Friday, December 7, 2012

Meandering musing on Social Issues

I figured I would start a list of the issues of our day and see if History will some day support my view of the world.

Let's first look at a couple issues of the past:

#1 Slavery: the ownership and treatment of a fellow human being as chattel. This is well established as being categorically wrong now.

#2 Universal suffrage: giving all adults the right to vote. In the past both women and minorities have been denied this right.

#3 Worker's Rights: in the past workers had almost no rights, worked in dangerous and deplorable conditions for unreasonable number of hours, millions died from poisons, exhaustion, poor work conditions and other work-related deaths. Sadly we face a degradation of these rights today. The Constitution grants US citizens the right of free association and in some states like Wisconsin this right has been infringed by making it illegal for workers to form a Union.

Looking forward...

#4 Marriage Equality: rights in the US are individual rights and we're guaranteed EQUAL protection under the law. This means that if one adult has the right to marry another adult, that right must be applied equally. It is just inexcusable, on the basis of small-minded prejudice, to deny gay people the right to marry and enjoy the rights, benefits and responsibilities that come with such an endeavor. Watch this video for more information (from Republican Ted Olson).

#5 LGBTQ* Rights: A broad term covering marriage, but also legality of sexual activity, recognition of relationships, adoption rights, military service, anti-discrimination, and gender identity & expression. Eventually the mistreatment, bullying, harassment, physical assault and denial of rights to people who are merely different in whom they love will be anathema.

#6 Minimal Standard of Living: giving a level of dignity and recognition of the human condition over living standards including: a decent place to live, adequate food & water, education, necessary clothing, and medical care. I think this will also lead to a policy of full employment, where everyone who wants to work will be put to work. This will require some serious rethinking of how an economy should work because the disgusting truth is that, in our capitalistic system, full employment leads to a collapse of the system.

#7 Bodily Autonomy/Abortion: You simply cannot force someone to carry a child to term, the consequences of denying bodily autonomy are horrific, millions of women suffered through it in the past and many of them died. Advances in birth control will probably reduce it close to medically necessary abortions.

#8 Animal Rights: I think we will find that higher animals are sentient, feeling, beings and we will be required to extent to them certain Rights.

#9 Death Penalty: will be abolished, partly on the basis of neurological findings.

This isn't a complete list obviously, post some of your thoughts.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Lies Have It

I couldn't let this one pass...
Obama also stated that what is frustrating is that “I have not been able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008.” Let that sink in for a moment. What Obama is saying is that he believes the President of the United States should be allowed to force Congress to do his will.

Either this person has zero reading comprehension skills or they are maliciously trying to misinform the reader. You'll have to decide.

The actual quote of what Obama said is "What's frustrated people is that I have not been able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I said in 2008." Which makes it clear that it isn't Obama manically wishing to have ultimate control but rather he's saying change takes time in our system of government and that this is what is frustrating those who wish he had done everything he wanted to do back in 2008.

As for the Ginsburg issue, MediaMatters covered it very well.

So, more bullshit. If you read what she said in detail this is clearly taken out of context.

And let's talk about the failings of said document.


Denies Suffrage to women and African people - DISGUSTING

And unfortunately we're still fighting both those battles today, against people like 'Mr. Common Sense' I fear.

The Hate Blog

A collection of a few of the Hateful things I see Christians saying around the internet. If I had an easy way to add things to this it would be thousands of entries long.

Note to Christians: "you are going Hell" sounds a lot like "I'm gleefully hoping you will be tortured for all eternity, because I'm right and you are wrong". I condemn anyone wishing or thinking another human being is deserving of torture or death. And no, I do not believe in the death penalty either.

Most of this is just silly stupidity. When does insulting cross over into bullying? When someone in a position of power over someone else (either by virtue of physical strength or otherwise) uses that position to intimidate or harm the other person. At some point bullying would cross over into straight up harassment (which is a matter for the courts). But one adult merely insulting another adult, in the course of a discussion/argument, really isn't bullying and it undermines our concerns for real bullying when it is misportrayed as such.

But don't EVEN try to pull those "Why are atheists so angry" or "Why are atheists so rude" tropes. See also: What's The Harm

But even given all this, and all I have seen that isn't posted here, and how hateful I find Christian doctrine, I STILL DO NOT PAINT ALL CHRISTIANS WITH THE SAME BRUSH. To do so is the ugliest form of bigotry. I judge each person on their own merits.

Some might be, but this commits the fallacy of Hasty Generalization. He will probably get some nasty replies which will only confirm this position in his mind (Confirmation Bias at work).

Don't ya just love the smell of irony in the morning?

What a charmer.

Wielding Jesus like a sword.

What does Nativity scenes on public property have to do with the crass commercial enterprise that is American Christmas? People seem to be unaware of the Pagan origins of the holiday they co-opted. Maybe they missed these verses?

Jeremiah 10:1-25 Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”


Deuteronomy 12:29-32 “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.

