August 24th, 2007


I swear, I'll never learn

I have this problem, see. I don't really relate well to a lot of people. I talk, and people just don't get it. I'm fairly widely read and even smart people think I come off as a know-it-all. I'm an atheist, and more importantly, a dedicated rationalist. I don't currently do research, but I identify--and have since I was seven--as a scientist. Science and reality matters to me, and I get really ticked off when people deny reality. It makes it really hard to meet people who can tolerate me! (Never mind me them.)

Well, I got myself into trouble not once, but twice today.

I was talking to one of the local Mensa members over email. It's been a slow conversation because he was out of town. He's not sure he should continue his membership. He went to the local gathering and was upset that one of the speakers, who was advocating some looney non-traditional "medicine", was being accosted after his talk in a less than totally accepting way. This bothered him (the member, not the speaker). It was one of several complaints. I did my good-member duty and encouraged him to stay, but based on his comments about the quack speaker, I remarked that I may not be the best person to try to befriend locally because our views on science pretty much precluded pleasant conversation.

Well, he got back from wherever he was and replied to my message, and most of it was fine, even great, but we came back to that alternative medicine thing. He again trashed traditional medicine, and said basically that because a doctor cannot give patients a single medicine that he was sure would cure whatever ailed him, and without side-effects, that they were performing what amounted to, and I quote, pseudo-scientific witchcraft, along with several other damning comments. But that didn't mean he wasn't interested in other sciences.

Um, yeah.

I tried to reply calmly, and tried to explain why the things about traditional medicine that bothered him were NOT "pseudo-scientific witchcraft". Along with that, I tried to soften it by pointing out that science was very important to me, and I felt that impugning medicine was impugning science. And I apologized if I misunderstood, but that perhaps, if he still wanted to chat, or contact me as a resource in the local group, that we should just NOT talk about medicine.

Despite my backing off there at the end, I still pretty much let the guy have it. I imagine that it won't go over well. Mensans do have a tendency to think they know everything. I am hardly an exception! :) And not everyone handles argument well.

Whatever. I've been listening to too many atheists lately or something, but I just don't see the point of letting that kind of ignorance and irrationality go unchallenged, or rolling my eyes behind their back at a later date.

But, see, then I did it again, almost immediately.

I was telling my mother about the email. And we were doing okay talking about the Christopher Hitchens interview I posted last time, until I started talking about alternative medicine. And of course, I'm freshly armed with information on the tip of my tongue, because I just watched the Enemies of Reason episode I posted yesterday, too.

Look, I don't have a problem with people seeking alternative treatments when modern medicine can give them no hope whatever. If you've tried everything, or your doctor says, look, the best I can do is buy you a couple extra months of chemo... under such circumstances, what have you got to lose? And there are some treatments that probably should be definitively tested for effectiveness if they haven't already. But, they are NOT the first line of defense, ever. Mom starts going on about chemicals vs. natural herbs... and I'm like, where do you think this stuff comes from? Plastics? Invented out of whole cloth? And she just can't see the difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence. She says if they've been using this for a long time, and it's worked before, that's the same to her as clinical trials!

Well, that argument went rapidly from a heated discussion into a screaming match. She just kept trying to talk over me. She didn't want to hear my explanation of why there really is a difference or anything. And I even tried to remind her that if we extended her reasoning about alternative medicine to the Bible, she'd have to believe all of that, too. But she rejects the Bible, but not this... And that if we extended are argument to prayer, we should call that effective, too!


I even tried to mention the fact that our brains don't handle statistical data very well, at least not unconsciously. We remember things that "fit" and reject things that don't, and we don't end up with any real idea of how likely things are without actually crunching the numbers. She still didn't buy it; and then tells me that I am selectively accepting data that conforms to my preconceived ideas!

The only good thing about arguing with my mother is that she rarely hangs up on me even if I completely take the gloves off.

I have other friends/acquaintances who basically believe the same way, and we just can't have these discussions. They have completely bought into one bullshit thing or another about conspiracy theories or some other nonsense. Maybe the problem is that scientists work for the corporate machine, and when the machine adjusts the data for their own motives, the scientists get tainted--rather like religion and government?

I don't know, but it strikes me that perhaps what we need to be teaching children in school is how real science is conducted. Not just the science itself, but rather like civics/social studies classes, teach them about the scientific process by teaching them about how science is done at the macro level as well as the individual experiment level. And, of course, actual courses in LOGIC and DEBATE!

Well, I ordered Stenger's and Dennett's books. Now that I have time to read them maybe, and the conference coming up. I also listened to the audiobook for Hitchens' book on Thomas Paine. Very interesting. I have an abridged audiobook, or a lecture, on one of his books (might have been Common Sense), so I knew something about the subject already, but still learned some things I hadn't known.

The Book of Mormon (Part 10)

I'm finally up to CD #16. Just 5-1/2 more to go!

Just a couple of impressions.

One thing I realized today is that while they do a lot of executing, they don't talk about stoning... and since this is supposed to be a culture of BCE Jews originally, and the Old Testament is pretty big on stoning, that's a notable hole.

The other weird thing, in Helamon 6? they talk about how the Nephites are rapidly going down the road to iniquity and the book talks about how they haven't a had war in five years, and that's why they are becoming sinful!

That's a new one!

On a related topid, there is a new movie coming out about the Mormons, and since I've gone to all the trouble of reading/listening to their book, I might as well try to find the movie locally. It's called September Dawn. It's about a massacre of settlers heading west who were in "Mormon territory" in 1857. The other September 11th, I guess.

How much you wanna bet Mitt Romney will be asked about this?