Posts Tagged ‘religion’

How to Convert an Atheist III

May 9, 2017 2 comments

Part III of our story…(Primary source here)

Part 3: Keeping the Dialog Open

Step 1: Walk the walk

Walk the walk is an interesting piece of advice, and it seems like it should have nothing to do with the current situation. The author recommends that Ned does not try and convert with words but to demonstrate with “spirit and power.” This an interesting intersection or words versus deeds, and there’s some conflict amongst the various sects of Christianity as to whether it is actually merely belief, or belief and actions, or actions. Pragmatically, this would be great advice at Part I step 1: Just be a good person and shut the hell up, they might come around. End of guide. It ends with this gem: “Some atheists are atheists because of their often-justified perception that Christians are hypocritical. But you know they’re not all that way. Prove it.”

You know like all of those anti-immigration, anti-helping the poor, Christians who think you need to believe in Jesus in order to be a good person but then have a political platform that states “what’s is mine is mine and no one else can have it.” Directly contradicting the actual words of the Bible and the Jesus character in it that they like so much. So don’t be a hypocrite, generally that’s good advice.

Step 2: Invite Your Friend to Come with You to Church

Yeah, thanks, no.

I can find other ways to be bored on Sunday…watching a Bills game for instance. Or listen to someone talk about a Bills game. I’d say sleeping, but I like doing that.

The advice goes on to say that Ned should invite the person to a non-service function, more of a social event than an actual mass. Even I go to these things, but isn’t that just being a nice person? I like doing X, you want to come to X? Personally I’d stay away from fund raisers, because that’s not going to help the atheist to the cause. Unless there’s beer and fried chicken, because then you actually get something out of it. The author stresses that Ned be clear to their friend that it is a religious function.

This is excellent behavior. When Passion of the Christ was in theaters, one of the mega-churches near Toledo roped a friend of mine into going. He was Pakistani and non-religious, but also very lonely. A very pretty girl chatted him up at the gym he went to and asked him to a movie. He, rightfully, thought that if it was not a date, then it was at least a friend type thing, but it wasn’t just the two of them: it was a church function. They sent people out to trick them into seeing the movie. You start out with a lie, or deception; it’s not going to end well. My friend thought the movie was “meh,” but was super pissed that he had been deceived.

Step 3: Be Patient

Don’t be pushy. Good advice.

Yet the general tone of the guide has changed here. The assumption is now that the religion has something the non-believer wants and just isn’t aware of. Look, this is America, and though we do not have an official religion and were not founded on religious principles of Christianity; the odds are 7/10 people you meet are Christian. This is a very religious country…at least in words. If an Atheist, who is statistically the child of a religious person, isn’t aware of Christianity there’s something very odd about that. Ned having a special club that he goes to once a week, might make his friend want to go, but other than the “I’m into Jesus” part what else is being offered  that the atheist doesn’t already know?

Step 4: Be Persistent

Ned is supposed to show how practical the religion is through his relationships with his Christian friends. What about when this backfires? I have relationships with all kinds of friends of various backgrounds. I can pal around with whoever I want: people that plant different crops in the same field, women that deign to have authority over a man, idolaters, I even met a Satanist. Like Machiavelli said, the hell bound are a lot more interesting.

Variety is the spice of life, as the adage goes, why on Earth would I only want to hang out with one kind of person?

Step 5 If you Want to Pray for Your Friend, Do it in Private

Sure, if reasoned debate doesn’t work, try hoping.

Ending a conversation wherein Ned has failed to convince the atheist with “I will pray for you,” the author remarks can be seen as rude. And yes, it certainly can. As often times it’s a condescending remark that implies the person’s soul is going to be eternally tortured and Ned hopes that it’s not. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “god bless you” after someone sneezes. It’s really a contextual thing, but it’s best, if you’re unsure to just keep it to yourself. The author gives the reasoning: “If God is going to answer your prayer and convert the atheist, then he would do so whether the atheist hears it or not. 

We kind of know the answer to this don’t we: He’s not or else he would have by now. Remember this is an all-powerful being that could very easily come on the television/internet/radio and just proclaim its existence. Instead, it decides to hide behind a 2000 year-ish old book, through several dead languages translated into several other languages in the hopes we decipher the clue like a shitty version of the Da Vinci Code. Maybe the Christian should remember that if god wanted to convert the atheists he could easily do so with an obvious sign and the attempting to convert people who are otherwise happy with their lives isn’t necessary. Just live and be happy. Stop worrying about what other people do or believe in as long as it harms no one.

