(hat tip: WTF – when there is nothing)
FireStats error : Database error: INSERT command denied to user 'dbo322747445'@'126.96.36.199' for table 'blog_firestats_pending_data'
MySQL Version: 5.1.73-log
INSERT DELAYED INTO `blog_firestats_pending_data` ( `timestamp`, `site_id` , `url` , `referrer` , `useragent` , `ip`, `type` ) VALUES ( NOW(), '1', 'http://www.whydontyou.org.uk/blog/tag/understanding/', '', 'CCBot/2.0 (http://commoncrawl.org/faq/)', '188.8.131.52', NULL )
(hat tip: WTF – when there is nothing)
It is certainly true that if you don’t have a vote, you don’t count in a democratic society.
One of the (many) demonised groups in the UK now seems to be the “youth” – of which the middle aged, middle classes seem to be inordinately frightened. Coincidentally, this is also an age group in which most are unable to vote, and most of those who do, don’t seem to bother. As a result, it seems, they have become fair game for any crackpot ideas. Oddly, they are also a group politicians seem to constantly appeal to (obviously knowing they wont be arsed to vote…). Isn’t the world strange.
Two recent mad ideas spring to mind. First from the Guardian:
Road safety: Impose total alcohol ban for teenage drivers, says chief medical officer
A zero drink-driving limit should be imposed on all drivers under 20, the chief medical officer recommended yesterday, saying that such a ban would save lives.
This hits two of our current “fears.” First it panders to the idea that the UK is in the grip of a “Booze Culture” and secondly it cries that some new restriction will “save lives.” Nicely it wraps all this up by targeting a silent group of society, so the fall out would be minimal (and it was).
For me, despite being neither “yoof” or a novice driver so immune to any resultant laws, this is insane. I completely, 100% fail to see any logic. I am reasonably sure that any young driver mature and grown up enough to go out and stick to the 1 pint limit is also likely to be mature and capable enough to drive sensibly. The problem, and it isn’t just young drivers, is being over the limit.
Some figures are bandied about:
Justifying his call for zero alcohol for 17 to 20-year-olds, Donaldson said they were six times more likely to have a car crash if they had been drinking. A young person who had been drinking was 2.5 times more likely to have a crash than an older person who had been drinking. “I’m aware it is a controversial recommendation, but I believe it would save lives,” he said.
Now, so far I have been unable to clarify this, but I am reasonably certain that the problem is young people are more likely to be over the legal drink driving limit – I seem to recall the alcohol level is not recorded by the police if the person is under the legal limit.
Basically, this is saying young people over the limit have more accidents than old people over the limit, so lets lower the limit for young people.
Madness. But it is the madness that comes from some one with a fantastic knowledge of one subject area (medicine) being given implied authority in another area (crime reduction, driver safety etc).
The next bit really annoyed me. From the Times a few days ago:
Curfew tames feral yobs of Cornwall
An experiment to bring peace to a yob-plagued town by imposing nocturnal curfews on its teenagers had a promising start this weekend when the streets of Redruth in Cornwall were free of the usual intimidating gaggles of youths.
Under the experimental curfew, named Operation Goodnight, parents in the most troubled part of the town have agreed with police that they will keep children under 16 indoors after 9pm, and that under10s will not be allowed out after 8pm.
What a wonderful culture we live in. When you read things like this it really makes you despair for what the adults of 2020 will be like.
I have two big issues with this. First off – why are we sending kids so many mixed signals? We (as a society) say they should be more involved in the community, say they should spend less time on their playstations and more time outdoors, say they should spend more time interacting with others. Simultaneously we say they cant go out, cant hang round together and everything they do means a paedophile will get them.
Secondly, the sheer unadulterated nonsense behind this.
Right, let me get this straight. The parents of these “feral” children want restrictions on when the children go out. They have enough control over the children to stop them going out but wont do this simply because their children are little s***s, they demand that the police tell them to do this.
Nope, still cant get my head around it.
Why in the name of Zeus dont the bloody parents control their children? Why do they have to agree with police to follow this “trial” curfew (which will, no doubt, report a positive outcome and then spread to other areas – just like the criminal nonsense that is congestion charging)?
