Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wake Me Up for The Truth

I got woken up today by my doorbell ringing. This is a rarity, so I jumped into some close and went upstairs: no one in sight. Then I noticed the piece of paper tucked into the door handle. I groaned and shut the door. It's an occasional thing that we'll get a service schedule from one of the fifteen churches within walking distance. When I went back out to retrieve it after sleeping some more, I saw that it was even better than a Come-To-Jesus-Meeting invite. It's a tract put out by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania for a book titled "What Does The Bible Really Teach?". Since I wasn't able to chat with the person who delivered this wonderful bit of morning tripe I'll have to make due with refuting it here. Why waste my time doing that?

Because it's easy.

The tract contains two front-and-back pages with "answers" to six of life's big questions that are posed underneath the heading, "Would you like to know THE TRUTH?". Each question contains a sentence or two about why the question arises, then a paragraph on what the bible teaches. I'm actually reading this for the first time as I'm writing, so let's break it down one apologia at a time.

Does God really care about us?
First off, the tract admits that the world is riddled with cruelty and injustice. It also states that many religions teach that suffering is God's will. This obviously isn't one of the Calvinist brands of Christianity...must be Jehovah's Witnesses. Under it's subheading for "What the Bible teaches" are the words "God never causes what is wicked", followed by verse references to Job 34:10, Matthew 6:9, and John 3:16.

But hang on...Isaiah 45:7, anyone? "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." ?!?!?!?! Even if you want to use your New World translations, you still are left with "I bring prosperity and create disaster", "I make harmonies and create discords", "[I am] creating calamity", "I send good times and bad times", "[I create] happiness and sorrow". I would have guessed that the only way to make sense of this was to hone in on one verse, then find others to match and conveniently ignore the ones that contradict that idea. Sermons are crafted by this approach.

Will War and Suffering Ever End?
More suffering. Again, the tract starts by using the Logos tool of argumentation that is concession. It agrees that, yeah, bad shit is happening. Let's see what God's Book says about it.

I have good news my friends! The answer is a roaring YES....but only when the world ends. The tract points to Revelation and Isaiah where promises of God establishing his kingdom on earth and ending suffering. So just hang in there, all you starving children, all you sick and dying. When Jesus brings the pork chops, God will make you forget.

What Happens to Us When We Die?
I was prepared to be sarcastic, expecting the usual drivel about Heaven, but here's what I found. I was so shocked I had to read it a few more times to make sure: "Most of the world's religions teach that something inside a person continues living after death. Some hold that the dead can harm the living or that God punishes the wicked by condemning them to eternal torment in a fiery hell. What the Bible teaches: At death, humans cease to exist."

I'm stunned. This is usually not something a Christian would admit -- but, are Jehovah's Witnesses "Christians"? It references Ecclesiastes 9:5 ("The dead ... are conscious of nothing at all") and says "Since the dead cannot know, feel, or experience anything, they cannot harm--or help--the living; Psalm 146:3,4". Yeah, that's about right. I didn't think I'd be saying that anything in this tract would be correct, but it seems they're right about this point...although their source is shady.

Is There Any Hope for the Dead?
"Most people who have died will be resurrected." Oh. So that's the tricky way you're gonna sneak it in? And here I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, you were onto something. Shoulda known better. Read John, Luke, Job, and Acts to see where they get their "credible information" on this.

How Can I Pray and Be Heard by God?
The tract tells you to listen to Jesus' words on not praying by repeating set formulas, but that "if we want God to listen to our prayers, we must pray in the way that he approves". To do that, we have to learn God's will and then pray accordingly. So basically, if you want me to drive you to the store, don't ask me unless I was already planning on going there. Only then would you actually have a shot at going. Gee, thanks God.

How Can I Find Happiness in Life?
Like all good Christians, the people passing out this tract target those who are unhappy in life. After all, there's no better need for religion than suffering, depression, or general sadness. And like most Christians, this tract offers the same old story: don't hold to worldly possessions like money, fame, or beauty, but seek spiritual (whatever that means) happiness. So don't worry about being able to feed yourself, or try to make a better life for your family; you should be focused on the spiritual realm.

This tract then offers a form to order the book, or to enroll in a program in which a Jehovah's Witness "friendly neighbor" will come to your house and teach you the Bible each week. Maybe I should...they have a lot of shit wrong with their flier.

Well, I guess that's all for now. It was simple to discredit this, and I somewhat enjoyed the exercise since I haven't done much writing since my gall-bladder episode (which, by the way, should be ripped from my body sometime next month).

-STA

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I Help Edit A Book!

Yep, a friend of mine on YouTube named Todd Allen Gates asked me to help edit his 2008 edition of "Dialogue with a Christian Proselytizer".

The book takes a different approach to talking with fundamentalists. Based on the Socratic method, Todd crafts a series of arguments that ultimately force the theist to question themselves. It's sort of a long approach, but getting a believer to become internally conflicted is much more fruitful then just attacking them "from the outside", so to speak. Anyway, it's a great read for anyone who is skeptical, questioning, seeking, or doubting (and I'm in the credits!).

Buy a copy today!

Here's Todd talking about the book.


-STA

Monday, September 29, 2008

STA meets Roy Zimmerman

So Roy Zimmerman came to my state last night during his 48-State tour. He's "a big-ol-lefty" with songs about the religious right, Republican politics, and the addled shortcomings of George W. Bush. I went up and met him after the show, cheesing and drooling and stumbling over myself like a teenybopper meeting one of the Jonas Brothers.



Roy played for a benefit for the new Voice of Reason Radio. The show was a blast and Roy's a real nice guy. Pick up one of his CD's and check to see when he'll be in your state here!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Gallbladder is Diseased

It appears that I will be undergoing surgery to remove my diseased gallbladder. I've inherited the malady from my mother, and she from hers. My mother and grandmother have both had the procedure done and both are fine and fully functional. I'm not worried and I trust our advances in modern medicine. (Here's a [graphic] video of the relatively simple and common procedure.) Having a camera shoved into my bellybutton doesn't sound too appealing, but you do what you gotta do.

I'll be blogging again once I recover.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Failings of Pascal's Wager: Atheist's Wager

So far now I've show how Pascal's Wager uses fundamentally flawed logic and ignorant deductions to coerce you into accepting a religion and/or deity. But now let's turn that around.

The Atheist's Wager is a variant of Pascal's Wager in which you divide the gods who reward faith from the gods who reward works. Upon doing this, we find that it is better to not believe and do good works, for maximum benefit.

An All-Loving Pyromaniac
If you discount the possibility of a God who sends good people to hell for bad reasons, we are left with a completely different payoff table. Now, regardless of your belief about a benevolent God, the results still favor a "good life". Pascal's Wager relies on the judgments of an evil God who sends good people to hell for not believing in him/her/them/it. But there's an infinite number of such possible gods, and picking the right one out of infinity is the long-shot of all long-shots. Even if a faith-rewarding God existed, believing in an incorrect faith-rewarding God might anger such a deity more than not believing in any gods with good reasons (ie, evidence).

And for me, it all comes down to evidence. I don't believe in something without a good reason to do so, and telling me that I'll be tortured forever isn't going to work. It's important to understand how humanity knows the things it does, and how we go about uncovering the truth about all things (and I'll give you a hint in case you don't know: it do not involve uncredited stories of wandering desert tribesmen from the Bronze Age).

