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.

Monday, September 9, 2013

David Barton’s grasp of statistics is just as bad as his grasp of history.

So Barton gives a smug little speech in which he references a passage is Proverbs 1:7 that says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Of course he uses this to claim that our educational system is failing because we removed compulsive prayer. You can watch the whole video below.

If you watch this you will notice that one of his key points is that the U.S. literacy rates have fallen from 1st in the world to 68th. It turns out this is a problematic claim on multiple levels. One it seems to be a bald face lie or at least a demonstration that he is unable to do a Google search. The reason I say this is that every set of world literacy figures I can find places the United States in the 20’s, quite a bit higher than the number he offers. Figures placed in numbered order here, and here.

The second problem is that, even if he was correct, he confuses correlation with causation. There are plenty of other possible causes for the U.S. to have changes in it’s world literacy placement. For one, it isn’t like these other countries are just sitting around existing to make us look good. Many other countries have been working on improving their literacy rates; so our position could have fallen without our literacy rates dropping at all.

The main question he should be asking if he were actually concerned with whether or not his claims are true is if there is any evidence that a lack of prayer is schools actually causes literacy to decline. This isn’t a hard question to answer. We only need to go back to tables I previously linked to and see if there is any correlation between the religiosity of a country and literacy. It turns out there is, however unfortunately for Barton, it is a negative correlation. The countries with the highest literacy rates, countries like Finland and Greenland, are by and large not filled with religious people. Further the countries at the bottom of the list, countries like Somalia and Afghanistan, are typically very religious. In any case all of the first half of these lists are above 90% and it turns out that the United States, as a highly religious culture with high literacy, is actually one of the few exceptions. It turns out there is no evidence to suggest that prayer or “fear of god” has a positive effect on literacy. However, there is quite a bit of evidence that Barton does not care if the claims he makes are actually true.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Video games, Atheists and insults…

I’ve been playing the rerelease of Final Fantasy XIV since it came out, which explains why I haven’t been blogging lately. There are a lot of things I enjoy about playing MMO’s, not the least of which is the personal interactions. There is something I find interesting about joining a group of people from around the world that I may have never met and working together to to accomplish a goal, even if the goal is imaginary.

However, I often find myself in a love/hate relationship with the social aspects of MMO’s, as I happened to find myself last night. I was in a party I joined through “duty finder,” which is a queue system for the dungeons in the game. Since the dungeons cannot be completed by yourself the queue will put random players looking to complete the same dungeon in a party together. You can meet some cool people this way, but you can also meet some not so cool people as I did last night.

Within ten minutes one of the players made a mistake which made another person in the group angry. What followed was 20 minutes of listening to the two people complain and name call, including homophobic slurs like “faggot.” I kept my mouth shut and just finished the dungeon. Perhaps I should have said something, but I usually find that asking people to not use such language causes them to simply start going after me under the false assumption that I’m thin skinned. I also know I only have to listen to them for a bit and then they are gone for good. Of course, it disappoints me when I see gamers behave this way. As a large group of nerds we have plenty of reasons to be more sensitive to the other humans hanging out on this tiny ball in space we call earth, so it disappoints me when I see people fail badly at it.

Now, as much as it disappoints me when my fellow gamers behave like this, it disappoints me even more when fellow atheists do so. As with gamers we are a group of people who ought to recognize the need for respect but often do not. Take this recent story in which a bakery who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding is now closing down as an example.

Now, let me be clear about a few things. I am not on the side of the bakery in regards to their choice not to serve their customers. They were running a secular business and thus are subject to civil discrimination laws. Nor do I accept the owners argument that they were not discriminating.

It’s definitely not discrimination at all. We don't have anything against lesbians or homosexuals, It has to do with our morals and beliefs.

This argument doesn’t work because discrimination is an act not a belief. I accept that their religious beliefs were the cause of the refusal to serve these homosexual customers, but it doesn’t change the fact that they refused to serve them because they were gay. This is pretty much the dictionary definition of discrimination. You can argue that companies should be allowed to discriminate if you wish, but don’t pretend it isn’t discrimination.

I am also not particularly sad that they are closing down. Ideally this is how capitalism works. If your company does something that makes people not want to shop there then you go out of business. It’s tough luck for you that you are on the wrong side of history and you went out of business because of it.

However, there is a part of this story that I do have a problem with. Due to this story the owners have reported receiving abusive/threatening communication from fellow atheists and supporters of LBGT rights. Including, according to the Blaze, threats that they be raped, and shot.

One quote from an email they received:

You stupid bible-thumping, hypocritical bitch.  I hope your kids get really, really, sick and you go out of business

Such behavior should be unacceptable, these people, despite their discriminatory attitudes, are still human beings, and their children are innocent of any wrong doing in this so they should not be a target in any of this. We really ought to aim to be better people than this and to treat people with more respect.

This certainly isn’t to say the other side does any better, the article on the blaze about this story is full of comments declaring that anyone who thinks the bakery should have served the lesbian couple are secretly communists who want to turn America into a fascist police state, while simultaneously failing to notice their behavior is no better than those they are criticizing. However, our opponents irrational behavior should not be treated as an excuse to behave irrationally ourselves.

Whether you are playing a video game or trying to enact social change we should at least start the conversation with the assumption that people can be reasoned with. We certainly do not know these owners well enough to conclude that they are beyond reasoning with about these issues. We might be able to reason them out of the prejudices, however, insults and rape threats are most certainly not going to change their minds.