Sunday, January 29, 2012

Buzzwords of Ignorance: Constitution

Credit goes to Don Baker and his "Buzzwords of Ignorance" series on The Atheist Experience for the inspiration of this post title. The idea of "Buzzwords of Ignorance" is to address words that are used primarily to evoke an emotional response as opposed to making a rational argument due to the ignorance of the audience being addressed, essentially making the word meaningless. Needless to say, this post has no connection to Mr. Baker's series.

   There are essentially three cases where I see the word "constitution" (and its derivatives) used out of ignorance:
  1. Policy X is unconstitutional.
  2. Policy X goes against the Founding Fathers' original intent of the Constitution.
  3. Politician X will restore the Constitution.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Atheist, accept my evidence! Sincerely, a Christian

   In my last post, I discussed how theists were both discussing frustrations with atheists for asking for evidence and, yet, were also asking us to investigate. Well, what does it mean to investigate? A significant part of that process is to search for evidence! So it appears that there is a contradiction here: on one hand, we are being told to stop asking for evidence and on the other we are being told to look for evidence. Except it is not. That is because the other part for when we were being told to stop asking for evidence is we were being told to accept their subjective experiences. That is the key for why there is no contradiction.

   My suspicion is that many theists don't think atheist are sincere when we ask for evidence because we reject the evidence they do give us. If we then modify those statements to read "It frustrates us theists when you atheists keep asking for evidence and then reject the evidence we give you," and "You atheists need to sincerely investigate," we remove the contradiction. The theist, apparently dumbfounded by how the atheist could possibly reject evidence that they find so obviously points to their god, concludes that the atheist rejects their evidence because the atheist is closed-minded.

   The error that the theist makes, though, is that we are not rejecting this evidence straight out of hand. If we were, that would be closed-minded. Instead, we do take a look at it and often find it quite inadequate. In fact, we are sometimes baffled at how theists think their evidence is so great. Here are just some examples of what I mean (some of these address religion more in general):

    Friday, January 13, 2012

    Why be Skeptical???

       Once upon a time, I wrote a post on methodological skepticism, gave some (OK, maybe only one) practical examples of where someone might use skepticism. I did not, however, really go into why someone would want to be skeptical. This post is being inspired, once again, by that lengthy Facebook tread in which a theist said something like, "Don't just be skeptical." This theist was talking about the colloquial term of the word (recall, meaning "an attitude of doubt") as they also said that we atheists need to investigate. As methodological skepticism contains an investigative element to it, the theist could not be talking about this form of skepticism. There was also the reoccurring theme on the tread discussing how theists get frustrated with atheists for asking for evidence and that atheists should essentially just trust the subjective feelings of the religious. In my last post, I discussed that we know such feelings are unreliable because of the inconsistent beliefs in gods that they create. In this post, my goal is to continue to demonstrate why following one's feelings are generally a bad idea as well as show how theists ask others for evidence.

       The easiest way, perhaps, to achieve my goals is to use the example of a used car salesman. I suspect most everyone knows when buying a used vehicle, you are not to simply trust the salesman if he tells you that the vehicle you are interested in is in fine working order. Instead, you have to at least take the vehicle on a test drive. It is also suggested that you kick the tires and check under the hood. These are even phrases that are often used to mean "to test something out" in regards to products other than cars. (In fact, I used "check under the hood" in regards to religions in my first response to that Facebook thread, which is what led me to consider this example.) I am not trying to advertise for their business—they just happen to have a useful, catchy slogan—but there is a company that suggests you have the dealer "show [you] the CARFAX!" The point of this is people are greatly encouraged to be skeptical (this is methodological skepticism, mind you) when it comes to purchasing used cars. Likely, there was a time when used car salesman gained a reputation of conning gullible customers into buying vehicles they didn't want (because the vehicle would turn out to have major defects) and likewise paying a lot more than the vehicle was worth. Sometime after that, skeptics must have come to the rescue, suggesting people look for evidence—inspect—that the vehicle is worth the asking price. And this is why being skeptical is important—it helps prevent a person from suckering for the tactics of con artists.

