Uncommon Sense

May 15, 2022

Intelligent Design Goes Boom!

Can’t let a Sunday go by without a post about religion. I seem to do this religiously. Does than mean . . . nah! S

The theory of intelligent design has been promoted as a serious competitor to the theory of evolution to explain the current mix of biological species here on Earth. It hasn’t been taken seriously by scientists, however, because it isn’t a scientific theory, etc. But that is not the point I wish to make here (as it has been made over and over and over . . .). I have even made jokes that “intelligent design” might be something a sufficiently powerful alien might pull off because there is nothing in the “theory” of intelligent design that indicates the Christian God did it. The authors of the theory of intelligent design, of course, make no bones about this being the work of a god, specifically their god, the god of fundamentalist Christians. But I wasn’t aware that John Stuart Mill destroyed the theory of intelligent design 150 years ago! Here is a quote displaying Mill’s position:

. . . what is meant by design? Contrivance: the adaptation of means to an end. But the necessity for contrivance—the need of employing means—is a consequence of the limitation of power. Who would have recourse to means if to attain his end his mere word was sufficient? The very idea of means implies that the means have an efficacy which the direct action of the being who employs them has not. Otherwise they are not means but an encumbrance . . . if the employment of contrivance is in itself a sign of limited power, how much more so is the careful and skillful choice of contrivances? Can any wisdom be shown in the selection of means when the means have no efficacy but what is given them by the will of him who employs them, and when his will could have bestowed the same efficacy on any other means? Wisdom and contrivance are shown in overcoming difficulties, and there is no room for them in a being for whom no difficulties exist. (John Stuart Mill, Theism, pp. 33-34, 1874 Edition)

And to summarize Mill’s point, I offer another quote:

As Mill points out, there can be no obstacles to divine omnipotence—no difficulties that God must overcome—because God’s “will” is sufficient to produce any effect. The necessity of employing means to accomplish an end is the consequence of limited power; therefore, God cannot be said to employ means in any sense. Extending this argument, we also realize that God cannot be said to act in any manner, because actions are required only of a being who must resort to some means in order to accomplish a given end. Nor can God be said to have any kind of purpose, because “purpose” entails unfulfilled desires or goals—and these concepts cannot apply to an omnipotent being. (George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (emphasis mine)

So, can an omnipotent Creator God design anything? Apparently not. And, accordingly, He makes no plans as plans are a contrivance to accomplish something that couldn’t be accomplished without them. So, “God has a plan for you,” uh, not. No purpose, no plan, no designs . . . or omnipotence is off the table. I think maybe it is more than IDT that has gone “boom.”

Postscript I have made this same argument against the existence of angels because an omnipotent being shouldn’t need “messengers” as it would take more effort to explain a task to an angel than to do it itself.

May 3, 2022

The Pervasiveness of Memes

Mankind was not made to suffer. Bliss is our nature. (David Lynch)

Christianity and creationism are woven into our culture. It is so finely woven in that sometimes it is hard to see.

Take the quotation above. I know it is true because mankind was not “made” and thus cannot have been “made for a reason.” Mankind, like Topsy, just grow’d. Weren’t no creator.

Imagine the unsuspecting child, immersed in a culture in which people are constantly exclaiming things like that. Things like: “She has a gift from god.” or worse “She is gifted.” A child believing she has gifts has been primed to find out that, surprise, it is the family god who bestowed those gifts upon her.

When children ask about a relative who has died, they may hear “He has gone to meet his reward.” Or “He is looking down on us now.” This is Christian propaganda, but the child probably doesn’t know that.

Even non-religious children receive a heavy dose of this indoctrination.

So, when theists ask why we atheists care, why can’t be just let people be, this is what I think of: unsuspecting children of Christians and non-Christians being taught to believe bullshit and thus being primed to believe other fairy dust being sold by politicians and corporations through the years. Once you accept things as being true having no good reason to believe so, you have just been admitted to the land of the Gullible and will be sold many other bullstuffs.

March 24, 2022

Why Do So Many Kids Hate to Read?

Filed under: Culture,Education,language,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:55 am

There are, and have always been, people who do not like to read. From things I have read it seems that their numbers are increasing as a fraction of all of us.

There is a societal aspect to this. There are parents who read to their children all of the time and then acquire them “pablum” books to read themselves. There are also parents who have next to no books in their houses and do not read to their children. I presume this has an effect upon children raised in such households.

