Blog Shorts: Reasonable Appeal to Authority

I intend this to be a short blurb about something that has been on my mind lately, with all of the discussions I have been having with evolution deniers and people who use quantum mechanics to justify their pseudo-scientific beliefs. My response to both types is pretty much always the same: unless you are an expert who is educated and involved in the discourse of that particular field, you almost always should default to the consensus opinion of those who are educated and involved in the discourse. This isn’t to say that laymen cannot know anything about fields of expertise, but that we should practice some amount of humility. If you are a layman and have an opinion about a field that seems counter to the consensus opinion of the scientists in it, that should serve to make you extra skeptical of the opinion that you have. Not to say that you are necessarily wrong about what you believe, but rather, that for every Galileo there are a million crackpots.

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Thoughts About Identity, With the Help of Superman Action Figures

Back when I first started watching Doctor Who, a British sci-fi television series, I immediately became struck by the fact that so many actors have played the central character–the Doctor. Not only did so many actors play that character, but they had vastly different personalities, outfits, looks, and even moralities. That seems to beg the question: in what way is the Doctor the same person through the series? The excellent book, Doctor Who and Philosophy, attempts to explore that question in the first section, but that answer they come up with I just don’t find satisfactory. Herein I will attempt to explain why, and what possible answer I have instead.

Without going through all the details laid out in the first section of that book, the conclusion that one of the authors seems to come to is that the Doctor is a single person through all his incarnations because he is a sort of “4-dimensional worm”. In other words, what keeps him the same person through all the different forms is that he has an unbroken path through his own space/time that is like a worm if you imagine it. So if you made a perfect copy of him, down the to the particles, you could not say that that was also the Doctor, because the copy does not share the extension through time, the history of the Doctor. I want to argue that this view may be of little use to us, with the help of Superman action figures.

Imagine that you have a Superman action figure which is made of plastic, and colored like you would expect Superman to be colored. You would call this a Superman action figure, right? Now let’s imagine that somehow I magically made a perfect copy of that Superman action figure and gave it to you. Wouldn’t that be just another Superman action figure? It seems that I could point to one and say, “that is a Superman action figure” and then point to the other one and say, “that is a Superman action figure” and be correct. That is because what we are calling “Superman action figure” is a specific arrangement of particles.

Imagine if someone else protested that I was wrong in calling both Superman action figures, because one was made conventionally, but the other was made magically. That would seem silly, right? What significance is there in the specific production of the Superman action figures other than the fact that we just happen to know that they were produced differently? I would argue that our knowledge of the production, the 4th dimension of the space/time worm, is just not significant in what we label that particular arrangement of particles that we normally would call a Superman action figure.

I can imagine someone seeing where I am going and trying to head me off at the pass here, saying something like, “but human beings are different!” I cannot imagine how though. As a naturalist, part of my worldview is that humans are just particular arrangements of particles. There is no soul, nothing extra beyond the particles that constitute our bodies and brains. So what difference is there, really? Is it that our brains function is a way that we call that mind? How is that any more special than the fact that the Superman action figure’s arms function in such a way that we call that flexing? In other words, I just don’t see how pointing toward the function of a particular arrangement of particles makes the 4th dimension of the “worm” significant. You may say that the mind is special because of some introspective experience of being a mind that you have, but that is just a particular arrangement of particles functioning in such a way as do what we call “adding significance to its introspective experience”.

Basically, I see no problem at the moment with the idea that if one was to copy someone like Brad Pitt magically down to the particles, with calling that copy Brad Pitt. What we are calling “Brad Pitt” seems to be a particular arrangement of particles just like the Superman action figure. Sure, the copy will most certainly diverge from the original, and that would beg questions about when it stops being Brad Pitt, as in, at which point is it significantly not a copy of the original. I don’t want to explore that here, but I want to say that how we should decide what to call the copy should be dependent on the composition of it, not the production of it.

