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A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists…

I recently saw A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn’t Evil on the shelf at my local Borders. I almost bought it but I thought I might end up not liking it and was hesitant to spend the money on it so I selfishly used my clout as a Skepchick blogger and asked the author to have his publisher send me a review copy. About a week later, it showed up in my mailbox. I am not sure why I wanted to read this book. I’ve been conscientiously avoiding the books that could be considered “fleas” riding along on the back of the atheist bestsellers, but something about this book caught my interest. I guess it was that it claimed to be friendly, and that the author seriously seemed to want to have a dialog with unbelievers, rather than a debate. (As you may know from many of my previous posts, I absolutely despise debates and arguments and I think they are basically an annoying and unproductive a waste of time.)

I ended up reading the entire book. I agreed with some parts of it, thought the author missed the point in other parts, but in general I was pleased to find that the book was congenial and interesting. I am not going to go over the book point by point to tell you which parts I disagreed with. You’ll have to read it yourself and come to your own conclusions. But I can say, that there are many interesting topics that could lead to fruitful discussions between believers and unbelievers, if we can refrain ourselves from trying to always be right and get points for making the other guy look stupid. I hope many of you will take the time to give this book a chance. 

Because I’ve been sick lately, I’ve asked the author to write a guest post in lieu of having an interview. I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to pose any questions that come to mind in the comments.

And without further ado….

A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn’t Evil

by David G. Myers

Can a skeptic believe in God? Can an appreciative longtime subscriber to The Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic magazines also be a theist? Can someone who has written about the perils of unchecked intuition, and who begins his introductory psychology text with a chapter on “Thinking Critically with Psychological Science,” find meaning in religious faith? Can someone whose skeptical website is Google’s first nonWikipedia result for “extrasensory perception” searches be spiritually engaged?

As I explain in this new little book, it’s possible, methinks, to transcend the skeptic/believer dichotomy. That involves suggesting to people of faith a faith-based case for science and to skeptics the possibility of a reasonable, meaningful, and humane faith.

Bridging skepticism and faith requires, first, accepting many indictments of religion, which, especially in religion’s fundamentalist forms, is often associated with irrationality and evil. And it requires embracing the religious spirit of humility, which acknowledges that we all have dignity but not deity, and therefore need to check our error-prone ideas against reality. Thus, informed by science and by recent biblical scholarship, many people of faith have taken a new look at their former understandings of the soul, of intercessory prayer, and of sexual orientation.

All that said, I then seek to offer my skeptical friends the outlines of a progressive, biblically rooted, “ever-reforming” faith─a faith that is hopeful, science-affirming, and humane. For example, in contrast to assertions that religion─all religions─are dangerous or even evil, the available evidence indicates that religiosity, on balance, is associated with happiness, helpfulness, and health.

I must tip the hat to Skepchick readers, who form a counter example to data I present in a little chapter on “The Skeptics Boys Club.” Skepticism has generally been the province of the male and pale. Authors of skeptical and new atheist books, 20th century skeptical heroes (as identified by the Skeptical Inquirer), and members of skeptical organizations are predominantly Euro-American White men. If we were to judge from who is authoring New Age books, and from those who believe in God, worship, and pray, women and African Americans appear more open to spirituality and to nonrational forms of knowing.

As a male and pale rationalist myself, I often find myself cheering on the skeptical guys (and Skepchicks). Indeed, I take pleasure in critically examining not only ESP but also near-death experiences, subliminal persuasion, astrology, alleged repressed and recovered memories, alternative medicine, and much more. My point in that short chapter was simply to acknowledge that antireligious skepticism is predominantly a product of men expressing contempt for the beliefs of people whose thinking and culture differ from their own.

And my larger aim in this book is to suggest to skeptical friends how someone might share their commitment to evidence and skepticism, while also embracing a faith that makes sense of the universe, gives meaning to life, connects us in supportive communities, mandates altruism, and offers hope in the face of adversity and death.

David G. Myers professes psychology at Hope College. His seventeen books include (with excerpts available online) Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage, and, most recently, A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn’t Evil. Religion writer David Crumm interviews Myers about his new little book here.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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203 Comments

  1. My point in that short chapter was simply to acknowledge that antireligious skepticism is predominantly a product of men expressing contempt for the beliefs of people whose thinking and culture differ from their own.

    … And women too.

    Whether you are a spiritualist, a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic, once you lose your humility, you will invariably stray into the land of bigotry (in the broad, modern definition of the word). To me, the critical question is whether you are secure enough in your own beliefs, and at the same time intellectually open enough, to take the time to learn about the beliefs of others and why they believe them with an attitude of respect. If anything, that respect should come from knowing that, given the sheer number of people belonging to each major religion, there are people who are much smarter than you – i.e., who could beat you on an IQ test, a math test, a logic test, a biology test, a physics test, etc. – who also happen to subscribe to that belief-system.

    I would be curious to hear the author’s opinion about the film ‘Religulous’ and its contention, expressed among many skeptical intellectuals, that all religion is bad, all the time.

  2. I can’t make it past this:

    “My point in that short chapter was simply to acknowledge that antireligious skepticism is predominantly a product of men expressing contempt for the beliefs of people whose thinking and culture differ from their own.”

    This statement is fractally wrong. First off I am male, and pale, and a skeptic.

    – I am not contemptuous of religion; I just don’t spend a lot of time on it or anything else that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

    – I am not antireligious. I’m just not pro-religious. There is more that a whiff of “you’re either for us or against us” in this statement.

    – The “culture” I disagree with is my own. The people I associated with as I was growing up were predominately male, and pale, and devoutly Catholic as was I. I changed.

    – There is also the implication that I hold religion in contempt (which I don’t) merely because it is from a different culture (which it isn’t) and thus would treat all modes of thought coming from other cultures with equal contempt. I find other cultures endlessly fascinating and have knowledge and ways of thinking that are worthy of study. I study Zen Buddhism from time to time because leaving aside the more spiritual aspects I find much to think about in the rest. I haven’t found anything nearly so thought-provoking in Judeo-Christian religions.

  3. “Can a skeptic believe in God?”

    Skepticism is that antithesis of faith. Being human, however, we are capable of holding onto contradictory ideas. So, yes, a skeptic can believe in God. I have never one, but there is certainly the possibility that they exist.

  4. “For example, in contrast to assertions that religion─all religions─are dangerous or even evil, the available evidence indicates that religiosity, on balance, is associated with happiness, helpfulness, and health.”

    Religions are dangerous because people who can be convinced to believe absurdities can be convinced to commit atrocities, and when a person abandons reason for faith, the next leap of faith is made all the shorter. Who’s arguing that religion doesn’t make some people happy? Why does that even matter? Conan’s quote was taken from Genghis Khan. “What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of the women.” That made him happier, and probably improved his mental health, but he was still a sick sonofabitch.

    “And my larger aim in this book is to suggest to skeptical friends how someone might share their commitment to evidence and skepticism, while also embracing a faith that makes sense of the universe, gives meaning to life, connects us in supportive communities, mandates altruism, and offers hope in the face of adversity and death.”
    Lots of problems with this.
    1) So faith in your god gives these things? What if I want to believe in and worship Loki, which promises only destruction and chaos?
    2) “while also embracing faith…” Let me translate: “Hey guys, lets learn to COMPARTMENTALIZE!” No thanks.
    3) Your god does not explain the universe because even if he were the prime mover, we would have no explanation for HIS existence, and we’d be no better off than we were before.

    Does he supply any evidence for the existence of a god? Does he present a reasonable argument why a deity probably exists?

    If this post is at all representative of his novel, it’s page after page of fail.

  5. @davew:

    I have never [met] one, but there is certainly the possibility that they exist.

    Well, there are quite a few readers of this blog who are also believers. You might be surprised that you actually do know some skeptical theists.

  6. @writerdd

    David G. Myers’ letter didn’t leave me wanting to read more, but clearly you found something in this book of value. Can you quote a couple of passages that you liked and your reason for liking them? I’d like to have a better idea I’m not wasting $12 and 8 hours or so before wading in deeper.

  7. @davew: I’ll have to locate the book and look for some quotes, but I am not sure I’ll have time because it is year end bookkeeping time for me.

    In the meantime, don’t forget about the library. The author also links to online excerpts at the end of the post, I think.

  8. @writerdd: Not really. I think davew just falls out of the realm of “predominately.”

    I would be interested in looking broadly at the backgrounds of the “militant atheists” to see how many (a) were raised as atheists (upbrining is huge in developing prejudices); or (b) had a really awful emotional experience with religion in their pasts (as some people simply move from one dogmatic community to another). Of course, in the end, it is the idea that matters – not necessarily the conveyor (e.g., if a religious precept makes no logical sense, even within its own system of rules, then it is what it is), but the motivations do affect how people choose to perceive and communicate about others, and much of the commentary on the skeptical blogs does consist of cheap jokes at the expense of anyone who might be religious, as if it has already been decided by the gods of skepticism that being skeptical is wholly and utterly incongruous with holding religious beliefs.

  9. Who cares how humane a nonexistent god is? If you’re really skeptical, all you care about when deciding what to believe is whether or not you have good reason to think it is true. This is just rambling about how much nicer his god is than others. So what? That means nothing in regards to said god’s existence.

  10. @Hanes:

    Religions are dangerous because people who can be convinced to believe absurdities can be convinced to commit atrocities, and when a person abandons reason for faith, the next leap of faith is made all the shorter.

    And people who “believe” in Ayn Rand can also be convinced to commit atrocities – or worse, sit by and watch atrocities occur. (The worst atrocities of the 20th century were committed by bureaucracies, not religious zealots.) The fallacy of your statement, if you will, is that one must abandon all reason and become a puppet because he/she has accepted an aspect of human existence based upon faith – merely not accepting an atheist’s view of who has the burden of proof with respect to whether god does or does not exist. That same person may very well also believe in the Big Bang and not killing members of Religion B just because they are of Religion A. And more Christians believe in evolution than do not, and most Catholics practice birth control, regardless of what certain elders may tell them is “right” or “wrong.”

    I keep hearing the same old arguments about how dangerous religious belief is, but I would argue that in the United States in the 21st Century, with the war in Iraq, patriotism and nationalism – “the last refuge of the scoundrel” – is far, far more dangerous than religion. Most Americans, over the last seven years, felt that questioning a war is the equivalent of “not supporting the troops,” thereby essentially giving carte blanche moral authority to the President. The funny thing is that I see very little on the skeptical blogs about these sorts of political issues.

  11. @TheSkepticalMale: “I keep hearing the same old arguments about how dangerous religious belief is…”

    Any sort of group-think can be dangerous especially when used as a tool by rulers. Whether the abuses of politics are worse than the abuses of religion or not isn’t a topic I find very interesting. Both should be opposed. On the other hand I do not see a substitute for politics when it comes to organizing people. There are plenty of ways to understand the world other than religion.

  12. @TheSkepticalMale, I said “can be,” not “will be.” Faith based thinking opens the door to faith based actions.

    I don’t limit my disdain for faith to religion. It also peaks up its ugly head in blind patriatism and things like HIV denial.

  13. Indeed, I take pleasure in critically examining not only ESP but also near-death experiences, subliminal persuasion, astrology, alleged repressed and recovered memories, alternative medicine, and much more.

    And I take my skepticism one step further by critically examining not only ESP and near-death experiences, but religious claims as well. I’ve found that religious claims are every bit as lacking as ESP and alternative medicine, and that is why I am no longer a Christian.

    Examine everything with the same rigorous standards. Religion should not be exempt from the skeptical process. Why hold on to the sacred cow of religion? Because it makes people happy? Because it seems to give the universe a sense of purpose? Because it gives hope of an afterlife, along with the constant fear of eternal torment in hell? These seem like incredibly immature reasons. Besides, I value truth over empty comfort and facing reality over clinging to myths with no evidence or factual basis. Not to mention the fact that these are the same arguments other proponents of various forms of superstition and myth use. Acupuncture makes people feel better, so skeptics should stop picking on it, right?

    As a de-converted Christian, I am not unhappy. I am altruistic. I am part of a community. I feel like my life has meaning, and most of all I have no fear of hell. So why make this plea for me to become religious when my life lacks none of things religion claims to give? I don’t want a retooled faith. I do not want ANY faith.

    My point in that short chapter was simply to acknowledge that antireligious skepticism is predominantly a product of men expressing contempt for the beliefs of people whose thinking and culture differ from their own.

    Skepticism is antireligious because, as I said, religious claims do not cut the mustard. Skepticism is antireligious for the same reasons it is anti-CAM and anti-astrology. I do not think it has anything to do with rich white guys venting their hate of the Other. Actually, as a woman, I find this claim insulting. It insinuates the stereotype that was written in the proceeding paragraph: the notion women are intrinsically less rational than men and therefore given to “spirituality.” Even if it is statistically true, even if a larger number of women pray than men, it is a stereotype nonetheless. I’m a woman and I don’t pray. I’m a woman, and I don’t appreciate having my supposed irrationality pandered to, especially by a person who advocates a strongly patriarchal religion that has had a hand in suppressing women for thousands of years now.

  14. There’s a Skeptical Boys Club?! Why did no one tell me about it before?

    Normally I wouldn’t waste a single hour of my one life on such utter cods ( and I’ve read Mein Kampf, which by the way is like listening to the crazed rantings of a lifelong Dail Mail reader who’s daughter has married a Muslim)

    However. I’m wholled up in my sick bed dieing of what I have self-diagnosed as Ultra-SARS, the badass older cousin of SARS who joined a biker gang at 11 after killing a brothel doorkeeper in fight over some money owed.

    So, I might give it a look

  15. @davew:

    Any sort of group-think can be dangerous especially when used as a tool by rulers. Whether the abuses of politics are worse than the abuses of religion or not isn’t a topic I find very interesting. Both should be opposed.

    Yes, but the funny thing is that although both should be opposed as dangerous, very little “skepticism” is actually directed toward the political manifestations of “group think.” In fact, a disproportionate amount is directed at religion, so I guess a disproportionate number of skeptics like to attack religious ideas rather than political ones, which brings us back to the original quote by the author.

    On the other hand I do not see a substitute for politics when it comes to organizing people. There are plenty of ways to understand the world other than religion.

    Political institutions may be as inevitable as humanity’s consideration of the meaning of existence. But the execution of certain political ideologies are no more inevitable than the execution of religious ones.

    @Hanes:

    Faith based thinking opens the door to faith based actions.

    … And we don’t want those elderly nuns running the soup kitchen up the street from me! I mean, that might lead to the next Crusade!

  16. @Hanes:
    Hmmm. Your original statement was “Religions are dangerous …” because they make leaps of faith. I guess the fact that a vast majority of people who describe themselves as religious do not hurt other people escapes you. And I guess everything you do, and every decision you make, is based on critical analysis – no leaps of faith. Please!

  17. Like I said, happy coincidence. Most faiths in the world are benign, but then something like Prop8 pops up and we see what potential exists in a lack of critical thinking.

    As for my own life, no I don’t make leaps of faith. Sometimes I’m forced to make an educated guess untill such time as I can investigate more fully, but that’s not the same thing. If you’re going to say “but you take it on faith that e=mc^2” or such nonsense, don’t bother.

    What do you take on faith? What do you believe despite a distinct lack of evidence?

  18. @Hanes:

    Most faiths in the world are benign, but then something like Prop8 pops up and we see what potential exists in a lack of critical thinking.

    And exactly how does the definition of “marriage” lend itself to critical thinking? It is indisputedly a historical, cultural, and ironically, religious institution, and only very recently (in its own history) have some people in government come to believe it should be a civil institution. And after centuries of history, until 2001, not a single nation in the world recognized same-sex “marriages.” So are you going to wow me with your use of logic to convince me of the correctness or incorrectness of Prop 8, which dealt solely with the use of the word and no substantive state rights, as has already been established by reference to the California statutes? Go ahead, school me with your application of the scientific method to the definition of marriage – I’d love to hear it. Are you going to tell me why is it more rational and logical for four of seven judges on a court to decide what “marriage” should be than the people of California as a whole?

    As for my own life, no I don’t make leaps of faith.

    Time to pull up my boots, as we used to say in Texas.

  19. That they were so dogmatically linked to their relatively recent definition of marriage displayed a distinct lack of critical thinking. In this case their dogmatism was tied to religious teachings, and they were unable to look past their bibles to see what harm they were inflicting upon others. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify.

    The scientific method doesn’t need to be brought into it. It goes like this: “Hmm, I have this belief that I’ve been told I should hold since I was a little kid. Now it’s being challenged. Should I a) react reflexively and oppose change no matter what or b) evaluate their arguments and re-evaluate my own beliefs to see if they’re most in line with reality?” Or, if you don’t want it in prose, how about in song:
    http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/c0cf508ff8/prop-8-the-musical-starring-jack-black-john-c-reilly-and-many-more-from-fod-team-jack-black-craig-robinson-john-c-reilly-and-rashida-jones

    I’m not saying any definition is intrinsically rational, what I’m saying is the reaction from the religious block that opposed it was distinctly dogmatic.

    So, what do you take on faith? What do you believe despite a distinct lack of evidence?

  20. @Hanes:
    You still haven’t given me why the anit-Prop 8 are objectively right about their definition of marriage.

