News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 3, 2010 in News

8 Priests Arrested for Something Other than Touching Kids.

John Shook decries “lazy atheism” that is ignorant of theology, but Jerry Coyne agrees with the earlier John Shook, who said that theism fails even the rationality standards of eighth-graders.

Bill Maher, about a decade ago: “I believe in God! Of course I do.”

Neil Sinhababu defends the belief-desire-intention model from some common objections.

Philosophy Talk on dualism.

Some critical comments on eliminative materialism, which I discussed here.

Paul Almond: Craig is using Hilbert’s Hotel as a flawed intuition pump.

Earth-sized planet, perfect for life, discovered just 20 light years away. My virtualized consciousness is so going to visit this planet in A.D. 2490.

Home-made space balloon equipped with GoPro Hero HD and an iPhone for GPS tracking and retrieval, works.

Denmark plans to be fossil-fuel free by 2050. They’re Denmark, so they might actually do it.

U.S. Government infected Guatemalans with syphilis.

TaiChi offers a logical problem of evil.

Eric Schwitzgebel and Brie Gertler discuss: Do we know our inner states any better than the external world?

Oldies but goodies:

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

exapologist October 3, 2010 at 9:14 am

Thanks for the plug, Luke. For what it’s worth I’ve updated the post you link to here.


Bill Maher October 3, 2010 at 10:34 am

I just learned what an intuition pump was yesterday. Maybe we are psychic with each other Luke.


Hieronymus Fortesque Lickspittle October 3, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I like the Bill Maher clip but am willing to give him a little slack over it. It should show everyone how dramatically our personalities change over time.


lukeprog October 3, 2010 at 1:22 pm


Link updated.


Hermes October 3, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Exapologist, it may be an oldie but it’s new to me. I especially appreciate your very first preliminary entry. It can’t be emphasized enough. As you wrote;

If it’s important to aim at having true beliefs, how can we increase our chances of having such beliefs? Well, choosing what to believe on the basis of flipping a coin doesn’t seem to be an effective method. What, then, is effective? Speaking in the most general terms: sensitivity to evidence; that is, listening to (and reading) the best evidence and arguments we can get our hands on, and forming our beliefs in the light of it.

I attempted a conversation on the moral issues involved with that topic with someone else here, and much to my disappointment they seem to have disappeared entirely. I can only hope that they are considering the issue seriously, and developing some insightful replies that flesh out what I had hoped we would discuss.

For what it’s worth, the emphasis I gave with that topic were these points;

Alan Sokal in The Marketplace of Ideas interview;

The main point is … it’s important when you make claims about factual matters in the world, to understand clearly what is the evidence on which those claims are based and to and try evaluate that evidence as impartially as possible. [ ~45:50 mark ]

If you are sloppy about evaluating evidence, then you are ethically liable for the mistakes that you’ve made. [ ~45:00 mark ]


Commenting on Alan’s talk, I wrote;

I’d add that if you have evidence before you, not evaluating it at all is also an ethical failure, not only a philosophical or logical one. Ignoring evidence is like a white lie and it should not be treated as a valid method of justifying a point of view.

Ignorance of details you are unaware of is a valid justification for drawing the wrong conclusion or having an invalid chain of reasons in reaching any conclusion at all.

Having the details available to you and then ignoring it in preference to your previous ignorance so you can reach a different conclusion or avoid any conclusion at all is not valid.

Along those lines, and in the spirit of Alan Sokal’s comments as well as many others; You can have your own opinions, but you can not have your own facts.

Since I did not get a reply from the other person, do you have any comments on what I wrote?

For what it’s worth, while I agree with many of Alan’s points that he gives in the complete interview, I am mainly commenting on the quotes above and other comments he made along those lines regardless of the specific examples he gave to illustrate them.


Hermes October 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Luke, as for the planet, unfortunately it has 3x the mass of Earth. If there are any space chicks there, they will probably be stronger than a gorilla, twice as wide, and only 1/6th as tall. Worse, they probably won’t even be green.


Zeb October 3, 2010 at 2:09 pm

8 Priests Arrested for Something Other than Touching Kids.

Bigotry. Just saying, if you care.


