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28 August 2009

I Can't Help But Be Atheist!

So I ran into a blog entry over at "Daylight Atheism" and some of the comments gave me a chuckle. The gist of the article is that the writers of the NT goofed up (what else is new?) and used a word that is actually quite contrary to what most xtians think about free will. With these verses in hand, according to the bable, I have no choice in the matter of being an atheist, because it's jewish-zombie-sky-daddy's will for me to be atheist. I wonder if I can use those verses to get these damn evangelical nutjobs to leave me the fuck alone? If I want to speak with mentally challenged individuals, I'd rather try to do some good and do volunteer work for the Special Olympics or something.

Of course, I love how some will rationalize their way out of these as they do with the other silly crap in the babel. Par for the course on picking and chosing to fit their deranged and demented view of the world.

Little-Known Bible Verses: Predestination
One of the most common Christian beliefs, and the one most often appealed to in order to explain why evil exists, is that human beings have free will to make choices that are not in God's control. God doesn't want robots, the argument goes, nor mindless puppets programmed to sing his praises. He desires genuine fellowship with real, independent beings, and giving us free will is the only way to achieve that, though some people may misuse the gift and cause evil and sin that harm others.
But if you look at the Bible, this reasoning isn't so easy to support. In fact, there's strong evidence that, in the world of Christian theology, human beings are not free to make their own choices - as we see from some little-known bible verses.
"According as [Christ] hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated [Greek proorizo, to predetermine, to decide beforehand] us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will...."—Ephesians 1:4,5 (KJV)

This verse from Ephesians arguably isn't even the strongest predestination verse in the Bible, but I chose it because it easily disposes of the usual counterargument: that God does not predestine, but with his omniscience, he sees in advance who will freely choose him. This verse refutes that interpretation by using the Greek word proorizo, which specifically means "predestinate".
If the author of this verse had instead wanted to say that God would foresee who would choose him, there's a perfectly good Greek word for that - proginosko. That word is not used here. However, it is used in another verse which puts the nail in the coffin of the foreknowledge argument:
"For whom [God] did foreknow [proginosko], he also did predestinate [proorizo] to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? .... Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth."—Romans 8:29-33 (KJV)

This verse uses both the words for "foreknow" and "predestinate", and it specifically says that God does both. But there's one more predestination verse in the Bible that's the most compelling of all:
"Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?"
—Romans 9:14-21 (KJV)

This long verse makes it clear what Paul's views on free will are. Salvation is "not of him that willeth", but the choice of God, who selects some people and shows mercy to them. The rest, like Pharaoh, he "hardens" so that they will reject him and be condemned. But the most incontrovertible proof that this passage teaches predestination is that Paul anticipates the obvious counterargument - that it would be unjust for God to punish people for being as he made them to be - and responds to it! His argument is that since God is the maker, he can do whatever he wants with us - just as a potter shapes clay into different vessels to suit his purposes - and we have no right to lay a charge of injustice against him.
Verses like these may disturb Christians who've always believed that God gave us free will. But the truth is that such a concept finds little support in the Bible. By contrast, the pro-predestination verses are numerous and specific in their wording: God makes us as he chooses, rewards the people whom he made to be good, and punishes the ones whom he made to be evil, even though neither group had any choice in how they would turn out. Many influential historical Christian thinkers, including Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin, accepted these verses for what they say.
Today this view is much less popular, probably because of its unsettling moral implications for God's goodness. As mentioned earlier, even most Christians now seem to accept that a god who was directly responsible for evil, and who condemns people for being as he made them to be, would not be worthy of worship. But this can't change the fact that it is still what the Bible clearly says.

17 August 2009

Scientific American: Origins

I just got an email about the Scientific American Magazine: Origins project. I think that it would be a good moment to spread the work about this since it seems to be a pretty good collecion of science in one place attempting to tackle those deep issues that the ignorant say only humans contemplate (behavioral studies have shown that other animals also contemplate these things, but they are smart enough not to make up religions yet). Anyway, here is the introduction for you:

A Greek statesman who lived in the sixth century B.C. put forward the first explanation, shorn of theological trappings, that captured the essence of all things living and inanimate. Thales of Miletus noticed that water could exist as a liquid, gas or solid and posited that it was the fundamental constituent of matter from which the earth’s denizens—men, goats, flowers, rocks, and whatnot—somehow sprang forth.

As with all natural philosophy (a pursuit now known as science), Thales’ observation immediately provoked an argument. Anaximander, a disciple of Thales (today what would be called a graduate student), asked how water could be the single basic element if rock, sand and other substances appeared to be devoid of moisture.

The bickering about beginnings and the nature of our existence has not ceased in ensuing millennia, although Thales’ aqueous cosmology persists only as a passing citation in histories of philosophy and science. A definitive answer to the identity of the most basic ingredient of matter—and how it could ultimately lead to a world populated by iPhones and reruns of American Idol—still eludes today’s natural philosophers.

In early April a colloquy of 70 leading scientists assembled at Arizona State University to launch an Origins Initiative to ponder such questions as whether infinitesimal, stringlike particles may be candidates as the latest substitute for Thales’ vision of a wet world. An urge to deduce beginnings energizes the entire scientific endeavor—and of course that extends into the realm of biology. Appropriately, this year’s 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species coincides with a significant advance toward the milestone of demonstrating how life sprang from inanimate matter. A British team of chemists showed that one of the basic building blocks of life could form spontaneously from a warm soup of organic chemicals.

The immediacy of these themes is why this single-topic issue of Scientific American is devoted to origins in physics, chemistry, biology and technology. In the following pages, a physicist grapples with the overarching question of how the universe began. A chemist addresses possible ways in which life first started, and a biologist takes on what has made the human mind different from that of any other animal’s. Then a historian of technology contemplates the first computer, perhaps the most extraordinary invention of the human mind. A final section provides brief chronicles of the inception of dozens of physical and biological phenomena, in addition to a series of remarkable human inventions.

Whether related to rainbows, antibiotics or paper money, beginnings—and the stories they generate—serve as an endless source of fascination about the world around us.

16 August 2009

Politics: Americans Not Playing With a Full Deck

Running short on time today (and will be for the next few weeks), so reposting an essay I found:

If any decisions were to be made by using reason and evidence, political decisions would have to be among them - but Americans generally don't do that. Only a small percentage appear to have a coherent political philosophy, consistent beliefs, and an ability to explain what they decide. The rest go by gut instinct, so they're inconsistent and react poorly.

If this is how people deal with politics, where a significant amount of the relevant and necessary information is right in front of them or easily accessible, can be understood with perhaps just a little effort, and can be sorted out with a little more effort, then how can we expect people to deal with religion any better?

15 August 2009


You are all aware I am sure of the "Government Death Panels" that are in the healthcare reform debate. But I bring you two of its most ardent supporters:

Sarah Palin

Newt Gingrich

Here you see BOTH of them supporting such RADICAL and un-American concepts as advanced care planning, living wills, counseling, and coordinating records through electronic media. You know, the DEATH PANELS!!!!!!!!!

Okay, this is YET ANOTHER example of the outright lies and distortion you the public are getting from these first class hypocritical fucktards! You want to know something even funnier? If you go to the State of Alaska web page listing all the proclamations, scroll down to April 2008 (when Sarah "I'm a fucking tard" Palin made her proclamation), and click on the link for it, you get nothing! She had it taken down? Good thing for archives! Newt's article was specifically on reform, but it's incredibly hypocritical and disingenuous to tout advanced care planning to be covered by Medicaid as a fucking death panel. Come on, is lying so ingrained that you feel that this isn't anything more than a scare tactic?

