Thursday, November 30, 2006

On the logical problem of evil

Last weekend , Dave Armstrong (who has served as John Loftus' debate partner) wrote a post on the problem of evil. I think two main questions are suggested by it:

First question: is the logical problem of evil dead? Many Christian apologists say yes, Lotus has argued it is not, Wood was writing largely to rebut Loftus. As far as I can tell, Loftus has this one easily.

This becomes obvious when one considers the nature of the claim being made. If any critic of theism were to claim that the Cosmological Argument is dead, they would be clearly marking themselves as, not completely uneducated per se, but in the dark about the current state of affairs in philosophy of religion. Even though the argument was delt some heavy blows c. 1800, even though it would be fairly easy to find a good number of theologians who reject all forms of the argument, even though its prestige is not what it was in Samuel Clarke's day, there are still well-known philosophers who will defend it in some form. So even if Plantiga delt the Logical Problem of Evil a heavy blow, even if a good number of well-known atheist philosophers reject it, and even if its status is not what it once was, so long as it has a few major defenders it deserves (as Loftus demonstrated) it deserves to be considered alive.

Second question: so what? When Wood talks about the Logical Problem of Evil, he seems to mainly be concerned with the following argument:

1) Evil exists
2) If evil exists, then God does not exist
3) Therefore, God does not exist

But many who would reject this argument because they reject 2) would accept

2*) If gratuitous evil exists, then God does not exist.

Allowing the argument

1*) Gratuitous evil exists
2*) If gratuitous evil exists, then God does not exist
3) Therefore, God does not exist

This is as much a logical argument as the first. Though 1*) would have to be defended, I do not see how even 1) could even be established without the evidence of our senses. If this is taken to be the distinction between the logical/evidential problems of evil, then the lables are misnomers. I also think that Not-1*) is only marginally more plausible than Not-1) (though of course this claim is more controversial).

This leads into the second important point in the "so what?" category. Wood seems to think that the defeat of the logical problem of evil would be a major victory independent of the viability and strength of the evidential version. But the mere fact that a proposition cannot be disproven through logical argument does not mean it is reasonable to believe. "There is no evil in the world" would be an example of one such proposition, as I think everyone involved in this debate would agree. "The earth is flat" is another such proposition, since I may be a brain in a vat in an obscure corner of Terry Pratchett's Diskworld.

I think Loftus got it right in his original post: "Christian people like to tout any successes they have since they have so few." Showing that your position is not logically impossible is nothing to be excited about.

EDIT: I suppose by answering a philosophical question with "so what?," I'm liable to annoy some theists. In my defense, I've previously directed that response and John on this issue... so I am at least not disrespecting theists specifically!

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Sam Harris vs. Dennis Prager

Via Ambivablog, Sam Harris goes head to head with a conservative Jewish talk show host. Worth a read, though it's not the best I've ever seen; Prager keeps awing himself with the 10 year old's version of the cosmological argument and Harris doesn't quite have a grip on dispatching lightweights.

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Athevangelism in Slat Lake City

Part of Andrew Sullivan's Mormon week.

Congrats in order

Daniel Morgan goes on national television. Pretty cool, even if they exagerated his role in the issue being discussed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Satan = peace

Apparently that's what some folks in Colorado believe.

Ya know, many Christians make Satan out to be a rather nice guy.

Creationism will lead to mass murder

Mojoey just did another rebuttal of the "Argument from Stalin." It occured to me that there's a much better rebuttal to be made:

1) Stalin was a mass murderer.
2) Stalin rejected Dawinian evolution. (Yup, that's right: he endorsed Lysenkoism)
3) Creationists reject Darwinian evolution.
4) Therefore, creationism will lead to mass murder.

This is of course tongue-in-cheeck, but rhetorically, it would probably work better than an abstract discussion of guilt-by-association.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's Mormon week at the Daily Dish

Andrew Sullivan begun doing a whole bunch of posts on Mormons. Today, for example, he mentions a comedy about a Mormon who becomes a porn star.

