Friday, December 20, 2013

Case in point...

Here is what I find to be a good example of exactly what I meant in my post from earlier today. There has been this court case in Colorado involving a cake shop refusing to service a homosexual couple over religious reasons. This then begs the question of what other types of couples can be refused service over religious reasons? Interracial couples (considering that once was an issue)? Well...guess what? It would appear Dennis Prager doesn't think so because opposition to interracial marriage supposedly isn't a proper religious belief!
What if, for example, someone’s religious principles prohibited interracial marriages? Should that individual be allowed to deny services to an interracial wedding?

Of course not.

Here’s why that objection is irrelevant:

1. No religion practiced in America – indeed, no world religion – has ever banned interracial marriage. That some American Christians opposed interracial marriage is of no consequence. No one assumes that every position held by any member of a religion means that the religion holds that position.

But, as Ed Brayton points out:
Interracial marriage was banned in every state in this country at one point and always on religious grounds. Whether Prager thinks those religious grounds were legitimate or not or whether the Bible really supported that position is irrelevant; it was the overwhelming view of Christians in this country for at least a century and a half that interracial marriage was forbidden and that the law should enforce that religious view. Christian ideology has shifted, as it often does, but that does not make the reality of those past positions magically disappear.

This is largely what I was talking about when I spoke of culture and religion being intertwined. Once opposition to interracial marriage became culturally unpopular, religion changed! And 50 years from now, we'll likely see very little religious opposition to same-sex marriage. And there will likely be religious people claiming that no world religion ever banned same-sex marriage. In some ways, they would be correct! The bible does not oppose same-sex marriage. It just opposes guys having sex with each other. (Though, it would be strange to say, "Yeah, you can get married. That's cool. You're just not allowed to have sex.")

On that, I do have to address his somewhat correct, but yet incorrect, second point.
2. If opposition to same-sex marriage is not a legitimately held religious conviction, there is no such thing as a legitimately held religious position. Unlike opposition to interracial marriage, opposition to same-sex marriage has been the position of every religion in recorded history – as well as of every country and every American state until the 21st century.

I pretty much agree with that first sentence. That is another reason why I say one should just accept it if someone claims their belief is a religious belief. Otherwise, then we have to go about determining which religious belief is "legitimately held" and which is not. And how do we do that? This is where Prager's argument goes way wrong, and in a direction I don't think he intended. He appears to be implying that a religious conviction is legitimately held if it has been held by "every religion in recorded history." Well, I've got some bad news for Prager — the convictions that Jesus was/is the "Son of God" and/or the "Lord and Savior" are convictions that have not been held by "every religion in recorded history." Oops.

I would think this has to be his argument. If it isn't, then his first point is going to be very weak and opens up some other problems. For his first point to still stand, it would appear that his standard for a "legitimately held" belief would have to be based on popularity within the religion. Well, what do you do, then, about beliefs that are minority beliefs that grow to become more popular over time. One example of this would be anytime a new denomination, or even a branch, of Christianity develops. Protestantism would have been a new denomination at one point and would not have had many proponents. Today, it is no longer a denomination and is now a large branch of Christianity that includes many branches of its own and numerous denominations. So are general Protestant views now "legit" now that they are popular?

Or, in regards to the topic of same-sex marriage, are the beliefs of Christians who think this is acceptable not legitimate beliefs? And, once again, in 50 years when this likely becomes the majority belief, would such beliefs only then become legitimate?

That Prager shoots himself in the foot with his own argument just goes to show why trying to create rules for determining what is and what is not a "legitimately held" belief is a bad idea.

How do you determine if someone's beliefs are religious beliefs?

Updated on Jan 14 to remove some redundancy and lack of clarity.

Simple! If they say their beliefs are religious, then they are!

Oh, alright, the full answer is a bit more complicated...

This post comes from a conversation I was having with my mother about Phil Robertson (of Duck Dynasty) who has been suspended from the show due to homophobic remarks. In the conversation, I had (somehow — I don't remember the exact phrasing) referred to his beliefs as religious beliefs. She questioned if that was stretching it a bit far. In my mother's defense, perhaps she was unaware at the time that Robertson himself had said that they were. From the GQ article (page 2):
What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

But never mind my mother. Whatever her view, it did get me thinking about some of the silly defenses of religion that are out there. The main defense is to claim that beliefs like Robertson's aren't really religious, but rather that these people are using religion to justify their horrible beliefs. I can agree with this to a point. The point where I disagree is that this is the way religion often works. Even if there is a god or gods, it should be pretty obvious no religions were inspired (well, maybe bits and pieces, but certainly not the parts that are relevant to this discussion) fully by it or them and are largely, if not fully, made up by humans. So what do you think they are going to write into their religions??? If you answered "Their own beliefs," give yourself a prize! It's no surprise, then, to see modern day humans doing the same thing! (This often means interpreting what someone else wrote long ago to fit the modern age.)

And then the other part to that that may be worth mentioning is that these defenses often try to claim that religion is something good and positive. I almost saw this on Good Morning America's report Thursday, where the guest, Howard Bradman, said, "He used religion as a weapon rather than the tool it is meant to be." I can only assume he thinks it is meant to be a tool for good. Bullshit! Because religion is bullshit. And, therefore, it isn't "meant" to be anything. That's not to say it can't be used for good. The larger point in all of what I am saying is that religion is largely subjective! And when people defend religion, they are quite often defending those subjective parts, but the fact that they are defending them basically forces them to take a position of thinking them to be objective.

One last thing. I should point out that some of these defenders of religion may not be trying to defend religion but are doing it more by accident. There are some who may use similar arguments that have come to the conclusion that many of people's beliefs are cultural. They would then say Robertson's homophobia is cultural, but that he's using religion to defend his culture. So this is slightly different from the above, but it has the same flaw of failing to recognize that this is what religion tends to do. Culture influences religion and then religion turns right back around and influences culture! The two are too intertwined to be able to make a clear distinction. It is mainly for this that I say you should just take someone's word if they say their beliefs are religious. It is not to say that those beliefs are only religious, but to recognize that religion is playing a roll.

As an example of what is objective and what isn't, it is objective that the New Testament speaks a lot about a man named Jesus. But, as an example of what is more so subjective, was Jesus really a man??? There are some who think he was. Many think he was not just a man, but that he was God! Then, I think, there are even some out there (but this would be a very small minority group) that think he was really a space alien who disguised himself as a human. And, I can't forget, there are those who think Jesus was no more than a fictional character, a figment of the imagination. Now, realize that there is an objective truth as to what Jesus actually was. But we just don't have enough evidence to really determine what that truth is. Also, there are people who do try to reach their conclusions on what evidence there is — such people are trying to think more objectively about this. It is primarily the people who just read from the New Testament and come to their conclusions from that and that alone who I am talking about. Or, worse, the people who just accept what ever their church tells them. They're not thinking about this very objectively, therefore, I think it correct to label their beliefs as subjective.

Similarly, there is objective truth to what the authors of the various parts of the Bible actually meant. (For example, did they mean what they wrote literally or metaphorically?) But only those authors could ever fully know (we can certainly try to guess, but that's about it). And they are all dead. So we'll never know. So then anyone who says, "This is what this verse really means!" is full of themselves. (But don't let apologetics fool you! I would agree that someone could go and say, "This is what I think this verse means because..." and then they proceed to give their reasoning. These people are trying to objectively think about this. Apologetics can often look like it's doing the same thing. The problem I often have is the degree of certainty to which they claim they are correct in comparison to the reasoning they offer. It has always seemed to be that they are more certain of themselves than they should be.)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Affluenza, an update

I learned new information yesterday regarding the post I made that morning. First, I saw some clips of Anderson Cooper of CNN interviewing the psychologist (via TYT) who suggested that Texas teen needed therapy versus jail time. Apparently he largely blames the problem of "affluenza" on money. So, I need to make clear that I find that to largely be bullshit. I still agree with the idea that not having consequences for bad behavior will result in people failing to recognize what is bad behavior. But this can happen with anyone, not just people with lots of money. The main thing that I can see money really being useful for is for buying one's way out of bad consequences. Or, when the bad consequences are in the forms of fines, such consequences often affect a rich person much less than a poor person. A $100 fine for speeding, let's say, is going to impact a person making minimum wage much more than someone making millions in a year.

