Game of Speculation: We’ll Use This Rumor as an Example

I seem to be developing a mini-habit of using Game of Thrones filming rumors as examples in how to evaluate evidence with a skeptical attitude. Or at least a not-entirely-gullible attitude. And I see another example today! This one is telling me something that I really, really want to hear, so I’ll use this as the latest lesson in skepticism.

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I don’t remember how it feels not to be stressed.

The last few months of my offline life have been ridiculous and absurd for reasons that I can’t explain right now because I still don’t have the time to write that long a post. Don’t worry, I’m okay! Good things are happening! But those good things have kept me tied up in such a way that today, I felt like I had to apologize to my co-workers for having been unable to work more late nights in the past couple of weeks. Just think about that for a second. I don’t get paid for extra hours, most of my co-workers don’t work nearly as many late nights as I do every summer, and yet I felt like I’d done something wrong by working no more than 45 hours per week.

With that in mind, I’m still not quite ready to unclench enough to write an interesting blog post, so I’ll leave you with a little meme. I haven’t been good about writing lately. The preceding paragraph should give you some clue as to why that is, but I miss feeling safe and rested enough to lose myself in my fictional worlds.

dontalwayswrite

The Most Interesting Man is the only meme who really gets me.

Just a tiny bit of news before I go: I’m officially done with Richard Dawkins. Gone. Good-bye. Lifetime member of the Nope List. There are some lines you do not cross. His latest round of shit-spraying is one of those things I’d like to blog about if I could get a chance to write in detail about anything, but for now, I can assure you that I am no longer interested in anything he has to say.

Someone’s priorities are really skewed.

This asshole happened:

 “This Ebola epidemic could become a global pandemic and that’s another name for plague,” said broadcaster Rick Wiles on his “Trunews” program.

“It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming,” Wiles continued. “Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography, and abortion.”

Someone is really, really eager for a new plague to come along and punish America for its overly accepting, pleasure-seeking, independence-oriented ways.

I don’t think it’s any accident that all the “problems” Mr. Wiles listed either pertain to enjoying sex, or refuse to put money in the church offering plate.

Of all the horrible shit that’s going on in our country, and of all the destruction we’ve wrought elsewhere in the world, there are plenty of people, like Mr. Wiles, who think the real problems are, respectively: not being Christian, fucking people of the same gender, fucking lots of people in a given stretch of time, watching other people fuck, and fucking while refusing to accept uncontrolled fertility.

We drove a wrecking ball through Afghanistan, we’ve jackhammered Iraq, we’ve failed to clean up our messes in both of those countries, we continue to enable the Israel/Palestine conflict, we waste absurd amounts of money and human productivity on punishing people for non-violent drug offenses, and we keep millions of families in poverty. Our entire nation owes its existence to genocide and slavery.

Enjoying sex and not apologizing, though? Now THAT is where this guy’s God is putting the smackdown on us.

Most people, including the vast majority of American Christians, tend to think that Wiles’s laundry list of sins ranges from “not a problem in the least” to “less of a problem than people dying of Ebola.”

And yet, there are still people who keep guys like this in business. Many of them do a lot of the same things that are supposedly bringing God’s wrath on us, but they feel bad about it, and that makes all the difference.

The Cartoon Hate Cult has Lost its Patriarch

Or, rather, they chucked him out some months ago.

The news has just broken that Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, has died in hospice care at age 84.

Out of consideration for his son Nathan Phelps, and other estranged family members, I am not bouncing in glee. I don’t fault those who are bouncing in glee, but for the sons and daughters whom he terrorized and abused, the matter is not so simple.

Besides, it sure would be nice to say the world just became a better place, but really, there’s plenty more hate and bigotry where he came from. WBC is still around. They kicked him out last August, but they didn’t fall apart.

Brain Surgeon Wrong About Everything

Ben Carson is very, very afraid that Life As Christians Know It will go catapulting down the crapper if marriage equality advances. He had this to say to the Illinois Family Institute:

Speaking to the anti-LGBT group Illinois Family Institute (IFI) on Friday, Carson explained that the Bible compares the relationship between Jesus Christ and his followers to a marriage.

“Think about the implications of that,” he said. “When people come along and try to change the definition of marriage, they are directly attacking the relationship between God and his people.”

