Empty Argument

I know letters pages are traditionally fertile grounds for finding crazy opinions and attitudes but its not that often you get in on the Guardian (especially when compared with the Mail or even BBC Online). Today however we see a familiar empty argument trotted out by someone who apparently has taken offence that Atheists have dared to try and teach children – when everyone knows only the Church are allowed to brainwash.

Patrick Smith, from Essex, writes:

It is great that young people are being taught to think (Summer camp offers ‘godless’ alternative for atheists, 30 July). Alas, it seems Camp Quest will be assuming science is the only way to find truth, a view not shared by most of humanity. Experience of love, music, art and (yes) religion are just as important. Atheists can brainwash as shamelessly as any cult!

Now, correct me if I am wrong but this seems completely flawed. Mr Smith is missing the point by such a large amount it seems he must be talking about something else. I have no personal experience of the atheist camp, so I am (like Mr Smith, I suspect) forced to use the article referenced for background reading.

It seems the children are being taught to think:

The idea behind the camp is to give a “godless” alternative to traditional religious summer camps. In the morning the participants discuss philosophical ideas and learn about subjects such as astronomy.

But nothing there makes me think that it assumes “science is the only way to find a truth.” (I am a bit confused as to otherways to find a “truth” though). Children, 12 years old, discussing philosophy fills my heart with joy and renews some of my faith in human nature. (all irony is intentional). But it continues:

Then in the afternoons they take part in more traditional camp activities. They swim, they run, they climb, they row. In the evening – if the rain relents – they sit round the campfire and toast marshmallows.

Ok – this strikes me as all wholesome, childrens activities. It also carries the implication that they are still active in the evenings. Unless we assume they sit silently around the campfire then they are likely to be listening to music, talking about artistic subjects or learning how to interact with others.

This sort of leaves me confused what Mr Smith is objecting to – unless he feels, like lots of Christians seem to do, that without god being invoked at every sentence then the lessons are meaningless and unimportant. The unintentional irony in that viewpoint is there is a religion where god is mentioned in almost every sentence, and Christians seem to hate it.

For those with strong irony meters and in need of some laughs at the unintentional idiocy that “people with faith” can demonstrate, the comments on the Guardian article about the camp are very funny.

Big Bang Confuses Creationists

Now I know this isn’t Earth-shattering news, and hopefully anyone literate enough to make it to this blog will already understand the basic principles of the big bang, but I was reading through FSTDT (as always) and this comment drew my attention:

whats funny is science is catching up with the BIBLE! GOD spoke all things into existence Genesis is spot on, just? check out “big bang acoustics” you can actually find an audio tape of the “early” universe. I don’t agree with the “20 billion years ago nothing exploded part” but the fact that sound has a vital role in the creation of the universe is as it is written! Amen! (source)

Interesting as this is one the few “fundie” comments that seems to accept the existence of the “Big Bang” – sadly combined with some stunning lacks of knowledge and logic, but you cant have everything.

It got me wondering why so many religious types do their best to deny the “Big Bang” as a figment of imagination.

Even the name “big bang” was coined as a derisory put down for a theory that Fred Hoyle felt had too much “God” in it. It has the potential to support all manner of primitive creation myths – although it does undermine the chronology of certain sacred tomes.

In a nutshell then, given how this could really fit in with a “creator,” why do so many creationists hate the idea of a “creation event?” Are they really so lacking in basic logic?

(obviously the answer seems to be yes, but I still have some residual hope for humanity…)

Church says “Sorry,” believers furious

(I know it was a week ago, but I missed this first time round)

It seems that the Church of England has decided to apologise to Charles Darwin for heaping abuse and disbelief on him in the mid 1800′s. From the Daily Mail [Online version]:

The Church of England will tomorrow [14 Sep 08] officially apologise to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution.

Wonderful. I know decisions are slow in large organisations but this is a bit weird. It has taken them almost one and a half centuries to decide to say “sorry, we were wrong.” Still, better late than never I suppose. In this instance, it is no better or worse than people apologising for the slave trade. It is just one of those things organisations need to do so they can feel better about themselves.

The Mail article continues:

In a bizarre step, the Church will address its contrition directly to the Victorian scientist himself, even though he died 126 years ago.

Now, this isn’t actually all that bizarre. Well, if you are a Christian anyway. Look at it from the truly faithful’s point of view. Darwin isn’t dead in the secular sense – he is just no longer on the Earth. He is either in Heaven or Hell so an apology to him personally is actually totally appropriate. If you really believe in an afterlife, why cant big old Charlie be reading the Church of England’s newsletter and watching their cermonies. I mean, the man was a minister after all…

As even the most dense of lifeforms could have predicted, such PR stunts dont always attact postive commentary. Take this bit of ironic waffle:

Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, said: ‘It’s absolutely ludicrous. Why don’t we have the Italians apologising for Pontius Pilate?‘We’ve already apologised for slavery and for the Crusades. When is it all going to stop? It’s insane and makes the Church of England look ridiculous.’

Poor old Ann, it isn’t even a good parallel but then, she is a tory minister so you cant expect too much. The thing that interested me the most, though, was why on Earth should she care? She is no longer CofE – she defected to the evil Catholicism. What makes her opinion on an organisation she spurned remotely valid? (Add to which, that is possibly the LEAST flattering photograph of a living person I have ever seen).

The only good “professional” comment comes from the National Secular Association (no suprise there, then): [Emphasis mine]

‘As well as being much too late, the message strikes me as insincere, as if there is an unspoken “but” behind the text. However, if it means that from now on the Church of England will say “No” to the teaching of creationism in school science lessons, then we would accept the apology on Darwin’s behalf.’

I couldn’t agree more. (continues below the fold) Continue reading

Science – Religion

Sorry, I had planned to stop going on about the comments on the Jamie Whyte article. However, on further reading there were some comments I couldn’t pass up on.