As a summary though: this guide wasn’t as bad as I feared. Most of it was just talk, keep an open mind, and don’t be a dick about it. Unfortunately it runs under an assumption that people who aren’t Christians, don’t understand it. It’s endemic to the guide, because in their worldview, if you knew about it you would have to be one. That’s ultimately the problem with this guide.






How To Persuade An Atheist to Become a Christian II

May 2, 2017 5 comments

Continuing last week’s post. Here’s the primary source.

This is a weird instruction manual. It’s broken up into steps, that’s obvious, but it’s also broken up into parts. Yet there’s no real indication that each part/step should be building off of the previous. I’m not sure I should even call them “steps” but I did last week so I’m going to continue with that.

Part II: Talking About Your Faith

Step I: Tell Your Friend What Christianity Means to You

This one comes with a picture of the atheist wearing blue rectangular sunglasses. It’s just weird and I have no further comment on it. I just want to know if he’s supposed to be blind, and if so, is that metaphorical? The advice here is for Ned (remember that’s the name we’re using for the Christian), to just say that being Christian is making him happier. He knows people, there’s a community, etc. Just like how we’re all vegans because a recent convert explained how awesome it is that they don’t eat meat anymore, the cool people they meet at the co-op, and how paying three times as much for arugula is so totes awesome. This isn’t really advice for Ned because everyone hates that person who won’t shut the hell up about the new thing they do. Whether it’s the person who just quit drinking, the aforementioned vegan, or the douche in the soul patch that totally doesn’t get why people watch television. However there’s a further bullet point, “In general, it’s best to avoid discussing the concept of eternal punishment for non-Christians with an atheist, which will turn into a debate. If someone feels like you’re trying to “save” them, it can seem condescending and frustrating for your friend.”

Yeah best to avoid the bad parts, once they’re sucked in they can deal with all of that then. Look, the Hell thing is integral. The reason it starts the debate is because the atheist isn’t going to go along with the plan. Hell is a problem because depending on the type of Christian there are different reasons you get eternally tortured. Is it because you weren’t a good person? Maybe, but “good” is a vague concept, and if you didn’t say the right magic words it doesn’t matter how good you are. If you weren’t baptized, according to some versions, you go to hell no matter what you did in life. Then there’s the question of purpose: eternal torture = justice. How? There’s no possibility of parole, even if you fully recant all of your sins. Best to avoid the tricky subjects we wouldn’t want Ned to begin questioning his own religion.

Step II: Establish a common language

Another excellent point, and not just for this conversation. In any kind of debate it’s best to lay down what the words mean. I do this in my conspiracy course, and it’s especially important in religious conversations.

Step III: Don’t try to debate the specifics of the Bible

A discussion between a believer and a non-believer doesn’t need to be a debate about science, or creationism, or an intricate dissection of the creation of the world as discussed in Genesis. Discuss faith in terms of your church, writings of Early church and personal experience of it. What does it mean to you, to be a Christian? That’s got nothing to do with dinosaur bones and the age of the earth. Avoid these subjects. 

This guide is telling Ned to avoid the subject of talking about the specifics of the book which lay down the foundation for the entire religion. I’ll say this to Ned, it’s probably best you heed this advice but not for them, for you. Pew Research polls indicate time and time again, that atheists/non-believers know the most about the Bible coming in second only to Orthodox Jews. So Ned, don’t get into this fight it won’t work for you. You don’t want to find out that there is no Old Testament prophecy regarding Jesus, and the one everyone keeps referring to, within the context of it being given, has to do with an utterly different situation. You also don’t want to get into an argument that reveals an omniscient deity getting very little correct in his book and making some egregious errors (rabbits chewing their cud for instance). That’s before we even start on the contradictions, the weird laws, the horrible moral advice, treatment of women, and the rules that are laid out that the average evangelical wouldn’t want to follow anyway. Definitely avoid the book, at all cost.

