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The danger of being swamped by confident idiots

 The danger of being swamped by confident idiots – The AIM Network 8 November 2016

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Five years ago, who’d have thought Donald Trump would be the leader of the free world? Truth may be stranger than fiction, but if there’s any lesson here, it’s that too many people prefer fiction to the truth. Conspiracy theories have gripped the public imagination to such an extent that a dangerous novice stands at the White House lawn.

Acting as a mirror for America’s anger, prejudices and grandiose delusions, he relies on the public consuming a diet of lies, conspiracy and misinformation. Working back from whatever outcome would “make American great again, Trump proposes ideas and solutions on the fly – building a $25 billion wall, or deporting 11 million immigrants – seemingly unconcerned with how implausible, dangerous, or just plain stupid these ideas might be. An egomaniac who believes his own latest thought bubble is good enough to become policy for the world’s most powerful country, may soon learning how to operate the nuclear codes.

But evidently, stupidity knows no borders. Closer to home, we have One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, who’s still enthralled by the vintage conspiracy theory that Jewish International Bankers control the world. He may have read Pauline Hanson’s ironically titled book, The Truth, in which she supports the crazy paranoia about the “New World Order”.

Since that déjà vu moment, when her quavering falsetto echoed through the Senate chamber, informing us that we’re in danger of being swamped by Muslims (not Asians), her support has quadrupled.

Mysteriously, the conspicuous failure of Asians to overrun us, hasn’t dampened Hanson’s confidence, or fatally wounded her credibility. Quite the opposite, in fact. Why is this so?

An answer may be found in the Dunning-Kruger effect: the curious phenomenon of “confident idiots” emboldened by their own ignorance, rather than cautioned by it.

The 1999 Dunning-Kruger study found those armed with low metacognitive skills grossly overestimated their own competence in metacognitive tasks. Those with test scores in the 12th percentile estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.

And so, according to David Dunning, those with intellectual deficits are often “blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge”.

This hasn’t passed through history unremarked: Recall Shakespeare – “a fool thinks himself to be wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”.

As Dunning states:

“Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack…”

The Dunning-Kruger effect applies to all humans. Beleaguered by an impressive array of confirmation biases which evolved to allow us to survive in a bewildering world of imperfect knowledge, we’ve adapted in ways which compensate for the gaps by applying greater certainty. The effect is something to be conscious of and to guard against.

Misbeliefs, according to Dunning, arise from cherished ideals, “narratives about the self, ideas about the social order—that essentially cannot be violated”.

“And any information that we glean from the world is amended, distorted, diminished, or forgotten in order to make sure that these sacrosanct beliefs remain whole and unharmed”.

Scorn of scientific expertise represents the hallmark of the “confident idiot”. Climate change denial has become the bellwether of a conspiracy theory epidemic, which has taken hold of many otherwise intelligent people. Luminaries such as Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt think climate change is part of a one world government conspiracy, aided and abetted by the United Nations, our own Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO. But somehow they are apparently embarrassed by Malcom Roberts assertions that’s it’s all a NASA cover up. Alternatively, Donald Trump thinks the global warming hoax was created by “the Chinese to make U.S manufacturing non-competitive”.

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Increasingly, the ability to discard inconvenient truths, to suspend belief in scientific fact, and to succumb to half-truths and spin, becomes a necessary skill-set used to choose whatever belief butters our bread, or suits our biases. Google provides an easy way of aligning the world to suit one’s prejudices: using the wrong-way round research method of finding the argument to suit the conclusion. Just by falling down a hole in the internet, crackpot theorist’s such as Flat Earthers, 9/11-Truthers, Chem-trailers, and Anti-Vaxxers, can find all the “empirical evidence” they need.

Science is not above reproach, or immutable. But its limits are well established enough. Adhering to established scientific fact should be a prerequisite for participating in public debate. Political correctness might have gone too far, but it’s consequences pale in comparison to scientific incorrectness.

