Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Survey Update


I haven’t done an update on my surveys in a while. Here is how I’m doing so far:

Religion Surveys:
This survey deals with various situations that may be considered discrimination towards Atheists:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=vvaqodd0equ2y21474850 – 2%
This survey deals with various situations that may be considered discrimination towards Christians:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=pi387nzvmo8dklc474867 – 2%
This survey looks at whether or not the respondent feels they have been discriminated against for their religion:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=3zolzpi3k1lwc7s470898 – 8%
This survey looks at whether or not people feel that Atheists are discriminated against:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=t2k9uo23mlnmklk470896 – 7%
This survey looks at whether or not people feel that Christians are discriminated against:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=85koff95iqwpme3470893 – 6%

Feminism Surveys:
Situations that may or may not be considered Feminist issues:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=xxiz033c05yo72v472614 – 2%
Are various Feminist causes helpful or hurtful for the Feminist movement?
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=i8d3kq6z73ems49471695 – 7%
How do you perceive Feminism?
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=4p48z0rwjwooxpf471689 – 6%
Does Feminist have a bad reputation?
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=r4t8nurh0tyxvqt470762 – 11%

Please help me out by doing my surveys, if you haven’t already, so that I can write my posts on the responses. And please share my surveys as well.


I am an Atheist and No, I Don’t Think You’re Stupid


It seems to be a common assumption that atheists are a bunch of arrogant pricks who think that all theists are necessarily stupid. It is true that there are a number of atheists who do think this, and many of them considered leaders within the atheist community. But to say that all atheists think theists are stupid is as wrong as saying that all Christians are homophobic. A number of Christians are homophobic, and many of them hold leadership positions within their given communities, but does that mean that all, or even most, Christians are homophobic? From my personal experience, I would be willing to argue that only a small percentage of Christians are homophobic. It is probably similar to the percentage of atheists who believe all theists are stupid.
I believe that one of the biggest causes of this assumption, other than the fact that people equate the loudest group with the biggest group, is the fact that atheists and theists often talk past each other. We try and prevent such interactions here, but at times it seems as though atheists and theists, even within the same country, do not speak the same language. This is endlessly frustrating, but I have no idea how to change it. I came to this realization when it was brought to my attention that the “I find God as convincing as I find Santa Clause” argument comes across as calling theists stupid. But this is not what that argument is saying. In fact, that argument has nothing to do with the theist and everything to do with the atheist. To say “I find God as convincing as Santa Clause” is not to say “I find theists who believe in Santa Clause as dim-witted as adults who believe in Santa Clause,” it is to say “I see as little evidence for the existence of God as I see for the existence of Santa Clause.” I can understand how one might view the argument as meaning the first version, and I’m sure some atheists have implied that theists are basically adults who believe in Santa Clause, but that is not what is generally intended by that phrase.
To be perfectly honest, while I have never met an adult who still believed in Santa Clause, I can’t say that I would find that person dumb for holding that belief. After all, intelligence is a complicated matter, and there are many types of intelligence. I, for example, am good at writing. I’m good at researching and arguing (in the philosophical sense) too. Were I to be judged solely on my ability to do those things, I’d likely be judged to be very intelligent. However, I am not that great at math. Were I to be judged solely on my ability to do math, I’d likely be judged to be far less intelligent. An adult who believes in Santa Clause may be smarter than me where math is concerned but be less intelligent where critical thinking is concerned. As such, I would not feel comfortable judging them as dumb until I know more about them than simply that one belief. I’m not as willing to say that a theist may be less intelligent than I am where critical thinking is concerned, because theism is a lot more common than adults who believe in Santa Clause are. However, it is likely that most theists are smarter than me in certain regards and not as smart in others. This is simply because very few people are highly intelligent in all areas, but most people are intelligent in some areas.
But even if I didn’t understand that, I doubt I could truly think theists are dumb. I know too many intelligent theists that I respect. We may disagree on the existence of god(s), but we agree on a lot. Those things that we agree on tend to be what have formed our relationships and what keep us friends, but they are also what we discuss on a given day and why we respect each other. Those are why we view each other as intelligent. We don’t focus on the one thing we disagree on, and we don’t let it affect our relationship. Instead, we respect each others beliefs and each other.


