Monday, 14 August 2017

On the marriage equality plebiscite...



First of all, if anyone shares anything against marriage equality, I will unfriend you. Not because I'm antifree-speech. Free speech is about the government not locking you up for what you say. If I unfriend you, you are still free to say whatever you like on your Facebook page, or wherever you want. It also doesn't mean I'm against your right to have an opinion. If I unfriend you, you still have the right to hold whatever opinion you like on any topic.

The reason I will unfriend you is because I am entitled to choose which people I am friends with here and I choose to NOT be friends with anyone who is homophobic and pro-inequality and pro-discrimination.

I have seen some very weird defences from people who are against equality. I saw one woman say 'what about the rights of heterosexual people to keep the rights they have?' Heterosexual people WILL keep they rights they have! It's not like this change is about removing the ability of heterosexual couples to get married and giving that right exclusively to same sex couples! The same woman also said that heterosexual people should be able to keep the 'unique institution they've always had.' I found this quite sickening. Made me think of a white person not wanting to allow a black person to sit at the front of the bus.

There is no valid defence of the 'no' side when it comes to marriage equality. There is no justification for being pro-discrimination.

The marriage act was changed by the Howard government in 2004 with NO consultation and certainly no plebiscite. It doesn't need a plebiscite to change it back. All that is needed is a simple parliamentary vote to change the marriage act. It just needs to change 'a man and a woman' to 'two people'. That is all. And it would save $120 million.

I have a daughter who is gay. She is wonderful. An amazing person. I will not put up with anyone, I don't care who you are, telling me she's inferior or somehow 'different' or some kind of second class citizen. I will not put up with anyone telling me she doesn't deserve the right to marry the person with whom she is in love.

And it's not just her. I know other gay people and I support their right to marry the person they're in love with. I support this right for all the LGBTQI people in this country. How can anyone look at a person and say 'I don't think you deserve the rights I have'? The very idea goes against everything that is good about society.

The whole idea of a plebiscite on this issue is absurd. Even making it voluntary and postal means it will cost around $120 Million. I have no idea why a heterosexual person in Townsville gets to decide if a gay person in Launceston is allowed to get married. I have no idea why anyone outside a relationship gets to decide whether or not two other consenting adults are allowed to get married.

There is a glaring anomaly in the law. The remedy is a parliamentary vote for equality. Not a months long campaign where bigoted homophobes will be telling a section of the community they're not worthy of being treated equally. It is weak of the government to do this. They are meant to be leaders. They are not leading.

But the vote (at this stage) is happening. And I'll be voting yes. I hope you all (if you're an Aussie) will be voting yes. And if you plan on voting no I'm sad for how you see the world and if I find out you voted no, we will no longer be friends.

A great society fights FOR equality, not AGAINST it.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Margaret Court

Many of my Aussie friends, and those of you who aren't, but are into tennis, have probably heard of Margaret Court. 

In case you haven't, she's an intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory cretin who told QANTAS she was no longer going to fly with them because they support marriage equality. And because she's a Christian minister and follows the bible, she thinks marriage should be restricted to being between a man and a woman. 

Apparently she was also pretty good at tennis a few decades ago. 

In the wake of what was basically an attempt to blackmail QANTAS into her way of thinking, many people have called for Tennis Australia/Melbourne and Olympic Parks to rename 'Margaret Court Arena' to something else. Evonne Goolagong Arena being the most prominent suggestion (and the one that I support). 

What I've found odd out of all this is the number of people defending Margaret Court saying she's entitled to her opinion, especially given it's her religious belief. 

Odd, because no one has said she isn't. I've not seen a single person say 'she's not allowed to have that opinion'.

The people defending her right to her opinion seem to not realise that just as Margaret Court is allowed to have her opinion, and to voice it, people are allowed to voice their opinion of her opinion! 

We hear shouts of the loss of free speech...but hang on. Why does free speech extend to Margaret Court, but not to others? Why is Margaret Court entitled to an opinion that's above criticism or response? I don't understand. 

When you keep your opinion to yourself, it is free of consequence, so long as that opinion isn't guiding actions that impact others. 

But Margaret Court didn't keep her opinion to herself. She voiced it. In a newspaper. Although we recognise her right to voice it, nothing about 'free speech' says that voicing your opinion is free of consequence. Nothing in free speech says voicing your opinion removes the right of other people to comment. She made her opinion public, and people responded. This is not anti-free-speech. This is free speech at work. 

People have also defended Margaret Court's bigotry and discrimination because it's part of her faith. It's her religion. Well my question is...why the fuck does that matter? Why does a bigoted, discriminatory opinion become acceptable just because it's religiously based? Why do people think religion gets a free pass here? 

