Saturday, April 29, 2006

Re: Fact versus faith (and religion vs. science)

(The following represents a reply to a particular email from a discussion about science and religion that has occurred recent on the listserve of the evolution study group to which I belong. Although my words address aspects of the absent text to which I am responding, I think the important parts can be inferred. If anything seems truly confusing, let me know.)

Hi there,

As discussions are more interesting when there is disagreement, I shall respond to some of Steve’s statements.

Necessary caveat: Although it is obviously true that two different people are in fact different, I just wanted to acknowledge that we have both had a multitude of dissimilar experiences which have likely lead to our current stances. Consequently, I am open to reading the key sources that support your viewpoint and which may alter mine. But, such an alteration has yet to occur, so I shall present my current thoughts. What else can one do?

First, let me say I agree that “religion is not as subjective and science is not as objective as many blithely assume or claim.” Your email provided much food for thought to those that get carried away with(in) their systems of thought. As well, I concur that it is not true that “science is all fact and religion all faith.” But, I do disagree with the following statement: “to insinuate or baldly claim that religion is about believing in something that is based on no evidence at all is not only unfair and inaccurate, but a straw man argument.”
Of course, I technically cannot disagree because of the phrase ‘no evidence at all,’ but more realistically, I think that religion is based on such a small amount of evidence that it is practically negligible. The historical accuracy of the Bible is minimal. Some people existed, but it doesn’t make them sons of God. As well, there is very little that exists in the present that the religious can use to verify their views. Science, alternatively, could be done and the major findings scientists believe would likely be replicated. If no replications occur, everything would be re-evaluated. This leads us to the issue of ‘faith’ and what it means. In my experience ‘faith’ means belief in the absence of evidence, and sadly, sometimes illogical belief in the face of evidence. It is true that many scientists believe things not based upon evidence, but as a whole, scientists seek verifiable evidence and are willing to alter their views when confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs. This is not always true, but such alterations happen far more often than they do with religious people. Science succeeds because the pencil is mightier than the pen.

You wrote that “Science and religion are two ways of knowing about reality,” and I agree with this, but I think their differences overwhelm their similarities. To be honest, I think you may do both Science and Religion a disservice by putting them so conceptually close. They have two different goals: Science provides information; Religion is a prescription for how to act in the world. As for how each one succeeds at its goal… well, that depends on what kind of information one seeks and what kind of world one wants. I for one am happy with the type of information science provides, and as for the world I want, religion could be doing a much better job. (Or perhaps it couldn’t and that is the problem.)

To share my core beliefs, I am for questioning why certain values, policies and ideas exist, using some sort of utilitarianism as my guide. As much as possible, I try to submit my personal preferences to the grand arbiters of rational argument and verifiable evidence. When I observe bad ideas - those without rational argument or evidence - I am unhappy and look for the source. It is usually a lack of critical thinking… but this lack is usually a result of religion. As an enterprise, religion discourages critical thought. For if it did not churches would crumble like dry Eucharist. I’m not just referring to the Inquisition, but to current events that cannot be debated rationally because deference to a book or a person, and not the worth of an idea per se, is seen as a valid point of view.

I wish this was just an academic debate, but people are suffering and dying needlessly.

Why demonstrate genocidal stupidity and deny the use of condoms in Aids-infested Africa?


Why be opposed to two consenting adults marrying? (Oh, they just happen to have similar sex chromosomes)


Why not allow research on stem cells – cells that haven’t even differentiated into a specific type – that, in turn, could possibly decrease the pain of others?


Why not allow a human that is still ‘sane’ and in extreme pain to end that pain by ending their own life?


Similarly, the issue of abortion is not a debate about when a fetus might be conscious or feel pain or when it becomes a person, it’s about destroying a soul. (A recent study suggest about 7 months)

(To say nothing of religious beliefs that lead to killing yourself and others for fabulous gifts and prizes in the afterlife.)

I would prefer these issues could be discussions about information (gained scientifically) and ethical arguments based on reason, logic and the evidence, but one just need look around to see that religious beliefs often preclude such a preference.

