Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (yet another straw man edition)

the stupid! it burns! Common Problems with the Atheists

According to this author, atheists regularly make the claim that...

Everyone would be happier if we got rid of religion. ...

Religion is bad for the world because of the Crusades and the Inquisition. It is of no significance that Communism has links to atheism. Hitler was a Christian. ...

Theists came up with this idea of life being meaningless [without God] because they needed reasons to justify God’s existence. ...

Anyone can be a smiling, ardent atheist. You can be one of the best and the brightest. ...

I am an atheist and I am happy. Therefore, atheism is nothing to be upset about. ...

There is a natural explanation for everything ...

Believing in heaven diminishes the importance of this life, and of everything ...

Science has shown that the supernatural, God, etc. is superstition ...

It’s nobler to be good without God, because this shows you don’t need reward or punishment systems. ...

Yada yada yada... the list of straw men goes on.

The author does attribute some correct positions to atheists, but read the fatuous responses:

Good people doing bad things? That takes religion. [true dat]

Bad people doing good things is just as likely to take religion, and this scenario is more common in the civilized world.

American is not a Christian Nation. [quite true]
The fact that you even take the time out to argue about this shows tremendous bias and irrationality. Discussions about America are totally out of proportion with the topic at hand. Only in the United States do the arguments over God’s existence include regular debates about the intentions of the people who founded the country in which the debate is taking place.

Argument is so easy when you can just make up your opponents' positions.

Update, 28 May 2011: Apparently, the author does not understand the terms "citation", "straw man" or any basic concepts of intellectual integrity.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (bald is a hair color edition)

the stupid! it burns! Has Atheism Become a Religion?

Yes, it's the Huffington Post, so you know it's going to be stupid.

Military personnel who identify themselves as "Atheists" have requested chaplains to tend to their spiritual needs. ...

Those identifying themselves specifically as "Atheist" composed the 18th largest group of 43 possible categories of "self-described religious identification." ...

Atheists routinely, strategically, and often vociferously position what is often described as their "secular-humanist" views against religious traditions. ...

Consider all the comments made by self-identified Atheists on articles published in the Religion section of the Huffington Post. ... This assertive, us-against-them tone (in this case, against established religion) is characteristic of new religions. ...

Taken together, these four elements suggest that Atheists regularly demonstrate attributes -- desire for spiritual sustenance, the importance of self-identification, offering their worldview as an alternative to other religious systems, and an assertive if not competitive style of engagement with other religious points of view -- usually exhibited by religious folk of all persuasions.

I see it not infrequently: the worst way theists can think of to insult atheists is to call atheism a religion.

(via Tufts Freethought Society, who delivers the smackdown)

5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor

5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor:

Being poor is like a game of poker where if you lose, the other players get to fuck you. And if you win, the dealer fucks you.
  1. You Get Charged for Using Your Own Money
  2. There is an Industry That Profits by Keeping You Poor
  3. No Credit Can be Just as Damaging as Bad Credit
  4. Your Next Expensive Disaster is Always Around the Corner
  5. You're Always in Survival Mode

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (free-rider edition)

the stupid! it burns! Get Real: Where American atheists go wrong
Where atheists go wrong is by not standing for anything – not doing anything or contributing anything of value to society. They tell us what they don’t believe and what they think we shouldn’t do in pursuing our beliefs, but what good have they done? Where is their charity? Their service to humankind? Their love?

Atheists should let go of their fixation on attacking people of faith and do things that give meaning to their own lives. They should stop distorting the facts about world history and current events merely to justify their baseless, in many cases Christ phobic, fears about what others believe.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A dirty little girl, her head hanging in shame

A dirty little girl, her head hanging in shame

Catholic childhood religious indoctrination is chillingly effective. Its most powerful weapons are guilt and the fear of a literal hell. When a child is taught that the simple act of doubting or questioning any of the Church’s teachings is a sin, and that even the tiniest of sins can result in an eternity spent in a literal hell, they quickly learn to suppress those doubts and to feel intense shame, guilt, and fear when they fail to do so.

