Archive for April, 2012

Privilege …

April 29, 2012

In a lot of discussions lately, you hear the term “privilege” tossed out a lot, usually by a perceived minority against a perceived majority. I think that at times there is an interesting point to be made when accusations of “You’re just speaking from your privilege” are tossed out, but I dislike the term privilege for it. The reason is that the term privilege always implies that the “privileged” side has it good and the “unprivileged” side has it worse. While in some cases this might be objectively true, in a lot of ways it doesn’t even make sense to try to compare the two, because the people being compared have lives so different from each other that trying to determine who overall has it better or worse makes no sense, and comparing things in a specific case misrepresents how things are overall.

Ultimately, arguments from this only are legitimate when they reflect this sort of thinking, to quote Tom Petty: You don’t know how it feels to be me.

Despite the fact that, in general, we do seem to have empathy and mindreading skills and so have the general ability to put ourselves into the shoes of others to see what they’re feeling or thinking and what things are like for them as opposed to how they are for us, these mechanisms are far from perfect. Like it or not, we seem to be far better at understanding the circumstances of people who are more similar to us than those who are far less similar to us. It’s hard for an extrovert to understand an introvert, a man to understand a woman, a non-shy person to understand shy people, non-autistics to understand autistics, non-psychopaths to understand psychopaths, and so on. And, of course, vice versa. What this means is that when we start interacting with people, and start talking about things ranging from public policy to social convention to where we’re going to dinner we run into all sorts of issues based on our differing perspectives. We don’t know how it feels to be the other person, so we translate our perspective onto them and then wonder why they get upset when we do. We think we’re simply disagreeing; they think we’re insulting them. We wonder why a little joke is such a problem; they wonder how we can be so incredibly obtuse. We think of it as mild flirting or hitting on; they take it as a real threat of sexual assault.

These differences, though, aren’t due in any way to malice, nor do they imply any notion of one person having it better than another. Even in the same circumstances, the different perspectives clash. To take an example that I’ve talked about in the past, we can run into issues where on the one hand approaching someone for any kind of romantic or sexual liason is considered rude to do when surrounded by people, but some people feel that if it’s done when they’re alone it becomes more threatening. Neither side is trying to cause issues here; both are, in some sense, trying to argue for what the right thing to do is. But without taking all perspectives into account, that won’t succeed. The one side will really feel that an attempt is being made to eliminate “hitting on” entirely, due to the contradiction, while the other side will feel that their feelings and legitimate fears aren’t being taken into consideration.

The way out of this is not to start the conversation off with a tone of accusation or a tone that implies that one side has it better than another. The way out of this is to allow all relevant perspectives to be brought to the discussion, and then for compromises to be worked out that allow for all perspectives to “win”, in that they get to keep what they really want and get what they need out of the discussion or policy or convention. Starting as “privilege” doesn’t do any of that; it immediately puts one side on the defensive, no matter how much protest is made that that isn’t what is going on.

So I suggest that we change the term, and stop using the term “privilege”. Instead, just replace it with “perspective”. So instead of talking about the person speaking from “male privilege”, use the term “male perspective”. Or “female perspective”. Or “religious perspective”. Or “atheist perspective”. And so on and so forth. It’s not perfect — because there are many different perspectives inside those groups — but it’s a lot better. And if you don’t, don’t be surprised when you get defensive reactions.

Oops …

April 29, 2012

So, I was 3-5 in the first round of playoff predictions. But I was still in my really busy phase and … completely forgot to predict the second round before it started. Oops. So, since it isn’t really good to predict a series after it has started, I’m out of the prediction business for this year. So, if you want to see my mediocre picks for playoff series, you’ll have to wait for next year.

Why don’t you go play some golf?

Interesting Stories So Far in the NHL Playoffs …

April 16, 2012

Here’s what’s surprised or interested me so far about the NHL playoffs:

1) Vancouver and Pittsburgh down 3-0: I picked both of these teams to win the first round because I thought they’d be safe picks. Instead, Jonathan Quick is standing on his head and Marc-Andre Fleury can’t stop a beach ball. Philadelphia is only up in this series because while their goaltending hasn’t been great — giving up 3, 5 and 4 goals in the first three games, including 3 in the first period of Game 1 — Fleury’s been worse, which may be interesting if they advance and hit a team that actually has solid goaltending. And speaking of solid goaltending …

Boston and Washington are both averaging a goal a game: Okay, we could believe this of Tim Thomas, but of the rookie Holtby, who is playing well? Who’d’a thunk it?

