Richard Wiseman will control your mind

April 27, 2010

Atheism, as much a passing fad like television

April 27, 2010

In his latest piece, a blogger named David Hart is expressing an idea I’ve heard before. He argues that “New Atheism” is a passing fad. Here’s a taste of the kind of intellectually black hole found within:

Take, for instance, the recently published 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. Simple probability, surely, would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God. Certainly that was my hope in picking it up. Instead, I came away from the whole drab assemblage of preachments and preenings feeling rather as if I had just left a large banquet at which I had been made to dine entirely on crushed ice and water vapor.

Um, have you ever considered that their goal wasn’t to provide you with “at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God”? That would be shifting the burden of proof, which is on the theist to prove their particular tribal god exists.

Yeah, I could spend all day on this article but since PZ Myers already did that, I’d rather just focus on this idea that the popularity of atheism is just a fad. Let’s look at some statistics, shall we? Current polls show that the self-identificed religiously unaffiliated in the U.S. are at 16%, which is pretty much double what it was in the early 90’s. Now let’s look at another recent poll. Christianity has declined by 10% in the U.S. over the past two decades. How about a poll from this month that shows 26% of Millennials (those born after 1980) are religiously unaffiliated, compared to 20% of Gen Xers and 13% of Baby Boomers?

If the rate of religiously unaffiliated continues to rise at a similar rate as it has for at least 70 years, we can expect to see a third of the next generation following the Millennials to be religiously unaffiliated. A fad, Mr. Hart? No, there seems to be a very consistent pattern here that rather perfectly correlates with progressing media technology.

The selfishness of anti-vaxxers and why they suck at game theory

April 26, 2010

Today, Orac posted a story about an upcoming PBS show called The Vaccine War that promises to look at “both sides” of the “controversy” surrounding vaccines. Now so far it looks like it will be weighted more on the side of the medical experts despite the false balance between experts and celebrities.

But what really got my attention was a video clip of the show that Orac embedded in his article. Unfortunately, I was unable to embed it here. So I will refer people to Orac’s piece (click the link above) to watch it.

What disturbs me about the mothers featured in the video (other than the complete lack of, you know, fathers because the idea that anyone would want to hear the opinions of male parents is just madness!) is the complete inability of the mothers in the clip to recognize the blatant, inherent flaws in their own logic and their solipsistic inability to see the big picture. According to these mothers, while vaccines may benefit the health of the society as a whole, their only concern is for the welfare of their specific child and fuck everyone else.

Now first of all, vaccines are the safest form of medical prevention mankind has ever produced and the benefits far outweigh the risks. So we’re dealing with a false choice here. It’s not a protect the individual versus protecting the group scenario. That’s silly.

The second problem I have with their position the interviewer tries to address, though his facts are just flat-out dismissed because the women say they just don’t believe it. Apparently, reality is shaped by what these few scientifically illiterate mothers consider to be believable. Anyway, my second problem with their position is this naive false dichotomy that vaccines either work 100% or 0% without any room in between. If I were the interviewer, I’d have asked if they thought condoms were either 100% safe and effective or 0% effective. Then I’d ask them if cars crash 100% of the time or 0% of the time. Then maybe I’d hold up a yellow card and ask them whether the card is red or blue.

But my main problem is that they’re clearly being told  in that segment the fact that whether they choose to vaccinate their kids or not does in fact affect the health and safety of others, including infants too young for the vaccines, those with specific medical conditions preventing them being vaccinated, and of course those just like the children of these women who go against their own interests by simply choosing not to vaccinate their kids when they otherwise could.

So if we follow their logic to its inevitable conclusion, they’re encouraging other parents to be just as negligent as them, and in doing so actually INCREASE the likelihood of their own kids’ deaths. Not only are they not vaccinating their kids in the name of protecting the individual over the group while relying on the vaccinations of others to protect them, but in the process, they are encouraging fewer people to vaccinate, in effect diminishing the very herd immunity their children and others take for granted and lean on for protection. A comparable example is drunk driving.  One could apply the same flimsy arguments to the personal freedom to drive drunk.

These women are like the Gungans from The Phantom Menace only at least the Gungans were smart enough to eventually recognize that they live in an interconnected world where sometimes what’s best for the individual is doing what’s in the best interest of the group. This is a lesson that even chimpanzees and thousands of other species on the planet have figured out, and yet these morons can’t seem to grasp the concept.

