Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy end of the decade!

Wow.   Time really does fly.  If I didn't know better, I'd personally swear that it was still 1997 if I didn't vaguely remember celebrating a new millennium popping up at some point in the not so distant past.  So, maybe it's 2002?

Anyway, enough about my inability to keep track of what year it is.  What can we expect to see in the years ahead?  Do we expect Obama to be re-elected?  Do we expect actual progress, whether in regards to the current healthcare bill actually changing things for the better, or in terms of greater acceptance of different sexualities?  Do we expect the economy to finally become stable again?  And do we expect more one-man terrorist attacks like the Fort Hood shooter and this recent failed attempt by a Nigerian man on an airplane?  And do we expect the internet to take an even greater role in our current society, while popular culture at large becomes ever more banal and inane?

I don't know what I personally think about any of that.  Except for popular culture.  I know in my hear tof hearts that popular culture will never become more banal or inane than it is right now.  This is because it is simply not possible, as there is no conceivable way to churn out more prettied-up, unoriginal and essentially meaningless drivel than we are currently being subjected to.  And you better goddamn hope that I am right about that one, because I simply cannot imagine the horrors that will need to be unleashed to make things worse.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The E-mails!: A Global Warming Soap Opera

Sorry.  Been in a coma for a month.  (That's my story and I'm sticking to it...)

Anyway, global warming.  I haven't been keeping track of when this whole hacked e-mail debacle began, but I fairly certain that it happened around the same time that merry hordes across the internet and the media began to huff and puff about how some profound revelation was made by exposing these e-mails.  Oh, how my imagination would churn, trying to imagine what possible thing could have cast doubts on the science of global warming just in e-mails.  Oh, how I tried to entertain the notion that the right-wing chortling and cries of victory were at least slightly appropriate responses and connected to reality in some fashion.  Oh, how I gave them far more credit than they have earned.

Here is a good explanation of why their triumphalism at this point is completely ridiculous:

(Via Pharyngula)

It seems that the two (TWO!) e-mails that these people are whipped up into a frenzy about don't even say what they claim it to say.  Even if it did, these are goddamn e-mails!  The only way it could possibly undermine the actual science of global warming is if you could actually find that the deceptive attempts to "hide the decline" were successful and affected the scientific literature in some substantial way.  Even if you were to take the e-mails at their most conniving, sinister interpretation rather than as playful statistical jargon, you still have to deal with the fact that it is only two (TWO!) e-mails, and that they are goddamn e-mails and not actual scientific papers.  If the results of their actual research were somehow fradulent, other research would be able contradict it with their own data and make it irrelevant.  So, what it comes down to is assuming a vast conspiracy in the scientific community based entirely on an interpretation of two e-mails that sound like they vaguely might be talking about intentionally altering data.  Though I am sure you need a healthy dose of anti-science bias and/or paranoia to sow those particular seeds.

Oh yeah, and in case it wasn't clear from the video why the "decline" in tree ring data needed to be hidden
Penn State scientist Michael Mann "said his trick, or 'trick of the trade,' for the Nature chart was to combine data from tree-ring measurements, which record world temperatures from 1,000 years ago until 1960, with actual temperature readings for 1961 through 1998" because "scientists have discovered that, for temperatures since 1960, tree rings have not been a reliable indicator." Jones has also stated that it is "well known" that tree ring data "does not show a realistic trend of temperature after 1960,"
Also note on that webpage that the mainstream media is actually lending this idiocy some credence, assuming that the euphoria and hysteria over the e-mails actually have enough basis in reality to merit mentioning the completely irrational reasons for said euphoria and hysteria.  Seriously, what is wrong with this country?

I'll end by laughing at a relatively meek excerpt on the issue from the Washington Post (via Media Matters):
The e-mails don't say that: They don't provide proof that human-caused climate change is a lie or a swindle.
But they do raise hard questions. In an effort to control what the public hears, did prominent scientists who link climate change to human behavior try to squelch a back-and-forth that is central to the scientific method? Is the science of global warming messier than they have admitted?

Clue #1:  If the back-and-forth you are talking about is e-mails, then I'm not sure what scientific method you are talking about.  If the back-and-forth you are talking about are some unknown, nameless folks who have evidence contrary to the prominent scientists doing alleged squelching, one would think that it wouldn't matter because the squelched folks still have evidence.  Having a back-and-forth with someone with no evidence to support their opinion is not the scientific method.  Preventing a back-and-forth from occurring with someone who has evidence supporting their opinion is only delaying the inevitable if adhering to the scientific method (because that evidence will just be found by someone else eventually).
Clue #2:  All science is pretty damn messy in general, and by far messier than most people believe.  It's not necessarily the scientists' fault that the general public isn't aware of this; it's more the fault of the public for not being either acquainted first-hand with scientific research, or at least passingly familiar with the basic philosophy of science and how it applies practically.  They simply have an overly idealistic view of how science works.  The question is whether the science behind the idea of global warming is messier than the science behind other established scientific concepts. 
And it's going to take a hell of a lot more than two stolen and misinterpreted e-mails to make such a question a particularly serious one.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No marriage for you!

Good news everyone!  The tyranny of the majority has ruled against fairness and inequality in the name of their own personal disgust at people different from them yet again!  Everybody celebrate!
Maine voters repealed a state law Tuesday that would have allowed same-sex couples to wed, dealing the gay rights movement a heartbreaking defeat in New England, the corner of the country most supportive of gay marriage.
And here I was almost starting to think that there were islands of rationality in our country.  I was almost getting to the point where I could have faith in humanity again. Really, I should just be embarrassed that I could ever humor such outlandish fantasies!
Gay marriage has now lost in every single state — 31 in all — in which it has been put to a popular vote. Gay-rights activists had hoped to buck that trend in Maine — known for its moderate, independent-minded electorate — and mounted an energetic, well-financed campaign.
Just goes to show that you can't fight bigotry by throwing money at it.  It doesn't matter what you say or how often you say it; the people who voted yes on this had already made their minds and no amount of pleading with them or arguing them will change their gut feeling that being gay is just wrong.
Five other states have legalized gay marriage — starting with Massachusetts in 2004, and followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa — but all did so through legislation or court rulings, not by popular vote. In contrast, constitutional amendments banning gay marriage have been approved in all 30 states where they have been on the ballot.
Well, if there are "activist judges" out there after all, let me just say to you:  thank you.
The defeat left some gay-marriage supporters bitter
At this point, when it comes to gay-marriage supporters in this country, "bitter" is a pre-existing condition.  Any guesses why?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm in it for that sweet, sweet coveting

So, on the New Humanist website I took a quiz to figure out what kind of humanist I am (technically not one, that may be the problem here).  The options are Happy, Hedonist, Hounded, or Hardline.  From the options for some of the questions, you can tell which questions would result in you getting a result of "hardline":  ridiculous overreactions to anything the slightest bit religious in nature.  The article is tagged "comedy" so I probably shouldn't read too much into any of it, but in the text for my results (hedonist, bitches!) something peculiar stuck out to me.

You are one of life’s enjoyers, determined to get the most you can out of your brief spell on this glorious planet. What first attracted you to atheism was the prospect of liberation from the Ten Commandments, few of which are compatible with a life of pleasure. You play hard and work quite hard, have a strong sense of loyalty and a relaxed but consistent approach to your philosophy. You can’t see the point of abstract principles and probably wouldn’t lay down your life for a concept, though you might for a friend. Something of a champagne humanist, you admire George Bernard Shaw for his cheerful agnosticism and pursuit of sensual rewards, and your Hollywood hero is Marlon Brando, who was beautiful (for a while), irascible and aimed for goodness in his own tortured way. You adored the humanist London bus slogan (“There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life”) and are delighted that wild young comedians like Stewart Lee, Christina Martin and Ricky Gervais share your full-blooded rejection of religion. Sometimes you might be tempted to allow your own pleasures to take precedence over your ethics. But everyone is striving for that elusive balance between the good and the happy life. You’d probably better open another bottle and agree that for you there’s no contest.
Did you see the bolded statement?  I should hope so, otherwise all my hard work changing its font was for naught.  The rest of the statement makes sense but the bolded statement feeds into a peculiar argument that atheists are often faced with:  that they became atheists for the sake of freeing themselves from strict moral codes.  It is also shows a certain amount of reverence for Ten Commandments that is slightly strange even within the context of Christianity but even moreso when this statement is offered on an atheist site.