Of Truth and Persuasion


socrates

The philosopher Socrates was greatly interested in knowledge. The Socratic method is all about determining whether or not a claim is true. But, in his day, he was often compared to the Sophists. The Sophists weren’t so much interested in truth as they were in arguing persuasively. One of Plato’s many writings on Socrates involved a debate he had with a man named Gorgias, who was a popular orator known for teaching others how to be persuasive. This work has gotten me thinking about persuasiveness and truth. Personally, I care more about what is true than what is persuasive, but it seems as though a lot of people aren’t so interested in truth and are more concerned about whether a claim is persuasive.
I’ll begin this post by discussing the idea that truth can’t be refuted. What does this mean? Well, to refute something is to show it is untrue. If something is true, then it cannot be shown to be untrue, so it cannot be refuted. But a lot of people confuse refuting with rebutting. To argue that something is untrue is not to refute it, it is to rebut it. Arguing against something is not the same as showing it to be untrue. You can show something to be untrue while arguing against it, but, more often than not, arguing against something is not meant to refute it, it is meant to persuade others to disagree with it. This says nothing about truth, but it is a very important point to keep in mind. Truth matters, and, if you care about truth, it is important to think about the arguments you are given carefully. It is important to consider whether they are convincing because they are true, or if they are simply convincing because the speaker is persuasive.

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But when do you know you’ve got the truth? According to Socrates, you will know because the truth will survive any attempted rebuttal. This is why he uses the Socratic method as he does, and why he is so against the Sophists. I strongly disagree with this idea. Liars are often more persuasive than those who speak truthfully. If this weren’t the case, then scam artists wouldn’t be able to steal so much money. And we wouldn’t have to worry about the spread of misinformation. But both of those things are major concerns. It would be a lot easier to hold only true beliefs if it were impossible to rebut true claims. So now we have the issue of belief versus truth. All the true things that we believe are beliefs, but not everything we believe is true. Everybody holds at least one false belief. After all, we don’t have access to all the knowledge of the world, and it is impossible to be completely unbiased. So how do we know the difference? That’s not an easy question to answer. We can never know for certain whether a belief we hold is true or not, but we can be pretty sure. This is why I often speak about evidence: you cannot be pretty sure without evidence. It is the evidence that gives us the ability to be pretty sure that our beliefs are true.
But can you force someone to believe something? We believe something is true when we are persuaded, but persuasion is a type of force. What do I mean by this? Well, it is rare that we come to believe something without anyone persuading us (other than ourselves). We usually come to hold beliefs because they were taught to us. This way of coming to a belief may not be physically painful, and it may not seem forceful, but it is still a type of force. This is because we are not really given a choice about these beliefs. As small children, we are given a number of our beliefs in school. We are never told that what we are taught might not be true, and we are taught to view our teachers as the authority, so it is rare to find a child willing to question what they are told in school. We do not view these beliefs as a choice. In this sense, these beliefs were forced on us. As adults, we often continue to hold these beliefs. Is this a bad thing? To a large extent, the things we are taught in grade school are wrong, and our teachers are often unaware of what is wrong and how wrong it is. But we are taught things inaccurately often because we need to learn things in phases. We can’t understand quantum physics as kids, so we learn less accurate versions of physics that eventually give us the building blocks we need to understand (kind of) quantum physics. So I don’t see how it is a bad thing. However, as Gorgias points out, these forced beliefs can be a bad thing, because we can be persuaded to believe something that is untrue (in its purest form) very easily.

descartes
So how do we keep ourselves from being convinced of things that aren’t true (to the greatest degree possible)? I feel as though Descartes says it best: “But the indifference I feel when there is no reason pushing me in one direction rather that another is the lowest grade of freedom; it is evidence not of any perfection of freedom, but rather of a defect in knowledge or a kind of negation. For if I always saw clearly what was true and good, I should never have to deliberate about the right judgement or choice; in that case, although I should be wholly free, it would be impossible for me ever to be in a state of indifference.” What does this mean? It means you should care. If you care about what is true, and if you think deeply about what you’re told, using reason and evidence, then, while you may not always be right, you will at least be more likely to hold true beliefs than false ones. I, obviously, don’t agree with Descartes about everything, and I don’t think he was willing to go deep enough in his meditations, since he was never willing to put aside all of his assumptions, but on this point I agree with him. One should never be indifferent where the truth is concerned, and one should never be willing to accept what they are told without thinking critically about it.
I find the Socratic method very useful when discussing belief, and I enjoy reading the work of Plato. However, I believe that Socrates is mistaken about truth being impossible to rebut. People are persuasive, and we can be good liars, so this cannot be the case. But there are ways to avoid being taken in with falsehoods. With any luck, we can hold more true beliefs than false beliefs, even if we can’t avoid holding some false beliefs.

