Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Why the Live and let live approach doesn't work

It's hard to see all the religious people of the world giving up their push to have the rules of their religion legislated if all the vocal atheists of the world were to suddenly fall silent. 

This is the naivety of the 'Live and let live' approach when it's aimed at atheists. 

From my experience the vast (if not total) majority of vocal atheists are motivated through their desire to stop having religion impose its rules onto those who don't share those beliefs (including the children they indoctrinate). 

The most common example of this imposition, I suspect, is marriage equality. Australia does not allow marriage between people who are the same gender. The opposition to this is, from my observation, 100% religiously motivated. Our current Prime Minister is opposed to due his catholic beliefs. Our previous Prime Minister was once opposed, but declared that he'd changed his mind. He concluded through his 'informed Christian conscience' that allowing marriage equality was the right thing to do. His reasoning can be seen in full here. In what could be considered a strange situation, our Prime Minister previous to that had an anti-equality position on marriage, despite being an atheist. Her reasoning, however, was "...what comes from the Bible has formed such an important part of our culture."

If not for vocal atheists and secularly minded theists, this push for equality would not exist and there'd be no chance ever of marriage equality becoming a reality, and same sex couples would be forever told that their love isn't worth joining in matrimony. How can one consider this a live and let live approach? 

If all theists of the world were advocates of the live and let live approach marriage equality would have been a reality shortly after it was identified as an anomaly. But no, when it comes to progressive morality, secular humanism leads the charge and religion is dragged kicking, screaming, and protesting behind. 

The 'live and let live' approach is essentially what the vocal atheists I respect are aiming for but we can't do it first because it's not the approach taken by theists. As I've said before, the vocal atheist position is reactionary. It has seen a rise in recent times because of religion and what religion has done and continues to do to society. If we, the atheists and secularists, were to adopt live and let live, theism would march on unimpeded and unquestioned. Rules that have no place outside of ancient scripture would be pushed through as legislation, and advances in morality would be a thing of the past. 

Atheists and secularists will continue to speak up as long as theists continue imposing their agenda onto the rest of society - whether it's their anti-equality position regarding marriage, their intimidating protests outside Planned Parenthood and other such places where abortions are available, their insistence that their version of the creation myth be taught as fact in school, the practice of praying rather than seeking medical attention while children die, their burning alive of people they think to be witches, their criminalising of homosexuality, their intimidation of students wanting to form atheist clubs in school - the list is practically endless. Because if we don't speak up we'll be forced to live under theistic rules with which we want absolutely nothing to do. 

So the live and let live approach may work one day, but it has to be theists first. 

To put it simply - if atheists shut up, we'll still hear from theists. If theists shut up, they'll stop hearing from atheists. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

On Miracles

When a theist is trying to convince me that the god in which they happen to believe is real they'll often cite miracles as evidence. 

Of course the first question to ask is 'what do you mean by miracle?' The answer which comes back is usually something like an event which can't be explained, something inexplicable. 

Surely this is where the argument ends - if they understand what they've just said at all. Of course you will most likely recognise this as pure argument from ignorance. They can't explain what happened, therefore they think god did it. 

We all know it doesn't work like that. To make a case for God, you need to demonstrate that God was responsible, not that you don't know what was responsible. 

One of the most common examples is the surprise recovery from serious illness. The person wasn't expected to recover, they were given a short time to live...but 5 years later, here they are, alive and well. Must have been God, right? No. For one, they're not considering that people recover unexpectedly *all the time*! Well...maybe not all the time - but unexpected recoveries do happen. At what point does it lose it miraculousness? 

People throw around the word miracle for a rare event, an extraordinary occurrence, something they didn't except, or even something everyday that they really wanted (I got my concert tickets...it's a miracle!). But as with prayers - miracles are never something that is demonstrably impossible without the involvement of a god. Where's the amputee growing a limb back? Where's going to bed with a normal back and waking up with wings? No, these things never happen. Miracles are always things that could have happened anyway. 

It comes down to something I've written about previously. Not understanding something doesn't mean a god is responsible for it.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Religion based Censorship

I'm sure you've heard by now that there was an outcry and petition regarding an image in the latest Katy Perry music video. 

