Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dear Bigot

Dear Bigot,
Please allow me to express my sincerest sentiments over the offense you take at being called a bigot. I sincerely do not care that your brittle ego is insulted when someone calls you out on your bigotry. Trying to distract from your own monumentally offensive behavior by claiming to be a victim is asinine.

Here's a thought: If you don't like being called out for being a disgusting human being, then stop heaping your monumental load of hate on the rest of us. We don't want it and we won't stand for it anymore


PS: Please don't tell me you're not a bigot because you don't have multiple wives. It makes you look woefully uneducated. (yes, this actually happened)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On guns: Do conservative ever make sense

I don’t normally like to visibly involve myself in the whole debate on gun control. Generally, I think there are others better equipped and more interested in the topic. I’m more than willing to lend them my support while they lead the charge.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case everywhere I go. My job is a perfect example of this: I can count on one hand the number of non-conservatives where I work, and they tend to be of the blue dog variety. So, when the topic of gun control comes up, as it inevitably does, I’m the only person who might speak up in favor of gun control measures. I generally don’t because let’s be honest, being surrounded by a horde of rabid gun-loving conservatives doesn’t exactly feel like a safe environment for rational debate on the subject.

Alas, I made the mistake of attempting to carry on a conversation with one of my more sober co-workers. It went about as well as I should have expected.  About a minute into the conversation, I realized that none of my points were registering for the simple fact that I don’t speak conservative.  Words I took to mean something akin to their generally accepted definition were applied in an almost arbitrary fashion.

During the conversation, brief as it became, I did have some interesting “facts” lobbed at me. It was, in my estimation, the gun advocates application of the Gish Gallop. So here, in part, are my responses to a few of these assertions.

1)      “Firearm-free zones are responsible for mass murders”- How do I even begin to dispel the wrong with this statement? Firstly, I should note that my conservative associate is only concerned with a venue’s classification as a ‘firearm-free zone’ rather than the presence of say, trained law enforcement individuals with weapons. He was strongly averse to any suggestion that the police, etc. are the appropriate people to deal with an armed threat.

Firearm-free zones are decidedly not responsible for mass murders, not even the shooting spree variety. I would hope than anyone could see the paradoxical nature of the statement. Rather, it is the violation of said policy, particularly if the violator’s intent is to kill multiple people, that is responsible for any correlation between firearm free zones and multiple shootings.

Let me state this plainly: Firearm-free zones are not only beneficial, they are necessary. There are simply some places where private citizens should not be allowed to carry a weapon: airports, government offices, any place whose primary function involves the consumption of alcohol, etc. I strongly believe that educational institutions should be on that list. The risks associated with accidental discharge, careless storage, etc. far outweigh the potential benefit in the event of a hypothetical shooter. (There is statistical evidence suggesting a correlation between keeping guns out of high schools and reduced rate of gun deaths).

If we want to raise concerns over the safety of firearm-free zones, our first reaction should not be insisting on their abolition.  We should be looking at measures to ensure the enforcement of those policies and/or options to reduce the chances of violation (which is exactly what gun control aim to accomplish).

2)      “Chicago has a higher homicide rate than all the southern states combined, but the South has more lenient gun regulation”-  Attempting to draw a comparison between the 3rd largest urban area in the country and a wide swath of rural territory is flawed at best and dishonest at worst. It blatantly ignores all the other contributing factors affecting the homicide rate. Instead of this comparison, let’s look at the per capita homicide rate for some of those states.

      Louisiana tops the list at 11.2 homicides per 100,000 people.

Mississippi: 8.0
South Carolina: 6.8
Alabama: 6.3
Georgia: 5.6
Florida: 5.2
Texas: 4.4

Illinois weighs in at 5.6. Florida and Texas, the two states to come in lower, have gun regulation similar (but not identical) to Illinois.

Of course, that is the homicide rate, which covers all homicides (including non-gun related homicide) but excludes gun deaths not classified as homicide.  What happens when we look at all deaths from firearms? Which states top out that list? Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, Alaska, and Nevada.  Noticing a pattern?

3)      “Drunk driving kills twice as many people as guns do”- No, it doesn’t. The number of people killed in all traffic fatalities is only 12 per 100,000. For guns, that number is 10 per 100,000. Twelve is not twice as many as ten. Point refuted.

