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“Logical arguments” about belief

by Greg Krehbiel on 18 April 2014

It’s worthwhile to read Why atheism doesn’t have the upper hand over religion and ask yourself whether any of the arguments are actually more logical or rational.

The author appeals to the story of an old man who suffers a rather horrible death to save his son who has Down’s syndrome and asks whether atheism or religion provides a better explanation for such acts of altruism.

Atheists do have theories to explain altruism. Some of them appeal to a version of the “selfish gene” idea — which might explain why we are more likely to sacrifice for close relatives than for strangers — and some of them are closer to “group selection” ideas — i.e., a group that includes some people who sacrifice for the common good might have an advantage over a group that doesn’t include such people. (It doesn’t matter if that’s technically “group selection” — you get the idea.)

The author of the article doesn’t think that explains why we are so moved by such stories or consider them to be so beautiful, and he thinks a religious explanation does a better job of explaining it. He then goes on to give his explanation, which is that altruism appeals to us because it’s a peak into God’s altruism towards us.

Where does that leave us? Is one explanation more logical or rational than the other? Not at all.

I think this shows the silliness of our attempts to say that we believe or disbelieve for “rational” reasons.

Arguments affect us, for sure. They appeal to us in some way. Some people are more moved by one argument and others by different arguments. But it’s a gross caricature to call one group rational and the other emotional (or whatever).

Atheists are fooling themselves if they believe they reject religion on “rational” grounds, just as some believers are fooling themselves if they think they believe for rational reasons. Arguments appeal to us — or don’t — for very complicated reasons that go way beyond whether or not they are “rational.”

-- 1 comment  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-18  ::  Greg Krehbiel

Where is the right doing this?

by Greg Krehbiel on 17 April 2014

As I read The slow death of free speech: How the Left, here and abroad, is trying to shut down debate — from Islam and Israel to global warming and gay marriage I started to wonder where the right is doing this sort of thing.

Isn’t speech censorship coming almost exclusively from the left these days? Shouldn’t liberals be concerned about this?

It seems to me that liberalism has an advantage in the public square, and that advantage is that it doesn’t have the same restraints that conservatives impose on themselves.

Conservatives, for example, may hate the way the BLM is treating ranchers in Nevada, but they believe in the rule of law, so they’ll admit that Bundy is in the wrong. IOW, while conservatives have policy goals and objectives they would like to pursue, they temper these things against a broader array of concerns.

Clearly not all conservatives behave this way. Some will grasp onto any reed-thin justification for “their side.” But I see this sort of principled restraint on the right far more than I see it on the left.

Liberals don’t seem to be constrained by such things. They’re not thinking about free speech rights as they shout down the campus speaker. They don’t care about accuracy and honesty when they demagogue on women’s pay, or gun control. Barack Obama can be against gay marriage, and two years later accuse people who are against gay marriage of being bigots, and somehow that makes sense to a liberal.

Here’s how I understand this. If you have a better explanation, please enlighten me.

“Progressive” really is the better word for liberals, because everything is about moving towards some goal. The means don’t really matter. If we have to trample on some people in the process, or break some rules, well … you have to break some eggs to make an omelet.

Shouting down the campus speaker makes sense because they’re trying to create a world in which such ideas aren’t considered. This vague concept of “free speech” is far less important than the immediate concern of eliminating hate, or … whatever.

-- 9 comments  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-17  ::  Greg Krehbiel

Maybe this is why we can’t export representative democracy to the Middle East

by Greg Krehbiel on 16 April 2014

We’re not one ourselves.

The US is an oligarchy, study concludes

Researchers concluded that US government policies rarely align with the the preferences of the majority of Americans, but do favour special interests and lobbying oragnisations: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.”

--  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-16  ::  Greg Krehbiel

It would be nice to say this is unbelievable

by Greg Krehbiel on 16 April 2014

Right when we are in the middle of a transformation of our health care system, right when good data is more important than ever, the government is changing the rules.

Is Obama Cooking the Census Books for Obamacare?

But why … would you change [the census] in the one year in the entire history of the republic that it is most important for policy makers, researchers and voters to be able to compare the number of uninsured to those in prior years? The answers would seem to range from “total incompetence on the part of every level of this administration” to something worse.

It’s hard to put a positive spin on why the administration would do such a thing, or why Congress would let them get away with it.