It doesn't. And it shouldn't. 

I wonder what these defenders of bigotry would be saying if Margaret Court had said that all black people are niggers and deserve to die. Extreme? Sure. But do we give it a pass just because it's an opinion? Of course not. Any opinion, once voiced publicly is up for scrutiny and up for criticism, and up for others giving their opinion on that opinion. And none of this takes away Margaret Court's right to have an outdated opinion where she thinks certain members of society should be treated as second class citizens, because of who they love, just because she happens to be stupid or gullible enough to think characters in a bronze/iron age book of myths and fairytales are real. 

As for renaming the arena. Tennis Australia released a statement saying Margaret Court's views do not align with Tennis Australia's values of equality, inclusion, and diversity. And good on them for saying so. But I think to really back this up they need to rename the venue, though I think it's under the jurisdiction of Melbourne and Olympic parks to do this. Margaret Court is entitled to her opinion, but Tennis Australia/Melbourne and Olympic Parks are not, in any way, obligated to be represented by, or supporters of someone who's views are out of touch with their own. Renaming the stadium doesn't remover her right to her opinion. She's still entitled to it, but as I already said, nothing about free speech says your opinion is consequence free. 

I think it's time to send a clear and strong message to these anti-equality people that they are out of touch. That they don't represent modern Australia. That they don't have the support of the community at large. Send the message that we're sick and tired of people thinking hurtful views deserve a free pass just because they're based in religion. Send a message that the good and decent people of Australia want same sex couples treated with respect and equality. 

Simple fact is, Margaret Court's opinion on marriage equality is outdated, backwards, discriminatory, and based on nothing but some old book. There's nothing about her opinion on marriage equality that should carry any weight in a modern and progressive society. 



Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A response to a response...

Apologies in advance for taking you down the rabbit hole! 

Back in July 2015 I wrote a blog post called '10 poor reasons to believe a god exists'. If you'd like to read it, you can find it here

I've recently been talking to a Christian apologist on twitter who tweets under the handle @Lead1225. She was also known as @SJThompson but that account is now suspended. If you'd like to know more about her apologetics, you get hear her on Episode 21.10 of The Atheist Experience. (I've linked to where her call starts). 

Moving on. Stephanie (@Lead1225) saw my blog post about the 10 poor reasons to believe god exists and wrote a post in response with the slightly long-winded title of "10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists: A Response to “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by Mr. Oz Atheist.

It's not really a response to my post, but rather an independent list of what Stephanie mistakenly thinks are 10 good reasons to think a god exists. 

So...I've decided to respond to her response. But rather than do what Stephanie did, and just list 10 further reasons, I'm going to go through each of her 'good' reasons and explain why they are not, in fact, good reasons. Here goes....

(note - after doing 5 I decided to split it into two posts) 

1. "God's timing is perfect". 
Stephanie thinks that god's perfect timing is a good reason to think god is real. She goes on to highlight that that currently 98% of the human population has lived since Jesus allegedly lived (she doesn't say allegedly). She then points out that this will soon be 99.9%. (I haven't checked this figures, but it matters not if they're accurate)

This is a 'Begging the question' fallacy. What this means is that the argument premise includes an assumption that the conclusion is already true. A kind of circular reasoning. It's right there in the heading 'God's timing is perfect'. This already assumes god is real. It hasn't shown, in any way, that god is real, but simply insists that he is and then declares his timing perfect. Writing it in argument form highlights the circularity: 

  1. God is real.
  2. God's timing is perfect
  3. Therefore God is real. 
As you can see for yourself, this is NOT a good reason to believe god is real. 

2: "Christianity has survived against substantial odds"
Here Stephanie argues that because Jesus was a man of simple means, and made friends with people of similar simple means, it was unlikely for him to create a religion that would continue to this day. She also highlights that percentage of people who are Christians and how this percentage has progressively increased. 

This is an Argumentum ad populum fallacy. Latin for 'appeal to the people' it is the argument that because something is believed by many, it must be true. I'm sure we can all think of example of where this is false, but the one most commonly mentioned is flat earth. There was certainly a time where most (all?) people thought the earth was flat. We now know they were wrong. (Well, most of us do. Flat Earthers are a whole different blog post!) 

