Sunday, April 28, 2013

Through Newborn Eyes

Today on my way to work, I experienced a phenomena called jamais vu. I was on the bus to work, and it felt off, as if I was on a new route that wouldn't take me to work. I couldn't recognize things I normally go past on my way to work. After a short bit of confusion, and a confirmation that I was indeed on the right bus, things started to feel better. Everything still felt new, but it wasn't confusing, anymore. Instead, it was beautiful. It was like I was looking at things through newborn eyes and like I was on an adventure. I was taken out of the repetition of daily life by a neurological trick. It let me see the beauty all around me and brightened my day. The world is beautiful. We just need to look around and see that.

Isn't It Cute When Right-Wingers Talk About Anarchism?

Red State thinks they're talking about anarchists, unfortunately for them, they don't seem to know what that means. Anarchists don't seek power over others, almost by definition, as an anarchist is someone who opposes all authority and hierarchy, and someone who seeks or voluntarily has power over others isn't opposing his/her authority, which isn't opposing all authority. One of the people Red State called an anarchist is a self-proclaimed leader of lulzsec. The other took sexual power over a woman through rape and, again, was a leader of a group. (To be fair to Red State on the second one, the Daily Mail, a right-wing paper, made the mistake, first. To be fair to the Daily Mail, the rapist may have been a self-described anarchist.)

This may seem like a No True Scotsman fallacy, but it isn't really. This is a definitional thing. This is akin to saying that someone who acts and thinks misogynistically isn't a feminist, even if the person calls him/herself a feminist. This is because not acting and/or thinking misogynistically is a part of the definition of feminist. Similarly, not being a leader and not taking power over others is a part of the definition of anarchist, and neither of the people Red State has referred to as an anarchist are actually anarchists.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Problem with Terminology: Daylight Atheism's Mistake Regarding Nihilism

One thing that never fails to bother me is people mischaracterizing nihilism. Usually, though not always, out of ignorance. Simply put, nihilism is the lack of belief in inherent meaning, purpose, or value to life, the universe, and everything. (More specifically, that is existential nihilism.) Many people misunderstand that to mean there is no meaning, purpose, or value to life, the universe, and everything. Instead, there is meaning, purpose, and value, but only that meaning, purpose, and value that we ourselves ascribe to it which does not exist independent of us. That is not inherent meaning, purpose, or value, so it is not something which nihilism rejects. I bring this up since I was reading through Daylight Atheism's essays, and I came across this essay, entitled "Life of Wonder." In it, he makes an argument for meaning, purpose, and value being compatible with atheism. In doing so he says,
"I do not believe that atheism implies nihilism. I do not believe it leads inevitably to the conclusion that life has no purpose. I do not believe our existence is meaningless, or that our emotions are illusions, or that we have no hope."
Each of those sentences, taken on their own, is fair enough. However, the three of them put together like they are seems to imply that nihilism is the conclusion that life has no purpose or the belief that our existence is meaningless or that our emotions are illusions or that we can have no hope. In fact, he makes several statements about meaning, purpose, and value about atheism which are nihilistic ideas, such as:
"Where do our purpose and meaning come from? They come from nowhere but ourselves."
"Similar conclusions hold for the source of value and worth. Human beings, as intelligent, free-willed beings, bring value and worth into the world through their choices, by deciding to consider some things valuable and worthwhile."
Both of those statements are statements of nihilism. Purpose, meaning, and value comes from us and nowhere else. In arguing against atheism implying nihilism, he makes arguments for nihilism. This comes from a fundamental lack of understanding of what nihilism is. Not only has he failed to argue against nihilism in this essay, but he has demonstrated that he is a nihilist himself.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Report Says the US Practiced Torture after 9/11...

...and, in other news, the grass is green, the sky is blue, and Iraq doesn't have weapons of mass destruction. Seriously, was anyone surprised by this? I wasn't. We've known that we've been torturing for years, now. It's wrong. It's ineffective. It's a pr disaster. It's stupid. There's really not much more I can say on this other than that we shouldn't do it. In other news, the sun rises in the east, bronze is made out of copper and tin, and we shouldn't murder people.

On Tragedies, Death, and What Is Normal

Today, two bombs went off in Boston killing three people and injuring over a hundred more. The perpetrator has yet to be caught or identified, but this is a horrible tragedy. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered from this.

