Thursday, November 25, 2010

God Needs A Quality Control Department 2.7

This is Part VII of my thoughts on the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski on November 18, 2010, in Plano, Texas. The focus of the debate is this question: does a good god exist? This is the final clip in the series; I'm mostly finished commenting on the debate, but there are a few highlights near the end.

Dembski, concluding his rebuttal, assumes that his goal of demonstrating the goodness of his god has been reached, and spends the remainder of his rebuttal time stumbling around various concepts of metaphysics and morality, making unsupported assertions throughout. His overall point seems to be that without a god, no system of morality has any value. He wastes the entire five minutes, with one possible exception:

<Clip 05 05 - 09.49 - 09.56 - Derail>

Here he is confirming a suspicion that has been growing in my mind for a while. Religious people really do think that we're lying, that we believe that their god exists but are rebelling against it. Dembski insinuates that Hitchens (1) believes that Yahweh is real and (2) is an immoral man, trying to derail your trust in Yahweh. Hitchens does not believe that your god exists. How could he intend to derail your trust in it? I say that religious people have this belief about atheists. I also say that Dembski doesn't really believe it, nor does he really believe in that god. Otherwise he wouldn't have stood here lying to us for half an hour.

Hitchens has some thoughts on morality too. My favorite part is here:

<Clip 06 - 06.43 - 07.00 - Socratic morality>

Long reflection. That's where a true morality comes from. I claim that this is the reason we have improved as a society, as in abolishing slavery, fighting child abuse, empowering women. People kept thinking and talking, and the truth found its way to the surface. This is one of the few reasons I can find for having a little bit of hope for our future as a species.

The rest of the debate is more of the same, including the Q & A portion. Hitchens presents a clear case, while Dembski brings up irrelevant points one after another, defends the savagery of his god, makes false insinuations, and tells some more outright lies too. He even claims that Steven Pinker wrote an article that justifies infanticide. Read the article and judge for yourself.

The emcee invites Hitchens to take five minutes for a closing statement, but Hitchens requests that the five minutes be used for another question from the audience. It is finally decided that Dembski will make his closing statement, and Hitchens responds to that. There's a bit of sparring over Mother Theresa that's marginally interesting, and Hitchens has a few words about the relationship between the Nazis and the Catholic Church. Hitchens makes a beautiful, 90-second statement at the end, which you've probably seen, but I liked it so much that I'll show it again, at the end of this video. Before that, I have one comment about a statement made by Dr. Larry Taylor at the end of the debate.

<Clip 10 - 09.28 - 09.38 - Civility>

He claims that civility has occurred here. William Dembski has spent half an hour lying, deceiving, slandering, distorting, and insinuating. The fact that he never used any swear-words and never shouted angrily does not equate to civility. That's the end of Part II(h) and the end of the series. Thanks very much for watching. I'll leave you with Hitchens' final comments on the debate.

<Clip 10 - 05.27 - 07.04 - Hitchens close>

"On The Box" Update

Hey guys, yes, it's me, GreatBigBore. I'm up to 1700 subscribers now, and that's way too many. I figure that showing my face like this will get my subscriber count down to a more realistic number. So most of you know about Tony and Chad, the disciples of Ray Comfort who are creating this YouTube show caled "On The Box." They put out an invitation for everyone, including atheists, to ask questions, and I took them at their word. We've all been wondering how they'd deal with all of my questions. Here's their first response, posted as a comment by Tony on their invitation video.
Attn Video Responders: The only videos we will consider airing on the show will be videos in which we can see people's real faces and hear their real voices. Sorry, we won't show anyone who hides their identity.
That whole thing about this not being my real voice, what can I say? I already said the words that Microsoft Sam can't pronounce correctly. You guys just have to decide whether you believe me on that. Anyway, I was thinking of re-posting all of my videos showing my face, but I thought it might be more fun to get all of you guys involved. I've posted 47 questions so far. I'd like to find people who can post video responses to these guys, re-asking all of my questions, using your real face and your real voice. If you're interested, send me a PM, and tell me which question you'd like to take. Or I could just assign you one (or more) if you like. So if you want to join, check in with me before you record a response, so I can make sure that we don't have two people asking the same question.

That's all. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

God Needs A Quality Control Department 2.6

This is Part VI of my thoughts on the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski on November 18, 2010, in Plano, Texas. The focus of the debate is this question: does a good god exist? In this clip I'll review Dembski's first rebuttal. Dembski wastes a couple of minutes attempting to show that Hitchens was wrong in asserting that atheism predates "evolutionism." But it's not a complete loss if you can get a good laugh out of it, right?

<Clip 05 - 03.21 - 03.23 - Evolution joke 01>
<Clip 05 - 03.29 - 03.49 - Evolution joke 02>

I had to watch this about six times to be sure of what he's saying. He is claiming that myths like the cosmic egg story are evolutionary accounts, because they "go from simplicity to complexity." Can you believe the nerve of this guy? I'm starting to think that the organizers of this event intended to de-convert their members rather than converting any unbelievers.

<Clip 05 - 03.50 - 03.57 - Losing, gaining>

Another lie. Either way, you start with variation. If that variation lets you produce more viable offspring than someone without it, then the variation will spread in a population. Above ground, being able to sense light even rudimentarily confers an advantage. Below ground, building a functional eye is a liability. The mechanisms are exactly the same.

<Clip 05 - 04.20 - 04.24 - Appendix>

This is why I referred to Hitchens' minor mistake in his opening remarks. Dembski says that talk of vestigiality is an argument from ignorance. Well, he might even be correct in some sense. So we thought that the appendix was vestigial, we added that tiny datum to the massive body of evidence that supports evolutionary theory. Now we discover that we were wrong about the appendix. Does anyone notice that a beach is diminished when you take home a few grains of sand in your shoe?

<Clip 05 - 05.27 - 05.40 - Totalize 01>

Well, sort of. It would be more accurate to say that we look at a theory and ask whether it can be generalized. Rather than answering the question by fiat, we look for facts that support generalization, we look for facts that would negate generalization, and we follow the facts. Newtonian mechanics is a perfect example. For centuries we "totalized" Newtonian mechanics, applying it to everything, with huge success.

<Clip 05 - 05.42 - 05.49 - Totalize 02>

Exactly. Einstein came along and discovered that Newtonian mechanics is simply an approximation that doesn't work in all cases. We now know when we can apply Newtonian mechanics usefully, and when we have to bring in relativity. If there were any reason to narrow the scope of evolutionary theory down to "micro-evolution," we would do so, of course. But you guys could help: just show us some facts that disprove "macro-evolution". Show us by what mechanism "micro-evolution" stops happening just shy of becoming "macro-evolution". Finally, Dembski moves on to his main point.

<Clip 05 - 06.31 - 06.36 - Goodness>

Astounding, isn't it. He actually has the nerve to pretend that he has established the existence of a god. Oh well, let's pretend that he has, and see whether he can make a case for this god being good.

<Clip 05 - 08.04 - 08.08 - Deny goodness.mp4>

Given only existence, it makes no sense either to assert or deny goodness, and it makes no sense either to assert or deny malevolence. We need more information. Are you really going to claim that existence implies goodness, with no support whatsoever?

<Clip 05 - 08.31 - 08.44 - Objective MS>

People don't really know what they mean when they talk like this. Consider the story, in Genesis 21:8 - 20, where Abraham sends his slave Hagar and her son into the desert alone. When they run out of water, Yahweh rescues them. Do you cringe when you read this? Does it upset you? Does it demand an explanation? No. Now consider the story, in Genesis 7, where Yahweh floods the earth, and we see in Verse 21 that "all mankind" except Noah's immediate family is killed. Infants, toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, kind people, unkind people, everyone. Not to mention kittens, puppies, piglets, lambs, etc. In the Hagar story, you approve of Yahweh's actions without even realizing that you're doing so. But in the Noah story, some part of you awakens. You have to address it. You have to explain it somehow. My point is this: every single one of us believes in a morality that is above any god. No, we can't seem to agree on an objective morality, but every one of us judges this god according to an internal standard of goodness. Everyone has his or her own moral standard. If you really believed that your god is good by definition, then you would accept the terror of the Noah story unconsciously, just as you do the Hagar story.

