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 3...at 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 people...you 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 be...it'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 glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com taken down due to defamation in the domain name (and that this legal action will only bring more attention to it).