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. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Absurdity of hell

I've said before that there are pretty much as many versions of God as there are people who think gods are real. Same goes with Christianity. How many times to you hear 'Well they're not *real* Christians*? It is, as you most likely know, called the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Hell, however, is pretty consistent in my experience. The most popular is the lake of fire, burning for eternity, torture kind of hell. The other I hear a less often, but often enough, is that hell is simply a separation from God.

When I discuss hell with Christian believers they tell me that God doesn't send me to hell, that it's my choice to go there. As though anyone would *actually* choose to spend eternity being burnt and tortured. They say the choice is this - love their god, worship it, believe in Jesus, repent, and end up in heaven or don't do these things and end up in hell. 

Of course God wants the former and not the latter, they tell me. But, and here's the catch, God can't prove himself to me, I have to believe of my own free will. It's all about 'faith'. 

They seem to forget here that this is a condition that God himself imposed. And it's a condition, given his omniscience, that he knows I cannot meet. 

You see I'm not an atheist by choice. I am incapable of believing any god exists, let alone the biblical one, because the claims do not reach a level of evidence that I can accept. I can no sooner believe a god exists than you, my reader, can believe that I'm 9 metres tall, have blue skin, 12 pairs of arms, and enjoy a weekly one-on-one meeting with US President Barrack Obama in the Oval Office. No matter how many times I asserted the above to be true you could not force yourself to believe it. (right?)

The same is true of me and the god claims I've heard. I have been told a god exists and that if I do not find salvation I will burn in hell. I have been told this with such conviction that I must, and do, accept that the person telling me believes what they are saying to be true. But no matter how they may state their position, without good evidence, *I* cannot accept it to be true. 

And God knows this. Well....if he was real, he would. 

This is where the absurdity lies. I'm expected to believe in a god which will send me to hell for not believing in him, even though he knows in advance that I can't believe in him. It's such a preposterous suggestion that I really can't understand how it has any credibility at all. Seriously, how can anyone accept this to be true? 

A being worthy of the status 'God' would know what it would take for me to avoid hell and end up in heaven with him and from what I'm told this is his major goal. Achieving this goal would be a trivial matter for anything deserving of the title God. But for reasons that he put in place himself, he refuses to do it. 

So here I am, an atheist who, according to some versions of theology, will end up in hell for the 'crime' of being unable to believe in a god who knows I am unable to believe in it. If there is a single person who genuinely believes that I deserve such 'punishment' I would be extremely surprised. The idea is horrific.

On top of this, the theists in question will tell me that this is the plan of a god who loves me. 

Yes. A god who loves me is going to allow me to spend eternity in hell. Of course this gets back to "He doesn't allow it, you send yourself." But it's an ultimatum. Believe in God/Jesus OR burn in hell. When you are unable to fulfil the first part of an ultimatum it's not a choice, you're not doing something 'yourself'. And to reiterate the god in questions KNOWS this is what's going to happen. 

When I left Christianity, Hell was one of the hardest things for me to give up. The idea of a god watching everything you do, judging you every minute of every day was so ingrained that long after I gave up the idea of 'god' the idea of hell lingered. It's a truly terrifying thing to believe and borders on child abuse to make children believe something so horrific. 

Today I am as confident that hell doesn't exist as I am that the sky is blue, grass is green and water makes things wet. Now I'm sure there's someone somewhere who can tell me something about the 'true' colours of the sky or grass, or how water affects things, but you know what I mean. 

Hell is absurd. A loving god creating conditions in which people end up in hell for eternity is absurd. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

What kind of god do you worship?

If you are a theist, you're most likely a monotheist. One of the approximately 3.8 billion people who follow the two big Abrahamic religions - either a Christian or a Muslim. 

That's over half the world's population. There are also about one billion Hindus but from what I know, which is not much, their gods don't operate the way the Abrahamic one does. 

So this post is really directed to the Abrahamic monotheists. 

