Uncommon Sense

July 30, 2016

WTF? Further Government Shilling for Tech Companies

I just got a message from the ’Merican Guvmint that they are required by Executive Action to provide an additional layer of security to my Social Security online account, my “my Social Security” account.

To access my account in the future, I must supply a cell phone number that can receive texts to which an automated code will be sent, which when entered will allow me to view my account. Then they dropped the hammer:

If you do not have a text-enabled cell phone or you do not wish to provide your cell phone number, you will not be able to access your my Social Security account.

In other words, if you are poor or elderly and not tech savvy, well FUCK YOU, write us a letter and drop in a post box (which we have eliminated) or hand it to your local postman (which we are in the process of eliminating) or take to your local post office (which we are in the process of eliminating). But, in any case, fuck you, fuck you very much. <signed> Your Federal Government

Why the Inequality?

Well, bubbie, it wasn’t by accident!

From How ‘Competitiveness’ Became One of the Great Unquestioned Virtues of Contemporary Culture by William Davies, a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London (Posted on July 30, 2016 by Yves Smith)

“I suggest that we need to understand how competition, competitiveness and, ultimately, inequality are rendered justifiable and acceptable – otherwise their sustained presence in public and private life appears simply inexplicable.

“And yet, this approach also helps us to understand what exactly has broken down over recent years, which I would argue is the following: At a key moment in the history of neoliberal thought, its advocates shifted from defending markets as competitive arenas amongst many, to viewing society-as-a-whole as one big competitive arena. Under the latter model, there is no distinction between arenas of politics, economics and society. To convert money into political power, or into legal muscle, or into media influence, or into educational advantage, is justifiable, within this more brutal, capitalist model of neoliberalism. The problem that we now know as the ‘1%’ is, as has been argued of America recently, a problem of oligarchy.

“Underlying it is the problem that there are no longer any external, separate or higher principles to appeal to, through which oligarchs might be challenged. Legitimate powers need other powers through which their legitimacy can be tested; this is the basic principle on which the separation of executive, legislature and judiciary is based. The same thing holds true with respect to economic power, but this is what has been lost.

“Regulators, accountants, tax collectors, lawyers, public institutions, have been drawn into the economic contest, and become available to buy. To use the sort of sporting metaphor much-loved by business leaders; it’s as if the top football team has bought not only the best coaches, physios and facilities, but also bought the referee and the journalists as well. The bodies responsible for judging economic competition have lost all authority, which leaves the dream of ‘meritocracy’ or a ‘level playing field’ (crucial ideals within the neoliberal imaginary) in tatters. Politically speaking, this is as much a failure of legitimation as it is a problem of spiralling material inequality.

“The result is a condition that I term ‘contingent neoliberalism’, contingent in the sense that it no longer operates with any spirit of fairness or inclusiveness. The priority is simply to prop it up at all costs. If people are irrational, then nudge them. If banks don’t lend money, then inflate their balance sheets through artificial means. If a currency is no longer taken seriously, political leaders must repeatedly guarantee it as a sovereign priority. If people protest, buy a water canon. This is a system whose own conditions are constantly falling apart, and which governments must do constant repair work on.”

Will Anyone Notice?

In this country we have a centuries long commitment to educational fads. We no sooner dump one fad than to embrace another. We have a kind of Pony Express approach to education reform, which unlike the Pony Express, doesn’t really go anywhere.

So, for quite some time here in the U.S. the fad has been “technology in the classroom” which has been recently boosted by a commitment to quite unnecessary group testing which is often computer-based, even though the students being tested often do not have sufficient computer skills.

Well, a recent OECD study (“Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection”) has found that despite billions of dollars of frantic government spending, where information and communications technologies are used, their impact on student performance has been “mixed, at best,” in the words of the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher. “In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools,” said Schleicher. “We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.” and “Technology in the classroom has so far had little positive effect on childhood learning.”

It also found that children may learn best with analog tools first before later adding digital platforms, and that a few hours per week of classroom screen time may be optimal for children, beyond which learning benefits drop off to diminishing, or even negative, returns (my emphasis).

I suspect that in this country, our politicians will listen more to the commercial hawkers of “education technologies” than they will researchers and that we will continue to waste billions of dollars and megahours of student effort, thus harming students, for decades to come.

