Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Fluid morality

There was an exchange on twitter about abortion. The secular humanist involved was pro-choice. The theist was anti-choice. Not unexpected. 

At the end of the conversation the theist tweeted that she would never trust anyone whose morals would 'change with the wind' implying that unless your morals were locked in stone by a supernatural deity you were somehow inferior. 

It lead me to think about whether a locked morality was a good thing. My first thought was to slavery. Although there are regimes and areas where slavery still occurs, it can't be reasonably denied that the modern attitude towards slavery differs from the past. Any decent person I know would think the owning of another person as property was abhorrent. Not that many generations ago, slavery was common in even the more 'advanced' societies. 

This is one example of the shifting of morality. There are others, such as interracial marriage, and marriage for same-sex couples. People as recently as the 1960s protested marriage between a black person and a white person. In Australia two people of the same sex cannot be married at the time of writing. In the US now though, any person of any colour can marry any person of any colour, even if they are the same sex. The first part of this is true for Australia and although it's a long and tedious process, the second part will eventually be true. 

In my own life I have shifted my morality. Many years ago I was in favour of the death penalty. I thought that if you'd committed a crime that was heinous enough, you deserved to lose your right to life. I also thought that it was the cheaper option. Surely it would be cheaper to execute someone than to house and feed them for life. 

Although I was young and hadn't given it much thought, I don't want to excuse it. It was what I thought was right at the time. I came to realise that it wasn't cheaper to imprison someone for life than to execute them so I could no longer use that 'reasoning'. (As though the taking of someone's life could be an economic decision)

More so I came to understand that for a society to be anti-killing, the state couldn't engage in the practice of executing its citizens. I didn't see how a state could kill people but demand of its people that they don't do the same. 

Since then I have read more about the death penalty and my opposition to it is stronger than ever. I'm at the point where I can't see how someone can claim to be a secular humanist and in favour of the death penalty. 

I recently read a six part series on the death penalty written by Godless Mom. You can find it here. It is extremely well written. It evokes emotion without being an appeal to emotion and backs up its points with supporting evidence. I challenge anyone who is favour of the death penalty and calls themselves a secular humanist to read this and make a reasoned case for having capital punishment. 

There are few jurisdictions now that have the death penalty. Australia last executed someone in 1966. Our morality toward  the death penalty has certainly moved on to the point where we now plead with foreign governments to spare Austalian citizens who have found themselves on death row on foreign countries. 

I'm glad to live in a society that's not locked into one way of thinking. I'm glad I am a person who can reasses an opinion I hold and change it based on new evidence or being presented a point of view I've not previously considered, or even just reassessing my own thoughts and conclusions. 

The alternative is a society that sees owning people as okay. One that stones people to death for adultey or cuts off someone's head for blasphemy. Something we still see on the more barbaric societies of today such as ISIS, Saudi Arabia. 

We will forever need to be able to look at what we do as a society and say, you know what? This isn't good enough. We need to change it.

Friday, 27 November 2015

The Club

Imagine a club. 

There are lots of rules in the guidelines of the club.  The rules tell you a lot about what you can do, and a lot about what you can't do. They tell you how you need to treat people who never joined that club, and how to treat people who were in the club but decided to leave. By "how to treat them", it means killing them. It says so, right there in the pages of the club's guidelines. 

Some people who are in the club follow all the rules of the club, including the parts about killing people. They're called "extreme". Some people follow some of the rules of the club. They're called "moderate". They don't kill people because of the club. But some of them sympathise with those who do. 

No one knows if the boss of the club is real or the leaders of the club just pretend he is so they can rule over people. But if the boss of the club *is* real, it's clear that he wants people to follow all of the rules of the club, not just some of them. 

Sometimes when members of the club, following the rules of the club, kill people, people from outside the club claim the killings have nothing to do with the club. Even when the members of the club say that what they're doing is on behalf of the boss of the club. 

People from inside and outside the club have taken to using derogatory terms to describe other people who highlight that the club plays a part in the killings, even though the people doing the killing say the rules of the club play a role in the killings. 

Some people have even said that criticising the rules of the club is racist. Even though members of the club are not a race. 

Many people, both inside the club and outside the club, think that the club isn't a problem because not many members of the club follow all of the rules of the club. They say that if only a small percentage of club members take the rules literally then the problem is with them, not with the rules of the club. 

I would suggest that even if NO ONE followed the rules of the club literally, if the rules of the club call for people to be killed, then surely the rules of the club are problematic and should be questioned and criticised.

I wonder how you feel about the club. I wonder if you think it shouldn't be criticised and that people who do so are racist. I wonder if you think it's okay for children to join the club, and to be told that the rules of the club are how everyone should live. I wonder if you're okay with children being forced to join the club -  a club which is homophobic, sexist, and discriminatory. 

Imagine Islam. 

There are lots of rules in the guidelines of Islam.  The rules tell you a lot about what you can do, and a lot about what you can't do. They tell you how you need to treat people who never joined Islam, and how to treat people who were in Islam but decided to leave. By "how to treat them", it means killing them. It says so, right there in the pages of Islam's guidelines. 

Some people who are in Islam follow all the rules of Islam, including the parts about killing people. They're called "extreme". Some people follow some of the rules of Islam. They're called "moderate". They don't kill people because of Islam. But some of them sympathise with those who do. 

No one knows if the boss of Islam is real or the leaders of Islam just pretend he is so they can rule over people. But if the boss of Islam *is* real, it's clear that he wants people to follow all of the rules of Islam, not just some of them. 

Sometimes when members of Islam, following the rules of Islam, kill people, people from outside Islam claim the killings have nothing to do with Islam. Even when the members of Islam say that what they're doing is on behalf of the boss of Islam. 

