Friday, August 31, 2012

Atheism+ Part 2 (Further Considerations)

Apparently I'm not fully retired from blogging, but no worries, I did say it was only semi-permanent, which is to say, not written in stone.

As I respond to more people's concerns about the term and movement known as Atheism+, I wanted to clarify some things that seems to be bothering some people, due to the, what I feel to be, poor way in which the push for the new term has been handled thus far.

Many atheists I know have been stating, and rightly so, that if they refuse to adopt the Atheism+ moniker, not hop onto the bandwagon, so to speak, or drink the Kool-Aid, then that doesn't mean they don't share the same values.

And that's true. Nobody ever said they didn't--excluding the rantings of Richard Carrier (which honestly leave me a little bit baffled)--and I don't think the term was intended to be divisive, especially not toward fellow, like-minded, atheists.

This Atheism+ movement isn't about taking the stes of values listed by other atheists wholesale or not. It's not an us vs. them issue for those who believe in the importance of humanist values. As far as the definition goes, you can take it or leave it.

However, I find what the term does do, and does well, is imply that atheists are more than just nonbelievers--that we do in fact have values and beliefs that are important to us. Unlike the classic school of atheism, the new school of Atheism+ doesn't seek define us as merely non-believers, rather, it let's us define ourselves by the values we share!

Atheism+ let's us be defined by what we believe in, rather than what we don't believe in, and that is what the movement is about.

The debate of which values we ought to subscribe to will rage on--but that's good. It helps us set down what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable thinking and behavior. Can a person be an atheist and be sexist, a racist, and homophobic at the same time? Sure, can. Regrettably, I recently met one such pitiful example of a human being. All that I have in common with such a person is my lack of belief in god, but that's it. And to tell you the truth, I'd rather not be associated with such a person at all--which is why I think it is necessary to start defining ourselves by what values we hold instead of simply what we don't believe. Atheism+ allows us to do this, classical atheism doesn't.

That's the point to keep in mind here, since it seems, at least to me, that many are under the impression that it is atheism which unifies us. No, actually. Atheism is just one of the beliefs we share (*since, technically speaking, atheism is the belief in the proposition that there are no gods at the same time as being a rejection of theism, something I've written about extensively), among the many other values and beliefs we might share--or that are worth sharing. Herein lies the distinction.

As secularism progresses, I think that's an important distinction to make, since we as atheists do hold specific sets of values (many of which overlap, some which don't). As atheism gains cultural awareness in the market place of ideas, it is important to make sure that the bad ideas get weeded out, and the only way to do this is to compare what it is we believe (not what it is we do not believe). Quite simply, we need a term like Atheism+.


Because although the majority of atheists do hold like-values, not all of them do. Some hold diametrically opposed ideas. This in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless those values are antithetical to a peaceful and prosperous society which sponsors human flourishing and equality. Then these sorts of atheists are just as dangerous as the worst of the religious who pose a threat to civil society and human progress.

Not only this, but there is the added baggage of the old term atheist, which has been used for several millennium as a pejorative term for anyone not succumbing (submitting) to the theistic belief in God. When the very notion is that atheists are *without values, the old term becomes a burden for us to bare. The new moniker of Atheism+ helps to lift this burden as it
 seeks to corrects those age-old misconceptions without having to enter into lengthy debates trying to prove to people the obvious--namely that atheists are good people to, with beliefs, values, and aren't just nihilists, as the common stereotype holds.

This new term, Atheism+, is wonderfully versatile as well, because it is less limited than stereotypical atheism--in that it's harder to stereotype atheists for what they aren't because, low and behold, we have additional beliefs and values worthy of consideration!

Regular old atheism can't say as much, even though it may be true that many of the old guard share like values and beliefs, that is nowhere made obvious. I think you can guess the problem that raises as a consequence. It's largely why this whole Atheism+ movement has sparked so much controversy among atheists. I'm here to tell you there needn't be any.

Moreover, there is enough at stake, I think, to latch onto the term and sponsor it as a re-branding of the atheist movement. Notice that I am talking about atheism as a cultural movement, since it has become a cultural movement, and is no longer simply a lack of belief in God and the rejection of theism. Atheism, over the past decade or so, has changed radically. It's a term which is gaining acceptance in a land which once demonized and ostracized anyone who subscribed to that dreaded title. Moreover, it's growing--like a wild fire. It seems to me we need to begin to deal with these facts, and Atheism+ helps us do this, whereas, once again, classical atheism cannot.

So although it's perfectly fine to say that we agree on certain values, it's also necessary to realize that the movement needs to be described as something more comprehensive than just 'lacking belief in something', otherwise we're going to have to relinquish the term altogether. Not because we'd cease being atheists, but because the term would cease having meaning in relationship to what atheists have become and what we may potentially become.

Let's not underestimate the rapid progress we nonbelievers, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists have made in recent years just getting people to be aware that the choices are not simply religion or the highway. Now consider this question, why should we be limited to only these two? 
There are other alternatives. Why can't we create a new alternative beside the classic two? Why not have a category for those who say, "I have no belief in god, plus I hold other beliefs."

That seems perfectly viable to me. Indeed, it may just be a necessary condition to say as much to counteract the negative stereotype of atheists. This is why I find Atheism+ to be valuable, not only as a term, but as a way to help the movement build up steam as it continues to progress.

But, like I said, you needn't be burdened with the obligation to adopt the Atheism+ moniker. This is where I disagree with those who have been pushing the term--they've been relentlessly dogmatic in saying if you're not with them, then you're against them. This simply isn't true. You may hold all the values of Atheism+ but simply not be comfortable with the term. Yet. However, I have the sneaking suspicion that as all the heated opinions begin to cool down, that the term will start to look pretty goddamn attractive. Just you wait and see.