But hey, since I’m in an uncharitable mood, let’s look at the numbers a bit closer.  According to estimates, there are approximately 472.5 million cars in America.  The number of guns is estimated at 260 million. That means that for every car in America, there are 0.55 guns. If you look at the ratio of gun deaths/ vehicular fatalities, you end up with 0.83. So, while there are nearly twice as many cars as guns, you’re only 17 % more likely to die in a car accident.

Gun violence is a problem. It requires a comprehensive solution that must include restrictions on the availability of firearms.  If you can’t see that by now, you’re just refusing to look.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Sudoku Dillemma

I enjoy Sudoku, but perhaps I’m not especially adept at it. On some of the more difficult puzzles, there comes a point where I have to make a guess as to what number fills a particular slot. Once I make that guess, I can proceed with the rest of the puzzle. If I have guessed incorrectly, eventually I start running into contradictions and I’ll know that my initial assumption was incorrect.

The same can be said for the presuppositional assertion that God is responsible for the laws of logic. While we might temporarily grant this assumption, it is not too difficult to identify several logical arguments against God’s existence, leaving us with a contradiction.

Once we’ve identified this contradiction, we are left with two options: either the initial assumption is incorrect or we have applied the rules (the laws of logic) incorrectly. Given the unlikelihood that an apologist will accept the former, they must resort to the latter. This brings us back to a need, on the part of the apologist, to address the arguments against the existence of God on their own merits.

From this short analysis, it should be clear that the presuppositional argument regarding the laws of logic is essentially worthless. It adds nothing of value to the conversation and only serves as an intentional distraction from an unwillingness to defend the existence of god on any logical grounds.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Yet another reason to despise religion

I had planned for this post to be a follow up to my previous one, a further investigation of the presuppostional argument. I had it all worked out in my head and ready to go. Then, this happened:

My reaction was... no, strike that, my reaction is raw and visceral. And while I’ve never been given to physical violence, this news has me seeing red.

What the actual fuck!? Events like these leave me questioning my humanity, because I can not see how someone belonging to the same species could act in such a cruel and callous manner. How can anyone, let alone a medical professional, stand by and let someone suffer and die when actions could have been taken to prevent it?

The answer, of course, is religion. Not the poor woman’s religion, mind you. She had come to terms with the fact that she was miscarrying and asked that she be induced to end the pregnancy. The doctors and nurses, on the other hand, they were good Catholics, and so long as there was a fetal heartbeat, they could not terminate. It did not matter that the baby would not survive, as the doctors well knew, so long as the heart beat, their hands were tied. It was, after all, the law of the land.

Except it wasn’t. While abortion remains illegal in Ireland under most circumstances, there is an exception when the mother’s life is in danger.  This should have been an easy decision: the fetus would not survive and leaving it to deteriorate inside Savita would expose her to serious risk of infection. Terminating the pregnancy in such a case seems like a no brainer.

Somehow, though, no one on the hospital staff could make that decision. Because of their religion. Because they believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good deity.  Because they believed that up until the moment that fetal heartbeat stopped, their beneficent god could have miraculously made everything right again.

This is the corrosive nature of religion. It twists empathy and compassion to the point that a terminal fetus is more important than the woman carrying it. It gambles on miracles and leaves us with dead bodies where there should be live ones. It allows wishful thinking to become an acceptable substitute for actual work. It stops people from working on real-world solutions to problems in anticipation of some hypothetical perfect one. Worst of all, it tries to tell us that this is a good thing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Presuppositonal Postmortem

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I dislike presuppositonal apologetics. I’m not a fan of apologetics of any sort, but presuppositionalists (here on referred to as Presups) really raise my ire. Generally, arguing with a Presup amounts to being bombarded by a slew of ill-informed questions and having any answer given deliberately misinterpreted to fit into the presuppositional script. For the most part, a cogent argument is never given (and with good reason).

Last week, Eric Hovind sent some of his students over to Pharyngula to test their mettle. As you can imagine, it started off poorly as a half dozen or so students ramped up their presuppositional scripts. Questions flew and were rightly mocked. Answers given were misinterpreted time and again.
Yet amidst this chaos, I found one Presup who actually attempted to form an argument. Prompted by criticism and questioning, a student going by the moniker Onlybygrace posted this:

“Evolution and chemical processes can’t account for universal, unchanging, absolute laws of logic. God can. He created them. There can’t be a reason for logic without Him.”

