Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why the Christian God Would be Stupid if He Existed - Part 1

I decided to start a new post series. I hope you enjoy it.


There are many aspects of 'creation' that make me think if the Christian God did exist, he would have to be classified as an idiot. The first of these being evidence. If he had created everything, he left no evidence of his activity. Painters generally sign their paintings and manufacturers generally put their logo on their products but for some reason Yahweh felt no need to leave behind any trace. This puts us homo sapiens in a strange predicament, we live in a universe that appears to us as if there is no god, everything we observe happens as a result of unguided natural processes so if the Christian God existed and created everything he would be an idiot based on this alone.

The second aspect of 'creation' that would qualify any prospective creator as incompetent are the many examples of un-intelligent design, I'll list just a few here to demonstrate my point. We breathe through the same orifice we eat with. Our lower backs are poorly constructed for walking upright resulting in widespread back problems. The birth canal is not large enough for fully developed human babies to be born prematurely compared to other mammals, leaving the mother and the baby vulnerable. Many more examples can be found but 3 should suffice for my purposes.

Related to the other two facets is evolution. Evolution is quite possibly the most inefficient way in which a god could create life. Inefficiency isn't one of the attributes you hear Christians worshiping Yahweh for so I assume that was a mistake, which would make him stupid.

If the Christian God did in fact create everything as creationism describes he shot himself in the foot by making all the evidence point towards evolution, which would make him stupid, unless he really wanted to deceive humanity, which would make him malicious. So there you have it, by looking at 'creation' I conclude that if the Christian god existed, he would be stupid or malicious.

Part 2

Monday, November 21, 2011

Upcoming Apologetics Book Review

I have agreed to trade books with a Christian family member, I will be giving them 'Why I Became an Atheist' by John W. Loftus, and in return I will be getting 'The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism' by Timothy Keller. Don't expect anything great, I'll probably write a chapter-by-chapter summary of my thoughts and then write some final words. It will probably be up at the end of November or the beginning of December.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chris Hedges on the New Atheists

I have been reading quite a bit of stuff by Chris Hedges lately, he's a (very) liberal Christian author and what he says about politics I find very lucid and insightful. He has some pretty harsh things to say about the New Atheists, and in the name of honest inquiry I thought I'd have a listen to what he says. In this video, he is mainly targeting Hitchens and Harris and I have to say I tend to agree with him. Hitchens and Harris do not do their homework, their arguments for atheism are criticised strongly by more intellectually vigorous atheists.

Watch the video for yourself, try to watch it with no predispositions.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Death of Religion

Before someone jumps on this post thinking "Religion is not dead!", I realise this. I'm not saying religion has died, or that it will ever cease to exist. What I think is happening to religion, is that it is fading out of relevance. The social relevance of all religions is dying, and in many places around the world it is already dead. People do not need to turn to religion to answer the 'big questions'. People do not need to turn to religion as a basis for morality.

Many religions constantly have to evolve to keep up with societal trends or else they face an extinction of irrelevance. Some try to stick to their old ways, like the subservience of women to men and homophobia, but these groups are more often than not shunned from modern society for being bigoted. The last nail in the coffin in my opinion is the idea that one must be a member of a particular religion to attain salvation (whatever that might mean in a particular religious tradition). Once this idea is abandoned by more and more members of religions, and all that is required is to live a good life, religion will die a slow death into irrelevance. If one can attain Nirvana, or get to heaven without following a religion, why follow it? If people can free up more time in the day to go about my business and to improve the world they live in rather than practice religion, they are likely to do so.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Christianity and Revolution

There is something that I would be interested to see happen around the world and here in New Zealand. I would like to see Christians mobilise and support the 99% movement. Most Christians I know are strongly supportive of helping the poor voluntarily, but most are also political conservatives and support parties that reinforce and grow the wealth inequality around the world (I'm looking at you National party voters, Republican voters, Tory voters etc.). If you are really supportive of making our planet a fairer, better place for all of its citizens, I implore you to join the revolution, and at the next election vote for a party that is serious about change. No more voting to make your comfortable life more comfortable, vote on behalf of the poor, needy and exploited.

There will be a revolution regardless, but we would like you there alongside us as we strive for a better world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Update on the Occupation

As threats of being arrested kept coming in our numbers slowly diminished and eventually the police outnumbered those inside the clocktower, so we marched with our friends that were supplying us with food and blocking the doors from the outside down to the permanent occupation site in Auckland central.

You can see me in the video during the protest.

Monday, October 17, 2011

University of Auckland Occupation Demands

Right now I am currently with a group of students staff and taxpayers occupying the Clocktower administration building at the university I attend (The university of Auckland).

We are in the process of finishing a meeting to formulate a list of demands from the university administration and government.

These are our current demands:

1. Unconditional Free Education
2. Sack McCutcheon and Walsh (Vice Chancellors of Auckland and Victoria Universities respectively) and restructure the university administration to be based around a public forum.
3. Remove trespass orders on Marcus and Wikitane.
4. Ask (not demand) for approval from the land owners, Ngati Whatua
5. Decisions on courses based on scholarly and social benefits, not on profitability.
6. Security guards employed for the safety of students, not for surveillance of students.
7.. That the university administration will by bound by the government to the facilitation with the TEU in November
8. That the university will work to revoke the Voluntary student membership bill.
9. That the government will fund student unions unconditionally.

Note: This is not the exact wording of the proposals, but just a summary of them.

You heard it here first!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Faith and Intuition

Many Christians laud faith as a virtue, and value intuition and gut feelings as confirmation of their beliefs. I reject all of this as unreliable, and it is my goal to elucidate why.

I will start by defining what I mean by faith, and then respond to some theistic uses of it. I accept the definition of faith in the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament. "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1. So the atheistic definition that 'faith is belief without evidence' is accurate to the definition found in Hebrews. If Christians wish to dispute this they should take it up with the New Testament canon and the anonymous author of the epistle, not with us.

When dialoguing with Christians, I am often scolded for not giving faith a chance and that I'm dogmatically accepting scientific naturalism. I would like to point out that I did give faith a chance, I was raised on faith. I consciously followed the Christian faith and bought into its conclusions for years. I read apologetics and debated online with atheists for about 4 years before jumping ship. I also do not dogmatically accept anything. If it became apparent that scientific naturalism was not producing intellectual progress or contributing to the wealth of knowledge that furthers the advancement of our species, I would abandon it just as I abandoned by former religion. The thing is though, that scientific naturalism is making progress, and we are constantly finding out more and more about the world we live in by scientific methods.

The other common thing that I hear from the Christians that I discuss/debate with is that they think faith is a path to knowledge. This is usually coupled with the two statements in the previous paragraph. When I have asked how faith is a path to knowledge, I am only ever met with distractions and diversions. I don't see the connection between faith as defined in Hebrews and knowledge. How can you learn something from having confidence in what you hope for, or from having assurance about what you don't see? In every aspect of my life I learn things by examining the world around me, or by listening, reading or doing things. I have never learned anything by believing something a priori, without evidence. In fact I contend that doing so is the antithesis of learning, and only takes away from potential knowledge, rather than contributing to it as my theist friends insist. On top of the dodging of this question, I have never received an acceptable answer when I ask what knowledge faith has given them. If as they say faith is an alternative path to knowledge than the rational methods I apply, then surely they could point to an example of knowledge that has been revealed by faith? It seems like a reasonable question to me.

