Tag Archives: Assumptions

Guest Post: Feminism and Atheism, United in So Many Ways


This is a guest post written by out friend HJ Hornbeck:

In some ways, I was a feminist first: introduced to the topic in my teens, I did an assessment and was deluged by evidence of sexism around me. While I’ve never believed in any god at any moment of my life, in contrast, I didn’t think anyone else did either. I honestly didn’t believe in theists until my 20’s, when I encountered my first passionate believer. The experience rattled me, and I was soon browsing the online atheist community trying to figure out what else I’d missed.

What led me to abandon read-only mode, though, was Elevatorgate. It was obvious the atheist/skeptic community was woefully ignorant of feminist issues, so I rolled up my sleeves and hit the feminist books.

Back in those salad days, I viewed the two topics as wildly different. As kept reading and thinking, though, I started noticing connections between them. Much to my surprise, atheism has made me a better feminist, and of course vice versa.

A common insult tossed at atheists is that we’re nihilists who believe in nothing. That’s half true: nihilism does have a destructive streak, but it also asserts that the universe imposes no meaning on us, and that it is our responsibility to create it. This is commonly brought up as a reason for atheists to engage in social justice; absent any commands from above, why wouldn’t you try to make the world a better place for those around you? Absent any afterlife bliss, why wouldn’t you fight tooth and nail to improve this world for those that follow?
Atheists are people. These dictionary atheists are always quick to forget that. People have responsibilities to each other, and further, the rejection of religion and the understanding that the universe, and we human beings, lack any kind of grand purpose, shapes the pattern of those responsibilities. You simply cannot pretend that atheism is meaningless outside one philosophical abstraction.

Well, I suppose you can…but then how can you find any reason to even be an atheist?
Atheist apologetics gave me a reason to push feminism, to risk becoming a target of hate mobs, to spend hours educating myself and others on sexism.

But there’s something deeper here. With one minor exception, atheism is about following the evidence, even if that denies easy answers to life or the promise of eternal bliss. Anti-theism is about pointing others to the evidence, so that people don’t harm themselves or others through false beliefs. This makes both of them close relatives to feminism, which encompasses both following the evidence and leading others to it. Note to self: don’t write while hungry. They’re two flavors of ice cream in the same freezer.

If there was a connection, you’d expect those opposed to atheism and feminism to be operating contrary to the evidence. That’s been my experience; it’s rare for me to spend more than a few minutes puzzling over the gaps in logic of either type. This is backed by the experience of others, indirectly at least. Skeptics are probably familiar with crank magnetism, or the tendency of people that believe in one type of woo to endorse other woo too. On the social justice side, we have multiple studies which show that people who buy into rape myths also buy into myths about race, class, and age.

This puts intersectionality in a new light. Traditionally, that word was about how multiple identities “intersect” in complicated ways that can’t be easily separated. But this overlap of irrationality adds another meaning: as bigotry tends to depend on common cognitive biases, fighting against one form of bigotry means you’ll indirectly fight against them all. Atheists and feminists are natural allies, over and above the commonplace sexism in religion.

Interestingly, those same studies find that there’s also a correlation between rape myth acceptance and religious intolerance. The study populations consisted mostly of believers, admittedly, but it’s tough to look at some of the memes and rhetoric passed around the atheist community and not give a suspicious squint.

Ultimately, that may be the greatest benefit I’ve earned by being a feminist: it’s made it easier to spot the flaws in the atheist community, and turned me into a better atheist. I do not blindly follow my thought leaders around, nor make excuses for their bad behavior, because their thoughtless sexism prevents me. I’m better able to respect the humanity of the people I argue against, because I’ve been made aware of it. This flows both ways: I’m less taken in by some of the fluffy woo that sometimes pops up in feminism, because I’ve been trained to better sniff it out via the tool-set of reason and evidence I picked up from the atheist community.

Atheism and feminism shouldn’t be mortal enemies, but BFFs.

