When the Internet Gives you Lemons…

What is not OK?

A long time ago, someone made an Internet video reading an e-mail I had written to them during an e-mail exchange. Everything was fine until they reached a point in the letter where what they were “reading” was not what I had written. I defended myself here at the blog because they were claiming I had made substantially hateful comments about homosexuals. Because it was defamatory and untrue, this expression was slanderous and illegal. And after a few nasty days of TAE working with this individual toward a resolution, the person was finally compelled to remove the content and issue an apology and clarification that I had never issued such comments.

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A Tale of Mercy Ministries

Awhile back I posted a testimonial from someone I know who was sent to a Pentecostal “Drug Rehab” facility as a teenager. I recently found out another person I’ve known for some time had a similar experience when she was sent to a Christian treatment center for issues of “self-harm.” Although she is out as an atheist, her current living situation does not allow her to be completely open in expressing her nonbelief, but I asked if I could share her story anonymously, and she agreed.

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Open thread on episode #860: Does Christianity need suffering?

In my reading about the “Spirituality in Healthcare” debates, I have started reading books from proponents. I’ve already read a number of articles on both sides of the issue, including more than a handful of articles published in peer reviewed journals covering claims of evidence, and also expert opinion pieces. But now it’s time to dig into the motives, ideas and points that are being made in the more in-depth way that books supply. To me, books are where authors speak in a personal voice about their honest, and to some degree, personal perspectives on these topics.

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Open Thread for AETV #855 – Matt and Tracie

Today I will probably briefly touch on an Islam 101 seminar that was hosted by the local Islamic Community Center. I attended with Beth and Russell and some other ACA folks. We’re going to put together a more detailed blog article describing our individual thoughts and reactions to the seminar that will be posted here later. So, I probably won’t be going into great detail, since that is “to come.”

I also want to hit confirmation bias a bit and talk a little about how it impacts the apologetic worldview and also how it can corrupt research studies as well.

And finally, we’ll get to the ever-popular public dialog via studio phones with callers.

“Coincidence” is powerful “evidence” to many people


I was closing a spreadsheet, and the moment I clicked on the “X” to close the window, a dialog box popped up on my other monitor, and I thought “Oh, what did I just do?”

The dialog box was simply an alert, letting me know that I have to attend a meeting in 15 minutes. And so I then thought “Oh, OK, it’s not connected to me closing the spreadsheet.” And I went on about my business.

But note what happened.

I saw two events close in time, that initially appeared to be related. Sometimes when you close windows you get a dialog saying “do you want to save?” or some other helpful suggestion related to what you just did, or are doing, with the window you’re working in.

In the background, my brain is aware that such things are sometimes related, and without conscious thought, I knee-jerked to check to see if there was a connection between the dialog box and closing the spreadsheet. My brain is used to this pattern. And it checks to see if this pattern is in play, when it recognizes something that resembles this pattern. If it recognizes no connection between the two events, it notes that they are just unrelated events occurring close in time. And I go on, and give it no relevance.

But sometimes the events are related. As noted—maybe I would click the “X” to close, and the dialog would come up saying “Do you want to save?” It’s a reminder that is triggered by me trying to close the spreadsheet. And I am consciously aware that such reminders occur—and I’m also aware of it in part of my brain that isn’t conscious. In fact, it’s the non-conscious neural map that informs “me” (the conscious aspect of the brain) that “Hey, these things may be related.”

But sometimes we have two events, closely related in time, that have no such trigger—no such causal connection—but our brains find a pattern, anyway. This is what we call “coincidence.” The difference between what happened to me this morning, and a coincidence, is that with a coincidence, the brain is able to identify a pattern—but it’s not a pattern based on causal link. The two events aren’t actually objectively related—they simply have related meaning in the brain of the person observing.

So, you are going home after your mother’s funeral, and you find yourself behind a car, and the numbers on the plate happen to match her birthday month and day—and your brain says “that’s related to mom—who just died.” On another day, you might see that same tag and assign nothing meaningful to it. But today, mom is on your mind, and so, these DMV assigned numbers are “mom’s birthday.” And to some people, additionally, “a message from mom.”

It’s stunning how powerful coincidental meaning can be in the minds of observers. I would say that it’s a pattern in TAE e-mail for people to describe a coincidence and ask us “how do you explain this?” Above, is how I explain it. But that’s not what they’re asking. What they honestly mean is “how did my mom’s birthday end up on this tag right after her funeral?” They want an explanation of the objective event–they want to know objectively how the events are related. The problem is that, objectively, there is no reason to think they are. They are connected in the subject’s mind. And that is all the connection anyone can reasonably derive from that observation. But some people simply cannot accept this. It’s a difficult thing for many people to accept.

