Wednesday, July 31, 2013

#Ignosticism (My New Book!)

My new book on Ignosticism as a philosophical defense for atheism is now available in paperback and for Kindle! 

(Don't worry, all you ePub users, I'll be making it available for Nook later this week.)

So if you want to purchase an early copy, just heave over to Thanks!

Ignosticism (Paperback)

Ignosticism (Kindle)

From the Back Cover

What if the question “Does God exist?” proved to be meaningless? What if the very definition of “God” was incoherent? Could you still, in good conscience, believe in something if it was incoherent and meaningless? Would it even be possible to talk about an incoherent and meaningless thing meaningfully? If not, then what consequences would follow from this realization? These are the questions which the branch of philosophy known as ignosticism concerns itself with. Ignosticism: A Philosophical Justification for Atheism examines these questions and delves into the idea that “God” is a type of language-game. Taking a Wittgensteinian view of language, Tristan Vick takes us on a journey from learning theory to semantics to psychology in this philosophical exploration of whether or not the idea of God holds any relevant meaning. Perhaps more controversial still, Vick makes the case that ignosticism, properly understood, can be used as a positive justification for the reasonableness of atheism.

American Folly

Although correlation does not imply causation, there is something strange about ALL OF THESE correlating to the SAME significant area. And the SAME thing these areas having in common being RELIGIOUS belief. Something to think about.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Are Vegans Self-Righteous? Is Eating Meat Immoral? Some Considerations.

I have a vegan friend online.

Although I can understand going vegan as a health choice (an extremely good one at that), I find the moral consideration a bit more problematic.

Take this quote for example:

Being atheist without being vegan is a bit like staging a bank robbery and running off all excited because you found a quarter on the sidewalk outside.

I understand the ethical consideration behind this. Factory farming and breeding animals for slaughter does seem rather inhumane. I can see why a highly empathetic person would seek to ban such practices. Still, I can't help but notice there are a few problems with making it strictly a moral issue.

The first problem is clearly that losing religion and making the choice to stop eating meat (either for ethical or health related concerns) are not equivalent. It's a false dichotomy (a well known informal fallacy). Here's why.

Many people do not reason their way out of religion. Religion simply falls by the wayside when there is better information which can invalidate religion--unless one's biases are so welded into place the the support beams of one's faith are unshakable. But that said, people have, on occasion, been able to reason their way out of religion. 

But even so, the series of events leading up to a proper deconversion are complex. Moreover, there are multiple considerations here. My own deconversion from religion took place over a course of five years. Much of it took a fair bit of consideration, but other events were out of my control. In the end, it was the religious system which failed me. The only choice I had to make was to leave it behind a failed belief system and move on. But where veganism is concerned, this isn't at all the same consideration. Eating meat isn't a failed belief system. It doesn't seek to explain anything in the way religion does. Eating meat is a byproduct of our past biological evolutionary development and history.

Choosing to give up meat therefore becomes a rational and ethical choice, as far as I can tell.  And part of the ethical consideration isn't at all clear. Let me explain.

Consider this second quote by the same online vegan acquaintance:

If you are American and you eat meat you have a one-in-two chance of dying prematurely from coronary heart disease or stroke. Your risk of early death from cancer is many times higher than for vegans too, and the same goes for diabetes, osteoporosis, alzheimer's, and many more.

Think about that the next time you put that stolen flesh of the "other" in your mouth because years down the road, when that time comes you can't rewind to this day and do it differently.

This shows the two considerations quite nicely.

He begins with the statistical chance of being the victim of one's own bad eating habits. Yes, two many Big Macs and rare steaks will lead to a premature heart attack in many people. Statistically speaking it's true. He follows this by throwing out other ailments that a vegan diet can help remedy. And there is no arguing, as a health choice, veganism is probably the healthiest diet you could go on. But thus far, it is only a consideration of improved diet and health.

This is where he shifts gears to the emotional appeal. "Stealing" the flesh of the "other" as he says, is wrong. But wrong according to who? The majority of societies around the world eat meat. So they aren't the one's he is basing this claim off of. He is basing it upon his vegan perspective. But this isn't a position of authority, so he makes the emotional appeal, to make it one of emotional authority. See, if he can make himself morally superior, for not "stealing" the flesh of the "other" then, can't you see, how much nicer and kinder he is than all you meat-eating murderers?

