Thursday, January 29, 2009

The End of Racism: Self-congratulation and a world of oversimplification

Everybody's favorite elusive wingnut, Dinesh D'Souza, has posted something inane for us for the new year! And I thought that he committed suicide after Obama was elected. Maybe he was just getting his drink on.
Recognizing that Obama is untested material, the media has been focusing on the historic significance of Obama’s presidency. Never mind, we hear, that he gave a pedestrian inauguration speech without a single memorable line.
"Memorable" is subjective. But the fact that his presidency is "historical" isn't. Everybody can agree with it, because it is the plain truth. That's why the media focuses on that: to avoid hurting the feelings of you and your ilk, who will be trying your best to point out instances of bias, and play it off like you are unjustly persecuted for the next four to eight years. Of course, your modus operandi tends to be to do that same thing when you actually have impressive political power anyway, so I am not sure why it should matter.
As I watched Obama take the oath of office, I was moved, along with many others, but I also felt a sense of vindication. In 1995 I published a controversial book The End of Racism. The meaning of the title was not that there was no more racism in America. Certainly in a big country one can find many examples of racism. My argument was that racism, which once used to be systematic, had now become episodic. In other words, racism existed, but it no longer controlled the lives of blacks and other minorities.
In other words, you were being simplistic. Racism may be more "episodic", in the sense that it is 1. rarer, 2. less socially acceptable (and thus more covert), and 3. less legally defensible, it still exists enough to influence the self-perception of those who live in environments where racism is implicit in a number of social interactions. And, if this racism is possessed by a person in the right position, it can be stifling and discouraging, even if the event is rare. Sure, their lives are no longer "controlled" by racism, due to the fact that it is a legally rebuked and socially shunned viewpoint in the country as a whole. still can have influence, in much the same way that sexism still has influence in both business and media and affects women's self-perception, despite explicit sexism also being a fringe viewpoint without government and vocal mainstream support. Basically, "episodic" racism isn't no racism.
Indeed racial discrimination could not explain why some groups succeeded in America and why other groups did not.
ORLY? Is this assuming the "systematic racism" you mentioned earlier, or no?
The old civil rights model held that groups at the top of society got there through discrimination. Yet the empirical evidence showed that the two most successful groups in America were Asian Americans and Jews.
And yet that is because they are smaller minority groups, and thus smaller samples, for one. Also, they are predominantly located in different regions of the country than the less fortunate minority groups, like Hispanics and African Americans. Or, more recently, those of Middle Eastern descent, where the racism involved is intermingled with anti-terrorism hysteria. In addition: it's not about getting to the top through discrimination, it is about preventing others who are not like you from getting near the top. It's not about the Presidency, or being a CEO, or being a billionaire. It's about being in government at all, being in high level management, being able to get employed for jobs that you are qualified for and get the same level of payment. The people at the top tend to be the exceptional, natural exceptions to general rules, self-made men (or people with the right connections to those who actually are self-made men). They are not really a good judgment of whether, in general, we are treating any given minority group fairly.
As for African Americans, their position near the bottom rung of the ladder could be better explained by cultural factors than by racial victimization.
It's not the victimization that's the problem, it's their culture that was shaped by that same past victimization that's at fault! Niiiiiiiiiiice.
If groups are hated just for their skin color, then this is irrational discrimination. But if groups provoke hostility on account of their behavior, then this is rational discrimination. The implication of this idea is that it is not racist to be wary of African Americans who behave badly, as long as you are well disposed toward African Americans who conduct themselves admirably.
That's all well and good. Not every criticism of an African American is a critique of an entire race, or inherently racist. But I am sure that your "rational discrimination" could just as easily morph into a "rationalized discrimination" when people get a mighty desire to broaden the definition of "behave badly" from "doing things that are wantonly disruptive and possibly illegal" to "wearing baggy pants" (I believe people in Florida were really pissed off about that a while back).
I may have been ahead of my time, but it now seems that I was not wrong. Here we get to the real significance of Obama’s election and his ascendancy to the presidency.
The real significance? That our country is now non-racist enough so that 53% were willing to vote for a black guy in lieu of voting for more Republicans, whose policies had brought our country half-way to the gates of the Abyss? I mean, yes, it is encouraging. really isn't that much of an improvement! All it means is that somewhere around half of our country might not be racist, and we have no ideas about the views of the others. Wonderful, but far from thorough. And won't even be close to resembling thorough until we have a near proportional amount of each racial and ethnic minority group in our legislature.
Consider the oceans of ink that have been spilled over the past couple of decades about how America is a racist society, how bigotry runs in the veins of white America, how little real progress has been made, how far we still have to go, and so on.
And those people stand corrected ever so slightly. We still have some distance to go, though, and I think it is disingenuous of you to suggest otherwise. But, progress has been made, America is not as racist as it once was, and bigotry has been squelched more than it used to be. We're still not quite as racially magnanimous as other Western societies, but we're trying at least.
A few years ago I debated Jesse Jackson at Stanford University and he couldn’t give any evidence that contemporary racism had kept his children down. At the same time, he said that precisely the absence of evidence is what worried him the most. Jackson’s argument was that racism, once overt, had now become covert. In other words, racism hadn’t decreased in the slightest but it now worked in ever-more-subtle ways to deny African Americans their share of the American dream.
This is why you shouldn't debate D'Souza and those like him. Ever. He's just in it for the street cred given by saying "I completely humiliated INSERT FAMOUS GUY HERE", and the ability to bring up one random part of the debate that makes him look good and that he can use, more or less, as a strawman position to argue against. I think, by it's very nature, in order for racism to become a covert operation it needs to decrease to some degree. Unless it is "covert" in the sense of an elaborate and strictly defined conspiracy that is secretly unified, it is going to have to be inherently less significant than when it is unified in plain view.
True, Obama is no Jesse Jackson. But precisely the difference between the two shows that it is individual conduct and demeanor that is decisive here, not skin color. Obama doesn’t come across as a race-hustler. He doesn’t seek to turn victimization into profit.
These are the very reasons he wasn't deemed "black enough". He didn't speak out enough. Of course, Reverend Wright was smeared for speaking out in such a manner so it is probably best that Obama kept a level head about that, and almost every other issue. Now, on the subject of Obama and victimization though, he was born to a white college student and a Kenyan student at the same University. He may have personally experienced racism due entirely to skin color, but his family situation and economic situation and prospects for an education didn't suffer for that. So, he doesn't try to play the victim card, largely because he was able to succeed due to his parents never having been victimized, since they themselves did not have to try to build up families when "systematic racism" was the rule of law. Oh, and once again, one guy getting a powerful position does not "the end of racism" make.
If Obama’s election means anything, it means that we are now living in post-racist America. That’s why even those of us who didn’t vote for Obama have good reason to celebrate.
Whatever makes you happy, Dineshikins.