 

Thanks to HJ for the post.


What Do You Think Rationally About?


On Tuesday, during my weekly interfaith supper, I was discussing the book Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler. About two weeks ago I was lent that book during the interfaith tea time that we host. He was a Catholic and I was discussing why I’m an atheist with him. I’m not really sure why, but he decided to loan me the book (we had just met and he lives on the other side of the country). In the end we did a book exchange: I gave him Faitheist to read. But I’ll get more into this in another post when I talk about why I didn’t like Jennifer’s reasons for becoming a Catholic.

Anyway, we were discussing the book in the interfaith supper and I mentioned how I found her reasoning to be problematic. As a result of my disagreement with how the author came to her conclusion, a pastor friend of mine asked me if I always think about things so rationally. To me, that is a silly question. Of course I think about things rationally. How else could I know anything? But that’s not how the mostly Christian group saw things. To them, Jennifer Fulwiler’s conversion story makes perfect sense. To them, the question wasn’t why she used that rational to come to Catholicism, it was why do I think her rational matters?

I think this is one of the biggest reasons why atheists and theists so often talk past one another. We see rationality differently. I know that theists don’t expect the same level of rationality that I do, and I know that they don’t understand why, or even how I can, expect so much rationality. But I can’t understand how theists can be happy with not having that level of rationality used. How can someone be happy to just take something on faith?

I think it’s important to realise the different value given to rationality when discussing faith, belief, and conversion with someone who disagrees with you on those subjects. Especially where conversion is concerned.


Atheism 101: Atheism vs. Agnosticism


While all of the non-theisms get confused by believers, none are as regularly confused as agnosticism is. Many people believe that agnosticism is just a lighter form of atheism, and others believe that all atheists should actually call themselves agnostics. These misconceptions hurt atheists.
So what is agnosticism? The term ‘agnosticism’ was initially coined by Thomas Huxley while he was at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society in 1876. He was upset with the way atheists conducted themselves and believed the to be as irrational as theists. He defined agnosticism as those who believed that the question of whether gods existed was unsolved and insolvable. However, the word agnostic is much older than Huxley’s first use of it. Agnostic is a Greek word that comes from the word gnosis, meaning knowledge. Agnostic can be literally translated as meaning “not knowledge.” Some translate it as “without knowledge,” which is cleaner for the purposes of English. Somebody who is agnostic about religion is without knowledge about religion.
Today, the term agnostic is often used to describe those who simply believe that the evidence for or against the existence of gods is inconclusive. People who call themselves agnostic are undecided about whether or not gods exist. Many people believe that agnosticism is a midway point between atheism and theism, but this is not the case. Theists believe that gods exist, but atheists believe that there are no gods. Theists also only hold beliefs about specific gods, or types of gods. Atheists believe that no gods exist. As such, while atheism and theism are opposites, they are not perfect opposites. They also don’t really contain an in-between. You are either an atheist or you are a theist. You either believe that gods exist or you don’t. Agnosticism is not in between these two because agnosticism doesn’t deal with belief. Agnosticism deals with knowledge. An agnostic is not strictly interested in gods either. They are more concerned with the idea that you cannot know something without suitable evidence.
The opposite of an agnostic would be a gnostic. People who are gnostic (Not to be confused with the Gnostics) are people who believe they can know facts about things. Today, that generally applies to gods. A gnostic is someone who knows whether or not gods exist. If someone says “I know there is a God,” they are a gnostic. If someone says “I know there are no gods,” they are also a gnostic. If they were to say “I believe that God exists, but I don’t know for sure,” they are an agnostic. And if they say “I don’t know if gods exist, but I don’t believe they do,”they too are an agnostic. The first and third person are theists, the second and fourth are atheists. Agnosticism is yet another layer piled on top of both theists and atheists. In fact, agnosticism has been said to be the reason why one is theist or atheist. I don’t entirely accept that, but, since agnosticism comes from a place of knowledge, I understand why someone would accept that idea. This gives four kinds of belief-holding (sentient) entities in the world:

Agnosticism-Atheism
There are thought to be different kinds of agnosticism. Some call the belief that we cannot know whether gods exist “strict agnosticism.” They call the belief that we merely do not know yet “empirical agnosticism.” I don’t quite see the point in these two qualifications. As far as I’m concerned, we either know if gods exist or we don’t. I would say that we can’t know whether we can know whether gods exist, because, if we could, then we would know whether or not gods exist. So the argument about whether we can know is futile and brings about unnecessary arguments. But some care more about our ability to know whether gods exist than I do, and who am I to destroy their fun?
It’s also important to understand why people call themselves what they call themselves. I’m an agnostic atheist because I don’t believe that gods exist, but I also don’t know for sure. I call myself an atheist when asked for multiple reasons. First, it would be silly to assume that the person asking me what I believe is interested in knowing whether or not I know gods exist. Answering “I’m an agnostic” when somebody asks me “what do you believe?” is basically answering the question “What god, if any, do you believe in?” with “I don’t know whether gods exist.” It’s answering a question that wasn’t asked. But saying “I’m an atheist” does answer the question. Another reason why I don’t say I’m an agnostic is because it gives people the wrong idea. If I say “I’m an agnostic,” the person I’m talking to may assume that I’m a theist who simply doesn’t know what god I believe in, or they may believe that I’m looking for the right god to believe in. And the third reason that I don’t tell people that I’m an agnostic is because of the stigma associated with being an atheist. By saying “I’m an agnostic,” I’m avoiding the title of atheist, a title that I know is mine, and allowing atheists to continue to be stigmatized. By wearing the title “atheist” people learn what an atheist truly looks like, and they realize that atheists aren’t crazy people who are out to destroy religion. Those are my reasons for not telling people that I’m an agnostic. Other people have their own reasons for either using agnostic as their title or avoiding it. As such, remember that words are slippery, and language isn’t exact. Be careful of assuming what someone else’s beliefs or positions are simply based on whether they call themself an atheist or an agnostic. Don’t assume that a person uses agnosticism to mean what is called “weak atheism,” or that they use atheism to mean “strong atheism.”

http://infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/intro.html


Logical Fallacies: Some links to help use overcome our greatest obstacle. Ourselves.


While Hessian continues to write posts on a variety of different arguments she comes across it’s imporant to once again remind everyone about those terrors of logic we all must contend with. Logical Fallicies.

Humans are not naturally include to be rational. We mostly make use of heuristics in our thinking rather then pure logical rationals. A heuristic, in the sense I’m using it here, is a cognitive short cut use to solve problems. These can take forms of, rules of thumb, educated guesses, a “common” sense statement or rule. Heuristics have there place due to them often be relatively accurate compared to guessing at random, but exceedingly fast when compared to a formal system of logic. This optimization towards speed is where the problem lies. When using heuristics we are bound to make mistakes, and while we might generally be able to use heuristic effectively, when we get into difficult cases they often send us spiraling into logical dead ends or mistakenly lead on a wild goose chases. This dependance and affinity towards heuristics is largely why we make logical fallacies, and why understanding them, and logic in general, is so important.

I shall focus on a couple key fallacies which I have been seeing regularly in the comments, as well posting links to useful sources to learn more about fallacies.

The Argument from ignorance: This has been the fallacy I’ve been noticing on this blog lately so I think it is the one fallacy that need to be addressed. The basics of this fallacious argument goes as follow. I don’t know what x is, or how x works, because of that it must be y, or is being done by z. This is exemplified when someone claims an unidentified object in the sky must have been a alien craft, when in fact they have no idea what the UFO was.

The most common form I’ve seen of the argument from ignorance in general is the argument for a deity due to the complexity of life. That argument can usually be condensed as follows.

I look at this flower or at the movements of this majestic animal, and I just know (my) God must exist. Now this can break down in to the following formal argument*.