Step IV: Try to understand the perspective of your friend

Good solid advice here. The author even assumes that not all atheists are mad at god, or were hurt by someone religious pushing them into non-belief. This is a huge step. Occasionally when someone finds out that I’m an Atheist, they’ll ask, “so what happened?” They expect that I have a dead relative or some kind of abuse, and I just say I had lots of questions and then there’s Tom Cruise (seriously). No tragedy pushed me into it but Christian media seems to think this is the only path for a believer to apostasy. The problem with the questions, I’ll explain, is that no one had answers other than “we don’t ask those types of questions.” Ned, if he’s coming at me, will have to answer those questions, and yes I’ll want empirical evidence as well.

Step V: Let your friend try to convert you

This is also good advice. See things from both sides, I think my side will always win because there’s no faith at work over here, but nevertheless I can turn each one of these examples on Ned. What’s so great about being an atheist? I get to do all the things you do, and I can sleep in on Sunday. I do all the holidays, but don’t have to go to Church for any of them. It’s fantastic. I get to read whatever book I want, and only like the books that mean something to me, without having any of them forced on me. It’s good stuff. My morality isn’t bogged down by Bronze age agricultural rules and tribal law, I can adapt to changing circumstances. If someone isn’t bothering me, I don’t have to think about it or condemn that person. Now, Ned, what have you got?


How to Persuade an Atheist to Become a Christian

April 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon this article. In my personal life there’s been significant changes, and it was probably an idle search for something that led to me go down a hole…you know how that goes. Anyway this is an article written on wikihow as a step by step instruction for a Christian (assuming evangelical) to convince their atheist friend to abandon their non-theistic ways. I quickly bookmarked the page for use here. Usually these kinds of guides are full of bible quotes: which are genuinely ineffective because it’s a clear case of special pleading. You have to believe in the authority of the Bible to be convinced of the quotes to begin with. Same goes with people who claim “you should be a [insert religion here] because my [priest/imam/rabbi] said you will find only eternal suffering if you don’t.” If you don’t believe these people have any authority, their words aren’t going to convince you either. It’s why I’m always skeptical of stories of atheists who are convinced by the Bible or story of Jesus: that story isn’t convincing unless you already accept a number of premises which by doing so means you were already a believer. I haven’t read through this in anything other than a brief skim so it’s happening in the closest thing to real time for this medium. It’s broken into subsections which I’m labelling with letters and then steps that I’m using numbers for. My readers aren’t stupid, you’ll figure it out. Also we’re just going to call the Christian “Ned” (as in Flanders) for the sake of brevity.

A: Approaching the Subject

1: Put yourself in your friend’s shoes: The writer notes that Ned should imagine that someone is trying to convince them “to reject your salvation in Christ.” This should show Ned that high pressure sales aren’t going to work, and that this may be a long process. They shouldn’t lecture either. Alright, that’s good advice. If you’re going to have the conversation this is a good starting point. An outright attack will make anyone defensive, it’s not a good strategy and it cuts both ways. Pointing out contradictions and inaccuracies in the bible, for instance, only confuses people who think that it’s a literal record, but it doesn’t convince them to be atheists. So far so good but then this happens: “Realize that a large percentage of atheists used to believe in God, but was hurt somehow in their faith (at church, by another religious person, church goer, such as a Christian, etc.) and have converted to atheism. This is not true for another large percentage of atheists, of course.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, yes a lot atheists used to be believers, that’s just simple numbers. Atheists in the US are between 9-18% of the population so a simple numbers game would tell us that the odds of a person being born and raised atheist is low. However, the “hurt somehow in their faith” is bullshit. This is an accusation that goes around popularized by movies like “God’s Not Dead” and it’s sequel. I was never hurt in my faith by a person. I’m not angry at god, I don’t believe that it exists or that if it does, it has any interest in us or our religious devotion. This is a problem of definition, if a person isn’t Christian because they are angry at god, it doesn’t make them an atheist. You also don’t convert to atheism, you just top being religious. There’s no organization to join, or book you have to buy. You just stop going to Church and stop praying. Ned’s going to have a weird conversation if he walks into it thinking this. Another point is that the author is just making up percentages. A large percentage are this? Give me a number, or a citation. Then we should also note that this isn’t true for a different large percentage either.

2: Choose a Convenient Place and Time to have a Dialog on Matters of Believing in God

Another solid piece of advice. I worked at a cable company in Toledo OH, and once some co-workers found out I wasn’t religious they just wanted to chat and chat about it. I wasn’t even a solid atheist then but they really went after me about it. No real criticism on this point.