Socrates_teaching_Perikles-Nicolas_Guibal-IMG_5308


Respecting Your Right to Believe Doesn’t Mean Giving Your Beliefs a Free Pass


new atheists

It seems as though a lot of people assume that respecting a person’s right to believe means letting them say whatever they want and never confronting them. This isn’t the case. I can respect your right to believe and still openly disagree with you. Refusing to hide my beliefs doesn’t mean I’m disrespecting your rights, it just means I’m practicing mine.

I was listening to an old episode of the podcast The Atheist Experience the other day. One of the callers they talked to called in simply to tell them that they shouldn’t be talking about Christianity, they should just talk about atheism. According to this caller, their discussion of Christianity was disrespectful. Why? Because they are atheists. The idea that merely talking about Christianity while being a non-Christian is disrespectful is silly. I often talk about men while being a non-man. Is that disrespectful too? But the very idea that we should shut up about Christianity because we criticize it is silly too. No belief is above criticism. I criticize religion because I believe it to be inherently problematic. I’m not concerned with the people who hold the beliefs (well, not usually), I’m worried about the institution. I’m worried about the aspects of religion that negatively affect the world in which I live. Namely the division it causes, the wars it leads to, and the mistreatment of other humans that it allows. So yes, I criticize religion. And no, that is not disrespectful of your rights. You can believe whatever you want, and I can criticize it. You can criticize my beliefs too. And we can do so in a respectful way.

It seems to be commonly believed that atheists just attack religion for the sake of attacking religion. But if religion didn’t affect our lives, then we would have no reason to criticize it. We don’t criticize religion for the sake of amusement. Most of us live in places where we are confronted with religion on a daily bases. For example, today I walked under an advertisement for a particular church numerous times, on the way to school we found ourselves behind a car with the Jesus fish symbol, and there were a number of little pamphlets around telling me how I’m going to go to hell if I don’t believe in God. Throughout the school year, I can easily find booths at the university giving out Bibles, Qur’ans, and various other books promoting Christianity and Islam. On the way to school every day I pass no less than three churches in the span of 20 minutes. Not long ago, someone left a Chick Tract on our car when Withteeth and I were at the movies. The Christian clubs on my campus are well funded and well promoted, and there are no less then a dozen of them. It seems as though Christianity is everywhere, and Islam is catching up. So religion actually affects my life quite a bit. And my criticism of religion reflects my experiences. I don’t criticize religion because I hate religious people, I criticize religion because it has a negative impact on my life and the world I live in.

So no, atheists should not stick to talking about atheism. Atheism is only a small part of our experience. Atheists should talk about what concerns us. We should talk about improving the world around us. And we should criticize the things that we believe hurt us and those around us. The religious are free to criticize atheism, and have never felt the need to keep their criticism secret. Atheists have the same right.


Perspectives


On January 28, both the Freethinkers and the Interfaith Clubs will be participating in a panel discussion. The discussion is being put on by a popular Evangelical Christian group on campus. As such, the questions tend to reflect their beliefs. Here are my answers to their tentative question list:

What is your perspective on the meaning or purpose of life?

There is no intrinsic meaning or purpose of life. The meaning that life has is whatever meaning we give it.

What is your perspective on the nature of humans? Are we inherently good? Are we inherently evil? Why is the world the way that it is?

Humans are just humans. Sometimes the things we do are considered good, sometimes they aren’t. Most of the time the things we do are neither good or bad. We aren’t inherently good or bad, we just are. The world is the way it is for a number of reasons. The human element of why the world is the way it is is far to complex to discuss in any meaningful way. Some of it has to do with politics, some of it results from greed, but mostly it’s just the way it is because humans are a social species.

What is your perspective on morality? Do right and wrong exist independent of humans? How do we decide how we should live?

Do right and wrong exist independent of humans? That depends. If all humans were to die tomorrow, does right and wrong continue to matter? If yes, then morality is independent of humans, if no then it is dependent on humans. I would say that if humans ceased to exist, then right and wrong would lose all meaning. We decide how we should live as a society. I would go into what I mean by this further, but I have discussed this issue fairly in-depth in other posts.

What do you believe happens when we die?

Our bodies decompose.

What do you believe is the solution to all of the problems in the world, or to the problem with humans themselves if you believe there is one?

There is no single solution to any problem. Nothing is so black and white. There are a number of problems in the world, both related and unrelated to humans. Each problem needs to be looked at and solved individually. If God was the answer to any of these problems, then there would be no problems.