The irony is the general recognition in this country of the superior educational system of Finland, which bases its educational practices on research, American educational research in the most. But we do not follow, we lead … because we are e-x-c-e-p-t-i-o-n-a-l! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

An Intellectual Train Wreck

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
Tags: , , , ,

I was watching an episode of Ancient Aliens last night (I know, I know … but I can’t stop watching, there is the alluring fascination of watching a scientific train wreck). This episode (Space Station Moon, Season 11, Episode 11) addressed the question of whether the moon might actually be hollow and be a space station inhabited by … wait for it … aliens, who are stationed there to keep a tab on us. I guess theists aren’t the only ones who think we are special (one of the universe’s most watched species!).

In any case, they began with some basic facts about the moon, delivered by Rick Stroud (great name, could have been a private investigator) who wrote a book called “The Book of the Moon.” So far so good. The first words about the moon uttered by Mr. Stroud were that the moon “glows” because of reflected sunlight, it not being hot enough to create its own light. This is good, solid, basic information. But then … then Mr. Stroud says this:

The reason that the moon has phases is because the Earth blocks the light of the Sun. As the Moon moves around the earth, it gets incrementally a little bit more, a little bit more of the Sun’s light.”

WTF? Bullshit Alert! Bullshit Alert! (That’s bullshite for you Brits.)

Apparently the good author got a little mixed up and thought he was describing a lunar eclipse. If his description were valid, we would have a lunar eclipse every month and anyone who has ever seen a lunar eclipse has noted that it begins and ends in just a few hours. So, by this description, all of the phases of the moon would be seen occurring in just a couple of hours and the moon would be full for the entire rest of the month!

The reason this description is patent bullshit, is for it to be true, then the Moon’s orbit would have to be in the same plane as that of the Earth’s around the Sun. It is not, it is tilted by about five degrees (5°), which is why we do not have a lunar eclipse every month.

But even if the orbits were co-planar, we would still see the phases of the moon (full moon, waning moons, waxing moons, new moon, etc.) because of the real reason for the phases of the moon which is:

The moon travels around the Earth and the side of the moon facing the sun receives its illumination and is “lit up.” When the moon is between the sun and Earth, the lit up side faces away from us and the moon is dark from our vantage point ( a new moon). Then the moon moves on and about two weeks later it is on the far side of the Earth (away from the sun) and because its orbit is tilted a bit, the side facing the sun is still being lit (it is not in Earth’s shadow) and we can see it fully lit from the side of Earth not being lit, that is during our night time (a fully lit moon, or full moon). Half way between these two positions (one week to either side) the side of the moon facing the sun is at a right angle to us and we see the Moon as being half lit. (As a side note, because the Moon rotates on its axis in the same period of time it revolves around the Earth, the same side of the moon is always lit and the dark side of the moon is never seen.)

So, the producers of this episode of Ancient Aliens thought that Mr. Stroud was the perfect source for this basic information as he has “written” the book “The Book of the Moon,” but if they had just done a little research they would have found out that Mr. Rick Stroud is not an astronomer, but is a television director. (Hey, somebody had to cash in on the book following the documentary, why not the director?)

Or if one of the producers were to have done a little fact-checking by looking up “phases of the moon” on Wikipedia, or … oh, what the Hell … the aliens did it, the aliens did it. Now, I feel better now that I know what really happened.

July 29, 2016

Free Will … Redefined

Most discussions of free will get up to their hips in philosophical fine points rather quickly, which is fine by me as I am somewhat of an armchair philosopher (even took some courses in college so I am a partly-trained real philosopher). But the author of God’s Gravediggers: Why no Deity Exists (Raymond Bradley) turns this on its head, very productively, I believe.Gods Gravediggers Cover

Many have pointed out that if free will doesn’t exist, then our criminal justice system has a big, big problem. If we are deterministically programmed to do certain things, either by our genetics or our upbringing or by the laws of nature, whatever, then we can’t be held responsible for our actions. Sure we killed that person, but they had abused us as a child and we suffer from an abuse syndrome (don’t know any impressive names for one, but I am sure someone out there does).

