Saturday, 28 February 2015

A response to '5 Reasons Why Atheism is Foolish'

I was going to call this '5 reasons atheism is foolish' and start here with telling people to not be confused by the provocative title. But I decided it was a bit 'click-bait-y' so wanted to make it clear that it's a response. The piece I'm responding to lists 5 reasons the author thinks atheism is foolish and it can be found here.1

The blog starts by quoting Psalms 14:1 "The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good."

This verse is quoted to me often and my response is to ask why I should believe it. Of course, no satisfactory reason is ever provided. 

Here are the 5 'reasons'

1. Atheist [sic] Don’t Appreciate That Every Design Has A Designer

The blog author talks about the Airbus A380 and the Large Hadron Collider. These are very complex machines, with millions of parts and thousands of people were required to design and build them. It then goes on to say:
"They [atheists] cannot appreciate just the complexity and wonders of the human body but yet foolishly come to a poor conclusion that the human body and human existence as a result is just one big accident."
Of course we can appreciate how complex a human body is. We also (well, the vast majority of us) appreciate that the human body didn't appear on earth 'as is' and we're aware that it evolved from earlier life forms. We're also aware that evolution by Natural Selection is not an 'accident'.

This argument is also implying a false claim that complexity = design. Consider the piles of rubble left after a cyclone. Although clearly a mess, the patterns within are quite clearly complex and obviously not designed. Compare to a brick wall which is far from complex yet we know it to be designed. I would suggest that good design should reduce complexity, not increase it.

This argument also begs the question - assuming that the universe is designed, therefore requires a designer, without actually demonstrating that the universe is designed. This is a logical fallacy.

2. Atheists Think Accidents Can Create Complex & Harmonious Systems & Life-forms

I think here by 'accidents' the author means 'natural, non-deliberate' events. Of course natural, non-deliberate events can lead to the solar system we live in. What else could? Even if there is a god ultimately responsible for the universe, we can explain a solar system existing without god being involved. We can explain the effect of gravity. We can explain how stars and planets are formed out of cosmic dust. We can explain the existence of seasons, and water, and air. It's not so much that the universe is tailored for life, but that life adapted in, and to, the universe that exists.

The author then makes another ridiculous analogy between the Airbus A380, Large Hadron Collider, and the complexity of the universe.

"The make-up of the universe is far more complex than an Airbus or an LHC and it would be foolish to think that the universe was not created by an intelligent Creator who is far more intelligent than any human being could ever fathom."
The make up of the universe is complex but it's explainable *naturally*. There is no big hidden mystery with how gravity and time affects the elements.

What the author fails to acknowledge with this argument is that they are invoking a being more complex than the universe to explain the complexity of the universe. If the universe is too complex to not have a designer, then surely the 'god' used to explain this complexity is also too complex to not have a designer. Of course a 'special pleading' fallacy will be made here saying that god always 'existed' If a god can be explained without a designer, a universe can be explained without a designer.

In this section the author includes a lengthy quote from atheist turned Christian C.S. Lewis. Part of that quote:

"But if their thoughts, i.e, of Materialism and Astronomy are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true."
CS is saying that if the universe is not designed and exists by 'accident' how can we trust our thoughts, which must also be accidents.

Well this is pretty easy to test. Try crossing a busy road. Thought 1: Close your eyes and go whenever you feel like it. Thought 2: Observe the traffic , wait until there's a safe gap in the traffic, then cross. I highly recommend not putting Thought 1 into practise.

God doesn't need to be real for us to be able to trust our thoughts. We can see the results of them. We can test them. We can compare the results of actions based on different thoughts. I find it stupid to ask how we can trust our thoughts given we really don't have an alternative.

This argument is the logical fallacy of argument from ignorance. It's saying, in other words 'I don't know how the universe works, therefore God exists.

3. The Atheist Foolishly Thinks Science Has The Answers To Everything 

This is simply made up, an excuse to attack atheism with a straw man argument. I don't know a single atheist who claims this. Easily dismissed.

4. Atheists Don’t Know That Atheism is a Belief System

Atheism is the result of how atheists think, not the cause of it. The author mentions here that atheists believe in evolution and The Big Bang theory and somehow this makes atheism a belief system. Although acceptance of these areas of science is common among atheists they are also widely accepted among theists. These are scientific ideas, not atheistic ideas.

I've written here about how atheism is not a religion, I don't need to repeat it all here, suffice to say this argument is simply not true.

5. The Atheist Cannot Disprove The Existence of God

The first line of this section is 'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence'. I don't think this is entirely true. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence when you'd expect evidence to be present. It's the absence of evidence of cars that lets one know it's safe to cross a road.

Being unable to prove something doesn't exist is not reason to believe it does. No theist could prove that any of the 3,000+ gods they don't believe in don't exist, but they're not lining up to believe in all of them. No theist could prove unicorns don't exist but I'm sure they don't find that good enough reason to believe unicorns exist.