If current trends continue, in this century it's possible that Muslims world wide will outnumber Christians. I wonder then if Stephanie will be arguing that Islam is true ;) 

Again, I highlight this in argument form: 
  1. God is real. 
  2. May people believe it to be true. 
  3. Therefore god is real. 
Estimates suggest that there are currently one million people in the USA today who claim to have been abducted by aliens. A small percentage of the global population, sure, but Stephanie believes a man rose from the dead on the testimony of one man - Paul. If one man, with anecdote alone, can convince you a man rose from the dead, surely one million people should convince you, with anecdote alone, that aliens have visited earth....right? 

I'm quite convinced that if you were to ask Stephanie if the testimonies of a million people are enough to convince her aliens have visited earth, she'd say no. 

There are also many cases of people dying for what they believe and, again, I'm sue Stephanie wouldn't concede that this means what the believed was true. (Heaven's Gate, Jonestown, Branch Davidians to name but three).

Again, NOT a good reason to believe a god is real. 

3: The Cosmological Argument
I urge your to read Stephanie's 'argument' here for yourself as it's quite the jumbled mess. I'll break it down line by line...

"At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang." 
Not entirely true. Not entirely false. Science has provided at least one hypothesis. Is it consensus? Nope. Demonstrable true? Nope. Needing some work? For sure. But it exists (See Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing). And even if it hasn't, how does this point to god? It wasn't that long ago that science hadn't provided an explanation for lightning. Doesn't mean the Greeks were correct in saying it was being thrown by Zeus from atop Mt Olympus. 

"What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter" 
Do we? Seems convenient, to say then when you know you're already trying to point to 'God did it' but I'm not sure this is knowledge we have. This is a pure assertion trying to pass itself off as knowledge. 

"The force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful." 
Says who? How do they know? Has this been verified? (Spoiler: No, it hasn't) 

"So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal."
Well, I guess this assumption can be made...but there's no reason to think it's accurate. There's a good consensus that before the universe came to be in the state we observe, there was a singularity. The specifics of what it was like are unknown. Addressing her three elements: 
Powerful: It's naive to think it *must* have been powerful given we have no real idea what the environment was like. Has Stephanie ruled out the possibility that a TINY bit of energy popping, un-caused, into existence set off a chain-reaction that THEN became "powerful"? No, she hasn't. 
Metaphysical: Hard to work out what Stephanie means here, but I think she's (erroneously?) using metaphysical to mean 'outside the physical'. But I'm guessing if I asked Stephanie to explain what outside the physical means, she'd not be able to. As with the above, Stephanie hasn't ruled out a tiny bit of energy popping into existence and causing a chain reaction in the singularity. 
Eternal: If time started when the Big Bang happened then there was never a 'before' the big bang. So theists make up this idea that god is 'outside of time'. When I ask what that means, I get no satisfactory answer. (On a side note, if god is outside of time, how come it took 6 days to make everything? Shouldn't it have been instant? Also, given there is no 'before' the big bang, god couldn't have existed before the universe did. If he didn't exist 'before' the universe, how could he have created it?). 
The Cosmological argument was popularised by Thomas Aquinas as a 'First Mover' or First Cause argument. Stephanie makes it a lot more convoluted that it ought to be in her blog. It's basic form is: "Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause. This leads to a regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God."

The formal argument (from Iron Chariots) 
1: Everything that exists must have a cause.
2: If you follow the chain of events backwards through time, it cannot go back infinitely, so eventually you arrive at the first cause.
3: This cause must, itself, be uncaused.
4: But nothing can exist without a cause, except for God.

5: Therefore, God exists.

The Kalam version of the cosmological argument states that everything that 'begins' to exist has a cause. This is a special pleading fallacy. It gets out of having to apply the rules to god by saying god is outside of the rules. Says who? How do they know? 

This argument assumes the first cause must be a god, but never explains why it must be. It never explains how a god existing is more likely that a universe existing. 

There's also an element of begging the question fallacy in this argument. If only god can exist outside time, and the creator of the universe exists outside time, then it must have been god. But saying 'only god can exist outside time' assumes, already, that god is real. 

My counter to the cosmological argument is this: If you can explain a god without a creator, you can explain a universe without a creator. 

4: The Teleological Argument
More simply known as the argument from design, it is the idea that the universe is SO fine-tuned for life that only an intelligent designer could have created it. 

This is one of the weaker arguments Stephanie listed. 

Firstly, if this is a designed universe, and all that is within it is designed, how does Stephanie contrast this to something that is NOT designed? There's no way to tell. 

Secondly, what would a 'not-designed' universe look like? We only know about our own universe so we can't compare and contrast it to a 'known' not-designed universe to see the differences. 

