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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Just Scratching the Surface.

This site has been up for about a year and a half and traffic to it continues to grow. I would like to thank everyone who has read, followed, or commented, whether it was to show support or just to pick my brain. This site wouldn't be here without YOU!

For the vast majority of you, who haven't been reading along, here's a little of what we've looked at so far:




There's many that were not included here, so look around if you feel so inclined. As always, there's more to come, too, so stop by again!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Religiosity and Low IQ

Prof. Richard Lynn
A few years ago, a British psychologist named Prof. Richard Lynn did a study comparing various countries religiosity and their average IQ.

The study, published in the scientific journal, Intelligence, measured the average IQ of 137 countries and compared it to the statement from a 2007 study on religion covering the same 137 countries, representing about 95% of the world's population. In Angola, for example, 98.5% of the population believes in a God, but the average IQ was just 68.

However, the three countries with higher IQs were Japan (105), Taiwan (105) and Germany (99). In those countries, the percentage of people who disbelieve in God were 65%, 24%, 42%.

Prof Lynn found that in only 17% of countries did the proportion of people who believe in God fall below 80%. Prof Lynn said, "These are virtually all the higher IQ countries."

In short, nations with a lower average IQ tended to have the most believers. One exception was America , a high IQ country where only 10 per cent of people don't believe in God.

A thoughtful reader would be hesitant to accept these results for a few reasons. First and foremost is that correlation does not equal causation. If correlation implied causation, it would mean that ice cream causes children to drown.

In addition, there are many factors that contribute to IQ, and the study does not take these into account.

But Prof Gordon Lynch of Birkbeck College, London, said the study had failed to take into account complicated economic, historical and social factors that explained different IQ and 'faith' levels in countries.

'Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive,' he said.

One of these important factors is the socioeconomic status of the individual in question. For example, Richard Lynn collaborated on a book called The Bell Curve, which argues, in part, that genetic differences between African-American and white subjects caused African-Americans to have lower IQ scores.

But then we have this:

Contrary to "The Bell Curve" findings, a new study by researchers at Columbia and Northwestern Universities suggests that poverty and early learning opportunities -- not race -- account for the gap in IQ scores between blacks and whites. (The study will be published in the April issue of Child Development. 
Adjustments for socioeconomic conditions almost completely eliminate differences in IQ scores between black and white children, according to the study's co-investigators. They include Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Pamela Klebanov of Columbia's Teachers College, and Greg Duncan of the Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research at Northwestern University.
As in many other studies, the black children in the study had IQ scores a full 15 points lower than their white counterparts. Poverty alone, the researchers found, accounted for 52 percent of that difference, cutting it to 7 points. Controlling for the children's home environment reduced the difference by another 28 percent, to a statistically insignificant 3 points -- in essence, eliminating the gap altogether.

In other words, socioeconomic status played a large enough role in the development of the subjects IQ that it virtually eliminated race as a factor at all. The Bell Curve, and Lynn's study of religiosity, both fail to even consider this huge factor.

This is important because all of the nations which Lynn lists as having low IQ scores are developing countries, such as Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Senegal, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, Guatamala, Ghana and Angola.

Here's a graph that compares another study's information on religiosity with the GDP per capita of the listed nations:

Socioeconomic status is clearly a strong factor.

Although I admit that many people who identify as non-believers are very intelligent, such as Carl Sagan, there are also many intelligent people throughout history who were theists. Given the information above, and the many exceptions we have to Lynn's conclusion, shouldn't we reconsider how great a factor religion is on IQ, if it's a factor at all?

In addition, doesn't the fact that some countries, such as Japan and Taiwan, have identical average IQs, but widely varying degrees of religiosity strongly imply that there are other factors at play?

In addition to not accounting for other significant factors, there are other reasons to take Lynn's findings with a grain of salt. Lynn's review work on global racial differences in cognitive ability has been cited for misrepresenting the research of other scientists, and has been criticized for unsystematic methodology and distortion. For example, Many of the data points in Lynn's book IQ and the Wealth of Nations were not based on residents of the named countries. 

