Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Ah, original sin...

A boy in the UK - possibly an entire class - was made to eat a piece of paper with the word 'Sorry!!' written on it, in order to apologize to God.

And not in a Church, either. This happened in his school.

It wasn't a punishment. He hadn't done anything wrong. This is a part that really kills me about the Church. He was made to apologize to God simply because he existed.

The claim is often made that God is love, but he's also justice. What tripe. To say that a baby, newly born and never having committed any act, let alone a sinful one, is culpable for Eve's original disobeying of God? That's neither love nor justice.

The boy came home in tears, and now apparently refuses to sleep alone. He was also given a Bible to "make him good", when he hadn't done anything bad in the first place. What nonsense. I'm not usually one who promotes the view that religion is inherently child abuse, but I'm beginning to come around. This child came home wondering what he'd done wrong, why he'd had to say sorry. What torment to put an innocent child through, for no reason whatsoever. How disgusting.

In response, assistant pastor Steve Cowie said: "We are sorry that anyone should be upset, we have no intention to upset, we do not intimidate, we do not force anyone to do anything." You don't see how telling young children that they're evil could be upsetting? That they need to apologize for something they didn't do - and need to do so by eating paper?

The boy's been pulled from school, and so has at least one other student. What strikes me as frightening is that every single student wasn't pulled. A school allowing religious visits in the first place is a violation, but for the school staff to not intervene and stop this kind of madness - I don't even have the words.

Monday, 25 July 2011


I require more facebook friends, and such. Am I behind the times? Perhaps. I've made a Google+ account as well, but I rarely touch it yet. The same thing happened to me before - I was slow to adopt the book of faces, and even now I tend to Twitter more than anything. But I've been getting into some stuff there lately, so, add me, or something.

The face of Parsley.


Sunday, 24 July 2011


I have seen numerous people, in the last few days, display an appalling level of outright hypocrisy. I mean direct, immediate, undeniable hypocrisy, and they have done so shamelessly.

When the bomb went off in Oslo, a number of people reacted immediately, placing the blame squarely on the head of Muslim terrorists, doing so without the barest shred of information. Sadly, among these was American Atheists Inc, who have since apologized for jumping the gun.

A number of those who leapt to this conclusion did so, obviously, because of their general anti-Islam sentiments. A number of them were far-right leaning Christians, denouncing Islam, mocking the way it's called 'the religion of peace' by some. The usual cry and hue went up, that Islam is a religion of terror, that Muslims are terrorists, and must be scourged from society.

And then the news hit that the guy was a Christian.

By the same logic, then, Christianity is a religion of destruction. This guy did what he did because of his beliefs, among them that Jesus is the messiah.

But no. Outrage, that we would even suggest such a thing. He wasn't a TRUE Christian. He couldn't have been - look at what he did! No, he was just masquerading as a Christian. You can't denounce Christianity because of the actions of a few Christians. Er, I mean, pretend Christians.

Well, why can't we, when you so gleefully do exactly that to Muslims? You don't get to have it both ways. No, you really don't. If you cannot judge Christianity based on the actions of a few extremists, then you equally cannot judge Islam based on a few extremists. Doing so is deeply hypocritical, and it adds a whole new level of disgusting to the typical Islamophobic sentiments I see all the time.

The 'no true Scotsman' fallacy is alive and well, as we're all aware, but rarely is it trotted out in a way that's so blatantly, obviously, -wrong-.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Omniscience and free will

Among the religious, these are two oft-made claims - that their god is omniscient, all knowing, and also that he has granted us, made in his image, free will.

These two concepts are so deeply at odds that it always shocks me to see believers making use of both of them. They're mutually exclusive, on a fundamental level.

If your god knows everything that has ever happened and will ever happen, that means that events will follow a predictable course. We may not know what this course is, but that doesn't mean that it's not pre-determined. If, thousands or millions of years ago he knew I'd be sitting here writing this, and here I am, then what choice did I have in the matter? It had to happen. I had to be here, this morning, typing away.

If I had free will, then perhaps this morning I would have gone for a walk or something, and wouldn't have been sitting here typing this, at odds with God's knowledge that I would be sitting here typing. In this case, free will is real - but God had to be wrong for that to be true. I had to deviate from God's knowledge of the future - and he's therefore not omniscient.

You might argue that he knew I'd try to foil his plan, and in choosing to go for a walk instead of writing, I would actually have been following his plan all along. That's fine - but then we're back at square one. He knew I'd decide to try and foil him, and take that walk. If he's known I would do that, and I did it, it's the same thing. I'm still following his thread - with nothing but the appearance of being able to choose.

You can't have it both ways. If he's omniscient, then our lives are following a known, unchangeable thread. If we have free will, then he can't know everything. Simple logic.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Well, that sucks.

Psalm 14:1: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."

Matthew 5:22: "...but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."

Looks like whoever wrote Psalms is screwed.

A Madmad or Something Worse

Peter Brietbart has some pretty interesting things to say about the morality of Jesus. I've thought that Jesus, if he existed, was nothing more than a man; I've also always thought that for the time he lived in, he had a pretty decent moral message. This may still be true; he did have some good things to say. But we don't live in those times. We're more evolved now. So why are we still following the teachings of a man 2,000 years dead who failed to speak out against rape, racism, sexism, who condemns homosexuals and anyone who doesn't believe in him to eternal torture? These two videos spell it out excellently. I recommend watching them both, though I fear that those who need to take the most away from them - the dogmatic, the zealous, the devout - will either not watch them, or will close their minds entirely to what's being said.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The weak anthropic principle and you.

I got into a discussion with a pandeist yesterday, my first ever. I've been fine tuning my arguments against deism for a little bit now, and I was eager to see how they'd work out against a believer.

