Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. I’ve encountered my share of trolls who just seemed intellectually incapable of grasping the issue of the day. In some places, there are enough such trolls that some skeptics may start making hasty generalizations. While today’s doggerel has some grain of truth from that, it’s not that simple.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal posted a comic today that does a good job of illustrating a metaphor I like to use. “Sharks at the Beach.” The shark bit comes in at the little red vote button. The comic is about how bad people tend to be at evaluating risk, mixed with a dash of political commentary about the “War on Terror.” Educating a person about statistics or even simple probability can be a big help in getting them to understand the real risks in life.
Welcome to the next post in this little series of one-word-wrongness in religion.
To scientifically minded thinkers, authority is a shortcut for time and convenience. If I want to know the answer to a physics question, I can ask a physicist with appropriate letters after his name and published peer-reviewed articles attached to his name. A doctorate degree and peer-reviewed publications generally indicate that the person has done the hard work needed to understand physics and has demonstrated that understanding to the scientific community. So there is a basis for trusting in the accuracy of his answers if I want to save time and effort researching it. If I want to investigate deeper, instead of relying on the physicist’s authority, I can choose to read the accumulated literature to find a consensus or even perform the experiments myself if I’ve got the resources. If the physicist abuses his authority to push unproven or disproved hypotheses as if they were proven, he will be criticized by his peers, hopefully making people more hesitant to just trust his credentials.
To people with secular morality and politics, authority is generally given by social consensus. We vote for our leaders, and in theory, they are obligated to serve our interests. If they fail in that task, we can vote for a different leader next term. If a leader abuses his authority and works against the public’s interests, we can feel justified in resisting in various ways, whether it’s public criticism to sway voters and lower his chances of being reelected, mobilize other officials as checks against the abuses, or, in the most extreme cases, openly rebel against their authority.
In both these cases, authority is provisional and circumstantial instead of absolute, and the possibility of abuse is acknowledged. In religion, however, this often isn’t the case. Gods are often given absolute authority, and the “Big Three” Abrahamic religions are well-known for it. Being an American, and particularly a Texan, I’m pretty familiar with Christianity’s take on it, and there are a lot of recurring themes in attempts to justify it that are equally applicable in other religions.
Last night, I dreamed I was having an argument with a theist about the existence of his god. I don’t remember much detail, but it came to the point that, unusual for a verbal debate, he started to suggest we write down our collective arguments. The point that angered me was that he asked me to list all the scientific evidence for atheism. He was missing a central point, so I ended up holding his face, which suddenly resembled a cross between a witch doctor’s mask and the face of a classic Cyberman, looked him in the empty eyes intently, and said, “I don’t base my argument on the evidence, I base it on the lack of evidence.”
That’s one of the ideas I really wish I could drill in their heads. If they don’t back up their assertion of an entity’s existence with good evidence, why should I have to do anything beyond pointing out that void? The burden of proof is theirs to overcome.
A trope comes to mind: The Complainer Is Always Wrong, applied to epistemology. They often act as if the unpopular idea has the burden of proof by default. Or they assume it’s the adversary’s job to do their work for them. The reality, as far as I can see, is that there is no justifiable reason to be a theist, and if someone wants to argue otherwise, they have to provide a justification. Atheism is a null hypothesis, and science works by assuming the null hypothesis until that hypothesis is falsified. That’s what Occam’s Razor is about, in a way. Don’t assume the existence of new entities until they’re shown to be necessary. The null hypothesis generally fails if there is an entity that isn’t accounted for, producing results it doesn’t predict.
All I’m asking for is a god hypothesis that makes true predictions that atheism and known science doesn’t.
Pole in my neighborhood fell down. Curse you, outdated infrastructure!
Anyway, after finishing off Dawkins’ Greatest Show on Earth, I suddenly remembered I had a WordPress app on my iPod and a full battery. So, here I am. You’ll probably see a post about a dream troll right after this one. Decided I needed to get that one written down, since dreams tend to be forgettable, even if they start out vivid.
The last bit of Greatest Show had a lot on how much waste, cross-purpose, and suffering there is in the world. It helped me become aware of the vast scale of it all once again. Evolution had its part in it, but not in the way fundies harp on: Evolution is driven by competition and scarcity. There’s no grand designer concerned for our wellbeing. In some ways, it’s like unregulated capitalism. You can make money by hurting others, and without a conscious effort to curb exploitation for selfish gain, it’s accepted as business as usual. There’s no god out there regulating the biosphere, telling parasites not to be too horrible, diseases to tone down their symptoms, or telling invasive species not to reproduce into giant swarms.
There’s not even a metaphorical Gaia seeking a balance that supposedly happens the moment humans stop meddling. Sometimes that balance ends in mass extinctions and wasteland, human involvement or not. Nature often is red in tooth and claw. Balance seems more a happy accident and consequence of having adaptable organisms, rather than any top-down governing force. There’s always the possibility that a change is simply too drastic for life to find a new balance we’d like. Of course, human intervention is responsible for a lot of changes like that, not just natural disasters.
Back to the point on evolution and Creationism, this world simply doesn’t look like anything I’d expect from typical human-like deities. Especially not benevolent ones. This isn’t some Disney fantasy backdrop.
It seems Pat Robertson recently brought up the silly “D&D is Satanic” meme, again. It’s accompanied with the usual fainting over players allegedly learning black magic.
For the people who are actually worried about witches going around hexing people, I have one point to make: People like you probably carry the bulk of the blame for witchcraft gaining any sort of popularity. I think it’s ironic. Dungeons & Dragons, Harry Potter, and all the fantasy franchises out there treat magic as fictional. It’s just entertaining escapism. Just like any other hobby, there are people who turn it into an unhealthy obsession, but they’re not the norm. I don’t play fantasy games out of some delusion that it’s a road to magical powers, I play because they’re fun.