Sunday, 24 May 2020

Does Religion Mean Peace and Happiness?

I doubt there's a vocal atheist who hasn't been told by a theist that there can't be morals if there's no god, or at least that there can't be an absolute right and wrong, without god. 

There are many issues with this, of course. One thing I often wonder - If we get our sense of right and wrong from god, how can we know that god's morals are good? If we can decide for ourselves that god's morals are good, why do theists claims we get our morals from him?

I recently got told by a theist[1] that atheism was bankrupt and that under atheism, 'anything is permissible.' Clearly this isn't true, because I know a lot of atheists, and not one of them thinks anything is permissible. 

I wondered, does living in a more religious society mean living in a more peaceful. happier society? I looked into it.

According to the Institute for Economics and Peace[2] the 10 most peaceful countries on earth are:
New Zealand
Czech Republic

The rankings are based on 23 criteria, grouped into three categories (societal safety and security; extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict; and degree of militarization).

Let's look at the religiosity of some of these countries....
Some 80% of Icelanders are members of the Lutheran State church. Which would make it seem that Iceland is a very religious country. However, 10% of the population identify as convinced atheist and a further 30% identify as non-religious. According to this article in the Washington Post, zero percent of young people in Iceland believe god created earth. And non-believers have risen from 13% in 1996 to 54% in 2015. Bjarni Jonsson, the managing director of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, said of a 2014 Gallup Poll, "Results within the survey indicate that the state church holds a weak position in Icelandic society"

It would be hard, from this information, to conclude that Iceland's peacefulness stems from its religiosity. 

Results from the 2018 census in New Zealand showed that, for the first time, 'no religion' was the highest ranking choice among New Zealanders (at 48.3%, whereas Christian was just over 35%). In a 2009 gallup poll, only 33% of New Zealanders said they thought religion was important. 48% of those polled said religion was not important. New Zealand is a highly secular country. Religion is separated from legislation. Religion and beliefs are considered private, rather than public matters.[3]  As with Iceland, hard to conclude that religion is responsible for the peace in New Zealand. 

In Portugal, 74% of people say religion is important. Austria is 55%, Denmark - 19%, Canada - 42%, Singapore - 70%, Slovenia - 47%, Japan - 24% and finally Czech Republic - 21%. 

So out of the top 10 most peaceful countries, only three have populations where the majority of people think religion is important. 

Which countries are the most religious? Lists can vary in order, but the top 20 to 25 are almost always the same. According to this list in the UK Telegraph, the 10 most religious countries are: 

Sri Lanka
Yemen (the top 5 rank as 99% religious)
Somalia (countries 6 to 9 report 98% religious)
Afghanistan (97% religious)

The same report mentioned above from Institute for Economic and Peace lists the 10 most dangerous (based on 23 different indicators, including political terror, deaths from internal conflict, and murder rate.) countries as:

Afghanistan (97% of people religious 99% of those are Muslims)
Syria (95 to 97% religious, 99% Muslim)
South Sudan (data varies, but estimates are around 96% religious, 60% Christian)
Yemen (99% religious, over 99% Muslim) 
Iraq (97 to 99% religious, 97% Muslim)
Somalia (98% religious, 97% Muslim)
Central African Republic (95% religious. 80% Christian)
Libya (97 to 99% religious, 99% Muslim)
Democratic Republic of the Congo (95 to 99% religious, 95% Christian)
Russia (85% religious, 75% Christian)

So it's not quite 'most religious' = 'most dangerous' but it's certainly close. 

Now I want to look at the world's happiest countries. The World Happiness Report by the United Nations list these 10 countries as the happiest in the world:[4]  

Finland           (70%, 28%, 22%)
Denmark        (80%, 19%, 24%)
Switzerland    (75%, 41%, 11%)
Iceland           (80%, No data, 18%)
Norway          (80%, 20%, 29%)
Netherlands   (50%, 33%, 30%)
Sweden         (70%, 17%, 34%)
New Zealand (52%, 33%, 13%)
Austria           (78%, 55%, 13%)
Luxembourg  (78%, 39%, 24%)

Some notes on these numbers: As you can see, except for Netherlands and New Zealand, 70 to 80% of people in these countries identify as religious. However out of all 10 of the happiest countries in the world, only one has a majority population that thinks religion is important. Iceland has 80% of its population identifying as religious, but only about 10% of people attend church more than once a month. The third column denotes atheists. There are people who don't believe in god who identify as agnostic, there are also people who are 'non-religious' but whether or not they believe a god exists is unclear. 

