This is Getting Annoying: Zehnder and Frey’s Defenders

[Possible trigger warning.]

I got a bit of a traffic spike from people visiting my short link-post about Zehnder and Frey, presumably because I somehow got high on the search engines despite the post being little more than a link to PZ’s article. That traffic brought with it the expected trolls. These trolls can’t seem to grasp the point, and they’ve manufactured their own false controversy to ignore the real issues. I’m also suspicious some might be engaging in copypasta since the hit-and-runners generally seem oblivious to what’s really been said in earlier comments.

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That’s a New One on Me

Via The Uncredible Hallq, I bump into a new argument. Or maybe it’s just the first time someone made it explicit instead of implicit:

William Lane Craig claims that atheists agree with him that, “if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.” It seems to me a pretty clear example of Craig’s tendency to falsely claim his opponents agree with him, but there’s one way of defending Craig’s claim that I know occurred independently to both me and at least one other person: invoking material conditionals.

His post goes on to explain the twisted logic Craig might be using with material conditionals to make this assertion.  If he does mean it the way Hallq illustrates, it really strikes me as part of the dark side of a philosophy education: Using context-heavy, narrow definitions of words and equivocating them with similar phrases as they’re used in casual language.

So, for any Craig fans who might show up, here’s my position on the issue, intended to be interpreted in relatively casual language:

  1. I don’t know if the universe has an explanation for its existence.
  2. If the universe does have an explanation, it seems likely to me that there is a very large set of possible explanations, including ones people have yet to imagine and ones we’re simply incapable of imagining.
  3. Gods are one possible explanation, but I have no reason to believe they are probable as an explanation.
  4. If I had to gamble on one explanation, I would listen to cosmologists and scientists in related disciplines and base my guess on their input because they are generally more aware of and responsive to new evidence and hypotheses. I would ask critical questions in my inquiries to spot possible fallacies and contradictions to the best of my ability. The critical questions are intended to determine which of their hypotheses is most consistent with the available evidence and if their inferences from that evidence appear reasonable.

I am a counterexample to what Craig appears to be asserting: I am an atheist who has no favoritism towards theism as the explanation for the universe, if there is such an explanation. If there is an explanation for the universe’s existence, given the very large range of possibilities that come from the data shortage, I would say it’s not likely to be a god or gods, and even less likely to be Craig’s specific god hypothesis. This is, as far as I can tell, a mainstream position among atheists.

The Preservation of Quaintness?

Years ago, when I took a humanities course, the teacher provided an anecdote of someone fighting a “cultural takeover” by driving a bulldozer through a McDonald’s in France. The “punchline” was that he was an American immigrant, not a native Frenchman. The topic for the day, outside my comfort zone: The value of cultural preservation versus cultural change.

The phrase I’ve settled on for the moment is “preservation of quaintness” to cover a trend I’ve seen with a bit of retrospection on some people who generally complained about American or “Western” culture spreading to other places. Granted, I wouldn’t want their nightmare of paving the world to build malls for conspicuous consumption, but the dislike of American and/or Western culture in general isn’t what this is about.

The problem I had is that a lot of the rhetoric I heard in favor of the smaller cultures tended to focus on how exotic or quaint its traditions are, not how beneficial it is for the people who practice the traditions in question. In a way, it strikes me as similar to tourist whitewashing, where something is made more palatable to attract more tourists and their many American dollars, except in this case, instead of making it blander and more digestible, they seem to want to keep in all the unhealthy bits and call it spice.

When I first started watching anime, everything was strange and wonderful. They played around with different tropes and the plots were much more rigidly linear than the typical stand alone episodes I was used to in the American shows I watched. They made cartoons for adults, not just for kids. I became a big Japanophile. Now that I’ve watched enough anime to be generally familiar, I’m much more discerning, and have a much more level assessment of Japan’s output. Unfamiliarity can add a lot of appeal, but that’s a subjective factor, not an objective one. I tend to look at a lot of the people fighting against cultural imperialism the way I look at my Japanophile phase. There’s plenty of strange customs to be fascinated by, and I understand the desire to preserve them so others can see them. But some people lose perspective in that desire.

