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Archive for October, 2010

I eventually closed this thread after 54 comments, deciding that the circular inanity was becoming tiresome and its protagonist was never going to be reasoned with.

In retrospect, I kinda wish I hadn’t done that. Nobody was being that obnoxious, and the stupid really was funny. I’d vacillated on whether to get involved myself, but eventually there was just so much fantastic material provided by the one resident Christian nut, I couldn’t stay out of it completely.

Here are some of the highlights, with my commentary. If anyone wants to restart the discussion here, I promise not to cut it off this time unless things become unacceptably abusive.


People who have same sex attraction are not a problem, it’s their disordered actions that are. Homosexual sex is not natural because it doesn’t exist for any reason. Otherwise you could just have sex with a hole in the ground.

First off, it’s entirely natural. It just is.

Secondly, “it doesn’t exist for any reason” is apparently now enough to deem something morally impermissible. Given that “to create a new human being” is the only reason David seems interested in, this renders almost the entirety of human endeavour not only pointless, but downright evil.

Of course, if you don’t want to write off all art, music, and literature as forbidden activities, you could note that they serve the purpose of enriching the soul, broadening the mind, diverting the spirit, and bringing joy and delight and wonder and fulfilment to our interactions with our fellow humans.

But then, if you do that, gay relationships would seem to serve the purpose for some people too.

David’s approach is utterly illiberal and oppressive. He has no complaint against this activity except a whine of “Do you have to?” and thinks this justifies homophobic discrimination.

To hell with that. Yes, you could just have sex with a hole in the ground. You really could.

Let me say this emphatically to everyone reading right now: If you want to have sex with a hole in the ground, never let go of your dream.


For what it’s worth, most Christians do not say that something can’t be true because it’s not in the Bible, so that’s a straw man arguement.

No, it’s not.

Almost one in three Americans believe that the Bible is the “actual word of God, to be taken literally”. That’s a significant chunk of the population. It’s not what every Christian believes, but I never said that it was.

The poem, as apparently David didn’t figure out, was about the different circumstances under which atheists might encounter religious belief, and the different levels of antipathy with which to respond. There are different theists described, in different situations, some largely harmless and some meriting serious resistance. It never claimed to be an a depiction of every single person who calls themselves a Christian.

So, David needs to brush up on his logical fallacies. A straw man argument isn’t named that because most people aren’t made of straw. It’s because nobody is made even slightly of straw.


[E]ven a married couple using either the pill or barrier contraception is engaging in sinful activity… [G]ay people are called to be celibate. Some “straight” people are, too.

“Called” is a cosy way of saying God will burn you if you don’t repress the urges he gave you and deny yourself the chance of finding love because of his arbitrary rules.


And for the record, I believe evolution, but not Darwinism.

I am genuinely curious what version of evolution David thinks he believes in.

Does he think it’s credible and scientific that the Biblical account of creation is a myth, and life on Earth developed slowly over billions of years… but it had to be guided by the Christian god, and any attempt to deny this is dogmatic anti-religious fundamentalism?

He never actually explains. He repeatedly claims that creationism and evolution can be compatible, so he’s clearly not using words the way I’m used to them being used. He suggests the existence of “more correct evolution hypotheses”, but gives nothing to explain why these are now rejected in favour of the current theory by a virtually unanimous consensus of experts, or how he’s reached the conclusion that all these experts are wrong. Or what the entire scientific community would have to gain by pushing Darwinism as some sort of grand deceit.

Darwin had to change the rules of science in order to fashion his theory. He changed the rules of scientific proof.

No, he didn’t. I’m not even sure I know what this means, but the theory of evolution including processes of Darwinian natural selection is accepted by the same criteria of scientific evidence as any other solidly established model of reality.


It’s our duty when teaching others to give both sides of the argument. You folks want to exclude half of the subject.

Half?

Hahahahahahahahahahaha.

