Saturday, 28 October 2017

My Neighbour Ken

When I was about 14 years old my family moved house and we ended up next to a man named Ken James. 

He was old already when I met him so I suspect he's not with us any more, but I hope he is. He moved away to a tiny Victorian town and we visited him a couple of times, but as always happens, time did its thing and eventually we lost contact and Ken went from being a neighbour, to a friend, to a memory. 

The house we moved into was a rental. Run down, old and not very welcoming. It was a rental and we had permission from the landlord to paint and re-carpet if we wanted. So we did and although it was never great, it was better. As an aside, after we moved out, it was torn down, and has happens in much of Melbourne's suburbs now days, a bunch of units was put up in its place. 

On our first or second night, there was a knock at the door. Mum answered. I couldn't see who it was but I could hear what was being said. A man was telling mum that it was bin night. He knew we'd just moved in and wanted to make sure we knew. Kind of him to let us know. 

After a while in the house I was having breakfast with my mum and sister. And either my sister or I mentioned that we heard someone walking up and down the hallway. We each thought it was the other. Mum hadn't heard. 

It happened more than once. None of us knew which of us it was who was walking up and down the hallway. When we had friends stay over they could hear it too. Not mum or dad though. 

We decided it must be a ghost, of course. 

Mum and Ken become friends, chatting over the fence, popping over for cups of tea and the like. One day mum said to Ken 'the kids think there's a ghost in the house'. 

His reply... 'She walks up and down the hallway at night, doesn't she'? 

Mum was, of course, surprised that he knew this detail. He explained that a previous neighbour had suffered from cancer and walking up and down the hallway offered some relief from the pain. Also she'd been a nurse and had worked specifically with children and teenagers. Which was, apparently, why all us teenagers could hear her but the adults couldn't. Her name was June.

I remember hearing the walking one night....thud thud thud thud...right to left. thud thud thud thud back the other way. 

I put my hand on my bedroom door handle to once of for all look out and see what the hell was going on. But I lost my nerve and wasn't able to go through with it. I guess I decided I didn't really want to see a ghost. 

Ken gave mum a photo of June's late husband. He was a kind of creepy looking guy. Mum put the photo on the mantle piece, it was just a little 6x4. Every time she came back into the living room the photo was face down. She'd stand it up again. 

At the same time my sister agreed with me that he was a creepy looking guy. But whereas I didn't do anything about it, she did. She put the photo face down. But every time she came back into the living room it would be standing up again. 

Mum thought June didn't like the photo and wanted it down. My sister thought June did like the photo and wanted it up. It was a couple of weeks before we all spoke about it and realised what was happening! How about that, a natural, non-ghost involved, explanation. 

I never found out what was causing the walking sound in the hallway though. But never finding out doesn't mean it was a ghost, despite Ken knowing what the 'ghost' we heard did. 

Over our time as next-door-neighbours to Ken we'd see a lot of police cars and various teenagers/young men coming and going. 

Ken's house was a 'halfway' house. A place where trouble youth would come to stay when they were going awry. They were often kids who didn't have a safe home to be in. Sometimes police would pick up someone for some kind of violation and rather than putting them into the prison system, and giving them a criminal record, they'd bring them to Ken and he'd help sort them out. 

And Ken knew what he was talking about because he'd done time in prison. A lot. 

Ken was arrested for armed robbery. I'm not sure what he robbed, but I know it was with a shotgun. He was sent to prison and once he came out he decided to focus his life on making sure other young men didn't have to go through what he went through. 

In prison for armed robbery Ken was raped. Several times. And he became a murderer. 

You see, in prison, amongst the armed robbers, rapists, and murderers there are the people *they* consider the bad guys - child abusers. The prison population couldn't abide by them. 

There was a known child abuser in Ken's section of the prison. A group of men drew straws. Shortest had to kill the child abuser. The twist being, if you drew the short straw and didn't do what was required, you'd be killed yourself. 

As you've worked out, Ken drew the short straw, and did what he had to do. 

I don't know the circumstances. I don't know the method. I don't want to. 

So here I was, living next door to an armed robbing murderer and he was one of the nicest, kindest people I've ever met. Giving back to the community for years and years by helping young men sort their lives out and avoid a life of crime and prison. 

I think sometimes we're too quick to judge each other on one act or one interaction or limited information. We see a snapshot of a person and think we now them intimately. Especially on the internet. I know I've done it, and despite this admission, I'm sure I'll do it again. 

If I told you Ken was an armed robbing murderer and nothing else about him, you'd probably fear him, and certainly not want to be his neighbour. But knowing him as I did, knowing the big picture of him and his life, I had no problem being his neighbour and some 30 years later, I still haven't forgotten him. 

There's a lot of hate in the world. A lot of it happening in the atheist community. It's not healthy and not helpful. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to condemn. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to hate. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

On the marriage equality plebiscite...

First of all, if anyone shares anything against marriage equality, I will unfriend you. Not because I'm antifree-speech. Free speech is about the government not locking you up for what you say. If I unfriend you, you are still free to say whatever you like on your Facebook page, or wherever you want. It also doesn't mean I'm against your right to have an opinion. If I unfriend you, you still have the right to hold whatever opinion you like on any topic.

The reason I will unfriend you is because I am entitled to choose which people I am friends with here and I choose to NOT be friends with anyone who is homophobic and pro-inequality and pro-discrimination.

I have seen some very weird defences from people who are against equality. I saw one woman say 'what about the rights of heterosexual people to keep the rights they have?' Heterosexual people WILL keep they rights they have! It's not like this change is about removing the ability of heterosexual couples to get married and giving that right exclusively to same sex couples! The same woman also said that heterosexual people should be able to keep the 'unique institution they've always had.' I found this quite sickening. Made me think of a white person not wanting to allow a black person to sit at the front of the bus.

