Monday, November 22, 2010

Before, During, and After

I don't usually blog much about home improvement, but I figured I ought to do a follow-up post to the one about venturing into the crawlspace above my kitchen. It was a success. I won't bore my readers with details of the other various kitchen renovations we have been doing (painting all of the cabinets, stripping wallpaper from and painting the walls, removing an old non-functional built-in double oven and replacing it with new shelving, replacing the faucet, etcetera etcetera...) but I figured I'd do a brief pictorial chronicle of the soffit upgrade.




Boo-yah. It would be even more effective if I had included the atrocious wallpaper that was on there before (the wall had already been painted below the soffit in the "before" picture, which I know is totally the wrong order to do things, but we kept waffling on whether or not to take out the soffit before Thanksgiving). Anyway, I figure there has probably been many a past homeowner of this house that cursed that awful defunct soffit, and finally it is gone thanks to me. Feels good.

Imagine No Religion - by 2100?

Occasionally blogger abb3w -- who has done a lot of interesting work with the GSS -- has a fascinating blog post where he/she analyzes the rise of the so-called "nones" (those with no particular religious affiliation) according to birthdate. The result is a surprisingly good match with a logistic "S" curve (I'm sure I knew what that was once upon a time, but no longer -- but it sure is shaped like an S!), which if extrapolated shows the "nones" exceeding 90-95% around the year 2100.

This is a highly idealized model of course, and nobody can predict the idiosyncratic nature of future history. But even the historical data is encouraging.

Update: Since some people are obstinately not getting it, let me make some clarifications.

First, as a reasonable person might have guessed from the heavily caveated second paragraph of this post, as well as the presence of a question mark in the title, I am not claiming any sort of certainty about whether this trend is real or not. In fact, it seems just as likely to me that it's not than that it is. I just thought the data abb3w turned up, in particular the close fit with a logistic curve, was intriguing.

Second, as abb3w made clear in the original post, and as I made clear in the comments, even if this trend is real it says nothing about religious belief -- it only speaks to religious affiliation. The so-called "nones" include SBNR types and so forth, for example. I thought that this was obvious from abb3w's post, and I didn't really intend to imply anything other than, "Hey look, abb3w has a cool post," so I felt it unnecessary to state this up front. But since I'm being accused of "intellectual dishonesty" for failing to spell it out for my less astute/more paranoid readers, I have chosen to update the post to reflect this. By the way, I still find the trend encouraging, because while I think that theistic belief in general is not compatible with critical examination, I think that vague personal theistic beliefs are usually not particularly harmful. (They may even be beneficial to some people, but I think the jury is still very much out on this one, and I feel it would be elitist to claim that some people "need" their comforting delusions without possessing very solid evidence to support that position)

Third, although this seems plain as day to me, I now find it necessary to point out that this post was not intended to be polemical. If you want polemics, just browse my blog for a bit, you'll find plenty. But this post is not included there. I'm not trying to "persuade" anybody of anything. I think it ought to be clear that no atheist living in America in the year 2010 is going to find the Argument from Popularity at all persuasive! As such, I would not attempt to employ it to convince others either. It is a rather lousy argument, after all. The percentage of people who are religiously affiliated, or who believe in God, or whatever, are completely independent from the truth value of any given theistic proposition, which itself is completely independent from whether or not religion is a force for good. These are all entirely separate issues. Again, if you want to hear me make an argument in regards to the truth of religion, or in regards to the positive/negative effects of religion, one will not have to look far in this blog -- but this post is not it. This post does not even fringe on those questions.

I hope all is clear now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I really need a male friend and a beer right now

The American male culture of not showing fear or other perceived signs of weakness may be emotionally stunting, but damn, now and then it can have it's advantages. I'm scared out of my wits right now, but if I had a male friend and a beer in my hand, I'd be cracking jokes and ready to dive right into the job.

Some backstory... we are renovating our kitchen, and there is this thing coming down from the ceiling (we are calling it a soffit, which I guess it technically is, although usually when you say "soffit" in relation to kitchens, you are talking about the part of the ceiling that comes down above the cupboards) that has nothing in it but a single recessed light (which might as well be on the ceiling proper) and a bunch of insulation. No ducting, nothing. We haven't quite figured out why anybody would have put it in to begin with. It looks safe to remove, so... we're gonna do it.

This fucker is coming out.
You can see the soffit in the picture to the right. Sorry for the bad lighting; the electricity is off in the kitchen (for obvious reasons). You can see the soon-to-be-former recessed light hanging out, and then a pole that I stuck up in there. I'll tell you why the pole in a second.

