Darrick Banda for DA

It isn’t often that I cross political lines and endorse a Republican. I’m a pretty liberal person, and while Democrats often don’t match up with my views as well as I would like, it’s definitely the candidates with the “D” next to their names that most closely reflect my politics. However, this election is a little different. For 2012, I have an overwhelming reason to endorse Darrick Banda for DA: His opponent is Maeghan Maloney.

As many readers know, Maeghan Maloney attempted to sue me on behalf of her quack husband, Christopher Maloney. They believed I had made libelous statements by calling “Dr.” Maloney a quack. (He practices the scientifically bogus discipline of naturopathy.) However, they soon backed away from their pursuit of that claim when I brought on an excellent defense team – a defense team made up of three lawyers who were working pro-Bono because they all value the protection of basic free speech rights. Here is what one of them, Ken, had to say about Mrs. Maloney:

5. Dr. and Ms. Maloney’s demand for injunctive relief, to me, perfectly represents how unprincipled, contemptible, un-American, and freakishly censorious their entire threat scheme was. The complaint they served on Mr. Hawkins was incomplete — it cut off at the seventh page, so you can’t tell what’s in the prayer for relief — but here’s what they demand in the text of the injunctive relief cause of action:

35. . . . . Injunctive action is necessary to prevent further expansion of Defendant Hawkins’ comments. A temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction or a permanent injunction is necessary, as Defendant has refused to limit or remove postings.

36. Such injunctive action would need to apply all [sic] blogging and social media, as Defendant Hawkins has threatened he will repost all his material. It would also need to apply to all allied bloggers reposting Defendant Hawkins’ materials since several have explicitly offered to host him and maintain a copy of his blog. [Emphasis added]

That’s right — a Maine state legislator just suggested that a Maine court should issue an injunction prohibiting unnamed, unserved people — potentially including you — from re-posting what Mr. Hawkins had to say about Dr. Maloney.

And that was some of the nicer stuff he had to say.

Of course, Maloney isn’t the only reason I’m endorsing Banda. As it happens, I think Banda is more qualified for the job given his background. He has been involved with the DA’s office far more than Maloney and I believe he is a far more respected figure than she is. Moreover, this position is not one that is political in the same way a legislative job is. I think Banda recognizes that, whereas I’m not so sure Maloney does. (After all, she can’t seem to even recognize basic First Amendment rights.)

Vote Darrick Banda.

Atheism is descriptive. Atheism is descriptive. Atheism is descriptive.

I feel like I’ve made this post about a thousand times, but there seems to be a constant need for it: Atheism is descriptive, not normative. It neither includes nor excludes any values. (It may exclude a basis for a particular value, but the value itself is not excluded.) There simply is no way it could, no more so than my belief that rocks are hard could bring me to think that ancient toolmaking methods are important things to know. I can think both of those things, but that doesn’t mean one flows from the other. If it did, then that would mean a person couldn’t logically think that because rocks are hard, ancient toolmaking is useless to know. Just the same, two people can be atheists and have mutually exclusive views on the importance of, say, religion.

Now, let me get to the inspiration for this post:

I’ve never heard of J. Michael Straczynski, but I saw this picture pop up on my Facebook feed. What ensued was an entirely dismaying discussion where a fellow atheist first contended that my argument comes down to semantics, then he said Straczynski was at most using imprecise language, and finally he made a status where he encouraged people to make statements that began, “As an atheist…” I’m convinced this person has not considered the difference between normative and descriptive positions.

Let’s look at the quote in the picture. The author is saying that as an atheist he believes life is precious, but that isn’t really true. He is an atheist and he believes life is precious, but he does not believe life is precious because he is an atheist. Indeed, the sequence here is exactly backwards. What led him to be an atheist is what led him to also believe life disappears forever after only a brief time. He may as well say, “As someone who knows the Sun is hot, I believe life is precious” or “As someone who knows rocks are hard, I believe life is precious” or “As someone who knows the scrotum of a goat makes for a delicious snack, I believe life is precious.” His second clause does not follow from his first clause.

One of the reasons this is so important is that, aside from it being absurd to say that any given value derives from atheism (on what frickin’ basis?), this is exactly the same reasoning Christians and others use when they argue that Stalin did what he did because he was an atheist. That is, they are saying there are certain values a person must either include or exclude (or both) because of atheism. When that person, so the argument goes, comes to great power, Stalin is a logical result. And they would at least have a valid premise if atheism was actually normative.

