Saturday, September 27, 2014

Should you buy organic?

Organic nightshade berries!
I have a lot of organic products in my house. I drink organic soy milk. I have some organic beef that's thawing in my fridge right now for tomorrow's burritos. I'm sure that some of the veggies in my freezer are organic as well. Why do I buy organic?

Because it's healthier and GMOs are going to kill us. Also, something about Monsanto and chemtrails.

Because I happen to like how some of those products taste, and in some instances, there wasn't really much choice when I was at the store. I like to go to Costco, and they're really big on the organic foods and "No GMO" labeling. That beef was slightly more expensive than the non-organic stuff, but I like the fact that they avoid antibiotics, and the way it's packaged is really convenient. With the other kind, I'd have to use several freezer bags after breaking it up into meal-sized portions.

I'll admit it though - I pretty much avoid the organic section at the produce section of my local grocery store. I have no problem buying the non-organic bananas, strawberries, lettuce, etc. I have no problem with them for a couple of reasons, the first being that the organic stuff tends to cost a lot more. The second is that there simply is no reason to believe that organic food is healthier for you.

What? How can I possibly say that? Everybody knows that organic food is healthier! Haven't we been told this many times before?

Indeed, we have been told. And who's telling us? The organic food industry, which rakes in over 30 billion dollars in the United States alone. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that organic companies are bad simply because they're making money. I just wish that people would treat them with the same skepticism that they treat the rest of the food industry (which deserves plenty of skepticism).

Who else is telling us? Bloggers with no scientific qualifications. This, of course, includes me. However, here's the difference between me and the Food Babe - I don't want you to believe me. I would hope that people who know me and/or have read my other blog posts would at least give me the benefit of the doubt and trust that I probably have good reason for my opinions on this. However, I think that your best bet would be to look at what the actual science says on this issue. Also, I'm not trying to sell you anything. (Although I'm waiting for a really big "shill" check from Monsanto to be be delivered in the mail.)

From my understanding, there is no evidence that organic food is any healthier than conventional food. Yeah, you'll find some stuff out there that will tell you otherwise. In fact, I was about to cancel this very post when I did some reading and came across what looked like a study that proved me wrong. However, with a little more digging, it fell apart. (It was on the Huffington Post, which props up pseudoscience from the likes of Deepak Chopra, so I suppose that I shouldn't have been too surprised.) I'm willing to be proven wrong, but I will have a lot of skepticism if somebody sends me a source from somebody who's selling organic products and/or isn't actually representing a scientific organization.

A lot of people will tell you that the use of pesticides is a concern. Well, I hate to break it to you, but organic farming uses pesticides as well. How do you think they keep the bugs from eating into their products? Harsh language? It's not that I think that you should be worried about the pesticides in organic farming, but to think that it's somehow safer than the pesticides used in conventional farming is false. Organics use natural pesticides, whereas conventional uses synthetics. "Ah! That's the thing! Natural is better! Right?" If you think that, then I would suggest that you're making the naturalistic fallacy. There are plenty of natural things that will kill you faster than any synthetic product.

I also don't understand how organic farming is necessarily better for the environment. I understand that some of the techniques are better for the soil, but almost by definition organic farming is less efficient than conventional farming. Why is it better for the environment to use more land?

So, to answer the question that my blog title asks: Should you buy organic? Sure. Why not? But don't buy it because you're scared to do otherwise.

Now, go read an article from Christie Wilcox, who has a PhD in cell and molecular biology and writes for Scientific American's blog. In other words, she probably knows what she's talking about better than random bloggers like me.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I'm flip-flopping again on GMO labeling

Sometimes I make a 180 when it comes to how I feel about things. In rarer cases, I make a 360. In this case, I think that I've made a 540.

When it comes to mandatory labeling laws for GMOs, I've gone from for it to against it to moderately for it to moderately against it back to totally against it.

I was originally for it because, I mean hey, what's wrong with transparency? Then I was against it when I read up on California's Prop 37, and there seemed to be too many loopholes to make it an effective law in the first place. Then I was for it when my left-leaning, anti-corporate, anti-government friends shamed me into being for it. Then I became ambivalent when I gave it some thought and realized that if we're talking honest labels, it's far more complicated than what these laws call for, and you can read about that here.

The talking point that gets thrown at me when I say that I'm against labeling is: "We have a right to know what's in our food!" It's tough to argue that. What, do you think that we DON'T have the right to know what's in our food? Do you think that corporations should be able to just feed us whatever?