Our children are fine. They are the same mix of evil little turds and fantastic kind angels they were 30 years ago, 60 years ago, 90 years ago and even 900 years ago.
The bloody feral parents are the problem…. but then, they can vote…
On the Radio 1 news today there was a snippet (I am not going to look it up but it will be on the BBC website) about some truly stupid youngsters. Apparently, Police in Scotland have become the first in the UK to target people who admit to crimes on social networking sites such as Bebo and Facebook. (*)
Now, for me, I think this is a good idea. If people (mostly “yoofs” according to the news) are stupid enough to commit a crime and then boast about it online they need to be taken out of the gene pool urgently. One of the young lads interviewed had apparently put up pictures of himself in a balaclava carrying a knife. Why he went to these lengths to remain anonymous, then outed himself online is beyond me.
The most frustrating part, and a good example of how taking away the “classical” education has failed children was a young retard complaining about the police scouring social networking sites to find offenders. He actually had the gall to say it was an invasion of his privacy for the police to look over his Bebo page to find out what crimes he has committed. Flabbergasting.
For me, it weakens the real destruction of our privacy when people think things like this are an invasion of privacy. It is like putting a full page advert in a newspaper and then complaining that people reading it are invading your privacy. Idiocy reigns.
* Oddly I cant find this on the real BBC news so I may have dreamed it – but I hope not as I was driving at the time…
One of the letters in this weeks New Scientist reports the reassuring facts that, despite the antics of various school boards and the attempts of numerous kook religion sites, Creationism is in decline. This is good news, and personally I would like nothing more than to think it was true – in fact if you base your analysis on my personal experience, then hardly anyone believes the creationist nonsense.
Sadly, I am not (yet) fully convinced that this is the true description of the world.
Now, the letter in NS helpfully produces some figures to support its claim. This is nearly always a good thing but this time it seems to be a touch confusing. Look at this:
Since the 1980s in the US the fundamentalist opinion that Adam and Eve were created a few thousand years before the pyramids has held fairly steady at between 43 and 47 per cent, with the lowest value occurring in 2007.
OK, it seems reasonable to take from that sentence the idea that creationism fluctuates around 45%, give or take 2%. While it is reassuring to see creationism is at its lowest last year, that is not really a decline.
Interestingly the numbers are compared with:
The number believing in human evolution under the guidance of God has stayed between 35 and 40 per cent.
The number agreeing with the scientific consensus that evolution occurred without a god has risen from 9 or 11 per cent at the end of the 20th century to a high of 14 per cent in 2007.
Sadly, this is less reassuring. I am not sure how three effectively stable sets of numbers can be used to show creationism is in decline. Equally, (admittedly ignoring the variation with the start figure of proper evolution) the numbers all show basically the same variation. Going from 11% to 14% is not a significant change when 47% – 43% is described as “fairly steady.”
As far as I can see, from the three sets of figures here, the numbers are all basically “steady.” All have about a 5% spread which seems to fluctuate. This is, in itself, not a downward trend for creationism.
Can anyone else show more positive figures?
Equally lacking in comfort to the rational is the information that, in the worlds only superpower, a nation with the ability to destroy every living person:
Remarkably, the number taking the Bible literally has steadily sunk from about 40 per cent in the 1970s – nearly matching those who then favoured the Genesis story – to between a third and a quarter.
So, at best, 25% of people still take the Bible literally. Wow. Scary wow.
I was browsing through the Times blogs yesterday and I came across one by John Humphrys (which was actually an extract from “In God We Doubt” about to be published by Hodder & Stoughton) carrying the title “In God we doubt” with the following tagline:
He went looking for God and ended up an angry agnostic â€“ unable to believe but enraged by the arrogance of militant atheists. Itâ€™s hard to see the purpose of the world, he says, but donâ€™t blame its evils on religion
As you can see, there was no way I wasn’t going to read this!
Overall, this is a reasonably well written piece. While it isn’t good enough to make me interested in buying the book it may well appeal to some people with wavering faith and the writing style is certainly inoffensive on the whole. John Humphrys is basically explaining how he went from being brought up a good Christian to his faith wavering and finally he “deconverted” to agnosticism. I wont go into the nonsensical idea that “agnosticism” is anything other than a complete wet lettuce of a philosophical idea, which has at its root the basic assumption that God does exist but is insufficiently proven for worship, that is for another day.
