Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (world of bullshit edition)

the stupid! it burns! How Easter and Christianity undermine atheism
[Atheists] do believe in something — the philosophical theory known as Materialism ... [which] isn't a theory at all. It's a superstition; a myth that basically says that everything in life ... is merely the result of biochemical reactions and the movement of molecules in our brain.

What nonsense.

We can't reduce the whole of reality to what our senses tell us for the simple reason that our senses are notorious for lying to us. ...

Too many people ... [are] so steeped in the "superstition of materialism" that they're totally blind to the existence of another world[:] ... world of miracles, a world of grace, a world of angels, a world of diabolical warfare, a world where the highest values are completely opposite from those of our secular society — where weakness equals strength, sacrifice equals salvation, and suffering equals unlimited power.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Philosophy Referee Hand Signals

(click to embiggen)

(from davidad via Alex Tabarrok)

The Stupid! It Burns! (immaterial edition)

the stupid! it burns! Rise of the New Atheism
Best-selling atheist books like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great suffer from this incoherence in varying degrees. They argue that God cannot exist because only material things exist. This is the naturalist worldview upon which atheism rests. By demonstrating that naturalism is false, it becomes easier to show why theism, not atheism, is the truly rational option.

Naturalism claims that only material things exist. And yet, it is self-evident that love, happiness, human rights, good and evil are real though immaterial. To be consistent, atheists are forced to argue that these things are just electrically charged chemical reactions inside the brain.

But if that were true, then there could be no such thing as “good” or “evil,” only behavior with which you agree or disagree. And if that were true, then there would be no use in appealing to “right” or “wrong” because those are nothing more than chemical processes inside the brain. In an atheist universe where God doesn’t exist, slavery, theft, murder, and cutting down rain forests would not be “evil” or “wrong.” They would simply be behaviors you dislike. Not even an atheist would want to live in that universe.

As is often the case, there's lots more stupid in the article.

The Stupid! It Burns! (moral capital edition)

the stupid! it burns! The New Atheists and Their Recent Attacks
If you’ve looked over the best seller lists recently you may have noticed two new books that champion the cause of atheism. One is by the Englishman, Richard Dawkins and the other, titled "Letter to a Christian Nation" is by the American, Sam Harris. [Letter to a Christian Nation and The God Delusion were published in 2006. I guess that's new compared to the Bible - ed.] ...

The atheistic fundamentalists are deeply committed to the belief that life formed by accidental collisions of atoms and death causes the ending of consciousness. Not surprisingly, they are deeply committed to evolution as an explanation of origins. ...

The rejection of God and of God’s morality because of Darwinism brought the rise of communism and fascism as atheist political philosophies. (Though Nazism was technically an occultic system it was heavily influenced by evolution based racial theories.)

The mass murders that occurred under Hitler, Stalin and Mao caused a radical pessimism and nihilism under Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The pessimism was the result of the fact that 300 years of modern philosophy did not result in the discovery of a system of moral absolutes that could unite the world in peace. Absolute morals are morals that apply to all people across all cultures. ...

I will say that the atheist worldview gives no real philosophical underpinning for morality. As Dostoevsky wrote: "If there is no God, All things are permissible." ...

As evolution and its implicit atheism is taught in taxpayer funded schools it has caused the secularization of society. The schools turn out many scruffy, ill-mannered people with no moral compass, guided only by their base, animal appetites.

The moral capital built up over generations when people learned the Bible at home and at school and at church is being spent and this valuable Christian moral capital needs to be replenished.

The article is long, and chock full o' stupid.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (annoying edition)

the stupid! it burns! Why Some Atheists Annoy Me
I want to list a few reasons on why some atheists annoy me. ...

Holding lectures and conferences seems so redundant. Why do you need to hold events like “Skepticon” or “ReasonFest”? I’d assume ...

It’s sad that these three bitter individuals have become the voice of atheism. By following these atheist authors blindly, atheism has become a religion in itself. ...

Yes, I know atheists are smarter than the general population. I know that 93% of scientists do not believe in God. So what? I don’t care if you read all of Dawkins books or if you can schpeel off Darwin’s theories to the last detail. Talk to me about philosophy, ethics, logic, and politics. Just because you think you know everything there is to know does not mean you are right.

How can atheists have a positive outlook? Life ends after we die. In the mind of an atheist, there is no afterlife. I really dislike how all the atheists I’ve met are always complaining and focusing on negative things. They are so critical it seems.

Shorter Joe: It really annoys me that some people are interested in events, authors, ideas and social issues I don't find interesting. (Sorry, Dan!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A stupid question

A question with no answers, with no possible answer, is not a great question. It's not a profound question, a deep question or an important question. It's not a mystery, it's not a puzzle. It may be all of these until we discover the question cannot have an answer, but once we discover there is no answer, it becomes a stupid question, a question that can only be unasked.

