Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Almost Human drifts into pseudo-science in latest episode.

Watched the last Episode of Almost human on Hulu today and was disappointed to see them include a psychic in what has, up to this point, a reasonably hard science fiction show. Set in the future, I expect the show to take a few liberties with modern science but the psychic aspect of the plot in the latest episode goes completely off the rails.

Not only do they present us with a character that has psychic powers, a thing for which there is no scientific evidence, they make a flimsy and scientifically inaccurate attempt to justify the existence of said powers. They make reference to a surgery that the woman previously underwent to allow her to use all of her brain instead of the 10% they normally use. Not only does no such surgery exist now, it could never exist because the notion that people only use a small part of their brain is absolutely untrue. Granted this show is suppose to be fiction, but this a commonly repeated myth that is offered on the show as if it were true. It’s disappointing when shows perpetuate myths like these.

Book review of Illogical atheism: Chapter 2: Part 1

Next video in my review of the book Illogical Atheism.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book review of Illogical atheism: Part 1.

I recently ran across a book on Amazon.com that I thought would be interesting to review. I’ve been toying around with the idea of doing some video blogging to mix things up a bit and also because it might attract new readers if I posted videos on YouTube. Anyway, here is the first video in this series.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Kirsten Powers conversion story makes me sad.

As someone who doesn’t watch Fox News regularly I had never heard of Kirsten Powers. However, I ran across an article on Christian Post today. Detailing this former atheist’s conversion to Christianity. I’m pretty comfortable with my atheism and haven’t heard any arguments in favor of any form of theism that rank anywhere in the vicinity of rationally convincing so I’m always interested in hearing what managed to convert a fellow atheist to theism. I have, to date, always been supremely disappointed in the strength of the arguments and evidence they felt were convincing, and usually find their conversion had a lot more to do with emotions than reason.

Powers’ story is no different, it is not a tale of someone who was convinced by clear logical argumentation, but a story of someone who appears to have been emotionally manipulated by another person and then fell prey to questionable inferences based on scant evidence. Why? Perhaps her reasons for being atheist were emotional to begin with, or perhaps she was just ignorant of both the Christian apologetics and the secular response to them. Of course I could be wrong, I’m only basing my conclusion on what was written in the article, but it was Christian Post article so I think I can assume they tried to portray her conversion in as favorable a light as possible, and she still came out poorly.

It seems her conversion started when she started dating a Christian. She said she had previously stated she would not date a religious person, but she does not explain why she made an exception for this person. She shouldn’t have, in my opinion, because the person she was dating seemed to be a bit of a jerk.

After they dated a few months, her boyfriend called to say he had something important to discuss. When he came over to her New York apartment he looked at her intently and asked, "Do you believe Jesus is your Savior?"

Her heart sank when she heard the question. She thought he might be slightly crazy. "No," she replied.

"Do you think you could ever believe it?" he asked. Then he told Powers he wanted to get married and felt that she might be the one, but he couldn't marry a non-believer.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My opinions on dominionism and the religious right when I was Christian

Goldwater-WarnsWhen I entered college back in the distant past of 1997 I was a fundamentalist Christian. I was proud of this fact, right down to my young earth creationism. There is an assumption that atheists often make that fundamentalism and some form of dominionism go hand in hand. It’s true there is a lot of overlap, but they are not necessarily the same thing.

First let’s be clear about what I mean by dominionism, because there is some debate about what this means. Dominionism is often thought of as some uniform group of people conspiring to push their religious ideas into politics. This is not entirely true. Dominionism exists more or less as a continuum of beliefs that people hold about the role of religion in politics. A few on the fringe would like to see an outright theocracy, but most have less ostentatious goals. Christians who argue that Christian teachers out to have the right to compel their students to organized prayer are an example of a relatively soft dominionism, and are much more common.

I would even argue that examples like “in God we Trust” on our currency and as the national motto are examples of a sort of soft dominionism. Many Christians of course disagree, and would argue that “in God we trust” is not an imposition of Christianity through the government. I’ve been told that I’m being over sensitive on this one.  Many people I would consider dominionists don’t like the term dominionism.

Here is the thing, when I was a believer I was a fundamentalist, as I said, but I was actually not a dominionist. I was, in fact, incredibly a-political, and I viewed many of the preachers who overtly pushed dominionist ideas, like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, with suspicion. This was actually occasionally a point of contention between me and other theists I knew, but I was hardly the only fundamentalist who thought this way.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Scalia gets something right…though he still doesn’t really understand why.

While hearing arguments about the constitutionality of having opening prayers for legislative bodies Scalia said something surprising astute. While Alito was asking whether or not a prayer could be constructed to be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc., Scalia Chimed in:

What about the devil worshippers?

Scalia meant it as somewhat of a joke, but his point was clear, it is impossible to design a prayer that is going to be acceptable to everyone. Of course, he doesn’t seem to understand the implication of his own argument and concludes that we should have prayers but do nothing to ensure they are acceptable to others. He is essentially arguing that each individual should have the right to make their prayer as sectarian as they wish within a government assembly and the government isn’t allowed to say squat about it. He seems to ignore the much easier solution of just not having organized prayers at all, which would allow every one to engage in their own private prayers (or not) if they so wished. Or perhaps he thinks prayer only works when done as a group?

Thing thing that always irks me about people like Scalia is that they cannot even follow the advice of the one they claim is god incarnate.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.   Matthew 6:5-6.

When I was a believer I always thought of prayer as a chance to communicate with God. Scalia and the many people who use government meetings as a forum for prayer seem more interested in showing off, and at times even seem to use their prayers to create political disputes. How exactly is this in line with their religious teachings?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

People only want to marry virgins apparently.

Today on buzz feed a person posted images from the abstinence only curriculum in a Texas school district.


It explains to us how human beings are exactly like inanimate objects and gives us helpful information like:

People want to marry a virgin, just like they want a virgin toothbrush or stick of gum.

I’ll let you guys in on a little secret. I’m getting married in March, though my fiancé will be giving birth to our child in a little more than a month. You don’t have to be a math wiz to know that means we had sex before we got married. Also, does anyone want to hazard a guess at the number of fucks I gave about how many sexual partners my fiancé had before me? None, absolutely zero fucks were given about this question. That isn’t to say we don’t communicate honestly about with each other, we just don’t judge another person’s worth as a human being or as a spouse by number of people we had sex with before we met each other.  So I’ll say to sex education teachers of Canyon Independent School District, stop teaching your students to be bigots, because that is what you are teaching them to be when you teach them to judge other people’s worth by the number of sexual partners they have had.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pastor Robert Jeffress strikes again

Pastor Robert Jeffress did an interview on CNN about prayers in government meetings.

He accuses Sandra Day O’Connor of making up with the “phony” endorsement test. The interviewer brings up the endorsement test, quoted below, as an argument that prayers in council meetings acts to endorse religion.

The Establishment Clause prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community. Government can run afoul of that prohibition...[by] endorsement or disapproval of religion. Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.

Jeffress responds:

Well I actually I pray that way in our city council meetings when I’m asked to pray, but remember the founding fathers said congress cannot establish a religion. Sandra Day O’Conner came up with this phony endorsement test. We’ve got to go back to what the founding fathers said. They talked about establishing a state religion.

This is a typical argument by fundamentalists about church state separation. It hinges on their own peculiar definitions of the words, “establishment” and “endorsement.” They argue that establishment is wrong but endorsement is just fine. However, they define establishment in the narrowest sense possible. In their opinion the only was we could establish a religion would be to pass a law which officially created a state church. So as long as congress doesn’t pass a law naming one denomination or another the state church they think no constitutional violation has occurred.

They also like to focus on the fact that the first amendment only mentions congress instead of including state and local governments, which flatly ignores the courts interpretation of the 14th amendment as extending many of the articles in the bill of rights to the states, including the establishment clause.