'You can't prove god doesn't exist' is a pathetic argument. We don't discuss why we shouldn't believe something exists, we discuss why we should, theists who rely on this argument know there's no reason to believe, so they resort to this. When the 'you can't prove it doesn't exist' argument comes out, the person you're arguing with has nothing left, it's the last refuge of someone who has run out of all other ideas.

The arguments above are obviously amateur and have little, if any, critical thought behind them. They are all easily dismissed and one might wonder why I'd bother responding. The thing is, despite being terrible, these arguments are common and that is why I decided to write a response. 

1 The blog I'm responding to is from a website called 'Inspired Walk' I've tried to find if it's a genuine site or a parody site but could not. Having said that, I have seen all the arguments above made genuinely. So even if Inspired Walk *is* a parody site, there are people who do believe the piece does highlight 5 reasons why atheism is foolish. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Is Atheism a religion?

Of course the correct, and simple answer to this is 'no' and that should be that. 

It is actually quite staggering how often this comes up. 

To properly answer the question 'is atheism a religion?' I think three subsequent questions need to be answered. 

1: What is atheism? 
2: What is a religion? 
3: Does the definition of atheism fit within the scope of the definition of religion. 

Let's have a look. 

1: What is atheism? 
If I ask pretty much any atheist I regularly talk to they'll say atheism is the lack of belief in the existence of gods and goddesses (or they may just say 'god'). I got so tired of this 'atheism is a religion' argument coming up all the time that I made this meme based on one of my tweets:

This really is all there is to it.  As I said in a previous post titled 'Misconceptions about atheism' there is nothing else linking atheists together. It's not a position on science, morality, or anything else. 

We lack belief in gods and goddesses and that's it, that's the only thing atheists have in common. 

I know some will say that atheism is the active belief that no gods and goddesses exist. That it's not just the position that 'lacks' belief. It's rare to find atheists who agree with this. It's far more likely that the person saying it is a theist trying to say that the atheist position is also a position of faith. However, for question three asked above, it's not going to matter whether you see atheism as a simple lack of belief in gods or goddesses or the active belief that no gods and goddesses exist. 

2: What is a religion? 

In 1983 the Australian High Court said in a ruling that: 
"For the purposes of the law, the criteria of religion are twofold: 
first, belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and 
second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief..."
I don't think that covers it all, but it's a good starting point. When we think religion we think clergy, dogma, tenets, rites, rituals, structure, hierarchy, scripture, prayer, church and faith. 

We could confuse the issue here and say that religion is anything someone is passionate about. 'Football is my religion' 'She loves her car so much, she polishes it religiously'. This is a way to convey how much time a focus someone dedicates to a hobby. In casual conversation this is acceptable but when debating whether or not something falls into a specific category, specifics matter. When people say atheism is a 'religion' they're not equating it to a passionate hobby. They're categorising it with Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and so on. If you've come here thinking 'religion' and 'thing you feel passionately about' are synonymous, you may as well stop now. 

3: Does the definition of atheism fit within the scope of the definition of religion? 

Clearly not. Take the first part of the Australian High Court statement: 'belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing or Principle'. Right here atheism is out as it's not the belief in anything, let alone a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle. 

Even if atheism was the active believe that no gods or goddesses exist, it still doesn't qualify as believing something doesn't exist is not believing 'in' something. Take this to the extreme level, just for the sake of argument - even if atheism was the active belief that the supernatural being the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe it *still* wouldn't qualify as a religion, when assessed under the second criteria of the Australian High Court, and when compared to actual religions, as there are no canons of conduct that give effect to the belief. 

Of course that's neither here nor there, as atheism has no such belief. 

Atheism, as it's understood by the vast majority of atheists, has no belief at all. It has no clergy, dogma, tenets, rites, rituals, structure. These things are obvious. 

There's no hierarchy. Richard Dawkins is a well known atheist, but he was never voted a leader. People have become known as atheists because their work has been popular, not because they worked their way up through the lower ranks. 

There's no scripture. Yes, the aforementioned Richard Dawkins wrote a book. So has Sam Harris. So did Christopher Hitchens. And there are thousands of blogs about atheism. Does this qualify as scripture? Of course not. There are books and blogs about war, sport, art, photography too. There are books about books, movies, cars, and pretty much anything people have an interest in. And not one of these books is considered scripture.

There's no prayer. Sure we wish for things, we hope. But we don't pray, we have no one to pray to. 

There's no church. But what about that 'atheist church' which made the news? You may ask. Well the term 'atheist church' was used to get attention. The Sunday Assembly, as it's actually known, states on their website that it's absolutely not for atheists only. Going on to say "One of the unique things about Sunday Assembly is that it is radically inclusive – allowing us to celebrate life together, regardless of what we believe in." This is a secular event, not an atheist one. 

There's no faith. As stated atheism isn't someone having faith that there's no god, it's just not believing that there is one. I've written a blog explaining how not believing in something doesn't mean you believe the opposite to be true. You can read that here

Religion is more than a single belief. To say 'well you believe there's no god, that's your religion' is nonsense. If I believe a book is good, is that a religion? If I believe a certain team will win a football match, is that a religion? Of course not. 

