Robert Green Ingersoll (Aug. 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899)

Reason, Observation and Experience – the Holy Trinity of Science – have taught us that happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so. This is enough for us. In this belief we are content to live and die. If by any possibility the existence of a power superior to, and independent of, nature shall be demonstrated, there will then be time enough to kneel. Until then, let us stand erect.

Wikiquote – The Gods and Other Lectures (1879)

A hat/tip is due to W.F. Strong and the Texas Standard for bringing the name Robert Green Ingersoll back to mind with this piece about Redwater, Texas. I first learned of Ingersoll by listening to the weekly broadcast of the FFrF way back when. If you haven’t heard an FFrF broadcast, then you probably haven’t heard of Robert Green Ingersoll before. Which is why he is billed these days as the most famous American you’ve never heard of.

I found it amusing that Mr. Strong felt he had to point out that Ingersoll was not an atheist but an agnostic. As a freethinker, I understand the finer points of the difference, probably better than W.F. Strong does. There is little doubt that Ingersoll had no use for religion as an institution, as this last quote should illustrate.

While utterly discarding all creeds, and denying the truth of all religions, there is neither in my heart nor upon my lips a sneer for the hopeful, loving and tender souls who believe that from all this discord will result a perfect harmony; that every evil will in some mysterious way become a good, and that above and over all there is a being who, in some way, will reclaim and glorify every one of the children of men; but for those who heartlessly try to prove that salvation is almost impossible; that damnation is almost certain; that the highway of the universe leads to hell; who fill life with fear and death with horror; who curse the cradle and mock the tomb, it is impossible to entertain other than feelings of pity, contempt and scorn.

Wikiquote – The Gods and Other Lectures (1879)

Babylon 5: Believers. The Trolley Problem.

This discussion started in the Babylon 5 fan group. There is a rule in the group that disallows all politics and religion that isn’t part of the show from being discussed in the group. If a post strays too far into the real world, the moderators will delete it. I know why moderators do this, but I don’t honestly care. It is unrealistic to expect human beings to be able to separate their beliefs from the entertainment that they enjoy. Especially a show like Babylon 5 or Star Trek, shows that are always tweaking politics and religion in the course of their storytelling. Discuss any episode of the show without straying into weighty matters of philosophy or politics. Go ahead and try.

The long and the short of why I started the article this way is, I have no idea how long the writing I’ve done on the subject will exist within the Facebook group. It just takes one religious zealot, one antitheist, and the thread goes poof. Can you blame me that I want to export the writing so as preserve it?

This image is from the Babylon 5 episode Believers. Here is a link to a synopsis of the episode in case you haven’t seen it or if you don’t want to spend an hour watching the show right now. Also, you should stop reading now if you don’t want any spoilers before you watch the episode, because this article will be full of them.

Still with me? Okay then, here we go. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The OP included this statement with the image, “I still remember how outraged I was when I saw it the first time.” A sentiment that I wholeheartedly endorse. When the episode aired back in 1994 I was furious when the credits rolled. As a young parent myself, I couldn’t imagine how any parent could be so blind as to do what they did in the final scenes. The story revolves around a sick child,

Shon, a young alien boy, has developed a “congested blockage in his upper air passages.” When Dr. Franklin explains to Shon’s parents that Shon’s condition can be cured by a fairly routine surgical procedure, the parents seem bewildered. “You will cut him open?” they ask, and explain that the “Chosen of God” cannot be “punctured” — for their souls will escape.

The main conflict of the episode, above, is introduced in the teaser opening. The show starts this way for a reason, and develops the way it does specifically in service to the moral quandary of the problem. “Oh, but his soul!” say his parents. The soul is unmeasurable, unidentifiable. The soul, for the purposes of this episode, is non-existent. The McGuffin, in scriptwriting terms.

There are other episodes of the show where the soul is treated as a physical or at least detectable energy presence. The episode Soul Hunter, eight episodes before this one in the first series, springs immediately to mind as an example of this. So the problem isn’t that there are no souls in the show, or that the writer, David Gerrold, didn’t flesh out the story well enough. It is simply necessary in this episode that the presence of the soul cannot be detected because if it could be verified as being present after the surgery, then there is no moral quandary. There is no story to tell.

When I ran across the thread discussing the episode it already had over 100 comments. However, in reading through the comments I found a near absence of understanding of the purposeful moral dilemma presented by the story. Comments like this one,

Sorry, but I call BS on that one. “Unmeasurable, unidentifiable; AKA, non-existent.” Is nothing more than an argument to silence. For the vast majority of human history things like cells, atoms, and gravity were “Unmeasurable, unidentifiable;” so they were “AKA, non-existent”, right? Just because it is not (yet) measurable does not mean it does not exist. 

As I have mentioned a number of times about this episode, the reasons for this particular belief were not addressed. That’s either a failure of Franklin or David Gerrold.

His willingness to blame the writer and actor simply reveals his beliefs on this particular subject. His rejection of the argument is far more revealing of his moral rigidity and lack of understanding of the mechanics of storytelling than it is a truthful observation about the episode and the moral quandary that it contains.

Like the trolley problem, there is no right answer to this problem. In the trolley problem you are asked to choose between taking one life or five under varying circumstances. When the problem is framed one way, you predominantly get an answer that underscores utilitarian ethics; i.e. most people will choose to sacrifice one life to save five. However, when the problem is framed another way, usually requiring the person making the decision to take an active physical role in the decision by pushing a person onto the tracks to stop the trolley, as one example, most people will chose to allow the five people to die.

The problem here, narrowly defined, is medical intervention vs. natural selection. The doctor is required to help his patients. He makes a reference to this fact when he alludes to taking a medical oath to do no harm. The good doctor saw his moral obligation as at least attempting to save the child’s life. The child will end up dead no matter what the doctor does. Of course, neither he nor the audience knows this until the reveal at the end.

The parents knew their child was dying. They expected to find him dead when they were summoned back to the medical lab. When he was instead alive and well, they knew that the doctor had violated their beliefs and saved the child against their wishes. So they acted on their beliefs and did what they thought should have been allowed to happen in the first place.

If the soul is measurable, produce a measurement. If it is definable, define it in a way that can be demonstrated empirically. In this specific episode of Babylon 5 there was no measurement, no definition. In the world that we exist in, believers have been trying to prove the existence of the soul for hundreds of years. They have yet to demonstrate a single method for determining the properties of a soul, and yet few humans will step forward and say they have no soul. Why is this? The soul cannot be shown to be real by any measurement that we humans can attempt, and yet we all still believe that we all have a soul. That it is important we not deny the existence of our own souls.

The doctor is certain that the parents will see reason. He is certain about what his moral path is. The parents are certain that their child should be dead. They are certain of their moral path. The conflict is unresolvable, on purpose. You are supposed to question “what is the moral course?”

Delinn asks the only important question “Whose beliefs are the correct ones?” when she refuses to help the parents stop the operation. Whose beliefs are correct, and how do you demonstrate the correctness of your beliefs? What would have happened if the parents had accepted that their child was healthy but unchanged? If they had taken him home to their planet, would the rest of their people have recognized him as a demon on sight? Or would they have blithely accepted that medicine had saved the boy without loosing his soul? They wouldn’t know that he had been cut unless they could sense the change in his body like a soul hunter would in that other episode.

The boy’s parents did know, because they said goodbye to him minutes before he would have died only to return and find him alive and well. But if they could have accepted him, would anyone else have noticed? This was the lesson I learned from the episode and I’ve carried it with me ever since. You cannot save a child from their parents without removing the child from the parents. The separation has to be physical, and the child has to accept that this is the right thing to do. Without that action, without the agreement of the person you are trying to help, you will simply deliver the lamb to the slaughterer at another time and place, and you might as well have not bothered to make the attempt in the first place.

Act or not act, the outcome is the same in this story. The only question is, what was the moral thing to do? I still side with Dr. Franklin. You, however, are free to disagree.

