Thursday, 22 December 2016

God did it? I don't think so.

There is no need to invoke a more complex being to explain the universe if you don't need one to explain god.

 It saves you from committing a special pleading fallacy. So it makes more logical sense to not invoke a god.

 The 'god' explanation is simply appealing to mystery. People can't explain the universe so they invent a god they also can't explain.

 It's really the height of intellectual laziness.

 Also, 'a natural phenomenon we don't yet understand' is the ***only*** hypothesis that's ever come true.

 Gods were thought to be responsible for thunder, lightning, solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, tides, earthquakes, volcanoes.... the list goes on and on.

You know how many times the god hypothesis was shown to be correct? 

Zero. Not once. Not ever. 

You know how many times 'a natural phenomenon we don't yet understand' has been correct?

Every single time. Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be *NOT god*. Every. Single. Time.

So we sit here now, perhaps not fully understanding how the universe came to be in this state.

And despite a 100% record of failure for 'God did it' and a 100% success rate for 'natural phenomenon'...
...Theists suggest god as an explanation and somehow still expect us to take them seriously.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

8 Questions for atheists

So a person on twitter (@InspiredWalk) tweeted a link to 8 questions for atheists. 

Note the use of all capitals for NOT.

Well, Inspired're going to have to change this, because here I am, answering these questions. 

What I found interesting is that the heading of this article is '8 questions for atheists', but Inspired Walk has decided to answer them him or herself. Perhaps it would have been more accurately titled '8 questions directed at atheists, but which I am answering, despite not being one'. are the 8 questions. I'll provide the link to Inspired Walk's answers below. 


Is Atheism a LACK of Belief in God or a BELIEF that there is no God?

It is a lack of belief in God but can also encompass those who believe there is no god. It becomes a tricky area because people have different definitions of belief and knowledge. And when you throw absolute certainty into the mix, it becomes cloudier again. 
What I wonder about is the relevance of the question. I think we sometimes get too bogged down in the definitions and forget to address the claims being made (I know I've done this myself). Forget the definitions and go with these questions that the folks on The Atheist Experience use: "What do you believe and why?" No need for labels then. 

I note that Inspired Walk ends their answer to this question with the affirmation: "Atheism is a CHOICE. It is a belief system"

No, it's not. Something I explained in this passage I wrote: 


If God Exists Would You Become A Christian?

Short answer - no. 

Slightly longer answer - definitely not. 

Longest answer - I would not. Christianity is an abhorrent system. It professes to be about love, but its instruction manual is full of instructions on who you should kill and why. It's a system that tells children (and adults) that they are flawed, and are not only bound for eternity in hell, they deserve it. Oh, sure, they provide an out - a man (god?) was sacrificed in a most brutal manner to atone for the 'sins' of the people. A man living in Palestine 2000 years ago was killed so *I* could get into heaven? Please. And all this because a woman, made from the rib of a man (who himself was made out of dust) was talked into eating a piece of magical fruit. 

By a snake. 

Literal or allegory, the story is absurd. It's rife is logical inconsistencies (god put the tree there knowing Eve would eat from it, but blames Eve for what happened?) and scientific mistakes (world created in 6 days?). 

Even forgetting the Old Testament nonsense (but wait, no OT, no need for saving, no need for saving, no Jesus....anyway) We're lead to believe that humans lived for thousands of years (about 4,000 if you're a Young Earth Creationist, about 250,000 if you're scientifically literate) until such time God decided to send himself to earth as a man, in order to sacrifice himself to save human kind from...what he would do to us if he hadn't done that? Preposterous. 

Inspired Walk says in their answer: "Atheism is the belief that life is “better” without God or that life does not need God." No, it's not. But you already know that. 

The bible reads exactly like what it is, a book of stories, fables, superstitions and myths written by people who didn't know better. We know better now. It's a book about the beginning of the universe written by people who didn't know galaxies exist. They didn't even know Australia existed! 

Christianity is homophobic, sexist, oppressive, guilt driven, and scientifically backwards. 

So if god exists, would I become a Christian? No I would not. 

How Do You Determine What’s Right & What’s Wrong?

The classic reworded version of 'If god doesn't exist, where do you get your morality from?' (note - it's never phrased correctly as 'If god doesn't exist, from where do you get your morality?') 

Many species, particularly mammals, have an evolved sense of 'right and wrong'. We see moral traits such as empathy, compassion, kindness, sharing, fairness, and cooperation all over the animal kingdom. 

There's a reason for this - evolution. Our long-time-ago ancestors thrived because traits we call morality were beneficial. This genetic make up has been passed down to us through the generations. 

