If you don’t like Patrick Stewart, why the fuck not?

I mean, fucking seriously. This had me in tears. This is why all this “feminist” shit actually matters. It really does. It’s not irrelevant, it’s not esoteric, it’s something everyone can face. I know many people coming back from war that might take it out in a bad way, I know many others who might fall victim to that same abuse – the very least we can do as a society is to be there for them and to help them.

O Captain! My Captain!

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Honesty is the best policy

So, this cropped up on Facebook. As before, I’m banned from both Ham’s page and AiG’s page for merely talking to another atheist, so couldn’t challenge him directly what this was about (had to wait for some others who weren’t blocked to spot it and call him out on it).HamWhere is the email? Is it so offensive that Ham couldn’t reproduce it? Would his followers be too sensitive for the foul language? Did Houston Atheists send him a large collection child pornography? Did someone link him to one of my more egregious rants? (oh, bloody hell I hope not…)

Well, it wouldn’t be in Ham’s best interest to cite it in full, would it… because you can actually find it here. Unless there’s some other Houston Atheists. Or some other homeschooling conference held in Texas in August. Or some other Ken Ham of some other Answers in Genesis. Or some other 30th-31st May 2013. If you read it yourself, in an unbiased way at least, the letter itself seems fairly polite. It’s strongly worded, sure, but it simply lays out the position; that Houston Atheist’s “vehemently oppose the indoctrination of children with radical fundamentalist theology under the false guise of science”. This is the position shared by many, and there are few (if any) ways of tiptoeing around the subject in a way that makes people feel better about it. There is no way of saying “I think you’re wrong and can prove it” that isn’t going to come across as pretty mean – you just have to grow a thick skin and Deal With It by proving yourself right.

Ken Ham, though? No way, no way at all. He just blindly asserts that the email is rude and unprofessional, and his followers lap it up unquestioningly – such is the protective bubble he keeps them in. No questions asked, no attempt to judge for themselves, not a faint whiff of curiosity about what the email actually said. Not one of his followers asked to see the evidence in the form of quotes or extracts, or even the thing in full. This is the absolute opposite to how things like science or free-thinking philosophy works, where you have to – shock horror – prove what you’re saying by showing it or demonstrating it. I know it’s quite a scary prospect to actually back up stuff and have people call you out when you don’t sufficiently do it, but it’s flown us to the moon and cures cancer, so there must be something to that method. This is the central problem with most creationists; they won’t back themselves up, or if they do it’s to the same insular sources again and again that are effortlessly debunked.

Now, this post isn’t an attack on Ham being religious or believing in God. Really, it isn’t. If I was into that sort of thing, I would do shit like send John Sentamu death threats, disown by Christian Facebook friends for merely existing, and start telling Buddhists that their religion is wrong because Jesus married a 9 year-old Aisha in order to ward off vengeful Thetans. No, this is an attack on Ken Ham being dishonest. He is making statements about something that he hasn’t cited, and we’re supposed to blindly accept what he says. Maybe the later blog post he promises will raise actual quotations (I won’t hold my breath, though) but right now he’s already poisoning the well without citing a single quote – buttering up his audience to accept that Houston Atheist’s egregiously insulted him no matter what words they actually said even if he does get around to quoting them.

It’s about how we go about doing things that’s important – what Ken Ham believes is trivial, but why he believes it is everything. And why he believes it evidently sucks.

So I have made a statement that says Ken Ham is being dishonest by feeding his followers with blind assertions with no evidence – I’ve put the screencap above to demonstrate it. I’ve then said that the email from Houston Atheists is perfectly fine, and not a foul attack on Christianity, and linked to it to demonstrate that – if anyone disagrees, then they have the material at hand to quote what is offensive, unprofessional and rude about it.

Because that’s what honest people do; and what Ken Ham does not do.


Addendum: He has released the promised blog posts and my response is “oh bugger off, Ken“. Selectively quoting the email, and claiming it wasn’t signed by someone even though it was signed by the organisation – which, you know, people can do if they like – and conveniently not quoting the parts where they offer to have a suitable venue, moderator and suggest an experienced ‘evolutionist’ for their ‘side’ – instead, trying to pretend as if such things were his own great ideas. Again, you can check the full text of the email in the link above if you disagree that this is what they said.

