Racism

On racism

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Racism

Racism. We don’t seem to get enough of this topic. Most of us have intuitive ideas of what constitutes racism, but only few of us have bravely waded through the proverbial swamp of grey areas, where questions like ‘is a subject to racism conforming to racials stereotypesa a form of racism?’, ‘are jokes based on race racist?’ And ‘can racism be benevolent or morally neutral?’ Reside. This is exactly what I will try to do in the following words; to take the reader on a perilous journey into one of the hardest social questions and biggest social problems that are plaguing our societies at this time.

Racism, a definition

The Oxford living dictionary defines race as;

[mass noun] 1. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior:
1.1 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races

In this definition, at point 1, we find a working definition for the practice of racism, which seems to be what we are looking for. It tells us that prejudice, discrimination or antagonism are important factors in declaring something or someone racist, but the most important factor seems to be the basis upon which these remarks are made or these persons functionally form their assumption; they must believe their own race is superior. More importantly, the definition works only for differences in ‘race’, race being of course, a controversial subject.

Investigation of the definition

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor sherlock looney toon

At this point, we must ask ourselves the question; is this definition a practical one? I always prefer doing this Socratically. That is, by means of investigative questions, because not only is philosophy, simply put the asking of questions about questions and answers, it also allows us the peace and respect to take our time and figure this out for ourselves. I also want my readers to disagree with me. Not because I want to write shit articles, but because it means I have stimulated thought. So, please, take your time to judge my questions on accuracy and relevance and do try to answer them yourself.

We may for instance ponder the question; ‘If I do not believe my race to be superior over that of someone else, can I still be racist?’

The definition, as given above, tells us the source of a racist remark has the basis of a belief in one race’s superiority. Then again, it does not expressly limit itself to such occasions.

        A point in defense of this definition, can be made in the difference between racial discrimination and racism, racial discrimination then being a more incidental type of racism, or a-structural racism. This might be a good working definition, after splitting a-structural racism from the whole. But, this would logically mean that we’ll have to redefine the whole of racism to fit both definitions of structural and a-structural racism. Let’s put a pin in this one, for the time being.

Another question we must ask ourselves, ought to pertain to the first part of the definition and perhaps one of the most entered grey areas of racism;

‘are jokes based on race, racist?’

There are certainly a lot of jokes that fit the nomers of prejudice (stereotype) and antagonism. The point of a race joke is to be discriminatory, but either lightheartedly or shockingly so, as to create a comedic effect. So, we can constitute, with relative ease, that many if not all race jokes are racist. Now, if this is the case, we have a choice to make; the answer is either yes and we continue with this definition, or we re-postulate our definition and try again.

If we continue with this definition, we will need to search for two more kinds of racism; hurtful racism and non-hurtful racism, as it is not evident that not all race jokes are hurtful.

If we postulate a new definition, we must reason from the ground up and include our findings thus far.

As our definition still has some possibility of life, and has served us well thus far, I will allow it the courtesy of seeing if it can be revived, or at least follow the trail to it death.

Harmful and benign racism?

Racism

Civil rights groups have on occasion claimed that there is no benign racism, and that race jokes are harmful, because they are often sources for stereotypes, set apart people from different races and have a diminishing effect on the quality of interracial relations. This had of course been disputed by many, mostly on the questions of whether it is really hurtful to joke about stereotypes. A lot of comedians would reply by saying that stereotypes help us take each other and ourselves less seriously, though we can all ascribe to the fact that there is a difference between the racism in jokes by Chris Rock and the approach to hecklers taken by former Seinfeld-actor Michael Richards.

To answer this question, we must first define for ourselves harmful racism.

Let us start with; ‘a racist statement or action that serves to harm (members of) a different race.’

This seems like a fair start, as we are speaking of the practice of racism, it seems like ‘statement or action’ bears the load sufficiently. To stay true to our previous definition, harmful racism also refers to race. Seeing as we are speaking explicitly about harmful racism, I refer to the harm we expect it to cause; namely either (groups of) individuals of another race or another race in its entirety. Notice, too that this definition holds the word ‘racist’ in it, to refer to our earlier definition.

Now, we can proceed to once again, to ask ourselves if this definition works. We can ask ourselves, firstly, if our definition carries its load, by asking:

‘Do we need to clarify this definition?’

Well, we have yet to define what racist harm is, which we need to do in order to get our definition to work. An obvious start would be the deprivation of rights and/or privileges of (members of) a different race. This is, historically the biggest problem of racism, after all. But is there perhaps more to it? Does harm exhibit itself in other ways? If we believe those who say they are subject to racism, they say they experience a general mistrust as a result of racism.

Remember here, that we are not discussing whether or not this is the case. We are rather discussing if this can be a result of racism. The answer here is plainly yes; through dehumanizing rhetoric and the association of people from different races as in any sense less trustworthy, we might imagine a general mistrust toward people of certain races.

Thusly, we can define racist harm as;

‘That which serves to deprive people of certain or different races of rights or privileges or to establish mistrust among people of certain races’

This seems a bit long and hard to understand. Considering this is only a supportive definition, we might consider shrinking it to a more portable size. We can do this by finding a common denominator in ‘deprivation of rights and privileges’. These pertain to equality. We can also see that mistrust is negative trust. Thusly, we may postulate our definition of racist harm as such;

‘That which serves to reduce equality and/or trust among (people of) different races’

We ought to again check ourselves before we wrickety-wrickety-wreck ourselves, by asking;

‘Are we missing another form of racist harm?’

At this time, there doesn’t seem to be, but we will revisit the topic, should the need arise.

To recap; we have thus far decided that we must define for ourselves, irrespective of whether or not its counterpart exists, harmful racism. We did this initially by defining it as ‘a statement or action that serves to harm (people of) a different race’. We then clarified that, by harm in this sense, we mean ‘that which reduces the equality or trust between (people of) different races’. This means or definition of harmful racism is ‘a statement or action that serves to reduce equality or trust between (people of) different races’.

Let’s take this definition back to our question about the comedians, if you’ll remember, our question was; ‘are all racist jokes harmful?’, or ‘do all racist jokes cause racist harm?’ Considering the civil rights groups at the beginning of this article, who claimed jokes based on race set apart different races, we must ask ourselves if being ‘set apart’ necessarily contributes to reducing equality or trust between different races.

We can assert that, at least in terms of attention, being set apart means equality is reduced; those who are set apart are more closely observed. However, aside from the obvious down-sides of this, such as less anonymity and privacy, this also entails more influence in the way people act around you, depending on the situation and the reason for being set apart. This essentially, is a function of the crudeness of the joke and the sensitivity of the person or persons being discriminated against as a punchline, as is the influence of a joke on general trust among races.

This means, that we can only really define benign racism as a negative to harmful racism: Harmless racism is then ‘a racist statement or action that does not serve to reduce equality or trust between races’.

Again, remember that this does not necessarily mean harmless racism exist, but that it could exist, if an action or statement is conducive to the conditions mentioned in the definition.

What is ‘race’?

Racism

A looming question that we have yet to answer, but is at the center of all of this, is the following;

‘What is a race exactly?’

The Oxford living dictionary defines race as follows:

1.Each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics

1.1[mass noun] The fact or condition of belonging to a racial division or group; the qualities or characteristics associated with this.

1.2 A group of people sharing the same culture, history, language, etc.; an ethnic group

1.3 A group or set of people or things with a common feature or features:

1.4[Biology] A population within a species that is distinct in some way, especially a subspecies

We can see, then that we are offered a plethora of choices, allowing for racism to be attributed something as randomly as one would desire. One could, for instance, state that Europeans are a race, but that Italians and Greeks have a significantly different history and culture than other Europeans and be right, only to go on and be equally right when you say all Europeans are the same race. So, we must see if we can in a way refine this.

A combination of 1 and 1.2 seems to suffice, at first glance. These together would form:

‘a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language and major division of humankind’

Testing out new definition, we may ask ourselves: ‘does this definition include or exclude groups that our attention?’

One possible objection to this definition of race, is that it doesn’t mention religion. This objection stems from the fairly recent international debate that sparked on ‘Real time with Bill Maher’ in a discussion with Ben Affleck;

‘Are muslims their own race?’

According to our definition, they are not, because cultures within the ‘Dar-al Islam’ are very diverse, they only share a part of their history as muslims, languages differ per country of origin and they are born on all continents.

Honestly, the only reason to make an extra exception for religion, is that muslims or people who look like them are often subject to systematic discrimination and are looked down upon as inferior by other people. And though I do not want to give off the impression that I find this a lesser problem, because it is a big problem, we can’t in good conscience make this exception, as it would be a special pleading fallacy.

Conclusion

With our questions answered to satisfaction, and a working concept of ‘race’ established as; ‘a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language and major division of humankind’, we can now aptly and I believe accurately describe racism as;

‘A statement or action based on the shared culture, history, language and major division of humankind of a certain individual or group of individuals’.

In which we can discern between harmful racism: ‘A racist (see; racism) statement or action that serves to reduce the equality and mutual trust between (people of) certain races’.

And benign racism: ‘A racist statement or action that does not serve to reduce equality and mutual trust between (people of) different races.

And motivational influences, using the terms structural/intentional racism: ‘A racist statement or action that is brought about by a belief that ones own race is superior’

And a-structural/incidental racism: ‘A racist statement or action that is not motivated by a belief of racial superiority’.

These definitions show us that the issue of racism is a hard one to ponder and harder yet to solve. Because that is what the goal ought to be; for each and every one of us; black, white, green and purple, to recognize our racism, whether it be harmful or benign, structural or incidental and make sure we can all exist equally and together in an open, trusting society.

I hope that, even though I am a privileged, white cisgender European male, I have been able to take you through the swamp of grey and applied some contrast, or at least to have given you some tools with which traverse this hard-to-tread intellectual terrain with.

Humbly yours,

Mvdgoes

Racism




Is Value Entirely Subjective?

Is value entirely subjective?Is Value Entirely Subjective?

When we speak of something’s value we speak of its ‘goodness’ (Crisp, 2016). Where does this ‘goodness’ come from though? Is something good only because an individual bestows goodness upon based upon their preference for it? In order to answer these kinds of questions we must explore the different kinds of value that something can hold, explore various value theories, and explore various questions about the value that various things can hold. It should become apparent after exploring these ideas and questions that value is not entirely subjective. There are things which are not valued simply because an individual bestows value upon, but that individuals should value these things independent of our preferences; there are things that even if nobody in existence value them, they should. Let us begin by exploring the kinds of value that something can hold.

Let us begin by exploring the idea of instrumental value. If something has instrumental value then its value comes from its usefulness. For instance, money gets its value not from itself, but from what it allows us to achieve. We can exchange money for goods, for shelter, for transport, or for entertainment. Hoarding the money in particular societies may give an individual certain status, hence money can also be used to gain status. However, its value comes only from how useful it is. Money is simply a means to an end, rather than the end itself. We can use money to achieve a final end, but money itself is not a final end. Things that have instrumental purpose get their value from an individual’s preferences, the value comes from how much an individual prefers it and why they prefer it. This would imply that things of instrumental value get their value because we prefer it, but are there things that we should prefer because of their value to us?

In order to explore that question we must begin with what the extreme of the claim that all value is entirely subjective would mean. It would mean, of course, that the following statement would be true: If nobody valued X then X would have no value. In other words, if something existed, and nobody held any value for that something, then that something would have no value. Considering the sheer amount of things that exist, from physical to concept, should we be comfortable to make such a blanket statement about the value of things? There will be those who will be comfortable to make such a blanket statement, and if that blanket statement holds true then we would have to agree that all value is entirely subjective. However, by substituting X with some everyday concepts and items we will, hopefully, see that there are things whose value does not depend on someone valuing them.

Subjective valueFirst let us substitute X with the concept of rationality. We often find ourselves arguing that people should be more rational; it allows us to think in a clearer way, it allows us to make good decisions, it enables us to be more effective in our judgements, to find truth more effectively, and much more. In other words, we argue that those who do not value rationality should value rationality. Rationality gets its value not from our preference for it, it has value simply for what it is. There will be those that argue that rationality is simply a tool, and therefore only has instrumental value, but there must be something intrinsic in rationality that leads us to the conclusion that we should value it. Imagine a world in which everyone behaved irrationally, could we truly say that rationality would hold no value in that world? Of course not, we would argue that the introduction of rationality would add value to that world, we would argue that people should prefer a world with rationality because of what rationality could add to that world. However, if all value is entirely subjective then in a world where everyone was irrational, and nobody valued rationality, then rationality does not, and could not, hold any value. This suggests that there are certain things because of the goodness that they contain, and that our lack of preference for them does nothing to detract from the goodness that they contain.