Now some might argue that not having such definitions is a rather good thing. Sam Harris, for example, doesn't believe we should use the term atheist at all as a description of ourselves, since it is rather strange to describe ourselves by what we *don't prescribe belief in. Yes, this generally is the case, but it's not a rule. We can define ourselves by what we don't believe in, if we want. Hell, we can talk in third-person too, while wearing our hats backwards, and there's not a damn thing anybody can do about it. Is it odd? Sure, a little bit. But that's no reason to simply reject it.

Even so, this new term of Atheism+ unifies us in such a way that it shows we are capable of not only sharing the lack of belief in god, but we also (more often than not) share other values too.

So, the way I see it, this Atheism+ movement does a lot to help unify today's atheists under an umbrella of similar beliefs. Is that borderline religious? Not even close! Organizational, sure. It's a small semblance of conformity, I'll admit, but maybe a little conformity is what we need. How can we be politically unified while seeking legal and social change if we cannot stick together on any given issue? Or, for that matter, how will we even know what issues we agree on if we don't first state them?

Atheism+ let's us recognize each other by our shared values. We no longer have to guess what beliefs other atheists hold implicitly, as Atheism+ allows us to state our beliefs explicitly. That's the power in this term.

The old saying that herding atheists is a lot like herding cats has been a popular way to describe the strong willed, borderline obstinate, relentless independence of atheists. Yeah, that's what it's been like for a while now, and it's been tough sailing. Nobody could even deny this.

Now Atheism+ comes along and says, wait a minute, were not a bunch of wishy-washy sentimental frisky-whiskered, temperamental, half-baked bunch of kittens, which can only seem to caterwaul about how much they despise god, no, Atheism+ says we're a pack of wolves, baby. You want to be the lone-wolf? Do your own thing? Walk your own path? Fine. But if you want to roll with the pack, let's go, cuz we're gonna get shit done!

Does this mean some will be marginalized? Well, only the ones who don't share the humanistic values Atheism+ers subscribe to, and proudly advertise, and wear as a badge on their sleeve. You can be a good atheist and not subscribe to Atheism+, that's the lone-wolf mentality, and as far as I'm concerned, there's no problem here. But you cannot pretend to be a good, honorable, or praiseworthy atheist and not subscribe to the humanistic values of which Atheism+ is trying to bring to the forefront of the debate and make everyone aware of.

One cannot call oneself a good, forward thinking, atheist yet be opposed to the basic human values worthy of subscribing to. To oppose such values would basically make you, to use Richard Carrier's way of putting it, a douchebag. Some might forgive him for feeling so strongly once they realize what is at stake here, so although I don't agree with the way he has handled things, I can understand why he went off the deep end. Now, if you agree with the humanistic values which seem to be the template for Atheism+, then great, you're with us! 

Disagree with these values though, and then we do have a problem. What kind of problem? Well, consider the racist, homophobic, sexist atheist I met earlier. He calls everyone a F@*#ING moron, and slanders everyone who doesn't think exactly like him, and uses vitriol and hate to attack those who he butts up against, even fellow atheists, and thus he effectively throws a wrench into all the hard work we have been doing, to gain acceptance in a religious dominated society and not be branded as heathens and fiends, and therefore mucks everything up royally. This type of person has to go. They're the weakest link. They take us ten steps backward while we're so desperately struggling to take one more step forward. 

I hope I have done my part to convince you all of the value of Atheism+. You may or may not be convinced, but what we can agree on is that it's the difference of giving atheists the option of conformity--and a little bit of cohesion--if they want it, as compared with the lone-wolf attitude of atheists, generally.

If you don't want to add the little plus sign at the end of your atheism, that's fine. Be the lone-wolf. Be that bad-ass who sits atop of the hill under a blue moon howling at it with all the rage  and fury of a wild animal. Dare I say it, but we need lone-wolves too. But if you want to take on the world--you're gonna need some help. If you want to make real change, then you're going to need a team ready and willing to run with you. The only question you need to ask yourself is, can't you hear the pack calling?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Atheism+ (My Thoughts)

I'm not actually back to blogging regularly, but don't you know, the moment I take a leave of absence this whole Atheism vs. Atheism+ business spirals out of control with strong opinions and emotions flaring up on both sides of the debate.

Bud, my brother-in-blog, over at Dead-Logic wrote a recent piece about his thoughts and feelings. I left this reply, which shares my own take on this recent string of events. Since I felt it was worth repeating, I am re-posting it here.

"Wouldn't it be great to just deal with the important issues instead? That's what we're all trying to do, right? We're trying to fight racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other phobias and isms that prohibit equality and human rights. We're all trying to promote critical thinking, skeptical inquiry, and scientific literacy. Why can't we just do more of that?"
Bud, you just defined, more or less, what Atheism+ means. Was that intentional? Atheism, by definition, isn't a movement in and of itself. It's Atheism plus dealing with the important issues, such as fighting racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia, transphoia, and all the rest while trying to promote critical thinking, skeptical inquiry, and scientific literacy.

How is that not Atheism+?

I'm not going to let myself get so hung up on the terminology. I for one like the idea of atheism as a cultural movement, but in order to gain any traction it needs to be marketed as something positive, fresh, and new. People like new! The shinier the better. Maybe it is superficial, and a bit gimmicky, but so what? If it can get to the next step without all the baggage of the old terms which are mired in a past riddled with so much negativity that it acts to stigmatise, maybe a changing of the guard is in order.

I almost wanted to blog about this hot topic issue, but then held back once I realized it's not such a big deal. At least not as big as everyone seems to be making it. I, for one, like the term a hell of a lot better than "Brights" and it means more than just not entertaining the belief in God, so it's something I think I can roll with. (I initially wrote this as a response on Bud's blog, but I am blogging it now, just to be clear.)

From listening to other atheists, I get the impression that they think that if they subscribe to Atheism+ they will somehow have to change their thinking. Well, yes and no. Your atheism lack of belief doesn't change, but your attitude as an atheist, and whatever else you might believe, will be challenged. I think that's important. I don't want to ever stop being challenged. Especially after meeting some really horrible atheists, such as that guy who attacked Bruce and then lashed out at me when I went to Bruce's defense. That guy, let us not forget, was an atheist. But he cannot aspire to be an Atheist+er unless he gets his act together.

