Sunday, January 29, 2012

Buzzwords of Ignorance: Constitution

Credit goes to Don Baker and his "Buzzwords of Ignorance" series on The Atheist Experience for the inspiration of this post title. The idea of "Buzzwords of Ignorance" is to address words that are used primarily to evoke an emotional response as opposed to making a rational argument due to the ignorance of the audience being addressed, essentially making the word meaningless. Needless to say, this post has no connection to Mr. Baker's series.

   There are essentially three cases where I see the word "constitution" (and its derivatives) used out of ignorance:
  1. Policy X is unconstitutional.
  2. Policy X goes against the Founding Fathers' original intent of the Constitution.
  3. Politician X will restore the Constitution.
   #1 and #2 are actually much the same. The primary difference between the two is that #1 can be a legitimate statement from time to time, but #2 is almost always a statement of ignorance. So, I want to start with #2 and then work back to #1. The problem with #2 is all the original parts of the Constitution that we have done away with. Originally, slavery was legal, slaves counted as 3/5 of a person (and only for the purpose of determining the number of representatives of voters, which slaves were not allowed to do), the U.S. Senate was unelected (state legislatures picked the state's Senators), women were not allowed to vote, and much of the Bill of Rights did not apply to the States. (First, the Bill of Rights, though actually a collection of amendments, was written by many of the same people who wrote the original Constitution, so I think we can include that in the "original intent." Second, things like freedom of speech and separation of church and government were only protected by the Federal government; if States wanted to restrict these rights, they could have done so. In fact, they did. Many states had endorsed specific denominations of Christianity, restricting citizenship to non-Christians as well as Christians of the wrong denomination. Many states did voluntarily get rid of these restrictions, but they would not have to until the 14th Amendment...and even then not until the Supreme Court set some precedence on the application of that amendment. (Actually, some states, like North Carolina, still have statements in their state constitutions that contradict the Bill of Rights, but they are no longer enforced or cannot legally be enforced.))

   This "original intent" argument is a crap argument. There were a lot of flaws with that "original intent," many of which have been fixed, but the question that should be asked of anyone who uses that argument is if that is what they want to go back to? My guess is that they don't. They are using the argument primarily as an argument from authority. It is based on a legendary perspective of the Founding Fathers being near, if not, perfect individuals who could nearly do no wrong1. Thus, anyone who suggests doing anything differently must be wrong. It is a "short-cut" argument, if you will. The person making the argument disagrees with some sort of policy or policy proposal, and, instead of arguing rationally against what is wrong with the policy to persuade people to be against the policy (I'll go into the reasons for this later), they use arguments like this to provoke an emotional and irrational response instead. So be cautious when you see such an argument; chances are the presenter is trying to manipulate you emotionally.

   Getting back to #1, this can be based around the same idea of the Founding Fathers being near infallible as with #2, only their hand in the process may merely be implied or assumed in the argument as a whole. Or it may be an argument that assumes the Constitution itself is near infallible. Either way, it can be much the same crap argument as #2, attempting to provoke an emotional response as opposed to a rational one. The exceptions (to both #1 and #2) are going to be cases where a rational argument is presented as well or even as little as an additional statement that recognizes the fallibility of the Constitution or Founding Fathers. For example, "Policy X is unconstitutional, and correctly so" or "Policy X goes against the original intent of the Founding Fathers, which they got right." Such additions, though subtle, recognize that the Constitution has been wrong on other issues, but displays that the person making the argument thinks the Constitution is correct in this regard. Granted, a rational argument attached to this would be best, but at least it is no longer the fallacious argument from authority. Look for such subtleties when in search of a serious debater over a manipulator.

   #3 is basically the reversal of #1 (and #2 in many ways), only this time, the person making the remark is supporting an entire candidate over a policy. The argument is still an argument from authority, making the Constitution out to be a near, if not, infallible document. I currently see Ron Paul supporters make this argument a lot and Tea Party candidates were often using it in 2010. Much like with #1 and #2, the goal seems to be avoidance of discussing specific policies and making rational arguments in support of the candidates, but to instead spark an emotional response.

   Why, then, make such arguments?
  • First and foremost, people typically respond more easily to emotional arguments than rational ones. However, these arguments backfire on people like me...though I admit, I do sometimes respond emotionally—they piss me off. I fear, though, that people like me are too few in comparison to those who sucker for manipulative arguments, making such arguments worth while.
  • Second, the person may actually lack a good rational argument; I suspect this to be the case most times.
  • Third, some parts of the Constitution are open to interpretation. It may be that any rational argument also depends on a particular interpretation of the Constitution. Those who do not share that interpretation will not agree with the argument. Let's use Ron Paul as an example for this last point. He has claimed that Social Security is unconstitutional. Really? How so? Section 8 of the Constitution states "The Congress shall have Power To...provide for the...general Welfare of the United States..." The question, then, should be focused around whether or not social security falls under general welfare, but this is not what we get. We just get the "it's unconstitutional" without a clear explanation as to why. I suspect one reason is that Paul knows he'd lose that argument2 over meaning.
  • Forth, some people may just not be good at forming rational arguments or having a rational discussion. Such may be the case with a post I saw earlier in the week. The person actually has some valid concerns regarding Obama's use of executive powers. However, they used the "original intent" argument (in addition to references to the paranoia of Glenn Beck). If they'd actually made a case as to why expansion of executive powers is detrimental to the country, we could have perhaps had a productive conversation instead of me being pissy over the manipulative argument.