The first was just trivially funny, so I will kill it now. Several of the commenters came up with witty counter arguments along the lines of this one:

Surely this line of argument applies just as surely to atheists. What about the weight of living without a God? Your line of reasoning exposes you as one who does not believe either
David , London,

Erm yes. Being an atheist means you do not believe. It is kind of in the definition of the term. Being an atheist does not mean you “believe” in a hedonistic lifestyle of death and destruction (strikes me as being a bit too biblical to be honest). It does not mean you have be debauched and craven to fulfil your belief structure (again, this seems a bit like a few churches….). It simply means you do not believe in any gods. Easy isn’t it?

Anyway, onto the more important one – this time a commenter gets at the big problem faced in the west:

You were one of my philosophy lecturers when I was at Cambridge in the 90s. I reject your ‘realist’ view of science. Science doesn’t explain the origins of anything, it’s merely a useful construction to help us form judgements about the future. This view lets religion and science coexist.
andrew, London,

Now, I cant help but agree that Science does not explain the ultimate origins of some things, but to claim religion does so is a huge fallacy. I can only hope that Andrew learned more during his studies. “Religion” is not a solid body of information that can answer questions – every religion has a different creation myth and they can’t all be correct. Equally, the best that “religion” (ah, Loki, lets use Christianity as an example) can do is explain origins as “God Did It.”

Now, call me old fashioned but that isn’t an explanation. To claim that science can not explain the origin of something but saying “it was created by God” is an explanation is raving madness. The most basic example of this is the origin of life fallacy. While evolutionary theory makes no claims about the origin of life, the general scientific consensus seems to be along the lines of chance mixture of chemicals in the early Earth. The “Faithful” dislike this because it isn’t an answer to them – they want to know who created the chemicals to be mixed. Science can then bring in the creation of heavy elements in super nova, which leads to the question where did the early stars come from. We move to the “big bang” which leads to the question “what caused the time=0 event” at this point the Honest Science says “we do not know.”

Is this a bad thing? Not really. It is an honest answer. At best “Religion” can take it a stage further with “[deity of choice] caused it to happen” but still the question remains – who created the deity? Dishonest Religion weasels back with words to the effect of the “Uncreated Creator” but it is a screaming logical fallacy.

The last point “Andrew” made is also interesting. So interesting, I’ll repeat it here:

This view lets religion and science coexist.

How? While in an ideal world, and for some people, their particular religion and science can co-exist, as a general term it is impossible. Science demands its practitioners accept the evidence presented before them and dismiss even the most cherished notion should the evidence demand it. Religion is the exact opposite. It demands its practitioners cling to their notions in the face of evidence, no matter how strong.

In light of this, how can the two co-exist? One must always be corrupted by the other. If my religion dictated that the Earth was flat, could that co-exist with Science? No. Either I allow the evidence to alter my religion (either changing the interpretation of its canons or simply pretending parts of its holy book don’t exist) or I refute the evidence because my faith is strong.

That is not co-existing, one or the other must triumph. Personally I thought the enlightenment was when Science had taken the lead, but it seems a large portion of the world is trying to drag itself back to the middle ages.

I blame teh skoolz

On the Radio 1 news today there was a snippet (I am not going to look it up but it will be on the BBC website) about some truly stupid youngsters. Apparently, Police in Scotland have become the first in the UK to target people who admit to crimes on social networking sites such as Bebo and Facebook. (*)

Now, for me, I think this is a good idea. If people (mostly “yoofs” according to the news) are stupid enough to commit a crime and then boast about it online they need to be taken out of the gene pool urgently. One of the young lads interviewed had apparently put up pictures of himself in a balaclava carrying a knife. Why he went to these lengths to remain anonymous, then outed himself online is beyond me.

The most frustrating part, and a good example of how taking away the “classical” education has failed children was a young retard complaining about the police scouring social networking sites to find offenders. He actually had the gall to say it was an invasion of his privacy for the police to look over his Bebo page to find out what crimes he has committed. Flabbergasting.

For me, it weakens the real destruction of our privacy when people think things like this are an invasion of privacy. It is like putting a full page advert in a newspaper and then complaining that people reading it are invading your privacy. Idiocy reigns.

* Oddly I cant find this on the real BBC news so I may have dreamed it – but I hope not as I was driving at the time…

Blinded By Hate

Over on the wonderful Grumpy Lion blog there is a predictably excellent post which examines how most of the Hawks in the US government are, in fact, war dodging cowards while most of the doves have actually served in combat. This is something of a truism, as generally speaking, old men who have seen combat are a lot more reluctant to send others into battle.

However this is only a generalisation and it is important to be aware that, no matter how much a person may wish otherwise, it will not hold true in all circumstances. There are people who have never seen war who are solidly opposed to it and there are people who have seen death and destruction first hand but have not been turned pacifist by the experience.

With this in mind, the comments from Steph and Roy are especially entertaining. These have largely descended into a string of ad hominems against me surrounded by a huge helping of equivocation, so I am no longer going to take up space on Grumpy Lion with my responses, but there are some issues from the (erm) debate which I think are worthy of further mention.

Both Steph and Roy, in the finest internet traditions, demand copious examples of “evidence” to disprove their anecdotes. In fact the only information provided by either of them for their argument is a comment by Steph’s “grandfather” and a some vague references to the writings of Roy Jenkins. The most they can produce is “all of Churchills biographers” which is an immediately falsifiable claim (as I know of three biographers who claim different things). When contrary writing is cited, they dismiss the source as not being a “historian of note” (neatly ignoring their own single source’s status in the process).

Interestingly it seems the concept that Churchill dipped in and out of military service is impossible. Here we see another example of how the drive to shout and insult has blinded Roy and Steph to what I wrote in that I agreed with them that all the sources had Churchill working as a Journalist in the run up to Ladysmith and then Roy writes this with apparent glee: (this is a bit about Churchill covering the Spanish-American war of 1898)

It proves Steph is right and you are wrong and runs a horse and carts through your argument that Churchill wasn’t a correspondent before Ladysmith and saw active service. He avoided active service by going to Cuba.

