Archive for November, 2009

Mahered and Feathered

November 19, 2009

In a shocking move, Bill Maher has done a near 180 on his vaccine position. This comes hot on the heels of his recent angry rant about getting flack over his opinions, controversial to some, incoherently false to others, regarding vaccinations.

“Like I pointed out on my show, I’ve read Microbe Hunters when I was eight. But then I realized — I had read practically nothing about it since then. I’d mostly been listening to a bunch of alternative medicine people, and none of them even liked Microbe Hunters.” began Maher, during a recent fictional lunch discussion with me.

Maher, being very smart, and not one to be suckered like the countless masses of people who do not watch his show, realized it was too late and he himself had, himself, gotten himself infected with the big Pharma’s latest disease – anti-vaccinationism.

“It came as a total shock to me one night”, Maher continued, “not like the kind of shock of like, that first coffee enema to remove the festering toxins, but, you know electric acupuncture? Like twice that. I was thinking about some of the things I said a while ago”, said Maher, citing some various, recent, beatings showered upon him on the internet, and his own show. “And I hadn’t really thought about all the things, I had actually said, were all out there – on the internet – and people just kept linking me back to my own stuff over and over and over. At the same time, I keep getting these emails, lots of them, about the “millions and millions” of lives saved by vaccines. And that’s when it hit me.”

Maher is not afraid to take anti-authority stances. He is known for being willing to deny the whole of western medicine as a scare tactic. With his new revelation idea conspiracytheory in the works, he was going to have to go once step further. He was going to need to take an anti-authority stance — with the anti-authorities.

“These weren’t your run of the mill ‘Ph.D.’ doctors we’re talking about”, Maher explains. “They were directly opposite of that, if not more so. I had just assumed because they were opposite, they were equal. But it went much further than that.”

Maher had found that night, with his own mind, the root of the entire system. “It was those millions and millions”, Maher continued, mimicking Carl Sagan’s memorable “billions and billions” quote. “Who had the most to benefit from all those people living long lives? It was obvious : Big Pharma itself”.

“I’m just asking questions here”, Maher warned. “But it looks like the medical community is secretly using dirty tricks, like these anti-vaccine cranks, to finally do away with their biggest, most arrogant mistake. Vaccines. By getting rid of all these diseases, western medicine is robbing itself of untold profits. They regret cranking out healthy kids, many with near disease free childhoods. The hospital industry has been hankering to undo the money lost ever since the CDC was formed, to rid the United States of malaria.”

“A flu shot is the worst thing you can do!” Maher exclaims angrily. “A flu shot just compromises your immune system! I said those things, on TV. How many people were tricked because I myself was tricked. I checked the evidence, it’s overwhelming how much there is, for vaccines. And now they just want to use these Wakefield charlatans to scare people off vaccines, to line their pockets again. It never ends, does it?”

When asked about his new position, Maher was cautionary about how solidly he stood. “You never really can be sure”, he explained. “My change isn’t a near 180. It’s more like a near 540. And I’m ready to do another anytime, when it comes to medicine.”

Ruse the day

November 11, 2009

Philosopher Michael Ruse has recently put up an essay about the newest new atheism news: The Schism. Or as PZ Myers has described it Deep Rifts, DEEP RIFTS! that are rending the frail alliance of non-accomodationalist new atheists and the old republic of old accomdationalist atheist vangaurd! The drama! I can’t wait to hear of the latest encyclical from the pope his most rationalist Dawkins Darwin the Fifth on the dogmatic neccesity of philosophical naturalism and its twin sister the materialist evolutionism-ist neodawinianism-ist humanist secularism.

Anyway, Ruse says,

As a professional philosopher my first question naturally is: “What or who is an atheist?” If you mean someone who absolutely and utterly does not believe there is any God or meaning then I doubt there are many in this group. Richard Dawkins denies being such a person. If you mean someone who agrees that logically there could be a god, but who doesn’t think that the logical possibility is terribly likely, or at least not something that should keep us awake at night, then I guess a lot of us are atheists.