Of course we all have differing senses of right and wrong and right and wrong has changed over the years. (Remember slaves?) and these difference can cause issues. Sometimes we solve this with war, sometimes with discussion, reasoning and logic. 

Inspired Walk says in their answer: For the Christian the question of morality and right or wrong comes from the Scriptures / the Bible. But for the atheist, the morality issue is very murky and always changing.

If the first sentence is true, then I'd like to know Inspired Walk's thoughts on slavery and they reached them. The bible specifically endorses slavery. It even tells people how much they can beat their slaves without it being punishable. 

In the second sentence Inspired Walk says that morality for an atheist is 'always changing'. Well, if you read some history you'll find that this is true of all people, not just atheists. The aforementioned slavery, for example. Considered the norm not too long ago, classified as immoral now by every decent person I know. Homosexuality used to be illegal in my country *in my lifetime*. Now we have jurisdictions all over the world where it's not only legal (as it is now here, as it should be) but allowing people in same sex relationships to marry. We have politicians in Australia pushing for that to happen here too. (I'm so embarrassed as to how far behind the rest of the world we are on this issue). 

We, as a species, used to think burning 'witches' was acceptable. Now no decent person would dream of it. The bible instructs a rapist to pay the victim's father silver and then *to marry her*. We don't do that today. 

Morality (the sense of right and wrong) is partly innate, and partly through discussion, compassion, reason, and logic. Not some ancient book. 


How Do You Deal With Guilt & Sin in Your Life?

Well first things first, being an atheist, I don't think there's any such thing as 'sin' so I don't need to deal with it. 

As for guilt, well, it depends on what I feel guilty over. If I hurt someone, I apologise. If they don't/can't accept just yet, then we can have a discussion and try to work it out. The best way to deal with guilt is to try to improve because of it. Learn a lesson from what you did that made you feel guilty. It's a fact that no amount of guilt can take back whatever it was that caused it, but it can help guide your path to being a better person. 

Do You Act According To What You Believe or According To What You Lack In Belief?

Well, I actually think this is a good question. It's a little more interesting than the others. 

I am wary of the use of belief and it carries with it an air of being 'without evidence'. I prefer to assess evidence and act accordingly. If the goal is a healthy and happy society where all people have equal opportunity and are all treated fairly, then for me methodological-secular-humanism is the best approach. It's an idea proposed by my friend Martin Pribble and although it would be hard to get the world to act on it (the rich like being the rich, and too many of the poor in the west think they'll one day be part of the rich) but it would be worth it. 
In the mean time I like to use, where I can, the Golden Rule or Law of Reciprocity. Now before you get all excited thinking it's a biblical instruction, there have been versions of the Golden Rule dating back to ancient Egyptian Middle Kingdom (c. 2040 – c. 1650 BC)

In case you don't know the Golden Rule most commonly takes the form 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Or in more modern language, treat people the way you want to be treated. 

Pretty simple and straight forward. Of course you wouldn't want *everyone* following this. Masochists should give it a miss, for example. But it's a good starting point.   

In their answer, Inspired Walk makes the following statements: 
Atheists have NO EVIDENCE that non-life can create life but yet they BELIEVE it.
Atheists have NO EVIDENCE as to HOW the universe was created yet they BELIEVE their theories.
Atheists have NO EVIDENCE dinosaurs turned into birds but yet they BELIEVE it.

I don't know what these three things have to do with how you act as a person, but that's irrelevant as they're all completely wrong. When you write that something has no evidence, even going to the point of making it all caps, it really weakens your stance when there is, in fact *loads* of evidence. Never think there's not more research you can do. It can save you making embarrassing statements such as the above. 

Can You Prove HOW the Universe Was Created?

I flat out reject the wording of this question. I have no reason at all to think the universe was created. A better phrased question would be 'What evidence is there to explain how the universe came to be in its current state?' 

People make the mistake of thinking science 'proves' things. The goal of science isn't to prove things. And experiments don't try to prove things, they try to disprove things. Scientists use terms like 'evidence suggests' and 'the conclusion we reach from this observation is..'  and 'current thinking is...' 

It takes a solid lack of understanding of science to ask for proof as it's phrased in this question. 

As it stands The Big Bang Theory is the best supported explanation for how the universe came to be as it is. Things like the expanding universe, cosmic shift, microwave background radiation etc. all support a rapid expansion from a single point. 

Is there a lot to learn about how the universe came to be in this state? Sure. Will the answers come from a book written by scientifically illiterate superstitious goat herders? No chance. 

I'm going to include here, in full, Inspired Walk's answer to this question, and take it apart line by line. Red Italics will be mine. 

