Spam is getting weirder…

Yes, it is spam, not trolling. The imgur link is to some Black Friday “coupon”, though I’ve redacted it to prevent any possibility of them getting publicity.

weird_spam

At some point, a human was involved in the creation of this – it might just be software that cribs comments at random, assembles the post, and then spams it – but someone wrote that software, someone pays the electric bill for the computer it runs on, and someone had a hand in its creation and style. I find that quite tragic, actually.

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The [Whatever] on this thread is disgusting

I spotted a thread on Facebook that involved someone expressing concern over the amount of racism going on. Someone else had this interesting little piece in response to them:

racismIn short, “criticising religion is not racism, because religion is not a tribe.”

This is not as smart an argument as you might think. And if at this point you find yourself running to a dictionary to prove otherwise, then you definitely have some learning to do.

Let’s start at the beginning.

If you over-generalise and make derogatory statements about a large group of people based on superficial qualities, then you’re guilty of… what? Racism? Xenophobia? Bigotry? In actual fact it doesn’t matter, because the facts remain; you’re making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities.

Trouble is, “making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities” is a bit of a mouthful.  Like calling myFunction() in some code, or some other suitable metaphor, you just need something there to tidy things up a little. Something to simplify and make your life easier when transferring thoughts from your brain to another. Doesn’t really matter what you call it. Well, actually, it does matter what you call it. It can matter quite a bit, because people make bad assumptions based on what you’ve called it. Ask anyone who has banged their head on a wall trying to convince some twerp that third-wave, sex-positive feminism isn’t Andrea Dworkin.

People are idiots for doing this sort of thing, but hey, we have a framework of human stupidity to work with, we may as well take action against it.

So, what do we call it when someone is making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities? There’s “discrimination”, but that has a lot of inferences about selecting people for job interviews based on skin colour, so isn’t the best choice. Bigotry is better, of course. It’s certainly one of those arbitrary combinations of vowels and consonants you can sink your teeth into with bile as you accuse someone of it. Though we’re really after a proper “ism” here. Racism and sexism come to mind, and homophobia and xenophobia describe the same thing but curiously use a different suffix. In those cases, they’re all notably broken down by the type of victim, not by the act itself.  So what if the victim falls outside of that range, such as a religion? This is interesting because we don’t necessarily have a single word for it in English; “religionism”? Maybe. Maybe not. Then we’re back to just “bigotry”.

Interestingly, this naming convention also helps us define hate crimes (this will be a bit of an aside, but the point will become clear in a moment). Now, we do already have religious discrimination under “hate crime”, but again, what about when the victim falls outside that pre-approved set of Real Victims? For instance, there was a recent change in UK law that lead to the inclusion of “subcultures” under the umbrella of hate crime. For context, this was sparked by the murder of Sophie Lancaster, who was brutally attacked and killed simply for being a goth.

This change met with some strong resistance. But why? After all, Sophie Lancaster was attacked, beaten and ultimately killed for her superficial outward appearance that her attackers didn’t like, and purposefully went out of their way to target. If we described it as such without any further particulars, one would assume we were talking about a racially-motivated attack. Yet, up until that point, it wouldn’t have even been considered as a hate crime on par with a racially-motivated attack. The reason why was partially because we simply didn’t have a name for “gothism” to bring it tightly under the umbrella of “hate crime”.  Without the name, we don’t really have a group to put under that list of pre-approved suitable victims. That’s not to say the concept can’t exist without the label, but it is far more difficult to rally a cause around nothing.

And so, people immediately assume it “didn’t count”. Despite what actually happened, what was actually done, and every attribute of the attack itself, it was simply a case of “yes it counts” or “no it doesn’t” based on such prior biases. And so, people didn’t think it was right to include attacks on subcultures under the umbrella of a hate crime; they thought it would water down the “real” definition.

(Anyhow, that’s the aside over.)

The point being that there’s a similar situation with anti-religious bigotry; the all Muslims are terrorist variety, rather than the “religion is a vector for harmful divisive effects on society” variety, of course. We don’t really have a single term for it. In many cases, we lump hatred of Muslims under “racism”, if only because of the backlash against “islamophobia” and the fact that the word “Muslim” in most contexts aims to conjure up a non-western and non-white ethnic group far more than, say, “Scientologist” does. But that still implies that it’s skin colour rather than religion we’re looking at. It’s making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities… but dash it all, it’s the wrong superficial quality!

So, if the original argument said “the racism on this thread is disgusting”, then you might be tricked into thinking the little screen capture above is a nice solid refutation of it. But it would still be a trick; a mere illusion. If it said “the [making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities] is disgusting”, does it still work? Does it actually refute anything? Does it demonstrate that [whatever] wasn’t happening? Or does it just attempt to redefine the terms so that it looks as if it isn’t?

Meaning is use, and sub-optimal selection of terminology doesn’t imply any incorrectness in the thought process. This is why we use logic; as logic is actually independent of definition. Logic lets us look at the thought process to see if it’s sound, without being prejudiced by our assumptions and inferences about what words “should” mean. It’s a great tool, but we need to be aware of it to use it.

