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The “all Christians are…” fallacy

November 27, 2009 Comments off

This post may cause trouble. There’s an issue that’s been bothering me since before I began to self-identify as an atheist (among other labels that we pigeonholers of a people like to place upon ourselves and others) that bothered me then, but does so even more now.

I have a problem with atheists who denigrate people of faith just because they hold a faith. There, I’ve said it.

My mother’s uncle turns 80 in January and he’s a Methodist lay-minister, hobbyist philosopher, critical thinker with many interests, and is a lovely man with whom I get on famously. Or did, until Easter when he saw the Atheist Bus Campaign sticker on the back of my car. His immediate, unthinking reaction was to turn to me and utter, “Oh, so you’re one of those?” By “those” I assumed he meant an atheist, so I said yes. No big deal, asked and answered simply and matter-of-factly, like “Do you like grapes?” and “Yes.” It’s now almost December and we’ve only just recently managed to establish dialogue that doesn’t include preloaded assumptions. It’s not that he wouldn’t talk to me anymore, but rather that everything he said, did and thought regarding me was now coloured with negative expectation: a shit-coloured filter.

As it was, this evening’s conversation started with his enquiry about me attending Christmas lunch with them, as I’ve done most years since moving to England. For some reason his expectation was that now I am the A-word I’d not participate in “Christian festivals” and even be antagonistic towards them. After pointing out that on one hand nearly all Christian festivals were pagan festivals long before the Catholic church came along and usurped them, and on the other hand I recognise that it’s human nature to participate in ceremonies and rituals of the passage of time, seasons and events, and such things possibly pre-date religion. He’s mollified, and Christmas is back on. Yay, status quo.

This brings me to the point of this post. The reality-based community with which I identify are more likely to use — and use successfully — logic, reason and critical thinking in arguments against everything ranging from philosophy to religion. And it’s wonderful. I mean it.

But there a section of this community that not only antagonises people of faith (I can intellectually understand this, if not agree entirely with) and often does so by using logical fallacies and cognitive biases, some of which include straw man, ad hominem, false dichotomy, sampling bias, and bias blind spot. (You’ll probably find unintended examples of these throughout this blog). I doubt you’ll find many atheists who won’t challenge religious fundamentalism and zealotry with gusto, facts, science and logic. And rightly so. But to extend that a little, a number of atheists cannot understand how any otherwise rational and intelligent people could possibly also have religious faith — particularly if they work in a science profession — so they must clearly be deluded or poor thinkers.

And then this argument often rears its head: the religious moderate is as bad, if not worse, than the fundamentalist. The rationale for this often being that moderation allows the presentation of an acceptable face of a brutal, primitive set of dogmas, or facilitates that faith’s entry through an otherwise closed door. As if, somehow, they’re all as bad as each other. To anyone who’s thought about this seriously for a moment, this is clearly not true. Yes, there are monsters in positions of power in any religion, just as there is throughout the general laity, but to caricature every member of a faith in that way is disgusting. It makes a mockery of the critical thinking and logical arguments that person holds to be valuable and worthwhile, because that person has exercised none of it.

My great-uncle has reacted and behaved the way he has with me because of the public face of modern atheism, with its often total disregard for the feelings and sensibilities of the average person — despite the fact he’s never seen any of those negative, judgemental or intolerant qualities in me. In its zeal to slap down the worst of faith and try to stem the tide of stupid overtaking the world, that form of atheistic expression is harming normal people. Those may be people who simply have not yet reached a point in their lives where they’re able to objectively reflect upon the inconsistencies and logic problems of their own faith when compared to the world around them.

There is something of which I am unequivocally certain: this perceived New Atheist “all guns blazing” approach isn’t going to work.

It’s the argumentative, brow-beating equivalent of the outlawing of religion in China and the former USSR. How can it possibly work against faiths that get excited about martyrdom? And I’m not just talking about Islam here: most major religions revel in the chance to play the oppressed, downtrodden and beaten servant of their god. They simply say, “I will practise my faith regardless, and any punishment I may receive will be my sacrifice to <insert deity here>, which will reap me rewards in <insert afterlife here>!”

Yes, it’s awful that in the 21st century billions of the world’s population are still slaves to Bronze Age superstitions. But no, screeching like a banshee at your neighbour isn’t going to make them suddenly say, “You know what… you’ve been insulting everything I’ve ever valued for years now, but I see it now: you’re right!” Just because something may be provably wrong, it doesn’t mean that an otherwise intelligent person will see it that way — you’re staring in the face of cognitive dissonance.

So am I advocating appeasement? Certainly not. But a large number of worldwide scientific community do not consider themselves atheists. Are they to be excluded from scientific endeavour? Again, certainly not. The same is true of the average member of the public. Religions and superstitions may be laughable and ridiculous, but they kill thousands of people every day and are not to be underestimated in terms of their importance to the people that hold them. And some of those people may love you and be hurt deeply whenever, by inference, you call them imbeciles.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the solution is — or even if there is one, at least that doesn’t involve totalitarianism — but I am certain that the lumping of people like my great-uncle in the same basket as a religious terrorist is wrong. And yet I see it every day in the atheist blogs I read, and in the other atheistic and even new media I consume: the deliberate misrepresentation of members of a faith as if they’re all as bad as the worst public figure in that faith. It’s wrong and it has to stop.

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Upgrading from Vista to Windows 7

November 12, 2009 Comments off

For those still running Windows Vista and who may be interested in upgrading to Windows 7, I thought I’d document my experience for you. Short version: success, with minor caveats.

Long version…

It was with great… well perhaps some… okay, mild excitement that I arrived home on Tuesday to discover that my “free” copy of Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Upgrade had arrived in the post. By “free” I mean that my purchase of Vista Home Premium (64-bit) a few months ago came with an upgrade voucher included in the price. Every online retailer’s idea of pre-order is delivery on the doorstep on the day of release or the next day at worst; Microsoft’s idea of pre-order seems to mean 2-3 weeks after release in the stores. Still… gift horse, and all that.

Below I have shown the times to give you an idea of how long it all takes. My recently-built PC is an Intel Core i7 920 with 6GB DDR3 RAM and 1TB SATA2 HDD. Your mileage will almost certainly vary in terms of time.

Preparation
Prior to sticking in the DVD — and praying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that Microsoft hadn’t royally cocked up — I took a few steps to cover myself. This involved the following:

  • My C: drive contains the operating system and programs only. All my data is on another drive, and I have important C: data backed up elsewhere.
  • Downloaded the Windows 7 version of my network card driver to my desktop.
  • Downloaded the Windows 7 version of my video card driver to my desktop.
  • Disable all third-party software that start automatically.
  • Disable antivirus software, as the install program recommends.*

That was it, really.

Note: I dual-boot between Windows and Wubi Ubuntu Linux, so that’s worth considering below when I mention Windows boot menus, as it’s likely most Windows-only installations won’t show a menu most of the time. It also shows that the process will work if you multi-boot your PC.

First Run – Compatibility Check
Upon inserting the DVD and running setup.exe, I told it to install Windows 7 which, among other things, got it to run a compatibility check.

It flagged a number of devices and programs that “might not work after installing Windows 7”:

  • Devices: IDE storage controller and Canon scanner (purchased in 2000 and only usable via VueScan‘s generic driver).
  • Programs: iTunes (reminded me to de-authorise it first), DaemonTools, and the ATI Catalyst software for my graphics CrossfireX cards.

The install software automatically removed the driver software, but this caused some issues for my SATA DVD-RW drive until I made a BIOS change (to force ACHI emulation instead of IDE), then I removed the programs as recommended.

Installation
Now for the install process, as I experienced it:

  • 20:25: Ran setup.exe on the Windows 7 upgrade DVD. It performed and passed the compatibility checks, then started the installation proper (“copying Windows files”).
  • 20:30: Step 2: Gathering information.
  • 20:50: Step 3: Expanding Windows files.
  • 20:55: System rebooted, Windows boot menu showed a “Windows 7 Installation” option which was automatically selected.
  • 21:05: Continuation of file expansion.
  • 21:15: Step 4: Installing features and updates, screen flickered a few times (video drivers, etc).
  • 21:18: Reboot. Same boot menu option automatically selected.
  • 21:20: Step 5: Transferring files, settings and programs.
  • 21:40: Reboot. Boot menu now showed Windows 7 (rather than Windows Vista).
  • 21:52: Reboot. Came up doing video performance checks. It made me enter my licence key at this point,** and then began the Windows post-install setup process (update installation schedule, clock and timezone, network and firewall settings, etc).
  • 21:57: The Windows 7 login screen appeared. Once I logged in with my existing username and password it followed by preparing the desktop, personal settings, etc.
  • 22:03: Finally at the new Windows 7 desktop. Windows Update ran at this point and downloaded 65MB of updates. It included driver updates for my motherboard and peripherals (NIC, audio, video, etc). I let it do all of them, figuring Microsoft had screwed up third-party driver updates for so long now that they must have got it right by now. Want to bet?
  • 22:11: When updates were all installed, machine wanted to be rebooted so I did.
  • 22:25: Upon coming back up I realised that my network connection was no longer working. Windows Update had screwed up my NIC driver update (this is why I downloaded the Windows 7 version of the driver before starting the upgrade process). Ran the software to install the driver manually, and everything began working correctly. Did a manual installation of the video card drivers as well. This required another reboot.
  • 22:50: All done.

The compatibility check run was first performed at 19:10, so — including the preparatory work of downloading drivers and removing incompatible drivers and programs — the whole process took about 4 hours. It fair to say that you should be able to do it in an evening after work, providing you have second-guessed Microsoft’s track record and know what you’re doing.

With the exception of the ever-so-helpful third-party driver updates screwing things up, it all worked perfectly well after a bunch of installations and 6 reboots. The rest of the work to be done was adding the removed software, re-enabling software for automatic startup, and general customisation. Everything seems to be working fine.

The Aero Peek and the new taskbar are going to take some getting used to, but I’m happy.

It seems it’s true when they say that Windows 7 has unbroken Vista in the same way that Snow Leopard has unbroken Leopard. Time will tell, I suppose.

———
* If not for the inbuilt firewall in my ADSL router, I would be seriously concerned about Microsoft’s decades-old requirement to disable antivirus software when installing or uninstalling their operating systems. Not so much an issue anymore, but was a critical problem back in the dialup PSTN days.

** It asked me for the licence key almost 3 hours after beginning the installation process. Why on earth didn’t it do this at the start?

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