By HonestDiscussioner

Religion, Philosophy, Politics, and anything else I'd like to talk about


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Exposing Conservative Propaganda - Liberals Protesting Koch's 100 Million Dollar Donation

Today you may have noticed, if you happen to peruse random conservative websites or have facebook friends that do, a veritable storm of conservative outrage over a protest that occured over the weekend by groups who would generally be associated with the left side of politics.

Apparently we evil heartless liberal hippies, according to some websites, have sunk to a new low. Fox News called us WARPED, Frontpage Mag refered to liberals as insane.

What did we do to earn this ire? What has the left done that so outraged conservatives? Have we convinced mothers to abort their fully grown adult children? Have we put forward legislation to ban all forms of self-defense? Abolished the miltary while giving out free condoms and Satanic Bibles?

Allegedly, we've protested a donation of 100 million dollars to a hospital. To be fair, that's pretty bad. It's even worse than that though; we're apparently protesting it based soley on hatred of the donor, David Koch of Koch Industries. Websites like The Blaze proclaim "Here’s How Much Some Union Activists Hate the Koch Brothers". The Daily Caller runs with the headline "Liberals protest $100 million donation to hospital because David Koch gave the money"

To be honest, such a thing is truly terrible; anyone looking such a gift horse in the mouth, anyone that would deny a hospital lifesaving funds because they disagree with the politics of the donors should be ashamed of themselves.

The catch is that it's pretty much a bullshit claim.

Don't get me wrong, the donation isn't bullshit. David Koch is a cancer survivor himself and has donated prolifically over the past decade to medical research and infrastructure in a number of areas. Nor is the fact that liberals protested over the weekend bullshit. Indeed they did, including the Democratic representative of the hospital's district Ben Kallos. All that is true. There is still a very large pile of bullshit here.

When looking at the google search for Koch hospital donation as of March 11th 2014 you will see a plethora of conservative websites decrying all of what was discussed above. Out of the dozens of websites spanning multiple google result pages (yes, I went that far) there was a very consistent trend: Not a single one of them had a single quote from the protesters. Not a single one had referenced any reporter having asked the protesters why they were protesting. The closest thing to a quote came from a single tweet from one of the organizations that were present:

So I started doing some digging. I had to go multiple pages back in the google search results, farther back than I had in years, and I came across this article:

It turns out that the Nurse's union had been upset at what they perceived were changes following Koch's donation to the hospital that seemed to be anti-labor and anti-union. Whether this is the case or whether the union was overreacting to unrelated changes or occurrences we can only guess, but it seems obvious that the issues had gone back a while as the above article was from mid December. There was more to the protest than simply "Because Koch".

I had no idea how right I was.

This lead me to find that David Koch's donation to the hospital actually occured almost a year ago; it was announced on the hospitals website on April 2, 2013. So why would they be protesting a donation that occured so long ago when they've already broken ground on the new Koch Center?

Some of these conservative articles were kind enough to point out who was doing the protesting. The main "culprit" was the same Nurse's union listed in the Biz Journals artcile. The other two groups? The NAACP and another workers union.

This wasn't a protest over the 100 million, it was a protest over the influence and changes to labor that occured after the donation had been made!

I thought that would be enough. I thought that given this information there would be more than enough to tell conservatives that they needed to either modify their claims or come up with some startling evidence that it was mainly hatred of Koch that caused them to want to give up 100 million dollars.

It was so much worse than that for the conservative argument. The 100 million dollars had next to nothing to do with the protest. The Daily Kos article discussing the then upcoming protest did not even mention the 100 million, the closest thing mentioning that Koch's money goes towards hospitals already well-funded and able to give care while ignoring hospitals with heavy needs in poorer areas. The Nurse's union facebook page was silent on it too.

That's right, dozens upon dozens of conservative websites claimed liberals were protesting something they actually weren't.

Instead, the protest centered around Koch's opposition to affordable healthcare, mainly Obamacare, but other initiatives as well that would decrease availability of hospital beds. The protest also focused against the philosophy of gearing healthcare towards the ultra-wealthy, which Koch's actions support given that most of his money seems to go to hospitals that are only in wealthy areas while poorer districts are largely ignored. The only association was that the protest was being held next to the where the new hospital wing (named "The Koch Center") was being built, but also that center is two blocks away from where David Koch lives in affluent Upper Manhattan. His residence was as much of a target of the protest as the upcoming Koch Center.

