Fuckwittery Knows No Bounds

I’ve been employing the Smack-o-Matic rather heavily on religious assclowns lately, with the occasional good whack at my favorite whipping-boys: politicians and the media. But let’s not forget that stupidity is a human universal, and irrational assclowns abound in every endeavor and creed.

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, we have a shining example from the teaching profession. She’s threatening to sue Dartmouth College and her students for creating a hostile work environment.

If you thought she was an IDiot forced out for her IDiotic views, you’d be wrong.

No, she wasn’t sexually harassed, either.

Nope, not physically attacked.

Give up?

She’s upset because her actual students used actual critical thinking skills to – oh, the horror! – disagree with her.

Absorb this a moment. Savor it. Appreciate the complex bouquet we are sampling here: an Ivy League professor, entrusted with the task of teaching young minds to engage ideas, understand, appreciate and critique ideas, is pitching a fit because her students had the temerity to actually understand, appreciate and critique ideas.

The Wall Street Journal snarks. Observe:


Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of “French narrative theory” that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will “name names.”

The trauma was so intense that in March Ms. Venkatesan quit Dartmouth and decamped for Northwestern.


My goodness, that’s some trauma. Those Freshman English students – they’re vicious buggers. Especially when they actually pay attention in class. The nerve!


Ms. Venkatesan lectured in freshman composition, intended to introduce undergraduates to the rigors of expository argument. “My students were very bully-ish, very aggressive, and very disrespectful,” she told Tyler Brace of the Dartmouth Review. “They’d argue with your ideas.”


Egads! The rogues! How dare they show any sign of thought process more complex than “vegetable!”


Ms. Venkatesan’s scholarly specialty is “science studies,” which, as she wrote in a journal article last year, “teaches that scientific knowledge has suspect access to truth.” She continues: “Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct.”*


And her students weren’t impressed by this impenetrable woo? Shocking!


The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan’s seminar, then, was to “problematize” technology and the life sciences. Students told me that most of the “problems” owed to her impenetrable lectures and various eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. She counters that such skepticism was “intolerant of ideas” and “questioned my knowledge in very inappropriate ways.” Ms. Venkatesan, who is of South Asian descent, also alleges that critics were motivated by racism, though it is unclear why.


My powers of snark fail me. It’s paddle time.

Why isn’t this silly bitch working for the Discovery Institute or teaching Sunday school in some fundie church somewhere? I suppose it’s because she’s too “liberal” and would probably describe herself as “enlightened,” but let’s deconstruct this for a second here:

She presents intellectually vacuous arguments as rarefied, profound truths. She teaches that science is just a social construct. She pitches a fit when people disagree with her. She can’t handle the least bit of skeptical thought or criticism, especially valid skeptical thought and criticism, because she has no valid response. Instead of being able to hold her intellectual ground, she has to resort to temper tantrums, lawsuits, accusations of harassment, and on top of all of this, plays the race card (read: persecution).

Tell me. How the fuck is this different from the right-wing fucktards who rely on the same damned bullshit arguments to bolster their indefensible positions? Is this really any different than the snivelling “Evilutionists are so mean!” cowardice we hear from IDiots? No? I didn’t think so.

But – and wait for it – she doesn’t stop there. Oh, hell, no. She’s going all the way. She has to play a card worthy of Expelled:


After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on “ecofeminism,” which holds, in part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so – actually, empirically so. But “these weren’t thoughtful statements,” Ms. Venkatesan protests. “They were irrational.” The class thought otherwise. Following what she calls the student’s “diatribe,” several of his classmates applauded.

Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was “fascist demagoguery.”

It’s our old friend Godwin’s Law! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Reductio ad Hitlerum can’t be far behind! My darlings, I think we just found the star of the next Expelled travesty.

The fact that her students PWND her this thoroughly gives me hope for the next generation. Apparently, the Wall Street Journal columnist feels the same way:


The remarkable thing about the Venkatesan affair, to me, is that her students cared enough to argue. Normally they would express their boredom with the material by answering emails on their laptops or falling asleep. But here they staged a rebellion, a French Counter-Revolution against Professor Defarge. Maybe, despite the professor’s best efforts, there’s life in American colleges yet.


I think we should all make it a point of honor to encourage rebellion in the face of fuckwittery, no matter which side of the spectrum the fuckwit is on, no matter the cost.

Viva la revolución!

*Update: It appears this bit was quotemined in the grand tradition of DIsco. However, the basic fuckwittery of the good professor still stands, based on emails sent to her students and slightly more reputable sources than the WSJ and Dartmouth Review. Read the rest of the comments in Ed Brayton’s post, should you wish to form your own conclusions.

I Was a Victim of New Math

Efrique has two posts up that I’m certain are a tour de force of mathematics. I deduce they are not because I understand the math, but because I know that Efrique is a genius and his logic in other areas has never failed me.

I don’t understand the math because of this:

Back when I was in school, I sailed through English and foundered on mathematics. My brain looks at numbers, screams, and flees. I blame the way math is taught.

I struggled with basic math for many years, until I hit a point in early middle school when things went “click.” My sails filled with a good wind. I skimmed the waves of numbers. Each new concept slotted perfectly into place: we were plotting a good course, and there seemed nothing ahead but open ocean and the shores of Calculus sometime after a pleasant journey.

As soon as I reached 5 knots, my teachers, in their infinite wisdom, decided I could skip the rest of the basics and move right on to pre-algebra. For some children, this might have been a good move. They’re the ones who “get it” intuitively. For me, it was a disaster. It was like telling a sailor that since he’s so good at navigating by sight, he’s ready to strike out across the open ocean.

And then, there was the Book.

I can’t really describe my pre-algebra book. I remember very little of it. I just remember the look on my father’s face when, disappointed by his daughter’s inability to understand the simplest algebraic concepts, he sat down one night and lectured. Couldn’t understand why I didn’t understand, why I was failing, math is the easiest thing in the world, it’s simple and obvious and -

-then he opened the book, looked at a problem, and stopped mid-rant.

And stared.

