Wednesday, October 29, 2014

No, the Pope is not progressive

Oy, more people are drooling over the Pope again over nothing. So, the news this time is that the Pope has said Christians should believe in evolution and the big bang.

First, this isn't really news. This has been the Catholic position for some time. The big bang idea was originally proposed by Georges Lemaître, who, besides being a physicist, was also a Catholic priest. So I think the Catholic Church has been behind this idea from near its inception. I didn't know when, exactly, the church got on board with evolution, but I was able to find a Wikipedia article on it. It looks like the church has generally been OK with evolution since 1950.

But this leads to a very important point: What the Catholic church is OK with isn't exactly evolution. Per the Wikipedia article: "Catholicism holds that God initiated and continued the process of his evolutionary creation, that Adam and Eve were real people ...and affirms that all humans, whether specially created or evolved, have and have always had specially created souls for each individual." The actual theory of evolution, however, does not have Adam and Eve as real people.

Similarly, look at what the Pope actually had to say about evolution: "He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment." Whatever he's talking about here, this is not evolution. This actually sounds a lot like what creationists promote. I've written about it in regards to the book, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. It's this idea that "micro"evolution is real, but "macro"evolution is not. Typically, by this they mean to say, in short, changes can occur within a species (a common example are all the different breeds of dogs), but one species cannot become a new species. This sounds to be what the Pope is promoting, though he is awfully vague about it. (As the Wikipedia article indicates, it would seem the Catholic Church has been vague about it ever since 1950.)

I am completely unimpressed. This just looks like marketing to me because, first and foremost, when I look at the actual product being sold, it's not what was being advertised. Two, there is a market to be had by appealing to science. When you look at other religions, a lot of them tend to be blatantly anti-science. So who's to cater to the pro-science crowd? Enter the Catholic Church!!! Three, look at all the people who get all excited about this. Certainly the Catholic Church realizes that people get excited about such announcements. So why not keep doing it?

The last thing I have to cover is regarding the title of this post. I do get really irritated when people try to claim that the Pope is progressive. I think a lot of people are making errors in their judgement. Primarily, I think people are comparing him to other religious leaders. Considering how regressive a lot of other religious leaders are, this is not a good basis for comparison. It's setting a lower standard. So, sure, on that lower standard, you could call the Pope progressive. But how about if we try to compare him against the larger population? Take, for example, the way people get excited when he says something positive about the LGBT community. Well, he's still opposed to gays getting married to each other. Compare that then to the USA population where now the majority is in favor of such unions. He's on the wrong side of this issue yet. How is that progressive??? Worse, as I often point out, he is part of an organization that claims to get moral authority straight from a god. The Catholic Church should be set to a higher standard. Instead, they get praised for being slightly worse than average. We really need to stop it with this crap. The Pope is not anywhere near being progressive. Stop pretending otherwise.

Monday, August 11, 2014

"Socially liberal" a disguise for white male privilege?

In regards to politics, there have been some atheists who describe themselves as "socially liberal, but economically conservative." I've had some concerns as to what that means. It seems there are a lot of atheists who are on board with LGBT rights, but other social issues (women's rights, racism, and income inequality, as some examples) seem to be less important. It has me a bit concerned, then, that these people have come to think that being on board with LGBT rights is all they need to be "socially liberal." Worse, they seem to be wearing this as though it were some sort of badge of honor. That is perhaps what bothers me most! They seem to flaunt being ahead of the curve on LGBT issues to show that atheists can be moral. But, I'm sorry, if one wants to show the morality of atheists, they're going to have to do better than that.

A recent post on Daylight Atheism about LGBT rights thriving while women's choice suffers got me thinking that this may be more about white male privilege than LGBT rights. In that post, Adam Lee had linked to a Daily Beast post on the same subject. There, the author points out that LGBT rights are not near as big of a threat to male privilege (no reference to skin color in that article) as women's rights. A commenter on the Daylight Atheism post went a step furhter, pointing out that the LGBT community includes white men. The thought here being that these men are privileged in nearly every way possible, particularly those who are wealthy. The one area holding them back is sexual orientation. Get rid of that as an area of privilege, and they'll have more of it.

Given that being "economically conservative" these days primarily translates* into "fuck the poor," I can't help but have the concern that the "socially liberal" aspect basically stops at white gay guys. (Women and people of color are then, sadly, only getting benefits here as a matter of consequence.) There are a lot of atheists who are misogynists, so that makes it hard to be optimistic, even though these atheists tend to be more reasonable about women's issues.

* For those not in the know, the claim is typically that being "economically conservative" means being against big government spending. However, few of the people who label themselves as such seem to have any problem with military spending. The spending items that get the biggest focus seem to be those that assist the poor, programs that are often referred to as "welfare."

Well...this is interesting. I had basically written this post by Friday when I attended the local atheist social. One person there used damn near those exact words. What timing!

I wasn't able to get in a word — I'm just not aggressive enough to cut off any other speakers — but where the conversation led interested me a bit. Actually, it seemed like more disappointment. A couple others, all white dudes, seemed to be in generally agreement, with one putting it that "[the Republicans] left us." I find that rather interesting. The religious right probably began gaining influence in that party way back in the 1950's with McCarthyism and the Red Scare. Democrats who didn't like civil rights for African Americans switched their party affiliation back in the 1960's. Regan was endorsing the Evangelicals back in 1980. A couple of these men can't be much older than me. So what are they talking about? That train left the station a looooong time ago. It's way past time to be thinking about getting on board.

Then again, that's what scares me. The attitude suggests that that train they're concerned about didn't leave all that long ago. So, if the GOP was just a bit more atheist and science friendly, they'd be back on board? But that would still leave a party that's racist.

I guess what I'm ultimately getting at is that there is a reason the Republican left these white dudes. It embraced the Evangelicals for a reason. I propose that reason to be that it is a tribalistic party. It doesn't care about people in general; it cares about only certain people that it considers its tribe. Now, since it doesn't have a mind of its own, that means the tribe itself gets to define who is in the tribe. And atheists have been kicked out almost entirely.

But when I hear these attitudes, I can't help but hear people who want to be admitted back into the club for their own benefit, and people who don't mind a club that is still going to be pretty exclusionary to other people. Fuck that. I want nothing to do with people like this.

What I want even less a part in is a community of atheists who put on a facade of being inclusive because they support the LGBT community.

Lastly, I saw last week an article about California libertarians. Not necessarily atheists, but these are again people who are claiming to be "socially liberal." A part of that article raised my eyebrows where it said, "Despite personal politics that might seem more in tune with Democrats...these millennials say they are more comfortable with Republicans’ emphasis on freedom than Democrats’ penchant for regulation." So...they don't like having environmental protections in place? (Maybe those aren't the regulations they mean, but this is a problem with painting with a broad brush.) Once again, this seems little more than a "fuck the poor" message. The areas discussed that could be considered socially liberal were pot legalization and LGBT rights; areas that benefit those who are already privileged. Once again, that these also benefit those of less privilege seems more of a consequence than the goal.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Why beliefs matter, quite simply.

I can't believe this didn't come to me sooner. I suppose, in my shock in the naivete of those who would promote the idea that it's not a big deal what people believe, my mind engaged in education mode. But I know many of these people I encounter don't really need an education. I know they're not actually as naive as they appear.

So, why do beliefs matter? Well, if one were to want to build a better airplane, beliefs about physics matter. The more accurately one understands physics, the more likely they will be able to build that better airplane. The same goes for other subject matters as well. In short, the better one understands reality, the more likely they will be able to build that better airplane.

What if instead we're trying to build is a better world? (Or a better society? Or however you wish to phrase this?) Why wouldn't the same rules apply? I see no reason why they would not. So, once again, the better understanding one has of reality, the more likely they will succeed at building that better world.