Think for a second about how cruel that is. To ensure that the Catholic mind virus is passed down through the generations, the Church is willing to crush children’s curiosity and to stifle or completely destroy their ability to think critically.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Comings and goings

I lose my internet for a few days, and what happens? A metric assload of new comments. Sorry for not responding or replying to comments, but I'm tres busy moving.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (inner growth edition)

the stupid! it burns! The Atheist’s Mistake
It's Deepak Chopra; it has to be stupid. Let's have a look...
By making belief in God their enemy, atheists deprive themselves of what spirituality is really about: a process of inner growth.
Oh yeah, Chopra does not disappoint!

The Stupid! It Burns! (covenantal edition)

the stupid! it burns! An Informal Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics: Part 42 – Atheism
The atheist will mockingly demand evidence for the existence of God all the while pretending as though she is neutral with respect to any evidence that is set forth. The Christian cannot allow the atheist to get away with this. Rather, it must be pointed out to the atheist that she carries the burden of proof. She is making the bold and arrogant claim that God does not exist, and should justify her universal negative. This is even more true with respect to the evidence for the existence of God, which she denies exists in any corner of the universe.

Of course, the atheist will scoff and explain to you, you ignorant Christian apologist, that atheism is not the belief or claim that God does not exist, but merely a lack of belief in God. She recognizes the impossible task of proving the universal negative regarding God and the evidence for God and is attempting to lessen the load on herself while increasing it for you. Yet, a hard atheistic stance toward the God of the Bible is implicit in any soft atheism, for the Bible claims that the Christian God is known by every person. If Christianity is true, then the atheist believes in God. The atheist should not assume from the outset that Christianity is false if she does not want to beg the question or carry a burden of proof.

We must ask what the atheist has as an argument against the existence of God, and if anything is produced, show that these arguments already assume that God exists. We must ask what guarantee the atheist has that there is not a shred of evidence in the universe for the existence of God.

Lots more stupid in the original article.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Stupid! It Burns! (vividly convincing edition)

the stupid! it burns! Turning the Tables on Atheists (Part 2)
Perhaps the most vividly convincing evidence of what happens to a society when atheist principles are put into practice on a grand scale are the repressive, totalitarian, genocidal horrors wrought by atheists during the 20th century. Avowed atheists such as Stalin and Mao systematically imposed atheist principles as state policy, and in the processes liquidated more than 100 million men, women and children. ...

Obviously, we Christians have a lot of work to do to help atheists see that even if individual Catholics are [also] guilty of such things, the question of whether God does or does not exist is in no way predicated upon the behavior of those who believe he exists.

There's some stupid in part 1 as well, but nothing nearly as dramatic.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back in the U.S.S.R.

A while ago I got a DMCA takedown notice for my post The Stupid! It Burns! (nit-picking edition). I filed a counter-claim asserting that the post complies with fair use restrictions and is not in violation of copyright laws. Apparently the anonymous complainant has decided not to file an actual court claim, and the post has been restored.

I will absolutely not tolerate harassment. Keep in mind that my ex-wife (whom I'm good friends with) is a law student, and she's hooked up with a lot of civil rights lawyers. Fuck with me at your peril.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Serious business

Stephanie Zvan points us to a few articles criticizing the Gnu Atheists. These articles, by Michael Ruse, Jacques Berlinerblau, and R. Joseph Hoffmann chide the Gnu Atheists for ignoring serious issues of serious philosophy. All right, that's a fair issue to raise. If we really are ignoring serious philosophy that has substantial implications on our position, it's absolutely necessary to call this serious philosophy to our attention.

Michael Ruse embeds a couple of paragraphs of argument in a dozen paragraphs consisting of bitching and moaning that no one likes him, and gratuitous insults directed at the New Atheists:
won’t make any effort to think seriously about why they hold their positions about the conflict between science and religion. ... I don’t think philosophy is something to be ignored or done after a day’s work in the lab over a few beers in the faculty club.

