Stoning and The Confirmation Bias

Note: this essay is presently published as a “Comment” in the relevant part of the buddy-blog Notes on Liberty.

I am glad Brandon has drawn attention to the confirmation bias in Notes on Liberty. (“Origins of Terrorism in the Middle East.”) The words refer to the universal tendency of human beings to notice and to remember facts that support what they already believe to be true to the detriment of information favoring different and opposing views. Thus someone who believes that human activity has been causing global warming will collect and recall unusually hot days and he will tend to discount unusually cool days.

The confirmation bias is the bane of casual discussion such as are conducted in coffee shops, around the kitchen table and, in immense numbers now, on the web. Unfortunately the confirmation bias also frequently affects adversely empirical research designed to protect against biases in general. Scholarly submissions that present disconfirming evidence regularly have to jump higher hurdles than scholarly papers that extend orthodoxy. Yet, good methods afford partial protection in the social sciences and systematic critique also limits the damage to truth caused by the confirmation bias and by other biases.

But well designed and well conducted social science is expensive and time consuming. In the meantime, we have to live; we must make decisions, we cannot avoid choices. We are not able to wait for everything to become the object of a good study and for the study to be published in a respected journal to do what we have to do. Exaggerated deference to rigorous empirical studies is tantamount to delivering the floor to the most emotional, to the least rational, to the blindest fanatics among us. Like it or not, we must rely on anecdotal evidence most of the time. Yet, anecdotal evidence must, in time, give way to good studies published in a respected scholarly journals.

So, what is to be done about the confirmation bias usually associated with the gathering of anecdotal evidence? First, obviously each commentator of any political fact or perception must exercise extreme self-discipline in this respect, knowing that confirmation bias is not an accident but a normal tendency of the human mind. It helps a great deal if the commentator knows he is addressing an audience, a public, that praises intellectual honesty.

Secondly and most importantly, arguments should be subjected to criticism. I may easily, and in all honesty, be blind to my own confirmation bias but disinterested observers, and especially, adversaries, will ferret it out in no time. It’s also important to have reasonably public venues where biases in general and the confirmation bias in particular can be called out. I believe that Notes on Liberty and my own personal blog, Factsmatter, are two such venues. They should not be taken for granted. They may be the few exceptions among hundreds or thousands of blogs.

The context that motivated Brandon, the founder and co-editor of Notes on Liberty, to denounce my alleged confirmation bias is a comment of mine on his essay: “Origins of Terrorism in the Middle East.” In my comment, I take exception to his dismissal of the idea of “Islam’s violent penchant.”

I believe that, in fact, Islam has inherently violent tendencies. (I recognize at the same time the overwhelming peacefulness of the overwhelming numbers of Muslims.) In support of an assertion to the effect that Islam has a violent penchant, I list a number of violent practices which I argue are especially associated with Islam. Incidentally, I always mean “Islam the culture.” I am not a theologian able to discuss what Islamic scriptures and Islamic doctrine “really mean.” I am only able to observe reality on the ground.

Since my observation is neither exhaustive nor randomly conducted, the risk of confirmation bias is quite real. There is danger that I assign unconsciously to practitioners of Islam objectionable practices that are just as common among followers of other religions. It would be like treating Christians, for example, as especially likely to abuse alcohol as compared to Muslims. (And how silly can one get!)

In the situation at hand, I made the claim, among many others, that the only people who condemn to death by stoning women they judge adulterous do it in the name of Islam, (in the name of Islamic law specifically), and that they have Muslim names. Incidentally, this is a good point to correct myself; I should have said, “ in the last one hundred years.” Going back to what I asserted above, the main corrective to selection bias is criticism. In this case, I expect Brandon – and anyone else who is so moved – to point out to me the group or groups unassociated with Islam in any way who affirm that public stoning to death is an appropriate way to deal with adulterous women.

I will be waiting.

It seems to me that there are three major vices that regularly interfere with intelligent people’s exercise of reason. One is political correctness. The second is the desire to simplify at all costs issues that are inherently complex. The other it a perverse wish to insist that things cannot be as simple as they seem on the surface, that observable reality only masks a deeper, more correct interpretation of real reality.

My qualifications toward discussing these issues are in my vita, linked to this blog.

About Jacques Delacroix

I write short stories, current events comments, and sociopolitical essays, mostly in English, some in French. There are other people with the same first name and same last name on the Internet. I am the one who put up on Amazon in 2014: "I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography" and also: "Les pumas de grande-banlieue." To my knowledge, I am the only Jacques Delacroix with American and English scholarly publications. In a previous life, I was a teacher and a scholar in Organizational Theory and in the Sociology of Economic Development. (Go ahead, Google me!) I live in the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz, California.
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50 Responses to Stoning and The Confirmation Bias

  1. Can you (or anyone else) give me a case study to work with? I ask because I am thinking of a few recent cases that are situated in Saudi Arabia, which would make the stonings political rather than religious.

  2. I have no problem with this,
    Incidentally, religion is usually considered part of culture, even an important part of culture, by anthropologists among others. Religion is often such an important part of a given culture that it is commonly treated separately giving the false impression that it’s a different subject in its own right. “Religion” belongs in the drawer marked “Culture,” even if it occupies a large fraction – half or more – of the space in that drawer.

    • Religion is often such an important part of a given culture that it is commonly treated separately giving the false impression that it’s a different subject in its own right.

      This is true up to a point. Once a society adopts one of the “great religions” as their own, though, the cultural-religious blend disappears and two distinct categories arise. Small tribes with their parochial animist beliefs are one thing, but large nations sharing a holy book are quite another.