Mr. Bradley does us a service and turns this around. He suggest that our definition of free will should be the judicial one, not a philosophical one. When a judge says “You are free to go,” after being arrested and put on trial, you can choose what to do and nobody will stop you unless you violate some other law or tread on someone else’s prerogatives. While in custody of the authorities, your free will was significantly truncated. You could decide what you wanted to eat, but were limited to an “eat or don’t eat” choice of what was being served in the prison meal room. You could decide to exercise any time you wanted, as long as you could pull it off without disturbing your cell mate in the space provided (no touch football or soccer, for example). Yes, you still had significant parts of your ability to decide for yourself, but many other parts that you once had were taken away.

If a jury decides you are guilty of killing your neighbor’s dog, they are saying you had the ability to choose otherwise and did not, that your will was free.

In a number of cases, such decisions are not so easy. People with diminished mental capacities and people who have been treated abusively their whole lives are sometimes found to be not guilty because of either temporary or permanent insanity. That is they were judged to no know the difference between right and wrong, and free will or no, they can’t be held accountable for their actions. In other words, their wills weren’t really “free” in this case.

This is to be expected because when it comes to any aspect of human behavior or abilities there are no sharp dividing lines. The law allows for decisions to be made in such circumstances, philosophy not so much. Philosophers, especially logical philosophers, want nice sharp lines of demarcation. Imposing such a requirement on a discussion of free will at best will result in a stale mate. Looking at things more pragmatically (we all think we have free will, therefore we do) may be much more productive. At least at first glance, it is.

I have been promising you a review of Everybody is Wrong About God by James Lindsay (which will be coming in parts) but one of Mr. Lindsay’s arguments is the battle over whether god (any god) exists has been settled and god lost. If you want confirmation of that battle and its outcome, read God’s Gravediggers. The author gives you both laymen’s (aka short) explanations as well as brick-by-brick tightly reasoned arguments for why even the concept of a god doesn’t hold water (or souls, or angels, spooks, pixies, gremlins, etc.). He also seems to cover all of the ground involved.

July 28, 2016

The Problem of Evil … Solved!

Uh … well … no. Sorry.

Christian apologists have always been drawn from the pool of small caliber intellectuals and their arguments often show this. Recently a noted apologist by the name of Alvin Plantinga (of the same stature as William Lane Craig or as I prefer to call him “Bill”) authored a massive formal logical defense of the solution to the problem of evil that centers on the existence of free will. He “proves” that an all-good, omnibenevolent god is perfectly compatible with the existence of evil.

For those of you whose heads are spinning a bit, recall that the “Problem of Evil” is simply a contrast of the supposed existence of an “all-good, omnibenevolent” god who created this system with the fact that evil is all around us. That god is responsible for all of that evil, and therefore isn’t really “all-good,” no?

Now I do not want to get bogged down in the philosophical fine points. For example, some philosophers break “evil” down into types, even describing a “natural evil” in the form of earthquakes, forest fires, landslides, etc. I think this is sort of silly because I consider nature to be neutral. If you happen to die in a landslide, it may be sad but there was no intent on the part of nature to do you in, it just happened. So, gliding gracefully over trivial sticking points, I proceed. Let’s get to the core of the matter.

Plantinga and Craig and all of the others use school boy logic up to and including very refined philosophical logical systems to make their points. But they all, Plantinga included, make basic mistakes that are quite appalling. They state premises like “you can’t have good without evil.” Uh, really, says who? Such a premise is loaded and cannot be the basis of a sound conclusion.

Consider the parallel argument: you can’t have the rich without the poor. Well, there are countries in which poverty has been virtually eradicated (there are always a tiny minority of the poor which fall between the cracks but not a big enough cohort to supply the wherewithal to support a class of rich people). In these countries without significant poverty, have rich people disappeared? In fact, would this not be a way to deal with inappropriately powerful rich people? Get rid of poverty and their wealth would collapse. Yes, it is a ridiculous statement because it is a ridiculous premise for any discussion, as is “you can’t have good without evil.” Dichotomies of opposites were popular a couple of thousand years ago and still have a lingering power, but sheesh!

