Bad Reasons to Believe in God: Morality

It is quite often argued by proponents of the the Abrahamic faiths that god, whichever god it is, is the ultimate and inviolate source of humanity and that somehow the existence of our conscience, our guilt when we do bad things, is evidence for this god.

Needless to say there are problems with this.

  1. The god described in their holy books is a capricious, violent, hypocritical fuckwit of the first order. Dawkins puts it more poetically but you can find his description for yourselves. Suffice to say if you’re looking for a perfect moral guide a mass-murdering torturer and engineer of genocide isn’t a safe bet.
  2. Morality does change, it’s subjective. One can see that even through the books. Christians would even argue themselves that the New Testament overrides the old (even though it explicitly says it doesn’t) but to argue that moral systems can change is to argue that god is not all knowing or perfect since otherwise he’d have gotten it right first time. Different cultures, different times, different morals. This is particularly difficult for Muslims since Mohammed was, by any remotely modern standard, a kiddie fiddler. Try asking them if screwing children is wrong and, well… see what happens. Morality is also situational, stealing to feed a starving child would – for example – be considered good.
  3. Our conscience can enforce any moral system with which we’re ‘programmed’. While certain very broad and general moral rules seem to apply across humanity these are extremely basic and can be accounted for through evolutionary psychology and our existence as a social species (altruism good, selfishness bad). Whatever morality you’re brought up into, otherwise, will determine what you feel good, bad or indifferent about.

Summary: Offensive and ignorant, as well as being bollocks.

Bad Reasons to Believe in God: Empty Threats

Let us suppose, hypothetically, in our imaginations, just for a moment or two that I were to come to you and to tell you the following:

“If you don’t give me a hundred pounds, Bigfoot will track you down and kick you in the nuts.”

How would you react to such a threat?

It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Only fools think Bigfoot is real. There’s no good evidence for Bigfoot, just some dodgy film of some chap in an ape suit running around and some vague nonsense about footprints and hair. It’s really not very convincing is it?

You wouldn’t give me the money, would you? It wouldn’t even cross your mind for a second, you wouldn’t be scared. You wouldn’t make even so minor a change in your life as to be out £100 once off on such a threat. Good for you!

So, my question, then is this.

Why, the merry fuck, do you think I’d find the threat of hell remotely convincing?

Is Atheism a Religion?

How would you define a religion?

Let’s go to an easily referenced source, even though it gets the definition of atheism somewhat wrong. Dictionary.com defines a religion in its primary definition as:

A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

That pretty much covers, within it, the later definitions as well, so it’s a good point from which to start. Remember, the definition for atheism used in this blog, and by most atheists, is:

The personal statement ‘I do not believe in god/s’

So let’s break it down…

1. Is atheism a set of beliefs?

No. Atheism is the lack of a singular belief. A lack of belief in a god or gods.

2. Does atheism say anything about the cause, nature and purpose of the universe?

In and of itself? No. Atheism just says we don’t believe in god/s. Many atheists also give the thumbs up to naturalism and materialism (not in the money-grubbing sense) but you can’t conflate atheism with these other things, however much the Venn diagram overlaps.

3. Does atheism reference a superhuman agency or agencies?

Other than to say we don’t believe in a god/s? No.

4. Do atheists have devotional or ritual observances?

No. There are no atheist prayers, devotionals, holidays, observances, washing of the feet, praying to Mecca (or, indeed CERN) or anything else.

5. Does atheism espouse a moral code?

Atheism? No. Atheists will tend to pick up a moral code from somewhere. Some look to nature and the altruism present in social species, others to philosophy, others to game theory. A few are nihilistic, true, but atheism in and of itself says nothing about a persons morality or lack thereof. Statistically speaking though, atheists tend to be less likely to be criminals, though the reason for this correlation is unclear.

Personally speaking I mingle some game theory, some epicureanism and some utilitarianism to come to my moral code.

