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 is...so 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. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

A Tiny Thing That Bugs Me A Lot

I listen to Melbourne breakfast radio every morning. Each day at work is a different station, but as my partner and I are waking up, having our morning coffee, breakfast, and getting dressed we listen to the Triple M radio show 'Triple M's Hot Breakfast With Eddie McGuire'. 

Eddie is a very smart, very successful man. He grew up in one of Melbourne's poorer suburbs but now has an estimated net worth of about $55 million. Not too shabby. 

Eddie also happens to be president of the football club I support, Collingwood. I think he's fantastic. Someone to aspire to. Someone who's done wonderful work for the community. He's also a Catholic. Well, at least, he was raised one. I'm not sure how committed he still is to the ancient religion. 

But that's not what bugs me. I know a lot of Catholics and most of them share my surname. (or at least they or their mother's once did). 

No, what bugs me is that each spring Eddie says something along the lines of 'It's like it gets to the last week of September and God flicks a switch and the weather improves'. 

Now if you're reading this from the northern hemisphere, keep in mind that September, October, and November are spring in the southern hemisphere. Things do start to improve a little at the start of September but it's really towards the end where winter is truly gone and spring is truly with us. 

'God flicks a switch'. It bugs me for a couple of reasons. First of all, there's a VERY reasonable and understandable reason for why the weather improves (providing you think sunny skies and warmer temperatures are an improvement) in spring. (I'm not going to go into details, because if you're reading this, I'm going to go ahead and assume you're fully aware of the axial tilt of Earth and the implications that has on the weather). 

Second of all there's this absoluteness about it that suggests god is real. The analogy is about god flicking a switch - IE there's an almost sudden change in the weather. The 'God' flicking a switch isn't part of the analogy. It's an assumed fact. 

So on one hand it's completely disregarding the science behind climate and how it works and on the other it's making the unfounded assumption that god is real. Neither of these things are good for critical thinking and learning about the world, the universe, and how it works. 

As I said, it's a tiny thing, but for some reason, it really gets under my skin! 


Saturday, 4 August 2018

A Positive Message from an Atheist for Kids

Commenting on an article about Richard Dawkins writing two new atheism books, one for younger kids, one for teenagers, Ken Ham had this to say: 

"What positive message would an atheist have for kids? Something like:  "Kids, you're just an animal, there's no God, when you die you won't know you existed, decide your own rules for life, treat others to benefit you. Life's ultimately meaningless""
You can see his tweet here.

The article Ken is responding to is an atrocious piece written by someone called Laura Perrins, and it first appears on a website called The Conservative Woman. I'll be writing a response to the article itself shortly. But for now I'm sticking with Ken's comment. 

Ken is a Young Earth Creationist and biblical literalist. This means he believes earth is about six thousand years old and that Noah's Ark really happened. Yes, he's *that* stupid. 

It also means his message for kids is that they're flawed. That they're sinners and they, in their default state, deserve to be punished in 'hell'...forever. How's that for a positive message for kids?

Of course he'll tell you that the positive message is that they can avoid hell by accepting Jesus as their saviour. "Kids, follow this one man exactly as I tell you to, never deviate, never think for yourself, never question what I tell you, and if you can stick to that, then you avoid eternal torture." 

Hell is terrifying. I've known atheists who still have remnants of fear of hell even after they've stopped believing the rest of the nonsense. There's no way this can be considered a positive message for kids. It's horrific. 

But what I really want to address is Ken's question about what positive message an atheist could have for kids. He asks the question, and then makes up the answer himself. Without bothering to have an atheist answer the question. So I thought I'd give it a go...

Kids, you're not "just an animal" you're part of an incredible species. One whose ability to create technology is beyond what could have been imagined even just a few generations ago. Including the ability to communicate, practically instantly, with people all over the world. You're part of a species that strives to look after each other, and care for each other, not to be rewarded after we die, but because we recognise the reward is NOW. The reward isn't eternal bliss, the reward is a healthier happier society, and a healthier, happier life for you. 

Your life...the one you get. This life. When it's over, you won't know you existed, there's no 'god' to go to afterwards...but that's not reason to be unhappy, that's reason to celebrate! You...YOU get this one life! This life that is an amazing result of literally billions of years of natural phenomena that resulted on YOU! A unique individual amongst BILLIONS. What an opportunity to have! Forget that religion is all about reminding you that you'll die one day, celebrate that fact that you're alive now! Look at the world in which you live with wonder and excitement. Be curious. Find out how you got here. Find out what makes your life possible. Find out what went on all those billions of years ago to set in progress the processes and made you, you! Revel in learning, be entertained by knowing things. Use your life to enjoy being alive. 

