Sunday, January 27, 2013

"One of the surprising discoveries of modern psychology is how easy it is to be ignorant of your own ignorance."
Daniel Dennett
Breaking the Spell

Something Rather Than Nothing

Periodically, theists drag out this foolish old notion that since there is something rather than nothing God must exist. From start to finish this is nonsensical crap. Yes, we exist. I certainly am willing to concede that existence in and of itself is very important and quite impressive. Of course, if we didn't exist I would not be writing let alone thinking or attempting to convey my thoughts. The mere fact that we exist along with everything else in the universe does little to tell us about the nature of existence or its origin. It also by itself does not tell us what the purpose of existence or whether there even is a purpose for existence.

There were two recent pieces I came across that serve well as examples of the kind of pathetic thinking theists try to drag out of the fact of existence. Daniel Harrell in his short "Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?" only seems to manage to mangle Ockham's Razor and point out the pointlessness of his own writing. He also seems to rely almost entirely on past examples. He feebly tries to use what he sees as the simplicity of ancient philosophy as proof that simplicity is not necessarily desirable. Like so many others he confuses the importance of limiting the number of assumptions in a scientific approach to being simple. Most of his writing clearly demonstrates, despite claims to the contrary, that he has not even attempted to approach the question with anything resembling objectivity. He KNOWs at the start what the answer to his question is and simply seeks to make excuses for it. Why bother? If proof and reasoning are of no consequence then there is no point thinking about the question at all.

Mehdi Hasan's "God is the best answer to: 'Why is there something rather than nothing'?"* makes a few of the same points and with equal amounts of ignorance and foolishness. He also harps on past philosophers without ever acknowledging that the level and reliability of information available today far outstrips what was available then. It is in no way a statement (positive or negative) of their intelligence. Mehdi also uses all manner of logical fallacies to try to demonstrate that his predetermined position is correct. What I find the most mind-numbing about his entire approach is that he really believes that simply saying God did it has any explanatory value at all. It doesn't. to me it as incomprehensible as stating that the sky is blue because it is not green or red. A "supreme being" that cannot be quantified in any way created everything. Really? How to get to that conclusion based on the available information? And then why and how did this Being do it? It not only doesn't offer any substantial answers it doesn't even allow for a framework from which you can pursue any.

*Unfortunately I could not find a freely available online version of this piece. It appears in the December 21 (2012)-January 3, 2013 edition of New Statesman.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Double Standards are Not New

HuffPo has recently reposted a piece from the Religious News Service that talks about a Barna Group poll. This sums up the gist of the it fairly well, "While these Christians are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, 'they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture,' said Kinnamon."

This is not new. There has always been a segment of theists who immediately throw a tantrum when their own beliefs are questioned or criticized despite their willingness to not only do the same to other but to do far worse. It doesn't matter that their own right are not and have not been threatened in any real way. They also don't see anything wrong in ramming their views down other people's throats or insisting that government should act like some type of theological enforcer.

It only amounts to "religious liberty" when it is useful to promote their own views or to denigrate the views of others.

What if Religion is Innately Arrogant?

"It might be that our first job in responding to the rise of the "Nones" is that we should stop creating so many of them through our own arrogance and our attempts to judge others (contrary to Christ's express instruction)."

So, would that be an example of a double-standard, hypocrisy, or both? It's certainly arrogant. I don't doubt that the behavior of some Christians may have led some of the current "nones" to question religion but that is not the same thing as "creating" them. Then, there's the implication that belief is better than non-belief. Why do Osler and like-minded theists not see their assumption that being a "none" is somehow bad is not just arrogant but downright ignorant and bigoted?

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Why talk of spirits when you don't understand men?"

Reconcile a Red Flag

According to Chambers 21st Century Dictionary:

verb (reconciled, reconciling)
1 a. (usually reconcile one person with another or one person and another) to put them on friendly terms again, especially after a quarrel;
(b) (be reconciled) said of two or more people: to be on friendly terms again.
2. (usually reconcile one thing with another) to bring two or more different aims, points of view, etc into agreement; to harmonize them.
3. (usually be reconciled to something or reconcile oneself to something) to agree to accept an unwelcome fact or situation patiently.
reconcilability noun.
reconcilable adjective.
reconcilably adverb.
reconcilement noun.
reconciler noun.
reconciliation noun.
reconciliatory adjective.
[14c: from Latin reconciliare.]"