I am a science-fiction buff, so allow me a flight of fancy. Intrepid ’Merican space jockeys reach a number of alien planets and on one they discover a society in which there is no evil. Bad things happen all of the time but none of them have evil intent on the part of any alien. For example, a youth was swimming in a lake and got a cramp and drowned. An adult witnessed this but did not jump into the water to try to save the drowning youth. Surely that is evil. But, actually the adult could not swim herself and would have drowned, too, if she had jumped into the water to attempt a rescue. The adult frantically tried to find a flotation device, a rope, or a boat to effect a rescue, but none was available. This was a sad event. It was “not good.” You see “not good” is the opposite of “good,” not evil. You do not need the extreme contrast of evil to be able to identify “good,” there is plenty of contrast in the “not good,” the absence of good. It would have been good to be able to save that alien youth’s life, as it was it was not good; if you unsure, ask his mother.

On this planet, nobody ever has the thought to run into a church and blaze away with a gun, killing as many people as they can. None thinks to strap explosives to their bodies, then go into a crowded theater and detonate them. No one thinks that it would be a good idea to butcher their neighbors for meat to feed their dogs or kidnap young females and keep them as sex slaves in their basement. These thoughts just never occur to the aliens.

Our philosophers seem to think that evil is the cost of us having free will. That if we don’t have totally, completely, awesomely free wills, we would be diminished beyond repair. The aliens in my little fantasy have oodles of free will. They get to decide what they want to train for in the way of a job, which jobs to apply for, where to go on vacation, how many kids to have or whether to have kids at all, which church they want to belong to, which sports teams to root for, which car to buy … <pant, pant, pant>. Do you get the idea? They just don’t have the will to do evil things.

Are we better off having the part of our totally awesomely free will that causes us to commit evil acts or are we better off without it? Is the cost of not just free will, but the part of free will that enables us to do evil so precious that it is worth the price you see? The apologists think so. I suspect that normal people do not. They would prefer to live in a world without evil.

The Christian apologists are black and white absolutists. You can’t have good with out evil. You can’t have any restrictions on free will otherwise we are just robots, etc. Then they top it off and say things like their god loved us so much that He gave us free will including the evil part, you know, so we could have some good, too. They even indicate that He couldn’t have done it any other way, that a society without evil results in us being without free will and therefore being robots having no reason to live (in their minds the reason to live is to be able to freely, and without coercion, worship their god).

They say this while making the contradictory claim that their god has already done exactly that: He created a world in which evil doesn’t exist yet humans will enjoy immensely. He called it “Heaven.” The philosopher-apologists responded with “Well, Heaven isn’t really a world…,” yeah, right.

Let me make it simple. If I can imagine a world in which there is only good and not good, filled with happy people free to make myriad choices about how to live their lives (aliens are people, too), why couldn’t their god?

I’ve got to tell you, sometimes my people (intellectuals) embarrass me. To them, the truth is pretzel dough to be twisted into the shape desired for today’s eating.

July 26, 2016

U.S. Schoolteachers Are Middling in Skills

A report by the Brookings Brown Institute provides data that shows that U.S. school teachers have “middling” (aka mediocre) language and math skills when compared to teachers in other developed countries. At the top of both of those lists? Finland, of course. The same Finland which bases its educational practices on American education research. Yes, that Finland.

So, do these findings provide ammunition for the public school reformers whose solution is to “get the bums out” by firing all of the “bad teachers” and replacing them with “great teachers?”

Uh, not exactly.

As to whether it is desirable for our teachers to show higher proficiencies in these basic academic skills, one could say yes, that is desirable. As to replacing the less adept teachers with really, really good ones … good luck with that strategy. Most reformer-types wouldn’t know a great teacher if one bit them in the ass. So their procedure breaks down to “fire the bad teachers and hire a bunch of new ones and hope for the best.” Then there is the small problem that teachers earn 20% less than others with equivalent education and skills. So the reformers are actually claiming to be able to find great teachers hiding in the pool of candidates willing to work for 20% less than others of the same abilities (on average!). Should they not rather conclude that that is why the current labor pool is as it is? That is, you get what you pay for? (If their business needed skilled machinists or skilled programmers, would you find them down at WalMart hiring guys off of the street?)

Let’s apply the reformer’s strategy to, say, CEOs. When companies struggle, fire their CEO’s ass and replace them with people making 20% less than others having similar qualifications. I am sure the application process can weed out those who are making more money to get a pool of those making 20% less than average, and then a few interviews and voila, a new CEO.