The datum for Suriname was based on tests given to Surinamese who had emigrated to the Netherlands, and the datum for Ethiopia was based on the IQ scores of a highly selected group that had emigrated to Israel, and, for cultural and historical reasons, was hardly representative of the Ethiopian population. The datum for Mexico was based on a weighted averaging of the results of a study of “Native American and Mestizo children in Southern Mexico” with results of a study of residents of Argentina.

The datum that Lynn and Vanhanen used for the lowest IQ estimate, Equatorial Guinea, was the mean IQ of a group of Spanish children in a home for the developmentally disabled in Spain. Corrections were applied to adjust for differences in IQ cohorts (the “Flynn” effect) on the assumption that the same correction could be applied internationally, without regard to the cultural or economic development level of the country involved. 

While there appears to be rather little evidence on cohort effect upon IQ across the developing countries, one study in Kenya (Daley, Whaley, Sigman, Espinosa, & Neumann, 2003) shows a substantially larger cohort effect than is reported for developed countries.

In a critical review of The Bell Curve, psychologist Leon Kamin faulted Lynn for disregarding scientific objectivity, misrepresenting data, and for racism. Kamin argues that the studies of cognitive ability of Africans in Lynn's meta-analysis cited by Herrnstein and Murray show strong cultural bias. Kamin also reproached Lynn for concocting IQ values from test scores that have no correlation to IQ. Kamin also notes that Lynn excluded a study that found no difference in White and Black performance, and ignored the results of a study which showed Black scores were higher than White scores.

Initially, this may seem like a petty Ad Hominem attack on Lynn, but I think my concern is valid because it relates to the topic in question. If we have a scientist who routinely falsifies and concocts data relating to IQ scores, and his conclusions are demonstrably false, then we should pause when he releases another study on IQ. I admit that it could be the case that this study is legitimate, but if it's scientific, then it's repeatable. Therefore, it's reasonable to withhold our assent until we see it repeated.

However, even if we did not have valid reason to doubt Lynn's data, we would still have reason to doubt his conclusion.

For example, if Germany has an average IQ score of 102, then that means approximately 50% of the German population has an IQ above 102, and 50% has an IQ below 102. If 79% of the population identify as non-believers, we do not have reason to say that that is the top 79%. 

In other words, it may be the case that just non-believers have below average intelligence as there are with above average intelligence. There may be just as many ignorant non-believers as there are geniuses. Isn't that an important piece of information? Wouldn't that show whether or not religion is the determining factor in IQ? It could very well be the case that the top 21% of Germany's intellectuals are all believers. I doubt that that's the case, but my point is that we are not being given an important piece of information, and we cannot draw conclusions without it.

This study was controversial for a time and while it has faded from media attention, people still believe the myth that the religious are inherently less intelligent than the irreligious, just as people used to believe that blacks were inherently less intelligent than whites. 

So far, we have no good reason to think this.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Deseret, Which, by Interpretation, Is A Honey Bee"

Critics of the Book of Mormon often point out the mention of bees as an anachronism. Here's the verse, Ether 2:3,
And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind.
This is allegedly an anachronism because the honey bee was not known in America until they were brought by the Spanish.

This argument is almost as silly as the Adieu Argument. The biggest problem with the argument that the Book of Mormon claims that honey bees were in America is the fact that the Book of Mormon does not make that claim.

The verse above takes place before they left the Old World and they are never mentioned again. A few chapters later, in Ether 6:4, we are told what they brought with them overseas.
And it came to pass that when they had prepared all manner of food, that thereby they might subsist upon the water, and also food for their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with them—and it came to pass that when they had done all these things they got aboard of their vessels or barges, and set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God.
Bees are not mentioned here. It could be that they were brought, but were just not mentioned specifically, but there are two very good reasons to think that the Jaredites did not bring them to the New World.

First is that nobody in their right mind would enclose themselves on a barge in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of livestock and swarms of bees.

Second, and more convincing, is this: The Jaredites journey across the sea took 344 days. This we are told in Ether 6:11. No hive of bees would last that long without being able to gather pollen to produce honey and feed the hive. They couldn't bring bees to the New World if they tried. This was much easier centuries later for Spanish sailing ships because the trip was only about two to three months.