Where does the Bible tell you cut down a tree and decorate it with silver and gold? Oh right, it tells you NOT to do that.

But this is just irony, the fundamental position has nothing to do with your Bible. It has to do with the US Constitution that enjoins the government from ESTABLISHING a religion. Any access to public places must be done fair and equitably -- if that is done then secularists would take no issue with it. But that isn't what happens, what happens is one specific sect in a town will be granted a favored position.


Whoa, that's SO meta.

Most of the ones I know are atheists because they studied the Bible fairly deeply. It's easy to make such sweeping statements, and sometimes she is probably even right, but not even close to always.

If I have to endure 500 channels of religious programming, churches with pithy sayings on nearly every block, being told I'm going to hell, and all the rest of it you'll just have to deal with my being vocal.

The one thing I'm NOT going to do is "shut up".

Not sure I can bear this much irony all in one tweet.

And this one is a website which proclaims in all caps:

what I am unequivocally stating as a person of faith is that their message on these billboards is bigoted and hateful

Bigotry is a form of prejudice, for there to be prejudice there has to be some pre-judging going on. Non-believers have investigated the claims these various religions make and are just calling them out on their nonsense.

Not once in the article do they refute the claims posted on the billboards or show them to be false. They are simply factual representations of the religions, that they make the religions look ridiculous is not bigotry.

They also pull the "except of course Muslims ('cause that will get you killed)" bit. And you want to accuse others of Bigotry. REALLY?

One such message was:

"Mormonism: Magic Underwear, Baptizes Dead People, Big Money, Big Bigotry"

They do in fact have super-secret special underwear which is stated "when properly worn...provides protection against temptation and evil". This is why it's referred to as 'Magic' underwear. They do in fact Baptize dead people. They heavily funded a fight to prevent gay couples from getting married in California. THAT is Bigotry. How would you feel if a group was funding a fight to prevent Christians from being allowed to marry? Wouldn't that seem rather shitty to you?

So, please tell me where the untrue statement is on that billboard? Does it ridicule these things? You bet. That does not equal Bigotry -- again, Bigotry must be based on a prejudice and to be a prejudice it must be false or fallacious thinking. Finding your silly nonsense to be silly isn't bigotry. If you can demonstrate that your claims are factual then I'll change my position.

The article goes on to wish that "common human decency [...] demands that it should expressed without hate or disrespect towards others". Sorry, but respect is earned. I'll defer to one of our founding fathers...

Thomas Jefferson, on the concept of the Trinity, wrote in a letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816
Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus. If it could be understood it would not answer their purpose. Their security is in their faculty of shedding darkness, like the scuttlefish, thro' the element in which they move, and making it impenetrable to the eye of a pursuing enemy, and there they will skulk.

One last bit on the article where it talks about being a Christian nation and ridiculing the idea that the US is not a Christian nation.

First of all, the Constitution itself says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". We are formed as a SECULAR nation that does not establish a religion, but allows the FREE exercise thereof. That goes for ANY religion except, of course, the ones that groups of Americans have constantly deemed unworthy of this protection like the religions of the NATIVE AMERICAN PEOPLE who have been shat upon repeatedly in every regard. And when there has been physical hostilities it has most often been at the hands of other Christians, such as the Philadelphia Nativist Riots of 1844.

Secondly, the Treaty of Tripoli clearly states ""As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen".

He's on to us! Is he going to go Biblical and start torturing us to death again?

Jesus couldn't have said it better.

Now, did you see how that nasty 'athIEst' [sic] instigated this? Must be one of Fox New's "Illterate".

Oh, this next Christian is a real treat, can you feel the "love of Jesus" coming out of his pores?

This is a mind that is so very clearly poisoned with the religion-virus.

Some Islamic love:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Drugs - Towards a sensible policy for legalization

When you think of 'drugs' are you excluding alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine? All of which are consciousness altering to various degrees and have a highly addictive profile (physiologically and psychologically).

I'll assume you exclude drugs like aspirin, antibiotics, and other run-of-the-mill medically approved pharmaceuticals. Our language is really inadequate in this area. There are also many legal and oft abused "medically approved pharmaceuticals" (like Oxycodone).

Even within the (currently) 'illegal' drug categories there are vast differences being lumped together.

My legalization interests lies primarily in the group of chemicals that are profoundly mind-manifesting and consciousness altering (each of which requires individual consideration and treatment as to how it should best be legalized and regulated - some only under a doctors supervision, others available to all adults).

