Thursday, June 30, 2011

Confirmation Bias and the Backfire Effect

A few days ago Alternet published an article entitled "Why Do People Believe Stupid Stuff, Even When They're Confronted With the Truth?"  The article contains information about two phenomena that all non-believers must understand if they are to engage with believers. 

I have mentioned many times before that one should never expect to actually de-convert a believer.  One must wait for the believer, in most cases, to decide that it was his idea to stop believing.  The believer has to feel that his ego is intact.  If you "win" the debate, it will have the opposite effect.  His ego will feel threatened, and he will dig in his heels all the more.

The article I mentioned discussed this phenomenon in the context of presenting someone with evidence that contradicts one of his beliefs (regardless of whether the belief is about religion).  Numerous studies have shown that this contradictory evidence merely causes the believer to believe in his convictions more strongly than before.  This phenomenon has been named the "backfire effect" because the presentation of contradictory evidence usually backfires.

The backfire effect is the primary focus of the article, but it also mentions another well known phenomenon that has been established by numerous studies:  Confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias is the well-known tendency for most people to seek out and believe information that confirms their beliefs--even if it is of doubtful veracity.

Both of these tendencies are very much ego-driven.  They occur because the person exhibiting them feels an emotional need to protect his or her ego from the possibility that he or she could have been wrong about something.  Thus, the greater the other evidence for the egotism and narcissism of the believer, the more likely he or she will be to exhibit these tendencies.

These two tendencies, in addition to various social pressures, will make it very difficult to get through to a believer--especially someone who has reached adulthood and still believes.  Keep them in mind when discussing religion with a believer.  Toss in your thought barbs and walk away--no matter what they say or how tempted you are to respond.  Patience is more than a virtue, it is a necessity.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Religion and Racism II

A month ago I posted some thoughts on the links and parallels between religion and racism.  I recently came across a bit of evidence that I think sheds some light on this issue.

Here are links to the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the Confederate States of America.  If you compare them, you will find some interesting differences, as well as a number of similarities.

One of the most telling differences occurs in their respective preambles.  The United States Constitution's preamble is as follows:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The Confederate States Constitution's preamble is slightly different:

"We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity — invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God — do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America."  [Emphasis added.]

Two things immediately jump out at the reader.  First, the emphasis on states rights in the preamble to the Confederate Constitution.  Second, and more important to my point, is the explicit statement of religiosity, which is conspicuously absent from the entire United States Constitution.

Do not be fooled by the reference to states rights in the Confederate preamble.  The drafters were clearly re-writing the United States Constitution from their own perspective and found the emphasis on federalism implicit in the "more perfect Union" phrase objectionable.  Many modern historical revisionists wish to convince people that the secession of the Confederate states and the Civil War were motivated by states' rights rather than slavery.  Their efforts, however, ignore the obvious question:  States' rights to do what, exactly?  The answer, of course, was the right to continue the practice of slavery in spite of what those in the rest of the United States thought of the practice.

Indeed, when one turns to the Bill of Rights in the Confederate Constitution, one finds explicit and strong evidence of the importance of slavery and the economic system is sustained.  The Confederate Constitution included its bill of rights in the actual document rather than in amendments, but the very first item on the list was a ban on the importation of new slaves from outside the Confederate or United States.  This may seem odd given the Confederate states' support of slavery until one remembers that importing new slaves would lower the value of those already present.  Seen in that light, the provision is clearly meant to protect the economic interests of slaveholders.

What we know as the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution doesn't appear in the Confederate bill of rights until item number 12, but it is identical in wording.  The first 10 items in the Confederate bill of rights, however, all relate to slaves, slaves as property, and money (with the exception of the third, which deals with the writ of habeas corpus).  These items and their importance to the Confederate cause are thus made clear by their primacy in the list.

In other respects, the Confederate Constitution mirrors, more or less, the United States Constitution on religious matters.  There is a provision stating that no religious test shall be required for office holders.  The date of adoption doesn't say "in the year of our Lord", but this appears to be a scrivener's error because that phrase is used previously in the document when mentioning a specific date for the Confederate post office to become self-sufficient.

Given that the Confederate Constitution was adopted on March 11, 1861, less than three months after the first state, South Carolina, seceded from the Union, and given that much of the document was obviously copied from the United States Constitution, one can conclude that the secular provisions were not necessarily indicative of the character of those who put together the draft document.  The character of those drafting the Confederate Constitution can be discerned by the changes they chose to make, such as the invocation to god in the preamble.

The character of those in the Confederate states was clear then, racist and religious, and is clearly still the same even now as the most religious states today are also the same ones that were members of the confederacy--or wanted to be, in the case of Kentucky.  They are also the most racist.  I do not think this is a coincidence.

Religion and Racism

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Abortion II

A few days ago I published a post on abortion, in which I tried to get the basics of the issues surrounding abortion into a single post--virtually an impossible task.  I think it is time to tie the abortion issue more closely into a recurring theme on this blog:  Religion is a form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder in which the religious are trapped in the infantile state that Freud named "anal retentive".  Wikipedia describes this as follows:

"In the psychology of Freud, the anal stage is said to follow the oral stage of infant or early-childhood development. This is a time when an infant's attention moves from oral stimulation to anal stimulation (usually the bowels but occasionally the bladder), usually synchronous with learning to control his or her excretory functions, a time of toilet training. Freud theorized that children who experience conflicts during this period of time may develop 'anal' personality traits, namely those associated with a child's efforts at excretory control: orderliness, stubbornness, a compulsion for control."

Those stuck in this stage are very concerned with making sure that they always appear to be "good" and that the authority figures view them in a favorable light.  Another name for this particular type of narcissism is authoritarianism.

I think one of the best places to start making this connection clear is a recent article in RH Reality Check:  The Authoritarian Agenda Behind Attacks on Contraception.  The article was prompted by the reaction of male writers to a study showing that contraceptive use by Catholic women was nearly identical with that of women from other religions.