3: Have a Genuine arms-length conversation

In short, the idea is to actually have a conversation and not lecture the other person about sins, accusations, or getting preachy. I guess here, the author should have written: “don’t make it personal” because I’m not entirely sure what a “arms-length” conversation is. Also I’m unclear about what a shock-jock approach is supposed to be as well. Ned is supposed to be open and honest or else he could end up causing irreparable harm to the friendship. Yeah that might be something to worry about while you are thinking that despite your friend’s good behavior he’s still going to hell because he doesn’t believe the right words. If you want to avoid harming the friendship maybe don’t try and change their entire way of thinking. Then this happens, “Discriminating tastes in food and in life’s issues, for some good stuff, means you have an angle (a stand), a point of view.” I don’t know what this means.

4: Don’t Try to Convert Your friend or to Present Ultimate Ideas (don’t ask for conclusions or offer stark dilemmas of Heaven versus Hell)

Ned is supposed to get the person interested by presenting “Jesus Christ as the Son of God in your personal, fulfilling life, following Jesus. Show the Christian life as fulfilling, exciting, attractive to others and they’ll be more interested, curious to learn more about the way you live your life as a Christian.”

In other words Ned is supposed to make his pitch by saying that it works for him. He’s happy and wouldn’t you like to be happy as well? Alright, it’s not a bad method but I don’t see how that will work. The problem that the author has, is that he doesn’t understand what an Atheist is. I lead a fulfilling life, it’s relatively exciting, but I also get to sleep in on Sundays and I don’t have to avoid eating meat on Fridays during Lent. I’m also not afraid of Hell, or Demons, or whether or not two guys get married. Ned isn’t offering me anything here. I could also say that I get to read/watch whatever I want (depending on the sect of Christianity). As an Atheist, you’ve got to give me something more than just “I like X, so you should do X as well.” That doesn’t work when Mac users try to convince me it’s not going to work here either.

Again the author has some decent advice, one is to realize that you should not be arguing facts. Yeah, that’s a good point: because Ned won’t be arguing facts, he’ll be arguing religion. Now there are facts regarding religion, but not observable, independent facts that don’t require a shared perspective for them to be true. Ned is cautioned against getting into a “tic-for-tat” conversation. What the hell is that? I think he meant to say “tit-for-tat” but couldn’t. If you’re going to try and make the conversion as an adult you have to be unafraid of talking like one. This isn’t about dropping “fuck” every now and then, but if the saying is “tit-for-tat” use that. Otherwise it comes across as childish and silly.

We’ll break here and continue next week. There’s some good stuff coming in the next section so be sure to “tune in.”


Better to be an Atheist?

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

I suppose it’s what I deserve for skipping a week. Last Monday I had a mini-conference on fake news at the University where I teach. It was rather informative though I think they could have spent more time concentrating on the purpose of fake news rather than just some techniques on how to teach students to avoid it. After that, I had a doctor’s appointment (everything is fine), and by the time I returned home I was too exhausted to write my entry. The thing about habits, with me anyway, is that if I miss the day I normally do something then it’s pretty likely that I won’t get to it. Still though, I persisted, and went to work searching subjects.

Then the Pope made the news. This is usually what I call a ‘freebie.’ I’ll spend only a paragraph so as to not bore long time readers familiar with my perspective on him. Pope Francis has this annoying habit of doing one thing right and then within a few days negating the net gain with a wrong thing. For instance in the same week news broke that he endorsed both the theory of evolution and the big bang (the latter if we remember, first theorized by a Catholic priest), he then authorized the ordination of a whole bunch of new exorcists (science/reality +1, -1). One step forward, one back.

Last week he said that (paraphrasing) it would be better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Christian. I agree, and I spent three weeks on this blog posting about Christian hypocrisy towards refugees. I claimed, by quoting their book, that Christians have a command by god to welcome refugees and help those in need. Further that they can’t say they are against homosexuality because of their book and simultaneously be against immigration because that’s abject hypocrisy. Cherry picking your moral commands isn’t morality. Not only did I say that but the three leading Christian denominations in the US agreed (Catholic church included).