Religion is more than just being vocal and passionate about something. We may be vocal about things such as the environment, human right, or animal rights too, but wouldn't consider them to be religions. 

If not believing in the god of the bible is a religion, is not believing in Zeus a religion? Is not believing in Thor a religion? We've invented some 3,000 gods. Is not believing in each of them a religion of its own? Does a person who believes in the god of the bible but not Poseidon have two religions? Of course not, the idea that not believing in something is a religion is simply preposterous. 

If someone claims something exists, not believing them is not a religious position. 
If someone claims something exists, believing they're wrong is not a religious position. 

Take a moment to read the meme above. 

Is atheism a religion? 
Only if you misunderstand either atheism, or religion, or both. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Drawing Muhammad.

I'm sure you probably know, but if you draw Muhammad, particularly in a way that doesn't show him in the best light, a few people will kick up a fuss. 

This fuss could be anything from protests in the street, threatening to kill you, or, as we saw in Paris, murdering you and your colleagues. 

Nobody should be held in such esteem that 1400 years after their death it's forbidden to draw them. 

The following is from the Background section of the Wikipedia article 'Depictions of Muhammad' check the article for citations: 
In Islam, although nothing in the Qur'an explicitly bans images, some supplemental hadith explicitly ban the drawing of images of any living creature; other hadith tolerate images, but never encourage them. Hence, most Muslims avoid visual depictions of Muhammad or any other prophet such as Moses or Abraham
Most Sunni Muslims believe that visual depictions of all the prophets of Islam should be prohibited and are particularly averse to visual representations of Muhammad. The key concern is that the use of images can encourage idolatry.
It's the last line that gets most of my interest. Concern about encouraging idolarity. 

I'd like to leave that there for a moment and take you back to May 24 1991. This was the original air date of episode 5 of the TV show 'Dinosaurs'.1 

Episode 5 is called The Howling and is about a rite of passage of the same name. When a young male dinosaur comes of age, he has to howl at the moon in order to prevent a prophesied disaster. It's a tradition that's gone on for generations. In this episode Robbie, the adolescent male of the family, reaches the age where it's his turn to howl at the moon and therefore averting the foretold apocalypse. 

Only Robbie refuses. He thinks it's a silly superstition and it's ridiculous that he could keep anarchy away by simply howling at the moon. The community disagrees and trouble brews. Robbie's father supports his decision, which angers his friends. Fights break out, people panic and slowly, but surely, the community spirals down closer and closer to anarchy. 

It seems like the prophecy is coming true, but not because of a magic spell, but because of the belief in superstition and the panic when it's not adhered to. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Why did I bring this up? Well I'm sure you can see the similarities. Robbie not howling at the moon inadvertently caused the chaos that howling at the moon was supposed to prevent.2  

Similarly, Muslims being outraged when Muhammad is drawn have inadvertently given Muhammad a level of idolarity not afforded to anyone else. They wanted to keep him off the proverbial pedestal but have put him on one so high that an attempt to knock him off is met with murderous consequences. 

If Muslims don't want Muhammad idolised, step one should be to stop idolising him. Stop adding PBUH after his name, stop protesting him being mocked, and absolutely stop the insane and completely barbaric practise of killing people who make fun of him.3  

1 Dinosaurs aired from 1991 to 1994 and was a live action show that (from IMDB) "followed the lives of a family of dinosaurs, living in a modern world. They had TVs, fridges, etc. The only humans around are cavemen, who are viewed as pets and wild animals." I'm not sure it was historically accurate.
2 *Spoiler* Robbie relents, howls at the moon, peace is restored.
3 It's interesting to note from the same Wikipedia article mentioned above that in Shia Islam images of Muhammad are quite common.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Dear Jenny McCarthy

Dear Jenny McCarthy, 

I know it's unlikely you'll ever read this, and that if it ever does come to your attention rather than reading it, you'll probably block me on twitter instead, but on the very remote chance you do read it, there are some things I think you need to know. 

Firstly, there is *NO* link between vaccination and autism. Here's a publication from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It lists 40 studies (with links to each) showing no links between vaccination and autism. No links at all. 

Here are a few selections from the author conclusions (emphasis mine):
"The authors concluded that parents’ concern that “too many vaccines too soon” could lead to autism is not supported. "
"This comparison of children vaccinated on time with children whose vaccinations were delayed or incomplete found no benefit in delaying immunizations during the first year of life."
"Data do not support a causal association between MMR vaccine and autism" 
"Results provide further evidence against a causal association between MMR vaccination and autism"
"This study provides strong evidence against the hypothesis that MMR vaccination causes autism." 
These are just five examples. Each of the 40 studies has a conclusion similarly worded. Given this, your quote: 
“Time magazine’s article on the autism debate reports that the experts are certain ‘vaccines don’t cause autism; they don’t injure children; they are the pillar of modern public health.’ I say, ‘that’s a lie and we’re sick of it.’”
Seems terribly irresponsible, don't you think? You 'say' it's a lie but why? What's your reasoning for saying it's a lie? I've given you examples of 40 studies which show no link. Can you provide one that shows there is? 