Seriously? His first question as a professional philosopher naturally is about who counts as an atheist? What a waste. Maybe he just means on this particular topic. Sure, in a certain sense, you can only be agnostic as to whether gods exist because, Jesus Christ could come back tomorrow (or some Other , Thing…)
and strike all his believers dead rapture them to heaven, forcing a reconsideration of a few points of view.

Atheists are even more complex than a these-and-those situation. “We”, as Ruse doesn’t seem to realize, form a continuum of different beliefs, just like any other group of people you might care to imagine in your granfalloon.

Moving on,

But there is certainly a split, a schism, in our ranks. I am not whining (in fact I am rather proud) when I point out that a rather loud group of my fellow atheists, generally today known as the “new atheists”, loathe and detest my thinking. …

and then he goes on to detail all the proud detestation he has earned, at length. Its a shame all Ruse got out of PZ’s response was “clueless and gobshite“.

I have had first hand experience with Michael Ruse. Both I and slightlyharmless were at the CFI World Congress in Bethesda, MD, where Ruse made the argument that, as he later states in this essay,

If, as the new atheists think, Darwinian evolutionary biology is incompatible with Christianity, then will they give me a good argument as to why the science should be taught in schools if it implies the falsity of religion? The first amendment to the constitution of the United States of America separates church and state. Why are their beliefs exempt?

Really. He makes this argument (At Bethesda it was phrased a bit different, the content was the same). As if somehow beliefs derived from the bible are on par with hard earned science. So apparently, if a well meaning parent feeds a child bullshit, we “atheists” are to blame for science teachers contradicting the bullshit put there. This IS America, after all. Just because it’s factually wrong doesn’t mean you can’t make your kids believe it. Ruse treats creationism leading to kids being christians, and evolution leading kids to being atheists sitting on exactly the same grounds.

Its insane. Even putting aside whatever crap someone put in a child’s mind, shouldn’t any kind of real education change a child’s beliefs about the world? Any deep understanding of the sciences (or history, languages, art, literature, etc) *should* change how you view the world, because it makes you think in new, different ways.

Ruse does have the drop on me though. I didn’t know that, as a “new” atheist, “that all religion is necessarily evil and corrupting”. I had previously thought that religions in general were full of good people because churches attracted a certain kind of them, but now I will dogmatically adopt the latest decree from the lords of new atheism. I hope they tell me to think for myself soon.

Ruse asks “us”, “how dare we be so condescending?” Oh, “we” new atheists, if we could just stop being such jerks! How dare we talk about the cause or contributing factor to many problems. Tough questions! The hard, varsity level ones like “should people be treated equally under the law?”. I’d say yes, but as Maine shows, religions can be part of the problem.

I’ve started re-reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and this part

But to tear down a factory of revolt against a government … because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. pg 88

The “new” atheist movement has a lot to do with religion. Mostly, against it. Some people just want religiously motived (or funded) groups to stop attacking the separation of state and church, and keep the god nonsense away from politics. Others would arrest all clergy for fraud. If the approach Ruse favors could work, it would have by now, and there would be no need for the entire “movement”, because we would all have moved on to moon bases, and free oral sex for everyone, and ending hunger and disease and overpopulation and all those other real problems, real people have, in this world, now.

It seems to come down to one main point Ruse seems to have for us: just shut up already.

Oral from the masters of aural

November 4, 2009

Bats are amazing. Using echolocation, they can catch insects in the darkest skies, or swoop down and fly over a pond set up by a photographer to take awsome pictures of them. They navigate in huge masses around caves, tuning out the cacophony of sounds emitted by thousands of other bats around them. Some drink blood. They can hover, do precise landings, and some of them can even run.

All the flying, echolocation, vampirism, and eating insects, may leave you thinking we have almost no good way to relate with our flying cousins. You would be wrong! What’s something most all humans (and those horndog bonobos) love? You guessed it, Oral Sex. To the Bat-J!

But this just raises so many questions. If 70% of females do it, and it improves chances for reproduction, are they the only ones that do it? Homosexuality exists in many animals studied, and bats may be no exception. Maybe they fill in for the 30% of females who don’t do like oral. So even bats could have “the trade” going on in those massive cave roosts.