 Now, it’s not exactly an argument, but it comes close that I Think we can work with it and see how it fares. First, we’ll break this down into its assumed premises

1)      The laws of logic are absolute, universal, and unchanging
2)      The laws of logic are not axiomatic
3)      Material explanations are insufficient to ‘account’ for the laws of logic
4)      God is sufficient to ‘account’ for the laws of logic

So, are any of these premises self-evident? If not, can they be supported? Let’s take a look.

Premise 1: The laws of logic are absolute, universal, and unchanging

 Typically, we grant that the first is true within the context of human knowledge and conversation (that is, for the sake of investigation and communication, humans tend to agree that the laws of logic are the same for all humans and do not change), but that is not what is being claimed. If it were, then 3 becomes either decidedly wrong (the laws of logic are an agreement between humans to play by the same rules) or a not-so-stealthy attempt to insert an immaterial entity (the mind) into the mix.

Rather, the claim that the laws of logic are absolute, universal, and unchanging is given to mean that even in the absence of humans, the laws of logic would remain. This may be true, but it is by and large unsupported. How would one even go about supporting this? Any attempt to do so by necessity presumes the existence of at least one human (the one making such an attempt) and thus falls short of its mark.

Certainly, the Presup thinks xe has an out for this, but we’ll deal with that shortly. Right now I want to take things a step further along this line:

Without humans, the laws of logic would not exist.

The laws of logic, like scientific laws, are not dictates of how things must act; they are human cognitive constructs describing observations. In the absence of humans, we would make no such constructs.

But, wait, the Presup might say sputteringly, even though those constructs might not exist, the things they describe still would. This I tentatively concede. In the absence of an observer, the material properties described would persist. But therein lies the rub. They are material properties and this contradicts premise 3.

(At this point, I suspect further objections from the presuppostionalist, but as the ones I’ve heard amount to further unsupported assertions, I won’t go down that rabbit hole here)

To sum up: While premise 1 might be accepted as self-evident within the context of human thought, it is not necessarily so in the broader context intended. Further, to the degree that the broader premise 1 can be supported, it undermines premise 3

Premise 2: The laws of logic are not axiomatic

Premise 2 is closely related to Premise 1. In fact, I rather think that they should not be separate, but apparently the Presups feel otherwise. So, to be fair, I will allow this position until it becomes ridiculous.

What do I mean when I use the word axiomatic? I mean that the proposition in question, in this case the laws of logic, do not require an explanation because either a) the proposition is self-evident; or b) all parties accept it as true.

So, according to either of those criteria, are the laws of logic not axiomatic? Let’s look at condition b first.  I accept the laws of logic as true, as do (I assume) the Presups. In fact, given that any exchange of this sort is dependent upon accepting the laws of logic are true, we must conclude they are axiomatic in this sense.

What about condition a? Are the laws of logic self-evident? To determine this, we must decide whether their negation creates a contradiction.  According to conventional wisdom, denying the laws of logic does indeed create a contradiction. In fact, this is, after a fashion, precisely what premise 1 was arguing.  If we accept premise 1, as the Presups want, then the laws of logic are axiomatic and we must reject premise 2.  I said from the outset that I did not think premise 1 and premise 2 should be separate and we have reached the reason why. They are the negation of each other. Accepting one requires the rejection of the other.

Presups assert that the laws of logic are self-evident and require an explanation.  Typically, though, this is never stated so baldly, for reasons that should be clear from this analysis.   If these sentiments were made clearer, even the Presups might notice that they’ve shot themselves in the foot.

What I want to know though is why. If the laws of logic are self-evident, why do they require an explanation? Any answer more coherent than “because” has not been offered.

To sum up: Accepting Premise 2 require rejecting Premise 1 and vice versa. The Presups provides no support for their desired separation of the two.

Premise 3: Material explanations are insufficient to ‘account’ for the laws of logic

Premise 3 only comes into play after the validity of Premise 2 is established. Since this hasn’t been done, we could stop right here without a worry. For the sake of relative completeness, we’ll go ahead and examine it here and see how things hold up.

