Ascent out of Darkness ~ Armchair Philosophy from the 'Silly Beliefs' Team
|Atheism — all hype and no substance?|
The other day I stumbled across an online article on the 'New Zealand Christian Network' website. Its title intrigued me: 'Atheism is not all it's cracked up to be', with the subtitle of 'Reason and Evidence'. I always find it amusing when Christians attempt to console their flock by assuring them that atheism is no threat to their beliefs, that's it's just a passing fad that's all hype and no substance. They have no ancient book to guide them, they have no hierarchy, why these atheists don't even have faith, they have to fall back on evidence, which they have to find, interpret and argue over. And they can't even make up their minds, one minute Pluto is a planet, the next minute it's not. Why should we take them seriously, it's like arguing with children. Trust me, atheism has nothing going for it. It doesn't even have holidays!
At the end of the article I discovered that there were four parts in all, as follows:
'A four part series by Gavan O'Farrell, who works as a public sector lawyer at the Parliamentary Council Office drafting legislation. Raised and educated as a Catholic, he studied law and philosophy and has completed half of a Master of Divinity. He became a fully conscious committed Christian among evangelicals at university and has straddled the Catholic and evangelical environments ever since.'This post will look at 'Part one: Reason and Evidence, since it's fascinating, and humorous, to see Christians weave silly arguments to convince their fellow believers that, regardless of what those pesky atheists say, their invisible friend is real. They've seen him too ... well, OK, they haven't seen him exactly ... but they have felt him in their heart. And no, it wasn't just that spicy enchilada they had for dinner. God really did grope them. Perhaps part of the problem, ie, having invisible friends, not understanding atheism, is that O'Farrell claims to only have become 'fully conscious' at university, so he's missed an informative part of his life, many would argue the most crucial part, apparently spending his formative years as a mindless zombie.
So, when it comes to how we use reason and evidence, just what mistakes are we atheists making that stops God from reaching out and groping us? Gavan O'Farrell starts by saying that,
'Every now and then, one reads in the press that "religion is irrational" ... Or it might be "belief in God is irrational", or ... [it's] "faith vs reason" ... Or, belief in God might be frankly compared with belief in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus or someone even more remote and implausible'.Well, those sentiments would get no argument from me, belief in gods is irrational, and it is only gullible people choosing blind faith over reason that allows such belief to still flourish in the 21st century. Unfortunately, after a positive start, his article goes downhill from there. Note how he suggests that belief in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus would be irrational because they are beings 'even more remote and implausible' than God apparently is. But is that true? Who is more powerful, God or Santa? Who is more knowledgeable, God or the Tooth Fairy? If any of these beings exists, which is more likely, which is more plausible, which breaks less laws of nature, God or Santa? Who do we seem to have good evidence for, Santa delivering toys at Xmas, the Tooth Fairy replacing baby teeth with money, or God performing miracles that are inexplicable? And yes, the religious will correctly argue that the "evidence" for Santa and the Tooth Fairy is all just tricks and lies spun by adults to children, but any informed, educated person will correctly add that the "evidence" for God is also just lies spun by adults to children, who then grow up and pass the lies onto their children. As difficult as it is for any adult to believe that Santa exists, he's still far more likely to exist than God, so if God exists, then it would be child's play for Santa to exist. Santa only claims to be in one place at any one time, usually the North Pole, whereas God claims to be everywhere at once, in both time and space. Saying God could be real but not Santa is like arguing that a hugely complex thing like the space shuttle could be a real thing, but not a simple thing like a hula hoop. And yet this is what O'Farrell implies. A supernatural being with super powers that created the universe and has a sick fixation with the male penis is possible, probable even, but a supernatural being with minor powers and an interest in handing out toys to children is ... well, don't make me laugh ... that's just implausible.
Another important thing to note about the article is that O'Farrell only talks about God, with a capital G. There's no mention of Jesus or Christianity, but clearly the god that O'Farrell is talking about is the Christian god, the god of the Bible, the god dreamt up by some ignorant, Bronze Age goat herders in the Middle East many thousands of years ago. O'Farrell's argument is that belief in God, the Christian god, is perfectly rational whereas belief in silly beings such as Santa Claus that we atheists compare him to, is not. O'Farrell gives as examples of supernatural beings ones that he knows everyone will giggle at, like Santa and the Tooth Fairy, and deliberately avoids mentioning supernatural beings that are far more comparable to God. We're talking about other gods, gods that were believed in by entire civilisations without question for periods longer than Christianity has existed, gods that existed alongside the god of the Bible, and even battled with the god of the Bible, according to the Bible itself.
O'Farrell doesn't want his readers to think about other gods, because he finds them as irrational and unbelievable as Santa Claus. By his omission O'Farrell implies that he has good reason to rationally dismiss gods like Zeus, Apollo, Thor, Maui, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl and thousands of others (and he does), and so some might logically question why he doesn't also have good reason to dismiss one more, one called Jehovah, or as he calls him, God? O'Farrell can apparently see obvious flaws in the holy books that argue for the likes of Zeus and Osiris, he can ignore the claims made by their followers as ignorant superstition. And it's not just ancient religions that O'Farrell writes off as pure fantasy, he readily dismisses many current religions, like Islam and Hinduism, and by ignoring all gods but God, implies that gods like Allah and Shiva are irrational. Which of course they are, but by the same reasoning, so is his god. Just because God is his favourite, chosen over all the others, doesn't make it anymore rational or likely to exist. O'Farrell muddies the water by ignoring any mention of other gods and the reasons he laughs at them, because those very reasons, if applied honestly, would cause him to laugh at belief in God as well. The statement he started his article with would be true, 'belief in God is irrational'.
But course O'Farrell fails to make the connection, and argues that belief in God is not irrational,
'Although it's a popular view in some quarters, it is demonstrably untrue. I've noticed that people of faith use reason just as anyone else does. It's unavoidable: if you don't apply the rules of logic (to draw reliable conclusions from stated facts and to adopt consistent conclusions), you'll get called on it every time and attempts at communication would just break down. This doesn't happen. Whatever we people of faith are, we're not irrational'.I agree that 'people of faith' use reason just like the rest of us, but like a seatbelt, it only works when you use it. I've always argued that most 'people of faith' live their lives like atheists in a secular world, as if God didn't exist, and ignore untold commandments that their god expects them to follow, like not wearing clothing made of two different materials, or getting tattoos, or working on the Sabbath (which is Saturday), or eating shellfish, or allowing homosexuals and disobedient children to live. It's only reason and common sense that makes them ignore those commandments, true blind faith would see them following them to the letter. Clearly most religious people use reason to buy a new car or select a political party or decide whether climate change is real, in fact the only element of their life where they definitely don't use reason is in accepting that their religion, the one usually drummed into them as a naïve child, is true.
O'Farrell argues that if 'people of faith' didn't use reason then we'd call them on it, communication would break down, and clearly that doesn't happen. Oh, but it does! We do challenge 'people of faith' for being irrational when it comes to their belief in God — How can you believe that a snake could talk, we ask, or that stars fell to Earth and yet we're still here? — and communication does break down. As explanations we're told that God works in mysterious ways, or that we won't understand unless we first believe and have opened our hearts to Jesus, or that God's handiwork is seen all around us, like in a beautiful sunset or a baby's smile. When we ask for reasons and evidence to believe and are only given inane nonsense, when we're told we just have to have faith, then communication has broken down. When 'people of faith' can't or won't explain why belief in the old Hebrew god is rational but belief is the old Egyptian gods is irrational, then communication has broken down. When it comes to religion, believers in gods are definitely irrational. Again ... talking snake!
O'Farrell goes on to explain why atheists and believers don't agree:
'The reason we sometimes reach different conclusions from our critics is not that we don't use the common logic, it's because we rely on additional facts (about God) to begin with. I should say "factual assertions" as these facts are contentious'.Say what? Additional facts? And about God no less! Apparently he's implying that atheists (and scientists and most of the world's population who are not Christians) are deliberately ignoring facts about God so as to pretend to ourselves and others that God isn't real. Yeah right! Clearly some definitions are called for. According to my dictionary a fact is 'Information presented as objectively real'. There is no information about God that is accepted as a fact, as objectively real, that's why 'people of faith' talk about their religious beliefs, and not their religious facts. Well, not all people, not O'Farrell, but clearly aware that he is fudging the truth, he goes on to rename his additional "facts" about God as 'factual assertions'. But that phrase is a deceptively misleading oxymoron. An assertion is 'Something declared or stated positively, often with no support or attempt at proof'. You can't say an assertion is factual if you don't offer proof that it is, and if you do offer proof, then it's no longer merely an assertion, it's a fact. By talking of 'factual assertions', O'Farrell wants readers to believe he is dealing in facts (like scientists do), when he is doing nothing of the sort. Rather than falsely claiming that believers reach different conclusions from atheists because they 'rely on additional facts (about God)', an honest person would say they believe differently because they 'rely on additional beliefs (about God)'.
Sidestepping the problem with the talking snake, O'Farrell wonders out loud, 'So, if you were to ask why they call us "irrational", I can only surmise that it's because that's what they "were told". Tracing it back through atheist whispers ...' This view seems to be a nothing more than a shameless rephrasing of Christian propaganda. If we atheists ask why Christians have called us immoral and evil for nigh on 2,000 years, then we don't have to surmise, we know it's because it's what they were told; we can without doubt trace it back to Christian whispers, Christian sermons and crystal clear verses in the Christian Bible. Yet when O'Farrell claims we believe Christians to be irrational simply because it's what we 'were told', who is doing the telling? Does he think these 'lies' are drummed into us at Atheist Sunday School, or during atheism classes at high school? As children were we told that if we don't believe Christians are irrational, then we will go to atheist Hell? It's quite childish that O'Farrell believes, or is at least claiming, that atheists have reached their views through childhood brainwashing in the same manner that he reached his. The reality is far simpler. Informed atheists view true believers as irrational because they claim to believe truly dipshit crazy things.
O'Farrell then makes his first undisputed statement, 'Still, the real objection to belief in God — the lack of "evidence" — is serious and important', and goes on to admit, 'I accept that the required evidence is not available. I cannot demonstrate how to reliably observe God ... I can point to anecdotal evidence of millions of people who are neither idiots nor liars, but atheist apologists say this is of no value. This is unreasonable of them ... '
Dismissing anecdotal evidence is not unreasonable, because anecdotal evidence is not a real thing. You have anecdotes, which are simply stories that don't include evidence, and you have evidence, independent things that support the truthfulness of some story. If you have real evidence you don't put the word anecdotal in front of it. Falling back on an anecdote is a clear admission that you have no evidence. It's just a story, and while it may or may not be true, the story itself offers no proof or evidence either way. Another major problem with accepting O'Farrell's 'anecdotal evidence of millions of people' to demonstrate the existence of God, is that they all "prove" a different god. Supposedly the anecdotal evidence of millions of Christians proves Jesus exists, but ... the anecdotal evidence of millions of Muslims proves Allah exists, and the anecdotal evidence of millions of Hindus proves Shiva exists, and the anecdotal evidence of millions of children proves Santa exists. If anecdotal evidence is believable, then we now have thousands of gods competing for attention. Clearly it's not unreasonable to ignore anecdotes, and just insist on evidence.
O'Farrell then moves on to his next gripe, that scientific inquiry concerns itself solely with the natural world, and ignores the supernatural world, that it just looks around this universe, and maybe the odd parallel universe, but it doesn't bother to knock on Heaven's door for an interview. He argues that, 'the appropriate scope of a conversation about whether or not God exists is all of reality, not just the natural world. No-one has established that they are the same and there is no reason to assume that they are'.
He's right, we haven't established if there is a supernatural world beyond the natural world, and by natural I include the likes of parallel universes and other dimensions that may exist beyond our ability to detect them. A parallel universe would still be a "natural" universe, whether we can see it or not. It might seem strange that scientists are prepared to accept the possibility of an unseen parallel universe, and yet dismiss the possibility of an unseen supernatural world. However the premise that parallel universes might exist is based on the reality of what we can observe in our universe, there is nothing in the laws that govern reality that make them impossible. It's a bit like seeing birds in your backyard, and thinking that maybe on that distant island, a place no one has ever been, there might also be birds. Knowing what you know about birds and air and land, that thought would be quite reasonable. However it would be quite unreasonable to imagine that a gigantic ape called King Kong lived on that remote island, especially since you have never seen such a giant ape in reality, and you know that the scientific scaling law would make the existence of such an ape an impossibility, never mind that an old book exists that weaves a story of such a giant ape.
O'Farrell's argument is that while science works in the natural world, there is no evidence that it would work in the supernatural world. Maybe our scientific instruments wouldn't have any hope of detecting when God walks past, meaning science could be totally unreliable concerning God. And that's true. But he's missing a step, before we start arguing about what science could detect in the supernatural world, if anything, it should first be demonstrated that the supernatural world actually exists. To use an analogy, O'Farrell wants us to debate whether Santa Claus pays his elves a decent wage without first proving that Santa actually exists, and is thus in a position to even employ elves.
O'Farrell states that 'there is no reason to assume' that the natural world and God's world encompass the same space and work the same way, whereas the reality is that there is no reason to assume God's world exists at all. Like Santa, before we start arguing over whether Heaven's streets are indeed paved with gold, as the Bible claims, it first needs to be demonstrated that Heaven is actually a real place.
The arrogance of all religious believers has also caused O'Farrell to overlook another important point. Even if a supernatural world was suspected to be real, there's no reason whatsoever to assume that it would be run by the Christian god. Why not the Greek gods, or the Babylonian gods, or the Aztec gods, or gods that people on this planet haven't even heard of, gods that are only worshipped by aquatic beings on a green planet in the Andromeda Galaxy? This is something all true believers blindly ignore, that even if there was some contentious evidence (there isn't) or some convoluted philosophical argument that suggested that there might be a supernatural world and the universe might have been created by some entity, that would still be a million miles away from offering any support to any particular religion. It would be like me saying astronomers have detected what could be an artificial radio signal coming from a planet in a distant star system, and you then insisting that the aliens that generated it were human, Caucasian, and spoke English with an Australian accent, when the reality is that there would be no justification to make the huge unwarranted leap from possible alien signal to the claim that the Aussies have secretly colonised another planet. But note that all religious believers do this, they jump on any flimsy argument or unexplained event that they read as suggesting that there might be a god at work, and immediately put their label on that god, changing it from a god, to God. If a baby survives a car crash, and the child's parents were Christian, then God worked a miracle, but if the child's parents were Muslim, then Allah worked a miracle, and if they were Jewish, it was Yahweh. None seem to worry that different religions attribute a different god to the same event.
O'Farrell criticises atheists for insisting on evidence and dismissing the supernatural by adopting 'an unproved assumption', that things we have no evidence for and can't detect likely don't exist. Surely it is reasonable and logical to not waste time and money looking for things that we have no good reason to believe are even real? We have no evidence that Santa Claus exists, even though millions say he does, and even claim to have received gifts from him. Should we divert scientific research towards locating his base at the North Pole? Or should we work on the 'unproved assumption' that he's just a fantasy, and ignore him until such a time that some real evidence surfaces to make us reconsider our stance? I'm sure if I asked any Christian if our scientists should be spending money on looking for Valhalla, the hall that the Norse god Odin built for the souls of slain heroes, or for the court on Mt. Olympus from where Zeus rules the world, or for Allah chatting with Mohammed in Heaven, they would quickly tell me not to be so stupid, that it makes no sense to look for things that clearly don't exist. O'Farrell claims that 'Insistence on evidence limits the scope of the discussion about God, which falsely (and unfairly) loads the discussion towards no-God', or to put it another way, we atheists say that if you have no evidence for God, or gods, or even the Tooth Fairy, then we'll assume they don't exist. Everyone, Christians included, would insist on evidence before they'd accept that Zeus or Santa was real, or even that gods don't exist, but when it comes to talk of their own God, suddenly it's false and unfair to insist on evidence. Hypocrites. Of course the insistence on evidence, and its subsequent absence, does indeed influence the discussion, the absence of evidence and reasons to believe in God, or werewolves or pixies, does persuade intelligent people not to believe in whatever is being argued for. But swaying people from belief to disbelief based on reason and evidence is not, as O'Farrell claims, an unfair tactic. It's how we arrive at the truth of a matter.
Acknowledging that science works wonderfully in the natural world, O'Farrell states however that 'God's existence isn't the kind of [alleged] fact that can be investigated empirically or scientifically'. But since we've never had God in the lab, how does he know that, isn't that an unproved assumption, something he criticised atheists for hiding behind? But anyway, he then says he understands 'why science-minded atheists might feel uneasy venturing into a discussion in which their scientific tools are of no use. However, the scope of the discussion should not be dictated by their methodology or convenience'.
Uneasy? I don't feel in the slightest bit uneasy in religious discussions where science has to be left at the door. In fact I know science makes true believers uncomfortable and jittery, so I'm quite prepared to use other tools, knowing that there's more than one way to skin a cat. I can't speak for other atheists, but my disbelief is not based solely on the scientific worldview, but also by arguments from other independent experts, such as historians, philosophers and biblical scholars. Even if I knew nothing of science, philosophical arguments against the existence of God and gods would make me an atheist. Likewise just reading history and its factual accounts of numerous different religions with their thousands of gods would cause me to view the religion of the Hebrews as being just as flawed and silly as the religion of the Babylonians, all the work of ignorant, primitive, superstitious men. If I knew nothing of science, philosophy or ancient history, just studying the work of Biblical scholars would reveal to me that, even if some god did create the universe, it certainly wasn't the god of the Bible, since it's full of errors and contradictions, something which would be impossible for a real all-powerful, all-knowing god. My atheism is bolstered when four respected fields of inquiry, science, history, philosophy and Biblical studies, all point, quite independently, to the same conclusion, and conclusively so, that God is merely the figment of a primitive and superstitious mind. He's as real as Santa Claus.