Even more interesting than that: Are bats better at it than us? Think about it, we thought we were the best at it, but that was ’cause we just thought we were the only ones that did it. And of course we’re better at than those bonobos, we win almost every ape contest hands down, except for brute strength and having a tail. Bats though? Bats have been around a lot longer than we have, about 50 million years. That’s a lot longer than we have been around, even generalizing to the homo genus, which gives us around two million years.

The oral sex of millions of years ago was no doubt primitive to the oral sex we modern mammals are enjoying, but bats have been doing it for roughly 25 times as long (or at least could, who knows if the earliest ones did, lets just assume they figured out it was great pretty quick). Twenty five times the time for generations and generations of bats expertly licking penises. The mind reels.

Atheism with Stealth, part 2

November 4, 2009

In the second part of Atheism as a Stealth religion, Johnson takes up the unfortunate task of responding to the many wildly off-base comments that pop up, on most all lively internet discussions. Most of it is entirely beside the point, or re-explaining things for people who have trouble reading.

There are a few things worth commenting on, though:

Is the New Atheism a movement? Some readers objected to having atheism called a movement with designated leaders. For them, atheism is just a bunch of independent thinkers who refuse to be herded. That might be true for atheism as a whole, but can there be any doubt that authors such as Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Sam Harris are trying to start a movement?

If New Atheism a movement, its a granfalloon. The only thing that seems separates “new” atheists from the “old” atheists is the gall some have to actually say something once in a while. The horror.

I am sometimes chided for criticizing the books of the New Atheists as if they were scientific tomes, when in fact they are designed to attract the attention of the general public in the crowded cultural marketplace. … If the new atheists are not basing their claims about religion on the best that science has to offer, then they are part of the problem. My complaint about the New Atheism is that it is based on bad science

Criticism is a good thing, especially when it is pointed and insightful, or points out a weakness in an argument. Shitty criticism earns replies of its own. I’ll have to look up Johnson’s reviews of the books of “new” atheists, but I’m gonna stop if I read the word “shrill” about the God Delusion.

But new atheists not basing their claims of religion on the best science has to offer? Say what now? Isn’t it alright to criticize religion whenever it sucks? Hardly week goes by without me coming across some terrible story popping up which was enabled, fueled by, the product of, made much worse by, or could only arise in conditions created by — religion. You don’t need top science to point that out.

Atheism based on bad science? This is a strange idea. Not a whole lot actually flows from not believing in god, except that there….aren’t gods (Penn Jilette does a “This I Believe” that has a good take on moving past that simple fact). You don’t need science for that. It does help that, whenever religion has made claims about the universe, science eventually proves it wrong.

So atheism, that is new atheism, is based on bad science, which makes it a bad kind of atheism – atheism that is a religion (of loudly criticizing religions….) based on bad science. Well then. At least if that was true, new atheism would still be ahead of the old desert dogmas, which aren’t based on science at all.

It seems like Johnson’s definition of “stealth religion” is simply too broad (even though Johnson does explain that the definition was clear, because it’s written right there. See it? Clearly says, it clearly says clearly).

stealth religion as any belief system that distorts the facts of the real world … for the purpose of motivating a given suite of behaviors

This definition is given for the purpose of including all belief systems that distort reality in the discussion. But then are we going to say all belief systems that distort reality are religions? Does that mean religion is essentially distortion?

This definition could include so many non-supernatural twistings of reality. Is White Supremacy a stealth religion? What about plain ole sexism? Some people have elaborately constructed systems of the many ways women are inferior to, and less valuable than, men. Does that count? What about people who think gays are inhuman? Both these things are often given the full backing of supernatural belief systems, but they are only divine fuel to the fire. A “new” atheist can still be a sexist, racist, homophobic asshole, and none of those stealth religions will conflict with his or her disbelief in the supernatural.

This brings me back to the whole “new” atheism problem. You can call the writers of a few books that struck a chord with people a few years back as the leaders of movement, but it seems like an attempt to dismiss the unexpected response they got. Books about god not existing? You don’t say! At least no one will read them, pray tell.

I could be wrong, but much of the criticism of “new” atheists seems to be saying, one way or another, to shut up. I hope this is all not some long winded way of doing that.

But! All that said, there are still five parts to go, so hopefully there is some good stuff ahead, now that some of the stupidity has been addressed.