Monday, October 31, 2011

Radical!!! - Part 3: OWS and more on shooting yourself in the foot.

This is looking to become a 5-part series. Links will be added as the posts become available. Part 1  Part 2  Part 4  Part 5

   When I first started drafting thoughts for this series in my mind back in September, I was thinking of it primarily in terms of atheism, though the ideas can be applied generally. Now we have the Occupy Wall Street movement and this series gained a greater importance. In part 1, I alluded to this movement in my supplementary material. Of particular interest is the picture of the woman below:

   While this woman is supporting the OWS movement, her sign is problematic. Most people probably don't see the problem (commentary reacting to the original blog post linked above support this idea). Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds does a good job breaking down each point of the sign. I suggest you go read that piece, but I'll go ahead and summarize here: The woman is addressing groups that have been negatively stereotyped by those who do not want to succeed, so she is distancing herself from those groups when she should be embracing them, effectively empowering the stereotypes of those trying to destroy the movement. Just for an example, take Zvan's point of being a hippie:
It is the hippies who have kept the spirit of protest alive over these last few decades as everyone else has been calling participatory democracy “un-American.” Without the hippies, no one would have much idea how to put these protests together.

   Some of those defending the woman have pointed out that she could be making factual statements. Sure. But does she need to announce this to the world? I don't consider myself a hippie, for example. I have discussed before that I think they abuse the appeal to nature fallacy, thinking that anything natural is automatically better than anything engineered (food and medicine, particularly), but I am a fan and support that "spirit of protest," even if I might happen to disagree with what they are protesting. When it comes to OWS, I do not disagree with the hippies, so why should I distance myself from them on this issue? I shouldn't, and in fact I am with the hippies! After all, protests work better the more people you have.
If you don’t understand that part of a protest is the threat of numbers, perhaps you should be listening to the old-timers more. Without a mob, these protests would have no power.

   Long point short, don't be the woman in the picture if you support change. This includes supporting the groups that advocate for change, even if you don't agree with them on every issue. This is what I was upset about in my first post about the new girlfriend of a friend. When she was saying things like "I'm an independent." or "There are extremists on both sides" she was being that woman in the picture. Good luck advocating for change after you've isolated yourself from all the groups that are. Or, as I suggested in part 1, maybe that's the point? I'll cover this more in part 4.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Radical!!! - Part 2: Radical Atheism

This is looking to become a 5-part series. Links will be added as the posts become available. Part 1  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

   In part 1, I discussed how radicals automatically get a bad name, whether or not they deserve it. In another recent post, I discussed how atheism cannot be a religion. I am here now to combine these two ideas.

   The first point that needs to be made is that there is a second definition of the word "radical" that I did not cover before. That definition is "Arising from or going to a root or source; basic." Since atheism is simply a lack of belief in a god or gods and there are no governing codes, this definition cannot be applied to the word "atheism". Nor can the other definition I used in Part 1 be applied. How does one favor fundamental changes in something that is merely a lack of belief?

   Therefore, the term "radical atheist" does not make sense in terms of atheism. I have thus been telling people that a radical atheist cannot exist. However, I must correct myself. I should be pointing out that a radical atheist does not exist in the way that they imply - that the person is radical in their atheism. On the other hand, atheist is a term that describes a person, and so can the word radical. You then can have a person who is both a radical and lacks a belief in gods. You could call this person a "radical atheist."

   If the problem doesn't make sense yet, I'll try to explain it another way. Essentially, the issue is that a term used to describe a type of person following the word "radical" does not have to be entirely dependent, making it near impossible to distinguish when it is fully dependent and when it is not. For example, you can have people who are radical about their Christianity since it does have a root, practices, etc. In this case, Christianity would be fully dependent on the word "radical." (Or do I have that backward? Is the word "radical" fully dependent on Christianity? Hopefully you get the point, though.) You can also have a person who is radical about something because of their Christian influences, but not necessarily radical when it comes to Christianity; this is a big deal in politics today (though many of those people also want to see the moderation of Christianity stopped and reversed, thus they are radical about multiple things). In this case, the words are not fully independent nor fully dependent. But both of these people could be called "radical Christians". The term is ambiguous.

   It is that ambiguity that is my issue. People really need to clarify what they mean, and using short descriptions often fails to do that. If a person is a political radical influenced by their Christianity, then say that. Don't just say they are a "radical Christian." If you think I am a political radical influenced by my lack of belief in gods (my atheism), then say that. I'll mostly agree to that one. (The only objection I would raise is that there are other influences as well, so to try to pin my radical influences to one specific thing is incorrect.) It's when you get lazy and just say, "You're a radical atheist" that I get upset, because I don't know what the fuck you mean. Are you using the terms fully dependent on each other? (Which is not correct, as noted above.) Are you using them to be partially dependent? Then what is the rest of the dependency? I don't know how to respond to that! Other than, "That's a piss poor term to use." And this post is my long way of saying just that.

Corrections - "You're Interpreting It Wrong!"

   This is actually more of an "Well, that's interesting" post than a correction, but in a recent post, I said:
[T]he Bible does say something about he who is without sin may cast the first stone along with everyone is a sinner, resulting in no one being able to cast stones.
Turns out that is likely a later addition to the Bible.
[The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]
It's not a correction, really, since I said it's in the Bible. There is some significance, though, as this more positive verse in the Bible that I used to demonstrate that the Bible does have verses against bigotry looks to have been added later. Therefore, if you are a fundamentalist, it stands to reason that you can ignore this part since it isn't part of the foundation. (But please, by all means, follow it anyway!)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sorry? - Addendum

   This video just came out yesterday. In it, Matt Dillahunty pretty much hits the same topic as my post titled "Sorry?" Not much to add other than read that post and watch the video.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What is an "athiest"? - Redux!