He finally does mention an argument:
I think if you want to show that science and religion are inherently in contradiction, then you should show why people like Kuhn (and indeed Foucault) are wrong about the nature of science. That I think is morally wrong, namely taking positions with major political and social implications, without doing your serious homework. Just mentioning Galileo’s troubles with the Church or Thomas Henry Huxley’s debate with the Bishop of Oxford is no true substitute for hard thinking.
Strong words indeed. But what, precisely, do Kuhn and Foucault say? In what specific way must we prove them wrong? Ruse at least mentions Kuhn's
insistence that scientific thinking is deeply and necessarily metaphorical (something he thought was equivalent to his claims about paradigms). What Kuhn pointed out is that while metaphorical thinking is very powerful, in both explanatory and heuristic senses, it succeeds in major part by ignoring certain questions, ruling them off limits.
Ruse concludes that
If I say my love is a red, red rose, I am saying nothing about her mathematical abilities, and if I say (as today’s scientists do say) that the world is a whacking big machine, I am saying nothing about such questions as why there is something rather than nothing, why morality, or (and this is more controversial) why computers made of meat (aka brains) produce sentience.

I think science leaves these questions open, and if religion wants to try to answer them, it is perfectly legitimate for it to do so. It doesn’t mean that we have to accept the answers of the religious, and it doesn’t mean that religion cannot be criticized—I have said that for me personally the problem of evil is beyond solution—but I don’t think it can be criticized by science.

That's it. That's the "serious" philosophy. Good grief.

First, why must we prove Kuhn wrong? Suppose Kuhn is exactly correct: science really is deeply and necessarily metaphorical. and to answer some questions we must ignore others. Why must we believe, however, that science deeply and necessarily must ignore questions about morality or why "computers made of meat ... produce sentience"? But perhaps Ruse is correct, perhaps science really does exclude such questions; what does he mean that it is "legitimate" for religion to answer these questions? Why does he believe (or, without citations expect us to believe) that the New Atheists try to criticize the Problem of Evil by science?

The Problem of Evil is an especially weird point because it has been so thoroughly demolished by philosophers amateur and professional (Epicurus fundamentally rebutted it twenty-five centuries ago) that it really doesn't need to be taken very seriously by anyone today. The religious "defenses" against the Problem of Evil save God by denying morality: God is sovereign, and if it pleases Him to be indifferent to or actively inflict suffering, who are we to object? Alternatively, God is mysterious, we just don't know what good or evil is, so we have no way of judging God's actions. These are excuses, not defenses.

Of course, real scientific facts do play a part in moral discourse. People justify slavery and racism by asserting that black people are objectively, scientifically inferior to white people. People justify misogyny and the oppression of women by asserting that women are objectively inferior to men. People justify homophobia by asserting that gay people are objectively inferior to straights. People justify laissez faire capitalism by asserting that poor people are objectively inferior to rich people.

These questions are dead center in the domain of science. And, of course, religious clergy justify their special privilege and authority to make moral pronouncements on a purely scientific basis: they know what God has to say about blacks, women, gays, politics, war, fiscal policy, and the operating hours of liquor stores. If they're claiming an epistemic basis for their moral beliefs, why should we not compare these claims to those of science, the best epistemic basis we know?

I dunno. Maybe there's an actual case underneath Ruse's complaints. But he doesn't actually make his case. The sine qua non of serious philosophy is that you have to make your case every time. You can't just point to Kuhn (or Foucault) and say, "Rebut that!" Serious philosophy is hard work; if Ruse doesn't want to do the hard work himself, he has no business making vague, uncited (and so completely inaccurate as to raise suspicion of mendacity; see any number of atheist philosophers, e.g. Michael Martin, Antony Flew, Stephen Law, Russell Blackford) accusations that the New Atheists are avoiding this hard work.

Jacques Berlinerblau doesn't start off any better than Ruse, beginning by poisoning the well with an obvious straw man (again uncited):
Unless you as an atheist are willing to disparage all religious people, describe them all as imbeciles and creeps, mock every text and thinker they have ever produced, then you must be some sort of deluded, self-hating, sellout, subverting the rise of the Mighty Atheist Political Juggernaut (about which more anon).
Good grief. But he promises an argument:
So permit me to rehearse my concerns about that movement—concerns that lead me to conclude that Professor Ruse is on to something.
(We will assume he's speaking metaphorically; his own concerns are, by themselves, hardly probative of anything.)