Sweden seems to have odd numbers. 70% of people are religious, but 34% of people are atheists. This could be accounted for because different agencies conduct the polls, polls aren't all conducted in the same year, and some people consider themselves 'culturally religious' but don't actually believe all the tenets. 

What is clear is that the happiest countries on earth place little importance on religion. 

Not surprisingly, the list of unhappiest countries is quite similar to most dangerous: [4]  

Afghanistan    (97%, 97%, <1%) 
South Sudan  (96%, 93%, 6%)
Zimbabwe.     (90%, 88%, <1%)
Rwanda          (98%, 95%, <1%)
CAR               (95%, 95%, <1%)
Tanzania        (95%, 89%, 2%)
Botswana       (98%, 77%, 2%)
Yemen            (>99%, 99%, <1%)
Malawi           (98%, 99%, 2%)
India              (99%, 90%, <1%)

As you can see, almost all the people in these unhappy countries are religious and almost none of them are atheists. Seven of the countries have at least 90% of their population thinking religion is important. 

Of course the reasons a country's population is happy and peaceful versus unhappy and violent extends far beyond religion and irreligion. There are economic factors, environmental factors, and, obviously, countries affected by war are going to rate low on happiness. 

But that isn't the point of this post. The question is - does religion make for a moral, happy, peaceful society? 

The answer is a quite resounding and emphatic no.


1 When I called this person a theist, he replied 'Im not a theist, I'm a Christian'. Okay, champ.
2 most peaceful countries
Secularism in New Zealand
After the country name is the percentage of people who identify as religious, percentage of people who say religion is important, percentage of people who don't believe there is a god.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

On Climbing Uluru

"Jesus Christ!' Using this as an expletive is offensive to Christians. It's 'taking the lord's name in vain' and many Christians (if not all) would prefer we didn't do it. But I'd be hard pressed to find a friend who didn't do it, or at least doesn't care if I do. 

One of the big jobs or religion is to find things offensive. The entire foundation of Christianity is making you feel bad for simply being human. Harmless, natural, pleasurable activities like sex (if you're not married to the other person) and masturbation are heavily frowned upon. And god forbid if you're in a relationship with someone of the same sex! 

We disregard these Christian rules as though they're meaningless. Because they are. We argue things like 'if you don't like same-sex marriage, don't get one'. It's a fair and reasonable argument. 

But if the objection to harmless things that cause 'offence' come from people who are the original inhabitants of an area and their religion is 'earthly' and 'natural'...well, suddenly we're expected to respect their beliefs. 

Why there's this difference in perspective, I couldn't really say. Claiming you have a 'Spirit Animal' is offensive, I've read, to native Americans, which leads to some non-native Americans telling other non-native Americans not to do it. But using 'By Our Lady' (Bloody) in an anti-drink-driving campaign raises no religious ire. 'God's Truth' (Struth) doesn't batter an eyelid, but claim, equally harmlessly, that 'Wine is my spirit animal' in front of the wrong person, and you'll be given a sermon. 

On October 26, 2019 climbing of Uluru will be banned. 

If you're unaware, Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, is one of Australia's and the world's great natural landmarks. It's a massive monolith in the middle of the 'red centre'. a free standing rock, with an elevation of 863m (2,831ft) and an age somewhere around 500 million years. 

It's also sacred to the Pitjantjatjara people, who are the indigenous Australians of the area. 

Because it's sacred to them, they don't want you to climb it. The government has agreed with them, and Parks Australia will be taking down the chainhold that helps tourists climb to the top. 

People, non-aboriginal, are, from what I've observed, almost unanimously agreeing that climbing Uluru should be banned, because these people don't want you to climb it. No one is saying 'if you don't think Uluru should be climbed, don't climb it.' Instead they're saying 'it's disrespectful to climb it, so don't. I mean, you wouldn't take a dump in a church or a cemetary, would you?' I'm honestly struggling to see how climbing a rock (just a rock) is the same as 'taking a dump' in a church. I've seen two people us this exact terminology. 

As an aside, it has come to light that people do, in fact, literally 'poo' on the rock. Apparently because the round trip takes so long, some people think their only option is to drop their pants, and evacuate their bowels on the rock. THIS is indeed disgusting, and not at all something I advocate. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the mere act of climbing. 