Let us also substitute X with something like vaccinations for polio. Imagine now a world in which polio is rampant, a world not unlike our own before the introduction of the polio vaccine. However, consider that everyone in this imagined world was entirely against vaccines, instead preferring to pray to whichever God they believe in to stop the spread of polio. In such a world, would it really be true that prayer to God is valuable, but a successful vaccine has no value? Let us narrow it down even further. Imagine that in this alternative world God is a stone that someone found thousands of years previously, that is kept in a locked box on the top of the highest mountain. This stone has no magical properties, it is simply a stone. However, the population of this alternative world earnestly believe that this rock is a god that answers prayers, much in the same way that those that inhabit our planet believe that God answers prayers. The prayers obviously do not heal polio, and cannot heal polio. However, does their preferring praying to this stone give their prayers more value than a working vaccine? It would be counter-intuitive to argue such a case. The polio vaccination would produce positive effects, and would lessen the amount of suffering and disease that existed in the alternative world. We would argue that even if they preferred to pray to the rock on the top of the mountain, they should prefer to invest their resources in an endeavour to create a working vaccine. That we would argue against the effectiveness of the prayer to the rock as a means of eradicating polio, and argue that the people of this world should prefer to create vaccinations, suggests that the value of something does not come entirely from what we prefer, and is not entirely subjective. Once again we see an example of something that we should value for its goodness, and in this case even seeing that preferring something need not necessarily suggest that it contains goodness. A society that values praying to a rock to cure polio does not mean that praying to the rock has any value when it comes to curing polio.

Are vaccines good?Returning now to the world we exist in, but continuing with the idea of vaccines, we find that we often argue against the anti-vaccination crowd. Not only do we argue that their view of the science is wrong, but we argue for the value of vaccines. We argue that they are ‘good’. If value was entirely subjective we would not argue this, nor we would be able to argue this. Instead we would find ourselves simply saying ‘well if you find no value in vaccinations, then vaccinations are of no value to you’. However, this is not what happens. We argue that vaccinations make positive contributions to the societies that we live in. They reduce suffering, they reduce illness, and they help stem the spread of dangerous and/or painful diseases. We find ourselves arguing the same for various other things, such as education, or art, or literature, or a healthy life style. We argue for things that contribute to our well-being; in other words, things that contribute to our well-being have value in and of themselves, rather than simply having value because we value them.

There is a distinction that needs to be made here, and that distinction is the value that something holds by virtue of what it is, and the value it holds because we make use of it. Something can have value that we do not appreciate, but that does not diminish the value it holds. The value it holds by virtue of what it is gives us cause to value it. There is of course some level of subjectivity to value, there is some value to things that is defined by our preference for it. Consider the following examples taken from H. E. Baber’s paper Adaptive Preferences (Baber, 2007).

The first example from Baber (2007) to be discussed is that of the wife who is beaten regularly. On first examination of the wife’s circumstances we might hastily conclude that the wife prefers a life where she is beaten regularly to one where she is not beaten regularly. This would be a mistake though, as pointed out by Baber. Baber argues that it is not that the wife prefers being beaten to not being beaten, it is that the wife has had to choose from various bundles of things. One bundle contains the security of housing and food, but also contains being beaten, where the other bundle excludes the security of housing and food, but does not contain being beaten. It is not that the wife prefers being beaten, it is that the wife prefers housing and food and is willing to put up with the beatings to get it. The beatings do not add to her well-being of course, and it would be a mistake to say that the beatings are given value, or goodness, simply because she would prefer to have food and shelter. As Baber argues, she would more likely prefer a bundle that contains housing, food and no beatings, but of the options actually available to her the bundle she prefers contains an item of no value. Taking this into account should add weight towards the idea that our preferences do not wholly determine the value of something, otherwise it would have to be argued that the beatings contain goodness due to the fact that they allow her to have food and shelter. When really what should be argued, as Baber suggests, is that the beatings are not preferred, contain no goodness, and given the chance the wife would quickly choose a bundle that had food, shelter and no beatings.

The next example to look at is that of the young girl from Afghanistan. Here Baber (2007) gives us an example that contains a young girl’s mother choosing a life that does not contain education, preferring instead to teach the young girl about taking care of a household and a husband. This choice is made because in that particular society an educated woman is not looked on in the same way that they would be in somewhere like Britain. The husband of that particular society is looking for the woman who is a good home maker, and who will stay at home and look after the children. Therefore an education may negatively impact the child’s chance at finding a husband, and therefore securing a stable future for herself. However, this does not necessarily mean that the mother would not prefer her child to have an education. If it is the case that the mother would prefer her child to have an education if it were a viable option then it also seems to be the case that education has a particular value that is defined in and of itself. If education has a value in and of itself then it would also be the case that the value of it is not entirely subjective. In a world in which education exists, but everyone within that world preferred something else, education would still have a certain value. In the case of the girl from Afghanistan, the value of education to her personally is determined in part by her preferences as well as her circumstances. However, the value of education itself is a separate issue. Here we must learn to separate the value of something, such as education, from the value of something to us.

Here again we see that there are things that we should value because of the properties they hold in and of themselves, from the things that we prefer. The things that we prefer may be shaped by our environment, causing us to value something that we really should not prefer. Someone may prefer being beaten to being homeless, but that does not mean that being beaten contains any intrinsic ‘goodness’. However, a society that provides education, and better options than being beaten or being homeless, would mean that this someone would prefer something different, even if the option to being beaten was available to them. This means that something like education, or a safe living environment, have value outside of our preferences for them. There are properties contained within those things that means we should prefer them. Once again meaning that value is not entirely subjective, instead there is an objective element to value.

Science vs the Qu'ranNow imagine for a moment the existence of world in which only Islam existed. Consider that all of our information about the natural world came only from the teachings of the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran is chosen here as an example because of the many claims that Muslims make about how the Qu’ran contains true knowledge about the universe. Claims such as it containing detailed information about embryology, the big bang, the weather system, and much more. Would we be accurate in saying that science would have no value in this world? Would we be accurate in saying that the Qu’ran would have more value for finding out about the universe than science would? This is what we would be saying if we were to say that value is entirely subjective. However, it would be an incorrect thing to say. The Qu’ran does not contain more value than science when it comes to discovering truths about the natural world, and one would not argue that it does unless one is a Muslim. However, we would still argue with that Muslim that the Qu’ran is not of value when it comes to discovering truths about the natural world. While the Qu’ran may have subjective value bestowed upon it by the Muslim, the Muslim should instead value science regardless of whether it conflicts with the Qu’ran. In fact, we argue that the Qu’ran should be discarded in favour of the findings of science. Meaning that science has a value in and of itself, and that we should prefer it because of this value; this value being truth. This would also mean that truth holds some value in and of itself, and is not something that gets its value simply because we prefer it. A world with truth has more ‘goodness’, or value, than a world without truth. If everybody preferred to lie all the time, they should instead prefer a world in which truth exists. The value of truth is not something that is entirely subjective.

Is value entirely subjective?Again, here we see the idea of the value of something, and the value of something to us. Showing once again the importance of the distinction between the two things. The value to us is something that takes on a subjective nature. There are also things that are entirely of subjective value. Music itself may have intrinsic properties, however our preference for different types of music is something that is subjective. Some music may move us, some music may move us to switch it off. The one that we prefer to listen, and therefore value, is determined entirely subjectively. Literature is another example. While reading in general may contain intrinsic properties, the genre we prefer, and therefore value, may be entirely different. One may choose to read Hume, while another chooses to read Harry Potter. The same may be said of past-times. While one person may prefer to sketch a drawing of a beautiful countryside, another may prefer to play video games. The contributions that certain things make to our well-being causes us to value certain things that another may not, are still instilled instrumental value by our using them. However, it is our preference for them that gives them value, they are means to another end, such as happiness, or education. Meaning that value can still be entirely subjective. The mistake comes not from declaring that value can be subjective, but from declaring that all value is subjective.

All of this means that we should conclude that value is not something that is entirely subjective. There may be a certain amount of subjectivity involved when it comes to value, and in some cases something may get its value entirely subjectively, but to declare that all things get their value entirely subjectively is too simplistic of a claim. Some things do contain a value in and of themselves, giving us cause not only to value, but to argue for why we should value certain things. This would not be possible if value was entirely subjective. To argue for why we should value something is to argue that the something has value apart from our preferences. It is to argue that our preferences should adapt themselves to this value being argued for, and therefore that there is a certain amount of objectivity to that value being argued for. In conclusion, we should be arguing that value is not entirely subjective, and to argue that cause is to argue for far too simplistic a conclusion. A simplistic conclusion that does not hold up to scrutiny.

References

Baber, H. E. (2007) ‘Adaptive preference’, Social Theory and Practice, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 105–26

Crisp, R. (2013) ‘Well-being’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [Online], 8 May 2013. Available at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/well-being/ (Accessed 24 Jul 2017)




Life and Death

Life, purpose and dealing with death

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor life death

If you are reading this, you might be alive. You might be a computer program, simulating my life to me. We never know. To me, cogito ergo sum, to you, not so much. I think, therefore I am. But I don’t know that you think, so you might not be. This applies to our entire environment. And should it be true that our entire environment, the way we perceive others and the universe, be simulated, do we even classify as ‘alive’?

Because we are the rational human, homo sapiens, or at least because we can contemplate abstract principles, we can contemplate our lives. It is a blessing. It has made us able to build bridges and estimate their maximum carry weight beforehand, make increasingly complex buildings and objects and increasingly useful, safe and complex products. Our abstract mind is a great thing, which has enabled us to adapt like no other species before us; to the point of cultivating and maintaining our own ecosystem, the cityscape. But like many great things, it has its downsides. Because it enables us to contemplate our lives and objects around us, we can have fears. Fears of objects and/or concepts, people or death.

Especially this last one, the fear of death, is one that wreaks havoc, to this day, on human freedom. This is why I am writing this article; to clear up misconceptions around the concepts of life and death. To do this, we will start by handling the presumed current affairs; life. We will look at how close we can come to getting to a purpose for being alive. After that, we will look at the question ‘what to do with life in the face of death?’, at the hand of a few examples, such as Abortion, Euthanasia and Suicide and the Death Penalty.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor life

Life

Regardless the fact that most of us know intuitively how to separate life from non-life or death fairly flawlessly, there is quite some contention on what ‘life’ means. There are various definitions in contention. In the light of being inclusive, I will use the present biological definition: ‘an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction’. It is important to note, that this definition is under contention, because some forms of plants, and animals -including humans with certain diseases-, though alive, show no reaction to stimuli. The same goes for reproduction; a dog that is neutered is nonetheless alive. Even while the dog is temporarily unconscious after getting neutered, he is not dead. So we have established that our definition is lacking. Therefore, I would ask the honored reader to attach this baggage to my starting definition, so that we may adequately and completely discuss the concept of life.

Valuing life

Many people say the value life, implying -purposefully or not- that they value life intrinsically. They have a good point in this. After all, it is a spectacular occurrence. The way each animal and human have their own goals, go on their own ways to survive is very impressive, as are the high trees. But, so too are the high, inanimate mountains and deep seas.

That being said, we don’t treat other lifeforms like we care about life itself, do we? If we set aside the fact that literally all of our food was once alive are killed for the express purpose of feeding us- we have no choice but to. But we cut up our house plants, squash bugs and hunt. These don’t really seem indicative of valuing life itself, do they? Moreover; when our home is infested with life, we call in an exterminator. So, at the most we can say that we “value life as long it conforms to the desires we have for it.” That is to say, that while we value life, we don’t necessarily consider life life when we want to make alterations to, or use of it. In cutting the plant, we don’t stop to think we are mutilating it. Yet, we are. In squashing the bug, we don’t stop to think we are ending a life. Yet, we are.

It is for this reason that I am convinced that, instead of life itself, we actually value awareness, or at least the potential of awareness. What do I mean with awareness, exactly? Awareness, as I mean to define it, is: “the state of being able to perceive, react upon and sensually experience one’s surroundings and to remember these experiences”. For a formal layout of the idea of awareness I am getting at, I will refer you to my earlier article; Cognicism; a secular moral system, I will here layout only the rudimentary case as it pertains to this article.

For any stimulus to have an effect on an organism, a certain processing of these stimuli should be present. If it isn’t, the stimulus wouldn’t have an effect, simply because the organism isn’t aware of the fact that a stimulus has occurred.

For any stimulus to an organism to have an effect on the moral status of the stimulus, there must be a certain processing of the stimulus so that the organism can take notice. This means that the organism shouldn’t only be able to process the stimulus, but it must be able to notice the results. If, for instance you hurt an animal, but it has no capacity for memory, it will have forgotten the pain right after the incident, leaving there be no pain.

In short, awareness is what we value about our own lives and the lives of others, because it is what we empathize with and what we base ourselves, our own actions and personality, on.

Purpose of life

Now that we established what it is that we value about life and about living creatures, it is time to start exploring what the purpose of life is. By ‘purpose of life’, I mean something similar to, yet completely different from the classic-theistic approach. The difference here, is mainly one of cause. In the classic-theistic sense, we typically start out (re-)affirming that we were made by god. (Re-)affirming of faith is significant, in this instance, as you can make the argument that purpose follows the intent of the creator, leading us to the conclusion that the purpose of life, is simply to live according to god’s plan, whatever that may be.

Let us stop for a minute, to acknowledge that; “to live according to god’s plan, whatever that may be.” It seems interesting, but is actually entirely vacuous. God is often silent, apart from the manual he left centuries, if not millennia ago. To make matters worse; most gods are omniscient and omnipotent, so you can’t not live according to god’s plan.