The avalanche has already started; It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

Ambassador Kosh

Babylon is Babel

The internet is a click-bait whore. After more than two decades of living in this digital realm, I can say that with confidence. Everything on the internet is composed to get you to follow the link and find out what AMAZING, STUPENDOUS, GLORIOUS things are waiting for you on the other side of that provocative come hither looking text. Unfortunately, the reality that awaits on the other side of that click is rarely worth the energy it takes to click the link.

Take this promotion for Unexplained on Gaia for example. It popped up on Facebook for me a few months ago. Dramatic music. Good-looking talking heads tell you things you want to believe. What isn’t to love about that trailer?

You know what I can’t find in a shareable form? The trailer thrown in my face on Facebook, promoted by the Gaia streaming service. I can’t find it anywhere to post to the blog so that I and my readers may laugh at it. The curious will have to go to Facebook and see it there (click the clickbait. You know you want to) because no keyword search that I’ve come up with so far can produce the actual trailer promoting this episode of Ancient Civilizations produced two years ago. If you want to see it, you have to pay for it. I guess the charlatans are getting smarter. You can’t get the rubes to give you the money if you blow your load in the first teaser trailer.

…and that link to Facebook. Just watch the repeating video at the top. That looping video is really all you need to understand the confidence game that is being played on the believers who pony up to pay for this streaming service. Ancient aliens are among us? Please.

There was no Tower of Babel, just as there was no real Atlantis. Just as there was no Ark built by Noah. I shouldn’t have to explain the difference between religion and history to people smart enough to know how to work a camera and create a documentary. There was no Tower of Babel where god looked down and cursed man with many languages for its construction. That Tower of Babel is myth. If you believe otherwise, you are a fool.

Like Atlantis, the Tower of Babel is a storytelling device. Atlantis was embroidered in the imagination of Plato, a mythical place created to hearken back to earlier, more prosperous times. This storyline should sound familiar to anyone currently immersed in US politics. But like the lies of the Orange Hate-Monkey, Plato created the illusion of Atlantis to paint a picture that his students would want to strive for, and still people think they can find it. Noah’s Ark is similar.

The Ark of Noah is encased in ice on Mt Ararat

Prove it. Go to Ararat yourself and take pictures of it, yourself. I’ve taken the same trek that you’ve taken so far; which is to say, a vicarious trek. I listened to the stories told to me by elders and I believed. I read In Search of Noah’s Ark in the seventies. That book had me convinced. I just knew there was an Ark somewhere under all that ice. Just like the child shoveling out the stables. Then I started reading the works of other religions and other believers, and that’s when I discovered that it’s a common prehistoric myth. 

flood myth or deluge myth is a narrative in which a great flood, usually sent by a deity or deities, destroys civilization, often in an act of divine retribution. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primaeval waters found in certain creation myths, as the flood waters are described as a measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth. Most flood myths also contain a culture hero, who “represents the human craving for life”.[1]
The flood myth motif is found among many cultures as seen in the Mesopotamian flood stories, Deucalion and Pyrrha in Greek mythology, the Genesis flood narrativePralaya in Hinduism, the Gun-Yu in Chinese mythologyBergelmir in Norse mythology, in the lore of the K’iche’ and Maya peoples in Mesoamerica, the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa tribe of Native Americans in North America, the Muisca, and Cañari Confederation, in South America, and the Aboriginal tribes in southern Australia.

Flood myth From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The myth is so common as to be pointless to attempt to verify any one claim. Like the virgin birth of Jesus reflects the virgin birth of other godlike creations, flood myths pervade early religions everywhere. All of these myths may be based on some historic flood that the local population remembers, none of them spanned the globe and destroyed all human civilization. What I’ve seen in several decades of curiosity about this subject is that there is no proof, none whatsoever, for Noah’s Ark. The story was someone else’s before it was Noah’s, and Ararat is just the nearest peak to where the myth of the Ark was located.

Also, Mary was probably having it off with someone about nine months earlier and didn’t want to die at her father’s hands. This is a practice still pathetically commonplace in many regions of the world. She got caught by being the sex that carries the young of the species (humans, in case you are wondering) a problem that the fertilizing sex doesn’t have. She couldn’t hide the belly anymore, so she claimed that god visited her in the night and that’s how the baby got in there. This is another common occurrence, lying to save your own life. It goes hand in hand with death penalties wherever you find them. You’d think parents would be happy to have grandchildren to raise, rather than worrying about selling off a virgin daughter to the highest bidder. She ended up being fobbed off on the carpenter, someone who was happy to have a few extra hands around the jobsite with all the work he had to do.

There are probably evangelicals reading this right now, or they were reading it until they got to that last paragraph. They probably aren’t reading it anymore. But if they were they would insist that we can’t find the ark on Ararat because if there was a wooden boat under the ice on Ararat for all those millennia it would of been ground to a pulp centuries ago and pushed down the mountain as debris. Myths are not realities. There was no boat, because flood waters cannot rise that high even if all the ice in the world melted. How high would it rise? 70ish meters. Numbers vary. We should see 9 feet of rise in the sea levels over the next couple of decades based on current CO2 levels. More if we don’t moderate emissions that produce warmer temperatures.

But all of that is beside the point that the Tower of Babel is a myth.

What’s that I hear you saying? The tower of Babel existed? Well yes. There were ziggurats in Babylon, one of them near the Gate of God (Marduk) so the history experts say (some of them even say it in breathless tones) and if you talk to language experts they will say that Babylon renders out as Babel or Bavel in Hebrew. So there were several towers in Babylon, one near the gate of Marduk that the Hebrew scholars of the time elbowed each other in the ribs over. Every discipline has their weird inside jokes.

But there wasn’t a tower where god sundered the languages and caused strife across the world. That would be kind of pointless since he had drowned the world just a few years earlier because of all the strife in the world. Or are you suggesting that god condemns his people for things that he created them to do? That he holds us all accountable for the things that he makes us do? Well that figures.

Facebook comments expanded for the blog.

Raw Milk is Woo. Goat’s Milk is Not. And Yes, Plastic is Bad

This week on the SGU Cara decides to trash all things Hippy and all things Austin with the following line,

These are the places where they sell, like, raw goat milk because apparently cow milk is unhealthy. And they have only organic free-range bleah.

Cara Santa-Maria SGU #705

Cara deciding to trash all things Hippy isn’t surprising. There is little at the typical health food store that warrants a special trip there. Little, unless you happen to have special dietary needs. If you have food allergies. If you are lactose intolerant. If any number of food-related issues bother you, the health food store used to be the only place you could go to find relief. Considering that skeptics would claim you couldn’t be allergic to foods, until those allergies could be demonstrated, and still flame-on when anyone mentions the word gluten, panning all things health food related is completely understandable.

I just happen to not react to goat’s milk like I do cow’s milk. So I can drink goat’s milk and suffer little or no ill effects. I still can’t eat pizza, that is too much cheese of any kind, but at least I can put a slice of goat cheese on my hamburger and not have to worry about reacting to the lactose in the cheese. And the best place to get that kind of food is still at a health food store. I buy my oat milk, my Nada Moo, goat cheese and goat milk, and try to restrain myself as I walk past the chocolate and liquorice on the way to the register.

The Wife, who can consume all the cheese she wants because she was descended from Mongols who were raised on yak’s milk, has some very unflattering things to say about us Mediterranean types whose ancestors tended goats and sheep, but I also have some insults I could hurl in return considering she’s pretty much 100% Irish. I won’t utter them because I don’t feel like being beaten up by any Irish who might read this and take offense. I have to be able to sleep sometime. It all comes down to genetics and how your particular gut came to be in the here and now.

Which brings me to the idea of drinking raw milk. If you are drinking raw milk and you don’t milk the cows (or goats. Or sheep) yourself, you are just asking to get sick and possibly be killed by the naturally occuring bacteria found on the udders and in the milk of any animal. And I laugh every time I read the label on cheese and it trumpets made from raw milk. This is just another marketing ploy like organic or natural, since the process of making cheese kills most of the bacteria that lives in the milk. That is why we started making cheese from milk in the first place. If you are still concerned about the possibility of food poisoning, don’t get the cheese made from raw milk. Pasteurization is a good thing. It’s why we have milk on supermarket shelves today.

