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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Follow up thoughts on differences between men and women…

So I had a few discussions because of the article I wrote yesterday which was a brain dump of some of my thoughts on the fact that men and women are almost certainly different (mentally and emotionally speaking). Over the course of some of these discussions, new thoughts emerged, and I wanted to get them down this morning. This was largely why I wrote the piece – just trying to get my own thoughts on a complicated and confusing subject together.

New Simple Argument

So, first of all, here is my new 1 sentence basic argument against anyone who believes that men and women are innately mentally, emotionally and/or behaviorally identical:

“So men and women are different genetically, developmentally, biochemically and physically – but mysteriously they are identical mentally?”

Transsexuals Might Disagree?

The fact that some men want to be women, and some women want to be men doesn’t contradict my position here – it in fact validates it. Because it shows that the identification of a sexuality is not merely socially constructed. We have here people who have been raised as one sex, given all of the same toys as everyone else, and shown the same sexual propaganda as the rest of us, etc and in spite of it all, something in their brains screams at them so loudly that they FEEL wrong behaving the way everyone expects them to, that they instead choose to deal with some of the most atrocious vilification our society hands out in order to feel comfortable in their own skins.

So your choices (as best I can figure) to deal with the sexual-identification issue, is that either every single transsexual person has had some anomalous environmental pressure in their early childhood which made them flip their sexual identity – OR – you accept that sexual identity is something which was programmed in to them genetically, developmentally and/or biochemically.

Surely No One Thinks that…

I got this response from a few people, a few times. Of course no one thinks that men and women are the same! Well…I wouldn’t have bothered writing the article yesterday if it wasn’t the case. It seems to be surprisingly common, with several people encountered the other night who seemed quite certain of it, as well a few comments in my discussion since which also reported their own experiences of people refusing to acknowledge that men and women might be different.

One interest tweet response I got made reference to the point I raised about how people used to argue that the different races were different – but no longer do, so maybe this line of argument I am making is just as erroneous as those old ones! Of course I disagree completely, and I think my 1 line argument above alone is sufficient reason why. Races have slight variations on superficial physical features as their only point of difference – but otherwise are genetically, biochemically and developmentally similar. Hence there is no reason to suspect that races are particularly mentally different from each other either. Men and Women, of all races, are persistently and constantly different across all of these things in significant ways.

Ought from Is – The Naturalistic Fallacy, And Judging the Sexes

And my final thought for now on this, is to make a very strong note that at no point in any of this have I set out to prescribe what should be. There is nothing about the fact that men and women are different which prescribes a way they ought to be, or how people ought to be treated. More importantly perhaps, there is also no value judgement being made about these facts. I absolutely reject the idea that any one sex is better than the other. Although I do generally find myself liking women a lot more than men, so maybe I think women are better?

But seriously, the idea that x and y are different means that x must be better than y is a complete non-sequitor. There is zero connection between difference and ranking! And the idea that one sex or another could be better, or more valuable, or more important is as absurd to our society as it is biologically. You can’t have one without the other!

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Feminism, Sexism and Biology

I attended a panel discussion last night at Soho Skeptics called “Challenging Geek Stereotypes” – specifically female-geek stereotypes.

I think I have mostly avoided feminism issues for most of my life, but over the last couple of years I have become more and more involved in it. Just incrementally. But now I think I am on the cusp of full blown involvement because I not only care about equality, but I worry that large portions of the feminist movement are very seriously shooting themselves in the foot.

To cut straight to the chase, I noticed last night listening to this panel that it seemed like there was a pervasive implicit agreement that Men and Women are fundamentally the same. In the way where a debate about racism would have everyone agreeing that Black and White people are fundamentally the same, skin colour isn’t important – so too penis vs vagina isn’t important and we’re the same deep down. Unfortunately, I believe, biology just flat out contradicts this. Men and Women ARE fundamentally different, and if I am correct in this fact, then pretending they are not and trying to work from a ‘blank slate’ origin towards equality will create more confusion and difficulty than not.

Are Men and Women Different?

On one level, obviously they are. For a basic introduction to this, the wikipedia article on ‘Sex Differences in humans‘ seems as good a place to start as any. However when talking about being the ‘same’ in this context what we are really talking about is emotionally. Mentally. Instinctively. Are our personalities fundamentally different? Or is all of the difference we see in our society a function of our cultural conditioning?