Rather short post of his. I am almost relieved. But after more than a month, I am a bit sad I didn't have more to gnash my teeth about. Oh well.

For those few who have been on the Internet....

...some of these faces might look familiar. Beware: there are a lot of them. See if you can figure what argumentative style you fall into!
( I personally fancy myself as an Evil Clown/Android/Furious Typer/Lurker combo.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

13 Bad Arguments against 13 Bad Arguments for Gay Marriage

Just found an absolutely ancient article (read: 4 years old) that serves as a refutation of "13 bad arguments for gay marriage".  Yep.  I'm sure you can tell that I've already got my Irish up.
Argument 1 is that "gay marriage is a basic human right".  

Rebuttal:  "We already recognize that not everyone has the right to enlist in the army, but that one must be of the proper age, physical condition, citizenship, and philosophy—anarchists and pacifists need not apply. We also agree that certain persons do not have the right to marriage—children, multiple partners, family members, and those already married."
Ohhh.  This little issue.  Suffice it say:  two of those are prohibitions of the same thing (polygamy), and only one of those restrictions should be a restriction (namely, age of consent) because it applies almost universally and is less arbitrary and authoritarian.
Argument 2:  "gay marriage is a civil right"

Rebuttal:  "This is based on the false assumption that homosexuality is the same sort of human difference as race. But while the difference between sexual orientations is profound (one desires the opposite sex and procreates while the other does neither), racial difference has no intrinsic bearing on love and marriage."
So it is only a "civil rights issue" when there is otherwise no difference between the people involved?  I guess that makes sense.  Not really sure how homosexual "love" can be considered to be any different than any other form of "love" though, and there should be no inherent differences in marriage, save for the inability for them to be easily decide which of them should be commanding the other to do housework, raise whatever children they have, and perform sexual favors at a whim .  That's the only kind of marriage I can't picture a homosexual couple pulling off as effectively, but I am sure it can be done. Just because you have some African Americans who want to say that it is not a civil rights issue, and that you think that the same sets of genitalia throw marriage out of balance in such a manner that two people of the same gender should never be allowed to be wed, does not make you have a point.
Argument 3:  Opposition to gay marriage is discrimination.
Rebuttal:  "Let's not mistake rational restriction for unconstitutional discrimination. Just as we rightly restrict marriage against polygamists, there is no constitutional reason why we cannot continue to restrict marriage to what all civilizations have defined for millennia: the union of a man and woman."
First off, bullshit on "rightly restrict marriage against polygamists".  Those restrictions were developed almost exclusively to discriminate against Mormons.  Of course, now we can also see how it is more practical to have monogamous relationships.  But I still hardly agree that the restriction was right to begin with.  And the argument from "things have always been this way" hardly passes muster, since you could just as easily defend slavery with the same sentiment.  Just because we always had certain discriminatory practices does not make it less discriminatory today.
Argument 4:  Marriage has changed through the centuries, so gay marriage would just be a development in its ever-changing definition.
Rebuttal: "True, our understandings of sex and the role of women in marriage have grown. While these changes are important, they are trivial when compared to the agreement across time and from East to West that the social institution of marriage is about the union of sexual opposites for, primarily, the procreation of children, as well as intimate companionship."
Well, will you look at that.  How exactly is marriage changing from what amounts to sex slavery to an equal partnership that exists independent of actual offspring (or even intent to bear offspring) less of a leap than making it so that partnership doesn't have gender requirements?  I guess this one's just a matter of interpretation, isn't it?  Ahhh, but you'd never admit that!
Argument 5:  "Opposition to gay marriage is a violation of the separation of church and state"  [WTF!?]
Rebuttal:  "But the separation of church and state (assured by constitutional law) is different from the enforced separation of religion and politics, which is forbidden by the First Amendment."
Well, they are right for once:  this was a bad argument.  If they had made it less of a strawman, and brought up churches being used to tell people how to vote on gay marriage issues, then maybe less so.  But, as is, they can have this one.  Congratulations, guys!
Argument 6:  "Marriage is necessary for gays to get important legal benefits"
Rebuttal:  "Homosexuals don't need marriage to gain most significant legal benefits. For example, hospital visitation depends on the wishes of the patient. If families disagree about medical treatment, even marriage won't solve the problem, as the Terry Schiavo case has demonstrated....Another example is Social Security benefits. Children's benefits are not dependent on the marital status of their parents, and the only certain benefit is a one-time death benefit of $255. A wife can access her deceased husband's Social Security, but if she has had her own work history, her Social Security benefit would usually be higher than the survivor's benefit—and she must choose one or the other."
And what if the patient can't express their in the Terry Schiavo case?  These marriage rights exist so that you don't have to go through all that bureaucratic crap that you offer as alternatives.  Also, any partner that is an immigrant becomes a legal citizen, marriage partners get insurance and tax benefits, and there is also disability and Veteran's benefits that they can both benefit from.  Sure, these may not be "rights", but you also can't play it off like you aren't depriving them of anything but the magic word "married".
Argument 7:  "There is no proof that gay marriage would change the marriage of heterosexuals"
Rebuttal:  (LOL) "If marriage is all about fulfilling human desires and not parenting (as many proponents of gay marriage argue), it makes sense to dissolve marriages that don't seem fulfilling. Recent experience in Scandinavia suggests that when a society reduces marriage to this minimalist definition, families dissolve more quickly....Only where the gay marriage movement had little success has the out-of-wedlock birthrate remained low. Marriage has virtually disappeared in the most gay-friendly districts of Norway"
Ahahahaha.  Okay.  Let me summarize the hilarity briefly:  their counterargument is that the climate that fosters gay marriage acceptance is a climate where divorce rates and cohabitation are higher.  But, unfortunately, all this means is that places where people see how meaningless heterosexual marriage has become are more willing to let the gays have their fun and get marriage too!  Correlation is not causation, and the wording of the rebuttal itself emphasizes this by claiming that the collective opinion about marriage is the cause of both the acceptance of gay marriage and the "virtual disapperance" of marriage.  So, they've made their own counterargument a non-argument for me.  That was nice of them.
Argument 8:  "Social science shows that gay parenting is no different from heterosexual parenting"
Rebuttal:  "Many studies have claimed this, but, according to University of Chicago's emeritus professor of ethics and social sciences Don Browning, none of these studies was rigorous or large-scale. Stephen Nock, scholar of marriage at the University of Virginia, writes that every study on the subject of gay parenting "contained at least one fatal flaw," and "not a single one was conducted according to generally accepted standards of scientific research." Other studies show that children raised by homosexuals were more dissatisfied with their own gender, had homosexual experiences more frequently, and suffered a greater rate of molestation by members of their families"