I like being challenged like that. I think such a challenge is necessary in order to start talking about atheism as a meaningful worldview and something more than just a lack of belief in something. The term NEEDS to exist because of dictionary atheists who won't accept the fact that atheism is growing and, due to the cultural and sociological effects of recent secularization, it is becoming something bigger than a mere word in some dictionary. It is pushing the limits of what the definition itself can contain and how we can define it. None of us are just 'mere atheists' anyway. We are people with certain values, and atheism+ can accommodate these values, but standard atheism is just a term for not believing in gods.

Definitions are limiting. So this term needed to be made and defined. In fact, it's still being defined, even as we speak. Of course, there will always be the worry that the momentum could snowball into a dogmatic and inclusive psuedo-religion. It's a possibility. Richard Carrier's lack of tact seemed to indicate something like that, but then, the more I thought about it, the more I felt he was testing the "atheistic dogma" of those who refused to relinquish the title of atheism for something else, which I think, is superior--because it is meant to be.

I basically refrained from mentioning this sooner, because with all the dogmatic atheists attacking Carrier on this point--which probably caused him to go crazy--I felt it would be wise to wait until the egos died down. I n Carrier's case, doesn't the guy get enough of that shit from the religious? I didn't want to engage in the muck raking and I didn't want to be forced to take sides. So I took both sides. AND THEN I REALIZED HOW NECESSARY THE TERM WAS.

It lets atheists be the same old dictionary hugging people, then adds a simple little symbol to say that we are MORE than just that. How important of a message that is!

Maybe the way it is being defined is a little bit exclusionary, but that might have to do with the personalities clashing than the actual effect of the terminology, and it doesn't necessarily make it a religion. It certainly doesn't mean we have to accept how others are defining it. Carrier can have his version of Atheism+ and we can have ours. Is that like an atheistic denomination? Well, yes and no.

In my mind, it's more like a sports league with various teams. Religious denominations differ on ideological, theological, and even doctrinal issues--their splinters make them essentially DIFFERENT religions. Atheism+ might be a splinter, but it isn't different in terms of doctrinal or theological stances. It merely has varying ideological components, we are still all playing the same game, after all. But the new league rules will cut back on the abuses of others in the sport. It is a way to get some conformity--but not to atheism. We shouldn't make this mistake. It is creating conformity with those who have like values, because this is part of the cultural movement. There is no getting away from this, so it does us no use to complain that there is going to be conformity.

Oh, I know others will disagree and caterwaul all night long about the dangers of conformity, but sometimes things only work when they are part of a group ideology--and not merely one person's ideals. That's the difference I hope people keep in mind, and why I feel Atheism+ is necessary.

In other news, here's an interesting article on the Myths and Truths about Atheism+.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Recently, I've had to re-prioritize my goals as I seriously take into consideration what I want to accomplish in the immediate future with my writing and, also, how to better provide and support my family.

Although I love blogging, there are just too many stupid people saying too many stupid things for me to even keep up with. Part of the problem is that they don't read this blog--or blogs like it. If they did, then they probably would be thinkers rather than, well, those who claim rape isn't rape or blame atheists for the killing spree of fundamentalist bread lunatics--but perhaps worse, all the monkeys who defend these idiots or who, in their indifference, pretend like these idiots are harmless.

I have grown tired of attacking these windbags and then getting called "hateful" or "intolerant" because I was critical of some asshole who claimed that rape wasn't really a bad thing. This is just an example of what has been frustrating me. But I think it shows exactly what I have a problem with--I can't keep being a voice of reason if people simply aren't going to listen to reason. It's like observing a captain a ship blindfold himself whilst trying to navigate the rocky coastline in a storm, all the time his first mate is shouting, "Be mindful of the rocks!" I feel like the lighthouse--watching the insanity unfold before me, feeling, such a pity that they will all crash upon the rocks and end in ruin--but that, it should be their own fault. Let's just say this, it's not like I didn't warn them.

So, I have decided to retire (semi-permanently) my Advocatus Atheist blog.

What does this mean? It means, I do not intend to devote time here when I should be spending time elsewhere. Does this mean I am through blogging? Of course not, I will always have the itch to write. But I have ranted and raved, critiqued and criticized, and thrown up protest after reasoned protest against religion and those that blindly follow it, and have tried my best to sponsor skepticism, critical thinking, and scientific mindedness over the past couple of years. I will continue to do so, but in a much more limited fashion.

There are a couple reasons for this shift in priorities.

First, it seems I have said all that I can say. Religion is, no doubt about it, man-made. All religion is. This is more than evident. "Revealed" religion is nothing but a scam, and I can say this with confidence because if it wasn't a scam, if it were at all real, then there would be REAL noticeable evidence for its truth--and ALL the evidence we have is, at best, anecdotal--and so cannot be considered the be proof to validate the claims of the religious. It merely seems, at least to me, a psychological hang-up of the religious--who haven't, in most cases, questioned their beliefs.

Meanwhile, religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism simply cannot answer for certain philosophical lines of inquiry or stand up properly to proper scrutiny, which they should if they were real. I'm not talking about the general criticisms of religion, I am talking about hard hitting arguments such as the Problem of Evil, the Problem of Divine Hiddeness, Ignosticism, Theological Noncognitivism, Coherentism, Evidentialism, and a whole lot of others, which by my estimation, religion has completely failed to adequately meet.

At the same time, science is doing a fine job of answering the questions about our possible origins and the possible events which better reveal the world to us, through honest investigation and experiment. Religion doesn't do this. Religion merely offers plausible accounts which only become plausible when you make room for a metaphysical worldview that blatantly shirks the responsibility of doing the empirical work required for any of it to actually matter. In other words, I find the supernatural claims of religions to be erroneous--in point of fact because they are lazy--and this impediment is so large that I simply cannot find such claims deserving of any further attention on my part.

