Wilful Ignorance

I’m both intrigued and frustrated at the number of people who set themselves up as “experts,” hold onto one view and wilfully ignore all evidence to the contrary. Right now, I’m listening to a debate between Kent Hovind and Bill Ludlow, and I’m having difficulty understanding how in the world anyone could call it a debate. Now, I hasten to add that I didn’t CHOOSE to watch the video; it just came on after what I was watching. However, I DID decide, “oh well, why not?” So, it’s a self-inflicted wound, I’ll admit!

Bill gave a really nice 20 minute introduction covering human evolution (I actually recommend the first 20 minutes for anyone who would like a clear, succinct presentation of human evolution), and then Kent had his turn. I’ve heard Kent a few times now, and what puzzles me is that he uses the same “arguments” every time, even though his previous opponents show him actual errors in his presentations. For example, he likes to use old textbooks and ideas from evolutionists who were around 100 years ago, even though these things often are simply not accepted by evolutionists today. He is told this, given evidence for the changes, yet he continues to use the same arguments. He also does not understand many of the scientific concepts he argues about. It is frustrating to me, firstly because I started listening to “experts” such as him to try an find answers to question I had about evolution/creation. Instead of shoring up my faith and my own (previous) belief in “creation”, these men only eroded it. They didn’t have answers, and they are not intellectually honest. Secondly, it frustrates me because I don’t understand why people like this who put themselves forward as “experts” can’t see how damaging their words and actions are. Is it impossible to defend creation intellectually? (rhetorical question; I’ve come to the conclusion that it cannot be. If intelligent apologists exist, I’ve not seen or heard them).

In conclusion, if you are confident that you are right, why would you be afraid to look at evidence to the contrary? Why would you be frightened to do so? How can you possibly set yourself up as an expert without being thoroughly familiar with your topic? Can these people not see the damage they’re doing?



Equality and our “real” history

It seems that nowadays there is always something to write about. Just as soon as I get my thoughts together in a logical manner, something else happens, and I want to talk about it! So, before Trump opens his mouth again, I’m going to weigh in on Charlottesville.

I am a keen student of history, particularly the history of Europe between the great depression and 1945. I’ve read many, many books about so many aspects of this period and have taken courses about events such as the holocaust. I lead this paragraph with this information so you know I’m not speaking from total ignorance. So, the president of the US says there are good people “on both sides”. Really? There are “good” neo nazis? “Good” white nationalists? Please, name one. Let’s look at the original Nazis, from which the neo-Nazis derive their identity. Can you name one, SINGLE, good nazi? I can’t. I’ve thought about it, and I can’t think of a single “good” one. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the original Nazis did not do SOME good things. But the bad heavily outweighed the good. Improving the German economy versus stealing property from Jews, Gays, JWs, Poles etc..? – no contest. Valuing children and families versus incinerating 11 million people? – NO contest. I do not believe ANYONE who is in any way a humanist could, or would, ever say that there were good people amongst the Nazis.

Unfortunately, the Nazis were not born with giant swastikas stamped across their foreheads. In fact, the Nazis were ordinary people. Yes, ordinary people! And this should scare us silly. Ordinary people get into positions of power because of their ordinariness. Only critical thinkers, or those who fear being damaged by these people, feel a sense of foreboding and are likely to stand against them. Ordinary people can take on extraordinary beliefs such as anti-semitism, racism, homophobicism etc… and move from being ordinary people doing ordinary, or even good things, to ordinary people doing really bad, evil, disgusting, inhumane things.

If some of the people opposing the alt right are accused of being bad people, does that make their “badness” equal to the “badness” of those on the alt right? Only a moron would state something like that. Was the “badness” of the Nazis the same as the “badness” of the French (or Polish or Dutch etc…) resistance? Not in scope, not in depth, not in purpose, and certainly not in frequency. Further, one cannot ignore the PURPOSE of the organizations. So no, it’s vomit-inducing that the president of the USA is standing before the world claiming that both sides were to blame.