-- 2 comments  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-16  ::  Greg Krehbiel

Why political moderates are important

by Greg Krehbiel on 15 April 2014

One thing I like to advocate is taking a look at the other side of an argument before you’re too sure you’re right about something. People are so quick to read one perspective and think that’s the whole truth — especially if it’s from someone they agree with.

Just as you should check out before you post some outlandish story, you should see what the other folks have to say about a political issue before you make up your mind about it.

Yesterday I realized one problem with this, which is the tendency to read the looneys from the other side.

Imagine that you’re a radical conservative and you want to “get the other side” on affirmative action, so you go read a bunch of stuff on critical race theory. That stuff will be so foreign to your way of thinking that you might as well be reading gibberish. It won’t sink in at all. You’l just come away even more convinced of your radical conservative perspective. Worse, now you’ll believe that you’ve “given the other side a fair hearing,” so you’ll be even more convinced of your own position.

Or imagine that you’re a radical liberal and you want another perspective on the minimum wage, so you go read Glenn Beck. It’s not going to help. He’ll seem like such a nut that you won’t pick up anything useful. Rather, you’ll be tempted to conclude that everybody on the other side is crazy anyway.

“I tried it. I tried reading the popular guys on the other side, and eventually I realized it wasn’t worth my time. They’re all nuts.”

Sure. To a liberal the popular conservatives are nuts, and to a conservative the popular liberals are nuts. A conservative shouldn’t go read Rachel Maddow to “get the other side” and a liberal shouldn’t go read Sean Hannity. They should read the moderates, like Juan Williams or David Gergen, or …. Who?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a market for moderates. The way to make a name for yourself — or to get eyeballs on your TV show — is to throw bombs and say outlandish things.

We need more moderates on both sides or else we will continue to polarize into opposing camps who don’t understand one another at all.

-- 5 comments  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-15  ::  Greg Krehbiel

The problem with government solutions is that they can enforce their will at the end of a gun

by Greg Krehbiel on 12 April 2014

I don’t know who to side with in the Nevada grazing dispute, and honestly I don’t particularly care who’s right. I think Neil Kornze, the director of the BLM, should be praised for avoiding a violent confrontation. We need that kind of restraint from our elected officials.

The lesson of this whole thing is clear to me. When there’s some issue or problem to be addressed, it’s best not to look for a government solution, because the government can come in with their guns and do what they want. They may apologize later, but that’s only after people are dead.

When you allow the government some new power, you are giving them yet one more reason to go shoot somebody. People like Neil Kornze have the sense to exercise restraint, and thank God for that. But there are other officials who won’t.

Remember Ruby Ridge? Remember Waco?

I’m not defending Randy Weaver or David Koresh. But I think excessive force was used in both cases, and that is precisely the danger when we put the government in charge of something.

-- 1 comment  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-12  ::  Greg Krehbiel

Only hateful bigots oppose same-sex marriage, right?

by Greg Krehbiel on 11 April 2014

Here’s an interesting article by a queer man (his preferred term) about why he will never agree with same-sex marriage. He makes some interesting points.

Every minority has within it a core of single-issue politicians and protesters who are never satisfied and always ask for more, and homosexuals, both male and female, are no exception. It is this noisy nucleus that demanded gay marriage ….

--  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-11  ::  Greg Krehbiel

The conscious / subconscious divide

by Greg Krehbiel on 10 April 2014

People who study such things insist that our actual motivations for what we do are not what we think they are. We make a moral judgment and then find confirming evidence or explanation for it. We like or dislike someone and then we come up with a reason why.

Our motivations are hidden, but predictable. Clever marketers and sales people play off these motivators to get us to buy their product or sign up for their service. (However, on the general topic of whether those sorts of studies are reliable, this is an interesting article.)

The pick-up-artist people claim that they have a whole series of tricks and games they can play to get what they want from a woman, and it’s somewhat horrifying to contemplate the possibility that they may be right — for example, when they say that being an over-confident, dominant jerk evokes submissive, romantic feelings in a woman.

You have to wonder what story the woman tells herself afterward. “Oh, he’s really a nice guy underneath,” or … whatever.

The scary prospect is that this sort of thing is going on all the time. That is, there’s some kind of hidden demon in our brains that’s actually calling the shots, and our conscious minds are simply making up laughable post-hoc excuses.

Studies supposedly show that we do just that in isolated cases, but what if it’s true often — even a significant portion of the time? You can imagine a situation where the conscious mind is living in some sort of self-created delusion, almost like multiple personality disorder.