"There is no evidence pertaining to the evolutionist explanation for origin of life. There is no 'evolutionist' explanation for the origin of life. All evolutionist explanations for the origin of life and the creation of the universe remain merely as theories, presumptions and hypothesis. Again, no evolutionist explanations for the origin of life.Hypothesis and theories are how science works. No failed hypothesis equals 'god did it'.  The reason is because there is no scientific proof that for example, life may have evolved from non-life or that life resulted due to a “big bang”. As explained above, science doesn't provide 'proof' as such. But there is, in fact evidence to support the Big Bang and evidence to support the possibility of life coming from non-life. Inspired Walk should read more, and assert less. 
Therefore atheists cannot prove how the universe was created. Nor can anyone else. It actually takes faith to believe some of the theories that evolutionists have suggested. No, it's just a matter of following the evidence where it leads. 
The Bible is clear as to who and how the universe was created. God created the universe.
Genesis 1:1-2 – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Yeah, except this didn't happen. None of the evidence supports this statement. 

Can You Prove That God Does Not Exist?

No. Well, I can to a court of law 'reasonable doubt' level. I say that having not tried, but I'm pretty confident. The problem would be, of course, that you couldn't possible get an unbiased jury. People would either already believe or not. Nothing you could say would change their mind. 

The point is though, that this question is irrelevant. I'm an atheist. It's not because I can prove gods and goddesses don't exist, it's because no one can give me reason to think they do. Russell's Teapot comes to mind here. I can't prove there's not a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars...but is that enough reason to believe there is one? Not at all. 

I can't prove god doesn't exist, just as Inspired Walk can't prove Russell's Teapot doesn't exist. But that's not enough reason for Inspired Walk to believe that it does exist. 


Do You Know Where You’re Going When You Die?

Yes. I've been 'not alive' for billions of years. I have absolutely no reason to think it'll be different when I'm not alive again. 

As Mark Twain famously said: 
I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

When you're dead there's no brain, there's no consciousness. There's nothing left of you to 'go' anywhere. You're either burnt or buried. That atoms that make up your physical form are used in other areas of the universe, doing what they do. There is no more 'you'. You 'live on' in the memories of your family and friends. We live in an age where so many people have an online immortality. Our loved ones will be able to look back an know what we were up to almost every day of our lives. This is how we will be remembered. 

But there is no more 'us'. With nothing to house it, there will be no mind there will be nothing for the consciousness that is MrOzAtheist to reside in. I will cease to be. I will be an ex-tweeter. 

Like Mr Twain, I do not fear death. I'm annoyed by it (at this stage, maybe when I'm 110 I may see it differently) because I love life and I love learning. I love knowing what's going on. There are things I want to see and do. Death will be the end of that. So from that point of view, it's an annoyance. Not that I'll be annoyed after it happens. 

I do fear dying, to some extent though. Because it can hurt. It can take your dignity, and can be traumatic for friends and family. I'm at a stage in my life now where I go to more funerals than 21sts and it sucks. But it's part of life. It's what happens. 

I'm not going anywhere when I die, so I need to make sure I go everywhere I can while I'm alive. 

You can find Inspired Walk's answers here 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Marriage Equality Plebiscite

$160 million will achieve nothing. And for many will be a negative.

$160 million. That's the estimated cost of the marriage equality plebiscite the Australian government is planning for February 11th next year. The thing to keep in mind here is that the plebiscite is *non-binding*. To state it clearly, unlike a referendum, parliament can legally ignore the result of a plebiscite.

We can't have a referendum for this issue, because the marriage act is an act of parliament. Referenda change the constitution, not acts of parliament. And it's very rare to have a plebiscite to get opinion on changing an act of parliament. Because normally changing acts of parliament are done in parliament. By parliamentarians. This is, in fact, their job.

Australia has had 3 previous plebiscites.
·         1916: military service conscription (defeated)
·         1917: reinforcement of the Australian Imperial Force overseas (defeated)
·         1977: choice of Australia’s national anthem ('Advance Australia Fair' preferred.)

Two were defeated. It’s important to note that despite the choice of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ being our national anthem in 1977, it wasn’t made our national anthem until 1984. If marriage equality is voted ‘for’ in the plebiscite next year, it may not be until 2024 that it is adopted as policy. Adding further weight to the pointlessness of a marriage-equality plebiscite.

Further, when the marriage act was last changed, there was no plebiscite, no public consultation. The John Howard government introduced the Marriage Act Amendment, 2004. It included into the Marriage Act 1961 a definition of marriage. In summary, the Marriage Act Amendment, 2004 was to: define marriage as a union of a man and a woman; and clarify that same-sex marriages entered into under the law of another country will not be recognised in Australia.

