Monday, 23 December 2013

It takes more faith to be an atheist.

Theists will often tell me that it takes more faith to be an atheist than to be a theist. They usually say this with the idea that atheism is the active belief that there are no gods or goddesses - a claim that the vast majority of atheists refute. 

But let's for a moment say that atheism isn't just the 'lack of belief in gods' default. Let's say for a moment that atheism *is* the belief that there are no gods or goddesses. And let's also say that an atheist comes to this position through consideration of theistic claims. We'll call this person a 'considered atheist'. 

Does having the belief that there are no gods or goddesses *really* take as much faith as believing there are gods and goddesses? 

This is a hard question to answer in one way because faith is not really measurable. I'm not sure if there's a way to quantify it. I don't know what units of measurement one uses to work out how much faith a person has. Gullibles? Deludeds? Who knows? So let's just assume you can measure faith...somehow. 

The overwhelming majority of theists are so because they were indoctrinated as children. They aren't just told to believe, they're told a god exists with the same authority and conviction that they're told the sky is blue, that water will make you wet, and that something hot may burn you. They're not presented with faith as an alternative to reason. They're not presented different faiths and allowed to choose which of them they think makes the most sense. They are told that the god their parents believe in is real, he (most likely) watches everything they do, and if they aren't saved, they'll burn in hell forever. (Obviously there's variations on this theme but I think this is basically how it is for a very high percentage of believers). 

Actually, let me clarify - Children (infants) are not told this god is real directly. It's never 'God is real and therefore you must believe in him'. It's more like 'if you steal, God will see and you'll go to hell'. It's just taken for granted that their god exists. Non-existence is not a question. The possibility of their god not existing is never even raised. It's never considered. 

By the time these people reach the age of reason they are so fully convinced that their god is real and that their version of theology is real, that it's no longer a case of there being other possibilities to think about, it's that they are right and everyone who doesn't agree with them is wrong, and those people will, in a majority of cases, end up burning in hell forever. 

It gets to the point where many believers will have the interesting position of both having faith that their god is real and 'knowing' that their god is real. Some of these people know it to such a degree that they will die or kill for this god. 

It would take an incredible amount of faith in a deity to end a life, yours or someone else's. But even if we don't take it to that extreme there's still a lot of faith involved. In order to be a follower of today's big religions one must accept that all kinds of nonsense happened in the past. One must believe things that if they were told happened today most would have no chance of believing and they must believe these things with no evidence at all - except scripture. 

Scripture - the stories written by ancient people who didn't know how to investigate any kind of natural phenomena to find out what was actually happening. They not only didn't know how to, they didn't know they could. Before people developed methods for properly investigating how things happened and how things worked they thought epilepsy was demons possessing someone. They thought lightning was the wrath of a god. They thought a solar eclipse needed human sacrifice. They thought a story of a burning bush being the medium through which a god speaks was believable. 

Believers today hear these stories and think them real. Modern day believers not only have no evidence to support these stories but they fail to consider that these stories were made up by people who didn't know better. They fail to consider that these stories were made up by people whose understanding of the universe wouldn't let them pass a 5th grade test. That's not to say they were stupid people. They just didn't know what we know today. 

So with nothing to go on but the scripture of their religion and the say so of parents, priests and peers, these people believe without reservation, and without any confirmation that any gods exists at all let alone the god they happen to believe in, that their god is real. The evidence they provide is all fallacious. I haven't seen a new argument for the existence for god in a very long time. They always fall at either personal incredulity (argument from ignorance), special pleading,  or they argue from personal revelation, which is, of course, not enough to convince anyone else of anything. 

So the conclusion on belief in gods and goddesses it is 100% faith, with no redeeming logical reasoning - at all. 

As I said at the start, the majority of atheists will tell you that atheism is NOT the belief that no gods or goddesses exist, but it's lacking any belief that they do. Let's for a moment though throw out this notion of absolute certainty. Let's say that declaring no gods or goddesses exist is the equivalent of declaring no unicorns exist. Can one be absolutely certain that no unicorns exist? No, I don't think so. But is it outrageous to say 'I believe no unicorns exist'? No, it's really not. 

So if someone came out and said 'I believe no gods or goddesses exist' what are they really saying? I think they're saying something like 'The idea that any of the claims I've heard for the existence of gods or goddesses are real is so unlikely that they can all be dismissed'. 

To believe in God (as the big two religions think of him) we must accept that he is the supernatural being who created the entire universe, put life on one of eight planets, in a solar system around one of hundreds of billions of stars in one of hundreds of billions of galaxies.

He apparently cares about what we wear on our heads, whether or not the boys keep their foreskins, and has all manner of seemingly nonsense rules and demands. The kinds of rules and demands we'd expect ancient superstitious people to put in their rule book.

He rules this one planet but allows all kinds of evil, including the starvation, rape, and killing of children, yet his believers claim he loves us all. According to some he populated the planet and then wiped it all out because the people he created were wicked. And this was part of his plan. 

The stories associated with gods and goddesses are simply ridiculous. They are pure nonsense and it is hard to imagine a scientifically literate, well educated, adult believing them if they'd never heard them before the age of reason. 

Stories from the bible sound like exactly what they are - Fantasy from ancient, superstitious people who didn't know better. We know Adam and Eve never existed, evolution shows us that. No Adam and Eve, no fall of man, no fall of man, no need for saving, no need for saving, no need for Jesus. The stories are fabricated. To dismiss the claims that gods and goddesses exist based on the stories about them alone seems quite reasonable. Add to this that gods and goddesses have all been invented by people who didn't have the scientific method of investigation and analysis at their disposal and the likelihood of gods and goddesses being real pretty much vanishes into oblivion. 