Madness. Real, painful madness. It was around this point I finally realised there was no room for actual debate with either Steph or Roy and both were so obsessed with their idea that every hawk has to be a shivering coward nothing I wrote – even when I agreed with them – would actually be read.

Another example of what I have come to see as standard internet arguments (where the person doesn’t really have anything to say but hates the topic so much they have to argue) is the constant rattling about trivial facts.

I wrote that the Regimental History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers (now a battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland) had references to Churchill being Commanding Officer of one of their Battalions and having led his men on 36 forays across no-mans-land. This really drew some irate hand waving. Now it is certainly very possible that he did not lead his battalion on exactly 36 missions, but is the balance of probabilities going to lean towards none or at least 1 being the most likely?

One of the odd arguments centred on Military records being useless for historians. I found this pretty odd, given that these are the records used by most historians – especially for Ancient and Medieval researchers. Still, I began to work out what the issues here were when I mentioned that a good starting point for WWI research were the MOD’s records. Steph responded with:

This is a bare faced lie, the MoD didn’t even exist then.

Well blow me down with a feather. It seems that Steph (and to an extent, Rob) are obsessed with stating the obvious as if it is an argument. Everyone knows the Ministry of Defence did not exist in WWI, it was called the Ministry of War. However, since the MOW became the MOD, guess where all the MOW’s records are stored…?

Throughout the debate (for want of a better word) is along these lines. For good measure Steph points to her having a Doctorate in Law as if it carries any weight in an argument about WWI. Amazing.

Please, anyone, take a look at the thread and its debate and let me know what you think. Was I being unclear? Are there issues I have missed out on? Did Steph and Rob provide solid evidence for their claims? Did they bother to pay the money to visit the Regimental Museums and see what was there?

Agreeing with Peter Hitchens! Oh Noes!

By Zeus, it must be time for me to kill myself. I have obviously suffered some kind of brain injury and am clinging on to reality by the thinnest of threads. Today, not only did I actually buy the Mail on Sunday (*), but I found myself agreeing with the obnoxious Peter Hitchens’ commentary. I will report to the euthanasia centre forthwith.

In a piece titled “Nothing to hide, but plenty to fear from Ms ID Card“, Annoying Hitchens makes some actually good, valid points:

She says we “need” to “prove who we are”. But mainly we need to do this because the Government has spun a spider’s web of silly rules, which snags the law-abiding and spares real troublemakers.

I agree. Hitchens continues by identifying some of the future strictures ID cards will place upon us then the bit I agree with most:

These precautions are useless against real money-launderers, paedophiles, gangsters and terrorists, who laugh at them. But they make people like Ms Smith look and feel as if they are doing something.

This is the whole problem with the idea. The implementation of ID cards is useless for its stated aims — criminals will not be inconvenienced by them in anyway. It is a shame I agree with Hitchens on something, but for now I have just put it down to his rabid hatred of the Labour government — if ID cards had been a Conservative party idea, he would be behind them all the way.

Back on the subject of ID cards, proper though — another point I neglected last time I ranted is the madness that ID cards can work if less than every member of society carries one. As long as they are optional, they are pointless for pretty much any of the ideas Ms Smith suggests they could be used for. If an immigrant is challenged and they say “I am not an immigrant” what could the government do about it? As they claim to not be a non-EU migrant, they wouldn’t be expected to carry an ID card therefore you can’t demand to see their ID card…

What passes for Logic in Ms Smiths world amazes me.

(*) In my defence it did have a good “free” music CD, which is the real reason I bought it. Odin only knows why I actually opened the “newspaper” (in the loosest sense of the word) and read anything.

Forced Faith

Is it right to force people to go through the motions of belief even if they do not hold that belief?

On last Friday’s Faith Central it seems Libby Purves is of the opinion that forcing people to pretend to believe, even if they don’t is better than nothing. Writing about a group of Oxford scholars who have refused to say grace (even though they have accepted a scholarship to a largely religious college) she notes:

But now – reports Cherwell - a prim contingent say they won’t, because they aren’t believers. The Chaplain replies sharply “The personal beliefs of the individual are incidental…There seems to be some confusion about the difference between personal and public prayer, the individual and the role. The scholar/exhibitioner is asked to recite the grace, it is a personal matter whether they also pray it.”

Blimey.  Now call me old fashioned but this seems like “forced” observance and somewhat flies in the face of the idea of the whole thing. If it is simply a matter of words, why does any one care? Is the ritual of observance actually more important than the persons beliefs or is this a sneaky way of trying to convert people? Who knows.

Libby seems incensed by this and comes to an amazing simile:

Frankly, if Professor Richard Dawkins can admit to singing Christmas carols with gusto (“O come let us adore Him”),   it is hard to see why these  clever young things make such a meal of a few words of general gratitude.

By Toutatis! Is singing a Christmas carol with “gusto” really the same as being forced to say grace? We seem to have an issue (as one of the commenters points out) where Libby fails to understand the difference between choice and compulsion. This neatly sidesteps the madness which places the two acts in the same category in the first place!

The piece concludes with this:

Nobody forced them to apply to a 453-year-old institution (there are other Oxford colleges) nor to accept the scholarship when it was offered. It would be brave and principled to refuse the honour and the money on grounds of atheism.  This is neither.

Well, while I sort of agree – they chose which college they went to – I dont really agree. The award of the scholarship is not based on a persons religious choice, so why does it force an act of observance? I am reasonably sure that the “pious” people who provided the donations which make the scholarship possible would be more upset that non-believers are there than people aren’t going through the motions of grace. I am really surprised that so many “devout” people would rather have lip service paid than faith exist.

Another one of the comments on the times blog poses an interesting question. If the scholars were forced to say “I renounce the Holy Spirit” would the church be happy with that? They wouldn’t have to believe it, just say the words…

Commenting on Comments

I was not planning to do a post on the nonsense being spouted by the comments on the John Humphrys article over on the Times Online (see previous post), but the idiocy and madness some of them presented couldn’t be ignored. Please forgive me, Zeus.

