Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Bizarre societal norms I've been thinking about today...

If an adult purchases or consumes certain chemical compounds, in the privacy of their own home, they get caged for a portion of their lifespan. #EndTheWarOnDrugs

If a person assists another person in peacefully ending bodily functions, at their behest, they get caged for a portion of their lifespan. #RightToDeathWithDignity

People often slice off sections of flesh from the bodies of their newborn infants. #EndRoutineInfantCircumcision

When children do not behave in accordance to adult expectations, a parent will often use repeated forceful impacts on their body in hopes that the resulting pain and fear will deter the behavior. #SpankingIsNeverOkay

Some people think eating cow flesh is normal and eating dog flesh wrong. Some people think eating dog flesh is normal and eating cow flesh wrong. #EatingFleshIsWrong

Most people around the world claim to know exclusive details pertaining to why we're here, and what happens to us after our deaths. It usually happens to resemble what others in their area say. #FaithIsNotAReliableSourceOfKnowledge

In most places around the world, a topless man is perfectly acceptable, while a topless woman is censored on TV, and arrested or fined in person. #FreeTheNipple

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Why the Southern States wanted to secede from the Union.

There's this defense of the confederate flag out there that says, "the flag isn't about racism and the southern states didn't want to leave the union primarily over the issue of slavery, but rather the rights of the states to decide their own laws". I think this can only be settled by the states' declarations of succession.

From the Texas Letter of Secession:

"We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. 

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states."

From the Mississippi Declaration of the Causes of Secession:

"In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course. 

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world."

From the Georgia Declaration of the Causes of Secession:

"The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery."

From the mouth of the Confederate States' Vice President, Alexander Stephens:

"Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth."

As for the argument for states' rights, their complaint was highly hypocritical, as they argued against the northern states' rights to not return escaped slaves.

The South Carolina Declaration of Causes of Secession, (In which, slavery is referenced 18 times while states rights is only referenced twice) complains about non-slave states not obeying the federal laws requiring the return of escaped slaves.

"The Constitution of the United States, in its 4th Article, provides as follows:

“No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”...

...But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the general government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them."

The rights of the states was not the real reason for their secession, and only added that when it suited them. I think the states' declarations speak for themselves. In the same way the Southern Baptist Convention split from the Baptists over slavery, so did the southern states split from the Union.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Looking further at the intersection of faith and science

It's interesting to see an interactive graph of the religions who do and do not state openly if evolution or the big bang is in conflict with their religion.

Here's the graph: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-tegmark/religion-and-science-distance-between-not-as-far-as-you-think_b_2664657.html

And here's the survey itself: http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/survey.html

The major denominations that state there's a conflict:
- Southern Baptist Convention
- Lutheran Church Missouri and Wisconsin Synod
- Presbyterian Church of America
- Free Methodist
- 7th Day Adventist
- Jehovah's Witnesses
The rest either pretty much openly state that there's no conflict, or have no official position posted. This surprises me. I must be missing some aspects of modern theology that allows for this coexistence. Of course, the same goes for most people. While 46% of Americans believe in a literal understanding of Genesis and a <10,000 year old Earth, only 11% of Americans belong to a denomination which openly states evolution and an old Earth are in conflict with their faith.

Monday, 25 May 2015

I don't know how Christians are able to reconcile evolution with God...

I didn't very spend much longer as a Christian after I accepted evolution. I couldn't reconcile a benevolent god using possibly one of the cruelest methods imaginable to "mold" the thinking, feeling, life forms we see today. It relies on suffering to progress. I remember the moment it hit me. I was watching a David Attenborough documentary where he explained a basic observation Darwin made that caught him on to evolution. Animals, from the fish in the sea, to the rabbits on land, to the birds in the sky, must produce many offspring. Two parent birds must produce many more offspring than just two in order to keep their numbers stable because most of their children will never make it to reproduction themselves. Most will die from the harsh competition in the environment. Not only must the siblings survive external predators, and internal diseases until then, but they must also compete against each other for food, for mates, for homes, etc., and the number of offspring needed to keep numbers stable increases exponentially the lower you are in the food chain. Just look at how many eggs that frogs, fish, and insects must produce to hold extinction at bay. How many untold numbers of their offspring must be sacrificed to keep alive the many tiers of predators above them.

