Friday, December 30, 2011

IDHEF - Chapter 1: Can We Handle the Truth?

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.

   The chapter starts out with quotes from A Few Good Men, particularly the famous line, "You can't handle the truth!" The authors then go on to point out the hypocrisy that people tend to demand truth in everything else but religion and morality.
...Why do we demand truth in everything but morality and religion? Why do we say, "That's true for you but not for me," when we're talking about morality or religion, but we never even think of such nonsense when we're talking to a stock broker about our money or a doctor about our health? (p36)

Thursday, December 29, 2011


   This is in response to people like my father who use this argument that "it's possible God could exist" as one to support the position of letting religious people believe what they want to believe. The problem is that lots of things are possible. If we wish to discuss the origins of the universe, perhaps a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. Perhaps the universe was created by an extraterrestrial named Ted who accidentally blew up his apartment while trying to make beer.

   Maybe most of the world leaders are actually shape-shifting lizards. Maybe our bodies are host to immortal alien spiritual beings called thetans that are here because Xenu blew them up with hydrogen bombs...or something like that. Hey, it's possible!!!

   I could go on and on and on. The point is that I don't give a crap about what is possible because, again, lots of things are possible. What I'm interested in is what's probable. All of these things that I have listed are possible, but they all lack evidence to support them. Thus, they are highly improbable. And I'll continue to ridicule people who actually believe in any of these things without any or even just lousy supporting evidence.

What you talkin' about, Perry?

   Rick Perry's ad have been quite comical. A few of them have been him or his wife bragging about their Christian values. Too bad for him his god didn't pull through for him on the Texas drought. 'Nough said on that!

   In his latest ad, he is bragging about his idea for a part-time Congress. Apparently he brought this up in a debate. See the video and more comments below.

The part that really got my attention was when he said, "Let them get a job like everybody back home has." OK, Rick, which planet are you from?!? Oh...right...Texas! The Washington Post recently released an article showing the growth in the net worth of Congresspersons since 1984. That net worth has more than doubled since then and the median net worth is reported to be $725,056. (Click on the graphic to the right to enlarge.) The majority of these people don't need to "get a job"! Rick Perry, I don't mind your idea of cutting their pay in half, but the rest of your proposals fail to address any of the real issues with Congress as you don't seem to be in touch with reality.

Note: The bottom 25 members of Congress all have negative net worth's. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean they are poor folk; it just means they have more debt than assets. The Congressperson with the lowest net worth (see the link) has a net worth of almost -$5 million. Someone like me would never be able to obtain the loans necessary to get that far in debt. Anyway, the point remains that Perry is an idiot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Labeling - Why is it such a big deal?

   Recently, the Seattle Atheists have launched an ad campaign promoting the idea that 1 in 4 Washingtonians is an atheist. The group has received some slack over the claim, but they have defended their numbers by pointing out the main consideration when counting atheists: many atheists do not self-identify as atheists. (I personally know at least five people who are atheists who do not self-identify, two of whom have even explicitly rejected the term as being an appropriate label.) The one area where I do have issue is they themselves say that only 1 in 5 statewide is an atheist; the 1 in 4 concept is for the Seattle area only, which is where the ads appear. So...slightly misleading.

   But it's not the slightly misleading statement that I am here to write about. My complaint is with the response to this from Ask an Atheist, a Seattle-area radio show. The following is part of their response to the ad campaign:
Labeling people as atheists when they intentionally avoid the phrase is a misstep. While the wider discussion we have on atheism here on the show would include many of these people, we believe people reserve the right to label themselves.
I find this statement a bit frustrating in part given the fact that the hosts of this show, even in the same episode in which they presented this statement, recognize that there is a social stigma around declaring non-belief in a deity. This is frustrating because I recognize, as I suspect the hosts of the show do as well, that these stigmas will not go away unless more people who are atheists are open about it.

   The other part that I find frustrating is the idea of considering "atheist" to be nothing more than a label in the sense of branding someone as part of a group. This is the type of labeling one will see when stereotyping, which is what I think is the real problem here. People don't want to be part of group A because then people will incorrectly attribute characteristics X, Y, and Z to them. So this frustrates me for two main reasons: (1) By refusing to be labeled, people are avoiding having to address the real problem of stereotyping. It should go without saying that a problem typically does not go away when avoided. (2) Labeling should be seen as descriptive—without the stereotypes. In fact, the Free Dictionary defines it as "a descriptive term; an epithet." If someone lacks a belief in gods, then I'm going to label them an atheist because that is what they are. I'm not going to be afraid, to borrow a phrase Sam Harris commonly uses, to call a spade a spade! I am a white heterosexual male atheist, as well as a number of other things. Is that labeling myself or just stating the facts? Or both? Would anyone believe me if I said I'm a black homosexual female Christian?

   Once upon a time—actually, it is still present today, but is fading away—it wasn't cool to be gay, and I don't mean "happy." Things that are lame or even abnormal were considered to be gay. According to Urban Dictionary:
[O]ften used to describe something stupid or unfortunate. originating from homophobia. [Q]uite preferable among many teenage males in order to buff up their "masculinity." "Man, these seats are gay. I can't even see what's going on!"
But thanks to homosexuals "coming out of the closet," people know more homosexuals and are realizing they aren't really any different than most heterosexuals. Hopefully the profane use of the word "gay" will soon fall out of use. Either way, that is how you combat a stereotype—you face it head on! That means taking on labels and being true to yourself.

   This is something the atheist movement is trying to do. People who are not believes in deities are being encouraged to come out of the atheist closet. Now, I understand that some people cannot be open about their lack of belief. I know one such atheist who is a Muslim apostate. The punishment for that can be death. While I know this person to be an atheist, I am not going about announcing this fact to other people. But for people who have nothing to worry about? Yeah, I'm going to label them.

   The one objection I can see with labeling people as atheists is not being able to confidently know that they are indeed atheists, as it is impossible to read minds. It's not as easy as, say, labeling a person like me as white; my skin color clearly gives that one away. It's not even as easy as identifying gender. (As one who is married to an intersex individual, I recognize that gender isn't..."black and white.")

   Now I certainly give kudos to the Ask an Atheist crew because they are there to help combat the stereotypes. But then again, they have accepted the label. Where we differ, I think, is that they are trying to present a more welcoming environment in which theists can even feel welcome. I am more of what are called the "firebrand" atheists. I'll give people a metaphorical kick in the ass if I think they need one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Rememberance of Christopher Hitchens - Hitchens plays "What if?"

   For those who have not heard, Christopher Hitchens died back on Thursday night. I haven't written about it yet, but I may start posting some videos of people getting "Hitchslapped". I was reminded of this video (or rather it's just audio) of Hitchens appearing on Todd Friel's show. The host is annoying and can't seem to grasp the fact that Hitchens won't accept his Christian theology, even assuming it is true.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Science is always changing its mind!"

   This post surrounds the topic of Pluto. I previously sent some of this information to my family in an email, but I'm updating it to clarify the point I was trying to make.

   There is this misconception on how science works in our society, and it often rears its ugly head in regards to Pluto. It is the idea that science can't be trusted because it is always changing. Pluto is used as an example based on the idea that "it used to be a planet, but now it's not!" The reality is that the declassification of Pluto as a planet has nothing to do with scientists just changing things on a whim as such statements imply. Rather, the change had much to do with obtaining new data.

That new data surrounded the discoveries of other round, planet-like bodies in the beginning of the last decade. Three of these newly discovered bodies, as well as Pluto, were then classified as "dwarf planets." These dwarf planets include Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. Eris is about three times further away from the sun than Pluto (though its orbit varies so much that, at Eris's closest point to the sun, it is closer to the sun than Pluto if Pluto were at its furthest point). Perhaps more importantly to this discussion is that it is thought to be more massive than Pluto and could have potentially been the 10th planet of the solar system. This fact was a motivational factor in getting the International Astronomical Union to define what a planet is.

