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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Not All Ideas are Created Equal

There are none so blind

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A question that outspoken atheists are often asked is why MYOBwe are so concerned with religious matters: if we don’t believe in god, all well and good, but why engage in constant criticism of the belief systems of others? And frankly, that’s a reasonable question. I can’t, of course, speak for every vocal non-believer, but I would have to say that a large part of the answer is that it offends me to have absurdity thrust upon me and to be treated as though I am an aberration if I fail to join in lockstep with those who make ludicrous claims. Moreover, to have those nonsensical propositions treated as though they are the norm and self-evident statements of fact is particularly galling to anyone with the slightest experience in critical thinking. But when laws are being written that seek to enforce magical thinking on the people as a whole, that’s when all good men have to come to the aid of the party and voice their objections.

As we watch the United States try to pretend that what is masquerading as the run-up to a general election, some of us will occasionally take our eyes off the centre ring for a moment to take in a sideshow. The sideshow that is drawing a lot of attention in this election cycle is the religious right and its decision to choose this moment in history to push the legislative envelope on the state level and to enact a series of draconian and ridiculous discriminatory laws that are justified by their proponents’ Christian belief system.

Some Christians are upset because groups like the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) are religious penisconstantly filing lawsuits in US courts over things like civic monuments depicting the biblical 10 Commandments or teachers leading prayers in public schools. How can any of those things harm us? What possible objection could reasonable people have? And why are we Christians being persecuted? The simple answers are these: 1) By tacitly suggesting that a list of rules of behaviour written by and for some nomadic, late stone age, Middle Eastern goat herders is relevant to our lives today & 2) Those rules are not acknowledged as valid by a significant portion of the population and many reject them outright as just, well, stupid & 3) Oh, please!

christians & lions

There actually was persecution at one time.

But it’s that last one that seems to have become part of the coordinated effort to reverse centuries of progress in the sciences and to undo the separation of church and state that was so central to the intent of the founding fathers of the United States. For everyone out there who had missed it, according to televangelists and some state governors, we are in a period of time where the persecution of Christians has returned with a malevolence not seen since the time of Nero and this time it’s taking place in the USA. And just look at the form that persecution takes!

According to some of the persecuted, not being allowed to require non-Christians to repeat Christian prayers publicly is discriminatory against Christians and therefore amounts to persecution. Persecution of poor, beleaguered Christians also includes their not being permitted to discriminate against groups of their choosing (they seem to like to choose members of the LGBT community but also choose atheists and agnostics and other groups as welLGBT persecutionl), since they have fervent religious beliefs that requires them to discriminate. That too, is apparently persecution.

These ludicrous claims actually manage to gain some traction, particularly in the southern states, perhaps because those legislatures can pull out and dust off a few of their old Jim Crow laws and rewrite them, substituting the word “gay” wherever it used to say ‘Negro”. However they come up with these genuinely discriminatory anti-discrimination bills, their philosophical justifications virtually always come down to some cherry-picked biblical injunction. |Oh, they’ll argue that these laws are urgently needed to protect children from perverts or some such nonsense, but when it’s pointed out that theirs is a solution without a problem, and when pressed even a little bit for some honest explanation, they’ll come back with a biblical quote.

And while this is going on some truly bizarre efforts are being made to persuade the persuadable that profoundly stupid notions need to be promulgated. Enter Ken Ham. Ham is young earth creationist and biblical literalist. While those credentials sound serious, the content of his claims is anything but. He preaches that the Earth is about 6000 years old and that it was created in 6 twenty-four hour days; he tells us that every word of the bible, New Testament and Old, is literally, factually true. To that end he built and operates “The Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky and founded “Answers in Genesis”, a Christian ministry that denies evolution and claims that all the science we need is contained right there in the first book of the Old Testament. Set to open on July 7 of this year is his latest exhibition at he museum: a life size replica of Noah’s Ark. Apparently it will be able to contain representative breeding pairs of every one of the 7 million plus species alive today as well as all the identified prehistoric species including dinosaurs – which Ham claims once co-existed with man on planet Earth just a few thousand years ago.Fred & Bill debate