So the Book of Mormon does not claim that the honey bee was known in America before they were brought by the Spanish. In fact, it implies the opposite.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Growing Evidence of Book of Mormon Claims

Here's a couple of charts I found while looking up information for another post. The first is a list of claims made by the Book of Mormon and whether or not they were confirmed by science, archaeology, etc, in 1842. The second is the same list in 2005.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Adieu" in the Book of Mormon

Hey! Is that French? Faaaaaaaaaaaake!

There are many arguments against the Book of Mormon. Some of them make valid points and are difficult to resolve. This is not one of them.

Some critics of the Book of Mormon try to claim it as a fraud because one verse (Jacob 7:27) contains the French word, "Adieu."

This is allegedly a problem, an anachronism, because the word "adieu" was unknown to the ancient Hebrew authors of the book. Therefore the book must be false.

First and foremost, I would like to remind such critics that the Book of Mormon contains around 300,000 words in English, none of which were known to ancient Hebrews.

The presence of a word in a translated text does not mean that that word appeared in the original document. It is a translation! The translator is free to use any word at their disposal which they feel best conveys the required meaning.

For example, In 1737, William Whiston (1667-1752) produced a translation of The Life of Flavius Josephus, written by a Jew born in Jerusalem in A.D. 37. Whiston's translation reads, in part:
Thus have I set down the genealogy of my family as I have found it described in the public records, and so bid adieu to those who calumniate me...
Critics would apparently have us think that either Josephus never existed and William Whiston was a fraud, or that Josephus spoke French.

In addition, even if it were true that the presence of a french word made it a fraud, the argument still wouldn't make sense, because Adieu is an English word. Adieu entered the English language in the 14th century from Middle French. Adieu has been part of the English language longer than the word "banquet", which is also a word in modern French, but banquet entered the English language only in the 15th century. Adieu is no less English than commence, nation, psychology, Bible, vision, or any other word that can be traced back to Latin, Greek, German, French, Spanish, or any other language.

The presence of adieu is no more a challenge to the historicity and authenticity of the Book of Mormon than the 36 uses of "banquet" in the NIV is a challenge to the historicity and authenticity of the Bible.

The word “adieu,” along with other words of French origin, is listed as an English term in Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which reflects American English of Joseph Smith’s day.

So Joseph Smith does not even use a French word, he only uses a word of french origin, and even if he did use a French word, it would have nothing to do with the historicity or authenticity of the Book of Mormon any more than it would for the Bible or any other translated book ever.

Monday, February 20, 2012

C.S. Lewis on Evil

Here's a quote from C.S. Lewis about the Problem of Evil and his reasoning as an atheist.

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such a violent reaction against it?... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if i did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus, in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist - in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless - I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality - namely my idea of justice - was full of sense. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never have known it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.' ~C.S. Lewis” 

In other words, if the universe is just, then the Problem of Evil falls apart. If the universe is unjust, how would we have even known?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Logical Proof That Mormonism is False?

There is an organization called the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministries which posted an article allegedly describing a logical proof that Mormonism is false.

You can read the full article here, but the main point of the argument revolves around the LDS concept of Exaltation.

The LDS church teaches that through obedience to Gospel principles, we can, at some point in the eternities, eventually become like God.

Lorenzo Snow, a former President of the LDS church, also taught that, “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.”

From these two ideas, it is inferred that God has a God, who has a God, who has a God, and so forth. This sets up an infinite regress, which is impossible.

There are two main problems with this "logical proof."

First of all, the Mormon church does not teach that God has a God, who has a God, etc. To the best of my knowledge, the church's official position on this topic is, "We don't know and, frankly, we don't care." Therefore, any inference of an infinite regress is just the unofficial conjecture of the members, or words put in our mouths by CARM, but it is not LDS doctrine.

Second, even if it's true that God has a God who has a God, and so forth, it does not necessarily lead to an infinite regress.

For example, it is a common idea in Christianity that God exists outside of time. He is not bound to a linear chronology the way we are. In other words, He is capable of time travel.