Another issue is the factor of individual choice. As the professor pointed out with his anecdote, no one was forcing the French citizenry to patronize McDonald’s. There are various subtle and insidious ways to manipulate people, but there are always people who simply prefer things from other cultures. There are also people who want to break from bad traditions that have been holding them back and want to emulate the good aspects of more successful cultures.

Change is also inevitable. There’s no magic moment when a culture is pure or ideal, just like there’s no pure member of a species. As time goes on, the labels change with the cultures. If you get attached to a particular species, I can understand feeling sad if it’s lost to history, but time marches on, and it’s likely to happen sooner or later. We can try to record the dying practices, rituals, and languages, but we shouldn’t go the opposite route of cultural imperialism and force people to stay exactly like their ancestors because some outsiders prefer the quaint old ways.

All said, it’s a tricky subject. I agree we should try to avoid passing on our worst habits to other cultures, but neither should we enshrine their bad habits because we like to gawk at them.

The Utter Moron’s Guide to Freedom

Fair warning / disclaimer: This post is going to be US-centric, since it invokes themes involved with the First Amendment to the US Constitution. I sincerely believe every government should provide similar rights and I give a thumbs up to the governments that agree with me. And yes, I know the US is far short of perfect in its record of living up to the principles behind the First Amendment, especially for religious freedom. This post is largely intended to counteract common ideas used to subvert these freedoms while invoking their name.

Freedom of Speech/Freedom of Expression:

You are, for the most part, free to say whatever you want without fear of the government punishing you for doing so. The exceptions include things like violent threats, slander, libel, and fraud.

This also means I am free to say what I want, including what I think about something you said. If you say something, I am free to say your expressed ideas are false, idiotic, or bigoted and my reasons for thinking so. This is not “censorship.” This is not “silencing.” This is criticism. If someone criticizes you, it does not prevent you from speaking your ideas. My freedom of speech does not conflict with yours. My criticism did not and does not prevent you from speaking, but it might convince people to make the choice not to listen to you. You are not entitled to a captive audience. If you don’t want your ideas to be subject to criticism, free speech is your enemy, not your shield.

Freedom of speech does not grant immunity from social consequences of your speech. If you say something many people find reprehensible, private citizens remain free to publicly criticize you, shun you, ignore you, ridicule you, boycott products you sell, or other legal actions to make life harder for you, so long as they don’t cross legal lines. You are not entitled to be popular or even liked. You are not entitled to control how other people feel about you. You are not entitled to control what people say about you. You are not entitled to customers.

Freedom of speech does not give you the right to every platform. For example, if someone working for a television network says something reprehensible on air, that network can choose to disassociate itself with that person by canceling his show, within the limits of their contracts or by putting up a disclaimer stating that his opinions do not necessarily reflect the network’s. The speaker’s right to free speech is not reduced because a platform chooses to withdraw the use of their media. The speaker still has numerous options for expressing his thoughts, from using his own voice, writing a blog, or publishing a book. He is not inherently entitled to the television network’s resources if they don’t want him to use them. He does not get to control the network’s decision whether or not to associate with him.

Freedom of Religion:

The United States government is, in principle, prohibited from respecting or endorsing an establishment of religion. This is supposed to mean that there can be no official government religion in the US and no government favoritism that can be abused. For practical purposes, this even excludes the possibility of endorsing atheism. Government endorsement can be and is often construed as authoritative. This means that people of the endorsed belief can feel they have authorization to unfairly wield government power in the name of their belief. This also means that people of a minority belief can be intimidated by the threat of government force and be discriminated against. Even the fear of possible discrimination is destructive because it discourages the free and open discussion of ideas. The separation of church and state exists to protect individuals from having the government impose an unwanted religion on them or on children who aren’t old enough to make an informed decision. It’s for everyone’s protection, including Christians, since there are some regions where a non-Christian religion is the majority belief. If Christianity is allowed to become the state religion, the question will likely become “which Christianity?”, leading to discrimination against Christians for being the “wrong” denomination.