It makes for interesting reading. Though I'm glad that Mormons do not have the same record of violence that Muslims do.

Is Dawkins advocating eugenics?

Orac explains why a recent bit of religious hysteria is overblown.

Monday, November 27, 2006

CotG Thanksgiving edition

The Thanksgiving edition of the Carnival of the Godless is up at Hellbound Alleee.

On Carrier's ethics

This is the final entry in my critique of Richard Carrier's book Sense and Goodness Without God.

Carrier spends a good 30 pages outlining his moral theory, but it essentially boils down to enlightened self-interest. This perhaps comes out most clearly in just two pages (323-324) where he has to argue that secret violations of moral laws will not lead to happiness.

Think about this in the context of Carrier's appearance on The God Who Wasn't There
Flemming: Let me give you a scenario. You're dead... You find yourself in Hell. You're being roasted on a pit, and every hour on the hour your have to suck Satan's greasy cock... don't you wish you would have believed? It would have been so easy just to believe.

Carrier: Well, no, because it wouldn't really be any better. If I had to sit in heaven forever, knowing that there are these people, millions and millions and probably billions of people, suffering these eternal horrible torments, and there was nothing I could do for them, that to me would be hell.
This overlooks one possibility: that God would work some miracle to prevent the people in heaven from feeling bad about the people in Hell. Some Christians have seriously proposed such a solution. But I doubt Carrier would be enthusiastic about such a deal.

This very brief analysis, I think, is sufficient to show that Carrier's actual moral principles are higher than his philosophy. The problem is obvious to the point of being impossible to miss.

Finishing this critique, I can't help but feel that with Sense and Goodness, carrier inserted himslef into the wrong field. He's a good historian--has produced fascinating stuff, including some of the best criticisms of historical apologetics out there, helped get me interested in history--he just isn't a very good philosopher.

I suppose this post wouldn't be complete without an explanation of my own views on meta-ethics. I'll be upfront: I don't know. I just think that Carrier's view is such an obvious nonstarter that it should be off our list of candidates.

One proposal that's been thrown out (for example, by Gene Witmer) is atheistic Platonism. It strikes me as having an edge on theistic theories in terms of parsimony: It's "Metaphysical standard of morality" vs. "metaphysical standard of morality that is an omnipotent, omniscient person." Being an omnipotent, omniscient person has nothing to do with morality as far as I can tell. Some theists would argue that an omnipotent being would be needed to enforce moral laws, but then we're back to enlightened self interest and the problems that come with it.

Still, I'm not ready to embrace Platonism. It still suffers from one of the major problems with theistic theories: it pushes the problem back a step without ever really answering it. To the theist, one cannot help but ask "but why must we follow God's commands?" To the Plantonist, one cannot help but ask "why must we act in accordance with these abstract entities" and "where did they come from?" Oh well. This is why the field of philosophy exists.

Friday, November 24, 2006

An idiotic idea

Note: this may be my only post this weekend, as I am on Thanksgiving vacation.

PZ Myers is endorsing the idea of not admiting college applicants who doubt evolution. Sigh.

Supperficially, the reasoning looks plausible: we want college students to know basic math as well. What it over looks is that for many people, higher education has been the way out of fundamentalism. Michael Shermer, Robert M. Price, and Bart Ehrman are examples that come readily to mind. They aren't isolated cases, either. If anything, we should be expending large amounts of energy to get fundamentalist children into secular colleges.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Savange on Haggard

This week, Dan Savage weighed in on the Ted Haggard scandal:
God should bless Mike Jones, the male prostitute who exposed Ted Haggard, and you should balance whatever sympathy you feel for Haggard against the misery he inflicted on the countless numbers of gay young people his church has "counseled." If you want to feel bad for someone, feel bad for Haggard's kids, not Haggard himself.
We should make a joyful noise, CC, whenever a powerful hypocrite is exposed. I have to disagree with this. Why? Because Haggard is nothing more than these kids plus 30 years. One of the things that's so sad about his situation is that rather than reevaluating his life and trying to take a more healthy approach to his inborn orientation, he'll get the exact same sort of counseling that other gay evangelicals have gotten, and his life will be more of the same. I don't care if he's been a hypocrite, that deserves some sympathy.

