That’s Unprobable

There is a common argument from apologists which goes something like:

The probability of life occurring naturally is infinitesimal, to get life from non life the odds are [insert sufficiently improbable-sounding odds]. Belief in this is way less likely than belief that a loving, all-powerful, all-knowing god allows infants to be raped.

Sometimes they even include some commentary on the number of atoms in the universe and how the probability is greater than that or something.

This shows a stunning failure to understand probability. The big numbers sound really impressive, sure, but the apologist puts far too much stock in them.

To demonstrate, take a pack of 52 playing cards and randomise them. Record the resulting order of the cards. Randomise the deck again and record again. Repeat until you have a list of 50 random playing-card-deck orders. The odds of the cards of a single 52 card deck, after randomisation, being in any given order is 1 in 10 to the power 67 (or 1 followed by 67 zeros). The odds of 50 decks of cards being in the exact order you’ve just created are impossible. Utterly, mindbogglingly, mathematically impossible. You could set up a million machines to shuffle 50 decks of cards every second, set them going at the start of the universe, and they would be shuffling to the heat-death of the universe without the probability of replicating your order for the 50 decks being more likely than not.

The mistake made by the apologist with this argument is that they are assuming an outcome is the only outcome and saying that we must work towards that. The only outcome is the exact order of the 50 decks. That’s impossible. However, the experiment proves it is possible, you did it. You shuffled the deck to randomise it and recorded the 50 shuffles. It happened. But it’s impossible! By the apologist’s own logic it’s impossible, so no one can possibly do it. Yet common sense and experience tells us we can do it quite easily, so long as we aren’t aiming for a specific set of results in a specific order, we can shuffle a deck of cards 50 times with ease.

The same applies with life. The order of the molecules isn’t set. There’s no plan. There’s no target design. The order can be any order that works, and there are many orderings which work. If you start with a conclusion and insist that the shuffled deck must end in that way then you fail, yes. If you start with a deck and accept any order then you arrive at a situation more like the origins of life. Any working order would have been acceptable. Once any working order has been achieved then self-replication, errors and selection will improve that order. There’s no need for some cosmic supernatural shuffler to set the deck to a specific order, any order will do.

There is a faulty assumption, that humans are the ‘goal’. The deck must be set to have humans at ‘the end’. Humans aren’t at the end of the deck of life because life is not yet at its end. The question ‘why has evolution stopped’ is asked often on twitter. It’s not stopped. It’s still going. Every child of every generation which is not a precise half-half clone of its parents has shown evolution is still in action.

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Adam and Even More Lies?

Okay, I wanted an easy target to get back into writing on this blog and what easier target than Adam and Eve?

Lets start with basic genetics. God takes a rib from Adam. A rib full of Adam’s DNA. From such a rib you would get another Adam, not an Eve (and you wouldn’t get a ‘Steve’). You’d get an identical being to Adam because that’s how DNA works. Using Adam’s rib would have gotten you a clone. The writers of the bible didn’t understand genetics of course, so they don’t see a problem with taking part of Adam and making Eve from it because they don’t understand what you’d get this way. The genesis of the bible stories lies not with intelligent people, but with illiterate and backwards bronze-age people. It’s no surprise that they simply don’t understand that their story doesn’t work. What is amazing though is that people today, people benefiting from modern education and modern science can still believe that this story wasn’t just the ravings of ancient people. There exist people who honestly believe this is true. That Adam and Eve is a factual historical account! If that doesn’t make you despair I don’t know what will.

DNA evidence shows that the populations of humans has never been much fewer than 10,000 individuals at any time in history. This is hard to grasp for many Christians who’re hell-bent on denying good science (and the Theory of Evolution is very good science). They don’t understand the theory, so they don’t appreciate that the theory doesn’t say there was a moment when there were no humans, then pop a human, then pop another one for that first one to reproduce with. That isn’t how evolution works at all. Populations evolve slowly because of minor changes in the individuals of the species. The whole population moves along the evolutionary process. A beneficial change for one member does not make the member a new species. Children are always the same species of their parents and their grand-parents. Go back far enough though and the children are not the same species as their great-great-[…]-grandparents. See illustration:

Evolution Explained

Forgive me my less-than-stellar paint skills. The basic idea though is that the dots on the left represent the fossils we’ve found which we’ve arranged into a chain of species. The gradient on the right actually represents evolution.

Species A, E, I and M are all clearly different. However, A and C aren’t quite as different, and C and E again aren’t as different. Species E, F and J could easily be put into the same ‘basket’, be considered the same species.

The ‘point’ though is that it’s impossible to say when Red becomes Blue, when Blue becomes Yellow or Green. We draw boundaries because we find distinct fossils and name that a species. We find fossils like that one and consider them the same species. We find other fossils and they are not quite the same, but sort of the same. If they are different enough we name a new species, a new dot on the tree of life.

This is why there was never an Adam and an Eve. A whole population changed slowly from Red to Blue, from Ardipithecus to Australopithecus. A whole population changed slowly from Blue to Yellow, from Australopithecus to Neanderthals. However, a portion of the Blue population got separated from the ones who eventually became Yellow. Their lack of access to Blues on the way to Yellowness, their different habitat, and their population’s different mutations, make them eventually change to Green, or from Australopithecus to Humans. A whole population. At some point we could point and say ‘that’s definitely human’. Every point before that we would query, is this human, or too ape-like? Is this individual Australopithecus-like enough to be one of them? Evolution isn’t Pokemon. An individual of a species doesn’t suddenly become the ‘next stage’ of evolution, nor is an individual born the next stage, because there are no stages, there are points on a continuum.

One species doesn’t give birth to another species. Such a thing would instantly disprove the theory of evolution (not evolution itself, which is a fact, but our understanding of how it happens, the theory).

Fossils are the dots on the spectrum of life. Each dot looks like an island because we lack the vast, vast, vast majority of the population before, during and after the fossilized individual. Fossilization is vanishingly rare, doubly so for land animals.

DNA evidence shows the smallest bottleneck for our species was 10k or so. Not two or eight (or two then eight). The biblical account cannot be considered historical by anyone of sound mind.

Evolution is Racist

It’s something I’ve seen several times now, the claim that Evolution is Racist because “it claims that whites are more evolved than blacks” or because it “claims whites are the most evolved”. Now, I’m not even entirely convinced that this is even claimed by any evolutionary scientist, but I will assume it is a claim made by a scientist that knows what the hell they are talking about for the purposes of this blog post…

So, for a start, this merely shows that the person making that claim is racist. The claim that one species of animal is ‘more evolved’ than another is not an objective value judgement, it’s a very specifically subjective judgement of the organisms ability to survive in the niche environment it finds itself in. Notice how this has nothing to do with the value of the creature? Just because snottites are perfectly evolved to survive environments high in sulfuric acid, just because they’re ‘more evolved’ than us to survive that environment, does not make snottites better than us. It’s not a value judgement.

The claim shows that the person making the claim believes evolution to be a ladder, with ones respective position on the ladder determining value. Higher positions on the ladder mean the animal is a better animal. Doesn’t matter to these people that more evolved creatures could be less intelligent than their ancestor species, if intelligence was being selected against as being too ‘expensive’ to the animal for the gain. The ‘more evolved’ animal could simply be faster and more skittish, ready to run at the slightest noise. Those characteristics could assist an animal survive the introduction of a new apex ambush predator, where intelligence could cause the creature to spend too long wondering what the rustle was.

Evolution is not racist. It does not attach the value claims to the process that the racists that call it racist do.