       So, I think people generally do understand why being skeptical is important and display skepticism in their lives. Part of the problem, as I have already discussed, is that they may not realize the terminology of what they are doing is "skepticism." Another problem, I suspect, comes into play when the shoe is on the other foot. When a person is a consumer, they understand the value of skepticism, but when they are the seller? Then skepticism becomes their enemy. Skepticism in their customer can never work in the seller's advantage, and can actually work against them. (Note that if the seller is being honest, then skepticism should have little to no net effect.) It is this problem for the seller that we see when it comes to theists discouraging atheists from being skeptical. The theists are the seller and the atheists are the consumer/customer. Yes, even though the theist may not have a financial gain in mind, they still have something to gain from converting people to Christianity. Remember that post on cognitive dissonance? I did not mention it there, but the first study done on cognitive dissonance was on a religious cult. To reduce dissonance, they proselytized! Go figure why theists don't want atheists to be skeptical!

       If I am wrong about this, theists, I present you a challenge: the next time you go buy a used car (or any product of significant cost), do not be skeptical! Do not take the vehicle on a test drive. Do not kick the tires, check under the hood, ask for the CARFAX, etc. If you get the feeling that the vehicle is a good vehicle and get the feeling that the salesman is an honest person, trust your feelings! If you can do this, then I am willing to believe that you actually find no virtue in skepticism and are not just discouraging me from using skepticism out of frustration that I am not buying your product.

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Ask God: Why This Is a Bad Idea and Why We Ask for Evidence

       As with my last post, this post is inspired by a large thread on Facebook about discussions between atheists and theists. This time, though, I want to take time to address an idea proposed by the theist I had mentioned I spent much of my time responding to as well as similar ideas presented throughout the thread. For this post and the sake of argument, I will be making three assumptions:
    1. A god, and one god only, exists.
    2. This god interacts with people through some method similar to telepathy.
    3. This god does not mislead/deceive people when it interacts with them.

       The idea proposed by the theist is that atheists should just seek out or ask this god to reveal itself (as opposed, I assume, to atheists asking the theists to present evidence for the god they claim exists). This may sound like a good idea, but once you look at the world as a whole, the idea is problematic. Basically, the problem comes down to this: there are many people (perhaps billions) who claim to speak to God, but they often still disagree on things. As God is not deceptive (part of my assumptions), they should all be in agreement if they are truly speaking to God. Before we can consider asking God, we need to determine why there is so much disagreement.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    On cognitive dissonance and how it ruins conversations

       Last night I stumbled upon a long, 64 or 65-comment thread on Facebook, which started with asking a question along the lines of "Why is it so hard to have a discussion about religion?" My answer essentially comes down to cognitive dissonance.
    Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously. In a state of dissonance, people may feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment.

       It occurred to me this morning that I spent a lot of time responding to a comment left by a theist than I did explaining cognitive dissonance. It also occurred to me that this would be great for a blog post. I also want to discuss another tread I encountered back in late November/early December where dissonance was on display, only related to politics instead.

       Continuing... As the Wikipedia article points out, dissonance is a discomfort. One important point that I did not notice in that article is that the more one is invested in their belief, the more dissonance any contradicting information will create. Now let's throw in a second important factor with religious belief—people often obtain their base religious beliefs when they are children. This already makes religious believers quite invested by the time they are adults just due to the years of holding the belief alone. Then add in time spent in church activities. It should be obvious that the more time spent, the greater the investment, and hence the greater dissonance any dissenting views will create. This is why it is hard to have a discussion—having one causes discomfort for the believer.

       Next I want to take a look at the ways people deal with dissonance. In that long Facebook thread, I recall someone pointing out that discussions typically devolve into ad hominem attacks. Indeed! There is also a reason for this. In order to reduce dissonance, the person experiencing the dissonance needs to somehow manage the conflicting data. One way to do this is to discredit the new information that has produced the conflict by discrediting the source of that information. In other words, if the source of the information is not trustworthy, neither is the conflict-producing information they present! Once that information is discredited in their view, dissonance is reduced.