1 For this, I would suggest people read up on cognitive dissonance. This explains what people may do to deal with conflicting ideas. For this case, the conflicting ideas are that the Founding Fathers (or also the Constitution) are both infallible and fallible. Many conservatives want to have the view that they are/were infallible, but damn reality with its inconvenient facts gets in their way! One of the ways conservatives deal with the discomfort of holding such an unrealistic view is to minimize or deny those inconvenient facts or even make up "facts" of their own. On the slavery issue, for example, Michelle Bachmann last year claimed that the Founding Fathers "worked tirelessly to end slavery," which is untrue.

2 It may be that Paul's greatest issue with social security is actually lack of choice and not the issue of general welfare, but then let's discuss that. Instead, we get the emotional manipulation along with—if you watch the video linked earlier—falsehoods about the program being a "failure." Unfortunately, Paul is very good—or rather obnoxious, depending on your point of view—at avoiding the specifics.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Atheist, accept my evidence! Sincerely, a Christian

   In my last post, I discussed how theists were discussing frustrations with atheists for asking for evidence of a god and yet were also asking us to investigate their god claims. Well, what does it mean to investigate? A significant part of that process is to search for evidence! So it appears that there is a contradiction here: on one hand, we are being told to stop asking for evidence and on the other we are being told to look for evidence. Except it is not. This is because when we were being told to ask for evidence, what the theist actually wants is for us atheists to just accept the evidence they give us — in the case of that last post it is their subjective experiences — without question. That is the key for why there is no contradiction.

   My suspicion is that many theists don't think atheist are sincere when we ask for evidence because we reject the evidence they do give us. If we then modify their statements to read "It frustrates us theists when you atheists keep asking for evidence and then reject the evidence we give you," and "You atheists need to sincerely investigate," we remove the contradiction. The theist, apparently dumbfounded by how the atheist could possibly reject evidence that they find so obviously points to their god, concludes that the atheist rejects their evidence because the atheist is closed-minded.