I mean, we could irradiate the milk and skip the pasteurization flavor change problem, but the fantasists who think that pasteurization is bad also think that irradiation of food is bad. There really is no way to win over everyone. There’s always going to be one or two of them that have to stick their fingers in the electrical outlet before they’ll believe that electric shocks are painful, and there will be at least one guy that swears electrical shocks make him feel better and so recommends you shock yourself two or three times a day.

Steve’s suggestion that bulk foods were useful, while the other offerings at the health food stores were not, is also slightly off-cue. The reason that goods are offered in their own sealed containers should be readily apparent to anyone who gives this much thought. But for those who don’t think a lot, I’ll spell it out. Adulteration or contamination of the product, which was a problem back in the days when everything was offered in bulk quantities. Some nefarious grocers would dilute the products offered and charge the same rate. This is essentially how all vodka is made, but very few people know that their vodka was distilled to 190 proof at the distillery and then cut in half with water at the bottler. There is also the problem of some anonymous others tampering with the bulk products and no one noticing (think Tylenol) as an Austinite, and someone who frequents health food stores for his oat milk and goat’s milk products, I could buy a lot of products in bulk. I just don’t.

Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods and a few other now-defunct health food chains. I’m an owner at Wheatsville Food Co-op. I could shop in bulk products if I wanted to. I don’t shop in bulk products because I don’t want to have to trust every person who passes by the bulk products bins not to drop their chewing gum in there with my morning steel cut oats. I’ll take the time to recycle the packaging, that is fine by me. I like branded, labeled products in sealed packages. It’s probably the most American thing about me.

I would rather the packaging not be plastic packaging, plastic packaging being the reason that health food stores came up at all in that Skeptic’s Guide episode. I try to avoid plastic packaging when I can, but it is nearly impossible to avoid plastic when it comes to food packaging. You can count me in for testing new packaging that isn’t plastic. Oh, and Jay? You want plastic that breaks down on its own? That also existed once upon a time. They tested plastic bags that degraded in the sun faster when they first rolled out plastic bags, back when everyone was worried about paper demand destroying all the forests. That plastic turned into micro plastics too, just like regular plastic. The only way to avoid this is to create disposable items from something other than plastic. Say, compressed corn starch.

Grand Conspiratorial Fantasies

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Hanlon’s Razor

The image at right was culled from a friend’s Facebook wall a few years back. The image serves as an introduction, the proverbial rabbit-hole, a building 7 to 9/11 truthers, a lead-in to draw you deeper into this post dedicated to critical thinking. Humor me, dear reader. I’m going somewhere with this.

You might well ask, what does the image mean? Anyone who doesn’t recognize Morpheus from The Matrix movies really needs to go back and do some homework before reading this. The Matrix is its own introduction to conspiratorial thinking, a rabbit hole of its own metaphorical making. However, the  text on the image is misleading. Anyone running for public office, from any party, is subject to the will of the people who fund their campaigns.  If the candidates from the party do not pander to the big spenders (i.e. the corporations) then the party will not get the funds they need to win, meaning their ideology will never take root directly in the politics of the nation. All parties work for corporations, even the third parties. The Kochs owned the LP for a long time before they shifted to the Republicans. The Kochs represent some of the worst of the worst of corporate behavior, strong-arming groups that they fund trying to force them to echo the policies that the Kochs find favorable.  This will continue to be true until we get money out of politics, plain and simple. There is no other way to fix the problem of corporations buying the parties and the candidates for office.

I have no problem with the image. I probably don’t have a problem with the website the image came from, although I haven’t spent any real time on it. What I had a problem with was where the conspiratorially motivated fantasists took the image in the wild after it was released. I have culled most of the incorrigible conspiracists from my Facebook wall.  Every now and then a new one pops up and I subject them to the ban hammer; but generally my wall is free of their posts. Some of my oldest friends do indulge in conspiracy fantasies though, and as a consequence of this I still have to deal with the odd reference to a conspiracy theory even though I find the entire subject of grand conspiracies completely ludicrous.

Grand conspiracies are ludicrous, starting with the phrase conspiracy theory. Grand conspiracies aren’t theories.  A theory not only explains the facts in evidence, it survives rigorous testing through trial and error.  The theory of evolution is an excellent example of this. It has survived test after test, and has made predictions about evolutionary history which have been proven to be true. It is a robust theory, accepted by nearly all of the scientific community. The fact that nearly half of Americans reject the theory of evolution merely serves as a painful reminder of just how misinformed most of us are.

Grand conspiracies aren’t conspiracy hypothesis either, which is the step in evidence below theory. A hypothesis of necessity must explain all the predominant facts it is attempting to address.  A hypothesis has to be testable to be acceptable as a scientific explanation. Grand conspiracies tend to ignore all evidence and instead look for anomalies that can be held up as examples of failure for explanations the grand conspiracy believer doesn’t like. Phrases like magic bullet get thrown around, as if the unexplained will remain inexplicable forever.

Grand conspiracies are conspiratorial conjecture, nothing more. They are stories that are told to entertain. They are, as the title of this piece states, conspiracy fantasies.  When you start allowing your fantasies to replace the reality around you, a whole host of bad is waiting in the wings to descend upon you. When the Facebook friend (mentioned previously) made a tangential reference to the Rothschild family in his post, I recognized the reference immediately (Rothschild Skeptoid episode) It is an old anti-Semitic/white supremacist fabrication. Like the whole sovereign thing. There is no sound basis for asserting that the fantasy has any reality to it, unless you have a problem with Jews, which says more about you than it does about anyone else.

I’ve argued with this guy and his friends over beers before. I know there is no convincing him that his pet fantasies were meaningless. Rather than hopelessly resign myself to having to ignore him once again, I tried to tangent into a discussion of the gullibility of conspiracy fantasists. I linked this video of Rebecca Watson discussing a recent study to see if I could head off the impending disaster,

Rebecca Watson May 18, 2015, No Shit Study: Scientists Show Conspiracy Theorists Will Believe Anything

Unfortunately for all concerned, the only fact that penetrated their heads was that “the Pink Haired Lady says chemtrails aren’t real”  which lead him and his friends to try to convince me they were real. Well, they aren’t real. Of course chemicals are detectable in airline contrails. The planes that create them are shedding molecules into the atmosphere everywhere they fly. The combustion engines they are powered by emit exhaust chemicals, which are also detectable. This really isn’t that hard to figure out.

…Unless there is a ready-made market of science denial set up specifically to use the tools of science against it. An entire method of approaching the world around us that paints the activities of others as nefarious and unscrupulous. This says more about the conspiracy fans than it does about the rest of us, but there is a large group of people out there ready to confirm your suspicions about any activity that concerns you. All that is required is to entertain your curiosity without engaging your critical thinking skills. If you ever learned to think critically in the first place. Without critical thinking we are all babes in the wilderness.

If you, dear reader, think the pink haired lady only dismisses chemtrails, then you are probably also a conspiracy fan, lack critical thinking skills, and are as gullible as the study she talks about shows. If I felt like messing with conspiracy fans I could feed them all kinds of crazy stuff which they would buy right into, just like Alex Jones does. So if that kind of trolling is something you enjoy, have at it. They’ll never know you’re pulling their legs.

After I rebutted the chemtrails argument the conversation with that Facebook friend I mentioned proceeded to spiral down the proverbial rabbit hole, morphing into a discussion of various other conspiracy tales. Haarp was mentioned. Like Agenda 21, it isn’t anything close to what conspiracy fans think it is.  Monsanto was raised, Godwin style. It was at that point that I knew I was quite literally wasting my time, and I really didn’t want to have to hear about Building 7 one more time. I didn’t want to have yet another conversation where the fans throw each conspiracy they believe at me one at a time, each time certain that it can’t be explained. All of them can be explained, and not with grand conspiracies. Good luck getting one of the fans to notice this fact.

So why are grand conspiracies fantasies? Scale. That’s really all there is to it.  Fantasists who support whatever conspiracy I sent you here to inoculate yourself against (if you got here without my linking this article in a discussion, well done!) will likely talk about the Gulf of Tonkin incident or Watergate or more recently, Edward Snowden. Well, Watergate wasn’t a grand conspiracy. It relied on about ten people keeping their mouths shut, and that conspiracy not only failed because ten people couldn’t keep quiet, it failed because Nixon was taping everything said in his office. He was that paranoid.