It is the confusion of our cultural conditioning which makes it a hard question – because no one is brought up a blank slate. Everyone is influenced, and groomed, and manipulated – we can’t be sure what traits are ‘nature’ and what ones are manufactured through precise ‘nurture’. So it is a challenging question – however, i think an understanding of evolutionary theory and biology is enough for anyone to see that Men and Women are necessarily different. Different Emotionally. Mentally. and Instinctively.

It IS all about Sex

One of the first people I spoke to after the talk about this observation of mine kept pulling me up when I mentioned the sexual reproductive strategies used by either sex in an evolutionary context. She complained that I was focusing on the sex as if it was of core importance, when she didn’t think it was. So I am going to start there – Sex IS of core importance.

We are a result of evolution. This is certain. Evolution has crafted us to the ultimate reproductive tools. And reproductive success is EVERYTHING to evolution. Nothing else matters. And reproduction is about 1. Having offspring, and 2. Ensuring those offspring survive. This is a biological fact, and just as applicable to humans as it is to every other sexually reproductive species.

So everything evolution selects for is about successful reproduction. Sex is the method of reproduction in all vertebrates, and so sex is central to everything about us. Everything we have evolved, whether it be balance, strength, speed, endurance, a digestive tract – ALL OF IT is so that we can achieve reproduction via sexual intercourse – and in some species – continue to provide for those offspring to a degree.

Successful Sexual Strategies

So we have two sexes. In humans, and all vertebrates. The definition of the sexes really just comes down to which one provides the greater or lesser investment to sexual reproduction. Females provide the greater investment in terms of cellular material. When we specifically talk about species which also involve internal gestation, then the consequence of sex for the two sexes is immediately starkly different. Males spend mere seconds engaging in sex, and are not committed beyond that. Females on the other hand risk committing themselves to months worth of sharing their limited energy and nutritional supplies with a parasitic organism, inability to mate with ‘superior’ males during that time, and potential risk of complications which could result in death. The difference between these two realities is stark!

This disparity is very physically real. And contrary to popular desire to discount the affect of evolution on the mind – evolution made our brain! It is the thing which created the nature of our brain which is open to the affects of nurture! btw, in case you were wondering, the answer to the Nature vs Nurture debate, it is Nurture VIA nature. It always has been both, but if it wasn’t for evolution crafting the malleable brain, there would be nothing for nurture to act upon! And thus it is here. yes, we are malleable creatures. Yes you can manipulate people in to certain patterns. It seems incredibly unlikely that Pink is somehow inherently Female, from a biological perspective – but that does not mean that there aren’t innate differences! Particularly when it comes to innate desires towards sex, and reluctances to participate in sex!

When there is clearly a biological disparity between successful evolutionary strategies of the two sexes, it makes sense that each sex will approach the problem of ‘Who do I mate with?’ differently! Males have endless sperm and can mate freely without risk. Females suffer from months of inability to select new superior mates when pregnant, are forced to give up large percentages of their limited nutritional and energy supply to a parasite organism, and worse than that, they risk death in child birth – all from engaging in sex. The idea that women would think and feel about sex exactly the same as men is absurd!

But in our modern world, we can choose to be…

Yeah yeah yeah. We’re all enlightened clever intelligent persons now aren’t we? We are no longer victim to our animalistic past are we? Of course not. That is why we all choose to ignore our programming and rationally think through the fact that we have contraceptives, antibiotics and abundant food, and spend all of our spare time engaging sex with numerous partners, often people we don’t even know. right?

Oh, you don’t want to do that? Why not?

See, it is easy to justify what you want, but you still haven’t choosen what it is that you want. Our evolutionary past controls us more than any of us want to admit.

“Human beings aren’t rational, but rationalizing, animals.” -Robert Heinlein

I want to stop eating Chocolate, and carbohydrate rich foods. But damnit, my brain keeps telling me they TASTE SO GOOD! Why don’t I just choose to stop enjoying them? We are slaves to our evolutionary past until we can actually change our biology – or so comprehensively agree to ‘train’ each new generation to act and think the ‘right way’ that it looks like it is natural.

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