       In addition to ad hominem attacks, the person experiencing dissonance may also stroke their own ego (I briefly explain why this is important in the next paragraph), though, it is worth noting, that this can also be done through the ad hominem attacks. That is where the conversation I encountered around late November plays in. Here was a conversation where one person was supporting torture and the other person's response was something along the lines of "Are you trolling?!?" The person in support of torture came back with the excuse of "desperate times call for desperate measures," which is actually a dissonance reducing statement in itself (again, see the next paragraph for more on this). The other part was an ad hominem attack, which, as I recall, involved calling the person against torture a "pussy" and implying that they were un-American by suggesting they should leave the country. This is also a way for him to stroke his own ego. By presenting his opponent as an un-American pussy, he conversely presents himself as a strong patriot.

       The above is explained in the book "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)" which I highly recommend, primarily in Chapter 7: "Ricardo Orizio interviewed...other dictators, including Idi Amin, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, Mira Markovic (the "Red Witch," [Slobodan] Milosevic's wife), and Jean-Bédeal Bokassa of the Central African Republic (known to his people as the Ogre of Berengo). Every one of them claimed that everything they did — torturing or murdering their opponents, blocking free elections, starving their citizens, looting their nation's wealth, launching genocidal wars — was done for the good of their country." The book also talks about "the ticking-time bomb" and how those who are capable of exhibiting the most dissonance think highly of themselves. Why is this? Those with low self-esteem are more likely to admit they are wrong because that fits their personal view of themselves.

       That is cognitive dissonance in a nutshell. Thoughts?

    UPDATE 1: There are two things I want to add to this. First, an ad hominem attack may not automatically be a sign that someone is dealing with dissonance, though I have noticed that it does seem to be quite a good indicator. Second, sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between an ad hominem and a straightforward personal insult. An example I've seen to demonstrate this involves person A calling person B a dumbass. Is A doing this to dismiss B's argument or is B's argument so pathetic that only a dumbass could think it was a good argument? The former is an ad hominem while the later is not. Now, if A is not making an ad hominem, they should follow up by pointing out the flaws in B's argument. Without this, I find it would be best to give B the benefit of a doubt (in other words, that A is making an ad hominem attack).
       (I have also personally experienced frustration having to tell some theists the same thing multiple times and then see them still fail to grasp what should be fairly simple concepts...or just seeing them fail to grasp concept after concept is frustrating itself, never mind the need to repeat! It can be tough to not start insulting their intelligence. I have certainly failed in restraining myself now and then, and I know other atheists struggle with this same problem. So, do we sometimes make personal attacks? Yes. Ad hominem attacks? Not so much.)

    Live Blogging the New Hampshire Primary.