That the foregoing is simply harmless eccentricity on the part of a man and a few isolated nutjobs is what we ought to expect; unfortunately, it is far, far more than that. You see, the museum itself is largely government subsidised and the construction of the 14-million-dollar Ark was completed with state and federal grants as “educational” endeavours. And to add insult to injury, Ham and his AiG are allowed to discriminate in their hiring practices. Applicants to work in the museum or its associated parking lot and gift shops must sign a form asserting that they believe in the young earth proposition and that they renounce any belief in evolution; atheists or anyone other than Ham’s brand of Christian need not apply.

What seems not to occur to those members of the cult of Christianity is that atheism, not evangelical or any kind of Christianity, is the default position. The evidence for that is simple; Christians require bible studies, Sunday school, worship services, and Ken Ham’s teachings to churn out cult members, atheists need none of that. Just leave people alone and they won’t become Christian; if they are given any real education at all they’ll become atheists.

So the question of why atheists are so preoccupied with religion is answered by the observation that religion seems to be preoccupied with replacing science with fantasy, empiricism with doctrine, observation with “revelation”. We don’t want our legislatures relying on their individual members’ “faiths” to make laws for all of us. We don’t want our children taught in schools that the outrageous and the ignorant are true and science is all wrong; hell, we don’t even want them to be taught that fairy tales and science are alternatives to be chosen between as equally likely to be true.

Make it so

Are atheists obsessed with religion? Perhaps. Obsessed to precisely the same degree that theists are obsessed with imposing their ridiculous and untestable assertions on those who don’t follow their brand of devotion.

ENDITEM…

Rejecting Doublethink

The Middle Ground

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND) Although as a journalist I have done my share of reporting news, it’s fair to say that most of my contribution has been analysis and, to a slightly lesser extent, opinion. As an opinion writer I don’t have a duty to be objective; on the contrary, I’d argue that I have an obligation to take sides on the issues I discuss. However, as I’ve argued elsewhere, even when we’re dealing with hard news, I don’t believe that there can be any reporting that is entirely objective; the best we objective-journalismcan expect is that the reporter be honest about any bias that exists. But objectivity should be something we in the media should strive for.

One can have an opinion and still be objective. For instance, if someone asks a man whose child has just been murdered for his opinion on capital punishment, you may well get a strong opinion in favour of the death penalty. We wouldn’t call that an objective opinion. But if we were to ask someone who had no personal investment in the issue the same question, we would get an opinion, perhaps pro, perhaps con, but the opinion would be more objective. It is difficult to be free from bias, but an attempt to be entirely bias free does not mean that both sides in a dispute have equal merit. When reporting or analysing a news story, we must not fall into the trap of reporting it as though both sides are necessarily equally valid or likely to be right. The middle ground, as any practitioner of informal logic can tell you, is not always the right wayCartoon-global-warming-is-a-hoax to go.

It is incumbent upon reporters of the news to make some distinction between a rational position on a subject and one that is patently absurd. If a reporter attends an astronomy symposium, for example, he wouldn’t be expected to give equal time to the various scientists who discuss their field and to some nutjob who shows up insisting that the earth is flat. We wouldn’t expect the reporter to “report the controversy”. There is none. Nevertheless, there are those who insist on equal time and equal consideration for pseudo-scientific views that are every bit as much scientific outliers as is the flat earth proposition.

There is no scientific controversy over evolution. Evolution is as much a fact as it is possible to be within the strictures of sciecreationism_by_jollyjack-d9277o5nce. Neither creationism nor its better dressed cousin “intelligent design” is a scientific theory; they don’t even qualify as hypotheses. Within the scientific community there is no controversy, there is no dispute. There is some discussion as to the specific mechanisms and how they work within the evolutionary framework, but there is none whatsoever about the fact of evolution itself. There is no reason at all to teach bible stories as alternative science.