P1: Living organisms are extremely complex.

P2: The Extreme complexity of life can not be explained by natural means.

P3: The only thing which can bring about things unnaturally is my deity.

C: Living organism were brought about by my deity.

*To be clear this does not represent all arguments of this type, there are others, and some are stronger, but as I will mention later on. This is the formalized version of arguments I have regularly encountered.

Funny enough this has several of the fallacies I wish to discuss. Like you might imagine is this an argument from ignorance because the second premise generally come from ideas such as. “I couldn’t imagine such complexity with out it coming from god,” or “It make no sense for complexity to come from “nothing”.” Because they do not know the answer they assume that their deity (and not some other deity) must have done it. Even though they have no idea why life is as complex as it is they appeal to their ignorance and just assume it must have been their god. Which bring us to the second fallacy.

Begging the question: Begging the question is when you assume the conclusion in to the premises instead of deriving, or in the case of induction, supporting the conclusion with premises.

In the example above the argument just assume that this person’s god exists and it could only be their god that did it. This may seem like I’m making a strawman of my opponent, but I have illegitimately ran into this argument dozens of times, over and over again. They have sew the success for there argument into the premises in a way which is whole unsupported. So while if you grant the premises the argument works, but why would you grant this premises to anyone? Would you let a person of a different faith claim it was their god(s) who made all life and that their god(s) exists? If not, and your trying to use this argument, then your making the fallacy of special pleading.

Though in simplest terms begging the question is a kind of circular reasoning where in you guarantee the conclusion with out adequately justifying those premises which give that guarantee.

Black and white fallacy: Also know as a false dilemma. This goes hand in hand with what I’ve already be writing.  This is where you argue that there are only two options when in fact there are many. The above argument does not technically make a black and while fallacy, but it is an easy fallacy to explain. “Your with us or against us!” A common use of the black and white fallacy. People often try to limit the options to them verse us, good verse bad. Except it’s rare where you a trapped with a true dichotomy. In the common case of “Your with us or against us!” it is often the case that a person is neither. I could be with you or against you, but I could be against both parties, or have a mix of positions from both, or only like some of the argument from one! Suddenly I tuned a situation from 2 limited options to 5 much open positions.

This reminds me of a joke I some times tell amongst other feminist “All Dichotomies are false Dichotomies! Even this one!”

The final fallacy is one that is rampant through out the internet and that’s the  good old Ad hominium. I won’t spend too much time on this one, but but a common mistake people make is think that an Ad hominium is just an insult. An Ad hominium is when you call into question a trait, action, or belief of a person which has nothing to do with the argument at hand. Then the one making the Ad hominium use that perceived flaw as a counter argument to their claim. Even though that character flaw has not bearing on the argument in question!

What isn’t an Ad hominium is when you call into question a trait which does relate to the argument at hand. Perhaps your arguing against a known lair. When the known lair makes an unsupported claim you can call into question their honesty without committing an Ad hominium. However, if they then substantiate their claim to an acceptable level. Then you can no longer use their dishonesty as an argument, without making the Ad hominium fallacy, until they again make a claim that they could again be reasonably be lying about.

Before we get into the links it is important to reiterate that there a several names for the some fallacies. For example The Black and white Fallacy is the same basic idea as the false dilemma fallacy, and the Argument from ignorance is also called an appeal to ignorance.

The first link I’d like to share is “The Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments” It’s cute and that probably why I’m linking to it first. I don’t like all of the examples, but it does the job of running through a good number of logical fallacies in a memorable manner.

https://bookofbadarguments.com/

Next is a link to the poster “thou shalt not commit logical fallacies!” It’s a fun one with an interactive poster on the website. It’s also where I got two of the images for this post.

https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/

And finally for those of you whom are include to watch you tube videos here is a playlist by PBS idea channel about logical fallacies.

I suggest looking into more on logical fallacy if you get through all of those, but the above links are an excellent starting place.

Edit: Here is another link provided by clubschadenfreude

It gives a few more special cases not discussed in the other links as well as more examples.

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/


I’m Offended


I recently watched this video by Seth Andrews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQJymMD1zRM. In it he discusses the idea of offense, namely where religion is concerned. I decided to use the video on a post about what offends me. Personally, I don’t think offending people is an inherently bad thing. Everybody gets offended, and everything probably offends someone. However, I do not agree with people who go out of their way to offend others for no other reason to cause offense. A lot of people complain that we have become “too PC,” and I don’t entirely disagree with that. However, a number of the people who make this claim turn around and act offensive for no other reason that to act offensively (or possibly to complain about people being too PC). So let’s talk about offense.

I’m offended by people who feel they have the right to walk up to me in the street and criticize my wardrobe. If you don’t like what I’m wearing, don’t wear it, but don’t tell me how to dress.

169936_20140107_122610_1545804_555555017874112_313378619_n

I’m offended by people telling me that I’m confused and don’t understand when I make it clear that I don’t agree with them. My not agreeing with you does not mean that I’m confused, it means that I don’t agree. Can we get passed this patronizing bullshit and have an actual conversation? Maybe then we’ll both learn something.

tumblr_inline_mjy2ofbgSX1rzl59o

I’m offended when people make assumptions about my gender without asking me, and I’m offended when people ask me what my gender is as a means to insult and mock me. Not knowing how to address me is not a bad thing, but don’t be an ass about it.

no

I’m offended when people refer to others as “unwomen” or “not men” as a way to differentiate them from “those good men and women.” Who are you to tell someone what their gender is? Yes, real men do rape. Rather than trying to pretend they don’t, how about we deal with the issues that lead those men to rape. Oh, you don’t like feminism? And you think that insulting feminists by calling them “unwomen” is going to win you any points? Congratulations on destroying any possible credibility your opinions could have otherwise had.

real menReal Woman 2

I’m offended when people use the “well you have privilege too” line to try and invalidate some criticism aimed at them. We all have some level of privilege. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need to evaluate your own privilege in order to understand why what you said was inappropriate. The other person having privilege doesn’t mean that you get to ignore yours.

Priv

I am offended when people say that it is okay to doubt that a rape victim was raped because everybody else who is the victim of a crime is treated that way too. Really? So if I call the police and tell them my house was broken into, they are going to assume I’m lying until I prove that my house actually was broken into? Because every time my house actually has been broken into, the police took my word for it, took my statement, and said they’d let us know when they learned anything. Should I have been asked what I was wearing when the robbery took place? Or what I did to provoke the thieves? Maybe I should have been blamed for living in a house that would get broken into?

RINJ-canada_rape_culturetodd-akin-meme-rape

I’m offended when I’m compared to a murderer. Or, even worse, Hitler. You want to tell me I deserve to go to jail because I made a legal decision that I felt was best for my future and my family? And your going to try and say that you have the right to be offended because people don’t want to see your disgusting pictures everywhere? Attacking me and then playing the “free speech” card is not how you win support.

Pro-Life1pregnancy_billboard

I’m offended when people tell me that I can’t be a good person and I deserve to be tortured because I don’t believe in their god.

Atheist-Morality-300x232

I’m offended that it has become easier to spread lies and misinformation than it is to spread scientific understanding and actual facts.

I’m offended that people will accuse me of tainting the groups that I’m apart of because of who I am.

I am offended that my very existence offends people. I’m offended that they feel they have the right to insult me and to try and change me simply because I exist.