You have the right to believe what you want. You are not entitled to impose your religious beliefs on others through government actions. You are not entitled to have the government proselytize on your behalf. If you work for the government, you are not entitled to use your position to endorse a religion. If you are a public school teacher, you are not entitled to lead your students in prayer, especially since children are easily manipulated or intimidated by authority figures. This is made worse by the fact that students are a captive audience since school attendance is usually compulsory. Leading a prayer also often unnecessarily forces a student of different beliefs to choose between the risk of bullying because of his non-participation or to go through the motions against his will. Neither of these is conducive to a nurturing learning environment and undermines the student’s ability to trust the government. How can a student believe the government will respect his rights if it shows open contempt for his autonomy of belief?

As a private citizen, you have the right to pray and not be discriminated against for that decision. As a private citizen, I also have the right to not pray and not be discriminated against for choosing non-participation. Students have the right to pray on their own private initiative, so long as they do not disrupt school activities. Many people assert that students’ right to pray was taken away. This is a lie. The precedent is that public school teachers are not allowed to initiate prayers while presenting themselves as a teacher because doing so would constitute a government endorsement of and favoritism toward a religion.

You have the right to display the Ten Commandments or large crosses on your property, within the limits of building codes, safety codes, and such. This includes displaying them in a fashion that is highly visible to the public. You are not entitled to have the government display religious imagery on government ground. Atheists are not in favor of prohibiting religion from the public sphere, because doing so would likely lead to the prohibition of other ideas, including our own, especially since atheism is currently an unpopular belief. We want the government to respect it’s prohibition on endorsing religion.

You have the right to build a church using your private resources, fitting within zoning laws and building ordinances. For the same reason, Muslims also have the right to build a mosque using their private resources under the same laws and ordinances. If Muslims building a mosque near the World Trade Center site hurts your feelings, too bad. Your hurt feelings do not allow you to impose your will on the mosque builders. They are within their human rights to carry out legal religious acts like building a place of worship. We shouldn’t make an exception to basic human rights just because someone’s feelings might get hurt.

Rights in General:

The United States was not established to be a mob rule anarchy. It was established to be a constitutional democracy. People shouldn’t be allowed to vote to take away a minority group’s rights. People shouldn’t be allowed to vote to take away an individual’s rights. Allowing the majority to vote away one person’s rights means that they’re no longer rights, but a privilege granted at the whims of popularity and fashion. The majority rule must give way to the basic rights of the individual and the minority, otherwise it sets a precedent for removing our freedoms altogether. Everyone is a minority in one issue or another, and it’s naive to think that making an exception to discriminate against one minority can’t be used in the future to discriminate against you.

Dungeons of Dredmor

It’s been a while since I’ve done a gaming-related post, so I thought I’d mention that I’ve been playing Dungeon of Dredmor recently, with all the expansions, including the recent Conquest of the Wizardlands. DoD is a graphical indie roguelike with a sense of humor, often at the expense of other games, from Elder Scrolls to Dwarf Fortress. Much to my amusement, Rearden Metal has made an appearance in Wizardlands. Metal ingots have alchemical symbols engraved on their sides. The symbol for Rearden Metal is a dollar sign. It’s even green.

They also recently patched the core game to allow all players access to a pocket dimension, so that means I don’t have to keep returning to my giant stockpiles on earlier floors. I feel like a nomad. Weapons have also been changed so that daggers are separated from swords as a weapon class, and polearms from staffs. The new categories get their own matching skill trees.

A new game mechanic from Wizardlands is “encrusting” where you add bonus stats (sometimes mixed with penalties) onto equipment. One of them is “Razor Chain” which adds a little chainsaw-like razor to the edge of your weapon. So, here’s a question: What would happen if I added that to my Clockwork Chainsword?