Friday, 29 April 2011


I've been trying for maybe a half hour now to write this post, and it's proving difficult. So here's PZ Myers on the subject.

It's... I can't come up with words. Hating the good works done by Planned Parenthood - their dedication to public health, sexual safety, and the propagation of KNOWLEDGE - is bizarre enough to me. But to take that and create lies this repugnant? And you people claim to be the subjects of a loving and caring God?

It's utterly ridiculous. I'm capable of understanding the arguments these people have against abortion, however much I disagree with them. But the part that I can't understand is the willingness to do anything - ANYTHING, up to and including slander, libel, fear-mongering, destruction of property and MURDER OF DOCTORS - in order to get one's way.

Do they really think that the ends justify the means? Is that what's going on? Do they feel that in spreading lies like these - lies that will result in the spread disease, unwanted pregnancies, ignorance of the functioning of one's own body and how to deal with it - they're somehow doing some kind of higher work? That in doing terrible harm, they're following God's will?

I cannot wrap my mind around this concept. It's utterly alien. It goes against every moral principle that I hold dear.

It's evil.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Oh, Ray.

I seem to be developing an unhealthy interest in Ray Comfort. A couple of years ago I bought a book put out by his Church, an anniversary edition of Origin of Species with a special introduction by Ray, debunking evolution, including claims about cosmology and astronomy. I needed to have such a hilarious book for my library, though the five dollars I sent him made me wince. I had, however, forgotten that that book and the guy whose blog I've been laughing at were the same person. He makes similar points in his post today, regarding how evolution fails to explain the rotation of the Earth and so on.


As of today, however, I'm trying an experiment. Ray typically receives hundreds of comments per post, with the vast majority of these attempting to point out to Ray the errors in his logic, errors that even a child should be able to recognize. Naturally, he ignores these utterly.

Now, whether he knows and understands that the questions he's posing are answered in fifth-grade science textbooks, I don't know. I am, however, relatively certain that he's seen all our reasoning before and chosen to ignore it. Why, then, should we continue to point out his errors, day after day, ad nauseam? It's not going to get through by dint of repetition, any more than his constant refrains of his 'proofs' of the bible are going to get through to us.

So I'm going to try to use his blog to meet people. I'm going to try to derail his threads with common, everyday conversation. I'm going to ask other posters how their day went, what the weather's like there, what their favourite foods are. Some part of me wonders, if we atheists are showing up to his blog every day and ignoring what he says, doing our own thing, how he's going to feel about that. I hope the answer is 'stupid'.

The ultimate, in my eyes, would be if some people who started chatting on the site decided to meet up and have some illicit, out-of-marriage, utterly mind-blowing sex. Imagine the taunting we could send his way if his blog was a meeting place for - dare I say it - fornication?

I don't think it'd blow his mind. But maybe it'd make him wince. Good enough for me.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Ah, Ray Comfort.

The more I read from Ray Comfort's Atheist Central, the more I suspect he's playing the long con.

I read a story a while back from a guy who thought the Tea Partiers were complete idiots. So he decided he was going to join up. Get in, go to the rallies, make his voice heard. Except that his plan was to out-crazy the crazies. He was going to take their viewpoint to ludicrous extremes. The goal was to help make the tea party look even crazier than it actually is, thereby lowering, even in small part, their creditability.

Is Ray Comfort doing something like this? A lot of the religious crowd, debating us godless heathens, use actual arguments. They're not scientific arguments, for the plain reason that religion isn't based on, and is unprovable by, science, but at least they commonly have internal logic and pay attention to facts that are so well-known that to rally against them is lunacy.

The big exception is evolution, obviously, but you see my point.

Today's post, however, goes well beyond these lines. Ignoring for a moment that atheism does nothing to explain why the solar system is the way it is - it's physics that explains that - he's asking questions that scientists, and a hell of a lot of laypeople, know the answer to. It's an easy one. There's no debate here. Hell, it's math.

There's no reason to argue these points. Doing so serves only to make him look utterly ignorant, even to his fellow fundamentalist Christians. One commenter in the thread linked above suggested that Ray Comfort does more to spread atheism than atheists are, simply by virtue of making Christianity look ass-backwards.

I think I agree. My question is, is he doing it on purpose, or is he truly as ignorant as the face he presents to the world? It's possible we'll never know, that with his last breath he'll curse the name of Darwin for making the universe so big.