There’s not such an easy way out for us, here. If we want to get a satisfying answer, we’re going to have to look around. We do this by finding other things or beings in our environment that do have an established purpose. The first thing that comes to mind, are objects designed for use. They are designed for a certain use and they fulfill this use as a purpose. Knives and scissors, for instance, have the purpose of inflicting controlled damage on an object/individual, cars are meant to transport human beings and their belongings with a relatively high speed at a very specific location.

We can notice here, that purpose is a result of design. So, what does our design, or form, tell us about ourselves? A bit too much, I am afraid. We have a form that enables us to do almost everything. And it has enabled us to do everything we have done so far. But, does this mean that simply ‘being human’ is the purpose of human life? This does brush on what many non-religious people will give as an answer to the question. They will say: “to be” or “to live”. This is essentially a good answer. It takes into account all that we feel when trying to answer this question; the fact that there is no discernible god, the fact that no purpose is given beforehand and that we experience both good and bad things. But this fails to take into account that ‘being’ or ‘living’ itself has no purpose without an environment, so our purpose must have something to do with our environment. Not to mention that ‘living to live’ seems unsatisfying and circular, so we must keep on looking. If we take the car, mentioned above, we see a similar problem. A car, too, has many different functions and abilities. It typically has air conditioning, radio, mirrors etc. Yet, we do not consider the purpose of the car to be providing air conditioning, radio and reflections to be the purpose of the car. This is because we separate the primary functions from the secondary and tertiary functions; we only use these features when we are in the car, using it already. This, of course begs the question; how do we separate the different grades of functions.

I am convinced that we can find the answer to this question in the use of fuels. When we look at a car, we see that it has many functions, as laid out above.  But, we might also notice that uses the majority of the energy its fuel supplies in motion. When we consider humans, then, science tells us that 20-30% of our fuel is used to provide our brains with sufficient energy. Of this energy, most goes to recognizing, simulating and traversing our environment and surroundings. Thus, we have established our link to our surroundings. The rest of the energy that goes to our brains, that is not used for staying alive or knowing our surroundings, are used for contemplation of life or questions in life.

In conclusion, we can now show a hierarchy in purposes for life, which we can apply not only to human life, but to all forms of life:

  • To sustain life through procreation and nourishment
  • To experience life and the world
  • To contemplate life and the world

These all follow from our reasoning about awareness and function, in addition to having the neat attribute of connecting what we value about life with a sense of objective purpose.

This purpose to life is of course very universal and this probably makes it not very helpful in your day to day life. Alas, No one can be expected to craft you a personal purpose for life. But, the upside is that we are entirely free to shape our own personal purpose and legacy in this world. For me, I just try to spread compassion and understanding so that we might stop arguing. But you are free to do whatever you think best suits you.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor death

Death

All of this; life, our reasoning… our purpose… leads to the question of what we should do with life, considering death. The value of life and the inevitability of death combined, lead to a plethora of interesting dilemma’s. In this article, to avoid endlessly considering different kinds of medical dilemma’s, we will limit ourselves to the best known examples of these dilemma’s, known to be Abortion VS the right to life, Suicide VS Right/will to live, The death penalty VS the right to life and Euthanasia VS the sanctity of life.

Before we do this, however, let’s discuss the concept of death.

Death is, as we all know, the loss of life and/or the status of no longer being alive. Death is often considered an unpleasant or even scary subject to talk about, because we are confronted head-on that at a certain time, a certain day in the future, we too will die. This makes people anxious, because life is all we know. In this respect, death is the ‘great unknown’.

This also explains that many people, apart from being anxious about death, have an inexplicable fascination with it. Things that are unknown but (at the time) harmless, are very interesting. They challenge us to think outside the box, confront our fears and challenge our minds. It has done this to the point that we have significantly raised the age expectancy over just a few decades. But, alas, death remains inevitable.

Why exactly death is inevitable, or if it will in the far future remain to be, is unclear. But for the time being, it seems that we will all die. So why, if it is a fate we all share, are we so afraid of it?

One of the reasons, I have already mentioned, albeit briefly. “Death is the great unknown.” All we know, all we love, is in this life. Our stuff, our friends and family, but even the sun and the greater universe. These things make sense to us, give us a reason to get up in the morning. Parting with it, gives us a sense of alienation and insecurity. We are going into the unknown, and we never know what horrors or joys we might encounter.

A second reason is the process of dying. The fact that we will all die, doesn’t mean that the way we die is universal. Rather, there are quite different ways to die. We might die in our sleep, but we can also catch a piece of space junk on our head, and everything in between is a more or less viable way to die. So, too do the degrees of lain in this all vary. We might assume that we feel next to nothing when we die in our sleep, while when we die from a disease that slowly eats away at our body is likely near unbearable. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; death in the sense of being dead and no longer feeling the pain of disease and existence. So, how do we handle this mixture of suffering and angst? Let’s examine this.

Abortion

Abortion is the first kind of death we might encounter in our lives. Namely, when we reside safely in our mother’s womb. Or well, in case of abortion, perhaps not so safely. Many atheists fight what they consider the good fight to legalize abortion, and are quite easily done with the topic after that. This I find regrettable, since many haven’t gotten their perceptions about life and death clearly in order and abortion is -in my opinion- one of the cornerstone-tools in finding clarity about life and death. Abortion is a good tool in this respect, because it contains elements not only of life and death, but personal bodily integrity, different facets of consciousness, legislation and autonomy. We find ourselves considering whether autonomy trumps the right to life or not. This is in and of itself a fascinating question, in which both sides have valid and good arguments.

For instance, the argument of deprival of choice for the fetus resonates with most people and initially rings true. A human baby and indeed a fetus, might not yet have the awareness to make this decision, but as I argued above, it is not so much ‘life’ or ‘awareness’ that we value, but the ‘potential for awareness’ and certainly a fetus has this potential.

However, it is only a potential for awareness (this will be further explained in the next section of this article). Up until a certain point, a developing baby isn’t conscious. This means that, though it is alive, it doesn’t know it’s alive. Because it isn’t aware that it’s alive, and abortion is a tough-to-grasp concept, it isn’t aware that there is a choice to be made, until long after the choice has been made, if it will ever be aware of the choice. Of course, this lack of awareness also impacts the moral status of the fetus; because it has little to no awareness, it has little to no ability to notice its environment, much less to interpret and remember any suffering inflicted upon it.

It may be noted that this argument does little to allow the removal of the fetus. The fact that committing an act leads to little to no damage, doesn’t mean you should commit it. If swatting a fly doesn’t do much damage, that doesn’t mean you should go out and kill every fly you encounter. In fact, depending on its location, this might be quite a dangerous undertaking. This is in effect the same when it comes to abortion, if you change ‘location’ to ‘state of development’ and ‘dangerous’ to ‘immoral’. At the stage of development (I say state of development instead of naming it, because this might shift) where we have significant reason to assume that the developing baby does have the ability to feel and remember joy or suffering, its moral status, and thus the moral status of abortion, change entirely. It is at that point, as we have clarified above, it becomes a creature that we have to morally account for beyond its potential for awareness.

The argument about the sanctity of life is also one that resonates. After all, we are here because life exists and removing the special ‘sacred’ status, might expose it to danger by ruthless treatment. The facts that our planet has life is barely short of miraculous and that we, as diverse life, sustain each other significantly on most every level, make life one of the most praiseworthy things. However, this only means that the preservation of life as a whole should be morally accounted for. This doesn’t mean every individual is worthy of such consideration. We can value the machine without valuing every part. And we seem to know this intuitively, as most of us eat animals.

But, at the end of things, abortion will always be a weighing of the values attached to the potential for awareness of the fetus versus the bodily autonomy of the woman in question. It will come as no surprise, that I find the ready awareness of the woman to be of higher moral status than the not-yet-existent awareness of the developing child. And as the woman’s awareness and experience of life are inseparably connected to her bodily autonomy, we must conclude that she is entitled to make such a decision in her best judgments

Suicide and Euthanasia

Sooner or later, most of us will confront ourselves with a great question, that might have even greater consequences. “Should I just end it all?” The brunt of people who entertain this thought don’t seriously intend to do so and a greater number refrains from both suicide and euthanasia. But some people do commit suicide, and it’s understandable. We have never chosen to live and should we have had the choice before conception or birth, many of us might well have refused the offer. Living hurts. We might get hurt ourselves or be hurt by others, there’s wars, famine, slavery and disease. Not to even talk about the troubles money and love may cause. And because we have the power of contemplation, we might estimate the impact of these troubles in our life. They can seem insurmountable and sometimes, they are.

When troubles are severe and insurmountable, by which I mean that they cause great suffering that shows no reasonable sign of halting, suicide or euthanasia might be a viable option. However, aside from abstractly thinking, we are also an emotional species. This leads us to often make our problems seem bigger than they are. This is why, before one goes through with suicide or euthanasia, they ought to be sure they have sufficient reason to. After all, it is a hefty trade. We leave behind all we know and all we love. Everything that we can be sure of, and trade it for something we can’t be sure of. We can’t be sure about how it is to lose awareness permanently. In this sense, suicide and euthanasia are like making an all-in wager at an international casino; you cash in your chips, but you don’t know in which currency they’ll pay you back.

We should thus conclude that both suicide and euthanasia should be acts that are only committed after lengthy and intense reflection as well as seeking psychological or otherwise professional help. And when and if we reach the conclusion that they are the best course of action, our thoughts ought to immediately go out to those we have during our lives surrounded ourselves with; friends, family and other loved ones. The ways people get to know about a death can be of great influence on their life. To minimize their suffering, arrangements ought to be made to keep trauma at a minimum. In the case of euthanasia, this is often the case. People who apply for euthanasia often share their plans with their loved ones. Their deaths will be professionally assisted and the body equally professionally taken care of. In suicide, this is often not the case. It are often loved ones who find the body, in all kinds of compromising positions and conditions. This is why euthanasia ought to be available to everyone who has been deemed to have sufficient reason to want to give up life. These reasons can vary from being terminally ill and severely suffering, to just not wanting to live.

The Death Penalty

Of the many forms of death we humans can succumb to, the death penalty might well be the hardest to reach a definitive conclusion on. This is in part because we hear a lot about the death penalty in our daily lives. We hear about a murderer who killed one person getting the death sentence, while those who have killed entire families may get life in prison and the other way around. My opinion about the death penalty is an unpopular one, simply because I don’t explicitly side with one side or the other.

Let’s start by setting up a framework for this discussion.

The death penalty should be considered in a reasonable context. That is to say that subjects who undergo the death penalty ought to be rightfully convicted in a fair trial with sufficient evidence, of a crime that is proportional to the penalty. The desired amount of evidence ought to be left to be derived from what is scientifically acceptable to reach consensus, as science has proven to be the most trustworthy way to determine reality, and that proportionality ought to be established in all moral reasonableness. This in turn means that we use good reasoning to determine when someone is eligible for the death penalty. Certainly, we don’t want to hang people for throwing their cigarette on the ground.

If we consider the death penalty this way, we see that it is a very viable option. It becomes a viable option, if -rather than punishment- we see it as a means of increasing utility (utility, in philosophy, is the amount of ‘usefulness’ in a resulting situation, varying from the amount of options that result to the amount of happiness and/or contentment), as long as you do it humanely.

The first reason for this, I regret having to mention it, money. People who pose a danger to society and can’t be rehabilitated, will otherwise spend their lives in jail. Jails, which are either publicly owned, or publicly funded in most cases. This means tax dollars would be spent on a ‘hopeless matter’.

A second reason, is the criminal himself. Many who pose a danger to society, and can’t be reasonably rehabilitated, will otherwise spend their lives in jail, where they will have little meaning in their life and constant threat of violence. As long as they are executed humanely, it seems that at least a choice must be given to these people.

However, the above is almost never the case. Juries and judges get the assignment to establish ‘beyond the shadow of a doubt’ that the defendant did it, but estimations (since courts don’t usually entertain the possibility of innocence after the fact) range between 20-30% of people who were executed being innocent. So clearly, there was a shadow of doubt looming over the conviction. We see, in many countries, that dissidents are silenced using the death penalty and/or undue sentencing. In short, we “get the wrong guys” too often.

The implications are severe. When we kill the wrong person, we are slaying an innocent person. In doing this, our system itself commits murder. Now, depending on the legislation for when exactly someone becomes eligible for the death penalty, this may quickly mean that the system that enacts the death penalty must itself be charged with murder and sentenced accordingly. But this is not all. If we consider the murderer a danger to society, how do we treat the executioner, who by all means has killed at least one, but may very well have killed multiple people. Do we consider him a threat to society? at the very least, he has killed innocents, which means he directly participated in murder. At the very least he ought to be considered an accessory to murder. So do we sentence him? And what about the judges and/or juries? surely, they gave the order for the execution. Do we charge them with a criminal conspiracy?

Of course, this would be both ridiculous and untenable. So though the value of life is not to be too highly estimated, we must also consider our state’s and nation’s practical moral implications. These show us that the death penalty isn’t the best course of action, though it has some very strong arguments in favor of it. These arguments, however, are insufficient when compared with the chance for committing a moral evil inadvertently. We must err on the side of life, rather than the side of death.

