No More Private Lives

3ff432767a926da1c4b53b41e0c30fce.1000x750x1There used to be a sharp divide between your public life and your private life. There were a few exceptions, of course, public officials who pronounced on the importance of propriety and the family or who represented people by common mandate could find themselves undermined by revelations about their private life, but otherwise the two were kept fairly separate. The exception was when facets or details about someone’s private life became ‘in the public interest’.

That didn’t mean simply that ‘the public find this interesting’, but rather that their lives, health, livelihoods or other important life-aspects were placed under threat. It wasn’t really in the public interest if Lord Whatshisname was gay, particularly (unless he was making rulings on gay marriage etc) but it would be relevant if he were being blackmailed over that by criminal or other interest groups.

Public interest, of course, became ‘prurient interest’ and those living in the public eyes (celebrities of all sorts) became the subject of gossip magazines, paparazzi houndings, wild speculation and more. Even the legal recourse of taking people to trial for libel and slander was little deterrent. Too expensive and too time consuming given the sheer volume of material.

Now most of us live, to some extent, in the public eye via social media and this is having a massive, erosive effect on the institution of having a private life. Increasingly businesses believe they have a right to monitor and hold us responsible for our conduct outside of business hours and, furthermore, people who disagree with our stances and politics in our private lives seek to censor us by threatening our jobs and opportunities.

If you’ve read Trigger Warning there’s some fine examples of this issue relating to football, wherein private – somewhat racist – cell phone and text message conversations were leaked, revealing a side to certain managers, staff and players that had been entirely opaque in their public lives. One has to ask then, if such was undetectable in their public conduct, why it would matter what they said to each other in private. Especially when it’s not entirely clear how much may have simply been non-PC banter and blowing off frustration.

Away from there, to pick one of many examples from people’s normal lives there’s the Clementine Ford/Michael Nolan incident. He called her a slut, in response to other responses to her provocative pseudo-trolling style of journalism.

Is calling a woman a slut a nice thing to do? Even a contrarian controversy-baiting hatemonger like Ford? No, obviously not.

Is it any of Meriton’s business (the company he worked for) what he does in his own time? No, obviously not.

Is it acceptable or proportionate to go after someone’s livelihood over an online disagreement, however vociferous? No, obviously not.

Yet this happens more and more. Social media occupies a strange place between private and public communication and straying more towards one or the other depending how you use it.

If your Twitter is locked and you only use it for conversation and to follow a couple of hundred people that’s much more akin to a private account than one that doubles as a business outlet and which has a few thousand mutual follows.

Your personal Facebook should not be considered the same as any product or business pages you happen to run on there as well.

I tend to use the analogy of the pub to explain what social media conversations can be like. You’re out in a public space, with your friends, having a conversation at your table and with many other conversations going on around you, but others can eavesdrop, join or leave the conversation and even argue with you. It’s neither a fully public nor a fully private space.

Something has to change and the reassertion of the private space may be a part of that. It may even require changes in the law, so that it would be unfair dismissal to fire someone for their lawful expression outside of work hours. This is also another aspect of private censorship that we need to worry about, along with the ‘public square’ now being in private hands and immune to the protections free expression is afforded by the government.

If we respond with a ‘so what?’ to people’s private expression, made public, if companies can say “We can’t fire him, it’s a privately held opinion unrelated to the business,” then maybe we can claw back some of our collective freedom. After all, someone thinking ‘jet fuel can’t melt steel beams’ has no effect on their ability to fold t-shirts at GAP.

The End is Nye

1267825310-billnyeSo Bill Nye is ‘debating‘ Ken Ham.

Many people are decrying this as a terrible idea and quoting various people who have their reasons for not debating creationists – and these are excellent reasons. Dawkins and others have chosen not to debate creationists because the ‘debates’ are not entered into honestly by creationists and because it lends credibility to the creationists who manage to ‘bag’ a scientist. It puts them on a – perceived – equal footing.

I don’t know that this is one of those cases though.

Much as I love Bill Nye and consider him an important educator and populariser of science and critical thinking, he’s a TV scientist and not a Dawkins, a Dennett, a Krauss or a Cox. There is little in the way of kudos to be gained by getting to debate him.

I’ve watched some of Ken Ham’s talks about creationism and the style he affects is a very self-effacing, jokey, down-home-country-style approach. It puts one in mind of the folksy lawyers so often used in The Simpsons and Futurama, playing up their idiocy and humility to play on the emotions of the jury and the gallery.

Eminent scientists can misread to your average punter as arrogant. Certitude, based on a lifetime of study and ready access to the facts, is seen as somehow sneering at or demeaning the common man.

Nye is a humble man, a man of good humour and a man effective at getting quite complex ideas across to people, especially children. These seem, to me, to be perfect qualifications to get through to what will likely be a fairly ignorant, predominantly creationist audience.


I would not suggest that Bill goes into this as a debate, but rather that he uses the opportunity to lecture and to teach.

His opponent will throw a huge amount of garbage at him, all at once. The well known ‘Gish Gallop‘. If Bill tries to explain and defuse every bullshit argument thrown at him he’ll get nowhere because he’ll run out of time. Explaining why creationist arguments are wrong, unfortunately, takes a lot more time and effort than presenting them.

Rather, then, Bill should talk about:

1. The Scientific Method.
2. Why Ken’s historical/observational science split is dishonest.
3. The differences between and evidences for for BBT, abiogenesis, evolution and human evolution.

