• About TWIM


    The Warfare Is Mental (TWIM) reflects the mental warfare of an author, screenwriter, publisher and member of the Writer's Guild of America. Family, friends, health, humor, art, music, science, faith, fun and knowledge are some of the things that are important to me.



    TWIM is the first and only theist blog listed on the Atheist Blogroll, which currently contains over 1,000 blogs. It goes without saying that I don't endorse hardly any of the views of any of them. Contact Mojoey for more information.



    Ironically, TWIM won an award for "Best Atheist / Skeptic Site" from this site. Much obliged.



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    You and your commenters are a feast of thinking — great stuff.

    -C.L. Dyck
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I have no need to engage with racists, so will ignore cl’s further diatribes.

    -faithlessgod,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl resists following through on a thought even to provide a solid opposing position, and thus stifles many conversations. It’s a shame since it seems like cl has some brain power that could be applied to the topics at hand.

    -Hermes,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [faithlessgod and Hermes] fit my definition of trolling. I didn’t take any of those attacks against you seriously, and quickly categorized them as trolls.

    -JS Allen,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl] is, as many have noticed, a master of this warfare. I’ve been following him for quite some time and he’s one of the most effective Christian trolls out there. No one can completely destroy a conversation as effectively as he does, and with such masterful grace and subtly that he rarely gets banned. This isn’t a blunt-force “U R Hitler!” troll, this is the Yoda of trolling.

    -Eneasz,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    This seems to imply that cl is, at least in part, disingenuous in terms of how he responds/what he claims. Is this most likely true, supported by evidence, or merely a subjective claim?

    -al friedlander,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...I wanted to get a message to you outside of the context of specific discussions on CSA. You make good, insightful contributions to that site, and since I often agree with you I'm glad there is someone else there defending my positions better than I sometimes can. However I don't think anything of value would be lost if you stopped engaging in personal combat with juvenile snipers.

    -Zeb,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Thank you for your wonderful response - so reasoned in the race of [Waldvogel's] blustering.

    -Annie Laurie Gaylor
     Freedom From Religion Foundation
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Thanks for a great Op-Ed.

    -Marianne Ratcliff
     VC Star
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...as atheists we need to make sure that someone like cl and any Christian readers of [An Apostate's Chapel] don’t come away with the perception that the atheists caved in or were incapable of responding. I’m sure that a lot of Christians who find cl incomprehensible at times and don’t even bother reading him themselves will come away with an assumption that cl is that sort of rare intellectual theist who can prove that gods exist. And that’s how those inane rumors about the feared xian intellectuals start…

    -bbk
     An Apostate's Chapel
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are in so over your head here, you are embarrassing yourself...
    I am well versed in many aspects of evolution biology, through my academic background, and my professional life. Unless your academic degrees and background match mine, cease and desist. Return to philosophy and rhetoric, or whatever it is you perceive your strengths to be. They are definitely not science, even at the high school level.

    -R.C. Moore
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You're doing a fine job.

    -Prof. Larry Moran
     Dept. of Biochemistry
     University of Toronto
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Phyletic change and vicariance (or, drift and selection versus population isolation), as cl points out, are much better ways of describing what are unfortunately more commonly known as micro- and macro- evolution, respectively.

    -Dan
     Biology postdoc
     Univ. of Cyprus
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl says, “The minute you call yourself a Christian or an Atheist or whatever the heck else, you automatically get painted by other people’s interpretations of those words, which are almost always different and almost always distorted.” cl’s point couldn’t be more on. As cl points out there is an important reason for not claiming any real religious (or lack thereof) belief. It puts logical constraints on one's arguments due directly to the bias of the individual that is translating the English to mind ideas of what it means to be religious.

    -Bobaloo
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Just who in the bloody hell do you think you are, you Christian piece of garbage, to come here barking out orders? You're an arrogant, condescending piece of shit. You seem to think you're an intellectual of sorts, when all you are is a Christian who's read a few books. John, everyone, this really is the limit. BR, I'm more than a little annoyed that you continue to engage him. I'm out of here. I have better things to do than to waste my time with these cretins.

