Links and Comments from Recent Weeks, 18 Sep14

Or at least, a few of them. More to follow.

Slate: It’s All Connected: What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.

About why credulous folks see Jesus in a tortilla, or Mary in a tree stump, or historic events as conspiracies.

With the events in the Middle East concerning ISIS (or its variant names) and its barbaric acts, and the apologists insisting that these folks are not “true Islam” — well, this just another example of the “No true Scotsman” fallacy. I mean, ISIS calls itself the *Islamic State*. What more evidence does anyone need to take them at their word, that their motivations are based on their religion? Just as the Westboro Baptist Church claims its motivations are based on their interpretation of Christianity [which, therefore, should be dismissed as primitive and barbaric].

Because politicians, including President Obama, kowtow to religious sentiment. No politicians who do not do that could win elections, in the US. Jerry Coyne:

Everyone who is religious picks and chooses their morals from scripture.  And so, too, do religious apologists pick and choose the “true” religions using identical criteria: what appeals to them as “good” ways to behave. The Qur’an, like the Bible, is full of vile moral statements supposedly emanating from God. We cherry-pick them depending on our disposition, our politics, and our upbringing.

In the end, there is no “true” religion in the factual sense, for there is no good evidence supporting their truth claims. Neither are there “true” religions in the moral sense. Every faith justifies itself and its practices by appeal to authority, revelation, and dogma. There are just some religions we like better than others because of their practical consequences. If that’s what we mean by “true,” we should just admit it. There’s no shame in that, for it’s certainly the case that societies based on some religions are more dysfunctional than others. Morality itself is neither objectively “true” nor “false,” but at bottom rests on subjective preferences: the “oughts” that come from what we see as the consequences of behaving one way versus another. By all means let us say that ISIS is a strain of Islam that is barbaric and dysfunctional, but let us not hear any nonsense that it’s a “false religion”. ISIS, like all religious movements, is based on faith; and faith, which is belief in the absence of convincing evidence, isn’t true or false, but simply irrational.

Spelling out why the Ten Commandments are not the inspiration for US law and government (despite the blinkered, wishful thinking of the religious right).

5 Things the Religious Right Needs to Learn About the 10 Commandments

Including the religious right’s argument based on a phony quote from James Madison. And including, “Many of the precepts found in the Ten Commandments are common-sense rules that have existed for centuries.”

Ed Brayton ridicules David Barton: Barton’s God is Going to Beat Us Up. Again.

Sean Carroll: Should Scientific Progress Affect Religious Beliefs?

If God exists but has no effect on the world whatsoever — the actual world we experience could be precisely the same even without God — then there is no reason to believe in it, and indeed one can draw no conclusions whatsoever (about right and wrong, the meaning of life, etc.) from positing it. Many people recognize this, and fall back on the idea that God is in some sense necessary; there is no possible world in which he doesn’t exist. To which the answer is: “No he’s not.” Defenses of God’s status as necessary ultimately come down to some other assertion of a purportedly-inviolable metaphysical principle, which can always simply be denied. (The theist could win such an argument by demonstrating that the naturalist’s beliefs are incoherent in the absence of such principles, but that never actually happens.)

The question itself is curious, because those who pay attention to scientific progress, and those who persist religious beliefs, seem to be entirely separately groups.

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