The other part of the news is that I hear surviving members of all (?) the victims' families are apparently suing the teen. I thought they might try suing the parents, but, as I said yesterday, apparently the judge didn't think the parents were to blame in the sentencing, so such a court battle would perhaps not be fruitful. I do wish them luck, though, for what it's worth. (No pun intended.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The problem is X; therefore, to fix the problem, do more of X!

A story that was big in the news late last week was that of a Texas teen who avoided jail time from having killed four people from having driven drunk. The outrage over the story had to do with the fact that the sentencing is putting this teen, who is also the child of very wealthy parents, in therapy at a private resort instead of in jail. At first, this didn't sound terribly horrible. I find that we have a problem in this country that our solution to bad behavior tends to be simply "jail time."

But, upon further thought, this sentencing is problematic based on who the perpetrator is and with the line of reasoning that was used by the defense. Essentially, it was argued that the teen had not learned proper behavior because he had not learned there are consequences for bad behavior. (This was referred to as "affluenza," which is not a professionally recognized term, from what I understand.) Now, I'm actually on board with that bit of reasoning as I've come to realize that we humans do form our moral compasses in part from recognizing consequences for behaviors. If someone grows up without consequences, they will indeed not have such recognition. This is in itself an argument for punishment so that this teen can finally learn about such consequences firsthand. If the claim is that the problem is a result of lack of punishment, then the solution is not and cannot be to continue this trend. The fix has to be at minimum a regular* punishment, if not even a harsher punishment.

Yet, a lack of punishment is what he got. So what is he going to learn from this? I fear not much. Especially when adding in that his therapy is going to be at a nice resort. How, then, is that therapy going to work? His therapy sessions are supposed to attempt to teach him that there are consequences for actions, but all he needs to do is look at his real-life situation to realize that the lessons he should be taught are not true. In other words, there is bound to be a contradiction between what his lessons say real-life is like and what he knows real-life to actually be like via personal experience. Personal experience is likely to win in this.

* I don't know if I can stress this enough. As I said, at first I was not so opposed to the sentencing because I don't think our current system delivers proper consequences for actions. Worst of all is that we don't seem to treat criminals as though they are humans. How, then, can we expect them to successfully merge back into society when their terms are over? The problem in this case is that since the problem is claimed to be a lack of punishment, anything less than what is normal for our current system is no good. I would like to see what is normal change, but this is a case that I have come to realize could not be used to change this system, nor will it be able to change the system since other teens won't be able to go to a resort for therapy.

On a side note, I saw some comments on a YouTube video reporting this story suggesting that the parents then be punished since the argument was that this teen didn't learn about consequences for actions due to how his parents raised him. It sounded like a good idea, though I had doubted police would even try that. Unfortunately, the article I linked above says that "The judge in the case, Jean Boyd, rejected the suggestion that the boy’s parents were ultimately responsible for his actions." So not only does this probably rule out any consequences for the parents, this makes this sentencing even worse than I had thought as of this weekend. If the parents are not to blame, then how can this teen have "affluenza"? Is the judge blaming money??? Recall that the problem of "affluenza" is due to a lack of proper consequences for actions. Certainly the parents have to have some responsibility for this! When children are growing up, parents often have to play the part of police, judge, and jury and impose consequences for bad behavior if the consequences don't manifest "naturally" (i.e, touching a hot stove will produce the consequence of a burn, so no parental intervention in that roll would be needed in such a case). After hearing this, I think this judge really needs to be reprimanded herself. Or, at minimum, some "therapy" in logical reasoning.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The need for emotional appeals and the caution on use

I have become, as followers of this blog hopefully realize, a person who cares about making as well as recognizing good arguments. It's a good skill to have because it helps to prevent one from being fooled. And, wow, this is a skill that has made me realize that people are out to fool others a lot! (On a side note, I think a lot of the people who try to fool others have been fooled themselves and are merely repeating the bad arguments that fooled them. It's not like they are intentionally out to fool. But I digress.)

One tactic I see used a lot is appealing to emotion. It is understandable why this is. When we get emotional, we can become irrational. So if you are out to fool someone, it is to your advantage to get your target into an irrational state. But, unfortunately, another flaw with us humans is that we are often not persuaded by reason alone. Emotion motivates us. So for people like me who want to make good arguments, this gets to be a bit of a bit of a conundrum.

The thought that I've had on this is that appeals to emotion can be acceptable as long as they are backed up with arguments that are good. But this is still a risky endevour. Even if I am being as honest as I can about my position, I may not be able to see flaws in my argument due to my own personal biases toward my position. For the sake of determining truth, it is good to be able to have others try to find such flaws. But if I've deliberately taken away that ability by making the emotional much for that! Best way to put it is to say it is similar to a catch-22.

But, when action becomes necessary (as can be in the case of debating politics*), I am going to have to fall on the side of using emotion.

* That's a hint I'm working on some political posts that are going to evoke an emotional response.

Oh, look! While this was sitting in draft, I watched this The Daily Show clip that is rather relevant to the discussion.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 6, Addendum #5: Explaining gradual change through language.

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.

One example I really like to help explain the gradual change in organisms is the gradual change in language. Some example point out that languages such as Spanish, French, and Italian are all derivatives of Latin. But it's not like one day people were speaking Latin and then the next day they were speaking Spanish. No, it is a change that would have happened somewhat gradually.

Actually, take the English language of today, for example. There are essentially a couple* forms of English — British English and American English. Over in Britain, they spell some of their words differently. Like "theatre," "centre," "programme," or "tyre." Or, they will use different words than we do, like "flat" instead of "apartment." (Here is a link with a number of other examples.) I would imagine the transformation from Latin to Spanish would have been somewhat similar. Differences would have been more subtle at first, but would grow further and further apart with time.**

* I think Australia uses English similar to that in Britain, but it would not surprise me if they have some of their own unique differences as well. Heck, we have differences here amongst Americans. I.e, "pop" vs. "soda."

** On a somewhat related note, I suspect in older times where many people could neither read, write, nor communicate easily with those hundreds of miles away, changes could happen more quickly than they can today. Today, we can have local dialects, but those dialects can't really evolve into their own language because we have to be able to communicate with those from other dialects, so we need to keep the overall language mostly the same (and we have to be able to recognize where they differ). And we need to be able to understand documents written hundreds of years ago. In older times, this would not have been as true, so local dialects would essentially be the language and could change somewhat with each generation.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Failures of Agnosticism: Defining "God"

People who call themselves "agnostic" can** be really obnoxious. On thing that seems to be a common trend amongst such people is this point that we can neither prove nor disprove god and that arguments between theists and atheists are pointless. It is a reasonable sounding idea, but it has a huge problem of not defining the term "god." What these agnostics seem to mean when they use this term is a deistic form of god, which is one that created the universe, but otherwise does not interact with humans.

I have very few problems with such a god. In fact, I can agree with the agnostics' claim. The next problem, though, is that when people talk about "god," that's not the god they are talking about. When theists, for example, claim that homosexuality is an abomination as per their god, that's really not a deistic god that they describe.

Additionally, even claims about what could be a deistic god can fly in the face of known science. When theists claim that humans were created in their god's image, they could be talking about a deistic god — or, at least this is an action that could be compatible with such a definition. But we have evidence that this is not so and that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors. So I'm going to reject that god. I really don't care if I can't "disprove" it.

This is where the intellectual integrity of such an agnostic stance begins to break down. If the agnostic is going to tell me that I can't reject a god concept that flies in the face* of what is known about the world, then they are essentially advocating for relativism, which is "the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration." In other words, it can be true for me that humans evolved and be true to some theists that humans were created. Or, likewise, true for me that homosexuality is not an abomination and be true to some theists that it is.