Natural Death

What then, do we do with natural death? Medical science has evolved rapidly over the course of the past 150 or so years. We have managed to -in large numbers- abandon the relative quackery of herbs and spices and get to pills, supplements, scans and vaccinations. this has allowed us to increase our lifespan significantly. However, the same can’t be said for our bodily health, which is collectively dropping. We eat a lot of strange, sweet and fatty foods, which makes our bodies ever fatter, our immune systems lacking.

It is truly a beautiful thing, what we have accomplished. I consider it a moral blessing that we have been able to elongate our most precious asset; awareness. This allows us to fulfill more of both our objective and our subjective, personal purposes. However, we must also acknowledge the fact that the age at which our body starts seriously deteriorating has largely remained that same, between the ages of 55 and 65. This is when many chronic disabilities and illnesses start to set in. Alzheimer’s becomes a real concern, but so do several forms of cancer, arthritis and sight-, hearing- and motion problems. These problems, though precautionary and preventative measures are in place and exceedingly prominent, persevere.

So what do we make of this? Firstly, we must understand that these problems, though life threatening, may be experienced as a threat to life. For many old people (especially those who have Alzheimer’s) any problem with the functions they used to have function as a premonition of their inevitable death. On the other hand, there are also older people who fare fairly well in these kinds of circumstances. Some, on the other hand, don’t very much mind, but would choose a younger body should they have the possibility. At any rate, getting older can be a serious burden, but it can also *just* be a burden. What we are effectively doing by elongating human life, is stretching this period of suffering and decline. This seems fairly damning at first hand, but we must also realize that, in saying this, it is the last of such periods a person will experience. In fact, from beginning to end, it might be their last experiences.

This makes the situation profoundly complicated, as on one hand, you would want to end the suffering, but doing that entails ending the awareness of the person suffering. The only reasonable option I see in this is to simply allow euthanasia for these people and keep on working on enhancing the medication we have available for these people, in whichever way that may come. In this way, we make it possible of those who are not ready to leave life to exit it with dignity, surrounded by the people they love or in any other way they see fit. On the other hand, we allow those who are not yet ready to leave life to continue going on, all the while reducing their suffering by introducing new ways to avoid, adapt to or numbing it.

Conclusion

What I have tried to argue in this text, is that though life is valuable in and of itself, we mustn’t apply that to every organism. The value of life is often made to out be sacred, while we all know -as I have shown- that life itself isn’t the quality from which we gather that position, but that it is rather awareness as seen in animals and humans. Taking this, I have shown you that an objective purpose can be found in life by investigating its forms and circumstances.

Using this, I have tried to show you how we can use the notion of life being less than sacred to actually reach conclusions that are very much in line with the intuitions many of us have when it comes to life and dealing with death, at the hand of Abortion, Suicide and euthanasia, the Death Penalty and Natural Death.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor the end




Pro Choice does not mean Pro Abortion

Pro-Choice does not mean Pro-Abortion

Abortion is a very sensitive topic with a lot of high charged emotions flying about. If you remove the emotional element it is easy to see either sides point, but there are a few things that should be cleared up from either perspective.

Pro-Choice does not mean Pro-Abortion

There seems to be an attitude that those who are pro-choice are pro-abortion. Almost to the point where it is thought those that are pro-choice actively seek pregnancy just to have an abortion. I find this attitude abhorrent.

Abortion has to be one of the most difficult choices anyone can make, and we really shouldn’t judge anyone for having made it. Being male it is something I am never going to have to go through, and I honestly cannot imagine what the experience is like.

I have been with someone who did have an abortion. She hated herself for doing it but knew it was the best decision. She had a bad break up, was at university, and had a stupid night that could have ruined her entire life. She made the decision to abort because she knew she would not have been able to provide for the child. Rather than sit at home claiming benefits and scraping by for the rest of her life she made the toughest decision of her life.

Should we really judge her for this decision?

Saying pro-choice is pro-abortion is like saying someone who is pro-gun is pro-massacre.

pro gun and pro life but abortion is murder

If the purpose of the gun is to protect life by potentially killing one life, is that not the same with abortion?

Abortion is Murder

I’ve often heard people say abortion is murder. I can understand why one could feel that way.
The definition of murder is: the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.
As abortion is legal, it does not fit in to that category. However it is illegal in some places – so is it murder in those instances?

The definition of human being is: a man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.

The definition of foetus is: an unborn or unhatched offspring of a mammal, in particular an unborn human more than eight weeks after conception.

Prior to 8 weeks it is referred to as a zygote of fertilised egg.

By the definition of human, it could be said that a foetus or zygote do not classify as a human child, much in the way a seed is not classified as a tree or a flower.

When we look at the development of a foetus we can see key stages and pain is not experienced till the third trimester.

“What we can say about the fetal nervous system is that based on the best science we have” on the neurons that carry pain signals is that the “system isn’t developed until the third trimester of pregnancy,” Davis told Live Science.

Dr Derbyshire, who is linked to pro-choice groups, said there were various stages of a foetus’ gestation at which certain parts of the body’s pain “alarm system” developed.
He concludes that pathways in the brain needed to process pain responses and hormonal stress responses are in place by 26 weeks.

“Pain becomes possible because of a psychological development that begins at birth when the baby is separated from the protected atmosphere of the womb and is stimulated into wakeful activity.”

Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques. Similarly, limited or no data exist on the safety of such techniques for pregnant women in the context of abortion. Anesthetic techniques currently used during fetal surgery are not directly applicable to abortion procedures.

Pain is an emotional and psychological experience that requires conscious recognition of a noxious stimulus. Consequently, the capacity for conscious perception of pain can arise only after thalamocortical pathways begin to function, which may occur in the third trimester around 29 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, based on the limited data available. Small-scale histological studies of human foetuses have found that thalamocortical fibers begin to form between 23 and 30 weeks’ gestational age, but these studies did not specifically examine thalamocortical pathways active in pain perception.

What we can tell from various studies is at the stages of development abortion is performed the foetus cannot feel pain, is does not operate with a consciousness like you and I do.

In fact it would safe to say that a non-human animal’s consciousness is more developed than a human foetus.

If you are “Pro-Life” surely this goes for animals too?

The final part of the problem is the definition around “life” or the state of being ALIVE. Does life start when you are born? When you start to feel pain? When you start to be conscious? Or is it the second the cells are there? By that notion, are sperm consider a life? The sperm cell fit the definition of being alive, but are they “a life”?

Quality of life

Many of the Pro-Lifers I have talked to and read articles from seem to also be those who are any or all of the following:

  1. Anti-benefits
  2. Anti-free healthcare
  3. Anti-Veteran benefits

If you are so insistent on the foetus being born, why do you suddenly stop caring about it’s life the second it actually starts?

If you complain about single mothers claiming benefit, why do you insist on these single mothers having children?

“They shouldn’t have got pregnant in the first place!”

Really? Maybe not. How much do you know of this situation? What if they were raped? What if having the baby will kill them? What if it was an unfortunate accident? What if the educational system is so poor in the area that proper sex-ed is not taught so they were not fully aware of how the process works?

How can you make such a sweeping statement about someone’s pregnancy when you know nothing of it?

If you are truly pro-life, this should extend to post-birth, and to all humans. Perhaps even all animals on the planet.

Unfortunately so many of these questions are “refuted” easily with comments about God’s will and God’s plan. Therefore absolving the believer of all responsibility yet enforcing their views/beliefs on someone else’s body.

pregnancy from rape

So what does Pro-Choice mean?

It means that you believe that women are entitled to what goes on in their bodies. It means you empathise with the hard choice they might have to make. It means you recognise that there are circumstances where it is “the lesser of two evils”.

In the UK and US it is perfectly legal to eat pork. The Jewish religion forbids them from eating pork. Jews cannot and do not demand that everyone else not eat pork.

In the UK and US it is legal for women to have an abortion. The Christian religion forbids abortion (although not in a very direct way).  Christian’s cannot but do demand everyone be against abortion even though it is their own religious belief.

Christian’s can choose to follow their beliefs or not, but expect others to be held to the same standard even though they don’t share the same belief? The additional irony with the previous statement is that even though most dietary requirements were retconned in the Bible, there are still a few that exist. For example it is suggested that the meat consumed should not contain ANY blood and Paul of Tasus notes that some devout Christians may wish to abstain from meat. There are also the various verses in regards to alcohol and when you are supposed to have what strength and how much but Christians decide to overlook them. There are more verses about the items they can cosnume than there are about homosexuality.. but they think homosexuality is “icky”, alcohol is fun and rare steak* is “yummy” so they cherry pick.
*the red in steak actually contains very little blood and is instead myoglobin, but the point still stands.

Moral judgments are not legal judgments. Your personal beliefs are yours alone.

Pro-Choice literally means you are OK with people making choices for themselves.

Against this from a religious perspective?

If you’re against from a Christian/Muslim background, consider this:

  1. The foetus is in heaven now
  2. If your omnipotent God wanted to save the baby, he would/could have.
  3. The people involved will be “punished” in the afterlife. (Or maybe forgiven by your loving god)
  4. Don’t judge others, that is for your deity to do.  Mat 7:1-5, Luke 6:37-42 and many others.
    Stop trying to control people with your religion.

Whilst this is not what I believe as an atheist, it is what can be taken from your mythology.

Summary

Abortion is a very tough choice and an even tougher experience for those involved.

Instead of slamming those involved we should have some compassion for their situation, even if it is not something we agree with ourselves.

A few thoughts:

  • Foetuses do not experience or are not aware of pain at the ages they are aborted.
  • Foetuses consciousness is not developed.
  • If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.
  • Stop judging others, I am sure you are less than perfect in some ways too.
  • If you are still against abortion, adopt all the children that would not have come to be without your anti-abortion tirade.

References:

  1. http://www.livescience.com/54774-fetal-pain-anesthesia.html
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4905892.stm
  3. http://www.livescience.com/44899-stages-of-pregnancy.html
  4. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/201429?hc_location=ufi



Apologetics

Religious Apologetics – The Science of Excuses

Defining Apologetics

Apologetics may be simply defined as the defense of the faith. The simplicity of this definition, however, masks the complexity of the problem of defining apologetics. It turns out that a diversity of approaches has been taken to defining the meaning, scope, and purpose of apologetics.

From Apologia to Apologetics

The word “apologetics” derives from the Greek word apologia, which was originally used of a speech of defense or an answer given in reply. In ancient Athens it referred to a defense made in the courtroom as part of the normal judicial procedure. After the accusation, the defendant was allowed to refute the charges with a defense or reply (apologia). The accused would attempt to “speak away” (apo—away, logia—speech) the accusation. The classic example of such an apologia was Socrates’ defense against the charge of preaching strange gods, a defense retold by his most famous pupil, Plato, in a dialogue called The Apology (in Greek, hē apologia).

Heresey and Punishment

There is much to be learned from the way in which a societyseeks to limit the choices of its members, particularly in the contentiousfield of religion. Medieval Europe is a good case in point, because atfirst sight the ideological blanket of ‘Christendom’ thrown over thecontinent disguises both the diversity of belief and the responses to thatdiversity. Theoretically the medieval Christian Church was a monopoly based on exclusive interpretation of the Bible through the works of theChurch fathers and the legislation of Councils. The heretic was a dissenter and must be silenced by any means necessary. It was not OK to question the religious movement local to you. Why was this? Well because the apologetics knew that their preconceived scripts would not stand up to questioning. 

I am not going to go into gory detail in this article, perhaps I just had an idea for a future piece but I will link here to a couple of pieces regarding various methods employed by various religious cults and their sects for daring to question or deny their god(s)     Christianity  Islam  Video here if you are not much of a reader

Times They Are A Changing

Well for the most part, I would not stand up in the streets in Lahore or Riyadh and start questioning the existence of Allah or start asking for evidence that Muhammed travelled to heaven on a Buraq for fear of an horific public and on the spot execution, but in many countries now atheists can finally stand up and engage in civil(ish) discourse with apologists and call them out on their quite feeble arguments which used to placate the general masses. We can expose their shill “scientists” such as Jason Lisle who will present half truths, or just outright lies in order to mislead theists that may not be so well versed in the sciences. They see his PhD status and take his comments as “gospel” even though it flies in the face of scientific consensus, but this is just a way to confirm their bias and bolster their irrational belief. You can watch ICR’s Prof Jason Lisle being debunked here. The late Duane Gish was another hookey professor that had no problem bending the truth in order to uphold apologetic arguments attempting to give credence to religious claims using “science”. I debunked one of Gish’s articles from ICR here.

And what we are seeing is all of the apologists being debunked one by one. Their once sacred arguments like William Lane Craigs re-hash of Thomas Aquinas’ 5 Arguments For God being stripped apart and shown to be the illogical presuppositional nonsense that it is.  We see people like Hamza Tzortzis, who was Europe’s leading proponent of the miracle like nature of Quran write a public letter debunking his previous arguments after spending time working in labs with actual scientists to see how the claims of islamic scholars gone by do not hold up to questioning. He also applies logic to his original claims and shows how his older arguments are self refuting. For more on Hamza’s U-turn click here.

