Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reconsidering "Faitheism"

Ah, faitheism...that's the idea that it requires as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a Christian. Personally, I think it's obviously wrong, just on the surface, but apparently that's not true for a lot of people, because I keep hearing this "argument" over and over and over again.

This will be a short post, because I don't have a lot of commentary to offer. I just want to set the record straight on this one issue. We can begin by defining some terms.

I make no distinction between "faith" and "blind faith." In order for the word to have any meaning at all, it must be distinguished from knowledge or fact. Therefore, faith is defined as belief in a proposition without sufficient evidence to justify that belief. To myself, that defines it right out of any sort of validity as a valid way of knowing, and I don't believe faith is a valid way to arrive at any conclusion. However, Christians should not disagree with this definition, because their religion has as a fairly central dogma that faith--as I've defined it--is a virtue. "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed." -John 20:29

Atheism is not necessarily an active disbelief in a god or gods. Atheists do not, by necessity, claim any absolute knowledge regarding the existence of a deity. Indeed, many claim no knowledge at all. All that atheism requires is a lack of a belief. There is a distinction between active disbelief and passive disbelief. Atheism can include both, but only requires passive disbelief.

Anti-theism, or strong atheism, is a distinction marked by precisely that movement into active disbelief. So while the atheist says "I don't believe in gods," the anti-theist says "I believe there are no gods." Understand the difference? Good.

Now, the burden of proof for any proposition lies upon the party making a positive claim. Theists make a positive claim that there is a deity. So the atheist doesn't have a burden of proof to claim there is no god. All the atheist needs to do is come to the conclusion that the theist has not met his burden of proof.

We've all seen the "evidence" Christians like to produce for their claims. Anyone with even one neuron can tell they fail to meet their burden of proof. This is why their beliefs are faith-based. They believe in the absence of evidence. Because the atheist does not accept this blind faith-based form of arriving at "truth," and does not accept that the theist's burden of proof has been met, he does not accept their conclusions--he does not believe in gods.

Because this sort of philosophy related to evidence and the burden of proof is so akin to the scientific method, we can treat them as essentially the same. We realize that in science, no claims are ever proved--they are only accepted to degrees of certainty. We also realize that things for which we currently have no evidence could possibly be true, and that if this is the case, there should be some evidence out there somewhere that would potentially justify these claims. But we do not accept the claims until that evidence comes in. So the scientific position and the atheist position are one and the same:

1) We require evidence for our beliefs.
2) There is currently no evidence in favor of the existence of a deity.
3) Therefore, we TENTATIVELY reject theistic claims.

The anti-theist goes farther than that, though. The anti-theist takes the position that "there is no god." Rather than passive disbelief, he engages in active disbelief--he actively believes there is no god. As this is a positive claim, he does have a burden of proof that needs to be met.

Can that burden of proof be met? Sure, but that comes with qualifications. There is no such thing as absolute proof nor is there such a thing as absolute disproof. Science deals with degrees of certainty--often very strong degrees of certainty--but we never call it "proof." It is generally considered to be impossible to prove a negative, anyway. So how can the anti-theist meet his burden of proof? By using the scientific method.

There's an old adage that says absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Meaning, just because there's no evidence for something doesn't mean that something doesn't exist. Well, strictly that's true, but in practice, when we apply the scientific method to some question, we are narrowing down possibilities. We determine what experimental outcome would be true if our hypothesis is correct, and after running the experiment, we see if our hypothetical predictions have been fulfilled.

In the case of gods, we can look at the existence of god as a hypothesis and come up with testable predictions. For instance, we might say, if a god exists, we should expect people who are prayed for to recover from disease more quickly than those who are not. Or we could come up with any number of other testable predictions. You'll note that since we cannot test for a supernatural being directly, we must test for the RESULTS of that being's existence. Do we come up with absolute proof? Never! But can the anti-theist meet a reasonable burden of proof for his position through this sort of thought and experimentation? We must all admit that this is at least possible. Whether or not the anti-theists actually HAVE met their burden of proof is a much larger topic, and one for another paper.

So, theists require faith because they believe in these propositions without any evidence to justify their claims.

