The slippery slope of slippery slopes

Perhaps it’s just the over-usage by Christian apologists, but every time I hear someone use the argument that some policy or action ought to not be taken because it’s a “slippery slope” to some horrendous sin that will destroy society, I immediately think their entire argument is fallacious.

The slippery slope argument goes by another name that bugs me even more – that is when people argue that something ought to be taken “to its logical consequences.” As though logic dictates that insane and terrible results absolutely must follow some meagre policy change or other position. This terminology is much more prevalent among the more educated reactionary debaters, perhaps since we must all defer to the apparent truths that are being trotted out.

Now, I don’t think the slippery slope defence is quite a fallacy on its own. While my inclination is to think you’re full of shit, there have been a few cases where slippery slopes have proven true.

In Losing Control, Tom Warner explains how the slippery slope argument was frequently used by the religious right in the battles to include sexual orientation in human rights codes. The fear was that if homosexuality was entitled to be free from discrimination, then it was a quick and slippery slope to gay marriages and adoptions.

How fabulously right the zealots were!

Of course this example brings up the first counter to the slippery slope argument: some slippery slopes end not in the moral decay of society or Armageddon, but rather land in pools of fun, like waterslides. Sometimes the logical consequences are either neutral or a net positive to society.

Gay people getting married means more money being spent on lavish parties and gifts.

However, more often then not, the slippery slope argument seems to suggest to me that people are devoid of compromise. It gives a very dichotomous worldview where it denies that people can be reasonable and will set limits.

A great example is Vancouver’s new by-law permitting people to keep 4 chickens in their backyard for eggs.

I hope the stupidity is apparent if someone were to argue against the allowance on the grounds that pretty soon they’d be allowing entire barnyards and petting zoos in people’s backyards.

In our democratic society we very often have conflicting sets of rights and desires. We negotiate this competition through dialogue and discussion. People are generally okay with modest limits on their freedoms in exchange for greater rights or protections in other areas (cue fundamentalist libertarian disagreement).

Were the slippery slope to be a viable argument, the development of the first atomic weapon would have logically required our extinction due to nuclear fallout. Luckily for us, people are smarter than these apparent logical requirements.

Clarifications needed

My last post before my hiatus attracted some likely deserved criticism for my sloppy writing.

I was mostly trying to just outline the back and forth between PZ Myers and people he felt like disagreeing with.

Phil Plait asks how I parsed that he said skeptics ought to “step aside,” and I’ll admit that is a misreading (so I’ve adjusted my post), but his post seems to tend on the verbose side (not that anything is wrong with that, but his points do seem to get lost in this case – although perhaps that’s just me). He does say:

Skepticism deals with issues of the paranormal, issues with faith, issues where scientific evidence can be used to test a claim. In this case, I don’t see skeptics needing to be involved more than any other interest group.

Fine, I guess, I just disagree with flying the “skepticism” flag sometimes, perhaps this is a humanist issue and a freethought issue. The fact that the church has been knowingly shuffling pedophiles around and using their power and intimidation (which they claim to be divinely given) is more serious to me than just the laws they broke, it’s that they broke them knowingly and continuously. It’s that the workers of God had more right to keep abusing society’s most vulnerable than the children to not be raped.

It’s the arrogance that gets me riled as a human-being (which Phil points out), so perhaps its not a “skepticism” issue but then I guess I’m hoping that we can all be more than a mere skeptic.

Next, I attracted Massimo Pigliucci’s attention. I’d like to clear up that I do not consider him a post-modernist, and I likely ought to have just left that second-to-last paragraph out of the discussion. And I think ADHR responds nicely to Massimo’s concern about PZ “simply hurling insults” by stating:

I don’t think Myers is trying to engage in an intellectual debate, so how is his failure to do good science or good philosophy even relevant? It’s like castigating Sidney Crosby for his inability to score touchdowns.

PZ keeps his science in the lab and classroom and uses his blog to vent, and he apparently found quite the market for those ventings.

So in summary: Sorry Phil Plait, I mischaracterized your article, but still disagree. Sorry Massimo, you’re not a postmodernist.

Ivory Tower vs PZ Myers

As almost perfect examples of the Ivory Tower Atheism, that I outlined the other day in regards to another thoughtless rant in The Peak, we have Michael De Dora, the executive director of CFI:NY, defending creationists in biology classes, and then philosopher (and kick-ass debater for the UAAA) Massimo Pigliucci stating that tone and respect are trump-cards when dealing with religious claims as opposed to confronting them every once in a while. We also have Phil Plait asking skeptics to step aside be diplomatic. In response to these posts, we have PZ Myers using every bit of rehtoric he can to defend the so-called New Atheist approach (i.e. the rude one).

So, separated by argument thread and then in chronological order, here’s the debate so far (if you have some time, it’s worth the read):

Biology textbook calls creationism a biblical myth

  1. PZ Myers: Tennessee twit gets brief moment in the limelight of Fox
  2. Michael De Dora: Should Biology Textbooks Include “Biblical Myth” Language?
  3. PZ Myers: Witless wanker peddles pablum for CFI
  4. Ron Lindsay: CFI: Home to Both Atheist Fundamentalists and Religion-Loving Wankers?
  5. Massimo Pigliucci: PZ Myers is a witless wanker who peddles pablum
  6. PZ Myers: I shall be no friend to the appeasers
  7. PZ Myers: I support philosophy; I criticize philosophy

On whether the pope should be arrested

  1. Phil Plait: The Pope, the Church, and skepticism
  2. PZ Myers: As long as I’m criticizing my allies…

Now I don’t think that either of these arguments are over, and there will always be those in either the “warrior” or “diplomat” class, but it’s worth noting a few things.

First, PZ Myers acknowledges that both will always be needed. No movement that seeks change exists solely of conservative elements, there have to revolutionary and reactionary types. There is no one tactic that will change the world. Environmentalists need Greenpeace for stupid publicity stunts but they also need green economy business-types who invest in tomorrow’s technology. Without the former there would be less awareness of the issues, while without the latter there would be no change.

Next, I wonder to what extent postmodern philosophy has harmed science education in the USA and worldwide. Specifically I mean the sort of ideas that Pigliucci and De Dora talk about epistemological boundaries which prevent teachers from actually teaching. Do we expect students to understand the scientific method if they are continually told we don’t really know anything for sure and that everything we know (scientific or otherwise) is based off the circular logic inherent in inductive reasoning?

Nevertheless, the dispute will continue, and the mudslinging has either only just begun or eventually one side will give up and ignore the other (my money is on PZ never ceasing to respond to his critics).

Update: Adjusted wording.

How to reconcile time travel

My Philosophy of Space and Time class is winding down, and I have a week now to think up and write my 3000 word final essay. One of the potential topics is time travel.

Now in class we figure that any “second chance” time travel is logically impossible (assuming one timeline) because it will create logical contradictions (the grandfather paradox), and that’s just not cool.

This is disappointing though. I mean, what’s the fun of time travel if you can’t do it, or if you can that you can’t change anything?
Continue reading How to reconcile time travel

Communism is dead

After getting barely a bit into the Communist Manifesto, you start to realize that it hasn’t aged well at 160.

I just finished the epoch by Marx and Engels, although that word is deceiving because all-in-all it comes in at a mere 42 pages. My opinion: things have changed a lot since they wrote this manifesto.

The first major problem I encountered was that they assume this diametrically opposed class war. It’s the “us versus them” mentality that has led to many conflicts throughout time. The communists (I’ll use this word to denote the position taken by the manifesto) argue that the only way for the working class to ever gain anything is to destroy the current system. It’s a hugely false dichotomy now, however, may have rung truer in another time.

Today (in Western culture), there is no proletariat-bourgeoisie class rivalry. There is essentially a spectrum of wealth from the homeless to the worlds richest – and most are above the poverty line today.
Continue reading Communism is dead

Garrison’s (deluded) World Pt. 2

I’m barely through the introduction to part 2 “Reason and the New Philosophy of the Non-Rational” of Garrison’s The Irrelevance of Rational Atheism and the New Philosophy of the Non-Rational, and already he’s making me want to head-desk.

His first argument today is that everyone uses faith – the rational atheist has faith he/she will discover everything with science (we don’t, I’m okay with not knowing everything), the irrational-nihilist has faith there is no purpose in the universe (figure that out, having faith in nothing), and obviously the theists have faith.
Continue reading Garrison’s (deluded) World Pt. 2

Garrison’s (deluded) World Pt. 1

After going through the five-part Cosmic Fingerprints series and all its shortcomings, I have stumbled across the semi-intellectual (sounding) Garrison’s World at

Rather than a confused old-Earth creationist who doesn’t get what information is we come across a blithering theologian who seems to write for the pure intellectual masturbation of it (I won’t confirm nor deny whether that’s my reasons for writing, but I’m sure he’s attempting to “reach” people).

His series is entitled “The Irrelevance of Rational Atheism and the New Philosophy of the Non-Rational” and part I is called “The Two Brands of Atheism.” I’ll also say I found some odd irony with an add for The God Who Wasn’t There on the top and an add for the Scientology Video Channel on the sidebar.
Continue reading Garrison’s (deluded) World Pt. 1

What I am and what I am not

I am human, I am not subservient. I do not serve a dictatorial higher power.

I am responsible to myself.  I actively try to minimize the harm my actions will cause others, in hopes that they will do the same for me.

I am moral, I am not a sinner. I am not perfect, but I will not live a life of guilt.

I am a leader, not a sheep.

I work to actively improve my own life, that of those around me and the generations that shall follow me.  I do not shortsightedly assume the rapture will come soon.

I seek to expand my knowledge, through reading, writing, higher education and scientific research.

Continue reading What I am and what I am not

On light and morality

The argument comes up far too often.

Morality requires an absolute reference point.  Without God there can be no morals.

But it occured to me today that this parrots an argument made just over a hundred years ago in physics:

Light is a wave and therefore requires a medium to propagate.  Without the aether in interstellar space, there can be no light.

A bit of a background:
Continue reading On light and morality