Here’s a list of creation myths. Please to be explaining why yours is the one religious opinion that should be considered on equal footing with the entire modern scientific study of biology, unlike all of the others.

Why does the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster not deserve equal time to be put forward in science classes?

Both sides!!


Deists = people who believe in a God. I can show you more that the founding fathers were Christian in both upbringing and independent thought.

Actually, “theists” are people who believe in a god/God. Deism is more specific, and generally implies that, while some supreme being is believed to have been necessary for the creation of the cosmos, said being remains entirely uninvolved in human affairs, and has essentially abandoned the whole business immediately after setting things in motion.

This is most likely the belief held by most of the Founding Fathers of the United States. However they may have been brought up, there is no mention of Jesus, Christianity, God, or the Bible anywhere in the Constitution. They could easily have written numerous endorsements of Christianity into the text, if the people establishing the country had had any intention for it to be a “Christian nation” whatsoever.

In fact, they went out of their way to do the exact opposite. As you can tell from Thomas Jefferson’s precise words on this matter, or the many times he made his feelings about religion and its role in government abundantly clear.

I don’t know why I’m spending so much time on 18th century American politics, though. Moving on.


By the way, there is no evidence for gay people…

I’ll just leave this here.


Priests and clergy give up their sexuality to God in order to serve him better.

Yeah, how’s that working out for them?


But let’s look at homosexual sex from an evolutionary point of view. Sex is meant to further along a species. So, while homosexual sex may happen, it is species ending if it is the majority.

I know that if a species spends all it’s time practicing recreational sex which doesn’t produce offspring, the species will die.

First, saying that gay sex is evil because it’s not evolutionarily helpful is like saying that star jumps are an immoral affront to the law of gravity.

Second, I know spending all our time recreationally screwing each other’s brains out sounds like fun, but nobody has suggested we try that. You’re letting your imagination run away with you again, David, and the places it’s going are pretty gay.

David decries the catastrophic flaw that homosexuality is not “procreative”, but he can’t seem to decide what reason best justifies this. Sometimes it’s because God says so. Sometimes it’s because it could wipe out the species if everyone decided to do it all the time (which they’re not). Sometimes it’s… something to do with Nancy Pelosi? Wait, I think I’m flashing back to an earlier discussion.

Anyway, you know what’s just as unlikely to be procreative as gay sex? Abstinence.

I’ve never had any children, and yet my body has produced just as many sperm cells – potential humans all – as if I’d been getting picked up in gay bars every Saturday night for the past five years.

So what’s the problem with homosexuality? How does it take anything away from your own hetero concerns that you seem so keen to shove our faces in? Are the gays somehow using up all the sex, and you’re worried there won’t be enough left for when you want to get down to some hot, steamy baby-makin’?


As for your belief, or lack of belief, why should God jump through hoops for you? He already suffered and died for you. If that’s not enough, I don’t know what is.

Hey, David. I got a deal for you. You eat this spider and I’ll give you a million bucks.

C’mon, think of what you could do with a million bucks! It might be an unbearably horrible sensation while you’re doing it, but think of the reward you’ll definitely get afterward!

What’s that? You want to see the money before you’ll do it? Geeze, how ungrateful is that? I’ve already gone to the trouble of making a huge cash withdrawal and packing a suitcase full of my own hard-earned money. It’s in my car, you can have it once you’ve eaten this spider. How many hoops do I have to jump through for you, man?

I should try a different tack as well, since sarcasm didn’t seem to work too well on him the first few times it was tried.

The reason God ought to “jump through hoops” for me, David, is that he’s demanding that I surrender every aspect of my life to him. At least, that’s what his supporters claim. It’s not unreasonable for some kind of evidence that the deal’s legit before I start shunning gays, stoning children to death, and give up my regular Friday night ass-coveting session.


God didn’t want robots, or zombies, who would do everything he wanted. God realized that love without free will is slavery. He freely gave man free will.

God didn’t want his creations to be happy. He wanted them to fall prey to every mistake they could possibly be led into by the primitive urges he’d given them. Because it’s just more fun that way.