How Can You Be Moral Without God?

It’s a common claim; you need god to be moral because without god you cannot have objective morality. As a claim it makes the theist feel all fuzzy inside. Sure it’s true, if it wasn’t then why would your pastor/priest/[insert religious figurehead] say it?

Let me set you straight. It’s not true. It’s nowhere near the town of truth, it’s way out in the upper mountains of fucking ignorant shit spouted by illogical and blinded/brain-dead theists.

God is not the source of objective morals. It has its own set of subjective morals which it backs up with a right-to-violence beyond measure. A quick thought experiment will show you that the big g cannot be the source of objective morals. Imagine you have a 7 year old daughter. If god instructed you to rape your little girl, would you? Would god telling you to do it make it moral? If you can answer yes to both of those, with honesty and not just in an attempt to save your delusion while safe in the knowledge that you’ll never actually have to do it because god doesn’t exist to tell you to do anything, then you’re a monster and should definitely not be allowed around children. Or humans of any age. Or animals either.

As can be seen from the above thought experiment, god saying to do something doesn’t make that something a moral act, which it would if god were the source of morality. God therefore (if it exists and other caveats) reflects a morality which is not created by it. That god cannot make raping pre-teens moral shows that god is not a source of morality at all. You’ve known this your whole life. If you’ve read any of the Old Testament then you know it. God tells the characters in the story to do all of the most horrific acts imaginable and it’s not morally right because it is commanded by god, it’s immoral, but commanded by god. You felt that while reading it. You felt the twang of ‘this isn’t right, how can a loving god command this?’ That’s because you know morality without god. You know morality is separate from god, but has been stolen by the godly as their own.

You can argue all you like that god “wouldn’t” command you to rape your pre-teen daughter or son, but that simply supports my point. If god is the source of morality, rather than a reflection of an external morality, then its word is moral. It could command you to do anything and it be moral. That you say god wouldn’t shows you also are aware that morality is outside of god, not inside of it. God wouldn’t tell you to violate your child because violating your child is wrong, and it’s wrong not because god says it’s wrong but because it’s just wrong.

You cannot get away from subjective reality by filling the gap with god. You simply supplant the subjective opinion of people with the subjective opinion of a fictitious being created by people.

The Bible is the Rock to Build Your Life On

Yeah, I’ve got a thing for post titles that are taken from the other side of the argument. It amuses me to use the rhetoric of the believer and put my own opinion underneath it.

So, this time it’s the turn to address the solidity of the bible vs the solidity of science.

Science is said to change all the time and sure it does, in a way. The old models we used to use can still be used, but they are known now to be imprecise, to have flaws and things they can’t account for fully (or in some cases, at all). The abandoned model might predict things with too great a margin of error, for example. The important point though is it wasn’t ‘wrong’ in the normal sense if the word. Imprecise and imperfect, but it does work in some ways or to some degree else it would never have been adopted. In this sense science shifts a small amount for the most part, like a building settling on it’s foundations in a controlled manner. Little shifts here and there to accommodate new ideas and new data. Very rarely does science undergo massive over-hauls, but it does from time to time. These are when an idea advances knowledge by such a huge amount that it practically changes everything.

On the other hand we have the bible which has had to alter it’s whole world view completely. It’s done so in a devious and dishonest way, claiming what were once held to be literal truths were actually always metaphors we mistakenly took literally. Each time the truth of realty is shown by science to be other than what the bible says it is (which is pretty much every single time), it isn’t science that changes, it’s the bible. The contradictory part becomes metaphorical suddenly, even though it had been literal just before science discovered a new truth about the universe.

Building your world view on the bible means either persistently ignoring reality, or accepting that the things you believe to be literally true today will be the metaphors of tomorrow when science expands our understanding to actually explain them. The god of most theists is a god of the gaps. It exists to give the theist the feeling that they understand what is currently not understood.

I love philosophy, which is why I enjoy theology, but I love science more. And I love that philosophers accept (generally) they operate in the gaps where science has no hold, in the normative and the subjective. Few non-theological philosophers bother to contradict science because it’s a fight they’ve lost before beginning. They know that. Their discipline isn’t making the same degree of knowledge-claim possible by science, so they content themselves with the places science cannot yet be wielded. In the past the space yielded by science was large, it included pretty much everything, today it isn’t. Politics and similar fields are trying to create ‘social science’ trying to ‘science’ up its act, despite the fact that the subjects are entirely normative – what should or should not be done. Practically every field which is concerned with being right is trying to become a science. Queue creationism/intelligent design. Christians seeing that science is the only real way to make knowledge-claims with any validity in the modern world, so they bastardise their mysticism and try to make it science. They fail because their mysticism is nothing at all like science and can only put on the scientific sheep’s clothing, it can’t change the fact it’s an unscientific, mystical wolf.

The Argument from Design

I’ve just about had it with the argument from design. I mean, I get how you think it’s powerful, it plays into the basic desires in the human animal to see patterns and relate those patterns to our knowledge and experience to form conclusions we can use. We do see design in a watch, yes. We can delude ourselves easily to also relate that design to the natural world, yes. It’s not right to do, but you can do it.

The basis of the design argument rest in both an argument from incredulity and an argument from ignorance. The argument relies on the supporter being unable to imagine how this thing they have decided exhibits design could have possibly come about to have that appearance without being actually designed by an active intelligent designer. They also cannot imagine that the question: “What would you expect an ‘un-designed’ [whatever they’ve said is designed] to look like?” has meaning. The crux here is that in order to have a working whatever-it-was there would have to be the appearance it was designed to do whatever it did or it wouldn’t be able to do it. A working eye has to give the appearance of being ‘designed’ to take in light and convert it into signals for the brain. It has to do that or it’s not a working eye, it’s a blob of cells. The question ‘what would a non-designed eye look like?’ doesn’t strike the design argument adherent with the force of revelation that it should because they’re starting with their conclusion and working backwards to find things that appear to be evidence for it.

Moving from biological design, the Earth orbits the Sun in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, it’s not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to form on the surface, which is to a large degree the necessary conditions for life and is definitely the prerequisite conditions for intelligent, self-aware life to form. This ‘Goldilocks’ zone is said to be absolute proof of god’s amazing plan for us, if the Earth were moved ‘just a little bit’, they claim, the whole life experiment would be over. However, our estimates of the ‘habitable’ zone around the sun has the zone be from 0.5 to 3 AU from the Sun. 1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun, so the Earth could be 1/2 the distance it is now, or 3 times the distance it is now, and we’d still be okay here, we could still survive that.

1 AU = 149,597,871 kilometers (92,955,807.3 miles)

Goldilocks’ Zone is therefore from 74,798,935.5 km (46,477,903.65 miles) to 448,793,613 km (278,867,421.9 miles). That crosses the orbits of Venus and Mars and the planetoid Ceres. That to me isn’t a ‘just a little bit’, that’s ‘a colossal amount’. We’re inside a region that is pretty massive, so the odds of a planet forming in it are ‘good’, not ‘slim’. After all, three planets are in it! The next problem becomes getting an Earth-like planet (i.e., big enough to sustain the generation of heat in its core and to sustain an atmosphere). We know Mars is too small to keep the heat of its core and therefore its atmosphere bled away as soon as its magnetic field degraded. On the other hand Venus has an atmosphere in the middle of an horrific runaway greenhouse effect, pushing temperatures massively above what is comfortable to multi-cellular life. It is also not tilted, so there’s no seasonal variation, just horrifying heat all year round. Earth has the size, the tilt, the stabilizing satellite, the correct chemical composition in its atmosphere, everything necessary.