I suppose another example could help further to flesh out my point. I won’t pretend that I made up this example, but I cannot remember what it is called. Imagine that Brad Pitt goes out for a walk alone during the night. He walks through the nearby wooded park, and suddenly is struck by lightning mid-stride, seemingly out of nowhere, and he is completely disintegrated. In the same exact instant, the lightning somehow(let’s just imagine it’s possible) creates a perfect copy of Brad Pitt down to the elementary particles, standing in the same spot, also mid-stride. The “copy” of Brad Pitt has no memory of the lightning, and in all ways functions as if the incident never happened. Also, just to be thorough, let’s imagine that absolutely no other person observed the incident. The “Brad Pitt copy” just keeps walking and eventually makes his way home and back to his wife and whatnot, just like Brad Pitt would have done, and lives his live exactly as Brad Pitt would have done.

Now, given that example, in what way is that copy of Brad Pitt not Brad Pitt? It seems that the only way is that the actual history of the two beings is way different. In what way is that significant though? Given that this copy of Brad Pitt is now going to live its life exactly as Brad Pitt would have, and no one will ever know any different, how does it really matter that this is actually a copy? I guess I just fail to see how the history of the beings is significant in my identifying them, even if I somehow knew this fact about the copy of Brad Pitt. It would seem to just be interesting trivia at most, not something that would cause me to stop calling this being “Brad Pitt”. To think otherwise seems like one would have to attach some sort of significance on the original Brad Pitt, and I already expressed skepticism about the significance of the history of an arrangement of particles, and I see no good grounds to insert something like a soul to make the original significant.

Anyway, what do you think?

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Thoughts on Free Will and Essentialism

One of my favorite podcasts, The Partially Examined Life, recently did an episode about Sartre’s existentialsim. Much of the metaphysical talk, and the philosophy of mind talk in it pretty much goes over my head, but as I walk from the store back to my home listening I start thinking about the issue of free will again, and for once I think I have stumbled upon an answer that is satisfactory to me, at least for the moment. I want to attempt to share it here in my usual unedited, stream-of-consciousness style. Perhaps one of my good philosopher friends will disabuse me of this “answer” of mine.

Let’s rewind though. The “problem of free will” has been bothering me for some time now. I’m a naturalist and an atheist, so when thinking of the mind I try not to appeal to non-natural forces to account for it. In other words, what I want to call the mind is the function of some composition of elementary particles and nothing else. Some people want to add something else into the mix, some “soul” or non-material “mind-stuff”, but I cannot help but think that is to sate their curiosity and not because of some fundamental problem(I cannot imagine how matter could ever be “about” something, so therefore it cannot, classic argument from one’s incredulity).

Anyway, so here I am, the person who believes that what we call the mind is solely a function of some composition of matter, and I have this problem of sorts. If the mind is matter, then how is the mind “free”? Everything we know of matter says that it operates by deterministic rules, as in, if you know the starting positions of the matter and the precise forces acting upon it, then you will know what it will do. I know that there are people who will now start appealing to quantum mechanics here, but from what I have read, apparently that may be completely deterministic as well, as in the probabilities of x happening are completely determined. So, if the mind is matter, and the mind is what wills, then isn’t “will” just determined? I cannot think of any way around this.

Well, perhaps I cannot think of any way around the “problem” if one is completely concerned with the “ontology” of the matter, in other words, if one is only concerned with the actual state of affairs. As we know though, the models we construct to help us make sense of the world are attempts to be accurate about the world, but they are also meant to be helpful to us in understanding the world. In other words, it may be correct to say that in principle it is possible to explain economics in terms of physics, as in, be able to explain the complex workings of large amounts of humans by detailing all the movements of the particles that compose them, but would we ever find such an explanation useful? I really doubt it, even if it is technically more accurate than the “higher-level” explanation. That is because when you go too far down too many levels to explain things, when you get too reductionist, you lose usefulness. Or take the example of a map. Say I need to get directions to the store and back, should I consult my basic navigation map on my phone which could tell me relatively roughly how to get there, or should I consult particle physics to tell me the movements of all the particles that would have to take place to move this composition of particles I call my body to the other composition of particles I call the store? Of course the map on my phone would be better for me, because it is more useful, even if it is far less accurate.

So what does the above have to do with free will? Simple. While it may be true that everything we choose to do is completely determined, it is not useful to us to say that. The workings of the particles that make us act as we do are far too complex for us to understand, even if someone were somehow able to explain it to us right now. What we have when we say that human behavior is determined is a trivially true statement, but one that doesn’t work for us. Far more useful to us is explaining human behavior in terms of psychology, or sociology, or even through simple introspection.