In no particular order we get this wonder from “Timothy” in Ross-on-Wye:

Christianity can be tested by whether the Resurrection occurred or not (1 Cor15). Secular and hostile sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, the Talmud and the Toledoth Jeshu testify of the crucifixion of Jesus and the empty tomb. That blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side indicates heart failure and we can be certain He was dead. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead where is His body? The disciples started proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem where the Priests could have produced the body if they knew where it was, ending Christianity. Why would the disciples steal Jesus’ body?

Blimey, where do I start. First off, shall we look at motivation? The disciples had a vested interest in Jesus’ body not being found, so there is motive for them to ensure the priests didn’t know where the body was.

More interestingly shall we look at the witnesses (Secular and Hostile sources)? For example, Tacitus was born in about AD56 (56CE for purists) and is unlikely to have travelled to the middle east until around AD76 (or 76CE if you prefer). Even allowing for some major errors on the date of Jesus’ birth, it is unlikely that Tacitus was around to see the event and if anything, he is repeating a secondary or tertiary source. Lucian is even more removed as it was around AD125 (125 CE) he was born. Josephus has potential, being born around AD37 (37 CE), but that is stretching things.

So basically this discounts the secular sources as evidence. The Toledoth Jeschu is equally flawed as it was written around the second century after Jesus was supposed to have been born – again this means it is the result of secondary or tertiary sources AT BEST. I will ignore the Talmud because I don’t know it well enough to comment on how it describes Jesus’ life.

From “D Walsh” in Skipton we get:

For the intellectually honest, atheism is also a matter of faith. It is difficult to prove a negative. There is no absolute proof of the non-existence of god(s), though the lack of proof for his/her/their existence is suggestive. Atheism is therefore a belief, rather than a lack of it.

This is a tired old argument. Lack of belief is not a belief unless you have the preconceived idea that the thing being believed about exists. For example, if I chose to believe the keyboard under my fingers right now didn’t exist, this would be an item of faith. While it is unprovable, I have met no (sane) adults who believes that Faeries do not swap children at night. Atheism is not a matter of faith. Ever.

“Virginia” in Australia writes:

The atheist are the stupid ones. They refused to believe that they will burn in hell for all eternity. There is really no point in trying to convince these people as they are the minority as God puts the belief in us when we were created. That is why there are very few geniune atheist if the truth were known. The physical body dies but the spirit lives forever. So everyone has eternal life, it is where you will spend it. Imagine a world full of atheist? There will be no accountability charity justice compassion purpose worth morals mercy regrets guilt sin compassion and hope. Who do think run orphanges, soup kitchens, red cross, Salvation army, life line, op shops, youth camps, and many other charitable organisations? The atheist? CERTAINLY NOT.!! The atheists think about no one except themselves and if the world is full of them, it would be like HELL. So dont be so proud to be one of them, we dont envy you, we feel sorry for you that your life is so worthless.

This is what I love about the loving, caring, compassionate theists… It is a good job that is only Atheists who can be frowned upon for speaking out. It is good job the world isn’t full of evil atheists, isn’t it… “Chie” in Tokyo continues the false reasoning argument about Atheism:

Agnosticism is the only logical position a thoughtful human being can adopt. Once understood properly, it ends the futile and barren debate about whether God exists or not. Atheists (if by this is meant people who believe that there is no God) are in just as a rationally untenable position as believers. This is why it has to be said that Dawkins, although interesting on religion, shows his intellectual limitations. It’s probably due to the influence of Western mind training, which tends to take a binary approach to everything.

Again, this is nonsense. No matter how much woo you try to wrap around the situation, nor how much patronising you do the situation remains the same. If Chie is trying to suggest God is in a quantum superposition along with Zeus, Hera, Thor, Hemidal, Loki, Monkey, Fox, Rabbit and every other god humanity has come up with over the aeons, then he is deluded. A similar argument is suggested by “Richard” in Bexhill, Essex, which proves the point about people from Essex being thick.

“Eugene” from Heildelberg, Germany (I strongly suspect he is an American serviceman, and he reminds me of one I worked with many years ago) writes a diatribe which finishes with the patronising:

If you are truly intelligent, you will come to this coclusion. GOD IS MORE PROBABLE THAN NOT.

Nonsense. He doesn’t even say which god he thinks is more probable than any of the others. It is nothing but an appeal to mystery in funny clothes.

“Warren Toles,” from Canada, goes a long way to prove that Theists really are stupid and opens his comment with:

It is interesting that there are so many brilliant people in this world that will believe Darwin’s THEORY of evolution and completely dismiss the the Biblical account of creation. This can only be accounted for by the fact that those taking this position have not studied either the Bible or Darwin’s life story including the fact that he dismissed his own theory of evolution prior to his death. And yet we continue to teach Darwin’s Theory of evolution in our schools and Universities as though it is pure fact without any doubt attached to it.

It is great isn’t it. First off it is painfully obvious that Warren has no idea what a “theory” of science actually means. I assume he wants alternate theories of gravitation, thermodynamics (etc) to be taught as well. Add in the nonsense about Darwin’s dismissal of evolution on his death bed and you can see why Atheists laugh at the way Theists believe things without questioning… Shame on you Warren, the internet is a great tool – you should use it to learn new things.

“John W” from Oldham lives in a bleak world and writes:

As soon as you say there is no god, you say that there is no such thing as life or as a person. You reduce everything down to its component parts. You say all our thoughts are self interested delusions, lacking any intrinsic value. You forever steal the smile from the babies face, remove the beauty from the sunset and kill all that is noble in the world.

Wow. My being an atheist seems to stop my children smiling… Oddly this is not the case. I find it worrying that some people really do think they only reason they can be happy in this life is because some invisible person has promised them something in an imaginary afterlife. If this wasn’t a world religion, these people would be in a lunatic asylum. I think the idea that people are only “noble” because of god is what really steals the nobility of their actions. It makes them a vessel for others and implies that without Big Brother watching them, they would really be stealing and raping. I find that a sad, sad world.