   Additionally, there is a body known as 90377 Sedna that can get up to about 31.6 times further away than Pluto! Another interesting tidbit is that there is another dwarf planet that is in the asteroid belt, called Ceres. Also interesting is that, according to Wikipedia, "for half a century it was classified as the eighth planet." (This would have been before the discovery of Neptune or Pluto.) So, here we are talking about how "Pluto is no longer a planet" when the same thing happened to Ceres many years ago!

   With all of this information, either these bodies would also have to be classified as planets or else what is classified as a planet had to be changed. It was the classification that changed.

   What people really need to do, though, is stop thinking about this as change. Do people care, for example, that cellular phones can now browse the Internet, record video, play music, etc. when only a decade ago they could do no more than make phone calls? Do people care that televisions now have 3D technology? No...with the possible exception of being upset that they cannot afford the latest technology. They often welcome the change. Nor would most people call this "change." They would more likely call this "advancement" or "improvement." People need to start thinking in these terms when it comes to other aspects of science, including the reclassification of Pluto. This should be thought of as an advancement or improvement of our understanding of the solar system in which we live and not a change.

   Science does not "change." It improves, advances, and refines.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thoughts on the Las Vegas Marathon

   So, I have not been blogging for a few days as I have been out of town on vacation which has included running a marathon. I finished in just under 5 hours and 5 minutes, but that is besides the point of this post. What I want to address is the sights along the way.

   In about the first mile (and certainly within the first two), there were three people promoting Christianity. There signs said quite a bit, so I wasn't able to read them in their entirety, but I'm quite sure there was some message about repenting for sins and how Jesus loves us. It seemed to be quite an odd place to be sending such a message, as it contradicts other messages Christians occasionally send. Just the day before, I was watching this show called The Real Winning Edge, a Christian show about teenagers and their accomplishments. On the episode I watched, there was a kid who was into surfing who claimed his friends started getting involved with girls and drinking, and giving into those temptations was bringing down their surfing abilities. (My thought was that maybe it had more to do with his friends not practicing as much because they changed their priorities, regardless of what those priorities were. In other words, if they would have done something that would not be considered sinful in this youth's mind, like volunteering for charities or maybe studying more, their surfing abilities would have gone down doing those things as well. But I digress!) So, if living a supposedly sinful life is going to bring down one's athletic abilities, these marathon runners cannot be living that bad of lives. Even if these people don't share the belief of the surfer kid, they were still trying to tell marathon runners, people who are trying to achieve something that is often considered a great accomplishment, that they are horrible people in need of saving. In short, it seems to me that they were trying to deliver their message to the wrong crowd.

   The other thing was that somewhere along the strip was a billboard that said "WHERE IS THE REAL BIRTH CIRTIFICATE?" I really have nothing to say about that than it is just pathetic how people cling to their absurd ideas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Catholic Church vs. Harry Potter and Yoga = Irony!

(via Blag Hag)

   Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's chief exercist (yes, the Vatican has a chief exercist in the 21st century!), says "Harry Potter and yoga are evil." Oh no's!!!
Father Gabriele Amorth, who for years was the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have cleansed hundreds of people of evil spirits, said yoga is Satanic because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”.

Reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books is no less dangerous, said the 86-year-old priest, who is the honorary president for life of the International Association of Exorcists, which he founded in 1990, and whose favourite film is the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist.

The Harry Potter books, which have sold millions of copies worldwide, “seem innocuous” but in fact encourage children to believe in black magic and wizardry, Father Amorth said.

“Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter,” he told a film festival in Umbria this week, where he was invited to introduce The Rite, a film about exorcism starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as a Jesuit priest.

“In Harry Potter the Devil acts in a crafty and covert manner, under the guise of extraordinary powers, magic spells and curses,” said the priest, who in 1986 was appointed the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome.

“Satan is always hidden and what he most wants is for us not to believe in his existence. He studies every one of us and our tendencies towards good and evil, and then he offers temptations.” Science was incapable of explaining evil, said Father Amorth, who has written two books on his experiences as an exorcist...
   Wait a minute, reading Harry Potter encourages children to believe in black magic and wizardry, but exercism and Catholicism with it's "the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ" doctrine don't? I'm not sure whether to facepalm or laugh hysterically.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jacko fans, forget Murry, what about Burzynski, Wakefield, and worse?

This post was to have been released last night (Nov 29), but it seems Blogger was not working well and I received errors trying to post.

   I caught ABC World News this evening, and it seems one of their top stories was about Conrad Murry. And all I really have to say is with all the other quackery out there in medicine, why must we worry about Murry so much?

   A big story that broke yesterday (not in "mainstream" media) on the blogosphere is about a clinic in Houston, TX, that charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for fake cures for cancer. How these businesses survive for many years, as this Stanislaw Burzynski has been up to this for roughly 35 years, is beyond me! I actually suppose it's the same type of thinking that allows people to believe in psychics, astrology, personal gods, and--of course--homeopathy. Desperate times call for thoughtless measures.

   Granted, it would seem that Burzynski isn't necessarily killing anyone; the cancer is the more obvious culprit. But what he does is rips off families who are looking for hope. Then again, Michael Jackson seems to have set himself up for disaster, but so many want to see Murry suffer. Where are the calls for Burzynski to be locked up?

   And it doesn't stop with Burzynski, as suggested by the post's title. There is the damage Andrew Wakefield has caused by making people afraid of vaccinations due to his fraudulent claim that they cause autism.

   Then there are all the TV quacks, such as Dr. Oz, even Dr. Phil (though admittedly not as bad as others), and many other quacks Oprah has promoted, like Deepak Chopra.

  ...Speaking of which, I am now watching Lawrence O'Donnell on which Chopra is going to be on as a guest. Chopra is another quack that deals in pseudoscience and was apparently a friend of Jackson. WHY?!?!? Can we please stop listening to these people??? On top of that, people are going to be upset with Murry when Jackson hung out with quacks like Chopra? Seriously, people! How many people has Chopra potentially killed and/or ripped off by promoting bullshit? And people want to bust out the pitchforks and torches on Murry!

   The point of all of this is that there is tons of bullshit medicine out there, yet all the focus as of late is on Murry. The sad part is that it's not really because of his unethical practice that people are outraged; it's because Michael fucking Jackson died in his care. That is what bothers me the most--it's all fun and games until a world-famous celebrity dies.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

100th Post, Writer's Block, and Janeane Garofalo

   The Midwest Atheist blog has reached its 100th post! Where's the cake?

   In other news, I'm feeling a bit of a writer's block. I do have some drafts in the works, but I'm just not feeling "it." And I'm running out of ideas for topics. If anyone wants to send me suggestions, that would be cool.

   Otherwise, I leave you with a clip from last week of Janeane Garofalo on "Countdown." (The clip does not start at the beginning of the segment, so checkout the transcript below for the rest.)

DAVID SHUSTER: If the right wing is good at one thing, it is creating attack lines. They usually have no basis in fact, but are catchy and scary.

In our number-one story — the latest right-wing attack on President Obama appears to be a retread. No, not the "Obama is a secret Muslim" line, but painting the Obamas as arugula-eating elitists who — more than anything — are "uppity."