Hopefully, Donald Trump won’t become President of the United States and we’ll look back on his candidacy as a grotesque caricature which appeared briefly, and then floated away, like a blimp at New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But the 50 million or so US citizens who’ll vote for Trump represent a more widespread malaise in critical thinking.

Muslims or Mexicans aren’t about to “swamp” us anytime soon. But we needn’t consult our tea leaves or call a psychic to recognise the danger posed by the Dunning-Kruger effect, and to wonder why we’re not doing more to mitigate the influence of confident idiots.

Religious Candles and Cross --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

What Parents aren’t told about Connect Religious Lessons: The Vampires of Religious Instruction and the Contest for the Souls of Children

What parents aren’t told about the  #Connect #religiousinstruction lessons – Hunting Little Souls: The Vampires of Religious Instruction – @NewMatilda 21 June 2016

Parents who thought religious instruction was benign have been misled by both a lack of oversight, and the ratcheting up of evangelising in the materials. Most school websites inadvertently mislead parents by reassuring them the RI program mustn’t proselytise.

Parents see only a sanitised version of lesson aims, and since they have no idea of the confronting and proselytising nature of the content, the program fails to satisfy the basic requirements of informed consent.

Lax enrolment procedures ensure a far greater percentage of children attend these classes than are approved. The program is Opt-out rather than Opt-in, and in QLD there’s no Ethics or secular alternative. Secular Public Education advocate Ron Williams says,

On a weekly basis we receive an ongoing stream of complaints from parents who have had their children placed into religious instruction contrary to their clearly stated wishes within the Education Queensland enrolment form.

These appalling circumstances must not be allowed to continue. It is most urgent that religious instruction in Queensland public schools be suspended immediately.

“These books are about vampires”, begins the Connect religious instruction lesson for seven to nine year old children, introducing the well-known “Twilight” series of vampire novels, well known for their blend of eroticism and horror.

Recommended for ages 13 and over, the series follows the trials of Bella Swan, who falls in love with the pale but good-looking vampire, Edward Cullen. It tells of his struggle to resist the strong sexual desire aroused by the scent of Bella’s blood, and his choice to protect her from a coven of evil vampires.

“Some of your older brothers and sisters, or even your parents, may have read these books,” the lesson continues.

The Connect religious instruction (RI) program is produced by the Sydney Anglican group Youthworks, and is widely used in NSW and QLD.

“Who can tell me what they think a vampire is?” the class are asked.

“In these made-up stories about vampires how do you think someone becomes a scary vampire?”

“Accept responses. A vampire bites them and drinks their blood, the person dies and then the person comes to life again but this time they are not a person, they are a vampire”.

The Christian fascination with the vampire myth relates to the inversion of the communion sacrament. The human immortality resulting from drinking the blood of Christ is contrasted with the immortality of drinking human blood and belonging to a fallen, demonic world.

Twilight’s author, Stephenie Meyer uses her Mormon faith to infuse the series with themes of sexual abstinence, evil, and immortality.

 

 (The Connect Lesson on Vampires)

“There aren’t any vampires in the Bible because the Bible is not a made-up book – it is a book containing facts”, the Connect lesson continues.

“But there are some true stories in the Bible about people dying and then coming back to life again and we’re going to look at one now”.

Evidently, the point of the lesson is to emphasize the authority of the Bible. A fundamentalist adherence to the literal truth of scripture is a key element of Connect: “To understand that the Bible is God’s word: that it is historically reliable and still relevant today.”

The program emphasizes the literal truth of familiar Bible stories such as Adam and Eve, and Noah’s Ark. Connect refers to the story of Jesus turning water into wine as: “a true story…Jesus really did this; it wasn’t a magic trick.”

The authors apparently have no scruples with using violent and age inappropriate material to generate interest in the Bible.

Recent media reports have highlighted lessons threatening children they “will die” if they’re selfish, and asking them to roleplay the beheading in the David and Goliath story. Young children are denigrated as “sinners” deserving of punishment, and compared to dirty towels in need of cleansing.