I know you're familiar with Andrew Wakefield as you wrote the foreword to his book (which I see has no reviews on Amazon. I can only hope this means no one has bought it). I'm sure it's his 'study', published in the Lancet in 1998, on which you're basing your claims. I hope you know that the study was retracted and Mr Wakefield has lost his medical license. 

Why? You may ask. Because the study was fraudulent. You can see the details in this article, but here are some highlights (or lowlights)

  • It was poor science. He used case reports (considered among the weakest kind of medical studies)
  • He paid children at a birthday party to provide blood samples (not controlled nor ethical)
  • He manipulated and misrepresented data
  • He had financial conflicts of interest. Whilst attempting to discredit MMR, he was filing a patent for single shot vaccinations. 
  • He has refused to replicate the paper's findings. 
Of it all, this last one is the big one. As the article says, replication is the bedrock of science! Replication is what shows that there was no mistake, no misrepresentation. If Mr Wakefield wanted to show that his study was accurate, why not replicate it under controlled conditions? I'll tell you why, Jenny, because he made it up. And he made it up because he stood to benefit financially from the demise of the MMR vaccine. 

You once said:
"“Moms and pregnant women are coming up to me on the street going, ‘I don’t know what to do’… And I don’t know what to tell them..."
Here's a suggestion - Tell them to see a doctor. Talk to a medical expert. I wouldn't cast my local GP to play Jean Valjean so why you feel qualified to distribute medical advice is beyond me. It's dangerous. 

There is a measles outbreak in the US at the moment. According to this article at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are 102 confirmed cases between January 1 and January 31 2015. There were under 200 cases in all of 2013. Approximately 50 in all of 2012. There was a spike in 2008 when measles spread through communities with groups of unvaccinated people. Things are getting bad. Last year, 2014, there were over 600 cases. In England in 2012/2013 there was a study of 203 cases of measles. Over 90% of those people were NOT vaccinated. 

Things you should know - the majority of people who got measles were not vaccinated. Measles spreads when it reaches a community where groups of people are not vaccinated. Just to be clear: Measles spreads when people aren't vaccinated. 

You see there's a thing called 'herd immunity'. The way it works is that if a large enough portion of the population is vaccinated there is a lower chance that someone who hasn't developed immunity will come into contact with an infectious individual. For measles the herd immunity threshold has to be around 83-94%. 

So when you say
"If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their fucking fault that the diseases are coming back."
It's really, really not. Measles is coming back because people aren't getting vaccinated and people aren't getting vaccinated because people like you are telling them it's not safe. 

Measles isn't a simple disease. It's not a day or two in bed and then you're right as rain. This article  lists some of the problems with measles. It's dangerous and people die from it. 

You again: 
“I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe.”
The diseases *are* back, Jenny, and the vaccines *are* safe. The change that's needed is for people like you to become informed and to stop lying and spreading misinformation. 

Jenny, I don't know if you truly believe vaccines are dangerous or you've got another motive for spreading lies. If it's the latter, then you are an awful human being who should be ashamed of herself. 

If it's the former then I think there is hope. You owe it to yourself and to parents who look up to you, and the children whose lives are going to be impacted, to actually read, and understand the science. If you find the science supports your position, then by all means, keep up your work. But if you you find that the science doesn't support your position, and not only that, actually disputes your position, you must immediately retract your statements and go on record as being in favour of vaccination and you must go on record saying there is no known link between vaccination and autism. 

It's all well and good to be passionate about something and to make the public aware of something you think they need to know. But when you're telling lies and misleading people and this leads to the spread of preventable diseases, you are responsible for that and that is an awful position to be in. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

Does free will necessitate evil?

Why does god allow evil? 

Ask any theist and I'm sure they'll tell you it's because god allows free will. 

I know there is some discussion over whether or not free will actually exists. Let's assume, for the purpose of this blog, that free will does exist, as well as some general version of the Abrahamic god. 

God doesn't want us to murder (if you're a Christian, or Jew, you'll point out that one of the 10 commandments says so) and he doesn't want us to rape, (though none of the 10 commandments says anything about not raping) but he's not going to force us to not do these things. We have the free will to decide for ourselves. Decide well and we'll be rewarded, decide poorly, and we'll be punished.

Well...punished on earth if we're caught and found guilty, punished in the afterlife either way. Unless we repent...or something. The details are sketchy. But I digress. 

It seems that as part of God's perfect plan that he perfectly put into place because he's perfectly perfect is that it's more important that a child is raped than he do something to impact the free will of the rapist. God can't intervene or free will ceases to exist.

It's an odd hierarchy of importance I would have thought. 

If an omniscient, omnipotent god exists then not only does it know those who will be born to go on to be murderers and/or rapists (there are other evil doers, but I will stick to these two for brevity) but he also has the power to prevent these people from being born. From even being conceived. 

No one, as far as I know or can tell, is born with the desire to eat human legs. At least not on a living person as they're walking. At least the desire is not so great that they act upon it. I had a bit of a look and couldn't find a single example of it. 