There is one, possibly major, problem with the whole piece and (I suspect) the line of reasoning from which it flows. After a lengthy and introspective introduction, Mr Humphrys identifies what he sees as “the attitude of those militant atheists who seem to hold believers in contempt.” (It is interesting that he makes a list of seven points, but again this diversion can wait). His reflection on “militant atheists” produces the following list of characteristics, faults and problems: (These are opinions which “militant atheists” are supposed to hold to)
1. Believers are mostly naive or stupid. Or, at least, theyâ€™re not as clever as atheists.
2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.
3. They are also pathetic because they canâ€™t accept the finality of death.
4. They have been brainwashed into believing. There is no such thing as a â€œChristian childâ€, for instance â€“ just a child whose parents have had her baptised.
5. They have been bullied into believing.
6. If we donâ€™t wipe out religious belief by next Thursday week, civilisation as we know it is doomed.
7. Trust me: Iâ€™m an atheist. I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with that little list: itâ€™s what they do to believers all the time.
After sharing his earth shattering wisdom the reader is further encouraged to discover each point in detail. It is here that I largely gave up on any hope for him. The explanations and rebuttals follow, now with my rebuttal of his rebuttal…
1. This is so clearly untrue itâ€™s barely worth bothering with. Richard Dawkins, in his bestselling The God Delusion, was reduced to producing a â€œstudyâ€ by Mensa that purported to show an inverse relationship between intelligence and belief. He also claimed that only a very few members of the Royal Society believe in a personal god. So what? Some believers are undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists) but Iâ€™ve met one or two atheists I wouldnâ€™t trust to change a lightbulb.
In his first sentence he gets it spot on, but possibly not in the way he thinks and despite his scorn for this it is his first point and he goes to great lengths to try and dismiss it. The reality of the matter is no “militant atheist” I know really thinks all theists are dumb and I would be interested in seeing the published information to support this idea. There are very intelligent and well educated theists – this goes without saying – and equally there are retarded atheists. Here, Humphrys has created a strawman and then attacked it. He tried to demolish it with an appeal to ridicule but, come the crunch, he failed. Nothing in what he writes actually says anything relevant to the point he tries to address so I suspect this is actually proof some atheists are dumb.
The strawman used by Humphrys reads that atheists think theists are “mostly” dumb or not as clever as atheists. Nothing that he writes contradicts this idea, except the appeal to ridicule at the beginning – and if it really is so clearly untrue, why address it first and foremost? If he strongly thinks it is false, then why is he using phrases like “reduced to using a ‘study’” (with sneer quotes)? Strawmen are wonderful things, but they need to be used properly…
2. Donâ€™t we all? Some use booze rather than the Bible. It doesnâ€™t prove anything about either.
Here he continues the strawman and again says nothing. I am not sure what point he is trying to make here. Does he mean to imply that religious belief is “good” because some people need alcohol to get through the day? Is he saying that the Bible (or what ever religious belief) is nothing but a crutch for people with problems and then claiming it doesn’t prove the original (yet strawman) argument he presented? If so, he is sadly mistaken.
After what he must feel was a rapier-like strike with the first point, Mr Humphrys descends into meaningless, pointless sentences like point 2. I am sure, somewhere, it means something but reading it on the Times Blog is baffling. He has no means of dismissing the claimed idea, for example with point 2 he does not even attempt to explain why intelligent theists are not simply clinging to their belief like an alcoholic clings to their bottle, he just says (an intellectually lazy) “so what.” For example:
3. Maybe, but it doesnâ€™t mean theyâ€™re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards.
Again, he has no point other than a strawman. He has no way of dismissing or even disagreeing with it and finally he trots out the old stalwart of the theist case – Atheists in Foxholes. Now, anyone who has read “God Is Not Great” will know that Christopher Hitchens is indeed someone who has been an atheist under fire, as have I and many, many other people I know. In all honesty, I know more people who have been an atheist in a foxhole than a theist.