That's Part II(g). Thanks for watching.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

God Needs A Quality Control Department 2.5

This is Part V of my thoughts on the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski on November 18, 2010, in Plano, Texas. The focus of the debate is this question: does a good god exist? In this clip I'll finish my review of Dembski's opening remarks and then take a look at Hitchens' first rebuttal.

<Clip 03 - 06.49 - 06.59 - Outrage>

Can you believe this guy's chutzpah? He's describing his own methods: lie constantly if it advances your cause, and cynically take advantage of your audience's lack of knowledge, and in this particular case, their fledgling critical thinking skills, given that they're just school kids. Rather than torturing you further with Dembski's time-wasting, I'll summarize the next eight minutes or so of his speech.
  • Science isn't to be trusted because it's often wrong; he leaves out the point that science corrects its errors, while religion never does.
  • Darwin was wrong because he thought that cells were simple blobs of protoplasm; this is a lie. Chromosomes were well known (if not understood) in Darwin's day.
  • Complexity implies design; a bald assertion with no support whatsoever.
  • Intelligent Design has a scientific foundation; then why aren't they publishing in peer-reviewed journals?
  • Mentions his 1998 statistical paper; remember the expert testimony provided in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial? Dembski's work "is not regarded as significant by information theorists, mathematicians, statisticians, or computer scientists."
  • Talks about the movie Contact to suggest that complexity implies design; he leaves out the fact that we first look for natural causes before jumping to the conclusion of design, and even if we did provisionally assume design we'd still be open to a natural explanation. In fact, this is exactly what happened with evolutionary theory. At first, people assumed design. Then, as they saw natural explanations popping out all over the place, they moved away from the design assumption. If, after investigating the strange signal from space, Ellie Arroway had begun to find natural causes for it, she would have had less confidence in the possibility that the signal originated with an intelligence.
  • Mentions "specified complexity." Remember the expert testimony again: Dembski's inventions, "'specified complexity' and 'complex specified information' are neither valid nor accepted notions."
  • Complains for a minute about how he can no longer get a job in the mainstream academic world. Blames it on his attempt to apply his notions to biology, but again, recall the expert testimony: his work is not regarded as significant by anyone outside of biology either.
  • Complains about his treatment by academia; maybe he should try another field?
<Clip 03 - 14.34 - 14.42 - Big stretch>
<Clip 04 - 00.00 - 00.04 - Case closed>

He really expects his audience to believe that he has made a case for the existence of his god? Lies, deceit, straw men, irrelevant points, nothing at all of any substance, and he declares to his audience that he has succeeded. He goes on for another three minutes, but it's just more of the same, nothing remotely useful or enlightening.

I can't find anything to complain about in Hitchens' ten-minute rebuttal. I don't think of myself as a sycophant, but any of you religious people out there, please feel free to show me Hitchens' errors. He makes one point about eyeless cave creatures on which I'd like to elaborate just a bit.

<Clip 04 - 09.01 - 09.04 - Salamander>
<Clip 04 - 09.14 - 09.16 - It had eyes>
<Clip 04 - 09.19 - 09.25 - Indentations>

I want to highlight this, just in case its significance is lost on anyone. When forming a hypothesis, you ask yourself what the premises of your hypothesis might imply, and what might be implied if your premises are false. Take the premise that all creatures were specially created by a deity. If that's true, then we might expect that this cave salamander would just have a smooth head. The fact that it has these indentations causes us to wonder. Why would an intelligent entity create an eyeless animal with these indentations? It causes us to be suspicious. On the other hand, take the premise that rather than being specially created, these creatures are the result of evolution from ancestors that did have eyes. We wouldn't be surprised at all by the indentations. This is what Hitchens means when he says that everything works without the assumption of a deity.

You've probably already seen the debate, or plan on seeing it, and Hitchens says it all better than I do. I have nothing further to say about his rebuttal, but I just have to show you my two favorite highlights.

<Clip 05 - 00.17 - 00.31 - Squawking chicken>
<Clip 05 - 00.49 - 01.01 - Take nothing on faith>

That's part II(f). Thanks for watching.

Monday, November 22, 2010

God Needs A Quality Control Department 2.4

This is Part IV of my thoughts on the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski on November 18, 2010, in Plano, Texas. The focus of the debate is this question: does a good god exist? In this clip I'll continue reviewing Dembski's opening remarks (I've linked to Dembski's prepared comments here).

I goofed in my previous video, saying that Dembski has ten minutes. He actually has 15. He has used three of his 15 minutes telling lies and making irrelevant points. He spends another two minutes spewing out jargon concerning the vertebrate eye in an attempt to show that the eye is actually quite well designed. He's hoping that his audience will miss the point that even if the eye does look like a good design, it still shows all the signs of having evolved from earlier structures. In other words, point out all the cool bells and whistles you like, educated and qualified scientists see no reason to introduce a supernatural explanation.

<Clip 03 - 03.00 - 03.05 - Easily deconstructed>

Hey, he told the truth: straw men are easily deconstructed. The chapter is not about proofs of evolution. Dembski demonstrates quite well the lopsided morality of Jesusianismists: it's rude to say a word like "fuck," but it's not rude to sit and insult your audience's intelligence for five minutes straight, provided that you never say a word like "fuck." Dembski wastes more of our time "deconstructing" the straw man born of his lies. He goes on a bit more about the vertebrate eye but moans that Hitchens, in his chapter on the arguments from design, didn't go into the details of embryology and the construction of neural pathways. Then he latches on to a comment that the book makes almost in passing, about computer models. He claims that Hitchens "praises loudly" a computer model that suggests an evolutionary path for the vertebrate eye. Nothing new, Dembski is setting up straw men left and right, but I just have to point out this detail. The chapter is some 23 pages long. What does it say that counts as praising loudly? "Sophisticated computer models have been developed which have tested the theory and shown that it actually 'works.'" Dembski is a shyster. How can Jesusianismists act like they have any kind of moral high ground?

<Clip 03 - 04.27 - 04.31 - Underwhelming>

Most of the time when Jesusianismists say inexcusably ignorant things like this, I tell them that they need to read a book, or visit a museum. There are mountains of very clear evidence for evolution and natural selection. But Dembski knows better. He is a liar, lying in the name of Jesus, to schoolchildren, no less.

<Clip 03 04.42 - 04.46 - Atheism demands>

This is absolutely false. Borrowing an idea from YouTuber NonStampCollector, atheism is an "ism" like not collecting stamps is a hobby. Atheism simply means that you don't believe that any god exists. The fact of not believing in a god doesn't demand anything.

<Clip 03 04.51 - 04.57 - Unthinkable>

Again, entirely untrue. If there were even a shred of an indication that a god exists, any rational person, including Hitchens, would look into it with an open mind. Disbelief is not a choice. You can't choose to believe that 2 + 2 = 5. Disbelief is simply the result of never having seen anything to make a plausible suggestion that there is a spirit realm. He goes on to claim that this unthinkability (which he has invented) puts the atheist in a straitjacket. He again argues incorrectly (and rather pointlessly) that being an atheist leaves evolution as the only option, attempting to suggest that being a theist is better because it leaves you two options.

<Clip 03 - 06.34 - 06.41 - Selective concern for truth>

Even if this were a legitimate charge, I'd have to say that a selective concern for the truth is far better than Dembski's utter disregard for it. But the charge is obviously false, not to mention irrelevant to the point that Dembski claimed that he would address.

<Clip 03 - 06.49 - 06.59 - Outrage>

Can you believe this guy's chutzpah? He's describing his own methods: lie constantly if it advances your cause, and cynically take advantage of their lack of knowledge, and in this particular case, their fledgling critical thinking skills, given that they're just school kids.
  • Science isn't to be trusted because it's often wrong.
  • Darwin was wrong because he didn't know how complex cells were
  • Pretends that complexity implies design
  • Intelligent Design has a scientific foundation
  • Mentions his 1998 statistical paper; remember the expert testimony provided in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial? Dembski's work "is not regarded as significant by information theorists, mathematicians, statisticians, or computer scientists."
  • Talks about the movie Contact to show that complexity implies design.
  • Mentions "specified complexity." Remember the expert testimony again: Dembski's inventions, "'specified complexity' and 'complex specified information' are neither valid nor accepted notions."
  • Complains for a minute about how he can no longer get a job in the mainstream academic world. Blames it on his attempt to apply his notions to biology, but again, recall the expert testimony: his work is not regarded as significant by anyone outside of biology either.
  • Complains about his treatment by academia
That's Part II(e). Thanks for watching.