I have said all that I feel I need to say at this time.

Secondly, as I work toward my goal of publishing my novels, and making a career out of writing (much harder to do than it sounds), I have come to realize that blogging has become a distraction from my real work. Blogging, sadly, doesn't net any revenue. One needs hundreds of thousands of daily readers and hundreds of ads before their blog generates any money. Having a few published books might help toward that end, but at the same time, the things I want to write are so wholly different from what I like to blog about that they compete for time. Since blogging is the easier form of writing, I tend to fall back on that instead of finishing the next chapter or my book, editing that final page, or getting the cover art just right. The distraction, it seems, is only hurting me in the long run. Books sell. Blogs don't. So I need to start focusing more on that which will benefit me and my family, instead of simply preaching to the choir.

But like I said, this only only semi-permanent. If I have something to say, that I believe is vitally important, then I will blog about it. Right now, I have a huge library of archived content which many have found extremely beneficial, helpful, and thought provoking. I will leave it up so that others might find it and that in itself will be a good.

The things I will not be doing much of is responding to every comment. This will probably kill the blog dead, as the lack of discussion will allow the blog to linger, stagnate, then grow stale as people move elsewhere in search of something more lively, thriving, and sociable.

I just don't have the time to engage in-depth debates and discussion like I used to. Although I would love to continue doing so, it's just not in my best interest to do so.

I will be doing a hell of a lot more writing in the fiction area though. So if you miss my blog presence, heave over to my author page to read about my most recent writing adventures. In the next couple of years I intend to do a lot of publishing.

I am finishing up the sequel to my zombie book Bitten, BITTEN 2: Land of the Rising Dead. Which will be followed by a third installment, BITTEN 3: Kingdom of the Living Dead. I just completed a short-story which fits right into the first Bitten story. I am currently plotting the third novel, as I complete the final chapters of the second. Additionally, I have plotted out a science fiction series called Daughter of Sol, which I'll begin writing sometime next year. It's my most ambitious project yet, and I wanted to sharpen my skills as a writer, and get all the publishing skills under my belt, before I even attempted it. 

I currently have three stand alone projects, which I want to begin sometime this year if possible. The first one is a non-fiction piece which collects the deconversion essays of some of my closest atheist friends, bloggers, and apostates. It will be titled Letting Go of God: Stories and Reflections about the Crisis of Losing Faith. Those of you who have contributed, don't worry, the project is alive and kicking! I just need more time to work on it, which is another reason I must ween my blogging habits.

The second stand alone project is a realistic science fiction called Painless which deals with the repercussions of modern nano-technology, bio-engineering, genetics, and DNA based computers. My idea is to write about humanity's success in eradicating pain completely using technology, and then following that simple premise to see the moral and physical repercussions of how it will impact the world, the human race. Needless to say, my outlook of what the world would look like if such a feat was accomplished isn't very optimistic.

Last, but not least, I am going to write a partly autobiographical but mostly fictionalization of my life in Japan. The plot is going to loosely follow how I came to Japan, met my wife, and all the crazy and funny cultural things that have happened to me since living in Japan. But it will be packaged as a fiction so I can take liberty with the humor, exaggeration, and write the characters in a way that is more compelling. It will be written kind of like a memoir, but only some of it will be true to my experience, the rest will build off my experiences as I imagine my experiences going off in different directions and exploring the "what-if" element to them. This book is titled Seasons of Heisei.

As you can clearly see, my plate is full for the next five years or so. Which means I will not be blogging regularly anytime in the immediate future. Like I said though, this isn't a vacation. I'm not burned out, however, on top of feeling like I have said everything I need to at this time, I just don't have the same luxury of time I once enjoyed before I started a full-time writing career.

Just a friendly reminder, my novel BITTEN: A Resurrection Thriller and the supplemental short story BITTEN: After Dark are both available for sale on


Tristan Vick

The Advocatus Atheist

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ridiculing Christianity part 2: God Needs BLOOD!

Christianity: n. God needs blood to fix the universe (but only his own magic blood is powerful enough to do it, so he gave himself a body and then killed it). --Richard Carrier, PhD. (Discussing the definition of modern Christianity)

I took a lot of heat recently for stating that we should ridicule the beliefs of children as a way to motivate them to question authority and think independently for themselves.

Some people found this claim offensive in the highest degree. I even lost friends and loved ones who were so outraged at the notion that they blocked me from Facebook.

Needless to say, these people were reacting to their own insecurities rather than the content of my proposal, which you can read HERE.

Many of the offended took my proposal to mean something like ganging up on children, holding them down, then bullying them and telling them how stupid they are. They literally pictured the scene in Steven Chow's amazing satire Kung fu (2004), where the child reading Kung fu comics gets beat up in a field and then gets pissed on by the entire group of bullies.

Certain people thought that's what I meant. 

I mean, really?

I can only deduce by their responses is that they did not actually read the content of my article closely enough, or if they read it at all, they failed to grasp it--as I went out of my way to ensure that this proposal had nothing to do with bullying or cruelty, but rather, dealt with the honest pursuit of teaching critical thinking skills to children.

Now, a savvy commenter mentioned that we don't necessarily need to single out children, but instead could introduce them to content that ridicules their beliefs indirectly. Instead of taking the "Santa Claus" approach and using peer pressure to force them to feel uncomfortable with the ideas they hold, via what I call "strategic light hearted ridicule," it was brought to my attention that by simply introducing children to "strategic light hearted ridicule" of their beliefs--indirectly--the effect would essentially be the same.

I fully agree.

In fact, it may even work better, as it is not creating any unwanted confrontational tension. For example, if there was a worry about hurting the child's feelings by directly challenging them, then it would be wise to challenge them indirectly. In fact, this is what movies like Monty Python's The Life of Brian do exceptionally well. They mock and ridicule religious ideals, and then get the religious to laugh at the absurdity of their own beliefs! That's the magic of ridicule. 

