Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We have the power to change minds.

Last Fall, I put together a skeptics event on my campus that was retroactively dubbed "Skepticon." And here we are, just a few short months later, preparing for Skepticon II, which will honestly make Skepticon I look like chicken feed.

Today, PZ posted a blog about a grateful e-mail he received from a student who attended the first Skepticon.

Last semester I took a Religions of the World course, and as an extra-credit assignment, I was given the option to attend an event at the Missouri State University, at which you spoke. I went, and let me tell you, it was probably one of the most jarring and terrifying moments of my life. I'd always known there were those who strongly opposed religion. In fact, one of my best friends in high school was an extreme skeptic, who constantly asked me the tough questions, you know, the ones that usually can only be answered with "He works in mysterious ways." But I'd never been in a room packed with people who whooped and cheered every time a stab was taken at the way I'd chosen to live my life. It was chilling and upsetting and I wanted to leave every second since you'd first opened your mouth. I didn't hate you for saying it. How could I? It was your belief and you were sharing it, which you have every right to do.

But what horrified me the most wasn't the room full of atheists, or the seemingly impenetrable arguments you provided that I should completely dump my faith and see the world in a different light. What turned my stomach and threatened to send me off the edge were the stories you told of Christians giving the rest of us a bad name, such as those at the Catholic Mass when the student stole the cracker and received death threats. I suppose hypocrisy is simply the nature of the conventional Christian. They act like children in a tree house that throw rocks at anyone who hurts their feelings.

Atheists ranting about how the past five generations of my family are superstitious crackpots I can handle, because the atheists are standing for what they believe, but when people who claim to have devoted their lives to furthering the love and compassion that Jesus showed start acting in ways that negate every message they've ever tried to present, or they choose which biblical rules they want to follow and which to ignore, and things like that, it really just makes me sick.

Anyway, I suppose this isn't terribly interesting to you in any event, but I've resolved to stop sitting in church and being spoon fed pre-cooked beliefs, and to start seeking answers by asking questions I was afraid to before. The founder of Buddhism once said, "Do not believe these things because I've told you to, but find truth through your own experiences." I've adopted that to the core of my beliefs.

I still believe in God, and I still consider myself a Christian, but I'm seeing things in a different light. I'm finding the meaning behind the rituals and traditions, rather than just believing there's power in "holy" water or an oyster cracker. I've begun searching for the reasons why certain rules are administered, instead of just saying "because the bible says so".

I don't know if you'll ever read this, and I don't know if I'll ever come in contact with you again, but I want to sincerely thank you. I know I completely missed the purpose of your speech, but whether or not you actually accept my thanks isn't the point. I hope that maybe others of my faith can learn the lesson I did, and I definitely think that it's a good idea to listen what nonbelievers have to say.

After all, knowledge never really hurt anyone, right?

So often I hear people say "What's the point of being an evangelist of reason, nobody's going to change their minds." That's pure bollucks, and it's precisely what the fundamentalists want you to say. People do change their minds.

The Skeptical Student was a Christian when I first met him here at MSU. He changed his mind.

In my five years of being a vocal skeptic and critic of religion, I've received over 40 e-mails from people who thanked me for helping them abandon faith. They changed their minds. Who knows how many more never e-mailed me?

Ben over at War on Error changed his mind.

I changed my mind.

Our nation is slowly changing their minds (and even our nation is only following the pattern of the world), and it's because finally, for the first time in the course of the human experiment, a large contingent of people are charging past the taboo of criticising faith and demolishing the pretensions of religion without apology.

Good reasoning is irresistible. If the case for any proposition is strong enough, you will helplessly believe it, whether you can admit it to yourself or not. We have the power to wake people up and expose them to the light of reason. And faith, like cockroaches, does not do well in the light.