In fact, atheism is still trying to dig out from the self-inflicted damage caused by its mid-century embrace of American communism. That was followed by Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s carnivalesque and tragic reign of error. New Atheism is just the latest bad idea to grab the steering wheel
Huh. Not really an argument. All right, not an argument at all. It's a free country, though, and Jacques is entitled to his opinion. Let's push on.

New Atheism is the least intellectually rigorous form of atheism out there, much in the way Tea Party platforms are like the Non-Thinking Man’s form of libertarianism or anti-federalism.
Ah, the neutral, unbiased thesis, the sine qua non of intellectual rigor. Refreshing! </sarcasm> Evidence of this lack of intellectual rigor:
In fact, what is fascinating about the New Atheists is their almost complete lack of interest in the history and philosophical development of atheism. ...

The least curious of them all is Christopher Hitchens.
Wait, the least curious? If Jacques wants to draw a generalization, shouldn't he be talking about the most curious? Oh wait, he's got that "intellectual rigor" thing going for him.

Must we, to understand biology with "intellectual rigor", understand the complete history of the development of biology, even before Pasteur and Darwin? Perhaps we must, but again, if he's going to be intellectually rigorous, perhaps Jacques might actually make the case that the history of atheism is so critically important.

But the real disaster set in when the New Atheists started speaking in the name of secularism. This* created an equation between anti-theism and secularism which is as ungrounded as it is catastrophic.
*When I was a junior in high school, my English teacher would have students broken on the wheel for using an unqualified "this". What my college Freshman Composition professor would do cannot be spoken of in civilized society.

Now Jacques does not claim that New Atheists are themselves asserting an equation between anti-theism and secularism. Merely that self-identified atheists are "speaking in the name of secularism" (whatever the fuck that means) creates this equation. Why atheists? Do Christians "speaking in the name of secularism" create an equation between Christianity and secularism? Oh, wait... "The roots of the political ideology of secularism, as any graduate student in the field can tell you, are profoundly and unambiguously Christian." Ah. So secularism is Christianity. We must be Christians... or at least submissive to Christians, to be secular. "Of course, if you read some of the scholarly works cited above you will learn that atheism too is a product of religious thought." No! Whoda thunk it!?

Unbelievable Amounts of White Dudes
Yeah, it's an issue. There are lots of complicated underlying causes, though. Atheists are not, like the Tea Party, chock full o' explicitly racist and sexist assholes. Whatever racism and sexism exists in the New Atheist movement is pretty soft. The softness is not an excuse, but it really looks like Jacques (presumably an academic, and academia has its own problems with racism and sexism) is reaching here.

Culture of Incivility
Incivility. Yeah, about that, Jacques:
... predictable snark of New Atheist trolls ... Mighty Atheist Political Juggernaut ... the New Atheists are a disaster and a danger ... Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s carnivalesque and tragic reign of error ... New Atheism is the least intellectually rigorous form of atheism out there, much in the way Tea Party platforms are like the Non-Thinking Man’s form of libertarianism or anti-federalism ... inexplicably unserious ... crude hyper-empiricism, hyper-materialism, and an undiscriminating anti-theism ... least curious ... [New Atheists'] dogma forces them at every turn to discredit anything produced within religious systems of thought ... I fear this may be too much for the New Atheists to digest in one sitting ... a smackdown of Islam that could just as well come from the Tea Party Training Manual ... know-nothing approach ...
I'm sorry, were you saying something about incivility?

The Whole Tolerance Thing
See above.

Political Accomplishments
Indeed. Being elected to office is always strong evidence of intellectual rigor. As Jacques himself mentions, the "Tea Party ... get themselves elected to office." Impressive evidence of intellectual rigor.

Maybe we'll get to an actual argument...
That’s enough for now.
Perhaps not.