Summary: Is atheism a religion? Is it bollocks. It fulfils none of the criteria that define a religion.

Bad Arguments for God: Something from Nothing

So, says the theist. You can’t get something from nothing! Everything that exists has a beginning, a cause. So the universe has to come from somewhere. That cause is god!

Wrong.

  1. You can get something from nothing, vacuum fluctuations and virtual particles demonstrate this. There are also causeless events such as atomic decay that show you can, indeed, get something from nothing and uncaused events. So the claim that you can’t is bollocks.
  2. If you can’t get something from nothing, this argument would also apply to god meaning that you’d need an infinite amount of godly regression with each god being caused by a previous god forever, which is just stupid frankly.
  3. Any such cause needn’t be a god, let alone your god, even if you were right about it needing a cause.

Some theists who think they’re wily (the intellectual midget William Lane Craig for example) change this slightly from the cosmological argument (above) to the Kalaam cosmological argument which is essentially the same thing, but changes the wording slightly to say that anything that has a BEGINNING must have a cause and then conveniently says god doesn’t have a beginning. Obviously, this is still a childish argument and still doesn’t work.

  1. There’s nothing to say this uncaused cause has to be a god, any god, let alone yours, it could be anything.
  2. The universe can’t really be said to have a beginning per se as time and space are simultaneous and connected. There’s no ‘before time’ in which for any agency to act.
  3. There’s nothing to say non-existence is the default state of things in any case.Essentially these are all fallacious arguments from ignorance, based on presuppositions about the nature and state of the universe that we’re finding to be untrue.

The flaws of these arguments are so self-apparent and have been demolished for such a long time that it’s staggering that anyone would still use them.

Summary Judgement: Total bollocks.

Does Atheism have a Problem with Racial Minorities?

Oh you bastard, I fuckin’ hate pikeys.
– Gorgeous George, Snatch

Atheists agonise, a lot, over who and what we have as part of our movement. I’ve already talked about the perceived women/feminism problems in the previous blog but another issue that people wring their hands over is he lack of racial minorities in the atheist movement, particularly prominent within it.

Frankly, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is awesome enough to count for a hundred of anybody, but it is noticeable that here are less people of a non-white disposition and, being a broadly socially liberal bunch atheists worry about that.

Does it mean we’re racist?

No, it does not.

The society that we’re a part of though IS still racist, however much that’s decreasing over time. The long term effects of racism are still being felt even today in certain demographics and the subcultures of many racial demographics are sufficiently different, in a broad demographic sense, that what we’re seeing is a reflection of broader issues. Not an issue with atheism or atheists.

Racial minorities TEND to have less access to education, particularly at the higher levels. We know education and relative wealth are strongly correlated with atheism, even if it’s not causal we’d expect to see less atheists amongst a less educated and more impoverished demographic. Unfortunately this is generally true of many racial minorities.

Religion has often wormed its way into these communities. Religion may not be necessary for comfort in hard times, but it has been used that way. Religion prays upon the weak and desperate and racial minorities often place a much higher cultural value on religion either related to their home culture or to its place in drawing and keeping the community together.

It is a shame that we do not have more minority faces to speak out, but it’s not something we should agonise about. It’s no our fault, it’s a reflection of wider society and it’s NOT the problem or question that we – as atheists – are concerned about.

Give it time, it will change.

Does Atheism have a Problem with Women?

How perceptive, did you figure that one out on your own? When I kidnapped you or when I tied you up with leather straps? OF COURSE I’VE GOT A PROBLEM WITH WOMEN. Everyone has a problem with women because women taunt and tease because they are attractive and they punish you for being attracted. You claim to be a pro-sex feminist but would a feminist of any stripe be so deliberately risk taking? You dropped out of college, set up this freelance social work of yours, started bailing people out of jail and trying to reform them. Surrounded by dangerous, desperate men and look where it’s gotten you. 
– Mr Gone

No. Atheism doesn’t have a problem with women. Atheism is just ‘I don’t believe in god’ and nothing more. Atheism in and of itself has nothing to say one way or the other about women other than, perhaps, to remove the basis that many religions claim to have to oppress women – or to be fair to oppress anyone for any reason.