It is an amendment of pure bigotry and discrimination. It exists to tell same sex couples that their partnership isn’t worthy of being recognised officially, like a heterosexual partnership is. It is a horrible and bizarre thing for a government to say to a country’s citizens.

To reverse this bigotry and discrimination, all that is needed is a further act of parliament. IE: Politicians doing their job. However, the right wing conservatives (Lead be former Prime Minister Tony Abbott) have decided that they are not for equality, and are for discrimination so there will be no government lead parliamentary vote under new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball. Instead, the expensive and unnecessary plebiscite is planned.

The government has committed $15 Million to ‘both sides’ of the debate, to be shared evenly. Yes, the government is giving the pro-discrimination group $7.5 Million. It’s simply outrageous.

If this goes ahead (Bill Shorten has introduced a private member’s bill, but this is unlikely to succeed) then we will have 5 months of hate, discrimination, and bigotry aimed at a section of our community which has already spent enough time being poorly treated.

We will have one side of the ‘debate’ saying “these people don’t deserve to have the rights I have” and people being told continually that they aren’t good enough, that they aren’t worth of being treated equally. And the government is going to fund this.

Are we, as a country that values the ‘fair go’ and a country that has a long tradition of supporting the underdog, and looking after our mates, really okay with funding a group of people that are *pro*-discrimination and *pro*-bigotry?

There are two sides of this debate. One is fuelled by fairness and equality. It’s the side that wants to see people being treated the same as everyone else, regardless of their sexual orientation. No employer in Australia is allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation, some of us think the marriage act shouldn’t be allowed to either.

The other side is fuelled by ignorance and bigotry. It’s the side that wants to tell a part of our community they are not good enough, that they are flawed, and that they don’t deserve to have equal rights because of who they love. How anyone could be on this side of the debate is beyond me.

This side of the debate will use terms like ‘my religious beliefs’ and ‘the tradition of one man and one woman’. They’ll claim that somehow what they think their god wants should somehow influence whether or not two *other people* should get married. They’ll say that marriage has ‘always been between one man and one woman’. Something which simply isn’t true – but that’s irrelevant. In the past interracial-marriage wasn’t allowed. ‘Keeping the tradition’ was used as an argument against it. Are these really the kinds of people we want to be associated with?

It’s a simple and obvious fact that some people are born to grow up to love and desire as their partner in life, a person of the same gender. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be treated equally. Some might say ‘but marriage is religious’. No, it’s not. The concept predates religion and people who are not religious in any way are allowed to be married. Religion doesn’t own marriage, therefore religious leaders (and followers) don’t get to decide who can and can’t be married.

Others might say that a same-sex couple can’t have children, and marriage is about ‘family’ and ‘children’. Neither of these points are true. Same-sex couples can indeed have children. Sure, it’s not possible in the traditional way, but it’s definitely possible. But again, this point is irrelevant because heterosexual couples who don’t want to have children or are incapable of having children are allowed to marry. The lack of children is not an argument against why two people can’t get married for hetero couples, it shouldn’t be one for same sex couples either.

Many jurisdictions around the world, including the highly religious Ireland and the USA have marriage equality and none are worse off for it. Canada has had it for over 10 years and is doing just fine, thank you.

What it comes down to is respecting and valuing the love between two people.  Two people who want to commit to each other and want this commitment to take place in front of their family and friends and to have it officially recognised by the government of the country in which they live.

You’d have to be a very cold-hearted, hateful person to say a same-sex couple doesn’t deserve this right. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Australian Census 2016 and the 'No religion' option

So, apparently this piece of idiocy is doing the rounds on social media.

It's a shame that people are falling for it. Let me analyse it... 

If this came from a Lawyer, it was from one who got their degree on the back of a cornflakes box.

Yes, the Census is Tuesday the 9th of August.

"For the first time this year there will be a 'no religion' option" <- Wrong. The no religion option has been there since 1991. It's just that this time, it's at the top.

Yes, the Muslim population will mark 'Muslim' on the form. All 2.2% of them. About 475,000 people. Fewer, it might be added, than Buddhists at 2.5% or 529,000 people. Christians, conversely, made up about 61% of the population in the 2011 census or 13,150,600 people - significantly higher than the 2.2% of Muslims.

The largest group among the Christians are the Catholics at 25.3% or 5,439,200 people. The 'no religion' total is about 22.3% or 4,796,800 people. About 800,000 people behind the Catholics (not Christians in general - just the Catholics).

