Friday, 22 May 2015

Respecting Christian beliefs.

Dear Christians, 

When you ask me to respect your beliefs, what is it you're asking me to respect? 

Is it the idea that I deserve to spend eternity in hell just because I don't share your belief? 

Is it the idea that, because a woman was tricked into eating a piece of fruit, by a *talking 
snake*, that all of humanity is subsequently flawed and full of 'sin'? 

Is it the idea that when your god regretted making humans, he killed them all, including all babies and children, and killed all the animals? 

Should I respect the idea of forcing children to live in fear of hell?

Are you asking me to respect the idea that homosexuality is an abomination and that if a man lies with a man, as with a woman, he deserves to die? 

Is it the idea that I can beat my slaves as much as I like - providing I don't beat them so badly that they die within three days? 

Are you asking me to respect the idea that I shouldn't suffer a witch to live? 

Do you want me to respect the idea that a rapist, or a murderer, can get into heaven, as long as they find Jesus and are saved, but I can't get into heaven as an atheist? 

Is it the idea that to save humanity from his very own plan, god sent himself to Earth, as his own son, to then sacrifice himself as his son, to himself as his father, in order to save us from hell...which is his idea and plan in the first place? 

Am I to respect your belief that it's more important that a child is raped, than your god impact the free will of the rapist? 

Are you wanting me to respect the idea that a human sacrifice is the only pathway your god could have chosen in order to get people into heaven? 

Is it the idea that when allegedly presented with an empty tomb, you think the explanation of 'a man rose from the dead' is more reasonable than 'something else happened'? 

Sorry to tell you, as much as you think I should respect your beliefs, I just can't. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Stupid atheist beliefs meme.

You know the one. I'm sure of it. But, in case you don't...

I see it quite often and I'm sure you do too. Most recently in this tweet directed to me: 

As you well know, this meme is wrong on every level. I'm going to write a deconstruction to send to anyone who sends me this in the future. 

"Atheism: The belief..."
Wrong. Although there's always discussion around this, atheism is not the belief of anything. It's just not believing there's a god. 

"that there was nothing..."
I don't know what was there before the big bang happened. Neither do you. Nor does anyone else. Was it nothing? Was it a 'singularity'? Was it a 'kind' of nothing that physicists see differently to how others see nothing? Speculation abounds. But I don't know anyone who says it was 'nothing'. How can 'nothing' exist? 

"and nothing happened to the nothing"
One of the more ludicrous lines in the meme. I'm not sure what happened, but clearly 'something' happened. 

"and then nothing magically exploded for no reason,"
I didn't 'magically' explode. It didn't even explode, it expanded. And it wasn't, of course, for no reason. The Lawrence Krauss hypothesis 'A Universe From Nothing' explains a possibility to do with events at the quantum level. I don't understand it fully. I suspect no one does, maybe even Krauss himself. But what we can understand for sure, it wasn't magic. That's the theistic position. 

"creating everything"
No, not 'everything'. Initially it was mainly helium and deuterium. It's not like we think iPods came out of the big bang. Unless this means 'everything that was in existence at this time'. This this may be the only correct part of the meme. 

"and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever"
Actually it didn't 'rearrange' itself. Gravity took effect. Over a very long period of time, stars formed, then went supernova. Elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, things essential for life, and evolution, were created in stars, not the big bang. The explosions of stars sent these heavier elements into the universe, for gravity to again have an impact on. The process repeated for billions of years. Eventually galaxies and solar systems, with planets like our own, formed. Some planets are no more than rocks, some have atmospheres and environments, some a gaseous giants. This is explainable naturally, and very well understood. No magic required. Also, whatsoever is one word.

"into self-replicating bits"
'Self-replicating bits' did come into existence, but it was in specific environments for reasons which are explained and understood by chemistry, not a mysterious rearrangement of cosmic dust. Combinations of heat and electricity and other environmental factors caused amino acids and proteins to form in oceans that were not like today's oceans that existed in environments not like today's environment. These cells are the building blocks of life from which tiny, single-celled, replicating organisms formed. It didn't happen magically, again, that is the theistic position. 