Third: A universe fine-tuned for life is a myth. If earth is the only planet on which life exists, the amount of the universe NOT suitable for life is 100% minus earth. (and not even all of earth). To claim the universe is 'fine-tuned' for life when life exists in an infinitesimally small part of it is absurd. That's not to say the environment of Earth is not spot on for having the life WE know on it. 

Fourth: An all powerful god has no requirement to 'fine-tune'. A god, as described to me by those who believe, can do *anything*. This includes creating any kind of life in any kind of environment. If god wanted to have roses growing on the surface of the sun, he could. If god wanted people to live in a sea of hydrochloric acid, he could. He has no boundaries, no restrictions. Stephanie includes the following in her post: 

"Scientists have found that constants must fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of values for the universe to be life-sustaining. For example, the weak force, which operates inside of the nucleus of an atom, is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part of 10^100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe"

So what? With god at the helm that constant COULD be different and if god wanted life, there would still be life. The 'everything must be exactly right for there to be life' argument goes out the door when a god is in control It can do whatever it wants. It's not constrained to 'the possible.' 

Earth being well suited to human life suggests a series of NATURAL processes at work NOT supernatural creation. 

Fifth: Humans can only observe a universe in which humans can exist. The Anthropic Principle explains this clearly and easily and requires no supernatural intervention. 

Sixth: We don't know that this is the only universe to exist or to have existed. From Stephanie's post: 

"The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 10^60 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one inch target!"

It might be possible that we're in an 'expand and contract' universe (though Stephen Hawking doesn't think so). This could mean that at some point, rather than expanding, the universe contracts. And contracts so much that it forms a super-massive, tiny object (a singularity) that once again suddenly expands to form a NEW universe. This expand-contract process could have happened billions of billions of billions of billions of times previously. This could be the first time and last time life will appear. 

Seventh: We know there is a future point, even if the universe doesn't contract, where all life (whether it's just earth or elsewhere) will cease to exist. This is because there is a finite amount of fuel being burnt up by the stars. One day (a long time from now, granted) all stars will have run out of fuel. The universe will be totally empty and void. Not sure how this fits in with 'fine tuned for life'. Prior to that, because the universe is expanding, there will be a point when the galaxies are so far apart that we'll no longer be able to see another one. It will appear that the milky way is not just the 'only' galaxy in the universe, but it IS the universe. People (not that they'll be 'people') will not say 'the universe is fine tuned for life' because they won't know there is a universe. 

I'm confident you'll agree that these seven points (and there are plenty more to make) are enough to realise this is NOT a good reason to believe a god exists. 

5: The Moral Argument
This argument seems to be one Stephanie hasn't researched whatsoever, except to find things that confirm what she already believes. I once said on twitter, don't be so convinced you must be right that you don't bother to check if you are. It seems that's what Stephanie has done here. She really has no insight into morality, its origins, and its complexities. To wit she defeats her own argument in her own first line. 

" All mentally sound human beings have an innate sense of what’s moral."

I'm going to forget the 'all' and let her get away with 'mentally sound' as a standard. It's the latter part of the sentence I'm interested in. An "innate" sense of what's moral. For those who may be unaware, "innate" means 'in-born: natural". Natural. A *natural* sense of what's moral. Well, Stephanie, if it's natural....god isn't involved. 

Stephanie further argues against herself when she highlights that atheists argue (correctly, though she doesn't acknowledge this) that morality is evolved. She argues that if we evolved our morality, then groups such as ISIS, the NAZIs and Boko Haram refute this argument. 

Um....if you think we all get our morality from a single source...don't these groups negate THAT argument also? If God wants none of us to murder and (magically?) MADE us not want to murder....how come murder happens? 

Stephanie, and those of similar thinking, may argue here that 'Free will' is the answer. Well, if we have 'free will' then god giving us morality is negligible. It doesn't matter, because we STILL use our own thoughts, compassion, logic, reason, desires, and other emotions to decide what's right. We still decide for ourselves what actions we will or won't take. 

It's quite clear that morals are an evolved trait. Not just the way they differ among humans (and change over time) but also that the DO appear in non-human animals (though Stephanie seems unaware of this saying "as other creatures on this planet do not operate under the same moral code as we do." Stephanie then cites 'Craig, 2010' (I assume William Lane Craig, but I'm not sure) who points out that when a lion kills a zebra it doesn't 'murder' it. Or when a male shark forcibly mates with a female it doesn't 'rape' her. Adding these actions are 'neither permitted, nor obligatory'. Well, that's inaccurate. Mating and eating are instinctive. Humans have developed down a path where mating is required to be consensual but it still happens, even when people don't know what it is. Areas with little to no sex education in school have higher rates of teen pregnancy. Why? Because people have sex even when they don't know what sex means! Same with non-human animals. And although there are cases of people deliberately not eating, it takes *extreme* action to achieve it. We, and our non-human cousins, want to eat, and want to mate. Instinctively. 

