Monday, 8 April 2019

5 Questions for non-believers

In the last couple of days I came across a couple of young Christians who, according to their own description of themselves, are bringing a 'fresh perspective to apologetics'. (That 90% of their tweets seem to be nothing but bible verses seems to belie this 'fresh' perspective, but I'll let that slide). 

Their tweet that caught my attention was this: 

"If Christianity is true, Atheists are playing a very dangerous game. If Atheism is true, there is no point in playing the game."

At the time of writing some 411 people had, I think somewhat bizarrely, liked this tweet. I guess they thought it was profound or clever or...something.

It's Pascal's Wager, and has been debunked time and time again, so I don't need to go over it here. In fact, I'm very confident you can debunk Pascal's wager yourself.

I visited the twitter page of 'Adherent Apologetics' to see what the had to say for themselves. They are American, which will come as no surprise to anyone, and they are young (18 according to their bio) so I can understand the naivety of what they post. I hope they learn to think a bit more critically as they age.

One post I noticed was titled '5 questions for non-believers'. So I thought, to help them out, I'd answer them. I'm not sure they'll ever read this post, as they don't seem to actually engage with anyone. Perhaps they're just a couple of guys running a bot, I'm not sure.

1: Where did the universe come from?
This is a regular one we atheists get asked. I have a lot of problems with it. It's asked as though the universe travelled here from somewhere else. A much better phrasing would be 'how did the universe come to be in its current state?'

Theists seem to ask this question thinking they've got the answer and if an atheists can't explain it in minute scientific detail, then 'god did it' must be the correct answer.

As with anything, though, if I don't know, but you have a guess, your guess isn't right by default. Whether I can or cannot explain how the universe came to be as it is, has no bearing on the existence of any gods or goddesses at all.

We know protons pop into and out of existence, without cause. We also know that the expansion of the universe means it was once all packed together. All the initial matter in the universe was contained in a tiny point we call the singularity, and we know we have a zero sum universe (IE the energy and matter are countered by dark energy and dark matter). What all this means is that it's possible for the universe to exist without having been created. The actual explanation is very long and technical, and I'm not sure anyone fully understands it. One thing I do understand for sure is that when talking about how the universe came to be as it is, no relevant scientists say 'here is the point where God must have created the universe.' If you know enough about the origin of the universe, you know we live in a 'no gods required' universe.

2: Where do you find your identity?
When I read this question, I simply thought 'In my wallet...' But that's not really what they're after. Thankfully they provide a bit of an explanation as to why they're asking each question. That helped here because I've no idea why they'd ask this if it wasn't explained.

The lads claim this is a great question to ask someone when you want to understand what matters to someone. Apparently it can also lead to a great conversation.

I don't think you find your identity, I think you create it. To me this question reinforces the idea that sometimes theists don't think for themselves. I'm guessing, but I'm confident, these guys would say they find their identity in church, or in the bible, or in the love of god. Thinking you create your own identity, however, shows the independent thinking of an atheist. It's not about being told by an authority (real or imagined) who you are, it's about realising that for yourself.

3: How Should we live?
Another kind of vague, oddly worded question from these fellas. Got to remember, they are young, so they're quite possibly thinking they've hit on the ultimate question, when, in reality, they simply haven't. In the explanation to this question they assume the answer coming back will be something like 'make the world a better place'. They then say they understand, but ask what's the point of doing this if everyone just dies at the end.

My answer isn't 'to make the world a better place'. Instead, I think if we live good lives, the world automatically becomes a better place. To the extent where it's possible, treat people with kindness and respect. Try to do no harm. Try to minimise any negative impact you have on the environment. Never set out to make someone's day worse. Help others when you're willing and able. I like the 'golden rule' (versions of which predate the bible by thousands of years) but the idea I have in my mind is something I came up with myself. I need to work on the wording, but I'm sure you'll get the gist...

If someone was treating your child, the way you are treating someone else, and you'd want that person to stop treating your child like that, then stop treating that other person like that.

Basically, if it's not acceptable to have your child treated that way, it's not acceptable for you to treat someone else that way.

