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.