Wednesday, March 31, 2010

TF - Chapter 5 - The Blame Game

I actually think Colson gets some things right here.  Colson deserves credit for both what he gets wrong and what he gets right.  Although he starts off with a beautiful example of projection:

Our culture's refusal to accept the truth of original sin has created a mentality of wholesale denial.  We find the judgment in the word "sin" a far greater offense than the failings to which it's applied.  When our own behavior might be described as evil or sinful, we compartmentalize our thinking, profess ourselves victims, or find ourselves generally astonished that any such darkness could have emerged out of us.
Colson has been talking about how Christians are persecuted because people are questioning the veracity of the Bible.  He went so far as comparing it to the actual physical persecution some Christians have received across the world and throughout history.  I guess when it comes to compartmentalizing and making oneself out as a victim, Colson is an expert.

Colson goes on to talk about how people make excuses.  This is where I agree with him and think he got something right.  Many people are too willing to pass the blame around and not take responsibility for their actions.  Personally, I take responsibility for what I have done.  We had some issues at my work this past week and it was my fault.  One of the first things I did was tell my boss that it was my fault.  The root causes do go back further than I have been working here and I am trying to change those now, but that particular incident went back to something I didn't do before I left for vacation.

Finding the root cause of something and shifting blame are two different things.  That is something that Colson does not seem to understand.  He conflates the two ideas and calls them both the same.  For example talking about terrorist Zacarias Moussaoi:

But the jury, after long deliberation, decided to sentence him to life in prison instead of the death penalty.  When jurors were surveyed after the verdict, nine of the twelve explained the lesser sentence by noting that Moussaoui had a troubled childhood.  A dysfunctional background excuses someone for knowingly take part in a plot to kill thousands of innocent civilians?

To answer his question, no it doesn't as Moussaoui was convicted and sentenced to life in jail.  Colson seems to be out for blood here, the old an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth Deuteronomy style revenge (revenge because that it is what it would be, not justice).  What did Jesus have to say about this?

You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. - Matthew 5:38-39

Moussaoui was held responsible but the jurors saw fit not to kill him and showed compassion giving him a lesser sentence.  For some reason I think Jesus would be more proud of the jurors than the blood thirsty Colson (YHWH may be a different story though).

Colson later uses a prisoner as an example of the same thing, saying:

One prisoner told Dr. Dalrymple that he had become depressed after "his trouble came upon him again."  His "trouble" was breaking and entering into churches, stealing their valuables, and then burning them down to destroy the evidence.  The doctor wondered whether this "trouble" had come about because the prisoner had been forced in his childhood to attend too many church services by a hypocritical family.  "Not at all; it was because in general churches were poorly secured, easy to break into, and contained valuable objects in silver."  The man blamed his actions on lax church security.  The prisoner thought this only reinforced his compulsion to steal.

Contrary to the Moussaoui story, here is a man that is shifting all the blame onto others.  This is what I too would speak out against.  This is far different then finding the underlining issues.

In the last part of this chapter, we stumble across some of the best irony ever written.  After going on about how people should not shift blame, Colson says:

As we've seen, Satan practices his deception not only on individuals but on whole cultures.  He uses false religions and false ideas to ensnare cultures in evil.  If he can turn a whole people toward worshiping a false god, he can compromise millions of consciences at once.

Yes, that is right it is all Satan's fault.  Colson just shifted the blame from everyone in the world to Satan.

He goes on again to say that questioning the veracity of the Bible's truth claim is letting Satan do his work.  Comparing it to Nazi's taking over the world.  Yes, he seriously did this.  He then says just like the allies invaded Europe, God has invaded this world, and ends the chapter.  Why the stark military references at the end?  Colson is really appealing to the idea that everything is a war and we all have to fight.  Sadly some people will take this seriously (Hutaree Militia).  Colson and the others that inspired this group using military jargon will then back as far away as possibly saying things like 'We were talking about a spiritual war not a physical one'.  Again I am reminded of something attributed to Jesus:

"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." - Matthew 26:52

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Well before I left but also before I had time to respond.  It was just pointing to another blog that is claiming the statistical data for atheists being underrepresented in prisons is a lie.  The site is Thoughtful Faith and the post is called Atheists in prison.

