Critical Thinking

Never Underestimate the Power of Stupid People in Large Numbers

I know that’s a very vague title for a post because it could be about pretty much anything, but in this particular case, the stupid people of Calgary City Council outnumber the smart ones by a ratio of 9 to 5.  That was the outcome of the vote to consider revising their 2011 decision to stop fluoridating city water.  5 said yes, 9 said no.  Now remember, it was not a vote to start adding fluoride to the water again – It was just a vote on a motion to merely consider the possibility that they might have made a mistake.

Read the article here

From a previous CBC article in February of this year (full article here)

“Lindsay McLaren, the researcher with the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine who led the study, told the Calgary Eyeopener‘s David Gray that there were more cavities in both Calgary and Edmonton over the period of the study, but “it got worse in Calgary, where fluoridation was stopped, than in Edmonton.”

McLaren said the study is clear about the cause and effect at play.

“We designed the study so we could be as sure as possible that [the increased tooth decay] was due to [fluoride] cessation rather than due to other factors,” she told the CBC.

“We systematically considered a number of other factors … and in the end, everything pointed to fluoridation cessation being the most important factor.” 

Still, those 9 councilors for the city of Calgary are not convinced enough to even reconsider their decision.  It was even treated as a “political hot potato” with likely some of those 9 councilors opposing the motion for purely political reasons. “He (Dr. Ghali) said even asking for the information could make it look like they were reopening the “very divisive issue” of fluoridation, just as they enter an election year.”

So I guess for now, politics trumps health concerns.

And this is why you should never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers.




Critical Thinking, Religion

Templeton Foundation to Spend $3 Million To “Understand” Why People Don’t Believe in Bronze-Age Myths

Although the title of this post is my satirical parody, this is actually a serious question being posed by The Templeton Foundation.  “Understanding Unbelief” is the name of the “study”.  Read about it here

From reading the description, it sounds like a project, the purpose of which, is to categorize unbelievers based on “psychological and sociological” phenomenon.  The Templeton Foundation wants to know how other beliefs (about religion or the existential)  inform their unbelief and how those unbeliefs vary across groups and subcultures.
Sounds a little flawed to me from the outset.  This is simply my own opinion and I welcome challenges to it, but I don’t consider any other beliefs that I have about anything else to inform my atheism or “unbelief”.  It is simply a matter of examining the texts and claims of religion and finding that they are simply unbelievable.  They are completely irrational and illogical and can’t be believed by anyone who considers them with any objectivity and common sense.  I can’t bring myself to believe in talking snakes, in people who fly around on winged horses, in people who rise from the dead, and the need to create a race (humans) sick and diseased that then require a human sacrifice to be made to cure the sickness and disease.  This stuff is preposterous.  I’m not sure exactly how this is going to require $3 million to determine why people don’t believe things like that.

The study then goes on to state that it wants to find that answer that has already been asked and answered numerous times – in it’s own words “to answer big questions about the causes of ‘unbelief’ and its effects on such outcomes as personal wellbeing and social cohesion. ”
A simple search for “Most violent Countries on Earth” leads you here and a search for most religious countries on earth leads you here
I don’t think its merely a coincidence that the most peaceful countries on earth (Canada, Australia, Japan and large parts of Scandinavia and Europe) are also the most irreligious.
You need to spend $3 million on this type of question?  I don’t think so.  A few thousand perhaps.  All the research has already been done for you.

I look forward to reading the results of this study.


Critical Thinking

An Example of How NOT to Communicate Effectively

So as a follow-up to my post yesterday regarding, open, honest and clear communication, I wanted to share this response from Barry today about a question on another post (Well that’s a shame…) I made back in May.  I don’t think the timing could have been more perfect.  I’m not sure what took so long for him to answer and why I had to moderate his comment and allow it on my site even though I have already approved his commenting on here, but that doesn’t matter.  All that matter is that I have an answer.

NOTE:  It’s been edited for space considerations.  This is the complete answer to my question, but the part of the complete reply that has been removed, deals with another debate regarding quakerism and is not relevant to this question.  If you wish to see the response in its entirety, go to the Well that’s a Shame… post on this blog and you’ll see this comment at the end of the reply chain.

Anyways, if you want you have a fantastic idea of what it is like to converse with a person who can’t say what he means and mean what he says, who has to talk in endless, meaningless, useless, pointless caveats, then here it is, in all its glory.

QUESTION:  So I guess I will ask the question then Barry.  Do you believe in God(s) (of any kind)?  Yes or No?