Epic Fail
Pascal's Wager fails on every single level. It's logically flawed and ignorantly applied, but it's so common (to any religion) and it is even used by otherwise intelligent individuals. You just have to take a moment to look at it to see its glaring holes.


-STA

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Failings of Pascal's Wager: Fooling God

Continuing on with more hurdles this ridiculous argument can't swing its dangling fallacy over, today's counter-apologetic depends strongly upon how you answer the "What religion should I pick?" question: Can you fool God?

Pascal's Wager states that it's better to believe (in whatever god you're arguing it for) so that that particular God will bestow his/her/their/its particular blessings/rewards upon you in the afterlife and avoid the punishments. But those rewards and punishments depend greatly upon which religion and deity the argument is advocating.

God Is Not Mocked
Blaise Pascal used the argument as a proponent for Catholicism, and here in the Bible Belt we small-towners will most likely hear it used to sway us toward Christianity. So now we have a deity to plug into the argument and weigh the outcome of believing or not. But before we can do that, we must first determine some characteristics of this God.

It's been said that there are as many versions of God as there are believers, and this is apparent to anyone who has had a discussion with a theist. Christians are no exception. Therefore -- depending upon the convictions of the one using the Wager, of course -- if we consider the majority of fundamentalist Christians who think that their Creator is all-knowing, is it really possible to "just believe" in a God who possesses such a superpower? Such Christians will probably tell you that "God knows what's in your heart", and surly a "true believer" doesn't believe just because they're afraid of hellfire. So how then -- even if you could force yourself to believe -- can you expect to make it to the Judeo-Islamo-Christian God's heaven? Would He really accept that kind of faith?

Won't Get Fooled Again
Of course, I'm not going to do your theologising for you...I don't believe in any version of any of this in the first place. Forcing others to act as if they believe is a form of social control, and any being who uses it isn't worth my time. I'm just using the hypothetical to point out yet another hole in Pascal's argument; an argument that so many Christians are still fond of using to this day.

Keep mind mind that the counter-arguments for the Wager aren't necessarily "atheist" arguments; any religion can use these. It all depends on which religion the argument is proposing you subscribe to. I'll cover more in the next installment.


-STA

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Failings of Pascal's Wager: Nothing to Lose

We're continuing to enumerate the holes in the infamous Pascal's Wager argument for the belief in a god or gods. We've already looked at how Pascal's Wager assumes you can just make yourself believe in order to be right, and we've talked about how it overlooks the fact that it can count as an argument for any religion or claim that one could make. Remember, the Wager basically is: If God does not exist, then you neither gain nor lose anything from belief or disbelief (in the end you just die and that's that). However, if you choose to believe in my God/religion and you are right, then the reward is eternal Heaven. But if you choose not to believe and are wrong, your payoff is eternal suffering in Hell.

The bottom line essentially is that you've got nothing to lose! You're better off taking the bet that my God is real. But are you, really?

Won't Cost You A Thing!
In the case where God does not exist, there really is a clear advantage to not believing. In other words, the payoff is not zero as Pascal would have you think. After you say, "okay now I believe," what would it really cost you to believe or join a religion?
  • a lifetime spent obeying the rituals and practices
  • money and time given to furthering the dogmatic doctrines thereof
  • having to deal with the trials, persecutions, and lifestyles associated with being a member (this means separation or altering connections with family members present and future)
  • the corruption or otherwise altering of your mind, and hindering your education to "fit in line" with the practices and beliefs of your religion
...the list goes on and on. In any case, it most certainly does not "cost nothing" to "just believe".

I base all my beliefs on evidence and reason. I tend to believe in as little as possible, only accepting things based on sound evidence. If there's no reason to believe then I'm not going to just "accept" it, and I'm not going to let other people decided what I believe.

Still more Wager fallacies to come.


-STA

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Failings of Pascal's Wager: Which Belief?

There are many counter-arguments that show the fallacies of Pascal's Wager, and we continue on with one of the most glaring holes in the argument: which religion should I pick?

So Many Choices
If you accept the Wager for the existence of God, the question is then becomes what "God" should you accept? Remember, Blaise Pascal used the argument to justify his Catholic religion (and argue that others should be Catholics too). Does that mean that only the Catholic religion is the "right" one? If the premise is "why not believe", then why not believe in Zeus, or the religion of Islam? If its better to believe so that you won't suffer the ill effects of not believing, consider this:

What if right now there's a squadron of fire-breathing dragons flying at warp-speed straight toward us, bent on destroying the earth. They'll spare the earth only if enough people believe that they can recite the alphabet backwards while humming "Clementine". Is it not better then, to believe in the dragons (and their talents) in order to be spared the destruction of the earth? We have everything to lose if we don't believe!

If You Choose Not To Decide...
This argument is often phrased as: "What if you're wrong?" Since many Fundamentalists Christians believe that Catholics are going to go to Hell, Pascal's not much better off than an unbeliever. We don't know which religion -- if any -- is "correct", so it seems that the best wager would be to choose the religion with the worst punishment for non-belief and the best reward for belief.

I choose "none".

More problems with the Wager coming soon!


-STA

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Failings of Pascal's Wager: Just Believe

I recently watched the debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Dan Dennett. Dinesh played just about every theist card in the deck. He even used Pascal's Wager, a tactic that has so many flaws, I've decided to write a series about it.

Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century philosopher and mathematician, made contributions to the construction of mechanical calculators, the study of fluids, helped create the studies of projective geometry and probability theory, and strongly influenced the development of modern economics and social science. His namesake is also shared by a programming language.

Then he had a "mystical experience" and he abandoned his scientific work and devoted himself to philosophy and theology. It was during this time that he formulated "the Wager". Based on a probabilistic argument, it goes something like this:

God might or might not exist. It is a gamble whether you believe in him or not. If God does not exist, then you neither gain nor lose anything from belief or disbelief. In either case, you just die and that's the end. However, if you choose to believe in God, and you are right, then the reward is infinite — eternal bliss in heaven. On the other hand, if you choose not to believe in God, and you're right, you gain nothing. But if you are wrong, your payoff is negative infinity — eternal suffering in hell.

A lot of Pascal's contemporaries were happy with this wager -- which Pascal himself used to defend his Catholicism. However, there are numerous flaws with the argument, the first of which I will address here and now.

Read the wager again and pay attention to this predication: "if you choose to believe..."

Can you choose to believe something? I don't think so. The way I see it, we believe something whenever we are convinced of it. I for one can't "just start believing" in Santa Claus. Can you? Can you honestly believe in such a thing, truly and completely? Of course not! You can't make yourself believe anything that you haven't been convinced of - belief isn't subject to the will. Therefore simply "choosing to believe in God" is an impossibility, and the wager can't work.

I know this seems a simple counter-argument, but you'll see in this series that a lot of the flaws in Pascal's Wager are simple to point out.


-STA

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Hypocritical Atheist?

I was recently asked the absurd question: isn't it hypocritical to enjoy supernatural things if you're an atheist? Of course not! People can like anything, regardless of their position on religious ideas. It's even possible to enjoy religious ideas! Believing in them and liking them aren't the same thing.

