Skepchick Quickies 6.3

On June 3, 1965, NASA launched Gemini 4 on the first multi-day space mission. One of the highlights of the mission was the first American space walk. (If going to space sounds fun to you, you probably have not considered that the astronauts use the bathroom via a tube, as outlined in Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars.)


Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. but the self-expressing standard of goodness and objective truth towards which our reason is oriented, and in which it is fulfilled, an entity that does not robotically control our morality, but is rather the source of our capacity for moral perception, a perception that requires development and formation through the conscientious exercise of free will.

    A source for our capacity for moral perception?

    I find my source for my capacity for moral perception comes from empathy, with heavy a dose of self-awareness thrown in. Compassion, too. And consideration. But, mostly, empathy.

  2. I hit this paragraph in the first article and stopped reading.

    “First, morality. Non-theistic morality, to my mind, tended towards two equally problematic camps: either it was subjective to the point of meaninglessness or, when followed logically, entailed intuitively repulsive outcomes, such as Sam Harris’s stance on torture. But the most appealing theories which could circumvent these problems, like virtue ethics, often did so by presupposing the existence of God. Before, with my caricatured understanding of theism, I’d considered that nonsensical. Now, with the more detailed understanding I was starting to develop, I wasn’t so sure.”

    What does that even mean? This paragraph is arrogantly vague, and doesn’t even address the arguments that most atheists put forth about morality… that morality is based on logical humanist principles, and that religion borrowed the best ones from humanism, not the other way around. Simple principles like “the freedom to extend your arm stops at my nose”, “do what you like, as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else”, etc, are incredibly solid humanistic arguments for how logic defined morality, and yet the author fails to even try to address these specifics. Better to dismiss those arguments rather than take them head on. And since when does virtue ethics presume the existence of God in any argument?

    I have a problem when someone essentially looks at your well formed argument and says “well your arguments are poop and I don’t like them!” and storms off to be a Catholic.

    1. HAHAH! I was just about to copy/paste the same exactly freakin’ paragraph. This is also at the point at which I stopped reading. Then I walked away, came back to the open tab, re-read it, and went ARE YOU SERIOUS?

      The irony of her usage of “meaningless” is not lost on me…

      1. I’m against the death penalty, but writing like that gives me pause. Could her head be any further up her own ass?

        “Acquainting myself fully with Thomistic-Aristotelian ideas, I found them to be a valid explanation of the natural world, and one on which atheist philosophers had failed to make a coherent assault.” When will the atheist philosophers finally understand how well the Five Elements and geocentrism explain the natural world?

  3. What are your thoughts on this?

    It seems to be mostly BS.

    but the infuriating thing about Catholicism is its coherency: once you accept the basic conceptual structure, things fall into place with terrifying speed. “The Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole,” wrote Edith Stein in The Science of the Cross: “If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others.” The beauty and authenticity of even the most ostensibly difficult parts of Catholicism, such as the sexual ethics, became clear once they were viewed not as a decontextualised list of prohibitions, but as essential components in the intricate body of the Church’s teaching.

    If you want consistensy, I guess that any well-written fiction universe will bring it to you. Real life is not like that, specially with ethics. You can’t just become an atheist and rely on Dawkins or Sam Harris. You have to admit that no one has all the answers. It sounds to me that wha the author wanted was just that, something that gave her all the answers and was ‘consistent’ even though it is false.

    1. The bible universe isn’t even freakin’ consistent, nor is it applied consistently to anything whatsoever. That’s what gets me. O_o

      1. Haha, yes, there are 2 versions of the origin story in Genesis and different stories about Jesus’ crucifixion. I actually enjoy reading scholarly studies abiut the Bible, it’s so fascinatingly inconsistant!

        1. Not even sure why we’re supposed to be listening to her: 1 Timothy 2:15 —
          12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence.
          13 For Adam was first formed; then Eve.
          14 And Adam was not seduced; but the woman being seduced, was in the transgression.
          15 Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.

        2. Dr Robert Price, The Bible Geek, has made the argument that apologists are able to say the bible is a unified whole because they’ve written entire encyclopedias on “apparent’ contradictions and how to pass them off. “Now let explain about that…”

          1. It’s the Biblical equivalent of Marvel Comics’ “No-Prize”!

      2. Catholic theologians have been hammering on the Bible for 1600 years in order to explain its inconsistencies and deliver a consistent set of teachings. How well they succeeded is debatable, but one can see the world through Catholic stained-glass spectacles without too much cognitive dissonance. That Catholicism fails a large number of reality checks — from the basis of its tenets through the modern consequences of its moral code — is, alas, immaterial to true believers. They’d rather have something consistent and unchanging than something demonstrably correct.

        There’s no truly “objective” point of view that we know of; facts are messy, absolute knowledge is impossible, and secular ethics are a hodgepodge of heuristics. We’ve resigned ourselves to the world as it appears to be, but believers cling to the world as they’d like it to be.