    -Cipher
     Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    How old are you CL? I'd guess you have not yet experienced much life. I'd say you were under the age of 21, too young to be here. I don't give a damn what you think of me or my deconversion at all. You're too stupid to realize that regardless of it you must deal with the arguments in the book. They are leading people away from you [sic] faith. I'm seriously considering banning you cl, as I've heard you were banned on other sites. You are much too ignorant for us to have a reasonable discussion.

    -John Loftus
     Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I admired the way you handled yourself in the discussion on John's blog. I'm not patient enough to keep my sarcasm in check with some of them blokes, but appreciate those who are.

    -David Marshall
     re: Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl, I have to say, while I fundamentally disagree with you, you are an individual which I highly respect. I think your responses are always well thought out and your insights always well thought out and pertinently derived.
    [Y]ou have made me a stronger atheist in my regards to critical thinking and debating. I really can’t wait to hear more from you. Hell, I’d even buy you a drink, good sir. Cheers!

    -Parker
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Bottom line? Sometimes I think he's right about certain arguments, and I don't have a problem admitting that. Other times, however, I think he's wrong, and I've called him on that. But I have found he can be pretty reasonable if you (1) don't overstate your case, (2) make concessions when you have, and (3) insist he do the same.

    -Lifeguard
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I like it when [cl] makes me stop, think and question if I am making unfounded assertions or if I am being sloppy. What has been annoying me about cl of late is that he is being excruciatingly anal...

    -seantheblogonaut
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I really can't thank you enough for catching me on my error in rhetoric. I always love a good debate! And I always enjoy your posts, as well! Keep up the great writing and the excellent eye for detail!

    -BZ
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You make me smarter...

    -Mike G.
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ..thank you, cl. I discovered your blog on a random web search and saw it as an oasis amidst a vast desert of seemingly intractable theist-atheist debate.

    -Sung Jun
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    It's good to be able to discuss with people who are open and respectful, and know that disagreement does not mean disrespect... You are to be congratulated, not only for your patience, but also your ability to hold an ever-growing debate together with an impressive degree of structure.

    -Ritchie
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    My tone is derogatory... [cl is] ignorant and credulous and deserves to be mocked... In the time he's been here, he's shown a consistent pattern of antagonizing everyone he comes in contact with, monopolizing threads, derailing discussions with perpetual complaints, quibbles and demands for attention, and generally making arguments that display a lack of good faith and responsiveness... it's become intolerable. I'm not banning him, but I'm putting in place some restrictions on how often he can comment.

    -Ebonmuse
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    This is no defense of the annoying cl, but what a self-righteous, prissy atheist you turned out to be, Ebonmuse. I'm disappointed in you, stealing a strategem from the theists.

    -The Exterminator
     to Ebonmuse
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I certainly didn't get any bad impression about cl, and I can't relate his comments with any of the things (Ebonmuse) said above. I actually thought it was quite interesting to have him around.

    -Juan Felipe
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Please continue to allow
    cl to post his views and make it clear that he is still welcome. And let me be clear, cl is not a lunatic.

    -Curtis
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    With one exception, you are the most coherent and intelligent theist I've seen on this site...

    -Steve Bowen
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I'm rooting for cl. I hope he perpetually manages to skirt the rules enough to do his damage, forcing rule revision after rule revision, ad nauseum. Awesome! Let's watch as Ebon, ever more frustrated, continues to struggle to figure out how to keep his precious private blog neat and tidy as cl keeps messing up his papers while one by one, readers leave due to an every increasing administrative presence. Outstanding! Well I won't go. The thought of this sounds like the most entertaining thing that probably would have ever happened on Daylight Atheism. Hot damn!

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Your visit has been something of a reality check to me. It seems that when you present rational arguments and criticisms, many commenters feel territory slipping and then work up vaporous or leaky responses. I also want to remark that your presence here has considerably moved me to try being a more careful and understanding debater...

    -Brad
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I do have a lot of respect for you too. You seem to be a very intelligent and thoughtful individual with a knack for getting to the bottom of a problem, cutting through all the bullshit rhetoric on the way down. The fact that many other atheists seem to unreasonably despise you bothers me a lot, because I think that maybe they aren’t acting in good faith.

    -Peter Hurford
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I am not going to waste any more time parsing your comments to decide if they've crossed the line or not... So I banned you.

