Victory for Irreverence

FRANCE-ATTACKS-CHARLIE-HEBDO-MEDIA-FRONTPAGE

The Charlie Hebdo weekly normally has a print run of around 60 000 copies. This week they planned to publish 3 million copies following the brutal slaying of 12 of its staff by religious fundamentalists. Instead, such was the demand, 5 million copies will be distributed.

If these idiots thought they were appeasing their God by wanting people who value free speech to be eliminated, they sure didn’t count on how badly such bigoted ideology would blow up in their faces. Spectacularly so. Indeed, instead of 60 000 people having access to some irreverence, now 5 million and certainly more will be laughing their heads off to the silliness of religious narrow-mindedness and intolerance.

Fundamentalists of all stripes need to know that those who wish to free their minds from mental slavery will not be swayed by random shootings, bombing of buildings, suicide bombings using ten-year old girls, kidnapping of young women and children, hacking to death of villagers, imprisoning and whipping of atheist bloggers, issuing of fatwas, killing pro-abortion doctors, demonstrating against and demonizing homosexuality, destruction of ancient monuments, banning women from driving, forbidding snowmen from being built, removing “erotic” cosmetics from shelves, beheading of journalists, banning of medication, building of creationist museums and subjecting young minds to creationist rubbish in schools, and the delusional rants of clerics, priests and holy men.

The list of atrocities, depravity and irrationality perpetrated in the name of religious and other ideology is far too numerous to mention. What is more abundant however, is the sheer will to carry on the fight against this evil by far too many people – people who recognize that the desire for freedom is much stronger than the desire for servitude to Gods and Devils.

Mankind will triumph, because we are more powerful than Gods and Devils. We created them after all.

Therefore God Exists

adam+and+god

Don’t you love lists? I spent an hour or so going through this one which has literally hundreds of proofs of God’s existence. Some were quite familiar because I’ve seen them right here on this blog before, in the comments section.

Here are ten that I really like:

1. ARGUMENT FROM MIRACLES (I)
(1) My aunt had cancer.
(2) The doctors gave her all these horrible treatments.
(3) My aunt prayed to God and now she doesn’t have cancer.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

2. MORAL ARGUMENT (II)
(1) In my younger days I was a cursing, drinking, smoking, gambling, child-molesting, thieving, murdering, bed-wetting bastard.
(2) That all changed once I became religious.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

3. ARGUMENT FROM FEAR
(1) If there is no God then we’re all going to not exist after we die.
(2) I’m afraid of that.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

4. ARGUMENT FROM AMERICAN EVANGELISM
(1) Telling people that God exists makes me filthy rich.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

5. ARGUMENT FROM FALLIBILITY
(1) Human reasoning is inherently flawed.
(2) Therefore, there is no reasonable way to challenge a proposition.
(3) I propose that God exists.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

6. ARGUMENT FROM META-SMUGNESS
(1) Fuck you.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

7. ARGUMENT FROM LONELINESS
(1) Christians say that Jesus is their best friend.
(2) I’m lonely, and I want a best friend.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

8. PROOF BY ANECDOTE
(1) God can be seen by those who believe in Him.
(2) If the God is seen, then He must exist.
(3) I have seen God.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

9. ARGUMENT FROM SPEAKING IN TONGUES
(1) My friend here, once started spontaneously speaking some jibberish that sounded to me kind of like Russian.
(2) But neither he nor I know anything about Russian.
(3) The only explanation is God.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

10. BENDER’S ARGUMENT (I)
(1) One day, demons were tap-dancing on my roof.  I prayed and they went away.
(2) Therefore, demons are really good dancers.
(3) Also, God exists.

Okay that last one is pretty stupid not as clear-cut as the others, but you get the point. So if you have some time to kill, you’ll find a lot more here (657 to be exact), from what looks like a growing list.

Non Belief or Unbelief? Does it really matter?