When the issue of morality arises I am met constantly with the view that God instils moral values into our intuitions, or something akin to it. No amount of sociological, evolutionary or neuro-scientific reasoning seems to be able to convince them that intuitions are not reliable ways to know anything. Moral ideas are  largely the product of cultural conditioning, and many intuitions come from our evolutionary heritage and are explicable by natural, hormonal or neural means. We have learned so much about how our brain works and the natural world we live in, and as a result we can correct for errors in our cognition and intuition. Similarly, we can correct moral beliefs that are conditioned into us from cultural or evolutionary heritage. Pointing to moral intuition is not a cogent argument for the existence of God, as our moral intuitions are constantly changing as a result of cultural change. Our intuitions and gut feelings are useful tools in every day life, as we often can not afford the time to sit and think rationally about every decision we make, but we must also realise that they are often error-prone and sometimes flat out wrong. If you think God exists because you have a gut feeling that something exists out there it is my opinion that this is but another example of cognitive failure.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eternal Universe

"Saying the universe is eternal simply is saying that it has no beginning or end, not that it had a beginning an infinite time ago"
—Victor J. Stenger

This quote from Vic Stenger really highlights the failure to understand what the cosmological debate is really about. Mischaracterisations occur on both sides of the debate, from the common atheist quip: "Well who created God then?" to the theist criticism: "You can't have an infinite number of events".

First I will address what I find to be a misguided criticism of theism: "Who created God?". This line of argumentation really fails off the block, because it is a strawman. It doesn't address what theism actually claims, which is generally some sort of eternal uncreated being. By definition this is not a created being, so would not have been created by anything. A much better way to come at this in my opinion is to ask the theist to account for why they point to something undetectable supposedly outside the cosmos to explain the cosmos. What inductions have they drawn to justify an external non-physical explanation for physical phenomena?

The theist argument in this case essentially boils down to an argument from ignorance, they can't explain how the universe came into existence (which is begging the question anyway) so they resort to some generally undefined, mysterious explanation. There is no empirical data that points to this mystical source. Theists will protest that this isn't a god-of-the-gaps argument, but I contend that it is. In fact I contend that it is the ultimate god-of-the-gaps.

Regarding the infinite number of events criticism, I find it to be rather hollow and hypocritical. Any criticism of an eternal universe can be equally be applied to an eternal god. As Carl Sagan said:

In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must, of course ask next where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed?
 Before anyone says it, I do not think that Carl Sagan is proffering the argument that I criticised at the beginning of this post. He seems to me just to be asking what the explanation for whatever god it is that is supposed to have created the universe. If that explanation is not based upon evidence, it is not an explanation at all, and the answer is either unknown, or unknowable. Once this is admitted, plausible scientific explanations for the existence of the universe are much more satisfactory, as they are confirmable by observation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Good Old-Fashioned Christian Hate

I can't remember how, but I managed to stumble upon a video on YouTube posted by drcraigvideos. The video contained a clip from a radio show/podcast by the Christian apologist Frank Turek talking about 'angry atheists' leaving hateful comments on William Lane Craig debate videos. He said something that made me want to leave a comment. He said that he looked at the comments "to see what names were called, or were attributed to Craig and what names were attributed to Hitchens, in other words ad hominen [sic (Yes, he pronounced it hominen)] attacks, insults if you will." I left a comment pointing out that insults and ad hominem attacks were not the same thing. See for yourself what I got in response from drcraigvideos.

I actually thought he was using it as an example, I should have realised from the "3rd option" that he was actually just straight up insulting me. So it seems that this evangelical Christian is just as bad as the trolls who post inflammatory comments on his channel. In fact it's rather ironic that this video was about inflammatory comments, I left a serious comment, was insulted in return, and when I explained my initial comment further, I was insulted again. In fact I think drcraigvideos is even worse than the trolls, because he's a filthy hypocrite.

Just to clarify, the comment I left that is pending approval in the picture was intended to be sarcastic.

EDIT: It seems I'm not alone in my experience with this deplorable character. See here and here for more details.

EDIT 2: I have now been blocked by drcraigvideos. He must be scared of legitimate, civil criticism. What a disingenuous tool.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fabricated Marcus Aurelius Quote

In June last year, I posted a quote that I was led to believe was from Marcus Aurelius Antonius (121-180 CE), after reading Meditations recently, I discovered that quote was no where to be found, and there are no other known writings of Marcus. I must correct my previous mistake.

The quote I posted was this one:
"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but...will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
The closest thing to that in my copy of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations is this:
"Now departure from the world of men is nothing to fear, if gods exist: because they would not involve you in any harm. If they do not exist, or if they have no care for humankind, then what is life to me in a world devoid of gods, or devoid of providence? But they do exist, and they do care for humankind: and they have put it absolutely in man's power to avoid falling into the true kinds of harm."
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.11
It seems to me like the former quote was fabricated based loosely on the latter, and I have not been able to track down the source of the forgery. Marcus Aurelius was NOT an atheist, the actual quote should show this quite clearly, though much of his philosophy was very practical, and for the most part disinterested in the supernatural.

EDIT: If anyone finds another translation that is closer to the quote I have decided is a fake, I'd like to know about it.

Theists Justifying Torture

A friend of mine is running an event this month where people have the opportunity to ask tough questions to Christians and get some free food. He asked me (being an atheist) to pose a few tough questions on the event page on facebook to prepare Christians for tough questions at the event. I put up 3 sample questions

1) If morality is absolute and defined by God; and the Bible is the word of (or inspired by, depending on your doctrinal orientation) God, then why does the Bible endorse views that are by and large considered to be immoral, if not inhuman?
2) How is it moral to condemn humans to infinite punishment (or torture, if you're that way inclined) for finite crimes?
3) How do you reconcile the biblical view of an original pair of human beings whose sin brought death and suffering to all their descendants with the findings of modern science?

To the first question, I provided two quotations from the Bible where it endorses rape, genocide and slavery most of the responses were fairly typical, ranging from “That’s out of context!” to claiming that Biblical slavery was actually really nice. Both of these responses are quite plainly absurd. Interestingly enough no one felt game enough to try and justify the rape and genocide from Numbers 31.

The third question attracted a legit fundie, who said things like “Nothing in modern science goes against the traditional, literal teachings from the Bible.” And “Evolution describes a possible history. Creation describes a possible history. Science does not support or disprove either one.” I responded fairly briefly to his smorgasbord of fallacies and mistruths, providing him with links to learn more about the subjects he obviously hasn’t the slightest clue about. Some of the other responses included misusing the ‘Mitochondrial Eve’, claiming it supports a literal Adam and Eve, when it does no such thing.

