Monday, February 28, 2011

Agnosticism, Atheism, and misconceptions

Agnosticism is sometimes even more misunderstood than Atheism, so let's get some definitions out of the way:

Atheism: the rejection of belief in the existence of a deity
Theism: the belief in the existence of a deity

Agnosticism: a lack of knowledge
Gnosticism: a possession of knowledge

Atheism deals with belief (or rather, disbelief), while agnosticism deals with knowledge. One common misconception about it is that agnosticism is some kind of middle ground, where you're undecided if you believe or not. If you are that kind of person, you might be surprised to find out that you are an atheist. If you do not belief in god, you are an atheist. There is no middle ground, and you can't "sort of" believe in god. Agnosticism is a claim of knowledge, it means that you don't know, and it is separate from atheism, but can be used to describe it. I am an agnostic atheist because I while I do not believe in god, I do not then claim that god does not exist (there is a subtle difference). Most atheists are agnostic, because to be a gnostic atheist (god does not exist) would be dogmatic and would require evidence to prove the claim. On the other hand one can be an agnostic theist where you believe in god however you do not claim that god exists. This is rare because most theists actually claim god exists and therefore are gnostic theists. Agnostic theists believe that god exists but don't actually claim that one exists.

So, a summary:

atheism: rejection of theism
theism: belief in god

agnosticism: lack of knowledge
gnosticism: possession of knowledge
gnostic atheism: "God does not exist"
     - Requires evidence because a claim is being made.

agnostic atheism: "I do not believe god exists, but do not know for certain"
     - Does not require evidence because it does not make a claim, but rather is an antithesis to a claim being made. The rationale being that if a claim about the existence of a deity is made, and you reject that claim (usually due to lack of evidence, but there are some with personal or emotional vendettas), you are in this category. You are not then turning around and claiming god does not exist, you are just saying that there is no evidence for a god's existence.

agnostic theism: "I believe in god, but do not know for certain"
     - Requires evidence because it makes a claim, even though it is an agnostic claim

gnostic theism: "God exists"
     - Requires evidence because it makes a claim

Moral without religion?

Of course! If the claim is made that you need religion to be moral, then all you need is a counterexample to prove it wrong. I don't have religion, yet I am a moral person (though, moral is subjective), so religion must not be a prerequisite for being moral. Would you commit immoral acts just because you lacked religion? Of course not, it's silly. As a corollary, is adherence to a religion the only thing stopping you from committing those acts? Think about it.

In many cases, the nonreligious and the religious come to the same moral conclusion given a particular scenario, which means that there is some other cause for morality. Morality can be seen in the animal kingdom, and so it would make sense that morality is something that occurs naturally and is not the product of a religion.

So what if Arizona splits

There's been some buzz in the last decades over whether or not Pima County will split from the state of Arizona. The big question of course is should they? My answer is this: if the people of Pima County wish to secede from the state of Arizona, they have every right to. Done.

This issue kind of ties into the issue of secession from the United States, and whether or not it is legal or correct to do. My answer is exactly the same: if the people of a particular state desire to leave the union, they should be allowed to. It may not be what we want, but if it is the will of the citizens then it should be allowed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Congratulations Hawaii!

Congratulations Hawaii! You are the first state to understand that it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL to hold daily prayer in the Senate. Let's hope the rest of the government figures that out soon!

Monday, January 31, 2011

The first amendment doesn't go THAT far

Something I heard on a podcast reminded me of a heckler that yelled "health care for everyone!" during the speech by Ron Paul at ASU. Honestly, he was being loud and obnoxious, but I ignored him and kept listening to the speech. Someone sitting in the seats that were set up for the event, however, did not agree and asked him kindly to stop yelling, to which he replied "freedom of speech bro".

This is the most common misconception with regards to the freedom of speech, and the first amendment, that you hear nowadays. Let it be clear that the first amendment does NOT defend you against someone asking you to shut the hell up. The first amendment is there to prevent the GOVERNMENT from violating speech. It only applies to the government-individual relationship, not the individual-individual relationship. As much as you have the right to speak freely, I have the right to tell you to shut the hell up.