The thing that became increasingly obvious to me as the discussion went on was that a large part of his arguments were identical in a way to those used by creationists. In his parlance, it was proof of 'purpose' in the universe rather than proof of a creator, but the argument was more or less the same; that the universe is fine tuned for life, and if cosmological constants were slightly different, life couldn't exist, and therefore it all had to be designed.

We all know the arguments against this, I think; first, that the universe has the appearance of design not because it was designed for us, but because we came to be within it, and therefore we had to evolve to suit it, not the other way around. See Douglas Adams' sentient puddle. And secondly, that if the universe were not as it is, we wouldn't be here to see it.

That second part is what I'm focusing on right now. Most often, when I point this out to those I'm debating, it's either scoffed at or ignored. Of course we wouldn't be!, they shout, What does that prove?.

I think there's a nuance to the weak anthropic principle that a lot of people are missing out on. Indeed, they're quite right; it certainly doesn't prove the non-existence of a creator. What it does do is highlight exactly why their idea of a fine-tuned universe is not evidence of a creator.

How's that? Well, the universe is observably suited for life. Nobody argues with this; if gravity was just a little different, planets and suns either wouldn't form, or would form immediately into black holes. If the nuclear forces were a little different, perhaps atoms as we know them wouldn't be able to exist. There's a laundry list of items like these.

But what does this tell us about how the universe was created? Precisely nothing. Imagine two neighboring universes, side-by-side. They're identical in every detail, except that one had an intelligent creator, and one formed from wholly natural events. The cosmological constants happen to be the exact same, and so if you were look at these two universes billions of years into their developments, how would you be able to distinguish between the created one and the natural one?

You couldn't.

This is the point, I think, of the whole thing. We can't. Looking out into the depths of space, we see that the universe is suited for life, but how can we tell if it's natural or created? We can't, not just by looking at them. The argument of the fine-tuning of the universe - used by creationists and deists alike - is null. It's not evidence of anything, either way. You can go on forever about how unlikely it is that a universe would form that was exactly suited for life, and I'll keep saying the same thing. If it wasn't, we wouldn't be here to care. That we are here shows only that the universe exists as it does. That's all.

Why, then, would one not believe in a creator? I've just admitted that by the fine-tuning argument, the one is exactly as likely as the other. Simply put, believing so brings nothing to the table that needs to be there. We have naturalistic hypotheses for the origin of the universe as we know it, and we're learning more every day. I see no reason to not to believe that given enough time, these hypotheses will become theories, and we'll actually know how the universe came to be. Such is the history of science; the unknown becomes known with astonishing frequency. To say 'we know how all this happened naturally... but a god kicked it all off' is unnecessary. It's redundant. It's like adding 1 + 1 + 0 to get two. The zero doesn't need to be there. Neither do gods. And given the history of the supernatural - given that every supposed instance of things existing outside of nature has been debunked - I can't see any reason to suppose that the universe has an origin outside of natural law either.

Especially when natural law explains it so very, very well.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Dogma and the socratic method.

When I was but a whelp in high school, I had a fantastic teacher in one of my history classes. He was the one who first brought to my attention the Socratic method. He asked for a volunteer to help him demonstrate how it was used, and I, brash and cocky, raised my hand. The questions he posed were about bravery, and stupidity, and the thin line between the two. Every question I answered, he'd turn right around into my face, making it look like my answer was silly, or nonsensical, or contradictory to something I'd said earlier.

Bring in my mid-teens at the time, of course, I was upset at being made to look foolish in front of my friends, but I've never had much of an ability to be embarrassed, so that wore off quickly. And as it did, I thought more and more about the things he'd said, and how he'd forced me to take a concept I thought I'd had totally in hand and really, deeply think about it, in a way I never had before. I worked on those bravery vs stupidity questions for months, working them over in my head, trying to come up with definitions that seemed to me to have the least number of logical flaws.

What I didn't realize at the time, of course, was that I had taken the method and begun applying it to myself, holding debates in my head, playing devil's advocate, working through the flaws in my thinking and learning to truly understand the things I was thinking about rather than just knowing them.

For that teacher, it was probably no more than perfectly normal day. He's probably used that demonstration dozens or hundreds of times, before and since. But if there was one teacher in time in school that I'd like to go back and thank, it'd be him, for that moment, for giving me the method I needed to learn to think critically instead of just parroting information.

All of this relates very deeply with the concept of dogma, to me. In my debates with theists, I use the Socratic method constantly, throwing question after question at them, hoping that as we go around and around they'll take a moment, stop, and think about it. That they'll learn see the contradictions they're espousing, the logical errors, the circular arguments, just as I did all those years ago.

But it never seems to happen.

Why? If you know me, you know the answer to that: dogma. That an idea is incontrovertible. Beyond question, beyond reproach. Once an idea becomes beyond question in someone's mind, it halts all progress. The idea can no longer evolve. It doesn't matter if it's a good idea or a bad idea; the concept of evolution shouldn't be dogmatic in someone's mind anymore than the idea of god should.

It feels like trying to hammer a wall down with a toothpick. An idea that's surrounded by a thick barricade of dogma is and idea that the Socratic method can't reach. It's an idea that, no matter the evidence, no matter the contradictions or the awful logic or anything else, cannot change.

I've seen believers who claim to have the 'truth', and call themselves critical thinkers. This is a contradiction. If you hold an idea - any idea, any at all - to be incontrovertible, unquestionable, then you cannot think critically about it. If you are unwilling to see the flaws in your idea, then you are incapable of reconsidering or abandoning the idea when those flaws are exposed, and you will wind up going in circles, ignoring valid points, and struggling to invent absurd arguments to show that your idea has no flaws, no matter how obvious these are.

In short: Dogmatic belief and critical thinking are mutually exclusive. Guess which one I think needs to go?