Monday, December 10, 2012

Thanks for Contributing to Your Ideologies Demise (I hope)!

   A coworker of mine (who, thankfully, I don't actually have to interact with) seems to be quite conservative in his political views. His cubicle is next to mine, so I am able to eavesdrop when he has political conversations. Yesterday (which, by the time I actually got around to publishing this post, was three weeks ago) was one of those days. My attention was grabbed when he said something about how "people are going to have to accept reality." That was ironic, since he has said things in the past to suggest he is an Anthropogenic Global Warming denier.

   The irony didn't stop there, to no surprise. At this point, I must pause to say that I am getting posts out of order. I've been meaning to respond to Mitt Romney's 47% comments (and now his "gifts" comment), but have not done so. Some of the things I am about to say should have links to reference my sources. I'm linking things in that other post, so watch for that later. (Update: I'm getting quite lazy about this whole blogging thing. That post is bound to never show up.) As you can figure out, my cubicle neighbor was spouting off similar comments.

   At the time, I found it frustrating. Honestly, I felt that way for a few hours. Then I considered how immoral it all was. Those thoughts helped turn that frown upside down! I think there are a lot of people, such as myself, who see the hideousness of the conservative propaganda when we realize that the means conservatives propose don't match the claimed goal. Eventually, we can conclude that the conservatives may not be sincere with what they claim those goals to be.

   Now what the hell am I talking about? It is this idea that a large portion of the population are lazy and are just mooching* off the government and want to continue government programs so that they can continue to mooch. This is much what my cubicle neighbor was claiming. The phrasing he used a couple of times was that the "social safety nets have become a hammock**."

   There are many problems with this. One being that a lot of that safety net money goes to states that tend to vote Republican. It should be the other way around. (Sure, Republicans could claim that it must be all the people who vote Democratic in their state that receive that money, but I don't buy it. This is in part because Social Security and Medicare make up a lot of that "moocher" money, which goes to senior citizens who tend to vote Republican. And it fails to explain why the states with larger numbers of liberal voters aren't bigger on the "moocher" money.) The biggest problem is that this is simply a lie. Now, I grant that there are indeed people who do live off the "government dole," as he put it. I have met such people***. But they seem to be a small minority. There are a number of people who do work, but don't earn enough to make a living.

   Take some time to grab a calculator if you need, and let's do some math! Currently, federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Let's say you work 40 hours per week at that wage. In a year's time, you will make $7.25/hour * 40 hours/week * 52 weeks/year which amounts to a whopping $15,080/year. Apparently, this is near the 2012 poverty guideline for a household of two, but... Damn. That's not a lot of money****. And what if you were a single parent making that wage? You'd be living in poverty and you would qualify for that dole money. Similarly, if we talk about people who are getting by on unemployment, I have heard the average unemployment benefits are just under $300 per week. At a full year, that again is only about $15,000. Who's going to be chilling on a hammock making that?

   So the conservative propaganda begins by painting a picture that does not match reality. This in itself could be forgiven if the conservative were willing to be educated on what life really is like for those supposedly mooching on the dole. But it gets worse. I sometimes hear conservatives demand that people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps (as Steven Colbert often says to satirize conservative ideology), but they then take away a person's bootstraps! I wrote above about the minimum wage. You could be trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, but if the best job you can get (if you can get one at all) only pays that minimum wage, that is going to be extra difficult. Wouldn't it help if the minimum wage were higher? Yet, conservatives tend to be against increasing the minimum wage or sometimes even having a minimum wage. (Admittedly, I do not know the views of my coworker on this issue.) I could perhaps forgive this, too, if the argument were that people need to demand better wages for themselves instead of having the government set wages for them. Well, one of the best ways to do this is to form unions. But guess what? Conservatives tend to be against unions, too!

   This is the hideousness of conservatism. If a poor person receives any government assistance, they are considered a moocher and are told to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But then conservatives turn around and make that task more difficult! It's as though they don't really want these people to pick themselves up at all. That, my reader, is the immorality of conservatism. I think there are a lot of people out there that have picked up on this. Unfortunately, it may be because so many have been impacted directly by this immorality.

* This should have been the first clue that their ideology is immoral. Calling poor people lazy is their way of justifying their ideology. They realize that it is immoral not to help people, so they have to paint the picture that these poor people don't actually want help to explain why they won't help.

** When originally telling my wife this story, I claimed he said it was a cot. My memory is thus not completely reliable. But I find it safe to conclude that he must have either said or intended to say hammock.

*** And I wouldn't necessarily call what they do "living." For those who truly are living on the dole, it's not the cozy lifestyle of relaxing in a hammock that he implies.

**** It is important to consider, too, that this guy is a senior engineer...been with the company for years. I don't know exactly which level he is at, but it looks like he could be making anywhere from $63,800 to $142,100. I expect his earnings would be more in the middle of that. So here is this guy perhaps making $100,000 a year (plus he has health care!) calling the people who make $15,000 a year (who may not have health care) moochers. Fuck that shit.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dumb Christian Arguments that Cause My Head to Explode: "Old Testament Laws No Longer Apply"

   This — and variations thereof — is one that I hear a lot. Often I hear it from more liberal Christians, but even the more conservative Christians use this when they are out to defend their religion from parts so despicable that even they have to admit as much. (Personally, the last time I encountered this was with a woman**** working for the Obama campaign and she was using this as a reason conservatives are wrong to fight against equality for homosexuals.) The main problems, as I see them, are twofold:
  1. This is not clearly* supported in scripture as far as I am aware. In fact, I know scripture says just the opposite in Matthew 5:18 — "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Oh, and if you teach people that even the least (however that is determined) of the laws are not important, you risk your spot in heaven.

    Side note: This reminds me that the visitation pastor speaking at my niece's baptism told the parishioners that those laws weren't important to know. Boy did I want to just about scream at that moment! (Which was further instigated by her and the associate(?) pastor discussing whether the number of laws was closer to 600 or 620, to which I really wanted to shout, "There are 613!!!") It's bad enough when churches teach things as fact that contradict scientific knowledge (that particular day it was that "the wind blows wherever it pleases" — in reality, wind blows from cold air masses toward warm air masses); it's a whole nother story when they can't even get their own scripture right!

  2. Now, you may be able to find contradictions in the Bible (there's a big surprise!), in which case the bigger issue is that the core of the Christian theology of the major denominations in the USA does not support this idea. From the first point, the prior verse (Matthew 5:17) has Jesus claiming he came to fulfill the law. As per Christian theology (including that of the church mentioned in the side note above), Jesus was supposedly a person free of sin who died to serve as punishment for all of us sinning humans. Well, what is "sin"? Basically, a person sins when they violate one of those laws. (If you look at Wikipedia, "sin is the act of violating God's will." But note that the link for "God's will" goes to the article for "Divine law.") So if you claim that the law no longer applies, then a person can no longer sin. Yet, Christian theology teaches that we do still sin. Therefore, the laws must still be in effect.

UPDATE: I was reminded of where the contradictions in the Bible are. I've addressed this in a short post here.

   If this argument is so bad, why do Christians use it? I think the answer is twofold. One, people generally don't examine arguments for logical flaws, which allows bad arguments to work. This leads to two, which is that the goal is to find an argument that successfully defends the faith, not one that is logically sound. And the faith requires a defense because many of those laws are absurd (can't eat shellfish is the common example), no longer followed, or it is now recommended that one does the opposite of the law. (Here's one I violated just last week by having my dog neutered: "Not to castrate the male of any species; neither a man, nor a domestic or wild beast, nor a fowl.") Christians know having such laws in the books (see what I did there?) makes their religion look bad. My suspicion would be that Christians have used other excuses to defend the OT laws in the past, but they were less successful than this commonly used excuse that the laws no longer apply and therefore are no longer used.