But this just comes off as condescending. And perhaps it is meant to. But that's the easiest way to disenfranchise those who might be seriously considering the issue--by talking down to them, holding yourself as superior to them--and invoking ad hominems.

Anybody who does that clearly can't be morally superior--regardless of whether they eat meat or not. But I digress.

The problem with the second part of the argument, the moral part, is that he has anthropromorphized animals and turned them into humans, by designating them as the "other." A term usually used to describe other humans. More specifically, other thinking minds. And I can see how the term might be applied to other sentient beings, but veganism extends itself just beyond the concern of sentient things but all living things--even things which clearly lack sentience, such as eggs and jellfish. 

So only by forcing an uncomfortable anthropomorphism does he get the moral argument to extend to all living creatures. What he problematically defines as the "other."

How do we know it's an anthropomorphism and not just a bad analogy? Well, people steal. A lion hunting down a gazelle is merely having dinner. The lion hasn't stolen anything. Only people steal, because we've developed the concept of theft, or moral laws, and of social justice--and stealing has been deemed a crime by humans for humans. 

So to say we are "stealing" something of the "other" who is the animal, is to assume animals have the same rights, legal and otherwise, as humans. And this clearly is an anthropromorphic way of looking at the world. I'm not saying it's wrong. But it's not clear to me that all moral considerations, or legal ones for that matter, would simply carry over to all sentient animals equally. The reason is that even human laws, moral and otherwise, are always changing. They are different among different cultures. In Iran, for example, they will cut off a thief's fingers. In other parts of the world, such a practice is deemed barbaric. If the lion "steals" the meat of the gazelle, should we cut off its paws? This is the problem which arises out of anthropromorphizing animals and holding them on the equal plane as humans. Just a fair warning to any lions visiting Iran, don't steal the flesh of the other!

My point is, the moral argument is obviously complicated. But one of the questions he raises is whether or not eating meat, or more specifically killing animals for meat, is bad. Let's think about that for a moment without anthropromophizing anything. 

If we are to assume that we are like any other animal, then no. Clearly, if a lion eats meat, and a human eats meat, it amounts to the same thing. But most vegans do not say this. They say humans, being sentient, moral, creatures must be held to a higher standard.

Well, this may be so. It's an assumption. I am inclined to agree. But the question becomes, who sets the bar? Humanity as a whole? Only the best moral thinkers? Philosophers of ethics? Political scientists? Vegans? It's hard to pin down. 

What we all want is a better world in which undue suffering can be limited, reduced, perhaps even done away with altogether. Does this include all sentient living things? The vegan holds that it is so.

In this regard, eating meat would add to the undue suffering of animals. But don't other sentient animals eat the meat of animals? Yes. So, in reality, it is only a moral consideration for humans, not animals.

Another thing to consider, is that there is ample genetic evidence that humans didn't begin as strictly plant eaters, as wrongly assumed by many vegans I know. Vegans are right to say our ancestors were mostly herbivores. But it's the mostly part that proves problematic. 

Marlene Zuk's excellent book Paleofantasy explores the question of whether or not we evolved to eat strictly meats or plants, or a little bit of both, by looking at the latest cutting edger research in evolutionary biology and genetics. It is well worth a read.

One thing that Zuk dispels is the idea that the Paleo diet, the high protein meat diet of our nomadic ancestors, is in anyway healthy for modern humans. It's not. But at the same time, she visits some geneticists in Sweden who have found evidence in our DNA that shows humans have been eating meat ever since we split off from the branch of our primate ancestors.

Many vegans will outright deny such claims, even if backed by the latest peer reviewed scientific studies, and they will cite a whole bunch of biased information to counter such claims, mixing their apologetics with emotional appeals and pseudoscience.

I find it ironic that many vegans will cite meat eaters as being like religious zealots, not wanting to give up eating meat, when they too make a habit of practicing the same bad apologetics as the religious. Which is why the comparison always bothers me. It's not just meat eaters who are dogmatically holding steadfast to their position, the vegans also act overly dogmatic when it comes to their own position. Either way, I feel too much dogma is a bad thing. Instead of comparing the size of our collective dogmas, we should be talking about the issues.