Maybe performance bonuses of 3-4X annual salary, like they do on Wall Street would help. You got any ideas? Can’t be worse than the current crop of ideas from the billionaire boy education reformers.

PS While Britain may be a “nation of shopkeepers,” we have always been a nation of the middling sorts. The post constitution period shows this quite clearly. Our early success was due to middling abilities surrounded by a vast wealth of natural resources. And we have always have had geniuses, a few anyway, but by and large we are average-ish. Consider our current candidates for President. These are our best and brightest? I shudder to think so.

PPS Oh, and Finland? Finland pays about 15% more for teachers compared to the earnings of others with the same skills and education.

Why Does God Need Helpers?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
Tags: , , ,

According to Christian scriptures, their god has a great many helpers. With a little help from the Internet (especially howstuffworks.com for the descriptions of the various kinds of angels) I have found the following about God’s minions. Most are called “angels” which stems from the Greek word for “messenger” as does the Hebrew analogous word mal’ak.

How Many Angels Are There?
According to Revelation 5:11, there are many: “ten thousand times ten thousand” which gives a number around 100 million. Apparently many hands make light work. Actually since two thirds of the globe’s people believe in the same god, you would have to add 4-5 billion more to that number, just to account for all of the guardian angels.

Are There Different Kinds?
Many sources indicate there are nine kinds but I have found 10, namely:

These are the angels who are closest to God. They encircle his throne and emit an intense fiery light representing his love. Seraphim are considered “fiery serpents” and not even the other divine beings may look at them. There are only four of them and each has four faces and six wings. When they come to Earth, they leave their serpent appearance behind, preferring tall, thin, clean-cut human embodiments.
Cherubim (Cherubs)
These angels are the keepers of celestial records and hold the knowledge of God. They are sent to Earth with great tasks, such as guarding the Garden of Eden from the re-entry of humans after Adam and Eve got evicted. Ancient art depicts cherubim as sphinx-like, winged creatures with human faces, not the fat babies with wings that now grace greeting cards and book covers. Ophaniel, Rikbiel, and Zophiel are cherubim, as was Satan before his fall to evil.
Thrones’ appearance is perhaps the most bizarre. They are said to look like great glowing wheels covered with many eyes. They serve as God’s chariot and dispense his judgment in order to carry out his desires for us. The angels in the second choir can exist in a state of transition between the celestial and human worlds. They are considered heavenly governors, attempting to strike a balance between matter and spirit, good and bad.
Dominions receive orders from seraphim and cherubim, then dish out duties to the more mundane angels of the lower orders. Their main purpose is to make sure that the cosmos remains in order by sending down power to heads of government and other authority figures. Zadkiel (sometimes called Hashmal) is the chief of this order.
Shaped like sparks of light, virtues are in charge of maintaining the natural world, and they inspire living things in areas such as science. They also take orders from the angels above and convert them into miracles for the deserving. When they make themselves known to us in their earthly form, they are musicians, artists, healers, and scientists who work with the power of love, as well as physics. The two angels at the ascension of Jesus are believed to have been virtues.
In their celestial form, powers appear like brightly colored, hazy fumes. Powers are border patrol agents between heaven and Earth. They are the angels of birth and death. Some believe that they also preside over demons who wish to overthrow the world, while others, namely St. Paul, thought the powers themselves were the evil ones. In any case, powers are a group of experts who serve as advisers in terms of religion, theology, and ideology.
These angelic beings are shaped like rays of light. Just like a principal in school, it’s the principalities who oversee everything. They guide our entire world – nations, cities, and towns. What’s more, they are in charge of religion and politics. They are also in charge of managing the earthly duties of the angels below them. Busy, busy, busy.
They, along with the angels, are guardians of people and all things physical. But don’t call on them to help you personally; archangels respond best when dealing with matters involving all humankind. They are the first order of angels that appear only in human form. As such, they function among us as pioneers for change in the form of explorers, philosophers, and human rights leaders. This order is most commonly known because they are mentioned by name in the Bible — Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
Guardian Angels
Angels are the true intermediaries between God and individual people. Angels don’t watch over nations; they safeguard households and individuals who believe in God and keep them safe from demons. They nurture, counsel, and heal. We all have a “personal angel,” better known as our guardian angel, with us daily.
Demons are referred to as angels gone bad … time and time again, so they constitute another category.

