Post election open thread

Okay, okay, I know not all atheists are behind Barack Obama… so congratulations or condolences depending on where you happen to land on that question.  However, I offer some reasons for the great majority of us to be cheerful today:

  1. Gay marriage.  Maine and Maryland became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.  Washington state reaffirmed it.  Minnesota shot down a bill to outlaw it.
  2. With apologies to Kristine and our great friends at Secular Pro-Life (whom Matt recently vowed to continue debating until the entire organization is dismantled)… abortion.  Todd “legitimate rape” Akin got the smackdown. Richard “gift from God” Mourdock is out too.
  3. Diversity.  The 2012 Congress will have 19 women as Senators, the highest number in history.
  4. God lost this election… repeatedly.  In the Republican primaries, three candidates — Perry, Bachmann, and Cain — all stated that God wanted them to run for president.  None of them even made it past the first few rounds.  Romney said no such thing; nevertheless, 74% of Evangelical Christians got over their revulsion for Mormonism and stated their intention to vote for Romney.  Lou Engle, a self-styled prophet, let us know that God was DEMANDING that we vote for Romney: “I sensed the Lord saying, Will you stand with Me in my covenantal faithfulness? Will you stand for my ancient covenant with My people? A deep abiding ‘yes’ began to conquer my arguments…”  But ya know, even the full force of the Almighty’s endorsement does jack squat for a the candidate, apparently.
  5. Math.  It works.  So says xkcd.

 

It’s election season. Time to dust off the Christian Nation myth.

I haven’t given much thought to Sally Quinn for several years, since I last read dead tree newspapers regularly, in the hoary pre-internet days of college.  Now what the hell is this thing?

Romney captures the God vote at first debate

When Mitt Romney mentioned the “Creator” in the debate Wednesday, he owned it. “We’re all children of the same God,” he said.That’s about 85 percent of the country he was talking to. That should have been President Obama’s constituency but he let Romney have it as he let Romney have the debate.

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Racial Profiling – a data mining perspective (WARNING: WONKY)

Sam Harris posted a piece called “In Defense of Profiling.”  PZ Myers posted a response explaining why that’s a terrible idea.

In general it should go without saying that I agree with PZ, unless stated otherwise.  I just want to add a little something from the perspective of a computer science nerd whose been around a bit with the notion of data mining.  I also want to prove that I didn’t go to grad school for nothing.  (It cost me thousands!  <drum fill>)

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The world experiences an infinitesimal decrease in bullshit

On the occasion of Chuck Colson’s death, I’d like to take one final opportunity to point out the online discussion I had with him before he died.

I was too young for Watergate.  In fact, Richard Nixon resigned one month to the day before I was born.  Or as I like to think, Nixon saw me coming and said to himself, “Well, the jig is up.”

That being the case, the first time I became aware of Chuck Colson was when I used to listen to Christian radio and run into his five minute “Breakpoint” series.  Colson was one of those folks who, like Jerry Falwell, liked to perform rants about how everything going wrong in the country is the fault of people who aren’t religious enough.

I’ve gone over the details about his prison ministry a few times, but it’s worth bringing up again because of its remarkable dishonesty, and a prime example of how you can fake scientific conclusions by “creaming the data.”  Colson considered his ministry the crowning achievement of his life, and so did his friends.  You can tell because it’s one of the first things that everybody brings up when they eulogize him.

“Observers suggest Colson will likely be best remembered for his prison ministry…” — Christianity Today

“And he was consumed — utterly consumed — by his calling to serve prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families.” — Michael Gerson

“Except that there was also something that set the post-conversion Colson apart from the average G.O.P. partisan, and that was his zeal for prison ministry and penal reform, embodied by Prison Fellowship, the group that he founded after his own stint in behind bars.” — Ross Douthat

This is remarkable when you consider the fact that the main study that Colson has always proudly referred to, actually showed  that the ministry did not work.

What Colson claimed was that they studied the recidivism rates of prisoners who completed his ministry program and compared them with those who did not.  Recidivism means that within a certain amount of time after they were released from prison, they were reincarcerated for committing new crimes.  Colson always argued the study demonstrated that those who completed the program experienced a significantly decreased recidivism rate.

What he didn’t tell you is that the standards for “completing” the program dramatically skew the numbers in his favor.  A person is only defined as a graduate if they stick with the program for a period of time, then are released from jail, and get a job after their release.  In other words, a person who sat in on the ministry classes for the required amount of time, left the program, and then couldn’t find a job, wouldn’t be considered to have completed a program.  Therefore, if they were arrested later, that would be counted as a win for Colson, because they didn’t do what they what they were supposed to, therefore this proves that failing to “complete” the program was correlated with their arrest.