The author of that article, Amanda Marcotte, makes a very good case for her point that those who attack contraceptive use have an authoritarian agenda that has little to do with making anyone's life better--except perhaps for those few males who intend to be in authority.  She sees the agenda as inherently misogynistic.  I think, however, that she is giving them credit for more self-awareness, deviousness, and intelligence than they actually possess.

The opponents of birth control seem to be driven by an emotional belief that authoritarianism is a good thing in and of itself--the anal retentive fixation as a worldview.  In this case, the burden of the strictures they wish to impose on others just happens to fall primarily on women.  Of course, that fact combined with the fact that most of the leaders of the movement are male indicate that she is not completely wrong.  There is, undoubtedly, an implicit assumption that women should do as these men say, but I think that is as much or more a symptom of their narcissism as any explicit hatred of women.

I think the quotations she uses make clear that the motivations of the anti-contraceptive forces are indeed authoritarian.  The religious authors she quotes were clearly very concerned (to the point of obsession) with how female disobedience on contraception within their church made them appear to others.  This is a classic concern of the narcissistic obsession of "looking good".  In addition, there is more than a hint of sado-masochism in the implicit assumption that self-denial and suffering are good in and of themselves.  Just what one would expect from adults stuck in an anal retentive stage of development.

I highly recommend reading her article.  It is linked above.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Geert Wilders on Islam

Yesterday, Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician was acquitted on a charge of hate speech for criticizing Islam.  The charges apparently stemmed from comments he made comparing Islam to Nazism, as well as a film he made, entitled Fitna ("Discord" in Arabic) in which he interspersed images from the 9/11 attacks with verses of the Koran that arguably justified them.  Mr. Wilders rightly called his acquittal a victory for freedom of speech.

On his website, he publishes a Message to Muslims that is a must read for everyone, Muslim or not.

Bias Against Non-believers III

A recent poll concerning politics in the U.S. reveals that the percentage of the population with negative attitudes toward atheists have not changed recently in spite of an increase in the percentage of atheists in the population.  Fully 61% of the population would be less likely to support a candidate for public office who did not believe in god, which is little changed from four years ago.

My previous posts on this subject emphasized the extent to which discrimination against non-believers is pervasive and reflexive--that is to say, literally thoughtless.  Many times the person doing the discriminating is not really aware of what he or she is doing--or of the full implications of their actions.  Being the kind of people who choose their "facts" based on how they feel about them, they often fully believe the rationalization of their actions that springs forth from their inveterate bigotry.

What I did not mention in those posts, but did allude to in my posts on theocracy and the threat thereof, is the extent to which this discrimination is practiced consciously as part of a political movement.  Time and again I have witnessed and heard of religious people given preferential treatment simply because they were religious.  I have seen teachers and co-workers hired or promoted into jobs they did not deserve simply because they were of the right religion.  I have seen others, including myself, attacked, marginalized, mobbed, forced out of schools, jobs, careers because they did not toe the line.

A recent article by a former member of the theocracy movement confirms what I have warned about.  There is an active movement in the U.S. dedicated to seizing political control of the country.  Their methods include conscious acts of discrimination and the misuse of the rules of law to cover up those acts.

Bias Against Non-believers

Bias Against Non-believers II

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Abortion is so controversial that there is little point in trying to discuss it with those who oppose it.  I can attest from personal experience that it is a very bad idea even to broach the subject or respond if someone else does.  Nothing will enrage the religious more quickly and put a bigger bulls-eye on your back than letting an anti-choice religious fanatic know that you support liberal abortion laws.  This is an area where their desire to kill us non-believers is not only still stated openly but has been acted upon regularly.

Thus, my usual advice should be altered with a special note of caution:  On most issues, I would say don't expect to win and just to have a few bon mots ready to drop in as "thought barbs" and then walk away.  In the case of abortion, non-believers in many cases are better off not commenting.  If you do, it is probably best to limit yourself to only one comment.  Choose the thought barb you think is best and use it as your single comment--if you say anything at all.  As is the case with creationism, there is little point in discussing this issue at all with religious fanatics.

For many of them, abortion seems to have become an obsession.  They claim that they feel this way because they think abortion is tantamount to murder and therefore a violation of god's moral directives.

I think abortion is, however, an example of another of the levers of thought control.  Religion is using it to play on emotions and human nature in order to control what people think and do.  I think it is being used both to control and motivate religious voters and as part of the campaign to breed particular religions (and, most importantly, their leaders) into power.  I think it's also a ploy to regain the high moral ground lost by complicity in the Holocaust and innumerable cases of child molestation. As I pointed out before, religion is driven by the quest for social status and the loss of social status from these scandals required a response of some sort.  The anti-abortion movement is part of that response. 

Although there are undoubtedly other reasons for opposing abortion, a cynical observer, jaded by too many observations of religious dishonesty and hypocrisy, can't help but notice that the issue has the effect of causing religious people to become willing to sacrifice even their own self-interest in order to "save babies".  Thus, it appears that the practical effect of this stance is to use the instinctual desire to protect the young and helpless to motivate religious people to vote and behave blindly in a way that advances the agenda of the clergy and others who benefit from the spread of religion and its power.

Most people don't realize that this vehement religious opposition to abortion is a relatively new phenomenon.

Although there have been theologians over the centuries who opposed it, there was hardly a consensus.  For most of the history of Christianity, abortion was a non-issue.  The protestants began to become obsessed with it less than a generation ago.  Indeed, it became an issue for protestants only within my living memory.  Even the Catholic Church, famous for its opposition to abortion, changed its position on the issue and only became truly adamant about the issue in the last century or so--right around the time the Church decided to declare the Pope to be infallible, which explains a great deal as I discuss below.

There are several very interesting points to be made here.  The first is that there is absolutely no support for this position in the bible.  In fact, it seems to indicate an opposing viewpoint among its authors--who were not unaware of the practice.

(You remember the bible?  That ancient book that the religious say must be followed strictly--except when it shouldn't because modern standards of civility and morality would be violated).

