Thursday, December 27, 2007

One Soul, One Vote

This is insane:

"Voting could endanger your soul, if you are Catholic and your political candidate supports or doesn't actively oppose abortion rights, some Catholics say.

A group planning a vigil Friday wants that sentence to read "your soul will be in danger" with an improper vote, and they want Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael J. Sheehan to make the "will" clear to the Catholics in his archdiocese."

And while the vigil under discussion will occur in Albuquerque, NM, other parts of the nation are not safe either:

"Catholics in other cities around the nation are having vigils, too, to persuade their local archbishops to take a stronger stance against politicians who support abortion rights, organizers say.

The vigils are sponsored by the Society for Truth and Justice, which is led by Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue."

Okay. A few points here. Since there is no god, and there are no such things as souls, I'm pretty sure you can rest easy that you'll be okay if you vote for a pro-choice candidate. In fact, you should vote for a pro-choice candidate, since preventing a woman from obtaining an abortion is a denial of her right over her body - a right that keeps the government from taking your kidney and giving it to other people, or mandating that you donate blood, or insisting that you have a barcode implanted in your head for identification purposes. Any anti-choice candidate is intent on denying women a basic right. So even if there were a god, why wouldn't he be cool with women having the same rights as everyone else?

Of course, you may believe that your god does think that women have fewer rights then men, and that they should have to donate their bodies over to another being even if they don't want to (which, by the way, would seem to make rape an okay thing...hmm...). But what evidence do you have for this belief? The Bible? Well, the Bible really isn't evidence to begin with, but even if we were to consider it as such, the passages just aren't there to support the anti-choice position. In fact, Biblical law indicates that if a man caused a miscarriage in a woman, but causes no other harm to the woman herself, must pay a fine. If he had killed the woman, however, he would have to be executed (Exodus 21:22-23). So, termination of a pregnancy doesn't seem to be murder according to Biblical law; if it was, a man causing a miscarriage would face the same punishment for killing an unborn child and for killing a woman. So what other evidence might one put forward for this claim? The Pope's edict? Well, Popes have hardly agreed on this through the years. Because your pastor told you so? I've no reason to believe your pastor without knowing what evidence he has for his claim. Even if there was evidence that there was a god who thought abortion was evil, why on earth would he damn your soul for voting for someone who is pro-choice? What if (as is, in fact, the case) the anti-choice guys are all kooks? What kind of god is that? What about that whole "judge not lest ye be judged" bit? Doesn't that mean that you should just avoid having abortions and leave others to be judged by god for their "evil" deeds?

For those who don't believe, however, the big point to take away from this is that belief in god and religion aren't just problems when they manage to hop the wall between church and state. They're problems as long as they impact the decisions and attitudes that people take in other aspects of their lives. Faith in god is a belief that is without evidential support (that's why it's "faith"). But it seems that believers have a hard time stopping themselves there. They add to this belief in the deity beliefs about what the deity wants. And they have no evidence for those beliefs either. Fine. But then they base actions on those beliefs, actions that impact the lives of others. And that's a problem, even if the government isn't paying for it. I was asked recently why atheists spend so much of their time and energy talking about something they don't believe in. Vigils like this, and their consequences, are the reason why. Because even if separation of church and state is upheld, other people's irrational beliefs can and do have a serious impact on everyone else.

H/T Heretic54

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I'm on the Atheist Blogroll!

So, The Huntress' Domain is now officially on the Atheist Blogroll! I'm excited, partially because people might actually see my blog now, partially because I now have a nifty list of awesome blogs on the sidebar, and partially because I'm happy to be part of anything that puts atheists together. One or two voices standing alone won't be heard. We have to stand together and shout. If you have a blog that is written from a skeptical perspective, click on the Atheist Blogroll icon and learn how you can join too!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Outmoded Gender Norms and Teen Pregnancy

Check out this awesome post by Amanda Marcotte over at the RH blog. She really hits the nail on the head with her discussion of how dated attitudes toward sex lead to teen pregnancy. And how, as a result, abstinence-only education problems are doomed to lead to the same result.