People from inside and outside Islam have taken to using derogatory terms to describe other people who highlight that Islam plays a part in the killings, even though the people doing the killing say the rules of Islam play a role in the killings. 

Some people have even said that criticising the rules of Islam is racist. Even though members of Islam are not a race. 

Many people, both inside Islam and outside Islam, think that Islam isn't a problem because not many members of Islam follow all of the rules of Islam. They say that if only a small percentage of Islam members take the rules literally then the problem is with them, not with the rules of Islam. 

I would suggest that even if NO ONE followed the rules of Islam literally, if the rules of Islam call for people to be killed, then surely the rules of Islam are problematic and should be questioned and criticised.

I wonder how you feel about Islam. I wonder if you think it shouldn't be criticised and that people who do so are racist. I wonder if you think it's okay for children to join Islam, and to be told that the rules of Islam are how everyone should live. I wonder if you're okay with children being forced to join Islam -  a religion which is homophobic, sexist, and discriminatory. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

When *do* we talk about Paris?

We see it regularly in the US in the aftermath of a mass gun shooting...'now's not the time' or the more graphic 'not while the bodies are still warm'. 

Of course people are sensitive, emotions are heightened. The bodies *are* still warm and for thousands, if not millions, the tears are still flowing. 

So we hear cries of not speaking about it, because that would be distasteful, don't you know? 

At some point, though, the conversation has to be about what the problem is and how to fix it, rather than just expressions of sympathy for the victims.

Well may we say "at the appropriate time" or "not while the bodies are still warm." But new bodies are added while the previous *are* still warm. There is no break in the massacre. 

So tell me, when *is* the right time to say this has got to stop? 

When *is* the right time to say your God is NOT helping? That *people* need to act? 

They say 'Pray for Paris' but to whom and for what? Are we praying to tell 'god' what happened because he doesn't yet know? Or he knows, but doesn't know it's bad? One thing is clear - either god is not real, or he simply doesn't care to intervene. Pray if you really must, but people need to wake up, the prayers are NOT working. 

This by @Godless_Mom sums it up succinctly...

Prayers are expressions of faith. When faith is the problem, adding more faith isn't the answer. 

We can pretend we don't know what caused a group of men to murder over 100 people in Paris. We can pretend we don't know what caused a group of men to murder 200 students in Syria. We can pretend we don't know what has caused Islamic state to murder thousands and thousands of people. But we don't have to pretend two things:

1: They're doing it because of what they believe, what they have faith in. 
2: No one is speculating as to whether or not they are secular humanists. 

Whatever their driver, be it religious, or political, it is not reason based, logically worked out, nor compassionately discussed. 

Whilst the world continues to value faith and superstition over reason and logic, tragedies like this will continue to occur. 

We need to keep promoting reason and logic. We need to keep expressing the values of secular humanism. Lives are at stake. We need to do it all the time, and not be shamed for doing so. 

Sure, we could wait until the bodies are cold, but if we do, it'll never happen. Because they're killing people every single fucking day.

Sunday, 1 November 2015


When it comes to being offended the quote that I see most often (Apart from 'I'm offended!') is this gem, from Stephen Fry....

I'm pretty much on board with Stephen here. Why should *I* care that *you're* offended? 

Well....because you're my friend would be a good starting point. For example I have friends who are creative, whether it be music, writing, or painting. If they were to show me some of their work and I said it was shit and never wanted to see any of their work again, they'd be offended, and rightly so. 

There's also the situation of having a conversation with someone about a topic where you disagree. Obviously for me that would be atheism/theism. If I want to have a good dialogue with someone and I begin with 'so, you believe God is real? You must be some kind of fucking moron' they're going to be offended, and any hope of reasonable conversation is gone. 

But, I'm not sure that's what Stephen is getting at here. Without the benefit of being able to ask him directly, I think Stephen is talking more about being offended by things that, essentially, have nothing to do with you. I don't think he's talking about personal insults such as being called a disgusting pig, or talking about insulting one's work or effort. 

I would suggest that Stephen is talking about things such as the controversial art work, by Andres Serrano, titled Piss Christ...

The title being an obvious give-away, this is a plastic Jesus on the Crucifix submerged in urine (Serrano's own). 

As stated in the photo's Wikipedia article, when this photo was to be exhibited in Melbourne in 1997, the then Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, tried to prevent it from going on public display. The Supreme Court refused his request. Someone tried to steal it, and then it was attacked by a teenager with a hammer (some irony there). 

The problem? The Archbishop, the attempted thief, and the vandal, were offended, and wanted it off display. 

I'm definitely with Stephen here.

If the photo was to be displayed in their house or their superstition building (I think they call it a 'church'), then I could completely understand their objection to it. One should certainly have the right to decide what is and is not displayed on their own property. 

But Piss Christ wasn't set to be displayed in a church or someone's home. Piss Christ was put on display in an art gallery - independent of any religion. There's no reason that a church representative should have any say over what an art gallery can display. What right does an archbishop have to decide what other people can and can't see in an art gallery? I can't see that they have any. 

An individual decides what they put on twitter or what they post to Facebook. A writer decides what they write about. A podcaster decides what they talk about. Likewise, the art gallery decides what exhibitions it puts on. People decide for themselves whether  to follow on social media, whether to listen to a podcast, or whether to go and see an exhibition. I shouldn't be denied the right to see art just because George Pell, or anyone else is offended. 

You're offended George? 

So fucking what? 

Friday, 30 October 2015

Purpose without god

"I didn't ask to be born" The catch-cry of the angsty teenager. An exclamation from a mouth that belongs to a body that's surviving off more hormones than oxygen. 

They're right too. They didn't ask to be born. No one does. It happens before we're even aware of who or what we are. We are alive, and that's our starting point. 