The ten commandments do forbid murder, but other parts of the bible show god actually ordering or even carrying out murder.  In fact, according to the bible, sometimes god killed children and babies without any excuse that a civilized person would consider acceptable.  Thus, it can be stated with certainty that when the ten commandments forbid murder, the intention wasn't to forbid all killing--not even the killing of children and babies.

Furthermore, it is clear that the authors of the Bible considered the killing of a fetus to be a lesser offense than the killing of a living person after his or her birth.  In other words, the bible clearly does not treat abortion as murder.

The closest the bible comes to addressing the question is in Exodus 21 where it provides for the punishment for causing a miscarriage during a fight.  The punishment is monetary compensation.  The punishment for actually killing a person already born is death for intentional killing or exile for unintentional killing.  Further on in the same Chapter of Exodus, there is a provision for accidentally killing another person's ox and the punishment is, again, monetary compensation.  Just as in the case of killing an unborn fetus.  Thus, the bible itself implicitly holds that an unborn fetus is not a human being, as indeed was the opinion of virtually everyone until recently.

Given the complete lack of biblical support for the anti-abortion position, one has to wonder what is driving this hyper-emotional obsession of the religious.

The motives of abortion foes come into question when one realizes that those who oppose abortion usually have other beliefs and engage in behaviors that belie their opposition and their stated reasons for it.  The opposition to other forms of birth control, the lack of efforts to prevent easily preventable deaths of children already born, the lack of concern for children who are victimized by clergy, and the lack of efforts to prevent miscarriages all indicate that the religious do not really care about the children. 

They are motivated by a confluence of other factors, such as their twisted thinking about sex, their confusion between authoritarianism and morality, their need to rehabilitate the moral authority of their religion after recent scandals such as the holocaust, and their simple inability to do anything that looks or sounds like an admission of error (classic symptom of narcissistic personality disorder).

The opponents of abortion are usually also opposed to other forms of birth control.  Anyone who is opposed to abortion on the grounds that it is tantamount to murder should be very much in favor of birth control methods that prevent conception in the first place.  Use of such methods has been shown repeatedly to reduce the number of abortions.  Abortion opponents will argue to the contrary and will actually say that birth control leads to more abortions.  Anyone who says such a thing is the intellectual equivalent of a creationist--and a lunatic.

Here is a quotation from the report linked above regarding the effects of legal restrictions on abortion:

Just as the data show that women have abortions despite restrictive laws, they also indicate that women do not have abortions because of liberal ones. Some of the world's lowest abortion rates are in western European countries, where abortion is not only legal but also covered as a standard service by national health insurance systems: For example, the abortion rate in Germany is less than one-quarter that in Columbia, and the rate in the Netherlands is some six times lower than the rate in the Dominican Republic.

The fact that the anti-abortion advocates oppose such methods proves that they are not, in fact, motivated by a concern for the life of the fetus.  It reveals that they are motivated, at least in part, by a perverse desire to prevent people from having sex.  If one searches for religious explanations of their opposition to abortion one finds numerous implicit admissions that this is so.  The explanations given for this contrary stance are filled with statements to the effect that such methods will simply encourage people to have sex.

They follow these statements up with an explanation that this will lead people to have unprotected sex eventually.  This, they say, explains why birth control is a bad thing.  The trouble is, the same point can be made even more strongly about opposition to birth control.  In societies where such people have their way, people are forced to have unprotected sex or no sex at all, with the result that such societies have noticeably higher rates of abortion.

This entire portion of their argument is implicitly based on the assumption that abstinence is the norm--or should be.  This is a ludicrous assumption.  It's absolute denial of human nature is similar to the assumption in communism that people can simply learn not to be selfish and to be completely altruistic.  "Abstinence only" birth control has been repeatedly proven to fail just as miserably as communism and for the same reason:  A complete refusal to face the facts of human nature--indeed of nature itself.

Sometimes they argue that contraceptives "routinely fail at statistically significant rates" resulting in more unwanted pregnancies.  Again this is an absurd claim because, except in the case of those new to such methods, the rate of failure is usually less than 1 or 2%, which is not statistically significant and, in any event, is far less than the failure rate of the rhythm method or using no contraceptive method at all.  There is evidence of higher failure rates and a temporary increase in abortions when a population begins to use modern birth control methods.  The religious point to this data as "proof" that birth control leads to abortions.  But, in fact, all it proves is that the population had to learn how to use the new methods after having been kept in the dark.  Inevitably, there will be human error.

The true concern of those opposed to birth control, however, is hidden in the implicit assumption that use of effective contraceptives will result in people having sex more often, which apparently is a very bad thing in the minds of those opposed to birth control.  See Chris Hedges article:  The Christian Right's Fear of Pleasure is Our Greatest Threat to Choice.  The war against abortion has nothing to do with the protection of life.  It is a war against an open society -- a cover for assaults against sexual pleasure and personal choice.  There are good reasons to be concerned about the consequences of sexual activity, but, as I pointed out in my posts on religious morality, those concerns are based on the harm that can occur from sex.  One of the biggest types of harm is unwanted pregnancies.  Remove the possibility of those and you have removed a major reason for moral strictures on sexual activity. 

Sex is a biological compulsion and can only be suppressed for a finite amount of time.  (The amount of time will differ, of course, from one person to the next.)  If you convince people that they have a moral duty to either have no sex or have unprotected sex, sooner or later they will opt for the unprotected sex.  Then they will have to make hard choices about the result.

Also, it is an unfortunate fact that this compulsion begins to manifest itself years before people are mature enough in any sense to become parents.  In the case of those who will not or cannot use contraception the unprotected sex will be chosen sooner rather than later--much too soon from the standpoint of their suitability as parents.

It is interesting to note that abortion opponents themselves often gloss over the difference between abortion and contraception, lumping them together as part of the same "attitude" and condemning contraception by association with abortion.  This view is seen clearly in Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Evangelium Vitae":

But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. . .  [S]uch practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment.

In the same encyclical the Pope also wrote:

"[Contraception] is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage."

