Monday, December 30, 2013

Shadow to Light's Year in Review

Shadow to Light's latest post about the Year in Review for New Atheism is worth a read if you haven't checked it out yet. In fact Shadow to Light is one of the best sources on the web in terms of up to date Cult of Gnu criticisms - he targets what they're doing lately, as opposed to what they've said in the past. And he does it with some considerable perception.

One of the habits theists have to break out of is this tendency to regard Cult of Gnu atheists as exactly what they advertise themselves as: lovers of science, free thinkers, skeptics and haters of dogma. I think if you go out and meet them, and if you think about the interactions critically, you're going to quickly find that they typically fail on all four fronts. And Shadow to Light helps illustrate that.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A late Christmas gift: GLAAD finally told to shut up.

Well, for now, it's over. Phil Robertson wouldn't roll over for GLAAD, nor would his family, and instead of getting another trophy to mount on its wall GLAAD has experienced a high-profile backlash that we haven't seen since the Chik-fil-a fiasco.

A&E, of course, capitulated in the sort of two-faced way you'd expect them to - basically, begging for forgiveness on Phil's behalf:
While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the ‘coarse language’ he used and the mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would ‘never incite or encourage hate.’ We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold.
The problem is, of course, that GLAAD sees saying anything like what Phil said - 'coarse language' or not - to be an incitement and encouragement of hate. Which means that if Phil can say what he did and it is NOT either of those things, then GLAAD is wrong. So was their interpretation.

Of course, A&E is still in GLAAD's corner, and is trying to offer everything it can offer in order to, if not pacify GLAAD, then pacify its supporters:
We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company, and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio.
Unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people. Christians too? Conservative Christians? I suspect not. But hey, they'll make commercials.

GLAAD, of course, will have none of this. Unless there is a 'dialogue' with Phil - notice how, in context, that word is practically stripped of all meaning - then they will denounce A&E for abandoning gays and also African-Americans, because Phil said he didn't see any mistreatment or complaint among blacks in the past. Which also means that GLAAD is not about to let this one die if they can. Because if this fiasco fades in a month, what will have been established is that the premiere LGBT jackboot organization can be stood up to, that they can make a demand and that demand can be denied. Even if it's exceptional, even if it's just for Phil, it's the start of something that terrifies them.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Strawman Dialogues - a Late Christmas Special

A: Merry Christmas!
B: Yeah, I don't celebrate that.
A: Too bad! Anyway, how's it...
B: Well, then you shouldn't have said it.
A: Why not?
B: Because maybe I'd find it offensive? Not everyone celebrates Christmas.
A: What a load of horseshit.
B: I'm sorry?
A: You don't find it offensive because you don't celebrate it. You find it offensive because one of the most secular holidays of the year still maintains some rudimentary Christian taint, and thus you act up about it. It's either absurd offense, or it's feigned offense. And I'm tired of it.
B: You're not a mind-reader, don't tell me what I think.
A: I'm not a mind-reader. But I can notice clues, and piece together your aim. It ain't perfect, but it'll do here.
B: Well, all the same, I'd prefer it if you...
A: No. Fuck you. Merry Christmas.
B: Oh, really keeping in the spirit of the...
A: Of what? The season you've declared one-man psychological war on? I'm tired of the most easily offended person in the room dictating terms. This isn't a war for Christmas. It's a war against you, the perpetually aggrieved.
B: You're weaponizing Christmas?
A: You weaponized it. I'm just refusing to disarm myself now that you've made that inane move.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Posting and comments shall be lighter during the Christmas season. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Duck Dynasty's Lesson: Money Doesn't Drive TV

One of the most important lessons we're learning from the Duck Dynasty fiasco is this: we may finally be able to put the rest the idea that TV and culture and media in general is driven almost exclusively by monetary concerns, as opposed to cultural concerns.

Remember that line? "The reason you see what you see on TV and in movies and in comics is because that's what people want! No one is pushing an agenda. They'll create whatever will sell!"? That's been one of a number of pacifying refrains told to social conservatives over the years. A way to try and get creators off the hook for what they produce, because in the end they just want to make money - a great capitalist ethic if ever there was one - and they're giving the people what they want. If the people wanted some folksy social conservative valued programming, they'd get it.

In the case of Duck Dynasty, it was provided. By accident. Quite possibly to the chagrin of the people who provided it. Duck Dynasty turned out to be a show about some eccentric Christians who America ended up admiring rather than laughing at, and while the money was good, the cultural message was a bit too much to bear. And if attacking that message meant sacrificing some money, well you know what? Money isn't everything. Plenty of people are willing to sacrifice money - especially if they're comfortable anyway - to advance their agenda.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Seeing the LGBT Footsoldier's Approach in Action

A recent Getreligion Thread on the Duck Dynasty fiasco lended itself to an unintentionally educational experience. I want to share this because it's important - even for the few people who read this blog - to understand a real, real common culture warrior tactic.

Someone had commented, objecting to Getreligion's coverage of the event, and explained in crystal clear language exactly what was wrong with Robertson's words:
What really happened here is this: the guy compared two women who love one another with a guy humping a donkey.
Man, that's a terrible thing isn't it. I won't mince words, because everyone can tell from the previous post - it's not true. Not at all. Robertson didn't say this at any point. He didn't mention women, or 'two women loving each other', period. Not even indirectly. What he did talk about was sex. Acts.

But, here's the thing: the entire advancement of the LGBT cause has largely come from getting way, way the hell away from any talk of 'acts' at all. Instead, the focus is on people and 'love'. Rather abstract love at that. Very clean, very crisp. Perfect for a Hallmark card.

So when someone criticizes same sex acts, it's treated as important to get the hell away from that subject ASAP. And if that means you lie about what someone said, well, then you damn well lie.

I point this out:
Never happened. Not once. He did no such thing.
He compared same-sex sexual relations in general, to bestiality in general.
Emphasis: sex. Not 'loving one another!' Sex. He was in fact pretty explicit about the act in question BEING sex.
The fact is, GLAAD and the HRC are lying about what Robertson said, every bit as much as how the above - 'Two women who love one another and a guy humping a donkey' - is flat out dishonest. Read the interview: this doesn't happen.
I made an error there, by the way, which you'll see in a moment. But still - Robertson did not say that. He was talking about acts, and GLAAD and HRC are lying about what he said. Just as this person is. Their reply?
Um, yes. That's right. He compared same-sex relations to bestiality as you said. There's the problem. Don't worry about my rephrasing. That comparison is about as demeaning as you can get regarding someone else's lover.  
What I love: 'Don't worry about my rephrasing.' Honest to God: does this work on people? This kind of jedi mind trick of 'Okay, so I lied, but let's not talk about that anymore.'

And there's the nice, sterilized reply. 'He compared same-sex relations.' Pardon my french, but does anyone fuck anymore? I mean it's weird how I go through my day talking to people - they talk about their porn, the fucking they saw on a TV show, the fucking they're looking forward to later that night... but somehow when the cameras come on, no one's fucking. They're having relations with their significant other in a way that gives them both a sense of self-fulfillment and encourages an emotional bond between them. Turn the camera off and the lights down and they're talking about fucking again.

But, I digress.

So, okay, he's backing off. But it's STILL terrible. Because Robertson compared 'same-sex relations' to bestiality. Obvious problem, so I reply:
Take a nice, long look at the full quote:
Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.
So he grouped homosexual sex with bestiality. Oops - he also grouped it with heterosexual sex. Idolatry. Prostitution. Greed. Drunkenness. Slander. Swindling.
Don't worry about my rephrasing 
No, let's worry about your rephrasing because it was dishonest. The issue was not 'two women who love one another' and how that is equivalent to having sex with a donkey. Also? Two women loving one another is not condemned in Leviticus, and it's not condemned in the CCC of the Catholic Church.
Sexual acts, are. Which is what Roberston zeroed in on. GLAAD and the HRC is dishonest in their portrayal of what Robertson said.
That comparison is about as demeaning as you can get regarding someone else's lover.
No, because it's not 'the lover' that's being criticized but 'the act'. Particularly, sexual acts. 
Like I said - minor event on a minor blog, but it's instructive. Pay attention to what was done here - not just the fact that Robertson's words were warped, but HOW they were warped. Because that provides a microcosm example of the LGBT's campaign, and it illustrates how to handle this when you discuss it with others.