You can argue against the union's politics. You can argue that they are biased. You can argue that they really, really hate David Koch. You cannot argue in good faith that this protest was simply "Because Koch" or that the only reason they didn't want the donation was because of the donor. As far as I can tell, you can't even argue that the protest had anything to do with the donation at all, let alone that it was the main focus of the event.

This isn't simply a lie, this is coordinated propaganda without any concern for the truth. Bullshit propagated to serve a political agenda focused not on human well-being but on attaining and consolidating power and privledge for people who already have more than their fair share. There is no way that this could have occurred without someone knowingly putting false information out there and not caring or perhaps even counting on it being complete and utter bullshit. No way that dozens of conservative sites all simply forgot to call up the website of the protest to see what it is they were protesting. If we are being immensely gracious to our conservative counterparts, they are guilty of terribly irresponsible journalism to the point they demonized an entire group repeatedly for the wrong reason, and twelve hours after they posted it none of those I've seen have posted so much as a mild correction let along a full retraction and apology.

What really gets to me is that we hear these "liberal horror stories" of this caliber once every few months on average. Nearly every single time, whether it is false Obamacare horror stories, or heavily edited video made trick people into thinking liberal groups were bad, nearly every time these bad stories about liberals turn out to be fake or greatly exaggerated.

Meanwhile the conservative horror stories we get on a near weekly basis are almost always confirmed to be true, whether it's new climate change denial, promotion of discredited science in the classroom, insistence on sexual education programs proven to increase abortions, unwanted pregnancies, and STD's, claiming that husbands can legally rape their wives or that rape victims can't get pregnant are even touted as strong points in conservative circles.

Go ahead and hate the democratic party, but if you are going to compare the morals and actions of the liberal and conservative movements and come up with anything less than horror when viewing the latter or understand it to be anything less than a force for repression and social regression then I do not see how you could be considered a reasonable person.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why You Can't Be a Religious Freethinker

Look, let's be honest here. A term commonly used is a term commonly abused.  There will be people on both sides of a debate that for whatever reason misuse a term, try to advocate for a different meaning, or some other confusing endeavor which likely misses the point of either the discussion or the purpose of language in general.  This isn't always a problem, if you can define your terms clearly and avoid equivocation (e.g. someone defining atheists as those who assert god doesn't exist and then calling "weak atheists" not true atheists and really just agnostics still searching for god) then you can use terms however you'd like.  If you are misunderstanding the definition of a word or using it in such a way that it differs from the popular understanding without informing anyone of the switch, then you are causing problems or arguing in bad faith if doing it on purpose.

The term "freethinker" is no exception to this. There are people who wrongfully assume the word is a synonym for atheism, as blogger ElijiahT from Hashtag Apologetics argues in his post Confessions of a Christian Freethinker.  Elijiah cites six different sources that maintain the term "freethinker" as concerning one who holds to an epistemology based on logic, reason, or evidence (or something quite similar). This is indeed the common understanding of the term, and on some unfortunate occasions this definition is replaced and rendered incorrectly as mentioned above.

Where Elijiah first goes wrong is not including the fact that this occurrence is actually rather rare. Most people who identify as freethinkers do so for the right reasons; they hold to a specific epistemology. Even the definition from cites the specific epistemology as being the defining characteristic of a freethinker.  Those who don't understand that definition are generally in the minority, but it can often seem like a more widespread issue because very few believers in God are considered freethinkers, and this makes it easy for Elijiah to maintain that there must be some sort of bias inherent in the system:

Some attach skepticism of religious claims into the mix, but not all. It is unreasonable to say that religious skepticism is required for freethinking. If you’re absolutely required to reject the existence of God in order to call yourself a free thinker, are you really thinking freely? You’re not a freethinker unless you conform to our belief structure!’

 I don't think he's doing it purpose, but Elijiah is over-extrapolating the data. This seems to be his logic:

P1. The definition of a freethinker is X.
P2. One can use X to reach a conclusion advocated by a religion.
P3. It appears as though anyone who agrees with a conclusion advocated by a religion is disqualified by atheists as freethinkers.