It should be obvious that I don’t find their position well reasoned. There is ample reason to believe that the government can do much to establish a state religion without passing a law explicitly naming one. Jeffress wants to treat the terms “establishment” and “endorsement” as if they are entirely different things, but they can actually be quite similar. Jeffress, based on his statements, wants Christianity to be publicly endorsed by the state because he knows it will give his beliefs an advantage in the marketplace of ideas. Jeffress can say he is ok with other religious groups getting their turns to pray because he knows Christianity is in the majority; he knows that other groups will rarely, if ever, get their “turns” in most areas of the country.

He continues by pointing out that the founding fathers were ok with prayers in government assemblies. Of course this isn’t entirely true. The founding fathers weren’t some hive mind, they were individuals with, sometimes, wildly diverging opinions. As such, some of them favored prayer in government and some didn’t. However, even if every single one of them had favored prayer in the government that wouldn’t necessitate that it was a good idea.

When Jeffress says we have to “go back to what the founding fathers said,” he talks about the founding fathers as if they were infallible, but the truth is that they got stuff wrong all the time. Thomas Jefferson believed slavery would fade away over time, and we all know how well that worked out. I would argue that, on church state separation, the founding fathers had the right idea, but simply failed to apply it very consistently. The Declaration of Independence said “all men are created equal,” yet few today would argue that we should not give women equal rights, so Jeffress insistence that not deviate even slightly from the intentions of the founding fathers is just absurd.

Friday, November 1, 2013

How one man justified his own bigotry by blaming atheists.

atheistI ran across a baffling exchange last night before I went to bed. There was a particular statement that most bothered me which I will quote. I’d link directly to the blog but for two things. One I don’t want to give these particular people any extra traffic, and two, I don’t want my blog to show up in the traffic sources on their blog stats. The second reason being because the quote I’m critiquing comes from a person who I once considered a friend. I suspect you will understand why that friendship is in past tense when you read the quote.

In any case, to give you some context this was in the comment section of a blog post discussing the recent kerfuffle started between atheists and Oprah after her interview of Diana Nyad. I didn’t write this thing because quite frankly I couldn’t think of anything to say about it that hadn’t already been said elsewhere. Posts like the ones on The Friendly Atheist, and Camels with Hammers already covered everything I could want to say on the topic, so I didn’t see much reason to weigh in.

In any case the OP thinks that atheists who complain about Oprah are whiney, which makes me conclude that they haven’t actually read much of the actual criticism that atheists wrote about this interview. Most of the criticism was a lot more nuanced than just rabid demands for an apology. Further most atheists don’t get bent out of shape about every bit of religious iconography as the OP indicates that they do, only the ones that used to promote state endorsement of religion..

The OP says they were not criticizing all atheists but just liberal ones, but even this is odd since nothing about this conversation is directly related to politics. I wasn’t terribly happy about Oprah’s statements but I don’t consider myself a liberal or a Democrat. Of course, I don’t consider myself a conservative or a Republican either, but again this discussion is really unrelated to politics, not everything has to be about what political party one belongs too.

The real fun starts when a fellow atheist chimes in with criticism the simplistic way in which the OP addresses atheism and a commenter chimes in with this:

You know this problem would go away if they would just admit that they’re a religion (a belief system based on faith without a single shred of proof)…then we could break them into denominations and only attack the denominations that were annoying…but since they refuse to admit the obvious it becomes difficult.

I rarely see such a blatant attempts at victim blaming outside of a men’s rights website, or an advocate for Social Darwinism. The poster believes we are to blame for both his and the OP insulting statements about atheists because if we would just break up into denominations they wouldn’t have to generalize so much. There are so many things wrong with this statement it is difficult to even know where to begin.

First, there is no reason to think that such an action would really change anyone's behavior because you actually have to be familiar with a system of beliefs in order to start to understand the nuances in that belief system. For example, there are multiple “denominations” of Buddhism, (that range from polytheistic to atheistic) but how many people in the U.S. actually know that? I would venture to guess there aren’t many.  Nothing indicates to me that this poster cares one bit about understanding the opinions of atheists.

Secondly, it is quite easy to categorize ideas with turning them into a “religion.” We do this for politics, philosophy, and a variety of other ideas without blinking. If the commenter is unable to separate out different ideas within atheism unless they admit they are religious than that is simply a lack of imagination on their part. Though I suspect it is more likely just an excuse for what I can only refer to bigotry. Which brings me to my third point.

Categorizing people by “denominations” is not a substitute for actually getting to know people. To put it another way, I regularly criticize religion on this blog, but you won’t hear me say things like “Christians are stupid,” or “Every Muslim is a terrorist.” The reason for this is that I am not going to assume that every single person who identifies with a certain label necessarily thinks lockstep with every other person who shares that label. I’ll criticize religious ideas, and even specific religious people, but I try to avoid sweeping generalizations, and for good reason. Creating a group of sub categories just attempts to hide the problem behind another layer of generalizations that are just slightly less general.

In any case, Have denominations really helped sort out the problems in Christianity? Even within specific Christian denominations there are disagreements about a wide variety of things. We can generalize that southern Baptists are Republican and against gay marriage, but I have met a few who are neither of those things. Heck, despite thousands of denominations some Christians still argue that their beliefs are not actually a religion.

They also miss a very real reason that atheists don’t tend to like to categorize themselves much. We, meaning all humans, like to categorize things. It’s something we do quite well. It’s why things like Apophenia (seeing patterns where there are none) exist. It’s evolutionary beneficial, because it allows us to make quick decisions about unfamiliar things by attaching them to a category of things that are familiar. However, it’s also lazy thinking, and can lead to errors. Once something is fit in a category we tend to stop thinking about it very carefully. Many atheist are skeptics (though not all), and as such we recognize this behavior, and the potential problems that go with it. People who join a new group, be it religious, political or something else, don’t start out agreeing with everything, but over time tend to embrace more and more of their ideas. Categorizing ourselves into different denominations would be easy, but in the long run it would make it more difficult for us to assess new ideas fairly.

What the commenter doesn’t seem to realize is that other human beings don’t exist for their benefit. There is no requirement that we fit into neat categories to make things more intellectually easy for them. I see no reason to give up my intellectual autonomy because someone promises to quit making hatful generalizations about me if I do. If you have trouble understanding other people make an effort to understand them don’t opine about how things would be so much easier for you if everyone else conformed to your overly simplistic expectations.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Soup kitchen director refuses to allow atheists to volunteer

So this story has been making it’s rounds. The atheist group upstate atheists tried to volunteer at a soup kitchen run by a church. They were turned down, the director saying she would resign for her job before she let atheists volunteer.

Now, I’ll first say that they are totally within their rights to do this. Since the soup kitchen is apparently run by a church they have the right to discriminate based on religious grounds they way a secular relief group would not. If they don’t want to allow atheists in their group they have that right, I would, in fact, defend their rights to do so on purely legal grounds.

On the other hand I won’t mince words at all when I say that I think to behave in this way is incredibly mean and short sighted. It makes it appear that they are more worried about their image, and about their ability to use the soup kitchen as a means to convert people than they are worried about feeding hungry people. I also find it bizarre given that Christians so often like to opine that atheists don’t do things to help the less fortunate, but then a group trying to do that very thing is turned away. It does seem a little like a self fulfilling prophecy. Though, for my part, I would be a little sketchy about donating time or money to Christian relief organizations precisely because I wouldn’t want work or money to benefit their ideological goals.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Atheists: Valuable to religion or a “spiritual cancer”

I’m always slightly amused when members of a religion start debates about whether atheists have some legitimate purpose or should be allowed to exist. Even the ones who argue the point in the affirmative usually argue from a perspective of self centeredness and presumptiveness.

