Do I have to axe?

There are a number of people in the news lately accidentally shooting themselves in the foot, or in the butt, or accidentally shooting whomever is next in line at the grocery store.  Then of course we have some orange-haired joker going off on Batman with real 3D effects.  Whenever this sort of thing happens outside of Texas, it seems to prompt people to start talking about gun control again.

One thing you have to understand is that here in Texas, we teach ‘abstinence only’ sex education.  That means we don’t teach sex education at all.  There are literally teenagers here who do not know that medical tests have indicated a definite correlation between sexual activity and an increased probability of pregnancy.  Some students in this school of hard knock-ups don’t learn their lessons very well either, since we lead the nation in REPEAT teen pregnancies.  However one of our local newspapers has reported that things might not be as bad as they seem -since teen pregnancies drop off sharply in those 25 years old or older.

Ya’ll think I’m making this up, don’tcha?

Yeah, rather than arm our populace with information, we actually expect teenagers to resist one of the strongest biological drives the human body has.  Then when the graph is charted, we display it upside-down and brag about our success rates.  It’s better than having our kids know how to be and stay healthy, right?  Because teaching the next generation about responsible reproduction and disease prevention would be sinful.

Anyway since we don’t have any affordable health care either, and we’re in a record drought -NOT brought on by climate change, nor by an omnipotent god who doesn’t answer our governor’s rain-dances, then we kinda need population control.  Death penalty offenses only kill off a couple people per month.  Accidental shootings can work a lot faster -especially when you risk grabbing your hidden piece instead of your wallet -or whatever other hidden piece you were reaching for.

That’s really my biggest problem with guns.  I don’t want laws restricting anyone’s right to own or purchase or even carry whatever idiotic thing they wanna buy.  The problem is that a man with gun tucked in the front of his pants is likely to go off half-cocked.

See if you carry a gun with the intention -or even desire- to eventually use it against another person, you’re treated as a responsible citizen -even when you bring your gun to the movies, the park, or into Walmart.  But if I carry a viking bearded axe into any of these same places -for any of the practical reasons I might have an axe, I would automatically be treated as a madman.  Why?  Because you can’t hide a battle axe in your pants and you can’t use it to kill ten people from fifty feet away.   Tell me that law makes any sense.

When I first moved to Texas from Arizona, the police took away my 18″ bowie knife.  When you get used to wearing one of those on your hip everywhere, you’d be surprised how much you miss it.  You can use a giant Rambo knife for practically everything, you know?

And this is an important point:  If you do use an axe as a weopon, you’re not likely to kill anyone accidentally.  It takes strength and whole-hearted total committment to kill someone with an axe.  Any humanity you still have in you might just stay your hand.  I’m speaking from experience here.  But with a gun, it always gives 100% of it’s rage whether your heart is in it or not.  That’s what Obiwan meant when he said that blasters were clumsy and random.  Of course I’d say the same thing about a light saber too.  I’d rather have my axe.

Texas turnaround

Given Texas’ reputation for politicization of education, I really must acknowledge an historic moment -especially given the absurdities of the recently released Republican Party Platform for this state.  Earlier this week, the Texas State Board of Education voted -unanimously- to reject creationist submissions, and teach evolution as a central and vital aspect of biology.  Having once testified before this board myself in darker times, this move strikes me as a very encouraging improvement over our previous situation.

Can it be that my old video is no longer relevant?

 

AronRa vs Pastor Bob Enyart

On Thursday, November, 10th 2011, I was interviewed by pastor Bob Enyart on a Christian radio talk show with the ironic name of Real Science Friday. The interview was aired in three parts. We continued that conversation a week later, and that one was aired in four parts.

As is often the case in any live discussion of this topic, we both cited points in our favor which the other side was unable to examine or verify on the fly.  We both made several claims relating to scientific research, and we both accused the other of being unread, out-of-date, or of misinterpreting or misrepresenting that data.  Neither of us should get away with making indefensible assertions just to sound right on radio. Accuracy and accountability matter more, at least they do to me.  That is why I challenged Bob Enyart to a written debate in a public forum pertaining to the points raised live on the air.  Amazingly he accepted.

We’re nearing the end of that debate now, but I’m sure it’s not over with yet.  I’m betting that Bob will post at least one more time.  I don’t know how he can.  I’ve left him nothing he can do but concede his mistakes, but this is where it gets interesting.  Beliefs based on faith have different conditions than those based on reason.  If I can’t defend my position, I’ll admit it.  That might not be enough for to change my mind, but if you show me good reason to, I will.  I’ll even thank you for proving me wrong because I know I’m a little bit more learned for it.  I recognize that I may have prejudice and I try to minimize or eliminate my biases, because my position is based on reason.  So I have no motivation to defend a position that doesn’t appear to be the best choice anymore.

