Tagged: Religion

The Movement

Of the people I know IRL, the majority don’t believe in God, and yet most seem to cringe at the idea of openly describing themselves as atheists. I used to assume that this was because they were being too polite, ie not wanting to offend believers.* Now I’m finally understanding that it’s probably because they don’t want to be seen as arrogant pseudo-intellectual pricks.

Natalie Reed’s recent All In post resonated strongly with me because it seemed to articulate what people I respect have tried to tell me for years.

The Atheist Movement doesn’t have a monopoly on atheism. Anyone can simply come to the conclusion that religion is kind of silly and dangerous. The Movement doesn’t have a monopoly on secularism. Anyone can pitch in and help fight to keep religion from influencing legislation. The Movement doesn’t have a monopoly on skepticism. It barely practices it. Anyone can learn to value critical thought, doubt, hesitation, humility, honesty and questioning their perceptions and biases. And none of us need their permission. We don’t need DJ Grothe or Richard Dawkins or Justin Fucking Vacula’s seals of approval to do any of this.

Let them have The Movement. Let it be a club for entitled little white cis straight dudes to get together and tell each other how fucking smart they all are to know that John Edwards is lying, and there’s no bearded sky daddy doling out favour on the basis of how rarely you eat shellfish or have hot queer sex. Let them go right on thinking of themselves as the few insightful rebels who could see through The Matrix and now fight against the evil machinations of Andrew Schlafy and Jennifer McCreight. Let them live in their mythologies. Let them sink, bit by bit, into self-congratulatory, insulated irrelevance, while the rest of us get on with actually trying to help make the world a bit less of a mess.

There’s clearly something wrong with The Movement if so many people who are technically members want no part of it. But others are not so keen to walk away, especially if they live in places otherwise dominated by religion. They want solidarity and unity, but it’s hard to see progressives and libertarians kissing and making up any time soon.

Jen McCreight has been similarly troubled, but feels there may be hope in defining a sub-movement. If the greater Atheist Movement can’t be changed, why not create something new? Rather than ceding the ‘Atheism’ label altogether she wants people to embrace  Atheism+

It illustrates that we’re more than just “dictionary” atheists who happen to not believe in gods and that we want to be a positive force in the world.  Commenter dcortesi suggested how this gets atheists out of the “negativity trap” that we so often find ourselves in, when people ask stuff like “What do you atheists do, besides sitting around not-praying, eh?”

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

In practise it’s really just secular humanism, but the problem with secular humanism as a descriptor is that even though it rejects the existence of deities, most people probably don’t even know that this is the case. It’s important that nice, normal people who don’t believe in gods be comfortable identifying as atheists (at least to each other!), so the stigma might fade in the wider community.

I don’t know that the idea will really take hold, but I applaud the intent, and I see it as part of a conversation that was somewhat overdue. The name is potentially cringeworthy, A+ implies cleverness and we don’t really need more of that right now. Remember the Brights? Ouch. The logo presented (best so far) is a bit meh, mixing the Out! campaign scarlet letter A with a blue cross; to the uninitiated it might simply evoke adultery and healthcare. But then anything is better than the Happy Human humanist logo.

Whatever happens, I do think some change is probably necessary and that this is a step in the right direction, because right now most people still think atheists are mean-spirited dicks.

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* It’s not because they’re scared, because Australia is a lot more tolerant of the unbeliever (even our Prime Minister is agnostic/atheist)

In the event of my funeral

Not planning to die any time soon, but a combination of talking to condescending Christians and finding out I need to seriously work on my health has me thinking about the subject more than I have in years. So I’m writing this post as a record of my wishes for those who would be tasked with the arrangements.

Regarding the ceremony, please have one. Ceremonies are good. Hold it wherever you want, run it as you see fit, as casual or as formal as you deem appropriate, invite whoever you like.

- but -

If the ceremony is presided over by a priest (or any religious officer), or if any speaker prays, or says anything about God, or the Bible, or Heaven, or any kind of afterlife (excepting the most figurative sense ie “live on in our memories, through his great deeds etc”), then the following disclaimer must be read at the end of the service on my behalf:

If this message is being read to you it means I’m no longer alive, and religion has been invoked on the occasion of my funeral. This is permissible, perhaps to be expected, but now I must have the last word on the subject, because I am the guest of honour.

For the record, I want it to be known that I do not endorse any attempt to turn the occasion of my death into a religious one.