   And what happens when the religious have their logical flaws pointed out to them? Well, they also have handy defense mechanisms against atheists like myself. Typically, ad hominems are unleashed. We are just these bitter atheists who hate their god and are just out to destroy religion (maybe we are even doing the work of Satan), so any argument we make can be ignored,*** logical though it may be. And then they return to their echo chamber of fellow Christians who reinforce their belief that they are not irrational.

* There are likely verses in the New Testament where Jesus is claimed to have said something that contradicts one of those OT laws. I can't think of any specific examples. "Turn the other check" instead of "an eye for an eye" apparently isn't one of them (because "an eye for an eye" is not law). But if there are such verses, I would count them as the contradictions they are and not as evidence that Jesus was doing away with the laws.

** This reminds me that I need to add to my first asterisked note above. I think there are verses in the NT that have Jesus violating OT law. Again, I can't think of any specific examples. But, yet again, these should be counted as the contradictions they are and not as evidence that Jesus was doing away with the laws.

*** The one thing I am actually bitter about, if you could not tell, is being ignored simply for being an atheist.

**** I kind of wish I would have engaged with her on that. But, at the time, I was not intending to have such a conversation (she is the one who brought it up). In hindsight, she is exactly the type of person I need to have such conversations with, because she might not have been able to easily dismiss my argument considering that we had shared political goals (common ground takes the edge off of ad hominems).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Can the Vikings please do something about the QB?

   I'm going to do something a little bit different on this blog and talk NFL football. I am a Vikings fan, but do they have a QB problem right now! This last game against Green Bay was awful. I, like other Vikings fans, want things to change in this week's Monday Morning Mailbag. (I'm highlighting disappointing parts of the response.)
How long will the Vikings give Christian Ponder to show improvement? The end of this season, or next season?  If anything, he has regressed as this season has gone on, and I don't see how long they can hang on to that position being a weak link. A better receiver would help, but Ponder has to shoulder some of the blame here.
-- Brian
Sturgis, SD

There’s no way around the fact that the Vikings need better play from the quarterback position. No one, from Head Coach Leslie Frazier to Ponder himself, will hide from that fact. Criticism of and impatience for Ponder is increasing among the fan base, but the team’s long-term outlook on Ponder remains the same. I’ve written many times in the Monday Morning Mailbag this year that we have to live with the mistakes Ponder is making because he’s the hand-selected franchise quarterback. Granted, seeing the same mistakes time and again causes the frustration to intensify and the impatience to grow. But I’m willing to be patient with Ponder and give him more time to get it right. I also still contend that the Vikings can play better around Ponder, specifically at the receiver position.

Uggg...can we fire the people who "hand-selected" Ponder? I agree that Minnesota does not have the best of receivers, especially right now with Harvin injured, but Ponder missed some of his throws when the receivers were there (granted, a couple of the main examples were throws toward running backs that were on wheel routes down the sideline — not technically wide receivers, but a bad miss is a bad miss regardless of the position of the target).
I'm not saying Joe Webb is the answer, but Ponder just isn't giving the Vikings a chance to win. So why not try something new? The Jets finally broke down and benched their starter. Why not the Vikings, too?
-- Mike H.
Austin, MN

Obviously, the aftermath of the Vikings loss to Green Bay is going to feature almost exclusively criticism of Ponder. It’s understandable, but it’s also unfortunate because Adrian Peterson dazzled us all once again by rushing for 201 yards. Regardless, the main talker coming out of this week for Vikings fans will be Ponder. And I think there are two parts to the discussion.

The first is the global, long-term outlook on Ponder, which was just discussed in the previous question. The team is developing Ponder and I think they should stick to the plan and keep building this offense around him. The second is the short-term look at the situation. I’m not on the side that says Ponder will never be a good quarterback for the Vikings. But I can hear the argument that perhaps Webb could’ve entered the game on Sunday and given the Vikings a chance to win the game.

Unfortunate? Yeah, Peterson dazzled, but the Vikings lost. What is unfortunate is that Peterson did so well just so the QB could come in and screw everything up. Otherwise, on this whole issue around Ponder, I have been finding myself deeply confused these past few years since they drafted Ponder. I have not seen reason to believe that Joe Webb is an awful QB, though maybe the coaches see things in practice that I don't. That's not to say I think he'd ever be a good QB, but perhaps he could be mediocre. So what do the Vikings do? They go draft a new QB that looks to just be mediocre. (Again, maybe they were seeing something in Ponder at the time that I wasn't...obviously it is there job to analyze tapes and it is not mine.) Now after almost two seasons, Ponder is looking to be that mediocre QB. And now we are supposed to "stick to the plan." This does not please me. That's not to say that this is the wrong course of action. I think the wrong course of action was taken nearly three years ago when Ponder was drafted. Now the course is to make the best of that mistake, which may unfortunately be "stick to the plan." The plan could just as well have been build a team around Webb, and — most importantly — they then could have used that draft pick where they got Ponder to do just that. I guess I'll just never understand football culture and why such emphasis and importance is put on having a sole starting QB.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Biased vs. Balanced

   Bias seems to be something some people just don't understand. First, the definition (as found using a Google search with Mozilla Firefox browser):
Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

   The mistake I have seen a couple people clearly make is that if you have two sides of an issue and each side is not treated 50/50, then there is bias. The first time I saw this was in a review for the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) where the reviewer was claiming the book to be biased because it was critical of more conservatives than liberals. It may have been from this review (I thought I had left a comment on the review at the time...but maybe a mistake is being made by me!):
Interesting but has a definite liberal bias,

The book is interesting. The subject of the book is our "blind spots." Unfortunately, the authors seem to have a few blind spots of their own, which is not surprising. Unfortunately, it makes the book annoying to those of us who don't buy into the liberal political view. Specifically, almost every time the authors pick a public figure as an example of bad behavior, they almost invariably pick a conservative or republican. Dick Cheney, George W Bush, Antonin Scalia, etc etc. Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton get mentioned, but in a much softer light. It seems that liberals just don't make as many mistakes as us conservatives. I expected better, especially since the authors spend a lot of time talking about the importance of unbiased psychological experiments.

   The latest example is from a blog post on Dispatches I saw today:
And they have “definitive proof” that Politifact is biased, which is going to crack you up. Their proof is that they added up all the times Politifact had called a political claim a “pants on fire” lie and — shock and horror — conservatives were more likely to receive that designation than liberals. They don’t dispute a single one of those “pants on fire” calls; in fact, they don’t even discuss any of them. All that matters to them are the numbers.
To have any semblance of fairness, PolitiFact should play it 50/50 and present an equal number of lies from both sides. They clearly are not concerned with any pretense.
Ed asks what should be the obvious question: "Well that might be true, if both sides lied equally often. Do they?"

   The possible confusion* in both of these cases is thinking that treatment needs to be 50/50 in order to be unbiased. But this is not the case. Seeing that I had not left a comment to that review above, I added one in which I said the following:
Let's say for the sake of argument that liberals make twice as many mistakes as conservatives. For a book to be unbiased, then it better have twice as many liberal examples as conservative examples, because that would reflect reality. But if a book were balanced with examples (same number of liberal examples as conservative examples, or 50/50), then that book would actually contain a liberal bias since it under-represents liberal mistakes in regards to reality.
   To restate the above, reporting incidents at a 50/50 rate is only unbiased if such incidents occur at that 50/50 rate. If the rate is actually 60/40, for example, then reporting must also be 60/40 to be unbiased. This is not to say that the book or Politifact are not biased, but before such a claim of bias can be made, the person making the claim needs to know the real-life rates of the reported incidents.