        1. The notion that Catholics (or any religious people) have had a “consistent” moral code is a joke. They once condoned slavery. Now, they don’t. If we wanted, we could go on listing shifting moral positions like this for days. Their position on any given issue would track with the ethics of the wider culture. Everyone’s ethics are a product of their time and place. Religion doesn’t magically help you escape that. We’re all stuck wrestling with ethical dilemmas. It’s childish to expect to find a shortcut.

    2. I find most popular fictional universes a lot more coherent and consistent than the bible. The worst glitch in Star Trek canon is the somewhat sloppy split of the JJ Abrams film universe from the original prime timeline. Even that’s constrained to relatively minor quibbles like “Why does the USS Kelvin look like the post-temporal event ships rather than the prime timeline ships of its era?” or “How did a temporal event 250 years after he was frozen and launched into space cause Khan to shift from generic Asian to Caucasian Brit?” That’s nothing compared to the continuity issues in the four gospels alone.

      One of the great and terrible things about being an atheist is that there is no orthodoxy, and there is no dogma. We are all free to have our own interpretation of everything, which is great. At the same time, trying to get the entire community together on an issue is like herding cats, which is sometimes not so good. Whoever thinks there is an atheist orthodoxy has never watched the atheist community argue over feminism, moral relativity, how adversarial we should be towards religion, etc, etc, etc.

  4. As a Catholic who became an atheist, I am not surprised by the sophistry. Every single instance of that testament is about plausibility, coherence, authenticity, consistency, validity and logic wrapped in grad student language for which a Jesuit prof might nod approvingly … all great for thought experiments at Villanova I guess. Nothing about the presupposition of her version of God is described as demonstrable, repeatably observable and evident to a variety of impartial observers. Logic can only get you so far when you essentially use an extant god to prove a god exists. As the old “proof” goes, if 0=1, I am the pope.

    And, as per the usual, there’s nothing about how Catholicism compares to OTHER exclusive faith traditions. Just the “ONE TRUE CHURCH (TM)” versus atheism. Boy, it must be terrible being as morally bankrupt and illogical as Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Mormons, Baptists, Methodists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostalists, Amish, Mennonites, Hindus, Buddhists…they’re just as lost and “drifting” like atheists I suppose.

    I’ll stick with my sexual ethics not being intricately part of a medieval institution that still allowed an admitted sexual predator priest to be around children (from my old Archdiocese no less) as recently as last year DESPITE the restrictions placed on him from his plea deal in 2007.

    1. Having been taught by Jesuits, I eventually learned to see beyond their logical smoke screens and underhanded debate tactics (somewhat). When you examine Catholic core tenets, it’s basically tortured interpretations of Biblical verses duck-taped together with medieval logic, buttressed with centuries of tradition, and papered over with retcons. The phrases “it’s a Mystery” and “it’s a matter of Faith” crop up a LOT. It’s an impressive edifice, one that puts televangelists and self-appointed moral guardians to shame, but Catholicism is just as hollow as any other revealed religion.

      I rejected Catholicism based on modern science and epistemology alone, before I was even aware of the Church’s many, many hypocrisies. The flaws of the Church don’t necessarily invalidate its message. Its message invalidates itself the moment you look outside its walls.

      1. My apologies…I’m projecting of course from a time I attempted going back for a masters in English Lit and found myself adding 3 layers of jargon to what was essentially a book report. Prof loved it and I decided to stay out of academia heh.

  5. I really couldn’t give a damn what Megan Hodder believes. Who knows? Maybe her new found faith will lead her to do positive things in her life and others. However, if she is not merely a “cherry picking” Christian but accepts the Bible in its entirety, then what will she do with her religion? Even if she believes the earth is flat, all I care about is whether she will take the path of prosetlyizing and oppression of others ie. atheists, women, non-Christians, homosexuals, etc.. Megan, believe in whatever you like. Believe that the moon is made of cheese if that will give you a moral foundation. Just don’t shove that crap onto others.

    1. The thing that bothers Protestants about Catholics (and Orthodox Christians, I suspect) is that they look no only to the Bible but to centuries of reinterpretation and tradition entirely outside the Bible. Few if any Catholics accept the Bible as literally, 100% true … but doctrines of the Church, no matter their source, are theoretically 100% true. Having said that, most if not all Catholics fudge inconvenient doctrines if not reject them outright. Outside the priesthood fanatics like Santorum are comparatively rare, at least in the States.

      1. I’ve encountered more than a few such fanatics in my own travels. They can’t be that rare.

      1. Stretching the truth in your melodramatic “conversion” story is par for the course. “I was sooooooooooooooooooo lost!”

  6. I think Megan Hodder’s essay is mostly a load of crap. She’s obviously just traded one form of “orthodoxy” for another, more real form. But I do think she makes one, teeny point that’s worth considering:

    “What I still did not understand was how a theology that operated in harmony with human reason could simultaneously be, in Benedict XVI’s words, “a theology grounded in biblical faith”. I’d always assumed that sola scriptura (“scripture alone”), with its evident shortcomings and fallacies, was how all consistent, believing Christians read the Bible. So I was surprised to discover that this view could be refuted just as robustly from a Catholic standpoint – reading the Bible through the Church and its history, in light of Tradition – as from an atheist one.”

    This and some of her other statements lead me to believe one of her reasons for becoming Catholic are because is that she realized that there are some intelligent people who are also Catholic. A lame reason? Yes. But, I think it does speak to the idea that it’s very important how we treat people of faith, and I don’t mean that just from an ethical perspective. I don’t see this as a big problem on Skepchick, but I think it’s a pervasive problem in the atheist/humanist communities as a whole that too often people of faith are depicted as completely without the capacity for intelligent thought. I don’t want to start a debate about how we should go about arguing with the faithful, or whether we should be mean or nice or whatever. I think many of the pernicious ideas of Catholicism and other religions should be ridiculed and argued against vehemently. But, in the same way that evangelical churches often lose followers when they realize that not all atheists are baby-eaters (or whatever), it’s important to not demonize people of faith in the same way.

  7. “I was presented with a God who was the Logos: not a supernatural dictator crushing human reason, but the self-expressing standard of goodness and objective truth towards which our reason is oriented, and in which it is fulfilled, an entity that does not robotically control our morality, but is rather the source of our capacity for moral perception, a perception that requires development and formation through the conscientious exercise of free will.”

    See guys? God doesn’t control people like a dictator, he just defines our morals for us, determines what information we have access to, and decides what qualifies as truth! Totally different.

    I think her main problem (provided she’s being honest in this piece) is that she went from atheist polemicists to Catholic theory, making the argument about who sounds more reasonable of the two sides of a heated debate, instead of actually looking for truth. A real evaluation of the validity of Catholic doctrine requires you to determine whether the foundations of the faith are plausibly valid in the first place, before you evaluate their internal consistency. Did Jesus/Adam/Noah/Moses actually exist in the first place? Do we actually have free will? Is a creator necessary to explain our existence? Can such a thing as “me” exist apart from my body? Etc etc.

    1. making the argument about who sounds more reasonable of the two sides of a heated debate, instead of actually looking for truth.

      Who sounds more reasonable to her, anyway.

      This whole thing is fishy. She is fishy.

  8. It is worth noting that Megan is 19 or 20 (in the 4th paragraph, she writes that she was 8 on 9/11), so her “grad student language” and infatuation with a system of thought that seems to offer absolute moral grounding are entirely age appropriate. Give her a chance to get over the new-convert stage, throw a copy of Plato’s “Euthyphro” at her, and let her mellow out. She may still be a Christian in 10 years, but if she is as curious as she claims to be, she may then look back at this article with a certain level of embarrassment.

  9. I agree with the conclusion of the article on atheism, actually. There are a lot of atheists out there who are just following the zeitgeist, or were raised as atheists and haven’t given their belief system much evaluation, or are just being contrary, or crave victim status in our society, or are merely at a waypoint in their deconversion process until they find another faith that is more palatable to them. If those atheists never learn the tools of critical thinking and skepticism, many of them will embrace new faiths and discard their atheism for the same reasons that theists retain their beliefs now. It’s entirely possible for atheism to be “just another faith” in the sense that people adopt it as part of their identity for the same reasons.

    1. In that case, people who arrive at their religious beliefs via critical thinking and skepticism must be totally justified , huh? And I guess according to your logic, skepticism could be “just another faith” because some people just say “WHY?” constantly like 2-year-olds and pretend that’s critical thinking.

      I think you’re giving theists too much credit when they say atheism is “just another faith.” They’re not claiming the words you’re putting in their mouths. They’re saying that atheism is just another belief system, as if all belief systems are created equal. They do this to prop up their own religious beliefs, not to encourage atheists to be more critical and skeptical. I agree with you that atheists–in fact, all people–should embrace critical and skeptical thinking, but just because you find some atheists who don’t do that doesn’t mean atheism is a faith.

      1. I think you should practice reading what is written rather than projecting your own insecurities all over it. I am not giving theists “too much credit” because I am not giving theists any credit at all. My comment was not a speculation as to why theists say something. If it were I would have said so. I think I explained pretty thoroughly how atheism can function just like any other faith in a person’s life so I’m not going to bother to repeat myself. If you can tell me what part of my ACTUAL COMMENT confused you instead of imagining something I didn’t even hint at, I’ll try to clarify for you.

        As to your whole first paragraph, I can only respond “wut?”

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