Monday, 21 September 2015

Science and Religion

One of the things I like about science is that you can show adults and children alike that it works, how it works and even tell them to go and try it out, and they can see for themselves that it works. A simple experiment to get fresh water from salt water is triflingly easy to set up and execute. There's no requirement to tell a child that they need 'faith' to understand it, they can see it happen right before their eyes. 

Of course not every scientific experiment is that easy to execute or to understand. People can't walk off the street into a research lab and get up to speed with the goings on in a matter of minutes. The great thing, though, is that the principle is the same. Show someone your conclusion and your methodology for reaching that conclusion and (given the access to the right equipment and expertise) they can replicate what you did and, if the experiment is sound, they should reach the same conclusion. 

This is true whether the experiment is being done for the first time, or the ten millionth time. If someone wants to know the chemical make-up of water it's not dependent upon where they are in the earth's geography or when they are in the earth's timeline. Anyone anywhere can discover that water is H20. (providing there is water available, of course). God doesn't share this consistency. 

Conversely if we lost all the world's knowledge, all our written words, and language, and had to start from scratch, the story of the talking snake, as Sam Harris points out, is gone for good. There's also no more great flood, no more man rising from the dead. No more Torah, Qu'ran or New Testament. We'd again work out how to build buildings so tall that they appear to almost scrape the sky, but the myth about Muhammad splitting the moon in two will never be heard again. In fact nothing about Muhammad, Moses, Cain, Able, Jesus, Thor, Zeus, or God would ever be heard again. As with Stephen King's Dark Tower, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, or Jo Rowling's Harry Potter, the stories about god cannot survive a colossal wiping out of human knowledge. 

Science, though, is different. Visible light would still be made up of a spectrum of colour and you can be assured that someone will split this spectrum. You can be assured that someone will even rediscover that there's 'light' beyond the red that we can see. People will again work out how to harness, produce, and utilise electricity. Someone will test the idea that the world is flat, and discover it isn't. However, no one will again eat a wafer thinking it's the actual flesh of someone who died millennia previously. 

Sure, before we get to all these amazing discoveries we'd again go through a phase of gods, and goddesses. We'd be primitive again. No one invents gods and religions like primitive people. Pretty much no one else invents them at all. Even the relatively recent attempt by Joseph Smith to create a new religion commandeered a god already in use. 

We'd likely again think a volcano was an angry god, but lets hope no one suggests that throwing a virgin in will appease it. We may well think that lightning was a god striking at us from above, though you can be confident this 'god' wouldn't be called Thor. 

We may see crazy potions along the lines of Eye of newt, and toe of frog, being mixed up and fed to people to cure any kind of ailment. This could lead to witches being burnt at the stake because they can do 'magic'. 

These accusations and claims will continue until some day, someone asks the important question - how do you know? 

Then you test the eye of newt recipe and find that it, in fact, doesn't work. However, you test aspirin, and find that it does. Someone might again see an apple fall from a tree, or perhaps it's a coconut this time, or perhaps they simply trip and fall down and they'll question it and wonder why they didn't just float away. It'll be a world where someone can still see an equal an opposite reaction, write about it, and have someone else check it. The radio waves, microwaves, and x-rays will still be here, waiting to be rediscovered by enquiring minds. With no Abraham, there will be no Abrahamic religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would all be forgotten forever, replaced, probably by other religions, praying to other gods that people make up. Because that's why there are so many different religion - people make them up. The Hindus in India may still well honour a god with an Elephant's head, but it won't be Ganesh. 

Given the choice between living in a world that has religion but not science, and world that has science, but no religion, I know which I'd choose. 

You see, when it comes to truth, religion is a substitute. It's the making up of answers for things you don't know. It's saying 'this is how it is' without checking that you're right. You can look all you want, but religion won't validate truth.

Science though, science is different. The practice of science is the pursuit of truth. You don't have to make it up, you just have to go looking. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Vocal atheists - The same as theists?