My thoughts are roughly:

  • Cannabis:
    all adults, similar to tobacco/alcohol, self-grown, small collective or licensed small commercial. Encourage vaporization/ingestion over smoking
  • MDMA:
    all adults, licensed producers, medical-grade, limited availability - possibly require medical approval
  • Psilocybin/Mescaline/LSD/n,n-DMT/5MeO-DMT/Ayahuasca/salvinorian A:
    prescription, medical-grade, under controlled circumstances but not doctors care (I envision 'trip centers' where people can go have safe experiences under educated supervision, eg, Ayahuasca contains an MAOI, so there are dietary and drug interactions to be careful of, but millions of people take it safely every year throughout the Amazon basin)
  • Ibogaine:
    medical-grade, only under doctors care & supervision, something like 1/year recreational limit unless medically indicated (e.g., for opioid-addiction treatment)

Those are the ones I think can profoundly help mankind should we choose to use it properly -- all have indices of harm far below alcohol and tobacco and all are profoundly different from most other illegal drugs.

And, while I don't advocate that methamphetamine be made fully legal, it should be legal and available for researchers and if medical applications are found we have no business or interest in blocking them. Doctors educated in the field are the ones in a position to make those judgements. And it should not be a criminal violation to be caught using methamphetamine -- it should be an intervention, medical and psychological care should be given to the individual, they need help not imprisonment. All imprisonment is going to do is ensure that their life is utterly destroyed and give them no path to get back on their feet, which often destroys their families far more profoundly than the drug abuse itself.

Addicted individuals should also be given treatment even if that means the BEST we can do is give them a safe source for their drug of addiction and a safe place in which to use it -- but this treatment should be medically determined on an individual basis.

The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world. - Carl Sagan

Christian Epistemology Challenge

I see this kind of thing a lot so I figured it's time for another blog post:
Charles... please site where science has disproven God

My response, which goes out to all similarly thinking Christians:

I fear you have your epistemic compass pointing stolidly backwards. Do you REALLY believe in ALL things until they are disproved?

Where has science disproved that Invisible Pink Unicorns created the universe? Where has science disproved that aliens created human life? Do you believe those things? Or are you cheating here when you appeal to lack of disproof and only apply it to that which you have already decided to believe?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Morality of Human Interaction

Morality of Human Interaction

Some short and sweet thoughts on morality...

In the human sphere, moral interactions have a common thread of all participants being Informed, Consenting, and Empowered. To be uninformed is to be exploited. To be nonconsenting is to be forced. To be unempowered is slavery [empowerment has to do with recourse]

We need to be educating (age appropriately) about the ethics of Informed, Consenting, and Empowered activities, including how it applies to human relationships and sexuality.

  • Informed (STDs, pregnancy, intimacy, feelings, real risks, appropriateness, expectations during and after)
  • Consenting (doesn't need to be forms signed in triplicates but it DOES need to be explicit and all parties have a burden to ensure the willing consent of all others, not just assume it, NOT force it, NOT put it under stress or pressure or to account for such stress and pressures where they do exist)
  • Empowered (empowered to say NO, and have NO mean NO - and have it recognized and respected by the law)

Someone forcibly kept in the dark about the facts of sex is therefore being treated IMMORALLY, by their parents and by anyone exploiting this uninformed state.

Make it your mantra: Informed, Consenting, and Empowered -- and don't just ensure it for yourself, take the moral responsibility to help ensure others are equally Informed, Consenting, and Empowered in your interactions with them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The curious case of Sri Sathya Sai Baba

My intent here is to show that most Christians and Muslims (et. al.) are deeply and profoundly hypocritical when it comes to what they accept as claims and evidence.

Sri Sathya Sai Baba of India claimed to be God until his death only in 2011, tens of thousands of miracles are attributed to him (including raising the dead, appearing to his followers after his death, appearing in distant locations instantly, producing objects including their holy ash, vibhuti). There are literally millions of living eye-witnesses to these "miracles". So we have the benefit of knowing with unquestionable certainty that this individual actually existed and claimed to be God and what the claims of his followers are.

If you reject that evidence and accept anything lesser (such as the mere claims from the Bible or Quran) then you are an intellectual hypocrite - there is no way around that that I can see.

You can say you feel emotionally that the 1 god out of thousands you've decided to believe in is the real one, but that is all you have at the end of the day.

We know for a fact that human testimony and subjective experience can be extremely unreliable, especially under altered states of consciousness in which "personal experiences" happen (see cognitive biases, memory biases, logical fallacies, etc).

And you would think that a God would know better than to rely on such extremely unreliable testimony.

And unless you believe that EVERY religion is completely true in its foundation then you must understand, on some level, that just because a group of people start believing something does NOT make it true -- especially when it comes to deeply superstitious and supernatural claims.

The human brain is wired by evolution to accept false positive detection of intention and agency.

The 'skeptic' who waited around to see if the rustle in the bushes was really a predator/enemy didn't tend to fair very well. And when there was a rustle and you figured out there was no animal you then would misattribute it to some other invented agency, ancestors or spirits and eventually gods -- precisely because we know that we falsely attribute agency where there is none.

That works out fine for our hunter-gatherer ancestors (more or less) but it is inexcusable to KNOW these things and ignore them and fail to account for them in your epistemology and claim about reality.

A couple of more quick points to consider...

I ask Christians to read 1 Kings 18 and ask themselves if they *really* believe they could set bull meat on fire with prayer and if they failed to do so, should they then be slaughtered as their holy book claims was done to others?

