Why they can’t Coexist….

Found this on Facebook. Just wanted to transcribe it here, partly because a friend couldn’t clearly see the text on Facebook ūüėÄ
Why they can't coexist meme image

Why They Can’t Coexist. Original, apparently from Truth-Saves.com.

The texts of [Christianity], [Islam] and [Judaism] order the elimination of [equality], [paganism], and of each other. Both [Islam] and [Christianity] claim to be religions of [Peace], but [Peace] is a world without [Islam] and [Christianity].

[Islam] and [Judaism] have conflicting promises of land ownership. [Paganism] is a very broad term but all of [Paganism] support living by non-evidence-based-claims, causing conflicts for [Peace]. [Taoism] says to find harmony in everything, good or bad, preventing the seeking of [Peace] and [Equality]. The less a self-proclaimed follower of [Christianity], [Islam] or [Judaism] actually follows the teachings of [Christianity], [Islam] or [Judaism] the more [Peace] and [Equality] can thrive.

[Christianity], [Islam] and [Judaism] claim their way is the only way and cannot coexist with anyone. [Taoism] can only coexist with the [Pagans] who also follow [Taoism]. [Equality] can coexist with most of [Paganism]. The only ones that allow for completee coexistance with each other are [Peace] and [Equality], and the unmentioned [Atheism] and [Humanism].

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The Stoned Ape Hypothesis and the Original Memetic Cambrian Explosion

A thought struck me after attending Burning Seed over the weekend (Burning Man for Australia) about the value of psychadelics in human prehistory.

Terence McKenna and the Stoned Ape Hypothesis

Alex Grey Artwork Psychedelics and creativityI’d heard of the Stoned Ape Hypothesis in the past, but have never done much research into its exact claims. Skimming the Wikipedia entry on it and a few other overviews and comments on it, it seems that the main claim is that psilocybin (the active molecule in magic mushrooms) lead to increased fitness in the humans who consumed it through greater hunting ability, greater sexual activity and enhanced religious and creative expression, and as a consequence, that lead to increased selective pressure for brain size growths.

I’m not really here to comment on that particular hypothesis at all. It does sound like a bit of a stretch to me to think that mushrooms may have actively directed our biological evolution over hundreds of thousands of years. I don’t discount it entirely though.

Memetics and Cultural Evolution

That said, I do think that there is a very good reason to suspect that entheogens (any naturally occurring psychedelic plant/organism) may have played a very real and significant role in the advancement of human cultural evolution ever since we evolved the ability to form advance cultural concepts (language, art, advanced tools, etc.).

It is no secret that human brains are copying machines. We learn by watching others do things, then seeing the positive outcomes of those actions, we copy them and attempt to recreate the positive results.

In the wider context of a tribe, it seems like we tend to codify certain activities into traditions. There is a certain way that activities must be done in order to work. If you don’t follow the ritual correctly, then you will probably mess up the meal, or fail in your hunt, or build a shelter which leaks, or whatever. So creativity in implementing well established cultural traditions ends up being quite strongly selected against.

And this is where entheogens may have a particularly strong value.

With the way that they affect our neurobiology to confuse neural pathways and thus enable ‘lateral thinking’ by simply allowing us to follow not-well-established neural pathways, creativity is very strongly enhanced(1) under the effects of psilocybin, mescaline,¬†ayahuasca, etc.

They also tend to¬†somewhat reduce our ‘care factor’ while under the effects. This may be equally as significant since cultural traditions are often quite strongly enforced in a social sense, and people acting out of line with them may be chastised, ostracised or even physically punished. But as we all know from the clich√© stoner stereotype, no one under the influence of any psychedelic seems to really give much of a shit about anything, much less what you think of them.

These two psychological aspects combine to create an amazing potential for humans to step outside of what might be incredibly rigid social constructs and even rules, to create something almost entirely brand new. Whether it be the first art, or a new form of art, or a new method of cooking, or a new way to hunt, or even just a minor improvement to an established system…. It seems like psychedelics may have¬†actually had a significant role in forcing forwards human cultural evolution.

To clarify:  the selective pressure on human cultural evolution would remain the same (Does it work? Do people like it? Does it make life easier? etc), but the psychedelics would have increased the amount of variety of cultural units (memes, ideas, concepts, whatever) which could be selected, and thus increase the opportunity for human culture to discover new things and improve our ability to survive and thrive.

The Cambrian Explosion of Memes

I worry as I write this that I am saying something incredibly obvious.

This phenomenon has been observed repeatedly in modern society already. Whether it be from comedians, a few famous¬†change makers themselves, or even scientific studies which show the power of LSD in research. It is just that I had¬†never before personally applied this notion to the limited cultural experience of humans in our earliest stages of ‘humanity’. The stages at which our experiences of cultural units¬†– ideas, or memes – would have been so extremely limited on account of the newness of our ability to create them. And with that limited exposure to new and novel ideas, so to, I believe, our ability to be creative would also have been limited.

Perhaps psychedelics pushed the envelope and artificially created diversity of ideas where there was otherwise almost none, and in doing so, was¬†a powerful stepping stone, potentially bringing about the first ‘Cambrian explosion’ of cultural ideas?

Do psychedelics artificially increase the mutation rates of successful memes?

Footnotes

  1. This article states that the scientific research on whether psychedelics increase creativity is inconclusive Рthough it is largely on account of the fact that research has been stalled for the last 40 years thanks to the unjust war on drugs (my words, obviously) Рand the research techniques used back then were not as rigorous as we use these days. Nonetheless, the anecdotal evidence and not-exactly-perfect research results seems quite strong to me.
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The problem with the new atheist movement is…

I had a short conversation with a good friend yesterday which consisted of him (an atheist) telling me that the problem with the atheist movement is that they don’t provide an alternative option to replace the role that religion has fulfilled in our society for so long.