    -Greta Christina
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Be rude... cl invites rudeness. Would you want an incontinent little puppy coming into your house?

    -(((Billy))) the Atheist
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Note to all my regular readers: Since An Apostate’s Chapel is a free-speech zone, I don’t censor conversations.
    As it appears that cl is a troll, please note that I will not be responding to him any longer. I ask that you refrain from doing so, as well. Please don’t feed the troll!

    -The Chaplain
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    …I can’t reconcile being a "freethinker" with banning speech. [cl's] comments are not offensive in the normal understanding of that term, and he poses absolutely no threat except perhaps to some imagined decorum. Why can’t atheists lighten up, for no-Christ’s sake?

    -The Exterminator
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Is it going to distract from my meal when crazy uncle cl starts blathering out nonsense, pick his ears with a carrot or start taking his pants off? No. In fact, it might actually heighten the experience in some amusing way. So no, I don't see cl's work as damage.

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I am beginning to suspect that you are a troll cl. Albeit an evolved troll, but a troll nonetheless. Perhaps we should all stop feeding the troll?

    -GaySolomon
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl is] is either a sophist or an incompetent when it comes to the english language... (sic)

    -ThatOtherGuy
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I’d say cl is pretty sharp... it may be tempting at times to think that “the other guy” is arguing out of some personal character flaw rather than a sincere desire to acknowledge the truth, I still think it’s better to debate respectfully... It is disrespectful to make unsupported accusations against people, e.g. by suggesting that their views are caused by an intrinsically corrupt and immoral nature.

    -Deacon Duncan, 3-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl] cannot refute my facts, so he needs must find (sic) some scapegoat in order to claim that he has confronted the enemy and proven them wrong... cl, sadly, has proven himself to be the sort of guest who comes into your living room and sneaks behind your couch to take a crap on the floor, just so he can tell all your neighbors how bad your house smells and what an unsanitary housekeeper you are... an interesting case study in the negative effects a Christian worldview has on a reasonably intellectual mind.

    -Deacon Duncan, 6-17-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I strongly discourage discussion of the character, abilities, motives, or personal ancestry of individual commenters, as tempting as such comments may be at times. I discourage the posting of comments that make frequent use of the pronoun “you,” as in “you always…” or “you never…” or “you are just so…”, when directed at a specific individual.

    -Deacon Duncan, 4-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I won’t be publishing your most recent comment because it’s a return to the same sort of schtick you’ve pulled here before: re-writing other people’s arguments to make yourself look misunderstood and/or unfairly accused, taking “polyvalent” positions so that when people address your points you can claim to have said something else, distorting other people’s arguments, trolling for negative reactions, and so on.

    -Deacon Duncan, 10-8-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [E]gomaniacal troll.
    You win... You’re a disingenuous sophist through and through, cl. And a friggin’ narcissist to boot! Since I’ve thoroughly and purposefully broken the Deacon’s rules of engagement, I shall consider my right to post henceforth annulled, and move on - dramatic pause, lights out.

    -jim
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    He either thinks in a very weird way or he's quite the con artist.

    -mikespeir
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I will gladly admit that I have a boner for cl. Maybe some day I’ll even earn a place of honor on cl’s Blog of Infamy.

    -Eneasz
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Long time reader first time poster... I like reading what you
    have to say over at Daylight Atheism so I figured I'd pop in here.

    -Pine
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    He's just a jerk
    that likes to argue.

    -KShep
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You’re not a reasonable thinker in my book. You’re simply an arguer, for better or worse. I’m Michael Palin, you’re John Cleese. You’re just a disputation-ist, bringing everything into question...

    -jim
     Reason vs. Apologetics
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Motherfucker, this is an interesting blog... Quite the group of commenters.

    -John Evo
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are very articulate, and I can only assume that it's a result of high intelligence; an intelligence that's interested in, and can understand, healthy debate. However, at every turn, that's not what I or others seem to get.

    -ex machina
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are a troll, a liar, and a useless sack of shit. Not only that, but you're still wrong even after moving the goal posts and trying to re-write history. So, you can stop cyber stalking me now and trying to provoke me. I know what you are doing, and you are doing it so that you can whine about how I'm being irrational and mean to you and stroke your pathetic martyr complex. You're a pathetic attention whore and I've already given you too much attention. So, back the fuck off, stop following me around the intarwebs and trying to provoke me, and fuck off.