I've had two separate people over the last week accuse me on twitter of doing to theists exactly what I complain about theists doing atheists. 

I seems certain people are unable to tell the difference between 'Live how I tell you to, or burn in hell forever' and 'please stop telling me to live how your holy book demands.' 

To make it simpler, it's 'Do this or pay' versus 'Please leave me alone.' The difference, I'd have thought, was pretty straight forward. It appears for some, it's a little too hard to understand. 

Theists want to tell two consenting adults they can't get married. I don't. 
Theists want to have mythology taught as fact. I don't. 
Theists want to ban abortions because of some imagined disapproval from a god. I don't. 
Theists want to ban sex education in schools. I don't. 
Theists want to ban or limit adults having access to contraception. I don't. 
Theists want society to run on rules contained in their holy book. I don't. 
I don't want to stop theists being theists. They want to stop me being an atheist. 
I don't want people to think they're flawed just for being people. Theists do. 

Do I really need to continue? 

What I *do* want is a society based on secular humanist values. Why? Because we're not all religious, but we are all humans. Those of us who are religious aren't all of the same religion and of those who are of the same religion, they're not all of the same branch. Secularism is fair to all. If you're a Christian who wouldn't be happy living under the laws of Islam, you should understand that an atheist wouldn't be happy living under the rules of Christianity. 

We are all humans and we share this planet with billions of creatures. We share it with them. We borrow it from our descendants. Humanism is the best way I know of to look after each other both in our species and those we share the planet with. Earth doesn't belong to me any more than it belongs to a dolphin, a kangaroo or a gum tree. 

Secularism doesn't mean the end to religion. It doesn't mean banning religious belief and shutting down religious buildings. It doesn't mean you can no longer believe whatever you want to believe. Secularism means separating the government from religion. This might not appeal if you're currently a member of the religion that is in the majority but imagine if you're part of a religion that's in the minority. Imagine you're a Christian, a Hindu, or an atheist, and your government isn't secular, but Islamic. Imagine being told that you had to pray towards Mecca five times a day. I'm confident you'd be unimpressed. Secularism protects you.
What I do, in vocal atheism, is a reactionary position. It's a position I feel the need to take up because of the imposition of religion onto those who don't wish to be imposed. I feel that I'm fighting back. If religion was kept to churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other such buildings, as well as private homes, you'd soon find atheists going quite quiet on the subject. 

At the moment though religion is present in government, courts, schools, scientific research labs, and county clerk offices. The issue with this is that the basic premise of theism - that a god exists - cannot be demonstrated to be true. Therefore any rule, instruction, obligation, or objection that comes from an exclusively religion origin is invalid. When religion starts getting imposed anywhere outside religiously dedicated buildings, it's being imposed on those who don't subscribe to it. I don't see how anyone can think this is fair. Even if a god did show up and say same sex couples aren't allowed to marry, I still don't think we'd be obliged to comply. 

Not every law is going to be welcomed by everyone. A balance needs to be reached. The question is, how do we go about reaching that balance? Secular humanism, that's how. When compared to any religion, it's a better option. It is the one way to ensure that decisions are reached with a goal to be fair to all, to treat everyone equally, and to strive for the well being of everyone. Secular humanism achieves this by having an objective look at the consequences (good and bad), and the advantages and disadvantages of the decisions that are made and chooses the path that is the best for all.

Contrast this with religious rules which are based on the unprovable, and, some might say, ridiculous, notion that 'this is what my god wants'. Yeah, well if you're a follower of the biggest religion on the planet, you're god is okay with me beating a slave as hard as I like, just as long as that slave doesn't die within three days. So please excuse me if I don't take your god's word on what is and isn't best for society. 

How is what I'm doing different to theists? I'm asking that people be left alone, I'm asking that people are allowed to go about their lives not impacted by what others may imagine to be true and that we live in a society that's fair and equal for all. 

Theists, on the other hand, demand that we all live their way and threaten that we'll burn in hell if we don't. 

Related: Vocal Atheism. It may not be what you think it is
Misconceptions about Atheism

Monday, 7 September 2015

But it's my religion!

There is a high profile case going on in the US at the moment. If you're involved in online atheism, and you've not heard of it, I'd be very surprised. 

Briefly: It concerns a county clerk in Kentucky named Kim Davis. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, and despite being ordered to do so, Kim has decided that she will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County. Her reason? The authority of God. 

Kim believes that her version of the God character is against marriage between people of the same gender, and because of that, she's refusing to participate. 

She's using the 'it's my religion' defence, and it's absurd. 

Idiots are now coming out of the woodwork to support Kim. They are claiming that she's been sent to jail because she's a Christian, because of what she believes in. 


Kim Davis is in jail because she refused to comply with a court order. She is in contempt of court and has been arrested because of it. There is nothing new here. 

In a lower profile case, CNN is reporting that a Muslim woman, who is a flight attendant named Charee Stanley, has filed a discrimination complaint with the equal opportunity commission because she's suspended from duty for refusing to serve alcohol - something banned in the Islamic faith. 

The CNN story says that Charee was working with the airline for a year before converting to Islam. It was some time later that she learnt that consuming and serving alcohol was banned in Islam. Upon learning this, Charee mentioned it to the airline who suggested she ask a colleague to handle the alcohol duties. This arrangement was in place and working fine until a colleague complained to the airline that Charee wasn't performing her duties. The airline suspended Charee. As it should.

I am absolutely against someone getting out of performing the job they are paid to do because of 'religious' reasons. The idea is preposterous. 

Sure, you might come to an arrangement with a colleague to cover the parts of the job you refuse to perform, but why should they? I doubt that Charee was paid less than her colleagues when she wasn't performing the same duties. 

People have to get over this idea that their religion matters.

Yes, their religion matters to them, but when you're asking for special consideration because of your religion, you're expecting your religion to matter to your employer and your customers too. The thing is, no one is obligated to think your religion is as important as you do. 

We have certain rules in our society to protect people from unfair discrimination. You're not allowed to discriminate based on gender, age, sexuality...or religion. I don't know why religion is included. It's a *choice*. Religion is no more valid as a consideration than is my favourite colour or preferred choice of boxers or briefs. Imagine if I worked in a paint shop but refused to sell any paint that wasn't my favourite colour. Why isn't that choice protected by law? Because it's ridiculous, that's why. 

As is refusing to do your job because you choose to be religious. You are employed to do a job. You either do that job, or you resign. It's that simple. Would we allow a waitress to not serve a Rib Eye in a steakhouse because they choose to be a vegan? No. If a person already working as a waiter in a steakhouse became a vegan and no longer wanted to serve steak, we'd expect them to resign, not make it so they don't have to do their job.

The same should go for one's choice of religion. If a person who is already a flight attendant for an airline becomes a Muslim and refuses to serve alcohol, they too should resign.

The thing to keep in mind is we're not talking about things that are reasonable and the result of analysis and critical thinking. These protections are for people believing things that someone made up. We're not talking about a factory worker refusing to work on a sheet metal press until there is safety equipment installed. We're not talking about a postman wanting comfortable shoes to walk in. We're talking about the protection of nonsense, in the case of Charee, and bigotry, in the case of Kim. 

I don't know about you, but I want to live in a world were nonsense and bigotry are derided not protected. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Is the universe too complex to exist without God?

Believers will often point out to me that the universe as a whole, life in general, and humans in particular are far too complex to have come into existence naturally. 

I'm not sure how they know this as it's not as though they could have done any testing, experiments, or comparisons to know what can come into existence naturally and what can't. If a tree grows from a seed did it come into existence naturally or is it there only because God put it there? Maybe some god put together the designs for the wings of a butterfly, but no butterfly ever comes to earth fully formed. Is this natural, or design? 

It struck me one day that the argument above has a very big flaw in it and it lead me to tweet the following: 

It seems to me that invoking a *more* complex being to explain the complexity of life or the universe fails to adequately explain what has happened. 

That god created the universe but is not subject to the laws we observe also relies on the special pleading fallacy

If God, far more complex than the universe, can exist without having been deliberately created, then why can't that apply to the universe itself? By their own reasoning, super complex things don't need to have been specifically created in order to exist, therefore the universe, which is far less complex than a god, can exist with no god required. 

To put it in mathematical terms (and I'm NO mathematician, so this might be pure nonsense)....

If maximum complexity = x and god's complexity is maximum, then god's complexity = x. 

The complexity of the universe is less than the complexity of god by an unknown factor. I'll call that factor f. 
The complexity of the universe = x - f. 

If a complexity of x requires no creator, then a complexity of x - f requires no creator. 

The same can apply to life, and humans. In either case the complexity is x - n where n is a varying amount, denoting the level of complexity lower than god's. Again if a complexity of x requires no creator, and complexity of x - n also requires no creator. 

A theist cannot believe a god to be more complex than people and not require a creator whilst simultaneously believing humans are too complex to have come into existence without a creator. 

If you can explain a god without a creator, you can explain a universe without a creator.  

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Free will, a loving god, and hell

I know it's not a view shared by *all* followers of the big two religions but there are a lot of people who tell me that because I'm an atheist I'll end up in hell. 

They'll often point this out after telling me how much god loves me, which I find odd. 

God loves me, he wants me to spend eternity with him in heaven, but he can't force me to do it. I need to believe via my own free will (though with God appearing directly to many people in the bible, and many believers today claiming to have had a personal revelation, the 'must believe on faith alone' condition seems to be a somewhat fluid rule). 

If I believe of my own free will, he'll reveal himself to me, I'll be a believer for life, and will be with him in the afterlife. 

Should I not believe I'll be judged accordingly and will spend the rest of eternity (a fairly long time) in a lake of fire, possibly being tortured, certainly not enjoying it. 

Theists tell me that it's my choice to go to hell. Because I refuse to believe, I'm putting myself in hell. 

What needs to be remembered here is that this 'believe on faith alone' condition is one that God put in place himself, and he put it in place *knowing* in advance that billions and billions of people would be condemned to eternity in hell because of it. One must wonder why he decided to place this 'on faith alone' condition on being 'saved'.

There are two things God knows. One: What it will take for me to believe he's real. Two whether or not this will happen before I die. 

If I die before God gives me reason to believe, how is me not believing my fault, given he knows what it will take me to believe, but refuses to provide it? 

People believe in God for different reasons. For some it's pure faith, for others they believe they've had a personal revelation. There are some who've had life changing experiences and they think God was responsible. For all these people God has made them in a way that allows them to believe - he's met their 'belief criteria'. Why not meet mine? 

If I believe the theists, the following is true: god loves me unconditionally, and loves me for ever. I don't know about you, but if I loved someone unconditionally and forever, I'd do all I could to prevent them from being burnt in hell for eternity (if I thought hell was real). God? Not so much. 

God would rather I burn in hell than he prove himself to me. Why? I'm not sure. Is me believing on faith alone really that important? How does he make the case that me, or anyone, burning in hell for eternity is 'better' than us being in heaven? 

It's not like God himself is being forced by some other overlord to honour this obligation. This is a rule *he* has put in place. It is his own condition that says I have to believe on faith alone, and he put that condition in place knowing I wouldn't be able to meet it.

Yet theists still claim I 'choose' hell? 

If it's given that I'm doing what God knows I'm going to do, and he knowingly made me in a way that means I can't believe on faith alone, and he put the condition of requiring faith for entry into heaven, how exactly is my own free will sending me to hell? 

If God is real, and he wants me to spend eternity in heaven rather than hell, he could get that done in an instant. He chooses not to. If I end up in hell (I won't) it's because *God* chose that path for me. 

A question that could be asked here is 'what does god get out of it?' When we let a child do something we'd rather they didn't, it's often to teach a lesson. For example, you might tell a toddler three times not to touch the glass on the front of the oven, because it's hot. If they attempt to touch it for the fourth time, you might let them, knowing that you're there on standby ready to deal with the outcome, but knowing they'll learn once and for all not to touch the oven, and they'll do it when you can look after them afterwards and they'll do it with the tip of their finger and not their whole hand. 

Sending someone to hell has no such benefit. One cannot learn from this and do better next time. There is no next time. Sending a non-believer to hell is nothing but pure punishment. Punishment forever. Punishment for the 'crime' of not believing that a god exists. 

How does an 'all loving' god justify a person having 80 (maybe) years of life on earth, with its own ups and downs, at times its own misery, just to then spend eternity in hell? 

The parent of the toddler above might justify the scorched tip of a finger by pointing out the new found knowledge that the oven is, in fact, hot. But for god, he's creating people to spend a temporary period on earth and then the rest of forever in hell. Doing this does *not* come under the umbrella of 'all loving'. 

Creating people simply to send them to hell, which, if the story is true, is what God is doing, is monstrous, not loving. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Morality from God?

We atheists often get asked, if there's no god, where do we get our morality from? 

We may answer by talking about the evolutionary origins and benefits of things such as empathy. 

But it raises a question - if there *is* a god, from where do people get their morality? 

Any theist will tell you that they get their morality from the god in which they happen to believe. It is he (it's always a he these days) who decides what is right, what is wrong, and it's up to us to follow that. Seems reasonable. Well, no, it doesn't. But it does seem straight forward. 

However there is an issue. Without an inherent ability to tell right from wrong, or at least allocate right and wrong, how does one decide that the morality dictated to them by a god is, in fact, good? If a person has no ability to know right from wrong, without being told, then it's impossible for them to know that the morality they're following is 'good'. They become automatons, unthinkingly doing what is dictated, making no decision themselves, making no judgement calls, or moral decisions. 

The problem with this kind of mindless obedience is that it can lead to thinking like this: 
One can only hope that Andrew P either 1: Is joking (as tasteless as it might be) or 2: Never hears 'voices' in his head telling him to kill. 

I will speculate here and suggest that if I spoke to Andrew about his declaration that he would murder on behalf of his god, he would say that he *knows* his god is good and *knows* that his god would never get him to do anything that's morally questionable. In such a situation, wouldn't it be better that Andrew's morality was based more on empathy, understanding, discussion, and logic, rather than voices in his head? 

Continuing with the speculation, I would question as to how Andrew knows his god is good. Having looked at a few more of Andrew's tweets, I think he'd say that the god in which he believes can't lie and he knows this because the god in which he believes has told him that he, god, cannot lie. 

Hopefully you already see the problem. A god who *can* lie, if such god were to exist, could say anything - including that it cannot lie. The statement 'I cannot lie' cannot be believed on its own.

It will be argued here that it's not just that the god in question has said that it cannot lie, but it is the very nature of this god that it cannot lie (that a being outside of nature has a nature is somewhat paradoxical). The obvious question that follows is: Who has defined this nature of 'god'? 

If it was the god itself, then we've still no reason to believe it. Any god capable of lying is capable of denying its ability to lie. If it is the believer that has defined this characteristic then the entire premise falls apart. 'I believe in a God who cannot lie, therefore the God in which I believe cannot lie' is pure nonsense and would be immediately recognised as such by anyone with entry level logic skills. They have simply defined into 'existence' a god that fits their preconceived ideas of what a god ought to be. 

What does this amount to? 

Simply put, someone who believes in a god that gives them their morality has no way of knowing whether or not that morality is good, has no way of knowing whether or not they've been lied to about that morality being good and, at least in some examples, has no justification for *not* murdering people en masse, if they believe their god has commanded them to do so. 

I don't see this as the kind of morality that should be trumpeting itself as superior. 

Monday, 17 August 2015

What evidence would I need in order to accept God exists?

It's a question that atheists get asked a lot: What evidence would I need in order to accept God exists? 

It's hard to answer, because I personally have no concept of gods or goddesses. I'm not sure I should be saying anything because I don't define what a god is nor what it's capable of - believers do that. 

To me, asking an atheist what evidence they'd need to accept the existence of a god or goddess is like me asking you what evidence you'd need to accept the existence of a Gnorleyark. Until I define a Gnorleyark for you, how could you know?

I have said before (thanks to Matt Dillahunty) that I don't know what evidence would prove to me that a god or goddess exists - but the god or goddess does. So pray to them, ask them what that evidence is, then, when you have the answer, get back to me. 

But I feel now that lets them off the hook too lightly, because they're likely to tell me that they think no evidence would convince me, no matter what they came back with. 

So when the evidence question comes up now, before I can answer, I need to clarify something with them. Something that (hopefully) makes them think a little, and makes them see the situation from my point of view. A sceptical, critically thinking point of view. 

I may refine the question in the future, but for now it's this: 

What detectable, verifiable, testable, or measurable qualities, properties, or characteristics does a god or goddess possess which unambiguously and conclusively shows that it's not a product of human imagination?

If they can't answer this, then I can comfortably point out they can provide no evidence to convince me of their claim. 

Theists often tell me that their god is outside the physical, outside of space, and outside of time. What does that leave? What's remaining that qualifies as 'existence'? There may be a state of 'being' that is outside of what we know as reality, but if there can we detect and verify it? Right now, as far as I know, we can't. To me, this shows that the properties of 'God' have nothing in common with reality. There's a reason for that. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

10 poor reasons to believe god exists

These are some of the arguments for God that come up most often. No particular order. 

1: Other people believe it. 
Although there may be many people who share your belief. There are at least 5 billion people who don't. At least 1.6 billion people have an alternate belief. You can't all be right. but you can all be wrong. 

2: My parents told me to believe. 
They also told you to believe Santa is real (maybe) or the tooth fairy. Not only have your parents lied to you, but their reasons for believing also fall under one or more of the poor reasons listed here. We've evolved to listen to our parents because some of their advice is good (don't touch the fire, watch where you're walking) but to believe them in everything, without question is questionable. 

3: I can't explain 'x' without God. 
People used to think that about lightning and earthquakes too. We can explain them now and guess what? No god required. What you don't understand is not proof that a god exists. For 'x' to be proof of god, you need to show that it *is* god, not that you can't imagine how it isn't. 

4: The prophecies in the bible/scientific revelations in the Qu'ran prove the book is from God. 
Biblical prophecy is vague and easily retrofitted. Sure, Israel became a nation, but did it really take a godly prophecy to predict it? Could a hopeful Hebrew have suggested it? Of course. The science in the Qu'ran is inaccurate (eg where sperm comes from, two kinds of water not mixing) The 'science' in the Qu'ran is consistent with what was known at the time. 

5: It's called FAITH!
Yeah, it is. As long as you recognise that faith, and good reasons to believe, are different things. As above, at least 1.6 Billion people have 'faith' that a different story is true. Faith gets people to fly planes into buildings thinking they've got 72 virgins waiting for them. Faith lets people eat a wafer thinking it's *literally* the flesh of a Jewish carpenter that lived 2000 years ago. Faith makes people throw virgins into volcanoes thinking it'll appease the god within. Faith makes people think a man rose from the dead is a better explanation than 'something else happened'. Faith may make you feel good, but it's not a pathway to truth. 

6: All cultures have developed a god - there must be something in it. 
There's no doubt humans have a hunger for answers. We crave explanations for what we can observe. The scientific method is the best way we've come up with to find those explanations. But the scientific method is recent. It wasn't around 2000+ years ago when gods and goddesses where being invented. A primitive mind thinking that thunder was the result of an angry god is understandable, but gods and goddesses were the answers we came up with when we didn't know better. We know better now. It's funny how the number of gods and goddesses we invent has slowed since the scientific method was developed. 

7: Without God, we wouldn't know right from wrong. (Morality) 
Says who? This is really just a stab in the dark and could easily be the 'x' in point 3. Non-human animals show traits that we call morality. The show compassion, cooperation, and empathy. They have a sense of 'fairness' and they look after each other when required. These are evolved traits and are easily shown to be beneficial to the species. No one has demonstrated that a god is required. 

8: Evolution is a religion (is false, can't happen etc.). 
Even if this were true (and it's not) it doesn't matter. Disproving evolution would in no way prove that gods and goddesses exist. All disproving evolution would do (if it could be done) is show that evolution doesn't happen. 

9: I feel something when I pray/worship. 
Sure you do. But people have feelings like that at concerts, and sporting events too. There's nothing concrete to suggest that this is an internal feeling caused by god or Jesus or whomever. More likely it's really just your body having a reaction to you having a good time.

10: There MUST be something more...
Saying it, wanting it to be true doesn't make it so. Sure we may want to see our loved ones when we die. Sure we may get a warm fuzzy feeling at the idea that we're here for a purpose greater than ourselves and that even after we die we'll somehow carry on. Some people may even like the idea that our existence makes a god happy and that's good enough reason to be alive. But wanting all those things to be true, doesn't make them true. 'Must' is a definite position. You need to demonstrate that it's true not just assert it and expect people to believe. When people say 'must' in this context, they're really saying 'I really hope there is'. 

There's also Look around you! 
I wrote a whole blog on this very topic. See it here

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Kaaba Rainbow and the resulting kerfuffle.

After the historic Supreme court decision in the United State there was something of a global flood, although it wasn't a torrent of water sent from the sky by an angry god wanting to wipe out humanity. Instead it was a flood of colour. Rainbows to be precise. 

Social media was awash with profile pictures that now had a rainbow coloured overlay. I made the change to my Facebook picture, but decided I'd save changing my twitter picture for when Australia finally catches up and legalises same-sex marriage here. 

The changes weren't limited to regular users of social media either. The New York City mayor's office changed its avatar, as did the twitter accounts of the 500px photography group, the Australian bank Westpac, and a host of other companies including heavy weights Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter positively acknowledged the decision in one way or another. 

The rainbows were seen in the real world too. Several landmarks were beautifully lit up in rainbow colours, 

Including the Empire State Building: 

and not insignificantly the White House temporarily became the Rainbow House. 
The building that, from what I saw, caused the biggest stir on twitter, and I later learnt it caused a big stir on Facebook too, was a building that wasn't lit up in rainbow colours at all. At least not really. It was a photoshopped image of the Kaaba at Mecca in Saudi Arabia. 

It was posted by the Twitter account @AtheistRepublic and you may not be surprised to learn that the reaction wasn't completely favourable. Here's the image: 

Who gets offended by rainbows? You know who. Muslims. Not all, but plenty. 

Atheist Republic have shared some of the responses at a post on their website. There are some graphic images, but you can see it here

I saw the tweet myself and retweeted it. I let @AtheistRepublic know that I liked what they'd done and then, after it had been up for a while, I tweeted the picture myself saying it was some fine work by @AtheistRepublic. 

It didn't take long before I was receiving responses from Muslims too. 

The first was (I think the original has been deleted): 
And this 

Pretty tame compared to what @AtheistRepublic were receiving. 

What I find ironic was in some of the tweets I was being insulted at the very same time that Muslim's were demanding that I respect their religion. 

A friend of mine asked me what I get out of insulting someone else's religion. I told her that my goal was not to upset Muslims, but for Muslims to realise that this was not worth being upset about. But as for what I get out of it, I told her, that another religious person learns that not everyone treats their religion as special. Not everyone bows to their demands that their religion should be respected. 

Out of curiosity I approached Armin Navabi from Atheist Republic for his reaction to the reaction. 

I started by asking Armin why he created the picture. Armin replied, "Legalizing gay marriage in the United States was a step in the right direction. This image was meant to serve as a reminder that there are many others that still living under fear of persecution, physical violence and even death for who they are." Fair enough, if you ask me. 

When I asked Armin if he was aware, when he posted it, Muslims would be offended, he said "Not as much as this. We usually remind people that if our content is offensive to them, a good solution is for them to just not look at it." 

I thought the question my friend asked me about what I get out of insulting someone else's religion was a good one, so I asked Armin the same. "We wanted to encourage our fellow activists to keep fighting for equality everywhere." Concluding "Our audience are atheists not Muslims." It does raise the question what, if anything is sacred? 

I tend to agree with Tim Minchin:  
"If you want to imbue earthly objects with supernatural agency that’s your right, and for that matter I would do a shitty placard and march beside you in the streets to defend your right to hold sacred what you will but I personally don’t think that that means you get to tell other people what they should hold sacred."
So as much as Muslims might find the Kaaba sacred, they don't get to demand that atheists also find it sacred. We're under no obligation to treat it how they demand. 

People might want to make the point here that not all Muslims have reacted like this, and they're right. One of them left a comment: 

Ahmed got it right. Fahad, not so much (highlight, mine)

Was it the intention of Atheist Republic to upset Muslims with this picture? 

"This was posted on an atheist Facebook page, an atheist Twitter account, website etc. Offended Muslims that come to atheist websites and get offended are either looking for reasons to get offended or need to learn how to block content that they wish not to be exposed to." 

Armin seems unapologetic, and I must say, I agree with him. Firstly, it's okay for atheists to make content for atheists. There is certainly enough religious content being made for religious people. Secondly, this isn't insulting a person. It's not telling someone they're the son of a whore or that they're so fat they have their own climate. 

The picture in question is not, in fact, insulting anyone. As with the Empire State Building, The White House or any of the other landmarks that were lit up to be rainbow coloured, this picture is a celebration. Rather than being offended, Muslims should be making moves to have it happen for real. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The "Why are there still monkeys?" Question

This post first appeared as a guest post on the WWJTD blog, here 

If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?

It's a question we've all seen before. Sometimes it's asked genuinely. Really. 

If it is genuine, and it's often hard to tell, it should be answered genuinely. In and of itself, it's not a stupid question. It's a question that someone who accepts evolution needs to be able to answer. 

I answered it once by engaging the person who asked, sending him some links to some introductory evolution articles, and suggested he have a read.  

He tweeted back to me three days later, thanking me for the information and saying that he now accepted evolution because he now understood it. He still follows me on twitter to this day. He said it was hard, because he'd been raised as a creationist, but he wanted to learn. I call that a win for education. 

But it's not always like that. 

Often the 'why are there still monkeys' question is a slur. It's a 'gotcha' used to bring the theory of evolution to its knees. 

What I love about this is that people *actually* think this defeats evolution. I can't work out which of two things they're trying to highlight. 

Are they suggesting...
1: That biologists haven't noticed monkeys are still around?
2: Biologists *have* noticed that monkeys are still around, but are hoping no one else has? 

Imagine it, 150+ years worth of scientific study, thousands of people studying evolution right now, millions of papers written, millions of fossils analysed, and all this gets undone by some internet nong asking why there are still monkeys? Someone somewhere thinks this will happen. 

In case you need to know why there are still monkeys, this video is the best explanation I've seen: 

If you see the question - don't automatically call the person a fool or make fun of them. Ask them if they'd really like to know why there are still monkeys. If they would, explain it to them. You might be surprised by the result. 

Other Evolution posts:

Open letter to argumentative evolution deniers:

Scientific World in Shock! Evolution Proved False!