So because the Pitjantjatjara people think the rock is sacred, we've all got to adhere to their beliefs and now not climb it. Someone's religious beliefs having an impact on the lives of people who don't share that religion...hmmmm, I can't say I'm a fan of this. At all. Sure the Pitjantjatjara people might be lovely, and their beliefs are intouch with the earth and let's not forget they've lived in the area for thousands and thousands of years. But is that enough for them to impose their beliefs onto other people? I don't think so. 

Just as Christians don't get to tell me who I can and can't marry, and Muslims don't get to tell women I know they have to wear burkas or hijabs, and Hindus don't get to tell me I can't eat beef, I don't think followers of the Dreamtime religion should get to tell me I can't climb a rock. 

The belief that the rock is sacred is not based in reality. It's not based on evidence. Uluru is no more sacred than the pages of a Quran are sacred. Two thirds of Australians don't care that Christians are offended at same-sex marriage. We knew they didn't want it, but we voted for it anyway. You know why? Because the religious beliefs of someone shouldn't impact the lives of someone else. 

This wonderful quote by Matthew Shultz sums it up perfectly:

The other analogy that I've seen used regularly that sums up this perspective well is this:
"I'm on a diet, so I can't eat ice-cream' <- Fine.
"I'm on a diet, so YOU can't eat ice-cream" <- Not fine. 

Most, if not all people I know, would agree with the above. But add:
"I'm on a diet, and I'm the elder of a local native population, so you can't eat ice-cream" and suddenly everyone is agreeing that they can't eat ice-cream.

With the news of the impending ban, tourists are now flocking to the area to have their last chance at climbing. From around 140 people climbing per day, it's now between 300 and 500. Like any tourist filled place (or human filled place) with the tourists come rubbish and waste. If the locals were wanting to keep people away because of their disgusting rubbish and waste, I'd be all for it!

On October 26, 1985, the government returned ownership of the land to the Anangu indigenous community. (Hence October 26 being the date of the closure). So with that in mind, these people are well within their rights to ban climbing. They, legally, own the rock. That being the case, they can do with it what they wish. Just as a land owner can tell visitors smoking isn't permitted or that they can't have dogs there.

But there are legitimate reasons for banning smoking or dogs from an area. Yes the people who own the land on which Uluru/Ayers Rock sits have the right to ban people from climbing it, but, please, let's not pretend their reason are legitimate. 

Thursday, 13 June 2019

How dare My Little Pony Be Inclusive!

One of the great problems I have with the big religions is how divisive they are. They claim to be so much about 'love' and 'peace' whilst the behaviours and practices of the adherents are anything but. 

Two people who exemplify religious divisiveness are Lyle Shelton and Kirralie Smith. 

Lyle is the head of the Australian Christian Lobby. An organisation whose main purpose seems to be 'keeping the gay away from our kids', and trying to send gay people back into the closet. They were the leading anti-equality organisation in the Australian same sex marriage vote. Being anti-equality is such an odd position. 

Kirralie is the head and Binary Australia (which used to be Marriage Alliance Australia until their bid to prevent equality in marriage failed). Binary Australia is a transgender hate group focused on shaming and belittling transgender people, and trying to make parents fear transgender people being near their kids.

Below are two tweets. One each from Lyle and Kirralie on the introduction of a same sex couple into 'My Little Pony'. 

Firstly Lyle's tweet. Got to love that he starts off being against indoctrinating children into something! That's too much irony for most people to handle. Next, he claims it's a consequence of gay marriage. Although he couldn't dare bring himself to say that. Instead he put a rainbow flag instead of gay, and he felt it necessary to put marriage in quotes. Then he says the wants to push back against this brave new world. This 'brave new world' is a world where people are treated equally and fairly. 

Next Kirralie is straightforward in saying 'The are coming for your kids'. She doesn't specify who 'they' are or what they're going to do with your kids one they get them, but one can tell she's highly concerned about it. Given she's posted this about cartoon ponies, one can only assumes she means...cartoon ponies. I don't know about you, but as an adult, I'm never going to fear cartoon ponies. 

I can't be 100% sure, but if you're reading my blog, I'm pretty confident you'd not be frightened by cartoon ponies. 