I ran across such an article today by Ron Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic Priest. Rolheiser validates the existence of atheists by pointing out that we pick apart bad religion.

In his monumental study of atheism, Michael Buckley suggests that atheism is invariably a parasite that feeds off bad religion.  It feeds off bad religion, picks on bad religion, and picks apart bad religion.

If that's true, then ultimately atheists do us a huge favor. They pick apart bad religion, showing us our blind spots, rationalizations, inconsistencies, double-standards, hypocrisies, moral selectivity, propensity for power, unhealthy fears, and hidden arrogance. Atheism shows us the log in our own eye.

I find it a bit self centered that he promotes the value of people who are atheists because they critique the “bad” parts of his religion. In any case, how exactly do we tell the difference between good and bad religion? Rolheiser seems to be a more moderate religious believer, so I probably would agree with him on many more things than I would with a fundamentalist. However, while I tend to agree with more moderate religious people on social issues I still find some of the reasoning and philosophy that they employ to be questionable if not outright false. So is our standard for “good” religion based on actions or philosophical clarity? If I were to require both I’m not sure I could name a religion I could call good.

He argues:

Finally, most important, the real response to bad religion is never secularism or atheism, but better religion!  We need to be more consistent, both in private conscience and in church practice.

This claim is only true if some version of religion is true, which amounts to the entire debate between the theists and the atheists. Perhaps the best religious belief is to not believe at all. Further, the only rule he lays out here is consistency, and it is possible for beliefs to be consistent but entirely false.

He continues:

What is better religion? How do we recognize better religion? We recognize true religion in the same way as we recognize true beauty and goodness. They're self-evident when they appear.

It’s self evident? If it were self evident then why do so many people disagree? Not just atheists, but does he really think all the proponents of “bad” religion know they are wrong but just pretend otherwise? Many of the proponents of what he might call “bad” religion would think Rolheiser’s religion is the bad one. In fact, I actually found Rolheisler’s article via an article written to criticize Rolheiser, which was posted on the religiously conservative Renew America website. It is written by Matt C. Abbot, but I use the term “written” loosely since 90% of the article is block quotes from a Catholic priest and the Catechism. If you found Rolheiser’s thoughts on atheism were insulting then check out Father John Trigilio Jr.’s criticism of it.

Atheism is an intellectual and spiritual cancer. Imagine if physicians began to praise disease and injuries because they challenge us to appreciate good health. How can the denial of God be good for religion and for personal faith? Our enemy's enemy is not de facto our new good friend. Likewise, just because atheism exposes the hypocrisy and bankruptcy of bad religion, that does not transform the intrinsic evil and error of atheism. Just as cancer is a physical evil, atheism denies an innate truth that there is indeed a God (Supreme Being, Prime Mover, Necessary Being, Creator, et al.).

It would be like praising the devil and evil in general, as one could contend that they make us acknowledge and appreciate God and goodness. The denial of God's existence is an error; it is a false argument and has no merit

Trigilio thinks our existence is a cancer, I care not if he thinks it a spiritual cancer since I don’t believe there is such a thing as “spiritual,” but to call it an intellectual cancer is to imply that atheists are either stupid or evil. Then Abbot goes on to quote what the Catechism says about atheism as if that is the final word, which I suppose for him, as a Catholic, it is. I suppose I shouldn’t expect much more from Abbot, since on the same site he has also published an article interviewing an M.D. who is a professor of psychiatry and who also believes in demonic possession. (I know who I won’t be going to for medical advice) I may write a separate post about this.

While I disagree with him, at least Rolheiser ends his article by trying to give atheists some credit.

Atheism is a parasite that feed offs bad religion. So, when, like today, atheism takes on a particularly nasty aggression, perhaps we need to examine more closely what this mirrors inside of religion.

To some extent he is right, people who are members of more extremist religions are likely to reject such beliefs and then religion all together, and atheists are also likely to be louder in the face of harms being done explicitly in the name of religion. However, I disagree with his attempt to paint atheists as nothing more than reactionaries or some sort of yang to his yin. His argument sound a little bit too much like the typical claims that people become atheists because they had some bad experience with religious people. Atheists are our own people with our own thoughts, we aren’t here just to help you fix the flaws in your religion.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reaction to atheist who beat up a pastor in his church.

A recent story has about an atheist named James Maxie who beat up a pastor has been making it’s rounds around the blogosphere, including the Friendly Atheist Blog. Some theists have tried to use this mans actions as an indictment against atheism in general, which I think is ridiculous since the number of atheists who have gotten in fist fights with preachers is actually quite small.

jamesmaxieNow, on the other side of this story there are atheists who, while they condemn Maxie’s actions, are tempted to commiserate with him because they feel the anger that led to his violent act was justified by the pastors bigotry against atheists. On this point I have to disagree with them, at least based upon the available evidence.

See the violence started when Rev. Norman Hayes asked Maxie’s girlfriend, whom he presumably knew, if she was safe, indicating that he was worried that Maxie might be abusing her. I suppose that some atheists believe that the pastor made this accusation because Maxie was an atheist, but there really isn’t any evidence of that.

Now, I’m not saying that bigotry against atheists doesn’t exist, nor am I saying that this pastor might not have some of those views himself, but nothing in this altercation leads me to believe that Hayes leveled such a charge because of Maxie’s atheism. Further, Maxie’s reaction is evidence that there was merit to Hayes supposition of abuse. Maxie had already been argumentative throughout the service, and having been convicted of both assault and statutory rape previously it is entirely possible that people in the area, including the pastor, already knew his reputation.

So it is entirely possible, and even likely, that Hayes’s accusation not influenced by Maxie’s atheism, but a genuine concern that the woman was being abused. Given his position as a preacher it probably wasn’t the first time he had seen a couple exhibit signs of an abusive dynamic, and given that there are many stories where preachers have ignored or even actively covered up cases of abuse I have to give Hayes credit for his actions.

That being said, there is one point where I think Hayes made a mistake. Preachers often act as therapists or counselors even though they are not properly trained to do those things.  A trained psychologist or psychotherapist would have known that you never ask someone if they are being abused in front of an abuser, and might even know tricks to separate them so they could ask the question privately. At best, in front of the abuser, the victim will deny it. At worst, we get exactly what happened and the abuser becomes violent as a result of the accusation. One of the reasons for this is that most abusers intellectually know that hitting their significant other is abuse, but they don’t think of themselves as abusers. In their own mind they will have found ways to excuse their own personal behavior as somehow different than that of actual abusers. Accusations of abuse will force them to face their internally inconsistent views. Of course, this makes them angry and these are people who often deal with their anger by blaming someone else and then hitting that person.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Christian argues the only real solution to health care is to let the church handle it.

Ran across this Christian criticism of the ACA today.

7 Things the Bible Says About Obamacare

I know, I know, everyone has an opinion about the Affordable Care Act and the subsequent Republican shut down of the government. In all honesty I have no degree in economics so it’s entirely possible that you shouldn’t listen to me any more than this guy. However, I’m going to make my argument anyway, decide for yourself if it makes any sense.

His starts with these two points:

  • Caring for the sick is a good thing to do
  • Caring for the sick, however, is not the role of the government

I can applaud him for noting that caring for the sick is a good thing, so I have little problem with his first point. He tries to drive home his point with the bible which is irrelevant to me, but the article is clearly written to a Christian audience so it makes sense that he would do this.

It’s the second point I take issue with, he first sets up the idea that the government fills particular roles, and says that health care is not one of them. However, this he bases the idea for these roles on religion and since this is a secular democracy we are not bound to rules in the bible, we need more convincing reasons for this rule. To be fair, he tries to offer somewhat secular reasons for this later on but I disagree with them too.  I would also point out that his interpretation is self serving and many religious people do not agree that healthcare is an area government is not allowed to go.