Walk Like an Egyptian
Here's a list of things I enjoy, despite my attitudes toward theism:
  • I cover the song "Last Kiss"
  • I love Collective Soul
  • the Sistine Chapel is breathtaking, even in photographs
  • Christian radio programs make me laugh
  • I dabble in close-up magic
  • I play Magic: The Gathering
  • I say "oh my god", "oh god", "god damn it", and sometimes even "bless you"
  • Signs scared the shit out of me
  • some of my favorite people are theists
  • I read fantasy stories (including the Bible)
  • I regularly watch TV series like The X-Files, Reaper, and Supernatural
  • Amazing Grace, if done well, can move me to tears

I do all kinds of things that might seem hypocritical -- I practice science...WTF am I doing playing "Magic"?! It's only hypocritical if I believe that "magic" is real. Religious art, music, and customs can be appreciated at face value without the need for their belief. I don't have to think the Devil is real to enjoy a bad-ass rendering of him. We can sing "Santa Claus is coming to town" without actually believing it!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fallacy Friday: Argument From Authority

It's been a while since we had a Fallacy Friday, so let's start this Friday off with the argument from authority, or as they say in the Latin: argumentum ad verecundiam.


Respec Mah Authoritah!
Often times when arguing about something that can't be answered by observation or calculation, one might feel the need to appeal to an authority. This authority may or may not even be an expert in the field of that of the argument. A good example of this is when people quote Einstein's opinions about politics as though he were a political philosopher rather than a physicist.

At least in some forms of debate, quoting various sources to support one's position is not just acceptable but often mandatory. But one should only rely on authorities whose expertise relates to the question at hand, especially with regard to questions of fact. Saying, "Albert Einstein believed in God....are you saying that Einstein was wrong?" is committing a fallacy. It doesn't matter what Einstein said about God, politics, or anything else. He's a expert in the realm of physics.


Lemme Do It...I'm The Expert
It's necessary to distinguish between an authority and an expert. If a famous astronomer says that the universe is expanding, then it is very likely that the universe really is expanding. If a qualified doctor says that a patient is suffering from Parkinson's disease, that's most likely the case. In these examples, the astronomer and the doctor are experts in a field, and are addressing topics within their area of expertise. As experts, they have studied their respective fields, are familiar with the state of the art, have studied how to recognize certain events, features or conditions, know how to recognize many problems that might lead a layman astray and how to work around them, and so forth. When we take an expert's word for something, we are saying in effect that if we had the time to learn as much about the field as the expert has, we would be able to examine the evidence and reach the same conclusion.

On the other hand, if the Pope says, ex cathedra, that contraception is a sin, then that's true as well. In this case, the Pope is an authority in matters of sin: it is his job to determine what is and isn't a sin in the Catholic church. In a very real sense, contraception is a sin not because it is intrinsically bad, or even because it contradicts the Bible in some way, or even that "sin" is a real concept, but merely because the Pope has declared it to be so.


Well, You Know What They Say...
In science, there are experts but no authorities. Again, saying that a qualified physicist thinks the universe is expanding is fine, but saying that the President thinks that stem-cell research is of the devil is not. It's only a fallacy if it relies on an unqualified source for information about facts without other qualified sources of verification, or if it implies that some policy must be right simply because so-and-so thought so.



-STA

Monday, June 30, 2008

Not 50/50

Professor Richard Dawkins had a chapter in his recent book The God Delusion that was devoted to the probability of God. The idea is still very much ingrained in the minds of theists (committed or not) that the probability that a god exists is exactly proportionate to the probability that a god does not exist. Many people think it's 50/50. You can't prove nor disprove the existence of god, so that gives him a 50/50 shot at being real, right?


Know When To Walk Away...
Wrong. Those who think so don't truly understand the laws governing probability. Suppose you are in your car driving toward an intersection. The choice is: do you stop at the sign? Well, you either will or will not get hit by an oncoming car, so your chances are 50/50, right? Again, wrong. I hope this simple analogy illustrates the point that just by having two choices doesn't automatically place said choices on equal footing. This should be obvious to anyone -- but if you still don't think so, I hope I won't meet you out on the highway.

In his chapter on the God Hypothesis, Professor Dawkins looks at a "spectrum of probability", with seven benchmarks ranging from "I KNOW there is a god" to "I KNOW there is no god". Both such claims require evidence to be taken seriously. Dawkins then goes on throughout the book showing the so-called "evidence" for God's existence is nothing short of infinitesimal. In short, there is more evidence in favor of no god than in favor for it.


Because We're Here...
But Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Janists, Zoroastrians, or any other God-believing school of thought would say otherwise. It is in the area of scientific inquiry that the claims of evidence for the existence of deities must be tried and tested. So far, those tests have shown absolutly nothing supernatural or God-like. Perhaps one day we'll find a nugget of evidence that can't be explained any possible way other than appeals to God, but such a day would also morn the loss of science itself. For simply concluding "god did it" is not an answer. There will always be questions. How did "god" do it, exactly? With what? And what IS this god anyway? To throw your hands up and say "god" is to embrace ignorance and bemoan true understanding.


-STA

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Forest for the Trees

I was recently accused by a New-Ager for "not seeing the forest for the trees"; he claimed I was too concerned with the physical, observable, material universe to see his god. Poor thing. If only there were some way to make sure he was right without having to wait on my own divine revelation...

I hope I've already made it absolutely clear on this blog why we can't just trust people's word of personal revelation. It's frightening how many people think that science is an enemy of mankind and if we just trusted our gut feelings we'd be better off. As Carl Sagan best said, "I try not to think with my gut. If I'm serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble."

If we are to entertain the ideas that a transcendent, eternal, spiritual something-or-other exists (though not in any honest sense of the word) and has feelings, thoughts, and desires for us, it's best that we try to determine the validity of those ideas within the current framework of understanding that we possess -- a framework that has made our more longer and more enjoyable. If that's paying too much attention to the bark and ignoring the beauty of the forest, so be it. At least we'll be able to tell if the trees can talk, or at the very least be able to tell what kind of tree it is, where in the world it might be, and how best to get out of the wilderness.


-STA

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

John McCain Flunked History

McCain thinks America was founded on Christianity, that his Christan faith is the best one, and that "In God We Trust" was put on our money by the Founding Fathers.

What a total fucktard.




-STA

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

But I Got PERSONAL Experience

Nine times out of ten -- after all their arguments are laid bear, torn apart, and scattered on the ground, soaking in the tears of the theist who produced them -- a believer will resort to one of two (or perhaps both) arguments left to defend his beliefs: "I just have faith!" which we've covered here before; or "I have personal experience".

Very Superstitious
The uselessness of that argument should be clear to see because anyone can say anything about anything. We can't just take someone for their word. And calm down; I'm NOT saying you're lying. I think you really believe what you're saying. The issue is that people can be fooled.

It's no surprise that a lot of magicians are atheists. Guys like Penn and Teller or Jamie Ian Swiss or Steve Shaw understand how easy it is to fool our senses; to make people think that experienced something that can't happen. Magicians have intimate knowledge about the tricks and nuances of human perception, and the better ones know how exactly to work them.

So why is it that whenever you see a magic trick and you exclaim "Wow...how did you do that?", you are never satisfied with the answer "It's magic"? Don't won't you accept that as an answer? Probably because you know that magic isn't real...you understand that there must be some explanation for it. Saying "it's just magic" is equivalent to saying "invisible card-changing pixies did it", or "supernatural forces altered your perception of reality", or "God did it".


It's Always Personal If You're A Person
Not only can you not always trust your senses -- especially if your brain is experiencing some kind of trauma -- but other people can't always trust your judgment either. Again, it's not always that you're actively lying. Maybe you saw/heard/felt something you didn't. Maybe your mind was/is in a state that interpreted the actual event unfaithfully. Or maybe you really experienced something.