"Eventhough you may now have no religion, please consider enter the religion you were christened or born into" <- This is asking you to lie on your census form, which I think you'll find is illegal (I'm struggling to find out for certain). Hardly advice you'd expect from a lawyer.

"Otherwise in time Australia will officially be declared a Muslim country" <- There are 5,000,000 more *Catholics* in Australia than Muslims. Not Christians in general, just Catholics. For Muslims to be the highest sub-group approximately 2,500,000 people who put Catholic on the last census would have to put MUSLIM on this one. That's simply not going to happen.

And even then, the 3,000,000 *Muslims* would still be behind the 7,711,000 remaining Christians and would still be behind the nearly 5 million 'no religion' people.

But...No one is asking Catholics to put "Muslim" on their form. People are asking that if you are 'no religion' you put 'no religion'.

Approximately 22.3% or 4,769,000 people marked No Religion on the 2011 census. When a similar change was made to the New Zealand census, the 'no religion' response grew about 7%. If that were to happen in Australia - and ONLY from the Christians, it would see No Religion rise to about 6,330,000 people and Christians drop to about 10,550,000 people. STILL significantly higher than any other group, and MORE than 10 MILLION people higher than 'Muslims'.

Please don't fall for the nonsense. Please don't be 'scared' into lying on your census form because of morons. Say no to bullshit

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Society vs God

There seems to be a school of thought among certain believers that without their version of 'God' life is meaningless and there's no motivation to be good. There's no motivation to improve oneself or the society in which one resides. 

As an atheist who is not an anarchist, who is not trying to do my best to destroy society as I know it, to me the above train of thought is somewhat odd. 

The idea among some (most? all?) believers is that we do 'good' (what is good?) on earth so 1: We please god. 2: We can get into heaven. Essentially being rewarded for doing what god wants. 

Side note - of course it gets complex when we talk about things such as salvation and redemption. We can, seemingly, get away with (almost) anything if we repent. John 14:6 seems to suggest that no matter what one does in the way of good deeds, if you don't believe in, and accept, Jesus as your saviour, there's no heaven for you. 


For the sake of simplicity, let's go with Do good. Believe in god. Get into heaven. 

Seems like pretty good motivation to be a good person, I guess. Then there's the opposite side of the scale - hell. The Jews don't really have hell. Christians have told me it's eternal torture in a lake of fire. Christians have also told me hell is simply separation from God (whatever that means). I have had a group of very angry appearing Muslims literally yelling at me (et. al.) that Christopher Hitchens was in hell simply because he didn't believe in God. 

Again, for the sake of simplicity, let's go with: Do bad. Don't believe in God. End up in Hell. 

Seems like pretty good motivation to not do bad, I guess. 

But for me, the atheist, I have no heavenly motivation or threat of hell to make me do good, or stop me from doing bad. I can choose to do as much bad as I want and not fear the post-life repercussions. 

So....why aren't I out raping, stealing, and killing as much as I want? Well, I am. As much as I want, happens to be zero. 

What stops me? There is no short answer, but I can tell you one's not 'I don't want to go to jail'. 

The quote from Abraham Lincoln comes to mind: 
“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.”
Put this alongside the Golden Rule and you've a pretty good basis for a secular morality. Pretty good...but not perfect. 

For example, you'd not want a masochist to live by the Golden Rule and one person's idea of 'doing good' may vary vastly from someone else's idea. But it's a start. 

From here, you build a society based on empathy, and compassion. Let reason and logic guide decisions. Discuss all the alternatives and work together to conclude what's best. 

It's not easy. What's 'best' for one won't always be what's best for another. What the 'majority' wants is not always going to be fair, kind, or just. The majority can be wrong. 

It's a work in progress. Hard work. People can sometimes take to the streets in order to have what is 'right' be accepted by society as a whole. I've been part of doing this myself. 

When this kind of change comes about, it's not the religions leading the march. They're on the sidelines, protesting that it's happening. 

The Australian Christian Lobby, for example, recently complained about  a children's television program, Play School, showing a 'family' as having two dads. Yes, really. 

In many countries around the world now, same-sex marriage, or marriage equality, is the norm. In Canada it's been the norm for over 10 years. Last time I spoke to my Canadian friends, Canada was still going. It hasn't crumbled. 

In Australia, what many of us see as an unjust situation (Including my state premier) is seen by a lot of believers as 'wrong'. They are not leading this fight for equality and fairness, they are protesting it. 

This is just one example. 

But...I can hear the believers in my head now...this is just about the 'how' not about the 'why'! Why bother making a fair and just society if I'm not wanting it for 'God'? 

Well, my believing friends, as hard as it may be for you to accept, I want it for 'society' itself. 