What were the protests about anyway? For anyone who grew up outside of the US, or who did not have a good history education, here it is in a nutshell: The US fought a civil war in the early 1860s between north and south. The south wanted to keep, and indeed extend slavery, while the north did not. The south withdrew from the union, proclaimed its own president and went to war with the US. They lost. Let me repeat that: THEY LOST. Slaves were freed, and began to be integrated fully into society. However, there was a resurgence of racist politicians and ideas such as the Jim Crow laws began to be enacted. This was in the early 1900s. At about the same time, monuments started to be erected in  public places to honor the men who LED the rebellion against the US (and thus who led the movement to KEEP slaves enslaved). Basically, to African Americans, these statues were somewhat like a slap in the face, and now, a hundred years later, many people realize that they have no place in the public domain. They should be in museums as records of the changes in American society. With me so far?

It is therefore NO surprise that the neo-Nazis, the White Supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan etc… do not like this idea. At all. So, they protest at the places where the statues are being taken down. Those who disagree with them go to these protests to let people know that there are many people who understand that the monuments have to go. And yes, there was violence on both sides, but that is a far cry from BLAMING both sides. If there had been no protest, there’d have been no counter protest. If there had been no chanting of Nazi slogans, there’d have been no need for anyone to stand up against racism and hate.

So, there we go. Bigotry and hatred should not be tolerated in our society, and it should certainly not be legitimized by the POTUS.

It makes me sick.


What’s all this about healthcare?

This past week, I’ve actually written letters… well, emails, actually… to some congressmen and women (2 of each, actually) about the healthcare fiasco. Personally, I am utterly horrified that ANY leadership organization would even CONTEMPLATE getting rid of something without having, in the wings, ready and waiting, a well-thought out replacement. I mean to say, would you cancel your mortgage agreement and THEN start calling other lending institutes to see what kind of deals you could get? Would you cancel your life insurance policy and THEN look into alternatives? No-one in their right mind would do such a thing! But people IN the Right seem to have no problem doing exactly that when it doesn’t affect them personally.

I’m willing to bet that the health insurance package available to Congress members is pretty darn good. I’m willing to bet that if the ACA goes, THEIR health package would stay. I wonder how many republicans would be so hell-bent on voting down the ACA if they knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this would mean their personal healthcare would disappear?

Ok, so before you start muttering about the ACA, let me say something else. I do think the ACA needs to be adjusted and modified. My argument is not that there are no problems with the ACA and we should just keep it for ever. Nor is my argument against the actual idea of repealing the Act (although I personally wouldn’t want to see that happen). No, my argument is that it shouldn’t be repealed in order to leave us all in some kind of healthcare void. I think it’s thoroughly irresponsible. Criminal, actually. People WILL DIE as a result.

So why is there this attitude on the right (excepting the senators from Maine and Alaska, who I admire more than I can say for standing up for the “common folk” and bearing the brunt of sexist comments from congress members and bullying via the Trump)? I really don’t know. Maybe it’s because they are still angry about having a Black president? Maybe they receive nice fat donations from lobby groups opposed to the ACA? Maybe the idea of looking after those who cannot look after themselves is just SO repugnant to them that at ALL COSTS this Act must go? It would be quite interesting to talk to one of the rabid would-be repealers. I am particularly intrigued with Mitch McConnell. What is his agenda? His state has arguably gained the most from the ACA, yet he is HELL-BENT on getting rid of it at any cost. Why?

Do these people not care about the people in nursing homes who will be kicked out? The people with special needs or with high-cost prescription drugs (and who presently get those via Medicaid) which actually keep them alive? How about those taking anti-psychotic drugs? Do they really want all those people to suddenly stop being able to take their medications?

I wish I understood.

Republicans. If you want to repeal ACA, that is your right. But please, do it RESPONSIBLY! Before you do, though, why don’t you have a good look at the legislation and see if your party can improve it? Wouldn’t it be awesome to go down in history as the party that developed and strengthened and widened healthcare coverage in the US?

