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."

Not a religion!

   This should have been an easy post, but when misconceptions run amuck, lengthy rebuttals tend to seem necessary...

   Today's topic is on the canard that atheism is a religion. The seemingly easy way to nip this in the butt is to point out that atheism has no tenents by which to obey. Just look at the definition of religion:
  1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
  2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects
Somebody please tell me how atheism fits that definition. Atheism is a rejection of religious claims; it doesn't make any claims of it's own. Therefore, there are no sets of beliefs or any governing moral codes and it does not fit the definition of a religion. This should have been the end of this post...


There are now two addenda to this post here and here. Be sure to check these out as well.

   Every now and then, when a Christian finds out that I'm an atheist, I get a response that starts out with "I'm sorry..." followed by some aspect of my life that they think is missing (or with some aspect of their life that they think they have because of their belief, implying that it is missing for me).

   Imagine that you are not a hippie and don't smoke pot and you encounter a hippie who finds out that you don't. He says to you that he's sorry you have not experienced the zen (or whatever a hippie might say) that comes with smoking pot. What might you think about that? Here is what I might think:
  1. I have other means by which to find "zen."
  2. I am actually thankful that I don't have to resort to use of paraphernalia to find "zen."
  3. I am actually sorry for the hippie that he thinks he has to resort to pot to find his "zen."

   My response to the Christian is very similar.
  1. I have other means by which to find purpose, meaning, joy, morality, or whatever it is that the Christian thinks I'm missing.
  2. I am actually thankful that I don't have to resort to believing in a mass delusion* to find those things.
  3. I am actually sorry for the Christian that they think they need their mass delusion to find those things.
  4. On an extra point, I am also sorry that the Christian either bought into or was indoctrinated into the mass delusion (and more so for those who were indoctrinated, because they had less of a choice).
   So, Mr./Ms. Christian, go ahead and be sorry for me all you want. Realize, though, that doing so just makes you look more deluded from my perspective.

* While I'd hate to be a part of any mass delusion, I'm really thankful to not be part of one that has a history of torturing non-believers (the Inquisition), burning witches, suppressing women, abusing children, enslaving people, and discriminating against homosexuals, and being anti-science...and has a holy book that more-or-less supports all of these behaviors.

   Additionally, I want to appologize to the hippies out there for using them in such an example. I actually have a lot of respect for hippies. I'm generally all for "sticking it to the man" as long as the man it stuck to him? That gets to be my bigger problem with hippies - they go a bit overboard at times. They abuse the appeal to nature fallacy, for example. But, as far as the pot smoking goes, as long as no one else is getting harmed from it, the can knock themselves out. Mass delusions, on the other hand, have such a potential for harm, that I cannot not speak out against them.

Apologies - Browser challenges

   I just want to make a blanket apology. I sometimes notice that posts don't always turn out formated the way I think they should. Here's the problem - I'll start a post on one browser and finish it on another. Basically, I have IE at work and Firefox at home. Apparently the different browsers are handling my edits differently. So, if my formatting looks good initially, I may screw it up if I continue editing with a different browser. I notices this with the &nbsp; edit. I was forgetting the semi-colon at the end. I think it was Firefox that was correcting this mistake, but not IE. The result was that half of my post looked fine and the other half had the typo revealed. Another issue seems to be that IE removes break points that do not use a <br \> tag in certain situations. (It seems to be wherever there is a tag following a break point; if normal text follows the break, the break is preserved.) Firefox, however, preserves all break points. Now, it seems that the final version turns out to be much the same on either browser, so that is the good news. In short, I think it will be best if I just do all my final editing in Firefox, when possible, since it has been the more convenient browser.

   Anyone with blogging experience have advice? Oh, and always feel free to point out when something doesn't seem to look right.

You're interpreting it wrong!

Alternative title: "The problem with liberal Christians"

   One of the common defenses for the Bible is that one is "interpreting it wrong." This is usually used in defense of the amoral teachings of the Bible, like how to mark your slave as belonging to you. (Another defense for slavery is that it was the "culture of the time"...because God, you know, can't tell people that their culture is wrong, so he has to instead make the best of a bad situation.) Sometimes the defenses seem mostly legit. There are those who point out that the Bible does not allow one to harass homosexuals. OK, the 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. But, it does make clear that a man sleeping with another man (doesn't seem to say anything about women on this) is a sin. So, things like denying homosexuals the right to marry and reparative therapy are fine. (Also for reparative therapy, such a program is just trying to help people out of their sin, so it's really hard to condemn such a practice without also condemning Alcoholic least from the Christian perspective.) Others are complete hog wash. The Bible says that women shall submit to their husbands, but Michelle Bachmann claimed in a debate that submit somehow actually means respect. Not buying it, Michelle.