The Gulf of Tonkin incident, like the revelations of NSA spying, are the very stories that illustrate the problem with massive conspiracies and the theories spun about them.  The NSA spying was anything but secret. Oh, it was officially denied like Tonkin was denied, and the US government would love to punish Snowden for his revelations. But the spying was itself an open secret.  Anyone interested in the subject knew that the NSA was involved in a dragnet of information across the internet.

It is a lot like the people who point to the denials of Groom Lake (area 51) being a location for testing new Air Force technologies, and then conclude that the stories of alien visitations are true.  The locals knew it was testing facility for decades. The official denials proved nothing aside from the fact that they were conducting secret tests there. They certainly don’t point to any factual truth concerning extraterrestrial contact. The NSA’s spying program, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Tuskegee experiment, Project MKUltra, etcetera, are all hallmarks of the inability for large conspiracies to remain secret. It is only a matter of time before the secret becomes common knowledge.

After once again being forced to ignore an old friend, I’m left wondering why is the US such a misanthropic nation? Why do we obsess over these silly fantasies that cannot possibly be true? Perhaps the reason why so many Americans believe conspiracy fantasies is because they understand their culpability in allowing their government to go so far astray.  Like all the guilty parties of the world, they are quick to point to those shadowy others out there “Them! They did it! It wasn’t me!” rather than take the blame for their own inaction, their unwillingness to sully themselves with real politics.  I mean, if lizard people are running the world, why bother with democratic participation?

However this willful blindness to the state of US politics on the part of the people whom the government supposedly represents does have a cost. It is not all fun and games as we pretend that lizards run our country or that we narrowly missed being governed by a pedophile in the last election. Conspiracies do exist, yes. And when they are represented in plots hatched by a foreign government, especially on that speaks a different language and is on shaky ties with the US to start with, they can be quite large and even link to the leadership of that government, and still take years for us to catch wind of it.

It turns out that the Jade Helm 15 fantasy that took the nation by storm during the Obama administration came from somewhere, and that somewhere wasn’t inside the United States. It was created by Russian operatives as a testbed to see if they could alter US politics by sowing discord.

If you think the president can just wave his big Magic Negro Ray of Chocolate Mojo and declare martial law, you really don’t understand how your government works – but then again that’s not even a little bit surprising given a sitting US senator such as Ted Cruz apparently doesn’t understand how the very government he is part of works either.

Stonekettle Station, Jade Helm: The Insanity that Ate Texas

So the answer was yes. Yes Russia could and did interfere with our politics; and they continued to do it from that point straight on through the 2016 presidential elections that gave us the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) as president.

TEXAS STANDARD|May 4, 2018|SECURITY EXPERT SAYS RUSSIA IS WINNING THE DISINFORMATION WAR

A former director of the CIA and NSA said Wednesday that hysteria in Texas over a 2015 U.S. military training exercise called Jade Helm was fueled by Russians wanting to dominate “the information space,” and that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to send the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation gave them proof of the power of such misinformation campaigns.

Michael Hayden, speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe podcast, chalked up peoples’ fear over Jade Helm 15 to “Russian bots and the American alt-right media [that] convinced many Texans [Jade Helm] was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”

Abbott ordered the State Guard to monitor the federal exercise soon after news broke of the operation. Hayden said that move gave Russians the go-ahead to continue — and possibly expand — their efforts to spread fear.

“At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying, ‘We can go big time,’” Hayden said of Abbott’s response. “At that point, I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.’”

Texas Tribune, Hysteria over Jade Helm exercise in Texas was fueled by Russians, former CIA director says

Does this mean that the OHM is a Russian stooge? No. No it doesn’t. Why? Because those links are tenuous and unproven. Likely unprovable. He is a money launderer and a client for Russian oligarchs, but he isn’t an invisible bomb-throwing ninja of the scale necessary to pull off that kind of spy intrigue. He’s just another conman who was used in a con that targeted the American people. The sooner we figure that out and get him out of office, the better everything will be.

However, he is one of the people who believed the Jade Helm story at the time. Just like Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Just like Ted Cruz. This is the cost of believing these conspiratorial fairytales. The cost being that these people have been shown to be unfit for office. They are far too gullible to be trusted with handling the daily business of our government. Unfortunately for the average American, they’re still caught up in so many other conspiratorial fantasies that they probably haven’t noticed that their leaders have been shown to be just as clueless as they are.

A previous version of this was originally posted here.

Atlas Shrugged, Because Perpetual Motion is a Fraud

It’s probably pretty revealing of the understanding that Ayn Rand had of the mechanical world that her genius’ greatest invention in Atlas Shrugged was a perpetual motion machine.

TedEd: Why don’t perpetual motion machines ever work? – Netta Schramm

Now, admittedly, Ayn Rand never uses the phrase “perpetual motion” in the novel. Instead she whips up a concoction that never needs recharging because it collects the static energy from the atmosphere around it. The charge of creating a perpetual motion machine comes into play when Dagny Taggart observes that the engine “could run forever and never need recharging.” That, in a nutshell, is a perpetual motion machine or engine.

This conceptualization reminds me of the Zero Point Modules or ZPM’s used in later years of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. A technobabble workaround for the vast amounts of energy needed to power the gates, shields and weapons in that fictional universe. But at least those writers admitted that the modules, which drew energy from other spatial dimensions, did eventually run out of juice. They appear to be interdimensional disposable batteries, since the writers never got around to explaining how the modules tapped the energy, or how they could be recharged or even created in the first place.

It’s possible that the ship in Stargate Universe siphoned the energy from stellar fusion directly into ZPM’s, but they didn’t have much of a chance to technobabble about how Destiny stored the energy it drew from flying into the photosphere of a star and collecting plasma before SyFy canned the series.

Expanded Facebook status backdated to the blog.

Insanity Personified

There was a time in history when I was a devoted Dilbert follower. The Wife had just gotten a job at a local computer manufacturer, trapped in a cube farm, and Dilbert documented the problems of corporate workers trapped in cube farms everywhere. Working in an architecture firm that employed more than a few draftsman was itself much like corporate cube-farm dwelling, so I could identify with the comic about as well as she did.

Time moved on and we moved on, but Dilbert remained pretty much the same. Until it wasn’t the same. It was a gradual change, I had noticed that Dogbert seemed to speak with the author’s voice from early on in the comic’s run. This in itself wasn’t a problem, but, the character of Dogbert seemed to do it pretty frequently; and what Dogbert said was generally despicable, not the kinds of things that one is comfortable agreeing with whether they are true observations or not. But the real change to the comic occurred about the time that Scott Adams decided to update the look of the comic and took away Dilbert’s signature white shirt and tie. He started taking a lot of time off allowing guest artists to draw for him, and the humor of these artists definitely wasn’t the kind of humor I was willing to laugh at. So I gradually stopped reading the comic, finally ending my subscription about the time that he applauded the Orange Hate-Monkey‘s (OHM) emergence on the presidential field. I really had no intention of polluting my mental sphere with someone so delusional as to think that Donald Trump needed to be anywhere near power.

Then the OHM won the presidency on a technicality. Three million more votes for Hillary Clinton couldn’t be legitimized as meaning that more Americans wanted her as president than wanted the OHM as president. The electoral college so painstakingly negotiated into the U.S. Constitution more than 200 years ago utterly failed to do the job intended, as I took pains to write about in The Electoral College Explained. Failed to respect the will of the majority of the American people for the second time in twenty years and advanced a demonstrably unfit man to lead the government of the United States. In November of 2016 Scott Adams penned this blog post,

You can still expect Trump to ignore any facts that don’t matter, such as the exact number of non-citizens that voted for Clinton. In that case he was making the press think past the sale (that non-citizens voted) and forcing them to spend time talking about the exact number until our brains uncritically accept his central premise that lots of non-citizens voted for Clinton. That is pure persuasion. He won’t change the methods that work. Watch and learn.