Also, it shows that we can ridicule others and still have them feel good about it. There is no reason this needs to be a negative attack. Ridicule doesn't need to be polarizing--just thought provoking!

Richard Carrier ridicules Christianity too in many of his Skepticon lectures, and I have provided his Skepticon 3 talk in which Carrier discusses the delusional aspect of Christians. I think his talk shows another great way to ridicule people indirectly as a way to challenge their beliefs/thinking.

Feel free to go post this video on Facebook and share it with all your Christian friends! I don't mean for you to spam their private wall, but perhaps practice a more friendly activism and post the vid to your own wall and tag them in it. Hey, even if you lose a few insecure Christian friends, it will still be one small step for skepticism, one giant leap for mankind. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ten Principles of Belief: Recognizing and Identifying a Belief

Following after my "Ten Things to Know about Belief" article, I have decided to write a more technical, perhaps analytical, minded piece on the nature of belief itself. The prior article was more about how we approach belief, i.e., our attitude with regard to belief, and how we react to the attitudes and beliefs of others. This article is a more thorough deconstruction of the nature of belief, i.e. what are beliefs, and how do we identify them? 

1) Beliefs never come isolated (apart from properly basic beliefs which are self-sustaining but require epistemic basing relations in order to have meaning).

2) We are not fully in control of our beliefs as we acquire them, but have the capacity to exercise a limited control over them, once acquired, with the application of belief revisions models  (e.g., see the AGM model of belief revision).

3) Beliefs occur because of our attitudes to the world around us based on individual perception and experience, making beliefs unique to every individual, even as an individual's experiences and attitudes may be shared or overlap  with others (i.e., for more on this see propositional attitudes).

4) Inevitably, we all hold contrary beliefs, since the acceptance of a belief is dependent on our acceptance of propositional beliefs, and not dependent on whether or not the belief itself is systematically true or epistemologically feasible.

5) Old and/or antiquated belief propositions rarely get subject to revision, and so belief revision is much rarer than one would expect it to be given the access to relevant information that we have today--i.e. the Internet and other forms of instantaneous information-sharing/communication.

6) All beliefs are accompanied by biases, as they are attitudes toward propositions. Biases will influence a belief one way or another.

7)  Actions are more significant than our beliefs. (Therefore, the Aristotelian view states that emphasis on the importance of proper conduct should be placed over the importance of beliefs. We must be mindful, however, not to ignore the direct relationship between belief and action, or how beliefs influence and guide our judgements and behavior.)

8) Beliefs cannot be inviolable, otherwise they would cease to be beliefs as they would cease to be relevant propositional attitudes (i.e., inviolability is a necessary condition in order to distinguish a belief from a dogma. If the attitude is inviolable, it is akin to a dogma. If the attitude can be challenged, hence "violated," it is akin to a belief).

9) Beliefs have to be defeasible in order to qualify as proper beliefs. (If any given propositional attitude was not defeasible, it could not be considered a proper belief since it would not be possible to revise, expand upon, discard, or improve, and therefore would become inviolable. See #8.  Defeasibility, therefore, is a necessary condition of belief. Note: properly basic beliefs are the exception to the rule as they are not defeasible because they are irreducible).

10) Logic dictates some beliefs will be true and some beliefs will be false, and that not all beliefs are valid when tested against propositional calculus.


If you want to learn more about belief, or look up some of the terms used in the above article, please head over to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for more details. Thank you!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ten Things to Know about Belief

1. Beliefs must never be inviolable and should always be defeasible otherwise they could not be held as meaningful to us. If they are not defeasible then they are not beliefs, but rather dogmas.

2. Beliefs are not the total sum of anyone given identity, since the correctness of character is not dependent on the correctness or incorrectness of beliefs. 
There is no link between holding a true belief and being a good person, or vice versa.   

3. The due criticism of our beliefs is the ONLY way to test them and hold them up to scrutiny to see if they are true or not. Some beliefs ARE better than others.

4. Upon discovering a belief to be false or erroneous, logically fallacious, or discrepant it is not a crime to point this out. It would be a crime not to.

5. People have the right to hold to false, erroneous, and or discrepant beliefs insofar as they are aware that when superior beliefs arise their outmoded beliefs will likely be challenged. If one is offended by this, then it is clear their priority is not the soundness of their beliefs but the demand that you respect their beliefs, even without valid reasons, simply so they can feel like their beliefs are worthwhile--without having to do the work of proving them one way or another. To this type of person I only have this to say: I don't care about your beliefs--whether they may be true or not, because, apparently, neither do you.

6. Superior beliefs are those which can demonstrate the soundness of their claims and thereby stand the test of scrutiny. The law of parsimony suggests that beliefs must be revised and amended or simply abandoned when superior beliefs are discovered. Not to do so would only seek to sew greater confusion as to which beliefs are valid and which of those are invalid.

 It does not logically follow that one must be intolerant because they disagree with a belief, nor does it mean they are attacking you if they question or criticize your beliefs. At most, you simply have come to an impasse and realize there is no getting around your difference of opinion. There is no reason to call the other "intolerant" because they do not automatically take your side or believe exactly as you do. True tolerance towards others comes in excepting that not all beliefs are the same, not all beliefs are equal, and assuredly, not all beliefs are deserving of respect.  There is no reason one should be offended if someone completely destroys their belief in something, rather, they should be shocked that they had held such a belief at all and look to find a better replacement--it is through this laborious process that we can correct and improve our beliefs!

8. The quality of a belief is usually not an indicator, or reflective, of the quality of one's character. However, beliefs when acted upon can often times induce the wrong kinds of behavior when those beliefs are, in point of fact, wrong. Which places a greater emphasis on the necessity to test one's beliefs.

9. Even the smartest minds who have ever lived have often entertained false beliefs. Luckily, we can learn from their mistakes so that our beliefs will be that much better and more refined. Intelligence is not always a good indicator of the quality of belief a person will hold.