So if you still think that it's fine for people to believe what they want to believe, then I am left to assume one of two things:
a) You disagree with my assessment above that a better understanding of reality improves the odds of one being successful at engineering. If that's the case, I'd love to hear why.
b) You're not interested in building a better world. Well, that's your prerogative, not mine. That is probably all that needs to be said about this.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The blog is still ongoing! Just not as frequently.

It has now been two months since my last post. I have not completely forgotten about this blog, but this blog was started for a purpose. That purpose was to help me formulate my thoughts into arguments. This was to serve as practice for engaging people in other places, whether that be on online comment boards, Facebook, or even face-to-face with someone. I feel that this blog has helped serve that purpose and I have been focusing more on putting these skills to use and less focus on the blog. Actually, I've been getting sloppy on my blog posts because I have not committed the time necessary to put together a good argument.

Still, even professionals need to practice their skills. I'll come back and visit this blog for practice and I do want to finish going over the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." I do want to thank those few who have subscribed to this blog and I do ask that you stay subscribed. There will be more posts, though they may indeed be months in between.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Not sure what Bible this Catholic priest reads...

Short post today. Regular FOX News contributer Father Johnathan Morris was on that station recently to talk about the new movie, Noah. I just want to cover the bits that caught my attention. First, the video, via the RawStory:

“It’s a classic case of the book is much better than the movie.”

Oh, man! The book sucks. So...the movie must be horrible!

It’s also escapism from the true story, from what’s in the Bible.”

Ha! If you call a "tail" a "leg," then does a dog have five legs?

“God comes across as this enigmatic, impersonal force that tells you to do crazy things.”

Well, I'll admit that Yahweh does appear to be a bit more personal in the book. But the "tells you to do crazy things" is totally on character.

“[In the movie, Noah] is borderline schizophrenic...The real story is unbelievably inspiring. [Noah] was a great father...”

Well, it's nearly unbelievable how people find that story to be inspiring. Inspiring how? That's a question I'd like to ask as I have doubts I'd get a clear answer. As for Noah being a great father, I wonder what Morrison basis this on. The Bible says pretty much jack about Noah's fathering abilities. There are at best two places. Genesis 6:9 includes a part that says, "Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time." Does that mean he was a good father? Maybe. But Genesis 9 contains a part where Noah condemns his son, Ham, into slavery for essentially getting a laugh at finding Noah passed out drunk and naked. That's what a "good father" does? Please!

“Just wrong starting point. Didn't start from the point of view of faith.”

This, I think, is where Morrison gets the crazy ideas that Noah was a good father and that the story is inspiring. What Morrison is really saying here, then, is that the movie needed to start from the point of view that the story is actually a good story as opposed to what the story actually says. In other words, the movie needed to start from what Christians imagine the story to be.

Otherwise, I have not seen the movie yet. Not sure if I'm going to anytime soon or not.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Investigating Theology on Tap - Conception

Well, this is one I've been rather lazy about posting. This event happened over a year ago and I'm finally posting it now. This is from a group that is apparently for young, adult Catholics to get together in a drinking establishment to discuss theology. I was interested in the lecture on contraception, figuring it might be both entertaining and painful all at the same time. I was not disappointed. As a result of my lack of disappointment, I was unable to resist the urge to take unnecessary jabs at Catholics.

I recorded the event with my little mp3 player and have tried to clean up the audio a bit so that I can reference and quote parts of the discussion in my analysis. (The quality isn't great, sorry...and there's also sounds of notes scribbling in there — notes I no longer have any idea where they are.) You'll notice I made it into a "video;" I thought that would be the easiest way to share. But there's nothing useful to see in the video.

Right of the bat, she did a good job explaining why this is an issue of the Catholic Church — They need babies to indoctrinate! (Otherwise, who would believe their bullshit? Well...maybe a few people...there is indication this speaker may have been a convert, as she says her first Catholic wedding was her own. If so, she's swallowed the bullshit well! But I digress.) Sure, she didn't quite say it that way, but she did say that they need them "to confirm."

The next bit went into the supposed sacrifice of Jesus. I've posted on this before here and here; I have nothing more to add from what these posts already say.

Then there's a little bit regarding the really messed up idea of a marriage being consummated when the couple first has sex after marriage. I'm guessing they're not, to do it "correctly," supposed to have sex any time before that. I really don't know what to say about this. I just find it really bizarre and, in some ways, disturbing how so many humans cling on to and blindly follow tradition.

Now we get into the meat of the conversation (around 9:30 in the audio), which revolved around predictions Pope Paul VI had made back in 1968. The prediction is as follows:
17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

There's some really horrible stuff in there, but I don't think I'll go into it to much in this post except where I find it necessary and instead focus on the points made at the talk. Note: I'm analyzing these based on the numbering she gave them. Due to audience questions, she actually discussed #4 first, but I'm still going over it last.
  1. Decline in Morality (14:30) — This is a place where I should have asked for examples since it was only discussed for 30 seconds. It seemed like some people there just accepted this. (Which is not at all surprising. It's not just Catholics that push this idea. Many churches want their members to believe things are getting worse because they can then use it as propaganda to keep people in the church under the premise that their morality will also decline unless they stay in church.) So what are the declines in morality? Is it in part because the gays are getting married? Oh, the horrors! (sarcasm) Yeah, if you've been raised Christian and have been told that this is morally wrong, I can see how you could think morality is on the decline. When you're like me, however, and weren't raised to believe one way or another and actually have you use your brain and rationality to come to a conclusion on the issue, you see nothing morally wrong about it. But what about issues I have at least some agreement with Catholics, such as abortion? I've heard that abortion rates for teens are down. It wouldn't be overly surprising if this is true for adults as well. In short, I only see a possibility of moral decline from a Christian/Catholic perspective(1) as people are behaving more and more in a manner in which the Catholic church disapproves. Then again, this is the prediction being made as this idea of moral decline is tied in to what the Vatican claims to be moral or not (this is what is referred to above as either the "moral law" or "divine law").

    But I must point out that not all accepted this fully. However, this led down a path where more discussion should have taken place. I'll quote the conversation.
    Presenter: Do you think that we've seen a general lowering of moral standards throughout society? >pause< I see some heads nodding.
    Man from audience (Jack): Yes. >General laughter< Not necessarily 100% contributable (sic) to that, but a factor.
    Uhh...OK. Well, then what percentage is attributable? Is it mostly attributable? Only slightly attributable? I'll at least give the man credit for the recognition that there is no way contraception could be fully to blame. Certainly not for things like gay marriage!

  2. Infidelity (14:58) — This really depends on how you define "infidelity." One way to define it is "marital unfaithfulness." This definition doesn't make sense given that the evidence provided that this is true is that people cohabitate more often. You can't have "marital unfaithfulness" if you aren't married! So might another definition apply? Another way to define the word is simply as "disloyalty." This, however, can be a very broad definition. Does it count as "disloyalty" if you're unwilling to make a life long commitment to someone? I don't think so, thus I do not find this to be true even from the Catholic perspective. But what I do find, again, is people behaving in a manner of which the Catholic church disapproves. (I.e, not getting married straight away, or not giving themselves "fully," or whatever things she claims need to exist in a marriage, according to Catholics.) Again, that was essentially the prediction. (There also seems to be an expectation that non-Catholics follow the rules of Catholics. Catholics seem to be a bunch of control freaks.)

  3. Less Respect for Women (15:42) — This one was bizarre. So bizarre that I'm going to need to quote (the best I can) the speaker word for word.
    This one's a little more controversial. Some people think this is true and others don't. Have you seen a lessening of respect for women by men? <pause> I see some heads nodding. <pause> Well, it's hard to say, 'cuz we fell like, OK, women are more equal now. But what I think what happens is because of that sort of equality women are more like men when [women] take the pill. In other words, [women] can't get pregnant and a man can't get pregnant, so when a couple contracepts, you know, a woman is more like a man, but in that way we kind of degrade the dignity of that woman. You say, you know, being a woman — there is something inherently bad about being a woman or bad about a woman's fertility or bad about the ability, you know, carry life within you. I think that it becomes fear — again that fear comes into it. And that becomes, I think, chance for men to sort of degrade women.
    There is only one appropriate reaction to this...
    So, alright, I can see how if you think women have a roll in which it is their duty to fulfill — in this case, having babies — and you believe society in general is now signaling to women that it is OK to not fulfill this roll how you could find this "degrading." I have three points to make on this.

