Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Testing the mental health of an atheist

Regarding my proposed simple test for an atheist's mental health, G. Rodrigues asked:

Why? I can understand what it means to ask an atheist to deliver a straight and calm prayer, but sincere? It is also not at all clear to me why we should expect an atheist to be straight and calm doing something that must be, must feel, pretty ridiculous.
My reply is as follows:

When I say 'sincere', I mean only in terms of how it sounds. Not throwing in snide or angry remarks during it. Nothing especially passionate, or fantastic acting skills. In fact, going over the top would just feed into the lack of sincerity. I'm talking a pretty simple, calm prayer.

And, I think if an atheist feels ridiculous at offering up a prayer to the point that they can't do what I'm asking, it indicates a problem - that there's something going on beyond mere 'lack of God belief' or 'belief that God probably doesn't exist'. It's almost but not quite like a superstition test. If someone claims that the Bloody Mary ritual is complete bunk, but they can't bring themselves to so much as complete it (it's a very simple gimmick) and can think of all kinds of excuses why it's just SO stupid that they never, ever want to do it? Well, call me skeptical of their claims.

I'd add, it's not as if I'm demanding an atheist perform every ritual under the sun - just as I wouldn't bombard a claimed non-superstitious person with demands to do this, that and a million other ritual acts. But someone who can't pull off a plain and simple prayer - or who can't pull it off without serious distress - probably has some issues they need to sort out.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What exactly is the benefit of gender diversity?

A simple question.

What are the benefits of gender diversity in a given organization, such that they override whatever benefits there are of gender exclusivity?

It's not as if I don't have opinions on this, but I figured I'd straight up ask this and see what happens.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Testing for mental illness in an atheist

Given that Shadow to Light (check the sidebar) has lately been talking about atheist claims that theists are mentally ill, I propose a simple, fast way to check if a given atheist is mentally ill.

Have them pray.

You'd figure an atheist with no hang-ups could offer up a sincere-sounding, serious prayer to God thanking Him for their daily bread, requesting His assistance. After all, there's no need to believe God exists to do this.

But if an atheist would sooner choke than deliver a straight, calm, sincere prayer? That's probably a sign they've got some deep issues going on.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Intuition, thought control and a recent conversation

A conversation I had yesterday, summarized.

Friend: I don't think the speed of light is the real limit.
Me: Oh?
Friend: Yes. I think we're going to find a way past it eventually. Just like how we found ways past other supposed limits and barriers in the past.
Me: Fair enough.
Friend: But, I shouldn't say that.
Me: Why not?
Friend: I'm not a physicist.
Me: So? You have a tentative idea based on intuitions and knowledge you have. Nothing wrong with that.
Friend: Okay, then the world is only 6000 years old and relativity is a lie! :P
Me: You realize that the options here aren't 'take what you think scientists said as gospel' and 'yammer wildly and put complete trust in any inkling that comes to mind', right?

The conversation switched soon after that, but what struck me was that the very idea that a person could have so much as a tentative, qualified view that may run against the scientific consensus was alien to this person. To say 'I don't find the evidence I've encountered compelling thus far' was as heretical as questioning whether Mary was a virgin is to the hardened Catholic. In fact, possibly moreso.

This is not 'a person who trusts in and accepts science.' This is a bizarre, creepy mentality encouraged by people who should be fighting it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Subjectivity in argument and belief

One negative reaction I've gotten to my "cosmological argument" is that it's tremendously subjective.

Yep, it is. Guilty as charged. In fact, I mentioned that when I offered it - it's an argument that only applies to myself, and to other people who look at the world and see design. Call it instinct, or intuition, or whatever else you want.

The idea that this should somehow -not- count, or doesn't constitute a 'real' reason to believe in design, really seems to spring from the conviction that beliefs must always be based on wholly (or as wholly as possible) objective criteria. Which, I can't help but suspect, seems like another incident of modernism - trying to make our metaphysics and philosophy as objective and therefore 'science-like' as possible. And as I keep saying - there's a place for that. Rapt, rigorous metaphysical and philosophical arguments are useful and great, and something I defend.

It's just not wholly necessary. Not to reasonably justify a general belief in a designed universe. Call it like you see it. Does the universe look designed to you? Well, there you go. Believe that. Admit that you could be wrong, but at first blush, that's the way the evidence and intuition stacks up, if it in fact does for you.

I think what may cripple some people here is the possibility of being wrong - of recognizing that just because something seems a certain way doesn't mean it is, in fact, actually that way. I don't think this is a reason to withhold a measured belief based on subjective criteria, however - it's just a reason to, at worst, be suitably reserved with the belief. Moderate yourself. But a strict agnosticism simply isn't necessary.