St. Louis and their musical chair goaltenders: Elliot was great in the regular season, but didn’t start the playoffs. Halak was hurt and Elliot finished his shutout. Both are playing well right now.

Detroit and Nashville have symmetry: All of their games have been 3-2 finals.

Rangers and Ottawa get nasty: I don’t think I would have expected this series to be as nasty as it has been, and we might not have seen anything yet.

Next couple of weeks …

April 16, 2012

I’m going to be really busy over the next couple of weeks, until the end of the month. Until then, my posting will be sporadic. Well, actually, “sporadic” would probably be a compliment …

When things settle down, I hope to return to posting more regularly, including a commentary on Russell Blackfords “Freedom of Religion and the Secular State”, which I have read already but have yet to comment on. I want to do that in more detail.

My NHL Playoff Predictions …

April 11, 2012

I’m a fairly big hockey fan, and for a while I used to try to predict the series winners and see if I can get over a 50% accuracy rating. I didn’t do it last season, but now that I have a blog I figure there’s no better time for me to restart the tradition than when I can post it so that everyone can see just how poorly I do [grin].

Anyway, first I’ll give the summary of my choices, with the team I pick to win being in bold. Then I’ll explain why afterwards. I’ll also update each round with which ones I got right and which I got wrong, and then keep that running total going forward as I predict the next round.

Eastern Conference

NY Rangers vs Ottawa Senators
Boston Bruins vs Washington Capitals Incorrect
Florida Panters vs NJ Devils
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers Incorrect

Western Conference

Vancouver Canucks vs LA Kings Incorrect
St. Louis Blues vs San Jose Sharks Correct
Pheonix Coyotes vs Chicago Black Hawks Correct
Nashville Predators vs Detroit Red Wings Incorrect

So, in the East:

Rangers vs Senators: The Rangers are a good team, and full value for their being first in the Eastern conference. The Senators have been one of the most surprising teams this year, although they went on a bit of a slump going into the playoffs (although all games were close). The Senators have a great record against the Rangers, but the playoffs are a completely new season … although not always. The big question is whether Maclean can do what Martin often failed to do and adjust when necessary. Tortorella is a great and experienced coach, but he’s a motivator and not a manipulator, making that easier. You could take the point totals and maybe how hot they are now and base it on that, but I’ll go with my heart on this one and be prepared to be wrong.

Bruins vs Capitals: I like Ovechkin, but Chara’s just too good for him to work around, and without Ovechkin I don’t think that the rest of the Caps can outplay the Bruins enough to win the series.

Panthers vs Devils: The Panthers were still fighting for a playoff spot late in the season, and are only in the third spot because they won their division. The Devils are at least as good a team if not better. And I won’t bet against Brodeur if it comes down to goaltending. Although, the last time I said that, Ray Emery and the Senators beat Brodeur and the Devils. But likely not this time.

Penguins vs Flyers: This will be a great series, but with Crosby back and rested, Pittsburgh just has too much firepower. If Crosby stays healthy, they will win, and if he gets injured, they still have a good shot.

Western Conference:

I know this conference less than the East, so these picks are harder.

Canucks vs Kings: Upsets can happen, and the Kings will be looking to play spoiler and have some talent, but unless Luongo completely implodes and Schneider can’t take over the Canucks have more than enough left, even without Daniel Sedin, to pull this off.

Blues vs Sharks: The Sharks have been somewhat unfairly targeted as playoff chokers, and the Blues are a bit of an upstart team, which might make this interesting. If Brian Elliot can play and play the way he has been this season, it will be an easy win. If he can’t, Halak has had playoff success, and Hitchcock will likely keep them focused. The Sharks struggled a bit this year and so while this might be more even than it might look on paper, the Blues should pull it off.

Coyotes vs Black Hawks: The Hawks are without Toews, who’s a critical part of their team. They also aren’t the team that won the Cup a few years ago. The Coyotes should be hungry to get past the first round and home ice advantage will be critical to them in what might be their swan song in the desert.