The grisly material stands at odds with the protests of conservative religious groups about violent and pornographic material in video games and movies.

But the gravest concern is the contest for children’s souls – the explicit focus of the Youthworks Connect RI program.

 

(screenshot from Youthworks website)

Youthworks’ own website says that “the discipleship of children, youth and families is at the heart of everything we do.”

Making disciples “is why we exist”, they say.

Queensland RI policy prohibits proselytising, defined as “soliciting a student for a decision to change their religious affiliation”.

Vampires seeking to claim the souls of innocents is a ghastly, nightmarish thought: one that should frighten parents and children alike.

Read more..

 

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It’s time for an inquiry into the contents of religious instruction in Qld schools

It’s time for an inquiry into the contents of # religious instruction in # Qld schools

The horrifying religious instruction classes planned for Qld schools – Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Brisbane Times 20 April 2016.

Following publication of this article, Youthworks has withdrawn the class on David and Goliath, as per Buzzfeed: This Christian School Program Was Teaching “Beheading Lessons”

The immediate withdrawal of the program highlights how obviously inappropriate it is. It also raises a red flag – how many other lessons are similarly barbaric, age inappropriate or overtly evangelical?

The Qld Department of Education and Training has advised “Principals can suspend program delivery until any issues are resolved”.

According to the Daily Mail Australia, A Department of Education and Training spokesman said:

‘If parents of participating students have concerns with the content or delivery of religious instructions (RI), they are encouraged to raise this with their school principal.

‘RI programs are provided by a religious denomination or society (known as a faith group), not the Department of Education and Training,’ the spokesperson said.

‘RI is only to be provided to students from Year 1 in state primary, secondary and special schools whose parents have nominated the faith group on enrolment, or to students whose parents have given written permission for their child to attend.

‘Parents can change their preference for their child to participate in RI or other instruction at any time by notifying the school in writing. Principals can suspend program delivery until any issues are resolved.’

This creates a new and impractical onus on each school principal to review religious instruction content. If this content is available for one hour per week, in all Queensland schools, then DET should be monitoring it. It’s part of our school education system.

Visit the Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools facebook page for more information.

The moral of the lesson is to teach students to 'recognise that it was God who defeated the Philistines through David' and 'appreciate that God saves his people in unexpected ways' (stock image)

(image courtesy Daily Mail Australia)

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End The Safe Schools Hysteria, Start A Parliamentary Enquiry Into Religious Instruction

End The Safe Schools Hysteria, Start A Parliamentary Enquiry Into Religious Instruction

A life size Noah's Ark, built in the Netherlands and now operating as a tourist attraction. (IMAGE: bert knottenbeld, Flickr)

A life size Noah’s Ark, built in the Netherlands and now operating as a tourist attraction. (IMAGE: bert knottenbeld, Flickr, courtesy New Matilda)

 

Just over a month since the kids went back to school, and it’s the easily distracted adults having conniptions over the curriculum. Fact-resistant back of the class blowhards, such as George Christensen, demand a parliamentary enquiry into the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.

Outrage has been manufactured out of the program’s allegedly ideological agenda – that is, ideas and beliefs which are contested. The schoolyard is once again the battleground of our ongoing culture war.

Meanwhile religious instruction (RI) classes commenced again. These involve faith-based groups presenting the ideas and beliefs of their religion. That these involve contested ideas and beliefs is demonstrable by the large numbers of parents opting out their children.

If there’s a parliamentary enquiry into Safe Schools, by the same irrevocable logic, there must be one into religious instruction.

It’s undesirable to divide classes so that some receive RI and some do other non-curricular activities. Consider the absurdity of an “overcrowded” curriculum containing countless hours of squandered class time due to contested beliefs.

Given religious instruction isn’t acceptable to all, we should question what its benefits are.

According to the Queensland Government policy statement, RI encourages “students to develop as a whole person, in particular, in beliefs, values and attitudes”.