And just as before, not even one of his followers decided to ask for more context or the full email.

Five points

Found on Google+

There are at least five – (probably more) assumptions made by evolutionists that cannot be proven. The whole theory rests upon these assumptions.
1. Life from non-life.
2. ALL varieties from a single cell.
3. Time – Billions of Years.
4. Physical Universe (where did matter itself come from ?)
5. Order in the Universe from Chaos.

Now, I’m not necessarily answering this because it’s easy (even though it is) but because the person who said this had read the Uber Rant of Death and thought that it meant I couldn’t defend any positions – and then thus went on to write the above quote, proving that, as I said in that rant, creationists aren’t terribly bright, nor particularly original in their thinking. I’ll put the kettle on, and I bet I’ll get this finished by the time it takes me to have one cup of NATO standard.

1. Life from non-life.

This is real easy. The trouble is that “life” isn’t some magic thing. There are a lot of properties common to what we might call “alive” that aren’t shared with things that are “dead” (or “not alive”) but the actual category has very, very fuzzy edges. The reason we think it’s a real thing is because the rough category is extremely useful to us – it splits the world neatly into things we can eat or could eat us, and things that don’t. “Life” used like this is a fallacy of compression, not a real argument that makes sense in the context of abiogenesis.

The rough edges come in the form of degrees of what we might call “life”. For instance, we can class replicating polymers as “alive” thanks to their ability to undergo descent with modification – i.e., exactly what DNA does in living organisms. Or there are viruses, prions and independent mitochondria that blur the edges even more. And that goes all the way up to the emergent properties that form a consciousness.

But, in short, the origin of life is not a magic, single-stage event. It’s a process. At one end we have “not alive” chemicals, and at the other end we have “alive” highly organised chemicals. There is no single point where a magic spark occurs to create life from not-life. Given this approach and the evidence used to back it up, there’s neither a great logical nor physical leap that “life” can spawn, eventually, from “non-life” – material in the universe can easily creep from one to the other by degrees.

2. ALL varieties from a single cell.

Not entirely sure what this means but I assume it means common descent from only a single-celled organism. I don’t see how this is an assumption. Barring the discovery of a second genesis any time soon,  the fact that all life runs on the same chemicals and same basic cellular structure is pretty strong evidence for a single ancestor of all life. We can see varieties of bacteria emerge and evolve from single cells quite reliably, just as we see varieties diverge from larger organisms.

I really, really don’t see how this is an assumption. It’s logically inferred from evidence.

Though, I do want to point out that this loose and poorly defined use of “varieties” here is pretty much a standard creationist talking point. They get to hide behind their lack of detail.

3. Time – Billions of Years.

If I’ve missed anything else out, it’s probably on this list. Seriously, unless you’re going to propose Last Thursdayism, this is a fact. There’s really no getting around it. We don’t “assume” the world is old enough for this to occur, we damn well know it.

Though, amusingly the rate of evolution required by baraminology (the YEC equivalent of taxonomy) would be able to get around this. Seriously, creationists believe in a type of Super Evolution that, if true, would be demonstrable by all sorts of monkey-giving-birth-to-zebras weirdness that we don’t actually see. The irony of this is that many really crappy creationist arguments involve saying evolution involve straw man monkey-giving-birth-to-zebras weirdness and admit that this doesn’t happen. Yes, they claim they have evidence against evolution and evidence for baraminology – but present evidence for evolution and against baraminology in its place. And people still wonder why creationists get called idiots…

4. Physical Universe (where did matter itself come from ?)

This is just a case of “back at ya”, really. Ex nihilo (“from nothing”) creation is actually most commonly found in supernatural, creationist proposals for the beginning of the universe. It’s not necessarily a proposal common to modern cosmology, which proposes an ex materia (from existing material) creation based on a singularity.

Ex nihilo creation is also not particularly logical. It would require “something” acting upon literally nothing (and I’ve yet to find a coherent argument for why this isn’t semantically identical to “taking no action”) to create everything. That alone breaks the concept of causality and sort of wrecks the idea of a “creator”, because you can’t have a creator without cause-and-effect to identify the cause.