* Or it could be the case that these people do understand the difference between bias and balance, but rather they are incorrectly making the assumption that reality is going to be 50/50.

   As an aside, here's an interesting tidbit from the second example as to why Michelle Bachmann has been treated unfairly:
They also unfairly tarnish Michele Bachmann as a liar, when anybody who follows her already understands that many of her statements aren’t meant to be truthful in the first place — she simply says what she feels.
So...if what she says is a lie, we are not to call her out on her lie because she is speaking from the heart...or something? OhhhhhhhhhhhhK.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Post-Mortum

   Well, it's mostly good news coming out of the election. Let's see what I can all remember.


    Good news!

  • Obama wins!!!
  • Voter suppression efforts in Ohio fail. I had some concerns that Obama supporters would get frustrated with the long lines, no thanks to early voting having been cut. I was confident that a majority of Ohioans supported Obama; it was just a matter of securing those votes. I was quite sure Romney shot any chance he may have had with his "Jeep moves manufacturing to China" ads. (It is important to note that those were his ads and not those of a supportive Super PAC.)
  • Elizabeth Warren will be in the Senate! This is good as she should be a voice for the 99% and should be supportive of policies that reign in big banks. The problem will be getting such policies to the floor.
  • Alan Grayson is back in da House! He's another good voice for the 99%.
  • Some Tea Partiers have been (or likely will be) sent home or were asked to stay home: Allen West, Joe Walsh, Richard Mourdock, and Todd Akin who was served up a double-whammy as he had to surrender his House seat to run for the Senate.
  • Bad news :(

  • Wingnuttia High School prom king and queen (Steve King and Michelle Bachmann) held on to their seats.
  • Democrats really didn't make any gains in the House like I would have hoped. There are 13 toss-ups yet, but the Republicans have the majority. From 2010, they outnumbered Dems 242-193. Dems only have 191 right now, but are expected to have 198 based on current results from those toss-ups. That's a whopping gain of 5. (Or it can be looked at as a 10 point swing when counting the seats Republicans lost...which are not necessarily the same seats. Redistricting — some seats went away, such as IA-5, while new seats have been added, such as AZ-9.)


    Good news!

  • My soon-to-be Congressmanperson, Bruce Braley, was reelected. And it wasn't very close like it was in 2010 (same opponent then, too).
  • My soon-to-be former Congressmanperson, Dave Loebsack, handily defeated his opponent, opponent who reeked of Tea.
  • Justice Wiggins was retained!
    Extra thoughts: As I said earlier, I think 2010 was a wake-up call. Another factor that I had not fully considered is that it has been two more years...two more years for people to realize that gay marriage is no big deal and that the apocalypse is not coming as a result. Also, the other judges were retained by about 40 points more than Wiggins. So it would seem many of the "No" voters indeed knew who they were targeting.
  • Democrats look to make a reasonable gain in the Iowa House, including in my district. It may not be enough to take over the House, but the Republicans won't have as large of a majority.
  • Bad news :(

  • As previously mentioned, Steve King getting reelected.
  • In the "merged" district that had a Republican incumbent vs. a Democratic incumbent, the Republican prevailed. So now Iowa is split 50/50 on representation, for both House and Senate, between Democrats and Republican, whereas the split used to be 57/43 (4 to 3) in favor of the Democrats.

Other (mostly good news here):

  • Gay marriage wins support in Maryland and Maine. Washington (the state), which apparently has only mail-in voting, still has a lot of counting to do, but the results thus far look promising. Minnesota, which had an amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman, has lost. (My understanding is that this will not make gay marriage legal in Minnesota, but a win for the amendment could have added a hurdle.) The issue of gay marriage was 4/4 last night. Awesome!
  • Marijuana for recreational use wins support in Colorado and Washington (the state). This is good because the so-called "War on Drugs" has been quite costly and ineffective. This could put pressure on the Obama administration to ease federal restrictions. Some other states failed to approve marijuana for either recreational or medicinal purposes, so we may not be quite there yet this election. This is an issue to watch the next 4 years.
  • I have learned today that Florida had some awful measures on its ballot, including one that would give government funds to religious organizations (I hear it would repeal a ban on such funding...either way you look at it, it was a bad idea). The three bad ones I heard about have all been defeated.
  • OK, this one is mixed. I learned yesterday that California had a measure to end the death penalty. Sadly, this was defeated. But they also had a measure to revise the three-strikes law. This, I hear, passed!

UPDATE: Also, Puerto Rico wants to be a State. I cannot see this desire happening with the current state of Congress, though. (Too many raciest Republicans.) END UPDATE

UPDATE 2: Also worth noting — more female representatives. It's where near 50%, though. Interestingly, the article I linked points out that all of New Hampshire's representatives (both Senators and their 2 Congresspersons (hmmmm...I feel like I need to make some corrections up above)) are women. Looks like they elected a female Governor, too! END UPDATE 2

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Revisited: Should You Be Forced to Vote?

   Last night was my atheist social group's First Friday, a monthly social gathering held at someone's house — this time, mine! One of the many discussions involved a topic I just blogged about yesterday! (No, I was not the one to start the discussion.) That topic was about forcing people to vote.

   One of the points that was brought up is one I had considered while watching that video, but forgot about by the time I started writing the post. This point is that Australians, who are forced to vote (or face a penalty), at least have the option of "None of the Above." This is certainly an option that would need to be given if you were required to vote. It could also help reduce the impact of those uninformed voters if they were to choose that option in recognition of their own lack of knowledge. (But I would not expect all uninformed voters to do so.)

   Perhaps the best point made was one that I had not considered and that is the idea that if you force people to participate, it may make some of them want to become more informed. And that would be a good thing! It would certainly be better than the current state of things where we have Republicans trying to mislead voters to prevent them from voting.

   As for another thought that came to me yesterday, I have to point out that more education does not actually work. I don't have my sources handy at the moment, but I seem to recall that, when it comes to those who deny human-made global warming, educated Republicans tend to deny it more and more passionately than less educated Republicans. There is a psychological concept — I don't know if it has a name — that I know some atheists have pointed out, often in regards to religious people who are smart. The concept is that, as one becomes smarter, they just come up with more clever ways to fool themselves. When you look at some global warming denialists, you can get suggestions such it the sun is in a cycle where it is burning hotter. My guess is that such suggestions are coming from the more educated folk. (Oh, and the political group that is biggest on denying global warming? Libertarians!)

   This leads me back to the update I added in that last post, where I talked about people having a skewed view of their "neighbor." Such as thinking homosexuality results from a mental disorder. Or that poor people are moochers. If people don't have an accurate model of the world, all the policy knowledge in the world ain't going to be worth squat.

   Oh, and one last thing...there was a part in that video where the presenter was saying we don't need to protect the disadvantaged from the advantaged because the advantaged aren't out to exploit their neighbor. If you haven't figured it out, let me be clear that this is bullshit; they do need protecting.

Friday, November 2, 2012

And now, a pro-Wiggins ad

   So, I saw a pro-Wiggins ad today, and it caused a WTF?!? reaction.