...And, yet, I can't help but think of elsewhere. Yes, this is a horrible tragedy, but, elsewhere, this is, well, normal. Things like this happen every day. In Iraq, there were several bombings today all across the country killing far more people than the one in Boston. In Somalia, there was an attack on its capital today. We all heard of the bombing in Boston, but who heard about the one that went off in Thailand? We all are shocked by the deaths in Boston, but what about the one in Mali? People call for justice for the person who set this off, yet why don't we do that for the one that went off in Afghanistan? All of these happened in the same day. All of these had at least the death toll of the one in Boston, and many had a much higher death toll, but only the one in Boston got coverage all day, with speculations from conspiracy nuts of it being a false flag operation and calls for retribution. Why is it that this one is so special?

Some might say it's because it hit close to home, and, while there's certainly some truth to that, but there was a ton of news coverage of the Madrid train bombings in 12004 HE, and that's certainly not close to home. However, they are more close than Afghanistan or Mali culturally and their seen as allies. That's certainly an element, but there's more to it.

Others might say that it was because of the civilians involved, but the victims in the bombing in Afghanistan were all civilians, as were many of the victims in the one in Iraq and Somalia. So, no, it's not because of civilians, unless people don't count them as civilians.

So what do I suspect? Well, in places like Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, or even Mali or Thailand, such attacks are more, well, normal.  In Boston, bombs blowing up in the streets is likely a once in a lifetime ordeal while, in Baghdad, it's a daily occurrence. People don't think it's special when a bomb goes off in someplace like Iraq because there are always bombs going off in Iraq. What's a tragedy here is normal there, and that is the true tragedy.

Monday, April 15, 2013

On Atheism and Converting Me

I've been reading a lot of blogs I've never read before, and, after several hours of hopping from one blog to another (starting on Brietbart, I think, before moving to Salon, then Greta Christina) I came across this linked in a post by Greta Christina. It presents a question for theists, and another one implicitly for atheists that the writer answers himself. The question for theists is: "What would convince you that you were mistaken and persuade you to leave your religion and become an atheist?" The implicit question for atheists is: "What would convince you that you were mistaken and persuade you to convert to a religion?" I intend to answer the question for atheists.

So, what would convince me to convert to a religion? The short answer is simple: Nothing. The short answer is also highly misleading, so, before anyone calls me close minded or unable to consider the other view, let me explain.

I don't consider this to be a one part process. To convince me to convert to a religion, two things would be required: First, I would have to be convinced that the religion is correct in its metaphysics, that is a christian would have to convince me that the abrahamic god is real and that Jesus really existed and died for are sins (as well as some other stuff, but that's the basics of it). Second, having convinced me of the metaphysics, the theist would have to convince me that a) it is beneficial for me to worship like the theist and b) whatever the theist worships is worthy of said worship. The reason it is not possible to convert me to a religion is not the first part (that is convincing me of the metaphysics), but, rather, the second part (that is convincing me to join the religion). To me, the two things that the theist would be required to convince me of that would convince me to worship the same thing, whatever that thing is, are incompatible. Any thing or things that would benefit those that worship it or them are, in my opinion, not worthy of any worship, and same to any thing or things that would harm those that do not worship it or them. Requiring worship or punishing the lack thereof  is a narcissistic act and worthy of nothing but disgust. This applies equally well to people as it does to gods or spirits. Similarly, any thing or things that would be worthy of worship would never provide a benefit to those that worship it or them nor harm to those that don't. As a result, I would have no reason to want to worship the thing or things as worshipping it or them would be putting the thing or things above me and accepting it or their authority, which I would never do.

Now, I'd like to answer the question that is required for the question for atheists: What would convince me to believe a particular religion's metaphysics? I have a similar answer to the writer of the blog I linked, but I'm decidedly more strict about the evidence I would accept.

First, things that would cause me to update my beliefs on the spot to be consistent with the metaphysics of the specific religion:

  1. Aliens with the same metaphysics: Not necessarily aliens that have the same religion, but has the same metaphysical beliefs. Belief in the same god. Belief in the same mythical figures. Belief in a way the world works that is exactly the same as the human religion. This would have to match up perfectly with the metaphysics, or close enough to be accounted for (so saying that Jihadists would get one less or more virgin in the afterlife is acceptable or variations based on biology are acceptable, such as creatures with multiple minds in the same body believing in a number of souls greater than the metaphysics of the human religion believes in is acceptable) and confirmation that those metaphysics were developed independently.
  2. Any direct manifestation of the divine: The divine would have to be consistent with the divine of the religion's metaphysics and confirm the religion's metaphysics when asked or on his/her/its own. This would have to be confirmed to not be a hoax within a reasonable standard of evidence.
Now, things that would cause me to accept parts of the metaphysics as true on the spot:
  1. A lack of a particularly high failure rate when it comes to prophecies: Rather than looking at prophecies that come true for acceptance of a certain set of metaphysics to be true, I would look at the failures. If a religion has 1000 prophecies and 980 of them are false while 20 are true, and the successes meet the criteria set by the author of the blog I linked, I would not convert, but, if, instead, the religion has 20 prophecies meeting the criteria set by the author of the blog and all 20 are true, then I would accept the prophesying abilities on the spot. (I should note that I would consider scientific knowledge far ahead of its time to fit under the category of prophecy.)
  2. Consistent miracles in a way consistent with the metaphysics of the religion: This is similar to the author's miracles requirement that the miracles be consistent with the metaphysics of the group. Thus, if the group believes that prayer causes miracles, then prayer should cause miracles. If the group believes disbelief causes divine wrath (a subset of miracles), then disbelief should cause divine wrath. This would cause me to accept the miracles claim on the spot.
Things that would cause me to give the metaphysical beliefs more thought:
  1. Consistency: If a holy book and all beliefs were completely consistent, or consistent within an acceptable margin of error, I would give the metaphysical beliefs more thought.
  2. Historical accuracy: It must be independently confirmed by contemporary, secular sources
Things I would not accept:
  1. Lack of immoral behavior: If the followers of the metaphysical beliefs have never done immoral stuff, good for them. However, that's not evidence for the validity of their claims.
  2. Speaking in tongues and other "scare quote miracles": "Scare quote miracles" are things that are "miracles" or "miraculous." This includes faith healing that does not pass a double blind test, speaking in tongues, things that would be explainable by the placebo effect, "bible codes," or other such "miracles."
  3. Subjective experiences: This includes conversion stories. Subjective experiences aren't and never will be evidence, to me. Not even my own subjective experiences. Such experiences would cause me to question myself before questioning any metaphysics.
If someone does manage to convince me of his/her metaphysical beliefs, the first thing I would do in most cases would be to rise up in active rebellion. The problems of the state and capitalism and other such stuff is small potatoes compared to the problem of something placing itself above humanity. Of course, with stuff such as buddhism which has no such figure, I'd just update my beliefs, then continue as is.

That is why you shouldn't even attempt to convert me. Convince me of the validity of your claims, and you will have made an enemy for your god or change nothing about how I act. You will not help yourself, your religion, or any god or other such being you may worship by attempting to convert me. You might, however, help me by telling me of a tyrant I must fight, so, by all means, attempt to convert me. I welcome your attempts. I want to know if I must rebel against your god. God isn't dead, but that's just because I haven't had a go at him, yet.

I challenge you, my dear reader, to answer the questions provided or to attempt to convert me in the comments. Enjoy. I know I will. :)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rosie DiManno, Rape Culture, and Misandry

For those of you who haven't been keeping up with the news, recently four women sexually assaulted a 19 year old man in Toronto. This is a horrible crime and should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, some are treating this frivolously. Rosie DiManno's article doesn't treat it seriously at all. To her, this is all a joke, apparently. Her article says stuff like,
"They could be sex molls or sex maulers." 
"Last seen teetering around in high heels and short black dresses — typical clubbing attire — their estimated age 30 to 36, so not cougars on the prowl." 
"Of course, one man’s sexual assault is another man’s sexual fantasy come true." 
"Sexual assault, you say? Lucky guy others say, nudge-nudge, a fivesome and didn’t even have to pay for it." 
"Wanted: Bad girls in black minidresses and stilettos, approach with caution."
In addition, she used "allegedly" or "alleged" five times, as well as describing the crime as "purported" and "a bizarre anomaly." She also put assault in quotes when describing it. In addition, she says,
"We do instinctively think of sexual assault as something done to women by men because the stats bear that out: 90 per cent of victims are female and 99 per cent of the offenders are male."
Which is a false statistic. In addition, she has a history of reporting on sexual assault in bad ways.

Of course, she's not alone in this. There were some gems,
"every mans dream"
"haha Ya ok!!! #callingbullshit"
"He was probably wearing skinny pants and showing off his ass."
"It never entered my mind that it may not have been a real man. As in a man that adores female flesh."
The assault was horrible, but the response made it worse. This is misandry and a result of the rape culture. Men can get raped. There's nothing funny about it. It is not his fault. He was not lucky. These responses were disgusting. I am disappointed in everyone who has responded in this way.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On Dates

If you noticed in my last post, I dated things based on HE, then gave the AD date in parentheses. In the future, I won't be adding the AD date in parentheses because I'm going to explain the dating system I do use and why I use it.

