Science & the Mass Extinction of Primitive Thought

2401285296_57f4963b2d_b.jpgPlants caused a mass extinction, but also the conditions that led to new forms of complex, energetic life – eventually human beings.

This happened because of a single radical change, the advent of photosynthesis. This swept away the overwhelming majority of other forms of life and was such a powerful change that it almost wiped out the organisms that stumbled across it.

Yet, coming out the other side, this was the great shift in biology that brought us to where we are now.

It’s no secret that I don’t like philosophy. It’s an improvement on religion, but it’s still – essentially – a blind groping after truth that falls victim to its own pedantry far more often than it produces anything useful or insightful. It seems scared of the prospect that we might be able to know something and is rife with internecine wars over terminology and meanings that – to an outsider – seem blindingly obvious (such as the Empiricism/Rationalism conflict, which is absurd, reason needs something to operate upon and confirm its hypotheses).

Still, after yet another argument over these points and the absurdity of metaphysics, I had something of an epiphany about just why science is so powerful and transformative. Why it has had the massively disruptive effect that it does and how this can be analogous to great biological shifts.

Consider this. Early life had no real way of reasoning or experimenting as we would think of it. We sometimes use these terms to describe evolution, but this is anthropomorphising it. Our language relates primarily to human activity, and so we have a tendency to humanise these forces. Still, evolution operates by blind chance, combined with selection.

A bacterium cannot consider the value of photosynthesis or strive to discover it, but variation and mutation down generations can modify and differentiate randomly and, eventually, a particular strain will ‘hit’ upon a successful change. Like developing the capacity to photosynthesise.

Before the capacity to think evolved this was the only way an organism could ‘reason’ or modify its behaviour. Via survival. This is – obviously – immensely wasteful, and this is akin to theology. The blind groping of faith, the superstition of the false positives – as we find with the ‘religious pigeons’ experiments. Perhaps, by chance, this would occasionally discover something useful or applicable, but more often than not it would not.

The capacity to think, to reason, exists at many different levels in the animal kingdom and so is hard to pinpoint, but we do know that animals besides humans are able to puzzle out their surroundings and solve problems, to a degree. Squirrels will negotiate assault courses and solve simple puzzles to get at nuts. Crows, dolphins, otters, apes and monkeys have been observed to use tools in their problem-solving. This has greatly increased their capacity to survive and deal with their surroundings and this is, perhaps, analogous to philosophy. It’s better than the massacre-dependent blind automata of semi-random evolution, but not by a great deal. It did provide the evolutionary impetus for the development of intelligence, however, and that gets us to humans.

One can argue over whether humans have a monopoly on what you might call ‘true intelligence’ but it is different to the problem solving we see in other animals. We are able to self-modify, to use technology and to think in the abstract in a way animals do not. We can take a solution to one problem, take it apart, reformulate it and apply it in other situation. We’re capable of storing, transmitting and teaching complex knowledge and this is revolutionary. In the analogy, this is like the advent of science and like humanity, science has become utterly dominant and has killed off a great deal of its opposition, a mass extinction of invalid modes of thought – like religion and philosophy.

Science has provided us a way of genuinely knowing what is true and extrapolating fundamentals and applications from that knowledge. This is dramatically better than anything else and the only way we really have of knowing that anything is real or true. It’s systemised, self-correcting, without hanging speculation, self-critical and – most importantly – it works.

Theism clings on, in volcanic pools, hydrothermal vents and the anaerobic depths of stygian sediment. Philosophy clings on because hitting a shell with a stone will sometimes get you a nut. Science, however, science is a quantum leap in knowledge, a way of testing and understanding any validity of any other claim and there is nothing else that does what it does.

Show us what’s actually true.

Perhaps that’s why philosophy and religion hate it so much and try to undermine it. They know they’re obsolete and marked for extinction.

Religion and Wars [WIP]

‘Uberfacts’ on Twitter quoted a somewhat dubious statistic that only 7% of wars have been religiously motivated throughout history and this has led many religious apologists to start crowing about a (somewhat strawman) of the atheist position that religion causes a lot of conflicts and deaths.

