Monday, 26 January 2015

Does free will necessitate evil?

Why does god allow evil? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 January 2015

Life, death, and atheists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Some thoughts on Islam and Charlie Hebdo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My response got lengthy: 

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 January 2015

Richard Dawkins - The Beatles of atheism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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