Pope Francis was referring to those types of people who dutifully go to church, join advocacy groups, donate their money and time to the church, but then ignore the needs of the poor, immigrants, and other causes the church believes Jesus would have advocated for. It’s in line with what he said a few years ago regarding us non-believers: that as long as we’re decent people we can win too. Now, he’s gotten some kind of shit storm about this from the Trump supporters who think he’s attacking their icon (and they’re probably right about that). It’s the usual sound and fury, from this group of people that attack anyone who criticizes their dear leader. I doubt the Pope is chain smoking in the Vatican wondering what canon law he needs to exercise in order to return things back to the 15th century in order to get revenge.

One might wish to argue that this isn’t a step forward. That it’s just like the atheists can be good people too comment. However that person has to realize that he’s not making the proclamation to us atheists but rather saying that the standard isn’t just belief. Which is a good call because it impresses on the faithful that merely having faith doesn’t make you good. An idea that is so prevalent in this country that atheists are at the bottom of the pile when you ask about trustworthiness among believers. Even in Trump’s America, Muslims are viewed as being more trustworthy simply by virtue that they believe in something.

However that wasn’t enough for a full post. So, knowing history, and having the pattern recognition that has been essential to our survival as a species I waited. Then, with the predictability of Newtonian mechanics it happened: he took a step back. Yesterday the news broke that he was now lessening the punishments for priests convicted of pedophilia. This isn’t a blanket order, it applies to a handful of cases, and he’s doing it as part of an atmosphere of mercy that he wants the church to represent.

The problem here is that there is a certain measure of justice that needs to be put in place if we’re supposed to be trusting these people. Benedict was more stringent, and even Francis’ own words on this matter have been one of “zero tolerance.” However, just as the Medieval church was resistant to the very concept of zero so apparently is Pope Francis. I’m not claiming that he needs to send these people to the square to roast inside an iron bull, but the very least you could do is remove them from your organization as well as those that hide them. Instead of, you know, promoting them to the position of Chief Financial advisor or just telling them that they now have to do a lifetime of penance and prayers.

I was raised Catholic, a lifetime of penance and prayers is kind of the default. They’re priests so a lifetime of penance was going to be more their thing than otherwise. So how is this at all a punishment? Well they can no longer perform public ministry, which is a big deal for them, and they can’t be around children, which isn’t a punishment but rather a safety measure for any future victims. Five years of psychological counseling? I’m sure that’s the minimum, and this one I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, yes absolutely, since we aren’t sure what is causing this and why the percentage rate among Catholic priests doesn’t track with incident rate among the general population. Getting to the bottom of what the causal mechanism is should be a priority. However, not doing this from the inside of a prison but rather the full protection of the Vatican seems to be, again, on the outside of the concept of justice. I get the mercy thing, but there needs to be justice for the victims.

You almost made it a week buddy.



January 31, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve started a hashtag, though I don’t know if it’s used before as I rarely check the things myself. The hashtag is: #ivereadyourbook,  and I use it to point the flagrant hypocrisy of the religious right in my country. I’ve mentioned this numerous times before, I was not always an atheist but was raised Catholic. More than just that, I was a true believer up until I started having serious doubts sometime in late high school (11th or 12th grade). One thing about Catholic school is that they make you read the bible, and I took it on myself when I was bored to read more of it than necessary. Ironic I know, but if you actually plow through that book you get a much better idea of what’s in it than you would if you only paid attention during your weekly service. For example you get the idea that the story of Noah is about five paragraphs long (it spans only three chapters in Genesis, and while that seems long, the myth greatly outweighs it). You also get a bare conception of the contradictions the book has internally, man cannot see god or else he’ll die (Ex. 33:20)except the many times that this occurs and he doesn’t (e.g. Job 42:5, Amos 7:7, Ex. 4:5, 6:3, Ez 20:35, the list goes on) . The many different times god loses (for instance he can’t defeat chariots of iron Judges 1:19), or the simply overwhelming number of laws and rules that are utterly pedantic and senseless.

I’m not a biblical scholar, and while I do have a good idea of what’s actually in the book I do have to look the stuff up to find the specific locations. No one, I mean this sincerely, builds a searchable book database like the bible people. If I knew how to build a website I would totally copy their method for Aristotle, Hume, or even Shakespeare (and the last one I can’t believe doesn’t exist as Shakespeare This is a tool that works against the believers in the book though, and I don’t think–and research is beginning to back this up–that they even consider this effect. Whenever I find some kind of story in the news that is making the Christian right upset, either because they are against something or because they are enraged that other people are against it, my memory usually clicks telling me ‘I bet that’s in the bible.’