"In lieu of teaching people how to use contraception safely and effectively, the programs spend most of the time on teaching "relationship skills," i.e. pushing old-fashioned ideas about gender roles. Which means teaching girls that good girls don't, and that means not just "don't have sex" but also "don't want sex," "don't take initiative," and "don't take control." Sure, maybe some of the girls in an abstinence only course will have sex at 17 or 18 instead of 15 or 16. But when they do, will they be more afraid that bringing birth control along will mean that they're not good girls? It's not more fun to be pregnant against your will at 17 than 15."

These attitudes, of course, are born out of an ideology that has lingered in the United States for quite some time, and continues to be pushed by fundamentalist Christians and their ilk. And this is an ideology that is inherently sexist. While we're all aware that sexism is a societal issue that needs to be dealt with, we often are incapable of recognizing all of its faces. But under the notion that good girls don't want, prepare for, or have sex is a very nasty, if well hidden, misogyny. Marcotte explains it beautifully:

"I have a pet theory as to why, out of all the various agencies and clinics dedicated to furthering sexual health and reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood gets the most abuse from the anti-choice set--it's all in the name. By putting the word and concept of planning in the very name of the organization, Planned Parenthood frames women's agency as a positive value, which social conservatives take as a direct assault on their belief that women are passive objects. The anti-choice steadfast refusal to accept female agency explains the stammering discomfort from anti-choicers when asked how much a woman should be punished for abortion. Legal punishment for abortion upholds the idea that women have agency like men. It's not that they're against punishing sluts, but the punishment is about returning the slutty, agency-possessing women to her rightful passive state, and the proper method of doing that is putting her body at the mercy of the pregnancy. Every other possibility is just upsetting."

She's exactly right. And it should not be surprising that this idea - the idea that good girls don't - comes from an era in which female agency was denied all the time. It stood right along the idea that there was something seriously wrong with a single mother, a married women in the workforce, or single woman in any position of authority and importance. All of these notions have, at their root, the idea that female agency is negative. And this idea, of course, was a necessary component of a belief-system that saw women as inherently weak and properly submissive.

It should be no surprise that those people who insist on pushing these outmoded ideas on the next generation are the same who are fighting to deprive women of any sort of control over their own bodies - be it the right to an abortion or the right to birth control. Once you view women as properly without agency, it is a short step to viewing them as without rights, without domain over themselves. If women can't do anything, then someone has to look out for them - the same way we look after children, who we do not consider to be full agents until they reach a certain level of maturity. Of course, it is a huge mistake to assume that women are without agency. And most people (at least 'round here) would not be willing to outright claim that female agency is negative. If that's really the case, though, we need to beware of the norms that we are teaching young girls and boys. If women really are to be treated equally, and our rights are to be preserved, there must be a change in the basic attitudes that people have toward women and sex. It's not that good girls don't have sex, it's that they don't have sex until they're ready. It's not that good girls don't want sex, or that they don't initiate it, it's that they don't do it unprotected.

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Use-Mention Comedy

Sometimes the things philosophers think about do in fact turn up in everyday life... like this bit of use-mention comedy. Is is really possible to mention a diagram that you're showing? Hmm....

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Saturday, December 22, 2007


As many no doubt already know, it is not altogether clear that Jesus of Nazereth was actually born on, or even around, December 25th. And a consensus is lacking in the Christian faith on this issue. In fact, it is far more likely that this date was set such that it coincided with pagan festivals:

Emperor Constantine built the Basilica of St. Anastasia, where some believe Christmas was first celebrated on Dec. 25.

Constantine ended the frequent waves of anti-Christian persecutions in the Roman empire by making Christianity a lawful religion in 313. He played a key role in unifying the beliefs and practices of the early followers of Jesus.

In 325, he convened the Council of Nicaea, which fixed the dates of important Christian festivals. It opted to mark Christmas, then celebrated at varying dates, on Dec. 25 to coincide with the Roman festival celebrating the birth of the sun god, Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza University, told reporters Friday.

