Friday, September 22, 2006

Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science

Via PZ and BigDumbChimp I was perusing a new website for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. I agree with PZ - here's a charity I can send my tax-deductible donations to!!! But I was exploring some of the articles on the site and found this one by Johann Hari, which appeared in the London Independent on 21 September. The second paragraph in particular was too good to pass up:

Both Joseph Ratzinger and the Islamists calling for his decapitation believe they have direct access to an invisible supernatural being called “God”. Both believe this God wills them to make decisions that have led to the horrific deaths of tens of thousands of people. Both believe this God finds secular democratic Europe disgusting, an atheistic bog dominated by a “culture of death.” Both hate feminism and gay rights and sexual freedom. Both believe they are infallible, and that the billions who refuse to follow them are incurring the wrath of the Creator of the Universe. The only real difference is the name they give to this creature, and a few added textual tweaks on either side.

There are too many other good points in this article and I would recommend you read it yourself. However, just a couple more that struck a personal chord with me:

The tragedy is that when there are so many good reasons to hate Joseph Ratzinger, this week’s rioters have chosen one of the few bogus ones. For over a decade now, he has been one of the primary defenders of priests who go to the poorest, most vulnerable people in the world and tell them condoms are the cause of AIDS. In the past year, I have sat in two Catholic churches thousands of miles apart and listened while a Catholic priest told illiterate people with no alternative sources of information that condoms come pre-infected with AIDS and are the reason people die of it. In Bukavu, a crater-city in Congo, and in the slums ringing Caracas, Venezuela, people believed it. They told me they “would not go to Heaven” if they used condoms, and that condoms contain tiny invisible holes through which the virus passes – the advice their priest had doled out.

This is one of the main reasons I have a real distaste for missionaries. Their "logic" depends on being doled out to illiterate people - without that, there would be no message. And they use that position to convey some of the most inaccurate information available to people who don't know the difference. Having seen some of this first hand, I have to wonder if many of Africa's problems with poverty, disease, overcrowding and despotism aren't ultimately due to the incessant interference from missionaries. They'd be better off to kick missionaries of all stripes out of their country.

One more item from the article:

But there is a deeper philosophical repugnance to Ratzinger lying beneath these individual decisions. His recent lecture was devoted to the premise that the free pursuit of reason will lead all people to a rational belief in the Christian God described in the Bible. (You know – the God who explicitly supports slavery, commits genocide against the Amelkites, stones prostitutes, and feeds small children to bears). The Christian God is Reason Personified, while the Muslim God is “beyond reason” – hence the fuss. But this intra-superstitious squabble is not the real outrage.

However much he swears it is not, this argument is deeply anti-Enlightenment. The central insight of the Enlightenment is that there are two fundamentally different ways to understand the world. One is divine revelation, where a being contacts you from another realm and discloses some truth. (Another word for this is ‘hallucination’). The second method is reason – observing the world empirically, and drawing conclusions from the things we observe. The ultimate expression of reason is the scientific method. These approaches are fundamentally contrasting, and you cannot simply weld them together with contorted theological trickery.

By claiming that divine revelation leads to reason – indeed, is its central underpinning – Ratzinger is subtly attacking the core principles of the Enlightenment. There is nothing we can observe in the world that leads us rationally to conclude a magical creature created it. But Ratzinger wants to be able to claim the fruits of the Enlightenment, like science, without following its basic principles. Whenever people do try to stretch reason to accord with faith – as he demands – they invariably produce contorted, corrupted unreason like the absurdity of ‘intelligent design theory’ (which should be dubbed Creationism 2.0).

This is one of the primary reasons we left the Catholic Church. Its retreat from reason began years ago, with the realization in America that greater political power (and financial gain) could be obtained if it just re-interpreted its basic principles to be more in line with its conservative Protestant bretheren.

Read the article. And contribute to Dawkins' Foundation.

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