I often have atheist friends tell me that the new atheists are doing it wrong. That they should be doing X other thing instead of what they are doing, or that they should also be doing Y, or that they are wasting their time because some particular philosopher destroyed the notion of God hundreds of years ago, so this is all old news.

All of these sorts of criticisms of the new atheist movement strike me as exceedingly odd.

It is like claiming that climate change activists are doing it wrong because they aren’t personally replacing the coal and petroleum industry with an alternative energy infrastructure. It is like claiming that websites like Skeptical Science are a waste of time because climate scientists have known for decades that climate change is caused by humans. I never heard climate change advocates making these arguments because it is obvious that they are nonsensical. The alternatives exist independent of the activists, and the scientific consensus isn’t reflected in public opinion – therefore the activism is still needed! The atheist movement is no different.

So, when I hear that the new atheists should provide an alternative structure to religion, I think: No, that already exists. It comes from philosophy (morality), science (explanations of the world), sports teams, family, hobbies groups, etc (community). The atheist agenda isn’t to transform society – it is simply to fight for representation in a society which has clearly declared that non-belief is unacceptable, untrustworthy and to be despised.

My understanding is that the atheist movement as we currently know it was basically started by Dawkins giving this TED talk. I think he very clearly outlines why we need this movement, and what its objective is. And I agree completely with him.

Religions cause people to make decisions which harm themselves and people around them, and they do so because they believe that the creator of the universe commands it. They don’t do it because they are intentionally trying to harm people, or because they are necessarily biggoted – they do it because the book commands it.

Yes, there is overlap. Yes, sometimes bigoted people will use the bible to justify their bigotry (as if that is much better), but just as often people will be bigoted just because they believe that the creator of the universe has commanded them to be!

How do you rationally argue against that?

You can’t. You literally cannot make a single argument against “I have to be a bigot, because the creator of the universe has told me that I must behave this way.” The basis of the position is not founded on rational thought – it is founded on authoritarian command. Therefore the only way to correct the erroneous bigoted position, is to undermine the authoritarian command itself. You have to show that the belief in the commander is false. It is the only viable option.

Let’s make this¬†crystal clear. At the very same party where this criticism of the new atheists took place, another good friend pointed out that she was a feminist prior to discovering christ herself and becoming a true believer. In doing so, despite it going against everything she felt and believed, she knew that because God was real and because the Bible was his true word, she must submit herself to her husband, she must see gay people as sinners, and other such commanded positions. These were not positions she wanted to hold – it was just what the bible very clearly told her.

Multiply that experience across the population, and you now have a basis for terrible laws and government policy which leads to vilification and sexism.

Or, lets look at another example of religion doing harm. As I write this article a news story is running about a Jehovah’s Witness family denying their son a blood transfusion. This will kill their son. Do you think they actually want their son to die? Do you think they have some sort of weird bigotry against blood transfusions?

No. They just believe that the creator of the universe has commanded them to do this, so they are obeying the command.

You cannot rationally argue against this position. You can only rationally argue against the underlying belief in a universal creator and master.

And that is what the atheist movement is all about. Fixing the actual problem.

For too long religion has influenced politics, law and social convention despite evidence. And as the “Nones” have grown in number over the decades, their influence has stayed non-existent. This is the problem. This is what the atheist movement cares about.

If you¬†too are worried that the atheist movement might be wildly successful, and leave devastation in their wake as millions of people wake up without religious structures to prop up their meager existence – then go and start your own Humanism Organisation which provides everything religion does, just without the God stuff, and fill that gap. Just don’t be surprised when you find out¬†people are surprisingly capable of filling the gap all on their own with the innumerable other options which already exist.

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Religion isn’t responsible for violence – except when it is…

Patricia Pearson’s article over at The Daily Beast about Karen Armstrong’s new book Fields of Blood says some weird things right up front.

Hitchens…never really bothered to acquaint himself with the great and nuanced theologians of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. If he had, he wouldn‚Äôt have asked the audience whether it was a good thing ‚Äúfor the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars.‚ÄĚ
(Spoiler alert: the entirety of human religious history has entailed finely-tuned musings on divine exhortation to unity and peace, and whether there are loop holes.)

All of those finely-tuned musings and still the Bible very clearly portrays a God picking sides in wars. Repeatedly.

1 Samuel 15:3 “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction¬†all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.‚Äô¬†‚ÄĚ

How can one¬†thousand plus years of reading that passage make it mean anything other than God told “his people” to go to war and kill other people? Sounds like God picked a side…. and you know this isn’t the only instance of it in the Bible, let alone nearly every soldiers belief since the creation of religion that God was on their side.

As far as I can tell, Theologians exist only to justify and wriggle out of the awkward things written in these religious books. If you want to change the Bible, then too bloody bad. It very clearly says in it that God is outside of time, all knowing and perfect, and that the bible is his words, and you can’t change it. So stop trying to change the meanings of things clearly¬†written in them!

She then follows up that nonsense with:

Nor would Hitchens have made this statement: ‚ÄúReligion forces nice people to do unkind things.‚ÄĚ Meaning, one was left to discern, that religion is self-evidently a coercive force for ill.
I remember thinking, really? All those innately tender-hearted Catholic priests were obliged by the Ten Commandments to molest children? Oh dear. How, then, to explain Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler’s brutal minions? They were just bornto be mean?