“CC” from Cardiff falsifies himself with this:

Having read Dawkins God Delusion out of interest, I am still not convinced about religion or atheism. There are strong arguments for atheism in the book, but there are also some weak arguments. Having a scientific background and a career in engineering, I like to see real evidence. Maths and statistics can be used to ‘prove’ anything academically. So what are the weak arguments for atheism:
1. There must be a planet of other beings out there STATISTICALLY. Ok, but then if those planets do exist then the laws of evolution would apply and we might expect that one of them might be more advanced than we are…so where are they?
2. Although we as humans have made fantastic progress is medicine, we are still only tinkering. Until we can CREATE life from the basic elements I remain unconvinced that we can ever do it.
3. The human state of consciousness, how a body gets life in it cannot be reproduced by humans ‘artificially’.
I feel that if I say I am an atheist then I it would be naive

Wow, he claims to have a scientific background but demonstrates no understanding of science or mathematics. Maybe it is true what they say about engineers… Statistically, in an infinite universe, there are an infinite number of planets out there with life. Basic principles state we (on Earth) are not in a unique position regarding time or place, so you must assume that there are, indeed, some alien civilisations who are more advanced than ours. However, and this is important, these basic principles also assume that the laws of physics hold equally at all points in the universe (keep this in mind). Now, we know that statistically, the chances of another planet near to Earth having an massively advanced alien civilisation is low so we can dismiss them, this means that the statistically probably aliens are going to be quite some distance from Earth, the nearest potentially habitable planet is 60 light years away. Why must all Alien civilisations be capable of Faster than Light travel along with a burning desire to visit Earth? The rest of his “reasoning” is even more dribble.

I will finish (for now) with this head ache inducing comment from “William J” in Oban, Scotland: (Dont you just love the case choice…)

The fact we can debate, discuss, and not only argue about belief,but even in extreme situations go to war over beliefs, in anyway detract from belief:
In fact, rather it proves that belief is Truth.
Richard Dawkins is in fact a Belief Meister He Believes in Non-belief. John Humpry is Still Seeking He Believes in Seeking.
I Believe in God.
The only problem occurs if any of us try to force our beliefs upon the other two. I recently read somewhere that Charles Darwin is indirectly responsible for The Horror of The Nazi Gas Chamber and The Second World War. I found this Idea Abhorrent yet then no sooner had this thought registered,when I remembered The French Revolution was a product of Militant Aitheism. Yet There Again , our “Glorious Revolution” The English Civil War was Based upon The Opposite Belief incidentally it Was The Scottish Covenanters who having handed King Charles The First over to The Parliamentary Army were so Horrified at The English Action, The Crowned Charles

Toutatis knows what he is trying to say here, but I will point to this as further evidence as to the IQ of theists and atheists. Read the comments, they are priceless. Atheists point out logical flaws and are accused of “hateful attacks.” Theists demonstrate ignorance (and more than a little hate towards atheists) and everyone gushes about how wonderful they are.

[tags]Religion, John Humphrys, In God We Doubt, Belief, Christiantiy, Islam, Judaism, Society, Culture, Darwin, Dawkins, Evolution, Creationism, Bible, Tacitus, Toutatis, Zeus, Hera, Loki, Times Online, Nonsense, Delusion, God, Logic, Logical Fallacy, Fallacies, Atheist, Agnosticism, Atheism, Theism, Woo, Lucian, Josephus, Toledoth Jeschu, Talmud, Flaws, Idiocy[/tags]

Missing the Point?

I was browsing through the Times blogs yesterday and I came across one by John Humphrys (which was actually an extract from “In God We Doubt” about to be published by Hodder & Stoughton) carrying the title “In God we doubt” with the following tagline:

He went looking for God and ended up an angry agnostic – unable to believe but enraged by the arrogance of militant atheists. It’s hard to see the purpose of the world, he says, but don’t blame its evils on religion

As you can see, there was no way I wasn’t going to read this!

Overall, this is a reasonably well written piece. While it isn’t good enough to make me interested in buying the book it may well appeal to some people with wavering faith and the writing style is certainly inoffensive on the whole. John Humphrys is basically explaining how he went from being brought up a good Christian to his faith wavering and finally he “deconverted” to agnosticism. I wont go into the nonsensical idea that “agnosticism” is anything other than a complete wet lettuce of a philosophical idea, which has at its root the basic assumption that God does exist but is insufficiently proven for worship, that is for another day.

There is one, possibly major, problem with the whole piece and (I suspect) the line of reasoning from which it flows. After a lengthy and introspective introduction, Mr Humphrys identifies what he sees as “the attitude of those militant atheists who seem to hold believers in contempt.” (It is interesting that he makes a list of seven points, but again this diversion can wait). His reflection on “militant atheists” produces the following list of characteristics, faults and problems: (These are opinions which “militant atheists” are supposed to hold to)

1. Believers are mostly naive or stupid. Or, at least, they’re not as clever as atheists.

2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.

3. They are also pathetic because they can’t accept the finality of death.

4. They have been brainwashed into believing. There is no such thing as a “Christian child”, for instance – just a child whose parents have had her baptised.

5. They have been bullied into believing.

6. If we don’t wipe out religious belief by next Thursday week, civilisation as we know it is doomed.

7. Trust me: I’m an atheist. I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with that little list: it’s what they do to believers all the time.

After sharing his earth shattering wisdom the reader is further encouraged to discover each point in detail. It is here that I largely gave up on any hope for him. The explanations and rebuttals follow, now with my rebuttal of his rebuttal…

1. This is so clearly untrue it’s barely worth bothering with. Richard Dawkins, in his bestselling The God Delusion, was reduced to producing a “study” by Mensa that purported to show an inverse relationship between intelligence and belief. He also claimed that only a very few members of the Royal Society believe in a personal god. So what? Some believers are undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists) but I’ve met one or two atheists I wouldn’t trust to change a lightbulb.