"which then turned into dinosaurs."
No. Just plain wrong. Life first appeared on Earth about 3.5 billion years ago. When the Earth was about 1 billion years old. Dinosaurs first appeared in the Triassic period, which was about 231 million years ago. So the 'self-replicating bits' didn't 'turn into dinosaurs'. It was a process of evolution which took about 3.2 *billion* years to happen. 3.2 billion years worth of slight changes from generation to generation to get from self-replicating cells to what we know as dinosaurs. This meme idiotically makes it seem like we think it happened in one step.

"Makes perfect sense"
When you remove the stupidity of the original meme and replace it with facts and reality, yes, it does make perfect sense. 

It's a funny kind of feeling to be told what you think is stupid, but an adult, who in 2015, thinks we're all doomed because a woman who was made from a rib, was talked into eating a magic piece of fruit. 

By a snake. 

Feel free to send this through to anyone who sends you that meme :) 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Without god, what's the meaning of life?

It's common for theists to ask without God, what's the meaning of life? I got into a frustrating discussion about that recently. 

The initial question must be, of course, what's the meaning of life if there *is* a god? Even if there is an afterlife must there be an after-afterlife for the afterlife to have meaning? As Bret Kreis (@sgtawesome1ea on twitter) said "How many turtles deep must we go?" 

What is meant by 'meaning' anyway? When it comes to the meaning of life I think 'meaning' is like when people talk about being 'spiritual' - it's a word often used, but not really understood. 

What if negative thinking theists are right, and without god life does have no meaning? So what? I'm not aware of any obligation for something to have meaning for it to be enjoyable. A sunrise, a thunderstorm, and a rainbow can all be enjoyed and I'm pretty sure there's no meaning behind them. They are what they are. We have a life, can we not just enjoy it for what it is? 

During my discussion about life's meaning, the person I was talking to said "It's not logical that such highly developed life forms as humans are here for no reason.

The statement seems somewhat contradictory. The person is arguing that humans were put here by god, but also says that we're 'developed'. Maybe it's just an error of language, but things that develop don't appear 'as is'. A history of evolution by natural selection (with the odd mutation thrown in) is a far more reasonable and satisfying explanation for why there are humans on Earth than 'they appeared magically'. 

You'll note that rather than 'no meaning' here the person uses 'no reason'. When it comes to the big question of life, reason, purpose, and meaning seem to overlap somewhat. 

There are reasons there is life on earth but I don't believe life is on Earth for a reason. Humans are the products of a series of natural events. We can get from 'life' to 'human' with no god required. We're not the end result though and we're certainly not the goal. Providing we don't wipe ourselves out somehow, we'll evolve over time to become a species that will no longer be considered homo-sapiens. We're a stepping stone from one life form to another. We may even split into two or more species. Imagine a world where we homo-sapiens are the common ancestor to two or more of Earth's future inhabitants. 

Humans seem to suffer from a certain arrogance that comes from our self-awareness. We're aware of our own mortality. We know that if we're lucky we get maybe 8 decades on Earth. Some of us get a bit more, too many of us have far less. With the realisation that this is such a brief amount of time comes a desperation for there to be more to it for it to 'mean' something. It's like we think we're owed something, just because we realise life ends. But as I said above, can we not just enjoy it for what it is? It seems to be good enough for the rest of the animal kingdom. I don't think I've ever met a dog that wasn't happy and enjoying its life. Does it think there's 'more'? Does it think its life has to have meaning or purpose to be enjoyable? I don't know for sure, but I highly doubt it. Give a dog food, water, a rub on the belly and a stick to fetch and they're pretty content. Why must we have the promise of something more to make the most of life? 

Unlike our canine (and bovine, feline, equine, lupine, delphine, etc..) friends, many humans fear the idea that this is all we get and as a consequence things such as god and an afterlife get invented for the purpose of making people feel better. But all the warm fuzzy feelings, all the hope, and all the ignorance they can muster isn't going to make their god a reality. 

I don't think life itself has a meaning, but one can give *their* life any meaning or a purpose they wish. Without God, what's the meaning of life? Who cares? 

