Three opponents, three different results

A few months ago, I started a discussion in a Care2 group on the need to use scientific methods to test ethical standards. Before you begin reading that, look at this:

Now we will proceed with the discussion itself:

I had to deal with three different opponents in this discussion, as well as several others who did not oppose me outright but merely asked questions or made helpful comments. The first opponent was CheWorks L, who is also known as Ted K. His comments were as follows:

CheWorks: “how can we base ethics on what may be a myth?  religion has no place in ethics.”

I saw this and went “HUH???” until I remembered that CheWorks was a Communist, who thus regards all religion as serving the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes and thus unethical. Of course, people like Dr Martin Luther King and Mohandas Ghandi might strongly disagree with that simplistic view. I’m always amazed that Communists regard all religion as irrational, yet they themselves are so dogmatic about what Karl Marx wrote.

Dale Husband:  “Religion was the ONLY basis for ethics in most ancient societies because there was no conception of science or scientific methods in them back then. So religion served a good purpose then. My argument is that we need to go beyond that now.”

CherWorks: “Maybe you are mixing up religion with spirituality, Dale. Science proves there are ethical standards such as recycling.  Would God tell us to recycle?  No.  But nature, a spiritualist, would tell us that we need to respect the environment. Nowhere more than in the Judeo-Christian tradition do I see a pathetic God trying to gain respect.  This has nothing to do with ethics. Nopwadays religion supports wealth at any cost, which menas enslaving 99% of the human population.  This is hardly ethical.” (sic)

Later, CheWorks said: “You seem to be everywhere at the same time and rather confusing. Science cannot dictate ethics, but it can demonstrate that some ethical acts are good for the public.  For example, free health care provides for a healthy population.  I’m not sure if you’re in agreement.”

Dale Husband: “I’m certainly not asking that anyone dictate ethics dogmatically. That’s what religions do.  Scientists should not. What I’m calling for is that any ethical ideas be tested scientifically before they be proclaimed to be valid by anyone. Only fear of their values being discredited would motivate, for example, laws against gay marriage by people who insist that homosexuality is immoral without actually dealing with homosexuals as people. If empirical analysis proves that tolerance of homosexuality leads to social disruption, then the anti-gay bigots would have a case. [And] ethical standards of some kind, such as honesty or open-mindedness, are essential for scientists to do their work. That’s why I trust the findings of the scientific commmunity above any religious dogma, because they tend to go where the evidence leads them and are not afraid to challenge conventional ideas, even among themselves. That’s the opposite of what religious communities are known for. Hope that clears things up!”

CheWorks: “We seem to be on a similar page. Can you please explain how science can help homophobes? Is it by showing that they are of the same chromosomes as heterosexuals?”

Interesting that he accepts my premise as valid and moves the discussion forward by bringing in an issue for which it would be a good demonstration of the truth of my idea.

Dale Husband: “Science is still investigating the causes of homosexuality, but if a physical cause was indeed found, it would blow away forever the notion that gays follow a lifestyle that is their free choice, and then there would be no legal basis for them to be punished for expressing their true nature. Homosexuality could no longer rightfully be called a “sin”. But since so many people do not accept evolution as true for religious reasons, they won’t accept those findings either.”

I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned evolution, because I also had to deal with an anti-evolutionist named Freediver who has been a routine thorn in my side for over two years.

Freediver: “Science has no contribution to make to ethics. Those scientists who belive it does just have delusions of grandeur. Stephen Jay Gould agrees with me on this.”

Right from that opening statement, Freediver had already lost the debate. Quite simply, it is a fallacy to make personal attacks against either your opponent or anyone else instead of really dealing with the issues. And appealing to a supposed authority figure like Dr. Gould is another common fallacy. Plus, didn’t Freediver know that Gould is already DEAD?! Finally, for Freediver to state that Gould agrees with HIM about anything seems to stem from an attitude of extreme egotism. I considered ignoring the idiot, but I decided to engage him for a while instead to give him more rope to hang himself with. And as it turned out, I was not disappointed.

Freediver: “Now you definitely don’t know what you are talking about.” “…appeals to reason tend not to work with Dale, who constantly insists that I provide examples of other people who agree with me, rather than focussing on the merits of the argument. It is kind of ironic (or is that hypocritical?) that he would commit this fallacy repeatedly, in it’s truest form, despite me continuously pointing out his error, then pull me up the first time I come close to using it. It shows that he recognises the error, just not when he commits it.”