When a faith-based believer finds himself painted into a corner where he knows his position is indefensible, and he knows that he can’t admit that openly -even if it’s already clearly obvious to everyone else; when his emotional investment in, and financial dependance on  doctrinal obligations prohibits him from conceding the point either, but neither can he change the subject, nor escape, what happens then is usually a sort of psychotic melt-down.  I would guess that that’s about where we are in this debate now, but it’s really hard to tell with him.  He is Enyart.  His cognitive dissonance is broad.  His confirmation bias is thick.

Anyway his next submission ought to be interesting whatever it is, and a number of participants on the League of Reason have asked that I post links to that debate here, even though it is an extremely long read in whole or in part.

As promised, I posted my first response here:

He chose not to deal with any of that at all, and started his own debate thread here:

And interested spectators may comment from the peanut gallery here:

Hope someone out there enjoys this sort of thing.

In the Elevator at TAM 2012

Guest Post by Aron’s Wife

 

I am not exactly sure what the key thing is that unites people attending The Amazing Meeting. I know that I enjoy hanging out with other skeptically inclined people, and more often than not they self-identify as atheists. At the same time, I am aware that TAM also welcomes Christian skeptics and skeptics of different stripes. Although I haven’t met a Christian skeptic at the two events I have attended, it could happen! Even though not all of the differently striped skeptics could join together with mucho gusto in unison with Penn Jillette’s No God Band for a rousing rendition of “F-you you’re an atheist!” at his after party, that is okay.

 

Anyways as I was waiting for the elevator at the hotel that hosted TAM,  I got unwittingly roped into explaining what TAM is about to the good folks who were there for the Las Vegas BMX Nationals. We waited in the lobby together for an elevator with a few TAM goers, who had decided to express some Scots pride by wearing kilts. As we got in the elevator, I chose to ignore the quizzical expressions the family of BMX enthusiasts had on their faces.  (If you are an atheist BMXer bear with me). It would be impossible to explain TAM and kilted TAM goers in a short elevator ride. However, curiosity got the best of one of them, who noticed I was also wearing a TAM badge.

 

“Why are they dressed like that?” he asked.

 

“What is TAM?” a woman asked as she read my badge.

 

Flummoxed , I stammered, “It’s a skeptics meeting….” They still looked puzzled. “…for people who are skeptical about things like alternative medicine.”

 

Another of their party helpfully added, “You know… like herbs.” They exited the elevator not really impressed by the other event at the hotel.

 

The incident in the elevator reminded me of why a lot of people go to these things to be with like-minded people, because in their communities they may feel marginalized and alone. If it wasn’t impossible, if you had adequate time and a platform to explain to most Americans the importance of skeptically evaluating claims and basing beliefs on evidence could you do it? Why should they be skeptical? How does it impact their everyday lives in a way they should care about it?

 

Tim Minchin (or was it Ellen Degeneres) addressed the problem of basically explaining why most of your countrymen are wrong this way…

 

“I think the trouble with being a critical thinker or an atheist, or a humanist is that you’re right. And it’s quite hard being right in the face of people who are wrong without sounding like a fuckwit. People go “do you think the vast majority of the world is wrong”, well yes, I don’t know how to say that nicely, but yes.”

 

To make matters a bit more complicated the skeptical community is divided about what or if we should be communicating. There is the atheist vs. humanist or skeptic label debate that the atheist label is too exclusive. Not just that when we gather together under the skeptic-label big tent, disparate voices wrestle over what’s on our agenda or whether there should be one.

 

During the Penn & Teller Q&A, a man asked Penn Jillette about how we could spread skepticism. I kinda felt sorry for him as Jillette answered that you can’t do that without being a pig. The answer may have been harsher than he intended because he further explained that that is what evangelicals do winning converts and such. (paraphrasing) Also, he added that he admires the people that put together your friendly neighborhood meet ups, and he is a member of his local group. He probably enjoys hobnobbing with the little people, because as a lot of people know he is physically bigger in real life. He made Aron look small.

Back on topic, Mr. Jillette remarked a few times on how unpopular his libertarian views are in the skeptical community. For libertarians the word lawlessness may have a different context than it does for a lot of us. Libertarianism is one of a few can of worms that you don’t want to open in the community. Good, decent people draw battle lines. He skirted the issue at most of his appearances.

Even though I am deeply offended by some of the arguments of libertarianism, I wonder why are there topics in a community of freethinkers that can’t be debated rationally? I would love to see Mr. Jillette debate a skilled liberal skeptic on this topic. A simple battle of ideas against ideas. No name calling or help from the peanut gallery of supporters. Just your best arguments against his best arguments all business and nothing personal. A debate when after it is done they could shake each others’ hand, and tell each other what a good job they did defending their ideas.

