Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Religious Freedom" and Bullying in Michigan—Throwback Thaturday

Since the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision—which granted closely-held corporations protection under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act from the PPACA requirement to offer health insurance plans to employees that would have included birth control without copay—and the clarification that the RFRA only provides protection from federal laws, many states have taken those as a cue to pass their own version of the RFRA to "protect religious freedom" from "substantial burden" by state and below-state governing bodies.  This is, of course, a dominantly Republican push.

Michigan is one such state where Republicans are trying to pass such a law, and considering that it was one of the first bills to be drafted for consideration by the State Senate during the 2015-2016 calendar (being only #0004), it's easy to see that religious people must be on the verge of some pretty harsh persecution.  Or something.  SB 0004 follows HB 5958, which passed the House at the end of the 2014 session with what appears to be language identical to that in the senate bill.  So, if the new bill gets to the House, it's likely it'll just get passed again and head to Snyder's desk.  (However, I am not sure if Snyder will sign it.)

Many groups opposed to this are afraid that the bill will allow companies to discriminate against LGBT couples by refusing service to them.  To be fair, this is speculative, but only because of current conservative outrage over anti-discrimination legislation that actually is keeping religious companies from doing just that.  And, you know, because that's even what the House Speaker says it's for, and because an amendment affirming the bill is not for that purpose was voted down by (you guessed it) Republicans.  While these might not be as extreme of some purported effects that won't take place, such as an EMT refusing to help a dying gay person, anyone who thinks that refusing service to someone based on that customer's demographic is acceptable in any circumstance should probably go back to the 1950s where they (also don't) belong.

The intent is clear explicit in-yo-face, and our own group opposes the legislation as well.  However, I recently thought of one other possible "un"intended consequence, as I recall a particular bill that was introduced and passed in the State Senate back in 2011.  That bill was "Matt's Safe School Law" (SB 0137), and within that bill was a clause that stated the following (my bolded emphasis):
Sec. 1310.B(8): "This section does not abridge the rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the 1963 of a school employee, of a school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.  This section does not prohibit a statement of sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian."
This language was balked at nationally (even Colbert mocked it), and was removed in a subsequent version introduced in the House and ultimately signed into law by Snyder.  I've had a suspicion for a while that such language wasn't rolled back because the original authors had some miraculous change in heart, given that some other bills (like here and here and here) have been introduced that would allow, say, employees in the medical field to refuse service to people due to a sincerely held moral belief, or adoption agencies the right to refuse service to homosexual couples, so on.  One can probably see how this idea of religiously-motivated bullying being A-OK could, potentially, raise its ugly head again.

The Michigan version of the RFRA gives people protection from acts of "government" (the definition of which, in the bill, would include school districts) that substantially burden exercises of religion, and subjects such restrictions to strict scrutiny, i.e. the government interest in enacting those provisions has to be compelling, narrowly tailored to actuate that interest, and a least restrictive means.

But what in the world does this mean for the policies that school boards had to put in place to come under compliance with Matt's Safe School Law?  What is the least restrictive punishment for a student that bullies a student out of religious conviction for being gay?  A note on that student's record?  A stern talking-to?  Are suspensions a valid punishment, expulsions or withholding diplomas?  Are punishment tiers least-restrictive enough for multiple offenses?  Is a letter to the perpetrator's parents (required by MSSL) too restrictive on the students' religious convictions?

I'm not terribly worried that any student will actually succeed in making a good case since students tend to have restricted rights in school matters anyway.  That's not really to say that some students (or their parents) won't try to make such a case and sue districts for punishing religiously-motivated bullying.  I think that I'll be using this type of case as a litmus test of sorts, though, for what religious conservatives themselves think this bill will allow.  We'll win in this type of battle; but, we'll also see if it even has to be fought.  And probably be quite sad if it does.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Amazing Misrepresentations of the Bible

Last night members from our group (and also from EMU!) went to watch a presentation by Reverend Keith G. Barr, author of the book Amazing Scientific Secrets of the Bible (the presentation was about the same topic).  The talk consisted of several Biblical verses that are allegedly so profound in their scientific insight that either God told these writers how the world actually works as we understand it to now, or these ancient Jews had access to computers and instrumentation and airplanes or what not.

The third option of course is that Rev. Barr simply misunderstands the verses he is quoting, and boy oh boy does he misunderstand quite a bit.  I will not be addressing the claims of scientific insight, because I think that it's too much to grant even this more basic requirement: that Rev. Barr knows his Bible well enough to even make these claims.  These examples cover the majority of those that he chose to present to us, as I remember them coming up, and as our group's silent texting back and forth has documented.  I'll give each verse, a paraphrase of Rev. Barr's (mis)interpretation of it, and a much more sensible interpretation that actually takes into account the contexts of the verse itself.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Self-Inflicted Rapture: How To Save The World If You're A True Christian Altruist

You're the most selfless person in history, who happens to be a devout Christian. You want to spare everyone on earth from the torment of hell, except perhaps yourself (an acceptable sacrifice for the sake of the world, you think). Also, you're extremely intelligent and clever, and you will not rest until you have accomplished your goal, no punches pulled. So how do you save the world?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Origin Summit: Hanlon's Razor

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
This past Saturday (1 November 2014) the Creation Summit, a non-profit organization based in Nevada and dedicated to the promulgation of (young Earth) creationist "science", hosted an event at the Michigan State University Business School, named the "Origin Summit".  The event consisted of several workshops led by four YEC scientists/professors, as well as an open question panel at the end.  Myself and several other members of the Michigan Secular Student Alliance attended the event, and I hope to write several more articles about the talks that I saw (and perhaps other articles will be written by some of my fellow attendees, too).

To kick this off, I'll actually start at the end: after the panel discussion, I joined another of our members Jon White to talk with one of the speakers—Dr. Charles Jackson—about more recent and numerous data that contradicts a concept he quoted in his talk.  That in particular will be the subject of another post; but, toward the end of our discussion, after I tried to yet again make a point he wasn't accepting, he asked me very pointedly,
"How important is atheism to you?"
This was rather out of the blue.  The discussion so far had been about a particular argument about a scientific concept, about data, and we weren't talking about religion.  I said it wasn't very important to me, it was more about the science, and he started to go off on a very defensive tirade about how he and other creationists were not stupid, and that we shouldn't believe what we were told about creationists: that they're uneducated, that they're ignorant, that they're stupid.  He brought up his collection of degrees from legitimate universities, and degrees other creationists there had; he mentioned the gene gun patent that Dr. Sanford (another presenter) had; he talked about how he was a professor at high schools and college, and that he had never attended a Christian university; so on.

He gave the impression that he thought my only experience with young Earth creationists was that day only, and that I only knew of them through other atheists and "evolutionists" that told me vicious lies about their intelligence.  I did not mention to him that I have in the past visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky, nor did I mention that I have seen plenty of debates between YECs and scientists, the most recent and popular being Ken Ham's debate with Bill Nye.  I also did not bother stressing the point that creationists have a very wide array of publicly available merchandise and "educational products" which contain all of their arguments, each and every single one of them debunked in only the most utter sense.  I don't need to be told anything about them: they speak for themselves.

All the same, Dr. Jackson insists that I do not think of him as stupid or uneducated.  And at that, I couldn't help but think of Hanlon's Razor, which I quoted at the beginning of this post.  If ignorance is not a sufficient explanation for the ideas he promotes, what shall be?  If his own admission to "not knowing" about the data we presented to him is not an admittance of ignorance, what is it?  Would it help you predict my stance if I said that his data is outdated by at least two entire decades?

Those familiar with YEC arguments will be well aware by now that most of them rely on either citations of "research" that they themselves conducted, all of which is quite bad, or rely on citations of research by other scientists that publicly state that their work is being misrepresented.  And therein must lie our answer.  It may be a matter of cautious character judgment that we take Hanlon's Razor seriously, but many of my next posts will illustrate that an assumption of ignorance flies in the face of very blatant evidence that the arguments presented by YECs are dishonest, misrepresentative, or—and I prefer this more succinct term—lies.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rejecting Truth

It's the time of year again!  Our Diag Preachers are out in full force during the month of September, with their signs and milk cartons and business cards and pamphlets.  And let's not forget, of course, their preaching: we're all going to Hell.  What I find funny is that I think that I am getting more recruits than they are, during the time they're preaching.  I got 28 people so far in the past couple weeks to sign onto our email list from the crowds watching these guys vent.

Anywho, there's a particularly funny argument that I felt the need to write about, much like I did last year regarding Infinite Regress (precisely one year and one day ago, in fact!).  One of our preachers this year has come from Canada to espouse his arguments that he's detailed on this website,  You actually may have heard of it before, I stumbled onto it several years ago and had forgotten it since.  The MO of the website is a simple "choose your own story," and we're going to do just that, and discuss what we come up against along the way.  It's actually been a long while since I've done this, so—Scout's honor—I'm going to write as I click the buttons for my own journey through, and try not to spoil it by remembering too much.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Defense of Atheism Plus

Starting about a month ago, the atheist blogosphere became pretty wrapped up in a controversy over a video made by Youtube star Jaclyn Glenn. If you aren't aware of it, the normally pretty loopy Richard Carrier has done an excellent analysis here. In short, Glenn posted a video creating a strawman of the Atheism Plus movement, mocking them as being divisive, irrational, and "pussies," as she describes in the video's description. Gender politics issues like this one have given me concern about the atheist movement, a community which I grew up in and am intimately involved with.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Matt Rogers Can't Math

Another fake climate skeptic has published a misleading article, disappointingly this time in the Washington Post.  Matt Rogers says that there has been a deceleration in surface warming.  To show this, he gives the first difference graph of both surface temperature data from NASA (GISTEMP) and NOAA (NCDC).

His claim is false.  The standard errors of the trends in the first difference graphs are each greater than their respective trends, meaning you can't say even at 1-sigma that the trends are significantly different than zero (and you most certainly may not make a claim at 2-sigma).  For NOAA's data, the trend and standard error are -0.0043 and 0.0055 respectively; for NASA's data, the trend and standard error are -0.0055 and 0.0068 respectively.
NCDC: -0.0043±0.0110 (units ~˚C/year^2)
GISTEMP: -0.0055±0.0137

It is also unclear what data he is using for the GISTEMP dataset.  The 2001-2000 value should not be as low in his graph as it is; the one above is correct.  It's interesting that even with that correction, the trend is still very insignificant.

Rogers also tries to shield himself from criticism of cherry picking, by saying that he could have picked 1998 as a start year.  1998 was a very warm year, and Rogers thinks that this would have amplified the trend line.  As a fake skeptic, it is par for the course he would try to protect against accusations of cherry picking that dreaded year.

This is also a false claim anyway, and embarrassingly so.  If you start with a warm year like 1998 (contrasted to a cold year like 2000), and then do first differencing, you're going to start with a very low datapoint.  The result is not an amplified negative trend, but in fact a more positive trend.  Anyone that had actually graphed out the data would know that.  Anyone that can do basic math would know that, in fact.
NCDC: 0.0030±0.010
GISTEMP: 0.0023±0.0126
These are also not statistically significant.  In fact no first-difference trend is statistically significant, for at least a couple decades back.

Rogers doesn't know what he is talking about.  And this is a rather funny way of illustrating that fake skeptics in general don't know how to handle 1998.

[Edit: The extra attention this post seems to be getting has encouraged me to quickly add trend lines to these graphs.  Hopefully that helps make things a bit clearer!  I've also added indented "tables."  Thanks to Tom Di Liberto for the plug.]