I stumbled across this YouTube video earlier today of Stephen Fry being interviewed on Big Think. The title “The Importance of Unbelief” left me pondering whether there is a difference or distinction between Unbelief and Non Belief, and whether it really matters in the larger scheme of things.

On the surface it appears that any distinction between Unbelief and Non Belief is merely semantic, but the antagonism towards New Age Atheism in recent years made very public by the Internets, seems to indicate that the difference is worth investigating, or acknowledging at the very least.

Now, I’m no philosopher or epistemologist or linguist even, but I have unwittingly placed myself in the centre of this apparent wrangle simply because I have chosen to label myself as an Atheist these many years. It used to be that being an atheist was pretty straightforward, but like with so many other things, the modern world contrives to complicate everything. Where once it was grudgingly accepted that there were shades of grey, it seems there is now shaded shades of grey.

In the quest for answers, I tried to follow this debate Does “Atheism” mean “unbelief or lack of belief in God” or “there is no God” ?, and I confess to being more bewildered than ever.

From what I can gather, Unbelief is closely associated with agnosticism, which is harshly regarded as the fence-sitter position. Non belief on the other hand seems to indicate a positive position which is more assertive and based on either certain knowledge, or rejection of asserted knowledge. I do admit that this I have adopted the latter position, not on the basis of certain knowledge, but on the rejection of positions asserted by those who do claim to have such.

But is the rejection of asserted knowledge enough to formulate a belief? Do I now also have to assume the burden of proof? But proof of what since the whole God concept is not clearly defined?

See, here I was thinking that atheism had simplified my life immeasurably, but actually thinking more deeply has opened up a whole new complication. But I guess such is the bane of introspection.

Does this mean that I will go back to believing because it is much easier? Hell no!

Curious beliefs

Black rhino

Black rhino

I dropped my car off for a service at the dealership today and got a ride back to work in one of their courtesy cars. Sitting upfront, I shared the ride with three ladies at the back who had also brought their cars in.

I listened silently, pondering my day ahead as two of the women got into a conversation. One began regaling the other about her recent holiday at a wildlife reserve, and the conversation somehow shifted to rhinos and the decimation of the species by poachers.

One quoted the death toll to be standing in the region of four hundred and something; I can’t remember the exact figure quoted. That’s more or less correct. The other mentioned that rhino horn tasted like fingernails – she knows because she got to taste it somewhere. That’s also true, more or less.

To my mild amusement the woman in the middle fumed that something’s got to be done about the Asians. Being an Indian I felt somehow complicit, but funnily did not feel insulted. In truth, the demand seems to stem mostly from Vietnam and China.

Then to my astonishment, the woman immediately behind me said that we have to protect the rhinos because God created the animals and humans and we were meant to share the earth equally – the other agreed that God put them here for a specific purpose. It was more than I could do to burst out laughing.

In case you’re wondering, I absolutely abhor the killing of rhinos to satisfy the sick beliefs of ignorant people, Asians or otherwise. But I’m appalled that anyone would think it’s wrong to kill an animal simply because God created them and that they were meant to share the earth with us equally.

I almost asked them if they would desist from squishing a mosquito or fly or cockroach when they become a nuisance, following their reasoning that they were also created by God. I sincerely think they would have no compunction trampling a bug, because it is all too easy to rationalize that bugs are purposeless, or worse, created by the Devil?

Surely we protect and preserve animals because it’s the right thing to do, rather than it being the judgement of some mythical being? This reasoning should apply to all things – we do it because it is good and decent, not because it is commanded.

In the end, I suppose I’m just being anal about the whole thing – these women are doing the right thing even if for the wrong reasons.

UK Girl Guides Drop The Big Guy

Now here’s some progressive news.

Britain’s Girl Guides, a sister organization to Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts, has finally dropped God from their pledge. Which means that godless girls can now feel more comfortable if they’re already members, but also clears the way for others to join more freely.

