Thoughts On Skepticism And Atheism

In this article, “the skeptic movement” and “skepticism” refer to scientific skepticism. Broadly, this means using science to test claims. It does not mean being skeptical of science, or about its claims or methods. Many people who claim to be “climate change skeptics” are in fact climate change deniers.

Over a year ago, there was an email from a skeptics group that I attended a few times. The leader said she did not want the group to be too identified with atheism. She wanted the group to stay focused on broader, scientific, testable topics. She said atheist groups tend to talk about one topic.


But I have a few things to say from the other side, and I see a few things I don’t quite agree with about the skeptic movement. And I would like to see more cooperation between the two movements.

While the skeptic movements seems to have larger numbers, I think that skeptics tend to talk about topics that are irrelevant to larger society. A lot of skeptics seem to shy away from the topic of religion altogether, and are not willing to combat its influence in society. A lot of skeptics do not like to say they are atheists, which I find kind of odd.

Despite what the Religious Right would have people believe, religion has not always been a major influence in American society. If the Founding Fathers really wanted this to be a Christian nation, oddly it slipped their minds to every state that clearly. In the 1912 election, all four major candidates supported evolution.  Even in the 1960s/1970s, when the skeptic movement started, religion was not the big force it is today.

Skeptic groups tend to talk about less consequential topics: astrology, alternative medicine, homeopathy, big foot, anti-vaxers, card tricks Randi did in the 1970s. It is amazing to me that skeptics go on about logic, evidence and critical thinking, yet they have ignored this huge political and cultural shift in our society. And why not look at issues that affect people?

And religion should be tackled in a meaningful way. As some have pointed out, atheist groups win lawsuits against prayer in schools, the Wall Street/Bible Belt circus is passing legislation that is making life worse for just about everybody. Sometimes even people who claim to be for this stuff.

I honestly think some Dominionists want to line up all skeptics and atheists and have us all shot. Homeopaths don’t seem that aggressive.

Some skeptics think that atheist groups are a bunch of jerks for filing lawsuits about prayer in schools. At least atheist groups are taking some action, and counteracting a negative force in our society. Sure, skeptics got PowerBand taken off the market in Australia. As the Mocking Maori would say, “You rock.”

Religion is used to justify a lot of bad policy, and infects everything: birth control, justification for not paying teachers more, energy and climate change (jesus will come back before the oil runs out). Granted, the anti-vaxers are causing deadly diseases to come back. However, that seems to be all they are doing. Religion affects and infects pretty much everything.

Have you ever heard an argument against gay marriage that was not religious? Are astrologers trying to stop science from being taught in schools? And if they are, I don’t see bills about astrology being brought up in multiple states simultaneously, as you do with creationism. Or creation science. Or intelligent design. Or “academic freedom”. Or whatever they will call it next time. Are Big Foot Truthers taking over school boards? We have Representative Paul Broun saying evolution is a lie from the pit of hell. (How can you be a doctor and not accept evolution?) Alabama state senator Shadrack McGill said that teachers should not get a pay raise since teaching is a “calling”, and paying them a decent salary is unbiblical. Illinois Representative John Shimkus says climate change is real and happening, but we should not do anything about it because god promised not to destroy the world by flood again.

A lot of conservative politicians go on and on about this being a “christian nation”. When a bunch of elected officials say we are a Vedic Nation, get back to me.

Plus, skeptics are pro-science, pro-women’s equality, and generally pro-gay rights. We already like the things religious people hate. Other forms of pseudoscience are not trying to set policy in so many areas. Why pat yourself on the back for using logic, evidence and critical thinking to combat minor forms of pseudoscience, when you are ignoring the major one?

Perhaps advocating science education and promoting scientific literacy will help us make progress on a lot of issues. I just think that the two movements should work together more. And I think the two groups should become more politically active, even if all they do is contribute money to candidates and/or organizations. I think other ways are to fund scholarships and contribute to endowing university chairs/professorships.

Don’t think that pushing science won’t put you on the radar of religious folk. Look at the reaction to Cosmos. When people who see the world in black and white are against you, you have to deal with them whether you want to or not.

One thing throwing a wrench into the works (at least here in Austin) is the status of the Center For Inquiry. I guess a major donor stopped donating money, and a lot of their activities might get scaled back. So some of us in Austin are trying to decide if we should wait for CFI to figure things out, or do something on our own. There is the Texas Theocracy Watch and the Secular Texas group. One guy wants to raise enough to buy a building, and have enough left over to run it off the interest.