AD and BC are arbitrary systems with several problems. Now, there's no real problem with arbitrary systems, as all measurement systems are somewhat arbitrary, but I feel it's better to use one that has significance to more people. About 33% of the world's population is christian, so AD and BC have significance to them, but it has very little to the remaining 67% as we do not hold Jesus as the son of the abrahamic god. In addition, it has two major problems. First, it has no 0 date. Things go from 1 BC to AD 1. Second, when dealing with history, it makes things difficult by having both positive and negative dates within human history making things more difficult to determine the difference between dates. CE and BCE has similar problems, but fail in being undescriptive of what they actually are. They are based on the birth of Jesus, they just don't say it.

As a result, it would be better to have one that has more significance to everyone, has a 0 date, and contains all of human history in positive dates. A system that fulfils all of those requirements is the Holocene Calendar. It starts 10,000 years before the start of AD. To convert from AD to HE, one only adds 10,000 and to convert from BC to HE, one subtracts the BC date from 10,001. As such, 1 BC is 10000 HE and 1 AD is 10001 HE.

Worshipping the State or Projection by Conservatives

So I came across this fascinating interview on Red State with the author of Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion, and there is so much to respond to in that interview.

First, let us deal with some hypocrisy by the author, Benjamin Wiker. Wiker complains about liberalism becoming "the default worldview imposed upon us," but isn't that exactly the sort of thing that conservative christians want to see happen with conservatism and, to a much greater extent, christianity? I mean, whenever people do stuff that break away from their worldview, they complain. That's the whole concept behind the War on Christmas. People are breaking away from the conservative christian worldview, and they see it as an attack on them. As a war they are fighting. You'll notice this is a common theme in the interview. Wiker is a hypocrite.

Next, one of the interviewers asks a very good question: How does Wiker define religion to both encompass christianity and liberalism? Wiker never answers the question. He never defines his term. Instead he goes on a tangent of talking about political philosophies which define themselves religiously or include worship of the state or philosophy. He says it happened with facism and communism (almost certainly talking about soviet style marxist-leninist communism), then makes an unsubstantiated claim that the same has happened with liberalism. To be fair to him, though, this is his thesis so he intends to substantiate it with the interview and the book. (Spoilers: This never happens.)

After that, he goes on to talk about the start of the separation of church and state. He talks about how it was the church that created the separation and how that set christianity apart from the pagan religions that came before it which would deify the emperor or king. Of course, this ignores that separation of church and state was an enlightenment concept most often credited to John Locke who wasn't born until 11632 HE (AD 1632) and the term wasn't used until a letter by Thomas Jefferson in 11802 HE (AD 1802). Of course, to be fair, proto-separation of church and state came in the form of Martin Luther's Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms which talks about the earthly kingdom of government and church through whom the abrahamic god rules by means of law and the heavenly kingdom of gospel and grace through which god rules through people obeying the laws he created in the bible. This doctrine comes from Mark 12:17, Matthew 22:21, and Luke 20:26 "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." However, this doctrine is far from a separation of church and state, but a separation of earthly authority, which includes the church and state, and heavenly authority. Christianity had not been separate from the state since emperor Constantine made it the state religion of the roman empire and it was only separate before because no state accepted christianity but, rather, persecuted it. All through the middle ages, kings derived their power from the papacy through the concept of Divine Right and the papacy actually controlled territory that was ruled over by various popes and eastern orthodox did so through the byzantine emperor. During the Reformation, various sects of christianity were supported by various states. In Geneva, the state fully embraced calvinism and the church and state merged. In England, the king split from the catholic church and created the church of England which is still fused with the british state. Separation of church and state is something that came from enlightenment thinkers. Indeed, it was Denis Diderot who once said "the distance between the throne and the altar can never be too great."

Now, for a slight quibble, he then takes Machiavelli's The Prince seriously, despite it being a subtle satire he wrote to appease the leaders who had locked him up.

Next he goes off on another tangent talking about how the states began to focus more on the world and less on the afterlife or spiritual stuff around the time of the writing of The Prince, ignoring that the church had beaten Machiavelli to that by 500 years when pope Benedict IX became the only pope to ever sell the papacy in 11045 HE (AD 1045). He complains that people focus on the world when they are in the world, which he claims creates a fusion of church and state by putting the state above the church, even though that would be dominance of state over church rather than a fusion.

Following that Wiker repeats his unsubstantiated claim that liberalism is a religion. The interviewers quickly change the subject.

They then focus on Obama, claiming that the press made him out to be sort of like a deity, citing a picture early in his presidency which made it look like he had a halo because of the glass behind him and how the press pushed him as a savior. This falls into the liberal bias in the media trap which, of course, completely ignore fox news. However, more to the point, they give absolutely no evidence that the media did this.