R Joseph Hoffman is just too depressing to bother to critique. Yes, a lot of atheists like low humor. A lot of religious people like low humor too, and there's a lot burning stupidity in religion as well. A whole post calling people "jerks" and "fuckwits" seems pretty jerky to me. Not that I have any objection to being a "jerk" (if that means calling stupid people stupid), but if you're criticizing people for being jerks, you might want to avoid the behavior yourself.

The dishonest minority

Bruce Schneier is writing a book (which I will buy as soon as its available):
All complex systems contain parasites. In any system of cooperative behavior, an uncooperative strategy will be effective -- and the system will tolerate the uncooperatives -- as long as they're not too numerous or too effective. Thus, as a species evolves cooperative behavior, it also evolves a dishonest minority that takes advantage of the honest majority. If individuals within a species have the ability to switch strategies, the dishonest minority will never be reduced to zero. As a result, the species simultaneously evolves two things: 1) security systems to protect itself from this dishonest minority, and 2) deception systems to successfully be parasitic.

Humans evolved along this path. ...

The term "dishonest minority" is not a moral judgment; it simply describes the minority who does not follow [some?] societal norm[s]. Since many societal norms are in fact immoral, sometimes the dishonest minority serves as a catalyst for social change. Societies without a reservoir of people who don't follow the rules lack an important mechanism for societal evolution. Vibrant societies need a dishonest minority; if society makes its dishonest minority too small, it stifles dissent as well as common crime.
I am a strong proponent of applying systems theory, meta-systems theory and evolution to politics and economics. I very much admire Schneier, an expert in security of every sort.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The problem with Christians

Sansego goes on a bit about The Problem with Atheists. After some tangential introductory material, he gets down to the meat of the issue.
One thing I've noticed about atheists is that when they argue against religion, they make their arguments against the most fanatical, conservative religion, as though fundamentalist versions of the religion speaks for all people who are spiritual.
This is a classic non sequitur. We make our arguments against the most fanatical, conservative religion because that's the sort of religion that's bad. Sansego might as well complain that M.A.D.D. makes their argument against only drunk drivers, as though all drivers were drunk.
I don't like fundamentalism any more than atheists do. But I resent that atheists put all spiritually-minded people in the same box. To me, it only proves that atheists are every bit as narrow-minded as a fundamentalist Christian is.
This is a flat-out lie. Atheists do not put all spiritually-minded people in the same box, at least not the exact same box. There's probably some Z-list blogger out there who claims an exact equivalence, but you can't find any prominent (e.g. Dawkins) or semi-prominent (e.g. Myers, Christina, Mehta) atheist thinker who claims an exact equivalence.

Of course, most atheists do draw similarities between rabid fundies and somewhat calmer "spiritual" people such as Sansego. But drawing similarities does not assert equivalence, and non-equivalence does not render similarities prima facie false. Even I myself have some similarities with rabid fundies: we both breathe air, drink water, eat food, and in due course void the dross. If Sansego wishes to address the similarities that atheists argue, perhaps he can, you know, actually address the similarities instead of taking blind umbrage. Ironically, Sansego goes on to demonstrate two of the most important similarities that "spiritual" people like himself actually do share with rabid fundies: unscientific thinking and a sense of divine privilege.

Sansego starts off with the old chestnut. He finds atheists:
to be a bit too smug in their arrogant assurances that the world is as they say it is: strictly logical, where everything can be proved or disproved by science. This view closes the door on phenomena that simply cannot be explained or verified by science.
This statement is egregiously stupid on a number of counts. First, it's a somewhat hasty generalization. Atheists are people who do not believe in any gods, for whatever reason. That's all. Atheism does not logically entail a commitment to any particular form of reasoning. Second, why is it any more "smug" for atheists to believe they are speaking the truth than for Sansego himself? This is pure special pleading. Theists and "spiritual" people can be sure they know how the world works, but we atheists must always be deferential; we are permitted only to admit ignorance.

