Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Consequence of Incorrect Worldviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Self-Promotion for 2016?

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

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Protecting religion is a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teeth of the Buzz Saw, now Plused!

   There has been a call to separate the atheists who care about social justice and those who do not. Pteryxx suggested a logo of A+. Well, it looks like people now want to call this subgroup "atheism+". Others have justified the idea of the "+" as meaning atheism plus social justice, etc. I am most certainly on board! I have even added a "+" to my logo above.

   Also, I really like the logo suggested by One Thousand Needles. Some of us are just waiting for obvious permission for its use.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A few thoughts on Akin

   Everyone and their dog is discussing I'm not sure what I can add of value to the conversation, but there are a few thoughts I want to share:

This isn't new.

   First, many conservatives have been frequently saying similar things within the last year. Second, they have a history of making similar remarks. In fact, I recall a moment from high school (so over 10 years ago) of a classmate saying that a woman can't get pregnant unless they enjoy it, so any woman who claimed to be raped that ended up pregnant was proof they enjoyed being raped. While I don't recall if he said it directly, there was certainly the implication that such a rape wasn't a "real" rape. (I wonder what these people think about date rape drugs.) Being that this was high school, I figure he would not have come to this conclusion on his own. It would be more likely that he was parroting something he heard from somebody else without giving it much critical thought.

He didn't "misspeak."

   It is crap to say that Akin "misspoke." He meant what he said and said what he meant! The only reason he "misspoke" is because what he said has become politically damaging. So he wants to take it back like it never happened.
UPDATE: A source from 1999 has been revealed by far-right loon Bryan Fischer as to where this idea may originate. /UPDATE

This isn't even that radical per our culture.

   I'm going to be blunt: we live in a culture that is not hostile to rape. In fact, there is often a lot of victim blaming. If a woman claims she was raped, people go about asking if she was drinking, what she was wearing, and where she was when or immediately before the rape occurred. Because, see, if she was drunk, wearing revealing clothing, and/or hanging out in a frat house or bar, she totally got what was coming to her. It's like she was begging for it to happen! Filthy SLUT! Or so our culture tends to claim. So if women are responsible for their own rapes, then it only seems to be a small step to add on the additional claim that many women enjoy being raped.

So why the outrage?

   This puzzles me a bit. Our culture isn't that hostile to rape, yet, such a comment gets a lot of bad reaction. I suspect there may be some sort of doublethink going on here, where most people are opposed to rape in theory, but this opposition fails to translate in practice. Since Todd Akin was discussing rape in theory, his comments are then on the fringes of society. I also suspect that his use of the word "legitimate" had some effect on people's reactions.

How is this different than "forced rape"?

   Conservatives, in an effort to limit rape exceptions to bans on federal funding for abortion, tried to use the term "forced rape." How does "forced rape" differ from just plain old "rape"? I'm not sure, but people have been wondering if plain old rape isn't "legitimate."

An unpopular issue. So Akin has got to go.

   While what Akin said isn't much different than what conservatives have been pushing for years, more attention has been paid to their language...I would say particularly since March when contraception became an issue. Republicans have since not been very popular with women, an issue they have been trying to since correct. Not by changing their stances on the issues, of course! But by staying on the down-low, hoping people will forget by November. But Akin had to open his mouth and stir up a hornet's nest. So Republicans are condemning what Akin has said and asking him to drop out of his Senate race. All the while likely* still agreeing with what Akin said.

* OK, I can't read minds, so I can't be certain that Republicans are lying when they condemn Akin. But given the point above about how they have a reputation of making quite similar comments, this change of heart seem quite odd...and quite convenient.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Religion is an unnecessary addition at best.