I find that to be slightly more interesting than the common case of replying to it with the more usual response that “the origins of the universe have no bearing on evolution”. This much is true, though. We could have been sparked into life by a wizard fidgeting with a magic field and it would literally not change the physical laws that govern descent with modification and natural selection. Once those laws are in place, they operate as they operate; their origins don’t particularly matter because the operation and nature of those laws are what we can see now, independent of their origin. So, I’m going to have to have a hell of a lot more detail about why it should.

5. Order in the Universe from Chaos.

Now, this is interesting. Because, actually, order is something of an illusion here. The order that life creates is, in fact, very localised. Order isn’t coming from chaos, and in fact, disorder is constantly increasing. This is simple thermodynamics. But before the creationists start thinking that this is some tacit admission that evolution is impossible (or whatever) they need to realise that this isn’t actually a problem. Indeed, it’s really a benefit and what makes it possible.

Chemical reactions are driven by order turning to disorder. We call it entropy. Entropy is a property within thermodynamics that always increases, and never decreases. BUT, and this is a big all capital letters BUT, only within an enclosed system. The only truly enclosed system is the universe itself. Providing the overall entropy of the universe increases, a reaction is thermodynamically “legal”.

So, consider life – yes, yes, what our compression fallacy says is “life”.

It converts ordered molecules into heat. It slowly mashes up cells into waste. Protein folding is driven primarily by the increase in entropy of all the solvent molecules surrounding the unfolded protein suddenly being released. Even where it doesn’t balance, it’s caused by the energy input (in the form of heat and radiation) from the sun – which is caused by thermodynamically legal actions within the star itself. So there are no violations of this principle at all involved in evolutionary biology. Indeed, following this to the letter is what makes the system work.

And, as I figured, responded in a fairly short-and-sweet manner all in the space of a single up of tea (and yes, it was still warm at the end). It’s not difficult.

tea

How to stop sucking at non-belief (Part 2)

The Problem with “Religion”

There’s a big problem with “religion”. No, this isn’t going to be a tirade against how “it” supposedly brainwashes people, or how “it” starts wars, or how “it” is a massive affront to reason. No, this is about the actual word, the label itself, and how it’s used – especially amongst the anti-theist and anti-religionist crowd of atheists, because holy fuck those people can be stupid when they want to be.

The problem with “religion”? “Religion” doesn’t exist.

See, people treat “religion”, like it’s a thing.

Religion_as_a_thingBut it’s not a thing. You can’t find it anywhere. Sure, we might imagine something like a hypothetical “generalised” religion, much like the “generalised mollusc” anatomy, but that doesn’t mean such a thing exists in reality. We’d have a hard time finding this “religion” anywhere. No one follows “religion”. No one is part of “religion”. And if I type “religion” once more I’m going to have a bad time.

No, “religion” is not a thing. It’s more like a bucket.

Religion_as_a_bucket

We put stuff into this bucket based on a few superficial similarities. Things like “believes in a creator deity”, or “provides a moral code”, or something more abstract. But those similarities are superficial and generic, they overlap and criss-cross and can be quite complicated. They’re not universal, they’re not essential, there isn’t even a single common thread uniting everything in the bucket. Not all religions believe in an almighty God. Not all religions propose supernatural processes. Not all religions fleece followers of money, and not all religions profess a love for peace.

Often, the differences are far more striking than the similarities.

spot_the_difference

When you step back and think about it, it does seem strange what does go into the bucket and what doesn’t. Pick any attribute ascribed to “religion”, and you’ll be able to find a good few exceptions; “religions” that don’t posses that attribute or “not-religions” that do.

what_goes_inAnd this is sort of where the problem is. Because nothing truly unites everything in the bucket, it’s difficult to use in a general sense. It’s almost pointless to try.

Few people ever reach into the bucket to examine its contents; they’re stuck with looking at the bucket and simply declaring universal truths about it as if it was a thing. By no means are these declarations universally negative in the way anti-religionists use them (“religion is against reason”, “religion is harmful”, “religion is child abuse”),  many of the positive assertions also do this in exactly the same way (“religion is necessary”, “religion answers the big questions”, “religion should be respected”).

contents_may_differThe bucket is just that, a bucket. It does nothing but hold stuff.