I thought the response by the heckler was rude, and using the first amendment to do it just isn't right.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why getting "both sides of the issue" is silly

A lot of people pride themselves on being "balanced". You know those people. They tell you that they watch both Fox News and MSNBC, read both Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong, in an attempt to get both sides of the issue (that way you can't "label" them). It's as if, by watching two things that are biased towards different opinions, they're getting all the information and are more educated (a.k.a. they're holier than thou). But, you must know, this culture of hearing both sides of the issue is silly and in at least one case dangerous.

By listening to "both sides of the argument" you are committing a logical fallacy called the "false dilemma". You create a situation where only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there may be many approaches.

If you have a debate, and assume there are only two sides, you've committed that fallacy. If there is an issue politically, then if you only look for Democratic and Republican responses then you've committed that fallacy. If you advocate that alternative theories, i. e. Intelligent Design, should be taught alongside evolution, you've assumed that there aren't any other viewpoints (there are).

An easy solution, follow the evidence and draw conclusions from them: don't spend a lot of time listening to arguments.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The First Amendment: freedom from religion

The founding fathers knew a little something about the government support of religion. In fact, they spent a lot of time rebelling against an empire that ran its own church. When writing the Constitution of the United States, they knew that the religious upheaval and conflict caused by state-sponsored religion was not something that the new country could afford. What had to be done was to separate the two, and create a government that did not interfere with nor support religion. They did this in two ways in our Constitution, but I'm just focusing on this:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Before I talk about this, you have to know that the Constitution does not grant individuals rights: it merely affirms that the government cannot conflict with them. In this case, the framers worded it in a way that meant that the government could not interfere with or support any religion. This does not only prevent them from establishing a state religion (thus, the idea of a "Christian nation" is already out of the window legally), but it prevents them from doing things on the small scale regarding religion. For example, they cannot teach creationism in public schools, mandate prayer, have the ten commandments on display in a government building, and so on and so forth. Those beliefs and practices are best left to the privacy of one's home, and the framers knew that. In essence, by recognizing that the government cannot prohibit private practice of religion, they have created a public protection from it. It becomes such a case where the government cannot impose religion on its subjects, because doing so would violate the free practice of religion. If you have a government that professes a specific religion or belief system, let's say Christianity, then the government has undermined your right to believe something else. Even if they allow all other beliefs and religions, you are still in a place where the government recognizes one belief over another (most importantly, yours). Since it is impossible for the government to support every religion and belief system with the intent of treating them all fairly, the only other option to consider is to stay away from all of them and remain secular.

While the first amendment does not specifically say that there is a separation from church and state, it was never intended to. That separation is something that arises from this amendment and the prohibition of religious tests for office. It is a concept born out of a simple rule: that the government cannot support religion.

There are things being done by government today that clearly violate this principle. Firstly, the fact that we have "In God We Trust" on our money. This is clearly an example of state-sponsored religion, and is misleading because it implies that the entire country accepts that statement to be true (of course, it's not, which is why the government shouldn't play with religion). Secondly, the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. This is another example of the state sponsoring a religious belief. It also becomes apparent that the state is sponsoring a specific belief (Christianity) when you look at the history surrounding the legislation that added that phrase.

Just a side note, the same rule applies for opposite religious or theistic beliefs. The government does not have a right to claim that there are no gods. It must work from a stance of indifference.

So, to conclude, remember this: you are free from government sponsored religion. Just because the majority happens to hold a certain belief does not render them more powerful. The government does not recognize (or rather, should not recognize) a majority or minority. In instances where those things do arise, it's best to just stay out of it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

We are not a Christian Nation, Part 1

In 1885, a law was passed that modified the U.S. Code to prohibit "the importation and migration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States, its territories, and the District of Columbia." The law came to the Supreme Court, and it was decided that the Holy Trinity Church, who hired an English preacher, did not violate the law. According to Justice Brewer, who issued that decision:

     "The circuit court did err when it held that the contract hiring an English rector was within the prohibition of the statute, which disallowed a '...person, company, partnership, or corporation, in any manner whatsoever to prepay the transportation, or in any way assist or encourage the importation or migration, of any alien or aliens, any foreigner or foreigners, into the United States ... under contract or agreement ... to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States....'"