I have made an update to this post since I originally released it Saturday. I have changed the release date so that it appears nearer the top of my blog.

   While I think my original post on this topic was adequate for discussion, I have decided I should perhaps change it up a bit in a way my software friends can understand. Also, I want to add some other examples of why the atheist/agnostic distinction frustrates me below the line break.

   It's probably been a few months ago now, but one of my coworkers told me that he's not religious, but he's not an atheist either. Guess what he is? He's an agnostic!

   In hindsight, I should have pressed him on the "but I'm not an atheist" remark by asking, "Oh, so you believe in a god or gods?" To which I suspect the answer would have been, "No." To that I could have then asked, "But you're not an atheist?" If the answer is "Yes," then I'd go back to my first question. (See the second part for a further explanation for this.)

   In the original post, I briefly discussed the meaning of the "a-" prefix. There I pointed out that it generally means "without." So, if a theist is a person who has a belief in a god or gods, then an atheist is a person without such a belief. Another way to view the prefix, though, that is easier in software terms is to think of it as meaning "not". Therefore, an atheist is "not a theist". Pretty simple - it's a Boolean!!!

   Perhaps this can better explain to my software friends why the idea of someone being neither a theist nor an atheist, but rather an agnostic, gives me a headache - You're generating a CONSTRAINT ERROR! I have the feeling my coworker bought into the canard that it's an enumerated type (theist, agnostic, atheist), but it's not. You actually have two sets of Booleans (when we include agnostic in the mix). Notice what letter "agnostic" begins with? Yes, it starts with that same "a-" prefix. You can be either a gnostic (someone who believes truth claims are knowable) or you are not.

   As before, the two words deal with two different aspects of truth claims. Gnosticism deals with what we know and theism deals with what we believe. We can then combine the terms to describe ourselves. My software friends should be able to recognize quickly that if we combine two Booleans, we have four possible combinations:
  1. Gnostic Theist - A person who believes in a god or gods and thinks they have enough knowledge to make such a claim.
  2. Agnostic Theist - A person who believes in a god or gods but acknowledges that they really cannot know for sure.
  3. Agnostic Athesit - A person who does not believe in any gods but acknowledges that they really cannot know for sure. (Or, recognizes that they would have to know everything about everything to be able to make a claim that there is no such thing as a god.) I, as well as most atheists, fall in this category.
  4. Gnostic Atheist - A person who not only does not believe in any gods, but also believes we can know that there are no gods.

   So, Mr. Agnostic...which are you? Are you a theist or an atheist? You must pick one! (Or maybe your brain is initialized to garbage!?!)

   For the second part, I'm going to attempt to demonstrate the "constraint error" problem in non-software terms for the general audiance. For example, ask a person if they believe in Bigfoot. You will likely get one of three answers:
  1. Yes.
  2. No.
  3. I don't know (in other words, agnostic).
Though that last answer is once again giving a yes-or-no question an answer other than yes or no, what you likely won't get with it is a follow-up where the person says, "But I'm not one of those people who doesn't believe in Bigfoot!" So...if you're not one of those people who doesn't believe...that means you do believe? Why didn't you just answer "Yes" then?

   See how that is confusing? Yet that's exactly the type of answer a person gets on the god question. When a person says "But I'm not an atheist" they are saying "But I'm not a person who does not believe in gods." It's a double negative, so that means they believe? And that's what drives me crazy. This type of thinking leads in circles because it has no conclusion. As for my coworker, I perhaps should have taken him "dancing" around this circle in hopes that it would help me to expose his flawed reasoning.

UPDATE: One important thing I forgot to say originally is that I'm not really bothered so much about the "I don't know" answers. If you honestly have not examined the evidence for a claim, then I can handle an "I don't know" answer. Because a second thing I forgot to say is that there are different levels of certainty with a belief. Even if you are one who does not believe in Bigfoot, you can range from being absolutely confident in that lack of belief all the way to being quite unsure in that lack of belief to the point where you are on the verge of believing. So, when I said earlier that you either believe or you do not believe, that is actually a bit misleading, though still true, and I need to confess to that. The agnostic label generally implies that one is uncertain, and I acknowledge that as acceptable, though saying that you are an uncertain atheist would make more sense. Therefore, it is not so much a person using the agnostic label that bothers me as much as someone adding in that they are not an atheist. Another way to look at it besides the ways I already have is to say, "I'm not sure whether I believe or not, but I do not not believe." Ohhhhh...K.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Preview to IDHEF - Logical Fallacies

   Soon I'll be starting to break down the arguments from the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist," which I'll be abbreviating IDHEF for short. As with the rest of the blog, my remarks will be informal. And, yes, I'm bound to go on occasional rants when something really irks me...which is bound to happen a lot with this book. I'm also intending this more for those who have either read the book or who have a copy and can follow along, though I will likely quote anything I comment on directly.

   I've really only gone through half the book, but I want to bring attention to some of the most common fallacies I have found in the book, so that you can familiarize yourself with them beforehand.

Radical!!! (a.k.a. Extremist!!!) - Part 1

This is looking to become a 5-part series. Links will be added as the posts become available. Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

   This is a post that pains me a bit to write. Being insulted can be disappointing as it is, but when that insult is out of ignorance, it adds another level of disappointment. It has to do with being called a radical. It is typically meant as an insult, but the most disappointing part is that people don't seem to fully understand what the word means.

   So, let's first start by learning the definition of the word. In typical usage, the word "radical" means "One who advocates fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions."