I believe the real point is that religion is a dangerous motivator for war and an extra source of conflict (over something that doesn’t even exist) and that it has led to or made worse some of the bloodiest conflicts in history.

Part of the problem hinges upon what you consider religion, and how much needs to be present for it to be causal. Is nationalism religious? I would consider it so, but I would consider most ideological extremism to share character with religion as well.

To take WWII and Nazi Germany as familiar examples, the belief in the Aryan race and its superiority was a supernaturalist belief and won that drove the nationalist and Germanic unification projects of the Reich as well as informing the Ahnerbe and their strange concepts around history, race and archeology. Anti-Semitism was also key to the Nazi ideology and also key to their blaming of the victors of WWI and the revenge philosophy behind that. Their Christianity alongside their superstitions and nationalism were also absolutely key to their opposition to ‘godless’ communism.

Combine all that and we can see that religion was a key motivation for the Nazis and integral to the war (not to mention the Holocaust), yet it is not commonly thought of as a religious war.

The book referenced apparently uses a 0-5 scale, with 0 being no religious involvement/motivation and 5 being an absolutely religious conflict. I’ve used the same.

I’ve sourced my list of conflicts from the link below.

I have selected the 20th century as it is the century with the least religious conflicts. If we include 21st century conflicts things will skew too heavily to making the atheist point, since so many current conflicts involve Islam. If we go much earlier than the 20th century we’ll also find a lot more religious motivations as well, as the world was a more religious place in that time.

If the least religious century (you could make an argument for the 19th whose conflicts were mostly nationalistic) turns out to have relgious involvement and motivation greater than 7%, then we can fairly safely consider the greater argument about religion not being a major factor in conflict debunked.

Source of Conflict List:

So far I have processed the first 50 notable conflicts of the 20th century and have the following results:

Conflicts With Significant Religious Involvement (binary): 56%
Total Religious Motivation of All Conflicts: 25.6%

Frankly it seems unlikely that either of these measures could drop beneath 7% and so it may not be worth continuing.