To be somewhat "fair" to the agnostics, I suspect that many of them really aren't relativists. It's probably more like what the classic XKCD comic suggests — they are trying to make themselves feel superior by trying to make themselves sound like they hold an intellectually superior position. This, though, is probably even worse than holding a relativist view. Because it's snobbish. And dishonest. I'll take an opponent who holds an intellectually bankrupt position any day over a dishonest snob who pretends to be intellectually superior.

UPDATE: Two things. One, I may be overstating my case. Slightly. These agnostics may not necessarily be relativists, but they may still be close enough. At the very least, they may not have a good understanding of how we do discover what is true. Or, perhaps they don't think the scientific method or other methods of empirical observation are good methods for finding truth. Still, this really doesn't make things better. Two, I should have said that if someone makes a claim about their god that flies in the face of what we know about the world, they had better present a lot of evidence to back up their claim! It could be that what we think we know is actually wrong.

* Alternatively, if they are going to tell me I can't reject such a god concept because I can't reject this generic universe-creating god concept, then that's just stupid. It's a different claim, despite the similarities it may have with the generic concept.

** Disclaimer: I hope it is clear that I'm not out to criticize all people who label themselves agnostics. I'm only out to criticize those who have the views as described.

IDHEF - Chapter 6, Addendum #4: Yes, different words can create the same meaning.

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.

Back in part one of Chapter 6, the authors thought they'd present the speculation that just one change in a letter could produce an entirely different meaning. Even though there really is no need to entertain pure speculation since speculation alone tells us nothing about what it true, I did ofter a counter-argument that multiple changes can result in virtually no difference in meaning. (My examples were the change from "god" to "deity" and "dog" to "canine".) Well, I've been listening to interviews of Marlene Zuk, author of the book, Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live. In this book, she talks about how multiple groups of humans that raised cattle gained a tolerance to lactose. Additionally, the genes that produced the tolerance are different per for each locale that developed each tolerance. In other words, it was essentially a different combination of letters producing the same result. If this is true, then it would appear that my counter-argument actually has evidence to back it up.

Now, to be fully honest, I do suspect that there is truth to what the authors claim about one change in a letter potentially generating a difference in "meaning." However, there is no reason to believe that would be some point that cripples the theory of evolution. (And with examples such as the above, it would seem that the evidence shows that it does not cripple the theory.) Indeed, evolutionary theory actually accounts for such changes. With evolution, changes that produce a different "meaning" that are disadvantageous get "weeded out" as the organism with the change will then be less likely to reproduce and pass on the change to offspring.

This also furthers my point back in part one where I stated, "It is simply not true that comparing cell information to encyclopedias is a one-to-one relationship." At that point, I mentioned about how encyclopedias will tend to be bigger as time progresses as there will be more information to include. One other consideration that was not made is that there can be multiple ways to assemble an encyclopedia. There is not just one encyclopedia. Britannica makes encyclopedias, but so does World Book. Then, there is my favorite: Wikipedia (which I often link in posts as a reference). So there are multiple ways in which to configure an encyclopedia and still have a valid encyclopedia. Likewise, it would seem there can be many ways in which to "configure" an organism and still have a functional organism.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 6, Addendum #3: Teaspoon Fossils

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.

While I was writing my initial responses to Chapter 6, the authors' remarks on fossils and molecular isolation had really been bothering me as I wasn't sure how best to address it. I ended up quoting another blogger, but I think I've finally come up with how I want to address this topic.

One of the things I have come to realize, which I should have picked up on more before, was that these authors overlooked the part about how where fossils are discovered is very much important to the evidence that the fossil record provides. The authors portrayed fossil evidence as merely lining up fossils to show progression, using the analogy of a teaspoon evolving into a pot to demonstrate the absurdity of this idea. I had mocked one gaping flaw in the analogy in that it ignores reproduction as a very important component to evolutionary theory. This is certainly a big flaw, but not the only flaw.  For reference, here is the picture they use:

The other flaw is that the authors make the fossil record sound like scientists aligning similar fossils in a line based on the progression of the features. (This is how the authors line up their counter-example of a teaspoon progressing into a pot.) This is not correct; the fossils are going to be aligned based on the age of the fossils. Signs of progression is the result of such alignment and these signs of progression are evidence for evolution.

For reference, the book reads as follows:
   Gee, how can you ignore the fossils? The skulls look like they're in a progression. They look as if they could be ancestrally related. Is this good evidence for Darwinism? No, it's not any better than the evidence that the large kettle evolved from the teaspoon. (p153)

Going to the authors' teaspoon example (and ignoring for the sake of argument the fact that teaspoons can't reproduce), if the pot (or large kettle) were to have evolved from a teaspoon, we would expect to find pots in a geological layer of rocks younger than those in which we find teaspoons. If not, then when would lack evidence that evolution occurred as we would fail to see a progression when lining up the fossils by age. It's nearly that simple.

There are a few caveats, though. We could, for example, find pots and teaspoons in the same rock and this would not necessarily be a disproof of evolution. For one, we need to realize that teaspoons don't necessarily disappear just because some set eventually evolved into a pot. There is this cliche question in creationist circles that asks, "If we evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?" My favorite response to this is to ask the question, "If America was colonized by the British, why are there still British?" The answer here is fairly simple — Some of the British stayed in Britain! Likewise, some monkeys essentially stayed monkeys. Or some teaspoons may have stayed teaspoons.

Additionally, finding a pot in the fossil record earlier than teaspoons would not necessarily be a disproof of evolution. It could be that we just haven't found the earlier teaspoon fossils or maybe no teaspoons fossilized and there may be none to find. So a lack of fossils doesn't mean it didn't happen. The case for evolution is indeed weaker without such fossils, but that's the worst that can be said.

I also need to speak more about how the fossil record is more like supporting evidence than evidence in itself, like I did near the end of Part I. I gave an example there, but what I would really like to do is also use the authors' own example. For this, we need to turn back to Chapter 3. In this chapter, the authors talk about radiation from the big bang (pages 81-82). They state that "scientists predicted that this radiation would be out there if the Big Bang did really occur" (p 81). Here's my question: Without other supporting evidence for the big bang, would this radiation alone be enough to support the big bang theory? I suspect not. After all, this is just one out of five points in what the authors refer to as SURGE. So when the authors treat the fossil record as though it alone can prove evolution, they're being disingenuous. Fossils are to evolution much the same way background radiation is to the big bang — both are used to support predictions made by the respective theories, but neither alone proves them. If I know my history as well as I think I do, it was predicted even by Charles Darwin that, if enough fossils could be found, those fossils would show a progression over time. They have, thus they validate this prediction. But you most likely would not be able to look at fossils and work out the theory of evolution from those fossils. Likewise, I doubt someone could look at background radiation and work out the big bang theory. It doesn't work that way and it's not supposed to work that way. Arguing that you can't derive evolution from fossils is then not a valid argument.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Yes! The full logical conclusion of the "You aborted Beethoven" arguement in video form!

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about the stupid anti-abortion arguments about how the world could have lost some influential figure had they been aborted. One of the big problems with such arguments is that there's no clear reason why these can't be applied beyond just the topic of abortion and also apply to getting pregnant in the first place. How many influential figures would we have lost had their parents not had sex? Well, now we have a video that includes the sad story of Oliver who wasn't born because his parents didn't have sex (starting at the 0:21 mark).

(Via Friendly Atheist)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Logical Fallacies - A fallacious argument does not make the conclusion false.

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

One thing that I need to make clear is that, when I point out a logical fallacy, it does not mean the conclusion is necessarily false. Looking at my various breakdowns of the book IDHEF, I have pointed out numerous strawmen or arguments from ignorance in their "proofs" for god. The fact that these arguments for god are fallacious does not then mean that there is no god. There could be a god but that these are just bad argument. The key point is that there is no reason for me to believe there is a god via such arguments. Essentially, seeing a fallacious arguments can at best lead to the statement, "Your argument is fallacious, therefore I cannot accept your conclusion as true." It does not lead to the statement, "Your argument is fallacious, therefore your conclusion is wrong." Such a statement is itself a logical fallacy known as the "fallacy fallacy."