To wrap-up, how this relates to the Sartre stuff is that I think he is both wrong and right in different ways. He argues against essentialism in humans, but I think that such a view is pretty much unavoidable as a naturalist. That said, I think that if one had the view as part of their “essence” that one should strive to be authentic, to really take seriously the choices that they make, then I think that sort of rescues his view. I think that one could think of it as an essence of non-essentialism. In that way I think that his view can be of some use to us, because that striving to not be beholden to some “nature” that you have, even if that striving is ultimately part of your nature, can make you a more “authentic” individual.  In that way, in this middle-world of broad strokes and fuzzy lines, I think that one really could view will as free and be accurate in a way that really matters, much more than the ontologically factual view is.

Thoughts About Atheism and the Sacred

I recently received news about a family member (who shall go unnamed) who is in the hospital, and every time I hear about this person the news is ever more dire. We are not very close, so this news doesn’t have me breaking down, but it does leave me in a solemn mood. So here I am in the middle of the night unable to sleep, full of thoughts. What does one do in such a situation? Some people would read I suppose, but my mind is too active for that.

I end up watching the very first few episodes of Breaking Bad again. There is something about that show that is solemn too, thoughtful among all that mess. The first thing that strikes me after all this time since I watched these episodes is how… innocent Walt seems. He says chemistry is the study of change, and how fitting that is, since this Walt I see has only a germ of what he is to become later, that Walt that I am more acquainted with.

Anyway, here’s Walt, and he is a relatively good man at the moment, deliberating over whether to kill the drug dealer he has in his partner’s basement. How crude a deliberation it is too, written out on a piece of paper with reasons to kill and reasons to set free. There’s something profoundly disrespectful to the other man about writing it out like that, like it is any other measure of pros and cons. To Walt, it’s a conflict between safety for himself and his family, and the immorality of murder. To Crazy Eight, the drug dealer in the basement, Walt’s conflict is what decides whether he continues existing or stops existing forever.

Thinking about that inevitable death, in conjunction with my already solemn mood, I cannot help but feel a little bit of terror at the thought of permanent non-existence. As an atheist, I really have no reason to suppose that it would any different. We exist right now, and after we die it will be just like before we were born. We occupy this little pocket of existence surrounded on all sides by nothingness.

If non-existence is so terrifying, then what is existence? Surely it’s not something to take for granted. If anything is to be held sacred, it seems that this brief pocket we occupy in between two eternities of non-existence must be it. What are Walt’s moral deliberations in light of the sacredness of life? What is any reasoning in the face of existence and non-existence? Who is counting the tally when such a stark contrast is before them?

I guess I don’t have much more than that. It’s 4AM here and I haven’t slept. Perhaps I will have more tomorrow. Or perhaps it will be another couple months.

Initial Thoughts on Atheistic Morality

I know it has been a long time since my last post, but I am back–I think. I want to preface this post with a couple of things: first, this post is inspired by recent blog posts from Dan Fincke, most notably this one on his new blog. Second, I am no philosopher, at least if we are going to understand that term as meaning someone who has extensive training and experience in thinking about topics like the one that I am going to butcher today. So given the latter point, please be easy on me; I am just a guy trying his best to work through a complicated issue that has vexed philosophers since philosophy was invented.

To begin, I want to try to define what I am going to be writing about here. What do I mean by “Atheistic Morality”? To put it simply(stealing somewhat from the google definition), it is a set of principles that distinguish between right and wrong that is not based on a God. I suppose to be more technical, more broad, I could call it “Naturalistic Morality”, but I think that “Atheistic” is more provocative and more easily understood by the general society. Anyway, speaking of the way that society understands things, in my experience most people see morality as a religious or spiritual enterprise, so I think explicitly labeling my topic as something completely counter to that could be useful.

Just like Dan, I don’t want to be lazy and just start with my “common sense” view of morality as a given reality, rather, I want to find rational justification for morality. If I am not going to allow a theist to declare that morality at bottom is just based on God’s commands because that is either absurd or arbitrary, I cannot allow myself to just declare something like our “common sense” as the starting point, especially given that “common sense” is highly influenced by many factors.