Freediver was lying here. What I have demanded he do is support his claims about evolution not being a scientific theory by showing websites or other references that indicate that most scientists agree with him about how he defines science, to prove he didn’t make his definition all up on his own. He never did, except for a website he created to showcase his own writings on evolution and other subjects. He knows quite well that most of the references he’d have to make otherwise would be Creationist websites. Most scientists do not follow his narrow standard of what science is, of course.

Dale Husband: “Is it possible that you are motivated, in your opposition to me on both evolution and ethical issues, by your extreme religious bias? In any case, I’m not going to waste any more time attempting to explain what should have been obvious. If you choose not to accept it, that’s your business.”   “You don’t appeal to reason, really. You appeal only to the prejudices you happen to have and hope that some people in your audience happen to share. In many cases, you fail to make an impression precisely because most people see right through your empty claims for what they really are. I don’t believe you are really stupid, but you seem to think most of us are if you keep putting out arguments like you’ve been doing all these years and expect them to be taken seriously. You overestimate your own powers of reason by blindly assuming whatever you say must be right. You never learn anything from others with that attitude.”

There followed a long period in which Freediver threw out one argument after another in a desperate effort to save his position. Clearly he was growing frustrated.

Freediver: “I use very simple arguments for you because you can’t follow logic.”

Yep, another personal attack.

Dale Husband: “By the way, Freediver, your constant attitude of absolutist dogmatism is the exact opposite of scientific thinking, a contradiction I’ve always noticed.”

Finally, my third opponent arrived. This one was known as Shadow Bear or Silly Old Bear. Unlike the first two, this one was a friend of mine.   He is also Jewish.

Silly Old Bear:This has me a little concerned – because this reduces a person down to what he or she can produce in terms of what is beneficial to Society. It opens a whole lot of cans, I’d rather see kept closed.  It raises the question “Who is to decide what is beneficial to Society?” That has been tried – it didn’t work from a Humane point of view – both the Nazis and the Fascists used this “touch stone” in their politics, and it destroyed a lot of knowledge, experience and human history.  The idea that what is good for Society is what a human is worth only works if Society’s basic ethical and moral standards are such that they take into account that we do not always know what is good for Society.  What then should be the scientific test to determine this? How do you scientifically measure that which cannot be measured?”

Dale Husband:As I see it, the Nazis and fascists made a point of judging other races of people as inferior without any empirical justification. That was the opposite of scientific thinking and led to their downfall when they were proven wrong. It is true that we do not know the potential value of people and it cannot be measured empirically. But if we do not come up with an empirical reason to prohibit murder, what can we say to a person who rejects all religion and wants a reason to justify whatever he wishes to do, including murder? And keep in mind that many senseless killings have been done in the name of religion. There is the potential for corruption in all things, which is why free inquiry is so important. If we cannot question authority, it can destroy us.”

Silly Old Bear: That is not quite true – both the Fascists and the Nazis based their ideas about races of people, disabled – both mental and physical , homosexuals, political and religious beliefs on what they considered to be empirical evidence – such as homosexuals not being likely to reproduce, Jews being a genetic contamination, mental and physically disabled not being productive etc. All based on the science they had access to. Those empirical evidence might not be satisfactory to you and me, but that is only because you and I are measuring the evidence using another scale – based in what we consider ethical. Not because of the science as such.”  “Religion is not necessary for making sound ethical decisions or f.i not to murder. I have not always been a religious man – still I have always held the opinion that all people are equal with equal rights to life. This can be arrived at by simple logical deduction. Atheists and Secular Humanists are not unethical, murderous or amoral. It doesn’t exclude that there certainly do exist such atheists or secular humanists, just as there are unethical, murderous or amoral religious people.  Let’s not make Science another religion, Dale – it is quite defendable without needing all the trimmings of religion. Simple logic is enough.”   “Scientifically it cannot be proven that Homosexuality is not a choice, so if all I had to go on was science I might be inclined to agree with the fundamentalists that homosexuality is indeed a sin according to Torah. There would be nothing to tell me otherwise. But because I do indeed choose what dogmas to incorporate in my ethics I have gone out of my way to find other ways to view homosexuality and Torah, so that the two do not contradict each other. Where there are no scientific data, we still have to make a choice as to how to act ethically.”

Because Silly Old Bear didn’t use personal attacks or other stupid fallacies like Freediver had, I was able to end the debate on a civil note with him.

Misusing the term “intellectual”???