      As it stands, the stonings of women in Saudi Arabia are political acts, not cultural ones. Thus the Saudis (or their enemies) are using religious undertones to their political advantage. The violence and backwardness of the region – which I readily admit is prevalent – goes back to institutions and their political and economic ramifications.

      The lack of books in the Arab world is another case in point. During the late Ottoman era, and during the era of European imperialism, Arabs gobbled up books left and right. Once Arab socialism and other anti-colonial movements began to isolate their societies, the demand for books was severed.

      What do you think would happen if the states of Iraq and Egypt, for example, suddenly lifted their controls on trade, universities, the press and the internet? Would Arab culture or Islam hinder the thirst for knowledge in the citizens of these countries?

  3. Pingback: Religion or Institutions? An Ongoing Dialogue | Notes On Liberty

  4. Several of the things that Brandon says are not clear to me. For example, I don’t know what ” great religions” with quote marks means. Neither do I know what “using religious undertones” means. So, I will try to follow a single one of Brandon’s threads.

    The subject i still whether Islam has a violent penchant.

    A certain society explicitly subordinates the secular to the religious. Its concept of religion is that it is entirely revealed except for commentaries on that which is revealed ( and for commentaries on the commentaries but with decreasing moral force the further away the commentary is from the revelation itself). In that society, what we would called “separation of church and sate” is deliberately rejected. Religious rulings and the law itself are expected to run all affairs.. It does not actually always work that way because religious law is mute on a number of issues.Yet, in case of conflict, however, the religious authorities rule, have the last word. Theologians are the equivalent there of the US Supreme Court.

    The whole body of the law, the sharia, is supposed to come from divine inspiration. Of course, it does not but the insistence that it is tells you something about the importance of religion, narrowly defined, in that society. The same law, of religious and revealed origin,prescribes the public stoning to death of women deemed “adulterous.” Some women are actually so sentenced.

    The society in question is Saudi Arabia, of course.

    According to Brandon, the story above says nothing about the influence of religion upon behavior.

    Incidentally, the stoning to death is not a new idea invented by Islam if you remember your Gospel.

    • Dude…

      A certain society explicitly subordinates the secular to the religious.

      This still has nothing to do with Islam. All societies face this struggle, and the Middle East is no different. Just ask the secularist Ba’athists of Iraq and Syria. This conflict between the secular and the religious in the Middle East tells us nothing about Islam’s mythical penchant for violence.

      This is political violence. When Jews began murdering British citizens in Palestine in the name of Zionism, did anybody attribute the violence to the Jewish religion?

      When nutjobs go on shooting rampages in the name of Christian culture in the West, does anybody attribute the violence to the Christian religion?

      When Muslims murder innocent people in the name of the Caliphate or Palestine, suddenly Islam is to blame!

  5. “…nutjobs go on a shooting rampage in the name of Christian culture in the West…” ?????????

    I am resisting the temptation to drop everything and deliver a six day lecture on logical inference. Before I take this huge decision, one question:

    The question is prompted but what I suspect is your problem with inductive reasoning.Previously. I gave you several instances of violent behavior preferentially associated with Islamic culture. You dismissed the batch as anecdotes demonstrating nothing. Now, if I were able to gather one thousands anecdotes of similar quality, would that budge you at all?

    PS I may not be able to continue because I have been kicked out of my blog again. No, I don’t suspect you, Brandon.

    • Dude!

      I gave you several instances of violent behavior preferentially associated with Islamic culture.

      No, you didn’t.

      People get stoned to death in sub-Saharan Africa all the time (for adultery, for witchcraft, for stealing, etc.).

      People murder other people in the name of religion all the time (Buddhists murdering Muslims in Burma, for example).

      The state invokes religion – explicitly or implicitly – all the time (what do you think the death penalty here in the States is?).

      None of your examples can be said to be “preferentially associated with Islamic culture.” None of them!!! The violence associated with the Middle East is political. All of it. None of it has anything to do with Arab culture. Where is the violence in Tunisia? Or the UAE? There is no inherent violence in non-Arabic Islamic cultures, either. Turkey? Iran? Senegal?

      When nutjobs go on shooting rampages in the name of Christianity – at, say, abortion clinics – it’s not really about Christianity, right Dr J? Same thing when Jews or Hindus or Sikhs or Buddhists (“great religions”) use terrorism in their political programs, right?

  6. Terry Amburgey says:

    I think I’ll side with Jacques. The extensive persecution of the Huegnots (including thousands slaughtered by Catholics in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre) is conclusive proof that Christianity is innately violent and that the French are innately violent.

  7. Terry Amburgey says:

    “PS I may not be able to continue because I have been kicked out of my blog again.”

    I sympathize. It refused to let me post for several weeks a while back. Then I was able to again. Shrug.

  8. Brandon: I repeat: There are no examples of non-Muslim societies where stoning to death is the legally and religiously prescribed (PRESCRIBED) punishment for anything. The stonings in sub-Saharan Africa to which you allude are all Muslim jobs, done according to Shariah. (Don’t you know that Islam does not stop at the Sahara? What do you think s the main religion of Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Fasso and of the northern third of Nigeria?)

    Riots don’t count. I suspect Terry is trying to evoke the Saint Bartholomew massacre of French Protestants in 1572. It was a riot, on an extraordinary scale and probably somewhat organized, but still a riot. It never had any legal sanction. It had no religious sanction. It was a good example of what Brandon probably has in mind when he proclaims the irrelevance of religion.The Catholics who committed the murders where not following the dictates of their religion, they were violating them. Neither Catholics nor Protestants followed any religious rule committing them to killing one another. The reverse was clearly true. The confrontation between Catholics and Protestants in France, extending over a century and a half, is an extremely interesting story but I don’t have time to tell it now. I just want to say that it was little about religious belief.