The bottom line is, we haven't fully evolved to eat only plants. In fact, the best evidence for this is the fact that we have the ability to taste lipids. This has lead to the realization that we have evolved to taste the fat in meats. Something which would not have occurred if we had evolved to eat only plant based foods.

Further evidence that humans have a long history of eating meat lies within the genetic markers within our DNA, in what is called meat-adaptive genes. Although it is true many of our ancestors were mainly herbivores, this isn't true of modern humans. Our genes have adapted to be able to consume meat. There is also strong fossil records to suggest human hominids have long relied on meat and bones to sustain themselves and ensure survival (also see here).

People who invest their time and energy making the moral argument from veganism would see eating meat as an evil. Not as mere biological creatures doing what comes naturally. The vegan argues eating meat isn't natural. Well, they're wrong. But their heart is in the right place.

Wanting to protect and save sentient animals from undue suffering is a noble cause. But it is also problematic.

One reason it is problematic is because humans are the only sentient creatures (we know of) who exhibit the ability to think in ethical terms. In other words, we're the only one's with a moral sense, if you will.

Why is this a problem?

Well, it's a problem because vegans are saying that animals are born with the same natural rights as humans. Including the right not to be tortured, suffer unfairly, or be murdered. But these are strictly man-made moral considerations. So the problem can be broken down further still.

1. Do animals have innate rights the same as people do, and how would we test this claim since the only rights we do know of are the one's we have created for ourselves?

2. How would we transfer human rights to animals in a way that would be meaningful to the animals and beneficial to humans? (If this could not be accomplished, then what would the purpose of imbuing animals with human rights be?)

3. The problem of evil seems to apply to the naturalistic worldview too. If humans managed to put and end to causing undue suffering to their fellow sentient creatures, this doesn't mean the creatures would necessarily stop suffering, as they would still have to contend with Mother nature and other carnivorous predators. So if animals are killed by other animals as when we kill them for food, then how does this become anything other than a human moral consideration since clearly, other animals aren't concerned with it? Is it enough to be merely a human based moral endeavor?

These are not questions any animal apart from a human being could ask. So you see, the moral argument is quite tricky. Especially when it comes to the breeding and slaughter of animals for food. 

For example, vegans say that even eating fish is bad, due to the over-fishing and poaching going on which negatively impacts the ecosystem on a global scale. But is eating all seafood bad? What about oyster farms, and shrimp hatcheries, in which hundreds of thousands of these non-sentient animals are grown for food consumption? The animals do not suffer, and it does not have any impact on the over-fishing problem. In fact, it probably helps reduce it. So is eating a fried oyster immoral too? Having another shrimp cocktail, is it bad? I don't see how the moral argument could even apply in such a case.

Now, I'm not trying to argue for either side of the debate. Whether or not you eat meat or strictly salad isn't my concern here. What I am concerned with is how we make light of the moral consideration knowing that it's not as simple has having empathy towards animals?

Perhaps, one might be inclined to argue that it is that simple. But then on what evidence can they make this claim?

One key difference worth pointing out is this. 
Trying to liberate people's minds from the shackles of religion, because in many cases religions actively seek to cause harm is an ethical form of activism which makes sense given the fact that the playing field is a moral landscape where the terms and conditions of the moral-game (you might say) are all man-made, where the main players are people, and the considerations involve only people and how their beliefs impact other people.

Eating meat isn't a belief. It's a biological remnant from our past evolutionary history. It may even turn out to be a recent development in our evolutionary history, and perhaps one which is already on the way out. But even so, how does the moral landscape change when we involve non-human entities? This is a question which needs to be addressed, because if we say all sentient animals deserve basic "human" rights, then what do we mean by sentient? Animals that can merely feel pain? That have complex nervous systems? Or animals that are aware they are suffering?

It would be a question that puts to task whether or not we could find definitive answers to these questions, and as far as I can tell, no definite answers have yet been found.

This doesn't mean my vegan friend is misguided. He can still be wrong about basic facts about biology but, perhaps, have an insight into a moral consideration we should take seriously and continue to explore.

The problem I have, is I don't like vegan's saying people are WRONG for choosing to eat meat when it's clearly not a choice. This comes off as awfully self-righteous and places a wedge between the two positions--merely because the vegan wants to use the emotional appeal as a form of moral blackmail. An empathetic person, in good conscience, would see that eating meat is clearly cruel! Well, as I have pointed out, it's not that clear cut.