   Now that you have the definition, please ask yourself...

What's so bad about being a radical?

   I suspect it's the part about change. Let's face it, most people will show content with the status quo. The status quo brings with it predictability. When things stay the same, you know tomorrow (that's a metaphor for the future, not the literal tomorrow) will be pretty much the same as today. You know how to prepare for tomorrow, because you've already done so numerous times already. Change, however, can be challenging. When you don't know what tomorrow will bring, how do you prepare for tomorrow? The other part about change is that advocating for change takes work. So, even if people are not truly content with the status quo, changing it is decided to not be worth the effort for many. Then, if you are such a person, what might you do to prevent becoming involved in groups that advocate for change? I suggest that the solution many people take is to demonize those groups. Declare them insane and you don't have to get involved. After all, you don't want to be labeled insane yourself, do you? It would seem the word "radical" has had it's meaning twisted for such purposes.

   On a side note, here's a good one that reveals that people want change, but fear getting involved: "I agree with most of your objectives, but you just go too far for me." Doesn't that actually seem like a good reason to get involved with the group and then use your influence in the group to scale things back to your level of comfort?

Examples of radical behavior

   Take a look at that definition for the word "radical" again. Notice any other words that start with an "r" that appear interesting? I'm talking about the word "revolutionary." In fact, the word "revolutionary" is really just a synonym of the word "radical." But isn't being a revolutionary usually viewed in a positive light? (Or have most Americans forgotten what the Fourth of July holiday is about?) How, then, did being a radical become such a negative? Once again, I suggest that it is due to twisting the meaning of the word to diminish social movements that has caused the distinction.

   Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism has an excelent post on what he calls the "golden mean." His post is more directed toward the media for often seeking the middle ground on issues, but it's much about the extremists (radicals) being ignored, including those American Revolutionaries, which is also applicable to the general public.
When Great Britain's colonies in the New World were struggling with the oppression of a distant, dictatorial ruler and a burdensome tax scheme, who was right - the dangerous, zealous extremists who argued that the colonists should rebel completely against King George and create a completely new republic, or the sober, responsible moderates who felt that we should reconcile with the king, accept his divine authority and just ask him nicely to treat us better?1
"Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom."

—Thomas Paine, Common Sense, an influential 1776 pamphlet arguing that the American colonies should declare independence
When slavery divided the United States and the country was burning on the brink of civil war, who was right - the wild-eyed abolitionist fanatics who thought that slavery should be ended completely and all slaves should be set free, or the cool-headed, wise statesmen who felt that the best compromise was to ensure an equal number of free states and states that permitted the slavery of human beings?
"I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD."

—William Lloyd Garrison, inaugural editorial in the anti-slavery journal The Liberator, 1 January 1831
When Jim Crow laws and de jure segregation divided American citizens into two classes of people, and people of African descent were fighting for liberty, who was right - the irrational, hysterical partisans like Martin Luther King Jr. who felt that acts of civil disobedience would startle the nation out of its apathy, or the sober, responsible religious leaders who felt that breaking the law, even if done peacefully, was an extreme and irresponsible course of action that would reflect poorly on the entire movement?
"But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.' Was not Amos an extremist for justice: 'Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.' Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: 'I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.' Was not Martin Luther an extremist: 'Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.' And John Bunyan: 'I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.' And Abraham Lincoln: 'This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.' And Thomas Jefferson: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...' So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"

—Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 16 April 1963
I think he could have tried to find quotes from some other radicals, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony, but hopefully you now have an idea of the wicked thoughts of extremists!

Let's be real about being radical

   That last statement was sarcastic, if you couldn't tell. The point is that there isn't anything automatically bad about being a radical. In fact, we have a holiday celebrating the birthday and life of the radical Martin Luther King Jr. With that, I think the last part of his quote is the important question to be asked about radicals/extremists: "Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"

   Now, some of you who are reading to this may object to the idea that Martin Luther King Jr, Susan B. Anthony, etc. were radicals. Well, they wouldn't be from today's standards. That's because they were successful in changing the status quo. They shifted the ideas of society to where their radical ideas became the norm. So when I say that these people were radicals, you must put their ideas in the context of the time in which they lived, not in today's world.

   And now to the reason why I write this post: I have been called a radical/extremist as of late. I suppose it's true. Go ahead and call me a radical/extremist if you mean it sincerely. But all the people I've heard call me that don't. They are out instead to either degrade me or to mock me. When you look at history, radicals have almost, if not, always been an important part of progress. Do some radicals work against progress? Sure, but to automatically discount someone for being a radical is ignorant of history at best.

Shooting yourself in the foot.

   I have a friend who posted on Facebook the following:
If you don't like something, the only real difference you can make is to take action. You can complain until you're blue in the face & it's only gonna make you feel better for a moment. If you're too meek & submissive or too lazy to fight anything, you have but two other choices: Either sit & stew in your own puke or submit to everything & convince yourself that it's for your own good. Most people end up doing the latter.
That struck a (metaphorical) nerve with me. It struck the same nerve that pains me in writting this post. It is the same nerve that has been bothering me in conversations with my father as of late. He is a man who has complained about politics and occasionally religion for as long as I have known him. I used to think that he was a man who would advocate for change if he had better opportunities presented to him (as well as fewer responsibilities with the farm). But now that I'm all grown up and out advocating for change by being outspoken and supporting groups that promote change? I'm "just as radical as the fundamentalist [Christians]." It turns out my father is a "sit & stew in your own puke" type of person. And, as I spoke about earlier, he has also turned out to be one of those people who doesn't want things to change. *Sigh*