There is no valid defence of the 'no' side when it comes to marriage equality. There is no justification for being pro-discrimination.

The marriage act was changed by the Howard government in 2004 with NO consultation and certainly no plebiscite. It doesn't need a plebiscite to change it back. All that is needed is a simple parliamentary vote to change the marriage act. It just needs to change 'a man and a woman' to 'two people'. That is all. And it would save $120 million.

I have a daughter who is gay. She is wonderful. An amazing person. I will not put up with anyone, I don't care who you are, telling me she's inferior or somehow 'different' or some kind of second class citizen. I will not put up with anyone telling me she doesn't deserve the right to marry the person with whom she is in love.

And it's not just her. I know other gay people and I support their right to marry the person they're in love with. I support this right for all the LGBTQI people in this country. How can anyone look at a person and say 'I don't think you deserve the rights I have'? The very idea goes against everything that is good about society.

The whole idea of a plebiscite on this issue is absurd. Even making it voluntary and postal means it will cost around $120 Million. I have no idea why a heterosexual person in Townsville gets to decide if a gay person in Launceston is allowed to get married. I have no idea why anyone outside a relationship gets to decide whether or not two other consenting adults are allowed to get married.

There is a glaring anomaly in the law. The remedy is a parliamentary vote for equality. Not a months long campaign where bigoted homophobes will be telling a section of the community they're not worthy of being treated equally. It is weak of the government to do this. They are meant to be leaders. They are not leading.

But the vote (at this stage) is happening. And I'll be voting yes. I hope you all (if you're an Aussie) will be voting yes. And if you plan on voting no I'm sad for how you see the world and if I find out you voted no, we will no longer be friends.

A great society fights FOR equality, not AGAINST it.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Margaret Court

Many of my Aussie friends, and those of you who aren't, but are into tennis, have probably heard of Margaret Court. 

In case you haven't, she's an intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory cretin who told QANTAS she was no longer going to fly with them because they support marriage equality. And because she's a Christian minister and follows the bible, she thinks marriage should be restricted to being between a man and a woman. 

Apparently she was also pretty good at tennis a few decades ago. 

In the wake of what was basically an attempt to blackmail QANTAS into her way of thinking, many people have called for Tennis Australia/Melbourne and Olympic Parks to rename 'Margaret Court Arena' to something else. Evonne Goolagong Arena being the most prominent suggestion (and the one that I support). 

What I've found odd out of all this is the number of people defending Margaret Court saying she's entitled to her opinion, especially given it's her religious belief. 

Odd, because no one has said she isn't. I've not seen a single person say 'she's not allowed to have that opinion'.

The people defending her right to her opinion seem to not realise that just as Margaret Court is allowed to have her opinion, and to voice it, people are allowed to voice their opinion of her opinion! 

We hear shouts of the loss of free speech...but hang on. Why does free speech extend to Margaret Court, but not to others? Why is Margaret Court entitled to an opinion that's above criticism or response? I don't understand. 

When you keep your opinion to yourself, it is free of consequence, so long as that opinion isn't guiding actions that impact others. 

But Margaret Court didn't keep her opinion to herself. She voiced it. In a newspaper. Although we recognise her right to voice it, nothing about 'free speech' says that voicing your opinion is free of consequence. Nothing in free speech says voicing your opinion removes the right of other people to comment. She made her opinion public, and people responded. This is not anti-free-speech. This is free speech at work. 

People have also defended Margaret Court's bigotry and discrimination because it's part of her faith. It's her religion. Well my question is...why the fuck does that matter? Why does a bigoted, discriminatory opinion become acceptable just because it's religiously based? Why do people think religion gets a free pass here? 

It doesn't. And it shouldn't. 

I wonder what these defenders of bigotry would be saying if Margaret Court had said that all black people are niggers and deserve to die. Extreme? Sure. But do we give it a pass just because it's an opinion? Of course not. Any opinion, once voiced publicly is up for scrutiny and up for criticism, and up for others giving their opinion on that opinion. And none of this takes away Margaret Court's right to have an outdated opinion where she thinks certain members of society should be treated as second class citizens, because of who they love, just because she happens to be stupid or gullible enough to think characters in a bronze/iron age book of myths and fairytales are real. 

As for renaming the arena. Tennis Australia released a statement saying Margaret Court's views do not align with Tennis Australia's values of equality, inclusion, and diversity. And good on them for saying so. But I think to really back this up they need to rename the venue, though I think it's under the jurisdiction of Melbourne and Olympic parks to do this. Margaret Court is entitled to her opinion, but Tennis Australia/Melbourne and Olympic Parks are not, in any way, obligated to be represented by, or supporters of someone who's views are out of touch with their own. Renaming the stadium doesn't remover her right to her opinion. She's still entitled to it, but as I already said, nothing about free speech says your opinion is consequence free. 

I think it's time to send a clear and strong message to these anti-equality people that they are out of touch. That they don't represent modern Australia. That they don't have the support of the community at large. Send the message that we're sick and tired of people thinking hurtful views deserve a free pass just because they're based in religion. Send a message that the good and decent people of Australia want same sex couples treated with respect and equality. 

Simple fact is, Margaret Court's opinion on marriage equality is outdated, backwards, discriminatory, and based on nothing but some old book. There's nothing about her opinion on marriage equality that should carry any weight in a modern and progressive society. 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A response to a response...

Apologies in advance for taking you down the rabbit hole! 

