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Box of Apologetics June 8, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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Every Monday I listen to the previous Sunday’s broadcast of The Atheist Experience.  And generally the show is a lot of fun, lots of promotion of critical thinking and jousting with theists.  My favorite host is Tracie Harris, who just hits it out of the park, and it’s pretty satisfying when Matt Dillahunty hangs up on an annoying troll.  But lately I have been getting frustrated when some apologist calls in with their favorite clever twist on some tired old apologetic, and they proceed to argue in endless circles, because they just have to “get the atheist to admit that they are right”.  These calls tend to go on way too long and almost never accomplish anything.

I’ve realized that if I were hosting the show and one of these guys got going, that there is something specific I would want to say to them.  But since that’s unlikely ever to happen, I’ll just say it here instead:

“Hey Mr. Apologist!  Before you begin on whatever clever argument for god you are about to present, I need to ask you three background questions.  So, for the time being, instead of discussing it right away, we’re going to put your apologetic in a box.

This Box.

“We’re not going to unpack it just yet.  Not until I find out a few things about the person I am talking to.  First I need to ask you when you first started believing in god.”

(A typical theist will probably tell me that they have been a believer their whole lives, or from when they were very young.)

“OK.  And when did you first learn this argument you are about to present?”

(Let’s assume they tell us about the book they read in high school, or the class their church had recently, or some such.  It’s not likely that they learned a complicated argument in their earliest Sunday School classes.)

“All right.  And finally, suppose that your apologetics teacher (or Pope, or whoever is an authority for your sect) came to you and said ‘Dude, we found a flaw in this particular argument.  It doesn’t actually prove the thing it’s supposed to prove.  You have to stop using it.’  If that were to happen, would you still believe in god?  Would you have to reconsider anything about what you believe, or would you still believe exactly as you do now?”

(I would expect that a typical True Believer™ would declare that their faith would continue to be steadfast in that case.)

“OK, so let me review what we’ve learned about the argument in this box.

  1. It’s not what initially persuaded you to believe, because you didn’t have it at that time.
  2. It’s not what’s keeping you in your faith, because you would still be a believer even if you lost what’s in the box. 

SO, what that tells me is that we don’t actually need to open this box at all!  The question for callers is “Tell us what you believe and why.”  And we have just established that the argument in this box is not really part of your “why“.  So we can throw out this box unopened.  It’s not relevant.

“Here’s the box we ought to open up:

“What we should be talking about are the real reasons that you believe.   What initially persuaded you to start believing?  What things are so central to your beliefs that you would have to rethink your entire belief system if they were discredited?   I don’t know what’s in this box for you.  Maybe it’s things like ‘trust in your teachers,’ ‘personal experience,’ ‘clerical authority,’ or ‘biblical infallibility.’  Maybe it’s something else.  We won’t know until we start unpacking it.” Those are the interesting and useful discussions to have, not these circular apologetic word games.

If I ever were in the position similar to the hosts on TAE, I think that I would have to label some real boxes to use as visual aids.  Because, unless a caller says that their argument was specifically why they started believing, or that their faith would collapse without it, there’s no way that I would want to waste my energy listening to their endless philosophical wanking.  I have better things to do, like watching paint dry.

Dog ate his homework February 2, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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At a speech about Black History Month, Hair Twitler said this:

“I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things, Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.”

So Frederick Douglass is still alive?  Wut?

And then I realized what this reminds me of.  This is the book report from the kid who goofed off and didn’t bother to read the book.  You know, this:

calvin-book-report

I’m not the first to have noticed this, though.  Back during the campaign there was a marvellous Twitter stream of Drumpf’s “hasn’t read the book book reports”:  https://twitter.com/antoniofrench/status/788928579086217216?lang=en

Of course, we already know that Il Douche can’t actually read.  So no surprise there.

Weather Report January 20, 2017

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Today’s weather headline:

Weather for Trump’s Inauguration Day will be damp, dreary

grumpy-cat

What she said November 21, 2016

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I haven’t really been able to post what I think about the election, because I’m still too full of rage and despair to put it together coherently.  But I just found this video on Friendly Atheist, and I think Tess Rafferty puts it very well:

So for my own mental health at the moment, I’m going to keep avoiding newspapers, and newscasts, and pretty much anything political, because I need to cope with the rest of my life at the moment, and if I think about what happened I just shut down and can’t do anything.    Eventually I may be able to dig in and fight.  But, as Tess said “… I may scream when I do and if I start I may not stop.”