UPDATE: I noticed that in the morality sections, I address Christianity specifically as opposed to religion in general. I'm writing a related post that will somewhat readdress this topic to correct my error. /UPDATE

   Defenders of faith* will often attempt to make people like me who speak out against religion feel like victims of confirmation bias. They suggest that we are judging all of religion by counting all the bad people who are religious and ignoring all the good people who are religious. As someone who considers myself to be decent at critical thinking, I would typically appreciate such sentiments. The problem here is that, first, this is not a case of confirmation bias and, second, the defenders of faith are not critically examining whether or not it is actually true that people like me are guilty of confirmation bias. To state this another way, they are calling out what could be a fallacy without doing any investigative work themselves. It is not only intellectually lazy, I fear it is often meant to be intellectually dishonest; I suspect they are using this to distract or escape from the discussion. So since the defenders of faith are leaving the grunt work up to me, I'm here today to share my thoughts on why I am not guilty of confirmation bias.

* These people could also be called "religious apologists." Additionally, they are not limited to theists. This could also include atheists who have the belief that religion is useful.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pics from the Garden and Yard, 2012

   Here are some pictures of my peach tree. It's really hard to take a picture of this since there is so much other foliage around. And maybe I need to be taking these pictures on sunnier days? Anyway, the first two are from late March when it was blooming. The last picture is from this month of August. One interesting thing about this tree is that peaches have been disappearing. It had plenty of peaches early on, but now many are gone. But I don't know where! They must not be simply falling to the ground, because I find no remains on the ground below. This would suggest something may be eating them, which is quite unfortunate. Even then, I have not seen any seed remains. It is quite odd. On the positive side, the tree has grown a good four feet this year. So maybe next year will be more productive (if the weather cooperates)?

   Here are some pictures of the garden, including tomato plants that have outgrown their cages!

   Speaking of tomato plants, below are a couple tomatoes that are the result of two separate tomatoes growing so close to one another that they ended up merging into a single, odd looking tomatoes. Oh, and I threw in a blackberry picture as well.

   Here are some visitors that wondered into the yard back in early June...back before the drought when the grass was nice and green. Are they the one's eating my peaches? I doubt it.

   And (why not?) I'm going to share some dog pictures!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

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

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.

   For Chapter 5, I'm going to try to stick to my original format of going through section by section, though I may skip around just slightly when necessary to demonstrate a point. There is a lot to go through in this chapter, so I will be breaking this into two parts. Overall, this chapter is loaded with straw men. Recall, a straw man argument involves a misrepresentation of an opponent's position. This is done to make the opponent look foolish so one can defeat hir opponent in a debate.

   But before we start digging through that straw, I want to take a look at the quote at the beginning of the chapter. It reads, "'God never performed a miracle to convince an atheist, because his ordinary works provide sufficient evidence'" (p113). (Wait! He doesn't capitalize "his"? I also note other sites attribute a similar quote to Francis Bacon instead.) I can see how a Christian (or just about any theist, for that matter) can find such a quote to be profound. It should come as no surprise that I am not impressed. It reminds me of Ray Comfort and his classic argument from beauty of "look at the trees!" The first problem, in short, is that people assert things as being works of their god without providing evidence. Or, we get crap that people think counts as evidence, like we saw in Chapter 4. The second problem is the ease at which substitution can be made. "The Flying Spaghetti Monster never performed a miracle to convince an atheist, because His ordinary works provide sufficient evidence." See how easy that was? I realize there will be those who object, but I suspect any objection will amount to no more than a "How dare you equate God to your satire figure!?!" OK, what if I were to say something else similar like, "Bigfoot never performed an act to convince a skeptic, because his ordinary behavior provides sufficient evidence"? I can justify just about any claim if I tack on this additional claim that doubters are just ignoring the evidence. The third problem of this quote seems to almost be an admittance that the god they think exists does not do anything extraordinary. (They actually do think their god does extraordinary things, the problem is those things are typically told in unverifiable stories.) Upon hearing such near admittance, I tend to just smile, realizing that the reason this is is because their god does not truly exist.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why it's good to challenge beliefs

   This is part one of a four part series on beliefs. This post covers why I find letting people believe what they want is a bad idea.

   This is a topic I have tried to write about multiple times, but every time I get long winded. It's hard not to because this should be fucking simple!!! Yet, for whatever reason (we'll get to that in part three), it is not.

   Too many times I hear crap from people (whether it be people I personally know or comments I see on the internet) along the lines of "let people believe what they want to believe" in regards to religion. All that should be required to see the problem with this is a small thought experiment. If I were to believe the following things, would you really let me do so?
  • I believe I am a better driver while intoxicated.
  • I believe second hand smoke is beneficial to a person's health.
  • I believe texting while driving is safe.
  • I believe gay people are an abomination and should be put to death.
  • I believe we don't need to conserve the earth's resources. God put them there for us to use and Jesus will return to rapture us before or when we run out.
  • ...And so on.
   You should see the issue with many, if not all, of the beliefs I listed. I would hope most of my readers recognize that the first three are completely false; and by "completely" I mean that the exact opposite is true.

   Now some people I have interacted with have been wise enough to at least add the qualifier, "if [those beliefs] don't do any harm," to their suggestions that we allow people to believe what they want. This seems to be a pretty good qualifier, and would pretty much go against all the beliefs I listed as examples. The problem? Now we're in a position of predicting all of the effects/consequences of a belief. I don't think that's a position we want to be in. Take that first example I listed. That belief is completely false; people are worse drivers while intoxicated. And worse driving should increase the probability of an accident. But what if the person who believes they are a better driver while intoxicated never actually drives intoxicated? Well, then they'll never get in an accident while driving intoxicated. So then that belief doesn't harm anyone. Is it then OK to let that person believe that?

   An example that I feel better exposes this problem deals with prayer. I have been personally told that I shouldn't have criticized a Christian for asking people to pray (or maybe the Christian was just stating that they themselves were praying...either way, this detail isn't critical to my point) because praying doesn't hurt anyone. The truth is that prayer can and does hurt people. People have died because they believed prayer — and prayer alone — would cure their or their children's health issues that are curable or treatable with modern medicine. I'm not talking about people who were on their death beds with no other hope here. And that is the problem with prayer — people may pray instead of taking other action that is proven to be effective.

   But is prayer harmless most of the time? Yeah, probably. Whereas believing one's driving improves with intoxication is probably going to be more problematic. But then this adds on another qualifier. Do we really want to say it's OK to let people believe what they want to believe if those beliefs are harmless most of the time? This still does not resolved the issue of having to forecast the effects of beliefs.

   Again, on the issue of prayer, maybe it is more harmful than even I, a critic of prayer, am aware. As I have demonstrated, a problem with prayer is people not taking action that is known to be effective. In the anecdote where I was told that prayer doesn't do any harm, the prayers were directed toward victims of a natural disaster. Instead of praying, this Christian could have instead donated money to an organization like the Red Cross that deals in recovery efforts. So was hirs praying actually causing harm? I suppose much of it depends on if ze were truly concerned about the well-being of the victims or if hirs prayers were a way to show false concern. If it's the former, then, yeah, believing pray works could very well be preventing ze from taking effective action and is thus harmful in the sense that it could be preventing people from getting help that they need.

   Yet, having to read the mind of the believer to determine hirs sincerity means that I cannot accurately forecast the harm of hirs belief in prayer because, it should go without saying, I cannot read minds! I have an alternative solution — how about if we encourage people to believe what is real instead of believing what they want?

   Yes, there are some challenges and issues even then. First, of course, is the challenge to figure out what is real. An example that is relevant to today is a question of whether or not cellular phones can cause cancer. If they do, and if I believed that, then I perhaps should no longer use a cellular phone. (There would be some risk assessment involved in that decision, but that drifts away from the topic at hand.) As of now, we don't really know. So I could be harming myself from using a cellular phone if it is indeed dangerous to my health. Second, beliefs could be harmful if reality dictates so. Take that fourth example from the list above. What if gays were an abomination and needed to be killed? Then, yeah, beliefs aligned with reality would be harmful to gay people. (Luckily, there is no good reason to believe this is true!) But would it not be at least better if people believed that because it were real as opposed to just believing whatever they want? There is a reason I included that as an example, and that reason is because there are many people out there that actually believe that gays are an abomination! I'm really supposed to just let them believe that?

   Overall, I find that having beliefs that align with reality is for the best. I'll cover more on why this is in part two and three.