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There’s Nothing Wrong With My Lifestyle

From the Anonymous Doc blog comes an excellent example of confirmation bias.

“I never used to have heart failure,” said the patient.

“Yeah, it starts to happen to people around your age, unfortunately.”

“No, you don’t understand, I never had a problem with my heart.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So I don’t understand. I never had a problem.”

“Yeah, these things happen over time.”

“But nothing happened to cause it. So I don’t know where it came from.”

“Yeah, these things happen, lifestyle factors, genetics, over time things happen to everyone.”

“Well, I never used to have it until I got that echocardiogram. I think that caused it.”

“The echo diagnosed it, it didn’t cause it.”

“Yeah, I don’t know about that.”

“People aren’t born with heart failure. These things happen. It doesn’t help that you’re 150 pounds overweight, sedentary, high blood pressure, diabetes. We can put you on medication, but there are also lifestyle changes you can make.”

“Being overweight didn’t cause this. I’ve been overweight my whole life.”

“And it may be that at some point it starts to catch up with you.”

“Well, I’ve been overweight for years and it’s never caused any problems.”

“It contributed to the high blood pressure and the diabetes.”

“Those aren’t real problems.”

“No, they are. They can be serious.”

“But nothing was ever wrong with my heart.”

“Unfortunately, now something is.”

“I think the echo caused it.”

“That’s not something that makes sense, from a medical perspective.”

“It makes sense to me.”

“I wish you didn’t feel that way.”

The patient has a preconception: His lifestyle is healthy. Because of this belief, any information he receives from the world is interpreted in a biased way.

He says he’s never had any problems before. This is obviously wrong, since he’s got high blood pressure and diabetes. But that information was given little weight in his mind because they conflicted with his preconceived notion. This is evidenced by the fact that he said those conditions weren’t “real problems”. People often give very little attention to even glaring evidence against their beliefs.

So, if you accept the premise that he was completely healthy before he went to the doctor, it makes total sense that the echocardiogram caused his problem. Evidence that keeps his beliefs intact is given high value in his mind.

Do not look at this guy and say, “Ha! What a fool!”. This system of skewed weighting of evidence could happen to anyone. In fact, you probably have false beliefs right now as a result of this bias. Yes, even if you’re an atheist.

Go back and take a second look at your beliefs. Try to look at the evidence against it in a new light. Are you being biased? Do double-blinded studies show it to be true? Try to disprove your beliefs, not prove them.


Response to “Letter to a Freethinker” from an Atheist

J.W. Wartick posted an open letter to freethinkers recently. Even though I label myself as an atheist and I’ve posted before how I despise the term “freethinker”, I thought I’d respond anyway.

Dear Free Thinker,

What does it mean to think freely?

Does it mean I must be an atheist?

I’ve gotten different answers on this, but usually I’m told you can’t be religious and be a free thinker. The idea is that “freethinkers” are supposed to base their beliefs on reason. People who believe in God don’t usually rely on reason. They lean on faith.

If you’re a believer in God because of reason and evidence, however, then you would be a freethinker.

Reason and evidence aren’t enough to get to the truth, though. That’s just the best strategy we have available. It’s also necessary to have a good working knowledge of how people can be tricked into believing things that aren’t true. There are several common mechanisms in which this commonly takes place, confirmation bias being one of them. These flaws in human perception can fool even a reasonable person. The scientific method is the best way to bypass these flaws.

You tell me there is no evidence for the existence of God.

You say that there is more evidence for unicorns than the object of my worship.

I don’t know that I’ve seen evidence for unicorns, but it’s at least plausible. They are pretty close to horses, which do exist. It’s only the horn we have lacking, and it would be easy for natural selection to make it happen. It just doesn’t seem to be the case that it has.

An all-powerful God, though? There is no evidence. The only “evidence” that’s ever cited is riddled with confirmation bias or arguments from ignorance.

You tell me that I’m an atheist too.

Why do you say “we’re all atheists” when I believe in God?

I believe the idea is that if you don’t believe in Thor but you do believe in God, then you are an atheist with respect to Thor but a theist with respect to God. It’s an attempt to get theists to understand that they require evidence for everything in life except God.

You tell me “That’s just your interpretation”; “You’re wrong”; “I’m right.”

I reject science, according to you. I don’t know how to open my eyes. I’m blind, foolish, and stubborn.

You say that I’m delusional, and that my belief is a disease.

Yep! Now you’re getting it. I shouldn’t be snide, though. I don’t follow your blog closely enough to accuse you of anything.

I have a final question:

Am I allowed to think freely…

Or is it just you?

Ah, one of the reasons I dislike that term so much. I tried to tell my friends that it’s an insulting term, but they said “tough”. I prefer to just tell you you’re wrong. I don’t need creative euphemisms for that.



What a Waste!

“What a waste.”

Have you ever heard this phrase? I heard it recently from a female friend while watching a TV show scene where two men were making out in a car. Why do women say this about gay men? What, exactly, is being “wasted”? When I see the two men kissing each other, it looks to me like they are using what they have to the best of their ability. Why not say “what a waste” to a Catholic priest? They are truly wasting their sexual potential by being celibate.

Do some women think they own the rights to all men’s affection? So long as a woman is enjoying a man’s pleasure, that man’s sexual potential isn’t going to waste? People, you do not own the rights to another person’s sexuality. They are free to use their bodies however they see fit. And if they look happy, it’s not a waste.


Religious Opinion Survey Released

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released a survey of evangelical Protestant leaders.

I am always cautious of survey results. People can lie about their answers and leading questions can skew the results. But these results seem interesting, so I thought I’d look at some of them.


Whenever people ask me why I care if people are religious, I bring up pro-choice and anti-gay sentiment. The response is always “You don’t have to be religious to be against abortion” and “Not all religious people are anti-gay”.

This survey suggests that a majority of Protestant leaders DO think this way. Being religious certainly helps with these positions. Though not all pro-choicers have religious reasons for their position, religious thinking is still a major cause for leading people to this position.

Likewise, even if you’re religious and you’re not anti-gay, it should concern you that religious thinking can lead so many people to this position. If people really can be touched by the holy spirit, why are so many being led astray?

It seems religious leaders are split 50/50 on whether the bible should be taken literally and whether atheists can be good people. These are the areas we should be pushing them on. Regardless of whether people believe in God, the world would be a better place if more people came to the right side of these issues. And I think these are opinions we can change.


Wow, it’s good to know religious leaders have such a low opinion of me. I would submit that we should focus on changing this opinion of us just as much as we do on criticizing belief itself.

If we can convince people that there’s nothing wrong with challenging others beliefs, the overall goal of ending irrational thinking will be much easier to attain.

There’s several other interesting statistics in the survey as well, but I don’t have the time to cover them all. If you want to check it out, the link is here:


Standing Up for the Godless Bus Ads

I’m light on content this week, due to my trip to Dallas last weekend. I normally do my writing on the weekends. I did get a letter to the editor posted in the newspaper last week, though. I’ve reposted my letter below for those who are interested:

A federal lawsuit was filed recently because the Little Rock Transit Authority rejected the Coalition of Reason’s “Good Without God” ad. They said that it was too controversial and would probably just be vandalized.

I am an atheist. All this ad says is that you can be a good person without believing in God.

Why is that so controversial?

Why is me saying that I’m a moral person so offensive that it would drive people to vandalism?

I am an Arkansan. I am your neighbor. I am a good and moral person. If that offends you, I think you should re-examine your beliefs. I’m not leaving Arkansas.

I’m not leaving the country. I am here to stay.

I’m a nice guy … really.

That last bit was a subtle jab at the guy who wrote in a couple weeks ago saying atheists should move to Russia or China. I’m curious if anyone will call me out as a bad person. I don’t think they will. I think this myth only exists when atheists aren’t visible as real people.


There are no Atheists in Earthquakes.

From a letter to the editor by Butch Blancq recently:

A different definition

Definition of an atheist: First person to start praying in an earthquake.

So, once again, you have a guy who’s so overpowered by religious delusion that he literally can’t imagine someone not believing in God. To an atheist, his statement is obviously laughable. To a theist, it’s obviously true. If we went to the trouble to disprove it, they would just ignore us.

There’s already a big list of Atheists in Foxholes that’s been started. I suppose now we’re going to have to start an Atheists in Earthquakes website? Why bother? This could go on forever. We could create a list of thousands of atheists who didn’t pray in earthquakes only to have the saying change to nuclear bombs or tsunamis. Isn’t this a little childish? Why can’t theists just accept that some people don’t believe? Step outside yourself for just a second. It’s the first step towards empathy.


Arguments for the Existence of God: Cosmological

People often wonder, “Why are we here?” Not just why are we here in this canyon, but why are we here, in this universe? How did everything come to be? The question pops up most famously in the form of an argument for the existence of God known as the “First Cause” argument.

The argument goes like this:

  1. Everything that exists must have a cause.
  2. If you follow the chain of events backwards through time, it cannot go back infinitely, so eventually you arrive at the first cause.
  3. This cause must, itself, be uncaused.
  4. But nothing can exist without a cause, except for God.
  5. Therefore, God exists.

So, basically, you assume that everything that exists in the world was caused by something (even the things that caused the other things). If you could trace this chain of causation backwards through time, you would see that it can’t go back forever. It all had to have started somewhere. Something must have caused everything to begin with. Theists cause this something “God”.


There are a number of problems with this argument.

  • Why can’t something have existed forever?

I have yet to hear a good reason why something can’t have existed forever. Who’s to say there isn’t an infinite chain of causes and effects stretching backwards in time? Just because we have a problem imagining infinity, we’re going to say it’s impossible?

The Big Bang theory is often brought up by theists to try to back up the premise that the universe had a beginning. This is not what the theory says, however. It says there was a gigantic explosion. Scientists don’t know what happened before the big bang because all the evidence was erased in the explosion. Anything could have been around before then. We just don’t know.

  • Who created God?

Who created God? Was there another God that created the God of our universe? Are there an infinite number of Gods creating Gods? And if God doesn’t need to have a creator, why the hell not? How come he gets to be the exception to rule #1? If there can be a thing that doesn’t need a cause to exist, why not just let the universe be that thing?

  • Who’s to say this first cause was a God?

Maybe the first cause was an unintelligent phenomenon? Maybe it was something we’re unaware of but doesn’t listen to our thoughts at all? Maybe it’s not omnipotent after all? Why assume omnipotence and all-powerful intelligence?

We’re trying to explain the complexity of the universe, and this just adds even more complexity that would need to be explained. Where did this God come from? What is it made of? Where does it reside? How did it come to be? If the first cause was just a speck of dust, does it still deserve to be worshipped?

All the first cause argument does is push the questions up one level into a region where we’re comfortable not knowing the answers. To be fair, I don’t think anyone actually believes in God because of this argument. I think they believe because they want to believe. This is just what people come up with when they try to use reason to defend their faith.

(Photo by Matt Cavanagh)

Banning Compulsory Prayer: Unamerican?

Jeff Crawford posted this recently at his blog regarding prayer at graduation ceremonies in Texas.

Wow.  Is this really what things have degenerated to in the People’s Republic?  We now must pass all public terminology through the federal filter police in order to avoid inflicting irreparable harm on students who single themselves out?  Really?  This is beyond ugly.  It is censorship, it is offensive, it is scary, it is un-American, it is Unconstitutional, it is ridiculous, it is social engineering, it is Big Brother, it is tyranny of the minority, and a few other words I can think of.  This should give every American, not just Christians, a chill.  What Judge Biery did was freeze out free speech.

Christians still don’t see the problem with forced prayer in school. I am resigned to this. I think rhetoric will never make them understand. I believe the only path forward is to start including non-Christian prayers in school events and watch them flip their collective lids.

This post is for students. If you have a chance to speak at an event, here are some prayers you can say to make Christians realize that secularism is important. Please recite one of these prayers during the biggest school-sponsored ceremony you can:

Muslim prayer:

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.
“Allah is the Most Great.” (twice)
Ash-hadu an la ilah ella-Allah
“I bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah.” (once)
Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan Rasul-ullah
“I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” (once)
Haiya ‘alas-Salat
“Hurry towards prayer.” (once)
Haiya ‘alal-Falah
“Hurry toward success.” (once)
Qad Qamatis-Salat, Qad Qamatis-Salat,
“The time of prayer has come.” (twice)
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.
“Allah is the Most Great” (twice)
La illah illa-Allah
“None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.” (once)

Hindu prayer:

Vamshee vibhooshita karaan navaneeradaabhaat
Peetaambaraadaruna bimbaphalaa dharoshthaat;
Poornendusundara mukhaad aravinda netraat
Krishnaat param kimapi tattwam aham na jaane.

MEANING: I know not any other Reality than the lotus-eyed Krishna with hands adorned with flute, looking like a heavy-laden cloud in lustre, wearing a yellow silk garment, with His lower lip like a ruddy bimba fruit, and with face shining like the full moon.

Atheist prayer:

Our brains, which art in our heads, treasured be thy names. Thy reasoning come. The best you can do be done on earth as it is. Give us this day new insight to resolve conflicts and ease pain. And lead us not into supernatural explanations, deliver us from denial of logic. For thine is the kingdom of reason, and even though thy powers are limited, and you’re not always glorious, you are the best evolutionary adaptation we have for helping this earth now and forever and ever. So be it.

So go forth and pray at major events for the wrong religion. I want to see how upset they get so I can say the same thing to them that they’re saying to us now: “What’s the problem?”


Psst…. Hey kid, come ‘ere.. you want some Euphoria?

In a recent letter to the editor, Gary W. Lemon wrote:

God, through his son Jesus Christ, offers us a free gift just for the asking. It’s called salvation. When we ask and receive the gift we have a euphoric feeling of peace and realize nothing else matters but him. Plus, we have the promise of a euphoric heaven. We are called conservatives. Many so-called Christians and preachers never had this experience and have formed pseudo-churches that are nothing more than community centers.

BOOM! It’s the No True Christian card! Can I play this card on people too, or do I have to be self-righteous first?

Let me tell you something, Mr. Lemon: Your euphoric feelings don’t mean shit. You can experience euphoria from anything if you get yourself in the right state of mind. The brain is very powerful. You can make yourself feel and see anything you want. You can’t trust your personal experiences. Start filtering out your brain’s natural biases, and you’ll be shocked at what you find.

To all the liberals, atheists and socialist Communists, what can you offer to top that experience? You’ve made a world heaping full of vile filth and degradation. You want us to believe if we are tolerant with people whose only intent is to kill Christians and Jews, thereby removing God from the earth, everything will be hunkydory. What inflated egos you have to believe you can change what was predicted 2,000 years ago. And you call us foolish. These are wars of good and evil and cannot be stopped with peace talks, treaties or negotiations.

Atheists offer reality. There is comfort in knowing that your beliefs have the highest chance of being true, because they’re based on good evidence. We may be wrong sometimes, but we can change our views when more evidence is discovered. Each time new evidence comes to light, our worldview becomes more and more accurate. Additionally, our position on things can actually change if someone offers a compelling argument.

We offer a system of morality that’s based on reason. We believe in building a better world, because it’s the only one we’ve got. Rather that waiting around for the end times, we value the life that we have right now. We believe that individual responsibility builds character, because if I kick you in the balls and then apologize to God for it, I’m still a dick. And is it really fair to punish my kids for it?

Atheists believe in lots of things. If you’d actually talk to them instead of calling them scum and damning them to hell, you mind find out that we are a nice, diverse bunch of people.


Are you a murderer? Never fear, God will rewrite your DNA!


Have you murdered someone? Get saved and God will rewrite your DNA!!! If that’s not a selling point, I don’t know what is.


[via The American Jesus]