Skeptimus Prime » Skepticism One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Mon, 11 May 2015 01:55:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 More goofiness from Deepak Chopra Thu, 02 Apr 2015 20:47:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’m not sure what the reason is, but well known, and supposedly reputable, news outlets like CNN keep giving Chopra a platform for his nonsense, and as usual atheists and skeptics are his favorite target of criticism.

Standing back a bit, faith is on a rheostat, not an on-off switch. Putting God into the position of yes/no, belief/unbelief doesn’t really reflect the modern state of faith. There are gradations of belief. In fact, 17% of people who identify as atheists still go to church — they have social and family reasons for their choice rather than religious ones.

I don’t think there are many atheists who would claim that social and familial pressures have no influence on people’s beliefs or never cause people to make a pretense of belief to please others. In fact once upon a time I was one of those 17% who went to church despite not believing in god, and my eventual putting my foot down about this was one of the many things which drove an emotional wedge between my parents and I, ending in estrangement years later. Quite frankly to pretend that atheists don’t understand these things is kind of insulting given that we live with these cultural realities all the time.

Further, it shouldn’t need to be stated that a person who goes to church while not believing still doesn’t believe, those pretenses of belief to make family members or friends happy is still just pretense, not some “gradation” of belief.

We all fall somewhere on the sliding scale of belief and unbelief. Secular society has sharpened our demand for truth. To me, this is a positive development. If belief in God can’t stand up to proof, it won’t sustain a person through difficult times.

Yes, if we are honest with ourselves, our beliefs are held with varying degrees of certainty, I’ll give him that, and he even seems to almost praise skepticism here, but then he takes it all back in the next sentence.

I consider skepticism a way station on the way to a higher, more fulfilling kind of spirituality.

Millions of people have walked away from organized religion to become more spiritual, not less. They call themselves seekers; their disbelief is a starting point for starting their own investigations.

So according to Chopra I’m in a halfway point between fundamentalism and spirituality. Thing is I could easily frame this discussion differently and say liberal/progressive religion or spirituality is a way station to becoming an atheist. In fact I actually spent several years exploring “spirituality” after I left fundamentalism and ultimately found it to be no more true or emotionally fulfilling than anything fundamentalism had to offer.

The mistake he makes is to assume that atheists and skeptics aren’t interested in investigating things. Why on earth would he assume that? Don’t get me wrong I’ve met some people who wear those labels who are, in my estimation at least, rather incurious about the world and often less educated on certain subject that then think they are. However, I don’t see their behavior as a result of those labels, but rather being caused by factors innate all human behavior, honestly, factors not unlike the ones that cause many people to listen to Deepak Chopra despite his lack of knowledge.

Where the census form asks what faith they belong to, they might not have a ready answer, but that’s not important. What’s important is walking your own spiritual path. As a lifelong goal, it’s one of the most rewarding.

    What’s not rewarding is to base your belief or unbelief on secondhand opinion. Being a knee-jerk skeptic is as limiting as being a knee-jerk fundamentalist. In both cases, the mind is being conditioned by others.

    This inconsistency is the main problem I have with the kind of wishy-washy ecumenical relativism spouted by Chopra. He says everyone should follow their “own” spiritual path, but has spent the entire article disparaging the choices atheists, and for that mater fundamentalists, have made. He is speaking out of both sides of his mouths, on the one hand claiming to believe the whole “different paths up the same mountain” shtick most new age gurus claim to believe in, but simultaneously disparaging the choices of those who don’t agree with him.

    He criticizes us because our “mind is being conditioned by others” but clearly wants us to listen to him, so how is that any different? For that matter what would a person whose thoughts and reason had developed entirely independent of others even look like? Everyone’s thoughts have been conditioned by others.

    In my own conception of God as the source of consciousness, creativity, intelligence, love and evolution, the reason to be spiritual is to increase all of those qualities.

    Unfortunately, the goal of many faiths is to obey dogma and accept a cultural mythology. Atheism can do good by casting a skeptical light on cultural mythologies, but believing in nothing but the material world is cold comfort.

    Complete word salad. I believe there is a source for the things he mentions, but have no reason to call that source god, and actually think it confuses issues given how most people use the term. In fact he essentially admits that the manner in which he defines God is unrecognizable by the majority of humans, but decides to unwisely ignore that and plunge ahead. Further, there is no guarantee that the truth will be comforting, I don’t think wishful thinking is a valid basis for a worldview.

