Friday, May 26, 2017

The Friendly Atheist feels the Manchester bombing may have been justified

I'm not making this up.  This is the Friendly Atheist's headline:  "A Terrorist's Belief in Islamic Paradise May Have Justified the Manchester Bombing."  See it for yourself.

No, Friendly Atheist, nothing justifies an act of terrorism.  No way it may have been justified.  It simply wasn't--not in any way, shape, or form.  Period.  End of discussion.

I think, by the way, what he meant was that the terrorist used a reward of paradise as his justification for carrying out the bombing.  That's a good deal closer to English--closer, at least, than the FA is capable of traveling.

Oh, and the awful writing doesn't stop here: "This is why atheists pay so much attention to a God we don't believe in.  These sorts of tragedies occur due to unchecked, unquestioned acceptance of irrational dogma."  No, this is why atheists pay so much attention to belief in a God.  You can't pay attention to something that doesn't exist, can you?  And to offer a single cause for acts of terrorism, even if you've qualified those acts ("these sorts of tragedies" i.e. religiously based suicide bombings), is moronic, as most thinking people agree that the motivations are many and varied.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Repost: Carl Sagan, the great science popularizer, vs. 1846 Sunday School text

Carl Sagan's famous essay, "Pale Blue Dot," is quoted and praised all across the cyber-galaxy, but just how original is it?  Ever wondered that?  How does it stack up, quotation-wise, against the 1846 American Sunday School Union text, The Starry Heavens (The Solar System, Part II)?  Let's find out by comparing select passages between the two texts.  Let's discover what 19th century children were learning about astronomy in Sunday School class in the days before the Civil War.

Sagan quotes are followed by select passages from The Starry Heavens:

Sagan: "The Earth is a small stage in a vast cosmic arena." And, "Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark."

The Starry Heavens: "What is the whole of this globe on which we dwell compared with the solar system, which contains a mass of matter so many millions of times greater?  What is it in comparison with the hundred millions of suns and worlds which, by the telescope, have been descried through the starry regions?"

Sagan: "Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one other, how fervent their hatreds.  Thinks of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”

The Starry Heavens: "What, then, is a kingdom, a province, or a baronial territory, of which we are as proud as if we were the lords of the universe, and for which we engage in so much devastation and carnage?  What are they, when set in competition with the glories of the sky?"

Sagan: "Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light."

The Starry Heavens: "(The objects connected with astronomy) show us what an insignificant being--what a mere atom, indeed, man appears amidst the immensity of creation!"

Sagan: “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.”

The Starry Heavens: "We have reason to believe that the most exalted beings in the universe--those who are furnished with the most capacious powers, and who have arrived at the greatest perfection in knowledge--are distinguished by a proportional share of humility."

We close with a highly ironic Sagan quote: "A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths."   Do those "conventional faiths" include 19th century American Christianity?


Getting the fallacies wrong

The YouTube fun continues--I pointed out there (i.e., at the Matt Dillahunty post) that the appeal to authority fallacy (I forget its formal name) is something completely different than what they are suggesting.  It's not something that happens anytime one cites an authority in an argument; it's more like citing a false authority.  For instance, nine of out ten birdwatchers recommend a particular brand of truck tire--are birdwatchers, as a group, qualified to do so?  Are they experts in that area?  Some wold be, certainly, but as a group, of course not.

Or, here's what Einstein says about camera lenses.  Einstein was one of our species' smartest humans, but I'm not aware he had any expertise in that area.  Appeal to authority is a kind of empty name-dropping.  Like, nine out of ten Hollywood actors believe global warming is, to a significant extent, caused by humans.  I happen to believe that, too, but not because actors push it.  I believe it because it's the general consensus of climate experts.

Bogus authority.  Or, what the hell did Arthur Godfrey know about laundry detergent?  When we cite a legit authority, we're committing no fallacy.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

I'm glad we cleared that up.

I wanted to clarify, btw, that my sarcastic and not always nice comments about the various logic-and-reason celebs are that way because the folks in question are pretending to be experts on subjects they are not expert in.  (Philosophy, for one big example.)  Hence, they have some sharp retorts coming--knowingly or not, they're scamming their listeners and followers.  Pretending to be something you're not isn't the greatest crime in the world (unless, of course, you're taking people to the cleaners, money-wise, and I don't think any of these folks is doing that), but the logic'n'reason celebs have certainly harmed the cause of promoting logic in cyberspace, given the drivel they post.  Want a bogus definition of the No True Scotsman fallacy?  No problem; just go to some source other than Wikipedia or Standford, and you may very well get your wish.  Their behavior comes down to spreading nonsense in the name of combating nonsense.

