Friday, December 19, 2014

Curiosity Got the Better of Me....

Not long ago I decided to purchase the updated book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism (Kregel, 2013). Readers might remember that just a few months ago I had written an in-depth response to an earlier version of this book, titled, True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism (Patheos Press, 2012). I shot so many holes through that book it looks like swiss cheese now.

After finishing my response to the 2012 edition I found out that an updated printing became available about a year after the first publication date. I viewed what I could of the updated version online and concluded that my review of the 2012 edition would be sufficient to respond to both editions. But doubts plagued me. I wondered how much of an update they did to the book. With all of the issues I found there was much room for improvement. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I bought the new version. I just finished the book today and I was not impressed in the least.

Most of the essays appeared to have been rewritten to improve the grammar but most of the arguments were the same. Other than this, I noted a number of differences between the two editions: The inclusion of two new chapters: One by Lenny Esposito titled “Atheism and the Argument from Reason,” and one by David Marshall and Timothy McGrew titled “Faith and Reason in Historical Perspective”; the formatting was nicer and better organized; the writing was improved; and in a few essays there were minor changes, but nothing that I found that would cause me to have to revise my response to the 2012 edition. I stand by my statement at the end of my response to the previous 2012 edition: my review will suffice as a handy refutation of both editions (minus the two new chapters in the updated edition). But as it happens, I've already responded to one of the newer essays a few years ago.

The essay by Marshall and McGrew is one that I was very curious about. I read what little I could of the essay online and from the limited view allowed to me it appeared to be an improved and revised version of an essay David Marshall has written in the past, and one which I have responded to in great detail.

It purports to make the case that reason has always had a central place in Christian thought throughout history and Marshall cites numerous Christian theologians, philosophers, and scientists to support his thesis. The only problem? Each of his quotes have been taken out of context – in some cases, egregiously. When I saw that Marshall had enlisted the help of someone with actual academic credentials I was curious if he had improved upon his essay.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

The Chapter in True Reason is a hacked up version of Marshall's previous essay he titled “Faith and Reason.” Marshall provided dozens of quotes in his essay, but in the book version he provides only a handful of Christians to support his argument. And most of the quotes provided I have already sourced and found them to be taken out of context.

Given that I had already responded to this essay I was curious if Marshall might have responded to me in this updated version, and he did - sort of. This is the passage in question from the 2013 edition of True Reason from the essay “Faith and Reason in Historical Perspective.” Marshall is discussing Justin Martyr and provides a quote he claims proves that Martyr values reason and evidence and attempts to respond to “some atheists who have objected in online discussions that Justin gives only lip service to the integration of faith and reason.” Marshall continues to quote from Richard Carrier's 2006 online essay from the Secular Web titled “Was Christianity Too Improbable to Be False?” and says, “Historian Richard Carrier, for example, claims that Justin 'could find everything he believed in scripture [...] [and that] [y]ou can read Justin's two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle or source of his faith.'” (151)

While Marshall does not mention me by name, he makes a vague reference to unnamed “atheists” - plural. But to my knowledge I am the only atheist who has quoted Richard Carrier from Not the Impossible Faith (2009) in response to Marshall's argument regarding Justin Martyr, and Marshall and I have debated this point before, so it would be one hell of a coincidence if he wasn't responding to me.

Marshall provides next what he believes is a passage that is proof positive of this and argues that, unlike what Richard Carrier argues, Martyr does not rely just on scripture as the justification for his beliefs. He quotes Martyr from his First Apology:

For we have come, not to flatter you by this writing, nor please you by our address, but to beg that you pass judgment, after an accurate and searching investigation, not flattered by prejudice or by a desire of pleasing superstitious men, nor induced by irrational impulse or evil rumors which have long been prevalent, to give a decision which will prove to be against yourselves. For as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us, unless we be convicted as evil-doers or be proved to be wicked men; and you, you can kill, but not hurt us.

In reference to this passage Marshall writes, “The inquiry requested in this great passage is not a Bible study: it is judicial and historical. The question is whether Christians are 'evil men,' whether they in fact commit the crimes they are accused of.” (152)

For anyone with even an ounce of critical thinking ability they ought to be able to spot Marshall's egregious blunder. Atheists, when they talk of Christians not being guided by reason or evidence, are referring to Christians and their religious beliefs. Not every day matters, like a court case, which is what Martyr is referring to! So of course, he wouldn't reference the bible when discussing this subject!

I responded to this nonsensical argument three years ago! Marshall apparently has never read this scathing rebuttal. There I said,

This is crazy. As I said before, Marshall finds a passage speaking of an ‘investigation’ and he jumps all over it like a bitch in heat. What Justin is talking about is an investigation into the alleged crimes of Christians, not evidence for their beliefs!

I followed up further:

As I’ve shown, it was Marshall who interpreted Justin incorrectly. After all, Marshall has just proven true what Sam Harris has written. He said, “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”

Exactly. Did Justin give any evidence for his religious beliefs? No. Did he give reasons for other beliefs aside from his religious ones? Yes. That’s the point. It’s not that Christians never rely on evidence in their lives, but that when it comes to their faith they fail to rationally investigate their reasons for belief. Marshall has just proven Harris’ point without even meaning to.