"The premise of evangelical atheism is that you can introduce people to the importance of reason and they will come to a reasonable conclusion on their own. The premise of evangelical faith is that people must accept an arbitrary belief because an arbitrary judge, who the convert may not query, demands it. The former kind of proselytizer ought to be called a teacher, but is more often called an arrogant asshole; the latter ought to be considered a liar, a fraud, and an arrogant asshole in fact, but they actually believe they are humble servants of the lord." ~ PZ Myers

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Science, you're doing it wrong

It's come to light that one of the biggest names in anesthetics, Dr. Scott S. Reuben, fabricated data on 21 of his over 70 papers in peer review. This is huge because of the impact of Dr. Reuben's work. It is also huge because every anti-science theocratic wackaloon is going to begin flying this as a banner for how science is "just a bunch of theories" and contaminated with contingency. In short, Dr. Reuben has hosed countless patients whose anesthesia was administered based on his work; he has hosed the scientific community by occupying a bank of resources that could have been more productively used elsewhere; and he has hosed people like me, who take the time out of their lives to defend science, and must now blog about it rather than getting that extra thirty minutes of sleep. Dr. Reuben should have his ankles bound to a cement block, doused with oil, set on fire, and then just before he burns to death be kicked into a lake to drown. Such is the penance for aggravating me (commenters be warned).

Seriously though, the scientific world is simply baffled about how this type of thing could have slipped past peer review. Many religious people will cite this as some form of vindication for how peer-review surely fails to jettison bad science, with their implication being that it has failed to jettison scientific ideas they do not like based on ideology rather than even a cursory understanding of the scientific method. They'll probably also type their truimphant nonsense on a computer that could not function except for what peer-review has produced on the function of electromagnetism. Tools.

So before the following argument goes flying (and I'm sure it will), let's take note of something very important. Science is sadly, not contingency-free. No method is. And when we hear the shrieks of "Ha! Science got it wrong!" it's important to note that science actually got it right. When error like this does arise in science, who gets the credit for correcting it? Faith? Of course not. The credit belongs to good science. Even now, scientists are in the process of correcting this error, and our policy on anesthesia will change to cohere with what we do have a right to claim knowledge of. Remember, the world around you is a symphony spun by the fruits of science. It is not faith that has given us plentiful food, clean water, reliable medical treatment, computers, and so on, but rather the same processes that have caught Dr. Reuben (albeit, inexplicably much later than usual) and will abandon him to shunned obscurity henceforth.

The fact that peer review and the scientific process catches frauds and corrects errors is not a testament to the frailty of science, but rather to a strength that can only be acquired by such a scrutinizing process of self-improvement. It is what science has so right that religion has so wrong. And now we're about to get hit by a wave of stupidity, insisting that because scientists were slow to catch this fraud that the yarn about talking snakes and magical gardens somehow explains anything or has provided a single iota of human knowledge - which shows about how reliable their reasoning is. The truth is that science has the ability to admit that its talking snakes were mistakes. Good luck getting the same concession from a clergyman.

And now, a quote from my father in response to a religious person exclaiming that there's power in prayer (turns out, there's not):

"I'll pray for you" is a phrase some Christians use in order to make themselves feel smugly superior by doing nothing at all, especially when they are unable to defend their position through truth, reason, or logic. It is nothing but a form of one-upsmanship, usually heard as a last desperate shot when their arguments are lying in tatters around their feet along with all caps and lots of exclamation points.

Beautiful. I can tell I'm going to be using this one in abundance.

It is seven am...

But already the world has reassured me that religion, and those who stand behind the curtain, will do anything to protect themselves and care nothing of their "flock".

In short... they are trying to repeal the statute of limitations on sex crimes in NY. Guess who is opposed???

To be fair, there are some great arguments about playing shuffleboard with statutes of limitations on crimes.

But the church, an organization that has millions to lose if this passes, isn't worried about those arguments. They are just protecting their own asses.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Deliver us from evil

I spend an inordinate amount of my time shredding the bad arguments of religiously unreasonable people. Years of doing this has helped acclimate me to the horror of dogma and the way we can kick compassion to the curb for the arbitrary whims of a pernicious and mythological god.