10. Respect for one's beliefs doesn't come because you believe something, since believing in and of itself is not a virtue, but if you want respect for your beliefs then they have to be something more than what you merely feel inclined to believe. Only then can a belief be deserving of respect. Those who demand respect for their beliefs have confused dogma for beliefs, and so cannot possibly know the value of a true belief.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thought of the Day: In Defense of Sam Harris

People keep accusing Sam Harris of not being a real moral philosopher, citing that he doesn't have a degree in philosophy and doesn't understand analytical philosophy.

These people are morons--proof is in the fact that they can't seem to do the ten second task of typing Sam's name into Google or look him up on Wikipedia. Sam has an undergrad degree in Western philosophy from Stanford and he is a student of Eastern philosophy, learning meditation from the Hindu gurus and Buddhist masters during a stint in India. (Here's a newsflash, Western philosophy is different than Eastern philosophy--not everything can be reduced down analytically. Analytical philosophy is just one branch, of one approach, of philosophical inquiry.)

Sam's a philosopher of science, and he researches and talks about morality. That makes him a moral philosopher of science, technically, but there's no need to label him to one specific calling. This is the problem with people who get hung up on labels and definitions--they often get flustered when someone doesn't fit neatly into their little label boxes. Harris isn't an easy person to pin down to anyone stereotype since he is so often busy breaking the mold--just as he did with his award winning book The End of Faith.

Now, with a PhD. in Neuroscience from the University of California, L.A., he looks to combine science and philosophy in a way which is reminiscent of Sir Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, or even William James. When his book The Moral Landscape came out, critics acted shocked, even appalled, at the very notion that Harris would try to combine the sciences with moral philosophy, as if he was the first to ever have thought of it. Why do people find Harris so polarizing, because, well, let's face it, he's contemporary. He recognized well enough for the pundits to write OP pieces about how much they don't get him. Most people haven't even heard of, let alone read, Bacon, Hobbes, or James. But if they don't get Harris, they aren't likely to get the others either.

If people don't get Sam Harris, that is their limitation, not his.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Using Ridicule to Kindle Critical Thinking Skills and Counteract Religious Indoctrination

DISCLAIMER: The CONTROVERSY continues! After people started blocking me on FB for writing an article stating I felt is was okay to ridicule children, I have since revised the article to better reflect what I originally intended, but apparently failed to adequately get across.

Many mistook me for wanting to, literally, attack children. That's NOT what I meant! 

In an unrelated article, I made the offhand remark
 that we should ridicule children more to encourage them to question their mistakes, perhaps feel a tinge of embarassment, and seek to motivate them to correct their mistakes and/or misconceptions. 

My intention was to apply the use of ridicule to break what we know to be patently superstitious modes of thinking early on, thereby forcing the child into the awkward position of having to question their own individual beliefs--or at least, why they believe something. After that, it's about guiding them through the sea of information so they can settle o their own conclusions.

This is the opposite approach than what the religious take. Indoctrinating children, something I believe to be ethically wrong. It amounts to little more than telling a child what to think--because if they don't--then they are somehow deficient, singled out as an outcast. I don't see how this is healthier than what I propose with ridicule. In fact, I would argue it's not--as it doesn't seek to attempt to equip the child with the skills of critical thinking or inquiry. It just demands they believe in something and threatens them, with rather pernicious and cruel threats I might add, if they fail to comply.

Inculcation, then, is seeing to it that the child never questions or doubt these initial propositions forced upon them.

I am arguing for a method, a way, to break these terrible, unethical, religious practices of manipulation. A method which, if done correctly, would not only help to break the spell of religion but would also help the child to learn about how to critically assess and analyze their own beliefs--eventually without the aid of an adult. Indoctrination does not teach anything but how to cower before an authority and obey, regardless of whether that authority is valid.

By being made-fun-of for an *obviously mistaken or erroneous belief (and I should make it clear that I am in no way advocating bullying or demeaning humiliation, more on that in a bit), a child will quickly look to their peer group to reinforce the beliefs which are being highlighted and brought to their attention by what I call 'strategic light-hearted ridiculing'.


The example I commonly give is the belief in Santa. Consider, we grown-ups all know (I hope) that Santa isn't real, but a child who has been told by his parents, teachers, and community that Santa is real believes it. After all, they have no way of critically evaluating the claims of the authority figures in their lives. After all, they're just kids. They take things on faith because, well, they take things for granted. It's not their fault, they haven't been equipped with the tools needed to govern themselves independently. This will help them develop some of those tools, and in so doing, will help them navigate the ever growing sea of information by giving them the capacity to question, analyze, and think critically.

The belief in Santa is a good example to look to, because when a kid becomes a certain age, their peer group will quickly find the one child in the group who still holds fast to the infantile belief in Santa and will, usually, ridicule him.

This often shakes a child up, because their being made fun of for believing in something they thought was common knowledge. But suddenly, this belief is called into question, it gives a child pause. It's the first time in a child's life that they must go back and re-think, re-evaluate, what they've been told by their parents and authority figures. Their peer group is the concensus. Nobody in the peer group believes in Sanata anymore. In fact, the idea is so egregiously absurd that they laugh at the poor child, who has our sympathy, for believing in poppycock.

The child begins to look for ways to anchor their belief, signs of Santa's existence or else non-existence, and then eventually, seeing the evidence (or lack thereof) entirely in the ball-park of NOT REAL, they will be compelled to go to the highest of authorities in their premature lives, and ask their parents the big question: Is Santa real?

If the parents are honest, they will inform the child, "No, he's not real."

It's no big deal. After all, the flood of crocodile tears, which is part of the growing pangs, is quickly forgotten. Indeed, the child usually forgets all about the ridicule altogether as she is reassured the presents will keep coming--no worries. 