I bring this up because I have started to get annoyed with the authors' "Roadrunner tactic" that was introduced in Chapter 1. This tactic is occasionally committing the fallacy fallacy when it is used to essentially dismisses any claim out-of-hand due to some perceived flaw in the argument. Worst of all, sometimes the flaw is not in the argument itself, but in a shorthand of the argument. In Chapter 7, they point out that saying "One must never say 'never'" (p173) is flawed because it involves saying "never." Twice, actually! But "never say 'never'" is really just catchy phrasing to make a concept easier to remember — a concept that is saying it is unwise to say "never" because it is impossible to truly know that something can never happen. (Or for whatever reason one might say "never.") To know this would require absolute knowledge, and I would think the authors of IDHEF would agree that humans have no such knowledge based on statements made in Chapter 2. So for them to blindly dismiss this concept because they don't like the phrasing is borderline absurd.

It's one thing to point out argumentative flaws. I'm fine with that as I've done so myself. But concluding that a person is false due to bad arguments is incorrect. This started happening a lot in Chapter 7. Essentially, they point out people making bad arguments for a relativistic morality and conclude that morality cannot be relativistic because of these bad arguments. Sorry, but the best conclusion that can be made when exposing a bad argument is that the argument was bad.

Monday, October 7, 2013

If you'd been paying attention, you'd have known the shutdown was going to happen

I'm a little behind on posting this, but I must say I was just a bit bothered by a comment that was apparently left on the Facebook page of a local news station. The comment was in regards to a question about what concerns people had about the potential government shutdown (as this was on the Monday morning prior). The comment was read on-air and said something about how a deal had been reached last minute the last few times, so they were sure the same was going to happen this time.

To me, it was obvious that either this person wasn't paying close attention or that they don't have a good understanding of the state of politics in this country. It should have been obvious to just about anyone paying the slightest attention by Monday morning that the shutdown was going to happen as there weren't even talks about having negotiations! So how could a last minute deal even be made if no one was trying to reach a deal. That would seem to be a crucial prerequisite.

I would also say that events like Ted Cruz's fake filibusterer should have been a good clue that this was really going to happen this time. Then again, as Rachel Maddow discussed on her show last week Monday, many Republicans campaigned back in 2010 on the idea of shutting down government.

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So even with Cruz's dog and pony show, nothing really seems too different than two years ago. So what has changed? I'd suggest that Republicans could back down from a shutdown because they used to have fallbacks. One was the 2012 election where they could potentially gain more negotiating power. Ultimately, they I think they wanted to take back the presidency, but even more control of the Senate was likely in their sights. With more power, they could perhaps get their way while avoiding a shutdown. But they didn't gain power after that election. They actually lost a bit of power. 2014 isn't looking too bright (plus, the presidency isn't an option) and 2016 is too far away. The second was the court system. But that too was lost with last year's decision. (EDIT: Oy! I forgot to mention that this was in reference to the case over the Affordable Care Act.) Now there are no fallbacks that I can see. Shutdown is now the primary option. Hopefully this can be settled before the debt ceiling becomes an issue again!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 6, Addendum #2: Unobserved Intelligent Design

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.

Throughout my breakdown of Chapter 6, I made note a couple of times of the hypocrisy the authors had in regards to the observation of so-called "macroevolution," while being rather blind to the fact that a designer hasn't been observed. My guess is they would say they have observed the "message" of DNA and that's good enough. But there was more that I missed when I wrote those posts that I only recently considered: Where is the observation of new lifeforms "poofing*" into existence? Or do they believe the lifeforms we see today have always been on earth? Like, do they believe humans lived with dinosaurs? Or did God decide one day a hundred thousands of years ago to take the ape template and tweak it a bit to create humans?

So if God has been deciding to poof new lifeforms into existence every now and then, why haven't we observed this? You could say we haven't been around at the right moment to see this happen, but, I'm sorry, I cannot accept that excuse. They demand that "microevolution" be observed. That excuse of not being around at the right moment can just as easily apply to "macroevolution." If it's not a good excuse for one, then I don't see how it can be applied to the other. What other excuses might there be for why I can't demand some observations of this intelligent designer at work?

* We aren't even given an idea of how this intelligent designer brings new life into the world (which is another major flaw to the idea), so I am left with little choice but to use such a colorful term.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 6, Addendum #1: Teach the Controversy!

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.

   Chapter 6 of the book ended with a spiel for teaching the "controversy." My remarks on the topic started to get to long to fit in with the rest of my break-down of the chapter, so I've created this post just for this topic. Let's do this!

   Where I wish to begin is with the large list of things the authors ask "what would be unconstitutional about..." and out of that list what really stuck out in my mind was this "forensic and empirical science" bit. Well, there wouldn't be anything unconstitutional about it; the more relevant question is why would we teach children about a form of science (forensic) that does not exist in the form the authors describe? Here is what Wikipedia has to say about "forensic science":
Forensic the application of a broad spectrum of sciences and technologies to investigate and establish facts of interest in relation to criminal or civil law.
Did you catch that part about it being "a broad spectrum of sciences"? These authors describe forensic science as being its own unique field. It's not. And, as I've said earlier on this chapter on the subject, what they describe isn't even science. I'll repeat that what seems to be going on here is that they are trying to use the "authority" (for lack of better word) of science — because it works and has helped to produce awesome technology like the electronic device on which you the reader are viewing this post — to make their ideas appear more legit. That and they can't argue their ideas should be taught in science classes, as they do here, if they can't get people to believe that these ideas are even scientific in the first place! Sadly, as many Americans are scientifically illiterate, many might not really know what forensic science is beyond what they see on TV with all of the CSI* shows.

   The next part that stuck out were these back-to-back statements where they now make an appeal to an important skill set: "Why don't we give our children all the scientific evidence—pro and con—and let them make up their own minds? After all, shouldn't we be teaching them how to think critically on their own?" (p167). I totally agree — we should be teaching children how to think critically! The problem is how does "giving our children all the scientific evidence" accomplish this? I could give a child all the scientific evidence available in the world, but how does that teach them how to evaluate that evidence? How does that help them learn what constitutes as high quality evidence versus low quality evidence? The first part** of the trick here, as I see it, is that by presenting multiple ideas, children will have to put some thought into it. But they don't have to put critical thought into it. Thinking and critical thinking are two different processes. (Otherwise, what's the point of having this term "critical thinking"? Why not just call it "thinking" if there is nothing different about it?) The second part of the trick is semantics and involves getting people to believe that if one engages in criticizing something they are thus engaging in critical thinking. This is not what "critical thinking" is. Critical thinking is more specific than this; as Wikipedia states, "'Critical' as used in the expression 'critical thinking' connotes involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc. 'Critical' in this context does not mean 'disapproval' or 'negative.'" Putting the two parts together, I see the appeal being that giving children information critical toward evolution will make them think about it and since this information is critical (as in "negative toward", not "crucial for"), the thoughts about it will thus be critical. It doesn't work this way. Don't fall for this!

   Lastly, I want to address this final statement as well as go back to the statement where they say, "I thought this was science. There must be something else at stake here" (p161-162). The problem is not, as the authors suggest, that we "lack the faith to believe that [our] theory will still be believed after our children see all the evidence" (p167). The problem is more that thinking, whether critically or not, is hard. And thinking critically is even harder! As I've said amongst these last two paragraphs, just giving children evidence does no good if you don't even bother to teach them how to think critically to evaluate the evidence. (And just giving them evidence does not teach them how to think critically.) You could throw all the evidence in the world for any claim — not just evolution — at children and they won't necessarily accept any theory when they have no idea how to understand the evidence.