Imagine that in the beginning, there was nothing. Then a God appears, creates a world populated by people, some of which go on to be exalted and receive Godhood. Then, one of those exalted beings travels back and becomes that first God who appeared.

Is that what happened? I don't know. Probably not. But the point is that it is entirely in line with LDS doctrine and resolves CARM's "logical proof."

So CARM's argument fails in two ways. First is that it is based on a doctrine which is not even taught by the church. Second, even if the LDS church did teach such a doctrine, it would not necessarily lead to an infinite regress.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Religious Experience as Evidence

The Argument from Religious Experience basically says that there are decent reasons for considering at least some religious experiences authentic, therefore there must be some God behind them. The argument is problematic, at best, for obvious reasons.

For example, for all but the most extreme examples, how would you even authenticate something like that? Also, as much as theists hate to admit it, theories that they are hallucinations or neural misfires are valid points.

However, in order to think that they are hallucinations, you must have examined the accounts and found some evidence that they are hallucinations, such as a pre-existent psychological condition, a doctrinal inconsistency, or some other reason to discount it.

To be fair, theists also need evidence to claim that they are legitimate, but the point is that these accounts must be evaluated before any conclusion can be drawn. As long as there remains accounts of religious experiences which have not been investigated, then we must remain agnostic regarding their truth or falsity.

For example, imagine I had a powerful telescope. Through this telescope, you can look out into space and see Russell's Teapot. I would now be a believer in Russell's Teapot. To me, a random china teapot orbiting somewhere in between the Earth and the Sun would be a pretty extraordinary thing. I would likely invite someone else to look through the telescope and see what I see.

What if that person were to say to me, "No. I will not look. It is your burden to prove to me that the teapot is there. Until you prove it, I will assume it is a hallucination."

I would urge him again, "Look! The evidence is there, but you must look. I can't prove this to you, but you can prove it for yourself if you look."

It's true. I might be hallucinating, but the reasonable thing to do is to simply look through the telescope, rather than refuse until I can prove the Teapot's existence with a logical proof.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Russell's Teapot

Bertrand Russell lived from 1872 - 1970, and was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these in any profound sense.

One of his most famous ideas has come to be known as Russell's Teapot. Russell's Teapot was a thought experiment used to illustrate the idea that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon a person making ontologically positive claims rather than shifting the burden of proof to others, specifically in the case of religion.

By ontologically positive claims, we mean claims that something does exist, as opposed to claims that something does not exist, which cannot be proven.

In others words, if someone says, "There is a God," then it is up to them to prove it. A person cannot be expected to prove a claim such as, "There is no God."

Russell said,
Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

 The main point of the argument is that no one can prove a negative claim, and therefore Occam's razor suggests that the more simple theory (in which there is no supreme being) should trump the more complex theory (with a supreme being).

Carl Sagan used a version of this argument in his book, A Demon-Haunted World. His version was about "The Dragon in My Garage," in a chapter of the same name. It was almost an identical argument, but using an invisible dragon in place of a teapot. At the end, Sagan notes that, "Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true."

However, this thinking is partially erroneous. Philosopher Paul Chamberlain says it is inaccurate to assert that positive truth claims bear a burden of proof while negative truth claims do not. He notes that all truth claims bear a burden of proof, and that like Mother Goose and the tooth fairy, the teapot bears the greater burden not because of its negativity but because of its triviality, arguing that "When we substitute normal, serious characters such as Plato, Nero, Winston Churchill, or George Washington in place of these fictional characters, it becomes clear that anyone denying the existence of these figures has a burden of proof equal to, or in some cases greater than, the person claiming they do exist."

In other words, examples like celestial teapots and invisible dragons (or Invisible Pink Unicorns or Flying Spaghetti Monsters) only work because they are fairly absurd to begin with. However, if I were to suggest that, "There really was no George Washington. He never existed," then the reasonable thing would be to demand some evidence, not to adopt the assertion simply because it cannot be disproved.

Even ontologically negative claims demand evidence. In some cases, the burden is even heavier on negative claims.

Earlier, I said that the reasoning behind Russell's Teapot is only "partially erroneous." That is because, typically, the burden is, in fact, heavier on the positive claim. Theists do have the burden to show some evidence for God's existence, and if there is no evidence, then they are simply making an unfounded assumption.