Conclusion: Atheists are, en masse, misusing the term. They ironically display a lack of freethinking when declaring religious people in and of themselves not freethinkers. Religious people can and indeed should be freethinkers and there is no inherent contradiction.

This can seem sound when looking at it from very far away. If freethinking is about epistemology, then people who are Christians because of said epistemology are freethinkers and atheists just won't admit it. There must be some who follow such an epistemology, in fact what Christian really doesn't use logic in some way? Why, probably most Christians are freethinkers! Christianity seems logical and reasonable to them, after all.

But let's delve deeper.  Let's talk about two fictional people named Chris and Karen, both of which call themselves Freethinkers. They both find themselves on an island with their families, but no recollection of their past lives. After a few years living on the island, they discuss their beliefs. Karen believes in many strange things. She believes in an intangible force which binds all particles in the universe together. She believes in inperceivable energy that can penetrate the skin and damage the very fabric of a human being. She believes that there are vibrations all around us that can tell us secrets of our surroundings if we only took the time to perceive them properly. Chris believes in none of those things. He can't see these things or perceive them. The very nature of them means his immediate senses can't detect them. His father taught him to not trust such things, and so he doesn't.

Theists have long defended the virtues of faith, yet now in the face of the scientific revolution and new atheism they want to adopt the moniker of one who acts through pure reason.

So who is a freethinker here? Chris? Karen? Both? Neither? On the surface it sounds like Chris is the freethinker and Karen the woo-woo person. What you didn't know was that our hypothetical people are deaf, and the beliefs that Karen holds to are (in order) gravity, radiation, and sound waves.  Karen reached these conclusions through empirical study of her surroundings. Chris, while often following the path of the Freethinker, does so on the authority of his father.  Even though Karen's beliefs seemed to the uninitiated as far-fetched, she is the much greater freethinker. And what do we find with our friend Elijiah?

". . .secondly, because when freethinking is properly understood, I think all Christians should be freethinkers.

In Luke 10:27&Mark 12:30, we are instructed to love God with our entire mind.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:21, we are instructed to test everything and to hold on to that which is good. And if God is the truth (John 14:6), then truth is to be treasured as a reflection of God Himself."

So we have the following position: You should be open-minded and utilize logic, reason, and evidence for your beliefs . . . because the bible says so. Elijah doesn't merely maintain that freethinking and Christianity are compatible, no no no. Christians should be freethinkers "because they are instructed to be". To quote Elijiah's article "#irony".

Such irony doesn't end there, he also quotes, which defines apologetics as:

" . . . challenging believers to think and thinkers to believe”.

But what does this actually say? Believers should use more thinking, but thinkers should just be convinced to believe. Were it truly a freethinking endeavor, it would merely be "Challenging people to think". After all, if you are a freethinker and believe that you have logic on your side, all you need to do to teach people how to properly think, to properly use logic. It's further worsened by following up with an appeal to William Lane Craig, who has repeatedly defined himself as being the direct opposite of a freethinker, and has encouraged other Christians to follow in his footsteps:

"For not only should I continue to have faith in God on the basis of the Spirit's witness even if all the arguments for His existence were refuted, but I should continue to have faith in God even in the face of objections which I cannot at that time answer."

For Craig, God is the conclusion. Christianity is the starting point. If evidence supports it, then use the evidence, but if the evidence is against it, the evidence is useless and should be discarded. All because of "personal experience". If you feel like God has contacted you in some way, then this must above all else be held to; pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  That Elijiah would quote him as a defender of Christian freethought is rather telling.

The problem with being a "Christian Freethinker" is that even in trying to establish reasons why one should be as such, an appeal to religious dogma is made. It's that ingrained. Theists have long defended the virtues of faith, yet now in the face of the scientific revolution and new atheism they want to adopt the moniker of one who acts through pure reason. Christianity entails a level of faith and dogma, entities entirely inconsistent with freethought. Even if you started out neutral to the idea of god, and were convinced with nothing but logic and reason that Jesus died for your sins, there will be a plethora of beliefs within Christianity that one will generally be required to maintain but that cannot be empirically verified. Disagree? Fine, then you are describing yourself as a faithless Christian. You cannot have it both ways, you cannot be a member of the faithful and a freethinker at the same time. To attempt to do so is to try to hijack the moniker of an objective rationalist for the purposes of bolstering your position while continuing to use non-rationalist methods when it suits you.