   I may have an analogy for this. You could put a child in the driver's seat of a car, but would you expect them to be able to drive? Especially if they've never seen a car before? If you told them to get in and drive, that would quite literally be an accident waiting to happen! (Once, you know, they figure out how to put it in gear and all.) Back in reality, we start by teaching children how to drive before actually allowing them to drive. And even then we slowly work on their skills, such as having them drive in empty parking lots before even thinking about letting them go out on the road. The same approach should be used toward critical thinking skills. You need to first teach children how critical thinking skills work. Then you give them simple exercises to develop those skills. Later on you could then give them all this evidence after sufficient critical thinking skills have developed. But you don't give them a bunch of evidence and expect them to develop critical thinking skills from that. This is — figuratively this time — an accident waiting to happen!

   What kind of accident would I suspect? This gets us back to how thinking is hard. When children don't have the critical thinking skill set to evaluate evidence, what they'll likely do is choose the idea that is easier to think about, regardless of evidence. Which is easier to think about? One: God said, "Let there be life!" and there was? Or two: Life gained complexity and diversity through millions of generations of reproduction with the environment putting pressures on the organisms so that those that were the most fit for their environment had the greatest chance to reproduce***...? When you have no idea how to evaluate evidence, I'd expect most people to pick the first one. And if both options are presented as being equally likely (or with equal weight)? Well, let me just finish by saying lack of faith in the theory isn't the problem; lack of faith in human intelligence is.

   It also doesn't help that there is a lot of arguments to wade through! No one without good critical thinking skills would be able to get through it all. Let's take the example of flightless birds to the claim that transitional forms are not viable. This should be an easy point to recognize, even without good critical thinking skills. So of course creationists have a response! It actually surprises me a bit that there was no such response in the book. On this note, I must be forthright and point out that I cannot claim that this particular response would match the response the authors of the book would give. But I would not suspect it to really be much different, either. I'll be adding comments in purple in the blockquote.
There are at least two possibilities as to why flightless birds such as ostriches and emus have wings, either:

  1. The wings are indeed “useless” and derived from birds that once could fly. This is possible in the creationist model. [Well, sure, anything is possible in the creationist model, as discussed in my part II breakdown of Chapter 6. But if creationists want their model to be taken seriously, it really needs to be able to reasonably explain this instead of merely stating the obvious.] Loss of features is relatively easy by natural processes, whereas acquisition of new characters, requiring specific new DNA information, is impossible. [Would someone without good critical thinking skills (assuming they have all the evidence) pick up on the fact that this has been empirically tested to be possible? This then gets us into the next creationist responses, which will look something like, "Those fruit flies are still fruit flies" or "Those bacteria are still bacteria" depending on what experiment is mentioned. Would someone without good critical thinking skills recognize that this is a logical fallacy known as "moving/shifting the goal posts"? (The original goal post was just simply adding "information" — whatever that exactly means — to becoming a demand that offspring be part of a different classification.)] Loss of wings most probably occurred in a beetle [What??? We were talking about birds. What do beetles have to do with this?!?] species that colonized a windy island. Again, this is a loss of genetic information, so it is not evidence for microbe-to-man evolution, which requires masses of new genetic information.[1]
  2. The wings have a function. Some possible functions, depending on the species of flightless bird, are: balance while running, cooling in hot weather, warmth in cold weather, protection of the ribcage during falls, mating rituals, scaring predators (emus will run at perceived enemies of their chicks, mouth open and wings flapping), sheltering of chicks, etc. [And yet, none of these reasons seem to be considered for why an animal would develop wings without the ability to fly in the first place!] If the wings are useless, why are the muscles functional, allowing these birds to move their wings?
So what starts as a simple rebuttal leads to another rebuttal and then to another rebuttal, and so on. We really expect children to just be able to figure this out and to develop critical thinking skills if we just throw all of this at them?    And then there's this:
   This picture above (you should be able to click to enlargen) is what many of these Christians actually want to teach children. This is from a private school in South Carolina where this sort of teaching is allowed since the U.S. Constitution does not apply to such schools. This is not about providing children will all the evidence or "exposing the problems with macroevolution" (p167). This is about keeping them locked in to a biblical worldview where they learn poor reasoning skills. Just look at what the "correct" answer is to #18. Do you see a problem with this? How, then, can this girl answer a number of the other questions? Was she there? This is what people such as myself are concerned about. I'm concerned for the future of the children that go to such schools. They are, as the cliche goes, the future. I fear teaching more children this sort of material could lead to a very bleak future.

* Actually, I wonder if that may be helpful. Might people reading this book today catch on that forensic science isn't what these authors claim? Realize, CSI debuted in 2000, only about 4 years before this book came out. Though, that should have been enough time for these authors to adapt their argument and change the name so that people would be less likely to pick up on the fact that they are making up forms of science.

** I find it somewhat amusing that these attempts to trick people into supporting intelligent design based on promoting critical thinking require people to lack critical thinking skills in order to work.

*** That's my attempt to put evolution in a nutshell. I make no claims that I did a very successful job in doing so! :)

   I also want to give a quick mention to a twist in this "critical thinking" sales pitch. This is from current events down in Texas where science textbooks are under review. One of the reviewers wrote a letter discussing his(?) experiences (emphasis mine):
in the review of the HoughtonMifflin Harcourt textbook, an incredible resource, a panel member comments:I understand the National Academy of Science's strong support of the theory of evolution. At thesame time, this is a theory. As an educator and parent, I feel very strongly that "creationscience" based on Biblical principles should be incorporated to every Biology book that is up foradoption. It is very important for students to use critical thinking skills and give them theopportunity to weigh the evidence between evolution and "creation science."
   At least in this case the creationist isn't suggesting the ridiculous claim that this will teach critical thinking skills. The problem is assuming that students have such skills. I don't know of many schools that teach such skills, which is unfortunate, and I'd be highly surprised if such classes would be promoted in Texas, especially since their original 2012 Republican party platform rejected critical thinking skills.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 6: New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo? (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


Objection: Intelligent Design is not science.

   This section is a bit ironic. In the first paragraph, the authors state "The Darwinists' claim that intelligent design is not science is based on their biased definition of science" (p156). Supposedly, this definition does not allow for intelligent causes. I'll say that's bullocks, but the more interesting thing is that these authors themselves seem to be defining science as merely an attempt to answer questions. That is a very unsophisticated view on science. Yes, science can be defined merely as "the state of knowing," but in this context, a better definition (with the key part highlighted) is "knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method." The definition of the scientific method, then is as follows:
principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses
This goes right back to things I said in regards to earlier parts of this chapter, which essentially was, "Where are the tests???" Getting back to the irony, though, these authors imply — they couldn't even be bothered to provide a definition of science — a very flexible definition of science after accusing "Darwinists" of using a biased definition. Pot, meet kettle.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Know thine enemy. And their arguments.

I, as I would think many liberals do, get irritated when conservatives accuse us of believing X, Y, and Z when we don't. Likewise, I get a bit irritated when liberals accuse those who are more conservative of believing things they don't actually believe. Such often seems to be the case with liberal Christians misrepresenting the beliefs of the more conservative Christians. Below is a clip of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd addressing a pastor in what is apparently a Q&A session. I'm embedding the video from The Last Word as that is where I first saw the actual video (I had read about it earlier at Pharyngula). Lawrence O'Donnell finds the response "brilliant." From a political perspective, yeah, he's been getting good press from what I've seen, so it's probably working out for him. But from a perspective of making a good argument, it is not impressive. I'll go more into Rudd's remarks from the video below the fold. First, I'll address how they misrepresent his opponents position. Then further below I'll cover other problems with his remarks. (The clip I'm interested in starts around 40 seconds in if you'd like to skip ahead.)

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Star Trek political message run amok!

Disclaimer: This post contains justified anger which has led to the use of what our culture considers to be obscenities. If such obscenities offend you more than the racism and sexism that led to such anger, I first must question your moral compass, but second I must warn you that this post is probably not for you and you should cease reading now.