What vegans should be saying--if they truly care to get a dialog going where these questions are investigated with serious consideration--is that there are better alternatives to eating meat, and here's the information I have for you. Throwing in a wedge will only prevent others from seeing it the vegan way, and then it doesn't make sense to berate them for turning away. 

Additionally, as the conversation progresses, vegans may want to develop their moral argument more thoroughly--at least so it makes enough sense to talk about. What does it mean to say a baby lamb has human rights? It's confusing, and this confusion needs to be cleared up, so the real moral questions can be addressed. As it is, it's simply not even an argument yet. It's more of an appeal. A real argument would have valid, defensible, claims. Saying all sentient animals should not have to suffer undeservedly doesn't make sense when you haven't yet defined what it meant by sentient animals nor can you explain how they are innately imbued with what seems to be only a human preoccupation.

At any rate, it's clearly an area of ethics which I think we need to think about more substantially.

Monday, July 22, 2013

How to Raise Kids as Freethinkers: Not Zombies for Jesus

A close friend of mine posted a question concerning her confusion regarding how to answer her child's astute observation and subsequent question, "Where is God?"

Here's the screen cap I took (edited to protect the identities of my friends). 

My answer began with "The truth."

My assumption is that her child is just wanting to know where God is because everyone in her community simply takes for granted the existence of God. Meanwhile, the child, unable to detect this God that everyone is so fond of paying lip service to merely asks where is this person everyone talks about, all the doo-da day long, as if he were *actually in the room with them.

Also, I was being somewhat sardonic in "the truth" being an agreement of the child's observation, there is no detectable God, so where the heck is he?


Kids aren't stupid, after all. But they can be misinformed and lied to by authority figures, and often times, their own parents.

Being a parent myself, and this being my friend, who posted her concern about how to best inform her child, on top of my being an educator, I saw a silver lining in how to perhaps introduce the novel idea of not brainwashing one's child with authoritarian professions of faith and help them on the path of thinking independently. So I continued on with my advice, writing:

Kids are extremely intuitive.

This is the moment you can teach her how to question independently or, do what most religious parents do, simply tell her what to think based on authority.

Try this: Ask her, "Where do you think he is?"

If she says he lives in our hearts, accept it as HER answer. If she says he isn't real, accept it as HER answer. If she says she doesn't know, then reassure her that it's OKAY not to know.

At least then you will be raising an independent thinking, questioning, child full of curiosity. Instead of doing what most religious parents do by telling their children what they ought to believe without so much as giving them a choice.

Anything else would simply be indoctrination. With Solara, I am constantly trying to let her question. When I can't provide information, I honestly tell her I don't know, and ask her opinion anyway!

I hope my friend takes some of my advice to heart. I'd hate for her simply to listen to the commentor after me whose brilliant advice was:

I think you did a great job telling [your daughter] about God. Also, tell her, that Jesus can live in her heart forever.

Yeah. That's not really advice. That's merely telling a person what to believe. Good job reinforcing your belief system and not allowing your child to ask questions because you feed her warm fuzzy lies instead of teaching her how to think on her own. 

Is it a wonder that religion goes after children? If an adult says "Jesus lives in your heart forever," then that child simply has to take it on faith that what they're told is true. There's no way for a child to understand what that even means let alone comprehend the theology behind it. A child can't check to see if it's true. They just get stuck having to believe it. And that's a crappy thing to do to a developing mind. Stop it dead with nonsense. At least give them the chance to question your authority!

Meanwhile, the child's original instinct to ask "Where is God?" when, in fact, she cannot see what everyone is talking about, alludes to the fact that the child's instincts are good ones. She's not mistaken.

She wants to know because she cannot find any signs or evidence for God, but people won't shut up talking about him. After a few more comments I felt I had to chime in one last time.

I'm still seeing a lot of "tell her this" and "tell her that."
How about letting her question, guiding her curiosity, and letting her have room to formulate her own beliefs, and more importantly, change those beliefs if she changes her mind.

It's the difference between educating your child an not. That's all I think I'm going to say on the subject.