    Strong-minded, vocal atheists claim that God isn’t science and science isn’t God. But the implication that faith is irrational and only science knows the truth has no basis in fact.

    Rationality is a specialized aspect of the higher brain, but it’s not the end-all and be-all of life as anyone can tell you who has experienced love, music, art, compassion, self-sacrifice, altruism, inspiration, intuition — indeed, most of the things that make life worth living. Some studies indicate that scientists actually go to church more than the general population. They have found a way to be scientific in their work without turning it into a moral dogma.

    I feel for people who get stuck in any belief system, including rigid skepticism. They are signing up for the suppression of curiosity. As painful as it may be to question the faith you were brought up in, it’s worse to be stuck. The human story is about growth and evolution. That will remain true no matter who shouts loudest about God or the absence of God.

    Based on the fact that scientists are more likely to be atheist than the general population I suspect that the study that claims scientists go to church more often than the general population either doesn’t exist or has been questionably interpreted by Chopra. However, since he, unlike me, wasn’t actually willing to post a link to the study referenced I can’t really examine his claim.

    More generally, I don’t accept this dichotomy. I don’t think requiring evidence or rational arguments for claims somehow makes it impossible for me to feel emotion. This is just absurd on the face of it. Further, I haven’t suppressed my curiosity by becoming an atheist. I’m incredibly curious about all sorts of things, I just demand clear thinking and rational thought to come to a conclusion.

    I will never understand why we, as a society, seem to give so much credence to self help “gurus” like Mr. Chopra. His public speaking and writing is full of feel good nonsense with very little content…on second thought maybe I understand exactly why people give his statements credence.

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    Skeptics who don’t know how to be skeptics. Wed, 09 Jul 2014 23:58:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I had a disappointing experience this last week when a fellow skeptic (and person I had previously thought of as a friend) viciously attacked me, and ended that friendship over what I thought was a fairly minor disagreement. It’s experiences like this that make me want to give up on even involving myself with the skeptical movement, not because I don’t believe in the basic principles espoused in the movement, but because it seems like so few people in the movement actually embody these principles.

    I’ve written before on my blog that I fear that some skeptics/atheists are little more than people who like to sit around and pat each other on the back for being smarter than everyone else. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this kind of behavior. When I was a fundamentalist I knew many fellow Christians who did the same thing, only rather than for being smarter it was because they were saved and everyone else was destined for hell. Even though I’m an atheist, I still have a good deal more respect for a Christian who tries to convert me than one who treats their “correct beliefs” as something to smugly hold over others.

    More than a wiliness to educate others, though, is the need for self criticism. If our attempts to educate people on science, reason and other subjects are to be taken seriously then we MUST be our own worse critics. If we aren’t, then we are inconsistent at best and hypocrites at worst. When fellow skeptics tell me I must not disagree with them or their friends, this sends off warning bells in my head that this person isn’t really interested in skepticism; they are just interested in being right, or more accurately, in being told they are right, and they use the skeptical movement as nothing more than a group of “yes men” to make them feel good about themselves.

    I tend to notice three separate arguments come up in the conversations with these sorts of “skeptics”:

    1. Isn’t it better to have friends than be right?

    This question is a bit loaded, but the short answer is that if your answer to this question is an unequivocal yes, then you have no business calling yourself a skeptic. The much longer answer is that it really varies depending on the friend. For starters, I have lots of friends who aren’t involved in skepticism, or who do not engage me in my debate spaces, for whom I tend to be much less picky. For one because these people aren’t representing organizations that promote critical thought, and for two because those people have not invited such conversations. I love talking moral philosophy but I’m not going to force a conversation about that with every person I meet.

    On the other hand if another persons position is that I can be their friend only if I never openly disagree with them, then honestly, no, I don’t want to be that persons friend, regardless of whether they call themselves a skeptic or not, because that person sounds controlling and manipulative.