In his first sentence he gets it spot on, but possibly not in the way he thinks and despite his scorn for this it is his first point and he goes to great lengths to try and dismiss it. The reality of the matter is no “militant atheist” I know really thinks all theists are dumb and I would be interested in seeing the published information to support this idea. There are very intelligent and well educated theists – this goes without saying – and equally there are retarded atheists. Here, Humphrys has created a strawman and then attacked it. He tried to demolish it with an appeal to ridicule but, come the crunch, he failed. Nothing in what he writes actually says anything relevant to the point he tries to address so I suspect this is actually proof some atheists are dumb.

The strawman used by Humphrys reads that atheists think theists are “mostly” dumb or not as clever as atheists. Nothing that he writes contradicts this idea, except the appeal to ridicule at the beginning – and if it really is so clearly untrue, why address it first and foremost? If he strongly thinks it is false, then why is he using phrases like “reduced to using a ‘study’” (with sneer quotes)? Strawmen are wonderful things, but they need to be used properly…

2. Don’t we all? Some use booze rather than the Bible. It doesn’t prove anything about either.

Here he continues the strawman and again says nothing. I am not sure what point he is trying to make here. Does he mean to imply that religious belief is “good” because some people need alcohol to get through the day? Is he saying that the Bible (or what ever religious belief) is nothing but a crutch for people with problems and then claiming it doesn’t prove the original (yet strawman) argument he presented? If so, he is sadly mistaken.

After what he must feel was a rapier-like strike with the first point, Mr Humphrys descends into meaningless, pointless sentences like point 2. I am sure, somewhere, it means something but reading it on the Times Blog is baffling. He has no means of dismissing the claimed idea, for example with point 2 he does not even attempt to explain why intelligent theists are not simply clinging to their belief like an alcoholic clings to their bottle, he just says (an intellectually lazy) “so what.” For example:

3. Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards.

Again, he has no point other than a strawman. He has no way of dismissing or even disagreeing with it and finally he trots out the old stalwart of the theist case – Atheists in Foxholes. Now, anyone who has read “God Is Not Great” will know that Christopher Hitchens is indeed someone who has been an atheist under fire, as have I and many, many other people I know. In all honesty, I know more people who have been an atheist in a foxhole than a theist.

But even if we assume the claim is correct, it leaves open the argument that the gods the theists are worshipping are somewhat neglectful. Surely they should be caring for their believers more than unbelievers, so why is it so many of the faithful are made to suffer…?

4. True, and many children reject it when they get older. But many others stay with it.

This leaves me with a massive “eh?” So what? He agrees with the militant atheist claim, so what is his point?

5. This is also true in many cases but you can’t actually bully someone into believing – just into pretending to believe.

Mr Humphrys is misrepresenting the “militant atheists” claim here so that he can simply add a rebuttal in the form of a twist. Obviously he is thinks it is ok for religions to bully people into observing their practices because, deep down, the person doesn’t believe in them. Madness.

6. Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But we’ve survived monotheist religion for 4,000 years or so, and I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation.

It seems his liberalised anglican upbringing is showing here. Fundamentalist Islam is, indeed, dangerous in the short term violence aspect but the reality is no amount of terrorist attacks can destroy civilised democracy. Yes, people may die but then people die every day. The destruction of civil liberties that is following the fear of Islam provides a more long-term worry. The destruction of education being forced upon the west by Fundamentalist Christianity is more likely to do long-term harm to our societies ability to exist than people with semtex strapped to their chests. (Even “liberal” Holland is suffering – for example). The “harm” caused by religion is not always exemplified by planes flying into towers – think of the oppression of homosexuals, the subjugation of women, caste systems, refusal of medical treatment for minors etc.

Also, I am not sure his history is up to speed either. While Judaism may have been around for 4000 years, it is certainly a lot shorter period of time in which monotheistic death cults have been dominant on a global scale – let alone people who get their orders from the voice in their head god having access to nuclear weapons.

7. Why? For those of us who are neither believers nor atheists it can be very difficult. Doubters are left in the deeply unsatisfactory position of finding the existence of God unprovable and implausible, and the comfort of faith unachievable. But at the same time we find the reality of belief undeniable.

Again, we have the illusion of a middle ground which is more reasoned, more acceptable, than the non-belief of Atheism. This middle ground has been largely created by theists who seek to undermine the idea that atheism can exist. It is not logical to have no opinion on the subject unless you have given it no thought. I am confused by the concept of finding the existence of god implausible but the reality of belief undeniable. Working through what passes for logic is giving me a head ache but I will try:

Mr Humphrys is asserting he is an agnostic because he finds the existence of god implausible but the reality that people “believe” in god is undeniable so he can’t think of himself as an atheist.

Did I get it right?

It has that wonderful ring of being “true” but it isn’t. Just because lots of other people “believe” something with all their hearts does not mean it is true. For centuries people believed that the Earth was the centre of the solar system, that the solar system was the universe, that stars were ancient warriors, that the gods sat on top of Mount Olympus and interfered with mankind and so on. Not one of these things were true and all the belief in the world will not overturn that.

It strikes me that, although Mr Humphrys describes himself as an “agnostic” and ridicules the idea that children are indoctrinated into religious beliefs, he is suffering from this indoctrination. He (I assume) will certainly agree that lightning is not the result of Zeus’ anger, that Neptune does not control the oceans and Loki is not spreading global mischief. He (again, I assume) will agree that there is a continent across the ocean from Europe, that the Chinese are not devils, that elves do not live in woods, dwarves do not mine gold in the Norse mountains, faeries do not steal Irish children and the tooth fairy is not responsible for the coin under the pillow.

All of these things have at some point been believed to be true by people over the world. All of them. They all have as much evidence for existing as the Christian God. If the existence of belief is proof of existence, then they exist. The existence of the things I mentioned is implausible and unlikely, but this seems not to matter to Mr Humphrys.

I find myself wondering if he really does doubt the existence of god.