God Needs A Quality Control Department 2.3

This is Part III of my thoughts on the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski on November 18, 2010, in Plano, Texas. The focus of the debate is this question: does a good god exist? In this clip I'll continue reviewing Dembski's opening remarks (I've linked to Dembski's prepared comments here).

<Clip 02 - 14.11 - 14.14 - Creation Story>

This is a rather strange assertion. It's true that all cultures throughout history have invented creation stories. Does it follow that everyone needs a creation story? I don't think so. And if such a need did exist, what relevance would that have to the existence of a god, which Dembski has said he intends to address?

As an aside, the Big Bang Theory sucks as a creation story anyway. It's just a description of what appears to have happened after the beginning. It tells us nothing at all about the beginning itself, about the really important questions like, "Why does anything exist at all?" and "What is all this, really?" My apologies to my hero Dr Hawking, but your answers leave me cold. But I've read your book only once, and it takes me about ten reads on average even to get a glimmer of understanding of your work, so maybe there's still hope. Back to Dembski:

<Clip 02 - 14.14 - 14.18 - NS has to be true>

He really should not make such a claim. It's far too deep to be trotting out in this debate, especially without any elaboration. For all we know, we're all a computer simulation that was started five minutes ago, with all of our memories fabricated. I can't even convince myself that you guys watching this exist apart from my brain, no matter how you might protest. I can't even convince myself that I have a brain. Have fun with that one.

<Clip 02 - 14.18 - 14.23 - Lecture on Evolution>

Another brazen lie. See, it's this sort of thing that would make me a terrible debater. Dembski keeps making outrageous claim after outrageous claim, slapping his audience in the face with his obvious disregard for truth or any kind of honest discussion. I'd end up losing my cool--people like this really bother me. And of course, in a debate, it's not the truth that matters; it's who looks the best at the end of the debate. I'd lose for sure. Let's allow Dembski his jab; Hitchens lectures his readers. Is the lecture about "proofs of evolution"? Absolutely not. Again, in this chapter, entitled "Arguments From Design," Hitchens refutes the claims that the illusion of design is anything more than an illusion. Even where Hitchens actually uses the phrase, "proof of evolution," referring to the vertebrate eye, his point is to show that if it is in fact designed, then it is designed rather ineptly.

<Clip 02 - 14.23 - 14.29 - Junk DNA>
<Clip 02 - 14.44 - 14.52 - Junk DNA2>

"Much of this so-called junk DNA"? That's true, but so what? Is he showing that Hitchens is incorrect? No. We know that there is useless DNA, such as our broken vitamin C gene. Most mammals make their own vitamin C, but primates don't. We have the same genes for this as other mammals, but one of these genes is broken in primates. The point that Hitchens is making, that we have DNA that is clearly left over from our ancestors, is valid. Dembski knows all of this. He is deliberately misleading his audience, bringing up a point that has absolutely no relevance as though it means something.

<Clip 03 - 00.11 - 00.13 - Cambrian Explosion>
<Clip 03 - 00.25 - 00.31 - Peter Ward>
<Clip 03 - 00.49 - 00.59 - Ward Quote>
<Clip 03 - 01.03 - 01.06 - Soften>

Ward "tries to soften it," does he? Let's hear the softening, which for obvious reasons, Dembski doesn't quote, and judge for ourselves. I don't have the book myself but you can have a look at it online.
Until almost did indeed look as if larger creatures had arisen with a swiftness that made a mockery of Darwin's theory of evolution. This notion was finally put to rest...the larger skeletonized fossils..that supposedly appeared so suddenly were in fact preceded by skeletonized forms so small as to be easily overlooked by the pioneering geologists...The long-acepted theory of the sudden appearance of skeletal metazoans at the base of the Cambrian was incorrect."
So we discovered 60 years ago that the idea of a sudden appearance was incorrect. We call that "softening," now, do we? Worse, Dembski is once again deliberately attempting to deceive. His remarks concerning Ward are from an essay that Dembski wrote in 2005, hypocritically titled, "Quoting, Misquoting, Quote-Mining," which has been refuted numerous times since then.

Dembski has ten minutes to present his opening remarks. He's been talking for three minutes. We have a reasonable expectation, given his own words, that he address the existence of a god. Has he done so? Even if four of his main points so far weren't based on lies and deliberate deceit, nothing he's said so far has applied at all to his stated intention: to address the existence of a god.

That's part II(d). Thanks for watching.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

God Needs A Quality Control Department 2.2

This is Part II of my thoughts on the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski on November 18, 2010, in Plano, Texas. The focus of the debate is this question: does a good god exist? In this clip I'll cover the beginning of Dembski's opening remarks.

<Clip 02 - 12.47 - 12.54 - Existence of god>

I think it's fair for us to expect him to address the existence of god. Let's see whether he delivers.

<Clip 02 - 13.02 - 13.08 - Different tack>

Why can't you use the standard arguments for the existence of your god? Not because we're stubborn, not because we lack spiritual discernment, but because all of the standard arguments have been thoroughly discredited. If they were based on facts, clear thinking, and honest discussion, you could use them. Let's see whether your "different tack" has any value.

<Clip 02 - 13.08 - 13.16 - Hitchens disbelieves>

Wait. He just told us that he intends to address the existence of god. What is he addressing here? Not the existence of god, but instead Hitchens' lack of belief in god? Whether we believe in the existence of a god has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether that god exists. If you're just going to talk about someone's beliefs, whether those of Christopher Hitchens or those of your neighbor's cat, then you've totally left the conversation. Nothing you say about Hitchens or his beliefs has any bearing. And by the way, you're totally wrong when you say that "evils perpetrated in the name of religion" are among Hitchens' reasons for being an atheist. Whether religion is good or evil has no bearing on whether there is a god.

Dembski really wades into the deep end from here. This might take a while.

<Clip 02 - 13.20 - 13.32 - Faith destroyed>

No, Hitchens (and you) know that science has given us new knowledge, not "believe." No, neither Hitchens nor any other rational person believes that our scientific knowledge "destroys religious faith." "Darwinian evolution," as you call it, says nothing at all about religious faith. The fact that evolution has been occurring for billions of years, which is completely independent of Darwin's theory, contradicts several religion-based claims concerning the age of the earth, the origin of species, and especially the origin of humans. If anything destroys faith, it is the wholesome desire to resolve cognitive dissonance of the kind that sets in when one finds facts that contradict long-held beliefs.

<Clip 02 - 13.32 - 13.36 - Evolution chapter>

Sure, you could ask, but it would be at best a meaningless question, and at worst, a misleading question intended to cause the 12-year-old children in the audience to conjure up their parents' favorite buzzwords such as "agenda." Further, Hitchens' book (we're talking about "God Is Not Great" here) is not a defense of atheism. It's a much-needed attack on religion.

<Clip 02 - 13.36 - 13.52 - Mysterious>

He's talking about Chapter Six here. He's also grossly misrepresenting Chapter Six here. Yes, the book does say, "[w]e no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious." However, the claim that "religion, according to Hitchens, renders biological origins mysterious" is simply a lie. One might attempt to say that Dembski simply misunderstood the entire chapter, but that would be extremely naive. This man has mutiple college degrees, has published books, and has attempted to publish in scientific journals. He knows how to read. He knows how to comprehend what he reads. He is lying.

First, Hitchens never claims that "religion renders biological origins mysterious." I'm certain that Hitchens believes no such thing; it's a preposterous, nearly meaningless statement. There is no place in Chapter Six where he would have made such a claim, even if he did hold that position. In this chapter, titled "Arguments From Design," Hitchens discusses--what else?--the arguments from design that have been made by the likes of William Paley. In fact, having now re-read it, I see that Hitchens' opening remarks are based primarily on this chapter. It seems to me that in preparation for the debate, Hitchens must have done Dembski the kindness of announcing his intention to use this chapter as a foundation. The basic message of the chapter is, of course, that looking at the cosmos and at our bodies, we find it hard to believe that an intelligent being was responsible, or at least, an intelligent and benevolent being.

