Dr. Eugenie Scott – “Creationism, Evolution, Education – and Politics”

April 17, 2011
2:00 am
2:00 am
2:00 am
2:00 am
2:00 am
2:00 pm

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is bringing Dr. Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), to talk about “Creationism, Evolution, Education – and Politics”.

Dr. Scott is an intelligent and good speaker, and there will even be an opportunity to have dinner and talk to her after the event at Los Olivos Restaurant, 7328 E 2nd St, so if you are interested in this subject, the event should be well worth attending!

Scottsdale Civic Center Library Auditorium
3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Brother Jed Week at ASU: Monday thru Friday, Feb 21st – 25th

February 21, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm
February 22, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm
February 23, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm
February 24, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm
February 25, 2011
11:00 amto5:00 pm

It’s that time again! Time for Brother Jed, aka George Smock, to appear at Arizona State University. This annual event provides enough hostility for the student body immunity to run on for the next year. It’s much like Black Friday for ASU’s immune system when it comes to “old fashioned values” like misogyny, bigotry, and xenophobia. Although he seems to be wearing rather thin, he continues to grace our campus with his presence and he’s brought one his daughters with him this time.

He stated out today by gathering something of a crowd.

As for the big events today, Brother Jed decided to give a long screed about how Muslims don’t fit in with Christian principles—harmless enough, except for when he started wearing his misogyny on his sleeve and pointed out how, “Muslims obviously have much better ideas about how to control their women…” and cherry-topped it with one of his old-dinosaur routines about his wife. He likes to introduce these sorts of narratives and sometimes pointed phrases designed specifically to raise the hackles in the audience. He will sometimes pepper otherwise non-offensive speeches with elements such as, “Well, the women best remain quiet anyway,” in order to get a rise out of the crowd rather than to make any sort of actual point.

Earlier in the day, not entirely related to Brother Jed, a member of the Resistance who posts on this blog, Gadfly, was approached by a female ASU police officer and told to remove her sign. The sign in question, which read “BUTT SEX 4 JESUS” in black block letters on a neon green background, according to the officer was “too aggravating.”

Gadfly felt disinclined to acquiesce to her request and declined the invitation to remove her sign.

Continue reading

Propaganda 101: Which square is darker? (Living Waters Tract)

living-waters-which-square-is-darker This propaganda tract outlines several optical illusions like the one seen on the cover. Both squares, A and B, happen to be the same color; but the human eye registers them as different shades because of comparison processing in the optic-nerve used to provide contrast between different shades. The pamphlet includes mirages, the apparent motion of the sun across the sky, and finally this:

3. Then there’s the illusion that the sky is blue, when it actually has no color.

This statement is false; it’s an example of the equivocation fallacy. The “sky” that we refer to as being blue is in fact the visible blueness of the canopy of atmosphere overhead. To refer to the blue sky in the same manner that we refer to the “sky filled with stars” or the sky being the region of air that clouds and aircraft travel through is to conflate different conceptions incorrectly. The sky’s azure hue is no more an illusion than a reflection in a mirror is an illusion.

These sort of sensory perceptions don’t really matter, because they don’t have any serious repercussions. However, there is one that is a very serious deception. It’s the mistake when they think that they get into Heaven on the basis of their own goodness or by their own good works.

That’s not an illusion…it’s mythology.

Illusions at least come from a reasonable superficial model of sensory perception—mirages look like water because the heated air ripples and refracts light; the sun appears to move across the sky because the Earth rotates in relation to it; and the sky is blue because of something called Rayleigh scattering. Each of the above so-called illusions relies on a reliable set of accessible evidence—air rippling visibly, the sun crossing the sky, the sky being blue—but religious mythology about Heaven has no such foundation, it exists only as an ad hoc assertion and a just-so story.

If you were mistaken, wouldn’t you like to be told, or would you prefer to stay deceived when it comes to such an incredibly important matter.

Here the pamphlet author goes back to the original statement that these other illusions “don’t really matter” and indicates that this is because they don’t have any serious repercussions. We can set aside that this ignores the potential plight of desert nomads whose knowledge of the mirage illusion would save lives. The rest of the sentence asks if you’d rather be told about a thing or be wrong about a potential illusion—in this case the ad hoc Heaven mythology.

