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10 Questions for Every Atheist July 16, 2014

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses.
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13 comments

This list has been floating around the internet for a few days.  I did a response to a similar list of 15 questions awhile back, and you can find my answers to that one here: 15 Question Atheist Challenge (Edit – and another fairly stupid 10-question set I answered here.)  But I suppose I’ll join in and answer these too.

The list recently appeared here: http://todaychristian.net/10-questions-every-atheist/#_

But was lifted from a post by Robert Neilsen, an atheist, here: http://robertnielsen21.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/10-questions-for-atheists/

The first thing that caught my eye is this lead-in on the TodayChristian website:

Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…

And you will never hear any of those conclusions from their website, because commenting was not allowed on that post.  Because throwing out an assertion like that wouldn’t be any fun if the real atheists were actually allowed to show up and refute it by truly and honestly really answering them.  So here’s my shot at truly and honestly really answering them.  I’ll try to keep each answer succinct, since I tend to ramble sometimes.

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

Short version: I read the bible, just like my youth leaders said I should.  Twice, cover to cover, two different translations. And then in college, I ran headlong into people who were crazy fundamentalists of one sort or another, and the nutcase preachers like Brother Jed, each totally certain that they were right and everybody else was going to burn in hell.  And I started thinking about whether it made sense to believe any of this, and I realized that it didn’t.  And I thought about whether the stuff I had been taught had any more solid basis in reality, and it didn’t.  By the end of college I was functionally an atheist, but didn’t adopt the word until later.  That was around 30 years ago now, and I’m still not believing any of it.

2.       What happens when we die?

We decompose, and the brain that produces the activity that we call our “conscious mind” stops doing that.

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

Then I’ll have a wonderful time at the Beer Volcano, while all you christian infidels have to settle for flat beer and ugly strippers down in Hell Lite.  Oh, did you mean YOUR version of heaven and hell?  Why are those any more likely to be true than all the other versions?

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

Same place everybody does.  My own sense of empathy and compassion, plus rules devised from the need to live together with other people in groups.  By trial and error over thousands of years, we’ve worked out some pretty good rules for co-existing.  Not that there still isn’t room for improvement.

Some people think they get their morality from ancient books or supernatural beings.  But I think that’s just religion taking credit for something it didn’t invent.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

How would there being a god make you not free to do those things?  Plenty of religious people do those things all the time, the fact that they think there is a god watching doesn’t stop them.

But I’m not free to murder and rape if I want to live as part of a community of other people.

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

I create my own meaning in life.  Being told what my life is supposed to be by some superbeing would be awful.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

I don’t know.  But we are developing some good ideas about what happened right at the start, and those come from looking at the evidence and following where it leads.  I don’t pretend to know stuff that I don’t, that’s what religion does.

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

Look up confirmation bias.  Humans are really good at paying attention to the things that match up with their preconceptions and ignoring everything that doesn’t.  And we’re really good at fooling ourselves.

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

You left out Dennett!  I agree with some of the things they say, and disagree with others.  There are other atheist writers and speakers I find more often in line with what I think, including Greta Christina, Matt Dillahunty, and Hemant Mehta.

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

If there were a god, then why do we have thousands of mutually contradicting religions?  If there were an all-intelligent super-being who wanted people to know what he wants from them, why has he done such a lousy job of communicating it?

People are superstitious, due to patternicity, agenticity, confirmation bias and credulous childhoods.  From that beginning, religions coalesce and grow and compete for followers, and those that are the most successful endure and spread.  (OOOOH- there’s that Darwin again!)  The other, less successful ones die off, which is why nobody is still worshipping Marduk or Osiris anymore.  Nowadays most people are stuck with some form of the mental malware of religion, but some of us are recognizing it for what it is and getting rid of it.

 

There, that’s enough for now.

Letter to CFI Board of Directors June 5, 2013

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Rants, Responses.
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2 comments

(I’ve finally written to the CFI Board regarding Ron Lindsay’s behavior at WIS2, and thought I should also post the text of my letter here:)

To:  The CFI Board of Directors

Re: Ron Lindsay, and his unwelcoming speech

I know that you have received many letters regarding Ron Lindsay’s conduct at the Women in Secularism 2 conference, so I will keep this brief.

In his role as CEO of CFI, Ron’s responsibility to the organization was to open the conference with welcoming remarks focusing on support for the mission of CFI, perhaps summing up the previous conference or introducing and welcoming the speakers for the current conference, and generally getting the weekend off to a positive and enthusiastic start.  Instead, Ron delivered an “unwelcoming” sermon that focused on the personal opinions of Ron Lindsay.  None of his actions that weekend did anything to boost my opinion of CFI, or encourage me to be a financial supporter, or become more active with the organization. 

The attendees at the conference included not only currently influential secular activists and CFI donors, but also future secular activists and potential CFI donors as well, and Ron managed to alienate almost everyone in the room, both with his speech, and with his defenses of it over the rest of the weekend.  Ron’s behavior was unprofessional, and reflected badly on the conference organizers as well as reflecting badly on CFI in general. 