After all, if the Terry Shaivo fiasco of 2005 didn't get people to actually think about really planning for this shit, I doubt they'll do it on their own. As a matter of fact, the Schaivo incident is yet another example of hypocrisy and fear mongering douchebaggery. Back then, you had the Senate all wrapped up in interfering in a family's private decision on end of life planning. NOW however, they say it isn't a place for them to get involved. Okay, make up your fucking mind already! Or are you just so politically fickle that you have no actual convictions, and live your life according to Faux Noise "news" coverage?

Again, I have stated repeatedly that I am not sure that we as Americans deserve any healthcare on a universal basis. Not until we actually DO something about our health! Stop thinking that a triple whopper, large fries, apple pie, and a diet coke is a healthy meal... Get off your ass and do something like going to the gym, or just take a walk. Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Don't drive to the mailbox. And for fucks sake, we need some massive tort reform. Anyway, here is a repeat of a previous blog entry:

As for the actual agenda of a national healthcare plan... My view is that we need to get the insurance companies out of running it entirely unsupervised. Incentiveize people to be healthier first of all, and then see what we can do to make the system efficient. Right now it's yet another bunch of douchebaggery that is out of control, and the government hasn't done a damn thing to stop it. Too much Laize Faire will result in abuses too... Because people are greedy douche bags!

And AGAIN the Republicans are being SUPREME douche bags... The only study they are taking talking points from is the Lewin Group. They seem to be leaving out a KEY fact though:

The political battle over health-care reform is waged largely with numbers, and few number-crunchers have shaped the debate as much as the Lewin Group, a consulting firm whose research has been widely cited by opponents of a public insurance option.

To Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip, it is "the nonpartisan Lewin Group." To Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, it is an "independent research firm." To Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the second-ranking Republican on the pivotal Finance Committee, it is "well known as one of the most nonpartisan groups in the country."

Generally left unsaid amid all the citations is that the Lewin Group is wholly owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest insurers.

Oh Snap!

14 August 2009

Science vs. Religion: Ideology and Methodology

I found this essay on a friend's page on Facebook, and wanted to pass this along. None of the religions can change the history of the earth. They can either help find out about reality or get out of the way. Considering how much they fight reality, I'd prefer to see them disappear. Anyway, this is a long one, so here it is:

Science vs. Religion: Ideology and Methodology by Hamby Dammit

I’ve had several private correspondences over the last couple of days dealing with what I’ve started calling the Church of Dawkins. A significant number of theists and atheists seem to believe that there’s some sort of cult forming around everything that comes out of the mouth of the “King of Atheists,” or some nonsense like that. This also ties into the hubbub over the New Atheists and The Four Horsemen and all the other monikers earned by various atheist writers over the last few years.

To begin with, let me say a few things about what is happening in atheism. I’m tempted to put atheism in scare quotes because atheism is not a philosophy or a worldview, but I will let that stand for the moment. Just please realize that when I talk about “atheism” in this sense, I’m talking about a vaguely defined social movement, not the ordinary epistemological position.

Atheism is a movement of a sort. We have conferences and book signings and student associations. There are “factions.” Some atheists don’t believe in the in-your-face style of Dawkins and Harris. Writers like Michael Shermer favor a much more passive and accepting approach to spreading freethought. Ayn Rand was an atheist, and promoted objectivism, which is fervently espoused by a small number of atheists, but discarded as so much claptrap by most rationalists and positivists.

There are “leaders” in atheism. Margaret Downey has been at the forefront of many social and free-thinking issues for years, and is the founder of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia. She was largely responsible for taking on the Boy Scouts for discriminating against atheists and gays. Richard Dawkins is a prolific author and a compelling speaker, and he has an extensive speaking circuit as well as a very popular website. Sam Harris frequently editorializes in the country’s most widely read newspapers.

It’s relatively easy for me to understand why a lot of people see what’s going on in atheism and think it’s cult-like. Had I been a theist when a lot of these folks became big news, I’d probably have thought the same thing. The thing is, it’s not a cult. Certainly every popular author has his or her fanboys. That cannot be avoided. But the thing that makes this movement special, and I believe unique in Western History, is that it is a seemingly paradoxical movement. Hundreds of thousands of people are working together to encourage every individual to think for himself and not follow the group! How can this be possible? There are two main reasons I can think of: The Principles of Science, and The Convergence of Truth.

The Principles of Science

If you haven’t read my article on the scientific method, now would be a good time, as I will only summarize briefly here. If you understand science, you know that its greatest strength is its independence from authorship. That is to say, if I give you a list of instructions for performing a scientific experiment and you follow the instructions precisely, you will get the same results as anyone else on the planet who followed the same steps. There need not be any attribution or author’s name on the study for you to know the facts demonstrated by the experiment are true.

As humans, we admire scientists who make breakthrough discoveries. We all know the name Albert Einstein, and we all hold him in high reverence, as we do Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, and Jonas Salk. It is important to remember, though, that the discoveries made by these men and women were truths waiting to be discovered. Einstein did not create general relativity. He described it. Salk was the first to observe the truth that a dead polio virus would successfully immunize children against polio. Curie observed that uranium radiation made the surrounding air conductive.

The important point here is that had any one of these scientists not been born, the scientific truths associated with their names would have been discovered by someone else. Perhaps Einstein was ahead of his time, but it is hard to imagine that no human would have put the same pieces of the puzzle together and reached the same conclusion — ever. That’s the beauty of science. The pieces of any puzzle are available for anyone to see. If a thing is true, it is true for Einstein and Hambydammit and Joe Plumber. Neither of us needs the other to see the truth. We just need the scientific method.

The “Four Horsemen” of atheism, as well as most of the lesser known authors, and most bloggers like me, are staunch advocates of the scientific method. In many ways, we are not so much concerned with converting someone to atheism as we are convincing them of the truth that science is the only reliable way to discover truth. Indeed, there are atheists in the world who believe wacky things. As many theists are quick to point out, Stalin was an atheist. So was Mao Tse-tung. These people believed in a political ideology that doesn’t work. They caused immense suffering because they believed an ideology instead of empirically verifiable facts.

As a matter of fact, Sam Harris himself has been quite critical of using the word “atheist” to describe this movement. Paul Geisert and Mynga Futell co-founded the term “Brights” in an attempt to unite everyone who believes in naturalism and science. I only refer to myself as an atheist because the word is accurate in describing my lack of belief in a deity. Given the choice, I call myself a naturalist or a materialist, for both of those words give a far more detailed description of what I do believe, rather than simply mentioning one thing I don’t believe in.

Science, then, is the central support of the growing atheist movement. Since science is results-based instead of personality based, we should expect the movers and shakers to come and go. We should recognize that so long as any particular figure in the movement is espousing independent, empirically verifiable science, we will not be heading down the road towards a cult of personality. Similarly, we should demand that no matter how well-established a particular figure is, he should back up every positive claim he makes. Tenure does not reduce the burden of proof.

The best example I can think of is the laughable tactic used in the movie Expelled. In one scene, Ben Stein is interviewing Dawkins about the origins of life, and Dawkins explains that even if life were seeded on earth by aliens, it would only push the question of origins back one step. We would still have to account for the beginning of the alien life, and the only plausible explanation is gradual increasing complexity as described by evolution. Theists have jumped on this bandwagon in an attempt to discredit Dawkins. “SEE!” they proclaim. “The Grand Poo-Bah of Atheism Believes in Aliens!!”

Granted, this is stretch, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s suppose that Richard Dawkins believes aliens seeded life on earth. Fine. He needs to get to writing, because he’s got a HUGE burden of proof to overcome before anybody believes him. Oh, sure. There will be a few thirteen year olds who will hang their hats on alien seeding without demanding proof, but every scientist worth his dissertation will demand overwhelming proof.