Of course with the government out of healthcare, since he agrees we need it, who does he imagine will take over for the government? Why, the churches of course. In this thinking I see a big problem, though the author probably doesn’t see it as such. I’ll admit that when we go to the government for a solution there are usually strings attached, and sometimes those strings are annoying or work poorly. However, these governmental strings are at least predictable, mostly rational, and are, at least in theory, the same for everyone.

Allow the churches to take over healthcare and care for the poor we are left with a system that has strings attached to it which are completely arbitrary and could change at any moment. Even secular private organizations that help the poor often have government regulations placed upon them to keep them from using the system to abuse people they are trying to help, but churches regularly get a free pass on these regulations even now, and given this guys opinion it seems clear he would want to further limit the governments ability to regulate churches in this area. This could result in a situation that gives the church quite a massive amount of control over those with lower incomes.

Imagine a single parent who looses their job and needs food to feed their children, they go to a church for help because that is the only place to go. What is to stop this church from requiring this person and their children to attend church? Nothing as far as I can tell. This may be an acceptable situation for Christians because they feel it is their god given mission on earth to convert everyone by any means necessary. However, for someone like myself who finds the moral teaching of the church morally suspect they would be forcing me to choose between my religious rights and the ability to feed my family. Further, they could change these rules at the drop of a hat for no reason at all.

It may not be the authors intent but they would have created a system in which true freedom of religion will be a right only consistently granted to the rich and middle class. Further the system is ripe for abuse by bigots of all types. Of course some churches would work to eliminate these problems no doubt, but now instead of one government bureaucracy every denomination will end up with their own separate bureaucracy to govern their own separate healthcare/insurance system. How exactly would this save us anyone money?

The third point:

  • The ACA forces compliance

Well, he is right about this, but there is nothing wrong with the government expecting compliance; that is called law. The government does this all the time, this is how it works if you want to live in a society with other people. We agree to give up certain rights for the good of all. If you want to argue that this particular instance goes to far that’s fine, but don’t pretend that living under the rule of law is some crazy idea that the government just started forcing on us when Obama was elected president. The government also fines us for not wearing seatbelts, and they tax cigarettes, and beer and all sorts of things.

Fourth point:

  • The ACA violates religious liberty.

This is one of the more ridiculous points that the religious right has been pushing. The notion is that Christian owned companies like Hobby Lobby are justified in refusing to include medical coverage in their employment package for certain legal medical products/procedures that the owners happen to have moral issues with. This is patently ridiculous, no one has interfered with their religious beliefs, as no one is asking that they personally take any part in or be subject to said medical treatments. Refusing to offer insurance coverage to employees based upon your religious beliefs is interference with your employees religious freedom, not the other way around.

A quote from this section I found particularly informative:

What your lawmakers should know: Government is not above the Christian principles upon which it was founded, and cannot force Christians to do something that violates their consciences.

The author has bought into the completely false idea that the government was founded on Christian principals, but was is particularly troubling is that he asserts that the government cannot force Christians to violate their conscience. Why only Christians? Why are Christians so special? If some Christians happen to feel so strongly about not allowing the insurance they provide to cover things like birth control then they are free to no longer work in management positions at secular companies.

Fifth point:

  • The ACA is theft.

Taking money to give to another is stealing – even if it is for a good cause.

Ahh, this idea. He doesn’t explicitly say so, but he is following the typical anarcho-capitalist idea that all taxes are theft. The fact is that this simply isn’t true. For one thing it is a huge oversimplification to say that the government takes money from the rich and gives it to the poor. The government takes in taxes which it then uses to provide services. Some of those services like roads are are accessible to everyone equally. In fact, it is arguable that rich people get more benefit from roads than anyone since it enables them to cheaply move their products from one place to another.

Of course it is true that some things, like Medicare, benefit the poor more than the rich, and it’s also true that the poor pay less taxes. (Some will argue that pay none but this is inaccurate, they often pay no income taxes but they still pay many other taxes including sales taxes) However, I still don’t’ think this qualifies as theft. Anyone remember the American revolution? It didn’t start because of taxes, it started because people were being taxed by England but had no representation in the parliament that levied those taxes. Does “No taxation without representation” sound familiar? We have representation though, and we used our election system to legally elect the people who promised health care reform, and then they did what they promised by passing the ACA.

I understand that they didn’t vote for them and they don’t agree with them, but they got their vote same as everyone. That’s how the system works, and it isn’t theft because this is how everyone generally agrees things should work. I wasn’t a fan of the Iraq war under Bush, and I’m also not a fan of many of the military engagements under Obama, yet those things cost money and inevitably some of my taxes went to pay for it. That annoys me, but I don’t claim the government stole my money because taxes aren’t theft, they are an entrance fee to live in a civilized society.

Sixth point:

  • No government program, including the ACA, can reduce the cost of medical care.

What your lawmakers should know: The only way cost reduction can be accomplished is by healthy, economical competitionThe goal is to get to a point to where you shop for the best medical care like you shop for a mechanic.  You make a few calls to get some prices, and then make a decision about who will best satisfy your needs.

I’ll preface this by reminding you I’m not an economist, but then neither is this guy. This is simply wrong as far as I can tell. There are plenty of countries with government run healthcare where things are much cheaper than here.

Because I’m no expert here I’ll let someone who actually knows what they are talking about here fill you in:

So the article makes some really noticeable errors in judgment about how healthcare works, and economics in general. For those who don’t watch the video, one of the major problems is that one can only negotiate for a better price when they have a strong position. As John points out in the video, health care is not something that individuals can negotiate efficiently on because they are in a very weak position. (I.E. I need those pills or I will die)  This is why it is possible for the government, or insurance companies for that matter, to get a better price for services than an individual who needs medical treatment. The authors attempt to blame high medical costs in the U.S. on government involvement is a huge oversimplification if not just outright wrong. As John points out government involvement in this area can actually improve competition not stifle it as is suggested.

Point Seven:

  • The ACA creates more debt.

This is not actually certain, some economists think that it might, but there are also economists who predict that in the long run it will actually save money. It is difficult to say for sure because economies are a complex thing and they don’t always behave as expected. The author wants to take a rather simplistic approach by saying this will cost more money therefor increase debt. However, there are a number of ways the bill could work to lower medical costs and improve the overall economic efficiency of the U.S. Again, I suggest reading an article by someone who knows more than me.

The Economics of the Affordable Care Act

He ends this section with this:

What your lawmakers should know:  We should not increase our national debt, even if it is for a “good” thing, unless it’s necessary for national survival and for a biblical purpose (i.e. war costs).

It is a very odd logic that leads a person to conclude that is totally moral for our country to go into debt to kill people, but not to save them. I find it odd that people who want us to balance our national debt never suggest cutting military spending, even though it is the third largest expenditure by our country, coming in at 716 billion dollars last year. This kind of thinking is exactly why I find the “moral” teachings of so many Christians completely immoral.

The author seems does not really seem to understand the complex economic issues surrounding healthcare and tries to offer overly simplistic answers to these problems based upon his personal interpretation of the bible.

His call that Christians should care for the poor seems laudable, and in a sense it probably is. However, the long term effect of such a policy would be to give the Christian church a massive level of political and social power within this country. Given this fact, I wonder if perhaps they understand things a lot better than they are letting on. Perhaps some, if not many, are just using small government talking points as a guise that will allow them to use health care as a wedge issue to move the country towards Christian theonomy. Of course I can’t look inside their minds so I can’t know for sure, but I certainly wonder. Even if it isn’t their goal I’m sure they wouldn’t have much of a problem with it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Scalia believes in the devil and ad hoc reasoning.