Sadly, many kids learn to hate reading for the simple fact that they were never given anything interesting to read. Most school books are painful to read and have been so mangled by reading level sweeps and censorship sweeps, as to be incoherent. (They may be “New” but they certainly aren’t “Improved.”)

I think another major factor is imagination. Before TV and video and the Internet, people told stores and, later read stories. As the words tumbled by our imaginations gave life to the dragons, and knights in shining armor, and brave princesses.

Most of you do not remember life before TV, but I was born in 1946 and we got our first TV in 1953, So, I was part of a household that listened to the radio. It was similar to being read to or a story being told and our imaginations did the heavy lifting. (Going to “the movies” was an infrequent thing at the time.) But soon came TV/video/Internet and our imaginations were required less and less.

My guess is that children raised with “handheld devices” constantly available will find reading laborious and somewhat colorless, compared to the whiz-bang visual extravaganzas available to them in vast quantities.

For those who eschew reading, a connection with the past is lost. You can read a writer’s thoughts directly and there is little translation. If you have to wait for the movie or mini-series to come out, you will be getting a treatment one or more steps removed from the original. (Anyone who loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s books was not entirely happy with the movie adaptations.) It is somewhat like reading something translated from another language. Some nuances will be lost. Scholars wishing to seriously study historical documents, for example, learn the languages they were written in so that such translating problems are minimized.

If you have a child who despises reading, a last gasp attempt to show the value to him/her may be as simple as when your child expresses a love for any topic (and I mean any) give them a gift of a good, easy to read book on that topic. It may encourage further explorations.

March 20, 2022

There are Lies and Then There are Breitbart Lies

The Breitbart internet “news” site ran a story claiming a Virginia boy committed suicide because of COVID mandates and critical race theory.

They left out a few things, for example, that the boy had graduated from high school the year before the pandemic broke out and that his school doesn’t teach Critical Race Theory.

Here are the details: Breitbart Claim: Boy Kills himself due to Critical Race Theory and COVID Mandates

If the freedom of the press shall not be infringed, what about the freedom to lie through the press? Is that protected, too?

March 17, 2022

Making Tradeoffs

In Ryan Holliday’s daily blog today he stated “Life has always required making tradeoffs. Life has always placed certain restrictions on people. Life has always included people who face the problem and people who run from it, people who prioritize their own wellbeing and people who look out for the common good. Life, as Seneca would say, has always been in the habit of shattering, as (Michael) Dell writes, our ‘cherished ways of life.’”

Living in a society, instead of a small band/family, requires myriad tradeoffs from all. The saying is “you have to go along to get along.” For example, in this country we have, collectively, decided to drive our cars on the right side of the road. This is a safety measure. (I remember being in a cab in Vienna long ago, on a circle road and cars were lining up opposite us waiting for the light to change. But there was no dividing strip or even painted line about how far one could go. So, there were maybe eight-ten lanes and there were eight-nine cars lined up in opposition on each side of the intersection to one another. The light changed and then everyone rushes forward, jockeying to get into a position to get through the tangle ahead of the others. Madness! I can still remember the fear I felt in being a part of this . . . although, I am sure, the cabby was a veteran and knew what he was doing, still, a little enforced order would have been welcome.)

Driving on the right side of the road is not to be found in scripture anywhere. It is not god ordained, it is a rule we made up so we could get along easier. Anyone claiming that such a rule is an impingement upon their personal freedoms and doesn’t apply to them will be looked upon in horror and disdain. We were taught over and ever in my youth that “ignorance of the law is no defense/excuse.” I think we might need to add “you don’t get to pick and choose which laws you will obey and which you will not.”

Living in a society involves myriad such tradeoffs. I give up some freedoms I might want to claim and I get, in return, something like security.

For example, and again collectively, because banks weren’t the most stable organizations in our society, we decided to provided universal account insurance (within limits, e.g. type of account, amount of money in it, etc.). So by regulating banks (requiring certain rules be followed), the banks could have this insurance, which is reassuring to the bank’s depositors and “good for business.” No longer do you have to fear that a bank “run” will close your bank and you will lose all of the money you kept in it.

We have collectively decided to tax ourselves to provide national defense, lifting that burden from the individual states. Collectively we have decided that all children must receive a minimum education, for the betterment of society. (When I was young, this was about making “good citizens” (hidden message “out of immigrants”). We tax ourselves so as to provide all children this same education. Well-to-do parents can supplement the educations of their children without limit, but public education provides a common experience for all proto-citizens.