   There was another nerve that was struck with that friend's post. The weekend after this post, I got to know the girlfriend of a friend a bit better. So let me first add the disclaimer that I do not know this woman that well, so maybe I'm just getting a bad impression from what little was said. Continuing, she said a couple things, when paired together, don't necessarily go together. The topic got to be about Planned Parenthood/abortion/birth control, in which she was very stern in a statement that "there is nothing wrong with birth control!" but then said something about there being "extremists on both sides," with the implication being that she is not one of those extremists. That puzzled me. Not the part that there are "extremists on both sides," but rather what does she think the extremists on the one side think? I'm quite sure I listen to those extremists and could perhaps be considered one myself, and I can tell you that "there is nothing wrong with birth control!" is very much like something you will here the extremists say2. So where does she differ from the extremists? And here I'll go back to my disclaimer because I honestly do not know her well enough to determine that. (Extremists also advocate for the usage of birth control. Is she against that? Or is it the mandate that insurance cover birth control?) Still, I had the feeling that she at least has some extremist views, but doesn't want to see herself as one of them.

2 People from my generation who read this may think I'm out of my mind for suggesting that the opinion that nothing is wrong with birth control is a radical position. Guess what? You were raised in a society that had been changed by (guess who?) radicals of the feminist movement. Older generations still alive today may have a different opinion on the matter. (In general, that is. There are bound to be members of that generation that are fine with the use of birth control. And perhaps even more who are hypocritical about its use.) This is a living example of a shift in the status quo.

Besides demonizing...

   One last note I'd like to make is that there may be another reason to degrade people who are extremists, besides the resistance to change previously discussed. There is also the possibility that people do it to boost their own ego. (Or, at the very least, they take advantage of the degrading of extremists.) They do it to feel better about themselves by making themselves appear to be more rational by making others look irrational.. I had a feeling that is what the woman mentioned in the last section was trying to do. Again, refer to the disclaimer.

   That's all for part 1. In part 2, I'll address how there is no such thing as a "radical atheist," at least not in the way often implied. Stay tuned.

1 On a very interesting note, there are some signatures in that olive branch petition you might be surprised to see. Apparently, some of those people changed their opinions in a year's span. Or maybe they signed because the Continental Congress had voted for it?

Supplimentary: Here are some blog posts that have popped up recently that have some similar ideas to mine.
1. Stephanie Zvan on radical feminism
2. Greg Laden on Occupy Wallstreet protestor who might be dismissing the groups that started the protests in the first place (esp. the left-wing nut jobs)! (Unfortunately, we can't know for sure the woman's intent based on the sign alone.)
3. More from Stephanie Zvan. This is relavent in that it discusses how movements are often ruined by those in the middle, not the extremists.

Not a religion!

   This should have been an easy post, but when misconceptions run amuck, lengthy rebuttals tend to seem necessary...

   Today's topic is on the canard that atheism is a religion. The seemingly easy way to nip this in the butt is to point out that atheism has no tenents by which to obey. Just look at the definition of religion:
  1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
  2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects
Somebody please tell me how atheism fits that definition. Atheism is a rejection of religious claims; it doesn't make any claims of it's own. Therefore, there are no sets of beliefs or any governing moral codes and it does not fit the definition of a religion. This should have been the end of this post...

   Yet, I can understand where some of the confusion comes from. Atheism is a response to religion. There are now people writing many books about atheism, there are many conventions across North America, Europe, and Australia for atheists to attend. Those unfamiliar with atheism or misinformed about atheism jump to the conclusion that the conventions are our version of church, the speakers are our priests, and the authors are our apologists; thus atheism is a religion itself.

   In any other situation, having conventions/conferences and book authors does not get such treatment. Take, for example the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Is this a man-hating/women's-superiority group because it only deals with women? I mean, really?!? OK, so you're women and you're engineers. What's the big deal? Why do you need to have a group about it unless to promote your superiority to men?...

   Or how about all the employee networks at my place of employment? There is an African American group, a Latino group, an Asian/Pacific Islander group, etc. Why? Seriously?!?

   OK, I'm not really serious. Those last two paragraphs were mainly sarcasm. So what is honestly the point of these groups? All of these groups listed represent people who are either a minority or an underprivileged group or both. They are support/social groups for those minority/underprivileged individuals. I have no objections to such groups; I think they are actually important and necessary. I appreciate what SWE stands for.

   This is much what atheist groups are about. We are a minority and we are underprivileged. Don't believe me on that second part? Just pay some attention to American politics, particularly in the Republican party. This is, as they say, "one nation under God!" So, what does that mean for someone who doesn't believe in that god? Well, just ask former President George H. W. Bush:
No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic.
While this quote is only attributed to Bush as only one reporter quoted him as saying this, Bush has never bothered to refute nor deny saying it.

   That is just one of many reasons we have our conventions and social groups. We are organizing to fight the corrupting influence has had on this country. And, yes, that means having conventions to gently stroke our own egos. (Don't pretend that other groups don't do the same.) But we also have the conventions to help each other learn which arguments work best against religion as well as how best to argue against religion. It is important to point out that just because one is an atheist does not mean they have to participate in these groups. In much the same way, a female engineer is not required to join SWE.

   This, though, brings me to another reason why I think atheists get pinned for being part of a religion: Simply being an atheist sends the message that we think religious people are wrong, and people don't like being told they are wrong. Women's groups are not telling men that it's wrong for them to be men. Minority groups are not telling whites that it's wrong for them to be white. (Though they often ask that the privileged group check said privilege.) So these groups don't face much backlash, if any1. Atheists, however, do. We upset some religious believers simply for existing. Even something as simple as putting up a billboard that let's atheists know that other atheists exist receives backlash. So, if you are a religious person and atheists are telling you that you are wrong, what can you do? One option would be to demonstrate to atheists with empirical evidence that you are correct. Many atheists are open-minded and are willing to listen. Granted, as "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," I admit that the theists have their work cut out for them. Which is probably why they go for their second option. That option seems to be to try to link atheists to the things (such as religion, faith, etc.) we speak out against, hoping we will self-destruct under the weight of their contradictory reasoning...

