27 April 2006

Carl Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit"

One of our sources for our living tradition are "Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit."

In the spirit of our Humanist tradition within Unitarian Universalism, I'm posting a version of the "Baloney Detection Kit" from Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World.

The following are suggested as tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:

Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts.

Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").

Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.

Quantify, wherever possible.

If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.

Occam's razor - if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.

Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?

Additional issues are:

Conduct control experiments - especially "double blind" experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.

Check for confounding factors - separate the variables.

Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric

Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.

Argument from "authority".

Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavorable" decision).

Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).

Special pleading (typically referring to god's will).

Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).

Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).

Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).

Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)

Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not "proved").

Non sequitur - "it does not follow" - the logic falls down.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - "it happened after so it was caused by" - confusion of cause and effect.

Meaningless question ("what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).

Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the "other side" look worse than it really is).

Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle ("why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?").

Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).

Confusion of correlation and causation.

Caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.

Suppressed evidence or half-truths.

Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action" to get around limitations on Presidential powers. "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public."

Louisiana Abortion Ban Passes in State Senate

This article comes from Jeff Crouere, a local political journalist in Louisiana:

Yesterday, the Louisiana State Senate approved by a vote of 30-7, Senate Bill 33, authored by Senator Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), which would outlaw all abortions in the state except when the life of the mother is in danger. The bill would subject the abortionist to criminal penalties, not the woman undergoing the abortion. This follows an abortion ban that was passed in South Dakota earlier in the year. Pro-life measures are not being introduced in multiple states as anti-abortion advocates try to take advantage of momentum in this divisive issue.

By a 20-17 vote, the Senate turned down an amendment to the bill that would have added exceptions for rape and incest. Back in 1991, the Legislature passed a law that banned abortions except in the case of rape, incest and when the life of the mother was in danger. The 1991 law was signed by Governor Roemer, but later reversed in federal court. This time, supporters of Nevers’ bill believe it will pass court tests because it is not scheduled to take effect until Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, is overturned.

With the appointment of Justices Alito and Roberts, the Supreme Court is definitely more conservative and more likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, but most analysts believe that a pro-life majority does not yet exist on the court. One more conservative Supreme Court Justice is probably needed for a pro-life majority and that could come if President Bush is given an opportunity to make another court appointment.

Louisiana is one of the most pro-life states in the country. A large majority of voters in Louisiana are opposed to abortion. The state has a large Catholic and evangelical Christian population. In Louisiana, almost all Republicans and most Democrats who are elected to statewide office are pro-life. Governor Kathleen Blanco, a pro-life Democrat, likes the Nevers’ bill because it does not take effect until Roe v. Wade is overturned. Blanco knows the electorate in the state and will not risk the negative political ramifications of vetoing the bill. Back in 1991, then Governor Buddy Roemer vetoed an anti-abortion bill with no exceptions. He was never forgiven by pro-life voters and the controversy contributed to his defeat at the polls later that year. Blanco does not want the same problems one year before her re-election campaign.

Blanco “likes” the provision in the Nevers’ bill which mandates that it take effect only after the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. Blanco believes that it is “realistic” because it will preclude lengthy and costly court challenges to the law. The bill now moves to the State House, where a pitched battle is certain to occur.

The scary thing about this bill is that a majority of the legislature rejected amendments to this bill that would have allowed for exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

26 April 2006

Louisiana State Senate Voting to Ban Abortion Today (26 April 2006)

On Wednesday, 26 April 2006, the Louisiana State Senate will vote on SB 33 -- a bill that would criminalize abortion in Louisiana.

Here's a description of the proposed law from the KATC TV News web site:
La. lawmaker expects a fight over abortion bill
BATON ROUGE, La. -- State senators disagree over a bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions, and several will probably try to add exceptions for victims of rape and incest when it comes up for a vote on Wednesday, the measure's sponsor said.

Sen. Ben Nevers' bill would allow abortions only to save the life of the mother. He said he knows of several senators who will attempt to amend it to add the two additional exceptions. Sen. Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, a supporter, has said he feared the measure would not get support of the full Legislature unless the exceptions were added.

Nevers said he would fight any such change. He said he agrees with churches and religious groups -- backers of the bill -- that it should be "as pro-life as it can be."

"They want a bill that has the least exceptions, one that would protect as many unborn lives as we can," said Nevers, D-Bogalusa.

Under the measure, doctors found guilty of performing abortions would face up to 10 years in prison and fines of $100,000.

Opponents include Planned Parenthood, which held a rally on the Capitol steps Tuesday and lobbied senators to vote against the bill.

The bill is set for Senate floor debate on Wednesday afternoon.

The measure is similar to a South Dakota law passed earlier this year that is expected to land before the U.S. Supreme Court. If the high court takes up such an appeal, it would constitute a reconsideration of its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established the right to an abortion. A majority of the Supreme Court's nine justices have voted to uphold Roe v. Wade in the past.

Nevers said some opposition to the measure has disappeared because he amended it to allay concerns that the bill would provoke lawsuits -- and cost the state money -- if it passed. Nevers changed the measure to give it a "trigger" mechanism, meaning it would only go into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned or if a federal constitutional amendment outlawing abortion is ratified.

Nevers said opponents worried about lawsuits have disappeared because it could not have any effect unless one of those two events occur.

"Those concerns were done away with," he said.

A competing bill, by Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, includes rape and incest exceptions but has not come up for a vote.
If you're interested in working to defeat this proposed law, Planned Parenthood of Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta has pro-choice advocacy information here:

URGENT! SB 33 on the Senate Floor Wednesday, 4/26!

18 April 2006

What kind of Christian are you? -- Beliefnet Quiz

With all the post-Easter blog posts from Unitarian Universalist ministers and laypeople that touch on Jesus, resurrection, and miracles, I thought folks might be interested in the Beliefnet.com quiz "What kind of Christian are you?"

Like any online quiz, this takes one's complex and nuanced personal theology and reduces it to a simplification in order that it fits into a few defined sorting categories. This particular quiz uses five broad categories for sorting people:
When I took this quiz, it sorted me into the "Bishop Spong" category. I was initially surprised by this result with my background as a humanist "recovering dogmatic agnostic."

I suppose this result comes from the reading and reflection that I've done with "Biblical Revisionist" writers like Spong, Crossan, Borg, Funk, Pagels, and others. Much of my personal reflection was presented in a sermon I presented in my congregation several years ago.

I suspect that nearly all Unitarian Universalists would find themselves sorted into the "Jesse Ventura" category or the "Bishop Spong" category. And it may be a fun way to start conversations about how present-day Unitarian Universalists view Jesus, the Bible, and God.

06 April 2006

A Simple Gospel That All Are Welcome Is "Too Political"??

I wasn't surprised to hear that the latest United Church of Christ (UCC) TV ad would not be shown on several broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and WB) because these networks viewed their previous "Bouncer" ad as a controversial, issue-advocacy ad. The "Ejector Seat" ad and the "Bouncer" ad can be seen online here.

However, the latest UCC ad ("Ejector Seat") started this week and the UCC was told that the ad was inappropriate for use even on several cable networks owned by NBC and Viacom. These cable networks include MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Bravo, lesbian/gay-oriented LOGO network, USA, and Telemundo.

The MTV Network's rejection of this ad cited the "political nature of its content."

Nick@Night and TV Land networks rejected this ad because they don't accept " ... religious advertisements that take a position on controversial issues or may be deemed as disparaging to another religion ... "

So for a large portion of the broadcast and cable TV spectrum, we are being told that the message that God welcomes everyone into church is too political, too controversial, and disparaging of other religions. Ironically, one cannot advertise a gay-friendly church on the gay-lesbian-bi-trans friendly LOGO network.

So much for having equal access to the marketplace of ideas.

[Thanks to Philocrites for pointing this news story out to all of us.]

02 April 2006

When the Anti-Choice Choose -- "The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion"

In mid-March 2006, Susie Bright posted a blog article titled "If These Wombs Could Talk ..." where she mentions cases where "pro-life" women using the services of abortion clinics and in many cases remaining "pro-life" after the procedure.

The article about "pro-life" women obtaining abortions is titled "The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion" -- When the Anti-Choice Choose.

This online article is worth reading ... here are a few selections from it:

"I've had several cases over the years in which the anti-abortion patient had rationalized in one way or another that her case was the only exception, but the one that really made an impression was the college senior who was the president of her campus Right-to-Life organization, meaning that she had worked very hard in that organization for several years. As I was completing her procedure, I asked what she planned to do about her high office in the RTL organization. Her response was a wide-eyed, 'You're not going to tell them, are you!?' When assured that I was not, she breathed a sigh of relief, explaining how important that position was to her and how she wouldn't want this to interfere with it." (Physician, Texas)

"In 1973, after Roe v. Wade, abortion became legal but had to be performed in a hospital. That of course was changed later. For the first 'legal abortion day' I had scheduled five procedures. While scrubbing between cases, I was accosted by the Chief of the OB/Gyn service. He asked me, 'How many children are you going to kill today?' My response, out of anger, was a familiar vulgar retort. About three months later, this born-again Christian called me to explain that he was against abortion but his daughter was only a junior in high school and was too young to have a baby and he was also afraid that if she did have a baby she would not want to put it up for adoption. I told him he did not need to explain the situation to me. 'All I need to know', I said, 'is that SHE wants an abortion.' Two years later I performed a second abortion on her during her college break. She thanked me and pleaded, 'Please don't tell my dad, he is still anti-abortion.'" (Physician, Washington State)

"When a patient comes in with my 'favorite' sentiment: 'The only moral abortion is my abortion,' I try to expand her understanding that a few more of us have had and deserve a 'moral' abortion. When a woman expands her need for care beyond herself, you no longer have an 'anti'." (Clinic Administrator, Louisiana)

"I never dreamed, in my wildest nightmares, that there would ever be a situation where I personally would choose such an act. Of course, we would each like to think that our reasons for a termination are the exception to the rule. But the bottom line is that you people spend your lives, reputations, careers and energy fighting for, maintaining, and providing an option that I needed, while I spent my energy lambasting you. Yet you still allowed me to make use of your services even though I had been one of your enemies. You treated us as kindly and warmly as you did all of your patients and never once pointed an 'I told you so' finger in our direction. I got the impression that you cared equally about each woman in the facility and what each woman was going through, regardless of her reasons for choosing the procedure. I have never met a group of purely non-judgmental people like yourselves."

"I was born into a very Catholic family, and was politically pro-life during college. After dating my first real boyfriend for three years, we broke up, and the day my boyfriend moved out, I discovered I was pregnant. It was an agonizing decision, and something I never thought I would do, but I decided an abortion was the only realistic option. Thanks to Planned Parenthood counseling, I worked through some very tough conflicts within myself. I had to learn that my decision was a loving one. That 'my god' was actually a loving and supportive god. And that men don't have to make this decision, only women do. That it is a very personal, individual decision. I had to own it. I became much more compassionate towards myself and others as a result of my experience. Two years later I began medical school. When it came time to choose a practice, an abortion clinic opportunity came up. In working there, I began to feel that this was my calling. Having been in my patients' shoes, and coming from an unforgiving background, I could honestly say to patients, 'I know how you feel.' Deciding to have an abortion was THE hardest decision I've ever made in my life. Yet it has brought me the greatest transformation, fulfillment, and now joy. I am a more loving person because of it, and a better doctor for having experienced it. I love the work that I do, and the opportunity to support women seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy. My patients and my work are life's gifts to me, and I think my compassion and support are my gifts in return."