Hermes October 3, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Exapologist, the link to the PDF on the Witmer talk (1.13 Presuppositional apologetics) was broken. I did find a few valid links (?) by doing this query;

Google: witmer talk Presuppositional filetype:pdf

Valid (marked preliminary)? —


Hermes October 3, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Zeb, monitor Mojoey’s blog for a few months and let me know what you think. It’s like a police blotter of religious professionals, but he includes mistaken accusation corrections and valid points of view from religious professionals such as Paster Dennis Meredith who talks about Bishop Eddie Long and accusations of Long’s abuses against members of his congregation. There are problems. Many problems.


lukeprog October 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm


Are you saying the link was an example of bigotry?

If so, what is your definition of bigotry?


Zeb October 3, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Hermes, I agree that there are many problems, though as far as I know no problems are particular correlated with clergy. Do you think Mojoey’s blog would convince me otherwise, or do you know of other evidence that should?


Hermes October 3, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Zeb, I remember when I was a kid that there were jokes about not being alone with the priests. That they liked little children, especially boys. Ha. Ha. Ha. Funny. It really was funny.

But it wasn’t.

On a personal note, I found out just about a year ago that one of the two on-site priests had just completed a jail sentence for child abuse going back to the time that I went to that church. My sister told me the name of one of the victims, and I recognized the name, though I did not know them personally. Supposedly they ended up doing drugs — caused by the trauma or not? I can’t say. Could not have been a positive event in either case.

Yet, that’s not one isolated and unique event. When we look, it wasn’t a joke anywhere and has been documented going back decades into the early 1900s with other events and indications noted through centuries.

But, why the wait? Do you identify, jail, and prosecute people who rape children? Isn’t that a question with only one valid answer, and no exceptions for just being in the clergy no matter how much the perpetrator insists the victim was asking for it or was tempting them like a demon?

* * *

I don’t think with that long standing and wide ranging history of abuse that it is too much to focus on it and eradicate it as a problem now.

If that intense focus on one sector is inappropriate, then I counter that the position of the abusers who used their ‘divine authority’ and damnation, and those who sheltered the guilty when they should have testified against them in court just as anyone should act when they suspect or know someone to be a child rapist.

With the deck stacked in the favor of the abusers, if some of that can be countered by using tools of mockery and draping the neck of priests in general with the albatross of child rape across the shoulders of the guilty, those who shelter the guilty, and maybe a foot of the foul on the the apathetic or entirely innocent it is entirely warranted. The other alternatives aren’t working well enough. They were not interested enough in the rights of children and punishing the guilty, so now they have to deal with the harsh results of the professional choices made previously.

If, on the other hand, as Paster Dennis Meredith has done, they step up or — better — proactively show that they have a moral core that isn’t filled with worms, then they can have such unwarranted scrutiny and mockery removed from their profession as a whole in due time. Till then, they are being complacent, and I don’t think that is unjustified at all.

They are no joke. They are, though, an example of how little religious institutions promote actual moral acts and how they are just institutions like others, and they abuse what leavers they have at their disposal. Religious belief, of course, being a very large leaver.

Call it bigotry. I call it necessary till the problems are actually addressed and as appropriate in a court of law, continually and consistently, and not blamed on the victims.


Hermes October 3, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Zeb, I apologize for not being as clear as I could be in my reply. My comments were cluttered in quite a few places.


Andy October 3, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Thanks for the Maher clip, I wouldn’t have even caught that quick statement of his.

It’s interesting how much he’s changed

“I don’t say I’m an atheist because when you say ‘atheism’ to me that mirrors the certitude of theism. I’m against that.”


“We [Hitchens, Dawkins, and himself] are all atheists which means we don’t believe in a deity, we don’t believe in a magic spaceman, and we think people that do, have a neurological disorder and they need help.”

Sounds like a guy who’s slowly finding his philosophical foundations.


exapologist October 3, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Hi Hermes,

Thanks for the kind words!

Your remarks on the ethics of belief are interesting. I’m inclined to agree with you that there are moral obligations with respect to responsible belief (W.K. Clifford’s famous paper being my touchstone here), although I’m not sure I’m prepared to defend it just now. I’ve read a bit of the ethics of belief literature, and there are some issues to untangle there, but I think that, apart for some tricky cases, Clifford is right (as are you, I think on that general point). The issues then become, “what counts as sufficient evidence?”, and, more fundamentally, “what sorts of things can be evidence?” Well, I’m pretty liberal about what can count as evidence, but my views are by no means settled.