Predators vs Red Wings: This should be a close series and a great one, but in the end I simply won’t bet against Detroit’s experience and will to win.

I Know That Voice …

April 10, 2012

The latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is up.

Ridicule and Mockery …

April 8, 2012

So, Daniel Fincke over a Camels With Hammers is defending Richard Dawkins’ Reason Rally speech calling for ridicule and mockery of “absurd” religious beliefs, like transubstantiation. There’s a lot to say about this post, but let’s start at the beginning where Fincke essentially tries to explain what Dawkins is really saying:

First of all, these criticisms of Dawkins lazily and unreasonably ignore the actual rationale that he gave for specifically raising the issue of transubstantiation. It was actually not to make the believer feel stupid for believing such nonsense. Dawkins explicitly expressed doubt that the majority of nominally believing people really do believe such absurdities. He did not impugn their intelligence but rather he actually assumed they were smarter than their supposed beliefs. He was calling atheists to challenge nominal Catholics to confront the dissonance between what they actually believe and the Catholicism they often only passively belong to.

Dawkins seems to accept this in a comment on a post at

I am extremely pleased by Daniel Fincke’s article, which says exactly what I SHOULD have said and, to my regret, didn’t make sufficiently clear in my Reason Rally speech. The best way to summarise it would be to modify the quotation from Johann Hari. Johann said, “I respect you too much to respect your ridiculous beliefs”. From now on, my version will be, “I respect you too much to accept that you really believe anything so ridiculous as you claim. Please either defend those beliefs and explain why they are not ridiculous, or else declare that you do not hold them and publicly disown the church to which you claim loyalty.”

Politicians who curry favour with voters by claiming religious affiliation should learn the downside of such self-serving claims. They should be made to defend, in public, the ridiculous beliefs of the religion to which they pretend loyalty.

The big problem with this is that it doesn’t fit with at least part of Dawkins’ defense of his own remark on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC show, which I found from Jerry Coyne’s site. Here, Dawkins talks a lot about ridiculing and mocking the beliefs that politicians actually have, and noting that they do indeed actually believe this. He talks about this being meaningful, mostly in reply to Hayes’ continual comments that whether they believe this or not isn’t relevant because it isn’t relevant to their political actions. Contrast this to Fincke’s comment and Dawkins’ acceptance of that comment, where it seems it’s about proving that people and politicians don’t actually share that belief and so shouldn’t use an identity they don’t actually have to garner votes. Although, of course, that’s very common in politics, even for those who aren’t religious, so it does raise the question of why the religious are getting singled out here. After all, while Sarah Palin, for example, did try to appeal in some way to religion, her biggest move was to associate herself with the average, everyday, hockey mom. Presumably Fincke and Dawkins consider this just as bad?

I wouldn’t have talked a lot about how common pandering to and pretending to be part of a group to get votes is in politics except that I think that this is critical to understanding the contradiction here. Dawkins is unapologetic about disliking religion and wanting all religious beliefs to go away, to be replaced by something more “rational”. He also, clearly, finds a number of religious beliefs absurd, if not all religious beliefs. When you find beliefs absurd, your natural tendency is to want to mock them. This is especially the case if you want people to stop believing them and especially acting on them. But Dawkins, deep down, knows that mockery and ridicule for the sake of mockery and ridicule isn’t very nice, and he wants to be at least generally nice. This creates in him a cognitive dissonance: these beliefs deserve to be mocked, but mocking isn’t rational and isn’t nice. So, what he does is rationalize it like so many of the Gnu Atheists, and argue that he really ought to mock because there’s a good reason to mock; these beliefs are harmful or are causing problems and the only way to settle this is by mocking and ridiculing them. Thus, he gets to have his cake and eat it too; he gets to mock and ridicule to his heart’s content safe and secure in his belief that he’s really doing the good and moral thing in eliminating these beliefs.

This is why he can say without at least seeing a contradiction that we both need to mock and ridicule these beliefs to settle who really believes them, and that we need to mock and ridicule these beliefs and demand that politicians defend them if they really do believe them. He sets up a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation here. If you don’t believe these absurd beliefs, then you shouldn’t really call yourself a Catholic or religious, but instead an atheist, and count on his side. If you do, then you should be mocked and ridiculed for holding irrational beliefs, and your fitness to run for office should be questioned. The only thing in common here is that the beliefs are absurd and should be mocked and ridiculed and so it’s hard not to see these supposed benefits as nothing more than just gravy to Dawkins.