Following that he makes an absolutely absurd claim that I'd like to pick apart. Fascism and nazism are forms of liberalism. I'm going to let that sink in for a moment. Liberalism is founded on the concepts of liberty, equality, and justice. Fascism is an ultranationalist totalitarian philosophy that asserts that some races are inherently superior to others and those that are inferior should be crushed underfoot. Those two philosophies are completely incompatible. Claiming that fascism is a form of liberalism is absurd.

That absurd claim is a part of a bigger claim that liberalism shifts devotion from the abrahamic god to the state by focusing more on this world than the next. This completely ignores the possibility that one could have devotion to nothing as he implies that taking away devotion to the abrahamic god would lead to devotion to something else.

He then continues with his absurdity by talking about how people in nazi Germany had an insane devotion to Hitler and people in fascist Italy had an insane devotion to Mussolini as well as referencing how communists seem to have the same sort of devotion to their leader embalming them like saints. Wiker is talking about soviet-style marxist communism as if it were the only form of communism there was. None of these states were liberal (the soviet-style states weren't liberal for similar reasons as fascism wasn't), thus making them irrelevant to his point.

He then goes to his main point, Obama is being treated as a messiah or god. He also brings up FDR as another example of a deified president. This is more hypocrisy from him as he completely ignores Reagan who is treated far more deifically by conservatives than Obama and FDR combined. While Obama and FDR are considered by many (though not all) to be good presidents, many republicans feel its necessary to stamp a lot of what they do as things that Reagan would support or claim that people are betraying Reagan's ideals. While, of course, it would be absurd to call this deification, it's far more reverence than either Obama or FDR get.

Following that, Wiker makes a good point. Liberalism attempts to put its effort into giving us in this world what christianity only promises in the next. Of course, he didn't mean for that to be a good point, but it reminds me of the song the Preacher and the Slave. Christianity promises pie in the sky when people die while people have no food. Is it any wonder that liberalism is a growing trend?

Next, he makes another unsubstantiated claim that there is a shift toward centralization in  the US as a part of a belief that we need a new leader to bring the world into a better place.

They start talking about secular morality, next. Again, they bring up some good points which they don't think are good points. First, that religious freedom must include the freedom not to believe, second, asking what harm it causes if a secular person or an atheist is a moral person, and, third, it doesn't matter what people believe, just how people act. He argues, then, that secular and religious morality will inevitably come in conflict. He gives two examples, abortion and gay marriage, with the implication that people who are pro-choice or pro-gay marriage base their beliefs on secular morality and people who are pro-life or anti-gay marriage base their beliefs on religious or christian morality. This is false. For example, the prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, is an atheist who is against gay marriage. In addition, the episcopalian church is for gay marriage. Not all secular morality is the same just as not all religious or christian morality is the same. There are atheists or people who have secular morality and people who are christian or have religious morality on both sides of those debates.

Then they go on to talk about how, because secularists don't worship a god, they must worship something different, so they worship the state. This ignores the possibility that people could worship nothing. Wiker talks about what people look to as the ultimate source of humanity's salvation and redemption, applying a christian mode of thinking (that humanity needs salvation and/or redemption) to the lack in belief in a god. Unfortunately for his point, many people don't think that humanity needs either salvation or redemption, and, thus, don't need to look elsewhere for it.

He then goes on to claim that, since people don't believe in a god, they look to the state to improve their lives. This ignores people who go out to improve their lives for themselves, both atheistic and non-atheistic. For example Martin Luther King, who fought for rights the state never gave him.

Finally, they wrap up on considering the future, and Wiker makes the point that it depends on what people do now, which is really correct. What we do now can determine what the future will be like.

Wiker's thesis that liberalism is a religion imposed by liberal states is unsubstantiated and there is evidence against it, so there is absolutely no reason to believe it.

On the Nature of Polls

When AWR Hawkins, a columnist for Brietbart, sees a poll on background checks showing that 51% of Americans think they wouldn't curb gun violence, he comes to the conclusion that background checks wouldn't curb gun violence. With a more rational and skeptical look at this poll, one would come to a very different conclusion: 51% of Americans think that background checks wouldn't curb gun violence. Hawkins' conclusions speak to a problem among Very Serious People, to them truth is not truth but the most mainstream belief. Of course, this is something they are inconsistent. If the columnists at Brietbart applied this reasoning to other stuff, they'd be in favor of a lot of things they aren't, for example gay marriage, which averages at 51% of people in support with no poll having more opposition to gay marriage than support in 2013. Hypocrisy, folks!