Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Impotent Quote

Two common and mistaken tactics are used when it comes to quotes: quote mining (mis-quoting) and using opinions as fact.

Let's use this post as an example.

First, in quote mining, a fragment is pulled from within its larger context and the reader is either told a straight up fabrication about it or is encouraged to infer one. For example, this quote from Darwin: "I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science." In the letter where this quote appears, Darwin is talking about one specific idea on which he is speculating because there is not enough information yet to form a scientific assessment--not the entire Theory of Evolution. However, even if Darwin were to dismiss his own evolutionary discoveries, they have been confirmed repeatedly since he made them public. A person does not own the truth of a discovery because they are the first to recognize it.

Second, using a quote from someone who agrees with your position is not proof of its validity. The example from this blog post: “nobody to date has yet found a demarcation criterion according to which Darwin(ism) can be described as scientific” The claim is not backed up with any evidence; it's only offered as another opinion to match that of the apologist. Two people who are wrong do not cancel each other out.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mixing Up Metaphors

I wanted to share this opinion piece as an example of a tactic often used to mislead by use of metaphor and/or analogy.

This person starts off by telling a story, probably true, about something (it doesn't really matter what it is). Then, by being seen as meaningful or touching or real or whatever, the listener/reader is told this story is just like something unrelated, in this case Christianity. The BIG mistake people make is taking the original story to be proof (or an example) of the falsely attached claim.

Metaphors and analogies are not components of proof; they are only a way to try and help explain some point with added clarity. But we often mistake them for examples or outright proof of some claim being made, even if the connection is missing entirely. I think this error is usually done without knowing it, so we need to be careful.

Gerrymandering and Affirmative Action

Gerrymandering is the type of affirmative action approved by Republicans.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Theist Yardstick Misses The Mark

I've read a few of the responses some of the more notable people have written recently when it comes to a humanist/atheist response to tragedy and none of them have touched on it the way I see it (or I just didn't understand it as intended).

One of the problems that theists see with a nontheist point of view is that there is not a valid alternative to their idea of a source that will eventually even things out and reward all the right people while punishing the rest. They also claim that this is part of an unknown master morality that will eventually be understood by us after we die. The idea is that there is an all-perfect and ideal source of some kind that does exist out there somewhere and is the keeper of perfection. This thing, whatever it is, holds the key to a perfect morality and, therefore, an everlasting state of bliss if only we can discover this code that's currently being kept from us. Unless those with a godless outlook can offer a competing path to unlock this supernatural secret of perfection, we don't count--at all. Since we don't even make the attempt, given our view that assumptions of supernaturalism aren't worthy of consideration, we seem at best irrelevant.

What I wish people from "our side" would say is that our view of existence is not going to offer a direct alternative because it's not supposed to. Since we don't operate under the assumption there is an ultimate moral code-giver, it would be silly to insist we offer a way to discover this thing we think in all likelihood doesn't even exist. We base our search for meaning and happiness on something completely different.

It would be similar for someone who gets the most happiness and meaning in life from music to insist someone who gets the most meaning and happiness in their life from cancer research to show them how to appreciate music with it, otherwise it's invalid. It's a nonsensical idea.

The notion that nonreligious people need to provide an alternative within their narrow religious parameters is illogical at its core. We should be more open about saying so and hope they'll eventually understand.