“And that’s the reason it’s so important for them to change the definition, because if you can get rid of that, you can get rid of everything else in the Bible too,” Carson warned.

[…]

In his speech to IFI on Friday, Carson opined that the “secular progressive movement” was like a “new group of mathematicians who come along and say, ‘Two plus two is five.’”

“The new ones say, ‘If it’s not five for you, you’re a mathophobe,’” he added. “We just have to continue to make it clear because they want to say that anybody who doesn’t believe what they believe is a hater.”

 

 

For someone who can put so many big words together, Dr. Carson sure sounds like a dude swimming eyeball deep in Lake Nonsense.

His concern about marriage equality appears to be as follows: Christians’ love of Christ is like a marriage, so, if same-sex couples are also allowed to get married, then Christians will begin to view their relationship with God in a different manner, and that would ruin everything they hold dear.

(Note: Openly gay people are not included in Dr. Carson’s definition of Christianity.)

Not only will the destruction of Christians’ love of Christ be a consequence of the gay marriage agenda, it is the mere opening of Pandora’s Box. We’re opening with the relatively warm-and-fuzzy act of marriage equality so we can later move on to destroying EVERYTHING about the Bible.

In order to prevent Christians’ relationship with Jesus from changing—meaning, in order to prevent the destruction of the fabric of the universe—the legal definition of marriage must be the same as it is in the Bible.

So, let’s review the way the Bible says marriage is supposed to be:

I think you all knew this would happen.

They misspelled “polygyny.”

Whereas, if two consenting adults of the same gender get married, that ruins everything for True Christians.

The Bible also calculates that pi=3. Now we have these blasphemous people called “math teachers” asking us to believe that pi is 3.141592653589793238 etc. Everything was so much easier and cleaner before we began to stray from the eternal wisdom of the Good Book.

 

Sam Harris dares us to convince him he’s full of nonsense.

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, among others, has issued a challenge regarding his book The Moral Landscape. He wants us to come up with a refutation to the central thesis of his book. The best entry will be posted on his website and the entrant will win $2000. If an entry succeeds in changing Dr. Harris’s mind, the entrant will receive $20,000. So, what are the criteria?

2. Can you give some guidance as to what you would consider a proper demolition of your thesis?

If you show that my “worst possible misery for everyone” argument fails, or that other branches of science are self-justifying in a way that a science of morality could never be, or that my analogy to a landscape of multiple peaks and valleys is fundamentally flawed, or that the fact/value distinction holds in a way that I haven’t yet understood—you stand a very good chance of torpedoing my argument and changing my mind.

3. What sort of criticism is likely to be ineffective?

You will definitely not win this prize if argue against views I don’t actually hold—which you might well do if you fail to notice the distinction I make between finding answers in practice and there being answers in principle, if you narrowly define science to mean doing the former while wearing a white lab coat, if you imagine that my thesis entails that scientists are more moral than farmers and bricklayers, or if, like the philosopher Patricia Churchland, you do all of those things with an air of scornful pomposity appropriate to a Monty Python routine.

Entries must be no longer than 1000 words. Submissions open on Feb. 9th, 2014. Here are the official rules of the contest.

You know this is like waving a giant crimson flag at a herd of angry bulls, right? I read The Moral Landscape when it was brand new, and I actually liked it then, but now I’m reading it again just because I love to argue. I suspect that the real fun of the challenge will take place well outside of the judging panel’s remarks. You can’t take apart the master’s house with the master’s tools, but we can totally throw eggs at the house from outside, and if we throw those eggs hard enough, some of them will smash the windows.

Ally: that word does not mean what you think it means.

Being an outspoken, visible atheist doesn’t mean you’re committed to social justice. Being an outspoken, visible atheist who likes to pay lip service to certain social justice issues doesn’t mean you’re a model social justice warrior. Exhibit #129,334: JT Eberhard.

There was an incident at a recent atheist conference that made JT uncomfortable, so he turns his discomfort into an occasion to lecture a justifiably angry black woman atheist on how to deal with “ignorant” questions by “naive” visitors.