Good thing it’s only descriptive.

I think the above argument makes a pretty solid case for why Straczynski’s statement is completely incoherent, but my favorite thought experiment on this matter is this one: Imagine I have in my hand a quote. This quotes comes from someone living in Anywhere, USA. The person may be black, white, male, female, born in the US, an immigrant, tall, short, fat, skinny, beautiful, ugly, smart, dumb, polite, crass, young, old, whatever. We have no facts about this person or his/her background. Not a single thing. All we know is what is contained within the quote. It is as follows: “I am an atheist, therefore I believe…” Now try to finish that sentence.

Go ahead. Try.

Yet another Halloween note

My advice last year was not to be cheap. The year before I advised people to give out Twix. This year I want to talk about slutty sexy cats:

Sure, a lot of us appreciate this costume when we see it, but look. It isn’t anything remotely new. It’s been done millions of times; it has to go. I mean, surely there is some other organism in the animal kingdom that lends itself to the excuse to flaunt one’s self, right? For instance:

Get a modified lion’s mane, some short-shorts, and half a shirt and I think we’ve got ourselves a new costume trend.

Thought of the day

People act like the national debt is the biggest problem facing the U.S. today, but that’s only true insofar as the national debt impacts our ability to fight global warming.

Andreas Moritz is dead

About a week or so ago, Andreas Moritz died. This is posted on his website and Facebook page:

~ Announcement ~

It is with a mixture of profound human sadness and deep spiritual gratitude that we announce to the world that Andreas Moritz has returned to the Realms of Light.

During his all-too-brief stay here on Earth, Andreas touched the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Through his teachings, his books, his art, his personal guidance and inspiration, he helped people throughout the world to restore their health and well-being, and, in so doing, transform their lives.

As his mission here on Earth was nearing completion, he worked passionately to write and complete four more books, and they will be released in the coming months.

As we each deal with this shock and our personal grief surrounding his transition, the greatest gift we can give to Andreas is to send Love and Gratitude to assist him as he continues his Mission from the higher dimensions.

At some point in the future we plan to co-create a global celebration of his life and many blessings to the world.

~ The Ener-Chi Family

His cause of death appears to be unannounced by his family, but various sources on the web say that that information will be released after his funeral. Given that he died at least one week ago, I imagine that means we’ll know soon. I will be interested to see if he had cancer or any other disease he claimed was not disease. If he did, I’ll make a new post about it. Otherwise, I imagine I’ll just update this post.

I’m never happy about the death of a fellow human, and I have no intention of gloating about a single thing here. However, I do lament the fact that there are apparently four more Moritz books due to be released. Just as the world didn’t need his death, it didn’t need any of his work. And now that it does have his death, I wish it would do away with his work. This is a man whose legacy should be carried on solely as a private endeavor by his family, friends, and loved ones.

The debate summaries

This is going to be a quickie, just for the record:

Presidential Debate #1: The consensus is that Mitt Romney won this because he was fiery and energetic, but that conclusion misses the mark. The fact is, the President was off his game or had a terrible strategy or something like that. Whatever it was, President Obama lost, but Mitt Romney did not go out and win this. He wasn’t even that energetic. No, he was like the 2006 Cardinals or 2007 Giants, simply there to accept the collapse of his opponent – at least on style. On facts, it is the consensus that the President easily won the debate.

Vice Presidential Debate: Joe Biden came out strong, calling Paul Ryan a liar every which way without actually using the word “liar”. It was almost sad to see the seasoned veteran beat down what appeared to be a small-time local politician who was in way over his head. But, of course, the conservative media didn’t see it that way. They whined that Biden was rude and that the moderator was unfair. Notice the fact that the liberal media did not do this when President Obama performed poorly.

Presidential Debate #2: The President won this town hall style debate. He called Romney out on his falsehoods much more strongly and he was engaged. He was just as firm this time on the facts as he was the first time, but he delivered everything in an effective manner. Romney, however, did well enough that no one remembers anything important he said.

Presidential Debate #3: Once again, the President came out on top. Romney spent most of the debate agreeing with the Commander-in-Chief, making President Obama look all the more presidential. Surprisingly, the GOP candidate didn’t go hard on Benghazi. Ultimately it is an issue that no one will discuss when looking back at President Obama’s time in office, but it is a big deal when under the microscope that comes with a presidential election. Romney made a mistake by not trying to hammer away at it.