    Who says “they” didn’t re-evaluate their beliefs? Maybe they just don’t agree with you. Those who were not religious also voted for Prop 8. They do exist. What do you have to say to them?

    I will tell you what I believe despite a lack of evidence. I believe same-sex couples should be able to use the word “marriage” in a civil sense. But at least I admit that I do not have any evidence to tell you how “right” I am about my definition of marriage.

  21. Books and people like this do raise interesting questions about just what sort of reason-based damage control a skeptical/agnostic/atheist/rational/whatever movement should engage in. To the extent you aren’t lying to children about biology, interfering in other people’s uteruses and burning witches, your faith is probably irrelevant…except you’re still laying claim to special access to an invisible man through a book that continues to be filled with recipes for xenophobia, anti-scientism, and idiocy of a thousand other kinds, and some day you or your kids will notice-or will they?

    It’s sounds to me that he’s basically saying that enlightened deists whose favorite book of old epic poetry is the Bible can get along fine with rational, nontheistic folk. I agree-but it’s not clear to me exactly what explanatory power or satisfaction that provides next to a strictly naturalistic world view. If your version of Christianity amount to reading its as fiction written by primitive folk who occasionally offered up some simplistic morality tales-cool, I do that too. We can be friends-but you can have a fun time finding any company amongst your old-man-in-the-sky-believer buddies, and I’ll still wonder why you just haven’t made the leap, and wait for the other shoe to drop when something does run afoul of your divine convictions.

  22. The scientific method doesn’t need to be brought into it. It goes like this: “Hmm, I have this belief that I’ve been told I should hold since I was a little kid. Now it’s being challenged. Should I a) react reflexively and oppose change no matter what or b) evaluate their arguments and re-evaluate my own beliefs to see if they’re most in line with reality?”

    The problem with this method is that not everyone will agree with a single viewpoint, even after re-evaluating their own beliefs. Not to pick on Hanes, of course, but isn’t is possible that the people of California DID actually examine their beliefs, examine how it would affect the world, and think rationally about the world they wanted to live in, and then voted based on those thoughts? I’m not saying I agree with their decisions; I’m sure I agree with some people and not others (in fact, I’d bet on that…).

    Getting back to the point of the original post, though, the author clearly stated that his goal was not to convince atheists to believe in a god, but to explain to them how it’s possible for a skeptic to believe in a god and not be a lesser skeptic for it. And with that I do agree.

    Before you say “All religions are evil,” imagine a religion that believes all of the same things that you do, reveres the scientific method, is excited about new discoveries in science and astronomy, and basically aligns with everything you know, except for one thing – this religion posits that there is a god who imagined all of this universe into being, according to all of the physical laws that we have and have not yet discovered. Not the right-wing Catholic angry father figure; not the fundamental Baptist punisher, but a rational god who gave us this universe so we could study it and see its beauty. Would that religion be evil? Is that religion so separated from mainstream Christianity? We hear a lot in these blogs and on these forums about the antics of fundamentalism of all flavors that we tend to forget that fundamentalists are not the majority…

  23. Ah, touché. I’ve guess I’ve believed without evidence that all anti-prop8ers have just been stuck in a rut. Thank you for helping to remove yet another line of faith-based thinking from my belief-pool.

    I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that one definition is “right” and that another is “wrong,” but I would say that I dislike it when others legislate their beliefs on me, and there is good evidence that others feel the same way. Assuming, then, that someone’s actions do not negatively impact myself or society, I should not attempt to legislate my personal opinion upon others.

    That last sentence there is where the critical thinking really comes into play. What are the pro- and anti-prop8ers saying about the impact of allowing gay marriage? Those claims need to be evaluated using the same toolbox as one would use to evaluate Kevin Trudeau’s claims on medicine.

    So yes, I do think my dislike for prop8 is based upon evidence and critical thinking.

    And yes, it can be debated, but only with evidence and reasoned arguments.

  24. @Seagull:

    Getting back to the point of the original post, though, the author clearly stated that his goal was not to convince atheists to believe in a god, but to explain to them how it’s possible for a skeptic to believe in a god and not be a lesser skeptic for it. And with that I do agree.

    My question is if skeptical theists such as this author extend their skepticism to their religion or not. The author never mentioned in this post if he has done that, and he leads me to believe that he has not.

    He wrote, “Bridging skepticism and faith requires, first, accepting many indictments of religion…often associated with irrationality and evil.”

    It seems to me he’s saying, “Look, we can be irrational in this one area of our lives and completely rational in the others.” He wants us to take the claims of religion on faith (literally) instead of investigating them critically, which is what we as skeptics do. He urges us to check “error-prone ideas against reality,” but how are we to do this if we first accept irrational ideas?

  25. Thanks! I look forward to reading your book! I’m a theist (or a daranged believer) that is also a skeptic. Someone once said to me, “If anyone needs critical thinking skills, it’s religious people!” This was said by a fellow believer. Too many skeptics think all theists are interested only in believing for the afterlife carrot (not understanding many religious beliefs are more of a way of living rather than focused totally on the afterlife…which not all religions buy into),and too many believers think skeptics are all atheists that are amoral and not to be trusted as they live by no rules.

    There are extremes in any group. Seeing the quiet majority of any group is hard, but well worth it.

  26. So kittynh, if I may be so bold, off of what evidence or reason do you base your belief in a deity?

    If you’d like to cut to the chase and say, “you just gotta have faith,” that’s fine too.

  27. @orDover: It seems to me he’s saying, “Look, we can be irrational in this one area of our lives and completely rational in the others.” He wants us to take the claims of religion on faith (literally) instead of investigating them critically, which is what we as skeptics do.

    That’s not how I read that sentence at all. I think (and I haven’t read the book yet) that he’s saying there that in order for religious people to bridge skepticism and faith, those people must first accept many of the criticisms levelled at religion rather than denying them as a knee-jerk reaction. Those people must accept that religions can and have been wrong in the past, which shows that their current religion can be wrong about things. Only then can they/we get down to the business of separating the wheat from the chaff. I don’t think he’s saying that atheists must accept that those parts of religion that germinate hate and evil are simply part and parcel of having a religion, and must be accepted as such.

  28. @Seagull
    “Those people must accept that religions can and have been wrong in the past, which shows that their current religion can be wrong about things. Only then can they/we get down to the business of separating the wheat from the chaff.”
    I agree he’s probably saying that, but then when you get right down to it, every conversation I’ve ever had with a theist ends with them saying, “well, you’ve just got to have faith.” In other words, be skeptical of everything, but when it comes to being skeptical of the basic tenent of the religion (the deity hypothesis), stop demanding evidence or good logical reasoning.

    This is why I asked, in my first post, “Does he supply any evidence for the existence of a god? Does he present a reasonable argument why a deity probably exists?” These are things that would interest me greatly. If he provides neither of these things, then his book is useless.

  29. And if anyone wants to get into a discussion of the evidence for a diety (a particular one or in general), feel free to start a topic over at the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe forum. I’d be more than happy to engage in a conversation there.

  30. I think the author is aiming this book at an audience that’s not as large as he thinks it is.

    I believe there are few non-theists who think that someone is evil just because they have faith in something. Believing without evidence isn’t necessarily a swerve into the HOV lane on the way to evil.

    But I’ve yet to see an argument that faith is some sort of virtue. Whether it’s faith in a god or a political party or aa ccomplete stranger on the street.

    I guess there are always exceptions. Maybe there are atheists out there who want to grab the theists and put them in a penal colony where they can’t affect anyone else’s lives. But for the most part, I think atheists are willing to live their lives in peace and allow others to do the same, as long as the favor is returned.

    In short, it’s not the author’s beliefs I hold in contempt, it’s the people who want thoe beliefs imposed on me. That’s where faaith goes bad.

  31. @Hanes:
    If you’re rabidly searching for evidence that a god exists, then you’re probably right that this book is useless for you. We could go around and around, me saying that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, you suggesting that I apply Occam’s Razor, etc. ad nauseum, and you’re right that I would probably end with something similar to, “well, I just believe it.”

    This book is not about proof, it’s about understanding that it’s possible to be rational and religious. If the only way you’ll believe that’s possible is proof that there’s a god, these types of conversations will likely always be useless for you. I’m glad to hear, though, that there are others on the forum for whom this is an interesting idea.

  32. Proof would be nice, but it’s unnecessary. I’d be happy with evidence of any kind, or at the very least logical reasons why a good should exist, and, more importantly, coherent refutations to the reasoned arguments of why a diety probably doesn’t exist. On all fronts, nada.

    Since there is no reason to expect there to be a deity, belief in said deity is unreasonable. If holding unreasonable beliefs is your idea of skepticism, that’s fine, but please don’t hijack the title many reasonable people apply to themselves.

  33. Fortunately, I prefer not to have labels attached to myself. “Atheist, believer, skeptic, Democrat…” I’d rather people ask about what they want to know than try to divine my beliefs from my titles. But I’m tempted to end every post from now on with “Seagull, Skeptic who believes in a deity” just to get on your nerves… <grin>

  34. I also prefer not to be labled (and for exactly the same reasons), but some people I’m fond of do like to call themselves Skeptics.

    And you can be a skeptic and a theist. I got a bit carried away there. What you can’t do, however, is say that you apply your skepticism to the deity hypothesis and still call yourself a theist. Well I mean you can if you want to (I could call myself the prettiest princess in the world, but it wouldn’t make it true), but it would be a contradiction.

  35. Which is, if I can carry on that thought, my issue with what I’ve seen so far of this fella’s book. Does he demand extraordinary evidence for his extraordinary claim about the existance of a supernatural superpower?

    If not, then he’s not bringing skepticism to his faith.

    If so, then I’m interested.

  36. Ummm …. not to be unwarrantedly arrogant in making the following observation, but strictly in terms of logical discourse – Hanes, you are outgunned by TheSkepticalMale.

    I could not have told you what Prop 8 is, but I know enough about it to see what was coming as soon as you ventured down that road with T.S.M.

  37. Ya, as I said, I had a definite flaw in my thinking with regards to people’s motivations behind prop8.

    And I’m happy to be outgunned. If I wanted to never lose an argument, or never have to reevaluate my thinking, I wouldn’t be here.

  38. @wb4: ”

    “nonrational forms of knowing”

    Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

    Yeah, that was a pretty weird one. I don’t even know what the author means by that.

    …and this from the article: “And it requires embracing the religious spirit of humility, which acknowledges that we all have dignity but not deity, and therefore need to check our error-prone ideas against reality.”

    What religious spirit of humility? Which religion? Why can’t people just come out and say “Christian”? Or does the author think that all religions encourage humility?

    What is “dignity without diety”? Does he mean having dignity without divinity?

    Me no understand.

  39. ” Ya, as I said, I had a definite flaw in my thinking with regards to people’s motivations behind prop8.”

    And I missed that too – sorry.

    I stopped reading all the posts after the dialogue with T.S.M. stopped – I have a limited attention span. : )

  40. “For example, in contrast to assertions that religion─all religions─are dangerous or even evil, the available evidence indicates that religiosity, on balance, is associated with happiness, helpfulness, and health.”

    The problem with religion is when it moves from a personal compass to a political movement. One may follow any personal philosophy that , to borrow an old Carl Rogers’ term, allows that person to best self actualize. Religion for many provides great comfort especially in times of great duress. If religion or spirituality works for you, embrace it. Comfort is comfort. The first step toward politicizing religion often occurs when personal beliefs contradict science and medicine ( and yes, this sadly may result in a bad individual outcomes as well ) or is driven by a personal agenda that is shared by a group and that group desires it to become policy. Full blown political movements have been at the core of the Crusades, the Inquistion, and most recently, anti-gay and anti-abortion campaigns.

    There was a great podcast on 12/09 on NPR ( http://www.frankschaeffer.com/ ) which reviews the evolution of the latter two issues.

    Religion and science need not clash, especially when it remains personal and philosophical yet empirically influenced, but often it does clash violently and often at the expense of many.

  41. Okay. Prop 8, skeptically speaking.

    First, Marriage is two things, religious and civil. Since no one wants to legislate the religious definition in California, its a purely civil matter.

    So all the bullshit about history and culture is gone, and we’re just talking about the current civil structure. Why should judges deal with it? Because its their job to interpret the law. Why them and NOT the people? Again, because that’s how the system is designed, and to decide that they can’t decide on the constitutionality of this particular initiative would be to cherry pick one situation because of religious sensitivity.

    Why, skeptically, are the anti-prop 8 people wrong? Easy. Because there is absolutely no rational reason to restrict this particular contract to opposite sex couples, and clear evidence that people are harmed by the restriction.

    I am right about Prop 8. The opponents are wrong.

    As for this book… as soon as you start saying that your faith makes sense of the universe, you’ve lost me. Your faith brings you comfort in a universe you don’t understand, but comfort != sense.

  42. @Seagull: “but isn’t is possible that the people of California DID actually examine their beliefs”

    …yeah, if their belief is”I thought about and I still think the queers do gross stuff that I don’t have to see unless I go out of my way, and they do gross stuff I do have to see, like, you know, act all faggy (which reminds me of what I don’t have to see), so I don’t want them to be able to get married like other adult, consenting couples in love (even though the ones who are allowed to get married have a really high divorce rate) because they make me feel all icky”.

    I don’t really know why a straight person should be able to decide whether or not gays should be able to get married anymore than gays should be able to decide whether or not straights can bget married. Or, more to the point,why anyone should be able to tell anyone what to do with their personal life as long as everyone involved is (truly…I’m not talking 14 year old child brides brought up sequestered in a cult kind of “consent”…you know what I’m talking about…)

    What if there were a proposition in Alabama to make a ban on miscegenation in 2008 and it passed (with the help of massive out-of-state funding)? Would the “people of Alabama” have spoken?

    Jeez.

  43. @Seagull: “isn’t is possible that the people of California DID actually examine their beliefs, examine how it would affect the world, and think rationally about the world”

    No. It isn’t. First, because we know from poll numbers, advertising, and other sources that this isn’t true, and second, because a rational view of the world does not support the idea that same-sex marriage will have any negative effects on society. Since bigotry is irrational, the proposition passed on irrational grounds.

  44. It’s the same with any wedge issue. Wait, are there more than just the gay marriage and abortion?

    The common thread is that in REALITY (because there ain’t no such thing as a soul, adult or fetal), gays getting married and women having abortions affects nobody but the gays getting married and the woman having the abortion.

    Not that I AT ALL agree with (mostly because if it ain’t viable without inhabiting my body, well, I’m the landlord and I can evict whomever I want) anti-chiocers, at least I can (although I don’t really believe that they care. How many of them work with EXISTING unwanted kids?) understand that in theory, they’re trying to prevent the “murder of a baby”…

    Why the hell two guys or gals getting married would have any affect whatsoever on anyone, or why anyone would think that it would is completely beyond me.

  45. Not my thing,

    The last book I finished was “Death from the skies”.

    And Narnia? I’ll probably run out and get that book because my GF made me watch the movie.

    What got me was…

    An Ann Coulter look alike sacrifices an endangered species, in this case a talking lion (how cool is that?), and then said poor beast rises from the dead the next day and kills then eats said Ann Coulter lookalike??!!

    Oh, I’m SO in.

    Next set of books on my list,

    rod

  46. while also embracing a faith that makes sense of the universe, gives meaning to life, connects us in supportive communities, mandates altruism, and offers hope in the face of adversity and death.

    This is the line that bothers me the most. So many of my conversations with theist show the same idea that I as an atheist can’t have these things because I lack their faith. I really could care less if your a skeptic aboput everything except god, as long as it doesn’t affect how I live my life. If your faith brings some value to your life thats great.

    When a person implies I lack these items from my life it’s the same a saying, you are incomplete and therefore less of a person. I believe this is were prejudice begins.

  47. TheSkepticalMale, Hanes: An interesting exchange, and I have to give Hanes bonus points for realising when he overcommitted, that’s what scepticism is about.

    I’ve been thinking about religion and morality. On the one hand religious leaders have committed evils too numerous and diverse to list. On the other hand, as many theists have pointed out, the movements with the highest body counts are Communism and Fascism, one being explicitly anti-religious and the other used religion as a tool, but wasn’t religious in any meaningful sense. Plus many religions don’t commit atrocities an sufficient number to be considered systematic.

    So, what do the atrocity-correlated thought systems have in common with each other, but not the atrocity-uncorrelated ones? My hypothesis is that it is to do with authority and morality. Specifically: A system of thought that links morality to deference to some authority will be far more likely to cause atrocities than one where personal intuition or abstract principles for the basis of morality.

    This is why Objectivism failed. Rand’s followers talked of reason and individuality (the exact opposite of cult values), but then they anointed Rand as the avatar of these ideals, and once they did that they were lost.

  48. @TheSkepticalMale: So are you going to wow me with your use of logic to convince me of the correctness or incorrectness of Prop 8, which dealt solely with the use of the word and no substantive state rights, as has already been established by reference to the California statutes?

    Totally disengenous bull. It is a fact that the “use of the word” actually refers to a separate legal entity under California law, not a word applied to one legal entity, and that a Domestic Partnership in California is not entirely equal to a marriage. So, really, yeah. Schooling you on my use of the scientific method goes like this: Marriage and Domestic Partnerships are different legal entities. Therefore, you are incorrect in your hypothesis that Proposition 8 was solely concerned with the use of a word.