    -OMGF
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I would just like to say that, OMGF, having read the debate as a neutral observer, some of the things cl says about your style of argument are true, IMO. It is quite hasty, which means you occasionally haven't got the central point cl is trying to make...

    -John D.
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...this is a difficult question that deserves more than a kneejerk reaction, not to imply that you're kneejerking. You're the least kneejerking person I've met.

    -Quixote
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    If you’re here playing devil’s advocate, then, hey, you do a great job at it, it’s a service, keep us sharp... You’re a smart guy, but those are exactly the ones who give the worst headaches!

    -Lifeguard
     An Apostate's Chapel
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are a waste of time, cl. A big fat black hole of bullshit sucking in everyone who comes into contact with you.

    -Spanish Inquisitor
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    As for all that harsh invective that's come your way, umm... I gotta say, I've seen some of the invective, but I haven't seen the behavior on your part that called for it. Maybe I've just not seen enough? I don't know... from what I've read, I can tell that you're a smart person, and whether you deserved any of that treatment or not is quite frankly immaterial to me; I just want to deal with the smart person at the eye of that storm.

    -D
     She Who Chatters
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I now think that you’re an atheist, just having fun at other atheists’ expense. If that’s the case, kudos.

    -The Exterminator
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
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Study Suggests Atheists Suppress The Truth

There’s been a lot of hubbub over this “Atheists and Asperger’s” study that recently surfaced at the Scientific American blog. For me, this was the interesting line:

In a second experiment, Heywood and Bering compared 27 people with Asperger’s with 34 neurotypical people who are atheists. The atheists, as expected, often invoked anti-teleological responses such as “there is no reason why; things just happen.” The people with Asperger’s were significantly less likely to offer such anti-teleological explanations than the atheists, indicating they were not engaged in teleological thinking at all. (The atheists, in contrast, revealed themselves to be reasoning teleologically, but then they rejected those thoughts.)

Romans 1:18-20 reads,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (ESV)

Obviously, my title is loaded, in that I take it for granted that God is the truth. Though only a single study and by no means sufficient to justify broad conclusions, these preliminary findings seem to directly confirm Scripture. The study suggests what the Scriptures declare: that atheists have internal access to the truth of God’s existence just as much as anyone else—that they naturally reason teleologically—but that they “reject” or “suppress” it.

Who would have thought?

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A Message To The Uber-Rationalist

I’ve noticed this thing where uber-rational people judge others as “irrational” based exclusively on whether or not the belief in question has **unassailable scientific evidence. When the uber-rationalist makes that move, they misapply a legitimate but isolated truth-criterion without consideration for the full context in which the “irrational” person holds their belief. I say “misapply” because I generally disfavor a myopic approach to reality and I believe truth is best demonstrated through multiple criteria.

Asteroids are perhaps my penultimate example. “Huge, flying rocks in space? That’s absurd!” the uber-rationalist pompously declared to the free-thinker of centuries past. “It’s more likely that you were just hallucinating when that little rock fell out of the sky and cut your head, and as far as that huge, round hole in the ground, you’re probably just seeing a pattern where none really exists.”

“Well…” the free-thinker replies with noticeable annoyance, perhaps at the subjective use of ostensibly mathematical terms. “I maintain that my position is rationally held. I saw what I saw and in my opinion, the only thing wrong with that huge, round hole in the ground is that it’s not big enough for you to bury your head.”

Despite it’s usefulness in making predictions and identifying false propositions, science necessarily plays catch-up with reality. If you are an uber-rationalist, you might want to remember this the next time you’re tempted to look down on others as “less rational” than thou.

** Existence debatable. An uber-rationalist can doubt anything.

Isn’t Richard Carrier Putting The Cart Before The Horse?

So you might have heard that the Loftus put out a new book pompously titled, The End of Christianity, which includes a chapter from self-proclaimed infidel Richard Carrier, titled, Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them). Can we agree that this is an empirical claim? If so, can you imagine the consternation that might ensue if a reputable physics journal published a paper titled: The Higgs Boson Exists, And Science Could Find It?