I live here, you know? As do my friends, as do my family. As do strangers. I want the society I live in to be the best it can be because it benefits us all. A society where I have access to food and shelter and education and healthcare gives me, and those I know and love a better quality of life. Also *other people* having access to food and shelter and education and healthcare give me, and those I know and love a better quality of life. 

The healthier the society in which I live, the happier I will be. 

Of course this raises two further questions. 1: Is this motivated by selfishness? 2: Why do I want to be happy. 

1: Kind of, yes. I want people to be happy for their own sake. If I see people who are miserable, it makes me sad. If I see people who are happy, it makes me happy. I've seen videos of complete strangers having something wonderful happen to them (finding a lost dog, hearing for the first time (thank you science) a loved one returning home after being away for a long time) and that makes me happy. So I guess, on some level, you could say that I want others to be happy, because it makes me happy. But there are also times when I'm not happy, for reasons completely unrelated to other people. And it doesn't matter how joyful they are that their beloved pet has been returned, or their son/daughter/dad/mum/husband/wife has returned from the war, something is going on with me that just can't allow me to be happy at that moment (my parents dying being the biggest and obvious thing). 

But even in *those* moments, I still want other people to be happy. I wouldn't want me being sad to bring other people down. What motivates this desire? The desire that other be happy even if I am not? Evolution. 

There is evidence that altruism is biological. That it is an evolved trait. There is also evidence that altruism and empathy is found in non-human animals too, for example elephants.

Our evolutionary path has seen us develop traits that we action for the benefit of our species and not necessarily ourselves as individuals. There is an innate desire to protect the species. Almost all species protect their young. Many species also cooperate on a group level. A group of elephants will form a circle around a cow about to give birth to protect her from danger whilst she's unable to protect herself. 

A happier species is a healthier species. Countries that rate highest on human development index (rating such things as life expectancy at birth, education, standard of living) correlate very closely with countries whose citizens are the happiest. Simply put, looking out for ourselves (as a group) makes us happier and makes us healthier. 

Doing what we think God wants us to do? Doesn't work quite as well. Countries at the top of the HDI are overwhelmingly secular and have comparatively low religiosity. Countries towards the middle and bottom, are overwhelmingly theocratic and have high (to almost total) religiosity. 

Of course there are many more factors here than belief. The bottom quarter of the HDI is predominately African and the environment plays a huge part in this. But it is undeniable that there is a correlation between secularism and well-being. 

What is clear though that society as a motivator *works*. Wanting to do good for the society in which we live *works*. It demonstrably leads to a healthier life. It demonstrably leads to a happier life. And the desire for a healthier and happier life is innate. 

Why would I need a belief in a god and an afterlife to motivate me to want to live in a happy and healthy society when a happy and healthy society is its own reward? 

Rather than asking an atheist why we care about life, if this is all there is, the question should be to theists - why isn't this life - your friends, your family and your society enough? 

Friday, 8 July 2016

The USA, Alton Sterling, the 2nd Amendment, and stuff

"A country's scientists, funded by their tax payers, put a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter.
A day later, two of the same country's police officers wrestle a man to the ground, kneel on him, and whilst he's restrained, one of the police offices pulls out his gun, shoots the restrained man multiple times, killing him. 
It is so strange that a country can be so advanced, and leading the world in some areas, whilst simultaneously being so barbaric and horrific."