Justice Scalia believes in the devil according to an interview published in New York Magazine. Some people, including the interviewer, seemed surprised by this fact. I was actually more surprised by the interviewers surprise. Didn’t the interviewer know anything about Scalia before doing the interview. The man is a 77 year old conservative catholic, it would be far more surprising to me if he didn’t believe in the devil, and why exactly is this belief so much more shocking than his belief in god? They are both beliefs in a supernatural entity for which good evidence is practically non-existent, and quite frankly Scalia is right when he tells the interviewer that most Americans believe in both of these beings.

What I found really interesting is after he admitted to believing in the bible the interviewer asked a fairly good question about this.

Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?

Scalia gives a rather interesting answer.

You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

So Scalia acknowledges that there is a clear difference between how we see our modern observations of reality and all of the supernatural activities described in the bible. So how does he resolve this contradiction?

What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

So he believes that the reason the devil doesn’t engage in obviously supernatural actions is because sometime between two thousand years ago and the development of modern scientific standards during the renascence he figured out that convincing people he isn’t real would suit his purposes better.  His argument would actually make sense if you start out by assuming the bible’s description of these events is mostly accurate. However, without that unfounded assumption we are free to believe that the stories were simply made up or exaggerated, which seems like a much more reasonable explanation. 

It’s ad hoc reasoning to start with a conclusion and interpret all of the facts to suit your preconceived position, but what really irks me with is argument is that his evidence for supernatural actions in the past, the bible, is essentially hearsay. It bothers me that a judge thinks that hearsay is a valid bases for a belief. I hope that he is doesn’t use this kind of reasoning while ruling on cases, but I’m not exactly convinced he understands this distinction.

Of course he also tries to deny that his argument would suggest that atheists are doing the work of the devil even though that seems to be exactly what his argument would suggest, I’d be offended but I have long since stopped being offended by Scalia’s thoughts on religion. I will say I won’t be sad when he finally steps down from the bench.

Geek USA

I just saw this a trailer on Hulu for a movie coming out this year about high school student growing up in the 90’s who is a member of an alternative band.

The moving is set in 1997, the same year I graduated High school. I’m not entirely sure about how I feel about the knowledge that I am now old enough that people are making nostalgia based movies about the decade I grew up in.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Atheists who don’t like atheism.

Every one in a while I run across a “can’t we all just get along” article from some atheist who just doesn’t understand why other atheists just can’t seem to get along with theists. Articles like this one:

Heavens, we atheists have become a smug, dreary lot

Now, I have no problem admitting that not all atheists are bastions of rationality, or acknowledging that some statements or arguments made for atheism or against religion are bad. (Zeitgeist anyone?) So I readily acknowledge that there are legitimate criticisms of atheism as a social movement, as well as legitimate criticisms of actions taken by organizations and people within this movement. The problem I often see with articles like this one is that the author, being someone who is not at all involved with atheism as a movement, is essentially criticizing that movement from the outside, and uses their identity as an atheist to give an air of legitimacy to their criticism. Unfortunately, their ignorance about the issues makes their particular criticisms fall flat.

The author starts here:

When people are asked who they’d invite to a dream dinner party, the list often features pillars of the world’s religions – Moses sharing grapes with the Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed chatting over a cup of decaf. No one ever imagines the world’s great atheists at the table, probably knowing that they’d just grumble about the seating arrangements and why they weren’t invited to be keynote speakers at the next God-free convention.

It’s a bizarre criticism, since they essentially brush every outspoken atheist in history with the same stroke. For my part I wouldn’t invite any religious leaders. I’d be more likely to invite Thomas Paine, Nietzsche, perhaps Robert Ingersoll, but certainly not Buddha or Jesus. I couldn’t possibly be less interested in what they had to say.  There are plenty of atheists, agnostics, and deists I would love to see at that table, but admittedly this is a rather subjective game. Where the article really goes off the rails is in the next paragraph.

I say this as an atheist: My goodness, we’ve become a smug, dreary, proselytizing lot. We, the fervent unbelievers, have won the war and yet are still behaving like persecuted outsiders.

First off I, I’m not a big fan of using the word “war” to describe what atheists are doing here, but even if we were to use this term what on earth would make her think we have won it?

Atheists now have their own “church,” the Sunday Assembly…We have our own rock stars

She lists having our own church and famous people as if those were our only goals. It is completely absurd, it would be like saying that black civil rights leaders should have stopped making such a fuss in 1975 because hey they got The Jefferson's and Good Times. After all, there were famous black people; what more could they want? Clearly the civil rights movement was about more than promoting a few black people to celebrity status, and so it is with atheism as well.

Of course I will acknowledge that atheists have made some headway, but the reality is that there is no single “war” to even win when it comes to atheism. For instance many organizations and individuals fight for church state separation, this is not an atheist specific goal though as there are many theists who also believe in protecting the this ideal, and while we have made progress in this area the issue is hardly “won.” Another issue is creationism, again many theists believe in evolution and promote it’s teaching in schools, so not atheists specific, but also far from over. So to submit that our job is done and we can all shut-up is at best incredibly naïve.

She continues:

Religious observance and worship are down, all over the Western world, and skepticism is up.

This is highly questionable. Certainly in certain parts of the world religious observance is down, but it has actually gone up in other areas. Also, while more people are more skeptical of organized religion, many of them have not traded that in for scientific or skeptical thinking; they have just replaced organized religion with new age beliefs and other non-scientific conclusions which are sometimes more harmful than organized religion.

She then brings up some of the pope’s statements about atheists made recently adding:

When the Pope’s on your side, you know it’s time to pack up the martyr complex and go home.

Anyone who really listened to the pope’s statement knows that he is not actually on “our” side. For one, none of his recent statements have accompanied any changes in church doctrine or policy as of yet, and for two his statements are not actually a softening of the church's position. As far as I can tell, he is trying to improve the churches P.R. without actually changing anything.

Most of the rest of her article goes into criticizing Dawkins and a few other prominent atheists. Again I think that there are legitimate criticisms of Dawkins’ work, but I think the author does a poor job of it. Though my real problem is that the author treats the discussion as if there are only two sides, those in Dawkins’ camp and those in hers. The author acts as if you are an activist atheist you must agree with Dawkins or if you are one of those live and let live types you must agree with her. I would submit that the face of atheism is far more diverse and complex than that.

I would leave you with a thought that I always find a bit ironic when I read pieces like this. People like the author are irritated by more activist atheists like myself for apparently wanting everyone to conform to our ideas, but what exactly is the author doing except asking other atheists to conform to her ideas about how an atheist should behave? As an activist atheist I don’t much have a problem with atheists who don’t choose to speak out as much. Most atheists, and people in general for that matter, aren’t going to share the same exact set of interests and knowledge as I am, or at least have gaps in their knowledge that I may not. In a way I’m kind of glad of this, because if everyone cared about the same issues in the same way there would be no reason for me to write this blog. See, when it comes to discussions like this, most of us activist atheists are quite comfortable with the idea that not everyone is going to be as involved as we are. So why are the non-activist types so determined that we be as uninvolved as they are, even going as far as insulting us with terms like “smug” and “dreary” to encourage such uniformity? After all, can’t we all just get along?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Psychologist who writes for fox news blames feminism for Weiner’s sexting scandal.

So this article was published a couple of months ago but I just ran into it a few days ago and it was just too ridiculous to pass up commenting on.

What Weiner’s sexting scandal tells us about young women today

Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychologist who is part of the fox news medical team, writes this article. He seems to think the feminist ideal of sexual liberation is what’s really to blame for this scandal by teaching women to enjoy sex outside of marriage. Dr. Ablow seems to think this is a “man’s job.”

The sexual liberation of women has liberated them to be just like men—who, whether anyone likes it or not, often enjoy sex outside of emotionally-connected, longstanding relationships.