Another change to the pledge that reflects the changing times is the altering of “to serve my queen and my country” to “serve the queen and my community.” Pity they didn’t drop the old goat altogether, though. Who needs royalty in the modern era?

The pledge which originated around 1910, and altered slightly in 1994, went something like this:

I Promise that I will do my best;
To love my God,
To serve my Queen and my Country,
To help other people
And
To keep the Guide Law.

And will now read probably something like this:

I Promise that I will do my best;
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs,
To serve the queen and my community,
To help other people
And
To keep the Guide Law.

You go girls! Now that just leaves the Boy Scouts to sort out their oath. Always backward, the boys…

The Rape of Morality

And so I got this perplexing question on my Contacts Page from someone by the name of Samuel who prefers to call himself Ghastly:

God Is real how could you not look at something and not see the miracles inside of it? So you are basically saying you can rape someone and be fine because in the end it doesn’t matter.

I’m simply astounded at how he jumped to the conclusion that I’d find rape acceptable because I don’t believe in one of the gods. Why he chose rape instead of one of the other no-no’s like murder or infanticide is not important. What is of concern is the perpetuation of the myth amongst believers, that without some arbitrary god’s absolute standard, there is no basis for good moral judgement and action.

If you examine the logic of Samuel’s belief, he’s basically saying that if there was no god, then he would find it acceptable to rape or act amorally in some other way. That’s totally absurd.

By his reasoning all non-believers are either rapists or potential rapists. He’s intimating that all non-believers are just hanging around waiting for the opportunity to rape someone, and that believers are all saints. That is a patently laughable insinuation where it not so serious and off the mark.

Frans de Waal a primatologist and biology professor at Emory University has conducted extensive research on the behaviour of Bonobo apes and concludes that they have some grasp of morality. While he’s not saying that apes are conclusively moral beings, his research indicates that they have the “basic building blocks” for morality. Professor de Waal also doesn’t reveal if he’s observed any apes worshipping the gods. Have you?

Morality comes from within, not above.

Does Science Contribute to Sound Moral Judgement and Behaviour?

Commandments

On this blog I am frequently confronted by people who post comments that seem to indicate that science has no contributing effect on good moral judgement and behaviour. Indeed science is portrayed as an enemy of religion by most fundamentalists, while religion is claimed as the sole harbinger of morality.

In the religious world it is generally taken for granted that morality would be totally absent were it not for the foundations laid by theology. Subsequently science and religion has been pitted against each other in nearly all social debate as competing forces, which they are not.

Science was never meant to replace religion and I think just about all scientists will agree. It’s unfortunate that religious folk continue to foster the belief that science is “out to get religion.”

I was therefore intrigued when I came across this scientific study published by Christine Ma-Kellams and Jim Blascovich in Plos One, which demonstrates a correlation between the exposure to science and sound morality. Here is an introduction, but the methods, procedure and conclusions are available through the link above:

Science has stood as a powerful force in shaping human civilization and behavior. As both an ideological system and a method for acquiring information about the world, it offers explanations for the origins of the physical universe and answers to a variety of other fundamental questions and concerns. Past research has noted that personal values influence both the questions that are asked and the methods used in arriving at the answers; as such, scientists have often been concerned with the moral and social ramifications of their scientific endeavors. Not surprisingly, the general consensus is that science is value-laden. However, no studies to date have directly investigated the link between exposure to science and moral or prosocial behaviors. Here, we empirically examined the effects of thinking about science on moral judgments and behavior.