He starts by looking at Scottish prisons.

A higher percentage of Scottish inmates claim to have no religion in comparison to the general population. According to the Scottish Government’s Statistical Bulletin, Prison Statistics Scotland 2007-8, Table 8, 34.1% of the prison population has no religion. This compares with 19% of the general Scottish population answering that they had no religion, according to the ICM research faith survey conducted for the BBC in November 2005.

You can find the prison numbers on page 21.  Scotland has a total of 7,154 males and females in prison.  2,442 list none as their religion.  The faith survey he links uses an even smaller number of people, 1,019.  Of the 1,019 surveyed 227 listed no religion.  I am actually looking at the 2001 Census, which surveys everyone.  It gives a more accurate number of 27.55% listing as no religion.  Still the number of atheists in jail in Scotland is more than the population by 6.58%.  I am fairly sure that 6% would fall within standard deviation.  Also that just because one small subset in one area is equal does not mean that it is equal everywhere.

This is a bell curve:

When dealing with statistics one has to understand what a bell curve is and what it means.  Notice the majority of responses will fall into the middle range around the mean, which is usually simplified to average.  You will have outliers on both ends of the spectrum.  So having a small prison system that lies outside the mean is to be expected.

He also uses stats from England and Wales.

A higher percentage of English and Welsh inmates claim to have no religion in comparison to the general population. According to the March 2000 report, Religion in Prisons, 31.9% of inmates claimed to have “no religion”, of whom 0.2% who specifically answered that they were “atheists” and 0.1% who answered that they were “agnostic”. The national census, 15.5% of people in the general population answered that they had “no religion” and 7.3% gave no answer at all. Therefore between 15.5% and 22.8% of the general population were atheists, in comparison with  31.9% of inmates.

First off, if they don't claim to be an atheist you can't just relabel them as atheists.  So atheists consisted of 0.2% of the prison population.  By his own links, he shows that the census didn't even distinguish between atheists, agnostics and other non religious people.  So there is no way to compare the numbers here, without just making stuff up.

Finally he gets to America, which is what the original subject of atheists in prisons is about (apples, oranges, what's the difference).

The United States keeps no official statistics on religious beliefs of inmates. The claim that atheists were under-represented in prisions was seemingly started, by Rod Swift, who wrote it on his website, and publicized the claim through the internet and sceptical magazines. He claims that he received an email from an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Denise Golumbaski. According to this email, 0.2% of those surveyed specifically answered they were “atheist” and 19.8% give no answer. This compares with 0.5% of the US population at the time who identified as atheist, and 4 to 6% (according to Gallop) who gave no answer.

Rod Swift was one of the two sources I originally quoted.  The other source I found was from the Skeptic files.  It verifies the findings of Rod Swift over a longer period of time than just a single year.

In the end, there are many factors that make up why people are in prison and claiming any one is a bit silly.  I actually agree with his last statement, well except for the first and last part.

Although all three surveys indicate that people of “no religion” are overrepresented in prison, there are many complex factors which could be linked to criminal behaviour – including levels of education, age, economic well being. It may well be, for example, that atheists tend to be younger and more active – and therefore more likely to display criminal behaviour for reasons which have little or nothing to do with the atheist worldview. Nevertheless the claim that atheists are under-represented in prison is contradicted by the data in England, Wales, the US and also in Scotland.

I leave you with Norway via Russell's Teapot:

Edit:  Apparently FreeThoughtPedia thinks they own the rights to Russell's Teapot just because they were one of the many hosting the image.  So I have grabbed it from another source.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Today I am leaving for a week long drive to Washington DC.  I am going with my Girlfriend and her daughter.  We are just taking our time, probably going to stop at a lot of places along the way.  I already plan to go to Kittyhawk, NC on the way out there.  I am very excited about going as I haven't been to DC since High School.  I will take lots of pictures and post them or links to them here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Free Will and the Problem of Evil Redux

I want to add to my last post.  I forgot to mention this, but I have two questions for any believer about free will.

Is there free will in Heaven?  Can someone sin in Heaven?