I completely agree with the notion that we have a right to be informed about our food. However, I don't think that labeling laws are about informing people. At least, none of the ones that I've seen proposed are about that. I feel the way I do for a number of reasons:

1. Products that don't contain GMOs are eager to advertise themselves as such. Do you want to avoid GMOs? Easy enough. Buy only organic. Hope you can afford it.

2. Proponents of labeling are eager to point out the companies that are against it: Pepsi, Monsanto (owned and operated by Satan himself, apparently), Dupont, etc. The argument goes that these companies are obviously trying to hide the truth about what's in their food. After all, they only care about making money.

This argument seems logical enough, but who's funding the other side? The Organic Consumers Fund and various companies that sell organic food. Also, you have Joseph Mercola's company, and one can write an entire blog on their anti-scientific stances. Are these all charities? Why does nobody question their motivations? I totally understand, and even sympathize with questioning the motivations of the big companies, but the organic industry raked in over 60 billion dollars last year

Here's the thing, if I had absolute knowledge and knew 100% for certain that GMOs were safe, and you put me in charge of Monsanto, I'd STILL be against labeling. Why? Because people freak out about it and will be less likely to buy stuff if it's labeled such even if there's no good reason to be afraid of it. Likewise, if I was put in charge of an organic food company, I'd be for it, because I know that it would mean more sales for me.

In other words, the profit motivation argument is a wash, and it doesn't get to the heart of the real issue. The real issue is what the science says about the safety of GMOs, and that leads me to...

3. GMOs are safe. Get over it. You think that they haven't been tested? How about a study of 100 BILLION animals? How about the fact that they've been in our food supply since the 90s and no adverse effects have been discovered? How about 600+ safety assessments? How about the fact that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that they're safe? 

Why is it that fruits and vegetables that have been modified using traditional breeding practices (which is just about everything) don't need to be labeled? The results are far more random and thousands of genes are altered. With GMOs, the results are precise and only involve a few genes. Plus, unlike traditional breeding, they're tested. But somehow doing something in a lab is scary because people took what was going on in Gremlins 2 literally.

I'm willing to change my mind again (and again), but as far as I can tell, labeling laws are not about providing information; they're about spreading unnecessary fear. GMOs don't require a warning label, and anybody who's so inclined to learn about the process can do so. Plus, they're easy to avoid if you want. I'm not totally against the idea of labeling in general, and I'm certainly not against informing the public, but the current labeling laws that have been proposed are all founded on scientific illiteracy and science phobia.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Talking religion with my four year old

I got a chance to hang out with my son, Logan, quite a bit today. We played some Just Dance on the Wii this morning, and then he played with some of my old toys while I arranged my comic books. My wife went out with a friend to dinner, so the two of us had dinner together and later rode our bikes to the playground.

Sometime during the day, I heard him say something about "the gods".

I asked him, "Who are the gods, Logan?"

He just looked at me, a bit puzzled that I expected him to know the meaning of the words he uses. Where did he get such a phrase? Probably me, as I sometimes say ridiculous things like "Because it's the will of the gods!" when I know that I have no actual justification for doing what I'm doing.

He answered me with, "I don't know."

After another pause, he asked, "Who are the gods, daddy?"

My response was that many people used to believe that many different gods created the world and the sun, moon, stars, and so on. I then told him that most people nowadays believe that there is one God who created everything, including people, dogs, cats...

"And horses!"

"Yeah, and horses."

Logan then changed the subject. He had a Transformer in his hand, and asked me if I could turn it into a robot. He was clearly done with this topic.

I would like to point out that I didn't say anything about what I believe, for the simple fact that he didn't ask me. I also didn't make any mention of whether those people are right or not. I just stated something that's a pretty unarguable fact.

I have written a few times before about religion and the indoctrination of children. A religious friend once posted on Facebook a quote that went along the lines of how it's important to teach your children HOW to think, not WHAT to think. I responded by saying how I don't know how one can do that while raising a child to believe in a certain religion.

The thing is, a religious person could answer my son's questions the exact same way that I did without compromising their own faith. 