Not asking to be born is one thing we atheists agree about with our theistic friends. However, our theistic friends seem to be of the opinion that without God our lives have no purpose. I have been asked why we, the non-believers, don't just kill ourselves? They openly wonder what we have to live for. 

I have said before that being an atheist doesn't mean I've got nothing to live for, it means I've got nothing to die for. 

Now please don't confuse this with me saying that I *wouldn't* die to save my children, for example. Because I would, of course. What I mean is that for me, in death, there is nothing. 

But a theist believes that when they die they'll be forever in a world of bliss, and paradise, and, if the right flavour of belief is correct, 72 virgins. (Of course if virgins is your thing, 72 for eternity feels like being short changed. Assuming you want a virgin for the obvious reason...they're only a virgin once. Maybe it's one 72 year old virgin.)

For me though, life is everything. Everything I'll ever experience will be experienced in *this* life. That's what I mean about nothing to die for and everything to live for. I mean it literally. 

Some theists though seem obsessed with having an ultimate purpose. 

I don't understand why, even if Earth is consumed by the sun in 5 billion years, I still can't enjoy the here and now. I will die one day and that will be that. Is that enough reason to not enjoy today? I can't see how. Why is my enjoyment today dependent upon being in heaven when I die? As I said, being alive is my starting point. Why not enjoy it? 

Theists talk about having the ultimate purpose (which seems to be just getting into heaven...what then?) but they never say why it should matter. They never say why the ultimate purpose is necessary. 

Matt Dillahunty has used the book example. You start reading a book, knowing it's finite, knowing it will end. But you read it anyway. I doubt anyone avoids reading the first page of a book simply because there's a last page. 

I know the counter to this is that you remember the book. I might finish a book today, but I can remember it tomorrow. They book stays with me once it's finished, but my life doesn't. 

But I do have tomorrow. I even have this afternoon, or later tonight. And even if I didn't why do I need heaven later in order to enjoy NOW? Maybe I throw a blanket down on a remote beach and lie there with a friend looking up at the stars. Must I need to know I'll one day be in heaven to enjoy that moment? Must I need belief in a deity to be glad I was doing that? Of course not. 

Yes, maybe a theist has an 'ultimate' purpose in life and as an atheist, I don't, but they fail to explain what it matters. They fail to convince me I need one. 

I'm happy to define my life's own purpose. I'm happy to decide for myself what I would like to achieve, where I would like to go as a human being. 

A friend of my daughter would have been 14 or 15 at the time when she said 'I would die without God in my life'. I don't see any honour in this. I don't see anything of which to be proud. This is a sad way for a child to be thinking. How dare someone convince this person that her life is worth something only if a god is real. How dare they convince her that her worth is tied to a fairytale? 

God is unseen and unheard. Yet religion knows exactly what he wants, exactly how he feels. And it tells you how to behave and tells you that without *its* particular god, you are worthless. It's a scam, and cruel and ridiculous scam and millions of good and otherwise intelligent people fall for it. 

Why does religion try to convince people without its god, they are worthless? Because if they didn't people might realise they can live free and happy lives without it. If that happened, where would the money come from? 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Questions for an atheist.

Over at GM made a post answering a bunch of questions that were put to her by a college student. GM tweeted that she'd like to see how I, and others, would answer the same questions. I said I would give it a shot, and this is it...

1. Why are you an atheist?
I've never been given good reason to not be one. 

2. Have you ever believed in a Higher Power?
Yes, I was born into a Catholic family and raised to be one. I believed, without doubt or question, that the god of the bible was a real thing. 

3. If so, Did something traumatic happen to make you stop believing?

4. If not, why did you stop believing?
In short, I thought about it. I questioned what I believed and why I believed it, and realised that what I believed was nonsensical and why I believed it was because I'd been told it was real. I studied more about the universe and realised that what I was learning was inconsistent with the stories I'd been told were true. It got to the point where my understanding, logic, and reason no longer allowed me to believe what I'd been told to believe when I was a child. 

5. What do you think happens to us when we die?
Nothing. We cease to be. 'Us' is gone and we're now a decaying (or burnt) collection of cells, molecules and atoms that will be retuned to the universe. As Lawrence Krauss points out, we are here because stars exploded and the atoms on our left hand probably came from a different star to the atoms in our right. One day our own sun will envelope the earth and I quite like the idea that atoms that have made me who I am, will one day end up in a star again. I like to keep in mind that I was not alive for billions of years. I see no reason to think it'll be different when I'm not alive again. 

6. Without believing in a Higher Power, where do you think we get our morals from?
The same place any species that exhibits moral traits gets them - empathy, logic, reason, understanding, compassion. We also have the advantage of being able to discuss things. Years ago a black person couldn't marry a white person. Before that, it was 'acceptable' to own black people as slaves. Today in my country same sex couples aren't allowed to marry, but around the world, that is changing. It's happening because we, as a society, are discussing it and listening to people and being empathetic towards them. Some things we all recognise as 'wrong', some things take a little more time and work. But there is no doubt it's 'us' who is guiding it. 

7. Where do you think the universe came from?
'Came from' suggests that the universe is somehow transient and I'm not sure that it is. I think it was in a 'state' and some as yet not fully understood 'thing' happened which caused that state to expand into what we see today. Why is there something rather than nothing? Krauss says there had to be. I'm not sure. 