When Antony Flew succumbed to dementia and espoused belief in a deistic god, the reaction from the brights and atheists and naturalists was mostly sympathy. He has been a prominent figure in the freethinking movement, and it is sad from a human perspective to see that his faculties have dimmed and that he cannot form coherent arguments anymore. He is still highly respected as a member of the freethough community, and his serious work still stands as strongly as it ever did.

The broad point is a simple one. This movement, unlike any other ideological movement, has its roots in something outside of the word of man. Ironic, isn’t it? For centuries, men have told us that the word of God was outside of the word of man, but there was no way to verify that except for trusting the word of men. Now, with the discovery of science, we truly can discover reality without trusting men. The independence of the scientific method is the escape hatch from the cult of personality.

The Convergence of Truth

If you know something about evolutionary biology, you know what convergent evolution is. Simply put, some solutions to problems are better than others, and evolution, being based entirely on the success of design, tends to discover particularly good solutions over and over. The eye is one of the best examples. At least eight independent times, evolution has stumbled upon the solution of light detection. In many environments, creatures that can detect and react to light are significantly better equipped to survive than those who can’t. The eye has developed in different ways. Just as there are multiple ways to build a camera lens, there are different ways to build eyes. At the heart of all eyes, however, is the inescapable truth: Seeing is better than not seeing.

I want to take the same principle and apply it to living as a human. When we look around the entire world, we see many remarkable convergences of truth. As a very mundane example, we observe that virtually all cultures go out of their way to make tools designed for human rear ends to rest upon. The truth is simple: Humans expend less energy while resting than standing, and sitting on one’s rear end is one of the best forms of resting. Of course, there are thousands of designs for sitting devices. I’m sitting in a faux-leather office chair with wheels. There are rocking chairs, swings, settees, pillows, lumbard support cushions, and divans. The angle of inclination, comfort, height, and other variables change significantly between designs, but all of them address the same truth — it is good for people to sit sometimes.

We should not suppose for a minute that one human thought up a chair, and every chair since has been a copy or adaptation. How foolish that would be! When anthropologists discover a new tribe of humans that has never had contact with the outside world, they observe sitting devices of some sort. Shaping the environment to make a comfortable sitting surface is so obvious an action that we hardly think of it as requiring intelligence. Even so, this is a good analogy for more complicated convergences of truth.

I have mentioned before that a naturalist philosophy essentially demands atheism, if followed to its logical conclusion. This, of course, is because of the incoherence of all god-definitions when applied to naturalism. This understanding hasn’t been easily accessible for most of human history. Modern epistemology, ontology, and symbolic logic have given us the tools we need to make the observations of naturalism with justification. Therein lies the key to this growing movement of diverse yet convergent atheists. Any one of these fields demands answers to questions that lead to other related fields. If I begin with logic, I must at some point address the question of how far the rules of logic apply. To answer that question, I must study ontology. To study ontology, I must study epistemology. If I thoroughly grasp these subjects, I will be pulled very strongly towards naturalism. (It’s my belief that naturalism is the only justifiable position, but that’s another blog topic.)

You can probably see where I’m going with this. Atheism is a convergent truth. It may be reached in a variety of ways, but it is the logical conclusion to a great many lines of thinking. Most importantly, it is the position demanded by the scientific method. If there is a god, there is evidence for this god. Science has yet to uncover one scrap of evidence for god, so it must conditionally conclude that god-belief is unjustified. Put simply, anyone who meticulously and precisely follows the scientific method ought to arrive at atheism if he ever addresses the question of god(s). In the same way that any two people on earth, given a description of a basic science experiment, will achieve the same results, the rejection of the god theory is also a predictable result of the application of the scientific method. It is a truth accessible to anyone on the planet, independent of whether it has been discovered elsewhere before.

The Uniqueness of the Atheist Movement

“Atheism” (or “New Atheism, if you must) is a unique movement in human history. Never before have we had access to so much information about the universe and the nature of reality. I don’t see the atheism movement as a political movement, or an ideological movement. Instead, it is in large part a realization by millions and millions of people that science gives them the freedom to shake off the yoke of personality. They need not follow Sagan or Dawkins or Dennett. They can instead avail themself of the independent and objective yardstick of science and logic. The truths they discover may have been previously discovered, of course, and if it turns out that they find like minded people who have also made the same discoveries, so much the better.

This isn’t about atheism. It’s about realizing that we have the justification as humans to throw off religion and superstition and do the best we can at working out the nature of reality ourselves. There will be quacks and fakirs who will come and go. They will gather their own followers, but in the end, their ideas will be discarded when it becomes obvious that they cannot stand up to independent scrutiny. If ever there was a movement that was truly about the individual, this has to be it. It is about belief in the reliability of truth outside of the word of any man, no matter how intelligent or powerful he might be. It is what religion has claimed to offer and failed. Where religion only offers the word of man to testify to the “Truth,” science offers itself as the path to truth, and anyone can discover the truth without indoctrination or threats of punishment.

Ironic, isn’t it?

I realize that I’m setting myself up. Theists will jump on the bandwagon and say, “See! It’s just like a religion! You’re religious!” When they do that, I will quietly explain to them — again — that there is no end to the chain of heresay in religion, and science is its own end. There is an unethical experiment we cannot perform in reality, but can easily imagine as a thought experiment. Suppose we take a hundred children and raise them in complete social isolation. That is, we ensure that they are not taught any religious concept whatsoever, or ever hear the word “god” or “science.” When they are old enough to manipulate their environment creatively, we put them in an isolated environment with various problems to solve. They must find shelter from the heat and rain. They must find food. They must not defacate where they sleep or they will soon have to find new shelter.

Most of the children will solve these problems, assuming there are things to eat and places to hide. Most of them will use tools to accomplish their purposes. Supposing we leave them existing tools, they will probably discover their uses. If, for instance, we leave a lens to focus sunlight, some of the children will learn to start fires. Not all, of course, but many. If we leave an umbrella, most of the children will figure out how to open it, and will use it as a portable shelter.

Now, let us ask ourselves: How many of these children will come up with the Gospel of John? How many will come away from their isolated existence believing firmly that Jesus Christ is the son of god, and they must believe in him or suffer eternal hellfire as punishment for disbelief? The obvious answer is that not one child will come to that conclusion. Not one. Yet all of them, to some degree or another, will convergently discover truths of science. Nobody will discover Allah, or Thor, or Zeus, or Ahura Mazda. To discover these gods, we must learn of them from other men.

After this objection has been dealt with, atheists and theists alike will aver that there is more to life than scientific observation. Human life is about culture and love and emotional entanglement. Science can describe these things empirically, but it cannot tell us what to do with them. To that, I will reply, “Precisely my point!” Science can and does describe culture, love, and emotional entanglement. We discover truths about being human. We are evolved creatures with instincts and intelligence. We all desire companionship, mating, and social acceptance. We all tend towards conspicuous consumption. All of this information is useful to us in deciding how to act.

Human culture is diverse and in some ways quite unpredictable. Science doesn’t promise utopia. It promises truth. Sometimes the truth is ugly, and that is one of the scariest things about abandoning myth for truth. Tsunamis will strike. Hurricanes will devastate cities. Charlatans will rob people of their life savings. But science at least gives us a clear window into why these things happen, and offers us the chance to potentially change what we want to change, based not on guesses about what Jehovah might want us to do, but on the way the world works, as verifiable to anyone who cares to look.