Marshall did absolutely nothing to respond to this logical, factual objection, even though it's been out there for a number of years. I would implore Marshall to keep up, but I doubt that would help. He's behind the game as usual.

The other Chapter by Lenny Esposito about the Argument from Reason is one of the very few Christian arguments I've neglected to address in my writings. I never thought it was a good argument and many years ago I read Richard Carrier's response to it and believed there wasn't any point to looking any further into it.

I am pleased that there will be no need for me to revise my rebuttal to True Reason and I very much hope my response to the book is being referenced often, as this appears to be a fairly popular book, as it has a vast majority of highly positive reviews on These Christian authors are trying to pull the wool over their readers' eyes and I hope many curious readers will find my response helpful.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Columbus Day: Another Day, Another Year of Shame

It was in the year 2011 that I began this series of posts, expressing the shame I felt for this national holiday. Well, it is that time of year again and there are more movements popping up trying to get the word out to more and more people. Just recently in Seattle, Washington the City Council voted unanimously for replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day. Fox News reports that other cities have followed suit. I hope more follow until Columbus is celebrated no more.

A few years ago Nu Heightz Cinema filmmakers Carlos Germosen and Crystal Whelan created the following PSA to “reconsider Columbus Day.” I think everyone should listen to and act on their message.

What follows in the original post I've repeatedly posted each year about Columbus Day.

Today is Columbus Day. A day that has become a national holiday. Even though it's somewhat well known what Christopher Columbus did to the natives when he landed in the americas I sometimes wonder what certain Statists' and patriots' feelings are about it. Personally I am ashamed of this act in our history. It is even more shameful that it is celebrated as it is.

In the multivolume History of the Indies Bartolome de las Casas describes what the Europeans did to the natives,

Endless testimonies....prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives....But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then.... The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians.... [1]

After enslaving the natives the Europeans worked them to the point of death.

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides....they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation.... In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk....and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile....was depopulated.... My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write..... [2]

In American Holocaust David Stannard writes that approximately 100,000,000 natives were exterminated, or nearly exterminated, due to acts of cruelty, genocide, and disease. [3] Of course, it seems many historians place that figure around 50,000,000 so the precise number seems to vary. [4]

While many people might celebrate this day as a day Columbus “found” america (there were millions living here before he even showed up and took over) I will remember it for what it was: a time of mass slavery and genocide and I will mourn those who lost their lives and their land.

1. A Peoples' History of the United States: 1492-Present, by Howard Zinn, HarperPerennial, 2005; 6

2. Ibid.; 7

3. American Holocaust:‭ ‬The Conquest of the New World,‭ ‬by David E.‭ ‬Stannard,‭ ‬Oxford University Press,‭ ‬1992‭; 151

4. Population history of indigenous peoples of the Americas - accessed 10-10-11

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Via The Intercept: “Irate NSA Staffer Doesn’t Like Being Filmed in Public, for Some Reason”

An interesting piece of news was posted on The Intercept yesterday. An article by John Cook reported on two videos shot by University of New Mexico students, who recorded their encounter with an NSA employee, who came to their school for a recruitment effort. It's pretty ironic how a man who wants to spy on literally everyone gets offended when his own privacy is violated by someone sticking a camera in his face. And when the representative of the NSA asks the young man if he received his permission to film him I would have replied, “No, but did you get my permission to collect my personal communications? No. So shut the hell up.”

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Feel Violated: The TSA Molested Me

A number of years ago when I flew to visit family the newly released “strip-search machines,” or the ‘millimetre wave’ and 'backscatter’ machines, had recently been rolled out to allegedly help keep passengers “safe” from “terrorists.” I recounted my experience dealing the the TSA and how they tried to humiliate me, an experience many others have had.

In the past when I've refused the body scanners I had not experienced the invasive groping of crotches I've often read about, though male TSA agents have run the backs of their hands down by butt, which was always an uncomfortable experience (It should be noted that I do not fly very often). But while flying a few times recently I have had some more unpleasant experiences. In the past, when a TSA agent asks if I have any sensitive areas on my body I sometimes respond with, “my groin” and this seems to ensure the TSA does not touch my private areas. As an experiment, I also sometimes respond with a “No” to see just how invasive the pat-downs might get, and prior to this incident I had not been groped in the groin area even when telling the TSA agent “No.” But I suppose this particular TSA had no misgivings about violating a complete stranger.

While flying through Kansas City International Airport an elderly TSA agent briefly explained to me the pat-down procedure and asked me if I had any sensitive areas on my body. As I've done in the past, I responded with a “No,” which I was about to regret. During the explanation of the pat-down he was about to perform he did not inform me that he was going to touch my genitals, so when his hand slid up one of my legs during the pat-down I was not expecting his hand to make contact with my genitals. As the TSA agent's hand slid up my leg his hand went up until it touched my testicles, which hurt a little bit. But apparently, once wasn't enough. He ran his hand up along my right leg for a second time, touching my crotch again. Each time I rose up onto the balls of my feet to get away from this man's inappropriate touching and each time I felt horribly violated and angry. For about an hour after this experience, my groin area ached slightly. From this point on, I am never going to take my chances again and will make sure I tell the TSA to keep their damn hands off of my junk! The touching of my rear end is bad enough!

