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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Might Makes Right?

I have seen a wide range of defences of theism over the last few years, ranging from the delusional to almost sane. By far my least favourite and the most detestable to me are ones that try and defend a theism that includes a hell from a moral angle. In particular, conservative theisms whose gods punish people for very human behaviour, like sex. When pressed as to why their god doesn’t want us to do certain things (like simply being gay), the theist will almost certainly resort to some form of argument from design. At this point I would like to bring up the fact that there is no distinguishable point of origin where our ancestors ceased being ‘mere animals’ and became human, that is the nature of evolution. So any argument that rests on so-called design utterly fails right here.

One aspect of this discussion that I find slightly more interesting than the sexual orientation and preferences of various deities is the justification for not harming one another. I assume that most people regardless of belief would hold some sort of moral system that frowns upon hurting other beings. The justification for this moral principle in my system is that I do not wished to be harmed, and will not harm others because a society that constantly harms each other is not one I would like to live in. This is not really an objective justification, but I find it to be sufficient in this case. What would a theist who believes in god-given objective morals have to say about this situation? I imagine it would be something along the lines of “It is wrong to harm one another because God says it is wrong.” Ignoring the looming Euthyphro Dilemma, I would like to examine the implications of this proposition in light of a belief in Hell.

Assuming a god commands that it is wrong to harm people, what possible justification could a theist give for their god supposedly sending people to hell? Harming them for eternity (or at least a very long period of time)? It seems to me like the only option for them is to adopt some form of ‘Might Makes Right’. Regardless of whether objective moral standards exist or not, what kind of society would we live in if we all lived by this principle? The regimes of Hitler and Stalin, the crusades, slavery, rape, and murder would all be legal and moral actions. If any theist really believes that their god has the right to punish people, simply because “it’s God!” then I am sorry, you are an immoral person.

Friday, August 5, 2011

An Album that Influenced My Deconversion

It seems a little strange to me phrasing it that way, but the reality of it is that I was influenced somewhat by an album by the Brazilian metal band Angra. The album is called 'Temple of Shadows', and is a concept album that tells a story (fictional) set in the time of the Crusades.

From the Wikipedia page about the album:
"The 13 tracks tell a story written by guitarist Rafael Bittencourt about the life of a crusader in the 11th century - known as The Shadow Hunter - questioning the ideals of the Catholic Church."

"Track 6- Temple of Hate: Jerusalem is stormed by an army of the Holy Roman Church, in correspondence with the real event occurring in July 1099, and overcome with their zeal for Christianity, annihilate every single inhabitant. The Shadow Hunter's wife and two children are killed in this attack. The Reign of Jerusalem was founded upon the fanatic, intolerant and ignorant ideals of The Temple of Hate, against the will of those who lived in the Holy Land before their invasion."

"The entire population of the Holy city was put to the sword, Jews as well as Muslims, 70,000 men, women and children perished in a holocaust which raged for three days. In places men waded in blood up to their ankles and horsemen were splashed by it as they rode through the streets. Weeping, these devout conquerors went barefoot to pray at the Holy Sepulcher before rushing eagerly back to the slaughter."
—Desmond Sweard, The Monks of War.
Obviously I was aware of the crusades before listening to the album, but it opened my eyes to the atrocities committed in the name of the god that I believed in. It forced me to think seriously about how a loving god could allow things like that to be carried out in his name. It didn't matter that I wasn't a Catholic either, there was virtually no other kind of Christianity for centuries. This was it, and it was responsible for abominable acts.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I find it quite interesting that Christianity (and consequently Islam) have very different ideas of who/what Satan is than their ancestor religion, Judaism. Traditionally, Satan was not an evil entity, or even an entity at all, but was rather the word used to describe the agent of God that tempted humanity. This is quite clear in the book of Job, where the satan (literally: 'the accuser', 'the adversary' or 'the opposer') is on friendly terms with God and is trying to tempt Job to abandon God.

Compare that with the imagery in Revelation, and modern Christian belief where the devil (or the beast) is the evil lord of the underworld who is at war with God. The two just don't add up.

Then there is the common misconception that the serpent in Genesis that tempts Eve is Satan. If that was the case it would be quite strange then for God to curse serpents to crawl on their bellies if it was actually the devil who did it. The word satan isn't even used in any of those passages, and to top it all off, the serpent didn't even come from Jewish mythology, but rather from the Epic of Gilgamesh!

It seems that despite what to me is overwhelming evidence even within Christian scriptures that Satan is a product of mythological evolution, many Christians still wish to believe that there is a malicious demoniac who is hellbent on ruining their lives. I cannot understand what the comfort in this belief could be. Perhaps it is just because they want to have someone to blame for all the things that go wrong in the world. Or perhaps it is just that they do not wish to let go of ideas that they grew up believing in, and do not like to admit they were wrong about something.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Paradigm Shift - Environmentalism

Over the course of the past 2+ years my views on a lot of things have changed substantially, perhaps no single view more than any other but reading Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan made me realise how much I've now become passionate about conservation (of our planet). I was sitting in the basement of the Business school at university waiting for my Reason and Science Society meeting reading Pale Blue Dot. Next thing I know a group of business faculty members sit down on the next couch over. I couldn't help but overhear what they were talking about, and it was distracting me and irritating me.

What annoyed me most was not that they were talking while people around me were studying and I was reading, it was that they were talking about profiteering. There I was reading about how humanity could all too easily wipe itself out if we don't take measures to protect our planet, while they were getting excited about how much money they could make. 3-4 years ago I wouldn't have been annoyed at what they were saying, in fact I would probably have been interested in doing the same thing. Now it almost disgusts me, and instead I get excited by things that can improve the quality of life for others, while not only doing no harm to our environment but helping to protect it. In the space of a few short years I've gone from a conservative, capitalist Christian, to a liberal, socialist, green atheist. Hows that for a paradigm shift?