It is important to note that “science” is multi-faceted construct that takes on distinct forms. On the one hand, the scientific style of thinking employed by scientists is unusual, difficult, and uncommon. Although science can serve as a belief system, it is distinct from other belief systems (e.g., religion) insofar as its counterintuitive nature and the degree to which it does not rely on universal, automatic, unconscious cognitive systems; as a consequence, relative to other belief systems like religion, science has few explicit “followers”. On the other hand, apart from the model of the scientific method of acquiring information about the world, we contend that there is a lay image or notion of “science” that is associated with concepts of rationality, impartiality, fairness, technological progress, and ultimately, the idea that we are to use these rational tools for the mutual benefit of all people in society. Philosophers and historians have noted that scientific inquiry began to flourish when Western society moved from one centered on religious notions of God’s will to one in which the rational mind served as the primary means to understand and improve our existence. As such, the notion of science contains in it the broader moral vision of a society in which rationality is used for the mutual benefit of all.

We predict that this notion of science as part of a broader moral vision of society facilitates moral and prosocial judgments and behaviors. Consistent with the notion that science plays a key role in the moral vision of a society of mutual benefit, scholars have long argued that science’s systematic approach to studying causes and consequences allows for more informed opinions about questions of good and evil, and many have argued that the classic scientific ethos stands as an ethically neutral, but morally normative, set of principles that guides scientific inquiry. We contend that the same scientific ethos that serves to guide empirical inquiries also facilitates the enforcement of moral norms more broadly.

Notwithstanding the adage that correlation does not prove causation, this work is invaluable as it was the first time that an empirical attempt was made to find a link between science and morality.

It would be interesting to see if further studies are done and if the results remain consistent with the initial findings.

Is God talking to you too?

“I came into this project wanting to understand the question: How are rational, sensible, educated people able to sustain faith in an invisible being in an environment of skepticism?”

Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist spent about four years studying the rituals of evangelicals and came to the conclusion that prayer teaches them to hear the voice of God, presumably the Christian version of the supreme being. Luhrmann went on to write a book about it – When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.

The obvious but crass reaction of many cynics and non-believers would be to retort that those who hear voices in their head are crazy or schizophrenic. Indeed in an essay on this story in The Week, one commenter observed “When you talk to your deity, you’re religious. When it talks to you, you’re a crazy sumbitch.”

Luhrmann on the other hand contends there’s more going on with evangelicals than we care to acknowledge. She believes they hear voices which they conclude is that of God for good reasons; the presumption yet again is that there is only one such being. However, while she went to great lengths to observe the evangelical behaviour and explain HOW these adherents come to believe that they’re talking to God, she does not attempt to explain WHY it happens. To be fair, as an anthropologist, perhaps it’s beyond her level of understanding; rationalizing an observation was all she was left with.

I would therefore like to indulge Luhrmann and other believers for a bit. Let’s suspend all credulity, and accept that a God does indeed talk to evangelicals, or anyone else for that matter, who from her observations at least, satisfy the following criteria:

  1. God only talks to those who believe and accept without question that a God exists,
  2. Adherents willingly want to “have a relationship” with said God, and
  3. Adherents are both willing and able to participate in a ritual such as prayer, which presumably makes it possible for them to “open a communication channel” with said God.

Having satisfied the criteria, what does an adherent talk to God about, and exactly what does God reveal? According to Luhrmann:

Members told her about having coffee with God, seeing angel wings, and getting God’s advice on everything from job choice to what shampoo to buy.

Nothing of major significance or importance it seems; nothing world-changing. But that’s quite revealing actually. It seems that ordinary people talk to God about mundane things; things that don’t contribute a whole deal to the future of the planet, indeed the world.

If a supernatural entity does exist, and is talking to people, it would imply that other things we’re normally skeptical about, should also be possible. [Lest you’ve forgotten, we’ve suspended credulity].

Robert Boyle's self-flowing flask fills itself...

Wouldn’t the secrets to solve both our constantly increasing energy requirements and global warming, be the most fundamentally essential revelation to mankind? Wouldn’t the solution of these issues lead to resolving poverty and other social problems? Off course there may be more pressing needs of which I am not thinking about right now.