       It's primary night in New Hampshire, and I thought it may be time to make some general comments on what has been happening. I have been watching MSNBC's coverage, and just want to chip in on some of the things they have been discussing as well as some of the candidate's speeches.
    • European Socialism - At one point, the question was asked why does Romney need to accuse Obama of being in favor of European socialism. Easy! It is to create an us-versus-them mentality. Though, it was interesting when Rachel Maddow pointed out that Romney avoided Vietnam by taking a missionary to France, proposing that he's trying to distance himself from that part of his past. Perhaps he is killing two birds with one stone? After all, this idea isn't Romney's; other Republicans have used this argument before.
    • Military - Romney said he would make sure the US military is one no one would think of challenging. OhhhhhhK. That's just nuts.
    • I like Romney running with the hypocrisy of some of his opponents. John Stewart covered this, too, and I plan to put it in a post of its own, so stay tuned for more here.
    • I started blogging late, so is there anything else I missed (from Romney's speech)?
    • Ron Paul is happy to be "dangerous!" Yes, Paul, you are a danger to our economy; for that I can never vote for you. But, he seems to think the Federal Reserve is the entire problem for the current state of the economy. Deregulation (a.k.a. letting banks do whatever the fuck they want) somehow has nothing to do with it, and likewise it's all the fault of regulations, because somehow it's regulations that have led to banks paying off politicians. Somehow, if there weren't regulations, banks wouldn't do this. Oh, and he thinks going to the gold standard is somehow a good idea.
    • At least Paul is for ending the current wars. That's the one primarily good thing he has going for him. Points for making fun of the USA by picking on Russia for invading Afghanistan.
    • Ron Paul claims the roll of government is to protect liberty. Except for States, of course. If they want to discriminate against homosexuals, prevent women from getting abortions, etc, that's cool by Paul. Just as long as the NATIONAL government doesn't get involved.
    • Otherwise, his whole idea of "freedom" just plays on people's naivety. I once met a libertarian from Des Moines, Iowa. Here in Cedar Rapids, we have speeding cameras. Apparently he travels for work a lot and was complaining about those, and traffic laws in general, because they slow him down too much. See, he wanted to get rid of laws (regulations) so that he could legally act irresponsibly. And I have a suspicion that's what is really behind libertarian "freedom": I want to do stupid shit without it being illegal! The problem I have here with libertarians is their lack of concern for others. What about my freedom to drive at a safe speed without having to worry about idiots on the road going too fast? This is, in short, the problem with "freedom": freedom occasionally clashes. What satisfies one person's freedom may violate the freedom of someone else. Libertarians fail to address this problem (I think they fail to realize it even exists).

    • Wife is interrupting the Huntsman speech, making blogging difficult!

    • Huntsman thinks the solution to Congress is term limits. Laughable. But at least he wants to prevent Congressmen to get top positions in banks, etc, after their term. First, any law to restrict Congress would be essentially impossible because you need Congress to pass these restrictions against themselves (unless there is some loophole I do not know about). Good luck with that! But, if you could, preventing them from getting such jobs would be helpful.

    • Like Paul, Huntsman has better military policies than the other Republican candidates.

    • When talking about the "old ways" of politicking, he failed to mention "kissing babies." No reason for him to have said that other than it would have been funny and it fits stereotypes.

    UPDATE 1: I forgot! It's not all the fault of regulations, in the minds of libertarians. There is the problem of government picking favorites! Which, to their credit, is something on which I can somewhat agree with them. The issue I have, though, is that the reason we are in this mess is because big business wanted the government to pick them as favorites (through lobbying and other ways); it's not like government just decided to do this entirely on its own. So, you can strip away the government, but you're only taking away a tool — albeit a very powerful tool — from the big businesses all the while failing to address the ethical problems with big business. And here is where things may come full circle, because I think some libertarians have it in their heads that the big businesses are unethical because of regulations.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    It's Tim motherfucking Minchin!!!

       In my last post, I complained about misogynist atheists discouraging me from going to the Reason Rally. Well, I had decided to go anyway, but then I saw this: "Tim Minchin Will Perform at the Reason Rally!" Does one require any other reason to go?

       If you've never heard of Minchin before, below is some of his work, including "Pope Song" which should give you an idea why I didn't censor this post title!

    Mother f&%$ing atheists!!!

       There are a lot of misogynists in the atheists community. They are so awful I had second thoughts about going to the Reason Rally in March (ad is on the right side of this blog).

       The first big incident in the past year occurred in June. The incident was dubbed "elevatorgate," though some people have been calling it "the incident that shall not be named" as of late. It was something that I didn't feel like talking about on this blog, not because it wasn't important to discuss, but because so many atheist blogs had covered it that I felt smothered by the topic as it was. In fact, I am still not going to really talk about it myself. I will instead quote bloggers who have.

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    Iowa Caucuses - That Didn't Go As Planned!!!

       There had been people, especially the Occupy Iowa Caucus group, suggesting the idea that Iowan Democrats could go to vote "Uncommitted," as reported by John Nichols and Cenk Uygur. Well, apparently Occupy Iowa Caucus needed to do better research, because that's not what happened. We didn't get a choice. Probably because there is only the one candidate: Barack Obama. In years where there is more than one candidate, then, yes, caucus goers can be "Uncommitted." It has been 16 years since there was a Democratic President seeking re-election, and apparently Ralph Nader was a candidate then. Yet...