The biggest example is the Christian right’s anger regarding the use government money on the poor–whether it be welfare, unemployment, or healthcare. I should probably caveat this: I’m not speaking about all Christians, there are plenty of them out there that are concerned about the welfare of others. However, there is also a strong group of them–Trump supporters primarily now–who believe that poor people are either too stupid or too lazy to not be poor. That it’s their fault and they should suffer for it, or at the very least these people are arguing that it’s not their fault the person is poor so why should their money be given in the form of taxes to these people. Now this is where my biblical knowledge falters, because I haven’t found the part of the bible where there’s any exceptions to the command “help the poor and suffering.” For example Galatians 2:10 says that we should remember the poor, Luke 14:14 that we should invite those who cannot repay to our meals and feasts, Luke 3:11 Jesus tells his followers that the person with two tunics is to share with him who has none as well as to share their food, at Ezekiel 16:49 the sin of Sodom is declared as the people having plenty but not sharing with those in need, or just in one quote that sums it all up from Jesus himself: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you have done unto me (Matt 20:45).”

So I guess my question is, what is the version of the Bible that where the quote is followed by “…unless you feel that they deserve it than woe unto them for their lot”?

Given that immigration is big in the news, I posted the list of the times the bible mentions how to treat immigrants: Lev. 19:10, 33-34, 25:35; Exodus 22:21, 23:9; Deuteronomy 10:19, 24:17-21;  Jeremiah 7:6, 22:3; Zechariah 7:10; also Matthew quoting Jesus at 25:35. In each case the writer of the various books is commanding the believers to treat immigrants with compassion and welcoming. In all the various translations that I have and perused online I can’t find the version that follows any of those quotes with “unless you have reason to fear them in which case you should turn them away.”

As far as I can tell it’s not there.

The point of this is that these people are the ones that claim the moral high ground and at every opportunity they have to express it they fail. They only resort to their book when it comes to denying homosexuals equal rights because of one line in Leviticus, or pretending that the book says something about abortion (it doesn’t even though the practice was alive and well at the time of the events in the Bible). They try to remove science from schools because of Genesis or use the book to try pushing prayer in schools despite Matt 6:5 telling them that prayer should be confined to the home. The issue is that they have not read their book, they are only cherry picking the parts that augment their argument and because it’s the BIBLE no one dares question it. They are the ones that are supposed to know, supposed to be the experts on it, but they can’t have read it. Or if they have they are only using it as a club to beat their position into other people. Then they have the nerve to claim that others aren’t moral because they don’t follow the same book they do.

At best they’re ignorant, at worst they’re liars. However, if they read this post they don’t have the former excuse anymore. I’ve read defenses of this saying that the immigration ban is for our safety, but that’s not what the bible says. So they either have to admit that they only use their religion when it’s convenient and doesn’t conflict with their preset prejudices. In other words they have to admit “my religion should inform public policy unless that policy will help people that I don’t like.”


January 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Happy New Year…I guess. Last year it was 2016 and this year is one more than that so it’s 2017. Because that’s how numbers work right? I mean it’s universal and there is no reason to think otherwise…

Unless of course you meet several criteria each more confusing and elaborate than the last. I have actually been sitting on this story for a few weeks for a few reasons, but none as near as confusing as the “reasoning” that I am about to elaborate. The first is that it is so utterly absurd that I didn’t believe it. I came across this gem from the Cognitive Dissonance Podcast episode 332, and while I love the podcast the way they cover their stories means I have to double check. I’m not calling them out for spreading false information, just that they take a humorous tone with everything and inflate the absurdities because they cover the absurd. Once I confirmed the story was as crazy as they made it sound I had grading to do. Lots and lots of grading. After that was done, I was burnt from grading and posted my rant about it last week. Now I feel I can cover the story.