And before you come back with any moral arguments you'll first need to account for why the Bible clearly endorses slavery and never once condemns the practice and why the Bible never speaks on the age of consent and indeed, has numerous relationships we would today label as illegal conduct with underage children.

Then ask yourself, since it is lacking in the Bible, how is it that you come to know that an adult having sex with a child is wrong? Is it possible that you ARE able to make moral determinations even when you are lacking a directive from on high?

What we do know is that our sense of empathy for others is absolutely critical for the advancement of our ability to live in larger groups (and we can see in those lacking empathy that they are sociopathic or psychopathic).

People often incorrectly view 'natural selection' as cutthroat -- but if you actually look at nature you'll find EVERYWHERE evidence of symbiosis (your cells only work because of a symbiotic relationship with mitocondria), cooperation, and interdependence because these traits allow the whole to be greater than the mere sum of the parts.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Science and the Methodological Failure of Faith

Scientific theories are theories that predict the behavior of phenomena within the realm in which they have been tested (within some range and some degree of accuracy) and found to agree with the Theory and not falsify it.

Tests that are Outside the realm which has been thoroughly tested (extrapolations, or in some cases interpolations), form falsification tests of the theory.

Future theories would still be constrained to agree with the tested predictions of the current theory (again, within in some margin of error) but could give us a different understanding of the underlying mechanism.

As our knowledge expands, possibilities for Nature that once existed are found to be untenable.

The simplistic, classical world is no longer a viable view of reality - even as it serves as a perfectly serviceable approximation of our common experience.

We already know that Quantum Mechanics and Relativity are not compatible and complete descriptions of reality, but they are extremely accurate MODELS (within nearly every realm which our instruments can currently reach and have held up over many orders of magnitude). We also know a tremendous amount about what any future model CANNOT be (and that guides our explorations forward in terms of M-theory, LQG, holographic models(all but ruled out now), etc.

The scientific methodology is nothing but our very best attempt at removing sources of error, illogic, and biases from our conclusions. Seen in this light, the idea that science must be excluded from some domain of inquiry is laughable because it implies that a methodology that admits error, illogic and bias will give superior answers.

The methodology of faith, meanwhile, has produced a continuous bifurcation of beliefs, resulting in tens of thousands of conflicting and variant belief systems about the very thing it claims it can give us absolute answers about.

On Personal Experiences

In response to:

I think that the response here to this guy is entirely unhelpful to him or (possibly more importantly) to future readers who might be looking for answers about their own personal experiences.

First, we need to acknowledge that, as a simple matter of fact, people DO have spontaneous ecstatic or hallucinatory experiences (what those experiences mean is an entirely different question). By some estimates ~10% of the population has at least one occurrence of such an event during their lifetime.

Sometimes it's from stroke, stress, illness, injury, autohypnosis, meditation, dancing, drumming, chanting, or just plain-old brain chemistry gone awry (or possibly 'right' in the case of psychoactives).

Shamanistic cultures have thousands of years of reports of interacting with other 'beings'. People used to report interacting with and even having relationships with Faeries. Now it is predominately reported as 'alien abductions'. But there are common themes running through all of these such as feelings of being immobilized, presence of other beings, sense of sexual or reproductive manipulation, experiences of having a child in the 'other' realm, or just generally being probed, studied, or sampled (etc).

I have had similar experiences myself from meditation. Some of the experiences are incredibly realistic. But I KNOW that they are only in my mind. They are wonderful illusions, powerful, emotional, and meaningful to me. But illusions nonetheless.

What we need to be doing is helping this guy understand that his experience is fairly common because it has an entirely mundane neurological explanation. He's not crazy or demented, just uninformed. He's had an experience that he cannot explain, it can be very confusing - hopefully this post takes a few steps towards explaining it and demystifying it (but I know from experience that is unlikely - but maybe some reader will find it helpful).

The brain is perfectly capable of synthesizing entire 'alien' words in the sense of dreams, but it can do this while you are awake as well. Just because your brain says you are experiencing something does not mean that it is actually happening in reality.

There isn't enough detail in the email to really comment on specifics. But the fact that it is reported as 'shared experience', in no way, makes the reality of the event any less illusory. People often cue off of others both verbally and non-verbally. "Psychics" exploit this all the time. They mention something and you respond, they talk real fast and distract you, and then pretend like they reveal some information that you JUST told them but you've already forgotten that you said anything. And despite the 50 things they got wrong, you'll pick that one thing as evidence that they are truly psychic (Confirmation Bias combined with statistical in-expertness).

When you think of someone having a personal experience here is what you should envision: Double Rainbow. Your 'amazing experience' is no different from Hungrybear9562's.

It can be profoundly moving to you because your brain is what is assigning the meaning and significance but there is no external reality to what you are experiencing.