The problem is they can’t see beyond themselves. What they lack is even a basic understanding of game theory.  A Nash equilibrium is created when the players make the best decisions they can, taking into account the decisions of the others. It’s that taking the other players’ decisions into account part that’s the important part. Now Nash’s equilibrium doesn’t necessarily guarantee every individual involved will ultimately benefit but it does improve the likelihood of success.

A classic hypothetical used to test Nash’s equilibrium is the Prisoner’s Dilemma:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

In the case of vaccines, it’s a little different. If everyone plays defect, the result is essentially an execution for all. This is a terrible strategy, one that could potentially kill us all.

A variation on the Prisoner’s Dilemma is featured in the film The Dark Knight:

Jesus is everywhere

April 26, 2010

Jesus is on your farm:

And Jesus is even inside of you:

Happy Boobquake Day!!

April 25, 2010

If you don’t know what Boobquake is, then you don’t watch enough news. But if that is the case, here’s the story. An Iranian Islamic cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, is predicting that earthquakes will hit Iran soon and it’s the women who are at…fault (Eh? Eh? See what I did there?).  Apparently he thinks women wearing immodest clothing and behaving promiscuously have offended “God,” and that is why we have earthquakes.

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes”

Of course, Iran sits on top of a very unstable fault, so it’s only a matter of time before another earthquake hits regardless of whether the Iranian women wear underwear under their burqas.

So this little farce has inspired Boobquake, a movement designed to fight such primitive superstition byand the oppression of women by dressing immodestly. The proposal was to scientifically test his claim by devoting an entire day to women dressing immodestly to see if they could cause an earthquake with nothing but the power of their breasts.

Today, Monday April 26th, is that day!

So by the end of today, we’ll know scientifically who the real boob is.

News From Around The Blogosphere 4.24.10

April 25, 2010

1. May 20 is “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”! – Obviously this is inspired by the recent controversy surrounding the show South Park. But as my previous post shows, I got started early.

2. Where the South Park creators got it wrong – I’ve written two defenses of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s recent 200th and 201st episodes of South Park over on my Examiner page (here and here). However, Trey Parker was just quoted in a Washington Post “On Faith” article and what he has to say about “atheism” is so extraordinarily idiotic that it merits the kind of mockery worthy of South Park:

But Parker says atheism is more ludicrous to him than anything else.

“Out of all the ridiculous religion stories — which are greatly, wonderfully ridiculous — the silliest one I’ve ever heard is, ‘Yeah, there’s this big, giant universe and it’s expanding and it’s all going to collapse on itself and we’re all just here, just ‘cuz. Just ‘cuz. That to me, is the most ridiculous explanation ever,” he says.

Um, what?! Putting aside the ultra straw man he presents that doesn’t accurately describe the physics, this isn’t just some wacky ideas scientists made up out of whole cloth. It’s empirically testable and measurable. This is not up for debate. It’s scientific fact. And I’m sorry, Trey, if you’re unimpressed by this bastardized version of the science but that’s just too bad.

3. Could the winner of the UK’s next top leader be an atheist? – When asked if he believed in god, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats’ new leader in the UK, said no. And it seems as though he’s now leading in the polls. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about Clegg. But assuming he isn’t a nutter or a wanker of some sort or another, I’m rooting for him.

4. Canadian climate scientist Andrew Weaver sues newspaper for poisoning the well on climate change – I’ve been saying for a while now that we need to start holding cranks more accountable for their potentially libelous accusations, so I’m all for this. It’s quite different than when the cranks sue their critics like when the British Chiropractic Association sued Simon Singh, because there we’re talking about frivolous lawsuits used merely to intimidate critics. But when the cranks inevitably launch into their grand conspiracy theories, they make serious accusations that often do satisfy the criteria of defamation. And when you’ve got a legitimate defamation suit there’s no shame in taking legal action. And if Weaver is correct and this newspaper did publish articles that promoted “grossly irresponsible falsehoods,” he may have a good case. Of course I don’t know the Canadian statutes on defamation but I’d be surprised if they radically differed from those in the U.S.

Reverend Barry Lynn does a commendable job against Fox News liar

April 25, 2010

Lynn does a great job of remaining cool and collected while being subjected to Megyn Kelly’s massive revisionist history. He stays on target and doesn’t let her asinine statements sidetrack him. All in all, I think this was a win for those of us on the side of reason.

Good job, Reverend Lynn!