But if not common sense, then what grounds morality? In my view, two things taken together: rationality itself and human nature. I think what makes correct moral proclamations real and binding is that they are based on rational assessment and are in line with human nature. What do I mean by “rational assessment”? I mean to examine what argument(s) form the basis for a moral proclamation and see if it holds up to logical scrutiny. Is it coherent? Is it based on correct inferences, etc? Are the premises reasonable to hold?

Now, if I were to simply take the first criteria alone, rational assessment, and say that is what grounds morality I think that it would lead to some problems. For one, it doesn’t tell you who you should care about. Without anything but rational assessment, one could perhaps develop a moral code that is all about self-interest at the expense of others and society at large. I don’t see anything obvious about rationality alone that will drive one to be either selfish or selfless.

With the addition of human nature, I think that the above problem fades. It should seem obvious that if morality is about human behavior, then it should take into account human nature. Humans are social and empathetic creatures, so any real moral system is going to have to take in those facts and be in line with them. What would a perfectly rational human being(who is empathetic and social by nature) do in any given situation? That is my equivalent of WWJD.

One could of course point out that there are those without empathy like sociopaths, but I do not see this as a problem. It is just an exception that does nothing to invalidate the rule. Part of being human is to speak languages, but there are those that cannot speak, so are we to eliminate that? If that is the case, I am sure for any given trait of human nature one could find at least some exceptions so that we are left with really nothing to define us, besides some really vague definition like “humans are a mass of cells” or something. Instead, what we can do is look at what is common amongst the vast majority of humans and work from there. I certainly believe that empathy and sociability are present among the vast majority of humans.

One could also point out that there are other facets of human nature that seem counter to empathy and sociability. I would say that humans are selfish by nature, for instance. The reason I do not see this as a problem is because I think that for any moral code to be real it also has to be universal among humans and rational. We could easily see that if it were universally morally right for humans to act selfishly all the time that everything would break down. No one could trust anyone, no political system could possibly work, and other facets of human nature would go unfulfilled. On the other hand, if a moral system is empathetic and social and universal it could lead to a good political system, to other parts of human nature being fulfilled, even the selfish ones.

Now, I will not go so far as Kant and say something like for any act to be moral you should will it to be universal. For instance, if you think that telling the truth is moral, you would will that everyone told the truth all of the time. I think that focusing on the particulars and universalizing them is the wrong approach, especially since it leads to certain absurd situations like the Nazis at the door example. What I think is the right approach is to universalize the process, so to speak. I think that for any given act to be moral, the reasoning and human nature under-girding it you should will to be universal. So instead of the Kantian saying “you shall not lie even to the Nazis at the door because no one should lie ever” I would say, “please lie to the Nazis at the door because given human nature and rationality, lying to them would be something that every human should do in that situation.”

I also happen to think that human experience is far too complicated and varied for a simple moral code like “actualize the greatest utility(whatever that means)” or “be this kind of person” or “always do/don’t do this” to be true. For every moral guideline, there are plenty of ways to demonstrate how they fail in particular situations so I think that we should, given our limited epistemic situation, embrace the ambiguity of it all. Perhaps in one situation it would be more rational and in line with human nature to be a Kantian than a Consequentialist, and in another it would be better to be a virtue ethicist than either. I think that instead of seeing these moral theories as things to follow consistently, we should instead see them as helpful models that can guide our thought process in situations that are obviously going to be more complicated than those systems allow for. Perhaps one system is more often correct than another, or there is some ideal system that, if we knew it or could know it would replace every other system, but in our current situation it is far too ambiguous.

Anyway, forgive the rambling. This is a bit of an unscripted stream of consciousness kind of post. What do you think?

Thoughts On Chess, Plus, a Weekly Game!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am REALLY into chess. I have been playing since when I was about seven or eight, and still play pretty much every day. There is just something about the game. Part of it is the raw competitive aspect, where there is no random chance, but each move is (ideally!) a direct exertion of your will on your opponent. Another part is the aesthetic quality of the patterns, or how a position can seem as calm as a sunny blue sky, until a sudden tactic strikes like lightning. Perhaps another is the history, with all the dramas, personalities, tragedies and triumphs of any other sport(yes, I consider competitive chess a sport).

All these things keep me reading chess literature, studying the games of famous players, and following the current competitive scene. I wish I could make it out to the places around town that I used to play in pretty often, but these days, I play most of my games online, on a site called chess.com. A few things make this site really great: it is free, there is an android and iOS app for it to play on the go, and it has a large player base. You can find me on there as SexyJedi.