  49. @ James K

    I think the only part you are missing from your post is talking about dogma.

    Dogmatic belief systems in an authoritarian framework will produce bad outcomes every time.

    Maybe that was what you were getting at when you talked about morality?

  50. Some religions have absolutely no problem marrying same sex couples. But depending on where the couple lives they are denied the civil part of a marriage.

    How can that possible be considered fair or constitutional?

  51. My point in that short chapter was simply to acknowledge that antireligious skepticism is predominantly a product of men expressing contempt for the beliefs of people whose thinking and culture differ from their own

    What a load of crap. Most people I know who are atheist, either became so through research and comparison of one or more of the various world religions and finding they didn’t stand up to scrutiny or, because they remained atheists from birth because their parents were either atheists, agnostics or religious lite and hence they missed out on the indoctrination. As to most so called militant atheists I know, and I now call myself one, have only become so in response to seeing the religious trying to impose their world view on the rest of us.

    Prop8 is a classic example, where a bunch of religious money men funded a dishonest campaign that plucked at the fear and grossness strings of their target audience. Ironically, using tactics that many of the target audience should have recognised as the very same used to justify the prevention of mixed raced marriages in earlier years.

    So yes, I have no problem with characterising the majority of those who voted for Prop8 as bigots as they didn’t actually question what they were told. As witnessed by the polls done after the event. This is what faith can do, i.e. rather than examine skeptically what they were being told, they took it on faith because they trusted the authority figures promulgating the lies. Most, if not all of whom, were religious leaders or supporters.

  52. I’m a skeptic, and I believe in God. I recognize that belief in God is a faith-based belief and must therefore be kept separate from my critical-thinking based belief/opinion forming processes. I posted about faith versus critical thinkinghere.

  53. @sethmanapio:

    Why should judges deal with it? Because its their job to interpret the law. Why them and NOT the people? Again, because that’s how the system is designed, and to decide that they can’t decide on the constitutionality of this particular initiative would be to cherry pick one situation because of religious sensitivity.

    Uh, I hate to break it to you, but it’s called a democray, and even though nobody is as smart and clever as you, “the people” can change the constitution. And that is exactly what they did when the California Supreme Court decided to “interpret” other provisions of the constitution the way they did. (NOTE: The concept of marriage is never even discussed in the constitution.) And how can the California Supreme Court nix a change to the constitution itself when it’s very authority comes from the constitution? The answer is that it cannot, despite the frivolous lawsuits (as characterized by most of the California constitutional scholars – go google it yourself). In the same way, the U.S. Supreme Court cannot jetison the 16th Amendment simply because it is entirely inconsistent with the text of Article I, despite all those protestors who write books about how the income tax is unconstitutional. We can argue about how easy it should be for the people to change the constitution, and I would probably agree with you, but that’s what happened with Prop 8. Love it or leave it.

    @sethmanapio: What poll numbers, advertising indicate about what Californians who voted actually thought? There were religous and nonreligious who voted against it according to the CNN exit polls. Oh, but I forgot, you have “other sources.” Hmmm. Are you reading your posts before you actually post them? This is a blog for skeptical thinking, you know.

    Perhaps you could elaborate a bit further on the blanket statement: “a rational view of the world does not support the idea that same-sex marriage will have any negative effects on society” and perhaps add why a same-sex “domestic partnership” with the exact same legal rights under California statutes would not achieve the same things. More on that below.

    @sethmanapio: There are all sorts of fallacies in that post, not the least of which is the conclusion you draw that Prop 8 is merely a device to try to get homosexuals to stop having sex. Well, as “sodomy” is defined in most states, virtually all homosexual sex is technically already a crime. So where are the protestors? Could it be that they already realize (as you have not) that those laws are not even enforced in the context of consensual sex? Why aren’t states (even ones like Georgia, which have the most broad anti-sodomy laws) enforcing them if there agenda is to nix gay sex? It seems like an odd (dare I say, irrational) way to carry out an anti-homosexual sex conspiracy.

    @sethmanapio: Well, since you’ve resorted to name-calling (disingenuous) instead of citing any evidence or authority, perhaps I should give you some support for the contention that domestic partnership literally already conferred the same rights as marriage under the California statute:

    California Family Code §297.5. (a) Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.

    (b) Former registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon former spouses.

    (c) A surviving registered domestic partner, following the death of the other partner, shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon a widow or a widower.

    (d) The rights and obligations of registered domestic partners with respect to a child of either of them shall be the same as those of spouses. The rights and obligations of former or surviving registered domestic partners with respect to a child of either of them shall be the same as those of former or surviving spouses.

    (e) To the extent that provisions of California law adopt, refer to, or rely upon, provisions of federal law in a way that otherwise would cause registered domestic partners to be treated differently than spouses, registered domestic partners shall be treated by California law as if federal law recognized a domestic partnership in the same manner as California law.

    (f) Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights regarding nondiscrimination as those provided to spouses.

    (g) No public agency in this state may discriminate against any person or couple on the ground that the person is a registered domestic partner rather than a spouse or that the couple are registered domestic partners rather than spouses, except that nothing in this section applies to modify eligibility for long-term care plans pursuant to Chapter 15 (commencing with Section 21660) of Part 3 of Division 5 of Title 2 of the Government Code.

    (h) This act does not preclude any state or local agency from exercising its regulatory authority to implement statutes providing rights to, or imposing responsibilities upon, domestic partners.

    (i) This section does not amend or modify any provision of the California Constitution or any provision of any statute that was adopted by initiative.

    (j) Where necessary to implement the rights of registered domestic partners under this act, gender-specific terms referring to spouses shall be construed to include domestic partners.

    (k) (1) For purposes of the statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, and any other provision or source of law governing the rights, protections, and benefits, and the responsibilities, obligations, and duties of registered domestic partners in this state, as effectuated by this section, with respect to community property, mutual responsibility for debts to third parties, the right in particular circumstances of either partner to seek financial support from the other following the dissolution of the partnership, and other rights and duties as between the partners concerning ownership of property, any reference to the date of a marriage shall be deemed to refer to the date of registration of a domestic partnership with the state.
    (2) Notwithstanding paragraph (1), for domestic partnerships registered with the state before January 1, 2005, an agreement between the domestic partners that the partners intend to be governed by the requirements set forth in Sections 1600 to 1620, inclusive, and which complies with those sections, except for the agreement’s effective date, shall be enforceable as provided by Sections 1600 to 1620, inclusive, if that agreement was fully executed and in force as of June 30, 2005.

    Now, perhaps you could illuminate me as to what “rights” are not being conferred to same-sex domestic partners that are not conferred upon their married counterparts other than the use of the word “marriage”. You see, the California Supreme Court couldn’t come up with anything substantive – other than the tired theoretical (but not very practically significant) “separate but equal” analogy (primarily because those civil rights cases involved things like access to education, which were never equal to begin with – not water fountains). So I kind of doubt you can. And please, before you illuminate us, let’s stick to state law here because there is nothing whatsoever that the people or courts of California can do about federal benefits and federal law.

  54. @jeffreyellis: “I recognize that belief in God is a faith-based belief and must therefore be kept separate from my critical-thinking based belief/opinion forming processes.”

    “…and must therefore be kept separate…” No. Apply the same criterion to bronze age mythology as you apply to modern age truth claims.

  55. @Hanes: What pisses me off about the way the anti-Prop 8 movement is their complete and total disregard and arrogance with respect to the electorate, and in particular the effect of religion – when marriage has always been, arguably, a primarily religious institution. Guess what? Most people in California are religious! New flash to the post-election protestors: If you want to win, telling them they are all a bunch of bigots/idiots isn’t going to wins hearts and minds.

    What also pissed off the African-Americans (70% voted for Prop 8) is the comparison to the “separate but equal” civil rights cases. Let’s make one thing clear – no civil rights cases were decided based on who could use which water fountain. (That was an image, not a litigated constitutional case.) When the only thing practially at stake was the word on a piece of paper (“married” v. “domestic partners”), do you think you are going to appeal to a group of people whose perception is that they still experience far more discrimination on a daily basis? I saw one interview with an African-American after the election who commented, “Who do they think they are comparing themselves to us? The police don’t see them coming up the street and stop the because they are gay!” Considering 10% of the voters on Prop 8 were African American and the initiative passed 52-48, a change in approach could have made a difference.

    In my opinion, what would have made a difference is a positive campaign – showing them same-sex couples who have committed relationships, who have adopted children and have successful families, and yes, who even go to church. People have a fundamental fear of what is unfamiliar and what they don’t understand, so the right tact would have been to portray same-sex couples in the same light as heterosexual couples. Instead, both sides chose to engage in us v. them.

  56. Hanes: No, I will not.

    Many skeptics, such as you, insist on the application of critical thinking/ skepticism to all religious matters without exception.

    Similarly, many people of religion, especially fundamentalists, insist on applying their religious beliefs in all situations, and end up “refuting” (in their minds) evolution, for example.

    I am suggesting there can be a middle ground, as long as people are willing and able to recognize a faith-based belief and prevent it from corrupting their critical thinking on other matters.

  57. I’m sorry SkepticalMale, Marriage is no longer a “primarily religious” institution. We’ve attached far to much to marriage in secular society for it to be so. While you could make the case that we shouldn’t have done that we’ve attached significance to it beyond the spiritual.

    Now you seem to support civil unions and I’m all right with that idea but I can’t support your assertion that marriage is still entirely religious affair.

  58. @jeffreyellis: And the difference between epistemologies is that ours (the one that uses evidence and reason) works. If you want to have a sacred cow, sure, whatever. How would you feel if I said that the Holocaust never happened or that I was abducted by aliens last night, and that I refuse to apply standards of reason and evidence to those claims because there should be a middle ground, but don’t worry, I’m still really skeptical of homeopathy and ESP….

    Don’t think I’m saying religion is the same as holocaust denial, it’s called an analogy. But hopefully you can see just how ridiculous you sound making a statement like “I am suggesting there can be a middle ground, as long as people are willing and able to recognize a faith-based belief and prevent it from corrupting their critical thinking on other matters.”

  59. @ Hanes: If you said the Holocaust never happened you would have a hard time explaining away a multitude of evidence to the contrary. If I say God exists I would not be able to prove it, but wouldn’t have a mountain of contradictory evidence to explain away (unless I also insisted on creationism, etc., which I do not).

  60. @jeffreyellis: Right, so because it can’t be disproven, you’re reasonable in your assumption that it’s true. That’s why you believe I was abducted by aliens last night.

    Religion is the obvious result of an apeman species that’s curious about how the world works but doesn’t know anything about science. Apeman makes things, so it would make sense if something like the apeman made the earth. He’d have to be pretty powerful to make the whole earth. He probably lives up on those big, scary mountains, etc.

    So, while there’s obviously no proof of a deity’s lack of existence (and sure, it is technically possible we were all created last Tuesday), there’s no reason to believe the bronze age mythology is true. It is, therefore, an unreasonable belief.

    Again, if anyone would like to discuss at greater length the rationality behind theism or atheism, please start a thread over at The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe forum. I know I’d enjoy it, and hey, maybe you would too.

  61. Original post:

    That involves suggesting…to skeptics the possibility of a reasonable…faith.

    (Sorry for the deletions, I just want to focus on that idea.)

    The problem is that most skeptics will find “reasonable faith” to be a complete oxymoron. Not just a snarky pseudo-oxymoron like “military intelligence”, but an actual contradiction in terms – reason by definition takes nothing on faith. You’ve got a lot of work to do if you want to convince skeptics that faith can even resemble reason.

  62. Hanes: I never said belief in God was a reasonable assumption. In fact I hereby stipulate that from a standpoint of critical thinking, it is NOT a reasonable assumption. All the more reason for a middle ground that requires one to prevent one’s religious beliefs from polluting debates on other issues, like abortion, evolution, etc.

  63. @jeffreyellis: The easiest way to prevent bullshit beliefs from polluting other beliefs is to not hold them. Why would you knowingly hold a belief that is unreasonable? It’d be like me believing that, oh I don’t know, oranges are the eggs of aliens for Venus. Why? Because it’s tradition to think that way? Because you were raised to believe it? What’s the motivation to hold a belief that you know has as much evidence and rational for it as the claim that invisible unicorns prefer pineapple pizza?

  64. @TheSkepticalMale: “Uh, I hate to break it to you, but it’s called a democray, and even though nobody is as smart and clever as you, “the people” can change the constitution”

    Well, you certainly aren’t as smart or as clever as I am, or at least, you aren’t showing it. The people can change the constitution, and in fact, the court can review that change, which they may. And the supreme court can overrule it. Get over it. That’s the system.

    As for what people thought, lets see…

    Assume you are correct, and that the only difference between “yes” on prop 8 and “no” was whether a single existing legal structure would be called “marriage” when applied to people of the same sex… what possible rational justification would there be for that?

    Right.

    None.

    Okay, now, I didn’t know that it was name calling to point out where you were telling a mistruth, but I’ll do it again: you and I both know that there are TWO legal structures, not one. So it isn’t just a word, unless you want to admit that the whole thing is totally irrational, and the skeptical position is obviously that the label doesn’t matter.

    Further, we know that polls shifted after the creation of incredibly mendacious and misleading ad campaigns. So that’s my source on WHY people voted as they did, as well as the fact that the religious overwhelming voted for.

    And we discuss my blog post on my blog.

  65. @jeffreyellis:

    I never said belief in God was a reasonable assumption. In fact I hereby stipulate that from a standpoint of critical thinking, it is NOT a reasonable assumption.

    Hanes ,
    When someone explicitly disavows the use of reason regarding a subject, the only rational course of action is to cease discussing the subject with that person.

    I am a Hedge

  66. @sethmanapio:

    The people can change the constitution, and in fact, the court can review that change, which they may. And the supreme court can overrule it.

    Is that right? In California the Supreme Court can review amendments to the Constitution? I suppose it shouldn’t be too shocking from a State that allows a simple majority vote to amend their constitution. Still, I would find that surprising. I’m interested to learn TSM’s take on this.

    I am a Hedge

  67. Hedge: “When someone explicitly disavows the use of reason regarding a subject, the only rational course of action is to cease discussing the subject with that person.”

    Tell that to Hanes. I was ready to drop the discussion a while ago.

  68. @Im a Hedge: The court has some power of review, yes. One issue is whether Proposition 8 represents a sweeping revision of the Constitution, which would require a 2/3 prior approval by the legislature.

    And of course, SCOTUS has the power to rule the amendment unconstitutional.

  69. @Jeffreyellis: I’m pressing the issue because I’ve never done it before, and I’m curious as to how a person will attempt to justify their blind allegiance to irrationality. I suppose I could ask someone who’s really into alt-meds or psychics, but they usually don’t admit so readily that their beliefs are based on nothing but “I believe because I believe.” How do you even do that? What’s going through your head when you think to yourself, “I have no reason to believe this. Moreover, there’s reason not to believe it. Had I been born into a family that didn’t indoctrinate me with these beliefs from before I could speak, I probably wouldn’t believe it. Screw that, I’m going to believe it anyways. Oh, but this other claim? This question on [insert pseudoscience]? Oh, I’m going to apply skepticism (demands of evidence and reason) to that; I’d be a fool not to!”

  70. “Belief is not voluntary.” Bullshit. I once believed in Cosmic Santa. I didn’t have a chemical imbalance that shifted. I wasn’t treated with medication. I saw the evidence and yes, I rejected it at first, but I broke free of my brainwashing.

    I used to believe that adults knew everything. I used to believe that Santa existed. I used to believe that tomatoes were vegetables. I used to believe that aliens occasionally abducted people. I no longer believe in any of these things. Did I “choose” one day to stop believing in these things? No. What I did do, though, once confronted with the evidence against my beliefs, was choose to accept the universe as it really is, rather than persist in delusion, however satisfying or reassuring. This is a choice.

  71. While I’m rambling, I may as well return to the original topic at hand.

    Here’s a quote from his new book:
    “As a Christian monotheist and a psychological scientist, I approach life and work with two unoriginal assumptions: that (1) there is a God and (2) it’s not me and it’s also not you. Together these axioms imply my surest conviction: Some of my beliefs –- like yours –- contain error. We are finite and fallible. We have dignity but not deity.”

    He begins with the assumption that there is a deity. Oops!

    He says about that quote,
    “No, it is very easy to live like this and it’s a very helpful idea to acknowledge –- to remember that there is a God, but it’s not me. And because of that, we know that some of what I believe — and some of what you believe –- contains error.”

    But, because he began with the assumption that there is a deity, he doesn’t consider that he’s in error about the existence of said deity.

    Continuing, he says,
    “each one of us is finite and none of us has a corner on God. It’s humbling and it’s also liberating.
    One can hold to this kind of openness and still live assuming that God exists, that God loves us, that there is hope that can sustain us beyond death”

    So, if I may translate, he’s saying, “by not questioning whether or not a deity exists, I can always take comfort in always having a friend readily at hand, and I don’t have to confront my own mortality.”

    I ask you, my fellow thinking people, is this not obviously manmade? Is this not a popular and pernicious meme that has propagated throughout our culture, persistent because it promises emancipation from the great fear all thinking organisms have evolved to have, a fear of death, and the fear all social animals have, a fear of loneliness and seclusion? Is this not obviously manmade?