Because atheists apparently 'feel uneasy venturing into a discussion in which their scientific tools are of no use', O'Farrell argues that we therefore stick 'to the assumption that reality consists entirely of the natural world — amenable to empirical observation (or scientific inquiry)'. From a scientific perspective, yes, it makes good sense to only scientifically investigate areas where scientific principles hold sway. This is not to say that scientists don't consider that there might be something beyond the visible universe, a place which our current scientific instruments wouldn't work, where the laws of physics are quite different. Scientists seriously think about these other places, and even try and design experiments that might reveal their existence. But as I mentioned above, there's a big difference between looking for parallel universes and other dimensions and looking for a gigantic ape called King Kong. Based on all we know, the first is plausible, the second is impossible. Our scientific understanding of the universe suggests that other dimensions could exist, and are worth investigating, our understanding of God based on the Bible suggests he is just as imaginary as Zeus, and no one is suggesting we look for him. O'Farrell admits we have no evidence that God exists, and no way of demonstrating that he does, not even using science, and yet he seems to be encouraging us to look for something he says will be impossible to find. Talk about a fool's errand.
In an attempt to explain his thinking, O'Farrell makes an admission, stating that most people 'have a starting-point in their thinking — a starting-point from which they proceed forward and outward ... My starting-point is God'. If pushed to explain what it means that God is where his thinking begins, O'Farrell says he'll simply add, '"Because of God" or "Because God is God", or similar'.
WTF? When asked why they believe magic is real, can someone prove their reasoning is valid simply by starting with the silly claim, 'Because Harry Potter is Harry Potter'? Would O'Farrell accept the argument of a Muslim whose thinking starting-point is Allah, and maintains he must be right 'Because Allah is Allah'? Of course he wouldn't, so why should he believe the argument suddenly becomes valid if he replaces Harry Potter or Allah with the name God?
I agree that we all have a starting-point in our thinking, but what if that starting-point turns out to be wrong, if it was a false start? Surely we must have a way of evaluating that starting-point and be prepared to revise it if it's shown to be erroneous, rather than just pressing on regardless and sinking into denial? If a building's foundations are rotten or substandard, then anything built on those foundations is destined to soon collapse. Likewise, if your thinking has a starting-point that is in error, then all your subsequent thinking can only get worse, can only be flawed, since it began with a falsehood. Imagine your starting-point when doing your financial accounts was the statement: 2 + 2 = 5, and when your calculations fail to tally with the money in your account, you keep scrubbing them and reverting back to your starting-point, saying to yourself, 'Well, all I know for a fact is that 2 + 2 = 5, so I'll start from there again and see if I can find the error in my calculations'. That's O'Farrell's main problem with his thinking right there, he blindly assumes his starting-point — that God, and everything he's read about him — is true, when God no more equals reality than 2 + 2 = 5. O’Farrell is trying to twist and distort reality to fit God, to force that square peg into a round hole.
What's the difference between true believers and scientists when they each select an assumption to use as a starting-point for their thinking? The difference is what they do if their subsequent observations of the world fail to mesh with their initial assumption. Science will admit its assumption was wrong and think of a better one, religion won't. It will dogmatically stick to its first guess and kill anyone who suggests they might be wrong. The scientific view of the world is radically different to what it was just a few hundred years ago, whereas the religious view is still identical to the view put forward by ignorant, primitive, superstitious men thousands of years ago, still read aloud from the same old book. This is what sets religion and science apart. One is stuck in the mud and the other goes where the path leads. It's true that scientists do make initial assumptions, sans evidence, and use them as their starting-point in their thinking. But after they've made observations and collected data and done some more thinking, if their observation of reality doesn't match their initial assumption, then they modify their assumption and perform more observations, or they reject it outright and try and think of another assumption that might better explain reality. The history of science is littered with innumerable assumptions that failed to pass the test and that were replaced with different assumptions that did eventually match the evidence. Science works and advances because scientists are willing to change their minds, they change their assumptions to match the evidence that reality provides, whereas religious believers won't change their minds, they instead reinterpret the evidence to match their dogmatic belief, their initial assumption formed thousands of years ago that a god created and is running the world. When a scientist wonders why the Moon goes around the Earth, he might start with the assumption, 'Because of gravity', whereas O'Farrell looks at the Moon and says, 'Because of God', and that's why atheistic science landed a man on the Moon and not the Church.
Seriously handicapped by his primitive thinking, O'Farrell insists nevertheless that 'There is a serious logical advantage to the starting-point of God: I take a leap of faith to God and always acknowledge that I've done so, so my thinking is consistent'. His thinking may be consistent, but consistency doesn't indicate that his thinking is valid and correct. A child's thinking as Xmas approaches is Santa, consistently Santa, does that make Santa real? It really astounds me when Christians use such silly arguments, especially when they wouldn't let a Muslim or Jew get away with using the same argument. Do they seriously think it works, or do they know it's bullshit and just hope us atheists will be fooled? I mean seriously, he first thinks of God's name and therefore assumes everything he thinks after that must be correct, as if his invisible friend is firmly holding his hand and won't let him stray! How childish.
Worse still, look at how he says he arrives at God as his starting-point, rather than opting to use scientific facts as a starting-point for his arguments: 'I take a leap of faith to God'. So is faith a reliable tool for discerning the truth? Absolutely not, in 'Atheism: The Case Against God', George H. Smith writes that 'Faith is belief without, or in spite of, reason'. Faith is the ability to still believe in something even when there is no good reason to believe it, and no evidence to support it. What's even more worrying is that faith is the ability to still believe in something even when, not only is there no evidence to support it, there is actually evidence and/or reasons that contradicts your belief. O'Farrell's leap of faith to God is no more sensible than a child's leap of faith to Santa. It may allow them both to settle on a being they desperately want to be real, but it is nothing more than wishful thinking, and requires them to blissfully ignore a mountain of evidence that says they've leapt onto a beguiling fantasy.
O'Farrell continues with his argument that atheists are being fooled by the 'assumption that reality consists only of the natural world'. He doesn't for a moment consider that perhaps god believers are being fooled by the assumption that a powerful, invisible wizard lives — hides — outside the natural world. O'Farrell belittles atheists by implying that we're too afraid to consider a reality that consists of more than we can see and feel, and fails to realise that much of what we believe in consists of what the typical person can't see or feel, such as atoms and DNA and galaxies and cosmic rays. Scientists have thought long and hard about what might be "outside" the known universe and how it began. Scientists didn't just make a leap of faith and go with the Big Bang theory rather than the Steady State theory because of the catchy name, or pick astronomy over astrology, or chemistry over alchemy, or evolution over creationism based on a feeling. Their personal preferences didn't enter into it. The scientific community settled on the theories they now support by examining all the evidence and all the reasoning behind every theory ever proposed, big or small, religious or secular, and went with what worked, with what best described reality as we observe it, not with what matched the fanciful stories they were told as children, stories first told millennia ago by ignorant goat herders. And many scientists now accept that there was likely something before the Big Bang (although still "natural" and not divine) and seriously discuss the multiverse idea, that other universes may exist outside our own. It's quite false of O'Farrell to argue that we've locked ourselves into what he calls an 'empiricist box', considering only what we can see and feel. Need he be reminded that it is science that is slowly dragging Christians kicking and screaming from their Bible box, slowly stripping them of their primitive Biblical beliefs about the world, revealing that we aren't the centre of the universe, that the world isn't flat, that it doesn't rest on pillars, that the Sun doesn't go around the Earth, that the world is much, much older than six thousand years, that the first man wasn't created from dust, that woman wasn't created from a man's rib, that humans didn't live peacefully with the dinosaurs like in 'The Flintstones', that angels don't strum harps on clouds, that God didn't create homosexuals for our hunting pleasure ... and on and on I could go, listing the innumerable false beliefs that are found in the Bible and that scientists were brave enough to investigate and show to be quite wrong. History shows that scientists and atheists are very keen to look outside the box and challenge all assumptions, it was Christians that were forever punishing people for asking questions, limiting inquiry, enforcing Biblical dogma, to the extent of having a long list of forbidden books and burning critics at the stake for daring to try and peek outside the box.
The reason scientists dismiss gods and a supernatural world is not because they blindly follow the claims found in an ancient book, it's because they have looked and found nothing, and what's more, what they found out about reality as they looked for God indicated that God isn't just hiding, as Christians claim, he doesn't exist at all. For the same reasons they decided that Santa and pixies and gremlins and the Greek god Zeus don't exist, the Hebrew god doesn't exist either. O'Farrell claims that atheists refusing to keep looking for God 'represents a self-imposed and arbitrary limitation on reality and one's ability to apprehend it'. He claims 'the empiricist box is a place of refuge'. Bullshit. We haven't stopped looking for God because it's just too difficult and we're frankly scared of what we might find, we've stopped because it's as futile as looking for magical fairies at the bottom of the garden. We've stopped because the enormous amount we have discovered about reality has shown that when ancient man wrote stories about gods such as Zeus and Osiris and Thor and his hammer, and yes, God too, they were just making things up. You know, like the leprechauns.
Implying that atheists are a timid lot, and that we should grow a backbone, O'Farrell explains that 'a serious God inquiry has to be seriously intrepid'. Has he not read any history? For example, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake on February 17th, 1600 by the Church for his serious God inquiry. The Church has a disgusting and shameful history of persecuting anyone who seriously inquired into the reality of God, and yet still people challenged the claims found in the Bible. These people were the epitome of bravery, it was the priests and bishops and inquisitors that were the cowards, too afraid to question a god they had never even seen.
There is no evidence for gods and the natural world is all there is, that's the atheist argument, and O'Farrell admits that because it's 'superficially impressive', it therefore 'provides a pretext for dismissing religious claims on reflex and for not pursuing any genuine curiosity about God'. It's not a pretext, or an excuse, for dismissing religious claims, it's a well supported reason for dismissing religious claims, there's a huge difference between a pretext and a reason. The atheist argument was not arrived at by a leap of faith, the way O'Farrell arrived at God, it was formulated over centuries by serious investigation by the likes of scientists, historians, philosophers and Biblical scholars, and it is well supported by evidence that is the backbone of our modern, technological society. People can dismiss religious claims with the same confidence they can dismiss psychic healing claims and claims of attacks by vampires and werewolves. They don't have to pursue any genuine curiosity about God's existence anymore than they need to pursue a genuine curiosity about the existence of Zeus or Apollo. The hard work has been done, the data is in, and God is out.
O'Farrell finishes by stating that the atheist 'argument is actually misconceived and irrelevant, which is a problem for those many atheists who value intellectual integrity and would like their disbelief to have a sound foundation'. Again, as I've argued, the science is settled, the history is settled, the philosophy and ethics are settled, God and Jesus are not watching you in the shower. Zeus is not throwing lightning bolts. Allah is not flying planes into skyscrapers. The god Dionysus is not actually in charge of wine production. To all atheists, your disbelief does have a sound foundation, a rock solid foundation, you can sleep easy at night, your intellectual integrity is intact, it is those that believe in talking snakes and a zombie Jesus that should be worried that maybe they've got on the wrong bus.
|Bibles are for holding, not reading|
I've just finished reading Seth Andrews' book, 'Deconverted: A Journey from Religion to Reason' (2013). He's a former Christian broadcaster and creator and host of 'The Thinking Atheist' website. It was an interesting read, although for me nothing surprising, as I've read a few of these books by 'true believers' who have spent several decades of their life pushing Christianity to the masses, only to finally realise that it's all bullshit, and that they've been promoting a childish fantasy. As the heading for one of his book chapters said, it was 'Santa Claus for Adults'. Imagine you meet someone in their 30s or 40s who tells you that they've only just realised that their family, friends and community have been lying to them all their life, and that Santa Claus isn't actually real. Hopefully you'd go, 'Wait ... what? You've only just realised, just now? When you were a little kid you didn't tweak that you were being lied to? How did you think that a fat guy like Santa got down the chimney, or fitted all those toys in one bag?' Most people would be utterly stunned to discover an intelligent, educated person who still believed in Santa into adulthood, and yet most people are not at all shocked to come across people that still believe in the Christian equivalent. Because they too still believe the fairy tales they were told as children, that they're being watched by some invisible, powerful old guy with a white beard who will decide whether they've been good or bad, and who will later reward or punish them on that special day that everyone looks forward to. No, not Christmas Day, Judgement Day, the first day of the rest of your second life.
I find it astounding that Christians (and Muslims, Jews, Hindus etc) can keep their silly belief in some (as Seth now describes it) invisible wizard and his book of magic spells safely contained in some sort of mental bubble, completely isolated from the rest of the world, a world where much of modern society is built on science and technology and ethics, the very foundation of which giggles at their silly belief in such primitive, superstitious nonsense. How can they live in a world where their God clearly makes no noticeable contribution, where everything that is sought after from life-saving medicines and cell phones to comfortable homes and personal safety (thanks to the police and the justice system), is provided solely by fellow humans, never from a divine source. How can they be so blinkered not to see that, just as Santa isn't putting those toys under the tree, their god isn't working in the hospital surgery wards or giving advice on how to make buildings safer in earthquakes. Their god, just like Santa Claus, is apparently relying utterly on humans to do all the work, and to keep his secret, that he just can't be bothered anymore. Not like the good old days of the Bible, when God was forever spying on people and interfering in their lives.
And here's the thing, it wasn't just science and history and ethics that committed Christian Seth Andrews was shamefully ignorant of. As the fog cleared he was astounded to be told of disgusting, offensive, ridiculous, blatantly false and/or contradictory Bible verses that he never knew existed, and that his fellow Christians were ignorant of as well. Again this is no surprise to me, but most Christians never actually read their Holy Book. Admittedly I have not read the Bible from start to finish either, but then I'm not arguing that it is the source of all knowledge and that understanding, and obeying, the word of God is vitally important not just for this life, but especially for the one to follow. Although strangely I still seem to have read much more than your typical Christian, who tend to just read a handful of verses over and over, if that. Many have never even read a single verse, their familiarity with various Bible stories rests solely with sermons they've heard in church or from their family and friends. Most seem to treat their Bibles the way I treat my insurance policies, safely stored, unread, in a drawer somewhere. But since Christians put so much faith in the Bible and what it says, and want us to love it too, even visiting us at home to recommend it, you'd think they'd be just itching to read it themselves, at least once in their lives. But they never get around to it. If I'm told of a great book then I'll find the time to read it, even though my life doesn't depend on it. I've read all five books of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' trilogy by Douglas Adams, yet Christians can't even read their one book, one they were usually given for free. When I wanted to drive, and do so safely, I was told that there was a book called 'The Road Code' that told me of the rules I must follow, and if I didn't I could be arrested and jailed, or worse, maybe seriously injured or killed. So I studied that book from cover to cover, I even passed a test on its contents. I felt it was in my best interest to know exactly what was required of me so as not to be punished or hurt. Christians tell us that their Bible is like 'The Road Code', except that it applies to all of our life, and the next one, not just our behaviour while driving, and that it's vastly more important than 'The Road Code', which is just chicken feed compared to the Bible.
And yet, as crucial and important to their wellbeing as Christians insist the Bible is, almost none of them think it's in their best interest to know exactly what it says, they can't be bothered to actually read it. These wankers are like someone who claims to be a committed 'Harry Potter' fan, but when questioned on some of the details of the Harry Potter story, admit that they haven't actually read the books, or seen the movies. They joined the fan club on recommendations from friends, attracted by the social aspects. They found that simply belonging to the group was beneficial, and picking up the general gist of the story from overhearing conversations at club meetings, they didn't even need to read the books, people would just assume they had. I've yet to meet a Christian who can list more than half of the Ten Commandments, supposedly the most important list of rules to live by that there is. Fucking hypocrites. I know that if I sincerely believed some barbaric, sadistic, vindictive authority had absolute power over us all and threatened us with eternal torture if we broke even one of its rules, then I would be memorising the rule book and obeying every one to the letter. I would be the most obedient, obsequious slave imaginable. I would be stoning homosexuals and psychics and disobedient children to death like there was no tomorrow. I'd stop drinking milkshakes while eating hamburgers, no more wearing cotton and polyester socks, and as painful as the Bible says it is, I'd go and get circumcised. I'm sure you wouldn't like me, and you'd no doubt try and arrest me for all the sinners I'm dragging into the town square and killing, but no punishment you could dish out would compare in the slightest to what God would inflict upon me if I don't do as he says, as clearly set out in his rule book, the Holy Bible. And yet no sincere true believers are doing this? How sincere can they be? Well, OK, some Muslims, Christians and Jews are killing innocent folk in the name of God, but thankfully the great majority are not, so clearly, deep down, the majority obviously don't believe everything their religion expects them to believe. And yet arguably the rules they're ignoring are the most important ones not to ignore, so if their god exists (don't worry, he doesn't), then they've wasted a lot of their life doing stupid things, like going to church every Sunday, donating hard earned cash to that church, feeling terribly guilty every time they have sex, being seen as an ignoramus when it came to matters of science etc, and yet because they still broke the really important rules, they're still going to be tortured for eternity. They've made considerable sacrifices during their life, meaning they didn't experience the full life that they could have, but it's all been in vain, since they're still going to be severely punished for breaking the major rules, regardless of the minor ones that they obeyed. They're still going to Hell.
It's amazing how Christians can be so fanatical about their belief in God and so ignorant about God at the same time. I'm continually shocked by door-knocking evangelists, not just by their ignorance of the real world, but by their ignorance of what's in their own Bible. You'd at least think they'd be curious as to why the majority of people on the planet today (and throughout history) don't believe their god exists, and don't believe the stories in the holy book they hold so dear. When I say to people this is what I believe, be it about gods or ghosts or climate change, and they disagree with me, my immediate response is to ask them to explain why my beliefs might be mistaken. So I am exposed to what critics see as flaws in my thinking, and if their reasoning is sound, I change my views. Even if I still find their thinking flawed, I at least come to understand the arguments and reasons why my critics think I'm mistaken. I become better informed and better able to debate the topic, I'm familiar with the arguments my opponents will likely raise. But most Christians (Muslims, Jews etc) never reach this understanding. They think they know why their god exists, and what's great about their Bible, but they have almost no idea why atheists think no gods exist, and what we find so bogus about all the holy books, regardless of the religion. Often, before you can explain how silly or obscene a particular Bible verse is, you first have to convince them it exists, since it's in a part of the Bible they've never read. I've lost count of the Christians who didn't even know that there are two quite different accounts of God creating Adam and Eve, one where they are created together, and another where Adam is created first, and then later, when God realises he made a mistake, he creates Eve from Adam's rib. Or that don't know that Eve eating an apple is not in the Bible, it just says she eats some forbidden fruit. Likewise Christians are shocked to learn that Mark, Matthew, Luke and John did not write the gospels, and that those that did where not disciples of Jesus, had never even met him and weren't even alive when Jesus allegedly was. How can a fanatical door-knocking evangelist hope to explain his Bible and his god to non-believers when his knowledge of both is woefully lacking? Again, it's like a child trying to convince me that Santa is real, but they haven't even heard, let alone thought about, all the many reasons why beings like Santa and his flying reindeer couldn't be real. Not only do they believe a childish notion, they try and defend it as a child would. I guess that's why Christianity has lasted so long, it convinces its followers not to think about what it is they believe. For centuries it was a crime for a layperson to even read the Bible. And if you don't think about what you're not reading, if you don't allow reason to intrude on your thoughts, if you let faith smother your doubts, then you can blindly believe in all manner of nonsense. Even the bit about the talking snake.
|Forcing your beliefs onto others|
Do you feel that you're a free agent, that you have independence and autonomy, that you get to decide what to do with your life, that you're not some slave or puppet controlled by some god or authority figure? On reaching one of life's many crossroads, do you choose the direction your life takes? Or are you being ordered around in the way a parent would direct the behaviour of a naïve and impetuous five-year-old? In some instances are others forcing their beliefs onto you, dictating your behaviour and compelling you to suppress your own desires?