1 + 1 = 2. That’s how numbers work, if you have 1 thing and another thing, you have 2 things. There is only one way this simple formula doesn’t work, and that is if two people disagree on the meaning of the symbols. That however is an epistemic problem and/or a linguistic problem. Which is a legitimate issue, and why we send out pulses of prime numbers and geometry when trying to communicate with extraterrestrials. Merely scrawling pi = 3.14 on the side of Voyager doesn’t mean anything if the creatures which find it have no comprehension of what any of that means. There’s also the post-modernist problems with math in that it tells a euro-centric narrative (they do this with science as well which Alan Sokal pointed out in his famous hoax). It’s a ridiculous notion because the thing with math is that it is independent of the external world. You might argue the inherent unfairness of language, and that could be a debate, but math isn’t about language it’s about reason thus we never need two things to prove that 1 + 1 = 2. We can have an entire rule set regarding math which never applies to the actual world, e.g. negative numbers aren’t things. They can’t represent things because we are talking about not only emptiness but positive representations of emptiness which isn’t possible. There can be no existence below existence.

However these are not the problems that are being presented in “Why Math isn’t Religiously Neutral” by Israel Wayne. The problem being presented here is that math is contingent on Jesus. The post begins with Johnny asking why 2 + 4 = 6 all the time. Why is it 6 today, but never 7 on another day. The article goes on to explain that the teacher must repeat the official government story that the story of math begins 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang, then proceeds through random chance to evolution, which also for some reason includes math. Evolution apparently, created math and this is what we teach to the kids unless we want to just say “math simply is.”

Or, we can give the “true” story which is that Jesus created  math and it’s not the process of random chance, evolution, or whatever Nihilism that the government and “Big Math” wants us to teach. See only the Christian can give the true understanding of math, which is Jesus did it. The reasoning is that if you combine a few unrelated bible quotes Col 1:15-17, John 1:1-3, and Romans 1:20 the religious interpretation of math is superior because only it understands why.

The reasoning behind this is so absurd I don’t even know if it’s not even wrong. Let’s get this out of the way right now: 2 + 4 = 6 always. It’s not up for debate. If everyone involved understands the definitions of the numbers that’s how it is, we don’t need a god to underlie the meaning of it.

Secondly, math is independent of Evolution. Even if nothing evolved, if everything merely popped into existence then math would still be the same thing. It wouldn’t matter if there were no people. It’s purely rational. It’s so utterly rational that all civilizations independent of each other (and Jesus) have come up with it, barring their different symbols used in place of course. Math has nothing to do with the results of evolution, other than allowing us the brain power to come up with the symbols and the principles behind it.

Thirdly, there is no government “story of math.” Math text books might begin with a little history about the development of mathematics from Archimedes, Euclid, and Pythagoras in the Greek world, perhaps the addition of Babylonian, Indian, Arabic, and Mayan influences in the development of arithmetic, but usually it’s just an introduction and then on to the numbers.

Finally, the author is incorrect that the Christian zealot is better equipped to teach math, or anything other than the bible (and really, not even then), to kids. Their primary, and indeed only, book is littered with scientific inaccuracies that don’t measure up the real world. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, I study Philosophy, and Aristotle’s science has large holes in it, just as Hippocrates’ medical books have errors. However, two important facts separates those authors from the Bible. The first being that they present arguments/evidence for the claims they make. Aristotle reasons that things fall down because they are heavy, which he has in reverse if we are being generous (things are heavy because they fall). Hippocrates attributes the illness of various groups to the climate they live in his work “Airs Waters Places” which could be correct but he has no idea about germs and such. The second and most important difference is that neither individuals are claiming to be reciting the inerrant mind of god or claiming that their words were the literal words of god. They can be wrong and no one is going to lose sleep over it.

However the bible claims that Pi = 3 (1 Kings 7:23 – 26) or its claiming that Solomon’s cauldron did not exist, by virtue of the contradiction negating the existence of the thing. It’s also worth pointing out that math as a measurement doesn’t proscribe a thing it just defines it. A circle doesn’t correspond to Pi because Pi makes the thing, it’s just how we measure the ration of the diameter to the circumference.

Although all of this misses the unintentionally funniest part of the story: which is what was math like before Jesus? Did 1 + 2 = 6 for the Indians, while 1 + 2 =10 for Japanese? I’m not understanding why we need Jesus for this whole operation as the societies without him, and contemporaneous with the ancient Israelites were able to come much closer to the real measurement of Pi then the group that literally, according to them, carried around god in a box.


December 7, 2016 Leave a comment

I know I promised to shed off the heavy political commentary last week. I’m following through on that with this week’s post but it does mention Hillary Clinton but it’s not a political post.