    2. You are being divisive to the movement, and you need to stop that.

    I hear this one constantly, not always directed at me, mind you, but just as often directed at other bloggers I’m fans of who occasionally criticize some of the skeptical movement’s shortcomings. Of course, it is not entirely inaccurate to claim that disagreements can be divisive, but only if the people involved let it. For instance, I missed the last American Atheist conference, but I happen to know that they invited the Reverend Barry Lynn to speak there because of his defense of the separation of church and state. Every atheist at that conference openly disagrees with Lynn on the question of god’s existence but it doesn’t stop both us and Lynn from being partners on the things we do agree on, nor does it mean that we pretend those disagreements don’t exist.

    The point is that disagreement is only divisive if you are so personally invested in your beliefs that you view any questioning of them as an assault on you personally. This is a natural tendency, but it’s not one conducive to being rational and as skeptics something we must all work to avoid. The way I see it, I think people who launch personal attacks and end friendships over disagreements are doing much more to divide the movement than those who try to offer a polite critique of someone else’s arguments. Also, as I pointed out earlier, refusing to engage with others’ critiques of your position without some reasonable cause (such as a critic being abusive) is simply a refusal to be a skeptic in any meaningful sense. Which brings me to the last argument I hear.

    3. You pretend civility is important, but you really just use it to avoid listening to those who disagree with you/you are just as much of an asshole as me, you just use requests for civility to hide it.

    Now, let me be fair here. I’m human and therefore quite imperfect, so it is entirely possible, even likely, that I don’t always enforce civility rules equitably within the online spaces I control. I may let my friends off the hook for something I would call someone else on, I may be more likely to notice the incivility of those I’m disagreeing with than those I agree with. I can do the best I can, but I’ll never be perfect.

    As an example about a week ago I had a person on my Facebook page insult another poster, I asked him to knock it off if he wanted to continue to have the right to post on my page and he responded by personally attacking me with a misogynistic insult. I said “fuck you” and I blocked him. The blocking was justified, I’d already warned him this would be the result and he doubled down. However, saying “fuck you” before I did it wasn’t my most shining moment. Not because of any rule against swearing, or because I’m worried about hurting this guy’s feelings, but because for just a moment he dragged me down to his level. Still, that we sometimes fail is no reason to not try.

    What I find ironic about this argument is that, by and large, those that use it are usually the quickest to anger and the most consistently antagonistic towards those they disagree with. I may not be perfect, but I know that there is a world off difference between saying, “that argument is faulty” and saying, “you are a shitty person.” Though I’m beginning to think that people who make this argument legitimately can’t see the difference between the two since they always seem confused when I try to explain it. I’ve been told my various “failures” stemmed from everything from not having been socialized properly as a child to not getting “laid” often enough, by people who seemed bewildered when I suggested that their behavior is uncalled for and obviously worse than anything they have received from me.

    Of course, to be clear, I’m not saying “that argument is faulty” is always acceptable and “you are a shitty human being” is always wrong. In fact, I can think of exceptions in each case, which I won’t get into here, however, I don’t think it’s bad as a general principle to say the first is usually ok, and the second is usually wrong, and we should have a good reason for deviation from that.

    I also don’t much accept the argument that I use requests for civility to avoid arguments I don’t like. Remember that discussion I mentioned earlier where I blocked someone? In that same discussion I disagreed with another person just as strongly who did not get blocked because, while I still disagree with him, he didn’t start hurling insults at people because of this disagreement.

    So what should we take from all of this? All I can really say is don’t be that person. Don’t be the skeptic who refuses to take your own medicine. Your ideas need to be critiqued as much as the next guy and you are at risk for every single one of those logic problems that skeptics groups point out. You know the ones, like confirmation bias and bandwagon effect? You aren’t harder to fool than anyone else, and the moment you think you are is the moment you are most vulnerable to being fooled. Remember, skepticism is a means of improving your own thinking, not a social club that gives you leave to think everyone else is an idiot and that no one has the right to criticize you. If you treat it as such, then you are not a good skeptic, and you aren’t even a very nice person.

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    Book review of Illogical atheism: Chapter 4 Thu, 16 Jan 2014 23:23:00 +0000 I review chapter 4 of the book Illogical atheism, completing the first of the four books published in this series.

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    Book review of Illogical atheism: Chapter 3 Fri, 20 Dec 2013 00:20:00 +0000 In this video I review chapter 3.