Why am I concerned with this definition? I hear over and over references to reconciling religion and/or God with a variety of other institutions and ideas. Probably the most common are reconciling religion (or God) with science and feminism. I have also heard similar scenarios with modernity, democracy, and secularism.
Over and over a number of individuals go on about how to make such reconciliations. None ever seem to question that it should be done. Why does it never raise any red flags that if religion and God need to be reconciled with so many aspects of contemporary society then perhaps there is something wrong with religion and God. Why assume it is Religion and God that must be preserved?

The "Nones" Speak

Setting aside that the label is a bit annoying, I was pleasantly surprised that a news story on this demographic actually included the voices of those the label is meant to represent. Usually they talk about us without actually including us in the conversation. NPR's "On Religion, Some Young People Show Both Doubt And Respect" did a pretty good letting the "nones" speak for themselves.

Potentially Intersting Book with Misleading Title

I recently read a short Newswise review of a new sociological study of religion that may be of some interest. It may not be particularly fair to judge it by such a short piece but it does seem to be rather misleading when you compare the tile of the new work, Building Strong Church Communities: A Sociological Overview, to the basic description of the research that went into its writing. By title it sounds like it is about religion in general but  Patricia Wittberg used surveys from Catholic parishes. The other flaw is that she did not set out to do a sociological study. Her goal from the start seems to have been to figure out how to strengthen Church communities. It seems to have been intended more as a management/advocacy manual than study.

One of the more interesting aspects that should be studied in a wider context is the apparent effect the internet is having on religious belief of adolescents. Wittberg, of course, see it as being negative that the internet is eroding belief in organized religion. If this turns out to be true (one book doesn't cut it) it is notable but not surprising. A number of sociologists have noticed that the wider a persons knowledge of comparative religion the less likely they are to identify, or identify strongly, with a particular faith.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Even Symbols can be Hamful

Caption reads: "Symbol of eternity, this 'mother tree,' a pine in northern Mongolia draws pilgrims from all over. It gave under the weight of cloth offerings, the blue ones representing everlasting heaven and piece."

I couldn't resist posting this from the December issue of National Geographic. It demonstrates too well how idiotic and potentially destructive religion is even in symbolic form. How many theists will see the irony in one symbol of eternity being killed by another symbol of eternity.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace..."

John Lennon
from "Imagine"

Jaweed, Thanks

I'm a firm believer in giving credit where it is due. In the past I have been somewhat critical of Jaweed Kaleem's HuffPo pieces, rightly so. One of his recent ones, however, impressed me.  In "Among Atheists, Talk of Death" he genuinely seems to care about the emotional well being of atheists. For that alone I have to give him credit. It further impressed me that for most of the short piece he presents a few inter-related aspects with a great deal of objectivity. He could have easily used the topic to beat up atheists and claim religion's superiority. He doesn't. Despite differences of opinions he does seem to be a decent person with good intentions.

So, Thanks again Jaweed.

1st Atheist "Church" in England

If you haven't heard yet, a small portion of the media is making a little noise about the first atheist "church" to be created in England. A minor problem with the story is that it is not actually going to be a church. It is more like a cross between a community center and a performing arts venue. The only unique aspect is that it is going to offer a variety of services that are traditionally ascribed to religion. It is those services that have once again fueled the idiotic among theists to point fingers and claim that atheism is just as much a religion and therefore faith-based as their own beliefs. Bullshit!

Humans are social animals. We all, theist and atheist alike, need to interact and feel as though we belong. There are a number of naturally occurring milestones throughout our lifespans. Even our demise is considered worth memorializing. The fact that atheists and/or non-theists feel the need to celebrate such events as births, coming of age, marriages, deaths, etc. simply makes us human. It does not imply anything "spiritual" or "religious."