On a final note, and getting back to the subject of this diatribe, Mr Humphrys closes with:

As for the fanatics – religious or secular – history suggests they succeed only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be defeated by our own irrational fear. For every fanatic there are countless ordinary, decent people who believe in their own version of a benevolent God and wish no harm to anyone. Many of them regard it as their duty to try to make the world a better place. It is too easy to blame the evils of the world on belief in God. In the end, if we make a mess of things, we shall have ourselves to blame – not religion and not God. After all, he doesn’t exist. Does he?

While I actually agree with the first part of this (and this is why I feel the “fear of Islam” is more worrying than the effects of actual terrorism), he finishes it up by missing the point completely. I know of no atheists who blame god for the world’s troubles. The blame has, at times, been placed on religion which, despite the assertion he closes with, is something he seems to be agreeing with. The people are making a mess of things. They are making a mess of it under the idea that they are working to a higher power and worldly suffering will be followed by a reward in the afterlife. This is the result of religion not secularism.

(I will leave looking at Giles Fraser to others for now but if you have spare time read the comments, they are priceless – even Fr Brian Storey pops up!)

[tags]John Humphrys, Humphrys, Religion, Belief, Christianity, Faith, Delusion, God, Bible, Logic, Fallacy, Strawman, Appeal To Ridicule, Philosophy, Society, Culture, Understanding, Times Online, Logical Fallacy, Confusion, Islam, Monotheism, History, Agnostic, Atheist, Militant Atheist, In God We Doubt, Book[/tags]

Hollow holistics

People who feel they need more attention and who express this feeling through medical symptoms will usually feel better after getting some attention.

(This is a theory based on anecdotal evidence but it could easily be tested)

Does this mean that denying the reality and giving them what they want is a good thing? Maybe adding to the world’s sum of myths that people forget are metaphors doesn’t matter. Except for the danger of suckering in the ill?

The mind is involved in many diseases, so you can’t rule out the effectiveness of the placebo effect, whether it’s sparked by consuming a well-marketed drug or by a set of rituals. The more incomprehensible the ritual, the better it seems to work. White coats and a prescription pad reassure some of us. A claim to focus mystical energies work on others. However, just because a fair bit of modern medicine is woo doesn’t make complete tosh is a reasonable alternative.

Here’s one of the most comprehensible bits of a thread from a homeopathy forum:

Scientific Validity of Homeopathy:- Dynamic effects from higher potencies are well observed and experianced by homeopathic community but not by scientific community, consitently in DBPC studies. Furthur science of homeopathic effects and presence of raw remedies substances in higher potencies remained unmeasurable, a truth, miss or weakness as per their current measurable technology of science. As such, homeopathic effects are interpreted as placebo effect by them and its legal and moral validity/existance may be based on “posing no harm”. But still ,some basis of “time lapse” in giving the needed treatments can pop up anytime in view of inconsistency in outcome, non-presence of raw remedy substance, placebo effects, least side effects etc.

Can’t make head nor tail of that? Homeopathy is at the almost-credible end of the alternative therapy chain. Go down the ladder a bit and homeopathy seems almost to make sense, in comparison.

Kinesiology? Sounds impressively scientific. What is it then? Buggared if I know after looking at a few websites. For instance, the Health Kinesiology definitions page says that:

Common forms of treatment include the use of magnets, homeopathic remedies, flower essences, or even a particular thought. ….In a single session, the therapist may identify allergies, rectify nutritional imbalances, deal with phobias and psychological stress, rebalance chakras and start the process of detoxifying the body from heavy metals, vaccinations, drugs etc.

So, it can treat everything by doing whatever the “therapist” feels like, then?

Crystal healing? (Do crystals really get sick?)

.. not part of standard medical theory, but it is included in a broader view of crystal power that says crystals, which are minerals with a periodic atomic structure, possess metaphysical abilities.
Crystal healers say that it works because everything is energy and vibrates at various frequencies and that crystals work via these vibrations. Every living thing has a vibrational energy system, which includes chakras, subtle bodies and meridians. By using the appropriate crystals one can allegedly retune an energy system or rebalance a body’s energies, thus improving well-being.

Reiki? (In the absence of a pseudoscientific name, an implied reference to the inscrutable powers of the east will have to serve the purpose.)

There is no need to remove any clothing as Reiki will pass through anything, even plaster casts. The practitioner gently places their hands non-intrusively in a sequence of positions which cover the whole body. The whole person is treated rather than specific symptoms. …..
It is possible to heal at any level of being: physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Acute injuries can be helped to heal very quickly but more chronic illness takes longer. In some cases such as terminal illness, there is not enough time for the progress of the disease to be reversed….. The practitioner is a channel which the energy is drawn through by the need or imbalance in the recipient.

Sorry, I know this is getting boring. Treating the whole patient, rebalancing energies .. But, I am going somewhere with this. As it seems, incredibly, that your tax pounds are.

A website called NHS Directory of Complementary and Alternative Practitioners says that it is

compiled and managed only for use by NHS healthcare professionals by the NHS Trusts Association, the leading professional association for primary care in the UK

It purports to be a guide for NHS Trust staff so they can find alternative practitioners when they want to refer patients to them.

There are a few things in its list of therapies that don’t seem exceptionable (like counselling) but most of them are complete and utter nonsense.

Despite my fervent hope that this is just a phishing site, i am afraid that it’s real.

Victims not Experts

Refusing to register with the BBC to leave a comment, I will vent my frustrations here (although I doubt the BBC care about a backlink from this blog!).

It is common in the real world, and the mainstream media’s representation of it, to succumb to the false authority fallacy. The BBC has another “news” item which does this in a dramatic manner. Seriously, today has convinced me that 24 hour news will be the end of the world.

In a piece titled “Longer detention ‘may save lives’” the BBC begin with:

As the debate rages over the length of time terror suspects can be detained without charge, three people whose lives were changed forever in 2005 by the 7 July London bombings explain why they are backing an extension.

Now, what is “newsworthy” about this completely eludes me, but even the most cursory reading shows the problem with attributing authority falsely. The three people the BBC have dragged out are victims of a terrible terrorist attack, they are not experts on the law or social policy. They have no greater insight to the event, or its repercussions than anyone else. The BBC may as well have dragged three random people off the street and asked them for all the weight the opinions should carry.

