#Atheism – Why I Loathe Islam

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
– Inigo Montoya

Time was, I would have told you that while Islam was a horrible, nasty, squalid little religion it wasn’t really that much of a threat to modern Enlightenment values or the west, but that Christianity was. In the triage of religions we needed to marginalise it seemed to me that Christianity had far more sway over public life than Islam did, what with Church schools, Creationist nonsense, evangelical scam artists and so on.

I’m not as sure as I once was.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks I posted a bunch of the cartoons that were made in response with the tagline ‘Fuck Islam’. Impolitic, perhaps, but truthful.

The resistance to that simple, pained and understandable statement was incredible and not from the kinds of people you might expect to be against murderous religious nutcases enforcing censorship from the barrel of a gun, but from my fellow left-liberal types. All manner of apologia for the actions of the terrorists and ways to excuse Islam from the equation were presented, even a great deal of victim blaming as we’ve also seen in the mainstream media. The idea that somehow this reaction should be expected and normalised because they were being provocative.


There’s a kind of paralysis that falls over my fellow lefties when you can be accused of a thought crime. Whether it’s ‘islamophobia’ (which is a dog whistle for ‘racist’) or accusations of ‘misogyny’ when you’re fighting against censorship and for ethical journalism in games media. There mere accusation is enough to taint any further discussion and it doesn’t seem to matter how wrong or ridiculous the accusation is, it has power.

Let’s get a couple of things out the way first:

  1. Islam is not a race. There are Muslims of pretty much any race you care to mention. This should be obvious enough that it doesn’t constantly need restating, yet here we are.
  2. Phobia’s are irrational. Islamophobia would be an irrational fear of Islam. Given the context of Shariah law, the links with terrorism and other barbarisms it could be argued that ‘phobia’ is an inappropriate suffix. Fear of Islam, given the content of the Koran and the state of Islamic nations would appear to be a perfectly rational response. Islamomisia, irrational hatred of Islam, would seem to be equally inapplicable in most circumstances. It’s going to be impossible to avoid Godwinning in this article, so let’s get it out of the way. You wouldn’t accuse a Jew in 1940s Poland of being ‘Naziphobic’, because their fear and hatred would be entirely justified because of the beliefs and actions of Nazis. So it goes.
  3. Islam isn’t like other religions. While there are commonalities, mostly between the Abrahamic faiths, Islam isn’t a personal religion that confines itself to faith, belief and personal conduct. It is a complete system for theocratic autocracy with a great deal to say about personal, professional, governmental and judicial conduct. It is as much, then, a political ideology as a faith and one that draws its authority from ‘god’. The ultimate autocratic dictatorship. It’s not some wishy-washy, half-hearted spirituality like the Church of England, it has very defined and delineated ideas – many of which are anti-human.
  4. Islam ≠ Muslim. There are many lovely Muslims but the fact of the matter is that you can only be a lovely person by being a bad Muslim. If you’re OK with people making fun of your prophet and your god you’re a god, chilled, laid back person, but you’re a bad Muslim because the Koran and Hadith and the example of Muhammed himself (Al-Nadr bin al-Harith, Uqba bin Abu Muayt, Asma bint Marwan to name but three)  tell you that you should kill people who do that. There are many great people who are Muslims, but they are great by virtue of being bad Muslims.
  5. Hating with Good Reason is not Bigotry. Merriam-Webster defines a bigot as ‘a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc.’ The key here is ‘unfairly’, which shifts the question to asking whether it is fair to hate Islam or not. I would argue that it is.

I have read the Koran and many of the Hadith (all of the Sahih). I have engaged in very long arguments with Muslim apologists and creationists and have even had brushes with Islamic spokespeople like Anjem Choudary and Mo Ansar. I have devoted considerable time to trying to understand the faith and its adherents and have come to the inescapable conclusion that it is a primitive, violent and dangerous faith with no good prospects for reform.

But why?