His forehead creased. A little thunderhead formed above his eyebrows. He turned red. He opened his mouth, closed it, looked at a few more problems, and looked at me in utter disgust as I quailed.

“No wonder you don’t understand math,” he snapped. “What is this shit?”

We then spent a delightful hour wherein he ripped the book a new one, while I watched his wrath in awe. He hated that book with a passion.

I never did recover momentum. The wind had been sucked from my sails, the hull staved in, and not even my father could right the ship. Part of that was because he worked 16-hour days and just didn’t have the necessary time. Part of it was because we couldn’t find any sane math books. And the rest was because I’d already taken a berth on another ship, and was starting to chart a literary course.

I would have focused all of my energy and attention on comprehending math, however, if I’d known that as an SF author, I’d someday need the bloody stuff for incidental details like planetary mass and gravitational force, orbits, and a billion other things that go into making a story universe work. I can’t do even the simplest calculations.

One day, I keep telling myself, I’ll take the time to rebuild the ship. I’ll start with regular math and follow every iteration until I finally reach the promised land of calculus. Only, there’s never time. And that impoverishes me. There’s a whole world described in math that I’ll never see and only vaguely comprehend.

When it comes for the math underlying my books, I’ll just have to fake it.

Good thing I can cuss like a sailor, then, eh?

Happy Hour Discurso

Today’s opining on the public discourse.

Well, at least he says we don’t have to worry about a last-minute power grab:


When asked today about the attempts of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to distance himself from President Bush, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino inadvertently admitted that even the President sees the value in moving away from the policies of the past seven
years.


He’s been involved in this for a long time and you can’t wish for something that’s not going to happen — he doesn’t wish for a third term. He thinks it’s good that we have a two-term limit in the United States. It’s good for the country to have that smooth, peaceful transition of power every four or eight years; one where you get new energy and new ideas across the board — from the President on down, throughout the administration.


I have to admit, I’ve been vaguely worried that Bush & Co. would attempt a coup, but then again, this is George “Vacation Man” Bush. As long as Darth Cheney doesn’t get any bright ideas, we might be in the clear.

I just love the wording, here: does this “new ideas across the board” statement mean Bush wants the Democrats to win? Possibly. You know the Republicons will take the opportunity to blame the Dems for all of the insanity that will ensue as folks are cleaning up the spectacular mess Bush leaves behind.

It sure as fuck won’t be a new administration with McCain:


The fine folks at Progressive Media USA have an interesting item about John McCain’s voting record in relation to the Bush White House’s wishes.


CQ’s Presidential Support studies try to determine how often a legislator votes in line with the President’s position:

CQ tries to determine what the president personally, as distinct from other administration officials, does and does not want in the way of legislative action. This is done by analyzing his messages to Congress, news conference remarks and other public statements and documents.So, these studies only track
votes when the President has an explicit, stated opinion on a bill.

According to CQ, Senator John McCain has voted with President Bush 100% of the time in 2008 and 95% of the time in 2007. (emphasis in the original)


So… what exactly is the change the Republicons are yammering about again? I see no prospect of change, here. No wonder my stepmother would rather get a gun to the head than vote for this assclown.

Speaking of assclowns… Just in case you were worried:


Good news — as far as a few unhinged conservative activists are concerned, you can now go back to enjoying Dunkin’ Donuts without inadvertently supporting a terrorist-sympathizing ad campaign.

For those of you who don’t read reactionary right-wing blogs, Dunkin’ Donuts recently unveiled an ad featuring television personality Rachael Ray, holding a latte, standing in front of blooming trees. Ray, however, is wearing a scarf, and for conservatives, a scarf is never just a
scarf.

Michelle Malkin noted that the scarf is black and white, which she insisted meant that it looked too similar to an Arabic keffiyeh.

[snip]

This week, unwilling to take any chances against the coordinated efforts of unhinged Fox News commentators, Dunkin’ Donuts backed down and gave in.The Boston Globe reported:


The company at first pooh-poohed the complaints, claiming the black-and-white wrap was not a keffiyeh. But the right-wing drumbeat on the blogosphere continued and by yesterday, Dunkin’ Donuts decided it’d be easier just to yank the ad.

Said the suits in a statement: ”In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. It was selected by her stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, given the possibility of misperception, we are no longer using the commercial.”

(In case you’re wondering, the stylist who selected the offending scarf was not Gretta Enterprises boss Gretchen Monahan, who appears on Ray’s TV show as a style consultant.)

For her part, Malkin was pleased with Dunkin’s response: ”It’s refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists.”


That’s right. All of this drama, all of this outrage, is over Rachael Ray wearing a black-and-white checkered scarf. Everybody knows that anybody who wears a black-and-white checkered scarf is automatically in leauge with the terrorists. Yep.

Good to know Dunkin’ Donuts caves so easily to batshit insane right-wing mouth-breathers: I now know where not to purchase a donut.

My country ’tis of thee: silly land of insanity.

Can anybody give me a reason why we should take these idiots seriously? Other than the usual “watch out because rabid dogs bite” warning, of course.

On the Other Hand, I have Good News…

…No, I didn’t save a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico. But I found this gold nugget in my inbox:


Your dad is going to vote for Obama. Can you believe it? If he gets nominated that is who he will vote for. If he doesn’t, then he will vote for McCain. Me, on the other hand, if he doesn’t get nominated, then I can do a write in vote, and I will still vote for him. I would rather put a gun to my head than vote for Billary or McBush.

He is crazy and she is a socialist. No thanks.


My father. My bloody father, who I don’t think has ever voted for a Democrat, is going to cast his ballot for Barack.

And my stepmother, who is even more conservative than he is, won’t even dream of voting for McCain.

When the fuck did I step down the wrong leg of the Trousers of Time? This can’t be the same universe I woke up in this morning…

Fuck the Courtiers and Their Admirers

I’m tired, I’m behind in my work, and I’m getting cranky, so this is going to be a quickie.

I am godsdamned motherfucking sick and bloody tired of this ridiculous idea that religious ideas are somehow beyond critical thought and criticism.