Yeah...don't count on that one working. Really, it just makes us upset and also validates what so many atheists have against religion (such as the dishonest measures people will go to in order to defend their religion).

   In conclusion, I hope that if you are one of those who makes the claim that atheism is a religion that you have simply been uninformed or misinformed. Hopefully this has been an educating experience for you. If you are a religious person dishonestly defending your religion, then shame on you!

1 There is one exception...not so much with my employer's group - though I do think there was one person who was against the group that did get fired when the group was new - as much as such groups in general. It is LGBT groups. They get accused of "advancing the gay agenda" and trying to "teach children to be homosexual," as if that were possible. The good news is that the people that say that shit are quickly becoming the minority and are beginning to be labeled as hate groups. (That's not to say that anyone who lashes out at atheists should necessarily be part of a hate group. At this point in time, there is still a lot of misinformation out. Consequently, there are going to be a lot of people who just spread that misinformation without thinking. It's not because they are hateful, but rather because they are human and humans do dumb things. With the state of the LGBT movement, on the other hand, much misinformation can easily be corrected, so if you are still spreading misinformation you're probably either an ignorant bafoon or a hate mongerer. In short, if you say dumb things about atheists, you can use mass ignorance as an excuse, but that doesn't work for LGBT's.)


There are now two addenda to this post here and here. Be sure to check these out as well.

   Every now and then, when a Christian finds out that I'm an atheist, I get a response that starts out with "I'm sorry..." followed by some aspect of my life that they think is missing (or with some aspect of their life that they think they have because of their belief, implying that it is missing for me).

   Imagine that you are not a hippie and don't smoke pot and you encounter a hippie who finds out that you don't. He says to you that he's sorry you have not experienced the zen (or whatever a hippie might say) that comes with smoking pot. What might you think about that? Here is what I might think:
  1. I have other means by which to find "zen."
  2. I am actually thankful that I don't have to resort to use of paraphernalia to find "zen."
  3. I am actually sorry for the hippie that he thinks he has to resort to pot to find his "zen."

   My response to the Christian is very similar.
  1. I have other means by which to find purpose, meaning, joy, morality, or whatever it is that the Christian thinks I'm missing.
  2. I am actually thankful that I don't have to resort to believing in a mass delusion* to find those things.
  3. I am actually sorry for the Christian that they think they need their mass delusion to find those things.
  4. On an extra point, I am also sorry that the Christian either bought into or was indoctrinated into the mass delusion (and more so for those who were indoctrinated, because they had less of a choice).
   So, Mr./Ms. Christian, go ahead and be sorry for me all you want. Realize, though, that doing so just makes you look more deluded from my perspective.

* While I'd hate to be a part of any mass delusion, I'm really thankful to not be part of one that has a history of torturing non-believers (the Inquisition), burning witches, suppressing women, abusing children, enslaving people, and discriminating against homosexuals, and being anti-science...and has a holy book that more-or-less supports all of these behaviors.

   Additionally, I want to appologize to the hippies out there for using them in such an example. I actually have a lot of respect for hippies. I'm generally all for "sticking it to the man" as long as the man it stuck to him? That gets to be my bigger problem with hippies - they go a bit overboard at times. They abuse the appeal to nature fallacy, for example. But, as far as the pot smoking goes, as long as no one else is getting harmed from it, the can knock themselves out. Mass delusions, on the other hand, have such a potential for harm, that I cannot not speak out against them.

Apologies - Browser challenges

   I just want to make a blanket apology. I sometimes notice that posts don't always turn out formated the way I think they should. Here's the problem - I'll start a post on one browser and finish it on another. Basically, I have IE at work and Firefox at home. Apparently the different browsers are handling my edits differently. So, if my formatting looks good initially, I may screw it up if I continue editing with a different browser. I notices this with the &nbsp; edit. I was forgetting the semi-colon at the end. I think it was Firefox that was correcting this mistake, but not IE. The result was that half of my post looked fine and the other half had the typo revealed. Another issue seems to be that IE removes break points that do not use a <br \> tag in certain situations. (It seems to be wherever there is a tag following a break point; if normal text follows the break, the break is preserved.) Firefox, however, preserves all break points. Now, it seems that the final version turns out to be much the same on either browser, so that is the good news. In short, I think it will be best if I just do all my final editing in Firefox, when possible, since it has been the more convenient browser.

   Anyone with blogging experience have advice? Oh, and always feel free to point out when something doesn't seem to look right.

You're interpreting it wrong!

Alternative title: "The problem with liberal Christians"

   One of the common defenses for the Bible is that one is "interpreting it wrong." This is usually used in defense of the amoral teachings of the Bible, like how to mark your slave as belonging to you. (Another defense for slavery is that it was the "culture of the time"...because God, you know, can't tell people that their culture is wrong, so he has to instead make the best of a bad situation.) Sometimes the defenses seem mostly legit. There are those who point out that the Bible does not allow one to harass homosexuals. OK, the Bible does say something about he who is without sin may cast the first stone along with everyone is a sinner, resulting in no one being able to cast stones. But, it does make clear that a man sleeping with another man (doesn't seem to say anything about women on this) is a sin. So, things like denying homosexuals the right to marry and reparative therapy are fine. (Also for reparative therapy, such a program is just trying to help people out of their sin, so it's really hard to condemn such a practice without also condemning Alcoholic least from the Christian perspective.) Others are complete hog wash. The Bible says that women shall submit to their husbands, but Michelle Bachmann claimed in a debate that submit somehow actually means respect. Not buying it, Michelle.