I am unsure of the validity of your statement that religion is also “self-correcting.” While it is true that very few Christians happily keep Christian slaves anymore, I personally find it a bit too slow to adapt to the human rights I seek. As for the human right of religious people to be religious, that is fine with me as long as it doesn’t trump what I consider to be more important rights. (right to equality, to marry… etc)

Lastly, it appears to be true that religion is not sufficient for morality (compare societal health of the US and Japan)

With all this in mind, why not just have good, rational reasons for doing moral acts? That way, we still have all the ‘goodness’ but it rests upon a foundation of reason and truly tenable arguments using the best evidence available by the best means available.

Sounds good to me,


ps: By no means did I intend to imply that religious people do not care about suffering. It is just that some of their beliefs (and subsequent actions) exacerbate some forms of suffering instead of decreasing them.

pps: In all seriousness, how could one actually study the non-material? Please share if you have an answer. I can only think one could study the material effects… but that isn’t the desire. And if it can’t be studied in any systematic way, then there is almost nothing there.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dear Mr. President - Pink

First "Stupid Girl" and now "Dear Mr. President?" I might actually have to say I don't dislike Pink. Go Listen.

Sophistry and a Grown Pain

Kirk Cameron and someother moron present amusingly poor arguments against athiesm in The Way of the Master, Episode 7. (The only thing that makes this less amusing is that some find the statements convincing.)

As an intellectual exercise, see if you can catch all the speciousness.

I'll start you off: The shape of a banana does not imply the existence of God.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nietzsche Quotation

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows us that faith proves nothing.

Evidence of Intelligent Puppet Masters?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Worst President in History?

Rolling Stone's Sean Wilentz asks if Bush is The Worst President in History?
(Maclean's has a more conservative question.)
I like the following excerpt because it articulately describes what I perceive as one of the biggest problems in the world.

"...[Bush] has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures -- an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities."

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I Alone Am

Solipsism is convincing to no one else.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


New Scientist recently did a wonderful primer on nanotech and a guide to nanoscales.
As this will be the stuff that greatly impacts our existence, it's worth reading.

The Robbe Creed

“I believe in one Lord Bunny Christ, the only-begotten Chocolate of God, born of the Cacao before all time; Egg from Egg, true Cacao from true Cacao; begotten, not created, consubstantial with the Chocolate, through Him all happiness was made.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Beautiful Day

Every day you wake up is a beautiful day*, but knowing that and feeling it are two different things. I'm feeling it today I suggest you try the same.
Appreciate your life, your loved ones and the opportunities you've had and still have.
It's true things could have been better, but it is also true that things could have been a lot worse. So how about telling someone you love that you love them.
Better yet, go hug 'em if you can.**

Smile... Life is Beautiful.

*Because I'm me, I feel that I should add the qualification that this is not true for numerous people on this planet. It was implicitly assumed that one's basic food, shelter and security needs are met. Some humans are currently living through an actual Hell; so this is not even remotely true for them. Knowing that, it can put your' life in a bit of perspective.
** Unless you're sure, ask first :)
' Similar to * it was assumed that such a person wouldn't be reading this blog. Repeat.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Journalism in Iraq

Watch this video of a brief interview with Lara Logan. (my new hero)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Salt & Pepper

(This picture is of a grain of salt and a peppercorn)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Harper On Harper

"I don't think I've been accused of ever seducing anyone,
even my wife." - Stephen Harper
(as this quote is definitely out of context, please read the full story here)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Homemade Light Saber Battle

You wouldn't hit a fly with glasses, would ya?

The [actual] glasses fit snuggly on the fly's 0.08-inch-wide (2-millimeter-wide) head.

Only one-third of Canadians feel will of the people rules, poll finds - Globe & Mail

Monday, April 3, 2006 Page A8

Just 36 per cent of Canadians say the country is governed by the will of the people, according to a massive new poll that gauged attitudes in 68 countries on issues ranging from poverty to the environment.

While Canada fares better than most countries on measures of democracy, the low figure is partly because the survey was conducted last May and June while the Gomery inquiry was hearing testimony, said Jean-Marc Léger, president of Leger Marketing, which conducted the poll in Canada.

"The Gomery commission had a huge impact," he said.

The survey, which is billed as the largest poll around the world, also found that only 66 per cent of Canadian respondents believed elections here are free and fair. And 12 per cent disagreed that democracy is the best system of government.