I am just dismayed about the episode of Star Trek I recently watched. It's from The Original Series, titled "The Omega Glory." I've been griping to my wife about the sexism in many episodes of the series, but I've been able to deal with that to where I haven't bothered writing any posts about it. This episode, however, was really bothersome. Not because it was horrible sexism* — it perhaps had less sexism** than an average episode — but horrible racism.

Part of the plot of the episode involves two tribes that are at war, the Yangs and the Kohns. It is revealed later in the episode that the Kohns are equivalent to communists and the Yangs to Yankees/Americans. To make things really fucked up, the Yangs have a flag that looks exactly like the American flag, they cite the Pledge of Allegiance, have the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. And this is supposed to be in a culture that was not tampered with (at least not until recently, too recent to have had such influence). Yet, just two episodes before this, the crew encountered Nazis. In that episode, I recall Spock claiming the probability that this would happen on another planet on its own (without interference) would be near impossible***. And, in this case, it was a result of interference. Yet, in this episode, Spock is not astonished at all. (Nor is anyone else for that matter.) So, it would seem that whoever wrote this episode (looking this up, it apparently was Gene Roddenberry himself) was (1) not the same person who wrote that prior episode (or they're really inconsistent in their writing, but, again, having looked this up, it was not the same writer) and (2) has a clear political agenda. What, exactly, that political agenda was is not clear to me, but I figure it had at least something to do with the Vietnam War.

Now, about that racism... I'll admit that I'm not entirely sure that all of the racism was either intended or the result of sheer ignorance; some of it may have just been a consequence of trying to reflect earth reality into the plot. (But intent is not magic.) The particular case I'm discussing here is how the Kohns/Communists appear Asian while the Yangs/Yankees are white (with some other raciest caveats I'll discuss in a bit). The problem? Remember that these are people that have evolved on their own separate from earth culture. There is an implication here that communist beliefs are genetically tied to Asian features. Then the Yangs, who love freedom so much that it is a sacred word, are, of course, white. Because nothing says you love freedom more than having white skin! Fucking. Sick. If there is any saving grace to this racism, it is that the Yangs are, especially early on, depicted as a savage race, so the white race is not necessarily viewed as being superior by any means. However, this can be explained by even more racism because the Yangs aren't entirely white. They're really more of a mix of Caucasian and Native American. The leader of the Yangs, for example, has the title of "chief" and his name is "Cloud Williams," a name that is quite clearly a mix of Native American and English.

There are numerous problems with this, the first being is the savage behavior of the Yangs could be seen as a result of their Native American heritage. Other problems with this deal with other parts of the plot, primarily with the Yangs trying to take what is supposedly their land back from the Kohns. For a story that is made to line up largely with earth history, this hugely misses the mark because in our history it is the Yankees who stole land from the Native Americans, not the communists! (I must note, though, that this part of the plot is made obvious through dialog to be a potential future for America, not part of the past. Still, it is a potential future that is made while ignoring the realities of the past.) This really seems insulting to the descendents of Native Americans to suggest that Europeans actually integrated peacefully with their ancestors. The best defense I can see for this is perhaps the writer was trying to suggest that this is the way things should have been. That would at least be a bit better, but, if it were me, I'd suggest that the Europeans should have fucking stayed in Europe and worked on figuring out birth control instead (and freedom of speech and religion...whatever they needed to do to make staying in Europe more appealing). Getting back to the point, if this was the intended message, I didn't get it. Message. Not. Received. Seeing how other parts of the plot align with American history, deviations from that history need to be made clear or I find anyone is justified in concluding this as being the author's view of history.

I think that's the worst of the racism. The rest of what is on my mind involves the mixed messages about the USA. As stated, the Yangs have the Pledge of Allegiance and the Constitution. Reading the comments of others, the Constitution has been slightly modified in oral presentation to start saying, "E Plebnista" instead of "We the people," a difference I had difficulty catching while watching the episode as the Yangs were talking in some sort of broken English when reciting these documents. — And what was the point of this? Was it to make it seem more ancient? — As stated by this other blogger, "Kirk resolves the great conflict by recognizing that E plebnista is actually a corruption of 'We the People' and giving the Yangs a good dose of high school civics." I find this blogger also has some insight when he states the following:
Gene Roddenberry’s here point is worth remembering: when the Constitution is made the subject of adoration, and when its key passages are converted into acontextualized proof texts, we end up with a ridiculous form of ancestor worship instead of a participatory democracy. We ignore the flesh-and-blood Founders by converting them into two-dimensional deities and their ideas about self-government into a prescriptive list of commandments. “We the people” becomes “E plebnista.”
I can see how he could arrive at this conclusion. However, a twist to this that I find a bit bizarre is that Kirk is familiar with these texts. Sure, Kirk is an American character, but if the concern is really about not making such documents a subject of adoration, a point I strongly agree with, why does Kirk himself have the texts at least somewhat memorized? I don't have them memorized. I wouldn't want to memorize them. (Well, I do have the pledge memorized. It's rather short and my memorization is essentially from reciting it years ago as a child.) I mean, if I'm going to devote time to memorizing the text of a document, I would think I'd have to only be a step away from worship. It's the ideas the Constitution contains that are more important than the particular words, which seems to be what Kirk is expressing, but I just can't get over this bit of inconsistency. There is also inconsistency with the portrayal of the American flag. It is highlighted at the end of the episode with some patriotic music playing. If the idea really is to be cautious about worship, then this episode is sending mixed messages. The best I can figure is that perhaps it was a message of "I love my country, but we can do better."

The final failed message I noticed is also near the very end where Kirk lectures the Yangs on the Constitution. There he's telling them that the ideas apply to all people, including the Kohns. What exactly does that mean? The Yangs don't get it nor do I. I have heard it said that the idea of the Prime Directive where "humans should not influence or interfere with other races and peoples, was actually a snipe at American involvement in Vietnam." But one of the excuses our government gives — and I would suspect the government did so back then as well — for interfering is to bring democracy to those lands. Which could then be viewed as doing what Kirk advised!

In summary, this episode was a good example of how writers really need to be careful when putting political messages into their shows and a good example of how not to do it!

* As a note on that sexism, the main female character's part was pretty much there for male viewers to stare at, as she was cladly dressed, and as a plot device.

** OK, since I may not otherwise end up talking about the sexism in Star Trek, so far the "greatest" moment of sexism I've seen was in the episode, "Wolf In The Fold." The background story to the plot, as I recall, is that Scotty was injured in some explosion. It sounded like it was accidental, but apparently it was the result of a mistake made by a woman. From this, Scotty developed a mistrust of women. Bones has Scotty on shore leave on a pleasure planet to get him over this. And...they take him to watch a belly dancer. (I wonder if the writer of this would have preferred a strip club if it could be shown on television.) The biggest problem with all of this is that Bones, the supposed medical doctor, seems to think it completely rational that Scotty would develop such a mistrust. So does Kirk. That's just bullshit. If a man had made the mistake, do we really believe Scotty would develop a mistrust of men? I don't. Scotty's rationale is sexist and it would only seem to make sense in a sexist environment. One would hope that the future portrayed in Star Trek would be mostly over sexism. Then again, the characters of the show are not over throwing punches to settle disputes as one of the first resorts, so why would I expect them to be over sexism?

*** And then just two episodes after this one, they discuss someone's "law" about parallel cultural development when they end up on a planet ruled by Romans. Horribly inconsistent writing! Not to mention a potential lack of imagination (or maybe lack of budget) with all these earth-themed episodes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A point of honesty in regards to dragons.

In my last post, I discussed a rather horrible response to Carl Sagan's dragon example. Now, in that response, the apologist was essentially addressing two questions at once — one about his god belief in regards to the example and a second about proof for this god. In my post, I indicated that Sagan's example isn't looking for the type of "proof" this author was suggesting. I must now admit that isn't fully true.