       Yet, it is claimed in Wikipedia that there was a 2% for "Uncommitted/Other." If you look for Linn county in this table, you will see that all the delegates went to Obama whereas some other counties have "Other County Delegates". OK, I'm feeling a bit jipped. Did I have to explicitly state, "I'm not here to support Obama!!!"? If so, I wish I would have had better warning! (I'm looking at you, Occupy Iowa Caucus!)

       Oh...well. One thing I did decide to do is GET INVOLVED and volunteer to be a county delegate. I tell people who are frustrated with politics that they really need to do this someway some how. Sitting around bitching doesn't necessarily do anything unless you have a large audience of politically involved people that will hear you out. I don't have that. I do understand, though, why people do bitch instead of getting involved. First of all, I am only one person out of 200 for my county and I become less and less significant at higher levels (district, state, national). Any impact I can make is pretty miniscule, if I can make any impact at all. Second, this means being involved requires a bit of work for possibly no gain. Bitching, on the other hand, requires virtually no work for the same no gain.

       The one biggest complain I have about this whole process has to be the pressure to fall in line. Last night was an occasion where I could have some sympathy for people who call themselves "independent." I've made the argument before (see the side note) that if you agree with much of what a group stands for, then get involved and work to change those things for which you disagree! But, boy, the pressure to conform is certainly there, and I can see how not only people with less informed minds can crack under such pressure, but how people with better informed minds, such as mine, can get frustrated with it—it felt almost like being in a robot factory with people doing things (most notably cheering) on command. I must admit, though, my dislike for the President could likely be skewing those feelings and it is actually my disappointment with people who cheer the guy on that I am truly feeling.

       Other thoughts are that I am fed up with this idea that Iowa has to be "first in the nation." This created some confusion last night as this is a redistricting year, and redistricting takes effect January 8, five days after the caucuses. I'm not sure anything had to be done other than delegates just had to know what precinct they would be representing come the county convention. There didn't seem to be any major concern about, say, no delegates representing a precinct because no one from the old precincts selected as delegates live in the new one. (For example, I live in precinct CR-27 for about three more days. Most of the precinct will become CR-08, but CR-08 will also have parts from what I think is CR-28 and some parts of CR-27 will not be in CR-08. If all the delegates from CR-27 lived in the part that is not going to be CR-08 and no delegates from CR-28 live in the part that will be CR-08, then CR-08 would have no delegates. (Hope that example didn't just make things more confusing!)) In short, holding caucuses before redistricting takes effect does not seem wise.

       Still, I would much rather have everyone hold a primary on the same day. I realize that spreading the primaries out provides a process of elimination, but I think this can be easily solved with instant runoff voting.

       Lastly, there were some comments on YouTube political videos bitching about how "The election is rigged," or something to that effect. It may not have been all that many people saying that, but they were getting a lot of upvotes. My suspicion is that they were Ron Paul supporters, because they've been known to bring up conspiracy theories before, especially ones about how the establishment and the media hate Ron Paul and want to see him lose because—get this—they know how great of a president he will be. Otherwise, I just love how people have to grab for conspiracy theories when their candidates don't do as well as they had hoped. You lost; deal with it.

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    Sacrifice? What Sacrifice?

       I am working on the concept for a post involving how Christianity is supposedly about love. I have realized that I will have to talk about the supposed "sacrifice" of Jesus because, as I understand it, many Christians consider that to be some great act of love. I have also realized that such a discussion is probably worth a post of its own, it is!

       First, a disclaimer: For the sake of argument, I will be assuming that Christianity is basically true—there is a God, and Jesus actually existed on earth, and the Bible accurately quotes Jesus, etc, etc. And I will use language as such, but my personal views are, of course, that it Christianity is mostly made up stories, just like any other religion.