The Stupid! It Burns! (ain't I great edition)

the stupid! it burns! Why Do I Doubt Both the Atheists and the Theists?
I am more excited about Divinity of Doubt: The God Question than any other book in my entire career, and I've had seven New York Times bestsellers, three of them reaching number one. Why? Apart from the fact we can all agree that there cannot be a more important subject than God*, the main reason is that we're talking about a 2,000-year-old conversation to which nothing significant has been brought to the table for a great many years. ...

What I discovered is so startling that if anyone who reads Divinity of Doubt is not stunned, they would be the type who wouldn't be surprised if they saw a man jump away from his own shadow. ...

*Well, a slightly more important subject would be the question of whether I will scratch my left buttock now, or wait a few minutes until the itchiness increases to make the scratching more satisfying. But that's just me.

What is this startling new development, that revolutionizes a subject barren for millennia? Hold on to your hat, gentle reader, Vince is about to blow your mind:
Although in Divinity of Doubt, I destroy through simple logic Christianity's main non-biblical support for such a God, Intelligent Design, I conclude that the other principal argument for his [sic] existence, First Cause, is very difficult to get around and goes in the direction, though not conclusively, of a Supreme Being.

Wow! The First Cause argument! And it actually goes in the direction of a Supreme Being. I'm truly shocked. I don't know why someone didn't think of this before.

To preempt my esteemed commenter Dan...

Shorter Vincent Bugliosi: God is an impenetrable mystery, and there are no answers. God is therefore the most important subject, and I have answers! Ain't I just fucking amazing!

The Stupid! It Burns! (Hitler edition)

the stupid! it burns! #1 Why Atheists Kick Out Hitler
I see that Hitler is a real pain to explain for the neo-atheist. They all have such faith in their Atheist Leaders that without question, they must explain Hitler away at all costs. After all if they admit that Hitler had even ONE characteristic of an atheist then all atheists or neo-atheists will be brought into disrepute.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (shrewd, skeptical edition)

the stupid! it burns! On Atheists, Part 2
I'm a shrewd, skeptical person by nature [who believes that] the parts of my body are infinitely more complex than the computer in front of me ... Somehow this organized, coherent, useful data in my DNA exists in a world that supposedly has no direction or intelligence. Does information spring out of mindlessness? Does life spring from inanimate material? Organized information is evidence of intelligence (e.g. SETI). ...

I ask that you'll fairly consider both sides with an open mind. What if there is a God who created this somehow and can assign value to you as a living being? What if he has expectations?!

If you're like most of us, this doesn't really come down evidence and arguments and philosophical debates. The real reason we don't believe in God is this: we don't want to.


The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state. The expense of government to the individuals of a great nation is like the expense of management to the joint tenants of a great estate, who are all obliged to contribute in proportion to their respective interests in the estate. In the observation or neglect of this maxim consists what is called the equality or inequality of taxation.

— Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapter 2

Thanks to adult onset atheist

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The irony

It is sad and ironic that I, a communist, find myself defending capitalist economics against Libertarians. I, an atheist, might as well be defending liberal Christianity against the fundamentalists.

The difference is, of course, that there is at least some truth to capitalist economics. Not much, I concede, but some truth nonetheless. And it's a shorter step to communism from modern capitalist economics, especially Keynesian economics, than it is from Libertarian laissez faire economics. The latter is almost completely delusional.

Free Candy For Everybody!

An anonymous commenter replies to my post on deficit spending:
So if the government enacted a Free Candy For Everybody policy, and over ten years built up a trillion dollars in debt buying candy from overseas and distributing it to everybody of voting age... When people come of age where they can pay taxes that go to the debt that was used to buy the candy but never got any of the candy themselves, it's exactly the same to them as if the debt had never been run up?

Thank goodness, I thought they'd either have to pay higher taxes or have fewer government services to make up the difference, at least on the debt's interest if they didn't care about paying down the principal.
It really is truly amazing how many of my outraged commenters cannot read and understand simple declarative sentences in the English language, and how economic ignoramuses such as Alonzo Fyfe and my anonymous commenter appear to lack either the desire or ability to think beyond their naive, faith-based delusions.

First of all, a trillion dollars is chump change, less than a month's GDP. It's like Dr. Evil demanding One Million Dollars. The Department of Defense has half a trillion in couch cushions at the Pentagon. If you're going to create absurd hypotheticals, at least make them scary.

It is of course possible to use deficit spending unwisely. In much the same sense, it is possible to drive a car into a crowd of pedestrians, but by itself that is not an argument that cars are inherently and universally bad, which is the argument that Fyfe makes regarding deficit spending. In the case Anonymous presents above, what is unwise is consuming a trillion dollars worth of candy; it would be just as unwise no matter how we chose to account for its consumption.