With my daughter, I want her to ask questions and try to figure out the answers on her own. I'll be there to guide her. But I'm never going to tell her anything "lives inside her heart forever"... not only because it's kind of freaky and weird ... but also because it's a flat out lie.

The religious seem to be very comfortable lying to their children. I always have to stop to think about whether or not my daughter can handle the truth, and if so, whether or not the lie is even necessary. Most of the time, I want her to come to her own conclusions, so I don't even need to bother with justifying would be truths. I just let her follow her natural borne curiosity to wherever it takes her. The lie is unnecessary.

My daughter was only three when she learned about death. When we saw a dead bird, and she asked why it wasn't moving, I told her what happens to things when they die. The next day we found a dead rat. The ants were eating it. A week after that, her great grandfather died. She seemed to comprehend that when people died they no longer were in their bodies. And the body went away. She asked me where the person went to after their body disappeared, and this is a natural thing for a child to ask, and I simply said "I don't know." Because that's the truth. It's the limit of my knowledge. But I reassured her that her great grandfathers DNA live on inside her.

If my daughter one days decides she believes in God. Fine. At least I can be content knowing she reasoned her way to that conclusion, instead of just taking what others told her at face value, simply because they're bigger than she is and ought to know better.

Clearly, the sad truth is, many adults don't know better. They don't know because no one ever taught them to ask questions. Scroll back up and re-read the comments. Nobody is asking questions. Nobody is thinking for themselves. They're just parroting each other's proclamations of faith. Why do they do it? Because their parents never taught them to think for themselves.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Stupid Creationist Rabbit (It's a Duck!)

Found this on Imgur, and it had me streaming with tears of laughter. It's too good not to share.

Shame on Dubai!

Dubai is an Islamic city in the United Arab Emirates and is turning out to be a rape capitol of Islam. What's truly shocking is this isn't to be totally unexpected. Islam is a belief system that seeks to dominate and control the woman. In countries that follow the Islamic Sharia laws, such as the UAE, extramarital sex is completely forbidden and an unmarried couple can be punished for kissing or even holding hands in public. Punishment generally involves imprisonment and flogging.

In Islamic governed countries double standards abound, especially where men and women are concerned, and Dubai is the perfect example of this unfair belief system being enacted as a frightening reality.

News has erupted with the unjust sentence of a 25 year old Norwegian rape victim, who has been sentenced with 14 months in prison for the crime of "being raped." Meanwhile her rapist gets off with an easy 13 months.

It says a lot about the sense of justice of your culture when the criminal gets sentenced to less time for the degrading, hateful, assault of another human being whereas the victim must suffer the agony of being blamed for another person's crime on top of the trauma already dealt.

Here's a short summary of other women who have been assaulted in Dubai (borrowed from the fine folks over at Atheist Republic).

  • In 2008, Alicia Gali, an Australian citizen in Dubai, was brutally gang-raped after being drugged. She was convicted for 12 months on charges of extramarital sex and alcohol consumption. She was pardoned after 8 months, along with the three men who were convicted for the assault.
  • In December 2012, a 28-year-old British woman in Dubai, who reported being gang raped by three men, was convicted for consuming alcohol without a license. She was subsequently fined 1,000 dirhams (approx. $257).
  • In 2010, a 23 year old British national reported being raped by a waiter in a luxury hotel in Dubai. The woman, who was inebriated, sought the help of the waiter to guide her to the ladies room, where she was allegedly raped. Her attacker denied the accusation and after questioning, the lady was arrested along with her boyfriend for having sex outside of marriage in their hotel room.
  • In 2003, a 39 year old French woman was allegedly raped by 3 men as she left a nightclub in Dubai following her birthday celebrations. The men, who were friends of the manager of the club, offered to drop her off at her hotel, which she accepted. She was then taken to an outlying area and sexually assaulted. The two of the men denied rape charges while one accepted having consensual sex. Subsequently, she was charged with being a prostitute and having "adulterous sexual relations."
Minutes after posting the Australian news program Sunday Night's documentary on Alicia Gali, with the caption "Shame on Dubai," my link was flagged as inappropriate "hate" speech.

So to whoever reported me, "Fuck you. You're filth. You're immoral garbage and you're a bigger disgrace than the rapists who harmed these women and the country that spat in their faces."

And to the UAE and Dubai.


And that's not hate speech. That's just telling it like it is.