On the other hand, if the parents are dishonest or want to keep the ruse going, for whatever reason, they will perpetuate the lie only to find that the child's natural skepticism, sparked the by the one true reality, the ridicule of their peers, will grow until eventually the doubt is so thick that is suffocates any attempt to redeem the belief. Once the belief is curshed, the child sheds the belief on their own.

That's sort of the point. It's not about dictating what people can and cannot believe. It's about getting them to look at their beliefs, and then question them, and balance their opinions and conclusions against the opinions and conclusions of others.

PART 2: Jeffersonian Ridicule
Without ridicule, we would be unable to do change our minds and correct our misconceptions because we would have nobody challenging our opinions, beliefs, or ideas. This is why Thomas Jefferson argued that ridicule was vitally necessary in order for freedom of speech to flourish. Moreover, recent psychological studies show people do not change their beliefs even when showed, explicitly, that those beliefs are wrong. Not even when they are provided with the CORRECT evidence to correct their mistaken beliefs. That's worth repeating, people who are givne the correct answer actively refuse to accept it and instead hold fast to the wrong answer! Studies have shown this tendency to correct one's thinking depends on how confident they are in understanding something and how doubtful they are about the connection between the answer and the evidence. If they don't understand something, say like biology, then many times people will reject scientifically validated theories, such as Darwinian evolution, for incorrect ideas and beliefs, like Creationism.

Employing the use of ridicule is, I believe, necessary in getting them past the insecurity and doubt stage without having to necessarily check ones beliefs and opinions against the sea of information. It's a social equilibrium device, which works toward a goal of conformity in the social acceptance of an idea, opinion, or belief. Being ridicules forces us into the position of having to make a judgement on the quality of our beliefs. Should we continue to believe it--if so, what are our reason? If not, again, what are the reasons?

Employed in this fashion, I believe ridicule could be a powerful tool in reversing the effects of child indoctrination by religion.

PART 3: Less About Tearing Down and More about Building Up: The Goals of Constructive Criticism and Enhancing Critical Thinking Skills
Before anyone accuses me of advocating something cruel, mean-spirited, unfair, improper, or what have you, let me explain a couple of things.

First, I am NOT advocating bullying or demeaning humiliation  This is not about MOCKING the person, it is about ridiculing their beliefs and pointing out their misconceptions.

If anyone is under the impression I want to simply make fun of children, attack children, or eat children (or whatever), they couldn't be more wrong.

This is about molding children into self actualized thinkers. It's what I as a parent do every single day. Those who have kids will understand the trials and tribulations of child development and parenting, and how many horrifying moments can be turned around with a bit of laughter.

In helping to potty train my daughter I found that, well, sometimes we miss the target. Oops! We laugh, and clean the mess up together, and I teacher her that even though we are both embarrassed by the event, of my failure to help her and her failure to do it properly, we can laugh at our mistake. In this way, we ridicule our own blunders by making light of them. We have contempt for our mistakes, and mock our failures, and then laugh. That's what ridicule is.

I am not deriding my daughter for incompetence and she isn't laughing at my failure to properly instruct her. By laughing we are ridiculing the absurdity of the event. This is why I am stressing ridiculing the belief of the child, not the child personally.

It's the difference of saying: Billy is a stupid head because he believes in Santa, versus, Billy believes in stupid stories for kids.

Now a child doesn't know how to distinguish from ridiculing the belief and ridiculing the person, but we adults do. It is a fine line, sure, and we must be careful not to cross it, or if we do, we must be positively sure that our reasons for doing so are just, otherwise we risk becoming cruel--and, I cannot stress this enough, I am not arguing for derisive attacks and shunning mockery of little Billy. I am arguing for the derision and mockery of his beliefs. As a consequence, will Billy feel bad, probably. I am not saying this is without embarrassment or hurt feelings. But we cannot realistically suppose that life, and the beliefs we live by, could be had without growing pangs. If only it were that simple.

Those who have raised children know what a daily grind it is just to get them to do simple things like wash their hands, eat their vegetables, or share their toys. They ignore your instructions, often times deliberately, so then what? Some parents yell. This hardly ever works. Besides, I think yelling is meaner than other methods. It's confrontational without actually challenging the child to think to make a choice. Yelling goes back to lording one's authority over the developing mind, and that is the opposite of what I am aiming for.

Other, more subtler, methods must be employed. We parents often fib. We create ultimatums, platitudes, and idle threats of things like taking away TV privileges or having to go to be early--oh, the horror! They are lies, of course. But they are necessary. By giving a child a choice, they are the ones who have to decide. This forces them to think of which choice is best--and why. Yelling might sometimes do the trick, but it isn't teaching them anything.

Arguing with people full of conviction of their beliefs is a lot like yelling. It might sometimes work, but it doesn't teach them anything. Ridicule, on the other hand, is the more subtler approach.

Secondly, I should mention why I think this technique works.

Another reason I advocate ridiculing children's mistaken beliefs and misconceptions is that it corrects their behavior and thinking early on, and more efficiently, than if you were to sit down and give them the same lesson over and over again.

For example, my daughter, who is two and is still learning to speak, was recently calling pears "Kao nashi" in Japanese. Now, this is completely wrong. A pear in Japanese is simply "nashi." However, she likes the animated movie Spirited Away. In the Japanese language version, the character No Face is called "Kao Nashi," which translates to "Without a face." The 'nashi' bit in both is pronounced exactly the same: na-shi.

After correcting her repeated times, and realizing it wasn't working, I decided to tease her a bit. 'It's not kao-nashi', I said, 'just nashi'. I showed her the pear, and asked, wears its face? 'Oh, no! The face is gone!' I lamented. Looking around frantically for the pears face, she started laughing. "Nashi!" she shouted gleefully, realizing her mistake.

I made fun of her mistake, not her face or her personality or her smarts. That's the key point I am trying to stress. How do I know this approach works, because, well, it worked.