Although it is probably ludicrous to believe that there is any actual desire for a trillion more dollars worth of candy — I suspect that if the world made that much more candy, it would simply rot in warehouses and cupboards — if there were that much demand, why would we purchase it all from overseas? Are Americans suddenly unable to build factories and produce candy? It really is funny how in their hypotheticals, libtards always assume that their vaunted American Free Enterprise system suddenly turns to jelly in the face of the most trivial government action.

If there really were a trillion dollars worth of unmet desire for candy, turning that desire into demand by deficit spending would cause capitalists to build a lot of factories and hire a lot of workers to produce a metric assload of candy. Which would cause exactly what deficit spending is supposed to: stimulate additional production to move short-run aggregate supply equilibrium to the long-run aggregate supply equilibrium with aggregate demand.

Even if there were a trillion dollars of unmet desire for candy, and it turned out that American capitalists were unwilling or unable to meet that demand, why would we expect foreigners to supply it? Foreigners lack a good mechanism for collecting debt coercively. If our children believed the money had been spent unwisely, and it were not in their interest to repay their debt, it would be within their ability to repudiate the debt. Knowing this, foreigners would loan us a trillion dollars worth of candy only if they believed in was in our children's interests to pay with a trillion dollars worth of something else in the future. And if it were in our children's interests to pay the debt, how are we acting immorally by incurring it.

Macroeconomics is not that hard. No harder than evolution. Seriously, people, take Principles of Macroeconomics at your local community college, and at least try to think these issues through logically.

The Stupid! It Burns! (appellate edition)

the stupid! it burns! In her article Court Rules to Protect N.C. Professor's Right to Religious Speech (via Curious Presbyterian), Stephanie Samuel of the Christian Post reports that "The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that a North Carolina university’s decision to deny a professor a promotion based on religious and political commentary – inspired by his conversion to Christianity from atheism – is unconstitutional." Samuel goes on to say that "A three-member panel ruled that University of North Carolina–Wilmington professor Mike Adams’ political activities constitutes protected, private speech."

We can read the Fourth Circuit's opinion at Adams v. Trustees of UNCW, No. 10-1413.

Update: Let me briefly summarize the Fourth Circuit's ruling.

First, neither the district nor the appellate court found that UNCW actually discriminated against Adams. The district court held that based on the evidence the plaintiff, Adams, presented to the court, it was not possible for Adams to win at trial on the basis of religious discrimination or disparate treatment. They therefore granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, UNCW. The Fourth Circuit concurred: Adams simply did not have a case.

The district court held that Adams' speech was not protected, and therefore there was no basis for him to allege discrimination or retaliation based on the content of protected speech. The Fourth Circuit held that this decision was in error: Adams' speech was indeed protected. That is the sole extent of their ruling.

The district court, however, did not address whether or not that now-protected speech influenced UNCW's decision to deny Adams' promotion to full professor. The district court did not address whether UNCW's interests outweighed Adams' free speech interests. As the district court did not address these issues, the Fourth Circuit could not consider them: these questions are matters of legal fact, which an appellate court cannot determine.

The conclusion that Samuel draws, that the Fourth Circuit declared the UNCW's action unconstitutional, cannot honestly and logically be drawn from content the actual decision.

end of update

It is extremely important to understand first that the Fourth Circuit is reviewing a summary judgment of the district court. "A summary judgment is a determination made by a court without a full trial." Thus the Fourth Circuit is not considering the actual outcome of the case, but rather reviewing the district court's decision to deny a trial. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit says,
Summary judgment is only appropriate if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We construe the evidence in the light most favorable to Adams, the party opposing the Defendants’ summary judgment motion, and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor (11) (quotations and citations omitted).
The Fourth Circuit is not deciding whether or not Adams was discriminated against, but deciding whether the district court was correct in concluding that Adams could not possibly have been discriminated against.

The Fourth Circuit upholds the district court's summary judgment that Adams was not discriminated against on the basis of his religion:
Having reviewed the record in the light most favorable to Adams, we agree with the district court that he failed to set forth direct evidence of religious discrimination. ... We also conclude the district court properly held that Adams failed to satisfy his burden for proving discrimination using the burden-shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas. ... Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Defendants on Adams’ Title VII claim (14, 17).
The Fourth Circuit also upheld the district court's summary judgment that Adams was not denied equal protection:
Having reviewed the record, we agree with the district court’s conclusion that Adams’ evidence creates no issue of disputed fact that the Defendants’ decision to deny his promotion was the result of intentional or purposeful discrimination based on his religious beliefs, or that he was treated differently from others with whom he was similarly situated. ... Accordingly, the district court did not err in granting the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on this claim (28-29).