Equally non-controversial is the question of anthropogenic climate change. The climate is changing and that change is caused by human action. The only people who disagree with that scientific proposition are people who have somehow been persuaded that the question is a political one rather than a scientific one. Because the oil lobby is so firmly up the collective politicdenialal right wing’s ass, a controversy denying the palpable, observable, measurable effect of the burning of hydrocarbons in our atmosphere has been ginned up. The controversy doesn’t exist in the real world; it only exists in the echo chamber of the right wing and in the fevered imaginations of people who believe that any uncomfortable scientific fact is a conspiracy dreamt up by the liberal intellectual elite. Like it or not, folks, global warming is real and it is caused by us.

Why the press is so inclined to give equal time to people who spout the kind of paranoid nonsense that we would walk away from if it was expressed where it belongs – shouted from a soapbox in a park – is probably a result of the quixotic effort to be even-handed in covering an issue. The problem, though, as stated earlier, is that the ridiculous is not entitled to equal time. It deserves mention perhaps, but only for what it is. And it is, in the most technical sense, dumbfuckery.

It’s time we in the media call bullshit, when bullshit is being sold as science. The fact that it is religion trying to pretend to be science doesn’t give it immunity from being called out. Bullshit is bullshit and whether it wears a bishop’s mitre, a yarmulke, or a Klan hood, it’s still bullshit and should be reported as such.

ENDITEM…

More musings

Utterly pointless thoughts
Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – The previous post’s brief mention, at the end of the piece, of the notion of infinity, led me to think about the concept and the notion of time itself. Therefore, what follows is some pretty amateur speculation on the subject and if you’re an expert, or it doesn’t interest you, or you have your own firm grasp on the subject, please stop here. Go to the previous post, perhaps. It’s interesting, plus if you look for it, you’ll find a picture of my dick. In context, of course, and not just for gratuitous exhibitionism.infinity

Infinity, or if you are of a religious bent; eternity. If you’ve ever been subjected to a Catholic education you have probably been exposed to most of the metaphors. The metaphors are intended, of course, for children and do nothing at all to convey the idea of actual infinity to our finite minds; they just instil a sense of a very, very long time. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about; if a tiny bird flies by a mountain every hundred years and brushes a wing against it, by the time the mountain has been worn completely away, infinity is just getting started. Of course these metaphors are generally employed to convey a sense of how long you will undergo the tortures of hell if you succumb to the urge to touch your own genitals; I don’t think I’ve ever heard them used to describe the eternal bliss of heaven.

But maybe we’re not talking about an infinite time, an eternity. The universe had a beginning…the Big Bang…and is still expanding from that. Moreover the general scientific consensus is that as the universe reaches a point of maximum expansion, it will reverse itself and start to shrink again, resulting in what they like to call the Big Crunch. Presumably that will be the end of time. Who knows? (If so, those poor bastards who traded their lives and others’ for an eternity of lounging about with a flagon of wine and an indefinite number of nubile virgins will either be pretty pissed off at being short-changed, or, more likely, mightily relieved at having come to an end of the monotony).

Of course the obvious answer to the Big Crunch signifying the end of time would be that since conditions are now the same as those that prevailed at the Big Bang, the cycle would repeat itself. There you go. Infinity. At least infinite time or eternity.

Now the physical universe is in constant flux; there is always movement, with atoms and molecules bouncing around and chemical reactions occurring constantly. Infinity, therefore, as I mentioned in the last essay, can then be defined as that period of time in which anything that can happen does happen. In fact, it will happen an infinite number of times. And since infinity, by definition, has no beginning or end, everything possible has happened an infinite number of times, and will again.

MangoesThat means that there has been a previous existence that was exactly like this one, except that in a market in Shanghai, there was a mango with a slightly larger brown spot on the tail end. There has occurred another universe in which you were reading this post on a computer screen but the walls of the room you were in were slightly paler. One universe was identical in every particular except for a single grain of sand on a beach in Madagascar having a slightly different orientation to all the other grains of sand. You get the idea.

But just as those infinitesimally small differences actually form an entirely different universe, other manifestations throughout infinity of the universe would necessarily involve much larger differences. In some versions, our galaxy would never have coalesced, the earth wouldn’t have formed and life would never have evolved. In yet another, Earth would have formed, but the meteor or meteors that spelled the extinction of the dinosaurs would have missed, and they continued to thrive, perhaps evolving intelligence and populating the planet with a race of intelligent reptiles, a sort of Rupert Murdoch Planet. Any configuration rupertor possibility that is within the laws of physical possibility would have occurred and will occur again, an infinite number of times.

Einstein-But one thing we have learned about time is that it is not linear in the sense that we experience it. That was demonstrated by Einstein when he proposed the relativity of time. This suggests that there is every possibility that the different universes are not sequential, but rather, parallel. This is a little more satisfying because, with an infinite number of sequential universes, it would seem to make sense that in at least one of them there would exist a me who remembers all of his other existences. I don’t. If they run parallel, it’s easier to accept that I don’t remember something contemporaneous in another, presumably inaccessible universe.

Once one starts to put any kind of thought into this kind of cosmology and then expand one’s thinking to include the infinite or bounded nature of space, and then, further, recognises that making that kind of distinction is fatuous and inaccurate to begin with, since space and time are different aspects of the same thing: spacetime, it becomes increasingly clear why human beings have created gods and mythologies to explain the inexplicable.

How much easier it is to postulate a super-being at the pleasure of whom the entire system runs and which can be shut off in a moment of caprice. How much easier it is to justify morality, if one also postulates that the super-being also created and imposed a code of explicit morals – inconsistent, self-contradictory, unethical, silly, irrelevant, misogynist, racist, pointless, xenophobic – but nevertheless inflexible.

angrybirdThere is obviously a great deal more to speculate upon once this can of worms has been opened, and I will if the feedback I receive suggests that my readers are interested. For now, however, JJ (my four-year-old) wants me to play Angry Birds with him. And, as I like smashing stuff by hurling birds as much as the next guy, I’m going. Besides…it’s become clear to me that I have a very limited time with my son and I do NOT intend to waste any of it!

Evangelism, not debate: my mistake

house on religionReligious debate
Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Having recently been involved in a number of debates and having given several seminars on the topic of critical thinking – debates and seminars which inevitably drifted toward religious questions – I am now beginning to rethink some of my previously held positions. Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t been persuaded of the existence of an imaginary superfriend or anything like that; I heard nothing new, persuasive, or even any arguments worth much more than a few moment’s consideration. It’s just that I am rethinking my views with respect to those who actually find the arguments or exhortations for the existence of a particular god to be persuasive.

I have always approached discussions of religion (or virtually anything else, for that matter) from the perspective that the subject is only worth discussing if both sides are open to the possibility of being persuaded by the reasoning or rhetoric of the other. I don’t mean that neither side ought to have firm views or strongly held positions; on the contrary, such logic 4discussions are only interesting if people are motivated to provide a robust defense of their views and to advance their position vigorously. That, however, is not the same as knowing beyond any possibility of error that one is one hundred percent right and there doesn’t even exist the slightest possibility of being mistaken. That degree of certainty is reserved for the religious and for giving first year lectures to classes of a hundred or more students. But to engage in open discussion with that mindset is intellectual fraud, unless it’s disclosed at the outset.

logic 1

What if our religious leaders told the truth?

Intellectual fraud is a salient characteristic of virtually all discussions with the religiously inclined. The very fact that the unpersuadable are willing, even anxious to engage in discussions of the validity of their beliefs is hypocritical to begin with. Lecture us on their beliefs? Sure. If they can find an audience outside of the captive one in front of the pulpit. But to engage in a pretend-rational exchange of ideas, when they take pride in not being capable of accepting a differing view? That is clearly dishonest.

Examples of that sort of dishonesty are legion in what passes for religious discussion today. Take the question of scientific proof for any of the assertions commonly made by theists. The devout leap on any report of a new observation that questions previously accepted scientific consensus. “See?” they gleefully cry. “Proof that science doesn’t know what it’s talking about!” This display of a clear misunderstanding of science and the scientific epistemology is not necessarily dishonest; it may be merely ignorant. What is certainly dishonest is when they leap with equal enthusiasm on any scientific observation that they can interpret as supporting in any way some fragment of their doctrine.

Remember the Shroud of Turin debates from a decade and more ago? For true believers in the logic 3authenticity of the shroud as the burial cloth of the biblical Jesus, the reports that pollen from plants indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean ca. 2000 years ago were seized upon and trumpeted as validation of that which they already believed. But when Carbon 14 tests were permitted by the Vatican and they demonstrated that the organic material in the shroud was alive at some time in the early Renaissance, suddenly science was not to be trusted and science was once again an inappropriate tool to use to investigate religious claims.

Another example of the characteristic dishonesty of religious apologists is seen in the linguistic sophistry commonly employed. This isn`t just ignorance either; this is dishonesty. Take the deliberate misuse of the word “theory” as one of the most pervasive and deceptive techniques used by the devout. That is especially evident in discussions of their pet peeve, the scientific theory of evolution. Evolution, they say, being only a theory, should be taught alongside other theories like creationism or its uptown cousin, “intelligent design”.

This is the logical fallacy of false equivalence. The truth (if the devout were to be interested in truth as opposed to “Truth”) is that evolution is a scientific theory because it meets the criteria required to describe it as such; the notion of creationism doesn’t.

Evolution is experimentally verifiable. It is logically possible to disprove it. It has survived science-religioncountless challenges. It is consistent with laws of science as currently understood. It rises to the level of theory. It is a theory like gravity is. Not one of those things can be said of creationism. It is not a theory under any scientific definition of the term. There is no equivalence despite the vocal assertions of science deniers. And that fact exposes yet another layer of the deceit that is at the centre of religious apologetics: theists like to employ scientific “proofs” and scientific language, and claim that their unfounded assertions are “scientific”, while in the next breath they are perfectly willing to dismiss science itself as man-made and profane.

But while we can resent the duplicity and hypocrisy of the argumentation employed by the devout, we ought not be surprised.

logic 2

 

They are not discussing anything with any intent of expanding our understanding, or of considering other possibilities; they know, you see. They are not the slightest bit interested in analysing your points, in thinking about your reservations, in considering your views. They are interested in repeating their beliefs in various different words and persuading you to accept them, or at least to persuade you stop expressing your own views. They are there to evangelise, not to seek understanding or to grow intellectually. When you are right, and any contradictory view is not only wrong but inspired by Satan, then any kind of intellectual dishonesty is justified.

So, as the devout gird themselves to do intellectual battle with atheists, they are not preparing for an intellectual discussion; they are only preparing to lie, cheat, mislead, and obfuscate. It is their duty, you see. They are right, so whatever it takes to get their point across is valid. Logic doesn’t matter. Reason is irrelevant. Truth doesn’t count. Because they have Truth.

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The Dumbing of America

Liberals, conservatives, IQs, and conspiracies

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – I just ran across a recent study that confirmed what many of my readers (and certainly I) always believed at some pre-conscious level. The study, conducted through Brock University and published in Psychological Science, was led by Dr. Gordon Hudson; the upshot was that people of lower intelligence tend to gravitate to socially conservative viewpoints. 

The correlation between conservatism and lower intelligence was very strong, and, that conservative political propositions appeal to persons of considerably lower intelligence, irrefutable. Hudson conjectures that because the politically and socially conservative stance is simplistic, it is attractive to those with limited analytical skills; the less black and white, more nuanced liberal or progressive worldview tends to attract those who are prepared to examine complex propositions in greater detail. Bluntly put, liberals and progressives are more capable than conservatives are of understanding the subtleties that exist in the real world. 

Is anybody truly surprised by these results? Certainly not liberals. As for conservatives, one can’t really say that they are surprised because, insofar as they acknowledge the existence of the study at all, they deny its validity, the credentials of the researchers, the honesty of the reporting, the protocols employed, the statistical analysis, the interpretation of the numbers, the reputation of the university, and probably the validity Dr. Hudson’s birth certificate.

 All that notwithstanding, the results and the conclusions seem intuitively obvious; the study serves as empirical confirmation of the obvious which, one suspects, even conservatives believe deep down inside.  

 Forget for the time being the anti-human celebration of greed and indifference to fellow human beings that is a significant component of today’s conservative worldview. Look quickly instead at the painfully self-evident stupidity that is espoused as conservative common sense. 

Try economics for an obvious example. Take a period of economic downturn; the economy is shrinking, jobs are being lost. Conservative answer? Slash the government budget and lay off thousands of federal and local government employees, reduce services to those in need and lower taxes on the top 1% while increasing the tax burden on the middle class and working poor by increasing sales tax. Cut the social safety net but continue to subsidize the most profitable corporations in the history of the world. 

 The economic ignorance is so stupifyingly idiotic that one wonders how these people even remember to breathe periodically. 

But of course that’s only the fiscal conservative viewpoint. One of the strange things about conservatism is that when one adopts a fiscal conservative stance, for some reason social conservatism seems to be part of the package. Along with some neo-Ayn Rand-screw-the- less-fortunate economic policy seems to come all the other crackpot notions that typify the conservative worldview. Something that also came out in the study cited at the top of this piece was that the less intelligent among us – the conservatives – also are more likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories. 

Those that genuinely espouse the position that the moon landings were faked, that Obama is really a Muslim born in Kenya, that even the Sandy Hook massacre was a government hoax intended to drum up support for a government move to confiscate firearms from American citizens, and that climate change is a fraud,  tend to be conservatives. Lower IQ citizens, along with their conservative politics have a tendency to racism, to abhor immigration, to be inclined to believe that race is the root of crime, and significantly, that their own IQs are, on the whole, about 10% higher than they actually are. 

Over 90% of people who describe themselves as “conservative” or “right leaning” believe that they are of above average intelligence. The facts are that, on average, those same people are of lower intelligence than those who describe themselves as liberal or left leaning.

And least surprising of all, the lower the IQ, the more likely right leaning or conservative respondents were to describe themselves as religious. The less likely they were to believe in evolution, the more likely to believe in the literal truth of the Bible. (Or the Koran.) Moreover, they are more likely to believe that abortion under any circumstance ought to be outlawed and even that contraception is wrong. As well the lower IQ (conservative) segment of the population is more likely to oppose sex education in schools and believe that only abstinence ought to be taught. The natural outgrowth of all of this is that these people are far more likely to have children.

Since the lower IQ conservatives don’t believe in evolution, this obvious fact will escape them, but nevertheless it will work in their favour. More intelligent (liberal leaning or progressive) people tend to limit the size of their families and are more likely to adopt, while the conservative leaning, lower intelligence people tend to have more children. There is only one way this trend can possibly go; the average intelligence of a society that is bifurcated in this way will decrease. The conservatives cannot win by the power of their reasoning or the strength of their ideas, as both are, frankly, inferior. But because we are a democratic society, they will win by sheer numbers. We are witnessing the devolution of society; for the first time in history the trend has become toward stupidity and away from intelligence. 

It’s important to realise that we are speaking here of overall trends. Just as there are not very bright liberals, there are intelligent conservatives; overall, however, the opposite tendency is clear. And that is the way evolution works. As the less intelligent demographic reproduces at a greater rate than the more intelligent, the lower IQs will outnumber and dominate their intellectual superiors. Despite the excesses of the radical modern right having offended even the not too bright conservatives, causing a liberal backlash that is just now beginning to be felt, the increasing population of the less intelligent will have a profound negative effect upon western society in generations to come. 

The dumbing of the West is profoundly disturbing and leaves me with great concern about the world my four-year-old son will inherit. While I hope that he will be able to cope with a world in which more and more people are generally stupider than they are today, and therefore more likely to lean conservative even than today, I am grateful that I won’t be around to see the bar lowered so that the truly stupid are the new paradigm. 

Yes, the future holds great promise…promise of dull, thick, slow, obtuse, and plodding intellectual degeneration. That ought to be a great source of pride for the conservatives and right wing true believers who are leading the charge into the trailer parks of the future.

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