There's no doubt that experiences can have profound effects on a person's life. Many people have religious experience, and it changes their life. But this doesn't have to mean that the experience was real. Read that sentence again.

It is very possible to have experiences that are not real. Think about this scenario: Sally Sue spends the night in a house that she's told is haunted by evil spirits. She believes in ghosts, but she doesn't know exactly what they are or how they got there, etc. Her personality drives her to seek out strange things like haunted houses, but she's never actually seen a ghost before. She hopes she will tonight. As Sally is creeping around the dark upstairs hallways with her partner (come on, no one in their right mind would stay alone in an old abandoned house!) they exchange stories of the murders, suicides, and tortures that went on in this old house, all the while "building the suspense".

Ever been in a situation like that before? Where you psyche yourself up? Ever notice how fragile and easy-to-spook a mind can get when its in that hairpin-trigger state? Anyway, back to the scenario...

Sally Sue's mind is busy conjuring up images and sounds of these horrible stories, when a sudden "pop" breaks the darkness. Sally and her ghost-hunting partner freeze and look each other in the eyes. Suddenly, Sally feels something brush her arm, and she screams and starts to run. Another loud popping, cracking sound rings out, but Sally is running full-tilt toward the stairs. Other sounds echo from seemingly all around her as she turns back just in time to see her friend disappear through the floor. An instant before she rounds the corner, she swears she sees a face or a figure in the dust through her tears.

Years later, Sally still remembers the night her friend died. They said the rotten floorboard gave way and she fell through, embedding herself on a large piece of wood. Perhaps she could have survived if someone had been there to help her. Sally's life was changed.


Ya Know, I've Learn Something Today...
Look, I don't want to make this some kind of moral lesson, but I do want to convey the way in which our perceptions alter reality FOR US. Let's take an honest look at the story.

Here we have a girl who's hoping to see ghosts. She believes they're real, and wants to have an encounter. So, her emotionally-charged is fueled by ghost-stories (anyone ever had this experience as a kid around a campfire?) and by her friend. We scare easily, but even more-so when we're with someone. We scare each other in a back-and-forth, domino-effect kind of way. When they heard something, they looked at each other -- something common to all humans and a lot of animals. It's how we gauge what's going on when we're clueless about something. We watch each other for signs of how we should act. Should we run? Do you know what it was? Are you afraid? Should I be?

By this time, Sally's nerves are bristling. One touch -- could be an insect, a spider's web, or even just the air moving mites around on her skin -- was enough to start a chain reaction of scare-me-scare-you. Her brain was telling her what she wanted it to; what she had conditioned it to. But what about that face in the dust? Was it the figure of an evil ghost killing her friend? Or was it the way the light played off the dusty hallways and refracted against her tears? Or is it something her mind filled in later, after the fact?

I hope none of you are actually thinking to yourself, "maybe it was a ghost...you don't know". I do know. I made it up. If you're really trying to reason it out to be an actual "ghost attack" you might be too far gone in the realm of fantasy to ever hope to understand the lesson here. That lesson is this: Sally's life was changed. Her experience actually had a real, life-altering effect on her. But her experience wasn't real (not just because the story is fake). She lost a friend and suffered serious emotional trama.

So the next time you claim "You can't say God isn't real because I've had an experience that changed my life!" or something along those lines, think about Sally and think about how I can't take your word about experiences I didn't have. You try telling Sally it wasn't a ghost!


-STA

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Thank God

Frivolity of Language
Most of what people say these days is due to tradition and/or habit. Our little small-talk banter and useless fragments of words and sounds are a remnant of the messy way in which language evolves. But what I want to focus on today is the tradition and habits of our language (probably in any language, not just the one you're reading this in).

I was recently told that because I use the phrase "oh my God", I'm not an atheist. After picking myself up off the floor from laughing hysterically (I'd heard of people who use this kind of "logic" but I'd never encountered it personally), I showed the person that my simple use of a colloquial phrase isn't any addition of me believing in anything I said in that phrase. I can say "Santa is coming to town" without believing in a physical, actual, real-life Santa Claus.

Our culture is permeated with slang and colloquialism, just as any other culture is. People say things like, "that's cool" in reference to something other than temperature. We say "oh God" when we fuck. Some people even say "thank God" just out of habit alone -- I sometimes still do it. I'm not actually thanking any "god". It's just words.

But how did this tradition come to be? Why do we have the slang phrases and colloquialisms with respect to God (or god -- lowercase or upper-, it doesn't matter)? I'm no linguist nor do I claim to know the origin of language or religion, but let me paint a picture of how religious iconography could be tied to our early language.


Thank The Great One
An early Homo neanderthalensis, or Neanderthal -- let's call him Adam, sits patently while his mate picks fresh berries, some 50,000 to 200,000 years ago. Adam's has evolved over millennia to equip him with the ability to be cooperative and social. Adam has a deep appreciation for what his wife is doing; perhaps he consciously realizes it, perhaps not.

This feeling of appreciation has its roots stretching back through his ancestors. The gratitude is feels reinforces his bond with his mate -- we'll call her Steve (har har) -- whether he understands it or not. But perhaps Adam is also grateful for the berries being there, maybe a little more plentiful this harvest. Who is Adam to thank? He doesn't understand how the berries grow, or the mechanisms behind why. Yet he is thankful...he feels that same feeling of gratitude -- the same kind of appreciation as for Steve.

The thing you have to realize is that our internal feelings don't have to rely on the existence of an external object of those feelings. We can feel happy without needing an outside entity to tie it to. We can feel elation, fear, and splendor to the universe without the universe needing to be conscious or have the faculties to reciprocate. But we've bred those feelings through dealing with other people and entities. When we suddenly feel those same emotions being triggered from something that's not a person, we get weird. Some want to "thank God" for the sunlight or the sudden divergence of a deadly storm (overlooking the fact that God killed 38 other people, but you were saved). Some want to "thank God" for things because all throughout our history, we've thrown the ball of thanks to an entity with open hands, if my analogy isn't stretched so thin it's transparent.

But there's no God to thank even though you may feel the need to thank it. It's just fluff inherent in our language, culture, and habit. Thank God there's no God to thank, so I'll just thank you for reading; you've earned it.


-STA

Friday, May 30, 2008

Government-Sponsored Bigotry

I just got a heads-up that our wonderful government may be giving money to a bigoted organization. Cleared by the House and now before the Senate, new legslation is on the books to create $1 silver coins to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America.

Ah, how sweet.

Except that this means (as Penn Jillette so clearly pointed out): GOVERNMENT MONEY ON GOVERNMENT COINS GOING TO BOY SCOUTS. Why is this bad? For those who don't know, the Boy Scouts of America don't allow gays, atheists, or agnostics into their little club. They also receive government money and government perks (such as renting out government-owned properties for events at a dollar a year).

It's fine if a private organization wants to exclude people; it's their right. But when you're sponsored by the Government of the United States?!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

You Saw God, Didja George?

So after an awesome weekend out on the lake with my relatives, I got the opportunity to listen in on the current country music status quo provided by the local "non-stop continuous today's hottest country music with less talk and fewer commercials...we'll be right back" radio station. I'm not a huge fan of country music, but I was raised on it and there aren't many places around here where I can escape it.