To those Muslims who have done nothing to protest their religion's sickening practice of injustice and abuse of women. I also give you, in all fairness, a well deserved:


Apologies for the tone of the rant to my regular readers. I just cannot tolerate such level of abuse against women. As far as I'm concerned Sharia law is a crime against humanity. And I think any culture which sponsors it is sick and needs to be inoculated against. 

As always...

Live well and be wise. Also, don't travel to Dubai.


Advocatus Atheist

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Unicorns are Biblical! [Source Updated]

[It was brought to my attention that the list in this article, along with some of the phrasing, was borrowed from an article by Nathan Hoffman originally posted on Creation Today. I apologize for the unsourced nature of some of the content of the article as I borrowed it from a friend's post--with persmission--from Facebook. I do not know whether my friend copied it directly or indirectly--but things get lost in transmission. Apologies to Nathan for any confusion. Please read his informative article]

Now, a unicorn is not a real creature (obviously). This animal is totally fictitious. None of these creatures have ever walked the earth as far as we know, and no scientist has ever found a fossil of one. The only place unicorns exist are in fairy tales.

However, unicorns are mentioned in the King James version of the Bible 9 times, in 5 different books, by at least 5 different authors: by Balaam, Moses, David, Isaiah, and even God himself in the book of Job. These are the verses that mention unicorns:

  • Numbers 23:22 “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.” 
  • Numbers 24:8 “God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.” 
  • Job 39:9 “Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?” 
  • Job 39:10 “Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?” 
  • Psalms 29:6 “He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.” 
  • Psalms 92:10 “But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.” 
  • Deuteronomy 33:17 “His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” 
  • Psalms 22:21 “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.” 
  • Isaiah 34:7 “And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.”

Unicorns are not mentioned in any of the modern translations. Only in the King James version are they mentioned. Most of the modern translations say “wild ox.” Some translations even say “buffalo.”

It just goes to show that either the translation of the Bible, including the Authorized version, often touted as the most accurate of all translations, were filled with erroneous translations, or else a horribly tragic cataclysmic extinction level event cause the death of all of earth's mystical horny horses. I'll let you be the judge.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ignosticism: The Book (Upcoming)

I think you will all be pleased to lean that I am finally collecting my research and thoughts regarding ignosticism into a book.

The book takes a look at ignosticism, which is a theological position, and uses it as a strong disproof for God as well as a strong argument for atheism.

Some have suggested that ignosticism is different than atheism and agnosticism in that it doesn't consider the question "Does God exist?" relevant, whereas atheism and agnosticism do.

As an ignostic-atheist, I have to say that ignosticism is a very powerful argument. Its premise is simple. Definitions of God need to be coherent. If they aren't, then they cannot be meaningful. Additionally, ignosticism holds that if the definition isn't at least falsifiable, such as saying God is "transcendent" then all you have done is define God in terms of God, which is circular reasoning, and therefore leads to an fallacy based definition of God who is transcendent because he is God, and thus the question, again, becomes meaningless. 

I hope to have the book finished and out by October.

Stay tuned for updates!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mark Twain and On the Art of Lying

Mark Twain's short "On the Decay of the Art of Lying" he tells a story about how he takes to task a morally righteous woman, who swears that she is honest and true, always, by revealing her lie about the efficacy of her child's nurse to properly care for the child. The child has since come down with a cold due to the nurse's negligence, and is in danger of catching pneumonia, thereby exposing the child is in imminent danger of serious sickness. 

This revelation causes the sanctimonious mother rushing off to rescue her child from the incompetent nurse. All turns out well in the end.

Except for the fact that, according to that devious Mark Twain, it was all just a lie. 

According to Twain, ever critical of the brutal truth, he informs, "An injurious truth has no merit over an injurious lie. Neither should ever be uttered."

But he goes on to say, "No fact is more firmly established than that lying is a necessity of our circumstances.... Judicious lying is what the world needs."

In the anecdote, Twain shows that by lying to the woman, he cleverly exposes her two faced nature, has her face the moral consequences of her own lies, and helps a child regain the long overdue affection of his real mother. Twain thus proved that a single lie could do far more good than the brutal truth of her bad parenting and poor example.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dale McGowan on How to Raise (Actual) Freethinkers

This is by far one of the most important talks on parenting you'll likely ever hear. It's about how to raise your children to be thinkers. Dale McGowan's FREEOK 2013 talk explains why religious indoctrination is damaging to children and gives examples on how to avoid stifling a child's curiosity and, instead, nurturing their natural instincts to want to search for the answers.