  1. Extremism is Mainstream. When you say ‘religious extremism’ you might be thinking of something like the Westboro Baptist church. A couple of dozen loony-tunes existing at some far-flung edge of the religious spectrum. While Islam has those too, even mainstream, ‘moderate’ Islam is pretty damn extreme. Wanting to live according the Shariah, a set of hideously barbaric rules come up with in the 7th century here, today, in the modern era is mainstream for Muslims, but extreme to everyone else. 20-40% of UK Muslims polled want Sharia law brought in, and that poll is from 7 years ago, according to most analysts things have gotten worse. Another poll showed unanimous loathing for homosexuality amongst British Muslims, with a margin of error of 4%.
  2. The Koran is Unquestioned. A huge part of the problem we face with any religion that is based on a supposedly divinely inspired book is that it is simultaneously the ‘perfect word of god to be followed to the letter’ and riddled with contradictions and vague statements that can be interpreted as one sees fit. The Koran is no different on this score but, unlike Christianity, does not have a kinder/gentler second book that justifies ignoring most of the first for its followers.  When the book outright advocates death, torture, mutilation, wife-beating and all the other horrors we’re now all to familiar with its hard for anyone claiming the title Muslim to speak against it – or they’re an apostate and subject to imprisonment, shunning and/or death. This is only made worse by the Hadith which, generally speaking, prioritise and give license to the more violent and horrible passages.
  3. Muslims Weasel. Getting a straightforward condemnation of the actions of ‘extremists’ is very hard, excepting some of the more politically minded or already outcast Muslims (such as the Muslim Council of Britain or Majeed Nawaz). Why? Because the ‘extremists’ are drawing from the holy Koran, which is the infallible word of god, so to condemn or question the ‘extremists’ is to question god or the prophet. Things which aren’t allowed. It’s like getting blood from a stone to get a clean, clear, outright condemnation of terrorism, violence, intimidation, poor treatment of women or even, most telling of all, child rape. Why the last? Because of Mohammed’s marriage to Aisha. Admitting that it’s wrong to have sex with children would be condemning the prophet, so you can’t do it.
  4. Islam Appears to be Unique. Islam’s ability to create suicide bombers, to excuse and encourage the worst aspects of human behaviour wherever it is followed, to unleash real horrors upon innocent civilians and the militarise believers appears to be unique in its scope. Terrorists exist across all ideologies and faiths – yes, even Buddhism – but Islam is the grand-daddy of them all possibly because of the cult-like nature of it, its internal enforcement and the lack of access to alternative points of view in Islamic communities. Yes, the actions of The West and Economics play a role, but to ignore the role of religion is ignorant.
  5. Islam Makes People Stupid. Not the Muslims, but my fellow lefties. Islam terrifies many of them in its implications, but so does the idea of being ‘racist’, of not being completely accepting and open to other points of view – even if those points of view are wrong, stupid, violent and dangerous. Never mind that you would not the same reaction when criticising any other ideology. If one were to say one hated Stalinism, for example, because of its cult of personality, the gulags, the purges of the intellectuals, its insane ideas about agricultural policy and the genocide of the kulaks, you would not be accused of being racist and your points would be taken seriously. Say something similar about Islam however and people will lose their minds.
  6. Islam is Hugely Arrogant. According to Islam we’re all born Muslims. This is why they use the term ‘revert’ for converts to Islam, instead of converts. This would just be annoying were it not for the fact that apostates (those who leave the religion) are subject to death under the Koran. Handy, but hardly fair or respectful.
  7. It’s Just Horrible. Sexist, racism, advocating for slavery, rape and murder, mutilation and so many other horrors. Its beliefs helped end the Islamic Golden Age as they became more rigorously enforced, it’s viciously anti-semitic, anti-scientific, dogmatic, autocratic and domineering. It has no true ‘moderate’ centre as we would understand it. I don’t see how any moral being can excuse it.

Nothing is simple, there’s always other factors, but so long as we keep ignoring Islam’s dogma, hate fuelled passages and its affect on the world we’re not going to be able to find or work towards solutions that might help. Ideally the human species needs to divest itself of religion (and faith) altogether, but that’s an unrealistic goal. Islam, at the very least, needs a reformation or a new sect. One that is explicitly peaceful and distances itself from its own violent past, one where membership is not automatic and enforced under pain of death.