However, even though atheists have less of a burden, the burden is still theirs, as well, and if they can show no evidence against the existence of God, then they are simply making an unfounded assumption.

The assumption behind atheism may be a safer bet, but it is still not as logical or rational as simply not making an assumption at all. If an individual were being truly rational and logical, they would be agnostic.

A truly rational individual would not make the claim that, "There is a God," or that, "There is no God." They would not make any claim at all. They would simply say, "I don't know."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Thoughts on Prop. 8 and Gay Marriage

Prop. 8 was a big deal a few years ago in California, and voters eventually approved it, but it's been in appeals ever since. A few days ago, California's Supreme Court overturned it, and it's been in the news again. I've always had a rather unorthodox opinion regarding Prop. 8, and have already lost close friends over this controversial issue, so I've been hesitant to share my thoughts until now. I think the most tragic thing about this issue isn't who it fails to bring together, but who it succeeds in tearing apart.

First and foremost, let me say that everything I am about to say is strictly my own opinion and is not official or authoritative in any way. While I do feel that my opinion is in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its leadership, my opinion does not represent those teachings, nor is it even strongly influenced by them.

Let me also say that I agree that there is actually some inequality between Straights and the LGBT community when it comes to marriage. "Civil Union" is not the same thing as marriage. There are rights and privileges given to one that are denied to the other. Most of these are taxes, health insurance, and social security survivor benefits, but there are some others.

I'm going to briefly describe my understanding of each side's major argument, or at least the most common argument, and why I don't buy it. Then I'll share my own opinion.

Supporters, your main argument seems to be that gay marriage would "violate the sanctity of marriage." To all of you, I offer the following picture, stolen off of a social networking site...

It's a valid point.
If we truly viewed marriage as something sacred, then we would live in a very different society. There would be no The Bachelor on ABC. There would be no Bridezillas on WE tv. There would be no drive-thru chapels presided over by Elvis and Shaft look-alikes. And the biggest difference of all is that marriage would not be a lucrative commercial venture.

I love my wife and will always cherish my marriage to her, but the actual experience of getting married left me very disillusioned and cynical. I really wish we had just eloped and kept all our money. 

A nice cake may cost about $100. An identical cake for a wedding may cost about $800 more, for no other reason than because it's for a wedding and the cake decorator knows you'll pay it.

Same with dresses. A nice white dress may be a few hundred dollars. An identical dress for a wedding will cost you a few thousand. For no other reason than because they know you will pay. Speaking of clothing, the only reason we still have brides maids and groomsmen is because tailors want to sell you ten more dresses and ten more suits, and they know you'll pay it.

And don't get me started on photography. It's not like a camera gets better resolution if a priest is nearby. A picture is a picture, but the photographer knows you'll pay an extra thousand for wedding pictures, so the price goes up.

Rings are another perfect example. The diamond industry is basically a huge scam. Diamonds are actually extremely common in the Earth's crust. There are enough diamonds to give each man, woman and child in the United States a whole cupful. That's the reason we keep buying and buying but they never run out. The reason diamonds cost so much isn't because they are rare and supply is low, but because they know you'll pay it.

Invitations almost cost as much as you're suit, because heaven forbid you don't send an invitation to your Uncle Bernie, even though he lives on the other side of the country and clearly isn't going to show up. Marriage is so bogged down by silly traditions, corporate brainwashing, and general pride and foolishness that we've lost sight of what was supposed to be sacred about it.

Everyone wants to get married the "right" way, and by that, they mean the "expensive" way. Marriage is about money.

We like to pretend that marriage is something sacred to us, but as Christians, we've sold out. It's just about money and profit now. I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't sell what I hold sacred.

Protesters, marriage is a rite, not a right. It is a religious ceremony and no one has a right to a religious ceremony. For example, I can't get mad at Jews because they won't let me have a Bar Mitzvah or be ordained as a Rabbi. I can't be angry with Muslims because I can't participate in the Hajj to Mecca. 

I can't hold this against them any more than I get to protest against the Freemasons for not letting me walk in off the street and declare myself a Master Mason, or walk into Microsoft and take over as CEO.