In the age of information the religious apologist has to lie and hope the listeners dont fact check. They rely on a less educated audience lapping up their lies and passing it down the generations. Hopefully the Modern Heresey Movement combined with the Information Age, YouTube,  can be more than just a thorn in their sides and maybe one day tumble this abhorrent abomination of liars, cheats and charlatans. Hopefully here at www.answers-in-reason.com we are making headway alongside people like AronRa, Cosmicskeptic, Holy Koolaid, misterdeity and Hemant Mehta aka Friendly Atheist to name but a few of the prominent rational thinkers exposing apologetics for what they are. Excuses!!

Making The Immoral Moral

At the risk of falling foul of Godwin’s Law I am going to invoke Hitler….

What Hitler had his propaganda machine do was demonise certain groups in society. This meant that when his troops massacred said groups the German people felt nothing or very little for these people. The doctrine of religion would attempt to do the same and makes their followers desensitised towards the horrific acts of earlier followers or for that matter generations of followers to come.

The Old Testament would have the Levites butcher their families if they did not follow their one true god. This should be shocking yet religious apologetics would attempt to square this away as “not a biggy”, Jehova did warn us he was a jealous deity. it was their fault for not believing in him.

Likewise with a global flood killing all but 8 members of the same family. The entire population of the Earth were sinners, apparently including all unborn babies and children under the age of reason, not to mention all but “of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.” Gen 7:2

This is extreme yet the science of excuses causes people to not even bat an eyelid. Same goes for killing disobedient children, stoning a bride that was not a virgin and chopping the opposing hands and feet from an apostate.

Making The Impossible Possible

You need just look at the Statement of Faith of groups like ICR or www.answersingenesis.org

Instead of testing bible claims they take it as a starting point for scientific research, that is exactly the opposite of scientific research. It takes a conclusion and works backwards to try to manufacture situations that would fit what they need it to be. An example is humans and dinosaurs living at the same time in history. Evidence shows otherwise but lets not let facts get in the way of their mission. They clearly state that no matter what evidence appears to the contrary that they will uphold their belief. How they have the audacity to call this science is beyond me.

We have pastors like Peter LaRuffa who is immortalised on video stating that if the bible said 2+2=5 he would accept this as truth and try to find a way in his mind to “work it out and understand it”. Bill Nye’s response to this is fantastic and you can see it here.

Defending Logic and Reason

I named a few prominent atheist activists above but left off many. As a movement against the sham that is apologetics we have been blessed with many wonderfully erudite and eloquently spoken front men. Walking amongst us still we have the likes of Dawkins and Dennet, Harris and Krauss and we fondly remember the most brilliant Christopher Hitchins, may his energy transform and never be destroyed.

I would call upon any and all rational and reasoned thinkers to take to the internet and use the tools we have available to us, chat rooms, comments sections, twitter and YouTube, any platform these apologists use to spread lies and misinformation and call them out. Correct them on every video, tweet or post they make. Quote peer review, use top down logic but expose their lies. They no longer have the upper hand of outspoken “heretics” being afraid to have their say and expose them for what they are.

Join the New Age Heretic Movement, be heard and silence the charlatans. Make a difference!!

https://www.facebook.com/newageheretics/

Twitter: @newageheretics

Alan The Atheist

 




cofirmation bias conspiracy theorists fundamentalists and david wolfe

Confirmation Bias: Fanboys, Fundamentalists, Conspiracy Theorists and our Tribal Nature

Fanboys, Fundamentalists, and Conspiracy theorists are the prime users of Confirmation Bias.

In fact, everyone at some point has operated using confirmation bias based on their cognitive biases, but in most circumstances, you could drop them in to one of the above categories.

So let’s start with some definitions of the terminology shall we? We don’t want any Conflated or Misunderstood terms, do we?

Definitions

Fanboy/Fangirl

Someone who is obsessive, enthusiastic, and passionate over a topic/brand/toy etc. Generally, the thing the fan is obsessed with can do no wrong and are the best in their eyes, be they a fan of the PlayStation, DC comics, Star Trek, or Apple.

Fundamentalist

Usually applied to religious folk,  a “fanboy” of their faith. Essentially being a fundamentalist means they have a strict belief in a literal interpretation of their religious texts.

Conspiracy Theorist

A Conspiracy Theorist is a person who holds an idea that explains an event or situation as the result of a secret plan by usually powerful people or groups.

Confirmation Bias

The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Essentially only listening to evidence/papers/ideas that back up ones preconceived notions.

Cognitive Bias

A cognitive bias is a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.

Cognitive Bias is perfectly natural and it would be almost impossible for humans to function if they had none in place. We would have to re-evaluate an analyse everything constantly. You know how you like your cup of tea, if you like it dark you will instantly assume a milky tea is disgusting. This is a cognitive bias. They are sometimes correct but can lead us down the wrong path.

For example assuming that because one person from one ethnicity did something bad to you in the past, that every person of that ethnicity would do it again. From here things like racism are born.

Conspiracy Theorists

The conspiracy theorist, as already described, holds an idea that explains an event as the result of a secret plan by powerful people.

Some current conspiracy theories (that won’t just go away)

  • Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone (or possibly at all). …
  • Princess Diana was killed on purpose. …
  • AIDS is a man-made disease. …
  • The government was involved in 9/11. …
  • Elvis never really left the building. …
  • The 1969 Apollo moon landing didn’t happen. …
  • A UFO crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. …
  • Global warming is a hoax.
  • Shakespeare didn’t write all those plays.
  • Reptilian humanoids control all of us.

Consider how many of those seem ridiculous to you, now consider that the others might be just as ridiculous.

The issue with a conspiracy theorist is that their confirmation bias is so intertwined with mental loops and circular reason that you can NEVER get through to them. Any evidence, anecdotes, or hearsay that backs up their claim is evidence they are right. Any evidence to the contrary is clearly falsely placed by “the man” or “them”. It is an endless loop of confirming ones own bias and rejecting everything else.

The most dangerous current conspiracy theorist (at least in my opinion) is the Antivaxxer. Someone who is against vaccines saying they are dangerous and no one should use them.

This has lead to preventable diseases spreading, and in fact those that had all but been eliminated returning with a vengeance.

David Wolfe

Alternative Scientist David Wolfe Confirmation Bias
I recently had a conversation with David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe. I imagine the Avocado is linked to it being a “superfood” and how he goes on about the Nutribullet (which does happen to be quite a good juicer if that’s what you’re into, but I digress).

I knew David to be a bit of a new age hippy spreading peace and love. I thought him harmless till a last year I noticed him on the Antivax band wagon.

Then on Twitter I see him going on about the earth being flat. Outside of fundamentalist Christian and Muslims I had not heard of anyone thinking the earth is genuinely flat. At least not in modern culture.

I contested both his ‘Anti Vaccination’ and ‘Flat Earth’ stance. He quickly became irate throwing out insults, unable to answer most of my questions like “how thick is this flat earth” and made up terms like “Scientism” calling it a religion.

Essentially a conversation transpired that the earth is flat, we are being lied to about it because they are hiding land in/over Antarctica, and the earth is also hollow filled with giants and Germans. How the earth could both be hollow AND flat, how deep it was, what happens when one reaches the edge, how no one had seen this during expeditions… all unanswered.

Here are a few examples of the conversations I had with David Wolfe.

A photo posted by Answers In Reason (@answersinreason) on

A photo posted by Answers In Reason (@answersinreason) on

A photo posted by Answers In Reason (@answersinreason) on

A photo posted by Answers In Reason (@answersinreason) on

A photo posted by Answers In Reason (@answersinreason) on

Eventually he stopped responding because he couldn’t answer my questions. I tried for a while to reengage him but didn’t have any luck.  He didn’t support his claims, and when questioned either insulted or ignored.

Although a few days ago I did get this response from him:

A photo posted by Answers In Reason (@answersinreason) on

And again no further response. Perhaps my misspelling of believe annoyed him. Or perhaps the fact I actually provided ways to prove the flat earth myth is false scared him off.

Here are some links to them on twitter:
Flat Hollow Earth: https://twitter.com/answersinreason/status/798825019396587521
Fake Science: https://twitter.com/DavidWolfe/status/824414274374291456
ISS is fake: https://twitter.com/answersinreason/status/798880354237083648
Or in fact here are my tweets to him: https://twitter.com/search?q=from%3Aanswersinreason%20to%3Adavidwolfe%20&src=typd
Or his to me: https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&q=from%3ADavidwolfe%20to%3Aanswersinreason&src=typd

The interesting thing with the conspiracy theorist is, other than the fact they are more likely to believe in a multitude of conspiracies, is that occasionally they will have one they find ridiculous. “That’s not possible and there is no supporting evidence” – when that happens my jaw drops. You can say “you understand that you think the same way about this conspiracy as others do yours. You don’t have any evidence either, just claims that “they” are out to get you” – but they don’t budge.

This happens with the religious too. How many religions believe their god is the true god and the other god claims are ridiculous? Yeah, most of them. Some are more accepting and just think your god is another aspect of theirs, but most have a “true god” “true religion” “everyone else is stupid” mentality.

Tactical Maneuvers

Mr Wolfe is either; a fantastic conman, or even scarier, truly believes what he is saying. Either way he generates money from selling his products and advertising on his site. Like him or not he is pretty successful, but how exactly does he do it?

I hypothesize he has a very particular formula that works really well for him.

  1. Normalisation – He posts some fantastic “positive vibe” memes.
  2. Sharing – Like a virus, his normalisation is shared on the web from those who like the positive messages.
  3. Trust – People start to trust him. There is a large number of people following and sharing his stuff. Friends you trust. Perhaps friends you think of as skeptical and science literate. You trust your friends, and your trust is passed on to Wolfe.
  4. Escalation – He then posts something slightly out there, perhaps about solar panels absorbing the sun’s energy.
    By this point, your brain has already built a cognitive bias. You find yourself agreeing without taking the time to think about it.
  5. Acceptance – Once you’re “in” to some of the minor pseudoscientific nonsense, it is easier to to buy in to the rest. Before you know it you’ll be engaging in the common vaccination arguments, flat earth nonsense, and all manner of fallacies.

Fundamentalists

Fundamentalists generally operate on confirmation bias and circular reasoning.

Religious fundamentalists tend to be literalists and inerrantists.

Literalist

Someone who believes their holy book is the literal word of their god

Inerrantist

Someone who believes their holy book is without error

Circular reasoning confirmation bias bibleThe above are quite circular. For example the Bible is the literal word of God. God is perfect, so the Bible is without error. We know the Bible is the word of God because it says so in the Bible and God is perfect so the Bible is without error.

That sort of logic is very frustrating, but is expected of many theists. They use the same sort of confirmation bias as conspiracy theorists. Anything that agrees with the Bible (or particular holy book) validates their claim and anything that disagrees can be rejected.

Claims, Evidence, and Primary Sources

There is a lack of understanding about claims and evidence.  The Bible is not the evidence. The Bible is the claim. The Bible, or at least some of its chapters, is/are the “Primary Source” of its information. When examining primary sources it is worth doing proper analysis.

For example Luke:

  1. Fails the time test – it is written after the fact.
  2. Fails the bias test – emotional involvement/desire to set up a faith.
  3. Passes the audience test – at least in the sense it probably wouldn’t be written differently for another audience.
  4. Fails the metaphor/symbolism test – it also contains reference to a Jewish prophesy.
  5. Fails evaluation – apart from failing 3/4 above it also fails to match up with any other historical documentation at the time. Check this expose on Jesus.

At best the Bible is a poor primary source. The Bible is mostly a secondary source.  If examined critically, without confirmation bias, you can see errors in the Bible. This doesn’t necessarily negate God’s existence but does cast doubt on the validity of the Bible. This is often why you find many theists reject any evidence that contradicts a biblical claim.

What would change your mind fudamentalist confirmation bias vs science

Fundamental atheism

Whilst atheism is not a religion; it is just the lack of belief in gods, there are many who take a very rigid or gnostic approach to every theistic claim. The atheist will take the approach that the theist is an idiot and wrong with whatever they are talking about. This is not the case at all. There are plenty of bright theists, and plenty of stupid atheists. Yes, I understand that in general theistic belief correlates with less intelligence, but to assume that every theist is stupid or wrong about everything just shows your own ignorance and stupidity.

Fanboys

It is so easy to become a “Fanboy/Fangirl”. All it takes is passion and bias. The first will be a cognitive bias (often wrapped in circular reasoning), eg “Apple phones are the best because they are made by Apple and Apple is the best”.

Any news that comes out that sheds positive light on your passion is a win. Every article where the “opponent” gets slammed is a win. Any article that poses any negativity about your passion is either false, a rare occasion, or not worthy of note.

I was an Android fanboy at one point. My fanboyism was actually born out of a hate for Apple fanboys. I was so sick of the attitude that “Apple is the best cos it’s Apple” – whilst the devices were well built I didn’t like how they operated. The way you were locked into their environment, the bloatware that is iTunes, the inability to just drag and drop music and have it playable… all things I didn’t like in the device and I saw most of the people who had them at the time had them more as fashion statements rather than actually having the savvy for a smart phone.