Could someone believe in a god and be a freethinker? Easily. Plenty of deists are considered freethinkers. Could someone believe in much of what the Bible says and be a freethinker. Maybe, but such a person would likely not be considered a Christian by most of the rest of those that refer to themselves as such. Could followers of a religion be freethinkers? No, for with religion comes dogma and as dogma comes, so does freethinking take its leave.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Arguments For Not God

Imagine that I were to argue that outside of your home has been repainted, currently without your knowledge.  For whatever reason, we cannot leave the home to check for ourselves, but I've come up with several arguments for this being the case. I point out how the color of the grass is slightly off, indicating that a different color light is bouncing off the house, giving it a different hue.  I point out that people feel a little different when near the windows, a clear sign that either the smell of the paint is moving through them.  Some of you find these arguments unconvincing, some of you think that I'm using faulty science and numerous fallacies along with cheap rhetoric in order to get my point across, but others think I'm on to something, and therefore declare that I have indeed proven that a highly trained ninja repainted the house with a specific express purpose relating to the inhabitants of the house. This leap in logic is similar to what I see in many of the theistic arguments for the existence of God.

Even if we were to ignore what many find to be convincing rebuttals to these arguments, many of them don't actually do what they claim to do, meaning that even if the arguments are valid, they don't actually prove a god exists at all.

Take the Cosmological argument for example. This "prime mover" argument essentially states that something other than the universe must have been responsible for its creation. Some force must have caused the universe, and some go as far to say that this cause must be a mind. There's so many reasons to consider especially the last one false, but putting that aside for the moment, how exactly have we shown that this entity which created the universe is something we would consider a god?

Imagine if whenever we split an atom, an entire universe is born, lives out its cycle, and dies in a heat death. For what is for us a blink of an eye could be thousands, millions, or billions of years. Would we then be considered gods? We're not omnipotent, nor are we omniscient, we have no way of actually affecting this universe let alone know what's going on within it.  For all we know, we do have a creator, but one that is entirely unaware of our existence, one who has yet to even know it created us. Or perhaps the opposite is true, perhaps we have a creator but our universe moves so slowly compare to its existence that it long since died out before the earth cooled enough for life to exist upon it. Nothing in the Cosmological argument gives us any reason to consider these less valid explanations than the theistic conclusion of some amorphous disembodied mind.

The same goes for the Teleological argument.  Even if we conclude that the universe was designed with a purpose, that the creator had life in mind, that this wasn't the 20,000th universe it has created for some bland purpose, or that the creator is anything more special than you or me does not follow from anything within the argument, nor do I see any way of getting to these conclusions through mere argument.

I don't want to give the impression that every argument has this problem. The moral argument, as much as I disagree with it, doesn't have this problem. Neither does the Ontological argument. However, any argument that trys to show that there exists a mind outside of our universe only shows just that: a mind. Unless care is taken, and it rarely ever is, then the argument is unjustified in saying it has anything to do with proving God.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Apologist's "Christmas Gift" to Atheists

The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of year, where the largest chunk of the population is geared towards making themselves and those around them happy.  For me, I like to buy people gifts, and I put a large amount of effort into finding the perfect thing for all of those in my life. Others give the gift of writing smug, half-assed, and pretentious articles for Fox News while mischaracterizing the alleged intended recipient of their "gift".  

In his article, A Christmas gift for atheists -- five reasons why God exists, William Lane Craig gives very brief summaries of his usual five arguments: Cosmological, Teleological, Moral, Historical, and Experiential. These have been gone over more times than humans can count, and will continue to do so, but what caught me most perturbed was how he chose to chastise, categorize, and describe atheists:

"However, most atheists, in my experience, have no good reasons for their disbelief. Rather they’ve learned to simply repeat the slogan, “There’s no good evidence for God’s existence!” 

"In the case of a Christian who has no good reasons for what he believes, this slogan serves as an effective conversation-stopper. But if we have good reasons for our beliefs, then this slogan serves rather as a conversation-starter. 

"The atheist who merely repeats this slogan after having been presented with arguments for God’s existence makes an empty assertion."