Charlie Hebdo’s approach, that so offended Muslims, was to treat Islam the same way it treated every other religion. With scorn and childish schoolboy insult. ‘You’re not special’ was the message and it’s one that needs to be seen more. Instead, increasingly, we get cowardice in the face of Islamist threats and news organisations bowing to their demands, even while those who share their professions lay dead in morgues for standing up for universal principles that make life better for everyone.

I don’t hate Islam through ignorance, racism, bigotry or prejudice. I hate Islam having studied it, having seen what it does and what it believes and having seen how its unreasonable threats and terrorist actions make coward and hypocrites of those who should be standing against it.

And now I’m going to try ignoring it, like Gamergate, because people can’t stop and think whether I have a point long enough to overcome their panic.

2015 can’t get any worse at least, right?

Atheist Imprisoned for ‘Insanity’


While atheists have plenty of issues all around the world, at least we don’t have to deal with this sort of problem any more.

In Nigeria, Mubarak Bala has been beaten, threatened, drugged and confined to a mental institution simply for being an atheist.

He lives in Kano in Nigeria‘s predominantly Muslim north. The state adopted sharia law in 2000 and has a strict Islamic police force called the Hisbah.

You can read a full run down of the issues at the following links:

While Change.org is essentially a meaningless online petition site, you can sign HERE.

You can email the Nigerian Ministry of Justice directly HERE.

International pressure and human rights pressure CAN make a difference here. Nigeria is an up-and-coming economic and social power in Africa and wants to be seen as a modern state. Mubarak’s situation runs counter to those wishes and so they should be vulnerable to pressure from groups like Amnesty. As a member of the Commonwealth they may also be susceptible to pressure from the British government. You can email the UK Foreign Office HERE.


#Atheism has an MRA Problem?

tumblr_mqkupetBAj1syitgfo1_500A response to this article.

No, atheism doesn’t have an MRA problem and, frankly, I expect a bit better of Patheos than to take sides in this particular, ongoing conflict.

‘MRA’ has become a slur to be hurled at anyone of dissenting opinion in the arguments over gender etc in much the same way as ‘feminist’ used to. Maybe we’ll see that change over time (the shift to MHRA -Men’s Human Rights Activist – is hopeful). It says nothing, it’s just an ad hominem shut-down attack in the same way ‘fedora’, ‘neckbeard’ and other nonsensical terms have become. None of it adds anything to the debate, but these slurs tend to go ignored while trolling gets taken seriously and treated as though it were people genuinely involved in the debate.

It is, perhaps, more appropriate to say that atheism has a feminism problem, in the shape of Atheism Plus.

Atheism Plus and it’s Tumblrist, pseudo-progressive nonsense has driven a wedge clear through the atheist community. The arrogant presumption was that simply because everyone who was an atheist didn’t believe in god they would have to agree with everything else they thought. That’s not the case at all. The only thing that unites atheists is their lack of belief. Otherwise you will find atheists of all manner of beliefs, all manner of political affiliations, all manner of positions on other topics.

There’s some things that are true as a demographic, we will TEND to be more liberal, TEND to be more intelligent, TEND to be more educated, TEND to be more law abiding but a tendency doesn’t describe the whole. Personally, I find the kind of ‘social justice activism’ promoted by A+, FTB and their ilk to be archly conservative, dangerously censorious and perilous to free thinking.

As with our engagements with religion, we find that people are perfectly happy for us to be skeptical in our examinations of any faith but theirs. We are not, it seems, allowed to be skeptical of feminism. As an ideology it seems to be considered beyond criticism, beyond challenge. Any challenge to its ideas, even the crazier ones, is treated as though it were heresy. Little wonder, then, that people like Thunderf00t, frequently criticised for his skepticism of feminist claims, have taken exception to it.

Are we skeptics or not? Do we want to know what’s true or not? Why would we tolerate conspiracy theories like ‘Patriarchy’ and leave them unchallenged when we’re willing to critically examine closely held beliefs that have lasted thousands of years? Why can’t we point out the flaws in the Wage Gap when we can challenge the very claimed existence of Jesus?

There’s a deep inconsistency there.