And yes, I read the thread in question. The [making over-generalised derogatory statements about a group of people based on superficial qualities] was, indeed, disgusting.

What quoting the Bible to an atheist looks like when you’re an atheist

What quoting the Bible to an atheist looks like when you're an atheist

Seriously, this is what quoting the Bible to an atheist looks like when you’re an atheist. Spouting lines saying Jesus is the only way to heaven or whatever is genuinely less than meaningless. It may be a standard apologetics or evangelising trick, but it doesn’t work. Preachers need to be honest about how many people they’ve ever converted with this sort of thing; I cannot imagine it being very high.

Citing the Bible is not an argument designed to convince; it’s designed to maintain, or to keep people who already have faith. Indeed, most theistic arguments stem from this solely because they cannot connect the a priori arguments, such as the cosmological or teleological arguments, to the actual prescriptive dogma. If you pre-suppose that the Bible is inerrant and true then it makes sense, it keeps your faith. But that’s true of presupposing anything; if we assume Middle Earth is real, then the Silmarillion is proof that Middle Earth is the one truth mythology of England (besides, we also have Tolkien’s intent to back that one up).

So, to anyone who has ever done this; what do you actually expect us to do? Go “oh, gee whiz mister! I never knew that! Tell me more about this Jesus guy!” Because, frankly, I can’t see how you can even expect anyone but the terminally stupid to follow you after that.

Actually, that probably explains creationism.

So where are the millions of these?

Note: I found this image copy-pasted to a popular Facebook page – although they did decide to edit out the “stupid” from “stupid questions”, which I think is a travesty as “stupid” is a relatively honest assessment. However, they didn’t link back here for the fuller description (that’s okay, I could do without the hundreds of notifications of new derperific comments). Reading through the Facebook comments revealed several dozen rebutal to the effect that the image is “wrong”. Of course it’s “wrong”. It’s wrong for the reasons laid out in the rest of this blog post. But the page owners decided not to link to this blog post, and so no one could read all of these additional thoughts and caveats. Thus, they were all left thinking the image was “wrong” in a much more absolute way, and that the author was an idiot. I’m sure there’s a moral in this story somewhere…


This is apparently quite an old meme, but it cropped up somewhere recently and I thought I’d have a shot at de-bunking it in a single image. Creationist ideas are depressingly easy to debunk, but the problem with truly bad arguments is that it’s time consuming to refute them – so if you can do it in one image, why not try for the efficiency?

So where are the millions of these?

So, that’s it. The intermediate forms are dead, idiots. What next?

Actually, the original is wrong on a further level – which I suppose technically classes it as Not Even Wrong. It mis-identifies the starting animal in the linear ‘Descent of Man’ image as a chimp, and so infers that there are millions of them – although that number is off by an order of magnitude or two. This is wrong.  That starting animal, the common ancestor, is not alive today. There definitely are not millions of them around. Even that creature is dead along with the transitional forms connecting it to us.

While that makes it wrong from the very start, I think it’s important to also dispel the idea of linear evolution – instead of a straight line it’s a criss-crossed tree of inter-breeding, separation, diversification and extinction-driven pruning that’s unbelievably complicated. But I suppose that’s the price we have to pay for the nice, fun and clear ‘Descent of Man’ image. It gets the main message across – we evolved from ‘lower’ life forms, but it’s a simplification. Any simplification, where the nuances of the real picture are compressed to save space and get a message across, is prone to misunderstanding when people try to decompress it again without the right knowledge. And this is what happens here; creationists have taken the ‘Descent of Man’ image, unpacked the cute little diagram to figure out what it means, but made the wrong assumptions about the identity of the first creature in it. And so, “how come there are still monkeys?” remains a frequently asked question – and “where are the ones in the middle?” is the next logical question to ask.

It’s possible that modern chimps are relatively unchanged from the common hominin ancestor (not a completely unforgivable assumption, I’m sure, but it might be a tad awkward) making the idea that we are evolved “from” them have some degree of truth to it. Evolution is driven by environmental factors that make adaptation necessary; if you lack those factors, then only a minor amount of genetic drift will occur and so our closest living relatives may have a lot more in common with our common ancestor than we do. As a result, we can throw some caution to the wind about assuming that there are millions of chimps that we evolved from, and wonder where we can find the intermediate species that connect us. In this case the answer is still the same: they died out a long time ago. The branched species went extinct (as do the vast majority of species) while the surviving line eventually evolved into us.

So where are they? They’re buried under tons of rock, that’s where. Mostly crushed and eaten away by time.

We could reinterpret the question in a different way, though, and ask why there aren’t countless extant intermediate species today. Why are species alive today so diversified into the concept of a “species”? Why isn’t there a living continuum of different species that blend nicely from one related animal to the next? Why do we have discrete species rather than a continuous species? Now that is an interesting question, but it would be for another time.

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?