Ugh. So inane. His comment had nothing to do with Catholic priests molesting boys. Nothing in the bible tells people to do that. That is an indirect consequence of people following the bible against their nature, as opposed to what Hitchens was actually talking about, all of the people stoned to death over the years and burned at the stake, because, you know, the Bible tells them to:

Leviticus 21:9¬†“And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.”
Leviticus 24:16″And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.”

Please go ahead and show us how the “finely-tuned musings” change the meanings of those sentences.¬†Let me guess – Jesus. Jesus made all the bad stuff go away. Well, for many hundreds of years how many thousand people were stoned to death and burnt at the stake anyway? Always justified with these sorts of bible passages.

Actually, sorry, I was wrong. Hitchens didn’t mean stonings and burnings at the stake – they are horrific acts. Hitchens only said that religions force people to do “unkind things”. So, lets look at all of the families who disown homosexual children because of the ‘abomination’ that homosexuality is? Jesus didn’t really die and change the meaning or intention of that line. He certainly didn’t disavow it. Sure, ‘love they neighbour’ and all that – but still, homosexuality is an abomination unto the lord… so what do you do? Many people err on the side of caution and don’t tolerate the abomination. Pretty reasonable position to take really, since loving your neighbour doesn’t actually require you to do anything, so you can ‘love them’ from a distance.

Besides, it is the more Jesus like thing to do, just break the family up, rather than what is actually recommended in the Old Testament – killing them.

And then there are the ‘harlotreferences and wives¬†obeying husbands, and directions for slaves to obey their masters.

How amazingly¬†magical are these Theologians that they can make all of this shit just magically disappear out of the bible so that people like Patricia Pearson can’t even think of them when it is pointed out that the bible makes good people do unkind things???

Have you seen the Westboro Baptist church? You know that everything they do is actually based on words in the Bible right? They aren’t making that shit up. Don’t blame them for taking things as they are actually¬†written, rather than how we wish they were written.

After Hitchens died, the debate continued with celebrity pundits like Bill Maher and star intellectuals like Richard Dawkins, a biologist, and Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, none of whom appear to have an infant’s weak grasp of why thinking human beings would come to believe in a meaningful universe.

Oh, they understand. They actually talk about it pretty clearly – but don’t bother familiarising yourself with the work you are criticising, just assume the highly regarded well read intellectuals you are criticising are stupid morons. It is much easier that way.

No, they understand why humans believe in a meaningful universe – it is because our brains are evolved to do so in order to avoid death. There is quite a lot of literature on the subject if you cared to familiarise yourself with the fields of Neuroscience and Biology…oh look, these two individuals with an “infant’s weak grasp” of the subject just happen to be world renowned experts in those fields. How amazing that they don’t understand it and you do.

*sigh.*

From here the article quickly moves through anger at Islam and into the main point of the article, the book. I personally wouldn’t try very hard to defend the claim that Religion has caused more wars than anything else, so I won’t bother arguing against that point, but the idea that secularists somehow don’t understand what religion is drives me crazy. And then this:

To say that spiritual engagement somehow causes humanity to become violent is to ignore the obvious pressures on all human societies throughout history to accrue scarce resources, to shore up status and power, and to impose order on chaos.

It isn’t spiritual engagement that anyone is saying causes violence, it are the direct lines from the creator of the universe telling his followers to murder people who don’t follow his rules which is what people like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens get angry about.

Sure, I’d be happy to accept that “every new religion emerged at least in part as a protest against violence and oppression” – which is probably why violence features so prominently in their religious texts. The problem is that these books aren’t positioned as just historical texts describing a revolution. They are positioned as works of God himself, outside of time, perfect, absolute, moral, all knowing, telling people what to do. And those directions include a lot of violent actions.

And then we get puff pieces like this making out like atheists and secularists are upset at the ‘spiritual engagement’ of believers. FFS. Is it that hard to understand? When ISIS members go on murderous rampages against non-believers, they aren’t doing it because they are feeling particularly religious. They do it (amongst many other complicated emotional and political reasons) because they have direct quotes from God himself telling them to do it. When¬†you have a direct commandment from God Almighty to kill people, why¬†would you doubt your murderous desires?

The disgust felt by the non-religious of the religious isn’t about religious people (necessarily), nor is it even about religious extremists (necessarily). What it is about is the fact that there is a book claiming to be the unalterable and perfect account of the creator of the universe and it is a book full of violence bigotry and hatred – and for some reason, against and sense,¬†otherwise sane and intelligent people¬†keep defending it.

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Transcendence – How it should have ended

So I got to watch Transcendence on my¬†flight yesterday, and I was very impressed with it. I went in with extremely low expectations because there have been so many bad philosophy of mind / AI / futurism movies out lately that I think I just assumed this would be another where it was made by someone who clearly had no idea what current thought on the near future will be like, and was almost certainly going to do the usual “Fear science and technological progress because it might kill us all, steal our souls and take away our humanity!!!” – which seems to be the modus operandi of just about every science and technology focused Hollywood movie.

It is quite sad that my first assumption of a movie about uploading would know nothing about uploading, but Hollywood has given me too many examples of people making movies about things which they know nothing about. I mean, when you watch Morgan Freeman (someone who presents a Science show!) say “It is estimated that humans only use 10% of their brain” you tend to feel like it is all beyond¬†hope.

Well, anyway, I’m quite happy to¬†say that it didn’t go too heavily on the ‘fear technological progress’ bandwagon (for the most part). There was definitely a fair share of “Beware¬†the all powerful AI!” fearmongering, but I actually felt it was largely justified. There is a very valid reason to be fearful of run away AI (Terminator). So that wasn’t too bad.