We’ve seen similar derision at the Humanist convention in New Orleans.  All of the celebrated speakers described their positions as unambiguously atheist, though none of them used that label as it was not welcome.  The woman who called Cenk Uygur to the stage introduced him as having “evolved from atheist to humanist”.  This was just one of several unnecessary jabs.  Some of the conventioneers told representatives from American Atheists that atheists were “hurting the movement”.

Despite our internal differences, the freethinking community must be doing a good job convincing more people that they are wrong about their beliefs because our numbers are growing. Popular atheist writers and the internet have been a wonderful tool for reaching people and convincing them to examine their beliefs. However, are the people these methods are reaching naturally more resilient to the social pressure to conform? Are we a movement of outsiders, and proudly so (including proud kilts-men)? Or can we reach just about anybody from any walk of life (including BMX fans) without being pigs?

How do you define truth? How do you determine it?

This was my one-on-one conversation with ‘Randy’, the deeply-indoctrinated creationist whom I met while he was protesting the Reason Rally.  Yes, he was protesting reason.  So it is not surprising that he seemed to have no education in science, and no understanding of the applications of logic, or the fallacies thereof.  It seems he has never had his blinkered world-view challenged either.  He is a minion of Ray Comfort’s, and a disciple of Kent Hovind, and he still says that they are honest and admirable men.  So this was –I thought- an opportunity to take someone who innocently believed the nonsense he had been fed, and show him what incredulous frauds and charlatans his mentors really are.  Because we’re not just talking about opinions or beliefs here.  We’re talking about things we can easily prove –or disprove- conclusively for certain.  In the process, I hoped to reach many others stooged in his same situation.

Sadly however, as so often happens when I invite the faithful to examine their beliefs with me, I encountered resistance in the form of posturing, bluffing, and excuses.  He even demanded conditions set in ultimatum.  Why?  Because he knows I will show him things he is unwilling to accept and forbidden to acknowledge.  Like a cornered animal, he didn’t seem to know whether to puff up or try to escape. This is not how I would ever respond were I in his situation.  If someone says they can prove that something I believe is wrong, I would listen.  Even if a creationist says that, I would still listen, but I would expect there to be a punch line too.  Due to past experience in this topic, I wouldn’t expect him to have any substance.

That’s why Randy’s shoe could never be on my foot.  I have real confidence in my position, where defenders of the faith clearly don’t.  I sincerely believe that my perspective is the more accurate –where my opponents are plainly pretending.  If I did turn out to be wrong, -in whole or in part- then it is to my benefit that I find that out.  Why would I want to continue believing something that is wrong?  Why do they?  So I would never refuse that challenge.

Whenever I have ever offered to prove evolution to a creationist, they usually refuse or even flee.  One guy told me he would rather take a bullet in the ear than to give up his belief.  That’s how honest he was not.  Another removed our entire discussion from his message board.  He gave the excuse –in a post that I wasn’t expected to find- that he had to delete it because [he said] my argument was starting to make sense to him.  He’s not allowed to reconsider his conviction; whether they believe it matters more than whether any of it is true.  Many other times I have seen excuses to the effect that “we don’t care what the facts are….”  Well, if you don’t care what the facts are, then you don’t care what the truth is, because they’re one-and-the-same.   The truth is what the facts are.  If it can’t be objectively verified, meaning that it can never be shown to be ‘true’ -to any degree at all- by any means whatsoever, then you simply cannot call it ‘truth’.

It seems to me that faith is a very precious assumed delusion, one which must be preserved and protected against any critical analysis or inquiry.  It is a matter of make-believe, and on some level many of these willful believers seem to know that already.  I had hoped that this boy had enough sincerity left in him that maybe he could still be reached, but such was not the case. He already knows that both of his mentors have knowingly lied in public media, but somehow that doesn’t to matter to him.  Truth does not seem to matter to him.  Whatever he wants to believe takes precedence over whatever the truth really is.  I can’t even relate to that mindset.

When I told him I could prove my point to his satisfaction, he should have challenged me to do it.  Instead he ducked and dodged and demanded equal time to present his side.  He only accepted because he thought I would give him an opportunity to proselytize.  So he insisted that I respect his faith-based position as equal to my fact-based position.  That’s already impossible.  It was also inappropriate since the onus was entirely on me, and he was the sole judge of my success in that endeavor.  Worst of all, once we began, it became obvious that he was reciting lines texted to him by his puppet-master, a professional presuppositionalist.