I am so, so tired of seeing shit like this happen. Not really this, per se:

The problems all started when, during the Q&A of Mandisa Thomas’s talk, a woman asked her what black people were doing to fight black on black crime.  Was the woman’s question naive?  Yes.  Very.  And the naivety resulted in her asking a question that certainly had racist undertones, even if the woman was not intentionally being racist.  Mandisa handled it well.

But then, during the Q&A of Darrel C. Smith’s talk, Bria Crutchfield stood up and proceeded to give the woman an angry tongue lashing.  This went on for about five minutes (or maybe it just seemed like that long).  While Bria did answer the woman’s question, it was very embarrassing to the woman and trailed off into a number of red herrings such as “I’m here, get over it” as if anybody was suggesting that Bria or black atheists were unwelcome at the conference or silently sneered at by…anybody.

I mean, I’m not tired of seeing women like Ms. Crutchfield get their rage on in a clearly rage-worthy moment. I’m tired of high-profile, privilege-blind “skeptics” presume to play the Great Communicator and “rationally” explain to the hysterical “other” types how we’d all get along so much better if only they could be nicer to people who insult their humanity.

What other information might we like to see about the incident in question? From a commenter at JT’s blog:

Seeing that you stated that you left the room during Bria’s “outburst” I assume you did not hear her breakdown into tears at the end. I also assume that you were not present at the beginning of Bria’s talk where she apologized and clarified a few points.

If you would have witnessed the entirety of the “event” I don’t think you would have seen it as anything other than Bria’s frustration in having to educate people in a place that she hoped was already beyond that. It is often our “allies” that we get the most frustrated with, since for better or worse, we hold them to a higher standard because we hold them in higher regard.

When you want to see someone get angry about something because she just loves to have an excuse to get angry, keep following this blog. It happens sometimes. Ms. Crutchfield’s “tirade” was not the behavior of a woman who was looking for a fight and happened to get her wish; it was the reaction of a woman who was at the end of her rope, has had more than her fill of this derailment tactic, and knows far better than JT what it really means when someone asks about how blacks are combating “black-on-black crime.” In the comment section of Jen’s post, PZ Myers understands the feeling:

I’ve been where Bria was. No, not specifically, I’m a white dude…but I’ve had those experiences where someone says something so clueless and stupid and offensive that I’m rocked back and don’t rebut it right away, and then the rage simmers and builds and has to erupt somewhere. Usually, for me, in a blog post. Bria just erupted in a Q&A.

That question — “what are black people doing to fight black on black crime?” — is outrageously stupid. It’s the equivalent in inanity of a creationist telling me that evolution is just a theory, or that if evolution is true, why are there monkeys? It’s the kind of question only someone totally ignorant of the subject on which she is pontificating could ask. Naive? Fuck no. Dumb as dirt and a dozen times as damaging. She needed something more significant than just information — she needed a kick in the ass.

Jen points out that JT’s criticism is a load of tone-trolling, and that he has a long history of refusing to learn anything from private explanations of social issues which he has demanded from his friends. Anger isn’t the problem, nor is it inappropriate to call out public displays of racism in an equally public setting. The issue here is not that Ms. Crutchfield was unfair to the “what about black-on-black crime?” questioner—even JT admits that Bria answered the question!—it’s that her anger made JT uncomfortable.

Sometimes, making people uncomfortable is the only way to make them think. That is assuming they’re willing to learn anything new, which it appears JT isn’t:

Lately there’s been a lot of this attitude in the atheist movement, that every misstep out of naivety or ignorance, even if it’s insulting, makes someone a prime target for a shout down in a “public room” – as if humiliation and shame, while sometimes the proper tools, are always the proper tools.  When did we forget that people in the atheist movement are our friends and allies?

Basically, every clause in the above quoted paragraph is full of wrongness and dishonesty. Ain’t nobody got time to explain everything that’s erroneous about what he just said. I will address this much: it is not up to JT Eberhard to decide who is a friend or ally to Bria Crutchfield or anyone else dealing with real-life shit that he doesn’t understand. An ally is as an ally does, and a halfway-decent ally in this case would have listened to the substance of her anger rather than tell her how she “should” feel about hearing an insulting question for the umpteenth time.