The sole remaining issue is Adams' claims of First Amendment discrimination. The district court held that because Adams introduced his speech in his application for full professorship, it ipso facto became unprotected, "official" speech (19). Furthermore, the district court employed Garcetti v. Ceballos to make this determination. The Fourth Circuit, however, determined that the district court "misread Garcetti... The district court cited no precedent for this determination, that protected speech can lose its First Amendment protected status based on a later reading of that speech." The Fourth Circuit also observes that the "clear language" of Garcetti makes suspect its applicability to academia (19). Essentially, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court's summary judgment for the defendants was made for the wrong reason, and they remanded this issue back to the district court.

A plaintiff making a First Amendment discrimination must satisfy the three prongs of the McVey test. As quoted by the Fourth Circuit, the court must determine
(1) whether the public employee was speaking as a citizen upon a matter of public concern or as an employee about a matter of personal interest; (2) whether the employee’s interest in speaking upon the matter of public concern outweighed the government’s interest in providing effective and efficient services to the public; and (3) whether the employee’s speech was a substantial factor in the employee’s [adverse employment] decision (18).
Since the Fourth Circuit observes that the district court considered only the first element, the Fourth Circuit likewise has ruled on only this element (19). Neither the district court nor the Fourth Circuit rule on the second and third prongs.

The Fourth Circuit's opinion is extremely narrow: holds only that that speech protected by the First Amendment does not become unprotected merely because the speaker references that speech in an official context (21). As the Fourth Circuit observes, "The Defendants were not precluded from examining the materials for a permissible purpose using lawful criteria. At the same time, their review of those materials can be examined for an impermissible discriminatory use." Note the Fourth Circuit's language here: the review of materials can be examined. The Fourth Circuit does not itself actually actually examine UNCW's review of the materials; it merely directs the district court to do so, rather than simply holding that the speech was unprotected.

I agree with the Fourth Circuit's opinion, and I think it is important to uphold free speech in this manner. There are indeed permissible and impermissible ways to officially examine the content of protected speech. UNCW may
consider [Adams' protected speech] not according to the content qua speech, but as factoring into the sweeping requirements of scholarship and service necessary to support his promotion to full professor.
Clearly the district court should find Adams speech meets the first prong of the McVey test (The Fourth Circuit observes that UNCW admits that the speech was protected when first uttered (20)) and examine the other two prongs.

But because the district court did not examine the other two prongs of the McVey test, it stretches credulity for Samuel to consider this decision a "big win" for Adams. We cannot infer that UNCW moved to hold Adams' speech unprotected because they would have lost had it been held protected. Cases at law are not wide-ranging academic discussions aimed at finding the deepest truths; a wise judge wants to decide the case on the narrowest grounds possible, and a wise lawyer does not open wider issues unless the narrower issues fail to support her case. Indeed because the district court found no reasonable case for religious discrimination, it seems likely that it will come to the same conclusion when it examines the First Amendment case in more detail, and will grant UNCW summary judgment on broader grounds.

If it stretches the bounds of credulity for Samuel to call this decision a "big win" for Adams, it breaks those bounds to conclude, "The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that [UNCW's] decision to deny a professor a promotion based on religious and political commentary... is unconstitutional." The Fourth Circuit made no such ruling, and the ruling that it did make does not in any way draw any conclusions whatsoever about UNCW's decision to deny Adams' promotion. We cannot consider this statement an actual lie — Samuel accurately describes the the actual ruling — and we must consider the lede to be an inference. But this inference is so divorced from the actual content of the ruling that we must conclude that Samuel has not only failed to bend over backwards to avoid fooling herself, but that she has bent over backwards to try to fool herself and her audience. If not an actual lie, it is such an egregiously unsupported conclusion that we must consider it at best a grossly negligent disregard for intellectual integrity and at worst intellectual dishonesty.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (chatting edition)

the stupid! it burns! A Chat With Atheists
Negative atheist: Kalam argument example, Everything that begin to exist has a cause. Where does god come from…what caused him to exist??

Christian: I think you misunderstood the argument. It does not argue for everything that exist has a cause, but everything that BEGIN to exist. God did NOT BEGIN to exist thus needs no cause.

Negative atheist: Then kalam argument is just another God of the Gap, everything that you believers can not explain is easily blamed to God. “God did it!”

Christian: That is false, Kalam argument leads as to a beginningless, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial cause of the beginning of time and material( the Universe) we, Christian call God.

Negative atheist: Yah yah! Have you not read that scientists can show that something can come from nothing given the laws of physics.

Christian: Is that not amazing, what part of nothing do “your” science sources do not understand!

Negative atheist: Well, molecules collided together and boom, we have the big bang.

Christian: Well, but there we already have something “Molecules”. How could that be something from nothing?
Philosophy is so much easier when you can put words in your opponents' mouths.