  72. spurge:

    I think the only part you are missing from your post is talking about dogma.

    To my way of thinking dogma is a form of authority, its something that must not be questioned. Whether the object of obedience is a dogma, person, a book or a party the effect is the same.

  73. “I would say that T.S.M. has sufficiently rebutted this claim, objectively speaking with no horse in this race. Nice job.”

    Yeah, right. You’re still pissed at the multiple ass-kickings you’ve suffered at my hands. You’re about as “objective” as Sean Hannity interviewing Sarah Palin.

  74. @Hanes: What I find particularly galling about this quote is that he seems to think that somehow, thinking that there is a god is related to thinking that he could be in error. Many theists disagree, believing that they CANNOT be in error as long as they are following God’s will as they understand it. And he limits himself… only some of his beliefs contain error.

    But this is very similar to my own bedrock skeptical metaphysical premises, which are:

    1. I exist
    2. Something exists that is not me.

    What follows from that is that pretty much everything I think is at least partially in error.

  75. Cogito ergo sum is the basis of all non-matrix-esc thought. Beyond that is the acnowledgement that our senses provide us with a subjective experience of the universe. We then use science (repeatability, evidence, reason, etc) to build from there. The mistake he’s making is assuming a priori that a deity exists. That’s what I call an “oops!” What’s his reasoning for that assumption? Oh he doesn’t have any, because he’s using that as a foundation.

  76. “Cogito ergo sum is the basis of all non-matrix-esc thought.”

    Heck, even in the matrix, you exist, and there is something that is not you. And using science, I think it would be possible to deduce the nature of the matrix from inside the matrix, even without a red pill. That’s why agents exist in the first place, right?

  77. Seth if there is a Fox News analogy here it would be you as Bill O’Reilly proving that he is right by … well telling us that he is. And doing so over and over and loudly at that.

    And of course Bill asserts that those who disagree with him are angry as well.

    I could diagram your exchanges with T.S.M. and validate his assertion that “there are all sorts of fallacies” in your post, but that is a road without end.

    I’ll just leave you to your no-spin zone instead. ; )

  78. @Hanes: “Did I “choose” one day to stop believing in these things? No.”

    Well, there you have it.

    People see evidence and somehow their brains come to a conclusion about what is real and that answer pops into consciousness. It’s not something that we can control. Understanding that, I think, will eliminate a lot of the arrogance on both the Christian and atheist sides of the spectrum. It’s nice to think that we choose what we believe because then we can be smug about all those saps who believe something different.

  79. @writerdd: “Did I “choose” one day to stop believing in these things? No.”

    Well, there you have it.”

    I didn’t choose to stop, I chose to accept the evidence. I chose to not deny the evidence. So sure, if a person is presented with no reasoning ever, then they probably won’t have the option of not believing.

    The rest of the quote being,
    “What I did do, though, once confronted with the evidence against my beliefs, was choose to accept the universe as it really is, rather than persist in delusion, however satisfying or reassuring. This is a choice.”

    Here we have people who know their beliefs are irrational and based on nothing. They’re choosing to deny.

    If I said there ARE unicorns, I just believe it to be true because I believe it to be true, you wouldn’t say that, “oh well he doesn’t have much of a choice, the poor fella.”

    To clarify, I’m saying you’re special pleading.

    @sethmanapio: That’s interesting, and you’re probably correct. I’d never thought about that. :)

  80. “I could diagram your exchanges with T.S.M. and validate his assertion that “there are all sorts of fallacies” in your post, but that is a road without end.”

    Sure you could, cutie. Except that the fallacies he is referring to don’t exist in his exchanges with me. He’s actually referring to a post on my blog. So actually, that would be a road without a beginning.

    Aren’t you supposed to be a lawyer or something? Do the other lawyers throw parties when they hear you’re advocating against them?

  81. @TheSkepticalMale: Since your moronic defender, TS, has brought it up, I should point out that you missed the point of my post by a country mile. Somehow, you read this

    a ban on gay marriage is an attempt to keep the state from officially recognizing a right to gay sex

    and interpreted it to mean this

    he conclusion you draw that Prop 8 is merely a device to try to get homosexuals to stop having sex.

    These are pretty obviously two different statements, and its a little hard to take your assertion that there are “all sorts” of fallacies in my post seriously when said assertion is supported solely by a straw man.

  82. @writerdd: “People see evidence and somehow their brains come to a conclusion about what is real and that answer pops into consciousness. It’s not something that we can control.”

    It is rare that I agree with writerdd, but I’m going to back her on this one. No one has any control over what they think or do. There is no ghost in the machine to have the control. People who are infected by conspiracy theories are literally sick in the head, and so are people with a fervent belief in God. They’ve caught a bad meme.

    And those of us who are not sick, and who work hard to promote a healthy immune system, have no reason to be arrogant about not being sick. But we do have reason to attempt to fight the sickness.

  83. @sethmanapio: Ok, I’ll agree there. Denying reason is as much of a choice as what I’m going to eat for dinner. Since we live in a determinalistic universe, neither is truly a “choice.” However, in order to function as a society, work off the assumption of free will. As such, when a person commits a crime (chooses to commit a crime, I should say), they should face the consequences, and when a person chooses to hold ridiculous beliefs, their beliefs are, by definition, deserving of ridicule.

  84. As I’m late to this game, I just want to say that I appreciate this post. writerdd, I’ve been reading your views on friendly relations between believers and nonbelievers, and have to admit that I’ve been rolling my eyes. I guess I preferred the tension and feeling of persecution. Meyers’ blog post gave me a change of heart. I’m going to mull it over for a while, but I’m impressed. Thank you.

  85. @sethmanapio and @Im a Hedge and @sethmanapio:Sethmanapio makes it sound so easy for the California Supreme Court to simply overturn a change to the very document that grants it power. But for the record, the various organizations have filed a lawsuit to the following effect:

    In California, both constitutional amendments and revisions require that a majority of voters approve the ballot initiative. However, revisions, defined as a “substantial alteration of the entire constitution rather than to a less extensive change in one or more of its provisions,” also require the prior approval of 2/3 of each house of the California State Legislature.

    (Remember: Wikipedia is your friend.) Among the other issues to be decided is whether Prop 8 violates the separate of powers provided for in the constitution and the legal fate of those same-sex couples who got married in the six months while it was legal.

    In my own opinion, the idea that Prop 8 involves “an underlying principle of the constitution” is at best, overreaching, and at worst, frivolous. And although the California Supreme Court (which implied the right to “marriage” to begin with on a scant 4-3 vote) has agreed to hear the case in 2009, it has also recently held on a 6-1 vote that same-sex marriages are to stop immediately. So the outlook for the lawsuit is not good.

    Even Professor Goodwin Liu at U.C. Berkeley, who wrote in support of the challenge in the LA Times, notes:

    Historically, however, the court has taken a narrow view of what kind of measure “substantially alters the basic governmental framework.” For example, neither Proposition 13, which capped property tax rates, nor Proposition 140, which imposed legislative term limits, were held to be a revision of the Constitution despite their far-reaching transformation of state government. Moreover, a 1972 initiative that reinstated the death penalty after the court had declared it cruel and unusual punishment was also deemed an amendment, not a revision, even though it directly limited the judiciary’s power to declare fundamental rights.

  86. @sethmanapio:

    Assume you are correct, and that the only difference between “yes” on prop 8 and “no” was whether a single existing legal structure would be called “marriage” when applied to people of the same sex… what possible rational justification would there be for that?

    There is no rational justification for either side. Marriage has immutable religious, culturual, and social implications. From a strictly rational viewpoint, I have to ask, why do the pro-Prop 8 people have the burden of proof, especially when after centuries of history and until 2001 (in the Netherlands), “marriage” has never (including in a civil sense) included same-sex couples. The Calfiornia Supreme Court decided same-sex couples have the right to use the word “marriage” only six months ago, and you talk like it is the Word of God.

    Okay, now, I didn’t know that it was name calling to point out where you were telling a mistruth, but I’ll do it again: you and I both know that there are TWO legal structures, not one. So it isn’t just a word, unless you want to admit that the whole thing is totally irrational, and the skeptical position is obviously that the label doesn’t matter.

    Did you read the statute, seth? I mean, can you point out any substantive legal rights that differ from between married couples and domestic partners? That is, beyond the “dignity” of using a particular word? Because all I have is a silly little law degree, but the last time I checked, the constitution doesn’t guarantee that people should not have hurt feelings.

    As I have mentioned before, overweight people arguably suffer the most discrimination in terms of job accessibility, etc., but no courts are inserting (sorry, “implying”) “constitutional rights” for them.

  87. @TheSkepticalMale: “I mean, can you point out any substantive legal rights that differ from between married couples and domestic partners?”

    No. And to make my case, I don’t have to. You are saying it is a “label”, and I am saying that there are two separate legal entities. If you want to admit that you wrote something that is factually incorrect, but make a case for “separate but equal”, that’s cool. Go for it.

  88. “From a strictly rational viewpoint, I have to ask, why do the pro-Prop 8 people have the burden of proof,”

    For centuries of recorded history, the burden of proof was on the accused. Now it is on the accuser (in the US, anyway). This is more rational, because it is very difficult to prove that you were not somewhere and did not do something, but failure to do so has no bearing on whether you were there or did do something. So, centuries of recorded history, rationally speaking, are absolutely worthless.

    The pro-prop 8 people wished to restrict a particular kind of contract to people of the opposite sex. There should be some sort of rational reason why they want to do so, as there should be rational reasons for everything. Since there are no such reasons (by your own admission), the proposition should fail, and only irrational reasoning could lead to its passage.

  89. @TheSkepticalMale: “Sethmanapio makes it sound so easy for the California Supreme Court to simply overturn a change to the very document that grants it power. But for the record…”

    At which point, you reiterate the point that I made about a revision requiring prior approval by the legislature, and then erect another strawman (I think I’ve found YOUR favorite logical fallacy) wherein I supposedly imputed that it would be a slam dunk for opponents to have the proposition reversed.

    It’s nice that you you want to elaborate on my points while substantively agreeing with me (and thus, making your own original case incorrect) but I’d appreciate it if you admitted that you were doing so, instead of pretending that you were defending your own position.

  90. @sethmanapio: To say that it is “two separate legal entities” without explaining the substantive significance of this is to avoid the issue – that being is Prop 8 really about the use of two words and nothing more?

    As for the burden of proof in criminal cases, and the interrelated presumption of innocence, there are good arguments on both sides of the issue – the common law system being our side and the side we have chosen, and the civil law system being the other side. Those on the civil law side have good arguments for their system, as well – not the least of which is the fact that common law systems of justice tend to be too lenient on those who are guilty. As a result, the world has not uniformly moved to the common law system. But in structuring our procedural law, we as a nation made the philosophical decision that it was worse to punish an innocent person than to let a guilty person go. In other words, although I agree with the U.S. system, I also recognize that reasonable minds will disagree on that issue as well.

    I agree that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, but I admit that I do not have logical reasoning or historical context on my side, and so in this situation, I don’t call people names (e.g. “moronic”) because they happen not to disagree with me. But what bothers me about you is how dogmatic you are about the definition of a word which has no objective meaning outside civil, cultural, social, and social norms that differ from individual to individual, and not just based on religious differences. I mean, for pete’s sake, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines marriage as between two people of the opposite sex – are they all a bunch of religious nuts too? All because the California Supreme Court decided to change the definition, for civil purposes, six months ago!

    And what also bothers me is the fact that we are spending tens of millions of dollars on using the civil system to wage a culture war over the use of a word and nothing else, when the money and effort could be spent on dealing with substantive discrimination (e.g., the federal Defense of Marriage Act).

  91. @sethmanapio: Actually seth, your original statement was:

    The people can change the constitution, and in fact, the court can review that change, which they may. And the supreme court can overrule it. Get over it. That’s the system.

    Besides using that statement to rebut my claim to you which simply indicated that the people can change the constitution, the statement was vague to the point of being misleading, and certainly made it sound like the court can just overturn it willy-nilly. (And by the way, it is not that the court can review Prop 8, they are reviewing Prop 8.) And it seemed to sound the same way to @Im a Hedge, who asked me my opinion, to which you responded:

    The court has some power of review, yes. One issue is whether Proposition 8 represents a sweeping revision of the Constitution, which would require a 2/3 prior approval by the legislature.

    (Let the backpeddling proceed.) I read that as you identifying “one issue,” and certainly not the whole story as to how the California Supreme Court could overturn Prop 8. So I elaborated, as Hedge requested, at @#99.

    By the way, where’s the strawman again? Or am I still being “disengenous [sic]”?

  92. “But what bothers me about you is how dogmatic you are about the definition of a word which has no objective meaning outside civil, cultural, social, and social norms that differ from individual to individual, and not just based on religious differences.”

    Well, that would be a strawman, for starters. I’m not dogmatic about the definition of any words, haven’t set up any dogma to attach the word to, or anything of the kind. What I’ve said is that if you think that the law should be changed to enforce your cultural interpretation of the word, you’re a bigot. And I backed it up with a rational argument.

    I know that your lawyerly training encourages this, but you really should stop with the dishonest framing of my comments.

  93. @TheSkepticalMale: “(Let the backpeddling proceed.) I read that as you identifying “one issue,” and certainly not the whole story as to how the California Supreme Court could overturn Prop 8. So I elaborated, as Hedge requested, at @#99.”

    What backpedalling? I stand by my original statement: the california supreme court can review the proposition, and SCOTUS can flat overturn it. These are all judges, which answers your original question of why judges, and not the people, should have the say in this case… with the answer that that’s the freakin’ law, and that’s why we have courts in the first place.

  94. @TheSkepticalMale: In other words, although I agree with the U.S. system, I also recognize that reasonable minds will disagree on that issue as well.

    Red herring. The point was that historical arguments mean jack when we’re talking about rational discussions of what is best. “We’ve always done it that way” isn’t rational, it’s dogmatic, and if reasonable minds want to disagree, they need something better than that.

  95. @sethmanapio:

    What I’ve said is that if you think that the law should be changed to enforce your cultural interpretation of the word, you’re a bigot. And I backed it up with a rational argument.

    The law was changed by Prop 8? That is correct, if not an oversimplified version of what happened. In 47 states and the vast majority of Western nations (sorry Canada), by statute, the use term “marriage” in California was restricted to those of the opposite sex, until 6 months ago, in a scant 4-3 vote, the California Supreme Court decided to change that definition under a provision of the California Constitution (NOTE: a document which doesn’t even mention marriage). The complete picture is: Prop 8 merely turned the law back into what it was before and had always been. And lawsuits of questionable legitimacy aside, Prop 8 was also a legitimate exercise of the power of the people, whether you or I like it or not.

    And by your comment, are you suggesting that it is the system of laws itself that you care about now? (I’m only asking because I wouldn’t want to imply a “strawman” argument again.) In this regard, is a 4-3 decision of a court a more “valid” law in your eyes than a direct exercise of the voters of California? If so, is it because you happen to agree with it? Or is the integrity of our system of law of no concern for you?

    As for me personally (because I know how much you care), as much as I agree with the assertion that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry civilly (although I don’t agree that marriage should be a civil institution), I put my views of the integrity of our system of law ahead of all that, and in this respect, I agree that the 3 judges of the California Supreme Court writing dissents as a matter of constitutional law – i.e., where reasonable minds will disagree, the legislative/initiative process should make the decision, not judges “interpreting” an issue that does not even appear in the constitution. (NOTE: The dissenters specifically noted that the comparison to the interracial marriage cases of four decades ago was unsound in that those cases did not seek to change the very historical nature and defintion of marriage itself.)

    But to you, reasonable minds do not disagree – there is a singular, rational, evidence-based, “right” definition of “marriage” (historical, cultural, or religious contexts, and dictionary definitions, be damned!), and anyone who doesn’t agree with you is a bigot.

    I know that your lawyerly training encourages this, but you really should stop with the dishonest framing of my comments.

    Hmmm, apparently, my arguments and the framing of your points has been pretty clear, sport. (@#80 and @#89).

    And lest you think I’m not paying attention, I’m still waiting for the explanation of how your dreaded “two separate legal entities” – “marriage” and “domestic partnership” – has substantive legal significance in light of the statute I quoted above. And in that context, since I see you have an affinity for Latin phrases, here is one for you: De minimis non curat lex.

    Or would you like to actually articulate the “separate but equal” position/comparison? Because I can cite a whole bunch of those cases too. (Here is a preview for you: In those cases involving access to education and the like, the courts concluded based on actual harms demonstrated by the plaintiffs that separate was not actually equal.)

  96. @TheSkepticalMale: And lawsuits of questionable legitimacy aside, Prop 8 was also a legitimate exercise of the power of the people, whether you or I like it or not.

    Again, red herring. The question is whether the people acted rationally (they didn’t) and whether they acted like bigots (they did).

    “But to you, reasonable minds do not disagree – there is a singular, rational, evidence-based, “right” definition of “marriage” (historical, cultural, or religious contexts, and dictionary definitions, be damned!), and anyone who doesn’t agree with you is a bigot. ”

    Well, if you think that the label “marriage” should be restricted to opposite sex couples, you are a bigot, by definition of bigot. What’s really funny about this is that you agree with me that there is absolutely no rational reason to think that it should be so restricted, but somehow, you think that rational minds are disagreeing for irrational reasons.