If we want to be honest about the message of the chapter, we have to back up a couple of paragraphs from the place where Dembski quotes, to this: "No divine required. Everything works without that assumption." Hitchens is simply rejecting the positive claims made by myriad religious people that the wonder of the cosmos and the complexity of living creatures imply a deity. Given all the complaining that Jesusianismists do about atheismists taking bible verses out of context, Dembski is a terrible hypocrite. Let's take Hitchens' statement in its proper context:
Skepticism and discovery have freed [thoughtful believers] from...having to answer distressing questions about who inflicted the syphilis bacillus or mandated the idiot child...The faithful stand acquitted...we no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious.
Hitchens is pointing out that the religious, who used to explain disease and disorders as manifestations of their god's mystery, are off the hook.

That's Part II(c). Thanks for watching.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

God's Quality Control 2.1

Here I discuss my thoughts on the debate entitled, "Does A Good God Exist?" between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski on November 18, 2010, in Plano, Texas. In this clip I'll cover Hitchens' opening remarks.

Hitchens opens with a quick description of deism, suggesting that it's impossible to disprove the existence of a deistic deity. He moves on to theism, tailoring the idea somewhat to his audience without going all the way to the god of the bible, then mentions three ways in which believers usually try to demonstrate the existence of such a god.

<Clip 01 - 12:19 - 12:35 Monotheism>
<Clip 01 - 12:44 - 12:47 Proof 1>
<Clip 01 - 12:53 - 12:59 Proofs 2 & 3>

He explains his objections to the use of the cosmos as evidence for this god.

<Clip 01 - 13.50 - 14.08 - We're on a dust speck>
<Clip 01 - 14.10 - 14.20 - Nova>
<Clip 02 - 00.12 - 00.17 - Flying apart>
<Clip 02 - 00.20 - 00.33 - Finger of god>
<Clip 02 - 00.43 - 00.52 - No benign god>

I can hear Jesusianismists everywhere protesting that the destructive theme of the universe wasn't there before the fall, or that Yahweh created the universe with the intention of letting it destroy itself because we are the reason for the universe and it won't matter after our story is finished. But to make such claims is to jump the gun and to assume that a good god exists, that said good god is Yahweh. We can't make any such assumptions at this point in the discussion.

His objections to the use of human history as evidence for a good god are based on the holocaust performed by the Nazis in the 20th century. I can hear Jesusianismists complaining about this one also, saying that all of that dreadful suffering is a part of Yahweh's plan. Having once been a Jesusianismist, I can see what they're saying, but it comes from a terribly dark place in the human psyche: it is possible for Yahweh both to love you, and allow you to suffer abominably, even eternally, and indeed Yahweh loves the overwhelming majority of humanity in just this manner. Being now anti-Yahweh, I can understand what a dark place that is. I can see that this is a treacherous, evil corruption of the word "love".

Hitchens' objections to the use of the human body as evidence for a good god (or more specifically, as evidence for special creation) touch on our genetic proximity to other primates and various clear signs in our physiology that we are just another species of mammal. He makes one minor mistake that I wouldn't even mention, except that Dembski brings it up later.

<Clip 02 - 06.03 - 06.09 - Appendix>

He concludes his actual opening argumentation by pointing out that 99.8% of all forms of life that have ever existed on earth are now extinct, and at one point in prehistory humans almost went extinct also, our total population dropping to some 3000 or less.

<Clip 02 - 07.37 - 07.45 - No design>

He talks for a few minutes longer on his reasons for moral objection to the idea of a god like the one in the bible, but he doesn't actually provide any further arguments against the three ideas he presented at the beginning of his remarks. So far I have no complaints about Hitchens' presentation, except perhaps that I'm still not entirely clear on what he intended to answer in his second point, the one about the holocaust. As a lover of humanity, I agree that all that suffering is an argument against the existence of a loving god. What I'm not clear on is exactly what argument he is trying to debunk, how Jesusianismists use human history as evidence for the existence of their god. If you guys get it, let me know. I have been known to miss the obvious.

That's part II(b). Thanks for watching.

God Needs A Quality Control Department 2.0: Hitchens-Dembski Debate

Outspoken skeptics are often criticized for mocking the beliefs of the religious, belittling that which is held sacred, blaspheming their supernatural being (or beings). What the religious never seem to realize is that their own apologists treat their beliefs, their sacred items and activities, and their god (or gods) with far more contempt than any irreligious person ever could. Consider all the religious people who, speaking publicly on behalf of their god, lie, dissemble, ignore the facts, present appallingly faulty and inconsistent reasoning in support of their arguments, and when shown to be flatly and utterly incorrect, abandon reason altogether and claim that the irreligious will never understand because we lack spiritual discernment, or because we have not felt the power of god in our hearts, or the most childish non-argument I've ever heard, because we just want to go on sinning.

Here I'll review a debate between an atheismist and a Jesusianismist titled, "Does A Good God Exist?" On the side of the baby-killers is Christopher Hitchens, well-known social critic, political analyst, and author of many books, including "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything". On the side of Jesus is William Dembski, research professor of philosophy and the director at the Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and senior research scientist with evolutionary informatics lab. He has degrees in mathematics, psychology, statistics, and theology.

William Dembski is the epitome of blasphemy, a man who purports to represent Jesus, but who makes a habit of flagrantly discrediting his lord, not only with apparent foolishness, but with obvious dishonesty, which causes one to wonder whether Dembski could legitimately use foolishness as an excuse. You may know of the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover trial of 2005. This was the battle in Pennsylvania over whether creationism and/or intelligent design should be taught in public schools. The defense, that is, the Jesus camp, had lined up seven expert witnesses for the trial, but by the end of the trial five of them had withdrawn. Dembski was one of these five, along with two of his colleagues at the Center for Science and Culture, John Campbell and Stephen Meyer. You might enjoy having a quick look at Jeffrey Shallit's expert report on Dembski submitted to the court during Kitzmiller v. Dover. Here are some of the highlights of that report:
  • Dembski is not a scientist
  • Dembski is not a renowned mathematician
  • Dembski's work is extensively criticized in the literature, but he rarely responds
  • Dembski's method for inferring design is neither accepted by the scientific community at large, nor useful to science
  • Dembski's inventions, "specified complexity" and "complex specified information" are neither valid nor accepted notions
  • Dembski's "Law of Conservation of Information" is not a law
Shallit concludes that
William Dembski has not made a significant contribution to a mathematical or scientific understanding of "design". His work is not regarded as significant by information theorists, mathematicians, statisticians, or computer scientists. He does not present his work in the generally-accepted fora for results in these fields. His mathematical work is riddled with errors and inconsistencies that he has not acknowledged; it is not mathematics, but pseudomathematics.
Before the beginning of the debate there is a brief, introductory discussion between two of the members of the host organization:

<Clip 00:12 - 00:20: Why have this debate?>

Which is obviously a bad thing, right? I mean, all of those murderous dictators of the 20th century were atheists, right? Even if this were true, what bearing would it have on the question of whether the organic rise of atheism is good or bad? Sure, we know what has happened when megalomaniacs who happen to suppress religion have come to power. But what has happened when a society has voluntarily given up religion? I won't attempt to make any hard claims, but take a look at this list, which ranks various nations by the proportion of irreligious citizens, and this list, which ranks various nations by peacefulness. There's an obvious correlation between unbelief and peacefulness. More reasons for the debate:

<Clip 01:01 - 01:07: Like football>
<Clip 01:12 - 01:18: Schemes>
<Clip 01:25 - 01:35: More schemes>

No, the search for truth is not like a football game. No, it's not about learning your opponent's style, his football plays, his schemes. I have a problem with debates in general, as I've described in other videos, because they tend to be about winning and losing. I would criticize Hitchens for even being involved in this debate, but after posting all those questions to the "On The Box" guys, I'm starting to see why we should engage in this sort of thing. Richard Dawkins says that we shouldn't, because we're giving them a forum. I say that we should, because we're reaching out to those who are deluded by them. Especially those who are deluded by the charlatans like Craig, Comfort, and Dembski.

That's the prologue. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Applying For The Position of God; Here's My Resume

For reference, here are Yahweh's Ten Commandments:

  1. No other gods*
  2. No idols*
  3. No wrongful use of divine name*
  4. Remember and keep holy the Sabbath
  5. Honor father and mother*
  6. Don’t murder
  7. Don’t commit adultery
  8. Don’t steal
  9. Don’t bear false witness against your neighbor
  10. Don’t covet*
* I declare all of these stupid, useless commandments. If they're from humans, they're just plain stupid. If they're from a deity, no less than the Supreme Creator of the universe, then they're reprehensibly small-minded in addition to being stupid.

