Don’t be a dick, part 2: looking beyond the foreskin…

Phil Plait posted part 2 of his response to the conversations spawned by his “Don’t be a dick” speech at TAM8.

In his response he addresses my previous post on this subject and I think he does so very dishonestly. I posted the following, but I don’t want it to get lost in the list of comments:

“The author of this one says I don’t give specific examples, and therefore because he hasn’t seen the insults they don’t exist”

Actually, what I said was: “First of all, who is Phil talking about? This seems a bit quixotic and exaggerated to me. Where are these people who scream in your face on behalf of skepticism? Where are these people whose primary tactic is to yell at someone and call them a retard? Since Phil didn’t provide any examples to support the claim, we can only guess.

That isn’t an assertion that the problem doesn’t exist, it was a legitimate objection. I even specifically mentioned that I felt it was exaggerated – which clearly means I’m not saying that the insults don’t exist, I’m saying that I haven’t seen evidence to support your implication that this is a serious and escalating problem.

You failed to provide examples, leaving us to guess. What I said was accurate…but instead of addressing it, you misrepresent it, so you can shrug it off committing yet another straw man right here.

“… and then accuses me of a strawman argument!”

Which, ironically, you’ve just done – again.

“I find that funny; finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy.”

Then please provide them. This is the same sort of reply we get from the woo-clan. They claim something is true (vitriol is on the rise) and when someone asks for specific examples, they misrepresent the comment, laugh at it and claim that the evidence is all around you (or similar).

I’m legitimately trying to figure out the specifics of the problem here and find out why some people don’t see this.

“The author also says I set up a false dichotomy and call people who don’t agree with me dicks… all without the benefit of having heard my talk.”

I had read the transcript and now I’ve watched it.

It is, in fact, a false dichotomy to present the options as “warrior” or “diplomat” to the exclusion of other options and combinations. That was my charge and it stands. Why not honestly address that charge instead of hand-waving about the fact that I hadn’t yet heard the talk? I quoted the transcript for this charge, it was accurate and my response stands…unanswered.

And again, what I wrote was: “And maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t Phil basically calling those who disagree with him, “dicks”? Granted, he’s being very polite about it, but that seems to be what he’s doing.

I was pointing out the potential irony. Your entire point was to object to the unnecessary name-calling which makes it harder to sell something that is already difficult to sell. My reason for pointing this out was that it’s ironic that you couldn’t even do this in your own talk.

“As far as appealing to emotion… hello! It’s an emotional issue. That’s the point. Note that my appeal to emotion was logical because it sets up my premise that being a dick doesn’t help.”

No, sir. I was pointing out the fallacy of making an emotional appeal. It doesn’t become “logical” simply because it sets up your premise. Setting up (flawed) premises is the entire point for using emotional appeals and it’s the reason that it’s often noted as a fallacy – because it’s insufficient to the task, epistemologically, yet remains convincing because humans respond to emotional appeals.

At least you provided a link so that people have the opportunity to read what I actually wrote.

You and I actually agree on the bulk of this (which I noted in my response) and it’s distressing that your response to legitimate and accurate objections and questions is to misrepresent what I’ve said and scoff.

The irony runs pretty thick on this one.

The Quran and the speed of light

I think I should make a policy, that if I received a similar very specific question by email twice, I should turn the first exchange into a blog post and link it as a reply to the same question in the future. I probably won’t be able to stick to this policy, but I’m doing it now for this message.

The claim: The Quran computes the value of the speed of light with unbelievable accuracy.

Sources: “Speed of Light“; “Quran and The Speed of Light?” (video)

Best rebuttal online: At Islam Watch.

My two cents:

This is a clear case of cherry picking numbers to sound plausible. They had to use some incredibly tortured logic to drag the number “12,000 lunar orbits” out of a fairly generic verse which, after all, makes no reference whatsoever to moons or distances or even the number 12. They are taking something vague and trying to make it specific, which after all is what all apologists do when they want to make a prophecy out of something that isn’t. If it hadn’t been the moon, they could have tried “1000 centuries of walking” or “1000 rotations of the earth” or “1000 earth orbits” — ANYTHING which gets them within the right order of magnitude to something specific.

Then that’s not enough to get them all that close, so they screw around with the numbers more. For instance, you’ll notice they use some extremely fuzzy math to claim that there are 86170 seconds in a day. There aren’t 86,170 seconds in a day, there are 86,400. If there were as much as 230 seconds difference every day, then we’d have a leap year every year.

They do all kinds of stupid math tricks just to line up some number with a lunar cycle to match a verse that doesn’t even say anything about lunar orbits, and then they claim that the Quran predicts the speed of light. Okay. If that’s the case, then why didn’t the ancient Muslims know what the speed of light was? Why is it never referenced anywhere? Why isn’t it calculated? Why, in fact, did no one think to calculate the speed of light from the Quran until long after Einstein Ole Rømer came along? [Edited — thanks Curt!]