If you say yes to free will and no to sin, then why the need for Earth?  If free will can be had without sin, how can you blame the problem of evil on free will?   Obviously it will be circumnavigated in Heaven

If you say no to free will and no to sin, then why give us free will in the first place?  I have been told the reason for free will is because God doesn't want automatons, but if he takes free will away in Heaven that is just creating an eternity of automatons.

If you answer yes to free will and yes to sin, isn't there a chance that everyone will rebel and fall again?  That doesn't seem like a good plan to me.  It is like asking for everything to start over again.

If you answer no to free will and yes to sin, then well uhm so God will force people to sin?  WTF?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

TF - Chapter 5 - The Problem of Evil

This could also be called 'How to Solve the Problem of Evil Via Red Herring'.

Of course the reason everything in the world is not perfect is because Satan appeared as a serpent (find Biblical quotes stating that it was Satan) and tricked Eve into eating a magical fruit that allowed her to tell the difference between good and evil.  Yes, someone who could not know that they were committing evil has damned us all.  That is Colson's premise and the premise of most Creationist Christians.  Colson does nothing to prove his premise but just states it and goes on.

Colson starts off describing the problem of evil and describing it well.

But why would God bring a world into existence that would be characterized by such evil and suffering?  What about "acts of God" like hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and famine?  Humanity is afflicted with cancer and a thousand other diseases.  Can all the evil of the world be attributed to humankind's failings?  Is God truly innocent?  He put Adam and Eve in a situation where He knew, if God is omniscient, or all-knowing, that they would fail.

The last bit is a bit of a red herring but could easily fall into the discussion. It is usually the excuse for evil, but it ignores natural disasters.  Epicurus is credited with the first asking of the problem but Sextus Empiricus wrote the oldest extant version of it.  It states:

  1. If a perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, a perfectly good god does not exist.

It has changed some since but the basics of it are still the same.  The way I like to hear it is, as stated by David Hume:
"Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"
So what is Colson's answer to the problem of evil?  Free will causes evil and God wants us to have free will.  He never describes what free will is and how that is compatible with an omniscient God ( you can't do anything without God already knowing what you are going to do, thus free will is more of an illusion, as your choices are known ahead of time and in a sense predetermined).  He also never explains how free will causes natural disasters.  Instead Colson tells the story of a pilot that ignores his instruments and kills almost everyone on board.  What this has to do with anything, I have no clue.  It is a nice Red Herring.

Next Colson claims that evil is only here because of sin.  So, yes because a rib-woman ate a fruit, we have to deal with natural disasters.  He backs up this assessment by telling a story of asking a bunch of prisoners, in his church service, what they thought the cause of the increase in prison population.  They, according to Colson, all answered sin.  So obviously it must be sin.  It couldn't possibly have anything to do with a war on drugs that targets victims and not the root causes of drugs?  Also if it is sin, then surely countries that are more religious will have less crime than non-religious ones?  Let's look at the stats.

 According to a Gallop poll in 2007-2008 the top ten most religious countries were:
  1. Egypt
  2. Bangladesh
  3. Sri Lanka
  4. Indonesia
  5. Congo
  6. Sierra Leone
  7. Malawi
  8. Senegal
  9. Djibouti
  10. Morocco
The least 10 were:
  1. Estonia
  2. Sweden
  3. Denmark
  4. Norway
  5. Czech Republic
  6. Azerbaijan
  7. Hong Kong
  8. Japan
  9. France
  10. Mongolia
The top 10 countries with highest prison percentage:
  1. United States
  2. China
  3. Belarus
  4. Bermuda
  5. Kazakhstan
  6. The Virgin Islands
  7. The Cayman Islands
  8. Turkmenistan
  9. Belize
  10. Suriname
So what's it mean?  Well nothing as there seems to only be a slight correlation and correlation does not equal causation anyway.  There are many factors that go into prison populations, most of them are socio-economical.  Laying it all at the feet of sin is just ridiculous and ignores a vast number of issues.  Plus it doesn't answer the question of evil and natural disasters.  This is all just one giant red herring to make people forget about the problem.

Colson never answers the problem of evil in this chapter.  He goes on about Satan and sin and anything to throw off the fact that his God has the power to stop natural disasters that harm innocents but never does anything.