Fallacy With A Twang
We're sitting around talking, waiting on the food to come off the grill, when this lovely line comes over the speakers: "I saw God today". My ears refocused immediately. "Oh?" I thought. "You don't say. Tell me more."

Ah yes. Good ol'fashioned teleological argument writ large -- and with acoustic guitars -- fed straight (or Strait, rather) to a willing demographic. George Strait granted my motion and gave me the chorus:

I've been to church
I've read the book
I know he's here
But I don't look
Near as often as I should
Yeah, I know I should
His fingerprints are everywhere
I just slowed down to stop and stare
Opened my eyes and man I swear
I saw God today



"Great," I thought with a sigh. "How many other toothless inbreds have you convinced using that rhetoric?"


There IS Beauty in Nature
After I returned to civilization, I immediately found the lyrics to this imbecilicly quaint little rhyme. I know...I'm a deviant. The song is about a guy who's wife is in the hospital having a baby. The father steps out for a break, sees beauty and happiness and peace in sunsets and rainbows and puppies, and finds God there. The chorus paints a clear -- and very common -- picture of a man who's been raised in a society where God is "there", but the man's not religious. I can relate.

In the song, the father sees another couple who's expecting a child while he's outside pondering the sunset. How many times have you, the reader, stood slack-jawed gazing up at the grandeur of the universe? Some, like George's character, see God there. I see something bigger.

There is wonder and magnificence in the universe. But positing a supernatural being that lacks any explanatory power whatsoever cheapens the true beauty, I think. Why 'God', George? Why not 'Allah', or 'Brahma', or 'Kukulkan', or 'Adora', or 'Tonacatecuhtli'? Why didn't you see any of them? Could it be the culture of your upbringing (one that I hope you won't stuff your children into)?

The narrator also contemplates the beautiful flowers and thinks about how it's almost like they were "planted right there for me". So does the puddle who thinks that the hole it's it was made for it...it fits so perfectly!


A Conclusion That's 'Good Enough For Me'
The final verse goes like this:

Got my face pressed up against the nursery glass
She's sleepin' like a rock
My name on her wrist
Wearin' tiny pink socks
She's got my nose, she's got her mama's eyes
My brand new baby girl
She's a miracle
I saw God today


I know many people who became more spiritual after the birth of their first child. I know it can happen. Again I'm not trying to diminish the ideals of the song, as far as the notion that nature is beautiful, and so are babies. But "miracle"? How many times does something have to happen over and over again before it isn't considered a miracle anymore?

The man in the song was convinced before his child was born. He wasn't a nonbeliever beforehand. He's one of those people who already has an ingrained image of God. And whenever something wonderful happens -- like the birth of his daughter -- he immediately credits this image. He hasn't thought through any of it because, like most religious occurrences, it's purely emotional. I'm not trying to undermine his faith here; I'm saying that if he'd really THINK about it without letting the emotional agitation of childbirth to get in the way, he might not be so quick to give credit of a natural and ordinary process to a supernatural and extraordinary idea.

We atheists can find beauty, peace, and joy in nature and babies, and we don't need a God to have it. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

More of my adventures with Country music can be found here.


-STA

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Uh, Well Yes But...

STA: "Wait...so, God sent Jesus to be killed as payment for sin?"

Theist: "Yes, the Bible tells us so!"

STA: "All sin?"

Theist: "Before and after; from now until the end of days."

STA: "So, there shouldn't be evil in the world."

Theist: "What?!"

STA: "Yeah. You said that evil 'came into the world' because of the Fall -- the Adam and Eve thing, right? What the Catholics call Original Sin?"

Theist: "Uh...yes. Bad things happen because of the sin of Adam."

STA: "But you just told me that Jesus paid the price of forgiveness for all sin!"

Theist: "Yeah, but..."

STA: "So bad things shouldn't happen in the world. Either that, or Jesus didn't have enough to cover that one. So evil shouldn't exist, and no one should be going to Hell for Original Sin."

Theist: "Uh...well yes, but..."



Silly Christians, logic is for nonbelievers!
-STA

Monday, April 28, 2008

Flunked, not Expelled

Ben Stein has a new film out now, and although there are plenty of sites devoted to tearing it to pieces, I wouldn't feel right if I didn't drop my coin in the pond too.

So here goes.

If you're interested in the so-called "debate" between those in the scientific community and those in favor of the pseudoscience of Creationism -- currently flying under the banner of ID or "Intelligent Design" -- then you should be aware that a new movie staring Ben Stein. The movie makes some outrageous claims as it seeks to promote ID and generally stir up shit.

The Deception
The film features some pretty major players in science today, such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, professor PZ Myers, NCSE executive director Eugenie Scott, and a number of others. The producers of the movie asked for interviews with these scientists and professors, telling them it was for a movie they were working on called "Crossroads". They not only lied about the title, they lied about the intent of the film as well, claiming it was a fair and balanced look at the Creationism issue. These interviews were made in April 2007. The producers had already registered the domain for Expelled two months before those interviews took place, and had not registered a domain for Crossroads...ever! They knew right from the start that they were underhandedly getting interviews under false pretenses.

The film is very much in the Michael Moore vein of documentary film-making. There are splices, poor editing, and even charactures when someone who disagrees with the film's message is speaking. The style of the film is intended to provide an appealing movie targeted at those who are poorly equipped to understand it.

One such editing twist makes noted atheist author and biologist Richard Dawkins appear to be a "believer" of Intelligent Design. Dawkins sets up a hypothetical situation to address that regression goes past ID, but due to framing tricks, the audience will fail to understand that this is a hypothetical argument. The film aims to show Professor Dawkins and the other real scientist in a light of ignorance and stupidity (similar to this kind of camera trickery.)

Not to mention the copyright violations on music and animations.

The False Comparison
One of the biggest and most ignorant claims made by this movie is basically that "Darwinism leads to atheism leads to Nazism leads to the holocaust". In a twenty-minute segment, Stein visits a Nazi death camp (apparently he's an authority on the subject because he's a Jew). Stein gets the tour guide to say that the Nazi's did what they did in the name of Darwinian evolution. This argument is so common that it's appeared in a number of books and writings by leading Christian authors, yet it's an argument that is unfounded and ignorant.

Darwin got the idea of natural selection from thinking about how animals were bread for their traits (horses, birds, dogs, etc.). This human-selection had been around for centuries before Charles Darwin. Darwin merely saw that nature does the selecting for evolution. Hitler and his Nazi followers, on the other hand, sought to create a super race of humans by using human-selected breading and extermination -- this is not Darwinian evolution! The vile misrepresentation Expelled gives to history is not only wrong, I think it's evil.

The Ignorance
The entire premise of this film is that "Big Science" is keeping ID out of schools because of an elitist, political stance. The fact of the matter is that ID has NEVER produced any results to suppress. The film makes dishonest attempts to show some sort of "war" and controversy between ID and science, when the fact is that there is no controversy. Any scientist worth their weight knows that ID, Creationism, and any other religious claims have no right to be taught as science.

The Hypocrisy
Professor PZ Myers became a victim of the film's hypocrisy when he was expelled from a free pre-screening of the movie. The pre-screening was only available to online registrants. He had signed up on a website, received a confirmation email stating that "tickets were not required". As Professor Myers was standing in line (he hadn't even gotten up to the desk to present identification and sign in) when he was approached by security guards who told him that he had been barred from seeing the film by a producer of the film. The officer even threatened to arrest Myers if he tried to go in! Myers complied and went to talk with his family. The officer came back to him accompanied by the theater manager who told him that not only was he not allowed into the theater, but that he would have to leave the premises immediately! The funny part is that they let in Myer's guest, Richard Dawkins, escorted by Myer's wife and daughter.