Atheists do not require faith because they don't even make any claims at all! They just reject the theists' claims.

Anti-theists also do not necessarily require faith, IF you grant that they meet a reasonable burden of proof for whatever claims they make.

It is extremely easy to just make something up and then claim it require faith to deny, but that's not the way things are done. It doesn't require any faith to disbelieve claims that an invisible dragon lives in my garage, or that there are faeries at the bottom of the garden. Disbelief does not require faith. In some cases, it may require ignorance, as is the case with the Holocaust deniers (they are ignorant of history, but they don't have "faith" that the Holocaust never happened) or similar groups of crazies. But it does not require faith. Faith is the unique domain of the believers.

Make sense now?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Father of the Fucking Year

Let’s talk about the latest wretched piece of human waste the Internet has somehow seen fit to turn into a hero. I’m talking, of course, about one Mr. Tommy Jordan. In the video linked below, which I highly recommend watching, Mr. Jordan demonstrates what he jokingly calls “parenting.” In fact, he actually calls it “Facebook Parenting: For the troubled teen,” the title of the horrid video you’re about to watch.


In the video’s description box, he writes:

My daughter thought it would be funny/rebellious/cool to post on her Facebook wall just how upset she was and how unfair her life here is; how we work her too hard with chores, never pay her for chores, and just in general make her life difficult.

She chose to share this with the entire world on Facebook and block her parent’s [sic] from seeing it. Well, umm… she failed. As of the end of this video, she won’t have to worry anymore about posting inappropriate things on Facebook…

Maybe a few kids can take something away from this… If you’re so disrespectful to your parents and yourself as to post this kind of thing on Facebook, you’re deserving of some tough love. Today, my daughter is getting a dose of tough love.

Well, isn’t that just fine and dandy? Tough love! Yeah, that’s what we need, isn’t it? We need to show our kids who’s boss, right? Well, Mr. Jordan’s idea of tough love was to take his daughter’s laptop computer outside and fire no less than EIGHT bullets into it. Sorry, asshole, but I don’t care whether you’re of the “tough love is good” school of thought or not. That’s not “tough love.” It’s not love at all. It’s hatred. It’s an act of violence, destruction of personal property, and a CRIME, whether or not the district attorney sees fit to actually file charges (and it seems at this point that this is unlikely to happen--though it fucking SHOULD).

As you see in the video, his daughter’s “offense” was to post a message on Facebook complaining about her parents. You know what? Kids do that. Taken at face value, had I read her post without knowing anything else, I would have suspected that she was probably wrong. I would have thought her life wasn’t as bad as she said it was, and that she was probably being unfair to her parents. I also would have thought that, when one is a teenager, one is in a psychologically difficult place. One desires freedom and autonomy and laments the lack of control one has over one’s own life. It’s a difficult time, and especially when you consider the hormonal changes that take place at such a time, it causes teens to sometimes become unduly angry. So I would have thought, just another day in the life of a teenager.

That’s what I would have thought. But after witnessing her father’s reaction to this, that is not what I think. I think this girl is held prisoner by abusive and overbearing parents who obviously have a strong propensity to violence. I think she should count herself lucky that he didn’t turn the gun on her, because I think this man is likely unstable enough to do just such a thing. Stupid and violence frequently go hand in hand. Tommy Jordan proved himself to be stupid and to have violent tendencies when he turned a gun on someone else’s personal property. He also proved himself to be ignorant enough to think his actions were justified by posting a video of himself doing this on the Internet for everyone to see.

I believe this girl should immediately seek legal assistance, because she’s not in a healthy place. But I also am afraid that American society apparently is still so fundamentally barbaric that it would be a long-shot for her to ever see any kind of legal relief.

I believe Tommy Jordan’s fitness as a parent should be called into question by his use of a firearm to settle personal family disputes. Sure, he didn’t harm any person, and yes, I’m very pro-gun in my politics, but a firearm should not be used in this context, and child protective services should investigate. But they won’t.