Ashley, that’s like demanding a Yes or No answer to the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?“. Sometimes it’s not possible to give a simple yes or no.

So if you don’t mind, I’ll answer the question as if you’d asked “Do you believe in the existence of god(s) in a literal sense?“. No. If I was asked “Which is more likely: We find evidence that proves the existence of god(s) or we find evidence that proves giant moa still roam the Fiordland rainforests“, then I would choose the latter. I see as much evidence for god(s) as I do for flying pigs. Where am I giving myself wriggle room that you repeatedly claim I give myself? How many more times do I have to repeat this?

To summarise: (a) I do not believe in the existence of deities (or gods). (b) I live life based on the belief that there is that of God in everyone. I don’t believe either statement is in conflict with atheism or Quakerism. If the two statements cause you a problem, ponder what I might mean by “of God” (Hint: it’s not literal).

I love the comment about asking me where he is giving himself the wiggle room that I claim he gives himself after a) inserting the useless “literal sense” caveat into my original question and b)answers another question I didn’t even ask.

But seriously though, is there a point in me critiquing this nonsensical gibberish?


It gets even better!

Why is it so hard to answer the question “Do you believe in god(s) – Yes or No?  Because this!:  Barry’s answer: No doubt that’s true for you, but for me to answer it, I need to make assumptions about what you mean by “believe in” and “god(s)”.



Critical Thinking

On Honest, Open, Clear Communication.

I was recently on holidays and I managed to spend quite a bit of time playing catch-up and listening to podcasts that I had downloaded over the past couple of months or so.  I recalled listening to one of Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcasts that featured Maryam Namazie as his guest.  I tried my absolute best.  I really did.  I made it about 3/4 of the way through before I shut it off and deleted it.  It was abundantly clear to me, that Maryam Namazie has zero debating skills, can’t even consider any viewpoints that conflict with her own and can’t even answer a cut and dried, simple yes-or-no question.  For example – Sam asks her “What percentage of jihadists are Muslim?”  Much rambling nonsense ensued, but no answer was forthcoming.  I saw a response post in the Godless Spellchecker blog about this podcast that I thought summed it up very well.  It was a conversation between a pragmatist (Sam Harris) and an ideologue (Maryam Namazie).  While both are committed to the same cause (the intolerance and eradication of Islamism), Sam is the only one willing to offer solutions (whether or not you agree with them is another matter altogether) that could be practically carried out and gave his reasons for doing so.  Maryam on the other hand is able to speak only in useless ideological platitudes and vague generalities.  She offers only critiques of others solutions (like Sam’s profiling for instance) because it is “bigoted” apparently but offers nothing in the way of her own ideas.  After an hour+ of listening to this vague imprecision and question-dodging crap, I decided to cut my losses and not waste any more of my time.

This gave me pause to consider many of the conversations I have had with different people on different blogs over the last couple of years.  I have come to realize that there are people who are incapable of having meaningful discussions about a topic because it is literally impossible for them to consider other viewpoints.   For me, usually the first sign is that I am told I “don’t understand” or that I am “misunderstanding” what they mean.  I get that an AWFUL lot.  I ask for explanations and further follow-ups to make sure that I am interpreting what they mean correctly. This usually devolves into back-and-forth reply/response (that would, I am sure if I continued, literally go on until then end of time) posts over the meanings of words, the meaning of phrases, the cultural differences that can cause “misunderstandings” when speaking to people in different countries, etc.  Amazingly, all of the “misunderstandings” are attributable to short-comings on my part.  NEVER, EVER to the person I am speaking with.  Evidence, logic and reason to counter what I consider to be flawed thinking?  Even using dictionaries, Wikipedia and reputable internet sources to determine meanings of words?  No, those won’t do.  There’s always more to it and I just don’t understand – and I never will.  You name it, there isn’t a reply that can’t be made to demonstrate why I “misunderstand”.  The conversations I have had very much remind me of the conversation between Sam and Maryam.  Whereas I feel that I am committed to understanding the message a person is trying to convey and commenting on it (usually criticizing it, because that is the nature of these types of conversations), if my adversary has not made the same commitment, then the conversation is going to go nowhere.

Now this is NOT to say that the whole thing is pointless because I think a conversation like the one between Sam and Maryam is very valuable.  It is very valuable in that it points out not only what someone thinks but how they think and how they defend what they think. It’s one of the reasons why I admire Sam because I not only know what he thinks, but I see him demonstrate how he thinks and give reasons for why he thinks what he does.  I agree with most of what he says but not everything.  Maryam on the other hand, demonstrated very clearly to me that she has very little capacity for critical thought, and couldn’t even attempt to debate Sam on his “bigoted” stance regarding profiling by answering simple questions.  This allows me to make use of my precious time by deciding who I should listen to and who I shouldn’t.