The moment an advocate of a religious idea tells me I should live by that idea, I start to question it. Why? What’s the evidence that this is better than the 2,684,879,413 other religious ideas I’m told I should live by?

The very instant I’m told “because [insert deity/deities here] said so,” that idea gets flushed. I’ve had it.

I’m out of patience with special pleading. Religion is no better an idea than any other. Just because someone says a god is behind it doesn’t mean it’s automatically more valid than the non-god endorsed good ideas that humans have had.

Frauds tell you not to question. Liars tell you to believe. Folks who are telling the truth welcome inquiry. Good ideas withstand skepticism.

I’ll tell you the #1 reason I can’t have faith in God. It’s because God, according to the Christian Bible, doesn’t welcome doubt. God can’t stand to be questioned. And that tells me either God is an illusion created by people who are now desperate to keep that illusion from being revealed as such, or God is a psychopathic liar who isn’t telling me the truth.

I don’t believe because there’s no evidence, but that’s a diatribe for another day. What I’m dealing with here isn’t belief, but faith. The requirement that we live by certain principles because they are religious. The demand for respect for something simply because it’s religious.

As PZ said,


When someone advances remarkable claims of remarkable phenomena, like N rays or cold fusion or polywater (or natural selection or chemiosmosis or endosymbiosis), we demand evidence and skeptical evaluation…but not for religion. God always gets a pass from the people who already believe. They claim the existence of the most powerful, all-pervasive force in the universe, yet will provide not a single shred of support. And worse, this bozo calls the demand for evidence “hooliganism”.

If that’s the case, I’m proud to be a hooligan.


Too fucking right. Maybe I’m more tolerant of other people’s faith than PZ is, maybe I’m more willing to let them that likes it have it, but their beliefs don’t get my automatic respect because they’re religious beliefs. “It’s what I believe” isn’t enough. Give me a fucking good reason. Especially if you’re demanding more than my mere toleration.

The bastard who called PZ a hooligan likes to drop the names of a lot of religious luminaries, such as Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Krishnamurti, etc., and then crow, “What, are you gonna call them liars, PZ?”

Why the fuck not?

Just because the courtiers had good ideas on how to be decent human beings doesn’t mean they were right about the Emperor’s clothes.

Being religious people doesn’t give their ideas greater weight than the great ideas of non-religious thinkers.

It doesn’t put them beyond reproach.

And anyone who claims it does is showing me they’re too afraid to let those ideas and the actions that spring from them stand on their merits. Fuck you if you think I’ll respect that.

Woozle vs. Pastor Dean: FIGHT!

Rule #1 for a Christian dealing with atheists: do not get into a philosophical pissing match unless you really like wet trouser legs.

Yesterday, I posted the outrageous gauntlet Pastor Dean threw down in an attempt to prove that his special version of Christianity was the only valid worldview. I asked Woozle to be my champion.

He more than rose to the challenge. Grab your beverage of choice, get comfortable, and enjoy the joust if you haven’t already.

In response to 2008-05-26 Open the Door to Conversational Evangelism by Paul Dean, by Special Request from Dana

There’s a
type of argument I’ve frequently run into which is really quite pathological, when you get down to it. I call it “mirror arguing”.

The technique is basically to accuse your opponent of being guilty of your own sins, regardless of whether you have any reason to believe this is true.

Despite its outrageousness from a rational perspective, it seems to be quite effective — especially in a situation where you’re mainly playing to an audience (the less sophisticated the better) rather than trying to convince the other person of the correctness of your point. Your opponent then looks quite pathetic if he (rightly) points out that it is in fact you who is the wife-beater; it reduces what should have been a totally devastating point to something about as convincing as “well… double dumb-ass on you!”

Seems pretty clear to me that we’re looking at that kind of argument here. Let’s go on a little magical mystery tour through the lovely distortions of reality which are the result of too much religion on the brain, shall we? Okay!

Pastor Dean says: “One of the basic dynamics that attends any worldview that is contrary to the Christian worldview is a lack of philosophical justification for it.” (Jeez, Dana, I was looking for some nice meaty arguments to tear apart, and you’re passing along this shit? ;-) But okay, doody calls…)

First: What do you mean by “philosophical justification”? If this means something other than “justification based on reason”, then you’ll need to be clearer. I’m going to assume that’s what you mean.

Next: Christians believe what they believe based on a circular argument. God exists because the Bible tells me so. The Bible is the word of God, because the Bible says so. I can believe the Bible when it says this because the voice in my head, which is God, because the voice tells me it’s God, says that the Bible is true! If that’s justification, then there is no logic in the universe, and we might as well give up and go back to the middle ages.

And finally: “Atheism” is the refusal to believe without convincing evidence — or, in other words, without philosophical justification.

So basically no; Christians have no philosophical justification for anything, and “unbelievers” (nice term, that) generally won’t do anything without justification. Your claim is backward. (Qualification: I’m speaking about principles here; many Christians manage to get past their doctrine and allow bits of reality in around the edges. Some of them seem almost sane as long as they stay away from stuff where they’ve been trained give an answer from doctrine. Also, admittedly not all atheists are as nit-picky about consistency as I am, but the principle is that belief requires evidence.)

The fact that you are sophisticated enough to be able to pull this 180-degree switcheroo so smoothly in your writing makes me think that either you must know exactly what you are doing (which means you are knowingly being dishonest) or else you have been carefully schooled in this twisted mode of thought. Which is it?

Pastor Dean says: “the unbeliever has no basis for knowing anything.” And you do? Backwards again.

Pastor Dean says: “When an unbeliever makes a statement concerning God, the world, man, morality, ethics, or any other subject, he asserts it as an absolute certainty.” No, dude, that’s you (again!). Do I need to point out that this is also an unsupported straw man attack? If you really believe this is representative of atheistic discourse, show me some examples — but I don’t think you will, because I’m not convinced that you care about truth.