After just a couple first-hand encounters, I think I have heard all the best arguments of presuppositionalism, the desperate defense of floundering fundamentalism.  I am confident this recently-revived remnant of irrationalism will wane again within a year.  Why?  Because it amounts to no more than a word game, one which depends on the ‘mark’ providing desired answers to certain loaded questions, and the tactic still can’t meet its goal even then.  Randy said he had only six questions for me, but it seems they all depended on my first answer being along the lines that we can’t really know anything for sure.  Then he would pretend to know things that no one even can know.  However, the answer I gave him was not the one he expected.  I never even heard his other questions because my first answer ruined all his remaining arguments -not just for this discussion, but for any others he’ll ever have on this topic.  So I doubt I will ever have another chance to reason with him again.  I certainly won’t get the meaningful meeting of the minds I had hoped for, not with him, not while he is still a wanna-believer.

Compelling your pledge of allegiance to a flag…

Guest blog by Aron’s wife.

And to a Republic for which the flag stands
Which people insist is one nation under God
Who is for most people mutually exclusive

As a public school teacher I am required by the state to lead the pledge every school day. As an American atheist, this daily pledge is a reminder that however indivisible our country pledges it is; nothing divides a people like religion. Although it irks me to lead the pledge, I am mandated to do it, and it wouldn’t accomplish anything other than losing my job not to do it. The good I do every day in my science classroom far outweighs the daily dings to my conscience. So, I like most of the people the pledge excludes, have become pragmatic about pledging to a nation under God. After all I am being compelled to violate the Constitution by my own government.

In fact ,the Christian Evangelicals of my state of Texas have become so fond of reminding other people that everybody is under their God (you know, Yahweh) that the overwhelming majority of lawmakers voted to put the word “under God” into the Texas pledge in 2007 as well. So no one has any illusions they can pray to any other God, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Debbie Riddle R-Tomball said…

“Since the time of the founding of the United States through modern times, the presence and influence of God has been intrinsically associated with the political and social culture of the United States … (the bill) will acknowledge our Judeo-Christian heritage by placing the words ‘under God’ in the state pledge.”

So since 2007, non-christian schoolchildren, teachers, and administrators have been compelled to pledge to the Judeo-Christian God twice every school day. Just in case any of us still harbored any lingering doubts about which God the state of Texas is under our state representatives voted a few months ago to put it on our license plates.

 

One nation under Jesus

A portion of the proceeds benefit a group called the “Glory Gang”, who work with disadvantaged children of Nacogdoches county. One of the board members feels…

“The message of the Calvary Hill plate is the message that we give to the children we work with:  there is hope,” said Matt Rocco, Glory Gang board member. “We believe the new plate will appeal to a lot of Texans who believe as we do and who will like knowing that sharing a Christian message from their cars will also help kids in need.”

For a people apparently concerned with the message we send to schoolchildren, you would think the state’s lawmakers, voters, and service organizations would know something about this country’s history of religious persecution. During Thanksgiving we are reminded of the Pilgrim Puritan’s providence in founding a colony to escape religious persecution in England. Rep. Riddle was probably alluding to this and other stories of the founding of our country when she sponsored the bill to put “under God” in the state pledge. It is true the Pilgrims founded a colony based on their wish to escape from religious persecution. However the persecution came from the Church of England who also worshiped the Judeo-Christian God. To make matters worse, no sooner had they set up their own government that they began persecuting other Christians-the Quakers.

Thomas Jefferson was keenly aware of the need for separation of Church and state not only to protect citizens from a theocratic government like England, but also to keep the peace between Christian sects. In 1659, Puritan dominated Virginia started passing anti-Quaker laws that banished them from their home colony and for a few capital punishment. Jefferson observed…

“…If no capital execution took place here, as did in New England, it was not owing to the moderation of the church, or the spirit of the legislature.”

So all of the pledging we do in schools to the ruling, religious class’s God goes actually against the political and social culture the founding fathers attempted to establish. Of course, they won’t see it from that perspective. The separation of church and state actually protects Christians from any other religious sect including different Christian ones coming into power and compelling them to pledge allegiance to their God.

History and Constitution aside the most compelling reasons to defend the separation of state are human ones. Once, I had an opportunity to defend a Christian from another Christian over the pledge in my own classroom. A former colleague brought in a mutual student of ours, and demanded to know why she didn’t say the pledge. She normally did the pledge in my classroom, but the schedule was different that day. She tried to explain that she was a Jehovah’s Witness and they believed pledging to a flag or anything other than God was idol worship. In his outrage, he heard none of the explanation, he asked her if she knew that this country was founded on God as if he wasn’t even talking to another Christian.

As an atheist, I could have cut them both off by saying, neither of you have any evidence to believe there is a God in the first place. However, I chose instead to support this child’s religious freedom, and told her to get a note from her parents excusing her from the pledge. She quickly got a note excusing her from the pledge, and the harassment about her religious beliefs stopped. If only the rest of us could get a note to excuse us from the state sponsored harassment of our religious beliefs during the pledge as well. And too, if it were up to most secularists this child would have never been harassed in the first place.