How exactly do we know about the other illusions? We’ve tested them. The mechanics behind mirages, why the sun appears to be in motion, and why the sky is blue teach us more about the reality we live in. They are real manifestations that anyone can encounter and verify the effect of. The Christian mythology referred to in the pamphlet, however, has absolutely no method of external validation, it is not manifest, and therefore cannot tell us anything about the reality we live in.

The Bible warns that if you are guilty on that [Judgment] Day you will justly end up in Hell.

Of course, for any good propaganda, what is a reference to Heaven without it acting as a stalking horse for its ideological cousin the Threat of Hell. This is just an appeal to another ad hoc mythology to enforce obedience or evoke fear in the reader.

The artwork inside of the pamphlet is actually quite beautiful. Most of them are portrait illusions involving skulls that appear from the intersection of detail and overarching design. Sadly, none of the images are appropriately sourced.

Child Witches Just Aren’t Funny

Unsurprisingly, organized modern-day witch hunts aren’t funny at all. In fact, they’re atrocities of the highest order and compelled and perpetrated by the superstitious and religious who place their religions above the rights and sovereignty of others. This is all-too-common a theme of not just when religions clash over cultural misunderstandings; but it’s also a symptom of a society that hasn’t grounded its morals and laws in defensible secular codes that accept the equality of human life.

Most religious ethics can barely agree on even very basic qualities of human life, arising instead from their tribal forbearers with xenophobic consequences. Often their arguments as to why some people are special and others are not relies on the supernatural or untestable qualities. This is the entire reason why “spectral evidence” has no place in criminal proceedings and is not admissible in a court of law in the United States.

And this is precisely why Christians in Nigeria are committing horrible, indefensible moral evils against children.

Before anyone condemns another human being, especially a walking, living, breathing child of something that could result in such hideous consequences—don’t you think that first we should provide a tangible test first? When was the last time that we treated someone for an illness without a single symptom or gone to repair a wall without observable damage.

Read Leo Igwe’s account of his most recent arrest after rescuing a young girl, Esther; and his subsequent treatment by police and the community for attempting to step in against this ignorant behavior. If you’d like to know more about the child witch phenomena and the religious and cultural background, Martin Robbins of the UK Guardian has an excellent take on recent events.

Don’t forget, people close to home behave in very similar manners as well and it’s our duty to keep them in check through laws and education; as much as it’s their duty to actually educate themselves and not do evil in the name of their religion. Immoral propaganda and campaigns of ignorance do much to provide foundations for these acts and we still see far too many of them lately.

The presenter in the video is R.K Watson from Skepchick.com. You can find more of her videos on YouTUBE.

Symphony of Science – “The Big Beginning” (ft. Hawking, Sagan, Dawkins, Shears, Tyson)

Another beautiful video in the Symphony of Science video series auto-tuning various physicists and scientists about the Big Bang event, a cosmological model that is often misrepresented and misunderstood by anti-science Creationists in their propaganda.

What do Mill Ave’s Creationists and Avatar: The Last Airbender have in common?

Turtle_ducks Turtle-ducks.

Almost six-months ago, Al, one of the street preachers who dispenses his wares on Mill Ave arrived with an odd replica animal that appears to be a mythological hybrid between modern ducks and modern turtles. It’s difficult to tell if it has a turtle shell instead of wings, but it definitely has turtle-flippers instead of webbed duck feet. And, I should point out, two of the limbs grow out of what would be mid-ribcage on humans, a skeletal location that neither avian nor reptile skeletons support.

We see hybrid animals from a lot of ancient mythology: the gryphon (lion and eagle), the chimera (lion, snake, and goat), harpies (human and bird), etc. The origin of the turtle-duck, however, is not from modern Creationist folklore—although, it would be very amusing if this subculture would generate its own mythological creatures—but instead from a contemporary Japanese animé Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Al uses the turtle-duck from this cartoon as part of his ignorance about a strawman form of biology. It’s the sort of sideshow freak-animal that might have convinced backwoods yokels during the 19th century as a circus traveled around rural areas—and, when it comes to Avatar, it’s an adorable fictional animal imagined by an artist to up the cute factor. Al, however, vacillates between claiming it’s “faked evidence” or at least an expected organism according to his strawman biology. If Al had actually done any observing of modern biology, he wouldn’t be professing such an obviously inaccurate assertion. He has been overheard claiming that people believe it’s a “transitional form,” but when pressed for the names of actual biologists who have made this claim he deflects.

The reason is obvious: no credible biologists have ever made this claim. Turtle-ducks are not used as evidence for biology; they’re part of a children’s Japanese animation fantasy cartoon.