And you say this guy isn’t a sadist?


And this last one’s a real doozy.

God now uses the evil in the world to help those who try to love him. Catastrophe tends to bring people together to work to dig out of said catastrophe. Look at what happened in America after 9/11. We actually worked together for a time. That’s not to say God willed 9/11. But He took the evil action and made it into a postive.

Yeah.

I know I said not to be abusive here, but… can I make an exception when it’s so patently merited?

What David’s saying is that God could have prevented the suffering that ensued after this devastating attack, but he didn’t. It happened anyway, in spite of the wishes of our omnipotent loving creator. But although he could have stopped it, it was mankind’s fault for choosing to exercise our free will in such a damaging way.

So God gets let off the hook for tearing thousands of families apart. But he also gets the credit for all the work done in the aftermath, by countless incalculably brave people, who formed communities and support groups and tried to pull things together following such a tragedy. We’re expected to be grateful to him, for the nuggets of solace and comfort we find in each other’s company, after he allows us to suffer unbearably.

This is rationalisation of a blind ideology at its most evil.


So that’s the state of play, folks. If it ends up kicking off again, be nice to each other. Your points may seem more credible if not prefaced by straight-forward insults. And while he wasn’t above responding in kind, it wasn’t David who launched the first volley of “You’re an idiot” last time. Be nice.

And have fun!

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I don’t think I’ve written on this exact thought here before, but stop me if it sounds familiar.

The problem of evil is perhaps the most persuasive argument that all religion is bullshit. Why does so much human suffering occur, if a god exists who’s not a complete sadist?

Any deity who has deliberately or negligently set up a world in which thousands of children starve to death every single day, utterly unable to do anything to improve their circumstances, is not worth any kind of notice, let alone praise. And while every theistic explanation for this sorry state of affairs I’ve yet encountered has been insipid, vacuous, disingenuous, demonstrably false, patronising, or in some other way unconvincing, the point that most believers will eventually settle on goes something like this:

People have free will to do terrible things. If God didn’t let people make mistakes, we’d be mindless robots incapable of making any real choices about how to live our lives.

Now, even assuming that things like disease and natural catastrophes can somehow also be covered by the “free will” excuse, it still fails for one particular reason that doesn’t seem to get brought up a whole lot:

Free will sucks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d object as strongly as anyone if some alien bodysnatchers started to take control of the limbs and mental faculties I call “mine”, and of which I currently enjoy the sensation of being in command. The notion of having one’s free will taken away, or of simply being a purely deterministic automaton, is inherently kinda creepy.

But think about the trade-off here. In the above apologetic, free will is offered as the primary reason why every living human being isn’t blissfully, wonderfully happy every moment of their lives.

I cannot be alone in considering this a seriously shitty deal.

Of course, there are good reasons why giving up one’s autonomy is so often presented as a sinister prospect. In film and literature, it tends to be governments and corporations that are presumed to know what’s best for all of us, and which invariably turn out to have some kind of deplorable, megalomaniacal underside. The protagonist will usually (though not always) succeed in exposing and undermining this charade, and returning to the populace the independence they never knew they’d lost. Humanity has a hard time ahead, but a new dawn rises on a hopeful future.

And yes, that’s all jolly good. In practice, in the real world, surrendering authority so completely can only leave oneself vulnerable to being exploited, and no such guarantee of pure happiness as a trade-off can ever be trusted.

But we’re talking about God, not a group of people easily corrupted by power. Surely we can rely on the creator of the universe to be more benevolent than the guys who invented Google?

I cannot imagine anything that mankind is accomplishing in the current arrangement, which wouldn’t be far surpassed by the simple, continuous, eternal contentment and bliss that God ought to be capable of providing. If he wasn’t a dick. And fictional.

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A brief report on my colossal achievements of the day.