There will always be questions to answer, and there will always be people and cultures we disagree with. Science will not give us a One World Government, or a universal code of ethics. Instead, it will give us a way to understand the necessary and dynamic diversity we see in different cultures. It will give us the justification to call for the end of demonstrably harmful cultural practices. It will demand evidence before embarking on grandiose social engineering projects. It will demand that we give an empirically verifiable reason before imposing this or that law on a populace. It will demand an end to blind faith.

The Science Movement is about ending that which is demonstrably false and harmful, and about enabling us to find the best ways to pursue what we believe is right. This is no different from the religious movement in one very important sense — it’s still about doing what we believe is right. The crucial difference, however, is that it finally gives us a yardstick to test our beliefs against. It is literally a reality check to guage whether our intentions match our actions. It’s fine and good to intend good or to wish people happiness. It’s quite another to act in a way that actually promotes happiness. Science is the tool for determining the effectiveness of our actions. It is the only reliable tool. THAT is what makes science different from religion.

10 August 2009

Conditional Love?

Found this at the blog of Danile Florien (Unreasonable Faith) a reformed fundamentalist. i read his blog, because I was never so deluded as to buy into religion, so he has a pretty good perspective on things. Anyway, this video was pretty funny:

Jesus loves you… but if you don’t worship him, you’re going to burn in hell forever.

I’ve always thought that the concept of the Christian god’s love was very conditional. Which isn’t all bad, except for that fact that he’s supposed to be much better than us mere humans. And of course, the punishment involved for not worshiping him everyday.

I can think of plenty of great parents out there who probably love their children as close to unconditionally as it gets. And their children certainly do not worship them, and have openly spited them many times growing. But the parents don’t feel any differently and would do just about anything for them. In comparison with that, god just seems like a bit of an ass.

Funny Experiment

I have always contended that prayer is about as effective as pissing into the wind, and probably even less so. So, I got into it with a local theitard about how prayer is nothing more than mental masturbation making you feel as if you did something, while in effect doing nothing. I bought out the long list of how it's even been shown to have zero effect on reality. Of course, this fucktard keeps going on about this that or the other thing about how it's not god's will or whatever other thousands of rationalizations that xtians havemade up for their totally failed and impotent god.

So challenged this theitard to pray that I get what I deserve for being an atheist and not only rejecting his god, but even insulting, belitteling, and mocking his god to the best of my ability. Well, again his god is an impotent and ineffective nothing. Because I have managed to get a fantastic job. My house has only been on the market a week, and I have two buyers bidding on it. Yep, I must be getting my come uppance for thinking that all of this god shit is made up bull.

Now, don't get me wrong, I can't claim to know with certainty that there are no "beings" of immense power that somehow have an effect on the universe, yet choose not to act on it. That is within the realm of possibility. Although, as far as we can tell, they have elected not to actually DO anything, at all. Also, what is the sense in worshiping any of those type of beings? And then we get into the whole "first cause" connundrum that perplexes both rational physisicts and thologists. But I will say that every incarnation of any gods that humans have thought up, made holy books for, or said have an effect on this world have come up short in every measure. The god of the bible/quran/torrah being the most impotent of the lot!

Oh well, I guess this atheist will coninue enjoying life based on reality and controling those things based on reality that actually matter and will have an effect. I'd rather have ONE pair of hands at work than a million clasped in prayer!

DISCLAIMER: This experiment only has one datapoint, and should not in any way be construed as definitive. Although, the theitard in question seems particularly devout. Ask him about the results.

09 August 2009

Fairer societies simply work better.

I recently ran into an article about the distribution of wealth in different societies, and the correlation that has with societal ills. And while I understood a lot of the underlying information, I wa surprised to find a chart that may have bearing on an oft used phrase of theists. A lot of theists want to point to a time when there weren't a lot of problems in the basic US culture, and say that has something to do with the prevalent theism imposed on individuals of the time. Despite the fact that greater and greater theism is associated with more problems. Heck, there are a lot of direct correlations with societal ills and religiosity that are very telling. And these studies are very consistent over time.

What I DID find interesting is that the "golden era" of American society has a great deal more correlation with a narrowing of the concentration of wealth gap. Let's take a look at two graphs. The first one talks about the distribution of wealth within the United States. The graph should be self explanatory, but since the average American seems to be a frikkin idiot, I'll explain briefly. The longer the line on the graph, the more of a disparity there is. And this isn't a top 2% type of graph (then the line would be much longer) but of the top 20$ versus the bottom 20%. That encompasses 40% of the population of this country. It shows that there is a very skewed bulge of wealth distribution within the country itself. (Click on each image to see the graph in full size.)

And then look at this graph:

Rather an interesting correlation between those two graphs! Then the thng that really made me think about how people pine for "the old days" when things seemed much better, was this graph. I think THIS is the graph that brings it all home.

Given what we know about the correlation of religiosity and problems, AND what we know about skewed income distributions and problems, we are in an interesting area of thought. As the religiosity of the US was gaining influence in the 50s, there was a sudden increase of problems in "juvenile delinquency" and other such ills. There was a decrease in religiosity and conservative thought in the late 60s and early 70s, and many societal ills were getting addressed. But then suddenly the distribution of wealth got skewed, so problems were back on the increase. Add to that the increase in radical or fundamental religiosity, and now we have a double whammy of problems getting heaped on the US.

It has nothing to do with taking god(s) and prayer out of schools and public displays (which the data points to being a correlating factor for societal ills, but now the huge disparity in wealth distribution is what's helping drive the more visible societal ills.

Okay, so I've shown data and correlations... So what? Hell, with my new job, I'll actually be in the top 20%, and actually in the top 5%... You know what? I don't mind paying a few extra taxes. I just wish that the programs we had in place were actually effective though. Right now, the social programs of the United States are only slightly more effective than prayer (meaning that while prayer has ZERO effectiveness, these programs are only slightly above that). If I am going to pay taxes, I'd like for the to actually work.

It's funny how sometimes people hold up the government as the model of inefficiency, yet they enjoy some incredibly efficient government services. The US Postal Service is the best in the world. How about the safety of our drinking water? The highway system? Out air traffic system. Sure, they are starting to show their age, and are in desperate need of updates, but damn, the government did a damn fine job of that. And our armed forces. That is a government run and controlled program that has no parallel in human history. Even the Romans didn't come close to the level of professionalism and competence of the United States military. Yet people seem to think that the entire government is a bunch of buffoons. I think that only applies to the elected critters at the national level. The people actually doing the work are damn competent, and will continue to be.

Anyway, this whole rant was just about the fact that religiosity has nothing to do with social ills (aside from making them worse). It's the total greediness and douchebaggery of people that really drags societies down. I'm not an economist, nor am I any type of legislator, so I'mnot really sure what canbe done to solve a lot of the problems. And to be honest, it would negativelly affect my income... But maybe having a fair and stable society would be somewhat worth it. Sure beats the gigantic clusterfuck of assholes and douche bags that are running around everywhere I look.

07 August 2009

News from Dr. Plait

Dr. Plait is an all around good guy. He has taken on some buffoons in his position as JREF president, as well as having a pretty good platform on which to speak. So I just wanted to pass along this bit since I am involved in attempting to educate parents and the public about the lies of the likes of Jenny McCarthy:

I’m not shedding too many tears over the tsunami of bad press the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) is receiving right now.

I’ve written about them before, oh yes. They are the ones headed by Meryl Dorey, the woman who says vaccinations are dangerous, who says no one dies of pertussis, who says that it’s better not to vaccinate, who insinuates (at the 11:50 mark of that video) that doctors only vaccinate children because it’s profitable for them. She says that, even though on that live TV program she sat a few feet away from Toni and David McCaffery, parents who had just lost their four week old daughter to pertussis because she was too young to be vaccinated yet and the herd immunity in Sydney was too low to suppress the pertussis bacterium. This year alone, three babies in Australia, including young Dana McCaffery, have died from pertussis.