Anyway, I figured that I would share at least one of my games every week with you, and maybe go over it a little. I won’t pretend to have the best analysis skills, so I will stay away from that mostly, but I will do what I can. Most of my games lately are in a 10|0 time, for what that’s worth. Here is a game I played about 30 minutes from the time of writing this part of the post. I want to pick recent ones so that they are fresh in my memory.

White: Me(Sexyjedi) Black: sachabressollette
1.e4           c5
Black plays the Sicilian Defense. I happen to be a bit of a scaredy cat, so I pretty much always avoid the main lines of this defense, which would usually follow if I play 2. Nf3. As it is, I play the most common non-mainline move:
2.c3           d5
3.e5
With e5 I am hoping to transpose(switching from one opening to another) to the Advance Variation of the French Defense, which is much more to my tastes. The Sicilian is usually semi-open, with lots of tactics going on, but the Advance French is a slower, closed game usually, which plays to my advantage later on, as we will see…
                …Nc6
4.d4           e6
5.Bb5        Qb6
6.Bxc6+    bxc6
7.Nf3        Nh6?!
8.Nbd2?!
I consider this Knight move of mine to be a bit inaccurate, perhaps even a bad move if my opponent was to play 8. …Nf5 and capitalize on my mistake. I think I should have taken the Knight with Bxh6, which would have solidified my center(by removing the threat of Nf5), and weakened Black’s kingside so that it would have been disadvantageous to castle.
               …Ba6
9.Nb3       cxd4
10.cxd4    Nf5
11.g4        Nh6
12.h3        Bb4+?!
13.Bd2     O-O?
I consider the dark-squared Bishop exchange to be pretty bad for Black. Sure, there is the threat of me taking his Knight at h6, but I was pretty content to let it rot there. It wasn’t doing anything, and it would take a few moves for it to even begin to come into play. Plus if I took the Knight, now there would be an open file for Black to play with, which could have been stressful, considering that my King isn’t even castled. As you can tell by now, I am a bit cautious in this game. Anyway, by allowing an exchange, Black gets rid of one of his potentially active pieces(maybe through a Rc8, c5 maneuver to open the position up a bit), and I lose my least active one, especially considering the closed center pawns.
14.Bxb4   Qxb4+
15.Qd2     Qe7
16.Qc3     Rfc8
17.Nc5     Bb7
18.O-O
You may be wondering why I didn’t take the Bishop. Some people have this idea that Bishops are somewhat better than Knights. As it is in this game, with the closed center, the awesome outpost on c5 for my Knight, and the fact that Black’s Bishop has no where to go really, I am content with Black having NO active pieces in the game. More exchanges will only open it up and invite counterplay from my opponent. I want to slowly strangle Black.
              …a5
19.a4       Ba6
20.Rfe1   Qc7
21.Qc2!?
Here I was trying to get an opening on Black’s kingside, considering that I had the queenside completely locked down, with all of Black’s pieces over there as well. I wanted to get Black to play g6 either now or after I played Ng5, to open up the dark squares around the King. Let’s see how it goes…
              …g6
22.Qd2    Kg7
23.b3       Rcb8
24.Qg5    Ng8
25.h4       Ne7?!
I kinda just think that Black should have kept my their Knight where it was, and not allowed my Queen and Knight to move in, which leads to an even worse position
26.Qf6+   Kf8
27.Ng5    Ng8
28.Nxh7+ Ke8
29.Qg5    Qe7
30.Nf6+   Nxf6
31.exf6
And now there is absolutely no hope for Black. I have locked the entire position down, where the only real play that Black would be able to initiate would probably have to involve a trading a Rook for my Knight and a pawn. At that point, with as few pieces as there were, and the advanced position of my pawn formation, I cannot even see how a sacrifice like that would bring counterplay.
              …Qd8
32.Qe5     Rb4
33.Re3     Bc8
34.g5       Rab8
35.f4        Kf8
36.Rae1   Kg8
37.R1e2   Qf8
38.Rh2     white won on time

Black’s time ran out, and I had about 4 1/2 minutes left, far enough time to finish it off if need be. As you can see in this final position, there is no hope whatsoever for Black. Their Bishop is suffocating, their doubled Rooks cannot even hope to break through the b-file, and I have all the time in the world to move in through the h-file. This is exactly the kind of game I like playing, where I not only win, but I keep my opponent from even having a chance at playing.
I hope you enjoyed my first game review, and sorry about the lack of board graphics. I will work on that for next time, and perhaps edit this one to include them. Cheers!