252 total 20th Century Conflicts.
Sample size 50.
Error Margin: 12.43%

1. Sino Russian War
Religious Involvement relating to Boxer Rebellion which had a large component of religiously motivated violence. Scale? 2
2. Boxer Rebelion
Religious involvement in terms of anti-Christian sentiment Scale? 4.
3. Second Boer War
No real religious involvement. Scale? 0.
4. Phillipine Insurrection
No real religious involvement. Scale? 0.
5. War of a Thousand Days
No real religious involvement. Scale? 0.
6. Illinden Uprising
No real religious involvement. Scale? 0.
7. Angolan Uprisings
Religious involvement limited in degree (anti Christian, anti-colonial sentiment). Scale? 1.
8. Second Yemen Rebellion
Zaidi sectarianism key. Scale? 4.
9. Uruguay Civil War
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
10. Southwest African Revolt
Religion involved in that priests were omitted from rebel attacks and that dominionism played a role in the colonial conflict and prejudice. Scale? 1.
11. Russo Japanese War.
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
12. Maji Maji Revolt
Rebels claimed to use magic and set traditional beliefs against religious colonialism. Key motivator/exacerbation. Scale? 3.
13. Russian Revolution
Muslim group involvement and Tsarist strong belief in ‘Divine Right of Kings’ make religion significant if not a key driver. Scale? 2.
14. Third Central American War
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
15. Zulu Rebellion.
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
16. Mahdist Revolt
Religion absolutely key. Scale? 5.
17. Dutch-Achinese War
Jihad by Muslim forces against the Dutch making this explicitly a religious war. Scale? 5.
18. Fourth Central American War
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
19. Romanian Peasant Revolt
Anti-Semitism involved. Scale? 1.
20. Morroco Unrest
Insufficient Information. Assumed non-religious. Scale? 0.
21. Iranian Constitution War
Shariah Law and sectarianism contributed to conflict and issues around the war. Scale? 2.
22. Korean Guerilla War
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
23. Ma’Al’s Insurgency
Islam vs Christianity a key component. Scale? 4.
24. Portuguese War Against Dembos
Insufficient Information. Assumed non-religious. Scale? 0.
25. The Second Rif War
Islam a background motivator and source of confluct. Scale? 2.
26. Conquest of Widai
Islam vs Christianity an important element. Scale? 2.
27. Asir-Yemen Revolt
Sectarianism as background. Scale? 1.
28. Chinese Revolution
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
29. The Negro Rebellion
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
30. Sino-Tibetan War
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
31. Italo-Turish War
Islam vs Christianity as background. Scale? 1.
32. Paraguay Coups
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
33. First Balkan War
Revolt against Islamic (Ottoman) rule a key background component. Scale? 2.
34. Moro Rebellion
Islam a key component. Scale? 3.
35. Second Nationalist War
Conflict between traditionalist and Communist groups played a minor role. Scale? 1.
36. Second Balkan War
Revolt against Islamic (Ottoman) rule a key background component. Scale? 2.
37. Bai-Lang Rebellion
Religio-ethnic background to aspects of the conflict. Scale? 1.
38. Russo-Turkistan War
Insufficient information, presume religion not involved. Scale? 0.
39. World War I
In many ways the ‘last gasp’ of the Divine Right of Kings, key to the old monarchic order. Scale? 2.
40. Southern China Revolt
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
41. Second Sino-Tibetan War
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
42. Finnish Civil War
Christian traditionalist Vs Communism. Scale? 2.
43. Third Anglo-Afghan War
Religious background. Scale? 1.
44. Sparticist Uprising
Socialist/Communist uprising vs Conservative, Christian elements. Scale? 2.
45. Hungarian/Romanian War
Socialist/Communist uprising vs Conservative, Christian elements. Scale? 2.
46. Dervish State Vs Ethiopia
Sectarian Conflict. Scale? 3.
47. Mexican Revolution
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
48. Caco Revolt
No significant religious involvement. Scale? 0.
49. Latvian Liberation
Included Communist vs Conservative/religious elements. Scale? 1.
50. Estonian Liberation War
Included Communist vs Conservative/religious elements. Scale? 1.



Religious Involvement: 56%
Religious Motivation: 25.6%

Is Religion a Mental Illness?

You’re coming at this from a good place Cristina, but I have to disagree with you; and I say that as someone with a mental illness (depression).

Religion absolutely is a mental illness. Specifically I would say it’s a delusional disorder, which I would define (as a syncretic definition taken from several medical and psychological dictionaries) thusly:

A fixed false belief held without and/or against evidence.

There’s objections to this, some of which you have mentioned yourself, others of which I hear quite often.

1. Religion is Excluded from the Definition

It is true that many of the official definitions of religion specifically exclude religious or cultural beliefs that are widespread. The alternative term ‘relusion’ has been suggested, but this wouldn’t include ideological or political indoctrination in places like North Korea, so I don’t think that’s a solution. Excluding religion is such an egregious case of special pleading that I don’t really know why anyone would do so, other than a residual unease at criticising religion.

Yes, a lot of people are religious but when people fall sick we don’t change the definition of healthy, even when it’s a virulent pandemic. Do the beliefs fit the definition? Yes? Then that person is mentally ill/bonkers/insane. Simple.

2. It’s a Choice

Is it? I don’t know that I chose to be an atheist, it was the inevitable conclusion given logic, reason and evidence. Choosing to ignore reality for a comforting myth is a form of mental illness of its own (Freudian denial), is it not? Do kids have a choice? No. Do adults? Sometimes. However we acknowledge that it is possible to give people other forms of mental illness. We can torture people to break their minds, leave people with PTSD and anxiety and otherwise screw them up and leave them mentally harmed without their consent so why should religious indoctrination be any different? With mental illness we have some choice. We can take the meds, do the mental exercises, take up CBT, undergo therapy all to minimise or even cure our mental issues or at least learn to deal with them. So there’s an element of choice there too. Doesn’t invalidate that they’re still mental illnesses.