However, some things still disgust me so much that they defy any attempt to find the right phrase or wording to convey how stupid, how callously inhuman they are. This is one of those times. Here's the title:

Brazil girl, alleged rape victim, aborts twins

The procedure on the 9-year-old girl draws complaints from Catholic church

And here's the text. Read ahead if you'd like to ruin your day and what faith you had left in mankind.

RIO DE JANEIRO - A 9-year-old girl who was carrying twins, allegedly after being raped by her stepfather, underwent an abortion Wednesday despite complaints from Brazil's Roman Catholic church.

Police said the stepfather has been jailed since last week.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil, but judges can make exceptions if the mother's life is in danger or the fetus has no chance of survival.

Fatima Maia, director of the public university hospital where the abortion was performed, said the 15-week-old pregnancy posed a serious risk to the 80-pound girl.

"She is very small. Her uterus doesn't have the ability to hold one, let alone two children," Maia told the Jornal do Brasil newspaper.

But Marcio Miranda, a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife in northeastern Brazil, said the girl should have carried the twins to term and had a cesarean section.

"It's the law of God: Do not kill. We consider this murder," Miranda said in comments reported by O Globo.

Calls to Miranda were not immediately returned.

Brazil is home to more Catholics than any other nation.


What god could exist that would not be ashamed of Christianity? What god could possibly allow these faith-drunk madmen to speak for him? Irrationality is dangerous, and there is no more productive engine of irrationality, and no more impenetrable edifice of outlandish stupidity, than religion.

On the incompatibility of science and faith

An old voice teacher of mine, a brilliant friend named Marvin Murphree, linked me to this article the other day which suggests that science and faith are compatible. I think otherwise.

Non-overlapping Magisteria

The author of the aforementioned article went the route of saying that science and religion address different questions, with religion tackling the who and why and science explaining the what and how. However, I take issue with his use of the word "explain."

Religion just makes stuff up that is false by any sane definition of the word. That is not how science operates.

What's more, he bases religion's magisteria on implied truths that have no evidence supporting them. While we know there is a what and how to the operation of the universe, who says that there must be a who and why? I submit that there is no reason to assume there is a who or a why to the functionality of the universe, and most certainly not an omniscient, perfect intelligence. A look at the universe reveals it to be the work of a fairly incompetent engineer at best, as it took billions of years of trial and painful error to reach its current state. A perfect designer would not require such a system. It is also still riddled with a host of simple errors that are just what we would expect to see in a universe that operates on a series of mindless rules, but that are just bizarre if a god created anything. These are things like the existence of the appendix, babies heads being bigger than the birth canal, and the clunky nature of DNA.

Furthermore, everything that we have explained has been found to have a natural rather than a supernatural explanation. Everything. You may respond that surely some intelligence put into place those natural explanations, but how do you know this? Before answering, be sure to have a good explanation for why your reasoning doesn't apply to the creator you're suggesting as well.

The questions that religion purports to answer here are superfluous before any evidence is provided to show that they are legitimate.

Religion is based on scientific just gets the answers wrong

The author of the article says:

No amount of logic must deduce they oppose each other. They're asking different questions, which lead to different answers, but not necessarily contradictory answers.Religion errs when it seeks to dictate the range of answers science can discover.

But the question "Did a man rise from the dead 2000 years ago?" is a question of Biology. And the question "Did Jesus walk on water or transmute water into wine?" is a question about Physics. The Christian faith makes a magnificent glory of how these propositions fly in the face of science, which is why they're called "miracles". But science has the (obvious) answer to both of these questions, and religions have no sound evidence for why the natural order was abrogated in the ways they claim. The entire Christian religion is based on the truth of Jesus' resurrection, which could not conflict with science more.

