Friday, February 22, 2013

Charles Darwin says

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

-- Charles Darwin

Monday, February 18, 2013

Oh dear.

Jesus, why did you let those kids at Sandy Hook die?

"A book extending sympathy, hope, comfort, and faith during this terrible tragedy of that unthinkable crime against those children during Christmas time. Rekindling faith and hope in God. Rembering the precious souls who died and their families. Also sending comfort to those children who are still alive who witnessed those terrible sights that they will never forget. Julia Audrina Carrington who is a born again Christian has touched the lives of thousands of souls across the world. She has shared the message of hope with orphans and the less fortunate. She is the founder of the international mission called Mission Friends for Christ which reaches out to needy and hurting women and children. She is the author of more than three hundred Christian books and Christian novels. See many of her books at www.amazon.com by typing her name Julia Carrington in the search box on www.amazon.com. Her books make wonderful gifts for all occasions. It is Julia's desire to glorify God in all things."

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Equal marriages

Here in the UK we’ve passed a bill to legalise gay marriage by a huge majority.  It’s expected that the first gay marriages will happen within a year.  This is excellent news: I can’t think of a single good reason why anyone would object to homosexuals marrying each other. 

And neither can anyone else. Oh, they can think of plenty of reasons, just no good ones. Here are some of the objections MPs made to the bill yesterday. There isn’t a good reason among them.
Who are we, this Government, or this country, to redefine the term marriage that has meant one man and one woman across cultures, across ages, across geographical barriers since before state and religion themselves?
-- TIM LOUGHTON, TORY FORMER CHILDREN'S MINISTER
Who are you to decide we can’t define marriage however we like? What makes you the arbiter of definitions? And one man one woman everywhere throughout history?  Really? There’ve been no examples of polygamous marriage? Or of polyandrous marriage? Appeal to tradition is never a good argument, particularly when it picks such obvious cherries.
The Government cannot possibly guarantee protection for churches or individuals with a traditional view because it cannot predict or control what happens in the courts.
-- JIM DOBBIN, LABOUR MP FOR HEYWOOD AND MIDDLETON
Churches need protection do they?  They seem to do quite a good job of protecting themselves. And individuals: what individuals are being harmed?  Some will certainly claim that public officials who are forced to do their job by marrying gay couples are being harmed. This is, of course, nonsense: it’s unthinkable that the same people could refuse to marry mixed race couples, for example. Some will claim that gay marriage offends them personally, but offence itself is not harm.  Nothing whatever will change in those people’s lives, while the lives of homosexuals who want to get married will be considerably improved. No harm done to anyone, as far as I can see.

Either way, the only ‘protection’ churches or individuals could possibly need is protection of their perceived right to discriminate.
It is not possible to redefine marriage. Marriage is the union between a man and a woman, has been historically, remains so. It is Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian almost, for any Government of any political persuasion to seek to come along and try to re-write the lexicon. It will not do.
-- SIR ROGER GALE, TORY MP FOR NORTH THANET
It turns out that it is possible to redefine marriage. You just go right ahead and do it. A thing is not impossible just because you personally don’t want it to happen.

Alice in Wonderland? You’re really saying that the idea of homosexuals marrying is absurd, nonsensical, deliberately foolish? It’s a thing that can’t be considered rationally because the very idea is deliberately dream-like and ridiculous?

And Orwellian? First, you’re comparing 1984 to Alice in Wonderland?  Really? And second, no lexicon is being re-defined. People’s rights are being re-defined. For the better, because it means more people get more of them.

But let’s not worry about rights, eh? Let’s worry about dictionary definitions because…..well, because there are no good arguments.

Which brings me to:
We should be in the business of protecting cherished institutions and our cultural heritage otherwise what, I ask, is a Conservative Party for? Indeed we are alienating people who have voted for us for all their lives, leaving them with no one to vote for.
-- EDWARD LEIGH, TORY MP FOR GAINSBOROUGH
What a horror show. Protecting organisations is more important than protecting people. Now where have I heard that before? If people really have nobody to vote for then so much for the political parties.

Advocating a moral platform solely to win votes or otherwise protect an organisation is itself pretty clearly about the most immoral practice that could ever be carried out.
What of further redefinitions? Will this be the last redefinition of marriage? I understand in the Netherlands and Brazil three way relationships are being legally recognised.’
-- ANDREW SELOUS, TORY MP FOR SOUTH WEST BEDFORDSHIRE
It’s the thin end of the wedge!!!! If you promote equality, the next thing you know cats will be marrying dogs!!! Any form of marriage I find icky is automatically wrong and everyone must agree!!!  If they don’t agree, then other stuff I don’t like might happen!!!!