I also expect better from Patheos than to use fallacies in attacking something they don’t like. What possible difference does it make that MHRAs are white, (racism), young (Ageism), male (sexism) or conservative? An argument stands or falls on its merit, surely? Ah, but then according to some of these people you can’t be racist to whites, sexist to men etc etc. Pure bunk and another idea that should be subject to robust critique.

There’s another false assumption in the article that mass attacks by trolls are somehow the actions of MHRAs or other atheists rather than… trolls. It’s never been adequately explained to me why people think this. I’m sure there’s some crossover of course, but who benefits from treating trolls like they’re serious threats and genuinely mean it? Well, you need only look at how Sarkeesian, Criado-Perez and Watson have profited from their victim status (legitimate or not) to see why someone might take trolling more seriously than it deserves.

Speaking of this, Melody Hensley has come under concerted attack recently. Why? She’s publicly a feminist (a popular troll target because feminists react), she’s publicly an atheist (another popular target for trolls), and she’s claimed to have PTSD – a dubious claim and another big red rag to trolls.

Should she be trolled? No. Is it understandable that she is being? Yes. Can we separate the trolling from the scoffing, skepticism and arched eyebrows? Sure we can. What about the claim itself? PTSD from social media? That sounds unlikely in the extreme and little wonder that a great many people who do suffer from PTSD and other forms of mental illness (myself included) are incensed by what we see as her trivialisation and devaluing of a very real and present problem for a lot of people.

Still, conflating MHRA with troll is just as unfair and dishonest as conflating feminist and troll, and believe me, it’s tempting to do that. I’ve been verbally attacked, threatened, had my jobs come under attack, my work boycotted (failed) and it blows up again and again. Whenever I try to honestly engage in debate and try to understand the Social Justice Warrior position all I get is my appearance attacked, called names, my hat mistaken for a fedora (as though that were relevant), my past scraped over, threats of doxing (not that I’m that secretive) and on and on and on. Something I’ve not suffered from actual trolls or people who just disagree with me – even religious nutters, even Jihadis and right wing terrorist groups like Christian Identity.

I think that says a lot, but I’ll still – try – to take people one at a time.

So what’s really going on here?

I think I’m going to blame ‘intersectionality’. It sounds good on paper, considering the way different forms of advantage and disadvantage interact, but in practice it divides and subdivides a community more and more, diminishing and diffusing any power it has to be a unified voice.

Here’s a radical idea I want to present. So long as we all agree about religion being wrong, let’s agree about that and work on that problem – debunking creationism, promoting skepticism, secularism and freethinking. If we don’t agree on what political party to vote for or whether same sex marriage should be legal or not, who gives a fuck? We can campaign on those individual issues with people who agree with us there.

We don’t NEED to be a homogenous whole.

That’s not to say we can’t have this debate, but let’s make it a ‘goddamn’ debate, not a slagging match.

My door’s always open to sensible debate and there are no sacred cows here. Let’s extend that to the rest of the community.



A few short years ago I would have considered myself a feminist, in that I would advocate for equal rights for women. However, that is no longer what feminism is and that became abundantly clear to me when my defence of freedom in fiction made me a target. ‘The radical notion that women are people’ or the cause of equality is not the feminism of the censors, it’s not the feminism of Criado-Perez or Suey Park, it’s not the feminism of Watson, Sarkeesian or Atheism Plus. It’s not the feminism of holding men guilty until proven innocent, it’s not the feminism of blaming everything on ‘patriarchy’ or using ‘privilege’ to silence contributions. It’s not the feminism that speaks of ‘male violence’ or terrifies people with specious talk of ‘rape culture’. If you’re a feminist in terms of equality, you’re not the kind of person being grumped about.

I’m on the verge of actually ‘joining’ the MHRA movement if only because I see the same kinds of irrational bitterness driving it I also see in feminism and I think it needs more sane voices. I also think the association with the right is problematic, as is feminism’s association with the ‘left’. There are plenty of left/liberal critiques to be made of modern feminism that are going unsaid.

Aethics: On Sex Work

eadycruikshanketchingbmSex work is always controversial, largely because anything to do with sex is always controversial. Within this term I am including pornographic actors, professional doms and submissives for hire, strippers, prostitutes, rent-boys, escorts and other related professions under the whole common cause of being shamed and blamed for various of society’s ills.