Not enough parents are vaccinating their children. And groups like the AVN spread misinformation about vaccines, spread it like a foul odor on the wind.

As I wrote a few days ago, the AVN will be investigated for their propaganda about vaccines. And now Dick Smith, an Australian businessman and founding skeptic there, has sponsored a devastating ad created by the Australian Skeptics. The ad ran in The Australian, a national newspaper, on Thursday:

Click it to see it full-size.

The ad has picked up some press of its own; it was covered by the Australian Broadcasting Network website. The AVN claims they are not antivax, but instead are pro choice. Dick Smith disagrees:

They are actually anti-vaccination and they should put on every bit of their material that they are anti-vaccination in great big words.

The evidence is on his side.

There’s an article on the ad on ITWire, too. Word is spreading. You can help: blog about this. Tell people about this. Put it on Facebook, on Twitter.

By spreading misinformation about vaccinations the AVN is scaring parents. The herd immunity is low in part because parents are scared to vaccinate their children. The low herd immunity is killing babies. It really is just that simple.

My daughter recently found my cache of old home movies from when she was a baby. We’ve been laughing, watching her eat and play and be silly when she was just a few months old. Then I think of Toni and David McCaffery and a piece of my heart dies. Then I think of the AVN, and it screams.

Vaccines are one of the greatest triumphs of humanity; the ability to save hundreds of millions of lives through a simple inoculation. But because some people cannot accept reality, innocent human lives will be lost.

I applaud Dick Smith and the Australian skeptics, including my friends Rachael Dunlop and Richard Saunders, for undertaking this heroic effort of shining a bright light on the AVN.

Antivaxxers must be stopped.

04 August 2009

Sometimes People Make me Sick!

Okay, so today I did some charity work in a hospital (reading stories to kids, playing with Legos, that sort of thing). One of the Doctors there is an acquaintance of mine through an Atheist group, so he gave me a tour. One of the most depressing areas was the "Maintenance Ward". This is where people who are for all intents and purposes dead, but are still kept alive at the requests of the family. Even in a small podunk area like this backwater bayou, there were quite a few old folks hooked up to machines there.

Now, you'd think that these people have families that just can't bear to part with them, and that's why they are keeping them on the machines. Of the 9 patients, NONE of them have regualr family visits. Not a one! As a matter of fact, two of the patients haven't had a visititor in over 18 months! So why are they there? Well, medicare pays for the life support, so it's no burden on the family. But here's the thing I found disturbing... Each of those patients still gets a Social Scurity check. And every single one of those checks is chashed by the surviving family.

Now, I can't say with any certianty that this is the only reason that these peole are kept on life support; but the implications are strong. In each case, the patients did not have any sort of living will, or any will at all even... I just gotta wonder what level of humanity it takes to use a person's body in that manner? It's disgusting!

So, make sure you have a living will! Do the thing that Americans really suck at: PLAN! For fuck's sake people, it's not that hard. And to the people who are using their elderly relatives in this way... I hope you're proud of yourself.

By the way, 8 year olds LOVE fart jokes! They were telling me some good ones!

03 August 2009

Conspiracy theories: Cracked

Wow, the stupid just won't stop. Again, Cracked has made a nice handy chart for you to compare. The funny thing is, you can do this for virtually every conspiracy there is. But they won't ever let actual facts get in the way of their beliefs. Sure seems to be a lot of that crap going around.

Conspiracy theorists got a celebrity endorsement last week when Whoopi Goldberg questioned the Moon Landing on "The View." If only she'd consulted our handy 'People Who Would Have to Be Full of Shit' conspiracy theory chart ...
The Balance of Proof.  It varies if you're a dog person.
The Balance of Proof. It varies if you're a dog person.

Just The Facts

  1. The average conspiracy theorist will argue with NASA, Nobel-prize winners and every expert in the world despite having fewer qualifications than the average fry cook.
  2. Conspiracy theorists view logical argument as cheating.
  3. Like pissing fetishes and tentacle rape comics, conspiracy theories are a problem made much worse by the Internet.
  4. Never assume malice when incompetence will do.

An Ego Issue

Conspiracy theorists divide the world into "Everyone even remotely involved/qualified vs. Me," and decide that they'll win single-handedly. They're like Rambo with bullshit instead of bullets.

They tend to enjoy the ego-boost that comes with thinking of oneself as the only intelligent objector in a world of sheeple. When the government has to spend billions of dollars shuttling Elvis from Roswell to the Bermuda Triangle and back in black helicopters before you can feel good about yourself, you've got to be pretty tragic.

Shadowy Organizations

Conspiracy theorists believe the world is run by schizophrenic shadowy organizations who - despite conspiring with millions in perfect silence - can't resist putting clues in things like major public monuments and every note of currency ever printed. Making the average Batman villain look like Professor Moriarty.

At the last count the world was secretly being run by the Illuminati, Knights Templar, Freemasons, Trilateral commission, New World Order, Skull & Bones society, Bilderberg group, Nine Unknown Men and the ever-popular Jews. It's unknown whether they all vote on various issues or just ask Dan Brown whose turn it is each week. Conspiracy theorists honestly believe that these invisible elites have run thousands of years of history but are incapable of killing someone who lives in a basement and shouts on street corners.

Conspiracy Theorist Abilities

Conspiracy theorists display incredible attention to detail, an even more incredible ability to ignore details they don't like, obsessive focus and a complete absence of social skills. Every time a new crazy decides that Bush brought down World Trade Center, anime loses a powerful Pokemaster.

Conspiracy Theories Articles

Was 9/11 an Inside Job? Submitted by: LukeMcKinney | Jul 24, 2009
No, you goddamn idiot.
The Shady Agenda Behind 5 Popular Conspiracy Theories Submitted by: LukeMcKinney | Jul 24, 2009
Even when there is a conspiracy the theorists are wrong.
7 Insane Conspiracies That Actually Happened Submitted by: LukeMcKinney | Jul 24, 2009
You don't need to make up crazy stuff. Library- Conspiracies Submitted by: Samwise | Dec 20, 2008
A good compendium of some of the more major conspiracies, usually centered around American political hijinx.

02 August 2009

Why do I NOT belive?

So I get that question a lot. To succinctly write it up would probably be a task too daunting to take on in one afternoon. Heck, people have written books about it. I enjoyed Victor J. Stenger's book on the subject. And when I say that it doesn't make any sense, I am of course pressed on this. Things like no evidence, circular reasoning, religion constantly being wrong, etc. seems to have no bearing. Sometimes I have to wonder why people even bother to ask me, since they won't even respect the answers I give. No matter what rational, well thought out, supportable answer there is, their faith trumps all, and in the end it's a waste of breath and time to even debate with the true believers.

Not only can one go over the hundreds of mistakes the bible makes (when debating christians), or explain how the human mind works, or how immoral and hateful religion is at its roots, but you can counter every argument they have, and still they just move goalposts and debate in what I call the pigeon playing chess fashion: They have no idea of the rules, so they just knock over the peices, crap all over the board, and fly back to their flock and proclaim victory. Forgetting that they never once actually make any sense, let alone any compelling arguments. Aftr all, if there was anything that was actually compelling, do you think there would be over 38,000 different versions of christianity out there, let alone the thousands of different non-christian religions?