However… there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about this issue over the last few months, I won’t publicise the non-events that caused the fuss any more, but the overall issue is worth talking about.

So, to answer the title:

Q: Does atheism have a problem with women?

A: No. Atheism has a problem with orthodoxy.

Expecting some sort of unity from atheists, however much PZ Meyers might like the idea, is going to be tricky because like it or not the only all-encompassing definition of an atheist is that ‘dictionary’ one, not believing in god. That’s it.

I mean, here’s me, a loudmouth atheist, disagreeing with one of the leading lights of New Atheism about the definition of atheism itself. I trust my point is sufficiently made simply by saying that.

Given that this is all that really unites us little wonder that we don’t all agree on lots of things. The Hitch hates Islam more than he hates cancer, which has lead him to some viewpoints on intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq that make many of us (Atheists do tend to be peacenik liberals after all) quite uncomfortable.

There’s dissent even over the sheer strident nature of New Atheism, simply standing up and saying ‘No man, this religion bullshit is bullshit’ is too much for some atheists who’d rather quietly and meekly get on with their lives without rocking the boat.

So, we disagree, often violently, with each other over atheism itself.

Expecting such a diverse and rumbustious group to unquestioningly, and as a whole, accept feminist concepts, many of which are – like it or not – questionable or debatable, without subjecting them to the same sort of scrutiny that this community puts to any other beliefs or ideas presented to it is, frankly, stupid.

I suppose there’s an assumption taken that anyone who agrees with you on X must agree with you on Y and Z as well. Well, that’s clearly a silly position to take but I think also that within a community that’s – generally – pretty liberal and progressive its taken for granted that you’ll automatically agree with anything presented as a liberal or progressive issue.

When you don’t, somehow, that’s shocking.

It probably doesn’t help matters any that women are more often culturally and societally constricted from speaking out, rocking the boat and being confrontational which leads to a relative under-representation in the movement and a more accommodationist stance that is less popular with New Atheism.

Feminism, and to a lesser extent LGBT issues, have often spun off into their own theories and ideas in a relative vacuum, insulated from meaningful criticism. When some of these ideas bump up against other communities its natural for them to be questioned. Particularly by people who are fearless enough to question other orthodoxy with even more power of tradition and social censure behind it.

It doesn’t help, one little bit, that this natural and understandable questioning, examination of claimed statistics, methodology etc is dismissed as ‘mansplaining’ or on other spurious grounds, ironically the same kind of baseless dismissal that will cause rabid frothing from the other side.

So, to recap, atheism doesn’t have a problem with women, atheism is just ‘not believing in god’. Atheists do tend to have issues with claims that they’re not allowed to examine or subject to scrutiny and with being expected to agree with something ‘just because’.

Now. Would anyone like to go for coffee?

Faith & Harm

More than any specific religion what I find myself to be against is faith. Faith is a toxic meme.

Faith = (belief – evidence)

Faith is not limited, even in this strict definition, to religious faith. You can find this kind of unquestioning, blind loyalty also held in people, ideologies and just about anything else you care to mention.

Sometimes it can be hard to demonstrate how, exactly, faith is dangerous. It varies according to what is being believed of course but I would argue faith itself, the mere act of believing something for no reason carries with it implicit dangers.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, or rather some of the reactions to it, do however provide a very real and practical opportunity for me to demonstrate the problem of faith because, you see, the people of America have been sold a very dangerous and pernicious faith belief. That faith is the one that the rich only get to be that way through their own virtue and that the poor are only that way because of their own failings.

Is this a harmful faith belief?

Unquestionably.

Not only is it manifestly untrue but it keeps people oppressed and it even prevents them fighting back against their oppressors, far more effectively than any police state.