And the problems with this idea go beyond that, because Dawkins certainly is not selecting these beliefs based on how fundamental they are to the religion, but based on how easily he thinks they can be mocked. Fincke comments in his post that how the religious should respond to these challenges is to demonstrate that these beliefs aren’t fundamental to the relevant religious identity. I replied to that in a comment there, sadly unacknowledged:

And so I can actually answer this by simply asking two related questions:

1) If the Catholic Church decided through all of its relevant mechanisms that they were wrong about transubstantiation and that the Eucharist is to be taken symbolically, would we have any cause to say that the Catholic Church was no longer the Catholic Church?

2) If transubstantiation was proven to be a matter of fact as opposed to faith, and the scientific studies were conclusive that the fact was not present, since it being a matter of fact and not faith would remove even papal infallibility claims, would that mean that the Catholic faith had been disproven?

The answer to these questions, it seems to me, is an unequivocable “No”. Which means, then, that transubstantiation, while a clear part of Catholic doctrine, is not, in fact, what it MEANS to be a Catholic, and so is not part of what defines one as Catholic. Because of this, it is quite possible to properly identify oneself as Catholic and disagree with it, just as one can disagree with, say, the stance on birth control and still be Catholic; what it means to be a Catholic does not depend on your stance on those issues.

Transubstantion is indeed part of Catholic doctrine, but it’s hardly what separates Catholics from other Christians fundamentally. Yes, Catholics believe that and other Christians don’t, but I doubt you’d find all that many Catholics who’d say that the belief in transubstantiation is what makes a Catholic a Catholic. Respect for the pope’s authority and that direct lineage, for example, is far more important, but also almost impossible to disprove. Heck, Dawkins could have used birth control as a better example of a piece of doctrine that Catholics generally don’t follow, even though that again wouldn’t be what identifies Catholics and Catholics. But no, instead of actually getting into the religion in detail and trying to figure out what it really means to be Catholic so that he can ask about that, Dawkins simply grabs the beliefs that he can mock the easiest and uses them … and then retreats to the “Do you really believe that? If you don’t, you can’t call yourself Catholic!” line when people wonder if he’s really after the mocking and not a real argument or discussion. I’m sorry, but if you choose the beliefs that are the easiest to mock rather than the ones that are more fundamental to the Catholic identity, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to conclude that the mockery seems more important than the identity argument.

Fincke goes on:

And, in fact, if Catholics had the slightest confidence in their more absurd teachings, they wouldn’t be threatened at all by the prospect of atheists routinely asking them (or their brethren) if they actually believed what Catholicism teaches. The response in all the Catholic articles about Dawkins should have read, “Professor Dawkins, I’ll answer your question: Yes! I believe in the true transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, and here’s why it’s more rational than not believing in it.” And they should have followed that up with triumphalist exhortations to fellow believers to proudly affirm their belief in it. And the bemoaners of “Cafeteria Catholicism” should have joined Dawkins in raising the bar on their fellow Catholics and said, “Either start accepting Church teachings or admit you’re an atheist like Professor Dawkins calls you to!”

No, the actual response should have been “Why should I? What is it to you if I accept this belief or not? Why is it that you can insist that if I don’t accept this thing that you’re calling absurd, then I shouldn’t call myself a Catholic, with the implied threat that if I do in fact admit it you’re going to call me irrational and keep mocking me and my beliefs? Why should I respond to you at all, if mockery is all I’ll get either way? Life’s too short for me to listen to mockery and ridicule all day.”

See, the fact that the bemoaners of “Cafeteria Catholicism” aren’t jumping all over these things now should have given Fincke a big hint that that’s because this specific doctrine isn’t all that important to Catholic identity. Engaging in actual sins as if they weren’t is, in fact, far more of an issue, and even that doesn’t reflect a rejection of Catholic identity. Here, what they do is in fact insist that religious people must justify their identity and their beliefs to their standards, or else that means something for those religious people. And the appropriate response to that really is “Why should I?”. No religious person owes any atheist an explanation or defense or justification for a belief or for their identity. Atheists can ask, but they cannot demand, and they certainly cannot demand this under the threat or auspices of ridicule and mockery and claim to be anything like rational. If atheists want to know what makes up Catholic identity and challenge those beliefs, they can do the research themselves and come up with a case for it, and not merely declare it absurd and demand that we defend it or else we must consider it absurd and thus ourselves no longer religious.