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    Almost Human drifts into pseudo-science in latest episode. Wed, 11 Dec 2013 01:41:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Watched the last Episode of Almost human on Hulu today and was disappointed to see them include a psychic in what has, up to this point, a reasonably hard science fiction show. Set in the future, I expect the show to take a few liberties with modern science but the psychic aspect of the plot in the latest episode goes completely off the rails.

    Not only do they present us with a character that has psychic powers, a thing for which there is no scientific evidence, they make a flimsy and scientifically inaccurate attempt to justify the existence of said powers. They make reference to a surgery that the woman previously underwent to allow her to use all of her brain instead of the 10% they normally use. Not only does no such surgery exist now, it could never exist because the notion that people only use a small part of their brain is absolutely untrue. Granted this show is suppose to be fiction, but this a commonly repeated myth that is offered on the show as if it were true. It’s disappointing when shows perpetuate myths like these.

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    Kirsten Powers conversion story makes me sad. Thu, 14 Nov 2013 20:03:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As someone who doesn’t watch Fox News regularly I had never heard of Kirsten Powers. However, I ran across an article on Christian Post today. Detailing this former atheist’s conversion to Christianity. I’m pretty comfortable with my atheism and haven’t heard any arguments in favor of any form of theism that rank anywhere in the vicinity of rationally convincing so I’m always interested in hearing what managed to convert a fellow atheist to theism. I have, to date, always been supremely disappointed in the strength of the arguments and evidence they felt were convincing, and usually find their conversion had a lot more to do with emotions than reason.

    Powers’ story is no different, it is not a tale of someone who was convinced by clear logical argumentation, but a story of someone who appears to have been emotionally manipulated by another person and then fell prey to questionable inferences based on scant evidence. Why? Perhaps her reasons for being atheist were emotional to begin with, or perhaps she was just ignorant of both the Christian apologetics and the secular response to them. Of course I could be wrong, I’m only basing my conclusion on what was written in the article, but it was Christian Post article so I think I can assume they tried to portray her conversion in as favorable a light as possible, and she still came out poorly.

    It seems her conversion started when she started dating a Christian. She said she had previously stated she would not date a religious person, but she does not explain why she made an exception for this person. She shouldn’t have, in my opinion, because the person she was dating seemed to be a bit of a jerk.

    After they dated a few months, her boyfriend called to say he had something important to discuss. When he came over to her New York apartment he looked at her intently and asked, “Do you believe Jesus is your Savior?”

    Her heart sank when she heard the question. She thought he might be slightly crazy. “No,” she replied.

    “Do you think you could ever believe it?” he asked. Then he told Powers he wanted to get married and felt that she might be the one, but he couldn’t marry a non-believer.

    A small bit of dating advice, if a person you are dating tells you they are willing to make a long term commitment but only if you change some massive part of your personality they you should seriously consider telling this person to fuck off. This isn’t to say that people don’t have a right to have standards about what kind of person they want. I have all sorts of standards, including an unwillingness to date religious zealots. What I would not do is start dating someone who is religious and then try to argue them out of their religion in the midst of the relationship. I’ve had religious people show interest in me in the past and I’ve turned them down. However, this guy went further than that, he essentially set an ultimatum for her, convert or we break up. He didn’t put it in such stark terms but that was what he said. From the details we have here, what he did was emotionally manipulative and he should be ashamed of himself.

    The emotional manipulation continued and he got her to attend church. She was “shocked and repelled” by the praise music and lax liturgy but loved the pastor because his sermon was intellectually interesting, speaking of art, history and philosophy.  I feel as if this speaks less of the church she went to and says more about the people she was friends with. I have deep intellectual conversations with non-theists all the time. In any case, the fact that the pastor was intelligent doesn’t mean his religious conclusions are the right ones.

    The article continues:

    As Keller propounded the case for Christ, she began to question her atheism. “He expertly exposed the intellectual weaknesses of a purely secular worldview. I came to realize that even if Christianity wasn’t the real thing, neither was atheism.”