Currently the big conflict is the confusion between people’s concept that prostitution is synonymous with sex trafficking, and the impression of voluntary sex workers that they’re acting of their own accord. It is fair to say that there is a problem with sex trafficking issues, but it is unfair to think that everyone who sells sexual services is forced, coerced or otherwise wrangled into doing it. There are many women, and men, who are quite vocal on the topic and assert that they enjoy their work and have chosen to participate in it – for any number of reasons. There’s no good reason not to take them at their word.

What can a strictly rational approach tell us about sex work, its societal effects and what might be the best approach to it?

What are the Facts?

  • Statistics in this area are notoriously unreliable and incomplete and many of the studies undertaken are intended to be biased to confirm one point of view or another. As a grey/black trade getting hard data is going to be notoriously difficult. We must, then, proceed without the benefit of reliable statistics.
  • One study believes that there are, or were, some 80,000 street prostitutes, that is, those not working in a brothel or out of a flat/house. Whatever the number, these are the most vulnerable and exposed.
  • Prostitutes, especially street prostitutes, are vulnerable to rape and abuse from clients especially given how hard it can be to go to the police for help.
  • Sex trafficking does exist and is an horrific abuse of men, women and children.
  • Other forms of trafficking also exist and possibly/probably on a much larger scale than sex trafficking. Illegal workers are an issue in many countries, often little more than slave labour and controlled in a similar way to those who are trafficked for other reasons. Many of these workers end up hurt or even killed.
  • Voluntary prostitutes and other sex workers should be taken at their word when they say they are not coerced and/or that they enjoy their work.
  • A driving factor for many lower-end prostitutes is economic. You could frame this in the form of economic coercion, or you could see this as a way to make ends meet when no other is available. Sex industry work is also common amongst people in higher education, helping to pay fees while they work through college. Such economic factors also drive people to take less than ‘ideal’ jobs of all kinds just to make ends meet.
  • STDs are of concern and the clandestine and ephemeral nature of commercial sex contact provides a possibility for STDs to spread unknown.
  • The potential damage to existing relationships when someone pays for sex is a concern, albeit a moralistic one. Affairs are essentially the same thing, and may be more damaging being more emotional. On the other hand, access to commercial sex may enable relationships to continue despite sexual or physical problems in one partner, allow partners to explore their sexuality in different ways or to provide an outlet that prevents someone straying in a more significant manner.
  • Sex, physical relief, is a basic human need. Sexual contact promotes physical and mental health. Relationships are not viable for everyone and many people spend a lot of time outside relationships. There are people with various physical and mental issues that mean they cannot access the ‘singles scene’ and these people too have a need for physical intimacy. People who care for severely disabled partners also have needs and these can be served physically at a distance from intimacy.
  • Legality is variable and ill defined, depending on national and local laws. This makes for a confusing mish-mash that serves no-one and is often contradictory or inconsistent. For example, it being illegal to purchase (or ‘dispense’) sex for its own sake, but it being legal to do it in the production of pornography.

What can I conclude?
The truth is that we have long known what the best approach to the ‘problem’ of sex work is. The problem is not that we have no idea what to do about this, but that it is politically unpopular. This is the same issue facing drug legislation and even much broader problems such as crime. As such the issue is one of educating the general public and reaching a critical mass of voters, rather than simply knowing what to do.

The current harmful sides of prostitution – the presumed risk of STDs, the hotly contested degree of trafficking, money going to criminal organisations etc – are minimised or eliminated by bringing sex work (of all kinds) out of shadiness and darkness and into some sort of legal and regulatory basis. Trafficking would be undermined, licensed premises and sex workers could have to fulfil certain criteria for licensing, medical aid and free contraception could be targeted and provided where most required.

The only real reason, that stands to scrutiny, that anyone might be against full legalisation and legitimisation is ‘moral’, which is a rather slippery and subjective way to go about making any sort of policy. With it fully legalised people would be free to partake and participate, or not, as they wished.