The "skeptic" movement was in trouble from the start, what with a brilliant but uneducated magician the main star, media-wise, of the show (we're talking James Randi).  You push the idea that just anyone can practice scientific skepticism, and, before you know it, just anyone is.  Never mind that scientific skepticism is a highly specialized application of critical thinking, one that requires expert knowledge in a specialized area.  Never mind the reality.  Just hype it as something anyone can do, and, before you know it, anyone is.  And so we have a blogosphere packed with bogus definitions of elementary logical fallacies and essays which falsely accuse believers of committing an affront to reason simply by believing in a higher power.  And, craziest of all, we have atheists who apparently object to all of the "if/then" stuff that goes on in philosophy.  No one is allowed to imagine that something could be true; one has to know whether or not it's so.  One needs proof--conclusive proof.  What would philosophy look and feel like without the intellectual license of "If A is so, then..."?


Monday, March 27, 2017

The Dillahunty/Licona debate: A review

I watched the YouTube(d) debate (allegedly around the question, "Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?") between Matt Dillahunty and fundamentalist Mike Licona, and Matt took a full 57 minutes to start talking about the need for evidence, the need to demonstrate that it's possible for someone to rise from the dead, etc., etc.  This is the skeptic's single line: Show me.  I have no problem with asking for proof, but why not lay his cards on the table at, say, 57 seconds in, thus saving us all a lot of watching and listening?

The debate can be summed up as:

Mike:  The supernatural exists.
Matt:  We don't really know what the supernatural would be, and I'm not going to accept the existence of anything supernatural until the supernatural is demonstrated to exist.


Mike: (Paranormal claims)
Matt:  Proof, please.

Do we really need 2:29:20 of that?  (Who do I mean by "we"?  Anyone who hates him or herself enough to sit through such a thing, I guess.)

Licona took issue with Matt's application of Occam's Razor, so there's not much hope for Licona, who is intelligent but fundamentalistic to the core.  Matt is equally a fundamentalist, and by that I mean a Christian fundamentalist.  A dry fundamentalist, as it were.  (Apologies to Firing Line.)  He considers himself an atheist (he doesn't believe in God, after all), but anyone who considers the Resurrection the central fact (or fiction) of Christianity is a fundamentalist.  Matt's not simply stating someone else's point of view here--he's stating his.  It's the tiresome fundie notion that the truth, meaning, validity, etc. of scripture depends upon whether or not the miracles described in the text are real or made-up.  Yawwwwwn.

Two Christian fundies battling it out--one a believer, the other a nonbeliever.  I only put myself through this because I've questioned Matt's debating skills and felt, because of this, that I ought to watch him debate.  Enough.

Background: Matt put up a hilarious YouTube video in which he glibly dismisses ontological arguments as inadequate.  I questioned his qualifications to do so, which was not a response to any of his arguments, and certainly not an argument on my part.  "What are your creds?" is not an argument for anything.

Nevertheless, he accused me of committing the argument ad hominem fallacy, which I did not, in any way, do.  Kind of miffed me.  It's too bad I don't have the ability to laugh at such things; instead, I get annoyed.  But maybe I enjoy getting annoyed.  (Me, and countless other internet addicts.)

Matt's rambling style doesn't impress me--it gives every impression that his knowledge of fallacies, critical thinking requirements, the purpose of scientific skepticism, etc. is pretty superficial.  Sorry, but someone who finds a logical fallacy where it's not happening is not someone whose expert act is likely to fool me.

I'm not taking "sides" on the Resurrection, by the way--i.e., on the question of whether or not it really happened.  I regard it as what it is--a very important Christian narrative, one whose meaning is far more important than any "debate" over its historicity.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Words don't have meanings. Except when they do.

I'm watching this Matt Dillahunty video at YouTube: Debating Theists.  He's like a macho fundie preacher--the tone, the cadence, the "I'm the man" bearing.  But we can't be judging people by how they act and look, and by what they say.  Because, um....


So, early on, he asserts that words don't have meanings--they have usages.  Seriously.  Quote: "We inject meaning into words."

Later on, he talks about semantics (as a potential roadblock to debate!!).  He says, "Semantics--it's about what words mean, and it's important."

Cue the Spike Jones interlude.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Antony Flew vs. Matt Dillahunty

Welcome to today's installment of Antony Flew vs. Matt Dillahunty.

Antony: "What is true, or false, is propositions.  What is valid, or invalid, is arguments.  These notions and these distinctions are absolutely basic.  To say that an argument is true or that a proposition is valid is as uncomprehending or as inept as to say that someone got to first base in basketball or that someone made a home run in tennis."--How to Think Straight: An Introduction to Critical Reasoning, Antony Flew, Prometheus Books, 1998.