I don’t believe in God, or the afterlife, or any of that stuff. I am quite sure my existence has come to an end. And if somehow on some vanishingly small off-chance it hasn’t, please know that it’s still far more likely that I live on in a parallel universe, or that we’ve all been living in the Matrix, than that I’m flouncing about in Heaven or roasting in eternal Hellfire.

So anyway… be as happy as you can for as long as you can, because this life is almost certainly the only one you’re going to get. Learn more about science and the natural world, and try to appreciate your good fortune to be alive at such an incredible time in human history.

Savour it.

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NB If the ceremony is as utterly without religious reference and iconography as it would be were I organizing it myself, feel free to quote or paraphrase from that as you see fit, but leave off the first paragraph and maybe start at “I don’t believe in God…”

Arguing with True Believers

I shared a link last week on Google+ to an article about the Chick-fil-A furor going on the states, and it attracted a few comments from (presumably) Christians.

A Gay Chick-fil-A Employee Speaks Out »

A gay employee, writing anonymously over fears she’d be fired for speaking out, says she hopes her customers don’t choke on their nuggets—but one day will swallow their words.

The first comment has since been deleted, but it was from a guy named Israel who claimed that the employee had no reason to fear being fired, and clarifies that he is not a homophobe because he does not fear homosexuals but merely opposes their sinful ways. The following comments are copied verbatim.

Is belief in Heaven idiotic?

Yes, I think it is.

Is it rude to call it idiotic when you’re talking to a bunch of people who are professing this belief? Yes, I think it is.

But there is a difference between being rude and being wrong.

That’s the problem with the believers’ response in the above video; they are clearly appalled and offended to be called idiots by the rather unapologetic atheist Kate Smurthwaite, but then they immediately set about defending their belief using utterly idiotic rationale. So basically they come off as indignant idiots defending their idiocy.

This is not how someone with access to a divine truth should ever need to sound. But listen to a believer lecture you about the strange and specific details of their faith and you realize where PZ Myers got the idea for the Courtier’s Reply.

Here are just a few of the common idiotic ways that religious beliefs are often defended.

  • You believe in other things you can’t see, why can’t you believe in God?
  • There’s no difference between your faith in science and my faith in God.
  • If I’m wrong I die and nothing happens. If you’re wrong you die and spend eternity in Hell!
  • You can’t prove it’s not true, so how dare you criticise?
  • If you would just take our course/read our book you would soon see we are right!
  • God can only show Himself to those who are willing to believe in Him.
  • The chances of everything happening by chance are so small, therefore there must be a God.
  • Faith gives us a spiritual richness that is so lacking in the lives of poor sad atheists. We feel sorry for you!
  • The vast majority of people believe in some kind of afterlife, so you should too!

Also, to clarify something: A belief in heaven, even if it is idiotic, does not automatically mean the believer is an idiot. It’s perfectly possible for an otherwise highly intelligent person to choose to believe something ridiculous; Isaac Newton, one of the cleverest people who ever lived, was also a devout Christian.

Here are some idiotic things I have believed at various points in my life, which thankfully I came to realize were idiotic mostly by the time I reached adulthood:

  • That humans can, on rare occasions, spontaneously combust.
  • That Ayn Rand had some really good ideas about the individual vs society.
  • That there is some kind of afterlife which somehow balances out all the bad crap that happens in life.
  • That there is such a thing as ESP.
  • That there is such a thing as telekinesis.
  • That there are morphogenetic fields connecting all living things in a way that is beyond the scope of regular physics and biology.

Of course I grew up in a safe environment where there was no danger or risk in letting go of these various silly ideas. I might have held on to some very strange beliefs were it otherwise. But whether or not something is easy or hard has no bearing on whether it is right or wrong. Plenty of religious people have sacrificed and even died for their beliefs, and while I can admire their courage, it adds nothing to the credibility of their faith.

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See also:

An Atheist Creed

We don’t believe in Gods,
And that’s about it.
If you want our manifesto,
There ain’t one; tough shit.

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Inspired by the frustration of reading David Penberthy’s recent article lumping anyone who dares to mock or disrespect religion into the largely media-created “new atheist” camp. What a lazy hack. Please God spare us from the paternalistic self-hating “moderate” atheist.

ἄθεος (atheos)

A possible variant on the atheisk/athterisk, incorporating letters from the original Greek atheos.

atheos-300.png

Looks a lot more secret society, which might appeal to some, and also a nice reminder that atheism is not just a modern fad. Maybe it could even inspire some Christians to realize that were they living in the ancient world, atheism would have been the most correct choice, since polytheism is of course a load of balderdash. And then maybe the wheels would start turning in their heads, wondering if future generations might realize the same thing about today’s monotheistic religions– ha! Wishful thinking I know.