Unfortunately for Ablow he gets a number of facts wrong in this article. First he seems to think that feminists seem to have no issues with Weiner’s actions. To be clear we tend to have different problems with it than Ablow has, I don’t think there is anything inherently immoral with premarital sex. However, Weiner was clearly in the wrong, he was lying to his wife. Further suggesting that the women Weiner sent these photo’s too are somehow responsible for his behavior is more than a little sexist, and suggesting that men never had affairs before feminism is more than a little bizarre. Clearly such affairs have been common throughout history even in cultures without all of those “evil” feminists.

However, he clearly thinks his arguments have scientific merit and the feminists are just being political when they suggest that there is no psychological difference between men and women; so let’s look at his actual argument:

From my perch as a psychiatrist talking to thousands of people a year, I can tell you that the average young woman no longer balks at sexting, watching pornography or being the aggressor sexually in a relationship.

But I will tell you that, from what I hear in my office, the girls actually feel a whole lot worse about it, in their hearts, than the boys.  Because, you see, girls and boys, are not the same.

In this argument we actually get a picture of the scientific methodology he employed to come to this conclusion. My conclusion is that his methodology is dangerously sloppy. You will noticed he, at no point, mentions any studies that demonstrate that the average women feels psychologically traumatized by unmarried consensual sex. I can only assume that he quotes no studies because he is unaware of any.

So what is the evidence he brings to the table? His brings up his work with his patients and says that women feel worse in their hearts than men do. Now some people wanting to defend him might at this point say that this guy has a degree in his field and has practiced psychology for years, and don’t I believe in trusting scientists? Who am I to question his authority in this field, since I clearly have no degree in psychology. Well, it’s true I have no degree, but I actually trust the scientific method much more than I trust individual scientists. This is important because Ablow clearly fails to follow scientific principals in his analysis.

You see Ablow uses a flawed sample set. In this case he is making generalizations about a whole population based upon a small self selected sample set. In general if you want your figures to be representative of the whole population then a self selected set is a bad way to do it. This problem is further complicated by the way in which the group self selects itself. In this case all of his patients come to him with some kind of psychological issues, so to assume that facts about the sexual neuroses of his patients can be used to generalize about about all women is very sloppy science indeed.

Further, his statements are vague and metaphorical (they feel worse in their hearts) which makes it impossible to tell if his opinions about the sexual neurosis of even the small sample set he worked from are reliable. It is entirely possible that his biases about sexual behaviors have colored his perception of his clients feelings on the matter.

The sad thing is that if he actually went looking for it there is a lot of studies out there on gender psychology, like this one:

Men and Women May Not Be So Different After All

So a further problem for Ablow is that there are good studies that actually run contrary to Ablow’s claim.

…Statistically, men and women definitely fall into distinct groups, or taxons, based on anthropometric measurements such as height, shoulder breadth, arm circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio. And gender can be a reliable predictor for interest in very stereotypic activities, such as scrapbooking and cosmetics (women) and boxing and watching pornography (men). But for the vast majority of psychological traits, including the fear of success, mate selection criteria, and empathy, men and women are definitely from the same planet.

I suggest reading the whole study, as it demonstrates a much more careful and thoughtful methodology than Ablow does, which is why I find it ironic that he ends with this:

Some gender roles developed because of psychological facts, not in spite of them.  And when feminists urged and urge that we throw out all of them, they do a disservice to females and to the truth.

Ablow’s willingness to use his flawed data, in place of the good data which contradicts his desired conclusion, makes it painfully obvious that his reasoning is motivated by his political and religious ideals, not a desire for truth. It does not qualify as good science. Further, he subtly engages in victim blaming and sexism throughout his article, which makes it difficult to believe he is overly concerned about women’s rights.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Blaze talks about evolution, also never read the comments on a Blaze article.

I ran across an article about creationism and evolution over at the Blaze today.

Evolution vs. Creationism: Did God create humans in our current form?

The article starts out by referencing an article on Yahoo news that Virginia Heffernan wrote announcing she is a creationist. Their treatment of her article is incredibly biased. They talk about her making a “slew of ideological enemies” implying that the disagreement with her was ideological and not because of legitimate factual problems in her argument, and calls her case “compelling.”

They don’t even really seem to understand her case very well because if you read her article she seems to call herself a creationist only because she has no idea what that word actually means. She is clearly not promoting the type of creationist thinking that is common to Ken Ham and other typical fundamentalist creationists. She doesn’t claim the earth was created in a few days, and she admits the bible is contradictory. The only problems with evolution she talks about come from evo-psych, a field that is regularly criticized by fellow skeptics for it’s just so stories, which is the same thing she criticizes it for.  

She also seems to drift into some relativist philosophy at the end of the article, which is also quite in incombatable with the positions of most creationists. Essentially, believe in god even if it isn’t true because it’s a better story than the one science sells. Now, not only do I think this is a bad approach to truth, I happen to disagree with the notion that the bible spins a better tale than science.

As to whether she accepts evolution in general or she is just somewhat ignorant and wrongly conflates evo-psych with all of evolution, I honestly don’t have enough information to say one way or the other. What I can say is that Heffernan is not a typical creationist, and in fact she seems to not even know what the term means when it comes to most of the blaze’s readers.

The article itself is full of plenty of bad science, most notably the assumption the notion that the results of the necessarily self selected poll they ran on their website is at all useful.

A much more specific and pointed question asked respondents if man evolved “with no involvement from a higher power.” There was a clear consensus among the 4,008 Blaze readers who responded. While six percent answered affirmatively, an overwhelming 94 percent of the readers who took the poll rejected this notion.

This is particularly interesting due to the fact that the Pew Research Center estimates that about six percent of the nation considers itself secular and unaffiliated with a faith — a prime group that would embrace the idea that mankind evolved without God’s hand guiding the process. Of course, the Blaze poll on this subject was not a scientific one, but the proportional similarities are still worth noting.

In the last line here they acknowledge that the poll was not scientific but then go on to act as if the study was actually valid anyway since the figures happen to coincide with figures for a completely different question in a population based poll done by Pew. (which is not exactly the gold standard for science anyway) They also, at certain points, imply that most of their readers disbelieving in evolution amounts to evidence that there is good reason to doubt evolution.

As bad as the article was, the comments were fare worse, of the kind that makes me question humanities ability to think rationally about anything. One commenter claims to be a young earth creationist physics teacher, which just makes me sad. or this one:

Well, since naturalism requires a scientific explanation OR an eyewitness account, and evolutionists don’t have an eyewitness account to corroborate their position, nor a scientifically defensible explanation, (speculation and wild assumption is not scientific), and Judeo/Chrsitianity actually has an EYEWITNESS account of what occurred at the beginning, I’m going with the BEST evidence which is that God created the heavens and the earth and mankind and the animals and all that was created.

Yes, this person just argued that believing the bible is the more scientific option because there were eyewitnesses to the events in the bible and evolution has no eyewitnesses. What I find so ridiculous about this argument is that, even by fundamentalist Christian standards, it isn’t true. By those standards Genesis was written by Moses around 2,000 B.C. several thousand years after creation. If people can’t even keep their arguments internally consistent with their own world view how can they hope to understand complex scientific principals?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Math….pffft why would we need that to understand global warming?

I’ve been reading different arguments about global warming lately and I ran across a claim on the sites of several people arguing against global warming.

Man-made carbon dioxide emissions throughout human history constitute less than 0.00022 percent of the total naturally emitted from the mantle of the earth during geological history.

I’ll admit when I first read this I thought, is this really true? Doesn’t this hurt man made global warming arguments? Then I took a moment and considered the statement more carefully. the 0.00022 number provided is based upon a comparison of carbon dioxide for the entire geological history of the earth, which if you remember is 4.3 billion years. However, human cased global warming is a recent issue caused by high CO2 output by humans. Almost all of this CO2 output has happened in the last two to three hundred years, which means the real question is how much extra CO2 have we added to environment recently not in all of earths history.