These were my thoughts upon hearing about, and then seeing the footage of the killing of Alton Sterling. The footage is disturbing. The footage that came out first was filmed from inside a car about 10 metres from where Alton is killed. A second recording of the killing is filmed by someone standing about 2 or 3 metres from where Alton is killed.
There are reports that there is security footage of the incident, but that police have (illegally) seized that footage.
As is always the case in the era of social media, stories about what happened came out almost instantly. He was selling CDs. He was selling CDs and waving a gun. He's a paedophile. He's been charged with sexual assault crimes.  
Of course in this age of instant information, it is entirely possible for people to find out details about people and that information is shared instantly all over the world. Two issues come to mind when this happens. 
First, unless you want to spend time researching it yourself, there's no real way to determine the truth from lies. Of course something like previous charges can be found out with a deal of confidence, but what was happening on the scene prior to the incident, cannot.
Second, why does any of this matter? In this specific case, the man's gun was in his pocket when he was killed. He was selling CDs. I don't know if legally or illegally (people did claim he had permission from the store owner) but even if illegally, it's not an executable offence, let alone one where the punishment is execution without trial. Whatever the situation before he was killed, Alton Sterling was entitled to due process. An entitlement he didn't receive.
There is some contention as to whether or not the killing of Alton Sterling was justified...yes, really. I had a lengthy debate on twitter about it. It is a fact of the world in which we live that two people can look at the same footage and come away with two different opinions. Opinions they feel strongly about. 
I've seen the footage, as disturbing as it is. It upset me. I felt horrified. I won't post it here, but it's easy to find if you need to see it.
What I see is a man tackled to the ground, after he's yelled at to get on the ground. We don't know why he's told to get on the ground. We don't know why he didn't. He's clearly scared. 
He's pinned to the ground, on his side, right next to the front bumper of a car
One police officer appears to be kneeling on Alton's knees, the other is kneeling next to Alton's head. Alton struggles. He can't move but for a few jolts. I can't speak to his mindset but to me he appears terrified. Someone shouts 'he's got a gun'. The police officer near Alton's head pulls his gun, pointing it at Alton, perhaps 10cm away. Words are shouted. Alton doesn't move. The two police officers have been identified as Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake.
I'm not sure who it is who shoots first, or if both officers shoot, but at least one of them does. The camera being used in the nearby car drops away after the first two shots. People in the car can be heard becoming distressed and shocked at what they've witnessed. One of them asks 'why?' A fair question.
In the second video, it appears that Alton sits up or is jolted up by the first two or three shots. As with the first piece of footage, the camera drops away but unlike the first, it returns to the scene, after more shots are fired. It's graphic. Alton is seen with a large blood patch on his t-shirt. One of the police officers is still pointing his gun at Alton. Alton is not yet dead, as his arms can still be seen moving. He dies shortly after, but this isn't shown. 
Important things: 
1: According to an eyewitness account in this story Alton didn't have his hand near his pocket when he was shot. 
2: After pulling his gun, the police officer opens fire within seconds. In these seconds. Alton doesn't move.
I don't know why the police were there. I don't know why they ordered Alton to the ground. I don't know why he didn't get on the ground.
I do know that when someone shouted that Alton had a gun he was pinned to the ground, unable to move. I do know that seconds after a police officer pulled his gun, shots were fired. I do know that in the seconds between the gun being drawn, and the shots being fired, Alton didn't move.
I think Alton Sterling was unlawfully killed, but I have little doubt the police will be exonerated. It's seen time and time again that police in the US can kill citizens (typically, it seems, black men) and get away with it. No case to answer.
From here, it's formula. People will demand change, the president will issue a statement, people will hit the streets, the NRA will remain quite on the specific case, but still support guns, guns, and more guns. Australians, Canadians, Brits, and others will express bewilderment and the American love of guns, and for being so bold as to desire that our American friends stop shooting each other, we'll be told to mind our own business or, as has happened to me in the past, be called cowards for not having guns.
There may be riots, and if there are, there will be calls for calm, or the demonstrations may be peaceful. People will suggest it's a race issue, others will criticise them for that. People will say *they* aren't the problem, that *they* are a responsible gun owner. That the problem is illegal guns..,despite all guns starting off as legal guns.
And it won't even be the next day (another black man, Philando Castile being killed by a police officer within 24 hours of the death of Alton Sterling) let alone a week, or a month later According to this report 506 people have been shot and killed by police in the US this year. So, within about 8.5 hours, police will kill another citizen, most likely a black man, and although neither Alton Sterling nor Philando Castile were unarmed, according to the same report, it's seven times more likely be an unarmed black man who is killed next over a white person.
America, it seems, is a country on edge. A country that, like my own, has problems with racism. But unlike my own, it's a country with a, to this observer, bizarre obsession with, and love of guns. A country that has a national gun-supporting lobby spending millions and millions of dollars to buy politicians to make sure that the second amendment remains in tact.
The second amendment, in case you don't know, is this: 
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
It was adopted on December 15, 1791. At the time of writing, that's some 225 years ago. I recently saw this video. A man enters an office holding an old style gun. He fires the gun, missing the person he was shooting at. He then reloads the gun, which takes a long time, having to pack in the shot, and the gun powder. Meanwhile, everyone flees, screaming. Text appears on the screen reading 'Guns have changed, shouldn't our gun laws?'
A fair question, I would have thought. However, in In Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), [from Wikipedia] 
the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier rulings that "the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding"
"Even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding". Hmm. As worldly and intelligent as the writers of the second amendment may have been, I'm not sure how accurately the could have envisioned the future of 'arms'.
For example, provided you (and the gun) meet the criteria, you can own a fully automatic machine gun in the US. Fully automatic means squeeze the trigger once, lots of bullets come out.
Assault weapons (defined in the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban as: semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine) are legal throughout the US, except for 7 states. Semiautomatic means, with the magazine, you can fire one bullet per pull of the trigger. No reload, no cocking.
The task of wondering what was going on in the minds of people 225 years ago is impossible. We can never know the actual intention of the 2nd amendment. We can interpret, speculate and assume, but we can't know.
The Supreme court says 'even those not in existence at the time of the founding' and I agree with them. It's a reasonable assumption to think those who implemented the second amendment knew 'arms' would change. But did they think 'ordinary citizens' would be able to buy something like the Sig Sauer MCX, seen in the picture below? 