    First, this reminds me of a Muslim coworker I once had back in the days when I was naive about religion. He claimed that women were respected in Islam because women are made head of the household. The main problem(2) — which I failed to fully recognize myself at the time — is that women may not want to be head of the household. If you were to suggest to women that they can have jobs outside the house, is it "degrading" because that might suggest that there is something "inherently bad" about heading up the house? Only, I think, if you have the belief that that is where women belong. As I don't have that belief, I don't find such notions to be "degrading." Likewise, since I don't have the preexisting belief that women are supposed to be baby factories, I don't find it "degrading" to tell women that they don't have to have children if they chose not to. Now, I do realize that some may think this analogy is a bit weak because childbearing is a biological function whereas heading up a house is not (or, if it is, it is not obviously so). But I do not find such an objection all too relevant because to suggest that women must bear children because it is natural to do so is a logical fallacy. What is relevant is the question of whether or not the woman herself wants children. As far as I can tell, women are generally deciding for themselves (and not being pressured, intimidated, etc, into such decisions) to not have children. What I see — yet again! — are women who are deciding to live their lives in ways the Catholic church disapproves and this is being called "disrespectful" of woman.

    My second point is that this is tilting at windmills. As I have sat writing and pondering about this, I have even come to realize that things have gotten better since these predictions would have been made in the 1960's. Back then, women could — and my understanding is they often would — lose their jobs if they got pregnant. If they didn't lose their job right away, they'd probably lose them while being gone on maternity. But today? We have laws now that protect against this. My manager, for example, was on maternity leave herself last year. Her job was still available for her when she got back. That's not to say things are perfect now; that certainly would not be true. (Some employers, such as San Diego Christian College, for example, may try to find loopholes around such laws or other legal ways to discriminate.) But to suggest that things are worse today is ahistorical.

    My third point is that this seems quite hypocritical of the speaker to suggest — I know! A hypocritical Catholic! Hard to believe! (Sarcasm) — Part of her talk was about the type of family planning on which she counsels. From what I gathered, she helps people learn the signs of fertility so that they can abstain from sex when the wife is fertile. How does this not imply that being a woman is inherently bad(3) but using contraception does? I imagine the excuses could include the idea that, as was said by the presenter, this is only to be done if the couple has "serious" reasons for not having children. They may also try to claim that they want women to have children as soon as it is practical. But, for this excuse, people who use birth control could say the same thing! I don't worry too much about this third point, though. They can use as many excuses as they want. I reject their premise that women have a duty(4) to push out babies.

    Side note: I have come to learn quite recently that praising women for supposedly having good characteristics that men do not is known as benevolent sexism. This is a really bad form of sexism as "women who [are] exposed to benevolent sexism [are] more likely to think that there are many advantages to being a woman and [are] also more likely to engage in system justification, a process by which people justify the status quo and believe that there are no longer problems facing disadvantaged groups in modern day society." In other words, it is sexism that leads to complacency. So don't be fooled when these Muslims or Catholics, etc, twist things around to make it appear that it is they who have a positive attitude toward women. They are still putting women into gender rolls, which is sexist.

    To be totally fair, I do need to take a look at this in reference to what Paul VI said. I assume this "loss of respect for women" idea revolves around this part of the quote: "[A man may] disregard her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection." What I gather from that is he is saying that men will be able to have sex with their wives whenever they want, as opposed to avoiding sex when she is fertile. This doesn't make things any better as this is horribly sexist.

    First, it basically implies that men are all sex-craved lunatics that turn into some sort of Mr. Hyde(5) whenever the opportunity for sex presents itself. This also implies that these men then must somehow be a respectable Dr. Jekyll otherwise. This is insulting, but not really surprising as it is not a new idea. After all, there is a reason religions like Christianity and, notoriously, Islam often expect women to cover themselves — it is so men don't fall into temptation.

    Think I may be a bit over the top on this point? Well, then I suggest reading what this Christian-themed article has to say!
    Archbishop Chaput of Denver...wrote that, rather than freeing women, "Contraception has released males - to a historically unprecedented degree - from responsibility for their sexual aggression."

    Second, such framing also implies that women don't want sex themselves, or at least not to the extent that men supposedly do. This is similarly insulting to women.

  4. Government Control of Fertility (12:45) — This point, much like the first, seemed like one that people there may have just accepted as true without much evidence. Because China. Seriously, that was the primary example. (To be fair, this example was provided by the audience. The presenter, however, did not discard it as a bad example; in fact, she accepted it as "the big one.") One country out of hundreds has some strict controls related to reproduction, so therefore this point is true. Ridiculous. Confirmation bias at its worst! Moreover, China's rules have no connection to birth control. As with the first point, the idea, as presented, was that these events are supposed to be a direct result of contraception use. Contraception may make it easier for the Chinese people to follow the one-child rule, but the rule is not because of contraception. Nor is the rule forcing people to use contraception. The other example did actually have a connection to contraception, which was about Israel allegedly forcefully giving birth control shots to Ethiopian women. It's a tragic story, I admit, but an example here and there goes nowhere toward proving that this prediction is even useful. This event would appear to more be a result of racism, where contraception is being used as a tool to subdue the persecuted ethnic group.

    Another part of this whole point that bothers me is how much the Catholic Church likes to control fertility. Not only does the church have a history of abducting children, they've put up this big fight against the government mandating that employers pay for their employees' contraception. They try to hide under the guise of "religious freedom," but this is bullshit. The government is not forcing them to use it. They just have to allow their employees, who, as it needs to be pointed out, may not be Catholic, or may even be Catholics who don't agree with the church on contraception. To just give an example of why the religious freedom argument shouldn't be given as much flexibility as it has been on this issue, imagine having a Jehovah's Witness organization as an employer. They don't believe in allowing blood transfusions. So is it OK if the health insurance that they provide their employees not cover this? How would you feel if you needed one? (Worse, what if the only hospital in town was run by Jehovah's Witnesses and it didn't perform blood transfusions?) This isn't about religious "freedom"...except for the "freedom" to impose one's beliefs on other people. But I's OK when a church does it because it's not a government institution.

    Oh, and then there are all the times throughout the past couple of decades of the Vatican fighting against UN resolutions to protect women's rights because — horror of horrors! — such protections apparently might make access to contraception and — worst horrors of all!!! — abortion easier. (See links here (Nov 2013), here (March 2013), here (June 2012), and here (June 1994).) Bonus (not related to fertility, though, but relates to the respect for women prediction from earlier): Here's an article that claims women living in Vatican City aren't allowed to vote.

Looking at these predictions overall, they aren't really that impressive. As an example, here's a prediction I'm going to make: It's going to rain somewhere in the world today. Here's another: The sun will rise tomorrow morning in the east (except, perhaps, for places near the north or south poles). These predictions go not only for the day I post this, but for any day that someone reads this. When these comes true, can I be regarded as some great predictor of events? I hope not! The point that I'm trying to make is that it is not surprising that the world ain't perfect. Making a prediction about some potential imperfection isn't anything special. Worse, three of these are predictions of events that were already occurring by 1968! I'm quite sure that people were already moving away from the Catholic Church's "moral law" by that time. So to predict that this would continue happening in the future? Not impressive. Likewise, predicting that countries would control reproduction was also not impressive. There were numerous countries, for example, that had sterilization programs in the early 20th century, with the United States perhaps being the first country to enact such programs as far back as 1907. Again, this amounts to being a prediction that events that had already occurred or were still occurring would continue to occur in the future. Those are some bold predictions! (sarcasm) Now if someone were to predict global flooding, and it came true? That would be interesting! That does not happen regularly. Or ever. But if your prediction is merely that floods will occur in the future? Yawn.