Scott Adams

In which he crystallizes the sentiment I expressed above. It doesn’t matter to Scott Adams that three million more people wanted Hillary Clinton as president because taking those discarded voices into account makes him wrong on the issue of the OHM, and he’s staked his reputation and persona on the OHM and his clever strategery that we average humans just can’t see. I wrote a reply at the time essentially accusing him of Kowtowing to power because he doesn’t want to end up in Gitmo, a reply that he promptly deleted, and I forgot all about it and him.

I forgot all about it and him until Sam Harris interviewed him for Waking up. Sam Harris titled that conversation Triggered, and I certainly was as well. I couldn’t finish listening to it, it bothered me so much. It was at that point that I started writing this article, resigning myself to having to listen to and then parse every single nutty-assed thing that Scott Adams said. About the time I was mentally ready to take on that task, Josh Zepps interviewed him for We The People Live! I’ve been following Josh’s work since discovering him hosting Point of Inquiry for the Center for Inquiry. Both Sam and Josh are interesting interviewers to listen to, and one of the reasons this is true is because they approach a conversation with their shields down. The downside of this approach is that they are frequently real-life examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect, in that they attempt to apply critical thinking on the fly in a discussion that they by definition know less about than the person they are talking to. Because of this they are sometimes lead down the proverbial garden path by their guests, and it takes a bit of critical thinking on the part of the listener to parse out just how the hosts have been fooled.

So now I’m on the hook for two interviews. Two interviews to parse and dissect and spend precious hours listening to carefully and doing the legwork to illustrate just how nuts Scott Adams is on display as being. That’s when the procrastination set in. July turned to August and then September. Now it’s November and I just can’t bring myself to spend that kind of time dissecting the thoughts of someone I quit caring about several years ago, and dismissed as irrelevant last year at about this time.

Lucky for me, I don’t have to spend that time after all. When I deleted the two podcasts from my queue and resolved to delete this post unfinished, I took a few minutes to look around and see if anyone else had noticed the insanity on display that I had noticed, and I stumbled across this article over on The Atlantic. The Atlantic is a publication that I only discovered recently, sad to say. It is sad because their authorship is top notch and their research generally in-depth and unimpeachable. The author of the article hits the nail on the head when he dismisses the defense of the OHM thusly,

“If Adams truly is the most formidable defender of the Trump presidency, then the best defense of the president is grounded in corrosive moral nihilism.”

The Atlantic

 He has a lot more to say about the Waking Up interview, but I’ll just point you to the article and leave it at that. I have family I have to reason with on this subject, plenty of real people to practice on without having to dissect the thinking of a total stranger. Procrastination does pay off on occasion and this is one of those occasions.

Atheism is not a Belief System

Throwing off the baggage of revealed knowledge. We don’t need its dead weight any longer.

“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

Bertrand Russell, Is There a God?

Once upon a time there was a forum at Dan Carlin’s podcast website. The forum has since been deleted, and the posts only sporadically appear in the Wayback Machine now. It’s hit or miss to find any of the almost six thousand posts I logged there over the decade or more I haunted the forums. For a very long time I considered those forums the best place, the only place, to go to argue politics and philosophy. I was probably always wrong on that score, as I was wrong on so many other scores back then, but it felt almost like home for a period of a few years. Before it turned sour. Before it was dominated by the hateful few who had successfully driven off the thinkers there.

I discovered Dan Carlin’s podcasts, Common Sense and Hardcore History through an advertisement on Freetalk Live, back in the days when I was a hardcore Libertarian idealist. Back when I would show up to argue things I didn’t understand with people I didn’t understand and couldn’t figure out. I was lucky if I could extract a rebuttal from the cryptic lines of text they would type in reply to my (in my mind) clearly worded arguments. It took many years and lots of fumbling to realize that what I thought was clearly worded was generally the same mish-mash of disconnected and unconnectable personal anecdotes turned into text strings that I was presented with by other members of that and other forums. Groups of the blissfully unsuspecting that I would descend on like a vengeful wraith of anarchist freedom gone mad, sputtering coded gibberish that I’m sure most people couldn’t even wrap their heads around. At least, that is how it seems in hindsight.

Dan Carlin was one of the pioneers of what is now a burgeoning industry of informational and news podcasts, and I was an early listener of his starting with about the thirtieth podcast of Common Sense. I signed up for his community forum in January of 2007. I made enemies almost immediately and was driven off by old-timers there a few times. I was driven off only to return the next time Dan posted a Common Sense show that I wanted to argue about. I say driven off  because that is what was happening. Dan Carlin had and still has some quaint ideas about the value of input from those uninterested in conversation, what most of the world today labels as trolls. I wasn’t above trolling in my own way, but I never understood why clear attempts to end conversation were never stopped by the many moderators present on the forum. It was years later that I realized that they were never going to do anything about these trolls. Dan Carlin’s expressed opinion on the subject of freedom of speech was that everyone had a right to speak even when that speech was specifically intended to disrupt. As my willingness to be verbally assaulted waxed and waned, and as the membership in the group altered and new people appeared to take the place of old adversaries, I would come and go infrequently.

I would come and go infrequently that is until episode 172, an episode I retitled Texas SBOE Destroys Education; an essay that I posted to this blog at the time and also posted to the forum. In that podcast Dan appears to suggest that creationism could be successfully taught alongside modern scientific theories about the history and future of the universe, a point which he quickly denied on the forums and yet remains exactly as I stated in the podcast. When I protested that the last thing that should be done was to compromise the scientific method in such a fashion, I was immediately laid upon by a large section of the forum’s membership, an overwhelming number of which were christians (like the majority of American society itself) christians who wanted their views taught in school as if their beliefs were the unassailable truth. Truth with a capital T, better than the results of scientific inquiry.

After being badgered for days about how science is itself ultimately unprovable in a post-modernist sense, after being badgered for my atheism and how atheism also makes claims about reality which cannot be proven, I created a secondary thread with the title Atheism is Not a Belief System. I honestly thought I’d at least get the rest of the atheists on the forums on board with this subject line. I mean, not having a belief in a thing isn’t itself a belief, right?

It’s funny in hindsight, this naive belief that two people could agree about anything on the internet. What happened over the years, from June 2, 2010 to the day the boards went down late in 2016 can only be described as a cluster fuck. There really isn’t any other words that will cover the mess that resulted from the creation of that thread.

Part of the problem was mine. It took years for me to distinguish between those offering friendly criticism and those who were militantly convinced that all atheists were of the devil. The last group was pretty clearly demarcated because most of them were incoherent even though they offered walls of text as explanations. It was during the attempted shepherding of this rolling orgy in a cesspool that a lot of my current attitudes towards substandard attempts to troll, incoherent if firmly believed arguments, and just plain bad attempts to be funny were formed. Since the people trolling the thread to silence conversation were never going to be punished by the administrators of the forum, I was forced to simply block the trolls who could not be reasoned with. I blocked the dangerously deranged and mildly threatening alike, attempting to force the thread onto the course that the title implied, all to no avail. The militant christians of the forum made it a religion thread, until I finally gave them what they wanted. I changed the title to That Religion Thread. This was the first of several subject lines I gave it. Every one of the new names I came up with were blatant attempts to murder the thread. I would change the title and the OP’s contents to reflect what the forum’s participants were saying at the other end of the (then 400 page) thread, and I did that several times over the course of years. The effort was largely ineffective, although I did get the thread to roll briefly off the front page of the forum once. Once.

As I became more and more disillusioned with the concept of online arguments per se, I spent less and less time on the one board that I had ever managed to get a foothold in. In the end my cutting wit would get me banned from just about every forum I joined. If I was not banned outright, I would simply submit to the pressure to leave. I’ve never been one to overstay my welcome. This eventually became true at Dan Carlin’s forum as well. The only time I came back was when someone would resurrect the zombie atheism thread specifically to get us old-timers (now I was one of them) to come back and argue about something. The orifice-plugging spectacle reached a staggering 608 pages in length before Dan pulled the plug on the forum itself, finally admitting what I had attempted to illustrate to him several times; that some form of authority is required for a productive conversation to occur. He has now moved his community to Facebook, where any user can remove anybody for any reason they please from a conversation. This also impedes productive conversations, but at least those threatening your life can be kept from seeing your activity online there.