When we consider the vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast number of stars in the sky (approx. 300 billion in the Milky Way, approx 1 trillion in Andromeda, and that’s just two of the billions of galaxies in the observable universe) we have to, simply have to, come to the conclusion that since there exists a habitable zone around (some) stars, and since planets form in that habitable zone, and since planets of the right size and chemical composition can form in that habitable zone, the Earth was inevitable. Trillions and trillions of chances and we end up on the one (or maybe just one of the ones) which got the golden ticket. This isn’t divine, it’s good fortune. A turn of good luck we wouldn’t be discussing had it not happened. The event has to have happened for us to talk of its happening, so to talk of the divinity of the action because it’s happened makes no sense. We’re talking about it so it has to have happened and we have perfectly naturalistic models for how it could have happened. To invoke a creator because we’re here is sloppy and poor. It’s to stop inquiry just when it’s getting interesting. If you ask why your car has a dent in it and I answer ‘god’s will’ you don’t accept it as a full explanation. Within a theistic model of the universe it is true, it’s god’s will, but you want to know the actual cause, the actual culprit, the reason why your car has a dent. I want to know the reason why the universe is here, and you invoking god does not end that curiosity and it doesn’t answer that curiosity in any way. God is not testable and produces no predictions or usable technology. God, even if it exists, is worthless.

The Infinitely Dishonest Theists

I spend a lot of time on twitter because, due to the ephemeral nature of the site, due to the brevity required to concisely state an opinion in 140 (less once you’ve tagged who you’re talking to), due to the ease of tweeting, the medium brings out the crazy in people. I’ve never, ever heard anyone in the course of my off-line life dispute evolution. Not once. I’ve heard people say they ‘don’t get it’, but a quick explanation of evolution soon sees them agreeing that they now get it and it’s probably right.

Not once have I heard anyone claim to be both educated and to not believe in evolution. The two are antithetical in my anecdotal experiences. Except online. On twitter you get people claiming to be highly educated, claiming to have researched the theory (ITS ONLY A THEORY they will scream) and yet stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that they’re wrong, it’s not ‘only’ a theory because no scientific theory is ‘only’ a theory, they’re all gloriously theories.

Thus I stumbled upon The Infinite Delusion of a Godless Scientist by Bernard Gaynor and within the first two paragraphs the dishonesty and anti-truth of the blog post moved me to reply. Here is that reply. Continue reading

Abortion: Pro-choice or Pro-slavery?

Because the religious tend to conflate atheism with many non-theism-related topics, so shall I. Abortion is one I get asked about all the time when debating whether or not god is either fictitious or a monster (spoiler: the answer’s ‘fictitious’).

The abortion debate is so completely focused on issues such as ‘personhood’ and ‘blastocyst vs feotus vs baby’ that it misses the simple, unassailable truth. Whether blastocyst or feotus or baby, the thing growing inside the mother should have no more rights than any existent human. Even if there’s an argument to be made that the unborn being inside the woman should have less, there’s no reason, no argument, to give it more rights than a born human.

I would hope I have wide support on that point. The unborn have no special privileged, they have no special rights. They have, at very most, the same right as everyone else. At most. Babies, once born, do not have more rights than mature members of the species, babies before birth should not either.

Give them exactly equal rights.

Okay, now we’re presumably on the same page and the ‘pro-life’ crowd are on-board so far, lets delve into a little bit of thought experiment.

Lets assume I have a rare blood type and, for sake of the experiment, you share that rare type. I have an illness of some description which affects my kidneys and so my blood is progressively polluted. Dialysis is not going to help me, but being hooked up to you will, for certain. A couple of tubes from me into you, trading my blood with yours, will keep me alive with absolute certainty. Can I enslave you to my health?

If not, why not? Why can I not, for a few hours a day, force you to keep me alive? Why can’t I enslave you to my health, using you as my dialysis machine?

Unless you are completely and utterly infatuated with your ‘pro-life’ stance, so blinded by it, that now you see where I’m going with this you feel you must vehemently disagree in the face of logic, reason and reality, then you must concede that this isn’t a case of murder. You could not be accused of murdering me if you refused to let me use your body like I had property rights over it. In much the same way a woman cannot be accused of murdering an unborn child she does not wish to carry and which could not survive without her.

There’s the crux of my position. If the unborn cannot survive outside the mother then abort. Whatever reason the mother wants to give, abort. Give her the tools necessary to make an informed decision, council her on the repercussions of abortion and give her anecdotes of good and bad consequences, stats and figures and leaflets and pamphlets, but for whatever reason she wants, abort. On the other hand if the baby could survive outside the mother then induce, care for the premature newborn, and put the baby up for adoption when it’s strong enough.

The unborn child does not have the right to enslave the woman as if she is no more than an incubator. To say it does is to give it far more rights than the born have.

Teach the Controversy

“[…] In order to be a Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years, our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth […] Heaven watches this with complete indifference. And then 2000 years ago, thinks ‘That’s enough of that. It’s time to intervene,’ and the best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate parts of the Middle East.” Christopher Hitchins

The reason that Young Earth (YE) Creationists know they have to make the Earth 6,000 years old is exactly because of the quote above. If god made the universe ~14 billion years ago, then to claim the whole of creation is for us is ludicrous. If, on the other hand, god created the universe only 6,000 years ago, and started to intervene right away, then it’s clear that he created it all for us. We’re special.

It might jar your sense of self-worth and entitlement to understand that you are a less than minute speck of water and carbon when set against the scale of planet Earth, which is itself a minute spec of minerals when set against the scale of the Solar System, which is itself a minute speck of gases and minerals when set against the scale of the Milky Way which is a speck against the vastness of space. So we’re a speck on a speck against a speck against a speck against a speck. Our life-span doesn’t register, it’s so short. Yet, to our knowledge, we’re the first and only species who’ve evolved to be able to comprehend that. We’re gloriously and wondrously insignificant. But we are insignificant.

It’s childish and insecure to look at the world around you and need to be significant to it. You are not even significant to the human race (I’m making the assumption that Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bull Nye, Brian Cox, etc, etc, etc, are not remotely interested in reading my little blog). You might be significant to maybe 200 or 300 people, tops, in your local community, or some community you do charity work for. That’s it. Relish that. Glory in it. But don’t try to make that prove you have a position relative to the universe that matters. To one person you might even be the most significant thing in the universe. That still doesn’t even make a dent.

Once you get over the need to matter to the cosmos you can start to work on mattering where it counts, within your locality. You can educate yourself in truth rather than dogma. You can bring yourself to understanding rather than faith.

“[…] that just raises the question of where the energy came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity. Two pieces of matter that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long way apart, because you have to expend energy to separate them against the gravitational force that is pulling them together. Thus, in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero.” — Stephen Hawking

The major hang-up most people have with the Big Bang Theory is that they believe nothing can come from nothing. However, in a real sense, modern science confirms that. Nothing has come from nothing. The forces in action all around us cancel each other out to reduce themselves to nothing. No energy, no matter, nothing. An event, therefore, which does not conform to our experience of the universe after that event, created nothing from nothing which we get the wonder of experiencing as something. Hawking isn’t even blazing a brand new trail there, he was writing that in 1988. Indeed, this was known since the 1960s, it’s not new information. It sounds like science fiction though because it’s advanced science and because education fails us. It teaches us the easy to understand when we first get there, but these hypotheses are wrong in fundamental ways. We then progress and it teaches us slightly more elaborate and complex hypotheses, which are still wrong, but maybe less so. We then progress and finesse our incorrect knowledge with slightly better incorrect knowledge. At some point we leave education and we’re never given the really good stuff, the theories which are tested and which best explain the observable facts, even where the observable facts are weird and unsettling.