It was in 2008 that then-candidate Obama said Americans were bitter over the American government's failures to fix the economic situation. The right-wing response, led by their candidate John McCain, was to paint the interracial child of a single mother as elitist. But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, the right wing is using its leftovers and bringing that attack line back. The re-launch of the attack started last week, when Rick Perry brought his fledgling campaign to Sean Hannity to discuss the out-of-context sound of Obama calling the government "lazy."

(Excerpt from video clip) SEAN HANNITY: This is not the first time that he's gone after the American people. What does it reveal to you about his mindset and his thinking?

(Excerpt from video clip) RICK PERRY: It reveals to me that he grew up in a privileged way. He never had to really work for anything

SHUSTER: Of course, in 2008 the elitist attack failed. So this time around, the right wing decided to paint the whole Obama family as elitist. Enter Rush Limbaugh. He took it upon himself to explain the NASCAR fan's disrespectful reaction to the first lady from over the weekend.

(Excerpt from video clip) RUSH LIMBAUGH: NASCAR people, the rest of us, we do not like being told — "steak and arugula." We do not like being told that we can only eat what's in her garden. We don't like being told what to eat. We don't like being told how much to exercise. They understand it's a little bit of uppity-ism.

SHUSTER: Maybe Rush is right. There is nothing more "uppity" than the first lady of a nation with a growing obesity epidemic encouraging people to exercise and eat right. Who needs to do that when an obese person can simply pay a Florida-based weight loss center to feed them low-calorie foods and supplements to help them lose 90 pounds? Why encourage every citizen to display self-control when you can just pay a company to lose the weight for you. Right, Rush?

Let's bring in comedian and friend of the show, Janeane Garofalo. Janeane, thanks for your time tonight. For putting up with that line.

JANEANE GAROFALO: Thank you for having me.

SHUSTER: This idea of the Obamas being uppity and privileged — coming from a party that has the likes of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich running for the nomination — do they not have a mirror?

GAROFALO: Well, what he means, I think, by "privileged" — Rick Perry is saying that — what he's really saying is that he did not have to work for what he got. It's affirmative action. He — he was the beneficiary of all of these liberal, social engineering. He didn't deserve to get into the schools he got into. He doesn't deserve to be where he is. He's — you know, that's what he means by privileged. And when he also talks about pretending Obama said Americans were lazy. He is picking that word, again, because that's a conservative meme — the welfare mothers and they want handouts and people, you know what I mean, poor people are lazy and they want the government to do things for them.

SHUSTER: Except when the poor people are conservatives or Republicans?

GAROFALO: Oh, it's always a double standard when it's conservatives and so forth.

But uppity is — it's the hack-est — you know what I mean, the most obvious thing and that's why Rush Limbaugh says it — but how dare a black woman, no less, tell people to eat healthy and to show up at NASCAR, which is the bastion of real America. It's just one of those things where, as usual, the conservative movement of the Republican Party — because their pool of applicants, if you will, is shrinking as modernity sets in and time moves on and more and more people in our culture and society become more enlightened and become more forward thinking — they have less and less people who are going to be Republican and conservative and that old chestnut, Libertarian, which is really nothing more than a conservative. So, they have to do things like use divisive language or —

SHUSTER: But why do it in such a way that's so reminiscent of 2008, when it didn't work?

GAROFALO: What have they got? What other material — it's a hack medium. You have to get some new material. The thing is — it always works on a certain segment of the population. If you are trying to appeal to the worst in us — quite literally the worst in us — and trying go to the limbic brain of anxiety, fear, intolerance, hatred, bitterness, ignorance —you have to just use these very simple, as they say, dog-whistle words and things to get to them.

SHUSTER: How does it work, then, for Father of the Year Joe Walsh? He recently called the Occupy protesters un-American, among other things.


SHUSTER: Is the GOP that far into the pockets of the banks that protesting the banks is some how protesting America in Joe Walsh's world?

GAROFALO: They have to pretend that's the case. This is a party of "Freedom fries." Do you remember "Freedom fries" and "Freedom toast?" Two of the more embarrassing things that have ever happened in this country — at the commissary, post 9-11. That you could not say French toast and French fries. And I believe French toast is from Belgium — or French fries are from Belgium and French toast, I think, is from Buffalo, New York originally.

Be that as it may — and Michele Bachmann wanted that American test — how American are you? It's just so silly, it infantilizes us all. And unfortunately, the mainstream media is quite willing to help them to this. Quite willing to let these things slide. But they do love a black man like Herman Cain and Michael Steele and — is it Ron Christie? — any of these pundits who pretend we are in a post-racial society. They like that kind of black person.

SHUSTER: What kind of reaction would we get, or what would the right — how would they react — if the pepper spraying at UC Davis had been on tea party ralliers?

GAROFALO: Oh, my God! Well, pepper spray would be banned, first and foremost. And if you think about it, the tea party — many of them claim to be armed? Right? — they were very pridefully saying, "I have my gun at this health-care town hall," or "I am not armed this time." They had signs that would say that.

So, how is linking arms on a college campus an act of aggression, but saying you have a gun and you are willing to use it and it's time to secede into revolution and you don't recognize this government as legitimate? How is that not seen as some type of aggressive thing? It's one of those things that, again, it is just so silly, and it makes you feel like you are the crazy one when you see these things.

But the double standard that exists for the tea party, which is not, by the way, a grassroots movement that is concerned with deficits and government expansion. They are an Astroturfed, fully funded by the Koch brothers and Freedom Works and supported by Fox News — they are a group -- they are a subset of the Republican Party, primarily motivated by racial intolerance.

SHUSTER: Well, Janeane Garofalo it's always a pleasure to have you here to talk about these fun issues.

GAROFALO: Is there not more? Can we talk about how to kill a turkey? There are better ways to kill a turkey. Let's drag it behind a car.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Janeane, we appreciate it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Quiz Time!!! - Answers and how I did

The following post contains answers to the Christmas Quiz posted earlier. If you'd like to take the quiz first, click here. Otherwise, answers are below the fold.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I wonder why this book doesn't have any reviews???

   I was poking around Amazon to find the link for the Christian apologetics book I recently finished, and I found this book, "Apologetics Never Saved Anyone," listed 3rd in the search list. The description is just awesome! (Emphasis mine.)
Christians should always be ready to present the reason for the hope that we have in Christ. However, this is completely different than attempting to win people with arguments and words. What we often fail to remember is that the Holy Spirit is deeply involved in the process of saving souls. We need to rely less on ourselves, and more on Him. Either He opens eyes, or He does not. Debate often does nothing, except create pride and a false sense of being right, when the "winner" of the debate might be bathed in error. Presenting the Truth in love is what we - as authentic Christians - are commanded to do. Debating does not usher people into the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit does that. Our job is to tell them the truth, whether they listen or not.
YES! By all means, please, please, please, PLEASE rely more on Him!!! You have no idea how much more foolish that will make you look! ...Oops! I wasn't supposed to give that away, was I?

   Well, looks like it doesn't really matter anyway. The book has been out for two years and there isn't a single review for it on Amazon. Maybe Christians realize that relying on the Holy Spirit isn't going to help them at all or maybe they simply figure they can get such advice from their local pastor and can save their money for tithing. We may never know for sure.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

IDHEF - Introduction

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.

An update was made to this post on Nov. 23, 2011 around 4:02 PM CST.

   The introduction starts off with Frank writing about his experience in a secular class teaching about the Old Testament. We actually get some good factual information related to Judaism, which I feel is worth repeating. (Also see the suplemental material.)
...[The professor] immediately affirmed the theory that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, and that many of the Bible's supposed prophetic passages were written after the fact. He also suggested that the Jews originally believed in many gods (polytheism), but that one God ultimately won the day because the final editors of the Old Testament were "religious-fanatic monotheists."

"Money doesn't exist!"