But that's something of a digression. 


Human morals don't map 1 to 1 with other humans. They don't even map 1 to 1 within a single human. I doubt anyone reading this is free of any action they find morally questionable. I doubt none of you has done something they didn't later regret. So I'm not sure why Stephanie thinks human morals should map 1 to 1 with other animals. Other animals have evolved down different paths to humans, so to expect our morality to evolve down the same path is absurd. 

But it's not as though other animals DON'T have a moral code. 

There is an excellent TED talk by Frans De Waal which you can watch here, that shows various moral behaviours in different animals. Things such as a sense of fairness, cooperation, comfort, and kindness. 

This article at Live Science talks about animals knowing right from wrote. Examples include a Rhesus Monkey refusing to electrically shock fellow monkeys even though it meant getting food. Chimpanzees who punish those amongst them who break certain rules, and a dog helping an injured dog off a busy Chilean highway, despite the risks to itself. 

There is discussion as to whether these examples are 'hardwired' instinct or conscious moral choices. But I agree with Mark Rowlands, a University of Miami philosopher, and author of "Can Animals Be Moral?" who says the distinction is overthinking things.

It is clear that other animals, particularly mammals, have developed their own moral codes and behaviours which shows this is a *natural* process and a *natural* result of the evolutionary paths that some animals take. We are instinctively guided to protecting and furthering our species. Obviously we differ on the best way to do that, and obviously some of us lack that instinct. 

This is indicative of an 'incomplete', for want of a better word, natural process that is operating on a species that is still quite 'immature'. 

Given that morality is easily explainable without supernatural intervention and the differences in morality between individual humans, as well as humans and other animals, is easily explainable as being the result of the natural process of evolution, it's quite clear that the argument from morality is NOT a good reason to think a god exists. 

Part 2 coming soon! 




Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Punch a NAZI, the new Whack-a-mole

So an alt-Right, white supremacist NAZI, Richard Spencer, was elbowed in the face whilst being interviewed for television. I'm surprised at the number of people who are okay with this.

Let me explain...
In some parts of the world, views I hold are punishable by death. Atheist bloggers have been hacked to death with machetes in Bangladesh as recently as 2015.

I am an atheist blogger and am very thankful to live in a country where such a heinous crime is unlikely to happen to me.

But the idea that someone might be killed for simply being an atheist is horrifying. Most people I know and follow me through twitter are atheists, and I'm sure they think it's completely unreasonable for violence to be committed against them just because of their views.

But others disagree. They think that atheist views are so wrong, and so offensive that atheists should be killed for them.

So how can I say that I should be allowed to express my views without threat of violence, but that protection shouldn't be granted to others just because *I* find their views odious?
If violence against the holders of *some* views is okay...how do we decide? Where do we draw the line?

I know not of this Richard Spencer bloke but it's clear he is some form of abhorrent racist, and whilst being interviewed on the street some anonymous stranger ran up and elbowed him in the face.

I'm not okay with that. Not because I'm tolerant of neo-nazis, but because I'm against being physically assaulted because I hold a view that disgusts others.

I understand the views of Richard Spencer are extreme. A friend of mine feels very strongly the opposite way to me. She said that his views are the same as those that lead to millions of people being killed just for being who they were. And that he has the free will to change his views. So 'fuck that guy, punch his lights out'. 

I got accused of being tolerant of Nazism because I said I wouldn't punch a nazi for being a nazi. Then I got asked if I would punch an Islamist. Again I said no. So I got accused of being tolerant of Islamists spreading Islamism. I pointed out that I've literally been confronted by Islamists shouting stuff at me, such as going to hell and whatnot. I didn't tolerate it. I stood there and yelled right back at them. I challenged their views and told them I wouldn't be following what they said. Hardly 'tolerating' them. But when you get a situation like this....the facts don't really matter. 

So be clear, this is not about tolerating or sympathising with a Nazi. This is purely self-interest! Basically, I don't want to live in a world where it's okay to punch people just because you don't like their views. Because literally millions of people don't like my views! 

And you know what, in my opinion, if anyone deserves having their lights punched out for simply having a view, it's a NAZI. 

There's the key though. 'In my opinion'. Deciding who we can and can't punch based on our opinion of their views is a dangerous president to set. 

Because I guarantee there's something about you that someone somewhere thinks you deserve a punching for.