Shouldn’t we demonstrate something before we bastardize science to say it exists? Granted, Carrier might be using “exists” abstractly, as in moral facts “exist” in a logical or philosophical sense. But, if that’s the case, he’s incorrect to say science can find them. And no, I haven’t read the chapter; that’s besides the point. I’m focusing exclusively on the misleading nature of the title here, so don’t try to flank me.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe moral facts exist, and though I think it would require some degree of revelation, I’m even open to the idea that science could find them. Or, more accurately, that science could demonstrate them. To find them implies to discover them via controlled, replicated experimentation, and that is precisely what I think science cannot do. To demonstrate them implies something more like a “proof” that any given moral proclamation is a fact.

I’m not disagreeing with Carrier in that moral facts exist. Rather, I’m suspicious as to why Carrier, Loftus and the rest of Team Scarlet A demand rigorous proof whenever a believer so much as claims to have wiped their bum in the morning, yet apparently feel free to publish and sell fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants arguments to the masses proclaiming that things exist before science finds them.

And Loftus says Victor Reppert is a science-basher!

On “Epistemic Responsibility”

[–added to TWIM’s Terms page–]

I hold the view that it is “epistemically responsible” to thoughtfully consider scientific evidence both for and against any empirical claims one makes. However, this DOES NOT ENTAIL that refusing to agree with scientific consensus is “epistemically irresponsible.” After all, if that were the case, then we’ve arrived at some of our most significant scientific breakthroughs via epistemic irresponsibility. If you want to take that horn, be my guest.

Science Works (When It’s Not Failing)

DISCLAIMERto say a claim is “inaccurate” is not the same as saying the claim is “false.” I fear that if I don’t include this disclaimer, those prone to twisting things around will show up in droves, accusing me of denigrating science. Should you be tempted to respond, please keep things in scope and pay attention to what I actually say, not your reaction to what I actually say!

*******

The inaccurate polemic that “science works” has reared it’s ugly, cherrypicked head again, this time, in a most expected place. As one might reasonably infer whenever somebody uses the pejorative “bitch” in their argument, I feel fairly safe in my assumption that the juvenile maker of this remark hasn’t seen this article from Scientific American, or any other pertinent articles for that matter.

More specifically:

Most of us are confident that the quality of our healthcare is the finest, the most technologically sophisticated and the most scientifically advanced in the world. … But there is a wrinkle in our confidence. We believe that the vast majority of what physicians do is backed by solid science. Their diagnostic and treatment decisions must reflect the latest and best research. Their clinical judgment must certainly be well beyond any reasonable doubt. To seriously question these assumptions would seem jaundiced and cynical.

But we must question them because these beliefs are based more on faith than on facts for at least three reasons, each of which we will explore in detail in this section. Only a fraction of what physicians do is based on solid evidence from Grade-A randomized, controlled trials; the rest is based instead on weak or no evidence and on subjective judgment. When scientific consensus exists on which clinical practices work effectively, physicians only sporadically follow that evidence correctly.

Medical decision-making itself is fraught with inherent subjectivity, some of it necessary and beneficial to patients, and some of it flawed and potentially dangerous. For these reasons, millions of Americans receive medications and treatments that have no proven clinical benefit, and millions fail to get care that is proven to be effective. Quality and safety suffer, and waste flourishes.

We know, for example, that when a patient goes to his primary-care physician with a very common problem like lower back pain, the physician will deliver the right treatment with real clinical benefit about half of the time. Patients with the same health problem who go to different physicians will get wildly different treatments. Those physicians can’t all be right. …even the most experienced physicians make errors in diagnosing patients because of cognitive biases inherent to human thinking processes. These subjective, “nonscientific” features of physician judgment work in parallel with the relative scarcity of strong scientific backing when physicians make decisions about how to care for their patients.