There are two possible explanations of his meaning here.  One is that he thinks it is bad to have sex with one's spouse just for fun.  That chastity is to be practiced in marriage unless and until one is ready to "accept the result".  This is an absurd, inhuman notion.  If people aren't allowed to have sex with their spouses for enjoyment, then they are obviously never meant to enjoy it.  In that case, the position of the Church would indeed be based entirely on a extreme hostility to pleasure.

The other possible explanation of the Pope's meaning is that married couples using birth control are more likely to cheat on each other.  Again, though the focus seems to be on punishing people for having sex by making them have babies.  Personally, I think no one in his right mind would want his or her spouse to be having babies with other people and would much prefer any infidelity to be sex only.  Taking away birth control may cause a reduction in infidelity, but it won't stop it.  What it will do is create more unwanted children born into complicated situations where they will often be despised by their own family members.

This brings me to one of the most important points to be made in this discussion:  It is more immoral to bring an unwanted child into the world than it is to use birth control--far more.  I also think it is more immoral to bring an unwanted child into the world than to have an abortion.

There are two reasons for this.  First and foremost, bringing unwanted children into the world usually results in the children having very unhappy lives, which tend to be shorter as a result.  In fact, often much shorter because these children are more likely to die miserably in infancy.  Bringing an unwanted child into the world as punishment for his parents' actions results in the innocent child being punished for things he or she didn't do.

(Abortion opponents would undoubtedly say that abortion is a worse punishment--but that reasoning is based on the circular assumption that the fetus is fully human.  Another example of assuming your conclusion in order to reach it logically.  For those who base their morality on actual suffering, the termination of a pregnancy before the fetus has a central nervous system is a non-issue and is vastly preferable to bringing an unwanted child into the world.)

Second, these unwanted children are far more likely to develop anti-social tendencies and become a burden or even a danger to society.  Thus, those who have to "pay" for a sex act are not always limited to those who actually "play".  We all have a stake in this.

The same people who oppose birth control are also opposed to programs that would help these children brought, unwanted, into the world.  This indifference has been shown not only to increase the number of abortions (because the mothers have no money, jobs or mates with jobs) but also to cause the unwanted children to have miserable, short lives in which they often become criminals and damage others as well as themselves.

One of the most telling bits of evidence is the way in which religious leaders react to incidents of pedophilia in the clergy.  The Catholic Church, which has been at the forefront of the anti-abortion movement clearly places its own reputation ahead of the well being of the church's own children.   More to the point, it places its reputation ahead of even the survival of its children (given that many of the molestation victims commit suicide).  See also this excellent article by Andrew Sullivan.

As I mentioned above, this is really all about trying to prevent people from having sex and is a reflection of their twisted thinking on that subject.  With regard to that twisted thinking, see this article and this one by Andrew Sullivan, who knows a thing or two about religion's twisted views on sexuality, as well as this one by another gay man who wrestled with his religion's rejection of his sexuality.

Furthermore, if the religious were really so concerned about all these babies, then they would be undertaking great efforts to make sure that these unwanted children are cared for properly.  But, they don't do anything in that regard--in large part because they see these children as "punishment" inflicted on the parents for having sex--i.e., what they have to "pay" for "playing".  In other words, their punishment for having pleasure.

If the anti-abortion partisans truly saw every fetus as a human being, then they would also insist on many other changes in our society.  For instance, shouldn't each fetus be given a name and a "conception" certificate?  After all, if it is conception that is the crucial event and birth is simply part of the development process, why should naming and the issuance of a certificate that records the inauguration of a new human life wait for birth?

Also, if every fetus is a human being, then shouldn't every miscarriage or potential miscarriage be treated like a life and death emergency?  Shouldn't all mothers having a miscarriage or in danger of having one be rushed to the hospital?  If mothers have miscarriages as a result of taking risks during pregnancy, shouldn't there be an investigation and perhaps even criminal charges against the mother or anyone else who was a party to neglecting the "child" resulting in its death?  I am sorry to say that soon after first drafting this paragraph, I came across a news story indicating that abortion foes in the U.S. want to do exactly that:  Pregnant woman arrested for falling down stairs and admitting that she had considered abortion months prior.

Unfortunately, this insane incident shows that the anti-abortion foes are starting to truly believe in their rhetoric and apply it as a general principle--even if the result is tyrannical and abusive, as it was in that case.

Perhaps more to the point is the fact that as many as 40% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.  (That percentage is not definitive, however, because many pregnancies are never clinically recognized and recorded.)  This not only makes god, if he existed, the world's greatest abortionist, it indicates that all pregnancies should be treated as life and death situations--if one truly believes that each fetus is already a human being.

After all, if nearly half of all children died before adulthood of accidental causes, the situation would be seen as catastrophic and extreme measure would be taken to protect them.  Society would be restructured if necessary.

Well, if the abortion foes are serious about considering all fetuses to be children, then similar steps should be taken to end the incredible death rate among them.  All pregnant women would be put on bed rest (or similar measures) immediately upon discovering they're pregnant.  But, you don't hear the abortion foes even discussing this "dire" state of affairs much less proposing that something be done to stop the world's biggest abortionist:  "god".

As I hinted above, the anti-abortion partisans are motivated as much by classic narcissistic personality disorder symptoms as anything else.  Unable to face the evidence of their own moral failures, they try to cover them up by by shifting the debate and going on the attack.  Complicit in the murder of millions, they suddenly feel a very strong urge to let everyone know that they are "pro-life" and would never do anything to cause or allow the death of innocents.  This is a classic example of denial--trying to cover bad deeds with rhetoric.

In addition, the doctrine of papal infallibility--adopted in response to the loss of the papal estates and thus the Vatican's independent source of wealth--came at a time when the church had recently made clear that it opposed all forms of birth control.  That doctrine of infallibility made it impossible for the church to change its mind on that subject--as it had in the past.  To do so would be to admit that a Pope had been wrong, i.e., fallible.  That is something those with narcissistic personality disorder cannot do.  They would rather die--or kill.