They want to avoid talk of sex acts at all costs. They want - they desire - for the conversation to be an attack on persons, not an attack on acts. The moment the conversation is 'It's the acts, not the person' and 'It's the sex, not the love', things get vastly more complicated for them. Keep this in mind, be attentive, and respond accordingly - if you're at all the sort of person given to debate.

There are other pitfalls to watch out for here too as far as language goes, but this is one of the key tricks that are both absurdly common yet ignored by quite a lot of social conservatives.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What exactly was wrong with the Duck Dynasty Phil Robertson interview?

I never watch Duck Dynasty, or most TV shows. I'm relatively sealed off from a good share of popular TV and movie culture, save for some animation. I knew, vaguely, the setup of Duck Dynasty, the beliefs of the people on the show. Still wasn't very interested - God bless 'em and all that, I just am not interested.

So now I go to the Drudge Report and I see that Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty is being indefinitely suspended from the #1 Cable Show in history because of his comments about gays. And I gotta admit, I immediately start conjuring up what he said.

'All homosexuals are bound for the fires of hell and are gonna burn burn burn!!!'
'You can't trust a gay man. He'll try to fuck your ass quicker than you can say 'Rip Taylor'!'

You know, something over the top. And then I'm reading these comments about what he said, and oh boy, it sounds really bad. I mean of course these groups are going to make it sound awful, but there's gotta be some meat there, right?

GLAAD on Wednesday condemned his remarks as "some of the vilest and most extreme statements uttered against LGBT people in a mainstream publication" and said "his quote was littered with outdated stereotypes and blatant misinformation."
"Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe," GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz said. "He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans -- and Americans -- who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to re-examine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families."
Alright. And here comes the Human Rights Campaign:
“Phil Robertson’s remarks are not consistent with the values of our faith communities or the scientific findings of leading medical organizations," president Chad Griffin said in a statement. "We know that being gay is not a choice someone makes, and that to suggest otherwise can be incredibly harmful. We also know that Americans of faith follow the Golden Rule -- treating others with the respect and dignity you’d wish to be treated with. As a role model on a show that attracts millions of viewers, Phil Robertson has a responsibility to set a positive example for young Americans -- not shame and ridicule them because of who they are. The A+E Network should take immediate action to condemn Phil Robertson’s remarks and make clear they don’t support his views."
So I decide, okay, I better go to GQ and read this thing to see exactly what the dude said. Again: I'm expecting something ridiculous, vulgar. And I admit, the first thing he says is... uh, blunt. Like 'I'd say this' blunt. Keep in mind I'm an anonymous nobody with a poor temper on the internet. Not a guy being interviewed by a major magazine for whom 'reactions' may be sizable.
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
Alright. As I said, I give you that it's blunt. On the other hand, he's not really saying much here other than his sexual preferences. His says sin isn't logical. I admit, it doesn't look like logic is really at work with anal sex. On the other hand, I'm not sure what logic has to do with sex outside of ethical arguments, and I'm pretty sure Robertson wasn't going there.

But... there's nothing that offensive, other than using blunt words like vagina and anus. Okay, so I'm looking at the wrong thing. Let's keep looking for the offensiveness!

Blah blah blah, he eats squirrels (I'd like to try that), he likes to hunt, he used to be a mean guy. He makes a comment about how he never saw blacks mistreated in pre-civil-rights era, but no one's worked up over that one yet.
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.” 
What, in your mind, is sinful? 
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Right... well, he calls homosexual behavior sinful. Bestiality. Sleeping around. Idolaters, male prostitutes, drunkards, greedy, slanderers, swindlers... Is this the part? How? This is one of the vilest and most extreme statements? What is the stereotype? What is the misinformation?

So I think, okay, maybe it comes later. Because all he did here was say homosexual behavior is sinful. He didn't even single out homosexuals - he singled out the acts. It has to come later, right? So on I read.

A bit later...
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
Alright. Homosexuals, drunks and terrorists. Iffy mix - homosexuality is a state, while drunks and terrorists are people engaging in an act. But still, nothing really extreme here. At worst, something he needs to explain. On we go.

I skip over the part where the interviewer glibly suggests that the world is getting better as it's being secular, and the usual canard about 'centuries upon centuries of bloodshed committed in the name of Christ' - bullshit, but on we go.

Except there's nothing more to go on to, because that's it. Either I'm missing a major part of the interview, or... the guy just got railroaded off the most popular TV show in cable history because he said same-sex sexual behavior is sinful.

Where was the blatant misinformation? Where were the stereotypes? What in the hell just happened here?

Am I the only one noticing that these groups are getting quoted making some serious claims against Robertson based on next to nothing? That they're ranting about 'What True Christians believe' and 'vile and extreme stereotypes' and there's literally nothing in the interview that comes even close to that? Seriously, are they going to suggest that anal sex is some kind of dirty rumor about gay men?

Will any of this be examined? Anywhere? Will someone pull one of GLAAD's reps out and ask them to specify what Robertson was wrong about? Or have we hit the point where if you just say anything negative about same-sex sexual behavior at all, even if you did NOT stereotype, even if you did not condemn gays for being gay as opposed to same-sex sexual behavior, that you must be crucified as if you did?

Will people not eventually get fucking TIRED of this?

Worries about Pope Francis are justified and can be reasonable

I've done a lot of writing about what I perceive of as mistakes on the part of a lot of criticisms of Pope Francis, with the last Strawman Dialogues being the latest example of my view. I think many criticisms coming out of the traditionalist, conservative camp are mistaken and overblown - and I think the recent history of social conservatives on controversial issues often leaves something to be desired in terms of approach and explanation. I think we've done a poor job of representing ourselves on gay marriage quite often. On abortion, not quite as often.

But I just want to make one thing clear: it's not as if I don't think worries about Pope Francis are entirely unreasonable. I may think many of the reasons being given by traditionalists are poorly voiced, and sometimes poorly considered. But "many" does not equal "all".

So, in the interest of providing some balance here... let me take a stab at explaining what I think some reasonable worries are.

Let's take a look at Francis' approach. I've praised it in large part: here we have a Catholic Pope, who has not given a single inch on Catholic orthodox teaching, getting praised by the masses. Time's person of the year? That's, if not an honor, at least a cultural boon at the moment - particularly in how it presented the Pope. That he's managed to achieve this without sacrificing anything with regards to orthodox Catholic teaching on social issues really is remarkable.

The problem - the risk - is that you don't need to sacrifice a teaching explicitly in order to sacrifice it in practice.

I think the best point of comparison is the illegal immigration issue in the United States. Illegal immigration is against the law to this day - it's on the books, there is a penalty. There is, as of yet, no amnesty. But what the hell does that matter? We've had de facto amnesty for years, and while the laws are on the books, they are typically not enforced. Oh, sure, now and then they get enforced for show. But really, you don't get tens of millions of illegal immigrants in your country by accident if you, the world power, were sincerely trying to keep them out. Let's not kid ourselves.

Likewise, it's entirely possible for the Pope to never come out and say 'Abortion is just fine, gay sex is just fine, contraception is acceptable' yet for the Church to move leftward on these issues. All you need to do is never talk about abortion and sodomy, wring your hands and whimper 'it's complicated' whenever someone asks you the question, and also find creative ways to punish anyone who actually does speak out against those things. You don't even have to punish them FOR speaking out. Find another reason - any will do, so long as they're punished.

I'm not saying that this is the situation with Francis. For one thing, he's spoken out against abortion explicitly. Women priests? Likewise - this is not an open question. Homosexuality? He's been clear, I think, if a little more silent - it's a tough issue for people to talk about, because to deal with it effectively you must be blunt, and I don't think the Pope has it in him to bluntly talk about sex. Most people don't. At the same time, the Church is more than Francis. Will the people he appoints speak out? Will they remain silent? Cardinal Wuerl seems to be the Cardinal of the Catholic Democrat Status Quo: advocate for abortion and you can still get communion, because if he doesn't grant that, then he'll go from being the toast of the town to a political pariah and we can't have that. Refuse to serve communion to a lesbian buddhist unrepentantly in a current sexual relationship? Wuerl will be there to punish you. And we just saw Wuerl elevated.