If you're a normal, typical adult living an independent life, would you accept having other people, often complete strangers, telling you what movies you could watch, what food to eat, who you could be friends with, where you could take vacations, how you should dress or cut your hair, whether or not you could get a tattoo or your ears pierced etc.? While hopefully willing to listen to advice, most sane adults want to make their own decisions, they want to be in complete charge of their life and they expect others to respect the choices they make. Of should I say, respect their right to make their own choices. It is after all their life, it's their own body they're dealing with. As a character in 'Orphan Black' states (an excellent sci-fi TV series about human cloning), 'My Biology, my decision'. Our bodies are not some property that belongs to others, like a leased sports car or an apartment that is only rented by the month, where the signed agreement with the real owners decrees that only certain behaviour is permitted. No, normal adults expect to be able to act freely, whether or not others approve of their actions.
Of course there are strangers that do tell us what to do at times, authority figures like governments, police and bosses. For the benefit of society there are laws and regulations we must follow or suffer the consequences, and personally I feel that we shouldn't do anything that will harm others. With freedom does come some responsibility. Our freedom goes beyond what I can physically do as a free agent, for example I could mug an old lady, but I choose not to. My actions as a free agent are constrained by ethics.
So, within legal and ethical limits, we are free, we have the liberty to do as we please, and we expect others to respect our right to live our lives as we so choose. And I would argue that most people, no matter their worldview, would get very upset, and justifiably so, if you strolled into their life and reversed important decisions they had made in their life, completely overriding their strongly and sincerely held wishes, desires and intentions. And yet, many of these same people that would scream blue murder over any interference in their personal decisions, see nothing wrong in interfering in the personal decisions of others that they disagree with. And surprisingly, they are completely oblivious to the hypocrisy and arrogance of their actions.
Let me give some examples of this selfish desire that some people have to control the lives of others, this desire to force others to submit to their beliefs, this need to control others and have society function the way they believe it should. If this was just one person we'd call him a dictator, but it's millions, and if it was forced on us by a religion we'd call it a theocracy.
My first example concerns death, as most of them do. A family member of mine died and prior to his death, and in his Will, he explicitly expressed his wishes as to how his affairs were to be handled. There was to be no funeral, memorial or service of any kind, there was to be no death notice placed in the newspaper, when his ashes were interred there was, at most, only to be immediate family present, and if any comments were made, there most definitely would not be any suggestions that he believed in any of that god crap. To respect her father's wishes, his daughter then went ahead and ignored them all, organising a memorial service, putting a death notice in the paper, inviting everyone, not just family, and hiring a celebrant that filled her spiel with religious bullshit, nonsense such as, 'He's now in the loving arms of God'. The celebrant even started with the statement, 'Well, as you may know, this gathering is the very thing he didn't want'. It was an ambush, and if I'd known what had been planned, I wouldn't have gone.
How arrogant must you be to decide that your selfish wishes override the sincere wishes of your father? That what you think should happen is far more important than what your father wanted to happen? That you promised to follow his wishes while he was alive, but once he was dead then you think that all deals are off? Well, what's he going to do, complain? And the thing is, the same betrayal had earlier happened to a friend of her father's, and he had expressed his anger to his daughter (and to me) over what his friend had done, arguing that his friend should have respected his father's instructions. So his daughter knew his wishes, and knew he would be angry if she ignored them, and yet she ignored them anyway. I related this tale to a friend (who by coincidence just happened to be an executor of my Will), expecting him to be as annoyed as I was, and he astounded me by saying that in that situation he would also have ignored the wishes of the deceased and given him a full funeral. Is there no one I can trust to respect a person's right to make their own decisions?
While we're alive we like to think we have some control over our lives. If we don't believe in gods then we'll live with no thought of heaven and hell. If we want a gas-guzzling SUV rather than an economical hybrid, then we'll buy one. If we want to garden "organically" and avoid "chemical" sprays, then we will. If we want to be mindless followers of some sports team or celebrity, then how we waste out time is our business. Of course when we die we lose that control, we can no longer force compliance, lawyers won't take our calls, but why is it that our wishes — legal demands even — can be so easily dismissed by those that promised to follow them while we were alive? Why is it that so many people have no twinge of conscience or sense of betrayal when they break promises to a loved one? Why is it that they strongly feel that their personal beliefs or their view of a proper send-off must supplant those of the deceased? They seem to be thinking, 'Well, if it was me that had died then this is how I'd want things to go', without comprehending that it wasn't them that had died. They want to take the control they have over their own lives, and start controlling the lives of others, based on what they believe. They see their views as superior and arrogantly believe that everyone should submit to them, for their own good, and if the person they're trying to control is dead, well, that just makes it easier. How can they think that their personal beliefs should override the personal beliefs of others, and then see nothing wrong in that?
Others I've spoken to see the problem of betrayal, but at the same time, being more religious than atheist, they feel that giving an atheist a religious funeral is not the worst crime one could commit. But they need to look at it the other way, and imagine how they'd feel if they, as a religious person, were given a blasphemous atheist send-off. Or if a devout Muslim were given a Christian funeral, of if anyone is given a service deeply contrary to what they believed in, only because the person trusted to organise the service believes in that different belief.
It all comes down to control, that some person believes something and they feel they have the right to force their belief onto others who think quite differently. They think, 'This is the way I would act or respond in that situation, so I demand everyone else follows my lead'. And we're not talking about acts that harm others, we're talking about personal behaviour, about actions that affect your own body and your own life, no one else's. Like deciding what happens to your body after its batteries run flat. Should that control lie with the body's owner (albeit now deceased) or someone else, maybe even a stranger?
Let's consider another example where strangers (or loved ones) try and take control of the bodies of other adults, where they try and force their personal beliefs onto others. Abortion. Surely the person that should have control over whether their body reproduces or not, and whether their life changes course dramatically to raise a child, should be the person that suddenly and unexpectedly finds themselves pregnant? And no one else. Some religious nutter telling a young woman she can't have an abortion, just because they personally wouldn't, is no different to me telling a starving person they can't have that pizza, because I personally am on a diet, or they can't have that chocolate milkshake because I'm lactose intolerant. Just because I don't want that pizza or milkshake, doesn't mean I should be able to force my decision onto other people, and just because some religious nutter believes their invisible sky fairy opposes abortion, doesn't mean they can force their silly beliefs onto non-believers. As the bumper sticker says, 'Against abortion? Then don't have one!'
Let's consider another example. Voluntary euthanasia. Again we have people saying that other sane adults shouldn't have control over their own bodies, over their own life, and when and how that life might end if suddenly stricken with unbearable pain and suffering. They insist that we don't own our bodies or have any control over when or how we might die, arguing that we are the property of their master, and he alone will decide when and how our life will end. They agree that we can indeed wrest control away from their master and take our own life, but that this is morally wrong, a grave sin, and must remain a punishable crime in society.
But here's the really stupid, and disgusting thing, the really offensive consequence of their opposition to voluntary euthanasia. Suicide is perfectly legal, it's not a punishable crime in modern society. Anyone can legally buy a gun and blow their brains out and force strangers or family to clean up the mess. They can legally buy some rope and hang themselves, or buy razor blades and slit their wrists, and again force strangers or family to clean up the mess. They can legally buy a toaster and electrocute themselves in the bath, and they can legally buy a ... well, you get the point. There are untold ways that people can legally obtain the means to commit suicide, and every one of them involves a traumatic, horrible and probably painful death, and some unsuspecting person suddenly coming across a gory scene involving a dead body. And I often hear adverts for suicide support phone lines and help groups for people with suicidal thoughts. I'm guessing they tell you where to buy the guns and razor blades and stuff and they rate the various methods based on cost, availability, pain threshold etc. So to repeat, taking your own life is already legal, voluntary euthanasia is just the debate about how messy it's going to be.
Of all the ways to die at your own hand, there is only one that is peaceful, painless and not horrific in any way, and that is taking a drug that calmly puts you to sleep, and while asleep, you die peacefully, surrounded by loved ones if that is your wish. And yet this method, the most humane imaginable, is the only method that is illegal. If you're going to end your life, you're forced by society to do it in a manner most painful. And most gruesome. And most traumatic to those that find your body.
Studies have long shown that if people could choose how they will die, most everyone wishes they'll die suddenly in their sleep, at home in their own bed. And not after a long debilitating and painful illness either, but suddenly. And yet this is the only death that is denied people that suddenly find themselves stricken with unbearable pain and suffering. They can easily and legally opt for a gruesome end — Please pass me my shotgun. I am just going outside, and may be some time — but they can't opt for the humane and peaceful end.
In recent polls some 71% of Kiwis support the introduction of voluntary euthanasia, and please note the word 'voluntary', meaning people would gain control over their own body, it's not a law that would give anyone life or death control over others. Again it is about personal freedom, personal autonomy, about people making their own decisions concerning their own bodies, and not having their life, and their death, controlled by uncaring strangers.
One final example. Organ donation. Many people, although not enough, opt on their death to donate their bodily organs for transplant into others in need. Unfortunately, my understanding is that only a few organs are actually suitable for transplant, most people die in circumstances that make them ineligible. But it gets worse, even if some body is suitable, and that person granted the legal right for their organs to be donated, that person's family can quickly and legally override those wishes. And this apparently happens not infrequently. Yet another example where others get to control what happens to your body. You died thinking that your donation might make a difference in someone's life, but instead your life-sustaining organs get sprinkled with holy water and thrown in the ground to rot. Again someone says that their personal belief is more important than yours. Again someone thinks that they have the right to control the actions of others.
It all comes down to this simple question: Who owns you? Who owns your body, who should get to decide what you do with your body, who is running your life and deciding which paths it should follow? Should you be in control of the important decisions in your life, or should others be pulling your strings? Should the beliefs of others ride roughshod over your beliefs, where these others will often be complete strangers likes priests, doctors and politicians? Should some celibate priest be able to deny you an abortion simply because he's afraid of some vindictive sky fairy? If you want to take the option of voluntary euthanasia rather than spend your final months or years in constant pain with no quality of life, should some doctor or politician be able to force you to suffer instead, while he's out enjoying a game of golf? Wanting to help others through organ donation, should some estranged cousin be allowed to dismiss your altruism and refuse the donation? Or having planned to have your ashes blasted into space, should some sanctimonious relative be able to have you buried instead, after a lengthy religious funeral, where it's falsely claimed that you recanted your vile atheist views on your deathbed?
Why are so many of us willing to give up our autonomy, allowing others to call the shots when the decisions are ours and ours alone to make? And the hypocrisy of those that seek to control others is monumental, considering that they themselves would never even consider relinquishing control to others. And of course it shouldn't be about them controlling us or us controlling them, it should be about individual choice. If you're against abortion or voluntary euthanasia or watching porn while eating cheesecake, then don't do it. And if you're for it, then do it. Just don't harm others and don't allow others to force their beliefs onto you.
As another bumper sticker goes, 'No gods. No masters'. We are our own masters, and we should get to decide our own fate, not ignorant, superstitious fools that think control of our bodies has been given over to them. We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship nor a theocracy, and the right to make our own decisions trumps their annoyance that we make different choices to them.
|Are hate speech laws just censorship?|
Free speech, the freedom to publicly speak your mind on pretty much any topic without fear of arrest or censure. Is it something you support, do you view it as a positive and essential part of an enlightened and progressive society? Or do you lean more towards the necessity of hate speech laws, where restrictions prevent criticism of certain groups lest they be hurt by that criticism? Do you think there needs to be limits on people honestly speaking their mind if those comments might offend or upset some people? As the saying goes, if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all.
So do some groups need some protection, do they need shielding from the hard facts of life, or from controversy, or from the unfortunate realisation that some people just don't like their worldview? Are some groups way more sensitive than others? And if society is going to limit what people can say, which opinions they can express and which they can't, then who decides which groups can be challenged and criticised and potentially offended and which can't, or do we insist that everyone must be polite and agreeable all the time? Who is going to change free speech into limited speech, into polite speech, into safe speech, into boring speech, into cowardly speech? If we're only allowed to say, 'I love your outfit', and not, 'OMG, what were you thinking? Did you pay money for that?', then all honesty in relationships and how we communicate our view of the world becomes questionable. If comments that might cause offence or anger or conflict, and thus might be viewed as hateful, are prohibited, then communication becomes a sham, and worthless. What would be the point of me discussing the reality of gods or UFOs or psychics if I'm not allowed to say anything that might upset or offend the person I'm talking to, something like, 'You know they're not real, right, that you've been sucked into believing a lie?'
Let me give an example. Imagine that on my Facebook page I posted the following comments, 'We can not accept the proliferation of white supremacists in our country. It's now getting irresponsible for everyday Kiwis to not voice the disapproval of this fast creeping social invasion on our Kiwi way of life'. How would you feel if I expressed that view publicly? Do you not care, do you agree with my sentiment, or do you think I'm being rather mean and hateful towards white supremacists? In other words, is it hate speech?
The reason I ask is that I read the following headline on the 'NZ Herald' website the other day: 'Facebook to take down Brian Tamaki's Muslim hate speech post'. It stated that, 'Facebook has vowed to remove a controversial advert by Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki slamming the Islamic movement in New Zealand'. In part, Tamaki wrote in his post that, 'We can not accept the proliferation of Islam in our country. ... It's now getting irresponsible for everyday Kiwis to not voice the disapproval of this fast creeping social invasion on our Kiwi way of life'.
Note that Tamaki's sentiments are exactly what I expressed above, I merely swapped the word Islam with white supremacists. I'm targeting a different group to Tamaki, but my speech is identical, and my attitudes towards a group I have a problem with and my call for action is similar. Note also that I'm not inciting violence, merely that we voice disapproval. So is my post where I criticise white supremacists hate speech? Would you petition Facebook to have it deleted and my account suspended? If I pinned a copy of the post on the cafeteria notice board where we worked, would you request the boss have it removed and have me reprimanded for hate speech?
I suspect most people wouldn't have a problem with me condemning the beliefs and behaviour of white supremacists, and not only wouldn't call it hate speech, they might even support my speaking out. And the obvious reason for that is that most people don't like white supremacists and what they stand for (or at least don't want to be seen supporting white supremacists). The clear message here is that it's apparently not hate speech if society or your community or your group don't like the group the speech is directed at, if everyone feels we have good reason to criticise that group. Throughout most of the last 2,000 years you almost never heard Christians accusing other Christians of hate speech when they were persecuting Jews, because no one liked the Jews. They killed the Messiah (well, not really). Technically, my comments towards white supremacists are identical to Tamaki's towards Muslims, the only difference is how society feels towards each group. If they're generally liked as a group, then it's hate speech, but if they're generally disliked, then it's not hate speech, they're just honest comments that decent people should be able to express and the despised group needs to hear. If Tamaki had posted his views concerning Muslims (even more extreme views), on the days after 9/11, no one would have complained about hate speech, and yet now, following the deadly attacks on the Christchurch mosques, the comments are deemed hate speech. What's changed? Islam and the threat of terrorism certainly hasn't, in fact the serious problems between Islam and the West have only increased. Many of the Muslims now in NZ (and other Western countries) are only here because they've fled dangerous Islamic countries. Our point is, the reasons to be wary of Islam still exist. Unlike Christianity and Judaism, Islam has not gone through an enlightenment period and renounced all the vile and barbaric commandments in their holy book that they expect all devout Muslims to follow. They still view the world as split in two; 'dar al-Islam' which means 'house of submission', which generally refers to those countries under Muslim governments, under Muslim submission, and 'dar al-Harb' (house of war), which refers to countries not [yet] under Muslim rule. It's the duty of every Muslim to enlarge the 'house of submission', to bring other countries under Muslim domination. Even though Christians and Jews are commanded to kill apostates, they thumbed their nose at God long ago, but many Muslims still obey similar commands in the Koran, and even in the 21st century are still killing apostates. A favourite method is to bury the victim up to their neck and then stone them to death. Author Salman Rushdie, as well as several others, have been in hiding for years with round-the-clock bodyguards because devout Muslims are trying to kill them. Muslims in many Western countries are pushing for the local governments to allow them to be ruled by Sharia law, which is a primitive, barbaric legal system, and as bad as this would be for many Muslims, especially Muslim women, the real problem is that many Muslims expect non-Muslims to also respect Sharia law. They don't just want Muslim women to dress with extreme modesty, they want Western women to also cover up more than they currently are. True Muslims don't want to be part of society, they want to rule society. They flee their oppressive Islamic countries and then use Western freedoms to argue for the introduction of Islamic law and the suppression of Western freedoms, and they see no irony in this.
Luckily most Muslims are not true Muslims, just as most Christians are not true Christians, meaning that they know little about their religion and have no problem rejecting all the vile, barbaric stuff. The Muslims, and Christians and Jews, that we need fear are the few that truly believe their holy book, that when their god says to kill non-believers and homosexuals, they will. When their holy book says the world was made in six days some 6,000 years ago and flooded in the time of Noah, that Adam and Eve were real, and their followers should have dominion over the Earth, they believe it. Most people in the West don't realise that Muslims push Creationism and dismiss evolution just as much as do Christian fundamentalists, that's one reason why they want Islamic schools, just as Christian fundamentalists want their own schools where they can teach their primitive, superstitious beliefs. But considering what we've just said about Muslims, and Christians, where we've expressed the opinion that allowing some versions of religion to spread is a clear threat to our secular society and 'our Kiwi way of life', just as Tamaki said, so is it hate speech? Should we be prevented from expressing our view of Islam, just because we're all feeling sympathetic towards the local Muslim community following the Christchurch attacks?