What was curious about the case was a specific quote contained in the decision, written by Justice Brewer. He wrote, "these, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation". This quote has helped to give rise to the belief that through this case the Supreme Court established the United States as a Christian nation. Of course, this was a misinterpretation and is clearly not the case. Justice Brewer, in 1905, realized the confusion that this could create and wrote this lengthy bit:

     "But in what sense can the United States be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that 'congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all . . . Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions."

This case did not establish us as a Christian nation, Brewer was simply referring to the fact that there is a Christian majority and used it to support the decision. Repeat: we are a nation of Christians, not a Christian nation. 

An interesting transition

Prior to the writing of the Torah, God was a mysterious person. And when I say person, I mean person. You see, the early Canaanites believed that Jahweh was a physical being, an anthropomorphic character who visits people personally. You can even see this in the Torah, where in Genesis God is described as walking through the Garden looking for Adam (funny, for being God he sure doesn't have a whole lot of control of his creations. He created two people and his omnipotence wasn't enough to find only one of them, ha!). This concept of God changes after some time though. Eventually, he becomes a less personal God, speaking through dreams and Angels (and, occasionally, a burning bush). He changes personality a couple of other times in the Torah, becoming concerned with the kings of Judah and interacts primarily through a priesthood.

My point with that paragraph was that the "God" of today is far different than the God of yesterday. The gods of most ancient religions were physical beings who walked the Earth and interacted with the populace - the early Jewish god was no exception. The interesting thing about the Jewish god is that he can be seen as the transition between the material gods of the ancient worlds and the immaterial gods of the modern world.

I just thought this was interesting. To me, it demonstrates how man-made God is. First off, the one true god shouldn't be changing so rapidly (in theory, he would never change). Secondly, these clear transitions show that as people changed so did their gods, which only makes sense if it was the people who created those gods in the first place.

Speech is a thing to be respected

And that means all speech. Whether you like it or not. Whether you agree with it, or not. Whether or not it's hateful, offensive, or even dangerous, speech is something that has to be respected.

What happened in Tuscon was terrible, but to blame it on the media is a step that shouldn't be taken. Jared Loughner is insane, he obviously has something mental going on. You can tell just by watching his inane ramblings about bad grammar and seemingly apolitical issues (something about currency, but who the hell knows) that there is something wrong with him. The media did not cause this killing, and you cannot blame them just so that they can "fix" problems that YOU personally had with them. I think this incident is quickly becoming a scapegoat for people who had previously felt this way about contemporary media.

Yes, there is some harsh rhetoric in the media today (more so on the conservative side but everyone is guilty). Some of it is angry, even hateful, but you can always turn it off. You can always just ignore it. In the end, you have to respect even the worst of speech.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Let's just put this to rest

Those that are legitimately worried about their astrology sign need not worry (screw it, don't worry if you're only playing around either). Let's end this right now:
  1. Astrology is a primitive form of cold reading. Basically, the astrologer makes a series of claims and when one of those claims happens to be true, the entire thing is seen as prophetic (psychics do the same thing). For the most part, people only notice the times that astrologers "get it right", but completely disregard the claims when they're wrong as if they didn't happen. 
  2. This is somewhat related to the cold reading point above. When you read a horoscope and are told that it is for your personal sign, you have a tendency to apply whatever it is that is said to your life. In other words, you make the horoscope fit with your life, rather than it be an actual prophetic message. The horoscopes are written so vaguely that it makes this easier to do. For the most part, any of the horoscopes for any sign can apply to everyone.
  3. Studies done in the past testing astrology's claims show, not remarkably, that there is absolutely nothing to astrology. A common study looks like this: a group of people is given a horoscope and they are told that it was prepared for their individual sign. They then report whether or not the horoscope was accurate. The catch? Every horoscope is exactly the same. Everyone is given the same horoscope for only one sign. If there was anything to astrology, you would expect those who had that sign to agree that the horoscope was correct in describing their life. The results? Well, they're all over the place. Some people who had the same sign as the horoscope agreed that it fit them, others said it didn't. Some people who didn't have the same sign agreed, and some didn't. There is no correlation whatsoever. 
  4. There is absolutely no way that stars can affect personality or day to day lives. What do they do, beam down information from space into your head? I don't think so.
  5. Constellations are man-made artifacts, they do not actually exist. 
  6. Astrology has been long replaced by astronomy, a legitimate science.
So, don't get all uppity about your sign changing. Nothing about astrology is worthy of your attention.