Back in July 2015 I wrote a blog post called '10 poor reasons to believe a god exists'. If you'd like to read it, you can find it here

I've recently been talking to a Christian apologist on twitter who tweets under the handle @Lead1225. She was also known as @SJThompson but that account is now suspended. If you'd like to know more about her apologetics, you get hear her on Episode 21.10 of The Atheist Experience. (I've linked to where her call starts). 

Moving on. Stephanie (@Lead1225) saw my blog post about the 10 poor reasons to believe god exists and wrote a post in response with the slightly long-winded title of "10 Good Reasons to Believe God Exists: A Response to “10 Poor Reasons to Believe God Exists” by Mr. Oz Atheist.

It's not really a response to my post, but rather an independent list of what Stephanie mistakenly thinks are 10 good reasons to think a god exists. 

So...I've decided to respond to her response. But rather than do what Stephanie did, and just list 10 further reasons, I'm going to go through each of her 'good' reasons and explain why they are not, in fact, good reasons. Here goes....

(note - after doing 5 I decided to split it into two posts) 

1. "God's timing is perfect". 
Stephanie thinks that god's perfect timing is a good reason to think god is real. She goes on to highlight that that currently 98% of the human population has lived since Jesus allegedly lived (she doesn't say allegedly). She then points out that this will soon be 99.9%. (I haven't checked this figures, but it matters not if they're accurate)

This is a 'Begging the question' fallacy. What this means is that the argument premise includes an assumption that the conclusion is already true. A kind of circular reasoning. It's right there in the heading 'God's timing is perfect'. This already assumes god is real. It hasn't shown, in any way, that god is real, but simply insists that he is and then declares his timing perfect. Writing it in argument form highlights the circularity: 

  1. God is real.
  2. God's timing is perfect
  3. Therefore God is real. 
As you can see for yourself, this is NOT a good reason to believe god is real. 

2: "Christianity has survived against substantial odds"
Here Stephanie argues that because Jesus was a man of simple means, and made friends with people of similar simple means, it was unlikely for him to create a religion that would continue to this day. She also highlights that percentage of people who are Christians and how this percentage has progressively increased. 

This is an Argumentum ad populum fallacy. Latin for 'appeal to the people' it is the argument that because something is believed by many, it must be true. I'm sure we can all think of example of where this is false, but the one most commonly mentioned is flat earth. There was certainly a time where most (all?) people thought the earth was flat. We now know they were wrong. (Well, most of us do. Flat Earthers are a whole different blog post!) 

If current trends continue, in this century it's possible that Muslims world wide will outnumber Christians. I wonder then if Stephanie will be arguing that Islam is true ;) 

Again, I highlight this in argument form: 
  1. God is real. 
  2. May people believe it to be true. 
  3. Therefore god is real. 
Estimates suggest that there are currently one million people in the USA today who claim to have been abducted by aliens. A small percentage of the global population, sure, but Stephanie believes a man rose from the dead on the testimony of one man - Paul. If one man, with anecdote alone, can convince you a man rose from the dead, surely one million people should convince you, with anecdote alone, that aliens have visited earth....right? 

I'm quite convinced that if you were to ask Stephanie if the testimonies of a million people are enough to convince her aliens have visited earth, she'd say no. 

There are also many cases of people dying for what they believe and, again, I'm sue Stephanie wouldn't concede that this means what the believed was true. (Heaven's Gate, Jonestown, Branch Davidians to name but three).

Again, NOT a good reason to believe a god is real. 

3: The Cosmological Argument
I urge your to read Stephanie's 'argument' here for yourself as it's quite the jumbled mess. I'll break it down line by line...

"At this point, science hasn’t provided an explanation for what caused or powered the Big Bang." 
Not entirely true. Not entirely false. Science has provided at least one hypothesis. Is it consensus? Nope. Demonstrable true? Nope. Needing some work? For sure. But it exists (See Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing). And even if it hasn't, how does this point to god? It wasn't that long ago that science hadn't provided an explanation for lightning. Doesn't mean the Greeks were correct in saying it was being thrown by Zeus from atop Mt Olympus. 

"What we know is that the force to inflate the expansion of the universe did not have properties of linear time, space, and matter" 
Do we? Seems convenient, to say then when you know you're already trying to point to 'God did it' but I'm not sure this is knowledge we have. This is a pure assertion trying to pass itself off as knowledge. 

"The force that powered the expansion seems likely to be powerful." 
Says who? How do they know? Has this been verified? (Spoiler: No, it hasn't) 

"So, the assumption can be made that the force that powered the universe’s expansion was powerful, metaphysical, and eternal."
Well, I guess this assumption can be made...but there's no reason to think it's accurate. There's a good consensus that before the universe came to be in the state we observe, there was a singularity. The specifics of what it was like are unknown. Addressing her three elements: 
Powerful: It's naive to think it *must* have been powerful given we have no real idea what the environment was like. Has Stephanie ruled out the possibility that a TINY bit of energy popping, un-caused, into existence set off a chain-reaction that THEN became "powerful"? No, she hasn't. 
Metaphysical: Hard to work out what Stephanie means here, but I think she's (erroneously?) using metaphysical to mean 'outside the physical'. But I'm guessing if I asked Stephanie to explain what outside the physical means, she'd not be able to. As with the above, Stephanie hasn't ruled out a tiny bit of energy popping into existence and causing a chain reaction in the singularity. 
Eternal: If time started when the Big Bang happened then there was never a 'before' the big bang. So theists make up this idea that god is 'outside of time'. When I ask what that means, I get no satisfactory answer. (On a side note, if god is outside of time, how come it took 6 days to make everything? Shouldn't it have been instant? Also, given there is no 'before' the big bang, god couldn't have existed before the universe did. If he didn't exist 'before' the universe, how could he have created it?). 
The Cosmological argument was popularised by Thomas Aquinas as a 'First Mover' or First Cause argument. Stephanie makes it a lot more convoluted that it ought to be in her blog. It's basic form is: "Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause. This leads to a regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God."