   The video below is from July, though I only discovered this version recently. I had always seen one titled "Atheists Bitchslap" that ended after the woman, Kate Smurthwaite, said, "...I'm not an idiot." It was harsh, but a point with which I agree - it's not smart to believe in things without evidence. However, this extended clip shows the theists proving her point by claiming that she has faith that money exists. That's just a load of bull, and she gives some examples of why that is.

   I think I understand where they are coming from, though. Money symbolically represents something else that has value. Money is essentially the solution to an overly complex barter system. By that I mean to ask what do you do if person A has something that person B wants, person B has something person C wants, person C has something person D wants, and finally person D has something person A wants? You can't necessarily get all four people together to exchange items, so you instead create something, money, that represents the value of the items. Nowadays, with computers, the exchange of money has even become symbolic. So you have symbology on top of symbology which creates an even greater disconnect from the physical objects that are represented. At some level, they know this, and I think the best response that I saw that would reveal this would be to ask them for some large amount of their nonexistent money. After all, if it doesn't exist, that shouldn't be an issue.

IDHEF - Foreword and Preface

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.

This post was originally released on Nov. 19, but was pulled due to missing information.

   It may be a bit pointless to do, but I do actually want to start with the foreword to IDHEF as there are some interesting bits in there that I wish to cover.

   The first head-scratcher is from the second paragraph.
   Proof, of course, is no substitute for faith... (p7)

Friday, November 18, 2011

I share the DREAM!

YouTube user GrapplingIgnorance has a dream. I share in his dream. (Text below.)

Note: The reason for the grim reaper getup, as I understand, is that this man is a teacher in the South, so he's hiding his face to reduce the chance that he can be identified as that would put his career at risk.

Disgruntled students of history throughout the ages have heard the same replies from their teachers when asking what relevancy studies of the past have on the present. "Those who do not learn their past are doomed to repeat it." If this phrase is true, it seems humanity has not yet had a single generation that truly knew its history. It seems that despite the rapidity with which our technology has advanced over the last several centuries, our civility has advanced on the opposite end of the alacrity spectrum. We carry in our pockets today devices capable of untenable magic by the standards of just decades ago. Conversely, as a human species, we remain doomed to repeat the bloodiest and most vitriolic of our traditions, such as groundless discrimination, unjustified ostracization, and bloody warfare. George Washington wouldn't have a clue what an iPhone is, but if he saw a bullet fly through a soldier today, he'd certainly be able to relate. I guess some things never change- but I have a dream.
I have a dream that though civil progress has been slow to this point, one day we as a human species will turn to the pages of our history books, and learn as much from their lessons as our scientists have from the science books penned by those who preceded them.
I have a dream our children will look back on the pages of our time in their own history books and look at us with genuine curiosity, wondering how we got so much so wrong- how we repeated so many of the same mistakes from the chapters that proceeded ours. How American soldiers could fight to save the Jewish people from oppression and ruthless prejudice during World War II in a time when their country was aching for equality itself.
I have a dream that one day people like Martin Luther King Junior will cast aside the very bible that condones the enslavement of his people, rather than praising its perfection while preaching against its message.
I have a dream that one day adults who believe religious fairy tales will be revered by the general public in the same way as those who believe in any other kind of fairy tales. With that I dream of the day when politicians hoping to win the popular vote on a flagship of religious faith rather than matters of policy will garner the same kind of reaction I would receive today if running under the platform that I have a close personal relationship with Goldilocks, and she has a plan for us.
I have a dream that one day people across the planet will be mature enough to realize that matters of language, proximity, and resource availability divide us enough naturally, that we don't need human-manufactured forces such as religion to contribute to that division without providing a single thing that a secular force couldn't provide with equal or greater efficacy.
I have a dream that one day all men, women, boys, and girls can express a mere disbelief in superstition without receiving mockery or cruelty from the general populous because of it. On that day I dream too that the superstitious, religious, and other wielders of illogical beliefs will receive more honest questions than ruthless mockery.
I have a dream that one day the money in my pockets will not make a painfully vague and demonstrable false declaration of belief on behalf of an entire nation that circulates it.
My dreams show the day that 10 arbitrary rules, only a few of which are congruent with actual laws, are NOT prominently displayed in a court of law. On that day if I am witnessed in that same court, I will not be required to swear on a holy book to pledge my oath of honesty. History has surely shown that swearing on that book has never served as an inhibitor of lies before, and in the future of my dreams, we will have acknowledged that.
I have a dream that hearing these hopes of mine will raise the same confused looks that Doctor King's speech would have evoked, had it been read in the year 2010 someday. Then my friends, on the day that my lofty dreams are common place events, the real progress can begin.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Robert Reich notices a First Amendment problem.

   It's a short article, so definitely go read it! Skipping from one paragraph to another really seems to sum up the problem we have with our country at the moment (emphasis mine).
...The Supreme Court’s rulings that money is speech and corporations are people have now opened the floodgates to unlimited (and often secret) political contributions from millionaires and billionaires...


Yet when Occupiers seek to make their voices heard — in one of the few ways average people can still be heard — they’re told their First Amendment rights are limited.
Yeah, I'm sure this is exactly how the Founding Fathers intended it to be! 8-)

This is one KICK ASS old lady!!!

Title says it all except that I want to be like her when I grow up!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Respect my Polish roots, yo!!!

(via Crommunist)

Apparently, Poland has an anti-clerical party, the Palikot Movement. Part of this movement is now Poland's first transsexual and gay MPs! According to the BBC report, the party "campaigned for the legalisation of abortion, gay marriage and marijuana." Kudos to Poland for this progressive push to the left.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sorry? - 2nd Addendum

   Here is another video, this time with PZ Myers, discussing how atheists should be happier being free from religion. Previous installments can be found here and here.

The Problem of Common Sense - Another Preview to IDHEF

   I've been reading further into IDHEF and have been noticing they are asking the readers a number of questions, primarily "What would you do?" questions. I assume the point is to appeal to the reader's common sense. By definition, there is a huge problem with common sense. The Free Dictionary defines it as follows:
Sound judgment not based on specialized knowledge; native good judgment.
Using common sense is fine when people are dealing with things that don't require specialized knowledge, but, all too often, people try to apply common sense to things that are beyond, well, "common" knowledge.

   I have observed this quite regularly recently with conservative politics in regards to economic policy. When it comes to debt control, for example, there have been many politicians comparing government budget management to the way people manage their personal budgets. The idea is that people have developed a "common sense" toward budget management and this can be applied to the government. The problem, though, is that government has different goals and serves a different purpose than an individual, not to mention that it operates on a much larger economic scale (macroeconomics for the government vs. microeconomics for an individual). UPDATE: I have learned that this flawed thinking is known as a false analogy. Yet, it would seem that the flaw is a result of using simple "common sense" thinking.

   Another favorite case of mine is the Monty Hall problem. Just watch the video for starters.

   As the guy said, most people, including myself, initially think it is 50/50. And, if you read the comments, you will likely find people who still think it is 50/50 after the solution is explained. The confusion comes from people appealing to their "common sense." If a person entered the problem with just the choice of two doors, it would be 50/50. Common sense recognizes this, but fails to recognize that the initial choice in a door and the revealing of a goat adds information to the puzzle. Ultimately, common sense ends up being wrong.

   Getting back to IDHEF, I have been seeing, as previously stated, questions where the goal seems to be to get the reader to use their common sense. I think common sense ends up being wrong in many of these instances. I won't go into any particular examples here, but I want readers of the book to be wary of this and to think questions through thoroughly. It also wouldn't hurt to apply this in real life as well.