"I really hope I don't die"

A depressingly severe bit of understatement from a student newspaper article on homelessness in Madisoin.

The source of the quote also says that he hopes the world ends soon. When I take this together with all the other doomsday predictions I've heard of, I begin to wonder: might humans have some inborn psychological defense where, when things are going bad for us, we predict or hope for the end of the world?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Debunking Intelligent Design

Over at Debunking Christianity, Daniel Morgan has produced an excellent review of the postive arguments for Intelligent Design. It includes many links to key online material. Take a look.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Blogspotting

I've discovered a new atheist blog, Free Mind Joe. Among the offerings there: Why Go On?.

Atheist rally in Jerusalem?

Ed Brayton has been covering religions opposition to a recent gay pride rally in Jerusalem. The event ended up getting curtailed somewhat due to threats of violence. That gave me a thought: wouldn't it be great if some people took a stand for free speech by stagging an freethought rally there? The idea initially came to me as a way to tell off the people who were threating violence at the gay pride event. However, Jerusalem would also be an ideal place to protest the endangerment of humanity by religious insanity, given that it's central to such insanity. The rally could be accompanied by a statement along the following lines:
To the Orthodox Religious Jews: Your God doesn't exist any more than did Baal. And the idea that a deity picked out your ethnic group for special privileges, including the right to take a designated tract without regard for its current occupants is fucked up. In fact, it's every bit as fucked up as the Nazi belief that Germans are the master race.

To the Muslim fundamentalists: That said, no matter what individual Jews have done to you, you are not justified in believing that Jews as a whole are the greediest of mankind, as the Qur'an says. The Protocals of the Elders of Zion is a hoax, and has been exposed as such many times over. The claim that Jews use human blood for their rituals is a lie. And the idea that anyone who disagrees with you will suffer a "painful doom" is one of the more dangerous delusions that humans have suffered from.

To the Christian fundamentalists: Know what, assholes? You're right, you just might manage to bring about the end of the world via current events in Jerusalem. But even if humanity destroys itself in a nuclear holocaust, Jesus ain't coming back. Try re-reading Revelations. It claims to record "what mst soon take place," not, "what must take place 2,000 years from now." Wake up and smell the reality, the author got it as wrong, just like everybody else who's ever predicted the end of the world. Oh, and what I said about the Muslim belief that unbelievers must be punished? Same goes for you.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ah tolerance...

I owe this to Austin Cline, but really, you don't have to bother with what he says, Amy Sullivan's words speak for themselves (okay, so I recently noted that things don't really work that way, but...):
...what rankled O'Donnell the most was Robertson's "insane" belief that Jews are going to burn in hell. "

While most of them would put it more delicately than Robertson, it is an article of faith for millions and millions of evangelicals that the only way into heaven is through belief in Jesus Christ... Congratulations, Lawrence O'Donnell--you're the new poster-boy for secular liberal intolerance.
If only more Americans were as intolerant as O'Donnell.

Mormonism vs. Christianity: a reply to Vic Reppert

Tuesday and yesterday Vic Reppert made some posts claiming that the historical evidence for Christianity is better than the evidence for Mormonism. My thoughts in reply:

First, it's absolutely necessary to make clear what we're comparing. If you want to compare our historical sources about Jesus vs. our historical sources about Joseph Smith, Mormonism wins hands down. It is arguably a Phyrric victory, though, because much of what we know about Joseph Smith is rather embarrassing (and makes you wonder what we'd know about Jesus if the historical record were better).

If you compare evidence for miracle claims, the case is more equal. Given that even many fairly conservative scholars deny gospels were written by eyewitnesses, the only thing eyewitness evidence we have for any major Christian miracle is Paul's testimony about his own vision of Jesus. On the side of Mormonism, we have a statement signed by three people attesting to their vision of the angel Moroni, which is supposed to authenticate the book of the Mormon. Mormonism does better here, if only by a little.