Well, all of these things used to be true. But much of the above now seems to be under attack. Ranchers in the West seem to be claiming that they have sovereign powers over land owned by the public, and are willing to shoot first and ask questions later. Parents are claiming the right to tailor their children’s public school curriculum, a recipe for chaos if there ever was one. I don’t see how public schooling would then provide a common experience if every child get’s their own parent-approved “special” curriculum.

National and state legislators are beating their drums for special rules for religion-based organizations to allow them to violate anti-discrimination laws that we passed so that all of us could “go along to get along.” They are defending what they claim are God-given rights to unfairly discriminate. And of course, they are cherry-picking those rights in the extreme. None of these “reformers,” for example, is trying to get Jesus’s rule that divorces should be illegal set in stone anywhere. And, the rules have always been “if you want to play in my sandbox, you play by my rules” in this country. You can’t go investing in the stock market, for example, freely using insider information. You will be arrested and put in jail. But these people are clearly claiming that they want to make up their own rules.

If you are going into business, you can’t also claim special treatment. All of the free-market economists would be screaming bloody-murder, I am sure. (Yes, I am being sarcastic. Those folks only say what they are paid to say.) The religious are claiming that they get to play by their own rules in business, without clearly stating what their own rules are. They are using a smokescreen of toleration of religion (it is almost a taboo to ask them to justify their beliefs) to exercise their personal likes and dislikes and they are being taken seriously. Hey, if you don’t like the rules of the game, don’t play! Can you imagine the reception you would get in a casino if you insisted on the rules of any of their games be changed . . . mid-game? (Security! Escort this customer to the curb, please.)

And this is the reaction we should have to all of the efforts to change the rules of the game to make our society less stable. We should show them the curb.

March 6, 2022

If Atheists Asked Questions the Way Theists Asked Questions

Filed under: Culture,Education,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:30 am

If Atheists Asked Questions The Way Theists Ask Questions

The brilliant Barry Goldberg posted these questions on Quora.com. Quora is a question and answer site on which people can even create their own “spaces” for certain kinds of questions. Theists of various stripes (presumably young) often go onto atheist spaces and ask “gotcha” questions. You know, the type that should include “You hadn’t thought of that, now did you?” at the end of each. Of course, the questions are old, tedious, and a simple search of the site would provide thousands of answers already provided, but I think that the question asking is more of the “poking the bear” type than indicating a serious desire to examine the answers.

Enjoy the brilliant mind of Barry Goldberg! “If Atheists Asked Questions the Way Theists Asked Questions” (My favorite is the one with the “mud man and rib woman.”)

  • Aren’t theists really infidels/unbelievers who lack faith? After all, they don’t believe that God doesn’t exist, right?
  • If theists only do good because they believe in God and are afraid of hell, can they really be considered “moral”?
  • If Christians think they can get forgiven for any sin they commit simply by repenting, what stops them from going around raping and murdering and robbing as much as they want?
  • Theists, what sort of emotional trauma made you choose to start believing in God?
  • Theists, isn’t it better to just choose to not believe in God in case you are wrong and are wasting your entire life?
  • Do theists really believe that something just created everything out of nothing? Where did that something come from in the first place?
  • If theists think that everything is controlled by God, how do they come up with their own sense of purpose in life?
  • Do theists think that all the many flaws evident in nature could have happened “just by intelligent design”?
  • Do theists really think they couldn’t design a better universe than the one they think God did?
  • Are theists people who just pretend to believe in God in order to fit in with the “cool” kids?
  • Are theists really non-believers who are just rebelling against modern society and rationality?
  • Theists, if the particular God you believe in actually exists, why do the majority of people in the world not believe in that God?
  • Theists, if you believe in a hidden and unknowable and mysterious and otherwise undetectable God, why can’t you just agree to say that it might as well not exist?
  • Why do theists always seem to take scriptural verses out of context?
  • Theists, have you ever considered that the reason God allows so much suffering in the world is because he doesn’t actually exist?
  • Why can’t theists clearly and precisely define the God they claim to believe in? If they can’t clearly and precisely define it, isn’t it illogical for them to claim to believe in it?
  • Why won’t theists try opening their minds to the possibility that God doesn’t exist? Are they afraid that they might stop believing in him?
  • Christians — what is it like to think that your great grandparents were a mud man and a rib woman?
  • If God does exist, then why are there so many things that science can explain (without needing God as an explanation)?
  • Theists, if God is love and love is just something we feel in our minds, does that mean that God only exists in our minds?
  • Since no amount of proof would convince a theist that there is no god, why do they keep asking for atheists to prove that god does not exist?
  • How to theists explain all the the scientifically and historically inaccurate things in their religion’s holy book?
  • How do theists explain all the times that miracles don’t occur despite being faithfully prayed for?
  • What do theists think about all the prophecies written in their holy books that didn’t come true?