But more importantly I'm extremely confident you're not upset at a kids TV show being inclusive. I'm sure you're not scared that a TV show for kids is normalising a normal relationship. Of course same-sex relationships aren't as common as heterosexual ones, but yes, they are just as 'normal'. 

Every decent person I know rejects the ignorant ideas of Lyle and Kirralie. I hope you do too. 

Thursday, 9 May 2019

On Israel Folau

If you're unaware, Israel Folau is a champion Australian sportsman, and homophobic bigot. 

In 2018, in response to a question on Instagram, he stated that gay people face hell unless they repent. Rugby Australia said they disagreed with the comments. Qantas, major sponsor of the Wallabies (Australia's national men's Rugby Union team), condemned the comments, saying they were very disappointing. 

When Australia was debating the marriage equality plebiscite, Folau stated that he would not support 'gay marriage'. 

In April of this year he faced a disciplinary hearing from Rugby Australia for a social media post saying that gay people are sinners and are bound for hell.

In short, Israel Folau is a religious numpty. 

The Rugby Australia hearing found Folau guilty of a 'high level' breach of their code of conduct. Rugby Australia has said they wish to terminate Folau's multi-million dollar contract. This will also mean he'll lose the ability to play for the NSW Waratahs. If he does lose his Rugby Union job, he won't be able to transfer to the NRL (Australia's rugby league competition) as the NRL has said he fails their inclusiveness culture. 

Folau isn't without his supporters though. Alan Jones, former Wallabies coach and right-wing radio imbecile, is on Folau's side. Jones said there was "nothing wrong with Israel, it's the society and those who persecute him who are sick". Yep, Jones is a fuckwit. 

Jones said that Folau is being punished for saying "I am a Christian". Hyperbole. Nonsense. Just plain wrong. 

Jones also paraphrased the NSW parliament maiden speech of another nutjob Mark Latham. Jones informed his listeners that Latham's speech would say “all Israel Folau has done is say what people have said for hundreds of years under the banner of the bible.” Not quite what Latham said. (He actually said He believes, as millions of people have believed for thousands of years, that sinners go to Hell.)

Either way, it's not a defence of what Folau said, and never will be. They're basically saying it's okay because he's following the bible. Well, you know what? Telling someone they can beat their slaves is also in the bible, and that's really not okay. 

We've got to move away from this idea that "it's my religion" is an acceptable defence of poor behaviour. 

Others have defended Folau's right to free speech and have said that he has a right to his opinion. 

No one disagrees with this. Folau has the right to hold ignorant views based on fairytales, but his employers aren't obliged to keep him as an employee when his comments violate the rules that they have in place. Employers are entitled to fire anyone who breaches their codes of conduct. Employers are not obliged to pay people who hold, and voice, hateful, bigoted views. 

This, in no way, infringes Folau's right to say what he wants. When he's locked up for spreading his ignorant, outdated views, THEN people can say his right to free speech is being infringed (note, Australia doesn't not have a constitutional right to free speech, merely an 'unwritten' moral one. But, yes, we do have a constitution). 

For the record, these are the Rugby Australia code of conduct rules that Folau breached...

Section 1:3 Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.

Section 1:7 Use Social Media appropriately. By all means share your positive experiences of Rugby but do not use Social Media as a means to breach any of the expectations and requirements of you as a player contained in this Code or in any Union, club or competition rules and regulations.

It's quite clear that Folau's comments breach these rules. And remember, Folau plays Rugby voluntarily. He's not forced to be a part of Rugby Australia. And by choosing to be a part of Rugby Australia, he is choosing to abide by their rules. He then broke the rules, and now he's facing the consequences. "It's my religion" isn't going to cut it as a defence. 

Alan Jones said Australia won't stand for this. Well, Alan, you're wrong. Australia *IS* standing for this. Good Australian people don't agree with these views. Good Australian people don't think gay people deserve hell, or that they'll end up in hell. 

The dumping of Folau by Rugby Australia is a good thing. It shows people that these kind of views won't be tolerated. It shows young people, who had Folau as a 'hero' that ignorant views about people being sent to hell aren't acceptable. 

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.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

The Anthropic Principle, Dismantled - Dismantled

I got sent a link to a website called 'Rational Religion' with the message
If you want a logical explanation for the existence of god and for to know of god’s existance [sic]. If you don’t then all I can say is that I passed along the message it’s up to you now.

A few minutes before the same person had sent me a link to a YouTube video with the message 'Watch'. To which I replied 'No'. I don't really go in for such demanding instructions.