Rhys Morgan posted a link on Twitter earlier today to this comment on a blog discussion about the notorious non-medicine Miracle Mineral Solution. It’s one of a series of comments in which someone called Maria asserts that Rhys’s father is using him to make money, by attacking fake medicine on other people’s blogs.

At one point, she even seems to claim that Rhys himself doesn’t exist – or at least, that the online presence attributed to him is actually a cynical ploy by his father to rake in the Big Pharma payouts.

I and hundreds of others have seen Rhys in the flesh and can confirm that he is neither a hologram nor an urban legend. So, this particular piece of alt-med lunacy is just funny.

Kash Farooq tweeted:

@rhysmorgan Ahh. “Big Pharma pays you” conspiracy, now is it? I preferred the conspiracy theory that claimed you didn’t exist.

To which I replied:

@kashfarooq This sounds like a fun game. @rhysmorgan shot JFK! #rhysmorganconspiracytheories

And thus a hashtag game was born. Some of my favourites include:

Soylent Green is @rhysmorgan!!

It was @rhysmorgan swimming in Loch Ness in the 1934 photograph

@rhysmorgan is just a big hole through which aliens enter the hollow earth

‘Peer reviewed’ actually means that @rhysmorgan checked it to make sure it fitted with Big Pharma’s agenda

Paul the octopus knew too much about @rhysmorgan.

And many, many more.

Apparently it was the third highest trending topic, either in all of Twitter or just in the UK, or something. I missed it because I was in a meeting. But it’s pretty awesome. This is the stuff I feel proud of these days. Maybe in years to come I’ll feel ashamed that I ever considered something like this an accomplishment. Especially if I ever actually get a damn novel finished.

Incidentally, I just thought of the title for this post now, several hours too late. Maybe it’s just as well I didn’t come up with it sooner because it’s terrible.

As a brief post-script, there are currently 51 comments on this post, and the debate seems to be carrying on. And it’s hilarious. Join the fun!

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While I certainly enjoyed myself at TAM London this year, not everyone seems to be a fan.

The most prominent and contentious criticism – not of the particular way things went down at the conference itself, but of the very concept of even holding such an event – seems to be the Champagne Skeptics post from Gimpy. Holding a massive event such as TAM is, to his mind, “too expensive, insular and divisive”, and detrimental to the skeptical movement.

The main worry, which he’s repeatedly expressed on Twitter, seems to be of having one single organisation take over and monopolise the very notion of skepticism, at the expense of more widely accessible grass-roots movements. He’s worried about it turning into an elitist, selective business only available to those with enough money to make it to the occasional back-slapping gathering in a posh hotel.

It all seems very odd to me. Until barely a year ago, The Amaz!ng Meetings were something that had never happened outside Las Vegas, Nevada (except the original gathering of 150 JREF forum members in Florida in 2003), and were attended by a few hundred people exactly once a year. If this lone annual event was capable of somehow dominating the skeptical movement, the movement itself could never have taken off in any way.

It’s true the meetings were exclusive, and attracted big names like smaller local events couldn’t, and had a very high ticket price (it’s a charity fundraiser, after all) – but who has ever had their entire notion of what the skeptical movement is about defined solely by these meetings?

I’d considered myself a part of the skeptical movement for a long time before first attending TAM in London last year, because of my participation in blogs and on Twitter. I met two people at this year’s TAM who I knew, and who knew me, as a result of this online participation. (It could’ve been more if I wasn’t so shy about introducing myself to people strolling by.)

And I hadn’t even gone to a single one of the numerous local meet-ups available, whose total attendance far surpasses TAM collectively. These events are a regular fixture in the calendars of many people I know, TAM attendees included, and a source of just as much fun and inspiration as the occasional massive conference. People are regularly motivated and inspired by the chance to spend some time with like-minded people, on a smaller scale as well.