(And don’t come back by saying “Hey look, you just claimed my argument was backwards as if you were 100% certain of that!” If I were 100% certain, would I be asking you for counterexamples? Would I even be bothering to try and engage with you on a rational level? I may be pretty near certain of the assertions I’m making there, but I leave that small wedge of uncertainty open. Without uncertainty, you may find that you are certain of the wrong thing. This is why religion is so screwed-up; someone decided what truth was, many centuries ago, and now you’re not allowed to correct it in the face of new evidence.)

Pastor Dean says: “For example, an atheist who believes in evolution may say that God does not exist.” First of all, you can leave out the “evolution” bit; it’s redundant, and lots of theists are able to follow a line of reasoning from evidence to conclusion and hence “believe” in it too (remember what I said about some of them seeming almost sane?).

So that boils your statement down to “an atheist may say that God does not exist.” This certainly might happen. Yep. Can’t argue with that. Nope. You’ve certainly hit the nail on the head with that particular observation of yours. Yessirree.

Ever tried reading back what you just wrote? Doing that helps me catch all kinds of howlers like this before they go out into public and make me look bad; it might do the same for you. Or were you just trying to casually associate “atheism” and “evolution” in the minds of your gullible audience?

Pastor Dean says: “However, on his worldview, he has no basis to make such a statement. On his worldview, knowledge is obtained through observation (or the scientific method). His problem is that he has limited knowledge and ability to obtain that knowledge. He does not have the ability to search every square inch of the cosmos to determine whether or not there is a God. On his worldview, he cannot know that there is no God. His statement of certainty is rendered completely uncertain.”

Funny you should bring this up; I was just addressing this issue the other day.

I’ll summarize.

The argument over whether or not God exists is a red herring, a bait-and-switch tactic. The God-nobody-can-disprove is totally harmless, a God of no consequences. Saying that this god exists is logically equivalent to saying “This sentence is true!”.

Any consequences you claim from God’s existence, however, are testable.

It looks like you claim some consequences near the end of your article, so I’ll discuss them there. The God you believe in apparently does have consequences, and evidence for or against its existence can therefore meaningfully be collected.

Pastor Dean then goes pacing in circles some more about how you can’t prove the non-existence of God. Since I’ve already brought up the red herring / bait-and-switch aspect of this — i.e. it’s not the existence of “God” per se that anyone really gives a flying spaghetti monster about, it’s whether or not this same being hates gays, has a particular opinions about our laws, etc. — I’ll just add a mention of the well-known objection often referred to as Russell’s Teapot. The argument is basically that if you claim something exists and I say it doesn’t, the burden is on you to show me why you think it exists — not on me. In the absence of evidence, the default position is to not believe that any particular thing exists. Otherwise why stop with God? Boiled eggs floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter! A giant stone octopus living in the earth’s core! You get the idea (I hope).

People who are religious seem to think that God gets some kind of special exemption because they say so. Nope, sorry, I don’t at all see why I (or anyone!) should buy into that.

But really, I think the “red herring” point is far more powerful. I could go around saying “Yes! YES! I utterly and completely believe in God and accept that he is the blessed creator of all things! However, he told me personally that the Bible was written by a bunch of power-mad priests back in the early Middle Ages and is mostly screwed-up shit which nobody should listen to, except for a few good bits here and there. He also says Jesus never existed as an individual, although the ideas attributed to him are generally pretty nifty and it would be nice if more so-called Christians would pay attention to them. Except the stuff written by that jerk apostle Paul, of course.”

If I said that, though, I don’t think it would make you very happy, because just the pure idea of “God” isn’t what you really want me to believe in; the key elements of “belief in God” would seem to be a particular set of THOU SHALTs and THOU SHALT NOTs, apparently derived from a somewhat arbitrarily-assembled set of writings whose true meaning is open to a wide variety of interpretations — of which you choose one as being “the truth”, excluding all others.

Ok, enough about God. I hope I don’t have to come back to that again; I’m getting tired of it. Can we agree now that it’s IRRELEVANT? That the real issue is what you claim God wants us to do? Good.

Pastor Dean says: “We have an explanation as to why we don’t know everything.” The phrase “willful ignorance” springs to mind. If your answer to every question is “because God did it”, you’re not going to get very far in your investigations. (“Because God did it” is what’s known as a “curiosity stopper” or fake explanation; it is clearly designed and intended to stop inquisitive folk from asking too many questions and thereby spotting the glaring inconsistencies and errors in Biblical doctrine.)

Pastor Dean continues: “In addition to the fact that God’s general revelation takes time to investigate, God has not revealed everything to us…” Look, it’s fine not to know everything. Science doesn’t know everything. Mathematics has proven that it’s literally impossible to know everything (for some reason, God neglected to mention
Gödel’s incompleteness theorems in the Bible, even though it would have been considerable evidence for non-human origins of the Bible and could have shut up a lot of uppity scientists). But your religion puts up deliberate roadblocks to acquiring new information, especially if that information contradicts the Absolute Truth which you believe you have. Give me a break.

And anyway. I’m not really sure what point you’re trying to make here, so I’ll move on.

Pastor Dean says: “We must pray for courage to ask a simple question of those with whom we dialogue: why?” Don’t be afraid, we don’t bite. …Well… okay, not physically… we probably are a deadly threat to the underpinnings of your current worldview, yes, and intend to continue being one, but we do not threaten you or your families (despite anti-gay rhetoric), nor do we seek to dissolve the social organizations represented by your families and churches. We seek only to clean out the ideological bullshit you’ve allowed to accumulate, since you don’t seem to be doing it yourself — and it has now grown into such a fetid pile that it threatens civilization.

We are (as you seem to believe you are) seekers of truth; in that regard, opening dialogue with us certainly will not harm your cause — but the truth may sometimes hurt. We welcome challenges to our worldviews, but apparently yours sets you up to be helplessly dependent on its essential inerrancy, or at least to believe that you are dependent. People have actually survived “losing faith”, however, and they tend to be much happier afterwards. The pattern seems to have a lot in common with any other addiction.

