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.