Well...can't argue against name-drops.   It's why generalized arguments that consist entirely of mentioning authority figures that you somehow deem to be greater authority on the subject than everyone else always win!  As for the last sentence, it is nice to see that homosexual parents are bad because they might raise homosexual children.  Also:  I link here again to deal with the "gay molestor" charges.
Argument 9:  "The fact that many married couples do not have children proves that marriage is not intrinsically related to procreation"
Rebuttal:  "Yet the fact remains that most married couples either have had or will have children. The exceptions prove the rule: Being married tends to prevent a person from having a child with someone other than his or her spouse."
Had to look this seemingly significant idiom up.  I have no idea what the hell they are talking about (unless they are preposing that marriage just means "vow to not have sex with other people" and, thus, is not explicitly about procreation!)  The exceptions prove that there are exceptions, which proves that marriage isn't strictly about the offspring anymore.  The fact that marriages are no longer annulled when they fail to have children, and the fact that couples who cannot and have decided not to have children also lends credence to this.  Sure, marriage also prevents a person from having a child with someone else (except, you know, in polygamous societies).  But, the fact remains that marriage, right now, in our culture is offered without a mind for whether or not they bear any children, primarily because we don't need any more goddamn people anymore.  The government no longer has a vested interest in seeing people breed like rabbits, because we already have more than enough people in the country with lessened death rates due to the whole "industrialization" thing. 
Argument 10:  "Heterosexuals have done a terrible job at marriage.  Who are they to speak?"  (Please note that this "argument" is normally offered up jokingly.  At least in my experience...)
Rebuttal: "Yet the point is not how many are successful, but what marriage means. To accommodate gays, marriage would have to change into something it has never been: an institution for same-sex love without the biological possibility for children. It will probably not require sexual fidelity, which even the majority of unfaithful heterosexuals have conceded is the ideal"
Can't argue with the first point.  As for the second point:  it is currently an institution that is almost exclusively about heterosexual "love", and is allowed to several who have no biological possibility for children.   Just take out "heterosexual" and you've granted the gays their requests.  As for the sexual fidelity thing: that's a personal preference.  If you have an issue with that, take it up with swingers.
Argument 11:  "The resistance to gay marriage is motivated by fear and loathing for homosexuals"  [Awww...they forgot "and stubborn adherence to particular political and religious ideologies, usually poorly thought out, and itself motivated by fear and loathing in general"]
Rebuttal:  "While no large group is free of hate-mongers, the vast majority resist because they strongly believe in the positive features of traditional marriage. They have experienced the benefits of the lifelong union of two persons who are complementary in many important ways—biological, psychological, temperamental, and spiritual—and who, because of this complementarity, have a unique capacity to bear and nurture children. It is appreciation for the unparalleled success of this complementarity"
"Vast majority"?  The "vast majority" seem to still be hateful, but mask that behind the rationalization that they are "protecting traditional marriage", or, in other words, striving for the status quo.  As I mentioned above, the argument that "things have always been this way" is not the best argument in a debate about equal application of traditionally unequally applied rights.  Also...why the hell would they think that "complementarity" (i.e. "penis goes in vagina") is a good argument?  They have no idea whether gay couples are complements in every area of their existence save gender, and have yet to legislate that people must only marry their opposites, lest they take offense at seeing people not adhering to the dictum of "opposites attract".  
Argument 12:  "Those who resist gay marriage are irrational, Neanderthal, and bigoted" [Isn't this Argument 11 in ad hominem form?]
Rebuttal:  "The gay marriage movement is only a few decades old. Could it be that billions of people who for millennia upheld traditional marriage were really irrational and bigoted? On the contrary, we would argue that a common-sense understanding of life leads in the direction we have argued. Further, it seems clear that reason without religious vision misses the depth dimension of human life. It tends to dissolve basic human institutions into contracts between persons who make whatever they want of them, to the detriment of children and society."
Oh my.  I think we've just struck gold!
For one:  "traditional marriage" millenia ago is not the "traditional marriage" of today.  You may try to pretend otherwise, but...well...I guess you do that about everything else anyway, so why not?  
Anyway, they were not necessarily "irrational and bigoted" because they were not in societies that have our understanding of homosexuality, nor were they in societies where they had the privilege of marriage being an institution based on love.  They needed it for procreation, because they needed to survive.  And, they weren't as egalitarian and almost every respect in their societies as we are on our own.  So, it is comparing Bronze age apples to Information age oranges here.
"Common sense understanding" isn't necessarily right.  Especially when "common sense" just means "gut instinct" instead of obvious, intuitive logic.
As for "reason without religious vision misses the depth dimension of human life", I would looooove for him to elaborate on that.  Somehow, I foresee something about paintings and a vague sense of spirituality that religion as an institution may actually inhibit, depending on its social role and doctrines.  And, I am really sorry that reason has dissolved marriage, and society, and children, or whatever you are talking about.  But, marriage is basically just a secular contract, with an optional religion candy-coating.  Which is what makes the religious-minded whining against gay marriage all the more infuriating.
Argument 13:  "The legal issue of gay marriage ought to be left up to the states"
Rebuttal:  "Quite the opposite, we need a national definition of marriage. Without a public definition embodied in a constitutional amendment, activist judges at various levels will undo the conviction of the vast majority of Americans. Some already have, in defiance of state defense-of-marriage acts. Precedent for a national definition is ample—the federal government outlawed polygamy in the 19th century and the Supreme Court has ruled in the 20th century on many cases regarding marriage."
Agree that a definition would be helpful.  Love the "activist judges" shot (which is right-winger speak for: "judge that makes rulings that I disagree with"), and I am afraid that, when it comes to minority rights, majority rule is not a good venue.  
"In sum, there are many bad reasons for supporting gay marriage. In contrast, there are many good reasons for protecting historic understandings of marriage, a public institution whose fate will determine the future of our society."
I guess we'll have to take your word for that, because you sure didn't give us any indication that there were any in the actual post.  Unless your implied argument that "it is historic, therefore it should stay exactly the same, regardless of changing contexts" is supposed to be profound or something, I am still waiting for those "good reasons".