   The issue? It's a picture of a white, heterosexual couple. Yeah...they are really in need of equal protection, aren't they? (sarcasm)

   I actually do get it, though. While their demographic isn't that which needs to worry about equal protection, the ad is aimed at undecideds and showing a picture of a group that is fighting for equal protection (in this case, homosexual couples) could ignite the inner bigot of such voters. Showing them a picture of people who belong to their group, however, could have a reverse-psychology effect. The picture speaks "White heterosexuals, like you, need protecting." The goal, then, is for those viewing the ad to agree to this hidden message.

   And just a quick tromp through the website...
The Iowa Supreme Court provides equal protection under the law.

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled government cannot discriminate against a person based on race, gender, how much money they make or their sexual orientation. Retaining justices on the Iowa Supreme Court helps protect Iowans from discrimination.
The only thing I would say differently is that we should retain justices on the Iowa Supreme Court that have upheld the idea of equal protection. That is what Wiggins did. Judges who don't should get the boot. As for the other three judges, I don't know anything about how they have handled such matters; about all I know is that they are relatively new to the court. I voted to retain them, though, as I have not heard any reason as for why I should not do so.

   I also have one more thing to add to my post on the anti-Wiggins site: It is with the idea that "if activist judges can redefine marriage, then all our freedoms and rights are at stake." I have a better idea where this is coming from thanks to the awesome political blogger Ed Brayton. He has a post on penumbral reasoning, which amounts to judges determining that certain rights are implied by the constitution, though not implicitly stated. (In the case of Ed's post, that would be the US Constitution specifically, but the same concept should be able to be applied to any state constitution.) When such conclusions go against conservative wishes, these conservatives tend to accuse the judges of "creating a right out of thin air." In this case, the right is for homosexual couples to get married. More to the point, if they can create rights out of thin air, can they likewise take rights away in the same manner? That is the threat the conservative scare people with. The reality, of course, is that these rights were not created out of thin air, so such fears are unfounded.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Learn Liberty - Should You Be Forced to Vote?

   So for some time I have subscribed to this Libertarian YouTube channel called Learn Liberty. I guess I like to torture myself once in a while... No, really, it's more that I want to "know my enemy" as there are a lot of atheists who hold Libertarian views. I've intended to comment on these every now and then, but I guess I've gotten lazy. Or there were more pertinent things on my mine. And maybe I'll go through the older videos to chip in my two cents...or maybe not. Anyway, for a quick "About" on the videos, they typically have some college professor from some various college talk about some specific topic for the entire video.

   Anyway, the latest video is about forcing people to vote. I guess I may be taking an interest in this one because I heard some coworkers talking about this very topic a few weeks ago. So, here's the video, with Prof. Jason Brennan from the University of Arizona, with my comments following below:

Bigots hiding their bigotry make the worst arguments

   First, a brief history...

   In April of 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on a case on the topic of gay marriage (Varnum v. Brien). This is the ruling that effectively (more on this in a bit) made gay marriage legal here in Iowa.

   The next point of interest involves the fact that Iowa votes to retain justices on our state Supreme Court (as well as other courts). In 2010, three of the justices that ruled on that case were up for this retention vote. All three were voted out. Big time. And the reason many people had for voting them out was over the ruling in that gay marriage case. (I myself voted out two of them...more because I thought they had served on the court long enough as I am a believer in term limits. I now regret that decision.)

   The reason basically amounts to their religious beliefs that gay marriage = evil. But of course, they can't exactly be honest about their reasons so they instead try to give non-religious arguments instead. As these non-religious arguments aren't their real arguments, they end up being quite flawed, as we are about to see.

   Now, to the present, there seems to be one judge up for retention that was involved in that ruling (I assume this because he is the only one I have seen attack ads against). This would be David Wiggins. And now I'd like to go over the non-religious arguments that are on the main attack website, since an ad for it showed up in one of the blogs I read.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

IDHEF - Chapter 5: The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe? (Part II)

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

Part II


   There's not a whole lot to say with this section as they are most likely operating off of that straw man argument about the first life being complex as life today. I do, however, want to cover some of the things that they say that is either them being stupid or them lying. Oh, and since the subsections are short, I'm not going to bother creating headers for them.

   I have to start out with this idea that "nature disorders, it doesn't organize things" (p124). This takes us back to that issue I had just moments ago related to chemicals. If nature doesn't organize things, then how did I go from being a single cell to the multicellular organism I am today? From what they suggest here, my growth from embryo to adult must not have been a natural process, because they say nature doesn't organize. Which is interesting, considering that in Chapter 4, one of the anthropic principles they list seismic activity and speak about how it cycles back "nutrients on the ocean floors" (p106). So they seem to know what they say here is not true. So are they being stupid or are they lying? (Another example I have considered myself is thunderstorms (or the water cycle). If you listen to a weatherperson, ze may refer to a storm as a "complex." Or ze may talk about a storm "building." So are storms supernatural then? How about hurricanes? Or what about stars? Right now, our sun is performing nuclear fusion, combining hydrogen atoms to form helium. Stars more massive than our own can form as much as iron through their normal fusion process. This is organization coming from natural processes. Or are they claiming nuclear fusion is a supernatural process?)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Theologians Respond! ...Laughably.

   I've seen some theologians respond to Mourdock's comments about rape. They have been mostly laughable from my perspective. Let's take a look at some...

From CNN...
Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the best-selling book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” said Mourdock’s remarks were off-base: “He’s invoking the will of God where it is not appropriate."
What does that mean...not appropriate? Better yet, when is it appropriate? This goes with many of the points I made in my post. It seems perfectly acceptable to "invoke the will of God" when good things happen or in regards to the survivors of a tragedy. But when bad things happen or in regards to those who died in the very same tragedy? Not appropriate!!! That is how I read this quote; it's not that Mourdock was wrong but rather that Mourdock violated the first rule of Fight Club (which is to not talk about Fight Club).

People “should have compassion for the person whose life is messed up by this and not make her an instrument for our idiosyncratic, theological commitment,” Kushner said.
Again, it still feels that this Rabbi is not disagreeing with Mourdock as much as thinks Mourdock needs to shut up.

“If you believe she has no right to terminate that pregnancy, you're free to believe that,” Kushner said. “But for you to write your preferences into law and compel another person to mess her life up because of what you believe, I think you're going too far.”
This is one of those quotes that really bothers me. Of course he's supposed to try to write this stuff into law! What is the purpose of laws, after all, if not to give or ban certain rights? I believe that no one has the right to own slaves. Should we not have this written into our laws? The real issue here is that this belief stems purely from Mourdock's religious beliefs. He has no good non-religious reasons for writing this into law, which, as a secular nation, is supposed to be par for the course.

"Once again, expressions of Christian faith that honor the rights of women to choose their own health care options and what happens to their bodies are not seen or heard," wrote the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel.
Yeah, and do you want to know why? Because the people who are honoring the rights of women are doing so not because their Christianity dictates it but because they are people who care about the rights of others. Get it? Mourdock's beliefs stem directly from his Christian beliefs. The beliefs of these other Christians do not. I will concede, however, that not all denominations of Christianity dictate the beliefs that Mourdock has.

Father Tom Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said he found Mourdock’s comments troubling from a Catholic perspective because “God does not want rape to happen.”
Hey, didn't we recently see someone else say we shouldn't be "invoking the will of God"...or something? Oh, but that's right! That comment was about doing it when it was "inappropriate." Yet, this goes to my point that it's fine to invoke this will when it has a positive feel to it.

“Someone getting pregnant through rape simply means biology continues to function,” Reese said. “That doesn’t mean God wills it.
I completely agree! But then you don't get to say that "God wills it" in regards to someone getting pregnant through consensual sex. What bothers me is how it's biology, except when it isn't. By which I mean it seems very convenient that it is biology only when it is inconvenient to be the "will of God." To be fair, I don't know if this particular person believes it to not be biology otherwise, but I do get such impressions from other people.