    You can obfuscate this behind (NOTE-A DOCUMENT THAT DOESN’T MENTION MARRIAGE) and snarky little notes about my spelling, but in the end you agree that Proposition 8 was irrational and prejudiced. So what, exactly, is your problem with me saying so?

    “And lest you think I’m not paying attention, I’m still waiting for the explanation of how your dreaded “two separate legal entities””

    Okay. So you admit that in your first post about this being merely a matter of vocabulary, you were basically lying?

  97. “But to you, reasonable minds do not disagree – there is a singular, rational, evidence-based, “right” definition of “marriage””

    ——

    Just to make a note… obviously, I never said anything like that. That’s another strawman. What I said was: there is a specific contract. It is between two adults. Since there is no rational reason to restrict that contract to opposite sex adults, to so restrict it is bigotry.

    See? Different statements.

    Please, male, stop with the spin. I’m getting bored having to restate my position every time I respond to you.

  98. @TheSkepticalMale: Just as a sidenote, dude, putting the word “strawman” in quotes doesn’t change the fact that you consistently restate my positions in ways that substantially alter them, and then argue against those positions.

    Scare quotes are just stupid, especially when I’ve presented actual cases where you engaged in that act.

  99. Seth – you identify yourself as a graduate student in computer science. Maybe you should reconsider lecturing people in the field of law. I did not know that T.S.M. was an attorney until one of the more recent posts identified him as such, but it was already evident by then which one of you knew what he was talking about.

    As an attorney with just under 25 years experience, I would not presume to instruct computer scientists in their field. But hey – maybe that’s just me.

    I am violating my own advice/observation that engaging with you is to embark upon an endless road, but …. you stated:

    “For centuries of recorded history, the burden of proof was on the accused. Now it is on the accuser (in the US, anyway). This is more rational, because it is very difficult to prove that you were not somewhere and did not do something, but failure to do so has no bearing on whether you were there or did do something. So, centuries of recorded history, rationally speaking, are absolutely worthless.”

    Do you just make this stuff up as you go along?

    Do you really believe that you have accounted for the reasoning behind placing the burden of proof upon the government or sovereign?

    Do you really believe you have articulated an a priori proof of the rationality of this precept, rendering contrary positions “absolutely worthless”?

    Seriously?

    As usual, you are wrong on so many levels – the real challenge is where to start.

    T.S.M. is correct that there two sides to this issue, and if you think you have a logical construct to demonstrate that the opposing view is “absolutely worthless,” I’d like to see it. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to deliver on this.

    Was it you who argued that the government put forth a case sufficient to convict Oswald in the JKF assassination?

    Or is it your position that one should remain skeptical of this government accusation, given the state of the evidence?

    Although I cannot remember for certain, I suspect that this topic may be related to one of the “ass-whippings” you claim to have inflicted upon me, and I am curious as to how that topic fits within your understanding of the notion of innocent until proven guilty.

    So we have these notions of (1) what it means to prove something, (2) why we should “rationally” accept that a person is innocent until proven guilty, (3) what it means to be a “skeptic,” and (4) how all these notions apply to an historic crime for the purpose of illuminating these notions. Do you think you can juggle all those balls at one time?

    This should be good. : )

  100. @TrueSkeptic: “Do you really believe you have articulated an a priori proof of the rationality of this precept, rendering contrary positions “absolutely worthless”?”

    No. I believe that I have demonstrated that the mere fact that something has always been done is some way has no bearing on the rationality of doing it that way.

    See, the road isn’t endless. You’ve just spent a lot of time arguing the wrong points, again.

    I don’t have to kick your ass. You do it for me.

  101. “No. I believe that I have demonstrated ….”

    Whether you really believe some of the stuff you pull out of thin air is an open question.

    What you have demonstrated is that you do not know what you are talking about.

    Here is your awkward proof again that the presumption of innocence is more rational:

    “This is more rational, because it is very difficult to prove that you were not somewhere and did not do something, but failure to do so has no bearing on whether you were there or did do something.”

    This is neither the rationale for the presumption of innocence, nor is it factually or logically correct.

    To say that “failure to prove that you were not somewhere … has no bearing on whether you were there” is just flat out wrong, regardless of whether the accused or the accuser has the burden of proof.

    An accused’s evidence or proof that he was somewhere else (often referred to as an alibi) does have a bearing in either criminal system. I know this is not your field, but just watch a few episodes of Law and Order, and you are bound to come across a dialogue between prosecutor (P) and attorney for the criminal defendant (A) that goes something like this:

    (A) “My client was not anywhere near the scene of the crime when it was committed.”

    (P) “Can you prove it?”

    (A) “I have a witness who will swear to it.”

    (P) “You’re telling me you have a credible witness for this alibi?”

    (A) “A 65 year old nun will say he was working that night at a soup kitchen operated by the Sisters of Mercy.”

    And the strength or credibility of a defense alibi may or may not be enough to overcome whatever evidence the State has.

    And where the burden is on the accused, the accused can testify “I was not there and I did not do it.” And if the State has no evidence to rebut this alibi, the accused should prevail.

    Such evidence has a “bearing” in both systems, and your persistence in claiming that you have demonstrated why one system is more rational than the other speaks for itself.

    I’ll address the competing rationales for the two systems in the next post.

  102. @TrueSkeptic: “This is neither the rationale for the presumption of innocence, nor is it factually or logically correct.”

    Let me try this again: For hundreds of years, we did things one way. NOW, we do things another way, for rational reasons (regardless of what they are). Therefore, the ARGUMENT that hundreds of years of tradition mean anything from a skeptical or rational point of view is crap.

    I’m not arguing whether one system is better than another, which is why I spent two seconds on the the rational. I’m arguing that the statement “We did things like this for X number of years” is a stupid argument. That is what I have demonstrated, that you can’t use a historical record of stupidity to demonstrate that something is rational. The actual stupid thing under discussion is not the issue, it is the stupid basis of rational.

    I don’t know how much simpler I can make it for you.

  103. @TrueSkeptic: “This is neither the rationale for the presumption of innocence, nor is it factually or logically correct.”

    This could be the stupidest thing you have ever said, and that’s a big pond.

    Let me see if I can put this in terms that you can understand.

    I can’t *prove* I did not teleport to New Dehli last night at 5:46 AM to steal a candy bar. However, the simple fact that I cannot prove that has no bearing on whether I actually did so, logically or factually.

    Does that make sense, or do I have to reduce this to “Dick, Jane, Spot” language?

  104. It is generally accepted that the primary purpose of criminal laws in an organized State is the welfare and protection of the populace from injury to their property or person. (There is a competing school of thought that their primary purpose is to punish a wrongful or sinful act, irrespective of the public welfare.)

    The presumption of innocence, which is closely linked to rights against self-incrimination, arose from an appreciation by the citizens of a State that the power of a government or sovereign in creating and enforcing the criminal laws of the State, if not sufficiently moderated, can pose as great or a greater threat to their safety and welfare as the criminal conduct of fellow citizens.

    Indeed, experience demonstrated that you could be put death merely by being accused by the State of a crime that was then sufficiently proven by your own confession elicited by torture. Then again, you could be murdered by a criminal who had been set free as a consequence of the presumption of innocence and prohibition against self-incrimination and torture. (The trade-offs here were explored in the Dirty Harry films.) As T.S.M. indicated, the presumption of innocence competes with a rational concern for making it more difficult for society to protect itself from criminals. It is not a debate that is strictly a function of reason or principle, but rather it is also very much empirically driven. One need only take note of the conduct of the Bush Administration and the popularity of Fox series “24” to understand this.

    Your suggestion that the US has evolved to the more rational system is also wrong. The competition between the rationales of these two criminal systems in the US and elsewhere is very much alive in both theory and practice. Next post.

  105. (NOTE: The dissenters specifically noted that the comparison to the interracial marriage cases of four decades ago was unsound in that those cases did not seek to change the very historical nature and defintion of marriage itself.)

    …which is a fascinating conclusion to come to as it requires one to ignore the portions of history where the definition of marriage was vastly different than it became in more recent times.

  106. It is not a debate that is strictly a function of reason or principle, but rather it is also very much empirically driven. One need only take note of the conduct of the Bush Administration and the popularity of Fox series “24″ to understand this.

    How does the popularity of ’24’ or the conduct of the Bush administration relate to empiricism?

    Are you citing a fictional TV show as a footnote? How would that stand up in court? I call to the stand 2 witnesses, one Jack Bauer and the other Harry Callahan?

  107. I think there is a very interesting and hopefully less personality charged question at the root of this.

    If one accepts that freedom of choice ala democracy/representative government is a fundamental human right, how to manage a system where the population votes for an abridgment of human rights?

    If therefore, we assume that homosexuals are in fact human (i am sure there are those who would argue the point) , how is it possible in the model above to tolerate an abridgment of human rights targeted at them specifically? Can a representative govt vote itself out of existence?

  108. Now on your suggestion that we have evolved to the more rational system.

    The presumption of innocence dates back to times when there was profound distrust and fear of government abuse of power, including with respect to the investigation and prosecution of crimes. The presumption of innocence did not spring from some rational enlightenment – it sprang from a fear and distrust of government.

    This fear and distrust of government has waned over the years, while the competing fear of injury by criminals has increased — especially with the arrival of “terrorist” threats within our own Homeland. As this perception of where the greater risks lie shifts, so does the willingness of the populace to sacrifice protections from its own government for more protections from the criminals or “terrorists” ala the Patriot Act, for example. We have seen a resurrection of detention without charges or trials, torture, widespread surveillance of citizens, and the such.

    During the history of this country, Americans have repeatedly accepted and/or tolerated lesser protections from their government if convinced that such was necessary to protect them from a more grave risk from internal or external threats. And there is no credible evidence that they would not do so again in the future.

    This empirically driven analysis for shifting the risks between harm by the government and harm by others, as it relates to our criminal system, has not been resolved by your ill-informed conception of the creation and rationale for the presumption of innocence.

    And your proof that one system is more rational than the other I doubt would have earned you a passing grade in a number of courses that I took addressing these ideals.

  109. @TrueSkeptic:

    ,blockquote>This empirically driven analysis for shifting the risks between harm by the government and harm by others, as it relates to our criminal system, has not been resolved by your ill-informed conception of the creation and rationale for the presumption of innocence.

    1) The empirically driven analysis was surrounding the manipulation of perception of impending harm by this group or that group rather than addressing the actual potential harm, which is very solvable given the will to do so.

    2) Fear and distrust of the government could easily be construed as the definition of rational enlightenment. Certainly the founding fathers had a fear and distrust of government. Were they irrational?

  110. “I can’t *prove* I did not teleport to New Dehli last night at 5:46 AM to steal a candy bar. However, the simple fact that I cannot prove that has no bearing on whether I actually did so, logically or factually. Does that make sense, or do I have to reduce this to “Dick, Jane, Spot” language?”

    Ah yes … Seth provides a practical demonstration of my analogizing his debate style with that of Bill O’Reilly.

    I don’t think the readers need any help from me to shoot this down, but I’ll do it anyway.

    What you have been trying to say (giving you the benefit of the doubt) is that the inadequacy of evidence or “proof” that you were not at the scene of a crime does not establish that you were there.

    What you did say and have been saying is that lack of evidence or proof that you were not at the scene of a crime “has no bearing”on whether you were there or committed the crime, which is patently ridiculous. Of course such evidence has a bearing on the factual issue at hand. Even with a presumption of innocence, the government can properly convict you (given the right circumstances) without any direct proof of your whereabouts at the time of the crime. And in such a case, your ability to demonstrate that you were not there might be necessary for your acquittal.

    And you really need to understand the legal terms you are using in discussing the law. In your example, your testimony alone that you were not in New Dehli last night is evidence and can constitute proof that you were not there and therefore did not steal the candy bar. Moreover, the lack of any means for you to have physically transported yourself there, short of a non-existent technology, in time to steal the candy bar would be conclusive evidence and proof that you were not there and did not commit the crime.

    Your illustration sets forth a completely non-sensical argument. Impressive – even for you Seth. : )

    Does your arrogance have any bounds? You should pop in on a brain surgery in progress and tell the surgeons where they are not getting it.

    Seth – you are completely out of your element having a discussion about the law. Accept it dude and move on.

    I am going to do so in any case – time to get off this never-ending road of arguing with the world’s foremost authority on everything.

  111. @TrueSkeptic:

    I disagree. I believe that Seth is making a reasonably cogent argument that what happened happened regardless of the absence or presence of proof that it happened.

    This has obviously left the realm of true discourse and instead seems to be an overly emotional mud slinging exercise.

    To that end, we get it you don’t like each other. Can we move on? How is that germane to the topic?

    Are your best arguments ad hominem in nature?

    How can the discourse be elevated to a point where name calling and finger pointing are unnecessary?

  112. @TrueSkeptic: By your own analogy Seth would only be out of his element if we went into a courtroom and told the lawpersons where they were not getting it.

    Being a non-expert on a topic doesn’t preclude people from engaging in discussion over said topic on an internet blog. Otherwise, few of us could ever discuss anything.

  113. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read all the replies to this entry, but I do wish to make a few comments on the article…

    “Can a sceptic believe in God?”
    In the true sense of the words, I would say no, not until there is evidence for a god/gods.
    For me, being a sceptic means to try to thing rationally about issues, and to require evidence to support truly outlandish claims, e.g that there are beings in the sky that created Everythingâ„¢, that are both merciful and vengeful and that will torment most of humanity for eternity. (Did you notice which one I brought forth as an example?)

    “a faith that is hopeful, science-affirming, and humane. ”
    Ah, if there only was such a thing. Is there any religious cult/following/organisation in the history of mankind that has not discriminated someone, has not encouraged hate and suppression?

    “religiosity, on balance, is associated with happiness, helpfulness, and health.”
    Are we talking about organised religion here?
    If so, are we also talking about gays in most of the western world, Muslims in Israel and Christians in Iran?

    I am a militant atheist, no doubt about it, but…
    “My point in that short chapter was simply to acknowledge that antireligious skepticism is predominantly a product of men expressing contempt for the beliefs of people whose thinking and culture differ from their own.”
    That statement is to me like falling off a cliff and missing the ground.
    No, my contempt for religion does not stem from others having a different culture than I do*.
    Of course, there are good news as well:
    As soon as every religion on Earth stops encouraging discrimination, hate and suppression and discouraging free thinking, liberty and individuality, I’ll slink quietly back into the shadows from where I came and shut up.
    Until that time, religions deserve nothing from me but contempt and ridicule.

    *Fair enough, I do harbour contempt for certain cultures (see the previous paragraphs and substitute “religion” with “culture”), but that is not that same as harbouring contempt of a religion because of the culture; unfortunately the two are often very, very intertwined.

  114. Wytorm –

    You are correct to point out that the popularity of “24” as empirical evidence for my point contains an unstated and unproven assumption. One can like the show without agreeing with methods adopted by some of the protagonists in the show. Or one can even agree with some such methods used and still regard them as properly viewed as illegal and the protagonist properly prosecuted for them – in the vein that sometimes a person’s duty requires a personal sacrifice, where he must take the fall for his actions. I think that was Ollie North’s viewpoint.

    I was making the assumption that at least some viewers would be supportive of a post-9/11 theme that was gaining popularity of ditching legal protections in order to get the bad guy and protect society thereby. I got sucked into the show last year and enjoyed it, but do not ascribe to the theme stated above. I am still more worried by the government than any advantage to the bad guys of keeping government power in check.

    I am more concerned that the FBI was monitoring a State Governor for 5 years, bugging his campaign headquarters and tapping his phone than …. surprise, surprise a politician in a high office was looking into means of profiting off his position or trading political favors.

    Congress has said it intends to investigate how it was that Governor Spitzer was having his phone tapped and financial transactions monitored by the Feds in connection with ….. a prostitution case? I hope they are not now too worried about being surveilled themselves to move forward on that.

    These are Constitutional protections at issue here and the FBI does not have an exemplary track record of respect for the Constitution.

    Spitzer was the biggest Wall Street watchdog around, who was elected by the people for successes in this arena. The Feds took him down (under suspicious circumstances) for having consensual sex and shortly thereafter Wall Street sacks the Treasury for a trillion dollars.

    And the Governor of Illinois was in the middle of a stand-off with Bank of America to re-open a line of credit to save jobs at a modern US manufacturing plant (given the Bank’s recent receipt of billions from the taxpayers) and he’s going to be gone.

    If I were the US Atty Gen., I’d make the FBI provide a full accounting of every elected official (among others) whom they are surveilling. They would need a pretty damn good reason for such activity, and if they or their superiors were breaking any laws – they’d be the ones facing criminal charges.

    Anyway … as to the Bush Administration, it has successfully reduced the protections accorded citizens from their own government within the context of a representative democracy to confront rising fears that it is more important for their government to protect them. So I am saying that this demonstrates that the trade-off in these disparate protections is a fact-driven function of the relative perceived risks and fears of the populace and/or their representatives.

    As for my reference to “rational enlightenment,” yes this could be used to describe an analysis of the need to limit government power, but the point was that this is a fact driven analysis that the founding fathers performed. They did not logically deduce it independent of factual circumstances, such as is described in Seth’s proof. And the founding fathers themselves were flexible on these questions, depending upon changing circumstances.

