Just a theory

Here‘s a perfect example of what I was referencing in my previous note, lest anyone believe I am tilting against imaginary windmills.

Anyone who uses the argument of “how do you reconcile the increase in order and complexity described by evolution with the second law of thermodynamics” understands neither concept. It’s a potentially interesting question for a beginning student to ask when first learning about either idea, but to pose it as a “challenge” to evolution supporters as if it were somehow an unanswered mystery that casts doubt on the theory is either chutzpah of the highest order, or a demonstration of a lack of intellectual curiosity that is simply staggering.

But here is an “authority” figure setting up his followers to look like fools by making them think that these are intelligent questions to ask, and not simple questions that can be answered in practically any introductory text in biology, cosmology and physics.  He wants students to ask these questions in class, not because he wants them to learn the real answers, but because he believes scientists and teachers cannot answer them.  Does he know the truth? Or (the more charitable explanation) is he just plain ignorant and/or unable to crack open a book? And with either answer, do you trust his authority on any other field of inquiry given his attitude towards this one? And is the command to “Insist on evidence not just explanation” at the beginning of the list not an example of incredible irony?

The appropriate response to that command is to ask for the standard of evidence he uses to demand acceptance of the story of Moses and the burning bush, and to say that we are, in all likelihood, able to meet that standard and far, far more.

I wish I could say that these are the outliers, the exceptions, the lunatic fringe: but according to Gallup polls, only 39% of people in the US accept that “humans being, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals”. A question that 99.99% of experts in biology and related fields accept as well-established fact, like scientists who depend on the truth of evolution to work on vaccines that keep the other 61% alive and healthy.

But it’s “just a theory”. Like “germs”, or “gravity”.

If you choose “willful ignorance” as your standard of inquiry, at least have the decency to keep it to yourself, instead of smearing it around the people who look to you for answers. And when a person with this “authority” gives you his opinion on contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, evolution, healthcare, what should or should not be included in standard textbooks in public schools, how we should interpret the Constitution and on what principles we should base our laws, feel free to look them in the eye and gracefully thank them for their opinions; but don’t feel any obligation to be anything other than completely skeptical about their claims of knowledge.


Lies, damned lies, and authority figures.

There are scenarios where a point you have made in a debate has been proven to be not just incorrect, but wildly so; moreover you may come to realize that the argument you used has been known to be incorrect for a very, very long time.

If this argument was given to you by an authority figure of any sort who claims to be a knowledgeable character in their field of inquiry, there are two options:

1) This authority figure is wildly misinformed. And yet they gave you this particular argument with as much confidence, certainty and authority as they present other ones in their field. So the question arises as to how much they really know of their field of expertise, and how much weight to give to their other opinions, when their confidence seems so misplaced.  Or,

2) This authority figure is knowingly lying to you. And potentially doing so to rile you up and offend your sensibilities through the presentation of false cases against the opposing side of the debate, so that you may rise to the defense of his side.

In either case, how much confidence do you place in that person’s authority in the future?

If your authority figures have been giving you incorrect, misinformed, outrageously outdated arguments against (let’s use a couple of recent examples) evolution or same-sex marriage, and you suddenly realize this… you have to reach the conclusion as to whether they are wrong  (and not JUST wrong but egregiously, willfully ignorant), or they are knowingly misleading you.

Either way, it should lead you to significant pause as to whether you take their opinion in other matters to be of value or not.

Two recent real examples:

– “If evolution is real, where is the fossil record? Where are the transitional fossils?”

I see you as a grown-up person, and I see pictures of a baby, and you expect me to believe that these two people are one and the same? Of course they cannot be, they are completely different. They’re not even the same size!

Oh, sure you can show me a picture of someone you claim is you when you were slightly older that this child. But why are there no pictures of “you” in between this baby form and this slightly older child form? There are still two many differences in between the two for me to believe that they are the same one. Oh, here is yet another picture you claim to be intermediate between these forms, but where are the pictures IN BETWEEN these two? How can you expect me to believe that these are the same person?

No matter how many pictures you show me, there will always be a missing “transitional photograph”.

If your authority or leader is using the “no transitional fossil record” argument, then they are willfully ignorant of biology and its history, or at the very least are demonstrating unwillingness to learn even the most rudimentary facts of the position they oppose. Is that an attitude of learning and openness? Or does it demonstrate only dogmatic and slavish dedication to a “truth” that rejects any and all opposition, regardless of mountains of proof?

– “If we don’t legislate against same-sex marriage, then the government can force us to marry gay people in our church!”

No. And the person who gave you that argument is either ignorant or taking advantage of your naivete to rile you up with an argument they know you will find offensive. And let me point out that if the government were taking a position to force you to perform ceremonies in your church that are against your beliefs and that harm no one else, I would be standing with you demanding that they stop: that’s why I believe in Separation of Church and State in the first place.  But you have to understand that in this case, you are being manipulated to advance a political cause: you are being lied to in order to secure your support.  And in doing so, you are also being placed in a position, through intentional or accidental lies, to demonize, reject and oppose a group that intends you no harm.