Open thread for episode #849: Spirituality in Healthcare

Today I want to mention a few more things about spirituality in healthcare.

I fully understand that someone’s personal cosmology can play a role in their health. Extreme or prolonged stress is unhealthy. And religious beliefs, as part of a person’s overall worldview, can contribute to stress or relieve it, depending on the individual. I have no problem with a patient in mental or medical treatment asking for spiritual support. And I take no issue with a facility providing them that support. When I interviewed Dr. Poole we discussed how he used referrals to religious practitioners for a number of patients, even though he is openly atheist. He became concerned, though, for a number of reasons, discussed on past shows and blogs, when there was a move to shift the spiritual and religious responsibilities to the medical/mental health professional directly—forcing patients to provide “spiritual histories” and opening the door for professional psychiatrists to pray with patients as part of standard practice. The problems and potential for abuse continue to be a topic of debate in professional journals and within these communities. Again, Dr. Poole was invited on to talk about how he specifically unwittingly became embroiled in one such dialog within the pages of the journal for the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK.

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Open thread on AETV #843: Russell and Tracie

Thanks to Greg and Chip for the reminder to discuss “The Polar Express” today. I’d like to talk a little about the film’s handling of the Problem of Evil, using Santa as analogous to god, and using the character of Billy to represent the underprivileged of the world, and one of the unbelievers. The song “When Christmas Comes to Town,” describes Billy’s short life without any visit from Santa to his poor home, ever, and contrasts that against the message of a young, well groomed girl, who sings about all her happy Christmas memories. The song is sung as a contrasting duet. Here are the lyrics:

I’m wishing on a star, and trying to believe
That even though it’s far, he’ll find me Christmas Eve
I guess that Santa’s busy, cause he’s never come around.
I think of him when Christmas comes to town.

The best time of the year, when everyone comes home.
With all this Christmas cheer, it’s hard to be alone.
Putting up the Christmas tree, with friends who come around.
It’s so much fun when Christmas comes to town.

Presents for the children, wrapped in red and green.

All the things I’ve heard about, but never really seen.

Billy & Girl together:
No one will be sleeping on the night of Christmas Eve.
Hoping Santa’s on his way.

When Santa’s sleigh bells ring.

I listen all around.

The herald angels sing.

I never hear a sound.

And all the dreams of children.

Once lost will all be found.

That’s all I want when Christmas comes to town.

Billy and Girl together:
That’s all I want when Christmas comes to town.

After a visit to Santa’s magical world at the North Pole, Billy becomes a believer, and upon his return home finds that Santa has visited his home and left something. However, Billy is never provided with any explanation from Santa about why Santa favors the well-off children in his town, and seems to be years behind schedule visiting the more economically challenged households.

Billy is presented as a timid, shy, and humble personality. And so there is no reason provided to think that Billy has landed on the “naughty” list. And at such a young age, it can hardly be the case that Billy could be held to account  for not believing at times in his life when belief was not even possible, due to his cognitive development (at say ages 0 – 4 or so). Where was Santa then? How is his absence explained? How is Billy responsible for those missing Santa years and visits?

I personally think the story would have been better off eliminating the character of Billy. By including that child, the film presented a glaring error in the character of Santa, and also the narrative of rewarding good children annually with gifts, all over the world. Santa appears to be guilty of discriminating due to economic disadvantage, and no viable explanation is provided. Additionally, the blame is placed up on Billy in some respects for not accepting the narrative, when his brief life experience up to this point indicates that narrative is faulty. And that, also, is never corrected nor explained. If the film is going to present the problem, and reconcile that to Santa’s goodness, it should at least attempt to supply an answer or explanation. Presenting the problem and providing no justification for Santa’s negligence leaves the viewer hanging. Why even ask, if the goal is to explain Santa is good, and then leave no satisfying answer, except that Santa seems to think it’s correct to neglect Billy for the crime of being born poor–until Billy proves he’s worthy, by believing at an older age. Alternately, the Girl appears to have every advantage and not to have been overlooked in her earlier years in a far more prosperous home. She has also been provided, by Santa, every reason to believe in him. It’s an unfair contest on every level.

Anyway, that and calls.

Open thread on AETV 837: Russell and Tracie

Today we discussed “spirituality” in healthcare. Issues like hospitals becoming more religiously affiliated, Nursing standards including praying with patients, and Religious Trauma Syndrome’s development toward becoming a recognized issue.