Creation, a movie about Darwin

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Well worth seeing if you want to see a portrait of Darwin the man, as opposed to the naturalist and explorer, since most of the movie covers him wrestling with his conscience over the logically imminent demise of God as the creator of all living things, as well as his grief over the loss of his precociously smart (but slightly creepy) oldest child, Annie.

And look, here’s what some hilarious Christians had to say about Darwin recently (note the Godwin-troll in the middle):

The Darwin Anniversary

November 24, 2009, is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species. How should we respond?

Joshua McLoughlin

by standing strong

Angela Posey-Arnold

maybe we should not respond at all.

Paul Askin

Perhaps watch “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”?

Ross Nixon

I tweeted, perhaps unwisely, “Darwin sucks more than Hitler”.

Mitchell Robert Kriss

Why dont we celebrate jean lemark while we’re at it? Both theories are just as false as each other.

Rhonda Blunt

yeah Mitchell Lemarks therory that a a species will change one a period of time is stupid. I always look at those African people who over a couple of centuries have lengthened their necks with large rings. None of their offspring have ever been born with long necks, just the ones God gave them!

Darrell Yip

@Rhonda: all too true!!

Patricia Flynn

Rhonda, that is the best comment – wish I had thought of it!

I honestly don’t see how pointing out the inadequacy of Lamarckian theory is supposed to support their opposition to the Darwinian model, but then I guess this is Christian logic, which by definition transcends actual logic.

How Atheists Celebrate the Holidays


(by Brian McFadden – click for original)

It’s Hating-on-Stupid-People Day!

Ray Comfort’s cartoonist has created a typically douchey panel today, to illustrate Ray’s typically douchey point that atheists are silly because they talk of probabilities rather than certainties (thanks to Jesus, Ray is certain of everything he says).

Richard Gunther’s original panel is on the left, and I’m sure you can see imagine what a leap of intellect it was for me to create the much more relevant panel on the right. The original text also makes no sense because the atheist is declaring outright: “I’m not afraid” while knowingly basing this on a potentially false assumption. Had Gunther half the integrity Christians like to pretend they do he would have at least changed the wording to “I am slightly apprehensive!” Also, what is it with atheists always drawn to look nasty and manic even when they are about to be skewered by a centurion? No one is more afraid of death than we are!

rg-256.pngmine-256.png

* In reproducing the panel above I cite “fair use”– I use it here to illustrate why I think Ray is an idiot as well as how boringly literal his cartoonist is.

Concern for my immortal soul

Oh poo, Ray finally honored me with a response (in a new post no less) and I didn’t find out about it for more than a week :( If I had seen it right away I would have taken the opportunity to continue the argument, but he has a rowdy blog with frequent posts and threads go stale quickly.

My comment was in relation to one of the many thousand posts in which he claims to have caught atheists is some kind of logic trap, because we believe that "nothing created everything" and such a notion is clearly even less plausible than the idea that a supreme being created everything, and therefore everything the Bible says is true. People have been trying to get him to drop this bone for the better part of a year and he shows no sign of letting up. So I vent:

It’s not the ‘nothing’ we have a problem with, it’s the ‘created’ and you’ve heard this a million times you creepy ignorant man. If you ask me: ‘What created the universe?’ I will answer ‘Nothing.’ You will then proudly quote me as holding the position that ‛Nothing created everything′… and for this I have every reason to call you a stinking liar, because what I actually believe is that the universe was not ‘created’ in the first place. Just like you believe your insubstantial God was not ‘created.’

And he responds

Those who believe that the universe is eternal (that it wasn′t created) reveal their lack of understanding of basic science. Look at the words of Stephen Hawking:

"The conclusion of this lecture is that the universe has not existed forever. Rather, the universe, and time itself, had a beginning in the Big Bang, about 15 billion years ago" (The Beginning of Time).

There is disagreement about how long ago the universe began, but there is no doubt amoung scientists that it had a beginning. So the belief that it wasn′t created is completely unfounded. Which brings each of us back to the question: "What was initial cause?" That Cause was God.