A short list of pieces touching on this topic:

Stand up comedians launch UK’s first atheist church in Islington

First atheist church opens in London

Atheist Church 'Sunday Assembly' Is First Of Its Kind In Britain

Rat-man Strikes Again

Ratzinger never fails to further demonstrate what an arrogant, ignorant, hypocritical, deceitful, whiney bastard he truly is. He recently had the nerve to comment on "intolerant agnosticism" and blather on about how the church is being attacked. What he really means is that the church has come under more consistent criticism. The only real threats to the Catholic church come from its own doctrines and leadership. But the pompous asshole will never admit to that. Instead he routinely smears non-believers. In at least two major speeches he has blamed all the world's cruelty and injustices on Atheists and Secularists. Notice the suffixes. He didn't even have the decency to aim his barbs at the ideas (ie Atheism and Secularism) but instead made it personal. Then, of course, there's the fact that the church has always routinely demonized non-believers and even believing non-Catholics. I have attended plenty of masses and have heard various terms like "faithless", "non-believer", "unbeliever", etc... Not once have any of those been used in a positive way.

I seem to recall lots of Christians being fond of reciting a few pieces of scripture at times like this. Tidbits that contain something about casting the first stone. Ring any bells? The Pope really should look to get his own shit in order before he starts trouble with others especially considering what an unethical immoral cesspool the Catholic church keeps proving itself to be.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one."

More Baseless Attacks on "Mythicists"

The latest sniping comes from the dip shit behind the Exploring Our Matrix blog. "Announcing TalkHistoricity: An Index of Mythicist Claims" is an interesting title for the post since the Index does not actually exist. Premature announcements for the sake of drumming up interest is a fairly common and useful tactic but as you read further it becomes clear that not only has he not actually started working on this index he hasn't even worked out some of the basic structural issues. Of course, given the manner of the announcement my expectations of it being even remotely accurate are near zero.

Part of this announcement is a ridicilous pot-shot at Jerry Coyne.
"It continues to be the case that even a well-educated scientist like Jerry Coyne, who in his own field works hard to combat pseudoscience, is happy to jump on a fringe bandwagon in the domain of history on this particular topic and use his blog to promote those fringe views, in a manner that sadly and ironically parallels the sort of thing he finds frustrating in his own field."

McGrath includes a link to Coyne's post that sparked the above criticism. I was confused as to why he included it since it clearly shows how assinine his reproach is. Coyne does not really make any claim of his own. He points out how dubious the claims of a particular theist is in regard to the historicity of Christ. His insistence that definitive claims be backed up by clear evidence is a routine part of Coyne's "own field." There is nothing ironic about that. What is ironic is that Coyne, to the best of my knowledge, is not a "mythicist." He expresses doubt about the historicity of Christ but does not actually state a position or any interest in staking out one on the topic.

At this point I have to assume that the index in question will just be a mish-mash of apologetics and smears of "mythicists." I will keep looking for it out of basic curiosity.

Wildmon being Wildmon

I don't care what your political, philosophical, or religious beliefs are, anyone who thinks they can predict in any way what things will be like in 40+ years is a fool. Wildmon has always been an incredibly bigoted ignorant asshole. It did not surprise me in the least to come across his ludicrous fear mongering projections on HuffPo's "American Family Association Warns Christians Of Bigotry, Family Unit Ruin And A Muslim President."

 I found Wildmon's claims/fears about polygamy particularly entertaining since he bases his own "definition" of marriage on the Bible which condones such practices. Somehow, I don't think 2060 will see the end of marriage or families. They may or may not be structured the way they are now (we already have wide variations) but that doesn't say anything about their value. I also fail to see what would be so horrible about a Muslim president in the future. We've survived Christian ones.

Of course, it's possible that Wildmon doesn't really believe any of the crap he's slinging. Fear mongering has always been quite profitable for the Religious Right. Whether he's a money grubbing whore or raving looney, Wildmon is and probably always will be a complete asshole. That's not a prediction so much as it is an assumption based on past experience.