After the credits had rolled (in which PZ Myers was thanked for appearing in the film!), Dawkins stood up from the center of the theater and says something to the extent of: "Why, in a movie about free speech and open discussions in academia, do you expel my colleague PZ Myers from seeing it -- a movie, by the way, which he's IN and thanked for in the credits?"

The Grade
Expelled deserves an F minus for research, publication, production, and class participation. It is a laughable film, but the sad and scary thing is that a lot of scientifically ignorant people will view it as gold, and spread the messages it contains. Of course, churches across the country will be giving this movie good publicity and money. I'm sure the Creationist movement will gain a bit of momentum, and more discussion about it will be appearing in the media for a few months after the film's release. But anyone who can spot the flaws of the ridiculous arguments must stand up and spread the set Ben Stein and his disciples straight.

Visit www.ExpelledExposed.com to learn each and every argument and counter-argument to the film.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Disbelief = Faith?

I've been in a discussion with a few people, one of whom claim that it takes "blind faith" to be an atheist (yeah, and he's not even a Christian!).

You non-believers reading this have probably had this accusation hurled at you a dozen times or more. You believers have no doubt used it while you were backed into a corner. For your sake, I'm making this post.


Faith of ANY Kind

It DOES NOT take faith (of any kind) to NOT believe something. Think how ridiculous that sounds: I have faith that Santa isn't real. I have blind faith that there are no leprechauns! Unless you change the meaning of the word, there's absolutely no way FAITH has anything to do with NOT believing a thing.

I can't stand the word anymore...even when other's take it to mean trust. Faith, to me, is not trust. Humanity's ball and chain -- to use Pat Condell's words -- is a plague and people continue to self-infect daily.


I Once Was Blind...
How exactly would one have BLIND faith that, say, there are no homosexual pigeons living inside a watermelon in Sabugal, Portugal? I'm sure that to believe such an absurdity would take "blind faith" -- believing it without a single SHRED of evidence. If we found just one bird living inside of just one fruit anywhere in the world, then I suppose it'd just take "faith" to believe that there are homosexual pigeons living inside a watermelon in Sabugal. But "faith" of any kind to NOT believe it? Get real!


But Now I See...The Light
Think about a light bulb. The light can only be in one of two states: on or off. There's no middle ground there; no "in between". Even if it's dim and barely on...it's still ON and not OFF. That's how belief works. It's a binary state: you either believe something, or you DON'T. (Saying "I don't know" changes the question to one about knowledge...not the same thing as belief.) If you can't say "Yes" to the question "Do you believe...", then you DON'T believe. It's just that simple.

So to believe something without any reason to do so, you need "faith". To believe something in the face of evidence of the contrary, you need "blind faith". But to not believe something because there's insufficient evidence to do so, you don't need faith of any kind.

You just need your head screwed on straight.



-STA

Friday, April 4, 2008

Nothing Works Like Prayer

Sorry for the delay, folks. I've been in the process of moving to a new Small Town, and the move has been a bit crazy.

But nothing like this:

Idol Hands
Fifteen-month old baby Ana Worthington died on the second day of last month. Her parents belong to the Followers of Christ Church, a church that preaches against the use of medicine, opting instead for prayer to cure illness. Ana died from bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection that could have been treated with simple antibiotics.

But her parents chose Jesus.

Madeline Neumann died March 23rd from a rare but treatable form of diabetes. Her parents blame her lack of faith on her death, and claim that she will be resurrected soon. All the 11-year old needed was a shot of insulin.

But her parents instead chose Jesus.


Faith Isn't Medicine
I was recently criticized for speaking out against irrationality. I hope these two recent cases of child murder shake you to your core. If they don't, you may be beyond hope. I realize that these are just the minority of crazy nuts, but this is how faith can allow for such atrocities. Madeline's parents last took her to a doctor when she was just three years old. Her siblings still live with her parents. The investigators in each of these cases claim that the parents were not crazy nor neglectful people; they just believed that prayer would work.

Regardless of your religious believes, think about Ana and Madeline the next time you are confronted with a choice of faith over medical science. It seems that we atheists are the only ones who are telling these insanely irrational people that their highly incorrect in their way of thinking. But why does it have to be just non-believers? Christians, if these people are in your minority, then YOU should stand up against them too. They will most likely listen to you than to someone who doesn't believe in their God.


I've got to go. I should probably do these stories more justice, but it will have to wait. Once I get settled in my new Small Town we can continue. Don't worry, unlike Jesus, I'll be back!


-STA

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fallacy Friday: Sharpshooter Fallacy

On this Fallacy “Good” Friday, we’ll take a look at a logical error that I pointed out in a recent post. It’s formally called ‘non causa pro causa’; I call it the Sharpshooter Fallacy.

The Texas Sharpshooter is a fabled marksman who fires his gun randomly at the side of a barn, then paints a bull’s-eye around the bullet holes – to obviously make it look like he is an amazing shot. The fallacy is applied to the field of logic to describe a false effect after-the-fact. Information that has no relationship is interpreted or manipulated until it appears to have meaning.


Seeing a Face in the Clouds
This fallacy is similar to one of our earlier fallacies, post hoc ergo propter hoc. The fallacy is to assert that because two events occur together, they must be causally related. It's a fallacy because it ignores other factors that may be the cause(s) of the events.

What appears to be statistically significant (not due to chance) is actually expected by the laws of chance. This is probably best shown in the act of reading tea leaves or casting bones, as we’ve read about in old tales. The positioning of the leaves or bones isn’t significant or special; it’s just an artifact of randomness. The fallacy occurs when people try to place unreasoned meaning upon these artifacts.


What a Coinkydink!
When someone jumps to the conclusion that a cluster in some data must be the result of a cause--usually one that it is clustered around--they’ve fallen for the sharpshooter’s trick. When looking at data, there is a danger of jumping to a conclusion that a random cluster is a causal pattern.

What makes this fallacy dangerous is that, to the untrained eye, it can look a lot like what real scientists really do when they look at data and draw conclusions. There are other tests you can run to find the probability of a certain thing, but this is often overlooked by those who *want* there to be meaning where there is none (i.e., the self-made prophecy).

This problem is at the heart of the fine-tuning argument as scientific evidence for a god. There’s no reason to think that the universe is fine-tuned for life – actually, evolution shows that life is fine-tuned for the universe! The ‘fine-tuned’ argument is just like throwing six, six-sided dice. They come up, say ‘3, 6, 3, 2, 1, 1’. The odds of that happening are 1 in 1,679,616 chance!!! The fallacy is (obviously) that you’re counting it up after-the-fact. It’d be like saying “what are the odds that we’d draw the letter A the way we do?” like it’s got some sort of significant meaning. Without further testing, such a conclusion is seldom justified.


-STA

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Day In The Life: Coincidences

So I’m at work, and I overhear my boss telling the new hire, “How is it that on the exact same day that [newly fired worker] pisses me off and we let him go, that you’re able to start and get the job done that has a deadline today?”

What Are The Odds?
The subject of his mind-numbing conversation was, of course, God. My coworker’s response was something like, “Well, Einstein said ‘God doesn’t play dice with the universe’, but I don’t know.”

