Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Kaaba Rainbow and the resulting kerfuffle.

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

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

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

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

Including the Empire State Building: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty tame compared to what @AtheistRepublic were receiving. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The "Why are there still monkeys?" Question

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

If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?

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

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

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

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

But it's not always like that. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Evolution posts:

Open letter to argumentative evolution deniers: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/an-open-letter-to-argumentative.html

Scientific World in Shock! Evolution Proved False! http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/scientific-world-in-shock-evolution.html

Friday, 5 June 2015

Argumentum ad populum

Argumentum ad populum or The Argument from popularity is the logical fallacy that concludes a proposition is true because most, or many, people believe it.

The problem with this argument is not that it's fallacious. Actually, that's not right. The problem with this argument is that it's fallacious. The *other* problem with this logical fallacy is that it works. Often.

Picture yourself on the 20th floor of an office building. One of your colleagues, a known joker perhaps, stands at the window, looking out. They turn to you smiling, and say 'there's something you need to see out here...' You're probably not going to look. You'll probably think they're having you on.

Now imagine you look up from your seat and there are 25 colleagues looking out the window. One of them notices you, says to come and look. You might...you might not. But this causes everyone else to notice you, and they *all* tell you there's something you've got to see out the window. Do you go? Of course you do.

If all your friends tell you to watch a movie, listen to a band, or watch a TV show because it's great...you're more likely to.

If you're born into a community where a high percentage of the population believes in a god or gods or goddesses, good chance you will to. Especially if they raise you as though you believe, without ever letting you question it. I know, because happened to me.

When I started my twitter account there was a meme that went around about the similarities between Jesus and Horus. Both born of a virgin, both born on December 25th, both raised someone from the dead. The list goes on citing more than 10 similarities.

Here's one version of it:

I remember thinking it seemed suspect. I tried to find someone who had verified the claims but couldn't. I could only find people repeating them. So whenever I saw atheists using this comparison (and there were plenty) I'd tell them I wasn't sure it was true. Another look today shows only people repeating it, or the odd person questioning it or asking for confirmation. I can't find anyone giving good evidence to confirm these claims.

It got to the point where so many atheists were sending it out that people assumed it was true. The popularity was the problem. Not enough people bothered to check.

So beware of the argument from popularity. Not just from the other side, but also from those who agree with you.