Here is what will happen if abortion is made illegal in the U.S.:  Abortions will continueIn fact, we can't say for certain that the number of abortions for U.S. women would substantially decrease.  Approximately, 1.2 to 1.6 million abortions have been performed in the U.S. per year since abortion became legal.  According to the statistics from heavily catholic countries where abortion is illegal, the rate of abortion is actually higher in those countries than in many countries where abortion is legal.  Consequently, given the lack of data concerning the actual number of abortions performed before legalization, we have no way of concluding whether the total number of abortions would go up or down if similar laws are adopted in the U.S.

In fact, the data suggest that abortion rates are not determined by a country's laws regarding abortion, but by the private decisions of the individuals in those countries.  (That particular study concluded that "[a]bortion rates are no lower overall in areas where abortion is generally restricted by law (and where many abortions are performed under unsafe conditions) than in areas where abortion is legally permitted.")

Rich women will travel to places where it is legal to get abortions or else they will pay extra for high quality, safe clandestine abortions in the U.S.  Poor women will have unsafe, illegal abortions and many will die from them.  Poor women will also have more unwanted children.  They will not be able to care for those children, either emotionally or financially.  Those children will have very difficult and unpleasant lives, will die at much younger ages, and will be responsible for a huge percentage of crime--and the crime rate will go up as those children reach adolescence and adulthood.  The human population will continue to expand resulting in further overuse of resources and eventually war over scarce natural resources.

There are more than 6 billion people on the planet now and we are rapidly approaching 7 billion.  The Earth is overpopulated.  If all farmers switched to organic farming, 2 to 3 billion people would starve to death.  Many of them are starving to death even now.  Many others live in squalid, miserable conditions.  It has been proven that a good way to end poverty is to give women control over their reproduction rate.  This would improve the lives of millions, if not billions.  Only someone who thinks suffering is a virtue and happiness a sin could be against that.

Overpopulation will inevitably lead to war over scarce resources (and religion, of course).  Indeed, it is clear that this has already started to happen.  When it becomes clear that the need for scarce resources threatens the survival of large numbers of people, the wars will become worse.  Competing religions will be used to justify them.  They will become battles for survival with fanatical supernatural beliefs motivating the warriors on each side.  (Again, this has already started.)  The wars will become nuclear.  The result will be a thousand times as many people killed in one day as there are abortions in any year or even several years.

Even if mankind survived as a species, we would lose huge portions of our modern infrastructure and civilization resulting in millions a year dying from mankind's loss of the ability to feed and otherwise care for such a large population.  Indeed, it is not too fanciful to suggest that the 6th great extinction event that is currently underway as a result of mankind's overpopulation could include mankind itself among the species that go extinct.

Here are the thoughts of two of the 20th Century's greatest thinkers on this subject:

  “I am convinced that some political and social activities and practices of the Catholic organizations are detrimental and even dangerous for the community as a whole, here and everywhere. I mention here only the fight against birth control at a time when overpopulation in various countries has become a serious threat to the health of people and a grave obstacle to any attempt to organize peace on this planet.” [ Albert Einstein, in a letter, 1954 ]

"People would rather commit suicide than learn to do math." [ Bertrand Russell ]

One of the things a non-believer might say to an opponent of abortion is:  "How can you can yourself 'pro-life' when you support policies that threaten the very existence of the human race?"


"Is it 'pro-life' to support policies that threaten the existence of the human race?"

In other words, a great number of lives could be lost by banning birth control and abortion.  It could perhaps even result in the extinction of humanity--as our population explosion has already resulted in a great number of extinctions of other species.  It is clear that our planet's ecosystem is already out of balance because of our numbers.  At the same time, it is not at all clear how many "lives" would actually be saved by banning abortion.

No one knows exactly how many abortions occurred in the U.S. prior to Roe v. Wade.  Likewise, no one know for certain how many women died from unsafe, illegal abortions per year.  The estimates seem to vary from a high of 10,000 cited by pro-choice advocates to a low of 60 cited by those who oppose abortions.  It is safe to say, however, that there would be an increase in such deaths if abortion were made illegal.

There would also be an increase in the number of murders and suicides in the U.S. starting about 15 to 20 years later.  That increase would be approximately 8,000-10,000 per year based on the drop in the number of murders in the U.S. starting some 20 years after abortion was legalized.   This would come with an increase in other crime as well.  These deaths and the effects on the unwanted children and the crime they will cause will offset a large number of the "lives saved" by preventing poor women from having abortions.

In the final analysis, religion's stance against birth control is extremely foolish, ill-conceived (no pun intended) and leads to a great deal of harm in the short run and catastrophic harm in the long run.  It does far more harm than good.  This is entirely because it is not based on reality.  Governmental policies focused on the reality of human nature would be far more effective, as the data show.  The countries with the lowest abortion rates are those with the least amount of religiosity and secular, humanistic policies.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Stalin and Mao III

One of the facts that the religious fail to mention when they bring up Stalin and Mao is that a huge number of their victims were fellow communists and atheists.  If that doesn't prove that they were not motivated by atheism when killing, then I don't know what does.  So, you can say something like:

"Stalin and Mao killed anyone who opposed them, including huge numbers of other atheists.  They were obviously not motivated by atheism."

To this the religious might reply that it was their atheism than made Stalin and Mao so immoral.  The response to that can take several forms:

"Atheism is a lack of belief in god.  It does not necessarily include a lack of moral philosophy."

You can follow that with:

"Atheism is separate from moral philosophy, unlike religion which is inextricably intertwined with a twisted, infantile moral philosophy."

You can then add:

"That intertwined moral philosophy didn't stop all the religious mass murderers in history.  You have claimed moral superiority based on belief, yet the facts do not bear it out.  The fact that some atheists are just as bad doesn't mean that your claims to moral superiority are validThe issue isn't whether all atheists are good; the issue is whether religious people are.  Clearly, they are notIn fact, not only are they immoral, their immorality is very often a direct result of their religion."

You can also say:

"Stalin and Mao also didn't believe in fairies either.  Perhaps that is the cause of their immorality."