    She does not give any examples of the arguments he used to criticize a secular worldview so I can’t actually analyze anything to see if I find his arguments compelling. I don’t find any theistic arguments convincing, though some are better than others so I can’t really conclude whether or not I think this pastor was wrong or REALLY wrong. The way the statement is phrased it makes me think he was probably using various rational sounding arguments like the Cosmological argument, or the Ontological argument. Many of these arguments sound really reasonable to people without a background in philosophy, but have actually have serious problems. The one thing that really bothers me is that she never once mentions any kind of balanced examination of atheist arguments or rebuttals to this pastor’s statements. Did she go out looking for rebuttals to the pastors arguments but then found the rebuttals lacking or did she just accept the pastors arguments? If she picked the latter path then that was intellectually lazy on her part.

    Again, I suspect that some of her willingness to accept these arguments stemmed from her desire maintain the romantic relationship she had. I could be wrong about that of course, but the fact that she went to church in the first place lends my interpretation credence. In any case she clearly wants convince us that her conversion happened on intellectual grounds but that argument completely falls apart when we get to her actual conversion.

    Then something very unusual happened to Powers on a trip to Taiwan in 2006.

    “I woke up in what felt like a strange cross between a dream and reality. Jesus came to me and said, ‘Here I am.’

    “It felt so real. I didn’t know what to make of it,” she recalls.  She called her boyfriend the next day, but before she could tell him what happened, he said he had been praying the night before and felt they were supposed to break up.

    While she was upset by the break up, she was more “traumatized” by the mystical, mysterious visitation by Jesus. “I tried to write off the experience as misfiring synapses, but I couldn’t shake it,” she notes.

    She had a dream and then her boyfriend broke up with her. She says the dream was troubling to her before the break up, but I’ve had dreams that troubled me and then I forgot about them in a day or two. If it hadn’t been for the break up happening at the same time would she still have attributed the same amount of importance to the dream? There is no conclusive way for us, or even for her, to know. I will say two things, making huge life changing choices based on a dream is not logical, and making huge life changing decisions right after a traumatic event like a break up is usually a bad idea. The first should be obvious; the second I have personal experience with.

    There is a phenomenon that psychologists have noted when people try to deal with potential cognitive dissonance from their choices.. Say you are in the market to buy a house and you have to pick between two. Once you have picked one, because of the expense and effort that went into the choice, you have a motivation to convince yourself that the one you chose was the better of the options. You will find faults with the other house and ignore or dismiss faults with yours because to acknowledge that your choice might have been wrong is unsettling.

    Events like a break up can be emotionally jarring and you will make choices that seem rational in the moment while not actually being rational. If those choices have long term consequences (like changing religious beliefs) you are going to be living with those choices for a long time. The problem is that most of us think of ourselves and fundamentally rational people, so if we make an emotionally motivated choice this conflicts with how we perceive ourselves. (cognitive dissonance) Our reasoning only sees two ways out, acknowledge that we are not fundamentally rational or come up with rationalizations about why our choice was actually rational after all. The second option is obviously the more palatable one, and is made more tempting if the choice you made is still having an effect on your life. A more reasonable approach would be to acknowledge that your psyche contains both rational and emotional aspects, and that, given the right circumstances, emotions can override reason. However, this requires careful analysis of ones own motivations, and that can be difficult, and even emotionally painful.

    Powers had already been told he would not marry an unbeliever, and when he broke up with her it is entirely possible that she rationalized a conviction in Christianity because part of her believed this could get them back together. She doesn’t mention whether or not they actually did get back together, but it would hardly matter. Once the choice was made she (like nearly anyone else) would rationalize away the inconsistencies, convincing herself that it was perfectly rational to make major changes to her beliefs due to a dream. This is only my supposition of course, no one, including her quite probably, is capable of knowing exactly what the cognitive path to her belief was. However, In my own personal experiences I had a break up several years ago with a person who was, with the benefit of hindsight, clearly not good for me. I actually did something quite similar to what Powers may have done. I attempted to fix the relationship by promising to make changes to myself to fit what the other person wanted. Those changes would have eventually involved giving up things that were important to me, but I would have done it in the emotional state I was in at the time. It didn’t matter because the other person wasn’t willing to discuss concessions, which in the end was probably for the best.

    On her own conversion powers had this to say:

    It’s true. It’s completely true. The world looked entirely different, like a veil had been lifted off it. I had not an iota of doubt. I was filled with indescribable joy.