   UPDATE: Another example I have seen a bit of involves this question:
A bat and a ball together cost $1.10. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
Apparently a lot of people will answer $0.10. What they seem to do is just subtract that $1 from the total. But if the ball costs $1.10, then the bat has to cost $1.10, bringing the total to $1.20. Yet, the total was given as $1.10. A little extra thought has to be put into this to figure out that the ball actually costs $0.05 (and thus the bat costs $1.05).

   The webpage I found that had that example also has a nice probability question that makes for a good example:
Now, think about tossing a coin six times. Which is more likely: heads-heads-heads-tails-tails-tails or tails-tails-heads-heads-tails-heads?

You might think that the second one seems more random, so it's more likely. That error would fall into what Kahneman and Tversky would call the representativeness heuristic or, more specifically, the misconception of chance -- in other words, we tend to go on our intuitive notions of what an unrigged coin toss should look like rather than actually calculating.

If you think about the probabilities of each, you'll realize the two combinations are equally likely.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's confirmed - I'm not a Libertarian

   Unfortunately, but to little surprise, there are Libertarians involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and particularly the Occupy Iowa City movement. I was there two weeks ago, and picked up some propaganda.
Have the Republicans and Democrats let you down? You're not alone. Find out if you're a Libertarian.
Following this, they have a quiz with Libertarian positions to which the quiz taker is to respond whether they agree (20 points), disagree (0 points), or are a maybe (10 points). (Apparently, there is even a Wikipedia page for this thing!) The first five are social issues and the second five are economic issues. Following these is a matrix on which the quiz taker can use (see image on right) to determine if they are liberal, statist (in favor of big government), conservative, libertarian, or someone who fits in the centrist middle.

   Below I will post the positions with my answers in curly brackets {}.
How do you stand on PERSONAL issues?
  • Government should not censor speech, press, media or Internet.
    {Agree, for the most part. I'd say hate speech is an exception in certain situations. There may be other exceptions I cannot think of in the time being, too. But give me 20 points.}
  • Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft.
    {Yep. 20 points.}
  • There should be no laws regarding sex between consenting adults.
    {Chalk me up another 20 points.}
  • Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs.
    {Well, based on the position as written, I suppose they can mark me up for 20 points. However, I am first not in favor of legalizing the selling of many drugs, though I doubt many Libertarians would disagree with this either. Second, I am also in favor of government keeping track of people who have had drug addiction problems and providing, and sometimes requiring, rehab programs for such people. Libertarians may not necessarily agree on this point.}
  • There should be no National ID card.
    {I'll have to put myself down as "Maybe" on this one. I think it is good to be able to easily identify people, but I do understand the concerns, though they push the boundaries of paranoia, of such a system being abused. 10 points.}
That brings me to a 90 on the social scale. This already prevents me from being a centrist, statist, or conservative based on the matrix. That means I can either be a liberal or libertarian at this point. Let's continue.
How do you stand on ECONOMIC issues?
  • End "corporate welfare." No government handouts to business.
    {I think I have to put myself down as a "maybe" for this one. 10 points. I think government should be supportive of businesses that manufacture products that are beneficial to the public, but are otherwise not economically viable. Products that make use of renewable energies like wind and solar is a good example.}
  • End government barriers to international free trade.
    {No, I think I'm going to have to disagree on this one. 0 points. No, free trade is a bad idea. Not to pay service to nationalism, but some other nations just don't treat their citizens very well (I know the USA doesn't always either). I just don't think it's right to trade freely with such nations. I know that is a difficult thing to do, because how is the government supposed to decide which countries haven't earned a right to free trade.}
  • Let people control their own retirement: privatize Social Security.
    {Hell. No. This pretty much defeats the whole concept of Social Security, which is to have a safety net for those who failed to save up for retirement. The idea is to take retirement out of the hands of people. And more so to help out the poor. I'm fine with this system. 0 points.}
  • Replace government welfare with private charity.
    {NO!!! Gosh, Libertarians frustrate the hell out of me on this issue. They want to spend their money how they see fit. And, of course, they donate lots of time and money to charity! Or so they say. Frankly, I often suspect what they do isn't much more than paying lip service. More importantly is what do you do about the people who don't give to charity? How do you make sure they contribute? I am afraid Libertarians probably aren't really worried about such a problem, because that's all part of an individual's freedom. But that's not how a society functions, which is by the individuals making sacrifices, as necessary, to their personal betterment in favor of the betterment of the society. (I often get the feeling, in cases like this, that Libertarians tend to be fairly privileged individuals who are not worried about being on the disadvantaged side of society.) Anyway, 0 points.}
  • Cut taxes and government spending by 50% or more.
    {I'll mark this as "Maybe" only because I wouldn't mind seeing some cuts in spending, especially military spending. Otherwise, as there are areas where I would not cut spending as per some of my answers above, I can't see any possibility for tax cuts, especially when there is a huge deficit to pay off. 10 points.}
Well, I only scored 20 points on the economic issues. I needed 50 or more to be a libertarian. So, turns out I'm a liberal. Who knew!?!

Friday, November 11, 2011

How to Justify Crime - Joe Paterno

   In discussion with friends, there was the question of what goes through the mind of someone like Joe Paterno. Based on what I've learned from reading "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts" I think I have some ideas on how this works. And it's actually quite simple. It's a matter of taking it one step at a time until you find yourself beyond a "point of no return."

   It could possibly have started out with Paterno convincing himself that "Sandusky is a good man. He wouldn't do that!" Later, Paterno would find out that Sandusky would indeed do that. Then the justification would be along the lines of "Sandusky is still a good man! He's just a little troubled, but there is no reason to taint or even ruin his reputaion and career by bringing the police into this. If we just support him, he will get over this." There will be little to no consideration of the victims in this justification. The cognitive focus will be on the abuser. After all, that is who Paterno knows; he is not emotionally attached to the children being harmed. As horrible as it sounds, this makes them easier to dismiss from the equation.

   At some point, Paterno may have realized that Sandusky is not going to just "get over this." But by this point, he is too committed to change course; he is beyond the point of no return*. He knows that if he goes to the cops now that they will be wondering why he didn't act sooner. When word reaches the media, they will be asking the same questions. See, Paterno has already acheived the roll of accomplice. He knows this. He is no longer just protecting Sandusky; he is also protecting himself, and he likewise turns his rationalizing on himself as well. Now it's "I'm a good guy, but they will treat me as though I am not!" The desire to protect one's own image, unfortunately, all too often is greater than the desire to protect others, in this case, the children that Sandusky was abusing.

   And Joe Paterno has had a very positive image to protect, as should be evident by the way people have been supporting Paterno. This is also why I am disgusted with their reactions. They are demonstrating the same cognitive processes - protecting the public image of a person - that leads to such cover ups.

* The idea of the "point of no return" is that if the person who has been justifying bad behavior stops doing so after this point, their personal reputation will be damaged. They can never be entirely guilt free from their actions. Whereas, if they had stopped justifying early on, they could have been forgiven and no damage would have been done. However, many people wrongly decide to avoid damaging their own reputations by continuing to justify bad behavior instead of fessing up. The reason this is the wrong decision is that, if and when the bad behavior is discovered by outsiders, the damage to one's reputation becomes much worse. In the third paragraph, I talked about how Paterno had reached the point of no return. If he would have reported Sandusky at this point (and it's hard to know exactly where that point is - it's mostly an arbitrary point), his reputation would have been slightly damaged. However, as a result of people finding out about Sandusky through other means, Paterno's reputation is now quite damaged.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Shame of Penn State - Students and Coaches Alike!

   It is bad enough that administration personel and coaching staff at Penn State have been covering up child rape, but what may be worse is the reaction of students and other supporters of Joe Paterno.