First off, the Ten Commandments (as they are commonly rendered) aren't that restrictive.  Especially if you are an atheist, thus making the first four of the commandments moot.  Don't kill/murder, don't steal/kidnap, respect your parents, don't bear false witness, don't covet, and don't commit adultery.  Only if you assume "bear false witness" to include any form of lying (rather than a false accusation) are they particularly strict.  Don't get me wrong, I think that "thou shalt not covet" may in fact be impossible to keep, depending on what one means by "covet".  Is it "I would like me some of that" kind of desire, or does it have to involve actively plotting and obsessing over how you could obtain the coveted object/person for yourself for a significant period of time?  Aside from those potential issues, and the fact that the "honor thy father and mother" commandment does not provide for the possibility that the father and mother and undeserving of even faint, mumbled "thanks," I find it really hard to see how a hedonist, as described in the text and as conceived in our culture at large, breaks those commandments.  A hedonist is someone tries to satisfy their urges, true, but if they did so by stealing, killing, or getting some jollies by accusing their neighbor of being a witch, "hedonist" is an insufficient label.  The label "sociopath" would be more appropriate at that point.  Granted, coveting and adultery do fall firmly within the hedonism tent.  Yet so does sleeping around when unmarried, masturbating, drinking and eating to satiation and beyond, sleeping in 'til noon, and slacking off during the rest of the day when there is work to be done.  And yet there is nothing in those commandments rebuking such behavior.  Sure, it runs afoul of the seven deadly sins, but that's something else entirely.  The fact is that the ten commandments are either ridiculous nuisance rules that everyone violates, rules against the most profound and obvious infractions, or other rules pertaining to worship (that believers may or may not accidentally violate).  Breaking all of them would make you a monster, breaking a few of them makes you human, and yet you could still be a horrible human being without violating one, since it is hardly a comprehensive moral code.

On the topic of atheists becoming atheists for the freedom to do as they please, let me once again state that is most assuredly not the reason that I became an atheist personally, that I know absolutely who claims that this was their reason for becoming an atheist, and that the prospect does not actually make sense.  No theist is told that they chose their particular brand of religion due to trying to avoid certain restrictions placed on behavior by other possible choices for a religion to adhere to.  And no person should be foolish enough to both believe that another religion may be correct but to refuse to believe in it just so that they can act in a way that that religion would forbid and that is predicted to be punished by the particular supernatural arrangement that you partially believe in.  Not believing that the religion is correct in the first place needs to precede the decision to not follow that religion's behavioral requirements for anyone who isn't seriously deranged.

So, having said all this, I am now left to simply ponder why such a sentiment, rife with misconceptions about atheists in general, ex-Christians in particular, would be used on a humanist website.  I am hoping that it is just some aspect of a "comedy" I don't quite understand.  Wouldn't be the first time.

[Edit:  I suppose I should note that aside from the bolded phrase being crazy, and the fact that I do not being labeled a "hedonist" due to negative connotations of the word, that the description is pretty accurate for me.  I do like the slogan "There is probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life," though I refuse to obey the latter part of the sentence.  And I do like the fact that there are a several openly anti-religion voices in the media, especially comedy.  They got me on those points.  Do share your own opinions on such matters to see whether the description in the results is more or less a glorified horoscope.]

Friday, October 9, 2009

So "conservative Christian" was an oxymoron afterall...

[Why else would they feel compelled to construct an explicitly conservative Bible?]
I first heard about this at (where else?) Pharyngula.  That bastion of all that is sane and rational about modern day American conservative known only as "Conservapedia" has decided to make a conservative translation of the Bible.  If that sounds ridiculous to you, good.  It's about to get outright hilarious.

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning are, in increasing amount:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ

  • lack of precision in modern language

  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one. 

Yes, apparently the Bible has been gravely affected by the liberal media conspiracy.  So what about all of those other conservatives who do not dwell in the intertubes, who believe that this liberally biased tome is the Word of God and yet are still conservative?  Were they tricked?  Or did they just secretly know that those passages that subtly try to contradict their very belief system aren't real and can be ignored safely?
And all of those three things do seem like reasonable things to consider sources of error.  But....
But the third -- and largest -- source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate.[1]
[Yes, the original was bolded].
Problem:  THAT TRANSLATION IS BIASED!  Solution: bias it in a way that you are happier with!
Please note that if you replace the word "translation" with the word "news coverage" above, then the solution is Fox News.  Just to give you a concrete example.

As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[2]
  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots";[5] using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospel
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."

1.  That's a sufficiently vague way of phrasing what sounds effectively like "No liberals in the translational area, please".
2.  Yeah.  We don't want to be girly-men.  As for women, they can just go fuck themselves.  In a lady-like fashion, of course.
3.  I love the phrase "intellectual force".  I don't know why, but it tickles me.  And I think the way to go about not dumbing down the Bible is this:  make it as vague and incomprehensible as possible.  If every verse doesn't sound like a Zen riddle, then you are failing it, and must start all over.  I believe I am more than qualified on this matter, having recently received my PhD in incoherence (and a Master's in pseudo intellectualism).
4.  Apparently, all those people who are trying to understand the "intellectual force" of Christianity cannot possibly be trusted to understand that words have multiple definitions.  (Granted, it's not always clear which definition is the relevant one...)  Also, the idea of conservative words is hilarious.  They link to an article of "best new conservative words" and basically just take credit for a bunch of words they like and that they think relates to/describes conservatism or could be used to insult liberals.  At the bottom of the page, they claim "accountability" as a conservative word/concept.  Why?  Who knows.  Especially since the word itself first appeared in the 15-fucking-30's.  The only way it makes sense is if they simply claiming these things as their own because it is the things they support (and therefore things that liberals do not and are concepts that are exclusively theirs, obviously).
5. WTF does the census have to do with anything?  And...can people really not understand that "cast[ing] lots" would be a form of gambling? This really does not bode well for number all.
6.  The very real existence of the Devil and Hell...(?)  You do realize that, just because you say it, doesn't make it so...right?  But I really do hope that the conservative Bible makes the "logic" of Hell as explicit as they can.  It seems to be a point of much focus for them, so it would be real nice to clear that up as much as possible.
7.  "FULL FREE MARKET MEANING".  Presumably, they will need to disappear the following verses:
Matthew 19:21-24.  Mark 10:21-25.  Luke 18:22-25.(Same basic passage, which will be important a little later).
8.  Here is what a honest people would have for a goal: " excluding the later-inserted passages that are not authentic".
What conservapedia has for a goal:  " excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic".  Obviously, the passages that were added later, not authentic, but aren't liberal are perfectly acceptable.
9.  What the hell is the point of that, and how do they intend to pull it off?  Start off a few of the books with the disclaimer that Mark and John were awesome and nice and would believe anything "open-minded"?
10.  Liberals wordy?  News to me (...)
(This too runs afoul of #3.)
a Conservative Bible could become a text for public school courses
I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe I should just compromise and scream.
liberals will oppose this effort, but they will have to read the Bible to criticize this, and that will open their minds
'Libruls haven't read the Bible lolololololol'  Because obviously there aren't any Christians or former Christians   among the liberal.  The Bible had liberal bias translated into it by people who couldn't be bothered to read the Bible or care about it, because a Bible that was tailored to cater to liberal sensibilities is obviously something that only conservatives could be expected to read and care about.

First Example - Liberal Falsehood

The earliest, most authentic manuscripts lack this verse set forth at Luke 23:34:[7]
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Is this a liberal corruption of the original? This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible.

"This does not appear in other Gospels" is a fantastic reason to exclude a verse.  Just fantastic.  Applying this principle across the board will definitely result in a "concise" Conservative Bible.  Though it may be a little redundant. With regards to the claim about "authentic manuscripts lack[ing] the verse", all I could find was this, which claims (also without much evidence, honestly) that the original manuscripts in Greek contain the verse but several translations omitted portions of it, the assumed motivation was unwillingness to forgive the Jews.  Fight conspiracy with conspiracy.

At Luke 16:8, the NIV describes an enigmatic parable in which the "master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly." But is "shrewdly", which has connotations of dishonesty, the best term here? Being dishonestly shrewd is not an admirable trait.
The better conservative term, which became available only in 1851, is "resourceful". The manager was praised for being "resourceful", which is very different from dishonesty. Yet not even the ESV, which was published in 2001, contains a single use of the term "resourceful" in its entire translation of the Bible.