Update: The original author asks me to note that the dialog is fictional. He (I think) also asks how he's putting words in his opponents' mouths. That's kinda what a fictional dialog means: you're not using the words someone else actually said, instead of doing what an honest person would do: using arguments actual people use.


You must watch this.

(via PZ Myers)

Stealing from our children

Alonzo Fyfe trots out the persistent delusion that government deficits constitute stealing from our children:
First, we are dealing with an issue morally comparable to theft on a massive scale. Our legislators are engaged in a continuing practice of buying votes by taking money from those who have no voice in our elections (thus no voice in who gets to become a Senator or Representative, and completely unrepresented in Congress) and giving that money to those who are eligible to vote.

Specifically, they vote to take money from children and those not yet born and give their future earnings to current voters through a process of deficit spending.
This is one of the most egregiously insane and delusional economic opinions. Unless you have a time machine, it is physically impossible for us to steal anything at all from our children. Let me say this again, because it's important.

It is physically impossible for us to steal anything at all from our children.

Anyone who says that we are stealing anything from our children is a complete idiot who does not understand the laws of physics. It is physically impossible to steal that which does not yet exist, and the products of our children's labor (assuming we're not putting them to work already) do not yet exist.

More importantly, money is an abstraction. It is not possible to really steal money from anyone, just as it is not possible to inches or pounds. When someone steals a $10 bill from my pocket, I am not concerned about the loss of the money itself, which is just a piece of paper with some green ink on it; I am concerned about the loss of what that money could buy. Money itself is just a symbol.

It is really impossible for a government, which is the privileged manager of the macroeconomy, to ever steal money. The government represents everybody; everybody as a whole cannot steal from anyone: who would they steal from?

In macroeconomics, money is irrelevant in the long run. This is why long run aggregate supply is vertical, i.e. completely invariant with respect to the price level (the aggregate money prices of goods and services).

Seriously, anyone who has taken Principles of Macroeconomics as a freshman in college should understand this point. All we can do with monetary and fiscal policy is change short run aggregate supply, either by shifting the short run aggregate supply curve or by shifting the aggregate demand curve causing movement along the short run aggregate supply curve. Anything that happens with our children happens in the long run, which is immune to money issues. All we can ever do with government monetary and fiscal policy is shift the allocation of present demand for presently produced goods and services.

All goods and services flow in a circle, and money flows in the opposite direction. Creating new money and new demand as government "debt" just recognizes that sooner or later the new money will flow back to the government in the form of taxes. It does not in any way reduce the amount of goods and services our children will be entitled to consume.

I believe the macroeconomy is dynamically unstable. Government monetary and fiscal policy (treating the Federal Reserve as a somewhat independent part of of the de facto government) works to actively stabilize the macroeconomy. When there is a shortage of aggregate demand — there is insufficient "social permission" to presently consume what is presently being produced — the government creates debt to increase aggregate demand, causing movement along the short run aggregate supply curve to meet at the vertical long run aggregate supply curve. When there is excess demand — "social permission" to consume more than is being produced — the government raises taxes on the general public to prevent excess inflation. Since we are presently in a recessionary gap, where the equilibrium between short run aggregate supply and aggregate demand is less that the equilibrium between long run aggregate supply and aggregate demand, we need government deficits.

The alternative is to let wages and price levels fall. This alternative, however, creates enormous problems for people who hold debts denominated in nominal dollars: debts don't fall when the price levels for goods and services fall. Letting price levels fall rather than creating new money in the form of debt (and the corresponding moderate inflation) is far preferable.

Another alternative is to let long run aggregate supply fall, by letting productive capital rust away. Perhaps Fyfe has Andrew Mellon's solution in mind : "Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. [Panic] will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up from less competent people." Of course we'll have to liquidate ten million long-term unemployed, but hey, Soylent Green is tasty.

Dealing with people like Alonzo Fyfe, I have new understanding of how biologists must feel about creationists.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (billboard edition)

the stupid! it burns! Atheists Proselytize Their Faith In North Carolina
A group of atheists and agnostics in North Carolina have begun a billboard campaign which they claim is designed to help them gain acceptance into main stream society.

However, I think the statements on the billboard seem to be more of a challenge to the beliefs of religious folk than just a friendly “hey there, let’s be friends” type thing. The News and Observer article refers to the billboard quotes as “pithy.” I would not call the billboards pithy, I would call them mocking, insulting and kind of nasty in nature.
The author displays five of the FFRF Out of the Closet billboards. Woo hoo! Free advertising.

For a dose of concentrated stupidity, read the comments.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Decision and choice

It's a bird! It's a plane! Whatever it is, the point whooshes over Tyler Cowen's head.
Let’s say it’s 2027 and I’ve just turned 65. I fill out a Medicare application on-line and opt for a plan with superior heart coverage (my father died of a heart attack), not too much knee coverage and physical therapy (my job doesn’t require heavy lifting), no cancer heroics (my mother turned them down and I wish to follow her example), and lots of long-term disability.