Conclusion: The President and Vice President won all four debates on the facts. They have been consistent in their message and arguments, and they both had a better grasp of the issues than their opponents. Paul Ryan did especially poorly considering his status as “a numbers guy”, but even for just being some schmuck his smacking was notable. Unfortunately, the debate that mattered the most was the first one by virtue of being first, and that is where the President did not fair well and Romney won by default.

Thought of the day

I can’t believe that Mitt Romney is going to get over 40% of the vote, much less close to 50%. Aside from the day to day (and sometimes same day) shifts on position, he hardly even appeals to the Republican base. He strikes me as the most pointless presidential candidate I can remember in my lifetime.

David Marshall, The A-Unicornist, and a review of reviews

Mike over at The A-Unicornist has spent quite a few weeks working through the Christian apologist book True Reason, chapter by chapter. (Links to all his reviews can be found here.) The book is more or less a response to the relatively recent uptick in atheist writings and whatnot; it contends that Christianity and reason go hand-in-hand while atheism lacks in justification. Most of the chapters are written by different people, the most well known of whom is William Lane Craig. (Craig, popular on YouTube and the debating circuit, is the sort of guy who fancies himself knowledgeable about physics. This is despite the fact that he does not understand anything about the First Cause argument.) Unfortunately, Mike has yet to get a response from Craig. However, he has had several authors respond in his comment sections. A few even made their own blog posts. One of those bloggers is David Marshall.

I have not read True Reason, so I can’t respond to anything specific from Marshall’s chapter unless it has been quoted. However, I can respond to a few of the bad arguments he makes in his response post. Let’s start with this gem:

[Alister] McGrath is Dawkins’ colleague, and his expertise lies in historical Christian theology, so he ought to (and does) know what it teaches.

Richard Dawkins has studied biology and evolution for over 50 years. He has a PhD from Oxford. He has taught at Berkley and Oxford. He wrote one of the most influential books on evolutionary theory in the 20th century. Alister McGrath is not his colleague.

This sort of thing represents the general quality of Marshall’s opening. For instance, he goes on to link to books he has written, bash more atheists, and call Dawkins ignorant while saying John Loftus is basically a liar. But the part that takes the cake is where he attempts to poison the well by, as he admits, biasing us against Mike:

Whether you call [the name of Mike’s website, The A-Unicornist) whimsy or logic, let me begin by asking the obvious question. Is it intellectually humble, or wise, to define oneself as denying the existence of unicorns? If you are a Christian, how can you know God didn’t create any unicorns, and put them in one of the worlds C. S. Lewis locates at the bottom of pools in the Wood Between the Worlds in his children’s book The Magician’s Nephew? (A Christian multiverse already, in 1955!) And if you are an atheist, the Anthropic Principle probably requires you to posit an infinite number of worlds, or so enormously large a number of worlds that the word “astronomical” is rendered quaint. Then on what grounds, having visiting almost none of those worlds (I am not talking to New Agers), that there are no unicorns on a single one of them?

This is an issue that has been covered so many times by so many people, including Mike during his process of reviewing this book. Atheism (and a-unicornism, for that matter) does not mean denying the existence of deities. It refers to a lack of belief in them. That is, atheists are not making the positive claim that there are no gods. We don’t know that. What we’re saying is that no compelling evidence has been presented to convince us of the Christian’s positive claim that there is a god, so we reject his proposition. (The same goes for positive claims made by Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and virtually all other religions.) Hell, Richard Dawkins even has a 7 point scale of belief in The God Delusion where he contends that he is an agnostic because, though no good evidence exists to make a reasonable case for any god, he does not have definitive proof that we live in a godless Universe. Just the same, there is no proof that we live in a unicornless Universe, but there is absolutely no reason to assume that they exist.

At this point Marshall is starting to get into Mike’s actual arguments, but continues with the bad form:

The question is how fairly or incisively Mike has thought through what he claims are the book’s better arguments, or if he knows enough for his opinion to be worth anything.

So Jesus-like.

Let his attempt to “think through” my argument be a test of that. If he fails to accurately grasp the argument I make in this chapter, let’s assume that he flubbed the other chapters, as well, until he proves otherwise.

This is interesting because the post to which Marshall is responding is about chapter 10. One would imagine he might look to the 9 previous reviews (one of which was about a chapter which Marshall also wrote). Or even more significant, since his post went up on October 21 and Mike finished chapter 16 on October 16, one would not be unreasonable in imagining he could have read those other chapters rather than assume they were flubbed. But, no, by all means. Let’s go down that totally logical road and assume that if someone gets one argument wrong, he must have them all wrong. SPOILER ALERT: This ‘logic’ does not work out in Marshall’s favor.

David Marshall, whose previous chapter left me unimpressed . . .

Since I know quite a bit about the subjects of that previous chapter, world religions and the history of Christianity, and Mike evidently does not (read my response in the comments section), let’s just say, that his “thumbs down” critique does not quite break my heart.

(The italicized portion is a quote from Mike whereas the rest is Marshall’s response.)

Oh, well. If you’re an authority in your field, then I guess we’re done here. Unless…wait a minute. That’s right. It turns out logical fallacies are not valid responses. So…I guess we can just assume that Marshall has flubbed the rest of arguments, right?

If Gnus were really open to learning something gnu, shouldn’t the fact that Christians keep denying the definition of faith New Atheism projects on us Christians, tell them something right there?

First, this is an argument from popularity. That makes three logical fallacies (though credence has been lent to Marshall’s argument that we might rightly assume a person who flubs one argument has flubbed them all). Second, atheists have been arguing for who-knows-how-long that atheism is not a positive claim, yet that hasn’t stopped Marshall from ignoring us. Third, the definition Gnu Atheists have had for the sort of faith displayed by those who believe in God (‘belief without evidence’) is correct. If it wasn’t, then we would expect to have all sorts of Christians who came to their beliefs independently of the Bible. That is, the Bible is not a source of evidence anymore than the Lord of the Rings is a source of evidence that Mt. Doom exists. So since that is true and since Christianity requires the Bible, we do not have independent Christians as we would expect if faith was not belief without evidence. On the other hand, scientists come to the same conclusions independently all the time.

Indeed it doesn’t! Here’s Blatant Flub II: Mike quaffs his first quote! (And what he calls an “old canard,” at that!)

He glosses me as saying “faith is just another way of knowing.” But then what he quotes me as actually saying, is rather that faith (as Christians understand it) is the ONLY way of knowing anything!

Here is what Marshall said, emphasis mine: In fact, faith is simply one of two faculties (along with its close cousin, reason) by which we know all that we know.

At least that one wasn’t a logical fallacy.

Also, the sub-text, Mike is admitting that he has often heard Christians say faith is reasonable. This he calls an “old canard,” because he has heard it so often. Why, then (third and most important error so far) doesn’t he allow Christians to explain what we believe for ourselves?

He read your book, didn’t he?

If Christian after Christian says, “Faith is, by our understanding of the word, a function of reason,” shouldn’t our understanding of the word be normative for how we use it? The question is, after all, what Christians think about faith, not what gnus or unicorns or hippogriffs think.

The problem is that Marshall says religious faith is like the ‘faith’ we have in our senses. That premise is what allows Mike to pick apart the argument: There already exists a description of what our belief in the reliability (or lack thereof) of our senses is. It’s called assumption. The things we assume are distinctly different from what Marshall says we must do in order to believe in God; Marshall describes two things as faith, but he is plainly wrong about one of those things. Take this from his post, for example:

When I cross a bridge, I assume it will not fall down. If it does fall down, my assumption will have proven to be in error. But the act of crossing the bridge is an act of faith, in the sense I am using the word, as is the act of praying to God.

See the problem? It lies in the phrase “in the sense I am using the word”. That would be fine if his argument was narrowly construed, but it isn’t. He is attempting to apply his sense of the word to situations in which a different definition already exists. Again, this is what allows Mike and everyone else to tear his argument apart.

How can Christians be “abusing” language for using the word “faith” consistently as we have used that word for thousands of years, and its ancestors, before the modern English language even evolved into being?

This isn’t a logical fallacy, but it is a bit of hipster theology, and that’s just as bad, if not worse.

Again, Mike is completely missing the point of this chapter. It is not to prove that the Bible is accurate — I wrote two books arguing that the gospels are essentially historical, but their arguments are completely irrelevent to what I am saying here.

What elicited this response was a claim by Mike that one will not be convinced of a particular portion of Marshall’s arguments unless one assumes the Bible to be true. Marshall understood that to mean Mike was saying a full defense of the Bible needed to be given in the chapter. Again, perhaps that first logical fallacy wasn’t so far off the mark, what with how many times Marshall has flubbed his responses.

I’ve actually skipped quite a bit of what Marshall had to say because it was largely just a series of insults directed at Mike. He calls him thick, ignorant, numbskull, and says he is acting dumb. Taken with his earlier poisoning of the well, it isn’t a big leap to conclude that this guy isn’t entirely secure with his arguments. He commits a number of logical fallacies (maybe 5, counting the ad homs? I think I forgot to include the poisoned well, but who knows at this point) and all he has to rely on is pulling rank and insisting that everyone needs to buy into his definition of faith. Then, just to compound it all, he says this in his comment section:

Mike: “His whole post was like that. Bragging about how he’s an expert and I’m not, saying that I’m “arrogant” and a “numbskull”, that Sean Carroll “worships science”, that I have a “thick skull”…. the dude’s certifiable. And a pretty major (novel obscenity — DM). If his arguments had a leg to stand on, he wouldn’t be steeped in that kind of vitriol.”

This seems a bit peculiar, because just a few posts earlier, Mike had been calling William Lane Craig a “hypocrit,” “dishonest,” and an “f-ing theologian.” And in this post he uses stronger language than “numbskull” about me. So is this a concession that his own arguments have no leg to stand on?

This is a common mistake people make about ad homs. It is not a logical fallacy to insult the hell out of one’s opponent when the point of the insult isn’t meant to undermine the arguments being made. It is only when an ad hom is used in place of actual rebuttal that it becomes a logical fallacy. I think it is clear that, while Marshall does respond to Mike’s arguments with actual arguments of his own, he is also attempting to undermine Mike’s credibility throughout the entire post. As for the language Mike used about Marshall, he called the guy a major dickhole well outside the purview of any attempt to present further argumentation; he was just stating his opinion of the guy, not trying to undermine anything.

At any rate, this post has gone on for far too long, so let me sum things up: There are a lot of good reasons to reject the arguments David Marshall presents. Also, he is a bit of a dickhole.

Football is not a sudden death sport

I like when I get to talk about unfair rules or bad refereeing when the team I like comes out on top. I don’t have to worry about losing credibility because I’m a sore loser or whathaveyou; it was a relief to me when the Patriots won their overtime game against the Jets.

Here’s my problem with the NFL rules for OT: The team that wins the coin toss has a huge advantage. It used to be that the game would end with whoever scored first, thus meaning the team to get the ball first would almost always win on a cheap field goal. The owners finally voted to change that two years ago, but they half assed the job. They made it so the game would continue if the first team scored a field goal, but it would end in sudden death if that team scored a touchdown (or, it would end if the other team scored a touchdown). That’s still plainly unfair. As it so happens, the Patriots scored a field goal, thus giving the Jets a chance to respond. QB Sanchez then, as I expected, failed to get the job done. The game turned out to be fair, but only by chance. Had the Patriots scored a TD on their first possession, the game would have ended and the Jets never would have been given a chance. Again, that’s not fair.

There are certain games that lend themselves to sudden death overtime. Hockey, for instance, is perfect for it. (In fact, hockey is the perfect sport, but I digress.) Soccer, insofar as it is a sport, works for the model. Football, however, does not. There is no point where both the defense and offense of a single team find themselves on the field at the same time. It would be as if a baseball game went into extra innings, the away team scored a run in the top of the 10th, and then the umpires called the game. That would be ludicrous for the very reason the NFL overtime rules are ludicrous: There are two primary aspects to the teams involved. To think of it another way, imagine how many teams have won the Superbowl with okay defense and great offense. Now ask yourself, if that team was forced to rely upon just its defense, who would have won the game?

I don’t expect the NFL to fix this flaw because, well, look at the garbage they pulled with the refs. And look at the guy they have running the whole show. It isn’t like this is an organization that’s hellbent on making things right or hiring the best personnel to fix these obvious problems. But who knows. Maybe in 15 years we’ll see some updates that actually take reality into consideration.

Orionid meteor shower

Take a look outside late tonight:

According to NASA’s website: “Earth will pass through a stream of debris from Halley’s Comet, (the) source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Forecasters expect 25 meteors per hour when the shower peaks on Oct. 21.”

The best part of this cosmic display: No telescope required—but you may need an alarm clock. According to L.A.’s Griffith Observatory, the brightest displays will fall between 11 p.m. Saturday and 5:40 a.m. Sunday, Pacific time.

At this point I’m just going to assume there will 100% cloud cover where I am since that seems to the trend for these sort of things. However, I will still at least take a peak outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of things.