It's weird that what I'm saying here has to be said. "It's okay to trust your intuitions and instincts to a degree. It's okay to accept, suitably moderated, the evidence as it appears to you at first blush, all else being equal." How did we reach this point where even this basic amount of self-reliance seems alien and scary to some? (And I'm not referring to Gyan here, but to other people not on this blog so far.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Crude Cosmological Argument

In honor of RD Miksa's recent Crude Cosmological Argument which has nothing to do with yours truly, I've decided to give my own personal cosmological argument.

It is as follows:

It is possible the universe is designed.
The universe sure looks designed to me.


It's reasonable to believe the universe is designed.

And there you have it - the Crude Cosmological Argument, in all its simplicity. While I enjoy and have considerable confidence in all manner of other arguments - the Five Ways, etc - I have to admit, this is my standard cosmological argument, and the first one that comes to mind when I'm asked to present my reasoning for belief in design.

Now, obviously, there are some weaknesses to the CCA. It's not iron-clad, for one - this is not, like the Five Ways, a conclusion that one can arrive at with certainty given these or those premises. It's also very subjective - I appeal to my personal estimation of the universe, scientific knowledge and discovery, etc. Nor is it a very 'weaponizable' argument, since in principle someone could give the !CCA:

It is possible the universe is not designed.
The universe doesn't look designed to me.


It's reasonable to believe the universe is not designed.

All other things being equal, and with no other arguments at the ready, I can't very well dispute the !CCA. Which is fine, since I don't care to. Likewise, the !CCA proponent can't dispute the CCA, all things being equal. This results in a messy, unfortunate situation where (once again, not considering any other arguments, features of the universe, etc) two people holding distinct views are justified in their beliefs.

Rather, this is messy and unfortunate to a lot of people. Me? I don't particularly care. Life is messy, as is reason. People can disagree and still be reasonable.

Now, this isn't going to be a very useful argument to most people, but I think it contains an important point: you really, in my view, don't need more than the CCA to justifiably believe the universe is designed. Does the universe look designed? It does? Great, you've got your justification for belief in design immediately. If this upsets someone - if someone insists that no, I need a far more developed, airtight, powerful, must-rationally-compel argument in order to believe in cosmological design - I have a stock response: "Screw off, you pissant." I encourage you to make use of it.

Later, I'll give a more 'useful' version of the CCA - which I'll tentatively call the CCA+. But for now, consider the possibility that the universe seeming designed at a glance may really and truly be all you need to rationally accept the (admittedly, very broad, very open-ended, and potentially fallible) belief that the universe is designed.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Cult of Gnu loses an ally

As shown on Shadow to Light, Eric MacDonald has decided to part ways with the Gnus. An excerpt:
There seems to be a belief that theology must simply be delusional, because there is no objective supernatural existent corresponding to the word ‘god’ — or at least that no “slam-dunk” arguments can be produced for such an existent. Consequently, it has become fairly normative to believe that religion has to do with “confected” entities, and religious thought itself not only delusional but even pathological. (Boghossian — in his book on making atheists — repeats the accusation that faith is pathological in his book so often that one is reminded of the George Orwell’s 1984, or the common practice in the Soviet Union of placing dissidents in psychiatric hospitals. There is a deeply threatening aspect to the belief that those whose ideas you oppose are somehow mentally ill, or victims of pathological ways of thinking in need of a cure.)
It's worth a read, since most of what MacDonald points out is just... so, so damn obvious.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Documenting a liberal "pro-life" abortion trick

Malcolm has a writeup about a recent experience he (and to a lesser degree, I) had with a liberal Catholic on the topic of abortion. Ultimately, I don't think the conversation was a very big deal - the woman we were arguing with had severe trouble being consistent, and was an amateur at the rhetoric game in general. But the experience made me remember that I wanted to write something about a very unique bit of "pro-life" trickery that's very popular with liberals, particularly liberals of a feminist bend.

It goes a little like this: so, abortion is murder, right? Well, I don't know if I'd call it murder per se, but I can agree that it's bad thing. And we want to do all that we can to keep bad things from happening, right? That's the whole point of wanting abortion to be outlawed. Well, if the goal is to reduce the number of abortions, then clearly you should be encouraging more contraceptive use, and providing more assistance to women who are pregnant - give them more social welfare benefits, give them government funded adult education, give them state-sponsored day care, etc. You should also give up on trying to outlaw abortion, because then women will just get back alley abortions. Also, you shouldn't stigmatize any woman who gets an abortion or who gets pregnant out of wedlock, because you don't know what situation they're in, and stigma will just encourage abortion if they're already pregnant.

That's a very brief summary of a typical mindset on this point. The goal here is to figure out just where it's gone wrong. So, let's take a scalpel to this line of thinking and see what's what.