Look through We Are the 53% and you’ll see that oh-so-many of these people are in situations as bad, or worse, than many of those protesting as part of the 99%. Yet they have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the concept that it’s either their fault or that by sheer hard work they can overcome a society that is increasingly unequal and increasingly resistant to social and financial ascent.

These people have been sold, not only on the idea that they can overcome their situation through sheer graft, but that anyone asking for even the most basic consideration by the state, or the richest people in it, has no right to it. Rights to health and a basic social safety net that people in most civilised nations take for granted.

That’s the power and the danger of faith. It can make people work against their own individual and collective interest for the sake of an idea.

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.
– Steinback 

Thought for the day

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.”
– Thomas Jefferson

He was talking about the trinity and the full quote runs:

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.” 

In other words, don’t complain about us making fun of your peculiar religious ideas if you can’t even nail down what it is that you believe and keep jumping all over the place.

Those 15 Questions for ‘Evolutionists’.

There’s various versions of these going around. The ones I’m going to go with are from THIS video. I’m only going to bother with those that are what they purport to be, questions about evolution (there’s no such thing as an ‘evolutionist’).

1. How did life originate?

This is not a question about evolution.

2. How did the DNA code originate?

This is not a question about evolution.

3. How do mutations add information? (paraphrased).

Replication errors can copy whole lengths of DNA as well as changing the information within existing DNA. Virii and other agencies that cause mutation can also insert information.

4. How does natural selection explain the diversity of life? (paraphrased)

Simply put, populations separate and travel and adapt to different circumstances. This principle is amply demonstrated by instances of speciation in the wild and in the lab and in the phenomenon of ring species. Incidentally the original version of this question stated that creationists accepted natural selection. If that’s so they must accept evolution as a whole as it’s evolution BY natural selection.

5. How did new biochemical pathways, which involve multiple enzymes working together in sequence, originate?

Multiple changes can happen at once, just as individual ones do. Those that are better – or at least no worse – will be transmitted. Multiple improvements can happen at once.

6. Living things look like they were designed, so how do evolutionists know that they were not designed?

Holdovers such as the coccyx, the appendix, wisdom teeth, redundant structures, vulnerabilities and so on. If it were a design the designer would be incompetent. It is explicable through evolution and changes can be tracked through fossil and genetic records.

7. How did multi-cellular life originate?

Colony organisms are still individuals but benefit from being in the same place. Bacterial colonies, mats of algae etc. So long as there’s an advantage to it there’s evolutionary pressure for it to deepen and broaden. There are examples of plant and animacule life at various states of interaction and those that come together temporarily. Slime moulds for example.

8. How did sex originate?

Sexual reproduction allows for greater gene-mixing and propagation of traits through a population. We have life with intermediary positions between sexual and asexual reproduction and those that have both. Again, so long as there’s an advantage in a niche it’ll be selected for.

9. Why are the (expected) countless millions of transitional fossils missing?

They’re not. Every fossil, indeed every living thing, ever, is a transitional form. Fossilisation is rare though. You wouldn’t expect one sample of every generation of every living thing. That doesn’t mean you can’t piece together the timeline though, just as you can work out the missing numbers in the following:

1, 2, X, X, 5, 6, X, 8, 9, 10.

10. How do ‘living fossils’ remain unchanged over supposed hundreds of millions of years?

a) They don’t.

b) If their niche is stable then their morphology etc has much less impetus to change, much less need. They’re successful as they are, so long as they remain successful there’s less reason for them to change in a large way. Punctuated equilibrium.

11. How did blind chemistry create mind/intelligence, meaning, altruism and morality?

They have positive survival value in our niche (and others) and were selected for. Evolutionary psychology.

12. Why is evolutionary ‘just-so’ story-telling tolerated?

It isn’t. Remember, different traits have different survival utility in different circumstances. Evolution doesn’t ‘work’ towards a goal, it adapts to the present circumstance. Variable solutions.

