Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Need a Day Off

so I think I'll post this exchange from one of my ongoing blog brawls

Anthony_McCarthy   • 2 days ago −
There is no way to maintain a durable belief in moral obligations if you practice the atheists methods of rejection of belief and debunkery. You have to accept the validity of belief to have a durable moral belief. Most atheists can't even honesty admit that they believe all kinds of stuff just as well as any religious person does. As Steve "Mr Bad Religion" Weinberg demonstrated, even the most sophisticated effort of atheists, utilitarianism, can be rejected out of hand by an atheist who used to believe in it. The history of atheism is full of the advocacy of depravity. Religion has plenty of depravity but it also has the holding that it is morally wrong and will lead to punishment. Atheism's highest brake on depravity is whatever someone who wants to do something figures they can get away with doing.

Ancient Brit   • 2 days ago −
There is no way to maintain a durable belief in moral obligations if you practice the atheists methods of rejection of belief and debunkery...

An interesting claim, and quite testable. Let's conduct a simple experiment. The percentage of those identifying themselves as atheists in the US population is estimated to be between 3% and 10% (depends on whose figures you take - some analysts apparently classify those who express no religious preference as atheists (!)).

So if you're correct, then there should be many more atheists in prison in the US as a proportion, because they must inevitably succumb to depravity and immoral behavior.

But the Federal Bureau of Prisons figures show that the proportion of those incarcerated who identify as atheist is between 0.2% and 0.3% - far lower than in the general population - between about one tenth and one fiftieth, in fact.

Maybe atheists don't get caught as often as non-atheists. Maybe huge numbers of atheists who get caught become believers once they're incarcerated. I doubt it.

When you look at the US, you find that those states that have the highest rates of crime, sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies also have the highest proportion of religious believers. Surely those should have the lowest rates - moral code and all that?

That envelope also seems to apply to countries as well - the higher the levels of believers, the higher the rates of things you wouldn't tend to associate with behavior by those with religious belief.

So the idea that atheists cannot be as moral as believers is hogwash, IMHO. You may draw different conclusions.

Anthony_McCarthy  • 21 hours ago −
First, your figures for the number of atheists in the United States are seriously inflated. The Pew survey, which seems to have the most reliable seeming methodology of any I've seen, gives figures between 1.6 and 2% as being atheists, though they, and even more so, the media misreports that by combining them with people who poll as being agnostics or, in the case of many ideological atheists, those who merely report not belonging to a church, including the majority of those who report being, nonetheless, religious. So the honesty of many atheists can be tested against the surveys they cite and, in my reading of them, lying about those is rampant among atheists.

Second, crime rates are a very poor measure of moral behavior. Many crimes, such as marijuana possession, accounting for an enormous percentage of people incarcerated in the United States is not something I'd call an immoral act. In the past people used to be jailed for consensual sexual behavior between consenting adults, often sexual behavior which was practically risk free. Again, I'd not consider that to be a violation of morality, though perhaps you disagree. And today, in the United States, people are being jailed for an inability to pay their debts - aping the worst of Victorian British law - and any number of other crimes made criminal at the behest of the privatized prison industry and the guards unions when those crimes are, essentially, victimless. So, something being criminal is not a good indication of immorality.

We might look at clear immoral behavior among scientists, an identifiable group which atheists are always bragging are one of the few of those where atheists predominate. I'm a fan of retraction watch blog and other sources that document clear malfeasance, misfeasance, fraud, lying, reviewer fraud (I've come to the conclusion that the high quality of scientific review is on its way to becoming a myth) and that's not even getting to the infamous list of scientists involved in weaponeering, the extraction industries, industry which pollutes, creates dangerous pollutants, pharmaceuticals and consumer products - the largely mythical consumer testing industry and the myriad of scientists it employs - those involved with scientific racism ... a very long list could be complied of scientific amorality, depravity and criminality, not to mention those things which injure and kill thousands if not millions if not, in time, all of us which are as much a product of science as the polio vaccine or, the greatest potential good of science of all, environmental science that might, might just be the best hope to save us from all of those other scientists who get payed a lot more money to produce their science and "science".

Perhaps I should compile a list of atheists who were and are scientists who could provide context for my argument. One who comes to mind is William Shockley, the infamous scientific racist and Nobel laureate. Another is Francis Crick, another Nobel laureate who was one of his and Arthur Jensen's great supporter, about whom I'm preparing a blog post. You'd just hate my blog, I got done dismembering the Charles Darwin manikin that was set up after WWII. Or nearly finishing with him. I've got one or two more posts in mind.