* With regards to being pro-life, I reject the idea that the end goal is - or at least, is exclusively - 'reducing the number of abortions', as if all of our actions on that front should be measured in terms of 'What will the net effect be on the number of abortions procured?' There are other goals - like 'getting people to recognize that abortion is murder', 'getting people to hold themselves accountable for their actions', 'promoting the idea that an unborn child is a person deserving of rights and respect', etc. These are multiple goals, ends in and of themselves, and they need to be accounted for when discussing this topic - and, for Catholics, there are additional considerations to keep in mind as well. Regardless, the point is that 'reducing the total number of abortions' is not and should never be considered the exclusive goal of the pro-life cause, particularly from a catholic point of view.

* Yes, sometimes a woman who has an abortion is in a truly bad situation. Say she has a problematic pregnancy that will kill her if brought to term. Say it's a 12 year old girl sexually abused by her father. But you know what? Sometimes - probably quite often - the problem is that we're dealing with a 23 year old girl who has made a stupid choice or been culpably careless. When a woman has sex with her boyfriend because she's horny and the mood is right and she's not thinking of anything else then and there, she has made a stupid move - and it deserves to be called as much. And if she deals with her stupid move by killing her child, well, she's something of a moral monster. She can be forgiven of that, as can her boyfriend if he plays a role in it, but step one is going to be admitting that something wrong was done, and acting accordingly. This is not a step that can, or should, be skipped, and one result of skipping it is promoting the cultural acceptance of abortion.

* One typical fallback here is that, insofar as being pro-life is linked to fighting against that acceptance of premarital sex (among other things), that is an impossible battle - the culture has changed, end of story. Quite possible. Then again, cultures can also change in other directions - but they won't if people simply give up immediately. I'm more than willing to accept that some fights in the pro-life cause are apparently unwinnable in the short term. That's never been a good argument for giving up that fight altogether.

* Perhaps the biggest problem - and the nastiest trick - when it comes to this question is the idea that we should promise women who get pregnant out of wedlock all manner of state assistance and benefits and training and preferential treatment in order to try and discourage them from ever having an abortion. I reject this entirely. I am willing to support charitable initiatives by churches, private organizations, and otherwise to a degree. I refuse to support logic that pretty well amounts to 'Let's try and bribe women NOT to murder their children'. If I support this, then it starts to become opaque as to how I can oppose spousal abuse. Last I checked, outlawing it didn't stop it - at most, it's been discouraged somewhat. Should I now support the elimination of spousal abuse laws in favor of simple assault charges, and focus more on providing men likely to engage in spousal abuse with various bits of government support and funding to roundabout encourage them NOT to beat their wives?

The ultimate point here is that opposition to abortion does not cash out to a simple focus on reducing abortion by any means necessary. It means promoting a proper attitude towards the unborn, a proper recognition that an unborn child IS a child after all. It means recognizing that sometimes women make mistakes - sometimes, stupid, monstrous mistakes - and holding them accountable for those mistakes.

I am tired of having these points obscured, largely owing to a modern mentality that is absolutely petrified at that idea that a woman can do something wrong with 'her own body', and that there exists a moral law she is actually subject to rather than something she can create, practically out of thin air, as the need arises.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Common ground, liberal Christians and an end to willful blindness.

For a long time, I've been an advocate of trying to find common ground with fellow theists. Mormons, jews, hindus, certainly protestants... really, anyone of sincere (mono)theistic faith. I have also been, despite being at times argument-prone, a big believer in trying to make common cause with liberal Christians in particular - especially where secularism and atheism are concerned. I've denounced the habit of, say... conservative protestants opening rhetorical fire on conservative Catholics and vice versa, and I've likewise rejected conservative Christians casting off liberal Christians as non-believers, as heretics, or worse - as enemies. I have liberal Christians on my small blogroll, and I have for years been a regular at Victor Reppert's website, despite Victor trending rather left-wing (at least in terms of economics.)

In short, I have generally and consciously tried to be fair-minded with fellow, sincere theists. I've had political disagreements, but in order to get me to out and out be hostile towards a theist, I either have to get the sense that they are loyal to their political party/wing first and foremost (which is a great way to get shitlisted with me, even if you're conservative), or that they ultimately regard me - and by extension, socially and/or politically conservative Christians - as an enemy. While I've gotten that feeling at times, there have been other times where I did not - such complexities are inevitable. But the point is, I always tried to give self-described liberal Christians the benefit of the doubt. We were, after all, ultimately on the same side - weren't we? Surely we could respect each other, and work out our differences when we paid attention to them, and put them aside otherwise - right?

I can no longer maintain that belief.

This has been bothering me for a long time, and I wish I could find the quote I'm about to tell you about - but for now, I'll have to be vague. I recall Richard Dawkins being asked why he was so hard on religion, period, when there were all these liberal Christians out there who basically was on his side with regards to so many things - social issues, etc. What Dawkins said in reply was that, while that was true, he saw religious belief, period, as the problem - and that by regarding liberal Christians as somehow rational and acceptable in their beliefs, he would be at the same time lending support to the beliefs that ultimately sustained the wicked and terrible conservative Christians. So, he was no longer going to differentiate between the liberal Christian and the conservative on that front - better to strike at the source and do the most damage to the conservative ones.

What's key there - what you really have to pay attention to, though obviously this is being reported to you second-hand - is that Dawkins was actually explaining a kind of schism. Liberal Christians and atheists were, up until the rise of the New Atheists, actually *allies*. They both tended to be social and political liberals. They both saw conservative Christians as their enemies. And they both covered each other's backs - the atheists would talk about how the liberal Christians were 'the good ones', and the liberals would denounce any conservative criticism of non-belief and insist that atheists were quite morally upstanding and righteous. But the atheists have broken that pact, leading liberal Christians to be cast out as favored exceptions to religious criticism.

You can actually see this if you look at liberal religious believers in their interactions with the Cult of Gnu leadership. There's usually this sense of... 'But look at me, Richard/Sam/Christopher! I don't believe in all that hokey stuff. I attack the creationists too! I support gay marriage!' at one point or another in the interview, and it always comes with this subtext - "See? Aren't I one of the *good* ones?"

And then they wait for the pat on the head, that token of acknowledgement, that scrap that at the very least they're not AS BAD as the conservative Christians. But that's thin gruel. They don't want to merely be 'not as bad'. They want to be good - they want to be told that they are smart, and nice, and kind, and progressive, and their ideas aren't a complete load of shit. That, unfortunately for them, is less on offer nowadays.

So, now we're starting to see more and more liberal Christians get a bit fiery towards the Cult of Gnu. I've welcomed that because, hey - the Gnus deserve all the criticism they can get. But lately, whenever I see these criticisms, I am forced to ask where they're springing from. And I can't help but think what motivates a good chunk of liberal Christians isn't a dislike of militant atheism - but a feeling of betrayal. Gnu Atheism is unacceptable because the Cult of Gnu wouldn't give them a place at the table. If the gnus were to turn around and say that liberal Christian belief was just dandy, but it was those evil conservative Christians who were the rotten ones? They'd change their tune, collectively, in a heartbeat.

I think some - perhaps most - of them still hold out hope for a change of tune. And I have little desire to find common cause with someone who is, let me be frank, only holding back from spitting in my and others' faces as much as they used to for purely pragmatic reasons.

I am tired of playing down the fact that liberal Christians, moment for moment, seem vastly more concerned with seeking out and finding any church that dares not promote women to the position of clergy and pastors, and - while their own churches rot and decline - talking openly about how they plan and agitate to pressure and force change on those fronts.

I am tired of seeing people shit on because they're young earthers or even ID proponents. I am tired of seeing atheists treated as great and decent people, but mormons are mocked and belittled because there is a sense that mormon culture is collectively on the wrong side of the political divide.

I am tired of watching one liberal Christian after another bend over backwards to defend not only forcing Christian small businesses to serve at gay weddings, but doing so even with full knowledge that LGBT activists at times target these businesses purely out of spite.

I am, in short, tired of pretending that the person who wishes cultural genocide on me, and who is shamelessly willing to turn to force of law to accomplish exactly this, is anything but an intellectual enemy.

This isn't to say I now think every liberal Christian is some kind of enemy. That's not true. But I'm not completely fucking blind to political and cultural realities. The fact is, for many - perhaps most - liberal Christians, it's better to have a conservative Christian become an atheist than retain their faith in God or Christ, and thus retain their dreaded belief that same-sex sexual behavior is wrong, that women cannot be priests, or that aborting your child is a moral 'don't'.

Whatever God demands that kind of devotion is not a God I recognize.

Can black people find common ground with klansmen?

Another question, for the consideration and commentary of those of you reading this. Once again, I keep this open-ended and simple, and I await your responses.

Can conservative or orthodox Christians find common ground with liberal or progressive Christians?

I put this question to whoever is reading. My own thoughts will come later today in another post.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The conservative monster?

While I do think fascists and communists both clearly fall in the 'socialist' pile, and thus in the 'liberal' pile, that's not to say that I think conservatives are occupying some kind of idyllic political position that is therefore devoid of a "monster" form.

The problem is that when you're talking about 'conservative' as in 'small government, libertarian oriented', the sort of monster you're dealing with becomes not only far too abstract for most people to deal with. The monster conservative is the man or society that plainly ignore problems that rightly fall within their jurisdiction due to disinterest, malice or a lack of character. Granted, individual men make great villains, but they pale in comparison to villainy that has an entire orchestrated, oppressive apparatus behind them.