8. What’s your views on Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens?
I think they're far wiser than any of their vocal critics and largely misunderstood by people too stupid or lazy to actually listen to them closely. I think Dawkins suffers from overestimating his audience almost daily. This is a shame, given he was once Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. Dawkins loves to hypothesise, particularly with emotive topics, but with the emotion taken out. That's fine with he's sitting around with his like-minded friends. When he does it on twitter, he's dealing with 'the masses' and the 'the masses' are stupid. Dawkins needs to be more aware of this. 
Harris has managed to talk above the heads of people that unfortunately have an audience. These people constantly misrepresent him, despite the clarifications he's made on some of his more controversial topics. These people are gaining an audience, and even for some, an income, from trying to tear down things Harris simply hasn't said. His critics appeal to a lowest common denominator of idiots and people that want to be seen going against the grain. I love how Sam always remains calm and smooth. I loved his quote 'don't judge me by the quality of my enemies'. 
Hitchens was a master orator. A commanding voice, with points to match. I have seen Dawkins and Harris live, but never got to see Hitchens live and I'll always be sad about that. I disagree with him on a few things, but I loved his passion and the way he commanded attention when he spoke. He, somewhat ironically, may have been the only person who could have convinced me a god exists.

9. Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?
I am a strong atheist. There is nothing about the god claims that give them any credibility whatsoever, in my mind. I have no more reason to believe there's even a chance of a god existing than I do of any other clearly fictional character. God's attributes have everything in common with the imaginary and nothing in common with reality. If it's unicorns or leprechauns or dragons or fairies I wouldn't think 'but maybe somewhere, somehow, they might exist'. I don't see anything that suggests I should give gods and goddesses that benefit either. 

10. How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?
You make a case against it. You show that gods and goddesses are invented exclusively by primitive, ancient people who didn't know better. We know better now. You show how gods and goddesses reflect the society that invented them. You show how the gods and goddesses of the less advanced nomadic peoples are quite different from the more advanced people of Rome and Greece. You make the case that, if gods and goddesses are a human construct, this is what you'd expect. You show that the spread of religion follows the advancement of the populations that are also advancing. No remote tribe was ever discovered already believing in Jesus. There's a reason for that. You show that god has been the posited explanation for any number of things but has never once been the confirmed explanation for anything. You use the problem of evil. You highlight the logical fallacies contained within all the common arguments for existence. I know I can't prove absolutely that no gods or goddesses exist, but I'm very confident I can make a case beyond all reasonable doubt. 

11. Do you believe in miracles?
What is a miracle? It's a word believers use to describe an occurrence that they can't otherwise explain without invoking god. As in the above answer, god has never once been the confirmed, verifiable explanation for anything - this includes so called 'miracles'. I think some of the events claimed to be miracles have happened, but the actual explanation is nothing 'divine'. 

12. Do you have a support group/system?
I have family and friends that I know will look after me and help me if I need it. I have made wonderful friends online, particularly through twitter. 

13. Do you try to get others not to believe?
No, and I don't know that that would be possible. I try to get people to analyse what they believe, to question it, and to do what I did - ask themselves what they believe and why. If they do that with unbiased honesty, and still come up as a believer, so be it. I don't have a problem with theistic/religious belief in and of itself. I have a problem when people's actions negatively impact others and they cite religious belief as the justification for doing so. Therefore getting people to not believe isn't the goal. Getting people to realise that *their* belief shouldn't negatively impact *my* life is a better goal. 

14. Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?
Not really. It generally doesn't come up in Melbourne when you're out with people. If I'm out with atheist friends I've met through twitter, they already know, obviously. 

15. Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?
Every day pretty much. But regardless of who it is, which god they're arguing for, and how they're trying to argue for it, it always comes down to the same few fallacies. Argument from Ignorance and personal incredulity being the most common. If god isn't real then how.... It's god of the gaps stuff and just doesn't work on me. 

16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?
I think my atheism isn't really a problem but my anti-theism hits a few nerves sometimes. They seem want me to go for the 'live and let live' approach but they don't understand that for that approach to work, it *has* to be theists first. Atheists have spent a long time being quiet about our lack of belief and it's done us little good as far as being 'let live' goes. Religion encroaches on way too many aspects of society and it needs to be stood up to. I think a few members of my family don't like that I'm one of the people standing up to it. 

17. What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?
I don't know anything about her, really. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Science and Religion

One of the things I like about science is that you can show adults and children alike that it works, how it works and even tell them to go and try it out, and they can see for themselves that it works. A simple experiment to get fresh water from salt water is triflingly easy to set up and execute. There's no requirement to tell a child that they need 'faith' to understand it, they can see it happen right before their eyes. 

Of course not every scientific experiment is that easy to execute or to understand. People can't walk off the street into a research lab and get up to speed with the goings on in a matter of minutes. The great thing, though, is that the principle is the same. Show someone your conclusion and your methodology for reaching that conclusion and (given the access to the right equipment and expertise) they can replicate what you did and, if the experiment is sound, they should reach the same conclusion. 

This is true whether the experiment is being done for the first time, or the ten millionth time. If someone wants to know the chemical make-up of water it's not dependent upon where they are in the earth's geography or when they are in the earth's timeline. Anyone anywhere can discover that water is H20. (providing there is water available, of course). God doesn't share this consistency. 

Conversely if we lost all the world's knowledge, all our written words, and language, and had to start from scratch, the story of the talking snake, as Sam Harris points out, is gone for good. There's also no more great flood, no more man rising from the dead. No more Torah, Qu'ran or New Testament. We'd again work out how to build buildings so tall that they appear to almost scrape the sky, but the myth about Muhammad splitting the moon in two will never be heard again. In fact nothing about Muhammad, Moses, Cain, Able, Jesus, Thor, Zeus, or God would ever be heard again. As with Stephen King's Dark Tower, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, or Jo Rowling's Harry Potter, the stories about god cannot survive a colossal wiping out of human knowledge. 

Science, though, is different. Visible light would still be made up of a spectrum of colour and you can be assured that someone will split this spectrum. You can be assured that someone will even rediscover that there's 'light' beyond the red that we can see. People will again work out how to harness, produce, and utilise electricity. Someone will test the idea that the world is flat, and discover it isn't. However, no one will again eat a wafer thinking it's the actual flesh of someone who died millennia previously. 