“If we look at the Scriptures, we see a God who weeps with those going through pain, who is compassionate for those who suffer and condemns those who do injustice,” Reese said.
I saw pretty much the same comment from another theologian on Raw Story (posted later below). Some of the reaction there amounted to, "Umm... have you read your Bible?" I would assume this person has. I grant that you can find parts in the Bible that sound much like this (probably without the weeping deity, though). There are a lot of parts that portray much the opposite, especially in the Old Testament. The New Testament is more mixed. In one passage, you may have a Jesus who seems to care about helping people. The next? A Jesus who threatens people with hell mobster style! (In other words, the threats are indirect. A mobster may threaten someone's family by saying, "That's a nice family you have there. It'd be a shame if something happened to them!" Such indirectness has, unfortunately, made it easier for Christians to deny that such threats exist.)

Paul Root Wolpe, the director for the Center of Ethics at Emory University, said Mourdock’s comments were the equivalent “of saying you shouldn't pull people out of the rubble because God intended the earthquake to happen or we shouldn't try to cure disease because it's God who gave us the disease,” Wolpe said.
First, where, exactly, was Mourdock saying we shouldn't help rape victims? He was just saying that they have to keep any pregnancies that may result. Maybe (I doubt it, but maybe) he's all for providing them with some financial assistance while they go through the pregnancy and perhaps afterward as well if they decide to raise the child themselves? I see what he is trying to do with these analogies, but they don't fit. Second, notice that he isn't denying that his god intends earthquakes, disease, and (probably) rape.

[Mike Deeg, the pastor of Mourdock's church] said of what he has read about Mourdock’s remarks, they largely lined up with the church’s teachings on the sanctity of life and their belief that life begins at conception.

“I think rape is a horrible thing, and I think God would condemn rape as horrible,” Deeg said. “I think we’re made in the image of God regardless,” he added, “I don’t think the circumstances dictate whether God knows us and loves us, regardless of how our conception comes about.”
He agrees with Mourdock. Color me shocked! (not)

And just an extra, since it stuck out...
[John] South, the chaplain in Phoenix, said the 12-year-old girl he met years ago opted for an abortion and her father was ultimately convicted of rape. He said he grappled often with “why she was subjected to such horrendous pain and torture, mentally, physically and emotionally.”

“Did it shake my faith? No,” South said. “Did I ask God why? Of course.”
Did you get an answer?

So let's recap. What did our theologians/rabbis/pastors actually say in regards to Mourdock (paraphrasing)?

Rabbi Harold Kushner - "Don't talk about it!" Doesn't say Mourdock is wrong. Sure, doesn't say Mourdock is right, either, but he sure blew an opportunity if he does disagree.
Father Tom Reese - "God doesn't intend rape!" But Mourdock didn't say that about the rape. He said it about the pregnancy. People have inferred that means the rape must be intended as well. I disagree.
- "Pregnancy from rape is biological!" This one addresses what Mourdock actually said and shows clear disagreement. But what are his thoughts toward pregnancies that are from consensual sex? Are there inconsistencies?
Paul Root Wolpe - "We help people who are in crisis!" Mourdock never said we don't; doesn't address issue.
Pastor Mike Degg - "Yep, everything he said we teach in my church!" Proud pastor!

Out of all those quotes in that post, we found merely one paragraph that actually countered what Mourdock said. Everything else either agrees with Mourdock (Degg), dances around the question (Kushner, South), or answers the wrong questions (Reese's first quote, Wolpe).

From Christian Science Monitor (via Raw Story)...
What Mourdock said “is offensive,” says Richard Lints, a theologian of the Reformed tradition... “The clumsiness is [to] so align God with evil that God becomes a horrific figure. It’s contrary to anything you read in scripture, and it removes the human responsibility.”
This is the quote I referenced above that had an "Umm... have you read your Bible?" reaction. Of course he has, but I would guess he's aiming for an audience that hasn't...unless he has actually convinced himself that what he speaks of the Bible is true.

“The Calvinist would say God has permitted [bad] things to happen” because humans have free agency, says Gary Scott Smith, a Presbyterian minister and historian at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. “But we should not attribute [evil things] to God, even though God can bring good things out of them.”
This is the more interesting one. It's on the verge of being contradictory, if not so. The issue is that the free will defense* is used to explain why bad things happen. But, to be consistent, it should be all-or-nothing. Either this god does get involved in things both good and bad or not at all. The way this is stated, I get the impression from the "God can bring good things out of them" remark that this god can be involved, but this involvement is one-sided. Now, this is a Presbyterian minister talking about Calvinist beliefs, so perhaps he is not agreeing with the free will defense. But then how is he justifying this point about how "we should not attribute [evil things] to God"?

Moreover, there is nothing here that is in disagreement with what Mourdock said. This appears to be addressing the rape. Again, Mourdock said the pregnancy, not the rape, was intended by his god. The pregnancy could be viewed by someone like Mourdock as a "good thing" brought out of the rape.

Here's one I like...
What’s more, some also worry that “if you start restricting the scope of providence, that’s a slippery slope to atheism,” says [Peter] Thuesen, a professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “It calls into question whether there really is a God who controls all things.”
He appears to be saying that if you apply this god's care or intervention with a limited scope, this could lead to a lack of belief. I somewhat agree, mostly if people would actually sit down and think about their beliefs. But I find that a lot of people already do limit that scope, which was much the point to my first post on this Mourdock topic. Yet, they're not atheists.

This confuses me, though. Can someone explain?
Mourdock isn’t part of any obscure sect. He reportedly attends Christian Fellowship Church in Evansville, Ind. It’s a “fairly typical Evangelical megachurch,” not a hub of fringe theology, according to Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illinois. Insofar as Mourdock seeks to emphasize God’s sovereignty in all things, he belongs to a “vocal minority subculture” in the United States, Thuesen says.
So...he isn't part of any obscure sect...but...he belongs to a "vocal minority" all at the same time. Yes, yes, I see the "insofar" which is limiting the topic, but why doesn't the rest of this sect share his view? We have quotes from the pastor from the previous link in agreement with Mourdock, after all. Or do they share this view, but are just not vocal about it?

Summarizing this link, we once again have theologians who aren't clearly saying Mourdock is wrong. Or where they appear to be doing so, they are once again either misrepresenting their scripture or referring to the rape itself, which Mourdock never said was intended.

Which all goes to the point I was making in my earlier post that nothing Mourdock said was wrong theologically.

* For those who are unfamiliar, the idea is that this god does not intervene in human affairs because allowing us free will is preferred to stopping bad things from happening. But this means this god is supposed to stay out of causing good things to happen as well. I find it to be a problematic defense for Christianity largely because there are many stories that have their god intervening. Also, many Christians don't believe in it. If they did, then they wouldn't have believed that their god was responsible for the Denver Broncos winning football games with Tim Tebow as quarterback.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sorry I am slow on the binders!

   I did not watch much of the second presidential debate. I thought I'd just catch up on the highlights that Wednesday morning. It took me off-guard that the highlight from the debate was Mitt Romney speaking about "binders full of women." When shown the context in which the statement was made, it was clear that he was trying to say something more along the lines of "binders full of women's resumes" and that he had a slip of the tongue. I could see the humor behind such a slip, but — come on! — this is supposed to be serious. I initially felt that Romney could have been given a break. The bigger concern was whether or not the story were true, which it is not.