If you bail out on ally-ship because someone got too angry for your liking, you weren’t really an ally to begin with. People who are paying attention to racism, misogyny, heterosexism and misogynoir (specifically, hatred of black women–I love learning new words!), and most especially those who have to deal with this shit in their lived experiences, have every right to be angry, and those who are “just asking questions” which have been done to death a million times already, have given up the right to play innocent.

Want to be a good ally? To start: shut up and listen. For example: try expending more mental energy to understand the anger of someone who’s reacting to racism than the one who set her off. In the information age, where Google is the best friend we always wanted, it is increasingly inexcusable to be uninformed about social justice issues at the time we bring loaded questions into a public setting. The mental gymnastics required to assume such questions come from a place of naiveté, rather than hostility, are a waste of oxygen and glucose.

Without anger, change would be impossible.

New Pope acts like decent guy; Vatican having none of it.

Pope Francis I has just said something totally level-headed, sensible and even friendly to people outside the faith. Look at this!

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

By “redeemed all of us,” he means that we can go to Heaven. Isn’t that nice of him? Francis is telling his Church that everyone, as long as they act like good people, will get to the right place when they die. It’s not about believing a certain way, or going to the right church, or saying the right prayers. It’s about doing the right things in life.

To be clear, we godless heathens still don’t believe that Heaven or Hell are actual places that exist. When we die, of course we’re not going to Hell. We’re going in the ground just like everyone else, our consciousness will cease to exist, and whatever we did in our lifetimes will be significant only in its impact on our survivors. On the flip side, telling us we’re going to Hell unless we convert to your religion doesn’t scare us. It doesn’t make us wonder what’ll happen to us if we’re wrong. It just shows us that you’re an asshole.

Still, it was very neighborly of the new pontiff to point out that being a good person is a separate issue from being a Catholic, or from being a religious believer at all. That was the cue for the bureaucracy surrounding Pope Francis to rescue bigotry from the jaws of decency:

On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.’”

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who are aware of the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”

At the same time, Rosica writes, “every man or woman, whatever their situation, can be saved. Even non-Christians can respond to this saving action of the Spirit. No person is excluded from salvation simply because of so-called original sin.”

Rosica also said that Francis had “no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation,” during his homily on Wednesday.

Rev. Rosica? You’re an asshole. You are an emblem of what is wrong with the world.

 

 

Book Review: Godless Americana

Friends, countryfolk, students of secularism, direct your attention this way, please. Grab your lined notebooks and pens and take a seat facing the board. It is time for the lessons you didn’t get in high school, or for that matter in college. Sikivu Hutchinson’s new book, Godless Americana, will offer you the history, sociology, psychology and social studies you’ve been missing while asking why black people in America are so invested in the supposed religion of their oppressors. Buckle your seatbelts and keep your hands inside the car, because you will travel a very long way in a short period of time.

As we have come to expect from Dr. Hutchinson, there are no sacred cows, no privilege unexamined, no prejudice left unexposed. She stands in the middle of a set of groups which encompass practically everyone in America, emphatically including several groups which count her as a member, and she calls them all out on their inequality-perpetuating shit. If you’ve followed the politics within the atheist movement at all in the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed that even a mild criticism of the behavior of some elements in the movement will open you up to an avalanche of shit raining down on your undefended head. Godless Americana is the honey badger of intra-atheism politics, because if you are under the impression that Dr. Hutchinson and her book give the slightest fuck about the Shit Avalanche, you will soon discover that you are mistaken.

Go buy the book. Do it. Click on the picture and buy the book.

Dominant American society is full of white supremacism and patriarchy, the black community is shot through with patriarchy and heterosexism, the mainstream feminist movement is soaking in racism and classism, and the mainstream atheist movement is generously laden with the baggage of patriarchy, white supremacism and classism thanks to its roots in the emphatically inegalitarian culture that enabled its development. These issues are all related in keeping black and Latina women heavily invested in Christianity.