Then there's the answers we have versus the answers ancient people supposed. For example they used to think lightning was the work of a god throwing it across the sky. We now know it's not. It's natural and easily explained. For anything for which there is an answer, where the claim was previously 'god did it' - we now know no gods or goddesses were required. Not at all. Not once. 

There is no evidence to support the existence of supernatural beings, but there is evidence to suggest they are simply the products of human imagination. Therefore to believe they don't exist seems quite reasonable.

But this is not a case against the existence of gods and goddesses as such, this is a discussion about the faith required to believe one way or the other. 

So on the one hand we've got believing in the existence of a being never proved. A being (or beings) who has been shown to exist nowhere but in ancient superstition and the gaps in knowledge of modern day believers. This belief is 100% faith based and, as demonstrated in the above, has no valid reason for thinking it real. 

On the other hand we've got believing that the superstitious beliefs of ancient people aren't real. Belief that saying 'I don't know, therefore god' is *not* a valid argument. This belief comes with reasoning - No gods have ever been the verified cause of anything and all the people who invented gods did so in times and places where they weren't in the habit of investigating actual answers. This is a considered position. A position derived from analysing the claims gods and goddesses exist and applying logic and common sense. One does not need much faith, as such, to hold this belief. 

Let me end with an example. Imagine you're at home and the phone rings. A fellow house member answers it and says it's for you - and it is capital G God. 

God has never been proven to ring people up, just as he's never been proven to create universes or do any of the things attributed to him. 

So when your house mate tells you it's God on the phone does it take just as much faith to believe it's not god as it would to believe it is? 

Of course not. 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Equality and anti-equality

I hear often that allowing equality (especially marriage equality) removes the rights of religious people.

It's as though they think that allowing two people of the same sex to marry somehow puts their own marriage in jeopardy. It won't. might. But if it does, your marriage has issues far more significant than allowing same-sex couples to marry too. 

When Rosa Parks won the right for all people to sit wherever they like on the bus*, that didn't take away the rights of people to sit wherever they like on the bus - it just extended the right to others. 

I know if we allow marriage equality we've then got the issue of the rights of certain institutions to consider. For example the Catholic church is on record as being anti-marriage equality (yes, who else but a religion would be against equality?). If a state or federal jurisdiction passes legislation allowing marriage-equality do we then force all institutions to perform those marriages, regardless of their beliefs? Are we taking away their rights if we tell them they need to perform a marriage which contravenes their teachings? Yes, I think we would be. People do have the right to be against that which ordinary, decent people think is acceptable.

But when it comes down to it these people are wanting to be protected by laws which allow them to treat other people as sub-human. People will try to hide behind what their 'god' wants or their god's will. But let's face it - is there anyone who really wants to be for marriage equality but is only against it because of what they think their god wants? Is there anyone saying 'personally *I* am for marriage equality but...well...the god I believe in isn't, so I have to side with him'? No, of course not. Anyone against marriage equality is against it because *they* don't like the idea of it. Maybe they were influenced by their scripture or an authority figure but it is still their own discrimination and bigotry they're trying to protect. 

I'm generally against forcing people to do things and I think I lean to the side of allowing a church to not perform marriages that go against their beliefs, as ridiculous and invalid as those beliefs may be. I mean we wouldn't expect a Catholic church to perform a Hindu wedding, would we? No, I don't think we would. 

So is this a possible solution? How about we let secular celebrants, and churches that wish not to be lumped in with their homophobic and bigoted counterparts, perform all the same-sex marriages they like and let those churches that wish to remain backwards do so? Then as society progresses and people move away from the backwards and bigoted thinking of the dark ages those churches that don't progress will be shunned and forgotten. 

We then have a society where people who wish to be married to a partner of the same gender can do so and religious institutions that wish to discriminate and be homophobic bigots can do that too. If one's argument against marriage equality is that those in favour of it are 'forcing' it on them, then this should be an acceptable solution. A common reply to the anti-marriage-equality stance is that 'if you don't want to get gay-married, don't get gay married'. It sounds simplistic, but it's also accurate. No one need be forced into a marriage they don't wish to be part of. No one need be forced to perform a marriage they don't wish to perform. 

Religion doesn't own marriage. It is a bond between two people. People who want to declare their love for each other, usually in a ceremony in front of family and friends. And the people getting married want that bond recognised officially by the government. There is no valid reason for a government to not recognise the marriage of same-sex couples. To not extend marriage equality to same-sex couples is discrimination based on sexual orientation - something that is not acceptable in any other part of society.

If couples of the same gender are allowed to marry, no one's life is worse off. 

So here's the deal - allow couples of the same sex to marry and allow those who wish to remain homophobic, bigoted cretins to do so. 

*I know this is a simplistic view of what happened. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Segregating women

There's been a few stories recently of UK universities allowing the segregation of women at debates held on their campuses. Highlighted when Lawrence Krauss threatened to walk out on his debate with Hamza Andreas Tzortzis. 

Why was the audience to be segregated? Because Hamza Andreas Tzortzis is a Muslim, the event was organised by a Muslim group and for some invalid reason a Muslim thinks men and women shouldn't be sat together when viewing a debate (and, one imagines, for other things too). 

Of course that men and women travel together to get to the debates and attend universities where lectures aren't segregated doesn't seem to matter. 