These are positions and arguments that “authority” figures are giving today.  These are positions that I have had used against me in debate in recent months, by well-meaning people who are being lied to.  Positions that, if you knew better, you would find ridiculous in their simplicity, but you are not being encouraged to know better by the people who gave them to you.  Arguments that you are expected to use because you must believe them, since they came from a person in authority, and you are expected to never question.  Arguments that are so easy to dismiss, precisely because it takes only a minimum amount of effort to discredit as uninformed, using easily accessible and available information.

And yet, given to you nonetheless. So which is it?  Did your authority figure give you these arguments because they were so disinterested in learning anything new that they are themselves unquestioningly parroting positions they were given as gospel?  Or do they already know the arguments are invalid, but decided that you probably weren’t smart or curious enough to find out whether they were true or not?

Which do you think it is?  Which would you prefer it to be?  And in either case, how do you intend to respond to their other claims of authority now that you know?

Your anti-gay marriage argument is invalid

Not a hypothetical situation: a lesbian couple in VT, who has been together for more than ten years and got married in 2011. A happy, stable, loving couple. But because of the DOMA, they don’t have a simple right granted almost immediately to heterosexual couples: the right for their family to stay together.  One of them faces deportation because her partner cannot apply for the right for her to stay in the country, thanks to the DOMA.

I’m familiar with this  process, and I know how easy it was for us. It’s heartwrenching for me to think about the decisions I might have had to make if the option to stay in this country had not been available to me. And precisely because I know the process, and because I DID have options, my heart breaks for them: I can’t claim that my relationship is more valuable, more stable, more beneficial to society that theirs, and yet that is the message they are receiving.  The message they hear, in a subtle way from the legal system but in a far more overt way from those who oppose their union, is that the mere existence of their relationship is a threat to the stability of marriage, a blow against the very balance of the family unit, which is a core building block of society.  How can that be? How can this be a message we want to send to them?

How can anyone claim that splitting this family up, or forcing them to relocate to a different country in order to stay together, is a positive action for society to take?  How can anyone say that either tearing them apart as a couple, or tearing them away from the community in which they live, is a good thing that provides any kind of benefit to anyone involved?

Stop the MN Marriage Amendment, stop the deportations, and end DOMA. We are all better than this.


Quite the letter…

The Obama administration will no longer defend blocking military benefits from same-sex couples.

This is pretty stunning: there is little in this decision and the associated letter that could not be eventually used as an argument for equal protection and equal rights for the full raft of Federal rights and benefits… even, in fact, to the point of claiming that not allowing same-sex married couples to seek citizenship for one of the partners would be against the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment. Not as-is, not today, but it’s a smaller leap from here and now to there than it was from 4 years ago to here. This may not seem to be huge, but it most definitely is.

Now point at anyone on the list of GOP candidates and tell me that any of their administrations would take an action similar to this one. And no, Ron Paul’s wouldn’t: he supports the DOMA, and criticized the current administration’s position on not arguing in its favor.

And then tell me that both political parties are all the same. OR better yet, tell the defendants in McLaughlin v. Panetta, the case referenced in this letter, and tell them that their medical and dental benefits, housing, travel and transportation allowances, hospital visitation rights, survivor benefits and rights to be buried together in military cemeteries would have been granted if Rick Santorum were president.

Washington: Gregoire to sign law allowing gay marriage today

Hear, hear.

So yes, there may be a referendum if the opponents of gay marriage gather enough signatures… which is probable. That means we won’t know the final results of this struggle until November.

If they don’t pursue the referendum or don’t gather enough signatures, the other option opponents have is the ballot initiative to define marriage as one man/one woman, but that wouldn’t prevent gay marriages from happening starting June 7th, which would place Washington in the same position as California regarding Prop 8: that initiative would remove already-existing rights from a group of people with no valid rationale for doing so, which the 9th Circuit has already declared to be an unconstitutional act.

They pretty much need to go for the referendum. Considering how many of the major employers in Washington have expressed support for gay marriage, it will be interesting to see what results they get.

Not a good fight to join

Do the Catholic bishops know that Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) covers contraception, which all of their church members are paying for with their tax dollars? Do they know that many of the Catholic institutions that provide health care for their workers do so with insurers that provide contraceptive coverage? And therefore their money is supporting contraceptive care?

This seems a poor argument to get into: contraceptive care is part of basic health coverage for women, and any attack on it is easily seen as an attack on basic women’s health and reproductive choices. It’s amazing to me that in this century there is still a group that feels that contraceptive care is a bad thing, but it’s less surprising when you note the source: an organization that for hundreds of years hasn’t felt that women are good enough to serve as leaders in the first place. I sense a theme.

I’ll note that the opponents of the new compromise (which has been deemed reasonable and appropriate by the President of the Catholic Health Association) don’t seem to be offering any solution that would guarantee full health care coverage for those who the Catholic Church would deny it to, they only seem to want to remove coverage. Rep. Boehner says he wants to push to repeat the rule completely, thereby eliminating reproductive health care for everyone covered. Does he offer an alternative that would allow for this basic care for anyone at all, regardless of religious belief? No, of course not: maybe he, as his friend Ron Paul seems to believe, thinks that if you can’t afford health care you should rely on the charity of your local Church to… oh wait.