    Terry knows none of that. He is doing what liberals always do when discussing such things. He is trying to drag me into a historical era where my analysis becomes wrong. He does not care that it takes him a couple centuries to achieve the effect Don’t bother! I suspect that, overall, the history of Christian societies is more violent than that of Muslim societies. After all the Catholic Church enjoined burning dissenters alive. I believe Muslims never did anything so calculatingly cruel, or at least, not according to any legal standard.

    Members of historically Christian societies stopped behaving that way about 1750. (That’s with the major exception of Communist and fascist societies. I can’t deal with this now, it’s too big a subject.) Muslims continued in the violent practices their religion sometimes requires. They are struggling right now with what was called the Enlightenment in historically Christian societies which disgraced many violent societal practices in the West.

    Incidentally, Terry, you hit on something by chance: French society is fairly cruel, or it was until recently because it absorbed incompletely the Enlightenment.

    I wish rational Muslims well in their attempt to to have an Enlightenment of their own. (That’s one reason I am in favor of the chaotic Arab Spring in Arab societies that are mostly Muslim.) In brief, I think the applicable moral standard in this discussion is this: “The comparative superior virtuousness of your religious ancestors in 760, or in 1260, or in 1460 buys you zilch today. Oppression is oppression not a historical tourist trip.”

    Brandon is factually wrong: All the practices I listed originally are preferentially associated with Muslim culture. That includes the mass sexual mutilation of little girls about which I freely agree that it’s practiced by some non-Muslims as well (almost all pagans). I make the point explicitly that Muslim religious authorities in areas where the practice is common among Muslims do nothing to curb it or even to denounce it. This omission, I think is violent.

    I can only react to critiques of what I say not to what other think I have said. Those who critique should first read carefully to protect their own credibility.

    It should be clear by now that Brandon will not rest until I agree to the ridiculous proposition that Islam, the religion founded by a successful war chieftain contains no more seeds of violence than Lutheranism or Methodism,

    Brandon has not answered my question about inference: Were I to present one thousand examples of preferential association between violent practices and Muslim culture, would that make him budge? I mean instances of the same quality as those in the earlier comment. I don’t know why he has not answered. I don’t speculate. This is a question about clear thinking, about logic.

    I think Terry is dogmatically impeded from thinking clearly about culture. I think he dos not allow himself to do so. In a corner of his sociologist’s mind, culture is a form of pornography. It’s cute!

    PS Full disclosure: I am impeded from going after Brandon with both fists because he is my generous benefactor in other areas.. He is like a son you don’t ever take behind the barn as fully as he deserves because you are grateful that he often pushes your car when it won’t start in the morning.

  9. New news: A furious Christian crowd burns down a dozen houses of Muslims because of a rumor that some unknown Muslim had insulted Jesus Christ. This happened in Pakistan a couple of days ago.
    Oops, I got the story ass-backward! It was a Muslim mob that set Christians’ houses on fire because they had heard that some unidentified Christian had insulted the Prophet Muhammad.*
    My mistake is forgivable because, according to Brandon Christensen, editor of Notes on Liberty, the one atrocity is just as likely as the other.

    *A few months ago, it was a Christian teenage girl who was condemned to death in Pakistan for having insulted the Prophet. Those stupid Christians living in Pakistan should learn to keep their mouths shut! Luckily, the sentence was not carried out.

    That anecdote also does not say anything about Islam. People get condemned to death in Christian countries all the time for saying, “Jesus is a so and so.” Would I lie to you?

    • Dude.

      You’re still relying on anecdotal evidence that kowtows to your confirmation bias. Also, you just keep enhancing the argument that the violence in the Middle East is political, not religious.

      The stonings (for adultery, amongst other things) in sub-Saharan Africa I was alluding to happen in places like (mainly Christian) Angola, Zambia, and South Africa. Go ahead: Google it! Incidentally, I already asked where Senegal’s inherent Islamic penchant for violence was? What about Ghana’s? There is violence in Nigeria that Muslims are a part of? I’m shocked – shocked! – at this revelation. It must be because of their religion (I’ll bet it’s all their fault, too!).

      In Pakistan, Islam became the state religion after decades of struggle between secularists and Islamists. This makes the violence there political, not religious. Indeed, the state has decreed it illegal to talk badly about Islam. If this is not an institutional problem then I don’t know what is. It’s hard to see your anecdotes occurring without the implicit or explicit backing of the Pakistani state. Even the violence committed against secular regimes in the Muslim world have been political rather than religious. They may, like the Northern Irish Catholics or the Buddhist militias in Burma, use religious rhetoric, but the actual motives will always be political until more inclusive policies in matters of governance are taken.

      To give your readers another example, why don’t you give us a story you have heard (from God knows where!) about the mutilation of little girls in Islamic societies? Dr J will tell you the acts are “preferentially associated with Islamic values,” and I will show that they about isolation, war, or other institutional problems. To give everybody an idea of what I mean (and to stop this rousing beatdown): the mutilation of little girls in Islamic societies mostly occurs in the Red Sea states of Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In case you aren’t familiar with these parts of the world, both have known nothing but war, poverty and isolation for decades now. If Islam is inherently violent, why don’t we see these practices in Turkey? Or the UAE?

      To make things interesting: why don’t we see the mutilation of little girls in other war-torn Islamic regions like Kurdistan or the Balkans? Why didn’t we see it in Iran or Iraq during the brutal war they fought in the 1980s? If there were a violent tendency “preferentially associated with Islamic values” then Muslim societies from Mauritania to Chechnya to Indonesia should all exhibit some sort of tolerance for the mutilation of little girls, correct?