Your life isn't meaningless, it means whatever you want it to! Take that responsibility and own it. You only get the one chance, make the most of it! If you want to see change in the world, be that change. You don't need an eternal reward for being kind and helping people, you'll see the reward on the faces of those you are kind and helpful to. Go to bed each night thinking 'you know what, I'm happy about what I did today.' 

Sure, there's a chance you'll be kind or helpful to someone who doesn't appreciate it...but that's okay, because YOU know you did it. There'll be times you want to find out how something works, but you won't be able to...but that's okay, because you'll know you tried, you'll know you gave it your best shot. And there's be times when people are unkind and hateful towards you, and that'll be hard to deal with, but I'll give you a quote that I try to live by "No matter how low somebody else sinks, joining them there will not make things better." Ignore the haters, ignore the mean people. I know that can be hard, but trust me, it's worth the effort. Let them wallow in their misery and bitterness...it won't make your life any better if you join them there. Trust me, I know. 

Sometimes it'll be hard. Sometimes you'll feel like you can't get through things on your own. That's okay, because there are people who want to help. People who have decided to focus their lives on helping people when times are tough. There's no shame in asking for help when things are tough. Life is wonderful, but it can be hard sometimes, and when that happens, asking for help is the first step in getting back to the wonderful. 

Surround yourself with those who make you happy. Surround yourself with those who share your values and ideas. Ditch the people who are negatives. Reject people who just want to bring your down. Life is short, don't fill it with people who cause you to not enjoy it! 

If you do your best. If you focus on happiness and positivity and kindness you'll live the best and happiest life you can. And when it ends, which is hopefully many decades from now, enjoy the idea that the atoms that you borrowed, to make you, YOU, will be passed back to the universe and even though you as you will be gone, the effect your life had will be felt through the universe forever. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Why I admire Godless Mom

If you've spent any time around vocal atheism on twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or blogs, you've no doubt come across Godless Mom aka Courtney (I'll be referring to her as Godless Mom, GM, and Courtney) 

I was aware of her a long time before I connected with her. It was all likes and retweets until I saw she was trying to raise awareness of Mubarak Bala. Mubarak is a Nigerian man who was beaten, drugged, and unlawfully imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital by his father and uncles...because he's an atheist. You can read the full story, written by Courtney, here

I had a bit of profile on twitter and this seemed like something I could really help with, so I emailed Courtney offering my assistance. What GM did was simply amazing. She rallied people, organised people, contacted people. She did everything she could to free Mubarak from his hospital prison. It was my first real glimpse of the person behind the memes, the person behind the tweets. And I was impressed. 

Sometime later Courtney approached me asking me to write a guest spot for her blog. I couldn't believe it. GODLESS MOM wanted *me* to write something for her. Did I have a fanboy moment? I sure did! 

From here we started talking more and more, becoming super close friends and I got to know more and more about this wonderful person. 

We spoke a lot about high-level things: favourite bands, favourite movies, favourite books and the like. But also more in-depth things like our experiences with our kids, tough situations we'd been through and how we're both socialists. One thing we discussed was Courtney's friend Ashleigh Aston-Moore. Ashleigh was a young actress who, we discovered, played my favourite character in the film Now & Then. Ashleigh had a troubled life, which, sadly, came to an end in 2007. Courtney told me about her friendship with Ashleigh, and then what she went through went Ashleigh became ill and had trouble with drugs. Courtney recently wrote about the experience. You can read that story here. The lengths Courtney went to for her friend highlight was kind of person she is. So kind, so compassionate. It still brings a tear to my eye knowing this actually happened. 

If there is one thing I admire GM for, above all else, it's her kindness. She is a beautiful, kind, soul (I'm sure you know I don't mean soul in the religious sense). She just wants everyone to be happy. She's written about holding grudges (she's against) and being kind to people and wanting the best for everyone and is always supporting causes that mean people are treated equally and fairly. 

She seems to *always* be looking out for other people. Always putting her own life on hold to help others. I don't think I've known anyone to be so giving of themselves. She's raised money for a Youth Centre, she's spent hundreds of hours working on wrongful convictions, and she's recently written a serious about atheists on death row. She's also raising a son, who, from this distance at least, seems really cool (he's into Star Wars) and seems like a great kid, and a step-daughter that I know Courtney loves as though the 'step-' isn't there. I talk to GM pretty much every day and she's forever mentioning what she's down with the kids recently and what they're up to. She's an incredibly devoted and loving mother or 'mum' (I can't get on board this 'mom' stuff). 