Where the real juicy moral dissonance came pouring in was the question about eternal torture. Here are some quotes from the responses.
“The offended one dictates the extent of punishment. Offending an infinite God requires an infinite punishment. Since humans are finite beings, except for their immortality, the punishment must take eternity, or else an infinite payment credited instead.”

“Without hell, then there is no proof of God's holiness, or mercy or love.” 
“Yes hell is a terrible and torturous place, but it is proof of just how important love, mercy and justice are to the God of the Bible”

“Those who are commanded or judged to go to hell and suffer, are those who chose not to do so[To love God], but instead of their own free will disobeyed instead.”

It amazes me that people have allowed this religious doctrine to poison their moral thought and their empathy for their fellow humans. What was going through their heads when the words “eternal torture” came up on the screen?

Here are some excerpts from my responses to them.

Isn't God supposed to be merciful? Not to mention omni-benevolent (though this is admittedly not from the Bible)? Yet you still think that in God's dishing out of eternal punishment/torture he is satisfying his merciful, just and benevolent natures?

What of the 'sin' of non-belief? What of a person who despite their trying, and at one point desire to believe in Christianity, simply cannot? Is it just at all to punish someone who can't bring themselves to believe that a God even exists? I am of course speaking of myself here, I was raised in the church, and became an atheist just before my 20th birthday, I just couldn't believe any more. Do you honestly believe that I deserve eternal torture for simply being honest to myself?

I care for my fellow human beings and that is exactly why I find the doctrine of hell repugnant. I do not 'love God' in fact I think that a being that thinks it right to torture his dissidents would not be deserving of love, but rather would only be deserving of loathing and contempt. I do not steal, cheat, lie, am not violent and I am very interested in social justice and helping the poor. Despite all this, because I care for the wellbeing of my fellow hominids, and care very much whether my beliefs are true, I will be tortured for eternity according to your belief system.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Atheism: The Null Hypothesis

I have heard it claimed recently by some theists that “Atheism is not the default position” and it puzzles me somewhat. When atheists talk about the default position what we are referring to is the scientific concept of the null hypothesis. A claim is made—in this case that a god exists— and the null hypothesis is to say that the claim is false. From Wikipedia: “The null hypothesis typically corresponds to a general or default position. For example, the null hypothesis might be that there is no relationship between two measured phenomena or that a potential treatment has no effect.” The null hypothesis is a negative statement, not a positive claim.

I have also seen many atheists try to ‘prove’ that god(s) do not exist. You cannot prove a null hypothesis. From Wikipedia: “It is important to understand that the null hypothesis can never be proven. A set of data can only reject a null hypothesis or fail to reject it.” The issue is widely misunderstood on both sides of the debate though, so it isn’t only atheists who are pushing the envelope too far. It has been claimed by theists that to be an atheist means you have to know everything. Again, this is false as atheism is the null hypothesis, and as atheists our position can merely be the data we have so far is not enough to reject the null hypothesis. Much to my dismay, one of favourite scientists Carl Sagan also seemed to misunderstand this. He once said: "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid."

So let it be known, atheism is not a claim to omniscience, nor can it ever be proved. Atheism is rejecting the existence of gods, not a claim to knowledge of their non-existence. People on all sides of this debate would do well to learn this, as it would make the debate much more enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

False Analogies

It generally annoys me when I hear people making comparisons between Jesus and other mythical deities, because most of the time, they make false analogies. The most common ones are what people learned from movies like Zeitgeist (which is horrible), and they make bold claims like "The Jesus story was copied directly from pagan religions!" and "All of these gods (10s or 100s of them) were born on December 25th of a virgin and when they died rose 3 days later!"

My biggest gripe with these faux arguments is that there ARE legitimate comparisons to be made. There are quite a number of dying and rising gods in ancient religions. There are a number of mythical man-god figures who were said to have been fathered by gods. There are also other figures who are ascribed many of the same kinds of miracles that Jesus did. These are the comparisons that should be made, and are made by people who know what's what. It isn't a black and white issue and the stories are not identical. I really wish people would stop speaking out their ass and treating movies like Zeitgeist and Religious as scholarly sources.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reasons I doubted

I have written in the past about the things that caused me to leave Christianity, but today I will discuss the things that lead up to that deconversion. The reasons I doubted my faith in the first place.

1)The silence and hiddenness of God
This wasn't the main thing going through my head when I decided that I no longer believed in a god, but in hindsight it was definitely one of the leading factors in my path to apostasy. In my YouTube Video discussing my Christian upbringing I recall pivotal experiences , most notably the ones where despite hours of praying, I did not receive word from God, nor did I feel any supernatural presence. At the time I rationalised this by blaming myself, it was MY fault that I didn't feel the presence of God.

2)Natural explanations
I had grown up under the pretence that evolution was false and that the Bible was literally true. Upon learning more about science, I found it harder and harder to reconcile my literalism with reality. I gradually conceded point after point until I no longer considered the Bible to be the infallible word of God. First to go was a young earth, then the global flood, then the fixity of species, then a literal Adam and Eve (and consequently a literal fall) and finally the origin of life and the universe.

3)The sterility of the bible
Even the staunchest Bible-fanatics will have to admit that it's not exactly a good read and is actually quite boring in a lot of places (the begats?). I found this fact to be quite disconcerting, how was it possible that texts inspired by the omnipotent, omniscient God I believed in would be so unappealing and tedious? Surely God would have made the text be fascinating and engaging throughout, but this simply wasn't the case. I heard other believer claim that when they read the Bible the spirit speaks to them and the words "come to life" on the page (relates to reason 1). This simply wasn't the case for me, I found it incredibly laborious to read, yet I persevered and by the time I deconverted I had read the Old Testament completely once (some books many times) and the New Testament at least 4 times.

4)Immoral Old Testament
This was something that hadn't really occurred to me until I read The Age of Reason  and Biblical Blasphemy by Thomas Paine. It is no coincidence that within a few months of reading these books, I became an atheist, and immediately after reading them, I no longer considered myself a Christian, but rather some sort of Deist. I'll end with a quote from The Age of Reason.

"Besides, the character of Moses, as stated in the Bible, is the most horrid that can be imagined. If those accounts be true, he was the wretch that first began and carried on wars on the score or on the pretence of religion; and under that mask, or that infatuation, committed the most unexampled atrocities that are to be found in the history of any nation. Of which I will state only one instance:

When the Jewish army returned from one of their plundering and murdering excursions, the account goes on as follows (Numbers xxxi. 13):[KJ: I have used a different translation here (NLT), Paine quoted the King James version.] "After they had gathered the plunder and captives, both people and animals,  they brought them all to Moses and Eleazar the priest, and to the whole community of Israel, which was camped on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho.  Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was furious with all the generals and captains[a] who had returned from the battle.
“Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the Lord at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the Lord’s people. So kill all the boys and all the women who have had intercourse with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.""

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fear-Mongering, Propaganda and Poor Journalism in the New Zealand Herald

An article in the New Zealand Herald today was brought to my attention via Facebook, and to say the least I was quite shocked. The title of the article was "Sex at 14 - I learned all about it in class" by Elizabeth Binning. It (kind of) tells the story of a teenager from the Hibiscus Coast (North of Auckland) who is pregnant at the age of 17. 'Big deal' so far right? My gripes with the piece started right from the title, and continued through just about every single sentence all the way to the end.