The formal argument (from Iron Chariots) 
1: Everything that exists must have a cause.
2: If you follow the chain of events backwards through time, it cannot go back infinitely, so eventually you arrive at the first cause.
3: This cause must, itself, be uncaused.
4: But nothing can exist without a cause, except for God.

5: Therefore, God exists.

The Kalam version of the cosmological argument states that everything that 'begins' to exist has a cause. This is a special pleading fallacy. It gets out of having to apply the rules to god by saying god is outside of the rules. Says who? How do they know? 

This argument assumes the first cause must be a god, but never explains why it must be. It never explains how a god existing is more likely that a universe existing. 

There's also an element of begging the question fallacy in this argument. If only god can exist outside time, and the creator of the universe exists outside time, then it must have been god. But saying 'only god can exist outside time' assumes, already, that god is real. 

My counter to the cosmological argument is this: If you can explain a god without a creator, you can explain a universe without a creator. 

4: The Teleological Argument
More simply known as the argument from design, it is the idea that the universe is SO fine-tuned for life that only an intelligent designer could have created it. 

This is one of the weaker arguments Stephanie listed. 

Firstly, if this is a designed universe, and all that is within it is designed, how does Stephanie contrast this to something that is NOT designed? There's no way to tell. 

Secondly, what would a 'not-designed' universe look like? We only know about our own universe so we can't compare and contrast it to a 'known' not-designed universe to see the differences. 

Third: A universe fine-tuned for life is a myth. If earth is the only planet on which life exists, the amount of the universe NOT suitable for life is 100% minus earth. (and not even all of earth). To claim the universe is 'fine-tuned' for life when life exists in an infinitesimally small part of it is absurd. That's not to say the environment of Earth is not spot on for having the life WE know on it. 

Fourth: An all powerful god has no requirement to 'fine-tune'. A god, as described to me by those who believe, can do *anything*. This includes creating any kind of life in any kind of environment. If god wanted to have roses growing on the surface of the sun, he could. If god wanted people to live in a sea of hydrochloric acid, he could. He has no boundaries, no restrictions. Stephanie includes the following in her post: 

"Scientists have found that constants must fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of values for the universe to be life-sustaining. For example, the weak force, which operates inside of the nucleus of an atom, is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part of 10^100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe"

So what? With god at the helm that constant COULD be different and if god wanted life, there would still be life. The 'everything must be exactly right for there to be life' argument goes out the door when a god is in control It can do whatever it wants. It's not constrained to 'the possible.' 

Earth being well suited to human life suggests a series of NATURAL processes at work NOT supernatural creation. 

Fifth: Humans can only observe a universe in which humans can exist. The Anthropic Principle explains this clearly and easily and requires no supernatural intervention. 

Sixth: We don't know that this is the only universe to exist or to have existed. From Stephanie's post: 

"The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 10^60 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one inch target!"

It might be possible that we're in an 'expand and contract' universe (though Stephen Hawking doesn't think so). This could mean that at some point, rather than expanding, the universe contracts. And contracts so much that it forms a super-massive, tiny object (a singularity) that once again suddenly expands to form a NEW universe. This expand-contract process could have happened billions of billions of billions of billions of times previously. This could be the first time and last time life will appear. 

Seventh: We know there is a future point, even if the universe doesn't contract, where all life (whether it's just earth or elsewhere) will cease to exist. This is because there is a finite amount of fuel being burnt up by the stars. One day (a long time from now, granted) all stars will have run out of fuel. The universe will be totally empty and void. Not sure how this fits in with 'fine tuned for life'. Prior to that, because the universe is expanding, there will be a point when the galaxies are so far apart that we'll no longer be able to see another one. It will appear that the milky way is not just the 'only' galaxy in the universe, but it IS the universe. People (not that they'll be 'people') will not say 'the universe is fine tuned for life' because they won't know there is a universe. 

I'm confident you'll agree that these seven points (and there are plenty more to make) are enough to realise this is NOT a good reason to believe a god exists. 

5: The Moral Argument
This argument seems to be one Stephanie hasn't researched whatsoever, except to find things that confirm what she already believes. I once said on twitter, don't be so convinced you must be right that you don't bother to check if you are. It seems that's what Stephanie has done here. She really has no insight into morality, its origins, and its complexities. To wit she defeats her own argument in her own first line. 

" All mentally sound human beings have an innate sense of what’s moral."

I'm going to forget the 'all' and let her get away with 'mentally sound' as a standard. It's the latter part of the sentence I'm interested in. An "innate" sense of what's moral. For those who may be unaware, "innate" means 'in-born: natural". Natural. A *natural* sense of what's moral. Well, Stephanie, if it's natural....god isn't involved. 

Stephanie further argues against herself when she highlights that atheists argue (correctly, though she doesn't acknowledge this) that morality is evolved. She argues that if we evolved our morality, then groups such as ISIS, the NAZIs and Boko Haram refute this argument. 

Um....if you think we all get our morality from a single source...don't these groups negate THAT argument also? If God wants none of us to murder and (magically?) MADE us not want to come murder happens? 

Stephanie, and those of similar thinking, may argue here that 'Free will' is the answer. Well, if we have 'free will' then god giving us morality is negligible. It doesn't matter, because we STILL use our own thoughts, compassion, logic, reason, desires, and other emotions to decide what's right. We still decide for ourselves what actions we will or won't take. 