I’m offended that people will try and invalidate my experiences by telling me that it’s just my opinion or they haven’t seen what I’m saying happens happen. Skepticism is well and good, but there is a point where your “skepticism” becomes willful ignorance. We cannot know everything with 100% accuracy, in fact, I would argue that we can’t know anything with 100% accuracy, and we can’t ignore things until we know them with 100% accuracy. That’s ridiculous. Let’s try some moderation. If you can accept that the big bang happened without seeing it, you can accept that women get harassed by men when you don’t see it. It’s not like I’m saying god did it.

dd06e31048994159f5fb47d0695b2ddfa0803bb5ecec05c9bc02b5e05b27a8f4offendedskeptic-cartoondilbert-skeptic

I’m offended when people tell me that I will one day know the truth. Again, don’t patronize me. Just because you believe you’re right and I’m wrong doesn’t mean you actually are right. You can still be wrong. Treat me like a human being equal to yourself, not a bumbling lunatic, and maybe we can both learn something.

I’m offended when people accuse all atheists of being offensive because some atheists are offensive (and some people are offended by the very existence of atheists) but then turn around and defend the offensive things that the members of their own group says. If it’s okay for you to offend people by saying “hate the sin, not the sinner,” why is it wrong for me to offend people by saying that the Bible says offensive things? And why are all atheists demonized because some have said that religion should be destroyed, but all Christians aren’t demonized because some have said that gay people should be put to death?

fundies_and_anti_theists_by_jedi_one-d65mkb1

I’m offended when people try to tell me that if I don’t like being judged based on the words of some of the loudest members of my group, then I should stop them from saying stupid things. Really? You think Richard Dawkins and Thunderf00t give a flying fuck what I have to say? You think that, if I had that kind of power, I wouldn’t be among those voices making my opinions heard? You think that numerous other atheists haven’t already criticized those who make the most noise and say bigoted things? And why does this demand only apply to the groups that you’re not apart of? Why don’t you have the same obligation to police the outspoken bigots in your group? Why can’t I judge you based on what they have said?

As you can see, I’m offended about a large number of things. But I don’t think I have the right to not be offended. I don’t think anyone does. What I do have is the right to call people out for being bigoted assholes. I have the right to tell people why I disagree with them. I have the right to tell people they are bigoted and offensive. I have the right to try and educate them and others. I don’t have the right to shut them up, but they can’t shut me up either.

consequences


What Are We Teaching the Next Generation?


Lately I have been watching a lot of Dragon Ball. Dragon Ball Z was my favorite show as a child, and it was on pretty much every channel. On New Years Eve I used to spend the day watching all of the DBZ movies, which played back to back on one of the kids channels. I’ve seen every episode of DB and DBZ multiple times. I was feeling a bit nostalgic, so I decided to watch all of the episodes from the beginning of DB to the end of DBZ. Right now I’m at the point where Krillin and Goku meet.

As I’ve been watching DB, I’ve been quite disturbed by the sheer amount of problems with the show that I didn’t notice as a child. It’s kind of a running joke that there is a lot of sexism in the show, but I never realized just how pervasive it is. And I’m surprised that the obvious racism doesn’t get the same attention that the sexism does.

200_s1

To begin with the sexism, every major male character either sexually assaults or objectifies Bulma throughout the show. Goku, who is absolutely naive and has the intelligence of a three year old, takes Bulma’s panties off while she’s sleeping. That is beyond disturbing. Oolong and Master Roshi are constantly trying to get Bulma to sleep with them. Oolong even went so far as to offer to turn into underwear for Bulma to wear, and Master Roshi tries to exchange things for sexual favours. And they try to teach Goku to objectify women. Oolong tries to convince Goku that he should want a harem of women, and Master Roshi considers teaching Goku that fat women are ugly Goku’s first lesson in Martial Arts. Yamcha doesn’t sexually assault Bulma, but he does do some very creepy things in the name of curing his fear of women.