The meat of one of his claims is that the Avatar animé turtle-duck represents a transitional form between turtles and ducks as it contains components of both modern turtles and modern ducks. Actual students of biology would probably immediately object at this point based on the fact that it contains fully-formed structures from two modern animals belonging to genera separated by millions of years. No known transitional fossils ever do, and anyone with even one class in modern biology under their belt would be able to explain why one will never emerge.

Let me introduce everyone to an actual transitional fossil: Tiktaalik roseae. It’s species lived during the late Devonian period, approximately 375 million years ago, and it represents a transition between fish and tetrapods. As you can see, it has almost no highly complex, fully formed features represented in modern species—but it does have similar basic structures that modern species build their complex structures on. Like all species, Tiktaalik is fully formed in of itself, but differs both from ancient fish from which its species descended and ancient tetrapods into which its species branched and evolved.

For those of you who don’t study comparative anatomy, you’ll also see that unlike Al’s turtle-duck, even Tiktaalik doesn’t have its upper limbs growing out of the middle of its ribcage.

There’s a problem here and it’s not an issue of just sheer ignorance; it’s that Al is deliberately ill educated and he wants you to be just as ignorant as he is. Look at him, he’s walking around with a cartoon animal, claiming that biologists would find it as credible evidence for a transitional form, failing to support that statement with any actual biologists, and when pressed he retreats into himself.

He’s a fool, proud of his ignorance, and he wants you to accept his "real science", taken from theologians rather than reality, so that you will be just as ignorant and misinformed as he is.

Someone should let Al know that Avatar: The Last Airbender also has turtle-seals, wasp-vultures, pig-sheep, ad nauseam…the list goes on. Maybe he’d like to bouquet his ignorance with some other hybrid cartoon animal from the series in the future.

The Good Person Test: “Have you ever looked at another person, who is not your spouse, with lust?”

True to form, the Good Person Test goes back to thought-crime because it cannot address actual moral behavior directly. A problem which persists likely because the script itself has no moral sense and operates out of a sadistic, fake, and uncorroborated “moral authority.” It generates its guilt complex by redefining otherwise normal thoughts as being equivalent to the acts they represent. Just like the people who cannot distinguish between thought and act, this test is sociopathic.

The script here asks, “Have you ever looked at another person and lusted after them?”

From here the script waits for a, “Yes,” answer, people who hear a, “No,” look at the respondent funny like they can’t believe what they’re hearing. There’s a reason for this! Perhaps it’s because anyone of sexual maturity who answers this question in the negative is unhealthy? Perhaps that should inform us as to exactly what kind of a question this one is.

“Then you have already committed adultery in your heart.”

I’d simply call this part of the script juvenile, if it wasn’t so transparently obvious this is another con game using emotional blackmail. It would be simply immature, except the people who wrote this script know exactly what they’re doing and they’re trying to claim guilt atop a facet of human nature. They cannot readily hook people on their actions because social mores actually inform and restrain actions, so the script falls back on trying to get into a person’s head. This is another example of thought-crime.

“Feel bad because you find other people attractive,” it yells, “because I said so!” Just ask them to demonstrate why attraction is immoral…

The obvious answer to this one is just like the “anger” question, “So what?” Ideally what makes morality and makes our world tick is how people behave, it’s not what their lizard-brain jumps out and informs them; the fact that we can lead sane, efficient lives in spite of all this adultery going on in our hearts tells us that weirdly, “committing adultery in one’s heart” has absolutely no moral effect on the world.

The logical end of this particular statement that you are already condemned for adultery if you simply look at someone else with lust. Yes? You might as well have gone and drawn them away into the bushes and actually gotten some bang for your punishment—after all, according to The Good Person Test there is no moral difference between the impulse and acting it out. With that moral equivalence in place there’s no reason to suppress the behavior. Another example of how sociopathic this test becomes when addressed with reasonable scrutiny.

It’s probably apparent by now that this moral blindness is rampant in this test to determine the goodness of a person. The test itself isn’t just amoral: it’s immoral—it goes out of its way to conflate morally divorced concepts just to make its sale; when it does this it goes the further step which is to attempt to convict the person of the worse guilt on the basis of the weak or nonexistent one. And in cases like this one, it uses a natural, healthy, human reaction in order to do it.