   And for not getting it, I am sorry. I consider myself a feminist, so equal rights (and equal pay) for women is important to me. Unfortunately, I am still blinded by my male privilege. Mitt Romney, and especially the Republican party in general, have been quite horrible toward women's rights this election cycle. They have displayed such a disregard for women that they've run out of breaks. This is something I should have realized. But, again, male privilege. I don't have to suffer the consequences of policies that hurt women. (Or rather my suffering is much less visible/obvious. The reality is that we all suffer from inequality, but many don't realize we are suffering because we don't have a state where there is no suffering with which to compare.) More important to this particular issue, I never have to deal with being treated as a non-person. Or, in other words, as an object. So when Romney said something that objectifies women, I was slow to grasp why the outrage because he wasn't objectifying me.

   Once again, I apologize and will work to improve my awareness.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's consitent, not outrageous.

   I've discussed in the past a bit about inconsistencies in liberal* Christianity and I'm finding I need to discuss it again as some news items have been causing me to facepalm.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

7% or more of US population are atheists (some just don't know it)

UPDATE: It would appear that I am not having a very insightful day! I think I was too caught up crunching numbers that I didn't see that the numbers were actually there in front of me. It says right on that second chart that the percentage of those affiliated with a religion but are neither spiritual nor religious is 8% of that group. This would be around 6% of the overall population, a couple points more than my conservative estimate of 4%. /UPDATE

UPDATE_2: To be fair and honest (at least as much as I can be since I am working with somewhat contradictory data), I must also note that a portion — 18% — of the nones describe themselves as "religious." Much like I wondered if those who are affiliated with a religion but don't consider themselves religious should be counted as part of the nones, I must likewise wonder if this group should not be counted. In which case, perhaps the 20% estimate is, overall, a reasonable estimate since there could be both additions and subtractions of people who were incorrectly categorized. /UPDATE_2

   Many blogs have been covering the news yesterday from the Pew Forum about the rise in those who are "unaffiliated," which will be henceforth referred to as "nones." It is cool news, as far as I am concerned. One thing that has been pointed out (as it has in the past) is that not all of the nones are atheists. It is correct to point this out. But I find it odd that no one seems to actually proclaim what the overall percentage of atheists is. From the survey, it would seem that number could be 7%.

   If you look at the chart below, it says that the number of atheists is 2.4%.  But this is based on the number of people who identify as atheists.  This does not include the number of people who are atheists but may not identify as such or not be aware that they are atheists.

   Something I wrote a long time ago was about what an atheist is. Simply, and atheist is someone who does not believe in a god. In the survey, Pew Forum apparently collected data on the question of the existence of a god (or "universal spirit"):

   7% said they don't believe in a god*, and that should be the minimum number of atheists. I say should and minimum because there are the data:
  • 27% of the nones are atheists, based on this data. But this only accounts for 5.4% of the overall population at most, assuming 27 comes from rounding down from near 27.5. This leaves at least a full percentage of atheists that are affiliated. This, though, is not necessarily unheard of as there have been atheists who affiliate themselves with a religion for cultural reasons. The main example are Jewish atheists, who are atheists that come from a Jewish family background. There have been suspicions that there are a number of atheists who are culturally Catholic and label themselves as Catholic. This may account for this discrepancy.
  • This same chart notes that 15% are "neither spiritual nor religious." This would suggest that there could be as many as half of the people who make this claim who may also believe in god. This isn't necessarily a contradiction and, even if it were, doesn't mean people cannot hold contradictory beliefs, but it is still a seemingly high percentage in my opinion. The key may be that one of the answers for the god belief question is "Yes, but less certain." Perhaps there are some people who are very much less uncertain that they would have been better off to answer "No."
    But this discrepancy is even harder to explain as it also has much the same discrepancy as under the first bullet. In this case, the nones that are neither spiritual nor religious only account for 8.3 of the overall population at most. There could be 4%** of this neither spiritual nor religious group that are affiliated with a religion! Now that is contradictory. Once again, it could be that there are people culturally affiliated with a religion, but don't really believe what the church is selling them.
   Could this then mean there is a good size of the population that is very close to becoming atheist? I suspect the answer could very well be "Yes," and this could put the atheist population at as much as 13%. At the very least, it may be that the actual percentage of nones could be closer to 23-25%. What I would like to see in future surveys is a question (or questions) for that affiliated group relating to whether or not they affiliate for cultural reasons or because they actually believe the church doctrine, much like what the Richard Dawkins Foundation did in the UK.

* May there be a need to note that they capitalize the word "god"? What about polytheists who believe in multiple gods? I would suspect such people would still answer "Yes" to the question, so this is likely not an issue.

** On the math: This assumes "worst case scenario" in which the 15% is rounded up from 14.5%. It is noted that 2% of the population answered "Don't know" to the question of affiliation and then it is assumed (worst case scenario, again) that all 100% of these are neither spiritual nor religious. Assuming this number was rounded down from just less than 2.5, this gets us to 8.3 + 2.5, or 10.7%. This is 3.8% away from 14.5%, or about 4% when rounded.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Christians and the Death Penalty - The New Testament reaffirms the Old.

   I recently wrote how Christian scriptures support the death penalty, but my reasoning came from the Old Testament. While that really should not matter, many Christians claim it does...something about how God was wrathful then, but things are better now. Why? 'Cause Jesus, that's why! So are things really better now? No. Why? 'Cause Jesus, that's why!

   I've seen this idea discussed many times before (so here I am, being slow in the head again), but most recently I saw it in a discussion about how Christianity actually glorifies torture.
[Stephen] Pinker discusses graphically what the Christian idea of the crucifixion really means and invites us to consider how sincere belief in this idea would inform a person's worldview:

"In allowing the crucifixion to take place, God did the world an incalculable favor. Though infinitely powerful, compassionate, and wise, he could think of no other way to reprieve humanity from punishment for its sins (in particular, for the sin of being descended from a couple who had disobeyed him) then to allow an innocent man (his son no less) to be impaled through the limbs and slowly suffocate in agony. By acknowledging that this sadistic murder was a gift of divine mercy, people could earn eternal life. And if they failed to see the logic in all this, their flesh would be seared by fire for all eternity." [p.14]

In the early medieval eras, Christians wrote martyrologies that described the torture and execution of saints with "pornographic relish" [p.14]. For example, Pinker quotes a Christian poet named Prudentius who wrote of a believer watching her son be roasted alive: "[She] showed no signs of grief, rejoicing rather each time the pan hissing hot above the olive wood roasted and scorched her child." [p.15] Other martyrologies praised saints who were variously crucified, impaled, sawn in half, crushed, stoned, beheaded, disemboweled, or broken on the wheel (in which a person was tied to a wagon wheel, their arms and legs smashed with hammers, and then left to slowly die of internal hemorrhage).
   The part in bold font is the most important. Here we have the idea that the best way (it must be the best, because the idea came from on high) to deal with crime (sin) is to execute a person, and someone who is said to not even be guilty of a crime, no less! Now, does this mean that it is then OK to kill someone who is guilty of a crime? I must admit that the logic does not clearly follow, but there isn't anything here to counter the logic of the Old Testament. Fortunately, we have grown somewhat out of that horrible moral state. But, as I said before (in the update), "The problem that religion causes is that it shuts down the debate." Or at least it tries and it certainly stagnates progress.

   I also cannot help but notice that the excuses for why abortion is wrong is because that is "innocent" life. Hmmmm... innocent like Jesus? But it was OK for Jesus to die! The response to that is bound to be that the crime Jesus died for is paid in full, so innocent life after Jesus does not need be put to death.