But given the second link had a better message with it, I decided to have a look. The first thing I found was an article written by (Syed Muhammad) Tahir Nasser. He has an impressive, if somewhat confusing, biography...

a writer, moonlighting as a medical doctor. He also serves as the science editor for the Review of Religions (one of the oldest English-language magazines on comparative religions), writes for national and online media, and is a speaker on University lecture circuits on issues relating to Muslim youth and Islam in the modern world. He has written for the Huffington Post, Patheos and the Guardian.

Tahir is certainly no dummy. Which makes it surprising that he's written an article so flawed and so full of bad arguments. You can read his article here.

As per the title, Tahir claims to have dismantle the Anthropic Principle. Briefly, the Anthropic Principle is the idea that:

 “philosophic consideration that observations of the universe must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it.”

In other words the universe must necessarily be capable of holding the life within it. 

If the universe were incompatible to life, there would, obviously, be no life. 

It may not be up at cogito ergo sum, but it's pretty robust. 

So what's Tahir's argument against it. Well, you can read the article and decide for yourself but to me it comes down to three points. 1: The anthropic principle doesn't explain where the fine-tuning came from. 2: The anthropic principle is unlikely. 

Firstly, let me explain something. The universe is NOT fine-tuned for life. At least, there's no reason to think it is. To fine-tune something is to make small adjustments in order to achieve desired performance. We used to fine-tune our TVs. Sometimes we still have to fine tune our radios (if we're not on digital) and if we're building a prototype of, say, a robot, we may fine-tune some of the specs. There's no evidence to suggest this ever happened to the universe. There's nothing that shows there was a previous version of the universe where things weren't quite right. There's no evidence that this universe has been tweaked from what was here previously. The universe is as it always has been, as far as anyone knows. For this article, I will continue to use the term 'fine-tuned' but keep in mind what I've said above, and think of it more as the universe being 'just right' AS IS. 

From Tahir's article: 
A finely-tuned universe is one in which the laws of nature are very precisely set so as to permit life to exist. For example, the Cosmic Energy Density, which is a description of how tightly packed the universe was in its early stages is finely tuned to 60 decimal places. In other words, if it was 1 decimal place in 60 too small, all matter would have expanded too quickly in the Big Bang, preventing the formation of galaxies and stars. If it was 1 decimal place in 60 too much, the universe would have collapsed back in on itself and never expanded.
One could easily change "A finely-tuned universe" to "An inhabited universe" where the rest of the paragraph is still true, but no fine-tuning is necessary. There's also an assumption not in evidence here where Tahir says "are very precisely set". Are they? This implies that the 'laws' have been put there deliberately. Which is begging the question. The laws of nature are such that life exists but there's no reason to think they were deliberately set that way. This is not an argument against the anthropic principle, it IS the anthropic principle. 

The 1 in 60 decimal place claim is odd. I'll take it that Tahir is correct in that 1 decimal place in 60 would have been enough to prevent the universe from being as is, but the question I have what? If it were 1 in 40 decimal places would that be okay? How about 1 in 10? Would the chances of the current universe be possible without an intelligent designer then? The 1 in 60 is arbitrary, it's a nothing figure. And still, it doesn't matter! The universe we live in must be compatible with life. It could be 1 decimal place in 6000 and still the anthropic principle applies. We're lucky to be here because we're in a goldilocks universe. The degree to which we're lucky is irrelevant because x chance in n is possible where x is greater than zero.

More from Tahir: 
Yes, we exist and so yes, we must exist in a finely-tuned universe, but that doesn’t at all explain why the fine tuning was there in the first place. After all, the Cosmic Energy Density being finely tuned to 60 decimal places in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang has nothing to do with the life that emerged some 13 billion years later. Our existence does not explain why fine-tuning occurred prior to our existence, because, in philosophical terms, we are not “necessary” beings.

This is really a rambling mess and doesn't address the anthropic principle at all. It's kind of saying that because the universe hasn't always had life? Or is Tahir saying that because we're not necessary, we're not possible? (Which seems odd given we're here). Tahir fails to understand that we are the result (better, we're a step along the pathway) of a series of natural events. We're not a goal. We're not the end product of any plan (though we may well be the end of ourselves). Tahir seems to think that if the anthropic principle is correct, then life should have appeared immediately after the big bang. "the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang has nothing to do with the life that emerged some 13 billion years later". Ah, Tahir, I respectfully disagree! It has *everything* to do with it. As I said, we're a step along a pathway. The big bang and immediate aftermath are the first stones on that pathway. Who's to say that a slight change back then wouldn't have resulted in intelligent life that's different to us, but intelligent life nonetheless? Would those 'people' have invented different gods to worship, would they have invented different creation myths? Would they be warring and murdering of which of their invisible deities is the real one? 

