Friday, April 26, 2013

Double Damage: Poor Reasoning and False Attributions

This next example of the Social Catastrophe strikes even closer to home than the previous one. Due to a shared Facebook account (which I think is a terrible idea, wives and husbands sharing the same account) I don't know exactly who is responsible, but... it's not good, folks!

Have you ever seen these invented dialogues, and then at the end they ask "And do you know who said it?" Depending on if you are supposed to love or hate the contents of this made up dialogue, they'll say it was Hitler, Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, a particular politician or... you get the idea.

The awful dialogue I am about to post today also has some other hallmarks of the style. It is a pro-Christian, conservative writing that uses the foil of the Imaginary Obnoxious Atheist Professor. As we all know, academia is full of Obnoxious Atheist Professors who hold students hostage in their classrooms, berating students for their belief in God during whatever the hell it is they teach, often spending significant parts of their classroom time on the subject. Before we get to the main show, let me post a classic example of the genre:

A United States Marine was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the courses had a professor who was an avowed atheist and a member of the ACLU.
One day the professor shocked the class when he came in, looked to the ceiling, and flatly stated, “God, if you are real, then I want you to knock me off this platform. I’ll give you exactly 15 minutes.”
The lecture room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop.
Ten minutes went by and the professor proclaimed, ‘”Here I am God. I’m still waiting.” It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine got out of his chair, went up to the professor, and cold-cocked him, knocking him off the platform. The professor was out cold.
The Marine went back to his seat and sat there, silently. The other students were shocked, stunned, and sat there looking on in silence.
The professor eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, “What the heck is the matter with you? Why did you do that?”
The Marine calmly replied, “God was too busy today protecting American soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid stuff and act like an idiot. So, He sent me.”
So yeah... many of us have already seen that one. Sadly, I think my own father received it and keeps it somewhere in his "funny stories" file. I'm an atheist myself, so naturally I find peoples' smug satisfaction with this invented story creepy as hell and completely alienating. Its glorification of violence against atheists. All of the logical wrongness about God being too busy protecting righteous American soldiers, and the creepy in-group vs. out-group tribal nature of the whole thing. The idea that the ACLU and their defense of civil rights is somehow... anti-American. That people are so genuinely taken in by this comically caricatured image of the atheist liberal "villain", some people actually believing it is a true story and not just a convenient straw man.

When it is just vaguely "people out there" passing this stuff around and enjoying it, it sucks, but isn't so bad. When the people reading and enjoying this are members of your own family... that sucks pretty hard. It destroys something. Another Social Catastrophe. On to the next example, taken from Facebook only 1 day ago:

Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ?
Student : Yes, sir.
Professor: So, you believe in GOD ?
Student : Absolutely, sir.
Professor : Is GOD good ?
Student : Sure.
Professor: Is GOD all powerful ?
Student : Yes.
Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?
(Student was silent.)
Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good?
Student : Yes.
Professor: Is satan good ?
Student : No.
Professor: Where does satan come from ?
Student : From … GOD …
Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?
Student : Yes.
Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it ? And GOD did make everything. Correct?
Student : Yes.
Professor: So who created evil ?
(Student did not answer.)
Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?
Student : Yes, sir.
Professor: So, who created them ?
(Student had no answer.)
Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD?
Student : No, sir.
Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?
Student : No , sir.
Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter?
Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.
Professor: Yet you still believe in Him?
Student : Yes.
Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?
Student : Nothing. I only have my faith.
Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has.
Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat?
Professor: Yes.
Student : And is there such a thing as cold?
Professor: Yes.
Student : No, sir. There isn’t.
(The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.)
Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.
(There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.)
Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?
Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?
Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?
Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ?
Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.
Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how?
Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.
Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?
Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.
Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?
(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.)
Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?
(The class was in uproar.)
Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?
(The class broke out into laughter. )
Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?
(The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.)
Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.
Student : That is it sir … Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving.
I believe you have enjoyed the conversation. And if so, you’ll probably want your friends / colleagues to enjoy the same, won’t you?
Forward this to increase their knowledge … or FAITH.
By the way, that student was EINSTEIN.
Just fucking kill me. The level of discourse in this one reminds me of a young child pretending to play house, except a child usually has a more accurate view of how a household runs than the author of this has of philosophical debate. Aside from the fact there is a 50/50 chance this is my sibling posting this... I mean... The tragedy about this level of dialogue is that, on one level it is insulting to our collective intelligence to even spend the time going over each part and how wrong it is. On the other hand, the fact that these keep popping up, from people we know and fucking love, proves that it is not obvious to people very important in our lives that this is such bullshit. The easy response is to think this is funny, and to fall back into mocking these people while huddled with your sane pack of friends. All of that is a coping mechanism.

You are my family. I want to respect your brains. I don't want to cringe at this foolishness you are stating in public. Maybe I've crossed the line in even talking about it. Fortunately, I found something on the internet to put my mind at ease.
It's okay, man. Everything is gonna be just fine. -- EINSTEIN
Thanks, Al. That helps a lot.

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