It will be a lot of work to educate the public. There is a group for women here in Austin called Secular Suzies. I heard that one woman signed up because she thought “secular” meant “religious”. I guess that is the way things are in Texas: If people don’t know what something is, they assume it’s Jesus.

Now to the other point: Are skeptics atheists?

Some do not want to call themselves atheists because the term “atheism” has a bad image. But by avoiding it, aren’t you compounding that problem?

Why do people say that skepticism does not equal atheism? You have to have a double standard: be skeptical of other religions besides your own.

I am okay with equating the two. (Although I have met a few atheists who say they believe in UFOs). So maybe not all atheists are skeptics, but I think that all skeptics are atheists. At least from a functional, pragmatic point of view.

Can I prove that no god exists? I guess not. But the ones I have heard about so far have not been too convincing. So I am okay with saying there are none. Let’s be precise about something else.

I find it odd when some skeptics say there might be some other god out there that we have not encountered, so we really cannot say there are none.

Most skeptics reject all religious/supernatural claims, so why insist that you cannot say there is no god? What god are you holding out for? This god-who-might-exist would have to be different than any conception of god anyone has ever had, or any god any human has ever believed in. A god who is not involved in events, or creation of world, or who interacts with people in any way. Which means you have to change the definition of god. Some people might call that “sophisticated theology”. I do not have a problem rejecting what you cannot define.

First image from LOLtheists, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Second image from My Confined Space, assumed allowed under Fair Use, frequently NSFW


2014-03 Dividend Income Report

It’s a few days late, but not a dollar short.

Here is the dividend income report for March, 2014.

The monthly dividend income came out to $437.87. The yearly income total for 2014 through the end of the month was $934.15.

The income for March, 2013 was $360.85, and the yearly income total up through that month was $719.36.

I think I broke $400 in December, 2013. There was a special dividend that month. Some stocks do not pay every three months, which can make comparisons between months difficult. Eaton changed from February (in 2012) to March (in 2013) and in 2012 paid its November dividend in October. Still, I think that a milestone has been reached. I think that for some months I will be making more than $400 on a regular basis.

I also got $71.99 from COP. That is the most I have gotten from one stock. My goal is to get all of my stocks up to 100 shares.

I have a few open orders on some stocks. So far none of them have been filled. The market is now up about 10% from when I placed them a month ago. As John Maynard Keynes pointed out, markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent. I am not insolvent, but it does seem like nothing can stop the stock market from going higher, not even invasion.

There are a few stocks with P/E ratios lower than 12 or so that I am looking at: AFL, CB, FDO, maybe VZ. They might go down in the summer, as stocks used to do before the Great Recession.

Here are the stocks and the income amounts for March, 2014:

  • AFLAC Inc: $19.52
  • American States Water Co: $21.81
  • Black Hills Corp: $13.41
  • Bemis Co Inc: $26.74
  • ConocoPhillips: $71.99
  • Vectren Corp: $19.99
  • Chevron: $22.27
  • Emerson Electric Co: $22.76
  • Sonoco Products Co: $20.31
  • Questar Corp: $9.68
  • Exxon Mobil Corp: $36.75
  • Johnson & Johnson: $22.11
  • 3M Co: $11.12
  • Walgreen Co: $17.70
  • Archer-Daniels-Midland Co: $15.25
  • Valspar Corp: $14.98
  • Consolidated Edison Inc: $18.22
  • RLI Corp: $19.01
  • Eaton Corporation: $25.70
  • Dover Corp: $8.55

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use


I May Put More Posts On Atheist Nexus

I have accounts on Atheist Nexus and Think Atheist. I have put a few posts on those sites, usually posts dealing with atheism, religion and/or science. I am toying with the idea of putting every post on those sites just to help them get some content. It’s not that I think I am a great writer or deep thinker, but I think that a social network would benefit from more content.

I am not really into Facebook at all. So if I can help any alternative to Facebook survive and thrive, then I am all for it. Although I do find the Ning platform a bit awkward at times.

I don’t know how people will like having posts about other topics on there. But it might help dispel the idea that atheists can only talk about one topic. On the other hand, it is okay for a site to be about one topic.

Image from Atheist Nexus, assumed allowed under Fair Use


Thoughts On Glibertarians

I have a file about thoughts on libertarians and juicy comments from other websites that is getting rather large. So I am cleaning house and writing down some thoughts on “glibertarians” that have been kicking around in my head.

Glibertarians are very vocal about the ills of government, yet they seem blind to anything done wrong by corporations. Look at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The operators skimped on maintenance, thinking they were going to save a few million, and it wound up costing them a few billion. Yet many glibs (like Rand Paul) tried to blame it all on the government. That somehow the government forced them to cut corners. That is BS. They chose to cut corners.

And you have to be pretty stupid to defend someone who destroys their own money-maker. As BP did. (“Why spend millions when we can spend billions?”) As a company in West, Texas did. Sometimes people in the private sector make bad decisions all on their own. And other people outside the government were negatively affected. I know in Glibertarian Fantasy Land that bad things only come from government. But that is not reality. They are suspicious of Big Government. Why do Big Corporations get a pass?

Besides, many times it is the companies themselves that interfere with the regulatory process. It’s called the revolving door. A lot of gliberarians always seem to put the blame on the government. BP got the regulations loosened, yet somehow it’s still all Obama’s fault. Glibs seem to think that if only we did not have that pesky government making rules, everything would be okay.

As we saw in West, Texas, and recently in Charleston, West Virginia. In both of these cases, yes, there were regulation on the books, but they were loosed and not enforced. For all practical purposes, there was no regulation. Yet bad things still happened. Bad things happened to people outside of these companies. What is the glibertarian answer for that? Less regulation than none? When a chemical company poisons your river, you cannot expect a rival chemical firm to take care of things. I have still not heard of Peter Schiff or the staff of drinking and bathing in water from the Elk River.

I think a lot of glibs do not care about freedom. Maybe they care about their own, but do they care about other peoples? If you only care about your own, and you do care about others’, then you do not care about freedom. This is one of the criticisms of the Free State Project. Maybe the rest of society does not want the sort of changes the glibs want. It’s wrong for government to tell them what to do, but they think it’s okay to tell everybody else what to do.

We saw this with the recent Newsweek story about the identity of the creator of BitCoin. I admit I did not read that story. I did read comments on it on Reddit. It does sound like the reporter did some dumb things if that guy is not THE Satoshi Nakamoto. But there were a lot of commenters who seemed offended by the very idea of finding out Nakamoto’s identity. How dare you try to look at the man behind the curtain. A big chunk of the Bitcult wants to completely redefine money. If you are going to do that, then yes I will push back. If fiat currencies do go away, there is a good chance someone could get hosed. Who are you to mess up other people’s lives? Who do you think you are that you can change society and think that nobody can even ask questions? (Also pointed out here.) Don’t tell me I don’t get it. Don’t tell me I’m a statist. Prove your ideas work before you do anything that changes my life.

Glibertarians go on and on about how many people are too dependent on “the state”. They say people should be more self-reliant. I actually agree with that. But they seem to have no interest in showing people how to become more self-reliant. People are good at getting by. I don’t think people are as good at actually succeeding. Most glibs who claim to have done it all themselves are straight white males in the US. As Warren Buffett has said, if he had been born in Bangladesh, his life would be very different.

They have been complaining about Medicare since it was signed. Yet have they done anything to reduce health care costs in this country? If you want to be healthy, you need to do four things: Do not drink alcohol at all, do not smoke or injest drugs, eat a healthy diet, and exercise. Have glibertarians helped people to do any of those things? People in yoga tend to follow all those rules. Why aren’t glibertarians pushing yoga? That may sound facetious, but it is a serious suggestion. It would help society more than going on and on about the gold standard, or the Federal Reserve. If you want people to rely less on the state, then teach them how to thrive in the society that we have today. A lot of people do not know how to read a bank statement. A lot of people do not track their spending. Going on and on about gold will not help people pay the bills.

And pulling the plug is not the answer. The safety net has been intentionally frayed in this country, yet most people are not better off because of it.

A lot of these guys seem to live in their own little bubble. They have their think tanks and their web sites, but are they really engaging the rest of society? How can you change society if you are ignoring it? I honestly think that completely unrestrained capitalism leads to feudalism. We tried that. I think it’s safe to say that the rest of us are not interested.

I think a big chunk of glibertarians are run-of-the-mill authoritarian Rethuglicans. Over the past few decades, I have noticed that when the brand of the Grand Oil Party takes a hit, all of a sudden a lot more people say they are libertarians. One day I looked at every Wikipedia article for the state legislators for all 50 states. They gave a party breakdown. Not one was from any branch of the Libertarian Party. There are some who are on local school or sanitation councils. Stand back!! It is ironic that they like to think of themselves as can-do alpha achievers, yet they cannot win elections.

Some like to point to Gary Johnson, partially due to his position on the drug war. He came to that position in his second term as governor of New Mexico. That is a term-limited office. So he magically took this courageous stand after he did not have to face re-election. How convenient. And his anti-drug stance was not a big deal in his presidential campaign. Did you honestly think he had a chance?

And I do not understand how the Libertarian Party can claim to know anything about liberty or freedom after selecting Bob Barr as their nominee in 2008. Theocracy is not freedom.

There does seem to be some overlap between theocrats, neo-Confederates and libertarians. Rand Paul has spent more time talking about religion in the past few years. Libertarians like to think they are not Republicans, and Republicans like to think they are not crazy, but after a while they all sound the same.

Glibertarians eventually sound like apologists for the wealthy. They say they are all for freedom of association, yet they hate unions. They hate anything that would help the unwashed masses make something of their lives.

One thing that has really turned me off to glibertarians is climate change. There are some (like Penn Jillette) who are pretty good at destroying creationists: Yes, there IS scientific consensus on evolution. Then they turn around and commit the same fallacies on climate change. I think the main reason is that most of the solutions proposed so far have involved government intervention. But instead of offering a private sector solution or admitting that this is a problem their world view cannot solve, they deny the problem. This is another example of the taxicab fallacy. They love science when it gives them good stuff, but not when it tells them there are problems we have to deal with.

The irony is there is a solution that the private sector could push: Thorium-based nuclear power. But why let cheap, abundant energy get in the way of ideology?

Image from Wikipedia, original source U.S. Geological Survey, assumed allowed under Fair Use


What To Do With Deere

I posted recently that I bought some shares of Deere. Before that, I posted that I sold Intel because they had not raised their dividend in a few years.

I have some Google News Alerts set up for dividend announcements for all the stocks I own and most of the stocks that I follow. I got behind and found out that Deere missed a dividend raise. Their dividend has been at 51 cents for five quarters now. They announced their dividend a few days before I bought. If I had stayed on top of things I would have caught it.

When I sold Intel I pointed out that I think the way to make money is to have a plan and stick with it. Now I am agonizing over whether or not I should sell a stock that I just bought. If I sell now I will still make a profit. I think I read somewhere that if you do not know what to do, then you should sell half. But sometimes I think that is worse because it gives me a third choice.

Image from John Deere web site, assumed allowed under Fair Use


Thoughts on Star Trek and What Happened To My Life

I am now in the sixth season of watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have come across a few episodes that I have not seen. But mostly I have seen them. Sometimes I can remember where I was when I watched them.

I first saw TNG when I was at WIU. It had been going for a couple of years at that point. My friends there knew about it. I had watched the movies with TOS cast, but TNG was not on my radar at all. I really only paid attention to shows on the big 3 networks. I remember Saturday Night Live would have sketches making fun of the bad shows on Fox (look for “The Cop and The Prositute”). I think I started watching in the third season. I remember having a conversation that Riker looked like a little kid without the beard. The phrase “growing the beard” was goined, but it has not quite caught on as much as “jumping the shark”. (Side note: He shaved the beard for the third TNG movie. There were only four TNG movies.  The cast from TOS was in six movies. Coincidence? I think not.) So I guess some station in Western Illinois was already broadcasting reruns even then. Sometimes we would imitate the previews: “On the next…exciting episode of Staaaaaar Trek, thenextgeneration”.

I remember my friends at WIU being glad that Dr Crusher was back in season 3.

I remember finding Wesley really irritating.

I kept watching TNG when I transferred to UIUC. I did not see every single episode since I have never owned a TV. But usually I could find someone who let me join in. I lived in the Illinois Street Residence hall, and when the latest episode of TNG was on, there would be several rooms on the floor full of guys watching TNG. In one episode, “Riker falls in love with Soren, a member of an androgynous race known as the J’naii, who dares to be female.” (This was a metaphor for homosexuality, a pretty daring thing to do even in the early 1990s.) At one point, she says to him, “Commander, tell me about your sexual organs.” Someone down the hall yelled, “They’re huge, baby!”

I remember writing a letter by hand summarizing Redemption.

I remember Picard and Dathon…at El-Adrel.

I can remember one guy translating the French in “Time’s Arrow” for a few of us. After I left UIUC the first time, he starting dating a woman no one else on the floor liked, and I don’t remember what happened to him after that.

I remember that I was living in an apartment when “Timescape” aired (although I have not quite gotten that far yet in my current TNG binge).

But like Scotty in “Relics“, sometimes it makes me feel old.

I remember watching “Samaritan Snare“. Wesley asks Picard if he ever thought about having children or getting married, if he ever gets lonely. I do remember when Wesley asks Picard if he was always so disciplined. I remember thinking at the age of 19 or so that I was going to be as disciplined as Picard. I would reach that point long before I got to Picard’s age. Now, I realize that Patrick Stewart is about ten years younger than I thought, and I still don’t feel like I have as much self-control as I wish I had, or as much as my 19 year old self thought I would have by this point.

There were times when I felt I was getting some control. How to get that discipline back?

“Samaritan Snare” image from Memory Alpha, copyright owned by CBS, assumed allowed under Fair Use

Darmok campaign image presumed public domain, copyright and originator undetermined, assumed allowed under Fair Use

“Relics” image from Star Trek site, copyright owned by CBS, assumed allowed under Fair Use


Neil deGrasse Tyson On Science Deniers

Crooks and Liars embedded a video with Neil deGrasse Tyson on the place of science in our society. It’s a good interview.

I mention it here because he talks about the taxicab fallacy. He does  not use that term, but I think he expresses the basic idea.

The Immoral Minority had a post with another good NdT quote. There is a difference between scientific claims and political claims.

Just yesterday I listened to an episode of the Green News Report in which they covered the climate change “debate” between Bill Nye and Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn kept saying there is no scientific consensus on climate change. There is.

98% of climate scientists say it is happening and caused by humans. It is not a scientific controversy. A scientific controversy is when a sizable proportion of scientists in a field have not been able to make a determination. I do not know what the threshold is to stop saying a thesis is under debate, but I am guessing that it is lower than 98%.

A thesis might conflict with your political ideology. Or your religion. It might hurt your profit margin. It might inconvenience you. But all of those are different than scientific controversies.

Not everyone in this world believes in any sort of god or spirit. And not all who do are christian. And since there are so many denominations, obviously there is a lot of disagreement within christianity. So why don’t conservatives apply the same “there is no agreement” logic to their religion?

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use


2014-02 Dividend Income Report

Here is the dividend income report for February, 2014.

The monthly dividend income came out to $336.61. The yearly income total for 2014 was $496.28.

The income for February, 2013 was $248.39, and the yearly income total up through that month was $358.51.

There was a dividend from Vodafone of $31.61. Also, Vodafone sold its share of Verizon Wireless to Verizon. This means that I now own some Verizon shares. I also got some cash from the fractional Vodafone and Verizon shares ($29.08 and $37.17). I now own a whole number of shares for both stocks. Without all of these special events, the income was $238.75.

The income for November, 2013 was $252.75. Eaton paid a dividend in November but not in February. Without Eaton, the November income was $230.84. So I guess I am getting ahead.

Here are the stocks and the income amounts for February, 2014:

  • ABM Industries Inc: $8.42
  • AT&T: $26.67
  • WGL Holdings Inc: $13.36
  • Lowe’s Cos Inc: $9.47
  • Vodafone: $31.61
  • Air Products & Chemicals Inc: $10.86
  • Texas Instruments: $15.97
  • Colgate-Palmolive: $36.00
  • Clorox Co: $38.28
  • Hormel Foods Corp: $9.35
  • Northwest Natural Gas Co: $25.48
  • Abbott Laboratories: $11.56
  • Procter & Gamble: $33.33
  • Vodafone: $29.08
  • Verizon: $37.17

I just realized that I have been spelling Vodafone as “Vodaphone” for all this time.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use, shrunk with GIMP by yours truly.


Update On Moving Accounts

I have made some progress in moving accounts, and I am gradually ending my support of a bank headed by a Thief Executive Officer.

The big investors in JPMorgan decided to let Jamie D keep the posts of Chairman and Thief Executive Officer. I still say that those jobs should be split. Especially in a firm that got a lot of state support.

A lot of people hate their big banks and want to quit them. I got a credit card card at a non-bank financial services firm, and I opened a savings account at a bank here in Texas. They do not offer credit cards. I would like to get another one at different institution.

I don’t know where I will get a checking account. If I went with the Texas bank, I would not be able to use ATMs in other states. They do have a deal with 7-Eleven. But sometimes I wonder if I need to use ATMs. I could get cash back at a grocery store or SprawlMart if I need to.

I might get a credit card through my broker. I could get 2% cash back and put that towards my IRA account. But sometimes I wonder what the point is of credit cards that give cash back. Especially after I had to spend a night in Atlanta due to a missed connection; there was a mechanical failure on the plane in California, so I missed my flight out of Atlanta. Instead of giving away free flights, why can’t the airlines make their service better?

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use. Armatoloi were robbers who were granted amnesty by the Ottoman Empire and allowed to rob/suppress the populace.


2014-02-20 Blog Title

New blog title:

Tears Don’t Fall

The phrase comes from an interview with an astronaut on Science Friday. If you get something in your eye, tears won’t wash it out since there is no gravity.

It sort of implies a lack of closure, like some of Hemingway’s titles: Men Without Women, or Winner Take Nothing.