Matt, to caller: "The arguments are either correct or incorrect, independent of who said them, right?"--Atheist Experience, Mar. 12, 2017.

Yikes.  As my piano teacher would say, "Ouch!"


Thursday, March 16, 2017

I had the Matt Dillahunty experience

Who's Matt Dillahunty?  A skeptic/atheist/secular/whatever who can barely write, think, or speak, yet who considers himself a great debater.  Hate to be so rude about it, but he was rude to me, so, nyah.

My encounter with Matt lasted a fraction of a second--just long enough for him to access his app, or whatever you do with apps.  (Seriously--I don't know.)  Activate it, whatever.

At Youtube, he has a video in which he blathers about ontological arguments from philosophy. We'll start with the verdict of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on ontological arguments:

"Critiques of ontological arguments begin with Gaunilo, a contemporary of St. Anselm. Perhaps the best known criticisms of ontological arguments are due to Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason. Most famously, Kant claims that ontological arguments are vitiated by their reliance upon the implicit assumption that “existence” is a predicate. However, as Bertrand Russell observed, it is much easier to be persuaded that ontological arguments are no good than it is to say exactly what is wrong with them. This helps to explain why ontological arguments have fascinated philosophers for almost a thousand years."

Yeah, well, Matt is hardly fascinated by them.  Then again, Matt's not a philosopher.  I don't know what he is, actually, since his Wikipedia entry (you have to be pretty important to have one of them) doesn't so much as mention a high school diploma, let alone a degree in anything.  And, since I'm being a dick in the best cyber-atheist tradition (why should they have all the fun?), let me direct you to a pathetic piece of writing by Matt.  I, and a lot of other folks I can name, sounded more intelligent in sixth grade.

So, after watching Matt behave like an expert on everything (an especially pretentious expert on everything, at that) in his YouTube video, I commented, sarcastically asking what qualifies him to take on geniuses like Rene Descartes, especially after he assured us  he wasn't going to take on the great thinkers.  Saying you're not going to do something, then proceeding to do it, is one of cyber-atheism's special perks.  It's slick sleight of hand, by their standards.  By anyone else's, it's clunky and presumptuous and less than smart.

Matt's response popped up before I could count to three:

"Favoring ad hominems with appeals to authority instead of a substantive response or any attempt at an actual argument. It's nice when you make yourself so irrelevant, so quickly. Surely you're an amazing thinker. Keep it up, you're doing great!" (Matt)

More Matt-level punctuation, there.  ("Favoring ad hominems?"  WTF?  Maybe he meant "flavoring"?)  Ooooo.  Matt owned me!  Oooo, I am so owned.

So, here's the thing, and I think I've mentioned this before.  Cyber-atheists act like every exchange in the world is a debate in progress, and that's what Matt is doing here--a textbook example.  Dig the "any attempt at an actual argument" criticism.  Yo, Matt, I'm not making an argument--I'M ASKING A QUESTION.  Namely, who is Matt to take on some of the greatest thinkers in human history, especially after he promised not to?  That's an appeal to authority?  An ad hominem fallacy?  Uhh, no.

Here are my exact words:

"Descartes vs. Dillahunty. Wow. The Father of Modern Philosophy vs. a guy with no degree listed on his Wikipedia page. Gosh, Rene, you've met your match. I'd ask if Matt has ever considered becoming a comic, but clearly he's one already." (Me.)

Rude? Absolutely. An ad hominem fallacy? No way. I'm not making an argument; I'm making an observation. Did I say, "You're wrong because you have no degree listed on your Wikipedia page?" Nope. I did, like a good skeptic, question the probability that someone without a degree has the expertise necessary in the area of philosophy to tell Rene Descartes where to get off. Looking critically at someone's creds is RULE NUMBER ONE OF BEING A SKEPTIC.

I took no position on ontological arguments, except that they must be pretty damned brilliant to still rate as a topic after ten centuries. I think that's a reasonable conclusion, don't you? But I neither agree nor disagree with the arguments. (Philosophy goes beyond the realm of Agree/Somewhat Agree/Maybe/Slightly Disagree/Strongly Disagree.) But Matt's a psychic, I guess--he knows what I think. Glad someone does.

Anyway, let's say I declare Einstein's theories--all of them--to be malarkey. Someone's bound to ask me how I'm qualified to do so. If I say, "Hey, wait--that's appeal to authority. No fair," will anyone have any reason whatsoever to take me seriously?

So, I have no obligation to take Matt seriously. Do I have a right to call him out? Yes. And I just did.