   The error that the theist makes, though, is that we are not rejecting this evidence straight out of hand. If we were, that would be closed-minded. Instead, we do take a look at it and often find it quite inadequate. In fact, we are sometimes baffled at how theists think their evidence is so great. Here are just some examples of what I mean (some of these address religion more in general):
  • Subjective experiences — I've already discussed why this is unacceptable. The inconsistencies in these experiences show them to be unreliable. One thing I would add that I did not say there is that the theist might object claiming there are still a lot of similarities between these experience, so in general they are the same and we shouldn't get picky over the trivial details. To that I would say, in perhaps a way the theist will understand, "the devil is in the details!"
  • Miraculous healing — I briefly mentioned this before. The story was about a theist's mother having a deformed foot that three doctors had told her would need surgery. Yet she claims God healed her foot for her without surgery. Additionally, the theist made note that we might argue that all three doctors were wrong in their diagnosis and asked if we could really believe that. That answer is yes. First of all, we know doctors have made false diagnoses in the past. Second, I recall Neil deGrasse Tyson once making a point that doctors basically all come from the same school of thought, so you're not actually getting three separate opinions; you're getting the same opinion three times. Therefore, the probability of all three doctors making a false diagnosis is nearly the same as one doctor making a false diagnosis...or at least the probability isn't as low as the theist thinks it is. Third, we know that memory is volatile and changes to fit a narrative. Did this theist's mother really get those diagnoses? Or has her memory constructed these to fit a narrative? Or is it the theist's memory that is constructed to fit a narrative (in other words, did the theists mother ever claim those doctors made those diagnoses)? Fourth, even if we assume the theist is correct in their memory, there are still other people who have experienced what they claim to be miraculous healings and they attribute it to a different god. By which I mean the credit that God is getting is subjective, so this has to be discarded. Therefore, the cause is actually unknown. To attribute it to God would be committing the argument from ignorance fallacy. Fifth: confirmation bias and unanswered questions. When a supposed miraculous healing occurs (for the sake of argument, let's grant that the theist's god is performing these miracles), we often hear from the religious how great and awesome their god is. Then what about all the religious people out there who pray for healing and don't get healed, even those who perhaps have similar foot deformations to what this theist's mother supposedly had? The theists seem to forget about those people when considering how great their god is. The primary point here is that the personality characteristics these theists give their god do not align with reality as it seems this god answers prayer based on some sort of lottery system, and how would that be any different if there was no god and things just happen by random chance? (Notice that this problem also has elements of subjective experience to it.)
  • Eyewitness testimony — This relates to those who supposedly saw Jesus perform miracles or saw the resurrected Jesus shortly after he supposedly died (if he ever lived). I remember one Christian friend once claiming there were "thousands" of eyewitnesses. At that time, I was not familiar with such arguments and didn't know how to respond. When I looked into things, there just isn't enough evidence to support that claim. What we have is a few books (books that are part of the New Testament) that claim there were many witnesses. If we are to believe there were all these eyewitnesses, we have to believe the books. But is there any reason to trust these books? The short answer to this is "No." Some things that could help is if there were more writings from people who were supposedly witnesses and (even better) Roman documentation of some of these events. For the former, the Christians will bring up the fact that a lot of people were illiterate. So what? Absence of evidence is still absence of evidence, even if we have a reason to expect an absence. All the Christian's argument does is prevent this absence of evidence from becoming evidence of absence. (If there is no evidence for a claim and we expect that there should be, this lack of evidence actually becomes evidence that the claim is false. In this case, we don't expect there to be evidence, so that fact that we lack evidence gets us nowhere.) So, I grant that there may have been thousands of witnesses, but we just don't have enough evidence to accept such a claim (or reach any conclusion, one way or another). I hope I need not reexplain why we can't just trust that the authors were truthful and/or correct. (Note that this is assuming that eyewitness testimony is a valuable form of evidence. The reality is that it is not. So even if we actually did have a bunch of eyewitness testimony, it would not matter anyway.)
  • Empty tomb - This is about how do we explain that Jesus' tomb was empty. This has the same basic problems as the example above because the idea is based on eyewitness testimony. Once again, are the stories reliable? Looking at the contradictions in the these stories, the short answer is "No." (Was the stone already rolled back when people arrived? Who were these people? What did they see inside and outside the tomb? For those stories that say people saw Jesus, where did Jesus say he was going? And so forth. All of these have different answers depending on the gospel.) Once again, I have seen a bizarre defense from Christians — their claim is that we should expect contradictions. Once again, they are correct, but again their point is...pointless! The whole point seems to be that since human testimony is flawed and usually contains mistakes and since this testimony is flawed and contains mistakes, we can trust it! As an engineer, such rationalizations (and it scares me when engineers make such rationalizations) are worrisome. I work in a field where the goal is to eliminate mistakes, because when mistakes happen, bad things are likely to follow. To hear people suggest that mistakes are acceptable goes against the philosophy of my profession. (And I think Christians who expect the products they buy to be engineered well should consider this when wondering why atheists aren't buying their product.)
  • Die for a lie? — This question is asked about Jesus' disciples. Why would they risk persecution and death if they knew they were just making stuff up? There are multiple problems with this. First, it creates a false dichotomy — either the disciples where lying or they were telling the truth. Why couldn't they be deceived, deluded, and/or mistaken? (I have seen some apologists address this, but give weak evidence to rule out this option.) There is a reason to create such a dichotomy, because there are examples of other religions that faced and flourished under persecution, like Mormonism. Since their religion cannot be true (since the Christian thinks their religion is true and only one of them can be true), the early Mormons must have been deceived, and that is why they would risk persecution for what others see as a lie. The second is context. As much as Christians like to claim atheists take Bible verses out of context, this is a place where being out of context works in their favor. See, it seems that one of the ideas behind this question is to put the person being asked in the shoes of the disciples. But I see a lot of people failing to do this. Take the idea of risking persecution. The counter idea to this that is implied is that life would be just peachy if they remained Jews. When you look at what the Romans thought about Jews, this is just not the case. There was going to be oppression either way, so persecution doesn't seem to be that big of a factor. Even if life would have been peachy as a Jew, we can still go point to Mormonism. They wouldn't have had to worry about persecution if they had remained Christians (as many of them likely were before converting), so why convert? In short, I think a lot of people go about thinking "Well, I wouldn't convert!" and fail to consider that other people would.
   We atheists do have reason to reject such evidence and I find it a bit of a shame that theists often think they have a good argument. This, I suspect, comes down to childhood indoctrination and cognitive dissonance, as discussed in my first post on this Facebook thread. The theist grows up being told by adults in their lives that these are good arguments. Being children, they don't have the thinking skills to realize that they aren't. By the time they become adults and perhaps have such thinking skills, they fail to reevaluate these beliefs as they are now fully invested and to do so would create dissonance. Then, as I also said in that post, the person dealing with dissonance can handle dissonance if they have a positive view of themselves. Therefore, they call the atheist close minded with the implication that they themselves are open minded. So here is my post to show those theists that I do go through their arguments. If there are any objections to why I find these points inadequate, please, I'm here to listen.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why be Skeptical???

   Once upon a time, I wrote a post on methodological skepticism, gave some (OK, maybe only one) practical examples of where someone might use skepticism. I did not, however, really go into why someone would want to be skeptical. This post is being inspired, once again, by that lengthy Facebook tread in which a theist said something like, "Don't just be skeptical." This theist was talking about the colloquial term of the word (recall, meaning "an attitude of doubt") as they also said that we atheists need to investigate. As methodological skepticism contains an investigative element to it, the theist could not be talking about this form of skepticism. There was also the reoccurring theme on the tread discussing how theists get frustrated with atheists for asking for evidence and that atheists should essentially just trust the subjective feelings of the religious. In my last post, I discussed that we know such feelings are unreliable because of the inconsistent beliefs in gods that they create. In this post, my goal is to continue to demonstrate why following one's feelings are generally a bad idea as well as show how theists ask others for evidence.

   The easiest way, perhaps, to achieve my goals is to use the example of a used car salesman. I suspect most everyone knows when buying a used vehicle, you are not to simply trust the salesman if he tells you that the vehicle you are interested in is in fine working order. Instead, you have to at least take the vehicle on a test drive. It is also suggested that you kick the tires and check under the hood. These are even phrases that are often used to mean "to test something out" in regards to products other than cars. (In fact, I used "check under the hood" in regards to religions in my first response to that Facebook thread, which is what led me to consider this example.) I am not trying to advertise for their business—they just happen to have a useful, catchy slogan—but there is a company that suggests you have the dealer "show [you] the CARFAX!" The point of this is people are greatly encouraged to be skeptical (this is methodological skepticism, mind you) when it comes to purchasing used cars. Likely, there was a time when used car salesman gained a reputation of conning gullible customers into buying vehicles they didn't want (because the vehicle would turn out to have major defects) and likewise paying a lot more than the vehicle was worth. Sometime after that, skeptics must have come to the rescue, suggesting people look for evidence—inspect—that the vehicle is worth the asking price. And this is why being skeptical is important—it helps prevent a person from suckering for the tactics of con artists.