Nevertheless, I do agree that there is legitimate inequality and something must be done about it.

However, my unqualified opinion is that inequality is not the real problem. It is only a symptom of the real problem.

The real problem is that the U.S. government is violating its own principle of Separation Between Church and State. The idea of a separation between church and state goes back to the writings of Thomas Jefferson and has long been an established part of Supreme Court decisions, going back to Reynolds v. United States from 1879, when the Court reviewed the history of the early Republic in deciding the extent of the liberties of Mormons, ironically, regarding their right to marry.

But now the Federal Government offers tax breaks and other benefits to those who have participated in a particular religious ceremony, and so it supports the members of those religions in a way that it denies to non-religious individuals, or to members of religions that it does not choose to recognize.

I did vote "yes" on Prop. 8, and I would do it again, not because of my religious background, or my feelings about gay marriage. I view the entire issue as a sign that our government has made a mistake. To grant the right to marry to homosexuals would only expand and perpetuate this mistake.

Rather than granting marriage rights to homosexuals, I think they should be taken away from heterosexuals.

If the protesters' motivation truly is equality, then they should be satisfied with this because no one will have any rights or privileges over anyone else, regardless of marital status. 

In addition, if supporters are truly motivated by the sanctity of marriage, then they should be satisfied by this because it removes one of the larger non-spiritual reasons why people get married; Money. Marriage will be a pretty good step toward being as sacred as we like to think it is. However, in order to fully remove the hypocrisy, we would have to learn to marry for love. That seems a long way off, but we can start working toward it.

Making a change like this would leave some things up in the air, though. For example, a man or woman has the right to make certain medical decisions on behalf of a spouse. If marriage is taken out of the equation, who will make decisions like these? Well, it would not be difficult to introduce some legislation that every adult may choose to take another consenting adult to be legally bound as a person to make decisions like this in an emergency, provide some financial support, etc. 

That's probably a poor example, but the point is that compromises could be made.

Unfortunately, I don't think many people will be satisfied by this. Supporters of Prop. 8 will not like being told that their marriage is not legally valid. Ironic, right? And to be honest, I just haven't seen much willingness to compromise out of protesters. 

That's my opinion. I do support Proposition 8. I do not hate homosexuals, but I believe in the separation of church and state and I do not like the commercialism and irreligious motivations behind many marriages.

I believe that the Founding Fathers were nothing short of inspired when they wrote the Constitution. I believe the government should not meddle with the things of God, even if it seems to benefit me. I believe that marriage truly is sacred and its time we start acting like it. I believe there is actually inequality regarding this issue and that must be addressed. 

I believe this is a fair compromise.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Guest Post on A Major Shift

I've got a guest post up here at A Major Shift, by JenHeadJen. The post is about the importance of service to our fellow men and a theory as to why service feels so rewarding. Most importantly, it's pretty short! So if you have a minute, give it  read.

If you have more than a minute, then read some of the other posts she's got up. The blog contains many insights that come from scripture study and other spiritual pondering. If you're LDS, give it a look for a quick spiritual boost. If you're not LDS, give it a look to get a glimpse into the LDS perspective.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Philosophies of Men Review!

JenHeadJen, at JenHeadJen, was kind enough to post a review of Philosophies of Men. I appreciate her kindness and willingness to take the time to look over my modest efforts here.

Her blog is dedicated to reviews of all kinds. The link above will take you to her kind review of my site, but I would strongly encourage everyone to skim around and see what else she's got.

She always has helpful insights on places to go, books to read, foods to eat, and much, much more.

Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Courtier's Reply

PZ Meyers
The Courtier's Reply is a sort of antithesis to the Argument from Authority. The main point of the Courtier's Reply is that a person does not have to be an authority on a topic to make a valid point.

This concept is very old, allegedly going back to Sir Isaac Newton, who supposedly said to a skeptical Edmund Halley regarding astrology - "I, sir, have studied it; you have not." It was popularized under its current name by biologist/blogger PZ Meyers.

Meyers says:
I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk. Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

In other words, Richard Dawkins is like the boy at the end of the story who points out that the emperor is naked, but the courtier replies that hes not naked. The boy is simply uneducated in "Imaginary Fabrics."