Notwithstanding the idiotic and discriminatory claim that we must entertain religious ideas to be “whole” persons, the very next statement is startlingly at odds with it: “State schools respect the background and beliefs of all students and staff by not promoting, or being perceived as promoting, any particular set of beliefs in preference to another”.

Well may we wonder what theological gymnastics are employed to help students develop beliefs, without promoting any beliefs.

How many parents know what their child is taught in RI? Despite the requirement to provide parents with detailed information, most schools leave parents in the dark.

Most are Christian classes using teaching materials developed by evangelical Christian groups, promoting a “sin and salvation” message.

The Year 6 “BIG QUESTIONS” program from the Connect Bible based curriculum advises instructors:

Many students will have no awareness that they stand guilty before God… They will probably have little understanding of just how seriously God takes sin and how greatly they, personally, have offended him.

I’ve no doubt many parents, Christians included, would have serious reservations about telling their children they’ve “personally” offended God.

It may be helpful to refer them to the story of Noah and how seriously God dealt with the sinfulness of the world then.

Students are encouraged to learn that the Bible is God’s word: that it is historically reliable and still relevant today.

Note the befuddling of beliefs and facts happening before our children’s eyes.

Is the preposterous story of Noah’s Ark “historically reliable”? Paraphrasing biologist Richard Dawkins: how did those marsupials hop from Mt. Ararat en masse, and settle exclusively in Australia leaving no trace anywhere else?

Read more here…

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Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatory

Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatoryBrisbane Times 14/03/16

When I found out my eight-year-old had been taught at school that there’s no God, I was shocked.

Well, actually, it’s the opposite: I’m an atheist and in Religious Instruction, my son was taught that God exists, and his saviour is Jesus.

Religious Instruction has no place in Queensland schools, argues Hugh Harris.

Religious Instruction has no place in Queensland schools, argues Hugh Harris. (photo: courtesy The Brisbane Times)

This admittedly contrived example illustrates why religious instruction is inherently discriminatory.

Considering we’d previously opted out our son from the program, I was appalled when he still attended the first class of the year. How vigilant must I be?

Read the rest here.

Professor who said Christians and Muslims Worship the Same Imaginary Being resigns from Wheaton

Charges of firing politics Professor Dr Larycia Hawkins have been withdrawn. So says Wheaton College provost Stan Jones, although the “place of resolution and reconciliation” they’ve come to, has resulted in Dr Hawkins moving on.

This follows her controversial suspension for her posting on Facebook where, whilst wearing the Hijab, she claimed Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

I stand in solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

Wheaton College suspended the professor because her comment doesn’t conform to their Statement of Faith. Wheaton’s response was described as “religious bigotry” by the Chicago Tribune, and as “anti-Muslim bigotry” by Theology professor at Yale, Miroslav Volf, whose book Allah: A Christian Response, makes the argument that Jews, Christian and Muslims all worship the same God.

Consider for a moment how facile this debate is. Grown men and women attempting to decipher whether their religion’s unseen thing is actually the same unseen thing worshipped by others.

This provides an interesting parallel to the religious project in general, in which competing sects insist with utter certainty their own version of the unknowable is true and that all others are certainly false. So much certainty aimed at what is always erstwhile admitted as unknowable.

After leaping into the unknowable, theologians return claiming ultimate knowledge, blithely claiming to have achieved the impossible.

As he was about to burned at the stake, Protestant reformer, Jan Hus exclaimed “Sanctus Simplicitus!” referring to an elderly woman who threw a comically small amount of brushwood onto his pyre.

Meaning “Holy simplicity”, this phrase, in this context, reminds us of how disputes over unverifiable dogma have perennially stoked the fires of division and hatred.

We’re reminded of the aftermath of his execution when the Hussite Bohemians began to reject to teachings of the Papacy resulting in Pope Martin V’s Crusade against them. Where there is no answer, or where the answer is unverifiable, certainty somehow becomes absolute and an oppressive force.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Let’s consider some equally pointless questions.

Imagine hillbillies arguing about whether the correct name of the mythological hairy monster is Sasquatch or Bigfoot.