   So, I think people generally do understand why being skeptical is important and display skepticism in their lives. Part of the problem, as I have already discussed, is that they may not realize the terminology of what they are doing is "skepticism." Another problem, I suspect, comes into play when the shoe is on the other foot. When a person is a consumer, they understand the value of skepticism, but when they are the seller? Then skepticism becomes their enemy. Skepticism in their customer can never work in the seller's advantage, and can actually work against them. (Note that if the seller is being honest, then skepticism should have little to no net effect.) It is this problem for the seller that we see when it comes to theists discouraging atheists from being skeptical. The theists are the seller and the atheists are the consumer/customer. Yes, even though the theist may not have a financial gain in mind, they still have something to gain from converting people to Christianity. Remember that post on cognitive dissonance? I did not mention it there, but the first study done on cognitive dissonance was on a religious cult. To reduce dissonance, they proselytized! Go figure why theists don't want atheists to be skeptical!

   If I am wrong about this, theists, I present you a challenge: the next time you go buy a used car (or any product of significant cost), do not be skeptical! Do not take the vehicle on a test drive. Do not kick the tires, check under the hood, ask for the CARFAX, etc. If you get the feeling that the vehicle is a good vehicle and get the feeling that the salesman is an honest person, trust your feelings! If you can do this, then I am willing to believe that you actually find no virtue in skepticism and are not just discouraging me from using skepticism out of frustration that I am not buying your product.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ask God: Why This Is a Bad Idea and Why We Ask for Evidence

   As with my last post, this post is inspired by a large thread on Facebook about discussions between atheists and theists. This time, though, I want to take time to address an idea proposed by the theist I had mentioned I spent much of my time responding to as well as similar ideas presented throughout the thread. For this post and the sake of argument, I will be making three assumptions:
  1. A god, and one god only, exists.
  2. This god interacts with people through some method similar to telepathy.
  3. This god does not mislead/deceive people when it interacts with them.

   The idea proposed by the theist is that atheists should just seek out or ask this god to reveal itself (as opposed, I assume, to atheists asking the theists to present evidence for the god they claim exists). This may sound like a good idea, but once you look at the world as a whole, the idea is problematic. Basically, the problem comes down to this: there are many people (perhaps billions) who claim to speak to God, but they often still disagree on things. As God is not deceptive (part of my assumptions), they should all be in agreement if they are truly speaking to God. Before we can consider asking God, we need to determine why there is so much disagreement.

   First, let me say for the record that I am not just speaking about the disagreement between Christians, of which there are over 38,000 denominations alone! (Granted, the differences between many of these are trivial, but there are differences nonetheless.) I am also including Islam, Hindu, and basically every religion that has ever existed — Greek/Roman, Egyptian, Norse, Native American, you name it! It doesn't matter that some of them worship multiple gods or even just animal spirits. It would seem that these people were trying to seek out God and still failed to come to the same conclusion as the theist who brought forth this challenge.

   Going back to our investigation, could it be that many of these people are either lying or just made up their various religions? That seems like a lot to accept! What might be the motivation behind lying? Profiting off the gullible could be a reason, and I actually suspect there are a number of preachers (especially those preaching the prosperity gospel) are frauds. Peter Popoff comes to mind. But not everyone can be a fraud! The people who would fall for the fraud, for example, would likely be legitimately seeking out God. If they were doing this, and if God is expected to respond to them, they would recognize the fraud and not fall for it. Why, then, would they lie about their experience with God when they know they are being scammed? It makes no sense. So we can rule lying for profit out (as a reason for the diversity in religious belief). This has led to another possibility, though. What if God only responds under certain conditions? Then we have a problem in that the theist has not provided us with the information we need to find God. (Though, perhaps they are unaware that there is a certain method if they got "lucky" finding God without knowing the method. Why would they challenge us if they knew we would fail?) We also have a problem that people are incorrectly detecting God, but we'll get to that later as we still need to look at the idea that these are just stories people made up with no intent to profit from the stories. This is also very hard to believe. I cannot understand why people would lie so much and spend so much of their time and money on something they know is just a story. We can rule this out as an explanation too.

   As was briefly mentioned in the last paragraph, another possibility is that people are incorrectly detecting God. Let's assume for a moment that they actually are seeking out God, and God is answering them. This is a huge problem and prevents me from taking the theist's challenge. Why? Because it is clear that human senses are not capable of properly interpreting God's word/interaction. So, even if I did go seek out God and did get an answer, how can I be sure I am understanding correctly? I can't. And if this wasn't bad enough, it gets worse if we then take back that assumption that God answers the people who seek it out. Now, we not only have to worry about misinterpreting God, we have to worry about whether what we are sensing even is God!!! This would, however, explain why there are so many diverse views of God.

   Now that we have a possible reason for the diversity of religion, what do we do to find out who is right (if anyone) and who is wrong? The answer is evidence that is independent of people's subjective feelings. ...Unless anyone else has a suggestion???