If there's a close second to her kindness that I admire, it's her writing. I've never read a blog post of hers I didn't like. She's always thoughtful, and absolutely hilarious. Some of the phrases she uses just make me laugh out loud. 

The best thing she's ever written, and *by far* the best blog or blog series I've ever read is her series on the death penalty. I used to be in favour of the death penalty, but changed my mind many years ago. But I know that if I were still in favour, I wouldn't be after reading this series.  The link is to the final part of the series, Part 6, called 'The Ultimate Punishment'. It has links to all the previous parts. (I didn't link to the first part because that doesn't have links to the other parts!). It's an amazing piece of writing. It doesn't rely on emotion, but isn't just cold hard facts, either. If you come away from this series still in favour of the death penalty, then you have serious deficiencies in logic, reason, and compassion. 

Although GM is far more optimistic about this happening than I am, as previously mentioned, we are both strong socialists. I recognise that socialism fails (to a degree) because people are greedy and people are lazy. This is also why capitalism fails. However I strongly believe that if everyone was in it for everyone, socialism would be far better than capitalism. The countries that rate highest in population happiness and health and well-being, have strong socialist tendencies. Particularly socialised medicine, including universal healthcare. Courtney actually thinks this will one day be the world standard. She envisages a 'Star Trek' like world. That's how she describes it. I not only admire that this is her perfect view of the world, I admire her optimism in thinking it's going to happen. It may...but not in my lifetime. 

Getting to known Godless Mom has opened up a whole new world for me, not the least of which is being her colleague and co-host on our Podcast "Common Heathens" (Common, because we're both in the Commonwealth, and heathens, well...you know why). It's hard because of timezone differences. We really do have maybe a few hours each week in which we can get together to do it. If one of us happens to be busy, it can be two or more weeks before we can arrange another time. But I tell you...the wait is *always* worth it. We say it often, but it's just a highlight to be able to talk to my friend across the world. That people are interested in what we have to say is just an added bonus. It really is one of the things that makes my life better. 

I can't end this post about what I admire about Godless Mom without mentioning our friendship. To this day I still get a buzz when she sends me a message or mentions me on twitter or emails me or includes me in a post. I honestly still think 'Godless Mom talks to ME!'. It's a genuine thrill. 

There's no situation I can go to her with that she won't give me advice and offer a helping hand. From dealing with teenage girls, to setting up my photography business, to what kind of car to buy, to dealing with twitter trolls (her best advice ever: 'Don't let that cunt ruin twitter for you'). Sometimes it feels like she exists just to help me out. She also laughs at my jokes, likes what I have to say when I write blogs, and likes me enough to have me as a cohost on her podcast! She's happy when my football team wins and comforts me when they lose. And she LOVES my photos. She's always telling me that she loves my work and is asking me to come to her home town to take photos. It's a wonderful feeling to have someone you admire love your work so much. 

Despite all the above, I really don't have the words to describe properly why I admire Courtney so much. Without living in my head and knowing how having her in my life makes me feel, you'll just never understand. 

She is not only the best friend, by far, I've made thanks to being Mr Oz Atheist, she's simply the best thing to happen to me thanks to being Mr Oz Atheist. 

And that's why I admire Godless Mom. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Why I Admire Matt Dillahunty

Right at the beginning of becoming more outspoken as an atheist I happened across YouTube videos of a public access TV show out of Austin, Texas. It was called 'The Atheist Experience'. It's a call-in show where the hosts take calls, usually from theists, and answer them. If you're reading my blog, it's likely because you follow me on twitter. If you follow me on twitter, you've almost undoubtedly already hear of The Atheist Experience! 

In case you haven't, there's a bunch of hosts, with two on each episode, on a rotating basis. The host who immediately stuck out for me was Matt Dillahunty. 

I immediately liked how he went about it. He was relentless and so forthright. I admired how he'd stop callers at the very first fallacy, even if it were only halfway through their sentence. And he knew his stuff. He could reference the bible without having to look up passages. He had a counter for everything theists would call up with. 

I've since seen him do various debates and he always brings that same relentless logic when sharing the stage with a theist. He didn't drop any confidence or self-assured attitude. But he never appears arrogant. 

In 2010 I was lucky enough to not only meet Matt, but spend 10 days with him when he, AronRa and Seth Andrews came to Australia for the 'Unholy Trinity' tour. They did presentations in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. He was a pleasure to be with and I suffered none of that 'don't meet your heroes' fallout. 