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mr. Slick and the Amazing Technicolor Counter-rebuttals

The infamous Christian apologetics site, CARM, has an interesting article called "Is atheism viable?". It is only interesting because of its boldness, and because it has three critiques of the article posted as well, with rebuttals to the points made in those responses by the original author. It's gonna be a long post, people!

First up, the response to a guy referred to as Mr. Lonovy:
Mr. Lonovy fails to understand that even though science has answered many issues about life, medicine, mechanics, the universe, etc., it does not invalidate God's existence nor is it in any way a proof or evidence that God does not exist. The only thing science does is explain things using naturalistic principles. But, since Christians define God as being outside of time and space (yet able to interact within it), explaining things naturalistically does not effect the proposed existence of God or not since He is not limited to a naturalistic system.
Now, his first and second sentences are true enough. His third sentence is also true, but it was one of the more entertaining points, in that he is claiming that God is beyond the realm of verifiable science, while simultaneously saying that he can feel free to poke in as he pleases in order to not undermine God's purported abilities to intervene in mortal affairs. So, we have a God that resides, undetectable, and undisprovable, in the realm of the supernatural. That is a Deistic God. But, by saying that this God, supposedly free to dance around the "naturalistic system" like it was a bird cage too small to even contain his clogs, is also able and willing to stick his finger in and swish things around every now and then...and you've got a God that can be verified or disproved by naturalistic observation! Especially if his methods of interaction are predictable. The second God's finger pokes through into the sphere of the natural world, he can be subjected to naturalistic observations. Of course, this is only partially relevant now, so I'll pick up on it later.
Either atheism is absolutely true or it is possibly true. Since it cannot be proven that atheism is absolutely true (i.e., prove that there is no God in all space and time, etc.), then all that is left is that it is a possibility that it is true -- or, dare I say, that it simply is not true.
Very good. I would hardly claim that atheism is absolutely true myself, because I don't know whether something that could accurately be labeled a "god" exists or not. But, I also think that it is not only possible that no such being exists, but due to our inability to know whether it even exists, let alone any of the finer points of what exactly it might turn out to be if it did exist, the entire question is actually irrelevant.
I certainly agree that an atheist can conclude that God does not exist. But, it does not mean that his conclusion is correct. I can conclude that screaming blue ants are spying on me, but that doesn't mean I am right.
Interesting choice of analogy when the first two sentences that it is meant to clarify could just as easily be said of any given person concluding that God does exist, from the point of view of atheists/those with differing deity of choice.
As a Christian, I can accept the possibility that there might not be a God. However, I most definitely believe and affirm that the God of the Bible exists and is the only true God. This does not make me agnostic; that is, it does not mean that I don't know if God exists or not. On the other hand, the atheist states, basically, that there is no God. But if this same person states that God may exist, then doesn't that mean that he isn't sure, that he doesn't know if God does or does not exist? That is not the same position I hold at all.
Feel free to read that again. He believes in God, but admits that there possibly might not be one. Someone thinks that there is no god, but admits that there could be one. Seems equally unsure, and about as agnostic as one another. But, apparently, MR. Slick doesn't think so. [Bolded phrase may be funny when context is later revealed. No guarantee though.]
If you want your sin and independence from God, He will let you have it and He will not reveal Himself to you.
Heckuva guy, that God. Sounds like a rather laissez faire, tolerant kinda guy. Except for the fact that he torments you eternally for that sin, independence, and unawareness that he even exists in the first place. With that in mind...he's a bit of a prick...

Of course, the context is that God is the true sovereign and that atheists want that for themselves. In this, they take the place of God and set themselves up as master of their own lives, future, etc.

Again, Mr. Lonovy uses a personal attack in his paper.
As compared to your generalized attacks against entire groups of people which have little to no basis in reality? Hey, at least when we atheists overgeneralize "Christians", it's because "fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christians who favor conservative politics and feel entitled to power in our country due to being Christian" is too long, occassionally winds up being redundant, may also be an overgeneralization, and may unintentionally exclude people who are also being referred to in our rants (e.g. Bill Donohue, who, being Catholic, may not qualify as fundamentalist or evangelical, but sure as hell seems to have the same mentality as them). But here...I don't think that this was imprecision in terminology. It is standard extrapolated B.S., by which I could also claim that Christians are arrogant bastards because they want to set themselves as second only to the One True God (O.T.G., for short) in order to feel superior to those who aren't Christian. It is an irrelevant claim, probably not true in most cases, and based entirely on assumptions that have little factual basis and have more to do with perception of the group relative to your own than reality.