Friday, 8 May 2015

Psalm 14:1

"The fool says in his heart,  “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good." (New International Version)

I get sent Psalm 14:1 often. Sometimes it's just 'read Psalm 14:1' sometimes it's the first part. I don't think anyone has sent me the whole thing. 

I love the idea that a theist thinks that me not having read Psalm 14:1 is why I'm an atheist. As though this was the one missing ingredient. 

Me: "I'm an atheist"
Theist: *sends Psalm 14:1*
Theist: *waits*
Me: "....I'm a fool for saying there's no God? Wow! I had no idea! Thank you! Praise the Lord!"
Theist: "I know, right? Let us pray"

Seriously, is this what they're expecting? I hope not. 

So...a book that tries to make you believe a god exists tells you that you're a fool if you don't believe it? And people fall for this? Please. 

Two things about this passage get missed. The first, according to et al., is that 'fool' doesn't mean 'stupid' in this context. It means someone who is morally deficient or who is in moral antithesis to god. As stated here:
"This is not an insult or a slur; it is an accurate description of the state of his mind, since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7). The psalmist/proverb-writer is not making ad hominem attacks, but is locating the individual theologically."
It's almost as though they say 'fool' but mean 'non-believer'. It's not really an insult to say an atheist says in their heart there is no god. 

The other thing missed is Pslam 14:2-3 
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 
All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
 "There is no one who does good, not even one" When theists call us fools because we do no good, they need only read two more verses to find out that they are in the same boat. 

But they needn't worry, I'll scootch over and make room. 

Monday, 4 May 2015


God was hanging around in heaven. Having some downtime. He'd just spent a few days helping a rich sports person win the competition trophy, putting plans in place so that a millionaire actor would win an award for pretending to be someone else, had put food on the tables of many affluent families and had helped 134,203 people find missing sets of keys. He'd also helped little Becky Roberts pass her year 8 maths test. 

Sure, it was no 'creating a universe, star, planet, and mankind from scratch', but it was a busy time for God so, as he's known to do, he took a rest. 

He was just sitting down to watch the Derek Christmas special when one of the prayer phones rang. Then another. And another. It wasn't long until thousands of the prayer phones were ringing. 

God decided to ignore it. He thought there must have been a mega-lottery just announced, or perhaps one of the big US sports were having play-offs and one of the games was particularly close. They were always good for prayers. 

The phones didn't stop, God sighed, but, not wanting to get up, let prayer-voice-mail take over. It's not like the people ever cared whether he heard prayers in real time or waited longer. Hell (he always liked thinking that) sometimes he ignored a prayer for over 30 years and it 'came true' coincidentally and he *still* got credit for it. So waiting for an hour whilst he watched TV wasn't going to make a difference. 

Rather than giving up though, more and more prayers joined those already coming in. God looked over to the prayer phones and noticed the new prayers were coming in from all over the world. As much as the Philadelphia Eagles might have supporters across the globe, they didn't get many prayers from Belgium, even the two times they made the Superbowl. 

Obviously something had happened that got world wide attention. He sighed and tried to remember what natural disasters he'd planned for this time of year and nothing came to mind. 

"Gabriel?" God called from his chair. 

Gabriel, who was busy polishing his horn (not a euphemism), stuck his head into God's TV viewing room  "What's up?" 

"Did I send a hurricane somewhere this week?" God asked. 

"Not that I know of"


"No, not one of them either."

Gabriel called to Michael "Michael, can you come here for a sec please?" Gabriel pointed out to God that Michael was looking after the natural disaster schedule this week so he might have a better idea of what was happening. 

"S'up?" Michael said, trying to sound cool. Gabriel always did think Michael was a bit of a try hard, and that only ever got worse since the whole battle with Satan thing. 

"We're just wondering what natural disasters were planned for today."

"Oh, umm...." Michael tried to think, "drought is still going on Australia, but that's nothing new. Can't grow a thing in much of Africa, also standard. What about, nope....oh!" 