“Contrary to widespread belief, such an event need not have violated any of the conventional laws of physics. The laws of physics merely imply that a Universe which appears from nowhere must have certain specific properties. In particular, such a Universe must have a zero net value for all conserved quantities. […] the negative gravitational energy of any piece of matter is sufficient to cancel the positive mass energy of mc2.” — Edward P. Tryon (in 1973)

It’s not outlandish or extreme. It’s now pretty much bedrock physics. The universe cancels itself out. Its appearance from nowhere isn’t contrary to physics because its characteristics are the characteristics of universes which appear from nowhere.

Evolution Isn’t True, It’s JUST a Theory

There’s a certain breed of fuzzy thinking that fails to recognize reality for what it is. Evolution is multifaceted, it’s not just one thing. The theory of evolution is an explanation of the facts of evolution. It’s not just a theory, it’s gloriously a theory.

The basics of evolution are:

  • Animals pass on their genetic material via breeding (breeding can be cell division at its simplest). Indisputable.
  • Genes are not copied exactly from the parents to the offspring. Indisputable.
  • Differences in copies of genes can result in minor variations which are beneficial to the offspring and enable it to generate more offspring (also variants which are not beneficial and variants which are neither beneficial or not). I consider this indisputable also, it’s simply a fact of difference.
  • The creature which generates the most offspring has its characteristics copied (imperfectly) the most. Indisputable.
  • The beneficial mutation is passed on more because it benefits the animal, as more of the offspring are created and survive and reproduce. Indisputable.
  • Eventually one group of the animal are removed and separated from the rest. With enough time this is inevitable.
  • The two groups continue to breed within their groups (but not across their groups). The two groups are subject to different selection pressures. Indisputable as they are no longer sharing a context.
  • Different selection pressures select for different attributes and the two groups become different to the point they cannot interbreed even when exposed to each other. This might need to you read some evolutionary science for you to comprehend.
  • Selection continues to act upon them in different ways forcing them down different ‘paths’ to exploit different environmental niches. Indisputable.

Now, I know what this will get: that’s micro-evolution! Not proof of macro-evolution! The key here is that there is no difference. The two are the same because they are using the same mechanisms over differing time-frames.

I see (on twitter, home of the truth) all the time ‘if humans came from apes, why are there still apes’ and I hope by glancing up at the list above you can see why. The pre-human got separated from the pre-ape (indeed, evolution doesn’t say we CAME from apes, but that we share a common ancestor). Different selection pressures pushed humans down a more bipedal, more heavy tool-use path, developed our brains, etc. The apes did not have the same selection pressures, only developing very rudimentary tool-use, not developing significantly larger brains, etc. So we got apes in one niche, humans in another. The reason humans are weird though is that our tool-use and large brain moved us from being entirely at the mercy of our environment to being able to control it with dwellings, farming (not agriculture, but proto-farming), clothes, etc. It moved us from being slaves to selection pressures into a position where we could adapt ourselves in a matter of generations to live anywhere we chose, to a greater degree.

Evolution that relies on DNA changes happens very slowly, so species find it hard to exploit different conditions. Evolution of tools can happen in a life-time or two, so it super accelerated and gives us the idea that adaptation should be a fast thing. This might be what gives rise to the question about direct observation via experimentation of a ‘change in kinds’ (kinds isn’t a scientific term, so it’s not going to be observed by scientists, but that’s a different argument). If we observed a change in kinds in a lab in a lifetime then it would raise serious questions about the current understanding of evolution, it would practically over-turn what we know about the speed of it at the very, very least.

The ‘change in kind’ argument is crazy stupid anyway. It’s an argument that has all the hallmarks of having been formulated to be totally un-arguable. Any time any evidence of change in species is produced the answer simply comes ‘it’s still an X’. A wolf is still a ‘dog kind’ a chihuahua isn’t any different from a great dane, they’re both ‘dog kind’. Doesn’t matter how different a wolf is from a doberman from a pug. Because it supports their a-priori position they don’t care to actually think about the vast differences there, they can all be ‘dog kind’. Because it also supports their position they ignore all the many similarities between apes and man and call apes ‘ape kind’ and humans ‘human kind’. It supports their bias so they support it.

Now comes the million-slap question – evolution doesn’t explain how life started. That earns you a medal for most obvious thing said by anyone ever. Really. No, it doesn’t, because that’s not what the theory addresses. Abiogenesis, panspermia, etc, are the hypothesis which you would need to look up to explain how evolution got going, but the fact that evolution does not explain how the first life started doesn’t invalidate it as it’s not addressing that question, not hoping to answer that at all. It answers the means and reasons behind change over time. From the moment the first speck of life appeared, the theory of evolution applies. Before then it does not because there is nothing for it to apply to.

The Cosomological Argument: No proof of god here

A simple formation of the cosmological argument to set us off on our way:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The Universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.

There’s an initial assumption at work here, very basic, not supported: the universe is a thing that obeys the rules of what it contains and it ‘began to exist’ in the same way as the things within it do. Continue reading

Bible… more like Bile.

21 Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth;

22 Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.

23 But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.

— Leviticus 11 (King James Version), saying that insects have four legs. Infallible word of god, right there.

Right, so this blog entry is going to be a snippet of the bible quotes which prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the Bible doesn’t deserve its second ‘b’. It’s Bile, pure and simple. Filth and rubbish and effluent. Sure, you can pick some nice verses, but even the most vicious of bastards will, from time to time, say or do something nice. This does not justify you trusting them and the nice bits of the Bible does not justify you building a belief system and life around it.

Because this is going to get long(er than usual) I’m going to cut it here and let you guys click through to the full entry if you’re interested. Continue reading

Dis-Prove God Exists! Go On! Prove He Doesn’t!

Across the internet it’s a common thing to come across theists who argue against you, as an atheist, under the belief that you are, as an atheist, believing something which can be proven. This is, of course, stupid.

Being an atheist is like being an a-chair-ist. If I say ‘I don’t believe there are any chairs’ you can, as a chair-ist, present me with proof of there being a chair. “There’s a chair,” you can say, pointing to a fine mahogany rocking chair, “There’s my proof there exists at least one chair.” An a-chair-ist would then necessarily have to drop their a-chair-ism. Proof of chairs has been presented and so lacking belief in chairs stops being a valid position. You wouldn’t, on the other hand, say to the a-chair-ist “prove there are no chairs” because you would recognize that this is now how dis-belief claims are overcome. You’ve made the belief claim, that you believe there are chairs. Presentation of the reason to believe is how dis-belief claims are broken.

The a-chair-ist can show you a lack of chairs. He can point to all the places there are not chairs and have never been chairs, “Look” he can say, “My living room is devoid of chairs. My bathroom is also, as is my kitchen. My dining room and study are both also devoid of chairs.” This obviously doesn’t work as the a-chair-ist has neither the time, nor inclination, to go through every room in every house in all the world. Doing so would not prove his a-chair-ist position anyway, even if he shows there are no chairs in any of the houses in any of the countries of the world. There could be a hidden room somewhere, outside his knowledge, full of chairs of all kinds and all sizes. No matter what proof the a-chair-ist might dream up, there’s always the chance of the hidden room existing because one cannot go everywhere and know everything. This does not mean one should not be a-chair-ist if there has never been presented the existence of a chair, it means one should be agnostic about the existence of chairs because one cannot know for certain that chairs do not exist.