I met him at Sydney airport, when I flew in from New Zealand, landing about an hour after I flew in from Melbourne. We were picked up by a guy named Tim. I introduced myself as Donovan (you know, given that's my name!) we shook hands and then Tim drove us to our accommodation. I knew Matt followed me on twitter, but I didn't know if he'd paid much attention. The next day he said 'Donovan, if you'd told me you were Mr Oz Atheist I'd have known you!'. I'm surprised when anyone outside twitter knowns me by my twitter handled, but to have Matt Dillahunty - the person who, more than anyone else, is the reason Mr Oz Atheist is even a thing - say that was quite a moment. 

The 10 days I got to spend with Matt were great. We drank tequila, checked out stars, went to a casino, went to Australia zoo walked around Brisbane, walked around Sydney, and walked around my home city of Melbourne, which Matt said was his favourite Australian city. He liked the 'vibe'. I should add there was a whole bunch of people who did these things too! Including my partner for the Melbourne stuff. It wasn't like it was just Matt and me! :D

I liked that despite being in Australia as a 'celebrity' he was so down to earth. We were talking one night and I'd told him about his influence on me being a vocal atheist and how I was excited to meet him. He thanked me and said 'but I hope now you just think I'm just someone who's good to hangout with' (he may not have said 'hangout'). And I did. I enjoyed spending time with 'Matt' not necessarily 'Matt Dillahunty off The Atheist Experience'. 

He has, more than once, invited me to his house (should I ever be able to get to Austin), even saying he'd pick me up from the airport. I'd love to have him show me around his hometown as I was show him around mine. 

And that is why I admire Matt Dillahunty. 

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Why I Admire Stephen King

It would have been early 1988, when I was 14, going on 15, that we received a pamphlet from Doubleday book club in our letterbox. I had a look and I was promised two extremely discounted books (maybe 80% off?) for simply saying 'I'd like two books'. 

Well that was the large print. The fine print said I had to then pay full price for some books. I think it was a selected book each month and you had to opt out, rather than in, if you didn't want it. Anyway, that's not really the point of this story. 

I don't know which was the second book I chose, but I will always remember the first. 

Stephen King's The Tommyknockers. I did the thing you're always told not to do...I judged a book by its cover. I think I'd heard of Stephen by then but I wasn't much of a reader at that point. But the cover of The Tommyknockers piqued my interest and I could have my own copy for just a couple of dollars. So I bought it, read it...and was hooked for life. 

I've since collected every Stephen King book I can afford. Many I have two copies of because the US version and the UK version usually have different covers. 

King had humble beginnings, being raised, with his brother, by his mother alone, after their father left when Stephen was just two years old. His father said he was going to buy a pack of cigarettes, but never returned. 

Jump a few decades and Stephen King has now sold over 350 million books, putting him in the top 4 english language writers of all time. 

I admire his determination and persistence. He would supplement his income by selling short stories to men's magazine, whilst working/trying to find work as a teacher. He was once fined $250 for driving over a traffic cone, paying the fine with a $250 cheque he received for his story 'The Raft'. (Originally called The Float'). 

When he did find teaching work, he would get home and write late into the night. He's a wonderful example of working hard to achieve your goals. 

He abandoned his manuscript for Carrie, before being encouraged by his wife, Tabitha, to complete it. He sold it for $2,500. Later selling the paperback rights for $400,000. It was his first of over 50 published novels. Stories have it that he gave Tabitha the news by buying her a much needed hair dryer. She told him they couldn't afford it. He smiled, and told her they could. I hope this story is true! 

He still writes every day. Telling an interviewer once that he didn't write on Christmas or Thanks Giving, just so he didn't seem too weird. 

I admire his willingness to 'give back'. He has toured the US visiting only small, independent book stores, to help them with sales. He conducts writing seminars to teach people to be better writers, he's a long time supporter of various charities, including Heifer International, an organisation that teaches sustainable farming, helps those farmers to gain access to markets, and helps empower women by teaching them leadership skills. 

With his wife they have set up the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. Since 1986 they have been giving grants to help address the causes and consequences of social and environmental problems. (Interestingly they won't provide grants for, among other things, "renovations to churches or other religious properties or institutions"). 

It's clear that his charitable focus is on sustainability and addressing the root cause of problems, which is, I think, how it should be done. 

Finally, I admire his politics. He's clearly a left leaning person and has not been at all shy in his condemnation of Donald Trump and Trump's embarrassing presidency. A brief scroll through Stephen's twitter time line will show you all you need to know there. 

In summary, I admire Stephen's determination and persistence, his willingness to give back to his community, and his resistance to bad politicians. 

And I'm a bloody huge fan on his books! 

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Why I admire Ricky Gervais

It's no secret I'm a fan of the work of Ricky Gervais. I loved The Office since I first saw it in around 2003 or '04 (I'm not sure when it first aired in Australia.)

