Just how far will a Christian go to dodge their burden of proof?

I've posted before on the "mixed up burden of proof" and the problems that religious people have with it.  I've said before that the burden of proof is always on the person making the claims.

And yet, religious people just don't get this very simple concept.

It's come to my attention recently that once again people - especially Christians - are attempting to shift this burden of proof from the claimant to the respondent.

Part of this seems to be due to a persistent "Atheism is a religion" meme.  This is the idea that atheists take the non-existence of a deity on faith, not on evidence, and therefore atheism is no different than a religion.

I'll freely admit that there are atheists who deny the possibility of any deity or deities.  And I'll agree that they do so on philosophically shaky ground that leaves them as vulnerable to the charge of "faith" as any religious adherent.

This is exactly why atheists have pointed out the difference between so called "weak atheism" and "strong atheism", or the differences between explicit and implicit atheism.

Personally, I'm an explicit, "weak" atheist.  I have never found enough evidence to convince me that at least one deity exists, and so I live my life as if no deities exist.  However, I could be wrong.  All it would take to convince me that I'm wrong is sufficient evidence.  And if I received such evidence that at least one deity existed, I would change in a heartbeat to live my life as if a deity existed.

This willingness to change one's mind when presented with evidence is not a hallmark of religion.

I recently ran into a cartoon by Christian web cartoonist Adam4D, which demonstrates this frantic attempt to shift the burden of proof of God from the Christian to the atheist.

The cartoonist then segways to a teleological argument using the Watchmaker Analogy.  Of course this argument has multiple problems.

As pointed out by judge John Jones in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the argument from design is subjective.  Even Professor Behe couldn't show that there was any real way of determining something was created through a natural process or through a divine process - only that it "looks complex".  In other words, it was only through subjective terms that a Christian can claim that a tree is divinely created and a snowflake is not.

I often hang out in the online discussion forum of Reddit, and recently I've again run into a Christian who has tried to assert that atheists are making a positive claim that must be met by a burden of proof.  Like many such discussions, they go nowhere very quickly as the Christian in question refuses to admit that any other response is logical.  (You can click on this image to enlarge it.)

Here you will see that the username "cousinoleg" has asserted that there are only three positions that one can take in regards to a claim.  These three positions are either ignorance of the claim, acceptance of the claim, or denial of the claim.  This has left cousinoleg in a very vulnerable position in this discussion.

This method is not very reasonable.  The reaction to a positive claim might not be denial that the claim is true, but merely an assertion that the respondent does not believe the claimant.

Or a positive claim could be met with a counter claim that invalidates the first claim.  If it is not the claimants burden to prove that what they say is true, then a counter claim will automatically annul the original claim until it is proved false.

For example, let's take Adam4D's original cartoon, and modify it, for educational "Fair Use" purposes.

Click here to see this modified cartoon enlarged.

Here we can see that if the claimant denies his or her duty to prove their claims, then those claims are immediately subject to being countered by an opposing claim - that also is not required to be proved.

More simply put, my claim that invisible elves exist disproves your claim that a God exists.  If you are not required to prove your claim of a God, then I am not required to prove my claim of elves.

Finally, this entire blog post should be completely unnecessary.  I've taken pains to write it all out because lots of religious claimants just don't seem to get this.  Frankly, Christopher Hitchens said it best:
"What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."

She would have been 53

It is Won's birthday today.

Here's a photo from when we were dating.  We were at a restaurant in Seoul, visiting some of Won's friends.  This was in the spring of 1986.  See the '80's style perm that Won's sporting?

Damn, we were young.

The failure of cosmological arguments

I've had several theists (Christian and Islamic) try to assert that God is real through one of the many different cosmological arguments.

Cosmological arguments come in several different types.

Thomas Aquina gave 5 different types of cosmological argument.  The argument from motion, the argument from contingency, the argument from causation, the argument from degrees and the Teleological Argument.

Later William Paley put his own spin on the Teleological Argument with the idea of a "Blind Watchmaker."

William Lane Craig created his own version of a cosmological argument with something he named the Kalām cosmological argument.  He named it this in a shout out to Islamic philosopher Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī and al-Ghazālī's argument that actual infinities do not exist.

You can learn about the cosmological argument through philosophy, or through theology.  Fair warning, theological arguments start with the premise of the existence of a deity, and then look for arguments to support their premise.  So you should be extremely wary of anyone with a theological agenda.

Most cosmological arguments have the same form.  If we look at the argument from causation, that form is:  1.  Effects have a cause.  2.  Everything that happens has a cause  3.  The chain of cause and effect cannot be infinite, therefore there is (eventually) an uncaused cause.

You can apply this to any of the cosmological arguments.  For example:
  • Motion - everything that moves must have a mover until you eventually reach an unmoved mover.  
  • Contingency - a "contingent being" is a being that came to exist in some fashion.  A "necessary being" is a being that exists without the requirement of coming into existence.  In the argument from Contingency, each contingent being comes to exist through a previous contingent being, until you eventually reach a necessary being that didn't need to come into existence.
  • Teleological Argument - everything that was created has a creator.  Each creator is in turn a creation of the creator before it, until you eventually reach an uncreated creator.
  • Kalām cosmological argument - here William Lane Craig skips the small stuff, and goes right into the creation of the universe.  Whatever begins to exist has a cause.  The universe began to exist - therefore the universe has a cause.  Therefore, an uncaused causer, that exists outside of the universe, exists, and this causer is a powerful being who is beyond the properties we find in the universe.
There is one cosmological argument that doesn't quite follow in the same form - the argument from degrees.  However, the form is analogous to the forms we have seen.  The argument from degrees says:
  • There is a hierarchy of degrees that we find in everything.  In this hierarchy, we can imagine things that are great, that are greater than great, and that are the greatest possible.  If we think of a being with the maximum possible degree of greatness, it would be even greater if that being actually existed.  
As you can see, it still includes the idea that the infinite is an impossibility, that a maximum good exists.
Here is how all cosmological arguments fail.

First, they fail logically.  Built into these arguments is that each mover, each cause, must in turn have a mover or a cause.  But a fallacy of special pleading is made for that one thing that doesn't require a cause or a creator.

To put it in atheist terms, "Who made God?"  We are answered by philosophers with, "Hey, that's a pretty good question!"  However, we are answered by theologians with, "Stop being silly!"

Philosophers understand that the argument is flawed in this manner, whereas those people who start with the premise of a deity have to tap dance their way out of this flaw.  In fact, this is exactly what William Lane Craig attempts to do with his Kalām cosmological argument, by attempting to put a deity above question.

Next these arguments may fail based on the possibly incorrect premise that the infinite is an impossibility.  The truth is that we just don't have enough evidence to know for sure that a real infinity is impossible.  If a real infinity is possible, there may be an infinite multiverse that spawns universes like ours.  At one time, before we discovered evidence for the big bang, we wondered if our universe was cyclical - perpetually ending in a "big crunch" which restarted the big bang.  Now we can wonder if there is a cyclical mulitverse.  Or perhaps a multiverse isn't subject to time, or to cause and effect in the way that it is familiar to us.

People like to argue against infinity using the idea that if there is an infinite time before ours, then logically how could we arrive here?  This discounts the idea of a converging infinity, or of Zeno's paradox.  And it discounts the idea that although we (mostly) know how time works in OUR universe, we can't actually speak for how it works (if at all) in a multiverse.

These arguments are not very useful for getting to a personal god of your favorite religion.  William Lane Craig says that the creator of the universe is an enormously powerful "personal creator", but he lacks a good argument that this is true.

Cosmological arguments can't rule out that the creator is non-sentient.  For example, the uncaused cause could be a cyclical multiverse that spawns universes through natural processes that we don't currently understand.

These arguments can't rule out that the creator died during the creation process.  Or that the creator is actually a pantheon of creators who created the universe out of their desire for deity on deity drama and their need for chess pieces in an elaborate game that they are playing.

The cosmological argument could just as easily be satisfied by time traveling humans from the future who traveled almost 14 billion years into the past and through science (or a disaster of Star Trekkan proportions) created a cosmological event that results in the big bang.  Yes, we are our own gods!

So the cosmological argument seems good at first glance, but it is full of problems and has a fallacy built into it.  Philosophers have been pointing these problems out for centuries.  And yet, I still have theists use these as a "proof".

And when I point out these problems, the tap-dancing they do to support their arguments is amazing.  And the smug, self-superiority they display as they ignore philosophy for theology is very annoying.

How to win in Vaccine Court

In 1988 the US Health and Human Services set up the "National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program" (VICP) to compensate those people and families who were injured through the use of childhood vaccines.

Between 1989 and July 1, 2014, 3,645 compensation awards have been made by VICP, totaling over $2.7 billion dollars in awards, and $113.2 million in legal costs. Another 9,786 claims were dismissed by the courts. So out of a total of 13,431 claimants, a little over 27% won awards.

In the mid-1980s British researchers found a possible link between the pertussis portion of the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) vaccine and neurological harm to children. This claim was later discredited by better studies, but British families were so alarmed that they refused the pertussis vaccine - resulting in a dramatic incidence of whooping cough which directly led to the death of 70 children.

In the United States, several parents sued the manufacturers of the DPT vaccines. And even though scientists and public health officials believed the claims of neurological side effects were unfounded due to lack of evidence, many of these parents won substantial awards through sympathetic juries who were convinced otherwise during trial.

As a result, most companies who made the DPT vaccine ceased production. Only a few major manufacturers remained in the business of producing this vaccine, and they were planning to exit the business too.

One of the benefits of a well-vaccinated community is an effect known as "Herd Immunity". This form of immunity happens when enough of a community is immune to infection that it breaks chains of infections therefore preventing the spread of infection. When a larger portion of the community is resistant, there is a smaller probability that someone susceptible to infection will come into contact with disease. As community resistance to infection decreases it becomes more probable, and even likely, that susceptible individuals will succumb to disease.

Health officials in the USA feared the loss of herd immunity, and Congress responded by creating VICP to remove the burden of lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.

The VICP program provides for compensation to children who have severe adverse effects from any childhood vaccine. Compensation includes medical expenses, loss of future income, and up to $250,000 in “pain and suffering”. Claims paid on vaccines received before 1988 came directly from the U.S. Treasury, and later claims are paid by a VICP trust fund of over $2 billion dollars, created by a $0.75 per-vaccine patient fee. It takes the VICP about 2 years to process and resolve a petition.

In order to win an award through VICP, the claimant is not required to provide proof of causation to the extent of scientific certainty.

Instead the VICP uses the civil-law standard of, “the preponderance of the evidence”. According to the legal definition this standard is met if the proposition is “likely to be true” - it is satisfied if there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the proposition is true.

The VICP standard of certainty is far from the scientific standards of error. In science, propositions are said to be “statistically significant” if the percent of error is less than 5%, and “statistically likely” if the percentage of error is 1% or less. A drug with a significance level of 50% would never make it through FDA approval, and may get the lead scientists fired for even trying!

Even in criminal law, “the preponderance of the evidence” is not enough to convict. Instead, clear and convincing evidence is required to judge a person “guilty.” So it is very obvious that the VICP sets a very low bar for payout of compensation claims.

Before 1998, there were few claims in VICP against autism-related adverse effects from immunization. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a fraudulently created research paper in support of a link between the MMR vaccine and the appearance of Autism and bowel disease. No scientist since then has been able to reproduce his results. Britain's “The Sunday Times” was able to reveal that Wakefield had changed and misreported the results in his research in order to create the appearance of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. It showed that Wakefield had falsified data, and the paper also showed that Wakefield had plans to sell home diagnostic kits for the condition he posited in his study, “autistic enterocolitis”. Wakefield predicted that he could make more than $43 million a year selling these kits.

As a result of this paper, the reporting of the “Sunday Times”, and investigation by medical, scientific, and legal officials, “The Lancet” retracted the paper, Wakefield's co-researchers withdrew their names from the paper, and Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine.

A more unfortunate result was reduced vaccination of children due to the general public being scared of a non-existent link between vaccines and autism. For some reason, bowel disease has not made it to general public awareness in this vaccine scare.

In the early 2000's, the VICP started receiving claims of autism as an adverse effect of immunization. The first payout of an autism-related claim happened in 2008, and the largest payouts happened in 2013, in two separate cases that resulted in the award of tens of millions of dollars.

But these cases were not rewarded on the basis of autism.

The VICP has a list of possible injuries and conditions that are presumed by science to be caused by vaccines. This list is known as the “Vaccine Injury Table”, and it not only lists symptoms, but the time period in which these symptoms are supposed to occur.

Since there is no scientific evidence that autism can be caused by vaccination, the VICP does not list it as a possibility on this table.  

There is a range neurodevelopmental disorders in the autism spectrum, and although these disorders share symptoms, they may have unrelated causes. Little is known for sure - that autism is highly heritable, and likely to be triggered by both environmental factors and genetics.

The hypothesis that vaccines cause autism has been well tested in many scientific studies, none of which show a link.  Therefore, they are not on the VICP's “Vaccine Injury Table.”

So how does a claimant with autism win at vaccine court? They claim encephalopathy, which can occur within 5-15 days after a MMR vaccine. Encephalopathy is another way of saying, “a disease of the brain” - which doesn't refer to a single disease, but refers to a brain disorder that could have different causes. Encephalopathy is a broad term, and therefore it could refer to disorder that is curable, or permanent, or degenerative.

Encephalopathy is medical shorthand for saying, “We don't know what happened”.

The two largest payouts in 2013 were fought in the VICP court for years, with the first hearings happening in 2005. The government finally agreed to settle, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offered to pay millions over the life of the two claimants, whose families accepted the offers.

During this settlement, HHS did not admit that vaccines caused autism, or even encephalopathy. They merely decided not to dedicate any more resources to defend the case. In other words, it was cheaper for them to settle the case than it was to fight it.

HHS has never concluded in any case that autism was caused by vaccination. This is in-line with scientific studies that show no link between autism and vaccines.

How do you win at vaccine court for a condition that time and again can NOT be linked to vaccines?

You wear them down until it is cheaper for them to just give you what you want.

Checking in on Ronald Lee Darsey again...

Notice the cameo jacket?  He got that from Army Surplus!
Just checked in on Ronnie again.  He's still in Conroe, still at the same halfway house.  He's got a new photo - in it you can see he's grown out his beard again.  Ronnie grows a beard to hide his weak chin.  Now, he just looks homeless.

One of the things I learned very quickly when Ronnie came into our lives was that he used to be in the Army.

He loved the Army, and told us about his enlistment.  He was stationed in Germany, he had to work hard, he was part of the motor pool.  He had a dog while in Germany.  Boot camp was tough.

And of course he said I would never make it in "real life", that the military was tougher than I could handle.  He usually called me "Boy" while saying this.  He pronounced "Boy" with two syllables.

He wasn't in the Army for long... about 2 years if I recall correctly.  He was not a combat vet, he had a cushy assignment in Germany.  He bragged about his time in the military, but he didn't have much to say about it.

After Ronnie and Mom married, he got a dog and named her Fräulein -  the German word for "young lady".  It was another reminder that he was a world-traveling ex-soldier.

Ronnie always wore Army jackets.  It was another reminder that he was in the Army.  He told us that they were issued to him by the Army.  They didn't have insignia or name tape on them.   They were the standard olive drab jackets that were common before the US military adopted the camouflage battle dress uniform in the 1980's.

Ronnie has been wearing military jackets for as long as I can remember.  And after I joined the military I realized he was just another wannabe military poseur.  The cameo jacket he's posing in during his latest court mandated sexual predator mugshot is "US Woodland" - part of the Battle Dress Uniform that wasn't issued by the US Military until the early 1980's, almost a decade after Ronnie's very brief stay with the Army.

Ronnie has always tried to cultivate this image of a capable person, experienced, a veteran who can handle himself in a fight.  It's all a facade... a fake.  And when he encounters someone with real ability or power Ronnie folds up like a wet newspaper.

Ronnie's longest commitment was the 15 years he's spent in prison for molesting children.  He should be wearing an orange jacket.