   But, there is actually a much bigger problem with these believers interpreting the Bible. They all interpret it as the "word of God."

   There has been an analogy, apparently first used by Sam Harris, that has been going along the blogosphere as of late. It is that of the talking hair dryer. Basically the analogy goes as such (emphasis mine):
Let's say that you meet a person who says to you, "Every morning, I hear messages for me coming out of my hair dryer. They tell me to picket the funerals of AIDS victims and to demand that it be made illegal for gay people to buy health insurance."

Now let's say a second person cuts in with, "That's not true! Every morning, I hear messages from my hair dryer, and they tell me to donate money to the poor and volunteer at my local soup kitchen! That first guy has just misinterpreted the message of the Holy Hair Dryer."

Is the second viewpoint an improvement over the first? Sure. Would I rather live in a world with people who profess the second viewpoint rather than the first? Of course. But at the same time, isn't it obvious that there's still a problem with it?

   The problem, of course, is that they both think their hair dryer is talking to them! Argue about misinterpreting all you want. It misses the larger problem.
...[A]ttacking only faith's worst manifestations, while giving faith itself a pass from criticism, would be like treating a sick person's symptoms without curing the underlying disease. As long as people are using the presumed will of imaginary supernatural beings as the basis for their decisions, there will be those who use this method to justify doing evil...

Friday, October 21, 2011

OK, let's stop dancing around the issue!

   Presidential Republican primary candidate Herman Cain was on Piers Morgan and the topic of homosexuality came up. Much of the discussion in the below video focused around the idea of whether or not homosexuality is a choice.

   While I do like how Piers Morgan tried to make Cain look foolish for believing (or at least claiming that he believes) that homosexuality is a choice, I don't think that is where the discussion should be focused. (Also, I wish someone would inform Cain on recorded TV that the science does show that homosexuality is not a that we can see him decide to not change his opinion anyway. See the video below the line break for some of the science.) I think people should grant him the idea that it is a choice (because, again, he'll likely deny the science anyway) and then pound on him for his "biblical beliefs" pointing out that this is a secular nation and that we have a First Amendment that essentially says that while Cain has the right to disagree with that choice, he does not have the right to enforce his disagreement (by which I mean banning gay marriage) as a point of law.

   The whole "Is it a choice?" debate is just a smoke screen/decoy from the real issue. The real issue, as should be obvious, is that homosexuality is a violation of his religious indoctrination. (Likewise, I'm not interested in debates about whether or not those denominations are interpreting the Bible correctly. I don't care! The only fact that matters is that they are being taught those interpretations.) Frankly, these people know that discriminating against a group for religious reasons is not legal. So they come up with excuses like "It's unnatural," "It's a choice," "Homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters," etc. to give the impression that they have a secular argument against it, though, in reality, they do not. (That last one has fallen out of favor as it has become too obvious that it's a fabrication.) For example, if you get them to admit that it is not a choice, they'll likely come up with some new justification. Much like the mythical beast Hydra, when you cut off one head, it just finds a way to grow another back. So, you need to attack it at its immortal head (or, rather, it's base/root). In this case, go after the religious roots. (And ask him for the evidence that his religious beliefs were handed down by God...or whatever he believes.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On the difference between ignorance as a matter of fact versus as an insult.

    I have a few posts coming up where I will be talking about ignorance. I have made this point in the past, but I want to reiterate it here that there is a difference between stating that someone is ignorant as a matter of fact versus stating that they are ignorant in a way that is meant to be insulting.

    Being ignorant, by definition, really just means lacking knowledge. And that's generally fine as people are not expected to know everything. However, when someone says, "You are ignorant!" it is usually meant as an insult on intelligence. Where I see this insult most used is against someone who suggests that they are knowledgeable on a subject, but then reveal that they are not (or may be misinformed). I try my best to call these people willfully ignorant. These people not only should be knowledgeable on the subject of which they speak, but often exhibit a lack of desire to become knowledgeable. Or, for those who are misinformed, show no desire to correct this after being informed that they are misinformed.

    So, if I say, "You are ignorant!" I do not mean it as an insult. If you are ignorant, you basically have two courses of actions which you can take to avoid insult: Either go learn and educate yourself, or do not comment further on the topic. If you fail to take either of these paths, you then risk heading toward willful ignorance, which I will gladly insult people for doing.

On that, I would like to note that there is a gray-area between basic ignorance and willful ignorance. I.e., when does ignorance become willful? More specifically, how many times does one have to be informed that they are misinformed before their ignorance becomes willful? Once? Twice? Thrice?!? Another gray-area is in areas where there is a common misconception. In other words, misinformation is frequently spread on the subject. How much is the misinformed person at fault for accepting the misinformation? The more at fault they are, the closer to being willfully ignorant, in my opinion, they are.

Clear as mud?

On a side note, it has occurred to me that there is irony in this post. I find myself writing about ignorance people have over the meaning of the word "ignorance"!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

WWJTD - "Four Questions Atheists Won’t Address!"

   JT Eberhard over at What Would JT Do? has been given four "questions" -- interestingly, though, a question mark (?) is nowhere to be found -- that atheists supposedly won't address:
1. If rationality and goodness is instilled in people based on evolution, then why do people go against the very survival-striving instincts we have and behave the opposite (both as individuals and regarding humanity as a whole). I’ve yet to meet anyone who has successfully lived up to THEIR OWN standard of goodness.