 

The Supernatural and “Supernatural” November 7, 2016

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Oftentimes, during a conversation between a theist making a conversion attempt and an atheist, the topic of lack of evidence for the supernatural comes up.  And sometimes the atheist demands, not only evidence that the supernatural exists, but some kind of an explanation for the mechanism by how it operates.  But I don’t need that second part, and don’t think we need to demand it.  If I had strong enough evidence that the supernatural existed, I’d accept that it did.

The theist will then usually protest about how there’s tons of evidence.  Faith healing that’s not statistically better than placebos!  A plane crashed and somebody survived!  Just look at the trees! And other such stuff that isn’t good evidence for the supernatural.

What would a world look like where there was good evidence for the existence of the supernatural?  I’ve found a really good example.  I’ve just finished a binge watch on Netflix of the first eleven seasons of the series Supernatural (go figure).  The basic setup, for those of you unfamiliar with the show, is a pair of brothers who travel the country saving people from various supernatural bad guys and monsters.  In their world, this stuff really exists, and behaves in predictable ways.  The brothers are often testing solutions to see what works, and researching into records to see what has been successful for other monster hunters in the past. For example, what works on a werewolf always works on a werewolf, but is not necessarily effective on a skinwalker or a vampire.  The trunk of their car is filled with dozens of different weapons, to be prepared for anything they run into.

I’d like to look at the show’s treatment of demons in particular, since often theists claim that demons are real.

In this show, if someone is possessed by a demon, there’s no vague “I think they’re possessed because they said crazy things” or “I have a bad feeling”.  Nope, in the Supernatural world, if you think someone is demon possessed, throw holy water on them.  If it burns them, and they smoke and scream, there’s a demon.  If they say “what did you do that for?” then it’s not a demon.  (Could be something else, though.  Best to run a few other tests.)

Demons can possess people without their permission, but can be evicted by someone else performing the exorcism incantation, upon which they exit from the possessed person visibly.  No uncertain “I feel better now, so it must be gone” stuff. You can see it leave.

demon-leaving

But if you want to kill it, you need a special demon knife.  And there are specific rules and constraints on their behavior.   They are unable to possess someone who has a warding tattoo:

anti-demon-tattoo

If you trick one of them into standing on a devil’s trap, even if it’s under a carpet, they can’t leave until the trap outline is broken.

devils-trap

If you put specific items in a box, bury it at a crossroads, and say the right incantation, a crossroads demon will appear, ready to make a deal with you.

crossroads-demonAnd if you make a deal with a demon, they will abide by it, no cheating.  But you had better read the fine print first, because they will abide by the letter of the agreement, not the intent.

And there’s a lot more specifics on demons, that I won’t go into here.  Each different sort of baddie in the series also has specific characteristics and weaknesses.  Not some vague woo-woo “I feel a spirit in the room whose name starts with either a C or a J”.  Nope, if there’s a ghost around, the temperature drops, the EM meter goes whoop, the ghost is usually visible and often solid, and they are repelled by cold iron or salt.  You want to be rid of them?  Find out what is tethering them to earth (usually remains of some kind) salt and burn that, and the ghost disappears in a burst of flame.  Usually just in the nick of time, of course.

burn-the-bones

Sam and Dean don’t need to know the actual mechanism that makes all this possible.  They just see it in action, every day.  If theists could pull out examples of stuff like this, that’s predictable and testable and doesn’t line up with the laws of our physical universe, and our most thorough testing was unable to reveal any use of trickery or special effects, then I’d be willing to consider that the supernatural exists.  I wouldn’t need to know how it works, I’d be fine with seeing that it does work.

But Sam and Dean’s world isn’t our world.  The show even made this point by having the characters break through into our world at one point, where they found themselves on a TV set in Vancouver, and to their dismay found out that magic doesn’t work here!

Of course, I would not need a theist to show me exactly this evidence to establish that the supernatural is something more than their imagination.   But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  Claiming the existence of an invisible realm full of invisible super-beings that interact with us?  That’s really, really extraordinary.  Show me evidence as strong as the characters are provided with on this show, or don’t bother.

Funeral update October 20, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
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Well, I went to the funeral for my friend.  And it was pretty much like I expected.

First, I want to give all due credit for the good stuff, the thoughtful stuff, the stuff that helped us all remember:

  • There was a display of some of his favorite things, and favorite T-shirts in the lobby.
  • There was a slideshow of years worth of family pictures playing on several screens for about an hour prior to the service.
  • There was a terrific reception with tons of food provided, so that all the people there could have a chance to talk afterwards.
  • There was a crowd of more than 600 people.  The seats were filled and there was overflow seating set up in the lobby.
  • My chorus had almost 50 people show up, and we did a really good job singing the piece we were performing.
  • There were several people who spoke about my friend, and his life, and his influence on them, and especially his sense of humor. Some of his family spoke, and some of them wrote their thoughts down and had somebody else read them, which I think is great for when someone is too emotional to speak, or just too terrified of public speaking to speak.

But.

The service was maybe 1/4 about my friend’s life, and how much we will miss him.  The other 3/4 was about how religious he was, how important religion is, god, grace, god, heaven, god, bible, Jesus, and more god.  Yes, he was a religious man, yes he was active in religious groups, and yes his wife’s a pastor.  I’m not saying that their church shouldn’t focus so much on that, it’s their church and they should do their thing, it’s what the congregation expects.

But wow was it awkward for me as a non-believer to sit through all that.

The thing that maybe bothered me the most was the sermon.  It was actually a sermon, not a eulogy.  Instead of talking about the deceased, the preacher talked mostly about the biblical story of Lazarus.   OK, I guess this is appropriate for a funeral, given that it’s about Jesus bringing a dead man back to life.  But the pastor really focused for a bit on this sentence:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And what I’m thinking is, if their benevolent god actually existed, one that cared about people’s beliefs, and wanted people to be righteous and religiously observant, and to serve their fellow man, then there wasn’t a better example of a faithful follower of that ideal than my friend.  My friend who died in a pointless accident.  My friend who should have had at least another 20 good years.  I’m thinking “If their Lord was real, and cared, this man should not have died.” But no, then he went on to talk at length about Jesus bringing Lazarus back, a thing that in our modern experience never actually happens.  You know, if their god existed and actually wanted to me to believe that he existed, at that point all he needed to do was to have my friend walk into that room, in perfect health, and I’d probably change my mind.

But alas, all we get is talk about grace, and the “arms of god” and “we’ll see him again” and the happy fairy tales people tell themselves to make us feel better.  On the outside I was not showing my annoyance, but on the inside here’s the version of the sermon that was going through my head:

I think my presence there was helpful for my chorus, and I think the chorus’s presence there was helpful for the family.  So I’m glad that I was there for them, even if I hated most of the actual service.

Funeral frustrations October 11, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants.
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Most of the time, I can arrange my life so I don’t have to have much contact with religion.  Sure I sing with a chorus that sings music with religious texts, but I can appreciate the artistic quality, and try to ignore the words as much as possible.  But other than that, I’ve managed to exclude the religious practices and expectations of others pretty well from my day-to-day existence.

Except.

Earlier this month, a good friend from my chorus died in a pointless accident.  You know how, in most organizations, 10% of the people do 90% of the work?  He was one of those 10% and then some.  He was a stalwart member of the chorus, not only singing, but taking on more responsibilities than anybody else, and holding a really important position in the organization.  He always went above and beyond, was always positive and cheerful, and I will miss him terribly.

The funeral is Friday.

It’s Methodist.  His wife is the pastor.

AAARGH.  I’m already hearing the religious platitudes about “He’s looking down at us” and such being thrown about.  Going to listen to an extended session of “he’s in a better place” and “god has a plan” and all the other religious tripe that people say is not how I want to be spending an afternoon.  That’s not how I cope with loss.  Instead of grieving, at the funeral I would be trying to keep my mouth shut, and finding a way not to be rude or roll my eyes when the crowd around me is playing their pretendy-game that he’s in heaven and they will see him again.  My friend is gone, really gone, when he should have had at least another twenty years ahead  of him.  This completely sucks.  They get to be honest, but I don’t, because if I say what I really think I’ll offend someone, and a funeral is not the appropriate time to be doing that.  If I go I have to be fake and polite.  Sheesh.

There’s no point in my going for my own benefit.  There’s no point in my going for my friend’s benefit, he’s dead and so has no opinion on this.  There’s no point in my going for his family’s benefit, because I don’t know them and they don’t know me.

But-

As someone who has also held major positions in the chorus in the past, there’s an expectation that I’ll be there.  The director, the other past and present officers, and the chorus members are expecting me to be there.  It’s part of the solidarity needed to keep the chorus functioning through this.  I don’t need to be there for me, but they need me to be there for them, so I can’t not go.