Should what we label hate speech continually change based on how society feels from day to day, or on what beliefs your company CEO holds, or on how a specific Facebook community feels? Should we be allowed to criticise and condemn the beliefs and actions of white supremacists, when a Christian isn't allowed to criticise and condemn the beliefs and actions of Muslims? If a Christian can't express his concerns regarding the spread of Islam, will atheists soon be prevented from expressing our concerns regarding the spread of creationism, especially in science classes, whether that class is in a secular school, a Christian school or a Muslim school? Once we ban comments concerning one group, lest we offend its followers with truths they'd rather not hear, won't the floodgates open and we'll soon find ourselves banned from commenting on all manner of groups, from religious groups to political groups.
Consider this. What if I said that the proliferation of dairy farms is a threat to our environment, or that when entities like banks, police stations and maternity hospitals desert our rural towns it's a threat to our Kiwi way of life, or that the policies of a particular political party would be a disaster for NZ if they were elected? I'd be challenging and criticising the beliefs and behaviour of different groups, and arguing that we need to voice our disapproval and bring about changes to prevent harmful outcomes. No doubt my comments, whether I was ultimately right or wrong, would annoy the likes of dairy farmers and banks and politicians, who'd all prefer I just kept quiet, but should we call my comments hate speech or free speech? If it's not hate speech to challenge the policies of a political party, why is it hate speech to challenge the beliefs of a religion, such as Islam? Are religious believers more serious and sincere about their beliefs, and more easily hurt, than politicians?
Of course we're no fan of Destiny Church or Bishop Brian Tamaki. Fundamentalist Christians are ignorant, deluded fools, and much of what they say and do does offend us. We find it repellent that they are joyful in the knowledge that their loving god is going to torture innocent atheists and babies and Hindus and anyone that doesn't believe that an invisible Jesus is watching over us from a cloud, even when we're in the shower. We find it abhorrent that their god watched and did nothing as priests and ministers sexually abused children, and that they still find his behaviour worthy of worship. We find it loathsome and immoral that they persecute homosexuals, atheists, women and anyone that holds differing beliefs, not for any good reason, but simply because an imaginary fairy tells them to.
But that said, we don't want to see free speech shackled by the introduction of new hate speech laws. There is a well known saying that we support, 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it'. It's usually attributed to Voltaire, but he never actually said it. In a biography of Voltaire, Evelyn Hall coined that phrase to sum up his belief that there should be tolerance, reason, freedom of religious belief, and of speech. What Voltaire apparently said in his 'Essay on Tolerance' was, 'Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too'. I read too that, 'in some countries, including the United States, hate speech is constitutionally protected'. Our view is that if you have some belief, then you should be free to express that belief, and if we disagree with it, then we want to be free to rationally, and calmly, debate the validity of your belief, and hopefully one of us, on learning more about the opposing view, will accept that we were wrong and change our mind. Or we will fail to agree, but will peacefully go our separate ways, willing to let the other maintain their belief. What we don't want is some authority figure telling us, by force of law, that belief A is right and belief B is wrong, and we have to take their word for it. We are free to discuss belief A, but public discussion of belief B is illegal.
Of course there are limits to free speech and individual liberty. Our philosophy is that you should have the freedom to say and do as you please as long as you do no harm to others. If your speech or actions cause or will likely cause others to be harmed, either directly or by inciting others to commit harmful acts, then you've crossed the line, and such behaviour should be illegal.
But what constitutes hate speech, what level of harm must it cause before you get a visit from the police, or your post gets deleted by the likes of Facebook? Going by the 'NZ Herald' headline, it appears that they and 'other community members' are going to tell the rest of us what does and doesn't constitute hate speech. At least until a review of our hate speech law is completed by the government, a review that was prompted by the Christchurch mosque attacks and will look at possibly extending the reach of our hate speech laws. Hopefully the review will conclude that our laws are plenty robust. But for now, some 'community members' complaining to Facebook were apparently what got Tamaki's post banned, although only from the paid advert section, Facebook are happy to let him keep the post on the Destiny Church Facebook page. Apparently the post stops being hateful if Tamaki didn't pay to put it online. But who are these anonymous community members, and what qualifications to they and the staff at the Herald and Facebook have to identify hate speech? Or are they just going by a gut feeling or personal bias? The Herald article said that, 'one Herald reader wrote into the paper to say ... "It is a heinous ad full of ignorance and the same ideas as the Christchurch attacker".' But how does the reader know that, since the government banned the manifesto in which the Christchurch attacker set out his ideas? We, the public, are not allowed to read what the motivation of the attacker was, we are just expected to believe the Prime Minister when she says, Trust us, we're grown-ups, we've read it so you don't have to (and risk getting offended and upset. You're welcome). We're repeatedly told it was a white supremacist attack and not a religious attack on Muslims, and the manifesto, the one we're not allowed to read, confirms that. Even though he attacked a religious group, not a racial group, a group that even contained a few white people. This is the problem that arises when a select few get to decide what the rest of us can view, and what we can say.
The Wikipedia page on hate speech states that,
'New Zealand prohibits hate speech under the Human Rights Act 1993. Section 61 (Racial Disharmony) makes it unlawful to publish or distribute "threatening, abusive, or insulting ... matter or words likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons ... on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons". Section 131 (Inciting Racial Disharmony) lists offences for which "racial disharmony" creates liability.'I was surprised to read that in NZ law it seems that hate speech is all about racial disharmony, there is no mention of attacking religion for example, or homosexuality. An informative article — 'When is it Hate Speech?' — can be read on the New Zealand Law Society website. Coincidentally, as examples of potential hate speech it discusses an earlier outburst by Brian Tamaki, as well as claims made by a Muslim cleric. The article quotes the government's Ethnic Communities Minister,
'The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 gives everyone the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form. But hate speech is prohibited under section 61 of the Human Rights Act'.It also quotes barrister Craig Tuck, an International Human Rights Transnational Criminal Justice specialist, as saying,
'The freedom to think and speak is the very 'stuff' that we are made of — the human condition. The way we as a race, dream, develop and advance. Think of the great leaps forward that freedom of speech has delivered — in thought and act. It is the lifeblood of a democracy — it is what we are about as a nation.'Frances Joychild QC, who specialises in human rights, makes the following comment about section 61,
'The words in the statute are threatening, abusive or insulting and likely to incite hostility or bring into contempt. That's a lower standard than inciting violence to kill ... 'The intro to the Wikipedia article on hate speech stated that it's, 'a statement intended to demean and brutalize another, or the use of cruel and derogatory language or gestures on the basis of real or alleged membership in a social group. Hate speech is speech that attacks a person or a group on the basis of protected attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity'. To us it's all rather vague, both the NZ version and the general definition. A dozen lawyers would come away with a dozen different interpretations, and a dozen laypeople would come up with even more.
For example, when I read that popes, priests, ministers and pastors say that their boss is going to torture me for all eternity, unless I submit to his wishes and call him my lord and master, then they're publishing threatening and insulting words that excite hostility on my part towards a specific group, ie Christians. I can't in all honesty have good feelings towards people that hold me in such low regard, that are threatening me with harm as soon as their god catches me. The Church has also published millions of books that claim I'm a vile and corrupt fool ('The fool says in his heart, "There is no God". They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.' PS 14:1). So how is this not hate speech? And it's not just Christianity, as an atheist, Islam and Judaism also insult my beliefs and values and threaten me with real harm. Of course these religions could, using the same definitions of hate speech, accuse me of some level of hate speech. What use is a law if it silences honest discussion, or how fair is it if it only applies to some and not others? We are supposed to live in democracy, not a theocracy or a police state.
I don't believe I've ever been threatening or abusive, but some of what I've said could be seen as insulting, eg calling them ignorant, deluded fools, and I certainly hold them in contempt, in that I think that they're wasting their lives and harming people by believing in nonsense. I accuse their groups of real harm, like sexually abusing children and flying planes into skyscrapers, but I note that the above NZ definition of hate speech doesn't talk of actual harm. Just creating the feelings of hostility or contempt are apparently enough to be accused of hate speech, you don't have to actually harm anyone, just get one group angry with another group. For example, getting people to feel hostility and contempt towards a group that is covering up child sex abuse (the Vatican), is by definition hate speech. Getting people to feel hostility and contempt towards a group that is refusing to vaccinate their children (anti-vaxxers), and who by doing so are putting their children and society at risk, is by definition hate speech.
So what classes as an insult? As an outspoken atheist, I've met Christians and Muslims that find my mere existence an insult. They find it horribly offensive that I have the arrogance to claim that there are no gods, and that I'm implying they're deluded fools. They see my views as blasphemous, the extreme insult to their god, and it was only in March 2019 that NZ finally repealed our blasphemous libel law. For centuries Christians have had the legal right to punish anyone that they felt had insulted their god. Blasphemy law was just another way of describing a hate speech law for Christians, and only Christians. Now it's gone, but religious groups around the world are trying to morph the notion of hate speech into a new blasphemy law, a law that will make critics unable, or at least unwilling, to express critical opinions concerning any religion. Christians won't be able to condemn Muslims or Jews or Hindus, and vice versa, and atheists won't be able to criticise any of them. But even if the worst happened and draconian hate speech laws came in, Christians and Muslims would still be allowed (under freedom of religion laws) to publish their hate speech in the form of their Bibles and Korans, millions of them, and they'd still be allowed to continue with their weekly sermons to the faithful, in churches and mosques and on religious TV shows, quoting from their god as to how I'm a fool that's going to be tortured (followed by gleeful laughter). With draconian hate speech laws, all that would change is that atheists couldn't publicly challenge religious belief, meaning that atheism would sort of become a forbidden topic. You could still be an atheist, but you couldn't talk about atheism for fear of offending some religious nutter who would report you for hate speech. If some religious group did something that we saw as horrible or silly (a common occurrence), you couldn't criticise them because that would be hate speech. And of course, it wouldn't just be religious groups seeking protection from insults and criticism, flat-Earthers, anti-vaxxers, homeopaths, alien abductees, neo-Nazis, psychic mediums and untold other groups would try to insulate themselves with hate speech legislation.
Groups and individuals that don't have the backing of the majority are the ones that are pushing for tougher hate speech laws. They've found they can't sway people to their point of view with reason, so they now want the law to make people leave them alone. In recent years religions have tried the plea, 'Please respect my religion', meaning don't say my god isn't real, don't point out the flaws in my holy book, don't teach my kids evolution, just leave us alone. Of course many people do still give religion a free pass, heaping undeserved respect onto religious leaders, refusing to ask the obvious questions, but overall their plea to be ignored has gone unheeded. And for the religious, if they want atheists to stop criticising them, then they have to stop a centuries old habit, they have to stop criticising atheists and calling other religions false religions. This is something they struggle to do, as their god actually commands them to spread their fantasy, hence you get Brian Tamaki attacking Islam. And we have no problem with Tamaki's Facebook post, apart from minor inaccuracies such as saying Sharia Law had been enacted in certain countries. Christians have been criticising and condemning Muslims (and vice versa) for centuries, it's what they do. Only someone that knows nothing of the history between Christians and Muslims would wonder why Christians aren't welcoming Muslims with open arms. People shouldn't be surprised that Destiny Church is speaking out in a combative way, they should be wondering why all the other churches are silent. Are they too afraid of our hate speech laws to do God's work? Instead of silencing Tamaki, and Muslims along with him, we should be encouraging both to publicly explain their religion's views on such things as God's law versus secular law, on homosexuality, on Adam and Eve versus evolution, on what will happen to non-believers, on what causes earthquakes etc. This would be very revealing, since while Christians all insist the Muslims' answers are false and nonsense, and vice versa, the reality is that both Christians and Muslims want God's law to trump secular law, both hate homosexuals and the theory of evolution, both are told to kill non-believers, both think their god causes earthquakes etc. The core beliefs of Christianity and Islam are far more alike than they are different, based as they are on the same foundation. If their followers take them seriously, we have as much to fear from one as the other. Although they can't see it, the very reasons Christians give to dismiss Islam are often the same ones Muslims use to dismiss Christianity.
Whether our hate speech laws stay as they are or change somehow, someone has to decide where to draw the line. In a recent post we noted that Aussie rugby player Israel Folau was dismissed by Rugby Australia for saying, in a personal capacity, that God will send homosexuals to Hell, which is hardly an opinion that should have surprised anyone. Even though this is a well-known, and widely held, view, it was deemed hate speech by his employers. It wasn't the law that decided it was hate speech, it was just a few managers and PR staff worried over how Folau's comments might affect their company profits. It was argued that Folau insulted homosexuals, but in his post Folau actually insulted eight different groups, including a group we belong to, atheists. If Folau's list hadn't included homosexuals, then it's likely he'd still have a job, since no one cared that other groups were also insulted. So why was it considered hate speech against homosexuals, but not against atheists? Who decided homosexuals would be insulted but we atheists don't mind being threatened? Surely what is and isn't hate speech shouldn't be left to some company executives worried about their image and their profits.
If, because some opinion offends them, all someone has to do is scream hate speech, and some authority will take them seriously, then our free and open society will suffer massively. A few years ago, when the Harmful Digital Communications Act came into force, weather astrologer Ken Ring threatened to use it to have our website closed down. He argued that our criticism of his weather and earthquake prediction claims was a form of hate speech. Nothing came of his threats, but it revealed that many believe that if someone challenges their sincere beliefs, perhaps even calls them deluded or outright liars, then such a disagreement constitutes hate speech, and the authorities will punish those with opinions different to theirs.
As we said in the Folau post, free speech must reign supreme, where people with differing opinions are freely able to express their views, and where one side or the other wins by presenting cogent arguments, not by silencing their opponent with laws prohibiting criticism lest someone takes offence. And again, we're talking about debates and differences of opinion, not words or actions that cause or incite harm. We're talking about intellectual discussions, using facts, reason and evidence, to try and sway the views of others. Admittedly some may feel very strongly about their view, and some arguments may cause annoyance, anger and even offence — it's not nice being told you're wrong — but even if it ends in what philosophers call rational disagreement, it's still far better to have tried to solve a disagreement by airing different views than it is to simply silence an opponent, to stop them in their tracks with the threat of hate speech.
As atheists we want to retain the right to challenge claims made by the religious, even if they view our questions and comments as offensive. If they feel insulted by our disbelief, if they interpret our confident dismissal of their superstition as hostility, if they consider we've threatened their faith by sowing seeds of doubt, then they need to come up with better arguments. Any attempt to muzzle us with medieval hate speech laws rather than engaging intellectually will be seen as an admission of defeat. Recall that every time religions have used the law to quell dissent it has always led to the loss of liberties, to torture, death and suffering. Think Inquisitions.
And it's not just about religion, since as we've said, if laws are enacted that shield religious groups from criticism, then untold other groups, such as anti-vaxxers and psychic mediums and alien abductees, will quickly insist on equal protection, and free speech and honest debate will be a thing of the past. Without free speech society will be on its way back to the dark ages. And remember, we're talking about opinions here, opinions labelled hate speech to silence them, not actual hate crimes. We're talking thoughts, not actions. No physical crimes are being committed where the motivation has been hate (and there are already laws to cover such real crimes), no one is being harmed, unless you count learning that there are no gods as psychological harm. In which case we'd say, grow up! There's no Santa Claus either.
Of course we don't want to live in a society where people are being threatening, abusive, or insulting, exciting hostility or being contemptuous towards others, but at the same time we don't want to live in a society where we can't vehemently disagree with people, where we can't say we hate you or what you stand for. What's next, no holding hands in public? Why do some people think that a mature society can't express disagreement without it escalating into pistols at dawn? Public disagreement and debate is good for society, it lets us consider different ideas and consensually adopt the better ones. It shouldn't be illegal to express ideas and views that some may find offensive and hateful, they need to be kept in the open where they can be noticed and debated and managed appropriately. NZ's security services were caught unaware of the rising threat from white supremacist groups simply because their views are classed as hate speech, thus forcing those groups and their views underground. The law against hate speech didn't neutralise the threat, it simply made us unaware of the threat. Hate speech is a concern for some because it is seen as a precursor to violence, but surely it is better to be made aware that there is discontent and tackle it head on, either by defusing it with open discussion or limiting its potential for harm.
If people have beliefs that may, if unchecked, eventually lead to the harm of others, then how is society protected by forcing them to keep quiet in public, and allowing them to only discuss their hateful plans in private with like-minded souls? Surely it would be better to allow everyone to openly raise the issues they are unhappy about? Let them explain why some group might be a threat, be they Muslims, homosexuals, anti-vaxxers, dairy farmers or white supremacists. Wouldn't this serve the valuable purpose of both exposing genuine threats and allowing us to neutralise bogus threats through debate and education? Are we really going to argue that it's better for society to be ignorant regarding how some groups feel, than risk offending someone by letting them tell us what they don't like, or what they feel threatened by?
Are hate speech laws preventing real harm or just hurt feelings? Are they just censorship by another name, a means by which powerful groups can hide opposing views from us, views they'd rather we not hear? By all means stop hate crimes, things that cause real harm, but don't try and silence those that you disagree with by labelling their views hate speech. If you think they're wrong, then be a rational, intelligent, 21st century citizen and convince them of their error, don't threaten to call the thought police.
|The Flat Earth Delusion|
Just when you think people couldn't get any stupider, they do. The other night I saw on the TV News that a conference called the Flat Earth Expo was recently held in Auckland. This article states that, 'The stars of Netflix's 2018 flat earth documentary "Behind the Curve", YouTubers Mark Sargent and Patricia Steere, were in New Zealand this weekend to speak to local Flat Earthers'.