    What I find a bit humorous about this is that sans the part about having no doubt (which I actually think is unhealthy) I could say very much the same thing about my conversion away from Christianity. When I realized that Christianity was most likely not true I was much happier. When I study science, and philosophy, when I make an effort to understand the world around me as it actually is I feel excited. The world looks like a wonderful place that I’m happy to be in. I have no need of overwrought mythologies about original sin and substitutionary atonement to make this world worth living in. The veil has already been lifted off and the world looks great just as it is. I need no fairies at the bottom to see that the garden is beautiful. This is why stories of conversions like the one Powers offers make me sad, because if she had never felt such joy without religion then the secular community she was part of clearly failed her.

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    Scalia believes in the devil and ad hoc reasoning. Wed, 09 Oct 2013 00:07:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Justice Scalia believes in the devil according to an interview published in New York Magazine. Some people, including the interviewer, seemed surprised by this fact. I was actually more surprised by the interviewers surprise. Didn’t the interviewer know anything about Scalia before doing the interview. The man is a 77 year old conservative catholic, it would be far more surprising to me if he didn’t believe in the devil, and why exactly is this belief so much more shocking than his belief in god? They are both beliefs in a supernatural entity for which good evidence is practically non-existent, and quite frankly Scalia is right when he tells the interviewer that most Americans believe in both of these beings.

    What I found really interesting is after he admitted to believing in the bible the interviewer asked a fairly good question about this.

    Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?

    Scalia gives a rather interesting answer.

    You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

    So Scalia acknowledges that there is a clear difference between how we see our modern observations of reality and all of the supernatural activities described in the bible. So how does he resolve this contradiction?

    What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

    So he believes that the reason the devil doesn’t engage in obviously supernatural actions is because sometime between two thousand years ago and the development of modern scientific standards during the renascence he figured out that convincing people he isn’t real would suit his purposes better.  His argument would actually make sense if you start out by assuming the bible’s description of these events is mostly accurate. However, without that unfounded assumption we are free to believe that the stories were simply made up or exaggerated, which seems like a much more reasonable explanation. 

    It’s ad hoc reasoning to start with a conclusion and interpret all of the facts to suit your preconceived position, but what really irks me with is argument is that his evidence for supernatural actions in the past, the bible, is essentially hearsay. It bothers me that a judge thinks that hearsay is a valid bases for a belief. I hope that he is doesn’t use this kind of reasoning while ruling on cases, but I’m not exactly convinced he understands this distinction.

    Of course he also tries to deny that his argument would suggest that atheists are doing the work of the devil even though that seems to be exactly what his argument would suggest, I’d be offended but I have long since stopped being offended by Scalia’s thoughts on religion. I will say I won’t be sad when he finally steps down from the bench.

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    Psychologist who writes for fox news blames feminism for Weiner’s sexting scandal. Tue, 24 Sep 2013 06:58:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> So this article was published a couple of months ago but I just ran into it a few days ago and it was just too ridiculous to pass up commenting on.

    What Weiner’s sexting scandal tells us about young women today

    Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychologist who is part of the fox news medical team, writes this article. He seems to think the feminist ideal of sexual liberation is what’s really to blame for this scandal by teaching women to enjoy sex outside of marriage. Dr. Ablow seems to think this is a “man’s job.”

    The sexual liberation of women has liberated them to be just like men—who, whether anyone likes it or not, often enjoy sex outside of emotionally-connected, longstanding relationships.

    Unfortunately for Ablow he gets a number of facts wrong in this article. First he seems to think that feminists seem to have no issues with Weiner’s actions. To be clear we tend to have different problems with it than Ablow has, I don’t think there is anything inherently immoral with premarital sex. However, Weiner was clearly in the wrong, he was lying to his wife. Further suggesting that the women Weiner sent these photo’s too are somehow responsible for his behavior is more than a little sexist, and suggesting that men never had affairs before feminism is more than a little bizarre. Clearly such affairs have been common throughout history even in cultures without all of those “evil” feminists.

    However, he clearly thinks his arguments have scientific merit and the feminists are just being political when they suggest that there is no psychological difference between men and women; so let’s look at his actual argument:

    From my perch as a psychiatrist talking to thousands of people a year, I can tell you that the average young woman no longer balks at sexting, watching pornography or being the aggressor sexually in a relationship.