Sagan's examples are really a starting point for investigating the dragon. If someone had merely visually seen the dragon, that would not have been enough to say, "Yep, that's a dragon alright!" Maybe it's actually a robot made to look like a dragon. Maybe it's a holographic projection. What we do get, though, is a starting point where we can say, "Yes, there is certainly something here that we can investigate!" It would seem the apologist should agree that there is a starting point*; he has written a book that is supposed to "cover...the evidence for God from science."

So why not include some of these things? Well, for starters, the person the apologist is addressing is an atheist who has already expressed that they were not impressed by the apologist's work. But, also, the apologist may already suspect the atheist won't even agree on those starting points. If the apologist's arguments are anything like "DNA is a message!" then there likely won't be agreement. Better to dismiss the argument entirely than entertain an argument you know won't fly.

* This is the actual reason his "list...of things which certainly do not exist" is bollocks. We can, for the most part, agree that there are things there that can be investigated, even if such investigations are challenging.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Responding to "The Dragon In My Garage" by...not actually responding.

I was just Googling Carl Sagan's The Dragon In My Garage and found a post with a Christian response on the topic. The response was requested by an atheist who apparently has read some of this apologist's other work. We'll go through it piece by piece in a bit. First, the low-down on Sagan's Dragon:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Laughing at the stuggles of celebrities and marginalizing those who aren't

I'm just a bit disgusted. I really hate how we as a society love to make a joke out of the personal problems of celebrities. Currently, it's Amanda Bynes. I don't follow celebrity gossip, so I don't really know all what's going on, but apparently she's having problems with drug abuse, somewhat like Lindsay Lohan before her. I was just sitting here trying to work this last Friday and the radio DJ decides to play some clip that makes fun of Bynes' struggles. This clip was essentially a satire of advertisements for charitable organizations for helping people in need. The joke is that Bynes is not in need because she's a rich celebrity. I fail to find it funny, though. Here are probably my biggest two issues with such satire:
  • Incidents like this could be used to instead have serious discussions. What particularly comes to my mind is the conservative/libertarian fairy tale that poor people are just lazy (and probably do a lot of drugs) and if they'd just take some responsibility, they'd magically have better lives. Cases like this work as a bit of a counter-narrative, showing that irresponsible people can be wealthy. (Though, those who believe in the myth would likely point out that Bynes' career is going to suffer from all of this. They would be correct, so any conversation would have to focus on a point that the real world isn't as simplistic as conservatives/libertarians make it out to be.)
  • What bothers me most, though, is that such satire marginalizes people. Actually, this can be broken up into further sub-bullets.
    • I think in such a satirist clip is a criticism of culture. I'm going to start with a different example to explain what I mean. Back not so long ago, I was checking out on YouTube Five Finger Death Punch's video for their new song, "Lift Me Up." In the comments, someone said something about the song being awesome and how they can't understand how such music isn't as popular as Psy's "Gangnam Style." Except...they didn't call the song out by name but rather as a song by a fat Asian. Alright, I can understand and sympathize with not totally getting why such music is so popular. But what the fuck does Psy's weight have to do with anything! It reminds me a bit of a phrase I used to hear a lot a decade or so ago: "Don't hate the player. Hate the game!" And that really seems to be what they hate, with "the game" being analogous with what music is popular in culture. But "the game" can't be marginalized because it is not a person. The player, however is and thus can be.

      I suspect something quite similar is going on in the minds of whoever produced this clip on Bynes. They're really trying to make a critique of culture that props up people as celebrity that don't necessarily deserve such a status. It's a point to which I generally agree; in fact, I do find celebrity worship rather stupid and occasionally dangerous (like when a celebrity endorses a harmful product or idea). So when a celebrity struggles with life, these critics use that celebrity's struggles to attempt to make a point. The problem is with how the criticism is made. Essentially, these points are made without recognizing the celebrity as being a human being but instead treating the celebrity as an object in which to use to score points. There is no concern for the state of Amanda Bynes in this clip. In fact, there was the opposite as it mentioned her having "$4 million in her savings account" or something to that effect. In other words, you are not to feel at all sorry for her. Bynes is simply the latest object to use to make points against pop culture. Before her it has been Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan.

      And now I realize I made a mistake (which I could remove, but will leave in to show the development of my thoughts). These are not the players; these people are the balls. The game is still the same, but the players, I now realize, are members of society. On one team are those who embrace pop culture and on the other are those who do not. The idols of pop culture, then, are the game balls.
    • Worse than marginalizing celebrities, though, is the marginalizing of "common folk." I don't have any statistics handy, but it should not be a point up for debate that many people struggle with drug abuse or various psychological problems. When you make fun of a celebrity for struggling with such issues, you are essentially making fun of all people with such issues. This is because you are often making fun of the celebrity through their behavior that results from their struggles. Those behaviors are not limited to the celebrity. A drunk celebrity, for example, can go into a stupor just as much as someone who is not a celebrity. Drugs, alcohol, and whatnot don't have some special effects on celebrities that they don't on other people. If a person struggling with alcohol abuse sees you making fun of a celebrity going into a drunken stupor, what might they think? Is it unreasonable to suggest they might suggest that you would also make fun of them for their drunken stupors??? On that, another point that should not be up for debate is that laughing at people with such problems in no way helps them and may make things worse.

      The most common, seemingly legitimate defense I would suspect is something along the lines of, "Oh, but I only intended to make fun of Bynes!" Yeah, well, the road to hell (if there were such a place) is paved with good intentions. Not to mention that making fun of people is never a good intention...but I digress! The point I need to make here is that your intentions don't matter; it is how others interpret your message that matters.

      Other "defenses" may be to suggest that these people "develop a sense of humor" or "grow thinker skin." Yeah, well, you could stop being an asshole, too! These are examples of what I am starting to call "shifting the burden of responsibility." It's asking others to change their attitudes so that you may maintain yours. It's dishonest.
Now, I need to be clear that I don't think that people who laugh at the woes of celebrities are automatically assholes. Often, I doubt people think through the consequences of their actions. And that's what this post is really about. Such jokes can actually be quite harmful. You might be able to get a laugh out of them, but realize that not everyone does. Raciest jokes work much the same. They can be funny to many people, but often not to the group of people being marginalized. I hope we're moving toward a society that calls people out when they make a raciest joke. Let's now also start moving toward a society that calls people out when they make a joke marginalizing those with personal struggles. That is all I ask.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Won't somebody think of the children?!? -- Inconsistency in the anti-abortion movement

This post is going to take a couple different directions. I first want to just briefly mention how British prime minister David Cameron is trying to stop pornography on the internet. And his reason? Think of the children!!! It's rather quite sad when people use children to push a political agenda, but, having said that, there are legitimate cases where it really is about the children.

This gets us to what I originally wanted to write about. My wife has a friend who apparently has been dealing with people who sound like far-right Tea Party folk; people who don't like the government telling them they have to have their children in a car seat. No, I'm sorry, this is not the government telling you what to do. This is one of those legitimate cases of the government thinking of the children. You do not own your children. While they are yours in a caregiver and often biological sense, they are individuals that have rights, and one of those rights is protection against the idiocy of their parents!

And these people should understand this, because I suspect there is a good chance that these people would also be anti-abortion. One of the main arguments such people often use against abortion is that the fetus is a human being that has rights. That should mean that it will still have those rights as a child. Or do we live in a really bizarro world where fetuses are human beings but children are not? Of course — anyone rational person who pays close attention to abortion debates — the truth is that these anti-abortion people don't truly believe the arguments that they put forth. Their reasons for being against abortion could be from a variety of reasons including the totally thoughtless reason of their pastor telling them to be or the true agenda behind anti-abortion movements of controlling people's sex lives. At any rate, when someone who is against abortions tells you it's about human rights but then gripes about child seat laws is full of themselves on at least one of those topics.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ahk! The should-have-been-obvious third reasons Libertarians will never have much power.