How do you believe we should approach the discovery of truth? Through science, philosophy, personal experience?
What do you mean by truth? There is no one right way to discover what is true. I don’t think that we can ever know what is true with 100% certainty, but I believe that we can be fairly sure whether or not something is true. Both science and philosophy are two great ways to discover whether or not something is true.

What is your perspective on sexuality? What is sex for and why should there be (or not be) any restrictions on our sexual behaviour?

Sex is for many things. Pleasure is an important aspect of the act of sex. Restrictions on sex should be for the purposes of protecting those who cannot consent.

How do you believe we should interact with those who hold different perspectives from our own? What is your view on tolerance of differing perspectives?

We should interact with those who hold a different perspective from our own as equals. We should be respectful of their beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question them. I don’t think other beliefs should simply be tolerated. I think that we should encourage dialogue and understanding.


At What Point is it Rational to Believe a Claim?


probability

It isn’t easy to determine what claims should be believed and what claims shouldn’t be. There is no easy answer to the question “when should we believe”. However, this is a very important discussion to have. It may not always be obvious whether we should believe something or not, but it is possible to determine whether or not a belief is rational.

But, before I discuss how we can determine whether a belief is rational, I should discuss when it is necessary to determine if a claim should be believed. This is a difficult concept for a lot of people. Many people want to be overly skeptical, and others aren’t skeptical enough. So when should we determine if our beliefs are rational? When our beliefs have a significant impact on us or on those around us. But what does that mean? It means that everyday claims don’t tend to count. If I were to say “I want cereal for breakfast,” Withteeth does not have to be skeptical of that claim. He doesn’t have to demand that I prove that I want cereal. If I were to say that I have class at 4:30, Withteeth still does not have to be skeptical. However, if I were a drug addict who had a habit of using the “I have class” excuse to sneak out and get high, then he has reason to be skeptical. He can demand that I show him my class schedule, and he can even follow me to class, watch me enter the classroom, and ensure that I don’t leave the entire time. In short, he can know for sure that I went to class, and he can base his belief on that knowledge. But he shouldn’t believe that I have class at 4:30 without at least looking at my schedule if I am known to be untrustworthy. But, while this example has a significant impact on our lives, it doesn’t effect anyone else. There are other things that have a lot more impact and, as such, require a lot more evidence. Belief in God is one example of such a claim. If God exists, then his existence, assuming the Bible is an accurate representation of God’s personality, has a significant impact on the world as a whole. As such, existence of God requires more evidence than whether or not I am skipping class. Showing that God exists is a start. This can be done in a number of ways. The easiest would be to point to God and say “there he is” and for God to then do something that proves he is God. Without that, though, you can also prove God exists by showing that something could not exist without God. This is the route that a lot of theologians take. The problem is that it is difficult to prove that something could not exist without God. But, even if God were proven, that is just a start. You would still have to prove that this God, again assuming the Bible is accurate, is the God of the Bible and not some other God. As you can see, this is a tall order.

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So how do we know that our beliefs are rational? By determining whether they are probable. Absolute knowledge isn’t necessary to say that a belief is justified (it isn’t even necessary to say that you know something). But there is a degree to which you can say that a belief is rational. Evidence is how we determine the probability of a belief being true. Going back to the skipping class example, how would Withteeth know that it is rational to doubt my claim that I have class at 4:30? If he has caught me skipping class a number of times before, then it is likely that I would do again. If it is the middle of the semester and I have never gone to a 4:30 class before, then it is likely that I am lying. If he has heard from a number of other people that I constantly skip that class, then he has reason to believe that I am lying. He is not rational in believing that I will skip my class, or that I don’t have class, if I have only skipped one class that he knows of. He is not rational in believing that I don’t have a class if I am always at school from 9am to 6pm and he doesn’t know when each class is. And he is not rational in believing that I’m lying if one person told him that I skip the class a lot. He doesn’t have enough evidence to make that claim. So how would he determine the probability that I will skip class? He would need to do some research. He could go to my professors and ask them, but they may or may not know. He’d also have to go to my classmates. Assuming that a number of them know who I am and remember my relative class attendance, he could create an average of how often I probably attend class. From there he can create a probability of my likelihood of my skipping class. Though his evidence would be much stronger if he had a more concrete evidence. For example, if I had a camera watching me while I sat in class during every class I attended, then he could say for a fact how many classes I skipped. Then his probability would be more accurate.

probability-line

But how high does the probability have to be for the belief to be justified? That depends on the claim. If the probability is 51%, that should be enough for the claim “I have class at 4:30.” But a claim like “God exists” requires a higher probability.

