Friday, January 25, 2013

Arizona Republicans Propose Bill That Would Not Allow Atheists To Graduate High School

So I ran across this on the Friendly Atheist today.  Since it is in my home state I felt I should comment.

Bill HB2467 has been put forward in by Republicans in the Arizona legislature  which requires students to repeat the following oath in order to graduate.
I, _________, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; So help me God.
From what  I can tell there is no exceptions allowed in this bill, ether you say this oath or you don't get a diploma.  This would require atheists, as well as anyone who has any other objections to this oath to ether lie or not be allowed to receive the diploma they have worked to get for basically their entire lives up to that point.

If we fight this in the courts it isn't likely to stand of course.  Religious groups such as the Quakers or Jehovah's witnesses have already successfully challagned similar loyalty pledges.  The problem is we shouldn't even need to be defending against nonsense like this. 

This is not only a violation constitutional rights it's a massive waste of time they could have spent on doing something that might actually improve education in this state.  Getting rid of the abstinence only laws would be a nice start.  My only question is how these jesters got elected in the first place.

In case you want to know the jesters in question this list of legislators that sponsored the bill.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Another Christian claims that atheism will spell some sort of shadowy doom for us all.

So I ran across this tonight.  Go ahead and read it:

So now I'm going to offer a few thoughts on this spiteful bigoted piece of journalism.  First, it should be noted that even though the title of this article is the claim that atheism is destroying America he provides not one shred of evidence that America is even in decline, much less that atheists are causing it

First we get this statement.
Man rebels against Him, and is offended by the mere suggestion of His authority. This culminates in an inevitable downward slouch that has accompanied so many great civilizations of the past. So it appears to be with us.
So he is claiming that all or at least most civilizations have failed because they failed to acknowledge a god. Exactly how does he propose to prove this claim?  I have studied a bit of history, and I could give you a run down of the causes of, for instance, the fall of the Roman empire.  At the top of the list was an invasion by Germanic tribes in the north, not abandonment of god.

Where does he go next? I'll give you a hint, presuppositional apologetics.
They fail to grasp that apart from the eternal consistency provided by the biblical God, they would have absolutely no basis for reason at all.
Logic fail, reason is based upon axioms. Axioms are intrinsically true, they do not become true because a god wills them to be true.

And this:
The very fact that an atheist can argue about the laws of science "proving" there is no God, is actually proof in and of itself that He must exist.
Yes, he actually argues that if we proved there was no god it would prove there IS a god. How does one even engage with this level of delusion?

Rationalwiki has this to say about presuppositional apologetics.
Presuppositionalism is a bullshitting tactic cooked up by Christian apologists when they realized that their old arguments were not working .
That pretty much sums it up, this is circular reasoning at it's finest, and when employed it's how I know it will be functionally impossible to have a rational conversation someone about logic or morality.

He goes on to call us fool...well technically he just quotes a bible verse that calls us fools, but that's a rather minor distinction.

Then he delves into the most sublime of all arguments: "I know you are but what am I"  He responds to the claim that atheists make that Christians are arrogant by saying:
Obviously, when it comes to the claims of Jesus of Nazareth, Christians believe we have it right and others are wrong. But it is wholly inaccurate to suggest that Christians think they alone are right on the most fundamental question there is, and that everyone else is wrong. That distinction belongs to ... you guessed it ... the atheist.
Well, to be frank he is right that we think people who believe in god are wrong, though we don't believe their incorrect belief will land them torture forever like Christians do, so there is that.  I would also question the claim that god's existence is the most fundamental question.

He ends with an analogy:
Imagine a four-lane highway full of traffic all traveling in one direction. Then suddenly, one singular car traveling the opposite way down the same roadway appears, heading into oncoming traffic. While it's possible that the driver of the one car was the only one who knew the right way and everyone else was just mistaken, logic and rationality would suggest otherwise. It would take an extremely arrogant driver to stick his head out of his sunroof and start screaming at all the other drivers about how dumb they were, without ever pausing to consider he might be in the wrong.
He uses this as the basis for his claim that atheists are "irrational, arrogant and foolish" but lets look at this analogy.  The analogy fails for several reasons.  First, the direction one drives is selected arbitrarily, the way everyone is driving becomes right by default because that's the way people are driving.  The question of God's existence is not arbitrary, everyone believing in him is not an indicator of his existence.  Second, at it's heart this analogy is an argument from popularity.   The reality is that large groups of people are wrong about things all of the time.  If people lived by this analogy we would still think the sun revolved around the earth.

In conclusion guest columnist Peter Heck doesn't understand logic, history, or American culture.  He's also kind of a jerk.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Alcohol + Birthday + Karaoke = A Rick rolled bar.

So my birthday was this last weekend and this happened.

Yeah, good thing I'm not planning on running for public office.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Nerds are coming for us all! Alex Jones figured it out.

Ok, everything I've seen of this guy makes me convinced he is nuts but wow.

Apparently we user our brains to hurt people because we weren't jocks in high school.

It does makes me a bit angry that this loon probably makes more money than me.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A couple of general announcements.

First off I made some business cards for the site and they came in today

I think they came out pretty good.

Second I will be doing a talk at SkeptiCamp on Jan 26 dealing with the intersection of science and religion during the protestant reformation.  Did the protestant reformation have an effect on the development of science? I'll see if I can record it and put it up on the blog.

Third, I should be going to the American Atheist convention in Austin at the end of March, I have my plane ticket already, just need to get a hotel room.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book tells kids measles isn't so bad.

Found this book for sale on Amazon today through a Salon article that tells kids that it's safer to get Measles than a vaccination:

 It's a children's book written by some anti-vaccination wackos from Australia.

Review from the Amazon page: (Bold to emphasize the crazy parts)
Melanie's Marvelous Measles was written to educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully. Often today, we are being bombarded with messages from vested interests to fear all diseases in order for someone to sell some potion or vaccine, when, in fact, history shows that in industrialized countries, these diseases are quite benign and, according to natural health sources, beneficial to the body. Having raised three children vaccine-free and childhood disease-free, I have experienced many times when my children's vaccinated peers succumb to the childhood diseases they were vaccinated against. Surprisingly, there were times when my unvaccinated children were blamed for their peers' sickness. Something which is just not possible when they didn't have the diseases at all. Stephanie Messenger lives in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, and devotes her life to educating people about vaccine dangers and supporting families in their natural health choices. She has the support of many natural therapists and natural-minded doctors. 
Of course this is dripping with naturalistic fallacy. What exactly is a "natural-minded doctor" anyway?

Oh, and here is a picture of a child suffering from a perfectly "benign" case of  measles.

Side effects of measles include pneumonia, otitis media which can lead to deafness, corneal ulcerations which can lead to blindness, and even death in a small number of cases, and vaccines are one of the safest tools the medical profession has for preventing a host of illnesses.

This book is harmful and medically fraudulent and the authors should be ashamed of themselves.

On reviewer on Amazon also pointed out that it seems that the title appears to be a jab at George's Marvelous Medicine which was written by Roald Dahl whose daughter died of Measles when she was seven.  Which seems in rather poor taste.

P.S. It seems I have been running this blog for exactly 2 years now, Hurray.

William Lane Craig being dishonest in another debate.

I run across debates online every once and a while and a couple of days ago I ran across and excerpt from a debate between William Lane Craig and an atheist whom I have never heard of.

The interesting part comes at the end during Q and A.  A woman asks the atheist what his evidence that god does not exist is, since he claims to only accept claims supported by evidence.  The atheist quite reasonably answers that he is not making the claim that god does not exist but only that there is no evidence he does and thus people who believe this without positive evidence are delusional.  Now I would have probably worded my answer quite a bit different than he did but what I found problematic was Craig's actions after the answer.

Craig basically had three options after the question had been answered. One option was to say nothing, which would have been proper given the usual rules during a Q.A. session in a debate.  The second option would be for Craig to let the questioner know it that it is always important to fairly address the debaters actual position rather than demand they defend a position they don't even hold.  Unsurprisingly Craig takes a third option and agrees with the questioner, claiming that the atheist has made a claim he did not prove.  He flat out asks his opponent to defend a claim he had just said he wasn't making.

Now, I don't blame the questioner for asking the question because they may not know much about philosophy. They may not understand the concept of burden of proof, or the, admittedly subtle, difference between claiming god does not exist and a rejection of someone else's claim that he does.  Craig does not have these excuses, however.  He has a PhD in philosophy and he should have learned a few things about proper debate tactics.   It is difficult for me to imagine he is simply unaware of how duplicitous a tactic this is in a debate. (unless he slept through most of his philosophy classes)

Looking over the posts on the YouTube video the comments seem almost fanatical in their need to praise Craig.  I personally find it a bit cult like to be honest, and every time I've talked with one of his followers they get very personally offended that I think Craig is either very bad at logic or he is a fraud, but I can't think of any other options.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Science and Religion compatible? Not exactly.

I ran across an interview yesterday on Discover between Keith Kloor and Daniel Sarewitz.

I actually agreed with most of it but Keith asks a question about whether religion and science are compatible and I took some issue with the answer.
DS: There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible. ... We have binary arguments because they are easy and mindless and comforting–no one has to acknowledge ambiguity or complexity; everyone gets to be right. Binary arguments are a refuge for orthodoxies, and atheism can be as much an orthodoxy as religion. I say this as an atheist. I am not an agnostic. I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect. But I think humans have lots of different ways of making sense of their experience of the world, and my way happens to be atheism.
Now, honestly I agree that many people engage in binary arguments to comfort themselves but ironically I think this is exactly what Sarewitz is doing. When someone asks the question "are religion and science compatible?" there are several potential meanings to this question.  One possible meaning, the one Sarewitz assumes, is to ask if religious people are capable of being scientists.  If that is what is being asked then I agree with him.  It is obvious that religious people can be scientists.  Ken Miller, for instance, is a Catholic but is a also a good biologist who has strongly advocated for science standards and stood up against creationism being taught in schools.

The problem I see is that when people ask "are religion and science compatible?" they are rarely asking if religious people are capable of being scientists.  They are often asking if religion and science are philosophically compatible or they are asking if various religious claims match with the findings of science.  These are very different, and much more interesting, questions.

To examine this let me ask a question that I think is analogous.  Is homeopathy and science compatible? If by this question we are asking if homeopaths can be scientists then I would also answer yes.  A person might be a homeopath and work in a field like electrical engineering or theoretical physics and do quite well with their work in that field.  Of course if they were to speak about or try to work in the fields of medicine, biology, and perhaps chemistry it is likely that their belief in homeopathy would be a hindrance, but there are still many areas where they could produce good science.  This is because many scientists work in very narrow fields and are not necessarily any more knowledgeable about fields outside their purview than the average person.

However, if by "is homeopathy and science compatible we mean to ask if the findings of homeopathy fit with findings of science the answer is a resounding "no." Further, to believe in homeopathy is to necessarily claim things about chemistry and biology that we have good reason to think are false.

Now, granted to be "religious" is a lot more vague than to be a homeopath.  There are hundreds of religions and thousands of interpretations of each one of them.  However, many religious people do make claims that do not fit with science or at the very least have not been proven using science.  If a person claims to believe prayer can heal, he does so in direct opposition to the available evidence. (anecdotes don't count) If a person claims to believe in a god, well his claim may not be contradicted by known evidence, (depending on their definition of god) but neither is it supported by any.  This does not mean the person is a terrible scientist in the area of their expertise but it does mean they have accepted as true claims which have not been demonstrated with evidence.

Ironically I will quote Jesus here when he pointed out it was impossible to have two masters.  A religious person may practice science for years without any of their findings contradicting their religious beliefs, but the question is what will that person do if they run into something that does contradict their religion?  Are they willing to accept that their beliefs are wrong in favor of the science or will they deny the new findings to hold onto their beliefs?  Of course this is not just a problem specific with religion, anyone can choose to hold onto their beliefs in contradiction to the currently observable facts, but to do so is always counter to the scientific method.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Relational Apologetics: A book review/criticism

This will be a rather long post.  I don't often write book reviews here, but I do from time to time pick up a book written by someone I disagree with.  It is a good way to sharpen my debate skills, and know what the non skeptical groups out there think about various things.  Of course, I also might find out I was wrong about something which is always good.

I saw a post on twitter the other day advertising a book on Christian apologetic being given away for free on Amazon and thought I'd give it a read to see if I was surprised.  I won't make you wait till the end of the article to find out that I wasn't.

The first thing I should mention before getting into this is that this book was clearly written by a fundamentalist Christian for other fundamentalist Christians to help them be better "apologists."  That is to better defend the claims of Christianity for those unfamiliar with the term.  As a former believer I have a rather unique way of seeing books like this one different from either a Christian or an unbeliever who was never religious.  I read lots of books like this one when I was a believer and they haven't changed much since then.

First, I will say that I appreciated the generally friendly tone the book was written in.  It seemed the author genuinely wanted to be respectful of unbelievers.  He failed at this quite spectacularly in a few places which  I will speak about shortly, but he did try to be nice.  He also spends some time complaining about how being a bible believer is so hard because Christians are hated in this country for what they stand for.  I found that part a bit silly given all special treatment Christians have traditionally received in this country.

He tells Christians to form real friendships with unbelievers but to make sure we don't "influence" them, which I thought was humorous but the first thing I really noticed came on page 61 where he write.
It is good to ask God to give you eyes that can see past clever arguments into a person's motive. Clever words are a smoke screen for a deeper issue.  Arguments that appear to be logical are just a mask covering some emotional or volitional problem. Man's default position is a belief in God (Romans 1:19-32) In the attempt to hide from Him they will devise seemingly wise arguments to convince their heart that it is right in its rebellion.
So very quickly he has dismantled all those nice feeling I had from him when I started the book.  This sort of statement goes right to the heart of why I am hesitant to consider Christian evangelists to be my friends.  The claim of friendship is a duplicitous one.  In this statement he has said that those who do not believe in god are either willfully deluding themselves or have serious inability to examine their own motives.  He is also suggesting that we really believe in god but are just denying it because of some emotional reaction.

Now, on a certain level I understand why they say this.  This guy believes the bible is inerrant, and the bible says I know god is real so he believes it. No amount of protestations on my (or anyone's) part would convince him his conclusion is wrong.  However, nothing will change the fact that his statements are also incredibly insulting.  The catch is that this book was written to other Christians, I imagine he would never say this to an unbelievers face, but he is always thinking it. I used to be an evangelist myself so  I can say with certainty that this is very common belief among them.  It's in the bible after all.

The next quote I found interesting was this.
Instead of feeling cornered and just ending the conversation at your friends next question by saying, "Well you just have to have faith," ask this question; "If God does not exist to create where do you think life came from?" The reason you ask this question is because the origin of life is a problem that skeptics need to be able to answer just like Christians.
I found this particularly interesting because earlier he has told Christians it was OK to use the phrase "I don't know" when asked a question they are unsure about.  I applaud that because there are far too many Christians who just make stuff up.  By comparison skeptics will readily admit they don't know what the origins of the universe are and point out that we don't default to his god being real just because we don't know the answer.  He continues along the same line:
 The believer has faith that God is unmade and has always existed, and the skeptic believes, on faith, that some matter has always existed. Each person is a person of faith.
This is blatant false equivalence.  A religious person doesn't just believe in a god, they believe in a specific god with all sorts of traits, often expounded upon in a sacred book of some kind. To pretend that this is at all equivalent to the belief that matter, which we are actually made up of, may exist eternally in some form is just absurd.  And besides most atheists/skeptics don't claim to know with any certainty what the origins of the universe are, just that the god claim hasn't been demonstrated with sufficient evidence. He is clearly arguing as a presuppositionalist here so it is hard to take him seriously.  He engages even more openly in presuppositionalism later on in the book which I will point out too.

Further, this entire line shows they the writer doesn't really understand big bang cosmology very well.  As I understand it, and of course I am no expert, the notion of an "eternal" universe is inherently meaningless since time is a construct that is relative to matter.  By this standard it is absurd to speak of "prior" to the big bang, because time, and therefore causality, as we understand them have no meaning once we roll the universe back to the point of planck time.

He then goes off the rails about women several times in the same chapter showing he doesn't understand much about them either.  He does some shtick about how women and men talk about things differently. (women talk to much and men don't listen) that made me want gag.  A few pages later he claims that when pro-choicers talk about women's rights it's a distraction from the real augment because women's rights are not relevant to the subject of abortion, even after admitting that science does not have a certain answer about when life begins. My eyes nearly popped out of my head on that one.

It was especially ironic because later on in the book he mentions how "some religions" think you can use women as you want because they less valuable than men. He implies this sort of behavior makes a religion bad.  Perhaps he meant Islam, but honestly Christianity doesn't have a stellar track record on women's rights.

He then goes into a section where he presents his actual "evidence" for the Christan god.  He starts by  repeating his claims that skeptics are illogical and just come up with rationalizations to justify their emotional reasons for disbelief.  He goes on to a poorly structured attempt to ask a few questions to get the skeptic to admit that there might be a god which seems to rely totally on the person they are speaking to not knowing much about science, which I suppose is a good assumption because most people don't, but it makes it seem as if he doesn't care that his arguments are weak because he knows most people will be too ignorant to notice.