What are Their Job Descriptions?
They can be inferred to be:
Care Givers for Believers as They Die
Answerers of Prayers
The Agency of Strengthening and Encouraging Believers
Deliverers (Helping Believers Escape Dire Straits)
Providers of Victuals, etc.
… But Their Primary Role is to Worship and Praise God (of course)

Questions, Questions, Questions

  1. Why does an all-powerful, all-knowing, able to create a universe with a single thought god have a need for helpers? Is it because there is something they can do what he cannot?
  2. Is there any greater evidence that these writings were created by the minds of men? Either they misunderstood the powers of their god (sheesh, he created light an darkness, for Pete’s sake), or they felt that to accomplish all of what he did, he needed to have help, as any mortal would. They also created a hierarchy of angels with authority ladders, etc, which may be needed by humans but would not be needed by a god who already knows what is going to happen and can talk to anyone or any angel in their head.
  3. Since scripture indicates angels aren’t born, nor do they die, where did the additional 4-5 billion guardian angels come from to handle the load now that the global population has swelled from a few hundred million in biblical times to the 7.4 billion now (two thirds of whom believe in this same god). Were they sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for an assignment? In the book of Genesis, God is indicating that he created Adam to tend his garden. Couldn’t he have used a team of those unemployed guardian angels?
  4. Feel free to add to this list.

July 23, 2016

Ah, Ha! Check This Out!

I have been working my way through a book (Everybody Is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay) in which the author addresses how to meet the needs of god-fearers naturally which are now being met by “god.” What I was struck with is how in each psychosocial need believing in a god was a shortcut, a lazy way to a conclusion. (I once joked that a fundamentalist biology textbook would have a simple answer book for all of the listed exercise, namely “The correct answer is a. God did it.”) And in the background of my thoughts was “well, what can you expect from effing human beings.” But . . . in the vein of “seek and you will find” I encountered a brand new Veritasium video that answered my question.

Veritasium is an English-language educational science channel on YouTube created by Derek Muller who is a fricking brilliant, absolutely amazing science communicator (originally from Australia and Canada) although he now lives in L.A. (no accounting for taste, eh?). He is so very good I support his video making through Patreon.

This topic of this short video is cognitive ease, which describes the psychological aspect of our makeup in which the easier something is to take in or the more frequently we see something, the more likely we are to like it or think it is true or paint it as benign or even good. And there are plausible reasons why we evolved to have this “ability.”

Cognitive ease and its opposite cognitive strain explain a great deal of the behavior of god-fearers and the rest of us, too.

Check it out: The Illusion of Truth


July 22, 2016

Morals Are . . .

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:44 am
Tags: , , ,

I am almost finished reading Everybody Is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay which I have mentioned before. The author makes several novel points (the existence of God debate is over, they lost) and is urging us to shift the focus of anti-theism onto addressing how to naturally meet the needs of god-fearers which are now being met by “god,” that is meeting those needs via nature.

My intent was to write a proper review when I finished but I don’t thing that is possible as there is way too much meat on this bone to gnaw off in one sitting, so I am going to have to treat the various psychosocial needs that religion addresses one at a time. This time I will address “morality.”Cover of Everybody is Wrong About God

The linchpin of this discussion is a question so often asked by theists, namely, “How can you have morality without God?” The author points out the word “God” does not refer to a system of morals described in scripture, which would be problematic at best. The word “God” in this question is actually a stand-in for “morals.” What they are really asking is “How can you have morality without morals?” In the theistic mind, morals and God are synonymous. So, a godless atheist is automatically amoral and because theists aren’t accepting of their biological natures, they assume atheists are ravening animals without restrictions like bars or at least a leash.

Having this equivalence as part of your makeup is a great shortcut. One doesn’t have to have ever thought about morality and how one should act in society. If one is a god-fearer, that is all that is needed. One is automatically a moral person and everyone else in the “club” has been screened and pre-qualified for the same criterion. The fact that most people are fairly moral helps to sustain this delusion. The fact that our prisons are crammed full of theists doesn’t undermine it because, well, they are not “true” theists.