    But I will tell you that, from what I hear in my office, the girls actually feel a whole lot worse about it, in their hearts, than the boys.  Because, you see, girls and boys, are not the same.

    In this argument we actually get a picture of the scientific methodology he employed to come to this conclusion. My conclusion is that his methodology is dangerously sloppy. You will noticed he, at no point, mentions any studies that demonstrate that the average women feels psychologically traumatized by unmarried consensual sex. I can only assume that he quotes no studies because he is unaware of any.

    So what is the evidence he brings to the table? His brings up his work with his patients and says that women feel worse in their hearts than men do. Now some people wanting to defend him might at this point say that this guy has a degree in his field and has practiced psychology for years, and don’t I believe in trusting scientists? Who am I to question his authority in this field, since I clearly have no degree in psychology. Well, it’s true I have no degree, but I actually trust the scientific method much more than I trust individual scientists. This is important because Ablow clearly fails to follow scientific principals in his analysis.

    You see Ablow uses a flawed sample set. In this case he is making generalizations about a whole population based upon a small self selected sample set. In general if you want your figures to be representative of the whole population then a self selected set is a bad way to do it. This problem is further complicated by the way in which the group self selects itself. In this case all of his patients come to him with some kind of psychological issues, so to assume that facts about the sexual neuroses of his patients can be used to generalize about about all women is very sloppy science indeed.

    Further, his statements are vague and metaphorical (they feel worse in their hearts) which makes it impossible to tell if his opinions about the sexual neurosis of even the small sample set he worked from are reliable. It is entirely possible that his biases about sexual behaviors have colored his perception of his clients feelings on the matter.

    The sad thing is that if he actually went looking for it there is a lot of studies out there on gender psychology, like this one:

    Men and Women May Not Be So Different After All

    So a further problem for Ablow is that there are good studies that actually run contrary to Ablow’s claim.

    …Statistically, men and women definitely fall into distinct groups, or taxons, based on anthropometric measurements such as height, shoulder breadth, arm circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio. And gender can be a reliable predictor for interest in very stereotypic activities, such as scrapbooking and cosmetics (women) and boxing and watching pornography (men). But for the vast majority of psychological traits, including the fear of success, mate selection criteria, and empathy, men and women are definitely from the same planet.

    I suggest reading the whole study, as it demonstrates a much more careful and thoughtful methodology than Ablow does, which is why I find it ironic that he ends with this:

    Some gender roles developed because of psychological facts, not in spite of them.  And when feminists urged and urge that we throw out all of them, they do a disservice to females and to the truth.

    Ablow’s willingness to use his flawed data, in place of the good data which contradicts his desired conclusion, makes it painfully obvious that his reasoning is motivated by his political and religious ideals, not a desire for truth. It does not qualify as good science. Further, he subtly engages in victim blaming and sexism throughout his article, which makes it difficult to believe he is overly concerned about women’s rights.

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    The Blaze talks about evolution, also never read the comments on a Blaze article. Fri, 20 Sep 2013 21:09:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I ran across an article about creationism and evolution over at the Blaze today.

    Evolution vs. Creationism: Did God create humans in our current form?

    The article starts out by referencing an article on Yahoo news that Virginia Heffernan wrote announcing she is a creationist. Their treatment of her article is incredibly biased. They talk about her making a “slew of ideological enemies” implying that the disagreement with her was ideological and not because of legitimate factual problems in her argument, and calls her case “compelling.”

    They don’t even really seem to understand her case very well because if you read her article she seems to call herself a creationist only because she has no idea what that word actually means. She is clearly not promoting the type of creationist thinking that is common to Ken Ham and other typical fundamentalist creationists. She doesn’t claim the earth was created in a few days, and she admits the bible is contradictory. The only problems with evolution she talks about come from evo-psych, a field that is regularly criticized by fellow skeptics for it’s just so stories, which is the same thing she criticizes it for.  

    She also seems to drift into some relativist philosophy at the end of the article, which is also quite in incombatable with the positions of most creationists. Essentially, believe in god even if it isn’t true because it’s a better story than the one science sells. Now, not only do I think this is a bad approach to truth, I happen to disagree with the notion that the bible spins a better tale than science.