It's quite clear that morals are an evolved trait. Not just the way they differ among humans (and change over time) but also that the DO appear in non-human animals (though Stephanie seems unaware of this saying "as other creatures on this planet do not operate under the same moral code as we do." Stephanie then cites 'Craig, 2010' (I assume William Lane Craig, but I'm not sure) who points out that when a lion kills a zebra it doesn't 'murder' it. Or when a male shark forcibly mates with a female it doesn't 'rape' her. Adding these actions are 'neither permitted, nor obligatory'. Well, that's inaccurate. Mating and eating are instinctive. Humans have developed down a path where mating is required to be consensual but it still happens, even when people don't know what it is. Areas with little to no sex education in school have higher rates of teen pregnancy. Why? Because people have sex even when they don't know what sex means! Same with non-human animals. And although there are cases of people deliberately not eating, it takes *extreme* action to achieve it. We, and our non-human cousins, want to eat, and want to mate. Instinctively. 

But that's something of a digression. 

Human morals don't map 1 to 1 with other humans. They don't even map 1 to 1 within a single human. I doubt anyone reading this is free of any action they find morally questionable. I doubt none of you has done something they didn't later regret. So I'm not sure why Stephanie thinks human morals should map 1 to 1 with other animals. Other animals have evolved down different paths to humans, so to expect our morality to evolve down the same path is absurd. 

But it's not as though other animals DON'T have a moral code. 

There is an excellent TED talk by Frans De Waal which you can watch here, that shows various moral behaviours in different animals. Things such as a sense of fairness, cooperation, comfort, and kindness. 

This article at Live Science talks about animals knowing right from wrote. Examples include a Rhesus Monkey refusing to electrically shock fellow monkeys even though it meant getting food. Chimpanzees who punish those amongst them who break certain rules, and a dog helping an injured dog off a busy Chilean highway, despite the risks to itself. 

There is discussion as to whether these examples are 'hardwired' instinct or conscious moral choices. But I agree with Mark Rowlands, a University of Miami philosopher, and author of "Can Animals Be Moral?" who says the distinction is overthinking things.

It is clear that other animals, particularly mammals, have developed their own moral codes and behaviours which shows this is a *natural* process and a *natural* result of the evolutionary paths that some animals take. We are instinctively guided to protecting and furthering our species. Obviously we differ on the best way to do that, and obviously some of us lack that instinct. 

This is indicative of an 'incomplete', for want of a better word, natural process that is operating on a species that is still quite 'immature'. 

Given that morality is easily explainable without supernatural intervention and the differences in morality between individual humans, as well as humans and other animals, is easily explainable as being the result of the natural process of evolution, it's quite clear that the argument from morality is NOT a good reason to think a god exists. 

Part 2 coming soon! 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Punch a NAZI, the new Whack-a-mole

So an alt-Right, white supremacist NAZI, Richard Spencer, was elbowed in the face whilst being interviewed for television. I'm surprised at the number of people who are okay with this.

Let me explain...
In some parts of the world, views I hold are punishable by death. Atheist bloggers have been hacked to death with machetes in Bangladesh as recently as 2015.

I am an atheist blogger and am very thankful to live in a country where such a heinous crime is unlikely to happen to me.

But the idea that someone might be killed for simply being an atheist is horrifying. Most people I know and follow me through twitter are atheists, and I'm sure they think it's completely unreasonable for violence to be committed against them just because of their views.

But others disagree. They think that atheist views are so wrong, and so offensive that atheists should be killed for them.

So how can I say that I should be allowed to express my views without threat of violence, but that protection shouldn't be granted to others just because *I* find their views odious?
If violence against the holders of *some* views is do we decide? Where do we draw the line?

I know not of this Richard Spencer bloke but it's clear he is some form of abhorrent racist, and whilst being interviewed on the street some anonymous stranger ran up and elbowed him in the face.

I'm not okay with that. Not because I'm tolerant of neo-nazis, but because I'm against being physically assaulted because I hold a view that disgusts others.

I understand the views of Richard Spencer are extreme. A friend of mine feels very strongly the opposite way to me. She said that his views are the same as those that lead to millions of people being killed just for being who they were. And that he has the free will to change his views. So 'fuck that guy, punch his lights out'. 

I got accused of being tolerant of Nazism because I said I wouldn't punch a nazi for being a nazi. Then I got asked if I would punch an Islamist. Again I said no. So I got accused of being tolerant of Islamists spreading Islamism. I pointed out that I've literally been confronted by Islamists shouting stuff at me, such as going to hell and whatnot. I didn't tolerate it. I stood there and yelled right back at them. I challenged their views and told them I wouldn't be following what they said. Hardly 'tolerating' them. But when you get a situation like this....the facts don't really matter. 

So be clear, this is not about tolerating or sympathising with a Nazi. This is purely self-interest! Basically, I don't want to live in a world where it's okay to punch people just because you don't like their views. Because literally millions of people don't like my views! 

And you know what, in my opinion, if anyone deserves having their lights punched out for simply having a view, it's a NAZI. 

There's the key though. 'In my opinion'. Deciding who we can and can't punch based on our opinion of their views is a dangerous president to set. 

Because I guarantee there's something about you that someone somewhere thinks you deserve a punching for. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

God did it? I don't think so.

There is no need to invoke a more complex being to explain the universe if you don't need one to explain god.

 It saves you from committing a special pleading fallacy. So it makes more logical sense to not invoke a god.

 The 'god' explanation is simply appealing to mystery. People can't explain the universe so they invent a god they also can't explain.

 It's really the height of intellectual laziness.