13. Where are the scientific breakthroughs due to evolution?

Genetic modification, retroviral treatments, detecting inherited disorders, common descent, advances in vaccinations, genome projects, working out how people are related, paternity tests and on and on and on…

14. Science involves experimenting to figure out how things work; how they operate. Why is evolution, a theory about history, taught as if it is the same as this operational science?

It’s not history, it’s science. We can do evolutionary experiments, and we have. Predictions have also been made based upon it which have been shown true by later genetic examination or fossils. So, it is operational science.

15. Why is a fundamentally religious idea, a dogmatic belief system that fails to explain
the evidence, taught in science classes?

I guess this is referring to evolutionary science rather than creationism, though it’s a bit vague. Evolution is not a religious idea, science is incapable of being dogmatic since it must always be open to new information, it does explain the evidence and because it’s science, that’s why it’s taught in science.

The Minch who Forced Christmas

Every Bright down in Bright-ville liked the winter season…

But the Minch, who lived just North of Bright-ville, demanded “A REASON!”

The Minch hated secular wintertime fun!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one knows, he’s a bum.
It could be that his brain wasn’t screwed in just right.
It could be, perhaps that his pants were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason for his libel
May have been down to his love for the bible.

But, whatever the reason,
His bible or pants,
He stood there in winter, hating the Brights,
Staring down from his pulpet with a sour, Minchy frown
At all the damn heathens, below in their town.
For he knew every Bright down in Bright-ville beneath
Was busy now cooking their wintertime feast.

“And they’re wrapping their presents!” He snarled with a sneer.
“Tommorow is CHRISTmas! It’s practically here!”
Then he growled, with his minch fingers nervously strumming,
“I must find a way to force CHRISTmas upon ’em!”
For, tomorrow he knew…

…All the Bright girls and boys
Would wake up BRIGHT and early. They’d rush for their presents!
And then! Oh, lord Mammon! The one RESENTS! RESENTS! RESENTS!

Then the Brights, young and old, would sit down to a lunch.
And they’d lunch And they’d lunch!
And they’d LUNCH! LUNCH! LUNCH! LUNCH!
They would start on Chinese and rare curried-beast
Which was something the Minch couldn’t stomach the least!

And THEN
They would do something he liked least of all.
Not one Bright in Bright-ville, the big or the small,
Would offer a prayer or visit the church.
They’d waddle to the TV with an unsteady lurch!

They’d sit! And they’d sit!
And they’d SIT! SIT! SIT! SIT!
And the more the Minch thought of their ungodly sitting.
The more the Minch thought, “I must force their god-getting!”
“Why for a couple of years I’ve put up with it now!”
“I must club them with Jesus!”
“But – goddamnit – HOW?”

Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!
The Minch
Got a wonderful, awful idea!

“I know just what to do!” The Minch laughed in his throat.
And he made a quick cross and a Jesus Christ cloak.
And he gloated and chortled, “What a great Minchy trick!”
“With this I can give ’em the saviour schtick!”

“All I need is an angel…”
The Minch looked around.
But since angels aren’t real, there was none to be found.
Did that stop the old Minch…?”
No! The Minch simply said,
“If I can’t find an angel, I’ll make one instead!”
So he made up some nonsense about people with wings
And if anyone questioned, he beat them with things.

THEN

He loaded some boxes
And old shopping bags
On a ramshackle cross
Which to Bright-ville he dragged.

Then the Minch said “Huzzah!”
And he dragged the cross down
Toward the homes where the Brights
Lay asleep in their town.

All their windows were black. Icy chill filled the air.
All the Brights were all dreaming of a future most fair.
Then he came to the first house, there, in the square.
“This is stop number one,” The old Minch-Jesus grumbled
And he smashed down the door “PRAISE THE LORD!” His voice rumbled.

Then he smashed all their toys and their pagan display.
For trees are from Satan, or so he would say.
His cross stuck in the door, for a moment or three,
Then he dragged it inside, in place of the tree.
“Repent sinners! He cried as he ruined their day
With a smile on his face, oh the godless would pay.