Treating healthy human beings as if what they feel is just as bad as if they acted upon it does harm to the positive outlook of a psyche on the world. This sort of abuse is nearly irreconcilable. People who use the Good Person Test are deliberately inflicting injury on credulous and social individuals who stop to listen to them.

This part of the test in particular is designed to do harm.

People who use the Good Person Test and make it to this part have already gone through numerous morally blind statements and they’ve made gross, false accusations veiled in the “admission” of the audience before they reach this one. With this one they play on the psychosexual social mores that have insinuated this sort of behavior into our society already—poking and prodding for a weakness—and they’ve found one of the best ones: making people feel immoral because of healthy behavior.

When a person makes something healthy into something to feel guilty over they themselves are guilty of poisoning our social experience. And not one of us should hold them blameless.

Previous: “Have you ever stolen anything, even something insignificant?”

Index: The Good Person Test is immoral

The Good Person Test: “Have you ever stolen anything, even something insignificant?”

This particular question is sometimes denied by the audience (seems that people don’t often steal things) but when it is answered, “Yes.” The next part of the script is to get them to answer what people who steal are called, and the answer is, “A thief.” To which the interviewer then claims that the audience has admitted to being a thief.

Sometimes if the interviewer cannot get a satisfactory answer out of the audience they attempt to conflate theft with goofing off at work or downloading music from the Internet. (Never let someone attempt to suggest that copyright infringement is theft: they’re wrong about the law and should educate themselves.) This behavior is common to the script of The Good Person Test, when it feels like it cannot stick someone with one of its pins it starts to play linguistic and semantic games.

Does taking a quarter from your sibling when you were six really make you a thief? This is a deliberate distortion that insinuates that a singleton act can condemn a person to a label that as a group we wouldn’t put on any individual unless they showed a pattern of theft. It then sociopathically conflates the entire spectrum of harm caused by theft from the most petty to the most damaging into the same moral exactitude. This is the same black and white thinking failure seen throughout the script.

Perhaps people just haven’t gotten it yet, but a person is not a thief if they take something once and then end up making recompense for it. Theft does actually cause damage. It’s illegal because it removes property from another person, it causes harm; the extent of that harm varies—and it varies widely. The moral nature of the theft is tied directly to the harm caused by the theft.

To ask someone: “have you ever stolen something, even something insignificant?” and then say, “If you have, you’re a thief!” is flippantly disrespectful of everyone listening because the script is going out of its way to ignore harm and then act like all theft is equal.

This is just another pale, transparent attempt to denigrate the audience without actual substance. It has little bearing on actual moral behavior and serves only to buttress the black and white, non-sequitur conclusions advocated by the script.

Next: “Have you ever looked at another person, who is not your spouse, with lust?”

Previous: “Have you ever told a lie, no matter how trivial?”

Index: The Good Person Test is immoral

The Good Person Test: “Have you ever told a lie? No matter how trivial.”

According to the script at this point if the person says, “Yes,” which they invariably shall, the interviewer then tells them that they are therefore a liar. This can be played any number of ways, generally the interviewer will try to get them to “admit” that they’re a liar by asking them, “What do we call people who tell lies?” “Well, liars.” If the person for some reason says that they’ve never told a lie the interviewer either dismisses or laughs at them.

There are number of grossly disrespectful assumptions being made here. One, wrapped up in their definition of “lie”, seems to be that any misrepresentation, no matter how minor or trivial, makes you a liar. Except that this is only the case for grade school children—and even they quickly forget the slight of being told something that was untrue. Why? Because the social animals that we are carefully shape our speech in order to communicate our boundaries.

Only a person who is consistently dishonest (pathological), inflicts injury with dishonesty, or commits fraud gets to wear the label “liar.” This is because everyone knows full well that the thresholds of what each of us consider to be honesty vary greatly between different people, different situations, and even differing levels of veracity. Furthermore, back to the boundaries issue, to be social animals we cannot always be fully honest with one another; there are social situations which exist where we are forced by protocol to dance around honest answers.

For this type of emotional blackmail to work for the Good Person Test must assert that nearly every use of deliberate misrepresentation must be the worst kind.

Some of the people who use the Good Person Test appear to know this well enough that they try to make a loophole for it, stating that discretion isn’t lying. Which means pretty much most people aren’t in fact “liars” because they’ve therefore never really told a “lie.” But they cannot hold to this definition because it makes this entire part of the script moot. And everyone who listens to it should know this.