What Reppert wants to compare is the general historicity of the New Testament vs. Book of the Mormon. From an historical point of view, the Book of the Mormon is certainly nonsense. Why it is so edifying for Christians to have a semi-reliable record of mundane historical events is beyond me though.

Furthermore, the contest is again more equal when we compare the Book of the Mormon to many events of the Old Testament. Genesis is historically nonsense, and just as much contradicted by scientific evidence as the Book of the Mormon. It is not clear whether the exodus story is complete nonsense, but an event on the scale that the Bible claims would have left archaeological evidence that we simply don't find. The Book of Daniel bears a striking similarity to the Book of the Mormon in that its ending indicates that it was "found" long after it was allegedly written, though Daniel seems to have drawn more on actual events than the Book of the Mormon.

In general, I think claim of Christian apologists that Christianity has better historical evidence on its side than any other religion works only by ignoring modern religions like Mormonism, Spiritualism and UFO cults. As noted above, though, the information we have on modern religions tends to be embarrassing to those religions, but this should only make us suspicious of the less well documented religions. Yet that's a post for another day...

UPDATE: Here's an e-mail I found in my inbox today. I post it for the benifit of Christians who are so ready to swallow the claims of Christian apologists:
You suggested that Mormons have a slight advantage over the Bible because they
have 3 eyewitnesses versus only one for Jesus. If you grant that the gospel
authors and the author of Peter's epistles were eyewitnesses, the number goes up
to 4; but you've left out 9 more eyewitnesses to the Book of Mormon. While only
four claimed to have seen the angel (you didn't include Joseph Smith), 8 more
testified that they held the plates and examined them with their own eyes. That
brings it up to 12 vs. 4 in favor of the Book of Mormon.

As kind of an aside, I've studied Joseph Smith a great deal and I don't find
anything embarrassing--unless I believe everything everybody claims about him;
but I don't do that for either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. I investigate it
and weigh it with a critical and reasonable eye and find that after you remove
the emotion and bias, the truth is left.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Name that God

Ebonmuse quotes two different religious figures and asks what religion they come from; answers are at the end. They could easily come from Christians, though I was betting on UFO cultists.

Botero paints Abu Ghraib

I don't know how many of my readers are familiar with Fernando Botero, but when Andrew Sullivan linked to Botero's work on Abu Ghraib, I had to link. Botero's style certainly makes for effective satire in other cases, it's interesting to think about how it works on this case (Slate provides commentary along with the slideshow).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kiwi!

A master's in animation ends up on YouTube. Andrew Sullivan calls it strangely moving. Honestly, it's one of the most brilliant pieces of art I've seen in awhile.

Oh, and does anyone know how you incoporate YouTube videos into a blog post, so you can just start it up without following the link?

Why electronic voting is bad

Via Jim Lippard, an excellent explanation of why electronic voting systems are a bad idea. The skinny: no paper, no way of checking if something funny has happened. As one person put it in the comments: "the old system's inefficiency is actually a safety measure built into them -- to hijack an inefficient system requires many more resources."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Seen on Vic Reppert's blog

Stopped by the blog of Christian apologist Victor Reppert today and saw two things I couldn't help but comment on.

The first is alleged Scientific evidence for supernaturalism. The link is down as I type this, but it cites two studies as devestating to naturalism. The first had a bunch of nuns remember a religious experience and an experience involving a friend while their brains were being scanned. The scans came up different, supposedly proving that religion is not a matter of emotion. Next week: scientists decide fear is not an emotion when scans of scared brains turn up different than scans of brains in other emotional experiences.

The other experiment is one that discovered that people would not want to buy a sweatshirt if they believed it had been owned by a mass murderer. This shows that people treat evil as some force external to the world or some such, therefore that must be how things are. Let's break this argument down:

1) People act as if evil is a force external to the world.
2) If people act like something's true, it must be true.
3) Evil is a force external to the world.