Now the farcical example is done with, lets move on.

An atheist does not need to ‘prove’ their position as their position is simply the refusal to accept what has not been proven, i.e. the position of the theist. No matter what proofs are offered by atheists that god probably does not exist, the theist can use ‘god of the gaps’ arguments to move where god is, what god is, what god means. This isn’t a problem of atheism, it’s a problem with trying to prove negation. The atheist could actually break into heaven (not that the it exists either, but for sake of argument), show the theist that it’s empty, that the golden throne is empty, that there’s dust on everything sufficient to posit that nothing has ever been there and the theist can still say god is elsewhere, that he created heaven and then didn’t inhabit it. No proof can be offered for atheism’s negation claim because nothing proves the negation of god. Not because of a strength to theism, but simply because you cannot prove negation.

Try to disprove the claim “unicorns exist, they’re just invisible and intangible, but they exist and they’re pink”. How would you go about disproving this? Point out no one’s ever recorded evidence of unicorns? That’s not a problem as they’re invisible and intangible. Point out that the idea is crazy as the day is long? You just don’t understand the idea. Argue that ‘pinkness’ and ‘invisibleness’ are contradictory and so the claim is obviously false? You simply do not understand the ineffability of the unicorn.

You disbelieve the claim because there’s no proof of the existence of unicorns, not because there is proof of their non-existence. The same is true for every claim you don’t believe in. There’s insufficient evidence for its truth to persuade you to believe in it. You don’t disbelieve because there is sufficient evidence of its non-existence to prove it doesn’t exist. Theists are happy to accept this statement about everything from flying spaghetti monsters, to invisible pink unicorn, to counter theistic claims, to claims of polka-dot swans. The only thing they don’t accept this for is their own brand of theism, their own theistic team. Their theism is a special case that does not need to prove itself and indeed needs to actively be be dis-proven.

Is Atheism a Religion?

Alright then. I read another … blog, possibly? That was a pro-theistic take on the question of whether or not atheism is a religion. Jimmy Akin’s article, “Is Atheism a Religion?” seems like an honest enough attempt to tackle the question. An attempt based on a whole mess of faults, but I’m going to work on the assumption that those faults are honestly, not maliciously, made.

Jimmy sets us up with a few short one-liners setting out his position; there is a case to be made that atheism is a religion. There’s a “case to be made” about a lot of false claims, including the claim that atheism is a religion.

Jimmy claims: “Words mean what people use them to mean.” Which I initially have a problem with. To a certain extent, yes. Words mean what people want them to mean and their use morphs their meaning over time. However, this process can and does often lead to the morphing of the meaning of a word past the point of being useful or containing any meaningful sense. Jimmy’s definition of ‘religion’ as:

“Something is a religion if it has a position on the divine and/or the afterlife.”

This, if Jimmy fully explores it, renders religion meaningless. Bobby’s delusion that there’s an invisible pink unicorn that answers prayers and guides people in the ways of humility and riding crops, that the unicorn is a mighty deity that ushers the believing to the afterlife on its glorious pink back, fills this definition of religion. However, while it might be a spiritual position it is not a religious one, as most honest assessment will conclude. Yes, it has a position on the divine and on the afterlife, but it lacks something which means most people would accept that Bobby isn’t religious. IPU-worship is not religious worship. The same applies for the flying spaghetti monster. The FSM and the self-styled Church of Pastafarianism also doesn’t qualify as a religion, yet it takes a position on the divine and on the afterlife.

Both the IPU and FSM pass both tests above, yet most would not claim them as actually religions, nor their followers as religious. According to the definition offered up by Jimmy, they’re both religions.

Likewise, many people instinctively understand that a general sense that there’s a divine and an afterlife, a deistic or spiritualistic position, is not a religion. Each person has a position on the divine and the afterlife, so would be double-positive religions on Jimmy’s definitions, but we understand that people are not religions, nor are most individualistic spiritual claims religions.

There is much, much more to religion than simply having a position on the divine or on the afterlife. There are things like shared worship, which come from shared customs and norms. There are intents as well, intention to be religious, to come together for a common theistic calling. Having a position on the divine is theism or atheism. Positions on the afterlife come as side-effects of religion, they are not necessary for the religion but are involved in the religion. As such we have a perfectly good word for an affirmative ‘position on the divine’; theism. The negation of that belief being atheism.

As individual spirituality lacks the customs, shared worship, etc, so does atheism. Atheism is an absence of belief in any specific theistic claim. One can be atheistic about Christianity, but theistic about Islam. This is because atheism and Christianity are not of the same type of thing, theism and atheism are. Any theist is an atheist about every religion except their own and those enough like theirs for them to consider them ‘practically the same thing’. This is another reason why atheism is most certainly not a religion. We understand that an individual has one religion, if atheism is a religion then every theist has two religions – atheism in regards every claim except their own religion, and their own religion. The fact that the previous sentence makes sense shows fully well that atheism isn’t a religion, but a different type of thing.

“If he had been asked, “Are you a Buddhist?” or “Are you a Muslim?” or “Are you a Hindu?” he might well give the same answer: “No, I am an atheist.””

This suggests that being an atheist is analogous to being a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or a Hindu.

Here Jimmy makes a massive mistake, assuming that answering these religious questions with ‘no I’m an atheist’ is akin to answering them ‘no I’m a Catholic’. It’s not. It’s the same as saying ‘no, and to save you the time asking and I don’t believe in any other religion either’. It’s like saying the question ‘would you like a peanut’ and the answer ‘no, I’m allergic’ put ‘allergic’ in the same category of things as ‘peanut’. It doesn’t. It’s explanation of why the speaker does not want a peanut. The same is the case in the answer ‘no, I’m an atheist’. It’s an explanation that the speaker does not believe any religious claim; it saves interrogation.

Why is it possible to view atheism as a religion?

The most honest answer I can see to this question is that it helps certain religious arguments to lump atheism in with religious beliefs. It helps them to misunderstand atheists.

With a good definition of ‘religion’ one can see that atheism is not a religion, with a bad definition one can well be saying anything as the utterance loses all meaning. Any good definition of religion would have to speak of commonality between the religious. A good definition would speak of shared faith, shared worship, shared devotion. “Shared” would necessarily feature heavily in a good definition of religion as it is the major linchpin which separates the religious from the simply spiritual. The shared customs and norms moves religion from spirituality to institution, to organisation. Two more words which should be in any good definition of religion. Religions are organised, instituted, shared. They’re more than just positions.

Atheism is simply the absence of belief in theistic claims. This is shared by all atheists, but nothing more is shared by necessity. There are no shared customs, no shared norms. There’s no worship at all, shared or otherwise. There’s no shared faith, just the shared absence of faith and desire for proof. Even when stating the shared desire for proof one is on shaky grounds as ‘atheism’ does not necessitate any kind of searching for truth, just the rejection of theistic claims. You can be atheistic and have a claim about the afterlife, as Jimmy points out in Theravada Buddhism. That branch of Buddhism is atheistic but holds a position on the afterlife and is a religion. I very much doubt that Jimmy would hold with the idea that Theravada Buddhism is religious squared, more religion that Christianity or Islam, by virtue of being a religion and an atheism.

That’s why I’m not interested in asserting only one legitimate definition of either “atheism” or “religion.” I’m interested in the realities behind the terms, and the realities are such that atheism can be viewed as a religion.