I love Chris Kluwe, and not just because I am a Vikings fan!

   I just learned Saturday that the punter for the Minnesota Vikings is fucking awesome!

   Background story: Brendon Ayanbadejo, linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, has spoken out in favor of a Maryland ballot initiative that would legalize gay marriage. A Maryland state delegate, Emmett C. Burns Jr, wrote to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, urging him to "inhibit such expressions from your employee."

   Kluwe wrote a very passionate response to Mr. Burns (who looks nothing like that Mr. Burns), including language that I might use (highlighted below)!
Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr.,

I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland's state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words):

1. As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should "inhibit such expressions from your employees," more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person's right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit.

2. "Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment, and excitement." Holy fucking shitballs. Did you seriously just say that, as someone who's "deeply involved in government task forces on the legacy of slavery in Maryland"? Have you not heard of Kenny Washington? Jackie Robinson? As recently as 1962 the NFL still had segregation, which was only done away with by brave athletes and coaches daring to speak their mind and do the right thing, and you're going to say that political views have "no place in a sport"? I can't even begin to fathom the cognitive dissonance that must be coursing through your rapidly addled mind right now; the mental gymnastics your brain has to tortuously contort itself through to make such a preposterous statement are surely worthy of an Olympic gold medal (the Russian judge gives you a 10 for "beautiful oppressionism").

3. This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom? Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way shape or form, affect your life? If gay marriage becomes legal, are you worried that all of a sudden you'll start thinking about penis? "Oh shit. Gay marriage just passed. Gotta get me some of that hot dong action!" Will all of your friends suddenly turn gay and refuse to come to your Sunday Ticket grill-outs? (Unlikely, since gay people enjoy watching football too.)

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won't even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter, in some small way, causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot in mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I'm fairly certain you might need it.

Chris Kluwe

P.S. I've also been vocal as hell about the issue of gay marriage so you can take your "I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing" and shove it in your close-minded, totally lacking in empathy piehole and choke on it. Asshole.

   Kluwe was also on the Ed Show Friday night:

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Ken Ham: A clock that's correct twice a day is better than a clock that is never correct!

(via Pharyngula)

   Ken Ham has some of the dumbest arguments, I often don't know whether to laugh or cry. This week, the argument is essentially because science has changed, and the Bible hasn't, the Bible is more reliable.
An evolutionist could look at this chart and say, "See, scientists are continually studying the data and refining their answers, so we now have the age of the earth and dinosaurs narrowed down." We agree that scientists should continually refine their views as new information becomes available, but that is precisely the problem when it comes to this topic. Evolutionary scientists have changed "common knowledge" multiple times over the past century, yet the Bible has not changed. It still clearly teaches that the universe, earth, and dinosaurs were made during a six-day period about 4,000 years before Christ.
PZ Myers has a more thorough breakdown that I recommend reading, but this got me thinking about how even a broken clock is correct twice a day (assuming we are using 12-hour time). What is often not pointed out is how a working clock may never be correct! Think about it — if I have a clock that keeps perfect* time, but it is a minute off from the actual time, it will always be off by a minute. So which clock would you rather have? The one that's correct twice a day or the one that's never correct?

   Of course, my analogy is flawed. The Bible is just flat out wrong on the issue of the age of the earth (it's not and is never correct) and science works at getting closer to the correct answer. Yet, the larger point I am trying to make is that I'm not going to go with a source just because it may happen to be right once in a while nor because it is consistent/unchanging. If it is a choice between a source that randomly guesses and a source that does actual investigative work to influence its guesses, I'm going with the source that investigates even if the former is correct more often than the later.

* Which isn't really a thing...time is relative. But maybe one could say "perfect relative to the location"? All else I'll say is I didn't want to dive into the philosophy of time on this post.

Friday, September 7, 2012

If the news isn't depressing enough, stay for the comments!!!

   Depressing news: arctic sea ice levels are drastically low. It looks like they are even lower than 2007 levels, which was a hot year. Damn global warming! Yet, how do you fix a problem when so many deny it even exists or, even if they do, have no interest in fixing the problem? Just take a look at some of the "Editor's Picks" for comments:

150. onside

The Earth will sort itself out - whether we're here or not. If we've created the situation, then we may pay for it, the earth however, will live on. There have been major disasters in the past from meteorites and volcanic activity - and eventually it cleans itself up. We're just tourists.
Factually correct, but oh so...uncaring. For whatever reason, I kinda like the human species, and I wouldn't mind it living on this planet for a while longer. And if not the humans, then there are all the other animals who I'd hate have suffer because of humankind's misdeeds. On that note...
147. Howesyourview

...All these people trying to protect polar bears and so on. Have you heard of evolution? Why should we dictate what lives and what dies
Ummm...but we already are dictating this based on the damage we have done to the climate. But based on things said earlier in the comment, which I did not include, it would seem this person does not think human has caused global warming.

58. Frank


The loss of arctic (and antarctic ice) is obviously down to changes in solar activity. The sun is entering a more active cycle and is getting hotter, therefore......
51. Mrs Vee

....And in other breaking news the Pope is still a Catholic and water is wet.

Ice has been coming and going, temperatures have gone up and down and climate has been changing for as long as this planet has been here.

That's what climate does; if the climate hadn't changed the human race would never have existed.
Some of the frequent excuses used by human-made global warming deniers is that there are all these natural cycles that are causing the warming. It is true that natural cycles do exist, but numerous scientists have said those cycles don't account for such large changes in temperatures.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What did you expect other than a line in the sand?

   There have been some interesting reactions to Atheism+. There are many that seem to be focused around Richard Carrier using "with us or against us" language. I have essentially two issues with this. First, it is picking on what one person who is supportive of Atheism+ said and applies it to all. Second, I'm not sure what anyone was really expecting. I think part of the problem is a bit of confusion as to how Atheism+ has come to be. Mike Gillas on the August 26, 2012 episode of Ask an Atheist said the following:
Rather than saying "We're rolling out this thing. This is great for our movement, this is great, this is going to expand us, this is going to move us into areas we haven't been before," it more feels like this line in the sand has been drawn and it's "Which side are you on? Are you going to fight it? Are you going to be a knee-jerk fighter of this?"

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Consequence of Incorrect Worldviews

   This is part two of a four part series on beliefs. This post continues to cover why letting people believe what they want is a bad idea.

   A couple years ago I was essentially (ironically) accused by a Christian that I want to impose my worldview on everyone! At that time, I didn't know how to respond. If I had a chance to do it all over, here is what I would say:

   Yes and no. What I essentially want is for people to have worldviews that align as much as possible with how the world actually is! Some call this "reality." (I would also describe a worldview that aligns with reality as being "accurate.") So, yes, for any part of my worldview that aligns with reality, I would like others to also hold it as part of their worldview. Likewise, for any part of my worldview that does not align with reality, I would not want others to hold as part of their worldview. Additionally, I would like to know if any parts of my worldview are unrealistic so that I can update it.

   On that, I do have to note how we go about figuring out what is real. Unfortunately, this may require a larger discussion on epistemology. In short, people should not include things in their worldview that they do not have quality evidence for. There may actually be a Sasquatch creature. There may be a Loch Ness Monster. There may be unicorns in Ecuador. (See more in my post about things that are possible.) The problem is there is no quality evidence for any of these things.