   Unexplained events do not count because they are just that — unexplained!!! Claiming such an event is the work of a god is committing the fallacy known as argument from ignorance. This includes "miraculous" healing of the body. The person who was healed may claim it was God's doing, but we must reject that claim as it is a subjective one. Something that would be interesting is if Christianity spread in a way other than from person to person. For example, when Christopher Columbus arrived here in America, if he would have met natives who were Christians...that would be evidence that God does successfully communicate with those who seek God out. The fact that there has never been a person who was a Christian before meeting a Christian (except for the founders of Christianity) bodes poorly for Christianity...and it should be enough to make people think at least twice about Mormonism — you know, the religion that claims the natives were actually some lost tribe of Israel and that Jesus came over here and visited them after (or was it before?) the resurrection. (By the way, I would not be surprised if there are some claims out there of people being Christians without an encounter with a Christian preceding this. Even if such claims were true, they would be so few and far between that we still have the problem of few people actually understanding God's message.) The fact that there were no Christians here and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that DNA testing shows that the Native Americans are not Israelites and are more closely related to east Asians invalidates some of the very basic claims of Mormonism. Yet, there are still Mormons. There are people who continue to convert to Mormonism. This does not bode well for neither Christianity nor the theist presenting this challenge because we know that there are people who are willing to believe things that have been proven false. This is yet one more reason why it is a bad idea to simply trust our subjective feelings.

   I am an atheist because I know I cannot trust my subjective feelings and I have found no testable evidence independent of those feelings for any religion I have studied. Additionally, when you take away those three assumptions mentioned at the beginning, we cannot even take the subjective feelings of people as evidence of a god. When we have these conflicting views of what God is, we know they cannot all be right. But we also know they can all be wrong!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On cognitive dissonance and how it ruins conversations

   Last night I stumbled upon a long, 64 or 65-comment thread on Facebook, which started with asking a question along the lines of "Why is it so hard to have a discussion about religion?" My answer essentially comes down to cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously. In a state of dissonance, people may feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment.

   It occurred to me this morning that I spent a lot of time responding to a comment left by a theist than I did explaining cognitive dissonance. It also occurred to me that this would be great for a blog post. I also want to discuss another tread I encountered back in late November/early December where dissonance was on display, only related to politics instead.

   Continuing... As the Wikipedia article points out, dissonance is a discomfort. One important point that I did not notice in that article is that the more one is invested in their belief, the more dissonance any contradicting information will create. Now let's throw in a second important factor with religious belief—people often obtain their base religious beliefs when they are children. This already makes religious believers quite invested by the time they are adults just due to the years of holding the belief alone. Then add in time spent in church activities. It should be obvious that the more time spent, the greater the investment, and hence the greater dissonance any dissenting views will create. This is why it is hard to have a discussion—having one causes discomfort for the believer.

   Next I want to take a look at the ways people deal with dissonance. In that long Facebook thread, I recall someone pointing out that discussions typically devolve into ad hominem attacks. Indeed! There is also a reason for this. In order to reduce dissonance, the person experiencing the dissonance needs to somehow manage the conflicting data. One way to do this is to discredit the new information that has produced the conflict by discrediting the source of that information. In other words, if the source of the information is not trustworthy, neither is the conflict-producing information they present! Once that information is discredited in their view, dissonance is reduced.

   In addition to ad hominem attacks, the person experiencing dissonance may also stroke their own ego (I briefly explain why this is important in the next paragraph), though, it is worth noting, that this can also be done through the ad hominem attacks. That is where the conversation I encountered around late November plays in. Here was a conversation where one person was supporting torture and the other person's response was something along the lines of "Are you trolling?!?" The person in support of torture came back with the excuse of "desperate times call for desperate measures," which is actually a dissonance reducing statement in itself (again, see the next paragraph for more on this). The other part was an ad hominem attack, which, as I recall, involved calling the person against torture a "pussy" and implying that they were un-American by suggesting they should leave the country. This is also a way for him to stroke his own ego. By presenting his opponent as an un-American pussy, he conversely presents himself as a strong patriot.

   The above is explained in the book "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)" which I highly recommend, primarily in Chapter 7: "Ricardo Orizio interviewed...other dictators, including Idi Amin, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, Mira Markovic (the "Red Witch," [Slobodan] Milosevic's wife), and Jean-Bédeal Bokassa of the Central African Republic (known to his people as the Ogre of Berengo). Every one of them claimed that everything they did — torturing or murdering their opponents, blocking free elections, starving their citizens, looting their nation's wealth, launching genocidal wars — was done for the good of their country." The book also talks about "the ticking-time bomb" and how those who are capable of exhibiting the most dissonance think highly of themselves. Why is this? Those with low self-esteem are more likely to admit they are wrong because that fits their personal view of themselves.

   That is cognitive dissonance in a nutshell. Thoughts?