The "Journalist" Elizabeth Binning is pushing for an anti-Sex-Ed angle throughout the whole story, which already shows her colours. Comprehensive sex education is demonstrably the best way of reducing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Abstinence-only education has proven to be a complete failure in the United States (Guardian) and has been ineffective in general (Wikipedia). People who push propaganda against teaching teenagers sexual and reproductive health are not only counter-productive but they are chewing away at the progress that has been made in many places.

Beyond the anti-sex-ed angle of the piece, it is very poorly written, and seems to indicate at one point in the article that the girl in question was raped. "I didn't wind up pregnant because I didn't attend a class. I know all about contraceptives and safe sex. It was purely the fact that I was drunk, it was New Year's, and some older male thought it would be fabulous to take advantage of me." But after emailing the editor expressing concern that the journalist didn't seem to care about the rape, an acquaintance of mine through my University feminist group received a reply that the girl was not raped, but rather that she was drunk and was deceived by the older male that 'pulling out' was an effective contraceptive method. Either way, it doesn't paint a very good picture of the man in question, and it would in my opinion have been much better to focus on that aspect of her story. I have heard it said that the general attitude towards rape in New Zealand is rather blasé, which I find extremely appalling. I believe our rape laws are in dire need of revision, but that is a discussion for another day.

Binning also quotes from this ignorant child as if she was an authority on the matter. No references to studies to back up what the girl is saying? No checking her story to see whether the health teacher at the school was actually getting kids to taste flavoured condoms? I don't know about you, but I'm simply not going to take the word of a 17 year old who got pregnant because she was lead to believed that 'pulling out' was an effective contraceptive method, when "She said teaching young teenagers about contraception won't help reduce New Zealand's high rate of teenage pregnancy rates." I'm sorry, but all the data goes the other way.

Here are some quotes from the article

"A pregnant teenager says sex education in schools does not prevent young people from having sex - if anything, it encourages it."

Really? Data please?

"Amber-Leigh has spoken out in the hope it may help other young teenagers to learn about the importance of having protected sex - or preferably waiting until they are older."

So how about educating them about contraception? I distinctly remember being told when I was 14 years old that "just pulling out doesn't work". Either she wasn't paying attention or her teacher was crap.

This article was not a one-off event either, recently Elizabeth Binning has written 4 "articles" with the same propaganda against sexual health education. Some of the others display even poorer journalistic integrity than the most recent one. Quoting from anonymous sources with no apparent fact-checking is indicative of at the very least an incompetent journalist, at worst someone pushing a dangerous agenda.
The titles of her other 3 articles are:
  • Too much 'grubby stuff', so dad steps in - No sources mentioned, story is about a father whose 12 year old son was supposedly recommended to engage oral sex by his sex-ed teacher. I call absolute bull shit.
  •  Sex ed shock for angry parents - "Children as young as 12 are being taught about oral sex and told it's acceptable to play with a girl's private parts as long as "she's okay with it"." I call Bull Shit!
  • Readers up in arms over sex education - "children as young as 12 are being taught about anal and oral sex and ...Children as young as 11 are being taught how to put condoms on cucumbers, and in some schools 14-year-old girls are practising on black plastic penises.
  • In one, a female teacher went as far as to give her class of 15-year-olds a rendition of the noises she makes during orgasm." I call BULL SHIT!
No sources are attributed to any of those claims.

More Evidence That Creationists Are Lying Sacks of Shit

Since I'm subscribed to CMI's newsletter I regularly get infuriating items in my inbox. This particular example from today is no exception. Some time ago, Creation Ministries International started a "Question Evolution" campaign to encourage Christians to reject science. They produced a small document with 15 questions for evolutionists to answer. Understandably, the questions were stupid, unbelievably so.

Here are the first 3
  1. How did life with specifications for hundreds of proteins originate just by chemistry without intelligent design?
  2. How did the DNA code originate? 
  3. How could copying errors (mutations) create 3 billion letters of DNA instructions to change a microbe into a microbiologist? 
 Yes, the bolded code was part of the original. The questions demonstrate a complete ignorance of biological processes. Anyway, the 15 questions are not the focus of this post, their responses to so-called objections are what I really want to talk about.

In their newsletter, they claimed that "atheists have attempted to answer the points we raised ... But the answers fall short as we show in our rebuttal."

Here are the so-called-objections to their 15 questions.

Question 1:
Answer 1: Abiogenesis is not relevant to the discussion of evolution—it is a separate topic (this has been a very common claim).
Answer 2: Life/non-life isn’t a dichotomy. Rather, there are many examples of ‘proto-life’ such as viruses, prions, etc.
Answer 3: Some experiments show that the early earth’s atmosphere was optimal for life.

Really? No one pointed out to them that their question is a complete strawman? No scientist that works on abiogenesis would EVER say that the first 'life' was complex, and there is no way that it would have required hundreds of proteins. This just shows that CMI are not interested in honest science, but prefer to peddle blatant lies to their all too willing flock of sheep who gobble that bullshit up like it was chocolate mousse.

Question 2:
Answer 1: This is not an evolution question, because evolution starts with an already-reproducing organism.
Answer 2: Originally, life used RNA instead of DNA to encode information.
Answer 3: It is disingenuous to argue from the current DNA code, because the original code would have been much simpler.
Answer 4: The question of how the modern code emerged from these early predecessors is evolution itself. Random deviations in the nucleic acid structure would change the by-product produced, if the by-product was more efficient at replicating, it would overwhelm less efficient codes. This gradual change in the complexity of the underlying code is useful in explaining many aspects of biological theory. Such as why RNA is used as an intermediate between DNA and protein synthesis.
Answer 5: The words ‘code’ and ‘language’ are only metaphors when applied to the DNA code, and they have no reality outside our own mental constructs. In reality, the whole thing is dependent on chemical properties.
Answer 6: It is easy to create amino acids and the building blocks for RNA by running an electrical charge through mineral-rich water.

At least some of these touch on the key issue. Unsurprisingly they didn't really respond to any of them in any capacity with things like "Secular scientists refer to the nucleobases of DNA as ‘letters’, so it’s hardly original to us." This just ignores the metaphor criticism altogether. To answer 3 they say "This is most disingenuous. So many evolutionists have appealed to the common DNA code to “prove” common ancestry." This to me shows an intentional misunderstanding of the response, either that or they are absolutely brain-dead (which is a very real possibility!).

Question 3:
Answer 1: If only eight mutations per year were passed on for three billion years, that gives 3 gigabytes of information.
Answer 2: Computer models have shown how mutations can lead to large-scale change.
Answer 3: Using words such as ‘accidental’ and ‘mistakes’ is misleading and misses the point entirely.