Atheists pointing out that scriptures are riddled with examples of bad behavior by gods, ranging from the petty to the obscene does no good whatsoever, because “God” has all of this cover created for “Him:” God is all-good, good is all-knowing, god is all-benevolent, and if you get in my face, God is all-powerful and will kick your ass (at a bare minimum kick your ass into Hell after you die). On top of that, theists are taught that they (and so you) cannot question God, so there!

There are consequences to these approaches to morality. The obvious ones are shown in scripture. In Jewish and Christian scripture, Yahweh commands his people not to “kill” then goes about ordering the deaths of millions upon millions of people by his people. Careful inspection of the scriptures indicates that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is really “Thou shalt not commit murder” and that is qualified as “Thou shalt not commit murder of a Yahweh believer.” Whether you quibble or not, the net result is it is okay to kill as long as Yahweh says it is okay. As I have mentioned, this is why we always claim that “God is on our side” whenever we go to war.

Morally, most people would say that killing was most repugnant and would only be acceptable in cases in which one is defending one’s own life or the life of a close family member. Most would prefer that criminals be captured rather than killed at the site of their crime. But once “God” has endorsed a certain kind of killing (by a cleric blessing the troops or a Fatwa being issued), look out.

Part of the psychosocial need on display in most theists, and most people for that matter, is the desire for an absolute morality. And the only absolute morality is one dictated by a god, because otherwise we are limited to human agreements which are changeable. (There is a phrase “You can’t legislate morality” which points mostly to the futility of the effort but also to the underlying feeling that morals need something with more heft to back them up (God!).)

Philosophers have struggled to define or describe an absolute morality and have failed miserably because apparently no such thing exists … except in the minds of theists. For theists “God = morals” and “God is absolute” and voila.

Since theists equate God with morals, if you are without God, you are without morals. This is tough spot for an atheist to be in. The problem here is that too many are looking at morality as being a state or condition. I, on the other hand, rather look at morality as a journey rather than a destination. To be a moral person, there is a process that you must hew to and that is before you take action you evaluate how you feel about the effects of your actions using your moral senses, whatever the heck those are.

Most of us couldn’t define our own morality if our life depended upon it. Most would mumble some version of the Golden Rule: do not do unto others what you would not have done to you. This is a common guideline to morality that has arisen in various cultures over most of human history. It is also vastly incomplete, but as a rule of thumb it works for a great many situations. (As an aside, I prefer this statement over the “Do unto others what you would have done unto you” which is an even worse guideline. If I wanted a massage, should I go out and grab people and start massaging them, to communicate my desire for the same treatment?)

But as people we all have feelings and if we consult them (the morality ones) when we act and act accordingly, then we are behaving as a moral person and hence, we are a moral person. Sure, if you are a psychopath, you may think it is perfectly moral to chop up your mailman and store his pieces in your freezer, and you may think that is okay. But morals are completely unnecessary without a society, so in society we interact and offer corrections to one another regarding our shared morals. Parents teach their children. Adults interact in ways from which they can learn things like “maybe I shouldn’t have let my dog dig up the neighbor’s lawn.” These interactions involve quiet conversations and fist fights and everything in between. The morals that really count are the shared ones. If you think it is immoral to wear clothing made of more than one fiber, you are welcome to that belief. It is harmless for you to enforce that upon yourself. If you try to enforce it upon others, though, you are going to be met with resistance . . . and laughter, and ridicule, and a manifold of other social cues as to bad behavior. If you think it is moral to torture puppies and stake their flayed carcasses out on your front lawn, you are going to find out rather quickly that your neighbors do not share that moral but that they do own pitchforks and torches.

It does no good to have an absolute morality (even if one did exist) if you do not consult and follow it. And since basic morality seems to be shared by almost all around the globe (most people think theft and murder are immoral), scripture is not needed to define it. What is needed is interaction. We are currently undergoing global societal interactions over things like female circumcision and honor killing and rape and sex slavery. In some cultures these are considered acceptable. I suspect as those cultures become more immersed in the global society, those practices will be diminished as being archaic and unacceptable. You need only look at the global standing of women in all cultures to see that change, driven by moral feelings, is possible.

What to do to shift the psychosocial needs of theists off of their religion and onto something natural, I haven’t gotten to quite yet. The author insists, wisely, that he is just starting a conversation (actually steering a pre-existing one) and not trying to solve all of its associated problems. More is coming.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.