Grooving on Secular Morality

Despite all of our successes, we humans are still miserable thinkers. Just take a peek through the list of cognitive biases. Just a few of them:

  • Anchoring – the tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on a past reference or on one trait or piece of information when making decisions (also called "insufficient adjustment").
  • Attentional Bias – the tendency of emotionally dominant stimuli in one's environment to preferentially draw and hold attention and to neglect relevant data when making judgments of a correlation or association.
  • Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.
  • Congruence bias – the tendency to test hypotheses exclusively through direct testing, in contrast to tests of possible alternative hypotheses.
  • Knowledge bias – the tendency of people to choose the option they know best rather than the best option.

There are hundreds of ways that your thought processes can go awry.

This is why peer-review and consensus building (where everyone agrees the outliers are being unreasonable and why; not that the majority rules the day) is so critically important in the sciences - scientists are in no way immune to any of these problems. Anyone who puts most of their life's work into something is very likely to be blind to many of their own biases on the subject. After all, they didn't get there by accident, they are very carefully studied and rationalized biases. But when we put hundreds or thousands of minds together on a question we can cover our blind spots so much better than just one mind working alone.

We should not imagine that 'morality' (or our sense of Right or Wrong) should be any different. We learn about morality the exact same way we learn about the world... We observe, we build models, we predict, we select desirable outcomes (sometimes altruistically and sometimes selfishly), we act, we measure the results against our model, and we try again.

This process is GOING to result in biases, you are working from limited information, limited experiences and driven by emotional currents that we don't directly control. We NEED the feedback loop from other minds in order to do better.

This is why I find the Golden Rule to be a complete failure as a moral guide - it puts far too much stock in the individual and ignores the negotiation, the feedback, the consensus building that is critically vital for any moral system. The Golden Rule is nothing but a nice platitude because it assumes that the other guy will think exactly as you do. I'm not saying the Golden Rule is BAD, but rather that it is, in no way, sufficient.

How we interact with one another is extremely important, not just to us individually but to how we're going to intellectually evolve as a species.

This means that Humans desperately need to sit around around and talk to each other about what is Right and what is Wrong. But we we need to do it in a context where we're not presuming that 2000 year old morality is reasonable to continue to promulgate. We know more about human behavior, sexuality, and disease now than they did - we can make better decisions than they did.

The advantage of secular morality over religious morality is that we can admit our ignorance. We don’t KNOW the perfect answers – so we can engage and discover and learn and be willing to be wrong so that we can improve. If you freeze your morality based on ancient superstitious beliefs then you freeze out this process of improvement based on increasing knowledge.

We have also learned some things about Morality itself. We know that it's wrong for Majority or Might alone to rule, Minority opinions must have a respected voice and perspective.

Cognitive neuroscience has also begun to reveal important information about how our brains work and, perhaps more importantly, how they fail.

One study looks at how our brains process moral questions differently depending upon the immediacy of the situation (The Theory of Moral Neuroscience). To me, this is a moral bias and failure that is wholly unjustified in the modern era. We need to work to expand our empathy to a greater tribe. I think that many people feel this way already.

Cognitive Neuroscience and the Structure of the Moral Mind (and lots more info from Joshua D. Greene) looks at many of the studies that are peeling back the layers of our brain and peering into how the Mind really works.

With new, modern tools for studying the brain, such a fMRI, the Cognitive Neurosciences are exploding. I suspect many of common sense notions will be soundly refuted but at the end of the day, we still need to find better ways to treat each other like the best human beings are known for, and not our worst.

Google: Neuroscience Morality

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Someone who's properly read the Bible

This is an excerpt from The clergy a source of danger to the American republic By William F. Jamieson:

Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe relates that in the unpopular days of abolitionism, a meeting of anti-slavery people was interrupted by a violent hail storm, the roar of the elements drowning, for a time, the voices of the speakers. During a lull and an awe like stillness, a frightened Methodist minister arose, and, with quivering lip, remarked he felt that God, in His wrath, was about to smite him for being present in such a meeting! At this juncture an old negress pointed her long, bony arm and finger toward him, and sought to soothe him, "Don't be skeered chile! keep quiet' for I 'spect as how God has not so much as hearn tell on ye!" The shouts of laughter which greeted this quaint speech submerged the sanctity of the priest.

Clearly someone had read their Bible. How sad is it that someone would be visibly shaken by fear because their God was pro-slavery.

This text has been very difficult to find but it's now available on Google eBooks for free.