   First it was rallying outside Paterno's house in support of Paterno, but now it has turned into rioting in reaction to Paterno being fired. Such behavior is simply indefensible.

   I have also seen support on Facebook, with some people making comments along the lines of "he wasn't the guy who did it." Sure. He wasn't. But, according to the grand jury report, Paterno knew about the allogations and did very little about it. This makes him an accomplice. Supporting Paterno at this point is equivalent to supporting accomplice to rape. That is pretty sickening.

   The one argument I have heard that I can partially accept is that Paterno be given a chance to defend himself. Others have been calling this "Duke II." That's a disastrous situation* to compare this to, but one implication seems to be a concern that a decision was made too quickly. (The other implication is that Paterno has been falsely accused; this seems quite unlikely and I cannot support such a defense.) Even with such arguments, I feel the Board of Trustees would have at least had to suspend Paterno.

   But, in spite of those more valid defenses of Paterno, I cannot help but suspect if this was pretty much any other coach, few would have objected to such quick action. I cannot help but get the feeling that there is special pleading taking place here. And it sickens me. It sickens me for at least two reasons:
  1. This gives special protection to people with privelege and weakens the chance that the victims, when they belong to a less priveleged group, will get their justice or if they'll even report their case.
  2. The support of Paterno sends the message that a significant portion of the populace finds #1 to be acceptable.

   So, Penn State protestors and Joe Paterno supporters, consider yourselves a disgrace to the human race. Whether you realize it or not - and I suspect many of you don't - you have effectively made yourselves part of the problem of covering up for rape.

   As for the Board of Trustees, h/t. Thank you for treating Joe Paterno equally as you would have any other coach. Equal treatment for all is the way society should operate.

* I am disturbed about people bringing up the Duke rape allogations because one of the disturbing parts of that situation was how the accuser was treated. It was one of those cases where she "couldn't have been raped" because she was (1) a striper (and thus probably a "slut") and was (2) allegedly either drunk or drugged up or both. It's the problem where rape is not considered rape by many people because they think the victim "had it coming." And while the accuser in this case was making false accusations, this discrediting of potential victims based on looks and behavior - as opposed to examining the evidence of the case - makes it harder for actual rape victims to speak out honestly, if at all, about their assults. This effectively promotes the rape culture in America.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Deepak Chopra busts out the measuring stick!

(via Atheist Media Blog)

   On Nov. 2, Deepak Chopra was Bill O'Reilly's guest. They spend a bunch of time bashing Richard Dawkins. There are certainly some interesting parts, which I will comment on below the fold.

Happy birthday Carl Sagan! You will be remembered!

   I have been informed that today is Carl Sagan's birthday and that Nov 12 is apparently "International Carl Sagan Day." Well, celebrating his birthday is sufficient for me. Watching some educational videos seems like the appropriate way to celebrate.

   And, what the heck, let's throw in some comedy for good measure!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Radical!!! - Part 5: The Overton Window

This is part of a 5-part series. Following are the links to the other parts. Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4

   In the first part of this series, I talked about some issues that have changed over time, including allowing women the right to vote, civil rights for blacks, and even acceptance of birth control. One I did not mention that is very important to this discussion is gay rights, particularly the right to marry. All of these issues relate to the concept of the Overton Window. This is a political theory, conceived by Joseph Overton, that deals with the range of politically acceptable ideas in regards to the possible ideas.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Another Logical Fallacy: Argument from Authority

   In researching for my last post, I came across an argument from authority in the comments for the video I linked. The fallacy is actually quite simple, but yet very common. The argument generally breaks down like this:
  1. Person x is really smart.
  2. Person x says that y is true.
  3. Therefore, y is true.
   It is important to note that this sort of argument is not always a fallacy. The places where it is not a fallacy tend to be where multiple people are cited on topics for which those people are experts. For example, when I say that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is real, it is pretty safe to say that global warming is indeed real. (It is still true, though, that those scientists could be wrong, so staying skeptical is of course acceptable.) But whenever you see someone cite one or even just a few specific people, be alert for the argument from authority, espcially if the topic is not in the field of expertise of the authority figure(s) or if the authority figure(s) holds a minority position amongst peers.

   Anyway, here is a portion of the YouTube comment in question:
Dr. Collins is a brilliant man who mapped out the human genome consisting of 3.1 billion letters in DNA code creating an instruction manual for the make up of the human being. I'd listen to what he has to say.
So, the first premise should be fairly obvious; the commenter is setting up Dr. Collins' credentials. The second premise is already known from the context of the video, which is related to Dr. Collins' belief in Christianity. Now, the conclusion here is not quite matching with the argument from authority, but it is still close in that it is still suggesting the audience strongly consider Collins ideas because he is smart. And, sure, I'll listen to what he has to say, but if he makes fallacious arguments, I'll point them out.

   Additionally, these arguments seem to be an attempt to get the audience to not think for themselves (or question the authority figure). Sometimes I see arguements like the one above, but the person will add, "Do you think you are smarter than <authority figure>?" It should raise the obvious response question, "What do you do when two people smarter than you have conflicting opinions? Then how do you decide who is correct?" The same can even be applied with Francis Collins. There are other smart people (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, and Lawrance Krauss just to name a few) who are atheists and reject Christianity's claims. So how do we decide who is right?

Think for yourself.

   On an additional note, I am not counting this as a preview of IDHEF. I do not recall this argument being brought up much, if at all, in what I have read thus far. I just thought this is a fallacy people should be aware of in general usage.

UPDATE: Actually, upon further reading of IDHEF, this argument has come up a few times. I'll often reference to this post when it comes up in my review.

Another Logical Fallacy: Special Pleading (IDHEF Preview)

   One important fallacy I missed in my original post is special pleading. Most often, special pleading involves holding a double standard, where different standards are being applied to similar situations. This should be an easy concept to grasp, but sometimes the differences in standards are difficult to recognize as the person guilty of special pleading may also provide an explanation of why they feel the situation is actually deserving of a double standard. In which case it becomes a matter of whether or not the audience accepts the explanation. At other times, the standard may not be known by the observer, in which case it will be hard to recognize the pleading.

   I recently watched Bill Maher's "Religulous" and one of the people interviewed was Francis Collins. Francis Collins is a scientist — and is said to be a really good scientist at that — but he is also religious. He provides a few examples of special pleading in just a few minutes in this video. (The copyright holder has disabled embedding, so you have to go to YouTube directly.)

   The first case of special pleading can be seen around 35 seconds in. There Collins says "They were close to [eyewitnesses]" after Maher called Collins out on his original claim that they were eyewitnesses. This is special pleading in that Collins wants to be able to call the authors of the gospels "eyewitnesses" even though such people who are writing from second-hand information would most likely never be called eyewitnesses in any other circumstance. (Not that eyewitness testimony is even reliable, but that is a separate issue.)