But even if we assume the claim is correct, it leaves open the argument that the gods the theists are worshipping are somewhat neglectful. Surely they should be caring for their believers more than unbelievers, so why is it so many of the faithful are made to suffer…?
4. True, and many children reject it when they get older. But many others stay with it.
This leaves me with a massive “eh?” So what? He agrees with the militant atheist claim, so what is his point?
5. This is also true in many cases but you canâ€™t actually bully someone into believing â€“ just into pretending to believe.
Mr Humphrys is misrepresenting the “militant atheists” claim here so that he can simply add a rebuttal in the form of a twist. Obviously he is thinks it is ok for religions to bully people into observing their practices because, deep down, the person doesn’t believe in them. Madness.
6. Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But weâ€™ve survived monotheist religion for 4,000 years or so, and I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation.
It seems his liberalised anglican upbringing is showing here. Fundamentalist Islam is, indeed, dangerous in the short term violence aspect but the reality is no amount of terrorist attacks can destroy civilised democracy. Yes, people may die but then people die every day. The destruction of civil liberties that is following the fear of Islam provides a more long-term worry. The destruction of education being forced upon the west by Fundamentalist Christianity is more likely to do long-term harm to our societies ability to exist than people with semtex strapped to their chests. (Even “liberal” Holland is suffering – for example). The “harm” caused by religion is not always exemplified by planes flying into towers – think of the oppression of homosexuals, the subjugation of women, caste systems, refusal of medical treatment for minors etc.
Also, I am not sure his history is up to speed either. While Judaism may have been around for 4000 years, it is certainly a lot shorter period of time in which monotheistic death cults have been dominant on a global scale – let alone people who get their orders from
the voice in their head god having access to nuclear weapons.
7. Why? For those of us who are neither believers nor atheists it can be very difficult. Doubters are left in the deeply unsatisfactory position of finding the existence of God unprovable and implausible, and the comfort of faith unachievable. But at the same time we find the reality of belief undeniable.
Again, we have the illusion of a middle ground which is more reasoned, more acceptable, than the non-belief of Atheism. This middle ground has been largely created by theists who seek to undermine the idea that atheism can exist. It is not logical to have no opinion on the subject unless you have given it no thought. I am confused by the concept of finding the existence of god implausible but the reality of belief undeniable. Working through what passes for logic is giving me a head ache but I will try:
Mr Humphrys is asserting he is an agnostic because he finds the existence of god implausible but the reality that people “believe” in god is undeniable so he can’t think of himself as an atheist.
Did I get it right?
It has that wonderful ring of being “true” but it isn’t. Just because lots of other people “believe” something with all their hearts does not mean it is true. For centuries people believed that the Earth was the centre of the solar system, that the solar system was the universe, that stars were ancient warriors, that the gods sat on top of Mount Olympus and interfered with mankind and so on. Not one of these things were true and all the belief in the world will not overturn that.
It strikes me that, although Mr Humphrys describes himself as an “agnostic” and ridicules the idea that children are indoctrinated into religious beliefs, he is suffering from this indoctrination. He (I assume) will certainly agree that lightning is not the result of Zeus’ anger, that Neptune does not control the oceans and Loki is not spreading global mischief. He (again, I assume) will agree that there is a continent across the ocean from Europe, that the Chinese are not devils, that elves do not live in woods, dwarves do not mine gold in the Norse mountains, faeries do not steal Irish children and the tooth fairy is not responsible for the coin under the pillow.
All of these things have at some point been believed to be true by people over the world. All of them. They all have as much evidence for existing as the Christian God. If the existence of belief is proof of existence, then they exist. The existence of the things I mentioned is implausible and unlikely, but this seems not to matter to Mr Humphrys.
I find myself wondering if he really does doubt the existence of god.
On a final note, and getting back to the subject of this diatribe, Mr Humphrys closes with:
As for the fanatics â€“ religious or secular â€“ history suggests they succeed only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be defeated by our own irrational fear. For every fanatic there are countless ordinary, decent people who believe in their own version of a benevolent God and wish no harm to anyone. Many of them regard it as their duty to try to make the world a better place. It is too easy to blame the evils of the world on belief in God. In the end, if we make a mess of things, we shall have ourselves to blame â€“ not religion and not God. After all, he doesnâ€™t exist. Does he?