Now, the response to the second critique (which was by Dawson Bethrick):
But, is it irrational to believe that there are things in existence beyond our apprehension? Of course not. Furthermore, he has not demonstrated why belief in God is not rational.
This is a nice little trick, that D'Souza also tried when talking about Immanuel Kant and the limitations of sensory experience, providing for the possibility of an unsensed, and immeasurable, world of the supernatural. The problem is, as rational as it is to assume that there is more out there, it isn't rational to assume that you know what that more is. It isn't irrational to assume that there is alien life somewhere in our expansive, unexplored universe. It is irrational to assume that that alien life resulted in other humans, or in little green men who are sufficiently advanced to visit our planet and explore farmers' anal cavities every so often.
Please notice that Mr. Bethrick does not even afford me the respect of calling me Mr. Slick. Instead, it is just "Slick." This is a personal preference, but when I address someone I criticize I try and show him the respect of calling him "Mr." as in Mr. Bethrick.
I think he's just jealous because he has a last name that sounds like an insult. Mr. Slick doesn't make it sound a whole lot better though. Sounds like an ominous villain with a nameless government job in a Bond movie or comic book or something. Also: could be the name of a superhero who is half-frog.
He states that the "absence of evidence or convincing argument for the positive" is what makes atheism viable.
Isn't it? From the original article: "There are no "proofs" that God does not exist in atheist circles; at least, none that I have heard -- especially since you can't prove a negative regarding God's existence. " It is almost impossible to prove a negative unless it is self contradictory, is contradicted by something that is proven positively, or is simply not found to exist after a thorough survey of the known universe (and you already claimed that the third one wouldn't be sufficient because he doesn't reside in our universe). would think that, you know, you would need at least some slight proof for the existence of this thing, rather than expecting someone to go about the nigh impossible task of disproving the existence of any creature, entity, force, or phenomenon that you can concoct inside your skull. Basically: burden of proof.

[Babbles on about how the critic is so biased that he cannot see the Truth!]
Furthermore, how do you prove that in all places and in all times and in all dimensions, God doesn't exist? In order to do that, you'd have to be God to know all things to know there isn't a God, which is not logical.
Odd how I pretty much made the same point in the last paragraph....except as an argument for why the person claiming that such an unverifiable being exists should be the one providing evidence. Under no other circumstances does "you can't prove it doesn't exist!" serve as a valid argument for something's existence.

If you can prove that there aren't leprechauns, then there are no leprechauns.
You can't prove that there aren't leprechauns.
Therefore, there are leprechauns.

X, therefore no Y.
No X.
Therefore Y.

(It is equally illogical to claim that something DOESN'T exist just because you don't possess proof for it by this logic as well...).
It seems Mr. Bethrick needs to adjust his thinking since we Christians believe that God is also in the universe as well as outside of it. He is, after all, omnipresent.
Good to know. NOMA doesn't apply then. I'll keep that in mind.
Mr. Bethrick is trying to shift the onus of proof onto me by trying to get me to prove God exists. I may not be able to prove God exists, but I do have evidence (as given on CARM). It is up to Mr. Bethrick if he wants to examine it or not. But given his atheistic presupposition, I am sure that all such evidences would be insufficient.
(I think he is presupposing that atheists are the ones with the presuppositions in this equation! He seems to assume bias as a fast explanation for disagreement.) The onus of proof is actually on you. And you are going to need a little bit more than "I define God as the universe maker. The universe exists. Therefore God exists, you're a sinnner, the Bible is true, and Jesus saves." I don't much care for those kinds of tricks.
But until then, I am "atheistic" about atheistic proofs for God's non-existence and will stick to the evidence supporting the reality of God.
Ya see that! Your default stance, in the absence of positive proof of the existence of "atheistic proofs", is to assume that it doesn't exist. Same with fairies, same with little green men, same with Nessie, Bigfoot, poltergeists, and white gangsta rappers who aren't laughing stocks. If only you were consistent, you wouldn't even be talking right now!
Atheism, as I have said before, lives in a theistic vacuum. It exists only by attempting to disprove theistic evidences and/or offering attempted reasons why no God can exist.
This is true. Mostly because atheism without theism is just "a-". I'm not sure what exactly you expect....
However, Atheism is viable in one sense: it is simply a possibility. But, being a possibility does not mean it is a reality.
I am tickled. Atheism is a possibility? I agree. Flip a coin. Heads, a god exists, atheism is wrong. Tails, no gods, atheism is right. But...what happens when it comes up heads again? It sure as hell doesn't mean that Christianity is right. It means that any given conception of deity, past, present, future, or never to be conceived, can be correct. Popularity might be a good indication of correctness, but I honestly doubt it severely. The plain fact is, atheism is a possibility, theism is a possibility. Any given religion though? Possible, but nowhere near as likely as Deism with a loose definition of God. Hell, give that Deism a pantheistic streak and you could guarantee the existence of "God" by making "God" mean "existence". But, still doesn't help strict religious descriptions of the divine out of their rut.
My experience with atheists has lead me to conclude that actually dislike theistic proofs.
Yeah. I have a bias against piss-poor arguments that are presented as authoritatively settling controversial and otherwise unverifiable positions. I apologize for that.
Atheism is a claim.
Atheism is also a skeptical position that maintains that there is insufficient evidence to believe that theism is true. But, of course, you don't believe that that is true, or would just prefer to address "strong atheism" (a position I sympathize with, but is difficult due to the fact that very few atheists hold the "strong atheist" stance).
Atheism, like an ice cream factory on Jupiter, is an intellectually possible position if we were to assert that basically anything is possible. But being possible does not mean that it is probable, let alone an actuality. That is the point of the ice cream factory on Jupiter. Atheism has no proof for its position.
I really don't like to make "No, you!" the bulk of argument. But that's pretty much what this comes down to.
If someone has a lack of belief in something, then his actions would be consistent with that. I lack belief in the existence of screaming blue ants from Venus. And because I lack belief in them, I do not try and defend the position that I lack belief in them nor do I go around announcing to people that I lack belief in screaming blue ants from Venus.
Moron. If "screaming blue ants from Venus" was a popular belief that influenced not only the behavior and mindsets of those around you, but also politics, and people's opinion of you, you better believe that you would say something on the matter (especially if these same people were willing to kill one another and divide entire based upon opinion of which region of Venus the best blue ants came from). Social significance is the key here.
I further maintain that logic requires agnosticism rather than atheism.
Sigh. Agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive. Agnosticism is admitting that we cannot know for certain whether or not a god exists (and possibly cannot know its qualities). This only contradicts your definition of atheism as exclusively being "belief that there is no god", but even that it is only an addition of rational doubt that should honestly be expected (but makes that atheism more consistent with the more common "lack of belief in god", which you deny the existence of).
If the claims of Christianity posed no challenge to atheism, then why are atheists constantly attacking the Bible and Christian theistic proofs?
To show that they are no threat by refutting them (?).