There are others who have been around the atheist block more than I have, but I'm still pretty familiar with atheism, both mainstream and alternative. I know of no atheist who could fit this description. A few might constantly harp on the fact that no good evidence exists, but they are all very familiar with arguments for the existence of God, especially Craig's, and have found them unconvincing throughout multiple presentations of said arguments.

. . . the intended recipients of [Craig's] "gift" are certain groups of believers,
and the gift is one of feeling a smug sense superiority over atheists.

Notice that Craig starts out his criticism by alluding to the "no evidence" mantra as "an effective conversation stopper" for those have no reasons. To me, this seems to insinuate (without directly saying) that atheists are doing this on purpose, as though the last thing we want to do is have a conversation about the existence of God. It's slimy; a way to bring about negative illustrations of atheists in the mind of the reader while not directly dictating the illustration.

Then he moves on to saying "Fear not fellow Christians, for I have way around this dastardly deed! I shall merely present them with evidence!" He regurgitates his terrible, long-ago refuted arguments and then finishes with this:

"The good thing is that atheists tend to be very passionate people and want to believe in something. If they would only put aside the slogans for a moment and reexamine their worldview in light of the best philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence we have today, then they, too, would find Christmas worth celebrating!"

I've seen backhanded compliments before, but this is a category all to itself. It's another use of the "atheists as " trope we see in most corners of Christian apologetics, and done so in a way to makes it seem as though Craig is actually complimenting atheists, when in reality the compliment is that they aren't really atheists, they're just people who let their passions get in the way of what they truly are and will one day recognize as the truth.  I'm reminded of the South Park movie when Cartman decides to be nice to Kyle by telling him "he's not really a Jew" and an offended Kyle has to continue insisting he is. It's further insulting as it asserts that atheists don't find Christmas worth celebrating. Some don't (same with some Christians), but most of us do. The things we find worthy of celebrating are the things most Christians find worthy of celebrating, that being all of the non-Christian things co-opted from other religions like exchanges of presents, kissing under the mistletoe, adorning trees with pretty ornaments, and most of all the special time you spend with your family and friends.  Craig is at least consistent; he always is sure to describe the atheist-theist comparison as far removed from reality as one can take it.

I would call Craig's article insidious if it wasn't so obvious; Dr. Craig can't get past the title without using a falsehood. This piece was in no way written for atheists; the intended recipients of his "gift" are certain groups of believers, and the gift is one of feeling a smug sense superiority over atheists. It's so very blatant as well, not a single sentence is actually addressing atheists directly, it's always "atheists are this" or "atheists do that". He refers to us as "they", not "you". This is a hack job of the highest order.

I really would have liked to have written something more positive for my favorite holiday of the year, but instead I had to feel insulted by an apologist who misses the very spirit of the holiday. I never thought I'd say this, but I expected better from William Lane Craig.

Monday, September 9, 2013

S.E. Cupp is a Terrible Human Being

Reposted due to a Blogger error.
CuppI am generally somewhat reserved in my criticism of individuals as persons. I generally prefer to address their arguments and statements rather than their characters (though believe me, the former is coming as well). However there comes a time when an individuals actions become so clear, so regularly and uniformly exercised, that I find it fair and reasonable to draw a conclusion about their character. Sometimes it is a positive conclusion, and other times it is like the one I will attribute to Ms. Cupp throughout this post.

Thanks go to Kropotkin over at The Humble Empiricist blog for pointing this out (on Facebook, not her blog). Recently Ms. Cupp declared that an atheist would not have any chance of winning a presidential election. That, by itself, isn't too terrible of a statement on its own. It may even be an accurate statement in today's political climate, though I'd be remiss if I did not point out how many had similar beliefs towards a President of African American descent as recently as 2007. However she later goes on to say “And you know what? I would never vote for an atheist president. Ever,”.

Ms. Cupp herself identifies as an atheist, making the statement certainly worthy of note. She gained fame for claiming to hold this philosophical position while also advocating that the liberal media unfairly attacks Christianity, actively advocating that said media is consciously marginalizing and persecuting Christians. Her arguments were mostly cherry picked and her defense of them ineffective in my opinion, but that is for another blog post.

