Monday, March 2, 2015

Aljazeera: “Mossad contradicted Netanyahu on Iran nuclear programme”




Recently released cables from Israel's own intelligence agency, Mossad, to South Africa's State Security Agency noted that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” This, despite Benjamin Netanyahu's decades long ranting about Iran's' alleged progress on a nuclear bomb.

You can currently view these documents here.

I have also updated my refutation of The Irrational Atheist with this new information. You may read my extensive response (the most thorough on the internet as far as I am aware) here.

Here too is a video briefly outlining these cables:


Friday, January 30, 2015

Public Defender Arrested for Sicking Up for Two Suspects


On Tuesday, January 27, 2015 in San Francisco, police arrested a public defender for standing up for her clients' Constitutional rights. Two men were being photographed and questioned by police without any legal council present. When Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson saw this was taking place she stepped in and stopped the illegal actions. To the dismay of everyone, the police then threaten to arrest Tillotson if she did not move. She refused and was arrested. To make an outrageous situation even worse, even though she said “please do” when asked if she wanted to be arrested and did not move a muscle as she was being handcuffed, she was charged with “resisting arrest” by the officers. See the video below.





Apparently, even the people charged with protecting the rights of others are now having their own rights violated. How ironic...not to mention sad.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Greenwald: “Police Now Monitoring and Criminalizing Online Speech”


Glenn Greenwald has a new piece in The Intercept that really took the words right out of my mouth. It also reminded me of what happened to me a number of years ago when I too was investigated for my own political speech. In that post I noted my amazement that my views on politics and other worldly happenings were a reason for opening an investigation on me, even though I never advocated violence. Greenwald's post surprised me when he noted that “the Supreme Court ruled 45 years ago in Brandenburg v. Ohio, 'the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force' (emphasis added).” I always believed that freedom of speech, while largely free, was contained by some boundaries, one being the advocacy of violence against one or more people.

Since I began reading his columns, first at Salon.com, then The Guardian, and now at The Intercept, I can barely remember a time when I was not in complete agreement with the principles he sets forth and the rationality by which goes about arguing his case. Thank you Glenn Greenwald for standing up for rationality, truth, justice and freedom.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Review of 13 Reasons to Doubt


13 Reasons to Doubt (Onus Books, 2014) includes essays by a number of writers of the Skeptic Ink Network (www.skepticink.com). The book consists of a total of thirteen essays and one additional appendix. Contributers include: Russel Blackford, Edward K. Clint, Peter Ferguson, John W. Loftus, Staks Rosch, and Jonathan M.S. Pearce, among several others.

The book was very nicely edited by Clint, Pearce, and Beth Ann Erickson. Each of the essays were well-written, concise, well-sourced, and, quite frankly, were damn good essays on issues of skepticism. It was a pleasure to read each essay, and each of them caused me to pause for self-reflection and to recall my own journey with skepticism.

The Introduction is written by Edward K. Clint. It serves as not only an introduction to the book and the broad themes the reader will encounter, but also as an introduction to the Skeptic Ink Network itself. SIN is a relative newcomer to the skeptical blogosphere but the cadre of authors have largely proven themselves to be staunch defenders of science and critical thinking.

The first chapter is written by Peter Ferguson and is titled “A Brief History of Doubt: Great Skeptics from Antiquity to the Renaissance.” This chapter provides a concise and informative history of the European men (and women!) who had the greatest impact upon society as critical thinkers and critics of the religious and scientific thought of their time. Included are brief discussions about the views of such luminaries as Epicurus, Democritus, Lucretius, and Hypatia.

The second chapter is written by Russel Blackford. It is titled “Skepticism in an Age of Ideology.” This is a good essay about conspiracy theories, ideology, and the value of skepticism in modern culture. Throughout the essay Blackford provides ideas about how one can become more skeptical in the face of the large amounts of propaganda and ideologically-driven beliefs in our modern age.

The third chapter is written by Maria Maltseva and it is titled “Are You A Skeptic?” It is a brief essay outlining her views about what skepticism is. She concludes that, ultimately, “skepticism is just a reminder to think critically and independently, reach decisions based on the evidence, and recognize our own fallibility.” I couldn't have said it better myself.

The fourth chapter is written by Caleb W. Lack. It is titled “Why You Can't Trust Your Brain.” This chapter deals with the numerous cognitive biases that effect the human brain and can often cause errors in judgment and belief. This is a very good chapter. Lack writes that while “there is not a way to completely rid yourself of cognitive biases, there are a number of tools and methods you can use to mitigate their effects on your everyday decision making.” He continues to briefly discuss some of these methods that, while not fool proof, will greatly aid in diminishing the effect of these biases upon your ability to think critically.