While I actually agree with the first part of this (and this is why I feel the “fear of Islam” is more worrying than the effects of actual terrorism), he finishes it up by missing the point completely. I know of no atheists who blame god for the world’s troubles. The blame has, at times, been placed on religion which, despite the assertion he closes with, is something he seems to be agreeing with. The people are making a mess of things. They are making a mess of it under the idea that they are working to a higher power and worldly suffering will be followed by a reward in the afterlife. This is the result of religion not secularism.
(I will leave looking at Giles Fraser to others for now but if you have spare time read the comments, they are priceless – even Fr Brian Storey pops up!)
[tags]John Humphrys, Humphrys, Religion, Belief, Christianity, Faith, Delusion, God, Bible, Logic, Fallacy, Strawman, Appeal To Ridicule, Philosophy, Society, Culture, Understanding, Times Online, Logical Fallacy, Confusion, Islam, Monotheism, History, Agnostic, Atheist, Militant Atheist, In God We Doubt, Book[/tags]
For those who do not have the regular, erm, pleasure of reading through the Comment is Free blogs on the Guardian websites, there is an interesting one there from yesterday by AC Grayling titled “A force for evil.”
The post makes interesting reading, but as you can imagine the most humour can be found in the comments. Most are pretty unoriginal and just what you expect when ever someone says religion is bad. You can largely group the comments into categories: (with kudos to jackoba who did this before me!)
I am teetering towards the last group at the moment. Sadly, even though there are some intelligent, educated, people writing articles about atheism now, there is a strong sense of repetition there. It is a good sign of the times that so many news portals carry atheist posts now, and this probably reflects the greater divide between theists and atheists. In the UK at least, a generation ago most people were apathetic enough towards religion as to make the distinction meaningless – even the faithful over here were not rabid enough to get worked up about. Now, though, things are quite different. It is interesting that an apparent British person writes this at the end of their comment:
Also, since humanism tends towards strict individualism, autonomy of the self, reason, independent thought etc, on its own grounds, it features a very spurious supernatural being (in the way he can escape from nature), the human of humanism, the self. Not only this, but the underlying liberalistic logic of evolutionary psychology and humanism (competing individuals where co-operation is a secondary and indeed undergirded by self-interest) is doubtless an easy way at an ideological level inwhich to further shure up capitalism, and I cannot help but think that this logic (though not humanism solely, but capitalism) will ulitimately kill more than ‘religion’ ever has, once the seas begin to boil and the world begins to throw out its selfish stewards.
Heavy on the big, long words but light on the sense and logic. (He began his comment with “Where to to begin with the stupidity of what AC Grayling is saying here?” so you got a sign it was going to be good!)
The problem is, as is often the case where something is either right or wrong, the argument eventually gets bogged down. It has been some time since I read a properly “new” article on the topic. Theists as normal, are often the worst spewing out the same tired, boring, reasons why people should believe in god. Graylings article in the Comment is Free, while interesting and well written does not really open any new ground and is unlikely to convert any theists.
With this in mind, I will endeavour to find some examples of mainstream media which has “new” arguments on the pro-/anti- invisible people debate. Personally, I cant think of any new arguments so finding them will be exciting and interesting (and therefore they will get looked at here!).
The only interesting thing about these religion/atheism threads is that the atheists can spell better than the religious nutters.
(footnote: the title comes from a comment, not something I thought up myself! )
[tags]Atheism, Theism, Religion, AC Grayling, Belief, Religious Nutters, Beliefs, Belief, Nutcases, Fundamentalist, Society, Culture, Logic, Understanding, Guardian, Nazi, God Delusion[/tags]
During a few spare minutes I had today, the Great Toutatis guided me to technorati where I found a link to a blog called “Bible Study for Atheists.” This blog (from Vast Left) is pretty good reading. It is witty enough to entertain and certainly worth a visit. On reading it, I found the shards of a bit of a debate between Vast Left and a blogger called El Borak.