      If there is a violent tendency “preferentially associated with Islamic values,” then prove it and shut me up once and for all. If you cannot prove it then I suggest you swallow your pride, burn your idols and start looking at the actual root of the problem: institutions and their political and economic consequences.

      PS: I like the way you blasted Professor Terry for “dragging you into a historical era where your analysis becomes wrong” and then proceeded to inform everybody that Islam was founded by a “war chief” in the 7th century. Very clever!

  10. Terry Amburgey says:

    http://world.time.com/2013/03/11/a-lack-of-swordsmen-may-lead-saudis-to-abolish-beheadings/?hpt=hp_t3

    This is great news for Jacques. He loves guns. People getting killed with guns represents modern Christian values.

  11. Brandon: Forcing you to operate logically is too difficult for me. You are going to win thanks to superior stamina. Just two points because life goes on:

    1 If Many French people eat garden snails and no one but French people eat garden snails, is it correct to say that eating garden snails is “preferentially associated with the French” in spite of the fact that 40% of French people never eat garden snails? This is a real question. You need not answer it publicly. Perhaps you can try to answer it clearly inside your own mind.

    2 Mohammed preached in the 7th century. Fanatical Muslims think that his message of then is completely relevant today. Moderate Muslims think not or they are not so sure. It’s a main divide. This is clear, has nothing to do with Terry’s attempt to pretend that the horrors of some Christians of two hundred years ago excuse the horrors committed by some Muslims today. To make it simple for you: There is no country where blasphemy is a capital crime right now except some Muslim countries. There is no predominantly Christian country where it’s a capital crime. There used to be. We have become civilized and ….(Complete sentence.)

    • Political violence is very different from eating snails (or smoking hookah).

      There is no country where blasphemy is a capital crime right now except some Muslim countries.

      What does this have to do with Islam’s penchant for violence? There are many, many factions in the rest of the world who push for blasphemy laws all the time. Does this mean that the people of the broader cultures in which this ongoing, probably never-ending, fight are “preferentially associated with Judaism/Christianity/Buddhism/Sikhism/Hinduism”?

      • My stamina is waning fast!

        1 It’s the same logic whatever the substance of what you are talking about, snail eating, drinking acts, instances of illegal parking, various forms of violence.

        2 Capital punishment is the most official violence there is. Blasphemy is a religious offense. There are countries that are not predominantly Muslim where official violence is applied as retribution to a religious offense?

        Deuh!

        PS I need to repeat myself here: I wish I were wrong. I wish there were no preferential association between the culture of Islam and a penchant for violence. Not only are “some of my best friends” Muslims, as they say, I have Muslim relatives I like a lot.

      • Augh!

        Where is the proof?! Where is it?! There is no evidence anywhere, produced at any time, to suggest the Islam is preferentially associated with violence. None. Zero. Zilch. Where are your double-blind peer reviewed essays at?

        The only proof you have resides inside of your head. That makes Islam’s penchant for violence a product of your imagination.

        I’m arguing about the real color of a unicorn’s horn. Trolled!

        In the case of the blasphemy laws, you are simply wrong. They are not religious offenses. They are state crimes. This makes it an institutional issue, not a religious one. No government decrees, no blasphemy laws. Incidentally, the blasphemy laws of Pakistan weren’t passed until sometime in the 1970s. I’m sure you’ll find a similar story elsewhere in the region.

  12. Terry Amburgey says:

    “In the case of the blasphemy laws, you are simply wrong. They are not religious offenses. They are state crimes.”

    As Christoph Waltz would say: ‘That’s a bingo!’
    Jacques seems to have difficulty distinguishing ecclesiastical courts from the secular ones. He does have a point though, feeble as it is. There is necessarily osmosis from the religious to the political. Part of the kerfuffle about marriage is due to the confounding of a religious act with a civil act. Is there not a religious foundation to the civil crime of bigamy? Jacques is just being selective about what he finds objectionable. A blasphemy law is the product of a pre-enlightenment barabaric society. A law prohibiting the marriage of homosexuals [based on an ancient religious text] is post-enlightenment and modern.

    He would be better off talking about non-state actions but then he’d have to deal with things like the slaughter of the Huegnots which he dismissed as a mere ‘riot’.

  13. Sure thing: Blasphemy laws define “state crimes” in the US, in Finland, in Japan, in South Africa, right! Or do they happen to sanction state crimes only in predominantly Muslim countries? And is there a single exception to this statement?

    This is getting ridiculous. Terry: Here is a favor for you; I promise I will never cite what you said here.

    I have not said a thing about marriage between homosexuals, transgenderites, bixuals, or anyone else, hardly even about marriage between heterosexuals for several years. (The latter, a form of continual state-sanctioned rape, according to some of our feminist friends.) What I said then about marraige has nothing to do with what seems to be exercising you now. You seem to be spoiling for a fight on this. Go ahead, use this blog to write a devastating pop-sociological attack on the “right-wingers” that seem to people your nigthmares. Though, if you write about homosexual marriage, no pictures, OK?

    • Terry Amburgey says:

      “Though, if you write about homosexual marriage, no pictures, OK?”

      No problem Jacques, when I told you I’d never publish those pictures of you I meant it. Besides, between the domino mask and the sock garters most people wouldn’t recognize you.