UPDATE 1: There are two things I want to add to this. First, an ad hominem attack may not automatically be a sign that someone is dealing with dissonance, though I have noticed that it does seem to be quite a good indicator. Second, sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between an ad hominem and a straightforward personal insult. An example I've seen to demonstrate this involves person A calling person B a dumbass. Is A doing this to dismiss B's argument or is B's argument so pathetic that only a dumbass could think it was a good argument? The former is an ad hominem while the later is not. Now, if A is not making an ad hominem, they should follow up by pointing out the flaws in B's argument. Without this, I find it would be best to give B the benefit of a doubt (in other words, that A is making an ad hominem attack).
   (I have also personally experienced frustration having to tell some theists the same thing multiple times and then see them still fail to grasp what should be fairly simple concepts...or just seeing them fail to grasp concept after concept is frustrating itself, never mind the need to repeat! It can be tough to not start insulting their intelligence. I have certainly failed in restraining myself now and then, and I know other atheists struggle with this same problem. So, do we sometimes make personal attacks? Yes. Ad hominem attacks? Not so much.)

Live Blogging the New Hampshire Primary.

   It's primary night in New Hampshire, and I thought it may be time to make some general comments on what has been happening. I have been watching MSNBC's coverage, and just want to chip in on some of the things they have been discussing as well as some of the candidate's speeches.
  • European Socialism - At one point, the question was asked why does Romney need to accuse Obama of being in favor of European socialism. Easy! It is to create an us-versus-them mentality. Though, it was interesting when Rachel Maddow pointed out that Romney avoided Vietnam by taking a missionary to France, proposing that he's trying to distance himself from that part of his past. Perhaps he is killing two birds with one stone? After all, this idea isn't Romney's; other Republicans have used this argument before.
  • Military - Romney said he would make sure the US military is one no one would think of challenging. OhhhhhhK. That's just nuts.
  • I like Romney running with the hypocrisy of some of his opponents. John Stewart covered this, too, and I plan to put it in a post of its own, so stay tuned for more here.
  • I started blogging late, so is there anything else I missed (from Romney's speech)?
  • Ron Paul is happy to be "dangerous!" Yes, Paul, you are a danger to our economy; for that I can never vote for you. But, he seems to think the Federal Reserve is the entire problem for the current state of the economy. Deregulation (a.k.a. letting banks do whatever the fuck they want) somehow has nothing to do with it, and likewise it's all the fault of regulations, because somehow it's regulations that have led to banks paying off politicians. Somehow, if there weren't regulations, banks wouldn't do this. Oh, and he thinks going to the gold standard is somehow a good idea.
  • At least Paul is for ending the current wars. That's the one primarily good thing he has going for him. Points for making fun of the USA by picking on Russia for invading Afghanistan.
  • Ron Paul claims the roll of government is to protect liberty. Except for States, of course. If they want to discriminate against homosexuals, prevent women from getting abortions, etc, that's cool by Paul. Just as long as the NATIONAL government doesn't get involved.
  • Otherwise, his whole idea of "freedom" just plays on people's naivety. I once met a libertarian from Des Moines, Iowa. Here in Cedar Rapids, we have speeding cameras. Apparently he travels for work a lot and was complaining about those, and traffic laws in general, because they slow him down too much. See, he wanted to get rid of laws (regulations) so that he could legally act irresponsibly. And I have a suspicion that's what is really behind libertarian "freedom": I want to do stupid shit without it being illegal! The problem I have here with libertarians is their lack of concern for others. What about my freedom to drive at a safe speed without having to worry about idiots on the road going too fast? This is, in short, the problem with "freedom": freedom occasionally clashes. What satisfies one person's freedom may violate the freedom of someone else. Libertarians fail to address this problem (I think they fail to realize it even exists).

  • Wife is interrupting the Huntsman speech, making blogging difficult!

  • Huntsman thinks the solution to Congress is term limits. Laughable. But at least he wants to prevent Congressmen to get top positions in banks, etc, after their term. First, any law to restrict Congress would be essentially impossible because you need Congress to pass these restrictions against themselves (unless there is some loophole I do not know about). Good luck with that! But, if you could, preventing them from getting such jobs would be helpful.

  • Like Paul, Huntsman has better military policies than the other Republican candidates.

  • When talking about the "old ways" of politicking, he failed to mention "kissing babies." No reason for him to have said that other than it would have been funny and it fits stereotypes.

UPDATE 1: I forgot! It's not all the fault of regulations, in the minds of libertarians. There is the problem of government picking favorites! Which, to their credit, is something on which I can somewhat agree with them. The issue I have, though, is that the reason we are in this mess is because big business wanted the government to pick them as favorites (through lobbying and other ways); it's not like government just decided to do this entirely on its own. So, you can strip away the government, but you're only taking away a tool — albeit a very powerful tool — from the big businesses all the while failing to address the ethical problems with big business. And here is where things may come full circle, because I think some libertarians have it in their heads that the big businesses are unethical because of regulations.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's Tim motherfucking Minchin!!!

   In my last post, I complained about misogynist atheists discouraging me from going to the Reason Rally. Well, I had decided to go anyway, but then I saw this: "Tim Minchin Will Perform at the Reason Rally!" Does one require any other reason to go?

   If you've never heard of Minchin before, below is some of his work, including "Pope Song" which should give you an idea why I didn't censor this post title!

Mother f&%$ing atheists!!!

   There are a lot of misogynists in the atheists community. They are so awful I had second thoughts about going to the Reason Rally in March (ad is on the right side of this blog).