And thus we've come to the main issue with this so-called 'fine-tuning'. God. 

Any god, worthy of the name, could create any life it wanted, in any environment they wanted. If a 'god' wanted, it could create 'Ice' people and have them life on the surface of the sun. No god would be constrained by 'natural laws' no god would need 'fine-tuning' in order to have a universe with life in it. As I said earlier, we are the result of a series of natural processes. It is the NATURAL part of this that requires the 'goldilocks' universe. A 'natural' universe is the only type of universe that is constrained to natural laws. 

So when theists say 'the universe is fine-tuned for life' they're really making a case for a natural universe, not an intelligently designed one. 

Thursday, 29 November 2018

John Chau and religious stupidity

John Chau was an American Christian missionary who was killed on remote island in the Bay of Bengal in mid November. 

The circumstances are tragic. His family and friends must be devastated. But there's a twist here that, if you're unaware of the details, may come as a surprise: John Chau's death was completely his own fault. 

For reason's that will never be fully understood, John decided to travel to the remote North Sentinel Island, in the Bay of Bengal, to spread the word of 'Jesus' to the primitive tribe for whom the island is home. 

North Sentinel Island is protected from outsiders by the Indian government. There is an exclusion zone of 4.8 kms/3 miles (or 5 nautical miles, which is 5.7 miles or 9.1kms according to some sources). The Indian navy patrols the area to prevent unauthorised people from gaining access to the island. 

The Sentinelese people have not advanced past stone age practices. They have little to no metalwork, or agriculture and it's not even confirmed that they can make fire. The scavenge metal to make tools and in 1974 they accepted aluminium cookware delivered by the National Geographic Society. 

Their remoteness and isolation leads to one extremely significant issue regarding intrusion from outsiders...the Sentinelese have no immunity to common diseases. Exposure to something such as influenza or measles would likely wipe out the Sentinelese people. A person from the 'outside' could be carrying an number of pathogens, any of which would be devastating to them, and would probably end with their extinction. 

John Chau knew this, but chose to infiltrate the island anyway. Reports show that he was aware landing on the island was illegal and that he attempted to gain access to the island more than once, before reaching the shore, where he was killed and buried. 

Some are saying that Chau was murdered. That he is a victim and that saying that his actions caused his death is 'victim blaming'. 

John Chau is not the victim here, he was the perpetrator. He was an illegal invader into someone else's home, and they defended their home. He was shot at on his previous attempts to land on the island, and chose to return anyway. John Chau was an invader. An unwelcome, uninvited, intruder who was warned not to go there. 

John's family, via Instagram, released a statement saying they forgive those 'reportedly responsible for his death.' I think John is responsible for his death, but I understand where the family is coming from and I'm glad they understand the reality of the situation. 

The reality here is John died because he was deluded. He believed in religious nonsense, was convinced he needed to spread this nonsense, and ignored all warnings and common sense in his effort to get this nonsense to people who didn't want it. He applied no critical thinking, no scepticism, and no common sense to what he believed and as a result pursed a course of action that cost him is life. 

He wanted to infect the locals with his superstitious beliefs and change the way they live. He had no right to do so, and not only that, it was illegal for him to do so. 

My initial reaction when my friend Courtney (Godless Mom) asked for thoughts was the he got what he deserved. Upon reflection, that's probably a bit harsh. But he got what was expected. It was the only likely outcome. There was almost other possible outcome. Everyone associated knew this was going to happen. 

If John is a victim here, he's not a victim of the Sentinelese people. THEY are the victims of his illegal invasion. They are not murderers. They are not guilty by reason of self-defence. 

No, if John is a victim, he's a victim of religion. Another needless death as a result of religious stupidity. Another person who lost their life because they believed ancient superstitious nonsense was true. John believed Jesus was the answer. He believed Jesus would save the Sentinelese. But Jesus not only didn't save them, Jesus didn't save John either. A little bit of rational thinking would have, though.