Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ali A. Rizvi: The Atheist Muslim

As I started to tackle my collection of books I purchased (and had signed!) at Imagine No Religion 7 in Toronto a couple weeks ago, I thought, "wow, this is a book I need to talk about".  The book is "The Atheist Muslim - A Journey from Religion to Reason" by Ali Rizvi.  It is a book that I will write about and, if you know me personally, be talking about.  I've only started it - nearing the 1/4 way mark - but I'm mentioning it now as my wife alerted me to a recent Facebook posting from The Thinking Atheist.

Here's the video The Thinking Atheist posted:

From what I've read, I must say that this will be placed as one of the best written and most important books of our time.

This isn't a book you should read, it is one you must read.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Inflammatory? If the truth causes such distress, that's not my problem

"Approach is your problem, you don't know the proper method to approach a subject" - that's a phrase I'm often told and, to some extent, they're probably right.  I don't agree, however, that there is any subject that a person should be able to bring up that nobody else is allowed to comment on.

This is a topic I've blogged about - my particular comment/argument being "If you bring god to the table, he's up for discussion" in reference to someone wishing to pray at the table before dinner.  If you find my desire to disagree with your beliefs to be inflammatory, that's your problem.  However, I wish it were truly that simple.

There is reason, at times, to consider approach.  Sometimes the ultimate goal needs to be determined and the value of questioning beliefs has to be weighed against other items that might be of greater value (ie. being invited back to a dinner party, continuing a long-standing relationship, etc.). 

You can't use logic to combat emotions.  Logic and reason, by their very application, are subject to revision as facts are discovered and knowledge advances while emotions leave people grasping firmly to feelings and opinions not derived by reason alone.  Often, too, emotions and feelings become attached to positions that were (at least partially) reasoned into.  A person's desire for something to be true is often the motivator for holding on to a belief.

Let me give a few examples of times when I've been told that my approach is wrong (some I can agree with, in hindsight, while others I firmly disagree with):

  • My wife and I were walking in a beach front community in California when we came across a couple of men holding buckets soliciting donations and dressed like police officers.  They were not police officers but the uniforms suggested military or police affiliation.  The two men were collecting money to end poverty and the uniforms stated that fact.  The uniforms also showed a religious affiliation.  As we approached the street corner that they were standing on, I said to the two gentleman that if they want to end poverty, a good start would be to sell their churches and use the money to teach about or supply birth control or put the money towards actual mental health services.

  • While hanging out with friends in an informal environment, one of my friends said "thank god" in reference to a story about a friend nearly getting killed in a car accident to which I replied "No.  Thank the paramedics, thank technology, thank the doctors, thank the scientists who have made cars safer."
  • A co-worker brought up that they were going to see a laser clinic to help them stop smoking.  Upon hearing that, I informed him that he could find a better way to waste his money by saying "Does it not bother you that studies have shown that laser therapy is no better than placebo or is this a case of you not having a match or the facility to burn your money yourself?"

I recently encountered a situation when, in response to me dismissing a claim that high doses of vitamin C prevent (or shorten) the common cold, an acquaintance got upset with me.  I said "are you upset that you were lied to and wasted your money on something or are you upset that I told you the truth?  It seems that you're upset with me when I'm the one who has helped you the most."

My approach wasn't ideal, I'm sure, and they labeled me a "know-it-all" to which I replied, "I don't know it all, but you brought up something that I've done much research into."  I became so interested in the claims about vitamin C because, before my dive into skepticism, I believed it and took high doses of vitamin C for the exact same reason.  The turning point, to skepticism and away from woo-woo, was when an acquaintance dismissed my activity with a simple "you might want to read consumer reports, they just showed that it is a scam".

Surely we all agree that there can be better ways to say things but it is hard to argue that simply ignoring it will result in a change in behaviour or belief.  With that said, some people do respond to abrupt or, seemingly, inflammatory/insensitive comments with actually considering their position or belief - I definitely did.

My examples above have been in situations where the number of people around was rather limited but, where there is a bigger group of people, it is also good to consider the audience as it isn't always who you are talking to but who else might be listening.  When you encounter, for example, a street preacher that has an audience, what you say is also being heard by them.  You might make a point or spark an idea in someone in the crowd but have no impact on the street preacher him or herself.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Just What Sarnia Needed

It's often that I am driving through Sarnia and thinking to myself that our city lacks places that will lie to customers and take their hard-earned money.  Ha - who am I kidding?  Our city is full of churches!

Not only is it full of churches, we've abundant "woo-woo" places that peddle snake-oil treatments, false hope and dangerous ideas.  Fortunately for those suffering from the benefits of modernity - waste management, clean water, health care, vaccinations, sanitation - and that forget everything that science and evidence have brought us because they're not reminded of the "good old days" when people died of preventable diseases or, the even luckier, didn't even make it through childbirth.  These same people who, today, suffer from TWS (thick wallet syndrome) have a great new place to go to have their money exchanged for deceit.

Sarnia's recently opened "Mystic Mind" store in downtown Sarnia is willing to take your money if you'll only believe the bullshit they're selling.  Reflexology is prominently advertised on their facebook site - so if you like getting your foot rubbed while someone claims they're doing magic medicine but achieving no objective health improvements, they've got you covered.

In addition, they advertise Reiki - I've summarized Reiki previously (It's bullshit.)

And finally, a blog favourite, psychic readings.  Robbie Thomas (of fame) and Darin James have done "readings" at the Mystic Mind - Darin's even their "resident" or "house" psychic.  I'm sure, at $80 an hour, the owners of Mystic Mind are simply hopng that some trusting people will kick them some coin to have Darin lie to them and replace their real memories with fake ones or will have Darin give them false hope/direction when it comes to important life decisions.  Psychic readings are not for entertainment only - that is their quack warning simply to get them out of legal responsibility for their lies - people who attend psychics are often not there for "fun".  Who honestly believes that someone "communicating" with your dead relative should be doing so (pretend it is even possible) for a laugh?

If you haven't seen Penn & Teller's Bullshit! television series, it is a must see!  In the very first episode they cover "Talking to the dead" and after showing some clips of people getting "readings" or having a "medium" "communicate" to deceased relatives, Penn says:
Before we bust up this party- and god dammit we're gonna bust it up- we have to make it very clear where our hearts are. We have nothing but empathy for the people who are experiencing the loss and grief of the death of a loved one. That guy who lost his mom rips my heart out. I'm a momma's boy whose mom died a couple of years ago, and I'll never get over it, and my dad died at around the same time, and I was very close to both of them. I loved them so much there isn't a moment that goes by that I don't miss them. Houdini didn't really go nuts busting these mediums until he lost his mom. Once you've felt that pure grief, seeing it exploited can take away your sense of humor. Once a loved one has died, all we have is our memories of them. There is nothing more precious to me than my memories of my mom and dad. We don't give a rat's ass about the money these bastards are taking from the grief stricken; what we do care about deeply is the desecration of memories. These "performance artists" are, in a very real sense, mother-fuckers. That poor guy's grieving memories of his mother are now all fucked up by somebody else's images. All he will ever have left of his mom are memories, and this pig has pissed on those for a buck and a little un-earned fame. I'm sure these lame fucks tell themselves that they're easing the grief, but skits for money can not replace loving memories. How low do you have to be to exploit someone's true grief to sell some bullshit book?  (Wikiquote)
Let us not forget that psychics, by lying to their customers, are doing real harm.  This isn't a fair exchange - people are trusting in abilities that don't exist.  "Psychics" are taking advantage of people - telling them things that may be hurtful or they could be selling false hope.

We need to protect vulnerable people - not abuse them.  Selling lies is abuse no matter how you look at it.  Let's stop calling people gullible, let's call out the people who are taking advantage of their trust.