Having "convinced" us that there might be a god, he skips over presenting any actual evidence for any particular god's existence and jumps right to proving the bible is reliable.  There are a couple of gems.
What is agreed upon by historians regardless of their religious persuasion is that Jesus died by crucifixion.
I'm not even sure what to do with this one.  Which historians is he talking about? The biblical narrative can't even provide a solid birth date for Jesus as Luke gives conflicting data.  There is no record of his crucifixion in any contemporary work, Pilate (who historians do agree was real) never mentions anything about the conversation he had with Jesus according to the gospels.  The gospels mention people getting out of their grave and wandering around, yet no one outside the bible records this event, at least not that any that has been found. Historians seem uncertain if Jesus existed in any form, much less the version written of in the gospels.
People do not suffer for a lie when there is nothing to be gained; none of the apostles recanted their testimony of a risen Jesus, and the only thing they gained was their death. The best conclusion to be drawn from this data is that Christ rose from the grave.
This seems to be the crux of his argument for the veracity of the bible.  I've read similar arguments from more well known apologists like Josh McDowell and they are just as bad there. First there is an historical problem with this argument.  There is no extra biblical evidence to prove the existence of the apostles.  There are, of course, stories that they were executed in various ways, but there were stories told by the early church and there is no corroboration for them.

The second problem is one of psychology.  Even if the apostles were real and were executed, people believe crazy things on no evidence all the time.  It is not necessary to believe they were lying to believe the resurrection did not happen.  Elvis died just over 35 years ago, there is video of his funeral and yet there are people who earnestly believe he faked his own death.  People are mistaken all the time, and eye witness testimony is incredibly unreliable.

The last problem is one of statistics.  When someone uses the phrase "best conclusion" what is usually meant is that one conclusion is statistically more likely than others. How exactly are we suppose to measure the statistical likelihood of the resurrection when it we have no scientifically verifiable cases of resurrection? If we took a random sample set of 1000 dead people what do you think the chances are that one of them would be alive again in three days?  To say the resurrection is the best conclusion assumes that we are willing to accept an event which have have no evidence ever occurs is more likely than any other possibility. 

He does touch on one thing  I actually agree with him on, which is the problem of religious pluralism.  That is people who treat all religions as equally true on some fundamental level.  He says they can't all be right, and I agree. They are all wrong.

The last bit he writes on is the "problem of evil."  He borrows heavily here from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. The argument is a mess of semantic and logical flaws like defining the word "wrong" is a peculiar way and demanding that the only way to meet this definition is a god who tells us what is wrong.  He engages in the typical false dichotomy that if there is no "ultimate" authority (and only god fills this role in his estimation) everything is left up to mere personal preference.

I have written and spoke quite a bit on the subject of secular morality so I'm not going to debunk this fully here but to any one who is interested I recommended to the debate I did here.

I also highly recommend this talk by Matt Dillahunty.

Matt Dillahunty: The Superiority of Secular Morality

He seems confused by how the non religious handle the is/ought dilemma.  It isn't really difficult, to handle this.  The old saying "those who live by the sword die by the sword" applies quite well here. If you treat other people poorly in some way there is a good chance you will suffer consequences. I can't force anyone to agree with me with or without religion, but we don't need a law to be universal to be useful.

I will leave this topic with a real world example of how all this talk of ultimate purpose and objective morality is nonsense.  Lets look at the black plague.  The black or bubonic plague killed wiped out somewhere between 30% to 60% of Europe population in the 14th century.  Further if we had known more about medicine and germ theory many if not most of these deaths could have been avoided.  I think we would all agree that the plague and the ignorance that magnified it's effects were bad things.

Now ask yourself this?  Would the bacteria who caused the plague agree with us?  To them the plague was like a golden age for bacteria.  Human suffering resulted in a huge population boom for bubonic bacteria.  Of course you can argue that bacteria lack the self actualization to recognize any of this, but it doesn't really change the point.  If the bacteria could answer a question and you asked it if it was evil to kill humans the question would likely have no meaning to it.  Humans are just a food source as far as the bacteria is concerned. It would be like asking humans if it is moral to eat broccoli.

It is clear the reason we consider it wrong to kill humans (and various other moral injunctions) is because we are human and share a particular social heritage with them, and further are a part of the hominidae family of animals who strongly value social cohesion. There is no need to invent deities to explain our morality when there is so much science that already explains our behavior.

Well that was pretty much the whole book in a nutshell.  Truth be told I was hoping for a bit more, it seemed like the same recycled arguments every modern apologists uses.  I keep hoping one day to see some novel idea or argument from apologists, but I'm pretty skeptical I will run into one at this point.