  14. David says:

    Soooo…brandon,…you’re saying that there are terrible crimes committed on black people by other black people then? (Last I checked the overwhelming majority of sub-saharan africa was black.) (Come on, you know you missed me!) How many religiously sanctioned (and secularly ignored) death threats are issued from non-Islamic countries? (Think of anyone who has drawn Mohammmed in a less than flattering way.) In the West, officials investigate people who make death threats, regardless of reason, in many Islamic countries it is routinely ignored, largely because the target of the death threat (or fatwa)(I think that’s how it’s spelled at any rate) has otherwise impugned the prophet. Christians have (at the very least) grown out of that behavior. How many Orthodox Jews push for the Torah to be made the law of the land? I’ve heard of too many Muslims make a push for Sharia law, even in the USA. Perhaps my sample size is skewed or my confirmation bias is showing, but then again, you just tell people to “Just google it,” and google is never wrong or misleading. I think I’m reading Alex Jones some days.

  15. Terry Amburgey says:

    @David
    “How many Orthodox Jews push for the Torah to be made the law of the land?”
    You looking for an exact count or an approximation?
    “I’ve heard of too many Muslims make a push for Sharia law, even in the USA.”
    I’ve heard of 10 times as many Christians that want the USA to be a Christian country with Christian law.
    “Perhaps my sample size is skewed or my confirmation bias is showing…”
    I don’t know about your sample size but your confirmation bias is certainly showing.

    • David says:

      @terry,

      I’d take any significant percentage/number of Jews that are pushing for the Torah to be enforced on a national scale, i.e. on a wide scale that would affect a large number of people that aren’t willing members of the community in question.

      in your opinion, what does it mean for these christians to want the USA to be a christian country with christian law?

      as far as my sample size is concerned, i’ve worked in the food service industry for roughly 5 years with all manner of persons passing through that I’ve had conversations with; so much so, that there is very little that takes me by surprise. So i’d say that my sample size would number in the thousands. Maybe not statistically significant for a scientific study, but not a bad pool of people for one person.

      and I’m thinking about getting a skirt to cover up my confirmation bias, do you know any worthwhile retailers with clothes in my size? I’m pretty sure showing one’s own confirmation bias in public is illegal in a large percentage of california, so I’d like to be careful.

  16. “…many Christians that want the USA to be a Christian country…” Do you mean anything other than opposition to homosexual marriage and considering abortion to be a kind of murder? If that’s all you mean, don’t trouble yourself to answer Dead horse!

    PS I don’t think abortion is murder. I think it’s close enough to murder to be troubling even for atheists like me. If I thought it were murder, you can be sure I would be an extremist against it. It still wouldn’t be (NOT) like rioting to death because of a caricature of a religious leader who insisted himself that there was nothing divine about him.

    You are wandering off again, Terry.

  17. Oh wow. This conversation has gotten a little out of hand.

    Dr J: There is a new post at Notes on Liberty (in Russian by a Russian engineer) explaining how the Orthodox Church functions as part of the state apparatus. You can find blasphemy laws popping up all over Eastern and Southern Europe as well.

    David: nobody cares what skirt size you wear. Just make sure you put on your panties first!

    Dr J again: the death penalty, “creationism” in public schools (yet another reason to remove barriers to competition in the educational field), murders at abortion clinics, opposition to homosexual marriage, restrictive liquor laws, the war on drugs, censorship on television, assaults on the freedom of speech for artists and musicians (amongst others), restrictions on prostitution, restrictions on gambling, and the messianic rhetoric of our foreign policy are just some of the most obvious ways in which Christians use the state to shove their vulgar beliefs down our throats.

    • Thank you, Brandon.

      Refresh my memory: Blasphemy laws where? “Popping up….”

      With what penalties? (Death or more?)

      Death for converting, anywhere? (I did add this.)

      Are you implicitly stating that Russia is part of the historical West? Peter the Great just another Montesquieu?

      This conversation is not “out of hand. ” (There is no such thing, I think.) It goes all over the place because some people, including you, keep insisting that there is more in a shallow bucket of clean water than meets the eye.

      Just to get a little personal, Brandon, in a most cordial way: I repeat what I told you a long time ago. You are on your way to a brilliant academic career because you have all the requisite natural talents, including:

      Finding causes where there are no effects;
      Assigning substance to the terminally unsubstantial.
      Insisting that only the unsophisticated and the uneducated insist that the sun merely rises somewhere in the east.

      Your dominant place at the faculty club is already reserved. I hope you will remember those who discovered you when you help decide who will be President of Harvard.

      Yes, there is a chance that your extreme sense of personal independence may save you from extreme academic success. I keep my fingers crossed.

    • David says:

      @Brandon,

      Is there an english trasnlation which is accessible because, I must admit, my russian is quite limited (mostly to Da and Comrade, both of which I’m sure I’d misuse on a regular basis). I find that claim to be quite peculiar given the way the Russian government seems to work with Putin at the helm and all.

      Could you provide specific examples of those blasphemy laws and which countries they originated from? (And who/what they’re not supposed to blaspheme.) I suspect you must have a couple on the tip of your tongue given that they’re “all over” Eastern and Southern Europe

      And I suspect my skirt size matters greatly, because if it’s too small no panties in the world will help my cover up my considerable confirmation bias. Especially if it’s a thong or G-string. Of course maybe my confirmation bias is just a “brick house” as the song from the 80’s put it.

      How is the death penalty a tenent of Christian Law that Christians want to enforce?

      The primary difference between Creationism and Evolution is causation. (…and God said “Let there be light!” sounds an awful like a big bang to me.) Since the creation story is a little light on the details of how God did the nitty gritty work of creation (assuming an all powerful deity, I suspect it wouldn’t be all that hard to create the model of physics and quantum physics for said deity) science could just be revealing the nuts and bolts of how God created the universe, or at least one could argue that point. And creationism was removed from the public school system a number of years ago, so I don’t see how it fits. Christians legislating their beliefs failed on this count. So they sent their kids to Christian schools instead of public ones; no legislation needed there.

      I don’t recall murder being permitted by Christian doctrine.

      They’re losing the fight against same-sex marriage too, in spite of the ratio of Christians to non-Christians. So that’s a non-starter.

      Do you recall Prohibition and it’s subsequent repeal? Lost that one too. (I don’t think you can get more restrictive than banning a substance, but maybe I’m wrong.

      I didn’t realize the war on drugs was a Christian battleground. My pastors failed to mention that growing up; though they did mention that doing drugs isn’t good for you, but I don’t see how trying to convince kids to stop/not start doing drugs is the same as legislating it. (Not that there could be any non-religious reason for restricting the use of mind-altering substances, right?)

      Once again I didn’t realize that tv censorship was a fight that Christians were heavily invested in. (There is the beauty of an “OFF” switch.) And I think that there are plenty of non-religious reasons to limit the content of easily accessible broadcast media.

      Assaults on their freedoms of speech and expression or banning it? Yelling vile obscenities at someone because they put what one believes to be a cherished religious symbol in a jar of urine is certainly a verbal assault, but being pissed off and exercising ones own freedoms of speech and expression against someone else’s is a far cry from legislating it. Anything remotely associated with Christianity is being removed from the public square (holiday trees anyone?) How about a Cross in the middle of the desert that is miles from anywhere that an atheist tried to get removed because it was on federal lands?

      It is true that Christian doctrine isn’t exactly approving of the practice of prostitution. I think that is you most salient point so far, but one point doth not make a case for “Christian Law” taking over the USA. So they’ve won one of em so far. But then again, so long as you film the sex for distribution, you’re both actors and it’s legal pornography, so there are legal ways around it.

      There aren’t all that many gambling restrictions. The California Lottery is one giant legal gamble. Indian casinos are almost always within a days drive to visit. There are gambling meccas on both ends of the US. (Las Vegas and Atlantic City, anyone?) While sports betting is illegal, I think the Christian activists lost out on this one a long time ago.

      “…the messianic rhetoric of our foreign policy…” Last I recalled most of the messianic rhetoric has been from the current administration. Healing the planet, mending the opinion of America around the world, etc.

      So…which Christian beiefs are vulgar? To refrain from receiving or transmitting a STD? Or to avoid pissing away one’s paycheck at a casino or other gambling venture? Or is it a desire for a clear mind and conscience, free from the effects of mind-altering substances? How dare Christians want to prevent after-school Porn for the children!! How dare they stand up for their right to practice their religion!!! Damn them all to hell for that!!! How dare they want more babies to be born!!! They should all be aborted just for that!!!! Just because you don’t agree with their beliefs, doesn’t mean they’re vulgar. Last I checked vulgarity usually involved cursing and/or vile acts such as rape, murder etc. None of which are condoned by Christian doctrine.

      And as a side note, it is doctrine that Christians aren’t supposed to be judging/policing anybody outside of their own group by their own standards. That one came from Paul in one of his letters to the Corinthians. Not that it stops Christians from being stupid, but Christians ought to know better.

      Tangentially related to the last paragraph, I hope the new Pope harshly disciplines the sexual predators in the ranks of the Catholic Church. Talk about shooting one’s self in the foot. It’s something the Catholic Church ought to have done from the outset.

    • Still no evidence. I am, again, arguing about the real color of a unicorn’s horn…

      Dr J asks:

      Refresh my memory: Blasphemy laws where? “Popping up….”

      Right now? Post-socialist Europe. And post-coup Thailand. And post-monarchist Nepal. Go ahead: Google it!

      Are you implicitly stating that Russia is part of the historical West? Peter the Great just another Montesquieu?

      Nope. You didn’t specify that the examples had to be from the traditional West. Speaking of moving the goalposts:

      Death for converting, anywhere? (I did add this.)

      Can you provide me with an instance of this happening in a Muslim state?

      One more from Dr J:

      With what penalties? (Death or more?)

      Fines as far as I know. Again, can you give me an instance of a death sentence carried out in a Muslim state in the name of blasphemy?

      David: rather than try to rebut every one of your points, I think I’ll just let your comments stand on their own. For your own benefit, insert the word “Muslim” in place of the word “Christian” throughout your lengthy defense of the latter.

      If you do this, you’ll not only be proving my point, but you’ll have a better understanding of what is going on in the Middle East today. The difference between the United States and, say Russia or Egypt, is institutional.

      Max Weber famously argued that Protestantism was responsible for the rise of capitalism in the West. There was something about Protestantism that changed the way northern Europeans thought about the world, as well as how they justified their actions. He was wrong, of course, but his argument continues to influence large swathes of opinion today. Why? Because of “selective anecdotal evidence that is fortified by the perceived well-being of contemporary Protestant states.”

      • Brandon: If you keep doing good reading like that, you will eventually straighten yourself out. The real reference should be “Delacroix and Nielsen, 2000,” though.

        I don’t think Maw Weber argued what yo say he argued. I think that’s what semi-literate college professors believed because they had not read Weber or not read carefully. Happens all the time.

      • Interesting. Fines? OK, I believe you without having to trouble to check anything. You are saying that in Nepal there are laws against insulting Hinduism or any nreligion? In Thailand, there is a law against insulting Buddhism?

        I cannot (not) tell you of a stoning to death sentence being carried out in a Muslim country recently. The last case I recall was an Iranian woman who was so sentenced. The execution was suspended or commuted. I think this is a common practice.

        Are you saying that the fact that stoning to death is the penalty on the book for adulterous women is not evidence of extreme violence since it’s not carried out? (“Ooops, just kidding. Go back to your cell! Have a good time.”) Is the terrorizing effect of a fine about equivalent to that of the threat of a horrible kind of death penalty? If that’s your argument, do you realize what company that puts you in?

        I did not “move the goal post.” I was just asking. Perversely, I was wondering how far you would go in pursuing the unpursuable.

        Incidentally, I don’t remember an execution of adulterous women by stoning in Muslim countries, but I remember well the shooting to death of one during intermission in a soccer game in Kabul. I guess I am moving the goal posts again: Shooting is not stoning!

        Post Soviet countries? Don’t you mean the Christian Orthodox countries of Eastern Europe? That would make sense since they notoriously missed the Enlightenment and then were preserved as if in salt by so-called communism. If my hunch is correct, there should be no blasphemy laws in Hungary and in the Czech and Slovak republics.

        I believe that the death penalty is the normal penalty for conversion from Islam in Egypt. It’s not in any non-Muslim country (including Nepal, Thailand and Romania).

        I keep wondering why there is no intervention in this discussion from readers from Muslim countries. I knew I have some and Note On Liberty probably does also.

  18. Terry Amburgey says:

    “The primary difference between Creationism and Evolution is causation.”
    No. The primary difference is that ‘evolution’ is a set [note the plural] of scientific theories constructed so that they can be falsified by empirical testing. Creationism is a religious belief that can never be falsified.

    • Terry: I am lost. Who are you devastating now?

      Incidentally, as you must know, I subscribe to some version of the theory of evolution but, help me get ahead: Isn’t it true that there is no branch of theoretical evolution that says much about how life originated. I mean how counterentropy, or negentropy, began. Any idea?

      • David says:

        JD, I do believe he is chastising me. Terry, you forgot to mention that the religious belief can never be proven either. (How in the hell could one scientifically prove a deity exists? Unless said deity would smite us, but then there would be corpses and a whole lot of unanswered questions.) And I would disagree with you that the scientific theories could be falsified by empirical testing. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle puts limits on how much we can know at any given time. (Though Quantum Mechanics permits much greater precision of what can be known.) Terry, I also think that you failed to fully think through the implications of what I said. Creationism stats that God set the universe in motion. God said “Let there be light!” Evolution states that there was a singularity that suddenly (and so far, inexplicably) expanded. What caused the expansion? What part of the laws of physics caused something to come from nothing? How would one test for it? I would give Creationists a little credit, they’re not likely to stress over the causes of the Universe we live in. (Or Multiverse, depending on what theoretical physicist you read.) It’s a hell of a lot easier and simpler to say that an all powerful deity caused it and we’re trying to discover the laws He wrote to govern the Universe/Multiverse In any case proving the causation of the universe is quite impossible without creating a new one, which provokes a whole new set of challenges and questions. Hence why the causation of the universe will forever remain impossible to prove. Please don’t confuse this with me saying that we can’t figure out the physics of how the universe works, even in it’s earliest moments, it’s going back before the beginning that’s the real bitch. The other reason that it will be impossible to prove is that there is always another question to answer after one is answered in science. We haven’t even finished proving the standard model of physics yet (side bar: we’ve almost got the HIggs boson found!), and we’ve barely scratched the surface of quantum physics. And dark matter and energy are as mysterious as they are elusive. Then there are limits to funding research, even in the modern day. CERN barely got built. And we need much higher energies to go after quantum mechanics. We don’t even know how the hell to interact with Dark Matter/Energy yet. That’s money that doesn’t exist yet. I’d put good money on humanity destroying itself long before we get Dark Matter figured out. (I’d also put good money on Humanity sparing most life on Earth and the planet in the process too.)

        And as a side note, we have yet to witness intra-species evolution. (i.e. ameoba to fish to frog to rodent to dog to ape to homosapien.) Inter-species evolution is evident as looking in the mirror. (i.e. dark skin, light skin, blue eyes, calloused hands/feet, hair color etc.) We see a lot of transitional forms in the fossil record, but they tend to be a several steps from the previous or following form. Why did some dinosaurs develop feathers? How did they know when they could fly with their plumage? What mechanism causes these changes? How fast does it work? Can it be tested? Large mammals evolved over the course of 65 million years. That’s not a very long time for random mutations to spread though whole populations to effect intra-species change. At what point does a rodent cease to be a rodent and is something else? Why haven’t we bred fruit flies to be something else yet? They ‘have short lifespans and we’ve already owned their genome. We can make damn near any kind of fruit fly we want. Why haven’t we transformed the fruit fly into something far different yet? Or lab mice for that matter. They get put under all kinds of stresses and we breed the hell out of them, but we have yet to create ROUS’s. (Google The Princess Bride ROUS’s and enjoy yourselves for a brief period of time.) For those of you too lazy or uninterested ROUS stands for Rodents Of Unusual Size, basically fictional mutated giant rats.

        Brandon, let me simplify what’s going on the middle east today: all hell is breaking loose. It’s chaotic, messy, disturbing, and hopeful all at once. If it turns out good, then great, but humanity doesn’t have a history of choosing good in the middle of chaos. Hence, my skepticism about the middle east. Add in a little religious fervor and you have “The Crusades Part Deux featuring Atomic Weapons and BIg Guns!” Why it is is pretty damn well irrelevant. We just like to know why as part of our human condition (and we like to be right to boot). So long as WWIII doesn’t break out, it’ll be a good day in my book.

  19. Terry Amburgey says:

    @Jacques & David
    Let’s not confound our disciplines, there are big differences between biology and physics. Creationism covers both because the answer to every question is ‘God did it’ and the details are in the christian bible [usually the protestant version]. The universe was created ~ 5k years ago, all types of plants & animals were created then, 2 of all the animals were on the ark, etc etc.

    On the scientific side evolution falls within the discipline of biology; the word can be used more broadly as any directional change but the scientific use of the term typically refers to biological theories. Questions about negative entropy, the origin of the universe, Higgs bosons, quasars, etc etc falls within physics. Unlike religon, scientific theories don’t try to explain everything they are of limited applicabilty; they have scope and domain conditions. Evolutionary biology doesn’t have an explanation for negative entropy; it doesn’t have to have one.

    @David
    I think you underestimate the support that fossil records provide for the evolutionary origin of species but I would point to artificial selection rather than natural selection as much more fertile ground. For the last 20+ years my research has focused upon the biotechnology industry. I’m not a biologist but I’m very familiar with biotechnology for a layman. People used artifical selection to create both Great Danes and Chihuahuas from the same stock. Genetic engineering is used to routinely create new organisms.

    • Terry: I don’t think so. But let me summarize: YOu do agree by default that neither the4 scientific discipline of Biology nor the scientific discipline of Physics has much to say about the astonishing fact of negative entropy. I means that instead of falling apart as the universe in general does, at some point some objects started becoming more organized and replicating their higher level of organization. I won’t use the word “miracle” to avoid making you blush but if there were miracles, that would be one.

      It’s fine to say, “Evolutionary Theory does not much address this important issue.” Why is it so hard to just say it?

      • David says:

        @Terry, are both Great Danes and Chihuahuas not types of Dogs? Though I have often compared the latter to the Rodent family of mammals, they are in fact members of the Canine family. New types of organisms from within the same species is nothing new, observing one species transform into another is something not yet witnessed.

        @JD, I suspect Terry doesn’t say such a thing because it might require a certain amount of faith, which would be detrimental to his psyche.

      • David: Interestingly, I am on the same side as he is on that one. I am simply hunting down the unexplained, dark corners among his tribe. I mean the unwillingness of liberals to say, “I don’t know.” Terry has the merit of not simply walking away with the haughty pseudo-smile of most of the same tribe.

  20. Terry Amburgey says:

    @David. Wolves, dogs (both common dogs and dingoes), Ethiopian Wolves, coyotes, and golden jackals are all members of the genus Canis and can interbreed even though described as separate species. The divergence seems straight forward but as I said I find the generation of new life forms via genetic engineering the most persuasive evidence. The mechanisms are well enough understood to allow commercial application on an industrial scale. Outside the laboratory? Genetic drift and isolated breeding populations. Check out ‘hopeful monsters’, it’s interesting.

    Re faith. I try to minimize it but it is necessary to function as a scientist, even a social scientist. “Faith as underlying rationality: In this view, all human knowledge and reason is seen as dependent on faith: faith in our senses, faith in our reason, faith in our memories, and faith in the accounts of events we receive from others.” I don’t believe that last part. Interacting with Jacques shows the folly in believing most of his accounts🙂 But I have to take on faith that there is an external reality and that it is accesible by my senses.

    @Jacques. We’re not going to get very far if you continue to chastise me for not saying what I’ve already said.
    Terry: “Evolutionary biology doesn’t have an explanation for negative entropy; it doesn’t have to have one.”
    Jacques in response: “It’s fine to say, “Evolutionary Theory does not much address this important issue.” Why is it so hard to just say it?”

    It is fine to say it, I did say it, and it wasn’t hard to say it.

    • Thank you, Terry. In general, repetitiousness does little harm.
      Don’t you agree, as an experienced teacher?

      It’ also good for the teacher to hear what he is actually saying. He is more likely to catch it if he hears it several times, right?

      So, we agree that people who subscribe to evolutionary theory with a Darwinian origin do not have much to say against the part of Creationism that deals with the origin of life as something that appears to contradict the laws of physics.
      Am I right?

      We have no scientific reason to deny that there is a God who created life. Still right?

      Admitting this leaves completely intact other Darwinian criticism of what is loosely known as “Creationism.” I mean, for example, the biblical time-table taken literally.

      Expanding and repeating: It’s possible to say “I don’t know” about whether there is a God that created life, while insisting that the earth is several million years old. Do we still agree?

      Be careful: If you agree, I will find a way to spread your response all over your faculty club. The shame!

      • Terry Amburgey says:

        “It’s possible to say “I don’t know” about whether there is a God that created life, while insisting that the earth is several million years old. Do we still agree?”

        Yes.

  21. Ah, ah, Got you! This will be all over your faculty club before noon tomorrow. Prepare yourself to lunch by yourself at the small table near to toilet where no one else wants to sit.

  22. Pingback: Religion or Institutions: A Final Word | Notes On Liberty

  23. I am sorry; I don’t understand what you are saying, except the flattery. That part is fine, clear, based on truth!

  24. Larry says:

    I was extremely pleased to find this website. I need to to thank you for your time for this particularly wonderful read!

    ! I definitely really liked every bit of it and I have
    you saved to fav to see new stuff in your site.

    • Well, thank you, Larry. I live off compliments and some of my habitual critics could compete with the Kardashian girls for attention. (I am assuming you are in the US or Canada.)

      Just keep coming back and bring your friends. You might also connect me to your enemies, to make them cry.

      There are many useful pieces in the archives to this blog, on politics and on other matters.

  25. Pingback: Lying and Liberalism | FACTS MATTER

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