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Showing posts from 2015

Is transgenderism healthy?

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Tonight I commented on an article about the hot-button issue of transgendered people and locker rooms, and it got me thinking.

I'm very much a civil libertarian: I support people's right to dress, behave, and alter their bodies however they wish so long as they don't harm others. But saying I support their civil liberty doesn't mean I think their choices are wise or healthy. I tried to find studies on long-term mental outcomes for individuals who've undergone a sex change; there's very little research, unfortunately, but what exists is not encouraging:
Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population.

So this raises an issue: in support of people's civil liberties, we left-leaning types tend to deny that transgenderism is a mental disorder. But it seems that even if we don't think there's anything morally wrong with transgende…

Sorry, Franklin Graham: it's perfectly American to believe terrible things

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Neo-conservative fluff emporium WNDreports that Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelical preacher Billy Graham, has echoed the concerns of Donald Trump and his supporters by suggesting that somewhere around 144,000 U.S. Muslims tacitly condone terrorism: Graham’s comments have been posted over the last 24 hours on his Facebook page, where he noted the mantra from “political leaders and world experts” that “the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people.  Some have suggested that as many as 99 percent fall into this category. Well, we don’t have to guess or estimate; the Pew Research Center has released extensive research on how Muslims in the U.S. self-identify on questions of violence – and the conclusions are frightening.  Graham cited the 1.8 million Muslim adults in the United States.  Pew Research released that eight percent of adult Muslims in the U.S. said that suicide bombings and other forms of violence in the name of Islam are ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ justified. Think about…

Why didn't philosophers predict the quantum universe?

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Anyone who's read my blog(s) over the years knows that I'm very skeptical about 'metaphysics' as an intellectual and academic discipline — particularly the notion that a 'study of metaphysics' can reveal any stable truths about reality. There are many reasons why, but I'll recap the most important ones:'Metaphysics' as a concept has never been consistently and clearly definedThe notion of what constitutes a metaphysical problem has never been consistently and clearly defined; indeed many past 'metaphysical' conundrums have been subsequently subsumed under scientific inquiryA clear and consistent methodology of solving metaphysical problems has never been established. Instead, to quote Lakoff,"For the most part, philosophers engaged in making metaphysical claims are choosing from the cognitive unconscious a set of existing metaphors that have a consistent ontology. That is, using unconscious everyday metaphors, philosophers seek to make…

Donald Trump is a bullshitter, not an ideologue

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Across the internet, I've heard liberals react with indignant outrage at Donald Trump's latest barrage of brutish, asinine behavior. He appeared to mock a disabled reporter, and predictably refused to apologize. He said he would ban Syrian refugees and create a giant 'safe zone' in Syria; how he would pay for it is anyone's guess. But he really rattled a lot of feathers by suggesting that Muslims should be registered in some kind of national database. When asked by a reporter how that is any different than Jews being forced to register in Nazi Germany, he replied, "You tell me".

But Donald Trump is not a fascist. It's a mistake to think that, like most normal humans, Donald Trump believes the things that he is saying; the truth is, Donald Trump is a bullshitter. And I mean this in the sense described by philosopher Henry Frankfurt in his short essay entitled, "On Bullshit". A quote:
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he kno…

My dad turned 75 today

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Tonight was a pretty cool night — Vanessa and I had dinner at a favorite local Italian joint with my parents and several of their good friends, in celebration of my Dad's 75th birthday.

I feel pretty lucky to have my father, and to have a good relationship with him. I know plenty of people my age (36) who've lost their parents, or whose parents are in failing health; I'm happy to report that my parents are both very healthy and enjoying their retirement to the fullest with travel, volunteer work, friends, family, exercise, hobbies, and leisure. My dad's as sharp as he's ever been, politically opinionated (democrat til the end!), full of anecdotes and fond of corny dad-humor. As I've gotten older, I've felt increasingly appreciative of the time I have to spend with him.

Tonight he made a short (for him) speech about his life, how surreal it feels to be 75, and the many sublime moments he's experienced along the way. He mentioned meeting my mom, getting cho…

Jake vs. Lakoff: The Reckoning

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I haven't exactly hidden the fact that cognitive linguist George Lakoff, author of such books as Where Mathematics Comes From and Philosophy in the Flesh, has been very influential to my thinking. His writing challenged and ultimately helped shape many of my views on philosophy, metaphysics, and cognition — views which I have expressed in quite a few blog posts.

My comrade-in-blog and occasional sparring partner Steven Jake, who blogs at The Christian Agnostic, has — to put it lightly — not found Lakoff's views quite so persuasive. So much so, in fact, that he wrote a series of blogs posts on the book Philosophy in the Flesh which more or less lampooned it as a farcical attempt at philosophy by some guy who clearly doesn't understand real philosophy. You can read his three-part series on the book here, here, and here.

