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.