Is that so terrible an approach? Is it obviously worse than having the Medicare Advisory Board make all of those choices for me?
Yes, it's a terrible approach. Cowen conflates decision and choice. It is definitely possible (and probably true) that people can rationally decide between preferred forms of treatment. The problem is that, unlike Cowen, most people are not a tenured university professor with a guaranteed income in retirement. They can't choose anything. In a similar sense, I might be able to rationally decide to colonize Europa rather than Titan, but I cannot choose between the two: I lack the ability to do either. The whole point of Medicare is to provide medical treatment for people without the means to make the choice, whether or not they can rationally make the underlying decision.

If Cowen wants to say that people without the means to make the choice shouldn't get medical care in their old age, let him say so directly, and we can debate the issue on the merits.

The Stupid! It Burns! (tu quoque edition)

the stupid! it burns! Sniff: On Atheism's Pretend Victims
In The Guardian Andrew Copson wants us to adopt the atheist-as-victim narrative. But is he trying too hard? Laughably, his headline reads: “Atheism's aesthetic of enchantment.” [link moved to headline] ...

Copson preaches, “As an Oxford undergraduate in the early 19th century, Percy Bysshe Shelley developed an argument for the non-existence of God. He entitled it The Necessity of Atheism, and 2011 is the bicentenary of his being expelled from the university for printing it.” ...

Of course, if a Christian planned to enrol in an atheist society today and/or published The Necessity of Christianity, he’d be ritually abused with media support. But for some reason, atheists are treated like gods, above rules. And, isn’t it timelier to recall the fact that Shelley dear abandoned (read: expelled) his abused and pregnant wife, Harriet?
Again, lots more stupid in the post.

The Stupid! It Burns! (nit-picking edition)

the stupid! it burns! In On the statement that “we are all atheists” J. W. Wartick says:
“We are all atheists to other religions, we [atheists] just take it one step further.” ...

There’s a problem though, in fact, there’s more than one problem:

1) The statement is false

2) The statement is irrational

3) The statement–as with many false or irrational statements–proves too much (or too little). ...

The idea that Christians are atheists to all other religions is simply false. As I’ve explained elsewhere, to other religions, I am not an atheist, I am a rival theist–an adherent of another religion. ...

As I’ve argued elsewhere, the statement is simply irrational. The atheist is literally saying that the theist is an atheist ...

Consider the following statement:
there are a theoretically infinite number of possible answers to the equation “Two plus two,” but only one actually true answer. To say that “Two plus two equals four” is to automatically make me an unbeliever in all the other possible answers. It’s not rational, however, for the atheist to say, “Well I just go one step further and choose to disbelieve that four is the answer either.” (Dean Todd)

The same type of argument could be made for any true statement. Therefore, the type of reasoning employed in the “we’re all atheists” statement would undermine all true belief. ...

As one respondent put it:

The original formulation didn’t use the word “atheist.” It simply said, “You disbelieve in all the gods of all the religions other than your own. Well, we godless folks only disbelieve in one more than you do. We disbelieve in them all.” Stated this way, your hair splitting over the poetic use of “atheist” becomes irrelevant and the central point stands

But it can be seen that this falls victim to the same difficulties already pointed out above. For it could be said that “You disbelieve in all the possible answers to the statement 2+2=? except one [4], I just disbelieve in them all.” It’s simply positively irrational to even use it as a talking point. That, or it’s trivially true and therefore pointless.
There's a lot more stupid in the article.

Two issues

  1. Because there are no gods, we believe religion consists of lies and bullshit, therefore we are atheists.
  2. Because religion, i.e. the sort of religion that depends substantively on the existence of God, is both false and harmful, we are anti-religious.
These two issues are largely separate. It's extremely important to note that we are atheists not because religion is harmful, but because there are no gods. Radiation is extremely harmful, but we don't therefore believe that nuclear physics is false.

Similarly, because the positions of stars and planets do not affect our character, personality, and behavior, we believe that astrology is bullshit. But because astrology is not particularly harmful, at least not directly (Pisces and Leos do not often murder each other because of their astrological signs), we aren't really anti-astrology.

Please pay attention.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

DeLong on Marx

Brad DeLong does not have kind words for Karl Marx: He quotes Samuelson's characterization of Marx as a "third-rate post-Ricardian," and he calls Marx's principal contributions as:
  1. An undeveloped philosophy of human liberation.
  2. An oppositional, revolutionary political stance (with absolutely no sense of how revolutions eat their own children).
  3. About ten paragraphs' worth of asides in the "Communist Manifesto" and in the preface to "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" about how economic change creates and transforms social classes which then struggle for political power and how those struggles then shift the path of economic development.