I don’t think I need to explain how unsatisfactory and unsurprising I find his response (he goes on to say something about the Bible and that he cares about where I spend eternity). Ray is a giant wall of stupid, smiling benignly and filled with the glory of Christ, and this is why I stopped reading his blog regularly; I finally realized it didn’t make a speck of difference what anyone said to him, nothing would adjust his "worldview", and that trying to engage in a dialog would always result in full face-palming frustration. If I had seen this post and replied, my response would have pretty much mirrored the second comment on that post, from Lord Runolfr (although mine would have been more snarky… I stopped trying to be polite to Ray long ago)

Thank you, Ray, for at least trying to answer the question that people have been asking you repeatedly for days. Not exactly a satisfactory answer, but it’s a start. Problems with this response.

1) Thinking the universe is "not created" does not automatically equate to thinking the universe is "eternal". Some people apparently think this, but not all. Even if the universe has only existed for 15 billion years or so and thus has a start time, that doesn’t automatically mean it must have been "created". There is therefore no ignorance of science involved.

2) Even if we take for granted that the universe was "created", that still doesn’t automatically point to your God as the "cause" of the universe. When you say that "the initial cause was God", you are jumping to a conclusion without evidence. (Please note that the Bible is testimony — hearsay testimony at that — as opposed to actual evidence.)

3) Even if we grant that your God (or any god) created the universe, the 15-billion-year timeline and everything else we know about the universe from scientific observation is incompatible with a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of the world’s origins.

Finally, it occurs to me that someone who knows neither myself nor Ray may feel that I took an unnecessarily harsh and insulting tone in my initial comment. If this is the case, I beg you to withhold judgment until you read his latest post about how God isn’t evil for sending Jews to Hell (because Jews are free to accept Jesus Christ as their saviour any time they like… until they die and go to Hell for all eternity of course). If you can read that post without wishing life-long explosive diarrhoea on this evangelical twit, you are a gentler person than I.

And another thing

A point I try to make sometimes but possibly not as clearly as I should: Creationism is not just patently stupid on an intellectual level; it is also abhorrent on a moral and emotional level. Let me explain why I feel this way:

Both Creationists and ‘evolutionists’ acknowledge…

  • Our DNA determines what we are as humans more than any other factor– If you replace the DNA in a human zygote with that from a different species (and manage to get a viable embryo) the resultant organism will not be human.
  • A person’s DNA is inherited directly from their mother and father, 23 chromosomes from the mother and 23 from the father.
  • DNA experiences mutations, randomly as well as through environmental factors.

From this point on, opinions differ…

  • Evolutionists know that mutations are not always bad, and that without them we would never have progressed beyond the primordial ooze. Through accidental duplication of DNA and horizontal gene transfer new material can be added, and in turn this can lead to new forms and new functionality.
  • Creationists assert that mutations can never add new information, and will always lead to degradation of the organism.

Which implies…

  • Evolutionists believe that humans, like any other species, are capable of adapting over time to fit their environment, that we are effectively always “improving” ourselves, by the simple fact that organisms better suited to their environment have a higher chance of survival and are more likely to produce viable offspring.
  • Creationists believe that Man was created in his ideal form, that all of our genetic material originated within Adam and Eve, and that it has been deteriorating and degrading ever since. They don’t accept that random change could improve on God’s handiwork. From this it follows that every generation must be more corrupt, more degenerate than the last– in essence there is only de-volution.

I bring this up not as evidence in support of the fact of evolution, but as a rebuttal to the common appeal to emotion offered by Creationists– that an evolutionary view is somehow ugly and without hope. I counter with the question: is it really more hopeless than the idea that we are doomed to be eternally inferior to our forebears, who committed some kind of symbolic sin against a selfish and wrathful God? This view of humanity as a species doomed to rot fits quite well with Christian doctrine, in that men of the Old Testament routinely lived many hundreds of years, remaining strong and producing children for most of their extraordinarily long lives, and were closer to God than anyone today.

Creationists often try to blame evolutionary theory for the unimaginable evil of the Nazi Holocaust, even though the engine of evolution thrives on diversity, and recogizes purity as at best a meaningless concept, and at worst a dead end. On the other hand, if you believe that you are descended from some mythically superior race, it makes a lot more sense to strive for some kind of fantastical racial purity.

Creationism taken to its logical conclusion offers an extraordinarily pessimistic and self-hating view of humanity, and it deserves to be scorned. The evolutionary view is by contrast rather optimistic– how incredible that we could come so far! Life appears to have limitless potential, filling every available niche and boggling the imagination with its variety and tenacity. And it belongs to no one. It is beholden to no one. According to evolution, the future is not written, and we as a species are truly free to find our own purpose, and be the authors of our own destiny.