Ultimately it does no real harm that people do not bring upon themselves. It provides many goods. Could contribute tax revenue, aid social mobility and despite all that what people do with their own bodies should be up to them (provided that it causes no real harm). People sell their bodies and talents in innumerable other ways without the same judgement or comment (manual labour) and there seems to be no reason that stands to critical examination to disallow people from buying or selling sex.

With pornography, including ‘extreme’ pornography, so long as everyone involved is consenting I see no reason to censor it or make it illegal. With strip clubs, lapdancing and so forth it seems peculiar to me to fixate upon the paid-for nakedness when alcohol is on sale. Clearly we’re willing to accept the unquestionable societal ills of booze in exchange for the comfort and business it brings with responsible use.

Full legalisation and responsible regulation of any and all of these professions will remove the involvement of the criminal element and create a safer environment for both customers and sex workers. It’s a complete no-brainer.

The Dangers of Creating an Atheist ‘Community’

Backstab_by_BabushkaYagaIt sounds like a good idea I’m sure. Forging the greater community of atheists into some sort of united ‘force for good’. It’s tempting to think that forming a lobby in a similar manner to the Jewish or Evangelical lobby could forward our agenda. What is our ‘agenda’ though? All atheism means is that we don’t believe in god and while other things are common amongst atheists (we tend to be on the left/liberal side of things, we tend to be pro science, pro choice, pro equality, pro secularism) this is by no means certain and there are plenty of things we don’t agree on.

We don’t have to agree on them either.

This week I’ve been watching the feminist groups on Twitter infighting amongst themselves. Despite the fact that they all agree on fighting for the equality of women (at a minimum) they divide themselves up and bitterly infight along fracture lines of age, ‘wave’, transsexualism, conservative/radical, equity/gender, left/right, sex/gender, LGBT issues, disability, anything you care to mention. Julie Burchill, despite being spectacularly un-self-aware of her own divisive nature pretty much nails it here.

What does this mean? Well, it means that they spend a lot more time fighting each other over who is the most progressive and inclusive and virtually no time at all fighting the ‘patriarchy’. It also costs them allies who agree with them in principle but see what’s going on and back away slowly crossing themselves.

We’ve seen this same problem in the atheist community already. Remember how ‘Brights’ went over? Remember the failure of Atheism+?

Why did these movements fail? Why aren’t more atheists members of secular humanist societies? Because the only thing that unites us is our atheism. You add to that, you cut people out who don’t feel they can go along with the rest. This results in weakness, division and irrelevance. I can’t go along with Atheism+ because I can’t go along with their censorious and radical feminist perspective. I don’t believe in all the same things they do or prioritise things the same way they do and so I am excluded from that group because of it.

If you want another example of where this all went wrong, you only need to look at the Occupy movement. When it started it was purely anti-corporate and – in the USA – against the ruling that corporations were considered ‘people’. You had left anarchists alongside right libertarians, you had black bloc alongside tea partiers, anyone who had beef was in. Then they started trying to be something more than a simple protest. They began putting out manifestos and trying to set rules and boundaries. The infighting began, accusations of impropriety, ‘mic checking’ to shout people down. Before long all that was left were stereotypical hippy drum circles and the novelty, the power of that singular statement was gone. Occupy faded into insignificance and achieved pretty much fuck all.

We don’t all need to agree. We’re stronger if we agree on one thing and let the rest slide. We can campaign on those other things in our own time. New Atheism worked (works) because it’s simple. It’s just about not ceding the public square, about standing up and being counted, about saying your piece. Trying to forge anything more than that will only weaken us.

Being part of the atheist community means, and should only mean, we don’t believe in god. That’s all it should take. We can commiserate and support each other. We can share funny stories. We can be a community in the sense of shared experience and conceptual living space.

If you want to campaign for secularism, do so. I will.

If you want to engage in counter apologetics, do so. I will.

If you want to campaign for science and education funding, do so. I will.

If you want to debunk creationist claims, do so. I will.

But I don’t require you to do these things to be my brother or sister in unbelief. I don’t need you to agree with me on politics, gun control, drug legislation or anything else. We don’t even have to agree on tactics – different things all work. It’s not a competition to see who can be the most progressive. Our strength is in our diversity, that we’re a community like any other. Fractious, divided, but together in spite of that. Ordinary people.