    As to whether she accepts evolution in general or she is just somewhat ignorant and wrongly conflates evo-psych with all of evolution, I honestly don’t have enough information to say one way or the other. What I can say is that Heffernan is not a typical creationist, and in fact she seems to not even know what the term means when it comes to most of the blaze’s readers.

    The article itself is full of plenty of bad science, most notably the assumption the notion that the results of the necessarily self selected poll they ran on their website is at all useful.

    A much more specific and pointed question asked respondents if man evolved “with no involvement from a higher power.” There was a clear consensus among the 4,008 Blaze readers who responded. While six percent answered affirmatively, an overwhelming 94 percent of the readers who took the poll rejected this notion.

    This is particularly interesting due to the fact that the Pew Research Center estimates that about six percent of the nation considers itself secular and unaffiliated with a faith — a prime group that would embrace the idea that mankind evolved without God’s hand guiding the process. Of course, the Blaze poll on this subject was not a scientific one, but the proportional similarities are still worth noting.

    In the last line here they acknowledge that the poll was not scientific but then go on to act as if the study was actually valid anyway since the figures happen to coincide with figures for a completely different question in a population based poll done by Pew. (which is not exactly the gold standard for science anyway) They also, at certain points, imply that most of their readers disbelieving in evolution amounts to evidence that there is good reason to doubt evolution.

    As bad as the article was, the comments were fare worse, of the kind that makes me question humanities ability to think rationally about anything. One commenter claims to be a young earth creationist physics teacher, which just makes me sad. or this one:

    Well, since naturalism requires a scientific explanation OR an eyewitness account, and evolutionists don’t have an eyewitness account to corroborate their position, nor a scientifically defensible explanation, (speculation and wild assumption is not scientific), and Judeo/Chrsitianity actually has an EYEWITNESS account of what occurred at the beginning, I’m going with the BEST evidence which is that God created the heavens and the earth and mankind and the animals and all that was created.

    Yes, this person just argued that believing the bible is the more scientific option because there were eyewitnesses to the events in the bible and evolution has no eyewitnesses. What I find so ridiculous about this argument is that, even by fundamentalist Christian standards, it isn’t true. By those standards Genesis was written by Moses around 2,000 B.C. several thousand years after creation. If people can’t even keep their arguments internally consistent with their own world view how can they hope to understand complex scientific principals?

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    Math….pffft why would we need that to understand global warming? Thu, 19 Sep 2013 21:04:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’ve been reading different arguments about global warming lately and I ran across a claim on the sites of several people arguing against global warming.

    Man-made carbon dioxide emissions throughout human history constitute less than 0.00022 percent of the total naturally emitted from the mantle of the earth during geological history.

    I’ll admit when I first read this I thought, is this really true? Doesn’t this hurt man made global warming arguments? Then I took a moment and considered the statement more carefully. the 0.00022 number provided is based upon a comparison of carbon dioxide for the entire geological history of the earth, which if you remember is 4.3 billion years. However, human cased global warming is a recent issue caused by high CO2 output by humans. Almost all of this CO2 output has happened in the last two to three hundred years, which means the real question is how much extra CO2 have we added to environment recently not in all of earths history.

    Let’s not stop here though. Assuming this number is correct (I couldn’t verify anywhere) then lets calculate what percentage of of the earth’s CO2 has come from humans in the past couple of hundred years. Fair warning I have never considered math to be my strongest subject so feel free to point it out to me if I make a mistake in my calculations.

    First we will base the calculations on the last 300 years.  So to find out what percentage of 4.3 billion 300 is we divide them.


    divided by 4,300,000,000

    = 6.9-8  or 0.000000069

    So 300 is only 6.9-8 of 4.3 billion, but man made carbon dioxide, most of which was caused in the last 300 years amounts to 2.2-4 which is a much larger number. How much larger?


    divided by 6.9-8

    roughly 3,188.4

    That’s right, the amount of CO2 produced by humans is almost thirty-two hundred times more than the amount of CO2 naturally produced by the earth in the same time frame, even based on the number provided by those arguing against man made global warming. So, this number, is actually strong support for man made global warming instead of evidence against it. Making the argument that it is a very small percentage of the CO2 produced through all of human history is like claiming a flood doesn’t exist because the amount the amount of rain that caused it is a very small percentage of the overall rain fall in that area in the last hundred years.

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