2. If truth is a concept that was achieved by naturalistic processes such as evolution, then truth must not be actually true but only functional. When it becomes more beneficial to believe a false idea for survival, then that idea MUST win out over what is truly true, or naturalism is false. If this is true, rationality is not reasoning to find truth but rather to survive, and truth will cease to exist when humans cease to exist.

3. Atheists and religious nut-cases read the Bible with extremely similar hermeneutics.. please explain. (ex: applying Israelite law code that to a non-Jew/Gentile follower of Jesus while totally disregarding Christ’s exposition of Old Testament law. OR taking a parable of Jesus way out of context to say we should kill people who disagree with us. Most atheists I’ve experienced handle the Bible in a more pick-and-choose way than almost any Christian I know who has studied his/her Bible.. and I agree that most claimed Christian don’t study their Bible. It seems disingenuous to tell people to not pick and choose from their religious text, but then to read the Bible in such a way that ignores any explanations to difficult texts, and they are difficult).

4. What to you is your understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ as understood by the Christian faith (you recently said eternal punishment was good news.. which again reveals an extremely fundamental misunderstanding of basic Christian thought). If you only mock this question, as usual, it reveals you really simply don’t understand it.

   Well, I'll go ahead and take these "questions" on! Actually, I made some quick answers already in the comments section, but I want to expand/clarify what I said there.
  1.    There seems to be an assumption that evolution produces perfect rationality and goodness in this statement. It doesn't. Evolution is an imperfect process and produces imperfect rationality and goodness. Really, the "question" starts of with a conditional that is not true, so the "question" can be rejected flattly on the false conditional. However, I think the questioner was trying (but failed) to suggest that products of evolution are supposed to increase the odds of survival, so why, then, do people do things that go against survival? Even for such a question, the answer is still much the same. Evolution is an imperfect process. It is possible for characteristics to evolve that will actually decrease the odds of survival, though usually such changes will result in the failure to survive.
       Additionally, characteristics that do increase the odds of survival can have adverse side-effects. If, for example, a species lives in an area where sugar is scarce, that species may evolve a strong desire for sweets, so that when they find something with sugar, they will be sure to eat it. The consequence is that if the environment changes and sugar becomes more abundant, this species may get too much sugar in their diet, engaging in eating habits that will actually now decrease their survival ability. The key here is that the environment changed, and the species is now longer adapted for the new environment. Much can be said about humans. In fact, this is why I used the sugar example. We see people who have problems managing their cravings for sweets. Well, this is likely a result of survival instincts that evolved when sweets were sparse, but we haven't been able to fully adapt to our relatively new environment where sweets are abundant.
  2.    Another conditional. Another conditional that is false. Frankly, this reads like garbled nonsense. I'm not sure what the questioner is trying to say. Otherwise, truth is truth. Sure, it's abstract, but if all humans ceased to exist tomorrow, the earth would be just as old, plus one day, as it is today. The only difference is that no one would be around to care how old the earth is.
  3.    This one is frustrating. Not that it’s a difficult "question," but that it misses the point of why atheists "pick-and-choose" from the Bible, which is often done, in my experience, to challenge theists to explain why they pick-and-choose. Like, how do you explain an all-loving god sending 2 bears to rip 42 children into shreads in II Kings, etc? But, in actuality, I do not pick-and-choose from the Bible like the "religious nut-cases." I find that most of it is made up, and if there is any of it that is true, I’m going to "pick" the true parts based on evidence (such as archiological) from outside the Bible.
       This really isn't an answer, but I suspect the questioner is expressing his/her own frustrations with the obviously amoral parts of the Bible, and is taking those frustrations out on fundamentalists for adhering to those parts and on atheists for exposing those parts, instead of just admitting that those parts are "damning." While I'm not a psychologist, this seems to fit in with cognitive dissonance theory.
  4.    It would appear that this one is aimed more at JT specifically as opposed to atheists in general, but, yeah, it’s hard to do anything else but mock this one. Like, why would an all-loving god sacrifice himself to himself in order to satisfy himself so that he could allow people into heaven? And, yes, there was no concept of hell (or at least not officially, though apparently the concept may have been gaining ground after the exile in Babylon) in the Jewish tradition before the "good news," so it is correct of JT to point that out. Sure, it's mocking, but making a valid point in the process.
       As far as how Christians generally understand the "good news," my understanding is that Jesus Christ died so that "sinful" people could have eternal life in heaven. But, there are so many problems with the "good news" as a whole. Thus the mockery. As I pointed out, if you are a Christian that believes that Jesus is God, then God killed himself! There is a big problem here in that how does a being that is often claimed to be eternal and the creator of the universe even die? Why was a sacrifice necessary? That just seems barbaric and something that a powerful entity wouldn't need to do. The other major problem is that many Christian sects, especially Protestants, believe that all you need to do to get into heaven is believe in Jesus. The world's biggest asshole can get into heaven for believing, but the most generous guy gets hell for not. The whole idea is filled with paradoxes and amoral absurdities. The mockery it gets has been earned.