See, the fundamental problem here is that 'changing our approach' is something I sincerely believe we need to do. At the same time, I'm well aware that insincere people can hijack 'changing our approach' and use it towards some disturbingly different ends. That was, it seems, the main and ultimate problem with Vatican II - it wasn't that the core ideas involved were a bad idea. They were good ideas, in fact. It was that the implementation was easy to hijack, so hijacked it was. I can't fault anyone for being on guard against that - we've already seen it once in living memory.

So here we are in a complicated situation. The social conservatives need to change their approach, improve their message, to be more effective and to convince more people. There are legitimate criticisms to be had of the social conservatives. How do you know when you're dealing with legitimate criticisms of the message, not the value, rather than dealing with attacks on the value? That's the puzzle to figure out, and it will not always be easy.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Contra Victor Reppert on Clifford's Principle

So sayeth Victor:
Philosophical naturalists often take relativistic views on ethics. Yet, there seems to be one ethical area about which they are absolutists, and that is the ethics of belief. They say with Clifford "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." In fact, to some of them, this seems to be more obviously true than "It is wrong, always and everywhere, and for anyone, to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement." 
I understand where Victor is going with this - but I don't think it really works. And the ways in which it doesn't work are worth noting.

First and foremost is the escape valve: "Insufficient evidence." On its own, that's a loophole a person can drive a Mack truck through if they want to. How much evidence is sufficient evidence for belief in the existence of God? Or for atheism? Anecdotally, keep in mind a recent post of mine dealt with an atheist who insisted that belief in a negative - even a negative for which there is literally zero evidence - is A-OK. Alongside an atheist who insisted that believing something about a term which isn't even defined is A-OK. If pressed, I imagine they could argue that zero evidence for a claim is still sufficient evidence, depending on the claim. Absurd, sure, but there's that Mack truck I was talking about.

My other problem with Victor's summary is the same problem I have with the claim that naturalists have a tremendous amount of love for scientific evidence and reasoning, etc. It's a popular refrain, absolutely - there's no shortage of self-described naturalists who insist on the respect they have for science, their acceptance of it, their celebration of it. But the fact is, there's also no shortage of self-described Christians, theists, and even full-blown YECs who praise science and claim to accept science. If praise of science was sufficient to demonstrate someone had tremendous respect for scientific reasoning, we'd have to include YECs and atheists, ID proponents and Darwinists, all under the same tent. Talk is cheap when it comes to discussing one's high standards for belief, reason and rationality.

There's a third wrinkle here that has to do with the subjective aspects of having sufficient or insufficient evidence, but let's put that aside. I think what Victor is driving at is that Clifford's Principle is an explicitly moral claim - it talks about the wrongness of certain beliefs. It's prescriptive. But where are these moral 'oughts' coming from for the naturalist, especially given the prevalence of moral nihilism or relativism with regards to naturalism? If naturalism is true, believe what you damn well please, if in fact it pleases you. Reject naturalism if you like.

Now, there are potential responses here. For one, you could just deny the moral aspect of Clifford's principle and turn it into a claim of utility - 'If you wish to have true beliefs, then it is wrong to...' etc. But that leaves pragmatic beliefs untouched. True beliefs may not be valuable to you as opposed to beliefs that make you feel a certain way, etc. In fact, you can borrow some interesting pages out of the naturalist playbook on this one: 'I'm a consenting adult, who is consenting to this belief that I have. Who are you to tell me it's wrong for a willing adult to do something that doesn't involve or harm anyone else?'

There's still a move available to the naturalist: argue that, while you may be a consenting adult, your taking on a wrong or poorly evidenced belief may lead to harming others. Of course, 'harm' is going to need to be defined on naturalism (I believe this is actually ridiculously difficult to do, and ultimately requires an objective morality to take seriously), the moral status of harming others will need to be defended - and this also opens the door to questioning areas that many naturalists previously regarded as off-limits (It turns out what people do in the bedroom IS, in principle, everyone's business - at least if they have beliefs about the morality or immorality, the harm or lack of harm, of their actions.)

Anyway, just some comments on the always thoughtful Victor Reppert's thinking. Make of it what you will.

Argument Logs: The Atheist Who Couldn't Disprove Fairies

Yet another argument log (Ugh, I get into too many pointless arguments) wherein a Cult of Gnu brand atheist makes a few interesting moves.

* When arguing that fairies don't exist, they fought against the idea that they have any need to define what fairies even are, preferring to go with a kind of 'We all know what they are and that they don't exist so therefore let's not even define them but just agree' argument.
* Likewise, apparently they can apply this sort of reasoning to God, without defining what God even is.
* A sidebar atheist (the usual plagiarist) insisted that it's 'axiomatic' that all claims start out assumed negative.

Bonus: after attempting to argue that agnostics are just atheists of a particular variety, they proceeded to fight tooth and nail against the idea that, in the absence of evidence for or against a given claim, the proper position is one of agnosticism. Huh.

All in all, a pretty fun argument just for the unintentional hilarity of it all. Meeting a Cult of Gnu brand atheist who can't give much of an argument against the existence of God is nothing new. Meeting one who cannot even give much of an argument against the existence of *fairies*? Maybe that's not new either, but it's my first actual encounter with such a creature.

Intellectually, the valuable lesson here is that Ockham's Razor can be weaponized for theistic and anti-naturalist use. I doubt this is original to me in any way - I'm pretty sure George Berkeley arguably or even explicitly made use of this when he advanced idealism - but it's something that doesn't get seen often enough.

Theists and anti-naturalists have to learn how to be skeptics and blasphemers. This doesn't mean abandoning anything relating to theism or anti-naturalism.

Monday, December 16, 2013

On the obsolescence of feminists.

Hot on the heels of discussing feminism with Rank Sophist, I notice - courtesy of Vox Day - Camille Paglia writing that it's a man's world and always will be. While her article is interesting in and of itself, more interesting to me is the context of where those words originally showed up: at a debate asking if men are obsolete.

It's easy to marvel at the gall of even asking the question to begin with, and it's just as easy to imagine alternative questions that would drive people bonkers merely by bringing up at all. "Are women obsolete?" "Do we really need (insert non-white race or, specifically, white women) in the modern world?" "Are homosexuals obsolete?" Fun questions to think about asking, if only for the likely reactions - can you imagine Andrew Sullivan up on stage, tasked with explaining what unique utility homosexual men bring to the table?

But that's low-hanging fruit.

What I really find interesting here is how the panelists can at once talk about how men are obsolete - 'We can impregnate ourselves without men!' crows Maureen Dowd, as the cobwebs accumulate in her womb - while at the same time whining about the patriarchy, about how powerful men still run the world. They have to walk a tightrope where they can build their egos about womens' collective abilities and accomplishments and power - overlooking, of course, any inconvenient details that cause trouble for the heroic narrative - while at the same time holding onto their collective victim status (Patriarchy! Gender Roles! Rape Culture!)

In a word, it's pathetic. Like watching some fat, out of shape man talk about how he'd be a better heavyweight boxer than Mike Tyson in his prime - he's taller than Mike, you know - while excusing the fact that he's a pudgeball and his accomplishments unimpressive by complaining about what amounts to a shadow culture that, consciously or not, was out to sabotage him all along. Exactly how long could anyone listen to a man like that simultaneously preening over his various traits that make him better than Tyson, while at the same time excusing all of his faults, before telling him off?

If a feminist believes men are obsolete - if women can get along just fine without men, thank you very much - then all I can say is, wonderful... then kindly stop begging men for help. Fight against 'patriarchy' on your own. Leave us out of your many and varied cultural and intellectual wars, from the business world to the intellectual world to everywhere else. We - the men who do not believe women are 'obsolete', and the women who do not believe that men are 'obsolete' - will tend to our own, and we'll see how things pan out ten, twenty years down the road. I'm sure you'll all build some bitchin' grass huts.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fundamental Force Followup

After commenting on the fundamental forces, commenter Scintimandrion offered the following insight:
I don't think the issue is the number of ghosts and spooks. I think it's whether they have will and purpose. Our ghosts and spooks are mindless entities that just do the same thing over and over again.
The problem I have with this reply is simple: I'd like to know how we know that 'our ghosts and spooks are mindless entities'. I'll grant that these forces are reliable, that they do the same thing over and over again. But mindless? Lacking will and purpose? Where is the test for this? Where is the research? And, if there was no test nor research, then where is this conclusion coming from? I don't think mere regularity is going to suffice to establish the listed claims. Instead I think we have here a very common, oft-repeated, taken-for-granted claim that may well be difficult to defend at the end of the day.