We could accurately say, “Half of what physicians do is wrong,” or “Less than 20 percent of what physicians do has solid research to support it.” Although these claims sound absurd, they are solidly supported by research that is largely agreed upon by experts.
[Sanjaya Kumar and David B. Nash, bold mine]

Personally, I feel vindicated, because I’ve been skeptical of doctors my entire adult life. Like many, I was raised on the dogma that “the doctor knows best,” and whenever I questioned this dogma, the answer was always the same, and echoes the atheist: because they’re “trained in science.” I imagine this particular dogma is as common to most Americans as any of it’s religious counterparts. I didn’t need a scientific study to tell me that doctors are not always the sound purveyors of science they’re often made out to be. I’ve literally seen people’s health plummet as a result of “following the doctor’s orders,” and the literature is chock full of documented examples. The question is, how often does this happen in non-medical science?

I pose a question to proponents of scientism: how do you know that any given scientific conclusion is in the category of “scientific conclusions which are true” vs. “scientific conclusions which are false?” You might be tempted to answer, “by doing more science,” yet, one of the previously cited links is to an article questioning the veracity of inflation theory, on which much science has been done. So, again: how can you reliably discern between junk science and real science? Again, you might be tempted to reply that real science abides by certain self-correcting protocols whereas junk science does not. Yet, following protocol is no guarantee of a reliable conclusion. So, how do you know? Is it not a sort of charitable presumption that gives science the benefit of the doubt, i.e., something like… faith? Let’s be honest here.

How often does junk science masquerade as real science? I don’t know, but as I paused to go get a coffee during the writing of this piece, I noticed the March 23-29 SF Weekly cover story titled, Weird Science: How a Bogus Child Sex Trafficking Study Fooled Some of the Most Respected Media Outlets in the Country. I literally laughed out loud. You might be tempted to respond that this was not a peer-reviewed study, but peer-reviewed studies often fall prey to the same problems: bias, ulterior motive, selective reporting… we all know the drill. What, besides the presumption of confidence in alleged scientific studies, could explain the fact that ostensibly credible media outlets perpetuated this junk science? I agree with Rick Edmond:

You see this kind of thing a lot, unfortunately… The kind of skepticism that reporters apply to a statement by a politician just doesn’t get applied to studies.

To take it a step further, the kind of skepticism atheists apply to statements made by theists often doesn’t get applied to statements made by atheists and scientists. So, again: how do you know that any given scientific conclusion is in the category of “scientific conclusions which are true” vs. “scientific conclusions which are false?”

I think my point can be safely summed up in Dr. Rosen’s response to Hume on the problem of induction:

If we accept the analysis of inductive reasoning sketched above, it may seem that Hume as done something remarkable and disturbing. He has shown that from a strictly intellectual point of view, there is no real difference between common sense and science on the one hand, and religious belief on the other. In all three cases we find a system of belief based on a fundamental conviction that cannot be justified by argument. The most dramatic way to put the point is to say that Hume has shown that common sense and science are matters of faith. Hume would resist this attempt to rehabilitate religion by “softening up” our picture of common sense and science. The faith that Hume defends is a faith that we cannot possibly avoid or resist, a faith that renders skeptical doubt utterly idle. (HT: Rufus)

I am not arguing that science should be scrapped. I am not denigrating science. I am not implying that all claims should be treated as equally warranted. Rather, I am arguing that science is but one tool in the truth-seekers shed. It is forever chained to the subjectivity of those who do it, thus forever prone to bias and error. It’s conclusions are always provisional, and always subject to change. Therefore, smug atheists and skeptics have no warrant to beat believers over the head with trumped-up polemic that science works, because often, science doesn’t work. Some intelligent people go so far as to claim that most published research findings are false.

Contrary to the protestations of the faithful, we should be skeptical of science. To fail in this regard is to commit the error of blind faith all over again, just in a different context: trusting priests who favor white robes over black. Of course, I fully expect the New Fundies to deny this, and lash out at me for “denigrating science.” Oh, the irony!

Desirism, Doughnuts & Red Curbs

In discussions of morality, attempts to define good can get downright maddening once one applies themselves duly to the task. Yet, it seems so simple. We all know what good means, right? The problem is, my “good” might actually be your “bad,” so how might we deal with that?