And more importantly, it ¬†seemed to have been written by someone who does actually have a clue about current futurism ideas with regards to uploading, AI and other associated technologies. The whole story was by and large quite realistic (within the usual realms of “lets speed this up for the sake of it being a movie regard).

What I am saying is that, if super intelligent AI was¬†created, in this sort of a setting, ¬†the series of events which follow could go something along these lines. The choices it made were (mostly) clever and progressive, and revolutionary in all the right ways….except for one obvious error…which was of course necessary for the ‘drama’ component to the movie.

Which brings me to the SPOILER ALERT part of this post.

If you read past this point, I will be revealing plot devices and how the movie ended and how I think it should have ended. Last warning.

The main error the AI made was ‘networking’ the minds of the people it healed together, so that¬†they could communicate with one another over the network, and, so that it¬†could inhabit the bodies of¬†those people and take over control… Sure, many people would love to volunteer to be networked with AI (especially if doing so would heal all illnesses and weaknesses and make them super strong!) but very few people would like the idea of being taken over by that AI, and vanishingly few people like to look at other people being controlled by an external mind of unknown intent. And so predictably everyone who was ever allied with the AI quickly turned against it when they saw this Cult like behaviour from this ‘army’ of individuals that it was building which it could control.

It was creepy, it was weird, and it was the one step which really made it easy to fear the AI.

Of course, the nanobots slowly replicating their way across the planet is also a terrifying idea because there is the fear that they will grey-goo the planet, but¬†that probably would have gone unnoticed or ignored if not for the growing number of people terrified of the ‘army’ that the AI was building (even though the respective threats are quite out of proportion).

So, first most obvious thing that the AI wouldn’t do (being far more intelligent than us mortal humans), is it wouldn’t take actions which would obviously turn humanity against it.

The movie also fails to consistently apply the AI’s ability to read people, but again, this is just a necessary plot point for a movie.

How it should have ended

OK, the main point of this post. Assuming all of the rest of the plot devices need to stay in place to make a good movie, I think they screwed the ending up just a little bit. They had the AI keep Evelyn outside while they were being bombed (without a good reason) until she was injured, hoping to force him to upload her (and the virus she was carrying). Of course, the AI knew about the virus and was saddened by the fact the Evelyn (his wife and creator) had lost faith in him and wanted to help destroy him but there is absolutely no reason he wouldn’t have removed her from the dangerous situation of being under mortar and artillery attack. Her injury was easily avoided, and thus the whole “I can either save her or upload the virus” conclusion to the movie is unrealistic.

That, and the fact that he can show Evelyn “everything” and have her understand that he really was healing the planet and people, gives us the real solution to the movie – if Hollywood didn’t need to have everything back away from a utopian finish where everyone is happy and the world is completely provided for – he just needed to do that trick with the people attacking him.

I think a nice finish would be to have him get into Max’s head since Max¬†represented the well informed philosophical voice of concern over the risks of the technology, and bringing him around to understand the vision and reality of the situation¬†would be the seed needed to bring everyone else around too. And then you could have the usual movie tension of Max arguing with the neo-luddite crazy woman, convincing the soliders and all the rest of that jazz. (Though of course, the easier solution would be to just show all of them the same thing he showed Evelyn all at once – but that is a little bit too easy).

So yeah, there was no need for the false choice of saving Evelyn or Killing himself in order to save Max’s life. He could have easily shown everyone what he was actually doing, and then everyone could have gone on with life where everything was provided by the omnipotent god like being taking care of everything – but instead, because Hollywood still reflect American values, the better solution was to destroy the godlike AI taking care of everyone (socialism!) and send everyone back to the hardship and struggle of existence to which they are so accustomed. (which, btw, the movie didn’t cover at all – making it look like “losing the entire internet” would just be a minor inconvenience, and not the end of the modern world as we know it, which it would be).

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Unchristian behaviour….

I think this concept can be applied to just about anything whenever someone seriously talks about a behaviour being unchristian. Just remember that the core Christian ideology is that “Jesus died for your sins” – and they are PROUD of that fact! They are proud of the fact that their entire belief system is based on the idea that an innocent person can be punished for the crimes of others.

So I look forward to seeing more remarks about how the Christian spirit teaches us that we should be punishing innocent people for the crimes of others.

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Debating Creationists (Or any other anti-science position)

So Bill Nye just finished debating Ken Ham at the Creation Museum and I actually sat and watched the whole thing live. I have tended to agree with Richard Dawkins about the problems of debating creationists, and the fact that Bill Nye agreed to this intrigued me (since it seems most people agree with Dawkins here, and there have been very few high profile science educators doing these sorts of debates for many years now).

Why We Should Debate Creationists

However, in considering what Nye could do with this debate I started to change my mind. That change was confirmed when I saw the 500,000+ live viewers of the debate on YouTube (and who knows how many more will watch it over the weeks, months and years to come). So apparently there is an appetite for this sort of a debate. Apparently people want to see it. And by agreeing to do these sorts of debates….by going in to the heart of the beast (The CREATION MUSEUM no less), you are getting knowledgeable scientists in front of the very people who most need to hear what they have to say!

Think about that. If Dawkins or Bill Nye went to Tennessee and did a talking tour, would one tenth of that audience have turned up at his lecture? No. But they will turn up to watch their favourite Creationist teach him about the Bible! So this sort of event is a great opportunity for Science educators, what can we do with it?

Don’t Debate – Just Teach

We have the audience we most need to reach, so lets take advantage of that. How do we do that? We focus on teaching them science. Forget the debate. Don’t even bother trying to win it…. just focus on teaching the audience something that they can grasp in the short time you have, and something they will remember. Then keep hammering it home.