I’ll tell you why, because it’s nonsense. It’s applying known scientific facts, discovered by westerners, and giving credit to their holy book by retrofitting nonsensical numerology with cherry picked frames of reference.

How did the authors of the Quran have such fantastic futuristic knowledge, Muslims ask? It’s really simple when you recognize a few facts. The Quran is an ancient book written by people who had no knowledge of modern science, and in fact reads this way. A contemporary person who knows some science can make passages of the Quran superficially resemble scientific insights by manipulating verses that have nothing to do with science and trying to pigeonhole them into something resembling contemporary knowledge.

You could, if you were so inclined, do exactly the same thing with “The Canterbury Tales,” “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” or Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky.”

We get email some more

I swear, gang! We don’t make this stuff up! Really.

Subject: i can prove god existthe christan

Hello to all that would take the time to read my email. i just recently became aware of you syndicate talk show and find it belittling how the christian community is betrayed as unlearned individual, having watched a few of your broadcast i can honestly say from the caller in it would be a simply job to disprove the christian faith. having said that i am some somewhat adequately intelligence (not to belittle anyone else) and can adequately debate the issue with you. The topic of the broadcast i view was proving the existence of God and i would like to give my view point on the matter,having said that lets that Yahweh(or as you may call him GOD) out of the equation for a moment as well as all other believed deity and focus simply on the the fact of a higher power(i;ll get back the Yahweh in a moment) but to prove the fact of a higher power i will bring into focus the human conscience.If it is as you state “no god” then i would ask why is all human being born with a conscience?

Having said that let us look at the definition of Conscience { Webster’s definition conscience as a knowledge or sense of right and wrong, with an urge to do right; moral judgment that opposes the violation of a previously recognized ethical principle and that leads to feelings of guilt if one violates such a principle} now lets focus on the fact that by scientific belief that all other animals act simply on instinces, down to the most primitive single celled life form with the exception of the human being. Now let being Yahweh back into the picture if has being proven by modern science that the Torah is the oldest documents of mankind (carbonation). now the Torah also known as the first 5 books of the bible happened to have the book of beginning as it first book(book of genesis) and in that book moses(it author) addresses the human consciousness as the tree of good and evil with well translated back to the original text is self awareness and knowledge and can also be broken down to awareness of god and evil(mind you according to modern day science these writings are only copy of the origins and date back hundreds on thousand of ago giving the same definition) having said all of that is there was no higher power or god overseeing mankind,if we were mere accident or came to be by a cosmic chain of events as most atheist believe the conscience is relevant and one shouldn’t bother with anything beside enjoying them self to the fullest because once your dead it over correct?but if this is not the case and there is a universal law of right and wrong set my god the throuh the consciensness then it makes perfect sense because it is as the bilbes states God standard of moral law given to all human even those who choice not to use it or believe.

if you fail to agree with this take into consideration that even a child knows when they are doing wrong,and have a natural sense of guilt (condemnation) upon taking part in a unjust act a simply as stealing reference back to the webster definition of conscience. Just my food for though

Good grief. Are people still out there trying to make moral arguments for God? Look, setting aside the usual evolutionary business about how we’re a social species — as are gorillas, elephants, dolphins, et al — and the fact such species develop cooperative behaviors as the obvious survival strategy, and the fact that we explain our behaviors with terms like “conscience” and “right and wrong” because we have the ability to form words to communicate to one another with (for all we know dolphins have a particular chirp for right and another for wrong and a very elaborate one for “Hey, that’s my fish, asswipe!”)…

…it has obviously not occurred to such apologists to consider a painfully obvious point: What need would an all-powerful monotheistic God have for morals?

That’s the whole frackin’ point of Euthyphro. This would be a unique being. It could suffer no consequences for any action it might take. There is no one for it to answer to. And it could have no practical reason to care whether or not any lesser beings it created were moral or not, as it could always create more if they happened to wipe each other out.

Now, I know we always argue that it is homo sapiens‘ innate sense of empathy, not merely the desire for reward and fear of punishment by some authority figure, that explains human morality. Because we evolved as a social species, empathic behaviors are part of our makeup. But an all-powerful God would not have evolved as part of a social species, and therefore would likely not have a sense of empathy. After all, to whom or what would it be directed? The only reason a being so uniquely powerful might have to choose beneficent over malign behaviors would be because it had some good cause to fear the consequences of its actions.

I can certainly see such a God creating a species of worshipers out of a sense of crushing loneliness. But to admit that God can be lonely would be to admit he is imperfect, and needs love and worship. And Christians are all about God’s total and indisputable perfection. Well, if you’re perfect, that pretty much means you’re complete in yourself, and nothing can be added to improve you. So then…morals, love, right, wrong, approval, worship, what have you…what does God really need with any of it?