Back in 2016 I wrote a post asking the question, 'Is your neighbour a nutter?', where I argued that once people realise that they're making fools of themselves by discussing their silly beliefs, then they tend to hide those beliefs, revealing themselves only to fellow believers. Meaning you could be working with or living next door to someone who thinks they're in telepathic contact with aliens from another galaxy, or that the Earth is only six thousand years-old. But rightfully fearful that you might giggle at their silly beliefs, they hide them and try and act normal. And of those few that have occasionally revealed their true thoughts, from believers in gods and ghosts to homeopathy and chemtrails, I said that I had never encountered a Flat Earther, and that's because I believe that Flat Earthers simply aren't prepared to reveal their silly belief. And their reluctance goes a lot higher than those who believe in gods and aliens and Bigfoot, because belief in a flat earth is something that most in society thinks we gave up centuries ago, like belief in fairies, unicorns and fire-breathing dragons. And while I knew there was still a small lunatic fringe out there, I thought, or at least hoped, that it was on its last legs, a silly belief that even the most gullible fool would have trouble accepting. But I was wrong, it seems the flat earth nonsense is having an unwelcome resurgence.
With the knowledge and tools that we have available to us in the 21st century it seems impossible, at least to intelligent, rational, informed folk, that people could be sucked into believing such a silly, primitive belief. We've known for over two thousand years that the Earth is a sphere, the ancient Greeks didn't just theorise that the Earth was round, in the 3rd century BCE Eratosthenes calculated its circumference to a value just 16% out from modern measurements. They also argued that since the shadow the Earth makes on the Moon during a lunar eclipse is curved, not flat, then the Earth must be a sphere, plus they observed that departing ships slowly dropped out of sight, and this could be explained by a spherical Earth, but not a flat Earth. When I was a kid people used to say that, on his way to discovering America in 1492, Columbus feared sailing off the edge of the world. But I've since learnt that story was a myth (created in 1828), and that educated people at least, including Columbus, knew the world was a sphere. There are even paintings from that time that shows globes of the Earth in the background of the paintings, and Columbus only thought he could reach the Indies based on calculations of how big he thought the spherical Earth was. His calculations were actually flawed, and he thought, unlike the ancient Greeks, that the world was much smaller than it is, but regardless, he didn't think it was flat. Flat Earthers like American Mark Sargent also promote this nonsense that people in the time of Columbus still thought the world was flat. In his book he writes, 'around 500 years ago, the science community, led by Copernicus who probably had a little help, introduced what we now know as the heliocentric, or globe model of the world'. That's roughly 50 years after Columbus set sail. This demonstrates the ignorance of Flat Earthers (or their deliberate deception), since Copernicus did NOT introduce the 'globe model of the world', that is, the idea that it is spherical rather than flat. As noted, the ancient Greeks had already introduced that idea nearly 2,000 years earlier, and it was an idea that most all scholars in the time of Copernicus accepted, including Copernicus. The Heliocentric model that Copernicus promoted (and which again an ancient Greek by the name of Aristarchus of Samos had already proposed) is the idea that the Earth orbits the Sun, rather than the Sun orbiting the Earth. It has nothing to do with a 'globe model of the world' versus a 'flat model of the world'.
So knowledge that the Earth is round is ancient, it's nothing new. Of course, ignorant peasants from any time in history likely didn't know the world wasn't flat, since it certainly looked flat, and they wouldn't have cared either, focusing instead on the struggle to survive. But again, this isn't the dark ages, and those believing in a flat Earth today aren't uneducated peasants, so why are they acting like ignorant peasants when their education (limited as it clearly is, but education never the less), and their easy access to knowledge should quickly reveal that they're being foolish in the extreme?
One reason, as I mentioned above, is that Flat Earthers simply aren't prepared to reveal their silly belief to anyone that they fear might giggle, or worse, argue with facts. So they only discuss the Flat Earth arguments with like-minded fools, who won't, of course, highlight, or even detect, any flaws with said arguments. I recently read a comment by Nils J. Nilsson in his book, 'Understanding Beliefs'. He wrote that
"... it can be very difficult actually to change beliefs. It's easy to get trapped with beliefs that wouldn't survive critical evaluation. There are several psychological reasons for these "belief traps" as well as reasons that have to do with lifestyle. Let's look first at the obstacles to belief change caused by one's lifestyle and attitudes. Some people don't get around much. They don't read material that challenges their beliefs, and they don't participate in discussions with people who hold beliefs different from their own. The result of living that kind of a life can be belief stagnation.'And it's not just me as a skeptic saying that these people with these silly beliefs are too afraid to discuss them with us. At the conference Flat Earther Mark Sargent said in an interview that,
'... there are millions of Flat Earthers around the world just like him.In other words, seek out fellow believers, find 'a safe audience' that won't challenge your claims, and don't reveal in conversations with strangers that you believe the world is flat. Yesterday I read Mark Sargent's book, 'Flat Earth Clues: The Sky's the Limit' (2016), and while he recommends raising certain questions with people outside the Flat Earth club, such as pilots, he also says, 'but don't forget to leave out the words "flat earth" ...'. Even an outspoken Flat Earther like Sargent isn't brave enough or honest enough to reveal his silly belief unless he's surrounded by people suffering from the same delusion. And my view of the arguments in his book? Absolute nonsense, they couldn't have been any sillier if he was trying to defend a belief in pink unicorns running the United Nations.
But he may be right that there could be millions of Flat Earthers around the world. According to a survey, a third of Millennials in the US aren't sure the Earth is round. The TV news item I saw said that the 'Netflix documentary "Behind the Curve" prompted a global spike in interest in the movement', but I don't believe that doco caused the resurgence in the Flat Earth belief. A few months ago I read Mick West's interesting book, 'Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect' (2018), and one of his chapters dealt with the Flat Earth conspiracy. He argued that there are people who believe the Earth is flat for religious reasons (it says so in the Bible), but that, 'Increasingly though there are people, usually young or otherwise easily convinced, who believe that the Earth is flat because they have seen what they think is compelling evidence in YouTube videos'. The Netflix documentary, which I believe tries to subtly suggest that the Flat Earth movement is flawed, merely capitalises on its rising popularity. Likewise, when Mark Sargent refers readers to evidence for some claim, he writes in his book, 'There are many videos on YouTube regarding this'. The sad fact is that far too many people will believe a short video made by some school dropout in his bedroom over the evidence provided by thousands of highly qualified scientists using instruments worth billions of dollars. Usually they believe because of what's known as the argument from ignorance. They think simply because they can't understand how something works, then no one can. And when some YouTube video gives a simplistic (and utterly bogus) answer that even a fool can grasp, they believe it over the scientific answer that they feel was just too incomprehensible and complicated to be true. Too many people believe that an argument that embraces common sense must be the right answer, without realising that much of how the universe works does not fit common sense. Even though they see the results of science all around them in the form of amazing technology, they are still of the opinion that science knows nothing, and that a massive conspiracy is hiding the truth from them.
And yet, as powerful as this conspiracy is, it's unable to silence a few whistle-blowers on YouTube. It can keep all the world's scientists, engineers, politicians, explorers, cartographers, astronauts, pilots, sailors and military quiet, and has done so for centuries, anyone that might have discovered in the course of their work that the world is flat, but it can't control a handful of people wanting to post the truth on YouTube. Go figure.
So, adding to the conspiracies hiding the truth concerning climate change, 9/11, vaccinations, the moon landings, fluoride in our drinking water, the death of Princess Diana, chemtrails etc, we now have a conspiracy hiding the true shape of the Earth. As I said, just when you think people couldn't get any stupider.
|The stupidity of prayer|
Yesterday David sent us the following email concerning the efficacy of prayer, and surprise, surprise, it shows again that prayer is a waste of time.
'John, as part of your recent blog you were commenting on the belief that prayer somehow has some effect in the real world.That's certainly an interesting way of investigating whether prayer has any measurable effect — and clearly it doesn't. Just like the many other studies that have been done on the efficacy of prayer, Pakistani drivers imploring Allah to keep them safe is no more effective than Christians in the USA praying to their god to keep them safe from tornadoes and hurricanes.
Considering that prayer to imaginary sky fairies has such a monumental failure rate, it's up there with crystal healing and homeopathy, it's surprising that the majority of the world's population still thinks it works. I guess it just shows two things. One, how pathetic the religious mind is in judging whether a prayer has been answered, and two, how little they think about their god, the powers of that god, and what prayer actually is.
Whether they openly admit it or not, most religious people are confronted by the worrying reality that prayer isn't all that reliable, but rather than accept that this strongly suggests that there is no god listening to their pleas, they produce that childish excuse that their god works in mysterious ways, and he has good reasons, which unfortunately are unknowable to us, for answering prayers in the way he does. They tell us that God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes the answer is no. What that wimpy answer means is that things happen in the world as if only natural causes are involved, that God doesn't want to reveal what part he might have played. Regardless of the amount of prayer, sometimes ill people get better, sometimes they don't, some people win lotteries, most don't, some people lead great lives, others don't. Even if God is involved, never does an event happen that couldn't explicitly or even plausibly be attributed to a natural cause. When responding to prayer, God apparently never acts in a way that would reveal his input, he always acts anonymously and graciously lets the credit go to nature. That's why God never answers prayers for acts that nature itself couldn't do, meaning prayers for a missing leg to regrow or a severed spinal cord to be repaired never happen. Doing these things would be termed miraculous rather than natural, and would expose God's existence. And the religious explanation for why God is hiding is that he doesn't want to force us into believing in him. The current argument, forced on the religious because of God's absence, is that God wants us to believe that he exists based on our free inquiry, and that simply revealing himself and/or his miracles would somehow destroy this freedom to choose whether we believed or not, and make us like robots, compelled to believe based on God's appearance. He wants us to believe in him for more obscure reasons. For example, if he hides from us and makes the world appear to work as if it's all natural rather than divine, then that, believe it or not, should make us suspect that there is actually an unseen god involved. We just need to have faith in things not seen. If we don't see any evidence for something, then it's probably real, or so their childish argument goes. I don't see any evidence for the Tooth Fairy, ergo she is probably real.
And of course the argument that seeing God would force us to believe in him and worship him is quite bogus. Satan has seen God, he had no doubt that he exists and yet he still had the freedom to decide not to worship him, and knowing better than anyone how powerful God is, he even chose to oppose him. God also revealed himself to the ancient Hebrews, and other civilisations such as the Egyptians, and at no time did he think he was forcing belief onto them, and like Satan, many also chose not to worship him. The reality is that in ancient, primitive times God was seen by lots of people, he even strolled in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and God was very forward in giving people clear signs, eg miracles, that he was real. But for many centuries, and especially now, God and his signs are nowhere to be seen, and the religious are at a loss to explain why he has turned into a recluse. Of course the obvious answer is that the god of the ancient Hebrews, just like the gods of the ancient Babylonians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and untold other civilisations, never actually existed in the first place. I don't see God strolling in my garden today for the same reason I don't see fairies sitting on toadstools.
But besides the clear evidence that prayer is ineffective and a waste of time, there are also good reasons why it could never work even if their God did exist. The religious should know this, but because they think so little about their religion, their god and his powers, or grasp what prayer actually is, they think prayer makes sense and will work, in the same way that young children think writing a letter to Santa will work.
OK, so what is prayer? The act of praying is nothing other than begging. The religious will say they're praying, since it sounds better than saying they're begging, however it's nothing but cadging a favour from someone that you think can help you. And when you beg or implore a follow human for help it can make sense, and may work, since the chance exists that you can convince them that you deserve their help. If they weren't aware of your troubles, you could inform them of your need, or if they were aware but thought you were unworthy of help, you could possibly sway their view with information they hadn't considered.
But none of that makes any sense when they're begging their God for help. This is an ongoing problem that the religious have. They consistently have their God thinking and behaving as a human would, while paradoxically insisting that their God is nothing like a human, that he's a being that's all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent, perfect, infallible and immutable. And they believe that we all have a God-given purpose and our lives are playing out exactly as need be to fulfil his divine plan.
So, like when people beg a fellow human for help, might God be unaware that they need assistance? Of course not. God is all-knowing so knows exactly what's going on, so it's rather silly that religious people think they need to tell God something and bring him up to speed with what's happening in their lives. The religious nutter goes, 'Please God, cure my cancer as I have young kids that depend on me'. And God replies, 'Wait ... what? You have kids? Well, that changes everything. I'll cure your cancer and give it to your cousin instead'. If God were this ignorant about what was going on, then he's not the god people say he is. If God knows all too well about your dilemma, and how could he not, then he's ignoring you deliberately. Deal with it!
What about the next possibility, that God knows their predicament and is taking a hand's off approach, but they believe they could possibly sway God's inaction with an argument he hadn't considered? Again, of course not. Once again remember that God is all-knowing, so he was well aware of any argument they might think up before they were even born. Sorry, created. The arrogance of religious people that think they could best God in a debate of wits is just astounding. Imagine a court case where you are the defence lawyer and God is the lawyer for the prosecution. Only a religious fool that somehow forgets how powerful and knowledgeable their God is could think that they could win a debate or argument with him. And this is what we're talking about when people beg God for a favour, they childishly believe that they can outwit him and have him agree that his previous action or inaction was wrong. And if God were to change his mind, signalling that he made a mistake, that would prove that some human was more knowledgeable than God. Why would anyone worship a god that knew less than some human? But again, this scenario is impossible because God is perfect and infallible. He is only capable of coming up with perfect, error free arguments for his actions, so there is no way in hell anyone could come up with an argument in their prayer that was better than God's perfect argument. He's ignoring you for a bloody good reason. Deal with it!
But as another argument goes, neither of the above examples of prayer could get God to change his mind, because, by definition, he's immutable, that is, unchanging. If some event is unfolding and a prayer convinces God to alter the outcome of that event, then God has changed his intentions and his mind. Which is impossible. If God has an intention in his mind today to act in a certain way, and then because of some prayer, changes his intention tomorrow, then a part of God has changed, but an immutable being can't do that. If God has decided that Joe Bloggs will get cancer and Jane Bloggs will be a lesbian, then no amount of prayer can get God to change his mind. Of course we can get humans to change their minds, because we can make mistakes, we're fallible after all, but God isn't. Religious nutters keep forgetting that. They keep forgetting that they're dealing with a being that is as different from a human as a human is from a rock. Of course, you're no doubt familiar with untold passages from the Bible, God's word apparently, where God does change his mind after people beg him to. But that doesn't prove that prayer might work after all, it merely proves that the claims made in the Bible, and the Quran, are contradictory nonsense and shouldn't be taken seriously.
There's yet another reason why God cannot answer prayers and change events based on what humans want to happen, and that's the claim that we all have a God-given purpose and our lives are playing out exactly as need be to fulfil his divine plan. For any plan to work, specific things must happen at specific times and be performed by specific people. If God permitted people, through the whimsy of prayer, to change millions of those essential steps on a daily basis, then his plan is destined to fail. But again, an all-perfect god cannot fail, and his plan, being perfect, could not be altered and remain perfect, so no changes are possible, no matter what tearful prayers God receives. As unfair and unjust as God's followers may view their current turn of events, this is their God-given purpose that they must endure to see the fulfilment of God's plan, and no matter how many urgent prayers they send his way, God will not, can not, deviate from his path.
Perhaps it's the following common and sincere prayer that exposes the act of prayer as nothing but a worthless psychological tool of stupid people: 'Please, please, please God, let my sports team have victory in tonight's game'. That believers in opposing sports teams both beg the same god to grant them victory and both expect success is the height of ineptitude and feeble-mindedness. How childish and ignorant do you have to be to believe that the creator of the universe and life, a being that exists outside time and space, and is able to observe everything in the entire universe in the past, present and future could give a fuck about your sports team? This is just another example of silly believers inventing an all-powerful, all-knowing god that could do things we can't even imagine, and then dragging him down to their primitive level, naively assuming that he would want to sit on the couch with a beer and watch a silly game where he already knows the outcome. To these idiots, their God is brighter than them, but not by much.
|Hell awaits you! Who? ... me?|
I'm feeling a bit down today, as this morning I got the shocking news that I'm going to Hell. Why wasn't I told this before now, by someone in authority, why instead did I have to hear such depressing news from a bloody rugby player?
I speak of Aussie rugby player Israel Folau, who posted the following image yesterday on Instagram:
Feeling that his warning needed something more, Folau added this:
'Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.'There's me, seventh on the list, and if I'm honest, one and five too. It appears that I'm doomed. So again, why am I just hearing this now? And how do I repent? Folau provides no email address or phone number for this Jesus person, or even a link to an online form that I might fill in detailing my sins, and how sorry I am. Really, really sorry.
Of course I jest, since anyone with the minimum of a kindergarten education and a handful of working brain cells would have long known this horrific "fact". I never had the luxury of a kindergarten education, but even I know that, at least according to the silly Christians, we atheists are destined for an eternity of torture in Hell. The barbaric, unjust, obscene and disgusting punishment that Jesus and his dad have planned out for me is well known. Equally well known by the world at large is that for those that are destined for Hell, atheists will be the minority group, greatly out numbered by not just murderers, thieves, liars, adulterers, idolaters, rapists, blasphemers, homosexuals, psychics and witches, but anyone and everyone who has sinned against God, who has broken even one of his many commandments. Commandments such as forbidding any work on the Sabbath (which is Saturday), wearing clothes made of two different fabrics (such as cotton and nylon), talking back to your parents, eating shellfish, getting a tattoo, and not dragging homosexuals and atheists to the village square and stoning them to death.
The reality is that Israel Folau, besides being a rugby player, is also a Christian fundamentalist, and this is not the first time he's angered people by publicly professing his anti-gay sentiments, sentiments that clearly come from his reading of the Bible and his Christian faith. Rugby Australia has said his post was 'unacceptable', since they have, 'a policy and a position of inclusion and using social media with respect'. And note that it's Folau's anti-gay statements that are upsetting people. No one is apparently concerned that drunks are going to Hell. Do they think drunks deserve eternal torture, or do they simply not believe in Hell, in which case why worry about homosexuals going to a non-existent place?
The problem is that, for reasons beyond me, lots of people follow Folau's comments on social media, and even though he's speaking as an individual, Rugby Australia clearly feels that his homophobia reflects badly on their brand, ie their profits. What I don't understand is that this hatred of homosexuals by devout Christians has been well-known for centuries, and is still rife today. So why do the likes of Rugby Australia and others get upset when someone writes down what thousands are thinking and telling each other in their churches every Sunday?