The "logic" that I have seen used here and in other articles I researched (the main resources I have linked below) is also unimpressive. The primary error is incorrect use of derivatives implication logic. This typically takes the form of "if p, then q." The error is then saying, "q. Therefore, p." This is not necessarily correct. Allow me to demonstrate. If my dog eats my homework (p), then I will not have homework to hand in (q). I do not have homework to hand in (q), therefore my dog ate my homework (p). For this example, it should be obvious that there are more likely reason that I wouldn't have homework to hand in, with perhaps the most likely reason being that I simply didn't do it. It is this type of logical error that I see quite clearly in the example of China — there is no obvious link between their one child policy and contraception. Similarly, there are no clear links between what the Catholics view as declining morality and contraception. This error in reasoning is also known as incorrectly thinking correlation implies causation.

Otherwise, the rest of the talk, which I probably just could have cut out, is about natural family planning. I have no comment to add to that discussion.

(1) Christian morality is actually relative morality (despite claims otherwise) because morality, as simply defined, is "a doctrine or system of moral conduct." This supposed "moral decline" is based on the Catholic system. Now, they themselves don't view it as relative because they've got it in their heads that this system comes from on-high. It should go without saying that I find that to be bullshit. Additionally, when you examine many of the Catholic doctrine from a rational perspective (a perspective that does not include a god), many of these doctrines have very weak support. And you can see this in some of the references I have added. Perhaps my favorite is claiming an increase in porn is an example of the horrors contraception use has led to. I don't know how to explain this to these Catholics other than to simply say that a lot of people no longer think pornography is inherently some horrible thing. Yes, often women and men can be treated horribly within the industry. But to blame this on porn itself is more irrational thinking that correlation implies causation. (After all, women (and sometimes men) are often treated horribly in other industries, such as the computer programming industry. So is this industry inherently horrible, too?) Until you can actually demonstrate that porn is the cause, I and a lot of other people are going to just point and laugh at you for your irrational beliefs.

(2) The second problem, based on my understanding, is that this really isn't even true. It's only true when no other man — which includes teenagers that our culture would consider to still be boys — is in the house.

(3) My guess at this has been that this is some sort of compromise position taken by the church. I suspect that they realize they can't completely stop people from having sex for purposes other than reproduction, so this is their compromise — have people engage in a form of birth control that likely has a high rate of failure (looks like it is 24%, or about 1 in 4 fail). (On a side note, it's not very popular. It's something like only 2% of Catholics (PFD) that actually use this method.)

(4) It may also be worth pointing out that the Catholic church does not allow women into the priesthood. (I don't remember — nor do I really care — what excuse they use for this.) Also, I was recently reminded of how women were used as slave labor in Ireland in the last century because they broke the sex rules of Catholic Ireland. It blows my mind to hear Catholics supposedly concerned about respect for women given their history. Pot, meet kettle. (Except the kettle is a figment of pot's imagination.)

(5) This is a rather odd contradiction that has existed in Christianity and Islam for years! I can't help but be a bit puzzled how the idea has survived. On one hand, men are implied to be these monsters that completely lack self-control. Yet, they are also implied to be the ones who need to run society. Because they're more responsible than women...or something? My best guess is a lot of the men don't care that there is a contradiction. They probably recognize that the idea of them being monsters is nothing more than an excuse to keep women "in their place." It is then up to the women to recognize there is a contradiction. And I think a lot of women do recognize this, but the problem is they aren't the ones in power, so their ain't a whole hell of a lot they can do about their situation. I'm generalizing here a bit, but that is, in a nutshell, how I think this contradiction has been able to survive — those who can actually change things benefit from the contradiction, so there's no motive to get rid of it.

“Heaps of Empirical Evidence” Vindicate Pope Paul VI’s Dire Warnings 40 Years Ago About Contraceptives -- LifeSiteNews
The Vindication of Humanae Vitae -- First Things
The Prophetic Pope Paul VI, and the Consequences of Contraception -- Shameless Popery

This is just a cool link that shows that abortion rates have actually been declining. I don't expect many Catholics to accept it, though, because the chart in the link, I am sure, is not counting birth control use in the statistics. A lot of Christians on the right promote this idea that birth control causes abortion. There's no science to back this up, but it's not like they care. It doesn't take a genius to realize the reason they promote this idea is so that they can label statistics like this as "misleading" in order to maintain their beliefs. We humans tend to do stuff like that.

Here's some 2014 "prophecies" from SomeGreyBloke that I feel are quite on par with those from Paul VI. Oh, look! Posting this seems to fulfill #12.

One final note. Peter Seegar recently died as of this posting. I never listened to his music and I doubt I had even heard of him (except, perhaps, in passing), but I was linked to this song below about female engineers.

It made me think about how there were a couple of female engineers present at that theology event. One I darn well know is a devout believer. (The other, I have come to learn, is no longer Catholic, if she ever was.) And it makes me sad. It has been through the work of men and women who fought against sexism in society that they are able to have the jobs that they do. Yet, here they are, at this event that is doing the opposite by promoting sexism and bashing those who have fought against sexism as being "disrespectful" of women. I can't help but wonder why this is. I figure most likely they're simply not thinking it through. It's the problem of taking things for granted. These women didn't have to fight institutional sexism; some of the big battles were fought many years ago. This video, for example, was taken in the 70's, before either of these women were born. These women, to use biblical phrasing, are reaping what they didn't sow. Which is fine; I'm sure many of those who did the sowing did what they did so that feature generations could reap the rewards. What is sad is the lack of recognition. What is even sadder is the allegiance to those who had opposed, and are still opposing, the sowing.

Christian Inconsistencies on the Treatment of Death

This is something that has caught me off guard a few times. Even though I've recognized these inconsistencies a number of years ago, it is something I tend to forget in discussions with Christians.

For a good example, one of the big advertising points of Christianity is that their god is awesome and loving because he (in this case, Jesus) sacrificed his life for us. I have written about this before, but I made a mistake in that post and I've made the mistake in online discussions with Christians. First, here's some of the text in question:

If Jesus were just a man, then sure, that would be quite a noble deed to give up your life and pay for our sins so that others can benefit...

...However, when we go back to Christian theology*, Jesus is more than just human. If Jesus is really God (or a part of God), then what is death to something that is part of the creator of death? It should be no big deal.

The mistake is in that first sentence. I was looking at death from the perspective that there is no afterlife. Christians, however, supposedly do believe in an afterlife.* So never mind the part about how death should be no big deal to an eternal god; death should be no big deal for humans!

Yet, Christians treat death as a big deal. Really, this pitch about Jesus making this supposedly great sacrifice relies on death being a big deal. If some event or action is not a big deal, then it can't really count as a sacrifice. This should be quite obvious, but I feel the need for a quick example anyway. If I donate $5 to charity, that's not a big deal. $5 isn't very much. If I were to give $5,000 to charity, however, that's a much bigger deal for someone with my income! It's a bigger deal and is thus a bigger sacrifice. So if death is just an event along the way to an afterlife that is supposedly better than this life, then it isn't really a sacrifice.

But I don't find that Christians fully believe in an afterlife like they claim. It was about 4 years ago now that I had brought this up to some Christians on Facebook. There was a story in the news I had found interesting. Best I can remember, it was about a man who was essentially dying from cancer. The cancer had already caused a bunch of throat damage to where he could no longer talk and had to eat through a tube. He had found some group, apparently without the approval of his wife, to assist him with suicide. In the news article, his Christian widow was very upset that this group was "playing God." It prompted me to ask why Christians make such a big deal out of death if it's just a stop along the way?