"Hitler was a vegetarian and a non-smoker.  Should we blame his crimes on those traits?'

Most important, remember that this is a classic straw-man type argument.  The religious have claimed strenuously for centuries that religion makes them moral.  They bring up Stalin and Mao when an atheist points out religious atrocities.  The issue isn't really Stalin or Mao.  The issue is the claim to moral superiority.  A claim that the religious use to justify their incredible bigotry toward atheists.  So, when they bring up Stalin and Mao, just throw out a basic refutation and follow it quickly with:

"Don't try to change the subject.  You have claimed that religion gives people morality when that is manifestly untrue."

Then follow that up with the points I make in my numerous posts on Religion and Morality and the Moral Insanity of Religion.  (I won't link to them now, because there are so many of them at this point.  Just look through the archives.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shameful Lies

It seems the creationist lunatic fringe has taken a new tack. They are now claiming that preventing them from teaching creationism in schools violates the spirit of academic freedom and free intellectual inquiry just as much as the law under which John Scopes was convicted.  In fact, they have so much cheek as to assert that John Scopes himself would support their efforts to fight "oppression" and "teach the controversy".  Apparently, these people are so completely out of touch with reality that they have no shame.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Free Will II

I previously discussed free will, focusing on the classic moral/public policy aspects of the debate and the motivations of those who argue either side.  I would like to add a comment concerning the motivations of those who take sides in the debate.  Specifically, the religious, who almost always take the side of free will.  (Though there are significant exceptions.  Groups who believe they are god's elect--having been chosen in some fashion.  Some Jewish people fit this category, and Calvinists definitely do.)

Recent studies have shown that there is a distinct link between a person's religiosity and his or her inability to deal with a lack of control over his or her life.  In other words, the more uncomfortable a person feels when not in control, the more likely that person is to be religious.  See, e.g., The Cult of Theoi: Sacrificing to the God of Uncertainty; A Basic Psychological Link Between Religion and Right Wing Politics; Forget Your Worries With Religious Zealotry; Fear of Terrorism Makes Pakistani Students Turn to Religion.

In a way, this isn't surprising.  This is just a longer version of the old religious adage that there are no atheists in foxholes.  This is something that we already know about them and they already know about themselves:  Fear of dangers they can't control makes them cling to the delusion that they have an invisible magic friend who can control those things for them.

The question in my mind is which type of religious person is more disturbed:  The one who believes in determinism and that he is therefore one of god's chosen elite, no matter what?  Or the person who is sure that his invisible magic friend will set aside the laws of the universe at his bidding?  I am inclined to think it is the former type, but I am not sure.

You will note, however, that both viewpoints cater to the egotism of those who believe in them--consistent with my contention that religion is based on the narcissism of believers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Religion as Narcissistic Personality Disorder

One of the primary symptoms exhibited by children raised by parents with narcissistic personality disorder is that they were taught that they had no right to speak up.  Such people and the therapists who help them refer to this as having been denied a voice.  The parent with NPD is not interested in anything the children have to say--especially if they don't agree with him or her.  He or she sees them as two-dimensional constructs whose only purpose is to reflect well on the parent.  The children are not seen as independent beings with thoughts and wishes of their own.  See also "Parents With NPD".

A recent news items shows quite clearly that religious people try to behave in the same way toward non-believers.  The religious want to deny non-believers their voice.  For instance, recently a group of non-believers put up a billboard in Southern California that simply said:  "Don't believe in god?  You are not alone."  A local politician publicly stated that if it were up to her, this billboard would not be allowed.  She said it sickened her every time she saw it.  Given that it simply says that non-believers exist and are in the community, as Austin Cline pointed out, this is tantamount to saying that the mere existence of non-believers who dare to come out of the closet sickens her.  This is a classic denial of a person's "voice".

This is especially damning because the politician is the very same one who has spearheaded the local movement to put up displays in local government buildings displaying the slogan "In God We Trust".  In other words, this is the same person who intends to use the government to endorse her religion and thereby imply that those who don't agree don't even belong in our society.  As I pointed out before in relation to the school prayer issue, the religious tell us to keep our opinions to ourselves, complain if we dare to voice our non-belief, then make it clear that opinions supporting belief are not only welcomed but mandatory to be a full member of our society.  This scenario makes that abundantly clear.

This is not surprising, really.  Such people are the descendants--both literally and figuratively--of those who once burned non-believers at the stake for daring to speak openly of their non-belief.  It is difficult to think of any way in which people could be denied their "voice" more completely than by burning them at the stake for daring to speak.

Related posts:

Religion as Narcissistic Delusion

Religion as Narcissistic Delusion, Part II

Religion as Narcissistic Delusion, DSM-IV

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Moral Insanity of Religion VIII

I have written several posts about the moral insanity of "religious morality".  I have tried to emphasize the extent to which "religious morality" is actually authoritarianism designed and implemented precisely to cause people to ignore their innate moral sense and behave immorally and still feel like they are good people.  I have seen this myself on many occasions and I have often heard the religious say things that confirm it to be true--although, ironically, they never realize what they are saying.

I recently saw a posting on an atheist website the echoed my observations and conclusions and I would like to share it here as further evidence that I am not simply making things up or trying to cast baseless aspersions on religion or the religious.

A woman, explaining her de-conversion from belief stated:

"There had been many sparks over the course of the years but as a devout Christian I tried my best to go on, holding on to my faith in spite of those sparks. That all changed when I went to a bible study in college. The study was 1 Samuel 15, God calling on Saul to kill the Amalekites and God being disappointed in him for not taking the massacre as far as God wanted. The question for this study was 'if you were in Saul's place and God asked you to do something you were not comfortable with, would you obey him and obey him completely?' I then watched most of the room nod their heads in agreement with this sentiment."

You can view the original here.

I find it difficult to imagine a more complete admission regarding the morally bankrupt authoritarianism masquerading as "religious morality". 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Moral Insanity of Religion VII

I have published several posts on the moral insanity inherent in religion and its teachings.  I would like to sum up the core of this insanity.