   Now I have to add an exception (or maybe it is more of a qualifier) to what I said about wanting worldviews to align with reality. Let's assume that the things mentioned do exist. Someone who includes these in their worldview would have one that is aligned with reality, which is what I said I want in the first paragraph. But I only want this when there is sufficient, quality evidence! (It may be worth mentioning that not including Sasquatch, etc. in one's world view is not the same as holding a worldview that secludes Sasquatch, etc. Rather, it is possible to hold a worldview that is undecided on the matter.)

   Finally, I shouldn't have to, but I want to go over what could be the consequences of holding incorrect worldviews. (Credit goes to the Godless Bitches, specifically Tracie Harris, for these examples.)
  • You are the promoter of a new passenger vessel, called the Titanic. You promote your ship as "virtually unsinkable." What might be the consequences if people actually believe this? How about the possibility that the ship only carries 1/3 of the needed lifeboats?
  • You are a sexual education teacher. Your worldview is that teaching teenagers to abstain from sex is all the education that they need. How could this go wrong? What might happen if the students fail to abstain? Well, because they haven't learned safe-sex practices, maybe someone ends up pregnant and/or catches an STD.

   It is mostly because there are consequences for holding inaccurate worldviews that I want people to have accurate worldviews. So I must ask do you not want people to have accurate worldviews?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Self-Promotion for 2016?

   I was watching some ABC News (Good Morning America, specifically) coverage of the Republican National Convention this morning. Chris Christie had said something like, "Leaders don't follow poll numbers. Leaders make poll numbers!"* He couldn't be talking about Mitt "Etch A Sketch" Romney, who changes positions as the poll numbers blow. GMA said that Christie spoke about himself a lot, so some have concluded that he was really preparing for his own run in 2016 with his speech.

* Actual quote: "You see, Mr. President, real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Oh, of course!!! (A lightbulb turns on! (Or, the dots finally connect!))

   Medium story short* — I began working on a post about abortion and, in particular, was working on the inconsistency seen with people calling themselves "pro-life" being in favor of capital punishment (the death penalty). In researching, I quickly found a number of sites (such as this one) that essentially say it is OK to kill life that is not "innocent." Then it hit me...

   I wrote in a recent post how biblical stories such as Noah's Ark are problematic because they lead to the conclusion that killing wicked people is OK when you also include the belief that the god in the story is a good god. The logic, since I did not lay it out there, is as follows:
  1. God is good.
  2. God kills wicked people.
  3. Therefore, killing wicked people is good.
   As I implied in that post, all you then have to do is add in a declaration that a certain group of people are wicked and you have successfully created a justification for killing them. I have for quite some time how this logic could be used to justify killing non-Christians or homosexuals...why I didn't make the connection between this and the death penalty sooner is beyond me. In this case, it is primarily people who have been convicted of murder** that are labeled "wicked."

   So when you see all those good Christians championing the death penalty, they are not misrepresenting*** Christianity; they are taking its moral lessons to heart.

* What? It's not a long story, so why would I call it that? :)

** And that's just based on the present state of the justice system in the USA. Go further into the past or to other predominantly Christian nations (Uganda, anyone?) and you'll see the Christian "love" spread to lesser "criminals."

*** I have a couple of points to note: One, as mentioned in that post referenced above, "some Christians ignore or overlook the horrible parts of their scripture." I'm very glad that they do. At the same time, those same Christians often try to claim that those morally reprehensible Christians are simply misrepresenting Christianity. Just because the later ignores the "love your neighbor" parts does not make them any less "Christian" than the former who ignore the many cruel parts of the Bible. And I get tired of hearing such poor excuses.

UPDATE: Thinking about this further, I realize why I overlooked this. Punishing cheaters (criminals) is necessary for a society to function. Punishing people for being part of a certain ethnic group or for having a certain sexual preference is not. In other words, when it comes to criminals, determining what is proper punishment is at least an applicable debate. The problem that religion causes is that it shuts down that debate. The religious think they have had the answer provided from on high. But what they really have is a moral system that is 1900+ years out-of-date.

   Also, had I really not heard of the phrase "An eye for an eye" before? Seriously!!! That is just more reason I should have been making this connection sooner! /UPDATE

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Protecting religion is a problem.

   In a previous post, I discussed how religion is unnecessary at best. This time, I want to discuss the social problems I see that amplify the negative parts of religion.

   In that last post, I mentioned the story of Noah's Ark, in which Yahweh commits mass murder because people are wicked and how it can be concluded that killing wicked people is good. Then all you have to do is declare a group of people (Jews, gays, atheists, Muslims, etc.) to be wicked to justify killing them. What I had not discussed is how this story is told to children. Now I realize many children are not going to draw the conclusion that killing wicked people is acceptable; they are going to be much more interested in the pretty animals on the big boat. And likely the adults telling them the story are going to focus on those aspects as well. But the fact that a justification for killing people is present in the story is still a problem as someone can potentially pick up on it, even if it is a small percentage of people who do.

   To be blunt (and to take the focus off of Christianity), the biggest problem with religion is that it is often authoritarian. If someone thinks their god(s) wants something, then they'll likely do what they think their god(s) wants! This can be very beneficial if they think their god(s) want them to do good things...give to charity, treat people equally, etc. However, beliefs like this can have an equal impact if and when they think their god(s) want them to do bad things, like kill supposedly wicked people. And, as I have been implying, they think these bad things are actually good because they believe their god(s) to be good. Thus anything that god(s) wants is also good. (See also: The Holy Hair Dryer)

   The reason, then, that protecting religion becomes a problem is because people don't generally need justification to do things that are actually good. Someone can attribute their desire for giving to charity, treating people equally, etc. to a god(s) all they want, but they will be praised regardless. In other words, such people will be respected for doing good. Period. Invoking religion is unnecessary. On the other hand, people do need justification for doing things that are bad. This is because many people will condemn them for doing their misdeeds. When you then have a society that embraces religion, using religion as a justification, whether or not that is truly the reason, for misdeeds becomes an open path.

   On that, many of the excuses to defend religion are quite pathetic. The most common that I see is the one I eluded to in that previous post. It is the idea that the bad people are a small minority and/or that those people "misrepresent" religion. Being blunt once more — No, they don't "misrepresent" religion. As I implied above, religion can be many things. Just because one person attributes religion to good things does not mean the next person cannot attribute it to bad things...especially when the scriptures for the religion promote cruelty, as in the Noah's Ark example. Another way to say this is that there is no objective*, or correct, approach to religion. After all (bluntness alert!), there is no good reason to believe the gods that any religion promotes actually exist and there is much more reason to believe religion is all made up. People are then free to make up the way in which they want to follow the religion. Therefore, religion can be whatever anyone wants it to be. They have free range to make additional shit up. To then suggest that someone using that free range to cause harm is somehow misusing or misrepresenting religion is absurd.

   Of course, defenders of religion don't notice this absurdity. Why? I suspect it is because they think religion should be one way — theirs! They have this idea of what they think religion should be instead of what it really is. And it is then the idea of what they think religion should be that they defend as opposed to defending reality. This, perhaps more than anything I have already mentioned, is the largest problem with protecting religion — people are not trying to protecting religion as it really is, but rather their fantastical idea of religion. Since that fantastical idea doesn't actually permeate outside their minds, what they end up defending is religion as it actually is...which should not be defended.

* There are perhaps points where one can deviate so much from what is in the scripture of a religion that, even though it would still be subjective, a consensus could be reached that a religious view does indeed "misrepresent" the core religion. An example of this could be Mormonism, particularly if that religion had no additional scripts to explain itself. At the same time, Mormonism is also a great example that shows — if one's views begin to stray too far from the core religion — it is possible to write additional scriptures to justify a large deviation.