Posts Tagged ‘critical thinking

07
Jun
14

Ralph Reed Swings Both Ways – Literally

Bill Maher had Ralph Reed, the founder of the Christian Coalition, on ‘Real Time with Bill Maher‘.

Maher carefully prepared for this discussion with Reed, using his understanding of Reed’s predictable inconsistencies. The discussion is actually a setup for (I fully expect) a commentary later by Maher.

I offer my version of that commentary after a summation of the discussion.

* * * *

Maher, regarding parenthood:

People don’t have to be married. They have to be there.

Reed’s response to Maher’s example of a successful, ‘less-Christian’ European culture was:

In America, the social science is …

Maher, regarding faith:

Faith: The purposeful suspension of critical thinking.

Reed, in response:

It’s a relationship, it’s not a set of rules. … When you feel that your eternal destiny is resolved, you have a peace …

Reed, acknowledging reality:

You don’t have to have faith to be a good person.

Maher, regarding charity:

Of course, but you can do those things without believing in magic.

Reed claimed, when asked specifically by Maher, to be a Biblical Literalist. When Maher presented inconvenient aspects of the Bible, Reed made the usual argument, that he could select (quote-mine) the scriptures to ignore these inconvenient things. Yet, he criticized Maher for that very fault:

You’re being very selective.

Reed doubled-down on his own contradiction, just in time for the end of (interview) time:

You could just as easily cite the dietary laws in the Old Testament … if you go to the New Testament, there’s a New Covenant that demonstrates that’s not the path to ultimate salvation. … You’re not going to get to heaven by observing do’s and don’ts and rules … you’re going to get to heaven by a personal relationship with God.

* * * *

My context for all elements of this discussion is the position taken by Reed, and millions of Christians, about LGBT rights. You know that position, that those people have chosen an immoral lifestyle, and that the health of society in general (not just of those who are Christians) requires that LGBT people be restricted from marriage, parenting, and buying cakes from a public bakery.

The authority for this position is the Old Testament, using a few indistinct passages which can be interpreted as condemnations of All Things Homosexual. You don’t need me to remind you further.

Where is Reed’s reliance upon the New Covenant? Jesus of Nazareth NEVER SAID a single word about gender choice or sexual lifestyle, except for what applies thoroughly to heterosexuals also.

I agree with something that Reed said,

You’re not going to get to heaven by observing do’s and don’ts and rules.

Yet “You’re being very selective” Reed is very selective in insisting upon adherence to certain Levitical rules.

Reed needs to actually believe in that “personal relationship with God” for everyone, not just the relationship that he has, and in the way he has it.

How personal is it for my relationship with God to be the same as Ralph Reed’s?

I differ from Reed primarily not by religion, or any emotional viewpoint. I differ from him by being able to apply some critical thinking, as contrasted to his purposeful (convenient) suspension of critical thinking.

That difference makes Reed unable to imagine an America in which un-married parents raise children who, demographically, are members of society who are as valuable as the children of married, or of divorced, parents.

Reed can, to support his preconceptions and biases, only depend upon – not the Bible – and – not his personal relationship with God – but the “… social science is very clear, that they’re more likely to …”.

Reed has no faith in America. He has only his refusal to critically think about the real possibility that America can improve in the same way that Europe has improved. It is sad and destructive for a person like Reed, who has a large influence, to be very selective in his citation of social science instead of using critical thinking and recognizing that social scientists find benefits to society in treating everyone, including those who are LGBT, according to equal and consistently-applied laws.

Maybe, the next time that Maher and Reed have a public discussion, Maher could attempt to learn what the hell Reed is thinking when he says “Yes” in answering a question about being a Biblical Literalist.

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09
Oct
11

This Is Your Brain On Rationality

The excellent blog ‘Still Skeptical After All These Years‘ (SSAATY) has produced a lively discussion about human intelligence. ‘This Is Your Brain On Spirituality‘ links to ‘The Premise‘, from the book ‘The “God” Part of the Brain‘ (Matthew Alper). Jim One awakened me from my blogging slumber, and my comments are too long to impose upon his commenting space. This post is the result.

Rational
adj., Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
– ‘The Devil’s Dictionary‘, Ambrose Bierce

‘The Premise’ is an interesting expression of the evolution of intelligence. It carries the burden of stimulating those misguided folks who take the ‘god’ part of the brain to be something that must have been created by god, or God. That article, and comments on SSAATY – especially by Anson and HLG – have a touch of specificity about the subject. Since I am required by the terms of my Birth Contract to engage in conversations on science topics, here’s my succinct explanation:

That “survival trait” of intelligence has a major component in correlation. Other components, such as memory, are also involved. Other species have intelligence. They use tools and manipulate their environment. They employ memory. The human advantage over other species is most pronounced in the inherent capacity to correlate.

Correlation is not reflex – a sensor-neuron-to-motor-neuron linkage. It is a constant activity of the brain. Watch someone wave a wand over a deck of cards, then pull a flower out of the deck: your brain will, absolutely automatically and irrevocably, establish the thought that a wand-wave makes flowers appear in unexpected places. Even a tendency to form preposterous correlations could have significant evolutionary advantages. The cost of missing a good correlation (red plant = poisonous) is disproportionate to the cost of a false correlation (animal sacrifice = good crops).