I give great credit to Melody Hensley, Lauren Becker, and all the CFI staff and volunteers who made the rest of the conference such a success.  The presentations and panel discussions at each WIS have been a focus and inspiration for further discussions, understanding and action, and these important conferences need to continue.  I will look forward to seeing the Board’s response to the actions of Mr. Lindsay, and hope that CFI will continue to be able to bring “science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values” to an increasingly diverse audience.

Regards,

I love shoes! I hate shoes! May 29, 2013

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants.
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8 comments

(OK, I need a break from secularism, and I feel like talking about shoes for a bit)

Let’s start with the I love shoes part.

Greta Christina has written eloquently on this subject already.  Shoes are a wonderful combination of function and fashion.  There’s room for endless creativity in their design and materials, and a boring outfit can be totally transformed by a great pair of shoes.

One of the best things about them is that there’s no guilt wrapped up in your shoe size.  If a wonderful outfit is a little too small to fit properly, we tend to blame ourselves for not being the right size, for not slimming down enough.  My mental response isn’t “this dress was made in the wrong size”, it’s “I’m the wrong size”.

With shoes, that’s not the case. If a pair of shoes doesn’t fit, we don’t blame our feet, or beat ourselves up over needing to diet them down to a fashionably acceptable size.  If a pair of shoes doesn’t fit me, it’s the shoes’ fault, not mine.

So now – why I hate shoes.  Especially women’s shoes.

Here’s what’s dressy, stylish, and commonly available:

Pointy shoesPointy toes

These are my feet:

Feet

There’s my first problem.  My feet are short, wide, and have toes that just will not fit into shoes like this.  There are catalogs of shoes for ladies with wider feet, but those shoes start at a size 7.  Nothing in there will fit my size 6 feet.  And because of having an odd size like this, I can’t buy shoes on the internet.  I have to try them on, because a shoe that looks perfect in a picture seldom winds up fitting well.

And – I need to have adequate padding and arch support in my shoes, or I will get plantar fascitis.  One bad bout of that a few years back taught me that lesson.

And I’m done with high heels.   Some women say that heels make them feel more attractive and powerful.  Not me.  I feel off-balance, distracted by how much they hurt, and restricted in where I can walk and what activities I can do in them.  In high heels I can’t cut across the grass, navigate a cobblestone or brick surface, or a grating, or decide to walk someplace when the weather’s nice.  I can’t hurry up to catch the subway pulling out, chase a kid, dance all night, or even just stand around for long periods.  I have to think more about where I am placing my feet than about where I am going.  And being unsteady and slow makes me feel vulnerable, unable to react quickly to what’s happening around me.  I have no objection to those people who want to wear high heels and feel comfortable wearing them doing so.  But for me, I’m no longer going to put up with reduced mobility, short-term pain, and long term foot problems, just to conform to somebody else’s image of what ladies’ dress shoes should look like.

When I go shoe shopping, what do I find?  Store windows and displays full of this:

OK, maybe some people like the look of walking around with large heavy blocks of wood strapped to their feet, but I personally think this is ridiculous!

Even basic pumps, which I understand and used to wear, now have chunky thick layers added to the front.   When I’m looking for shoes, if “chunky” is in the description, I’m just not interested.

So what’s available for the high-heel challenged woman?  Lots and lots of ballerina flats:

Ballerina flats

OK, the high heel problem is gone, the platforms are gone,and there’s still lots of variety avaialable.  But- (there’s always a but-, isn’t there) shoes like this are consistent in not having any arch support or adequate cushioning.  Ow.  And many of them are so low-cut in the front that there’s really nothing to hold them on your feet.  I walk funny in these trying to keep them on, and if I take off running, I’ll lose them for sure.

It takes me a long time of shopping to find a pair of shoes that fit, are comfortable, stay on my feet, and look nice enough for most occasions.  Here’s the few pair that I’ve found that I can really wear, and for each of these it took considerable shopping to find them:

I spend most of the cold months wearing these:

Boring shoes

They replaced a pair that looked almost identical to them that wore out in a year, that replaced an almost identical pair of naturalizers that lasted ten years.  These are completely practical, fairly cheap, and totally forgettable.  Sometimes I can find them in the boy’s department, and those usually fit me better.

I spend most of the warm months wearing these:

Comfy sandals

I probably spent more money on these sandals than on any other pair of shoes I have ever bought.  They fit like a dream and I can walk all day in them.   I also think they’re really ugly, with all of these sneaker-like details included deliberately.  I searched for the same feel and fit in something that looked dressier, but nothing doing.

And here’s my favorite dress shoes:

Fancy Shoes

These are beautiful, velvet with embroidery!  They (mostly) have room for my toes, they look nice enough for work, they can also go with a fancy dress, there’s enough upper that they are in no danger of falling off.  The perfect shoes, yes?  No – there’s no padding or arch support, so I can wear them for an evening, but not all day.  And I’ve had them for years and have almost worn them out, and have not been able to find another pair to replace them.