Sure, before we get to all these amazing discoveries we'd again go through a phase of gods, and goddesses. We'd be primitive again. No one invents gods and religions like primitive people. Pretty much no one else invents them at all. Even the relatively recent attempt by Joseph Smith to create a new religion commandeered a god already in use. 

We'd likely again think a volcano was an angry god, but lets hope no one suggests that throwing a virgin in will appease it. We may well think that lightning was a god striking at us from above, though you can be confident this 'god' wouldn't be called Thor. 

We may see crazy potions along the lines of Eye of newt, and toe of frog, being mixed up and fed to people to cure any kind of ailment. This could lead to witches being burnt at the stake because they can do 'magic'. 

These accusations and claims will continue until some day, someone asks the important question - how do you know? 

Then you test the eye of newt recipe and find that it, in fact, doesn't work. However, you test aspirin, and find that it does. Someone might again see an apple fall from a tree, or perhaps it's a coconut this time, or perhaps they simply trip and fall down and they'll question it and wonder why they didn't just float away. It'll be a world where someone can still see an equal an opposite reaction, write about it, and have someone else check it. The radio waves, microwaves, and x-rays will still be here, waiting to be rediscovered by enquiring minds. With no Abraham, there will be no Abrahamic religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would all be forgotten forever, replaced, probably by other religions, praying to other gods that people make up. Because that's why there are so many different religion - people make them up. The Hindus in India may still well honour a god with an Elephant's head, but it won't be Ganesh. 

Given the choice between living in a world that has religion but not science, and world that has science, but no religion, I know which I'd choose. 

You see, when it comes to truth, religion is a substitute. It's the making up of answers for things you don't know. It's saying 'this is how it is' without checking that you're right. You can look all you want, but religion won't validate truth.

Science though, science is different. The practice of science is the pursuit of truth. You don't have to make it up, you just have to go looking. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Vocal atheists - The same as theists?

I've had two separate people over the last week accuse me on twitter of doing to theists exactly what I complain about theists doing atheists. 

I seems certain people are unable to tell the difference between 'Live how I tell you to, or burn in hell forever' and 'please stop telling me to live how your holy book demands.' 

To make it simpler, it's 'Do this or pay' versus 'Please leave me alone.' The difference, I'd have thought, was pretty straight forward. It appears for some, it's a little too hard to understand. 

Theists want to tell two consenting adults they can't get married. I don't. 
Theists want to have mythology taught as fact. I don't. 
Theists want to ban abortions because of some imagined disapproval from a god. I don't. 
Theists want to ban sex education in schools. I don't. 
Theists want to ban or limit adults having access to contraception. I don't. 
Theists want society to run on rules contained in their holy book. I don't. 
I don't want to stop theists being theists. They want to stop me being an atheist. 
I don't want people to think they're flawed just for being people. Theists do. 

Do I really need to continue? 

What I *do* want is a society based on secular humanist values. Why? Because we're not all religious, but we are all humans. Those of us who are religious aren't all of the same religion and of those who are of the same religion, they're not all of the same branch. Secularism is fair to all. If you're a Christian who wouldn't be happy living under the laws of Islam, you should understand that an atheist wouldn't be happy living under the rules of Christianity. 

We are all humans and we share this planet with billions of creatures. We share it with them. We borrow it from our descendants. Humanism is the best way I know of to look after each other both in our species and those we share the planet with. Earth doesn't belong to me any more than it belongs to a dolphin, a kangaroo or a gum tree. 

Secularism doesn't mean the end to religion. It doesn't mean banning religious belief and shutting down religious buildings. It doesn't mean you can no longer believe whatever you want to believe. Secularism means separating the government from religion. This might not appeal if you're currently a member of the religion that is in the majority but imagine if you're part of a religion that's in the minority. Imagine you're a Christian, a Hindu, or an atheist, and your government isn't secular, but Islamic. Imagine being told that you had to pray towards Mecca five times a day. I'm confident you'd be unimpressed. Secularism protects you.
What I do, in vocal atheism, is a reactionary position. It's a position I feel the need to take up because of the imposition of religion onto those who don't wish to be imposed. I feel that I'm fighting back. If religion was kept to churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other such buildings, as well as private homes, you'd soon find atheists going quite quiet on the subject. 

At the moment though religion is present in government, courts, schools, scientific research labs, and county clerk offices. The issue with this is that the basic premise of theism - that a god exists - cannot be demonstrated to be true. Therefore any rule, instruction, obligation, or objection that comes from an exclusively religion origin is invalid. When religion starts getting imposed anywhere outside religiously dedicated buildings, it's being imposed on those who don't subscribe to it. I don't see how anyone can think this is fair. Even if a god did show up and say same sex couples aren't allowed to marry, I still don't think we'd be obliged to comply. 

Not every law is going to be welcomed by everyone. A balance needs to be reached. The question is, how do we go about reaching that balance? Secular humanism, that's how. When compared to any religion, it's a better option. It is the one way to ensure that decisions are reached with a goal to be fair to all, to treat everyone equally, and to strive for the well being of everyone. Secular humanism achieves this by having an objective look at the consequences (good and bad), and the advantages and disadvantages of the decisions that are made and chooses the path that is the best for all.

Contrast this with religious rules which are based on the unprovable, and, some might say, ridiculous, notion that 'this is what my god wants'. Yeah, well if you're a follower of the biggest religion on the planet, you're god is okay with me beating a slave as hard as I like, just as long as that slave doesn't die within three days. So please excuse me if I don't take your god's word on what is and isn't best for society. 

How is what I'm doing different to theists? I'm asking that people be left alone, I'm asking that people are allowed to go about their lives not impacted by what others may imagine to be true and that we live in a society that's fair and equal for all. 