This is why birth control is a far better candidate. While Dawkins and Fincke may claim that they think that a lot of Catholics don’t really believe transubstantiation, they have actual statistical and thus likely scientific evidence that a lot of Catholics don’t at least follow the restrictions on birth control. It’s likely even far more than those who reject transubstantiation, just because most Catholics simply loosely believe transubstantiation and don’t really care about the details, so most Catholics will at best loosely accept it and at worst won’t care. Birth control is just more important and relevant in our everyday lives than transubstantiation. It’s just as fundamental if not more so than transubstantiation to Catholic doctrine. The only difference is that it isn’t as easy to mock with cute little comments like it being really cannibalism. Considering that, is it any wonder that I see this as being more about mockery than about real argument? When you choose the one that’s better for mockery but isn’t as good an argument, what else should I think?

So next, Fincke starts to get into more about how he wants believers to respond:

This was and still is a fine opening for the true defenders of reason to put the atheist pretender in his place. By all means, crack open the medieval philosophy texts and explain to us the metaphysical contortions that were used to justify this doctrine. Explain to us why these metaphysical categories are rationally necessary even today and show us how when they are applied in the most logical possible ways they make transubstantiation not only minimally reasonable but rationally compelling as most likely true. Educate us! Show us exactly why it is a respectable belief according to reason, and not just according to faith, and why Dawkins should be seen as a fool for thinking it so easily dismissable and contemptible for rational people to believe. I would love to read those retorts and luxuriate in the persuasive way they put us brash, ignorant unreasonable New Atheists in our place. Really, I love being disabused of errors. Use philosophy to show me we New Atheists are wrong and I will love the chance to show how willing I am to admit I am wrong in the face of an actually plausible argument. I can’t wait.

So, here’s the thing. The “brash, ignorant New Atheist” wanders in and starts harranguing a religious person about a specific belief and how absurd it is, without understanding or having read the works, and in Fincke’s case here starts by calling them contortions. They then demand that if we want to oppose that, we have to go through and do all of the work of reading the doctrines in detail and then summarizing that into an argument that they can understand. So, essentially, they feel free to make an unsupported assertion and then demand that we defeat it to their standards or else they’re right, noting that if they don’t consider it plausible they won’t have to admit anything. Since when is it in any way rational to toss out an unsupported assertion from a position of ignorance and demand that your opponents educate you?

Now, if done with the right tone as a genuine question and not as ridicule and mockery, this might not be an unreasonable demand, except for two slight problems:

1) These questions aren’t being asked of theologians, or even of people like me that have more of a philosophical background and so might a) already know these answers and b) are qualified to actually find the answers. No, these questions are being asked of everyday religious people, or of folk religion. Everyday religious people don’t know these details, and they don’t care about them enough to do this, in much the same way as everyday people who are not scientists don’t know the details of QM and everyday people who are mathematicians don’t know the details of number theory that allows them to prove that 1+1=2 in base 10. Thus, this demand is like going up to a person on the street, asking them if they really believe that QM events are uncaused, and then demanding that they demonstrate all the QM science that shows this to be true. They aren’t going to be able to do that, nor should we expect them to. QM scientists, of course, do know this, and so they are the ones that should be asked. In the same way, to get an answer to this question theologians should be asked, not people running for political office or the religious person on the street.

2) If even the theological and philosophically inclined try to do this, we’ll run straight into the “Courtier’s Reply”, arguing that the theology and philosophy just don’t matter. Fincke, I concede, is not exactly likely to use that reply to us … but Dawkins is. Why should we do that work only to have it be dismissed as not being what the “folk religionists” believe, as for example Jerry Coyne loves to argue?