Way to bitch about them not using your synonym of choice (even though a positive but direct synonym to "shrewd" would be "clever", but whatever).  Also, shouldn't the word "dishonest" in the quote itself be a good indication that "shrewd" having "connotations of dishonesty" is actually the fucking point?

Socialistic terminology permeates English translations of the Bible, without justification. This improperly encourages the "social justice" movement among Christians.
For example, the conservative word "volunteer" is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word "comrade" is used three times, "laborer(s)" is used 13 times, "labored" 15 times, and "fellow" (as in "fellow worker") is used 55 times.

Those words are only "socialist" in the paranoid fever dreams of rabid anti-communist hystericists.  And, also considering the verses I mentioned up above, the teachings of Jesus himself give more traction to the "social justice movement among Christians" [scare quotes removed] than some words that are vaguely "connected" to socialism being in the text could possibly do alone.

And now Colbert has picked up on the nonsense and alerted his merry mob across the nation about the project.

[I will link to the video instead of embedding it because the embedding for the video won't f#@$%$!ucking work].

He's not going to get his wish anytime soon. I doubt Conservapedia is going to allow any new users to join or
allow any edits at all for at least a week or so with the potential flood of Colbert-directed e-vandals headed their way.  Assuming that one of them would have seen the Colbert Report that is...

Best part?  The guy making sure all of this happens is Big Man Andy Schafly himself!  I would have assumed it was an elaborate hoax in any other situation.  With Andy calling the shots on this, the only way that this isn't completely hilarious is if Conservapedia itself has been a hoax all along.  Admittedly, not too far-fetched.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Liability to your own side

Ahhhh, politics.  Things have been getting crazy ever since Obama got into office.  Collective political discourse is becoming more hysterical, irrational, and...whatever you would call Joe Wilson (surlier?).  Most of the blame, I place firmly on the shoulders of the Republicans.  Well, actually, it's not really blame.  All of the things described before are a clear sign of desperation; a clear and disturbing attempt to regain attention and credibility in the eyes of the credulous by any means necessary.  If it involves convincing a bunch of people that Obama is going to turn America into a totalitarian regime by next Tuesday, so be it.

Here's one of many problems however:  you need to address ridiculous claims only with ridicule or serious rebuttals that are actually pertinent to the claims.  Trying to divine something about the person's character that isn't obviously linked to the talking points being dealt with is only a practice in shooting yourself in the foot.

The following quote is from a comment left on the Media Matters website (which is excellent, by the way).  Sadly, I do not know the exact thread or the commenter so I cannot give it proper attribution.
Can't a person disagree with Obama without being called a racist
Sure people can freely disagree with Obama without being called a racist. But if you:
Don't believe Obama is a US citizen.
Believe Obama is the anti-Christ.
Belive Obama is a fascist/socialist/marxist/communist
Don't want your children to view a speech by the black man encouraging staying in school and setting goals.
Cry at a town hall that you want your country back or say that this isn't the country you remember due to the black man being in the White House.
Then, you're a racist.
For those of you who have read posts on this site in the past, you know that I am an atheist, and that I am a liberal.  But there is something else that I am that doesn't quite have a proper name:  I am a crusader on behalf of using simple, easily understood logic.  If you overstate your case for something, I will find myself either slightly uncomfortable (if the reason for the overstatement is understandable, or if it is not clearly in error) to outright outraged (if I am one of my moods).  What was written above has a slight problem:  none of the things described could logically lead you to conclude that the person who believes them is actually racist.

The people who believe that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. are incredibly ignorant and want to hold onto the idea because they don't want to accept the legitimacy of a President from the opposite party.

The belief that Obama is the anti-Christ is actually not that odd.  Almost any world leader has had their groups of people who didn't care for them speculating wildly about how they may be the anti-Christ.  Because, really, if you are going to speculate wildly, why not go the whole 9 yards?

The claim that Obama is a fascocommusocialist is more of a slur (against liberalism) and an attempt to basically call him a big fat meanie without getting laughed at (as much).  It's been noted that fascist/Nazi comparisons to Bush weren't uncommon.  Granted, I don't think they were nearly as, well, "mainstream"...nor present before his first year of office was even completed.  So I do not dare draw a false equivalence here.  But, as ridiculous, petty, and paranoid as it is, racist it is not, since they are supposed to basically describe their deluded perception of his politics.

Again, the opposition to Obama's speech to students was ridiculous, but it was rooted in fear of "fascism" and somehow indoctrinating school children. I realize how it seems difficult muster such an overblown reaction without Obama's blackness (blackitude?) being a point of relevance, or their having some sort of ulterior motive.  But we have already established in the previous administration that these aren't the most rational people in the world.  Is it really too much to simply take all of this as a reaction to their sudden loss of political influence (and thus their natural fear becoming panic since they feel like they've lost control)?  Isn't that probably more of an issue, rather than the race of the man in the Oval Office?

And the town hall craziness is related to other forms of craziness.

In other words, partisanship is the most parsimonious explanation and is the one that needs to be assumed unless given evidence to assume otherwise (mostly on an individual basis).  To do otherwise, to impose more complex, sinister motives onto people you disagree with is to make dialog devolve further.  And therein lies the problem.

At the risk of sounding incredibly arrogant (moreso than usual?), people who make statements like the above, biting off more than they can chew in order to score political points, damage the cause for other people on their "side".  By impugning their character in an irrational manner, such people give fodder to the "other side", allowing them to play the victim card as well as supplying them with an argument to easily eviscerate and sneer about.  And, above all, it lends credibility to the idea that we are just as good or bad as that other side is.  Every misstep like this makes the idea that the major two political groupings are equivalent in terms of ability to reason, factual basis for their claims, and willingness to actually address the issues fairly.  Things like this, especially if they become too commonly repeated, damage our credibility very quickly, and it is something we cannot let happen.  Although the idea of simply relaxing and letting the Republicans desperately whine due to losing power sounds appealing, we ignore them at our peril.  If we let them continue to whip Americans into a frenzy of fear without rebuttal, they will be right back from their current weakened position.  And if we sink to their level, depending on how far the process goes...I am just not sure that their victory is a bad thing at that point.

When it comes to politeness, that's more arbitrary.  Politeness can go fuck itself for all I care.  It is important in politicians, but everyone is aware that political discourse can be heated.  Being factually correct is more important than being nice about it. Fairness and honesty cannot be manhandled or discarded as essentially unnecessary in such a fashion.  And, above, we simply cannot afford to make leaps in logic and paint the "other side" as evil, when it is much easier, and much more easy to support, to simply call them stupid instead.  And, hopefully, to show them why.

In so many words:  please keep Hanlon's Razor in mind.  Never impugn another person's moral character when the only thing that you can actual argue for is that they are obviously and egregiously wrong. *

*Except for me.  If I make a mistake, you can feel free to assume that it's because I am absolutely evil and it was a deliberate attempt to mislead and bring about the end of Western civilization.

[A note:  I realize that I have used a lot of "us-them" terminology in this post.  I don't apologize for this because that's the nature of the "culture wars".  In the realm of political debate, you put on your Red, Blue, or, God forbid, your Green hat and then grab a battleax before charging into the arena.  At the end of the day, when the hats come off, and you're back in church, at work, at a restaurant, or loitering at a playground for undisclosed reasons, then no-one really gives a fuck anymore about the color of that hat (well, hopefully).  Redhat#03694 who rants about the evils of welfare is now Jim, the always-smiling guy who lets everyone in the office use his stapler.  Bluehat#41251 who lectures about why we should allow gay marriage is now Tabitha, the bookish girl who volunteers at that soup kitchen.   Greenhat#016 is Ralph Nader.  Anyway, the point is that even though I do very much think it is an "us vs. them" situation, the "us" and "them" apply exclusively to the political beliefs, and not as much to the actual people holding them.  But, the distinction is hard to make, I admit.]

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The real miracle will be if someone can read all of this crap...

Okay, in the next few posts that I manage to make I'm hoping to deal with some major religious...things.  Too vague?  I can't really come up with an all-encompassing term to describe them.  The idea of free will, the argument that the universe is fine-tuned (for...something...), the various implications that using naturalism/empiricism/whatever means that you are excluding "other types of explanations," and, in this post, the idea of miracles.  If you can come up with a clear categorical term for these, feel free to mention it.  Otherwise "things" seems sufficient.