How malicious is a being who creates a planet of living things who must survive by ripping other living things out of the ground, snatching them out of the sky, or hunting them and ripping the living flesh from their bones? With so many forms of energy available what kind of mind creates a planet full of things which rely on metabolic energy? I can accept the existence of the food chain in a non-theistic evolution worldview, but if the claim put forward is that this was planned, thought out, or designed, then that designer is a sinister being who is watching every one of its children rip apart one another to survive. That god is not for me.

I'll end with a Hitchens quote:

"Let's say that the consensus is that our species, being the higher primates, Homo Sapiens, has been on the planet for at least 100,000 years, maybe more. Francis Collins says maybe 100,000. Richard Dawkins thinks maybe a quarter-of-a-million. I'll take 100,000. In order to be a Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years, our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth, most other people having a life expectancy of about 25 years, dying of their teeth, famine, struggle, bitterness, war, suffering, misery, all of that for 98,000 years.
Heaven watches this with complete indifference. And then 2000 years ago, thinks 'That's enough of that. It's time to intervene', and the best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate parts of the Middle East. Don't lets appeal to the Chinese, for example, where people can read and study evidence and have a civilization. Let's go to the desert and have another revelation there. This is nonsense. It can't be believed by a thinking person."

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The Top Six Facebook Pages That Replace Science With Woo

On Facebook, I frequently see shared posts that look interesting at first sight, but after a little reading, are nothing but woo. What is "woo"?

Woo-woo (or just plain woo) refers to ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers.

1. The Mind Unleashed tops the list with 6.6 million followers. It's a pseudoscientific, woo-peddling, click bait website with a propensity to misrepresent data from studies and present it as scientific fact for their own gain. On it you may find things like vaccine hysteria, food woo, including opposition to GMOs and gluten, UFOs/aliens, vibration healing, HAARP weather manipulation, chemtrails, and quantum misrepresentation.

2. Spirit Science comes in next with 5.1 million followers. Created by Jordan Pearce, the site promotes a wide range of New Age woo including but not limited to astral projection, chakras, crystal woo, orgone energy, quantum woo and sacred geometry. Watch a video of Jordan infiltrating an hospital operating room, and then complain about the lack of "healing crystals".

3. Collective Evolution with only 1.7 million followers. CE is a woo-mongering click bait website. They label themselves as an alternative news source that seeks to expand their way of "thinking" to create "big change" on the planet. On it you may find vaccine fear mongering, quantum woo, aliens, Illuminati and 9/11 conspiracies, and various types of food woo.

4. Natural News with 1.4 million followers. NaturalNews.com is an anti-science conspiracy website founded by Mike Adams which promotes numerous alternative medicines and assorted woo. The site particularly specializes in vaccine denialism, AIDS/HIV denialism, quack cancer treatments, and conspiracy theories about "Big Pharma", and modern medicine. Furthermore, Adams supports quantum woo, specifically quantum healing and quantum consciousness. Natural News advances a hard green position, even though the site also promotes global warming denialism.

5. World Truth with 1.1 million followers. It's a website run by a man named Eddie Levin, who claims to have "spent the last 32 years researching Theosophy, Freemasonry, Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, the Bavarian Illuminati and Western Occultism". On it, you'll find things like "cleansing" diets, global warming denialism, vaccine hysteria, and most importantly, antisemitism, claiming that The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion is an authentic manual on how Jews are going to take over the world.

6. Food Babe with 950,000 followers. The usual ration of nature woo crap. She's strongly anti-GMO, anti-vaccine, pro-organic, chemophobic, the whole works. She's a raw milk advocate and a nitrite basher. She's a fan of Masaru Emoto's water woo. She's claimed that the pressurized cabins in airliners compress your internal organs, and that the cabin air can contain "up to 50% nitrogen." Essentially, she fancies herself a consumer advocate whose job it is to protect you from toxic food ingredients, with said toxicity determined by how scary or unfamiliar the name of the ingredient is. In reality she uses fear as a selling strategy. Her products mainly consist of items from companies she has a commission referral system in place with. Ms. Hari demonstrates little to no dignity or humility when challenged by experts. A National Public Radio (NPR) article on 4-December-2014 covered her irresponsible tactics and was scathing as it identified her as a fear-monger. In response, Ms. Hari has recently written an essay to portray herself as the victim of corporate shills.