March 5, 2022

The Real Reason Teachers Are Leaving the Profession

Filed under: Business,Culture,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:54 am
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I just finished reading yet another article on why teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers. It is an oversimplification, but not much of one, that the job has become untenable for many: too much work, too little reward, too little social approval. It is my opinion that teaching is a lower pay profession because it attracts people who do not want to fight for their positions. They are in authority in their classrooms because the system placed them there with those powers. The pay was low, sure, but the benefits were secure, and the social standing of teachers was high. This is no longer the case.

And, it is a standard business practice, when confronted with an employee that the company wanted to get rid of, but couldn’t fire for reasons of face, or relationships with customers, or whatever, was that you made the person’s job untenable and they quit.

I suggest that while it is not the primary tool in use in many of the efforts now being attempted to take over public education, it is part of the pattern: make teachers quit and then they will have to be replaced by temporary workers, or Teach for America dupes, or heaven forbid, computer software. (Those parents trolling their kid’s school libraries for books they don’t like should really be looking at these software packages. A simple examination would leave one with the thought that there is no way I would allow my kid to be “taught” by such drivel.) Each of these elements of “the plan” enhances the potential profits to be made.

An Aside And, I do not believe there is an actual plan, sitting on a table in a secret Colorado mountain retreat used by the plutocrats. This is as much of a plan as there is for a feeding frenzy of sharks. Once the plutocrats scent blood (aka easy money), they all want in on the action, inventing ways to “get them some of that” before it is all gone.

This whole thing has arisen because the plutocrats have gotten their way to lower tax rates, better legal protections, and rule changes (bye-bye Glass-Steagall Act), and those changes have lead them to dominant positions in finance, the markets, weapons procurements, etc. and there just weren’t any additional horizons to conquer. But, then someone looked at the immense pool of money spent on public schools every year and said “I want me some of that!” and the games began. Public Sector Unions got banned. Teachers were blamed for the lack of learning in many schools, ignoring the obvious roles of poverty, hunger, crime, violence, and drugs in the student’s neighborhoods, politicians were enrolled in cockamamie “reform” plans (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, etc.) in the belief that incentives and punishments would cause improvements (which cannot be proved even in business), and so on. The Charter School Movement was morphed into a vehicle for setting aside union contracts and public regulations.

That teachers are leaving the profession in large numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it is part of the plan of the scum-sucking greedy plutocrats who can’t seem to get enough money, when they already have many millions or even billions and can’t or won’t spend those.

I do not suggest violence against these plutocrats, yet, but the next time you see Bill Gates or any of that ilk pontificating on education, how about we chant “Shut the fuck up; shut the fuck up!”

December 29, 2021

Only In the American South

Filed under: Culture,Education,Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 1:10 pm
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I just read a news tidbit regarding legislation pending in Oklahoma: “You know how Texas has turned everyday folks into anti-abortion bounty hunters? Oklahoma saw that and thought, why not do the same thing, but for books? The state’s Senate Bill 1142, if passed, would allow any public school parent to demand that a book they don’t like be removed, assuming the book relates to, as the bill states, ‘the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity, or gender identity or books that are of a sexual nature.’ And if the book isn’t chucked within 30 days? The parent gets $10,000 … per day until the book is removed.” (source: The Morning Heresy)

Trying to see both sides of this “desire” on the part of parents (if any were actually involved in the creation of this legislation) to have some control over what their children are exposed to in public schools, I could envision a system in which a parent could supply a list of the books currently available in their child’s library which could then be flagged whenever their child seeks to check out a book, so that they could not check out books objectionable to his/her parents. This legislation, however, seeks not to control just one parent’s kid’s reading choices, but all kid’s reading choices. Control your own children’s reading all you want, but this legislation denies not just your child’s choices but my child’s choices, too.