Fincke also goes on to argue for a dichotomy, where the “true defenders of reason”, as he puts it, can’t make an argument that these things are believed on faith. The problem here is that the true defenders of reason can quite rightly reply that defending reason includes knowing reason’s limitations, and so that perhaps some propositions must be accepted on faith or not at all. Considering that, in fact, almost all of the people he’d be challenging believe on faith, removing faith from the picture just moves it even further from the group this mockery and ridicule is aimed at; you could aim this at people like me, that reject faith on some level, but not most actual religious people. So, forcing religious people to deny faith is acceptable and would still, in fact, mean that they still count as religious, even though having faith seems more fundamental to being religious than pretty much any of the listed beliefs?

The problem here is that Fincke is trying to set up the discussion in his terms, so that only the things that he and the New Atheists consider reasonable, plausible, and acceptable count. In that way, the discussion becomes all about justifying these beliefs to them and to their standards. But this biases the game far too much to their side, and away from what their opponents actually think and believe. The only rational response, then, is not to play; no one has any need to justify their beliefs by standards they do not hold. So, the right approach would indeed be to have an open dialogue about faith, reason and the beliefs, but you don’t get there by starting from “This belief is just absurd, and you have to prove to my standards that it isn’t or else it is.”

Or, if the transubstantiation is not rational but is yet also not a true litmus test for Catholicism, then by all means show us why the average Catholic should not be expected to hold that belief. Point out the places where popes, bishops or esteemed Catholic theologians repudiate literalism about the Eucharist. And then, if you can actually do that, go ahead and explain to us why it is horribly bad and demeaning for us atheists to disabuse the average Catholic of that belief when even some estimable, learned Catholics reject it!

So, I already did point out why this isn’t a true litmus test for Catholicism, although I didn’t have to appeal to theology, but simple philosophy. It simply is not the case that if you do not accept this that you aren’t Catholic, end of story. But this moves far beyond that. Everyone would agree that transubstantiation is a part of Catholic doctrine, which thus implies that if you are Catholic it would be a reasonable expectation that you hold it. This, then, is what all of the estimable, learned Catholics will say (or, rather, mostly what they will say). But, as pointed out, if a Catholic for whatever reason doubts or rejects that piece of doctrine, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t Catholics anymore, which you will recall was Fincke’s reason for bringing it up in the first place. Thus, we can explain to the New Atheist why it is horribly bad and demeaning for them to go out and try to disabuse the average Catholic of that belief by pointing out that they are doing that by defining it as absurd, insisting that it be proven reasonable to their standards before they’ll drop that definition, while at the same time the reason they claim to be doing that doesn’t actually apply to that belief. Thus, they are doing nothing more than ridiculing and mocking a belief in the hopes that people will simply drop it, which is hardly rational … and surely they’ll insist on acting rationally, right?

Or, if the belief is a rational litmus test for Catholic belief and it is not defensible on rational grounds but only on dogmatic ones, then explain to us in detail why true defenders of reason prove themselves by their willingness to make beliefs that are not grounded in reason immune to the criticism and ridicule that might help people abandon their unsupported beliefs.

Because virtually all religious people will say that reason — or, at least, scientific reason — is not the be-all-and-end-all of action and that sometimes you need to accept on the basis of faith and faith alone, which may not count as “rational”, depending on how that’s defined. The New Atheists claim to be “rationalists”, and argue that all of our beliefs should be based on strict reason as they define it. For Fincke here to say that they should not object to the New Atheists using irrational methods to convert beliefs seems contradictory, as it seems to be him asking for permission for those who think that no belief should be formed irrationally to reject their own standards and use irrational means. Again, their opponents are not the ones insisting on strict reason; the New Atheists are. It would be nice, then, if they’d stick to their own standards, or else admit that the standards they are setting are too stringent for even them to follow.

And while you are at it, columnists and bloggers, show consistent adherence to your newfound principle that forbids all use of mockery in political and philosophical polemics. Please swear off all future uses of reductio ad absurdum, sarcasm, or any other rhetorical devices for highlighting irrationality in the positions of politicians and other public figures or movements you criticize henceforth. Retract all use of humor or confrontational language in your past writings. Call for political satirists to be thrown off the air and off the internet as inimical to rational debate. Don’t be hypocrites! Stand up for a neutered form of reasoned argument that allows itself no contentiousness or laughter in the face of falseness!