Heck, even things like the correlation between low intelligence and religiosity doesn't phase them. And as ALWAYS, there are apologists for anything that one brings up. Never mind that these arguments are weak, and generally incomplete (and in some cases totally fabricated), but that they are even needed as an apology doesn't phase them. Heck, just look at the name; APOLOGIST! Yeah, they have a lot to apologize for! So I may get mean from time to time, but this is my blog. Even the name calling and hateful language they use is no excuse for getting so mean, but arguing with simpletons is frustrating! So if I offend theists here, it's not out of spite, so much as to keep from beating you over the head with the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Now, someone else has written up their top ten reasons. They coincide pretty good with my own (although I would have put #10 as #1, but that's just me), but are only ten out of hundreds and thousands. Let's just say that they are only a start. Again, I need to point out, what is written below is not my work, but someone elses. I just find it entertaining and realtively well thought out. Sure a whole lot more consistent than the bible or any other holy book!

So why -- exactly -- do I not believe in God?

In many of my writings about religion, I take my atheism as a given. When I critique religion, or gas on about atheist philosophy, I generally start with the assumption that religion is a mistaken idea about the world and that atheism is a correct one, and go from there.

Which is generally fine with me. If I always had to start with first principles -- on any topic -- I'd get nothing written. (Nothing interesting, anyway.)

But it occurred to me recently that a newcomer to my blog might think that I hadn't carefully considered the question of God's existence. My arguments against God and religion are scattered all over my blog, and I don't expect even my most devoted readers to read every single piece of my Atheism archives just to dig them all up.

So here -- largely for my own convenience, and hopefully for the convenience of readers both atheist and not -- is a summary of the Top Ten Reasons I Don't Believe In God. Or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being(s) or substance(s). Something I can point to, and that maybe other atheists can point to, when theists ask, "But have you considered...?" (And since I've probably missed some good ones, I'll be asking for your own favorite arguments at the end of the piece.)

God delusion A couple of quick disclaimers first. This is really just a summary: a summary of ideas that I, and other atheist writers, have gone into in greater detail elsewhere. People have written entire books on this topic, and this post isn't an entire book... nor is it meant to be. If you're going to critique me for oversimplifying, please bear that in mind: It's a summary. It's meant to be somewhat simple. (I'm giving links to my own writing and to other people's that go into the ideas in more detail.)

And no, I don't think any of these arguments provide a 100% conclusive airtight case against God. Not even all of them together do that. And I don't think they have to. I'm not trying to show that belief in God's existence is absolutely impossible. I'm trying to show that it's implausible. I'm trying to show that it is -- by far -- the least likely hypothesis for how the world works and why it is the way it is.

Oh -- and for the sake of brevity, I'm generally going to say "God" when I mean "God, or the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being(s) or substance(s)." I don't feel like getting into "Well, I don't believe in an old man in the clouds with a white beard, but I believe..." discussions. It's not just the man in the white beard that I don't believe in. I don't believe in any sort of religion, any sort of soul or spirit or metaphysical guiding force, anything that isn't the physical world and its vast and astonishing manifestations.

And here's why. (Divided into two parts, to keep it from being insanely long.)

1: The consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones.

Apollo When you look at the history of what we know about the world, you see a very noticeable pattern. Natural explanations of things have been replacing supernatural explanations of them. Like a steamroller.

Why the sun rises and sets. Where thunder and lightning come from. Why people get sick. Why people look like their parents. How the complexity of life came into being. I could go on and on.

All of these things were once explained by religion. But as we understood the world better, and learned to observe it more carefully, the religious explanations were replaced by physical cause and effect. Consistently. Thoroughly. Like a steamroller. The number of times that a supernatural or religious explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a natural explanation? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands.

Now. The number of times that a natural explanation of a phenomenon has been replaced by a supernatural or religious one? The number of times humankind has said, "We used to think (X) was caused by physical cause and effect, but now we understand that it's actually caused by God, or spirits, or demons, or the soul"?

Zero Exactly zero.

Sure, people come up with new supernatural explanations for stuff all the time. But explanations with evidence? Replicable evidence? Carefully gathered, patiently tested, rigorously reviewed evidence? Internally consistent evidence? Large amounts of it, from many different sources?

Again -- exactly zero.

Given that this is true, what are the chances that any given phenomenon for which we currently don't have a thorough explanation -- human consciousness, for instance, or the origin of the universe -- will be best explained by the supernatural?

Given this pattern, it seems clear that the chances of this are essentially zero. So close to zero that they might as well be zero. And the hypothesis of the supernatural is therefore a hypothesis we can comfortably discard. It is a hypothesis we came up with when we didn't understand the world as well as we do now... but that, on more careful examination, has never -- not once -- been shown to be correct.

If I see any solid evidence to support a religious or supernatural explanation of a phenomenon, I'll reconsider my disbelief. Until then, I'll assume that the mind-bogglingly consistent pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones is almost certain to continue.

More on this:
The Unexplained, the Unproven, and the Unlikely

2: The inconsistency of world religions.

Religious symbols If God (or any other metaphysical being or beings) were real, and people were really perceiving him/ her/ it/ them, why do those perceptions differ so wildly?

When different people look at, say, a tree, we more or less agree about what we're looking at: what size it is, what shape, whether it currently has leaves or not and what color those leaves are, etc. We may have disagreements regarding the tree -- what other plants it's most closely related to, where it stands in the evolutionary tree, should it be cut down to make way for a new sports stadium, etc. But unless one of us is hallucinating or deranged or literally unable to see, we can all agree on the tree's basic existence, and the basic facts about it.

Argue This is blatantly not the case for God. Even among people who do believe in God, there is no agreement whatsoever as to what God is, what God does, what God wants from us, how he acts or does not act upon the world, whether he's a he, whether there's one or more of him, whether he's a personal being or a diffuse metaphysical substance. And this is among smart, thoughtful, sane people. What's more, many smart, thoughtful, sane people don't even think that God exists... and the number of those people is going up all the time.

And if God existed, he'd be a whole lot bigger, a whole lot more powerful, with a whole lot more effect in the world, than a tree. Why is it that we can all see a tree in more or less the same way, but we don't see God in even remotely the same way whatsoever?

The explanation, of course, is that God does not really exist. We disagree so radically over what he is because we aren't actually perceiving anything that's real. We're "perceiving" something we made up; something we were taught to believe; something that the part of our brains that's wired to see pattern and intention (even when none exists) is wired to see and believe.

More on this:
The Cosmic Shell Game, by Ebonmuse, on the Ebon Musings website.
The Argument from Divine Hiddenness, ditto.

3: The weakness of religious arguments, explanations, and apologetics.

Broken_chain I have seen a lot of arguments for the existence of God. And they all boil down to one or more of the following:

The argument from authority. (Example: "God exists because the Bible says God exists.")

The argument from personal experience. (Example: "God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.")

The argument that religion shouldn't have to logically defend its claims. (Example: "God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.")

Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle -- so abstract that it can't be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: "God is love.")

And all these arguments are incredibly weak.

Sacred books and authorities can be mistaken. I have yet to see a sacred book that doesn't have any mistakes. (The Bible, for just one example, is shot full of them.) And the feelings in people's hearts can definitely be mistaken. They are mistaken, demonstrably so, much of the time. Instinct and intuition play an important part of human understanding and experience... but they should never be treated as the final word on a subject.

I mean, if I told you, "The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves," and offered as a defense, "I know this is true because my mother/ preacher/ sacred book tells me so"... or "I know this is true because I feel it in my heart"... would you take me seriously?

Bible Some people do still try to point to evidence in the world that God exists. But that evidence is inevitably terrible. Pointing to the perfection of the Bible as a historical and prophetic document, for instance, when it so blatantly is nothing of the kind. Or pointing to the complexity of life and the world and insisting that it must have been designed... when the sciences of biology and geology and such have provided far, far better explanations for what looks, at first glance, like design.