Try this as an experiment - if segregating an audience based on race isn't acceptable, segregating it based on gender isn't either. 

But we live in a world where, for some reason I can't fathom, religious sensibilities are taken into consideration. We live in a world where because a Muslim man has been told that sitting with the women is 'wrong' (or whatever word it is) then in order to be culturally sensitive to Muslims we need to keep men and women separate at an event where there happens to be a Muslim speaker, or if a local campus Muslim group has organised the event. 

Let's get one thing straight - pandering to this kind of religious ridiculousness serves no other purpose than to perpetuate the nonsense. It is up to decent people to stand up to this backward, primitive thinking and say 'No!'. As a society we must take a stand against foolishness and say 'I am a decent human being. I *will* choose where I sit at this event and your religious teachings do *not* carry any more weight than my sense of decency'. 

The way I see it - if you want special consideration because of your religion but you cannot demonstrate that the basis for your religion is valid (and let's face it, who can?) then your requirement for special consideration is invalid. 

I go one step further. Even if a theist could demonstrate that their god is real and they could demonstrate that their god doesn't want men and women sitting together - so what? We are grown ups. We are educated men and women who should decide for ourselves through empathy, compassion, understanding, logic, and discussion such things as whether or not men and women should sit together at at debate at what is meant to be a secular university. I do not think so poorly of myself that I will accept any arbitrary instruction just because a 'god' says so. I would still demand to know why the instruction is valid, what are its benefits versus its cost. Throughout human history we've seen enough 'do it my way or be punished' leaders and it is never good. Any being worthy of the title 'god' would understand this and not expect us to follow blindly, but would provide reason for what is, on the surface, such an arbitrary and nonsense decision. 

So I commend Lawrence Krauss for his stance and any others who take the same stance - kudos to you. We don't have to lower our standards as people just because some religious person thinks not doing so will offend their beliefs. 

I can't help but think the only proper response to 'I'm a Muslim, therefore I believe this audience should be segregated' is 'Really? I'm a decent person and I think people should be allowed to sit where they like'. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Lack of understanding doesn't prove a god exists

One of the arguments which comes up often begins 'If there's no god, how do you explain...?' 

Things that usually appear at the end are along the lines of 'creation', 'life', 'people' and 'everything'. 

I've never seen anything at the end of the ' do you explain...?' question which even remotely suggests a god exists. The logical fallacy here is known as variously as The Argument From Ignorance (Latin: argumentum ad ignorantiam), the Appeal to Ignorance, or the Argument from Personal Incredulity. 

The issue lies with the theist arguing that a god must be true because he hasn't been proven false or that there isn't a natural explanation known so a god must be responsible. 

Life: When a person argues that god must be real because there's life, they are clearly ignorant of abiogenesis. The process by which life forms from non-living matter. Has it been shown beyond doubt that abiogenesis is responsible for life on Earth? Not to my knowledge. But what the research in the field shows is that it's possible, and I for one am confident that in the not too distant future we'll be hearing some major and exciting announcements in this area. 

People: Let's keep this simple. Evolution explains people. Man didn't appear suddenly from dust and a woman from his rib. People evolved. 'People' is put at the end of the 'how do you explain...? question when the person asking it doesn't understand evolution. That's all there is to it. 

(and keep in mind, abiogenesis is not necessary for evolution, evolution starts only once there is life)

Creation: When someone asks me, as an atheist, how do I explain creation I ask why they think this is a creation. To try to explain why creation exists and you've already conceded a point which hasn't yet been demonstrated - this is not necessarily a creation. I've been given no reason to think the universe was deliberately created. Don't let anyone start with this as an assumption, get them to demonstrate why this is a creation at all. 

Everything: I've written a blog here about how what we can see is not proof of god. It specifically addresses the "look around you" argument people make. Everything we see either has a natural explanation or no known explanation yet. The 'everything' question also fails to address the current work going on in the 'universe from nothing' field (such as the book by the same name by Lawrence Krauss). 

Bottom line is, when someone says 'If there's no god, how do you explain...?' there is something they don't understand. Either that knowledge exists and they're just not aware of it, or our investigations have not yet found the answers. Yet. That's important to remember - not knowing something now doesn't mean we'll never know. 

To argue that we can't create life or that we don't know what caused the universe to be in this state is to be like a person from the 1400s arguing that mankind can never make it to the moon. To argue that evolution is not responsible for the diversity of life is to argue that gravity is not the reason things fall when you drop them. 

One person's lack of knowledge is not proof a god exists. 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Thanks to my friend Bec (@Beczs on twitter) I became aware of a Melbourne radio station wanting to do a debate on air between a believer and an atheist. I let them know I'd be interested and they picked me to be the atheist speaker. 

Unfortunately the show it was recorded for stopped running the segment and the hosts have resigned so the piece I recorded won't be aired. 

This blog has come about because the woman I debated claimed that anyone killing in the name of god isn't really doing god's will, citing Exodus 20:13 Thou Shalt Not Kill. In my head I screamed 'you have got to be kidding me'. But, regretfully, I didn't speak up in time and the conversation moved on. I blame 1: Being in my first live debate and being too polite and 2: being sat at my desk at work surrounded by people working and thinking I probably should try to keep my voice down. Had I been in an office on my own, I'm sure it would have been different. 

So afterwards I thought about what she'd said and I wondered exactly how many exceptions to the 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' commandment there are. 

There are lots. 

One of the most well known....

 - Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Now I could be pedantic here and suggest that it's possibly bisexual men and not homosexual men who are targeted here. 'lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman'. So if he doesn't lay with a woman but just lies with blokes, should be all good, right? 