We completely welcome that question, “Why?”, and we wish you would ask it more often. A lot of the time when we try to ask it, we are rebuffed with claims that we shouldn’t question faith, or that reason and faith are separate magesteria, or some such rot.

But you’re not saying that, so let’s start with this one: Why do you believe in God? Why do you believe that anyone who doesn’t believe in God is going to be in trouble somehow? What is this God that you believe in, anyway? (Oops, that was a “what” question; is that off-bounds?)

Pastor Dean says: “When it comes to questions concerning God, morality, ethics, religion, origins, and the
like, the answer will have no basis on a non-Christian worldview.” I think I’ve already creamed that one. If you define God, we might have something to discuss. If you can’t define God, then why are you bothering to discuss it? What do you hope to gain? (On the other subjects, though, I think the evidence is plain that we have quite a lot to say, thanks very much.

Pastor Dean says: “Here are some sample questions: why do you believe spanking is wrong? Why do you believe homosexuality is not sin? Why do you think there are many paths to salvation? Why do you believe embryonic stem-cell research is a good thing? Why do you say there is no absolute truth? Why do you think pre-marital sex is okay in certain circumstances? Why do you believe in evolution? How do you know the sun will come up in the morning?”
Taking these one at a time — in order to demonstrate how this “reasoning” thing works, since you seem to be unfamiliar with it:

  • Spanking: Well, I don’t believe it is exactly wrong, at least in moderation; I’ve just never known it to be terribly helpful or effective. I’ll suggest that for some kids, it may be necessary under some circumstances, but if it becomes the default way of coping with disobedience, it may lead to moral stagnation as children fail to learn that there are better reasons to be good than fear of pain.
  • Paths to salvation: This question is meaningless to me; I don’t know what you mean by “salvation”, or why it is necessary/important. Whatever it is you think I believe about it is probably not what I believe.
  • Embryonic stem-cell research: Is this a trick question? Okay, there’s apparently a widespread belief in anti-abortion circles that this research encourages abortions. This is TOTAL B.S. The fetuses from which stem cells are drawn for research have already been aborted. Stem cell research does not cause a demand for aborted fetuses. (If you believe any of these claims to be false, please provide your evidence and I will go find mine.)
    • Also, as far as I’m concerned, those who act against stem cell research may have prevented the discovery of nerve-regeneration techniques which might have saved Christopher Reeve, among countless others. In other words, to phrase this as an emotional argument (which anti-abortionists seem to like): YOU KILLED SUPERMAN.
  • Absolute truth: I sure as hell never said that. Without getting into quantum physics, I’ll just say that there is an absolute reality which exists regardless of what you believe, and discovery of the nature of that reality requires experimentation to test your hypotheses. Religion has made countless absolute statements about the nature of reality (and continues to do so), and generally gotten it demonstrably very wrong over and over again. Cast out the beam in your own eye, dude.
  • Pre-marital sex: Why should I think it is wrong? Give me something to work with here.
  • Evolution: Only because of the vast mountains of mutually-reinforcing evidence from a wide variety of disciplines, and the fact that nothing in biology makes much sense without it, and the fact that creationism (including the repackaged version called Intelligent Design) ultimately make no sense at all. In fact, creationists keep bringing up the same “evidence against evolution” over and over, even though all of it has been shown to be fallacious and much of it is simply downright false (that’s LIES, to put it in
    nonscientific terms; isn’t there a commandment against that or something?), showing that they’re not interested in understanding the truth – or even in being moral – but merely in swaying the gullible.
  • If you really want to understand the details, I highly recommend Daniel Dennett‘s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. I can probably find you some good evolution books by Believers like Ken Miller, if you don’t want to be seen reading a book written by a godless atheist.
    • The sun: Well, first of all, there’s this thing called “inductive reasoning” which is basically “if something has always happened, it will probably continue happening”. Being a member of a scientific civilization, however, I have a bit of understanding of why the sun comes up each morning — i.e. it’s actually the earth’s rotation which causes the sun to appear to move across the sky; this in turn is due to inertia, which will slowly bleed off over the ages because of tidal effects, but this won’t cause any noticeable changes during my lifetime; the sun itself has a finite lifetime but is not expected to go out or pose a threat to Earthly life anytime in the next few billion years — and so can say with some degree of certainty (more than, say, the Romans or the early Christians could do) that this pattern will continue for quite some time and (more to the point) is not subject to the whims of any deities or other supernatural entities.


    Pastor Dean says: “The unbeliever will have no philosophical justification to believe or know anything.” Um, excuse me, what did I just say up there [points]?

    Pastor Dean continues: “He will attempt to justify his answer or knowledge apart from God, something he cannot do logically.” What other method is there of justifying anything? How can you justify something logically based solely on a circular argument? You’ve got it mirrored again.

    The rest of Pastor Dean’s paragraph assumes the rightness of his previous two sentences, which are factually backwards, so I’ll leave them alone. (They’re either false or meaningless taken by themselves.)

    Pastor Dean asserts: “It is at that point that we can point out that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that makes sense of our experience or knowledge in any one of these areas.” Backwards again. You can only make sense of experience or knowledge if you have experience (observations) or knowledge (tested hypotheses) to make sense of.

    Pastor Dean continues: “God is the one who tells us what to believe about spanking, homosexuality, how to be saved, embryonic stem-cell research, truth, pre-marital sex, our origin, and the laws of nature in effect until Christ comes.” This statement is so full of crap that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But I shall try:

    • “God is the one who tells us what to believe…” If I’m a Christian. If I’m a Buddhist or a Confucian or a Wiccan or a Godforsaken Devil-Worshipping Baby-Eating Atheist (hi!), then you’re already wrong without even finishing the sentence.
    • “…about spanking, homosexuality,…” you know, I thought Jesus said the Levitican laws didn’t apply to Christians. Did I somehow misinterpret the Bible? How could this possibly happen?? “…how to be saved,…” assuming one needs rescuing (from what?)… “…embryonic stem-cell research,…” O RLY? There’s mention of embryonic stem-cell research in the Bible? Which verse would that be in? And why didn’t God just give us all the knowledge of the stuff we’re trying to learn via such research, if he didn’t want us doing it? Or is it true that he hates amputees? “… truth, pre-marital sex, our origin, and the laws of nature in effect until Christ comes.” The Bible probably does say all kinds of things about those items, but the evidence is that it’s wrong about our origin, that it says things are morally wrong which shouldn’t be, and there’s also no evidence to support the idea that it was written by God. There is, however, lots of evidence that it was written by a lot of different people, none of them divinely guided (if that term even has meaning), and many of them with personal agendas. “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3).” So… when Christ comes back, we do an autopsy? Why is he keeping this stuff hidden?