Then he strutted and shouted with a gurn most revolting
When the family woke he was very insulting
“Dawkins and Dennett and Sam Harris too!”
“You’re going to HELL there’s no mercy for you!”
And leaving them confused, their holiday wrecked
He pressed bibles upon them, then outside he schlepped.

He trudged to the next house, a scientist’s place!
He burned all his textbooks and spat in his face.
“Don’t you know?” He said “There’s been revolution!”
“Behe has proven there’s NO EVOLUTION!”

He ripped down decorations and shat on their feast.
“S’not me.” He declared. “It’s GOD with the beef!”

And the Minch grabbed a pagan and punched them quite rough
When he heard a small sound, sounding out like a cough.
He turned around quick and he saw a small Bright.
Little Righty-Right Bright, who was always quite right.

The Minch had been cornered by this little Bright daughter
Who’d heard all the noise and had assumed a slaughter.
She stared at the Minch and said, “Who are you?”
“Because Jesus is myth AND not a wanker like you!”

But, you know, that old Minch was a stubborn fanatic
He gathered himself for he never would panic.
“Why, my sweet little girl…” And he gave a quotation
That stemmed from the bible – his only fixation.
That said unto her, in no uncertain terms
you must honour god or in hell you will burn.

And his lies scared the child, then he smacked her small head
And left her unconcious for Catholics to bed.
And while Righty-Right suffered at the hands of the priests
He had no guilty conscience, not one bit in the least!

Then the last thing he did
Was, he warned of hell fire
Then out he went, the callous old liar
In their house he left little, but murderous ire.

And the one thing he left
When he ravished the house
Was scripture fallacious and spit from his mouth.

Then he did the same thing to the other Bright’s houses.

Leaving drool and invective, from angers he rouses.

It was quarter past nine
All the Brights out of bed
All the Brights not a snoozing
As the Minch-bastard fled.
He’d smashed all their presents and burned all their books
Insulted philosophers, called scientists crooks!

Four-thousand feet up! Up the side of Mount Todd
“Now they’ll have no choice left but turning to god!”
“They’re finding out just how little it means”
“Without god in their lives how mean it must seem!”
“They’ll be wailing and gnashing, turning to the Lord!”
“They’ll be crying and sobbing and out of their gourd!”

“That’s a triumph” Grinned the Minch,
“To which I must lend an ear.”
So he paused and he quietened, the better to hear.
And he did hear a sound, and so he bit his knuckle.
It wasn’t a sob or a moan… but a chuckle.

This sound wasn’t pained,
His head gave a nod
Could it be that they were not…
Crying out to his god?

He glared down at Bright-ville
And his face turned quite red
The people weren’t moaning
To church they’d not fled!

Every Bright down in Bright-ville, the big and the small,
Were rolling their eyes, were they pained, not at all!
He hadn’t forced Christmas, turned them to the Lord
They were laughing, AT HIM, he was quite appalled!

And the Minch, with his Minch hands, rimed with the frost.
Stood puzzling and worrying, did they not know the cost?
“I brought wrath upon them, I worked to deceive”
“But still good-god’s grace they will not recieve!”
And he stood there three hours, while his heart sank much lower
Could it be they were right, was he stupid or just slower?
“Maybe winter…” He thought “Doesn’t depend on Jesus.”
“Maybe it’s just time to warm up from sneezes and freezes.”

And what happened then…?
Well, in Bright-ville they say
That the Minch’s small brain
Grew 6 IQ points that day!
And the minute his brain had lit up oh-so bright
He didn’t believe, in a FLASH of insight!

He whizzed back to down with the cash from his church
Found those he’d wronged – it wasn’t much of a search
And he bought them new presents, new trees, decorations
And joined in with their secular year-celebrations
Then he raised up his glass and he cried, with good cheer

“There’s no reason for the season, it just IS…
Is that clear?”