As I mentioned, the thing is stuffed with insulation. I had originally been anticipating a god-awful mess, a veritable rain of insulataion, at the point when I planned to saw the drywall out -- but then my sister suggested there is probably a crawlspace above the kitchen, and maybe I could shovel the insulation out first. So there is, and as intimidating as crawlspaces can be, on reflection I think that is the right solution.

So here I stand, with the crawlspace open and a halogen light shining into it, completely shitting my pants about going in there. It was bad enough opening the door -- I expected a gollum to jump out and bite my face off, or at the very least for a big pile of dead bodies to come rolling out and knock me off the ladder. The fact that I don't believe in monsters is cold comfort when you are by yourself, on a ladder, opening a creepy looking door that you anticipate crawling through in the near future.

It's a mess up there. To get my bearings, I stuck a pole up through the hole where the recessed light is, so I can see how far back I will need to go.

There's this weird perceptual effect... if I walk from the garage (where the crawlspace entrance is) to the kitchen, I would estimate the soffit is maybe 10-15 ft away from the entrance.
"Your mission, should you choose to accept it..." (The pole is circled in red)
But when I peer through the crawlspace, my estimate is more like 25-30ft!

If only I was holding a cold beer and had a guy friend here. That old male conditioning would kick in, and I'd just take a big swig and say (imagine frat boy voice here) "Let's DO it! Hell yeah!" But alone, beerless, and with no incentive to conform to a specific gender role... damn, this sucks.

Friday, November 5, 2010

de Waal's in over his head

Frans de Waal writes a response to all of the comments he got on his previous article, which went on and on about how morality clearly had a natural origin, then at the end said, "But maybe we need religion to be moral anyway!" de Waal seems like he is not aware of a lot of what has been said on this already. I could not manage to read his whole response (I read the first one, it was disappointing, and this one is just aggravating). But I want to comment on two things:

Even though 90 percent of my text questions the religious origins of human morality, and wonders if we need a God to be good, it is the other 10 percent — in which I tentatively assign a role to religion — that drew most ire. Atheists, it seems (at least those who responded here) don’t like any less than 100 percent agreement with their position.

Sigh. The reason you're getting so much "ire" over that particular 10% is because it has a hidden implication that us atheists (including de Waal!) may be less equipped to be moral than our deluded counterparts. That's offensive. I mean, imagine if he had written a piece in which he hints that Islam might be inferior to Christianity when it comes to keeping people moral, and then was all surprised when Muslims get pissed off at him. Duh! Of course that is going to piss atheists off. In fact, I don't understand... is de Waal saying he himself is less moral?

I understand that de Waal is trying to draw a distinction between societal effects and individual effects. But that kind of comes across as elitist ("I don't need religion to be moral, but the unwashed masses do!"), and in any case, the way he put it in his previous column and the way it just came out of left field with no evidence was really off-putting. "Morality clearly has nothing to do with religion... but now I'm going to say, for no reason whatsoever, that our society might become immoral without it!" WTF. Of course that raised our ire.

Those who wish to remove religion and define morality as the pursuit of scientifically defined well-being (à la Sam Harris) should read up on earlier attempts in this regard, such as the Utopian novel “Walden Two” by B. F. Skinner, who thought that humans could achieve greater happiness and productivity if they just paid better attention to the science of reward and punishment. Skinner’s colleague John Watson even envisioned “baby factories” that would dispense with the “mawkish” emotions humans are prone to, an idea applied with disastrous consequences in Romanian orphanages.

Double sigh. So, he hasn't followed any of the discussion surrounding Harris' controversial idea? First of all, a lot of atheists think he's full of it, and that morality has to stem from arbitrary conventions. (I fall somewhere in between) So he's representing a false dilemma here: Old-time religion vs. Harris' radical idea. Um, no. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a huge amount of the discussion about Harris' idea is in regards to similarities and differences between past Utilitarian and Utilitarian-esque ideals. de Waal is late to the game here if he think he's enlightening anybody by pointing out that Utilitarianism is not only insufficient, but has a real dark side. Get with the program.

Of course, he follows that with the dumbest fucking comment of all:

And talking of Romania, was not the entire Communist experiment an attempt at a society without God?



Can I get some of what you've been smoking, de Waal?

Yes, Communism in its two most high-profile manifestations, as well as many others, tried to enforce a society-wide atheism, but that's not central to the Communist experiment. Look the fuck up what Communism is. It has nothing inherently to do with godlessness, it has to do with economics and distribution of resources. And yes, it turned out to be a big failure. It turned out to be an even bigger failure because those high-profile manifestations were also brutal dictatorships. Did it occur to de Waal that maybe the human rights disaster in Communism was partly because the people were forced to abandon their religion, which is not what any sane person is discussing.

Gah. Fuck you, de Waal. You're an idiot.