   I recently wrote about two reasons Libertarians will never have much political power. I forget a third.
Right-wing populism in America has always amounted to white identity politics, which is why the only notable libertarian-leaning politicians to generate real excitement among conservative voters have risen to prominence through alliances with racist and nativist movements. Ron Paul's racist newsletters were not incidental to his later success, and it comes as little surprise that a man styling himself a "Southern Avenger" numbers among Rand Paul's top aides.
   One of the reasons I find this to be true is because libertarian ideas in regards to topics such as charity sound a lot better in theory than in practice and the practice of these ideas benefit those who are more well-to-do and harm those who are not. As people of color tend to be more worse off than white people, libertarian ideas tend to benefit white people. It is no surprise, then, that white supremacist groups can be found to be strong supporters of libertarian-leaning politicians such as the Pauls. But as the white population shrinks, so does the potential voting base. Now, there could come a tipping point to where libertarian ideas will no longer be as advantageous to whites over persons of color, at which time libertarian ideas could become more appealing to persons of color. I suspect that point is well off in the future at this point.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

And now a second reasons Libertarians will never have much power

   Just wanted to provide some quick thoughts on Libertarians. They're just so funny sometimes.

   The first reason they'll never have much power is because many insist on calling the purity police. To those Libertarians, Ron and Rand Paul are not "True" Libertarians. While I'll agree that neither man fits the mold of what an ideal Libertarian would look like (besides the fact that both are actually members of the Republican party, but they are Republicans who espouse Libertarian concepts), how do these Libertarians (who apparently believe they themselves are pure enough) think they'll ever have a successful political party if they won't accept people into the party for not being pure enough? That's going to limit membership (maybe this is why the Pauls are Republicans?) and, frankly, there is strength in numbers.

   And now just yesterday I came across another potential pitfall. A good number of Libertarians probably don't like giving their information out to groups in the name of privacy. Would they be willing to go against this ideology for the sake of the party? Maybe. But if not, that's going to limit the party's ability to raise money and recruit volunteers if Libertarians are unwilling to give the party their contact information.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The baseball analogy - just because you aren't perfect doesn't mean further evaluation cannot be made.

   In a post from last year, I used an analogy of a broken clock being correct twice a day versus a working clock never being correct in regards to Ken Ham's silly comment that, "Evolutionary scientists have changed 'common knowledge' multiple times over the past century, yet the Bible has not changed." This really should not give the Bible any credibility, but it does in Ham's Bizarro-World where up is down and left is right.

   A similar argument I see used against science is that it occasionally gets things wrong, just like {name of field of study or occupation*} occasionally gets things wrong! An analogy I think can be applied to this argument is that of a hitter's batting average (in the sport of baseball...but this argument could be applied to other sports, such as a quarterback's completion percentage (American football) or a basketball player's shot or free throw percentage...basically anything that uses a percentage is best). Would anyone honestly claim that a batter that hits .350 is equal** to a batter that hits .150 all because both occasionally miss hitting the ball now and then? I would seriously hope not!

   Now, to be fully honest, science gets things wrong a lot. This is because science has a process for filtering out incorrect ideas. I don't know of any other system that has such a filter. This is what really makes science effective; it's not really about the percentages. The point, though, is how stupid it is to even bring up such points in the first place since the percentages are never even evaluated. Arguments like this are little but simple-minded dismissals of science.

* This can be many things...astrologists, clinical therapists...even faith healers or prayer could be inserted in here. Basically, this can be about anything that does not clearly use the scientific method. (I know, "clearly" is a very vague qualifier, but I must leave this quite vague because I have seen this argument so broadly used.)

** Well...OK, sometimes batters with worse batting averages are considered better if they hit a lot of home runs when they do hit the ball versus someone who hits often but typically only hits singles. This is essentially known as "slugging percentage." For the sake of argument, let's assume all else is equal.

   Actually, I've had this post sitting in draft for quite some time. I realized this was still in draft when I heard about people defending "psychic" Sylvia Brown, in regards to her claim that Amanda Berry was dead, because "everyone makes mistakes. Even doctors, lawyers … Psychics." Yeah...because everyone is harping on Brown for not being 100% correct! (sarcasm)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Devil and Angel on the Shoulder - How it works in real life

   So a few weeks ago I was watching the morning news and their "Morning Buzz Question" was in regards to food stamps. One obviously Republican responder got to have his answer put up on the air in which he(?) made the remark that people on food stamps aren't supposed to be "feasting like Royalty." Yes, I'm quite sure the word "royalty" was even capitalized. The implication, if I must explain, is that people on food stamps are living the high life. This sounded remarkable like my coworker I ranted about last year. Not wanting to repeat essentially the same post again on how much a load of bullshit such a remark is, I was thinking of another way to tackle this type of thinking. The thought that came to me was that of the angel and devil on a person's shoulder trying to influence the actions of a person.

   In this place I like to call reality, things don't seem to quite work this way. Rather than three parties involved, there are really only two, which involves the devil convincing the angel that a bad deed is actually for the better. These Republicans, it would seem, have their angelic side* that realizes it is wrong to not care about the poor. But their demonic side is concerned about #1. Need I say who #1 is? They don't want to have to dish out any money to take care of the poor. So they find "reasons" (read: excuses) for why their money not need be used to take care of the poor. In cases like this and in that earlier post, the "reason" is that the poor are doing just fine; better, even, then this probably middle-class Republican. Or at least that's the start of it. The other part is how they are doing compared to the amount of work they are thought to do. Because, though you can't tell from the comment here or in the previous post, there is a belief in conservative circles that people make money based on how hard they work. The harder you work, the more money you make. So if you're poor, you must be a lazy bum. Then if you're this lazy bum, you don't deserve to be "feasting like Royalty." The overall point is that these Republicans really have convinced themselves that they are people who care about the poor but it is the poor who are to blame for either not deserving care and/or receiving sufficient care as is. Never mind if these excuses are true or not, the important part is that the angelic side is satisfied.

   And now for part two of this post. I was recently given more motivation for this post from a coworker based on a discussion regarding capital punishment. It was a bit funny listening to his demonic side convincing his angelic side capital punishment is for the best. His main target was mass murderers and the arguments that demonic side used included the idea that these murders don't feel anything when they commit their crimes and that the world has limited resources. First, how does he know what these criminals feel? Is he a mind reader? I won't argue that this could indeed be the case for some people, but maybe some of these murderers have come up with justifications for why their victims deserved to die, much like my coworker was justifying why these murderers could be put to death. As for the limited resources, could that also not be a reason to actually put those people back out on the streets? So that they may off a bunch more people who are using those precious resources? I'm totally not serious, but I thought it would help to demonstrate how that's really a non sequitur.

   I see such rationalizing all over the place. Even the people who one would think are mean bigots are often nice people to those they aren't bigoted toward. They just have convinced themselves that their meanness is in the right, even if their reasoning is the highly delusional belief that their imaginary god friend also disapproves.

   It also goes beyond mere moral questions. I have another coworker that I feel a bit sad for. She's rather religious and a while ago she told me that she wants to have good reasons for her faith. My first thought was that she would then no longer have faith because religious faith is all about believing without good reasons. My second thought, though, was that she is fooling herself. She's not really looking for good reasons, she's just convincing herself that she is. The result, I imagine, will be that she accepts bad reasoning thinking that it is actually good reasoning, much like she seems to think the "You aborted Beethoven" argument against abortion is a good argument when she doesn't even fully accept the argument herself. At the time, I gave her credit for at least recognizing that it is proper to have good reasons for one's beliefs. In hindsight, I probably should have pointed out that I also don't believe she'll actually follow through on her claim.

* It could also be that these people recognize that others see not caring for the poor is wrong and they are simply playing to their audience. I really don't find this likely.

   It should be noted that what I am talking about here is one of the ways in which people deal with cognitive dissonance. This post, I think, focuses on the method where people "focus on more supportive beliefs that outweigh the dissonant belief or behavior." Sadly, as I discuss in this post, those "more supportive beliefs" are based on lies and people lying to themselves to the point where they believe their own lies.