Other arguments from MPs:
  1. We didn’t say we’d do it, therefore it’s automatically wrong if we do
  2. It has made churches sad and that cannot be allowed
  3. It has made me, personally, sad and that cannot be allowed
  4. Despite the fact that I never asked them, every single one of my constituents is against the bill and…. that is……somehow relevant, although I can’t say why
  5. Democracy is supposed to be about doing stuff for the majority. It’s not about doing stuff for everyone, regardless of whether they voted for us.  It’s not about building a fair society where everyone has the opportunity to be heard, even if they don’t always get what they want.  It really is quite amazing that some of our MPs clearly don’t have the first idea of what democracy is
  6. We have more important things to worry about. Obviously, government can and should do only one thing at a time
  7. Allowing same-sex couples to marry somehow devalues heterosexual marriages, but I can’t and won’t say how or why.
This would all be very depressing if we hadn’t ended up with the right result anyway.

What is a little depressing is the way this is being reported. Nobody seems to be saying “awesome, we’ve achieved something really important here, we’ve grown as a country and taken a big step toward equality”.

Instead, they seem to be saying “the bill was passed, HOWEVER, lots of Tories voted against it.”  They are saying “CAMERON SAYS this is a step forward.”

The BBC’s flagship morning news show, Breakfast, has given the entire story no more than three sentences, focussing entirely on the Tory rebellion aspect. Whether you’re happy about the result or not, there’s no denying that it is a big story. Breakfast, at the drop of a hat, will dedicate several half an hour slots to pro- and anti-hat dropping experts throughout the morning. They will endlessly debate the morality and practicality of the effect of gravity on headgear. But they barely and grudgingly mention this world-changing result and only then in the context of the Prime Minister’s supposed failure.  Odd.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

How did skepticism ever survive without Richard Reed?

I try my best to call out people who call themselves skeptics but in fact fall for logical fallacies and poor reasoning (a classic example is the “skepchicks” who try and incorporate the dogmas of radical feminism into skepticism). To extend the military analogy, I see people like myself as the military police. We don’t fight on the front line, but we patrol the ranks looking for people who are trying to infiltrate skepticism with their non-skeptical ways. The more people like myself blog about the non-skeptics in the movement, the easier it is for people to see their wrongdoings.
Thanks, Richard. It’s good to know that you are the sole arbiter of what skepticism is and that you and your militia are protecting everyone from the wrong kind of skepticism by making ineffectual posts about people you don’t like.
Keep it up. If we ever actually do need an example of what skepticism isn’t, we won’t have to look far.

How I done became a skeptic and why skepticism applies beyond bigfoot

There are currently a few people out there saying I’m not a skeptic at all, of course, but pretending for the moment that I have skeptical qualifications, this is how it started.

Simple enough: I read a lot of pop science books when I was a kid. And I started to recognise that I didn’t know how to tell which claims were true. There were clues, of course. I’d already rejected religion and a lot of claims in books marketed as pop-sci look a lot like religion. Some of the books didn’t really seem to be saying anything at all, even those with ‘quantum’ in the title.

I desperately wanted to learn how the world works but didn’t know how to tell what’s true. I knew that some of  the things I thought were probably wrong, but I didn’t know how to tell which ones.

Don’t get me wrong. I read books like The Selfish Gene, which argued their position in compelling ways and I read other books that didn’t seem to have a premise or a conclusion and seemed to appeal to mystical thinking. But I still didn’t have any tools to systematically tell whether a thing was true or not. I knew just enough to doubt that I could tell what was real from what was not.

I didn’t discover that there were such things as skeptics until years later. There were people who had actually worked out proper ways to tell what was probably true. My first encounters with people like this was on usenet, which was a rewarding if often distressing experience. Later, I discovered James Randi, who codified what skepticism is and changed my life. 

Randi made me realise that the unease I was feeling about not being able decide what’s true was the proper way to feel. And he, his organisation and the network of people surrounding that organisation told me about the tools we can use to sort stuff into what might be true and what is probably false.

Randi taught me 20 years ago what people like PZ already knew and are trying to remind us of recently. Skepticism is a process. It’s a filter we can apply to absolutely everything. The entire point of skepticism is that nothing is exempt.

So you people who say I’m not a skeptic, examine the mote in your eye. Are you sure I’m the unskeptical one about things like feminism?