R. Elisabeth Cornwell at TAM 2012 – Social Networks: Civilizing the Future

That is the story so far, the history of the title of this piece without the meat of the argument for it. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I will now attempt to codify six hundred and eight pages of sporadic on-topic posts into one sound argument that I think will cover the ground intended. I’d like to hope that it turns out better than the time I told my mom I don’t want to talk about god anymore, I’d rather talk about something important, but please don’t hold your breath waiting to see if it will work. I’m not going to, either.

Part of the problem of outlining this argument is that, for me, the argument has always been transparently easy to understand.  Ever since first discovering that belief in god wasn’t universal, way, way back when, back in the days of Sunday school religious indoctrination, grade school prayers and mandatory church attendance for the children while the parents stayed home and slept in. Back in the olden days before the internet and cable television, the days when you had to read books to learn anything, and you had to know which books told you what thing you needed to know to even be able to pull off that herculean task. But it was bound to happen eventually. As a voracious reader who wouldn’t have minded living at the library, I was going to run across the fact that some people didn’t believe in god in some book somewhere.

Reading Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill as a teenager was my introduction to disbelief. Black Velvet is the name Winston Churchill gave to the afterlife. A featureless non-consciousness with no experience of time. Eternal dreamless sleep. Rather than instantly converting me to atheism, the idea that there was an ending to existence scared the crap out of me. I doubled down and became a born-again christian, crawling to the front of the church in my desperation to believe the way everyone around me seemed to believe. The way my grandparents believed and were so happy with. I wanted to be like them.

But it was useless. I was never going to believe the way they did because I wasn’t them. I also wasn’t my parents who cheerfully packed us up and sent us to church with the grandparents while they went back to sleep. I had questions and I wanted answers to those questions, even if the answers to those questions scared the crap out of me. It wasn’t until I found a kindred spirit in the form of the Wife that I knew that it would be OK to simply admit that I didn’t believe the fairy tales written in the holy books that everyone took so seriously. Our children have never set foot in a church unless we went with them; which means they’ve been to several weddings and several funerals at churches and not much else. So I proved I was not like my parents or my grandparents to my children and to myself.

But what does it mean, Atheism? Is it different than Agnosticism? What about Freethought? The answer to those questions is that every single person who takes on one of those labels has some different conceptualization of what the label means to them, exactly like any other descriptive term applied to any individual whether that term applies to sex, gender, race, religion, job function or area of study and thousands of other quantifying parameters that I can’t be bothered to mention. So if I tell you atheism means x I’ll get a majority of atheists who will probably disagree with me the moment I state it that concretely.

What my years of shepherding that thread proved to me is that the devil is in the details of the phrase Atheism is not a Belief System. Depending on how you define atheism, you will or won’t agree with it being a belief system, which itself has a definition that most people will argue with you about.

Christianity is a belief system. The system parameters involve accepting some basic tenets of the faith. Jesus Christ is the savior. He was born of a virgin. He is part of a triumvirate made up of the father, son and holy ghost. These rules were worked out in deep lines of blood over the course of centuries, and still there are those who want to be called christian and yet not believe in these three basic things.

Islam is a belief system. I don’t know it as well, having been raised a protestant christian in the middle of the bible belt, but Islam’s basic tenets are that Muhammad is the last prophet of god and that the Qu’ran is the word of god set down by him. What is in the book and the associated writings of historical mullahs makes up the system that constrains Islamic faith.

Every single religion has a book or philosophy associated with it that constrains it. Very few people before the enlightenment era in Europe (1800’s) knew what was written in the books that Catholics and Protestants venerated, and even today reading the Qu’ran in any language aside from Arabic is considered problematic by many islamic sects. So if you don’t speak and read Arabic, you won’t know what is in that book even now. That’s not to say that the books are not available, even to disbelievers, but that very few people actually read the books that contain the rules defining the religion they ascribe to. This leads to its own set of problems, but in the end even the hucksters who misuse tradition are constrained by the rules they invent to describe their variation of the religion they promote.

This is not true of atheism. Even if I venture to define the word atheism there is no set of rules that an atheist can be punished with that constrains what an atheist believes or doesn’t believe about the universe. Other atheists will tell you that’s not atheism but they have no ability whatsoever to make you stop claiming you are an atheist. There is no rules committee that will kick you out, no authority that will seek to force you to conform, no structure of any kind aside from simply being willing to refer to yourself as an atheist and suffer the consequences. Consequences inflicted by believers everywhere.

Here ends the discussion of belief systems. Now I will move on to hazard a definition of atheism. I’m going to cite a source rather than walk out on that limb all by myself.

Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. Strong atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Atheism, theism being the root word and a- being added to denote the lack of. A lack of belief in gods. Even that broadest of definitions will get some atheists’ panties in a wad, and they will definitely squall at my insistence that a lack of belief is not itself a system of belief. There are many, many atheists out there which share nothing in common with me aside from the fact that neither of us believe in gods. There are even some who believe in things which aren’t gods and also aren’t demonstrable by science, but that is another discussion and an entirely different article.

Atheism, as a mode of critical thinking, is loosely congruent with skepticism. Skeptics and atheists both question things that the vast majority of humanity agrees to, but that is about as far as their agreement goes. There is far more agreement between humanists and atheists in general than there is between atheism and skepticism, the latter being quite capable of disbelieving things which are actually demonstrable. They simply dispute the findings of science. Groups like The Skeptics Guide to the Universe combat that kind of silliness, but it’s a never ending game of whack-a-mole trying to keep the disbelievers from using skepticism as a cover.

Humanism arose in the enlightenment era, along with the re-emergence of atheism from the hiding that a millennium of persecution by Catholic Europe had forced it into. Humanism quickly split into two factions; Religious Humanism and Rationalist Humanism. Religious Humanism became loosely affiliated with Deism, both of which have almost vanished into history. Rationalist Humanism rebranded itself as Secular Humanism, and if you were going to point to an atheist belief system, Secular Humanism is its standard bearer. But not all atheists are comfortable with the Humanist moniker, making humanism its own belief system, functionally different than the looser term atheist.

When people talk about “isms,” they are referring to some “distinctive doctrine, theory, system, or practice” like liberalism, communism, conservatism, or pacifism. Atheism has the suffix “ism,” so it belongs in this group, right? Wrong: the suffix “ism” also means a “state, condition, attribute, or quality” like pauperism, astigmatism, heroism, anachronism, or metabolism. Is astigmatism a theory? Is metabolism a doctrine? Is anachronism a practice? Not every word that ends in “ism” is a system of beliefs or an “ism” in the way people usually mean it. Failure to realize this can be behind other errors here.

Is Atheism An Ism? The Wayback Machine.

When pressed by believers to explain what atheists believe, I am frequently forced to reference other sources as a bulwark for the concepts I’m trying to relate. Believers rely on the sureness of the majority to justify the things they believe. The empirical nature of human experience justifies doing this right up to the point where we start talking about things we believe but cannot prove directly. A freethinker cannot rely on the comfort of the majority because a freethinker has none to fall back on. A freethinker must be able to tie what they think to concretes that are demonstrable so that the believer will be unable to disbelieve the thing being demonstrated. An agnostic will simply claim no knowledge on subjects they cannot demonstrate. Agnosticism is useful when conducting experiments, I’ve used it several times myself when running experiments that I really want to understand the outcomes of. But I am not agnostic about the subject of the existence of god. I have found no proof for the existence of god.

Test it yourself. The next time you are asked to pray, don’t close your eyes and bow your head. Notice anything? No sense of otherness? No sense of being in the presence of some greater power? Look around. Do you see those other unbowed heads? They too question the existence of god, but not enough to stop going to church. To synagogue. To the mosque. Why do we do this? Jesus said that we should do our praying in private. Why do we insist we must pray in public? Force others to pray in public? Enforced compliance? Discipline that forces the next generation to tread the exact same path we were forced to tread? Break that mold and see what is outside of it. You might like it.