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Atheist/Skeptic Podcast Review 01: Reasonable Doubts

I am a huge fan of podcasts. When other people listen to their iTunes collection, Pandora, or Songza, I am listening to awesome shows like Hardcore History, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot. Podcasting is an amazing medium; more flexible than radio, more convenient than books. In this (hopefully!) weekly series, I hope to review and share some of my favorite podcasts, to you, Dear Reader.

First on the list is Reasonable Doubts. It was the first podcast that I had the pleasure of listening to, and I still listen to it. As a bonus, I also converse semi-regularly with one of the hosts, and sometimes play an online card game with another of the hosts. They are both stand-up, intelligent guys, and it really shows in their podcast.

Reasonable Doubts began in late 2009, or that is what my feed would lead me to believe. Since then, they have put out around 130 shows, give or take some, because I am not going to go through and count all the RD Extras. The show is in a modular format, in that there are distinct sections with a specific name, theme, and lead-in music. Certain sections are found in many episodes, like Counter Apologetics, God Thinks Like You, and PolyAtheism. In addition, they often cover some current events in both a generic opening sequence, and in a Props and Shitlist section, where they deal out praise, or heap scorn on organizations, individuals, or anything else they believe merits praise or scorn.

The show has four current hosts, Dave Fletcher, Jeremy Beahan, Luke Galen, and Justin Schieber. Each host has his particular area of interest/expertise, and distinct style. The only real overlap is between Jeremy and Justin, who are both concerned (at least in the show) with counter-apologetics. That said, the fact that it is such a meaty topic makes me think that such an overlap is warranted.

General Thoughts: First, the modular format of the show is a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, it does mean that there is a little of something for everyone’s taste. On the flip side, it means that if you are primarily concerned with a specific topic, like counter apologetics in my case, you are going to wish they focused a little more on your favorite area. Now, I mentioned the RD Extras earlier, and these are extra episodes that are not hosted by the full crew, and are specifically about one area. For example, it could be a debate about the existence of God, or a lecture on psychology. These are nice when you are into the topic the extra is about. Other than that, they do take a bit of time between the regular episodes, so if you are expecting a weekly show, sorry.

Aesthetic notes: The audio quality is pretty average. This is not the type of audio quality you will get out of, say RadioLab, but it is good enough to not be distracting, and that is fine with me. The chemistry between the hosts is good, and the fact that they seem to have pretty different personalities is great. The music between the sections is pretty catchy, as well as the music that leads into and finishes the episodes.

Overall Score: 8 out of 10

While the modular format will leave some listeners begging for more of a particular topic, and the length of time between episode releases will frustrate the less patient, these are made up by the quality of the discussion of issues, the interplay of the different personalities, and the clear expertise of the hosts in their pet areas.

Links:

Reasonable Doubts iTunes Page

Reasonable Doubts RSS

Reasonable Doubts YouTube Channel

Reasonable Doubts Facebook Page

Reasonable Doubts Twitter

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Yes, Atheists Do Make Claims

Not too long ago, I was involved in a long debate of sorts with some fellow atheists, which started when one of them mentioned that atheism makes no claims, it only rejects theist claims. While it is a nice catchphrase, it is simply not true. Don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming that atheism has the burden of proving that no God exists. While I believe that doing so in regards to specific formulations of the god-concept is perfectly fine, I believe that it is good enough for atheism to create enough doubt in theist claims so that belief in those claims is not justified. Now, granted, demonstrating that theist claims are not justified to believe does not mean that one has disproved the theist god. That would be an argument from ignorance, the same fallacy, but in the opposite direction, that some theists use when they claim that just because someone hasn’t disproved their god, they are justified in believing in it.

Where do atheist claims come in? For the atheist who believes that no god exists, it is quite obvious what they are claiming, that no god exists. For the atheist who rejects theist claims, if they are trying to be reasonable, the claim that they are going to be making is that belief in theist claims is not justified considering the evidence. If one is trying to reject theism for actual reasons, not just due to distaste or opinion, then those reasons for rejection will require justification. A person trying to be reasonable will not just reject the Kalam Cosmological Argument without reasons. Rather, they will attempt to demonstrate why that argument is unsound, which requires doing some work, and backing up your assertions.

