forbid discussion of our guesses as to the likely recipient).  In the end most of the guessing seemed to be in error – the recipient turned out to be Francisco Ayala.  While best known as a population biologist and evolutionary geneticist, he was ordained as a Dominican priest in 1960 (though his Wikipedia page indicates he left the priesthood in the same year).

The science magazine New Scientist has an interview with Ayala, in the wake of the award (Templeton prizewinner: We need science plus morality).  In the interview, the usual subjects are touched upon.  Typically, in response to  “You won for arguing there is no contradiction between science and religion. Many disagree.”, Ayala responds:

They are two windows through which we look at the world. Religion deals with our relationship with our creator, with each other, the meaning and purpose of life, and moral values; science deals with the make-up of matter, expansion of galaxies, evolution of organisms. They deal with different ways of knowing. I feel that science is compatible with religious faith in a personal, omnipotent and benevolent God.

I kind of take exception to this response, principally because is implies those of us who hold no religious beliefs are somehow lacking in morality.  Further, this “different ways of knowing” is, it seems to me, something of a cop out, particularly in light of his statement that “Religion deals with our relationship with our creator”.  Different ways of knowing what, exactly?  What indeed does “knowing” mean?  As an atheist, who sees no evidence for any god, it looks to me as though religion is “a way of deluding” oneself rather than a different “way of knowing”.

I also (personally) cannot see how “science is compatible with religious faith in a personal, omnipotent and benevolent God”, given that science requires an evidence-base.  That’s not to say that I accept some individuals are capable of such compatibility – after all, there is evidence that some people are capable of this duality.

At the same time, some scientists claim they can use science to prove God does not exist. Science can do nothing of the kind.

Hmm…well I suggest that an observation that there is no evidence for a deity leads me to think there is probably no deity, a probabilty which approaches unity. Asked “Why do you say creationism is bad religion?”,  Ayala responds:

Creationism and intelligent design are not compatible with religion because they imply the designer is a bad designer, allowing cruelty and misery. Evolution explains these as a result of natural processes, in the same way we explain earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions. We don’t have to attribute them to an action of God.

I suspect that (in light of Ayala’s refusal to answer the interviewer’s final question on whether he believes in God), he may well be talking in general terms.  But you’ve really got to accept that an omnipotent and all-seeing deity (were one to exist) allows these natural events to happen, even though such a hypothetical deity is supposed to be omnipotent.  At the very least one would have to attribute non-intervention as carelessness!

All in all a rather unsatisfying interview (after all it’s just a brief opinion piece), and one that might well serve to harden agnosticism/atheism.  Perhaps not what the Templeton Foundation would really exist.  I’m unable to comment at the New Scientist site, as one has to be a subscriber to do so.

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Here’s an amusing Wikileak: Young-earth creationist Kent Hovind’s doctoral dissertation.  Kent Hovind is an American young earth creationist who’s current residence is listed in his Wikipedia entry as “currently housed in the Federal Correctional Institution, Edgefield (South Carolina)”.  Also from Wikipedia:

young  earth creationist Kent Hovind (image from Wkikipedia)

young earth creationist Kent Hovind (image from Wkikipedia)

Kent E. Hovind (born January 15, 1953) is an American Young Earth creationist and conspiracy theorist famous for his creation science seminars that aim to convince listeners to reject modern theories of evolution, geophysics, and cosmology in favor of biblical creation. Hovind’s views are criticized by the scientific community at large and even some fellow Young Earth creationist organizations like Answers in Genesis.

Hovind established the Creation Science Evangelism ministry in 1989 and frequently argued for Young Earth creationism and made other controversial remarks in his talks at private schools and churches, at debates, and on radio and television broadcasts.

Since November 2006 Hovind is serving a ten-year prison sentence in the Federal Correctional Institution, Edgefield in Edgefield, South Carolina, after being convicted of 58 federal counts, including twelve tax offenses, one count of obstructing federal agents and forty-five counts of structuring cash transactions.

Front view of Patriot University (image from Wkikipedia)

Front view of Patriot University (image from Wkikipedia)

Hovind has a PhD from Patriot University. Hovind’s doctoral thesis appears to be a rambling rendition of misrepresentation, coming across as some kind of pulpit-speech. Most bizarre. It begins:

“Hello, my name is Kent Hovind. I am a creation/science evangelist. I
live in Pensacola, Florida. I have been a high school science teacher
since 1976. I’ve been very active in the creation/evolution controversy
for quite some time.”

I have to say that having skimmed through the leaked pdf file, the man has to get some kind of award for sustaining the drivel for 110 or so pages.  Perhaps prison?