What kind of god do you worship? I ask because I'm really not sure. From my experience the answer usually includes, but is not limited to, something like 'the all loving creator of the universe'. I've written before that from my experience there seems to be as many definitions of God as there are people who believe a god exits. Rarely do I find two people whose descriptions match exactly, even if those people believe in the same god, such as bible-god or Quran-god*

Say, for example, a tornado hits a small town and from the rubble a person is pulled 'miraculously' alive. Perhaps it's a mother, clutching her months old baby. Or maybe a building burns to the ground, dozens die, but from the ashes a man in his 90s walks free. He's cut, a little bruised, probably inhaled a fair bit of smoke, but by god he's alive, praise Jesus, praise Allah. 

Do you worship this god? This god who saved the mother and child, or the old man? If so, is it because he used his power to save these people? I do understand that if a super being bent what we know of the laws of physics in order to keep someone alive, that would be something to celebrate. I'm not sure I'd go as far as worship, but I can understand showing appreciation. 

It sounds great, on the surface. But it leads to me wondering the following: Do you also worship the god who sent the tornado in the first place? The god that put in motion the series of events that lead to dozens dying in the burning building? From what I'm told of Bible-god, and Quran-god, you must, because whichever one it is that you believe to be real, everything is part of his plan. He is 100% in control of all that happens. If God saved the mother and child from the tornado, surely this same god sent the tornado in the first place. 

Is a god that sends tornadoes knowing they will kill people, really worthy of worship? I wouldn't have thought so. 

One of the great quotes I've seen in the atheism/theism discussion comes from one of the hosts of The Atheist Experience, Tracie Harris. It was said in reply to a caller who was questioning the morality of atheists.

"You either have a god who sends child rapists to rape children or you have a god who simply watches and says: "When you're done I'm going to punish you"  If I could stop a person from raping a child, I would. That's the difference between me and your god"

The inevitable response from theists here is the cry of 'free-will'. The claim that their god cannot do anything because it interferes with the free will of the rapist. 

Yes, really. As though the free will of a child rapist is more important than a child not being raped. I have three main problems with the cry of free will as a defence of child rape. 

1: The god which is described to me knows in advance that a person will one day become a child rapist. Estimates suggest as many as 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.1 An all-powerful, all-loving god could ensure that any future child rapists are included in this 50% and never again would children be raped, and the free will of all those non-child raping people is unaffected. 

2: I can't think of a single monotheist that I've spoken to that doesn't think God intervenes on earth. Biblical literalists think God put Adam and Eve here. Muslims think God spoke to Mohammed. Every (surely) Abrahamic follower thinks prayer achieves something. In the examples above God is rescuing people from disaster. God helps people pass tests, get jobs, find their keys. The god that most people believe in intervenes on Earth (in their minds). If God can influence human life so an already millionaire sports person can win another trophy, then *surely* the same god can influence human life so a child is not raped. 

3: There are many things we *could* do with our free will, but don't. We could bite off the legs off strangers. Any time I walk down the street I could have to be wary that someone will attack my thighs with their teeth. People simply do not have the desire to chew on other people's legs until they come off. If we're not born with this desire, surely god could make it so we're not born with the desire to rape children? 

Going back to Tracie's quote - God could stop child rape and chooses not to. The free will argument doesn't wash. 

Do you worship a god that allows children to be raped? If do you manage that? How can you rationalise worshipping an all powerful being that allows children to be raped? Okay, you believe a god was required to create the universe, but worshipping it? I'm not sure how you can get to that. 

I could list many, many things here that people would find truly awful, and keep asking if you worship that god, but I think the point is made. 

I know this post touches on the Problem of Evil argument but I'm not saying a god can't exist because there's evil. The question is as the title asks - What kind of god do you worship? From what I can see, every person who worships bible-god or Quran-god, worships a god that allows evil. 

There is no evidence I know of that could convince me the Abrahamic god exists but even if that evidence was one day presented to me, I know one thing for sure, I could not willingly worship it.  

I've wondered if Quran-god and Bible-god are to be considered the same God. Some will say they're the same, just interpreted differently. Others will call Bible-god Yahweh, and Quran-god Allah where Allah functions as a name rather than the Arabic word for 'God' which it is. I like to think of them as different gods who, to borrow from evolution, share a common ancestor. On a side note, I once read a tweet that read 'I don't believe in Allah, I believe in God.' Literally translating to 'I don't believe in God, I believe in God.'


Monday, 13 October 2014

Respect what, exactly?

We get told that we should respect everyone's beliefs. I've written here about how respecting all beliefs is a flawed proposition. 

I've wondered though, when we're told to respect theistic beliefs, what exactly are they asking people respect? 

I know theistic beliefs vary from religion to religion and even group to group and, let's face it, person to person, but there are a few consistencies throughout most, if not all of them.

One of the most common things I'm told is that without belief in 'God' I'm going to end up in hell. Some say that's eternal punishment in a lake of fire, others say hell is simply separation from god. 

Am I really expected to respect the belief that says I'm going to burn forever? I'm not sure about you but I can't work out what it is about that particular belief that I should be respecting. Of course, as an atheist, I dismiss that belief as the pure nonsense that it is. But if I were to entertain the idea for a moment, it's not respect that comes to mind, but disdain. How dare someone suggest that I deserve to burn in hell simply because I can't force myself to believe a story I find ridiculous. 

I'm also told that everything is 'part of God's plan'. Everything? Everything is a lot of things. I see sports people, actors, and other very rich individuals thanking God for their successes. Is he really part of it? Should I really respect an idea that suggests god helps the rich get richer whilst he ignores the poor? 

There was the recent case of a man, William Pooley, being cured of Ebola. Upon his release from hospital he thanked the doctors and nurses who looked after him, then William Pooley thanked God. 

If god actually played a direct role in William's recovery then William Pooley is truly blessed and it's amazing that a god would use his power to cure William of this disease. One assumes the god William is thanking is the same god who sent the disease in the first place. And it's also the same god who stood idly buy whilst some 2,400 people died from the disease. 

If one worships the god who saved William, one is also worshipping the god that allowed 2,400 people to die horrible deaths. A god that could save thousands, but chooses to save one? What am I supposed to respect here? His discretion? 

I've not come across an argument for the existence of god that is not fallacious. Usually it's argumentum ad ignorantiam aka Argument from Ignorance or Appeal to ignorance or personal incredulity. Basically it's saying that god must exist because he hasn't been proven not to or that the claimant can't think of anything other than god as the answer, therefore the answer must be god. 

The arguments are ill-thought out, poorly presented and not ever backed up with actual evidence. No one should be demanding that I respect such muddy thinking. 

Then we've got the good old Catholic church which I was brought up in. Rife with paedophilia, cover ups, and moving priests from church to church when their crimes are found out (never handed over to the authorities though). No sane person could expect me to respect this. No sane person could respect this. 

But what if the priest is actually a good bloke? (Never a woman in the Catholic church, of course. Something else I shouldn't be asked to respect). Even if he is a decent bloke he's still giving sermons to children about how flawed they are. How they're sinful and they need to make up for it. They instil the fear of hell into these children. Children are told that God is watching their every move, every moment of every day and should they transgress, hell is an almost certain possibility. That is, unless they're saved through Jesus. They're told that without Jesus/God they're worthless. I've heard from a child words such as "If I knew there was no god, my life wouldn't be worth living." If this doesn't border on child abuse it's only because it's already crossed over into that realm.  

Then there's the homophobia and sexism so entrenched in religion. We don't respect these things outside religion. Should I respect them just because someone throws 'religious beliefs' into the mix? I think not. 

It's often said - respect is something that is earned, not given by default. I'm yet to see anything about religion, that is exclusive to religion, that has come anywhere close to earning my respect. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Scientific world in shock! Evolution proved false.

The scientific world went into shock as tweets and YouTube videos once and for all disproved evolution. 

In a revelation that has the scientific world in shock, people on Twitter and YouTube have disproved evolution. It's news that will have repercussions for decades if not centuries. And not just for the scientific world, but for the larger population as well. 