Pontifical Ammo in the Culture War

Getreligion has an interesting article up about recent developments with Pope Francis, and a succinct quote explains some of where I'm coming from regarding him:

“You know who I freakin’ love?” gushed MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who grew up Catholic but stopped attending church during his freshman year at Brown. “This new pope. Pope Francis. … Are you watching this guy? Because you should be. It’s early, but I’m thinking … best pope ever.” Of course, Hayes noted, Francis’s church still opposes “gay marriage, women in the priesthood, a woman’s autonomy over her own body.” But, hey, he explained, at least Francis isn’t “a jerk about it.”

Okay, put aside for a moment the stale, robotic "woman's autonomy over her own body" and the "best pope ever" schtick that just serves to remind of the descent of modern journalism. High praise for the pope despite his orthodoxy, in one of the American liberal media strongholds. The whole article is worth reading, but it helps emphasize a theme I keep bringing up. Francis is having success while sacrificing not a scrap of orthodoxy. Yes, I think his image is a success. I think his presentation of the issues is a success. He is doing something we can learn from.

Oh, and for you lovers of clarity...

Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.
Courtesy of the Pope's most recent broadcast.

The Explanation of Fundamental Forces

I'm surprised that explanations of the fundamental forces of physics don't come up far more often in theological discussions. I can appreciate why many of the typical points of focus are common - consciousness, the origin of the universe, etc - but for my money, the fundamental forces seem like an intuitively simple concept to grasp, and the mystery surrounding them close to self-evident.

A fun way to sum up the advance of modern science is to point out that, once upon a time, primitives believed that multitudes of unseen beings were responsible for all manner of natural events. But we, the educated modern masses, know better. We don't need an army of minor ghosts and spooks to explain just about anything we've encountered in nature. We just need four really powerful ones.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Strawman Dialogues: Volume Pope

And now, in what may be a semi-regular feature on this blog, I present to you... The Strawman Dialogues. Today's subject: Pope Francis.

Catholic A: Did you see that the Pope is Time's person of the year?
Catholic B: Yeah. I guess that's a good sign.
Catholic A: Feh. As if.
Catholic B: Eh? I thought you'd enjoy this. Nice to see a Pope who's actually popular.
Catholic A: He's popular for all the wrong reasons! Did you know MTV U named him man of the year too? Along with Lorde?
Catholic B: That's nice. Wait, who the hell is Lorde?
Catholic A: Doesn't matter. The point is that this is the last thing the Church needs.
Catholic B: What? Having a Pope who people don't spend most of their time comparing to Emperor Palpatine? Benedict was great in many ways, but I'm mostly encouraged by Francis' papacy so far.
Catholic A: Why!? Look at all the mistakes he's making!
Catholic B: Every pope, even the good ones, make mistakes. But what mistakes are you talking about?
Catholic A: God, where to begin. That horrible interview with the italian atheist. He's making the Church sound liberal!
Catholic B: What, did he go soft on abortion? Gay marriage? Anything like that?
Catholic A: He criticized the way conservatives have handled those issues!
Catholic B: Well, we could be doing better on that front. We're doing so-so on abortion. Gay marriage and same-sex stuff? Kind of a disaster. We lost the public in the span of ten, maybe five years.
Catholic A: But we should be speaking out against those things MORE as a result!
Catholic B: With the same exact approach? At what point do we start to question if maybe we've made some mistakes in how we've handled ourselves?
Catholic A: That's insane! The chips are stacked against us. A hostile liberal media! A secular culture of death!
Catholic B: All true. On the other hand, last I saw the Pope didn't give an inch on these topics. He's reiterated the Church's opposition to abortion, period. He's spoken out against moral relativism.
Catholic A: So?
Catholic B: So I think it's pretty impressive for a socially conservative Catholic, with a hostile media and culture, to swing Time's Person of the Year and even MTV U's - didn't even know that existed until today - Man of the Year award, without giving up an inch on doctrine. Sounds more like a man to emulate, at least in some ways.
Catholic A: Emulate!?
Catholic B: Yes, emulate. For a moment we have a Catholic Church, orthodox in its teaching, with a leader that people like. Agnostic friends I know like this pope. The Cult of Gnu is steaming that a religious leader is being praised even by liberals. Not everyone is a liberal activist diehard. Some of these socially liberal people are that way almost as a default. Perhaps this is a way to reach them - by improving our image, by focusing on things we can agree on, while holding fast to our orthodoxy.
Catholic A: But look at all the social conservatives the Pope upset!
Catholic B: I'm a social conservative, but I'm not upset. And frankly, a lot of the upset people are too fragile. They don't want to admit they may have made some mistakes over the years. The very thought of a new approach when the old isn't working confounds them.
Catholic A: We don't NEED a new approach.
Catholic B: Right, what did I just say.
Catholic A: What I mean is the Church needs to speak with clarity on these issues! There are still Catholics who approve of gay marriage! Or women priests! Or...
Catholic B: You think it's news to them that they're taking a liberal position? Sometimes people disagree even if you speak with clarity. Let's try clear messages with different approaches. Repeating an old mantra may not get us anywhere.
Catholic A: Obscuring the issues certainly won't help.
Catholic B: The Pope's not obscuring anything. He's been clear about abortion, about women priests and more, time and again.
Catholic A: The public doesn't read those documents! They just read soundbites!
Catholic B: Then take the documents where he's clear and make some soundbites. Easy to do. Problem solved.
Catholic A: And what about the social conservatives who get disheartened?
Catholic B: Not desirable, and I think the Church is clearly trying to calm them. But as with the diehard liberals, you can't make much progress with the perpetually aggrieved.
Catholic A: They just want a Pope who teaches clearly!
Catholic B: No, they want a Pope who sticks to a script so they're never disturbed. They're so used to hostile reactions that if a Pope isn't hated by all the right people, they're afraid of him. I'm afraid that if we're going to make any progress in the culture war, people who like the same exact message repeated ad nauseum will need to be disturbed. We don't need to change any beliefs or orthodoxies, but we damn sure need to change how we express them.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Behold, modern feminism in all (his or) her glory

Courtesy of Vox Day:
One of the node.js core contributors, Ben Noordhuis, rejected a pull request that eliminated the use of a gendered pronoun in libuv. Now, this was quickly reversed by node.js project lead Isaac Schlueter (that is, Isaac accepted the patch eliminating the gendered pronoun), but because this is a Joyent-sponsored project, many made the reasonable inference that Ben is a Joyent employee—and have called Joyent to task for tolerating such poor behavior. (Especially when that poor behavior transcended into the gobsmackingly inappropriate as Ben tried to revert Isaac's commit.) 
But while Isaac is a Joyent employee, Ben is not—and if he had been, he wouldn't be as of this morning: to reject a pull request that eliminates a gendered pronoun on the principle that pronouns should in fact be gendered would constitute a fireable offense for me and for Joyent.
Let's repeat this, and bold it up, so the point is not missed.

 to reject a pull request that eliminates a gendered pronoun on the principle that pronouns should in fact be gendered would constitute a fireable offense for me and for Joyent.

And, further down in that same article, with emphasis added:
we believe that empathy is a core engineering value—and that an engineer that has so little empathy as to not understand why the use of gendered pronouns is a concern almost certainly makes poor technical decisions as well.... 
Empathy as a core engineering value. Also, if an engineer uses 'he' instead of 'he or she', then he's (oops, sorry - they are) probably are terrible at engineering.

Where do you begin with something like this? Do you talk about how bizarre it is to have a tech company considering a rejection of a pull request to correct gendered pronoun usage a 'fireable offense'? How about this idea that engineers who lack empathy must therefore make bad technical decisions - as if a broad generalization to justify decisive action, with zero evidence rallied to support it, is indicative of good decisionmaking in general?

I suppose the situation speaks for itself. Behold, the fruits of modern feminism. Deviation from the holy writ can get you fired, on the spot. Indeed, deviation from the holy writ indicates that you are bad at your job.

In a twisted way, this is actually a good thing for traditionalists and the socially conservative. It gives us something to react to, to be skeptical of, to blaspheme against. And who doesn't like a little blasphemy now and then?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Discussing Feminism with Rank Sophist

I despise the comment limitation on characters. Then I realized, I run this damn blog - I can just make a post!

Reply below. I think anyone who follows this blog may find the conversation interesting anyway. Continued from here.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pat Buchanan is always interesting.

And he's apparently a Chris Rock fan. Who knew?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Behold - men and women have differently wired brains

Alternate headline: "privilege" located on brain scans.

Bonus quote:
“It's quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are,” said Rubin Gur of Pennsylvania University, a co-author of the study.
 Complementary. My prediction: you will not be hearing more about this anytime soon, because 'complementary' implies a whole lot of things about "gender roles" and the like that will drive the thought police bonkers. With their indirectly wired brains and all.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Why politics?

Believe it or not, I was pretty hesitant to discuss anything political on my blog at first. Not that I have much of a readership, but still, I'm very well aware that the moment you start getting into politics you're starting to wade into controversial waters that may further divide theists. For a while I thought it would be possible to avoid that altogether, save for the more unavoidably political topics (gay marriage, etc.)

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a bad idea. I don't think the left wing and right wing divide among Christians can really be ignored, but at the same time I'd like to transcend it. It's a challenge, but hell, what's wrong with trying to meet a challenge? And, oddly enough, no one else seems to be trying to meet it. I don't see many conservatives trying to talk to liberals (except to condemn them) or liberals trying to talk to conservatives (except trying to belittle or talk down to them). That needs to change, and it's a tricky thing to change it.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gnus and Skeptics, Gaps and Burdens

Anyone who's spent time talking to a Cultist of Gnu is going to notice that the gnus typically want to maintain two mutually exclusive positions at once.

1) They want to perpetually be in the position of 'skeptic' - as in, they only want to be on the offense in most conversations. They want to attack ideas, not defend theirs. You see this manifesting through the constant attempts to redefine atheism to mean 'a lack of belief in Gods', as opposed to 'a belief that God/god(s) do not exist'. The latter is a claim, and therefore something that must be defended - so it's something a lot of Gnus avoid dealing with at all costs.

2) At the same time, they desperately want to push the idea that God does not exist, that there is no evidence for the existence of God/god(s), that God is very unlikely to exist, etc. After all, they want to spread their idea - they are evangelical atheists. And to do that means convincing people who believe that God exists that, low and behold, God doesn't.

But you can't have 1 and 2 at the same time. At least, not in a consistent, intellectually honest way. The moment a Gnu decides to take up arms and advance position 2, they've sacrificed the ability to hold position 1.

That doesn't mean they won't try to get away with both. Lately I've had a conversation over at Vogt's site, which started off with an atheist saying that there was not sufficient evidence for God's existence. I said, already - what would be sufficient evidence?

There was some talk about how philosophical and logical arguments don't give us empirical evidence (put the 'So what?' aspect of this aside for now), but then the response was 'Well, what do you have?' I said, no, you said there's not sufficient evidence. So clearly you can tell me what would be sufficient, right? I mean, you'd have to know what sufficient evidence is to declare there isn't any.

So they bite. And of course, it's what you'd expect: God could make everyone stop aging all of the sudden. God could cure all cancer in the world and cure all the amputees at once. Etc, etc. If that happened he'd be convinced God exists!

I point out the problems. First, that's not 'scientific evidence', contrary to what they were saying. But more than that - they were asking for gaps. Amazing things that science couldn't explain. There would be their 'sufficient evidence for God's existence'. So, I ask - I take it you believe that God of the Gaps reasoning is valid reasoning?

They try a few bluffs. Incredulity. (Are you saying YOU wouldn't believe in God if that happened? I say, nope, I think that'd work as evidence. But then again, I'm not the one discounting gaps-reasoning.) Intellectual bluffing. (Well if you tell me that's God of the Gaps evidence maybe I'll just have to say that not even THAT would count as evidence, and that evidence isn't possible! I say, go for it - PZ Myers and Michael Shermer have already made this move. At least then you'll be honest that nothing could convince you.) The moves don't work.

So then they try turning it around - 'Well, if you want me to give you evidence that would show God exists, you'll have to define God for me and tell me what evidence you have!' I say, no thanks. I didn't walk in here making any claims - you did. Why don't you define God for us? After all, you clearly had an idea of what God is in order to make comments about the sufficient evidence. But that led to gaps claims. Now, what you can also do is withdraw your claim about the sufficient evidence. But I'm not here to prove God exists. I'm here to evaluate your claims. I've highlighted some problems.

This gets a few more Gnus wading into the fight, but they all just try repeating what the first atheist said. 'The evidence he asked for would so be scientific, because we'd see it and things we can see are scientific!' No, that's not sufficient, and the appeal here would be to our inability to explain things. 'But they would contradict our best scientific theories!' Sure would - this shit's been done before. It may well happen again. We're back to 'gaps as knowledge of God.' You're just haggling over which gaps will work.

Finally comes the Gnu who insists that I've been dishonestly manipulating the conversation because *I* didn't give everyone my definition of God to begin with, and I should be the one providing evidence for God's existence - not asking others to define God and give their evidence. I say, horseshit. We have a man here who made claims about God. I wasn't even in this conversation when he made them. 'Oh yes, well that was poorly considered on his part, but now he's learned his lesson and...' I ask, and he'll be withdrawing his claims then? It turns out that he can't evaluate the evidence for God's existence after all, because he has no idea what he's talking about? Or can he, and he embraces God of the Gaps reasoning?

And throughout, the whole thing becomes clear. They want, desperately, to be able to make claims about God's existence... but they do not want to be put in the position of having to defend those claims. They want to stay on the attack, but they want no burden of proof. The moment they have one, they're looking for every possible way to drop it, short of being put in the position of having to say they have no idea how to evaluate the claim. (Which, by the way, seemed to be an issue with the original Logical Positivists. As near as I can tell, their intellectual framework made questions about God utterly undecidable, but damn, they wanted desperately to be able to say God does not exist anyway.)

Part of what struck me about the whole conversation was how damn obvious their inconsistencies were, but how they clung to them anyway. They want to denounce the God of the Gaps, but they don't want to be denounced when they demand gaps as evidence for God. They want to never have a burden of proof, but they want to be able to make claims, even strong claims, about God's existence. And if you catch them in an inconsistency, they never consider 'Oops, I made a mistake, wow maybe I was wrong about this.' Instead it's more, 'How DARE you point out my inconsistency! That's supposed to be what I do, and my side alone!'

This is one of the easier inconsistencies to call Gnus out on. If they tell you God doesn't exist, ask for their evidence, their proof. If they say God is unlikely to exist, ask for the same. And when they inevitably squirm and try to turn the conversation into one where you're claiming God is likely to exist, don't let them. Be the one thing that drives them out of their minds: a skeptic who is skeptical of their assertions.

Friday, November 29, 2013

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving.

And I hope, if you actually had some idiot liberal foot-soldier relatives who decided to take Obama's "bring up liberal talking points at dinner" command to heart, you quite suitably made them regret ever doing such a thing.

Matters of justice are not necessarily matters of government

I've seen this come up twice recently - the idea that if an issue is one of 'justice' then automatically it's an issue where the government should intervene.

I disagree, of course. I think the government can reasonably be involved in some issues of justice, sure - but I think what's going on here is that people want to get to the 'and now the government should get involved!' part of the discussion as soon as humanly possible, spending as little time as they must on ever discussing (or justifying) such intervention. So we're starting to see 'Justice means the men with guns need to be in on this!'

Respectfully, no. It does not. Human beings can and should handle some issues of 'justice' without the government doing a damn thing. Again, this seems pretty central to the Christian view as Christ communicated it.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, all! Unless you're not American, in which case... Happy Thanksgiving anyway! Just nod your head and say it back, that's what I'd do during Guy Fawkes Day.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Meanwhile, at the Popecave!

Courtesy of the Pope, communicated to me first by the Codgitator:

[A]s a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. … Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.

Behold, the nemesis of the socially liberal Catholic: clear teaching! Andrew Sullivan snarls and recoils, wisps of smoke rising from his frame! Nancy Pelosi's jaw slackens in horror before she melts into a pile of pure liquid RU-486!

Seriously though, I'm not really surprised. Did anyone think an alternative to this was in play?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Conservative Christians missing the point

Hey, if I fire in one direction, I may as well fire in the other as well, right?

While I think liberal Christians tend to really go wrong, and more dangerously wrong - any unjustified invocation of the Men With Guns is pretty damn dangerous, spiritually and otherwise - I also think conservative Christians have a blind spot of their own. The problem is, while the liberal Christians run the risk of warping the commands of Christ, the conservative practically forgets that there's a command of Christ they should be following.

I'm not talking about 'forgetting that giving to the poor is a command of Christ' or 'forgetting to personally give to the poor', though those are risks, at least in a practical sense. But the very idea of looking at a billionaire and encouraging them to - even willfully - part with their money for the sake of the poor? Conservative christians tend to choke there. Isn't that a liberal thing, telling people what to do with their money? Well, no. A liberal thing is aiming a gun at someone and taking their money, spending said money, and then talking about how generous they were to give all that money away. A conservative tells the person with millions or billions in assets that they should be using some of that money to help people who need it.

Now, this is where things get complicated: there is a difference between 'giving money to the poor' or 'helping out the less fortunate' and 'giving money to charity'. I'll have more to say about this in the future, but just to give a hint about what I mean, consider what corrupt Governor Blagojevich's master plan was to permanently install himself as a wealthy individual.

Liberal Christians missing the point

There's an idea among liberal Christians that Christ's demand to give to the poor cashes out to passing laws that mandate wealth redistribution - ie, telling the men with guns to start taking money from people through threat of violence and imprisonment. This is like regarding the admonition to get married if you wish to have sex as license for the government to order women to marry men who wish to have sex.

If a liberal Christian balks at the latter - if they regard that as a horrible idea that does not follow Christ's commands, because the willing consent of both parties is absolutely essential - then it's pretty easy to see where the demand for government redistribution of wealth falls apart, at least as a Christian ideal. The point of the command to give to the poor is not simply 'the poor need money, give it to them by any means necessary', just as the command for sexually eager men to marry doesn't mean 'men need to have sex, let's round up some women and force them into a marriage'. To view either command that way is spiritually and intellectually warped - and in large part, they stand and fall together.

This isn't to say that no justification for wealth redistribution can exist. It's to say that trying to interpret Christ's commands in that way fails, badly and obviously. When Christ tells people to give to the poor, the goal is not merely to change the economic state of the poor person, but to change the intellectual state of the wealthy person. Yes, I know - that's difficult, and they may not agree. Too bad. There is no shortcut here.

A public service warning

The morning after pill does not work on women who weigh over 176 pounds. On the bright side, a woman who weighs that much is already doing a good job of discouraging pregnancy.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

An American Theocracy?

One of the left-wing bogeyman is the idea that Christians (at least conservative Christians) want to turn America into a theocracy. Of course, 'theocracy' is meant to conjure images of immediate repression - women in veils, a dictatorship, etc, etc.

But what if we're already a theocracy?

I'm not arguing that America was founded as a Christian nation. But it may well have been founded as a theistic one. In fact, given the Declaration of Independence, the prevalence of prayer and recognition of God's role in our fundamental view of laws and rights - out of fashion as it may be with some - it seems like there's an immediate open question about whether America can rightly be called a theocracy historically. It would just be a very generalized view of God - God as guarantor of certain fundamental rights of man. A God that, conceivably, many Christians and Jews and Muslims may go on to identify as their God. (Then again, maybe not.)

I think this possibility would short-circuit a lot of people's minds. Living in a theocracy where God is invoked to grant people the right of freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, free speech, and a generally non-intrusive government besides? It definitely turns the popular notion of theocracy on its head. On the other hand, people often think of 'secular government' in terms of particularly idealized societies - and leave North Korea and China (not to mention, Saddam-era Iraq) out of the mix. But that's clearly wrong.

Maybe we live in a theocracy already. Maybe the very things we value, including our perception of rights and freedoms, is fundamentally reliant on a certain view of God.

A Humanist on Humanism

We are Humanists because for us, Humanism is part of being the best, most honest, most thoughtful human beings we are capable of being.

I try to be fair, despite my cynicism. But I cannot read the above and come away thinking the writer is anything but a tremendous toolbox. Even the more sanctimonious Christians typically talk about virtue in terms of what they strive to do, standards they try to live up to, often while emphasizing that they falter. Not to mention, exactly how 'humanism' is part of any of that is just left unexplained. No doubt in part because humanism is such mush.

An underappreciated problem of conscience

One of the forefront concerns I have whenever anyone starts appealing to the primacy or even instrumental role of consciousness with regards to moral questions is this: I think people are prone to bullshit wildly whenever they can get away with it, and when a fundamental justification in their decision-making process is entirely mental, the bullshit accumulates quickly. This is one reason why it's a bad idea to argue about someone's motivations - because 'motivations' are usually known only to a single person, and said person may well be willing to lie like crazy if they know no one can really check them for sincerity.

When the Pope was (at this point, quite possibly wrong) quoted as saying that 'if everyone followed their consciences, the world would be a better place', a lot of the worry seemed to center around the fact that this gave people license to support everything from gay marriage to partial birth abortion, so long as their consciences told them it was the right thing to do. That wasn't really my prime worry. Instead it was the expectation of the inevitable nonsense that would immediately follow, where people (particularly Catholics) would suddenly discover that their consciences told them to do everything they always wanted to do, and still be able to sell themselves as good Catholics and moral people because 'I'm just doing what my conscience tells me!'

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mere Theism and Atheist Apologetics

Continuing to illustrate what I meant by my past post about being a theist first and a Catholic second - intellectually speaking - I offer up this summarized exchange I've had.

Atheist: So you think God created the universe?

Me: The evidence seems to point in that direction, yep.

Atheist: Then who created God?

Me: Well, here are the explanations of why that line of questioning doesn't work.

Atheist: You're just playing word games! That stuff is all complicated and made up by people who didn't know better! It's been disproven!

Me: No, it's not and it hasn't. Here, let me explain the issue from the Thomist arguments to start with, and...

Atheist: This is a load! For all you know your God was created by another God!

Me: ... You know what? For a change of pace, fine. Let's run with that. How the hell does that even help you?

Atheist: What do you mean?

Me: Say for the sake of argument you're right. God could have created the universe, but that god could have been created by another god. And THAT god by another god, on and on and on. How does it help you?

Atheist: Well then Christianity may be false! If that's true, god didn't create everything, another god made him!

Me: Right, I'll even grant that. But so what? You're arguing for atheism, last I checked. Theism's still true, given the truth of your own objection. Now you don't only have one God to deal with, but a potentially infinite number of gods. That's still theism. A strange polytheism, sure. But theism all the same. So what the hell are you getting at here?

Atheist: Well if you admit something could have created god, then it makes no sense to arbitrarily stop and say THIS god is the only god!

Me: Who's arbitrarily stopping? I've only got evidence for the one, so that's where I stop for now. But in principle, in terms of raw possibilities, we can keep right on going. Entertain the possibility of an infinite number of gods. Atheism is still false on your own example. What am I missing here? Where does the atheism come in?

Atheist: Well, it's simpler to just say the universe is all that exists and...

Me: Woah woah. What's this simplicity shit? That wasn't a concern before. How do you know this universe wasn't spawned off another universe? And that one off another still? And if at any point in the chain one of those universes was created by a god, your atheism is false. Theism can suffer an infinite number of gods. Atheism is false if just one exists.

Atheist: But those gods may be evil! They may not even care about us!

Me: Maybe, maybe not. Either way, so what? It's your example, using your logic and assumptions. What, I'm supposed to rule out all the possibilities that are unpalatable? Is that how you arrive at your conclusions? As near as I can tell, you just made your own view even more untenable than it was to begin with - which was, for my money, pretty damn untenable. And I don't accept your underlying logic anyway. You, presumably, do. Sounds like you should start praying and asking for signs. Or maybe mercy.

More Papal interview fallout

So now the interviewer says that he may have, you know - changed some of what the Pope was saying.

I loved this portion: "“I try to understand the person I am interviewing, and after that, I write his answers with my own words,” Scalfari explained.
He conceded that it is therefore possible that “some of the Pope’s words I reported were not shared by Pope Francis.”"

That's just great.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Michael Behe versus Mark Shea on Intelligent Design

Behe explains, patiently and politely, exactly where Mark Shea - and many, many others - go wrong in their ID criticisms.

One of the reasons I maintain a tremendous amount of sympathy for ID arguments is because they are mangled and misrepresented by critics to an absurd degree - easily on par with any misrepresentation of the Five Ways or cosmological arguments in general.

What I find amazing, though, is that someone like Mark Shea will go absurdly public with damning criticisms of the Intelligent Design argument, without even bothering to check whether they're representing the argument in anything close to an accurate way. Now, I can understand if you were firing from the hip in a blog comments section. But an article with your name on it, that people can use to evaluate whether or not you're even reasonably reliable when it comes to representing an argument?

Either way, if you're at all curious about the fundamental claims and rationale behind ID reasoning, the above article is worth a read. It's clear, direct and pleasant. Behe is a good writer when it comes to these topics.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Victor Reppert on Cross-Faith Dialogue

I have been operating on the assumption that good, open dialogue about religiously significant issues amongst people who disagree vigorously with one another is a good thing, and something our society desperately needs.  
The problem with Victor's claim is that it needs to be qualified in a few ways.

There's little value in 'open dialogue about religiously significant issues amongst people who disagree vigorously with one another', in and of itself. Let's face it: im-skeptical is a goddamn idiot when it comes to these topics. We're talking about a person whose reaction to any religious or theologically friendly claim is to hit google and link to the first thing that looks kinda-sorta like a criticism of it, then confidently declare it refuted - which, lately, has resulted in some hilarious misfires. (Linking to Mystery Babylon conspiracy theorist websites, linking to a homeopathy website to illustrate the brilliance of the scientific method, etc.) With Papalinton, we have a demonstrated liar, slanderer and plagiarist who was caught copying and pasting (more than once) blog posts in order to feign knowledge about what he was furiously criticizing.

Is someone really going to tell me input from guys like this is at all valuable? That there's something gained by discourse with idiots who speak with confidence about issues they *know* they are ignorant of, who react to even benign correction with hostility? I mean, they're engaged in open dialogue and they certainly disagree vigorously, so at least you're getting those ingredients in whatever intellectual recipe you're following. But where's the 'good'? Where's the value? All it's really gained is a guarantee that each and every blog topic becomes a derail. At least everyone there is disagreeing openly so I guess that's valuable? I just don't see it.

That doesn't mean there haven't been good commenters in the history of DI who were also atheist/agnostic. Dan Gillson comes to mind. Ingx24. I can think of a few others. But I'd bet you if you went back and looked for the atheists of value who spoke up on the site, you'd notice a pattern - not a one of them were in the Cult of Gnu, and most of them were hostile to it despite their being atheists. The reason for that is pretty simple to understand: the Cult of Gnu is built almost entirely around encouraging its cultists to regard anything that smacks of a religiously or theologically friendly claim with instant hostility. Not 'hostility, after they've understood and found serious flaws in the reasoning', but straightaway, far in advance of actually understanding the claim. In fact, taking the time to understand the claim is explicitly rejected as a prerequisite for dismissing and insulting anyone who regards it as having worth. That would be tantamount to taking religious claims seriously and treating theistically friendly reasoning with respect, which is precisely what is being rejected.

The point is - these people are incapable of 'dialogue' in any meaningful sense of the term. At the absolute best, they can feign it - and the only thing you get with feigned respect is feigned dialogue, some insincere mouthing of nice-sounding language while failing to take anything your opponent says seriously. I think this has been demonstrated to be the case time and again at DI, from Skep and Linton to pretty much every interaction Loftus has ever had there, to otherwise.

So really, all I'd ask Victor is - do you really think the sort of conversation you see between Skep and any theist, or Linton and any theist, or Loftus and any theist, is something society desperately needs? Maybe what society really needs is for the intellectually mature to rise up and tell all three and anyone of their ilk, 'Sit down, shut up, and let the adults talk.' For some people on some topics, talking with them is of no benefit. The only benefit is talking at them, and letting them decide to either listen quietly, or leave.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Laws are backed by guns and prisons.

One theme I run into over and over again in political conversations is this: people are unwilling, or unable, to accept the fact that 'I want a law X passed' means - directly - the following:

I want the situation to be such that, if someone engages in act X, a sizable army of men with guns will either throw them into prison, or demand an amount - often sizable - of their money or possessions. If they fail to hand over said money or possessions, men with guns will take everything demanded of them and more, and they will be thrown in prison on top of it all.

I mean, this is obvious, right? This is what it means to pass a law, at least a law that actually gets enforced (and what's the point of passing a law that won't be enforced?) This is what it means to place a tax on an individual. These things are not backed, ultimately, by strongly written warnings from the community, the defiance of which means dirty looks when they go to the supermarket. Men with guns. Prison. Possessions taken away by force. This isn't really an avoidable realization. It's not particularly pleasant, but it's true.

The simple point here is that, if you're not willing to see this through - if you can think of a law that you'd like to see passed, but would NOT feel justified having someone dragged, kicking and screaming, out of what recently was their home so they can be transported to a small cement room where they will live for weeks, months or years if they fail to follow the law - then you actually wouldn't like to see that law passed. You're instead thinking of a way you wished the world was.

Personal example: I sure wish parents with screaming/crying toddlers would take their children out of a public area when their kids acted up. That'd make life a lot more pleasant at times, without a doubt. But I don't want a law against this passed, period, end of story. Maybe I'll endorse roundabout encouragement of parents to properly control and care for their children. Maybe I'll just deal with it when it happens, usually by going for the nearest exit, or at least out of earshot. I wish the world was a certain way, but no, I'm not going to ask my public officials to throw Mother Scream-Tolerance into the slammer, or take away her money, for failing to properly deal with her brat.

On the flipside, I am more than happy to endorse this reaction for - say - child molestation. With apologies to Mister Dawkins, yes, I believe if you engage in 'mild child sexual abuse', you should lose some of your possessions and a decent chunk of your freedom. The men with guns shall show up and move you to your new temporary/permanent home, by force if necessary, and I will not lose sleep over this.

But I think some people have trouble with these distinctions. And, non-sarcastically, it's understandable why they'd make this mistake. They think about the world they'd like to see, they think of ways to achieve what they want, and 'pass a law' shows up there in the list of possibilities. And in their imaginations, they don't always imagine the crucial part where the person who disobeys the law is punished severely, particularly if they don't go along with the 'And now you lose hundreds/thousands/more of your possessions' part of the law. They just imagine the part where everyone is following - maybe even happily - the new law, and that's that. It's a little like eating hamburgers. Lots of people love to eat them - many people mentally block out the whole 'This is what happens to the cow' part of the process. But that process takes place, whether you choose to accept it or not.

So whenever you're pondering a law you'd like to pass - some tax you'd like to see levied, some behavior you'd like to see outlawed - think it through. I mean really think through what you're asking, what is necessarily involved with getting this law enforced. There are other considerations, but if at the end of the day you don't want anyone to lose their money or their freedom for failing to comply, then - lo and behold - you don't really want that law passed after all. You would like the world to change. Work on making that difference instead of passing the law.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Conversation logs, or Cult of Gnu atheists are petrified of supporting their claims

fantastic post on Shadow to Light about the intellectual justifications provided by academic atheists led to a discussion about just what sort of evidence is required for a scientist to conclude God doesn't exist. One of the better combox discussions recently, because I was dealing with someone with more rhetorical skill than usual - that's honestly a nice change of pace, because the Cult of Gnu attracts a considerable share of morons.

Takeaway points from the conversation:

* The one who makes a claim has to support said claim. Tell me science shows God doesn't exist, and the onus is on you to provide the scientific evidence. If you provide me with evidence and I say it fails, the onus is on me to explain why it fails. But you don't get to tell me science shows God doesn't exist, and then try to pass the burden to me.

* Don't try to compare God to the tasmanian devil, or other extinct species, with regards to finding evidence of their existence. The comparison won't just fail, it will crash and burn spectacularly.

* "Scientism" is a red herring, insofar as it's presented as an investment of too much faith in, or having too much respect for, science. This is not the Cult of Gnu sin. Their sin is the out and out abuse of science, the misrepresentation of it, sometimes willful. They are like caricatures of Young Earth Creationists, just with a single position reversed. They do not love science, they love the authority that comes with pretending they have a scientifically supported view. Who doesn't?

Mike's actual post is grand too, and he hits on a point that took me a while to remember. Saying that 'Prominent scientist believes God doesn't exist' sounds intimidating, because it implies the application of scientific knowledge in their finding. But how often does this really happen? Apparently, not very.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hey Millenials, you're a pack of stupid whores and jerkoffs! Sincerely, the Democratic Party

Really, could you have made more tasteless, pandering, accidentally insulting ads than these?

I suppose we can always try.

"So you're an easy whore. Cool! But you know what's not cool? The prospect of an airhead like you having a child. Luckily there's Obamacare, so you can keep on spreading your legs without producing yet another likely criminal for us to incarcerate. Thanks Obamacare!"

"Dude, okay, she's not hot. But any port in a storm, am I right? Make sure you don't get anchored to that landwhale - Obamacare makes double-bagging it cheaper than ever, so you can make sure the beer goggles are on secure before you nail her. Thanks Obamacare!"

"You're a sexually active gay/bi male with standards typical of the hardcore LGBT subculture. That means you're probably going to catch diseases - a LOT of them. But with Obamacare, you can continue to do unspeakable things in the shadowy parts of a truckstop, secure in the knowledge that your cocktail of antibiotic medications will be partly covered by the state. Thanks Obamacare!"

"You're off on your honeymoon from your lesbian wedding. Congratulations! Statistically, you and your new life-partner are probably morbidly obese. But while you're thinking about how to work an entire honey-glazed ham into a mutual sex act, don't worry about the eventual triple bypass you're probably going to need - so long as Uncle Sam can foot the bill, he's one member of the patriarchy you'll have no problem with. Thanks Obamacare!"

I'm only being slightly more blunt than the actual ads. I also love that 'independent woman' is now code-word for 'easy lay', and the misinformation that condoms protect wholly against STDs. (Not to mention the 'common sense' bit, as if anyone who the ads would be effective on would have much of that.)

Where's the atheist billboard?

Churches post Thou Shalt Not Kill billboards around Detroit. You'd think atheist groups would be responding to this with counter-billboards. "Unless you have a real good reason, it maximizes gain and you wouldn't get caught. There's probably no God!"

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Theist First

One of the things that makes me feel a little out of touch with many other Christians is that, intellectually, I am a theist first, and a Catholic second. I proclaim Christ's resurrection, I believe in intellectual strength of the faith, the evidences, etc, but if tomorrow you dumped Christ's bones on a table, my Catholicism would go on the spot - yet my theism wouldn't be so much as shaken. Hell, most of my moral beliefs wouldn't be any worse for wear, nor my fundamental metaphysical beliefs.

But I get the impression that this is alien thinking for a lot of people - and I've seen 'Either Christ or atheism!' sentiments in the past. To me that is just beyond bizarre, a little like saying that if a particular economic theory turned out to be false, that not only would they give up that theory, but the very idea that this thing called an 'economy' exists.

I've run into atheists who were extremely touchy about this same point - guys who seemed to be closet deists, but called themselves atheists because they were anti-Christian. Or who would flat out concede the success or rationality of everything from the Five Ways to the Kalam argument, but would dig in their heels about 'Christ' in particular - as if the word 'atheist' kept much meaning once you've conceded that much ground.

This, I've long thought, is the fundamental reason for the problems of religious faith in the West. Even popular apologists like William Lane Craig seem to be a little hesitant to spend too much time talking about God, full stop, and want to move on to Christ as soon as possible - which has the effect of making it seem as if he never really started talking about God to begin with, but always Christ.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

And so the panic continues.

Do calm, level-headed people exist anymore? I mean in significant numbers.

It seems the modern media culture - from networks to blogs - overwhelmingly comes in exactly three flavors: 1) overarching, pants-wetting panic, 2) full-on denial that any problems exist on a particular front, 3) frenzied celebration. Sometimes combinations of the three. And I've never developed a flavor for any of this, at least in large doses, so the end result for me is an increasing sense of intellectual alienation. Is this really necessary? Must we always be engaged in one or another form of panic or delirium, or - lacking that - studied, purposeful blindness?

I suppose so, since calm and reasonable reflection is an absolute death sentence for a whole litany of modern desires, on both the left and right sides. Part of the reason 'hurry up and do something!' is encouraged is not just because 'do something, anything!' is an instinctual hallmark of panic, but because slowing down and reflecting can be incredibly poisonous.

Everyone remembers the reliance on deception, invasion of privacy and strong-arm tactics from 1984. Few people seem to remember the instrumental nature of the wild and frenzied crowds. A panicking mob is pretty easy to control - it turns a group of troublesome people into one singular entity, and a stupid one at that. Lose the panic, and suddenly you have a large number of individuals who may, Christ forbid, stop and think things through for a moment.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Real website coming soon.

Just putting that out there. Something about the past few weeks has flipped a switch in me mentally, and I'd like to provide another online site that deals with reason, theism, arguments and everything generally related to my philosophical and social interests. Maybe even a book or two.

So hey, stay tuned. Posting this so it will serve as a reminder to me to get this done.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

If science is wrong, it wasn't science.

One of the weirder unspoken beliefs I routinely encounter goes something like the following: the history of science is one long chain of unscientific beliefs being shown to be wrong or unsubstantiated thanks to scientific investigation. People apparently thought fairies were responsible for plants growing - but science showed that seeds played an important role. People thought that rocks dropped to the earth because they consciously wanted to and they were afraid of flying, but science showed us that gravity was responsible. Science keeps showing us what's right and correct, and it turns out that all the non-scientific claims were wrong.

Now, this is obvious bullshit, as are my examples. The entire history of science is one long chain of theories, even popular and scientific theories, turning out to ultimately be either wildly oversimplified, or flat out incorrect. Even fundamental, bedrock ideas - 'how does matter, at root, behave' - ended up being tossed overboard, sometimes after an incredibly long period of dominance. I think, when pressed, most people are willing to concede this and fall back to another line of thinking - that 'science is self-correcting', and of course scientific theories can be wrong, etc, etc. There are problems with that response, and it opens up a very interesting discussion itself.

But what has my attention here is that initial thought process. I think there is a habit of thought people engage in that amounts to, 'If a theory was disproven, if a theory turned out to be wrong, then it wasn't a scientific theory to begin with.' Science doesn't disprove scientific ideas - it disproves UNscientific ideas, period.

I think you can see this on display in spades in the case of Michael Behe talking about astrology. Behe says that, in his view, astrology is science. Here's the relevant Q&A:
Q Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?A Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that -- which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other -- many other theories as well.
Here's the trick: when someone says that 'X' is a scientific theory, popular unspoken understanding cashes this out to 'X is a viable theory that is either true or has a very good chance of being true'. The very idea that X can be a scientific theory and also likely to be false, or in conflict with the data, is hard for a lot of people to compute. It's just not the mental association that's taken root for them.

This is an incredibly naive, dangerous, just-plain-wrong view of science - and as near as I can tell, it's widespread. But who's trying to correct this view? Once again, as near as I can tell - practically no one. It's easy to see why some people wouldn't want to correct it: to do so would harm a popular narrative about the historical success of science, and the reliability of science in general. To hell with getting people to better understand the scope, limitation and history of science.