Fusion Theism’s New Fallacies

Discussions about religion often end up in the realm of identifying logical fallacies. Typically, as an atheist, one sees the Argument from Personal Incredulity, Argument from Ignorance and Circular Reasoning. Fusion Theism in his post HERE and on Twitter, tried to identify or create new fallacies applicable to atheist thinking and as one of the few polite and reasonable debaters to be found, he’s worth answering.

The Double-Standard Fallacy:” Accepting one form of evidence for your own claims, while simultaneously rejecting this form of evidence for your opponent’s argument.

I confess I don’t know what he’s referring to here as I haven’t seen this occur. It’s possible he’s referring to the way in which we take scientific knowledge as truth, even though it’s relayed to us and comparing that with people taking biblical ‘knowledge’. In other words, the idea that ‘both are from books and we have faith in who is telling us’. All of this is assumption and perhaps he can clarify, but I would point out that science – unlike religion – is subject to peer review, repeat experimentation and has practical real-world applications that confirm its usefulness. IF this were accurate, it would indeed be a problem.

“The Tree-Falling Fallacy:” This argument goes something like this: ‘If a tree falls in the woods and no one recorded it, it never happened,’ or ‘If no one wrote a book about Alexander the Great, that means he never existed.’

This is trying to justify the fallacy of Shifting the Burden of Proof. The point missed is that without evidence for something, it is not logical or reasonable to accept it. Trees falling is a regular occurrence and the existence of a fallen tree is evidence that it fell in and of itself. When it comes to historical figures the comparison being drawn is obviously between Jesus and Alexander (there’s other examples people like to use too, like Socrates). Compared to Jesus, the claim ‘Alexander existed’ is supported by numerous contemporaneous accounts, archaeology, the records of conquered nations and it is not an extraordinary claim. So not only is this an attempt to shift the burden of proof, but it’s inaccurate too.

“The Goat-Herder Fallacy:” Attributing automatic falsehood (and rejecting the arguments of) anyone based on their profession or career. Example: ‘I reject the Bible because it is written by goat-herders.’

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone actually say that’s WHY they don’t believe the Bible or dismiss the arguments. Rather it is a snarky way to make a point that people in the past were ignorant of much we know today. If this were accurate you could argue that it’s a sort of inverted argument from authority.

“The Contemporary Fallacy,”(also known as “The JFK Fallacy”): This fallacy goes like this: ‘Any books written about President Kennedy after his death in 1963 must be rejected as myth, since they were not written about him while he was alive.’

Again this seems to be making a false comparison between the religious mythology of Jesus and actual historical events. Books about JFK are drawn from contemporaneous accounts, film footage, recordings etc. There is absolutely nothing contemporaneous in the stories of Jesus.

“Telephone-Game Fallacy:” Automatically assuming that adults cannot accurately relay facts to other adults, based on a popular children’s game.

Well this isn’t a fallacy and oral history does, indeed, have issues. We can’t be sure of distortions 100%, but we can be reasonably sure.

“The Uneducated Fallacy:” Attributing a lack of education to your opponent simply for holding views that are different or opposite from your views.

That would be an argument from authority, but it can be true. Most people who reject evolution – for example – know little or nothing about it.

“The Truth Fallacy:” (also known as “The Mislabel Fallacy”): Re-defining the word “truth” or “evidence” to only apply to the position that you support, or to the kind of evidence which supports your argument, but not your opponent’s argument. For example: ‘Only science can be accepted as truth or evidence,’ or ‘Only the Bible can be accepted as truth or evidence.’

If accurate this would be a fallacy of redefinition.

“The Auto-Myth Fallacy:” Automatically assuming that an ancient book is myth because it is ancient, or automatically assuming a book is myth if it does not agree with your worldview.

Arguing that an ancient text is accurate or inaccurate based purely on its age would be an argument from antiquity and from its modernity an argument from that. I don’t think anyone actually says that it’s merely age that makes something a myth.

“The Bias-Fallacy:” Attributing more bias to anyone who has a different view from yours, than you attribute to the people who hold your view.

Cognitive bias is a real issue. In my experience non-believers are more aware of it while theists embrace it as though it were a good thing.