   The first big incident in the past year occurred in June. The incident was dubbed "elevatorgate," though some people have been calling it "the incident that shall not be named" as of late. It was something that I didn't feel like talking about on this blog, not because it wasn't important to discuss, but because so many atheist blogs had covered it that I felt smothered by the topic as it was. In fact, I am still not going to really talk about it myself. I will instead quote bloggers who have.
In a recent vlog, Skepchick Rebecca Watson had some friendly advice for male skeptics seeking to make women feel comfortable and welcome at skeptical gatherings. She mentioned, offhandedly, that during a recent conference in Dublin, a guy followed her into the elevator at 4:00am and invited her back to his room for coffee. His overture was not well received:
Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don't do that. You know, I don't really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I'll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and -- don't invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.
Judging by the reaction in some quarters of the skeptical blogosphere, you'd think she'd recommended preemptive castration.

Some male skeptics huffed and puffed that they had the right to approach women anywhere they damn well pleased.

Prominent skeptic Richard Dawkins opined that Watson had nothing to complain about because Muslim women suffer genital mutilation. By the same token, Western men should suck it up when they’re asked, nicely, to show some manners in the the elevator. Don’t they realize that Muslim women are being genitally mutilated?

Some of Watson’s critics argued that she was too hard on the unnamed guy. How dare she complain about his behavior? Maybe he was just socially awkward, they said. Well, if so, he and his fellow well-meaning but socially awkward men should be thanking Watson. She did them all a favor.

Watson gave them a simple rule that anyone can memorize and apply: Don’t hit on women in elevators. If they didn’t know any better, they do now.

Yet, the discussion devolved into attacks on Watson and a stupid griping match about the “rights” of men to hit on women however they please, and, implicitly, the privilege of men not to care how women want to be treated. Some even argued that by demanding to be treated with respect, women were revealing themselves to be weak and fearful. You see, really strong women just grit their teeth and let creeps hit on them in elevators.

   As the above quote essentially says, the thing was much ado about nothing. Watson provided what should have been good advice. Instead, there was much overreaction to the situation, some of which may have been motivated by personal grudges. It was quite pathetic to watch the developments in the months following, especially after a female blogger had renamed Watson "Rebecunt Twatson." How mature?

   Then there has been the recent incident on Reddit, not started by Rebecca Watson, but brought to light by Watson. She informed the community about a 15-year-old girl who posted on the atheist subreddit about getting a copy of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World along with a picture of her posing with the book. To little surprise, there were anal rape jokes and the likes in the comment thread, including:
  • Well 15 is legal many places, including my country, so I'll only have to deal with the abduction charges. (159 up-votes, 42 down-votes at time of capture)
  • Relax your anus, it hurts less that way. (1715 up-votes, 648 down-votes at time of capture)
  • Blood is mother nature's lubricant (570 up-votes, 175 down-votes at time of capture)
  • BITE THE PILLOW, IM GOIN' IN DRY! (192 up-votes, 51 down-votes at time of capture)
And then there are the ones who think adding in some scientific cleverness or Sagan references make the sex/rape jokes really funny.
  • i'd put billions and billions in your pale blue dot (354 up-votes, 83 down-votes at time of capture)
  • I'd occupy her habitable zone. (227 up-votes, 51 down-votes at time of capture)
Immature jokes are bound to happen; it's just not possible to keep all of the stupid people out of any group. The problem is the up-voting. If the community was as reasonable as it is supposed to be—as it should be—then these comments should have been getting more down-votes.

   Some of the excuses I've seen have been quite bad. One has been a claim that people don't like to down-vote. Granted I do not participate on Reddit at all, but I do spend time on YouTube, which has a similar rating system for comments and videos. As YouTube's comment structure is different, it is impossible to make a comparison there, but go to just about any Christian apologetic video that allows ratings, and it'll likely have a slew of down-votes...which is most likely why some posters don't allow ratings—they know their video would get down-voted, so they don't participate in the system. A somewhat similar excuse has been that Reddit readers are not supposed to have to be "thought police." OK, sure, if you're a user that never votes on comments at all—up or down—then sure, I suppose I can let you off the hook. But, if you're someone who does vote up comments, then aren't you already policing thoughts in some manner, even if the policing is giving praise instead? And once again I can point to YouTube, or even to the, um, "philosophy" of the group, which is that religious people have bad ideas which are often harmful and we want to discourage such thinking. The whole point here is that many of the excuses being used don't seem to apply when it's atheists hounding Christians (or other religions—it's typically Christians because they are by far the majority religion, not because their ideas are somehow any less ridiculous than other religions), which means that these excuses are really saying, "We don't want to pick on people in our group." That's bad! I think there are a lot of people in this group that understand one of the reasons people are able to hold religious beliefs is because those beliefs too often go unchallenged, so the religious person does not have to deal with cognitive dissonance. And we know one way to combat religious belief is to invoke "rock the boat." Yet, here we have people within the group essentially saying "Don't rock our boat!"

   There have been some hypothesis about this.
  • As there is a social stigma attached to atheism, many of the outspoken atheists have personality types where they have little concern about what people think about them or their opinions. They are little afraid to say something that other people consider stupid. They have "thick skin."
  • From the above, some might also expect others in the community to have thick skin. When they see someone taking issue with something they consider trivial, their response to that person is to, essentially, "toughen up!"
  • In addition to the above, many of them could have an arrogant personality—they are always right! They are used to being the ones criticizing other people. To be criticized is not the way the world is supposed to work! ...In their minds.