Or would you really rather be the party that destroyed it?


How did we get here (or, how we argue about it)?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, listening, and thinking lately (so I’ve a billion things going through my head), and one of those things has been the creation/evolution debate. I am ashamed to say that I used to be a creationist. “Why ashamed?” you may well ask. Well, as I’ve watched debates (I’m enjoying YouTube so much!) between evolutionists and creationists, I’ve realized some very important things.

  1. Science and religion do not, indeed cannot, mix. I am sure they can overlap a little (after all, the bible, for example, does mention things in the world such as trees and water and mountains), but they are fundamentally different. They begin at completely different places. Science begins with a hypothesis, which is tested and tested to see if it can be disproved. A hypothesis cannot be proved, but it can be disproved (so my stats professor drummed into me). However, there are probability values that can be assigned to events. The higher the probability, the lower the chance the hypothesis is null and void. If there is no correlation, the scientist starts again. Maybe they will scrap the hypothesis entirely, maybe they’ll edit the hypothesis, or maybe they’ll find problems in the experimental method. Finding no correlation is not failure! (I found that a difficult concept to teach middle schoolers, by the way). On the other hand, religious people start with their text. They make everything FIT that text. For Christians, it’s obviously the bible. If a scientific fact shows the text is wrong, then it is the scientific fact that is wrong! The holy book (substitute hypothesis here) CANNOT be wrong.
  2. Evolution/Creation debates become, after a while, intensely frustrating. This is because the Christian (and I’ve mostly watched Christians debate, although I’ve seen a Muslim and a Jew debating too) always comes back to the bible, yet never gives evidence that the bible itself is what they call it (the infallible word of god). So, the evolutionist will patiently explain something that you’d think a middle schooler could easily grasp, yet at the end the Christian will say that can’t be true because… the bible. All right. If that is the case, tell us WHY the bible is so, so authoritative and error-free. But, they don’t (because they can’t).
  3. I’ve come to the conclusion that these debates (and also the YouTube videos put out by pro-creationists) , as far as the Christians are concerned, are intended for one audience, and one audience only: Christians. They give the same arguments over and over. Ken Ham and Ken Hovind are the worst. Both these men really, really seem incredibly ignorant. Further, neither seems to listen. In one debate, an evolutionist will explain something to one or other of these men, yet in the next debate or interview (or tweet or blog), the exact same issue will be raised, with no modifications whatsoever. No attempt to incorporate new knowledge to boost or strengthen their own argument. It’s as if the debate never took place, as if they never heard or learned a thing. I’m not even suggesting they should change their minds, but once an argument has been addressed, you should take the responses into consideration next time you raise that same argument. Anyway, both those men sound as if they’ve memorized chunks of text or ideas just to spout off whenever. So why do they do these debates? As I said, it’s for the Christians. No thinking person could possibly be swayed by what they’re saying (and I am referring to these types of debates; think Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham) – at least not a thinking person who values truth and has some kind of scientifically trained mind. On the other hand, I’m not sure why scientists take part in these farces. Do they hope to reach wavering believers (my best hypothesis)? Surely they don’t think they’ll change the debator’s mind? (Ken Ham, for example, has built his empire on creationism. Even if he knew he was wrong, he would have far too much to give up to admit it)
  4. The only reason I held on to creationist beliefs for as long as I did was because *I* never listened to the other side. I closed my mind. I knew there were issues, but instead of honestly addressing them, I read creationist literature. I never read anything by an evolutionist, and I am ashamed. I really am. I do believe that many, many Christians are in the same boat; maybe they don’t think there are issues, but they sure aren’t reading books by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens (or Jerry Coyle, Neil Shubin, Sean Carroll etc…). I can’t tell you how many times I was warned about reading books that might destroy my faith, and I can only assume I was not alone in hearing this kind of message. You’re supposed to build yourself up, edify yourself… “Whatsoever is pure… think on these things”. Hmm.
  5. I am angry. I was duped. I let myself be duped.
  6. I am grateful for people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitches, AronRa, CosmicSkeptic (who, at the time of writing, is only 18 years old, but is a thoughtful, respectful adolescent who gives me hope for the future). Without those who do speak up, perhaps I’d still be hiding. Who knows?
  7. The teaching of Creationism (Creation “Science”, Intelligent Design) does not belong in the science classroom. It is not science. It has no relationship with the scientific method. It is not an “alternative view” in terms of science. It is religion. Pure and simple. Take away the bible (re-read number 1 above) and there is NO CREATIONISM. ‘Nuff said.