Of course, if your goal is to spread your religious beliefs far and wide, this is the perfect way to do it. Putting your religion in line with the belief systems of those who you wish to convert is key to effective conversion. This is undoubtedly why Easter falls right around the Spring Equinox (when the pagans held festivals of fertility), and probably why the Virgen de Guadalupe has so much in common with the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin. Since it is the Christmas season, a time celebrated by so many different cultures for different reasons, I think it is important to keep in mind the fact that this season is not a season of rejoicing and celebration solely for Christians. I, myself, spent last evening with my closest friend having some fun on the Solstice Eve.

So, if you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Eid ul-Adha, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice (under any of it's various names), Bodhi Day, Sadeh, Winterval, or any thing else I might have missed, I hope that your holiday is great. And for everyone, whether you celebrate something or not, I hope that this winter season finds you happy and well.

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Apparently, the settings for comments were making it practically impossible for people to leave any. I've changed that. Anyone should be able to comment now. My apologies!

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dissertation: Neale on the Referential/Attributive

In his book Descriptions, Stephen Neale argues that there is good reason to suspect that the pragmatic conception of the referential/attributive distinction is the right one, since positing a conversational implicature of a singular proposition while simultateously holding that the semantics of all definite descriptions are strictly Russellian allows us to make sense of a tension that we feel when evaluating mistakenly used descriptions. For example, imagine that Smith, who believes that Jones has killed Brown, utters (1) in a conversation about Brown's murder with a conversational partner who shares his beliefs.

(1) Brown's murderer is insane.

Now, if it turns out that Jones did not kill Brown, but he is in fact insane, we seem to end up with conflicting intuitions. We feel as though Smith has done something right - that his utterance is true in some sense, but we also feel as if he has done something wrong, and that his utterance is false in some sense. Neale claims that this tension is easily explained if the semantics of (1) are Russellian - that is, attributive - while what is pragmatically communicated by (1) is in fact the singular proposition containing Jones as a constituent. The tension occurs because both the semantics and the implicature are communicated, and since they have different truth values, we're not sure which one to pick.

Unfortunately, it's not clear to me that the referentialist, who holds that there is no implicature, but rather that the semantics of (1) are referential and express a singular proposition all on their own, cannot just as easily account for this tension. It's a matter of context. As the context changes - that is, as we describe the case - it becomes less and less clear what the proper referent of the description is. As we are constantly applying the principle of charity to speakers, it is not hard to see how we would want to favor a correct use of the description (one that attributively picks out the real murderer of Brown). But, as it turns out, the priciple of charity leads us in two different directions in such cases. For while the pricinple of charity pushes us to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt with regard to the correct use of the description in his utterance, it also tells us to interpret the speaker's utterances such that they come out true. To paraphrase Davidson, we must treat speakers as believers of the true, lovers of the good and admirers of the beautiful.

What relevance does this tug of war between two aspects of the priciple of charity have? Well, as we move through the context and more information is made salient, I would suggest that we get stuck at the level of semantic processing. That is, we are unsure which explicature is that which the speaker intended in making his utterance. The tension, then, is not a tension between two different propositions which have both been communicated, but is rather a difficulty in determining which proposition has been communicated in the first place. We know that the speaker has done something right and something wrong either way we go, and being bound as we are by the principle of charity, we don't know which proposition to accept as the complete and correct semantic evaluation of Jones' utterance.

