The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

New meeting time?; A “common argument” refuted

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Hello everyone, Dave here again! In today’s post, I will talk about a few different things. The first is the time & location of SASHA meetings for this summer and next year. We have been discussing choosing an alternative location off-campus until next semester starts and we get our old room back. We have also been talking about changing the day of our meetings from Tuesdays to Wednesdays. The reason for this is two-fold: We currently meet 6-7 PM on Tuesdays and the Columbia Atheists group meets at 7 PM on Wednesdays. We thought it might be fun to meet right before their meetings on Wednesdays, so that if we choose, we can make a group trek over to Boone Tavern and continue our meetings with the company of the Columbia Atheists. If we have unfinished business of our own, we can instead trek down to Heidelberg as we have been doing, at our option, if we want to keep the meetings separate.

The other reason is that, in our estimation, a decent proportion of our members have to miss our meetings during the semester because of conflicts with schoolwork. Since most of the more-intensive classes meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (rather than Tuesdays/Thursdays), often, students with tests or homework due on Wednesdays may need that time Tuesday evening for studying. By meeting on Wednesdays instead, more students should have time in their schedule for SASHA, since there is a smaller likelihood of having a lot of work due on a Thursday than a Wednesday.

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think of this idea!

Another item on the agenda is summer meeting times. We would like to gauge interest for summer meetings. I, personally, propose that we change our meetings over the summer to Wednesdays at 6 PM for the first reason listed above. We could meet at Heidelberg and then trek down to Boone Tavern if we desire to meet up with Columbia Atheists, or alternatively, we could just meet at Boone Tavern at 6 until Columbia Atheists start their meetings, and then join them.

If either of these ideas sounds good to you, or if you have another suggestion, please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

The second part of my post today will be about an argument I’ve been hearing more and more lately. It’s not a new argument by any stretch, but as fewer and fewer students are required to learn critical-thinking skills these days, this is becoming more common. There was a time when college students were required to have read and understood a fair amount of ancient philosophy & logic. In fact, Harvard and Yale both used to offer tutors for under-prepared students entering college who needed a refresher in their Greek and Latin (N.B. – this is a PDF link). Nowadays, it is not uncommon – in fact, it’s likely the norm – for students to graduate from either school without learning any more Latin their perhaps their school mottoes and the Latin names of a few species of extinct protohumans. In fact, I once saw a T-shirt that said: Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes. (If you can read this, you’re over-educated, lit. If you know [how] to read this, you have too much education). Since when does being able to read a basic sentence in THE language of educated people throughout Western history mean you have too much education? I think that our ancestors from six or eight generations ago would be horrified to find out what we, in 2011, consider a college education in terms of philosophy, regardless of the language in which you’re learning it.

As I understand it from asking my dad, aged 62, Latin was a standard part of high-school curricula in the 1950s, and indeed he took Latin from elementary school on through high school (disclosure: he went to Catholic school). But not only Catholics learned Latin in school: My girlfriend tells me that at her alma mater, Bryn Mawr, until a few decades ago, all students were required to know Latin upon admission, and in the introduction of his now-classic Latin textbook, first published in 1956 and currently in its 6th edition, Latin professor Frederick Wheelock talks about what a shame it is that some students are entering high school and even college now without having had more than an introductory course in the language!

That’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine, in case you couldn’t tell – but the point I’m making is that educational standards have slipped and are continuing to slip as each generation passes.

Some attribute this general slipping to the Vietnam War draft, wherein high-school teachers and college professors were understandably reluctant to fail their male students, because flunking them could quite literally condemn them to death. I don’t think that’s a thorough-enough explanation, but it’s beside the point. As with most pro-religion arguments, the argument that I will refute in my post today is one in which a very simple application of logic would be annihilatory. The obstacle, commonly, is not that the argument is complex or the logic difficult to grasp, but just that certain people, their vision occluded by the delusion of special pleading, do not recognize that their arguments are not immune to logical scrutiny without due justification.

If you think I’m being vague about which argument I’m describing, you’re right. I’m doing this on purpose. You can insert any common argument into this post and it will still work. If someone reading this disagrees, give me your argument in the comments below and I will logically refute it in 500 words or less. I am confident that there exists no argument for any god of any of the world’s religions that cannot be defeated easily with, in Douglas Adams’ words, “a puff of logic.” I’m going to pick one arbitrarily to illustrate my point:

“I know my god is real because s/he changes lives. I was a lyin’, stealin’, cheatin’, whorin’, cursin’, gamblin’, beer-drinkin’ fool. Then, I surrendered my life to [insert god here], and ever since, I’m a new person. I no longer lie, steal, cheat, whore, curse, or gamble, or drink beer. I was addicted to sin, and there is no simply no way my life could have changed this drastically unless [insert god here] is real.”

I was about to type, “You may be surprised that people actually use this argument, considering how obviously irrational it is,” but actually, I would be surprised if you hadn’t heard this one before. It’s a favorite of street preachers, among others. Simply put, here is the response: Yes, yes there is. I know this because I know atheists who have turned their lives around for the better.

When somebody says to you, “Christ changes lives,” try responding with one of my favorite comebacks: “No; Christianity does.”

And so does Islam, and Hinduism, and Buddhism, and Taoism, and…

If you have a support network of caring people who make you feel special and help you, you can get through anything, no gods required. It makes perfect sense that a Christian feels a sense of renewed respect for life and a strong sense of ethics (or at least some system of ethics). This is hardly proof that the Christian god exists. Religious people of any religion can and do make these changes, so unless you’re willing to argue that this proves the existence of ALL of those various gods, that argument really defeats itself. Further, as I mentioned, since atheists also can and do turn their lives around for the better, we know this is possible without a god. (It’s possible that the explanation for this is that some god or another intervenes even in the lives of atheists and without their solicitation or knowledge, but there’s no good reason to believe this is so, no evidence of it, and it’s not parsimonious.) The simplest explanation that also fits all the evidence is merely that people turn their own lives around, especially when you consider the great advantage of a loving support-network of like-minded people, probably including some other people who are encouraging you on the grounds that they have done this themselves. That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous etc groups exist – a support group makes overcoming a difficult habit infinitely easier, or in some cases, possible at all.

I want to point out that, in my opinion, studying ethics is the best thing you can do to become a better person. If you understand and can explain why certain actions are higher than others, and you have a system for determining what’s right that’s more reliable and consistent than prayer or consulting an ancient book written by, frankly, bigots, you are in a much better position to make the right decision and do the right thing. Even if a god exists (which is another debate altogether, and even then, it doesn’t help us narrow down which god or gods exist), we have no surefire way of knowing what he/she/it/they want, not to mention the Euthyphro dilemma, which may be a topic for a future post.

I hope you enjoyed my update; if you have any thing you want to say about the suggested meeting time or anything else I’ve written here, please leave a comment below!




About MU SASHA Administrator

University of Missouri SASHA (Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics) University of Missouri-Columbia

6 comments on “New meeting time?; A “common argument” refuted

  1. Jay
    May 20, 2011

    I don’t know a lick of Latin, beyond splodges of it picked up from popular culture (and what can be derived from beginning Spanish classes). I am, if I say so myself, fairly intelligent and well-educated. I agree with the rest of your post but your odd emphasis on Latin as the standard of a Wholesome Education ™ seems somewhat arbitrary.

  2. Scott Weber
    May 20, 2011

    Good comeback!! (ie, “No; CHRISTIANITY does.”) Short and sweet and potent. Could begin a good discussion about religion.

  3. MU SASHA Admin
    May 20, 2011

    Thanks for your comment. There was actually more to this post that I cut due to length. The point I was hoping to make is not so much that the lack of ancient languages in modern colleges is to be lamented per se, but rather that classical educations, particularly with regard to philosophy and logic, are no longer part of the college experience. I see this as a part of the root cause of many students today being unable to think critically and logically critique a flawed argument. It’s really just one part of a bigger picture of less rigor, especially with scientific thinking, which I see as the real shame here. Thanks! – Dave

  4. Jerry Winn
    May 20, 2011

    Merely a personal hypothesis, but I think that a lot of the failings of critical thinking can be attributed to shoveling these standards on an inefficient math education system. I don’t think critical thinking needs to be taught explicitly, and generally all subjects are required to convey evidence of teaching skills of critical thinking. The problem as I see it is that students more than ever to expect their education to be more than just personally enriching, but also useful. The challenge for us is often that we don’t allow students to exercise critical thinking in useful situations, but rather impose them in math word problems and assigned opinion writings that don’t really interest them.

  5. Jerry Winn
    May 20, 2011

    Oh, right, as for the meeting times, I think that’s an excellent idea. Particularly because I don’t know how other programs are, but nearly all of the required ECSP courses are Tuesday evenings from 4-7 and the same is true for a great deal of the graduate courses I look at. Conversely, I rarely see evening graduate classes scheduled for W/Th/F. Again, that may just be my experiences.

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This entry was posted on May 20, 2011 by in Author: Dave Muscato, SASHA Meetings, Uncategorized.
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