Here is another passage (I haven't corrected the formatting yet):

The clergy as a rule are moral cowards They advocate such sentiments as are popular in their several localities In favor of temperance when it is the prevailing sentiment of community silent or opposed when unpopular So even with slavery Stephen S Foster when the war raged fiercely between abolitionists and pro slaveryites declared that the clergy in thejr ecclesiastical character have publicly defended the slave system as an innocent and heaven ordained institution and have thrown the sacred sanctions of religion around it by introducing it into the pulpit and to the communion table At the South nearly the entire body of the clergy publicly advocate the perpetuity of slavery and denounce the abolitionists as fanatics incendiaries and cut throats and the churches and clergy of the North still fellowship them and palm them off upon the world as the ministers of Christ I know it will be said that there are exceptions to this charge but if there be any I have yet to learn of them I know not of a single ecclesiastical body in the country which has excommunicated any of its members for the crime of slave holding since the commencement of the anti slavery enterprise though most of them have cast out the true and faithful abolitionists from their communion To understand the true character of the American Church and clergy and the full extent of their diabolism you must hear them speak in their own language Should I tell you the whole truth respecting them and tell it in my own words I fear you would entertain the same opinion of me which the Brahmin did of his English friend who on a certain occasion as they were walking together along the banks of a beautiful river admiring the richness of its scenery imprudently remarked that in his country during the winter season the water became so solid that an elephant could walk upon it The Brahmin replied Sir you have told me many strange and incredible things respecting your country before yet I have always believed you to be a man of truth but now I know you lie The Church and the clergy of the North voluntarily consented to become the watch dogs of the plantation SS Foster

I will say, Jamieson is no saint and I found several portions of the book to be racist and biased against the Native Americans tribes.

It was disconcerting to see someone who seemed to have a wider view than most, be so myopically racist. Where, in our own lives, are we so blind?

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's Not Religion

I've repeatedly said the issue is not the religion per se - it is the underlying beliefs fomented, with or without religion:

Prejudice: 'our god is the real god, yours is false' - is extremely prejudicial and, however much a few religious people might fight it, this is an overwhelming product of religion. Which is also NOT to say that religion has exclusive access to creating prejudice.

Ideology: Ideology IS prejudice, human behavior is too complex to be fully captured by a set of rules. Any set of rules about human behavior is going to be harmful when the RULES themselves are placed above all else.

Tribalism/Us-versus-Them/Nationalism/Patriotism: These are more forms of prejudice - this is where religious and political ideologies both similarly exploit base human nature.

There is nothing wrong with a proportioned sense of pride about ones nation but no nation, government, or persons should be placed above open criticism. The point is that this "Us" mentality is highly exploitable and must be guarded against.

Credulity: that belief without evidence is greater than empirical facts and reasoned conclusions. 'God hates homosexuals, look here, he commands that you put them to death - we don't do that anymore but it is still an abomination - so no marriage for you'. No evidence of the harm this does to others can ever exceed the internally ridged inculcated mind holding that ignorance is greater than knowledge. See Also: Truthiness

Miracles/Supernatural: I don't have to take my child to the doctor, I'll just pray like it says in the Bible because I KNOW that miracles are real. There are many other harmful products of this belief as well (exploited by faith healers, psychics, and revivalists, .... just to name a few).

False Morals: the promulgation of poorly considered ethical foundations such as the Golden/Silver Rule (which only works if everyone agrees on the desired/undesired behaviors). Don't suffer a witch to live, stoning people to death, death for apostasy, genital mutilations, and so forth [varies]

The counters to these are skepticism, conservatism of action (in the sense of a proper sense of self-doubt as our condition is one primarily of ignorance), liberalism of thought (in the sense of throwing off prejudices, valuing education, freedom, and reform, openness to change in the face of new knowledge, guarding of civil liberties), and a scientific approach to knowledge that demands claims be supported by appropriate evidence and recognizes the propensity of the human mind for cognitive biases, illogic, and factual error.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Value Of Atheism

The following tweet was put out by Adam Baldwin the other day (note: he frequently deletes his tweets so the reference is no longer valid):

Adam Baldwin
What have ever accomplished with their that would make their opinions worthy of respect?

Adam Baldwin put out the challenge above asking essentially, what did atheism ever do for humanity. Of course, he worded it in a very negative and sophistic way.

My response is as follows:

The value of atheism is that it is a rejection of the FALSE religious claims of just cause for genocide, genital mutilation, stoning to death, torture, and hate (etc). Atheism itself (the rejection of theism) provides ABSOLUTELY NO BASIS for such obviously abhorrent actions.

So, you might ask, how does a secular person justify 'morality'. The answer is: EXACTLY THE SAME WAY EVERY OTHER SINGLE PERSON HAS EVER DONE SO.

You learned your fundamental moral behaviors LONG before you knew anything about the details of the bible (and, in fact, a lucky few among us do not have any poisonous religious claims polluting their mind yet they are moral beings as well). You ALREADY knew it was wrong to hurt others because you FELT it. And the few people who don't feel this way are the psychopaths and sociopaths in the world. It has NEVER been demonstrated that a non-belief in god is correlated with a lack of empathy in any way. On the other hand, religious up-bringings HAVE been shown to have PTSD-like effects on children.

We humans have 'mirror' neurons which enable us to virtually experience what others actually experience. When you see someone else harmed you (tend to) imagine that you feel what they are feeling (unless you are mentally damaged). This is the underlying basis of our empathic drive and forms the fundamental basis for our sense of morality. Neuroscience is making incredible progress in this area of research.