   At any rate, I've been getting a little frustrated over this shit. I have been wanting to be more active in combating bad ideas, but now that all of this has come to my attention, I feel slightly demotivated. The silver lining, I suppose, is that the people complaining about the bad behavior could have been a small, insignificant minority. The good news is that I see many of the popular atheists condemning such behavior. And, as Greta Christina (one of them popular atheists) has pointed out, "When people don’t speak out about sexism and misogyny, it creates a climate in which sexism and misogyny flourish. When people do speak out about sexism and misogyny, it creates a climate in which sexism and misogyny wither."

   I have also considered the fact that the atheist community is in itself quite young. While there have been atheists around for centuries, and there have been spikes in the size and influence of atheists throughout the last 300 years, this latest spike only started about 5-6 years ago. What I hope we are actually seeing is a turning point. Perhaps soon the community will no longer be so inhabited by the do-whatever-I-want disgruntled types* and will have an increase in population of people who hold long-term goals as a priority. Those are my hopes and dreams, at least.

* This is not to pick on the disgruntled types; I totally sympathize. There is much to be disgruntled about. Nor do I suggest being accomodationalist! Instead, it's perhaps time to be more diplomatic.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Iowa Caucuses - That Didn't Go As Planned!!!

   There had been people, especially the Occupy Iowa Caucus group, suggesting the idea that Iowan Democrats could go to vote "Uncommitted," as reported by John Nichols and Cenk Uygur. Well, apparently Occupy Iowa Caucus needed to do better research, because that's not what happened. We didn't get a choice. Probably because there is only the one candidate: Barack Obama. In years where there is more than one candidate, then, yes, caucus goers can be "Uncommitted." It has been 16 years since there was a Democratic President seeking re-election, and apparently Ralph Nader was a candidate then. Yet...

   Yet, it is claimed in Wikipedia that there was a 2% for "Uncommitted/Other." If you look for Linn county in this table, you will see that all the delegates went to Obama whereas some other counties have "Other County Delegates". OK, I'm feeling a bit jipped. Did I have to explicitly state, "I'm not here to support Obama!!!"? If so, I wish I would have had better warning! (I'm looking at you, Occupy Iowa Caucus!)

   Oh...well. One thing I did decide to do is GET INVOLVED and volunteer to be a county delegate. I tell people who are frustrated with politics that they really need to do this someway some how. Sitting around bitching doesn't necessarily do anything unless you have a large audience of politically involved people that will hear you out. I don't have that. I do understand, though, why people do bitch instead of getting involved. First of all, I am only one person out of 200 for my county and I become less and less significant at higher levels (district, state, national). Any impact I can make is pretty miniscule, if I can make any impact at all. Second, this means being involved requires a bit of work for possibly no gain. Bitching, on the other hand, requires virtually no work for the same no gain.

   The one biggest complain I have about this whole process has to be the pressure to fall in line. Last night was an occasion where I could have some sympathy for people who call themselves "independent." I've made the argument before (see the side note) that if you agree with much of what a group stands for, then get involved and work to change those things for which you disagree! But, boy, the pressure to conform is certainly there, and I can see how not only people with less informed minds can crack under such pressure, but how people with better informed minds, such as mine, can get frustrated with it—it felt almost like being in a robot factory with people doing things (most notably cheering) on command. I must admit, though, my dislike for the President could likely be skewing those feelings and it is actually my disappointment with people who cheer the guy on that I am truly feeling.

   Other thoughts are that I am fed up with this idea that Iowa has to be "first in the nation." This created some confusion last night as this is a redistricting year, and redistricting takes effect January 8, five days after the caucuses. I'm not sure anything had to be done other than delegates just had to know what precinct they would be representing come the county convention. There didn't seem to be any major concern about, say, no delegates representing a precinct because no one from the old precincts selected as delegates live in the new one. (For example, I live in precinct CR-27 for about three more days. Most of the precinct will become CR-08, but CR-08 will also have parts from what I think is CR-28 and some parts of CR-27 will not be in CR-08. If all the delegates from CR-27 lived in the part that is not going to be CR-08 and no delegates from CR-28 live in the part that will be CR-08, then CR-08 would have no delegates. (Hope that example didn't just make things more confusing!)) In short, holding caucuses before redistricting takes effect does not seem wise.

   Still, I would much rather have everyone hold a primary on the same day. I realize that spreading the primaries out provides a process of elimination, but I think this can be easily solved with instant runoff voting.

   Lastly, there were some comments on YouTube political videos bitching about how "The election is rigged," or something to that effect. It may not have been all that many people saying that, but they were getting a lot of upvotes. My suspicion is that they were Ron Paul supporters, because they've been known to bring up conspiracy theories before, especially ones about how the establishment and the media hate Ron Paul and want to see him lose because—get this—they know how great of a president he will be. Otherwise, I just love how people have to grab for conspiracy theories when their candidates don't do as well as they had hoped. You lost; deal with it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sacrifice? What Sacrifice?

   I am working on the concept for a post involving how Christianity is supposedly about love. I have realized that I will have to talk about the supposed "sacrifice" of Jesus because, as I understand it, many Christians consider that to be some great act of love. I have also realized that such a discussion is probably worth a post of its own, it is!

   First, a disclaimer: For the sake of argument, I will be assuming that Christianity is basically true—there is a God, and Jesus actually existed on earth, and the Bible accurately quotes Jesus, etc, etc. And I will use language as such, but my personal views are, of course, that it Christianity is mostly made up stories, just like any other religion.