Of course that's not the point being made here. It's clearly saying that a man who has sex with another man should be put to death. Suddenly 'Thou shalt not kill' becomes 'Thou shalt not kill*' 

- Exodus 21:15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death 

I don't recommend smitething your parents. I would hope that any difference between parent and child could be solved without a smiting. According to the above, however, a child smiting a parent should be killed. I don't know anyone - Christian, atheist, or otherwise, who wouldn't think this is an extreme overreaction. Not only that, anyone following through on Exodus 21:15 today would be sent to jail. 

- Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Yes, the inerrant word of god includes a verse telling us to not suffer a witch to live. I can understand the people who wrote the bible thinking there were witches. They didn't know much about, well, anything really. 

So what's more likely do you think? That a people who didn't know how to investigate the world, who didn't know how the universe operated, and were highly superstitious, invented a god and thought that god wouldn't be happy with witches or.... 

There *really* is a god and for reasons only known to him he inspired people to write a book which includes the need to kill a type of being that he knows isn't actually real. Of course it could have been 'witches aren't stop killing those who you think are witches'. But no...this 'god' knew people of the time thought witches to be real and rather than protecting those women he tells his followers that they should die. 

These are just three of many examples.

There's also death for:
People who don't listen to priests: Deuteronomy 17:12
Fortunetellers: Leviticus 20:27 
Adulterers: Leviticus 20:10
Priests' daughters who fornicate: Leviticus 21:9
Followers of other religions: Exodus 22:20
Nonbelievers: 2 Chronicles 15:12-13
False prophets: Zechariah 13:3

The list goes on and you can see it here at Evil (some of the verses seem to be out by one verse to double check). 

The point is this - the 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' commandment is bogus. The god of the bible is clearly in favour of people killing other people (when he's not doing it himself that is). So when someone tells you they don't kill because they follow the 10 commandments (there's actually 613 commandments in the bible) you can tell them it's nonsense. The exceptions to the 'Thou Shalt Not KIll' commandment clearly show that it's a list made up by people who were not in communication with any supernatural omniscient deity. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

My place in the universe

The more I learn the more the idea of god seems unlikely. 

I see the natural wonder and beauty of the universe and I see no place for god. I see people doing good and people being bad. I see nature's serenity and nature's aggression and in all this I see no place for god - and I'm okay with that. 

The universe is full of natural wonder. From its awesome size, to the smallest particle. From supernova, to a buzzing bee these things are explained with no god required. 

I would love to take the theists of the world and have them view the universe through an atheist's eyes. I want them to see how special it is - without a god. 

I don't believe the universe was built for me. I think I'm an insignificant part of it. It owes me nothing - I simply have an opportunity. The idea that I am simply the product of some being's imagination is demeaning and uninspiring. I am the sum of a series of natural events.

I don't want to tell others they can't enjoy the rights I have. I can't look at a child and tell them they are flawed, or they'll burn in hell. I won't tell two people in love they can't be married. I don't want to use this life to prevent happiness.

I don't want to assume I know everything because I've got an old book. I want to pursue knowledge and truth and do it without harming others and without negatively impacting the aspects their lives that don't negatively impact on mine.

In essence it's not just that I don't want to be a theist. I just can't be. It goes against everything that I feel, everything I am.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Are you okay?

About a week ago a follower of mine on twitter asked me what I thought about suicide. She said that the church considered it a sin and wondered what I thought as an atheist. 

I said that no matter how bad things seem, you never know what's around the corner. You never know when an opportunity is going to come along or a medical breakthrough might happen. 

We had a long chat and she explained all the things she was having a hard time dealing with. It was heartbreaking and I really felt for her. 

I could see from her twitter bio that she was in Johannesburg so I looked up a counselling service there and sent her the link and asked her to please contact them and let me know how it went. She said she would. I wanted to help more, but as I told her, I'm simply not equipped to deal with someone having these thoughts. 

I checked back yesterday and saw that she hadn't tweeted since the day after our conversation. Her last tweet was a reply to someone who'd tweeted about suicide. She replied saying that she was going to do it that day but her mother was home from work she she'd have to wait. Then nothing. 

I sent her a message to ask if she was okay, and got no answer. I found her on Facebook and sent her a message and got no answer. 

I searched the internet but found nothing. I searched twitter and found that someone had tweeted her 4 hours earlier telling her to RIP and saying she was gone too soon. 

This made my heart sink. I discussed this with my girlfriend and a friend online and we all agreed, it wasn't good and that, if I could word it nicely, I should tweet to the person who'd sent the RIP message. I tweeted to this person and asked what, if anything, had happened. She replied and said the girl in question had passed away in a car accident on Saturday. 

I thanked her for answering. 

I don't think she told me the truth. I think the girl took her own life and her friend was keeping the truth of it to herself - which is fair enough. Or perhaps she didn't know the truth. Perhaps it was a deliberate collision rather than an accident. I'll never know.

The girl was someone I didn't speak to regularly and was on another continent, and in a different timezone so I know there was nothing more I could do. I sent her help and asked her to get back to me but she had obviously reached the point where she thought she had no other options. 

It's a sad story and one that I can't help could have been prevented if this girl was looked after, cared for, and had someone to ask her if she was okay. Of course I don't know if this is the case, but...who knows? 