You may be asking, and rightly so, how they have disproved evolution? Well in no uncertain terms, they've simply declared it to be false. 

A spokesperson for All Scientists, Professor Victoria Scott, said: "We are amazed. It's been 155 years since Charles Darwin published his ground breaking work 'On the Origin of Species' and we've been working in this field ever since. We've found millions of fossils and studied DNA, observed genetic changes, done countless hours of lab and field research and everything we've found points to evolution being true." 

Even the existence of monkeys? The professor laughs, "Yes, even the existence of monkeys." 

So given the mountains of evidence supporting evolution and the fact that no evidence points away from evolution one must ask, what happened? 

"Well, there were these tweets..." She stops here. A thoughtful and perhaps sad look on her face before continuing, "People were tweeting that evolution was, in fact, false. It was out of nowhere. Totally unexpected." I can imagine. I, like many of you reading this, was taught that evolution was true. 

Needing to know more, I asked Professor Scott what qualifications the authors of said tweets actually had.  

"None! None at all. This is what shocked us the most. Not only did these people have no relevant qualification, they actually knew very little about evolution at all. And what they did know, or thought they did, they misunderstood completely." 

I asked for some examples. "Well they think evolution means a monkey giving birth to a human, that individuals change species, such as a gorilla turning into a human in older age, and they expect to see a transitional fossil such as a crocoduck!"

Exactly how could tweets on their own could bring down over 150 years of scientific research? "Oh, it wasn't just tweets, it's YouTube videos as well. Many YouTube videos in fact." Like with the above mentioned tweets, Professor Scott pointed out that the qualifications and understanding held by the authors of the videos were non-existent. "As I said earlier, this is the most staggering part of this shocking revelation. These people are just not qualified! At all. But there it is, sometimes in tweets, sometimes in poorly put together 4 minute YouTube videos...evolution is simply false. Of course, I know you might be sceptical, and rightly so, but it's there for you to see just as well as I can."

Taking the professor up on this challenge I hit the internet and sure enough, she was right - a seemingly unending supply of tweets and videos declaring evolution to be false. It was right before my very own eyes. 

The must ask question at this moment - What happens now? "Well, there have been several meetings hurriedly convened, obviously. We're going to have to shut down biology courses at all the universities, research labs all over the world are going to have to be de-funded, just think about medicine" she says this apparently distracting herself. "We used to build influenza vaccines based on the idea that the virus evolves. Not any more. Back to square one on that one." She gives a chuckle at this though it seems more nervous than amused. 

Not wanting to get just one side of the story I went to some of the people declaring evolution to be false. The first thing I wanted to do was confirm that this amazing declaration was made without relevant qualification. Upon requesting the credentials of a number of these people I was told I was appealing to authority, that qualifications were just pieces of paper and that I was using an ad hominem attack. These people are rock solid. 

When asked for the reasoning behind the declaration that evolution is false I was told to look around me, that evolution is a mathematical impossibility and quizzed as to whether a rock could randomly turn into a person. I was in awe that while these people lacked any kind of expertise, they could know their subject so very well. I was getting out of my depth and knew that I would be able to find no chink in this armour. 

I asked Professor Scott how the scientific community could have missed this. "Well we don't deem to know everything, of course, we leave that to the faith community. We simply work on what we know, what we can demonstrate, and what we can verify. We have hypotheses that we test and get others to review our work. We operate within the realm of reality and stick to the scientific method. Simply declaring something false without reason is not really what we do so you'll have to forgive us for not ever thinking that might happen." It's a reasonable point. 

As we finished up our interview I asked Professor Scott if she was now worried about things like gravity and germ theory being declared false on the internet. "Yes, definitely. The internet is very powerful. There's no limit to what people will say on there. If a group of people suddenly declare gravity to be false...well we might all float off to space before we know what's happening!"  We share a laugh at her joke and I thank her for her time. As she leaves her phone rings, "I know!" she declared to the caller, "It's truly amazing."

I'm not sure what the final outcome of this ground breaking declaration will be but one thing we can all know for sure, the scientific world will never be the same again.