From what I read (and please correct me if I get this wrong), Vast Left made a post “poking fun” at Genesis and El Borak responded with:
Of course, it’s not even a study per se. Rather it’s simply a chance to poke fun and play number games. (read original)
I might be misreading the tone, but this strikes me there has been a sense of humour bypass here. Of course it isn’t a study per se — although I am not sure if El Borak means study in the “Bible Study” sense where a load of Christians sit round and re-affirm each others ideas, or a study in the scientific sense. (Hint: I am poking fun).
Now, broadly speaking, El Borak is actually fairly reasonable and presents his arguments well. I am not sure I want to get involved in the overall debate, so I will not pass comment on that “per se.” One sentence which did leap out at me, though, was: (emphasis mine)
I know I should not expect more from self-proclaimed Atheists, and that’s the problem. I truly don’t.
This is interesting. I am not interested in the attempt at a snide dig, to be honest I don’t expect anything else from any theists (self proclaimed or otherwise), they just don’t know any better. What did interest me was the use of the term “self proclaimed.” I am some what confused as to what it was meant to imply.
Normally, when you see the term “self proclaimed” it tends to imply the following word is a dubious boast. Is this meant to mean that El Borak doubts Vast Left is really an atheist until there is some corroborating evidence? From it’s use it could also be read to mean El Borak is amazed anyone could have the front to actually admit they are an an Atheist, or he could simply doubt anyone is really an Atheist.
I am confused. (extra entertainment can be found from the comments on El Borak’s page, Huckelberry is worth a chuckle)
Short one as not much to rant about today, however some general web surfing has made me think about a few issues in science related to Evolution / Creationism.
The scientific method is well established and is certainly the “generally accepted” way of defining what is scientific and what isn’t. This method, not some half baked 2000 year old text which has been re-written more times than I can count, provides the yardstick against which all science is measured – be it Evolution, Relativity, Electromagnetism, anything. Without it, well, it’s back to the dark ages.
The crux of the method is the ability to make testable predictions and carry out proper experiments which can falsify the theory. You dont actually have to prove the theory wrong for it to be scientific (although this is a common misconception of the term) but you need to be able to construct an experiment which could prove the theory wrong. This is important so make a note of it.
Now, on to the wonders of creationism. Most, if not all, creationist propaganda carries the sole message that “Evolution is Wrong.” If you do a YouTube, Google or (especially) a MySpace search you come across all manner of idiocy and madness about the topic. People saying “evolution is wrong because … [insert nonsense].” Things range from the “missing link” oddity to crazy arguments like irreducible complexity. The main thing they all have in common is the nonsense and bad science which tends to back them.
The important thing, in the context of this post anyway, is the issue about disproving evolution.
First off, the fact that the lunatics (ID, YEC et al) are capable of coming up with a possible experimental circumstance which could disprove evolution reinforces the fact that evolution is scientific. Scientific does not mean true or correct. Newtonian Gravity was a scientific theory which turned out to be incorrect. This is part of the way science works. A scientific fact has more caveats than the average person would ever think of applying to something “factual.”
Secondly, and possibly more importantly, even if the lunatics did manage to disprove the theory of evolution, that does not mean Creationism takes a default win. That is not how science works. A flaw in general relativity (eg, interactions on the quantum scale) does not mean Newtonian Gravity is correct – or to be a more accurate analogy, a flaw in GR does not mean gravity is caused by bananas. Finding something in a theory which is wrong is the “Holy Grail” (all puns intended) of science. It means people get to advocate new Scientific theories (sorry, creationists, you dont count). People get Nobel prizes. People get huge amounts of funding. (and so on).
Intelligent Design / Creationism / whatever, is not scientific. It really isn’t. Saying “God Did It” is not science – even changing God to something you think will slip under the radar still does not make it science. If anything it is the end of science. It blocks further investigation because if anything is unknown or fails to meet the predictions you can just say “the creator wanted it that way and who are we to second guess the all-mighty one?”
Falsifying evolution would be a good thing, but it certainly would not mean creationism was the correct science. The theory of evolution is scientific. It almost certainly is not the endstate for our understanding of life and it makes no predictions about how life started, but it is a valid, solid, theory. Just like gravity. I am not going to even think of getting worked up about the “it’s just a theory” crap…