Arguing with Atheists: A Muslim Primer

IslamicMore and more the arguments over creationism/evolution, science/religion and atheism/theism are going on between members of the Islamic religion and atheists more than Christians. On the one hand this may be a hopeful sign, Christians seem to have given up trying to argue that their beliefs are rational or empirical and – instead – tend to resort to emotional arguments which, obviously carry little weight in a debate on whether something is real or not. Islamic debaters, on the other hand, still seem to fiercely cling to the notion that Islam is a rational, scientific and evidential religion whose truth is ‘undeniable’.

The problem is that these arguments are all the same ones we’ve seen before and have disposed of before. To the Islamic debater they seem new and powerful while to the atheist they seem tired, boring and have been gone over time and time again. Perhaps this means that we dispose of these debaters too quickly and dismissively but its hard not to when they’re fired up and excited over something that was disposed of decades, even centuries ago.

Let’s save ourselves a lot of time by covering the basic arguments that really have no place in this debate any longer.

Atheism is simply the personal statement ‘I do not believe in god/s’. It is not anything more than that. While a lot of atheists come to this opinion because of logic, reason and science people can be an atheist for many reasons. Some of them worse reasons than others. Still, confusing atheism with anything else confuses and mixes up the argument.

The Prime Mover Argument
We’ve heard this one so many times that it will always meet with an eye-roll. Yes, paintings have a painter, buildings have a builder, but the natural world, the universe, life, these are not the same things. If you argue that everything must have a cause then you are still left with the need to explain the origin of your god. IF everything requires a creator then it follows that this must also apply to ‘god’.

A slightly more ‘advanced’ version of this argument is the ‘Kalam’ argument. Which argues that god is an exception to the requirement for a cause. The problem with this is that it doesn’t further the argument. If there can be an exception to the rule then why not something other than god? Why would it be your god?

Arguing for a prime mover does nothing whatsoever for the argument. It’s a pointless distraction.

Look at that Tree/Flower/Baby!
Just because you don’t know how a tree (or whatever) could come about naturally doesn’t mean that it did not. Evolution is massively well evidenced and it produces things which seem designed, but are not. When you make this argument you’re not actually making an argument at all. You’re engaging in one of two logical fallacies (or even both). The argument from ignorance: “I don’t know. Therefore god did it”, and the argument from personal incredulity: “I can’t believe it happened the way you say, therefore god did it.”

The Koran is all Scientific and Shit!
You say the Koran ties in with science but there are problems with this claim.

Firstly the Koran is a mythological (and bad) poem, not a science book. Its language is vague – Arabic is a particularly vague language – and can be interpreted any number of ways which makes it particularly fluid in being rewritten to fit modern understanding. Let us give one particular example as a case in point:

“Have not the unbelievers ever considered that the skies and the earth were once one mass, then We split them asunder?” 21:30 (Malik Translation)

If you don’t consider it very deeply – as most don’t – this seems to be something to do with The Big Bang. If you consider it for more than that single moment however it all falls apart. The Big Bang is the origin of the universe (if such a world is appropriate for the universe), not the earth. That isn’t the only problem though as anyone with a passing interest in science will know. The Big Bang is not an explosion or a splitting asunder but rather an expansion, an inflation of spacetime.

You’d think a god would know better and get it right.

Secondly Islam is far from the only religion to make such claims and much of the ‘science’ in the Koran is cribbed from the ancient Greek scholars and philosophers. Its wrong, but less wrong than many religions simply because it is newer than many of the others. Still, one can find aspects in many religions – many of them much older than Islam, Christianity or even Judaism – which resemble (or have resembled) scientific thought.

An Appeal
A bearded imam shouting fallacies and asserting incorrect statements on a Youtube video is not convincing. What will convince most atheists? Evidence, plain and simple. You need evidence for the existence of a god. Please check whether your arguments have been refuted before and bring your ‘A’ game because we find re-treading old ground particularly tiresome.


Things Christians Should Consider When Trying to Make Debate Rules

I was recently referenced to THIS. Some of which makes some sense, much of which doesn’t. Let’s take a look at these points one by one and show where the issues lie:

1. Understand What you Attack

Generally speaking we do. Indeed many atheists become atheists precisely because they come to understand Christianity (or other religions) and hence their shortcomings. In general I find atheists have a much better and complete understanding of religion than those who support it. This sounds surprising, but if you think about it for a little bit, it really isn’t.

2. Learn Biblical Theology

Given that there’s so many different and contradicting theologies, this is an impossible ask.

3. Learn From Correction

Again, given that each sect, even each believer, seems to not agree on what they believe or how to interpret, this is impossible. It’s also somewhat hypocritical to ask.

4. Don’t be Stupid

Oh, the irony.

5. Don’t Use Incendiary Statements

What constitutes an incendiary statement is very different from person to person. Often simple facts are taken as incendiary by people as an excuse to flee an argument.

6. Don’t Use Emotionally Loaded Terminology

The examples given here include ‘Christian mythology’, which is obviously only a loaded term if you’re irrationally biased and wedded to the mythology in the first place. Again, what it taken as ‘loaded’ will vary from person to person.

7. Be Respectful of What We Believe

I thought lying was a sin in your theology? We don’t respect what you believe. Respect has to be earned. We respect YOU enough to argue it.

8. Use Logic and Evidence

Oh, the irony.

9. Read Biblical Passages in Context

Which is, of course, code for “Interpret them the same way I do”. This has the same problems as mentioned before, nobody does that the same way.

10. Don’t Cut and Paste from Anti-Christian Websites

This gets about as much ground as ‘Don’t post Bible passages’ would. It’s often a lot easier and quicker to give references in an argument. It’s useful.