The fifth chapter is written by Jacques Rousseau. It is titled “Being Suspicious of Ourselves: Groupthink's Threat to Skepticism.” In this essay Rousseau reminds readers to be cautious and not allow our tribal tendencies to overtake us, particularly in relation to the current brouhaha in the atheist/skeptical community surrounding the issues of feminism within the atheist movement.

The sixth chapter is written by Kevin McCarthy. It is titled “Science: A Mechanism of Doubting; a Source of Reliability.” This chapter is about the usefulness of science in aiding us in sorting fact and fiction, and applying this method to our daily lives. McCarthy briefly addresses such things as Biblical claims, the effectiveness of prayer, revelation, and notes ways that the scientific process functions. He then shows how scientific methodology has been proven reliable over long stretches of time, and compares this success with the failure of religious claims.

The seventh chapter is written by John W. Lotfus. It is titled “Science is Predicated on the Non-Magical Natural World Order.” This chapter is about why the scientific method must remain completely natural, with no man behind the curtain; no gods toggling the switches of nature. Science works best when practiced in this manner, Loftus writes, because without this regularity of nature in the first place science would not be possible, and human beings would be unable to determine the outcomes of events, nor learn much of anything about the world. He also addresses some counter-claims of Christians and demonstrates their fatal flaws.

The eighth chapter is written by Zachary Sloss and it is titled “The Power of Hume's On Miracles.” This is a brief and interesting chapter outlining David Hume's Of Miracles. Sloss proceeds to explain in easy to understand terms Hume's oft misunderstood argument and shows how it makes miracles highly doubtful.

The ninth chapter is written by Jonathan M.S. Pearce. It is titled “On Doubting the Existence of Free Will, and How It Can Make the World a Better Place.” This is a very good, and thought-provoking piece. Pearce lays out his case for the lack of free will in this world relying on both sound philosophical argument and scientific evidence. Next, he outlines what this lack of free will means for society, with a focus on morality and what this means for our current system of retributive justice. Pearce explains these complex issues with skill and makes it easily digestible.

The tenth chapter is written by Rebecca Bradley. The chapter is titled “Pseudoarcheology: Seven Tips." This is a relatively brief chapter about what she calls pseudoarcheology, or “alternative archeology.” Ancient aliens, New Age hocus pocus and other highly speculative claims are addressed. If you are relatively inexperienced in the subject you just may fall victim to the sometimes convicting sounding arguments, but Bradley provides advice on how to spot good science from bad. Very helpful chapter about a subject I have not seen addressed too often in the skeptical literature. Bradley's chapter serves as a nice addition.

The eleventh chapter is written by Staks Roach. His chapter is titled “The New World Order Is Coming for You!” This was an entertaining essay about common a conspiracy theory dealing with the New World Order and wealthy bankers and other shadowy figures who are often said to pull the strings of governments and who control the world. Mr. Roach employs penetrating logic to poke holes in many of the beliefs held by these conspiracy theorists.

The twelfth chapter is written by David Osorio and it is titled “Why Beliefs Matter.” As the title implies, the author's goal is to convince the reader that beliefs do in fact matter and surely impact the way people view the world. Even more grim is the fact that should someone hold an irrational view, the person will most likely act on that belief, affecting those around him, possibly for the worst. True, blunt skepticism is the only way to combat irrationality and if more people did that, the world would be a better place, writes the author.

The thirteenth and final chapter is by Edward K. Clint. It is titled “Science Denialism at a Skeptic Conference: A Cautionary Tale.” This is probably the longest chapter in the book, and it is worth the wait. This was easily one of my favorite chapters, as I enjoy reading essays that utterly deconstruct another's viewpoint with undeniable facts and logic.

Clint, who holds a BS is Psychology, heavily researches the subject of evolutionary psychology and has written a thorough, fair, yet, scathing rebuttal to a fifty-minute talk about evolutionary psychology called “How Girls Evolved to Shop and other ways to insult women with 'science'” by famed Skepchick blogger Rebecca Watson at the November 2012 Skepticon event.

Essentially, Clint goes through the entire talk and corrects numerous misquotes, exposes many instances of cherry picking of data, sloppy research, and many contradictions. Well-researched and extensively sourced, this essay effectively corrects most of the errors made my Watson in her talk and vindicates the science of evolutionary psychology.

The final Appendix includes 90 separate quotes lifted directly from Watson's talk and breaks down the problems with what she says.

This book would serve as a very good primer to those new to atheism and the skeptical movement in general as it provides much food for thought on a diverse series of topics.

Why not buy yourself a copy and a few more for late minute Christmas gifts? You can purchase the book at Amazon.com in both print edition and Kindle.

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 Amazon.com. These Christian authors are trying to pull the wool over their readers' eyes and I hope many curious readers will find my response helpful.