Another saying I like is from the TV show 'Frasier'. It was said by Kelsey Grammer, as the titular character Frasier Crane. It was said when someone was considering how to deal with someone who was being nasty.

"No matter how low somebody else sinks, joining them there does not make things better"

I find it quite profound, and it's something I try live by every day. (I don't always succeed, but I try!)

As mentioned, the two young Christians also add that you could follow this question with 'what's the point of this if we all just die at the end?'

This question always makes me sad. To think that someone as young as 18 thinks their life is pointless, and being kind and good is pointless, unless there's a god and, I presume, an afterlife.

Why not be good and kind because it's better? A world where people are good and kind to each other is BETTER than one where we're there's fighting. Why not want to make the world you LIVE IN better? I don't get why religious people don't want to live in the best world possible, even if their god doesn't exist and even if there isn't an afterlife.

Live well, and do so because you'll be happier. Surely this doesn't need explaining.

4: Where does your morality come from?
This is a question born of pure naivety. It takes little research to find out how morality developed and why we see certain things as 'good' and other things as 'bad'.

Morality, as we know it, exists in many other animals, and pretty much all mammals. Non-human animals have compassion, empathy, a sense of fairness, and things that are acceptable and things that aren't.

We know how we feel when we're treated well, we know how we feel when we're treated poorly. We use these feelings to know how to treat others. Of course it differs between people and there are people who 'ignore' the feelings and treat people poorly anyway.

My morality comes from the same place as everyone else's. It's developed with evolution and functions on the grounds of compassion, empathy, logic, and discussion.

5: Where will you go when you die?
Ummm, no where. I'll be dead. I really don't get why people think there's somewhere to go when you die. I don't get why people think there's more anything after death.

I can understand when people say "Where will you go on your holidays?" or "Where will you go after work on Friday?" But "Where will you go when you die?" makes no sense, at all. We are our brains. We can transplant a liver, a lung, or even a heart, and still be us, but we are our brains. When we're dead, there is no brain, and if there's no brain, there's no 'us'. If there's no 'us' there's nowhere for us to go.

One thing I've found funny in my time of discussing atheism and religion, is that every single person who tells me what it's like to be dead...isn't. I'm told almost daily that if I don't believe, I'll regret it when I'm dead or that I've only got whilst I'm alive, because when I'm dead, it's too late. And, finally, that although I'm an atheist now, I won't be once I'm dead.

But, as I said, none of these people are DEAD! So how, exactly, do they know what 'post-life' will be like? Simply, they don't.

You know what though? What we do know is what it's like to be not alive. You see, we were all not alive for billions of years. The universe has been around for over 13 billion years before any of us were alive. Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years before any of us were alive. How did you feel during these billions of years? I bet you didn't even notice, right? I bet you had no idea that you weren't alive, and as the genius, Mark Twain said, you weren't the slightest bit inconvenienced by it.

So maybe we don't know what it's like to be dead, but we do know what it's like to be not alive. We've got absolutely no reason to think it'll be different when we're not alive again.

I'd like to thank these two young American Christians, Zac and Carl, for posing these questions. I think the more we atheists can talk to Christians, the better off we'll be.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Outrage culture

In a world that is basically as safe, happy, and healthy as it's ever been (some religious strongholds, and white houses aside) it's amazing to see what is getting people angry these days. 

In the past people were angry at unjustifiable wars, not having the right to vote, not having the right to be counted as a citizen, and being treated as a second class citizen, simply because of the colour of their skin. And it's right that people were angry at these things. 

But as things get better, the things to be angry about become more and more trivial. Let's be frank, people living in countries that are high on the Human Development Index, have pretty good lives. Of course there are exceptions, and I'm not here to throw a blanket over entire countries, but if you're speaking to a Norwegian, you can be very confident they are living a healthier and happier life than someone from the Central African Republic, or Afghanistan. 

Despite these wonderful lives, there seems to be an inherent need to be angry at something, or someone. There seems to be a need to not only show that you're outraged, but to go looking for something at which to be outraged. 