It comes down to freedom of speech and what many are calling hate speech. The Catholic Church and many evangelical Christian churches have a clear campaign against homosexuals, and yet no one is trying to control what they say and do. They are given free reign to push their homophobia. So why criticise Folau for saying what they've been saying for centuries? If people argue that Folau's comments are hate speech, that they're promoting the persecution of homosexuals, then why aren't the comments made by popes, priests, nuns, ministers and fundamentalist Christians worldwide considered hate speech? Again, religious people expressing homophobia is nothing new, so why do people act surprised and shocked when someone mentions that fact on social media? And if morons like Folau are going to be silenced or punished, then everyone, including all the churches, need to be silenced and punished for expressing the same views.
Of course that's not going to happen, the authorities and the general public won't condemn the churches for having a hateful ideology or for handing out their holy book that promotes anti-gay sentiments. So much easier to attack an individual and ignore the organisation that taught Folau homophobia in the first place.
And I'm not a fan for making broad hate speech laws. Laws that stop people from saying that God will send homosexuals to Hell, simply because homosexuals might find that view offensive, will quickly get turned around and we atheists will find that we also can't say that God doesn't exist, because Christians find that offensive to their beliefs. Historically, it wasn't that long ago that even in places like England, atheism was illegal and punishable by death. There are already Christians and Muslims arguing that it should (again) be illegal for atheists to criticise their religion, and they can't be allowed to win. Free speech must reign supreme, where both theists and atheists are freely able to express their views, and where one side or the other wins by presenting cogent arguments, not by silencing their opponent with laws prohibiting criticism lest someone takes offence.
Attacking Folau for his ignorant views and ignoring the elephant in the room — the Christian Church that informed his views — will get society nowhere. Folau makes no secret of where his views comes from, the Christian Bible, so why do people think that condemning or chastising Folau will somehow cure homophobia? Years ago homosexuals used to be invisible in sports teams; they were always there of course, but hidden from the public gaze, while devout Christians were everywhere. Now it seems that sports teams want them to swap places, they want the Christians to keep their lifestyle and views hidden from the public gaze, while the homosexuals proudly acknowledge who they are.
And why are homosexuals offended by what Folau says anyway? Many homosexuals are actually Christians, so they will know only too well that these are not Folau's hateful comments, but are coming from their loving God. And as they say, don't shoot the messenger. If you accept the word of God as true and right and good, then how could you be offended by what God has decreed? They've known all their life where God stands on homosexuality, so it can hardly be a surprise to hear Folau reiterate it. For the life of me I don't understand why untold homosexuals remain Christians when their very persecution comes directly from their religion. Some homosexuals will be atheists, but again I don't understand why they're offended either. What should they care what some ignorant, superstitious nutters think about their lifestyle? Do they worry what homeopaths or Scientologists think of them? When a Christian or Muslim says I'm going to Hell because of my atheistic lifestyle, I don't get offended in the slightest, I merely feel a little sad that they're so stupid and wasting so much of their life on nonsense. But with a little sinful fornicating, I soon get over it.
And why is Rugby Australia, the media and other commentators only concerned about how the gay community might feel, why are they not worried how we atheists are taking Folau's outbursts? No one is asking if I might need to talk to a counsellor.
Update: 24 Jun, 2109. After negotiations, Folau rejected a A$1 million payout offer, and Rugby Australia then terminated his four-year, A$4 million contract extension which he had signed in February, 2019. Folau then decided to take Rugby Australia to court and he set up a GoFundMe Australia page in the hope of raising $3 million in donations for his legal costs. A few days later, after raising over half a million dollars, the crowdfunding site shut down his appeal and will refund the donations. While they said it was because his campaign violated their terms of service, especially around the promotion of discrimination or exclusion, eg against homosexuals, we suspect it was mainly due to widespread condemnation, that a greedy millionaire that had a property portfolio of A$7 million was begging poor people to pay for his court case, rather than use his own money. The fine print even said Folau didn't have to use the donations for his legal costs, meaning he could have walked away from the court case and spent it on more bling. It always amazes us that people that insist God is watching out for them never ever expect God to come to their aid in any sort of practical way. God never helps them out with their legal costs by letting them win the lottery or stops them from being sacked in the first place by giving them some good advice or better legal representation. As it is with priests and child sex abuse, God always just watches. True believers must always appeal to their fellow man for help. As a friend, someone you can rely on in times of need, God it seems is fucking useless. Just like all invisible friends.
|Terror in Christchurch, prayers sent|
This news just in, God doesn't give a shit about Muslims.
Now, before you take offence and start looking for a weapon and my address, let me be more precise, God doesn't give a shit about anyone. The evidence is clear, no matter what religion you follow, or if you sensibly follow none, bad shit can happen to anyone. Good people can have life-long struggles and suffer horribly, and bad people can live long lives in decadent luxury. Irrespective of whether you believe in some god or fairies or unicorns, as far as the big picture goes, your silly belief doesn't seem to protect you or benefit you anymore than the next guy with a different belief.
Considering the heinous terrorist attack in Christchurch yesterday, where at least 50 innocent people were slaughtered in and near two mosques, this is just more evidence, if more was needed, that filling people's heads with primitive and hateful ideologies can lead to some of them taking their beliefs seriously. And then some act on their silly beliefs, resulting in harm to others, anything from verbal abuse on the bus to mass murder. The manifesto from the alleged killer in the Christchurch attack suggested that his motivation was racial, that he was a white supremacist. And he may well have been sucked into that hateful ideology, but he wasn't selecting his victims on race, some might well have been "white" or "European" like him [In fact, we now know that at least one was]. He was attacking anyone who was dressed like a Muslim or was in a Muslim place of worship. He attacked one mosque, then another, and was on his way to a third when stopped by police. His attack was religious, and while his racism no doubt helped fuel his hatred, he was striking out at a religious group that he saw as a threat to his way of life. And the reality is that many white supremacist groups do incorporate Christianity into their actions. Take the Ku Klux Kan for example, it's no coincidence that one of their threatening signs is a burning cross on your front lawn, and the hatred of the Jews by Neo-Nazis only makes sense from a Christian or Muslim perspective.
This morning I received an email from some friends in America, and one of the comments was this: 'From our U.S. experience we can tell NZ what does NOT work to combat terrorism: Thoughts and prayers'. So true, and yet I was pissed when I heard people on the TV News last night, including the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, assuring everyone that all New Zealanders were offering their thoughts and prayers to those affected. It's this silly belief that prayers work that have put us — the entire world — in this dire situation, where we all increasingly fear for our safety from some fanatic who thinks differently to us. Where one group of people childishly think that their invisible friend is running the world, and that we all urgently need to come over to their side, that we all need to find god, and not just any god, but their specific god. And a good place to start, we're told, is prayer. But clearly prayer didn't work yesterday in Christchurch, and praying after the fact is rather futile. Hopefully the wounded currently fighting for their lives in hospital will recover, but if so it will be because of the dedicated and expert help from medical staff, and yet many will thank the wrong person, they'll ignore the surgeon and say, 'Thank you God' or, 'Praise Allah'. They clearly don't understand that if their god exists and wants them alive, then he wouldn't have let them get shot in the first place. I mean, seriously, do they think he was away on holiday and only heard about the shooting on Facebook when he got back, and is now helping those he can?
The truly depressing thing about this event, aside from the terrible loss of life, is that nothing will be learned. Muslims will return to their mosques, Christians to their churches, Jews to their synagogues, Hindus to their temples, and all will pray furiously that their god protects them and smites the unbelievers. None will attempt any sort of introspection and ask why the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent god that they believe in didn't stop the atrocity? Does he not care if people die horribly, if they're Muslims? Or is it more likely that he does not exist to care about anything?
The word in religious circles, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim, is that these folk honestly and sincerely believe and accept the claims made in their holy book, including the demands made upon them by God. Unfortunately for people outside these religious circles, buried among these many claims and demands are some that say that true believers should kill non-believers and those that blaspheme against the holy book's god. The modern religious answer to these immoral demands is that they were written in ancient times for a primitive tribe, not for modern readers. But when a human-made guide book of importance is found to contain errors, it is quickly edited to delete or fix those errors and reissued. But even though most Jews, Christians and Muslims agree, and are often appalled, that their holy book contains many truly evil commandments, commandments they refuse to obey, even with hundreds of years in which to do so, none of these holy books have been corrected to remove the abhorrent divine demands, and no believer would even entertain the suggestion that they should be.
And so this is the book, still replete with evil demands, that they hand to all new believers with instructions to use it as a guide book on how they should live their life if they wish to meet the approval of their god and receive his blessing. So why are we surprised and shocked when a few disturbed true believers actually read the evil and unjust bits and take them seriously? When they do what their god demands they do, we condemn them for obeying their god, for being a good and obedient believer! Society looks highly on religious believers, we even open parliament with a prayer, and yet we arrest people that take their religious obligations too seriously, that actually follow their holy book to the letter. We should be asking why the majority of "true believers" don't take their god's demands seriously at all? How can a true believer argue that they should show tolerance to someone that their god quite clearly demands that they should kill? They argue that god has a grand plan for them and the universe, that he works in mysterious ways, and that his morality is absolute, that what he demands of us is right and good, even if we might not always be able to recognise that fact. But then they turn their back on their god and act like atheists, deciding to do what they think is right, not what their god demands, cherry picking the bits they like, rejecting the rest.
I simply can't understand how a Jew, Christian or Muslim can sincerely affirm that they believe in their god, that they fear their god and that their holy book is truly the word of their god, and yet when it demands that they smite us non-believers, the majority of true believers will say, 'Fuck you God!'
The majority of religious believers are, thankfully, gutless hypocrites, lying to themselves and everyone else, feigning belief and merely going through those carefully selected motions of religiosity that don't stop them enjoying the many benefits of a secular life. Those that we need fear are the deluded few that truly believe their sky fairy is real, and that will kill for him. And we can't hope to isolate and identify these contract killers for god when they hide among the millions that unintentionally give them support by their public insistence that their god, the god these few are killing for, is real and demands obedience. Why should these fanatics doubt their religious convictions and what they're doing when they see millions of fellow believers reaffirming their belief in their god? The only difference as they see it is that the majority of their fellow believers are too afraid to carry out god's work, and they're not. And unfortunately the proliferation of religious moderates give religious extremists a place to hide.
Rather than solve the conflict, the Christchurch attack will merely see Muslim radicals planning a tit for tat attack. These atrocities will continue for as long as society keeps supporting religious groups that are at serious odds with a free, secular, democratic society and with each other, religions that are each vying for control of the world. All these religions have a festering hatred for non-believers at their core, not to mention the likes of women and homosexuals, and as long as society keeps encouraging them to hold fast to their ancient beliefs rather than critically examining them, then deluded fanatics will continue to believe they have a duty to god and will continue to surface and threaten our safety. You can't live in a house with venomous pet snakes slithering around and then be surprised when one day you get bitten.
I'm not saying we should ban religions, nor would it even work, but we should be challenging the silly claims they make in public rather than simply saying, 'I respect your beliefs', and changing the subject. We'd all challenge an adult who said that the Tooth Fairy was real, even when that belief doesn't threaten our safety or lifestyle, and by lifestyle I mean things like whether abortion is legal, so why do we refuse to challenge beliefs that do noticeably affect our safety and lifestyle? And it's not a matter of eliminating any one religion, since they're all fatally flawed, they all carry the seeds for hatred, injustice, persecution, intolerance and violence, and while these evil seeds within religions are inexplicably, but thankfully, ignored by your typical believer and society in general, all it takes is some committed fanatic to argue that since they're part of their god's holy book then they must be divine commandments. We are fools if we think that competing religions can continue to flourish and terrorist attacks won't also continue. We ignore the evil in religions at our peril.
We need to be identifying the root causes of these terrorist attacks and addressing them, not simply making superficial changes that achieve little or implementing draconian changes that limit our freedoms. Let's put more focus on the cause of terrorism, not its aftermath.
After these attacks, the general public is always angry that the police and intelligence community didn't have the terrorist on some watchlist, demanding to know why the authorities weren't aware of his activities. It astounds me that people insist on their personal privacy and loudly criticise the authorities if they think that they're spying on us, bugging our phone calls, reading our emails, monitoring where we go and what groups we join, and yet when something like this happens, they immediately demand to know why they weren't spying on the perpetrator and fully aware of his evil plans! What arrogance: don't spy on me, but do spy on everyone else! We can't retain our personal privacy if we also insist that the authorities should know what everyone is thinking, just in case they're thinking bad things. We need to reduce the chances that people will think bad things about others in the first place.
Likewise, tweaking gun laws won't stop attacks, it will merely change the methods used, where killers will swap from guns to bombs to knifes to poison to using vehicles as weapons. Look at the terrorist attacks in Europe, Britain, Australia, Canada and the US where deranged killers used a car or truck to mow people down on the sidewalk, or the Boston Marathon bombing where simple homemade pressure cookers were used as bombs, or the Oklahoma City bombing where the truck bomb was made from agricultural fertiliser. And yet no one is arguing that we should ban vehicles, fertiliser or pressure cookers. Look at the 9/11 attacks, not a single terrorist had a gun of any description, and most attacks in the Middle East are due to bombs, either hidden on the road, in vehicles or on people. We need to remove the reason that some people look for a weapon in the first place.
The simmering hatred that various groups have for each other is the root cause; take one weapon away and they'll simply grab another. We should be addressing that hatred, not just hiding weapons from them, as we would a child. We need to get the people in these groups to question whether their hatred, or even their mistrust or aversion, towards these other groups has any rational basis. We need to get to a stage where it doesn't matter if a weapon is available, because they won't feel the need to use it. We need to get to the point where we see each other as humans, not as Christians and Muslims, or blacks and whites, or men and women, but as individuals all equally deserving of respect and the freedom to live life as we choose, where no one would think of harming or controlling another person who has chosen a different path to them.
|Reasons why God exists are ... umm ...|
Atheism, it's something that is widely misunderstood, and consequently even feared by many, but it could be eliminated and made irrelevant overnight if theists, those that believe in gods, were to reveal what they repeatedly claim they know. And what they claim to know is that their god is real, and that they know this for very good reasons. Apparently this knowledge has existed for thousands of years, and yet they either struggle greatly to communicate these reasons in any coherent sense or, saying we won't understand, they simply refuse to convey them at all. Then, seemingly with no realisation that they have utterly failed to make a convincing argument, they ask why we don't believe in gods. Really, is it that difficult to understand? Think of the similar case of Santa Claus and the truly weak arguments provided by young children for his existence. So I want to take another look at what atheism is and why the onus is on theists to prove their claim that God is ogling me in the shower. After all, the theists have it within their power to reveal to the world the reasons why he clearly exists, or at least that's their claim, so what's holding them back? They insist that he does exist, but why are theists so reluctant to show that God exists? Sure, like young children and Santa, some might dance around waving their arms and spout some silly nonsense about faith and talking snakes, but why don't they produce some reasons that atheists can't easily debunk, the reasons they claim to have, the powerful reasons that convinced them and their fellow believers?
Lately I've been watching some highly entertaining debates between atheists and theists (mainly Christians, but also some Muslims, Mormons and deists), on the American TV show "The Atheist Experience" (courtesy of YouTube), where viewers call in to discuss their view of gods with two atheist hosts. Caller after caller phones in, usually thinking that they have the perfect argument that God exists, but many of them then waste most of their call by first asking, "What exactly does atheism mean, and why don't you believe in God?", even though the show's hosts are repeatedly asked and are continually explaining what atheism means and why they are atheists. They normally reply with an explanation that can be summed up in the concise reply that I normally offer: I see no evidence for gods or need for gods.
The caller then usually misinterprets (or deliberately ignores) this answer and asks how they can know that God doesn't exist, and the hosts must again explain that they didn't say God doesn't exist. They merely said that they have no belief that gods exist because the reasons offered by theists, like the reasons offered by young believers in Santa, are not convincing. Gods may well exist, but based on the available evidence we have no reason to believe they do. Callers then insist (often quoting some specific dictionary or old book) that to be an atheist means that we're saying that we can prove that God doesn't exist, with the implication that we are 100% certain of this, and that we have supporting evidence. Which of course is utter bullshit. That's a bogus definition invented by believers, (eg the Church) that allows them to claim (if it were true), that we atheists are making claims that we can't support. Theists want to define atheism in such a way as to make it irrational. But clearly informed atheists realise that it would be sheer nonsense for anyone, atheist or theist, to assert that they had absolute proof and can show with 100% certainty that God does or doesn't exist. Only theists, by not understanding what atheism really is, are foolish enough to believe that informed atheists hold this view. And although theists are quick to criticise atheists for what they falsely believe are claims of certainty regarding god's existence, a claim that they're right in thinking is impossible to justify, they themselves have no problem with making claims of certainty regarding god's existence, of making an unjustifiable claim. Suddenly absolute certainty is now somehow possible, but only for theists it seems, when they readily assert that they are certain God does exist. For example, claiming they know this for certain because God talks to them, or they feel him in their heart. Clearly these reasons are as worthless as a child saying they know that Santa exists because he leaves them presents or they feel him in their kidneys.
Both the atheist hosts and the callers try and be very precise in the phrasing of their statements, since each is trying to expose flaws in each other's arguments. Many of the callers are clearly reading from a prepared script, and soon get horribly lost when forced to answer a question not in their script. Regarding the hosts, I noticed that when asked if God exists, they all refuse to simply answer "no", and instead they're all very careful to simply say that they have no belief that God or gods exists. While both responses might seem like the same answer, and theists falsely believe they are, they are not. Again, saying you have no belief that God exists is saying that you see no evidence or reason to think he exists, but you readily accept that he may exist and you just haven't seen him. However, saying, "God does not exist", implies, to theists at least, that you no longer accept that an unseen God might still exist somewhere, that you're now categorically asserting that you somehow know with absolute certainty that he doesn't exist. End of story. And this gets theists very annoyed since they know, quite rightly, that this is impossible to demonstrate, it's a claim to knowledge that we can't justify. But as I mentioned above, no informed atheist thinks that we can know anything with absolute certainty, so it's not what we would mean if we did say, "God does not exist". And note that no informed atheist would expand that statement by saying, "I know God does not exist".
However, when asked personally if I think God exists, I do simply say 'No', I don't pussyfoot around with carefully worded statements about lack of belief and how I accept that gods might exist. I do so because I think it's the intellectually honest stance to take. I'm telling you exactly what I believe. I'm not going to offer you some carefully crafted statement that might protect your feelings, that might make it easier for me to make a case for atheism or that might suggest I still have some doubts. While you may imply, as many theists do, that now I'm asserting that I have absolute proof and 100% certainty concerning God's non-existence, I am not. I am speaking as most everyone speaks in normal conversation.