At another airport, this time at Mesa, Arizona, a female TSA agent copped an attitude with me when I refused to go through the body scanner. In the past when I'd opted out I was allowed to walk to a screening area close to my belongings so I could keep an eye on them. But not this time. I asked the woman if I could go over to keep an eye on my bags that had just gone through the x-ray machine and the woman replied very nastily, “Oh no you can't! If you want to go near your bags you need to go through the body scanner.” This pissed me off, as I tried to look through the crowd of people to see if I could spot my belongings to ensure no one walked off with them or took anything out of them. Finally, after a few minutes the woman allowed me through where I was patted down by a male TSA agent, but was not violated as in the most recent incident.

I saw on YouTube a Colorado woman named Yukari Mihamae grabbed the left breast of a TSA agent and was arrested for sexual abuse. Interesting. A “citizen” touches another person's private areas and is arrested for sexual assault. The TSA does it and it's perfectly alright. The inequality of our society is growing and growing.

From this point on I will never experiment going through a TSA check point again and I hope anyone else who goes through a check point will heed this advice. Unfortunately, females have two intimate places (not counting the rear end) that are often searched during screenings and I'm unaware of how effective telling the TSA that both your breasts and vagina are both sensitive. It may lead to more aggressive touching if you deny the agent access to two places rather than one, since the TSA agent might suspect you're trying to hide something. (After writing this sentence, I recognize the absurdity of talking about having to choose which private area to have touched by a stranger just to get on a damn plane) However, had I tucked something into my crotch region in the past and said “Yes” when asked if I had any sensitive areas on my body I could easily have gotten through security with something dangerous. In that case, how in the world are these procedures doing anything to “keep people safe?!” The TSA just needs to stop molesting people!

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Lucifer Effect – September 2014

There have been numerous cases of police brutality and misconduct recently with the horrible murder of African American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. The resulting protests by members of the community and surrounding areas drew media and a highly militarized police force who made the streets of Ferguson look like a war zone. Here are a few videos of these protests and the over the top police response.

Also in Ferguson, a member of the police force was recorded on video pointing his automatic weapon at protesters. The YouTube video description describes the video as follows: “At roughly 11:55 PM CDT on August 20th, 2014, a Ferguson police officer was spotted randomly pointing an assault rifle at protesters. This event was captured by the citizen journalist Rebelutionary_Z. The officer pointed his rifle at Rebelutionary_Z's companion, identified as Josiah (an African-American), and said 'I will fucking kill you, get back.' When asked for his name by Rebelutionary_Z, the officer responded 'Go fuck yourself.'” This police officer was later identified as Lt. Ray Albers.

In another incident caught via camera, a Tennessee collage student Jarod Dotson was photographed as he was being violently choked until losing consciousness by Tennessee sheriff's deputy identified as Frank Phillips. Phillips was later found to be “'unsuitable for continued employment,' according to a termination notice posted Sunday night on the Knox County Sheriff's Office's website.” Below are the pictures taken of the incident. As can be clearly seen Dotson does not appear to be resisting arrest or being combative or troublesome in any way but Phillips walks to the front of Dotson and wraps his hands around the young man's neck until his knees appear to buckle and he falls to the ground, likely due to losing consciousness. Even has Dotson is falling Phillips still has his hands around his neck.

Recorded on March 8, 2013 the next video depicts officers with the El Paso police department trying to subdue an obviously agitated man named Daniel Rodrigo Saenz and one of the officers, Jose Flores, shoots and kills Saenz, even though his hands were hand-cuffed behind his back. I do not buy the cops' excuses for why he was killed. There was no reason for Flores to pull his weapon in the first place. The man was on the ground with his arms restrained behind his back. In that situation there is no need to draw a firearm in that situation. Saenz did not present a deadly threat from that position and drawing a deadly weapon was unjustified. Chalk it up to another police cover-up and another murder by police that goes entirely unpunished.

In this next video, a cop kicks a hand-cuffed child in the head for being a little mouthy. The YouTube description describes what took place: “Members of the Boynton Beach Police Department may be asked to explain their actions, after video footage has emerged of the officers allegedly choking and kicking sixth grade students, aged approximately 11 years.

The boys were reportedly pulled off the school bus for some minor behavioral issues, when police arrived. One boy was initially handcuffed and sat on the ground, while police handcuffed the second student. In the first video, the student standing with the officer on the left of screen is allegedly roughly detained. However, the second video shows an officer kicking the student in the rear of his legs, causing him to fall heavily. It is this action which remains questionable and will probably come under further scrutiny.”

This final video is pretty long, but it seems to me that the young man in the video was innocent, going about his business, and did nothing wrong, and these Mesa, Arizona cops decide to harass him and his friend. Granted the friend was drunk, but he wasn't driving. His sober friend was driving, so it seems odd that he was arrested merely for being drunk. Then their car was towed apparently for no good reason other than the cops can abuse people like this. This appears to be a case of abuse of power on the part of these cops.