 Also, 'a natural phenomenon we don't yet understand' is the ***only*** hypothesis that's ever come true.

 Gods were thought to be responsible for thunder, lightning, solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, tides, earthquakes, volcanoes.... the list goes on and on.

You know how many times the god hypothesis was shown to be correct? 

Zero. Not once. Not ever. 

You know how many times 'a natural phenomenon we don't yet understand' has been correct?

Every single time. Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be *NOT god*. Every. Single. Time.

So we sit here now, perhaps not fully understanding how the universe came to be in this state.

And despite a 100% record of failure for 'God did it' and a 100% success rate for 'natural phenomenon'...
...Theists suggest god as an explanation and somehow still expect us to take them seriously.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

8 Questions for atheists

So a person on twitter (@InspiredWalk) tweeted a link to 8 questions for atheists. 

Note the use of all capitals for NOT.

Well, Inspired're going to have to change this, because here I am, answering these questions. 

What I found interesting is that the heading of this article is '8 questions for atheists', but Inspired Walk has decided to answer them him or herself. Perhaps it would have been more accurately titled '8 questions directed at atheists, but which I am answering, despite not being one'. are the 8 questions. I'll provide the link to Inspired Walk's answers below. 


Is Atheism a LACK of Belief in God or a BELIEF that there is no God?

It is a lack of belief in God but can also encompass those who believe there is no god. It becomes a tricky area because people have different definitions of belief and knowledge. And when you throw absolute certainty into the mix, it becomes cloudier again. 
What I wonder about is the relevance of the question. I think we sometimes get too bogged down in the definitions and forget to address the claims being made (I know I've done this myself). Forget the definitions and go with these questions that the folks on The Atheist Experience use: "What do you believe and why?" No need for labels then. 

I note that Inspired Walk ends their answer to this question with the affirmation: "Atheism is a CHOICE. It is a belief system"

No, it's not. Something I explained in this passage I wrote: 


If God Exists Would You Become A Christian?

Short answer - no. 

Slightly longer answer - definitely not. 

Longest answer - I would not. Christianity is an abhorrent system. It professes to be about love, but its instruction manual is full of instructions on who you should kill and why. It's a system that tells children (and adults) that they are flawed, and are not only bound for eternity in hell, they deserve it. Oh, sure, they provide an out - a man (god?) was sacrificed in a most brutal manner to atone for the 'sins' of the people. A man living in Palestine 2000 years ago was killed so *I* could get into heaven? Please. And all this because a woman, made from the rib of a man (who himself was made out of dust) was talked into eating a piece of magical fruit. 

By a snake. 

Literal or allegory, the story is absurd. It's rife is logical inconsistencies (god put the tree there knowing Eve would eat from it, but blames Eve for what happened?) and scientific mistakes (world created in 6 days?). 

Even forgetting the Old Testament nonsense (but wait, no OT, no need for saving, no need for saving, no Jesus....anyway) We're lead to believe that humans lived for thousands of years (about 4,000 if you're a Young Earth Creationist, about 250,000 if you're scientifically literate) until such time God decided to send himself to earth as a man, in order to sacrifice himself to save human kind from...what he would do to us if he hadn't done that? Preposterous. 

Inspired Walk says in their answer: "Atheism is the belief that life is “better” without God or that life does not need God." No, it's not. But you already know that. 

The bible reads exactly like what it is, a book of stories, fables, superstitions and myths written by people who didn't know better. We know better now. It's a book about the beginning of the universe written by people who didn't know galaxies exist. They didn't even know Australia existed! 

Christianity is homophobic, sexist, oppressive, guilt driven, and scientifically backwards. 

So if god exists, would I become a Christian? No I would not. 

How Do You Determine What’s Right & What’s Wrong?

The classic reworded version of 'If god doesn't exist, where do you get your morality from?' (note - it's never phrased correctly as 'If god doesn't exist, from where do you get your morality?') 

Many species, particularly mammals, have an evolved sense of 'right and wrong'. We see moral traits such as empathy, compassion, kindness, sharing, fairness, and cooperation all over the animal kingdom. 

There's a reason for this - evolution. Our long-time-ago ancestors thrived because traits we call morality were beneficial. This genetic make up has been passed down to us through the generations. 

Of course we all have differing senses of right and wrong and right and wrong has changed over the years. (Remember slaves?) and these difference can cause issues. Sometimes we solve this with war, sometimes with discussion, reasoning and logic. 

Inspired Walk says in their answer: For the Christian the question of morality and right or wrong comes from the Scriptures / the Bible. But for the atheist, the morality issue is very murky and always changing.

If the first sentence is true, then I'd like to know Inspired Walk's thoughts on slavery and they reached them. The bible specifically endorses slavery. It even tells people how much they can beat their slaves without it being punishable. 

In the second sentence Inspired Walk says that morality for an atheist is 'always changing'. Well, if you read some history you'll find that this is true of all people, not just atheists. The aforementioned slavery, for example. Considered the norm not too long ago, classified as immoral now by every decent person I know. Homosexuality used to be illegal in my country *in my lifetime*. Now we have jurisdictions all over the world where it's not only legal (as it is now here, as it should be) but allowing people in same sex relationships to marry. We have politicians in Australia pushing for that to happen here too. (I'm so embarrassed as to how far behind the rest of the world we are on this issue). 

We, as a species, used to think burning 'witches' was acceptable. Now no decent person would dream of it. The bible instructs a rapist to pay the victim's father silver and then *to marry her*. We don't do that today. 

Morality (the sense of right and wrong) is partly innate, and partly through discussion, compassion, reason, and logic. Not some ancient book. 


How Do You Deal With Guilt & Sin in Your Life?