“Extraordinary-Fallacy:” Automatically labeling something false because it sounds extraordinary to you.

A reference to ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. I wouldn’t say this is a fallacy per se since it still calls for evidence. I think we can also, usefully, define ‘extraordinary’.

“The Born-This-Way Fallacy:” Claiming that the best argument is always the one which most closely resembles the knowledge you were born with. For example, ‘Atheism is a much better option than theism, because everyone is born without knowledge of God.’ This would be fallacious since everyone is also born without knowledge of science, logic, math, etc.

I don’t know that anyone has claimed this exactly, rather they’ve pointed out that this is the state of nature and that they remain unconvinced otherwise. Religion is not like science, logic, mathematics etc. We could re-learn all these from scratch and come up with the same answers. IF religion started from scratch, it would be virtually unrecognisable.

“The Raised-This-Way Fallacy:” Claiming that the best argument is the one most closely matching the status or knowledge you were raised with.

I’d file this under cognitive bias again, rather than a fallacy as such. It’s also one that very much fits theism.

Subjective Morality

What are morals? Are they relative values? Are they subjective or are they objective? Where do we get them from?

Morals are (sometimes) codified criteria by which we decide what is good and bad, right and wrong.

Morals are relative because they vary from culture to culture, time period to time period and are also situational. An Aztec would have considered it a good thing to be sacrificed and to have their heart cut out. Slavery was considered morally acceptable up until mid-way through the 19th century, and isn’t today. We would be more lenient with someone with someone who stole a loaf of bread to feed their starving family over someone who stole diamonds purely for personal gain.

Even these are relative, there are bound to be people who disagree with me even on these.

Are they subjective or objective? Given that they’re relative as we’ve already established and given that people’s opinions and reactions differ it is obvious that they are subjective. Even if we reduce it down to the level of ‘what’s good for humans?’ in the way Sam Harris has tried to, or in the way utilitarian or epicurean systems have tried to, that’s still only applicable to humans (or given the evidence from other primates, some of them too). If a snake, a lion or any other creature with a different evolutionary history was intelligent enough to codify a moral system then we would expect their conception of right and wrong to be very different indeed.

Where do we get them from? The evidence would suggest evolutionary psychology being where. Instincts and behaviours can be passed on biologically as well as socially. We see that in the behaviours of all manner of creatures, many of which are quite complex and cannot reasonably be considered to have been passed on culturally. We also see natural variation on morality within humans, though we only recognise its negative extremes (sociopathy/psychopathy). Genetics are a reasonable predictor of where someone will fall in allegiance to political parties. Most of human contention in politics and in personal relationships seems to be about this tension between selfishness and altruism, though even selfishness is excused as an appeal to naturalism (Randian Objectivism, trickle-down economics, the invisible hand of the market).

I think of morality as existing in three layers (foundation at the bottom):

Individual: Our own moral decisions from experiences, thought etc. A personal code of ethics.
Nurture: The moral codes and behaviours instilled in us by our culture, parents and education.
Nature: Our inherited, evolutionary moral sense.

The higher ones on the chart can override those lower on the chart.

For example, our instinct might be to provide care for someone in need. Our received notions of morality might override this by telling us that someone got themselves into trouble or somehow deserves what is happening to them. Our individual, personal sense of ethics might override this by leading us to make exceptions for friends or people we think are ‘the deserving poor’.

What hope, then, of finding any kind of universal morality?

Well, none.

There is hope of finding a human moral system, or multiple human moral systems that work though. There will be some things that are natural and universal to humans but there may be multiple ways of getting to them. The idea of ‘least harm’ and ‘most gain’ is a good guide, as is accurate information upon which to make decisions. Any moral system must have room to flex, to deal with situations, exceptions to bend and change with new information.

Utilitarianism and epicureanism are an obvious place to start as they measure relatively objective factors. We can test things and judge their results. Thereby finding our way to things that work, much in the same way we might seek to find a new design of wing. Of course, we cannot turn this into dogma, we would need to constantly reassess, explore and test as we would in any other field.

There’s hope, but the old way of thinking needs to be torn down first. Intellect needs to overcome ideology, faith and black and white thinking.