Today I was accused by an enemy of mine of misusing the term “intellectual” by applying it to myself. That would only be valid if in fact someone could prove that I was not intellectual. First we need definitions of “intellectual”:

  • appealing to or using the intellect; “satire is an intellectual weapon”; “intellectual workers engaged in creative literary or artistic or scientific labor”; “has tremendous intellectual sympathy for oppressed people”; “coldly intellectual”; “sort of the intellectual type”; “intellectual literature”
  • of or associated with or requiring the use of the mind; “intellectual problems”; “the triumph of the rational over the animal side of man”
  • cerebral: involving intelligence rather than emotions or instinct; “a cerebral approach to the problem”; “cerebral drama”
  • a person who uses the mind creatively

    An intellectual is one who tries to use his or her intellect to work, study, reflect, speculate on, or ask and answer questions with regard to a variety of different ideas.

    There are, broadly, three modern definitions at work in discussions about intellectuals. First, ‘intellectuals’ as those deeply involved in ideas, books, the life of the mind. Second, ‘intellectuals’ as a recognizable occupational class consisting of lecturers, professors, lawyers, doctors, scientist, engineers, etc. Third, cultural “intellectuals” are those of notable expertise in culture and the arts, expertise which allows them some cultural authority, and who then use that authority to speak in public on other matters.

    Some people, including the one who attacked me today, seem to think that intellecuals must express no emotions, like the Vulcans of Star Trek. That strikes me as unrealistic, since all humans do have emotions. It is the combination of intellect and emotions in people that make their characters what they are. To call myself intellectual is hardly unethical, if one can read my writings and see for themselves what I am capable of.

    Dogmatic “deniers”

    The problem with many people (deniers) who have arguments on any issue is that they are not looking for facts to establish their own viewpoints. This becomes obvious when they, not content to say, “I strongly disagree with [idea] and believe [counter-idea],” but bluntly say, “[counter-idea]” and then proceed with that premise regardless of what anyone else says. Once that happens, those who reject the counter-idea find themselves becoming dogmatic in return to avoid appearing weak, thus degrading the general content of the discussion. The deniers rely on ingrained prejudices they know exist in many other people in order to build a following.

    The opposition to evolution is entirely based on religious prejudices supported by semantic ploys, and nothing else. A lot of the “evidences” used to attack evolution are things that are exceptional in nature and when the Creationists see them, they say, “We do not know how these things could have happen, so we may safely assume that God did it.” That attitude totally denies scientific thinking. Evolution is scientific precisely because it is consistent with physical and chemical laws that were previously established via the scientific method. That Creationists do not note this obvious fact discredits them from the start.

    As for the global warming issue, people have a natural tendency to deny facts that make them uncomfortable, because they know that then they will have to make great sacrifices to undo the damage that is being done and prevent more damage. The corporations and the politicians who support them play on this laziness to give excuses for not doing anything to change things. For example, the statement that increased solar output is a factor behind global warming only adds to the urgency that we keep the emissions of greenhouse gases at a low levels in the future; it does not negate our responsiblity to deal with the problem. That a few areas in the world are colder than normal is a result of warmer atmospheric conditions causing greater evaporation of water, resulting in greater cloud coverage and precipitation in areas that are prone to them, and of course this causes temperatures in those areas to fall. But the deniers forget one thing: The DESERT regions, which make nearly a third of the land area of Earth, are NOT affected by this trend and the temperatures there will remain high, resulting in great instabilities in the atmosphere, producing a greater frequency of storms.
    Natural reality is complex, and science is supposed to measure that reality in all its forms. Those who attempt to reduce it to a simple formula via “logical” arguments are in fact the worst enemies of science.

    Global warming deniers’ claims about a conspiracy driving the concern about global warming are a classic attempt to “turn reality upside down”. In fact, the real conspiracy is between the rich executives of the fossil fuel corporations and the conservative politicians whose servicies are paid for by the executives. Some scientists also side with the deniers, but that only indicates the extent of corruption that may exist in any profession, as well as the tendency of even people who should know better to decieve themselves.

    The “chain of reason” in the global warming issue

    There are four links in that chain, and all must be solid for the man-made global warming issue to be valid. Nothing else matters.

    1. Has CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere been increasing over the past century? Scientific reports indicate that is the case.
    2. Is CO2 a gas that causes heat to be retained in an atmosphere, thus making it a “greenhouse gas”? Scientific reports indicate that is the case.
    3. Does human industrial and transportative processes produce vast quantities of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere? Scientific reports indicate that is the case.
    4. Has the average global temperature actually increased over the past few decades? Scientific reports indicate that is the case.

    Those who throw around issues like nuclear power, questionable reports of exceptional weather, recent solar output, or natural climate changes in ancient or prehistoric times, only seek to cloud the issue. Unless and until you deal directly with the four central issues at the heart of the global warming issue, you have no real case.

    The chain of reason remains unbroken.

    The ultimate solution to environmental problems

    Any discussion about environmental problems that does not include an effort to stop human population growth and ultimately reduce the population to levels far less than that of today is a waste of time. There are 6 1/2 billion humans on Earth now, and that alone is a serious cause of pollution, habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, and wars.In addition to this, we must reeducate the people not to be so materialistic, and make sure that multi-national corporations no longer have so much political influence around the world!

    Questions Israel-bashers need to answer

    If Israel is so evil, and the Palestinians are merely its innocent victims: 

    • Why did the Arabs, and not the Jews in Palestine, reject the UN offer in 1947 to divide the land between the two groups so both peoples could have separate states side by side?
    • Why did six Arab states declare war on Israel as soon as it declared its Independence from the British Mandate in 1948?
    • Why was Israel at its founding the only democracy in the Middle East, while its Arab enemies were either absolute monarchies or military dictatorships?
    • Why does Israel maintain within its borders an Arab minority that lives in peace with their Jewish neighbors?
    • Why, when the Arabs failed to destroy Israel through conventional warfare, did some of them resort to terrorism, including suicide bombers?
    • Why is it OK for Arabs to have several nations of their own in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain, but it is not OK for the Jews to also have a state of their own there?
    • Why did Egypt and Jordan sign peace treaties with Israel?
    • Why, during the war between Israel and Hezebollah in the summer of 2006, did Hezebollah shoot so many rockets at the city of Haifa, which is well known as a place where Jews, Christians, and Muslims live together in peace, as well as the location of the World Center of the Baha’i Faith?

    I find it strange that Israel bashers never want to address these issues.

    What makes an empire fall?

    Throughout history, great empires have risen and fallen and fought each other over land, resources and people. It seems like a vicious cycle that these empires build themselves over several centuries only to fall later. The Romans, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Ottomans, the Mongols, the British, the French and now the Americans have all been known as great powers in the world. What is it that causes the disruptions that occur later to destroy great empires?

    First, I think it is contentment of the people with the status quo instead of seeking the best possible way to govern a people. “It worked for our ancestors, so it must be good for us too!” we say. Without progress and reform of the government, expansion of an empire can create many problems. The Roman Empire grew from a small city-state into controlling the entire Mediterranean region in a few hundred years. Likewise, the United States of America has grown from 13 small states along the Atlantic coast of North America into 50 states and several territories stretching from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea to Guam in the western Pacific Ocean and from Alaska in the far north to Florida in the south, yet the same government designed for 13 states is still being used for all of them!

    Second, we may consider the frog in boiling water concept. If you toss a frog in water that is already boiling, it will immediatly jump out. But the same frog placed in cool water that is then sssssssllllllloooooooooowwwwwlllllyyyyyy heated will end up dead because it will not jump out, it’s cold blooded body “adapting” to the heat until it gets too hot to live. Likewise, I would suggest that if George W. Bush was doing the kinds of things 50 years ago that he is doing today (like starting a war in Iraq under false pretenses, or trying to give away our wildlife refuges to exploitation by oil companies), he would have been IMPEACHED by now or at least he would not have been reelected by the people. Sadly, it seems that the Bush administration thinks we are all frogs, but we are PEOPLE and we know what corruption and hypocrisy is, so we must fight it! Tolerance of corruption in government is another reason why empires fall.

    Third, empires break up or are destroyed because of one people seeking to impose their will on other peoples. Eventually, the other peoples rebel leading to violence, destruction, hatred, killing, and ruin. While powerful military forces may build up an empire, the rebellious subjects inevitiably learn how to build up their own military, causing splits in the empire.

    Today, we see evidence of all three of these tragic trends in present day American society. Ironically, the very principles of freedom and democracy that we are supposed to treasure have become so twisted that it is hard to see the difference now between America as it is now and the British colonial empire that Americans originally broke away from. With that in mind, I would recommend a second American Revolution to save ourselves from the fate of the empires that came before us!