On the further wasting of time

Once again I am soooo sorry I have been remiss in posting, but there’s a certain type of idiocy which is truly compelling to me. Ray has put together a new site where he posts even more ridiculous versions of the ramblings from his blog. Here is an excerpt:

Imagine being there when the first dog evolved. There was a big bang, and millions of years later an animal with a tail and four legs, a liver, heart, kidneys, lungs, blood, ears and eyes evolved into the first dog. Fortunately for him, his eyes had evolved to maturity after millions of years of blindness, so that he could see the first female dog that had evolved standing by him. It was actually very fortunate, because if the female dog hadn’t evolved also and been at the right place at the right time, with the right parts and the willingness to mate, he would have been a dead dog. He needed a female to keep the species alive.

He posts this in spite of the fact that a bunch of people (including real biologists) have tried to explain to him how evolution works, how populations and species evolve, and how sex was an extremely useful development in very early evolution.

So why do I bother? Maybe because it is simply easier to argue with someone who is so extremely wrong about almost everything. I certainly don’t think he represents anything but a fringe minority of Christians. I do wonder what makes him so determined to stick with his "literalist" view of a divine act of creation less than 10,000 years ago, and I think I am beginning to understand why he simply cannot concede that he could be wrong about that (while most Christians are totally fine with an old Earth and Cosmos and the idea of evolution).

The problem is, if you take your Abrahamic religion really really seriously, you can’t reconcile evolution with Original Sin.

If we evolved from apes, monkeys or whatever, then there was no Garden of Eden where everything was perfect, and there was always death in the world. From an evolutionary perspective, there could be no Adam and Eve as the first humans, because there would be no hard line to delineate where a particular hominid became human. Even if somehow they were the first humans (for argument’s sake) due to some freak accident of simultaneous mutation (much like Ray’s ridiculous caricature above) they clearly weren’t perfect, because evolution will never produce perfection; it will merely produce "Good enough".

If humans were never perfect in the first place, then there could be no Fall, because there was nothing to fall from, and so no Original Sin. After all, we were merely intelligent animals, surviving as we could. For God to show up and nominate a couple of us to be His children (thought obviously not in His image, since God didn’t evolve hiding from predators and digging for ants) only to then damn them and their descendants for eating some fruit just seems idiotic. After all, if He just waited a few million years longer before putting us to the test, we might have evolved stronger intellect and reasoning skills, so that a talking snake wouldn’t be able to fool us.

So what are the implications if there was no Original Sin? For one thing I think it means we don’t automatically deserve to go to Hell, and we can’t consider ourselves "corrupted", because after all we are just animals and we’ve done pretty well getting this far, raising families, forming communities, creating languages etc. If anything, God should be impressed with how far we’ve come since He sparked life into existence all those eons ago.

To the fundamentalist Christian, I think this implied absence of Original Sin nullifies the whole point of Jesus coming to save us (from the damnation we deserved). In sending Jesus to us to be crucified, God sacrificed Himself to Himself to save us from Himself; paying our debt (to Him) for Original Sin. Although it could be argued that God doing this makes no sense at the best of times, it just gets worse if you do away with Original Sin by accepting evolution.

Non-fundies seem fine with evolution, and I’m glad of it, but to be honest I’m not 100% sure why they’re ok with evolution, because then you have to wonder what it was that Jesus was sent to pay for exactly. I guess we can just look at Jesus more as a teacher than as a sacrifice, but that whole crucifixion thing is still pretty pivotal to most Christian doctrine isn’t it?

And what of the soul? If man was created out of whole cloth then it’s easy to make a distinction between him and other animals and say that he has a soul, and further that that soul is eternal. But if you believe in evolution AND you believe in the soul (as something beyond our material selves) then you have to assume one of the following:

  • God granted us a soul at some arbitrary point in out evolutionary history, perhaps at the moment we ate the fruit? I guess that’s an obvious interpretation; that the soul itself was the knowledge of good and evil, and it made us all miserable the same way Spike’s new soul made him miserable, and Angel’s was given as a curse (see Buffy TV show).
  • We developed a soul in the same way we developed intelligence: Gradually. Which means we have to consider the sticky problem of all the animals we share the planet with who must therefore all have some semblance of souls of their own. What happens to them? I don’t think they’ll be going to Heaven or Hell, so will their souls be extinguished? Should we just keep eating them and try not to think about it?

Am I wrong to suggest that there are irreconcilable differences between a belief in evolution and pretty much any flavor of the Christian faith? Obviously I can google this question and probably get some excellent answers but for now I am just trying to work it out in my own head.