Ten Commandments, Version 2.0

Some of these are not fully fleshed out. I'm really just floating this to you, people of Earth, to see what you think. If you're interested, let me know, and I'll put the finishing touches on it.

And hey: if you find my language pompous or long-winded, get over it. God gets to be that way.
  1. Your thoughts are your own. No one can tell what your thoughts are unless you articulate them. It is impossible for anyone to be hurt by your thoughts. There is no such thing as thought crime. How many other ways can I say it?
  2. Human beings cannot be owned. No slavery. Ever.
  3. Any creature, human or otherwise, that has even a rudimentary nervous system can suffer physical pain. Many creatures, human and otherwise, can also suffer psychological pain. It is always wrong to cause deliberate suffering, with extremely limited exceptions--see the animal treatment commandments. Other than that, don’t do it. Ever. I’m serious.
  4. Children have special rights. They are physically and emotionally defenseless. They do not have the faculties to deal with adult situations. Parents/guardians must protect their children and deal with life’s complexities on their behalf, always keeping the children’s best interests in mind.
    • Do not marry a child.
    • Do not have sex with a child.
    • Do not take advantage of a child’s defenselessness.
    • Do not sit idly while you know of children who are being mistreated.
    • Do not tell a child that he/she is bad, unworthy, inferior, or in need of any kind of redemption. Ever.
  5. Equality
    • All humans are morally equal to, and have the same rights as, all other humans, with the exception of the special rights of children. No societal category (e.g., race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, political beliefs, age, etc.) is inherently better or worse in any way than any other group. No societal group is allowed any legal privilege that is not available to all other groups. No group is to be restrained in a way that is not binding on all others.
    • Segregation of any kind is not allowed, except sexual segregation in public restrooms, because frankly, men are gross.
  6. The value of human life - lots of thoughts here, not organized yet. Let me know if you're interested and I'll give you a rough draft.
  7. Sex & Marriage
    • Masturbation is good for you. Do it as much as you want to. Just like anything else, don’t become addicted to it. But if you do become addicted, you haven’t committed a sin. Don’t beat yourself up (no pun intended—see, God 2.0 has a sense of humor), just get help.
    • Do not be sexual in any way (including touching and kissing) with anyone without his/her express consent. Ever.
    • What you do, alone or with mutually consenting adults of any number and sex, in a socially acceptable place and time, is part of the joy of life, so indulge yourself as much as you like.
    • Adults, do not have sex with a child. Ever.
  8. Lying
    • Children, you may lie to your parents if you are afraid. It is totally ok for you to protect yourself from psycho parents. But if you're not afraid, always tell the truth to your parents. It's not about being good or bad. It's about your safety and well-being. Parents need all the info in order to maximize their effectiveness on your behalf.
    • Society, make it safe for children always to tell the truth to their parents. If a child is put into a situation by his/her nutjob parents such that the child is afraid to tell the truth, then put a stop to it.
  9. Don’t steal (umm, duh?)
  10. Circumcision (no cutting ever for boys or girls or non-specific except when absolutely medically necessary). I have some vague thoughts on sex assignment, sacredness of intersex people
  11. Education/Teachers/Science/Basic Research
    • Education
      • You have some serious gaps in your primary school curricula. Add the following as required learning: critical thinking (this should be built-in to all of your teaching, but also teach it explicitly), morality, comparative religion, how to fit into society, how to cope with unhappiness, how to be an effective and helpful parent.
      • Private schools are not allowed, obviously, given that none of you is to have any privileges not available to all others. With any luck this will force you who care about education to provide good education to everyone.
    • Teachers
      • Teachers are to be held to the strictest standards of academic and professional quality, and ability to enrich children’s lives in every way possible.
      • Teachers are to be the highest-paid and most respected members of society.
  12. Crime/Imprisonment/Mental Health/Addiction/Homelessness/Drugs
  13. Environment Stewardship/Pollution/Resource management/Population
  14. Animals
    • Treatment: you'll need a lot of input from animal experts on this one. Some species, such as horses and dogs but not humans, do rely on very mild and judiciously applied physical suffering as part of their social dynamic. Learn from your experts how to provide a healthy environment for your animals and treat them with respect and dignity, applying suffering when it is best for them.
    • Carnivorism--I'll...heh heh...flesh this out later.
  15. Censorship: at least get your priorities straight. Again, welcome to the complexity of life. If you have your eyes open at all you’ll see that censorship is not a black-and-white issue. Argue amongst yourselves about it all the time because it’s important, but consider this: it is absolutely stupid to allow people to display images of ghastly violence but to forbid images of sexual activities and human bodies. It is absolutely stupid to allow people to broadcast hatred but to forbid specific swear words on the air. Get a clue. Notice the difference between something beautiful and something horrible.
  16. I saved this one for last, because this might be the deal-breaker, especially in the U.S. Listen carefully: there is no such thing as a right to bear children. No one has the right to bring a child into the world if they cannot provide an appropriate childhood. Not even to speak of the environmental stewardship commandment. Make good laws concerning reproductive responsibility. Let me be clear: RESPONSIBILITY.

Moving "On The Box" Questions to My Backup Channel

Hey Guys, GreatBigBore. I can't seem to stop asking questions to the "On The Box" guys, but I don't want to overwhelm your subscription boxes, like I did a few weeks ago. So I'll use my backup channel, GreatBigSnore, to submit any new questions. Feel free to check them out, or ignore them. If anything interesting ever happens with those guys, I'll be sure to mention it here. I've posted five new questions in the last couple of days.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Allah The Unit And Muhammad The Tool V: Allah, Use Your Words

In which I continue my exploration of the Qur'an, the life of Muhammad, and the invention and development of Muhammadanismistism. In this video I'll cover Surahs 111 and 73. Sura 111 goes by two names: "Al Masad," which means "The Twisted Rope," and "Al Lahab," which means "The Flame." Sura 73 is known as "Al Muzzammil," which means "The Enfolded One." The scholar Theodor Nöldeke considers Sura 111 to be the third revelation from Al, while the Cairo Qur'an considers Sura 73, with the exception of three verses, to be the third revelation.

I should point out here that not only is the Qur'an usually presented in non-chronological order, but also, some Surahs represent multiple revelations, delivered at different times. Sura 73 seems to be one of these. The Cairo Qur'an concludes that three of its verses arrived in Mo's head much later, while he lived in Medina. The footnotes in the Qur'an translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali agree with Cairo, at least for Verse 20.

Sura 111

This Sura is basically a curse pronounced by Mo against his uncle, whose nickname was "The Flame," and The Flame's wife. A charitable reading of this Sura might ignore four of its five verses and focus on Verse 2, "No profit to him / From all his wealth, / And all his gains!" Clearly, the Sura is a holy admonition from Al against materialism. If only Allah had given us permission to cherry-pick from the Qur'an. No, if 80% of the Sura is an extraordinarily childish fantasy of one's detractors receiving a grisly comeuppance, then we must infer that Al is unimaginably insecure, petty, vindictive, and sadistic.

The Tafsirs for this Sura tell us that Mrs. Flame was a terrible meanie: she would...OMG it's almost too heinous to say...she would scatter thorns on the paths where she knew Mo would walk. This doesn't even sound like a real person. It sounds more like a one-dimensional troublemaker in a children's story. Laying thorns in his way? Why can't Allah go after the serious offenders, like Ibn Doofsalam, who regularly administered wedgies to all of Mo's followers? I find it shocking that people regard the Qur'an, with its ridiculous trifles, as the solemn word of the Supreme Being. It's more like something a four-year-old would write.

Sura 73

"The Enfolded One" begins with Al musing on prayer and Quranic recitations, when to perform them, in what fashion, and for how long. Verse 4 commands Mo to "recite the Qur'an / In slow, measured rhythmic tones." I'll take only a moment to deride a deity that calls for chanting while attempting to distinguish itself from the other gods on offer, because more interesting to me here is that at the time of this revelation, the Qur'an that Mo would have been reciting consisted of at most four Surahs, containing 134 rather short verses. So because every good Muhammadanismist is enjoined to commit the entire Qur'an to memory, this religion resembles a pyramid scheme, where those who get in early are better off than those who get in late. Not so much to memorize.