But would they? I'm not so sure.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cal Shakes - A Midsummer Night's Dream review

If there is one thing that I figured out while watching the last play of this year's season at the California Shakespeare Theater, it's that my wife and I need to start going to evening showings. Pretty much every time we went this year, it was really hot for the first hour, and then it cooled down a bit after that. With this play, it was practically unbearable, as I was gushing with sweat. Normally I sweat more than the average person, but I saw a lot of folks with shiny faces and wet shirts. Sure, it can get pretty cold on the evening performances, but bundling up with sweaters and blankets is much more pleasurable than feeling like Helios is punching you into submission.

That said, even the sweltering heat wasn't enough to ruin my enjoyment of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I first read the play in high school, then again in college. I remember pretty much enjoying the movie version with Kevin Kline, but I hadn't given it much thought since. I was worried that I might be a bit confused as to what was happening, but it all started to come back to me. My wife, who's less well-versed in Shakespeare than me, had no problem following the basic storyline - which is a testament to both the writing and the performance, as it's not the most straightforward narrative there is, as there is both the human and the fairy world at work here.

This was probably my second favorite show of the season, but that's only because A Raisin in the Sun was so ridiculously excellent. Aside from that, it's up there with some of my favorite performances that I've seen over the years, including Julius Caesar, Richard III, and Spunk. It was good to see some returning favorite actors, especially Danny Scheie, my wife's favorite, as Puck. I should also note that he scared the crap out of me (and the look on his face acknowledged that he was aware of it) when he entered his scene, yelling at the top of his lungs in that distinct voice of his. He came in through the audience, and I was right at the entrance. I jumped a bit in my seat - totally unprepared for his entrance. It's all good though - it was funny.

I also really dug Margo Hall as Bottom. I saw her in the aforementioned "Raisin" along with Spunk and always thought that she did a good job, but it was really cool to see this Shakespearean-trained actress take on some actual Shakespeare. Even though Bottom is a male part, she really made it her own, and I hope to see her do some more in the years to come.

I don't feel like there's as much to say about Shakespeare's comedies as there is with his comedies. I have to wonder if his work would have the broad appeal that it currently enjoys if he only had his comedies to his name. Don't get me wrong - I like them, and I think that there is a lot of good stuff one can say about pretty much all of them. However, there's just never going to be as much to ponder as there is with the tragedies - the possible exception being The Merchant of Venice, I guess.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Argument from Authority

Years ago when I worked at a dotcom, there seemed to be a lot of my fellow coworkers who were believed that aliens were visiting us and doing all sorts of things from leaving crop circles to rectally probing people. I remember having a debate with a couple of people who were insistent that all of that were true, and one woman used as her trump card that she heard "a guy from the C.I.A." who said that it was all happening.

I pointed out that she was using an argument from authority fallacy (technically, it's an argument from an anonymous authority), but as I've mentioned before, pointing out logical fallacies only has an effect if you're talking to somebody who's playing by the rules of logic in the first place. It's not too hard to figure out why this is a fallacy. What if I got another guy from the C.I.A. who said that it wasn't happening? (He's part of the cover-up, obviously!) Sure, it very well may be possible that it is happening, but I need some actual evidence if I'm going to believe something so incredible. Simply having some guy with some insider government information (that he's rather reckless about spilling to the average person) claim that it's so doesn't make it so.

Essentially, the argument from authority is the adult version of: "My mom said (x) is true!" I remember that I once had a student tell me that Catholics weren't Christians because her grandmother said that they weren't. I had to gently tell her that her grandmother was wrong. As we get older, we tend to give automatic credence to doctors, scientists, etc. without necessarily checking to see what their specific credentials are or if they actually have evidence to back up their claims. Nothing is true simply because an authority figure says it's true.

I can imagine that somebody might object here and point out that I often point out the scientific consensus when it comes to things like evolution, climate change, and GMOs in order to make my point, and thus, I make the argument from ignorance fallacy. While I do point out the consensus, I'm not guilty of making the fallacy as I'm not trying to make the case that evolution is true, climate change is happening, and GMOs are safe because the scientific consensus says so. In the case of each of those, the evidence speaks for itself, and you don't need expert opinions to figure that out.

Then why bring it up at all? I do so because it's an interesting challenge, and when I refer to the scientific consensus, I refer to a consensus of scientists who are experts in those particular fields because ultimately the person who is arguing the opposing side is asserting that they have an understanding that the experts don't. For instance, if somebody denies anthropogenic climate change, they're implying that they understand the science better than the vast majority of climate scientists. It very well may be the case that they do, but when I bring it up, I'm asking them to explain what it is that they get that the experts don't get. Usually in this case, you can expect an evasion.

I once got into a conversation with a creationists about a TV special featuring Stephen Hawking. In it, Hawking gave his reasons for why the universe doesn't need a creator in order for it to exist. The creationist called Hawking's conclusion "laughable". My response was to ask what, exactly, did Hawking get wrong as far as the science was concerned. He brought up the fact that Hawking didn't mention things like "evidence from design", which still doesn't address the question. Did he really think that Hawking had never heard that before? Same goes with people when I talk about GMOs; they will express that more testing needs to be done, but that implies that they understand something about the process that the majority of geneticists understand, since they are saying that they're safe. Again, the critics might be right, but if they are, they should be able to explain why their understanding is better - preferably with an actual geneticist in the room.

Bringing up what the experts say isn't a logical fallacy so long as you're not using it as the reason as to why something is true. It's simply a way of getting people to address the specific arguments and offer any evidence to the contrary. The problem comes in when people use the opinion of an authority figure as evidence, their authority figures aren't even experts on the particular subject, or the authority figure isn't even named in the first place (like our mysterious C.I.A. official).

A big problem that comes up with this fallacy is that often the people who constantly use it will assume that you're doing it as well. To be specific, I have had on more than one occasion Christians bringing up the philosopher Friederich Nietzsche to me. Nietzsche is understood to be an atheist, and he was the one who is often quoted as saying that "God is dead". From what I understand, and I very well could be getting this completely wrong as I'm no philosophy expert, his point was that as society moves away from religious faith, humans will struggle to find some sort of intrinsic value to life, as that's what they had with a belief in God. Essentially, the Christian is trying to tell me that since Nietzsche is an atheist, and I'm an atheist, that I should accept his premise and feel that life has no inherent meaning (ultimately as a way of demonstrating that their worldview is superior to mine).

What they don't seem to understand is that if this I don't give a crap what Nietzsche had to say. If he says things with which I agree, then I agree. But if he says something with which I disagree, then I disagree. I'm not going to agree with the guy on everything just because I agree with many of his critiques of religion. More importantly, if I am understanding his premise correctly, I think that it's a false one, as I don't think that people derive intrinsic value from religion. Rather, I think that they have their values and then wind up ascribing them, after the fact, to their religious faith.

This doesn't just happen with Nietzsche. I've had a theist tell me that Richard Dawkins thinks that atheists should embrace the idea of being "militant" after I said that was a ridiculous thing to do. I suppose the person thought that I was going to find myself in some sort of difficult position of sticking with what I said and contradicting Richard Dawkins. Fortunately for me, I have no problem disagreeing with the man. (I personally think that calling ourselves "brights" is pretentious as all hell, for instance.) I guess what many theists don't seem to understand is that atheists - or to be more specific - skeptics don't have any authority figures. We might have people we admire, but if Lawrence Krauss (another atheist I admire) started talking tomorrow about how we need to wear tinfoil hats to protect us from alien mindreaders, then I'll have no problem saying that Krauss is off his nut. (That is, of course, unless he provides objective and verifiable evidence.)

An even better example of this misunderstanding comes up in the movie God's Not Dead. The setup for the film is a Christian student takes a philosophy class with a professor who insists that the kids sign a statement declaring that "God is dead" in order to pass the class. (Something which has never happened and would be criticized by even some of the most strident atheists.) During the film, he debates his professor on the existence of God, only to get the professor to admit that the problem is that he's mad at God, which makes him not an atheist at all (but I digress).

I hesitate to give this movie any publicity, even if it's the 30-100 hits my blog posts get. I also must admit that I haven't seen it, but a friend told me about it, and I've read so many reviews of it that my point still stands. If anybody has seen it, and it turns out that I'm getting something wrong, please let me know. (And if you want a very thorough analysis of the film, check out what the Camels with Hammers blog, written by an actual atheist philosophy professor, has to say.)

From what I've read, the arguments that the two throw at each other consist of little more than arguments from authority. The professor quotes the likes of Dawkins and Hawking, and then he's dumbfounded that the student (the hero of the film) isn't impressed by the credentials of those he quotes. In other words, he is unable to make any arguments of his own. He can't even seem to paraphrase what others have said.

Perhaps there are atheists out there who only parrot what prominent nonbelievers have said, but that's not the way most of the ones I know come to their conclusions. I was an atheist long before I ever heard of Richard Dawkins or many of today's prominent nonbelievers. Sometimes I will quote one of them, not as a way of providing what I think is evidence, but because I think that they have made a true statement in as clear a manner as possible, and for me to use my own words would be to run the risk of being less articulate. A prime example includes Christopher Hitchens, who said: "That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

It's not true because he said it. It's true because it simply makes sense. Why should I have to go digging for evidence to disprove something for which no evidence has been provided? A basic tenet of logic is that the person making a claim about something is the one who has the burden of proof to provide evidence, not the other way around. (I guess I ought to write my next logical fallacy post on the burden of proof.) In other words, Kermit the frikken' Frog could have said it, and I'd still quote it. Shoot, I bet you could easily compile a list of Hitchens quotes with which I do NOT agree, but that has no impact on the fact that I like what he said that one particular time.

I suppose that I can understand why I run into this problem with so many theists in particular. Their entire belief structure is based on the words of an authority, so naturally they assume that I must be doing something similar. Even when people get away from theism though, they run the danger of replacing one authority (The Bible - or somebody's interpretation of it) with another (like the Food Babe or some other mountebank).

The good news is that it's very possible to not fall into this particular line of fallacious thinking. As Lawrence Krauss said, when speaking of the scientific method:
There are no scientific authorities. That's a key point. There are scientific experts. But there's no one whose views are not subject to question. And that's the key point. And there's no student that should ever be afraid of saying to a professor in a science class, "You're wrong and here's why."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cal Shakes - Pygmalion

I have some vague memories of reading Pygmalion and watching My Fair Lady when I was a freshman in high school. It gave my teacher, Mr. Byson, a chance to teach us all about England in general and London in particular. I knew what Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square were long before I spent a semester there as a college student, and I think that it was my teacher's influence that made me a bit of an Anglophile.

I haven't read or seen either of those works since, and I thought that I had remembered them pretty well, but I realized that there was a lot that had slipped my memory when I went to see it at Cal Shakes this afternoon. I remembered Eliza Doolittle and her cockney accent (that is what it is, right?) but I think that I remember more from My Fair Lady. Isn't there a bit about the rain in Spain staying mainly on the plain? And for some reason, I thought that Julie Andrews was in it, but a quick search shows that it was Audrey Hepburn. Oh well, guess I'd better check it out again.

Anyway, today's performance was thoroughly enjoyable, and it all went by rather quickly. The cast did a nice job, with Irene Lucio showing that she has some great comedic chops as Eliza. Anthony Fusco did a great job as the rigid, intelligent, but awfully clueless Henry Higgins. (I like to call 'im 'Enry "Iggins" meself.) And while he might not seem like a main character, I really appreciated L. Peter Callender in the role of Colonel Pickering, as he was able to radiate the good nature of the character, providing an excellent foil for Higgins.

Just like most of the best works of art, this play has a lot of themes that are still relevant today. So long as there are some people who have more than others, we'll have people dividing themselves into groups based on who has more. Even though Britain's class struggles aren't exactly the same as what we experience in America, we've got enough of it that I think it speaks to audiences here as well. Even without all of that, it deals with a very human tendency to disregard the needs and feelings of others.

For my final thought, I love the irony of having a George Bernard Shaw play at a Shakespeare festival. No, I'm not talking about how they're doing non-Shakespeare stuff. They always do that. I'm talking about the fact that when it came to the Stratford playwright, Bernard had this to say: "There is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare."

I won't hold it against him.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Advice for the recently deconverted

Julian the Apostate
I figure that if I can give sincere advice to proselytizing Christians, I should probably be able to do an even better job of giving advice to those who have recently abandoned their religious faith. While nonbelievers are not a monolithic group, I think that what I have to say should prove useful for most of them, whether they identify as an atheist, an agnostic, or perhaps even a deist.

1. Be open about it. This might be easier said than done depending on your family situation and where you live. If you think that you can still maintain your important relationships (not to mention your career) with this revelation, then let people know where you stand. I'm not saying that you need to confront people and get in debates, but don't let people assume that you're something that you're not. I wrote before about how atheists can learn from the struggle for equality that gay people have faced. Many people have come to accept gays and support their rights simply by realizing how many of them are around them and learning that they're really not all that different from them. When more believers realize that apostates don't become cat-sacrificing meth-heads upon deconversion, then we'll start to become less scary to them.

2. Be prepared to hear points as though you've never even considered them, even though you've spent much time pondering and ultimately rejecting them. If you follow my first piece of advice, then you're probably going to find this to be one of the most frustrating things. Did you spend a long time thinking about the various arguments for the existence of God only to find them wanting? Did you even use to say some of them yourself? Don't expect any of that to matter, as you'll hear everything from the ridiculous "Why are there still monkeys?" to the more thoughtful (but ultimately flawed) "The universe must have a case that exists outside of itself, and the best explanation for that cause is God". Not only will you hear all of these arguments, but believers will say them as though you've never given them any thought - even when you demonstrate that you have. They'll likely then accuse you of being close-minded and/or biased (even though you have already demonstrated that you can change your mind and overcome a bias).

3. It won't matter that you used to believe. This certainly seems to be the case with Christians in particular, but I imagine it's probably true for other faiths as well. Once you tell somebody that you don't believe, they assume that the problem is that you somehow don't know the theology. The problem won't be that you've found some flaw in the system. Clearly, it's that you don't know anything about it. Much like in my last point, even when you explain that you were a firm believer, many theists have a hard time accepting that one can sincerely believe and then change his or her mind. You might even find this happening with people you've known your whole lives and prayed next to in church. Prepare for frustration.

4. They will assume things about you. Without even listening to your objections, many believers will immediately start formulating a narrative in their heads about why you feel the way you do. Obviously, you're angry at God. Or, you had a bad experience. Probably the most helpful thing you can do is, instead of debate, simply explain why you don't believe (rather than telling them why they shouldn't believe).

5. They're not interested in what you've found out. For some nonbelievers, coming away from faith feels like stepping out of a prison where you had the key all along. You step outside the bars, look back, and wonder how the hell you could have stayed in there for so long. And then you see your friends and family and you want to yell at them: "Hey! Look in your hands! You have the key! It's obvious!"  Unfortunately, instead of them thanking you, they'll insist that they're not in a prison and won't even look to see what's in their hand. The truth is, many of them are perfectly happy in there. Their families and friends are there. They like the music. They like the camaraderie. For some of them, it's actually pretty comfortable and they have a lot of space to move around and the guards are pretty nice to them.

I realize that any believers out there are probably feeling a bit insulted with this analogy. Please realize that I'm trying to address nonbelievers, and whether we're right or wrong, this is how it feels. Many of us want to help others get away from faith, but the reaction on the part of many is to completely reject what we have to say rather than even consider that we might be on to something.

6. If you debate, stick with conversations about evidence. I think that I've learned this one the hard way. I've gotten into long debates about issues like how the Bible endorses slavery, and ultimately it's just frustrating and pointless. Apologists will excuse anything, no matter how horrific, that's in The Bible. (If I had a nickel for every time I heard the intellectually and morally bankrupt "Slavery was different back then/It was more like indentured servitude!" argument, I'd have a hell of a lot of nickels.) Ultimately though, these kinds of discussions are pointless. Let's say that The Bible clearly stated that owning human beings was wrong. Would that suddenly make the Christian God real? No. You'll find better morals in the average Superman comic, but that doesn't make Superman any more real than Jesus.

Stick with discussing what you both consider to be evidence, and then determine whether such evidence exists. Don't hold your breath thinking that they'll give you something, but be open to hearing about it.

7. Remember that they're not stupid. Don't get all tribalistic about this and assume that those on your side are somehow smarter than the opposition. There are plenty of bad reasons to become a nonbeliever, and a lot of atheists and agnostics aren't very thoughtful about their unbelief.

8. Beware the condescending nonbeliever. If you're the kind of person who likes to debate this stuff, don't be shocked when some of your fellow nonbelievers think that you're somehow doing the equivalent of what the Westboro Baptist Church does. It's funny, because even though I'm very public in my nonbelief, I've found myself making friends with a lot of Christians. It's weird, because they send me friend requests. I even get a few +1's on Google Plus from believers on some of the blog entries I've written.

However, talking to some atheists and agnostics, you're creating the crime of all crimes by critiquing an idea. They act like believers are little children holding on to their teddy bears, and you're trying to tear them away from their beloved toy. Are there some atheists who are obnoxious and insulting? Sure. But even in that case, you'll find that most believers can handle it just fine. They're not as fragile as you think.

The ironic thing about this is that in an effort to be more open and tolerant, these kinds of nonbelievers wind up being the most insulting of all.