Here's why I think the long answer, for me anyway, is intellectually dishonest. If asked in the pub if they believed the Greek god Zeus or leprechauns or fairies or Santa Claus exists, without fail everyone would simply answer 'no'. This is how normal, sane, educated people respond to many, many questions for which the rational answer is well known. They just say 'no', even though they don't have absolute proof and 100% certainty that the answer to any of those questions is 'no'. Confronted with these sorts of questions for which we have good answers supported by experience, reason and evidence, they simply say 'no' (or 'yes') when there's a very high probability that it's the right answer. They wouldn't for a moment think they needed to give a more detailed response and how their full answer would demonstrate a mere lack of belief rather than 100% certainty and how, scientifically, absolute certainty is not possible anyway. We wouldn't expect them to have performed actual searches for evidence of Zeus, leprechauns, fairies or Santa and would know that they were just answering 'no' because that's where all the good evidence points. I'm forever astounded when people will quickly answer 'no' when asked about the existence of magic, leprechauns, gremlins, fairies and untold ancient gods such as Thor, Osiris, Maui and Apollo, but when you ask about another equally ancient god called God, then suddenly their critical reasoning skills and honesty desert them, and they now leave the door ajar for God, even though they've just firmly slammed it shut when Zeus knocked politely. The basic reasons they used to quickly dismiss Zeus apply equally to God.
In a similar manner, when asked if they think the sun will rise tomorrow or if they will die some day, people simply answer 'yes', they don't say, "Well ... I have no belief that these things won't happen, and based on the available evidence we have no strong reason to believe they won't, but I accept that they might not, so I'm reluctant to say either yes or no". How annoying would it be if everyone answered simple questions in that manner? But that's how many atheists and all agnostics insist on answering the God question, they refuse to give a simple, concise, honest, straight answer. When asked if God exists, they respond, "Well, of course I wouldn't say there is no God, I'd merely say that I have no knowledge of God and no belief in God". And the befuddled questioner often responds, "Umm ... OK ... so is that yes or no?"
So this raised a problem in my mind. Why do the atheist hosts on "The Atheist Experience" refuse to say God doesn't exist? Especially since one admitted that if you asked him in the pub afterwards, he would. Clearly they are intelligent and well-informed, so do I think they're being intellectually dishonest? Are they being disingenuous, creating a version of atheism that is easier to defend? I don't believe so, although it may appear that way at times. Let me explain.
I suspect that there are likely two reasons for their stance. First, they are casting a wide net. Every atheist, by definition, lacks a belief in God or gods, but not every atheist is prepared to go further and say that gods don't exist, those that do, like me, are a subset of atheism. So it makes sense for a TV show that's trying to get atheism into the public consciousness to use a definition that speaks to all atheists, not just a minority. By side stepping the answer, "God does not exist", and giving the "lack of belief" answer, they adopt an approach that reaches everyone that has doubts about gods, rather than taking a narrow view that only some will connect with. Many atheists, perhaps most, refuse to believe simply because they find the evidence for gods less than convincing, and they haven't bothered looking at any of the evidence or arguments that makes gods not just unseen, but so unlikely that a rational person would say they likely don't exist. So it makes far more sense to explain atheism in its basic, all-encompassing form — a lack of belief in gods — and only later try and explain how atheism can, on further reflection, be broken down into weak or strong atheism.
The second reason I suspect that the hosts refuse to make the claim that God doesn't exist is because of something known as the burden of proof. This is a logical way of determining the truth of an allegation by stating that whoever makes a claim about something has the responsibility to defend that claim by producing evidence and arguments. Otherwise you risk the real possibility of people arguing thus: "You stole my money". "I did not. You prove I stole your money". "No, you prove you didn't steal it". "No, you prove I did". "No, you prove you didn't". To avoid this nonsense that goes nowhere, the burden is on the person that makes an initial claim to produce the proof that their claim is true. If I make a claim about something that I claim to have some knowledge of, eg, Santa Claus lives at the North Pole or atoms exist or you stole my wallet, then clearly I have the burden to reveal this knowledge, it shouldn't be the responsibility of others to somehow locate this knowledge too, especially since if my claim is false then it will be impossible to find that knowledge since it doesn't even exist. If I'm lying and my wallet doesn't even exist, you could never prove you're innocent and that someone else has it, or it is somewhere else, say lost down the back of your sofa. Clearly I must first prove I even had a wallet and it was actually stolen, and then I must present the reasons why I think you now have it. I can't just make an outrageous claim and then demand that you somehow prove my claim false.
So, it makes sense for the atheist hosts to argue that their basic "lack of belief" definition of atheism means that the burden of proof rests squarely on the theists calling in, since the theists all make a clear claim that their god exists. The atheist hosts make no claim of their own, they merely reply that they don't believe the god claim made by the theists, so it's quite clear that the theists, and only the theists, have made a claim that needs defending. But while this approach avoids wasting time arguing over whether the atheist or the theist should present their case first, it clearly annoys theists when atheists (on the TV show and on the street) demand that they provide evidence for why they think a god exists. But again, do theists have any justification to be annoyed when challenged? Think about this. The ongoing debate concerning gods only exists because certain unknown and long dead people made claims that invisible beings called gods exist in an invisible realm, and that these gods (sometimes) make certain demands on humans. Modern theists merely repeat those ancient claims. If it wasn't for the likes of ancient goat herders inventing gods, and theists today continually asserting that these gods actually exist (or at least one of them does), then the concept of atheism wouldn't even make sense. Atheism only came into being to challenge the initial claim of theism. While you can talk of gods without mentioning atheism, it makes no sense to talk of atheism without mentioning gods. Since it's theists that for millennia have been repeatedly making the claim that gods exist, then clearly it is they that must demonstrate that their claim is true. As reluctant as they are to give good reasons for their belief, the burden of proof does rest with them. If they don't want atheists asking them how they know God is real, then stop telling us that God is real. Stop forcing this thought onto us, "I wonder how they know that?"
Also, to allow for a variety of topics to be discussed, the TV show has a limited time for each call, so it makes sense to save time by forcing theists to get straight to their argument for god with the question, "You believe a god exists. Why?" Even when presented with a clear request, many theists will still try and twist the burden back onto the atheist hosts, asking the hosts why they think god doesn't exist or why they think evolution is true or how they can prove Julius Caesar was a real person. All those questions have almost nothing to do with their claim that god exists. They are of course interesting questions, but they are merely deflecting and delaying tactics, since these theists all called in with the sole purpose of showing that these atheists are mistaken, usually by presenting to the world their amazing argument and evidence that god exists. And yet they're all very reluctant to get to it, preferring instead to waste their call questioning the atheists about their beliefs.
So, it does make good sense for the hosts to define atheism as they do, since, apart from being the correct definition, it forces the theists to actually make an attempt to defend their belief in God, which in turn makes for a fast-paced and interesting show. Of course, there will still be criticism that by adopting weak atheism (a lack of belief in gods) and denying strong atheism (the claim that there is no god), then the hosts are avoiding defending every version of atheism, since their weak atheism stance has no burden of proof. However, even if that were their intention, this isn't the way it turns out, because even though the hosts try to focus the discussion on what theists claim and why, as I've said, the theists struggle greatly with that request. Even those that do present arguments, they're either arguments that even a kindergarten kid with learning difficulties could see problems with, or they're complex scientific or philosophical arguments, that while more reasonable in structure, have all been shown to offer no support whatsoever for the belief that God exists. Theists consistently fail to offer convincing answers as to why they think God is real, therefore much of the show does actually consist of the hosts explaining arguments and evidence from science and philosophy and history that actually support strong atheism, reasons that would allow an atheist to say not just that they have no belief in gods, but that there are no gods. And again, this would be said in the same way that we would all say that there is no Santa Claus or Bigfoot, not in the sense that we have absolute proof.
And even if the show's hosts openly said that God doesn't exist and therefore created a burden of proof for themselves, a burden of proof that now butts up against the claim made by the theists that God does exist, I would argue that whether in real life or on the show, there is still a good reason to insist that theists should always go first in presenting their arguments.
Imagine this scenario. Some guy claims that there is a killer asteroid on a collision course with Earth, one that will hit us with such force that the impact will almost certainly destroy all life. They also claim that this asteroid is green, with a thick titanium crust and a marshmallow core. I however, don't believe their claim, mainly due to them not offering any convincing evidence that this asteroid even exists. But I go even further, I assert that this asteroid doesn't exist. So rather than just refusing to believe their claim, we've now both made claims to some degree of knowledge. Meaning that they could now say that I, having made the claim that the asteroid doesn't exist, also have a burden of proof to show how I know it doesn't exist.
So are we at an impasse? Do we both just sit on our hands and demand that the other person should go first and present their case? No. By using reason we can resolve who should go first.
Since we only have so much time and so many resources we can allocate to the investigation of any particular claim, I suggest that we should quickly look at each claim and consider the consequences if that claim was actually true.
If a killer asteroid is indeed coming, then it would be vitally important that we try and take some sort of action to alter its course or at least limit the destruction. Our very future is at stake here. It's life or death. Thus we should push the person that claims to have knowledge of this asteroid to reveal all that he knows so that we can find this asteroid and plot its trajectory, and on accepting that the claim is indeed true or likely true, alter our behaviour and try to take some action that will change our future for the better. Ignoring this claim would have devastating and fatal consequences for all humanity if it turned out to be true, so we should insist that the person making this claim tell us all that he knows, that he convince us as to why we should believe that this asteroid is real, so that if need be we can take appropriate life-saving steps.
What about my claim that the killer asteroid doesn't exist? We could waste time on my arguments, and by the time you decide they're flawed, and that a killer asteroid might be real, it's now too late to do anything about it, and we're all dead. If I'm right, and we do nothing, nothing bad happens, to anyone, because the asteroid never existed. But if the other guy is right, and we've done nothing because everyone is busy arguing with me, insisting that I prove my claim first, then we all die. I may have a burden of proof on my claim, just as the other guy has, but my claim is a trivial claim, whereas his claim is monumental. If true, it concerns nothing less than the very survival of the human race.
So getting back to the theists' gripe that atheists also have a burden of proof if, like me, they simply say, "There are no gods". Given limited time and resources to thoroughly investigate each claim, how do our respective claims compare? I would argue that we should focus our attention on any claim that predicts monumental consequences, and ignore, at least for the time being, any claim that has trivial consequences. Just as the killer asteroid claim predicted unspeakable death and suffering, and therefore warranted our immediate attention, the God claim also predicts unspeakable death and suffering, and so also clearly warrants our immediate attention. The alternative claims that no killer asteroid exists and no God exists are clearly both trivial since if true then the unspeakable death and suffering is not going to happen, and there's no reason to worry about terrible things that aren't going to happen. Again, it makes good sense to focus our attention on sincerely made claims that terrible things are coming to harm us.
We should be demanding that theists present their best evidence for the claim they're making, that a vindictive, jealous, barbaric, misogynistic, all-powerful, all-knowing, invisible god exists and that he intends imprisoning and torturing for all eternity all humans that don't obey his unjust laws. If this is true, then I want theists to convince me, and then I'll know that after a fun filled, sinful life, I can still get into Heaven by blurting out on my deathbed that I accept Jesus into my heart. Theists say he's the forgiving sort. Surely, considering the validity of this God claim is vitally more important to my wellbeing than listening to an atheist explain his worldview, a worldview that threatens no serious consequences? If the theist's claim is found wanting, then, if I can be bothered, I can ask the atheist how he knew the theist was talking shit.
Imagine you notice that your neighbour is working in his backyard and is unaware that his kitchen is on fire. You race over to talk to him, and say that you have a couple of things you must tell him. You then start explaining why the moon landing was a hoax, and when you have convinced him of that, you intend to tell him that his house is on fire. Of course, any sane person would argue that you should have quickly told him of the fire first, since it had serious consequences, whereas the moon landing conversation was trivial and could have waited.
That's what bloody theists are like, they want to waste time discussing my atheism (or the flaws with the Big Bang or evolution or my ethics), when they should be telling me exactly why their God is real and is coming for me. Theists continually assure me, and the hosts of the TV show, that they have conclusive evidence and arguments for God, but then they either refuse to present it and go off onto some irrelevant topic instead, or they offer a flawed argument, one that they should know was widely recognised as flawed long ago. Theists have been investigating and thinking about their various god claims for millennia, so surely they must have formulated numerous cogent reasons for belief by now, with supporting evidence. Just think what science has explained, with supporting evidence, in that same time period. Theists claim they have God on their team, many claim he talks to them, so why, even with him helping to explain himself, do they still insist on responding to atheists with laugh-out-loud silly reasons? Why don't they reveal their compelling reasons for why God exists, are they afraid they'll risk getting them dirty if they remove their papyrus wrapping?
The longer theists hide their sound reasons for belief from us atheists, the more we'll be convinced that, like their god, they don't actually exist.
|Christian says God does not "exist"|
Why in modern times does God never intervene to help his devoted followers, or to smite his detractors, and I mean unambiguously intervene, the way he used to in the Bible? You know, stopping the Sun in the sky, resurrecting dead folk, entering into public competitions with lesser gods, turning women into pillars of salt, and parting large bodies of water to allow refugees to escape their tormentors?
As disasters rage, Christians plead with God to answer their prayers, and even when they're consistently ignored, almost as if God wasn't even listening, or at least didn't care, these aggrieved Christians continue to sing his praises, assuring us from amongst the rubble of their destroyed homes or as they tend to their dead, that they're sure God will do something next time, and hey, while he did allow Granny to be brutally killed, he did at least save their goldfish. Praise the Lord.
In primitive times the hand of God was ubiquitous, his 'Made By God' label was seen stamped on simply everything, from simple rocks to hairy goats to the lights in the heavens, he even found time to stroll with Adam and Eve in their garden. If you needed help overthrowing a warring neighbour, God was there on the battlefield with you, and conversely, if you strayed regarding any of God's dictates, God was there drowning you in a worldwide flood, or giving you boils. But now, in modern times, and even not-so-modern times, meaning the last 2,000 or so years, God has been worryingly absent. Prayers have consistently gone unanswered. Untold wars have been fought in his name, but God never became personally involved, and never even revealed which side he might have supported had he turned up. Bad people prospered, and good people suffered, and still God never lifted a tentacle. Did God slip in the shower all those years ago, and die a few days later in hospital? What might explain our modern world where God is never seen, never heard from, never felt, where no matter what injustice man might inflict on his fellow man or what natural disaster might take innumerable lives and cause untold suffering, God merely watches from the shadows, does nothing and then skulks off before he is seen?
We wondered where God was in a post a while back — "Is God on vacation?" — and in recent comments God's mysterious inaction was again highlighted. Ron recommended that we read an article by self-described theological troublemaker and Orthodox Christian, David J. Dunn Ph.D., which appears to be his attempt to explain why God never pops around for a coffee and hasn't even figured out how to send a silly Tweet, even though both Donald Trump and the Pope have.
Dunn's article has the title: God Does Not "Exist", and the subtitle, 'What Atheists And Christians Both Get Wrong About God'. Right off the bat it should be obvious that when an Orthodox Christian starts out by saying that God Does Not "Exist", you just know that his entire argument will somehow revolve around showing that God does actually exist. Christians, they're nothing if not cunning.
Dunn begins by saying that, 'Atheists and Christians share a remarkably similar view of God. They think of God as a kind of big person, a category mistake which perpetuates misunderstanding.'
We should mention that when informed atheists talk of God (with a capital G), we are referring to the god of the Bible (and often the Torah and sometimes the Koran), and when we talk of gods (without a capital G), eg when we say that there are no gods, we are referring to the thousands of gods of other religions as well as God. God, like the name Bruce, is a specific name referring to a specific god. The great majority of gods actually have real names, like Zeus, Thor and Maui, only the god of the Bible doesn't have a name. Christians are like ignorant hillbillies who have a dog and simply call him Dog. Not much thought involved. I mention this because in their discussions Christians almost always assume that atheists become atheists because of what we've read in their Bible, and that every time we mention a god they naively assume we are talking about their God. Whenever a Christian enquires, Do you believe in God?, they are not thinking of some elephant-headed god from the Hindu religion. Only one god has ever entertained their thoughts, and many are quite surprised to learn that non-Christians are silly enough to consider other gods. The reality is that the strongest reasons to be an atheist have little to do with the Bible and it's petty god, Christianity is merely one of many religions that is automatically rejected when the very notion of powerful creator gods is rejected. Aspiring atheists don't have to spend a couple of years dismissing Christianity, then some more years reading up on Islam to dismiss it, then moving onto Hinduism etc. If you instead focus on the arguments for gods in general, then once they collapse then all the more well-known gods collapse as well. Knock out the foundation and the entire edifice crumbles.
So why do both atheists and Christians 'think of God as a kind of big person'? The answer is simple, it's how the Bible clearly describes God. If we are to ignore the Biblical description, if we are to accept that it was just primitive man putting human attributes onto an imaginary god, then what other sources can we consult to get a true description of God? Well, there are none. Outside of the Bible there are no reliable and believable accounts of humans meeting God and then writing up a good description. Just as the 'Star Wars' movies are the only places where Jedi and Wookies are mentioned, they're not spoken of in the 'Harry Potter' world for example, the Bible is the sole source of information about God. If it didn't exist then we would have no knowledge whatsoever of God. If we are to discount what the Bible says about God's attributes, about his love, his power, his jealousy, his strange love of a circumcised penis, then we must accept that we are totally ignorant of what God is really like, and anything anyone suggests God might be like, if not derived from the Bible, is pure guesswork. So atheists and Christians aren't making a mistake in thinking 'of God as a kind of big person', since it says so right there in their holy book. If we are to dismiss what the Bible says about God, then we must also dismiss its claim that God is real. It's all or nothing.
Dunn then states that, 'There are two kinds of atheists', but his argument is just confusing semantics, since he correctly concludes that, 'Both are united in their view that something should only be believed if there is evidence. Far too many Christians agree'. Note how he criticises Christians that make important decisions based on what the evidence points towards. For example, just because there is no good evidence for the Tooth Fairy, Dunn's argument would be that a lack of evidence is no reason not to believe in the Tooth Fairy. Dunn's dismissal of the usefulness of evidence, if he actually believed what he's saying and applied it equally to everything and not just God, would see him believing in all manner of nonsense.