Michael paused for dramatic effect but this only served to make their quick-tempered God angry 

"Just tell me, I've had Derek paused for 10 minutes!" God roared. The people of Norwich, UK, raised their eyes to the sky as this resounded as thunder across their city. 

"There was that earthquake." Michael blurted and God exclaimed "OH! That's right. Wow, I set that to happen years ago, it just slipped my mind" 

Michael and Gabriel exchanged identical looks. Was the old man losing it?

"I heard that" God said to neither and both of them.

"Why is it," God asked to no one in particular, "that the humans think that I'm not aware of what happens down on Earth?" 

"Well in their defence, you did forget...." Gabriel began, but stopped quickly when God shot him a look (which was the cause of the lightning over Huntsville, Alabama.) "Carry on..." Gabriel said, sheepishly. 

"As I was saying, why do the humans think I'm not aware of what happens down on Earth? I'm the creator OF ALL THINGS! I scheduled this earthquake about 80 years ago. Why are they praying to me? Of course I know about it! I CAUSED it!" 

"Ah, I think the humans are aware that you know of the earthquake." Raphael said, "I think it's more that they want your help. They want you to save people and find the missing, that kind of thing." 

God took a moment. "So, humans don't think I know this is bad? Or that I won't help them unless they beg for it?"

God sighed, "I guess I better answer some of them. Not all though. I don't want them thinking all prayers get answered. What would that lead to?"

God waved his hand at the prayer phones and about 70% of them went silent. Before anyone could ask, he said "I cancelled all the general prayers, obviously if I wanted to help them all, I wouldn't have planned the damned earthquake to begin with!"

God knew that four of the phones were ringing for the prayers of one family. Their four year old son and brother was trapped under a tree and there was a landslide heading their way. If the didn't get the boy out, they'd all almost certainly die. God decided that was one of the prayers he'd answer. He lifted the tree enough to get the boy's legs out but not enough for the humans to notice and slowed the landslide enough that the family could flee before it got to them.

Two hours later, when they were safe, the family praised God for answering their prayers. 120 of their townsfolk, 7,000 of their fellow citizens, and countless animals died in the earthquake. 

But their boy survived, and that was God showing his love. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

If God isn't real, where did life come from?

I was walking along Elizabeth street in Melbourne when I saw a group of Christians set up behind a table and a couple of pamphlet stands. They had a few posters up, one of asked 'What does the bible really teach?' I wanted to answer 'How much I can beat my slaves' but I had to get back to the office. 

Another of the posters they had up was about how life is a creation of God. Again, if I'd had time I'd have asked about this. I wanted to ask them if they understood what an argument from ignorance was. You have to be careful asking this because when you say 'ignorance' the person thinks you're calling them ignorant. Because you are. But it's not a nice thing to be called. 

Obviously these people feel/believe that life exists on earth because the god they believe in put it here. I'm quite confident it could be translated as saying, they don't know how life began, therefore god is responsible. 

They don't know...therefore god. 

Not once has this ever proven to be accurate. In fact it's only ever proven to be wrong. 

I'm sure they'd tell me that life is too complex to have come about naturally^ so it *must* have been a higher intelligence that was responsible for it. They don't know that it was a higher intelligence, they can't demonstrate that it was a higher intelligence, but the idea is too complex for them to understand so what else could it have been? 

What I'd like to know from them is why their ignorance of a subject should be considered by me as proof that a god exists? When discussing this subject, a question that often arises is 'well if not god, who was it then?' Let's forget that we shouldn't necessarily be considering a 'who' at all, but I'd ask them why my ignorance on a subject should be considered by me as proof that a god exists? 

Despite the efforts of some to convince us otherwise, the sum of what we don't understand is not evidence for god. 