There have been two new Skeptics in the Pub groups inspired directly by this year’s TAM London (Ealing and Cheltenham & Gloucester, I believe). There were a number of more accessible fringe events associated with the conference, taking place the week of the event, such as a pub quiz costing £2 on the door to get in. It’s rejuvenated people’s excitement about the skeptical movement’s potential, as well as getting some media attention and alerting a greater number of the general public to the fact that gossiping about sciencey stuff in a pub is a thing that other people do.

My point is: how is grassroots skepticism being hurt by one costly event, once a year, happening amidst a flurry of other activity driven solely by personal passion and commitment?

The skeptical movement is all about the grassroots work done by people who feel strongly about something and want to do some good in their own time. James Randi and his organisation have been huge supporters of some of the major skeptical victories of recent times, such as Simon Singh’s libel case, or the ongoing battle to stop the NHS funding homeopathy. These things don’t need TAM or the JREF, but they’re all part of the same picture.

Rhys Morgan has become a skeptical superstar just in the last few months, entirely because of work he’s done off his own back to counter quack medical claims, and his online involvement with the community. At this year’s TAM London, he was given the award for Grassroots Skepticism, and was given the fastest standing ovation I’ve ever seen, but that was barely even relevant to what he’d achieved with the support of the rest of the skeptical movement. TAM recognised and promoted the value of this, and proudly, but the JREF had no direct influence in anything important.

Alom Shaha was somewhat less infuriating on this point, but still doesn’t seem capable of making any important points or offering good advice – like about skeptics engaging directly with schools – without expending far more effort demeaning some of the activities that so many are already finding purpose in.

The problem with this is highlighted acutely in a comment by shockingblu, a newcomer to the skeptical movement, excited to meet people from whom he could learn and with whom he could share ideas, but who’s trying not to be discouraged by all the skeptic-bashing coming from other skeptics, and the “barrage of accusations” about what he’s supposedly doing wrong.

So, I don’t have much time for this rather tedious bashing of what seems to be a positive effort to do something good. And Martin Robbins has rebutted much of it far more eloquently than I have, anyway, in a comment on Gimpy’s posterous; I can’t link to the comment directly, but search the page for ‘Martin Robbins’ and you’ll find it about halfway down.

A rather more interesting critical take was provided by Crispian Jago, who enjoyed much of the event but with some reservations, and some good points are being made in the ensuing comments.

And further worthwhile thoughts arise courtesy of David Allen Green – who was also on great form at the event itself, which I shamefully neglected to mention in my own write-up.

Perhaps the strongest criticism he makes is of the “essentially negative” nature of skepticism itself. It’s worth noting that, if it’s the process which possesses this feature, then this is not a problem with the way the skeptical movement is currently presenting itself. Rather, it’s a factor which the movement should be aware of and account for when deciding how and where to direct its energies.

And in some sense, he’s obviously right. Skepticism tends to be largely about the denial of improbable claims, which is necessarily a negative action, about breaking things down.

But just about everyone I’ve encountered in the skeptical community understands that there can be more to it than this, and there should be if it’s going to be worth participating in things. They don’t gather in pubs or conference centres to talk for hours about how everything’s shit. They’re building friendships, and professional connections, and having fun, and enjoying each other’s company, and launching libel reform campaigns. And often joking (and occasionally ranting) about things that are shit.

Well then. There we are.

Not my most insightful or well constructed piece, if you ask me. The really smart people are probably the ones staying out of all this nonsense and just concentrating on getting shit done.

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I wrote another poem. This one has a title.

(If you want to join in the comment discussion, go here.)


 

There’s A Theist On My Doorstep
 
 
There’s a theist on my doorstep,
And he’s asking me to look
At some godly threats and promises
Inside some holy book.

I’ve no time for fairy stories,
And I’ve heard this one before,
So I think I’ll tell him “Thank you, no,”
And simply shut the door.

For he seems a pleasant fellow,
Trying to do what he deems right,
And while his fantasies harm no-one,
There’s no need to start a fight.
 
 
There’s a theist in my village
Who’s a preacher, I’ve heard tell,
And he speaks in fiery rhetoric
Of sinners and of hell.