Differences in Method

The very nature of making a truth claim implies some degree of testable prediction about the future. A simple example would be the statement "I own a chess set." The implication here is that if you sift through every possession I own, amongst them you would find a chess set. Science makes testable predictions in this vein;
  • If we add wings and the right type of engine, this vessel will fly.
  • If we use the proper type of filament and apply electricity, it will produce light.
  • If we replace a particular organ, this patient will live.
  • If we apply our hand to the knob and turn, the door will open.
Religion does no such thing, but the fact that religion attempts to make such claims is the reason that science has been a one-way erosion of religion from the get go. Don't believe me? Try this simple, two-question test:
  1. Think of one thing for which we once had a religious answer, but for which we now have a scientific answer (this one should not be difficult).
  2. Think of one thing for which we had a scientific answer, but for which we now have a religious answer (don't waste too much of your time).
The notion of faith is used, without evidence, to force assertions into areas we have not explained (argument from ignorance) and even into subjects we have explained. The idea that you can believe anything without evidence or good reasoning is anti-scientific, and this isolation of thought is why schoolboards everywhere are having to combat religious wackos who want to dilute science at best, but more often purge the parts of it that conflict with their faith. The fact that some scientists believe in a god or that some believers accept Evolution has everything to do with the partitionable nature of the human mind, and nothing at all to do with the idea that the two schools of thought are compatible. Scientific reasoning will lead you to conclude that men do not rise from the dead, and that they do not walk on water. It would be a terrible scientist that would accept either claim without evidence.

So the truth claims made by religions do not meet the criteria for being a legitimate truth claim by any sane standard. Science thrives on such things.

Also, science places a very high premium on overturning truth claims upon the discovery of new evidence. This is why if you were to revive a very well-educated man from the fourteenth century, his understanding of math, science, history, and any academic discipline would embarrass a modern five year-old. But his understanding about scripture would be spectacular, easily exceeding most religious people nowadays. Why is this? There are only two real possibilities:
  1. That we reached the zenith of our understanding of god at a time when our understanding of every other subject was completely inchoate. (not likely) or...
  2. Religion, and the faith that supports it, is the mere maintenance of dogma, and does not admit of change - even in the face of academic advance.
Religion does not overturn its claims because its truth claims are not falsifiable. The presumably liberal theologian who penned the article says theistic Evolution is compatible with his faith, but I'd be curious to know if there is any fact of the world that would not be compatible with his faith? That is not because his faith is strong, but because it is built on an idea that is not falsifiable (the way scientific ideas must be). Self-fulfilling prophesies are worthless as a means of explanation.

Moreover, even theistic scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller compartmentalize their scientific mindset by failing to hold their religious beliefs to the same standards they hold their science. If you are asking if an idea is merely possible given your presumptions, you will almost never be disappointed (my belief that pixies authored the universe and put all the natural mechanisms in place remains strong, as every new discovery confirms and strengthens my belief by revealing a mechanism of the universe, which I know was put there by pixies). Instead, if we are using scientific reasoning, we must ask if the best explanation for a universe that is pitiless and indifferent in its execution and laden with all manner of engineering flaws, is a loving, omniscient god (or pixies). Clearly, it's not.

Why this guy's outro was made of fail

This part made me want to claw my eyes out:

Sometimes, atheistic evolutionists annoy me. They overstep their bounds, confident that because they feel they have good answers for the what and how of creation, they do not need a Who or why.

The universe does not need a who or a why - it appears to be chugging along just fine with it's mindless processes and inanimate objects. We probably get annoyed with you because you insist it does need a who or a why without providing any evidence. That is not "overstepping our bounds," it is simply making a rational appraisal. Do you have some manner of evidence that the universe has an ultimate purpose or was blasted into being by a god? Show us. But in science it is never noble to pretend to know things you do not (it's even less noble to say we are overstepping our bounds by calling you on it).