In any case, interesting thoughts!



exapologist October 3, 2010 at 9:32 pm


Thanks for pointing out the broken link; I have now fixed it.



lukeprog October 3, 2010 at 9:40 pm


You may be interested to hear the debate between Andrew Chignell and I on the ethics of belief in a recent episode of CPBD.


exapologist October 3, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Thanks for the reference, Luke. I look forward to listening to that.


MichaelPJ October 4, 2010 at 3:05 am


I hadn’t come across that Clifford paper before; it’s fantastic!


Tshepang Lekhonkhobe October 4, 2010 at 7:36 am

@Luke, regarding visiting the planet, by the time your mind could exist outside your brain, you wouldn’t need any biological body (a badly-designed vessel) at all. If so, you won’t even need a planet that’s today thought of as habitable. I however suspect that you meant that as a joke.

@Hermes, I love the joke about Luke’s potential mates on said planet :-)

BTW, am I the only one who fell for the ever-smiling female alien in ‘Galaxy Quest’?


Hermes October 4, 2010 at 7:56 am

BTW, am I the only one who fell for the ever-smiling female alien in ‘Galaxy Quest’?

I had a girlfriend like that; awkward plain Jane in public, while in private I can’t swear for a fact that she didn’t have tentacles.


Zeb October 4, 2010 at 9:57 am

Luke, bigotry is the unjustified assignment of negative value to a whole group of people. That headline link is bigoted for the same reason the following would be:

“8 Black Men Arrested for Something Other than Selling Crack.”
“8 Muslims Arrested for Something Other than Terrorism.”
“8 Mail Men Arrested for Something Other than Workplace Shootings.”
“8 Uncles Arrested for Something Other than Touching Children.”

The priest headline also plays into traditional anti-Catholic biases. Is there any reason to believe that priests commit sexual abuse of children more than other people, or that they commit crimes other than abuse rarely? The headline implies that there is. Even if there is, it would be still be bigotry to tar all priests with that brush, but maybe bigotry based on statistics is more justified than bigotry based on sensationalism and bias.

Of course there is the problem of perpetuating falsehood in itself, for those whi care about that. And there is the injustice to the innocent priests, which is minor compared to the injustices headline is responding to, but significant for anyone who wants to be completely moral. But the biggest problem I see with this particular bigotry is that by focusing so much on the sensational story of priests abusing young boys, focus is taken away from the much larger problem of abuse by other people against girls and boys, and the survivors of that abuse are not fairly acknowledged and redressed.


Zeb October 4, 2010 at 10:00 am

Hermes, I agree with most of what you say, but like I said above, it is not just innocent priest’s feelings that get hurt by this bigotry.


Hermes October 4, 2010 at 10:26 am

Zeb, I encourage law enforcement at all levels and internationally as well as members of the organizations that have covered up or ignored child rape to do something about the issue. I encourage them to deal with it just as vigorously as as as … wait.

After 5 edits, I can’t think of a single issue short of harboring a serial killer that would be worse than child rape, and I bet there are some people who would consider child rape worse than serial murder. Child pornography maybe? It’s really the same thing as child rape only the number of people in the immediate audience.

To continue …

Maybe if the people with hurt feelings would deal with the issue they would not be focusing on their own hurt feelings? After all, I’m not forcing a penis on them in private using social manipulation techniques based on fear and authority, I’m using words in a public forum and I believe I am using them fairly and accurately.

As I am neither in law enforcement nor in a religious organization, I am not in an ideal position to clean up this mess. Because of that, I think mockery and public scrutiny using words is amply justified. That said, there are some religious people who are acting, and I thank them for that. Clearly, it’s not enough. I would be impressed with the claims about Christian morals more if I actually noticed them in full force on this and other negative impacts — some actively promoted by religious organizations under the false banner of objective morality.


Hermes October 4, 2010 at 11:06 am

Related; Tim Minchin’s Pope Song [lyrics] [song]


Hermes October 4, 2010 at 11:15 am

Zeb, note that my energy is not focused on you. I think that you are justified in questioning if Luke was acting in a bigoted manner as you could question me as well on the same issue as well. I hope that what I have written is enough for you and others to draw your own conclusions.