   The second case of special pleading is shortly thereafter around 48 seconds. Here, Collins is pleading that he should not be expected to follow a rigorous standard for evidence in the case of his religious beliefs. This is one of those that may be less obvious. First, this is one of those cases where the audience my not be familiar with the scientific standard for evidence. Then, Collins twists things to make it appear that it is Maher who is pleading by saying (emphasis mine), "You are setting up a standard..." An ignorant audience will likely fall for Collins' twist. But there was a reason Maher brought up the idea of a lab experiment. As stated, Collins is a scientist. Collins thus follows a rigorous standard when it comes to his career work. Additionally, there is a concept in skepticism — and science applies skepticism to its methods — popularized by Carl Sagan, that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

   There will also be examples of this in IDHEF, (the shorthand for) the book I will be discussing in the near future of my blog. Those cases will be addressed as they come up.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Childish Tricks that Appear Responsible - Guilt Trip

   YouTube trolls can be so frustrating! (Which is why I try not to spend a lot of time on YouTube comment boards.) I got the "There are real/more important issues to worry about" tactic pulled on me today. This is more commonly used in the form of "There are starving children in Africa" tactic. It is such a frustrating one as it is difficult to respond to. The tactic makes the user appear to be the "better man" because they are (supposedly) more worried about the serious issue while the victim (me, in this case) is made to look petty. Googling this, I found a few sites that refer to this as the guilt trip fallacy.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of “guilt-tripping” someone. This is a fallacy. If you try to make someone feel guilty to get them to do, or not do, something, then you are committing this fallacy. Let’s say you are out to eat and someone with you doesn’t finish her food. If you say, “You know there are starving children in Africa so you should finish your food” you are trying to guilt-trip the person into eating the food. Guilt alone shouldn’t be responsible for making someone accept a claim or course of action.
   Mr. YouTube Troll was essentially trying to guilt trip me into no longer arguing with him (or maybe it was a her, so Ms. YouTube Troll - stupid English language needs more gender-neutral terms), and thus they "win" the argument due to me abandoning said argument...which I eventually did since I realized I was dealing with a troll (and nobody ever wins an argument with a troll). The signs of a troll were obvious from the comments he/she had left when I entered the board, so I don't know why I didn't avoid confrontation from the start. I must remember the golden rule...

   Back to the fallacy, though, anyone have suggestions for dealing with this one? I don't think I handled it well. I basically asked who defines "real," which I think is a legitimate question, but fails to expose the troll's insincerity. In hindsight, I was thinking a better response might have been, "You're right! So why are you arguing about it?" possibly adding, "Why don't you go away and let us petty people bicker about this?" That would at least turn it on the head of the troll. Of course there is the option of not feeding the troll any further. Unfortunately, as pointed out above, that seems to be the goal of the troll, so that plays right into their hand.

Your suggestions?

Cases in Projection - Sometimes those ringing the alarm bells are the cause for alarm.

Psychological projection or projection bias is a psychological defense mechanism where a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people.

   I have encountered people online as well as one coworker who call themselves "Constitutionalists." One of my major issues with them is that they often seem to cherry-pick through the Constitution and/or interpret it in whatever way they see fit. (I.e, "The First Amendment only applies to Christians, but not Muslims.") However, the thing that bothers me the most is that (and this one is inspired by my coworker) they will say things along the lines "You have to know your rights before they are taken away!" The other thing worth noting is that these people have a tendency to support conservative (Republican) policies. Therefore, they are probably worried about liberals coming for their guns!!!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Quiz Time!!! - My answers

   Below the fold are my answers to The Ultimate Christmas Quiz! Please don't view until you have answered the quiz (or if you do not wish to partake).

Quiz Time!!! - Christmas

(via Skeptic Money)

   It's Christmas time again! That means time for The Ultimate Christmas Quiz! If you'd like to participate, please do so honestly - no Wikipedia, no bibles, no cheating off my answers, etc, and leave your answers in the comments section below. Quiz below the fold with my answers here:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Radical!!! - Part 4: System Justification Theory

This is looking to become a 5-part series. Links will be added as the posts become available. Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 5

   Last Thursday, I learned from a blog about System Justification Theory (SJT for short). In part 1 of this series, before I had even heard of SJT, I suggested that many people are content with the status quo.
EDIT: By the way, I recommend checking out the entire series on this (currently 6 parts - don't know if there will be more); unfortunately, the author is not linking to the new posts from the original, so it'll take some work finding them.
Let's face it, most people will show content with the status quo. The status quo brings with it predictability. When things stay the same, you know tomorrow (that's a metaphor for the future, not the literal tomorrow) will be pretty much the same as today. You know how to prepare for tomorrow, because you've already done so numerous times already. Change, however, can be challenging. When you don't know what tomorrow will bring, how do you prepare for tomorrow?
SJT agrees with this premise. According to Wikipedia:
System justification theory (SJT) is a scientific theory within social psychology that proposes people have a motivation to defend and bolster the status quo, that is, to see it as good, legitimate, and desirable.

   Essentially the theory states that people have three interests for which they desire to hold favorable views: self, group, and system. More importantly, and more relevant to this topic, the theory addresses how people behave when their favorable views are threatened. (A threat is basically anything that suggests that the person's favorable view is incorrect.) According to the theory, people reach for stereotypes to help keep their views favorable. Additionally, people in the privileged group are likely to believe negative stereotypes of the underprivileged groups while the underprivileged groups are likely to believe positive stereotypes of the privileged group.

   In regards to OWS and more specifically to the differences between rich and poor, the rich will tend to believe stereotypes like "The poor are poor because they are lazy" while the poor will tend to believe stereotypes like "Rich people earned their money because they are smart and/or hard workers." Note that the poor won't necessarily buy into the stereotype that they are lazy. This is because they still desire to have a favorable view of themselves. So they instead buy into a positive stereotype about rich people. Or, interestingly, they will throw their group under the bus. (My guess is that out of the three views, the "group" view is actually the least important.) This can be seen on the "We are the 53%" tumblr, where people, many of whom are probably part of the 47% (in reference to those who did not pay federal income taxes in recent years) at some point of their lives, are posting messages suggesting that the Occupiers should STFU (shut the fuck up). They seem to be doing two things: 1. Playing on the stereotype of poor people being lazy by stating that they are hard workers and 2. Implying that they do not consider themselves poor (some say they make "good money"). Or, maybe they consider themselves part of the responsible poor, so they are actually dividing the group, throwing who they consider to be the rotten apples of the bunch under the bus, so they can keep their overall favorable view of the group? (As this theory is relatively new to me, I still have kinks in my understanding to work out.)

   This idea of throwing the group under the bus is important to understanding part 3 of this series. There, I backed up criticism of a woman with a "Not..." sign. This woman is in some bizarre state where she is distancing herself from the groups advocating for change, yet is out advocating for change. A possible explanation can be found in some of the discussion about this woman on various blogs. There is the suggestion that as soon as this woman and likewise the middle class get what they want, they'll abandon the movement and leave the hippies, freaks, the poor, etc. to fight for themselves. Unfortunately, with how this woman has distanced herself from those groups, that is probably a correct assumption.

   In regards to part 1 (and even part 2) of the series, the theory explains the misuse of the word "radical." Those who use the word in a demeaning way are going to be those who don't want change and this is their way to exclude those advocating for change from the group.

   In light of this, I got one thing slightly wrong in part 1. There I suggested that in addition to avoiding change, people might use the word in a demeaning way to make themselves feel superior. I treated these ways to use the word as though they could be independent of each other. In other words, one person may use the word in a demeaning way to justify the system and to avoid getting involved in advocating for change, but not necessarily to make themselves feel superior. Or, they could use the word to feel superior, without really caring if things change or not. But, based on my understanding of SJT, they are actually independent. People will most likely use the word in a demeaning way to both discourage change and make themselves feel superior (or rather to split the group).

   As discouraging as it is to be outcast from the group, if you are pushing for change, stay strong. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the motivations behind the name-calling. Realize that you are actually the courageous and/or altruistic one, while they are either the timid ones too afraid to rock the boat (when coming from the underprivileged group) or they are selfish (when coming from the privileged group).

Monday, October 31, 2011

Radical!!! - Part 3: OWS and more on shooting yourself in the foot.