When you observe the beauty of nature, realize that the beauty is anchored in naturally evolved healthy forms. That is why fungus and disease repulse us. Not because they are supernaturally evil, but because they are evolved systems just like the human form; co-evolutionary systems that our evolved brains recognizes on some subliminal level as harmful.

BBC, A Brief History of Disbelief presented by Jonathan Ross. Youtube link as of last edit.

The observation by Jonathan Ross in the video above (within the first ten minutes) that he was reluctant to refer to himself as an atheist because he didn’t see the need to define himself by what he didn’t believe in or scarcely thought about is offered as the same reason that I prefer to be tagged with the label freethinker these days. Freethinker describes my process for coming to accept facts that I encounter. Atheist merely relates my lack of belief in gods. We as humans do not all agree on the importance of faith, of having faith or of belief of any kind, and it becomes imperative that those of us who question the rampant religiosity of today’s political climate to stand up and object to it. To do that we have to not alienate the people we hope to persuade. Not adopting monikers that come pre-loaded with hatred is one of the basic things we can do to achieve this goal. Freethinker is more subtle. Freethinker is so subtle that I have encountered christians in Facebook Freethinking groups who are unaware that freethinkers in general are atheists. Are atheists because there is little rational reason to profess a belief in gods beyond a nod to the concerns raised by deists.

What is the purpose in life? Why are we alive? Here? Now? None of these questions are the kinds of things that atheism can offer answers for. Belief in a universal god, a natural god, does lend some quietude to those kinds of epistemological questions. Deism or Spinozism can be bedrock to anchor the unquiet mind upon, but most believers remain unsatisfied with a deity that they cannot ask favors of. A maker who doesn’t hate the same things the believer hates, love the same thing the believer loves. Spinoza was himself ejected from Jewish society for atheism. There wasn’t enough of god left for the believers to believe in, apparently.

The United States was founded by people escaping religious persecution. Religious people who turned right around and persecuted their own people for not adhering to the doctrines that had been imported with them. The few who have stopped to question traditional beliefs, people like Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, have been ridiculed down through history for their disbelief (in the case of Paine) or qualified belief (in the case of Jefferson) at the same time they are celebrated for the things that lead to the creation of the United States. A godless country founded on a godless constitution. Godless for good reason; because persecution of the people through authority not founded on demonstrable principles of justice is what lead them to leave the places they came from. The rich heritage of disbelief that is this country’s birthright is being forgotten, buried under mountains of false piety, demagoguery and self-righteousness.

The judicious application of Occam’s Razor to the mountains of bullshit we are confronted with on an hourly basis in this information age is a life-saving necessity. If we don’t learn how to find air in this ocean of data, we will drown for lack of sense. These observations bring me to the core of the argument. The argument that Atheism is not a Belief System.

There is a specific piece of baggage that believers want to saddle all non-believers with. That is the baggage of revealed knowledge. Atheists are equally in the dark because they cannot know the things they claim to know. There is an intellectually rigorous approach to knowledge which questions the basis of that knowledge. This is commonly referred to in professional circles as performing your due diligence; researching your precepts to make certain they are valid. Insofar as atheism resembles agnosticism (no knowledge of) on the subject of the existence or nonexistence of a generic god, a Deist or Spinozan god, one can say with a respectable level of certainty I know this. Consequently non-believers are not in the same boat as believers. Even the average religious believing person can escape that boat, the boat of claiming certainty for things they don’t actually know, if they simply adopt this intellectual rigor for themselves. As a recent news article summarized, be willing to adopt and use the phrase I don’t know.

This argument about atheism is at its root a legal argument. Can you prove the things you believe? Can you demonstrate the existence of god beyond a shadow of a doubt? Believe whatever crazy thing you want to believe, just don’t tell me I have to believe like you, or believe anything at all without providing some kind of proof to back up the claims that are made. Why would I take a different stand? I pick my battles carefully. I created that thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS forum all those years ago with this specific argument in mind. Never mind that the SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) continued around me beyond my ability to control for year after year. It was the attempt to place the onus of revealed knowledge as a shared burden on the shoulders of all humanity that I initially rebelled against. You, dear reader, may disagree with me, but I think I can finally say I’m happy with the argument I’ve laid out here. The defense rests, your honor.


It is a testament to how many times I’ve rehearsed this argument in my head that this post comes pre-equipped with an addendum. Many of the arguments thrown at me in the past have been incorporated in the longer post that appears today on my blog. Much longer and much better thought out than my stumbling attempts to communicate what I thought were simple ideas all those years ago.

Still, I know what kinds of arguments I didn’t incorporate, and what kinds of objections I’ve seen in the past and already have rebuttals for. Hitler was not an atheist and atheists don’t kill people for having a religion. That argument figured highly in numbers of mindless repetitions, but it was a stupid argument so I won’t write about it here. Austin Cline who wrote for About.com at the dawn of the internet age has written much more about this subject than I ever will. Go read his work if you just have to have that argument addressed right here and now. I will, however, take a few extra paragraphs to deflate a few of the better thought out counters that I’ve run across in the past. I will be saving everyone some time and frustration this way. No one needs more frustration, and everyone wants more time these days.

I’m going to start at the beginning. There is a segment of the human population who are simply afraid of atheists. Atheophobia is a thing. I’ve met quite a few of them over the years. When I run into new ones these days I can almost be bored while hitting the block button. Almost. Fear of atheists is very real and predominates a lot of political rhetoric in the world today. There is no group more targeted than the disbeliever; other than the sects of the majorities own religion that are considered threatening to those in power. Once those troublemakers are out of the way, the atheists are the main targets of hostility. We dare to say the emperor wears no clothes, and believers cannot produce the emperor’s garments or even the emperor himself in order to disprove the assertion. Fear of atheists is the basis for most of the arguments that follow.

The more determined philosophy majors decided early on to make a career out of repeating specific arguments, relying on the casual reader’s ignorance of a specific subject, philosophy and its arcane word usage and definitions, to allow their falsities to go unchallenged. If you really want to know something about fallacies and what constitutes one, here’s a list. Specifically, the Argument from Ignorance was oft-cited, so I feel that it warrants specific mention.

Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or “appeal to ignorance” (where “ignorance” stands for: “lack of evidence to the contrary”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false, it is “generally accepted” (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there is insufficient investigation and therefore insufficient information to prove the proposition satisfactorily to be either true or false.

Wikipedia, Argument from Ignorance

Argument from Ignorance is an informal fallacy; which means, the argument could also be true and still be fallacious. Life is a series of imperfect decisions based on partial knowledge; and that’s when things are most certain. The least certain involves a coin flip and deciding whether you want to believe the coin’s conclusion or doubt it. One can possess good reasons for thinking that something does not exist, an idea captured by Bertrand Russell’s teapot, the analogy I started this article with. However, the existence of a creator god, much more a specific religious conception of the creator god, would fall more duly under the arena of pragmatism (Occam’s Razor, the law of parsimony) wherein a position must be demonstrated or proven in order to be upheld, and therefore the burden of proof is on the argument’s proponent. That is, the person who wants you to believe in a thing. In this case, a god.

Believers will frequently fall back to Pascal’s wager next. “Ah,” they’ll say, “but if you believe in god you get to go to heaven. So it’s safer to believe in god and not go to hell.” In a side note about my personal journey to freethought, Hell was one of the first concepts that I discarded, and I did this for my own sanity. Which version of god is the god I need to believe in? This is important because if you postulate that avoidance of hell is the goal, you need to be sure to observe the right rules and not the wrong ones. Since religious texts are generally self-contradictory given enough time and permutation of belief, you really can’t know from them which laws to follow and which ones not to. How can you possibly know how not to end up in hell?

As for that, I deemed that if god was love then hell had to be of our own creation; literally, if you are living in hell you had a hand in making it, in its continuance. I can understand why suffering people don’t just kill themselves. I’ve been disabled and stricken with vertigo and migraines on a regular basis for ten years and more. But if you experience hell, you are the one that can change that experience. No one else will be as capable as you are of correcting your personal dilemma. You don’t go to hell when you die. That would not be the actions of a loving god. You would find perfection hellish if what you value is not the values of the inhabitants of the afterlife.