3. That it’s Insulting

In the words of the prophet:





Is it accurate? Yes it is. That’s all that really matters. I’ve tried to make this point to people who use the term ‘cisgender’ whilst apply their own subjective standard to other correct terms and trying to get people to stop using them, but it doesn’t seem to ever sink in.

If your doctor tells you that you have cancer, he’s not insulting you. If someone with sufficient knowledge tells you that you have depression or are delusional, it’s not necessarily an insult either. It’s a diagnosis.

4. It Minimises the Seriousness of Mental Illness

Does it? I think it brings home the seriousness of it as regards religion. While mental health issues still aren’t taken as seriously as, perhaps, they should things have improved a lot in recent years. People have a better (but dysfunctional) understanding of what it means to be mentally ill and how debilitating it can be. Pointing out that religion is a mental illness helps, in my opinion, lend weight to our criticism of it.

There is one big, important, terrifying difference between religion and other mental illnesses though.

Religion is communicable.

The Beliefs of the Richest People

I had a rather bizarre claim levelled at me today, that the majority of the top twenty richest people in the world were atheist. I thought this sounded like bullshit, so me being me, I checked.

Now, atheism is correlated with intelligence and education, so you would expect the number of atheists to be higher amongst the most successful people in the world. Of course, wealth isn’t entirely analogous to talent, since a lot of it is inherited or ‘old money’, but still with a (rough) world figure of 15% atheistic you might expect two or more of the top 20 to be atheists.

1. Carlos Slim Helu – Christian
2. Bill Gates – Atheist
3. Amancio Ortega – Christian
4. Warren Buffet – Agnostic
5. Larry Ellison – Agnostic Jew
6. Charles Koch – Christian
7. David Koch – Christian
8. Li Ka-Shing – Buddhist
9. Liliane Bettincourt – Jewish (by marriage)
10. Bernard Arnault – Catholic
11. Christy Walton – Christian
12. Stefan Persson – Christian
13. Michael Bloomberg – Jewish
14. Jim Walton – Unknown
15. Sheldon Adelson – Jewish
16. Alice Walton – Christian
17. S. Robson Walton – Christian
18. Karl Albrecht – Christian
19. Jeff Bezos – Christian
20. Larry Page – Atheist

If we count agnostics, that only 4/20, nowhere near 17/20 and of those I know Gates and Buffet have been extremely philanthropic via the Gates foundation, tackling genuine global issues of poverty, starvation and disease. While checking on the religions of the others in this list I found little outside religious donations, Christian summer camps and the like.

In short, religion seems to be no particular guide to someone’s charitable status or generosity and if you are religious, much of your effort seems to be diverted into the pockets of religion and perpetuating that faith.

Bride of Einenstein

beauty_and_the_brain_by_diam0nite-d2i0mlvTrying to claim Einstein, or indeed anyone else, as being on the side of god is an argument from authority and therefore has no real bearing on the question of whether god exists or not. Nonetheless it is extremely aggravating to see such an eminent scientist being co-opted by evangelical proselytisers in an attempt to lend credibility to their beliefs. Einstein is a favourite because he is an iconic figure and his image and words convey the authority of science to the ‘layman’ in a way few others do.

This post is an attempt to put this to bed once and for all, though it’s naive to think it will do so. Also to provide a reference in case this comes up again – which it will.

Argument from Authority

Everything past this section is actually unnecessary, but I’ll be carrying on anyway regardless. The argument from authority is a known fallacy which, simply put, is the following:

“Just because someone important says something, doesn’t mean that it’s true.”

Just because George Bush tells you there’s WMDs in Iraq doesn’t mean there are. Just because Newton believed in ritual magic and alchemy doesn’t mean they are valid. Just because your mum tells you eating your crusts will make your hair curly doesn’t make it true.

Even if Einstein had been a raging evangelist who believed in a literal, biblical god – alongside his scientific accomplishments – that wouldn’t make it true any more than his scientific accomplishments would lend credibility to him claiming that the Moon was made of green cheese.

What did Einstein Really Believe?