Ancient Brit • 5 hours ago −
I had been going to include the Pew Forum in my response, but decided against doing so, because their data are anecdotal and thus unreliable.

However, since you've opened the door, I'll quote from their 2012 study of the US:

With regard to prison populations: "... according to the [prison] chaplains surveyed, inmates with no religious preference appear to be a small minority. On average, chaplains say that about 11% of the inmate population is atheist, agnostic or has no particular religious affiliation. The median estimate of inmates with no religious preference is 5%."

With regard to the general population, Pew says: "By comparison, in the U.S. public as a whole, half (50%) of adults identify as Protestants and about a quarter (23%) are Catholics. About one-in-five adults (19%) are religiously unaffiliated (describing their religion as atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular")."

So even Pew with their terrible methodology show an all-inclusive 19% in the general population versus 11% in the prison population, based on subjective observation. Further - and admittedly circumstantial - support for the contention that atheists are at least as moral as religionists, if not more so.

So then you proceed to cherry pick what's moral and immoral, as a way to try and whittle the Pew figures down into something that more closely fits your preconceptions. Sooooo scientific. And immoral. In fact, a classic example of a bad scientist at work.

As a scientist and statistician I would be horrified if anyone suggested that data be manipulated in this manner - it's so incredibly unethical. I'm surprised at you.

While criminality and immorality (depending on whose definition you take) are not equivalent, they're definitely related (don't take my word for it, ask Carl Drews, the moralityindex.com site).

Personally, I'd agree with you in some instances - there are some crimes that should never have been classified as such (cf marijuana use - which is not something I've ever tried. Many years ago my father was temporarily attached to the Drugs Squad in London, and the stories he came back with made an impression on me that lasts to this day).

But if you're going to cut some slack for prison inmates, you have to do the same (to the same degree) for the general population - and I can't see a valid way to do that. So the figures should stand, as should the sample population.

As for Darwin, you must know that conducting ad hominem attacks does nothing to validate your position. It just makes you look petty (and yes, I do see that that is ad hominem. But can you see the difference?)

Anthony_McCarthy  • 21 minutes ago −
ALL DATA IN ALL SURVEYS are anecdotal, all surveys are based in self-reporting, all of them are susceptible to misreporting either on the basis of intentional deception or through misunderstanding or other unintended errors. There is no evidence that if you asked exactly the same sample exactly the same questions two weeks later that you would get the same results. But you're the one who wanted to base arguments on surveys, not me. YOU OPENED THAT DOOR, NOT ME. Live by the survey, die by the survey. Pew's methodology is, if anything, far better than most of them and it has been cited over and over again in atheist propaganda, I know because it was due to that use that I first looked into the reporting of their results and what those really were.

Your use of imprisonment as a measure of morality is deeply flawed, as I pointed out. If Bradley Manning is sentenced to prison, would his crime be an act of immorality? How about Nelson Mandela? How about people imprisoned for impiety or blasphemy? Are they immoral because they broke the law and are imprisoned for it? How about the myriad of people imprisoned in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea for their non-state religious activity? How about the scientists imprisoned for their refusal to dishonestly say that Lysenkoism was scientifically valid? You know, an atheist paradise where quite a number of scientists were killed and placed in real prisons for standing up for scientific truth against establishment pseudo-science. Was the fact that they were imprisoned by the secular, civil government a sign of their immorality?

Your proposal to derive reliable information from that method is nonsense that doesn't stand up. If you hadn't guessed, I have looked at your argument before, it's one of the lesser of the favorite ones among atheists right now and like just about all of them entirely invalid when they are subjected to even a minimal level of genuinely skeptical analysis. .

Your very method, using imprisonment as a measure of morality presents a big problem for your use of surveys of people within the prison population. If they are presumed to be unusually immoral, asking them to tell you the truth and assuming they are is self-refuting. If you trust them to tell you the truth, you would have to assume they are at least as honest as the non-imprisoned population. And that doesn't get to the fact that they, as an imprisoned population, might not think they have reasons to lie to someone asking them personal questions. What if an imprisoned atheist suspects, consciously or, perhaps, unconsciously, that misrepresenting themselves as a Christian would be better for them. Atheists are always whining that they are discriminated against.

What I said about Darwin was based in multiple citations of what Darwin said, in his books, in his letters, what his family and closest professional associates said ... there was nothing ad hominem about it. Your version of Charles Darwin is a post-war fabrication.

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