To start with, as a minor quibble — but one that Fincke should himself know — reductio ad absurdum does not, in fact, relate to humour, ridicule or mockery at all. It relates to simply showing that the argument leads to a conclusion that no one, including the person making the argument, will accept. You don’t need to do any mockery at all, and it isn’t ridicule, and so it doesn’t fit here. But this highlights the issue that Fincke moves very quickly from talking about “mockery” to “highlighting irrationality”. They aren’t the same thing, at all, and Fincke really should know that. It’s appalling that he makes this move here, since the difference is something that he surely learned in his many years doing philosophy.

And this problem carries on throughout his objection. Few people are insisting on retracting all use of humour or even confrontational language, or even ridicule and mockery. Most will accept the occasional use of, say, sarcasm or satire as a stylistic device, which might make the article more interesting to read or provide emphasis for a point. Most will also accept the occasional use of mockery or ridicule as a “Look, I’m human and sometimes I get mad and need to rant a bit. I try not to, but I’m not going to be perfect”. But that’s not what Dawkins is suggesting. Dawkins is suggesting the use of mockery and ridicule as a planned strategic move, and seemingly a primary one. Objecting to the use of mockery and ridicule as a conversion strategy does not, in fact, mean that it must be eliminated completely, but it surely is not unreasonable to point out that mockery and ridicule as a conversion strategy is not in fact a strategy that changes beliefs by appealing to reason, which means that they are contradicting their only standards and are doing so in a way where mockery and ridicule is placed above reason and argumentation. Again, their strategy is to mock and ridicule, not argue. For the other cases I cited, the argument comes first and the humour is either admittedly completely independent of it or is at best in service to it. Dawkins sounds like he’s saying that the ridicule and mockery is the main strategy here, and is the main way he wants to convert people or convince them of … something, as it isn’t clear what. Or, alternatively, Dawkins wants other people to laugh at these beliefs, and in some sense the people who hold them. Either way, this is looking a lot more like bullying than like reasonable philosophical discussion.

And if you believe that all criticisms of the contents of beliefs is demeaning to one’s opponents’ dignity, then stop demeaning all of us atheists by implying, or even stating, that our beliefs are false. You’re demeaning us!!

And who thinks that? Does Fincke think that ridicule and mockery make up all possible ways to criticize the contents of beliefs? The most we get is that you shouldn’t criticize the contents of beliefs when they aren’t relevant to the matter at hand, which only means that you have to avoid using argument ad hominem. You can indeed criticize beliefs, but mockery and ridicule is not, in fact, rational criticism. Arguments are rational criticism, and while some may indeed consider any challenge to be actual mockery and ridicule, you don’t get to defend someone who calls for actual mockery and ridicule by saying that he really just means criticism. Considering that Dawkins clearly speaks the English language, it’s just a tad incredible that he wouldn’t know the difference in meaning between the word “mockery” and the word “criticism”, thus he’s clearly advocating the former and not the latter. Or, alternatively, he’s just spouting rhetoric without any rational backing. Neither is good for someone who’s supposed to be insisting that everyone has to be rational.

And if you think that we are only targeting the transubstantiation because it is low hanging fruit, i.e., an obvious absurdity much easier to defeat than the tougher question of the existence of God, then I will make you a deal on behalf of all New Atheists everywhere. (I know what you’re thinking—how can he dare to consider himself authorized to speak for all New Atheists everywhere. Just keep reading and you’ll see! I doubt any New Atheists won’t sign up for this deal. Link me to any articles wherein they do!) As soon as all religious people stop believing in and promulgating beliefs that are easy to refute or expose as false, we will all stop refuting those beliefs and stop exposing them as false. We will throw them on the ash heap of history with the Greek gods and think of them as a waste of time to worry about refuting. I promise.

But for as long as millions of socially and politically empowered people either believe, or at least claim to believe, absurdities, we have every right and responsibility to debunk those absurdities, no matter how easy that is to do or how politically disruptive to your ends it might be for us to do it.