As I hope is obvious above, I’m not speaking of ‘one legitimate definition’ of ‘religion’, but of the instinctive properties we know religion to have, properties which atheism does not possess at all. The realities behind the term ‘religion’ are such that the definition put forward by Jimmy should, indeed must, be rejected completely, as must his straw-man counter example of a definition. Neither handle the reality of the terms as they are honestly used in day-to-day contexts.

Prayer: Powerful or Pointless?

I’ve always been fascinated by prayer. Why would you do it? What would be the point? I’ve been told it’s so one can form a relationship with god. However, if I just sat there telling a co-worker things and asking them for stuff all day long without them replying then I’d be considered a massive ass. If I sat talking to the wall all day and claiming it answered me (though without external verification of this) I’d be considered nuts.

Lets consider the Christian god for a moment.

The god of Christ’s properties:

  • All knowing (“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” – Psalm 147:5)
  • All seeing (“For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” – Job 28:24)
  • All powerful (“For with God nothing shall be impossible.” – Luke 1:37)
  • Loving (“love comes from God” – 1 John 4:7, “God is love” – 1 John 4:8)
  • Unchanging (“For I the Lord do not change” – Malachi 3:6)

Okay, I don’t believe any Christian would deny these properties pertain to their god. I’m fairly comfortable saying that any Christian would recognise their god has all the properties above. Maybe I’m wrong, and if I am surely one of their number will tell me how the verses quoted above are out of context or whatever. Until then, I shall proceed.

So, God knows what you want and what you need. It sees whether you will get it or not. It has the capacity to effect any situation it wants to be the case. It loves its followers. It cannot change/will not its mind.

So, lets go a little further into each possibility. Lets assume you pray for some situation to come about. Lets even say it’s selfless and the request is guided by love.

  • God had always intended for this situation to come about. Now you’re claiming, if even in your heart, that god granted your prayer. It didn’t, it had always intended for that to happen. You’re sure to lose points with your jealous god for claiming any hand in its machinations.
  • God didn’t intend for it to happen. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t happen. You are probably a little nettled because you were asking selflessly for something and were guided by love.
  • Impossibly, god didn’t intend for it to happen but decides to answer you prayer and make it happen. Where does this leave god? All knowing and all seeing, the source of and thus definition of love, swayed by a finite being. The course you’ve asked for and which god has changed the universe to must by necessity be a worse option than what it had intended.

So, why pray for things and situations? No outcome of such prayer is a good outcome. God cannot answer prayers, it can only do what it has always intended to do else it cannot be unchanging.

God also already knows you. It has unfailingly accurate knowledge of you, else it’s not not all knowing or all seeing. Talking at god is not making it know you better and as it doesn’t reply you’re just yammering away to yourself about yourself and thanking your invisible friend for their help, when they’d have helped you whether you were thankful or not. Your reaction to its actions do not change the goodness of its actions, after all. No matter how you react to an act, the act was either good or bad independent of that.

So… why pray at all? What good could it possibly do?

Atheism or Theism: Which is Really Myopic?

So, while casting around once again for a topic to spur my to write more than 100 words of drivel (I can only claim this as more words, not less drivel), I found 2 Meaning‘s post about atheism being an indulgence – a short sighted one at that. Woot. Lets get going.

I’m going to leave addressing the claims that theism is necessarily more principled than atheism, and that atheists suffer a vacuum of conscience and start with this claim:

“Love your neighbor” becomes a chore best handed off to government as diversity of self-assertion escalates a focus on rights instead of sacrificial service.

There’s a desperate lack of historical knowledge on display here. The premise is that atheism is responsible for the necessity of government intervention in the form of social security. That this was being covered by loving neighbours prior to the intervention of the government. Needless to say, this is demonstrably untrue. I don’t believe that the increase in social democracy and welfare is correlative with the increase in atheism, but I am confident that before the advent and increase of social democracy these things were not being covered by loving neighbours. The rise of social democracy and welfare was because these loving Christians (still the majority, but back then almost completely dominant) were not sparing any thought for their neighbours. They were letting their neighbours die in their millions, starving and cold in the street. Welfare arose because a dominantly Christian society was not giving even the smallest portion of rat’s ass for their fellow man.

It would be nice to think that the decline in belief in theistic claims has led to a rise in government welfare – that individuals are caring more for their fellow man, willing to pay taxes towards a social pot from which they are protected and nourished. It’s not the case as atheists chime in just as vociferously as Christians when it comes to being against paying taxes. No one wants to pay for social welfare to be provided, but increasingly secular governments have seen that their religious majorities will not accept this burden, will not love their neighbours, so the state has had to.

Neither are we a match for the surrogate god of expanding government with its insatiable appetite for power.

This quote might well contain the nugget of insight into why the poster is against expanding welfare states – the expansion is into the power previously claimed by the dominant religion.

Material and political consensus alone cannot permanently prop atheism up, because atheism is the religion of self as god.

This is proof that 2 Meaning has not the faintest idea what ‘atheism’ means, what an ‘atheist’ believes. Atheism cannot be a religion anymore than clear can be a colour, or not collecting stamps can be a hobby. It’s the absence of belief, nothing more. Some atheists may well substitute an external god for themselves, though they wouldn’t be atheists any more as they believe a god-claim, so would be something else than atheist. Narcissistic maybe. Atheism is not a religion, as much as the theist here wants it to be so they can level all the claims against religion they have which they special-plead don’t apply to their religion. When one only has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

A hundred million selves trying to be god results in no civil structure able to rule effectively for long.

There’s a hidden premise here! The premise that there is one theism, not one per person. Everyone you talk to of a theistic persuasion will have belief in something different. Even from the same team of theistic claims, from people who claim the same theistic label, there are contradictory belief claims in play. There are a hundred million Christianities, at least. This supposedly can result in a civil structure ‘for long’, but the same claimed about something that 2 Meaning doesn’t like cannot possibly be true.

Violence increases symptomatically and exponentially.

I’d be interested to see this proven by study, I really would. The study would have to explain why the more secular a country is the less violent crime the country experiences while the inverse is also true, with more theistic countries seeing more violence. “Although some studies have found that religion does inhibit criminal behavior [snip citations] others have actually found that religiosity does not have a significant effect on inhibiting criminal behavior [snip citation] […] when it comes to more serious or violent crimes, such as murder, there is simply no evidence suggesting that atheist or secular people are more likely to commit such crimes than religious people. After all, America’s bulging prisons are not full of atheists; according to Golumbaski
(1997), only 0.2 percent of prisoners in the USA are atheists – a major under-representation.” – Zuerman, Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being. It’s not hard to find a mountain of evidence that the claim quoted about violence increasing ‘exponentially’ under atheistic societal situations is, like the god 2 Meaning believes in, fictitious.

Peace is confined to a few generations coasting on the greased skid of previously implemented ideas that few were previously short-sighted enough to challenge.

As I’ve already said above, the chaotic are many times more likely to have religious beliefs and be theistic than they are to be atheistic without religious beliefs. To claim otherwise is to ignore reality and to lie in the name of one’s theistic belief. It’s dishonest to say that Christian’s are calm and peaceful when any glance at the history of Christianity will find that it’s drenched in bloodshed and violence, perpetrated by other theists against them and by them against other theists and atheists. I’ve never heard of, for example, an pro-choice atheist blowing up a clinic which refuses to perform abortions. I have read the reports of the contrary, Christians who’re more than prepared to bomb abortion clinics in the name of their theism.