Sometimes this is quite convenient. It would be a pain in the ass to refer to tall wooded objects with leaves if it wasn’t for the concept of a “tree”. But this comes at the price of, on occasion, mistaking the bucket for a real thing and then making mass generalisations about what it holds. People assume animist religions are “bullshit” for the same reasons creationism is total and utter crock. They assume Hinduism is interchangeable with Islam – or that neither have the same kind of internal sub-divisions as Christianity does, completely blind to their own geographic biases. Is atheism a religion? Well, the answer to that is actually far more complicated than “is bald a hair colour?”

Getting rid of the buckets probably isn’t an option. The world is just too big and complicated to go without them. Even fuzzy buckets would just break peoples’ brains eventually. All the inclusions, exclusions, exceptions, partial truths and partial matches would be too much information for us to handle.

Instead, we simply need better, more useful, more appropriate buckets for the task.

good_shit_bad_shit

It’s a much better approach just to simply categorise things better. But it does require some effort, especially when language and society is already rigged for the inefficient and crap version, which splits the world in to “religion” and “not-religion” and says one is good and the other is bad. You need to look into things and pick out what’s bad and what’s good. Then separate it out, and deal with things specifically. The phrase “all religion is bad” is absolutely meaningless; but if the average non-believer admitted that, and tried to say “behaviour that ostracises and demonises the out-group is harmful”, they they’d run the risk of turning a critical eye on their own behaviour. That’s not a comfortable thought, and it’s no wonder people avoid it.

This is why anger at “religion” is misplaced – and why thinking that anger directed at specific components found in the religious bucket is anger at “religion” is a foul misinterpretation. There is a “bad shit” bucket out there, and it’s something worth getting angry about – in fact, it’s a better question to ask why people don’t feel that these things are worth getting angry about. At the same time, though, there’s a “good shit” bucket (or even a “meh bucket”) and lumping that all in with “stuff worth getting angry about”  is, at best, just wasted effort.

But always remember, the bucket itself can’t harm people; its contents do.

But Ken Ham takes the cake…

I have no problem with people banning users from their Facebook pages, or their sites, or their blogs. I really don’t. People cry out “freedom of speech” when their posting rights are kicked to the kerb, but, frankly, you’re not actually suffering or having any rights challenged for having posting rights revoked on Facebook. You’re really not, you whiny little so-and-so. You still have your own profile, or an ability to create your own page, or set up your own blog for free (like this one). I’m not averse to banning someone myself because I am under absolutely no obligation to take bullshit from people when I’m calling the shots. But that is, at least, such a rare event that it hasn’t actually happened yet – my M.O. for idiots is to let them show themselves up, while my M.O. for intentional and repeated troublemakers is to simply deprive them of the attention they crave. Usually, by the time someone has triggered my threshold they’re bored and long gone.

I’m also not too bothered about, say, Ray Comfort’s zero tolerance approach to profanity with his use of the Ban Hammer. I find it a bit distasteful that his threshold is so low (anything stronger than “my golly gosh” gets your a spanking), that he has no concept of the use/mention distinction (so even quoting it hypothetically gets you the Hammer), that he bizarrely extends this into abbreviations (“OMG, your BS is appalling” gets you whacked) and, well, I haven’t yet challenged him on made up swearing like “frack” and “feldercarb” (but I imagine he doesn’t take kindly to it) – but it’s his prerogative to take such an overly simple approach and it’s not a difficult a rule to abide by. I don’t begrudge him this choice, it’s his to make. It’s a pain in the ass, but Fucking Deal With It.

But Ken Ham, however, is a bit of a different beast in this Ban Hammer regard.

Firstly, though, a caveat. Unlike Comfort, where I’m fairly certain he manages the page personally, I’m not sure if Ken Ham’s Facebook page and his respective Answers in Genesis page are ran by him or a subordinate. It’s not unusual to delegate social networking activity to a minion, especially when you have an organisation as well funded as Answers in Genesis. But it’s under Ham’s name, so I’m going to refer to him personally for this. I’m going to proceed as if he is the one physically typing out the messages and doing the day-to-day admin. So, that said…

I’ll demonstrate with my own experience. Okay, so in principle this is me being “butthurt” over being banned from posting on AiG and Ham’s personal page. But what was the crime? It was this: it was a single post (my second, I think), responding to another atheist about the now infamous creationist science quiz. I can’t remember the exact wording since it was quickly deleted and shoved down the Memory Hole. It wasn’t a profanity-ridden rant, it wasn’t a repeated trolling, it wasn’t egregious insults (and, people should be well aware that I’m capable of that). It was a single post, and of fairly neutral, matter-of-fact tone. But, because I had talked to someone else, I had basically outed myself as an “enemy”. This was enough.