So, what is a miracle?  A very rough definition you could use (or that I will effectively be using here) is "anything that could serve as proof of something supernatural at work".  So here are some basic categories:  prophecy, exceptional good fortune,  obvious violation of natural law, and personal revelation.  I'll elaborate on each separately.

As a general rule of thumb, something probably shouldn't be considered a miracle or supernatural if there is an adequate natural explanation for it.  What one considers an adequate natural explanation or simply just desperate handwaving is, I suppose, a personal perspective.  It is sometimes a hard distinction.  Other times, not so much.

Prophecy:  Accurate predictions of the future. Of course, one may need to qualify this a bit.  Predicting that there will be war in the future, that a given person will die, or that the sun will rise tomorrow, even if accurate, should not be considered prophetic.  Why?  Because these things can be concluded inductively, since war, death, and sunrises have effectively been constants in the course of human existence.  In other words, they are obvious.
Other things can mar one's ability to declare something to obviously be prophecy.  The alleged prophecy being only mentioned or recorded after the event that it predicts is one thing that makes the claims questionable.  Another is an excess of metaphor, symbolism, and references to vague (or commonplace) events as indicators of when the predicted occurrence will happen.  A good acid test for a prophecy is to determine whether there is only a select few events that it could possibly be referring to, and if that event could have been predicted before it actually occurred using the prophecy.
Most recorded prophecies suffer from vagueness and overuse of symbols to allow you to interpret the prophecy as possibly predicting an event after it has already occurred by imposing your knowledge of the completed event on those symbols, filling them with meanings after the fact.
So, in order to get a good prophecy with the possibility of being supernatural in origin (rather than being merely psychologically exploitative poetry or  predictions from Captain Obvious), one should make it clear what you are predicting.  Literal language, details that could not be easily guessed, and a specific time frame (and, ideally, location) where it is supposed to occur are necessary.  "A king draped in a mantle of darkness will descend upon the land of the lost sheep, and blood will rain from the sky" as a prediction for a war is bad.  As is "something bad will happen on October 6th" or "a building will fall in Canada".  In the first example, if you don't take it literally, you can make it mean anything you want with the basic format "bad authority hurts helpless things".  The second is too vague to predict anything, and the fact that it does not limit itself geographically virtually guarantees accuracy (also not mentioning a year is helpful).  The third is probably the best prediction, save for one key problem:  no time frame at all (well, and not a lot of detail).  With such a prophecy you are just perpetually waiting until the prediction is finally, inevitably confirmed, because there is no way that you can ever be wrong.
One final problem with prophecies:  the self-fulfilling kind.  If a certain prediction relies on human behavior and the humans involved are well aware of the prediction, they may go out of their way to bring it about (or to prevent it from happening, I suppose).  I personally would put the re-establishing of Israel as a country in this category, as an example. 
If you can avoid all of these pitfalls, then there are just two possibilities left:  the predictor has supernatural knowledge or it was a lucky guess.  Determining the probability of guessing such a thing correctly is pretty much all you have left to do, and at that point you can comfortably assume that there is something weird at work.  I'll reference the implications of "proving" the supernatural using such methods at the end.

Exceptional good luck:  This is one is purely weighing probability.  A few examples of this (that are often the sole things the word "miracle" is used to describe in real life) are spontaneously recovering from an illness or disability (cancer, blindness, paralysis) and surviving a catastrophe (fire,plane crash, getting shot).  Other similar things are getting money at just right time, and other fortuitous coincidences.  The only conditions in which I would personally deem spontaneous recovery a miracle is when it is not only unlikely, but when it is seen as near impossible and there is no known biological mechanisms involved that would help explain how it occurred.  The same is at play for survival, but more often than not, the cases of surviving a catastrophe are obviously not miracles.  It is just probability at work.  99 people die in a plane crash and one survives is not evidence of a miracle, but just of that one who did survive being a somehow more ideal position during the crash.  Only if there was a clear violation of the laws of physics or something to that effect does such "luck" become possibly supernatural.  As for coincidences, it is very hard to say.  The improbable is not necessarily impossible, and countless improbable things happen everyday.  Determining whether something is serendipity or simply just a happy consequence of chance is nearly impossible to do, and frankly, as a result, I think it is very hard to use such things as evidence either way.

Obvious violation of natural law:  For a few minutes in downtown Detroit, gravity pulls you up.  The sun suddenly vanishes from a clear sky.  A river turns into blood and is chemically verified as such.  The girl down the street turns into salt.  A city vanishes from the map when it is decimated by a single massive beam of light.  In short, this kind of miracle is the most impressive, and involves things working one way for the rest of recorded human existence, and then suddenly something completely unprecedented and unexplainable happens.  There are still some problems though. 
First off, a violation of natural law that occurs predictably and in a repeated manner is not a violation of natural law but simply an indication that the natural laws as we have formulated them are in error.
Second, if there is no concrete evidence of the event occurring and only eyewitness testimony, it is actually more probable that the event was a case of hallucinations, mass hysteria, or an elaborate lie.  The probability of this being the case decreases with the number of first hand accounts, however.
Finally, an unprecedented or unexplained event does not necessarily mean that it was supernatural in origin.  In other words, it may be that attributing the event to divine agency is God of the gaps thinking and that there may be unknown natural mechanisms behind it that have yet to be thoroughly explored or understood. This applies to all miracles, so in a way miracles aren't as much proof of the supernatural as "unknowns" that may be supernatural.  Furthermore, such unknowns tell us no more about the nature of the supernatural or about any other things involved in the supernatural.  The miracles themselves are the full extent of the supernatural that we could possibly be aware of.
With all that said, there are certainly situations which you couldn't be blamed for taking an incredibly improbable event that is currently unexplained by science (and, ideally, contradictory to it).  These are violations of natural law that you personally witness and experience.  The reasoning for this is given in the description of the "personal revelation" category below.

Personal revelation:  Something common with most of the categories above is that they mostly rely on weighing the chances of an event happening and deeming it unlikely to occur and therefore more likely supernatural (the threshold for this, of course, being debatable).  Another is that they mostly rely on second-hand accounts.  Personal revelation is different, in that it is based on you directly getting a message in some manner from a clearly non-natural source.   You see an angel, or hear the voice of God in your head.
Key point:  other people's personal revelations are irrelevant.  You have no idea about the nature of it.  It could have been a dream, a hallucination, a completely misremembered mundane event, something they saw on T.V. and received as a false memory of their own life, or they could be outright lying to you.  You have no idea whether this is the case for them because you did experience it yourself.  Only having a personal revelation yourself serves as anything more than anecdotal evidence for the purpose of convincing yourself about the veracity of a miracle.  You will be able to know that you are not lying or dreaming, and you have one other key benefit over other people.
You need to assume that you are sane.
In order to function at all, people need to assume that they are not themselves completely insane unless given adequate external evidence that they indeed are (i.e. clear accounts by others about how your perceptions contradict reality).   As a general rule of thumb, though, if your personal revelation would pit you against the well-being of other are either insane or just got a revelation from something/someone who is not worth obeying.  Other than those cases, getting a personal revelation yourself is more than an adequate to believe in the supernatural, even if it isn't necessarily logical for a strict use of the word.

As mentioned before, even if you do come across an actual miracle, it could only prove the supernatural in so far as the miracle itself (i.e. the only aspect of the supernatural that is proven to exist is the miracle in question).  And, also as mentioned before, it is very hard to prove that something is a miracle as much as simply disprove that it occurred by (known) natural processes.  This is essentially what the saying "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" alludes to:  the fact that a miracle would have to almost pull off a miracle in order to even be considered a miracle.  This level of difficulty is often taken as the fault of the mode of naturalistic logic that makes it almost impossible for a miracle to be proven, suggesting that it is an almost deliberate attempt to exclude such things as even a possibility.  I will try to address that basic concept in a later post.

Thank you for your time [staggers off stage]

Friday, October 2, 2009

Did Glenn Beck Rape and Murder a Girl in 1990?

I don't know...could's not impossible... [furtive movement of eyebrows]

All right, some explanation:  a new internet meme arose recently which involves insinuating that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a girl in 1990, often by mentioning it in the form of a question or using other such underhanded tactics.  This is to lampoon Mr. Beck's own use of such tactics.  Just read this little blurb from what may be considered the authority on the subject matter:

This site exists to try and help examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990. We don't claim to know the truth -- only that the rumour floating around saying that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990 should be discussed. So we're going to do our part to try and help get to the bottom of this.

Why won't Glenn Beck deny these allegations? We're not accusing Glenn Beck of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990 - in fact, we think he didn't! But we can't help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations. Why won't he deny that he raped and killed a young girl in 1990?

Anyone seeing the joke yet?  The comedy?   No?  How about in the selection of quotes towards the bottom of the page....[beware:  vulgarity ahead]
-How long before we find out that Sarah Palin is implicated in the alleged 1990 rape and murder of a young girl by Glenn Beck?
-Come clean, Glenn, just come clean. It's the right time now. It is the decent thing for you to do, out of respect for the American people, and if you don't respect them, out of respect for yourself. For the sake of the girl's family, or girls' families, *sniff* think of the families, Glenn, *sobs*, they need just that little bit of closure your confession can give them, just, please, Glenn, think of those poor families *cries* and what you have *cries a bit more* have put them through. I can't ... *breaks down*
-Not only does Google say that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a girl in 1990, it also says that Glenn Beck blows goats. So he's a raping murderer who's into bestiality. Wow, it just gets better for ol' Glennie.
-Why is the MSM not reporting that Glenn Beck might have raped and murdered a girl in 1990? Why are they not investigating these allegations?
-Glenn Beck raping and murdering a girl in 1990: could it be a good thing?
-Guys, this is getting kind of scary. I just did another Lexis-Nexis search, and there is not one record of the statement "Glenn Beck did not rape and murder a girl today" in all of the records for 1990. It is possible, then, that he raped and killed as many as 365 1/4 girls in 1990. We're through the looking glass here folks.
Gotta admit, the last one was actually pretty funny.  See the comedy now?  Do you see the point?   If so, then you obviously deserve some kind of medal, because so many people fucking missed the point of this that the website needed to post the purpose of all of this satiric libel at the bottom.  

Notice: This site is parody/satire. We assume Glenn Beck did not rape and murder a young girl in 1990, although we haven't yet seen proof that he didn't. But we think Glenn Beck definitely uses tactics like this to spread lies and misinformation.
Read the last sentence again. That's the point. Read it a third time and ignore the name of the site itself, because anyone who believes that we're trying to actually get people to believe Glenn Beck raped and/or murdered is *whoosh* missing the entire point. So don't be dumb like a lot of people are. I greatly expanded this text because so many people *read* it, and *still* didn't understand.

Granted, I was not sure myself what the point of this particular joke was at first, or if it was a joke, until I had happened across the main page of that website.  Why?  Because I came across sources like this first. 
 What evidence is there that Glenn Beck raped someone? Well, there's a "police report" that has been released and has shown up everywhere from Reddit, to the Daily Kos, to the Democratic Underground among other places....The whole point here is to simply repeat the words "rape," "murder," and "Glenn Beck" enough so that people who don't pay attention will falsely associate them -- and the only piece of "evidence" presented has been a "police report" with unknown origins.Of course, no one could ever just create a police report from scratch or alter one to put someone else's name in -- or, so you would think.
 He then proceeds to put up copies of the photoshopped police report that he himself photoshopped so that it is now Bill Clinton and Barack Obama's name listed as the culprit instead of Glenn Beck's.  While turnabout is fair play, it would be nice to see that such a thing was done without robbing the original police report of its context:  namely, making fun of the mostly unevidenced conspiracy theorist kind of claims that Beck makes, and that the parody is itself supposed to be in an obvious manner.   He does this in order to make the exact point about the parody (that the evidence for it is pathetic) by being completely oblivious to the fact that that was the entire purpose of it.   Another site linked to him, with the title of "The Left Creates Fake Glenn Beck Rape Document.  You Stay Classy, Libs!."  I have to say this at least:  when the left creates a crusade against a popular figure of the opposite political affiliation using specious or outright fake evidence to claim that they are guilty of heinous crime, at least they're doing it in a tongue-in-cheek fashion!  (Well...some of them are at least...)

 RightWingNews cited this article for its own, which had this statement:
The attack on Glenn Beck continues by the internet crowd calling for a boycott of Beck’s advertisers. Can we now boycott the internet for making false accusations? The accusation that “Glenn Beck raped and murdered a girl in 1990” has apparently gone… well, viral. 
Aside from obviously not getting the point of the "false accusation"  (despite later referring to it as a "viral joke"), the analogy is bad.  Boycotting the individual websites that spread misinformation would be analogous to boycotting the Glenn Beck program.  Boycotting the entire internet in response to some "false accusations" about Glenn Beck is more akin to deciding to boycott all of television because Glenn Beck is an insane liar.  They then mention briefly something that I agree with:  that many people [might] believe that this is true and that this isn't a good thing.  People not understanding that it is a joke is quite clearly a problem.  As we can see by the presumably objectionable quote they put at the end of the article:
"With all this controversy, there must be something to it". hamobu
Heh.  So true.  So true.

While there are a few things that I find objectionable about this particular meme (such as the possibility of accidentally making people believe it is true, or the fact that it is basically making light of "rape and murder"), the message that it is trying to convey, by showing Beck's (and several other media members') illogic for what it is, is something that I can appreciate.

Update:  the joke loses some originality points with me because apparently it is just a rephrased version of a joke done by Gilbert Gottfried at the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget, which is shown here.  They also explain in the link that Glenn Beck is trying to get the taken down due to defamation in the domain name (and that this legal action will only bring more attention to it).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Amazing Pointed Counterpoint

Let me state the bottom line of this at the very beginning. When you frame an argument as if it were a counterargument against a popular idea and, in fact, construct your own rendition of it in a manner parallel to the popular form, except slightly nudge it to show that the same reasoning can be applied to reach alternate conclusions, it is then dishonest to turn around and discuss this counterargument as an argument in of itself.  It is not a positive case, since it was only concocted to show fault in the original argument and its conclusions, and it should not be presented as if it were an actual argument for the point it reached, rather than an attempt to undermine the credibility of a similarly structured case which reached an opposing conclusion.  But, this does not stop people, sadly.  Whether due to an acute case of memory loss, or profound dishonesty, there are people out there who will first poke fun at an argument that they disagree with by showing how easily it could also be used to either argue an opposing point, and then run with this counterargument by completely ignoring that its purpose was to undermine or outright negate a previous argument, which they will also subsequently sweep under the rug.  The previous argument will never come up again, since that context needs to vanish in order for the illusion of a good point to be made (in contrast to the actual "good refutation/parody/usurpation of a bad point" which is what was actually presented).

With that stated, it may be easier for me to point out the key problem with the following essay by Paul Vitz (author of "Faith of the Fatherless").  Allow to make one more point before we move on:  Paul Vitz is either a psychodynamicist (modern day iteration of psychoanalysis) or a more standard psychologist who simply puts an awful lot of a weight on Freudian psychology (you know: defense mechanisms, id-ego-superego, subconscious desires, stages of psychosexual development [oral, anal, phallic, etc.]).  Here's the thing about that:  Freudian psychology has more or less been stripped down to a few shreds that are currently relevant to modern day psychology as we know it.  Freud helped very much in its formation and helped establish "theories" in the sense of elaborate hypotheses based mostly on his own observations, but which were the only things that psychology had that even approached some sort of methodology and consistency at the time.  But, since that time, we've been able to change things a bit.  Freud's theories are still somewhat relevant to therapy but they are nowhere near as authoritative as they once were.  Psychology has since become somewhat more scientific, while Freud's theories were more philosophical (even if his philosophy was supposed to be applied and was grounded in some semi-concrete observation).  Freud, though still rightfully acknowledged for serving as a forefather in the field, is not as relevant to modern psychology as one would think given knowledge of his incredible influence on pop psychology and literary interpretation to this day.  But the most significant thing that is actually still relevant is the precise shared terminology that he established for many things pertinent to his theories.  Aside from that, historical relevance, and relevance to the one school of psychology specifically devoted to using the psychotherapy techniques he developed, he is not as much of an authority on present day knowledge as one would expect a person of such historic fame and influence to be.

Okay, that was my preface.  On to Vitz's essay.
At the very least such a project puts many psychologists on the defensive and gives them some taste of their own medicine. Psychologists are always observing and interpreting others and it is high time that some of them learn from their own personal experience what it is like to be put under the microscope of psychological theory and experiment.
Regardless, I hope to show that the psychological concepts used quite effectively to interpret religion are two- edged swords that can also be used to interpret atheism. Sauce for the believer is equally sauce for the unbeliever.
Now, here is where he establishes that the main point of this essay, if I interpret those paragraphs correctly, is to show that some psychologists arguments against religion are going to be shown to be a "pot calling the kettle black" kind of argument.  He's going to hoist them by their petards.  That the argument cuts both ways.  Insert other assorted metaphors that suggest that he is focused on showing that concepts in question can be used to reflect on any party poorly in the same manner.
First, I assume that the major barriers to belief in God are not rational but-in a general sense- can be called psychological. I do not wish to offend the many distinguished philosophers-both believers and nonbelievers-in this audience, but I am quite convinced that for every person strongly swayed by rational argument there are many, many more affected by nonrational psychological factors.
Assuming the decisions to be non-rational from the outset?  Why would you care about an argument about your particular beliefs that starts out with that assumption rather than actually establishing it to be a fact?  Directed at either believers or non-believers, that is a bit of a joke, honestly.
The human heart-no one can truly fathom it or know all its deceits, but at least it is the proper task of the psychologist to try. Thus, to begin, I propose that neurotic psychological barriers to belief in God are of great importance. What some of these might be I will mention shortly. For believers, therefore, it is important to keep in mind that psychological motives and pressures that one is often unaware of, often lie behind unbelief.
In the first sentence, I believe he had a typo and typed "psychologist" instead of "cardiologist".  Unless I simply am making the mistake of taking him too literally, considering that the sentence would have made just as much since if he had used the word "mind" instead of going into dead metaphor territory.  As for the rest:  the suspense is killing me.
Further, as a corollary it is reasonable to propose that people vary greatly in the extent to which these factors are present in their lives. Some of us have been blessed with an upbringing, a temperament, social environment, and other gifts that have made belief in God a much easier thing than many who have suffered more or have been raised in a spiritually impoverished environment or had other difficulties with which to cope. Scripture makes it clear that many children-even into the third or fourth generation-suffer from the sins of their fathers, including the sins of fathers who may have been believers. In short, my first point is that some people have much more serious psychological barriers to belief than others, a point consistent with the scriptures' clear statement that we are not to judge others, however much we are called to correct evil.  
My second point as qualification is that in spite of serious difficulties to belief, all of us still have a free choice to accept God or reject Him. This qualification is not in contradiction to the first. Perhaps a little elaboration will make this clearer. One person, as a consequence of his particular past, present environment, etc., may find it much harder than most people to believe in God. But presumably, at any moment, certainly at many times, he can choose to move toward God or to move away. One man may start with so many barriers that even after years of slowly choosing to move toward God he may still not be there. Some may die before they reach belief. We assume they will be judged-like all of us- on how far they traveled toward God and how well they loved others-on how well they did with what they had. Likewise, another man without psychological difficulties at all is still free to reject God, and no doubt many do. Thus, although the ultimate issue is one of the will and our sinful nature, it is still possible to investigate those psychological factors that predispose one to unbelief, that make the road to belief in God especially long and hard.
This is interesting. First paragraph is the suggestion that those who are experiencing hardship have barriers against believing in God and those who are well off do not.  This makes sense if people perceive things in the view that they are (semi-)rationally assessing their situation and how it pertains to several perspectives on the nature of God. It depends on whether people are using their own experiences to endlessly debate themselves over the problem of evil.Though that may happen occassionally, I doubt it has too much relevance. Attribute it to a greater plan that He has in store and move on as best you can.  When they do so successfully, it will strengthen their faith all the more.

Second paragraph declares that it matters not as much whether one believes in God as much as simply making steps to try to "move towards Him".  Which is both adorable and makes me wonder if he is implying imperfect conversions getting the effect of full conversion on occasion, or if he is claiming that good works can get you salvation as well.  Depends on what the vague phrase "move towards God" actually means.  Need I mention that either idea is probably heretical to wide swathes of Christendom?
I am not going into this to bore you with parts of my life story, but to note that through reflection on my own experience it is now clear to me that my reasons for becoming and for remaining an atheist-skeptic from about age 18 to 38 were superficial, irrational, and largely without intellectual or moral integrity. Furthermore, I am convinced that my motives were, and still are, commonplace today among intellectuals, especially social scientists.
Anecdotes.  He is giving us the full Freud experience here.  I am convinced that, though I am not an intellectual, my personal motives for being an atheist are not superficial, not (wholly) irrational, not without intellectual or moral integrity.  However, considering that this is simply a subjective self-assessment though (much like your's is the same), this proves not a thing.

Terribly middle class. Further, besides escape from a dull, and according to me unworthy, socially embarrassing past, I wanted to take part in, in fact to be comfortable in, the new, exciting, even glamorous, secular world into which I was moving. I am sure that similar motives have strongly influenced the lives of countless upwardly mobile young people in the last two centuries. Consider Voltaire, who moved into the glittery, aristocratic, sophisticated world of Paris, and who always felt embarrassed about his provincial and nonaristocratic origin; or the Jewish ghettos that so many assimilating Jews have fled, or the latest young arrival in New York, embarrassed about his fundamentalist parents. This kind of socialization pressure has pushed many away from belief in God and all that this belief is associated with for them.
I am sorry.  My only response is to giggle at the idea of a "glamorous, secular world."  Mostly because I am imagining him becoming a runway model.  Well, I guess begrudgingly also mention that people could easily become embarrassed about any part of their background in the right circumstances.  For instance, if you feel embarrassed for growing up in a poor family or in a city, should anyone be held at fault?  Or does it take little to no provocation for people to want to reinvent themselves when in a new social context?

Specific socialization. Another major reason for my wanting to become an atheist was that I desired to be accepted by the powerful and influential scientists in the field of psychology. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by my professors in graduate school. As a graduate student I was thoroughly socialized by the specific "culture" of academic research psychology.....

In this environment, just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I also learned to "think" like a proper psychologist by putting on the right-that is, atheistic-ideas and attitudes.
I know that psychology has a lot of atheists involved in it, but if they are teaching one to adopt explicitly atheistic ideas, you should complain and address those things directly.  It is outrageous.  But, the arguments I believe you address in this essay originate from Freud, whose stance on religious matters is taught with an even more cautious "that's just what he thought" than his actual theories, if it is even touched on

Without going into details it is not hard to imagine the sexual pleasures that would have to be rejected if I became a serious believer. And then I also knew it would cost me time and some money. There would be church services, church groups, time for prayer and scripture reading, time spent helping others. I was already too busy. Obviously, becoming religious would be a real inconvenience.
Ah yes, the classic "atheist for hedonism's sake".   Granted, I do think that not having to go to church is an added benefit to being an atheist, but I could still believe in a God and do that.  And of course, God knows that you don't have to swear off teh sexual pleasures if you become Christian.  Some might debate how good of a Christian you are depending on what you do.  But even being a bad Christian is better than being an atheist, save in whatever pocket dimension of our country you were residing in.

In summary, because of my social needs to assimilate, because of my professional needs to be accepted as part of academic psychology, and because of my personal needs for a convenient lifestyle-for all these needs atheism was simply the best policy. Looking back on these motives, I can honestly say that a return to atheism has all the appeal of a return to adolescence.
Yes, atheism has the appeal of adolescence because your atheism was adolescent.  Somehow I doubt that in a country consisting of 80% Christians that there are many other cases of someone being subtly coerced into atheism due to peer pressure.  Not that it couldn't happen, but that it is reflective of a level of social influence that simply isn't possessed by atheists save in the remote microcosm that you allege to have found yourself in X number of years ago.

As is generally known, the central Freudian criticism of belief in God is that such a belief is untrustworthy because of its psychological origin. That is, God is a projection of our own intense, unconscious desires; He is a wish fulfillment derived from childish needs for protection and security. Since these wishes are largely unconscious, any denial of such an interpretation is to be given little credence. It should be noted that in developing this kind of critique, Freud has raised the ad hominem argument to one of wide influence.
It's not as much an ad hominem argument as an insulting attempt to see why a group of people thinks the way they do based almost exclusively on speculation (and, since it involves "unconscious desires," unfalsifiable speculation at that) and suggests that what they think is wrong because of said possible explanation.  In short: it's a bullshit argument if taken as anything more than a possible explanation.

In the second paragraph Freud makes another strange claim, namely that the oldest and most urgent wishes of mankind are for the loving protecting guidance of a powerful loving Father, for divine Providence. However, if these wishes were as strong and ancient as he claims, one would expect pre-Christian religion to have strongly emphasized God as a benevolent father. In general, this was far from the case for the pagan religion of the Mediterranean world-and, for example, is still not the case for such popular religions as Buddhism and for much of Hinduism. Indeed, Judaism and most especially Christianity are in many respects distinctive in the emphasis on God as a loving Father.
Interesting though that many pagan religions supposedly put some degree of emphasis on a protective and life-giving Mother entity.  As for Buddhism and Hinduism: it depends on whether you view avatars and buddhas as protective father-figures or not, making this come down to how liberally you are willing to apply the "protective and loving father" archetype.  As a result, I agree that it is a strange claim if not stretched nearly to the limit of figurative language.

There is one other somewhat different interpretation of belief in God which Freud also developed, but although this has a very modest psychoanalytic character, it is really an adaptation of Feuerbachian projection theory. This is Freud's relatively neglected interpretation of the ego ideal. The super-ego, including the ego ideal is the "heir of the Oedipus complex," representing a projection of an idealized father-and presumably of God the Father (see Freud, 1923, 1962, pp. 26-28; p. 38).
The difficulty here is that the ego ideal did not really receive great attention or development within Freud's writings. Furthermore, it is easily interpreted as an adoption of Feuerbach's projection theory. Thus, we can conclude that psychoanalysis does not in actuality provide significant theoretical concepts for characterizing belief in God as neurotic
No, I am not sure what he is talking about here and if you know, please share.  But the last sentence is interesting.  Why?  Because of the idea of using "neurotic" as a classification, a distinctly Freudian term which, to reflect upon what I said about Freud earlier, is no longer used in modern day psychology.  "Psychotic," neurotic's evil twin in Freudian psychology, is used a bit more often however but also no longer in a dichotomous method of classifying disorders.  It is because the terms "psychotic" and "psychosis" have been taken on to describe disorders or episodes that involve hallucinations or delusions whereas neurosis...who the hell knows what it is that neurosis is supposed to actually describe.

In the case of male personality development, the essential features of this complex are the following: Roughly in the age period of three to six the boy develops a strong sexual desire for the mother. At the same time the boy develops an intense hatred and fear of the father, and a desire to supplant him, a "craving for power." This hatred is based on the boy's knowledge that the father, with his greater size and strength, stands in the way of his desire. The child's fear of the father may explicitly be a fear of castration by the father, but more typically, it has a less specific character. The son does not really kill the father, of course, but patricide is assumed to be a common preoccupation of his fantasies and dreams. The "resolution" of the complex is supposed to occur through the boy's recognition that he cannot replace the father, and through fear of castration, which eventually leads the boy to identify with the father, to identify with the aggressor, and to repress the original frightening components of the complex.
And here's the feature presentation:  the Oedipus complex.  So beautiful.  It is a complex series of speculated emotions and attitudes that can be unconscious when you are supposed to be in the period where you are actually experiencing them, will not remember them in the future, and may not even have any form of actual behavior that could possibly serve as actual evidence for having the complex in the first place.  It is conveniently undisprovable almost every step of the way.

In short, all human neuroses derive from this complex. Obviously, in most cases, this potential is not expressed in any seriously neurotic manner. Instead it shows up in attitudes toward authority, in dreams, slips of the tongue, transient irrationalities, etc.
I almost forgot that part of Freudian psychology: using things like free association, dream analysis, and "slips of the tongue" to determine what you're really thinking about.  Mostly by using Freud's preconceptions of what people were usually really thinking about and using confirmation bias to zone your interpretations of each individual data point in on your pet theory about the person's pathology.

Now, in postulating a universal Oedipus complex as the origin of all our neuroses, Freud inadvertently developed a straightforward rationale for understanding the wish-fulfilling origin of rejecting God. After all, the Oedipus complex is unconscious, it is established in childhood and, above all, its dominant motive is hatred of the father and the desire for him not to exist, especially as represented by the desire to overthrow or kill the father. Freud regularly described God as a psychological equivalent to the father, and so a natural expression of Oedipal motivation would be powerful, unconscious desires for the nonexistence of God. Therefore, in the Freudian framework, atheism is an illusion caused by the Oedipal desire to kill the father and replace him with oneself. To act as if God does not exist is an obvious, not so subtle disguise for a wish to kill Him, much the same way as in a dream, the image of a parent going away or disappearing can represent such a wish: "God is dead" is simply an undisguised Oedipal wish-fulfillment.
Yes.  We get it.  Nice.  Hoisted by his own petard.  Double-edge sworded.  Sauced like the goose.  Bitch got served.  So we're done here, right?

It is certainly not hard to understand the Oedipal character of so much contemporary atheism and skepticism. Hugh Heffner, even James Bond, with their rejection of God plus their countless girls, are so obviously living out Freud's Oedipal and primal rebellion (e.g., Totem and Taboo). So are countless other skeptics who live out variations of the same scenario of exploitative sexual permissiveness combined with narcissistic self-worship.
James Bond (the fictional character...) and Hugh Heffner are atheists?  Look, they may not be pious, and they may like themselves some ladies, but that hardly means they are rejecting God.  Also, what the fuck is self-worship?  How do you even do that?  Also: suggesting that skeptics are more "narcissistic" and "sexually permissive" are testable predictions.  And I'm not so sure that the results will paint the image of "godless hedonists" that you expect based on your own experience/biased extrapolations.

Now man, not God, is the consciously specified ultimate source of goodness and power in the universe. Humanistic philosophies glorify him and his "potential" much the same way religion glorifies the Creator. We have devolved from one God to many gods to everyone a god. In essence, man-through his narcissism and Oedipal wishes-has tried to succeed where Satan failed, by seating himself on the throne of God. Thanks to Freud it is now easier to understand the deeply neurotic, thoroughly untrustworthy psychology of this unbelief.
This kind of stuff pisses me off.  Saying that anyone thinks that humans are the "ultimate source of goodness and power" is a strawman.  Or at very least ripe for equivocation, when the proper word would have been "only" instead of "ultimate".  Also, we have never "devolved from one God to many gods" on a global scale.  If you are speaking about religious pluralism when saying that, I am disgusted by your xenophobia.  If you are speaking about the history of religion, you should know that polytheism is older than monotheism and never had a "latency" period that I am aware of.  And either way, suggesting "devolve" from one God to many gods is biased, whereas your suggestion that people view humans collectively as gods is not only biased extrapolation, but it is not even wrong.  Why?  Because you are viewing an atheist's perspective of human beings with the same power structure that theist's view the entire universe with.  They see gods at the top, and humans next in line, and thus conclude that if you remove the gods, the humans are now at the top and are therefore the new gods.  But, in reality, we are not viewing ourselves as akin to gods in power due to the absence of gods to be more powerful than us.  We are viewing ourselves as...well...human beings.  Still small on a cosmic scale, still physically frail, still error prone.  To suggest that any significant number of people claim to believe to have a level of power akin to gods solely because gods do not exist is to suggest that we have an inordinately large number of crazy people.

Throughout his life, Voltaire (like Freud) toyed with the idea that he was not his father's son. He apparently felt the desire to be from a higher, more aristocratic family than his actual middle-class background. (A major expression of this concern with having a more worthy father is the play Candide.) In short, Voltaire's hostility to his own father, his religious rejection of God the Father, and his political rejection of the king-an acknowledged father figure-are all reflections of the same basic needs. Psychologically speaking, Voltaire's rebellion against his father and against God are easily interpretable as Oedipal wish fulfillment, as comforting illusions, and therefore, following Freud, as beliefs and attitudes unworthy of a mature mind.
It is around here that he is beating a dead horse and should have quit long ago if the original quoted paragraph was his actual intent.  Also: any form of rebellion against a male authority of any type is Oedipal wish fulfillment?  For fuck's sake...the only way that you could avoid accusations of the Oedipus Complex being at work in that situation is to either be utterly complacent (and therefore not noteworthy) or to hope beyond all hope that you happen to be a country with a matriarchal government.  In addition, I frankly do not see being dissatisfied with one's own social standing to be a form of disliking one's father specifically.  You might as well say that it reflects upon his hatred of his mother, wishing that he had born to another, wealthier womb,  thus suggesting that he didn't have an Oedipus complex and was most likely gay.  It makes as much sense, even if it doesn't make the point you are after.

I am well aware of the fact that there is good reason to give only limited acceptance to Freud's Oedipal theory. In any case, it is my view that although the Oedipus complex is valid for some, the theory is far from being a universal representation of unconscious motivation. Since there is need for deeper understanding of atheism and since I don't know of any theoretical framework-except the Oedipal one-I am forced to sketch out a model of my own, or really to develop an undeveloped thesis of Freud. 
Okay, this all makes sense until one mind-shattering statement:  "I don't know of any theoretical framework-except the Oedipal one".  I really hope he mistyped,  I really hope I misunderstood him, or I really hope that Professor Paul Vitz does not teach psychology.

Instead he makes the simple easily understandable claim that once a child or youth is disappointed in and loses his or her respect for their earthly father, then belief in their heavenly Father becomes impossible. There are, of course, many ways that a father can lose his authority and seriously disappoint a child. Some of these ways-for which clinical evidence is given below-are:

  1. He can be present but obviously weak, cowardly, and unworthy of respect- even if otherwise pleasant or "nice."

  2. He can be present but physically, sexually, or psychologically abusive.

  3. He can be absent through death or by abandoning or leaving the family.

Taken all together these proposed determinants of atheism will be called the "defective father" hypothesis. To support the validity of this approach, I will conclude by providing case history material from the lives of prominent atheists, for it was in reading the biographies of atheists that this hypothesis first struck me.
First of all, this very idea doesn't make sense.  Wouldn't a "defective father" mean that one is more likely to seek out and believe in a better, alternate father figure, in the form of a god or otherwise?  Also, interesting that "defective father" can be anything from a mean father who is present, a not-mean-enough father who is present, or a father who is absent for any reason at all.  In other words, having anything but a perfect father can lead to atheism.  I wonder if one would find that those with fathers who are best qualified for any of the three categories (exceptionally weak, exceptionally abusive, exceptionally not there) were atheists at a higher percentage than those whose fathers were borderline (sorta wimpy, sorta mean, sorta dead).
Also:  yay, case history material/anecdotal evidence!

Specifically, his father was a weak man unable to financially provide for his family. Instead money for support seems to have been provided by his wife's family and others. Furthermore, Freud's father was passive in response to anti-Semitism. Freud recounts an episode told to him by his father in which Jacob allowed an anti-Semite to call him a dirty Jew and to knock his hat off. Young Sigmund, on hearing the story, was mortified at his father's failure to respond, at his weakness.
Vitz later recounts Freud's own strength of personality in comparison to his father which leads to the question: is this a matter of a father's seeming "weakness" objectively leading one to doubt them and therefore doubt skydaddies as well, or is the difference between their respective attitudes and personalities the key?

The connection of Jacob to God and religion was also present for his son. Jacob was involved in a kind of reform Judaism when Freud was a child, the two of them spent hours reading the Bible together, and later Jacob became increasingly involved in reading the Talmud and in discussing Jewish scripture. In short, this weak, rather passive "nice guy," this schlemiel, was clearly connected to Judaism and God, and also to a serious lack of courage and quite possibly to sexual perversion and other weaknesses very painful to young Sigmund.
Which means that he is not rejecting the idea of a divine father based on the incompetence of his own father, but associating his religious father's incompetence with his incompetent father's religion.  Still irrational, still a form of rebellion, but it doesn't have to do with the idea of a divine father but simply to the religion's association to the actual father he didn't care for.

Karl Marx made it clear that he didn't respect his father. An important part in this was that his father converted to Christianity-not out of any religious conviction-but out of a desire to make life easier. He assimilated for convenience. In doing this Marx's father broke an old family tradition.
Again, you seem to be suggesting a rebellion against the actual father who happens to have religion associated with them and therefore not adopting that religion, rather than showing any support for the idea that disrespect for the father will lead to, in the absence of such social milieu as religious affiliations, doubt in a divine father.  Show me an atheist who had a father he hated that was also not religious and that would be awesome.  Showing me that a smaller proportion of Christians have fathers that meet the criteria that you mention than atheists would also be just peachy.  But extrapolating based on the bios of a handful of famous atheists seems more like an exercise in inanity than anything else.

Baron d'Holbach (born Paul Henri Thiry), the French rationalist and probably the first public atheist, is apparently an orphan by the age of 13 and living with his uncle. (From whom he took the new name Holbach.) Bertrand Russell's father died when young Bertrand was 4-years-old; Nietzsche was the same age as Russell when he lost his father; Sartre's father died before Sartre was born and Camus was a year old when he lost his father. (The above biographical information was taken from standard reference sources.) Obviously, much more evidence needs to be obtained on the "defective father" hypothesis. But the information already available is substantial; it is unlikely to be an accident.
But, I will grant, that that is very interesting.  I do wonder what the explanation is.  Suffering enough to make the problem of evil relevant/gaining too much pessimism to accept religious ideas?  Ostracism leading to aversion to the religion of those ostracizing them or preventing conversion via osmosis?  Your defective/non-existent father hypothesis?  I don't know.  I am not even sure if the data you obtained wasn't cherry picked and thus am also not sure if an explanation is even necessary.

The psychology of how a dead or nonexistent father could lay an emotional base for atheism might not seem clear at first glance. But, after all, if one's own father is absent or so weak as to die, or so untrustworthy as to desert, then it is not hard to place the same attribute on your heavenly Father.
Finally, there is also the early personal experience of suffering, of death, of evil, sometimes combined with anger at God for allowing it to happen. Any early anger at God for the loss of a father and the subsequent suffering is still another and different psychology of unbelief, but one closely related to that of the defective father.
Notice how he is still going on?  Notice how he is still talking about this, presenting his own hypothesis, throwing up some scant but vividly detailed evidence, and has now gotten so far in that you have forgotten that the stated purpose of the paper was to show how shallow and vapid the psychologically based argument against religion was?  Brilliant, no?  He can have his cake and bash the opposing cake to bits too!

Let me conclude by noting that however prevalent the superficial motives for being an atheist, there still remain in many instances the deep and disturbing psychological sources as well. However easy it may be to state the hypothesis of the "defective father," we must not forget the difficulty, the pain, and complexity that lie behind each individual case. And for those whose atheism has been conditioned by a father who rejected, who denied, who hated, who manipulated, or who physically or sexually abused them, there must be understanding and compassion. Certainly for a child to be forced to hate his own father-or even to despair because of his father's weaknesses is a great tragedy. After all, the child only wants to love his father. For any unbeliever whose atheism is grounded in such experience, the believer, blessed by God's love, should pray most especially that ultimately they will both meet in heaven. Meet and embrace and experience great joy. If so, perhaps the former atheist will experience even more joy than the believer. For, in addition to the happiness of the believer, the atheist will have that extra increment that comes from his surprise at finding himself surrounded by joy in, of all places, his Father's house.
And there you have it.  He may toss up a few disclaimers here and there, but he proceeds to ignore them himself and decide that, yes indeed, he has made a positive case for why atheism is brought about by petty desires and daddy issues with not a mention of the fact that he was originally trying to do so to refute the case for why religious belief is brought about by petty desires and daddy issues.  He makes sure to sprinkle it with a dash of condescending concern for the atheists, and finally some smultz to really drive the message home.  The message?  "All the atheists need is love!  Then they'll believe!".  Considering that he mentioned "specific socialization" (i.e. peer pressure) as one of the irrational reasons for why he was turned atheist, I wonder if it occurs to him that he is basically suggesting that people try to convert those poor atheists by intentionally using a similar process.  Ehh, whatever.

I am putting my cards on the table:  I am an atheist, I am not around other atheists to pressure me into being one, I am not aware of any local groups that would make one ashamed of religious roots let alone current beliefs, I am not an atheist for the sex life (if I were, I would actually have one...), and my father has always been there, always "strong", and never anything close to abusive.  I have nothing but respect for him, and the very idea that fathers have anything to do with religion or deities at all is thoroughly biased by a Christian-centric view of what religion is and gods are.  Aside from in the Jewish/Christian religion, which you admitted yourself was pretty much the only religion where the god/father comparison was made explicit, the only thing that gods have in common with fathers is that both are deemed to be figures of authority.  Outside of the bizarre construct of the Oedipus complex and the far-reaching conclusions one decides to draw from it, that similarity is more or less irrelevant.  Without evidence for such speculation, save in the form of glorified anecdotes which I myself can supply counterpoints to, I am afraid that your case, even without considering that Freud counters your case as much you counter his, is pathetic.  But don't worry, we'll let you come back to atheism and we'll invite you with open arms and a firm handshake.  Maybe, perhaps, at the surprise of finding love and warmth in your No-Father's House, you will finally be able to see the light.