"The so-called morality of religion consists of two inherently immoral notions:  First, that might makes right; second, that the only reason to behave morally is the threat of punishment."

This is the moral philosophy of a psychopath.  This is hardly something that should be taught to children at all, much less on a wholesale basis.

Here are the posts concerning this topic:

The Moral Insanity of Religion

The Moral Insanity of Religion II

The Moral Insanity of Religion III

The Moral Insanity of Religion IV

The Moral Insanity of Religion V

The Moral Insanity of Religion VI

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Breaking Free

The vast majority of people who believe in god do so largely because they were raised to believe as children.  It is very rare to hear of someone raised as a non-believer who has embraced belief.  When those raised to believe in god do leave their belief behind, there is usually a process of breaking free of what they were taught as children.

One of the many biased ways in which the religious look at non-believers is to examine this process (and, indeed, the non-believer's entire life) for reasons to impugn his intellectual integrity.  To attack him personally in order to undermine his conclusion, because, as I previously pointed out, believers can't seem to separate the abstract from the personal.  What matters to them is the status (and number) of those espousing a particular position.

I have pointed out before that many, if not most, people who were raised to believe in a religion will experience a moment of truth when it dawns on them that the whole thing is made up.  Their reaction to this moment tells us a great deal about the character of the individual.  Some will embrace a realization of the truth.  Some will reject it.  What's most telling about that decision are the individual's true reasons for accepting or rejecting the truth.

Some will accept the truth for reasons of honesty and intellectual integrity.  Others will make their decision for emotional reasons--because it makes them feel better to do so.  The religious almost always accept their religion for emotional reasons, thus they assume that non-believers reject it for the same sorts of reasons.  In fact, this is one of their favorite tactics:  To accuse us of doing this sort of dishonest rationalizing--the sort they do themselves.

As much as it may be objectionable for many of us non-believers, we must acknowledge that there are a few of us who seem to prove this to be true.  What is not true, however, is the notion that all of us do this, which is what the religious (and even some non-believers) would say is true.  It is very common to hear people espouse the notion that all human decision making is merely rationalization.

While it is true that all human decisions will have an emotional component, not all can accurately be described as rationalizations.  Just as some people are more rational and less emotional than others, some decisions will be more rational and less emotional than others.

For most non-believers who weren't raised as non-believers there will be an emotional component to their decision--an emotional factor that played a role in their thinking.  This component, however, will not be their primary motivation in most cases.  In most cases, the emotional factor was simply the source of the non-believer's strength--the willpower he needs to swim upstream against the incredible pressure to conform.

Some non-believers come to their non-belief as a result of being "different".  This "difference" causes the person to be able to see the religious beliefs of his group objectively because his ego doesn't feel like part of the group--or, perhaps even feels rejected by the group.  This is one of the reasons that gay people often reject religion (and one of the reasons that the religious insist that homosexuality is a choice in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary).

What this indicates, however, is not that non-believers are simply taking a stand for emotional reasons but that the transition requires an ability to break free from the emotional bonds so carefully and diligently put in place by the religious. For a significant number of apostates (those who rejected the religion of their upbringing and embraced non-belief), the emotional component is that they were simply too honest and insightful to espouse what they had come to recognize as absurdities.  It is that honesty that the religious wish to deny when they try to impugn the non-believer's motives or character.

So, when a religious person mentions a non-believer's emotional motivations, you can reply with something like the following:

"That's what gave him (or me) the emotional strength to overcome all the brainwashing, bullying, and peer pressure that was deliberately trying to force him (or me) to pretend that the emperor wasn't naked."

The truth is that atheism is simply the correct logical conclusion.  The only issue is whether a person has the emotional strength to admit it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why Do Manipulative Psychopaths Love Religion? III

I have mentioned several times the fact that religion seems to be primarily a method for controlling the behavior of others--often to no good end.  To drive this particular point home to a religious person you can make the following observation:

"In nearly every church, there lurks at least one manipulative person who considers the congregation to be his or her personal lynch mob."

The Levers of Thought Control

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding."
--Proverbs 3:5 (KJV) 

Religion is a pervasive form of thought control.  Those who practice religion upon others are taking advantage of inherent traits in the human mind in order to control it.  These practitioners may not be consciously aware they are doing this because they are the inheritors of a system of techniques, refined by millennia of trial and error, rather than the conscious creators of the system.  Modern science, however, is starting to lift the curtain hiding the wizard from his audience.

There are two studies in particular that are quite illuminating when it comes to understanding how religion works--how the "Miracle of Theism" (i.e., the fact that anybody believes in such absurdities) is achieved.

The first study was conducted in the 1950's by Prof. Solomon Asch.  The Asch experiments (as they are usually called) measured the extent to which peer or social pressure would effect the answers given by test subjects.

The test subjects were given a series of lines on paper, next to each one were three more, one of which was exactly the same length as the first.  The other two would be noticeably different in length.  The test subjects were asked to determine which of three lines was the same length as the first one.  The person being tested would be surrounded by other false "test subjects" who were actually cooperating with the researchers.  These cooperating test subjects would give the correct answer a couple of times and then begin to intentionally give the wrong answer and say that the one of the lines of the wrong length actually matched the original line in length.

The studies (the original study has been replicated many times with consistent results) found that 75% or more of respondents will give at least one wrong answer simply because others are doing so.  A third of the test subjects would consistently give an incorrect answer if the cooperating subjects did so as well.  In post study interviews, most who gave a wrong answer knew they were giving an incorrect answer but went along with the crowd.  A smaller percentage, however, reported that they actually believed that the incorrect answer was actually correct.  They apparently experienced a subjective impression that lines of noticeably different lengths were, in fact, the same length.

Increasing the number of "cooperating subjects" from one to two to three increased the frequency of conforming wrong answers from the real test subject.  But, if just one of the other "subjects" gave the right answer, the rate of conforming wrong answers from the real test subject would drop dramatically.  In addition, if allowed to write down their answers privately, the rate of conformity dropped dramatically.  (As I stated before, this is one of the primary reasons the religious are so insistent on having school prayer--to enforce conformity.)