I found myself on a side, was very passionate, flamed those on the Apple side as “idiots” and other unnecessary insults. I was much younger at the time, less travelled, and far more arrogant.

Perhaps it is arrogance that is at the core of fanboyism and confirmation bias. I know best, therefore what I think is right, therefore anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot.

I grew up, I grew out of it. I am able to examine the positives and negatives of any device without the emotional angst. It taught me a lot. Not just about myself but about how people can be so blindsided by emotion. I’ve since tried to help people see when they are being biased but unfortunately it is a tangled web that one needs to want to untangle. I am still not a fan of Apple but I do see their merits, and they tend to have a fantastic build quality. They are right for some people, but not for me.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about fitness trackers.

We were in his car on the way to work with another friend and he mentioned wanting to get an Apple watch. I asked if it was primarily the fitness features or smart features he was after and he stated the fitness tracking.

I enquired as to if he had considered dedicated fitness trackers rather than an Apple watch. This simple statement started an argument. The driver is an Apple fan boy.

“Why would he want a different watch? The Apple watch is the best fitness tracker”

I enquired as to what he was basing that on, informed him the Apple Watch was more of a smart watch with fitness features and there were plenty of fitness trackers that would fit the bill.

I went on to explain all the research I did for my fitness tracker, how that there were some fitness trackers dedicated to specific activity, eg the Triathlon trackers focus on triathlon activity (running, swimming, and cycling) would be much better than an all round tracker. The reason I chose my Garmin Vivoactive HR is because I do a wide range of activity and one of the activities is swimming. There were not many all round trackers that did swimming, and less that did it well.

I explained the extensive research I did on it, noted its negatives like the poor sleep tracking and simple smart features, but based on all the reviews and features I found important it was right for me.

Unfortunately it descended in to him pretty much repetitively saying the Apple Watch is the best because it was Apple and they spend a lot of money making their devices the best. I stated that it was a fantastic smart watch but noted a few flaws with the smart features, e.g. inaccurate text to speech, all day heart rate, lack of GPS on gen 1, not transferring data to MyFitnessPal (but receiving it). We moved on to Gen 2 which is largely just a refinement with GPS, waterproofing and improved performance. If you think about how Apple release their phones the Apple watch 2 is the S version.

This fell on deaf ears. All he could hear me saying was “Apple is shit” – which was far from the truth. I had stated it was a good smart watch but was found wanting as a fitness tracker, just as dedicated fitness trackers with smart features are better at the fitness stuff. I said that people should examine their needs and look in to what suites their situation. A basic fitness tracker without swimming would be much much cheaper than an Apple watch, the fitness tracking would be better, and the battery would last much longer.

Eventually he said “Ugh lets end this, this is getting boring.” – I found that ironic as he was the one saying the same thing endlessly. Either “The Apple watch is the best” or “Everything I have read says the Apple watch is the best” – well yes, when you only look at Apple sites about Apple stuff it is going to say that…

But as you can see, when a cognitive bias is in place, reaffirmed with confirmation bias there is little you can do to sway the person. No matter how rationally you act, no matter how you admit the flaws of your point of view and acknowledge the benefits of their they wont shift in the slightest. They even take it as a personal attack, as my friend did. You could see how irate he was getting that I wasn’t saying it was the best.

You’ll also have to understand that this is my version of the story. Whilst I try to be as even and honest as I can there is every chance I am applying my own bias to this.

In a way, it is all fanboyism. Be it a fundamentalist fanboying over his inerrant faith, or a conspiracy theorist fanboying over his conspiracies. It is passion. Passion is great, but misguided passion can be dangerous, and at the very least leaves you ignorant.

I am prone to this kind of passion, so I have learned to be a bit more sceptical and fact check. I also lean on my critical friends to give me the appropriate kick when I need it. Unfortunately if you cannot let go of your ego, and be open to being wrong, you can’t grow as a person.

In fact when I say it is all fanboyism, a better way to describe it would be Tribalism.

Tribalism

Humans are prone to a tribalistic nature. It is how we survived the ages. We gathered together with those who were like us. Those that were different were often dangerous. This created an intrinsic xenophobia within us. “Those that are different to us are bad”.

You can see this anywhere you look too. Consider at school; how many were picked on for their music taste, hair cut, dress sense or sporting ability?
Look at the tribalistic nature of sports fans. Every team has a very “Us vs Them” attitude.
Look at religions, they are often opposed to each other, and most religions seem opposed to those without religion. There are still countries where atheism is illegal and punishable by death!
Gangs, politics, companies, brands and all the aforementioned are guilty of encouraging our inherent tribalistic behaviours.

There is no middle of the road!

Unfortunately those in a tribe, and of extreme point of view, don’t allow for people to have a middle of the road view.

I’m an analyst (and developer) by trade. I look at every situation and really struggle making decisions when I don’t have enough info, or can tell that there is lots of misinformation on both sides.

When it comes to politics I quite often protest vote (spoil my ballot) because I feel none of the candidates are up to the challenge. I want to be heard, but I want the system to change.

I also get pushed away by extreme points of view. You often see the various political tribes mocking the others. They don’t listen to each other, they don’t acknowledge the positives from each others parties. All that happens is insults and confirmation bias.

Unfortunately reasoning with an extremist is very difficult. The mentality is “If you are not with us, you are against us”. Whilst I understand this might have had an evolutionary benefit, it no longer fits in with our society.

I’ve spoken to some Republicans and questioned gun safety. I’ve said, “I think there should be more checks on people before they get their guns.” and in return have been called “A gun fearing libtard”. I actually quite like guns, I think they are cool, but I also think there are people that shouldn’t have them. They make killing too easy, too impersonal, and many are too unstable or vacant to handle the responsibility.

Similarly I have discussed employment with friends here in the UK. I’ve said the system should be changed to one that encourages people that can work, to work. That people should be helped find jobs rather than just filling in a piece of paper stating they have at the job centre. That even short term if the only thing available is a couple of days in Macdonalds the person should do it, the government makes up the deficit but they are contributing to society. That they and the job centre will still help them find appropriate work but it is a stop gap in the meantime.

Suddenly I am called a “Tory scumbag”. I have a family. If I lost my job, as much as I wouldn’t want to, I have no qualms taking a job that is “beneath” my technical expertise so that they, and I, can survive.

I don’t feel the system works. I know people that work the minimum they can because they earn more in benefit than they would if they had a full time job (at least until they had been in the job for a few years and earned the appropriate pay rises) and feel like “Why should I be miserable all week when I can work for two days and earn the same”.

I agree. Why should they? I am not saying to take away people’s benefit. There are many that need more benefit than they are getting, and there have been a few occasions where I have been out of work and was very grateful for the assistance. The point I was trying to get across is that there is a better way to go about unemployment. A way to encourage people to work. A way that people don’t feel like they are losing out by working. Perhaps this topic is moving too far from the point and I should expand on it in another article, or in our facebook debate group.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I just think we should look at doing things differently  because the current approaches don’t seem to work. Neither does the all or nothing attitude. In fact when I raise these points in might inspire a better idea from someone else. Some of my views might be considered conservative, others liberal, and for the most part they are somewhere in between because I think we should strive for balance.

From the couple of examples I provided above, you can see what I mean about tribal nature. The “With us or against us” mentality.

So what can we do to ascend the tribe?

Unfortunately very little. It seems that even when we try and break off and do something original, there will be some that follow and others that ostracise. Until we learn to accept people for their personality and actions instead of our cognitive bias and fear we can’t really move forward as a people.

The entire time one tribe is mocking another, no progress will be made. We need to do our best to be understanding, patient, and empathetic. Acknowledge positives in your “oppositions” point of view, and maybe they will soften. Perhaps they will see points from your side too. Instead of opponents maybe you will become friends that hold some different points of view instead of being the enemies you perceive each other to be now.

ALWAYS FACT CHECK

The last piece of advice can give anyone is to fact check. Be it a meme, an article, and definitely anything that comes out of a politicians mouth.David Wolfe Confirmation Bias Solar Power

Always use multiple and reputable sources. .EDU links are generally quite reliable. Scientific articles with links to the peer reviewed studies are also a great resources. Don’t just accept any article claiming to be scientific. Fact check everything, even what we share.

Question too. I often see articles claiming X cures cancer. Ask them how. Ask them by what mechanism. Ask people what evidence they have to support their claim. If someone cannot provide any evidence then there is a good chance there isn’t any. Their claim is unsupported or baseless. Just like pretty much everything shared by David Wolfe.

sci-gasm podcast is not confirmation bias

^The Wolfe image above is a genuine quote from the longevity intensive. If you haven’t checked out the Sci-Gasm Podcast you should. It is brilliant.

Bonus Content

Whilst writing this article I shared a few of the images  of David Wolfe’s to our Facebook Page. The one that caught the most attention was the one about the ISS.

One of our fans took a picture of the ISS with his telescope. A Newtonian 200/1000 with DSLR mounted in prime focus.  He sent it to us and I got his permission to put it in the article because I wanted you all to see how easy it was to detect the ISS from earth.

He did say that there were many better amateur pictures out there that I should use but I wanted to use some content from our readers.

If you are interested in seeing the ISS for yourself check this article on how to spot the ISS. Let me know if you see any strings, balloons, or evidence it is a hologram!

The below Photo of the International Space Station taken from the space shuttle Endeavour on May 30, 2011. Image via NASA.
Also, notice the curvature of the earth!

Photo of the International Space Station taken from the space shuttle Endeavour on May 30, 2011. Image via NASA.

Read again?

If you wanted to read any of the sections again, or would like to link directly to them, then please use one of the links below:

Thank you for reading!




Conflated and Misunderstood Terms

Conflated and Misunderstood Terms Volume 1: Evolution

Misunderstood terms

Conflated and Misunderstood Terms

There are a number of conflated and misunderstood terms floating about the internet.

Some of these terms are colloquialisms, others are just a misunderstanding, while the bulk used have been taught erroneously to further an agenda.

Communication is a very important thing. If we cannot interact with each other on the same level then there are misunderstandings. If speaking to a theist about their particular god and you use the wrong name for their god they might take that as; a mark of disrespect, evidence you don’t know what you are talking about, or think you are speaking about a different god.

When you are talking about the Christian god; ‘God/Jehova/Yahweh’ are all acceptable terms (note the capital G). Even then some Christian’s will not accept any name other than God.

Similarly if you are speaking to someone who is science literate about science; using unscientific terminology is not going to further the debate.

When speaking about science we should use the scientific terms, and when speaking on theological matters we should equally use the theological terms.

This series of articles is designed to help resolve some of this conflict.

Conflated and Misunderstood Terms Volume 1: Evolution

Conflated Term: “The Origin of Life” and Evolution

“Evolution means life came from nothing”

Evolution

The transition of life from A to B through small gradual changes till speciation occurs

Origin of Life

How life started on earth

The Difference: Evolution requires life to exist to happen. The origin of life is a how life started.

what-is-abiogenesisWhen it comes to “The Origin of Life” we don’t know. There are a number of hypotheses, from gods to aliens but the one being thought of in this conflation is Abiogenesis. Abiogenesis is the process by which life arises naturally from non-living matter.

Evolution is constantly happening; it is gradual changes over time. The Theory of Evolution merely describes the processes which take place once life has started up.

Misused/Misunderstood Term: Macro & Micro Evolution

I’m sure you have heard, and maybe even used the terms Micro Evolution and Macro Evolution. Whilst created in 1927 by Russian entomologist Yuri Filipchenko the terms have been twisted to cast doubt on the process.

Micro evolution

Creationist version: Micro evolution describes the small changes over time… a creationist might even say “that’s not evolution at all, that is just adaption”.
Truth: All evolution is is those micro changes until speciation occurs.

Macro evolution

Creationist version: Macro evolution is thought of as a “change in kind”. For example: a cat turning into a dog.
Truth: This is not how evolution works. That’s not even what speciation is. Macro evolution is actually used to describe everything from Speciation and beyond.
I personally feel that splitting evolution into micro and macro scales is redundant as despite their differences, evolution at both of these levels relies on the same, established mechanisms of evolutionary change:

Speciation

The formation of new and distinct species

When Speciation occurs a new distinct species arises from a particular group. Often a particular group has changed so much it can no longer breed with its ancestral lineage. This is not always the case, modern wolves and modern dogs are interfertile but neither probably would be with their common ancestor.

Species

A group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. The species is the principal natural taxonomic unit, ranking below a genus and denoted by a Latin binomial, e.g. Homo sapiens.

A Species is a member of a genus which is a member of a family. Under a species is the subspecies. Dogs are a subspecies of Cannis Lupus, and they have evolved many different “breeds” through selective breeding.Taxonomy Terminology of species

Now whilst the taxonomy is not distinctly fixed in all cases, some might refer to sub species or breeds as species for example, the standard tree, pictured right, is probably the best way to view it.

Often the issue is just a “grey area” where scientists debate whether something is a subspecies rather than a distinct species. It can be argued that if the species is inter fertile with another, then it is a sub species rather than a species (eg modern dogs and wolves being subspecies of Cannis Lupus). In some cases even though a species is interfertile it is still considered a distinct species due to enough genetic differences.

