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Comment Methodological Concern (Score 2) 352

Stack Overflow reputation is cumulative. This means that if two people are providing answers of the same quality and at the same rate over time, the folks who have been there longest will have higher reputations, and that the higher reputation will reflect only tenure. Not any kind of quality.

If you want to look at quality, you should be looking at a metric that is something like (total reputation / number of months active). Even this is imperfect of course, since if people take a hiatus or something that will present the appearance of worse quality using this metric.

I was going to say that this fatal flaw invalidated the conclusions because the correlation between reputation and age just reflected the older people being around longer. The problem with that is that Stack Overflow opened in 2008. That's not enough time to explain a linear trend that tracks from age 16 to nearly age 50, but the final conclusion "So, senior coders earn their higher reputation by providing more answers, not by having answers of (significantly) higher quality." should still be re-examined with tenure-controlled analysis to try and see whether older aged members have been members longer.

Comment Re:You're kidding, right? (Score 1) 2058

the question there is whether the US federal government has lawful authority under the Constitution to order people to buy things

Well, the local government here forces me to pay for fire service.

You and the OP are both being unnecessarily vague and inaccurate.

The question is whether the US federal government has the authority to tell one person to purchase something from another private entity.

The local government isn't forcing you to buy something. It's forcing you to pay taxes (which it can do) and then it's providing a service (which it also can do). Even though it looks similar, paying taxes + receiving a public benefit != purchasing a consumer good.

Comment Re:Special 2-D glasses needed (Score 3, Interesting) 495

You don't need special glasses to see a 3d-movie in 2d. The 3d glasses work fine. They did for me anyway.

I've got various eye-problems related to a severe infection I had as an infant. I've had surgery twice to try and correct my lazy-eye. And I'm totally immune to all kinds of 3d (3d movies, magic eye, etc.). Last time I went to the optometrist she explained that during the years where my eyes were crossed I developed a pyschological "blind spot". Since the eyes weren't pointing the same direction, I could either see double or just shut off the signal from one eye at a time. My brain opted for the latter.

Since my eyes are straight now the problem is theoretically something I could train my brain to stop doing, but I've never had any luck with the eye-exercises they gave me.

I went to see Avatar in 2d. Then I went to see it in 3d. The only difference at all for me was that in the 3d version if I took off the 3d glasses the whole screen looked fuzzy. If I kept them on nothing was in 3d, but the polarization meant that at least I could see the 2d images clearly.

Comment Re:Jews Are Evil, Land & Water Theives (Score 1) 951

That is just wrong. In cultures where the notion of a supreme being has never been considered or is otherwise not a notion that enters their culture in the slightest, where then do these people fall?

Obviously if you've got no notion of theism you fall outside the spectrum of beliefs about God entirely. I coudl see why you'd want to call such folks "atheist", but unfortunately the term is already in use. You'd have to call them "nontheists" or something to avoid confusion. That would add a fourth option. There's no problem with that. The three options I provided are the three positions you can take on theism. For, against, neutral. Being unaware of theism obviously means you can't take a position on it, so it'd be off the chart.

Where's the problem here?

In any case, the rejection of an idea is not a religion any more than not liking football is a sport.

You can prove anything by analogy. Let's get back to some actual definitions.
Theism: Positive belief that there is a God.
Weak Atheism: Rejection of theism - makes no positive statement about God.
Strong Atheism: Not only a rejection of theism, but in addition makes the positive statement that God does not exist.

Now let's define religion: A system of belief that makes claims about the supernatural which can not be substantiated by science.

So according to that definition weak atheism is not a religion, but strong atheism is.

Comment Re:Jews Are Evil, Land & Water Theives (Score 1) 951

You're going about this all wrong. The negative claim (fairies don't exist) cannot exist without the positive claim (fairies do exist) being made first. You can't say that you don't believe in god unless someone first makes the claim that god does exist. The claim and burden of proof both fall on the "god exists" camp.

Your claim that you need to argue that something exists before you can argue that it doesn't exist is manufactured hogswash to try and shift the burden of proof onto the theist camp. If you have to try and set up conditions at the start of a debate where your opponent has to do more work than you do that's a pretty good indicator that your argument itself is pretty weak.

In actual logic there's no reason at all that you have to argue for something to exist before you can argue against it.

Person A: Here's a definitino for God. [Provides a definition.]
Person B: So do you believe God exists?
Person A: Nope. I just think it's an interesting concept.
Person B: Well, I think God doesn't exist. [Provides reasoning.]

You see how it was totally unnecessary to say God exists before arguing that He doesn't? All that is necessary is a definition so you have a concept to argue about.

The claim is that god exists, not that he doesn't exist. Person A says to Person B, I believe god exists. Here's why. Person B says, your evidence is not sufficient enough to support your claim. Person B is not making a claim. He is rejecting the claim made by Person A based on lack of evidence.

You are either deliberately employing sleight of hand to try and build your case, or you simply haven't grasped the distinction between strong (positive) and weak (negative) atheism. Here are the definitions again:

Strong atheism is a term generally used to describe atheists who accept as true the proposition, "gods do not exist". Weak atheism refers to any other type of non-theism. Historically, the terms positive and negative atheism have been used for this distinction, where "positive" atheism refers to the specific belief that gods do not exist, and "negative" atheism refers merely to an absence of belief in gods.

So, if Person B understood logic and was honest, this is how the conversation would play out.

Person A: I believe in God. [Presents reasoning.]
Person B: I find your reasoning unconvincing, so I fail to accept your conclusion. I do not believe in God. (WEAK ATHEISM)
Person A: So you believe God doesn't exist? (STRONG ATHEISM)
Person B: Not necessarily. If I wanted to make a positive claim that God doesn't exist (STRONG ATHEISM) I'd have to build an argument to do so. I don't feel like doing that. So I'm just going to observe that your reasoning is weak, fail to accept your conclusion, and be content with disbelief regarding God (WEAK ATHEISM) rather than belief that He does not exist (STRONG ATHEISM).

You might also notice that I'm saying "fail to accept" rather than "reject". This is also basic logic. If an argument is invalid (e.g. the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises) or unsound (e.g. some of the premises are not true) than you can reject the argument. You can not, however, reject the conclusion. You can simply say that the argument didn't prove the conclusion. The conclusion may or may not be true by some other reasoning.

For example:

1. The American flag is red, white and blue.
2. All flags with the color red in them are constitutional republics.
C. America is a constitutional republic.

Premise 2 is obviously false so the argument is unsound. But if you were to conclude that because the argument is unsound the conclusion must be false you'd be making your own logical error. So if someone presents an argument from God and you observe that the argument doesn't work you can't automatically assume the conclusion is false (STRONG ATHEISM). You can only observe that they haven't proved their case, so you have no reason to believe them (WEAK ATHEISM).

This is all basic logic, and it boils down to the original point: If you make a claim - any claim - you have the burden of proof. Weak atheism doesn't make a claim. It just rejects someone else's argument. That's why it's called negative atheism. Strong atheism does make a claim. It states that the universe is actually a certain way (e.g. devoid of God). That is the reason it is often called positive atheism.

Pick which one you are. If you're a weak atheist then great. You don't have a burden of proof. But if you're a strong atheist (which most of the annoying, trendy atheists like Richard Dawkins are) then you damn well do have a burden of proof.

Comment Re:Jews Are Evil, Land & Water Theives (Score 1) 951

Therefore anyone who "only believes what is proven" believes ...

nothing at all.

I think that's a good point, but you're only rejecting epistemological certainty. As long as you're willing to live without certainty, you don't necessarily have to accept God or anything else without proof. This makes room for atheism as a rational belief system, but also reduces all of science to faith (where "faith" is defined as "believe in something based on good reason, but without certainty")

Comment Re:Jews Are Evil, Land & Water Theives (Score 1) 951

The burden of proof is always on the one making the claim.

With you so far.

You can't shift the burden of proof to the negative argument, because the negative cannot be proven.

That's a total non sequitor. Just because you can't prove the non-existence of faeries doesn't mean you get to assume they don't exist until someone does. There's no logic there at all.

Go back to your first statement and stick to it. The one making the claim has the burden of the proof. Any claim.

If your claim is "God exists" or "Faeries exist" you have a burden of proof. If your claim is "God doesn't exist" or "Faeries don't exist" you're still making a claim and you still have the burden of proof.

The fact that it's harder to proof a negative (hard, not impossible) doesn't result in some kind of Celestial Logic Fairy compensating by easing the burden of proof.

In the case of god, what we have is a claim being made by believers that their god exists. They have to prove their case. Atheist or agnostics don't have to disprove it.

Agnostics don't. Some atheists do. If you take the weak atheist position ("I don't believe in God") you have nothing to prove because you're not making a claim. If you take the strong atheist position ("I believe God does not exist") than you've made a claim and (see your original point) you get the burden of proof that comes with that claim.

If the probability seems low enough, you can safely say that the claim is most likely not true given the current evidence.

I agree with you here too, but you're contradicting your earlier statements. If an event has an extremely low probability that *is* reason to believe it is false from basic probability theory.

Define event G to be "God exists". If you ascertain that P(G) = .01 (just for kicks and giggles) than it's a matter of simple algebra to find P(~G) = .99 and simple logic to deduce that ~G corresponds to "God doesn't exist".

So yeah, if you find that the chance of God existing is very low you've got ample reason to assert the positive claim that He doesn't exist, but you're doing so by addressing your burden of proof, not by default.

Comment Re:Put things in perspective... (Score 2, Interesting) 951

Any religion which rejects Jesus as God is automatically incompatible with Christianity.

If you'd said that in the first place I wouldn't have argued the point. That's just true from definition. But you brought up the Trinity. That's a different matter entirely, because the location of the Trinity within Christian orthodoxy is a controversial topic.

Whether or not you are aware of it, this identical argument (that any one who rejects the Trinity isn't really worshiping the same God as the true Christians) is a lynch-pin in the Baptists explaining why Mormons are an evil devil cult rather than a different branch of Christianity.

Comment Re:Jews Are Evil, Land & Water Theives (Score 1) 951

The burden of proof is on the believer.

Burden of proof swing both ways. The burden of proof "I believe fairies exist!" is the same as the burden of proof "I believe fairies don't exist!" The default position should be: "I have no belief about faeiries one way or the other."

That is scientific skepticism.

Atheists just think there is not enough evidence to support the proposition, and the probability of there being such a being is very low.

Some atheists have that mentality, but the loud ones are actually quite evangelical in their proactive claims of God's non-existence.

I'm not attacking atheism or atheists, mind you. I've got no beef with either one in general. I'm just annoyed with the trendy neo-orthodoxy of atheism that treats acceptance of the proposition "It is a fact that God does not exist" as though it were the starting point.

It's not.

Comment Re:Put things in perspective... (Score 1) 951

Israel offered to give Gaza to Egypt.

Egypt didn't want it.

Not that I blame them, of course.

The Palestinians are just pawns for the Arabs, who are only posturing as anti-Israel to quell their own internal radicals. Well, now they are pawns for the Persians, which just makes the whole thing more complex.

Sure, Muslims and Jews historically don't get along, but neither do Arabs and Persians. So now it's a three-way battle.

Comment Re:Put things in perspective... (Score 3, Insightful) 951

Muslims worship a God which is not triune. Therefore, the Muslim God cannot be the Christian God.

From your response I can tell you are a Southern Baptist who has been exposed to "The Mormon Question" or know someone who has. It saddens me to see you so naively misled. Using the doctrine of the Trinity as a bright-line distinction between Mormons and Christians (or Muslims and Christians in this case) might be the kind of comforting safety blanked that lets you rest easy, but sadly it has no basis in fact.

The fact is that there's no such thing as the Trinity in the Bible.

"The formal doctrine of the trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament." - Harper's Bible Dictionary (Protestant Source)

"The formulation of 'one God in three Persons' was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century... Among Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective." - New Catholic Encyclopedia (Catholic Source)

The Bible's teaching on God's nature is ambiguous. Sure, Christ says he's "one with the Father", but then he also prays that his disciples will be one in the same sense of the word, which seriously jeopardizes subsequent metaphysical gymnastics required to invent the "one in three, three in one" formulation. At best the Bible is compatible with the Trinity, but it most certainly doesn't require it or preach it.


Comment Re:Jews Are Evil, Land & Water Theives (Score 1) 951

First you have to realize that there legitimately are three positions to take with respect to God:

1. Affirm existence
2. Deny existence
3. Fail to affirm/deny existence

Atheism is often used to refer to both 2 and 3, but properly speaking it should be #2. Furthermore, type #3 atheism never got anyone killed. Type #2 atheism contains the pop culture, Richard Dawkins, goose-stepping, fundamentalist variety that does nobody any good. It also includes some decent folk, but it's where you find the crazies.

It's also worth pointing out that atheism of the #2 variety is essentially a religion. It has a central doctrine about God and espouses it without proof. That works for me.

Comment Re:"Gag the Internet" (Score 1) 1172

I can see how you would believe that, and I don't discount the notion completely. But looking as Smith's career, it's clear that he always thought big.

I should specify my intentions: I don't think that I can prove that Smith acted out of altruism. I think the best I can hope to do is offer an alternative reading that also fits the facts. I understood your original argument to be "the man got money and sex, so obviously that was his motive". By showing that he didn't get money and may or may not have gotten sex I think I can convincingly argue that your original position that it's an open-shut case of lust and greed is false. But I can't actually argue that my competing hypothesis is an obvious and unassailable replacement.

I understand that.

It seems that your argument has gained some subtlety as we've progressed (although I'm sure it's only your tone/style that's changed and that you've had the more sophisticated argument the whole time). And I don't really have a problem with this more sublte version. I certainly don't think Smith's reputation is, from an unbiased perspective, beyond reproach. Quite the opposite. There is much in it that looks shady.

So as the questions become more complex my motivation for arguing with you decrease. I think reasonable people can draw disparate conclusions about Smith. I also have to admit that you've clearly done more research than I have on this topic. Mormon apologetics breaks down into roughly 3 categories:

1. early Christianity
2. Book of Mormon/Bible studies (textual analysis of the Book of Mormon itself)
3. early Mormon history

I'm weakest on #3, and I'm not a professional in any of the three categories. I find the first 2 much more interesting. And much less troubling. (I can be honest that I find much in the history of my Church deeply disconcerting.)

I'm not saying that Smith was unaware of his detractors, or even that he was physically separated from them all the time. I'm talking more about the sort of separation that separates you and I. I think he put his enemies into a tiny box marked "people I don't have to respect or listen to at all", and listened primarily to those who told him he was The Lord's Prophet.

I see. Instead of talking about the impact on his happiness you're talking about the impact on his self-perception. I can't really argue with that.

Had you even skimmed those links,

I did read them. I would not disrespect you by ignoring your evidence. It was disconcerting enough that at this point it goes beyond an internet conversation for me and into real-world research. I would like to know actual sources so I can read the information myself.

What you wrote was extremely convincing. As I said earlier, this is not my strong point and from the evidence provided you've clearly won this round. What's more important than winning or losing, however, is that your evidence is strong and therefore has a better claim on reflecting the reality of what happened.

I've heard of "Sacred Loneliness", but I haven't read it yet. I will certainly take the time to do more research into this arena. So, even though it's not comfortable to research this stuff, I have to say thanks for being as well-informed as you have been.

Another thing that I think undermines your argument: why did Smith marry so many, and usually so young?

FWIW, I didn't find this particularly convincing. But honestly, I don't know a ton about the topic. Here's the only extensive article I've read:

Anyway, just out of curiosity, what have you read from Mormon scholars responding to the accusations that polygamy was about sex? What have you read from the Mormon perspective about why polygamy was practiced? You seem very well-read on the anti side, I'm just curios what you've read from the Mormon side.

When you're arguing like a hagiography, you can expect some blowback. And I haven't even hit on the really lurid, really implausible accusations against Mormonism.

On the one hand I appreciate that. But on the other hand, come on. Building the temple over secret, underground pentagrams? Virgin sacrifice in the temple? That stuff is just crazy. I certainly get the impression that your focus is myopically on the most lurid take on the Prophet's motivations with little regard to alternative views.

My point is, if she believed that Smith was a fraud, and intended to prove it by bringing out the first translation after Smith produced a replacement, she needn't have made a single change to it. She would be expecting it to be wildly different anyhow, so merely handing the untouched manuscript over would have provided illustration enough.

I disagree entirely. The Book of Mormon simply could not have been written off the top of his head. There is no human being that could dictate those 530+ pages on the fly. I don't know if you've read the book or not, but if you haven't, trust me. This isn't an ode to its literary merits. It's just an extremely complex book in terms of the history it describes and there's no way someone could get it all right without notes. And yet the Book of Mormon's internal narratives is 100% internally consistent. This is in no way evidence that it's true or divine. But it is ample evidence that it had to come from a source text. And if Joseph Smith was not translating, it means he had either notes or (more likely) a full text version to work from. This means that Lucy would indeed have had to alter the text because Joseph Smith should have had little trouble reproducing it if he was a fraud.

Had Smith really had the plates, he would have had little trouble recreating his work.

He would have had little trouble either way, because a source text is essential for a book of this complexity. However, I think you consistently gloss over the fact that it would have had to be a word-for-word copy of his initial translation. Sure, sure - when an individual translates from one language to another there is variation. But that's the standard of run-of-the-mill, mundane, human translation. Smith's claim was divine inspiration. And that means perfection. If he wanted to convince people he could translate variances would be fine. If he wanted to convince people that he was talking to angels and translating by the power of God, they would be unacceptable.

You claim that the timing made it crucial. Why? Because Smith wouldn't be able to find a publisher? My understanding was that he and his followers funded the printing anyways.

In that case payment was not the issue. The publisher just didn't want to touch it, and it was only when the payment for an unusually large order was provided up front that he was convinced to do the work.

So yeah: timing is critical. Mormonism was a movmement. It was at its most vulnerable at the beginning. If all the stuff we know about Mormon history now (which is clearly insufficient to cause widespread disaffection from the Church) was known then the group would never have gotten started.

It seems plain to me that the newer a movement is, the more vulnerable it is. A blow like this would have been survivable in 1840 because Smith had plenty of followers, plenty of history, etc. But before 1830? The Church would never have gone anywhere.

But thank you for accusing me of monumental stupidity.

That was uncalled for. I'm sorry about that. I was just in a really bad mood (for other reasons) when I wrote my last reply. :-(

As far as Brodie vs. Nibley goes, I still maintain that Nibley is and was an extremely respected scholar outside of the Mormon realm. It would be very interesting for me to see your reaction the article I linked you too in the previous post. Hugh Nibely gets his own section in that article:

Whatever flaws may exist in his methodology, Nibley is a scholar of high caliber. Many of his more important essays first appeared in academic journals such as the Revue de Qumran, Vigilae Christianae, Church History, and the Jewish Quarterly Review.12 Nibley has also received praise from non-LDS scholars such as Jacob Neusner, James Charlesworth, Cyrus Gordon, Raphael Patai and Jacob Milgrom.13 The former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, George MacRae, once lamented while hearing him lecture, "It is obscene for a man to know that much!"14
According to wikipedia:

he was fluent in the Classical Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Coptic, Arabic, German, French, English, and Spanish languages
It's true that his later works were not published in peer-reviewed, non-Mormon journals, but that's simply because he wasn't interested in that anymore. He had proved the caliber of his scholarship, and then dedicated his life to schoarly study of Mormonism. There's no way to get stuff on Mormonism published. The first serious book on the Book of Mormon wasn't published until the 1990s.

As for Brodie, she never even earned a doctorate. Her master's was in English, not history (or psychology). She doesn't have the background, credentials, or education of Nibley. She was a popular writer who never published a single work in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Psychohistory itself is not even a real discipline. There are no departments of psychohistory, no degrees in psychohistory. It is at best a controversial discipline. Taking all these facts together, Brodie and Nibley are simply not in the same league.

But don't even pretend that the difference is so great that you can dismiss me for not seeing an obvious disparity between the two.

I've conceded a lot of points to you. You do know more about polygamy in early Mormonism than I do. And possibly about early Mormonism in general. But where I do most of my research is early Christian history and Biblical studies. And in that field I've read quite a bit about Nibley, as well as reading non-Mormon scholars like Margaret Barker. And I stand by my previous paragraph: Nibley and Brodie can not even be considered to be remotely in the same league. One is an untrained, untested, popular writer. The other is a respected expert with considerable publication in peer-reviewed journals and wide respect outside the Mormon community.

Yet you keep insisting that Smith never really benefited from the Church, not in any way that would make it possible for a reasonable person to question his motives.

That's not really my point. My point is that the facts don't fit the motivations. Just use your example of deriving happiness from illicit meetings with women other than his wife. Why on earth would he create and *publicize* a doctrine of polygamy to reach that end? Why would he more or less coerce others - men and women - to practice something so repulsive to them if his was to strengthen those connections? He drove many people out of his life, alienated friends, and all for what? He could have easily had all the affairs he wanted without all the extra work of creating a doctrine that led to revolt in the Church, tension with friends, and eventually (in part) to his death. While we're at it, why tell Emma *ever*?

Even if you claim it wasn't sex, or even foreplay, it's hard to respect the way Emma was treated.

I agree 100%. As I've said, there's much that's extremely troubling in Mormon history. It's not ponies and rainbows. But I don't believe that your explanations fit the facts.

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