I highly recommend watching this video. And if you're not a parent, that's find too, many of McGowan's points about critical thinking can be applied to the self as well. Enjoy!

Help me Level Up!

My poor blog has stagnated at 99 followers (i.e., readers) for six months now. Probably due to the fact that I stopped blogging regularly, so reader interest dropped off. But still, I dream of a day of making triple digits.

I would feel so happy if I could reach 100 subscribers by the end of this month!
It's the small things in life. Right?

So, by all means, subscribe if you haven't. If you have, go out and tell a friend. We can do this.

Thanks in advance!

--Advocatus Atheist

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

When Does Rationalizing Become Self Deception?

Belief: Jesus (Christ) was a real historical figure, and I believe he existed. He is also my Lord and Savior, the redeemer of all humanity. I know it in my heart that he loves me.

Evidence: There is little in the way of trustworthy or reliable evidence to show that Jesus (Christ) existed apart from a character in a story, therefore it is not rational to believe he existed minus any evidence to support that belief. He is no more real than the legends of King Arthur or Robin Hood. I am willing to change my mind, as long as the evidence supports that consideration.

As human beings with thinking minds, we prescribe to a variety of sets of beliefs. Some of these beliefs are good beliefs (by good I mean justifiable) and some of these beliefs are bad ones (meaning probably invalid).

My brother in blog Mike D. over at the A-Unicornist once informed me that the reason Christians often make really bad arguments is because they believe things for bad reasons. When these reasons spark a modicum of cognitive dissonance they retreat to the acrobatics of rationalizing ways to keep believing despite their growing discomfort with the very beliefs they profess to hold as revealed truths.

Psychological studies have shown that the more our core beliefs are threatened the more likely we are to hold onto them even more vigorously. This is just a mental safety mechanism innate to all humans, because we cannot constantly readjust our worldviews every two seconds because it would be too taxing on our already limited mental energy and resources. Thus we create sets of biases. And this allows us to hold both good and bad beliefs simultaneously.

One of the things I have struggled with after my lapse of faith is the amount of time and energy it takes to cultivate good critical thinking skills. Critical thinking, and being skeptical, doesn't come easily. In fact, it's a very unnatural process because, in essence, we are working against our own psychology by trying to overcome the limitations of the mind-architecture evolution has dealt us. 

But the question that keeps coming to my mind is, when does a rationalization simply become little more than a lie?

In a way, all rationalizations are a type of lie. When something doesn't quite make sense, but our intuition tells us it should, we often find ourselves rationalizing things away to feel comfortable with the beliefs we currently hold.

He couldn't possibly have cheated on me. After all, he tells me he loves me every day and gives me a kiss before he heads off work. The perfume I smelled on his clothes must simply be a fluke. My birthday is coming up, maybe he went to the department store to buy me perfume and some sexy lingerie and accidentally got spritzed?

Such a rationalization seems normal. After all, even though we all assume the worst, it would be irrational to act on assumptions minus any additional evidence. Indeed, the rationalization may even be accurate. As in the example, the husband may have simply been in the department store picking out a gift for his wife, and tried on a new cologne or accidentally got spritzed as he passed through a haze of lingering perfume.

But what if a week later...

The lipstick I found on his collar makes me suspicious, sure. But he took me out to a very romantic dinner for my birthday and we had the best discussion we've ever had. He obviously still loves me. 

Now it's harder to tell what is going on, as the new information seems to start to paint a picture of a secret, behind the scenes, love affair. Still, it could simply be a mistake. But now there is a little bit more "damning evidence" as they say. 

Now the wife could do one of two things. She could continue to rationalize away her growing cognitive dissonance with the belief that her husband's fidelity, or she could investigate the incident and interrogate her husband. If she caught him telling a bald faced lie, or if she found further damning evidence, my question comes to bare. At what point is the wife simply lying to herself to salvage an already failed marriage?