Well, I don't recall getting any good answers. I may have gotten a couple responses criticizing me for asking the question in the first place (but I really need to dig through my Facebook archives to verify this). The one answer I'm pretty sure I do remember was one that was not at all helpful. It unfortunately left me too dumbfounded at the time to respond. The answer was essentially that Christians view life as precious. There are two problems with that; the first being that I had already reached that conclusion, though it is perhaps my mistake for not being more explicit. The second problem is that it didn't even address the question. OK, so Christians find this life precious. So what? As far as I can tell, they also claim the afterlife to be essentially precious. Was this Christian suggesting the afterlife is not actually that great of a thing? Because if this life is precious and the afterlife is also precious, then there's not really any stark contrast here and we're right back to the idea that death is just a stop along the way. Worse, the impression I get is that the afterlife is more precious than this life. It does not make sense, then, to cling to this precious life when there is an even more precious afterlife waiting.

Again, I find the real answer to be that Christians don't actually believe in it as they claim. They want to believe it, but there is a lack of evidence for the afterlife that they have to deal with. Seriously, what is the evidence for an afterlife other than an old book claiming that it does? (Which isn't very good evidence.) Maybe some so-called "psychics" here and there claiming to talk to the dead? Maybe a few people here and there claiming to see the ghosts of their dead relatives? I'm not convinced that these really count for much, either. I suspect a lot of people claim to believe in these stories because, again, they want to believe. It's the old canard of "actions speak louder than words." If people really believe this stuff, then why all the hardship around death?

This is something I would like to see a good answer for. I don't expect there is one, so surprise me! Why do Christians make such a big deal out of death?

* One potential catch Christians would perhaps call me out on is that people may not have been going to an afterlife until Jesus's sacrifice. This, though, does not at all negate the inconsistent attitude Christians have toward death today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Protecting Religious Beliefs - The Potential Double Standard

Alright, I thought I was maybe done with posts on beliefs, but I find I have one more in me...

One of the posts I was drafting on this topic back in 2012 was going to be on "Engineering With Bad Beliefs." The gist of it was going to be that if an engineer does not understand how the world works, they are likely to make a shitty product. I really should not need to say more.

It was thinking about this same idea lately that I realized there is a double standard, which is perhaps what bothers me most about such discussions. And it's not limited to just engineering; this can go for many jobs out there, particularly jobs that wouldn't just hire anyone off the street. I.e, jobs that require a certain level of education. That education is required to help an employer determine if one has the understanding to do the job. Most people would not suggest to an employer that they hire just anyone, no matter what that person understands about the job.

In regards to religion and other beliefs (like Phil Robertson's homophobia or George Zimmerman's racism), I'm trying to apply a similar concept. If a person is going to make decisions around some topic, they should have a good understanding of the way things are. And I have no problem releasing criticism against those who don't seem to have a good understanding.

So what I want to know from those who think I should not criticize is for you to tell me why I should handle such beliefs differently? Because all I've ever heard is people simply telling me that I should, but they don't tell me why I should. If someone tells me I should do something without a reason and I disagree, I'm going to keep disagreeing until I'm given a reason to change my mind. I won't change my mind because someone tells me I should. That would be silly. So, please, tell me why.

Now, someone might point out that Robertson's homophobia or Zimmerman's racism isn't necessarily critical to their jobs (though I would say racism is not a good characteristic in a neighborhood watchman). OK, but at best this says that my reasoning above in regards to jobs doesn't apply. I already know this. It does not say that my position is wrong. It does not say that a position of letting them believe what they want is right. So such an objection does not address my question.

The way that I am looking at it is that I am going to be consistent unless given a reason otherwise. Yes, the reasons for requiring certain knowledge and beliefs don't apply in general quite the same way as they do for a job. But I have to apply some sort of rule. So why not continue to apply the same rule?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Religion - Doing none of the work, taking all the credit.

The title of a recent TYT video struck a bad nerve with me. It says, "Carrie Underwood Uses Religion To DEFEND Marriage Equality". The all-caps probably didn't help matters any.

One thing that popped out at me that I think needs to be clear is she does not support marriage equality because of religion. From the description:
"As a married person myself, I don't know what it's like to be told I can't marry somebody I love, and want to marry," she said. "I can't imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love."

There is nothing about religion in those remarks.

I had to go straight to The Independent article to which they linked to actually find where the religious part supposedly comes in.

She said, however, that her liberal attitude towards same-sex marriage comes because of her Christian values, rather than in spite of them. Though raised a Baptist, a church that tends to oppose homosexuality, Underwood and her husband Mike Fisher, a professional ice-hockey player, now worship in a non-denominational congregation.

"Our church is gay friendly," she said. "Above all, God wanted us to love others. It's not about setting rules, or [saying] 'everyone has to be like me'. No. We're all different. That's what makes us special. We have to love each other and get on with each other. It's not up to me to judge anybody."

Emphasis mine. She says that, but her other quote says otherwise. There's that phrase, "Actions speak louder than words." I find that sometimes some words speak louder than other words, too. I find that people are more honest about what they believe when they speak outside the context of religion.

There are giveaways in the later quotes. For instance, this silly idea that we are not to judge. It's not well thought-out. I find it difficult, though not impossible, for a person to be in favor of marriage equality over such a poorly thought-out premise. The other part is that she and her husband go to a non-denominational church. This may indicate there were things about the Baptist church she didn't find appealing, so she found a church that was more appealing. If so, this means she's finding a church that fits in with her preexisting views as opposed to forming her views around her church. Since the views came before the church, the church cannot be the reason for the views. Things that are causes must come first. That's not to say her views on gay marriage worked out the same way, but it does make me more suspicious since Baptist churches do not have a reputation for being pro-LGBT.

The last giveaway is that her logic doesn't really work out from a purely religious standpoint. She says, "We have to love each other and get on with each other." How does she go from there to (paraphrasing) "therefore I support marriage equality"? How does she know that supporting marriage equality is the loving thing to do? Maybe opposing it is the thing to do? That's where the first quote block comes in. That is her actual reasoning for her support.

The religious component, then, is just telling her that she should be a loving person. When you think about it, that seems a bit scary. She seriously needs religion to tell her to "love each other"?!? So, if she weren't religious, she'd be a hateful person instead? Actually, I doubt it. So, really, religion doesn't seem to play a part in her position whatsoever. What I think is really going on here is that she's trying to find ways to make her religion compatible with her marriage equality views.

Putting this particular case aside, I see things like this quite often. I find it to be rather disappointing. Too often I hear people claim they hold a position because of their religion...and then they proceed to give non-religious (secular) reasons for their position. I remember a similar instance when the NAACP came out in favor of gay marriage. Their president (?), when asked a question on how he thought members of faith would take this, said that their decision was because of faith. And then he immediately started talking about justice and fairness. It was obvious to me that the decision had nothing to with faith.

Monday, March 3, 2014

More on judgements

In an earlier post, I griped about the way the verb "to judge" is abused by Christians. But I wasn't fully done, yet. This time, it's not so much about the definition as opposed to what they say we should do.

Which is basically that we should not judge. I assume that they again mean the word in the sense of "to condemn" and are not including positive judgements. Even then, this is a huge problem. Should we let all criminals out of prison, then? And abolish the court system? You know what we call the person who sits at the head of a courtroom? We call them a judge. You know why we call them that? Because they hand out judgements!

This idea is just simply insane. Since I don't think most Christians are actually insane, I am led to conclude that they are just parroting an idea that they think sounds nice without actually thinking about what it means. (That is, after all, essentially what "to parrot" means.) But if there are any Christians who have given this at least some thought, I am rather curious as to how they might rationalize this belief.

I encountered a Christian not too long ago that was more precise and said, "by any measure this world has chosen to judge." I wonder, then, if an excuse would be to claim that courts are divinely appointed, as claimed in Romans 13:1. That judge is then doing God's work, so that's OK?

On that, I do have some questions for Christians who make claims that we are not to judge:
  • What do you really mean when you say that? Do you really mean everyone, or is it OK to judge against those who are suspected of committing crimes?
  • I hear this a lot lately in regards to gay rights. For those Christians who (a) support gay rights and (b) do think it is OK to judge against those who are suspected of committing crimes, how would you respond if being gay were considered a crime? Might the claim be that the law is unjust? On what basis do you make that claim?

I would probably have other questions, but those are at least my starter questions to help me wrap my head around things.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Consequences In Action

Updated below to make the point more generic, as was my original intent.

I mainly want to go over an example of consequences for beliefs that I totally meant to go over before...but forgot. I was reminded today after encountering a commenter on a YouTube video spouting this idea about leaving people alone if they are not "forcing" their beliefs on you.

George Zimmerman, for all we can tell, believed that Trayvon Martin was black kids in hoodies are a threat to his neighborhood. How'd that turn out for Trayvon Martin?

That, in a nutshell, is why I can't just let people believe what they want to believe. Was George Zimmerman forcing his beliefs on me? I would think the answer here is clearly "No." How about on Martin? Does killing a kid count as "forcing" beliefs on to someone? Just asking.

So, yeah, beliefs inform actions and actions have consequences. Need I really say this again?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Official Republican SOTU response, bit by bit

Cathy McMorris Rodgers (who???) delivered the Republican party's official State of the Union response last night. I'm going to go over bits and pieces that capture my attention.

"Where a girl who worked at the McDonald's drive-through to help pay for college can be with you at the state capitol."

Translation: "I've got mine. Fuck you." I say this largely because that does seem to be the conservative attitude toward people. And there is some context missing here that could be important. I worked at a McDonald's, too, to help pay for college. But I didn't really have to. I would have found a way to pay for it without doing that work. What that work perhaps did the most is helped me to have less debt after college. However, there are people out there that have little choice but to work to pay for college. What situation was she in? If I had to guess, I'd guess her experience was more so like mine. In which case, she's trying to give a false impression that she used to be struggling just like a lot of other people.

And even if she did struggle, there is such a big problem with the conservative message. Largely, there is a failure to understand math. The conservative attitude is often one of "I made it out of poverty, so you can too!" But the message totally lacks any recognition for the probability of getting out of poverty. If she did, she's one of the lucky ones and she needs to recognize this. The conservative delusion, however, is to convince themselves that they aren't lucky but rather they got out of poverty through "hard work." Every time I've tried to get a conservative to go into detail of their "hard work," I've found them to be nothing but arrogant about their own abilities.

"...People who come to America because, here, no challenge is too great and no dream too big. That's the genius of America. <New paragraph> Tonight, the President made more promises that sound good but won't actually solve the problems facing America."

*Facepalm* I highlighted what really got to me. She says that immediately after making her good sounding comments on "the genius of America." That's some serious lack of awareness there. Not to mention I have yet to here a Republican proposal that is anything but good sounding. If I hear anything in her speech, I'll be surprised.

"One that empowers you, not the government. One that champions free markets and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you"

I saw others pointing out the typical response that the exception is always women in regards to abortion. You could add other things to that list, too, though, such as LGBT rights. So, translation: "We'll empower you as long as what you decide to do matches what we want you to do. Otherwise, we will take that decision away."

"It helps working families rise above the limits of poverty."

Here is one of those good sounding bits that has nothing substantive to it. Or, what there is that is substantive, Republicans tend to oppose. For example, labor unions. Labor unions, as far as I can tell, are able to fit in to the idea of a free market. At their core, they are a way for people to come together and tell the market what they want. (Wikipedia speaks of "worker cooperatives." These are apparently a bit different than labor unions, but there appear to be many similarities.)

"They taught me to work hard..."

Yeah...I don't like where this is going... And shortly after this, she starts talking about how she saved her 4-H money. This seems to be going down this path that conservatives like to pretend that people just need to be more fiscally responsible like they are! There is a potential problem with this story, though. Again, I, too, was in 4-H having been a North Dakota farm boy, so I can see the likely flaw. First, she's getting money from the 4-H animals, but did she use her own money to invest in the animals to get to the show? Perhaps some, but I would guess that ma and pa probably chipped in a good chunk of money and didn't expect to get paid back. Second, 4-H animals, in my experience, sell for quite a bit more than actual market value. That is in part because the people buying the animals want to help these kids feel like they accomplished something. Which is great! But the problem is people like her seem to somehow completely forget that people were giving them a helping hand along the way. In other words, she wasn't successful on her own.

Although, alternatively, if they do recognize the helping hands, they'll point out that it was the community and not the government that helped them. This message is problematic in that it ignores the problem of people that don't have a community that is capable of helping them out. I.e, a poor kid in a poor neighborhood where everybody's struggling to get by so they can't offer a helping hand even if they wanted to.

"And to ensure that everyone in this country can find a job. Because a job is so much more than a paycheck. It gives us purpose, dignity, and the foundation to build a future."

Yet more good sounding stuff that's not very well connected to reality. If your job is only paying minimum wage, it simply does not give you a foundation to build a future. Being that there are a lot of people who only make minimum wage, there are a lot of people who recognize this. Some Republicans really need to step out of their bubble.

"But we also know what it's like to face challenges."

Sure. Who doesn't? If she's trying to gain sympathy or understanding, the problem is that a lot of people may face tougher challenges and face them more regularly as well.

"Cole was diagnosed with Down's Syndrome."

Well, that's unfortunate, but she must surely have some pretty good health care coverage being an elected official (not to mention a good salary). Now, try being a parent of a child with Down's that doesn't have healthcare. Now look at how many times the Republicans have tried to repeal the ACA without offering any sort of alternative.

"But when we looked at our son...we saw a gift from God."

So, hey, poor people! Even though you're struggling to make ends meet with your shitty minimum wage job, shitty health care (if any), and a child with Down's, just remember that child is a gift from God and that will make everything better. It's magic! /sarcasm. Yeah, if that's the Republican plan, is it any wonder their party has not been doing so well as of late?

She continues sending out a hidden anti-abortion message in regards to her child.

"Because our mission, not only as Republicans, but as Americans, is to once again ensure that we are not bound on where we come from..."

So we can expect Republicans to back immigration reform now??? Yeah...didn't think so.

"It's the gap we all face — between where you are and where you want to be. The president talks a lot about income inequality, but the real gap we face today is one of opportunity inequality."

Part of that I had seen on the news Wednesday morning. I thought then as I do now, just how stupid is she? How does she figure the two are separate things? This is much the problem I and others like me have with income inequality — it produces this "opportunity inequality." On that, as an engineer, I am not impressed. We have this concept known as "root cause analysis." I've talked about it on this blog before, so I suggest checking that link for more information. The problem here is that the "opportunity inequality" is not the root cause, it is a symptom. So when she says it is "the real gap," she's simply full of crap. She does not help her case at all when she goes into her examples. Hey, that guy working part time could probably do better if his job paid well. Or, similarly with the girl going to college, it would help if her parents had more money. Or, to go back to earlier statements, if her job at McDonalds could help pay for that better.

"Republicans have plans to close the gap."

Of course, we'll likely never see those plans.

"And, yes, it's time to honor our history of legal immigration."

Here's more good sounding stuff. Republicans have been fighting against this. Are we seriously supposed to believe Republicans are going to turn things around here in 2014?

"...making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world."

Again, actions speak louder than words. Republican actions, particularly in areas of science (funding of and promotion of creationism, for example), display the exact opposite.

"We have solutions to help you take home more of your pay. Through lower taxes..."

*facepalm* Really? Need I remind everyone about Romney's 47% comments? Or other Republicans complaining about too many people not paying any federal income taxes? If my taxes are already 0, how are you going to get them any lower? The only thing they can do at that point is give people money. But that would be a "handout," which are bad.

She then goes on to mention cheaper energy costs. What? Through subsidizing the oil and coal industries, by chance? Because you can't touch that hippy solar stuff!

Or affordable health care. See above — where have the Republican plans been thus far? She then says, "No, we shouldn't go back to the way things were." OK, but I've only seen the Republicans try to repeal the ACA. Isn't that exactly what repealing it would do? (Go back to the way things were?)

"We advance these plans everyday."

Really? I've never seen them. (Does she really mean "plans," or is she getting confused with "goals"? Those mean two different things, but people confuse them all the time.)

"I ask him to listen to you."

Bit of advice, Republicans, you need to stop believing you represent the majority of the people. You don't. I know, I know. You got all those Tea Party wackos elected back in 2010, which has you believing that you do indeed represent the majority. You need to realize that was likely a fluke. You caught people off guard, tricking them into thinking you had a bunch of political "outsiders" that the people wanted. At this point, the con has been well revealed. You can't pull the same stunt again. (But, then, I think Republicans darn well know this — that's why they are fighting for voter ID laws and gerrymandered districts. But why then turn around and tell themselves they represent the majority?)

Overall, I still get a kick out criticizing Obama for making promises that "sound good," but then does nothing more than that herself. The religious sentiments at the end weren't helping her at all, either. If the Republican plan is to pray??? We're fucked!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Putting it in terms of race...

Because I think, although there is still a lot of racism in our society, people can still more easily understand the problems of their social propositions when placed in such a context.

This goes back again to my last post on beliefs and consequences, particularly this idea of "forcing" beliefs on another person and how some suggest we should not oppose people's beliefs if they are not forcing them on us. There is still the big question of what that means, so I've come up with a scenario to pry at that.

In the context of the last post, the topic was gay rights. Well, I'm not gay, so if someone is opposed to gay rights, does their opposition have much of an effect on me? Should I care? My answers are "Yes" and "Yes, duh!" respectively. But now let's change the context to the civil rights era of the 1960's. Anyone can see from my profile picture on the right that I am white. So if the problem had instead been with people who promote segregation, I'm still in the majority group. I have my rights. Should I be opposing people who are for segregation even though I am not black???

I think the answer should be obvious. Damn right I should oppose it! And the same goes for those who oppose gay rights today. I'm going to fight against that. It doesn't matter that I'm straight. I'm not selfish. I want to see the world be a better place.

Religion does not make the world a better place, and often it works against my goals. So I'm going to fight against it. I don't care if people aren't forcing their beliefs on me. It's not about me. It's about everyone else.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A friendly reminder that beliefs have consequences.

I know I've written about this before, the two posts (of what was meant to be a four-part series) that I've actually published can be found here and here. I would recommend reading these, yet I am going to be repeating a lot of the same points here. Because it would seem that these ideas need repeating.

I get a bit annoyed about these ideas that beliefs should be given automatic respect or the rather strange idea that my mother seems to have (yes, this post is a bit personal) that beliefs should not be given automatic respect but, for some unclear reason, still shouldn't be challenged ("confronted" was the word she used). The impression I got from my mother was that her reasoning is that they should only be challenged if the people holding beliefs try to force their beliefs on me.

That really begs the question of what, exactly, it means for someone to "force" their beliefs on me. I imagine what she means is people who try to convince me to believe the same as they do. This is horribly short-sighted.

In that first post, I had presented a slightly absurd belief of "I believe I am a better driver while intoxicated." We could change this to be a bit more realistic to say "I believe I am a capable driver while intoxicated." Certainly there are people out in the world who convince themselves of that. (Or, at the very least, "I believe I am not so intoxicated at the moment that I will be capable of driving" when this is not true.) Shouldn't we still just leave these people believe what they want to believe? No, and we don't. At the time I began drafting this post, a local radio station had what seems to be becoming an annual event where the DJ's get drunk on the air with a police officer in the studio to routinely measure their BAL (blood-alcohol level). The idea is to demonstrate, as best they can, how quickly and how little it takes to become inebriated. And the message, of course, is that, if you choose to drink, then you should not drive.

The next question, to get more on point, is are the people who drive drunk forcing their beliefs on other people? This gets back to that main question of what, exactly, do we mean by "force"? If a drunk driver hits me, I would say he/she has quite literally forced his/her belief on me!!! The other question, to go with this, is it OK for them to believe what they do as long as they don't hit anyone??? That, to me, sounds like a risky endeavor. Going back to the previous paragraph, the reality is that we as a society say this is not OK. People get arrested for drunk driving regardless of whether or not they hit someone.

This then brings me to the topic that started this latest conversation — the homophobia of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. Is he forcing his beliefs on me? Well, no. I'm not homosexual. But is he then forcing his beliefs on homosexuals? I would say he most certainly is, to some extent! If, say, a vote to legalize (or perhaps a vote to ban) gay marriage would come up on the Louisiana ballot, how do we suppose he would vote (assuming that he does)? I'd put money on it that he'd vote against gay marriage. And, seeing how gay marriage really isn't all that crucial of an issue to the LGBT community, he'd probably likewise vote against other gay rights — or vote for the type of politicians who oppose gay rights.

The point of all of this is that beliefs don't exist in a vacuum. People tend to act out on their beliefs and, if they have horrible beliefs, they are going to be more likely to act in horrible ways. It's more complex than this, of course, but I do find that, if we wish to reduce bad actions, we need to reduce bad beliefs.

The challenge, then, gets to be determining what is and what is not a bad belief. This can be a long, complex process. However, it's hard to start such a process with people either telling you that you must automatically respect a belief or that you're not allowed to even challenge beliefs — even when the other person agrees that a belief is bad!

Extra reading: I found this excellent post in regards to religion and violence in my search for a link to the phrase "exist in a vacuum."

And now for something COMPLETELY different...GMO's!

I've been meaning to put up some sort of post for a while on this topic, especially since my parents have bought into the anti-GMO hype. For today, all I'm going to do is point and laugh at some article I saw suggested at NewsMaxHealth — I have no idea what their general reputation is in regards to what they publish, but this is ridiculous! There is a lot of loaded language and logical fallacies, so I'm going to go through a lot of this and point out where the flaws lie. I'll be bolding all the loaded, emotional and/or fallacious words. I will also (bold) my entries pointing out them by name and linking to any posts I may have describing the fallacy.

Now, one courageous doctor is pointing to mounting evidence that leaves no doubt — GMO foods are even worse than we were told.

As this respected doctor (Argument from Authority — How "respected" he or she is has no relevance on whether or not he or she is correct.) points out in a riveting new presentation, no long-term human studies have ever supported GMO safety. Shockingly, the World Health Organization only requires a mere 90 days of testing to claim that GMOs are safe. Well, no one dies from smoking cigarettes within 90 days of starting to smoke, either! (Weak analogy — A major flaw here is that there were no bans on smoking until it could be tested. In fact, quite the opposite is true. People were smoking long before anyone even bothered to study the health effects. I also note that there is no suggestion for how long they think testing should take. It sounds like they expect a lifetime of testing, but do they seriously think it would take that long to figure out that smoking is harmful??? (I'm also suspect of that 90 days of testing claim.))

Yet while lifetime studies still have not been done on humans, scientists have done these studies on animals — and what they found is stunning. Lab mice fed just a 33 percent GMO diet begin developing aggressive cancers (particularly breast cancer), liver failure, and kidney failure. (This is likely a misuse and abuse of science. Note that they don't bother to tell us which studies. Could one of these studies have been the Séralini study? Which was a heavily refuted study, largely due to how poorly it was controlled.)

Shockingly, 50 percent of the males and 70 percent of the female animals on the GMO diet succumbed to early death at an age equivalent to 40 to 50 human years. (Another weak analogy. And is this "early death" based on the human equivalent age? The lab rats in the Séralini study, for example, tend to die within two years regardless of what they are fed. From what I gather, this is an early death compared to non-lab rats. If the "equivalent age" is then based on the life-span of non-lab rates, then there is absolutely nothing shocking about this. It's actually quite expected.)

While more people have begun to fight back against GMOs, the big GMO companies ,spend millions of dollars to defeat laws that would require GMO labeling. Quite simply, these big companies know that GMO crops are cheaper to grow, and therefore more profitable. (It's unclear to me what relevance this has to anything. I suspect this has been put in here for little more than emotional manipulation to rouse up fears of Goliath.)