As with the first question, the objections are relevant, but 2/3 miss the fundamental problem. CMI, and their fans do not understand what a mutation is, and they perpetuate the myth that all mutations are harmful and only remove information. They aren't interested in understanding what mutations really are and what they really do, just like they aren't interested in doing any actual science. All they are interested in doing is lying for Jesus. If they seriously wanted to try and answer objections to their idiotic questions, they would have responded to something like RationalWiki's article. Their actions speak louder than words, they find a handful of criticisms that while valid, don't cut to the heart of the issue. These issues are complex scientific issues and to understand an objection to the flawed misunderstandings that creationists have takes time. Creationists, the dishonest, disingenuous, ignorant lying sacks of shit that they are, simply do not want to put the effort in to learn real, honest science.

Here's a link to RationalWiki's article again, because it's good.

Exploring Moral Philosophy

I have decided to dip my feet into the waters of Moral Philosophy. What I've read already that could be classified as such only really addresses the issue on a surface level, or gives only a cursory glance to other opposing views. I'll be starting with 'Utilitarianism' by John Stuart Mill, then I may read 'Practical Ethics' by Peter Singer and then 'A Treatise on Human Nature' by David Hume. If anyone has any other suggestions that explore these issues from another perspective I'd be interested to take a look. I tried reading Kant recently and I'd prefer something that isn't quite so laborious to read.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Search for a First Cause

There is a huge difference between how religion “searches” for a first cause and how science does it. In the religious paradigm, a position is asserted and that’s that. God did it, their minds are made up. In science however, the answer may never be definite or absolute, but that does not take anything away from the beauty of it, it simply shows the honesty of the scientific method.

There was a time when scientists thought that the origin of the universe was outside the realm of scientific inquiry, when Newton was describing the motion of the planets as God had placed them there. The universe was the way it was because that’s how a powerful deity made it to be. That time is long gone, science has been fearlessly making leaps and bounds over the last century to discover (or at the very least learn more about) the origin and nature of our universe. Theories are devised, calculations performed, observations made, theories revised and so on. The search will probably be never-ending, as we probably can never know everything.

A notable example of this revision in the face of observation is the expansion of the universe as predicted by Einstein. The prevailing view at the time was that the universe was eternal, and when Einstein discovered that his calculations lead to an expanding universe, which implied that at one point in time the universe was smaller, indicating that there must have been a point of origin. He adjusted his theory so it would not predict an expanding universe, observation of the red-shift by Edwin Hubble and later the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation has shown us that he was right the first time round, the universe is expanding.

The religious search jumps on board the scientific train with this discovery, but jumps off again when natural explanations for the ‘Big Bang’ are postulated. This mindset is typical of the religious search for a first cause. They have their minds made up, if a proposition goes against their belief that a god created the universe they will reject it, and when a proposition seems to support their belief (even if just at surface level) they will claim that they were right all along, that science has vindicated religion. Picking and choosing which science you support based on your prior commitments is at the very least inconsistent, and at the worst dishonest.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Fundies - Ray Comfort

It has been a long time since I've done a Friday Fundies post, so I made my way over to Ray Comfort's Blog to find a juicy quote.

Here's one from a post he made about evolution.

"The tragedy for those that believe in evolution is that they automatically discount the Genesis account of creation, which holds up perfectly under the light of honest scientific scrutiny. It informs us that God is the initial Cause of all things. He created male and female and caused every animal to bring forth after its own kind.

The theory of evolution has no explanation for the initial Cause (it is a case of "evolution-did-it" with the help of invisible sky-daddy of Father Time), nor does it have an explanation for why 1.4 million different kinds of animals, birds, fish, and insects have male and female."


It's really sad seeing things like this. He sincerely believes that Genesis stands up under scientific scrutiny. I almost feel sorry for him. The simple fact of the matter is that not a single aspect of the Genesis creation myth reflects anything that has been demonstrated to be true through scientific inquiry. Things are in the wrong order, plants are made before the sun is there to sustain them, light exists before stars are there to provide it. It's pointless going through the list of everything that is wrong with Genesis, because until people like Ray decide they are actually going to honestly investigate these things, they will not listen to anything anyone else has to say.

Evolutionary theory does not even attempt to explain the initial cause, that is in the realm of cosmology, or if he is talking about the origin of life (more like the origin of replicating polymers) then it is in the realm of chemistry. What baffles me even more than his astounding ignorance about what science actually is and says despite arguing against science for over 20 years, is that he thinks the existence of male and female organisms somehow presents a serious obstacle to evolution.

A cursory glance at the Wikipedia page for the evolution of sexual reproduction would give you more knowledge on the subject than Ray Comfort who frequently spouts his imbecilic criticisms of it.

It almost annoys me that people put the effort into trying to argue with fundies like Ray, not because it makes people think that he should be taken seriously, but because fundies haven't even taken the time to learn about their own religion seriously, do you really think that they would bother learning about something like evolution properly? It's a matter of intellectual honesty, Ray has none, and because of that he deserves nothing but ridicule.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top Ten Quackronyms

If you haven't figured it out, a Quackronym is an acronym for something related to Quackery of some sort.
Let's start at my number 10.

10. EVP - Electronic Voice Phenomena
This is something you see on those Ghost Hunter shows, where they claim the noise or interference picked up by their recording device comes from a paranormal source. The people who believe in this nonsense could learn a lesson or two from Scooby Doo.

9. EHF - Extraordinary Human Function
Skepdic says: "An extraordinary human function would be something like the ability to read messages with one's ears, forehead, fingers or some other part of the anatomy besides the eyes. There have even been accounts of reading by sitting on the message. The latter was popular in China in the late 1970's, when the study of EHF became a major research topic at Beijing University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences."
There's a little something called evidence, perhaps these folk should learn what it is.

8. ET - Extra Terrestrial
The reason ET's are so far down this list, is because there is a high probability that some form of life exists somewhere else in the universe. People who think aliens visit earth and that people get abducted by aliens are still crazy though. There is almost no chance that any alien life is close enough to visit earth. If however some alien race were visiting earth, I do not believe for one second they would be at all interested in abducting some of our least sane members of society.

7. DHEA - dehydroepiandrosterone
DHEA is a naturally occurring steroid produced in the adrenal gland. In fact DHEA is very abundant in the human body. However it has been marketed as a "miracle drug" by quack and quack alike, as a cure for everything ranging from auto-immune disorders to weight loss. Quackwatch has a good article on it.

6. NDE - Near Death Experience
Near Death Experiences are often touted as evidence for life after death. I have a few things to say to people who accept this as evidence: Oxygen deprivation, brain damage and hallucination. Here's a link for more information.

5. OBE - Out of Body Experience
I was tempted to combine this into a single category with NDE's, but they are also related to another piece of quackery that doesn't make a nice acronym: Astral Projection. Here's a link to a Michael Shermer video on the 'God Helmet' and Out of Body Experiences. Here's a link to another video about the same helmet. What is abundantly clear from the realistic explanations of these last 2 Quackronyms is that the Human Brain is highly susceptible to manipulation and hallucination. Anyone who has taken some kind of hallucinogen knows this.

4. ESP - Extra Sensory Perception
Believers in ESP are probably either really gullible or Alien-abductee type crazy. No credible evidence has ever been produced for such phenomena, nor any mechanism suggested. Penn and Teller did an episode of 'Bullshit!' that featured an ESP class at a home-based Psychic School. It's good for a laugh.