And that brings me to the critical part of this article – as much as I love Bill Nye, and appreciate the pressure of performing live in a clearly hostile territory, I found myself mostly disappointed with what he said during the debate. No doubt he did say some great stuff which should have left any creationist stuck for an answer, and hopefully questioning how it is that they believe what they believe, but unfortunately, he also said a lot of things which didn’t do that very well. And the lots of things which weren’t spectacular, can unfortunately drown out the few spectacular things. I know they shouldn’t, but they do. And so the problem is that the audience is quickly distracted away from the strong point which is challenging their beliefs, and they refocus their thought process on this new weaker point which they quickly dismiss because *insert mental gymnastic reason here*.

Watching Bill list of all of the reasons we know the universe is the way it is felt like he just wanted everyone to know all of the knowledge behind all of those facts…but this isn’t how it works. Instead it sounds to the ignorant like Gish Gallop and none of it actually sticks because they don’t really understand what any of it means. It is all just words, until something is actually explained in detail!

There cannot be any assumed knowledge in a debate in the creation museum!

Don’t Skim Many Points. Teach Deeply on Few

I think Bill tried to cover too much ground and didn’t go into nearly enough depth in any of them to actually show how and why they are justified. By skimming across the surface this way, you end up actually coming across to them exactly like they come across to us. “We know radiation exists, therefore we know radiometric dating works, and that is how we date the age of the planet!” sounds as compelling to them as “The Bible tells us God made it” sounds to us. “Radiometric dating tells us” doesn’t actually explain anything…

So, what I really want to encourage future debaters to focus on doing when given this opportunity, is to pick the strongest 2 or 3 pieces of evidence we have for our scientific worldview, quickly put them in context of all of the other pieces of evidence perhaps, but then spend your entire allotted time explaining exactly how it is that we know those 2 or 3 pieces of evidence. TEACH the audience the history of that knowledge. Show them the experiments which verify it. Explain the logic behind it. And then just keep hammering those three points.

If you pick your points well, you can probably structure it so that you can keep coming back to one or the other to address the same questions and claims Creationists will always come up with. Say you pick Limestone creation as one of your points. You can use that (and that alone!) to show how the story of Noah is impossible. And you can use it as corroborating evidence to give us an indication of how old the planet it. And you can use it to show that we know about tectonic plate movement and uplift etc.

Pick a couple of key pieces of knowledge, explain them well, then use only those pieces of knowledge to rebut everything they say, and show how we know what we are talking about. (and of course, occasionally remind them that this is just 3 of hundreds of lines of evidence that we have.)

And if we have more of these debates, and every different debater picks different points to argue from, we might slowly teach the creationists geology, paleontology, astronomy, biology etc…. one subject at a time.

Shane

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Why Militant Atheism is Necessary

Militant Atheism is necessary as a force to counteract the unbalanced political and social power that popular religious belief systems have wielded for too long through their powerful standardising of beliefs. It is impossible to persuade people to change their point of view when their point of view is not actually their own and they don’t care about the subject matter. As such, the only option left is to challenge the foundation of the belief structure itself so as to undermine the authority of the people who decide what their followers should and should not believe.

For, Against and Other

It is true that on any contentious point you will get people with extreme points of view on each side. You will also get a lot more people right in the middle who don’t care, and then a complete spectrum in between of people who care, and may have opinions leaning one way or the other. What matters though, is that most of these people, particularly those who are not in the ‘extreme point of view’ position, can have their views changed by evidence and reason.

Where Religion changes this game, is how it allows large numbers of people to be made to believe the same position, often to the ‘extreme’ point, just by asserting that it is true and providing a bible quote or two. And it really only works with holy texts too. If you get a group of climate change deniers together, and tell them that they should also understand that abortion is fundamentally wrong – then it is unlikely that the assertion will carry any sway with them. There is no reason for that common belief system about climate change to carry over in to the world of the abortion debate. There is no reason to accept the claims of the ‘leader’ in this scenario… but when the leader is actually representative of “God” or a “holy text” or any other sort of manuscript which is somehow meant to hold the secrets of life (in an absolute sense) – then suddenly the leader, who has some sort of special ability to understand, or interpret or present the information known to God or the Holy text/manuscript, can make just about any claim on any topic – because God does actually cover everything… All topics are in fact related to ‘God’.

Every Belief is Related to God

So, religious institutions have a special belief power over people. As soon as someone gives over their ‘Everything belief’ to God or the Bible or the Koran etc, then when their religious source says “Homosexuality is evil”, then the most ambivalent person on earth on this topic is very strongly inclined to simply accept this claim as fact. After all, who can argue with God?

Of course not all people agree about all things in religion. Hence the two great schisms in Christianity. And the break between Judaism and Christianity. And ditto again with Islam. And all of the different forms of Hinduism and Buddhism. And the different denominations of Christianity and Judaism and Islam… etc.

So there may very well be a form of each religion for each specific combination of beliefs. To an extent anyway. But I don’t think most people feel free to ‘shop around’ for their belief system. Most people are born in to it. Or stumble in to it haphazardly – converted to ‘Christ’ by some major life changing experience you don’t usually stop to analyse all of the sub-beliefs that go with the church that you just happened to walk in to. So you end up in some belief system which tells you that slavery is actually OK in Gods eyes… Sorry, wait…no one (publicly) believes that one anymore, so I should use a more modern example. You walk in to a church that believes that homosexuality is a sin and that homosexuals are going to suffer for eternity in hell. Now thanks to your recent “Finding God” experience, you are open and ready to receive the word of God!! Hallelujah! And after all of the niceties and meeting all of the wonderful smiling people, and hearing how loving and wonderful and forgiving God is, and Good and all of that great stuff… you eventually find out that homosexuals are evil and going to hell.

“…That’s odd. I’ve never really though about homosexuality before.” you might think. Maybe never encountered it much – or when you did, simply didn’t care. But now… well now you know that God has ordained it. You know the truth… because “God said it”. The fact that it is people telling you this is irrelevant – they are simply relating to you God’s own words. So what on earth can you do other than believe them????

How long do you think it will take to turn someone who has never given the slightest shit about someone else’s sexuality and private life before, into someone who thinks the homosexuals are evil, when they are surrounded by other people who have been similarly brainwashed by rhetoric claimed to be in the name of the central belief?

The logical cause here is very straight forward.

  1. You believe <religious concept> is true.
  2. Leader of <religious concept> states that <belief>, because <religious concept>
  3. You believe <belief>.

So in order for someone to challenge <belief>, arguing against topics related to the belief is a waste of time: they aren’t the reasons the belief is held. You have to argue against <religious concept> or the leader, because those things are the actual logical causal reason for the belief to be held.

Christians who are disgusted by homosexuals are not disgusted by homosexuals because of anything homosexuals have ever done – they are disgusted by homosexuals because of what their religious leaders have told them. To argue with them about how homosexuality is just a private lifestyle that has nothing to do with them is to miss the point – they don’t CARE about that. What they care about, is their belief system itself. If you want to argue about homosexuality with a Christian who ”hates fags”, then you have to argue about Christianity.

Why This Matters

This matters because the beliefs of the people, determine the policies of the Governments. And when beliefs are artificially created by powerfully people within religious organisations, politics is affected in an imbalanced way. It is imbalanced, because politics engages in the actual topic itself – it will engage in arguments about gay marriage, on the terms of gay marriage. But when the argument isn’t actually about gay marriage, the political process is a complete waste of time. Politicians simply cannot engage in a campaign for Gay marriage, and then spend their time pointing out all of the flaws in Christianity. It isn’t acceptable, and won’t work either. But that is what needs to be done, because the people who are stopping gay marriage equality are doing so because of their religious beliefs, not because of the stuff the politician is talking about.

The idea of how our democratic system is meant to work, is that the differences in opinions held by it’s constituents are the fuel for the debate and are the basis of debate. Differences in opinion are acceptable, and entirely part of the system – but what is far more important than holding different opinions, is the opportunity to change opinions. Whether they be the opinions of the extremes, or simply swaying the opinions of the people in the middle who don’t really care – as long as evidence, facts, reason and logic can be used to sway numbers to a particular belief about contentious points. And as soon as disproportionate numbers of people have their beliefs determined by an external influences in such a way so as to prevent a change in belief…. then democracy cannot work. Instead, we have a democratic portion of the population, constantly dragging a theocratic portion along with it.

The Real World

There is no better example of this than the Gay Marriage debate. This is the sickest of sick public policy debates to waste anyone’s time in the last few decades. (I wanted to say ‘ever’, but I quickly remembered women’s rights (another Religious doctrine maintained that fight for a while) and before that, slavery (yet another religious doctrine kept that one alive way too long too)).

You see, for this debate, just like women’s rights and slavery, there were people who saw the injustice of the old system, and there were bigots who simply didn’t like the idea of giving equal rights to people who they viewed as lesser than themselves. These two roles exist with and without religion. And if religion was taken off the table, then I think the number of people supporting gay marriage would drastically out number the people who are against it, and the number of people in the middle who don’t care would simply vote for it, because it won’t harm them and will give rights to more people. Problem solved. But because religion is involved, a ‘debate’ rages on the topic as if there is actually some sort of pro and con analysis going on here.

There isn’t!

It is just complete BULLSHIT coming from religious flocks who think that homosexuals don’t deserve the same treatment as them because someone in power has convinced them that ‘God’ said that homosexuals are an abomination. And because of that a priori assertion of lesser value, they then attempt to shackle together ridiculous arguments to rationalise their position after the fact.

Nonsense like “Gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage” – Yeah bullshit. Tell that to the 50-70% divorce rate already in existence amongst heterosexuals. I feel stupid even pointing that out, because everyone knows that argument is complete rubbish and how ‘destroyed’ the sacred institution of marriage already is!

The point here is that all of the powerful counter arguments made against the ridiculous arguments made by the ‘religious right’ who are 95% of the time behind the anti-gay-marriage movement – are almost completely a waste of time. As articulate and clever, and cutting and poignant and perfect as they are – they are completely wasted. Because the people they are ‘arguing’ against, don’t actually care. They don’t hold the belief themselves. They were never convinced that homosexuals shouldn’t be married – they are simply following the belief pattern handed off to them by their religious leader.

You cannot argue against someone, who doesn’t care about the argument.

And that is why Militant Atheism matters.

If we ever want to get public policy back on to the track of ‘Reason’ and genuine debate between the extreme positions in an attempt to sway the moderates – we need to remove the large class of people who would be moderate, but are pushed to extremes by absolute belief systems forced on to them by religious instruction that they have chosen to believe in.

When someone’s mind is locked in on a belief because of religion, then arguing the points of that belief is useless. You have to address the source of the belief itself – the actual religion.

Needless to say, this same point applies to Creationists inhibiting scientific education, anti-abortionists inhibiting reasonable social programs, people against stem cell research without understanding the science first…anti-euthanasia absolutists… etc Where religion has a position, people are forcibly influenced into that belief position too. Rational debate is therefore impossible, and social policy is improperly affected.

For the sake of a sensible, reasonable, progressive society which continues to IMPROVE – we must throw off the shackles of religion. Because one thing all of these religions have in common, is the absolute forbiddance of progress.

The Bible doesn’t come in wiki format.

Militant Atheism

To me, Militant Atheism is all about stopping the religious groups of our world from exerting their numerical powers and superstitious beliefs over political processes. I don’t care about Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to my door. I don’t care about friends and colleagues praying for me. I don’t care at all what people do in private, or even in public for that matter. What I do care about, is when laws are made which create injustice, inequity and force stagnation of knowledge, and those laws are made simply because too many people have been brainwashed into agreeing with those laws, because a mythology has been used to convince them of that position. Not reason. Not evidence. But mythology.

No longer should our advanced society allow itself to be hindered by mythology.

Further Information

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Splitting up Marriages – The Legal and Cultural Elements

I have a solution to the problems surrounding the ‘gay marriage’ issue. We acknowledge that ‘Marriage’ is a word steeped in cultural heritage and history – from a variety of sources (ie: no one culture has a monopoly on what marriage means). We then realise that this debate about whether gays can marry or not, is a political/legal debate. We then decide how we want to resolve these two Separate issues – the cultural side of things, and the legal side of things – in the most reasonable, considerate, fair way that we can.

Marriage is a Cultural/Social Phenomenon

You see, you don’t need the law in order to be married. I mean, not really – because if you are religious enough, then marriage only means something ‘in the eyes of God’. So who cares whether the state acknowledges your union or not? As long as you have a priest, and your family and friends present and you make a solemn promise to God, then you are married – right?

Similarly, what does ‘Marriage’ look like to someone who isn’t so religious, or better still, atheist? I think it looks more like a large party where you make a solemn promise to your friends and family that this relationship is very serious and will last a lountil you die (or not, as the case most likely will be). From the non-religious perspective, marriage is all about the social impact of it. The statement made by being wed, by wearing the rings, by referring to your partner as ‘husband’ or ‘wife’. It has nothing to do with God, but is equally powerful.

And in both of these cases – you do NOT need a legally binding document for it to be true. You can have your ‘wedding’, invite extended friends and family over for a party, say your ‘vows’, wear your rings and refer to your partner as ‘husband/wife and for all intents and purposes, you will be ‘Married’.

Legally ‘Married’?

So what does the legal document have to do with anything? I think that that part is becoming less relevent these days. ‘De Facto’ has had a big impact on the importance of being legally married, but even so being legally married does seem to streamline some legal issues for partners. More than anything, I think just signing the legal documents is just accepted as part of the wedding ceremony these days without thought. It is just what is done. But this is neither here nor there. People, when they get married, typically engage in the legally binding element of it as part of the course…except homosexuals. Because they aren’t worthy.

So why do they not get this one element? The state recognises that they are real couples – you can be defacto as a gay couple… So why not ‘married’ as a gay couple? What is the real difference?

The Religious Right Fights It

The religious right fights the idea of gay marriage bitterly, proclaiming marriage to be sacred and all that. But they are missing the point – they are trying to defend a cultural view of marriage from a legal aspect of marriage. As a matter of fact, the problem here seems to be that everyone wants to use the same word… The religious right of the USA and Australia (primarily christians) want to protect their view of what the word “Marriage” means to them, and since our legal system talks about “Marriage”, they seem to think they are talking about the same thing… but they aren’t.

People have been getting legally “Married” for a long time now without any mention of God in their ceremony – so the religious right have already lost their fight to save ‘the true meaning of marriage’ (as they see it) from the political system. It is over. Let go. So why the fascination with keeping gays out of the ‘marriage’ definition?

Here is the solution

The political system needs to change its language to reflect what role it plays. Signing that legal document does not make you ‘married’ – it does however make you legally bound as a couple. So, why not call the legal state a ‘Civil Union’.

Everyone, on their WEDDING day, signs a contract to enter into a CIVIL UNION as just one of the elements of the MARRIAGE.

The idea of making gays have a civil union, while everyone else gets married is just a form of segregation. But by accepting the fact that the legally binding document is no more a part of the wedding than the wedding cake is, we can have everyone treated equally, while simultaneously maintaining cultural heritage and pride.

ie: Under this new system, Christians can comfortably refer to christian couples in a civil union as ‘Married’ (because it was done correctly in the eys of God), while describing gay couples who are in a civil union as ‘unwed’ – because it isn’t a correct marriage (according to their beliefs) in the eyes of God.

Meanwhile, the gay couple will more than happily refer to themselves as ‘Married’, because they did everything that matters to them, with respects to ‘getting married’.

Civil Union is the legal state of being. Marriage is the cultural and social term individuals may or may not choose to use. No one will ever need to use that incredibly awkward phrase “Are you two getting civilly unionised?”

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Reply to Friend’s Note

This is really just a discussion I am having a with a friend, but this seemed like an easier place to post than in facebook.

I was going to try to reply to individual points one at a time, but re-reading it all, I am having trouble figuring out what should be directly replied to – particularly without seeming like I am nit-picking – so I think I need to attempt to provide a wholistic reply, and refer to points you have raised within the wholistic reply.

Firstly, it is worth approaching this from two different angles – 1. Believing God exists, and the bible is an accurate story about God, and 2. Believing men wrote the bible in an attempt to make sense of a confusing world and God has nothing to do with it.

