Durango Skeptics and Atheists

A Community for Critical Thinkers in the Four Corners Region

Author: Robyn (Page 1 of 3)

The Emergence of Ignorance as a Virtue (and the Decline of Civilization As We Know It)

By Larry Bollinger

Please note that is essay is my personal opinion. It is not the editorial opinion of the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango or its membership. I appreciate this forum for allowing me to post. Comments supporting or opposing the views expressed are welcome.

Having survived the vicissitudes and pratfalls of Life for over 67 years, I’ve accumulated quite a list of pet peeves that by now have blossomed into full-blown Gripes and Aggravations. Chief among these is the elevation of ignorance to the status of a personal virtue. It most often takes this form of “Oh, I never listen to the news! It’s just so depressing and there’s nothing I can do about it” or some similar sentiment. The listener then reflexively responds sympathetically, “You’re so smart!” or “That’s the only way to stay sane” or some such approbation. The conversationalists then part with a mutual feeling of satisfaction, having pronounced the world and the actions of its inhabitants irrelevant to their daily lives…as though events beyond their circle of family and friends won’t affect them.

Such fallacious thinking leads directly to the decline and eventual dissolution of a democratic society such as ours, which depends fundamentally on having an informed electorate. I admit that I react poorly to such comments; I hope that I respond in a helpful and friendly manner, but I doubt it. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed so often and so flippantly that it immediately sets off alarm klaxons and flashing lights on my brain’s dashboard. It panics me because we’ve started down the road to the degradation of democracy on our watch. It calls to mind the Dunning-Krueger Effect we discussed in a monthly meeting some time ago which has become a major driving force for the US electorate. (I submit that it’s valid to substitute the word ‘information’ in place of ‘ability’ in the following definition).

 I’ll save you a trip to Wikipedia: “…the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability [information] have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability [low-information] people to recognize their lack of ability [information]; without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability [low-information]people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence…”.  In other words, low information voters already know what they know. Any intrusion of new information is unwelcome and annoying. Psychologists have found that arguing ‘the facts’ with such people just pushes them deeper into their preconceived notions. Facts in this frightening new world have become counter-productive. And our President, with little or no pushback from other members of his own party, encourages blissful ignorance by rejecting the Free Press as ‘fake news’ and most astonishingly ‘an enemy of the people’. Think about that! The Free Press, once the crown jewel of our social order, is now being torched in the dumpster fire which has replaced our former deliberative and fact-based government.

Amazingly, self-identified conservatives have come 180° from the days when anything the government said was viewed with a jaundiced eye. Now, this large group of voters seems to believe that the Trump government and the President’s tweets are the only true source of news and information…traditional journalism is vilified daily and is left to whither in this age of ‘social media’ which is driven by ‘bots and foreign provocateurs. At the same time, scientists have been forced from federal advisory panels and scientific research has been curtailed for ideological reasons. Information that used to be collected and disseminated by the federal government such as data related to climate change or vital medical data is being destroyed. https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/07/republicans-finally-kill-off-valuable-medical-database-their-donors-hate/

Why does this matter? Because in this interconnected world, nothing happens in a vacuum. The President’s gut-driven, information-free, decisions affect us all. Climate change is an existential threat which has been marginalized and ignored; indeed, decisions to extract as much oil and gas as possible will exacerbate the problems. Decisions to renege on treaties which have been hammered out over years of negotiations will affect employment, agriculture, increase the threat of nuclear annihilation and remove the US from its role as a world leader. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, these decisions can affect your prosperity, your health, the quality of your life and those of your children. None of us can afford to ignore the very real issues that confront us.

There is no alternative to being involved. I urge you to do as Carolyn and I have and subscribe to our excellent local newspaper which is our sole source of news about Durango’s city issues as well as regional issues such as the recent fires. The Durango Herald is a gem and we are responsible for preserving and nurturing this valuable regional asset. A digital subscription costs around $2.50/week which supports a team of local journalists. We also have a digital subscription to the New York Times which costs all of $15/month. Subscribing to a newspaper not only opens a window on the world for you, it’s a positive step in support of an American institution that is under direct assault by the US government and its President! Next, react to what you learn: call our US Congressional delegation and tell them what you think on the record…do this often…several times a week isn’t too much. Write letters to the Editor to express your opinion. Be vocal and become involved in an advocacy group that matches your affinities. Be sure you are registered to vote and be sure your family and neighbors are too. This is not the time for silence or timidity. Silence equals complicity in this world where our most cherished values are in danger of being subsumed by a wave of ignorance and greed. Withdrawing from the world is not an option; silence is something we cannot afford.