When people say the taxonomy is not fixed for species, they are right in a sense due to definition of species and sub species and creatures that don’t exactly tick all the boxes of the definition.

Evolution occurs with every birth, as genes mix and mutations are carried over changes happen to each child both on the outside and in. If they didn’t we would look exactly like one of our parents. A clone if you will.

Here’s a short experiment you can try

Look at a picture of yourself, examine your features.
Now look at a picture of your parents, and note the similarities, the features you share.
Do the same with a picture of your grandparents, note the similarities between your parents and them. Examine at the features you also share.
Now look at a picture of their parents but only compare your grand parents to them. Move back for as many generations as you can just comparing one generation to the last.

In most cases you will note some distinct similarities from generation to generation. If you now compare the oldest picture to yours you probably won’t note any similarities unless there are some seriously dominant genes in that mix.

How many years could you go back though? 100? 202 years at most (first picture clicked in 1814). Imagine the differences over thousands of years. Now put that on the evolutionary calendar, which is thought to be around 3.8 billion years, you’d see a massive difference.

When the characteristics (genes) are different enough, they are classed as a different species, although some species can interbreed.

do not reject evolutionWe look to our ancestors like Homo Neanderthals or Homo Denisovans and we can see similar attributes but there are many clear differences, even in size and posture. That’s only going back hundreds of thousands of years… imagine millions, and then billions of years of changes.

Conflated Terms: Kinds and Species

I spoke quite a bit about what a species is in the last section, so I won’t bore you too much, but as a short recap

Species

A group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. A Species is a member of a genus which is a member of a family. For example Homo Sapiens (humans) is the species, a member of the homo genus in the family hominidae.

Kind

A group of people or things having similar characteristics.

When most people use “Kind” to describe an animal it is often used as either Family or Species. Often a fallacy of moving the goal post is introduced. When you can evidence how feline (Felidae) could evolve from a common Felidae ancestor suddenly the kind will be describing the family and you get statements like “You don’t get cat kind changing into dog kind”.

As already discussed, that’s not how evolution works. It is tonnes of small changes over time, and the time line is so big that end to end we can’t recognise our ancestors.

Just make sure if you debate someone who uses “kind” to get them to explain exactly what their definition of “kind” is, and you can compare it to the equivalent definition of yours.

Similarly if you are someone who uses “kind” consider how you might translate that into more scientific terms.

A Misunderstanding: Dawkins thinks Aliens did it!

Musinderstanding: richard-dawkins-aliensThis is a complete misunderstanding of what Dawkins has said. The truth is we don’t know what started life on earth. Whilst we have discovered RNA molecules it is only hypothesised what could have brought them into being. As such Dawkins is able to entertain the possibility that life on earth could have been kick started by aliens. Without enough evidence it will not be an idea he accepts.

Whilst Dawkins is well renowned in his field it would be unwise to just gleefully accept he or anyone else says without researching to see if it is based on any evidence. It is also important to understand the full context of any situation.

You might argue that you cannot perform the scientific experiments yourself. There are plenty of peer reviewed papers out there you can read. Scientists try and prove each other wrong all the time. Not to be vindictive, but in search of the truth.

Conflated and Misunderstood Term: Scientific Theory aka “Just a Theory”

One of the most frustrating things to hear in a debate is “Just a Theory”. It is an issue with Scientific Theory being conflated with the more colloquial “Theory”

Theory

An idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action

The way theory is used is closer to what a scientist would regard a hypothesis, or if there is absolutely no evidence or logic to base your thoughts on a closer definition would be idea or put forward in an argument, a baseless claim.

Essentially a theory is a thought based on little to no evidence. An idea.

Scientific Theory (sometimes referred to simply as a Theory)

A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world. The explanations are acquired through the scientific method. The evidence is repeatedly tested and confirmed. Scientific Laws are written, and a theory is compiled to explain them. A Scientific Theory can also be used to predict results.

In really simplistic terms you could translate “Theory of Evolution” to “The explanation of Evolution”. Perhaps with the caveat that the explanation was based on credible, testable and verifiable evidence.

just-a-theory-scientific-terminologyIf you use “Just a Theory” when referring to a Scientific Theory, then you are showing your ignorance. Unless you are wilfully ignorant I’d suggest making sure you understand the terms people are using in conversation. You are but a google search away if you do not understand anything someone says. Yes, there is misinformation out there but if you base your knowledge from factual sources instead of celebrities and social media you’ll get a better understanding of these terms.

I have a theory you won’t take any of this in. Prove me wrong.

Recap

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Davidian (25)
THE ‘FINE TUNING’ ARGUMENT DEBUNKED – Holy Koolaid

 




Changing A Mind: Respect Matters


Changing a mind

Ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule…”

Introduction

For those atheists that discuss and debate religion, we should ask ourselves what the purpose behind it is. Why do we do the things we do? For the Christian evangelist, or the Muslim performing Da’wah, this is a simple question to answer. They do it because they are attempting to spread their religion. They believe their way is the way, and their religion teaches them that they should be spreading the religion. What of the atheist though? We have no such doctrine, we have no doctrine at all. Yet it is common, especially in this modern era, to find atheists discussing and debating religion. So we should ask ourselves why we attempt to discuss religion with the believer. Is the purpose simply to mock those that do not think like us, or is the purpose something more?  Is the purpose to change minds?

Ridiculing the Believer

It is common to find atheists in debate groups, especially amongst those that act like echo chambers for atheist thought, using the phrase ‘ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule’. There are many who seem to be content to insult and mock the believer, because they hold the idea that the theist has ridiculous beliefs. What of the theist though? There are many who hold the idea that the atheist has ridiculous beliefs. We often see attempts from various theists to mock the non-believer, not just the atheist but those that hold a different religion. So does their belief that others hold ridiculous beliefs entitle them to ridicule those beliefs, as the statement implies? The atheists who hold to this idea justify their actions by claims of atheism being logical, reasonable and rational. Yet the believer holds that their beliefs are these things too. Each group believes that they are the ones with the correct beliefs, the rational beliefs, the logical beliefs. What does ridicule achieve though?

Ridiculing can be used to bully people into conformity of course. Is that all we as atheists want though, for those that do not believe to simply conform to our ideas? How does that make us any different from those believers that simply want us to conform to their ideas? If our goal is to attempt to promote rationality, and reason, and logic, then surely we want more than simple conformity? Surely we should want more than to simply look good, or look clever, amongst our peers and those that are in our in-group?

Unless those are our goals then of course we should want more. In order to achieve more though we must understand what it takes to change a person’s mind. We also must understand why it is people believe in religion, beyond memes such as ‘too stupid to understand science’. We need to understand why people believe their God exists, and their religion, beyond the simple answer of indoctrination. One of my colleages here at Answers In Reason presented an article in to the science of belief which you can read here at your own leisure. We already face an uphill battle when it comes to the believer changing their mind, especially in cases of religions like Islam, in which it is taught that it is perfect and beyond reproach, and that it cannot be wrong. If our goal is to change their minds then we must understand at least the bare minimum of what it takes to change a mind, and the approaches necessary in order to change a mind. In this article we will attempt to discuss some of the various approaches and ideas put forward about ‘changing someone’s mind’. So, what does it take to change a person’s mind?

An Interest in What is Being Said

The first step towards the acquisition of knowledge of course is an interest in the topic at hand. If we are not interested in the topic then we will rarely seek out the knowledge. Sometimes it is curiosity, other times it is necessity, but it is usually some kind of interest that begins our journey. The reason behind our interest is often a factor in what information we seek out, or what information we accept, as well. If we are simply interested in debunking an idea, often we will seek out that particular information. The same is true of the opposite as well, we will seek the information that supports the idea that we are interested in. However, interest is only the beginning of the journey. It is what leads us to begin our acquisition of information and knowledge, and not the deciding factor on where and who we get our information from.

Changing a mind

A Little Bit of Respect

It is often respect that is a major contributing factor in who we listen to. For if we do not respect the person, or at the very least their grasp of the topic they are speaking on, then we will reject the information that they present us. We can often not respect the person giving us the information, but if we respect their authority on the subject then we will still listen to what that person has to say on the subject; even if we dismiss their opinions on other subjects. Showing us that respect has much to do with our ability to change another’s mind. Here is where the atheist faces something of a problem though. The knowledge we have is not something that most believers have a genuine interest in, most are not seeking to acquire knowledge of atheism but instead to convince the atheist that the position they hold is incorrect. They are seeking to convert, rather than be converted. They also do not have a respect for the average atheists authority on certain subjects. The authority that they respect as far as knowledge goes is their God, and their scriptures. Made even more difficult in cases such as Islam, in which it convinces the believer that the scripture cannot be wrong, and that the Muslim cannot be wrong if they are indeed following what is taught in the Qu’ran. It creates an almighty (pun intended!) bias in their thinking, one that is incredibly difficult to challenge.

It is not an impossible challenge though. What it means that what we must rely on is their respect for us as people, and as human beings. We could argue that it will never happen, this is true. After all, it is included in some scriptures that we are not to be respected. That we are only worthy of hell fire, that we are fools, and that the wise are the one’s that follow ‘the true religion’, which usually tends to be the one that the particular believer is a member of. However, this is not always the case. There are many that are willing to engage in dialogue and discussion, and there are many that treat those who believe differently with respect. So long as they are worthy of respect of course. They generally tend not to engage in discussion with those whose behaviour is bullying and insulting. They are indeed looking for reasonable discourse, just as many atheists are simply looking for reasonable discourse.

This is something that we should be using to our advantage. By creating and reinforcing slogans such as ‘ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule’ we immediately alienate those we should be having reasonable discourse with. We earn no respect from those we should be seeking to gain the respect of when we lead with the idea that we will ridicule what they believe. Especially when we factor in some of the stereotypes and ideas that many believers already hold of the atheist.

internet atheistStereotyping of the Atheist

When we enter into a conversation with many believers, the non-believer is already confronted by certain prejudices and stereotypes. Ideas such as the angry atheist, or that atheists are arrogant, or are atheists simply because we do not want to behave, and much more. Many atheists will have come across this in some form at some point in their lives, especially if they are active in discussion and debate. We are also seen as irrational by many believers, as they believe that the rational conclusion is that God exists and to believe otherwise is irrational. The Bible claims that those who do not believe in God are fools, and the Qu’ran promotes the idea that we are less than cattle (cite sources).

This means that even before entering into a conversation with many believers they have a particular image of us. An image designed to impact the amount of respect that the believer has on first contact. In order to overcome this we must show that these stereotypes do not hold weight, and that what they believe, what they have been taught to believe, is a falsehood. That we are not angry, and arrogant, and foolish, and immoral, and less than animals. That we are indeed reasonable and rational people, and we are good people.

“I will never respect religion”

There will be those who will reply that they will never respect religion, or religious beliefs, or believers. However, this is not the point being made here. The point is not that we must respect these things, but instead that one of the key conditions to getting someone to listen to you is that they must respect you enough to actually listen to what is being said. If they do not respect a person enough to listen to them, then there is little chance that person will have the opportunity to get them to question their beliefs, or listen to their criticisms of their belief, or to listen to reasons why they do not hold the same belief. Therefore if the goal is these things, then the approach used must be considered.

Conclusion

This is not to say that all believers are approachable, or will listen, or will ever respect anyone that does not believe the same thing as they do. For these people clearly exist, and the atheist active in discussion and debate will have come across these people on a regular basis. These people may or may not be unreachable, however it should be considered that even the most ardent of believers in particular ideologies have changed their mind when they have come across people who had certain extant qualities that made them consider their beliefs.

However, to approach all believers as if they hold this mindset would be an error in judgement. For there are those that are willing to have polite discussions. There are also those that criticise others for similar reasons the atheist does, such as the exclusion and harassment of the LGBT+ community and the like. Just as the atheist community is diverse, and is made up of many different ideas and beliefs, so to is the theist community. Some are not of the Abrahamic faiths. These things should all be considered in our approach to discussion and debate and criticism. Just as we atheists are unfairly lumped together, or faulty conclusions are made based on faulty premises, we must also not make the same the mistake of theists.

If our goal is to get people to consider their beliefs carefully, or to understand our criticisms of their beliefs, or to listen to our questions, then our approach needs to be considered by each and every one of us. Our goals too need to be considered; and if our goal is the things that are mentioned here then one of the main factors in even getting close to them is that we must have a minimum amount of respect from those we are in discussion with, enough respect to actually get them to listen to us.




Honesty

Enjoy your life; Honesty

The ancient Greek philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said; ‘Why weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.’ Though I do not agree with this particular quote, I must admit that the sentiment is useful. And when push comes to shove, that’s all that matters. In this piece, I will attempt to show you the use of honesty in leading an enjoyable life.

The point Seneca was most likely making, and was in fact moderately famous for making, was that most people have too high expectations for life, which inevitably leads them to become disappointed and view life more as a burden than a joy. We’re told as kids that we may be the next president, that we’re very smart, that we’re beautiful. In short, all children are told they are special in some grand way. Yet, most adults end up hopelessly mediocre.

So how do we combat this? How can we manage not only our own expectations, but also the expectations others have for us?