I gotta say, though, if he ever comes out as an atheist and tells everyone it was just a huge, years-long joke against Christianity, I'm going to fly to wherever he is and buy him a keg.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Coming Out as an Atheist

The concept that one would have to 'come out' as an atheist is something that's almost brand-new to me. In this regard, I undoubtedly come from privilege. Even though my mother is very Christian, and disappointed that I would reject her faith, in the end the decision was an easy one for her: that I was her son, and she'd love me no matter what. Additionally, I grew up in the very large, diverse city of Toronto, and was gleefully exposed to many different viewpoints from very early on. My grade school had representatives of a great many cultures, races, and religions.

In a sense, I never really "rejected" Christianity. I can remember growing up, thinking myself Christian, but believing absolutely none of it and attaching no importance to it whatsoever. When I eventually did start actually putting some thought into it, I came to the conclusion that I had been an Agnostic my entire life, and had been calling myself a Christian simply because that label had been applied to me, and I accepted it as easily as I did my name or my hair colour. It was just something that I was. It was less a matter of a life-changing decision for me, and more a matter of finding a new label that better suited me.

My readings lately have opened my eyes to the plight that some Atheists go through, and it's been shocking to me. Parents who reject their children because of a lack of faith? Entire communities who denigrate the outed atheist as being immoral, Hell-bound? Even the concept of a community that was focused entirely on the Church was something of a surprise to me.

I've now moved from Toronto to a fairly small, almost rural area of Ontario. The population here is overwhelmingly Christian. I did look around, and there are no synagogues, temples, mosques, or atheist/agnostic groups in the area. Not one, at least that I could locate. We're a long way from the bible belt here, certainly. But it did make me start to wonder. Are there people here, questioning their faith? Do they worry that the community, or their families, will react negatively if they start to question Christianity? Would the community react negatively? I'm unsure. It's not something I've ever brought up with any of my neighbours.

But I read the stories, so many of them, of people who've struggled with what they do and do not believe, and I think that if it is happening in my area, I'd like to help. I'd like to be there, available to offer my reasons for why I don't believe, to those who are questioning. (A la the Friendly Atheist, who does an excellent job). I'm trying now to figure out if there are those in the community that would want to ask questions, and how to let them know that I'm willing to help them find answers.

To that end, I'm considering offering the idea of just such a thing to the local newspaper. It's a tiny paper, the kind where 'Local man bakes pie' is occasionally front-page news. There's at least one opinion section in it already, a man who offers the point of view of the senior citizen. I'm thinking maybe I could do the same thing, from the point of view of an atheist. Maybe reduce the perception that atheists are immoral, god-hating pricks. I'm not even sure how prevalent that attitude is around here, if it even exists at all, which is causing me some doubt in the whole thing. But the only other thing I can think to do would be to go out and start asking everyone I see if they hate atheists or not.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Viva l'Evolution

So, while I've been thinking of creating this space for a while, especially in the last few weeks, the tipping point came today, via a link from Atheist Central which, despite the deceptive name, is the blog of the very-very-Christian Ray Comfort. The link in that article leads to a YouTube video in which Richard Dawkins is interviewing Wendy Wright of CWFA.I had to take a break in the middle; I simply couldn't stand to watch any more. And now, of course, I'm going to have to watch it again, writing as I go, to talk about all the things she says that made me cringe.

My bias should be obvious; I'm as close to being an atheist as makes no difference, and I love the sciences to boot. Evolution, to me, is not a belief, or a controversy; it's a scientific theory, one with sufficient weight of evidence behind it that it's as close to being a fact as theories ever come. It's a theory in the same way that gravity and the atom are theories.

So let's delve right in. Quotes that I attribute to her here will be paraphrased, rather than direct quotes.

Right off the bat, at approximately forty-five seconds in, she states that those of us who believe that we were created out of love, by a loving creator, are more likely to treat other people with respect and dignity. THe implication, of course, is that atheists cannot possibly behave morally, because morals come from God. It's a crock; I say this as an atheist who treats other humans with respect and dignity all the time. I do so not because I believe any god wants me to, but because I believe that it's the right thing to do. I have looked at the world, I've seen joy, and pain, and suffering, and love, and I've made the conscious decision to contribute to the well-being of people, and to avoid contributing to their suffering. Those who make this argument choose to judge me not based on my actions, but rather on the fact, and ONLY on the fact, that I do not believe in their deity. Which is irrational. You can claim that my atheism makes me all kinds of things, but to claim that I am immoral when my behaviour is anything but makes no sense.
Additionally, a question always rises in my mind when I see this argument trotted out; Do these people really have so little faith in humanity? Do they truly think that without faith in a creator, we would all devolve into utterly amoral, animalistic behaviour, clawing and maiming each other for the simple joy of it? I prefer to think that we, as human beings, create our morals on our own, based on our own environments, beliefs, observations, etc. Some of us will choose to be good people, some bad, but faith or lack thereof is only one factor that's going to be taken into account.