Premise 2 is, shall we say, debatable. It would tend to suggest that homeopathy works, that not changing your clothes will help you play baseball, and that countless Muslim terrorists are currently having orgies with 72-woman squads.

Wow... having read semi-competent Christian apologists, I've come to find arguments this bad insulting.

The other post is titled Mormon epistemology, which simply links to a Mormon website and declares that it "speaks for itself." I wish these things did speak for themselves. If they did, people like Michael Martin and myself could simply tell people to read William Lane Craig's writings and they'd realize Christianity is bogus.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

On Carrier's philosophy of mind

I am in the very, very slow process of critiquing Richard Carrier's book Sense and Goodness without God. (The slowness, I must admit, is entirely a function of me not finding time to do it.) Today I want to look at what he says on philosophy of mind.

To start it off, I want to say that I, unlike some who have written on the subject, have very little trouble envisioning a robot that does almost everything that human beings do. So many of the mysteries raised in this area of philosophy seem to be solved by envisioning a robot capable of doing the task.

The difficulty, I think, appears when we come to the issue of qualia. This is a term most of my readers probably have never heard of before, and it is very hard to define given that the concepts involved aren't something we talk about every day. One popular definition is that the word "qualia" covers things like the redness of red, which says almost nothing.

Here is (I think) better way of explaining the term. Imagine that fully 50% of the people in the world see the world as a photo-negative of the way you see it. It's a real possibility in this world, given that there's no way to check our internal perceptions against other people's internal perceptions, unless some day it turns out that telepathy exists after all. The things that would be different between the half that sees like you and the half that doesn't--those would be qualia. Qualia is our inner, subjective experience. Put somewhat clumsily, it's the pictures, sounds, and such inside our heads.

Another way of illustrating the point is the famous question of "what is it like to be a bat?" The bat example is used because bats have a sense that we do not--sonar. Having sonar would not just be a matter of being able to behave in certain ways towards small, distant, insects. There would have to be some experiences of teh sonar input--qualia.

At least, that's what I think philosophers mean when they talk about qualia. Our language isn't well designed for talking about these things

Carrier's central claim regarding qualia is that "I don't see anything here that needs explaining. To explain perception is to explain qualia: they are one and the same thing."

This answer, I am afraid, simply doens't cut it. It "perception," roughly means taking sensory-type input (video, audio, and so on) then it is quite possible to imagine a computer hooked up to a mircophone and camera and processing these inputs in very complicated ways without having inner subjective experience. Something is missing here.

What is the correct explanation? I admit not having the foggiest clue. A number of factors--including the fact that we can become unconscious, proving that consciousness is not somehow indestructible--makes me think it unlikely that an eternal soul is involved. Beyond that, though, I do not know. It is likely to act as a blind spot in any attempt at systematic philosophy such as Carrier's for a long time to come. As Susan Blackmore said in her book on consciousness:
If you think you have a solution to the problem of consciousness, you haven't understood the problem.

CotG 53

The 53rd edition of the Carnival of the Godless is up at Debunking Christianity. Choice selection: What Does Fact Matter?, about an encounter between an evangelist and a young woman.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Newsweek continues to cover atheism

I really think all this press coverage is a good thing. If it fails to give people strong reasons to disbelieve, it at least helps create an environment of "it's okay not to believe in God."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hard core Wisconsinite

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Northeast
The South
The Midland
Philadelphia
North Central
The West
Boston
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

Gene Witmer vs. Gene Cook

I gave the exchange between Gene Cook and Gene Witmer a listen today. Short version: Gene Cook's apologetic got demolished. Transcript of key section:
Cook: If somebody is willing to concede immaterial, universal, abstract entities such as laws, they cannot account for them in a naturalistic, materialist, or materialistic universe.

Witmer: Now when you say account for them, you mean, what, provide evidence for them, or provide an explanation of them?

Cook: Yeah, provide an explanation.

Witmer: Provide an explanation for them.

Cook: Yeah.