Of particular relevance to mainstream (white) atheist culture is Hutchinson’s exploration of a syndrome known as scientism. This is a word that tends to make atheist brains (including my own) shut down as soon as we hear it from the mouth of a religious apologist, but I urge my fellow white secularists not to let this turn them off the book. For the purposes of this review, I will draw a distinction between small-s science, as a system of investigation, and big-s Science, as a cultural institution and body of acquired knowledge. Scientism implies not an appreciation for the former, but an overreliance and unquestioning trust of the latter, without concern for its long history of unethical and abusive experimentation on marginalized people whose descendants are now understandably mistrustful of the representatives of Science. While science is a self-correcting system, scientists are only human and their work takes cues from the system of inequalities in which they grew up. For a concrete example of the problems with atheism’s enthusiasm for Science, Dr. Hutchinson surmises that if Science were to take on the question of why so many African-Americans are incarcerated, it would conclude that blacks are a deviant race and must be socially engineered. The efficacy of using hypothesis, experiment and evidence to answer a question is a separate issue from the actions of scientists, and that tension between ideal and practice has made Science a problematic institution for many African-Americans, especially women, who bore the brunt of Science’s disregard for informed consent and human dignity.

The main theme running throughout Godless Americana is that while investment in theistic religion is erroneous and itself a driving force in many social problems, the fact remains that secular society is inadequate to meet the needs of many African-Americans and Latinos, which is why these groups are so much more invested in Christianity than whites. It is in answer to the question of how atheism can become more diverse and relevant that it is in the atheist movement’s interest to focus more on social justice issues, particularly those concerned with poverty, incarceration and sexual violence, and less on church-state separation. It is also because addressing these inequalities is the right thing to do. If the atheist/skeptic/humanist movement wants to do good in the world, then it must take interest in the concerns of people outside of those who are already educated in physical sciences and can afford to attend conferences. If you find yourself tearing your skeptical hair out over the question of how the movement can attract more people of minority racial groups, and/or attract more women—and these are not separate and discrete groups—then a great place to start is to read Godless Americana. It’s a much better deal than paying for all those history and sociology classes, but be careful about reading it on mass transit: you might miss your stop.

 

Disclaimer: This here blogger received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I have received no other compensation and have no financial stake in the book’s success. 

God did not smash OK. A huge tornado smashed OK.

Just as regular as a Swiss clock, a high-up member of the cartoon hate cult Westboro Baptist Church is spewing crap from his face-anus about the recent disaster in Oklahoma:

Fred Phelps Jr., the son of Fred Phelps who leads the Westboro Baptist Church, has tweeted that he believes the tornadoes that recently leveled areas in and around Oklahoma City are the result of Kevin Durant’s support of former Celtic Jason Collins. Durant plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA and Collins recently came out as gay.

Durant has also pledged to donate $ million to the recovery efforts in Oklahoma City.

Fred Jr’s first Tweet reads: “OK Thunder’s Durant flips God by praising fag Collins. God smashes OK. You do the math. #GodH8sFags #FagsDoomNations #FearGod #GodH8sU”

Mr. Phelps worships a God, and wants us to worship a God, who creates incredibly destructive meteorological events that kill dozens of people simply because the state in question contains one basketball player who has some kind words for another basketball player, who is openly gay.

Does this mean the WBC is going to picket funerals of people who were killed by the tornado?

I know the WBC isn’t exactly representative of anything but itself, but this is far from the first time someone has attributed a natural disaster to their God being pissed off at us for being too tolerant of gays, abortion, feminism and religions outside of evangelical Christianity. Remember Hurricane Katrina? Remember the earthquake in Haiti? Remember all the “Religious Right” people who wanted us to believe those events were divine retribution as opposed to meteorology?

Many well-meaning people of faith openly assume atheists are miserable nihilists. They ask how we godless weirdos manage to get up in the morning; they want to know how our lives have any meaning. They don’t understand how we can be good without God.

This is a good example right here. When ugly shit happens due to factors beyond our control, we don’t ask ourselves what we did to lose God’s divine protection. We don’t ask ourselves how we have to change our behavior so that God doesn’t punish us again. When God is taken out of the causative equation, it’s so much easier to make sense of life.

That tornado did not happen because anyone in Moore, OK was insufficiently homophobic. It happened because tornadoes are a fact of life for some parts of the world. The severity of this particular event may be attributable to climate change, but if that is the case, then the solution is not more hate disguised as faith. The Religious Right’s God doesn’t make life better for anyone. Looking out for our fellow human beings and our planet is what keeps disaster from being too destructive.