    Also, this is the point where you have made some assertions a
    bout the nature of God. You haven’t actually come out and said these things, but reading between the lines it sounds like you’re saying (for instance) that:

    • God approves of or requires corporal punishment of children. What’s your evidence for this? If you want to use the Bible as evidence, you’ll have to explain how the Bible was written by the same entity or force which created the universe about 13 billion years ago, and why you believe this to be true. The burden of proof is on you, dude, because it is simply an absurd assertion on the face of it. I wouldn’t believe that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor either, or that light has a measurable speed, if there weren’t mountains of evidence — but neither of those is as absurd or arbitrary as your claim, which you expect me to swallow on your say-so.
    • God sees homosexuality as an abomination. Again, the burden is on you to explain why you are convinced that the force which created the universe as a lifeless ball of superhot fundamental particles, presumably watched (or not) as those particles condensed into atoms, molecules, gas clouds, planets (billions of years later), pre-biotic organic molecules, and single-celled life-forms which eventually discovered sex, and suddenly (within a time-span of mere millions of years) became more and more complicated until eventually we have the vast array of species we have today (minus the ones which have become extinct, of course) — including humans, marmosets, octopuses, asexual slime molds, creatures living in oceanic volcanic vents, creatures who reproduce using all kinds of different methods sexual and nonsexual — would just have this Thing against humans who are more attracted to others of their own reproductive configuration. WTF??

    Look, even if I was tempted to believe that the ruler of the universe had written this lame book containing very little of use to us today and much that is counterproductive, and even if I believed that Jesus Christ was a real person who was somehow the “son” (are we talking genetic offspring? Does that mean God was human? Did he have DNA? Why or why not? Don’t start spouting mystical doctrine at me or I’ll have to slap you; give me a straight, rational answer, please) of the creator of the universe those 13 billion years ago, I’d be feeling rather manipulated by them, and hence rather bloody peeved.

    If the god of the Bible, who damns people to eternal torment for going against his (poorly-expressed and often ambiguous) wishes even when they have the best of intentions, really exists — then I deny his authority over me. I answer to a more moral power than that being (i.e. my own conscience — which isn’t especially conceited; it doesn’t take much to be more moral than the Biblical god). I would choose that eternal torment rather than go against my own conscience — just as I would stand up to any bully or terrorist who tried to get me to commit a crime or hurt someone.

    All I can say in conclusion is this: I appreciate your attempt to reach out, but you don’t seem to understand the idea of rationality. Stop pedaling drivel as sense, and get your house in order if you want religion and non-religion to get along peacefully. Those of us outside religion have been watching with great anxiety and alarm as religious ideas, which are generally not subject to rational debate or negotiation, have spread across America and other parts of the world. It would be different if these ideas were the good ones, like “love your neighbor” and “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and “turn the other cheek” and “let ye among you who is without sin cast the first stone”, but unfortunately it seems to be all the worst ones which are gaining popularity.

    If your idea of religion says that certain things are wrong, end of discussion, and won’t even admit to an alternate interpretation of the scripture which you bizarrely claim as ultimate truth let alone admitting reality as evidence, then we simply can’t let it stand. If your ideology won’t negotiate, then we have to work against it by other means.

    It’ll have to go. I’m sorry.

    Game over.

    WOOZLE WINS

    Tomorrow, we’ll have the melee – all of you who wanted to pile on, get your comments or links in by midnight Pacific time today.

    Happy Hour Discurso

    Today’s opining on the public discourse.

    From the It’s Only Appeasement if a Democrat Proposes It Department:


    Sometime in the next few weeks, a special envoy of President Bush plans to meet with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, whose government sheltered Osama bin Laden and pursued a scorched-earth policy in southern Sudan that resulted in more than 2 million deaths.

    Bashir’s government has been accused by Bush of participating in a “genocide” in Darfur, the only U.S. government use of such a strong accusation. Yet Richard S. Williamson’s visit to Khartoum follows a series of direct contacts by senior Bush administration officials with the Sudanese president, including Secretaries of State Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice,
    Rice’s deputies, and several special presidential envoys.

    Bush has spoken to or exchanged letters with Bashir on numerous occasions, underscoring how White House policy has departed from his pointed public call to shun talks with radical tyrants and dictators. His appointees have also pursued aggressive diplomacy with North
    Korea and Libya and have even conducted limited business with Cuba, Syria and Iran.


    Can you say “hypocrisy,” boys and girls? These fuckers infuriate me with their “Do as we say, not as we do” bullshit.

    Carpetbagger observes, “No word yet on whether the president is prepared to denounce himself.” I somehow doubt he will.

    In other stupid news, McCain’s finally putting some distance between himself and Bush – by embracing a policy Bush abandoned as an abject failure:


    One of the more glaring and obvious flaws in John McCain’s pitch to voters is that he’s fundamentally running on a more-of-the-same platform when voters are desperate for a change. It appears that McCain has realized it’s to his advantage to break with the president more than he has been. Unfortunately, in this case, McCain is abandoning one of the few issues Bush got right (eventually).

    McCain and (who else?) Joe Lieberman teamed up this morning for an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on U.S. policy towards Asia, and specifically presented McCain’s preferred approach towards North Korea.


    American leadership is also needed on North Korea. We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks.


    This, in addition to McCain’s remarks in Denver this afternoon, led to headlines like this one: “McCain Breaks with Bush Over North Korea.” One might be tempted to think, “Great! Bush has been incoherent on North Korea, seemingly going years without any policy at all, and McCain has decided to ‘break’ with this. Maybe McCain’s learning after all.”