Friday, 24 April 2015

A Small God.

When Carl Sagan​ spoke of people wanting their god small, I think many people misunderstood what he meant. The god people often describe is infinite, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, etc. This is a big definition for sure, but God's definition and biblical actions are oceans apart. Scientists like Sagan, who have a greater glimpse of the immensity, intricacy, and elegance of nature see this juxtaposition better than anyone.

Would the artist of auroras choose one tribe over another, destroying their enemies.
Would the creator of chromosomes command his tribe of goat herders to cut off a part of their penis?
Would the engineer of evolution care for the life being shaped by it?
Would the designer of dopamine expect moral perfection from brains awash in it?
Would the maker of molecules care about what a specie of apes in the Milky Way galaxy do in their bedrooms?
Would the author of atoms demand female virginity and obedience to their husbands??
Would the artist of auroras destroy city walls or take sides in tribal conflicts in Palestine?

The god portrayed in the old testament seems so small-minded, human-centered, and he thinks like you would expect humans at the time would. He rules like a king, which is people governed themselves. Sought progress through conquest, opposed rival tribes, and demanded women's place in society to be subservient to men. The bible reads like it was written by primitive, small-minded men, not an all-knowing, cosmic perspective divinity.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Why I changed my position on abortion

I'm going to lay out what convinced me to change my view on the legality of abortion this past year or two, both for my own clarity and the interest of others.
First, I'll do what most abortion rights advocates don't do: concede that the fetus and the mother have equal rights to autonomy. I don't believe this, but for the sake of my point, I'll let that go. However, the fetus' own autonomy is dependent upon the mother relinquishing hers, so we now have two equal, competing autonomies. What tips the balance against legal abortions, opponents would say, is that the stakes lean very far in one direction. Time-wise, the mother loses 9 months, and the fetus loses the *potential* for an entire lifetime.
To explore this, I'm going to use some analogies, or "intuition pumps" that are somewhat similar to allow our own intuition to clarify some of the murkiness of the issue. No analogy is perfect since pregnancy is unique with its mix of involuntary actions the body does, and voluntary actions that people do, but I think it clarifies nonetheless.
Suppose a man is dying, and the only way he can survive is if someone else is hooked up to him intravenously for 9 months; he must have an I.V. connect him to someone else and use their circulatory system to filter his blood. Would it be nice if someone volunteered to do this? Definitely. Does the government, another person, or even the sick man himself have the right to force someone else to relinquish their autonomy to do this? I don't think so.
Let's take it a step further and suppose that a man volunteered to be connected, but later reneges on the offer and wants to disconnect. Should the man be forced to continue being connected; abstaining from things like alcohol so his liver can filter enough for the both of them? Does he still have the right to his autonomy? Should he still have the choice to disconnect at his choosing? Yes.
I think this clarifies what many people already believe: In cases such as rape, incest, or medical peril for the mother, there should be the right to abort. I think it also points out that if abortion is legal, it should be legal at any point in the pregnancy.
Now what about the women who could have prevented this situation entirely? Let's use another analogy. Suppose a woman has a child with a rare kidney disease. Suppose the woman knew before her pregnancy that she had these genes and knew there was a decent probability the child would get it. Now at 10 years old, the doctors say the only way the child can possibly survive another year is if the mother gives up one of her kidneys.
Would a mother that deeply cares about her child do this? Of course.
But on the off chance the mother doesn't care enough to undergo the operation, should the mother be legally forced to give up one of her kidneys? No. Whether she knew this might happen years ago or just didn't think about it, her autonomy is her own just as the child has their own.
So even if a woman becomes pregnant through her own volition or carelessness, she does not concede her legal autonomy. I may, considering the details of individual cases, consider her to be morally lacking. I may be able to cite numerous reasons for an abortion to be immoral, but I can't cite a single reason to legally require someone to maintain a pregnancy.
The morality of the situation and legal responsibility of the individual are separate issues.
Remember that in a free society, we begin with all rights and freedoms, and then limit each right only when there is due cause to restrict them.
I could go on since the more I read, the more reasons I find to support abortion rights, but I think I'll stop there because that addresses the main issue I see coming from the other side.