3. MLM - Multi Level Marketing
Multi Level Marketing just makes me sad. Most of the people that get sucked into it are victims of a scam, plain and simple. They were most likely recruited by other people who  are most likely also victims of the same scam. The simple fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of people who try MLM do not make any money. They're not supposed to, it's simply a disguised pyramid scheme, the products they sell are only secondary to the recruitment. When you pay to sign up, the people higher up the pyramid make money.

2. YEC - Young Earth Creationism
I wanted to include Intelligent Design (ID) as another category, but then I would have had to remove one of my other list items, or make it a top 11, which just isn't cool (unless you're Spinal Tap). The reason Young Earth Creationism is so high up on this list (or low down if you prefer it that way) is because to be a YECer you literally have to deny just about all of the findings of science from the last 200 years. Creationists are Quacks of the highest calibre.

1. CAM - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
This blight upon humanity is at the number one spot for a very good reason. With the potential exception of DHEA, none of the other list members have the potential to do any physical harm beyond affecting the intelligence and sanity of the believer. Alternative medicine can cause serious harm, and in some cases result in death, as believers will of avoid getting real life-saving treatments for diseases. What really makes me furious though is that some parents make the choice on behalf of their children, like this Sydney couple who only gave their baby daughter homeopathic remedies and she died from septicaemia and malnutrition.

Blog Roll

I recently added a blogroll down the right hand side of the page, so far I have only added a few blogs to it, either of readers of this blog (whose blogs I also read) or other ones that I read frequently.

Some shout-outs/highlights:

In no particular order

krissthesexyatheist recently posted about Christian dominionism, and the strange phenomena among some of its adherents to deny that it exists. He links to a news article on Al Jazeera that is eye opening and quite scary.

Laughing In Purgatory posted about the four reasons why Yahweh is a Super Villain. Highly amusing and entertaining.

Infidel753 wrote about the reasons why liberals and libertarians don't see eye to eye, and expresses some criticisms of libertarianism that I think are quite compelling.

Lady Atheist explains the irony of the very religious 9/11 remembrance sentiments expressed by some people.

If any other readers have blogs let me know and I'll add you to the roll!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The End of Creationism?

I really wonder how long we’ll have to put up with creationism and creationists? Perhaps today is a good day to discuss this issue. It’s the 12th of September here, but as of writing it is still the 11th in the USA, the 10th anniversary of the most heinous terrorist act of this generation. Regardless of whether it was primarily motivated by religious zealotry or not (I’m not going to get into that debate), it certainly inspired a religious backlash, a resurgence of fervour for fundamentalist Christianity.

As you probably know, the “creation-evolution” debate is not scientific in nature, it is cultural. The issue isn’t happening in the lab, or between scientists, but in the public square. Creationists aim at children, and the scientifically illiterate. They target the easily bamboozled and those who won’t go and check their facts. Once their plague has infected someone it is very difficult to cure. Many even go through the motions of higher education, sometimes even in the scientific realm, and still come out a science-denying baboon. It has been said that the typical “Creation Scientist” has a doctorate in Chemistry, Computer Science or Engineering. Not to badmouth those fields at all, but they don’t exactly resemble biology. In the case of Engineering and Computer Science, they are fields that deal almost exclusively with man-made, purposefully designed objects. So it is easy to see where their misplaced expertise lies, take an understanding of synthetic codes and design, alongside a religious and ideological agenda (perhaps from childhood indoctrination) and you have a cookie-cutter [dis]”reputable” Creation Scientist.

I don’t think it is possible (or necessary) to try to get rid of religion as a whole, and it may even be a difficult task to tone down, or get rid of fundamentalism, especially when we periodically see “revivals” of it, like this past decade as a reaction to Islamic fundamentalism. If fundamentalism is to be done away with, it must come from within the religion. Christians have to take out their trash. Muslims have to take out their trash. It is up to the religious establishments to clean shop. Though influence from outside the fold does happen (I am one who left from outside influence), it simply cannot give the results that we wish it to. If moderate and liberal Christians want to curb fundamentalism, they have to up their game. I am more than happy, as are thousands of other “new atheists” to offer our criticisms, but we can only do so much.

Take home message: To moderate and liberal believers, your shit stinks, for both our sakes, flush it! Please!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Are the Gospels Historically Reliable?

In his book 'Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism' Richard Carrier gives three criteria that distinguish a good historian from a bad one.

The first of these criteria is showing "a critical awareness of problems with his sources or with the intrinsic believability of an event." In the case of the gospels however, sources are not even mentioned, and miraculous stories are written as if they are nothing out of the ordinary.

The second criteria is that they should "engage in logical historical argument various forms of evidence and assessing their merit." In the case of the gospels however, no arguments are made and no evidence is addressed, the stories are just reported as being so.

The third criteria is that they will be correct on some matters. In the case of the gospels however, there are many instances where they are dead wrong. A notable example is the massacre of the innocents attributed to Herod by Matthew. If we look at more than one gospel at a time (e.g. Matthew and Luke) we find instances where they don't agree with each other, with no way of telling which of them are correct, if either of them are at all.

So the gospels are not historically reliable, as none of them even come close to meeting these three criteria of a good historian to a sufficient level. Many Christians claim that they gospels are believable because they 'read like eyewitness accounts', which is possibly the worst argument on earth. There is simply no evidence that they were written by eyewitnesses, and in any case eyewitness testimony is often unreliable. This is why these criteria mentioned by Richard Carrier are worthwhile, because you can't just take someone's word for something, especially when it happened centuries or millennia ago.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Christian Morality

Was Jesus a moral teacher? The maker of this short film doesn't think so, and I for the most part agree with him.

Ethics and Religion Infographic

I saw this on the atheism subReddit, and thought it deserved a place on my blog.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Evolution is Cumulative

Say it with me: "Cumulative Evolution."

One of the most common objections you see around against evolution is the idea that “this couldn’t have evolved by chance!” It has been rebutted so often and in so many different mediums (journals, books, blogs, videos, etc.) that one would think that it need not be restated. However this flagrant misunderstanding is repeated on a daily basis by Creatards and IDiots. I didn’t realise that it was such a difficult concept to grasp!

Cumulative evolution doesn’t just apply to irreducible complexity style misunderstanding, but also to the borderline brain-dead objection you get from only the most uneducated imbeciles: “things only reproduce after their own kind”. Of course an offspring is related to its parents, no one is saying otherwise. In fact if an offspring was an entirely different species (ignoring hybrids) to its parents, evolution would be falsified! However, an offspring is not identical to either of its parents, and frequently contains genetic mutations — which are often silent (no change in phenotype) — that were not present in either of the parents. Mutation along with recombination, and selection pressures, or simply genetic drift leads to diversified populations over many generations. The absolute failure to grasp the implications of these mechanisms —possibly due to wilful ignorance or dishonesty — results in these idiotic objections being taken as something with credibility.