Ham’s approach to the Ban Hammer is different to most others. Eric Hovind and Ray Comfort have a threshold for getting rid of troublemakers – and I take great pains to point out that this is their prerogative, and if I was on the receiving end of the shit that atheists hurl at them, I’d do the same. Seriously, most Internet Atheists are stupid, obnoxious pillocks with the reasoning abilities of sour cream that’s been left out of the fridge for a month. They get what they deserve. Yet Hovind and Comfort still have a threshold of sorts and are fairly open to discussion. I once dropped a minute-by-minute snark-filled review of a Eric Hovind video and he let me. Kudos to Hovind, he left it up there, even though my most meaningful definitions I was trolling the fuck out of him and I admit it. There is no threshold you have to go over with Ken Ham. There is no barrier to a ban. Any and all dissent is quashed immediately.

I’m not going to argue this as a freedom of speech issue. That would be to simplify the point and then miss the actual point entirely – after all, I’m writing this, my freedom of speech is not restricted or infringed, I’ve covered that already. I’m arguing it based on the deceitful nature of Ham’s approach to his flock, and why he goes about having this zero-barrier approach to the wielding good ol’ Ban Hammer.

This is what Ken Ham does. It’s why I think he’s one of the most insidious creationists out of the entire bunch. He quashes dissent, rails against any criticism as if it’s an undeserved attack on his oh-so-precious beliefs, and frames everything as a vast conspiracy of persecution against him and his followers. It’s this approach that’s concerning and objectionable. Comments are all disabled on anything Answers in Genesis puts out, his Facebook pages are cleansed and purified, and we’re lucky that the YouTube channel even allows the rating system. In short, he specifically selects all the options to create an echo chamber of agreement. He removes any sources of criticism except for the ones he allows through, which he then twists and frames as unjust persecution. This isn’t just the case with his forays into Web 2.0, this is true of his most well-known work. For instance, his “How do you know? Were you there?” which he drums into young children; this serves no purpose except to selectively immunise them from thinking critically about what they believe. All of his lectures specifically quash thinking in favour of rote repeating of his points and with zero exploration, thinking or questioning of them allowed.

Now, that would normally just be some hyperbole by people who equate “critical thinking” with “thinking exactly like me”, but in this case it’s actually true. Ken Ham chants his mantra, and makes sure the children he lectures to can repeat it back verbatim and unquestioningly before he releases them into the world. Until that immunisation is complete, they’re held in a bubble – free from dissent and protected from alternative views.

So, its not what he believes that concerns me, it’s how he goes about it. It’s not something anyone with any love of reason should tolerate, but an echo chamber like this isn’t something you can fight against easily.

But what about the men?

There are a lot of issues that are primarily focused on human males – or men, since we’re past the point in linguistic evolution where “man” is expressly synonymous with “human”.

For instance, there’s health issues like the case of raising awareness of prostate cancer. Fiddling around with our balls is usually a favoured pastime of many of us apes, but doing it methodically to check for signs of a common disease is something that needs to be raised and repeated.

Or there’s legal issues, such as the asymmetrical treatment of fathers/husbands in divorce cases, or the harsher sentencing or, in particular if you’re in the US, the use of the death penalty.

There are also social issues, like the fact that rape and sexual assault on men goes significantly under-reported due to a significantly increased stigma. In fact, the media and public largely treats it as a joke.

But we can’t discuss these issues. Why? Because women and feminism get in the way!

…at least, that’s what I would say if I was a fucking idiot.