I wonder what it would be like to go back to July 16 1869 and ask them what they thought about the idea of putting a person on the moon. They'd probably think you were crazy. You might get shot on the spot for being bewitched and spreading such blasphemous ideas! Hopefully not, but you could be pretty sure that they'd scoff at the idea. There's no way they could fathom technology that could get a person to the moon. But 100 years later, which is really but a blip on the Earth's time scale, sure enough, a human being stood on the surface of the moon, and then was safely returned to Earth. (Yes, really. I've no time for luna-denialists) 

I find a similar situation arises when talking to theists about abiogenesis. 'There's no way life can come from non-life' they say. 'No one will ever be able to create life from non-life in the lab'. They say this completely oblivious to the discoveries being made in this area now, let alone what advances will be made over the next 100 years. They say this with absolutely no idea what they're talking about. They are clueless and have been fooled by their faith into thinking that life must have come from god. It's a shame. A simple Google search brings back results like this which shows there is a lot of great work being done in the area of abiogenesis. One simply needs to read about it. 

I have no doubt that one day early solar system/Earth conditions will be replicated and scientists will work out how life started on Earth. It will be hard, and it may not be in my lifetime, but I've no reason to think it won't happen. If we discover the origin of life on earth, I guarantee it'll be from chemists and biologists, not priests, not Ken Ham, and not Ray Comfort. Also, it'll be published in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal and not in some amateur YouTube video. 

And the religiously brainwashed will still deny it. 

^The same condition doesn't seem to apply to the god in which they believe. Saying something is too complex to have occurred naturally and explaining it by invoking an even more complex being seems strange to me. 

Friday, 27 March 2015

What if Adam chose to be gay?

Many religious people will tell us that homosexuality is a choice. That their god thinks it's an abomination, and that anyone choosing to be homosexual is committing an awful sin. Some religious folk might try to save themselves here with the tired old line 'hate the sin, not the sinner' but let's not kid ourselves, they hate the sinner. 

God, being a god, could stop homosexuality, of course. If he wanted to, he could make it so no homosexual people were born, or if it is a choice as some religious people claim, he could make it so no one makes that choice. But free will, is the reply you'll hear here. 

God hates homosexuality for reasons that I guess are his own. He allows people to choose it, but they'll be punished in the afterlife. Some people will have us believe that god shows his displeasure at homosexuality by sending tornadoes to tornado prone areas. It's not like these tornadoes come with a label saying 'anti-homosexuality tornado' though, so how does one tell an anti-homosexuality tornado from a regular tornado? 

The same theists who will tell you homosexuality is a choice, and that it's a sin against their god, will also tell you that were are here because Adam had sex with Eve. They'll tell you that god put them on earth as the very first humans and from those two people, the world was populated. It doesn't seem to bother them that this never happened, but that's a topic for another blog. 

We know from Eve eating from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that Adam and Eve had free will. There weren't just robots, pre-programmed by God to do only what he wanted. In fact, according to the story, they did the exact opposite of what God wanted. He didn't want them to eat from the tree...but they did it anyway. 

Where would we be today if Adam had chosen to be gay? According to the bible, God saw that Adam was on his own and so gave him Eve. Imagine if Adam has said 'but where's the cock?' What if Adam has stared between Eve's legs and said 'yeah...not really my style. See this,' as he grabs his own package 'I was hoping to play with someone else's one.'

If the story is true, God either created Adam without the ability to choose being gay, or God created Adam knowing in advance he wouldn't choose to be gay. 

Either way, if God could do that then, and not only ensure the earth was populated with humans, but also ensure that Adam was saved from hell for the sin of homosexuality, he could do it for all the people born now and save *them* from hell for the sin of homosexuality. 

I can't for a moment think that God put Adam on Earth, then gave Adam Eve and was thinking 'Gee, I really hope he likes pussy. If he likes dick, I'm going to have to start over.' Of course not. God put Adam on earth knowing that Adam would choose heterosexuality (or would not be given the choice). Given that God now allows around 2% of men to be on earth as homosexuals and doesn't do anything to stop it, he clearly doesn't have a problem with it. 

If God allows homosexuals on earth, why would anyone else have a problem with it? 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

A response to '5 Reasons Why Atheism is Foolish'

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

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

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

Here are the 5 'reasons'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. The Atheist Cannot Disprove The Existence of God

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Is Atheism a religion?

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

It is actually quite staggering how often this comes up. 

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

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

Let's have a look. 

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

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

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

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

2: What is a religion? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a moment to read the meme above. 

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

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Drawing Muhammad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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