Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Curious what this blog looks like as Wordle Cloud?

I know that you are. Wordle is a sort of toy, displaying words found in a text or an RSS feed with the more-frequently-occurring words appearing larger. It's a sort of word portrait.

So, here it is. Click to embiggen:
Wordle: Liberte Egalite Trvialite

Friday, January 23, 2009

Skepticism: The Pocket-Size Scientific Method

[Cross-posted at Salt City Skeptics]
Sam, the lone skepdude blogger at Skepchick, co-runs the Houston area skeptics group (Space City Skeptics... I swear I didn't steal the alliterative name and the SCS acronym) just put up a post called "What Is Skepticsm?" and I loved what he had to say so much I wanted to touch on some of it here.

You may have seen my own "What is Skepticism?" post here, and Sam touches on a lot of the same ideas. But he said a couple things that expand on these ideas beautifully. Here's the butchered-to-hell version of some highlights for you lazy people, but you really should go read the whole post.

...The scientific method is the single most valuable tool ever conceived for understanding the universe around us ... The conclusions we draw from doing good science are as honest and as accurate as anything can be. Science is that powerful.

But the scientific method is problematic; at least where regular folks are concerned.

It’s just not practical to apply the scientific method fully to everyday claims and situations. I mean, there are phenomena we encounter on a daily basis that spark our curiosity, and our desire to discover. Perhaps strange things are happening at the old lake house, and we want to know if it’s haunted. Perhaps the claims of homeopathic medicines pique our interests, and we want to know if they really work. Perhaps our co-workers insist the bright lights in the sky last night were alien space craft, and we want to know if that’s true. Unfortunately, the majority of us simply don’t have the means to set up lab experiments, test hypotheses, repeat the tests, have peer groups study our data and scrutinize our tests and repeat them, and have independent lines of inquiry from all over the world repeat the process. The scientific method is just too bulky and cumbersome for us in this regard.

That’s where skepticism comes in.

We can view skepticism as an express version of the scientific method; sort of a travel or pocket version that we can apply to everyday claims, ideas, and situations. It is a tool that basically does the same thing as the scientific method — it relies on evidence and the analysis of that evidence to draw conclusions that are most probably true — but it’s more practical for regular folks to use at any time, because it can be applied without the attendant “ceremony” of a scientific experiment. We basically become a one-person research team.

If we observe phenomena, or encounter outrageous claims, or hear seemingly amazing ideas in our everyday lives, we can deploy our pocket scientific method. Without the formality of a full-on scientific review, we can examine any related evidence that may be present. We can leave any biases we may have behind and rely on a critical analysis of the evidence to discover what is most probably true about the phenomena; the lake house is just old and creaky, homeopathic medicines are basically just water, and the lights in the sky were probably just the Goodyear Blimp.

Nice work Sam! I love the idea of skepticism as the pocket version of the scientific method. :)

Page hits

Okay, so I haven't posted for a while, but something momentous has happened in the last week:

In case you were not aware, Barrack Obama is now the president of the United States. I would like to share the following thoughts before going any further.



I am so excited to have a president who truly stands for equality and the rule of law and peace and the role of science and on and on and on. Yes, he let an ass give the benediction, but he also gave a shout-out to "non-believers" like me in his speech, and his website ( is no longer Bush's!) lays out what the (nutjob) American Family Association calls, fairly, a "pro-homosexual agenda." (The AFA, of course, sees that as a BAD thing. Reasoned people see otherwise.) [Check out the Center for Inquiry's post on Obama's First Day: A Religious Right Roundup for more examples of the far right's hysteria, ranging from the ironic to the lunatical.]

Anyway, a funny thing has happened here over the last few days. Months ago, a wrote a post called "Is Newsweek the Antichrist?" in response to a strangely credulous article from Newsweek about people who believed Obama to be the Antichrist. While this would normally be the pervue of the Westboro Baptist Church [seriously, check out that link], Newsweek decided to treat the question as one that might have some merit.