Now, for the final response:
I would agree that there is a burden of proof that lies upon the one making the positive assertion. My argument, however, is that atheism is a positive assertion; that is, it is a position that atheists hold to and defend. this defense means they have a position, I believe, an opinion.
So "there is no God" (your straw strong atheist claim) is a "positive assertion"? What, pray tell, is a "negative assertion" then? Same problems with proving a negative as before.
The point I was making was dealing with evidences for God of which such evidence exists (whether or not an atheist admits it). We have fulfilled prophecy in the Bible, eyewitness accounts of Jesus' resurrection, miracles, the transcendental argument, the argument from entropy, etc.
The fulfilled prophecies are hardly more impressive than horoscopes that make accurate predictions. Largely because they are designed to be vague, metaphorical, or obvious enough to be guaranteed to succeed. Then there were a few self-fulfilled prophecies, and the prophecies that were assumed to be fulfilled by Jesus are dependent on the accounts of Jesus's life weren't influenced by those prophecies and exaggerated in order to fulfill them. The eyewitness accounts of Jesus' resurrection are contradictory, and are by those closest to him. Other eyewitnesses mentioned in the accounts we have left no records to confirm it. Miracles serves as a nice buzzword, because most "miracles" are really "improbable fortuituous events that still do not require a supernatural explanation, and even if they did, they don't even have to have anything to do with gods, let alone any given religion's conception of god". Your transcendental argument is that there are logical absolutes, they are conceptual, they are perfect, and they are not dependent on material reality, and therefore they are the concepts in a perfect immaterial mind called God. Color me unimpressed. And the other argument is a trumped up "first cause called God" argument. Jeez. You should've just kept vaguely alluding to "evidence that you are too biased to accept"; you were better off.

And, finally: the main article!
Which ever flavor is given to atheism, it is a negative position. sure flipped on that one in your final response above, didn't you? John Kerry would be proud!
Therefore, since there are no proofs for atheisms truth and there are no proofs that there is no God, the atheist must hold his position by faith. Faith, however, is not something atheists like to claim as the basis of adhering to atheism.
Faith? You're right; I don't like to claim that as a basis for being an atheist. Primarily because it is not the case, at least for any meaningful definition of "faith", especially the one that is most commonly used when it comes to these issues (usually of the "blind" variety...).
Therefore, atheists must go on the attack and negate any evidences presented for Gods existence in order to give intellectual credence to their position.
Well considering that our position is effectively "you don't have any compelling evidence for believing in God"...what exactly are we doing wrong?
It is in the negation of theistic proofs and evidences that atheism brings its self-justification to self-proclaimed life.
Well duh. If atheism is basically being skeptical and unwilling to say that there is enough evidence that gods exist, then having no viable theistic proofs in the vicinity is kinda helpful. Obviously, though, it is not proof that no gods exist. But it is the groundwork for just plain disregarding the entire idea of god regardless, as one would do for the screaming blue ants from Venus and ice cream cart on Jupiter that you mentioned above.
But there is another problem for atheists. Refuting evidences for Gods existence does not prove atheism true anymore than refuting an eyewitness testimony of a marriage denies the reality of the marriage.
True dat. (LOL, I am ghetto fabulous today). If only you looked at it that way when claiming that those "proofs" of yours are evidence for the Christian God, rather than the existence of a bunch of random crap that you associate with "God". Proving that these things exist doesn't prove that Christianity is right.
This is why atheists need to attack Christianity. It is because Christianity makes very high claims concerning Gods existence which challenges their atheism and pokes holes in their vacuum. They like the vacuum.
No. We attack because there are a lot of you, you are vocal, and your "very high claims" are too big for their britches. And yes, I like "the vacuum". Because that "vacuum" is what the world really is.

Woooooo. Sorry for the giant post. That was quite an ordeal...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The End of an Era

Obama is now officially President. I still can't believe this. It seems like 8 long years I've been in a state of perpetual outrage at the very thought that somewhere in the world, troops were dying for a continuously changing cause, and our President was on the verge of saying something stupid. And today, that just might sort of, almost change. Who knows, we might also have less of a bumbling/wantonly oppressive legislature for the next couple of years. Maybe, just maybe, I might finally be proud of this country. Maybe our economy won't go completely down the crapper. Maybe this war will finally start dying down a little. Maybe I will finally stop having contempt for government officials and policy since they are technically in agreement with me now, due to having "Democrat" stamped on their ass. And maybe we won't charge into random countries out of a combination of vengeful bloodlust and paranoia. I can always hope. But, we're probably still doomed. So at least I can find solace in that.

George Bush Presidency: 2001-2009.
It will be missed.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I might be able to get my D'Souza fix after all

Dinesh D'Souza, the acclaimed pop-apologist who is more fleet-footed than a man with airplanes for toes, will be up against Dan "The Music-Man" Barker in a steel cage death match...with a podium. The one who is declared victorious will, once and for all, decide: "Can we be good without God?". And, icing on the cake, PZ "The Overlord" Myers will be there to watch. Reserve your tickets.

I personally can't wait to hear Dinesh repeat the same things that he has already stated in articles, books, and previous debates (including jokes for Christ's sake)! Will Barker finally make it clear to audiences everywhere that Dinesh is far from the scholar others make him out to be, and that he is no more than a polemicist with shoddy half-baked pseudo-philosophical arguments that could be torn to pieces by anyone with the slightest amount of knowledge of the subjects that he brings up? Or will it be like every other debate? We'll have to wait and find out. Ooooo...the suspense is killing me!

[Author's note: When I say that Dinesh is "fleet-footed", I am only referring to his ability to Gish Gallop and also to suggest that he is a coward, and I am in no ways suggesting that he is any better than other debaters at performing in track and field events. I am on record as saying that Dinesh might not beat my fat ass at a 50 yard dash, and I hope that others will see the bravery that it requries to take that position.]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The [Political] never stops!!!1!