   But, there is actually a much bigger problem with these believers interpreting the Bible. They all interpret it as the "word of God."

   There has been an analogy, apparently first used by Sam Harris, that has been going along the blogosphere as of late. It is that of the talking hair dryer. Basically the analogy goes as such (emphasis mine):
Let's say that you meet a person who says to you, "Every morning, I hear messages for me coming out of my hair dryer. They tell me to picket the funerals of AIDS victims and to demand that it be made illegal for gay people to buy health insurance."

Now let's say a second person cuts in with, "That's not true! Every morning, I hear messages from my hair dryer, and they tell me to donate money to the poor and volunteer at my local soup kitchen! That first guy has just misinterpreted the message of the Holy Hair Dryer."

Is the second viewpoint an improvement over the first? Sure. Would I rather live in a world with people who profess the second viewpoint rather than the first? Of course. But at the same time, isn't it obvious that there's still a problem with it?

   The problem, of course, is that they both think their hair dryer is talking to them! Argue about misinterpreting all you want. It misses the larger problem.
...[A]ttacking only faith's worst manifestations, while giving faith itself a pass from criticism, would be like treating a sick person's symptoms without curing the underlying disease. As long as people are using the presumed will of imaginary supernatural beings as the basis for their decisions, there will be those who use this method to justify doing evil...

Friday, October 21, 2011

OK, let's stop dancing around the issue!

   Presidential Republican primary candidate Herman Cain was on Piers Morgan and the topic of homosexuality came up. Much of the discussion in the below video focused around the idea of whether or not homosexuality is a choice.

   While I do like how Piers Morgan tried to make Cain look foolish for believing (or at least claiming that he believes) that homosexuality is a choice, I don't think that is where the discussion should be focused. (Also, I wish someone would inform Cain on recorded TV that the science does show that homosexuality is not a that we can see him decide to not change his opinion anyway. See the video below the line break for some of the science.) I think people should grant him the idea that it is a choice (because, again, he'll likely deny the science anyway) and then pound on him for his "biblical beliefs" pointing out that this is a secular nation and that we have a First Amendment that essentially says that while Cain has the right to disagree with that choice, he does not have the right to enforce his disagreement (by which I mean banning gay marriage) as a point of law.

   The whole "Is it a choice?" debate is just a smoke screen/decoy from the real issue. The real issue, as should be obvious, is that homosexuality is a violation of his religious indoctrination. (Likewise, I'm not interested in debates about whether or not those denominations are interpreting the Bible correctly. I don't care! The only fact that matters is that they are being taught those interpretations.) Frankly, these people know that discriminating against a group for religious reasons is not legal. So they come up with excuses like "It's unnatural," "It's a choice," "Homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters," etc. to give the impression that they have a secular argument against it, though, in reality, they do not. (That last one has fallen out of favor as it has become too obvious that it's a fabrication.) For example, if you get them to admit that it is not a choice, they'll likely come up with some new justification. Much like the mythical beast Hydra, when you cut off one head, it just finds a way to grow another back. So, you need to attack it at its immortal head (or, rather, it's base/root). In this case, go after the religious roots. (And ask him for the evidence that his religious beliefs were handed down by God...or whatever he believes.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On the difference between ignorance as a matter of fact versus as an insult.

    I have a few posts coming up where I will be talking about ignorance. I have made this point in the past, but I want to reiterate it here that there is a difference between stating that someone is ignorant as a matter of fact versus stating that they are ignorant in a way that is meant to be insulting.

    Being ignorant, by definition, really just means lacking knowledge. And that's generally fine as people are not expected to know everything. However, when someone says, "You are ignorant!" it is usually meant as an insult on intelligence. Where I see this insult most used is against someone who suggests that they are knowledgeable on a subject, but then reveal that they are not (or may be misinformed). I try my best to call these people willfully ignorant. These people not only should be knowledgeable on the subject of which they speak, but often exhibit a lack of desire to become knowledgeable. Or, for those who are misinformed, show no desire to correct this after being informed that they are misinformed.

    So, if I say, "You are ignorant!" I do not mean it as an insult. If you are ignorant, you basically have two courses of actions which you can take to avoid insult: Either go learn and educate yourself, or do not comment further on the topic. If you fail to take either of these paths, you then risk heading toward willful ignorance, which I will gladly insult people for doing.