So, I was checking my page view statistics. Since Tuesday, my page hits have gone up from about 5 a day to over 20! Most of these come from Google searches linking to that post. (Such as "obama antichrist 'beast rise up out of the sea' hawaii.") Now, to me, when I hear about the "beast rising up out of the sea," I don't think about a guy who happens to be from an island. I think 'Godzilla.' And oh god, the fact that I even had to make a literal comparison between Obama and Godzilla shows just how crazy some people are. How people who "literally" interpret the Bible can come to some crazy-ass conclusions.

Strangely, this same period also saw a rash a hits to this post about an episode of Doctor Who. This leads me to the conclusion that Doctor Who may, in fact, be the Antichrist... And forever, this blog will come up high in the Google rankings whenever someone searches for "Doctor Who antichrist 'beast rise up out of the sea'" And, of course, for "Joseph Smith dildo."

That is all...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is atheism a religion?

gogreen18 does it again. How can one person kick so much ass?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Joseph Smith Papers, Part II

Long time readers of my blog (all two of you) may recall my post about the Joseph Smith Papers, the new project by the LDS church to compile all of Joseph Smith's written documents (I presume, excluding the BOM and other scriptural works) into a single book.

I was headed down I-15 last night and noticed a billboard alerting me that Volume 1 of the JSP has just been released.

I'd like to reiterate my skepticism about this project. The Church was originally working with Oxford University on compiling the papers, but scrapped that collaboration to ensure "editorial control." Read into the term editorial control when applied to what was intended to be a wholly exhaustive collection what you will.

I'm hopeful that the historians involved in compiling these documents kept true to the mission they layed out, and I'll be interested in reading the book(s).

But: I remain skeptical. Remember, we are talking about an organization whose explicit and official doctrine is for its historians to to lie about embarrassing aspects of its history. And you can look forward to an upcoming I'll be writing another post on that concept, "Faithful History," shortly.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why Gay Marriage Should Be Legal

There are millions of Americans (to say nothing of those worldwide) who are homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, or otherwise don't fit into our traditional little categories. It is the year 2008 2009, and it is unacceptable that these people do not have the same benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples.


There are no reasonable arguments against it. But, just for kicks, let's review those arguments that are often put forth by those who oppose equality for gays and lesbians, and I'll rebut each one. (Note, some of this content originates from comments I made on a post at Eric Ethington's blog.)

Homosexuality is a SIN
Due to the religious freedom we enjoy in this country, you have the right to believe that homosexuality is a sin. Feel free to believe that, abhorrent though your belief may be to me. But fortunately, due to those same religious freedoms, the laws of our nation cannot show deference to any one religious viewpoint. This is why we do not force rape victims to marry their rapists (DEU 22:28-29). This is why it is permissible for women to go to the store without the accompaniment of their husband. This is why you can enjoy your cotton-poly blends and delicious lobster bisque. This is why an expression of love and commitment should not be barred simply because your particular brand of religion frowns upon it. Despite what some of the pro-Prop 8 propaganda said, no one is going to force any church to perform gay marriages. But the government should not issue marriage licenses based upon a religious standard.

Marriage is about having children, and gay people can't reproduce
First off, gay people can reproduce. And I'm not talking about through teh evil recruitment ploy the right wing talks so much about. Yes, gay couples cannot produce actual biological hybrids of themselves, but they may choose to have the biological child of either partner.

But this is all irrelevant anyway. If marriage were about having children, then we would require fertility tests and pledges to reproduce upon signing marriage license. This, of course is ludicrous. There are countless heterosexual couples who -- by choice or by fate -- do not produce young. Furthermore, many couples, gay and straight alike, choose to adopt.

But gays will make their adopted kids gay too!
Finally, we're getting away from religious objections and to actual testable claims. I'm going to start referencing the American Psychological Association's sumamry and review of the science done so far on lesbian and gay parenting entitled (appropriately) Lesbian and Gay Parenting.

Let's assume just for the moment that it would be a problem if this claim were true. This is not a position I hold, but let's put on our fundamentalist hat for a moment. Is the statement true? Are children of gay parents more likely to be gay?