I'm now reading through JT's responses.
  1.    Holy shit! I am a mindless atheist robot! JT uses the sugar example in his response, too! But he also goes into the whole what-does-this-have-to-do-with-the-existance-of-a-god speech, which is absolutely relevant. Atheism only rejects god claims; it doesn't make any claims of it's own. But, as many atheists also just happen to be scientists (or at least understanding of science), these evolution questions often get confused with atheism, though the two are not directly related. And since I am understanding of science, I am happy to answer to the best of my ability. But even if atheists didn't have answers to such a question, and even if evolution were to someday be demonstrated to be incorrect, this does not make the god claim more probable. The theist is trying to create a false dichotomy, and it is good of JT to point this out.
  2.    JT takes a different approach to the second question. He looks more at the human pursuit for truth as opposed to truth itself. In hindsight, this may be what the questioner intended. (Though, I did say that I likely failed to even comprehend the question.) There is this argument that some theists like to bring up that basically says something like religious beliefs were beneficial for human survival, therefore religious beliefs should be preserved. In response to that, even if it were true, that doesn't mean it's necessary for our continued survival, nor does it mean that religious beliefs are inherently good, which seems to be an implication of the claim. (The idea is if something is beneficial for survival, then that something is automatically good. I disagree; I'll leave it at that.)
  3.    JT seems to find this question to be quite ridiculous, as did I. JT kicks it up a notch by pointing out the arrogance of the questioner in his/her implication that he/she knows how to interpret the Bible "correctly" when there are thousands of Christian denominations, each of which has a different interpretation. JT also breaks down the problems with translating the Bible (primarily why is this powerful god such a poor communicator?) that I didn't bother going into.
  4.    As with my response, JT discusses how horrible the "good news" actually is, only he gives a much more detailed explanation.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dawkins vs. O'Reilly

   Richard Dawkins is out promoting his new book, "The Magic of Reality," and, for some reason, he was doing so on the O'Reilly Factor. (I'm not sure who he thinks, out of those viewers, is actually going to buy the book.) I have only seen the clips of the interview that are in the TYT video below, but what is there is pretty good. Cenk makes some great points, but there are things I want to add below the fold.

Clip 1: O'Reilly apparently accuses Dawkins of mocking God. O'Reilly's comments about "it says these things are myths, they're not really true" doesn't make a whole lot of sense here. As Dawkins points out, the book includes Aztec myths, Egyptian myths, etc. Is O'Reilly upset that Dawkins is calling those stories myths? Likely not. O'Reilly is really only upset about Dawkins including myths of Abrahamic religions like Christianity. This is known as special pleading. Additionally, O'Reilly's comment about getting the kids to think "you are an idiot to believe in God" falls in a similar category. Does he think the Aztec's were idiots for worshiping the sun? (Oh, wait, this is Bill "sun goes up, sun goes down" O'Reilly we're talking about, so maybe not.) It's always amusing watching theists be OK with criticisms of other religions, but then getting upset when theirs is criticized. (Anyone remember the Isaac Hayes incident with South Park? Perfect example.)
   Otherwise, Cenk has great comments on how atheists don't think theists are stupid. Uninformed? Probably, but that's unrelated to intelligence/stupidity. A little education can fix that.

Clip 2: Oh, Stalin, Mao, and Pot...didn't I discuss this in a recent post? Otherwise, I think Cenk said about everything else that needs to be said on this, except for what Dawkins adds in...

Clip 3: Religion is a "constraining influence"? I'm with Cenk. Religion isn't a restraining influence. While I have not yet released my long-time-since-it-has-been-sitting-in-draft post on morality, one thing I address in there is that the Bible has both positive and negative moral commandments. For a person to only follow the positive ones and ignore the negative ones means that the person's morality must come from outside the Bible. This "constraining influence" actually works by good people looking for Biblical scripture to justify their desire to be good. In short, people doing good is in spite of the religion, not because of it. However, the same is not always true for people doing bad things. Steven Weinberg has a fitting quote for this: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Clip 4: O'Reilly just gets bizarre on this one. Dawkins own question of "What does that have to do with the origin of the moon?" should hopefully get you thinking about how absurd O'Reilly's comments are. Cenk's response with the Dave Silverman clip is classic! And appropriate!

Monday, October 3, 2011

There is a difference...

    There is a difference between teaching what someone said and teaching that someone was correct in what they said. Newt Gingrich doesn't seem to know this difference (or he might just not care). Watch the video, then read my further comments.

    The first example Newt gives is that the Declaration of Independence says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." He then asks if children should learn what the founding fathers meant. And my answer to that is "Of course!" But does that mean teaching them that the founding fathers were correct in that statement? No! And, actually, the founding fathers were wrong with that statement. Rights are not unalienable; this should be quite clear with the fact that the U.S. Constitution has a Bill of Rights. Why would you need a bill of rights if rights are unalienable?

    The second example Newt gives is perhaps even more absurd then the first. Again, it's a case of failing to distinguish teaching that person X had religious beliefs, which is acceptable to teach, versus person X was correct in their religious beliefs, which is not acceptable to teach.

    And then the clown show came to town. The questioner originally pointed out that Newt had said he was against the State impossing religion. But what does Newt do? He demonstrates that he wants State impossing religion. Well, he wants children to be able to "approach God in any way [they] want to." For those who are unfamiliar with this, this is how many politicians attempt to weasel out of claims that they are impossing a religion, because they are not specifying which one. Even though when they say "god" they really mean "God" (as in the Christian diety), they can then say that they were actually using that former blanket term. Though, implying that children should even be "approaching" any god should be enough. What if you don't believe in their imaginary friend?

    Continuing the clown show, Newt states that there is "an enormous difference between a culture which believes it is purly secular and a culture that believes it is somehow empowered by our creator." He has a point. There is an enormous difference between the likes of Norway or Japan (cultures that are nearly "purly" secular) and Pakistahn, Iran, Saudia Arabia (cultures that they are empowered by their creator)! Oh, was I not supposed to point that out???

    Otherwise, Cenk says just about everything else needed to be said on this.