  115. I would suggest that we need to take care in accepting that it is an either or argument in terms of having no freedoms vs security. My hope s that we will now be moving to a footing where freedoms are enshrined secure from assault my enemies foreign AND domestic while not sacrificing security otherwise. I am always amazed when no one questions the assertions that it was impossible to secure the country with the tools in hand as it seems readily apparent that no one had even made an attempt.

  116. “How can the discourse be elevated to a point where name calling and finger pointing are unnecessary?”

    I am trying to think of an instance, in any context, where ad hominem attacks were used incessantly by one side and not returned in kind. I cannot think of one, and though it must occur, I am quite sure that it is rare. I try not to be the first to go down that road. And I do not engage in a topic where such is my intended contribution.

    I appreciate the peacemaking sentiment and effort though.

  117. @TrueSkeptic: Seth – you are completely out of your element having a discussion about the law. Accept it dude and move on.

    Well, I’m not having one, you are. I’m having a different discussion, one which you seem absolutely unable to fathom. I will try again.

    TSM made the assertion that we had done something one way for a long time. I made the counter that doing something for a long time is not a rational reason to keep doing it. I used the principle of presumed innocence, a legal innovation, as an example. You are now arguing about the rationality of presumed innocence (as did TSM) despite the fact that that is merely an example. The main point, and I say this for the fourth time, is that if we do something one way for a long time, the fact that we did is not a rational reason to keep doing it.

    Again. The point I am trying to make is: if we do something for a long time, we don’t therefore have a rational reason to keep doing it.

    In case you missed it the last two times I said it: the point I was making is not about the legal system per se. It is merely that the fact that we have been doing something one way for a long time is not really an argument in favor of doing it that way in the future.

    You have, of course, made this point for me quite well by bringing up any number of arguments for one legal system over another, none of which are “We did it this way for a long time, so we should keep doing it that way.”

    Your help, however unintended, is appreciated.

  118. “By your own analogy Seth would only be out of his element if we went into a courtroom and told the lawpersons where they were not getting it.”

    The courtroom and operating room settings just maximize the impudence, which I used to stress the point. The arrogance is the same, though, if undertaken in another setting.

    “Being a non-expert on a topic doesn’t preclude people from engaging in discussion over said topic on an internet blog. Otherwise, few of us could ever discuss anything.”

    Of course. But engaging in a discussion is not the issue. You will not that both T.S.M. and I discussed points of law with other posters without a problem. Kimbo – you were the one who complained about “unwarranted arrogance.” From the outset, if you look, Seth speaks condescendingly and insultingly to a couple of experienced professionals regarding matters in their fields that, quite frankly, he is not very well versed in. Now I would not do that, and I am not a shy person.

    It would seem to me that this would be a paradigm example of your phrase “unwarranted arrogance,” but maybe I did not understand what you meant by that.

  119. @TrueSkeptic: “Does your arrogance have any bounds? You should pop in on a brain surgery in progress and tell the surgeons where they are not getting it.”

    But TS, I don’t actually believe you a lawyer. You’ve claimed lots of expertise in lots of areas and demonstrated profound ignorance in all of them. It isn’t so much that I know everything, it is that I am convinced that you know nothing.

    Let me try this again:
    Fact: I cannot prove that I was not in New Dehli last night between 4:30 and 5:30 AM.

    This has no absolutely no bearing on whether or not I was. Why not?

    Let me try an allegory.

    Jane is in her room. Spot is in his house. Dick is in the garage. Mom is in the garage.
    Dick can’t see Jane. Dick can’t see Spot.
    Dick tells Mom, “Spot is with Jane!”
    Mom calls Spot. Mom calls Jane.
    Jane comes.
    Spot comes.
    Mom says “Jane had Spot in her room! Bad Jane!”

    In our example, Jane has no “alibi”. Does this have *any* bearing on whether or not Jane was actually with Spot?

    I hope I’ve simplified this enough for you.

  120. @TrueSkeptic: “From the outset, if you look, Seth speaks condescendingly and insultingly to a couple of experienced professionals regarding matters in their fields that, quite frankly, he is not very well versed in. Now I would not do that, and I am not a shy person.”

    No, just you. And as I said, I don’t believe any of your claims of expertise, because you don’t demonstrate any expertise in any area, certainly not law, physics, engineering, ballistics, or any of your other supposed magisteria. You’re mistaking my personal contempt for you for a general attitude of arrogance.

  121. @TrueSkeptic: I’m not defending anyone’s arrogance. I simply disagree with the assertion that Seth (and by extension anyone else who isn’t a lawyer) is precluded from speaking on this topic because doing so is tantamount to telling professionals what’s what in their field. The two situations do not equate. If you were simply exaggerating to prove a point, fine. But I thought I’d address it for some clarification.

    And for the record, your first post on the thread (to Hanes) was an insult. Your next post (to Seth) was also an insult. “He was doing it all along too” is not a good excuse for yourself.

  122. Seth – trust me.

    At all times, I understood what it was you were trying to do.

    You were arguing with T.S.M. for the proposition that Prop 8, objectively speaking and applying skeptic standards for critical thinking and rational thought, had only one correct side.

    In disagreeing with you, T.S.M. was not arguing that because the opposing view has been the status quo for so long it was ipso facto rational, as you interpreted. That observation by T.S.M. served a limited purpose when combined with other points – he did not offer it as a stand alone proposition of logic in the manner that you recast it.

    So to rebut a point that was not being made, you set out to demonstrate an analogous situation where a less rational position was maintained for many years, before it was replaced by a more rational system – that being the presumption of innocence.

    In fact, what you had demonstrated was another example on your part where you mistakenly believed that you had identified an objectively more rational system, where you again presented a defective proof as to why the system was more rational, in your view.

    Your reasoned explanation for the presumption of innocence was wrong, as I related in detail.

    Your proffered rationale or proof for why the presumption of innocence is more rational was wrong and defective, as I related in detail.

    Your assertion that you were merely attempting to demonstrate that just because something was done in the past does not, in and of itself, prove that it is rational, a point that no one had made, is irrelevant to the errors that you were making that were being challenged.

  123. @TrueSkeptic: “At all times, I understood what it was you were trying to do.”

    But you STILL don’t understand what I’m trying to do. Let me try again.

    1. TSM provided a reason to support a point. That reason was “We did like this for a long time.”

    2. I said, “your REASON is not rational.”

    Whether the system itself is rational or not is not relevant. I am not arguing with you about it, and provided very little analysis, because it doesn’t matter. It is the REASON THAT HE GAVE for supporting the system which is my target. Regardless of whether the system is relevant, the REASON “We’ve always done it that way” is the target, not the system. I don’t actually care, in this context, about the legal system. What matters is that the REASON is a bad one, as demonstrated by your many DIFFERENT arguments that you feel ARE good ones.

    Okay. So now that I’ve said this ten or fifteen times, and put the object of the discussion into caps for you, I hope you finally understand what I’m actually trying to say.

  124. @Anthony:

    I’m sorry SkepticalMale, Marriage is no longer a “primarily religious” institution. We’ve attached far to much to marriage in secular society for it to be so. While you could make the case that we shouldn’t have done that we’ve attached significance to it beyond the spiritual.

    Marriage as being wielded as the weapon it is in this case is entirely a religious institution. It is the naked ugly face of religious bigotry and has little to do with secular matters in my opinion.

    It is the unwarranted insertion of the religious into state matters that is at the root of the issue.

  125. Let me catch the gang up.

    @TrueSkeptic: “Your assertion that you were merely attempting to demonstrate that just because something was done in the past does not, in and of itself, prove that it is rational, a point that no one had made,”

    Again, you don’t seem to understand the issue. The original statement was this:

    @TheSkepticalMale: “I have to ask, why do the pro-Prop 8 people have the burden of proof, especially when after centuries of history and until 2001 (in the Netherlands), “marriage” has never (including in a civil sense) included same-sex couples.”

    To which my response is: centuries of history don’t mean jack shit when discussing the rational base of something. I said it, originally, like this:

    “For centuries of recorded history, the burden of proof was on the accused. Now it is on the accuser (in the US, anyway). This is more rational, because it is very difficult to prove that you were not somewhere and did not do something, but failure to do so has no bearing on whether you were there or did do something. So, centuries of recorded history, rationally speaking, are absolutely worthless.

    But have since tried to clarify that the example is not the point. Another example would do. Trial by Ordeal, for example, is clearly not rational, exorcising demons is not rational, etc. etc. etc. Yet these things were done for centuries. CENTURIES OF HISTORY ARE NOT PROOF OF RATIONALITY.

    I really, really hope that this finally sinks in. TS, you are a marvel of obtuosity.

  126. @TrueSkeptic:

    Your assertion that you were merely attempting to demonstrate that just because something was done in the past does not, in and of itself, prove that it is rational, a point that no one had made, is irrelevant to the errors that you were making that were being challenged…

    …in your opinion.

  127. Now for your fallacious illustration broken down in more simple terms.

    First, as you seemingly fail to comprehend, proof of an alibi is an important feature of both criminal systems at issue and it definitely “has a bearing” on the ability to get a conviction in either system.

    I already dispensed with your New Delhi illustration – go read it.

    As for Jane and Spot et al:

    “In our example, Jane has no “alibi”. Does this have *any* bearing on whether or not Jane was actually with Spot?”

    Seth, Seth, Seth, Seth …..

    Jane has an alibi – your statement to the contrary is just wrong and demonstrates your complete lack of understanding of what you are talking about.

    And the only relevant question is what would be the result of this scenario if it went to trial under the two systems where the accused has the burden of proof vs. where the accuser has the burden of proof. Adding nothing to your bare bones hypothetical to favor either side (including all the witnesses testify truthfully), Jane should win in either system. If you are suggesting instead that Dick is going to lie, then Jane could lose in either system. Proof of an alibi is an important feature of both systems, and your singular focus on this issue of proving an alibi neither distinguishes the systems nor does it provide the rationale for choosing one system over the other. You are wrong in every respect.

    Dude – really, enough.

  128. @TrueSkeptic: “Jane has an alibi – your statement to the contrary is just wrong and demonstrates your complete lack of understanding of what you are talking about.”

    My bad. Jane cannot PROVE her alibi. And that has no bearing on whether or not she was with Spot.

    Do you get it now?

  129. @TrueSkeptic:

    First, as you seemingly fail to comprehend, proof of an alibi is an important feature of both criminal systems at issue and it definitely “has a bearing” on the ability to get a conviction in either system.

    This is sort of the point. The criminal systems are not and have never been at issue.

    And the only relevant question is what would be the result of this scenario if it went to trial under the two systems where the accused has the burden of proof vs. where the accuser has the burden of proof.

    This could in fact not be more irrelevant. This has nothing whatever to do with the point he was making.

  130. @TrueSkeptic: “And the only relevant question is what would be the result of this scenario if it went to trial under the two systems where the accused has the burden of proof”

    That would be true if and only if that was a point I was trying to make. But actually, the point I was trying to make was different. You said this: “This is neither the rationale for the presumption of innocence, nor is it factually or logically correct.” It is the second part that I shredded mercilessly with the Dick/Jane/Spot example. To make this crystal, crystal clear

    Jane says “I was in my room. Spot was in his house.”
    Mom asks, “Did Dick see you?”
    Jane says, “Dick did not see me.”
    Mom says, “Jane had Spot in her Room!”

    In this example, Dick being able to see Jane is a metaphor that stands for all forms of external proof. Since we already know that Jane was not with Spot, it is obvious that the lack of external proof is not relevant to the question of where Dick was, and where Jane was. Therefore, TS, your initial assertion that I was factually and logically incorrect is bullshit.

    I hope I filled in enough blanks for you.

  131. “But TS, I don’t actually believe you a lawyer. You’ve claimed lots of expertise in lots of areas and demonstrated profound ignorance in all of them. It isn’t so much that I know everything, it is that I am convinced that you know nothing.”

    And what does that say about you Seth and your ability to analyze the evidence before you and to discern the truth, when the following facts are true and I can prove them beyond any question or doubt:

    1. I am an attorney practicing law since 1984 in CT, and I have my own firm with a national reputation, specializing in litigating complex civil cases with a focus on financial fraud and legal malpractice, going up against some of largest and most prestigious firms in the country. (Just this Thursday in federal court – I despatched counsel from Rudy Giuliani’s firm in a case against AIG, sent packing his bags and heading back to Houston in defeat.)

    2. I speak at seminars put on by financial regulators and national bar associations. And I am published in legal treatises. I am interviewed on television concerning high-profile securities cases.

    3. In addition to my degree in law, I have degrees in both Physics and Philosophy from Rice University.

    Believe it bro.

    Do you trust T.S.M.? — I have no idea who he is, nor have I ever communicated with him, but as an attorney, he could easily verify all of this if he were willing.

    I don’t want to wreck your world view if proof of the truth is not what you want.

  132. Here was the point in Seth’s words:

    “For centuries of recorded history, the burden of proof was on the accused. Now it is on the accuser (in the US, anyway). This is more rational, because it is very difficult to prove that you were not somewhere and did not do something, but failure to do so has no bearing on whether you were there or did do something.

    Seth is very clearly making a comparison between two criminal systems and asserting that one is “more rational” because of the difficulty of proving an alibi, which of course is not in itself determinative of guilt or innocence.

    Now in a remarkable re-writing of history, Seth claims that the only point he was making (standing alone in a vacuum evidently with no connection to the argument at hand) is that failure of proof of an alibi is not determinative of the alibi or of guilt.

    The claim that one system “is more rational, because” is, as I stated, neither logically nor factually correct. That was the claim, and that is what I rebutted. And if you tried to wriggle out of that on the stand in front of a jury, I could provide to you many first-hand reference accounts of what would happen to you at that point — it is not a pretty site.

  133. @TrueSkeptic: “I can prove them beyond any question or doubt:”

    Feel free to do so at any time. So far, you have demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge of physics, law, and philosophy, so you haven’t shown even indirect proof that your claims of expertise are remotely possible. But hey, I could be wrong. Show me the proof.

  134. @TrueSkeptic: “Now in a remarkable re-writing of history, Seth claims that the only point he was making (standing alone in a vacuum evidently with no connection to the argument at hand) is that failure of proof of an alibi is not determinative of the alibi or of guilt.”

    Let see what I said

    This could be the stupidest thing you have ever said, and that’s a big pond.

    Let me see if I can put this in terms that you can understand.

    I can’t *prove* I did not teleport to New Dehli last night at 5:46 AM to steal a candy bar. However, the simple fact that I cannot prove that has no bearing on whether I actually did so, logically or factually.

    Gosh. Clearly, I’m saying that the fact that I can’t prove that I didn’t steal the candy bar has nothing to do with whether or not, factually or logically, I stole the candy bar. So, it’s not so much that I’m rewriting history as that you didn’t understand me.

  135. @TrueSkeptic: “The claim that one system “is more rational, because” is, as I stated, neither logically nor factually correct.”

    And is that what you were saying? Let’s examine the evidence. You said: “This is neither the rationale for the presumption of innocence, nor is it factually or logically correct.” Clearly, you were making two points. First, you were making the point that it is not the rationale for the presumption of evidence, a point I don’t care about. Second, you were making the point that the STATEMENT ITSELF is not factually or logically correct. So I was not addressing that “in a vaccuum”, I was addressing it in response to your claim. Second, you knew this earlier, when you said

    “What you did say and have been saying is that lack of evidence or proof that you were not at the scene of a crime “has no bearing”on whether you were there or committed the crime, which is patently ridiculous.”

    This is a fairly stupid thing to say, of course, because the lack of proof that I was not at the scene of the crime is absolutely not relevant to the question of whether I was there, as I pointed out in the Dick/Jane/Spot example.

    Now, realizing that your argument in that regard is an epic fail, you’re attempting to accuse me of rewriting history. You forget, of course, that this history–unlike your supposed credentials–is readily available to everyone… so you’ve piled another failure on top of the original.

    You are really, really bad at this internet debate thing.

  136. “Gosh. Clearly, I’m saying …”

    Nice try – Seth. What you were “saying” at post 119 is not a substitute for the very, very clear argument that you presented at post 103 – which is what I was rebutting from the beginning.

    Nice try because people would not know that unless they were paying attention, which they probably are not doing – to their credit. : )

    The bait and switch. “President Bush is our President and he is demonstrably the best President.”

    Later … All I said was “President Bush is our President.” Clearly I am right.

    “So, it’s not so much that I’m rewriting history as that you didn’t understand me.”

    Ok – now I am starting to feel sorry for you, which kind of destroys the whole idea of taking on a Bill O’Reilly substitute.

  137. “This is a fairly stupid thing to say, of course, because the lack of proof that I was not at the scene of the crime is absolutely not relevant to the question of whether I was there, as I pointed out in the Dick/Jane/Spot example.”

    Nope – wrong again. So says the guy who has no idea that he is conversing with an experienced trial attorney.

    Evidence or the lack thereof of the type that has the ability to provide proof of a fact is always relevant.

    What you should have said and what I knew you meant to say in your original post (#103)(as I have already pointed out) is that the lack of such evidence is not determinative (as opposed to “not relevant” or “has no bearing”) the words you have used.

    It would not have mattered, however, if you had stated it correctly. Your argument in #103 is wrong either way. Either way, the statement you made does not, as you claim, show that the presumption of innocence is “more rational.”

