Where I Cram My Ideas

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

CNN Messes Up

I think it was intentional
I found a link to a CNN article called Religious Scholars Mull Flying Spaghetti Monster

While I read through the article with some interest, and intend to watch the Nova program it provided a link to, I was a little disturbed by the last paragraph.
He recognized the point when his neighbor, a militant atheist who sports a pro-Darwin bumper sticker on her car, tried recently to start her car on a dying battery.
Alright, CNN's editors, if not the writer, should have caught this. Look up "militant" in a dictionary. The word refers to people who are "vigorously active and aggressive; engaged in warfare; fighting."

Sporting a pro-Darwin bumper sticker does not make someone militant.

Ultimate words
Militant is a "devil word" in our culture. If you haven't read my previous posts about rhetoric, a devil word is a type of "ultimate word," according to rhetorical theorist Richard Weaver. Ultimate words hold a specific meaning in the mind of the audience.

"God words" are words like liberty, justice, bravery etc., while devil words involve ideas like terrorism, threat, violent, cowardly etc. When readers perceive the word "militant" in a description of an atheist, their first subconscious idea is one of fear and threat with regards to the subject.

This is not a simple type error - this is an unethical choice of words.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


There are a lot of misconceptions about the idea of being "advanced."

For one thing, "advanced" is a word. It describes a phenomenon or an idea - in this case, the idea of progression. In our eyes, we as humans in this day and age are "advanced." Our advanced technology, our advanced cruise missiles and stealth fighters; our advanced economy and philanthropy etc...

Truth is, using a term like "advanced" implies a goal. Advanced cancer is cancer that has progressed toward the goal of death. An advanced society is progressing toward... what?

The theory of evolution does not propose any goal for human beings or any other creatures. Only those that fit the environment best will survive. When we use the term "advanced," we honestly don't know what genetic traits will advance the species. We shouldn't care, either, because trying to control how the species advances is eugenics. Bad idea.

This post is to discuss the idea of the concept "advanced." I think it's completely subjective and changes with time. The internal combustion engine was a great advance, and it led to the creation of the most advanced vehicles in the most advanced time period ever. Nowadays it is not "advanced."

All of this to say - don't use the term lightly. An "advancement" of technology or society may not be a real advancement. It might just be portrayed that way by the people trying to sell their ideas.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Anthony Flew - It doesn't really matter


Appeals to authority are valid arguments only insofar as the authority is an actual authority, and if the truth matches what the authority says.

-On any given philosophical issue, citing Richard Dawkins as an authority is a fallacy. He may, by coincidence, be correct about the issue, but that is not by merit of his "authority" stance - because he is not an authority on philosophy.

-Citing Sam Harris as an authority on a philosophical issue is a much better idea, as he is trained in philosophy. However, he may be incorrect or dishonest in what he says.

In both these cases, what the person says may be taken as a valid argumentative position - only insofar as the position that authority takes is correct.

Anthony Flew

For a few years now, this former atheist-turned-deist has been paraded by religious folks and degraded by freethinkers. This New York Times article has generated conversation all over the bloggosphere. I'm here to say it doesn't matter.

Flew's conversion from disbelief to belief in a higher power is interesting only if he demonstrates that the arguments which swayed him are valid and should logically sway rational thinkers. As he has simply churned out age-old arguments made invalid since Occam's Razor was formalized (at least), Flew's conversion holds no significance whatsoever.


There has always been an unfair bias among religious people and atheists on this sort of issue. Anthony Flew was undeniably an atheist, and he is now undoubtedly a theist. When a Christian becomes a "poor example" of Christianity (ie. gets involved in scandalizing male prostitution ordeals), he/she is easily shrugged off as "never even was a Christian."

This is how religious people can avoid criticism. Of course, they're quick to jump back to "of course we all fail - but if [someone other than me] fail on a grand scale, it shows she was never a Christian to begin with." This is the "no true scotsman" fallacy. I bring it up in part because, ironically enough, Anthony Flew is credited with having coined the name for that particular logical fallacy.

The point is this: Just as the actions of a theist in no way discredit the argument that "at least one god exists," the decision of an atheist to become a theist in no way weakens atheist arguments. If the motivations for Flew's decision are valid, we have a different story - similarly, if the motives of the misbehaving theist derive from his religious views, we may call into question any cultural acceptance of the particular religious teaching he was following.

Quit focusing on Flew; continue to discuss the arguments that led to his conversion.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


As a journalist, I occasionally cover stories about Christian events. In fact, every week I cover a worship service for the university paper. Today, I sat in attendance beside a faculty member from the school.

This particular service was about grief - the general theme being "there are different seasons in life; sometimes we are joyful, sometimes we are sad." I enjoyed singing the songs, but when we were asked to join in prayer with the person next to us, I felt a little uncomfortable. She asked me if I had anything I'd like to pray about. I told her "I'm not really the praying type," but encouraged her to pray.

She asked for God to help me with my senior year and the years beyond that, before asking for a stronger community where the people who feel alienated (in this case, non-white/non-Christian people) did not feel so excluded.

I could agree with all of that, but then again I felt a little bit excluded as well. I was not praying, I was just nodding in agreement. What sort of reaction would have fit? Should I have prayed? Whether or not one is religious, praying is just talking to the air/oneself/those within earshot. To pray, I would have felt like someone indulging a person who has an imaginary friend in the room. Try doing that and not feeling like you're being condescending. It was awkward, but at least I was respectful and honest.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Look What Reared Its Ugly Head

Just a cursory glance at Makarios' blog site shows that, despite the break he swore to take after a bit of a thrashing he took over the summer, he has been running wild with some irresponsible, bigoted and downright strange claims. I plan to post a few responses to some of the smellier posts on his own site, but this one needs a little special attention.

Richard Dawkins = the next Joseph Stalin

"A quote from a speech by Joseph Stalin when he came to power is 'Religion must be out of Russia within five years.' Gee, where have I heard a sentiment like that before? Oh ya. It’s from the latest atheist saviour Richard Dawkins. Substitute 'North America' for Russia and that is exactly the dream of hate-monger Richard Dawkins and his band of rage-filled, intolerant followers."

"Ultimate Words"

One of my early posts on this blog concerns the use of "ultimate" words in rhetoric. "God" words invoke a good reaction, while "Devil" words invoke a reaction of fear and hate in the audience. Makarios' post contains these terms in describing a group:

Hate-monger, rage-filled, intolerant, mass murder, totalitarian, eliminate, oppression and persecution.

Makarios described "the atheist dream of the mass murder of Christians."

It's disgustingly bigoted, evil rhetoric.

The art of persuasion

I really enjoy the study of rhetoric, and there is such a thing as good and evil rhetoric. This is, quite simply, the evangelistic method used by a self-described (if mockingly) "fundamentalist asshole."

On other blogs, people have wondered if Makarios is just an internet troll trying to get attention. Regardless - others should see that his sort of hateful and unfair speech is not to be tolerated.

If he is right - if Richard Dawkins is assembling an army of atheists to rid the country of the religious - then he and his followers will be deserving of even stronger criticism. However, in the lack of evidence for such claims, Makarios is very much in the wrong for inciting hostilities toward atheists as a whole. Not only do his claims regard non-existent threats; he is criticizing an entire group for what one person (or subset of a group) allegedly said.

Bad form.