    But this would have the situation backwards. The approach McCain described today is the same policy Bush embraced for the better part of six years. It failed miserably, undermined global security, and led to an expansion of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Bush eventually reversed course, did a complete 180, and decided the Clinton administration’s policy was the
    right one after all.

    McCain is “breaking” with Bush, inasmuch as he wants to take the U.S. back to the policy that was a dangerous and humiliating failure. In other words, he thinks Bush is too liberal on North Korea, and we need to go back to Bush’s first-term failures.


    Great idea! According to McCain, the problem isn’t that America’s fucked up, it’s that it’s not fucked up enough. We now have the opportunity, if we vote for McCain, to destroy America right. None of these half-measures, oh, no. If you’re gonna ruin, ruin utterly.

    Fantastic.

    And, maxing out the stupidity meter for the day, we now have a “clarification” on Liz Trotta’s “Osama/Obama – hell, assassinate ‘em both!” quip:


    On Monday, Ms. Trotta went back on Fox News Channel to apologize. “I am so sorry about what happened yesterday in that lame attempt at humor,” she said. “I sincerely regret it and apologize to anybody I’ve offended. It’s a very colorful political season, and many of us are making mistakes and saying things that we wish that we hadn’t said.”

    “Clarification noted,” said her interviewer, the Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer.


    Thanks so much for that “clarification.” I’m happy to hear that such an appalling faux pas was the result not of deep-seated animosity toward America’s black Democratic candidate, not a horribly revealing Freudian slip, but just one of those incidental slip-ups you get in a “colorful political season.” I feel ever so much better. In fact, I feel so much better, I’m willing to sell you that beachfront condo o’ mine in Yuma, AZ at a very nice price.

    Buying it? Neither am I.

    Academia: Grade Inflation

    Academia Series:
    Part One
    Part Two

    In the world of business economics, inflation is defined as a general increase in the cost of goods and/or services. In education, grade inflation is the general rise in the expected standard grade level of students, which is accompanied by an uneven difficulty in achieving said expectations.

    Everyone is familiar with the standard letter grade system in most American high schools. A through F (excluding E), these grades are supposed to gauge the student’s performance in class, which is usually derived from a combination of factors such as attendance, in-class focus and participation, homework, and test scores.

    Now, not too long ago, straight-A students were part of the rare elite, the best-of-the-best valedictorians who seemed to know everything anyone could ever need to. This is because C was actually considered “average”. It was the baseline, the starting point. A C was what you used to get when you did an okay job – something that every student should, with only a little effort, be able to achieve. B was above-average. They tried a little bit harder, they studied longer, but a B was a good grade. Bright students were B averages. An A was “exceeding expectations”. “A” students went the extra mile. They aced most of the tests, they turned in all the homework, they were early to class every day. It took effort to get an A in some classes.

    These days, however, parents are constantly expecting more from their kids. Now, a C is a “bad” grade. You’re not trying hard enough. You can do better. B’s have become the new average, though many parents still consider it to be barely “acceptable”. Now, A is the goal, and often the expectation.

    In some classes, it has become easier to get an A. If you show up on time, you turn in all the assignments, and you study for the tests, it’s expected that you’ll get an A. Many teachers now grade homework based on if you tried, even if you didn’t get all the questions right, leading to an easier grading system. Other teachers provide lots of extra credit and easy opportunities, knowing that many of the students want and expect an A. Students will sometimes freak out if they are not getting an A.

    Other teachers, however, do not buy in to grade inflation. Shindledecker, the amazing Biology teacher who was mentioned before, believed that a B or a C grade was still good, that it was a heartfelt effort on the part of the student. When we took his tests, he felt that all students should feel challenged by the test, so I cannot recall a single test where even one student got 100%. He said, “If you get 100% on everything, you shouldn’t be in this class.” There were even questions that he would get wrong on his own tests. So the tests were difficult, the homework was involved and required actual thought. If half the class only got a C, he felt that was as it should be. It shouldn’t be easy to get an A, because then it robs from those who actually try hard to do so.

    So where does that leave us students? What effect does it have on the teachers? If everyone knows about this whole inflation thing, it can’t be a big deal, right?

    Wrong.

    Not everyone fully “gets” the concept of grade inflation, and that while some classes will grant you an A for sitting down and not speaking, other classes make it far more difficult. So if a student tries hard but still struggles, perhaps because an A is reaching beyond their ability, they get a “low” grade of a B or C.

    Which is better for the student: To try hard and to struggle and to push yourself, and only get a C, or to slack off in an easy class and get a free A without learning anything?

    Parent’s don’t always care, though, what experiences matter and what builds character. They just want the grades. So when a pressured student is falling behind, they freak out, and they talk to the teacher. Often it dissolves into “Please give me an A, if you don’t my parents will be really mad at me and they won’t get me the car they were gonna give me for graduation.” So teachers feel the pressure, too.

    To put myself in the situation: I am in AP Calculus. I’m also close to failing the class. Mostly due to a lack of motivation, but it could’ve legitimately been due to me struggling to understand the material. So if I had a C, or even worse, a D or an F, which are in no way acceptable by my parents, then I am led to believe that I have failed myself in some way, that I was not good enough. Yet, I tried, and certainly I must have learned something. Yet, I could just as easily have dropped out and enrolled in a Geometry or Algebra class, not learning anything because I already know it, but skating through the class and taking away an A. Clearly, another A means another success, right?

    Letters are a poor indication of a student’s worth or ability. What you don’t see is how hard they tried for that grade. How long they studied, or how often they goofed off and went on a date rather than practicing their Spanish homework. No, instead expectations of students are rising, which in some ways is good but overall puts pressure on the student.

    Don’t judge by grades. There is a general shift in the way colleges view grades, which gives me hope. Instead of looking just at the G.P.A, many colleges now look at what the actual classes were. How many of them. How challenging were they. It’s a positive trend that I hope continues to parents.