So, shall I answer my own question (the title of this post)? We got here through natural selection, an amazing, awe-inspiring, yet cruel  process. We have no reason other than to fill a niche made by those same processes. And that makes it all the more important to live life to its fullest, to leave the planet in better condition than it was when we entered it, to give the next generation opportunities like we have, to make life for all people (and creatures) the best that it can be (fighting inequities, lending a helping hand, having the courage to stand up for minorities and the oppressed). That is our “purpose”. And when we die? I don’t know, but if it’s like the experience I had before I was conceived, whatever it was/is, has left no mark. Probably just nothingness.

There we go.

Intellectual Freedom

I work in a university. The cry from such institutions is “intellectual freedom”, and this is part of the reason tenure is so very important. In a healthy institution, especially an educational one, it is absolutely vital that different voices be heard. Fellow faculty, staff, and students are not, of course, required to accept all these different voices, but they ought to be faced with them. Educational discourse involves disagreement, argument, logic, and open-mindedness.

More than a year ago now, I came to the conclusion that the bible is simply a collection of writings from peoples who were primitive and superstitious. That conclusion was probably one of the most freeing of my life. No longer do I have to bend my intellect this way and that to “explain” what is written therein. I don’t have to be upset about Job losing everything and then, at the end, getting a new wife and children… as if that makes it all all right! Replacing a wife and children?? WTF!

No longer do I have to fret about God telling people to sell women into sex-slavery, about Lot sending his daughters out to be raped, about God sending a bear to rip the throats of 42 children who did nothing more than laugh at a man with a bald head. And what about God, the one who forbids murder, telling Abraham to kill his son? Or commanding the Israelites to kill everything in the cities they took (men, women, children, asses… EVERYTHING)? I could go on, but my point here is that I had to do intellectual gymnastics to try and understand all this, especially in the framework of a so-called God of love. Sometimes, the gymnastics involved “the writers were bound by their times and culture” YET other times, things are pulled from the bible and we’re told they should be applied exactly.

I would ask questions, especially when in bible school, but never got answers that helped. Once, I remember a pastor I admired just saying that one had to have faith. But faith in what? Inside, I was screaming “Is Christianity intellectually viable or not?” I was told I “thought too much”. So, my own intellect, that which makes me me, was to be denied, repressed, sneered at.

I tried, oh I TRIED to ignore all the things that bothered me, and as long as I didn’t think about it, I was ok. But I DID think about things. And I never, ever got answers that really made sense. Why not? Because, I think, Christians (at least evangelical ones) start with the premise that the bible is inerrant. Everything, just everything emanates from that. And that’s a problem. We can’t say that God commanding the taking of sex slaves was an error in the bible, because there are no errors. So, no matter WHAT the bible says, we have to find ways to make it “work”. And that’s where the intellectual gymnastics comes in.

I am so, so glad that I no longer have to pretzel my brain.

What do you have to live for?

For many years, I believed that without God, there’d be nothing to live for. I believed that those “without God” had no basis for morality, and no real reason to live. It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that my view has changed.