Since then I've followed Gervais's work closely and I always get a kick out of it. I'd say he's probably my favourite comedian ever. 

But his fame is only why I've heard of him. It's not why I admire him. There are plenty of famous people and not all of them are admirable. 

We don't really 'know' celebrities, aside from their work, unless we know them personally. In the past we got to know a little bit about them through interviews, but that was about it, and not always trustworthy. It's well known that certain magazines and newspapers simply make stuff up. 

These days it's a little different because we have for more insight into people we don't know through their social media account. 

Ricky is quite active on Twitter and it's through this and his stand up comedy that people can find out where he stands on a lot of issues. 

If you know anything about Ricky you'll know he's an atheist. I like this about him, but I'm not sure I'd say I admire it, as such. It's more an 'icing on the cake' type of thing. EG... *and* he's an atheist! 

What I admire is that he's vocal about it and *how* he's vocal about it. It shows he cares about the impact religion has. It shows he cares about science, about logic, and about reason. He likes to have a laugh with it and doesn't take any aspect of it too seriously.

This is something else I admire...he's so down to earth. As I said, I don't 'know' him, he doesn't 'know' me. We're not friends or any such thing. We're one small step from being complete fucking strangers. Despite this he's always kind and polite to me. I talk to him like he's a 'normal person' and not weirdly because he's 'off the telly' and, I'm guessing, he appreciates that.  He talks to me in DM occasionally (it's usually me commenting on his latest piece of work and him saying 'cheers mate'). When you admire someone's work it's good to be able to tell them so. Even better when it's acknowledged. 

Back in 2013 Tweeter, Blogger, Podcast host Stephen Knight (who was just tweeter GodlessSpellchecker back then) and I were asked to be on a podcast together. I suggested that we ask Ricky to join us, since Ricky had supported, publicly, both our twitter accounts. Stephen said I was welcome to try if I wanted to. I tried. Ricky agreed. Something he simply had no obligation to do, at all. I'll always remember this. Simply a lovely thing to do.

What I first admired about Ricky outside The Office was his take on fame. He made headlines for answering the question 'What would you say to someone who wants to be famous' Ricky answered 'I'd tell them to go out and kill a prostitute'. A clever answer, that went over the heads of a lot of people. He clearly dislikes fame for the sake of fame. "Celebrity" used to mean someone who was "celebrated" as in someone who's talent, whatever that may be, was acknowledged and they were revered for it. 

Today's 'celebrities' are contestants on shows such as Big Brother, before appearing on a different show with 'celebrity' in the title. They don't have the words of Shakespeare, the musical ability of Mozart, or the voice of Dame Nellie Melba (I know these are all top of the list examples) but they're famous nonetheless. 

I admire that Ricky sees this isn't a good thing. I admire that he sees his success as something he worked hard for. As he's said 'the harder I work, the luckier I seem to get'. I admire his work ethic. He's always planning something, writing something, or filming something. He works hard and is successful at what he does. I wouldn't presume to say what he doesn't or doesn't think, but it doesn't come across that he thinks he's 'better' than anyone else because of it. 

The biggest passion Ricky seems to have is his support for animals. He denounces the horrific Yulen Dog Festival - the barbaric event in China where they cook and skin dogs alive. It's truly appalling. He continually shames trophy hunters killing lions, elephants, giraffes etc.. And he clearly loves his pet cat, Ollie.


"The greatest privilege that comes with free speech is the right to use your voice for those who don't have one."
He uses his voice to raise awareness for the millions of animals that suffer at the hands of humans. 

Ricky Gervais has used his profile to raise millions of dollars in charity. He's raised money for cancer research and treatment, as well as the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities. 

For his recent stand-up tour 'Humanity' some of the proceeds from platinum seats were donated to charity. Ricky said: 
“This scheme is taking back the thousands of pounds ticket touts make every year by giving this money to good causes instead, including great charities like the RSPCA and Macmillan Cancer Support here in the UK. It’s such a privilege that people will pay money to come and watch me perform stand-up, and I hope that fans across the world continue to recognise the positive impact that buying Platinum Tickets has on worthwhile causes.”  
Ricky Gervais works and works and works, and gives and gives and gives. He's a bit of a nutter (take a look as some behind the scenes footage filmed by Robin Ince during some of Ricky's stand up tours) but he's a good nutter. Clearly a kind and caring man who loves life and enjoys living it. 

And this is why I admire Ricky Gervais. 
______

PS: The major issue I have with Mr Gervais is that he's never brought a stand up tour to Australia. I told him I'd buy him a scotch if he ever found his way to Melbourne. But you know, I've spent enough money on his catalogue of work, so I think if he ever makes his way to Melbourne, he should buy me one.