So why did I make this post?  To convey a simple message.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If challenged, be prepared to defend your views.  If your typical response is to just keep “clarifying” what you wrote because they other person “just doesn’t understand”, perhaps consider that you’re not interested in challenging your own thinking and that you’re not interested in learning anything, but are more interested in making statements and assertions that withstand all scrutiny no matter what.






Christopher Hitchens was a Clairvoyant. Or Maybe He just didn’t pretend that a problem doesn’t exist.


What we Atheists REALLY mean when we “think” about “God”

I found myself over at Eva’s blog again today.  I’m not trying to make this a regular habit but I wanted to see what other nonsense and lies she’s spreading about atheists.  I would have responded on her blog, but ya know – the whole banning thing…

Eva’s opening statement:

“As far as I understand it, the idea of God being an old man with a beard who smites people either because of his own capriciousness or at the request of others, is held by two belief extremes; the atheists who think that all Christian see the Bible as being literally true, and the fundamentalists who actually do see the Bible as being literally true. Both of these conceptions are damagingly limited. I know that when I was an atheist, I certainly assumed that any belief in God involved a ‘him’ to start with, with human characteristics.”

Apparently, according to Eva, the idea of God being an old man with a beard who smites people is an “extreme belief” held both by atheists who think that all Christians see the bible as being literally true and by Christians who actually do see the bible as true.  Those of us who haven’t jettisoned reason and common sense in order to believe in nonsensical fairy tales, and still have our faculties of critical thinking and reason intact will see through this obvious smear of “atheists”.  Atheists don’t anthropomorphize gods, theists do.  The idea that “God” is a “him” with a beard, who smites people doesn’t come from people who don’t believe that such a being exists in the first place.  I have heard people say some really ignorant and stupid things in my life, but I think this one might take the cake.

I wonder if this painting located on the ceiling of the Sistine Chappel, the official residence of the Pope (the Vicar of Christ on earth), done in the early 1500’s, approximately 100 years before the King James Bible was written, has anything to do with people’s perception of God as an old man with a white beard?

I dunno.  Maybe?  Hard to say.

Furthermore, the idea that there is only one “God” is certainly not a concept held on to anyone who studies history and religion and mythology.  Anyone who looks into the matter will know that there have been hundreds and thousands of gods who have come and gone in the course of human history.

So as an Atheist, if you want to know what I really mean what I talk about “God” here’s what I think:

He/She/It is figment of your imagination. A fairy tale. An unfulfilling and ultimately useless catch all answer to complicated questions and mysteries that appeals only to the inculcated, the ignorant and the incurious.

So instead of reading about horseshit made up out of thin air, it’s probably better to get your info from a genuine source.  Now I certainly don’t claim to be the only genuine source or that I pretend to speak for all atheists, but I do feel I am in a much better position to describe what atheists think about when the word “God” is mentioned than Eva ever was or ever will be.

Critical Thinking, Free Speech

A Serious Question – Who’s Worse? Trump Supporters or Trump Protestors

My fascination with American Politics has increased considerably over the last 10 years or so.  The Candidates from the Republican Party are more right wing, more ignorant and frankly, more insane every 4 year election cycle.  At the time, I thought Bush was pretty bad but when I think about it now, he’s got nothing on the new crop of Republicans.  McCain, going partially senile and demented, nominating Sarah Palin as his running mate who as far as I am concerned, is a pycho f*&king loon was worse.  The Romney/Paul ticket wasn’t a whole lot better.  This year, it would appear that the whole thing has slid completely off the rails.  I literally cannot believe what I am seeing on tv and watching on the internet.  However, I am not entirely convinced that Donald Trump is as ignorant and stupid as he appears.  I think that there is an element of showmanship and toadyism.  He appears to be pretty damn good at telling people what they want to hear.  Whether or not he actually believes it, I don’t know.

Anywho, that brings me to my question.  Who is worse – the people who are ignorant and stupid enough to follow Trump and vote for him? – Or the people who show up at his rallies to protest him and get in fights (regardless of whether or not they started them) with his supporters?  He’s got every right to be saying what he’s saying so why would they do that?  The first amendment to the constitution guarantees him that.  If you want to protest him, there’s a very easy way that doesn’t involve conflict.  Don’t vote for him.

Help me out here people.