The one word answer? No. (see here, the section entitled "Sexual Orientation.")

But children of gay parents will have to endure the pain of their parents being different
Do the children of gay parents face challenges? Sure. Kids are cruel. They'll latch on to anything that sets someone apart from everyone else and use it as a hook to make fun of a classmate. But this argument works just as well as a pro-segregation argument, or a reason to deny any group their equal rights. Furthermore, it's absurd. The failing in this scenario is not with gay parents or their children, but with anyone who would attack them either verbally or physically.

I can't really improve upon the APA report's take on the effect on children's social lives, so I won't even try. Just go here (same link as above) and read the section entitled "Social Relationships."

You can't redefine marriage!
Sure you can. It's been done time and time again throughout human history. Most every culture has some form of marriage. But there is massive variation in what "marriage" means. From one-man-one-woman, to one-woman-two-brothers to same-sex marriage (as in much of Europe). To say that marriage has always been "one man, one woman" is simply false. That isn't even true in the Bible.

But gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage!
This is probably the most common argument I hear. And yet it is the one that makes the least sense of all. Do you think Tim and Beverly LaHaye will get divorced once their gay neighbors down the street celebrate their vows with teh butt-sex? I'm going to bet no. Gay marriage is legal in Canada, many European countries and elsewhere. Yet heterosexuals still insist on getting married just as much as before. Funny how that works.

The main difference is that now, with the social stigma on homosexuality gone (or at least greatly reduced), there is less incentive for people to stay in the closet, meaning fewer closeted gays and lesbians entering into doomed hetero marriages. I have no idea what, if any, effect this would have on the divorce rate, but it certainly isn't the death knell of "traditional marriage."

If you allow man/man marriage, soon you'll have to allow man/goat marriage
Ah, the Rick Santorum argument. Unfortunately, the slippery-slope fallacy is, well, a fallacy. There is no legitimate parallel to be made here between same-sex marriage between two well-informed, consenting adults. Try again guys.

As an aside, the only instance of legal man/goat marriage I'm aware of is in Sudan, where the punishment for homosexual sex is death.

If you allow gay marriage, soon you'll have to allow polygamy
To be honest, this is the only argument discussed herein that carries any water whatsoever. And it's an issue on which I personally find it hard to make up my mind. Speaking for myself here, i don't see any rational reason why if two people wish to commit to each other, three or more shouldn't be able to do so as well.

The issue I have with polygamy is that, in practice, it's nearly always an unequal and controlling relationship. Your classic case is early Mormons and modern Mormon fundamentalists 9and, you know, the Bible), where the man more or less, "owns" his wives. In many cases in these communities, women and girls are forced into such marriages against their will. And that's not okay. My opposition to polygamy in these instances has a lot more to do with preventing exploitation.

For what it's worth, I do support right of same-sex marriage right alongside a lovibng,equal partnership among a polyamorous triad, for instance. But let's be honest. In general, when there is social and economic equality between men and women, we humans tend to pair off. There are not hordes of polyamourous people aching to register with the government. Even if we did allow polygamous marriages, it still wouldn't be the death knell of one-man-one-woman marriage. That would continue to be the pattern for the majority of Americans.


Has anyone heard any other reasons given by same-sex-marriage opponents?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back from the dead.

So, when last i left you, dear readers, I was half-dead from a slight case of the smallpox. Since then, I've been super busy with "the Holidays" (including Christmas), plus my birthday and the New Year's Eve masquerade ball I held at my house. All of that went well. I'm not particularly keen on this whole going-back-to-work thing I had to do on Monday, but what can you do?

Clearly, I'm in better spirits. :) Yay!

I think I mentioned something about "philosophical priorities" in my last post. My, that sounds rather grandiose. It really isn't. I just feel that I've been enjoying griping about religion and denialism and politics, but I haven't really DONE anything. I think the skeptic's group is a good start, but I think I'm entering a social activism phase.

(note: the following post was originally part of this post, but I've decided to keep the proverbial meat separate from the potatoes.)