Why I Didn’t Make It to the Halloween Party

By Dana Fontenot

Strange night.

There is a Halloween party taking place tonight for our local atheist and skeptics group. I get dressed up and leave the house with vague directions scribbled onto a piece of paper, directions that I will not be able to see once I start driving to the party. I am repeating them in my head so I won’t get lost. It is already getting dark and I am driving alone. I admit to myself that I will probably get lost, but I am optimistic that I will eventually find the place. After trying to follow my mental directions with no luck, I choose to just use my vehicle’s GPS to find the party location, even though the host of the party specifically told us not to.

Eventually, I realize that my GPS is steering me in the wrong direction, and I decide to pull over into a small roadway so I can find a place to turn around, put on my readers, and reread the directions to the party. As I slowly turn off of the main road, I see a group of three adolescent deer in front of my vehicle. They are in the narrow dirt roadway that I am turning onto and only about 10 feet away. I notice that one of them has a thick wire around its neck, trailing behind him for 5 feet or so. It looks like some sort of fencing material. Suddenly, this poor deer panics and runs directly into the main road. It is immediately hit by a vehicle, and to witness that in such close proximity is quite unsettling.  The person driving the vehicle that hit the deer pulls over to the side of the road, about 20 yards further up the road from where I am pulled over. I take this time to reposition my vehicle, so that my headlights are pointed toward the deer, and I call my husband to admit that I am already lost. The driver gets out of his vehicle, crosses the road, and starts walking toward the deer, flashlight in hand. I can tell that it is a man by his gait, but I cannot see him well until he walks into the beam of my headlights.

And there, in all of his glory, stands a clown.

A clown that begins to yank a bloodied deer carcass off of the road by a long wire around its neck.

I HAD contemplated getting out of the car to talk to him, but I was dressed up as a pregnant nun. I thought that our gathering on the roadside might cause another collision, so I just left. And no, I did not find the party. I was a very discouraged nun who just wanted to go back home.

Alcohol as a social convention…

Alcohol and social conventions…

So many rules in society are unwritten. What we say, how we say it, who we talk to. In this particular case have you noticed how your ideas of normality, that is what is accepted, change when you have a drink in your hand? Not just for you but your view of others that have a drink in their hand as well. Sadly this first change happens before we even take a drink, just the actual possession of alcohol and we are instantly empowered, emboldened to step outside our normal boundaries. That is a very sad idea. It is truly a shame that we can’t just step outside our normal boundaries without having a justification for it. It is a step above worrying about the opinions of others, it almost borders on permission that we need to cross that boundary. We all have ideas that don’t fit the norm, that aren’t socially acceptable, that could be completely scandalous. Is it really wrong to share these ideas (Yes I realize it depends on the idea)? The force that restricts the sharing of these ideas often only serves to increase their frequency in our mind. By forcing these thoughts out of our sharable sphere they often only serve to slowly propagate the ideas in the unconscious mind; eventually they can overtake your conscious thoughts. Subconsciously our brain realizes this fact and as humans we will often seek out circumstances that allow us to share these thoughts without repercussions. I am sure we have all seen the normally shy, quiet person in a bar “light up” and seem to never stop talking after a few drinks. This isn’t the “alcohol talking” as we would often describe it but it is a change in the social circumstances that allows that person to share more of their mind. This “release” is fun to watch, there are so many pent up ideas in most of us, that when they finally get the chance to come out, it is as if a flood gate has been released. Days, weeks, sometimes years of pent up emotions, ideas, and dark corners of their mind are released, validated. In this release many find that allowing these thoughts out of their corners can free them from occupying their minds. Obviously there are limits on these thoughts and no matter how much liquid freedom is flowing there are things that should not be discussed (I will leave these to your own regional mental guidelines).

Does this idea bother you? Do you not believe in this social convention? Do you feel this is just a strange misconception that I am overthinking? It isn’t hard to test this hypothesis. Next time you go to a bar just order a few drinks that don’t have alcohol and stand back and watch, offer to be a designated driver and just sit back and listen. There isn’t much better than listening to a human mind on a stream of consciousness tirade. We all want to be closer; we all crave an environment where we can share our ideas freely without retribution. Hopefully we find this in our friends, our family and most especially our spouses. For others it gets restricted to a time when the environment is chemically altered to allow such expression. How wonderful would it be if we all found opportunities to express our deepest thoughts in a way that didn’t require such “encouragement”…

 

P.S. please don’t think i am advocating excessive alcohol use/abuse, I am only asking that we look at some of the underlying issues in it’s use.