We agree with Dunn that apologetics is nonsense, but then he says that, 'Atheists sit around asking why God does not prove God's own existence'. No, we don't, we don't believe God exists, so we don't waste time wondering why he's not making his presence known. That's as silly as saying we sit around asking why Superman doesn't step in and save the world. Only believers, since they believe he's real, try to figure out why God is absent. Hint: he's not real! What mystifies us, what we would ask if we were to sit around, is why Christians believe that there's an invisible spaceman out there somewhere that's watching them in the shower?
Moving into his argument that God doesn't "exist", Dunn then gives the impression of agreeing with us. He writes that,
'But God is not a being. God is not the highest being. God does not, technically speaking, exist. You exist. I exist. Superman exists (in the imagination). Our ideas of God also exist. But God is not in those ideas. God is beyond human conception. That from whence existence comes must be beyond existence itself.'He had the right answer but then he lost it again. He confusingly said that, 'Superman exists', then explained that bogus claim with, 'in the imagination'. That same convoluted logic also explains God, in that it could also be said that God exists (in the imagination). But rather than go with common sense, Dunn argues that, 'God is not in those ideas. God is beyond human conception'. What ideas is Dunn referring to? He's clearly referring to the ideas we all have about God that have been gleaned from the Bible, since as we've said, there is no other source. The Jews talked about the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans and sometimes mentioned the gods of these ancient cultures, but not once did any of these other cultures write about witnessing any of the miraculous works of the Biblical god. Isn't it strange that when the Sun stood still in the sky or stars fell to Earth or the dead walked the streets of Jerusalem, no one else noticed, or at least didn't think it weird enough to mention in any of their historical documents? So again, the Bible is the sole source of information we have about God, and supernatural miracles aside, we know without doubt that many of the scientific and historical claims made in the Bible are false, so if they couldn't even get simple facts about the world around them correct, eg bats are not birds and the world isn't flat, why should we believe they could somehow gets the facts about how the universe was created correct?
But the silly thing is that Dunn is on our side, he agrees that the Bible and its description of God is utterly false, that when God is described as acting like a person with human-like motives and emotions, flooding the world to kill homosexuals, smiting a Hebrew for trying to protect the Ark of the Covenant, parting the Red Sea, getting virgins pregnant, all these stories about God acting in the world are bogus, or to quote Dunn, readers are making 'a category mistake which perpetuates misunderstanding'. The difference is that we believe those Bible stories are bogus because they never actually happened, whereas Dunn believes they are bogus only because the Bible misrepresents the god who performed those miracles.
The entirely of Dunn's argument that follows in his article hinges on his claim that, 'God is beyond human conception'. What this means is that we mere humans are totally incapable of understanding what God is like, or why God does things, or how God does things. We are as incapable of conceiving the nature of God as a mushroom is incapable of understanding quantum mechanics. So what this means is that ignorance reigns if we are asked any question about God, any question at all. And yet Dunn destroys his argument by spending the rest of his article telling us things about God, things that if God is truly beyond human conception are things we should not be capable of knowing or understanding. Let's look at some of the things Dunn reveals about God:
'God is not a being. God is not the highest being.'And Dunn learnt this about God how? He doesn't say. But he does go on to say,
'That from whence existence comes must be beyond existence itself.'Again, who told Dunn this, and why should we accept it as true? How does he know that something that is beyond existence, which surely means it doesn't exist, can yet somehow create things? If it is true, how can Dunn hope that we might conceive what it means, since conceptions of the nature of God's existence should be beyond us, and beyond Dunn too, so how did he come upon that truly confusing explanation for how God acts? And children owe their existence to their parents, does that mean parents 'must be beyond existence itself'?
'God is not like us. God cannot, for instance, tell a joke. This is not because God does not have a sense of humor, which is clearly false (just look at the platypus). This is because the moment God says, "Your momma's so fat," your mom becomes HUGE!'Again, how does Dunn know that God can't tell a joke, but does have a sense of humour? That seems to be some pretty detailed information about God, and gives him an attribute which makes him seem like 'a kind of big person', something Dunn insists he is not. And why does Dunn believe God doesn't tell jokes simply because what he says will immediately become true? How did he discover this inconvenient fact about God? Even humans can think certain things without acting on those thoughts, so Dunn's God sounds pretty weak and pathetic if he's incapable of having a thought without it coming to pass. And in my view, if God existed he could tell a joke, and being all-knowing he would know all the best jokes, but you couldn't tell him a joke and make him laugh. Jokes only work if the punch line comes as a surprise, but since God knows everything, he already knows the punch line, and so no surprise means no laugh.
'God is. God does not have a mind, like we do. God is mind. God does not have a will, like we do. God is willing. God does not make decisions, as we understand it. God does what God has always decided to be in and for Godself. God does not have parts.'Yet more detailed info about the nature of God, even thought, again, this sort of conception is supposedly beyond us. Although, when Dunn claims that, 'God does not make decisions, as we understand it', and 'God does not have parts', then it's true that I don't comprehend. But information about God that I don't understand is effectively no information at all, it could be gibberish for all we know. Gibberish only turns into knowledge when comprehension kicks in, and since Dunn insists that comprehension is forever beyond us, then everything Dunn might tell us about God remains as useless gibberish. We can't logically tell people that God's nature is beyond our conception, that he doesn't have a mind or a will or can't tell a joke, if we can't understand what those statements actually mean. If we do understand why he can't tell a joke, and Dunn explained why we can, then he's not completely beyond our conception. Elements of Dunn's argument conflict with each other.
'God creates not because God chooses to create. Rather, creation is the consequence of God being God (a God who relates). We human beings think about things, make up our minds, ask questions, and choose some options over others. For God, there are no options in any meaningful sense of the word. By way of analogy, one might say that God could have chosen not to create in much the same way that you or I could choose to eat a baby. Is it an option? Yes. Is it a live option? No! It is practically unthinkable.'Dunn started his argument by stating that it's a mistake to 'think of God as a kind of big person'. And yet here he describes God as 'a God who relates', you know, like a person might relate to other persons. Then he finishes that paragraph with an analogy of how humans think, saying that, 'No! It is practically unthinkable' that God might not have created the universe. And yet Dunn has already insisted that 'God does not have a mind, like we do ... God does not make decisions, as we understand it'. It's totally bogus to say that 'It is practically unthinkable' for God to have made a certain choice when arguing that we have no conception of how God thinks, or indeed if he even thinks at all.
Next Dunn does what all Christians do, he picks quotes about God from the Bible that he expects us to accept as truthful, even though his article revolves around the argument that much of what the Bible claims about God can't be believed, for example when it talks at length about God's nature, and why and how he did things. Why would his God lie in most of his claims detailed in the Bible, and tell the truth in just a handful, and how does Dunn know which is which? I'm utterly mystified how some people can call themselves Christians and at the same time argue that most of the Bible stories aren't true, even going so far as saying that God doesn't exist. Without accepting the claims made in the Bible, Christianity makes no sense.
So here's one of the few Biblical claims that Dunn does believe:
'"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork" (Psalms 19:1, KJV). There are vestiges of God in creation, but only for the eyes of faith. Creation is a kind of icon, a window to the divine. Faith is not reason. Nor is faith the opposite of reason. The Christian tradition has always taught that faith is higher than reason. Reason looks ahead and sees things in the distance. Faith tries to see just beyond the horizon. Faith is not belief despite evidence. Faith is falling in love. When you are in love, evidence is irrelevant.'For a start, that Bible quote doesn't say that evidence of God's handiwork is 'only for the eyes of faith'. Dunn deviously doesn't quote anymore of that verse, because it makes other claims that are quite laughable:
'The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.' PS 19:1-4Have you heard the heavens talking to you, imparting knowledge? If it's there we should all be able to see and hear it, but since we clearly can't, then Dunn's silly excuse is that we don't have faith. How pathetic. Are we to believe that the primitive, ignorant goat herders that wrote the Bible could see the clear evidence for their god, but centuries of the world's most brilliant scientists, even those that were Christians, couldn't see it, and still can't? And even if there was something about the cosmos that suggested it was artificially created by some intelligent designer, there would be no good reason to just blindly assume that designer must be the Christian God, it could have been an Aztec god or an Egyptian god, or more likely, not a god at all, but an advanced alien civilisation playing around with high energy physics.
Dunn's misleading description of reason and his childish view of faith ends with him saying that, 'Faith is not belief despite evidence ... evidence is irrelevant'. What intelligent, informed person would ever argue that 'evidence is irrelevant'? Apart from his superstitious belief in God, I guarantee that in the rest of Dunn's life evidence will be found to be of paramount importance. When he sees evidence that his car tyres are dangerously worn, his milk has gone sour or that his accountant is ripping him off, I doubt that he dismisses such evidence as irrelevant.
Dunn finishes by arguing that,
'Atheists and apologists both fix their minds on anthropomorphic ideas about God. ... But evidence of God is just not possible, not in any meaningful way. You cannot prove your existence if you are beyond existence itself.'First note that Dunn now again claims that, 'evidence of God is just not possible, not in any meaningful way', and yet we've just debunked his earlier assertion that, for the faithful anyway, evidence of God can be seen in the heavens, and can be understood in a meaningful way. This is the annoying hypocrisy and dishonesty of Christians, highlighting certain Bible verses, suppressing others, and contradicting themselves all in an attempt to get us to believe their fantasy. As for why we focus on 'anthropomorphic ideas about God', again it's because the only "reliable" source of information we have is the Bible, and the Bible describes God as a person, with human-like characteristics, only much greater of course. Remember that the Bible tells us that we resemble God, thus God must also resemble us:
'Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.' GE 1:26-27So are we to believe that Bible verse, or are we to believe Dunn, that we shouldn't think of God as a person, that he's so unlike us that we haven't got a glimmer of hope of ever comprehending his nature? Should we believe the Bible and that God loves us, you know, in the sense that a person could, or that he cares for us, or that he has a plan for us, or that he watches over us, or that he wants us to follow a certain moral code, or that he decided to perform miracles to bring about certain outcomes, or that he resurrected his son to forgive our sins, or that the concept of son and sins even makes any sense to God? According to Dunn the answer is a resounding no to all those questions, God does not act or think or decide in the way the Bible claims, and in fact God does not even exist in the way the Bible describes and in the way we mere humans might understand. Dunn ends by saying that, 'evidence of God is just not possible, not in any meaningful way. You cannot prove your existence if you are beyond existence itself', which true to his word, is a statement about God that is indeed incomprehensible. What would it mean to be 'beyond existence itself', and yet confusingly, still have some form of existence which allows you to create a universe and numerous life forms and interfere in their day to day lives?
Christians, on their death, expect to have a relationship with God, their loving heavenly father, and while alive they follow his moral code, including the Ten Commandments. But if Dunn is correct, if God is not some sort of being and not a person that thinks like we do or experiences the world like we do, then how could God have developed a moral code suitable for us, and wouldn't this wished for relationship be like having a love affair with an invisible cloud? Remember that Dunn has claimed that, 'God is not like us ... God does not have a mind, like we do ... God cannot, for instance, tell a joke ... God does not make decisions, as we understand it'. God appears to be woefully unqualified to tell us how to live our lives. And if Dunn is correct in that, 'God does not, technically speaking, exist', and that 'God is beyond human conception', then clearly the loving relationship with God Christians are anticipating on their death is impossible.
What evidence or reasoning has Dunn offered that his view of God is correct? None whatsoever. When he asserts that, 'God is not a being ... God does not, technically speaking, exist ... God is beyond human conception', he gives no hint of how he knows this. It's pure guesswork, and not only is there no evidence to support it, the very nature of his argument claims that finding any evidence to support his argument is quite impossible. That's because actual evidence of God would be beyond our ability to comprehend, meaning we wouldn't recognise it if it stared us in the face, with Dunn claiming that, 'evidence of God is just not possible, not in any meaningful way'. It's a devious argument since it can never be proved or disproved, which really makes it quite useless. Any fool can say that some event, like lightning, earthquakes or disease, is caused by processes that we will never understand, as indeed the religious have maintained over the millennia, but accepting the realisation that we'll be forever wallowing in our own ignorance is not something that intelligent, non-religious folk take lying down. Dunn may be resigned to not understanding the origin and workings of life and the universe, throwing up his hands and insisting that it's all 'beyond human conception', but this is just the sign of a man that has given up, that isn't even willing to try to find some answers to life's mysteries. God did it, somehow, and that's good enough for him. If the progress of humanity relied on people like Dunn, we'd still be living in caves covered in filth and afraid of our own shadow.
So why is Dunn, an Orthodox Christian, going to such silly lengths to get us to doubt the traditional Bible stories about God? The most likely answer is that Dunn is cunningly trying to answer the nagging and embarrassing question of why God is never seen intervening to help his devoted followers. Dunn desperately wants to explain why we can't detect the hand of God, no matter where we look, and he seems utterly convinced that we never will. No matter how much of the universe we explore, no matter what amazing technological tools we develop, no matter what dire crises confronts humanity, Dunn is resigned to the fact that we will never — ever — find evidence of God. So how does he reconcile a universe with no hint of a God with the bold claim that God is nevertheless real? Dunn morphs the Biblical God that could project a physical presence into a God that is by definition impossible to find. No matter what argument or evidence a scientist presents against God's existence, Dunn simply replies that God doesn't work or think that way. What way? Any way that you can think of, God is way beyond our conception, and always will be. We can search the entire universe and declare it god-free, and Dunn will simply give the haughty reply, Well of course it is, because God is somewhere else, somewhere where you can never go. Hmm ... how convenient, always just out of reach, always just over the horizon. 'You're looking for God?,' says the annoying Christian, 'Oh, what a shame, you just missed him, he was just here!'
Of course this revisionist thinking is nothing new. In ancient times religious men said gods lived in caves and lakes, but when men started exploring caves and lakes and found no gods, the religious men moved the gods to mountain tops, and when eventually they too were explored and gods not found, religious men claimed the gods lived on the clouds with harp strumming angels. You get the picture, aeroplanes forced the gods to relocate out past the Moon, and then as instruments scanned the heavens, soon the entire visible universe wasn't big enough a place for God to hide. So once again desperate believers confronted with the realities of life are forced to find a new place to hide their god, a timid, shy god that is apparently quite keen to stay hidden.
Any god that is outside our universe and desperate to stay there, and totally unwilling to interact with us or even reveal his existence in any way that we can comprehend or detect, is effectively no different to no god at all. Think of a two versions of Santa Claus, a Santa Claus that doesn't exist except in children's stories, and a Santa Claus that does exist, but has retired and no longer delivers a single toy at Xmas. As far as his believers are concerned, the children, it makes no difference whether he is fictional or retired, either way they are toyless, so the reason why he never turned up with toys is irrelevant to them. Likewise a God that is hiding his existence from us is really no different to a god that isn't there at all. Either way we are on our own.
So the reality is that if people were to accept Dunn's argument, that the Biblical idea of God is just simplistic notions created by primitive man that didn't know any better, and that we haven't got a hope of ever having a relationship with God, anymore than you could have a serious discussion with a blueberry muffin, then there's no reason to remain a Christian, based as it is on a book of comforting but wholly misleading lies. So while Dunn's argument may appear to explain God's mysterious absence, it does so at the expense of destroying all the reasons that brought believers to Christianity in the first place. It shoots itself in the foot. If Dunn's God is real, then he's forever out of reach, both physically and intellectually, and the personal relationship between God and man described in the Bible is a cruel fiction. If the relationship is a fiction, then the loving God we learn about in the Bible is also a fiction, no more real than Darth Vader, Superman or Harry Potter. Thus it makes no more sense to base your life around the Bible stories than it would to base your life around the Superman comics, naively waiting for your saviour to descend through the clouds and save the world.
There's also another reason I'm dismissive of Dunn's approach. Whenever I consider a new argument about God, I like to test how reasonable it is by replacing God with another fantasy being, it could be Zeus or Osiris, but it's better to use a being that every sensible adult accepts without doubt as being truly imaginary and make-believe. For example, Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. So, Dunn's argument was entitled: 'God Does Not "Exist" — What Atheists And Christians Both Get Wrong About God', and let's say a Christian reads it and comes away believing that God is real, and that the logic of his argument effectively explains why we can't find him sitting on clouds. But let's now reconsider the argument when it's entitled: 'Santa Does Not "Exist" — What Adults And Children Both Get Wrong About Santa'. Apart from the word God being replaced with the word Santa, the logic is the same — 'Santa is not a being ... Santa does not, technically speaking, exist ... Santa is beyond human conception' — so you should come away believing that Santa is real, and that this argument explains why we can't find him at the North Pole. In my view, when an argument, whatever that argument is, allows you to "prove" that Santa Claus is real, then there is a serious flaw in your argument. An argument may sound great when you only consider God's existence, but if you swap out God and replace him with Zeus or Osiris or Santa or leprechauns, and the logic of the argument still works, and you've now "proved" that Zeus and leprechauns are real, then your argument is nothing but beguiling twaddle. Any argument that "proves" nonsense is nonsense. It doesn't matter whether you can detect the flaw in the argument that allows it "prove" the existence of both God and Santa, all you need realise is that it's clearly broken and can be ignored.
Often when I compare the supernatural powers of God with those of Santa, Christians accuse me of just being silly, but this isn't a valid criticism, it's more that they hate that God can be compared to a child's fantasy. But to keep them happy, instead of swapping God with Santa in Dunn's argument, let's swap God with the Muslim god Allah. Again we are confronted with the same argument, 'Allah is not a being ... Allah does not, technically speaking, exist ... Allah is beyond human conception', and if we accepted the logic of the argument when dealing with a god called God, we must accept it for a god called Allah too. So now Muslims have just "proved" that their god is the real god that created the universe, but how can that be if Dunn has already "proven" that the Christian god did all the creating? Again, any argument that allows conflicting religions to "prove" that their god is the real one obviously has a serious flaw, and as such is quite worthless as an argument.
So, if nothing else, Dunn was right with the title of his article, God Does Not "Exist". He just needs to lose the quotation marks. God, as around 7 billion normal people understand by the term God, does not exist.
Last Updated Sep 2019