DeLong traces Marx's career from philosopher to political activist to classical economist. DeLong see's Marx's fundamental approach as the attempt to "change the world and liberate humanity by thinking clearly." Having come to economics myself from philosophy, I don't have the same kind of contempt for this approach that DeLong shows. ("As if it were scales would fall from people's eyes and they would see: free from their illusions and their prejudices and their misconceptions they would build utopia.") Unlike DeLong, I don't take for granted the fundamental soundness of the liberal capitalist political-economic paradigm, and unlike DeLong, I don't see the myriad political, economic and social problems as inexplicable manifestations of insanity and perversity.

But the events of the last ten years — and in retrospect the events of the last forty years — have profoundly changed my thinking. And although I have just begun my academic study of economics, everything I have yet discovered hints at substantial philosophical flaws in the liberal capitalist paradigm. Why do we have a national political party, the Republicans, that, as DeLong continuously complains, seem to have abandoned every economic and political lesson we have learned about managing an advanced technological economy? Why do we have a national press corps that seems, as DeLong continuously complains, to treat straightforward matters of factual truth as incomprehensibly opaque? Ordinary stupidity and Gore's incompetence can explain George W. Bush's first election, and rage can explain some of the actions immediately after 9-11. But after Bush's reelection, the Iraq war, the 2007 collapse the Democratic party after its substantial win in 2006, and the weakness of the Obama administration to manage the economic crisis argue for deeper explanations than temporary insanity.

The best explanation I've seen DeLong offer to date is that Milton Friedman magically hypnotized a generation of economists with his anti-Libertarian libertarianism, and mind-wiped all the lessons political economists learned in the two generations after Keynes (10-14). If any one man, however intelligent and charismatic (I imagine economists have... unusual... standards as to charisma) can so entirely wreck a discipline, the fault lies with the discipline, not the man. DeLong is throwing stones from a house with far too much glass.

Sigmund Freud has been revealed as a charlatan and an incompetent and dishonest scientist. Even though it is perhaps his only contribution, Freud deserves credit as a genius simply for believing and promoting the idea that the human mind could itself be an object of scientific study, for simply refusing to take for granted his contemporaries' mysticism and illusions. Freud's incompetence probably cost scientific psychology two generations of progress, but someone had to be the first, and better scientists uncritically accepted the mystical view of the human mind.

I don't think Marx was as incompetent as Freud, but the point still stands. Even if Marx were wrong on every detail (which I do not believe he was), he would still deserve credit as a genius simply for refusing to take for granted the mysticism and illusions that underlie liberal capitalism. The difference is that while their progress was retarded, academic and scientific psychologists were able to extirpate Freud's errors while still keeping the scientific integrity of their discipline intact; indeed their fundamental scientific integrity is what allowed them to overcome Freud's errors. Economists, on the other hand, have so thoroughly and single-mindedly tried to close the curtain that Marx cracked open — and in so doing so lost sight of their fundamental scientific integrity — that they fell victim to the first guy who offered a plausible reason to believe what was behind the curtain was unimportant.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. So I say this to the capitalist ruling class and their upper-middle-class apologists: you're in charge; you run the world. Fix the recession. Fix global warming. Fix the political process. Fix the press. Start showing real improvement in the quality of life for the billions of people who do the work. If you can't fix these problems, if they're beyond your capabilities, then stand aside and let someone else try.

I'm not holding my breath for either alternative. A six-month glitch is one thing, but everything's been going downhill for more than three years, and the capitalist ruling class is losing credibility fast. And of course no ruling class ever has simply stood aside when their characteristic virtues no longer proved adequate to the needs of the times.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The shock troops of the counter-revolution

If and when we do have a communist revolution, Mikeb30200 seems to have identified one source for the shock troops of the counter-revolution. Mikeb quotes Mike Vanderboegh saying,
Okay. . . If you try to take our firearms we will kill you. ...

Our God-given, natural and inalienable rights are not subject to modification by law or negotiation. ... We will fight, even though it means our deaths. This is an alien concept to most collectivists but it is nonetheless true. Pass another law -- any law -- that further restricts our free access to arms and you'll have a civil war on your hands in short order.
Bravado? Probably. Fringe extremism? Almost certainly. But can this sort of violent sentiment be harnessed by the right sort of leadership? Almost certainly.

I have conflicted feelings about this guy. I'm a philosopher: we don't (with the possible exception of George Orwell) tend to find ourselves on the front line of any cause, and none of us, not even Orwell, have the kind of fanatical intensity that Vanderboegh displays. On the other hand you don't have any kind of revolution — good or bad — without stirring up comparable feelings and passions. Yes, it's all well and good to sit in one's ivory tower and wring one's hands about irrational passions. (Vanderboegh is apparently willing to die to protect his right to... what? His right to die to protect his rights?) But to renounce these violent passions is to fully support the status quo.