Now, of course, it will be objected that the hearer in such a conversation is typically well aware of which proposition has been expressed by the speaker. This is certainly true, and evidence for this claim lies in the fact that if the hearer of (1) was aware that Jones did not kill Brown, his response would not be to say "That's false, he's not insane", it would rather be to correct the misuse of the description (i.e., by uttering something like, "Well, he is a loon, but actually he didn't kill Brown). But I am not holding that the hearer finds indeterminacy in the semantic processing of the utterance, but rather that we, the evaluators, cannot determinately process the utterance. The reason is that for the evaluator, information is being added to the context of evaluation in a way that it is not added to the conversational context in which the speaker and hearer are situated. The hearer and speaker enter the conversation with a set of background assumptions and the context slowly changes as conversation moves forward, with each conversational participant marking their mental conversational scorecard as things go forward. The conversational participants are situated within their subjective conversational context. The evaluator, however, is set outside this context, looking in as a third party observer, and slowly being fed information about the context as a whole. He is not adding this information to a conversational scorecard the way the conversational participants do. Rather, he adds each additional piece of information to his understanding of the conversational context in which the utterance occurred without viewing that context as having changed. As third party information is added to the evaluator's knowledge of the conversational context, he reassess his assessment of the semantics of any given utterance in a way that conversational participants cannot (since their view of the context is subjective).

A similar phenomenon appears to occur in the field of contextualist epistemology. The evaluator's context bleeds into the subject's context, causing the evaluator to improperly assess knowledge claims made in the target context. When evaluating what is going on in a particular conversational or epistemic context, we must be careful to remember that we evaluate from a context, one that can easily impact our evaluation.

So what is the upshot of all this? Well, if the tension that Neale describes can be explained as indeterminacy in semantic processing, rather than competing propositions both of which have been communicated, then this tension cannot serve as evidence for the view that there is a conversational implicature associated with referentially used definite descriptions.

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Santa for Hillary and Mitt

The difference between Democratic and Republican humor: one is funny, and the other is not. Just look at the difference between Santa's endorsement of Hillary and his endorsement of Mitt. Maybe it's just that there is nothing funny to me about an endorsement of Romney. Anyone who will abandon his views just to pander to the least rational of the Republican party is not someone I want leading my country. What else would he be willing to do in order to make sure that the rich, powerful and looney get what they want? Invade an oil rich nation? Break down the wall of separation between church and state? Push through laws that take away women's rights? It worked for Bush, right?

H/T: heretic54

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Christmas Card

I just had to say something (okay, I had to release some atheist angst) about this post over at Jill Stanek's blog. It all started when Barbara Walters received a christmas card from President Bush that had a Bible verse inside. No surprise there. But Walters rather astutely wondered whether this card also gets sent to atheists, agnostics, etc. It's a good question. Stanek had a good deal to say about it, but this is what caught my eye:

"What Walters received was a birthday card. Christmas is a celebration of Jesus' birthday. I don't recall the last time I celebrated someone's birthday but was disallowed to mention the one being celebrated for fear of offending someone else who either wasn't sure the person existed, didn't believe the person existed, or didn't like the person."

See, that's interesting, because I don't remember the last time I received a birthday card for someone else's birthday! I get cards for my birthday, but no one has ever sent me a card celebrating, say, Queen Elizabeth's birthday or Shakespeare's birthday. Heck, we have a holiday for great Presidents' birthdays, but I still don't get cards then!

Now, if you want to celebrate the birth of this guy Jesus, that's your business. I hope you have a great party. But perhaps you should think twice before you force your celebration on other people. When you're celebrating your kid's birthday at Chuck E. Cheese's, or whatever, you don't just grab random people and force them to sing the birthday song with you, now do you? Of course not. Because that's rude. They don't know your kid. They don't care about celebrating your kid's birthday. They probably have their own snot nosed brat to worry about. But if you don't force others to celebrate your kids birthday, why do you insist on forcing others to celebrate the birth of some guy who may or may not have lived several millenia ago?