So when is it rational to believe a claim? That depends on the claim. It is always rational to believe the claim “I want cereal for breakfast,” but, depending on certain characteristics related to the person making the claim, it might be irrational to believe the claim “I have class at 4:30.” However, in most cases. It is perfectly rational to believe that claim as well. But it is less rational to believe the claim “God exists” because of the lack of evidence and the low probability. I’ll link to a few sites that may help with further understanding of this concept.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology-bayesian/

http://personal.lse.ac.uk/list/PDF-files/Reasons-for-belief.pdf

http://www.iep.utm.edu/relig-ep/

http://www.quora.com/Is-belief-a-rational-default-position-for-any-claim


How Many Kinds of Feminism Are There?


A lot. There are a number of schools of thought within feminism, some of them are better known than others. While there is a misconception that feminism is divided as a result of these various schools, the differences between the schools are differences in methodology and not differences in their end goal. All feminists want equality of the sexes. This has always been the main goal of feminism. But different types of feminism believe that female inequality is caused by different things. Few feminists fit in to only one school of thought.

The different schools are as follows:

Liberal Feminism: Liberal feminists accept the classical liberal notion that all people are inherently rational. Since women are people, women are rational. Liberal feminists believe that it is this rationality that makes women deserving of equal treatment.

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Marxist Feminism: Marxist feminists believe that the inequality suffered by women is caused by capitalism. They believe that eliminating capitalism will bring about equality of the sexes.

marxist-feminist-dialectic

Radical Feminism: Despite popular belief, radical feminism is not the idea that women are better than men. Radical feminists hold to the idea that female biology (our ability to get pregnant) is what causes the inequality we suffer. According to radical feminists, equality of the sexes won’t come until childbirth and child rearing aren’t only the duty of women. Radical feminists also believe that the patriarchy is responsible for this inequality. Patriarchy doesn’t mean that each individual man oppress all women. It means that there is a system of control whereby women and women’s bodies are controlled by men. It’s a systemic problem, not an individual problem.

patriarchy

Socialist Feminism: Socialist feminism mixes Marxist and Radical feminism. According to socialist feminists, both capitalism and the patriarchy cause the oppression of women. Some socialist feminists believe that capitalism and the patriarchy are one in the same thing. Others believe that they run parallel to each other, both oppressing women, but in different ways.

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Cultural Feminism: Cultural feminists focus on gender, not sex. They believe that it is the behaviours and traits associated with women (nurturing, caring, emotional) that cause women to be oppressed. They tend to accept these traits as real and believe that women should be given equal rights because of these traits. Cultural feminists believe that the compassionate traits of women can only improve society, and can work with the rational traits of men.

Feminist-Clipart-01

Womanist (Intersectional) Feminism: Womanist theory was developed as an attempt to make feminism more inclusive. Traditionally, feminism focused on the issues faced by middle class white women. However, women of all classes, countries, and ethnicities, as well as women/females within the LGBT community, also suffered as a result of inequality of the sexes, so womanism was born. Womanist theory points out that there is no one cause of oppression, and different women/females have different experiences, so each case of oppression is unique. As such, we must look at the intersections (of various causes of oppression) where oppression occurs. Womanism tries to avoid privileging anyone.

IFF diagram

Postmodern Feminism: Postmodern feminism is a collection of ideas. They avoid grand narratives of explaining oppression. Postmodernist feminists do not believe that there is any one cause of oppression. They also look at language and thought to see how it is masculine centered.

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Third World Feminism: This form of feminism focuses on the problems faced by women in former colonies. Third wold feminists focus on the history of colonialism to determine the causes of women’s oppression.

colonization

Ecofeminism: Ecofeminism focuses on things like pollution that result from racism. For example, they point out how black and Latino communities are more affected by pollution than predominantly white communities. They then look at how women are affected by the racism and the pollution. They look at how women are hired to do certain jobs that are harmful because they can be paid less and are less likely to complain.

eco-fem

These are not the only feminist theories, but they are some of the best known theories. I hope this helps you understand the various types of feminism. If you would like more information, I would recommend reading Feminism by Sally J. Scholz.

Don’t forget to take my surveys if you haven’t already:

Situations that may or may not be considered Feminist issues:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=xxiz033c05yo72v472614
Are various Feminist causes helpful or hurtful for the Feminist movement?http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=i8d3kq6z73ems49471695
How do you perceive Feminism?
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=4p48z0rwjwooxpf471689
Does Feminist have a bad reputation?
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=r4t8nurh0tyxvqt470762


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