As to the "We don't got to show you no stinking reason or evidence" argument... that's just conceding the game before you've even begun. It's basically saying, "I know I can't make my case, therefore I'm going to concentrate my arguments on why I don't have to make my case in the first place." It's like a defense lawyer who knows their client is guilty, and thus tries to get the case thrown out on a technicality.

Ditto with the "redefining God out of existence" argument. If what you believe in isn't a supernatural being(s) or substance(s) that currently has, or at one time had, some sort of effect on the world... well, your philosophy might be a dandy and clever one, but it is not, by any useful definition of the word, religion.

Again: If I tried to argue, "The tree in front of my house is 500 feet tall with hot pink leaves -- and the height and color of trees is a question that is best answered with personal faith and feeling, not with reason or evidence"... or, "I know this is true because I am defining '500 feet tall and hot pink' as the essential nature of tree-ness, regardless of its outward appearance"... would you take me seriously?

More on this:
Oh, all over the place. But probably most succinctly:
A Self-Referential Game of Twister: What Religion Looks Like From the Outside
The Argument From Design, Part One and Part Two
"A Different Way of Knowing": The Uses of Irrationality... and its Limitations

4: The increasing diminishment of God.

INCREDIBLE_SHRINKING_MAN This is closely related to #1 (the consistent replacement of supernatural explanations of the world with natural ones); but I think it's different enough to deserve its own number.

When you look at the history of religion, you see that the perceived power of God himself, among believers themselves, has been diminishing. As our understanding of the natural, physical world has increased -- and our ability to test theories and claims has improved -- the domain of God's miracles (or other purported supernatural/ metaphysical phenomena) has consistently shifted, away from the phenomena that are now understood as physical cause and effect, and onto the increasingly shrinking area of phenomena that we still don't understand.

Examples: We stopped needing God to explain floods, but we still needed him to explain sickness and health. Then we didn't need him to explain sickness and health any more... but we still needed him to explain consciousness. Now we're beginning to get a grip on consciousness, so we'll soon need God to explain... what, exactly?

Or, as Ebon Muse so eloquently put it, ""Where the Bible tells us God once shaped worlds out of the void and parted great seas with the power of his word, today his most impressive acts seem to be shaping sticky buns into the likenesses of saints and conferring vaguely-defined warm feelings on his believers' hearts when they attend church."

This is what atheists call the "God of the gaps." Whatever gap there is in our understanding of the world, that's what God is responsible for. Wherever the empty spaces are in our coloring book, that's what gets filled in with the blue crayon called God.

Crayon But the blue crayon is worn down to a nub. And it's never proven to be the right color. And over and over again, throughout history, we have had to go to great trouble to scrape the blue crayon out of people's minds and replace it with the right color. Given this pattern, doesn't it seem that we should stop reaching for the blue crayon every time we see an empty space in the coloring book?

The Incredible Shrinking Deity, by Ebonmuse, on the Ebon Musings website, from whom I stole this idea outright.
The Shrinking Deity and the Empty Coloring Book

5: The fact that religion runs in families.

Family_tree Here's what I mean by this one. The single strongest factor in determining what religion a person is? It's what religion they were brought up with. By far.

Very, very few people carefully examine all the religious beliefs currently being followed -- or even some of those beliefs -- and select the one they think most accurately describes the world. Overwhelmingly, people believe whatever religion they were taught as children.

Now, we don't do this with, for instance, science. We don't hold on to the Steady State theory of the universe, or geocentrism, or the four bodily humours theory of illness, simply because it's what we were taught as children. We believe whatever scientific understanding is best supported by the best available evidence at the time. And if the evidence changes, the understanding changes. (Unless, of course, it's a scientific understanding that our religion teaches is wrong...)

Even political opinions don't run in families as stubbornly as religion. Witness the opinion polls that consistently show support of same-sex marriage increasing with each younger generation. Even political beliefs learned from youth can and do break down in the face of the reality that people see and live with every day. And scientific theories absolutely do this, all the time, on a regular basis.

Bible stories for tiny tots Once again, this leads me to the conclusion that religion is not a perception of a real entity. If it were, people wouldn't just believe whatever religious belief they were taught as children, simply because it was what they were taught as children. The fact that religion runs so firmly in families strongly suggests that it is not a perception of anything real. It is a dogma, supported and perpetuated by tradition and social pressure -- and in many cases, by fear and intimidation. Not by reality.

I haven't written about the "religion running in families" argument at length before, and while I'm sure it must have been addressed in the atheosphere, offhand I don't know where. But Richard Dawkins addresses it in The God Delusion. You can look it up there if you like.
I have, however, discussed religion as an idea perpetuated largely by fear, intimidation, tradition, and social pressure... and the ways religion armors itself, not only against criticism, but against the very idea that religion is a legitimate target for criticism. That discussion: Does The Emperor Have Clothes? Religion and the Destructive Force of Asking Questions.

6: The physical causes of everything we think of as the soul.

Brain in thought The science of neuropsychology is still very much in its infancy. But there are a few things that we know about it. And one of the things we know is that everything we think of as the soul -- consciousness, identity, character, free will -- all of that is powerfully affected by physical changes to the brain and body. Drugs and medicines, injury, illness, sleep deprivation, etc.... all of these can make changes to the "soul." In some cases, they can make changes so drastic, they render a person's personality and character completely unrecognizable.

And death, of course, is a physical change that renders a person's personality and character, not only unrecognizable, but non-existent.

So given that this is true, doesn't it seem far more likely that consciousness and identity, character and free will, are some sort of product of the physical brain and body?

With any other phenomenon, if we can show that physical forces and actions produce observable effects, we think of that as a physical phenomenon. Why should the soul be any different? Whatever consciousness and selfhood and the rest of it turn out to be, doesn't it seem overwhelmingly likely that they are, in some way, a biological process, governed by laws of physical cause and effect?

Why I Don't Believe in the Soul
"A Relationship Between Physical Things": Yet Another Rant on What Consciousness and Selfhood Might Be
A Ghost in the Machine, again by Ebon Muse on the Ebon Musings website. I know, I keep citing the Ebon Musings website. What can I say? Dude can write. Dude can think. Dude has a really well-organized site map that makes it easy to look stuff up.

7: The complete failure of any sort of supernatural phenomenon to stand up to rigorous testing.

Man using microscope Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. But some of them do. And in the face of actual testing, every one of those claims falls apart like Kleenex in a hurricane.

Whether it's the power of prayer, or faith healing, or astrology, or life after death: the same pattern is consistently seen. Whenever religious and supernatural beliefs have made testable claims, and those claims have been tested -- not half-assedly tested, but really tested, using careful, rigorous, double-blind, placebo- controlled, replicated, etc. etc. etc. testing methods -- the claims have consistently fallen apart.

I'm not going to cite every one of these tests, or even most of them. This piece is already ridiculously long as it is. Instead, I'll encourage you to spend a little time on the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer websites. You'll see a pattern so consistent it boggles the mind: Claimants insist that Supernatural Claim X is real. Supernatural Claim X is subjected to careful testing, applying the standard scientific methods commonly used to screen out both bias and fraud. Supernatural Claim X is found to hold about as much water as a sieve.

(And claimants, having agreed beforehand that the testing method is valid, afterwards insist that it wasn't fair.)

Scientific_method And don't say, "Oh, the testers were biased." That's the great thing about the scientific method. It is designed to screen out bias, as much as is humanly possible. When done right, it will give you the right answer, regardless of the bias of the people doing the testing.