Yes, I am once again posting videos from the Daily Show instead of making actual posts. It saddens me too, but it is desperately necessary. The first segment of yesterday's show was chock full of truth. But, this particular video was also, and it features Palin, so I thought that I would display this one:

Now, I honestly have no idea whether the press was completely fair to Palin or not. Mostly because I know that I would be biased enough to see every criticism as fair criticism, and was too preoccupied with seeing whether the more liberal candidates were being unfairly bashed to worry about the same happening for the other side, which I presumed to be favored, due to the fact that I personally didn't often hear any such assaults on their character, or whatever else Palin is implying. Of course, her cries of persecution are a wee bit suspect when she brings up Katie Couric (who hardly seemed like she was out to get Palin) and Tina Fey (for doing an impression of a political figure on a comedy show, which Palin herself had an appearance on and claimed to have enjoyed it. Apparently being a good sport about it was only an act). So...yeah. I have long since stopped caring about Palin, but this was too funny to leave ignored.

As for Bush (in the linked video): he has seemed to be a tragic figure for the last two years or so. Mostly because he goes up on stage, makes vague allusions to his failings without actually admitting fault, and seems perpetually choked up. This appearance isn't much different, except that his stubbornness and ignorance have gone back to their normal levels despite his obviously wounded ego. So, when you mix the self-pity (which he adamantly and hilariously denies) and reluctant admission of guilt with his standard unwillingness to do just that for fear of seeming weak and his trademark inability to be aware of what is going on, you get him up in front of the press, talking about how he has made mistakes without ever admitting that the major disasters associated with him were actually mistakes. You get him up there, trying to rebut strawman critics, and trying to desperately prove to us how he is "damned if he does, damned if he doesn't." It is kind of pathetic, and makes me wonder whether to continue to pity him or to once again realize that he is just a self-centered asshole. It's hard to say.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Concepts vs. Communities: Why a religion is more than religion.

I am sure you have heard of them before. Studies comparing the comparative happiness or charitableness of people across religions, or seeing how such things vary according to church attendance or religiosity, or confidence in one's religious beliefs, or what have you. Even if they are mild, it always seems to show that the most church-going are the most happy with their lives . And, I only bring this up because religion, in this country in particular, has grown beyond simple belief in certain ideas, and is something much more complex than that socially, which serves to confound any claims that you can make about the effects of the beliefs themselves.

Even in an ideal, hypothetical form, non-institutional religion could serve as a social group, defined by a shared set of beliefs on any subject if people grew to agree with the person to originally come up with the ideas that form its core. Of course, in a setting that consists of more than a handful of people, it becomes trivial to call any subject that there is some form of consensus on a religion unless it is of significance to both the bearers of the relevant beliefs and those who do not (and who may or may not hold alternative beliefs). At its heart, this group means nothing more than any other division or label. But, it all depends on the significance that we collectively are willing to give to it, in contrast to other forms of groups. This is the heart of the matter, so let's see how exactly we prioritize organizec religion and its components, and what we associate with it.

Cultural view of the virtue of belief: It is almost inescapable. It is the idea that you cannot be moral without having some form of religious precepts to follow. The idea that those of any religion (especially your own) are better in behavior and lifestyle habits than those who do not have any. Religious beliefs are deemed to be inherently good, and a more or less necessary step for someone to become a good person.

View of church attendance as proof of belief: This perspective has been waning with years (I'll address that later). But, it works alongside with the former one. It is the idea that religiosity correlates with church attendance. Only the most religious attend church everyday, and you are only nominally religious if you only show up to church occasionally. It is up for debate whether those who do not attend a church can call themselves religious or not. When coupled with the former perspective that religiosity is correlated with goodness as well, those who do not attend church may be viewed in a rather poor light. Ironically, if enough people hold the idea that it is inherently bad to miss church, they will influence those around them to attend church more to avoid such suspicions, which further breaks down the very assumptions behind the pressure they are applying, due to the fact that they are driving people to fill up the pews in order to hide either their bad behavior, lack of religious faith, or both. When church attendance becomes a cultural mandate, rather than a self-selecting process, things tend to get muddled.

Sense of community offered by attendance: This is a natural implication of church being a social group that meets independent of the constraints of a much larger society. It offers a connection to other people, and since it is a connection that is not limited to mere geographic proximity, but ideological similarity as well, it may actually be a more powerful form of connectedness and community than one could necessarily find in a neighborhood, workplace, or school. This is of significance in a few ways, which will be addressed shortly.

View that belief leads to charity: This may or may not be related to the idea that belief is in of itself virtuous, or conducive to virtue. It is the idea that those who share your beliefs are more charitable and giving. It is actually true that in our society, those who are religious are statistically more likely to give, and to give more, than those without any. It could be viewed as the inherent goodness of believers manifesting. Alternately, it could be viewed as an adherence to the belief system rather than something innate in the people who happen to be believers.

Community as pressure for charity: As it turns out, all it takes is one person who feels that charity is needed, and instructing those in their group to help out that can force them oblige. The beliefs can be used as leverage, but social pressure itself (whether it is from peers, authority figures, or both) can suffice.

Community as venue for charity inaccessible to those who are not part of it: Potentially related to the above is that charitable functions do not often arise outside of the kind of formal organizations that church happens to be. People may not often be exposed to charity benefits, or notices about them, outside of such institutions.

Cultural view of belief adding purpose: Also an inescapable and common viewpoint, as often brought up when discussing atheism in our culture as the point about religious faith being indicative of virtue. Many people hold this view, asserting not only that their religion gives them a feeling of purpose, that they could not even have a sense of purpose without religion. It seems to be a commonly accepted idea, whether or not it has merit.

Access to community granting interactions that feel like purpose: Interestingly, much of our happiness and our definition of self is contingent upon our relationships with other people. We define ourselves by profession, family role, and the method by which we interact with other people (with our own view of this method modified according to the generalized responses it provokes). And, this becomes a major part of our identity (or the entirety, for some people). Relationships with a religious community would be no exception. It would serve as a new group that you would interact with and a different set of people by which you can determine a social role for yourself. In that way, you can find a good amount of subjective purpose, even if you are unemployed, and have a sucky family and social life. When all else fails, you still have church, serving as a buffer against the failings of other pursuits in your interpersonal relationships which those who do not attend church obviously will not have.

Happiness granted by confidence in beliefs (and group polarization): Doubts are ugly little nagging things, aren't they? Confidence, even to the point of over-confidence and arrogance (or should I say: "especially to the point..."), leads itself to a strong sense of control over your environment, over your life, and to a sense of happiness that cannot be gained by those who are forever unsure. Now, one would expect religiosity to be correlated with confidence in religious convictions. And that is where things get messy. Because, if you get a group of people together with moderate opinions but who all agree with one another, eventually you are going to get people with stronger opinions, and more confidence than before. This is due to the ability that they have to confirm each others' perspectives and biases by merits of having similar ones and possibly due to introducing them to new reasons for why they might be acceptable. In this sense, church attendance could begin to correlate with religious conviction and intensity of faith over time, and it could itself lead to happiness, due to having their preconceptions confirmed once a week by almost everyone they see on a Sunday morning.

Changing views of church among the religious of different stripes: I alluded to this before. The role of organized, institutional religion is fluctuating currently, due to a decreased stress on the relevance of church attendance in regards to moral character and level of religious belief. Many of the devoutly religious leave their churches because it fails to meet their standards. Many of the loosely religious detest the institutions themselves, or the opinions of the people that they might meet there, and decline to go. Others are just too busy, don't care, or just can't find a church that suits their religious beliefs since, in the Information Age, you can convert more easily to religions that are not physically present in your area. The interesting part, as one could determine from previous mention of the negative influence that elevating church attendance has on the quality of the congregation, a downturn in amount of church-going Americans would probably be a good thing for the reputation of the churches. That is, under the circumstances that the infamous hypocrites and loonies all too often associated with them at this point actually wind up jumping ship at some point. Otherwise, it might be a truly complicated affair (if a significant decrease in church-goers occurs at all, that is).

Summary: It is far too difficult to determine whether religious ideology itself gives increased or decreased happiness, charitableness, or meaning due to how entangled religious belief is with religious organizations, with such a social institution having sufficient effects on the former three in of itself.
Wooooo. That was unnecessary. I should have just written the Summary and left it at that. Oh well...hindsight is 20/20.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Lord, Liar, or Lunatic"? Or, I dunno, something in between.

A famous apologetic, popularized by C.S. Lewis, the "lord, liar, or lunatic" argument may inevitably weasel itself into discussions about the veracity of Christianity (though it is more often used as leverage against those who claim that Jesus was a decent person while not necessarily believing that he was the "Son of God"). But, luckily, it is rarely brought up by those who are more familiar with the subject matter. Because, the thing is just sloppy, despite how popular it is (who knows...maybe because of it).

First, for Lewis' rendition of it:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."
Now, there are a few good objections to this already presented in the wikipedia article itself. Namely, that Jesus could be fictional, that the Gospel could be inaccurate, that Jesus did not necessarily refer to himself as the "Son of God" and he was only claimed to be after the fact by followers, and that the argument isn't logically sound (hence, the previous alternatives to the "trilemma").

But, really, the argument he makes, even barring that fact, is completely and purposefully ignorant of human behavior. A "lunatic" is hardly crazy about everything. People who have such a delusion can still have insight. Hell, if you have the right kind of delusions, you might not even be called "crazy". It is not as if someone can hold one bizarre, counterfactual idea and suddenly anything that comes out of their mouth is suspect. Think about it for a brief moment. Is it impossible for a Christian, even if they KNOW their worldview is true, to acknowledge Buddha as a good moral teacher, even though he believed in reincarnation? If David Berkowitz said that you shouldn't punch schoolchildren in the kidneys, can we not judge that idea on its own merits, or should we automatically dismiss it on the basis that it was said by a mad serial killer who thought that his neighbor's dog was talking to him? Even those with questionable beliefs, or who actually have severe psychological problems that would cause one to be called a "lunatic" can say things that make sense. And, considering that there are very few people who are completely insane, I feel that this particular line of thought was a bit of a shell game. I'll clarify in a bit.

As for saying that he was a fiend (or, I assume, a malicious liar), I can't offer anymore of a rebuttal than to say that he was perhaps just an innocuous liar whose believers took the bluff a little too far. I don't understand what about his potential lies would cause him to be seen as utterly depraved and demonic, especially if he was human enough to not see any negative implications.

Now, a brief look at the formalized version of the argument:
The premises are as follows.
(P): Jesus claimed to be God.
(Q): One of the following must be true.
  1. Lunatic: Jesus was not God, but he mistakenly believed that he was.
  2. Liar: Jesus was not God, and he knew it, but he said so anyway.
  3. Lord: Jesus is God.

From these premises it follows logically that,

(C): If not God, Jesus is either not great or not moral

As mentioned above, Premise P is suspect, and Q should probably have other options. The typical method of getting to the Conclusion as by ruling out option 1 by claiming that an insane person would not have his kind of insight. Funny, though. Because the definition used simply says that "he mistakenly believed that he was [God]". That isn't so much "insane" as, I dunno, "mistaken". A guy with human fallibility, grasping for a big purpose by playing around with the tales his mother told him about his "virgin" birth in his head for a while.

He is typically proven to not be a liar because he would be evil otherwise, and he is not shown to be evil in the Bible. But, of course, humans are anything but consistent. And we all have our vices of choice. Might just be that Jesus had a taste for being a charlatan with a penchant for rhetoric, rather than being a sex maniac, petty thief, or axe murderer. Maybe different kinds of "evil" don't exactly translate over. Or, maybe it was all just a metaphor...

Bottom line: You can be good and still lie. You can lie, and still look good. You can look crazy to some, and seem profound to others. And even a nutcase when it comes to one subject can be right when it comes to another.
This argument ignores that entirely, changing a "bluff" into a "malevolent scheme" and "delusions" into "complete and utter madness seldom seen in actual human beings outside of fiction" in order to disprove the much stronger, much more pronounced distortion of the original idea, rather than the more accurate, less refutable possibilities. That, in addition to the other shortcomings that have been amply covered elsewhere, makes it very weak in terms of anything short of adding to the confidence to those who do not wish to see the argument's faults.