Einstein had a very subtle and nuanced view of the universe which makes it hard to read. In no sense, however, was he a fan of religion. He did not believe in any sort of god that the typical theist quoting him would consider a god. He variously called himself an agnostic, a religious non-believer, a pantheist and a Spinozan.

He explicitly stated on several occasions that he did not believe in a personal god, an intercessory god, a god that punishes and rewards, the immortality of the human soul or that morality was the concern of any deity. That doesn’t leave much room, if any, for most people’s concept of a god.

As an agnostic you could say he didn’t know whether there was a god or not and/or that he believed this was unknowable. Virtually all atheists are also agnostics (these are not mutually exclusive) and many people use ‘agnostic’ when they mean weak or agnostic atheist, or just to avoid upsetting people over much. Much like Neil Degrasse Tyson today, Einstein seems to have had more of a live-and-let-live policy which – while I don’t agree – I can respect as coming from a good place. He was wary of being identified with the ‘crusading atheists’ of his time, much as some today, while not believing, are wary of joining with Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Krauss.

On the face of it, ‘religious non-believer’ seems like a contradiction in terms. However, there are several religions or near-religions that can be considered atheistic. Some versions of Buddhism are atheistic as are some Eastern traditions. Modern Satanism is not actually the worship of Satan but a ‘libertarianism for the soul’ and a piss-take on much the same lines as Discordianism and The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Einstein was fond, unfortunately, of using religious terminology and allegory in explaining things and by religion he meant ‘awe, wonder and reverence’.

Pantheism is the view that the universe and god are one. This can be interpreted two ways, that everything is god or that what people call god is simply the universe itself. The second interpretation would seem to fit with other comments Einstein made elsewhere.

Spinozism is a pantheist view (or panentheist if you prefer), that ‘god’ – or what people call god – is an underlying ‘something’ to the universe that interpenetrates and includes it. The quintessential ‘somethingness’ of reality if you will. Keep in mind, Spinoza’s view lead to him being considered an atheist and excommunicated. As a die hard determinist from a Jewish cultural background it’s little wonder that Spinoza would appeal to Einstein.

Einstein’s view then is absolutely not that there is a god, but that the universe is a wonderful and majestic thing that some people mistake for god. His view is, perhaps, best summed up in this quote:

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

So Why do the Religious Quote Him so Much?

Einstein had an unfortunate habit, that many other scientists have had down the years, even Hawking, for using god and religion as a metaphor. This allows him to be quote-mined by creationists and evangelicals who want to claim him as one of theirs. Some of these, and his meanings, include:

“God is subtle but he is not malicious.” (Reality is hard to fathom, but not deliberately hidden).

“God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.” (The universe is what it is. If the maths doesn’t add up, it’s the maths that’s wrong, not the universe).

“God doesn’t play dice with the world.” (As a determinist he thought everything followed one after another. He was wrong as Chaos Theory and Quantum Mechanics have later shown. This is just an expression of his determinism).


It doesn’t matter whether Einstein believed in god or not. It lends no support to the idea one way or the other.

He was not religious in a sense any of the big three Abrahamic Religions would recognise. Rather his opinion might be best expressed as a sense of awe, reverence and wonder for the natural universe

He should not be co-opted by theists to support their point of view as he quite explicitly stated he didn’t believe in the god they are pushing. While to all intents and purposes he was an atheist he preferred not to be associated with ‘crusading atheists’ so we should not abuse what he said and thought either – not that I’ve ever seen an atheist be other than truthful about it.


Religion Vs Not a Religion

A popular online dictionary defines religion, usefully, thus:

Religion: 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.

So then. Is atheism a religion?

Atheism is a singular lack of belief in god/s.

That’s it.

It says nothing in and of itself about the cause, nature or purpose of the universe. Does not posit superhuman agency and has no devotional or ritual observances. In and of itself it says nothing about a moral code or the conduct of human affairs.

Is ‘being in a relationship with Jesus’ a religion?

