Scientism in the atheist movement

Larry Hamelin pointed me to a recent Existential Comic which criticizes Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris for scientism. The explanatory text below the comic goes on to criticize the New Atheist movement as a whole. It argues:

The real goal [of scientism] is often just to draw a border around what we should or shouldn’t question, because they don’t want any of the fundamental aspects of society to change.

Larry Hamelin has a couple good posts responding to the comic commentary, and looking back on the New Atheist movement as a whole. Partially following Larry, these are my critiques:

  • Harris and Dawkins don’t represent the atheist movement. Harris and Dawkins are widely criticized within the movement, and many (myself included) are positively disposed to philosophy.
  • To the extent that scientism is or was present in New Atheism, it was not motivated by an attempt to maintain status quo. I believe that scientism was primarily a reaction to the way people would hide behind the authority of philosophy, insisting that there exists a complex and subtle defense of religion or belief in God. Of course, the complex and subtle defense did not materialize, and failed to address religion or belief in God as they are popularly practiced.
  • Of all the strengths of philosophy, I do not think effecting social change is one. Certainly academic philosophy is not a force for change. And though my writing is often infused with philosophy, that just makes me a more effective thinker, not a more effective activist.

This might be a bad idea, but let’s read the comments on this comic to see what other people are saying.

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But is it really capitalism?

A few years ago at a conference about queer video games, I said to an acquaintance, “It seems like there are some financial barriers to creating good queer video games.” My acquaintance says, “Yeah, well that’s capitalism.”

But is it? Is it really???

Sure, capitalism makes it hard to make well-funded games catering to a minority group. But it’s pretty hard to imagine an alternative economic system where we decide to invest a disproportionate amount of resources for the cultural benefit of a minority. Of all the problems created by capitalism, I’m not sure this is one of them. If anything, I would blame… eh… utilitarianism.

Capitalism vs utilitarianism

You may have heard that, in the simple case, a “free” market maximizes the good for the greatest number of people–that is, it’s the most utilitarian economic system. It chooses the optimal pricing and product allocation, eliminating “deadweight loss”, which is an angry red triangle that inhabits the supply/demand curves. There are of course, a lot of issues with this claim, most of which are beyond the scope of this post. The currently relevant issue is that hardly any markets qualify as simple.

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Critiques of call-out culture: a linkspam

This is a repost of an linkspam I created in 2015.  So naturally, all the links come from 2015 or earlier.  I’ve removed a few broken links, and added some contextualizing commentary at the bottom.

One of the most common complaints by social justice activists about social justice activism is that there’s a lot of toxicity. Whenever an activist makes a misstep, other activists will “call out” that person, sometimes directing a disproportionate amount of anger and abuse at them. This pattern is often (but not always) referred to as “call-out culture”.

For a while, I’ve been collecting a lot of articles and blog posts which critique call-out culture from an internal view point. My main motivation is that I would like to write about the topic myself, and I’d like my ideas to be responsive to what has already been said.

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Pre-marital sex is an ace issue

By reputation, Christians are very sex-negative. They’re the main driving force behind abstinence-only sex education, they teach kids that having sex with multiple people will make them dirty and used up, and people who leave Christianity often need to overcome a layer of sexual shame.

But that’s only one side of the coin. The flipside is glorification of sex–within the right context. Sex before marriage supposedly leaves you all twisted up inside, but sex after marriage is supposedly mind-blowing. But how does sex go from point A to point B so quickly? And if a couple chooses not to have sex before marriage, how will they know whether they’re sexually compatible?

Libby Anne talks about two different evangelical responses to sexual incompatibility. One response is to ignore the problem. The other response is to acknowledge the problem, but insist that sexual compatibility isn’t that important.

Both of these responses have serious problems, and especially for aces. To some extent, being ace is essentially the realization, I am sexually incompatible with nearly everyone. Obviously I’m not saying everyone needs to have sex before marriage; nobody needs to have sex at all. But if sex is expected in the context of a particular relationship, it should be expected early on, so that sexual compatibility can be spotted and addressed earlier in the relationship.

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Biased Tests

[cn: Bayesian math]

Suppose that I create a test to measure suitability for a particular job. I give this test to a bunch of people, and I find that women on average perform more poorly. Does this mean that women are less suitable for the job, or does it mean that my test is biased against women?

Psychologists do this all the time. They create new tests to measure new things, and then they give the tests to a variety of different groups to observe average differences. So they have a standard statistical procedure to assess whether these tests are biased.

But I recently learned that the standard procedure is mathematically flawed. In fact, rather than producing an unbiased test, the standard procedure practically guarantees a biased test. This is an issue that causes much distress among psychometricians such as Roger Millsap.

Following Millsap, I will describe the standard method for assessing test bias, sketch a proof that it must fail, and discuss some of the consequences.

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Linkspam: June 10th, 2017

Japan’s rising right-wing nationalism – I recently discovered Vox’s youtube channel, which was especially informative on foreign policy and politics. (Although, I know so little about foreign politics that they don’t have to be that good to teach me something new.) This video is about right-wing nationalists in Japan, whom I immediately hate. They’re the equivalent of neo-nazis, and the rising sun flags are like confederate flags.

On a somewhat related note, why aren’t more people talking about Mindanao (southern Philippines)?  The military clashed with a terrorist group in the city of Marawi, and president Duterte declared martial law in all of Mindanao.  This is very troubling for a number of reasons.

Confusing Intelligence with Goodness – Sara talks about the tendency in American culture to strongly associate intelligence with goodness, and observes that this is not true in Chinese literature.

There have been some attempts in social justice spaces to stop using the word “stupid” because it’s ableist.  But the more I think about it, the more I think this is the wrong approach.  Tabooing a bunch of common words is difficult, and doesn’t address the root problem.  It’s the whole cultural association between cognitive ability and goodness.  BTW, yes I am aware that “stupid” is used in the title of a link in this linkspam, and no I will not comment on that further.

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