In Verse 5 Al promises to send Mo a weighty message soon. Well, at least it admits that it hasn't said anything of value yet. But then, why would someone follow this entity if all it had was some nice-sounding, but empty poetry? After all those years seeking enlightenment, Mo has become like some spinster who's so desperate for a mate that she takes the first one with a pulse.

Verses 11 through 18 have Al meditating once again on how horrid things will be in the afterlife for the unbelieving, the ungrateful, those who ridicule Mo with excessively mean names, and those who forget to speak the magical incantation, "If Allah wills it" at the beginning of every sentence. Verse 15 is interesting in that it's the first place I've found where Allah identifies itself as Yahweh, referring to its unforgivable treatment of the people of Egypt due to Pharaoh not taking Moses seriously. In all of my research so far concerning the very beginnings of Muhammadanismistism, I haven't found any indication that Mo thought of Allah and the god of the Jews to be the same person. So now we know, if we didn't already, that Allah has the entire Old Testament to answer for before any decent person could convert to Muhammadanismistism.

In Verse 20, which apparently was revealed to Mo years after the rest of this Sura, Al rescinds Jesus' gloom and doom, all that about taking up one's cross and following him. Al says that it appreciates all the hard work of the faithful, and that they don't have to wear themselves out. In your face, Jesus!

That's Part V. Thanks for watching.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leaders With Facial Hair Are A Bad Sign VI

Concluding my thoughts on the Marxism video posted on TheOakInitiative's YouTube channel. Here I'll address the final point that Mr. Boykin makes in support of his suggestion that the U.S. is in danger of becoming a Marxist country. As usual, I've put links to all sorts of relevant info in the love bar. Boykin provides support for his suggestion that a constabulary force could soon appear.

<clip 04:49 - 05:09 Health care>

It seems that he is referring to Section 5210 of The Affordable Care Act, which became law on March 23, 2010. Section 5210 actually does create two bodies within the Public Health Service, a regular corps and a reserve corps. Although for the regular corps, officers appointed by the President must first be approved by the Senate, it actually does give the President carte blanche to appoint officers to the reserve corps with no oversight, completely at his whim. Scary, huh? That sneaky Obama, laying the groundwork for his own private army. What Boykin doesn't tell you is that Section 5210 of The Affordable Care Act is an amendment to Section 203 of the Public Health Service Act, which had already laid all of this groundwork for the U.S. to be overrun by Marxists five years before Boykin was born, 64 years before time-traveler Obama announced his desire to create a new brownshirts organization.

Boykin has attempted to convince us that Marxism is on its way. To support his claim, he has used the following items:
  1. The bailouts, which were requested by President Bush (and therefore presumably mandated by the god of Bush and Boykin) and passed during his presidency.
  2. The redistribution of wealth, which President Bush's bailouts also accomplished.
  3. The discrediting of detractors, which has gone on for millennia before Marxism existed.
  4. A gross misrepresentation of the DHS memo of April 7, 2009.
  5. A gross misrepresentation of the proposed UN small arms treaty.
  6. A law that has been in effect for over 60 years.
I can see three possibilities here:
  1. Boykin is being reprehensibly dishonest.
  2. Boykin believes that he is telling the truth but is deluded.
  3. Boykin is correct in his claims, and I and almost everyone who's seen this video have completely misunderstood either him or the relevant facts.
I won't rule out the third possibility, but it seems the least likely to me. I've yet to hear any coherent attempts at refutation. Whether we respect Boykin for his distinguished military service or not, whether he's a liar or just delusional, we can't accept any claim he has made here. If something bad is happening in the U.S., let's first figure out what it is; otherwise we won't know what action to take.

Some final comments concerning the idea that "Marxism = bad," and to keep it simple, I'll disconnect from the technicalities, just as many Americans seem to do. Let's say we don't care whether it's Marxism, socialism, communism, Maoism. Let's just say that they're all equally bad. It's obvious that under any of these, you end up with private property being expropriated by the state, the media being shut down, intellectuals purged, dissenters imprisoned and executed. But consider these situations:
  • The ancestral lands of countless aboriginals being expropriated
  • Whole nations of aboriginals being nearly exterminated, the survivors marginalized
  • Slavery
  • Use of atomic bombs on civilian populations
  • Segregation and racial discrimination
  • Vietnam
  • Corporate monopoly
  • Child labor
  • Fuel crises
  • The housing bubble
  • Wall Street corruption
  • Corruption in public offices
  • Creationists pushing their myths into public school science class
All of these have happened under democracy and capitalism. Did democracy and/or capitalism cause them? Could democracy and/or capitalism prevent them? Are democracy and capitalism bad? It's just a bit too simplistic to characterize a philosophy based on the results of a particular implementation of that philosophy. We need to have more careful thinking, more honest discussion, less reacting, less hype.

That's Part 6 and the end of the series. Thanks very much for watching.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Leaders With Facial Hair Are A Bad Sign V

Continuing my thoughts on the Marxism video posted on TheOakInitiative's YouTube channel. Here I'm still addressing the points that Mr. Boykin makes in support of his suggestion that the U.S. is in danger of becoming a Marxist country. As usual, I've put links to all sorts of relevant info in the love bar.

I'd like to point out that while I've posted every one of these videos as a response to Boykin's original video, the owners of the channel seem to have chosen to ignore me. Of course, I accept that they have every right to do so, but given that I'm making legitimate points about their video, it seems a strange choice, especially in light of Boykin's complaints about government censorship.

I notice that I've earned a couple of down thumbs on this series. I wish you guys would post comments too. You're really missing out on a chance to correct my thinking; I'll listen, and if I'm wrong, then I can become right. I invite your criticism. Don't be shy.

<clip Boykin 03:51 - 04:01 Constabulary Force>
<clip Boykin 04:06 - 04:22 Obama Claim>

Again, I'm not entirely sure, but I think that Boykin is referring to this statement made by then-candidate Obama during his speech in Colorado Springs on July 2, 2008.

<clip Obama 16:42 - 16:57 Civilian National Security Force>

I have to admit that I was rather creeped out when I saw this. A civilian force just as strong as our military, with the goal of "achieving national security objectives"? Maybe Obama really is the Antichrist. I've really dropped the ball this time: I hate watching politicians make speeches, because it always seems like every word is a lie. But maybe I should have watched this speech to find out more of this nutjob's fiendish plans. Thank goodness for YouTube. Let's get to the bottom of this.

<clip Obama 10:59 - 16:57 Civilian National Security Force in context (2m 20s)>

Will someone please tell me how we get from encouraging military enlistment and expanding national and community service organizations to using violence to impose political will? I just don't see it.

That's Part V(a). Thanks for watching.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Leaders With Facial Hair Are A Bad Sign IV

Continuing my thoughts on the Marxism video posted on TheOakInitiative's YouTube channel. Here I'm still addressing the points that Mr. Boykin makes in support of his suggestion that the U.S. is in danger of becoming a Marxist country. I've put links to all of my sources in the love bar. If I'm wrong on any of this, I don't want to remain wrong, so if anyone has the time and the inclination, I'd love it if you'd call me on any weaknesses in my arguments.

<clip 01:44 - 01:49 Censorship>
<clip 02:05 - 02:25 Hate Crime Legislation>

You know, I've been wondering lately why all these anti-gay, anti-Islam websites have suddenly been shut down.
And then I heard about all of those pastors and religious people who had disappeared mysteriously; I went and checked it out, and sure enough, they're all on this list. And I sure was glad to hear that Fred Phelps is behind bars now. Jeez. Someone please show me one example of the hate crimes legislation being used to censor people, of anyone speaking out against gays or Islam who has been arrested under the hate crimes legislation.

While you search for such an example, consider this: the hate crimes legislation that President Obama signed on October 28, 2009 is known as the "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act." It went through congress as HR 1913 and SB 909. Both documents have a section titled "Rule of Construction." The House's rule contains the following text:
Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, shall be construed to prohibit any expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by, the Constitution.
The Senate's rule contains the following text:
(3) CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief), including the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration. The Constitution does not protect speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence.