Witmer: Well, it seems to me that they do not need an explanation. So for instance, take the claim that causing harm for fun is wrong. Well, you say, "Well why is that so?" I say well, geeze, that's just what being wrong is all about, or that's part of what it's all about. If you say that is not a good enough explanation, I'd like to know why that's not a good enough explanation.

Cook: Yell, well, here's the thing. We all have our axioms, we all have our ultimate authorities, and if you want to establish your ultimate authority as reason, that's your prerogative, you're certainly welcome to do that. I just think it really fails to account for reality the way that we experience it. And that's been the main question of philosophy. It wasn't enough just to say reason exists, and it just exists. If that was the case, then we wouldn't need the philosophy department at your school. Philosophy, over history, has sought to answer the hard questions that man asks. And what we're saying is that we believe Christianity provides a cohesive world view that actually accounts for these things.

Witmer: But it doesn't account for everything, right?

Cook: It certainly does account for everything.

Witmer: So it explains why God exists?

Cook: That is our presupposition.

Witmer: So you can't account for why God exists.

Cook: God could tell you why he exists, but I couldn't tell you why he exists.
The following discussion at Debunking Christianity then insued:
Bruce: The point still stands that you can't explain God's existence and thus Christianity doesn't explain everything.

Cook:I hate to correct you again but the reason that you think "Witmer got me on that one" and Witmer doesn't, can be found on the first sentence on page 6 of his paper (link provided with podcast link)where he writes:

"It seems that some beliefs are reasonable even without being supported by argument. We all, in fact, take beliefs formed by perceptual processes to be true, where we do this without having an argument for doing so."

Furthermore, I did NOT concedede that Christianity can't explain everything, on the contrary I said *it can. I conceded that Gene Cook can't explain everything. You see, Christianity includes a God that is all knowing, remember?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the conclusive refutation of Cook's argument: Atheism can explain everything. How? I don't know. I don't claim to be able to explain everything. But atheism explains everything.

Presuppositionalists like Cook, of course, would happily denounce such a response as proof of atheism's weakness if actually made.

(NOTE: This seems to constitute a pattern of somewhat strange behavior on Cook's part; see my previous post Gene Cook contradicted himself.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Go Mike's son!

Hemant Mehta (of Ebay Atheist fame) has spotted a blog post by a Christian named Mike whose son, attending a Christian school, had to take the "atheist" side in an in-class debate. The kid, apparently ticked off by the pro-Christian slant of what had come so far, decided to come well-prepared. His team was the only prepared team, and they won. To Mike's (the dad's) credit, he's proud of his son.

SC 47

The 47th edition of the Skeptic's Circle is up, run by the proprieter of Polite Comapny by relocated to a special venue. Enjoy.

Loftus on The Atheist Hour

Yesterday, John Loftus went on The Narrow Mind's Atheist Hour segment, which I went on last week. John has posted his own follow up thoughts on his blog.

One thing caught my eye:
I wasn't trying to convince them their world-view was wrong so much as I was trying to show that the atheist arguments are not silly. If I could just get them to admit that, then it was worth the effort. If they would just admit this we could have a decent, civil and respectful discussion.
I think the mistake he's making here--and I definitely made this when I went on the show--is clinging to the assumption that you can have some kind of meaningful communication no matter what. Once your discussion partner does something denying that you hold the view you claim to have, you have to realize that that person is a lost cause. It's a cue to put on a good performance for the audience and forget about even trying to get your opponent to budge. I read John' post before listening to the podcast, which make it all the more depressing when he started the show talking about misunderstanding and such.

Oh well. I'll try to give the Gene Witmer show a listen and write something up about it soon. Witmer is the author of Christian Presuppositionalism--a general response, a detailed analysis of the arguments favored by Gene Cook et al. This should be good; stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

South Park atheism episode

It aired last week and got considerable discusion on Internet Infidels (links to online version available there), but only today did I get to watch a significant chunk of it. Some people at II are really ticked, but I thought it was great--even seemed to cater to hard-core atheists in that one of the jokes works a lot better if you've followed the atheism/agnosticism/weak atheism/strong atheism/humanism/secular humanism/rationalism/freethought/brightism debates. Give it a watch.