It's the word 'Allah' written in Arabic hanging from a chain around the neck of a character who is then disintegrated by Katy Perry's character. 

In what is an almost expected response now, Muslims kicked up a fuss, started a petition and some 65,000+ signatures later reports say the YouTube version of the song has had the word edited out. See below for before and after: 

65,000 people signing a petition to remove this image is staggering - why would they care? Well they care because it's 'blasphemous'. Apparently. Now if they want to get upset about it, that's up to them. But how dare they demand to have it removed? Who are they to say what images can and can't appear in a music video? One hopes that these 65,000 people also signed petitions in favour of human rights or prevention of animal cruelty. But I doubt it.

This is close on the heels of the controversy caused when Maajid Nawaz said that Muslims shouldn't be offended by the below Jesus and Mo cartoon:

Mr Nawaz was harassed online - not because he called Mohammed a name, not because he drew Mohammed (something Muslims don't like) not because he insulted Allah. No, it was because he said Muslims shouldn't find the above offensive. That's all. Because of the outcry Channel 4 in Britain censored the picture and showed it like this: 

Again, who are religious extremists to say what cartoons can and can't be shown or drawn?

These are just two examples, there are many more and it's not just from Muslims. Monty Python famously caused controversy among Christians with their film 'The Life of Brian'.

The religious extremism here isn't the issue. Well it is, but that's not why I'm writing. Sadly, we've come to expect it. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be fought against, but it's just not a surprise now. 

No, the issue here is the pandering to it. Why should freedom of speech or freedom of expression be the casualty? Why is it more important that religious sensitivities be protected over freedom? There is no such thing as the 'right to not be offended'. 

If we allow this bit of religious extremism to have its way, where do we stop? Islam wants women to be covered in a Hijab or Burka. What happens if 65,000 Muslims sign a petition demanding that every woman appearing on YouTube or television wears a Hijab? Do millions of YouTube videos suddenly get removed? Does the look of television change forever? 

I know I'm leaning toward Slippery Slope fallacy here but the problem is the religious people who are offended by almost everything and I genuinely don't know at what point they'll stop trying to force their rules onto others. 

Censorship based on religious sensibilities is dangerous and is a real threat to the freedom of people who don't subscribe to the religion in question (and to those who do). It would be one thing to go into a religion's building such as a mosque and offend the believers, but no one is forcing anyone to watch the Katy Perry video. No one is being forced to read the Jesus and Mo cartoons. The only forcing here is being done by the religious extremists - forcing people to submit to their whims. They need to understand that they don't get to tell other people what they should find sacred. They don't get to tell other people what they should and shouldn't be offended by. 

If person x is offended by something but person y isn't the solution isn't to allow neither of them to see it - the solution is that person x doesn't watch. Simple. I don't expect laws to be made to protect my feelings

If you would like to voice your counter position to the Katy Perry video censorship, my friend Kevin ( ) has set up a petition at Change.org, which you can find here.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why Faith?

You've got to have faith. Faith is important. You can't expect God to make you believe, you have to believe on faith. It's drilled into children by theistic parents and reinforced from the pulpit. Faith - it's the one thing you need to get into heaven.

Well...allow me to disagree. 

First of all I want to clear up what I mean by faith. For starters, I don't mean trust. Faith is, essentially, pretending to know something you don't. It's believing something is true despite lack of evidence or despite contradictory evidence. Trust is different. Trust is formed over time and is based on verifiable experience and data. For example when I drive my car I don't have faith that the brakes will work - I trust they will work. I trust this because I've had them work previously, I know they were manufactured to standards, and that they're maintained by qualified professionals. 

Faith is fine if you don't care about what's true. If you want to believe something whether or not it's true, whether or not you've got good reason to believe it, then faith is for you. But if you want to believe things (or accept them as true if you'd rather put it that way) for good reasons, then faith will not help you achieve that. 

The easiest way to demonstrate that faith is flawed is to point out that through faith alone, people can have contradictory beliefs and none of them can be validated. I think this point is crucial - you cannot validate beliefs based on faith.

Take Christians who believe - on faith - that 'Bible God' exists and he sent his son Jesus/himself to earth to save human kind. They also believe that Jesus was/is the messiah. 

Contrast this with the Muslims who also believe in an Abrahamic God themselves. Muslims think Jesus was a prophet of God but not the saviour. They also think that Muhammad was a prophet but the Christians think no such thing. The Christians think God had a son, the Muslims and Jews don't. The Muslims think the Qu'ran is the literal word of God as revealed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. The Jews and Christians believe no such thing. 

These three big players in religion - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - pretty much, kind of, believe in the same god, yet they differ on so many crucial points. Of course this is completely ignoring the various sects and branches of Christianity there are. I've heard estimates up to 30,000 different kinds. 

So the question which must be asked is this - if faith is a pathway to truth, if faith is valuable, how can it lead to so many different conclusions? There are so many assumptions, guesses, and, really, just making stuff up that I can't see how anyone values faith as a method for determining truth. The phrase 'I know because I have faith' is an oxymoron. 

If you put two people with opposing faiths together and asked them to come to a consensus, how would they do it? They wouldn't measure their faith and go with the highest, that's for sure. (How does one measure faith anyway? And what units would you use? As I've suggested before - Gullibles?). No, they wouldn't stay with faith, they would both start stating reasons for why they believe what they do. A Christian might point to story of Christ's empty tomb, a Muslim might point to the alleged scientific truths in the Qu'ran. 

What we see here is, essentially, people abandoning their faith. When faith is questioned, when faith is put under analysis, they don't turn to 'more faith', they turn to reason and evidence - even if the reason if fallacious and the evidence is flawed. 

Faith is not a pathway to truth, faith is often abandoned as soon as it's questioned and often abandoned for good when the pursuit of truth through reason and logic is embraced. 

Faith is dangerous, we all know the horrific and tragic consequences of people operating on faith alone and not reason, I don't need to detail them here. 

Faith is ignorance, it leads not to truth, but to bigoted, discriminatory, homophobic, sexist, and oppressive views.

I've called this blog entry 'Why Faith?' but I've not really answered it. Because when it comes to why people would choose faith over reason - I really have no idea. 

[i]  I say 'an' Abrahamic God and not 'the' because....well the God in the bible and the God in which the Muslims believe, called Allah[ii] are really two different Gods. I like to say that they have a common ancestor.
[ii] Allah is Arabic for 'the God' though it's common to see Allah being functionally used as the name of the god in question.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Why do people pray for others?

"I'll pray for you" something I get told quite often and I'm sure a lot of atheists get told the same.

We also see people praying for those who are ill, people who are looking for work, people who are missing and so on. 

I've been told by a Christian friend of mine that when she prays she's asking for guidance, for strength, and to be 'shown the right path'. I really don't mind this as I see it like meditating. Like focusing. I think it probably does work because the person is convinced going in that they'll get what they need from the prayer - I just think they give it to themselves and they mistakenly call that part of themselves God. 

When a theist tells an atheist they'll pray for them, a common comeback is 'And I'll think for you'. It's not bad...but not helpful either. I've sometimes replied with 'Good, if you're praying for me, it means you're not on the street corner shouting crazy at everyone.' Again, not helpful, even if truthful. 

These days I tend to ask why. I want to know what they're going to say and what they're expecting to achieve. I don't often get answers but on the rare occasion it's something like 'I want to ask God to make himself known to you' or 'I want Jesus to come to you so you can know his love.' Words to that effect. 

This seems to fly in the face of what I'm constantly told which is that God has granted me free will and it's up to me to then believe in him by faith alone. If a prayer to God or Jesus asking them do something in my life to cause me to believe in them is answered it removes my free will. It's no longer possible for me to believe on faith alone. What then for my free will? 

It also appears that the pray-er assumes they can change their God's mind or make him aware of something he was not already aware of (so much for omniscience). I would really like to know what they expect from that... 

'Hey God? It's me Bobby-Jo. I'm praying to you because I spoke to this atheist and he doesn't believe you exist so can you please make yourself known to him so he can know the love of Jesus? Thanks. Also - have you seen my car keys?' 

And God...in his office or wherever he hangs out to receive prayers gets a New Prayer notification. He sees it's from Bobby-Jo and it includes a request to make himself known to an atheist. Does God then say 'What? There's someone who doesn't believe in me? Really? Well..this just will not do! Yes, Bobby-Jo I will make myself known to this person! Wow, thanks for letting me know I had no idea!'. Is this really what the Bobby-Jos of the world think is going to happen? I'm really not sure but when I'm told that I'll be prayed for I will continue to ask why and will continue ask what will be said and what is expected. 

The other kind of prayer I mentioned is the praying for others in a time or tragedy or hardship. 

After a natural disaster there is, without fail, a massive cry for prayer. 'Pray for the victims of <insert natural disaster location here>'. 

I have replied to this with this: 

The first thing I think of when people are praying for the victims of a natural disaster (and I'm sure many other atheists think similarly) is 'Aren't you just praying to the very God that caused the disaster in the first place?' Similar to the above, are they saying 'God, I know you sent this cyclone/flood/earthquake for a reason, but if you could make it so it was really easy to recover, that would be just great!'. It's just ridiculous. 

What about praying for someone who is ill or missing. I've seen it on twitter, on Facebook and in the real world. Sometimes it's just an individual 'Praying for my brother who's having a kidney operation.' Okay, fine. If that makes you happy. Sometimes it's a request for a bunch of people to pray 'Please pray for my friend who's having heart surgery'. 

My question on this latter version is this - How many people need to pray for the prayer to work? If the fictitious friend in this scenario doesn't survive is it the fault of the people calling for prayer? Is it their fault for not getting enough people to pray? Does god sit in heaven with a counter clicking it up one each time a new prayer comes in and when it hits the magic number he (somehow) intervenes on Earth and does whatever it is a God needs to do in order to make sure the friend survives the surgery? Has anyone ever died because not enough people prayed for them? Is that what's going on here? When this person's friend gets to heaven and stands before god, will they remember this and say to God 'Why did you let them die? What did I do wrong? I prayed, I got my friends to pray too....why did you let my friend die?' And God looks at them and says 'Well you had 47 people praying for your friend. But I needed 50. It's a shame. I had big plans for your friend but you just didn't quite make it.' 

As I said in my previous post about prayer, The Prayer Challenge even when I was a believer I couldn't understand the purpose of prayer. It seemed so redundant. 

So maybe there is some point to prayer as a person reflecting, or a focusing of your thoughts and energy. But praying for me to no longer be an atheist? Praying for people who are victims of natural disaster or a group of people praying for a sick or missing person? It's clearly pointless, even if a God does exist. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Be the spark.

I often hear the question, and have asked the question myself, why do people in this day and age still believe in the bible? (of course the Qur'an could fit in here too)

The thing to keep in mind is that people wrote and believed in the bible when they didn't know better. They not only didn't know how to properly investigate things, they didn't know they could even try. People used to believe the wrath of god was an actual thing they witnessed. It was a time and place when people believed all kinds of nonsensical stories and there were no scientists around to say 'let's see if we can disprove that'. Claims were just accepted without question. (still the case for many people today)

Add to this the recognition (eventually) by the ruling classes that religion was a great method to control the masses and suddenly you've got a very powerful tool behind you.

So with no way to investigate claims and authority figures reinforcing the myths at every opportunity it really is no surprise that fantastical stories were believed by entire societies. 

Given that we don't have this excuse now, why do people believe today? Think about it... In modern times when do people become religious? Is it when they've reached the age of reason? In their late 20s when they've had a solid scientific education first? Never (or extremely rarely if ever). In actuality, for the vast majority of cases, religion is driven into people when they're infants. It happens when they're children, it comes from a trusted source, and it's forced upon them without their consent. They grow up 'knowing' it to be true because they're never given a choice. They then think they're doing a good thing when they continue the cycle onto their own children. It takes a spark to break the cycle but often that spark never comes so the cycle of belief continues.

I've read about people going off to university and their path to atheism beginning there. For many it's the first time they meet and interact with people of differing views. It's the first time they learn that not everyone believes what they do, that people doubt the validity of religious beliefs and they do so with good reason. This is the 'spark' they need to start questioning what they believe.

But many people are surrounded by believers their whole lives. The spark to make them question what they've believed from such a young age and with such totality never occurs and as a consequence the path to atheism is never encountered.

I think that's why the internet is so important, it helps get information to people that would otherwise never be exposed to it. It helps show people there are differing views and that questioning your own beliefs isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'm not suggesting that a single tweet or even a series of them can turn a believer into an atheist but they can be the spark. It's the 'hang on a minute' moment. People then ask more questions, read more books (books that aren't part of their scripture), do their own investigation and from THIS work they conclude that atheism is the logical position for them. 

I've been very fortunate to have quite a number of people tell me I've either helped them on their path to atheism or helped show people who were already atheists that they're not alone. I see this as probably the best part of being a vocal atheist. The key, as I see it, is to answer questions openly and honestly - as long as those questions are genuine. Of course sometimes people just want to troll and waste time and how you deal with them is up to you. My opinion - best ignored. 

So I recommend engaging with theists. Talk to them. On The Atheist Experience they ask a great two part question to get the conversation going 'What do you believe and why?' I recommend it. 

People believe because they've never known anything different, because they believed since before they can remember and they were never given the choice. People believe because they were never given the spark to ignite their doubt, the spark to ignite questions. 

Be the spark. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

It takes more faith to be an atheist.

Theists will often tell me that it takes more faith to be an atheist than to be a theist. They usually say this with the idea that atheism is the active belief that there are no gods or goddesses - a claim that the vast majority of atheists refute. 

But let's for a moment say that atheism isn't just the 'lack of belief in gods' default. Let's say for a moment that atheism *is* the belief that there are no gods or goddesses. And let's also say that an atheist comes to this position through consideration of theistic claims. We'll call this person a 'considered atheist'. 

Does having the belief that there are no gods or goddesses *really* take as much faith as believing there are gods and goddesses? 

This is a hard question to answer in one way because faith is not really measurable. I'm not sure if there's a way to quantify it. I don't know what units of measurement one uses to work out how much faith a person has. Gullibles? Deludeds? Who knows? So let's just assume you can measure faith...somehow. 

The overwhelming majority of theists are so because they were indoctrinated as children. They aren't just told to believe, they're told a god exists with the same authority and conviction that they're told the sky is blue, that water will make you wet, and that something hot may burn you. They're not presented with faith as an alternative to reason. They're not presented different faiths and allowed to choose which of them they think makes the most sense. They are told that the god their parents believe in is real, he (most likely) watches everything they do, and if they aren't saved, they'll burn in hell forever. (Obviously there's variations on this theme but I think this is basically how it is for a very high percentage of believers). 

Actually, let me clarify - Children (infants) are not told this god is real directly. It's never 'God is real and therefore you must believe in him'. It's more like 'if you steal, God will see and you'll go to hell'. It's just taken for granted that their god exists. Non-existence is not a question. The possibility of their god not existing is never even raised. It's never considered. 

By the time these people reach the age of reason they are so fully convinced that their god is real and that their version of theology is real, that it's no longer a case of there being other possibilities to think about, it's that they are right and everyone who doesn't agree with them is wrong, and those people will, in a majority of cases, end up burning in hell forever. 

It gets to the point where many believers will have the interesting position of both having faith that their god is real and 'knowing' that their god is real. Some of these people know it to such a degree that they will die or kill for this god. 

It would take an incredible amount of faith in a deity to end a life, yours or someone else's. But even if we don't take it to that extreme there's still a lot of faith involved. In order to be a follower of today's big religions one must accept that all kinds of nonsense happened in the past. One must believe things that if they were told happened today most would have no chance of believing and they must believe these things with no evidence at all - except scripture. 

Scripture - the stories written by ancient people who didn't know how to investigate any kind of natural phenomena to find out what was actually happening. They not only didn't know how to, they didn't know they could. Before people developed methods for properly investigating how things happened and how things worked they thought epilepsy was demons possessing someone. They thought lightning was the wrath of a god. They thought a solar eclipse needed human sacrifice. They thought a story of a burning bush being the medium through which a god speaks was believable. 

Believers today hear these stories and think them real. Modern day believers not only have no evidence to support these stories but they fail to consider that these stories were made up by people who didn't know better. They fail to consider that these stories were made up by people whose understanding of the universe wouldn't let them pass a 5th grade test. That's not to say they were stupid people. They just didn't know what we know today. 