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The Christian Concern for our Nation website takes up their cudgels to stand up for a sacked housing officer: Justice for Duke Campaign. In common with many religious sites, there doesn’t appear to be a comment feature for curmudgeonly atheists such as I to respond. Any road, the article describes how

Bible-believing Christian Duke Amachree, married and father of 3 children who had served Wandsworth Council as a Homelessness Prevention Officer diligently for 18 years, was dismissed in circumstances Christians and non-Christians alike across the country rightly view as completely outrageous.

Well this non-Christian (actually atheist) doesn’t find it completely outrageous, at least based on the evidence presented by CCfoN.

In January of this year, Duke was helping a client with her housing situation. The client had seen various doctors who had told her that she had an incurable medical condition. Out of compassion for her, Duke commented that sometimes the doctors don’t know everything –and encouraged her to consider putting her faith in God.

The client went on to complain to Amachree’s managers, who then fired him. CCfoN are organising a Petition, Campaign, special website and Candlelight Vigil 15 December 2009 in support of this individual, who, in their capacity as a housing officer, advised a seriously ill client that she should put her faith in his Invisible Magic Friend rather than her doctors.

I say (on the basis on this information provided by CCfoN), Wandsworth Council did the right thing.  I’d be interested to hear what medical qualifications Mr Amachree possesses.  Other than superstitious beliefs.  I can well believe Mr Amachree may have believed he was doing his best for this client, but he clearly overstepped the mark.

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The Times reports (Pope Benedict XVI clears way for Cardinal Newman to become a saint) that the Vatican is likely to create the first British saint since the 1970s.  The article says that Cardinal John Henry Newman is the “most important convert from the Church of England to Catholicism”.  That’s as may be, but it’s interesting to read what needs to happen to become a saint.

From the Cardinal John Henry Newman Wikipedia page, it appears that one needs a verified miracle to be beatified, and a further verified miracle to be canonised.  The Times’ article says

The Pope opened the way for the beatification in 2001 when he recognised claims that Jack Sullivan, a Catholic deacon in Boston in the US, had been miraculously healed of a “serious debility of the spine” at the intercession of Newman, who died in 1890.
In 2000 Mr Sullivan, who is married with three children, prayed for the Cardinal’s help after being warned by his doctor that his back problem could result in paralysis. Next morning, he awoke to find that his pain had gone and that he was able to walk properly for the first time in months.

Essentially some bloke prayed to get better via the intercession of a dead religious figure, then woke up better. One does wonder how a serious investigation could “prove” that Mr Sullivan’s recovery was anything to do with someone who’d been dead for over a century, or indeed to “prove” that Mr Sullivan prayed only to the one dead religious figure.  The Times’ article doesn’t explain further.

Apparently there’s now been a second miracle (as yet uninvestigated), though the article doesn’t go into details on that one.  But I predict the miracle will have affected a strong believer, much as Mr Sullivan is reported to be a “Catholic deacon”.  Newman’s Wikipedia page does offer the following:

A second miracle would need to be confirmed before Newman could be canonized as a saint. The Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints is expected to consider the case of a 17-year-old New Hampshire resident, who fully recovered from severe head injuries suffered in a car accident after invoking Cardinal Newman.

Essentially these cases represent unexpected recovery from serious medical conditions (events which can and do occur without the intercession of dead people).  Over at the Wikipedia page for Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the Catholic body that investigates claimed miracles), I found this:

The miracle may go beyond the possibilities of nature either in the substance of the fact or in the subject, or only in the way it occurs. So three degrees of miracle are to be distinguished. The first degree is represented by resurrection from the dead (quoad substantiam). The second concerns the subject (quoad subiectum): the sickness of a person is judged incurable, in its course it can even have destroyed bones or vital organs; in this case not only is complete recovery noticed, but even wholesale reconstitution of the organs (restitutio in integrum). There is then a third degree (quoad modum): recovery from an illness, that treatment could only have achieved after a long period, happens instantaneously.

It would be interesting to know how many claims are made for each of the three degrees of miraculous intervention, and the proportion of each that pass investigation.  Also from that article, here’s the progression from dead religious person to Saint:

Stages of Canonization in the Roman Catholic Church

Servant of God →   Venerable →   Blessed →   Saint

Apparently Cardinal Newman is at stage 2 – he’s referred to as being the Venerable – while getting to stage 3 requires the approval of a miracle (this is what’s about to happen), while advancing to full sainthood (stage 4) requires the investigation and approval of a second miracle.  Presumably this is still to happen, so maybe the Times’ headline is a little premature?  As a hardened atheist, the whole process looks rather mediaeval.  And Newman’s not very active – two cures in over a century since he died seems a very minor intercession to me.