They are soon to be joined by a Himalayan who insists what they are really talking about is the Yeti. But his friend violently disagrees. It’s actually the abominable snowman on vacation.

Is the invisible fire-breathing dragon in my garage the same as Carl Sagan’s one?

Which brand of invisible new clothes does the Emperor wear?

Such questions are plainly absurd as they speak of undiscovered, abstract concepts.

Gods are defined by the various characteristics assigned by the religion and the mythology.

The claim that both Christianity and Islam worship the same God is unverifiable, and arguably, nonsensical. An entity is defined by its nature, and simply cannot be regarded as the same entity as another entity which has different qualities.

Unless one wants to argue that God is protean and relativistic, and can simultaneously exist as whatever everyone wants him to be.

No-one knows if they’re worshiping the same God as another religion because there’s nothing to know. It’s a vapid, meaningless question.

Stan Jones apologized to Dr Hawkins for his “lack of wisdom and collegiality”. But even that’s a bit rich, considering that before wisdom one must first acquire common sense.

Only The Ghosts Of Christmas Past Know Why Advancing Religion Is Still Tax-Free

The Huffington Post Australia has published my article originally published in New Matilda as No More Tax Loopholes: It’s Time for Faith Groups and Religions to Render under Caesar.

Only The Ghosts Of Christmas Past Know Why Advancing Religion Is Still Tax-Free – Huffington Post Australia – 07/01/16

And Jesus Answering Said Unto Them, Render To Caesar The Things That Are Caesar's, And To God The Things That Are God's. And They Marvelled At Him. After A Work By Bartolomeo Manfredi. From Les Artes Au Moyen Age, Published Paris 1873. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

And Jesus Answering Said Unto Them, Render To Caesar The Things That Are Caesar’s, And To God The Things That Are God’s. And They Marvelled At Him. After A Work By Bartolomeo Manfredi. From Les Artes Au Moyen Age, Published Paris 1873. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Jesus was quite clear on the question of tax, famously advising the Jews to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Fast forward to contemporary Australia and there’s precious little rendering going on. In fact, successive federal governments have seemed determined to render unto God the things rendered unto them by the voting public.

Nominating the purpose of “advancing religion” is one of the ways not-for-profits can gain tax-exempt status. In doing so, faith groups also avoid many state taxes, stamp duties and local government charges. Tax-free status is granted on the basis that advancing religion is unequivocally beneficial to the public.

We can trace the origins of this presumption to the 400-year-old Statute of Elizabeth. Evidently, the following four centuries of barbecuing heretics and warring over the finer points of doctrine haven’t quite dispelled this shibboleth.

The other charitable purposes covered by the Charities Act are directly beneficial to the public. No ambiguity pertains to purposes such as alleviating poverty, caring for the aged, and providing social welfare. Indeed, many faith-based service providers obtain tax-free status by nominating one of these genuinely charitable purposes. Thus, genuinely charitable faith groups would suffer no disadvantage from scrapping “advancing religion”.

Thousands of Australians are involved in endeavours such as helping children in need, providing food and shelter for the homeless, and Meals on Wheels for the aged. This work is laudable regardless of whether they’re faith-based or secular — even more so since many volunteers are unpaid.

Some would argue that “advancing religion” enables these charitable services. But since they’re already available as charitable purposes, “advancing religion” actually incentivises groups who don’t provide charitable services.

In days of yore, advancing religion was beneficial to the public because the public was universally religious. Everyone participated in it. But these days, despite the attempts of recent governments to reassert Christianity in schools, young people are becoming less and less religious.

Non-religion is the highest category for Australians below the age of 25. The more governments try to promote faith, the more public sentiment moves away from it — as if they are mutually repellent forces. Despite all the incentives, religion isn’t “advancing”, it’s retreating.

We commence 2016 a determinedly profane people. Perhaps it’s due to the perspective from our relatively prosperous and peaceful sandy haven in the south oceans. Even more glaring is the contradistinction between living conditions in our secular country, and those which are fervently religious.