Also, kids generally enjoy being teased--when the teasing isn't intended as an attack but as a bit of fun.  It can be taken too far, but so can anything else. We must always be careful not to inflict abuse, but rather, keep it playful and affectionate. As long as they know you genuinely appreciate them, they won't mind the ridicule or teasing one bit. Again, I'm not advocating being mean. Ridicule is a type of looking down on, because it's a type of criticism. But criticism is often necessary in order for us to correct our views.

PART 4: More on Criticism
Criticism isn't an evil thing. Both negative and positive criticism can be good things. As a writer, when someone points out a spelling error, I am truly grateful for their help. Their positive criticism helps me improve my writing. It's called constructive criticism for this reason--it helps you to construct something better than had you not relied on the advice of others.

When someone comes at me with a terribly good reason for disagreeing with a point I've made--and I cannot find fault with their reasoning--I am often compelled to change my mind, or at least reconsider my position. Their negative criticism helps me to refine my own thinking and writing. Again, I am grateful. So you see, even negative criticism can be helpful at times.

Criticism isn't evil, per se. But it can be abused and turned into a tool to tear someone down. I am against tearing people down without valid reasons for doing so. This, is not about tearing children down, but quite to the contrary, it's about teaching them and building up their minds! It's about guiding them. Shaping them.

Many will disagree with me and argue that there is no reason, under any circumstances, to use ridicule on children--or more precisely--what they believe. Two things. I feel exactly this way about religious indoctrination. There is no reason, under any circumstances, that a child should be brainwashed into a religion to believe based on nothing more than threats, appeals to emotion, and appeals to authority--but they are--by the billions.

This kind of manipulation is cruel--because it doesn't tear a child down--it simply holds them down--crushes their confidence in doubting and asking questions--or worse, making it so they don't have to--and then suffocates them with age old superstition.

Secondly, even if one thinks ridicule is somehow detrimental to a child's development, and I don't think it is if utilized in the way I propose, then they simply haven't read closely enough what I have said. The reason this article is so lengthy is because I am going through great pains to detail my meaning, and explain my reasoning, as not to be misunderstood. In summation, all I am saying is that a softer, more subtle, form of ridicule is one possible technique which can be utilized to get a person to question their beliefs, and it is proved to work.

Let's be clear, ridicule doesn't necessarily mean to humiliate. It can be used that way, but then that would mean one is using it for cruel purposes. I am against such abuse. Rather, I intend to use it a corrective tool, one in which scoffing doesn't end in scorn and mocking laughter doesn't end in contempt. Rather, the scoffing and mocking, the poking fun at, should always be for the purpose of dismantling a conviction based on authority and forcing the person whose notions, opinions, or ideas are being laughed at to have to evaluate, not only the reasons why, but the reasons why as well.

CONCLUSION: There's 'Strategic Light-Hearted Ridicule' and then there is Plain Old Mean Ridicule

As experience with my daughter has taught me, we can ridicule children in a way which is fun, makes them laugh at their mistakes, and helps them to think for themselves. It shows them that distrusting authority figures is okay and, perhaps, lead them to rely more on themselves. But they won't be able to do this if we sit idly by and let the superstitious delusions and erroneous beliefs be planted into their minds early on.

As for the adults, I advocate a more direct approach. If you have had the opportunity to think about religious questions, but simply haven't, or have simply left it up to the religious authorities and shirked the burden of justifying your own beliefs, then I'm sorry to say, the kitty-gloves come off.

I think it's time to tell the religious believers God isn't real, just like Santa. And when they don't believe us, yet themselves cannot offer any convincing validation for why they hold such a belief, then we know all at once their belief is erroneous. However, they may not, as conviction often clouds ones mind to such matters. As such, we can point our fingers and laugh.

Sure, they'll hate it, but you know what, they've had every opportunity to listen to reason, they have had endless hours to give serious reflection, and instead of admitting to the differences of facts and fancies, they turn it into a farce and retreat into the safety net of religion and the protection it provides.

So if the adult believer, whose indoctrination was never challenged, takes their faith for granted, and believes in the metaphysical, supernatural, fantastical world of religious faith wants respect for their beliefs, they simply are going to have to learn to respectfully keep those beliefs to themselves, or get laughed at.

I have attempted to argue, to the best of my ability, why ridicule is a necessary tool in the development of children and why I think it is necessary for aiding in counteracting the harmful, if not stifling, effects of religious indoctrination. At least, that was my intention, whether or not this demonstrated my intent adequately is up for debate, as this piece is not without controversy. Additionally, I wish to note that I am in no way convinced this is the best or only way of creating critical thinkers and combating the harmful side-effects of organized religion. I merely think it is one method which gets results, and is worth reflecting on.   

[DISCLAIMER: If anyone still believes I intend ridicule in a mean-spirited or cruel way, then, apparently, you did not care to read the full article as it seems you have confused emotions for methods, and have missed my point completely. If, however, you read the article in full and still voice a consenting view, I would like to know why--not just what you think--but the reasons as well. Thank you.]

Scientific Quote of the Day: Sir Francis Bacon

"Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and have done more harm by spoiling and putting an end to other men's efforts than good by their own."--Francis Bacon (Novum Organum)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Quote of the Day: The Friendly Atheist

"[A]theists don’t hate god anymore than Pat Robertson hates logic. Just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean you hate it." --Hemant Mehta

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Shout Out: Manly Unicorn

My friend Bud just wrote an amazing piece called "I am a Manly Unicorn." As I haven't had time to blog as much as I used to, I highly recommend you check out his piece, as his thoughts and reflections mirror mine almost verbatim. Also, check out his blog Dead-Logic, you won't regret it!

Thought of the day: Don't be Bigoted

Thought of the day comes from my friend Mike Doolittle, aka The A-Unicornist, but it's reflective of my thoughts exactly: 

"[I]t's ... absurd when people speaking out against ... bigotry get called bigots for not tolerating bigotry. So stop trying to give your religion special status and privilege. Stop telling other people whom they may or may not marry. Just live and let live."

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist