Monday, January 30, 2012

Jerry Coyne Knows About Horny Fruit Flies & Little Else

Pardon my bluntness lately.

Jerry Coyne had this to say recently regarding necessary beings:

No theologian in the world is going to convince me that it’s impossible for God to fail to exist because he’s a “necessary being.” Science has shown that he’s not “necessary” for anything we know about the universe.
Now, he's being raked over the coals for this one, at least outside of cultist circles. Even atheists cringed a little, since it's a stellar example of Coyne shooting his mouth off and clearly not knowing what he's talking about. The short version of the reply to Coyne, given here by Bill Valicella, focuses on the man not seeming to understand what a 'necessary being' even is, and therefore why turning to science to answer the question is wrongheaded.

As usual, I think Coyne is getting off light. Primarily because this is a prime case of Coyne displaying not only an utter lack of comprehension of theology, philosophy and religion (which doesn't keep him from spouting off on the things as a wannabe authority on a regular basis), but of abusing science. Back to the problem with the scientism charge, which Valicella lobs at Coyne: there's this oft-repeated claim that guys like Coyne just love science and hold it in too high esteem, but their signature move is to says "science shows" things that science doesn't, and in some cases in principle cannot, show. The fact that guys like this won't shut up about how much they love science does not make them lovers of science, anymore than their penchant for screaming about reason doesn't make them either reasonable, or lovers of reason. If it did, you could accuse many Young Earth Creationists of scientism on the grounds that a number of them insist science is on their side, coupled with a praise for (in their views, accurate) science.

But I think the most insulting thing about Coyne's outbursts as of late is the gall. I can appreciate that the man is employed as a scientist as his day job. I'll even go ahead and assume that his particular specialty has some actual useful applications. But the fact is, his knowledge is exceedingly narrow. So sayeth the wikipedia: His concentration is speciation and ecological and evolutionary genetics, particularly as they involve the fruit fly, Drosophila.

Look, I'm a theistic evolutionist myself. I can appreciate the knowledge and the research and blah blah blah. But the fact is, whatever has come of it, Coyne's specialty is in getting fruit flies to have sex and then sussing out what the results mean. Say what you will about the importance of this data, appreciate the knowledge of speciation and banal evolutionary processes that can be gained from it as much as you like. The fact of the matter is, it's a pretty narrow specialty. Does anyone really think Coyne has gleaned particular insight on God's existence or non-existence as a result of keeping data on whether fruit flies will screw each other if they have slightly different colored eyes? Is he in a position to say "science has shown God is/is not necessary" with any more authority than a grand-prize winner on The Price is Right?

This unwarranted respect for opinions of scientists - in either direction, mind you - when it comes to questions far outside of their specialty is something people really have to get over. In fact, instead of asking to give his opinion on controversial philosophical topics, the next question USA Today should let Coyne answer is "What do you do, how much are you paid, is your salary funded by the government, and can your research justify your salary in terms of utility or potential utility? Will it lead to more effective medical treatments or better technology in general?"

To be fair, I'm not sure his answer to that question will be any better than his thoughts on necessary beings.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Woman's Right to Choose

Do you ever find it weird that abortion is phrased that way so often?

"A woman's right to choose."

Alright. Choose what? Why is the word 'abortion' sawed off from the very statement that's so often cited in support of it?

"I support a woman's right to choose!"

I no longer allow this phrase to pass on by. It's pretty fucking insulting, really. Can you imagine cutesy, civil language like this being used by a slaveowner? "I support a plantation owner's right to choose." We'd be disgusted, because we'd know what was going on - a word game. Trying to draw attention away from the actual fact of the matter, as if it could be ignored. As if the "choosing" part was the thing people were against. Some people don't want humans to make choices! How dare they. Oh wait, the choice is 'enslaving another human and using them as cattle'? Oooh, that's more difficult to be enraged about.

Now and then, it's matched by its cousin, "reproductive rights and reproductive health". I saw someone using the name Anne Rice - possibly the gal herself - use this one over at a blog today. More minced words.

No, Anne. What you support is the right for a woman to hire a hitman to go up into her womb, slice her baby into ribbons, and suck out the remains with a vacuum. Or perhaps kill the baby with a chemical solution. A variety of methods, in exchange for money. The fact that the culture which defends this, devotes tremendous time to not even bluntly saying what they do, says a lot about said culture.

Anyway, the point of this post is to discourage giving in to language like this. Talking abortion with someone? Be blunt. Don't allow "A woman's right to choose" to be the words used. Demand to know - choose what? Make sure that just what's being defended is explained and defined in start terms. Keep reminding people. Don't let them slide off into the world of evasion and distraction that comes with vague reference to 'reproductive rights' and 'a woman's right to choose'.

Language is key.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Giving Romney His Due

Since I just knocked Romney, I should mention one thing in his favor.

He's given considerable amounts - around 15% - of his income to charity.

Considering this comes hot on the heels of my arguing that Christian capitalists should be particularly mindful not only of how they spend their own wealth, but how they encourage others to spend theirs, it'd be low of me not to highlight this point in Romney's favor. He's also given millions to his church if I remember right, and while I think the mormons are wrong, I will admire him for being a candidate who apparently really is connected to his faith.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gingrich Versus the Media!

Ahh, Gingrich. I question your scruples, even your record, but I can't question your style.

How can I not have a little more respect for the man after a move like that? Look at the grace he delivered that blow with. It's like he somehow managed to distill several decades of pent up conservative anger at the media and unleash it all, then and there, right when he was supposed to go down in flames.

Not that I think much of him otherwise. There's a vague "well, at least he's not Obama" thing going on. And I admit, his ability to articulate conservative principles is valuable - and part of me would love to see him go against Obama in debate. But at the end of the day I know better than to expect all that much out of him, or any of the Republicans. About the only candidate who seems trustworthy is Ron Paul - he's a lot of things, and consistent happens to be one of them.

Still, I find myself liking Newt more and more as the Republicans continue to tear him down. "He'll never win the general election!" I hear. And you know, that seemed persuasive to me... until I remembered this is what these idiots said about McCain. Remember McCain? 2008? How he was moderate and a friend of the media and was the perfect candidate to go up against Obama? He's got the experience! He's not viewed as extreme!

And. He. Got. Creamed.

I don't see Romney doing all that much better. His credentials are screwy, he's not an articulate speaker, and I don't even know what his positions are anymore - my only hope comes from his apparently being a loyal mormon translating into social conservatism. But that's kind of a reach, isn't it? I'm not a big fan of supporting a guy, hoping his liberal image is all a ****ing canard.

I guess we'll see. But so far, Newt's at least given everyone one hell of an interesting moment on stage, and that's something.

Friday, January 20, 2012

In Which I Try to Explain My Position on Economy and Welfare

Given the recent, minor exchange prompted by my distributivism post, I want to try and explain the bare handful of interested people what my positions on these things are.

I'll start with the short version: I view any perspective which  treats these questions as fundamentally legislative questions to be fundamentally mistaken.

And now for the long version. And I mean pretty long by this blog's standards.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Loftus Blogs - The Shocking Truth

Shocking if you're completely inept and need things spelled out for you anyway.

From his 'Why I'm Leaving Freethought Blogs Back to My Old One' post, let's...

Actually, let's just stop for a moment and parse that sentence: why he's leaving freethought blogs back to his old one. Perhap he thunk it the thought was to be given out for free, but it be no be doing that, so buh-bye. Your atheist defender, gentlemen.

Also, let's stop at this chestnut, with emphasis added: My aim is to reach Christians in ways they can understand. I treat Christian beliefs respectfully for the most part. 

I mean, ignore Loftus' track record here - you only have to go back in the same month worth of posts to find the man cracking this out: It’s not just the utter buffoons I’m talking about, which are many, but all of them. Christians are illogical and delusional. This I know, after spending years in my own delusion and after years of dealing with them since my deconversion. How can they be so deluded, I ask myself? How can they be so dumb?

This, by the way, in the context of explaining why he's not going to reply to some supposed PhD-holder criticizing his work. 'All the Christians are dumb and stupid I can't waste my time actually responding to their arguments.'

But this has all been a sideshow. The question is: why does Loftus blog? What is he trying to achieve by maintaining his site, by writing his books?

The answer may shock you: This blog is just too busy with ads for my readers, which is okay since we’re here to get paid for blogging. Getting paid to blog first attracted me to this site. But since I don’t write on the same kinds of topics, many of the Freethought bloggers link to each other’s posts rather than to mine. This boosts their traffic and income over mine since we get paid based on the overall percentage of page loads per month, leaving me less of the financial pie simply because I don’t write on the same topics. I’m not complaining.

And... there you have it. Loftus is in this for the money. As I've said before, he's pretty much the Jim Bakker of Atheism, except Jim Bakker was actually wildly successful. Loftus is barely clocking in at third-rate. I mean, here we have a guy who's been at this schtick for years - and he can't stand out of the pack even among atheists. And we're not talking Harris and Dawkins. We're not even talking that lovable scamp PZ Myers. We're talking excitable teens and twenty-something amateur atheist dweebs, flailing wildly.

So, Loftus backs out with some interesting excuses. One, on a blog site pretty much dedicated to atheism and attacking religious belief, people talk about different things than he does - he being the guy whose entire schtick is atheism and attacking religious belief. Two, he likes to treat Christians - all of whom, without exception, are illogical, delusional and dumb, according to him - with respect. And of course, three, he's there to make money and he's getting outperformed by newbies. Also, he doesn't see that changing.

It's hard to know what to find more grimly amusing about this. On the one hand, there's something funny about a wannabe atheist preacher trying to shear his flock - it just goes to show you don't need to believe in God to successfully duplicate the worst excesses of religion. But what's even funnier is that, his attempts aside, he's just so damn bad at it. A poor debater, terrible at reasoning, awkward writing skill at best. About the one thing you could say for him in the past was that he was willing to put in time with a blog dedicated to atheism, running around and promoting it in everything up to and including the comments sections of people's personal livejournals. But now there's a bunch of nitwits doing the same thing and doing it better than John could ever hope to.

At this point, I'm looking forward to hearing about some new, popular atheist blogger whose avatar is just a picture of himself wearing a cowboy hat. John's going to go freaking ballistic.

Avoiding Crime is Racist Now

GPS devices that steer you away from high-crime areas are racist!

This is one of those situations where the person protesting against racism is making allegations that would prompt accusations of racism were they repeated, word for word, by someone else. An app that steers away from high crime areas? That's going to hurt a lot of minority businesses! 'High crime' and 'minority concentration' are tightly correlated!

The quotes from the article are pretty fun.

Wallace spent her afternoon at a rally on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and said she felt safe there, but fears the app may project otherwise.

“Can you imagine me not being able to go to MLK Blvd. because my GPS says that’s a dangerous crime area? I can’t even imagine that,” she said.

I really have to wonder if this was tongue in cheek. Is Wallace a Chris Rock fan? Because the man had something interesting to say about MLK Blvd.

“It may have a high crime problem but have some great cultural, social things you can do there,” McNally said.

Wonderful. Who cares? I'm imagining the mental calculus she's promoting when she says something like this.

"I'm thinking of going to King street tonight. Let me weigh the positives: it has some real nice bars. Oh, also you can take a tour of one of the first Coca-Cola bottling plants in the country, that's some fine cultural heritage. Downside: tourists are getting stabbed and raped with disturbing frequency. NNNGGGHHH tough call. Stabbing and rape, bottling plant, stabbing and rape, bottling plant..."

I suspect there's some of the following logic going on: well, these areas are pretty crappy, but one way to improve them and start accruing funds to improve them is to generate business in the area. If people are more aware of the problems and thus more people avoid the areas, it's counterproductive to our plans. In the long-term we want to reduce the crime and improve the area, but in the short term that plan rather hinges on getting people to come to a dangerous area. Therefore, we should discourage accurate information about the crime problems here.

I think the better alternative is to allow people to have access to as accurate information as possible, and let them decide for themselves whether they want to frequent high crime areas in order to help out the local economy.

I'm A Little Confused Here

The next time I see a comment start off with an insincere "I'm a little confused here..." or words to that effect, I'm tempted to blankly ask, "What's so confusing, you ****ing cretin? The logic is simple. Try reading it again."

A large amount of internet discussion volume nowadays is composed of crappy discussion flair. Coarse language and rudeness isn't much better, but it is at least slightly.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Choice Distributivism Quote

From the wikipedia, with emphasis:

Distributism favors the elimination of social security on the basis that it further alienates man by making him more dependent on the Servile State. Distributists such as Dorothy Day did not favor social security when it was introduced by the United States government. This rejection of this new program was due to the direct influence of the ideas of Hilaire Belloc over American distributists.