(4) FREE EXPRESSION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual's expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual's membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.
I don't know, I'm no expert, but it seems pretty clear to me that this legislation reaffirms your right to bash gays, Islam, and anything else that gets under your skin. As usual, if you guys think that I'm interpreting this badly, please, let me know. I conclude that Boykin has grossly misrepresented the "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act." Why?

<clip 02:57 - 03:15 Buy, Sell, Control>

Well, that's not anything like how I interpreted the intent of the treaty, which appears not even to exist yet. From what I can tell on the UN website, the whole idea is still under examination by a preparatory committee. More importantly, the charter for the committee is to examine the possibility of "establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms." The Reuters article on the matter says, "Nations would remain in charge of their arms export control arrangements". The Snopes article also points out that "in the 1957 case Reid v. Covert, the U.S. Supreme Court established that the Constitution supersedes international treaties".

At this point, seeing how badly he has mangled the DHS memo, the hate crimes act, and now the proposed UN treaty, how can we accept anything he says? A few people have suggested to me that being a decorated war veteran, he is a very noble and trustworthy man. I can't find a way to agree with such claims. Even if he does believe what he's saying, he's deluded. Either that or I'm just completely wrong, which I wouldn't rule out. Again, please let me know if I'm missing something important.

That's Part IV. Thanks for watching.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Leaders With Facial Hair Are A Bad Sign III

Continuing my thoughts on the Marxism video posted on TheOakInitiative's YouTube channel. Here I'm still addressing the points that Mr. Boykin makes in support of his suggestion that the U.S. is in danger of becoming a Marxist country.

First, my comments on some of the responses from you guys. There is sharp disagreement over Social Security, but I can't say anything about it, because I just don't understand the problem well enough. I challenge all you guys with an opinion about Social Security to ask yourself whether you really understand it well enough to make a sound judgment about it. If you do, then by all means share your knowledge so we can all increase our information-to-emotion ratio.

When I pointed out that it was the Bush Administration that instituted the bank bailouts, some of you responded along these lines: "But the Obama Administration is continuing the same stuff." Absolutely true, you're right: if I understand it correctly, we just gave a couple of trillion dollars to big business. But let's not lose focus. Boykin is claiming that Marxism is coming to America, and as support for that claim he points to the bank bailouts. If the bank bailouts are a sign that Marxism is coming, then President Bush has assisted in bringing it, and I have to assume that his god, being involved in all of Bush's decisions, approves.

Let's move ahead. Boykin provides an example of his claim that the opposition is being discredited.

<clip 01:13 01:31 DHS Memo>

I'm not entirely sure, but I think he's referring to this document. Link in the love bar. It is indeed a DHS memo, dated April 7, 2009. I've read it. The phrase "rightwing extremists" occurs at least 23 times, and various other similar phrases such as "rightwing extremism," "extremist groups," etc. occur another 27 times. The word "Christian" appears once, in this statement, which I've paraphrased for clarity, but do go read the original too: "Antigovernment conspiracy theories and 'end times' prophecies...have been linked with the radicalization of domestic extremist[s]...such as violent Christian Identity organizations." However, the phrase "white supremacists" is frequently connected with the phrase "rightwing extremists". It's truly hard for me to tell whether Boykin would want to distance himself and his fellow Christians from white supremacists. I really just can't tell.

Further, pro-life groups are not mentioned at all; not even does the word "life" appear in the memo. Second Amendment groups are not expressly mentioned, but groups that oppose gun control legislation are mentioned a few times. You might want to say that these are indeed the Second Amendment groups that Boykin means, but again, when it mentions these groups, the memo makes it clear that it's talking about rightwing extremists, not the Average Joe who wants a gun.

Finally, my socially inept ear tells me that the part of this document that causes Boykin to be more angry with his government than he ever has been is the part that impugns "returning veterans". Let's see what the memo says about returning veterans:
  • "...the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups..."
  • "Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists."
  • In a paragraph with the heading "Disgruntled Military Veterans," I read, "...rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills..."
  • "DHS/I&A assesses that the combination of environmental factors that echo the 1990s...including [among other things listed] returning military veterans...may be invigorating rightwing extremist activity."
I can't find anything in there that even remotely sounds like an attempt to discredit or impugn anyone. It sounds to me like a very dispassionate report concerning possible threats to domestic peace. If you guys think I'm misreading it, please let me know. Now let's listen to part of that clip again, where he refers to the gist of the memo.

<clip 01:21 01:25 Future threats to America>

He then lists the threats, and continues:

<clip 01:33 01:36 Not terrorists>

Wow, if a memo about future threats to the U.S. leaves out Islamic terrorists, then the guy has a point, right? What's the title of the memo? It must be "Future Threats to America", right? No. The title is "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment". After the title, how does the memo summarize its purpose in its opening paragraph? It must say, "Here is a comprehensive list of all the future threats to America," right? No. Its purpose is "to facilitate a greater understanding of the phenomenon of violent radicalization in the United States."

The memo is a discussion of the factors that are likely to contribute to the flourishing of rightwing extremist groups. I conclude that Boykin has grossly misrepresented the memo. I may be naive, but I remain convinced that the truth needs no help, no finesse. In my mind, embellishments like this discredit the speaker and his message, regardless of his politics or religious beliefs.

That's Part III. Thanks for listening.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Leaders With Facial Hair Are A Bad Sign II(b): Eight Myths Article

A follow-up to Part II.

The pictures in this video are eye candy; meaningless leftovers from other videos, nothing more. This is a somewhat tangential follow-up, and I don't feel like spending three hours finding pictures for it.

Remember the article I linked in that video that purportedly dispelled eight myths about the current political climate? For reference, I've linked it in the love bar here too. One of my viewers sent me a link to an article (link in love bar) that opposes that original article. I don't want to get derailed from the point of this series, but this seems important. Just remember that seven of these eight have nothing to do with the main conversation, and the one that does relate disqualifies Boykin's attempt to use the bailouts as a sign that we're headed for Marxism. Here's what I've found about each one of these so-called myths.
  1. The Right says that President Obama tripled or even quadrupled the deficit. The liberal article says that he reduced the deficit. The response article cites accounting trickery. I'll never figure this one out. Fortunately, I've found an article (link in love bar) with a claim that I can believe: both sides are lying. I'm going with that one for now.
  2. The Right says that Obama raised taxes. The liberal article says that he cut taxes. The response article agrees. He goes into some other details about why he's unhappy anyway, but I'm going to ignore that, as it's irrelevant to the original point.
  3. The Right says that Obama bailed out the banks. The liberal article says that it was Bush. The response article agrees. He gripes that then-Senator Obama voted in favor of the bailouts. Again, I'm ignoring this; we're not talking about whether Obama is a hypocrite. We're talking about whether the bailouts suggest that Marxism is coming.
  4. The Right says that the stimulus didn't work. I'm going to ignore this one. I've been a software engineer for 24 years, and I've had it up to here with people saying "it works" or "it doesn't work" when it's obvious that the disagreement is about what it means to "work" or "not work". Talk about relevant facts or shut up.
  5. The Right says that businesses will hire if they get tax cuts. The liberal article says that other factors, not tax cuts, affect hiring. Both articles implicitly appeal to common sense, and in case you don't know it by now, I am anti-common-sense. Common sense says that the world is flat. We need hard data before we can decide anything.
  6. The Right says that health care reform costs $1 trillion. The liberal article says that it reduces government deficits by $138 billion. The response article goes into details that sound like more accounting trickery. I'm going to assume that both sides are lying. I can't know whether someone is telling the truth when the technical details are over my head.
  7. The Right says that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is "going broke," that increased longevity resulting in fewer workers per retiree is a problem, etc. The liberal article says that Social Security has run a surplus since it began, has a trust fund in the trillions, is completely sound for at least 25 more years and cannot legally borrow so cannot contribute to the deficit. The response article disputes this with some details that are over my head. I'll assume that both sides are lying. Further, can't we just talk about the truth? Why are epithets like "Ponzi scheme" necessary? If SS is bad, then can't someone just articulate why it's bad? You might as well just say, "SS is dumb." It has the same weight as saying, "SS is a Ponzi scheme."
  8. The Right says that government spending takes money out of the economy. The liberal article says that government spending on roads, schools, and other infrastructure puts money into the economy, and that welfare and foreign aid, which seem to be one of the Right's big gripes, are a tiny fraction of government spending. The response article ventures into territory that seems rather dishonest to me: first, it counts SS, Medicare/Medicaid, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and “other” mandatory programs as "welfare" and then says that the welfare budget is 60%. If you have the truth, then why water it down with stuff like this? It makes me think that he's lying, or at least hiding something incriminating. He goes on to say that roads and schools account for only 3.3% of the budget. Notice that he never disputes the Left's claim that government spending on roads and schools puts money into the economy. I can think of only one reason for him to mention how much of the budget is accounted for by roads and schools: to distract from the fact that he cannot dispute the original claim.
In conclusion, I can't agree that the response article effectively disputes the original article. However, I really just don't care. I really just don't care who is in charge of the government, Left, Right, Up, Down. I don't care whether our leaders are hypocrites, adulterers, or drug abusers. What I care about most is the fact that there are billions of people sick, starving, and uneducated, and that's just not ok. We need to figure out a way to get everyone healthy, fed, and educated first, and worry later about lazy bums who would exploit the system. If we can fix this, then who cares whether it's a Ponzi scheme run by hypocrites and adulterers? Thanks for listening.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Leaders With Facial Hair Are A Bad Sign II