Ploitics: lots of good news and a little bad news

Probably most people know by now, the Democrats have taken the House and have won 50 seats in the Senate, with results in Virginia not yet it. Hopefully, political power will encourage Democratic leaders to find some direction (not to mention backbone) in these next two years.

Less encouraging is that the gay marriage ban in Wisconsin passed 59% to 41%. Suddenly, I feel like the out of touch Madisonians I used to laugh at--I knew there was a chance it would pass, but I never thought there'd be an 18-point margin in favor. On the other hand, the people of Arizona deserve a congradulations for being the first state to reject such a ban... I'm curious to know how they, a red state, pulled this off when we in Wisconsin couldn't. If anyone could fill me in, that would be nice.

Oh, and Rumsfeld is stepping down. Andrew Sullivan will be happy.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Troubling campaign strategy

Vjack reports bombardment with campaign literature ephasizing the candidates' religious qualifications. Disturbing. I've haven't seen that where I'm living, but then I'm currently living in the reason my state is a blue state. This may be standard proceedure in red states. Or a sign of desperation on the part of conservatives. Well, maybe not, but it isn't as if they don't have reason to be desperate.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Beta test?

Blogger keeps showing me this offer to beta test a new version of the system. Should I go for it?

Nutball alert, part 2

Below is a scan of a flier I found taped to the inside of a bathroom stall in my dorm. It's basically a left-wing group on campus getting paranoid about military research. Read the thing--all of it's actually very cool. I support everything in there, including finding ways to help soldiers deal with sleep deprivation (assuming it can be done safely, which I grant may be something of an if). I've actually applied to be part of this university's nanotech program.

Nutball alert, part 1

This term borrowed from Mojoey seems well suited to the below entry in my referal log:
















Apparently this is not a unique response. Mo's recent post on Haggard reports a member of the guy's church thinking along similar lines.

Times like these make me wonder whether dark-age mentality is hard-wired in to some humans.

Friday, November 03, 2006

More on Haggard

Andrew Sullivan is doing an excellent job of covering the scandal. One thing I mentioned previously and think should be emphasized: some people see the world as theirs to screw. It may be that Haggard is one of them; that he never took his religious claims and anti-gay rhetoric seriously for a moment. However, I think it's more likely that he's a victim of himself and the surrounding culture. As Andrew said in this post:
...it is also important to remember that this is what the closet does: it is a dagger aimed at the heart of the family. It has wrecked so many marriages, destroyed so many families, traumatized so many kids. It must end. I should add I feel for Haggard. I'm not excusing him; but he too is in pain right now. He was politically more moderate than Dobson and probably somewhere in his psyche he was trying to do the right thing.

But he was lost. And he needs our prayers.
And in this one:
...the meth part of the story rings true to me (although we have no firm evidence of it yet). It's what extremely conflicted and sometimes desperately lonely gay men resort to in order to facilitate their self-destruction, and leave behind any sexual inhibitions derived from crushing guilt. But the hypocrisy case remains...

...I'm afraid I feel for Haggard. This is what happens to a man psychologically and spiritually destroyed by actually advancing a lie he knows to be a lie about homosexuality as a "chosen lifestyle" while being gay himself.

His denial of reality, his inability to cope with the world as it is, is often part of the same fundamentalist psyche we see exhibited at all levels of the Rove machine - and, dangerously, within the president himself. Denial is a very powerful psychic force. When combined with addiction, it can fuel destructive behavior. In a human being, it can destroy a person, a family, a marriage, an entire life.