So with nothing to go on but the scripture of their religion and the say so of parents, priests and peers, these people believe without reservation, and without any confirmation that any gods exists at all let alone the god they happen to believe in, that their god is real. The evidence they provide is all fallacious. I haven't seen a new argument for the existence for god in a very long time. They always fall at either personal incredulity (argument from ignorance), special pleading,  or they argue from personal revelation, which is, of course, not enough to convince anyone else of anything. 

So the conclusion on belief in gods and goddesses it is 100% faith, with no redeeming logical reasoning - at all. 

As I said at the start, the majority of atheists will tell you that atheism is NOT the belief that no gods or goddesses exist, but it's lacking any belief that they do. Let's for a moment though throw out this notion of absolute certainty. Let's say that declaring no gods or goddesses exist is the equivalent of declaring no unicorns exist. Can one be absolutely certain that no unicorns exist? No, I don't think so. But is it outrageous to say 'I believe no unicorns exist'? No, it's really not. 

So if someone came out and said 'I believe no gods or goddesses exist' what are they really saying? I think they're saying something like 'The idea that any of the claims I've heard for the existence of gods or goddesses are real is so unlikely that they can all be dismissed'. 

To believe in God (as the big two religions think of him) we must accept that he is the supernatural being who created the entire universe, put life on one of eight planets, in a solar system around one of hundreds of billions of stars in one of hundreds of billions of galaxies.

He apparently cares about what we wear on our heads, whether or not the boys keep their foreskins, and has all manner of seemingly nonsense rules and demands. The kinds of rules and demands we'd expect ancient superstitious people to put in their rule book.

He rules this one planet but allows all kinds of evil, including the starvation, rape, and killing of children, yet his believers claim he loves us all. According to some he populated the planet and then wiped it all out because the people he created were wicked. And this was part of his plan. 

The stories associated with gods and goddesses are simply ridiculous. They are pure nonsense and it is hard to imagine a scientifically literate, well educated, adult believing them if they'd never heard them before the age of reason. 

Stories from the bible sound like exactly what they are - Fantasy from ancient, superstitious people who didn't know better. We know Adam and Eve never existed, evolution shows us that. No Adam and Eve, no fall of man, no fall of man, no need for saving, no need for saving, no need for Jesus. The stories are fabricated. To dismiss the claims that gods and goddesses exist based on the stories about them alone seems quite reasonable. Add to this that gods and goddesses have all been invented by people who didn't have the scientific method of investigation and analysis at their disposal and the likelihood of gods and goddesses being real pretty much vanishes into oblivion. 

Then there's the answers we have versus the answers ancient people supposed. For example they used to think lightning was the work of a god throwing it across the sky. We now know it's not. It's natural and easily explained. For anything for which there is an answer, where the claim was previously 'god did it' - we now know no gods or goddesses were required. Not at all. Not once. 

There is no evidence to support the existence of supernatural beings, but there is evidence to suggest they are simply the products of human imagination. Therefore to believe they don't exist seems quite reasonable.

But this is not a case against the existence of gods and goddesses as such, this is a discussion about the faith required to believe one way or the other. 

So on the one hand we've got believing in the existence of a being never proved. A being (or beings) who has been shown to exist nowhere but in ancient superstition and the gaps in knowledge of modern day believers. This belief is 100% faith based and, as demonstrated in the above, has no valid reason for thinking it real. 

On the other hand we've got believing that the superstitious beliefs of ancient people aren't real. Belief that saying 'I don't know, therefore god' is *not* a valid argument. This belief comes with reasoning - No gods have ever been the verified cause of anything and all the people who invented gods did so in times and places where they weren't in the habit of investigating actual answers. This is a considered position. A position derived from analysing the claims gods and goddesses exist and applying logic and common sense. One does not need much faith, as such, to hold this belief. 

Let me end with an example. Imagine you're at home and the phone rings. A fellow house member answers it and says it's for you - and it is capital G God. 

God has never been proven to ring people up, just as he's never been proven to create universes or do any of the things attributed to him. 

So when your house mate tells you it's God on the phone does it take just as much faith to believe it's not god as it would to believe it is? 

Of course not.