Well first things first, being an atheist, I don't think there's any such thing as 'sin' so I don't need to deal with it. 

As for guilt, well, it depends on what I feel guilty over. If I hurt someone, I apologise. If they don't/can't accept just yet, then we can have a discussion and try to work it out. The best way to deal with guilt is to try to improve because of it. Learn a lesson from what you did that made you feel guilty. It's a fact that no amount of guilt can take back whatever it was that caused it, but it can help guide your path to being a better person. 

Do You Act According To What You Believe or According To What You Lack In Belief?

Well, I actually think this is a good question. It's a little more interesting than the others. 

I am wary of the use of belief and it carries with it an air of being 'without evidence'. I prefer to assess evidence and act accordingly. If the goal is a healthy and happy society where all people have equal opportunity and are all treated fairly, then for me methodological-secular-humanism is the best approach. It's an idea proposed by my friend Martin Pribble and although it would be hard to get the world to act on it (the rich like being the rich, and too many of the poor in the west think they'll one day be part of the rich) but it would be worth it. 
In the mean time I like to use, where I can, the Golden Rule or Law of Reciprocity. Now before you get all excited thinking it's a biblical instruction, there have been versions of the Golden Rule dating back to ancient Egyptian Middle Kingdom (c. 2040 – c. 1650 BC)

In case you don't know the Golden Rule most commonly takes the form 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Or in more modern language, treat people the way you want to be treated. 

Pretty simple and straight forward. Of course you wouldn't want *everyone* following this. Masochists should give it a miss, for example. But it's a good starting point.   

In their answer, Inspired Walk makes the following statements: 
Atheists have NO EVIDENCE that non-life can create life but yet they BELIEVE it.
Atheists have NO EVIDENCE as to HOW the universe was created yet they BELIEVE their theories.
Atheists have NO EVIDENCE dinosaurs turned into birds but yet they BELIEVE it.

I don't know what these three things have to do with how you act as a person, but that's irrelevant as they're all completely wrong. When you write that something has no evidence, even going to the point of making it all caps, it really weakens your stance when there is, in fact *loads* of evidence. Never think there's not more research you can do. It can save you making embarrassing statements such as the above. 

Can You Prove HOW the Universe Was Created?

I flat out reject the wording of this question. I have no reason at all to think the universe was created. A better phrased question would be 'What evidence is there to explain how the universe came to be in its current state?' 

People make the mistake of thinking science 'proves' things. The goal of science isn't to prove things. And experiments don't try to prove things, they try to disprove things. Scientists use terms like 'evidence suggests' and 'the conclusion we reach from this observation is..'  and 'current thinking is...' 

It takes a solid lack of understanding of science to ask for proof as it's phrased in this question. 

As it stands The Big Bang Theory is the best supported explanation for how the universe came to be as it is. Things like the expanding universe, cosmic shift, microwave background radiation etc. all support a rapid expansion from a single point. 

Is there a lot to learn about how the universe came to be in this state? Sure. Will the answers come from a book written by scientifically illiterate superstitious goat herders? No chance. 

I'm going to include here, in full, Inspired Walk's answer to this question, and take it apart line by line. Red Italics will be mine. 

"There is no evidence pertaining to the evolutionist explanation for origin of life. There is no 'evolutionist' explanation for the origin of life. All evolutionist explanations for the origin of life and the creation of the universe remain merely as theories, presumptions and hypothesis. Again, no evolutionist explanations for the origin of life.Hypothesis and theories are how science works. No failed hypothesis equals 'god did it'.  The reason is because there is no scientific proof that for example, life may have evolved from non-life or that life resulted due to a “big bang”. As explained above, science doesn't provide 'proof' as such. But there is, in fact evidence to support the Big Bang and evidence to support the possibility of life coming from non-life. Inspired Walk should read more, and assert less. 
Therefore atheists cannot prove how the universe was created. Nor can anyone else. It actually takes faith to believe some of the theories that evolutionists have suggested. No, it's just a matter of following the evidence where it leads. 
The Bible is clear as to who and how the universe was created. God created the universe.
Genesis 1:1-2 – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Yeah, except this didn't happen. None of the evidence supports this statement. 

Can You Prove That God Does Not Exist?

No. Well, I can to a court of law 'reasonable doubt' level. I say that having not tried, but I'm pretty confident. The problem would be, of course, that you couldn't possible get an unbiased jury. People would either already believe or not. Nothing you could say would change their mind. 

The point is though, that this question is irrelevant. I'm an atheist. It's not because I can prove gods and goddesses don't exist, it's because no one can give me reason to think they do. Russell's Teapot comes to mind here. I can't prove there's not a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars...but is that enough reason to believe there is one? Not at all. 

I can't prove god doesn't exist, just as Inspired Walk can't prove Russell's Teapot doesn't exist. But that's not enough reason for Inspired Walk to believe that it does exist. 


Do You Know Where You’re Going When You Die?

Yes. I've been 'not alive' for billions of years. I have absolutely no reason to think it'll be different when I'm not alive again. 

As Mark Twain famously said: 
I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

When you're dead there's no brain, there's no consciousness. There's nothing left of you to 'go' anywhere. You're either burnt or buried. That atoms that make up your physical form are used in other areas of the universe, doing what they do. There is no more 'you'. You 'live on' in the memories of your family and friends. We live in an age where so many people have an online immortality. Our loved ones will be able to look back an know what we were up to almost every day of our lives. This is how we will be remembered. 

But there is no more 'us'. With nothing to house it, there will be no mind there will be nothing for the consciousness that is MrOzAtheist to reside in. I will cease to be. I will be an ex-tweeter. 