    And this has nothing to do with the actual historical rationale for the presumption of innocence. Whether your argument lines up with the historical rationale does change the fact your argument is logically and factually wrong. The problem you identify with proof of alibis exists in both systems and does not supply a basis for your argument that one is more rational than the other.

  138. @TrueSkeptic:

    Evidence or the lack thereof of the type that has the ability to provide proof of a fact is always relevant.

    Perhaps in a trial, which is not what we have here. Within the context of the conversation at hand, it is entirely decoupled and irrelevant to what actually happened.

  139. Oh and another mistake:

    “My bad. Jane cannot PROVE her alibi. And that has no bearing on whether or not she was with Spot.

    Do you get it now?”

    Nope – wrong again.

    Jane CAN PROVE her alibi. She testifies truthfully in support of her alibi. The fact-finder believes her. And she wins – in either system.

    Do you get it now?

    I sorta doubt it.

  140. “Perhaps in a trial, which is not what we have here.”

    I do not know what issue you have adopted along the way – wytworm.

    But the argument being debated was presented at post #103. It was a claim about which of two methods of allocating the burden of proof in a criminal trial is more rational.

  141. @TrueSkeptic: Evidence or the lack thereof of the type that has the ability to provide proof of a fact is always relevant.

    Again: the fact that Jane cannot prove (and only you believe that a simple claim is “proof”) that she did not have Spot in her room does not have any bearing on whether or not spot was in fact in her room.

    I can only turn this statement around so many times to try and cram it into your head, TS.

  142. @TrueSkeptic: Either way, the statement you made does not, as you claim, show that the presumption of innocence is “more rational.”

    ———-

    And as I’ve said five or six times not, I don’t actually care whether it does or not. You have now spent hundreds of lines attacking a single sentence. I’ve spend zero lines defending it. I’m pretty sure that this is indicative that you are not an experienced trial lawyer.

  143. “Again: the fact that Jane cannot prove (and only you believe that a simple claim is “proof”) that she did not have Spot in her room”

    Only me – eh?

    Well don’t feel too bad about being wrong yet again on this one Seth – it is a common mistaken belief held by lay people regarding evidentiary proof.

    Clients will often say things like “But how can we prove it – it is my word against his?”

    No experienced trial attorney would make the mistake you are making, and yet you see your own error as evidence that I am not an experienced trial attorney.

    And on that little bit of irony, I’ll call it quits on this one Seth.

    Good luck to you.

  144. @TrueSkeptic: “No experienced trial attorney would make the mistake you are making, and yet you see your own error as evidence that I am not an experienced trial attorney.”

    The really amusing thing here is that you think its ironic that I did something I didn’t do. See, there were two posts there. If you read a little more carefully, you’ll see that the actual reason I think you aren’t an experienced trial attorney is that you constantly attack points that I either didn’t make or that I’m not defending because they aren’t relevant to the actual case.

    But you, of course, decided that I had actually made a different point! AGAIN. It isn’t ironic (you used the word incorrectly), but it is absurd.

  145. @TrueSkeptic: “Well don’t feel too bad about being wrong yet again on this one Seth – it is a common mistaken belief held by lay people regarding evidentiary proof.”

    Okay. One. More. Time.

    I am not talking about courtrooms. I am talking about whether someone was actually, in reality, objectively, in a particular room with a particular dog at a particular time. You can tell this because I use the words “In Fact” as opposed to “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “according to the preponderance of the evidence”.

    I know you get a kick out of pretending to be a lawyer, but it just isn’t relevant to the point I’m making about Jane, Dick, and Spot. Let me try to cram this into your tiny brain another way.

    Dick says “Spot is in Jane’s room.”
    Jane says “Spot is in Spot’s House.”

    Logically, with no additional information, can you derive Spot’s location?

  146. @wytworm: Is it over?

    Not until its over.

    @wytworm: “Yes, that is correct.”

    No, that isn’t. The original point was not about which system of law is more rational. The original point was that historical precendent != rational reason. I used the legal system as an example.

    To extend True Skeptics George Bush analogy, it goes like this.

    Me: For example, George Bush is the greatest president ever, so you can’t judge a person by their looks.
    TS: No he wasn’t. He wasn’t even president.
    Me: Don’t be a fucking idiot, of course Bush was the president. And besides, other ugly people have been good leaders. Richard the 3rd. Catherine the Great. Winston Churchill.
    TS: 5 million lines about why Bush wasn’t the best president.
    Me: I don’t care if he was the best president or not. It was just an example. He was president (as you’ve proved by your 5 million lines of stupidity) and ugly people can be capable.
    TS: You’re pulling a bait and switch! You’re point was that he was the greatest president ever! And I’m the bestest lawyer that ever lived! I have a degree in physics! You don’t understand the law!
    Me: !?

  147. @sethmanapio: Let’s see, you say you don’t have to show that same-sex couples do not have the exact same substantive rights as married couples under the California domestic partnership statute to prove your point. (See @here.) But then again, not being able to show any substantive differences takes all the rationality and reason from your arguments.

    You’ve started throwing around the word “contract” (originally, it was “legal entity”) as if that makes your argument more valid (see @here), but nobody is abridging the right of same-sex couples from entering into express contacts like prenuptial/post-nuptial agreements – I’ve done them for same-sex couples in a state that does not even have domestic partnership statutes. (By the way, do you even know what a contract is, legally speaking, or how the “marriage contract” is fundamentally different, before you take it upon yourself to school everybody on the law?) So I will say it differently – the “rights” under both marriage and domestic partnership contracts are the same under California statute. And yet, if you take the issue of differences in substantive rights off the table, all you have is the use of a word or a label – “marriage.” That’s it.

    And therein still lies the rub – it’s not a @”red herring”, it is the very issue, because the people of California were not voting on substantive rights. It is one thing to say that history should not mean anything when a certain position has no “rational” basis when you are talking about whether the world is flat or round. But the definition of the word “marriage” is a product of social, cultural, and religious history and norms. Same-sex marriage has no history (until 2001). But more to the point, today, most religions or cultures still do not accept the concept of same-sex marriage. For example, Article 16 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which is the cornerstone of world-wide human rights law and which cannot be characterized as religious – refers to marriage, and the right to marry, as between men and women – and that’s hardly a religious document. Nor is nearly every major dictionary, which still defines marriage as between members of the opposite sex. It’s not just religious norms, it’s cultural norms, and it’s not just the past, but the present.

    (By the way, @wytworm, at what point in “history” was marriage other than between a man and a woman?)

    The bottom line is that you want to ascribe reason to your side in a culture war, as if we are talking about evolution v. intelligent design (i.e., science v. religion) instead of the mere use of one word with no differences whatsoever in legal rights under California law. Sorry, but I’m never going to agree with you on that.

    Now a word about the debate itself …

    Ad hominems (including questioning a complete stranger’s motives instead of arguing the point) are usually the sign of a lack of exercise of reason. While I would I would not defend anyone who uses this device, I wouldn’t want anyone (e.g., @wytworm) to unfairly single out TS to the exclusion of seth, who has established himself as the king of ad hominems, (See @#56 and @#95.)

    Second, as far as how this argument has gone, while seth engages in a lot of meta-arguing and complaints how other people twist his words (a complaint without much gravity considering everybody here can read exactly what he said), he still doesn’t answer the real questions posed multiple times (and I’ve posed it to others in the context of Prop 8, considering that this blog has decided to take a position on it):

    1. Burdens of proof aside, what exercise in rationality and/or what empirical evidence makes the anti-Prop 8 definition of “marriage” more valid than the dictionary’s or the pro-Prop 8 definition? (My point: There is no “right” definition of marriage.)

    2. What practical difference does it make what “separate legal entity” or “particular type of contract” applies to same-sex versus opposite sex couples if the substantive legal rights under California law are exactly the same? (My point: The fact that there is no practical difference between the substantive rights afforded to same-sex couples suggests seth’s positions on Prop 8, as many others in the debate, are based on emotion, not rationality or evidence.)

    On this, I have one final note: I give seth credit, at least he has continued to engage in the debate on a blog that has been rather monolithic on this issue. (And I’m not being sarcastic.)

  148. (By the way, @wytworm, at what point in “history” was marriage other than between a man and a woman?)

    Polygamy is a very ancient practice found in many human societies. The Bible did not condemn polygamy. To the contrary, the Old Testament and Rabbinic writings frequently attest to the legality of polygamy. King Solomon is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3) Also, king David is said to have had many wives and concubines (2 Samuel 5:13). The Old Testament does have some injunctions on how to distribute the property of a man among his sons from different wives (Deut. 22:7). The only restriction on polygamy is a ban on taking a wife’s sister as a rival wife (Lev. 18:18). The Talmud advises a maximum of four wives. European Jews continued to practice polygamy until the sixteenth century. Oriental Jews regularly practiced polygamy until they arrived in Israel where it is forbidden under civil law.

    The Quran, contrary to the Bible, limited the maximum number of wives to four under the strict condition of treating the wives equally and justly.

    Group marriage occasionally occurred in communal societies founded in the 19th and 20th centuries. An exceptionally long-lived example was the Oneida Community founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848. Noyes taught that he and his followers had undergone sanctification; that is, it was impossible for them to sin, and that for the sanctified, marriage (along with private property) was abolished as an expression of jealousy and exclusiveness. The Oneida commune practiced sexual communalism and shared parental responsibilities, and in effect functioned as a large group marriage until sometime in the period 1879-1881.

    Child Marriage In parts of Ethiopia and Nigeria, over 50% of girls are married before the age of 15 and some girls are married as young as the age of 7. In parts of Mali, 39% of girls are married before the age of 15. In Niger and Chad, over 70% of girls are married before the age of 18.
    In South Africa, there are legal provisions made for respecting the marriage laws of traditional marriages whereby a person might be married as young as 12 for females and 14 for males.

    I wouldn’t want anyone (e.g., @wytworm) to unfairly single out TS to the exclusion of seth, who has established himself as the king of ad hominems

    The fairness of it is a matter or personal interpretation. We obviously agree that ad hominems are undesirable, and that TS is engaging in them. I have not done an exhaustive scan of the posts for understandable reasons, but I went back to the one’s you linked and to be honest I don’t see them there. Ergo, insofar as those posts go, it looks pretty fair to me. If we are using a definition so broad to make those posts ad hominems I might point out that calling someone ‘the king of ad hominems ‘ would be somewhat ironic.

  149. seth engages in a lot of meta-arguing and complaints how other people twist his words

    He is engaging in a meta-argument to point out the deficiencies of his opponent’s argumentative structure and tactics.

  150. @TheSkepticalMale: But then again, not being able to show any substantive differences takes all the rationality and reason from your arguments.

    Actually, it doesn’t. You should really comment on my blog post on this subject if you want to discuss some of my actual arguments.

    You see, the court made a ruling. Then the people decided to have a proposition. My argument is that the proposition is stupid and irrational, and that everyone who supported it did so for stupid and irrational reasons. Since you argue exactly the same point, I’m not sure why we are disagreeing.

  151. @TheSkepticalMale: seth, who has established himself as the king of ad hominems, (See @#56 and @#95.)

    You don’t seem to understand what an Ad Hominem is. If I call your argument disingenuous, I’m making a comment about what you said, as in, what you said isn’t true, I believe you know it, therefore I believe you are being disingenuous.

    I didn’t say, “You are a liar and therefore I can’t trust this other thing you are saying.”

    Likewise, if I point out a specific instance where you have created a straw man argument, that is not an ad hominem. I am not saying “You create straw men, and therefore your NEW argument must be a strawman” I am saying that the specific argument I am referencing is an instance in which you have created a weaker form of my argument against which to argue.

    So I’m not the King of Ad Hominem, unless you want to radically redefine the word. Perhaps through a court ruling.

  152. @wytworm: Did any of these historically polygynist (i.e., one man, many wives, technically) relationships involve all men or all women? Did the women in these marriages “marry” the other women or just the man? Not that I know of. … Do any of these child marriages in Africa take place between men/boys or women/girls? Nope. … I don’t know about the exception obscure communes throughout history, but it seems like it proves my point – “marriage” has historically (in 99.9% of instances, say) include at least one man and at least one woman.

  153. @sethmanapio: “Disingenuous” . An “ad hominem” is attacking a person’s character rather than his argument. “Disingenuous” means “lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity” – the term has nothing to do with the truth of the underlying statement, as you seem to suggest. (Dictionary.com is your friend.) By it’s nature, calling comments disingenuous is calling into question the character of the speaker in uttering those words.

    At this point you would argue the sky is yellow if it meant disagreeing with me, so I don’t know why I bother. … Once more, amidst the meta-arguing, you still haven’t answered the questions (#170) … I’m done.

  154. @TheSkepticalMale:

    Quoting you to you, your point was not that marriage was historically between at least one man and one woman but:

    (By the way, @wytworm, at what point in “history” was marriage other than between a man and a woman?)

    I believe I have answered your challenge successfully.

    To your other questions, I have no idea. Do your own research if you are interested. As I was able to refute your claim without descending to that level of research, I will leave further digging to you, if that is your interest.

    As for the ad hominem issue, here is the full quote from your own source:

    Not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating: “an ambitious, disingenuous, philistine, and hypocritical operator, who … exemplified … the most disagreeable traits of his time” (David Cannadine).
    Pretending to be unaware or unsophisticated; faux-naïf.
    Usage Problem Unaware or uninformed; naive.

    The above quote to illustrate that there is more to the definition than you chose to disclose.

    Whereas it is inarguable that intentionally failing to respond to the argument that Seth put forward could be characterized as lacking in frankness, candor or sincerity, it is an interesting question as to whether someone could point that out without ‘attacking’ the character of the poster.

    Could one simply observe that the argument is flimsy without it being an ‘attack’ on the character of the poster?

    For that matter is any response other than one that agrees with the poster an ‘attack’?

    Without bothering to resolve these questions here, I will conclude (and feel that many might agree) that this thread has degenerated into something somewhat less than useful or stimulating.

    If we can agree that not much was gained here relative to the negativity and quasi-vitriol that was being thrown around, what can we as a group take away from this experience to preclude a repeat on other threads?

  155. By it’s nature, calling comments disingenuous is calling into question the character of the speaker in uttering those words.

    ————

    And that isn’t an ad hominem, if I’m actually (as I was) speaking about a SPECIFIC ARGUMENT.

    Good grief man, stretch much?

  156. @TheSkepticalMale: Once more, amidst the meta-arguing, you still haven’t answered the questions (#170)

    ——-

    Well, I don’t have to. We’ve both already agreed that there were no rational reasons to support Prop 8, and that’s really the only argument on this particular topic I care about.

  157. @sethmanapio:First of all, the context of the discussion is whether there has ever been a case where there has been “marriage” defined other than as between “a man and a woman.” You referred to instances when it was common for one man to marry several women, and older men marrying minor girls. Good job: you refuted use of the article “a” in the statement (the form), but not the substance, which had to do with whether history has recognized marriage between members of the same sex. You successfully argued the form of the statement, but not the substance.

    Second, sorry, but ad hominem = attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim (e.g., “disingenuous”) instead of answering the argument. Even in the example in the definition you provide above, the word is a characteristic of a person, not a statement or set of words. If “disingenuous” is “lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity,” then how can you say a particular statement is any of those things without, by definition, questioning the motives or character of the speaker? “False” means the statement is incorrect, but that is not the import of the word “disingenuous” (i.e., neither your definition nor mine refers to a person who simply makes a false statement); rather, “insincere” means the statement may or may not be true, but was in any event, not really intended by the speaker.

    For the record (@#56), I indicated:

    So are you going to wow me with your use of logic to convince me of the correctness or incorrectness of Prop 8, which dealt solely with the use of the word and no substantive state rights, as has already been established by reference to the California statutes?

    To which seth replied:

    Totally disengenous bull. It is a fact that the “use of the word” actually refers to a separate legal entity under California law, not a word applied to one legal entity, and that a Domestic Partnership in California is not entirely equal to a marriage.

    A fact?! Really?! That is: I’m disingenuous because I should know good and well that “marriages” and “domestic partnerships” are not just words but in fact “separate legal entities.” Hmmm. So in reply, I posted the actual statute in California to support my contention @here and asked seth what was the significance of this separateness. I got no reply, except more of his throwing out “separate entities” (@like here), again without any explanation of the practical significance of “separate entities” under California law. None.

    And I’m the one who’s “pretending to be unaware”?

  158. @TheSkepticalMale: “You successfully argued the form of the statement, but not the substance.”

    Actually, you mean that response for wytworm, not me. I don’t actually care about how marriage has been defined in the past, it’s not part of my argument. In fact, its explicitly part of my argument that “We always did it that way” is an irrational argument.

    And again, you don’t seem to understand the nature of the ad hominem fallacy. The ad hominem fallacy occurs when your character flaws are brought up as evidence of the incorrectness of your arguments. In this case, the incorrectness of your arguments was my supporting evidence that you had a character flaw. I insulted you, but that is not the same thing at all.

    But I’m still left wondering… why do we fight, Skeptical Male? You have already conceded that there were no rational reasons to support proposition 8, and since I agree with you on that, surely we don’t need to argue over ephemera?

