A Lengthy Exchange with Georgia State Senator Josh McKoon

If you follow me on Twitter, then you know that Georgia State Senator Josh McKoon and I have gone a few rounds on RFRA, gay rights, and various other social issues. He gained national attention over the last couple of years for his push to pass a RFRA law in Georgia. Josh is a bright, high profile attorney from Columbus,  Georgia and given that profile and his busy schedule, I am always appreciative of the opportunity to trade intellectual salvos with him. We disagree on nearly every social issue we discuss. I think it’s fair to say that Josh is very much influenced by his brand of conservative Catholicism and I of course am very much influenced by my humanism.

Our latest conversation was around anti-LGBT language that had been appended to an adoption bill. As of yesterday, Georgia Voice is reporting that:

That anti-LGBT amendment to a Georgia adoption bill might just be dead in the water. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) announced that House Bill 159 would be sent back to the Judiciary Committee for more work because the bill had become too ‘extreme.’”

Essentially the amendment would let “faith-based” adoption agencies, many of which accept tax dollars, turn away gay couples who were looking to adopt a child. Josh is of course on the side of the faith-based agencies, seeing this refusal to provide a service, as a First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. I see this as people who provide a service, using religion as an excuse to discriminate against a specific group of tax-paying Georgians.

Here is our exchange. It’s fairly long and took place over the course of a couple of days as I stole a few moments to check my mobile from time to time, but I think the exchange was quite interesting. I welcome your feedback and as always, happy critical thinking!

Here comes a pivot.

Yeah I went there. My excuse was that I hadn’t had my second cup of coffee yet!

Here I was finally able to ask a question that started addressing the root cause:

Notice he did not answer the question:

Josh shifted his focus to another person and responded to him with the following. Allowing me one last question which of course went unanswered.

Primum non nocere.

 

On Deepities

I love language. I also love, to borrow from Lois Lowry’s The Giver, precision of language. I have no issue with big words or even long sentences, but I do have a problem when people use big words and long sentences as a means to confound, and inexplicably impress, their target audiences.

Skeptics like Daniel Dennett and Peter Boghossian have charitably called these phrases, “deepities.” Others might just call them bullshit, but for this post we’ll stick with Dennett’s original word, “deepity!”

A deepity is a string of meaningless, often high-sounding words that have no precise meaning whatsoever, but boy do they sound impressive!

There are certain domains of human pursuit where deepities are offered as explanations all the time. Religion and to a lesser extent, philosophy are two such domains. Deepak Chopra is legendary for his ability to weave mysticism and physics terms in to rambling, incoherent nonsense that his fans absolutely eat up!

Below is the tweet Deepak currently has pinned to his twitter feed:

What the heck does that even mean? Consciousness is the constant of all constants? I can almost guarantee that if you asked Deepak to provide operational definitions for his idea of “consciousness” and his idea of “constants,” you would be drawn in to a thirty-minute lecture on quantum consciousness and quasi-God enlightenment paradigms, the conclusion of which would leave you wanting either a cheeseburger or a lobotomy.

Deepities are not limited to the professionals either. Here’s a twitter exchange I had just yesterday. You’ll notice that I use the Socratic method. It’s a very effective technique to cut through deepities.

The C.S. Lewis quote wasn’t a deepity insomuch as it was a claim to knowledge that has no evidence. So I simply responded with a question that targeted the more general question around, “why should we believe him,” rather than target the claim about God and Satan itself.

The deepity came in the answer I received:

“Lewis expressed truths of Scripture uniquely. It’s true.”

Never mind the discussion about what exactly does Pressing On Ed mean by a “truth of Scripture,” and why he thinks it’s a good thing to have to be unique about making sense of something that’s allegedly true? In other words, for something allegedly so important, shouldn’t we all be able to conclude whether or not it’s true without needing a unique translation of English in to English?

But rather than go down that road, I was more curious about how one determines a “truth of Scripture.”

“Personal faith & study by comparing what the Bible says about truth w/ what really happens.”

The next answer I received was a bit more straightforward. We were cutting through the deepities. There were still some nonsensical phrases like “personal faith,” but it sounded like we might be getting somewhere with a testable claim!  Comparing something that the Bible says is true, with what actually occurs in reality, sounds like something we can actually do!

Alas, my request for Pressing On Ed to provide an example of this test has gone unanswered. Maybe he is researching and will get back to me.

Until then, be on guard for deepities and happy critical thinking!

Will the Correct Bible Translation Please Stand Up?

If you’ve read my piece “It’s Good to Get Gobsmacked” either on my blog or on the Street Epistemology blog, or if you’ve listened to the corresponding recording of that piece on the SE Podcast, then you already know that I grew up going to a Southern Baptist church.

While I do not ever recall it being explicitly stated at church, and while my memories are admittedly quite distant as the years have rolled past, I’m quite sure it was implied that the King James Version (KJV) was the expected translation of the Bible that we were to use during our services and our Bible studies.

For many years my assumption was that there was no better translation.

With all of the “thees and thous and shalts and shalt nots,” the KJV was the first mass-produced English translation of the Bible. And being first has some serious sticking power! Not to mention that 16th century English just sounds more exotic. As if that somehow makes the words more believable. It’s sort of like how Hollywood has almost every character of antiquity – Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern, etc. – speak English with a British accent. It makes no sense, but it somehow is more believable than an ancient character speaking English with an American accent.

But does being first, or does being the most widespread, mean it’s the most correct?

In this case, not even close.

According to most Biblical scholars (the academic experts who spend their lives reading and studying Latin and Greek languages, Greco-Roman history, etc., and who build evidence-based cases for this sort of thing) the King James translation of the New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus.  The Textus Receptus is nearly universally accepted by those same scholars as a fairly poor and unreliable translation built on Erasmus’ cobbled together 12th century manuscripts.

Even shortly after Erasmus published his translation, other more “reliable” Greek translations began to trickle out. Whether it was Erasmus or someone else, the bottom line is all translations are based on copies of copies of copies of the original manuscripts. And there are no original manuscripts. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Because there are no original manuscripts of any of the New Testament writings, and because these thousands upon thousands of copies of manuscripts were scattered across what was the former Roman Empire, and because none of these copies of copies agree precisely with each other in terms of content, and because these copies of copies were written by many different people over the course of centuries, and because the KJV was published before the academic field of “Textual Criticism” had ever been dreamed up, I always find it peculiar when people suggest the KJV translation is somehow the “best.”

If we are defining “best” as the translation most likely to be closest to what the original authors wrote, then most scholars agree the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV), first published in 1989, the best. Yet people still say things like:

In summary, in 1516 Erasmus completed a rushed Greek translation based on a dozen or so copies of the New Testament that he was able to get his hands on in Europe. William Tyndale translated that copy in to “modern” English in 1526 (an act for which he was charged with heresy and executed), and the King James Version while also “translated” from the Greek, relied heavily on Tyndale’s translation. Alas, the KJV stuck and to this day, despite hundreds if not thousands of additional textual discoveries since the KJV and despite an entire academic discipline devoted to understanding how the Bible came to be the Bible, people still believe the KJV is somehow the best.

Thou shalt think critically about such things!

Happy critical thinking!

Facebook conversation with a preacher

I wanted to share a Facebook conversation about faith that I was having with a “rising star” local preacher on his public page. I’m not sure if he was busy or what, but I found his responses to be remarkably ambiguous and vague. I didn’t expect to change his mind on anything, but hopefully his 4300 followers will read this exchange and maybe it will cause some of them to scratch their heads regarding their confidence in the methods they are using to determine what they believe is true.

Also, I used my public Facebook page in the hopes that people may ask me questions. Even though this was a public conversation, I blurred the names and pictures to maintain a level of respectful discourse. This is an example of what I call, Facebook Street Epistemology.

As expected, I did not get a response to my final question.

Happy critical thinking!

 

Don’t argue science with someone who doesn’t understand science

I was giving someone some advice who asked the following:

“I don’t really know much about cosmology. But there seems to be lots of these arguments that there was a place and time before the big bang, or a place and time beyond space time, etc., where a potential deity could exist (I sense huge false probability from believers [sic] part on this, as I cannot prove them not existing). Any good responses to this kinda stuff?”

My response has two parts.

First, learn science for the sake of science. Learn about cosmology because it’s freaking amazing to think about. In other words, read science books because you want to know how things actually work. For cosmology, I recommend the following popular science books: A Brief History of Time (Hawking), A Universe from Nothing (Krauss) and Why Does E=MC2 (Cox/Forshaw).

Second, don’t let Young Earth Creationists and other anti-science apologists suck you in to arguments about science. While these discussions are often fun, they also often result in the backfire effect. If your interlocutor valued the scientific evidence, then they wouldn’t believe as they do in the first place. The goal should be to highlight the deficiency in their epistemology.  Most of these people started out being told a belief is true, believed it using “faith,” and just now are trying to back fill the belief support with some semblance of scientific evidence.

They are not weighing all of the evidence and forming a belief, rather they are selecting for the fragments of evidence, little slivers here and there, that might support the belief they already have. The only successful intervention here is to help them see the hollowness of their starting epistemology (i.e., faith) as a way of knowing.

What I do find interesting as that many of the theists (and others) who want to argue design, Big Bang, evolution, etc., are implicitly agreeing that evidence is a more convincing device by which to support a truth claim. So with these folks, my questions are usually around, “How could you know that your belief is incorrect?” and “Have you ever considered what evidence it would take for you to change your mind on the belief that your God is real?” – those kinds of questions.

If they can’t think of anything, then I ask them, “Since there is no evidence that would change your mind, is evidence really that important to you? Let’s talk about what you’re really using to support the belief: faith. Is faith a reliable method for determining what’s true?”

Happy critical thinking!