As yesterday was world suicide prevention day, I ask you this - please, if you have even the slightest hint, an inclination, a gut feel about someone, please ask them if they're okay and let them know, if they need it, help is available.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Dear Yahweh 2

Tim 'Timbo' Buckley is a plumber down on earth working around the time of Noah's flood. He works directly for God (Yahweh) and tries to keep all the water systems up and running for the supreme lord.
After rain for five days straight, Timbo sends Yahweh and email...

Dear Yahweh,
Mate, it’s been raining a solid 5 days down here and a few of the boys are a bit worried that we’re going to have some issues if it continues much longer. Any idea when you’re going to turn this off?

Dear Timbo,
No spoilers,’re looking at a fair while yet.

Dear Yahweh,
Oh fair dinkum. We simply don’t have the capacity to deal with this. We don't have storm water drains like we will 6000 years in the future you know, and even then they wouldn’t cope with this kind of deluge. Seriously if this continues much longer whole towns are going to flood!

Dear Timbo,

Dear Yahweh,
WTF? How is that something to laugh at? Mate, I’m not sure what’s going on here but if this continues people are GOING TO DIE. I’s weird because I know you know this, but how can you let this happen?

Dear Timbo,
I don’t like the way things have become down on earth. The people...they all got wicked. They...they’re not as nice as I hoped they’d be. So… How to tell you. I’m going to make it rain for 40 days and 40 nights and ….well….I’m going to drown them all.
No! Wait, that sounds bad. Not *all* as such. Do you know Noah? (He did that Abraham impression at the party a few months back?) Anyway, I’m going to spare him and his family. Drown everyone else.

Dear Yahweh,
What the fuck is wrong with you?

Dear Timbo,
Watch your tone sunshine. I’m not above smiting people you know.
Look Timbo, we go back a long way. Hell, we’ve known each other since Adam was a boy. So let me tell you, I know that on the surface wiping out an entire population of humans, save for one family, and having that one family collect two of each kind of animal *seems* like a totally ridiculous idea when I am a ‘god’ and not only are these people behaving exactly as I planned but I could also fix this in an instant without the need to wipe out the planet, but you don’t yet see the full picture!

Dear Yahweh,
Sorry - I didn’t mean to upset you. Please hold off on the smiting for now if you could. Not that it fucking matters because apparently I’ll be dead soon anyway, you prick.
I’ve got to ask - you do know you’re a god, right? I mean you can do ANYTHING. If you want people to stop being ‘wicked’ just blink or wiggle your nose or wave a fucking wand or something and STOP them being wicked! Just get into the goddamned heads and remove wickedness! Why do you have to kill them? Seriously mate, this is GENOCIDE
And what the fucking fuck do you mean ‘Two of each kind of animal’? You’re going to drown MILLIONS of animals...what did they ever do? Stupid bloody waste if you ask me. Why did you even bother creating them. You KNEW this was going to happen right? And how the bloody hell do you plan on saving these ‘two of every kind’? And while we’re on it...........the fuck is a ‘kind’ anyway? You can’t just make shit up you know. can, clearly, but don’t you think having some kind of coherence to your plan would be helpful? I’m lost for words. I just can’t see how you can possibly, even for a moment, think this is a decent plan.
Also, what do you mean I don’t see the big picture? What could possible make this okay?

Dear Timbo,
Rainbows. lol!

Dear Yahweh,

You’re mental.

Friday, 6 September 2013

New To Atheism Part 3 - Resources

If you're a new atheist, especially one that feels the need to keep this information from family and friends, you may feel a sense of loss, and a sense of loneliness. Of course you may be happy to be known as an atheist but have no one within your community or family to talk to about it. 

It's not that atheism is necessarily a topic that is going to generate hours and hours of conversation, but I'm sure there's part of us all that wants to be able to tell someone close how we feel about something and receive back an 'I agree' or 'Yep, I know what you mean'. We all have a sense of wanting to belong, somewhere where we can feel included and that we're accepted for who we are. 

With atheism in many parts of the world, this simply not possible. From the possibility that people may lose their jobs, be ostracised from their community, or be shunned by their family to the extreme, sad, and horrific reality that there are people in the world who are imprisoned, maimed and sometimes even killed for being for an atheist. 

This is, of course, a completely unacceptable situation. There is simply no opinion/point of view that anyone can hold that should see them physically harmed for holding it. And yes, this extends to extremely racist or sexist or other unsavoury points of view. I'm not suggesting society should respect these points of view, but to harm people for having them - that's just unacceptable. 

For atheism specifically there should be no adverse implications at all. It is a single position on a single question. It's not discriminatory, it's not judgemental, it's not sexist nor is it racist. When someone becomes an atheist after having been a theist for a period of time they are the same person they always were. What is happening is that the answer to a question has changed - Instead of 'yes' the answer to 'Do you believe a god exists' becomes 'no'. It doesn't mean the person suddenly hates theists, it doesn't mean the person suddenly thinks all theists are morons, it doesn't mean the person is suddenly an arrogant individual with no morals. What it shows is that the person has put some time and thought into the idea of 'god' and is no longer convinced that the claims that a god exists are true. 

So what is a person new to atheism to do? Where can a person new to atheism turn to get the contact, interaction, and information they desire? For many, online - the internet - is clearly the answer. The online world, particularly the applications known as social media, is - dare I say it? - the Mecca for atheists. 

Through my twitter account @MrOzAtheist I have come to speak to, interact with, and even become friends with atheists all over the world. There is a vibrant and lively atheist community on twitter which welcomes life long atheists right through to people who are still theists but are having doubts about their beliefs. I've seen a number of examples of people new to atheism thanking others for the help and support they've been given. I've seen people tweet things about feeling alone in their real life community but feeling like they belong to a group online. 