Third, no one* says that that everything can be proved or disproved by science. There are a lot of things we do not know scientifically; that's why we still have working scientists. And, since Popper, philosophers of science readily admit to the utility of "metaphysical" statements, statements that themselves cannot be proven because (among other things) they specify how things can be proven. I suspect too that Sansego has an equivocal view of "science". In its narrowest sense — people in lab coats doing rigorously controlled experiments — science is a set of techniques only for answering certain kinds of questions. There are questions that have obvious answers; they don't need the rigor of the laboratory. There are other questions we cannot apply laboratory rigor to for ethical or practical reasons: it's often impossible to do full controlled experiments in economics and sociology, for example, and it's often unethical to do controlled experiments in psychology. These limitations are not philosophically problematic: science in its broadest sense just means making falsifiable hypotheses, testing them against the evidence by whatever means we can devise, and rejecting what doesn't fit.

*At least no one reasonably prominent; hit Google hard enough and you can find some idiot saying just about anything; see Rule 34.

Ironically, after deprecating science, Sansego makes a quintessentially scientific argument (at least in form) for some sort of spiritual power.
When having a discussion with atheists, I always like to ask, "Haven't you ever had a coincidence so bizarre and unlikely that there was no logical explanation for it?" But atheists don't want to go there, so they give pat answers that in a random universe, the statistical probability means that eventually, such an event will happen. That's not good enough for me. In my short life on earth, I have seen too many strange coincidences happen as well as the amazing experience of seeing my long-held dreams or desires come into fruition even better than I had imagined it. If it only happened once, I can give an atheist the answer that it was a fluke. But when it happens time and again, it indicates that there has to be something more to it than that.
Coincidences are something we can observe: they are, really, correlations. And while not every correlation has a causal explanation, every cause creates a correlation. Correlation is the fundamental falsifiable prediction of every causal explanation. If you hypothesize some cause and effect relationship, you must see a resulting correlation unlikely by chance alone; if you do not see one, your theory is wrong in some way: either the causal explanation is itself wrong, or your theory is missing other causal relationships. (Hence when we're trying to detect subtle causal relationships or causal relationships in a complex system, we use sophisticated techniques, such as careful controls, to isolate the specific cause.) Sansego is trying to have his cake and eat it too: creating a purely scientific argument for his beliefs — and thereby leveraging the rhetorical authority of science — but deprecating science so that when the rest of scientific epistemology contradicts his conclusions, he can simply dismiss the criticism.

And, of course, while his argument is scientific in form, it is woefully inadequate in substance. First of all, all correlations "unlikely"; if they were likely, we would not reject the null hypothesis. The unlikeliness of a correlation is evidence for a logical explanation, not evidence against one. Every time I drop an object, it "bizarrely" and "improbably" falls towards the ground, instead of moving in a random direction. That's evidence for a causal explanation, i.e. gravity. Merely the existence of bizarre and unlikely coincidences and correlations does not by itself disprove atheism or a scientific orientation. Science says there should be bizarre and unlikely coincidences: it is precisely those coincidences we must construct logical explanations for.

But we have to make sure that coincidences really are bizarre and unlikely. There are very few people (and perhaps none at all) who have reliable intuitions about probability. There's a lot of evidence that the human brain is just not built to have good probability intuition. Professional statisticians know that you have to be extremely careful to consciously and intentionally set up the problem and actually perform the calculations to draw any conclusions. There are a lot of professions where experience means you can "guess" accurately, but statistics is not one of them. Indeed, if you ask a (good) professional statistician an offhand question about probability*, her first response should be, "I don't know. I'd have to set up the problem and do the math." I am at least a semi-professional statistician, so if Sansego were to ask me if I myself had ever had a "bizarre or unlikely coincidence," I would have to answer that I don't know; I'd have to spend a lot of time doing the math just to determine if some coincidence really were unlikely.

*Unless it's exactly identical to a specific "toy" problem that's already been solved.

What "bizarre and unlikely" coincidence does Sansego offer as evidence?
I mentioned the strange number of coincidences involved with my White House internship experience. Particularly, when I sent out my resume and application materials to a dozen places to intern, I was accepted by the Democratic Party, Senator Dianne Feinstein's office, and the White House. There was no question that I would accept the White House internship. However, even as I did, my heart was torn because I wanted to experience BOTH the White House and the Senate. ...