You know? I kind of doubt it. This gun, along with a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol were used by Omar Marteen to murder 50 people in an Orlando night club in June of 2016. It is a ferocious weapon. One must ask why an ordinary citizen would need such a weapon.
A common cry from gun owners is that a gun is required for self defence. It leads me to think that Americans need guns to protect themselves from Americans with guns. A vicious circle with murderous consequences.
It seems though that rather than self-defence, guns lead to self-harm, and harm of friends, and foes alike. Information cited in this study on guns in the home and risk of violent death shows a link between having guns in the home and an increased risk of dying because of it.
Some notable statistics out of the studies referenced: 
  •  Approximately 60 percent of all homicides and suicides in the United States are  committed with a firearm
  • Ecologic analyses have suggested a link between the prevalence of gun ownership and rates of homicide and suicide
  • After they controlled for a number of potentially confounding factors, 
    • the presence of a gun in the home was associated with a nearly fivefold risk of suicide
    • an almost threefold risk of homicide
  • a history of family handgun purchase was associated with an elevated risk of both homicide and suicide
From the study itself (note - it's from 2004) 
  • Nearly three quarters of suicide victims lived in a home where one or more firearms were present
  • A firearm was used in 68 percent of both homicides and suicides
  • Over three quarters (76.3 percent) of the homicide victims knew their assailant.
  • Nearly one third (31.7 percent) of the homicides occurred during a family argument
  • an increased risk of homicide for those with firearms in the home
  • Males with firearms in the home were at a significantly greater risk of suicide than males without guns in the home
This says, to me, that having a gun in the home is a dangerous idea.
It's often overlooked that the first part of the second amendment reads: 'A well regulated militia....' The armed citizens of the United States could well be called a militia, but well regulated? Certainly not
The next part of the second amendment says: "...being necessary to the security of a free state" Not self-defence from burglars. Not for shooting cans off the back fence. 'Security of a free state'. I would suggest this means to thwart invasion and, possibly, being taken over by a tyrannical government. Of course in 1791, all guns were the same. The guns the military had were the guns the citizens had. Not so now.
For example, the US military has amongst its armoury the M249 light machine-gun which can fire up to 1000 rounds per minute. A semi-automatic version was made available to the public in 2015. On this gun alone it's 1000 rounds per minute (military) v 'as fast as someone can repeatedly pull the trigger'. You'd have to pull the trigger *16 times per second* to match the fully automatic version. It's not a contest.
This, of course is ignoring the fact that the US military is the most heavily armed force in the history of the world. Highly trained soldiers v ordinary citizens. Fully automatic weapons at 1000 rounds per minute v maybe 120? 180? And that's before the person using the semi-automatic tires. But it doesn't stop there. Hand-grenades, bazookas, rocket launchers, missiles, air craft. The citizenry cannot match the might of the military. There are three scenarios.One: The government wants to become a dictatorship, and the military is on its side...the citizenry can't stop them (no matter how many times they've seen Red Dawn). Two: The government wants to take over and the military is *not* on their side...the military will take care of that themselves. Three: The government wants to take over and the military is split...the military will fight the military on equal footing. It's absurd to think a not at all regulated militia will have any impact against the US military.
In this video a white man open-carrying an AR-15 is approached by a police officer and casually questioned as to whether he has a purpose (beside it simply being his right). It then shows a black man exercising the same right. This time the police office exits his vehicle, his gun drawn, and orders the man to the ground. Several other police vehicles arrive shortly after. The man on the ground is handcuffed and his gun taken by a police officer.
There are obvious flaws here - different police office, different street. Maybe had the first officer seen the second man he'd have approached him the same way he approached the first man. But...I don't think so.
After I started this post, a protest march over the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings took place in Dallas, Texas. During the march snipers in 'elevated positions' opened fire at police. Five police officers were killed. Three suspects are in custody, a fourth is dead after a standoff.
As I said above, America is a country on edge. It's an armed country where police are in fear of their lives when a person reaches towards their pocket, and citizens (particularly black men) are in fear of their lives when engaged by police. It's a metaphoric powder keg and it's waiting to go off. I just hope the fuse hasn't already been lit.