Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Strange kind of YouTube Christian

I have had several lengthy conversations in the comment section of several Christian apologetic videos with Christians, pointing out the problems in biblical morality and infallibility, as well as the overt hypocrisy of many of those videos (eg. videos that critique Muslims for behavior that the very same Christians engage in, when the subject is the Bible and their god rather than the Muslim equivalents.)

In these conversations I have noticed a rather peculiar kind of "Christian" that often participates in the discussion. These seem rather prevalent at least on YouTube. While it's possible that at least some of them are poes, I believe that at least some, if not most of them are not.

These "Christians" seem to take a "I don't take s**t from anybody" thug attitude. Their method of operation seems to include:
  • Assume things about the critic (usually that he's an atheist) and use obnoxiously belittling and derogatory names and expressions to address him and his arguments based on those assumptions. Resort to mockery as much as possible.
  • Don't be afraid of using swearwords (like the f-word etc.), insults ("moron", "idiot", etc) and mockery.
  • Constantly stress how the critic doesn't know anything about Christianity and the Bible, no matter how detailed his arguments and knowledge seem to be time and again about those very subjects.
  • At the same time emphasize how you follow Jesus' teachings (completely ignoring what Jesus said about being kind to other people.)
  • When the critic points out the hypocrisy of your behavior in light of the holy scriptures you are claiming to obey, besides using the normal insults and derogatory terms, argue that Christians are not supposed to be wimps and pussies, that Jesus took a thug attitude towards pharisees.
  • Likewise point out that your critic doesn't believe in anything nor has any morals, and thus is in no position to preach about morality. (Ignore the point about hypocrisy.)
  • Remember to be as smug as possible.
One would think that this would be a small minority, and that other Christians would intervene with a more sane tone which is more in line with their own Christian and biblical principles, but they seem to be surprisingly absent. (Perhaps they are driven away by all the swearing, insults and mockery they see at the beginning of the comment thread and decide to skip it.) Of course this probably only bolsters these thugs because nobody of their own camp challenges or critiques their behavior.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The "no true scotsman" fallacy

The usage of the so-called "no true scotsman" fallacy can be a bit hard to understand as an actual argument. (In other words, it can be hard to understand how it could be used in a serious argument.) After all, it just sounds like a comical quip, rather than anything said seriously.

The classical rendition of the fallacy is as follows:
Person A: "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
Person B: "I am Scottish, and I put sugar on my porridge."
Person A: "Well, no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
There is, however, a form of this fallacy that's surprisingly often used in Christian apologetics, most often by those who claim that Christians are different from other people thanks to the fact that the Holy Spirit is affecting them.

For example, a common claim is that Christians would never mass-murder people. Now if you bring up a counter-example ("this person was a devout Christian, and he mass-murdered people") the standard answer is the fallacy in its purest form: "He wasn't really a Christian."

This is basically a circular argument that's used to dodge any possible counter-arguments to the claim. The claim becomes basically impossible to prove wrong because any counter-example you may bring up will be countered with a simple "he/she wasn't really a Christian". It doesn't matter how deeply Christian the person might have been, it doesn't count if he was a mass-murderer.

The condition "does not commit mass-murder" (or any of the myriad other such claims) is basically implicitly added to the definition of "Christian", and thus anybody who does not fit that definition is thus "not really a Christian".

Ultimately this dodges the burden of proof for a claim such as "Christians never mass-murder people" (due to God acting upon them or such) because the definition of the term is basically circular.

Why is this a form of circular argumentation? Consider it like saying "no dog is white", and if a white dog is shown to you, just dismissing it by saying "that's not really a dog." And why isn't it a dog? Because it's white and, as established, "no dog is white", duh. The claim itself becomes the definition.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The one thing you won't see in creationist displays

Young-earth creationists just love dinosaurs, especially the big ones. Wherever you see a young-earth creationist display, you will invariably see two things: A mockup ark, and dinosaurs. Lots of big dinosaurs.

What you won't see, however, is realistic raptors. In other words, raptors with feathers. The reason for this is because the second-most popular objection that young-earth creationists have about evolutionary history is that birds evolved from dinosaurs (the most common being, of course, that humans and apes have a common ancestor.)

This is actually pretty funny and hypocritical. When paleontologists come to the conclusion that dinosaurs were reptiles, they believe it. When they conclude that theropods walked like ostriches, they believe it. When they conclude what their skin probably looked like, they believe it. But when they conclude that many theropods actually had fur-like proto-feathers, if not even outright feathers, they reject that one. And the sole reason is that accepting that particular claim would be too close to accepting that birds evolved from dinosaurs for comfort. Therefore they can accept everything except that.

"Honest creationist" really is an oxymoron.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Spiritual" = "emotional"

Many people will use words like "spiritual" and "spirituality" like they were common everyday words, like it's completely clear to anybody what they mean. However, try to ask someone what they mean by "spiritual", and you might find out that, even to their own surprise, they cannot clearly define it. (In a significant amount of cases they will even retort something like "you know perfectly well what it means", rather than trying to answer.)

I just had an epiphany: When for example reading any text that uses eg. the word "spiritual" (that's not just discussing said word in a rational skeptic manner), simply substitute it with the word "emotional". Suddenly all that text starts making much more sense!

For example, "that was a very spiritual experience" = "that was a very emotional experience."

"My spirit was moved" = "my emotions were moved."

"She's a very spiritual woman" = "she's a very emotional woman."

"You couldn't even begin to understand the spiritual world" = "you couldn't even begin to understand the emotional world."

It just fits so perfectly!

(And that's really what "spiritual" means: Emotional. It's all about feelings and emotions, nothing more. All those sentences start making a lot more sense this way.)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fabricating ignorance

As commented many, many times, argument from ignorance is extremely prevalent in religion, ufology, new age, and all kinds of pseudoscience: The fact that science doesn't know something is taken as evidence of your favorite explanation.

