Saturday, December 12, 2015

Feelings... Nothing More Than Feelings

It used to be that if you asked people to list places they'd like to travel, it was all but certain that a huge percentage of people would include Paris on the list.  Well, France in general has a reputation for being one of the great bastions of culture, philosophy, art, literature, and heck, gastronomy for that matter.  In days past, it was the hub for the likes of Sartre, Dali, Camus, Hemingway, Picasso, Beauvoir, and god knows who else.  Maybe that's why it was targeted last week -- cultural beacons that aren't advancing some morally bankrupt vision of backwards disgrace unto humanity are the single greatest enemy of religion.  For any religious fundamentalist, moral, intellectual, and social regression of mankind into a condition of universal detriment is the greatest possible good.

Aamir Khan recently met with backlash, as usual, for the crime of opening his mouth and saying things people didn't want to hear.  He brought up a sense that there was an atmosphere of growing intolerance in India...  Sure enough, he brought up a wide array of details and elaborated on the matter, but do you think a single person heard that?  Everywhere it was about taking it personally as if Aamir was somehow making a blanket statement.  How dare you spout an unpleasant truth, Aamir?  The boycotts and such, just as he saw from the furor over PK and/or the threats around Satyamev Jayate before only betray an abject lack of self-awareness when people shout -- "We're so not intolerant that we won't tolerate you saying anything bad about us!"  It was especially hilarious to see some other defenses like those who argued "If we're so intolerant, what about ISIS?"  That is a pouting child defending his transgressions by saying "That other kid down the street is worse, so that makes me awesome by default."

Then of course, you've got the Republican talking heads who, as a rule, spread lies in the course of their discourse about Planned Parenthood and promote more guns as the answer to gun problems, and are suddenly shocked that a Planned Parenthood gets attacked.  Naturally, they want to say "I didn't do anything"...  Never mind the outright falsehoods we spouted...  Never mind the propaganda of antipathy towards Planned Parenthood...  Never mind the bending over backwards for gun lobbyists...  People are responsible for how they're influenced by our rhetoric!  It's so unfair to blame the political demagogues who didn't do anything other than double down on fallacious bullshit!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

On the "Myth" that Science Can't Prove Anything

It's pretty common in the world of religious apologetics to act as if any and all uncertainty is inherent room for God.  Belief in a god, is, after all, a philosophy of ignorance, and that type of argument is a popular form of the argument from ignorance.  The idea that nothing can technically be definitive or absolute in the realm of science means that a god is still a possibility.  To the religious, even the most remote of possibility is enough to say, "I'm justified in everything I believe."  To the religious fundamentalist, it means "the fact that I'm justified means it's automatically true and you have no right ever to believe anything else."  To the religious extremist, it means "being justified in believing it means it is morally correct to murder you for disagreeing with me."

While it is technically correct to say that science can't "prove" anything in the absolute sense of proof, that leaves out that what is possible on the basis of a technicality alone is not necessarily reasonable.  Still, you will hear the contention that because scientific consensus can, in principle, be overturned, we can't discount any possibility.  In the previous blog entry, I tried to cover the point that nothing is so cut and dry in science as to say anything definitive.  I'm not suddenly contradicting that -- it is still a fool's errand to look for cut and dry in a field where cut and dry can never really exist.  The thing is that that also applies to the "myth" that science can never prove anything.

Of course, there's a reason that I put "myth" in quotes.

There are countless examples in which the tales of science involve revolutions, and likewise, plenty of stories where previously existing scientific consensus gets overturned.  Nearly every scientist will tell you that we never assume that anything is right and operate on the possibility that everything we know could be untrue.  I recently took a class that kind of involved bringing a lot of hard science to sociological questions that had previously been ill-studied and that really resulted in turning a lot of common beliefs on their head.  Things like that give the impression that scientific consensus is a terribly fragile thing, and it's really not.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fifty Billion Shades of Grey

There is an argument I hear a lot from delusional idiots like Ray Comfort and his ilk.  They make the point that even a kindergartener can plainly see that evolution is false and "God" is real.  I often get puzzled by why they use this argument...  are they really suggesting that we should base all of scientific fact on the cognitive capacity of a 6-year-old?  The thing is it's not even rare or confined to denial of evolution.  The insipid food blogger, Vani Hari, AKA "Food Babe" -- someone who ranks among the most dangerously stupid people in the country (which is quite an achievement in a world in which Louie Gohmert exists) -- once put out a little sound bite that "if a 3rd grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it."  Her adversary, Yvette d'Entremont, who uses the tongue-in-cheek name of "Science Babe", was quite quick to respond with her own sound bite: "don't base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an 8-year-old."

To those of us who have functioning brain cells, it would seem more than a little bit silly to ever think that decisions about something as complex and nuanced as personal health should be so cut and dry as "all chemicals are dangerous"...  or that quantum mechanics "proves" the existence of the afterlife, when life itself is so ill-defined...  or that climate change is clearly false because there's snow in your driveway.  It's so obvious that god is real because evolution isn't obvious!  Isn't that obvious?

It's obvious to me that your search for the obvious only obviates obliviousness.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Blog update...