Over all, 26 per cent of the poll's 53,749 respondents said the most important problem facing the world was poverty, more than twice those who chose terrorism, at 12 per cent. Canadians' top pick was also poverty, but the environment was seen as the second-greatest challenge. Eight per cent of Canadians chose wars and conflicts. Six per cent said terrorism.

"Everywhere in the world, the main problem is the same. The main problem is not terrorism, the main problem is the gap between the rich and poor people," Mr. Léger said. "That means that on this planet, people think the same way."

The survey's more than 5,000 questioners used a variety of methodological techniques -- phone surveys in Switzerland, self-completed questionnaires in Japan, in-person interviews in Kenya -- to deal with cultural differences.

Outside Canada, respondents were polled by members of the Gallup International Association. The results are published in a book called Voice of the People 2006, which was edited by Mr. Léger.

Collecting the information was often challenging. Interviewers were jailed for 48 hours in Nairobi, Kenya, because they failed to obtain permission from local authorities. Others had a car accident on their way to a remote village in Cameroon.

In Nigeria alone, where there are more than 200 different ethnic groups, the questionnaire had to be translated into 200 languages.

In Hong Kong, respondents answered questions after consulting with their families to obtain consensus.

And people around the world clearly interpreted the same questions very differently. Globally, 18 per cent of respondents said there had been times in the previous 12 months when they had not had enough to eat. Eighteen per cent of Americans also answered the same way.

Mr. Léger said the book is valuable because it provides insight into the views of people living on all five continents, which readers can compare with Canadians' opinions.

"That gives us a benchmark across the world. We know that we have some limits because it's 68 countries, it's not 200 countries. We don't have, for example, China . . ." he said.

The results are considered accurate to within plus or minus three to four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

While the overwhelming majority of Canadians believe in democracy -- 85 per cent -- just 36 per cent said it governs by the will of the people. The country with the highest faith in governance by the will of the people was Malaysia, at 71 per cent. The lowest was Macedonia at 11 per cent.

And just 66 per cent of Canadians said elections here are free and fair. Only 54 per cent of U.S. residents agreed; the poll notes the Americans' views may have been influenced by allegations of voting irregularities in recent presidential elections.

The survey also found that 53 per cent of Canadians are critical of politicians and business leaders, higher than the world average of 45 per cent.

Perceptions of democracy

A massive international poll examined attitudes in 68 countries on a range of issues including poverty, the environment and government.

Do you feel that elections in your country are free and fair?

Percentage yes

Denmark - 90%

France - 69%

Germany - 73%

Italy - 46%

Portugal - 81%

United Kingdom - 70%

Bosnia and Herzegovina - 28%

Kosovo - 74%

Russia - 22%

Israel - 65%

Pakistan - 21%

United States - 54%

Mexico - 23%

Canada - 66%

Would you say that your country is governed by the will of the people?

Percentage yes

Denmark - 57%

France - 26%

Germany - 18%

Italy - 28%

Portugal - 40%

United Kingdom - 30%

Bosnia and Herzegovina - 13%

Kosovo - 46%

Russia - 18%

Israel - 49%

Pakistan - 25%

United States - 37%

Mexico - 20%

Canada - 36%


Sunday, April 02, 2006

I Grieve - Peter Gabriel

It was only one hour ago
It was all so different then
Nothing yet has really sunk in
Looks like it always did
This flesh and bone
It's just the way that we are tied in
But there's no one home
I grieve...
for you
You leave...
So hard to move on
Still loving what's gone
Said life carries on...
Carries on and on and on...
And on
The news that truely shocks
is the empty, empty page
While the final rattle rocks
Its empty, empty cage...
And I can't handle this
I grieve...
For you
You leave...
Let it out and move on
Missing what's gone
Said life carries on...
I said life carries on and on...
And on
Life carries on in the people I meet
In every one that's out on the street
In all the dogs and cats
In the flies and rats
In the rot and the rust
In the ashes and the dust
Life carries on and on and on...
And on
Life carries on and on and on...
Life carries on and on and on...
And on
Life carries on and on and on...
Just the car that we ride in
The home we reside in
The face that we hide in
The way we are tied in
As life carries on and on and on...
And on
Life carries on and on and on...
Did I dream this belief
Or did I believe this dream
How I will find relief
I grieve...