I didn't know where I would be assigned in the White House complex until orientation day. My dream was the Office of the Vice President. ... when I received my intern notebook at orientation, the sticker with my name revealed that I was assigned to the Office of the Vice President! ... I learned that I was assigned to Gore's office in the U.S. Capitol building. At first, I was disappointed. I was the furthest White House intern from the White House complex. So much for my dream of working in the West Wing! ... [but later I] remember[ed] my torn emotion regarding wanting to experience both the White House internship and a Senate internship. Somehow, someway, the universe gave me BOTH! ...

Of course, the atheists were dismissive of my experience. No surprise.
Well, yeah, I'm dismissive. According to Sansego, there were 188 White House interns, 15 of which were assigned to the Vice President. He doesn't say how many were assigned to the Vice President's office in the Capitol (Sansego did not appear to know that Constitution assigns the Vice President to preside over the Senate), but even if we assume there was only one opening in the Capitol, then we have a 1 in 188 chance. 1 in 188 is not "bizarre"; even if there were only one opportunity per day, everyone makes a 1 in 188 chance about twice a year, just by chance. We also do not know if Sansego mentioned that he would like to work for the Vice President. If so, it might be the case that those assigning positions to the interns were simply accommodating. In which case, the probability goes (assuming one slot in the Capitol) to 1 in 15, which happens to everyone twice a month by pure chance.

So Sansego worked hard to build an impressive resume, joined the Navy, applied for a White House internship as a veteran, achieved his goal, and lucked into his preferred assignment. What conclusion does he draw?
This experience taught me what I read about a few years later in my study of the Universal Law of Attraction. Whenever you passionately desire something, don't obsess with the "how." Let the universe decide how best to deliver your desires. Just focus on what you want to experience in your life and allow the universe to make it happen.
Yeah, right.

The "Law of Attraction" is, of course, completely unfalsifiable. Since there's no way to directly measure how much someone "passionately desires". Whatever someone achieves is by definition what they passionately desired; if they don't achieve something, then we can conclude only that they didn't desire it passionately enough. There is no observable outcome that can ever falsify the Law of Attraction.

(Sansego also includes the stupidest kind of argument from ignorance: You can't explain this even though I'm not giving you all the facts, therefore God exists. But there's no need to paint the lily.)

The Law of Attraction is not only tautological and meaningless, it's also morally reprehensible. Believing the Law of Attraction entails believing that everything that happens to everyone is not only what they "deserve", but what they passionately desire. Of course Sansego has as much disdain for logic as he does for science, probability or common sense; I suspect he would explicitly disclaim this interpretation, regardless of how ordinary logic compels this interpretation. But it's still true: since we can infer what people passionately desire from what happens to them, we must conclude that every raped and murdered child passionately desired to be raped and murdered. Every person dying from American bombs in Iraq passionately desired to be bombed. Every person dying in pain from cancer passionately desired to die in pain.

Fundamentally, the Law of Attraction does the same job as any religious belief: to metaphysically justify the privilege of the believer. The believer is privileged not because he has the power to exploit others, but because God, or "The Universe" has singled him out because of his stellar qualities; if the "The Universe" has singled others out for suffering and misery, well, that's how things should be.

That's the fundamental similarity that atheists draw between rabid fundies and less vicious, "spiritual" people such as Sansego. The justification is the same; the only difference is what ends the believer uses that justification. I'm please, I suppose, that Sansego does not himself want to actively make people suffer, but his epistemic methodology cannot work against anyone who claims "The Universe" does compels or permits him to make people suffer.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Considerations For & Against Capitalism

James Gray offers some Considerations For & Against Capitalism:
Capitalism is a type of economic system that emphasizes the importance public property including at least some private ownership of the “means of production” (resources and machines). ...

These are arguments for capitalism that don’t sufficiently prove that capitalism is morally justified once and for all, but they are considerations in favor of capitalism [:] ... (1) The natural right to property and (2) the invisible hand. ...
The author discusses four challenges to capitalism:
Capitalism leads to severe economic inequality. ... Capitalism is based on a false conception of human nature. ... Three problems with competition. ... Capitalism leads to exploitation and alienation.
A pretty good analysis from a fairly neutral perspective.