It should be rather surprising to someone that a person can identify with an intellectual and\or philosophical position and yet not want to see such a person in power under any circumstances. Perhaps this, by itself, wouldn't demand a direct accusation against such an individual's character, but certainly it would at least warrant some suspicions of their motives. She doesn't stop there, however, and gives two rationals. Let's go over them and see how they would lead to the conclusion that one should never vote for an atheist under any condition:
“Because I do not think that someone who represents 5 to 10 percent of the population should be representing and thinking that everyone else in the world is crazy, but me.”

“The other part of it — I like that there is a check, OK? That there‘s a person in the office that doesn’t think he’s bigger than the state . . . I like religion being a check and knowing that my president goes home every night addressing someone above him and not thinking all the power resides right here… Atheists don’t have that.”

I've heard some fairly terrible rationalizations for positions before, and while I can't say this wins the award for absolute worst, it's certainly worthy of a nomination. Take the first attempt at a justification, in which Ms. Cupp assumes anyone who is an atheist believes all theists are crazy. While I can certainly point to some example of atheists who do believe just that, to broad brush all of us in that way is completely unfair, not to mention demonstrably false. I certainly don't think all theists are crazy, perhaps mistaken on certain issues, but everyone (myself included) is going to be mistaken on one issues or another. Since everyone is going to be wrong about something, to argue elected officials must agree with the majority of the population on everything would disqualify every last person from office. Also, keep in mind that atheists may one day be the majority, so would Ms. Cupp then state that she could never vote for a religious person? Would the same people that agree with her now agree with her then? If so, then none of them could vote for anybody as her second statement would still apply to atheists.

Speaking of her second statement, where she claims she wants people in power that have a check on themselves and that she wants those that don't believe they are bigger than the state, my question would be to ask why is that something only a religious person can have? Why must an atheist believe they are bigger than the entire government? Ms. Cupp isn't describing an atheist at all. On top of that, there is a legal check on a President. The President is not a King, and while some may argue that certain presidents who have been in office over the past few decades have acted like one, they are certainly not omnipotent wielders of all government power. They have other elected and appointed officials to contend with, as well as popular opinion if they want to be re-elected (or they don't want their party to be harmed). Even without the legal check, there is nothing to say that an atheist could not truly believe that he or she answers to the people they govern rather than only to themselves.

Hopefully I've explained well enough why these are terrible rationalizations, but I've yet to defend or support the title of this post, namely that Ms. Cupp is a terrible human being. I would like to submit that Ms. Cupp is clearly attempting to do everything she can to put down atheists and marginalize them in society, which is ironic considering it is exactly what she accuses liberals of doing to Christians. As an atheist, it is likely expected that I will support these accusations with facts and evidence, and I will do just that. To that end, I have many options. I could cite the various quotes that attempt to argue that atheists need to step aside in favor of religious views. I could cite how she criticized President Obama for admitting that nonbelievers exist within the United States and how if you are referencing a group of believers it is entirely inappropriate to reference those that don't believe in the same breath. I could even point out how she claims that she one day hopes to be a person of faith despite being an atheist now. However I think the best evidence exists right in her first rationalization of why she'd never vote for an atheist. That line, that all atheists assume all theists are crazy, is a clear indicator that Ms. Cupp is entirely dishonest.  Think about the implications of what she is saying. She counts herself as an atheist, but would only vote for a theist, of whom by her own definition she believes are all crazy. If she doesn't believe all theists are crazy, then her entire point is undone because clearly atheists aren't forced to consider all believers crazy. This is exactly what someone would do if they claimed affiliation in a group for the express purpose of criticizing the group without being labeled biased or hateful. The only other explanation I can think of is that she has the highest level of tolerance for cognitive dissonance I've ever witnessed, but that seem to be an unlikely explanation from my vantage point.

Now let me be clear. I can't say for certain that Ms. Cupp is secretly a theist, at the very least because doing so would come dangerously close to the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. I see two possibilities, in either one she is pandering to a religiously conservative audience and doing what she can to bolster people of faith at the expense of atheists, and will likely publicly announce her conversion to Christianity in what is sure to be a lucrative deal for her (as Penn Jillette predicts). The only difference between the two possibilities is whether she truly does lack a belief in gods or not, and frankly that's the least relevant part of this. What is important, the reason I refer to her as a terrible human being is in either possibility she is actively undermining a specific group of individuals, many of whom are productive and helpful members of society, for personal gain. It is her motives, not her belief that draws my criticism. I'll take a person who honestly hates my guts over someone who pretends to dislike me to earn a buck.