Theists, on the other hand, demand that we all live their way and threaten that we'll burn in hell if we don't. 

Related: Vocal Atheism. It may not be what you think it is
Misconceptions about Atheism

Monday, 7 September 2015

But it's my religion!

There is a high profile case going on in the US at the moment. If you're involved in online atheism, and you've not heard of it, I'd be very surprised. 

Briefly: It concerns a county clerk in Kentucky named Kim Davis. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, and despite being ordered to do so, Kim has decided that she will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County. Her reason? The authority of God. 

Kim believes that her version of the God character is against marriage between people of the same gender, and because of that, she's refusing to participate. 

She's using the 'it's my religion' defence, and it's absurd. 

Idiots are now coming out of the woodwork to support Kim. They are claiming that she's been sent to jail because she's a Christian, because of what she believes in. 


Kim Davis is in jail because she refused to comply with a court order. She is in contempt of court and has been arrested because of it. There is nothing new here. 

In a lower profile case, CNN is reporting that a Muslim woman, who is a flight attendant named Charee Stanley, has filed a discrimination complaint with the equal opportunity commission because she's suspended from duty for refusing to serve alcohol - something banned in the Islamic faith. 

The CNN story says that Charee was working with the airline for a year before converting to Islam. It was some time later that she learnt that consuming and serving alcohol was banned in Islam. Upon learning this, Charee mentioned it to the airline who suggested she ask a colleague to handle the alcohol duties. This arrangement was in place and working fine until a colleague complained to the airline that Charee wasn't performing her duties. The airline suspended Charee. As it should.

I am absolutely against someone getting out of performing the job they are paid to do because of 'religious' reasons. The idea is preposterous. 

Sure, you might come to an arrangement with a colleague to cover the parts of the job you refuse to perform, but why should they? I doubt that Charee was paid less than her colleagues when she wasn't performing the same duties. 

People have to get over this idea that their religion matters.

Yes, their religion matters to them, but when you're asking for special consideration because of your religion, you're expecting your religion to matter to your employer and your customers too. The thing is, no one is obligated to think your religion is as important as you do. 

We have certain rules in our society to protect people from unfair discrimination. You're not allowed to discriminate based on gender, age, sexuality...or religion. I don't know why religion is included. It's a *choice*. Religion is no more valid as a consideration than is my favourite colour or preferred choice of boxers or briefs. Imagine if I worked in a paint shop but refused to sell any paint that wasn't my favourite colour. Why isn't that choice protected by law? Because it's ridiculous, that's why. 

As is refusing to do your job because you choose to be religious. You are employed to do a job. You either do that job, or you resign. It's that simple. Would we allow a waitress to not serve a Rib Eye in a steakhouse because they choose to be a vegan? No. If a person already working as a waiter in a steakhouse became a vegan and no longer wanted to serve steak, we'd expect them to resign, not make it so they don't have to do their job.

The same should go for one's choice of religion. If a person who is already a flight attendant for an airline becomes a Muslim and refuses to serve alcohol, they too should resign.

The thing to keep in mind is we're not talking about things that are reasonable and the result of analysis and critical thinking. These protections are for people believing things that someone made up. We're not talking about a factory worker refusing to work on a sheet metal press until there is safety equipment installed. We're not talking about a postman wanting comfortable shoes to walk in. We're talking about the protection of nonsense, in the case of Charee, and bigotry, in the case of Kim. 

I don't know about you, but I want to live in a world were nonsense and bigotry are derided not protected. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Is the universe too complex to exist without God?

Believers will often point out to me that the universe as a whole, life in general, and humans in particular are far too complex to have come into existence naturally. 

I'm not sure how they know this as it's not as though they could have done any testing, experiments, or comparisons to know what can come into existence naturally and what can't. If a tree grows from a seed did it come into existence naturally or is it there only because God put it there? Maybe some god put together the designs for the wings of a butterfly, but no butterfly ever comes to earth fully formed. Is this natural, or design? 

It struck me one day that the argument above has a very big flaw in it and it lead me to tweet the following: 

It seems to me that invoking a *more* complex being to explain the complexity of life or the universe fails to adequately explain what has happened. 

That god created the universe but is not subject to the laws we observe also relies on the special pleading fallacy

If God, far more complex than the universe, can exist without having been deliberately created, then why can't that apply to the universe itself? By their own reasoning, super complex things don't need to have been specifically created in order to exist, therefore the universe, which is far less complex than a god, can exist with no god required. 

To put it in mathematical terms (and I'm NO mathematician, so this might be pure nonsense)....

If maximum complexity = x and god's complexity is maximum, then god's complexity = x. 

The complexity of the universe is less than the complexity of god by an unknown factor. I'll call that factor f. 
The complexity of the universe = x - f. 

If a complexity of x requires no creator, then a complexity of x - f requires no creator. 

The same can apply to life, and humans. In either case the complexity is x - n where n is a varying amount, denoting the level of complexity lower than god's. Again if a complexity of x requires no creator, and complexity of x - n also requires no creator. 

A theist cannot believe a god to be more complex than people and not require a creator whilst simultaneously believing humans are too complex to have come into existence without a creator. 

If you can explain a god without a creator, you can explain a universe without a creator.  

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Free will, a loving god, and hell

I know it's not a view shared by *all* followers of the big two religions but there are a lot of people who tell me that because I'm an atheist I'll end up in hell. 

They'll often point this out after telling me how much god loves me, which I find odd. 

God loves me, he wants me to spend eternity with him in heaven, but he can't force me to do it. I need to believe via my own free will (though with God appearing directly to many people in the bible, and many believers today claiming to have had a personal revelation, the 'must believe on faith alone' condition seems to be a somewhat fluid rule). 

If I believe of my own free will, he'll reveal himself to me, I'll be a believer for life, and will be with him in the afterlife. 