Let’s not stop here though. Assuming this number is correct (I couldn’t verify anywhere) then lets calculate what percentage of of the earth’s CO2 has come from humans in the past couple of hundred years. Fair warning I have never considered math to be my strongest subject so feel free to point it out to me if I make a mistake in my calculations.

First we will base the calculations on the last 300 years.  So to find out what percentage of 4.3 billion 300 is we divide them.


divided by 4,300,000,000

= 6.9-8  or 0.000000069

So 300 is only 6.9-8 of 4.3 billion, but man made carbon dioxide, most of which was caused in the last 300 years amounts to 2.2-4 which is a much larger number. How much larger?


divided by 6.9-8

roughly 3,188.4

That’s right, the amount of CO2 produced by humans is almost thirty-two hundred times more than the amount of CO2 naturally produced by the earth in the same time frame, even based on the number provided by those arguing against man made global warming. So, this number, is actually strong support for man made global warming instead of evidence against it. Making the argument that it is a very small percentage of the CO2 produced through all of human history is like claiming a flood doesn’t exist because the amount the amount of rain that caused it is a very small percentage of the overall rain fall in that area in the last hundred years.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Video games made me a better person.

There is a pernicious idea that has worked it’s way into American culture particularly in the in the religious right, but in many other places as well. It’s the idea that video games are harming kids. I’ve written on my blog before about my time as a fundamentalist Christian in college, but believe it or not I was a gamer even back then, and I was often told I shouldn’t be by religious friends that I had. I was told that it was a waste of time and I was told I should spend that time sharing the gospel with people and other similar arguments.

Further in culture at large video games are blamed for even worse things including several of the school shootings which have happed in the last several decades, and the recent shooting in D.C.. Teaching people to be amoral murder machines in virtual worlds where there are no consequences will turn them into such things in real life eventually so the argument goes.

Most people reading this are probably familiar with some of the arguments gamers have made about these issues. Poor reporting by the media was responsible for people associating a false causative relationship between the violence perpetuated by these youths and the video games they played. So most people reading this are probably on board with the idea that video games don’t actually make people less moral. However, I’m going to argue that my so called misspent youth playing video games actually made me a better person today than I would have been other wise.

To explain let me give an example from a game I played years ago, Suikoden III. It’s an eleven year old game, but just in case there is anyone out there who hasn’t played it and plans on doing so there will be some plot spoilers here. The game has an original way of telling it’s story, it had three main characters. The game was divided into five chapters, the first three of which had to be played through by each of the main characters. What makes this particularly interesting is that each of these characters are leaders in a country which is at war with the other two.

Suikoden_ChrisThere is an iconic scene in this game that involves two of the main characters. Chris, a Zexen Knight, and Hugo, son of the Karaya Clan Chief. While playing through Chris’s story your government orders you to attack the Karaya clan’s village after an attack on Zexen that you later find out was wrongly attributed to the Karaya clan. While Chris is leading the attack she sees a suit of Zexen armor in the village that she recognizes as belonging to her father who disappeared without a trace years before. She assumes that the Karaya must have killed her father and taken the suit as a trophy and in a moment of anger orders her knights to exterminate the village. She is unable to carry out the order because Hugo shows up with some others and drives her knights away, though she does kill one of Hugo’s friends in the process of retreating. While playing through her story her actions, while perhaps extreme, make sense. She isn’t a bad person, but she has spent her whole life wondering what happened to her father and thinks she has found his murders. She also regrets her order and later becomes angry at those who call her a hero for attacking the village.

Suikoden_hugo1On the other hand while playing through the same sequence as Hugo, he returns to find his village in flames and a Zexen knight ordering the death of everyone in his village. From his perspective she looks downright evil. Further, you know from his story that the suit of armor belongs to someone who lives in the village. It turns out Chris’ father is actually alive and living in with the Karaya. It turns out he left Zexen to protect Chris from assassins that were perusing him.


I know, this plot probably seems super typical of high fantasy novels like Lord of the Ring and such, but this story confronted the young 20 something me with an idea that has stuck with me to this day. In this story both Chris and Hugo held a perspective about the events going on around them that made sense given their world view and the facts that they had available to them. It is undeniable that both of them, while right about some things, were incredibly wrong about others, yet from their perspective the choices they made seemed totally rational. Now some might say that you could talk about this idea in a movie or a book ,but I think this idea was actually far better communicated in game form than it could have been in those ways. See in a book or a movie you are passively watching other take action, but in a game you are taking action, you feel as if you are influencing the world the game exists in and in effect you become the character. While playing a game I often come to identify with and understand the main characters motivation in a way that I don’t with movies or books because I feel as if I take on the role of that character. With this game it meant that I could actually understand and empathize with both the feelings and motivations of two people who hated each other in the first chapter of the game. In short it this game encouraged to me to think about complicated philosophical questions like epistemology and ethics, It also forced me to conceder the notion that an idea can seem reasonable from one perspective but still ultimately be untrue.

These ideas helped me grow as a person, and probably contributed to my willingness to abandon my religious beliefs, but this is hardly the only game out there that encourages people to think about complex moral issues. For instance games like Skyrim which allow you to make opened ended choices to resolve quests make people think about ethical dilemmas. I find it absurd that video games are often billed as a special type of cultural phenomenon that only wastes time or even worse is dangerous and causes people to become killers. Yet I’ve seen people who watch 40 hours a week of TV claim that people shouldn’t play video games because it is a “waste of time.” I’ve also seen news casters immediately ask after a school shooting if the shooter played video games (and sometimes if they were an atheist) which is an absurd question because in this day an age almost everyone under forty has played a video game. They wouldn’t assume that someone’s TV watching or book reading habits caused them to go on a shooting spree so why video games?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Another blogger who thinks evolution is an atheist conspiracy…

Recently the Kentucky Board of Education updated their science standards, and surprisingly enough I don’t have much of a complaint about that. Usually when when I pickup a story about science standards being changed, particularly in highly religious states like Kentucky, it’s because some creationist group is trying to insert creationist propaganda into the science curriculum. Surprisingly, this time the Kentucky board actually backed reasonable standards. On evolution the board stated

the fundamental, unifying theory that underlies all the life sciences…“there is no significant ongoing debate within the scientific community regarding the legitimacy of evolution as a scientific idea.

They also rejected the idea of pulling information about climate change out of science text books. They point out that the standards do not advocate for a particular political response, but do present climate change scientifically supported which seems to be exactly the way a science class should handle the issue.

Unsurprisingly many creationists and unhappy with these standards. While looking up information on this story I ran across a particularly irrational screed on The Matt Walsh Blog.

Christianity has done more for science than atheism ever could

Of course he makes an error right in the title of the post by assuming that evolution and atheism are synonymous. Considering Kentucky's religious background is is quite likely that that the school board is made up mostly of Christians. They are promoting evolution in the science curriculum because it is good science not because they are secretly atheist agitators as Matt seems to think. He gives two reasons that he thinks “progressives” are celebrating this decision.

1) It will put us in line with many other states, which is great because we all know a diverse and enriching education must be in utter uniformity with the national collective and in compliance with the federal agenda.

I always find it funny that a group of people who believe that everyone who doesn’t believe in their religion will suffer eternally in hell start criticizing atheists for our lack of “diversity,” but in the end they don’t actually understand what diversity is all about. I’m all in favor of diversity in regards to individuals personalities, likes and dislikes, etc. However, facts are still facts and to promote a version of diversity that allows people to have their own facts is to promote a relativist notion of truth. The odd thing is that I know for a fact that most Christians would regard this notion as false. Even Matt here wants Christianity taught in science class, not other religious beliefs just Christianity. How positively uniform of him.

2) The criteria calls for a renewed emphasis on man-caused climate change and, of course, evolution. Evolution — atheistic, nihilistic, materialistic, mindless evolution — must be taught as fact, without other ideas presented to compete with the theory.