It is immediately clear that Premise 3 is not self-evident; there is nothing contradictory in its negation. Since this is the case, the Presups must provide support for this assertion, and that is a weighty task.

As we have already seen in our discussion of Premise 1, there are material explanations that ‘account’ for the laws of logic. Others have provided alternate explanations. The Presups have the unenviable task of showing all these explanations wrong and showing that there are no possible material explanations as yet unknown that might work.  They have, to date, failed to do so.

Then, there is the dubious usage of word account. Those familiar with presuppostional arguments frequently note the uneven application of accounting between Premise 3 and Premise 4. The standard required for a material explanation to account for something is much higher than when a god is called to task.

To sum up: Premise 3 is unsupported.

Premise 4: God is sufficient to ‘account’ for the laws of logic

At this point, the argument is a dud. Premise 4 could be entirely valid and it still would not redeem the conclusion. As it stands, though, Premise 4 is a mess as well. It is obviously not self evident and it has absolutely zero support.  In fact, without serious attention to what several terms mean, it is not even worth considering. In addition to the previously mentioned uneven application of ‘account’, God remains as ill-defined as ever and no real explanation is given for the mechanism by which it ‘accounts’ for anything.

The Presups would argue this with me. I won’t drag this on further by discussing their contentions here because they essentially amount to repeating “Uh-huh” ad nauseum.

To sum up: Premise 4 is an unsupported mess.

The End and the Out: Question-begging and motives revealed

Having now examined all 4 of the premises in the presuppostional argument, it seems clear that it fails miserably. It is nothing more than a heap of unsupported assertions that appear to contradict each other. This should be the end of the discussion.

Unfortunately, it is not.  As I stated earlier, the Presups have an out for dealing with all these objections: revelation.

How do they know that the laws of logic are absolute, universal, and unchanging? Revelation
How do they know that the laws of logic still require an explanation? Revelation

You get the idea. When it comes to the point that they can’t actually support a premise, it becomes a direct revelation from god. How convenient.

Just one problem: The point of this exercise was, ostensibly, to prove the existence of god. Calling on god to support the premises is begging the question.

Then again, it never was about convincing us. It’s about justifying a persecution complex or reaffirming a belief. It’s a more intensive form of standing in front of a mirror repeatedly shouting “I’m right!”  It is, to be honest, about as close as an apologist can come to admitting defeat without saying the words.

Reboot: Getting Back in the Game

When I first started blogging, I made it rather clear that I would continue only as long as I thought I had something to say.  When I stopped, it had essentially come to that.  I still had things I wanted to say, but I found I did not have the time needed to express them properly. My job had slowly taken up more and more of my life and the little free time I was afforded had to be split among all the other things I wanted to do.  I had to start cutting things and spending time with my family trumped everything else. So I cut back. Instead of blogging, I commented on other blogs and news sites. But my job kept growing and eventually commenting fell by the wayside as well.

This summer I finally reached my breaking point. I had just wrapped up one project and was looking forward to a free day or two. My oldest daughter’s birthday was coming up and we’d made plans. Then I received a call from my boss, telling me I needed to leave asap. I had grown accustomed to missing out on events, but this was the first time I ever had to cancel something I already had planned. For the first time in years, I no longer wanted my job.

Fortunately, I wasn’t without options. The next time someone called asking me to work for them, I accepted. At the beginning of October, I “started” my new job with a well-deserved two week vacation. One of the perks of this job is that I’m only scheduled to work half the year, which is going to leave me with a lot of free time. Much of it is going to be spent on my kids, but plenty more will be for whatever I please.

So I’ve decided to start writing again. It will come slowly at first because I have a lot of catching up to do, but when it comes, I’ll lay it out here.  I’ve decided that the subject matter will be a little different from my old posts. In addition to the atheistic musings of the past, I’ll be including pieces on my other interests and concerns, as well as (possibly) some fragments of fiction that I’ve started and stopped over the years.  Regardless of whether anyone reads this, I’ll still be doing it. Here’s hoping some of you find something useful here.

To finish up this first post, a question to anyone who might be reading:

If Christ is risen, does that make him the leavened dead?