This sounds like just another Trojan Horse issue dreamt up by Republicans to distract their state’s citizens from what their real mission is (to make the rich richer).

December 19, 2021

Ye Shall Reap . . .

Filed under: Business,Culture,Economics,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:32 am
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For several decades now, teachers have been demonized as the source of “the problem.” The problem, basically, is why students are not getting better. This problem is rather strange. Why would a, say, new crop of fifth graders do better on a standardized test than the previous group? It is not the same group being retested, it is a new group, being taught much the same way by much the same people. Surely this is a manifestation of the old saw defining sanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Makers of sausages, for example, don’t expect each batch to be superior to the previous batch. In fact their quality assurance systems are set up to ensure that each batch is at least as good as the last batch . . . as good, not better. “Better” only comes from research and development and in the case of sausages, test kitchens.

Nonetheless, teachers have not only been targeted as the problem but also not part of the solution, a second insult. Then some states have stripped collective bargaining rights from teachers. Some have hired Teach for America “teachers” rather than fully certified teachers, even in violation of state law. Many places have instituted “charter schools” and “voucher schools” in which the normal labor protections of the state do not apply and unions are blocked.

And then teachers asking for wage increases have been characterized as “greedy” and not caring about “the kids.”

Many of these “movements” have been supported by corporate America and then when the inevitable happens, those same people stand gobsmacked and don’t understand what happened.

What is the inevitable, you ask? Good question.

Well, let’s see. Enrollments of college students in teacher preparation programs have plummeted. Teaching is not being seen as a desirable, or even stable, profession. School districts all over the country are reporting higher rates of “retirements” and teachers just quitting. And many districts are reporting extreme shortages of teachers when trying to hire them.

This is what you get when you piss in someone’s pocket and expect them to thank you for the warm feeling you just shared with them.

December 11, 2021

Dear Diane Ravitch,

I wish I could contact Ms. Ravitch directly as she is a beacon of light in the gloom and despair surrounding public schools right now. If you haven’t noticed public schools are under attack by plutocrats who want to privatize them. (I have yet to hear why it is that extracting profits from a system makes it better, especially a system so necessary to the foundations of our democracy.)

So, I am writing to her . . . and you . . . on this very important point.

Dear Ms. Ravitch,
I have not seen this point argued by many others, even though I have been harping upon the point that education is a social process through which we learn how to learn and how to work with others, which makes computer-based instruction especially egregious. In support of this point I ran across this quote in one of the hottest books currently in circulation:

When we are capable of self-awareness, it’s usually for very brief periods of time: the ‘window of consciousness’, during which we can hold a thought or work out a problem, tends to be open on average for roughly seven seconds. What neuroscientists (and it must be said, most contemporary philosophers) almost never notice, however, is that the great exception to this is when we’re talking to someone else. In conversation, we can hold thoughts and reflect on problems sometimes for hours on end. This is of course why so often, even if we’re trying to figure something out by ourselves, we imagine arguing with or explaining it to someone else. Human thought is inherently dialogic. Ancient philosophers tended to be keenly aware of all this: that’s why, whether they were in China, India or Greece, they tended to write their books in the form of dialogues. Humans were only fully self-conscious when arguing with one another, trying to sway each other’s views, or working out a common problem. True individual self-consciousness, meanwhile, was imagined as something that a few wise sages could perhaps achieve through long study, exercise, discipline and meditation. (Source: Graeber, David. The Dawn of Everything (p. 94). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition)

So, now we are being sold that individual self-consciousness is something primary school kids can achieve interacting with a computer.

I don’t see computers as something that can hold up half of a dialogue with a human being. Well, maybe IBM’s Watson might be able to but I don’t see our eduformers offering to supply each student with a Watson.

Students need to interact with other students and with teachers and administrators, a large number of them for long periods of time to have a chance to develop their minds.

None of the eduformers seem to be offering a new learning process, just the benefits of profits extraction, whatever they might be. Most offer “choice.” If you have seen supermarket stores at all, does having a choice of eleven different mayonnaises actually improve your life? How about a half dozen brands of bottled water?

School choice is a scam. Especially if they are offering a “cyber-education” whatever the heck that is. Defend your public schools. Defend your school boards. The pirates are coming and they will only be satisfied when they have extracted all of the wealth from the ship of public education and burned it to the water line.

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