One surprise I had was a blindside where a Deist, Dale, called in to quote-mine something I’d posted as a comment on an unofficial fan page, causally, several months ago, while I was at home watching Russell and Don host TAE. For the record, the OP of the original thread back in April (posted by the page’s creator and main admin, who is not affiliated with TAE) was this:

Caller Dale in Knoxville, TN. Is looking forward to talking to someone about Deism. Wants to talk to Matt, but Matt’s not on. The caller thinks he’s aligned with atheism, but doesn’t realize that it’s still irrational belief.

And here is my full comment, in that same thread, where I was posting as any other viewer, not as a TAE personality in any official TAE capacity. Dale was clearly trying to say, on the air today, that I was equating Deism with Westboro Baptist Church with respect to harm caused to society, and quoted only the final line of this full comment:

Just to note the phones at TAE call into the studio–not out. So, anyone who calls in, has contacted the show to present/defend their position. If he puts forward Deism, it should be shredded for the woo it is. It wouldn’t matter to me if it were 100% harmless, I’d still shred it based on it being unreasonable. It’s indefensible and illustrates an irrational position. And the person should be laid bare for that unreasonable position if they publicly espouse it. It might not be the thing someone sees as the number 1 enemy of society (short of promoting that believing irrational things is fine–which makes the position no more tenable than the theist position in terms of “is it reasonable?”), but it promotes bad reasoning, is irrational, and should not be protected from being called out as such. Luckily there is no economic pie that stops people from lambasting irrational beliefs that are both more harmful and less harmful, at the same time. I can say that everyone who supports their irrational views as “OK” is promoting shite and doing a disservice to society–and blast the Deist and Westboro Baptist together in one fell swoop.

Again, Dale quoted only the last line, totally ignoring everything above it. He badly wished to portray me as promoting that Deism and WBC are equal in all ways. As I got him to give up more info during the call, trying to jar my memory (I post a lot online and didn’t recall this line specifically), it became clear to me that a context was sorely missing. I then began to see how the line fit into my overall philosophy of “anti-woo.”

So, I tried, painfully, to explain to Dale that one might say “Examples of physical violation to another person might include slapping someone, or even raping them,” without attempting to assert that a rape is the equivalent of a slap. I explained I was saying “woo/unreasonable beliefs run a range of social harm, from things like Deism to things like WBC, but they are all examples of irrational thinking.” And if I were hosting on his original call, I would have approached arguments toward theistic groups and Deists from the same “it’s not reasonable” position, not by assessing whether they harm society (which has zero relevance to assessing their truth values). I believe the quote above cements my assumption during the show about my context, repeatedly, and shows Dale was absolutely not acting in good faith with regard to his presentation of my statement.

In the end, what I observe here is this: Dale called TAE back in April to defend Deism. He then found the fan page and the response to his call, all of which was negative (not just my comment). He was able to recognize my name as someone shredding his call, as well, and knew he could use my identity to confront me on TAE, and try and make me look bad by calling and hitting me with a quote from several months back, out of context, that there would be almost no way I could defend on the fly. In essence, he got butt hurt that he was called “unreasonable,” and decided to try and malign me on the air by misrepresenting my position in a situation where I would have no way to confirm the claims against me in the moment I was accused. I only knew on the phone that I know my philosophy on woo, Deism, and WBC, and I knew I absolutely would not assert that Deism and WBC are “the same” in any regard but “both are unreasonable.” My term “shred” simply refers to “how I would dismantle this if I were sitting in the host’s chair during this call.” Remember this thread was while the call was on TAE live. We’re all commenting in terms of armchair quarterbacking “if I were host on this call.”

After seeing my original quote, in context, I do hold to the context and meaning of my original quote, that all woo falls under the same heading of “unreasonable”—and that surely WBC is a much more harmful brand of woo, something I also acknowledged without hesitation, on the air, and also clearly in the April post.

If Dale was not happy with my assessment of his views on TAE back in April, then he won’t be much happier with my assessment of his personal character today: One positive thing I can say about Deists, in general, in addition to “you do not do the social harm that WBC does,” is that Deists are not, as a rule, as dishonest and unable/unwilling to understand a simple context as Dale. The Deists I’ve encountered would not have behaved so dishonorably.

Atheist in need of advice: How to cope with family?

I offered to post these letters anonymously to our blog to solicit more feedback from others who might have more, or better, ideas to help this person—to make it simple, let’s call him “John.” My offer was accepted, and so I’m sharing. In brief, John suspected that his mother was being influenced by religious relatives. And the relationship between him and his mom, which had been cordial, became strained. I suggested he not go on a hunch, but address this issue with his mom directly, to just ask what had motivated the change—so they could at least have a conversation based on whatever was actually going on. This is the reply I received after he took that advice: [Read more…]