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Child abuse, the Pope and organized skepticism…now what?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 12, 2010

There is a literal fire storm going on on Twitter , and the catalyst I would say is Rebecca Watson’s entry about the pope, to which I linked here earlier today.  Venerable names in skepticism are wondering out loud what the “movement’s” involvement  with this issue should be? Should we actively seek the pope’s indictment? Should we just endorse it, without getting involved too much? Should we shrug our shoulders and say “that’s not my job“? Twitter may not be the best medium to discuss this issue; 140 charachters are too little for us to be able to have any meaningful discussion, so I decided to elaborate my position here.

So let us get the technicalities out of the way: this is a purely legal issue. The pope stands accused of covering up for child rapists. Some facts have made their way into the public sphere. As is the case with most things like this, many more  very likely have not. Should the pope be held responsible? Probably. Is he guilty?  I do not know! That is why we have a legal system, to sort these sort of things out.  The question “Is the pope responsible and if yes to what extent?” is not a skeptical issue; nor is it an atheist issue. It is simply, purely a legal matter.

So from this point of view, skepticism, as a movement, has not much constructive to add to the discussion. The question then becomes, what, if any, should our involvement be? This is where it becomes a bit more of a personnal choice, and it is open to speculation. One can easily maintain that the religious beliefs is what induced the behavior, but one can just as easily maintain that greed and concern for the institution and it’s well being is what induced the behavior. Or one may come up with a host of other reasonable explanations. I do not think that enough evidence has come to light for us to pretend to know for sure what motivated the alleged misbehavior. So far, it seems that a concern about the church and the church’s reputation might be the front runner.  If that were the case, what should organized skepticm’s involvement be?

I think the correct answer here is: whatever the individual skeptic feels is the right thing! This is not a skeptical issue, technically speaking, so it would be hard to argue what the movement’s response should be! On the other hand, we are all human beings, and we all have emotional responses, as we should, especially to cases so morally clear cut as child rape is. So from the human point of view, we should all feel that outrage and that desire to see whoever is responsible brought to justice. Except that we’re seeing what appears to be a lack of response in the eyes of daming evidence, and one can only wonder how much the fact that this is the pope we’re talking about has to do with anything. Is there a ridiculous double standard playing in front of our eyes? Possibly, which should make our skeptical minds get back in gear, because something that goes counter to critical thinking is, at least partially, within our area of expertise.

However, I do not agree with those that maintain that skepticism, including the skeptical organizations out there, ought to keep quiet about this issue. There is nothing wrong with a skeptical organization showing support for something they think is right, even something not within their area of  expertise.  For example, what would be wrong if the JREF endorsed the idea of legal action towards the pope? Sure they are not a moral authority, nor a legal one, but they have their own morals nevertheless. If these morals are offended by what has happened, what is the problem with them expressing that? Does that mean that CFI is bound by JREF’s actions? Of course not, JREF does not speak for all skeptics or for skepticism as a movement; JREF is allowed to maintain positions that may leave a sour note on some skeptic’s collective mouths.

In fact, I think that showing emotion, speaking up when issues such as these are involved are very important public relations tools. We want to break the public misconception that sketpics are cynical, cold, emotionless robots, right? Well then let us show some emotion; let us show that we have a highly evolved moral code; let us break the stereotype that we’re only against stuff by showing that we are for something that many other people can relate with. And let us, those of us to whom this issue is important enough to speak out, do so without being told “it’s not your job“.

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Standing Cat

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 12, 2010

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God of the Gaps – Tree lobsters style

Posted in Fun, Humorous, Tree Lobsters by Skepdude on April 12, 2010

The Tree Lobsters have done it again!

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Yes, The Pope Should Be Arrested, and I Don’t Care Who Does It

Posted in Skepchick by Skepdude on April 12, 2010

As usual, the original Skepchic is right!

Yesterday morning the big news was an interesting article with a ridiculous headline: “Richard Dawkins: I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI“.

I thought my Tweet summed up my feeling on the matter:

Richard Dawkins is going to personally arrest the pope. I hope it’s like the video for Sabotage but with old dudes

I was wrong to assume that people would read that and think, “Yes, that is a completely ridiculous headline.” I’m kicking myself for not being clearer, because when Dawkins posted a clarification to say that no, he did not say he’d be personally arresting the pope, a lot of my Twitter and Facebook followers happily declared that it was all a big hoax. A few others declared that it was all a big publicity stunt on Dawkins’ part, and that it therefore hurt “the skeptical movement.”


Dawkins’ clarification explained that while he was not going to swing into action Beastie Boys-style, he does support the actual effort currently underway to hold the Pope accountable for the systematic protection of child abusers. And that, to me, was the entire point: not that Dawkins is involved (though that is a funny image), but that the Pope may in fact answer for his crimes. So no, it’s not all a big, overblown hoax. It is a real and important story.

On to the second point, that this effort will apparently hurt the “skeptical movement”: it won’t, and it’s completely absurd to suggest otherwise.

I like and admire Massimo Pigliucci, but he is 100% wrong when he posted this (among other things) on my Facebook profile:

naturally, always a good thing to keep one’s baloney detector set to orange alert. though the basic problem remains: two of the “horsemen” are behind a sensationalistic stunt that has no chance in hell (pun intended) of actually succeeding in the real world

Bullshit, Massimo, on several points. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins lent their support to an effort that was already well underway, and if it weren’t for that support, most people wouldn’t know that this is happening. To describe their support as a “sensationalistic stunt” is pointless cat-fighting. And to describe it as an effort that “has no chance in hell” of succeeding is simply ignorant.