His dogma is offensive,
And there’s cruelty in his words,
But his congregation’s smaller
Than his shoe size by a third.

So I mostly leave him to it.
After all, it’s his free choice,
And I think he mostly talks to hear
The sound of his own voice.
 
 
There’s a theist on the internet
Whose blog is read worldwide.
He has thousands of supporters
At his feet and by his side.

But his logic is as flimsy
As his “tolerant” veneer,
So I’ve started up my own blog
Just to make a few things clear.

I doubt there’ll be much of a chance
That his mind will be changed,
But I’ll make sure only one of us
Sounds angry and deranged.
 
 
There’s a theist in my classroom
Who says Darwin got it wrong,
And we all should read the Bible,
And our faith we must keep strong.

Well I won’t sit here in silence
While the science gets distorted.
It’s the school board’s job to make sure
His indoctrination’s thwarted.

He might cry discrimination,
Though his free speech is intact,
But we won’t respect religion
When it masquerades as fact.
 
 
There’s a theist in my government
Whose deity’s expected
To provide her moral guidance,
And to get her re-elected.

Her faith, of course, is personal,
And merits little note.
But if this is how she’ll run things,
Then she’s not getting my vote.

Who knows what God will order her
On any given date?
I’d rather not entrust him with
Our economic fate.
 
 
There’s a theist on my TV
Telling gays they’re less than whole,
And unless they plead forgiveness
God will damn their evil soul.

Now I’m starting to get angry,
And I’m going to speak out.
I don’t care if it’s uncivil;
This is hatred with some clout.

Don’t you dare tell us that love’s a sin,
You smug, self-righteous twat.
No, I won’t be fucking tactful
When you’re saying shit like that.
 
 
There are theists on my planet
Who are murdering their friends,
And who torture their own children
For insane religious ends.

People die because of witchcraft,
Maybe thousands every day –
And it’s this same kind of “faith”
That makes your neighbours kneel and pray.

Mankind has done much good which had
Religious thoughts behind it.
But sometimes there’s no harm
In calling bullshit as you find it.


 

Update 28/10/10: Uh. Wow. I’ve closed comments on this thread for now, because I was getting really bored with them. And by bored I actually mean fantastically entertained, but I don’t get the sense it’s going anywhere useful. I’ll post something else either tomorrow or at the weekend recapping the action so far, with a completely fair and unbiased summary of why David is completely detached from reality. You can all carry on with the back-and-forth from there if you like.

Update 30/10/10: The new discussion post, with my reply to some of David’s more entertaining comments, is now up! Have at it!

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Sometimes, “accommodation” can fuck off.

This is one of those times. Mike Adams is despicable scum.

No, not this Mike Adams who’s despicable scum. The other Mike Adams who’s despicable scum.

Maybe it’s something about the name Mike Adams that turns people into hateful pedlars of nonsensical bullshit. Probably not.

In response to the recent tragic spate of teen suicides by young people made to feel ashamed of who they were because of their sexuality, nobody’s paying attention to the most important thing that Mike Adams can think of.

He wants to know: won’t someone please think of the Christians??

He tells the stories of eight people in America being abused and discriminated against (by “homosexual activists” – those gays are always throwing their weight around), who eventually took their lives because of how they were made to feel about being members of the most privileged and popular religion on the planet.

Except, by his own admission, he’s full of shit.

There were no suicides. There were, however, seven lawsuits launched by the Christians being discriminated against.

Gay people feel so ashamed that they take their own lives. Christians feel so entitled that they sue.

I know which group I have no sympathy for.

(h/t PZ and the Friendly Atheist.)

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But is it art?

Mojoey has an interesting post about offensive art, and the nuttiness of certain attempts to destroy pieces of art simply due to the personal offence taken.

I don’t have much to add about this, but I thought it worth highlighting his concluding sentence:

Inhibiting thought is evil.

This may be the most concise expression of humanist philosophy I’ve ever come across. Can anyone beat four words?

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