Should I not believe I'll be judged accordingly and will spend the rest of eternity (a fairly long time) in a lake of fire, possibly being tortured, certainly not enjoying it. 

Theists tell me that it's my choice to go to hell. Because I refuse to believe, I'm putting myself in hell. 

What needs to be remembered here is that this 'believe on faith alone' condition is one that God put in place himself, and he put it in place *knowing* in advance that billions and billions of people would be condemned to eternity in hell because of it. One must wonder why he decided to place this 'on faith alone' condition on being 'saved'.

There are two things God knows. One: What it will take for me to believe he's real. Two whether or not this will happen before I die. 

If I die before God gives me reason to believe, how is me not believing my fault, given he knows what it will take me to believe, but refuses to provide it? 

People believe in God for different reasons. For some it's pure faith, for others they believe they've had a personal revelation. There are some who've had life changing experiences and they think God was responsible. For all these people God has made them in a way that allows them to believe - he's met their 'belief criteria'. Why not meet mine? 

If I believe the theists, the following is true: god loves me unconditionally, and loves me for ever. I don't know about you, but if I loved someone unconditionally and forever, I'd do all I could to prevent them from being burnt in hell for eternity (if I thought hell was real). God? Not so much. 

God would rather I burn in hell than he prove himself to me. Why? I'm not sure. Is me believing on faith alone really that important? How does he make the case that me, or anyone, burning in hell for eternity is 'better' than us being in heaven? 

It's not like God himself is being forced by some other overlord to honour this obligation. This is a rule *he* has put in place. It is his own condition that says I have to believe on faith alone, and he put that condition in place knowing I wouldn't be able to meet it.

Yet theists still claim I 'choose' hell? 

If it's given that I'm doing what God knows I'm going to do, and he knowingly made me in a way that means I can't believe on faith alone, and he put the condition of requiring faith for entry into heaven, how exactly is my own free will sending me to hell? 

If God is real, and he wants me to spend eternity in heaven rather than hell, he could get that done in an instant. He chooses not to. If I end up in hell (I won't) it's because *God* chose that path for me. 

A question that could be asked here is 'what does god get out of it?' When we let a child do something we'd rather they didn't, it's often to teach a lesson. For example, you might tell a toddler three times not to touch the glass on the front of the oven, because it's hot. If they attempt to touch it for the fourth time, you might let them, knowing that you're there on standby ready to deal with the outcome, but knowing they'll learn once and for all not to touch the oven, and they'll do it when you can look after them afterwards and they'll do it with the tip of their finger and not their whole hand. 

Sending someone to hell has no such benefit. One cannot learn from this and do better next time. There is no next time. Sending a non-believer to hell is nothing but pure punishment. Punishment forever. Punishment for the 'crime' of not believing that a god exists. 

How does an 'all loving' god justify a person having 80 (maybe) years of life on earth, with its own ups and downs, at times its own misery, just to then spend eternity in hell? 

The parent of the toddler above might justify the scorched tip of a finger by pointing out the new found knowledge that the oven is, in fact, hot. But for god, he's creating people to spend a temporary period on earth and then the rest of forever in hell. Doing this does *not* come under the umbrella of 'all loving'. 

Creating people simply to send them to hell, which, if the story is true, is what God is doing, is monstrous, not loving. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Morality from God?

We atheists often get asked, if there's no god, where do we get our morality from? 

We may answer by talking about the evolutionary origins and benefits of things such as empathy. 

But it raises a question - if there *is* a god, from where do people get their morality? 

Any theist will tell you that they get their morality from the god in which they happen to believe. It is he (it's always a he these days) who decides what is right, what is wrong, and it's up to us to follow that. Seems reasonable. Well, no, it doesn't. But it does seem straight forward. 

However there is an issue. Without an inherent ability to tell right from wrong, or at least allocate right and wrong, how does one decide that the morality dictated to them by a god is, in fact, good? If a person has no ability to know right from wrong, without being told, then it's impossible for them to know that the morality they're following is 'good'. They become automatons, unthinkingly doing what is dictated, making no decision themselves, making no judgement calls, or moral decisions. 

The problem with this kind of mindless obedience is that it can lead to thinking like this: 
One can only hope that Andrew P either 1: Is joking (as tasteless as it might be) or 2: Never hears 'voices' in his head telling him to kill. 

I will speculate here and suggest that if I spoke to Andrew about his declaration that he would murder on behalf of his god, he would say that he *knows* his god is good and *knows* that his god would never get him to do anything that's morally questionable. In such a situation, wouldn't it be better that Andrew's morality was based more on empathy, understanding, discussion, and logic, rather than voices in his head? 

Continuing with the speculation, I would question as to how Andrew knows his god is good. Having looked at a few more of Andrew's tweets, I think he'd say that the god in which he believes can't lie and he knows this because the god in which he believes has told him that he, god, cannot lie. 

Hopefully you already see the problem. A god who *can* lie, if such god were to exist, could say anything - including that it cannot lie. The statement 'I cannot lie' cannot be believed on its own.

It will be argued here that it's not just that the god in question has said that it cannot lie, but it is the very nature of this god that it cannot lie (that a being outside of nature has a nature is somewhat paradoxical). The obvious question that follows is: Who has defined this nature of 'god'? 

If it was the god itself, then we've still no reason to believe it. Any god capable of lying is capable of denying its ability to lie. If it is the believer that has defined this characteristic then the entire premise falls apart. 'I believe in a God who cannot lie, therefore the God in which I believe cannot lie' is pure nonsense and would be immediately recognised as such by anyone with entry level logic skills. They have simply defined into 'existence' a god that fits their preconceived ideas of what a god ought to be. 

What does this amount to? 