For example, let’s say you own a doughnut shop. Not just any doughnut shop, but one in a strip mall with a decent-sized parking lot such that some curbs are painted red to reserve parking for emergency vehicles. Now, let’s say I like to ride my skateboard full speed into those red curbs, like this, and that this actually causes a minor amount of damage to them. My desire to do this ranks very high on my hierarchy of desires. You, of course, don’t want me to skate the curbs, and your desire ranks equally high on your hierarchy of desires. I am primarily concerned with two things: the intense feeling of satisfaction this gives me, and freedom of physical expression regarding my style of exercise. You are primarily concerned with two things: preventing a lawsuit should I injure myself, and promoting an encouraging atmosphere for potential doughnut consumers.

In this case, my “good” is clearly your “bad,” and there are seemingly endless variables as well as ways this dilemma can be resolved. Here are just a few possibilities:

1) I can say, “screw you and your desires,” and continue skating the curbs;

2) You can threaten to call the police;

3) I can oblige your concerns and stop skating the curbs;

4) You can relent of your concerns and stop worrying;

5) We can attempt to determine who has the legal right of way;

6) We can fist fight;

7) We can search for a way to satisfy my desire without thwarting yours.

In (2), why would you threaten to call the police? Is it not because you assume–as you could quite correctly in the vast majority of cases–that my desire to grind red curbs is not as strong as my aversion to being arrested? Here is a real-world example where desirist tenets can both predict and explain human behavior.

Note that my decision to continue skating the curbs may or may not be illegal depending on the municipality we’re in. If it is legal, you have no legal grounds for (2), and I could choose (1) with no fear of punishment, which would lead to the thwarting of your desires.

The desirist would presumably prescribe (7), and because I’m a nice guy, that would be my first choice, too. However, my fondness for (7) could quickly vaporize depending on your reason for wanting me to stop skating the curbs, and the demeanor in which you present your request. If you come out and get hostile, we might be well on our way to (6). If, on the other hand, you come out cool, calm and collected, I might just yield to your desire and choose (3). If you are simply a cranky old bat that “doesn’t like skateboards,” and that is why you want me to stop, I’m not going to be very sympathetic. After all, I like skateboards, and since we’re both presumably tax-paying citizens of the same community, why should I stop just because you don’t? To those leaning towards the argument from private property, how would the situation change if the setting was a public park?

I’ve seen each of these play out in real life.

Perhaps your reason is that you don’t like the scuffs on the red curbs. How is that any different than disliking a certain artist? Is this not a purely subjective aesthetic preference? Why should your desire to see red curbs without minor scuffs take precedence over my desire to skate them? What if I agree to periodically repaint them for you?

Perhaps your desire is preventing a lawsuit. As is the case with every skateboarder I’ve ever known, what if suing you would never even enter my mind as a viable option should I get hurt? After all, I’ve hurt myself in who-knows-how-many places, and never once have I thought to sue the owner of the property. If I get hurt skateboarding, more often than not, it’s my own fault. So, why should I have my desire thwarted simply because you worry about a situation that will never materialize in reality?

Questions like these lead me to question the appropriateness of using desire fulfillment as the sole criterion for good, and more importantly, questions like these lead me to remain skeptical of the claim made by Harris, Fyfe, Muehlhauser et al. that science should be the ultimate arbiter of morality.

How in the world is science going to help in a situation like this?

An Open Challenge: Why You Should Be Skeptical Of John W. Loftus

A few months ago, John Loftus claimed that science debunks Christianity.

I’m not a fan of these types of claims, which are essentially sweeping generalizations that contain what I’ve referred to in the past as “the precision of 2×4” as opposed to, say, that of a sharpened #2 pencil. Of course, any (a)theist who’s spent even in a minute in the trenches knows that both science and Christianity are usually emotionally charged keywords that carry more baggage than a bellman at Luxor Grand. The author’s choice of words literally begs the reader to plunge headlong into a frenzy of racing and polarized analysis, fueled on reaction determined by the color of one’s glasses.

Talk about fodder for the culture wars.

Nonetheless, I’d like to focus on a few of Loftus’ claims, and specifically challenge Loftus to take responsibility by supplying the necessary emendations to justify his arguments as needed, and/or admitting their lack of cogency as hitherto presented. Of course, the challenge is open, which means I’m interested to hear your input as well. In fact, I suspect Loftus won’t even respond, but… we’ll see. May he prove me wrong.

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