I believe the laptop, regardless of who actually paid for it (and I think I’m safe in assuming that Mr. Jordan did buy it for his daughter), belonged to the girl, not to the father. Gifting an item transfers ownership, so I believe Mr. Jordan is guilty of destroying personal property. I further believe that regardless of the ownership of the laptop, it’s probably a safe assumption that the daughter had personal data on the computer--it was not, after all, a communal computer but her own personal one--and that he is guilty of destroying this less-tangible property as well. I believe that the district attorney’s office should file charges for this crime as well. But they won’t.

I believe that this sort of authoritarian parenting should be considered abusive and that he should be facing charges for mental and emotional abuse of a minor. But he will not.

I believe that Mr. Jordan is a disgusting piece of human garbage and that he should be ostracized by his community and that the effects of his actions should follow him for so long that he dies alone, unloved, and unemployable under a bridge somewhere. But instead, the community made a hero out of him.

So let’s talk about that for a minute. First of all, have a look at the video in question. As of this writing, it currently has been viewed 21,991,851 times. That is justifiable as it’s a very inflammatory video, so of course a lot of people are going to watch it. But what’s not justifiable, and what completely blows my mind, is that, of those views, 237,432 people have “liked” the video, and only 20,428 have “disliked” the video.

Then there are the comments. On his original Facebook thread, which he posted because he feels that since his daughter somehow “wronged” him on Facebook that he would retaliate there as well, here are a smattering of comments that have been posted.

Shannon Howard writes: “The negative feedback! This guy is one guy who won’t let a kid talk shit to him and I applaud him! This video was a dose of reality for a lt of [sic]”

Arielle Mahal writes: “lol great father I was that 16 years ago and I had to learn the hardway raised by a single mother. need more fathers like you in america! [sic]”

Laura Forsyth writes: “haha serves her right for getting caught! attention seeking twat of a daughter making a rookie mistake….. shoot her mobile phone too! [sic]”

Ed Seitzinger writes: “To all the less intelligent people that have watched the video and don’t understand and better yet think this man is an idiot [sic]. Most of you are the very kids this video is aimed at, so your reaction is predictable. Please review the video, he CLEARLY states that she has done something similar in the recent past. She was WARNED that further actions of a similar nature would have SERIOUS consequences. She made a choice and thought she would get away with it and that she would be smarter then [sic] her parents. I once read saying [sic] that fits this situation, ‘Trying to get something by dad, is like trying to get the sun by a rooster’. There are actions and consequences and like most if not all of the ‘ME Generation’ she believes she has the right to a computer, cell phone and everything else without doing anything for those items.”

Patricia Edens writes: “Good job. Wish more parents were like that. You bought the laptop, you do what you want with it.”

A.m. Warnke writes: “Likely what we should have done with our sons [sic] computer. Only differences being he worked for the money to buy his parts and built it, when we told him he could not have a computer. So we confiscated it and locked in [sic] his dad’s office at work. He has now broke [sic] into the office for the second time and has stolen it back. This has been going on for a year and I got a broken pinky out of trying to get him to do his school work one day. Ours just turned 16 on the 9 of this month. God bless, Hope they both learn from it.”

Wow, “A.m. Warnke!” You stole the computer your son paid for himself and then accused him of “stealing” it back? Classy.

The point is, people seem to think this sort of “parenting” is appropriate. It is not. Consider this. Contrary to what so many people seem to think, being a parent is not a qualification. Anyone can become a parent, and since most people are stupid, most parents are stupid, too. I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of licensing parents. The justification of licensing drivers is that a bad driver is a danger to the community. Well, bad parents are a danger to their children, as evidenced by Mr. Jordan, so perhaps there may be a state interest in somehow restricting who can parent. But that’s neither here nor there.

Let’s have a look at what authoritarian parenting actually manages to accomplish. According to various studies:

Authoritarian parenting has a negative effect on a child’s performance in school

Authoritarian parenting predicts more, not less, child conduct problems

Authoritarian parenting breeds resentment toward the parent

Authoritarian parenting is often associated with fearful, timid behavior

In other cases, authoritarian parenting is associated with increased aggressive behavior (in other words, authoritarian parenting seems to push the children to behavioral extremes rather than a healthy middle-ground)

And not related to parenting alone, but in general, psychologists have identified some problems with use of punishment rather than positive or negative reinforcement to modify behavior in any context, including a parental one:

Punished behavior is merely suppressed, not forgotten

Punishment teaches discrimination

Punishment teaches fear

Punishment (particularly physical punishment) increases aggressiveness

Here’s now it works. If you’re interested in really getting into this stuff, go do some reading on psychological conditioning, but for now, let’s just have a look at what some of the above statements mean.

That punishment teaches discrimination does not mean what some people first think. We’re not talking about racial or sexual discrimination here. What this means, quite simply, is that because punished behavior may be suppressed but not forgotten, it causes one to simply become discriminating in when and where one carries out the punished behavior. In the Jordan case, this seems clearly to have happened. The daughter did something the father did not like. He punished (I think too much, but this one’s at least debatable). So next time, the behavior didn’t stop--she simply took measures to keep him from finding out about it. Mr. Jordan’s methodology does absolutely nothing to actually mold his daughter’s behavior. Instead, he simply conditions her to be more discriminating in where she conducts said behavior. If you think she’s going to be more “respectful” to him now, you’ve got another thing coming. No, now she is going to be far more resentful and her negative statements about her scumbag father will be increased--she’ll just be much more careful about where she says them.

Punishment teaches fear. That should be obvious. In fact, the point of punishment, from a psychological perspective, is to condition an association between an unwanted behavior and an undesired consequence. In layman’s terms, basically, this means that the point of punishment is to associate fear of the consequence with the behavior so that the behavior is stopped. Instead, however, what it often does is to associate fear with the punishing agent rather than the punished behavior. Mr. Jordan’s daughter is not likely to develop a conditioned fear of her behavior as a result of this punishment. She is likely to develop a fear of her father. Personally, I think this fear would be justified, but it is not likely to be what Mr. Jordan really desires, nor is a constant state of fearing one’s own parents, especially while too young to distance oneself from them, a healthy condition.

And finally, punishment increases aggressiveness. This is particularly true of physical punishment (such as spankings), but I think is also true of any form of punishment. There are plenty of correlational studies demonstrating that aggressive delinquents and abusive parents came, themselves, from abusive families. There’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem here that I won’t go into, but it boils down to this: punishment models aggressive behavior as an acceptable form of problem resolution. By reacting in a violent manner, Mr. Jordan is subconsciously teaching his daughter that a good old fashioned “heart-to-heart” is not the method to solve problems. Instead, he is teaching her that to deal with problems in the family, the best course of action is to shoot something.

Well, in the Jordan case, maybe that’s true. If he’d shot himself instead of the laptop, I suspect his daughter would find herself in a much healthier situation. But then again, maybe I’m just being influenced by his model of aggressive behavior as an appropriate form of conflict resolution.


PS-Is anyone else not at all surprised that this came from a guy in a cowboy hat who speaks with a twang? He probably reads the Bible every night, too. Some stereotypes really are true.

PPS-I’m not advocating for permissive parenting, either. Do I think the daughter’s action warranted any punishment at all? Probably not. For one thing, it wouldn’t even have been discovered if not for a breach of her personal privacy (akin to reading a private journal). For another, it’s just typical teen angst. The reaction should have been a simple “I don’t appreciate this, here’s why your life isn’t that bad, so don’t do it again,” and nothing more. However, had the offense been greater, I would not object to more drastic action (though the limit remains EXTREMELY far short of anything involving a firearm). Both permissive and authoritarian parenting styles have plenty of problems (authoritarian, I think, even worse, but that’s another discussion). The key is “authoritative” parenting, a method in which there are still rules and they are still enforced, but the parents are more responsive to their children. In this case, the best answer really does lie in the middle ground.

PPS-And I’m also not just blowing a lot of smoke up your ass. If one of my parents had ever done anything like that, I would have rained hellfire down upon them for years to come. And not because I was some “delinquent.” No, I was a bookish, nerdy “A student” who preferred Chess to sports and classical music to heavy metal. But I also was not--and am not--one who suffers fools or abuses lightly.