If you don't believe me, however, and think it is possible that Ms. Cupp honestly holds all of those beliefs about atheism, let me make an analogy. Imagine someone claims to be a Bible believing Evangelical Christian, but they also say:

1. Christians are actively marginalizing atheists
2. That they hope they can get away from Christianity someday
3. Their values are all atheistic
4. They'd never vote for a Christian.
5. Stating that you don't believe Gods exists is fine in a public forum, but it is uncalled for to state that a God does exist in that same open public forum.
6. They encourage the country to be more atheistic
7. It is an insult to atheists for the President to put Christians on the same plane as them, or mention them in same breath.
8. When they hear about stories of people losing their faith and becoming atheists, they say "I love those stories, those are great stories."

. . . if they say all of those things, would you not be at least a little bit skeptical of their motivations?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pointless: Solipsism

Solipsism is the belief that all that exists is the self, all else is illusion; it can also include the belief that the self is the only thing one can verify. Okay, it can in fact cover a wide range of ideas, theories, and beliefs, but I am as interested in those semantic games as I am spending a year reading nothing but Ayn Rand. For the purposes of this discussion, I only want to address those two ideas.

The thing is, solipsism actually makes an interesting and valid point. Our perceiving a "real" world, however you want to define what that means, could be indistinguishable from what we would experience if we were being fed an illusion. Thus, the world as we know it could be an illusion. There is no way to 100% verify our experiences as accurate. Okay. Interesting point. Yet beyond the initial "huh" moment, there is no "point" to the point.

The conclusion sought by this position, which usually involves a change in outlook in some capacity would, if extended to its logical conclusion, render us unable to live. Giving pause to all possibilities that we cannot verify causes an infinite set of pauses. Were we to somehow, through some advancement in philosophy, verify with 100% certainty the veracity of the senses, we would still be left with innumerable uncertainties, uncertainties that penetrate every aspect of existence. Can you "know", that there isn't someone around the corner, outside of your vision, waiting to kill you? Or behind you? Can you prove concealment technology does not exist and someone or something is monitoring you at all hours of the day? Should we garb ourselves in the bathroom in case this is true? Should we never eat again since we lack certainty that our next meal is not poisoned? You cannot utilize the lack of certainty in the senses without carrying along this very heavy baggage as well.

The usage of solipsism should also be given extra attention, for its use is even less consistent than I've already described. So frequent do I find it the case that solipsism is used against positions selectively. When one makes an observation grounded in empiricism, well that's circular as it assumes the senses are accurate. When one makes a claim of faith or personal experience, such points suddenly vanish.

I did admit quite freely that solipsism makes a valid point, and it does, yet that point extends far less than one might think. It does not, in fact, extend at all to our understanding of reality.

Up until now, I've mainly been addressing the "lack of verification" agreement, not the positive belief that all that exists is the self, because simply put, that argument is demonstrably false. True be it that we cannot verify *what* exists beyond the self, but we can verify that *something* exists beyond the self. While everything I see, hear, or otherwise sense may be in some regard an illusion, I am not consciously drawing this illusion. It is happening to me, largely against my will. Our actions are willed by us, but we don't will the sensory experience itself. When we type on a keyboard, we do not consciously think "and now I will make myself feel the plastic keys against my hand". The sensory experience is a consequence of our actions. Therefore *something*, other than myself, is causing me to feel that sensation. Whatever is doing the causing is no more "me" or part of myself than my shoes are.

Therefore even if we were to use the old standby of the Matrix, even if it was the case the universe as we experience it was a computer generated simulation, it wouldn't really change anything. We'd still be interacting with "the real" universe, just in a different way. Our perceptions and experiences are all already simulations anyway. We don't really "see" a painting, we interpret the light that reflects off of it and our mind builds a mental picture of it. Living in the matrix simply moves that back one step. It wouldn't even matter if the entity responsible for generating the simulation is itself the product of a simulation, we are actually still interacting with whatever the true basis for reality is.

