Monthly Archives: December 2012

Today Is Not the Day to Talk About Gun Control

Today, the day where 27 people, 20 of whom were elementary school children, were murdered in Newtown, CO by a man with a gun is not the day to talk about gun control.

The day to talk about gun control was April 20, 1999 when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold marched into Columbine High School and murdered 13 people and injured 21 others.

The day to talk about gun control was April 16, 2007 when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured 17 others in the deadliest single-shooter massacre in US history at Virginia Tech.

The day to talk about gun control was January 8, 2011 when Jared Lee Loughner killed 6 people, including a 9 year old child and injured 13 others in an attempt to murder US Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

The day to talk about gun control was 5 months ago on July 20 when James Holmes shot 70 people in a movie theatre, killing 12.

The day to talk about gun control was during the 87 gun deaths that the US experiences per day.

Today is not the day to talk about gun control. That day was yesterday. We missed it.

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Racial Diversity in the Skeptical Movement

A couple weeks ago I had the delight of attending Skepticon for the first time. It. Was. AMAZING. Honestly, I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I made a bunch of new friends, battled to the death in a backyard arena filled with Nerf guns, and partied with a bunch of my skeptical heroes. I got to high-five Rebecca Watson, meet Brendan Powell Smith the creator of The Brick Testament (who combines two of my favourite things in the world), have a drink with Heina of Skepchick, watch Matt Dillahunty perform closeup magic, and discuss the American-centricity of much of the skeptical movement with Debbie Goddard. I will definitely be going back next year.

None of that, of course, mentions any of the talks that were given: all of which were amazing. I want to take a moment, however, to share with you the final talk of the weekend, given by Professor Anthony Pinn on the topic of how to promote racial diversity within the skeptical and atheist movements.

It’s unfortunate that this was the last talk, as a lot of people had already left what with flights to catch and treks home to make, but from what I understand this was not the fault of the Skepticon crew: evidently he was originally to open the weekend, but couldn’t due to a scheduling issue. Professor Pinn expressed that he feels many people of colour are disillusioned with their churches and would be prepared to leave them if only there was somewhere else to go: that the Skeptical movement needs to meet the black community “where [they] are.”

There was one particular moment in the Q&A when a woman in the audience asks (paraphrased) “You say that the skeptical community needs to meet you halfway. What steps can we take to accomplish this?” And while Professor Pinn answered the question very well, I’d just like to point out one thing:

He never said the skeptical community needs to meet the black community “halfway”. The skeptical community needs to go to where the black community already is.

This should be a pretty obvious notion. Not everyone is going to be aware of the skeptical community, and it might not even occur to them to look for us. But more than that, people of colour face a lot of challenges that white folks (simply by virtue of being in the majority) don’t have to deal with. They have specific issues that they have to deal with that are going to be much more important to them (understandably so) than whether Bigfoot exists, or how to defeat Pascal’s Wager for the bajillionth time. If the skeptic community wants to attract more members from more diverse backgrounds, then they need to address the issues that those potential new members want to see addressed.

At a local level, churches understand this. That’s why you see a lot of them providing services like daycares and rehab programs; or even just social functions like potlucks. There are very specific things that churches do in order to make themselves essential in the lives of their congregations. If the skeptical movement is going to compete, we need to meet them on the battleground where they already are, and not at some ambiguous halfway point that requires the people we’re trying to attract to take the initiative themselves.

So what are these issues that people of colour want us to address? I don’t currently know. They’re not necessarily going to be issues that affect me. And that’s why we need to ask people of colour what they need and listen to their answers.

And finally, if you don’t think that diversity is something we should strive for: ask yourself what you’ve gotten out of being a part of the skeptical community. Read the stories of all the people who had a great time at Skepticon and events like it (including mine above). Think how much better your life is without religious guilt or superstition or false beliefs. Think about any benefits you’ve received by being a part of this community and ask yourself why you don’t think other people deserve those same benefits.

There’s No Such Thing as Presuppositional Naturalism

I was watching one of Matt Dillahunty’s recent debates, Is Belief in the Christian God Rational?, versus Cliffe Knechtle today and one of the many, MANY things that I took issue with that Cliffe said was a bit about Naturalism.

The gist of it was that, if you have a naturalistic worldview, then he agreed with Matt that you could discount the Bible as being true because it contains miracles which are, naturalistically, impossible. But! he continued, this line of reasoning requires that you presuppose naturalism. The implication was that you can’t prove naturalism any more than you can prove Christian presuppositionalism, and thus both positions rely on faith, which makes Matt’s position (that faith is irrational) inconsistent.

If you’re not familiar with the terminology, I’ll take a quick aside for that. A presupposition is something you accept in order to create an argument. It is different from an assumption (or a supposition) in that it is usually an unexamined and not directly a part of the argument. Often they can be hidden and much harder to identify. It’s a bit easier to explain with examples. If you’re trying to form a logical argument, using premises and deductions to arrive logically at a conclusion, then one of the things you’re presupposing is the validity of the logical system you’re using. When apologists try to prove the truth of Christianity by pointing to the Bible and telling you what it says, they are presupposing that the Bible is 100% inerrant (this, incidentally, is called presuppositional apologetics).

Naturalism is the philosophical position that all which exists is the natural world: people, trees, rocks, starts, protons, quarks, really awesome cars, etc… But not things like ghosts, demons, souls or anything else that would typically be called “supernatural”. Generally speaking, “natural” means anything which can be observed to exist.

You might be able to see the problem here: If all the stuff that is observable is part of the natural world, then what exactly is left? Keep in mind that in scientific terms, “observable” doesn’t just mean “can be seen” there are many other ways of observing stuff either directly (using other senses, or even apparatuses we’ve built such as telescopes to detect distant stellar objects) or indirectly (observing the effects of gravity to deduce the existence of dark matter). So if something  interacts in any way with the world, it is by definition “natural”.

This is why the term “supernatural” is so frustrating. At the end of the day, “natural” basically just means “anything that exists”. So when people start talking about the existence of supernatural ghosts or souls or gods, they are talking about things which, by definition, don’t exist. If they did, then they would be part of the natural world.

So to say that you have a naturalistic presupposition is to say that you are presupposing that all things which exist… y’know… exist. It’s a purely a priori, analytical tautology.

So to claim that miracles are impossible only under a presuppositionally naturalistic worldview is to agree that miracles are impossible. Leastways, it’s to say that the things we consider miracles are explainable, just we don’t currently have the explanation available to us. Either that or they never actually happened.