Secondly, humans have the ability to share our ideas as a collective group. Through various agreements (implicit and explicit) we have established rules for social order that result in mutual support and protection of groups that we identify with (and to our great collective misfortune, also leads to conflicts with groups that we do NOT identify with).

Finally, because we are able to observe, reason, and make determinations for our individual and collective well-being (e.g., I'm hungry, I need to eat -- or my family is hungry, I need to hunt) we are also able to make similar determinations about our behaviors and their consequences in other areas of life.

Go back 10,000 years and imagine that you are a stranger entering a village and you start acting erratically (yelling, jumping around, acting unusual, foaming at the mouth, etc). The villagers might well kill you in self-defense.

It's not immoral to act strangely and yet people would have KNOWN not to do it. They don't need a 'god' to tell them how others are going to react to things.

You don't have to actually DO a thing to make a fairly good assessment of this result and adjust your behavior accordingly, if you are familiar with the customs and culture.

The problem you immediately run into when you try to use the Bible to justify some kind of absolute moral foundation is that #1 the 'laws' for people clearly changed over time (don't eat pig, ok to eat pig -- cut off foreskin, don't cut off foreskin -- god commanded slavery in the OT, slavery tolerated in the NT, and now is slavery moral or immoral?) and #2 the rules for 'God' are obviously different than those for men, if moral law was ABSOLUTE it would, by definition, apply equally. Yet, it is said to be immoral to commit murder but it's ok to commit murder if God orders it as he did of Abraham, as he did at Jericho, as he did to the many tribes, as he did of the first born of Egypt, and as he did of nearly the entirety of creation in the Flood.

Some final thoughts...

Do you think it's morally ok to CUT OFF a womans entire clitoris? Some religions[Islam] claim that you must, how do you propose to prove them wrong? Does the Bible say you can't do that? It ORDERS the followers of Judaism to cut off part of the male penis so obviously god doesn't think too poorly of such practices and he utterly fails to mention any prohibition on doing this to women.

And Slavery existed in Jesus' time but he never spoke out clearly and condemned it. And the Bible was used for thousands of years to Justify slavery and the poor treatment of jewish people. Only very recently (historically speaking) did religious leaders FINALLY grow a fucking conscious and help to speak out against slavery.

These issues just show the complete ridiculousness of religious claims. Unless you can overcome all those objections then you have no basis to claim the superiority of religious claims.

I don't think it's moral/ethical to cut ANYTHING off any infant (unless there is a clear and established medical need). That goes for foreskins, clitorises, extra fingers or toes (unless they present a medical danger), penis on a hermaphrodite, or ANYTHING else [see also Circumcision]

Addendum: I would like to add here, that by rejecting rigidly, closed-minded claims of religion immense progress has been made in the sciences while the Catholic Church was busying burning scientists like Giordano Bruno at the stake and imprisoning Galileo Galilei. The Church had an odd love/hate relationship with scientists, they were sometimes supporters of those who would stay within their strict bounds. But it is that very factor of an a priori boundary of inquiry that is at the heart of the problem and when you compound that with a bloodthirsty penchant for the most extreme forms of torture you can imagine for those who dared think for themselves then yes, I do find fault. How many Popes in a row ordered murder and torture be done in Christ's name? And is even ONE acceptable? Imagine if an atheist organization existed today that had tortured people for 1000 years? Would ANY organization get away with that other than a religious one?

So I say those who have rejected these false religious beliefs have indeed done many wonderful things for mankind as a product of that rejection, or to use Baldwin's phrase "with their atheism". AND they didn't do it out of fear or bribery.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How might we discern Objective Moral facts?

If objective moral facts exist then they would be facts of the matter regarding an action, behavior, or thought (I will just use 'behavior') to being 'right' or 'wrong'. Morality does not apply to all behaviors, this is an important and key observation.

There is no proof that objective moral facts actually exist. It could be that right and wrong is entirely an opinion held by a being capable of holding such thoughts. But I would like to present my viewpoint on why objective moral facts MIGHT exist, and a brief consideration of what they might look like. PLEASE note that this is NOT a proof of objective morals, it's merely an exploration of how they MIGHT exist on the nature of the concept of Morality itself (as being distinct from other concepts).

First, what I do mean by "distinct from other concepts". If I said Morality was the distance between planets you would instantly recognize that I was NOT actually talking about Morality. So this concept of distance between planets is not part of the distinct concept of Morality. So what IS the distinct concept of Morality? This is the real question we're trying to address. And our problem is that even WE don't really know what we MEAN when we talk about Morality. All we know is that it's something our brains DO, but the details are fuzzy. But we can identify at least some things that are not part of the concept, and I'll show that we can identify some that are. The question then becomes, on the properties necessary for Morality to be a distinct concept - can we then deduce any Evaluative moral statements that must apply (if you removed them then Morality would no longer be a distinct concept).