Not wanting to get into that conversation, I changed the subject and asked my boss about a meeting the next day, and made sure the subject had shifted to something more reasonable.

The conclusion to this chatter is of course: there are no coincidences. O RLY?!

This matter-of-fact phrase is ripe with a logical error known as the sharpshooter fallacy (look for it in our next Fallacy Friday). Simply put, how many times did you notice when the coincidence didn’t happen?

Count The Hits, Forget The Misses
How often do we hear that an airplane landed safely at its destination? How much good news do you see in the paper, or on the 6 o’clock broadcast? The reason you do is that the good news would fill volumes. The ratio of landed planes to crashed ones is extremely high, yet all one can think about is the crashes.

Penn Jillette had a wonderful example in a recent video. He had a blemish on his nose, and noted that even though the blemish covers a very small portion of his enormous body, it is all you can look at and think about.

We forget the common and focus on the differences. That focusing is often so misconstrued as to be proclaimed an impossibility, or at least a highly unlikely chance occurrence.


Shit Happens
We experience coincidences all the time. It’s mostly a matter of perception; you have to think about things in a wider context. Think about how often the thing occurs as opposed to how many times it doesn’t.

And stop attributing your own ignorance to an invisible entity.

Watch this: What are the odds that you, reading this right now, have a brother named Bill and are wearing a blue shirt?

What a coincidence!



-STA

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

But How Do You Know?

Day after day, I talk with people who think they understand specific concepts based on the natural way in which the language surrounding those concepts is used. The biggest example of this is the laymen use of "theory". Being one who accepts evolution, I'm often confronted by evangelicals who claim that evolution is "just a theory". Their use of this phrase demonstrates their lack of understanding in what makes a "theory" (and their general misunderstanding of science on the whole).

I think that the majority of problems people have regarding religion, matters of faith, and scientific understanding is a matter of language. It is in the realm of colloquial, idiomatic speech that the confused person is trapped. Some people just don’t know how we know things.


How Do You Know?
There are ways we humans have of understanding fact from fiction. We realize that we can create practically anything in our imaginations, and we know that our senses can be fooled. So we need a way to distinguish reality from pretend. We have these reliable methods (we know they're reliable because we can show them to be so).

Logical reasoning is the primary foundation upon which we build our understanding of reality. We can prove the rules of logic are true, and we therefore make them rules.

Science makes use of logical reasoning, in conjunction with:
  • independent verification, to avoid group-think
  • repeated testing, for consistency
  • falsification, to demonstrate that a hypothesis is reliable and is not producing an incidental result
  • and, most importantly, peer review, because we are all fallible. Your work is reviewed by other experts to make sure that your test methodologies are correct, that you properly falsified your hypothesis, and that your tests and results are replicable.
Using these steps, a hypothesis, or guess about something, graduates to the highest level of attainability in science: a theory. When something is called a theory in scientific terms, it means that the idea has been gone through the rigors of the scientific method and shows to be reliable and useful, accurate predictions can be made using the theory. The theories of gravity, sexual reproduction, psychology, music, microbiology, and gene manipulation are among several proven scientific theories.
The problem is that the average person uses the word "theory" to mean a guess or a hunch. While I fail at times, (or I'm forced by language, i.e. "conspiracy theory",) I've resolved to use the term "theory" in scientific terms only, and when I mean "guess", I'll say "guess", or "hypothesis". But the average person will use the term loosely, and those who don’t understand the difference in terminology will get confused when they hear something like “the theory of evolution”.


What Do You Know?
Another general mistake is in the use of the term, "agnostic". When I ask someone whether they believe in god or not, some will say "I'm agnostic". Those who understand the term will realize that the answer given doesn't fit the question; it answers something else entirely. I've demonstrated the differences several times, so I won't go into it further.

The main focus here is that many people get tripped up in what it means to know something, and knowledge--or lack thereof--informs belief. The two aren't the same, but they are tied together.

So, what does it mean to know something? Or, more to the point, how can you truly be an Agnostic?

Well, it depends on what you mean by "knowledge". I’ve show above how we can know reality. If it can be demonstrated that, for example, a thing exists or occurs, and that this can be demonstrated to an incredibly high degree of predictability, then we can comfortably say we “know” it.

When it comes to believing in that thing, you still have options even if the thing can be known or not. Theism and Atheism address what you believe, Gnosticism and Agnosticism address what you know, or claim to know. If you want to define knowledge as "absolute certainty", then I’m an Agnostic Atheist; I don’t know that a god does not exist to an absolute certainty.

I don’t like "absolute certainty"; I think it’s a red herring. We can’t know anything to an absolute certainty. But if you want to define knowledge in practical terms--the way we use it in everyday language where we talk about something to some degree of certainty--if it’s okay to say "I know there’s no such thing as leprechauns", if that qualifies as "knowledge", then an I’m a Gnostic Atheist. In the same sense that I know there’s no leprechauns, I know there’s no god.


Belief vs. Knowledge, Redux
So why all this talk over belief? I mean, isn't what someone believes their own business?

Yes it is. I don't care what anyone believes, though I'd rather they base their beliefs on demonstrable reality. As I said above, knowledge informs belief. But your actions are affected by your beliefs, and that’s what matters. You can belief whatever you want until you start to infringe on others' beliefs/health/etc. That’s the point where your beliefs won’t be tolerated.

I think it’s beneficial to a society if its beliefs and subsequent actions have a basis in what can be shown to be true, and I hope that Earth’s population reaches this level ASAP.



-STA

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fallacy Friday: Slippery Slope

Time for another Fallacy Friday. This week's fallacy is often heard by the children of overprotective parents.


Slippery When High
"If we legalize marijuana, then people will join gangs and start taking crack and killing and raping each other! It'll be total anarchy!"

This is a clear example of the reductio ad absurdum, or slippery slope fallacy. The fallacy assumes that if one were to carry the position out to its logical end, that end would be inevitable and possibility harmful. There is no proof made that the harmful end (total anarchy) is caused by the original position (legalizing pot). This is not a way to prove a point, and though it lacks any real reason, the fallacy can be surprisingly tricky--especially in situations where there is a significant number of steps between one event and another.

But the slippery slope isn't always a fallacy. There are a variety of ways to make a slippery slope argument valid, or at least plausible. All you need to do is provide some
reason why the adoption of one position will lead to the adoption of another, ie, show your work!



Watch Your Step
The fallacy is often used in emotional situations where careful thought is replaced by an irrational need for illogical proof and justification. We nonbelievers hear this all the time. If you don't believe in God, what's to stop you from killing anyone you want?

The above absurd extrapolation is wrong because it assumes that you need God to be good. Hopefully you, dear reader, will not slide down this hill too.



-STA

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What Did You Make on Your "Jesus Loves Who" Exam?

I've been driving myself crazy arguing with the delusional masses online...


But of course it isn't just an internet phenomenon. I recently read an article that made my skin crawl. In a neighboring town, a high school teacher is wanting the bible taught in school. The style of the newspaper article betrayed the writer's opinion, a point in and of itself. But the larger issues are A) teaching it in school, and B) that "kids these days need the bible", to paraphrase said teacher's comments.

This Is A Rant
I've made several posts regarding the Unholy Word and the supposed "morals" that it upholds. I won't spend time on it here, but just to claim that the reason kids misbehave is because they aren't being taught the bible is patently absurd.