The only people getting in the way of these issues being treated seriously are the men’s rights movement (MRM) or men’s rights “activist” (MRA) groups themselves. They hide behind these issues, pretending to use them as examples of what their cause is about, but it’s clear from any casual look that these things are always on the backburner. These real issues only come out when pushed, and used as defensive shields to shy away behind when challenged for their more insidious bullshit.

It’s a shame, really, because whenever someone wants to raise a point like “I don’t think babies should be circumcised because it’s not their choice” they run the risk of being responded to with the automatic assumption that they’re in the MRA crowd. It’s not a completely unwarranted assumption, though. Find any discussion of FGM and you’ll find de-railing cries of “what about male circumcision” as if that’s magically not entirely irrelevant.

It’s not hard to tell the difference between legitimate calls for concern in men’s legal/social/health issues and blatant covering up of misogyny and old-fashioned sexism. Look at the complaints, for instance. If the complaint focuses on men, or concerns what they should do, not do, take up, try, or change, then it’s probably legitimate. “Hey guys, check your balls for signs of stress!” Simple. There’s nothing wrong with that. Or “don’t circumcise your son’s penis, it’s a procedure that should be done with informed consent later in life” – look, this is easy! It’s not hard, right?

But, on the other hand… well, it’s already documented elsewhere quite thoroughly. Here we have people accusing women/feminists of wanting “special” rights (though, ask what specific special rights and you’ll get tumbleweeds in response) or defending outright sexist behaviour using bullshit evolutionary psychology, or people simply saying “I hope you drown in rape semen” – seriously, the guy who said that is continually praised as an MRA hero, that’s like asking Hitler what to do about antisemitism. They continually target their problems elsewhere, they project them onto others and try to claim that they’re victims in a vast conspiracy against Men, by Women. They claim to be for “true” (read “naive”) equality, but perpetuate differences in genders more than any other group on the planet (well, maybe slightly behind second-wave rad-fems on that) and create far more divides than they claim to be against. In short, MRA groups have little interest in equality, despite the amount of kicking and screaming like little brattish children to the contrary. They feel ignored and victimised, but mostly it’s a persecution complex of their own devising – they’ve just imagined it.

Yes, feminism (even intersectional, third-wave, sex-positive, modern feminism) is asymmetrical. It puts greater focus on women’s issues than men’s. But what else can it do? Society as we see it is already asymmetrical. Trying to instigate pure, naive equality doesn’t address inequality, it perpetuates the status quo. It’s basically Newton’s First Law; an object in motion won’t be changed by balanced forces, you have to overbalance the forces to get it to move. And so with any social justice issue, the force needs to be unbalanced to to create the motion. Segregation and slavery didn’t end because people gave equal time to “white” and “black” issues, it had to focus and overbalance to get somewhere.

If you attack a straw woman enough…

Women have a bum deal in society (note; the caveats to this statement are not an argument against it), and some of us aren’t blinded to the phenomena involved; they have to perform, to put out, to make themselves beautiful, to wear X, Y Z, be threatened with rape and violence. Yet because this isn’t a problem for the other 50% of the population, the men’s rights crowd see fit to dismiss it and pretend that it isn’t true. They’ve decided that they don’t like having their own misogyny shown to them so that they can correct it – that would be effort. They don’t want to apply that effort because the status quo leaves them in a nice, comfortable position, where they can slap a girl’s arse and expect to be called “cheeky” rather than “rude”, or that they expect to get sex in exchange for buying dinner, or refer to complex social issues with blatantly sexist terminology like “pussy pass“. I mean, seriously, who the hell thinks “pussy pass” is a term that should be present in a mature discussion? Hands up? Anyone? No? Good.

They like this arrangement, so no wonder they push back against despite their cries for “equality”.

This is what makes dealing with “men’s rights” so difficult. There’s a wealth of legitimate things we need to discuss, but ironically, the only people who seem to give a fuck about those things are feminists, not the men’s rights activists.

Why?

I don’t normally go for the simple image-meme thing, but I figure this is the most succinct way of putting it. More thorough explanation available upon request.

Why?

What is so special about “science”, anyhow? It can’t tell you everything! It’s just a worldview. What does science do for you? Science leads to killing people. If you don’t believe in God, then there’s no good or evil. So that means we didn’t evolve from monkeys, because there are still monkeys. And if the world is millions of years old, why is it only 2013?