How can I be a good Atheist?

So by my own self admission I am not a very good atheist. I am a self-described agnostic and I have a sort of, love hate relationship with that term. Honestly I feel it just confuses most people I tell it to and, this as far as I am concerned, is the point. If you describe yourself as agnostic, most of the time you will feel the need to follow that self-description with another non-committal response. My favorite is “I believe in the possibility of something greater than myself, but have not defined it”. If there was a more tactful way of saying “I don’t know but let’s not talk about it”, then please feel free to tell me in the comments. Many of those that describe themselves as agnostics tend to be apathetic. I find this trend stems from the innumerable options on belief and how could one go about differentiating between them in the first place. Secondly I have heard so many stories of people that have gone looking for what may be meaningful to them only to see judgment, coercion or extremism. Many of these agnostics have a very “leave me alone” attitude and I completely understand that sentiment.

I haven’t found my path to be indicative of the apathetic, but of the exhaustive. I have experienced more different spiritual associations than I can count. In some of these cases I have been a silent observer, in others a full-fledged parishioner, and in more than one case a fish out of water. It did not matter if I found the experience exhilarating, enlightening, or frightening, they were all still experiences that shaped my life and my view of the universe. When I read Karl Marx’s quote about religion being an opiate, I took that as a challenge. I might need a stint in a rehab.

Lately I have found myself leaning toward atheism almost by default and I feel that does a disservice to atheists. Yes, I have always been fascinated with science, the discovery of knowledge, and so many of the scientific concepts that atheists identify with, resonate with me as well. There are a few of the ground floor philosophies that I still don’t know enough about to have a firm debatable viewpoint on. As I move closer to the central themes of what constitutes a modern atheist I want to learn from other atheists. I want to know how they form their opinions on so many very important matters.

A fellow atheist once told me she kept her own version of a holy text, or a book that was filled with what constituted her sacred ideas. I find this idea infinitely fascinating and very useful, although the more I learn about atheism the more I realize it requires more of a library than one book. I want to know what ideas you keep close to your heart, and your mind. What books do you fall back on when you need a reaffirmation of your beliefs, who do you go to, to feel secure in your decision, where do you go to feel safe and accepted. As a fledgling atheist I need a few “shoulders of giants” to stand on to get my own foundation in this belief structure. In short, I need a few lessons on how to be a good atheist.

-Adrian

Through the eyes of another: How Durango Took the First Step towards World Peace…

 

Last night I attended a panel discussion which was long overdue.  The panel, which was brought together by a Christian pastor, included 3 panelists of very different beliefs (a Buddhist, a Christian and an Atheist).  At first glance you can imagine how most people attending should have been pretty apprehensive. Now before you start getting ideas of this being a debate like Bill Nye and Ken Ham let me point out to you the ways in which this was different and why it worked so well.

Firstly this wasn’t a debate. It was a chance for 3 people that had very different belief systems to describe their own history of belief. Following this description, there was an open forum for the audience to ask questions. In the spirit of goodwill there wasn’t any group attacking another, no one focused on the shortfalls of anyone else. It was merely a way for people to interact with someone of another faith and to hear how they got to be where they are today.

While the stories were very heartfelt and descriptive, what they really did was set the right “mood” for the rest of us who were attending. This setting allowed us to interact with those from different faiths in a new light. Far too often we as the atheist/agnostic crowd do one of two things, we either fade into the background for fear of persecution or proselytizing, or we go on the offensive and attack and debase various beliefs around us. This didn’t happen last night and it was amazing. The openness that was expressed confounded me. Maybe it was the mood I described, or the fact that it was in a bar and people could talk and drink, or maybe everyone was just feeling very comfortable with those around them.  As the night went on Christians started speaking of their tendencies toward occasional loss of faith, and that they have been skeptical too. Atheists started recounting their experiences with supernatural and unexplained phenomena, while those of other beliefs around them just listened. Agnostics had the Buddhist 8 fold path explained to them and people were asking about meditation and other practices they had never experienced. The end of the night produced people of different beliefs exchanging phone numbers and email addresses, promises of attending various meetings of other beliefs or even an agnostic attending a church service as a guest.