At approx. one minute, ten seconds, she refers to an effort within the scientific community to censor out information that proves that evolution may not be 'fact'. It's an argument she makes repeatedly, but she expands on the argument later in the video; I'll rebut it at that point.

At one minute, thirty seconds, she observes that there have been times when evidence has been produced to bolster evolutionary theory which subsequently turned out to be incorrect, or even fraudulent. Well, yes. Scientists are human, and not immune to making mistakes. And fraudsters are everywhere. This isn't even really a point; saying that we've been wrong in the past does nothing to invalidate the theory as a whole.
I wish to point, however, that in bringing this up she's actually (to my mind) scoring a point for our team. That's the beauty of the scientific method; when we're wrong, we can admit it, and adjust our views accordingly. That's why a lot of science refers to 'theories' rather than laws. As new information is discovered, the theory may change to reflect it. A theory stays up to date (or attempts to, again I admit we're not perfect), where dogma does not. Dogma becomes set in stone, unalterable despite any amount of evidence to the contrary. This is the difference between science and faith.

This is getting long.

One minute, forty seconds, she refers to the" facts that go against evolution", such as the Pig's Tooth, where a bone that was held up as being from a prehistoric human turned out to be nothing but the tooth, yes, of a pig. I reiterate; we make mistakes, and the fact that we do is in no way evidence against evolution.

At about three minutes, she talks about the closed-mindedness of scientists, wherein we won't even allow the discussion of the 'controversy'. This one really amused me; she brings this point up while having exactly that discussion with a world-famous scientific atheist. She continues on that vein for a while, speaking about not being allowed to speak about what they're speaking about.

At three minutes, fifty seconds, she alludes to the idea of evolution being 'almost like a religion', again because only scientists are allowed to speak and teach on it, and everyone else is expected to 'just believe' what they have to say. Throughout the video she refuses to respond when Richard Dawkins points out the body of evidence, and where she can go to see it; this is the beginning of that trend.

Long discussion of hostilities and agendas and attack methods by both sides, which I'll skip, since they're not at all salient to the debate.

She again brings up evolutionary ideas that have been discredited, citing them as evidence against evolution. I've already talked about this.

Back to the idea that lack of faith leads inevitably to lack of morals. Been done.

About nine minutes, twenty seconds, Richard Dawkins asserts that if the scientific facts go against what [creationists] perception is, then they're going to distort the facts. I touched on this earlier, but this, for me, really highlights the differences between faith and science, and why creationism is not a science at all.
To pare it down to its simplest form, science has three steps:

1. Form a hypothesis
2. Observe and experiment
3. Reach a conclusion based on observations and experiments.

Using the same system, faith skips one step entirely and turns the other two upside down.

1. Reach a conclusion (often but not always based on the Bible)
2. Collection observations that support the conclusion.

This is exactly the opposite of what science is. That's why it can't be taught in science classes. Because it doesn't even attempt to try to follow the scientific method. Case closed.

Nine minutes, forty seconds, she again cites the fact that she doesn't believe there to be a sufficient body of evidence supporting evolution to be evidence against it. Fallacious, and getting repetitive. She brings up the supposed lack of intermediate, 'in-between' forms; this argument has been done to death elsewhere, and better than I can do it, so I'll just mention that just because she hasn't bothered to do her research doesn't mean they don't exist. Richard Dawkins offers her many examples, which she chooses to ignore.

Ten minutes, forty seconds, she claims that if slow speciation were true, the museums would be filled to the brim with examples of intermediate species. He brings up the idea that every animal in the chain is, in fact, an intermediate between something and something else; since she doesn't believe in the theory, and this claim is dependent on the theory being true, I can understand why she shrugs it off. He also makes the point that every time an intermediate species is found, it does nothing but create in the minds of her side two gaps, instead of just one. Which sets the whole thing up as an impossible exercise.
I also want to point out the sheer enormity of the numbers we're dealing with here. How many billions of animals are alive, right now this second? Multiply that by the billions of years that the Earth has existed, and you get a truly staggering number of animals that have been born and died on this planet. Even if we dig up every animal that has been fossilized and survived to this day, it would represent an infinitesimal fraction of the total animals and species that have lived. Why would we suppose that every single species would leave behind an example of itself to be found?