This is looking to become a 5-part series. Links will be added as the posts become available. Part 1  Part 2  Part 4  Part 5

   When I first started drafting thoughts for this series in my mind back in September, I was thinking of it primarily in terms of atheism, though the ideas can be applied generally. Now we have the Occupy Wall Street movement and this series gained a greater importance. In part 1, I alluded to this movement in my supplementary material. Of particular interest is the picture of the woman below:

   While this woman is supporting the OWS movement, her sign is problematic. Most people probably don't see the problem (commentary reacting to the original blog post linked above support this idea). Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds does a good job breaking down each point of the sign. I suggest you go read that piece, but I'll go ahead and summarize here: The woman is addressing groups that have been negatively stereotyped by those who do not want to succeed, so she is distancing herself from those groups when she should be embracing them, effectively empowering the stereotypes of those trying to destroy the movement. Just for an example, take Zvan's point of being a hippie:
It is the hippies who have kept the spirit of protest alive over these last few decades as everyone else has been calling participatory democracy “un-American.” Without the hippies, no one would have much idea how to put these protests together.

   Some of those defending the woman have pointed out that she could be making factual statements. Sure. But does she need to announce this to the world? I don't consider myself a hippie, for example. I have discussed before that I think they abuse the appeal to nature fallacy, thinking that anything natural is automatically better than anything engineered (food and medicine, particularly), but I am a fan and support that "spirit of protest," even if I might happen to disagree with what they are protesting. When it comes to OWS, I do not disagree with the hippies, so why should I distance myself from them on this issue? I shouldn't, and in fact I am with the hippies! After all, protests work better the more people you have.
If you don’t understand that part of a protest is the threat of numbers, perhaps you should be listening to the old-timers more. Without a mob, these protests would have no power.

   Long point short, don't be the woman in the picture if you support change. This includes supporting the groups that advocate for change, even if you don't agree with them on every issue. This is what I was upset about in my first post about the new girlfriend of a friend. When she was saying things like "I'm an independent." or "There are extremists on both sides" she was being that woman in the picture. Good luck advocating for change after you've isolated yourself from all the groups that are. Or, as I suggested in part 1, maybe that's the point? I'll cover this more in part 4.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Radical!!! - Part 2: Radical Atheism

This is looking to become a 5-part series. Links will be added as the posts become available. Part 1  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

   In part 1, I discussed how radicals automatically get a bad name, whether or not they deserve it. In another recent post, I discussed how atheism cannot be a religion. I am here now to combine these two ideas.

   The first point that needs to be made is that there is a second definition of the word "radical" that I did not cover before. That definition is "Arising from or going to a root or source; basic." Since atheism is simply a lack of belief in a god or gods and there are no governing codes, this definition cannot be applied to the word "atheism". Nor can the other definition I used in Part 1 be applied. How does one favor fundamental changes in something that is merely a lack of belief?

   Therefore, the term "radical atheist" does not make sense in terms of atheism. I have thus been telling people that a radical atheist cannot exist. However, I must correct myself. I should be pointing out that a radical atheist does not exist in the way that they imply - that the person is radical in their atheism. On the other hand, atheist is a term that describes a person, and so can the word radical. You then can have a person who is both a radical and lacks a belief in gods. You could call this person a "radical atheist."

   If the problem doesn't make sense yet, I'll try to explain it another way. Essentially, the issue is that a term used to describe a type of person following the word "radical" does not have to be entirely dependent, making it near impossible to distinguish when it is fully dependent and when it is not. For example, you can have people who are radical about their Christianity since it does have a root, practices, etc. In this case, Christianity would be fully dependent on the word "radical." (Or do I have that backward? Is the word "radical" fully dependent on Christianity? Hopefully you get the point, though.) You can also have a person who is radical about something because of their Christian influences, but not necessarily radical when it comes to Christianity; this is a big deal in politics today (though many of those people also want to see the moderation of Christianity stopped and reversed, thus they are radical about multiple things). In this case, the words are not fully independent nor fully dependent. But both of these people could be called "radical Christians". The term is ambiguous.

   It is that ambiguity that is my issue. People really need to clarify what they mean, and using short descriptions often fails to do that. If a person is a political radical influenced by their Christianity, then say that. Don't just say they are a "radical Christian." If you think I am a political radical influenced by my lack of belief in gods (my atheism), then say that. I'll mostly agree to that one. (The only objection I would raise is that there are other influences as well, so to try to pin my radical influences to one specific thing is incorrect.) It's when you get lazy and just say, "You're a radical atheist" that I get upset, because I don't know what the fuck you mean. Are you using the terms fully dependent on each other? (Which is not correct, as noted above.) Are you using them to be partially dependent? Then what is the rest of the dependency? I don't know how to respond to that! Other than, "That's a piss poor term to use." And this post is my long way of saying just that.

Corrections - "You're Interpreting It Wrong!"

   This is actually more of an "Well, that's interesting" post than a correction, but in a recent post, I said:
[T]he Bible does say something about he who is without sin may cast the first stone along with everyone is a sinner, resulting in no one being able to cast stones.
Turns out that is likely a later addition to the Bible.
[The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]
It's not a correction, really, since I said it's in the Bible. There is some significance, though, as this more positive verse in the Bible that I used to demonstrate that the Bible does have verses against bigotry looks to have been added later. Therefore, if you are a fundamentalist, it stands to reason that you can ignore this part since it isn't part of the foundation. (But please, by all means, follow it anyway!)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sorry? - Addendum

   This video just came out yesterday. In it, Matt Dillahunty pretty much hits the same topic as my post titled "Sorry?" Not much to add other than read that post and watch the video.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What is an "athiest"? - Redux!

I have made an update to this post since I originally released it Saturday. I have changed the release date so that it appears nearer the top of my blog.

   While I think my original post on this topic was adequate for discussion, I have decided I should perhaps change it up a bit in a way my software friends can understand. Also, I want to add some other examples of why the atheist/agnostic distinction frustrates me below the line break.

   It's probably been a few months ago now, but one of my coworkers told me that he's not religious, but he's not an atheist either. Guess what he is? He's an agnostic!

   In hindsight, I should have pressed him on the "but I'm not an atheist" remark by asking, "Oh, so you believe in a god or gods?" To which I suspect the answer would have been, "No." To that I could have then asked, "But you're not an atheist?" If the answer is "Yes," then I'd go back to my first question. (See the second part for a further explanation for this.)

   In the original post, I briefly discussed the meaning of the "a-" prefix. There I pointed out that it generally means "without." So, if a theist is a person who has a belief in a god or gods, then an atheist is a person without such a belief. Another way to view the prefix, though, that is easier in software terms is to think of it as meaning "not". Therefore, an atheist is "not a theist". Pretty simple - it's a Boolean!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Preview to IDHEF - Logical Fallacies

   Soon I'll be starting to break down the arguments from the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist," which I'll be abbreviating IDHEF for short. As with the rest of the blog, my remarks will be informal. And, yes, I'm bound to go on occasional rants when something really irks me...which is bound to happen a lot with this book. I'm also intending this more for those who have either read the book or who have a copy and can follow along, though I will likely quote anything I comment on directly.

   I've really only gone through half the book, but I want to bring attention to some of the most common fallacies I have found in the book, so that you can familiarize yourself with them beforehand.

Radical!!! (a.k.a. Extremist!!!) - Part 1

This is looking to become a 5-part series. Links will be added as the posts become available. Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

   This is a post that pains me a bit to write. Being insulted can be disappointing as it is, but when that insult is out of ignorance, it adds another level of disappointment. It has to do with being called a radical. It is typically meant as an insult, but the most disappointing part is that people don't seem to fully understand what the word means.

   So, let's first start by learning the definition of the word. In typical usage, the word "radical" means "One who advocates fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions."