Tuesday, 22 July 2014

I have a problem with the Bible

I'm an atheist tweeting to a choir, to borrow a phrase, of some 29,280 followers (at the time of writing), most of whom are fellow atheists, about my displeasure and confusion with all things religion. So a blog titled 'I have a problem with the Bible' is probably not going cause many stirs. 

But it's not the condoning of rape, the genocide, the murder, the slavery and the like that I'm going to highlight here, though yes, I have a problem with those things too. 

It's this: The bible is not convincing. 

Now some of you may want to interrupt here and say that there's some two billion Christians that will tell me (and believe me, they will tell me) that it *is* convincing. And therein lies the problem. Two billion Christians. There are 7 billion humans on this planet. That means if we did a survey and got instant results we'd find this - only 2 in 7 humans find the bible convincing. 

Under normal circumstances I wouldn't be one to say that truth is determined by the amount of people who support (or not) a claim. But when we're talking about whether or not something is convincing it's not as subjective as whether or not, say, a movie is 'good' or a cake is 'tasty'. 

Ultimately, yes, whether or not the bible is convincing is down to the individual assessing it but when looked at it on a population level if as many as 5 in 7 people are not convinced, we can safely say that overall...it's not convincing. For every 2 people that believe it, there are 5 who don't. Maybe you could say that it's not 'completely convincing', but it's 'convincing enough'. But is it? 

Really, this shouldn't matter. But this isn't the work of a movie director or cake baker. This is not a piece of art up for critique by a man wearing a jacket with elbow patches and sporting a beard sans moustache, it's not a sports person whose achievements, or lack of, are being discussed by the regulars at the local bar. This is, allegedly, the work of a god. 

A god that loves us all. A god that wants us to be saved*. It is a god that will, apparently, if we're not convinced by the bible story, allow us to be sent to a lake of fire, for eternity**.

2 in 7 is a terrible success rate when the consequences are so dire. 2 in 7 is a complete and utter failure when the author of the plan is omniscient. 

Opponents will now shout at me 'Free will'. And yeah, go for it. Tell me that this god character has allowed us to believe in him, or not, via our free will. Great. Fantastic. I don't question the free will part, I get that.

My question - why did he come up with a plan that only 2 in 7 people will accept via free will? Could god have come up with a plan that 5 in 7 people would believe? I would have thought so. How about 7 in 7? Tough, no doubt, but remember we're not talking human capabilities here, this is a GOD! My believing friends have been known to inform me that with god, all things are possible. If this is true, one must accept that coming up with a story that all people will believe whilst allowing us to keep our free will, is possible. 

So given the dire consequences combined with the claim that the bible is of omniscient origin...why doesn't it convince all people? Because it's made up, that's why. 

There are, no doubt, many people who've not been exposed to the bible so one may argue that these people are not unconvinced as such, they just haven't had the opportunity to be convinced. If you were talking about Jo Rowling trying to convince people that the magical world of the Potters, Weasleys, Grangers, and Malfoys was real then this would be an understandable allowance. How could the world's population be convinced that there was, in fact, a school of Witchcraft and Wizardry by the name of Hogwarts if they had never heard of such a place? Fair point. 

But again, we're not talking about things that are subject to human constraints. If needing to believe in Jesus as the son of bible-god is what's required to be saved then why doesn't bible-god make sure everyone knows about, and believes in, Jesus? Because it's made up, that's why. 

Keep in mind, this isn't something trivial. Believers will tell us that this is our eternal soul that's on the line here. This is not a case of leaving the milk out and it going off. It's definitely not something that you'd expect a god that loves us to leave up to chance. He wants me in heaven, he is capable of having me there. He knows exactly what it would take to have me there - reason. Yet, he provides me none, and he withholds that reason knowingly. 

There are any number of Christian apologists who will try to tell me there is reason and they will make up all sorts of new nonsense to try to justify the old nonsense that is in the bible. God created everything in 6 days you say? Well....a 'bible' day and what we call a 'day' aren't the same thing, don't you know? Back then, a day could have been an age! Ah huh. Sure. Funny how the bible didn't just say that, isn't it? 

I once asked a pastor why his god came up with a story that convinced him but not me. He said he didn't know. 

If the bible were truly the word of a god who loved us, who wanted us in heaven with him, and who made belief in this story the only criteria for getting into heaven, then it would be convincing to all people, not to only 2 in 7 people. It would be a sensible story whose plot was recognisable as truth to all people, not only 2 in 7 people. 

I can conclude nothing from this other than the bible is fiction. The condition of belief in it  for heaven is fiction. And that the god behind it who apparently loves me, but will let me burn in hell forever, is also fiction. 


*saved by Jesus from what he/God will do to us if we don't believe. Utter nonsense. 

**eternity? Seriously? 

Friday, 11 July 2014

10 questions for atheists

So I was having a look at what people were saying about atheists on twitter and I found this tweet by @ninaemily:

Being ever curious I clicked on the link to see what had got us. 

It wasn't a 'Gotcha' at all (obviously) but a list of 10 questions for every atheist. From TodayChristian.net. 

And I thought, what the hell, I'll answer them. 

1: How did you become an atheist?

Simply - I thought about it. I was raised in a Catholic household, going to a Catholic school but doubts started to creep in when I was about 12 or 13. I couldn't understand why we followed some parts of the bible but ignored others. I once cooked and ate red meat on Good Friday thinking there was a chance I would be instantaneously transported to hell. Nothing happened. I was dissatisfied with 'God works in mysterious ways' as an answer. I began to learn more about the universe and how what we knew about it didn't equate with what the bible was telling me and the more I looked into it the more I realised the idea of 'God' was made up. 

2: What happens when we die? 

No one knows. Death is final and no one has ever returned from it. Even people 'clinically dead' aren't actually dead. Dead is forever. However - I can confidently say that nothing happens. To make an obvious point, dead is the state of being 'not alive'. We've all been not alive. We were all not alive for billions of years before we were born. I have no good reason to think it'll be different when we're not alive again. 

When I say 'nothing' happens, that's not quite right. Plenty happens. The world will go on, lives will be lived. As Christopher Hitchens said:
It will happen to all of us, that at some point you get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on — but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you.

And he's right. What happens when we die? Pretty much everything that would have happened anyway - only you won't be involved. 

But what I love is the idea that my atoms will carry on. The billions of little pieces that make me me will carry on doing what they do. Whether they be iron, carbon, oxygen, whatever it is, those atoms will continue on, only they'll no longer be arranged as me. 

3: What if you're wrong and there is a heaven. And there is a HELL!

 A quick search of Google for 'Pascal's wager debunked' puts this question to bed pretty easily but let's take it on face value and say there IS a God who will send me (my soul?) to 'HELL!' when I die. Let's assume also that it's the 'lake of fire' type hell, not just the 'separation from God' type hell. 

If I'm wrong....I burn in hell for eternity, right? I mean, I get no choice in the matter, do I? As a non-believer, I burn in hell...so why even bother asking? 

But the idea that a God who loves me will allow me to burn in hell for eternity simply because I couldn't believe he was real? Absolutely 100% without question ridiculous. As Australian comedian Josh Thomas said:
As an Atheist, having a Christian threaten me with hell is like having a hippy threaten to punch me in my aura

4: Without God, where do you get your morality from?  

Let's understand - morality, as a thing, doesn't exist. It's the name we give to describe how we think we should act. And everyone's is different and everyone's is flexible. One might scream anti-homosexuality messages from the pulpit, for example, yet jerk off to all kinds of gay porn when the curtains are closed, the lights are off and the tissues are handy. 

What we call our morals are evolved. There are evolutionary benefits for our species to look after each other, to care for each other, share with each other, work together, and so on. 

Morals grow and evolve as society does. We no longer keep slaves, we don't force rape victims to marry rapists, couples of different skin colour can marry and in some parts couples of the same gender can marry too (in other parts we're still working on having that happen), and women are allowed to vote in all decent countries. This wasn't the case just a few generations ago. Who wants a stagnant morality? 

Morals come from discussion, debate, reason, experience, understanding and empathy. It's not hard to work out that I wouldn't like my stuff stolen, so I'm not going to steal from someone else. It's also not hard to work out that if someone is on the street starving, and they steal a loaf of bread, 19 years as a slave and parole forever after is not fair. 

5: If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

This question is ridiculously naive. I'm an atheist and I've raped and murdered exactly as many times as I've wanted to - zero. It's not the fear of God and eternal punishment that stops me from doing these things, and if that's the only thing stopping you from doing them, then I question if you are moral at all. We live in a society, we are responsible to each other and we make rules and regulations that reflect this (we call them laws). 

The other point is - believing there is a god doesn't stop people from raping and murdering. Believers do these things. It's not as though crime is the exclusive domain of non-believers. Belief in a god does not make us moral and does not keep us moral. 

As for good deeds being unrewarded. Simply not true. Acts of heroism, volunteers, people who sacrifice themselves for others. Things like this are acknowledge and rewarded regularly. But again, it's from us to us. There's no need for a god to be involved. 

6: If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

Why should it? Why do we think that because we exist...no, because we're self-aware that our lives deserve meaning? We are life forms. We exist because a series of natural process resulted, through our own unique pathway, in us. 

If you want your life to have meaning, give it to yourself. Find a pursuit that drives you to a goal, if that's what you desire. 

The thing with this question is that you could leave off the first five words, and it's still the same question. 

7:  Where did the universe come from? 

This question is strangely worded for me. As though the universe is travelling and this is its final destination. Or maybe not even final, just one in a series of many stops. It's like something you'd ask someone in the coffee shop at an airport, maybe Singapore. 'Where did you come from?' 'Oh, I'm here from Melbourne, on my way to Chennai for work'. 

But what is this question actually trying to ask? I don't think it's 'what caused the universe to exist'...not exactly, I think someone might phrase it as 'If the Big Bang happened, who* caused the Big Bang?' 

*Of course the first thing I would do here is ask them why they're limiting themselves to 'who'. 

I think the question that's at the heart of this line of thinking is this: 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' If you ask Professor Lawrence Krauss he'll tell you 'Because there had to be'. It's got to do with a zero energy universe, which means the matter and energy of the universe is countered by what they call dark-matter and dark-energy...but as far as I know no one has actually found that yet. It's still a hypothesis. And a little bit over my head.

Where did the universe come from or Why is there something rather than nothing? My friend Andrew Skegg from twitter (@askegg) has the best answer for this question and it's the one I've used ever since I saw him use it....

I don't know. How do you suggest we find out? 

I think it's a great way to put it because I'll tell you now, the answer isn't in a centuries old holy book. Whether the hypothesis of Professor Krauss becomes accepted or rejected, or a new hypothesis is formed and that becomes accepted, it is through science and the scientific method that we will gain the answer, not through reading bronze age scripture. It is through scientists that we'll get the data required. Perhaps the scientists who will do this aren't even scientists yet. Maybe the scientist who'll make the breakthrough is still a little girl spending her days finger painting or digging holes and filling them in with a scoop truck in a sand pit at the local park. Whomever it is, it's not going to be a person interpreting the words of someone who lived in extremely superstitious times thousands of years ago, and who wrote not what they knew, but what they guessed. 

And when the answer is found...it'll be natural. I guarantee it. 

8: What about miracles? What [about] all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

I don't believe them. 

I was going to leave it there, because that really is enough. But I thought might also point out  I wrote a blog about miracles here.

As for the claims of a connection with Jesus or that they've seen saints or angels...well there's many, many people who'll claim they've been abducted by aliens, experimented on, and returned to earth. We don't believe any of these people on testimony alone. Why would we drop our standards of evidence when the claim is religiously based? 

9: What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

I've not met any of these gentlemen so it's not possible for me to give a personal critique. Having said that I have enjoyed reading their work and particularly in the case of Christopher Hitchens, listening to them speak. I don't 'follow' them as a theist would a preacher, I don't think they're always right, none of them is my pope. 

They are three people who wrote books and give/gave talks on a subject that interests me. That is all.

10: If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

Like with question 6, remove the first six words and it's still the same question. Something to remember - religions are old. Really old. Sure you might bring up Mormonism (which is pretty much based on Christianity) or Scientology but ask yourself what has been the global impact of these more recent religions? Not much. The problem these two religions suffer is that they were invented in a time when big religions were already established and people already had a way of finding out answers. These religions didn't 'take' because there was no gap to fill. 

 I think the creation of religions demonstrates not that a god exists but that humans desire answers and because most religions were invented prior to the development of the scientific method supernatural answers were the best they could come up with. Why is there something rather than nothing? God did it. Why are we moral? God made us so. Why are there humans? God made Adam and Eve. Of course the 'god did it' answer is an absolute cop out. There's no explanatory power there whatsoever. If someone was to say to me 'God did it' then the next question is, How? They either won't have a how or the how will be natural and no god required. 

I think also that religions are used as a tool by the ruling classes to keep the lower classes in check. Put the fear of god, literally, into people and you might think you will have an easier time in your attempts to control them. Don't just tell them the state will punish them for wrong-doing, but that Gee Oh Dee GOD will punish them too! (and forever!) Unthinking, superstitious, intellectually lazy people will believe you without question and (try to) follow those instructions to the best of their ability. 

Of course once a population gets educated and develops a sense of equality and social justice, this is pointless, but hey...it's worth a shot, right? 

And lastly there's the fear of death. People don't want their existence to be over when they die. They want to carry on in some kind of spiritual realm, meeting again with loved ones who passed away before them. 

They want heaven and will believe pretty much anything that helps foster the idea of it. 

Originally From: http://robertnielsen21.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/10-questions-for-atheists/

Monday, 9 June 2014

I should have stood up for Kylie Smith

Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. It was a chant, almost tribal in its nature, from the boys in my class as the wide circle they had made around Kylie's desk got smaller and smaller. With each word they got a step closer until they were so close that she could have touched them. There were three boys in the class not participating, myself and my two best friends. 

* * * * *

As it was for a lot of people, early high school was very hard for me. Suddenly thrown into a school 5 times the size of my primary school, with no friends to help support me though it. 

I did have friends at the school but there had been a mix up. On our orientation day I found that I was in a different 'mini' (what they called the year 7 class groups at my school) to my group of friends which I had from primary school. I was in 4a, they'd all be put into 3b. There was room to move though so I put in a request to be moved to 3b for the start of high school the next year. This request was granted. 

So I showed up on high school day one, found my friends, looked up (or was told somehow) where we needed to be and which class we were in. Sure enough, I'd been moved to 3b. My 3 best friends had been moved to 1a. I was devastated and essentially alone. I made my way to 3b home group to be confronted by a sea of faces who all clearly knew each other but clearly didn't know me. I was able to spot two familiar faces in the crowd (one of them went on to represent Australia at the Olympics). They were sitting up the front of the room at a desk. They weren't friends as such, but kids I knew well enough to talk to, so I went and knelt beside them. 

For the record, this is what our school desks looked like back in the day: 

Our high school class rooms had these spread throughout (unless it was science, arts, or materials such as woodwork, or metal work). In home group many of the 'tough' kids would just sit along the ledge which was created by the cupboards at the back of the room. 

I can't remember what kind of acknowledgement I got from the two kids I recognised but I do remember they were in 3a, not 3b so once we broke up to go to class, I really was on my own. 

I don't remember if it was that morning or the next day but a short time after I wasn't sure where I had to go for my next class. I was standing in a hallway looking at the school class timetable, unable to understand it. I was lost, on the verge or tears (I was a sensitive young fella) and totally confused about where I was meant to be. 

A teacher, Sue Fraser I later learnt, walked past  so I got her attention, told her which class I was in but wasn't sure where I was meant to be. She said '3b? You're in here with me'. A lucky break in walking in finding out where I had to be. Not so lucky walking into class with the teacher. 

I was overweight in those days. (I've spent a couple of weeks here and there being not overweight since) so I endured a week of torment and abuse because of it. Not only was I overweight, but I had no one there to help stick up for me either. I've never been sure since if there was anything else about me that earned me the title of 'person to be bullied' but my weight was the obvious one. 

In one class, I can't remember which, we were stood in a circle of 5 or 6 students and we had to introduce ourselves by name and tell everyone something we liked. I was struggling for ideas as I desperately wanted to think of something that wouldn't be ridiculed. The ring leader of the bullies happened to be in the group I was in. It was frightening. 

I had received a model train set for Christmas the year before so I thought that must be okay. 

'My name's Donovan, and I like trains', is what I said. It was only later that I found out that alpha-bully was a Collingwood fan. Had I revealed at this moment that I too was a Collingwood fan, I might have become accepted, or at least the bullying might have eased off. Who knows? 

As some point, someone lied about what I had said, and how I said it. They all started making fun of me because they were convinced I'd said 'My name's Donovan, and I'm a train.' Not only were the words changed but they were also convinced it wasn't said normally but was in a long, drawn out drawl as though I had a severe speech impediment. Everywhere I walked 'My name's Donovan and I'm a train' would be said, mocking me. That was when they were feeling a little more adventurous than just calling me fat. 

So my first week of high school was hell for me. It really was. I don't remember a day not being in tears from the bullying. I talked to teachers, desperate to get out of that class and to join my friends. I remember one recess where I was sitting in the spot my friends and I always did (I'm thankful that we were at least able to spend breaks together). I was there first so for a minute or two was on my own when some girls I didn't even know walked past. One of them said 'haven't his friends arrived yet?' I guess people had heard about me. 