Hey, there.

It seems like it's been a while since I posted anything on the blog, and well, there are number of reasons for that.  The TL;DR version of it is basically that I've been more than a little preoccupied with matters in my actual life.  Nothing tragic...  just...  extraordinarily time-consuming, and they wreak havoc with my schedule and it has taken some time to get my feet under me.

Although there are other factors, I'm just going to focus in this update about the biggest.  The biggest time sink in the picture is actually the fact that I've returned to the realm of higher education.  I'm basically in a graduate dual degree program right now...  and I'm doing that while still holding a full-time job...  and that basically means that I have to spend a lot more time outside of work actually studying.  And class days on the weekends for me typically means getting up at 4:30-5 am.  This is mainly because of the time difference...  it is an Ivy league school after all, and that means I'm 3 time zones away.  The main motivation for doing this really comes from a supremely depressing realization that I summarized in a one-liner that one of my friends seemed to really enjoy as he put it up on Facebook immediately.  Basically, I said then that I'm living in a place where people like me are worth their weight in gold...  and get paid their weight in silver...  and the cost-of-living is so high that we actually need our weight in plutonium just to get by.  Sad, but true.

So, yeah...  You can probably guess that blogging has not been on the front burner for a while.  That doesn't mean I'm lacking for content or that I intend to stop, but simply lacking for time.  I've got a few things I'm going to post shortly, but now that I have a reasonable size consistent readership, it's worth pointing out that the delays have not been for nothing.  In a sense, I've kind of gotten used to the idea of a sleepless life a little bit ahead of schedule.  Anyway, that's the long and short of it.  There's more worth mentioning, but I'll save that for a later update.  Just stay tuned for some real pertinent content to come.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When IS it the Fault of Religion?

One of the standard behaviors of religious zealots whenever some atrocity is performed in the name of their faith is to try and distance themselves from the criminals.  Christians bomb an abortion clinic?  Well, then you get the typical "they don't represent Christianity" and "no true Christian would do that!" and so on.  Muslim terrorists suicide-bomb a bus?  You hear the classic talk of "Islam is a religion of peace" and all the usual garbage.  It makes some sense that less criminally insane believers want to create some distance between themselves and the disgraces to humankind that commit endless atrocities in the name of religion.

From the outside, it is relatively easy to put the blame on religion for every crime its followers commit...  especially considering that most if not all such examples can be traced to actual screeds within their respective scriptures.  The most common defense, though, is to pretend those edicts aren't actually there and just focus on the good bits.  Does Christianity endorse slavery?  "Ummm...  uuuuhhh...  Love thy neighbor!"  What about murdering any and all dissenters?  "Uuuh....  Turn the other cheek!"  There are times, though, when the nastier bits aren't disavowed, of course, such as whenever LGBT matters come into play.  That's where religion is on the right track, of course.  Suuuuure.

Reza Aslan has frequently made the point that people put their own values into scripture rather than drawing from it.  He's technically right on this with regards to the more moderate majority, but I don't know if I would say that this is universally true.  More recently, he has been on the kick of saying that if we condemn religion for its harms, it is only fair to also credit religion for every good act done in the name of faith.  Well, to be fair, I would say that this form of the point, more than anything, elucidates that things can be a little more nuanced.  There is the famous quip by Steven Weinberg, that "with or without religion, you have have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."  But if people are actually just projecting their own values on religion, then where does religion come in in making the good do evil?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sorry, Billy; You're Living in a Dream World

Everyone's favorite and most annoying fideist, William Lane Craig, has once again trotted out one of his classically moronic and dishonest arguments.  He proclaims that atheism negates the existence of something which, in fact, doesn't exist, but according to him, is required to exist because it'd be really cool if it did.  Therefore, Christianity is true because it proclaims the existence of something really cool in his mind...  proving once again that his mind is something that he is clearly out of.

According to this insufferable clown, life has no meaning without the existence of a god because the absence of a god eliminates an everlasting reward which means that life has no meaning.  This is of course, argued on his part by defining "meaning" exactly as what he chooses it to be.  It's particularly interesting, because he's not just trying to make an argument against atheism, so much as he is trying to make an argument explicitly for the value of his flavor of Christianity as opposed to atheism.  A large part of this recent article rests on the notion that the immortal and eternal rewards (and likewise,  eternal consequences in the opposing condition) is the sole mechanism by which value can be ascribed to life.  Of course, he's wrong in every possible way, but more than any other reason, he's wrong because the Christian lens is the only lens through which he can peer.  His entire enterprise of Christian apologetics is incurably circular because all considerations he has any inclination to offer are couched exclusively in Christian terms.

So where to begin?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Theory of "Intelligent Valuation"

I reject the economic theory of inflation.  That's right.  I firmly believe deep in my heart that all currencies were created with their real values by intelligent valuators.  Inflationists will have you believe that real values of currencies have changed over time and that our modern reality is just the current state of that ever-transient change.  But were any of them there to see it happen?  These so-called economists will go so far as to suppress the teaching of Intelligent Valuation in schools so that our children will all be converted to their beliefs.  It's time that people learn that Inflationism isn't all it's cracked up to be.