Coming Out

I recently met a young woman online who is about to go off to college. She is a recent deconvert and made the decision to “out” herself in her home. As is common, the experience was less than stellar for her. And she recently linked me to an article she wrote describing what it’s been like. I loved her story and asked if it would be all right to share it for the benefit of other young people in similar situations. Fortunately she agreed. So, without further delay, Emily’s story:

Things That Must Be Said
With a mere twelve days left before I leave home for college, I’ve finally come to the frustrating, yet incredibly sad realization that I cannot express my beliefs without being attacked by members of my family, and some of my friends. I’ve realized that I cannot simply live without being quietly or not so quietly judged by the people who are meant to be my comforters and supporters. I am normally quiet and passive when it comes to my beliefs because I am afraid of conflict, and I feel outnumbered. But I can no longer sit back and be trampled. I can’t just cater to everyone around me. I have to be confident enough to defend myself to everyone around me, because I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not.

Tonight, as I sat quietly at the dinner table with my mother and younger brother David, my brother suddenly brought it to my mother’s attention that I was overheard talking on the phone about something with which she did not agree. I had been on the phone the day before with a friend of mine who happens to be atheist, and we were discussing our opinions on current world events. This triggered an onslaught of verbal abuse from my mother, who said that ever since I became an atheist, I am now selfish, “troubled”, coldhearted, and that I see the world from twisted perspective. David, at the wise and all-knowing age of fifteen, feels that my atheist friend Jordan is a bad influence on me, and, in a nazi-like manner, he feels that he must inform my mother at all times of any sort of liberal or atheist talk on my part. He informed my mother that my facebook page is filled with atheist propaganda, and at that, my mother flew off the handle, yelling, “Is that true, Emily? Do you really have atheist things all over your facebook?!” Ha, first of all, I don’t think I have ever posted anything particularly “atheist” or abrasive, because, like I said, I fear conflict, and a part of me has always been afraid to stir up trouble, or displease anyone. Until now. Second of all, even if I did have atheist posts all over my profile, is there supposed to be some sort of crime in that? When I told my mother this, her response was, “Well it just doesn’t look good, and that’s not all you are.” Of course that’s not all am. Being an atheist is only a tiny fraction of who I am as a person, and I find it sick and sad that my loved ones are willing to write me off and harshly judge me simply because I’m an atheist. My father, an abnormally quiet and passive man, who seriously never contributes to any conversation, decided tonight would be the night to jump in and tell me that even if I am an atheist, I don’t need to parade it around. Parade it around? I’m pretty sure 90% of people who read this have no idea that I’m an atheist. He said “I have plently of friends who don’t believe, but that doesn’t mean they tell anyone about it.” So apparently my dad feels that its okay if I’m an atheist, as long as I don’t make it known to anyone. My older brother has also attacked me numerous times, in front of guests as well as behind my back, about my choice in atheist friends, because he feels I am “easily manipluated.” Apparently everyone just thinks I’m stupid, when in reality, I’ve given this subject more thought and consideration than any of them combined.

Let me just say that even though my family claims to be catholic, they have not attended mass since I quit going to church a few months ago. I was the one who always encouraged my family to go to church. And when they didn’t, I would go alone. I was the one who believed it all. So if none of these people in my family truly know about or believe in catholicism, why are they so quick to pounce on me for being an atheist?

I was once very catholic. I graduated from a small, all- girls catholic high school. I attended weekly youth group, and mass. I went on countless retreats and ACTS retreats. I attended many candlelight ceremonies, rosaries, and “see you at the pole”’s. I was a eucharistic minister, I was in the liturgical choir, and attended Catholic HEART workcamp for three consecutive summers. I prayed the rosary in my car on the way to school. I was a group leader for middle school and high school kids. Most of my volunteer work was done through my church. I loved God. I did everything. You cannot say that I was a half baked catholic. And yet, somehow, I changed.

I took a world religions class, I had my first real open minded conversations with many different people about religion, and humanity, and life in general. I read new books, and I watched new videos and debates and documentaries. I spent many hours (and many sleepless nights) agonizing over what it was that I truly believed in. Most importantly, I used my own rationale, and my own original thoughts. And then one day I made a conscious decision to gradually leave my church. And it was very difficult to leave behind many people at church whom I knew loved me and wanted the best for me. But I couldn’t be a part of something I no longer believed in. And for some reason that blows people’s minds. People can’t fathom how or why a person would make such a 180 degree change.