Like Mr Twain, I do not fear death. I'm annoyed by it (at this stage, maybe when I'm 110 I may see it differently) because I love life and I love learning. I love knowing what's going on. There are things I want to see and do. Death will be the end of that. So from that point of view, it's an annoyance. Not that I'll be annoyed after it happens. 

I do fear dying, to some extent though. Because it can hurt. It can take your dignity, and can be traumatic for friends and family. I'm at a stage in my life now where I go to more funerals than 21sts and it sucks. But it's part of life. It's what happens. 

I'm not going anywhere when I die, so I need to make sure I go everywhere I can while I'm alive. 

You can find Inspired Walk's answers here 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Marriage Equality Plebiscite

$160 million will achieve nothing. And for many will be a negative.

$160 million. That's the estimated cost of the marriage equality plebiscite the Australian government is planning for February 11th next year. The thing to keep in mind here is that the plebiscite is *non-binding*. To state it clearly, unlike a referendum, parliament can legally ignore the result of a plebiscite.

We can't have a referendum for this issue, because the marriage act is an act of parliament. Referenda change the constitution, not acts of parliament. And it's very rare to have a plebiscite to get opinion on changing an act of parliament. Because normally changing acts of parliament are done in parliament. By parliamentarians. This is, in fact, their job.

Australia has had 3 previous plebiscites.
·         1916: military service conscription (defeated)
·         1917: reinforcement of the Australian Imperial Force overseas (defeated)
·         1977: choice of Australia’s national anthem ('Advance Australia Fair' preferred.)

Two were defeated. It’s important to note that despite the choice of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ being our national anthem in 1977, it wasn’t made our national anthem until 1984. If marriage equality is voted ‘for’ in the plebiscite next year, it may not be until 2024 that it is adopted as policy. Adding further weight to the pointlessness of a marriage-equality plebiscite.

Further, when the marriage act was last changed, there was no plebiscite, no public consultation. The John Howard government introduced the Marriage Act Amendment, 2004. It included into the Marriage Act 1961 a definition of marriage. In summary, the Marriage Act Amendment, 2004 was to: define marriage as a union of a man and a woman; and clarify that same-sex marriages entered into under the law of another country will not be recognised in Australia.

It is an amendment of pure bigotry and discrimination. It exists to tell same sex couples that their partnership isn’t worthy of being recognised officially, like a heterosexual partnership is. It is a horrible and bizarre thing for a government to say to a country’s citizens.

To reverse this bigotry and discrimination, all that is needed is a further act of parliament. IE: Politicians doing their job. However, the right wing conservatives (Lead be former Prime Minister Tony Abbott) have decided that they are not for equality, and are for discrimination so there will be no government lead parliamentary vote under new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball. Instead, the expensive and unnecessary plebiscite is planned.

The government has committed $15 Million to ‘both sides’ of the debate, to be shared evenly. Yes, the government is giving the pro-discrimination group $7.5 Million. It’s simply outrageous.

If this goes ahead (Bill Shorten has introduced a private member’s bill, but this is unlikely to succeed) then we will have 5 months of hate, discrimination, and bigotry aimed at a section of our community which has already spent enough time being poorly treated.

We will have one side of the ‘debate’ saying “these people don’t deserve to have the rights I have” and people being told continually that they aren’t good enough, that they aren’t worth of being treated equally. And the government is going to fund this.

Are we, as a country that values the ‘fair go’ and a country that has a long tradition of supporting the underdog, and looking after our mates, really okay with funding a group of people that are *pro*-discrimination and *pro*-bigotry?

There are two sides of this debate. One is fuelled by fairness and equality. It’s the side that wants to see people being treated the same as everyone else, regardless of their sexual orientation. No employer in Australia is allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation, some of us think the marriage act shouldn’t be allowed to either.

The other side is fuelled by ignorance and bigotry. It’s the side that wants to tell a part of our community they are not good enough, that they are flawed, and that they don’t deserve to have equal rights because of who they love. How anyone could be on this side of the debate is beyond me.

This side of the debate will use terms like ‘my religious beliefs’ and ‘the tradition of one man and one woman’. They’ll claim that somehow what they think their god wants should somehow influence whether or not two *other people* should get married. They’ll say that marriage has ‘always been between one man and one woman’. Something which simply isn’t true – but that’s irrelevant. In the past interracial-marriage wasn’t allowed. ‘Keeping the tradition’ was used as an argument against it. Are these really the kinds of people we want to be associated with?

It’s a simple and obvious fact that some people are born to grow up to love and desire as their partner in life, a person of the same gender. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be treated equally. Some might say ‘but marriage is religious’. No, it’s not. The concept predates religion and people who are not religious in any way are allowed to be married. Religion doesn’t own marriage, therefore religious leaders (and followers) don’t get to decide who can and can’t be married.

Others might say that a same-sex couple can’t have children, and marriage is about ‘family’ and ‘children’. Neither of these points are true. Same-sex couples can indeed have children. Sure, it’s not possible in the traditional way, but it’s definitely possible. But again, this point is irrelevant because heterosexual couples who don’t want to have children or are incapable of having children are allowed to marry. The lack of children is not an argument against why two people can’t get married for hetero couples, it shouldn’t be one for same sex couples either.

Many jurisdictions around the world, including the highly religious Ireland and the USA have marriage equality and none are worse off for it. Canada has had it for over 10 years and is doing just fine, thank you.

What it comes down to is respecting and valuing the love between two people.  Two people who want to commit to each other and want this commitment to take place in front of their family and friends and to have it officially recognised by the government of the country in which they live.

You’d have to be a very cold-hearted, hateful person to say a same-sex couple doesn’t deserve this right.