Plus, here's a point that defenders of the supernatural never effectively address when they accuse scientists of anti-religion bias: In the early days of science and the scientific method, most scientists did believe in God, and the soul, and the metaphysical. In fact, many early science experiments were attempts to prove the existence of these things, and discover their true natures, and resolve the squabbles about them once and for all. (Not God so much, but the soul and the supernatural.) It was only after decades upon decades of these experiments failing to turn up anything at all that the scientific community began -- gradually, and painfully -- to give up on the idea.

Supernatural claims only hold up under careless, casual examination. They are supported by confirmation bias (i.e., our tendency to overemphasize evidence that supports what we believe and discard evidence that contradicts it), and wishful thinking, and our poor understanding and instincts when it comes to probability, and our tendency to see pattern and intention even when none exists, and a dozen other forms of weird human brain wiring. When studied carefully under conditions specifically designed to screen these things out, they vanish like the insubstantial imaginings that they are.

A Lattice of Coincidence: Metaphysics, the Paranormal, and My Answer to Layne

8: The slipperiness of religious and spiritual beliefs.

Gianttwister_2Not all religious and spiritual beliefs make testable claims. Many of them have a more "saved if we do, saved if we don't" quality. If things go the believer's way, it's a sign of God's grace and intervention; if they don't, then, well, God moves in mysterious ways, and maybe he has a lesson to teach that we don't understand, and it's not up to us to question his will. That sort of thing. No matter what happens, it can be twisted around to prove that the belief is right.

That is a sure sign of a bad, bad argument.

Popper Here's the thing. It is a well-established principle in the philosophy of science that, if a theory can be supported no matter what possible evidence comes down the pike, it is a completely useless theory. It has no power to explain what's already happened, or predict what will happen in the future. The theory of gravity, for instance, could be disproven by things suddenly falling up; the theory of evolution could be disproven by finding rabbits in the pre-Cambrian fossil layer. These theories predict that these things will not happen; if they do, then the theories go poof. But if your theory of God's existence holds up no matter what happens -- whether your friend with cancer gets better or dies, whether natural disasters strike big sinful cities or small God-fearing towns -- then it is an utterly useless theory, with no power to either predict or explain anything.

What's more, when atheists challenge theists on their beliefs, the theists' arguments shift and slip around in an unbelievably annoying "moving the goalposts" way. Hard-line fundamentalists, for instance, will insist on the unchangeable perfect truth of the Bible; but when challenged on its specific historical/ scientific errors and moral atrocities, they insist that you're not interpreting those passages correctly. (If the book needs interpreting, then how perfect can it be?)

Slip-n-slideAnd progressive ecumenical believers can be unbelievably slippery on the subject of what they really do and do not believe. Is God real, or a metaphor? Does God intervene in the world, or doesn't he? Do they actually even believe in God, or do they just choose to act is if they believe in God because they find it useful? Debating with a progressive believer is like wrestling with a fish: the arguments aren't very powerful, but they don't give you anything firm to grab onto.

Once again, that's a sure sign of a bad, bad argument. If you can't just make your case and then stick by it, or genuinely modify it, or let it go... then you don't have a very good case. (And if you're making any version of the "Shut up, that's why" argument -- arguing that it's rude and intolerant to question religious beliefs, or that letting go of doubts and questions about faith makes you a better person, or that doubting faith will get you tortured in Hell forever, or any of the other classic arguments intended to silence the debate rather than address it -- then that's a sure sign that your argument is totally in the toilet.)

A Self-Referential Game of Twister: What Religion Looks Like From the Outside
Why Religion Is Like Fanfic
What Would Convince You That You Were Wrong? The Difference Between Secular and Religious Faith
The Problem of Unfishiness: Religion, Science, and Unanswered Questions

9: The failure of religion to improve or clarify over time.

The canon angier Over the years and decades and centuries, our understanding of the physical world has grown and clarified by a ridiculous amount. We understand things about the world and the universe that we couldn't even have imagined a thousand years ago, or a hundred, or even ten. Things that make your mouth gape open with astonishment and wonder just to think about.

And the reason for this is that we came up with a really good method for sorting out the good ideas from the bad ones, the more accurate theories from the less accurate ones. We came up with the scientific method: a self-correcting method for understanding the physical world, which -- over time, and with the many fits and starts and setbacks that accompany any human endeavor -- has done, and continues to do, an astonishingly good job of helping us perceive and understand the world, predict it and shape it, in ways we could not have possibly imagined a thousand, or a hundred, or even ten years ago.

(And the scientific method itself is self-correcting. Not only has our understanding of the world improved by ridiculous leaps and bounds; our method for understanding it is improving as well.)

But our understanding of the metaphysical world?

Not so much.

Argue Our understanding of the metaphysical world is exactly in the place it's always been: hundreds and indeed thousands of sects, squabbling over which sacred text and which set of spiritual intuitions is the right one. We haven't come to any sort of consensus about which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world. We haven't even come up with a method of deciding which sect has a more accurate conception of the metaphysical world. All anyone can do is point to their own sacred text and their own spiritual intuition. And around in the squabbling circle we go.

All of which clearly points to religion, not as a perception of a real being or substance, but as an idea we made up and are clinging to. If religion were a perception of a real being or substance, our understanding of it would be sharpening, clarifying, being refined. We would have improved prayer techniques, more accurate prophecies, something. Anything but people squabbling with greater or lesser degrees of rancor, and nothing to actually back up their belief.

The Slog Through the Swamp: What Science Is, And Why It Works, And Why I Care
"A Different Way of Knowing": The Uses of Irrationality... and its Limitations

10: The complete and utter lack of solid evidence for God's existence.

SlashCircle.svg This is probably the best argument I have against God's existence:

There's just no evidence for it.

No good evidence, anyway. No evidence that doesn't just amount to opinion and tradition and confirmation bias and all the other stuff I've been talking about for the last two days.

And in a perfect world, that should have been the only argument I needed. In a perfect world, I shouldn't have had to spend the last month and a half collating and summarizing the reasons I don't believe in God, any more than I would have for Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

As thousands of atheists before me have pointed out: It is not up to us to prove that God does not exist. It is up to theists to prove that he does.

In a comment on this blog, arensb made a point on this topic that was so ridiculously insightful, I'm still smacking myself on the head for not having thought of it myself. I was writing about how theists get upset at atheists for rejecting religion after hearing 876,362 arguments for it, saying, "But you haven't considered Argument #876,363! How can you be so close-minded?" And here's what arensb said:

"If, in fact, it turns out that argument #876,364 is the one that will convince you, WTF didn't the apologists put it in the top 10?"

Why, indeed?

If there's an argument for religion that's convincing -- actually convincing, convincing by means of something other than authority/ tradition, personal intuition, confirmation bias, fear and intimidation, wishful thinking, or some combination of the above -- wouldn't we all know about it?

Gossip Wouldn't it have spread like wildfire? Wouldn't it be the Meme of All Memes? I mean, we all saw that video of the cat trying to wake its owner up within about two weeks of it hitting the Internet. Don't you think that the Truly Excellent Argument/ Evidence for God's Existence would have spread even faster, and wider, than some silly cartoon video?

If the arguments for religion are so wonderful, why are they so unconvincing to anyone who doesn't already believe?

And why does God need arguments, anyway? Why does God need people to make his arguments for him? Why can't he just reveal his true self, clearly and unequivocally, and settle the question once and for all? If God existed, why wouldn't it just be obvious? (See #2 above.)

It is not up to us to prove that God does not exist. It is up to theists to prove that he does. And in the absence of any genuinely good, solid evidence or arguments in favor of God's existence -- and in the presence of a whole lot of very solid arguments against it -- I am going to continue to hold the null hypothesis of atheism: that God almost certainly does not exist, and that it is completely reasonable to act as if he does not exist.