Analogies are often given to try and explain this basic principle of accumulation of mutations and my favourite one has always been the construction of a building. Obviously a building of any kind is too complex to just arrive in one single step in its final form. This is not how buildings are made though; they are built by a step by step process, one piece at a time. This is comparable to the evolution of a species; it does not differentiate itself from its ancestor species in a single step evolutionary event. The change is slow and cumulative, one or a small number of mutation(s) per generation. Evolution is not monkeys giving birth to humans. Evolution is not cats appearing randomly out of nowhere. Evolution is cumulative change. Period. Creationists would be doing themselves a favour if they decided to understand the subject that they claim to not believe in.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Why I Believed - Book Review

I was browsing for ebooks on Amazon for my Kindle and came upon this book: 'Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary' by Kenneth W. Daniels. It had favourable reviews and only cost $0.99US so I bought it and read it over the next two days. It was a good read, and brings an interesting perspective to the table. Ken Daniels was a missionary/Bible Translator working for Wycliffe Bible Translators in Africa and during his time went through several crises of faith, which are documented in the book. Though the book doesn't focus on intellectual arguments against Christianity they are present. I didn't pay a huge amount of attention to that section though, because I have read a lot of that material before.

What interested me most about the book is the criticisms that Ken levels at the religion on a practical level. There is a whole chapter dedicated to examining the idea of having a "personal relationship" with God/Jesus, breaking it down on a theological level and on a practical, realistic level. In this respect my departure from the religion is similar to his, though that can wait till another post.

Ken talks from his own experience, about what caused him to doubt his beliefs, and what made him carry on with them for so many years. He includes excerpts from his journals that he kept continuously throughout his years as a Christian, which give the reader a window into his mind at pivotal points in his gradual deconversion. If you are someone who comes from a Christian (particularly evangelical) background, you will probably relate to what the author writes about his story. If you don't though, it will give you a better understanding of where we come from and what it is like to live in that kind of environment, and the consequences socially of leaving it.

I would recommend reading this book, and if possible giving a copy (preferably on Kindle) to anyone that doesn't understand why you left the faith, as that is one of the reasons Ken wrote it. He addresses the people in his life at the start of the book and seeks to explain to them why he "left the fold".

Why I Believed is available on:
Amazon (Paperback or Kindle)
Book Depository

EDIT: The book is available online in its entirety on the secular web (

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Go To Hell, [Doctrine of] Hell

 I thought I'd just post an excerpt from Robert G. Ingersoll's essay 'Why I Am an Agnostic', which is available over at the Positive Atheism website. The excerpt speaks for itself, it needs no explanation.

"The orthodox God, when clothed in human flesh, told his disciples not to resist evil, to love their enemies, and when smitten on one cheek to turn the other, and yet we are told that this same God, with the same loving lips, uttered these heartless, these fiendish words: "Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."

These are the words of "eternal love."

No human being has imagination enough to conceive of this infinite horror.

All that the human race has suffered in war and want, in pestilence and famine, in fire and flood, -- all the pangs and pains of every disease and every death -- all this is as nothing compared with the agonies to be endured by one lost soul.

This is the consolation of the Christian religion. This is the justice of God -- the mercy of Christ.

This frightful dogma, this infinite lie, made me the implacable enemy of Christianity. The truth is that this belief in eternal pain has been the real persecutor. It founded the Inquisition, forged the chains, and furnished the fagots. It has darkened the lives of many millions. It made the cradle as terrible as the coffin. It enslaved nations and shed the blood of countless thousands. It sacrificed the wisest, the bravest and the best. It subverted the idea of justice, drove mercy from the heart, changed men to fiends and banished reason from the brain.

Like a venomous serpent it crawls and coils and hisses in every orthodox creed.

It makes man an eternal victim and God an eternal fiend. It is the one infinite horror. Every church in which it is taught is a public curse. Every preacher who teaches it is an enemy of mankind. Below this Christian dogma, savagery cannot go. It is the infinite of malice, hatred, and revenge.

Nothing could add to the horror of hell, except the presence of its creator, God.

While I have life, as long as I draw breath, I shall deny with all my strength, and hate with every drop of my blood, this infinite lie."

— Robert G. Ingersoll in "Why I Am an Agnostic"

Sunday, August 28, 2011

NZ Skeptics Conference Was Great

Well the NZ Skeptics conference was awesome! The talks were on very interesting, and I have been somewhat inspired to move towards a career in science education.

If you're from New Zealand and are interested in Reason, Science and debunking Pseudoscience, then I hope to see you at next years conference! It will be about the same time next year and will be held in Dunedin.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Religion and Overpopulation

This is a new idea that I want to explore: a possible correlation between religious belief and overpopulation. This isn’t something that I think is really happening to a large degree right now, but is just a thought.

1) If the ultimate aim of a religious belief such as Christianity is for humanity to end up in heaven (wherever a particular sect believes that to be), then I can see a strong link between religious belief and having large numbers of children. In fact it is common among conservative Christians and Catholics for having large families already. This may be due to other factors, such as disdain for contraception and abortion, but a view that having children is inherently a good thing could also be a factor. There is also the matter of the explicit command in Genesis 9:7 to: “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.

2) If a religious belief has an element of this tendency to overpopulate in it, then the religion to me seems strongly anti-conservationist. If procreating and making more children to go to heaven, even if not the primary goal is seen as worthwhile in and of itself then the wellbeing of our ecosystem and future of our planet and longevity of our species is being put at risk.

It is undeniable that earth is facing a population crisis; the global human population has doubled in the last 50 years, and will double again in the next 50 years. In current news, the Brazilian government tried to pass legislation that would allow them to cut down substantial portions of the Amazon rainforest. Undoubtedly, this is a flow on effect from a demand for space and resources for a growing population.

C) If a religious belief is anti-conservation, even if indirectly by encouraging having lots of children, then that religious belief is in my opinion detrimental to humanity.

Note: This is not the logical fallacy known as an ‘appeal to consequences’, as this argument stops short of declaring that because of the consequences it is false. I am merely drawing the conclusion that religious belief that includes an advocacy of bearing large numbers of offspring is detrimental to the future of our planet and species.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Female Science/Atheism Authors

I came to the shocking realisation that of the 50-60ish books that I own (Check out my collection on Librarything) that relate to science and/or atheism (not including some of the contributors to my text books) I only own one book by a female author. That one book is ‘A History of God’ by Karen Armstrong. I feel that this is a situation that must be rectified before the end of this year. If anyone has any suggestions for books, I would like to hear them. I am willing to extend this category to include politics, conservation, human rights, feminism, philosophy and ethics, as I don’t have enough books in those categories either.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Never Again Will I Debate a Creationist

As of yesterday I've decided that I will no longer engage with Creationists on any science subject. I wasted several hours of my day yesterday in an online debate with a Creatard that I know through University. I'll give the outline of how it went down. This is going to be long, and if you're not interested in hearing about it I suggest you stop now.
-He made the initial post claiming that evolutionary thinking is a cult.
-I responded saying that it's an established scientific fact, and that you would encounter the same resistance if you went around questioning gravity or germ theory.
-He made some irrelevant points relating to the cult idea, then claimed that evolutionists never give evidence.
-I responded appropriately and compiled a short list of evidence (probably about 1.5 A4 pages worth).
-He admitted to not reading any of it and asked me to pick one example to discuss.
-After some deliberation we settled on discussing Endogenous Retroviruses (ERVs)