So...what's going on? Did god design us without this particular desire? Does god force a miscarriage on any pregnancy what would have resulted in a person what would have been born with this desire? Does god kill anyone who's about to do this, before they can begin? Whatever the reason is that people don't go around eating the legs off other people who are out for a walk, why can't this same reason be applied to those who will murder or rape? 

Is our free will impacted because these leg eating people don't exist? Could not the rapists and murderers be treated the same way? God, as described to me by the majority of theists who share their thoughts, is all powerful, capable of anything. 'Anything' surely includes a world where children aren't raped, but free will exists. 

God could redesign us so the desire to rape or murder is never present. He could have designed us like that in the first place. He could make sure that no pregnancy of a future rapist or murderer is carried to term - or make it so that no future rapist or murderer is ever conceived. 

He could do any of these things, and the rest of us still keep our free will. But he doesn't and believers let him get away with this without question. 

Evil is not a necessary consequence of free will. There are ways and means for an omnipotent, omniscient god to have a world where free will exists but rape and murder do not.

If free will exists, it exists alongside rape and murder. This shows that god is either in favour of rape and murder or cannot stop them. Or, of course, no omniscient, omnipotent god exists. Which is the logical, and rational answer. 

So the next time I ask a theist why evil things such as rape and murder exist and they answer 'because of free will' I'll be telling them that they're going to have to do a lot better than that. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Life, death, and atheists

I regularly get asked a question that I find quite strange. The wording differs slightly but the general gist is 'you're an atheist...if you don't believe in god, you have nothing to live for. Why not just kill yourself now?' 

The most recent example I saw wasn't asked to me directly, but was retweeted into my twitter timeline by my friend Shay (@cherokee_Autumn). 

The alleged logic here just doesn't flow. It is the theists for whom there is a benefit in dying. There are no virgins waiting for me, let alone 72 of them. I'm not going to be heading somewhere where my dead relatives are waiting to greet me. 

As I said on twitter - I'm an atheist, it doesn't mean I have nothing to live for. It means I have nothing to die for. Some people have misunderstood what I meant by this. Yes, I would die, if I had to, in order for my children to survive. But that's not the point I was making. The point is, in death, for atheists, there is nothing. Everything that is good for us, is in life. 

Martin Luther-King is quoted as saying 
And if a man has nothing to die for, Then his life is worth nothing.
Again, I think he's talking about having a cause in life. Something you feel so passionately about that if necessary you would give up your life to protect it. My children are, of course, in this category. So to reiterate, there are things for which I would give up my life to protect - but in death, for me, there is nothing. That's what I mean by nothing to die for. 

In that context it should be easy to understand why atheists have nothing to die for. What's in it for us? Nothing. For the theists who ask me why I don't kill myself, they have everything to die for. For them paradise awaits. They get to spend eternity with their lord and saviour and/or their god. They think they get to again see relatives who have passed away.

Heaven (if the myth is true) contains none of the trials and stresses of life on Earth. It is paradise. All good, all the time. It is the theists who I would think would long for death, not the atheists. It is theists who say, when someone dies, they've gone to a better place. (If this is the case I'm not sure why they don't just send all their loved ones there, but I'm glad they don't).

I've wrote a blog a little while ago with the title 'Atheists have nothing to live for' which explains that we, in fact, do have something to live for. More than that, we have everything to live for. 

So rather than asking why an atheist doesn't just kill themselves, ask, why would they? Yes, this life ends and that will be the end for me. I'll no longer exist, but in memory. 

As Louis C.K. said in response to 'What happens after you die?': 
Lot's of things happen after you die. They just don't involve you
If I want to be involved, I need to be alive. If I want to finish a book series I'm reading, I need to be alive. If I want to know who wins the next AFL premiership, I need to be alive. This list is almost endless. 

This gives me all the incentive to be alive and no incentive to be dead. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Some thoughts on Islam and Charlie Hebdo

In the aftermath of what happened at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris there were a limited, but noticeable, number of comments bordering on defending  the murders. The comments didn't go as far as saying the people deserved to be killed but people tried to excuse what happened.  One prime example was Catholic League President Bill Donohue who said: 
“It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death … had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive” 
 Such comments prompted me to tweet this:

It doesn't matter what sensitivities were hurt. It doesn't matter what deity, religion, or prophet was lampooned. No one has the right to take someone else's life just because their feelings were hurt. 12 people were killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack. The killers and hostages were killed in the siege that followed. How can anyone think that...

"....but they shouldn't have mocked Islam" 
"....but the cartoons were distasteful" 
"....but people's beliefs should be respected"
justifies such a pointless loss of life? No one should lose their life for drawing cartoons, regardless the subject. 

In the aftermath people, including French President Francois Hollande, said the killings had nothing to do with Islam. I understand that President Hollande my have been motivated to say this out of a duty to protect innocent, peaceful Muslims from reprisal attacks. I'm not sure why he would say it when all know it's not the truth. In a situation like this not all truths need to be stated, but all things stated should be the truth.

So I understand the President's motivation, but I'm not sure why someone would send me "So why would you doubt Hollande's correct assertion that the Islamic religion isn't at fault?"

I'm not really sure what more evidence they need. Muslims attacked and killed people working for a satirical newspaper well known for lampooning Muhammad and Islam (as well as other religions and religious figures).
The gunmen were Muslims. They were heard shouting "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" and "God is Great" in Arabic ("Allahu Akbar").
This was a religion inspired attack by religious people for religious reasons. Sharia calls for death for Blasphemy. The gunmen, despite having no authority to do so, were enforcing this law.
A religion was insulted. A religion was defended by religious people and it was done with murderous consequences.

To suggest Islam had nothing to do with it is the height of either stupidity or naivety. 

I posted the above to Facebook and a friend asked what the solution is. 

My response got lengthy: 

I think step 1 is to actually ban Sharia law. Not sure how to legislate that because I'm no legal expert but it has to be done here and in all non-Islamic states. I know in the UK Islamic communities are setting up their own Sharia courts and they are operating as though they have actual authority. We need to make it clear to all that no religious tenet carries more weight that the actual law of the land. 

Then we need to educate and motivate 'rank and file' Muslims to be vocal within their communities about blasphemy and we need a ground-up movement from within to declare blasphemy is *not* punishable.  
Politicians need to openly say there *is* an issue within Islam and that issue is that Sharia law says that blasphemy is punishable by death. They need to put pressure on Islamic leaders to renounce this law and they need to make Islamic leaders declare that Islam *is* open to criticism and satire.  
Then on a global scale the UN needs to put pressure on Islamic countries, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to change their blasphemy laws. In Pakistan recently a man was released from jail where he'd been sentenced for blasphemy. Two days later he was shot and killed. In Saudi Arabia a man has been sentenced to 10 years jail and 1000 lashes for 'Insulting Islam'. He received the first 50 of those lashes on Friday. He'll receive the rest over the next 19 weeks. When governments are punishing people for blasphemy, other governments need to be standing up to them. 
My friend commented the my proposed solution was a bit pie-in-the-sky and asked a few more questions so I added:
It is pie in the sky but big problems need big solutions. I guess the question is - How do you convince people that killing over cartoons is not okay? To me only another question arises - Can you convince a person willing to kill a person over a cartoon of anything? If the west retreats and leaves Islamic theocracies to Muslims the problem doesn't go away, it just becomes more local. The guy in Pakistan still dies, the guy in Saudi Arabia still get lashed, maybe we just don't hear about it. We need to convince *all* Muslims that blasphemy is not a crime. Maybe we do that by sharing affluence and educating the masses.
I know not all Muslims kill over cartoons but as far as I know all people who kill over cartoons are Muslims. Is this causal or coincidental? They are following the law of their religion. It is the law of their religion that has motivated them. Seems causal to me. 

There are some disturbing statistics published about how Muslims feel regarding free speech and their religion. According to the data from an American survey published here...
  • 58% said "no" When asked, “Do you believe that criticism of Islam or Muhammad should be permitted under the Constitution’s First Amendment?"
  • 45% of respondents agreed “…that those who criticize or parody Islam in the U.S. should face criminal charges,”
  • 32% believed “…Sharia law should be the supreme law of the land in the US.”
The more these people accept that Islam is not above criticism, they more they accept that blasphemy is *not* punishable, and the more vocal they are about that to their community leaders, the less likely it is that people will be killed for drawing cartoons. 

The killers are dead now. They are dead and will be dead forever. They were murderously upset at the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo but now tens of millions more people have seen those cartoons. The cause of the killers has more critics than ever before. What have they achieved by embarking on a course of action that saw such a senseless loss of life? Surely only the opposite of what they wanted. See the Streisand effect.  

There is a problem here. It is within Islam. Blasphemy, criticism, satire all have to be accepted, even if they're not liked. People have the right to not be killed for drawing a cartoon lampooning an ideology more than people have to right to not have their feelings hurt. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

Richard Dawkins - The Beatles of atheism

A fan or not, you can't deny the success and influence of The Beatles. Their sales number in the 100s of millions (600 million approximately) and I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone in the music industry that isn't influenced by them (at least indirectly) let alone has not heard of them. They weren't the first to do what they did, but they were the first to reach the heights they did.

Richard Dawkins is the same. His 2006 book The God Delusion has sold over 2 million copies and I have seen it cited by many as the reason they became an atheist or became a vocal atheist. Dawkins would be the headline speaker at any atheism based event. Like The Beatles in the music industry, you'd be hard pressed to find a vocal atheist who hasn't heard of Richard Dawkins. He wasn't the first to do what he did, but he was the first to reach the heights he did.

The Beatles were not strangers to controversy. When touring the Philippines in 1966 they were invited to a breakfast with first lady Imelda Marcos. The Beatles Manager Brian Epstein declined on their behalf but the breakfast went ahead, only sans The Beatles and they were criticised for 'snubbing' the first lady. There is also the famous incident where John Lennon stated that The Beatles were 'more popular than Jesus now.' The comment hardly caused a stir in the UK, but the US, particularly the south, was a different story. An Alabama radio station, WAQY, banned The Beatles music and held a bonfire to burn The Beatles records. Dozens of stations followed suit. 

The twitter world of Richard Dawkins consists mostly of controversy, even if what he says is logical and rational. There are too many examples to list them individually but it goes something like this:

Dawkins: If X then sometimes Y
Fool1: So you're saying it's okay to X? How dare you!?
Fool2: Your [sic] an awful human!
Fool3: Stick to biology!

They completely ignore that If X then sometimes Y is true. They ignore that Richard is neither endorsing nor condemning anything, but merely stating something he's observed. Media picks up this controversy and runs with it and then Richard apologises for the misunderstanding. Repeat. I honestly think most people aren't smart enough to understand Dawkins. The problem here is he was the Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. A position that should have honed his ability to communicate to those not on the same wavelength as him. But he does sometimes seem not very good at it.

Inevitably with anything popular it becomes 'cool' or 'rebellious' to be among those who no longer like the popular thing. 'Oh, y'all like x? I don't, look at me, aren't I cool?' or 'x? Really? x is so overrated.' 

Google search 'The Beatles overrated' and you get back 340,000 results. 59% of people on say The Beatles are overrated. The Top Tens website puts The Beatles as the most overrated band of all time. 

In 2013 Owen Jones writing for The Independent in the UK published an article titled "Not in our name: Dawkins dresses up bigotry as non-belief - he cannot be left to represent atheists" and it's really not hard to find someone admitting to being an atheist but 'hating' Richard Dawkins. 

One last thing they have in common: I like The Beatles and I like Dawkins and I'm sure my life is better for them being in it. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Why 'God' is a bad hypothesis.

Gods and goddesses have been the proposed hypothesis for many events. From the early days of thinking a god was directly responsible for throwing lightning across the sky, creating thunder with his giant hammer, or exploding a volcano unless appeased by a virgin sacrifice, some god or another has been thought to be behind many natural events. 

Without exception this hypothesis has failed. We know no one throws lightning bolts from atop Mount Olympus. We know Thor isn't banging his hammer to cause thunder and we have an explanation for why volcanoes erupt and lack of virgin sacrifice isn't one of them. 

Few, if any, people these days think a god or goddess is directly responsible for things like those listed above but the 'god of the gaps' has yet to disappear entirely. 

The god of the gaps now survives in two main areas. The first is specific personal events such as so called miracles - for example having a person survive a collapsed building or an infant surviving critical surgery within hours of its birth, as well as minor interventions like finding a set of lost keys, passing a test, or nailing a job interview. 

The other area in which the god of the gaps survives is the two remaining great unknowns - life, and the universe. 

We don't know exactly how life was started on earth - so God did it. We don't know exactly how the universe started - so God did it. Or so religion would have us believe.

What the religions keep to themselves though is that the 'god did it' response has never been successfully demonstrated. Not ever. Not once. Conversely the 'god did it' response has only ever been disproved. 

This quote from Sam Harris comes to mind: 
"I would challenge anyone here to think of a question upon which we once had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one"
I also like this quote from Tim Minchin: 
"Throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be...not magic"
This is true whether that magic is a faith healer, psychic, clairvoyant, or a 'god'. 

To expand on this it's true to say that everything that has an explanation has a natural explanation. No exception. Everything we observe has either a natural explanation or no explanation yet. There is nothing where the demonstrable, testable, observable explanation is supernatural.


Any time the supernatural is touted as the reason something happens or happened, people remain sceptical. And with good reason. 

All explanations supernatural are a cop out. They are actually not really explanations at all as they get us no closer to knowing what really happened. Saying 'god did it' explains an event no more than saying 'a wizard did it'. 'God did it' and 'it appeared out of nowhere' have identical explanatory power. Tell a rational person that a painting fell off a wall because a ghost knocked it down and their response will be something like 'what really happened?' That's because reality and the supernatural are two different things. 

There is no good reason to think the supernatural exists anywhere but in the human imagination. 

God is what people say when they don't know the actual answer, can't think of the actual answer, can't understand the actual answer, or refuse to accept the actual answer. 

The god hypothesis is a bad one. It has a zero success rate and explains nothing. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Is Pope Francis A Good Guy?

Pope Francis is gaining a lot of friends in the secular world with what seems like a 'progressive' approach to things such as atheists, the Big Bang, and Evolution. 

Back in May 2013 the pope caused a fuss when he declared that even atheists are redeemed by Christ. This was interpreted by many who thought the Pope was saying that through good deeds even atheists can get to heaven. But just hold on a minute. Redemption, and salvation aren't the same. 

There's a very informative article here by Stephen Kokx about the pope's comments. The gist - all people, including atheists, are redeemed by the blood of Jesus. All people, including atheists, are good, but, as stated by Fr. Dwight Longenecker in Stephen's article 'wounded by original sin'. The bottom line is that Pope Francis hasn't said anything new about atheists. We're still going to hell, unless saved by Jesus, for the crimes of Adam and Eve. (that Adam and Eve are fictional seems to not matter). 

So Pope Francis was lauded as being progressive and welcoming to atheists et. al.. He was, in fact, doing nothing of the sort and not changing the Catholic Church's position, but merely restating what it already was. 

More recently, in October of this year, the Pope made some comments regarding evolution and the big bang theory. 

These are the Pope's comments: 
"The big bang, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God. On the contrary, it requires it.
"Evolution in nature is not in contrast with the notion of [divine] creation because evolution requires the creation of the beings that evolve."
The Catholic church doesn't have a great track record with accepting modern science as Galileo Galilei found out when he tried to tell them that Earth went around the sun. 

But people are suggesting this pope is progressive. Let's look at that. On The Origin Of Species was first published in 1859, some 155 years ago. Since that day has Darwin's work has been supported by mountains and mountains of new evidence. Accepting it in 2014 can hardly be called 'progressive'. 

Besides, evolution has been supported (kind of) by at least two of Pope Francis's predecessors as seen in the article here written by Doug Linder. Doug points out that Pope Pius XII was okay with the idea with evolution, as long as humans still got their souls from God. Pius was not 100% convinced by evolution and cautioned that people should not accept it “as though it were a certain proven doctrine.”

Pope John Paul II said: 
Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.  It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge.  The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of the theory.
As Doug points out, in the 46 years between Pius XII and John Paul II evolution, as far as the Vatican is concerned, went from being a possibility, to a fact. Pope Francis getting on board with evolution is not 'progressive'. He's very, very late to the party. 

In November this year Pope Francis put a motorcycle up for sale. He had been given it as a gift (why?) and as he had no use for it, he decided to sell it and donate the money to charity. The $20,000 bike sold for some $300,000. If I was going to be looked after for the rest of my life I'd donate a fancy bike to charity too. 

I've tried to find the net worth of the Catholic church but it seems impossible. I found one estimate at between 10 - 15 billion (from a 1965 edition of Time magazine) but estimating the wealth today couldn't even be done by the church itself. This article in the National Post from Toronto confirms the impossible task of estimating the total worth of the church, but does bring some things to light: 
  • The Catholic Church owns approximately a metric tonne of gold valued in 2008 at $22.4 million. 
  • The revenue of the Vatican in 2011 was $308 million. (expenses lead to this being a $27 million surplus. 
  • The Vatican has $10 billion in investments in foreign companies. 
  • There is an estimated $655 million in Vatican coffers. 
Add to this the 700,000+ square kilometres of land, and priceless works of art and it's easy to see why the Catholic Church is regarded as one of the wealthiest institutions on earth. 

This is not to say that the Catholic church does nothing, I'm aware that they do spend millions to help people, and so they should given they are set up in the name of a man who championed the poor and who urged followers who wanted to be perfect to 'sell your possessions and give to the poor'. It wouldn't be fair to compare the charitable donations of the Catholic church to those of large companies such as Google or Walmart which are set up to make a profit, or an individual who could have a change in circumstances and suddenly not know from where their next meal is coming. 

The Catholic church operates on a different level. They see themselves as moral teachers, a guiding light on the pathway to the lord. They preach about how we should look after each other but still retain billions in wealth. When you look at what the church has compared to what it does, whilst keeping in mind its foundations, it simply does not do enough. Nowhere near it. 

The last thing I wanted to write about is the cover up within the church of child sex abuse. In 2013 Pope Francis set up a commission into the sexual abuse of minors by priests but as shown in this article in Time magazine from February this year, the U.N. has demanded the the church do more, starting with the handing over of internal case files to proper authorities. 

It's very easy to criticise someone for not being 100% idealistic and when doing so one opens oneself up to criticism for not doing enough themselves from those happy to commit the tu quoque fallacy.  I'm not asking for or suggesting Pope Francis be perfect though. I, unlike some of his followers, am aware he is 'just a man'. 

However, this man has unimaginable resources available to him. He has hundreds of millions of dollars in a nest egg, doing nothing except growing larger. He has influence over hundreds of millions of people. Is Pope Francis doing more than his predecessor? Probably. Slightly. But when your predecessor does nothing, doing more isn't very hard. When it comes to the pope being a leader in modern times, the bar is set incredibly low. 

I'm sure Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is a decent bloke. If he were my neighbour and I was going on holiday, I'm sure he'd be happy to feed my dog and I'd be happy to let him do so. 

But as Pope Francis I'm not convinced Jorge is doing enough. This is not an ordinary citizen, living in suburbia, working 9 to 5. He should be leading society, not being dragged behind it kicking and screaming. To me he was 10,000 steps from where he should be and he's taken one of those steps and people are singing his praises as though he's cured cancer. 

Be pleased, if you must, that he's taken a step in the right direction, but remember that he's got a long way to go before reaching the final destination. 


This post was inspired by the diatribe by Noah Lugeons on episode 90 of The Scathing Atheist. You can listen to that episode here. I highly recommend subscribing to The Scathing Atheist podcast through iTunes or Stitcher.