One more obvious lesson: The religious right's lies about who gay people really are must end. Surely now. The victims are also Christians like Haggard. They are countless kids and teens in places where they are taught to hate themselves, and subsequently act out the psychic damage years later. I am not saying Haggard isn't morally accountable for everything he has done, for the lies he has spread, for the hatred he has enabled. That hatred will now come back to him, like the sorcerer's apprentice whose magic of electoral homophobia soon overwhelms him as well. It's brutal pay-back, as it was for Foley, as it often is for every closeted gay man in the end. In the end, their lives lose integrity; and they know it; and then misery; and they feel it more than anyone.

I'm praying for Haggard, as I hope he is praying for me and every sinner. But the lesson of this to the religious right surely is: go and sin no more. Stop the lies. Stop the bigotry. Deal with the reality of gay people, our souls, our wounded hearts, our humanity, our right to be treated equally by our own government. It's what Jesus did. And it is your true calling now.

Gene Cook contradicted himself

In the previous thread on my appearance on Gene Cook's show, Master Zap said:
He freely admits, clearly, point blank, to have no "justification" for his presupposition that god exists. He said it. No wiggle room there.
In response, Jeff Downs, who arranged the appearance, said:
MZ, is there a reason you need to lie? Gene never admited that, and all the time you've spent on his forums and you would make a comment such as this?
This made me feel the need to go back and listen carefully to the MP3 of the show to see what was actually said. I listened to both of the quotations below multiple times. For those who wish to confirm them, the show is still available for free download here.

Here's what was said just after the 48 minute mark:
Hallquist: On your view, you presuppose the existence of God and the reliability of Scripture, and that is something that you do not try to justify, yes?

Cook: That's right.
Then at about the 52:30 mark:
Hallquist: I think the way your worldview works is that you assume that God exists and that the Scriptures are reliable and you don't justify those beliefs, correct?

Cook: No, we justify them.
After that, I spent the last several minutes floundering because I thought I had badly understood Cook's position. But I hadn't misunderstood him; he flatly contradicted himself. I screwed up royally in not recognizing this, but given this I don't think anyone can say Christianity was well defended on Wednesday.

And Jeff, you seem to be a nice guy, but please be a little more careful before accusing somebody of lying.

More athevangelism

Daniel Morgan writes of his confrontation with street preacher Tom Short. I was out confronting street preachers tonight as well. I ran into a girl from my dorm who seemed genuinely saddened to find out that I deny the doctrine of Hell.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

NAE president resigns

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has stepped down over gay-sex accusations.

Got this via Internet Infidels, full scoop from various links there, including the Denver Post.

My thoughts:

Probably, this is for real. The ex-prostitute making the claims says he has a voice recording, and he has to know that if you fake something like that it comes out eventually. And if it is true? One, the guy is either a disgusting fraud (if he doesn't believe what he's been saying about homosexuals) or a pitiable victim if him self (if he does believe it).

Question: Should this be regarded as a bigger scandal than some of the stuff in the 1980's? To what extent does the NAE deserve to be regarded as the face of conservative Christianity in the 21st century?

UPDATE: Daniel Morgan posts that the allegations against Haggard have been substantiated.

Carrier has a blog

And he's kicked things off with a 1,300 word explanation of his avatar. It's very cool, if somewhat geeky. I expect this will set the standard for what we'll see on this blog. It will make a good adition to the 'sphere.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I go on The Narrow Mind

Today, I went on Gene Cook's radio show The Narrow Mind, part of Unchained Radio. You can download an MP3 to listen to here.

Reflections on the discussion: After it was over Jeff Downs, who arranged the thing, e-mailed me and said he thought I was running way ahead of myself and the conversation. My thoughts are somewhat similar, though I think the problem is to some extent with the format. As I noted when I wrote about Steven Carr's debate wit Michael Cole, informal discussions (as opposed to formal debates with opening statements, rebuttal rounds, and a moderator) make it hard to lay out imporant background information. At about 8 minutes to the end I realized there was some confusion about notions of justification which never got sorted out, and I also wonder whether Gene was using induction in a way that I'm not familiar with, though I didn't raise that issue during the show. At the end, I suggested that the issues involved were probably better sorted out in print.

Anyway, it was a new experience; glad I did it.