When it comes to who I follow I couldn't recommend anyone in particular here and do justice to all the atheists on twitter who are tweeting their thoughts. I follow just over 500 quality people, and almost all are atheists. Many of them tweeting atheism majority of the time and others tweeting all kinds of topics, both serious, and seriously funny. If you are interested in who I follow on twitter you can see the list here. Of course these people will follow some people I don't and so on. If twitter is your thing, I recommend having a look at the #atheist and #atheism tags and seeing who is tweeting on the subject and when you find someone you like - follow them. (Of course, if twitter is your thing, I'm sure you're aware of how this all works!)

It really is quite heart-warming to be part of a community that provides an avenue for people who would otherwise feel lonely without it, to feel like they belong somewhere. Things such as The Not Alone Project which has recently been started by Martin Pribble (have provided an avenue for atheists to post their story in "a place where the non-believers stories can be published, in a completely safe environment, which doesn't judge its participants in any way." There's also Gamma Atheist's blog where he's publishing guest posts by atheists outlining their paths to atheism (or back to - depending on your point of view). There are many, many quality atheist blogs where everyday, average atheists, are talking about many issues affecting atheists in particular and society in general. 
I can highly recommend the following:

Rosa Rubicondior
Martin Pribble
Rachel (Atheistic in Alabama)
Green Fille

Of course this is not an exhaustive list and I suggest searching around for any blog whose words ring true for you. 

Another popular way for atheists to learn from others and to feel part of a the community is through podcasts. As with the atheist blogs, there are too many to list them all so here are just three:

The Imaginary Friends Show:
The Herd Mentality Podcast:
The No God Cast:
The Thinking Atheist Podcast
 The Scathing Atheist

There are more, please take the time to look for them, ask people on twitter who they like listening to and go from there. 

YouTube is another place where atheists connect and learn from each other. Number one for me, and the people I learned more about discussing this topic than anyone else is The Atheist Experience. It is actually a public access television show out of Austin, Texas and is run by the Atheist community of Austin. A quick search on YouTube of The Atheist Experience will bring back some great responses. I also recommend searching particularly for Matt Dillahunty (my biggest influence) and Tracie Harris. All the hosts and co-hosts on The Atheist Experience are fantastic, but Matt and Tracie are my two favourites. 

I also recommend:

I also recommend the early Thunderf00t videos dealing with creationism. I also recommending looking up debates and discussions. Obviously those involving Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens come to mind

There's going to be way too many to list, but many areas these days have local atheist groups, atheist or sceptical meetups and the like. Have a look on Google and see if there's one in your local area. If bold and start one! 

Of course then there are books. Probably not so high on the 'connect to other atheists' scale but there can be a comfortable feeling in reading the works of people who are expressing the thoughts you've held for sometime but haven't been able to express. 

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins. Probably the most well known book on the subject having sold over 2 million copies. 

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything - Christopher Hitchens

What Are You Without God?: How to Discredit Religious Thought and Rebuild Your Identity - Christopher Krzeminski 

I also recommend (though I haven't got to it myself) reading books by Friedrich Nietzsche. 

If you are new to atheism or new to wanting to connect with other atheists I hope I have provided some information you find helpful. If you are a follower on twitter and you have further questions please don't hesitate to ask. 


Sunday, 1 September 2013

New to Atheism Part 2 - Being a vocal atheist

In this post I'd like to give some advice to those not just new to atheism (whether that's after theism, or new to being an 'out' lifelong atheist)  but who also want to be vocal about it. Perhaps there's something there for those who've been out and vocal for some time too. I hope so. 

I'm not an expert on the atheism/theism debate, but I've been involved for a little while now and I like to think I've learnt a few things on how to get the message to people in an interesting and engaging way. 

I would also like to say that I'm not telling anyone what kind of atheist they should be and I'm not demanding anyone follow any of the advice I give below. I'm just making some suggestions from what I've learnt over the past two and a bit years being active on twitter. This is my advice on how to to be heard, how to be listened to, how to be taken seriously, and how to make a difference. The advice below largely relates to twitter as that's where I'm most vocal about atheism but I hope I've written in a way that can be easily translated into other formats - particularly when it's a debating style of communication.

First of all listen to others - on both sides of the debate. And I mean listen - without joining in. Take the time to learn what each side is saying - even the side you're not on. Don't make the mistake of being someone who has never read, studied, or considered the alternate position. A person best argues against a position when they have a very good understanding of it. Time and time again I've discussed atheism or evolution with people who oppose them but don't know what they are. It's a rookie error and makes them look amateur. Know your opposition.

It's a mistake to think atheists = smart, theists = stupid. This is simply not the case. There are some very smart theists out there - yes, really. Some of the most influential and intelligent atheists I know used to be theists. None of these people got 'smarter' the day they became atheists. They have become more informed or have learned to think and assess information in a manner different to how they had previously. Conversely, not all atheists are smart. There have been more times than I care for that atheists, particularly on twitter, have shown themselves to be ridiculous to the point of embarrassing. It doesn't make them look good and can sometimes be detrimental to atheism as a whole (if such thing can be said to exist). 