The chorus has been invited to sing.  If I go, I can’t not sing.

So there I’ll be, the atheist in the choir loft.   Crap.

Religion of peace? September 25, 2016

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I spent a good part of this morning at WIS4 listening to a talk from Bonya Ahmed, a survivor of a vicious machete attack by Al-Qaeda Islamist fundamentalists in Bangladesh.

bonya-ahmed

She is an amazing human being.  Her husband, Dr. Avijit Roy, was killed and she barely survived.  Many people would have just given up and gone into hiding after that, but she has carried on the work, and speaks out strongly and articulately.   I’ll be posting my comments on the WIS4 talks at a later time, but I just want to say that she is an inspiration for me, her bravery gives me hope for what people can accomplish.

Then I got home and found this headline.

“Jordanian Writer Murdered After Sharing “Offensive” Cartoon Mocking Terrorists’ Vision of Paradise”

Shit.

Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was murdered this morning for sharing a cartoon on Facebook, a cartoon that mocked the beliefs of ISIS terrorists.  Not even for drawing it, just for sharing it.  And he was killed while heading to court to answer for charges of “offending Islam,” also from posting the cartoon.  Since I have the privilege of living in a country where we have no laws against offending religion (yet), the very least I can do is share the English version of the cartoon:

mo-in-bed-with-women-asking-for-wine-and-cashews

Their god is apparently so weak that their beliefs can’t stand up to a little mockery.  Their religion is so fragile that its followers kill people just for the suggestion that it doesn’t have to be taken seriously.

Religion of peace my ass.

Evangelists and the Reason Rally, Third Epistle June 2, 2016

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One more of these before the Rally.  Again, as a reminder, these are some of the things that I would be saying to Ray Comfort’s specially trained group of 1,000 evangelists, who were going to descend on the Reason Rally en masse until they found out they needed a permit and would have to demonstrate at the other end of the Mall.

reason rally preachers

Ubi Dubium’s Third Epistle to the Evangelists

“OK, Mr. Preacher.  I think I’ve made it clear that all the stuff you have carefully learned from Ray on what to say to atheists is going to accomplish exactly nothing as far as converting anybody.  Any of you who have tried this kind of the thing on us in the past should be well aware that it will not be producing the promised results.

“So the question is:  Why do you guys do stuff like this?

“Now I can’t claim to read minds, or know your beliefs better than you do.  But I have some hypotheses about what is actually going on that I’m going to suggest.  If any of the preachers who were actually going to go to Ray’s event want to comment here on these ideas I’d be happy to discuss them.

“An obvious answer is that their bible tells them to go “preach the gospel.”  But there are certainly easier audiences out there, ones that will give more “bang for the buck” as it were.  Even a college campus is more receptive than a crowd of thousands of atheists, and there’s a better chance of actually making converts.  I know people like a challenge, that’s why they do crazy difficult things like climb Everest.  But do you throw yourself at Everest if you know there’s zero chance of success?  So that can’t be all there is to it.

“Another thing that I see is that True Christians™ always seem to want to be seen to be accumulating “cosmic brownie points” with their god (or “treasures in heaven” if you want a nicer term).  Every opportunity for a public display of piety, or to throw a bible verse into an email, or to preach at somebody is a chance for a shout out of “Hey god, look how devoted to you I am!”  I rarely see that kind of thing from mainstream christians, they usually take the bible verses about not showing off their piety in public more seriously (see Matt 6:5).  It usually seems to be those of the fundigelical variety who are intent on making as big a public display as possible.

“But I think that even more than displaying their devotion for god, I think in many cases they are displaying their loyalty to each other.  I’ve talked about the idea of “honest hard-to-fake expensive symbols of commitment” before.  (And I still am looking for a better name for this idea, if anybody has one.)  This is the thing you do that is difficult, or time-consuming, or expensive, or personally embarrassing, or all of those, and is also completely pointless.  You would never do it except for the purpose of getting another group or individual to accept you as sincere.  Among the many things that would fall in this category are Mormon missions, gang tattoos, big diamond engagement rings, fraternity hazings, and tithing.  The bigger the gesture you make, the more you are telling your group that you are a devoted member.  And for a group where preaching is a show of loyalty, what bigger gesture can you make than to spend money to travel to another city, and preach in front of a guaranteed hostile audience?  I think going off to DC to do this is  a sure way to gain status and trust from the congregation back home.