Well, I've got to get a book about this now. This is in sync with a lot of ideas I've developed independently (or so I've thought) anyway.

Between Capitalism and Distributivism

I've been glancing over some of what Codg has been putting up regarding distributism. I won't pretend that I perfectly understand it. At a glance, I frankly like it. A lot. I like the focus on the family - the traditional family, even - as the primary unit of society, the idea unit which is kept in mind when policy decisions are made. It's probably the most controversial part of it nowadays, among idiots. (I recall some recent dustup in the UK - apparently some idiot politician was all worked up over the idea of policies meant to encourage and protect families on the grounds that it privileged traditional families over "non-traditional".)

I also like the emphasis on - as near as I can tell - family-owned businesses. Particularly the idea, as I take it, that individuals should be self-employed or family-employed whenever possible, rather than in someone else's employ. It seems like a great ideal to promote culturally, even if someone disagrees with ideas about promoting distributivism through law. (I always, always prefer to avoid legislative solutions when possible.)

And that's what's drawing me to learn more about Distributivism (After Codg kept writing about it). It's not just that the ideal itself appeals. It's also that it seems modest and reasonable enough to be an idea that can be moved forward on in the here and now - the sort of 'reform' that can actually be accomplished. And best of all, a type of reform where a lot of its ends (though by no means all of them) can be managed without involving the government. Really, it seems one can promote Distributivism in part by simply encouraging economic self-reliance and self-employment, and aiming for a family business.

One snag would be that it seems like Distributivism would function best in a city or town or collective of people who had very similar ideas. To that I'd say, I'm surprised that the wikipedia entry on Distributivism doesn't mention the amish at all. I have a hunch that not only is the amish model very similar to what Distributivism proposes (though of course nowhere near identical), but it could actually serve as evidence that the model can work on a certain level. The amish are a lot of things, but 'financially destitute' isn't really one of them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'll take Obscure Apologetics for 500, Alex

This controversial argument was developed by Gomer Pyle and Captain Marvel.


"What is the Shazam Cosmological argument?"

(It's crappy, but I had to get that joke somewhere, so here it is.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wow, I'm Becoming a Football Fan

Atheists angry at Tebow for praying! How shocking! Wait, no. I mean how hilarious and freaking typical. Complete, of course, with the "an atheist lectures Christians on how to be Christian with a bible quote, mangling the understanding in the process" routine.

Of course, they also know for a fact that Tebow is just trying to look pious. He's "totally faking it". You couldn't make atheists look more petty, self-absorbed and thin-skinned if you drew a cartoon featuring them.

So, in honor of the move, let's return the psychoanalysis. As ever, these are not mere irreligious - they are anti-theists. And the idea of a celebrity being not only Christian, but publicly so, bothers them. They worry that maybe this will inspire people to be more public with their faith, or worse, to spread it. So they desperately want a forum to rant about it, to attack. But since, as Vox Day notes, self-described atheists tend to have a severe case of social aspergers, they just come off looking so damn bad.

Leave the attacks to the people with skill, Cultists of Gnu. Trust me: you guys are at your best in the dark, in the basement, on the computer and massing in some poor guy's comments section.

What's Missing?

What's missing from this article?

The same things often missing from such articles: connecting the actions with science or scientists.

America used Guatemalans for an STD study. Scientists are working on a cure for cancer.
Corporations use animals in experiments. Scientists have developed prosthetics for dogs.
Countries are engaged in research to discover how to wipe out an enemy's food supply in a time of war. Scientists are engaged in research to discover how to increase the food supply.

Keep your eye on it as you read news articles. See how often scientific research that is either inhumane, or may lead to things people do not desire, is attributed to something other than the scientists or to science. See how often scientific research that is considered beneficial is attributed directly to scientists or science itself.

Monday, January 9, 2012

In Honor of the Political Season

I give you... The Whitest Kids U Know:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Growing Sympathy for Rick Santorum

I'm not a big fan of Rick Santorum. I don't dislike him, but - despite my being what most would call 'socially conservative' across the board - I've not been all that enamored with him for a while.

First, because I always get a little bit leery of social conservatives who make their social conservatism their main platform. Part of that is cynicism on my part - if they don't have the detached presentation of a Bill Buckley or at least the intellectual passion of a Pat Buchanan, I start to worry that it's largely a lark. You know, "I'll be the social conservative because those guys need someone to vote for, so that's a great ticket to power". If I'm not leery of their loyalty, then I'm worried about their presentation. I'm exceptionally picky about how social conservative causes are presented - I strongly dislike the approach taken to 'gay rights' and more, even if I agree with many of the resulting policies. The communication sucks.

Second, because Santorum did something I found how to forgive: he backed Arlen Specter in a tight race, when a better man was challenging him. The problem there is, Specter was - on the issues - the political nemesis of Santorum. The RINO pro-choice liberal to Santorum's social conservatism. Pragmatically, I can see why Santorum would do it - Specter was from his state, he was a long-standing Republican (though, ha ha, look how he ended up), I can see Santorum wanting to prove to the GOP party bosses that he was willing to put the party ahead of all things when it came down to the wire. Of course, once he showed himself to be that pragmatic (and frankly, I have not liked Specter for the longest time), it just put the cynicism in overdrive.

Add in that Santorum favors the neocon war agenda, and really, you get a recipe for a guy I'm no big fan of. I don't dislike him too much, really. I just regard him with a shrug. However, I've had growing sympathy for him for two reasons.

First, the reaction to him by the... what should we call them. I don't like saying 'gays' because I reject referring to people with same-sex attraction as some distinct species. But I'm not going to get cumbersome with words. So let's call 'em "Anal Avengers". By the way, this is going to get a bit graphic, so if you're eating lunch or something, go away. Anyway, the AAs hated Santorum with a passion. So much so that they decided to associate his name with something disgusting, and of course the most disgusting thing they could come up with is something related to sodomy: the mix of feces and sperm that comes after anal sex. (Let's use it in a sentence: "Wow, Hillary Clinton had a lot of santorum to deal with after Rush Limbaugh went to town on her last night!" Don't try picturing this. Oops, too late, right?) Then they proceeded to work Google over so searching for 'santorum' ranks that high on the search engine - and I wonder if Google's minions had a hand in that.

That got my attention, because if they hate Santorum enough to cooperate to that level, it suggests that they fear him. And if they're afraid of him, I can guess why - it suggests he will be effective if he isn't countered, and they can't really respond to him directly. You don't need to make something up about say... Richard Dawkins to show he's a jackass. You can just quote him. Santorum? Clearly that won't work. More than that, that kind of push (and the celebration it prompted in various quarters) added more sympathy, because it became clear to me that this meant we've reached a point where having certain opinions meant your ideas wouldn't even be aired for discussion. Sometimes I get sympathy for the guy being unfairly jumped on.But the second reason? They - those idiotic, party-monkey powers that be - are going after Santorum's wife, claiming she had an abortion. Better yet, a 'late term' abortion.

Here's the gist of the story. Santorum's wife was pregnant. There was a complication at around 20-some weeks. Labor was induced to deliver the child early, right on the cusp of what would be considered the earliest viable stage. Apparently, everything was done to save both the mother's life, and the life of the baby. The risky move didn't work out - the child died.

So, the popular move is to say "Santorum's wife had an abortion!" Anyone who looks at the facts on the ground know this isn't true, anymore than a pregnant woman who exerts herself running from a burning building somehow induces a miscarriage is 'having an abortion'. But of course, that doesn't matter. What matters is the myth, the lie, the talking point and the soundbite, because Santorum is against abortion in a very strong sense - and he apparently means it. He's the sort of guy who was more than willing to play point-man against pro-choicers. So, he has to be stopped by any means necessary - and if that means accusing him or his wife of aborting their child, well, that'll do.

As a result, I find myself saying - in no small part because of the nasty, media machine slander, I have to support him. I have to holster my cynicism and disappointment and say no, I back this guy, and more than that I oppose the nasty little twerps doing whatever they can to take him down. It pushes me out of the "I'm ambivalent" column and into the column where I'm willing to work phone banks if it means helping him win. If they hate the guy so much that they're willing to lie and slander him this much, then he must be a legitimate threat to the very people who need to be threatened.

Edit: Yeah, I wrote the whole thing in the edit html tab instead of compose, only just now realizing that it meant everything was a huge unspaced block. Whoops.