Almost all human history has involved this automatic intelligence – an ‘unthinking’ intelligence that becomes blatant as superstition. The modern (perhaps thousands of years – a short time in biology) rise of rationalism is the result of achieving a critical level of intelligence. The human (and, to a lesser extent, other species’) brain is self-aware. The progress of correlative ability has extended to something like ‘correlations of the correlations’. We now recognize that thinking in primitive ways can involve such errancies as ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc‘ – we are aware of our own fallacies.

Rationalism’s biggest success has been science – modern science, that is. The Scientific Method is to reasoning what the U.S. Constitution is to organization and governance. The Constitution is designed to work with our inherent nature, minimizing its worst propensities and maximizing its usefulness. It has checks and balances. Science is a method for limiting the brain’s tendency to form correlations willy-nilly. It also has checks and balances for the same sort of issues that the Constitution controls. It is a meta-intelligence that makes our inherent capability vastly more useful than it has previously been in human history.

Rationalism, by confining our biological intelligence, expands its social and cultural value. This is why science, medicine, and technology seem to have accelerated geometrically – it is not our intelligence which has increased dramatically, but our command of intelligence which is improved. There is a stark difference between the science of 1880 and the science of 1920 – a difference more in how intelligence was utilized than in the mere progress of results.

There is a stark similarity in the non-scientific thought of 2011 and that of 1911, or of 1011! Non-scientists can learn to do more than to merely respect the Scientific Method. Rationalism, and its companion Skepticism are vital elements of critical thinking which everyone can learn.

07
Jun
10

Faith as a Grain of Mustard Seed

A friend, Lydia, told me an interesting story about teaching her young daughter. She explained Matthew 17:20 to Daughter, who was then very young:

I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

The Daughter was impressed in that special way that we too often lose as adults. Daughter promptly asked Lydia to show her a mustard seed. Lydia actually had some whole mustard seed in her cooking supplies, and Daughter was treated to their tiny loveliness. That, unfortunately for Lydia, was not sufficient. Daughter asked if they could plant some and watch them grow.

Lydia went into Full Mom Mode.

‘I don’t think we can do that, dear.’ ‘Mustard seeds for cooking have probably been prepared and won’t grow.’ ‘We could grow some pretty flowers instead.’

The look on Daughter’s face overruled all of Lydia’s rationalisations and excuses. They planted some of the diminutive parcels of life.

The Diminutive became the Substantial, and then the Impressive. The plants were both lovely and much larger than the original germ.

How is is that we can be extolling the virtues of faith one moment, then hesitantly worrying that ‘it won’t even grow’ the next moment? Lydia is not special in this. I have done it, and I suspect that most of you, Dear Readers, have done it. It is not, as some Preachers might suggest, an obvious example of our faithlessness. I hope that we can understand ourselves, and whatever faith we have, by looking at Lydia’s experience another way.

Humans are both prey animal and predator. We have substantial control over our environment while also being subject to a number of vulnerabilities. We have always been a social creature, sharing both our resources and our dependencies with others. We have evolved emotional predispositions to be cautious, because an incautious action may hurt us and burden our family. Following tried-and-true maxims, even maxims that are ineffectual, is essential to a long and productive life. Trying new things, or doing old things in new ways, has the potential for disaster.

Parables and analogies are inherently limited and incomplete. They are often most useful when examined with that realization. Matthew 17:20 tells one thing, but it also omits other things. Many useless, noxious, and even poisonous plants grow from tiny seeds. Will our faith do anything to change their inherent nature? Has faith ever made dandelion seeds sprout petunias?

Those of us who have been reared in churches have been taught how we are ‘supposed’ to view analogies such as Matthew 17:20. We are not supposed to take perspectives other than that handed to us from the immediate context of Holy Writ. We are not supposed to actually try to move a mountain. Our religions are a bastion which protects and preserves our evolved basic -cautious- nature.

Lydia was not being ‘silly’ in her apparently contradictory behavior with Daughter. She was, as a person who has been thoroughly oriented to her church from a young age, not prepared to look at Matthew 17:20 as would an innocent who is not yet prepared to confront a dangerous world.

Lydia could have told Daughter, ‘Yes, we’ll try growing some of the mustard seeds from my kitchen. If they don’t sprout very well, we can buy a new pack of seeds that will grow well.’ Lydia didn’t do this, because she was not troubled with the probability of germination. She was troubled with Breaking A Rule – the rule that the teachings of our church are to be accepted without test or other examination.

Unfortunately, this predisposition has become counter-productive in our industrial and scientific society. We are no longer vulnerable prey animals except to charlatans, thieves, swindlers, and the lazily greedy. We have long repeated the same basic errors in judgement – evidenced by the latest giant swirl of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. We need new social institutions which will encourage critical thinking.

Addendum
‘Full Mom Mode’ and ‘Full Dad Mode’ are, indeed, the same. I think.




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All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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