This has rapidly turned into a wall of text.

At twelve minutes, she refers to social Darwinism, which is a completely different thing, unrelated in any way to speciation.

Twelve minutes, forty seconds, she changes the subject away from evidence that he's presenting for evolution. She again brings up the supposed inherent immorality of [atheists], stating that the philosophies have grown out of evolution have been 'so horrific to our world'. She doesn't provide any examples of this, but Stalin springs to mind. Not that it matters. Atheists are no more immune to evil than theists are; see the Inquisition, the Crusades, the current situation in Ireland, and so on.

She states that the societies which are the most loving and caring and well functioning are the ones that have the greatest respect for human beings; this is self evident, and does not depend on faith or lack of faith.

She then talks about DNA, and how unique it is, and I'm honestly unsure of the point she's trying to make. I think this one is based purely on her own faith, and nothing else. She sees the complexity of DNA as proof of a creator. It's the irreductible complexity argument applied to DNA, and that argument has been so thoroughly debunked elsewhere that it barely even merits a mention.

At thirteen minutes, forty-five seconds he again, for the umpteenth time, presents examples of transitional forms of humanity and asks her again if she's actually examined them. When asked, directly, "Have you seen Homo Habilis?" she again changes the topic back to the supposed suppression of evidence against evolution.

When she finally deigns to answer, she claims that if the evidence was actually in the museums, she'd go see it, and then immediately changes the subject again. And we're back to how [atheists] are immoral. Repetitive.

And it happens again, immediately.

And again...

I think I'm done, they're going in circles, with him presenting evidence and her claiming it's not enough and changing the topic.

She then asks an actual question; she wonders why it is that we atheists are so militant about our atheism, why we seem so hell-bent that everyone believe as we do. I can't answer for every atheist, obviously, but I think that my answer will resound with a great many of us. The answer is that we, for the most part, don't care. You're utterly welcome to believe what you will. You're free to believe in your God, in creation, in a young Earth, if it suits you. Go for it. Have a ball. The point where we call a halt is when you want these ideas to be taken out of religion and put into government institutions; prayer in schools and courts, creationism on the required curriculum, 'In God We Trust' emblazoned in public offices. That's where the problem comes in. Because a lot of us don't believe in your God, or indeed in any god at all. That's why separation of church and state exists, in Canada and America both. Believe what you want, but until it's science, keep it out of science class.

Thor's beard, that got long. If I had any doubts before, I don't now; absolutely NOBODY is going to read that. Still, it feels good to wrap words around it.

Wow, a blog.

Everyone has one, these days. So why add another to the milieu? Well, why not?

I've been reading and viewing quite a lot, lately. Far more than ever before, and on a wider range of topics than ever before. Some of the things I've seen make me think. And, being the guy that I am, that makes me want to write. In particular, the things I'm tempted to write about tend to be controversial, and I like to read about them from the point of view opposite my own. The reason for this should be obvious enough; reading an opposing point of view forces me to expand my mind and view the world in a way that I normally don't. Certainly, reading arguments about an issue from someone I agree with can be educational, but in the end it doesn't make me re-evaluate my own views. It doesn't open me up as much. And those times are the times when the most growth is possible.

Having read these opposing points of view, I then have to consider them. For me, it's always been easiest to bounce my ideas, and the opposing ideas, off of someone else, and my girlfriend is probably sick to death of being my sounding board. It's not so much the process of question-and-response that does it for me, though that can be enormously helpful. It's more that I find that attempting to express ideas in words, out loud or in print, helps me to clarify them. I've started commenting on a few blogs that I've been reading, for that reason. Still, I wanted a place where I could toss out what I was thinking about at any given moment, rather than just responding to the things that someone else was thinking about. Hence, the Parsleyblog. Maybe people will read it; probably not. But since I tend to wind up talking more or less to myself when I'm considering or re-considering ideas, the simple process of taking my nebulous thoughts and forming them into words and sentences, I think it'll all work out.

That being said, if anyone -does- wind up reading this, and disagrees with me vehemently, I thoroughly encourage you to express your side, for the reasons listed above, so long as it's done in a reasonable manner.

I look forward to learning from you.