Again, I point out that I teach a conspiracy theory and skepticism course. Over the weekend, I’m sure that you may have noticed a gunman was arrested (not shot, he was apparently the right religion) in a DC area pizza place. Normally this would probably have made the news and then have quickly been forgotten. However the accused gunman, had an interesting motive: he was searching for secret tunnels wherein Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were allegedly keeping a stock of child sex slaves that they would abuse, rent out, and then ritually murder. This was seriously the motivation.

Now this kind of accusation is as baseless as it is familiar to me. I remember this from the “news” in the 80s and 90s in what we now refer to as “the Satanic Panic.” The allegations were made against daycares most famously and resulted in long trials (the LA McMartin trial was the longest and most expensive in California’s and the US’s history) that resulted in some convictions based on discredited science, spurious evidence, and “experts” whose information was informed from what their particular brand of paranoid Christianity told them.

The reports of this latest addition to the controversy neglect linking this completely made up and fictional accusation to Satanism, but all of the ingredients are there. Child sex abuse, an expansive ring, powerful politicians, symbolism, and most of all tunnels. It’s always tunnels.

The skeptic in me immediately rolls his eyes at this. It’s such an old accusation. Christians were accused of doing this during the Roman Empire. When they took over they accused the Jews of needing Christian baby blood for their unleavened bread (for what? Who the hell knows maybe blood is a good bread softener or something). The witch panic of Europe brought this out again, and then in the 80s it was the Satanists. The worldwide totally secret underground Satanic child murderer rapists that no one could ever establish existed. The only testimony came from people under hypnosis and from evangelical Christians who were “saved” from the life of Satanic ritual abuse. The main book on the subject “Michelle Remembers” formed the template by which all other ritual murder accusations would follow and that book is discounted as a work of fiction.

The symbolism in this case is not just lazy, it’s lazy for a conspiracy theory. It’s one thing to claim that the Free Masons control the government because the Eye of Providence is on the one dollar bill and not know that the Eye is an Illuminati symbol. It’s wholly another to just claim that spiral shapes which are obvious images of pizza are a call out to other pedophiles. I’ve looked through pages and pages of these “clues” and find them to be only interesting for the fact that I’m going to be covering them next semester. According to a document purported to have been found in the FBI database by WikiLeaks, there are symbols that pedophiles use to identify one another. Here’s the problem with this document, the first is that it only appears on WikiLeaks and sources referencing it. Secondly, the bottom half of the document shows jewelry with the same triangular spiral on it, but it looks like it is lifted directly from an Etsy page. Thirdly, this symbol does not even appear on Comet Pizza’s shop. It’s from a nearby pizza place. Never let the facts get in the way of a story though, as people began to think that this was proof the conspiracy was real.

Then there’s the tunnels. Again, it’s always secret tunnels where the abuse takes place. The tunnels make sense in one way because the abuse has to take place somewhere and it’s not like they can do it on the restaurant floor. On the other hand, it’s ridiculous because a tunnel is hard to hide. Sure, if you are standing on the street you can’t see the tunnel, but it has to exist somewhere. A tunnel is, by definition, through something. It’s the material that it’s in that can’t be moved. The McMartin trial was a pretty clear case of this, people swore that the tunnels existed underneath the daycare center. No investigation of the facility ever found them, sonar surveys couldn’t locate them, and even partial excavation of the ground couldn’t find them. Just as our gunman on Sunday could neither locate the secret rooms he could not locate the secret tunnels. Is this just a fear of the underground? Or is it merely that evil stuff has to take place underground because of superstition reasons? Honestly, I don’t know.

However this entire affair points not only to people’s apparent need to believe the worst in those they hate but also that it feeds into the story that a certain branch of Christianity needs to be true: that of secret Satanism which seeks to oppress and murder Christians. I don’t go through my day secretly hoping to fight against a worldwide and perfectly concealed conspiracy. Especially not one that I think targets my children. However this is rational thinking which has no place here. Instead of reacting emotionally to a story we ought to be subjecting those initial impulses to the strictest of objective scrutiny. While I doubt that I would ever find a believer who would admit to “wanting” this story to be true, I would no doubt find them agreeing that it “must be true” because it fits into this worldview that they want to be a part of. Reasoned arguments aren’t going to convince them otherwise, if it did, these beliefs wouldn’t exist in the first place.