All good science is technically materialistic because science is involved in measuring things it can actually measure. As soon as Matt, or anyone else, can propose a way for science to empirically measure supernatural entities and events then the supernatural can qualify as science. The thing is most Christians reject the notion that one can empirically measure such things. Christians often don’t want their beliefs to be potentially falsifiable the way scientific claims are so they reject the standards of science from the start and then demand that science respect their beliefs. It is not unreasonable to suggest that people like Matt pick one or the other. Evolution, on the other hand, is falsifiable and does meet scientific standards. If Matt thinks that those standards should be changed that is another discussion, but it is a philosophical one not a scientific one.

He then goes on to say that “members of the church of atheism” are the one really hostile to science, history, and philosophy. While I will admit that there are plenty of atheists out there who are ignorant on those topics, this is really entirely irrelevant to science standards since ideally those setting such standards should be knowledgeable about science regardless of their beliefs. The real irony, however, is that one sentence after he extols the Christians ability to properly value philosophy he uses the following quote from the apologist G.K. Chesterton

a multiplicity and subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is far beyond the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern philosophy

So he claims Christians are better and philosophy while simultaneously saying that philosophy is nothing but breezy platitudes?

He then tries answer the question of how science and religion are compatible with a litany of completely irrational arguments and biased ethnocentrism. He claims that Christians have the scientific high ground because:

As a Christian, you aren’t just a member of a religion — you’re a member of a rich intellectual tradition unmatched by any group, anywhere in the world.

It’s like he is just completely unaware of all of the rich intellectual traditions around the world that are unrelated to Christianity. He continues in this vein later on in his post so I’ll comment further there.

He then claims that an atheist recently told him that “Christians have always hated science.” I’ll actually agree with him that this is a rather bizarre thing to say. However, he metaphorically shoots himself in the foot when he calls atheists “historically illiterate fools,” and then later on in the post he complains that atheists are mean and insulting to Christians. He also claims that Modern science wouldn’t exist without religion which to me seems like an equally bizarre statement, as well as un-provable,

He claims that Christianity is the major driving force for science and he tries to demonstrate it by listing scientists who are Christian. In this he subtlety engages in a correlation vs. causation fallacy. He assumes that because these scientists were Christian that Christianity was the cause of their scientific achievements. However the pertinent question in the evolution vs. creationism debate is not whether or not Christians can be good scientists, I will happily acknowledge that they can.

The question is whether or not modern Christian fundamentalism is philosophically compatible with science. Anyone who knows history well, as Matt claims he does, would know that Christian fundamentalism is a movement that started in the 19th century in part as a reaction to what some people viewed as an encroachment into religious questions by science. This is important because beliefs like the scientific inerrancy of scripture, which are common to modern evangelical Christians in the U.S., were popularized if not outright developed by fundamentalism.  This is why it is particularly interesting that all of the scientists that Matt lists, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Descartes, Newton, Kelvin, Mendel, Boyle, lived before the 19th century. It is undeniable that their version of Christianity differed from the modern fundamentalism that informs Matt’s views is some significant ways.

He devotes a great deal of his article to just repeating the claim that Christianity is responsible for science because by listing a number of Christians who influenced western scientific development while simultaneously ignoring the fact that many of the Christians were maligned by other Christians from their time for undermining religious beliefs. I suppose Matt thinks those people weren’t real Christians like the scientists were.

He then criticizes an atheist who sent him an email full of personal attacks and insults. As I have said before I actually agree that this is a bad way for atheists to present themselves in these debates, but no one can prove their own position correct by simply pointing out that some people who disagree with them are doing so in an insulting manner. Further Matt made a point of being insulting towards atheists at multiple points in this post so all I have to say is this:


He does expand on his earlier ethnocentric statements with this gem.

When western scientific knowledge came to places like China and India in the 1600′s, it came by way of Christians and their science-hating Christianity

I’m not sure what to make of this. If I take this statement at face value he sounds like an 18th century imperialist who thinks the only good ideas come from western civilization. Perhaps he only said this because wrote himself into a corner by trying to claim that science owes Christianity everything.

Just so we know this is not true, other civilizations have invented great pieces of technology and advanced science in myriads of ways. China invented gun powder. The first blood transfusions were done by the Incas. The list could go on for days. However, it’s even a mistake to think that Christianity was around for all of the scientific developments even in the western world. Galileo may have proved the heliocentric universe, but Greek Mathematicians proved the earth was round using geometry (which they also invented) hundreds of years before Christianity existed. Last I checked both of these discoveries were instrumental in the development of western science, so by Matt’s logic we should still be worshiping Greek god’s for teaching us Geometry.

At this point he makes the most bizarre statement this entire post.

But are we Christians all “idiots”? Well, I don’t mind if you say that about me, but was Da Vinci an idiot? Aquinas? Shakespeare? Mozart? Washington? Locke? Martin Luther King Jr? Edison? Tesla? Alexandar Graham Bell? Adam Smith? Marconi? Chesterton? Lewis? MacDonald? Dickens? Faulkner? Tolkein? Marco Polo? Neil Armstrong? Magellan? Columbus? Henry Ford? All of these guys are idiots, along with the scientific pioneers I mentioned earlier?

His statement here clearly implies that everyone he just listed here is Christian, but this is untrue, at least by the these people’s accounts of themselves.. Edison was a deist. Tesla’s views are debated by historians, but he seemed to be some kind of universalist or possibly deist. Neil Armstrong was, again, a Deist. Adam Smith was at most a deist, and may have been an agnostic or an atheist. He was certainly close friends with David Hume who many consider an atheist, and smith never evokes god as an explanation in his any of his philosophy. Alexander Graham Bell considered himself agnostic.

Columbus I will give him, but also point out that Columbus was kind of an awful human being. Columbus wrote in his log when he first met the Arawak Indians that, “They would make fine servants,” and “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Also, he discovered America, not because he was brilliant, but because he reached a foolish conclusion and got lucky. That is he badly underestimated the size of our planet. The only reason he and his crew didn’t die in on a boat in the middle of the ocean due to his miscalculation was because there was a giant undiscovered continent half way between Europe and India.

Certainly, while most of the others were likely Christian the fact that he clearly got so many wrong makes me wonder how much he actually knows about history. He claims atheists are rewriting history to suit their narrative, but given his lack of knowledge about these well known historical figures how would he know?

Towards the end he says we should not teach atheism in school, which is one of the few things he says which I actually agree with. I don’t want public schools teachers telling students god doesn’t exist anymore than I want them telling students he does. Where he gets it wrong is assuming that teaching evolution is equal to teaching atheism. This should be obviously wrong given that fully half of the U.S. believes in evolution while less than 10% of us are atheists.

His last paragraph really wraps all of his biases about atheists up into a nice package.

Really, we must get atheism away from education before we all end up like the modern atheist’s greatest prophet, Nietchsze, who died insane and naked, eating his own feces in a mental institution. This is not the sort of fate we should wish upon our children.

Think of the children, for goodness sake.

First of all Nietzsche (he misspelled his name) went insane because he had syphilis. Matt’s blasé dismissal of a serious illness which would cause insanity in anyone regardless of their religious predilections is both offensive and scientifically duplicitous. To assert that being an atheist will cause people to eat their own feces is not only factually inaccurate, it is blatant fear mongering. This is not the scientific and rational thought he claims to be arguing for. Earlier in the article he claimed that atheists have to twist facts to justify their position but what is he doing here if not blatantly twisting facts?

So Matt Walsh I assert that I am thinking of the children. I will be a father soon my self, and it is my devotion to objective moral ideals, scientific curiosity, and intellectual honesty that leads me to my atheism, my skepticism, and notions of social justice. I feel strongly about these things precisely because I want to leave this world a better place than I found it…you know, for the kids.