As such you believe god is the cause of the universe and that by nature it is a creation with the purpose of testing mankind for his worthiness of access to a supernatural afterlife. You consider it the creation of a superhuman agency and you most likely pray and observe religious holidays in the manner determined by your faith. You believe, laughably, that the Bible contains a moral code for the conduct of human affairs.

That IS a religion. Christianity.

Other things that aren’t religions:

Science: A process of evidence gathering and testing to approach a usefully objective understanding of the universe.
Secularism: The singular belief that church and state should be separate.

Turn the Page

Another year. So what lies ahead for atheism and skepticism?

2013 wasn’t so bad, all things considered. Religious strangleholds on the legal and political system stripped back a bit more in the West, as evidenced by increasing instances of same sex marriage in the US and UK, landmark cases against religious discrimination and yet another increase in the percentage of non-believers around the world. We have a relatively (emphasis on relatively) liberal Pope and prominent communicators for science and reason continue to annihilate the unreasonable in debates and to bring attention to the issues.

This isn’t to say there haven’t also been problems. The erosion of gay rights in places like Uganda are something that needs to be faced, as has been the creeping spread of blasphemy laws and issues with gay rights and religious criticism in Russia. While Atheismplus and Freethoughtblogs have continued their slide into obscurity we’ve seen their tactics grow more vicious, shifting into the realm of actionable accusations against relatively high profile figures in the community. This may be the death blow to their relevance in the wider skeptic community but we shouldn’t underestimate the damage it can do or the delight our ‘enemies’ take in it. We need a way to tackle the kind of emotive, short-circuit ‘arguments’ that social justice warriors use (and not just in the atheist community). ‘Islamophobe’ is damaging, however nonsensical, as are many of the other accusations and pejoratives thrown around. The danger is, though, that we get so calloused and bored of these accusations that we miss a genuine problem – something we need to watch for.

It can make one despondent, day in, day out, having to address the same problems but I think this still serves a good purpose for the sake of the peanut gallery. I also think it’s working. The coming generations are far less religious and far more secular than the older ones. We are making a difference, especially to the young, just by speaking out and just by failing to show silly ideas the respect they demand. This is going to be more and more true of African Christians and Islamic believers who seem to be encountered more and more online but haven’t encountered the same ridicule or arguments that western apologists have. Arguably its even more important in these instances to be uncompromising in criticism, simply because they don’t encounter it much.

It can seem vicious and nasty to other, more moderate people or those who still ‘believe in belief’, but then they’re rarely on the same sort of receiving end that we are. There also seems to be a weird expectation that atheism should offer some alternative to the structures and beliefs that religion does. A doctor who cures you of a disease is not expected to replace your runny nose and diarrhoea with replacement symptoms so I’m not quite sure why it’s expected of atheism. Still, so long as we can maintain atheism as its own thing (simply not believing in god) it may be useful to start examining how reason can be applied to social issues, laws, politics and the structures we need for a working civilisation.

Starting as I mean to go on then, here’s a response to an apologist’s ‘refuting atheism‘ blog, which fails to do anything of the sort.

Refuting Atheism

1. The writer argues that negatives can be proven and that, somehow, this means that the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof, when pushed to atheists, is somehow valid. They simply don’t understand the burden of proof and insist that it is something it is not. The burden of proof always rests on the positive claim, never the negative. You have to prove that something is, not why it is not. This is the way science works, this is the way our justice system works – with good reason. Repeating a fallacious argument doesn’t overcome the fallacy.

2. The writer dismisses the ‘rock so heavy he cannot lift it’ refutation of god (at least an omnipotent god). They also confuse the matter with the theory of evolution. The ‘rock so heavy’ argument works because it exposes the impossibility of omnipotence. A non-omnipotent god still remains. Of course omnipotence is absurd – just like a round square – and that’s the point that they seemingly miss. Atheism is not defined by an assertion and contains no such similar self-contradiction. The theory of evolution deals only with diversification and development of species. It is not contingent on abiogenesis and without abiogenesis it still eliminates creation accounts because the species are not spontaneously created whole – as in scripture – but develop from precursor organisms. Abiogenesis need not be referenced, even though it’s well evidenced.

3. The writer tries to turn atheism into a positive claim that ‘god does not exist’. Again, all their insistence won’t change the definition and the most encompassing definition is that of being absent belief in god. Believing god does not exist is a subset, ‘strong’, ‘positive’ or ‘gnostic’ atheism. True, many of us who are agnostic atheists will sometimes say ‘god does not exist’ but mostly for the sake of shorthand and expressing our certainty that this is true. Agnosticism and atheism are not incompatible by any means. Indeed, any honest agnostic is also an atheist and vice versa. Then again, it depends on the god being asserted. An omnipotent god cannot exist, see earlier.

4. The writer claims that theism is different to unicorns, fairies or Santa and they are right, to a degree. Unicorn believers are not widespread and do not have any significant effect on public life while theists do. The point though, the one apparently missed, is that all these beliefs equally lack evidence and are equally ridiculous. The difference is only in numbers. Invoking a mystical ‘first cause’ (with no evidence) makes no odds to this.

5. The writer seeks to excuse the lack of evidence for anything supernatural by… well, it’s not entirely clear. If the supernatural existed and had meaningful effect on our reality (a detectable effect) then it should be able to be evidenced. It is not. Should any evidence show up, it will be assessed and examined. Absence of evidence is, indeed,not evidence of absence but it’s absolutely not evidence of presence. ‘That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence’.

6. The writer tries to claim that if religion is dangerous, so is science. They attempt to do with with an argumentum ad Hitlerum, the tired old idea that Hitler was an atheist and that his racial ideas were based on evolution. Science refutes Hitler’s claims about race, he was a Christian, and the hatred of Jews come through Christianity and especially Lutheranism (in Germany). Science makes no claim to anything but to uncovering what is true and what the effects of things are. Religion is dangerous not only because it opposes science and holds it back but because it makes baseless pronouncements that can cost lives – just look at race and sexuality for the evidence of that. If you claim your morality is from the Bible you should be out stoning adulterers to death. If you claim otherwise you’re selectively applying modern, secular morality to the ‘morals’ of your holy book and then rationalising why you don’t follow your own rules. Sam Harris has begun some work on secular morality but there are already many bases for morality without religion – empathy, group selection, golden rule, enlightened self interest, utilitarianism and epicureanism to name but a few. Animals show moral and ethical traits without religion too, and we can find an evolutionary basis for many ‘moral’ behaviours. Morality isn’t objective and absolute, but we can use reason to determine the best courses of action for the greatest number.

Rhetorical Questions, Rhetorical Answers

Why are you so obsessed with something you don’t believe?

Are oncologists obsessed with cancer? Does it mean they think it’s a good thing? God may not exist but believers do, the religion does and these cause a great deal of harm. Asking this question is very strange. It’s like asking someone why they spend so much time arguing against racism if they don’t believe other races to be inferior.

Why do you care what people believe?

Because it has effects on the world beyond the person, on us, and on the helpless.

Since atheists commit their share of crimes, then what good is atheism doing for society, and why does it matter since they say we are merely glorified pond scum?

Even if atheism were terrible, caused massive amounts of crime and huge rates of suicide this would be completely irrelevant to the question of whether god is real or not. As it turns out, atheists are less criminal than believers and being evolved, the product of countless generations of survival is no bad thing.

Religious Spam Round-Up 7: There’s No Book Like it!

Every day social media users, especially those identifying as agnostics, atheists and skeptics, are subjected to a barrage of religious spam from true believers. This tends to be repeated, day in, day out, several times a day with no attempt to engage or discuss the matter. It’s spam, plain and simple. Some groups even seem to use small botnets, multiple accounts or proxies to spam hundreds of identical or similar messages all in one go.

Let’s look at some, all from one afternoon and evening on Twitter and only a small sample…

Magic Book

Typically Muslims, but sometimes other faiths, try to claim that there is no other book like theirs. That it is magical, irreplaceable, that it cannot be imitated.