Honesty

The first and most important point of discussion, is honesty. Not just towards others, but towards yourself. If we are to manage expectations, we must first realize we have to keep them at an acceptable median; our goals must be realistic, our expectation of achieving a goal should be no less realistic.

self assessmentHow do we use honesty to manage our own expectations of ourselves?

I’d say the key part is self-reflection. Before you commit to completing a certain task at a certain level, you should look back at previous tasks that are somewhat alike and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I complete this task the last time?
  • How did I complete this task the last time?
  • (How) Can I improve the way I complete this task?
  • Do I feel up to completing this task?

This will give you a more accurate reading of your qualities in different situations and allow you to assess your relative success in a better, more structured and thus dependable way, and in turn sync your expectations with your own qualities and abilities.

How do we use honesty to manage expectations others have about us?

Simply tell them about the results of your own assessment as described above. It’s actually that simple; let them know your weaknesses and own up to them.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable toward others. A handful will indeed exploit your vulnerability, maybe even humiliate you, but most people will appreciate it and view you not as a vulnerable person, but as a person with strength and character. It takes some cojones to allow yourself to be vulnerable and most people can relate to that. More over, it is admirable.

But honesty to your fellow human being goes further than just telling people what you can and can’t do. It also exists out of being honest about your opinions, beliefs and desires. It also encompasses your fears, dislikes and history. All the above might lead to an extraordinarily vulnerable position within your social context. Of course, you might want to look out, because this might not be compatible with your specific situation. It seems, for instance, a bad idea to say you fear gunfire when you’re an army member. But aside from compatibility issues, it doesn’t hurt to be a bit more vulnerable.

And when you think about it, the fact that we are often taught to be invulnerable or less vulnerable, is counter-productive. It chips away at the honesty in society, which inevitably means trust becomes increasingly scarce, which leads to suspicion and lying to cover up ones shortcomings. Not only are suspicion and lies bad for business, it’s bad for your wellbeing, too. Having to juggle lies, checking up on every promise that has been made to you, it’s tiresome and takes valuable time better used for other purposes.

expectationsHow do we use honesty to manage our expectations of others?

We can use honesty in curtailing our expectations of others and conforming them to the realistic. In other words, by being honest about our own capabilities and our expectations of others, we can incentivize others to be equally honest about their capabilities. In this way, we avoid being disappointed and can better plan our actions ahead.

Another way to use honesty to the same ends, is to be honest about your doubts. If you think someone is less capable than they say they are, you can be honest about this and tell them (gently, preferably). This will often illicit a more or less hostile, apologetic reaction, and rightfully so, it is a statement that can be considered an attack on the other person’s capabilities, or more often an attack on the other person in general. After settling this argument a more comprehensive and certain assessment of capabilities might be made.

Other reasons for honesty

Through honesty, there is a lot more we can achieve than just expectation management. First off, an honest person is a reliable person. This is true not just factually, but also perceptively, and being perceived a reliable person can have a myriad of benefits for both your professional and social life; people might trust you more and give you chances more easily. Honesty is also perceived to be a virtue by many people in modern society. This makes honesty an admirable quality within society, contributing to being perceived to be a great, morally gifted individual.

It’s better than lying. The weird thing about lies, is that we have trouble maintaining them, coming up with them and keeping them apart. Yet, when asked, most people say they lie to get ‘an easy way out’. Out of what? Mostly responsibilities or unsatisfactory appointments. It’s simply time that we realize the ‘easy way out’ that lying seems to offer, isn’t so easy and is actually a great bother.

Last but not least, it’s just the right thing to do. You might remember one of my previous pieces, called cognicism; a secular moral system, in which I advocated that awareness should be the main factor in determining the morality behind a moral event. To be dishonest, is to allow another conscious (i.e. aware) person to function on the basis of misconceptions or delusions. The consequences of this vary, but generally do not exceed the consequences of acting based upon honesty and real information. A case can be made however for certain cases, in which it is reasonable to assume that a little “white”, if you will, lie can help someone to function better.

Summary

In this part of the series “Enjoy your life”, we have spoken about honesty. A number of ways to help you in your professional and social life have passed review and we have examined moral, practical and individual reasons to be honest, as well as examine the possibility to use honesty to curtail false or baseless expectations across the spectrum.




Preying

Faith Healing: Miracle or dirty scam preying on the desperate and gullible?

1j4q69szMy money is on faith healing being a dirty scam preying on the desperate and gullible but I guess I had better not just leave it at that and present some kind of reasoning behind my conclusion.

Exposed

The James Randi Million Dollar Challenge. Job done!! Hmmmm, it would make for a very short article if I left it at just this, and I guess I should present a couple of premises just to add weight so let me digress.

We can start with the wonderful James Randi. Here is his bio from Wiki:

James Randi (born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge; August 7, 1928) is a Canadian-American retired stage magician and scientific skeptic who has extensively challenged paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Randi is the co-founder of Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). He began his career as a magician under the stage name, The Amazing Randi, and later chose to devote most of his time to investigating paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims, which he collectively calls “woo-woo”. Randi retired from practicing magic aged 60, and from the JREF aged 87.

Although often referred to as a “debunker“, Randi has said he dislikes the term’s connotations and prefers to describe himself as an “investigator”. He has written about the paranormal phenomena, skepticism, and the history of magic. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and was occasionally featured on the television program Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

James Randi

Mr James Randi

Prior to Randi’s retirement, JREF sponsored the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, which offered a prize of US$1,000,000 to eligible applicants who could demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties. The paranormal challenge was officially terminated by the JREF in 2015. The foundation continues to make grants to non-profit groups that encourage critical thinking and a fact-based world view.

Randi’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge was somewhat swamped by crazy claimants so they had to eventually limit it to well known personalities in the faith healing, TV psychic world. There were very few takers, Yuri Geller had a few attempts but strangely under controlled circumstances he was never able to perform his psychic acts. Randi’s people reached out and directly invited several other personalities such as “psychics” Sylvia Browne, Leigh Catherine (aka Leigh-Catherine Salway), Rosemary Altea. They all accepted but then failed to make it happen. One cited as saying, “As expected – dodgy as legally & set up to make it impossible to pass!”.

No faith healers were up to performing their “miracles” under Randi’s clinical environments. Zip, zero, diddly squat, nada and none!! If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed then Mohammed will come to the mountain, and that is just what Randi did. He used his investigative skills to expose several high profile charlatan faith healers Including A. A. Allen, Ernest Angley, Willard Fuller, WV Grant, Peter Popoff, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, and Ralph DiOrio. He reported his findings and debunking in his book The Faith Healers which had the added bonus of a foreword by the great Carl Sagan. He went on to expose the likes of Peter Popoff, James Hydrick. You can see videos here relating to Yuri Geller,  James Hydrick and Peter Popoff by clicking on their names.

And it is not just James Randi exposing these con men. The TV show Inside Edition expose Leroy Jenkins, ABC News have run reports on PrimeTime Live exposing W V Grant. Grant for instance relies on the fact that religious people wish to preserve the illusion and dont want to give him away. He will grab up a cane next to a member of the audience and tell them not to use it and to run up and down the aisle. The cane will however belong to the person next to the runner and the runner actually has a wrist problem. He will seat walking audience members in wheelchairs and get them to stand and walk, just in case he has agents and confederates in the crowd.

Here we have a full length documentary by Derren Brown called Miracles For Sale where he shows the tricks used by “healing pastors” and how easy it is to trick the gullible. This is a multi-million dollar industry, make no mistake about it. Video here

So far I have just mentioned US faith healers, I have been given a handful of names of some Nigerian pastors fleecing the believers in West Africa with promises of blessed handkerchifs being able to raise the dead. This is the claim of Pastor Enoch Adeboye. The internet is awash with Christian websites warning their congregation not to give this man money. Here let me google that for you .

leg-lengtheningTricks of the trade

Lengthening legs simply slipping a shoe off slightly

Healing blindness and deafness is usually partially sighted people of hearing impaired being asked if they can hear or see. Truth is they could hear and see what they were asked to before the “healing”

Healing the lame is the charlatan grabbing the walking stick of the person next to someone that is not lame and getting the afflicted person to walk or run in the aisle.

Pastor giveth, pastor taketh away is when a healer tells a believing member god told him that the member had cancer but he could cure it with his healing hands. Then when the member is tested for cancer some time later he has a “miraculous” bill of clean health.

Hired stooges are employed to fake illness or disability

Psychic surgery is sleight of hand and chicken guts

Causing pain to a believer and specifically talking about this pain as opposed to the pain they are afflicted with usually. Then releasing a grip which is causing the pain and asking if they still feel the caused pain.

The falling faithful is achieved through suggestion. Hypnotic states induced through induction. Repetition of phrases and so on.

Ex-Faith Healer Mark Haville Explains the Tricks of the Fake Faith Healing Trade

Why, oh why, oh why?

Quite obviously on the part of the believers it is desperation to save them from terminal illness or crippling pain. One can understand their desperation, but why do they believe it works?question-mark

There are several reasons we will look at:

Group fervour and chemical release

In my article The Science of Belief I went in to some detail regarding the release of chemicals.

We just need look to the ancient Kung San tribe from Africa or the Australian Aborigines. Homo sapien religious ritual can be traced back to these 2 ancient people’s. Stemming from very different parts of the world yet their rituals share striking similarities, song and dance and trance like states. Activities which engage some of those previously mentioned powerful brain chemicals. The birth of religious fervour, throw in a crowd and you have group fervour. Serotonin and dopamine are released in these activities. More so if we are engaging in movement, the more strenuous the more will be released. Pleasure responses in the brain firing like crazy. Lets add some epinephrine, norepinephrine, endorphines and finally some oxytocin, the love chemical. The chemical released in great amounts at childbirth which help the bond between mother and child.

These chemicals are natural pain killers.

placeboPlacebo effect

Today, we know that patients who are given empty injections or pills that they believe contain medicine can experience an improvement in a wide range of health conditions.

This kind of fake or empty medicine is often called a “placebo”, and the improvement this causes is called the “placebo effect”.

One well-known example of the placebo effect involves a physical feeling we are all familiar with: pain.

In 1996, scientists assembled a group of students and told them that they were going to take part in a study of a new painkiller, called “trivaricaine”.

Trivaricaine was a brown lotion to be painted on the skin, and that smelled like a medicine. But the students were not told that, in fact, trivaricaine contained only water, iodine and thyme oil – none of which are painkilling medicines. It was a fake – or placebo – painkiller.

With each student, the trivaricaine was painted on one index finger, and the other left untreated. In turn, each index finger was squeezed in a vice. The students reported significantly less pain in the treated finger, even though trivaricaine was a fake.

In this example, expectation and belief produced real results. The students expected the “medicine” to kill pain; and, sure enough, they experienced less pain. This is the placebo effect.

Read a summary of the study: Mechanisms of Placebo Pain Reduction. – Courtesy of NHS UK

Desperation and trust

I cannot blame someone that has lived a life in pain or with a disability trying anything at all. I can blame the charlatans that wilfully take these poor individuals money knowing full well they can not cure them.

The believers hold the pastor as a trusted authority figure and do not question his abilities.

In this article Sorry, I’ll Pray for you my fellow contributor Davidian lists some of the dangers of inaction relating to not seeking medical attention due to illogical beliefs.

In Summary

So there are some liars, cheats, con men and charlatans which have been exposed, but this obviously doesn’t mean all are, however we just need to ask a few simple questions to throw light on the matter.

When will one of the healers cure an amputee?

When will one cure someone under strict lab conditions?

When can we expect healers to go to hospitals and cure the sick for free?

When can we expect them to rush in to areas with outbreaks of Ebola or similar?

Why do faith healers head straight for the hospital when they are afflicted by a health problem?

 

Until we see them attempting some of these tasks I would say we can deduce they are not miracle workers and merely dirty scam artists preying on the desperate and gullible.

I do hope this article has thrown some light on the subject for our readers – Until next time take care and question everything

Alan the Atheist

 

All rights to Metallica:  \m/      \m/

Leper Messiah – Master of Puppets 1986

Spineless from the start
Sucked into the part
Circus comes to town
You play the lead clown

Please, please
Spreading his disease
Living by his story

Knees, knees
Falling to your knees
Suffer for his glory, you will

Time for lust, time for lie
Time to give your life goodbye
Send me money, send me green
Heaven you will meet

Make a contribution
And you’ll get a better seat
Bow to Leper Messiah

Marvel at his tricks
Need your Sunday fix
Blind devotion came
Rotting your brain

Chain, chain
Join the endless chain
Stinking by his glamor

Fame, fame
Infection is the game
Stinking drunk with power, we see

Time for lust, time for lie
Time to give your life goodbye
Send me money, send me green
Heaven you will meet

Make a contribution
And you’ll get a better seat
Bow to Leper Messiah

Witchery, weakening
Sees the sheep are gathering
Set the trap, hypnotize
Now you follow

Time for lust, time for lie
Time to give your life goodbye
Send me money, send me green
Heaven you will meet

Make a contribution
And you’ll get a better seat

Lie, lie, lie, lie
Lie, lie, lie, lie