And here lies the problem. The opinions of the victims carries more weight because we, as a society, are now used to the false authority. We listen to ageing pop stars when they talk about global economics, we listen to Christian clergy when they talk about housing and so on. We have been force fed the false authority to such a degree it is almost assumed. Modern victims seem to feel they have a right to tell people how to sort problems out based solely on the experience which made them a victim. It is madness. It is scary madness because this drives public policy. Very scary madness.

As I have made this into a post rather than a comment, I feel I should highlight some of the bits I have big issues with. As an example, when talking about the proposals to increase the time an innocent person (well, I suppose they are guilty of looking Islamic in a western nation) can be detained without charge to 56 days, they have this to say:

“If it’s going to help prevent another 7/7, then I have to support it.” [ROB WEBB - BROTHER OF VICTIM, LAURA]

“We believed 90 days was right so I would certainly be in favour of 56 days,” [JUNE TAYLOR - MOTHER OF VICTIM, CARRIE]

He wants the law changed to allow terror suspects to be held for as long as is necessary, so long as detention is dealt with responsibly and is under judicial review. [MICHAEL HENNING - BOMB SURVIVOR]

Great comments, really. They show why laws should not be written by people who are traumatised by loss.

Rob Webb hits the nail on the head, “if” is the critical part of it though. The changes to the law would not have prevented the 7 July bombings. They would not have prevented the recent London and Glasgow attempts.

Worryingly, they are quite likely to further alienate the segment of the population in which the terrorists move and recruit. This will, in the words of the Treason laws, have the effect of providing support and succour to the enemy. Is that really what these people want?

All three say largely the same things about how detaining people for up to 90 days is OK as it may save lives – with references to the tabloid favourite about the courts putting the suspects human rights before those of innocent people. This is complete tosh. It really is nonsense. The rights of the suspect are the exact same as the rights of the innocent person. If you take away the rights of the suspect (remembering they are innocent at this time, over three quarters of terrorism suspects have been released without charge…), you are taking them away from everyone. White or black. Christian or Muslim (or atheist).

Rob Webb also states (and this is another tabloid ranting point):

“In the balance of fairness, I would rather be completely unfair to them, than for a completely innocent person to be murdered on the public transport network.”

(In this context I think “them” means terrorist suspects rather than Asians in general)

This really does show why victims are not experts. I wonder what peoples reactions would be if the people who were most in danger from this new legislation were not a minority group? Would Mr Webb be happy to do 56 days in detention (Interment by another name) and then released without charge? That is effectively what this legislation calls for — just because at the moment “we” don’t feel that it will target us does not make that the case.

[tags]Comment Week, BBC, False Authority, Law, Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Fallacy, Society, Culture, Logic, Reason, Sane, Traumatic, Loss, Revenge, Minorities, Islam, Christianity, UK[/tags]

Wow, Christians really are weird…

As a result of growing up with an entirely secular background, in (at the time anyway) the very secular United Kingdom, there is a large part of me which refuses to accept that people like the posters on Teens4Christ really exist. This part of me is convinced they are just trolls, or kids who are living out a fantasy life which is a sanitised version of Dungeons and Dragons or the like.

By chance, following a link on FSTDT, I came across a thread which purports to be a poll asking atheists what they would do if they were possessed by demons. Seriously. The choices given were basically exorcism & convert to Christianity, exorcism but don’t convert, no exorcism and become friends with the demon/devil and no exorcism but don’t become friends. The choices, if honestly presented, give a scary insight into the mind of the “teen” who made this post. Bring back D&D, that’s all I can say…

To highlight my point about the sheer off-the-wall nutjobbery, this is what the conversation degenerated to: First a post by Esther:

oh my goodness I just heard on the news that a man was caught choking a three year-old girl and I guess they were doing an exerocism on her. thats so awful! I know demons are real but whenever someone says they see an angel or demon I always think there crazy. angels appeared to people all the time in the olden days in the bible so I shouldnt think that but would you guys believe if you heard someone on the news who said an angel talked to them?

And then Follower (who initiated the thread) replies with:

That’s what’s tough about Demon possessions. You have to make sure the person doesn’t have a mental condition first. Otherwise, Holy water and chanting won’t help.

Mentalists. I can only assume this is a debate between pre-teens in the manner of how secular kids will discuss if Ninjas can fight Batman. (Reassuringly, later on Follower states he is not yet of college age, hopefully some education will eventually rub off on him.)

Sadly, there is one poster, rch10007 apparently adult and mature enough to be an admin there, who seems to demonstrate that there is little chance this “younglings” will change with age. [tags]Logical Fallacy, Logic, Philosophy, Society, Culture, Atheism, Christianity, Belief, God, Anti-Atheist, Exorcism, Demons, D&D, Role Playing Games, Dungeons and Dragons, Fantasy, Ninjas, Madness, Woo, Nonsense, Weird, Possession, Catholic, Hatstand[/tags]

Tricked by their own statistics

Sorry for all the “crime” related posts but it is an annoying topic.

The BBC has more articles on the recently released Crime Statistics and it highlights an interesting logical conundrum. For example, the BBC article begins with:

Police recorded the first fall in overall violence in eight years, but drug offences and robbery went up.

Seems like a pretty key point to make. The rest of the news item is about how the public don’t trust the statistics and how Government needs to increase understanding of how they are collected and how accurate they are.

Comically, the article ends with this comment:

Meanwhile, police chiefs have been criticised by a committee of MPs who concluded giving police forces extra cash had not helped reduce crime.

Now, this begs the question that if the reports are crime has gone down, how do the MPs conclude that the extra cash did not help? Or, as I suspect, do the MPs feel that crime has not gone down and therefore need the government to give them advice on understanding the BCS results?

Madness cubed. [tags]Crime,Government, Statistics, Survey, Madness, Idiots, Society, Logic[/tags]