In the meantime, many health experts (Health experts are not scientists, and, with how many health trends come and go, I would recommend being highly skeptical of how much such people are "experts" on anything! The added irony here is that there is this distrust of corporations because they have a product to sell (see previous paragraph). Think for a moment about how these health experts make a living and hopefully you'll notice the contradiction.) now warn us to take the only positive action available to protect our health — avoiding GMOs as much as humanly possible. But considering the fact that GMOs are hidden in over 30,000 food products, that is not an easy task.

Fortunately, one courageous doctor has stepped up to the plate. Dr. Russell Blaylock, one of America’s leading medical researchers and nutritionists, has created a special free video presentation that explains the hidden health hazards of GMOs. Dr. Blaylock will show you how to protect your family from GMOs and their dangers — aisle by aisle at the grocery store.

... (Much of the rest of this article seems to be nothing more than an advertisement, so I'm going to skip all of that.) ...

Since the introduction of GMO foods, many cancers and other diseases have skyrocketed in humans. Can this really be a coincidence? (Yes. Yes, it can. Correlation does not imply causation. What other things have been introduced in this time? Personal computers! They're the real culprit! But, seriously, cancer, for example, is a disease that becomes more and more likely as we get older. Life expectancy has been on the rise. Therefore, more cancer. (Add in that we probably have better diagnoses of cancer and this error, known as confirmation bias, gets worse.) There is no reason to associate this with GMO's.) ...

So, I did decide I should look up some info on this Newsmax Media. Lo and behold, it's a conservative news media! I find that hilarious. As I've heard one person put it, some people are so far left that they wrap around back to the right! (He also referred to such people as the "Tea Party of the Left".) In the case of GMO's, that seems to be getting to be more true all the time.

Friday, January 3, 2014

And the new Coordinator for the Eastern Iowa Coalition of Reason is...


What did I get myself in to? Well, pretty much exactly what I wanted to get myself in to. The question then is can I handle the responsibility? That shouldn't be much responsibility, but my history of handling responsibility is not bright.

What is the Eastern Iowa CoR?

From what I can tell, it's really just going to be (oh, this is a newly formed organization -- website's not even up yet, but would most likely be located here) umbrella organization that is just meant to help direct people to their local non-religious groups. It's not really going to have any authority whatsoever over those local groups. The "coordination" part, then, is just to get the various groups to allow us to do such directing. Take the Central Iowa CoR, for example. The main page (by which I don't mean the home (welcome) page) there simple directs you to the websites, Facebook pages, etc. of the affiliated groups. The events page appears to just be pulling in the calendar entries from those groups as well. So there may not be too much to do. Maybe do some touring of eastern Iowa to meet with the leaders of the other groups and whatnot. Maybe that means I'll have to attend Darwin Week events up at UNI this year? (If they're having a Darwin Week...there is no link to events.)

The one bigger thing is that the Central Iowa coordinator would like to launch a billboard campaign in April. Uh...does that mean I'll have to help arrange that??? *gulp* I imagine, though, they'd look something like this:

So, yeah...that's what I might be up to in the future. I'm really hoping this will be a good experience.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

While on the topic of words that bother me...

"Tolerance." Now, my problems here aren't with the meaning of the word, but rather the caveats that go unsaid. And the way conservatives then latch on to make their arguments. It was in the forward for the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist:"
The tolerance peddlers are further exposed as frauds when you consider that they simply will not practice what they preach—at least toward those annoyingly stubborn Christians. They are absolutely unwilling to "tolerate" the Christian premise that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (p9)
I have also seen this in the defense of Phil Robertson (of Duck Dynasty fame). Conservatives groaning about how liberals aren't "tolerant" of his viewpoints.

I actually find the conservative arguments to be somewhat rational. They are, after all, fighting against what really seems to be a thought stopping argument. The one that I can think of off the top of my head is that conservatives are supposed to tolerate gay people. No specified reason given. Just 'cuz. The question I've had for such liberals is should we also tolerate pedophiles? I sure hope not!

Now, I do actually know the unspoken reason — no one is suffering any harm in the case of gay couples. Conservatives have to "tolerate" it because they don't have a good reason to not do so. We libs, on the other hand, do have reason to not tolerate homophobic remarks. Because they do cause harm! Primary example would be the depression it can cause with LGBT youth, thus the need for the "It Gets Better" campaign or "The Trevor Project."

A problem I think that some liberals have is that the reasons conservatives have are religious in nature. Liberals that are also religious can't counter such reasoning very well. They can't call out such arguments as total bullshit (without lying), so they are left to arguing theology, which is rather unproductive, leaving the liberal to fall back on the "tolerance" for unspecified reasons shitty argument.

Example: Liberal may actually start out with the harm argument. Conservative comes back with a "But God says so" argument. Liberal, believing that God exists, is left to debating over what God actually said. So, in the future, the liberal just shortcuts this entirely with the "tolerance" for unspecified reasons argument.

Having said all of that, I don't know how many liberals actually use this lousy tolerance argument. I have seen it used, so the number is more than zero. But I see conservatives knock down the argument way more often! It is to the point that it seems little more than a straw man. Unlike a pure straw man, it is nearly a correct representation of an opponent's position. The problem that makes it like a straw man is the opponent is a large group of people who do not all share the same position. So while it may correctly represent some in the group, it does not represent the group as a whole, and may even only represent a small segment of that group.

An analogy I find appropriate would be to criticize all Christians for the beliefs of Westboro Baptist Church. They're a Christian group, for sure, but they don't represent all of Christianity. They don't even represent mainstream Christianity. It is unfair to generalize Christianity via WBC. Likewise, it is unfair to generalize liberals over those who make the "tolerance" argument.

In short...

Liberals — Don't use these short-hand arguments! They are easy to knock down. Go into full detail whenever you can.

Conservatives — I'm on to you. As far as I can tell, you are misrepresenting the majority of liberals in order to knock down low-hanging fruit. (And, so that I'm not seen as hypocritical, allow me to specify that I am referring specifically to those conservatives that use this tactic and not all conservatives.)

The meaning of the verb "judge"

Confession time. I really hate the way our society has changed the meaning of the verb "judge." I realize that English is a living language* and therefore is susceptible to change, so, in the end, I really just need to learn to deal with it. But what may perhaps be my larger annoyance here is that the old definitions still remain and still have purpose. From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, I am looking primarily at these particular definitions:
1 : to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises

5 : to form an estimate or evaluation of; especially : to form a negative opinion about <shouldn't judge him because of his accent>

It is that 5th definition that would seem to be a newer** definition of the word, resulting from how society uses the word. Though, that definition isn't fully accurate. It says "especially," but the reality is that particular definition is used only in regards of forming a negative opinion. That one could even form a positive opinion (or, particularly, a neutral opinion) goes ignored in such use. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much difference between #1 and #5, except for a lack of weighing of evidence.

The other part of this that irks me is that our language already has a word that already accurately reflects the intention. That word is "condemn:"
1 : to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation <a policy widely condemned as racist>

So I think it would be great if society would actually use that word instead, rather than muddling the word "judge." I know I have no power by which to influence all of society, but if you, my readers, could please be cautious with your terminology...thanks! If I can influence my little tiny corner of the world, then that will at least be something!

* I say this to note a potential hypocrisy. Homophobes have used the stupid argument of "redefining 'marriage'" as an excuse to oppose equal rights for homosexuals. To that argument, I have pointed out that English is a living language, so they should just deal with it. It seems a bit hypocritical for me to not do the same. But there does seem to also be an important difference. The current process of redefining "marriage" is more a broadening of the current definition, whereas, with "judge," we have a new definition that conflicts with the old definition that is still in use. It is probably this conflict that bothers me more than anything else. (And such conflicts could then lead to equivocation errors.)

** Or perhaps it has been this way for some time and I just had not noticed until the last couple of years?