The real problem is, my family can’t figure out why I don’t want to be around them. They don’t understand why I have no respect for them. They want to blame it on the fact that I’m an atheist now, and that it must be because my atheist friend is a bad influence on me, they assume he must be constantly whispering in my ear and telling me to hate my family. The truth is, I have real, personal reasons for disliking them, and being an atheist has nothing to do with it.

I was once told that atheists have “a certain anger in their hearts”. Yes, I am angry. I’m fucking angry that being an atheist is somehow the equivalent to being a monster. I’m angry that something this trivial has to be blown way out of proportion. I’m sick and tired of having people talk about me behind my back, and make judgements about my choice of friends. I’m tired of being told that I’m “troubled” or “easily manipulated,” I’m angry that people think I should be ashamed of myself. As if I am somehow automatically set beneath other people because I am an atheist.

Apart from being angry, I’m simply disappointed in people. I thought I had stronger relationships than this. I thought my loved ones were more open minded than this. I thought people loved and cared more about me than to treat me like some kind of diseased person.

In case you were wondering, I’m not a monster at all. I’m a nineteen year old girl about to go to college. I’m sensitive and I’m shy. I like poetry and french movies. I’m a decent human being who cares about other human beings. And the truth is, even if I pretended otherwise, I would be hurt if anyone decided to cut me out of his or her life just for my religious preferences.


For an example of what Emily has been dealing with at home, I will share what some of her siblings offered in the comments section of her article. I can only assume this type of abuse is acceptable in her home, as her siblings seem to hold nothing back.

Her younger brother’s first post read, in full: “All of y’all are fucking retarded.”

Later when I commented, her other brother hurled back this misogynistic abuse defending the other brother: “Hes not stupid, anybody that knows him (Jordan and Emily included) will tell you that. What’s stupid is insulting a 15 year old who you dont even know, you leathery old twat.”

There was much more–and all quite ugly. I’m amazed Emily has come out of this able to think clearly, not reacting herself in an abusive fashion, and still loving and regarding her family despite how religion has torn them, so obviously as her brothers’ demonstrate, apart.

Best of luck, young lady!

Another Battle Won

I’m sure everyone’s heard by now that California Proposition 8 has been struck down in federal court. Same-sex couples are on their way to being able to marry in California. The drama will play on for a while, unfortunately. The ruling has been stayed to give opponents time to appeal, something of a courtesy from the judge in the case. An appeal could drag it out for at least another year while it goes to the 9th Circuit court, and possibly up the Supreme Court. Wednesday’s ruling was the fatal shot to the California same-sex marriage ban, however. The defendants in the case had little going for them and they bungled the hearing. The ruling is thorough and Constitutionally sound. I think it has little chance of being overturned. At this point, the religious right might be wise to let this one go. If they appeal to the Supreme Court, it could make quick work of same-sex marriage bans in the remaining 44 states. It’s just a matter of time before that happens. America will eventually join the first world on this issue.

I spoke yesterday at a Prop 8 rally here in Austin hosted by the Equality Across America Texas Regional Network. I told them that the conservative Christians behind Prop 8 were organized, powerful, and take a long-term view. They’re not going away anytime soon. Spoke about the importance of church-state separation and the need to no believe propaganda and think for one’s self. For many in the audience, it was the first time they’d heard an atheist speak, but my message resonated with many. I know the Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans-gender/Queer/Whatever Else movement is anxious to win full equality. Those religious conservatives are not anxious to give up their power, however. I told the audience that the thing their enemy feared the most was the normalcy of gays. Without an enemy, they lose power and money. So many of those religious leaders wouldn’t know how to work an honest day’s if they had to.

Austin’s Proposition 8 Rally, City Hall, August 4, 2010

Part of me hopes that with this really lame attempt to defend Prop 8, we’re seeing the demagogues implode. I’ve often mused at how much the religious conservatives hate the judicial branch of the government. They can manipulate the elected branches easily. They have money and clout. They can move the masses with their lies, propaganda, and emotional manipulation. But the courts are largely beyond their grasp. The courts trade in reason and evidence, which are in short supply among apologists and other faith-based con artists. They have a tough time winning battles there.

Still, I’m surprised at just how lame the defense was. Check out this bit of pathos:

In the California campaign, gay marriage foes could set up a site called “” But when Walker asked their lawyer what harm marriage would require protection from, ProtectMarriage’s lawyer said, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” When even their own “experts” couldn’t show any evidence of harm to marriage, their lawyer was reduced to arguing that the people could act without evidence, just on their inchoate fears alone. Inchoate fears are the stuff of political campaigns — not constitutional litigation.

I can’t imagine the any soldier from the army of religious-nut lawyers graduating from Liberty University School of Law doing as poorly as these defendants. They would have made something up, even if it was obvious bullshit. It’s hard to imagine how to read this. Maybe the lawyers were just too honest. How’s that for ironic?