The difficulty and violence of existence must eventually force people to turn back to consideration of God when circumstances are revealed to be undeniably beyond human control.

This screams of a ‘god of the gaps’ argument. There are circumstances beyond human control and only the intellectual shackles of god-belief can possibly hope to control them. It’s demonstrably untrue. The things beyond human control are no less beyond control when fictions are believed in than they are when truth is believed in. God will not stop or control anything, that has been shown over and over again throughout history. If god exists then it casually, even happily maybe, sits by and watches, allows all the worst things to happen to good and bad people with total indifference. The shackles of religion might be usable by the those in positions of power to control the thoughts and beliefs of the masses, but that’s not what is being hinted at above, because this is necessarily humans using ideas to control other humans. There’s no supernatural agency involved, just natural, human, material agency.

Jesus Christ shattered the self-as-god delusion.

There was no such ‘delusion’ around at the time. Judaism was prevalent in the area which he supposedly worked, other religions were in dominance everywhere else. There were scant few atheistic societies at the time and JC didn’t belong to one of them.

The message of required redemption and self-sacrificial love in the cross of Christ is relevant brutality for a blood-thirsty species bent on proving worth its own way from behind a guilty conscience.

The god of Jesus created people. It made them brutal and blood-thirsty (I don’t believe for one micro-second that people are necessarily brutal or blood-thirsty, by the way). It created every condition, possibility and predilection. All of them. If people are brutal it’s because god wants them to do. If people are blood-thirsty it’s because god wants them to be. People, shedding god, implementing their own intelligence, can only possibly get less brutal and less blood-thirsty by rejection of the Christian claims of personhood. Disbelief in theistic claims can only possibly make people less bad, less evil, less vicious and less crazy.

Pascal’s Wager

I promise, I will read other blogs than Godless Mom‘s, and I will post comments and replies and such. But for now, on day two of my quest, she writes the good stuff and it’s worth building with, in my opinion.

So, in a recent post, she’s addressed Pascal’s Wager. A fine grappling which I advise you read, even if her Facebook conversation might have taken a turn for the nasty.

My take on Pascal’s Wager is that it no more supports belief in god than denies it. The traditional view is that there are two choices and three outcomes. Believe or don’t being your choices which then lead to the outcomes of heaven, hell or nothing. There’s actually a third facet to the choices, such that the choice should be phrased as: believe in my god, don’t believe in my god, believe in another god. The traditional approach to Pascal’s Wager has a hidden premise – there is only one god choice, or that all choices of god will lead equally to heaven.

This should therefore be expressed as follows:

  • Believe in your god. Your god exists. You go to heaven.
  • Believe in your god. Your god does not exist. Nothing happens.
  • Believe in your god. A different, equally or more jealous, god exists. You go to hell.
  • Believe in your god. A different, but nicer, god exists. You go to heaven, or not, or a third place based on the life you’ve led. Good luck with explaining all the hate.

If there exists an equally or more jealous god than your own then belief in another god is going to piss it off something fierce and you are going down to lava town. However, such a god might well be more benevolent (or at least less shitty) to those who didn’t pick the other team. Such a god might even have a third-way for the undecided, the non-voter. Might even want to swing them to its team after death. So the atheist position becomes:

  • Don’t believe in any god. A good, just, kind god exists. You go to heaven or not based on your life.
  • Don’t believe in any god. A vengeful, jealous or spiteful god exists. You go to hell. This god was never worthy of worship anyway.
  • Don’t believe in any god. No god exists. Nothing happens.

So, as you can now see, Pascal’s wager is not ‘in favour’ of believing any one specific god claim above not believing in any as there are actually much more options for being hell-bound than the atheist is subject to. Indeed, the situation in which believing in a god is more favourable than not you need to be hyper-lucky to have chosen the ‘correct’ god, and that god is an asshole anyway, so is not worthy of your praise and devotion.

Then you have yet another problem with Pascal’s Wager. What if the god you’ve chosen to believe is right, yet only rewards honest belief with good intent? You’ve wagered and been right, but still lost. God doesn’t want you. You’ve wasted your life being bigoted and closed-minded for nothing at best, hell-fire at worst. Such a god might well punish those who cheekily lip-serve it, while simply being indifferent to those who were not so deceitful and openly admitted their lack of belief, and who would have honestly believed had sufficient evidence been presented. Such a god might well reward those people, recognizing that it was within its power to provide the correct evidence, had it wanted to. Maybe one of the ‘tests’ is precisely that? Did you believe when no evidence was presented, no good reason was given, just because you wanted the toy at the end? Then hell for you, you lying, deceitful bastard.

Pascal’s Wager is not clear-cut. It’s no more supportive of theism than atheism and only a very weak, surface reading of the wager would convince you otherwise.

31 Questions for Atheists

CARM has posed 31 questions for atheists (presume much?) which I found on Godless Mom‘s blog. She’s answered these in her own words, now let me give it a go!

1. How would you define atheism?

Atheism is the lack of belief in any theistic god-claims.

2. Do you act according to what you believe (there is no God) in or what you don’t believe in (lack belief in God)?

How can one ‘act according with a lack of belief’? What would that even look like? I don’t believe in god, but I use a language which is steeped in the belief in a god, which formed in a circumstance where belief was the de facto position and atheism was punishable. I use utterances such as ‘for god’s sake’ because this is what I heard all the time during my formative years and is what I still hear all the time. It’s an utterance, nothing more.

3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who “lacks belief” in God to work against God’s existence by attempting to show that God doesn’t exist?

Nope. Not at all. I think it’s entirely consistent for a compassionate human being to work against wrong where they see it, to act against harm where they see it, to stand up for others less fortunate than themselves. My action is not derived from my atheism, though. It is informed by it and enforced by it but not derived from it.

4. How sure are you that your atheism properly represents reality?

Given that there are no proofs for the existence of a theistic claim within reality I am comfortable that my atheistic position is the correct, reality-aligned position. Yes.

5. How sure are you that your atheism is correct?

This was covered in point 4. I am comfortable that theists have failed their burden of proof.

Correct and representative of reality are the same thing, by the way.

6. How would you define what truth is?

Truth is that which conforms to testable, verifiable reality. Truth is shared, not specific. Defining truth is hard, recognizing it can also be hard, though often easier than just defining it.

7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?

See points 4 and 5. Why would belief in the unjustified, the unverified, the mystical be more justifiable than the lack of belief in same?

8. Are you a materialist or a physicalist or what?

Neither of these positions is relevant to or aligned with or dependent upon atheism, nor is atheism reliant upon, or dependent upon, either. I’m not even convinced that physicalism and materialism are even different enough to any discernible to any degree that matters.

9. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? Why or why not?

I would deny it completely. Atheism speaks only to one’s position in relation to god claims. It is simply the denial that there exists sufficient grounds to believe in a god. This might inform one’s worldview, but it does not form it. It might even be beneficial to certain worldviews, or certain worldviews might find atheism necessary. This doesn’t mean atheism is a worldview.

10. Not all atheists are antagonistic to Christianity but for those of you who are, why the antagonism?

Because Christianity is harmful, spiteful, malicious and invasive. Were it none of those things then there would be no need for antagonism.

11. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny his existence?

I was one of a rare breed. I was an atheist, then became a Christian, then reverted to my atheistic roots. Why? Because my lip-service to the god of Christianity was just that, lip service. I didn’t honestly believe. I wanted to believe so I pretended I did. Convinced all of the Christians at the church I was attending. Got baptized. The whole nine-yards. I even had some experiences which on a shallow reflection could be argued to be affirmative of the faith I was trying to show.

12. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?

Much better off without religion, yes.

13. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?

Religious Christians, yes. Organised and monitized Christians, most definitely. Christians full stop? Probably, but only because the average IQ would necessarily rise when people stopped believing in imaginary friends and started to act as if this were their only shot at anything, the only thing they would have.

14. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?

No. I would not as I have never seen the case justifiably made that it is. I would say it’s a disease of society, something which reinforces itself, violently where necessary.

15. Must God be known through the scientific method?

Can god be known at all? If he’s to be known at all then at the very least verifiable proof should be presented, not anecdotes and hear-say. At any rate, atheism does not speak about the ability to know of god, it speaks of the ability and reasonableness of belief in gods. Being an atheist I could also be agnostic towards knowledge claims in relation to god. I can say that the existence of god cannot be known, but that I don’t believe in god as belief and knowledge are different.

16. If you answered yes to the previous question, then how do you avoid a category mistake by requiring material evidence for an immaterial God?

If god interacts with the world there must necessarily be material evidence of it. If there are no interactions then why pray?

17. Do we have any purpose as human beings?

Objective purpose? Probably not, except for purposes imbued by humans examining the evolutionary necessity of gene propagation. Even then purpose is anthropic, so to suggest objective purpose exists is actually a nonsense. Subjective purpose is all around though.

18. If we do have purpose, can you as an atheist please explain how that purpose is determined?

Subjectively, societally, individually.

19. Where does morality come from?

Evolutionary pressures offer more than adequate explanations of the sources of morality than the Christian god does. The Christian god is deeply, deeply immoral.

20. Are there moral absolutes?

There could be, depending on what you mean by ‘absolutes’. Are there moral ‘rules’ which seem to have been applied by all peoples in all times? Very few but yes. These are not indicative of god in any way, they are simply the most conducive moral ‘rules’ by which society may be structured, the most basic of building blocks for society to exist in any way we might recognize. The absence of, for example, ‘don’t kill members of our community’ results in the absence of community.

21. If there are moral absolutes, could you list a few of them?

Don’t kill members of our community is about the only absolute I can easily bring to mind, as without it there is no continued community. Rape, murder, infanticide, etc, etc, etc. All have existed in various forms in various societies throughout the world throughout time.

22. Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? If so, what is it?

Evil is a very loaded term, coming ready filled with baggage of religion and the religious. I would recognise that the thing referred to in most contexts when evil is spoken about exists, yes. Still, evil is subjective, just as good and moral are. I believe it to be evil to rape people. The bible disagrees, as have many armies throughout the centuries. I believe it to be evil to subject others to slavery, something else the bible does not agree with.

23. If you believe that the God of the Old Testament is morally bad, by what standard do you judge that he is bad?

The subjective social standards of our times. The same standards you use when you judge that it’s wrong to sell your daughter into slavery or to stone someone to death for any of the dozen or more reasons in the bible.

24. What would it take for you to believe in God?

Genuine proof. Evidence which is not easily debunked.

25. What would constitute sufficient evidence for God’s existence?

Please stop trying to shift the burden of proof onto me. I am not the one making the extraordinary claim and so am not the one needing to come up with the extraordinary proof.

26. Must this evidence be rationally based, archaeological, testable in a lab, etc., or what?

Yes, any and or all of the above could be evidence, if sufficiently well justified. Though, archaeological evidence would have to be supremely good to have any kind of persuasive power in regards supernatural claims.

27. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?

Atheists would not be running the society as atheists, they could be running the society and be atheists at the same time but they would not be running the society as atheists. However, I know what kind of rapacious, woman hating, gay beating, doctor murdering society is be run by Christians. An atheist society might well not be safer, but it couldn’t be worse.

28. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coersion).

Framed like that, yes.

29. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?

Ah, now you’re moving the goalposts. I make my choices free from coercion as put in the previous question. However, my choices may well be deterministic in a physical sense. This doesn’t involve coercion though, so the answer to this question does not contradict the answer to the previous question.

30. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then do you think it is probable that given enough time, brains would evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal and thereby become “deity” and not be restricted by space and time? If not, why not?

This is science fiction, not science fact. To evolve in such a way would be impossible due to the nature of evolutionary pressures (only existing within temporal, physical reality).

31. If you answered the previous question in the affirmative, then aren’t you saying that it is probable that some sort of God exists?

I didn’t, phew.

There were a lot of re-stated and clearly leading questions here, but I got through it. Chalk one up to my perseverance.

Meaning of Life

So, lets get this blog rolling. I cast around for a starting point, wanting something to hook onto to get some creative writing juice flowing and found GodlessMom’s blog, (via a post by Anti-Religious Atheist specifically, if I’m to cite all my sources). Her post on meaning was, in my opinion, good and thorough. Though I would like to add something. Life has far, far, far more meaning for an atheist than a theist with an ever-lasting afterlife.

Big claim? Not so much. For the atheist (excepting Buddhists and other belief structures which are atheistic but allow for reincarnation for a moment), this life is it. Nothing more. No second chances. You’ve got one life and it is small and insignificant, a tiny speck of time as a tiny speck of matter on a tiny speck of rock against a colossal backdrop of near endless nothing. But that is it. Devoid of meaning? Not a chance. Devoid of purpose? Nope. Meaning and purpose are both anthropic; created by people. To say that people are without something they’ve created is morose. To claim something outside of people needs to give them something they’ve created themselves for themselves and by themselves is equally morose.

The anthropic position subjects meaning and purpose to subjectivity, yes, but there’s no reason to care about that. Sure, Bin Laden might claim equal footing for his belief in his purpose. So what? Just because he claims equality of his purpose and meaning doesn’t mean we have to be sheep and allow that, doesn’t mean we cannot vehemently deny and oppose that. There’s no reason to treat all purpose and meaning claims as equal, just because they’re subjective. Indeed, I would claim that the invention of religions was early man’s attempt to impose some justification for suppressing certain subjective purpose and meaning claims, by elevating one purpose and meaning claim which might have happened to be, but was not necessarily, life-affirming to the position of objective truth and making that illusory objectivity the grounds for subjugating and oppressing those with contradictory claims.

In modernity we can study and apply scientific methodology to determine our telos – our end or goal. We can support life-affirming purpose and meaning in the face of the contradictory because it is right to do so according to an evolutionary, scientifically-supportable telos. We might even appeal to democratically mandated and supported telos, a collective purpose and meaning that gains majority support through its middle-road inoffensiveness. We easily support the position that the right to flail one’s fists ends at another’s nose because there are things we can easily and justifiably all agree on which build to a shared and supported telos. It’s easy to deem Bin Laden’s telos to be sub-standard, plain wrong, just as it’s easy to do the same for any telos that includes murder and suicide.

Coming back to the beginning, atheism says nothing about purpose and meaning anyway. Atheism speaks on only one front, against only one set of claims – those related to theistic claims. Atheists can believe in reincarnation, guided by the judgement of our peers (for example), so the telos of life could well be, from such an atheist’s point of view, to live as good a life as possible to ascend to a better plane of existence, or to come back with a better set of starting criteria in order to live a happier, easier life.

Theists are keen to drag atheism down to the level of a religion and belief system because they don’t understand anything else. Nothing else makes sense to them. Dirtying atheism by claiming it is a religion makes the attacks against religion appear to apply to atheism. They don’t because atheism isn’t a religion, but they can be made to appear to.