Insults don't help. At all. I'm at fault here too. I know I've called someone a moron or a fucking idiot or something similar -  but it doesn't help. All it does is get their back up and the cries of 'ad hominem' soon follow*. I know it can be quite frustrating to keep a level head and to keep the insults at bay when discussing something with someone who can't seem to grasp even the most basic of the points, but once you start calling them names you're not going to get anywhere. I will often quote theists making a stupid comment and make my own comment. I do this because I want to share with my followers something I think is either funny or thoughtful (though I suspect too often it's neither). This approach opens up my tweets to receiving replies from the people who follow me - and this is fine. It's all about communication and getting our thoughts and ideas across and the more people get involved in that, the better. However I too often get copied on replies that are just insults - even one word like moron or idiot. There's no thought there, there's no humour. I can't stop this from happening, but I really wish it wouldn't. I'm not a patient person and I think patience can be a flaw as often as it is a virtue - but remember, I'm talking here about getting the message across, about being heard. Flat out insults are not going to get either of these things to happen. 

Be funny. People love a laugh. I know, as I'm sure you do too, that religion can have very serious consequences for people. It's a genuine problem and can and does ruin people's lives. But we don't have to take the whole thing seriously ALL the time. There is opportunity to make people laugh. So if you see something ridiculous and you think of something funny to say, say it. 

If you want to engage with theists, be kind, be understanding. Don't yell at them immediately don't rip into them after a single tweet if that tweet is a genuine question or a simple misunderstanding. Theists, like anyone, are much more likely to respond in kind. If you're rude and aggressive, they'll be rude and aggressive too. If you're patient and understanding, they are more likely to talk to you in a similar manner. They are, after all, people themselves, not just words on a screen. 

Having said that, there is a difference between an ignorant but genuine person and an arsehole. If someone is being mean or rude, kindness and patience are wasted. If you feel the need to tweet to these kinds of people - go for it. Some of the funniest and most entertaining tweets on my timeline are from people getting stuck into theists who are being beyond ridiculous. We don't have to tolerate intolerance and we don't have to be courteous to rudeness. Try to learn to spot the difference. Being rude to someone just wanting to learn will reflect poorly on you.

If twitter is your avenue for being vocal consider your 'stand alone' tweets too. These are tweets where you're just giving your opinions, your thoughts, or asking questions. They don't involve replying to anyone - whether that's a theist or an atheist. My advice here is be thoughtful and/or be funny. I'm sometimes being philosophical (Socractic method almost), sometimes being funny ( least striving to be) and sometimes just letting loose - speaking without reservation and telling 'religion' exactly what I think of it. These are what I call my rants. I love replies that I see to theists, but I also love reading what people have to say on their own and I don't think twitter has enough of it. 

There are other avenues for getting your voice heard in the atheist community online apart from twitter, of course. In part three of this series I highlight some of the blogs, podcasts, books, and YouTube accounts that I find most informative and entertaining. Even though the format is different I think the message is the same and obvious - capture your audience, entertain them, be thoughtful, be funny. Whatever media you choose, read/watch/listen to plenty of it. Try to find a voice that makes you unique, find an angle that you've not seen yet. If you're too similar to others you may not get noticed. If you're writing, give people something they can relate to - such as your 'why I'm an atheist' story. I know plenty of atheists who love reading these stories. 

There's no point wanting to be vocal in the atheist community and doing it in a way that doesn't reach an audience. If you don't reach an audience, you may as well just write on a notepad. If you want to have a voice, you need to think about how to get that voice heard. Bring something to the table, provide something that people want to hear. Look at what's being done in the format you're interested in and see if you can find something missing. 

Getting yourself heard will be helped by engaging with people. Talk to other atheists and listen to them. Ask about their experiences, and, if they're interested, share yours. People are far more likely to listen to what you have to say if they know you're prepared to listen to what they have to say too. If you're blogging, read other blogs and let people know you've done it. If YouTube is your thing same applies - watch the work of others. Apply this to whichever format you want to be heard in.

I have found the atheist community online is very welcoming. I have retweeted many people who are new to atheism or new to being able to say they're an atheist and it is always a case of being welcomed with open arms (as much as that can be done online, in text). I've not ever seen a new atheist shunned by the people I follow. 

Myself - I have met some wonderful people through my MrOzAtheist account, people I would now call genuine friends. If you find people who are 'speaking your language' then don't be shy, engage. You're not going to have a connection with everyone of course, but you won't know until you try. Don't be shy, say hello.

I encourage all people willing and able to add their voice to the atheist community - in whatever way you want that voice to be added. The more voices added, the more people will feel comfortable in being able to say, "I too am an atheist". Once we have enough people doing that saying won't even matter any more. And that's where we should all be hoping to get.


*an insult is not an ad hominem. An ad hominem fallacy is when you claim someone is wrong because of a flaw in their character EG "you're wrong because you're a moron" There's a difference between this and "you're wrong, AND you're a moron" you may go on to logically defeat their argument but the insult is still not a good look - avoid.

Monday, 26 August 2013

New To Atheism - Part 1 "Welcome to atheism"

Dear reader,

Welcome to atheism. 

I guess that's a strange thing to say. Coming 'to' atheism isn't really a thing. What is atheism really but a doubt in the claims that a god exists? There are some who say that in order to be an atheist, the question itself never had to be considered. These people say that atheism is the default - that we are atheists the moment we're born. So maybe I should be saying 'welcome back to atheism'? 

Regardless, whether you consider yourself new to atheism, returning to atheism, or new to coming out as the atheist you've always been. I'm glad you've found your way here. I hope that I've written something below that you find helpful. 

The first, and most important point to make - you are NOT alone. There are atheists everywhere. Millions of us in fact. You may think there are none in your house, your street, or even your town - but there's a chance someone you know is thinking exactly the same thing. The question do you find these people? How do you connect? 