An increasing number of Australians answer the Census as “No religion”. By 2017, non-belief will overtake Catholicism to become the largest demographic. Fewer than 8 percent of Australians attend church regularly. Only 15 percent of men and 22 percent of women observe the doctrines of their faith. 84 percent of Australians think religion should have no role in public affairs.

And yet we all subsidise its promotion. If there’s an exercise in futility, this is it. What’s the point in patronising empty churches? Why must all Australians chip in for activities that so few take part in? And it’s not just that so few Australians benefit from advancing religion, many faith groups act in ways contrary to the public interest and to the ideals of charity.

The prosperity gospel of Hillsong Church features pastors who make “bags of cash”, and demands its flock to give a 10th of their income to the church. Its leader, Brian Houston, even wrote a book called You Need More Money.

The fundamentalist Christian Exclusive Brethren, accused of splitting up families, were described by Kevin Rudd in 2007 as an “extremist cult”.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) now excommunicates same-sex couples and their children.

Scientology demands larger and larger payments from its disciples as they climb the rungs of its audit hierarchy. By the time they get to the upper levels, a substantial, life-altering investment has been made. Only then do they hear the science fiction-esque foundational story of galactic commander Xenu, alien spirits called Thetans, and the hydrogen bombs which were dropped into Earth’s volcanoes.

In opposing Scientology, Independent senator Nick Xenophon has proposed a public benefit test to assess the aims and activities of proposed charitable groups. Though similar to a scheme used in the UK, the Federal parliament voted this down in 2010.

The Catholic Church’s moral authority has been crippled by the child sexual abuse scandal. Despite the payouts to victims of sex abuse, the Catholic Church is still likely the wealthiest private institution in the world. Its treasure appears to be on earth rather than in heaven, but if it followed Jesus and sold all it has and gave it to the poor, we’d have an immediate end to extreme world poverty.

Faith groups avoid billions of dollars in tax. The Australian charity sector recorded a 2014 income of $104 billion, with 37.5 percent of groups nominating the purpose of advancing religion. Basic religious charities aren’t even required to submit financial reports. No exact figures exist, but according to the Secular Party of Australia, tax exemptions could cost taxpayers up to $31 billion per annum.

We should cease sponsoring the dogmas of faith, and use the billions of dollars saved on evidence-based policies. Reinvest the money in infrastructure, education, science, technology and healthcare. Consider easing the debt burden on University graduates or use the savings to fund tax cuts for ordinary Australians. Or give tax credits to charity’s unpaid volunteers.

It’s not as if we couldn’t use the money. Our country has a revenue problem, an ageing population and an economy requiring renewal through investment in innovation. Australia is face to face with the challenge of a tech-led global economy. No longer can we rely on simply gouging our wealth from the soil. Never before has the way we spend our tax dollars been more crucial.

Tax dollars must be allocated to programmes providing real and measurable benefits to all. We cannot afford the luxury of subsidising arcane and increasingly irrelevant belief systems which provide little tangible benefit.

The ghosts of Christmas past still haunt our tax policies, recalling a time when religiosity was universal, churches were unblemished by scandal and were still considered the exemplars of moral goodness. Not anymore. Not one of our set of competing religious ideologies has proven itself universally good. If any ideology could substantiate such a grand claim we would have all subscribed to it by now. As Jesus instructed, faith groups must now properly render unto Caesar.

Did Jesus provide atonement for the sins of mankind? Did he pay for our sins? If so, it’s doubtful that he wanted tax credits in return. As we move into a new year, we should consider removing the anachronism of tax-free status for advancing religion, reserving it for activities providing direct and unambiguous benefits to society.

Religious Freedom Protects Same-Sex Couples Too

New Matilda December 22, 2015

Religious Freedom Protects Same-Sex Couples Too

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The sleight of hand placing religious freedom at the centre of the same-sex marriage debate disguises its real purpose. A wave of the wand, a puff of smoke, and the rights of some have disappeared. So goes the illusionist’s trick that freedom of belief applies only to the faithful.

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