It's hard to control these passions once aroused, without repression as egregious and objectionable as what the revolution was started to cure. Should we simply, contra Ben Franklin's lament, "despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest"?

Sex at Dawn

The Infamous Brad has an interesting review and summary of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. The book investigates the sexuality and mating behavior of human beings from the disciplines of primatology, history and anthropology and biology. According to Brad, the authors collect exhaustive data to conclude that monogamy is entirely an due to agricultural society where inheritance and male ownership of property dominate the economic relations. If Brad is as good a reviewer as it appears (and he appears to be very good indeed), the authors have made a rock-solid case against monogamy being in any sense "natural".

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (Abraham Lincoln edition)

the stupid! it burns! In National Atheists Day R. K. Bentley chides atheists for being "brazen and outrageous liars" on the basis of this image:
Atheism: good enough for these idiots
Generally, though, you might want to do just a little, you know, research before you accuse people of being "brazen and outrageous liars." First, this image was created by one person, one unknown person, and its validity is controversial among atheists. A couple minutes with Google reveals that both PZ Myers and John Wilkins find fault with the image... and they did so three years ago. Isn't this sort of thing exactly what Christians criticize when atheists point to the moronic utterances of "fringe" fundamentalists? (Of course, atheists have a different point to make: We're not saying that because one Christian says something stupid, all Christians are therefore stupid. We simply observe that wow! there are a lot of really stupid Christians out there.)

The image might not be accurate (as Wilkins notes, the definition of atheism is a matter of controversy, especially as applied to uncertain cases), but the charge of a "brazen and outrageous" lie requires clear and unequivocal evidence that the assertion is so egregiously false that we can conclude only gross negligence or an intent to deceive. Bentley offers two pieces of evidence to support this charge.

First, Bentley offers Lincoln's call to prayer during the Civil War:
It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, and to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in Holy Scripture, and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
That seems like pretty hard-core Christianity. If Bentley's evidence stands, the image would indeed be almost as "brazen and outrageous" as naming the Pope as a prominent atheist.

However, a few minutes on Google and Wikipedia reveals some interesting facts. According to Wikipedia, Lincoln's religious beliefs were uncertain and largely private. He was not, as was Hume, unequivocally an atheist, but neither was he so unequivocally a Christian as the quotation would suggest. So where does the quotation come from? According to Judith Prince, the proclamation "was written by William H. Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, a very religious man who on more than one occasion talked Lincoln into giving religious proclamations that he had written for the President." Referring to a similar proclamation written by Seward, Prince quotes Lincoln as saying, "Oh, that is some of Seward's nonsense, and it pleases the fools." This speech cannot be evidence of anything other than that Lincoln was a politician, a profession whose members are not generally known for absolute sincerity in the public expression of their private beliefs. Bentley cannot plead ignorance; five minutes on Goggle and Wikipedia found the facts. It's not enough, I suppose, for Bentley to correctly conclude that Lincoln's religious beliefs are too obscure for us to unambiguously call him an atheist; Bentley has to stretch the truth even farther than does the image to make the charge of a "brazen and outrageous" lie.

Bentley at least quotes Franklin accurately (if incompletely); his characterization of Franklin's speech during the Constitutional Convention as a call to prayer is erroneous, but it is not a substantial error. But his quotation is incomplete and works, I think, against Christianity overall. The full quotation is:
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest. [emphasis added]
Franklin still fits if someone takes a broad view of atheism as the rejection of superstition and the confidence in human reason and wisdom. A broad view, even an over-broad and naive view, hardly rises to the level of "brazen and outrageous" lie.

Bentley goes on to to characterize the image as an appeal to authority: "It's a logical fallacy that attempts to say something like, 'This brilliant person believes this so therefore this is true.'" But Bentley is flat out putting words into the image creator's mouth. The image does not supply any major premise; it asserts only the minor premise, that some brilliant people had a particular view. The image would constitute a fallacy if and only if there were no major premise at all from which we could draw a sound conclusion. But of course there is such a major premise: if a brilliant person believes something, that belief is worthy of investigation, it is not patently and obviously false. So the charge of fallacy is unwarranted, and the charge of a specific fallacy can be supported only by attributing words to the image's creator that the creator did not actually say. Putting words in someone's mouth is, in technical, philosophical jargon, a brazen and outrageous lie.

We cannot draw any conclusions from this particular post other than its author is grossly incompetent at research and commits fallacies and errors far in excess of the image he criticizes; indeed we can conclude that he himself really is a "brazen and outrageous liar. But, as I have documented in this series as well as many other post, this kind of casual disregard for ordinary standards of scholarship and intellectual integrity — even the looser standards applicable to blogs and message boards — is endemic among advocates of Christianity. At some point we are entitled to connect the dots and conclude the intellectual bankruptcy of religion and belief in god.