4January 2010-part II

Religion/Atheism: this more or less explains the way that I feel:

In brief: thinking that atheists shouldn’t be needlessly obnoxious doesn’t make me a “faithiest” or an “accommodationist” or someone without the courage of my convictions. Those would be hard charges to support against someone who wrote this or this or this or this. I just think it’s possible to have convictions without being a jerk about them. “I disagree with you” and “You are a contemptible idiot” are not logically equivalent. […]

We atheists/skeptics have a huge advantage when it comes to reasonable, evidence-based argumentation: we’re right. (Provisionally, with appropriate humble caveats about those aspects of the natural world we don’t yet understand.) We don’t need to stoop to insults to win debates; reality is on our side. And there are many people out there who are willing to listen to logic and evidence, when presented reasonably and in good faith. We should always presume that people who disagree with us are amenable to reasonable discussion, until proven otherwise. (Cf. the Grid of Disputation. See also Dr. Free-Ride.)

That’s very different than “accommodationism,” which holds that science and religion aren’t really in conflict. The problem with accommodationism isn’t that its adherents aren’t sufficiently macho or strident; it’s that they’re wrong. And when respected organizations like the National Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Science Education, or the American Association for the Advancement of Science go on record as claiming that science and religion are completely compatible, as if they were speaking for scientists, that’s unconscionable and should be stopped. They don’t have to go on at great length about how a scientific worldview undermines religious belief, even if it’s true; they can just choose not to say anything at all about religion. That’s not their job.

It’s also wrong to fetishize politeness for its own sake. Some people manage to forfeit the right to be taken seriously or treated politely. But that shouldn’t be the default position. And being polite doesn’t make you more likely to be correct, or vice-versa. And — to keep piling on the caveats — being “polite” doesn’t mean “keeping quiet,” at least as a general principle. We all know people who will resort to a cowardly tactic of claiming to be “offended” when you say something perfectly reasonable with which they happen to disagree. There’s no reason to give into that; but the solution is not to valorize obnoxiousness for its own sake. […]

Within the self-reinforcing culture of vocal non-believers, it’s gotten to the point where saying that someone is “nice” has become an insult. Let me hereby stake out a brave, contrarian position: in favor of being nice. I think that folks in the reality-based community should be the paragons of reasonableness and even niceness, while not yielding an inch on the correctness of their views.

EXACTLY. People should be respected, even if some of their ideas don’t deserve respect. Believing in the eating the (mystical) flesh of a resurrected person is ridiculous (unless this is done in a purely symbolic manner where the participants KNOW that it is symbolic/metaphorical). But many good people do such things, and it would be wrong for me to go out of my way to insult them. Some smart people do too (e. g., Francis Collins is a Christian and is way smarter than I’ll ever be).

Pain and overcoming pain associated with memories: this article gives food for thought. Basically, people were shown a square of a certain color when they were given a shock. Eventually, people started to “fear” a block of that particular color. But then:

But perhaps the fear can be shaken once and for all. A recent study led by Phelps found that reminding people of the fearful stimuli, minus any fear-inducing event, shortly before the extinction session can effectively block the first memory. The finding could help improve therapies for overcoming fear.

In this study, published in the December 10 issue of Nature, researchers conditioned 65 participants to fear a “bad” color square the first day and then extinguished their fear the next day, just as in Bosch’s study. The scientists waited a day between sessions because it takes hours for a new memory—in this case, the memory of a color being associated with pain—to consolidate in our minds. Before the extinction session, the researchers gave some of the participants a fear-provoking reminder by showing them the “bad” square, though without the unpleasant shock. Twenty-three of the participants received the reminder six hours before the session, while 20 were reminded just 10 minutes before the extinction trial. The rest of the participants did not receive a reminder before the session.

All of the participants were afraid of (as measured via sweaty fingers) the “bad” square at the outset of the first extinction session, before the fear subsided. The extinction trial was repeated on the third day, and the researchers noticed that at the outset of this second extinction trial, those who had had the shock-free reminder 10 minutes before the session were much less afraid than either the 6-hour group or the group that did not receive a reminder. In fact, Phelps’s team followed up one year later with 19 of the original 65 participants and found that fearlessness persisted only among those who had received the reminder 10 minutes before the extinction session.

“To show this lasts a year shows us we are perhaps in a permanent way altering this memory,” Phelps says.

Safety: Nate Silver says that we should take our fear of dying in deliberately caused airline accident in perspective: our chances of dying due to deliberate violence on an airplane are less than they were many years ago. Note: I didn’t say “terrorism”, because years ago, some would attempt to blow up a flight to collect insurance money (say, for their families). That isn’t terrorism (killing with a political goal in mine) though it is evil.


January 4, 2010 - Posted by | atheism, civil liberties, mind, nature, politics, politics/social, religion, science, statistics, superstition, Transportation, travel, world events

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