Some people use these “your motivations aren’t what you think they are” studies as a justification for general skepticism about “common sense.” E.g., “people don’t even know why they believe what they believe.” But somehow the skeptic does.

It’s clear that we are often influenced by motivations we don’t consciously understand, but I think the whole phenomenon doesn’t go as far as some skeptics would want us to believe. The fact that we live with other people seems to keep this tendency in check.

For example, I’m sure you’ve heard of the breatharians — people who claim they don’t need food and live off breathing and sunlight.

It’s trivially easy to imagine some self-deluded person who eats, but explains it away (“I was just being social”) or simply suppresses the memory of eating. Yet such a person would have to be somewhat of a recluse. If he lived with other people, whenever he said “I live off air” one of his buddies would say, “Sure, that and the sandwich you sneak out of the frig every night when we’re all in bed.”

The very fact that we discuss our motivations with people who can also observe our actions seems to save us from going too far into that kind of conscious / subconscious divide. That might be part of the problem with internet communications. You can get away with all kinds of nonsense if people can’t see how you actually behave.

Friends, family and neighbors seem to keep us from deluding ourselves. The woman who is always falling for jerks will eventually be called to account by her friends, but the man who spends too much time alone will start to believe all kinds of crazy things.

--  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-10  ::  Greg Krehbiel

Prudent people recoil at the idea

by Greg Krehbiel on 10 April 2014

Today’s column by George Will speaks of an effort to call a constitutional convention to put a rein on federal spending.

While I’m generally in favor of restricting Congress’ power to spend our money, I can’t speak to the particulars of this proposal, and this warning really grabbed me:

Many prudent people — remembering that the 1787 Constitutional Convention’s original purpose was merely to “remedy defects” of the Articles of Confederation — recoil from the possibility of a runaway convention and the certainty that James Madison would not be there to make it turn out well. The compact, however, would closely confine a convention: State legislatures can form a compact — a cooperative agreement — to call a convention for the codified, one-item agenda of ratifying the balanced-budget amendment precisely stipulated in advance.

I am less optimistic than Mr. Will that words on paper, or any agreement made ahead of time, can restrict the run-away power grab that would ensue. I realize that the amendment itself would only be “words on paper,” but once it is done it would be part of the constitution, and we generally take that pretty seriously in this country.

In my opinion extreme measures would have to be taken to ensure that the convention did absolutely nothing else than ratify a specific amendment.

However, provided such measures were taken, I would absolutely love to see the states assert their power and stick their collective fingers in the eye of Congress, which is long overdue for a national rebuke.

-- 2 comments  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-10  ::  Greg Krehbiel

“Everything we think we know about our universe is wrong.”

by Greg Krehbiel on 9 April 2014

I am a Star Trek fan, so when my daughter told me that Captain Janeway was going to narrate a documentary about the Sun revolving around the Earth, I had to look it up. Sure enough.

Star Trek’s Kate Mulgrew Says She Was Duped on Film Narration

Robert Sungenis, the man behind the film, is an interesting character that I’ve interacted with online and spoken with on the phone a couple times. He’s an uber-conservative Catholic, and back when I was obsessing on that stuff his name was everywhere. He has some odd views on many things, including science.

None of that concerns me in this post. My real point is to wonder how any of us actually “know” that the Earth revolves around the Sun. I don’t doubt that it does, but I also realize that I’ve never seen any data or actually studied the question. In fact, I have little doubt that your average geocentrist knows more about the facts, figures and relevant issues than your average heliocentrist, simply because in order to be a geocentrist these days you are far more likely to have read about the subject, while to be a heliocentrist all you have to say is “everybody knows that.”

It’s like the guy who’s “sure” that the earth is billions of years old and he knows this because oil is made from dead dinosaurs. Well, yes, the earth is billions of years old, but oil is not made of dead dinosaurs.

We think we know so many things, but our knowledge is no more than skin deep. Your average believer in [fill in just about anything that "everybody knows"] has far less “reason to believe” than the heretic, who has studied all sorts of weird stuff and come to outlandish conclusions. For example, the average Jehovah’s Witness has far more data for his wrong-headed ideas than the average Trinitarian.

Our belief in heliocentrism is really just a belief in the reliability of established opinion.

-- 9 comments  ::  What do you think?  ::  2014-04-09  ::  Greg Krehbiel

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