On the Friday morning of the first week a teacher came around to each class to check on how things were going and to ask if everyone was happy. I raised my hand. She came to my desk (I was sitting by myself of course) and asked my name. "Donovan". "Ah, I've heard about you". She said. I'm not sure what words my thought consisted of at that moment, but I know today's equivalent would be 'Then why the fuck haven't you done something about it before now?'

She told me that I'd be moved class from next week on. I got her to confirm twice that it would be 1b where my friends where. It was. She then said that maybe I should try to sit with people instead of on my own. Maybe I should try a bit harder to be friends with them. She had no idea that through no fault of my own, they hated me. 

So the Monday of the second week arrived, I was in 1b and things instantly improved dramatically. They weren't perfect. I still had a few classes with that old group so there was still a bit of bullying going on. I remember one Graphics class with the old group 3b group, not the 1b group. I guess reorganising the schedule completely was a bit too hard. 

A table of boys nearby me started talking about me, but not too me. Though they were loud enough for me to hear, and that was their intention. I don't remember the details of what they were saying, and really it doesn't matter. They were picking on me, that's what matters. I was in tears, unable to deal with it. I was trying to get my work done hoping my tears went unnoticed, but they didn't. Except by the teacher. 

The teacher stepped out for whatever reason teachers step out. A girl whose name I can't remember decided to take this opportunity to whip me on the back with a set of keys she had on the end of a long string. I don't know why she thought I should be whipped. She said a lot of things while she did it. My guess would be she hit me 10 to 12 times. The one thing I remember her saying was 'My heart bleeds for you Donovan. My heart bleeds.' To this day I've no idea what I did to deserve this from this girl. I'm not sure I'd ever even spoken to her. As far as I could tell, I was just the kid who got picked on. 

I ignored her and she eventually went and sat down. They table of boys was still abusing me so I got up and punched or shoved one of them. I can't remember which I did. 

Over the next few years the bullying decreased until it was non-existent. I eventually drifted away from the friends I'd been so desperate to be with in the first week of school and started hanging out with two other guys. With my original friends, even though I wasn't bullied as such, I was still the butt of jokes, still the laughed at kid, the odd one out. With these two new friends I was one of them. Accepted as me, never picked on for anything. 

I even became friends with alpha-bully to some extent. That I was a Collingwood fan became known and earned me some respect. My two friends and I became Metallica fans and were very excited to go see them at Melbourne's Festival Hall in 1989. May 4th. Section 9. Row E. Seat 36. Metallica were a little different in those days. They were scary. They were loud. They were dangerous. I remember when alpha-bully found out we were going. He too was a Metallica fan but wasn't brave enough to go. He kept saying we were 'gonna get knifed.' It was significant. The three geeks were going but the big tough kid wasn't. Like being a Collingwood fan, it earned respect. 

So it was with these two friends that I was sitting when a kid, Joe, came up to us. Someone at some point, somehow had decided that Kylie Smith didn't blink enough (fucking kids). And a few months prior she'd unfortunately earned herself the nickname 'stare-bear'. 

Joe whispered to us that the boys were going to form a circle around Kylie's desk and chant 'stare' at her. He asked if we wanted in. We all said no. 

Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. Stare. They chanted it as they got closer and closer. My two friends and I didn't participate. It was a horrible thing to do and I couldn't be part of it. 

So I sat there and watched. 

This commercial is currently airing on Australian TV: 

I thought about that incident with Kylie a few times since that day - about 27 years ago and this commercial makes me think about it even more. 

I sat there and watched because the focus wasn't on me. I wasn't the one being bullied. Had I said something I'm sure I would have been accused of being in love with Kylie and would have been picked on for that. I don't remember my exact thought but it would have been something like 'this is just so wrong...but at least it's not me.'

I don't know what happened to Kylie since high school. I remember a biology teacher once saying orgasm instead of organism. Kylie was the only person who laughed. She knew something we didn't. But after that? No idea. I heard that alpha-bully became a police officer. I'm not sure if that's true, but if so, I hope he's matured somewhat since those days. I don't see my two friends any more but still interact occasionally on social media. 

I think about that moment, how I just sat there and did nothing. Sure, I refused to participate, but I didn't do anything to stop it either. Every time I think back on that day I think to myself 'I should have stood up for Kylie Smith.' 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Why the Live and let live approach doesn't work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 March 2014

On Miracles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Religion based Censorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why Faith?

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

Well...allow me to disagree. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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