This post by Meyers was later reposted on Richarddawkins.net where Dawkins was the first to comment:
 Congratulations to P Z Myers on this brilliant piece of satire. It applies not just to Allen Orr's review in NYRB, but to all those many reviews of TGD that complain of my lack of reading in theology. My own stock reply ("How many learned books of fairyology and hobgoblinology have you read?") is far less witty.
On another occasion, Dawkins commented on his lack of scholarship, saying,
 "Most of us happily disavow fairies, astrology, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster without first immersing ourselves in books of Pastafarian theology."
Ironically, I'm actually grateful for Meyer's argument. It allows sites like this to exist. However, even though I  agree with the principle, I also think that whenever one presents an argument on any topic, that argument has to be based on an accurate understanding of that subject.

For example, I could not say that Richard Dawkins is not a human because he has a tail and no human has a tail...

By the way, I'm counting this as a tail...

...because that argument is not based on an accurate understanding of the human anatomy, what a tail is as opposed to a coccyx, or even what a human is. A doctor or biologist who hears this argument may be inclined to ask, in exasperation, whether I've ever read Grey's Anatomy, Aristotle's Biology, or even a more rudimentary book on human anatomy. For crying out loud, even Eyewitness Books will do. Would I be able to cite the Courtier's Reply and go on asserting that Richard Dawkins is not a human? No. It's an ignorant argument.

An example of this sort of thing in Dawkins works occurs in the central argument of The God Delusion, in which he implies that Christianity should not be accepted because Evolution is a much more "ingenious" explanation of life. However, evolution does not conflict with Christianity or anything in the Bible. It may be the opinion of many Christians that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, etc, but this is not a part of the dogma.

As Charles Darwin said, a man "can be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist."

Dawkins argument seems to based on the understanding that Young-Earth Creationism is an inherent part of Christianity, but it is not. This, among other things, causes the argument to fall apart.

In addition, just as I am not free to interpret a coccyx as a tail, Dawkins is not free to interpret Christianity in any way he likes, either. His understanding of a topic must be in accord with the current, accepted, mainstream interpretation. The understanding of those he hopes to convince that his argument is valid. This does not require that he read a bunch of esoteric texts on deep, mystical spiritualism, but he must work with the mainstream interpretation, not his own, or else he is just calling a coccyx a tail, and he is simply wrong.

For example, Dawkins would ask us, "How many learned books of fairyology and hobgoblinology have you read?" I would say that I have never read any. Nevertheless, I do have a correct understanding of what is meant by "Fairy" and a correct understanding of why it is impossible. In addition, my understanding of a "Fairy" is in accordance with that of those I would like to convince, presumably the general public. I would not write a book saying "Fairies are hover-cars and hover-cars do not exist for these reasons, therefore fairies do not exist," because even if fairies are fictional, that's not how they are portrayed, so it's a faulty argument.

Another example of why this is important is in the writings of Plato, in which Socrates goes around questioning individuals who paint themselves as experts in various fields and showing them to be false. He does this by asking questions, then using the answers given to him by the experts as the basis for further interrogation until an inconsistency is revealed. He worked with the understanding of the individual he hoped to convince.

Dawkins, however, asks questions, but does not allow us to answer. He provides his own answers, then points out the inconsistencies.

In other words, while it is true that he does not have to personally go out and read some ancient texts on various religions throughout history, it is still required that his arguments be based on an accurate understanding of what is meant by "God," or whatever the topic may be, and that understanding must be the one held by whoever it is he hopes to convince that his argument is valid.

This is not the case when dealing with empirical evidence, such as the effect of religion on society, etc. These observations fall within the domain of science and necessarily require interpretation as part of the scientific method, but take the following quote,
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
He is not working with anything empirical here. No data, just his interpretation, but this interpretation holds no weight with well-read believers, because they simply assert that his interpretation is false because there were reasons for Old Testament events which Dawkins is not taking into account. They would not be able to do that if Dawkins had attempted to show the inconsistencies of a God who was infinitely loving, rather than a bully.

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