The major issue I have with this bullshit is that it's quite clear that the teacher isn't proposing a comparative religions course, or even biblical history studies. It seems to me that she wants it taught *as* history. This is simply another attempt at religion trying to interfere where it doesn't belong. Can anyone say ID?

I mean, really, what's your point? If you can get to teach that the Israelites escaped slavery by the Egyptians (a claim that is not historically accurate) then maybe your students won't join gangs or smoke dope?

I'm honestly too tired and angry to try to make this sound less rant-ish. It just makes me sick to see this kind of stupid shit at all levels of the government.


Grrrr!



-STA

Friday, February 29, 2008

Everybody Leap!

It's leap day again, the time when science has shown that we need to add an extra calendar day so that the Christians can worship Jesus on his "real birthday". Right? Wouldn't want to be late or anything...

Ha.

But seriously, since today is all about jumping, I wanted to focus on the "leaps of faith" that a lot of believers make in order to justify the conclusions they reach. [Note: we'll get back to Fallacy Friday next week!]


ACA, Praise Be To Ye
Before I start, I need to plug the Atheist Community of Austin (TX) and the Atheist-Experience, the local TV show they sponsor. Even though the show is local, each episode gets a podcast and Google video, and they've heard from literally all over the world. I'm a huge fan of the show and can honestly say that I have the host, Matt Dillahunty, and the other co-hosts to thank for helping me to understand what atheism is. They helped me de-convert!

The reason I'm mentioning them is not just for the plug. One of the talks that co-host Don Baker gave in an episode last year is where I will draw the main meat of this post from. Don should be credited for the idea of this.


The Mathematics of Belief
When Christians and other theists talk about "faith", generally mean it as "believing something that you have no evidence for". It's basically an uneducated guess and therefore the likelihood of it being correct is extremely small. If you start stacking these guesses one atop the other, that chance of being right gets multiplied. The combined effect of all these assumptions is that you end up with an almost 0% chance of being 100% right.

Don counted around thirty of these "leaps of faith", jumping from one unfounded belief to another--from atheism (no god belief) to theism (the batshit crazy kind). That's like taking thirty wild guesses, each depending upon the previous, and arriving at a true conclusion. I won't go through them all; you can check out the video here.


Jump for Jesus
So believers, hopefully you'll understand why I don't believe the things you do, and why I think you're crazy for believing them.
  • Leap #1: A god exists.
    Woah, that's an enormous leap right outta the gate! You'd have to back up that big-ass claim with some serious evidence if you're gonna convince a skeptic. Because faith doesn't require evidence, this main leap is justified in the believer's mind.
  • Leap #2: There exists only one God.
    This narrowing of belief shuts out any belief other than the monotheistic sort. I've capitalized the word "God" to formalize it with the Abrahamic Big-Three. It can be argued that a polytheist pantheon of gods makes more sense from a practical standpoint than one god, but I'm not going to brabble about it right now. Again the non-believer asks, but how do you know that?
  • Leap #3: God is intelligent.
    This starts to define God, yet it starts open up a whole can of worms, so to speak. Intelligence implies a physical brain and the limitations inherent in the definition of a "being". As a skeptic, I'd ask what level of intelligence does this god have? How is it measured? I assume it's "more than us". Again, how do you know that? (Note: This will be a caveat that each "leap" must cross.)
  • Leap #4: God is all-powerful.
    Great...more logical problems. The issue of omnipotence also encompasses the free will problems as well (like if humans have free will, then they effectively have power that God doesn't have). Another issue is the "omnipotent paradox", something I hope to be covering in upcoming videos.
  • Leap #5: God is self-creating.
    This gets into First Cause arguments and an infinite regress problem, but it's needed for the sake of "theistic logic".
  • Leap #6: God decided to create the universe.
    A conscious decision to do something is completely at odds with the idea of God being perfect. If this god is complete, there is no need to create the universe. If you're perfect, you can't want anything.
  • Leap #7: God created the universe and everything in it
    This jump has the same problems with Leap #5. There's also the logical catch of an all-powerful God wanting to create a universe, but that the universe already existed.

At this point we're pretty much in the realm of Deism. The further leaps of faith narrow down into Judaism and then onto Christianity. There's probably different leaps, and more of them, depending on the specific belief that you hold.


Leapfrog
I hope you can see how each of these statements (each being a shot in the dark with no proof for any of it) multiplied together leaves you almost dizzy. If not, consider an experiment: like in Office Space, make your own "jump to conclusions" pad, or "leaps of faith" pad. Mark out squares on the ground big enough to physically jump to. Space each square out, and name each one based on your own personal beliefs. Try to scale it to how hard you really feel each square should be to mentally leap to as best you can (I wouldn't be able to actually do this, as I don't think there's enough surface area on the planet for the space between Leap #1 and the starting square). Remember, the space represents the "faith" required to reach the next platform. If you had actual evidence, then you should just be able to walk across the squares.

I guess one could argue that if you accept Leap #1, making the jump to the rest is a breeze. Hell, if you're willing to accept that fuchsia space gnomes are holding the planet up by the strands of their pubic hair, I guess accepting that they're all named "Merry Sunshine" isn't that hard!



-STA

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Unequally Yoked

This post is for believers and non-believers. I'm curious about what it's like to be in a relationship when someone who holds opposite beliefs from you.

All the relationships I've ever had, the person generally believed the same as I did. When I was a Christian, I had a Christian girlfriend. Now I have a wife who is as non-believing as I am.

I know it's possible, and some people make it work. I've heard about many people, including guests on Reggie's show, who are "unequally yoked" as the bible puts it and yet still manage to get along extremely well with their contrary significant other. Reggie himself has said that when he met his wife, he changed her mind as he was "having none of that".

I guess it all depends on how close the relationship is, and how strong a person is in their faith. Personally, I'd probably find it difficult to get along with someone in a close relationship if I knew they were highly neurotic.

Thoughts?


-STA

Monday, February 25, 2008

Moderately Nuts

I'm with Penn Jillette on this one...

28% Believer
Moderate Christians piss me off. I'm tired of them; I'm sorry, but I am. I don't care what you believe, just as long as you believe it 100%. None of this wishy-washy, flip-flopping kind of belief. I'm talking about the real deal!

I'm just fed up with these "so-called" believers who like to keep it on the down-low. Know what I mean? They don't tell anyone what they believe, just assuming that everyone is a Christian like them (same believes and all).

Their own bibles instruct them to judge people, preach to them, and give reasons why they believe.

Yet how many lightweights do you see every day who want to just live and let live? That's not the way it should be at all! It's like believing in Santa Claus, but just that he's a nice old man who gives what he can to kids in his area for Christmas.


Tell It Like (You Think) It Is
I say get out there, you fradycat fence-walkers! Start telling your sister, your son, your grandma, your mailman, your defense attorney, and your Wal-Mart greeter that you worship Jesus H. Fucking Christ, and let them know that if they don't accept his gift of true love, their eternal souls burn forever in a pit of fire when they croak!

Or maybe you're a cherry-picking Muslim? Maybe you think that women shouldn't be submissive, or that you should just get along with your Hindu neighbor friend. You'd better read the rulebook a little closer. Same goes for every other nut-job belief system.

You see what I'm getting at here, people? If you're gonna believe something, you should believe in it whole-heartedly.


It'll be easier to spot the crazy that way.


-STA

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