Rates of conformity increased as the difficulty of the task increased.  Asch measured this by making the differences between the lengths of the lines smaller and thus less obvious.  Comparing lines of differing lengths is a relatively easy task unless the differences are very small, but when other tasks are introduced that are inherently more difficult one can expect much greater conformity.

Needless to say, it is much more difficult to parse bad logic, especially bad logic that one has been raised with, than it is to judge the relative lengths of lines on paper.  Thus, the conformity rate for the indoctrination of individuals with religious thinking using peer pressure is certainly much greater than that reported in the Asch experiments.

Rates of conformity also increased if friendships or mutual dependencies were created between the test subjects beforehand.  Likewise, conformity rates increased if the actual test subject found one or more of the phony test subjects attractive.

Further research has shown that most people internalize the opinions they acquired as a result of peer pressure and adhere to them even when the peer pressure is removed.  This tells us that once the process has achieved its goal, the conforming subject will continue to conform.  He or she will be comparable to the subjects in the Asch experiments who actually thought the differing lines were of the same length.  From that point on, ordinary human egotism and reluctance to admit error will ensure that opinions acquired through peer pressure will remain entrenched.  Furthermore, this conforming subject will then play the role of the false test subjects and themselves bring peer pressure to bear on any new subjects or those inclined to think independently.

Religion doesn't leave this to chance, however, because there are people who will be able to overcome that peer pressure and because there are competing groups that will try to use the same process to steal converts away.  So, religion tries to repeat the process on a regular basis at church services that members are very strongly encouraged to attend at least once a week.  At these services, various other tricks will be used to re-enforce the tendency toward conformity and the de-activation of the individual's independent mind.

The congregants will gather in a group to ensure that their social instincts are at the forefront of their minds.  Then they will engage in uniform group behaviors such as sitting, standing, kneeling and singing simultaneously.  The singing and other use of religious music provides a hypnotic effect, lulling the forebrain into a dormant mode.  This allows the message, the memes inherent in the music and the sermon, to be absorbed without passing through the brain's usual filter of critical thought.  These thoughts become rote memory to be repeated endlessly and automatically.

Once the god meme has been firmly planted, the question becomes to what end?  To answer that question, we need only look at another set of experiments that were inspired by the Asch experiments and devised to test obedience to authority.  These experiments, first performed by Prof. Stanley Milgram, measured the extent of mindless obedience in samples of the population. 

The Milgram experiments also shed light on the methods used by religion.  Most people have heard of these experiments.  What Prof. Milgram did was to take test subjects from the general population and place them in a scenario where they were to play the role of "teacher" under the instruction of an authority figure (a researcher in a lab coat) who "taught" subjects by administering seemingly painful electric shock for wrong answers.  The people who were being taught were actually actors who would pretend to be receiving actual shocks when, in fact, they were not.  The shocks would be administered by flipping a series of switches which appeared to increase the severity of the shocks as the number of wrong answers increased.

To ensure uniformity in the trials, the "learners" would go to a different room, ostensibly connected by an intercom.  As the test subjects administered the shocks, recordings of the "learner's" voice would register increasing levels of pain until the "learner" appear to lose consciousness from the pain.  Yet, still, the authority figure would urge the test subject to continue using stock phrases.  Approximately 65% of the subjects would continue to administer shocks all the way to the highest level, even though it appeared that the "learner" had lost consciousness, or had even died, some time previously.

Prof. Milgram also found that by changing the external indicators of respectability, he caused a change in the level of obedience.  If the "Teachers" thought the experiment was being run by a highly prestigious university, they would continue to the end more often than if they thought it was being run by a private company in a shabby building.  In the latter case, the compliance level dropped to 48%.

Religion goes to a great deal of trouble to ensure it presents a front of extreme respectability, with conservative dress for clergy, stately edifices, and claims of moral superiority and purity.  Combine these outward symbols with the god meme implanted using every form of peer pressure and mind control imaginable and you have a group of people who can only be called extremely compliant.  If told to do so, they will do anything--and, in fact, have done so on numerous occasions. 

Combine the findings of the Asch experiments with the Milgram experiments and you have a perfect explanation for the majority of the tactics used by religion, particularly school prayer.  While it may be that only a few religious leaders have ever been consciously aware of the cynical uses of these tactics, I do not doubt that they have been used and refined over centuries because they work.  Their success brings the members of the religion precisely the sort of social rewards they crave--greater acceptance, status, and influence.

Combine the effects of those tactics with the insights provided by the Stanford Prison Experiment, however, and you have a perfect explanation of why this should be opposed.  No one person should have a great deal more power than others, and no one group should have such power either--especially when the group is defined by irrational beliefs held for emotional reasons.

When your standard for what constitutes "truth" is whatever "everyone else" thinks, then of course the local dominant religion will meet that standard.  But, if that is your standard for "truth", then you're not fully human.  You're a talking sheep.  Worse, you're a member of the mob.  When given an aura of legitimacy, the mob acts just as its despicable reputation predicts.  (See, also, this brief paper and this article on mob psychology.)

(Astute readers will note that I have made no mention of some of the more obvious manipulative tactics used by religion such as exploiting the fear of death or the instinct to protect children and babies.  Those topics have been or will be covered in other posts.)

Stalin and Mao II

In my post on Stalin and Mao I discussed how their "persecution" of religious people is used as an excuse or deflection device by the religious when they are reminded of the extent to which they have persecuted non-believers.  One point I alluded to is that the levels of persecution are not in any way comparable, not in number, not in severity, and not in thoroughness.  It is not a bad idea to make this explicit when you have Stalin and Mao thrown in your face:

"If Stalin and Mao had hunted down, tortured, and killed every single believer they could find, then your comparison might be valid.  But, they did not, and it is not."

Considering that the religious did, indeed, for centuries hunt us down, torture us, and kill us in the most gruesome manner their imaginations could devise, the fact that they would claim to be the ones who are persecuted is nothing short of shameless.