Claiming that there is nothing wrong with sending an atheist or agnostic or person of Jewish faith a card that is all about Jebus seems to betray a misunderstanding of what it would be like to be in the position of the atheist, agnostic or Jew. Any time I hear this nonesense from fundagelicals about how we should just suck it up and deal with having their irrational beliefs forced down our throats, I wonder how they might feel if they received a card celebrating the Saturnalia (look it up, it's where your pretty Christmas tree comes from), or the Winter Solstice, complete with wiccan chants for calling on the power of the Goddess. I'm sure they would be superbly offended. But because they are currently controlling the media and much of the political sphere, they don't see this. Well, might does not make right, people. I think next year I'm going to send out cards celebrating the birthday of Anton LaVey to every bible thumping, soldier in the "war on Christmas", atheist hater I know. Perhaps when I try to force them to celebrate the birth of the founder of Satanism, they'll understand why they should keep their dogma drenched Christmas cards to themselves

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When Ideology Controls Funding

A sad bit of news, from the AP:

Unable to override a promised veto, Democrats have backed down on their insistence that the 2008 foreign aid budget reverse President Bush's ban on providing aid to family planning groups abroad that offer abortions.

A measure to ease restrictions on international aid was stripped this weekend from a $500 billion-plus government-wide spending bill, which includes some $3 billion for the State Department and foreign aid programs.

This has to stop. I was hoping that when the Democrats took control of congress, they would be able to reverse some of the damage that had been done by allowing backward ideology impact where our foreign aid dollars go. When are people going to realize that these organizations which - *gasp* - provide abortions are some of the most effective in making sure that women have access to much needed reproductive health care, to birth control, to aid for their children and to the means to prevent the transmission of STDs - including AIDS? But rather than giving these people the funds that they need to go out and do important work, our government would rather give the money to people who think condoms have gigantic holes in them and birth control pills are the work of the devil. And philosophers think that people are rational. Ha!

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What Atheism Is and Isn't

Vjack over at Atheist Revolution has a great post pinpointing and correcting common misconceptions about atheism. And while you're there, check out this tidbit on the lack of government oversight of faith-based daycare centers. Scary.

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Monkey Business

So, apparently, humans are not alone in their willingness to pay for sex. Macaques will provide grooming services in exchange for mating services. To those who seem to view humans as so much more advanced then our non-language using cousins, this would seem to be just one more bit of evidence to the contrary. We're not really that much different. Next we'll have to look and see if there's foot tapping going on between male macaques behind the bush.

But seriously, for those philosophers today who like to insist that since macaques and other monkeys do not use language, they couldn't possibly possess concepts (I'm talking to you, Brandomian inferentialists) this finding would appear to put a dent in your armor. These primates are engaged in a social practice, one which necessitates an understanding of certain social positions as well as entitlements and commitments. Now, I don't personally buy into the whole "social practice" bit when it comes to the origins of conceptual content, but isn't this enough, on your own terms, to say that these monkeys might actually have a concept or two?

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Small Town Victory

Some good news from my hometown. The Rio Rancho School Board has decided, in a rather close vote (3-2), to do away with a science policy that looks an awful lot like sneaking creationism into the science classroom.

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Democratic Exclusion

Well, now, this isn't very nice. According to Democracy Now, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich were excluded from the last debate in Iowa, despite having the same polling numbers as other candidates. Why exclude these gentlemen? It wasn't like they were going to have the chance to speak during the debate anyway, so why not let them stand up there while Obama and Edwards attack Hilary? True, neither Gravel nor Kucinich would have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the presidency if nominated, but that doesn't mean they should be excluded from debates. If anything, these two add an ideological life to the debates that other candidates fail to bring with them, and Kucinich certainly knows how to keep the others on their toes.

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Down with the Death Penalty

Perhaps the world is not a lost cause after all. Perhaps people are finally coming to discover compassion for others or a higher understanding of the moral law. Or perhaps they've just recognized that the death penalty is an ineffective deterrent that is far from cost effective. In any case, this is good news.The fine legislators in New Jersey have voted to do away with the death penalty. Let us hope that other states follow suit.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Good Character?

Apparently, as long as you murder an evolutionist and you've got a "good character" you get off light. Sheesh.,23599,22924256-29277,00.html

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

First Post!

I have to admit that this is a first for me in more ways than one. And while this blog was created on a complete whim, posts are likely to focus on atheism, reproductive rights and whatever philosophical ideas tickle my fancy at the moment. There will be a good deal of philosophy of language, no doubt. That's all I have to say at the moment.

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