Simply put, even if you are the kind of atheist who just doesn’t believe in theism, and isn’t attempting to prove that god does not exist, you still carry a burden of sorts. Refusing to recognize this fact just makes you a coward and/or unreasonable. If we are going to believe, as it is popular within the atheist movements, that we are more reasonable than theists, then we should attempt to live up to that. Adopting shiny catchphrases as your actual position is just unreasonable.

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Where I Stand On Harassment, Sexism, Feminism, Etc

I told myself last night that I would stay away from this topic for a little, to gather my thoughts before I put my foot in my mouth. As it happens, I am changeable. So here goes, my current stance on such a divisive set of topics.

First off, I want to admit my current inability to truly understand what women are going through in the skeptic/atheist movements, and society at large. As a cis male in America, I simply don’t have to deal with some of the things that women have to deal with on a daily basis. So when I read or hear about incidents of harassment and sexual assault, especially in the movements that I affiliate with, my first instinct, admittedly, is to feel shocked that such a thing actually happened. Such claims seem a bit extraordinary to me I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to say that I don’t believe the stories, but that my first instinct to disbelieve them is something that I will admit, and am constantly working to correct for.

The way I see it, my first instinct to disbelieve claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault is borne out of a sort of blindness that I have as a cis male in my society. For the most part, I don’t have to experience those kinds of things. Additionally, it seems that our society is good at hiding this sort of thing in plain sight. Nothing to see here, move along folks. This isn’t to say that I was completely ignorant, totally blind, but more that I was willfully ignorant. Things that my society doesn’t want me to look too closely at I decided I didn’t want to investigate. Even now, with the knowledge that I have, the stories that I have heard, I still have remnants of the conditioning that I went through, am still going through, as a cis male in America, hence why my first instinct when hearing stories is to disbelieve them. This is just something I want to admit, lest I look like I am trying to pass myself off as some sort of saint. I’m not saying all this to make excuses for my instincts, but instead to bring them to light as something I need to admit to and improve upon.

That out of the way, I want to be blunt: I believe the stories of the women who have recently come forward about abuses that they have experienced at the hands of prominent men in the skeptic/atheist movements. I believe that they are right in bringing these things to light, for who are we to criticize the Catholic Church for their child abuse, when we cannot even admit to our abuses? We have to put our own house in order if we want to be anything but hypocrites.

I believe that feminism is important for any movement, our skeptic/atheist one included. These stories of abuse and harassment make that painfully obvious. The fact that a position that essentially boils down to, “hey, let’s treat women like people” is controversial should make it obvious that we need it. There is a reason why there is a disparity between female membership of organizations and female attendance of their public events, and that reason makes feminism necessary.

I guess I don’t have much more to add. Let’s just work to be decent to women, okay? There shouldn’t be anything controversial about that.

Hume’s Bacon-Maple-Bar Flavored Scotch

The title of this post was one of the brainstormed possible titles for this blog. As you can tell, I named my blog something else, something far sexier, but I didn’t want the title of this post to go to waste. Other possible titles were Humbly Pretentious, Socrates’ Left Testicle, and Intellectual Shibari. As you can clearly tell, I dug deep in the caverns of my mind (and the minds of others) to acquire these gems.

All that aside, this is my new project. I need projects. I have spent far too much time writing comments on various forums and blogs, Facebook and YouTube, Reddit, and Google+, but those things do not seem to be giving me satisfaction. Perhaps with my own domain, with the God-like powers inherent within, I will find some satisfaction. Or I won’t. Time will tell I suppose.

What can you expect from this? I really do not know at the moment. I intend to share my thoughts about religion, atheism, science, philosophy, chess, politics, and current affairs as they relate to the former things. I may end up writing about other things as well. I tend to listen to a lot of podcasts, so expect me to comment on them as well. What shouldn’t you expect from this blog? Great writing, exhaustive citations, the ability to handle the technicalities of philosophy, or even the ability to reason coherently. Honestly, just try not to expect much from this blog. Then, if you are lucky, you may be pleasantly surprised.