Speaking of putting things lightly, it would be fair to say that I was similarly unimpressed by Steven's criticism of the book. In my estimation, it was…

That time I responded to a Ray Comfort video

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A lot of my friends and acquaintances, across a broad religious and non-religious spectrum, consider Ray Comfort to be not really worth their time. His arguments are so consistently bad that two of them — the "crockoduck" and the banana-design — subsequently became popular atheist memes. Yet while he may not command the kind of esoteric prestige that someone like William Lane Craig or AC Grayling does, he's nonetheless a widely known voice in the evangelical community and his arguments reflect common talking points for everyday believers.

Case in point, this video on "How to Prove the Existence of God".

Of course, Ray thinks this is kind of superfluous, because he insists that everyone already "knows" God exists:

Why bother "proving" something everybody already knows? Apparently, to show the rational-thinking types that their secret belief is rationally justified. Or something, I don't know, honestly.

Anyway, let's go through a few key …

Does the existence of Christ even matter anymore?

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Orthodoxy has changed. I don't mean that so much in the obvious sense, in that what the church takes as accepted doctrine has changed; rather, the very concept of orthodoxy has changed so much as to become virtually meaningless. There is no "Christian orthodoxy" anymore; there hasn't been for a long, long time. Rather, Christianity is comprised of a myriad of denominations, subsumed under innumerable historical schisms, that all have their own competing orthodoxies. If you disagree with the orthodoxy of one denomination, it's a safe bet you can just find another that you do agree with. And if you can't? Just start your own! 
It wasn't that long ago in the span of human history that if you rejected the existence of Adam & Eve or denied the historicity of the Great Flood, odds were reasonable that you could be branded a heretic. Times have certainly changed — virtually the entirety of the Old Testament is historically dubious. We know that humans were …

Tonight is the Blood Moon, and you should be afraid (of hucksters)

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My wife's grandparents recently purchased a house near San Antonio. Their reason? To be closer to megachurch pastor and general lunatic Ted Hagee, who has been preaching Christian Zionism for decades and, like any good evangelist, reminding people to repent because the end times are very close. The latest sign? That's right: the so-called "blood moon", which is just a spooky-sounding name for a lunar eclipse.

Not long ago my wife brought home a book, written by Hagee, that her grandparents had given her called Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change. The gist of it is that the blood moon(s) are signs from God that significant end-times shit is gonna go down, so you better be ready!

Okay, but don't quit your job just yet. Based on past end-of-the-world predictions, it's a pretty safe bet that the world is not going anywhere. Fortunately for him, Hagee has retreated from any bold, sweeping proclamations about when the world will actually end to weaselly …

Mr. Congeniality

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It's my position that the entire enterprise of theology has contributed absolutely nothing whatsoever of value to humanity in its entire history. Not only has it not provided an iota of useful or necessary knowledge in any human endeavor, but it hasn't even come any closer to answering any of the questions it asks in the first place. Are theologians any closer to demonstrating unequivocally which religion is the correct one? Which sect of that religion is the correct one? Has theology ever cured or treated any disease, fed the poor, raised the standard of living for human beings, or led to peaceful co-existence? "But Mike," I can already hear them saying, "that's not the job of theology; just because it doesn't give us scientific knowledge doesn't mean it's worthless. Theology brings people closer to God, helps them find meaning in their lives, gives them comfort, and helps them navigate difficult issues of faith." Or something along those l…

John Oliver eviscerates the evangelical church

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I give huge kudos to John Oliver for this scathing expose on the harmful fraud perpetuated by many televangelists, faith healers, and 'prosperity gospel' preachers.

Ignoring his own behavior, Randal Rauser implores Christians and atheists to be nicer to each other

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If there's anything that grinds my gears, it's sanctimonious hypocrisy. I didn't like it when thrice-divorced conservatives complained that legalizing gay marriage would ruin 'traditional marriage'. I don't like it when Christians lecture us on the evils of sex before (and outside of) marriage when the statistic show they indulge as much as anyone else. Sanctimony is obnoxious, and so is the almost inevitable hypocrisy that follows. So when Randal Rauser writes an article for Slate which calls the diplomatic relationship between atheists and Christians "a total disaster", bemoans the "general deterioration in the public square of civil discourse", and tells us that "my call is to invite atheists into real conversation, to make space for their ideas, to try to understand the world as they do, and to be shaped by the resulting exchange", one might get the impression that Randal is one of the people who is actually working in his own…