Other options, snow boots, sneakers, flip-flops.  All of limited utility and not much good for work.

other shoes

I want one pair of shoes that’s as practical as the Oxfords, as comfortable as the sandals and as lovely as velvet slippers!  I have yet to find even one pair of shoes that meets these requirements, and also comes in my size.  The hunt for the perfect pair of shoes continues…

Why the vitriol? September 10, 2012

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Rants.
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9 comments

I’ve been looking at quite a few posts and comments in the Atheosphere complaining about the whole idea of Atheism Plus.  A few of these are thoughtful, some are just whiny, but many are downright nasty.  Where is all of this spite coming from?  If it were a new website for atheist knitters or a club for atheist baseball fans, I don’t see that there would be this kind of outcry.  So why such outrage?  I’ve been thinking about this rather a lot, and I have some thoughts on the subject.

I’ve been reading a lot over the past years about cognitive biases, and I think I may have gotten some what is going on here.  First, I recommend a talk given at TAM9 by Carol Tavris:

Carol Tavris at TAM

The part I want to focus on is her discussion of the pyramid metaphor.  Two people who share very similar opinions are faced with an ethical decision to be made. (They are shown near each other at the top of the pyramid.)  Her example was cheating on a test, and in this example, one cheats and one does not.  After the fact they each begin to rationalize their decisions, to find reasons to reassure themselves why the decision they made was the correct one, and why the other decision was wrong.  In the case of the student who cheated, they are faced with a cognitive dissonance:  either they must admit to themselves that they took an action which was not consistent with their self image of an ethical person, or they must create reasons why their action actually was ethical.  Nobody wants to admit to themselves that they are less than a good person, or that they made a mistake.  Rationalizing is easier and less painful.  And so both of these students later wind up quite separate in their opinions, even though they did not start out that way. (Shown as each student now far apart at the bottom of the pyramid.)  And each may now harbor hostility towards the other, even though there was none there to start with.

Also involved here is the Backfire Effect.  Once someone stakes out their position, evidence to the contrary makes them dig into their chosen position all the more.  This even happens to those of us who try to be good skeptics, and always approach problems rationally.  We still get caught by this problem.

So now  I’m looking at the storm that erupted over elevatorgate, and that has only intensified since.  Before women started speaking up publicly about this issue, there were probably a lot of guys who casually made inappropriate comments, or advances, or any of the other things were are now saying are part of the atmosphere of harassment we are fighting.  Or maybe they didn’t do any of that, but just made comments in support someone else who did.  At the time, it might not have seemed wrong, because there was a general atmosphere that this sort of thing was OK, and there was a lot of it going on.

Now we are finally speaking up, saying that it wasn’t OK, it’s a big part of the reason that women have been avoiding events, and that it’s time for it to stop.  And so now any guy who has behaved in ways that we are now defining as unacceptable, even if he didn’t realize at the time that it was offensive, is faced with that cognitive dissonance.  Either he has to admit to himself that his actions might have been inappropriate and say “I didn’t realize, I’m sorry, I won’t do that anymore”, or he has to say “What I did was totally OK, and here’s all the reasons why it’s OK, and you are horrible whiny people for saying it wasn’t OK.”  It’s hard to for anybody admit that they were not the perfect paragon that is their mental image of themselves, but it’s easy to argue.  We’re all very good at arguing.   And the more we point out that this kind of justification is part of the behavior that has been the problem all along, the harder they dig into the position that they are in the right, always were in the right, and have nothing to be sorry about.  Which has now escalated into name calling, abuse and threats.

So what can be done about this?  I don’t have a solution, except to talk about cognitive dissonance in hopes that a few people may recognize it in themselves.  If there’s another answer to this problem, I’d love to hear about it.

Fuming September 5, 2012

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants.
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4 comments

Jen McCreight has announced that she is taking a break from blogging at BlagHag.  Why?  Because of the continual abuse she suffers on her blog and on twitter for the apparent crime of being female and vocal.  And for attempting to do something about the fact that every time somebody mentions that abuse is not OK, the result is more vitriolic abuse.  And that the abuse redoubles simply because she wants to establish one small corner of the internet where people can talk safely without the interruption and aggravation of that abuse.

Jen, I am totally behind you in this.  Take a break from whatever you need to, for as long as you need to.  If you never go back to twitter (or not under your own name) then that’s fine.  If you never go back to blogging, I’ll miss you but I’d support that too.  Finish your PhD, be the best damn biologist out there, write a book, or just retire to some nice beach somewhere and watch the ocean.  Do whatever you want on your own schedule.  From Boob-Quake to Atheism Plus, you’ve given us your time and effort and wonderful writing over the past years and been completely amazing, especially for someone so young.  You don’t owe us anything, we owe you.  And you certainly don’t owe the haters any of your time and energy.

And now the challenge.  I’ve been inspired to blog by Jen, and Greta, and many many others.  So now I need to figure out what I can do from my one small little blog.  My decision to stay off twitter will stand for now, as does my decision to stay off Facebook.  The internet already consumes enough of my free time, without seeing updates on what some old acquaintance had for breakfast, and I’m old enough that a cellphone is an annoyance, not an appendage.  I’ve joined the A+ forum, but I’m not sure quite which goals to work on there yet.  I’ve got some thinking to do, and then probably some serious noise to make down the road.