Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bomb Mots

I have often mentioned the need to have "bon mots" ready to toss into a conversation with believers.  These "bon mots" should be designed to make the believers think about some or all of what they believe.  For most situations, they should be subtle and polite so as not to arouse the ire of the believer's ego.  Such as "no one knows how the universe came to be and anyone claiming to know is making a claim that cannot be true" or "faith is just another way of saying that you don't care about evidence and logic".  Sometimes, however, it can be useful to rattle the believer's mental cage just a bit.

Such "disturbing" statements can be thought of as "bomb mots" and should be used much like Zen Koans.  That is, they can be used to try to break the other person out of his canalized thinking habits.  As is the case with most conversational bombs, it is usually best to say it, perhaps explain just a little immediately thereafter while the believer is still registering what you said, then move on, either literally or figuratively, and let the believer give it some thought.  I like to use these "bomb mots" to undermine believers' implicit assumptions, which are usually those that they learned as young children and have never questioned.  (In fact, that is the purpose of the Zen Koan as well.  They are purposefully absurd statements designed to get the listener to look at the world anew--much as he did when a child.)

For instance, believers have been taught that faith is a virtue.  Frankly, this has always bothered me immensely because I can't see how rejecting evidence and reason can possibly be a virtue.  So, one of the things I like to drop into conversations with believers from time to time is this:

Faith is the single most obscene word in the English language.

Likewise, believers have been taught that religion is a good thing both for the individual and for humanity in general.  One might say in reply:

Religion is a crime against Humanity.

When believers assert that religion is the source of morality, possible replies include:

The moral function of religion is to allow bad people to feel good about themselves.

Religious morality consists of the notion that getting caught and punished are all that matters and that might makes right.

No sane, intelligent person believes religion is true, and no moral person would want it to be true.

If you use any of these or others like them, the best result is that the religious person actually stops and listens to your explanation of why you think it is true.  In many cases, however, it will be best just to move on--or away, as the case may require.

The last suggested reply (that no moral person would want religion to be true) is also useful when religious people accuse non-believers of rejecting god because they want to be immoral.  The first reply to such an accusation is, of course, to say

"I know that is how religious people choose their facts, but I don't choose my facts based on how I feel about them.  I choose them based on evidence." 

Then point out that religion is most certainly not moral and, as I said, that no moral person would want it to be true.  Be ready to explain why religion is not moral.  See my previous posts on that subject for material

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Verdict in Dover

I recently watched the documentary "Judgment Day:  Intelligent Design on Trial" and I just had to post some thoughts about it.  If interested, the reader can view the film for him or her self on YouTube:

In case anyone doesn't know, the documentary was about the trial in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005), the rather famous case in which a local Pennsylvania school board tried to put the teaching of creationism back into public schools by calling it "intelligent design" and by using the usual nonsense arguments that evolution is not a fact and that the theory contains "gaps" that can't be explained by science.

The School Board's curriculum committee drafted a statement to be read to all 9th grade biology students that was a classic statement of the deliberate misconceptions of creationists.  First, they say that the "theory is not a fact".  This is a classic misstatement that I have been hearing from creationists for several decades and was around even before that.  It is one of many examples where religious people deliberately attempt to confuse and conflate the different definitions that apply to a particular word--just as they so often try to do with the word "faith".

The word "theory" has more than one definition.  The different definitions apply in different contexts and the word does not mean the same thing in a scientific context that it does in a conversation between laymen. 

To a scientist, the word "theory" implies a complex idea or set of related ideas that have been tested repeatedly and found to be true.  To a layman, the word means "just someone's suggestion or idea".  Yet, I have also seen and heard numerous efforts on the part of those who support science to explain this distinction to creationists.  So much so, that I can scarce believe that anyone hasn't had a chance to learn this distinction by now.  The fact that one still hears this misstatement tells me that either some religious people have led very sheltered and ignorant lives or that they have deliberately chosen to ignore attempts to edify them.