In the past religious believes had every excuse to rationalize. There simply wasn't any reliable wealth of information to fall back on to search for answers. Nowadays this excuse doesn't hold. In the age of the Internet it is nearly impossible to believe in things for bad reasons. If your reasons are bad, surely someone will point it out to you, after which it is only a matter of fact checking. Go online, Google it, and see what the controversy is, and more importantly, see if your rationalization continues to hold up against the available evidence.

I would argue that in most cases the evidence for things like the existence of the Christian God, of Jesus Christ's historicity, and on the reliability of the Bible as the Word of God simply do not match up with the facts. 

But what I see happening is that many believers find themselves in the position of having to rationalize away the ever growing cognitive dissonance. It also accounts for why non-belief, and atheism, also known as "the nones" is the fastest growing "religious" demographic.

People have easy access to the Internet, Wiki resources, and online libraries. There simply are less excuses to rationalize away the discomfort when a little fact checking will go such a long way.

It boils down to this. How long will the religious continue to base their beliefs on bad reasons when the information to adjust those beliefs is readily available, and like the woman in the infidelity example, at what point does the person of faith come to terms with the fact that they are simply lying to themselves?

Of course, I can't come down too hard on religious people as a whole, because I used to be one. Asking the hard questions and going out and fact checking isn't easy. It's harder still to become good at critical thinking. But that said, I am a perfect example of the very thing I am talking about. I used to belief, unquestioningly, the tenets of Christianity. But then I went to college. Learned to critically assess information. I took this skill and honed it. Now I apply critical thinking to every aspect of my life (or at least I try too, sometimes with success). 

Over time I grew so uncomfortable with my quaint rationalizations and how the facts never quite seemed to line up exactly with my prescribed to beliefs (even though they should have if my beliefs were in anyway sound) that I eventually had to change my mind about what I thought I knew. Once my rationalizations that, like scaffolding, supported my beliefs collapsed, my beliefs collapsed alone with it. At least, the bad ones fell away. Which, although traumatic, left me with a better set of core beliefs to start building a sturdier belief system upon.

As I gained new sets of beliefs, I was able to avoid the mistakes I made the first time around, and feel that I have found a way to comfortable evaluate my beliefs so that I won't be in danger of a massive collapse as before. Yet believe me when I say the process is far from over. I continually find myself re-evaluating my beliefs because I am continually in the process of assessing them in light of better, more up to date, information.

I think it is fair to assume most people are equally as capable. I certainly want to give others the benefit of the doubt, but I still have to wonder, if you are faced with the realization that your very rationalizations don't seem to be strengthening your confidence in your deepest felt convictions, then shouldn't it be time you paused to look and see whether or not you're simply engaged in an intricate act of rationalization and self-deception?

Rationalizations are simply sophisticated forms of excuses. If you find yourself making excuses for why you believe something instead of relying upon well drafted *arguments, then perhaps your beliefs are unsupported. Now I can't speak for anyone else, but for me that would be a strong indicator that it was time to re-evaluate my beliefs.

*[Note: I realize arguments can be used to rationalize away cognitive dissonance as well. What I am referring to here is the process of formulating an argument, verses simply parroting one. It seems to me that those who attempt to argue a case by constructing a formal argument themselves are often more apt to try and find evidence to support their arguments. Those who simply parrot rehearsed arguments are, in fact, practicing a form of apologetics that allows them to dismiss the responsibility of identifying and evaluating the evidence for themselves. Apologetics is, for this reason, a masturbatory practice of rationalization without critical evaluation.

It goes without saying, good critical thinking requires one to be capable of constructing a defensible argument, which consequently puts the burden on them to defend and support their premise(s), instead of just repeating what someone else has said because it already comports to their preconceived conceptualizations and beliefs. Understandably, however, many people simply have not had the luxury of learning how to construct a formal argument. If you would like to learn to defend your position and beliefs via sound argumentation, there is an excellent section on how to write formal arguments in The Norton Field Guide to Writing. It also has a good chapter on how to identify fallacies and avoid using them in your own writing/thinking. The second edition also has a grammar/composition guide in the back indexes to assist you when writing--something I find highly valuable as a quick reference guide for my own writing.]

Quote of the Day: Matt Dillahunty

Matt Dillahunty has quipped, and I am paraphrasing (from his interview on the Thinking Atheist):
"Theology is something apologists do to make themselves feel smarter than they really are." 

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist