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Believing In Dumb, Unproven Crap Can Kill
Or needlessly prolong a lot of sick people's suffering. And why shouldn't we have federally funded stem cell research -- just as we have federally funded cancer research? Get Parkinson's, then talk about how the research should only be privately funded. Here's the brilliant Sam Harris on the idiocy of believing in god, in Newsweek:

It is, of course, taboo to criticize a person's religious beliefs. The problem, however, is that much of what people believe in the name of religion is intrinsically divisive, unreasonable and incompatible with genuine morality. One of the worst things about religion is that it tends to separate questions of right and wrong from the living reality of human and animal suffering. Consequently, religious people will devote immense energy to so-called moral problems—such as gay marriage—where no real suffering is at issue, and they will happily contribute to the surplus of human misery if it serves their religious beliefs.

A case in point: embryonic-stem-cell research is one of the most promising developments in the last century of medicine. It could offer therapeutic breakthroughs for every human ailment (for the simple reason that stem cells can become any tissue in the human body), including diabetes, Parkinson's disease, severe burns, etc. In July, President George W. Bush used his first veto to deny federal funding to this research. He did this on the basis of his religious faith. Like millions of other Americans, President Bush believes that "human life starts at the moment of conception." Specifically, he believes that there is a soul in every 3-day-old human embryo, and the interests of one soul—the soul of a little girl with burns over 75 percent of her body, for instance—cannot trump the interests of another soul, even if that soul happens to live inside a petri dish. Here, as ever, religious dogmatism impedes genuine wisdom and compassion.

A 3-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. The truth is that President Bush's unjustified religious beliefs about the human soul are, at this very moment, prolonging the scarcely endurable misery of tens of millions of human beings.

Given our status as a superpower, our material wealth and the continuous advancements in our technology, it seems safe to say that the president of the United States has more power and responsibility than any person in history. It is worth noting, therefore, that we have elected a president who seems to imagine that whenever he closes his eyes in the Oval Office—wondering whether to go to war or not to go to war, for instance—his intuitions have been vetted by the Creator of the universe. Speaking to a small group of supporters in 1999, Bush reportedly said, "I believe God wants me to be president." Believing that God has delivered you unto the presidency really seems to entail the belief that you cannot make any catastrophic mistakes while in office. One question we might want to collectively ponder in the future: do we really want to hand the tiller of civilization to a person who thinks this way?

Religion is the one area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give good evidence and valid arguments in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet these beliefs regularly determine what they live for, what they will die for and—all too often—what they will kill for. Consequently, we are living in a world in which millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales. We are living in a world in which millions of Muslims believe that there is nothing better than to be killed in defense of Islam. We are living in a world in which millions of Christians hope to soon be raptured into the stratosphere by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy a sacred genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history. In a world brimming with increasingly destructive technology, our infatuation with religious myths now poses a tremendous danger. And it is not a danger for which more religious faith is a remedy.

Harris' new book is Letter To A Christian Nation, now available for only $9.79 at Amazon. Believe in god? Why not get it and let him talk some sense into you?

During my Pajamas Media interviews the other night, I was with a woman from Pajamas -- a very nice woman -- who heard me get into it with a couple of religious nutters on camera because she was the one operating the camera. They were talking about how it's wrong to allow gays to be parents. Yeah? Maybe their preacher tells them that, but that's not what Judith Stacey's data says, just to name one researcher.

I didn't know my fellow blogger's beliefs until afterward, when I was talking about how horrible the women's beliefs were, vis a vis what wonderful parents the Lofton's in Florida obviously made (the big case Judith Stacey was involved in). I was shocked when she said, "Yeah, but I still believe homosexuality's a sin." To me, this is like saying, "Sure, I could go to the doctor for my tumor, but I think I'll just drop by the witch doctor's and have him put some tomato paste on it and say a few words of mumbo-jumbo!"

And, how come religious people believe homosexuality's a sin, but they don't believe people should be, say, stoned for eating prawns -- another "abomination" in Leviticus?

Here it is from a Brit commenter on another site:

In response to whether I believe that traditional Christian views on eating prawns are the same as hating people who eat prawns...

Its complicated, I believe in a tolerant liberal society.

Therefore a Christian who believes that prawn-eating is sinful should be tolerant of the fact that there are prawn-eating people who engage in lawful prawn eating. While remains perfectly acceptable for a Christian to maintain the private belief that prawn eating is sinful whilst at the same time upholding the rights for prawn-eating people to live their lives freely in the public sphere.

Many Christians who I meet and engage with in my role as editor of and as a columinst continue to maintain that eating prawns is sinful (based on Leviticus rather than Christ's own teachings). However, on the whole, they respect the liberty of prawn-eating people to live their lives in a free way. In a liberal society we must all tolerate beliefs and practices that we do not subscribe to. On that basis, I continue to tolerate those who privately view my actions as sinful.

The course of action, I recommend to the Conservative party is therefore to encourage its members to recognise the two spheres that they operate in. In their private lives, within their homes and families they can maintain that eating prawns is sinful, but when selecting candidates or themselves holding public office, they must be tolerant of prawn eating and just about every other legal practice that those in society engage in. Including gay sex.

Posted by aalkon at November 9, 2006 8:32 AM

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My understanding, based on conversations with relatives who are Christian (I am not), is that the rules and prohibitions in Leviticus apply only to Jews. Christians don't consider an act to be a sin merely because it violates one of those rules. They consider homosexuality sinful because it's condemned in the New Testament. Eating prawns is not.

Posted by: Rex Little at November 9, 2006 9:48 AM

Okay, as somebody who isn't "taking it on faith," I may be a little light in the bible knowledge department -- but surely there's other equally ridiculous stuff in the New Testament that gets ignored. And FYI, according to the talk I heard this summer from behavioral ecologist Marlene Zuk at the Human Behavior & Evolution Society Conference, it seems likely that Jewish prohibitions against eating pork cause a Jewish predisposition to come down with Crohn's Disease. Religion is, in so many ways, backward, primitive, and counterproductive.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 9, 2006 4:04 PM

Religion is, in so many ways, backward, primitive, and counterproductive.

Oh, no argument there. I am a touch skeptical about that Crohn's Disease thing though, until I see some evidence. First, I'm Jewish by ancestry, and I never heard of any such tendency before. (The only person I ever knew with Crohn's was Lutheran.) Second, there are other groups, such as Muslims, whose beliefs forbid pork, and still others who simply never get it in their diets. Are they all predisposed to Crohn's?

Posted by: Rex Little at November 9, 2006 5:14 PM

Zuk spoke of people who don't eat pork having a predisposition to Crohn's. I don't think she singled out Jews, although I don't seem to have my HBES conference notes from her talk on the computer I'm on at the moment. JV Weinstock has had success in getting 75 percent of the people in his study into Crohn's remission by giving them a solution of pig whipworm in Gatorade. Search "zuk" in my blog search window - and you'll find details on that and Marlene Zuk's talk.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 9, 2006 5:34 PM

Here's a link about Jews and Crohn's:

Incidence in People of Jewish Descent Although environmental factors clearly contribute, these is strong evidence from studies of twins and affected families that Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), especially Crohn's disease, has a genetic basis. Research has shown evidence of a genetic predisposition to a chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IDB) among Jewish individuals of Eastern European descent.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is two-to-eight times more common in Ashkenazi Jews. Genetic factors inherited from the mother may play an important role in predisposing these individuals to Crohn's disease. Crohn's disease occurs in all ethnic groups and races. However, its incidence is highest in Caucasians and Jewish people of Eastern European (Ashkenazi Jews.) The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America estimates that over 2 million Americans suffer from some form of inflammatory equal incidence of IBD in males and females.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 9, 2006 5:36 PM

South Park wisdom:

"It's not enough to be logical and rational. You have to be a dick to everyone who doesn't believe the same thing."


Posted by: Speedy at November 9, 2006 8:12 PM

I always get a laugh out of the Christers who claim that some of the outlandish prohibitions of the Old Testament are not too be taken all that seriously. Their Super Hero JC says in Matthew 5:17/18: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." In a nutshell, JC is saying that all the OT bullshit is TRUE and not to be changed! So stop eating pork and picking up sticks on the Sabbath day or your ass is in big trouble! (and we aren't talking about the ass Christ rode into town on)

Posted by: Bill Henry at November 10, 2006 3:30 AM

I find your fire and brimestone arguments, and those you call "authorities" uncompelling. Saying that Bush is causing tens of millions to suffer needlessly is laughable. Stem cell research goes on worldwide in the private sector and that's where breakthroughs have and will continue to happen.

I find your expert's argument a shining example of giving away power to a powerful father figure.

Posted by: Webutuante at November 10, 2006 4:39 AM

But, as long as we have public sector research in many, many other areas, there should be public sector research in stem cells as well. It can't hurt to spend money on, say, stem cell research instead of abstinence classes, which have been shown not to work. (Kids have sex a year and a half later, but are unprotected.)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 10, 2006 5:15 AM

Add to which, if stem-cell funding is really morally wrong, it doesn't matter if it's being financed by public or private money. And seeing as most of the research done on stem cells will just get thrown away anyway, every argument against federal funding breaks down pretty fast.

That said, though, the way stem cell advocates talk about it, the lack of federal funding is all that's preventing us from developng a cure to cancer, AIDS, Lou Gehrig's disease, avian flu, erectile dysfunction, love handles, male pattern baldness, acne, constipation, hangovers, and ear hair in the next month, and having over-the-counter treatments for the aforementioned problems by the New Year. Stem cell research will probably help medical science, but it's no silver bullet.


Posted by: Speedy at November 10, 2006 10:11 AM

To be fair, the government cn stir up a whole lot more money than many private companies combined.

And the more people and resorces comited to a project, the faster results are gained.

Posted by: lujlp at November 10, 2006 11:49 AM

> federal funding is all that's
> preventing us from
> developng a cure to ...


> To be fair, the government cn stir
> up a whole lot more money than
> many private companies

No one has ever been so horridly wrong in so few words. Kings weep and emperors tremble before the power of a free market.

Today I was thinking about how ridiculously, absurdly inexpensive optical media have become. Ten or fifteen years ago, digital disks recording faultless audio became cheaper than audio casettes that were just so-so. Nowadays, people pass around 4-gigabyte files like business cards.

So it is with blood pressure, meds, boner pills, and all the rest.

Posted by: Crid at November 10, 2006 3:30 PM

Are you people atheist?
I am 16 and was searching for prawns on google.
Religion can help people group together and help one another but you have to donate :{.I believe we need stem-cell research for the future but corporate giants cant work with people that are healthier and better than before. They don't like the competition.I hope this doesnt offend anyone but i believe that most of the solutions to all the worlds problems come from a lower population (50% of current), efficient use of products and believe it or not, genetic superiority as a basis for classes (as long as everyone works equally intellectually and physically).

Posted by: Anonymous reader at November 18, 2006 3:01 AM

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