Believing God Exists

I’ll start with this, because your post is from this angle, so I guess this is my reply to what you are saying:

If we believe God exists, then what you describe is just a complicated, confusing story which is hard to put together and make sense of. It sounds to me like God is just as flawed as his creation (which does actually make sense) – and is stumbling through this whole process trying to figure out how to do it. The global flood beind a great example of that (or the local flood – depending on how you want to interpret that), where he decided to start again…

I don’t understand how god can be a perfect loving and just being, yet simultaneously wipe out entire populations for disobeying him/making him unhappy/not pleasing him. I can understand someone lashing out while being in love – but the word ‘perfect’ doesn’t come to mind when that sort of acttion is committed. Psychotic, unhealthy love – yes. Perfect love. No.

so, something that doesn’t quite make sense to me is how an omnipotent God couldn’t see this coming

Absolutely this is a problem, and even creating the (incredibly unpopular) assumption that God cannot see the future doesn’t explain this problem away. I cannot see the future, but I can still predict a lot of human behaviour. You could try to argue that God hadn’t had experience with humans before, and so it would be more like me trying to predict betelguesian (alien) behaviour, but even so – the ‘omnipotent’ creator should be much smarter than I am…

The Point that I think I have to make here is that if you want to believe that God is real and the bible is mostly accurate as to what God has done – then you really have to drop the beleif that God is a Perfect,¬† Omnipotent, Omniscient, good, loving being. possibly all of the above. If you start to think of God just as ‘some guy who made our universe’ with some ability to interact and influence things, even loves us as his own children… then it all makes much more sense. But to put God on this ‘perfect’ pedestal, and then read the bible and see his actions and judgements – the two elements do not line up.

Believing the Bible is Fictional

This is where the problems arise. It is this perspective which causes Dawkins to say what he says. I find it is difficult to talk about the Bible from a disbelievers persepctive without coming across as arrogant or offensive to believers. While I find it very easy to presuppose that God exists and wrote the Bible, I have never found a believer who could easily disconnect from the ‘holiness’ of the bible well enough to really consider the remifictions of it being a work of fiction.

So instead, I am going to try something different. I am going to try to talk about Scientology, and use it to make points about the bible.

Scientology is easy for anyone to believe is fictional. It’s ‘holy book’ was written in recent history by a science fiction writer and its stories are just as far fetched and unbelieveable as any sci fi novel you have ever read.

So when this book proclaims that suffering is caused by pained alien souls infecting our psychie, and that we need to put ourselves through frequent expensive cleansing processes to remove these ‘thetans’, and that psychology and psychiatric medications (proven ones) are bad for us – it is right to disagree with Scientologists. It is right to point out that their reasoning for this belief comes from a work of fiction, and has no evidence in reality, or rational debate. It is right (morally) to observe that actions carried out as a consequence of their belief system can be very harmful to followers.

Concurrently, while observing these problems with the way their erroneously founded beliefs are causing harmful courses of action, the fact that “Xenu was really evil” has no bearing on the discussion. It is irrelevent how much the alien souls suffered when xenu blew them up. It has no bearing on the reality of the story, and the fact that the real world actions are being driven by a fairy tale.

And finally – a Scientologist would be very offended by what I just wrote. They would disagree, and feel confronted and attacked. They would disagree with my representation of the story. I missed the point. I don’t really understand it all etc. But those points – the subtle nuances of a belief system – mean absolutely nothing when the whole thing is a work of fiction, and real people are making real decisions based on that work of fiction. It also doesn’t matter one iota, if the work of fiction is “completely* internally consistent. In the end, how offended the belivers might get by being confonted with these facts is really unimportant when the fact that vulnerable people are being sucked in to a fairy tale, and using that fairy tale to decide important aspects of their lives – deciding towards the harmful options!

When you can see stories like this from the perspective of the non-believer, the problems and harm caused as a direct consequence of the beliefs are far more important and worthy of your attention than concern over the ‘offendedness’ felt by the believers as a result of your attention to it.

Scientology is actually hard to do – it doesn’t have very many offensive stand points that I know of. Catholicism is easy – like Tim Minchin said:

if you find me more offensive
Than the fucking possibility
That the Pope protected priests
While they were getting fucking fiddly
Then listen to me motherfucker
This here is a fact:
You are just as morally misguided
As that motherfucking, power hungry
Self-aggrandised bigot
In the stupid fucking hat.

Being concerned about offending believers should be far far second to concern about immoral and harmful actions conducted either in the name of, or because directly instructed to, or because of an indirect consequence of the belief derived from a fairy tale.

So, to try to bring this long story back around to the topic – when a non believer observes that a belief system fundamentally teaches people that simply ‘forgiving’ isn’t actually an option – that instead sacrifice of some sort is required – and judges that central theme to be morally reprehensible, I don’t think it matters how the story in question attempts to spin it – the idea is morally lacking.

A few other Points

bits of it are historical record (and a particularly accurate record at that)

The Da Vinci Code has some incredibly accurate history in it too. A 99% true story does not make the 1% that is wrong, true.

the secular academic consensus is that the bible is far and away the most reliable ancient historical document in existence (another another story). this means that the historical figure Jesus really did claim to be both God and saviour

Under no form of logic does that follow. No matter how well parts of the new testament have been lined up with verified parts of history, there is no way anyone can claim any sort of confidence about what jesus did or did not say, nor whether he actually existed or not. And while plenty of academics do think he did, there are plenty who do not. There is no consensus on it, and my understanding is – zero evidence for it outside of the bible (outside of ‘evidence’ from after his lifetime in the form of ‘discussion about’)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus

Also, I have a post under construction about the reasons for a Militant Atheism movement – explaining why Dawkins does what he does.

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