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How Not to be a Bad Atheist

In this great skeptical movement of ours we have had the opportunity to grow complacent. Of course, being the enlightened intellectuals that we are, we have not squandered this opportunity. Here are some problems I have with public skeptics I’ve watched.

1. Regarding Logical Fallacies

So you took a Logic class and you are now entitled to win arguments, I understand. But the point of those informal fallacies you learned was not to be able to relate them in the middle of a conversation and expect your opponent to understand your jargon. Explain to them in the midst of your argument with a counterexample, do not simply accuse them. The ultimate fallacy is strange idea that the first one to mention fallacy wins the argument. For example, if someone calls you an asshole, which if you’re like me is not at all a rare occurrence, do not say “Hah! That, my mere plebeian opponent, is an Ad Hominem informal fallacy. Had you been considerate enough to memorize that section of our textbook, you would be qualified to continue this conversation, but seeing as you are unfit, I will have to claim this verbal challenge for myself!” Instead, agree with them as you are, in fact, an asshole! But then go on to say “but I don’t know what that has to do with the efficacy of duct tape in improving survival rates of patients with gunshot wounds in the neck!” In doing so you explain to the commoner what an Ad Hominem is, without risking associating yourself with those amateurish logicians who apply their informal fallacy education as if it was a weapon.

2. Regarding Gender

So you’ve come out of the metaphorical closet of atheism and stepped into the literal light of day. Suddenly a new creature appears, a female who dares speak her mind in public! Worse yet, you’re attracted to her! Now, before you criticise feminism with your newfound skeptic methods in order to impress her, consider the facts for yourself, on your own time. Otherwise you risk making unintentionally controversial statements. How can you explain your problems with the theory of Patriarchy if your audience is busy criticizing your use of pronouns?! But there is another audience I’d like to address on this matter. Atheist feminists. Take it easy on us. Many of us are trying not to be sexist, and agree with many of the sentiments of feminism. Being a part of a disenfranchised group does not put you above criticism. The most common manifestation of this silly glorification of disenfranchisement occurs with the phrase “as a…”. For example: “as a woman, I think I better understand the irreparable damage an immature atheist can cause to my gender, and thus conclude that anyone who makes such blunders must be burned on a suitably phallic stake.” Though I would applaud your sense of irony, I would remind you that your argument from authority is everyone’s least favorite valid form. Because I said so.

3. Regarding Defining Atheism

Atheists are people who do not believe in God. That’s it. Don’t try to ascribe additional progressive goals to them. It is possible to be a sexist atheist. Don’t go around arguing what atheists should or shouldn’t do, by arrogantly titling your blog posts things like “How to be a Good Atheist” or presumptuously assuming your atheist audience will be interested in your advice about relating to the minority of public atheists. Even though atheism can and should serve as a platform for additional progressive discussion, we should not try to insist anything but disbelief should be a part of “real atheism.” Thanks for your time.

-Luke Smithems

Humor Opinion Science

Scientists in the Movies

Science in the Movies

 

I grow tired of our evil archetypes. Particularly the mad, or arrogant scientist, and the pseudo-darwinian, successful businessman. Of course, defending a successful businessman in a such liberal forum would result in me being beaten to death by a large bag of hemp underwear, so I’ll refrain from elaborating on those points. (I kid, I kid!) Many movies portray the fundamental human urge to discover and understand as a diabolical force. They play off of our current, if legitimate, concerns for our habitat and somehow manage to blame science for the mistakes of all humankind.

For instance, Stephen Spielberg seems to resent the scientists of Jurassic Park, because they have tried to understand and manipulate nature. For example Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) says in objection to the creation of dinosaurs for the sake of discovery “What’s so great about discovery? It’s a violent, penetrative act that scars what it explores. What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world.” Rape? Trying to understand nature is the same as raping nature? Imagine if we applied this logic to romance: “Hey, how many siblings did you say you have? OH MY GOD, MY EYES.” Before that he claimed nature had “selected” dinosaurs “for extinction.” Like we are dabbling with the work of some kind of pantheistic God, and how dare we? Meanwhile I’m thinking, given the ability, I would totally create Jurassic Park. And why shouldn’t I? Spielberg’s revered Nature also “selected” almost all other species for extinction (99 percent of them), is he about to argue that we should not contest that as well? Then why should we protect the environment at all, evolution is selecting only the life that can survive human pollution. So it goes. But I’d much prefer to see some dinosaurs, thank you.

Also pursuing this big-screen zeitgeist is Gene Roddenberry’s Straw Vulcan*, more commonly known as Spock. Apparently, his logic means ignoring all emotion. Even regarding decisions where emotions are an extremely important factor. Julia Galef did a good job at pointing out the problems with this at Skepticon 4.** She played a clip that is an excellent example for just this sort of thinking. In it, Spock is stranded near some irritated locals, but he is baffled when they still appear aggressive, even after his spectacular show of force. Clearly, he thinks, these people should realize an attack is illogical. Clearly, I think, Spock thinks everyone is Spock. And this foolishness is not limited to fiction. In fact, I think of this type of thinking as the German mistake, that is, assuming other people think like us. In 1940 Nazi Germany’s prestigious general Gerd von Rundstedt planned to invade Great Britain over the narrowest part of the English Channel. So later, in 1943, in light of the impending Allied invasion, he prepared his defense in the same area that you’ve probably never heard of because it’s not where we landed.***

Most recently of all though, what is this nonsense coming out of the mouth of the “archaeologist” from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus? Now, I’ve studied under an archaeologist, and she was the most professional intellectual I’ve met in college thus far. Not at all the kind of person to conclude that aliens created us because several ancient peoples carved the same motifs. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), on the other hand, believes not only in this ethereal creationism, but also that the sentient life she has discovered has created humankind literally because that’s what she “chooses to believe.” And this was in response to the biologist aboard, who later dies from a serious case of horror-movie logic. (A scarily fast alien penis-snake! I should definitely pet it.) He actually asks our squid-incubating protagonist on what grounds she neglects the now ancient law of Darwinism. What she chooses to believe indeed.

My plan is to mock these depictions as much as possible, until enough people find them intolerable that the writers will catch on. I mean, it mostly worked for colored people dying in the first three seconds of the action… didn’t it?


*Not my term: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StrawVulcan
** Julia Galef’s presentation at Skepticon 4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLgNZ9aTEwc
*** From Chester Wilmot’s The Struggle for Europe, Prelude to Overlord.