In fact, this particular phenomenon is one of the reasons that I say that religious people lie constantly.  Even after it has been explained to them why a particular argument that they have made is incorrect they will continue to make it.  They may not make the argument again to the person who explained to them why it was wrong, but they will use it again with other people.  This tells me quite clearly that they are not concerned with whether or not their arguments are sound or valid, only with whether or not they will work on a particular audience.

A normal person wants to be right in his assessments of the facts.  A religious person--like all narcissists--is obsessed with never being wrong, or, at least, with never appearing to be wrong.

Also classic is the assertion that Darwin's theory contains "gaps", which they then go on to imply can only be filled by "an intelligent designer".   This, too, is a classic example of theistic reasoning, so much so that it has been a term of derision applied to theistic thinking by non-believers.  For decades, non-believers have been pointing out that the "god of the gaps" arguments are not justified.  It does not follow that god must exist or that "god did it", simply because one can find places in scientific knowledge that are incomplete.  A determined critic will always be able to say that human knowledge is incomplete.  If necessary, they will even resort to solipsism to imply that there "might" be something more that mankind doesn't know about a subject.

Perhaps the most appalling thing one sees in the documentary is the complete shamelessness of the two primary perpetrators of the attempt to put creationism in the public schools.  Even after their scheme was exposed and ruled un-Constitutional and even after having been caught lying under oath about it, they are utterly shameless.

One of these dishonest fanatics, Mr. Buckingham, is actually a retired policeman.  Not only does this former officer of the law appear to have lied under oath, he appears to have been involved in the theft of a mural depicting evolution from one of the schools.  A student had painted a mural depicting the "Ascent of Man" via evolutionary stages.  At some point during the controversy, the mural disappeared from the school where it was displayed.   After the 19 minute mark, the science teachers from the high school relate how board member Buckingham admitted to them that he "watched it burn", which clearly implicates him in the act of theft and vandalism.

In other words, there is reason to believe that the student mural was stolen and destroyed by (or with the collusion of) one or more school board members.  Perhaps the same members who were seeking to undermine the science curriculum.  This action, combined with their other actions and statements reveal the motivations and goals of creationists.  Their goal is to make sure that their viewpoint is the only one represented.  Their goal is to suppress all other views and anything related to them--to deny others their voice.

Also quite revealing, is  a comment made by a local Pastor, Ray Mummert, who reveals a great deal about the motivation of creationists when he says that he finds evolution personally insulting because it implies he descended from an ape.  Apparently, his ego isn't strong enough to cope with that thought.  He would rather deny facts than accept the notion that he is not "special".  This is yet another bit of evidence that religion is driven by the egos of believers--that it is an expression of their narcissistic personality disorder.

His comment is also directly related to the observation I have made before concerning the close link between creationism and racism.  Both are driven by the believer's need to feel superior to others.  Admitting that one is merely an example of a species of primate--just another type of monkey--is simply not acceptable to such people.

See also:

Religion and Racism II

Religion and Racism III

Religion, Racism, and Narcissism

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Right to Refrain from Speaking

“Just as the right to speak and the right to refrain from speaking are complementary components of a broader concept of individual freedom of mind, so also the individual's freedom to choose his own creed is the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority. At one time it was thought that this right merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Mohammedism or Judaism. But when the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all.”
— Justice Stevens for the majority, Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, June 4, 1985.

The above quotation and the Supreme Court decision from which it came are important for non-believers.  We should all be aware of them and what they mean.  They mean that the right to choose not to believe is just as important as the right to choose which church to join.  In other words, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not just protect believers as some have tried to maintain.

Also important is the recognition that the right to refrain from speaking is just as important as the right to speak.  This is particularly important in school prayer and other "captive audience" cases where believers put people on the spot and force them to declare their beliefs in some fashion--such as publicly failing to participate in prayer or refusing to answer a question.  In such cases, the right to remain silent can only be protected by forbidding the government from taking actions that will put people in such situations.