“I’m thinking there may also be an element of territorial marking involved as well.  The atheists are meeting on the National Mall, in public, specifically to challenge christian dominance of politics and government in the country.  If the christians just allowed that to happen without getting involved, it would be a big event that was all about the heathens, and not about them. Perhaps they felt a need to take ownership and put their mark all over the event as much as possible, to reclaim this piece of the public attention “turf” for themselves.  Being relegated to the other end of the Mall just would not accomplish this goal at all.

“Those are my ideas so far.  It’s possible I’m completely wrong (which is something you never hear an evangelist say).

Thus endeth the Third Epistle.

 

That’s all for now.  If I have any interesting encounters at the Rally, perhaps I will have a follow-up.

Evangelists and the Reason Rally, Second Epistle June 2, 2016

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ray-comfort-2

Continuing on with all the things I wanted to say to Ray Comfort’s god squad that was supposed to show up at the Reason Rally to save our souls and stuff.

Ubi Dubium’s Second Epistle to the Evangelists

“OK, now Mr. Preacher I’d like to talk about the content of some of your preaching, but probably not in the way you expect.

“You’ve probably spent a lot of time learning all kinds of apologetics.  Endless arguments against evolution, and lots of arguments for the existence of god that go along the lines of “first cause” and “everything can’t come from nothing” and so on.  You’re prepared to go into those arguments at great length, and expect me to spend a lot of time rebutting you on them.

“Well, I’m not going to bother doing that.  Surprised?

“Let’s look at the bigger picture here.  Suppose that by some really amazing insight you were able to show that evolution wasn’t happening, and that it’s not responsible for the diversity of life on earth.  Well then SO WHAT?  All you would have done is get us back to a position of “I don’t know”.  And if you understand the fallacy of the argument from ignorance, you’ll see that “I don’t know” does not justify jumping to a conclusion of biblegod and Jesus and Noah’s ark and talking snakes.  You still need positive evidence to justify those beliefs, and knocking down evolution, or any other science you happen not to like, does nothing to establish the truth of your dogma.  You need positive evidence, not just an attack on what you see as the alternative.

“And let’s look at those “first cause” arguments.  “Something can’t come from nothing.”  “The universe is too fine-tuned not to have been designed on purpose” and so forth.  Suppose you were successful in making those arguments.  Again, SO WHAT?  The best you can do from winning all those arguments is a vague deism. But deism isn’t what you are trying to sell me on, is it?  Even if you establish that there had to have been some kind of mind behind the creation of the universe (which I’m not actually buying), you have done nothing to show that your religion is true.  Your creator god could be one that created the universe and then died, or left, or one that just  churns out universes all day and doesn’t care what happens to them, or one that became the universe instead of making it, or one that created the universe for some other purpose and we’re just a side effect, or any number of other possibilities.  Winning your “first cause” arguments still do nothing to get you to a conclusion of biblegod and Jesus and Noah’s ark and talking snakes.  “Look at the universe, therefore Jesus!” makes no more sense than “Look at the universe, therefore Muhammad!” or “Look at the universe, therefore Krishna!” or “Look at the universe, therefore the Flying Spaghetti Monster (pesto be upon Him)!”   If what you are presenting isn’t evidence that’s specific to what you are actually selling, then don’t even bother.

“And finally, Ray has probably taught you all kinds of rhetorical tricks to try to trick people into saying that they need god:  “Have you ever lied?  Have you ever stolen anything?  Then you’re a liar and a thief!  And therefore a SINNER!”  I have two things to say about that.  First, any god that would need his preachers to trick people into belief is a pretty pitiful god in my book.  And second, Mr. Preacher, have you ever lied about anything?  I bet you have!  And you know what that makes you?  A LIAR!  You’ve learned your craft from Ray Comfort, and I’ve certainly heard him tell lies.  And if you believed that you could bring somebody to Jesus and save them from the eternal fires of Hell by lying to them, would you do it?  I bet you would!    In which case, Mr. Preacher, that makes you a liar for Jeezus who is not entitled to be up on that soapbox.  Get off that high horse, knock it off with the clever trickery, and actually talk to us and pay attention to what we have to say.  Find out why it is we don’t believe your message, even though we live in a country saturated with it.   Listen before you talk.

Thus endeth the Second Epistle.

(Stay tuned, still more to come.)