But this is a total cheat.  If you simply removed the ministry from the equation, and only compared prisoners who got a job to those who didn’t get a job, obviously the employed prisoners would be far less likely to go back to jail.  They don’t need to steal stuff to get money!  So here we have Chuck Colson deliberately excluding the group most likely to go back to jail, and then giving his ministry credit for something that happens after they leave.  The study doesn’t even attempt to demonstrate that people who take the program are more likely to get jobs.

In fact, what the study showed when you looked at the raw numbers was that among prisoners who simply entered the program — including both graduates and “dropouts”, the recidivism rates were slightly higher than the control group that wasn’t involved at all.  Or to put it simply, if the program had not existed at all, it’s possible that fewer of them would have returned to jail.

That’s the main thing I remember when I think of Chuck Colson.  When I pointed this out to him, he acted like this interpretation was a complete surprise to him — he had no proper response.  He said he would look into it, but I never heard anything on the subject again.

That is the main thing that stands out for me about Chuck Colson; that his most touted project actually appears to have either slightly hurt people or had no effect; and that he either didn’t care or refused to believe it.

One important detail is that reading his book “The Faith” gave me a great deal of insight into what evangelists mean when they talk about “The Truth” with a capital T.  They don’t mean something that can be empirically studied and verified.  They mean that when you believe something, you should really really really believe it, and not harbor any room for doubt, no matter what the facts say.  All the ink that Colson spilled on denouncing post modernism and moral relativism really made that he had drawn his conclusion and could not be talked out of it, and he was damn proud of it too.

Evangelical narcissism: or, Jason Russell really is an epic douchebag

Haven’t really talked much about the whole Kony 2012 flapdoodle here, because up until now, it didn’t seem to be much of a religious issue. But looking over the curious case of Jason Russell, self-appointed savior of Ugandan children and flamboyant public-naked-meltdown-haver, it is necessary for me to prologue this post in order to give you an idea where I’m going with it.
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Thugs without Borders

Christians are having a big impact in Africa, it seems–especially those from the US.

In recent memory, we have:

Now, we have Christians spreading their bullshit theories on homosexuality in Uganda. Selling hatred of gays has been a big moneymaker for the religious right. They have lost quite a bit of momentum, in the US though. They have having more and more trouble painting gays as evil child molesters, given that so many real child molesters are religious leaders. (Can you say “projection“? I knew you could!) People just aren’t afraid anymore of same-sex couples that keep their yards a bit too neat and just want to get married. Perhaps the religious thugs thought they’d get more mileage out of their campaign in another country.

Apparently, their campaign was a bit too successful. Uganda is considering implementing what Christians here in the US have always wanted: laws that punish homosexuality with death–just like the BUYBULL sayz (Lev. 2o:13). We all know conservative Christians want to inflict Leviticus on their enemies, but ignore it otherwise.

But wait. Now US Christian groups are saying that they don’t think Uganda is doing a good thing by following the US Christians’ advice. Even some of the hard core homo haters like Rick Warren have had to backpedal. Apparently, God’s universal and absolute morality changes minute by minute depending on the financial needs of Christian groups and their ability to spin to the morons that fund them. We supposedly immoral atheists can see through your con and call you on it.

The constant in this equation is the religious exploitation of the poor and ignorant in whatever continent. …Just as they’ve always done. We could make the world a better place by separating the US government from these exploitative efforts. Let the Vatican and US Christian groups stand alone without sullying the US’s reputation on these efforts. Let’s call the exploitation of Africa a Christian initiative when it is, as in these cases. Let’s stop giving government subsidies and tax breaks to religious groups that promote hate and exploit people–even if that’s all of them. Finally, let’s put some of these people on trial for their crimes against humanity.

The disgraceful cost of the Iraq War

In the news today is word from Afghanistan that those wacky pranksters in the Taliban thought it would be a hoot to spray some teenage girls walking to school in the face with acid. Now two of them are blind! Hooray for the religion of peace. (Because it is, of course, against their precious religionthat women should be educated.)

Why is this part of the disgraceful cost of the Iraq War? Why, because if we hadn’t pulled troops out of Afghanistan in order to invade Iraq, a country that had exactly two things — jack and shit — to do with 9/11, then we could have spent the last five years still in Afghanistan, killing every single living member of the Taliban we could find. Which is no less than they deserve. Oh, dear. Was that not sufficiently politically correct? Good, I’ll say it again. Every single living member of the Taliban should be killed. Summarily. And left to rot in the street. Or a ditch. I’m not particular.