Any human endeavor that proposes to ask a question about something requires an Evaluative statement upon which to base any measurements (formal or informal). We often only have a very fuzzy idea of what we mean when we ask such questions. We do this about thousands of things and don't really think anything about it. Is it an objective fact that pressing the right buttons on a telephone will let you speak to your friend in New York? Of course it is? What is your yardstick for measuring this? Well, you push the buttons and you hear your friends voice and later on your talk to your friend in person and they confirm, yes that was me on the phone. Something physical happened in the universe that we could measure - but the thing we're measuring is completely arbitrarily defined by us posing the question in the first place. So what you observe & measure is determined by the very Yardstick that you define. What is a second? Is there an objective fact of a second? No there isn't! We measure a second against an atomic process, when it happens 9,192,631,770 times we call that a second, that fluctuation is the objective fact of reality, 1 second is a quantity of that measurement. We used to measure seconds against rotations of the Earth but we found that wasn't actually just measuring time, it was measuring all kinds of other things that made it (very slightly) unreliable! We had a poor yardstick, we found a better one.

So whenever we want to actually measure something, we must must have an evaluative statement that provides the CORRECT yardstick by which to measure it. We can make due with poor yardsticks, but they will give fuzzier answers.

Is it 'hot' out today? Is an evaluative statement but there are a lot of hidden assumptions. 'hot' relative to what? Most often the person asking would be asking relative to the temperature range in which humans are comfortable. And it isn't JUST temperature, humidity would play an implicit role as well, wind speed, and many other factors would all come into play.

Now imagine that I ask "is it wrong to initiate force against another human being"? This is a question that demands an evaluative statement about Morality by which to measure it. Let's look more closely at Morality in detail, and see if we can deduce any facts independent of our mere intuitions about it.

Built-into the very concept of Morality is the necessity that the agent either be capable of performing the action (a deontological/duty moral) or of not performing the action (or avoiding it). Morality simply doesn't apply to falling rocks, the rocks are never considered immoral. If we removed culpability from the concept of Morality it would not be meaningful.

So we CAN identify at least some of the necessary concepts that are part of Morality. Two other important concepts are intentionality and awareness of the consequences.

Someone who has suffered major brain damage may no longer be able to control their actions, if they harmed someone in such a state we wouldn't hold them morally culpable. They would lack the necessary properties that are inherent in the notion of Morality. They would be acting irrationally.

Neurological studies comparing parts of the brain believed to be responsible for empathy show marked differences between dysfunctioning psychopathic brains and normal brains. So I think that empathy is very likely a necessary property to possess to be considered Morally culpable. I'll grant this one is on weaker ground than the others but I think it is not difficult to imagine how this plays a critical role.

What about the ability to learn? We do not consider infants to be morally culpable, they do not demonstrate the necessary levels of cognition and understanding. They don't seem to be able to help what they do. As they grow more capable it seems rather self-evident that they must learn. A being that could not learn, I do not believe, could become morally culpable, any more than the brain damaged.

What about a brain that can learn, but cannot apply that learning to future behaviors? They must be able to apply what they learn to future behaviors.

So there are a number of things that seem to be inherent and necessary to the concept of Morality:

(1) culpability
(2) intentionality
(3) aware of consequences
(4) rationality
(5) empathy (and other intact emotions)
(6) ability to learn
(7) ability to apply knowledge to future behaviors

It certainly seems to me that if any of things are missing then the very question of morality would be irrelevant for that object (or being).

So now, let reconsider our question - on these necessary properties of Morality, "is it wrong to initiate force against another human being?"

If we do, a morally sufficient agent would be culpable, they would have intended to cause harm, they would be aware of the consequences (they would know how others are likely to feel and how they themselves would feel if the situation were reversed; as well as what others might do to them if they are caught), they would have had an opportunity to have learned and apply this knowledge to their action. Would a rational being then act in such a harmful way?

The question is, can you remove the Evaluative statement "It IS wrong to initiate force against another human being" from the concept of Morality and leave the concept intact, or is that statement necessary on the facts of Morality itself?

Perhaps you can, perhaps not, but these are the types of statements that would need to necessarily hold given the inherent properties of a distinct concept of Morality.

Now imagine the set of ALL POSSIBLE Evaluative statements that could possibly relate to Morality, if you can remove every single one of them and leave Morality intact then there are no objective morals. If any of them are necessary on the facts of Morality, as a distinct concept, then those would be objective moral facts.

I do NOT think the properties I've listed here are, by themselves, sufficient to sustain any objective moral facts. I've only tried to point how I think that such a thing could exist and what they might look like and how we might eventually discern them. Before we can do any proving, I think that we would need to understand what mechanisms in our brain processes Morality and understand what the necessary properties of those structures are.

I do think that modern neurological studies are showing extremely strongly that there is a (common) neurological basis for human morality, so even if there are no objective moral facts there is almost certainly a phenomenological basis for morality. I'll try to expand on that in the future (or dig up some good resources).