Some months ago I was made aware of a photo of a little white girl (7 or 8) who had dressed up in a kimono and had herself a Japanese tea party. Criticism ensued. Comments about disrespect, cultural appropriation, and the nerve of this girl to wear an outfit from SOMEONE ELSE'S COUNTRY! Oh, the humanity. 

Then, into the comments popped a Japanese lady. Was she on the side of these knuckleheads? Of course not. She was happy that someone outside Japan wanted to experience and celebrate Japanese culture. I agree. I think it was wonderful to see someone wanting to be part of the world in which the live, and not just live in the bubble of their local area. 

In May 2018, 18-year old Keziah Daum was criticized on twitter for posting pictures of herself wearing a dress that very much resembled a Chinese qipao as her prom dress. One tweeter responded with 'My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress.' I replied saying her prom dress is not your goddamn culture. The dress, as it happens, was stunning and Keziah looked beautiful in it. If only the people who responded to her with anger and hate could have been as welcoming as the Japanese lady mentioned earlier. 

Keziah responded to the criticism with the following: 
"To everyone causing so much negativity: I mean no disrespect to the Chinese culture. I’m simply showing my appreciation to their culture. I’m not deleting my post because I’ve done nothing but show my love for the culture. It’s a fucking dress. And it’s beautiful."

She's absolutely spot on. You know how much Chinese culture suffered because an 18 year old american wore a dress? None. Not even a miniscule amount. Chinese culture is doing fine.

Recently in the TV show 'After Live' there was an Australian aboriginal style painting used on the set. Ricky Gervais was criticised for stealing someone's culture because the artist who painted the work wasn't an indigenous Australian. Well you know what, indigenous Australian culture wasn't stolen because of that painting. It's exactly where it was. Additionally, painting in traditional aboriginal style is taught to tourists and doing it is encouraged in the Northern Territory.

My friend, Godless Mom, recently told me of a person who called a makeup manufacturer 'racist' because he bought and used a boomerang.

In the past couple of days I saw a person online get angry because someone associated dicks with men. Yes, really.

Finally, as an example, because the list is virtually endless, on April Fools day, Justin Bieber caused controversy because he perpetuated an April Fools Day joke that his wife was pregnant.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not fan of Justin, or his work. He's been, on more than one occasion, quite the dickhead. So I'm not defending him here simply because I'm a fan, I'm defending him because he did nothing wrong.

On April 1st, Justin posted a photo on Instagram of an ultrasound. A very typical picture of what appeared to be a fetus in a womb. The astute worked out quickly that the picture was the second image returned when doing a Google search for ultrasound. But there was more. Later, Justin posted a picture of his wife, Hailey, in what looked to be an examination room, with medical personal checking out her belly.

Finally he posted another photo of an ultrasound, but this time there was a puppy in it. He wrote 'Is that a... APRIL FOOLS'.

Cue outrage.

People got mad, because some people can't have children. Other people got mad because women have been pregnant, but lost the baby.

Bieber apologised, saying he didn't mean to cause offence. Well, duh! Of course he didn't mean to cause offence. He pretended, on April Fools day, that his wife was pregnant! OMG! Seriously, if this is the kind of thing that riles you up, if this is where your anger hibernates until it's ready to be unleashed....then damn, you are living a fucking good life!

Pretending, on April Fools' Day that your wife is pregnant, when she actually isn't, isn't insensitive, it's not offensive. It's funny.

We need to get a grip on our perspectives. We need to sit back and analyse what's really going on in our world. There are plenty of legitimate things to be angry about, if we can pull our eyes away from social media and Netflix long enough. And it's not just about the people who are living in some of the worst parts of the world. Of course we can, and should want to help improve the lives of those people as best we can, but there are things in the best places on earth to be angry about, as well.

Be angry at the companies who are earning billions, yet paying no, or little, tax. Be angry at the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots'. Be angry at companies like Walmart and Amazon who pay their staff next to nothing, whilst CEOs and directors make billions. Be angry at governments who refuse to acknowledge the need for action on climate change. Be angry at the people who market illicit drugs to kids in school. There are genuine, legitimate things to focus your outrage at, but a girl wearing a dress whose style may have been influenced by people in another country isn't one of them.