In this post, I'll be highlighting the flaws that the inflationists don't want you to know.  I will be taking the method of tearing down a lot of the common arguments they spew and illustrating countless counterexamples to stand as evidence that intelligent valuation explains the reality better.  Sure, the inflationists will try to confuse you with all their talk of consumer price indices, Giffen goods, demand pull, and cost push.  They're all just ad hoc hypotheses that are built on the faith-based assumption that intelligent valuation can't be true.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

On the Fear of Being Wrong

Recently, the anti-vaccine crowd got a taste of reality with a series of necessarily preventable outbreaks that prove that they are a harmful crowd that stupidly denies science with the end result of causing death and disease.  In the microcosm of a single topic, these people are every bit as anti-science and anti-fact as evolution-denying religious cretins*, or anti-GMO nutters.  To be clear, I am not saying that these groups are equal when you generalize across the entire spectrum of science denial, as there are certain groups that reject more scientific principles than others do.  Rather, I'm saying that when you look at the characteristics of abject ignorance of the pertaining subjects, the outright rejection of the evidence, the intransigence with respect to their opponents (vividly illustrated by their preference to hurl accusations rather than actually form a cogent argument), and the apparent belief that their lies are more likely to be true if they're more extreme and terrifying... All of that is basically the same for every science denial movement.

In arguing against these sorts of reality-hating troglodytes, we're most likely to fight back with the real facts on the subject often times because those are the things that we as critical thinkers and rationalists would value most of all.  It is easy to forget, though, that a large part of the reason we do value such things is because we are critical thinkers to begin with, and for those who are not, it just doesn't have any major impact.  A science denier isn't denying it because he or she thinks the facts are really in question, but because he doesn't think something is a fact unless he agrees with it.  The science denier belongs to social groups that hold certain ideas to be beyond reproach, and so anything that dares to challenge that is automatically false 
because it doesn't fit what they already convinced themselves is known to be true.  The truth is a hard pill to swallow, and the most bitter truth of them all is the one that says you're wrong.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On Violence Without Religion

In my Charlie Hebdo response entry, I posed the rhetorical question about the relative rate of violent retribution by people of a religious stripe and people for whom the axe on the grindstone is devoid of religion. Although that piece was mainly pointed at the standard arguments about Muslims who commit violence -- as the context was one involving Islamic terrorism -- the point itself is easily universalized to all religions that have a history of atrocities... Which is pretty much all of them that have been around for any considerable length of time.  Sure, the Raelians and the Baha'i have no such history to speak of, but they also haven't been around that long compared to the likes of the Abrahamic faiths.

In any case, almost like clockwork, the attack at UNC in which 3 Muslims were killed by an atheist. The official statement indicates that this act of violence was over a matter of a parking dispute.  Of course, while it is true that murders in this country have happened over even more trivial things, I find it far more likely that the parking dispute was little more than the last straw.  I and the whole of the atheist community can condemn this all we want -- and of course, we do -- but I also feel like it provides little value to do so.  No more than it is meaningful for Muslims to come out and condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  It's a perfectly nice thing to hear, and I'm sure we all care about this sort of thing in the sense of assurance that not every Muslim is Anjem Choudary nor every Christian is Fred Phelps, but anyone can say words.  It doesn't really change what happened.  Rather, what I would like to address is the cultural backdrop behind these sorts of events, as I feel this sort of discussion is more meaningful in exploring what could prevent future occurrences of such an outcome.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je suis Charlie, que tout le monde devrait

Greetings, readers!  It's been a while since I've posted on the blog, and there's really little more to it than being insanely busy working long hours through the would-be holidays and all.  It's more than a little bit annoying that CES happens pretty much the first working week of January (after the New Year's holidays and all).  Well, it was like this last year as well, and this year, the crunch was not quite as bad, but there was a lot more shown from my department this time.  Anyway, during all this, there was the attack on Charlie Hebdo after a supposedly insulting-to-Muslims cartoon appeared, and there's already plenty out there about the attack itself.  What I wanted to get on was the so-called "liberal" reaction.

We generally expect the atheist community to have a problem with the attacks, but the flavor of multiculturalism that imbues the so-called liberal viewpoint comes out with every condemnation of violence hedged and qualified.  "Freedom of speech is incredibly important but..."  "Violence is inexcusable but..."  If there's a "but" in that sentence, it means that you're willing to make exceptions for that principle, and that already puts you on a spiral of wrongness.  All the "but"s regarding the Charlie Hebdo attack basically lead down this view that insulting religion is inherently wrong, and therefore, Charlie Hebdo brought it on themselves.  One article on Time suggested that anything that could be construed as an insult to Muslims automatically means you're not a bastion of free speech.  The Daily Beast said that being deliberately provocative isn't really part of free speech.  Really?  Then what is?  The worst part is that this is also a sentiment coming from the right wing religious nutbars (in a thinly veiled effort to intimate that they, too, should be shielded from all criticism).  If you're a self-described social liberal, and you find yourself agreeing with Bill Donohue, there's a chink in your armor somewhere.