Many pseudoscientists, however, go even farther. It's not enough for them to take things that we genuinely don't yet have an explanation for. No, they have to take things we know quite well how they work, and pretend that we don't. Just making the claim is enough to make many people believe that's so.

Example: "Science has no idea why water is the only substance that has a lower density when it freezes."

Present this claim to a fan audience, and they will swallow it without even a hint of skepticism. Just because a charismatic person is making such claims will automatically suspend any disbelief or skepticism in their audience.

In fact, there are two errors in that example. Firstly, water is not the only substance that has a lower density when it freezes. Secondly, we know quite well why water behaves in that manner. (Basically, the water molecules take more space when frozen because they rearrange themselves in a crystalline shape, and they rearrange themselves like that when frozen due to their electromagnetic properties.) Yet, how easy is it to sneak in not just one, but two errors like this, and have a gullible audience swallow it without question?

This is especially jarring nowadays when you can do fact-checking extremely easily by googling. We are today amazingly privileged in this manner compared to people of just 20 years ago who had no such resources at their disposal. Back then it could well take you a full day, or several days, to find the facts that you can find today in a couple of minutes from the comfort of your home. Yet people are still too lazy to do that.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Prove the existence of God without the Bible"

Sometimes some skeptics seem to be a bit off track when demanding evidence for the existence of a god. While not extremely common, it's not extremely unusual to see something like this:

"Prove the existence of God without referencing anything in the Bible."

There may be good intent in this, but imposing that restriction is completely unnecessary, really. If someone wants to try to prove the existence of a god using the Bible, then they can go right ahead. Using the Bible to do that is one of the weakest possible ways of proving that. It's completely useless.

The existence of something is not proven by reading some words in a book, no matter what those words are. You can literally write anything you want, and it proves absolutely nothing. Existence of something is demonstrated via direct observation, measurement and testing, not by the words of some book.

Every single argument that could be made from the Bible, even if they were true, would still not prove the existence of a god. For example, a common argument is that the Bible presents some information that was impossible for the people of the time to know. While that's demonstrably untrue, even if we granted that claim for the sake of argument, it would still not prove the existence of a god. Why? Because we don't know the source of that information. Even if it was indeed impossibly advanced knowledge, we would have to first determine where they got that knowledge before jumping to a god. Jumping to a god would be a non-sequitur, an argument from ignorance.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Beneficial mutations and moving goalposts

One of the favorite arguments that creationists love to spout is that genetic mutations are always detrimental, and that there is no such thing as a beneficial mutation. They often challenge skeptics to give them examples of even one beneficial mutation.

Of course when they are given examples, goalposts are immediately moved to discard them.

For example, if you give them the example of the mutation that protects some people from malaria, they will refuse it as a "beneficial mutation" because it has the side-effect of causing propensity for sickle-cell anemia. Of course "beneficial mutation" must mean that it has to be only beneficial, without drawbacks. It doesn't matter if there is some benefit, it doesn't count. (This is actually one of the examples that creationists love to attack and laugh at. Never mind that sickle-cell anemia isn't nearly as bad as malaria.)

But fine, it's not like we have a shortage of beneficial mutations. We can give them examples of mutations that are purely beneficial, without drawbacks. For instance, you can give them the example of Stephen Crohn, a man who had a quite unique genetic mutation that rendered him basically immune to HIV. The standard response of creationists to this is denial, doubt ("I don't believe it") or dismissal using some really lousy excuse, such as that it doesn't count because the mutation wasn't passed to further generations, or something.

If the uniqueness of the mutation is such a problem, then one can give them an example of a very widespread mutation: Lactose tolerance. It's quite well established that humans were lactose intolerant in the distant past (and many of them still are), and a relatively recent mutation made a significant portion of the human population tolerant. There are many benefits from being able to consume milk in adulthood, and basically no drawbacks.

Again, the standard creationist response is denial or doubt (ie. they doubt that it's actually caused by a "mutation"), or clinging to some perceived drawback as an excuse to dismiss the example. And if anything else fails, they will move goalposts once again and fall back to another favorite tactic of them: They will say that this mutation didn't "add new information" to the gene pool.

If they do that, then you have already won the argument. The original claim was that there is no demonstrable beneficial mutation, and we have given them an example they cannot refute, except by falling back to a completely different claim. (Of course, good luck trying to make them admit that their initial claim was false. Don't hold your breath.)

The demand for purely beneficial mutations also shows another misunderstanding that creationists have about evolution. They seem to think that evolution is possible only if there are purely beneficial mutations that have no drawbacks whatsoever. That's not how it works.

Species change all the time. Some changes are good, some changes are bad, some changes are neutral. Moreover, most individual changes to the genes actually produce several morphological changes. Genes are such contrived and complicated constructs that changing even one single unit of it will often have several different consequences (many of which might not even be apparently related to each other at all.)

Many beneficial changes will, as a kind of side-effect, also produce less-beneficial changes. However, if the overall result is that the species becomes more fit for survival, this change will more probably remain. In other words, if the benefit outweighs the drawback even a little (in terms of chances of survival and procreation), then it has a good chance of being retained in the gene pool.

Thus, it doesn't matter if a mutation that eg. protects from malaria also causes anemia: If being protected from malaria increases survival rates compared to the anemia, then it's overall beneficial and it will more likely be retained. After all, evolution is a completely mindless process; it has no goals (like "aiming for perfection"), it just happens. Sometimes species get horrible defects alongside the change that makes them fitter for survival, but evolution doesn't care. It can't care. It's just a side-effect of natural phenomena.