Well, the problem here is that after the rest of my analysis the question is: Why do you care? After all, there are lots of absurdities out there, and not just religious ones. In fact, you may hold absurdities yourself … or, at least, things that other people would call absurd that you think fine. Are you really going to dedicate your life to eliminating all absurd beliefs in all people? Or do you consider religious beliefs or those that are called “woo” special, and especially bad? When you could make a claim that you were going after something critical to Catholic identity, you almost had a point. But now that you can’t, and since it’s clear that transubstantiation is not a belief that generally has a great impact on anyone’s actions, political or not, what is the point in going after it? Go after birth control, if you must, although again that’s harder to call absurd. Or go after actual beliefs that do form the Catholic identity as opposed to merely being about the Catholic doctrine. Again, it’s really hard not to think that transubstantiation is being targetted because it’s easy to mock, which means that yes, indeed, it’s being chosen because it’s low-hanging fruit … or, to put it better, that it’s something that Dawkins and Fincke find particularly absurd. Which brings us right back to “You’re doing this because you want to mock it and need a reason to feel that you aren’t just mocking, but are doing something important.”

Now, if you cannot agree to any of the above, then you can just admit that you want to give religious beliefs special privileged exemptions from criticism and/or you want to smear outspoken atheists, all out of either (a) your personal irrational unwillingness to have your own religious beliefs scrutinized rationally or (b) your elitist desire to patronize religious believers who you think are well-meaning benighted boobs that are both intellectually beneath refutation and way too useful for political purposes you support.

Those are your choices. Which do you agree to?

Potentially, none, because Fincke unreasonably limits the choices. I, personally, have no problem with rational criticism and argumentation. I have a problem with the use of mockery, derision and ridicule as admitted strategies in trying to get people to change their beliefs, and I have an especial problem with it from people who insist that all such things must be rational. I do not, in fact, single out religious beliefs in this, but hold that for all beliefs; I will not try to convince by mockery, but by argument. If Dawkins and Fincke agree with this and are willing to try to convince me by argument, I’m willing to listen to their criticisms. If they are not, then I really see no reason to listen to what they have to say, or justify myself to them. So, then, here are their choices: engage in rational argumentation and discussion like they insist they want, or spend their time mocking and ridiculing and being called out for it. Which will they choose?

Finishing Something?

April 7, 2012

So, I have now finished a third game on my list of games to finish. Yep, I completed the main quest in Oblivion yesterday, which was a bit anti-climactic due to the fact that as a sandbox game you, well, could pretty much just keep playing after that. But, hey, finishing the main quest is finishing the main quest, and so another game is in the bin. That makes three games in 9 months, which actually isn’t as bad as I’d thought, considering the types of games I play.

Oblivion was worth playing, and I might play it again, but it really drove home for me the fact that sandbox games are fun for me, but that I really want a more linear, story-driven experience. Also, taking a character with a weakness to fire into the Oblivion gates wasn’t that smart, but at least I played on Easy so that I didn’t die too often.

So, as I type right now I don’t have anything in the “Current” category. This is because the NHL playoffs are about to start and I can’t play on the PS3 and watch TV at the same time, so I’m trying to decide what PS2 game to pick up from the list, or if I’ll just just it and play the Personas again. Stay tuned …

Multi-Genre Multimedia …

April 4, 2012

The latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is up.

And yeah, I’m pretty much set on buying this. I just need to see what the pre-order bonus is before pre-ordering it.

Down to the wire …

April 4, 2012

Who’d’a thunk it? In the NHL, the Western Conference looked like it would be such a great race, but with two games remaining it’s pretty much over. Meanwhile, the East seemed to be settling itself down nicely but now with two games remaining it has what is pretty much an ideal race down to the wire.

With Buffalo’s amazing come from behind win last night, they are tied with Washington for the last playoff spot in the East. Washington holds the tiebreaker, so that means that Buffalo needs to get one more point than Washington over the next two games to make it into the playoffs. For Washington, if they simply get as many — or, obviously, more — points than Buffalo over the next two games they will make it into the playoffs. The only way this doesn’t go down to the wire is if Washington wins their next game and Buffalo loses theirs in regulation. And that’s why it’s ideal, I think: you have two teams essentially facing off against each other with an easy to calculate and understand set of consequences. Buffalo needs to get one more point than Washington over two games. That’s it. That makes it easy to calculate, understand, and then watch.

In the West, on the other hand, Colorado needs 3 points over two games and for San Jose to get none to make it in. Possible, but unlikely. And they’re the team with the best shot at it, as far as I can tell.

So, the East is going down to the wire and the West … not so much. No one would have predicted that even last week.