Continuing my thoughts on the Marxism video posted on TheOakInitiative's YouTube channel. Here I'll begin to address the points that Mr. Boykin makes in support of his suggestion that the U.S. is in danger of becoming a Marxist country.

First, I'd like to thank everyone who joined the conversation after my first video, especially those of you who challenged me. I'm in this for the conversation; I want us all to find the truth, and the odds that I have it already are pretty slim. The two main objections I got were (1) that Boykin deserves more credit for knowing what he's talking about than I give him, and (2) Marxism really is bad, whether we like Boykin or not.

Being the argumentative soul that I am, I could get bogged down debating these points with you guys. But that would be beside the point. I want to focus on one thing: it may be true that something terrible is happening in the U.S. and we must take action, but I want to know whether this message itself is justification for doing so. If a man breaks into my house and I call the police saying, "Get this guy out of here because he's ugly," then although it's true that the guy should be removed, my reasons are not going to convince the police. We're the police here; we should have good reasons for taking action. Maybe someone can demonstrate some good reasons. My question is whether Boykin has done so.

<clip 00:32 00:45 bailouts>

It wouldn't matter to most of Boykin's viewers whether this is Marxism, socialism, communism, or any other socioeconomic / political philosophy. It also wouldn't matter whether this is an example of "nationalizing major sectors of the economy." Even if I had the skill, the facts, and the inclination to convince his viewers that he's completely wrong here, I'm convinced that they would still say to themselves something in the form of "bailouts equal bad." What Boykin seems to be counting on, however, is that most of his viewers will have forgotten by now that "the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be "non-reviewable by any court or any agency.") The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama." I'll put a relevant link in the love bar. Go read it; it's short, and it dispels seven other widely believed myths concerning the current political climate.

<clip 00:48 00:51 redistribution>

Boykin spends a little time apparently answering anyone who might claim that they (whoever they are) haven't redistributed wealth, but the same predicament occurs here as the one I mentioned above concerning the term "Marxism." It just doesn't matter whether we call it "redistribution of wealth" or something else. Whatever it's called, in Boykin's book, it's bad. Lacking any useful knowledge concerning the labyrinthine health care reform bill, I'll take a step back here and just talk about what I think should happen concerning health care. Not in order to promote my views (although I wish I had the skills to do so), but to make my point very clear, rather than just tossing out a nebulous label.

I think that absolutely every last health care provider in the country should be entirely tax-supported; no one entering a health care facility should ever need to bring money or expect to get a bill for services. Now, bash that all you want, but your bashing will be off-topic, because it's not my political views I want to talk about here; it's the principle that I want to talk about. I will assume that Boykin and anyone who agrees with him would definitely call my idea a massive redistribution of wealth, and that's fine with me; call it whatever you like. But I have to point out that whatever you call it, I cannot tell the difference between taxpayer-supported health care and taxpayer-supported military, police, fire protection, highway building, and come to think of it, the bailouts. Please, someone do tell me if my thinking is fundamentally flawed here.

<clip 01:07 01:12 discredit opposition>

Are you kidding me? Are you seriously going to tell me that discrediting the opposition is a potential sign that Marxism is coming? Since when, in the history of humankind, has there ever been a time when people did not discredit their opposition? Everyone does this. Sometimes the opposition even needs to be discredited, because they're not credible. I'm shocked that Boykin can say this with a straight face.

That's Part II. Thanks for watching.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Leaders With Facial Hair Are A Bad Sign I

My friend's mom recommended a video posted just a few days ago, October 28, 2010 on TheOakInitiative channel. The basic message of the video, delivered by retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, is that we're in danger of becoming a Marxist nation. My friend asked me for my thoughts on Boykin's comments. I am not an expert in this area. In fact, I probably know only slightly more about it than Sarah Palin does, so all I could do is listen to him, think about what he says, and report back. Hopefully you guys will find it interesting. It will not surprise you that I have a lot to say here, so this will be a multi-part series. Let's hear a little bit about Boykin.

<clip: 00:15 to 00:23>

Ok, pretty standard stuff, establish some credibility with the audience. I don't know anything about anything, but when I hear "Green Beret," I think of a soldier, trained in special missions, creeping around at night with a gun and ambushing bad guys. Is that what he hopes you'll think? I don't know. I'm a social misfit, and I do a pretty rotten job of navigating the subtleties of conversation. If it's not the case that he wants you to think of him like this, then why would he say it? To lead up to the fact that the study of Marxist insurgency is part of his training? I wouldn't think so; he could have just left it at, "I'm a Special Forces officer."

Now you might want to say that I'm nit-picking, but consider: there are a lot of people in our country who automatically have more respect for a guy who's been in the trenches, especially in some exotic wing of the military. Would you have felt differently about him if he'd said, "I'm a Special Forces officer, and I commanded the U.S. Army’s Green Berets"? Maybe, maybe not. If you're the type that automatically respects the political views of a guy who goes out there and risks his life, knowing little to nothing about his education and experience with any bearing on his views, perhaps hearing that he was a commander rather than a soldier would not have the same impact. Why do I mention this? Because I poked around for a bit and found "commander" all over the place, but never anything about him being in the trenches as a Green Beret, even on sites that favor his views.

Also, I assume that he is presenting his best credentials here: an officer in the military who was trained concerning Marxist insurgency. This might seem great for the depressingly huge portion of the U.S. population who think that education is somehow unhealthy, but me, I'd rather he'd said something like, "I'm a political analyst with a Ph. D. from Harvard. My thesis was based on an analysis of Marxist insurgencies and the socio-political trends that lead up to them. I've continued research in this area for the last 20 years and have published numerous related papers in respectable, peer-reviewed journals." What are we to make of the fact that he was an officer in the military with some training? How good was the training? How long did he study? A year? Two years? Ten years? He doesn't say. If it had been ten years, then I'd assume that he'd say so in order to engender respect for his arguments. The fact that he doesn't give any details suggests to me that the details would be unimpressive. If someone is going to make the kinds of claims that Boykin makes later in his video, with absolutely no references to any reputable documentation, then you might hope that he'd be able to point to a solid foundation. Unspecified military training for some unspecified duration just doesn't cut it for me -- it seems that even to begin to understand something as complex as the onset of Marxism would require extensive, long-term study.

Let's hear Mr. Boykin's central thesis:

<clip: 00:23 to 00:31>

Hmm, I have to wonder how many of Boykin's viewers have looked up the word "Marxism" or "insurgency" in a dictionary. Probably not many. I'm sure that far fewer have studied Marxism, or economics, or politics in general, enough even to make an informed judgment about whether a Marxist U.S. would be a good or bad thing. Note that I've never looked up these words either; what I know about Marxism has come from YouTuber DasAmericanAtheist; what I know about politics comes from a couple of college courses and only six or eight books on American history and government over the years. So I'm not claiming to know anything. My point here is that although the purpose of this video, as stated by Boykin at the end, is to encourage us to take political action, we must first decide how much to allow this video to influence the kind of action we take. Does Boykin ever tell us what's wrong with Marxism? No. What could be the point of a video like this that tosses out the word "Marxism" to an audience that barely even knows what Marxism is? I don't want to overstate anything, but this already smells like propaganda, not actual information.

That's Part I. Thanks for watching.