On that, I would like to note that there is a gray-area between basic ignorance and willful ignorance. I.e., when does ignorance become willful? More specifically, how many times does one have to be informed that they are misinformed before their ignorance becomes willful? Once? Twice? Thrice?!? Another gray-area is in areas where there is a common misconception. In other words, misinformation is frequently spread on the subject. How much is the misinformed person at fault for accepting the misinformation? The more at fault they are, the closer to being willfully ignorant, in my opinion, they are.

Clear as mud?

On a side note, it has occurred to me that there is irony in this post. I find myself writing about ignorance people have over the meaning of the word "ignorance"!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

WWJTD - "Four Questions Atheists Won’t Address!"

   JT Eberhard over at What Would JT Do? has been given four "questions" -- interestingly, though, a question mark (?) is nowhere to be found -- that atheists supposedly won't address:
1. If rationality and goodness is instilled in people based on evolution, then why do people go against the very survival-striving instincts we have and behave the opposite (both as individuals and regarding humanity as a whole). I’ve yet to meet anyone who has successfully lived up to THEIR OWN standard of goodness.

2. If truth is a concept that was achieved by naturalistic processes such as evolution, then truth must not be actually true but only functional. When it becomes more beneficial to believe a false idea for survival, then that idea MUST win out over what is truly true, or naturalism is false. If this is true, rationality is not reasoning to find truth but rather to survive, and truth will cease to exist when humans cease to exist.

3. Atheists and religious nut-cases read the Bible with extremely similar hermeneutics.. please explain. (ex: applying Israelite law code that to a non-Jew/Gentile follower of Jesus while totally disregarding Christ’s exposition of Old Testament law. OR taking a parable of Jesus way out of context to say we should kill people who disagree with us. Most atheists I’ve experienced handle the Bible in a more pick-and-choose way than almost any Christian I know who has studied his/her Bible.. and I agree that most claimed Christian don’t study their Bible. It seems disingenuous to tell people to not pick and choose from their religious text, but then to read the Bible in such a way that ignores any explanations to difficult texts, and they are difficult).

4. What to you is your understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ as understood by the Christian faith (you recently said eternal punishment was good news.. which again reveals an extremely fundamental misunderstanding of basic Christian thought). If you only mock this question, as usual, it reveals you really simply don’t understand it.

   Well, I'll go ahead and take these "questions" on! Actually, I made some quick answers already in the comments section, but I want to expand/clarify what I said there.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    Dawkins vs. O'Reilly

       Richard Dawkins is out promoting his new book, "The Magic of Reality," and, for some reason, he was doing so on the O'Reilly Factor. (I'm not sure who he thinks, out of those viewers, is actually going to buy the book.) I have only seen the clips of the interview that are in the TYT video below, but what is there is pretty good. Cenk makes some great points, but there are things I want to add below the fold.

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    There is a difference...

        There is a difference between teaching what someone said and teaching that someone was correct in what they said. Newt Gingrich doesn't seem to know this difference (or he might just not care). Watch the video, then read my further comments.

        The first example Newt gives is that the Declaration of Independence says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." He then asks if children should learn what the founding fathers meant. And my answer to that is "Of course!" But does that mean teaching them that the founding fathers were correct in that statement? No! And, actually, the founding fathers were wrong with that statement. Rights are not unalienable; this should be quite clear with the fact that the U.S. Constitution has a Bill of Rights. Why would you need a bill of rights if rights are unalienable?

        The second example Newt gives is perhaps even more absurd then the first. Again, it's a case of failing to distinguish teaching that person X had religious beliefs, which is acceptable to teach, versus person X was correct in their religious beliefs, which is not acceptable to teach.

        And then the clown show came to town. The questioner originally pointed out that Newt had said he was against the State impossing religion. But what does Newt do? He demonstrates that he wants State impossing religion. Well, he wants children to be able to "approach God in any way [they] want to." For those who are unfamiliar with this, this is how many politicians attempt to weasel out of claims that they are impossing a religion, because they are not specifying which one. Even though when they say "god" they really mean "God" (as in the Christian diety), they can then say that they were actually using that former blanket term. Though, implying that children should even be "approaching" any god should be enough. What if you don't believe in their imaginary friend?

        Continuing the clown show, Newt states that there is "an enormous difference between a culture which believes it is purly secular and a culture that believes it is somehow empowered by our creator." He has a point. There is an enormous difference between the likes of Norway or Japan (cultures that are nearly "purly" secular) and Pakistahn, Iran, Saudia Arabia (cultures that they are empowered by their creator)! Oh, was I not supposed to point that out???

        Otherwise, Cenk says just about everything else needed to be said on this.