The same could be said for dreams. What if this is all a dream? Allegedly, we if are dreaming then empiricism is useless. Our dream selves cannot rely on other people in the dream to, for example, verify the length of a table in that dream. So since we can't know this isn't a dream, empiricism is not a more valid way of ascertaining reality than any other form, such as faith or personal experience.

This line of reasoning just simply doesn't follow. Were we in a dream, the table we are trying to verify is a creation of our subconscious. So too would be the person we are asking. What better a source of information then, for the world we reside in for this case is a product of our own subconscious.

Maybe this is a dream. Maybe it's an illusion. It doesn't matter, for we are interacting with something real, just maybe not precisely in the way we imagined. Solipsism is a pointless exercise, and appealing to it should be considered as bad as a logical fallacy.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When Christianity is Evil

So. I went to church.

In my very early years, I attended a Greek Orthodox church. They are calm and generally unintrusive to one's personal life, so I have little issue with them. Once I turned eight, my family went to a new church. A pentacostal church. An Assembly of God Church.

That was the church I went to yesterday.

It was for my mother's birthday. I took her out for a nice breakfast, and since she is religious I thought it would please her. It did, however the sermon displeased me down to my core and gave a strong argument in favor of the proposition that Christianity can be downright evil.

This pastor joined the church just as I was transitioning into atheism. The previous pastor had sermons that I still remember fondly. He would generally start with a Bible passage or ten, and talk about what they meant and how it applied to people today. I can't say I really "like" this pastor. This "new" pastor, is a whole different animal. The most glaring difference is the energy level. Lots of shuffling back and forth across the stage, constant humorous asides, lots of motioning and over-emphasized inflection. Much more a spectacle than a sermon.

This makes it more hollow, but I made a claim that it was legitimately evil (insert Todd Akin joke here). That came in the message itself.

The pastor began with an anecdote about him playing golf at a driving range while testing out if his injury had healed. When the caged cart drove onto the field to pick up the balls, he decided to try to hit said cart, and got so swept up in his attempt that he didn't notice his injury had flared up again. He had gotten distracted.

Apparently, that's how it can be with God . . . more importantly, that's how people can be with God, meaning some of the relationships in a Christian's life can be a distraction. The prescription: drop these people.

However the way in which he went about preaching this says a lot. No specific description of when it is appropriate to cut someone out of your life, no prescription for understanding when that time should come. The most specific example was if a significant other isn't a Christian, you need to drop them. Other than that, transgressions as small as "a friend not understanding your faith", was enough. These are vague enough to allow each individual to interpret the message in the way that is most meaningful to them. If someone is having doubts, and those doubts are in reference to a person and points they bring up, then it puts the idea in their head to dump those individuals.

So when you aren't getting any resistance, press forward. If it appears that there could be something that could cause you to change your opinion about the religion, walk away. They are literally giving them strategies designed to maintain the status quo and avoid being exposed to any ideas that differ from the church.

In addition, they don't tell people to pray on it to ask God what his will is (which could result in the individual thinking they are meant to keep going despite the danger to maintaining their belief system), or to have faith that Jesus can help them see it through (despite earlier saying Jesus can get you through all of your problems if you let him). They inform them that it is totally acceptable to cut someone out of their lives if it is the more difficult spiritual path. This is apparently one area that God will never use a way to test your faith.

Lastly, this reinforces the idea in the minds of potential doubters that people will be willing to abandon them as friends and as a social support structure if they do not conform properly or begin to challenge established dogma in any way.

It isn't that this is evil because it is a religion doing it, it's evil because it would be an effective strategy to maintain any belief system, regardless of how true or false the belief system is. If it was implemented to protect a belief in the world being round or the belief that the world is flat, it would be an effective strategy to prevent people from doubting, but has the largest benefit to belief structures run by people who understand the weakness of their position. If you have a high level of faith in the truth of your belief, you would gain more by encouraging people to not back down when they have doubts, because they faith would entail a believe that there is an answer for said doubt. Organizers that think their position is weak, however, would benefit less for such a strategy, because they would understand that there is a high likelihood people would come across disconfirming or contradictory evidence. Therefore those that believe they have the weaker intellectual argument are more motivated to use such a tactic over the other group.

This sermon was evil, because it advocates that you break up friendships, romances, and even families if it means preventing doubt from ever crossing your mind. Truth is not important, conformity and listening to the church is.