So, in a world with a God, without doubt perpetual motion should also be possible. And a substance should exist which when diluted in water, be able to cure all diseases and render homeopathy all-powerful, right? So why hasn’t God revealed how to build that perpetual-motion machine and create the wonder homeopathic cure?

Either God doesn’t know, or the people he’s revealed such important information to, are keeping mum. Or, we need the people who can make the greatest impact to saving the world, such as scientists, to learn how to talk to God. Because they’re indubitably wasting valuable resources and money carrying out useless experiments in underground particle colliders and outer space.

Clearly then, the wrong people are talking to God. The planet’s going to hell in a handbasket at a dizzying pace. Surely those capable of talking to God should be asking Him how to sort out the mess we’re in. You have to question why we’re being made to suffer if divine information can make a difference to the way the world is unraveling.

But nada! Does God talk to us just so that we can feed his vanity? Is God then just “jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully,” as Dawkins so eloquently pointed out in The God Delusion?

Isn’t it a much simpler and more reasonable explanation that any conversation with a God is one-way traffic…

It’s your party and you can preach if you want to

Dear (name removed),

I thought it was a really cool idea when your new wife decided to throw you a surprise party for your 50th birthday. Dude, I thought that it would be great to see you again after so many years and reminisce about the glory days of boozing and the card games you so loved.

I had no idea that Jesus was going to be the star attraction at the event. To be fair, I don’t suppose you knew either, it being a surprise and all. But I guess you would have had no objections, as I learned that day that you had been busy over the years…. becoming a pastor.

When I walked into the hall with a few other friends and glanced at the tables and people already sitting there, I noticed a few vaguely familiar faces; faces that I’d not seen for many years. With the band at the front warming up or something, it appeared [at that instant] that my Saturday evening was going to be fun and entertaining. I was so looking forward to doing some catching up…

Still standing at the hall entrance, I was looked around, trying to spot the bar or some such facility when you walked in, dressed in a suit; I don’t ever remember seeing you in a suit before. When the cries of “surprise” died down, I reached over to shake your hand; it was good seeing you again after so many years.

Failing to spot the bar, we walked over to an empty table right at the front of the hall and sat down. Having being seated for barely a minute, we were asked to rise for an opening prayer. “No sweat,” I thought, “let’s get the obligatory waste-of-time out of the way.”

The opening prayer was followed by a couple of gospel tunes from the band and then a couple of songs of praise for Jesus. We were still standing. I grimaced through it all; at least the band was good, the singing not too bad. And then came another pastor with another prayer.

We were still standing. It was becoming mildly annoying. I glanced over to my companions, and they appeared to be in the same frame of mind.

Thankfully the pastor asked us to sit down, but the party that had degenerated into a crusade for Jesus, continued. The pastor launched into a sermon about family, occasionally reading passages from the bible. The pastor’s patronising, and patriarchal diatribe about how the father was the boss-dude of the family was starting to turn my mild annoyance into anger.

[During this sermon from Proverbs, I was surprised to learn that god hates six things, but positively abhors or detests a 7th thing, namely, sowing discord among brethren; although the pastor adapted it for his particular use. I guess the next time a see a Christian fundamentalist waving a banner that “God hates fags,” I will ask him or her ” but does God really detest/abhor homosexuals?”]

It was now nearly an hour later.

After that ghastly sermon, a teenager came up to pray and besmirch Jesus some more, in a sort of lilting, but disconcerting tone. That’s when my companions and I decided to leave.

Dude, I really appreciate that your wife cared enough to want you to celebrate a key milestone in your life with friends you had got to know over the years. And I would have been glad to be there, but I should not have had to compete with Jesus for your attention.

For me a party is a party, is a party, preferably with booze – lots of it. Dude, I just have to say it –  proselytizing is a party-killer… for me at least.

I hope you had a good evening and 50th birthday nonetheless. I’m sorry I couldn’t stay to celebrate it with you. Perhaps we’ll get together again, without Jesus this time.

Your secular friend,

Lenny