It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

After discarding the human-made construct of hell, I could breath a lot easier and it made the rest of the argument that much easier to deal with. A believer might well object “you can’t just get rid of hell,” but the truth is that you can. In the christian religion everyone has a personal god. You take god into your heart and if you listen to him he tells you the truth. Listen to your heart. You’ll hear it say “there is no hell” unless you need to punish others so much that you cannot let the concept go. If you can’t then I really do feel sorry for you.

The next target in the argument for god varies radically based on the personal experience of the believer. A favorite argument of my past tormentors was the concept that evidence proves something. They would call evidentialism into question, as if the requiring of evidence before ascribing to a certain belief is somehow suspect or disqualifying. Contrary to the hand waving excuses I’ve heard repeatedly, requiring evidence before believing something is a generally accepted practice for anything not involving high-browed philosophy and religion.

While no sensible epistemologists generally urge people to disregard their evidence when forming beliefs…


Wikipedia entry on Evidentialism

An oft-retyped summation of my willingness to accept evidence as proof runs as follows; while gravity may only be a theory, I wouldn’t suggest jumping off a tall building and expecting to float. Evidence dictates you will fall to the earth at a pretty predictable rate and cease to exist in a living state pretty shortly after contact with a hard surface. Please note that not only are all the concepts in this summation open to question if you start questioning evidentialism, but I could just as easily be describing how to bake a cake as I am trying to communicate a crucial fundamental understanding of the universe. Gravity exists whether you believe in it or not.

“Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.”

Edward Tufte

I think this came up in relation to an argument about the Big Bang origin of the universe and whether or not all the stuff in the bang existed before the bang. Physics will tell you it had to exist before time/space existed or else there wouldn’t be a universe to exist now. So there was a before before space/time. What that might be is a matter of the highest speculation, but then we are talking about the suggested existence or non-existence of a creator god here. Hard to beat the infinite regress of creator gods to explain the previous creator god, much more likely is the infinite string of universes coalescing and dispersing in their own little space/time bubbles. Turtles all the way down as the saying goes.

Finally, the last argument worth mentioning is “Granted you can’t prove god exists; but then how do you prove love exists?” I always assumed the believer was wanting me to capitulate in a sobbing mess and swear my everlasting love for god almighty in light of this observation. I mean, you have to grant that love exists without proof, right? Except that you really don’t. This is one of the oldest problems in human existence, the foundation of what is responsible for more killing than every war in history. Does she love me? Does he love me? Luckily, science has an answer for that,

The researchers said that their study, entitled Love-related changes in the brain: a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study, had successfully obtained the “first empirical evidence of love-related alterations in brain functional architecture”.

There you have it, proof that love really exists. Yes, I know, I’ve just destroyed all of romanticism.

As an atheist or freethinker or agnostic or skeptic or whatever disbelieving label I choose to adopt later, I don’t have to prove the infinite nature of the universe, or the non-existence of an intelligent hand in it’s creation. I don’t have to prove these things any more than any believer is capable of proving that the opposite is true. That is the nature of a belief, as opposed to a fact or knowledge. I can freely believe in the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) I can even refer to you that group’s website, venganza.org. I don’t have to provide one shred of evidence for the FSM’s existence to have a belief in him; or for that matter, to have him represented at any event in which participation by varying beliefs is encouraged. That was the purpose for which the FSM was created. A religion based on eating pasta, drinking beer and love for everyone. In the FSM, disbelievers finally came up with a god worth believing in.

The FSM is just the latest in a series of fanciful creations presented in an attempt to prove to believers that they were pretending that they could know things that can’t be known. A host of previous creatures that include the original satanism church, pink unicorns and the floating teapot mentioned previously all leading up to the FSM and Pastafarianism. May the blessings of his noodly appendages be upon you. All of these creations purposefully misunderstood by the believers who encounter them and refuse to understand. Believers who protest “you’re just being silly.” Yes. We aren’t the only ones that observation can be applied to.

Edit history: General wordsmithing throughout and the addition of the atheophobia section 03/24/2018. Added a sentence declaring why I was better acquainted with christianity to the Islam paragraph, and added a link to my origin of the universe postulation in the addendum 10/15/2018. Migration to WordPress 1/7/2019. Added Pastafarianism doesn’t kill image 2/23/2019. Added the TAM2012 youtube link, updated links to current blog location 4/22/2019. Redirected some links from archive.org to blog posts created on the blog from the archives records. Other minor wordsmithing. Recreated the quote from About.com for “is atheism an ism?” after finding it in the Wayback Machine again. Added the war in the name of atheism link and descriptive sentences to the first paragraph of the addendum. Added seven states image and associated links 7/28/2019.

Triskaidekaphilia not Triskaidekaphobia

Written reference to the superstitious fear of the number thirteen dates to the late 1800s. Its origin is conjectural (a matter of guesswork). The term triskaidekaphobia first appeared in the early 1900s. It was derived from treiskaideka, the Greek word for thirteen + phobia, fear of = a fear of thirteen.

Google search result

This was in my news feed today.

Rebecca Watson, Did the Patriarchy Steal Friday the 13th From Women?

Thirteen is supposedly a bad number because the twelve disciples plus Jesus equals thirteen, the first reference that she offers for the fear of that day and/or number.  I hadn’t heard the cycles (moon, menstrual) argument before. I have never (and I do mean never) heard the triskaidekaphiliac women’s day argument before.

The thirteenth is my lucky day. I was born on the thirteenth. I got married on the thirteenth because the wife insists I remember things that fall on the thirteenth day of the month. She also scheduled the births of our children (C-sections are like that) for the thirteenth of the month. It isn’t her fault the children didn’t actually emerge on those days (birth is like that) So when Friday the thirteenth rolls around I enjoy the double-whammy of good luck; my favorite day of the week and my favorite day of the month combined into one great day to celebrate. I am the biggest promoter of triskaidekaphilia that I know of aside from this guy.

What I’m trying to say is I of all people should have heard the women’s day argument before, and I haven’t. So I’m going to say Friday the thirteenth being a women’s day is the fiction. Hope that clears it all up for you.

Logical Failure. It’s a Math Problem.

Apparently there was a miscommunication somewhere in my past. I never got the memo that I was supposed to humor the idiocy. My apologies to any idiots I’ve offended.


McKenna, Abraham, Sheldrake – The Evolutionary Mind (3/3)

At approx 48:30 in the video this is stated,

The failure to teach mathematics in practical social and political terms, boils down to a failure to teach logic and discriminating understanding. The great evil, in my humble opinion which haunts our enterprise, and I say this realizing I’m setting the fox among the chickens, the great evil that has been allowed to flourish in the absence of mathematical understanding is relativism. And what is relativism? It’s the idea that there is no distinction between shit and shinola. That all ideas are somehow operating on equal footing. 

So, one person is a chaos theorists another is a follower of the revelations of this or that new-age guru, someone else is channeling information from the Pleiades, and we have been taught that political correctness demands that we treat all these things with equal weight. Because we have no mathematical ability, no logical ability, we don’t know how to ask the questions that expose some positions as preposterous, trivial, insulting to the intelligence and unworthy of repetition. 

So we are all very comfortable bashing science, and flailing away at that, but that isn’t our enemy. Science is capable of undertaking it’s own reformation and critique and has been engaged in that fairly vigorously for sometime. The enemy that will really subvert  the enterprise of building a world based on clarity is the belief that we cannot point out the pernicious forms of idiocy that flourish in our own community, and this problem is growing worse all the time. 

Terence McKenna goes on like that for quite a bit longer, but you can get the gist of what he means, the part I wanted to stress, from this three paragraph transcription. That your science, my science, isn’t the same as science itself; and that science isn’t at fault for this discrepancy. That the brown stuff on your shoes actually is shit and not polish, and we can determine that quite easily. The conjecture that both propositions are equal is laughable on its face. That relativism is itself without merit and probably one of the greatest evils currently at play in society.

This hour-long segment is part of an even larger audio/video work known as The Trialogues which appears to be available in full from Rupert Sheldrake’s website. Expand your mind.