The obvious answer (for those who can access it) - is the internet. I have had more than a few people tell me, or mention to others, that they didn't know any other atheists, until they came online. They honestly thought they were *alone*. As I've said on twitter -
In part 3 of this 3 part series of blogs on 'New To Atheism' I highlight some of the ways someone new to atheism can find other atheists to interact with. Given that you've found your way to my blog, you've clearly got internet access - this is a wonderful place to start. 

Becoming an atheist after years of theism can often be daunting. You might be turning your entire world upside down, everything you thought about the universe and our world within it is suddenly 'wrong'. 

Some people can make this change without issue. For others, it's a very trying and testing time. It's common to be angry at the loss of one's understanding. You might feel cheated and\or lied to. You might feel that you can no longer trust anyone, especially if the beliefs you previously held were given to you by an authority figure (which is likely the case).

I understand why these negative emotions come about but they are not permanent. Once you learn to see the universe for the natural wonder that it is, the feeling of being cheated and disappointed will disperse. You'll need to train yourself to look forward, and not backward, to celebrate what you have, not lament what you don't. 

How? Recognise that this IS the life you get and that time wasted is time you'll never get back. You've come this far with a false idea of 'creation' and a false idea that a 'god' is watching and caring about everything you do. But you've given up that idea and come to the realisation that the universe is a natural place. Rejoice in this. Celebrate it. Look at the universe without the god-shaped blind spot in front of your eyes.

It is an amazing thing that you are here at all. For 'you' to be in existence, an extraordinary number of coincidences must have fallen into place, make the most of this. 

Understand that people who brought you to theism probably didn't do it with malice. They, like you before, more than likely believed what they told you. They haven't deceived you deliberately. Anger at these people is wasted. It will serve you no purpose. I understand the need to vent and I'm sure the need to question the people who convinced you that theism was correct will be strong, but confronting them in anger will not help you in the long run. If you feel the need to question any of the people who were involved in you becoming a theist, do so with kindness and understanding. Remember that they still believe the falsehoods that you've now given up. Ask them your questions if you need to, but keep in mind how you would feel if someone confronted you angrily when you've told them what you thought was true. 

We're told that as atheists we must have nothing to live for - of course we have everything to live for. There's nothing for us once we die. I've written a blog here about the claim that atheists have nothing to live for. Obviously you can adjust this how you see fit - but it does show that in a world without a 'god' there is PLENTY for atheists to live for. If you feel that leaving theism has left a gap in your life, I hope you can find some ideas which give your life some meaning. 

There are also people who've been atheists their whole lives but are still 'in the closet'. They don't have the same issue of having their understanding of the universe drastically altered but the thought of coming out as an atheist can still be a frightening idea, especially if there's a threat of losing family or friends if you 'come out'. 

One thing to keep in mind here is that announcing that you're an atheist is not an obligation. If you don't feel safe or comfortable, keeping atheism to yourself is okay. There are plenty of atheists I interact with on twitter who are anonymous because of the potential impacts in their real life. This is where the online atheist community thrives. It's a wonderful place for people who don't have another avenue to connect with people who share their point view. 

So whether you are a lifelong atheist or one who's recently turned away from theism, coming out can lead to alienation of friends and family. It can lead to being ostracised. I've read a case of family being forced out of town,  I've read how being an atheist can lead to imprisonment and even death in some parts of the world. This is, of course, totally unacceptable. It's not all negative though. Not by a long way. Being an atheist can also lead to any number of positive feelings. The idea that you can  'finally' talk to someone who shares your point of view. The opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas on how theism impacts the world and how we can do things better. There's the wonder at the natural beauty of the universe and what seems like a strange mixture of chaos and order. There's the thrill of learning how something really works versus the notion that we must be satisfied with 'god did it'. Being an atheist when coming from theism can be liberating. It is the clich├ęd weight being lifted off one's shoulders. I look at world and know that I am lucky to be here and that life is to be valued. As atheists we need not think that we're in god's waiting room, we're not here to pass some bizarre character test in order get a 'pass' into the afterlife. We no longer claim that we're being good just because some overlord is watching our every move - we can be good for goodness sake. We can have sex without worrying that any number of our dead relatives might be watching. 

I'm confident that there will come a time where being an atheist - everywhere - is not only acceptable, it's irrelevant. Because that's what it should be. It shouldn't matter. We should accept people based on their actions, based on how they treat others, based on the value and ideas they bring to the community. I hope we get to the point where we stop accepting or rejecting people based on which version of the creation myth they do or don't believe. 

For this to happen we need all atheists to feel that can say it with no expectation of negative reaction. For some of us it's easy, the more we do it, the more we say it, the easier it will become for everyone. 

Until this happens, being an atheist is going to be a struggle for many people. If you are one of them, please know you're not alone, I commend you for beginning and being on this journey. I hope you learn to be comfortable as an atheist, I hope you can be comfortable with all your family and friends knowing that you're an atheist and that you don't have to hide it. If you wish to, seek out other atheists, say hello, interact, get to know them. Speak up if you feel the need and most of all, don't allow anyone to make you feel bad for being who you are. You are an atheist, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Thanks for reading


This is part 1 of a 3 part series of blogs title 'New To Atheism'. 

Part 2 is a guide to being a vocal atheist. It's not a set of rules, more a series of tips and advice that I've learnt from my time as a vocal atheist - particularly on twitter. 

Part 3 is a resource guide. It will detail blogs, books, podcasts and other methods where people new to atheism (and others) can find information about atheism and atheists.