This is where it started

-He made a whole bunch of unsupported claims in an almost incoherent post, and then linked to two scientific papers he claimed backed up his assertions.
-I read the papers (which he hadn't done), and informed him that one of them wasn't actually about ERVs, the title of the paper specifically said 'ERV-like Elements'. Even if the paper had been about ordinary ERVs, the article did not support what he was saying. The other paper (which he only read the abstract of I think) was not understood by him. I tried to explain but he kept saying the same things.
-He came back making claims about what the articles had said, but they hadn't said those things.
-He then linked to an article about the discovery of ERVs, claiming that "ERV infections that are identical accross numerous species - which pretty much kills the idea of taxonomical classification using infections".
-When I called him out on using the word 'identical' when the article had talked about 'closely related' ERVs in different species and explained that the terms are not interchangeable, he went to a massive rant telling me I didn't understand ERVs. In this barely coherent rant he strawmanned the simple criticism against him into oblivion. It is difficult to explain just how misguided his grandstanding was.
-During his rant he referred back to his arguments that the first two articles had supposedly proved, then told me to concede the debate. His words: "conceed that ERV infections are *NOT* taxonomical constants Good on your for enterin the debate though! most people wont"

At this point I expressed my dissatisfaction with his incoherent replies, his arrogance, his strawmanning, his misappropriation of words and his condescension.

-I replied to his rant point for point (where there was one)
-He did not reply to what I had said but merely babbled some (again) barely coherent nonsense in which he used the same arguments as he had initially. Numerous times in his textual diarrhoea he insulted my intelligence, told me I was unscientific, biased and talking on a subject that I knew nothing about, which he said displayed "extreme arrogance".
-I once again responded to him point by point, explaining why his postings were incoherent, and where he had misused words like 'phylogeny', 'transcription', 'taxonomy'. I also explained how his arguments confused the evolution of the viruses with the evolution of the host, and their various phylogenies. I asked him for sources for his very specific claims (he gave numbers!). I finished by criticising his attitude again.
-He responded purely with insults, telling me to get a grip, that I'm a dick, that I got "spanked ideological", that I'm not smarter, that I'm biased and that I was being emotional. He had the courtesy to be mildly incoherent too.

At this point I was mad. I flamed him back and tried to explain why his tactics were so dishonest. I told him that he hadn't responded to a single one of my arguments, while I had responded point for point to every single one of his.

-He then comes back telling me that he gave me 59 comments worth of points to critique (hint: that was the total number of comments and half of them were mine). He then told me that it was my fault that I couldn't understand him half the time. He said that I made arguments that I hadn't actually made and told me I didn't understand the science behind ERVs. He then said he knows more about biology and that he would make me "look like a punk". What threw me over the edge and made me quit the discussion and vow to never discuss science with Creatards again was this:

"you have not made a single point. Tell me what you don't understand - and then we will try and move forward"

I simply responded with a good old "Fuck you" and left.

How To Speak Christianese

I found this video quite entertaining, as it paints a fairly accurate picture of my experience as a Christian. I hope you find it as funny as I did.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What If You’re Wrong?

I haven’t been asked this question for quite some time, but it is always worthwhile to think about. How would I know if I was wrong about something? It would depend on what the thing is, but generally if the evidence doesn’t fit with my idea, then it’s probably at least a little bit wrong.

When it comes to the question of being wrong about the existence of gods, it would depend heavily on what kind of god it is. If it is the kind of unfalsifiable, unverifiable god that most people these days tend to want to believe in, then it isn’t really possible to know if you’re wrong about its existence. If the god wanted to stay hidden, you wouldn’t ever be able to find out. However, some people assert that their god interferes with the natural world, performing miracles. In *theory* it would be possible to know if you were wrong about this kind of god by observing a verifiable miracle, but it wouldn’t be possible to know that it doesn’t exist. In this sense I am a hard agnostic. Although falsification isn’t possible, I would say that an absolute lack of evidence grants the meddling god a provisionally falsified status. In this sense, I am a hard atheist. I reject the existence of gods, but am open to the possibility of being wrong.

Completely unlike the situation regarding the existence of gods, scientific theories rise and fall on evidence. If I was wrong about something like evolution, the evidence would convince me of that. In this case though, instead of having a complete lack of evidence, we have an overwhelming mass of evidence. All of it supports evolution. This is why creationists frustrate me so much, especially when they accuse evolution of being a religion, or being based on faith. They couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here is something that I freely admit I do not know enough about. I am an openly left-wing, socialist liberal. However if sufficient reason and practical applications can be shown to me that right-wing, capitalist (or other), conservative political systems work better than my ideals, I am more than willing to change my mind.

With my terms and conditions (so to speak) of mind-changing laid out, I would like to flip the package onto theists, creationists and capitalists: What if you’re wrong? What would it take to change your mind?

From my experience the question is either not answered at all, deflected, or absurd standards of evidence are requested. For example, monkeys giving birth to humans, which would actually falsify evolution, not prove it (Creationists often don’t bother trying to understand evolution though, so they don’t see the idiocy of their demands).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Ordered a Kindle

A few weeks ago I was contemplating buying a new book shelf, as my current one is jam packed. However after a conversation about Kindle's with someone at university I decided to get one of those instead. The initial price is more than a new bookshelf, but I think you can imagine why the Kindle is better. I don't want to sound like an advertisement for, so I'll just list the features that really convinced me to get one.
  1. Free 3G for downloading books
  2. Ease of use for buying new books (linked to Amazon account)
  3. Thousands of free books availiable through kindle store
  4. Long battery life (up to 2 months if wireless is turned off!)
  5. Able to read in direct sunlight without any glare
  6. Not backlit so no eye strain!
I have already been browsing through the free ebook selection, and there are some pretty cool books in there that I would eventually have bought a hard copy of if I hadn't invested in a Kindle. Some examples include: Marx's Communist Manifesto, Various works of Aristotle and Plato, Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason' and 'Critique of Practical Reason' among many other notable works.

It should arrive on monday and I'm very much looking forward to reading some of these famous works.

It Seems Dennis Has Been Dealt With

If you've been paying attention to the blogosphere, you may have read that Dennis Markuze has allegedly been taken into custody. After 16 years of spamming message boards, blogs and more recently twitter, sending threats of decapitation, extermination and genocide against skeptics, atheists and scientists he has finally been arrested.

This may give me some motivation to post more regularly, as I have grown increasingly tired of the Dennis spam over the last 18 months. Thanks to a petition to convince Montreal Police to take action, and a victim of Dennis's threats who actually lives in Montreal coming forward, something has finally materialised.

I do not wish ill of Dennis, but only that he gets the help he needs, that man is seriously disturbed.

For a complete explanation of how everything went down head over to Tim Farley's Blog, he even explains how Dennis got started on his psychotic rants.

Canadian News Article on the Arrest
Blag Hag
Montreal Police's tweet about the arrest.