Yes, for decades I was a bible-believing, born-again, evangelical Christian. I attended a Bible College and then went on to spend several years in the mission field. All the time, I staunchly believed the above. However, in the past couple of years or so, I have come to believe that the idea of a god is not only unsupported, but most likely dangerous. If anyone reading this (if anyone does indeed read this blog) is like I was, I can imagine you’ll be thinking I was never saved, and never had a relationship with God. You would be wrong, however. My “relationship with God” was as real to me as it was possible to be; it was no different from others around me, and I would have died for my beliefs.

So, how do I explain all this now. It’s really rather simple. I think the human brain can “trick” itself into anything. Our memories are flawed, our observations at crimes have sent innocents to the electric chair, and billions of people have believed that they had or have a relationship with a god. The devout Hindu, the committed Muslim, the religious Jew… all would claim a relationship with their god (or gods). How can they all be right? In reality, they can’t be. Only one thing is common to all these people: they have a human brain.

So, anyway, here’s why I think belief in a god or a religion can be very dangerous. Let’s say you believe that God made the earth and that God made to populate and have dominion over it. Let’s say that the same God tells you that life on this world is only a precursor to the after-life, an after-life that is never-ending as compared to the world, which will in fact end. What motive would there be for such a believer to look after the earth? Why bother, when it’s going to end and you’re not going to be there long anyway?

On the other hand, if you believed that this life was the only one you’d ever have, you would have an incredible motive to look after it. One only has to look at the US Congress. Those who deny climate change, those who are not interested in preserving this planet, indeed, those who want to rape the planet… who are they? Are they “non-believers” or “believers”?

So yes, I do believe that those with no belief in a god actually have MORE to live for, and MORE reason to do good in this world.

Elections, Selections

I’ve not written in what seems like forever. Not because there’s been nothing to write about, au contraire, there’s just been so very much. But… if I don’t start back now, I will go on simply thinking all this stuff rather than lay it out in a (hopefully) more organized manner.

Here it the US, the presidential election is the biggest news, and quite possibly, the biggest political show in decades. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m not a US citizen, and therefore I cannot (and do not) vote. Nor do I register with a political party. I am neither republican nor democrat. What I am is an observer, and I hope I’m a very thoughtful one. What I observe scares me.

I see a democracy in trouble. Why? Because people are not thinking; they are reacting. They are reacting to topics that clearly scare them (immigration, minorities, “big brother government”, poverty). The question I ask myself is “why are people so scared, and why can they not think through issues?” Perhaps it is a result of an education so focused on learning facts to pass a test rather than one focusing on teaching people to really think. And yes, logical thought does have to be taught.

I ask myself, “do people REALLY believe that Trump can deport 11 million immigrants?” Eleven million is a very big number. Hitler moved about that many people in the holocaust, and look at how he did that! Years of laws and propaganda intended to isolate, registrations, and taking over an extensive and busy rail system. Do people really want that??? If yes, I have no words. We learned nothing from the holocaust. If no, people aren’t thinking.

And the wall. When have walls ever worked? People find ways around, under, over walls. If the underlying issues causing people to want to move from A to B are not resolved, they will continue to try. Many of the problems people are attempting to flee from are products of the USA! Too harsh? What about the USA’s “interventions” in central America? What about the United Fruit Company? What about the jobs that have moved from the USA to central and south America? Did they move there in order to bestow living wages and benefits to others? No, they moved to save money. And let’s look at the huge elephant in the room, drugs. The violence in countries south of our border is focused around the drug trade. And where is the largest market? The USA. Yes, WE are contributing to the horrific living conditions people are attempting to flee from.

And Trump thinks he can deport 11 million people, build a wall, and fix it all. In truth, I imagine he doesn’t think that at all, but he knows people are scared, and he knows they will grab his ideas and run with them. He seems to be right. And that, I’m afraid, appalls me. You see, a democracy is only as strong as its people. And if its people are not taught to think, democracy will not last. Real discourse can only take place when different people discuss issues from multiple angles. This means people need to think about those angles, then be able to communicate their ideas in logical, reasoned ways.

“I’m right; you’re wrong”

“No, I’m right; you’re wrong”

… is not discourse. It’s election 2016.