He goes on:

But more than annoy me, they make me sad. For when they close their minds to the possibilities outside their sphere, they also close their hearts to a relationship with the God of love, Who has transformed my life and filled it with meaning and purpose. I feel sorry for them.

Ah, the old implications that atheists are forlorn people who are close-minded to their salvation. What crap. My mind is open to god the same way it's open to unicorns. If you take me out behind your house and show me that you have a unicorn tied up (and I can actually use its blood to heal my wounds), I will change my mind so fast it would make your head spin. The same is true with a god. My mind isn't closed, there's just no evidence. What there is, is an entire demographic of religious people who use crummy arguments to support a conclusion that is not bound by reason, even as they claim their faith is reasonable.

Don't feel sorry for us. The univere is a wonderous place full of unimaginable surprises. We are capable of seeing it for the magnificence it possesses in full, rather than through the blurry lens of fantasy. Furthermore, we don't have to deal with the cognitive dissonance, n00bs!

Ultimately, it all boils down to evidence and good reasoning. Science emobies them, and religion thrives on finding ways to avoid their constraints. This leaves about as much room for compromise as a coin toss.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Some Common Logical Fallacies (a.k.a. How Religious People Argue a.k.a Stop Presenting Me with Shitty Arguments that You Expect Me to Take Seriously)

After my recent atheist post, many friends have asked me questions in private about my beliefs, many arguing poorly in defense of a god. I’ve compiled this list of the numerous logical fallacies presented to me time and time again in the defense of a god because I am sick of individually refuting them. Well constructed and sound arguments are the only ones that are going to change my mind, people, so read up and learn!

(Just so you know, this is going to be quite the extensive list; you really won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t read it all. And-thanks to JT Eberpants for helping me out. :D )

  • Ad Hominem: Attacking the person instead of their presented ideas.
    • Ex: OMG! You are just a mean, evil atheist who is going to hell because you don’t believe in Jayysus.
  • Argument from Omniscience: Saying that all people, everyone everywhere think or believe a certain thing.
    • Ex: Everyone believes something! (Orly? How can you support this claim o’ omniscient one? I submit that you cannot.)
  • Appeal to Tradition/Belief: Saying something is true or good because it has been done for many years/decades/centuries.
    • Ex: Christianity has been around since, like omg forevers! So it must be true! Also-My parents raised me to believe in god so it’s what I believe.
  • Appeal from Authority: Using the words of an ‘expert’ on the subject to add credibility to your claim.
    • Ex: Ben Stein believes in god and he’s, like, really smart!
  • Argumentum Ad Baculum: Presenting an argument that is based on a threat.
    • Ex: If you don’t believe in god you will burn forever in the fiery depths of hell with no marshmallows, sucka!
  • Appeal to Ignorance: Assuming that someone will accept your argument because there is no proof of the contrary.
    • Ex: Because there is no proof that God doesn’t exist, you should accept that he does.
  • Appeal to Pity: Trying to get the other side to feel sorry for you to get them to agree with you.
    • Ex: I have nothing but god in my life, I was a bad person before and now I am good because I have accepted my savior, therefore religion is credible.
  • The Bandwagon: Arguing that just because lots of people are doing it makes it right.
    • Ex: Like, hundreds of people believe in god, so there must be one!
  • Begging the Question: Demanding your audience accepts whatever conclusion you come to without any sort of support or evidence to your case.
    • Ex: Worshipping a god improves the morals of society. (What proof do you have, Mr./Miss jesuspants?)
  • Burden of Proof: When one argues for something and then forces their opponent to prove otherwise.
    • Ex: You think god doesn’t exist? Prove it! (Apparently atheists are always on trial for their beliefs so we have to be well read motherfuckers while everyone else can skip around happily ignorant.)
  • Circular Reasoning: Stating in your argument what you’re trying to prove.
    • Ex: God exists because the bible tells me so, the bible exists because god created it.
  • Confirmation Bias: When one who is presenting an argument purposefully ignores the evidence that does not support their cause.
    • Ex: People of religion who expound upon the powers of prayer based on a few cases where it happened to work out rather than the millions of other ways it has not.
  • Confusion as to Correlation=Causation (Or Cause/Effect): Assuming that because two factors are linked when there is no verifiable proof that they are.
    • Ex: Stalin was an atheist and look at all the bad shit he did. Therefore, all atheists must want to do bad shit. (This can also be called ‘guilt by association’-all atheists are like Stalin)
  • False Dilemma/Dichotomy: Presenting only two options, one of which must be true.
    • Ex: Either the universe came about by chance or by design. It didn't come about by chance. So, it must have come about by design.
  • Hasty Generalization: Drawing a conclusion about a population using a sample that is not large enough.
    • Ex: That one atheist I met is a real jerk. All atheists must be jerks.
  • Non-Seqiutor: When a conclusion doesn’t follow what evidence has been presented.
    • Ex: We can't figure out how any natural process could account for the complexity of the human cell or whatever complex biological entity. Therefore, an intelligent designer must have put these parts together in the cell.
  • Middle Ground: Attempting to accept that the middle ground between two extreme ideas must be right simply because it is the middle.
    • Ex: Agnostics. (Suckers! Lol.)
  • Misleading Vividness: Allowing recent events to overshadow facts and evidence.
    • Ex: Person 1-I’ve been thinking about becoming an atheist. Person 2-What? No! Last week I talked to this atheist and they were really mean and spiteful and no one liked them at the church bake sale. Person 1-Oh! I guess I won’t, then.
  • Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc: Assuming that because one thing happens after another that the two are linked.
    • Ex: After you prayed super hard for a pay raise at work for a couple weeks, you got one. Therefore, the power of prayer has been proven.
  • Poisoning the Well: A type of Ad Hominem fallacy, this is where someone spreads unfavorable information about a person (true or false) in order to discredit whatever they should say.
    • Ex: Don’t listen to them, they’re atheists! *Gasp!*
  • Red Herring: When an arguer will change the subject in order to divert attention from their crap argument.
    • Ex: God exists. You don’t think so? You’re a bad person! Look at all the bad stuff you do!
  • Reification Fallacy: When someone treats an abstract belief or hypothetical construct as if it represented a concrete event or physical, tangible entity.
    • Ex: God.
  • Relativist Fallacy: When a person rejects a claim by asserting that the claim might be true for others but is not for them for whatever reason.
    • Ex: Person 1-You’re claim that a god exists is unjustified, unsupported by any evidence, and riddled with logical fallacies, therefore I cannot accept it. Person 2-Well that may be true for you but it’s not for me.
  • Slippery Slope: Presenting a chain of events and assuming that one will inevitably lead to the other and so forth so you must accept a claim.
    • Ex: If you don’t believe in god, then you are a bad person, bad people go to hell, in hell you burn eternally, burning eternally sucks, so you should believe in god.
  • Special Pleading: Someone applies standards, principles, rules, etc. to others while taking themselves (or those they have special interest in) to be exempt, without providing adequate justification for the exemption.
    • Ex: I am a Catholic. I follow the bible, as do my peers because it is what we believe is right. I use birth control, though, because I am a pretty princess.
  • Straw Man Fallacy: To distort or misrepresent the arguments that you are trying to refute.
    • Ex: You want to spread Atheism do you? You realize that Pilt-Down Man was a fraud of paleontology, right? So atheism is built on a series of fallacies.
  • Two Wrongs Making Right: Justifying one’s actions because another has done the same.
    • Ex: How can you give me crap for criticizing my religion when you do the same? (This has no relevance to an argument, people.)
  • Weak/False Analogies: Comparing two things that aren’t really alike in all of the relevant respects.
    • Ex: Atheists and religious people are the same because they both believe something.

Well, there you go. Feel free to add some, because I know I missed some, or let me know if I got something wrong.

Oh, and, YOURMOM!