Maybe this night was due to some cosmic planetary alignment unbeknownst to those in attendance; perhaps someone slipped the whole group some valium before the discussion.   Or maybe, just maybe could it be that even with all of our misgivings, our apprehension, we all just realized that there are other truly good people out there. Yes they can be different from us, many come from a background that traditionally does not even accept us, but this night was about people not organizations. The individuals in that room had made a choice to come together and work towards a common goal of understanding. This personal decision is what made this collaboration possible. Hopefully this magical combination was not just a one-time anomaly. It will be up to us to continue this opportunity to forge relationships between those of varying groups and turn this instance into a catalyst that brings our community together.

-Adrian

Choose ye this day…

So somehow Sarah Palin thinks that a television network putting a show on hiatus is an abridgment of 1st Amendment rights.  Because everyone has a right to their own TV show.  Especially if they are spewing antiquated bigoted ideas.  It’s not about A&E apparently.  It’s about the Bill of Rights.

But one has to ask why A&E would make such a drastic move with a show that is one of the highest rated on television.  At the end of the day, this is a business after all.  Just because it’s unintelligent doesn’t mean that it doesn’t attract viewers.  And it’s not like Phil Robertson doesn’t have the right to his most ungraceful mutterings.

It’s because television networks, like all of us, have a choice to make.  They can choose the old ways of thinking that are rooted in ideas that are old, tired, and on the wrong side of history.  Or they can choose progress and modernity.

If you want to choose the Duck Dynasty world-view, here is what you are choosing:

  • Whatever the common values were 50 years ago, let’s stick with that (be those values enslavement, burning witches, or bigotry)
  • Whatever them city-folks is doing, let’s not do that (especially if it’s things like science)
  • Let’s talk to Yahweh and pretend he talks back to us
  • Let’s make sure them women don’t start getting all spoiled and authoritaritative on us
  • We ain’t judging queers, we’re just saying they’re ruining this country

Alternatively, you can choose a set of ideals that are in line with a modern view of the world:

  • Only values that are based on logic and empathy have any kind of authority
  • Civilization has led to the advancement of our knowledge and the betterment of our condition
  • Them queers is actually pretty good people (well, in about the same percentage as non-queers)
  • This life is amazing and wondrous…let’s not waste it looking forward to the next one (that won’t be there)
  • Human life on this planet, contrary to so many popular notions, is improving in almost every way in almost every part of the world

If you choose the more progressive side of the equation you get things like TED Talks, Seattle, Carl Sagan, and Trader Joe’s.  On the other side you Larry the Cable Guy, trucks with big tailpipes, Alabama, and camouflage.

On our side you get to look to the future, understand the problems facing the world, and do what you can to make the world a brighter place.  In the future.  On the other side, you get to lament that black kids and white kids are going to school together and that things ain’t as good as they used to be.

In the past.

I agree, A&E.  Let’s do some book-learnin’ and go with the one about the future.

The New Cool

Quick post here…

Our friend Jess just moved to Boise and texted us this picture with the tagline: “Boise just got a lot cooler!”

imagejpeg_0

I agree Jess.  Knowing that you are in the midst of people committed to rational thought is indeed a cool feeling.

What is the World Coming To???

So Kathleen sent me a link to a post from one of her Christian friends on the topic of “What Is the World Coming To?“.  I’m sure the author of this post (Titus) is a thoughtful, well-meaning individual who legitimately cares for the well-being of the planet.  Unfortunately, much of what he pays attention to and prioritizes seems to me to be all wrong.  Let me summarize his thoughts:

  • Teachers are sleeping with students
  • Various nations are bombing each other
  • Miley Cyrus is disgusting
  • The world is only going to get worse and we need to find Jesus.  Quickly.

For the record, I agree with much of what Titus has to say (especially the part about Miley Cyrus).  And of course we are all sickened by the wars that seem to drag on endlessly.  And I’m also generally against teachers sleeping with their students.  Where we depart is the conclusion that (1) The world is becoming a worse place, and (2) We need to find Jesus.

What Titus ignores in his post is that while there is a remarkable level of suffering in the world, quality of life by all measures is improving in almost every part of the world.  If you doubt this just look at worldwide data on life expectancy (here and here).  If you want to hear the good news about social progress and improving living conditions in the third world you can kill an entire afternoon by going to www.ted.com and searching for “Hans Rosling”.  Global malaria cases are on a downward trend (take a look).  On average, humans are far less violent to one another than they have ever been (check it out).

What Titus also misses is that these improvements in the world have been brought about not by an outpouring of love from an immanent deity, but through technology, improving economies, and the breaking down of social barriers that have traditionally impeded many individuals from pursuing their own self interests.  This has more to do with people discarding their faith than it does people clinging to their faith.  Somehow through all of what Titus views as moral depravity, the world seems to be tricking itself into improving life for its humans.

It is common for Christians to ask what the world is coming to.  This is because in their mind it started out as a perfect utopia 6017 years ago.  If you haven’t noticed, the earth has never been a utopia.  If you long for days of yore, you long for polio, slavery, and superstition.  You long for burning witches, bigotry, and ignorance.  You long for a life that in the words of Thomas Hobbes that was “harsh, nasty, brutish, and short”.  In fact, the world has never been better for human beings.  And the more we guide our moral sense by logic and empathy (instead of ancient texts) the more progress we seem to make on this planet.

To the theists of the world, it is time to start looking at the world through the lens of data, science, evidence, and logic.  If you keep looking at it through the lens of what your old dusty book lies to you about what morality is, you will come to the same tired, pessimistic, and wrong conclusions that our good friend Titus has come to.  Only a person blinded by dogma can ignore the incredible progress being made in the world and fail to realize what an exciting time it is to be alive.  

We don’t need more memory verses.  We need more logic, empathy, and technology.

At the end of the day Titus, you are right.  Miley is pretty gross.  The difference is that I didn’t need a 3,000 year old book to figure that one out.

Miracle Alert

My wife and I happened to listen to a press conference with the individuals involved in the “Amber Alert” case involving Hannah Anderson, a 16 year old girl from California who was recently kidnapped after her mother and brother were killed.  In the press conference, the man who phoned the authorities (Mark John) gave a step-by-step account of how he and his wife noticed Hannah and her kidnapper in the backcountry, happened to see the Amber Alert on TV when they got home, and notified the authorities.  Mark and his wife obviously did the right thing by working with law enforcement and the FBI, and Hannah’s life may have indeed been saved by their actions.

Most of the reporters asked basic questions regarding the sequence of events, what was going through your head, how does it feel, do you feel like a hero, and so forth.  Of course, there was no shortage of superlatives and the broadcasters, of course, did their part to construct a Norman Rockwell painting with their descriptions of the simple, modest Idaho couple who are now in the media spotlight.  Courage.  America.  The usual stuff.

However, a couple of reporters asked remarkably odd questions such as “Does it feel like a miracle?” and “Do you think it was meant to be?”

Given the fact that the same reporters were only seconds before lauding the Amber Alert system, law enforcement, the good folks from Idaho, and of course, the media, I found it odd that all of the fantastic contributions from so many man-made agencies using man-made technologies would be swept under the rug and the supernatural would be invoked.  Everything about this situation was inherently NOT miraculous…rather, the nature of the event points to human ingenuity in our ability to organize and mobilize large numbers of people in a short span of time.  More than this, it points to the fact that in the modern world we care enough about people we don’t even know (and probably never will) that we find it to be worthwhile to support and fund organizations that are there to help people like Hannah.

Mark’s wife (whose name I did not catch) went out of her way to deflect the adulation she and her husband were receiving to credit the Amber Alert system with Hannah’s rescue.  A lesser woman would have likely credited a deity or someone sitting in a church praying.

Human beings are smart.  And they are empathetic.  They invent things and they organize.  When the things they invent and the organizations they create do something good for the world, please don’t insult them by saying that the good they brought about was the result of a miracle.  It didn’t have to happen.  It wasn’t part of a master plan.  The fact that it did happen is a testament to the fact that there are a lot of people out there who genuinely strive to help others and who use the capacity we have as humans to intelligently channel the resources we have towards this end.

Thank you to the Idaho couple.  Thank you to law enforcement.  Thank you (gulp) to the media.  What you did was profound.  It was remarkable.  Courageous.  Valorous.  Heroic.

And best of all, it was decidedly NOT miraculous.

Atheist Celebrities

I don’t normally follow what celebrities do unless they are among the ranks of people who truly deserve to be celebrated.  But here are a few celebrities that are not shy about their atheism.  Next time you get flak for your non-faith maybe you should do a little name-dropping.  It’s also worth pointing out that on the whole, the people in this list are a bit more cerebral than your average Hollywood half-wit (except maybe Hugh Hefner).  I especially like Keira Knightley’s post…

http://www.salon.com/2013/02/23/10_celebs_you_didnt_know_were_atheists_partner/

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