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Stephen Green, the batty bloke behind Christian Voice, resurfaced this week (after a glorious period of silence) as one of the complainants over the Corrie-creationism brouhaha.  Coincidentally, I notice that The Lay Scientist, who’s been blogging lately about The Daily Mail and its bizarre campaign against vaccination (oddly this appears to be restricted to it’s UK operation – its Irish output takes the opposite view) has posted an amusing article about the ASA’s comprehensive slapdown of Christian Voice (Christian Voice, the HPV Vaccine and Freedom of Speech).  The final paragraph is:

This of course is the same Stephen Green who sued the BBC for blasphemy, who upon the abolition of blasphemy laws in 2008 threatened that Christians would have to “take matters into their own hands” if people said anything that might offend God or Christ. In other words this odious little creature, a man who believes that husbands should have the right to rape their wives at will believes in freedom of speech only when it applies to him. He is a disgrace, to fellow Christians and to human beings in general.

Some of the commenters follow those links and are pretty appalled by what they find.

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I guess one shouldn’t be surprised by this doublethink, but Catholic bishops in the US have rejected the bonkers alternative “therapy” reiki – because it’s superstition.  As The Guardian (Catholic bishops in US ban Japanese reiki) reports (and I’m always cautious when reading news on April 1st, but the article is dated 31st March!), the bishops say:

“A Catholic who puts his or her trust in reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no man’s land that is neither faith nor science. Superstition corrupts one’s worship of God by turning one’s religious feeling and practice in a false direction.”

Apparently the group of US bishops say that reiki is incompatible with Christian teaching and scientific evidence.  Since when has scientific evidence been important to religion?  And isn’t belief in an Invisible Magic Friend rather superstitious in itself?  A christian Reiki master (actually mistress, I suppose) is quoted as saying:

“There is so much bad information about reiki, anti-Christian information, on the internet,” she said. “It says we channel spirits and that’s not true. Reiki balances energy in the same way as acupuncture or reflexology. I know of two nuns in the Philadelphia area, one who runs a retreat centre, who have done wonderful work. The bishops weren’t talking to women like that.”

Of course, reiki is in the same frame as other quack therapies such as acupuncture and reflexology.  And it’s not that different to religion in at least one sense – it requires a complete suspension of rational thinking to take it seriously.

Update: A few bloggers beat me to it on this story – The New Humanist blog has some additional information worth looking at.

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Home Secretary Jacqui Smith gets pretty short shrift from me on my other blog, but that’s really about the typical Home Secretary attributes of draconian databases and drug control etc.  She recently banned  a Dutch politician (who had made an anti-Islam film) from visiting the House of Lords, and now a band of loony-tune baptists from Westboro Baptist Church.

Phelps, who runs the Primitive Baptist Westboro church in Topeka, Kansas – most of whose congregation are members of his family, including his 13 children wanted to object to a school in Basingstoke (or as Phelps puts it, Bassingstoke), who planned to stage a play about the murder of a a homosexual.  Phelps and co are real nut-jobs, and have a real hatred of homosexuals.  I hadn’t realised quite how much of a nut-job he is until I saw this video at YouTube:

This is just awesome stuff, particularly the website URLs touted at the end of this insane video.  If he wasn’t preaching such vile hate, this’d be a comedy gem. And in case you are wondering, Phelps does claim that the UK has banned God (hence the title of this post).

(Hat tip to the New Humanist)

See also The Guardian – Anti-gay American cleric banned from UK for inciting hatred

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The BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme had a “news” item featuring Benedictine monk Dom Anthony Sutch explaining how you deal with ghostly manifestations.  In this case, it concerns a ghost apparently haunting a hospital in Derby.  Bizarrely, considering how many people must die in hospitals (after all, quite a few patients will be seriously ill, and presumably people caught up in accidents will be taken to A&E), this is thought to be the ghost of a Roman soldier annoyed because they built said hospital on an old Roman road.  Sutch (who presumably is unrelated to the late Screaming Lord Sutch) came across as a likeable old chap, though sadly rather deluded by the supernatural as revealed by some dusty old tome.

Still, it was an amusing little “news” item.  You can hear the audio here (for as long as the BBC keep it available), and an interpretive transcript at Platitude of the Day,  where it’s been rated 5/5 (Extremely Platitudinous).  They are very polite on “Today” – this seemed to me to be a story played entirely for laughs, and Sutch was so earnest.

But what a mad world we live in, where a Hospital Manager has to take reports of hauntings seriously.

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