Is lying always immoral? Let’s take the case of Anne Frank. We have a case where a reigning authority is searching for particular people whom you have every reason to believe are innocent and the direct result of their capture will be their horrible torture and deaths. Do you lie in order to protect them from a horrific fate? Does telling the truth therefore make you culpable for their horrible torture and murder? In this case it would appear that lying is extremely moral; but also telling the truth would be distinctly immoral.

Perhaps moral acts aren’t as simple as singleton script stanzas without nuance.

The Good Person Test is once again attempting to put a hook into natural social behavior. It makes the assertion that “all lying is bad/immoral” and therefore people should be eternally condemned for it—but then it fails to explain why. Like every other step of the Good Person Test it attempts to leverage guilt over telling lies as a reason of calling someone guilty of breaking an asserted “law.”

The worst part about this portion of the Good Person Test is that it’s then leveraged as a pathetic attempt to weaken the resolve of the person answering questions. Specifically I am going to call out a very singular abuse of social and extroverted individuals. If the interviewer is capable of getting them to admit that they’re a “liar” through manipulative semantics they then pull this line out of the script on the next question:

“But how can I believe you? You admitted you’re a liar.”

This is abusive. It is an uncalled for disrespect of the person who has taken their time to answer these questions, it is set up for emotional blackmail, and a deliberate denigration of a peer—no amount of jocularity or false irony added to this line make it any less inexcusable. This specific line mocks the good faith that anyone answering these questions—it is beyond the pale in its contempt of the audience.

Finally, this question does damage to the very fabric and core of what it is to be social and loving creatures. It deliberately ignores and dismisses all the truth that a person may have told in their life; and instead places an unlikely and unexplained weight only to lying while all actual honesty feather-light in comparison.

In our interactions with other people do we want to dismantle, damage, and disrespect them because they can and have told lies in their lives? What kind of test for a “good person” fails to weight based on good done and instead gives even minor wrongs a greater strength. This is sociopathic.

This is a test immoral in its own right. It is trying only to puncture the self-esteem of an otherwise good, honest individual by baldly exploiting the weaknesses of every social animal; and then uses that puncture in order to get unsupported and knowable false claims of guilt accepted.

Next: “Have you ever stolen anything, even something insignificant?”

Previous: “Have you ever been angry at someone?”

Index: The Good Person Test is immoral

Be aware of cold reading and cognitive bias at CVS

So, I found an intriguing blog that mentioned Mill Avenue, Miles Loves ASU, but it also had some somewhat creepy elements. I read it with an eye for the anthropology and it looks like a fairly straightforward experiential read with strong religious elements and mystical thinking. Most of the narrative takes place at the CVS on the corner of Mill & University and involves various people. A pretty basic read and insight into this culture’s thinking.

However, this is the part that I’d like to draw people’s attention to:

Amidst the awkwardness of the conversation, Kiah’s knees began to hurt and the Lord gave her a word of knowledge about one of the kid’s knees in the group. She interjected into the conversation and abruptly asked, “Who’s knees are hurting?”

One of the kids instantly responded with a mixture of shock and questioning concern. Looking quite taken aback, he tentatively told Kiah that his knees hurt. He told her that he had knee problems and that they had been hurting pretty bad while they were standing around talking.

To the kid who responded with a “mixture of shock and concern” be aware this trick isn’t exactly as amazing as it seems. What Kiah did—possibly without out knowing it herself—is a form of a very old con called Cold Reading. Joint pain is not uncommon among humans, particularly the knees (especially noting how poorly our skeletons function for standing upright), so finding one person in three with hurting knees is not at all uncommon. And, failing to find someone with hurting knees, she probably would have shrugged it off.

To ascribe the discovery to a supernatural origin really pushes the whole thing beyond the pale.

The story then goes on to describe how the group uses an incantation over the boy’s knee and the pain goes away. (Did they incant over it after he took the weight off it?) “The kid walked around. And then jumped up and down on them. And then squatted and bent them and stomped his feet. To his dismay and the dismay of his friends, his knees were completely healed.” Dismayed… Really?

This sort of “prophetic evangelism” is actually somewhat problematic in that it appears to teach people to use cold reading on other people and then ignore failures (for those of you who know what I’m talking about, this is a type of confirmation bias.) It’s not actually mystical and to treat it in such a fashion can lead inevitably to poor judgment.

[[Editor’s note: Cross posted from Under the Hills Authorspace]]