Oh, and I guess the change only applies to people born after 2009. Oh well, doesn't make astrology any more legitimate.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The 2011 Federal budget

I got the 2011 budget free from for my Kindle the other day, but I got confused when I started reading it. I figured a budget would be a budget, and that this book would be full of data and numbers. You know, just some interesting facts about the massive spending they do in Washington. What I found was pages upon pages of nonsense, essentially geared towards making the current administration and their actions during the financial crisis look good.

The budget is supposed to be data, not propaganda. Although, honestly, what did you expect from our post New Deal federal government.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cell phones and driving

It makes sense that banning the use of cellphones (texts/calls) while driving doesn't actually decrease the number of accidents. If someone wants to text or call someone while driving, they're going to do it whether or not it's illegal. Now that we have these laws banning their use, people are more likely to use their phone where it is out of plain view. Now because of the ban, you've got people looking into their laps instead of at the road.

And yet, people are still pushing full-on bans of cellphone use in vehicles. I'm telling you, it's not going to prevent anything.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Three issues

Yes, the shooting was tragic. Psychos like that deserve to be locked up forever. In fact, I would even say that he deserves the death penalty. However, being a criminal does not dissolve your rights, and the right to life is one that absolutely cannot be infringed upon by the government. He needs to be locked up, but he can't be put to death.

Secondly, guns don't kill people, crazy people kill people. You don't punish the gun for the crimes of the person. Instituting gun control laws will not help; if people want guns, they will get them. The best thing we can do is protect ourselves and hopefully be able to stop something like this when it happens again (because, sadly, it probably will in the future).

Thirdly, this bill that's going to be floating around the House banning websites and images deemed threatening to federal officials is ridiculous. Leave it to someone in government to even THINK about banning a form of speech. The freedom of speech does not end when it becomes violent or offensive, I'm sorry. I hope this bill gets shot down.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"- Epicurus

If God is truly omnipotent, then he could stop evil. He doesn't, so he must not be omnipotent right? If God created men with free will, then he couldn't possibly be all powerful and all knowing because he would know in advance our decisions, meaning that our actions are pre-determined (hence, there is no free will).

Think about it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hungary's new media laws

It's almost Hungary's time for its rotation into the presidency of the EU, but I don't think that's going to happen after the laws they just passed. Not that they should worry because the EU is only destructive and they don't NEED to be a part of it, but the reason why that is being considered is alarming. A law passed by the Hungarian parliament allows the National Media and Communications Authority to impose heavy fines on material deemed unbalanced, profane, immoral, etc. In short, they can "regulate" what is put in private Hungarian media.

I know Hungary hasn't exactly had the best last half century, what with communism and all, but seriously? Talk about a step backwards. Of course the law should be repealed, and hopefully they will take the Socialist Party's advice and send it to the Constitutional Court (Note: agreeing with Socialists here).

The thought of government controlled or regulated media is scary, and instantly 1984 comes to mind. Media, no matter how offensive, profane, or biased, is still media and is therefore free. It ties to our being a Republic. If a majority finds something to be offensive, they don't get to have it removed because there is a minority that doesn't believe that. The only option is to leave it be. Politicians in our past have gotten this confused, and in fact sometimes still do. The sedition acts, verbal assaults against WikiLeaks, the condemnation of Fox News, and especially the passing of these Net Neutrality laws, are all ways the government meddles in a free media.

It's not their place. A society with controlled media is a controlled society.