Zeb October 4, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Hermes, I am not accusing you of bigotry. But if you wanted to make the vase that bigot in the case of abusive priests us morally justified, I’d consider that genuine possibility. I would just want everyone to realize that we are using untrue and unjust statements in the service of a greater good (not that you have made untrue or unjust statements here). Indeed, the unbalanced criticism and penalty the Church has experienced has lead it to adopt very strict policies to prevent abuse, even if they’re not facing past sins, and it has been a wake up call to other institutions that have not yet faced due scrutiny and want to avoid what has happened to the Church. That alone would be worth the price of anti-Catholic bigotry. I just think we should be having a society wide crusade against all abuse, not just against pedophile priests. The prurient side of the sensational focus on priests touching little boys, which is based in both anti-Catholicism and homophobia, distracts from the greater problem of sexual abuse of children and the shocking willingness of adults generally to close their eyes and wish it away, often simply forcing the perpetrator to move to another town and become a pastor, teacher, scout master, coach, or stepfather to other kids. The fact is that it is mostly non-priests who have abused girls who are not prepubescent, but those facts are not as sensational or “funny”, nor do they feed strong traditional biases.


Hermes October 4, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Zeb, good comments.

I don’t think it’s bigotry if it’s intended as a motivator for religions and those sympathetic to them to deal with a real issue.

It’s like telling your friend that he’s a moron for allowing his ‘well trained dog’ to roam the neighborhood after it’s almost bitten a few people. Do I want to just mock them? No. Do I want them to do something? Yes. Do I think that they have not done enough? Certainly. I’m telling them to be a good neighbor and either kill the dog or keep it away from future victims — the training didn’t stick! Is your friend a moron for not dealing with the dog? No, clearly, yet he needs a kick in the pants to deal with the FRIGGEN’ DOG! In the case of these religious groups, they have fed and stroked the dog. They have not put it down. It’s not learning, and neither are they. It’s well past time for putting both dogs and people behind bars. I don’t see how that can be considered bigotry.

As for Catholics specifically, I don’t discriminate. Many religious groups — including non-Christian ones — have no reason to feel proud of their track record. The RCC gives those other groups some smug cover because they are in the news as a single large target. From what I’ve seen, though, most of the abuses seem to be in independent churches. That’s why I appreciated the forthright comments of Paster Dennis Meredith as well as others, and I acknowledge that not all claimed abuses are actually abuses. Yet, they are there.

That said, the Pope is — as Tim Minchin notes in his Pope Song — a bigot himself. Demonstratively, he is, and he is quite bold about it.


Kyle Key October 4, 2010 at 4:40 pm

No one else is talking about it here, but TaiChi’s formulation of the problem of evil is fantastic. Lengthy (for a blog post), but I found it to be rather easy reading for how complex it is.


Zeb October 4, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Good points Hermes. And I would be happy to see priests, bishops, and the pope tried for their accusations, and jailed if found guilty in a fair process. This is not the worst crime leadership have been guilty of in Church history, and imprisonment (even if it were unjustified!) would not be the greatest hardship they have faced. The Church will survive, so the focus should be justice and reform, which require openness and willful vulnerability on the part of the leadership. I just want to make sure people realise child abuse is not a Catholic problem, it is a society wide problem that affects most if not all groups and institutions, including the Church.


Zeb October 4, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Just realized how garbled my next to last message was, from typing on my phone. Sorry.


G'DIsraeli October 5, 2010 at 5:27 am

Hahaha…I don’t know if you read this or how reliable it is, but its ironic and funny…

-Top 10 Anti-Gay Activists Caught Being Gay-


Hermes October 5, 2010 at 5:44 am

I find it interesting that the list of 10 self-hating hypocrites has 14 people on it. I wonder who else they’re missing?

I’m betting on Andrew Shirvell making the list sometime over the next year or two;

For nearly six months, Andrew Shirvell, an assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, has waged an internet campaign against college student Chris Armstrong, the openly gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. [link includes video, judge for yourself!]


Hermes October 6, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Heads up.

One of Michael Behe’s sons is an atheist and is on Reddit answering questions;

Excerpt (intro);

IAmA son of Michael Behe, the Catholic biochemist who coined the term “Irreducible Complexity”. I turned away from my family’s Catholic faith two years ago and am now an outspoken atheist. AMA. (self.IAmA)

submitted 13 hours ago by salty914

The title really says it all. The idea of rejecting or even questioning Catholicism was unheard of in my family. Naturally, there was a LOT of social backlash, which I’ll address based on any questions from my fellow Redditors.

One request I’d like to make is to please not let this turn into a “fuck yeah atheism” circlejerk. I’d really enjoy explaining to atheists and theists alike (especially Christians, that being the religion I rejected) why I reached the conclusion that religion was not credible after seventeen years of rather aggressive indoctrination.


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