Friday, January 23, 2015

Perceving vs. Persuading

(Today is the 10 Year Anniversary of Blog)

I challenged a work colleague the other day on a "law" he quoted in a presentation.  I'd read about and heard this "law" quoted several times, and each time it came up it struck me as not being true while being routinely accepted as "conventional wisdom."  The disconnect was significant enough that I launched a friendly email to my co-worker regarding my concern that our collective technical community is operating with some bad code in our mental operating systems.  In other words, we are operating on bad logic which is very ironic in that we are all in the software business.  Software doesn't work without sound logic. 

What I found even more interesting than what appears to be buggy code accepted by a bunch of software engineers was how my colleague responded to my friendly challenge of this so-called "conventional wisdom."  He wrote:
"I enjoy a good debate with valid, sound arguments to understand philosophical points of view, so long as we don't get stuck in a rabbit hole. The key there for me is understanding other points of view, not convincing others of mine."
Not only are we in the software industry, but we are also sales engineers.  So, this idea of understanding without persuading was quite surprising to me.  I'm a professional persuader.  I operate on the premise that if something is true, then why would I not want other people to share this truth?  If there is empirical evidence that what I believe is not true, I hope my friends will not let me persist in a delusion!  I sincerely hope someone would care enough about me to help me debug my faulty mental model, even if it might create some relational friction.  I not only want bug free code in my electronic computing devices, but I also want bug free computing in my mental computing device.

What I believe is going on here is related to what I originally wrote about back in 2008 and revised in Truth Trumps Tolerance combined with the post-modern view of relativism.  If one adopts a relativist view of truth, then it is "not nice" to argue against another person's point of view because their "truth" is true for them, and any effort to disabuse them of that notion comes off as a power play.  This is the problem with the (mistaken) notion that truth is not absolute.

The very first blog entry on this web site which I wrote 10 years ago today links through what I call my mini-treatise on truth.  I've invested 10 years here in this blog format, and since 1999 on this domain, because Truth matters.  I get what my work friend is saying.  I want to understand the point of view of others, but only insofar as their point of view is helping correct errors in my own so that what I believe is in conformance with reality.  If I discover someone else is persisting in a delusion, then by the Golden Rule, I want to help them Discover the Truth since that is what I would want them to do for me.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Why My Best Days are Ahead of Me

My son wrote this essay for his High School English class. I am so proud of him!

Why My Best Days are Ahead of Me 
by Josh Elenburg

I was asked to write a paper on this topic for a college scholarship contest when I have a military career in mind. I took 3 years of AFJ ROTC to further my military plans, and I do not plan to go to college. My favorite class in school is construction. I know math and English are important. I do my best in those classes, but I have no desire to sit in a classroom for four more years and go into debt for a college degree like 2/3 of the kids in this school. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 65.9 percent of 2013 high school graduates enrolled in college. This means the other 1/3 of the kids are like me. We are the kids that aren't going to college.

While I really do believe that my best days are ahead of me, I have concerns about Wylie High School helping a large minority of our students find their best days. I’m talking about the 1/3 of us that aren’t going to college. We are not going to college, and we feel like second class citizens because it seems all Wylie High School cares about are the kids who go to college. I have nothing against college. My dad went to college. He has a degree in physics. Education is great, but the idea that everyone should go to college for an education is dumb. I think that all the students in Wylie High School should all spend one class period and have someone from a technical school or military branch educate the students on options other than college. This only happens for us kids in the construction and welding classes like those options are only good for kids who are not in the majority.

The world is full of college educated fools who are in debt and can't find a decent paying job because their college degree is worthless in the real world. I am going into the military to make a difference in this world, and I don't need college to do that. My mom didn't go to college and she is smarter than most people I know who did go to college. She takes care of my 86 year old great-grandfather, and she is making a difference in his world. She also went to a beauty school which gave her a real skill that she used to make real money without being in debt forever.

We need firemen and policemen and soldiers and welders and car mechanics and all sorts of people in this world who do not need a college education to make a difference. Making someone feel inferior because they are not going to college is wrong, and that is what happens a lot at Wylie High School. I resent the fact that teachers and principals in the school cater to the majority while preaching diversity and tolerance for minorities. It's hypocrisy. Having separate assignments for kids that are planning to go to college and those who aren’t is segregation. I thought that was outlawed a long time ago. Why can’t we just be taught how to read and write as a useful skill in English and do this in unity rather than creating a division between kids who are making different life choices? Why make a big deal about a college scholarship and then make me feel bad by having an “alternative” writing assignment later for the non-college kids? I really want to know.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Religion and Brainwashing

I was going to write an article on religion before talking about brainwashing, but I did a search here in my blog and realized I have already said most of what I intended to say about religion. You can click that link to read my blog entry from a couple years back on "Religion vs. the Gospel." Religion is a word that carries a lot of baggage, and the "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." [Source: James 1:27] I think any moral person would agree that it is a good thing to help the helpless such as widows and orphans, and loving other people as you love yourself is the core message Jesus taught in the Bible after loving God totally. Once you start adding to that or straying from it, you're on a path to trouble.

So, why do secularists think Christians are "brainwashed" by religion? I had an atheist friend tell me I was "brainwashed" by my upbringing because I grew up in a family that went to church, and he didn't. He said he was allowed to "think for himself" and come to his own conclusions about truth and reality. I had a bit of a chuckle over that comment. Apparently, my atheist friend is unaware of his indoctrination into the secular humanist viewpoint.

The church I grew up in did a terrible job at any sort of intellectual rigor in their indoctrination efforts, and both me and my friend are products of the American public school system where we were thoroughly indoctrinated with the progressive liberal values of secular humanism, perhaps even more than the three "R"s of reading, writing, and arithmetic. There is no such thing as a values neutral education, and the march to secular humanism is only becoming more strident as culture moves away from the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic on which the United States of America was founded. This values shift is often couched in "scientific" sounding language in order to denigrate or at least marginalize religious people while ignoring that secular humanism is a faith based value system too.

I get weekly email messages from the principal of the high school where my son is graduating this coming spring. It seems all he can write are moralizing messages around how they are teaching my son to care about the community, and feel good about doing good things. As a parent, I appreciate positive moral messages from the school, but where is the intellectual rigor? Most of the kids graduating from his high school can't diagram a sentence and don't even know what the parts of speech are in the English language. It seems they don't teach that anymore. Instead, our kids are indoctrinated with "values based education."

But, my friend thinks *I* was brainwashed because I attended church which provided a different perspective on values than the values he was apparently unwittingly indoctrinated with in the government schools he attended. I guess someone who is brainwashed is someone who thinks different from you or holds to a worldview not approved by the secularists who have their own pet worldview and agenda to grind and shove down the throats of those of us who still hold to the traditional Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded and by which it became great.

Theism, Atheism, and Agnosticism

"Theism is the belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures." (Source: google "define:theism.")  When you put the letter "a" in front of theism, that negates the term. Another example of using the letter "a" for negation is the word "typical." When you put the letter "a" in front, you get "atypical." Atypical is "not" typical. An atheist is "not" theist.

In a debate, atheists often try to position themselves as neutral rather admitting they believe God does not exist in spite of the etymology of the word atheist, but that is not definitionally accurate. The correct term for "a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God" is agnostic. (Source: google "define:agnostic.") The neutral position is agnosticism as shown in this helpful diagram.

Most atheists I've encountered seem to believe their position is neutral. One atheist I know even defines atheism as "resetting your mind to its default position." Atheists seem to believe that by not having a positive belief in theism they are free and unencumbered by the trappings of "faith" or other beliefs they enjoy portraying as superstition. That isn't true either. This is a category error of conflating supra-natural with superstition.

A more honest way of viewing this is to see atheists as anti-believers who have anti-faith, but in absolute value terms, they do have belief and faith. Their arguments typically reveal that in short order. You don't have to spend much time with a self-professed atheist to see their neutrality argument is fallacious. Smart atheists are careful to stay away from the gnostic atheist position, but nearly every self-professed atheist I know will try to reposition the agnostic atheist position as being "free from belief."

Some atheists play word games with terms like "hard" or "soft" atheism to try and make a distinction between the radical and outspoken New Atheist evangelists and the less enthusiastic variety that prefers to errantly claim freedom from faith. I've also encountered atheists who talk about "coming out" like homosexuals when they became more confident in their doubts, but just like a homosexual is not neutral about their sexual preference, neither is an atheist neutral about their belief in God or they would self-identify as agnostic. So why do atheists, whether unintentionally or surreptitiously, try to reposition as agnostics? I believe it is because atheism is indefensible.

Ask any intelligent atheist to prove God doesn't exist, and they will inform you the burden of proof is on the theist. An informed atheist might even mention Russell's teapot. Most atheists know it is very difficult to prove a negative, but as my friend Sarah explains here, this negative statement about God's existence doesn't shift the burden of proof to the theist, and asserting a positive philosophical statement is evidence the atheist does have a belief since you cannot hold a position without a belief.

An intellectually honest atheist must actively believe against every positive evidence for theism else they are not a rigorous atheist or not rigorously honest - take your pick. Here's why. One cannot not believe in something except from the position of a different belief, and the atheist has a weak position from which to believe because one cannot prove nonexistence. In other words, there is no evidence for atheism, so the truthfulness and rigor of the atheist position hinges on negating every possible positive evidence of God's purported existence.

I had another atheist friend try to explain his "neutral" position by saying he didn't believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus either. I had a good chuckle over that one. If someone cannot discern between the intellectual rigor behind arguments for the existence of God and belief in the Easter Bunny, I have to question their seriousness as a discerning truth seeker. I've had other atheists tell me they don't believe in Zeus, Apollo, or the other pantheon of gods and goddesses just like they don't believe in the God of the Bible. This is further evidence the atheist position is not neutral. This atheist is claiming active belief against all these other gods, but the "I don't believe in the Pantheon of Pagan Gods or your god(s) either" isn't any more compelling than the Easter Bunny argument. This is an inverse of the No True Scotsman fallacy or what I sometimes call the "tossing the baby out with the bathwater" argument.

I find the historical and philosophical arguments for God's existence quite compelling even when adjusting for my birth bias of being born in a Christian home. Most atheists I've encountered haven't investigated this evidence rigorously, and they seem to believe the only valid evidence for existence is physical evidence. This atheist belief is generally connected to the atheistic religion of Darwinism. I prove elsewhere in this blog that the preferred belief system of most atheists is Darwinism which I also argue as being a materialist "religion" that tries to eliminate God by substitution of "billions of years" in order to explain origins. [1]

I'm amazed by how many atheists seem incapable of discerning between credible intellectual arguments for God's existence and silly superstition while simultaneously castigating theists for being superstitious. At least I differentiate between a superstitious belief and a credible logical or philosophical argument for existence! And I wish more atheists would be honest about their "disbelief" actually being a belief system. I'm still looking for intellectually honest atheists who enjoy polite discourse, but they are very hard to find. After a few rounds they generally stop communicating or do what I'm now calling "Spontaneous Atheist Combustion" [2] where they get incredibly furious at me and lose all reason.

Atheist thought fascinates me because I'm very nearly an atheist myself. Out of the hundreds or even thousands of "gods" atheists say humanity has invented, I only believe in one more God than an atheist. I continue to believe in that one God because of the evidence. If the evidence is shown to be false, I would be compelled to stop believing as I hold truth as my highest value. I only ask atheists to do the same. Evaluate the evidence and inform your belief in whether or not God exists based on evidence. We call this critical thinking.

So what about agnostics? Generally, agnostics are atheists who are smart and/or lazy enough to recognize atheism is indefensible. Agnosticism is a safer position. You can basically stay out of the truth seeking endeavor by sitting on the fence and feigning ignorance on the question of God's existence. But, most self-identified agnostics I've met can't keep up the charade very long if you really engage them in a substantive conversation. Quite frankly, I don't think the label of atheist or agnostic is all that helpful once you're past the point of recognizing someone doesn't believe in the God who has Revealed Himself in the Bible. The God of the Bible claims to be the only God there is, so someone who is an atheist or agnostic is in some ways closer to the truth than someone who believes in a god or gods who are no more real than the Easter Bunny. At least the atheist has moved past superstition even if he tends to project superstition onto the theism position out of ignorance.


[1] For more information on origins go here.

[2] Spontaneous Atheist Combustion or "SAC" is generally accompanied by pejorative and ad hominem attacks when an atheist realizes their worldview is in jeopardy and can no longer defend it. But, I'm hopeful some of them will recover from those outburst before it is too late and they encounter Eternal Atheist incineration which is what some people interpret the Bible to mean about hell. I don't fully understand the doctrine of hell, but I'm not taking any chances with foolish philosophy (see this and this) so I have looked into the many arguments for God and found some of them are quite compelling. This has led me to remain a Christian.

Unchurched in the Bible Belt

A friend I've known for 20+ years grew up here in the Dallas area without going to church.  I was surprised to learn this about him since we live in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and pretty much everyone goes to some sort of church on Sunday.  If they don't go to a place to worship God, then they likely go to a big arena worship service known as the NFL.  Those who can't afford the admission price for Jerry Jones's house of worship where the Cowboys play just watch along on TV.

My friend's father had a devout Roman Catholic mother who was "more religious than the pope," so when his dad and uncle left home they decided they didn't want religion to be part of their lives.  My friend's mother was nominally Lutheran, but she left the family when he was a toddler, so he was raised along with his brother and sister by his non-religious father.  Out of the 17 different "nannies" his father hired to help raise his three children there was one who took him to church a few times.  He said he remembered feeling out of place on those few occasions.  Now that my friend is in his 50s, he's taken an interest in the religion that surrounds him.  He acknowledges we live in a country founded by Christians, and he appreciates the good moral teachings of Jesus, so last February he embarked on a project to read the Bible.  He's making good progress.

The problem with a lot of professing Christians is they haven't actually read the Bible, which is a travesty.  I admire my friend for taking up the mantle that even many Christians haven't taken on, actually reading the Biblical text.  He's plowed through the books starting with Genesis and going straight through.  He's in Ezekiel right now.  We've had some brief exchanges about his reading experience, mostly through text messages, but I sat down with him for two hours this morning and was fascinated by his perspective.  It was interesting hearing how my friend viewed the Old Testament as a non-churched reader.

My friend views the God as revealed in the Old Testament as capricious and bloodthirsty, and he says most of the Biblical books he's read so far sound like an "insane" story cobbled together by a bunch of scientifically ignorant and mostly illiterate middle eastern Bedouins who have a God playing "war" with the various tribes and nations in the middle east.  My friend simply cannot imagine why the Supreme Creator of the Universe (if there is such an entity) would behave in the ways described in the Old Testament.  His view is that an all powerful God could do a much better job of revealing his identity to the human race he created.  If he were God, he said he'd do things much differently.  I look forward to more discussions with my non-believing friend.  Getting a perspective from someone who holds to most of the same core beliefs I do about politics, family, and morality, but who does not share the same beliefs about God, is fascinating to me.

Original Sin is a particularly sticky wicket because he says that pretty much casts all humanity in an impossible position of being without any options other than obeying this capricious tyrant.  He equated this to North Koreans who may know that their leader is a nut case, but they have to obey or risk being sent to starve in a work camp.  My friend also has what I believe is a very rational perspective on the horrors of the sacrificial system of the ancient Israelites.  I think a lot of professing Christians fail to grasp how bloody that was since most of them have never even seen a cow slaughtered so they can enjoy their steaks and hamburgers.

Our agreement is that we are engaged in a dialog to discuss the facts, evidence, and reasons for either believing in God or not believing.  We're not debating.  We're just talking.  I think that is a worthy pursuit for truth seekers.  My friend has had people tell him he is going to Hell for not accepting Jesus as his personal savior.  That wasn't a compelling reason for belief for him.  I can see why.  That pretty much makes God out to be who he is seeing in the Old Testament, a capricious God committing genocide and telling his chosen people of Israel that they better obey or die.  From his perspective, it is like God putting a gun to his head and demanding obedience.  It doesn't allow any sort of free will if the option is to obey or be punished for eternity in the lake of fire.