Obviously this is somewhat subjective. What one person sees as brilliant another may see as terrible. However, there are certainly a large number of books and writings of this ilk, so nobody’s religious tome is unique or special. That’s without even taking into account fiction books that exceed the brilliance of often rather stodgey, boring and self-contradicting religious texts.

There’s only one real answer to this claim.


Religious Spam Round-Up 5: Things About God

Every day social media users, especially those identifying as agnostics, atheists and skeptics, are subjected to a barrage of religious spam from true believers. This tends to be repeated, day in, day out, several times a day with no attempt to engage or discuss the matter. It’s spam, plain and simple. Some groups even seem to use small botnets, multiple accounts or proxies to spam hundreds of identical or similar messages all in one go.

Let’s look at some, all from one afternoon and evening on Twitter and only a small sample…

God Qualities

Day in, day out…

God loves you!

God wants you to be happy!

God has done so much for you!

You should be grateful to god!

Etc, etc, etc.

Free advice to the theistic. Odds are you will get nowhere whatsoever with this approach. Emotional appeals aren’t convincing and before you start asserting things to an atheist about god you should first establish that a god exists.

Good luck with that.

False Hope

410-These-are-delicious-THANK-YOU-missionaries-starving-children-bible-not-helpingIt’s disappointing enough when you run into the usual excuses from the religious, when you run into them from someone who should know better it can almost heartbreaking. Chris Arnade, writing in The Guardian.

He spends a bit of time establishing his atheist credentials, the bad attitudes he’s uncovered in others by revealing he’s an atheist, getting swept up in the New Atheism and then emerging out of youth with a PHD and a brain capable (it would seem) of thinking.

Where Chris seems to have gotten knocked off the rails is in expecting the poor, the destitute, the hopeless and addicts to have come through life with a cynicism towards religion and a lack of faith similar to his own. Never mind that religiosity is strongly correlated with poverty, lack of education, lack of intelligence and other issues but a bad run in life is a piss-poor reason to be an atheist. That kind of reasoning smacks of the common accusation that an atheist must have ‘had something bad happen to them’ or that they are just ‘angry with god’. The good reason for not believing is being skeptical, using reason or not having been indoctrinated with the stupid idea in the first place.

We really shouldn’t be surprised that religion is so much more prevalent amongst the poor and the desperate. Religions heavily predate upon people in dire straits and if you’re homeless you’ll often have to sit through or profess religion in order to get a hot meal or somewhere to sleep for the night. It also offers (false) hope, which is great for keeping people in their place and preventing them getting the genuine help they need. It can also – in the case of the Abrahamic religions – feed heavily

I’m not suggesting religion is a deliberate conspiracy to keep people down, but that is what it does.

“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” – Attributed to Napoleon

What Chris doesn’t seem to understand, when he’s talking about how these societal victims are treated and regarded as dregs is just how much the dominant religious paradigm, especially in the United States, is an integral part of the society that judges them. They are sinners, god is judging them and treating them badly in this life and then – to add insult to injurty – they often have to turn to churches for assistance because welfare has been gutted. People who think we can rely on charities and philanthropy rather than state aid need to read Charles Dickens.

Chris’ problem seems to come in from the way these people draw comfort from their faith. Their god doesn’t judge them (irony) and it gives them hope.

Well sure, but that says nothing about whether the belief is true or rational now does it?

Further, I would argue that overall faith causes harm. It feeds into the judgement of these people in the first place. Keeps them in their place with false hope (much as it did in times of slavery). It also contributes to the reluctance of society as a whole to deal with these problems by other, more effective, means.

Is giving someone false hope a kindness? I don’t think it is, in part due to the numbing effect it has on their will to change things, in part because it simply isn’t fair to string people along like that.

Chris is handwringing unnecessarily. I suggest he read Breaking the Spell by Dan Dennett and particularly his comments on ‘belief in belief‘.

This kind of attitude, that only the wealthy and educated can get use out of atheism or are owed the truth is horribly patronising. Faith as something for the little people, like a comforting blankie for a toddler to keep them quiet. Sooner or later you have to wean a child off the tit or it becomes sinister and more about what you want than what’s best for them.