  159. @sethmanapio:… Yeah, except you never refuted my argument – you just referred to “separate legal entities” without any explanation of the significance – even after I quoted the actual statute that was the basis for my supposedly insincere argument word-for-word. You just said my argument was “disingenuous” (read: “TSM is insincere and/or merely calculating [definition of disingenuous] when he says this, so don’t take his argument seriously.”) Sorry, but that’s still the definition of ad hominem.

    In a practical sense, the overall argument is moot because neither you nor I are ever going to vote for a proposition or legislation that is unfavorable to homosexuals, and neither of us are going to change anybody’s minds by arguing. But I wouldn’t say we agree. That is, I said there was no rational reasons to support or oppose Prop 8 – only cultural and emotional ones – and in that sense, there is no “right” answer and reasonable minds could disagree. My reasons for this position: unlike the initiative in Arkansas which outright banned individuals in same-sex relationship from adopting children, Prop 8 involves nothing more than the spending tens of millions of dollars to argue over what amounts to the use of a word (a point of which we also do not agree, although I still haven’t heard what else other than use of a word was involved).

  160. @TheSkepticalMale: “That is, I said there was no rational reasons to support or oppose Prop 8 – only cultural and emotional ones – and in that sense, there is no “right” answer and reasonable minds could disagree.”

    I disagree. For one thing, to oppose prop 8 is to say “Let’s not be bigots”, which I find more rational than the bigoted reasons for supporting it. If you want to have a long discussion about whether unreasoned bigotry is rational, I guess we can do that.

  161. @TheSkepticalMale: “You just said my argument was “disingenuous” (read: “TSM is insincere and/or merely calculating [definition of disingenuous] when he says this, so don’t take his argument seriously.”) Sorry, but that’s still the definition of ad hominem.”

    So, let me get this straight… if we add a bunch of words and change the content of what I said, then it becomes an ad hominem? Right. I forgot, your favorite fallacy is the good old strawman.

    By the way, that isn’t an ad hominem either. I don’t use your habit of arguing fallaciously to imply that ALL of your arguments are fallacious, I merely point out those that I think ARE fallacious.

    And to top ALL of this off, I caveated the single legal structure theory of prop 8 in @this post, and showed why in my opinion it actually didn’t matter. And yet, you hammer on the necessity for me to show why the rights are different, even after I’ve agreed to the premise that they are substantively the same… and pointed out why that doesn’t matter.

    So, which of use do you think is hiding behind irrelevancies here?

  162. First of all, the context of the discussion is whether there has ever been a case where there has been “marriage” defined other than as between “a man and a woman.” You referred to instances when it was common for one man to marry several women, and older men marrying minor girls. Good job: you refuted use of the article “a” in the statement (the form), but not the substance, which had to do with whether history has recognized marriage between members of the same sex. You successfully argued the form of the statement, but not the substance.

    I refuted what you stated. If you misstated, you could just admit to it and say something on the order of ‘what I meant to say was’…

    You put such weight on dictionary definitions of this word or that word, I am a bit surprised you would argue so imprecisely. A double standard, no?

    An argument can be said to embody a lack frankness, candor, and sincerity in the absence of a similar defect in the presenter of said argument.

    In order to link it to your character, one would have to know your intent in launching such an argument.

  163. @TheSkepticalMale:

    That is, I said there was no rational reasons to support or oppose Prop 8 – only cultural and emotional ones – and in that sense, there is no “right” answer and reasonable minds could disagree. My reasons for this position: unlike the initiative in Arkansas which outright banned individuals in same-sex relationship from adopting children, Prop 8 involves nothing more than the spending tens of millions of dollars to argue over what amounts to the use of a word (a point of which we also do not agree, although I still haven’t heard what else other than use of a word was involved).

    I think here is where we agree assuming that your point about the legal protections being equivalent with just the use of the word being different is true.

    My personal opinion is that all references to the word marriage ought to be stricken from any legal definitions and the more neutral terminology be universally adopted.

  164. @sethmanapio: OK, to summarize, the proposition on the table is: Anybody who voted for Prop 8 is by definition a bigot, and bigotry is never rational; and so it follows voting against Prop 8 is more rational because it is not the irrational bigoted position. Considering that a “bigot” is one who is considered blindly intolerant of any opinions differing from their own or intolerant of a class of people, I guess if you can put aside the fact that the text of Prop 8 itself does not even mention same-sex marriages or homosexuality, you conclude that anybody who supports Prop 8 would be simply blindly intolerant of homosexuals using the word “marriage” to describe their relationships. Do I have it?

    That said, basing the rationality of an initiative on the presumed subjective intent of the voters results in an imperfect exercise at best.

    Without having any hard evidence of the actual subjective intent of many voters (only general demographic trends from exit polls and certain ads played in certain areas of the state), have you taken into account the possibility that a voter may have voted for Prop 8 for reasons that have nothing to do with blindly disagreeing with the opinions of homosexuals as a class? What if I, as a California voter, simply do not think it is worth the state to spend millions to make technical corrections to all the statutes, regulations, and forms, etc. that would be affected by allowing same-sex couples to “marry” – an administrative process which had only just begun considering same-sex marriage had only existed for 5 months when Prop 8 passed. Since “domestic partners” already have the exact same substantive rights under current law, I may have concluded that the costs are not worth the benefits. (This was one sentiment I heard expressed.) You could argue that my measure of costs and benefits do not match yours, but my intent doesn’t make me a bigot – it just makes me averse to spending tax dollars on a process that I see as having no practical significance. (As a lawyer, I can tell you that there is alot of state procedures, many that are mundane and not so obvious, that assume that married couples are of the opposite sex that would have to be changed.)

    What about the subjective intent of the voters against Prop 8? The exit polls show most of those who are nonreligious voted against Prop 8, but we do not know why. From a post-election interview, I know of at least one person who voted against Prop 8 solely because he “hates Mormons.” Isn’t that a subjective act of bigotry by definition?

    Subjective intent can, and often does, go either way. Making assumptions about groups of people is folly. (e.g., The anti-Prop 8 groups thought ads characterizing Prop 8 as a civil rights issue would win the African-American vote … Ooops.)

  165. With no disrespect intened towards anyone, a seasonal offering:

    Ad Hominem
    (Sung to the tune of Oh Christmas Tree)

    Ad hominem, ad hominem
    Thy fallacies delight us
    Ad hominem, ad hominem
    Thy fallacies delight us
    Dichotomies, so fancy free
    Can’t hold candles up to thee
    Ad hominem, ad hominem
    Thy fallacies delight us

    Ad hominem, ad hominem
    Post hoc ergo propter hoc
    Ad hominem, ad hominem
    Post hoc ergo propter hoc
    False correlations thin my hair
    And begging questions: never fair
    But hominem, ad hominem
    Post hoc ergo propter hoc

    Ad hominem, ad hominem
    Equivocation quantified
    Ad hominem, ad hominem
    Equivocation quantified
    Argumentive verbosity
    These appeals to causality
    Ad hominem, ad hominem
    Thy fallacies delight us

    Merry whatever-you-want-to-call-it to all.
    And to all a good thingamabob.

  166. @TheSkepticalMale: “Considering that a “bigot” is one who is considered blindly intolerant of any opinions differing from their own or intolerant of a class of people,”

    Jezum Crow, dude. Why do I have to start every single post by clearing the spin that you base your arguments on. Dictionary.com:

    bigot
    One entry found.

    Main Entry:
    big·ot Listen to the pronunciation of bigot
    Pronunciation:
    \ˈbi-gət\
    Function:
    noun
    Etymology:
    French, hypocrite, bigot
    Date:
    1660

    : a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices ; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

    So, yes. Everyone (that is, the vast majority of people) who voted for proposition 8 was intolerantly devoted to their prejudice against Gay people. There is absolutely no other reason to vote for it. That’s my position.

    I do not think you can support, based on advertising, vote breakdown, exit poll, or opinion survey, your idea that more than a small fringe group gave any thought to the possible expense of making changes to documents.

    As I said in my blog post, it is trivial to point out that there are outliers on either side. I’m talking about the broad middle, and if you want to make the case that the broad middle had any clue whatsoever about the expense of changing documents that only lawyers know exist, go for it.

  167. “You could argue that my measure of costs and benefits do not match yours, but my intent doesn’t make me a bigot – it just makes me averse to spending tax dollars on a process that I see as having no practical significance.”

    Now, speaking about bigotry, and why you are a bigot if you don’t think that this process has any practical significance.

    First off, the law offices of Robert J. Tennant advise everyone to get a lawyer when obtaining a Domestic Partnership in California, due to the legal requirements for establishing a domestic partnership. I don’t know why they do, but perhaps you should take up the argument that it is just the same as marriage with them.

    The yes on 8 crowd stood with the bigots.

    But the broad view is this: We have this contract. It is manifestly a contract that is about sex. It is called marriage. If you want to enter into this contract with someone you enjoy having sex with, you have to enjoy heterosexual sex.

    We have these people. They do not enjoy heterosexual sex. They are therefore not allowed to enter into this contract with people they enjoy having sex with.

    Why not? Well, clearly, there must be something wrong with who they want to have sex with. That is the only issue.

    You could argue that this has something to do with the expense of changing some paperwork. But clearly, this is a red herring. People had already entered the contract after the judges ruling with minimal paperwork changes. So that reason is not a rational reason, carefully thought out. It is, in my opinion, and excuse to cover up an underlying bigotry.

    Also, the federal government treats these groups as different for tax purposes (gay and straight). By defining marriage as an exclusively straight institution, the State of California agrees with the discrimination between Gay and Straight and therefore with the discrimination AGAINST gays. Again, bigotry.

    You can take the position (as you have) that federal law isn’t the State of California’s responsibility. Bullshit. You (California You, not personally you) had two choices: you could either create a situation in which the federal government was treating some married couples differently than others (obvious discrimination) or you could create a situation in which YOU treated gay couples differently than straight couples, in agreement with the federal government. You chose discrimination. That’s bigotry.

  168. Seth –

    Let me see if I can better understand your position on this by putting a hypothetical to you.

    I believe that Israel has a certain immigration laws that favor immigration by Jews.

    I do not know what it is – but there must be some definitional standard applied for such a policy as to what constitutes being a Jew.

    I do not know whether there is some process I could go through to satisfy the definitional requirements (conversion perhaps?) in order to call myself a Jew and take advantage of the immigration policies.

    But either way, if I failed to meet their definitional requirements, but still wanted to define myself as a Jew and immigrate to Israel as Jew, is a law that refuses to accept my definition of myself as a Jew ipso facto not rational and/or the product of racism, religious prejudice or bigotry?

  169. @TrueSkeptic: I believe that Israel has a certain immigration laws that favor immigration by Jews.

    The rest of your “define myself as a jew” argument is bullshit. Gay people don’t want to define themselves as straight. They want to enter a specific contract as Gay people.

    But I’ll address the first sentence, which is not bullshit, and say this: It is just as wrong for a Jew to discriminate against a gentile as it is for a gentile to discriminate against a Jew. There is certainly an element of bigotry in the very concept of a nation that privileges members of a specific ethnic group.

  170. @Kimbo Jones:

    “It’s the thread that will not end,
    it goes on and on and on,

    Strangers scrolling, trying just to pick a fight,
    Their mouseclicks searching in the night
    Screenlit people, pounding out their small emotions,
    Writing, somewhere on the web

    Don’t Stop… believin’
    You’ve got to keep on readin’
    Screenlit People

    (and so forth)”

  171. I’m not spinning anything! I don’t see how my definition is appreciably different than yours. My argument (above) certainly doesn’t lie in any nuances between those two definitions.

    In any case, I don’t presume to know what the middle thought v. the fringes of any vote. It is the similar to the myth of “legislative intent” in interpreting a statute. I do not make a small set of conclusions about an entire group of people (52% of voters) based on what the vocal people on the fringe believed – as in, this is the reason they all voted for it, and thus, they are all bigots. That’s all.

  172. @sethmanapio:

    Now, speaking about bigotry, and why you are a bigot if you don’t think that this process has any practical significance. First off, the law offices of Robert J. Tennant advise everyone to get a lawyer when obtaining a Domestic Partnership in California, due to the legal requirements for establishing a domestic partnership. I don’t know why they do, but perhaps you should take up the argument that it is just the same as marriage with them.

    What does taking the position that the process has no practical significance between “marriage” and “domestic partnership” have to do with being a bigot? The statute gives them the same legal rights. So how does taking the statute at face value=bigotry and intolerance?

    The statute indicates that you have to fill-out paperwork to register as domestic partners – that’s all. (People who get married in some states still have to do the same.) But we both know that just because a lawyer advises you to retain his services doesn’t mean you need to – in fact, the website you noted says it would be “wise” to for domestic partners to have the assistance of counsel. Then the same paragraph goes on to refer to the need for cohabitation agreements and the like – referring specifically to the fact that the exact same arrangements are used in heterosexual unions.

    The fact is that under the statute (do you want me to cite it for you?), you have to register as a domestic partner so everybody knows that you are claiming that status. The process is similar to, and no more onerous, than getting a marriage license.

    In any case, if the most you can do to question whether there are substantive rights and significant effects that differ between “married” couples and “domestic partners” is to refer to an advertisement of a family lawyer, then I am disappointed.

    We have this contract. It is manifestly a contract that is about sex. It is called marriage.

    Uh, no, seth. I think you need a course in family law 101 to realize how wrong that statement is, especially under modern law. (May you should call Mr. Tennant.) The marriage “contract” does not requrie sex any more than sex requires the marriage contract. Are people who are physically incapable of having sex prohibited from getting married? As one example, in the history of American law, those who advocated that the marriage contract was immutably about sex were the same ones who argued that a man could not legally rape his wife. Suffice to say, their position did not win out.

    You could argue that this has something to do with the expense of changing some paperwork. But clearly, this is a red herring. People had already entered the contract after the judges ruling with minimal paperwork changes.

    I am not talking about the paperwork for the people getting married. I am talking about, inter alia, all the forms issued by any state agency in California that refer to “name of husband” and “name of wife”. Forms and paperwork may be just the tip of the iceberg. Statutes and regulatory mechanisms that have nothing to do with marriage per se (e.g., tax returns) may have to be adjusted as well. It’s not rocket science, but nonetheless, somebody has to change them, and the taxpayers will have to bear that burden, especially when the burden is being borne for the sole use of a word. I don’t know what the burden is, but that’s the observation that I have heard more than once.

    So is the paperwork factor significant (as in, the paperwork that domestic partners have to file results in differing substantive legal rights from married couples)? … Or is it not (as in all the statewide paperwork that still has not and will have to be changed to accomodate the situation of married couples without “husbands” and “wives”)?

  173. @TheSkepticalMale: My argument (above) certainly doesn’t lie in any nuances between those two definitions.

    Perhaps not. Let’s see… the key difference is “obstinately” versus “blindly”. That is, as a matter of being a stubborn prick or as being ignorant.

    Fuck it, I’ll give you that one. Mea Culpa, I overstated.

    Moving on, I’m not sure I care why someone voted for Prop 8. I’m pretty sure that the simple fact that you can’t see why Gay people would want true legal equality makes you a bigot right there. Separate institutions are not equal. They are not accessible to the same people. A domestic partnership allows the state of California to collude in tax discrimination with the federal government. It continues a policy of legal apartheid. It is bigotry.

    The fact that you are willing to continue bigotry because to end it might mean altering some paperwork doesn’t mean you aren’t a bigot.

  174. @sethmanapio:

    I’m pretty sure that the simple fact that you can’t see why Gay people would want true legal equality makes you a bigot right there. Separate institutions are not equal. They are not accessible to the same people.

    Just “pretty” sure? In any case, I knew you would get there – one of the laziest arguments I’ve heard in this debate – “separate institutions are not equal.” The fact that something is separate for one group and not another does not necessarily make it significant. (We have separate bathrooms for men and women just so we can’t see each other’s privates – should we do something about that too because of the Equal Protection Clause?) All we are dealing with, by the very terms of the statutes, is the use of the term “marriage.” When the Plessy case was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, it was because racial segregation had real measurable economic effects. Separate was never substantatively equal during segregation. And I’m going to say it one more time because the analogy keeps popping up over and over – there are no constitutional civil righst case involving separate water fountains. Why? Because the law does not deal with trifles. Considering that the California statute expressly and exhaustively gives domestic partners the same substanative rights as married couples, this is not a situation that warrants constitutional protection.

    A domestic partnership allows the state of California to collude in tax discrimination with the federal government. It continues a policy of legal apartheid.

    Give me a break, seth. California has no control over what the federal government does or does not do with its tax laws. All that California has the power to do is treat one group exactly like the other for state law purposes, and that is exactly what it has done. “Collusion”? Indeed.

    The fact that you are willing to continue bigotry because to end it might mean altering some paperwork doesn’t mean you aren’t a bigot.

    … And it doesn’t mean you are a bigot either. Yeah! I’m getting through!

  175. @TheSkepticalMale: All that California has the power to do is treat one group exactly like the other for state law purposes, and that is exactly what it has done.

    ————-

    Actually, that’s what they’ve chosen NOT to do. Maybe you weren’t watching the news. Proposition 8 passed.

    See, there’s all these forms and things that have to be filled out, and Gay people fill out different forms for no good reason. So, like, they aren’t “exactly the same” for state law purposes.

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