Simply put, someone who believes in a god that gives them their morality has no way of knowing whether or not that morality is good, has no way of knowing whether or not they've been lied to about that morality being good and, at least in some examples, has no justification for *not* murdering people en masse, if they believe their god has commanded them to do so. 

I don't see this as the kind of morality that should be trumpeting itself as superior. 

Monday, 17 August 2015

What evidence would I need in order to accept God exists?

It's a question that atheists get asked a lot: What evidence would I need in order to accept God exists? 

It's hard to answer, because I personally have no concept of gods or goddesses. I'm not sure I should be saying anything because I don't define what a god is nor what it's capable of - believers do that. 

To me, asking an atheist what evidence they'd need to accept the existence of a god or goddess is like me asking you what evidence you'd need to accept the existence of a Gnorleyark. Until I define a Gnorleyark for you, how could you know?

I have said before (thanks to Matt Dillahunty) that I don't know what evidence would prove to me that a god or goddess exists - but the god or goddess does. So pray to them, ask them what that evidence is, then, when you have the answer, get back to me. 

But I feel now that lets them off the hook too lightly, because they're likely to tell me that they think no evidence would convince me, no matter what they came back with. 

So when the evidence question comes up now, before I can answer, I need to clarify something with them. Something that (hopefully) makes them think a little, and makes them see the situation from my point of view. A sceptical, critically thinking point of view. 

I may refine the question in the future, but for now it's this:

What detectable, verifiable, testable, or measurable qualities, properties, or characteristics does a god or goddess possess which unambiguously and conclusively shows that it's not a product of human imagination?

If they can't answer this, then I can comfortably point out they can provide no evidence to convince me of their claim. 

Theists often tell me that their god is outside the physical, outside of space, and outside of time. What does that leave? What's remaining that qualifies as 'existence'? There may be a state of 'being' that is outside of what we know as reality, but if there can we detect and verify it? Right now, as far as I know, we can't. To me, this shows that the properties of 'God' have nothing in common with reality. There's a reason for that. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

10 poor reasons to believe god exists

These are some of the arguments for God that come up most often. No particular order. 

1: Other people believe it. 
Although there may be many people who share your belief. There are at least 5 billion people who don't. At least 1.6 billion people have an alternate belief. You can't all be right. but you can all be wrong. 

2: My parents told me to believe. 
They also told you to believe Santa is real (maybe) or the tooth fairy. Not only have your parents lied to you, but their reasons for believing also fall under one or more of the poor reasons listed here. We've evolved to listen to our parents because some of their advice is good (don't touch the fire, watch where you're walking) but to believe them in everything, without question is questionable. 

3: I can't explain 'x' without God. 
People used to think that about lightning and earthquakes too. We can explain them now and guess what? No god required. What you don't understand is not proof that a god exists. For 'x' to be proof of god, you need to show that it *is* god, not that you can't imagine how it isn't. 

4: The prophecies in the bible/scientific revelations in the Qu'ran prove the book is from God. 
Biblical prophecy is vague and easily retrofitted. Sure, Israel became a nation, but did it really take a godly prophecy to predict it? Could a hopeful Hebrew have suggested it? Of course. The science in the Qu'ran is inaccurate (eg where sperm comes from, two kinds of water not mixing) The 'science' in the Qu'ran is consistent with what was known at the time. 

5: It's called FAITH!
Yeah, it is. As long as you recognise that faith, and good reasons to believe, are different things. As above, at least 1.6 Billion people have 'faith' that a different story is true. Faith gets people to fly planes into buildings thinking they've got 72 virgins waiting for them. Faith lets people eat a wafer thinking it's *literally* the flesh of a Jewish carpenter that lived 2000 years ago. Faith makes people throw virgins into volcanoes thinking it'll appease the god within. Faith makes people think a man rose from the dead is a better explanation than 'something else happened'. Faith may make you feel good, but it's not a pathway to truth. 

6: All cultures have developed a god - there must be something in it. 
There's no doubt humans have a hunger for answers. We crave explanations for what we can observe. The scientific method is the best way we've come up with to find those explanations. But the scientific method is recent. It wasn't around 2000+ years ago when gods and goddesses where being invented. A primitive mind thinking that thunder was the result of an angry god is understandable, but gods and goddesses were the answers we came up with when we didn't know better. We know better now. It's funny how the number of gods and goddesses we invent has slowed since the scientific method was developed. 

7: Without God, we wouldn't know right from wrong. (Morality) 
Says who? This is really just a stab in the dark and could easily be the 'x' in point 3. Non-human animals show traits that we call morality. The show compassion, cooperation, and empathy. They have a sense of 'fairness' and they look after each other when required. These are evolved traits and are easily shown to be beneficial to the species. No one has demonstrated that a god is required. 

8: Evolution is a religion (is false, can't happen etc.). 
Even if this were true (and it's not) it doesn't matter. Disproving evolution would in no way prove that gods and goddesses exist. All disproving evolution would do (if it could be done) is show that evolution doesn't happen. 

9: I feel something when I pray/worship. 
Sure you do. But people have feelings like that at concerts, and sporting events too. There's nothing concrete to suggest that this is an internal feeling caused by god or Jesus or whomever. More likely it's really just your body having a reaction to you having a good time.

10: There MUST be something more...
Saying it, wanting it to be true doesn't make it so. Sure we may want to see our loved ones when we die. Sure we may get a warm fuzzy feeling at the idea that we're here for a purpose greater than ourselves and that even after we die we'll somehow carry on. Some people may even like the idea that our existence makes a god happy and that's good enough reason to be alive. But wanting all those things to be true, doesn't make them true. 'Must' is a definite position. You need to demonstrate that it's true not just assert it and expect people to believe. When people say 'must' in this context, they're really saying 'I really hope there is'. 

There's also Look around you! 
I wrote a whole blog on this very topic. See it here