    The trials and tribulations of a young student’s mind cannot be summarized through the use of a single letter. Grades do not tell you the journey, only the end destination; but in the words of Book, “How you get there is the worthier part.”

    And everything changes
    And nothing is truly lost
    -Neil Gaiman

    Exactly So

    One more, and then we’re done with the Christians vs. Atheists: FIGHT! theme for a bit.

    I just want to point out a few comments that illustrate beautifully what I’m saying.

    In a comments thread on Pharyngula, I came across this from an anecdote Wazza was relating:


    And he knew my parents were agnostic at best, and probably atheist except that they never really cared that much. And my mother still treasures something he said to her; “Jo, I know you don’t believe in God, but you’re the best Christian I ever met.”

    And that’s what these people forget. Christianity isn’t about Leviticus, it’s about love.

    (These people, BTW, are the kind of people who put out this ad. Knowing the Christians in my cantina, I doubt the nausea will be all on the atheist side.)

    Right. So. Bet you’re expecting me to whip that Smack-o-Matic off the wall, aren’t ye? Nope. Let’s look at what this good Christian gentleman said again, once more with feeling: “Jo, I know you don’t believe in God, but you’re the best Christian I ever met.”

    There it is. There’s the respect. That’s what makes that an “Awww you’re so sweet” comment rather than a “Look, you rat bastard, I’m NOT CHRISTIAN!” one. He’s not saying that morality only ever comes from God. He’s not playing gotcha! games. He’s just saying, “Although you don’t believe in God, you live the ideal of loving one another.” And whatever else he meant by “best Christian,” which doesn’t seem to require adherence to the letter so much as the spirit of the law.

    Exactly so. Now, when we can get to a point where an atheist can say, “Bob, I know you’re a Christian, but you’re the best atheist I ever met,” and the Christian preens, then we’ll know we’re making abundant progress.

    Segue: you’re probably wondering what such a comment would mean. Well, some of the best traits of an atheist are the ability to think rationally, avoid arguments from authority, and celebrate human life, right? Don’t know if an atheist would ever say such a thing to a Christian, but if so, that’s probably what they’d be getting at. “You’re a damned fine logical thinker, you don’t resort to silly authoritarian answers, and you care about all people without having an ulterior motive (conversion).”

    End segue. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

    From our very own Cobalt comes this:


    Even though I do believe in The Divine Power OMGZ, that doesn’t mean everyone is in a place where that’s productive for them. It doesn’t mean they or I or anyone is “further along” than anyone else. It just means that different people have different needs, and just as I expect not to hear from atheists that my way of fulfilling my needs makes me a backward irrational savage, atheists won’t hear from me that their way of fulfilling their needs is somehow morally deficient.

    Exactly so. And we atheists would do well to remember that, just as much as Christians and all other religious sorts should. I know many people who need the Divine, magic, something beyond themselves and beyond the empirical world, and I wouldn’t take that from them, just as I expect them not to cram their belief down my throat. I’ve said before, and I say again, I don’t want a world without religion. I want a world without religious strife. I want a world where belief and non-belief can live side-by-side in harmony – but not without argument, because damn it, arguing this stuff is fun.

    Another segue: when I was taking comparative religion, our Buddhist Jew professor was explaining that in Judaism, things aren’t taken for granted. You’re not expected to just swallow the dogma. You’re expected to think about your faith. You wrestle with it. Someday, hopefully, I’ll track down my notes, do a bit o’ extra research, and go into that a bit further, because I loved that idea then and I love it now. If you came by your faith after wrestling with it, I can wholeheartedly respect that. And it gives me hope that you can respect the fact that I, too, wrestled with these things, that my atheism isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to religious intolerance, but is something I thought about and struggled with and came to after long consideration.

    Here endeth segue the second. I suggest you read Cobalt’s comment in full, because she says a lot of things I can fully agree with, and there’s a lot of wisdom and insight in there. Then read all the other comments, because they’re all insightful. Okay, so there’s only one other in there right now – but there’s other good stuff in my requirements for conversion post.

    Onward.

    Nicole said:


    I love you. The God I believe exists loves you. And neither of us wants you to change because you’re already doing good in this world.


    I had a hard time accepting that one. No, not because of the “God loves you” part. I will absolutely accept anybody anywhere telling me that God loves me just the way I am, because that’s an expression of love, not an implied threat. A hellfire-and-brimstone type saying “God loves you,” on the other hand, always struck me as a prelude to getting condemned: “God loves you so much He’s gonna smite your ass if you don’t shape up and start worshipping.” The first, Nicole’s God, doesn’t need me to believe to love me, and really, what atheist could have a problem with that?

    No, it’s the second bit of that last sentence I struggle with: “…because you’re already doing good in this world.”

    Me?

    Angry, ranting, foul-mouthed, lil ol’ me?

    Doing good?

    WTF???

    *looks at Smack-o-Matic 3000*

    Oh. Oh. Yeah. Wasn’t there some other guy somewhere who threw tantrums, wielded a verbal sword, and stirred the place up? Beat on the folks with power, reached out to the folks excluded from power, all that rot?

    That’s right.

    And no, I’m not saying just like Jesus, not even remotely close. I’m just saying: now I get it. You don’t have to be sacchrine sweet to do some good. No, in fact, there’s a long tradition of contentious, argumentative, loud-mouthed, fighting-mad, iconoclastic buggers who managed to do some good. And hey, even Jesus could get tetchy at times, and look what he did (ignoring what fuckwit followers came in and did later). I think that’s what she means. You don’t have to be endlessly nice to do good in this world. You just have to try to make things better, and if that means throwing a fit, then by all means, throw.

    All right. I can accept that.

    What all of the above comments illustrate, I hope, is a sense that there are plenty of us who can find common ground without stepping on each other’s toes. We do have a lot in common. We care deeply for each other. We can share good ideas without sharing beliefs. We don’t have to force the other person to think just like us in order to love and respect them. In the end, no matter what your belief or lack thereof, it really is about love.

    Exactly so.