200_s

Bulma is often considered a slut because she is willing to show her underwear to get things, but, given how all the men she meets treat her, who can blame her? She’s very clearly learned that her looks matter more than her brains. She clearly doesn’t like being sexually objectified, but she appears not to have the language necessary to express why she doesn’t like the treatment. After all, she never explains to Goku why he shouldn’t feel people up or take off their underwear. In fact, in the DB universe, it seems as though consent doesn’t really exist.

db1-02

The shows racism doesn’t appear to be caused by the characters, but it is obviously there. In the DB universe, people of all racial backgrounds live together, and nobody really seems to notice the obvious differences that exist between people. But a number of the characters are problematic. The one that is pointed out the most is Mr. Popo. He looks like he’s wearing black-face. And even his name is problematic.But a lot of the village people are racial stereotypes too. For example, in the village that Goku saves from Oolong, the people are meant to be Native American. All of the people look white, and most of them dress in the same type of clothes that everyone else in the universe wears, but a few of them wear traditional Native American celebratory garb. And the girl being saved is named Pochawampa.

107480-vlcsnap_314355               black-face

A lot of these problems are taken to be a joke. People find them funny. But DB and DBZ are children’s shows. So what are they teaching the children who watch them (not that many children watch them anymore). When I was a kid, I didn’t realize that anything in the show was problematic, I just thought it as funny. So what did I internalize? How much of what I learned still affects me today without my realizing it? What did the largely male audience of that show internalize? And how much of what was internalized has stuck around because they never learned how and why that stuff is problematic? We live in a world where consent isn’t taught, and racial issues are brushed under the rug. We live in a world where sexuality is something to be ashamed of and masculinity equals power. I can see it being very easy to hang on to DB’s sexist and racist messages.

So what are the shows kids watch teaching them? And how are we teaching them that those messages are alright by never teaching them otherwise?


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.

2217122_orig
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


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.

Picture2

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/

Click to access Reasons-for-belief.pdf

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

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


Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings


a1980904083_10

Trigger Warnings make for difficult discussions. Many people think they’re great, but others think they’re a waste of time. Any conversation about trigger warnings can go down hill very fast. And they often lead to people mocking social justice warriors. But I think the discussion is worth having.

I’m not easily triggered. I’ve been through things that would traumatize people without any real lasting affect. As such, I ofter forget to put trigger warnings on my posts. Nonetheless, I think trigger warnings are important. There are people who have gone through a traumatic event, whether recently or years ago, who are easily reminded of their trauma. Sometimes the reminder is bad enough to send them to the hospital. A lot of people say that those who are easily triggered should just get help and stay off the internet. But these people generally are getting help. Many of them see a therapist weekly, or even daily. They are on more medication than most of us could even imagine. Some even find themselves going in and out of psych wards. They are dealing with the trauma, but they will always have the scars. To tell them to get help is presumptuous and dismissive. And, what’s more, it isn’t always possible to just stay off the internet. We rely too much on it as a society. It could be the only way to contact people, it could be the main source of entertainment, or it could be required for work. So to tell someone to just avoid the internet is also presumptuous and dismissive. Especially since a person could do their best to avoid triggers and just happen across one because someone posted something on Facebook, or their was an ad in an article, or because a comment was made in a chat room. Triggers happen, and the person who experiences triggers shouldn’t be blamed or dismissed for having those triggers.

Which is why I believe trigger warnings are necessary. Trigger warnings take no time to put at the top of a post. They let anyone with a potential trigger know that they might want to avoid reading the article, but they don’t prevent anyone from reading them. Whether you experience a trigger or not, you can read posts with trigger warnings. You are in no way inconvenienced. So, if no one is inconvenienced by adding a trigger warning, and no one is inconvenienced by seeing a trigger warning, but someone could actually be harmed by the lack of a trigger warning, isn’t it best to add a trigger warning?

There is an issue with certain people being triggered by the trigger warning, but it seems to me that the trigger would be worse if they were to read the article. It has been suggested that “soft” trigger warnings could be used which go more along the lines of “Trigger Warning: r-word” instead of “Trigger Warning: rape.” I’m not sure how helpful those with triggers will find that, but, so long as people with triggers are requesting trigger warnings, I think it is only fair to add them when necessary.


%d bloggers like this: