Sunday, November 30, 2008

Personal experiences are meaningless without evidence

One of the most popular reasons people give for their belief in their religion is that they've had a 'personal experience'. They don't usually properly explain what this means, but it's often described rather vaguely, as some kind of 'feeling' they had which pointed them to the truth.

As an example, one of my friends, who is definitely on the hippie side, recently told me about her time in Hawaii, where (I think) she lived in some kind of hippie community. She relayed a vague story in which she was united with the goddess Gaia, or something like that. She could feel the goddess all around her, oozing from the natural surroundings. Of course, her personal experience proves to her that Gaia is the truth.

The problem with the personal experience angle, and it's a serious surprise to me that more people don't figure this out, is that it's about the weakest argument you can use for deciding which religion, if any, is the truth. People from all religions that exist, or ever have existed, have used personal experiences to justify their faith. If you believe you've had a personal experience which justifies your faith, ask yourself, "What makes my experience fundamentally more valid than those experiences other people claim to have?" If you believe that some god actually speaks to you, then ask yourself, "What is the fundamental difference between the voices in my head that I believe are from a god, and the voices in the heads of those people in mental institutions?"

When so many people declare that their personal experience has revealed a truth which is in direct opposition to the truth that everybody else has determined from personal experiences, a reasonable person needs to step back and look for something more objective.

That more objective thing is commonly referred to as 'evidence'. Repeat after me, 'e-vi-dence'. Evidence is a wonderful thing which allows us to distinguish between truth and fantasy. And there is no evidence at all to believe that any of your religions based on your personal experiences are anything more than fairy tales.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's teach all controversies

I was reading a little bit about the current hearings going on in Texas somewhere, about getting creationism of one form or another into the classroom in the state's schools. It's nothing worth posting, so I won't give a link.

I wonder if they would be as open to alternative ideas in their churches as they are to those in schools. Would they accept reading of Hindu holy books in their churches? How about the teachings of Islam? Would they teach that people can be reincarnated as animals? The Aboriginal Australian creation story? You get the point.

The creationist movement seems to rally behind the attitude of 'teach the controversy'. I'll make the standard disclaimer that there isn't a controversy for people who research the issue and know what they're talking about, unless 1% opposition or less counts as a controversy. I wonder what other controversies they would be willing to teach in schools. There are lots of 'controversies' (term used loosely) in modern society. Let's list a few; the World Trade Center attacks were an inside job, the moon missions were faked, Earth is flat, George W. Bush is a chimp in a suit, fluoride is put in drinking water to control people, HIV was created by scientists, Phobos (a moon of Mars) is a space station left from a previous civilisation, a perpetual motion machine was created by some rednecks in the back of their pickup truck, wearing a tin hat prevents the government from beaming signals into your brain, aliens like to kidnap drunken country folk and stick things in their asses, there is no beef in McDonald's burgers, and so on, and so on, and so on.

So I have some questions for creationists:

Are you willing to pay the extra taxes and send your kids to school for more hours a day so that they can learn about all of these alternative views? What percentage of experts in the field must agree on something before it is no longer a controversy in your mind? Which alternative views are so stupid that it isn't worth wasting time and effort teaching them to children in the classroom? How do you decide which are too stupid to be taught? What do those other theories lack that your creationism doesn't (try to cite something more substantial than 'popularity')?

Friday, November 21, 2008

It isn't religion that makes us do good things

Believers often claim that religion is a force for good because it inspires so many people to do good things. I've even seen it claimed that the good feeling that people get after doing good things is a result of religion, and is not possible without faith.

Let's not try to make the ridiculous claim that atheists can't be good people. Despite what even the most religious reader might claim, everybody knows (if they even have a little knowledge of atheists) that atheists are generally good people and do good things, too.

Here's what I think. People do good things not because of religion, but because it is hard-wired in us to do good! We were given a tendency to pro-social behaviour by the social context of our evolution. Religion is only an excuse that people use to do good things. I find it hard to believe that these people wouldn't do good things if not for their religion compelling them to.

Monday, November 17, 2008

State = Taxes

"If many religious believers don't want separation of church and state, how can they be so supportive of separation of church and taxes?"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Questions biblical creationists can't answer without making me laugh


Basic questions (no education required):


1. What makes your story of creationism fundamentally different from all the others that exist now, have existed before, and will exist in the future?

2. How did Noah find all of the animals and get them back to the ark? Did he bring them back one pair at a time, or did they all follow him in a line as he visited other continents to collect more animals?

3. What did the carnivores eat on the ark?

4. How did koalas get to Australia after the ark washed up on that mountain?

5. Why did your god make life that has to destroy other life, often cruelly, in order to survive?

6. If cruelty and suffering result from a 'fallen world' caused by some original sin of humans, why did your god also punish the animals for it by creating disease, pain and suffering for them too?

7. Is it just to punish all humans, including those who weren't born yet, for the sins of one? Would you punish your own younger children for the wrongs of the oldest which occurred before the others were born?

8. If humans are special creations, why do we share the traits of violence, lust, rage, tribal warfare, homosexuality, etc. with animals?

9. Why do you believe your god made only one breeding pair (Adam and Eve), instead of many? With only one breeding pair, fathers are forced to have sex with daughters, brothers with sisters, and sons with mothers, in order to propagate the species. Is this a divine endorsement for incest?

10. If all civilisations resulted from Adam and Eve, and oral traditions about the god that created them were passed down from generation to generation, why are there so many other creation stories in the world? Why didn't all civilisations keep their 'true' religion?

11. Why did your god only appear to one group of people? If it can do anything and be everywhere at once, why couldn't it be fucked to appear to the other people of the world as well?

12. Why do you get your scientific education from people like Kent Hovind, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron? These people have no university-level education in science, and in some cases, no university education at all. Wouldn't it be smarter to trust those who are educated, and actively researching, in the field?

13. Why has the world, including government funding, science journals, reputable newspapers, education standards, etc., moved on without you, leaving your barbaric bronze-age theories in their dust? Why have we made so much progress in our understanding after abandoning religious methodology for a scientific one?


Intermediate questions:

14. Why is there at least some evidence for our scientific theories, but none at all for your creationism?

15. Why is the fossil record arranged in such a way as to suggest evolution?

16. Why are the continents shaped like they were once together, and have similar geology on what would be the common edges?

17. Why are the continents moving apart at a rate that would put them together millions of years ago?

18. If humans are special creations, why do we share the same biology, metabolic pathways, etc. with chimpanzees? Shouldn't we have been made completely differently to emphasize the point?

19. To avoid the cruelty caused by life killing other life to survive, couldn't we all have been photosynthetic organisms, using sunlight and inanimate molecules to make our energy? If you're going to say there's not enough energy in photosynthesis, why couldn't your god design a more effective photosynthetic system?

20. Why does the evidence from so many scientific disciplines, astronomy, geology, biology, physics, chemistry, all converge to suggest the Big Bang and Evolution, while at the same time pointing away from your theory?

21. Why do the mathematical models behind scientific understanding of the Universe work so well, while creationists have no mathematical models at all?

22. Does your creation model or your holy book account for things like quantum mechanics? Why doesn't it seem to contain much useful knowledge at all?

23. If your god didn't explain quantum nature for these people because they wouldn't understand, then isn't it time your god shows itself and gives us an update now that we have more understanding? Why doesn't it divinely guide some people to write an update to your current holy book? Or is it allowing us to do that through science? Is the reason we don't need an update that science is doing such a good job of answering the questions?


Advanced Questions:

24. Why does the human chromosome #2 appear to have been created by the fusion of two different chimpanzee chromosomes, complete with structures which would not be necessary if it was created as a single, unified chromosome?

25. What is the Cosmic Background Radiation? The CBR is an integral part of the Big Bang model, and is in fact demanded by it. How does your creationism account for it, ie. where does it fit in your model?

26. Why are the galaxies moving apart? Were they once much closer together?

27. Why can we see objects in space that are billions of light years away?

28. What process did your god use to create life? Can you describe how it works?

29. Can you use your creation model to make any helpful predictions that might lead us to further discoveries or understanding?

30. What is one prediction that your model can make which could support your creationism to the exclusion of accepted scientific models, and what evidence can you find for it?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mormons baptising Jewish Holocaust victims?

In a story which I think is truly bizarre, it seems that Mormons have been asked by the Jewish community to stop baptising their ancestors who died in the Holocaust. Those Mormons are so messed up.

Some excerpts from the article:

Holocaust survivors said Monday they are through trying to negotiate with the Mormon church over posthumous baptisms of Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps, saying the church has repeatedly violated a 13-year-old agreement barring the practice.

...

"We ask you to respect us and our Judaism just as we respect your religion," Michel said in a statement released ahead of the news conference. "We ask you to leave our six million Jews, all victims of the Holocaust, alone, they suffered enough."

...

Baptism by proxy allows faithful Mormons to have their ancestors baptized into the 178-year-old church, which they believe reunites families in the afterlife.

Using genealogy records, the church also baptizes people who have died from all over the world and from different religions. Mormons stand in as proxies for the person being baptized and immerse themselves in a baptismal pool.

You can read the full article here.

My de-conversion story

This is my story, the first in what I hope will be a series of de-conversion stories sent in from readers and posted on the site (click here for an explanation). This is an edited version of an earlier post that I made. If you want to read the original, full post, click here.

In the final years of high school, we started studying world religions as part of our compulsory religious education. I remember reading about the silly rituals and beliefs of the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, etc. The one that got to me the most was (I think) some Hindu ritual where these people whirl around in circles until they get dizzy, then when they collapse onto the ground, they have visions of various truths. I thought it was absolutely hilarious! But then something happened. I was able to turn my ridicule on myself, which is a skill that very few religious people have. I saw that while I was laughing at them for their stupid dizzy fainting, they were over there laughing at me for my belief in drinking the blood of some dead guy, resurrections, ascensions, etc, etc, etc.

What a turning point that was! I came to the conclusion that my religion was no more valid than any of the others, and in some ways, was even more ridiculous than many of them. I realised that more than half of the world thinks I'm wrong. I had my holy book, but they also had one. There was nothing particularly special about any of those books or religions when compared against the others. But all of the religions couldn't be true, that's not possible. The only reasonable conclusion was that they were ALL bullshit!

So, I gave up my religion, cold turkey. Had no problems at all turning my back on it. I could no longer justify or defend the belief, and wanted to live the rest of my life in freedom from its clutches. I'm now so much happier and free!

Atheists, send me your de-conversion story!

I'm going to try a new feature on this site, and I need your help. Most atheists were not always atheists. We come from many different religious backgrounds, and de-converted for many different reasons. I'd like to document some of those stories from readers of the site.

So here's what I'd like you to do, if you choose to share with us. Use the Contact Me form and tell me about how and why you became an atheist. Please keep it reasonably short and to the point. You don't have to tell me your name if you don't want to.

I'll try to post all stories, unless they're so bizarre that believers would just use them as ammunition to show how weird/stupid/satanic we are ;-)

The almighty baby killer

A significant number of human pregnancies, about 20% (?), ends in a 'spontaneous miscarriage'. In other words, nature aborts the baby. So Francisco Ayala, biologist and ordained priest, has a question for creationists about the imperfections of the human reproductive system:

“If god explicitly designed the human reproductive system, is god the biggest abortionist of them all?"

Monday, November 10, 2008

It's the other way around!

The common belief that evolutionary theory states that humans came from chimps, is a misunderstanding of the way evolution works. It would be equally valid (ie. not valid) to say,

"Humans didn't come from chimps. Chimps came from humans."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Believers are closed-minded and dumb

Lately I've been watching some old videos on YouTube of paranormal-debunker, James Randi. I came across the story of James Hydrick. I was a small child when this story was active, so I'd never heard of it. The important part for the purposes of this post is the interview that I'll mention further down, but if anybody is not familiar with the story, here's a video of James Randi exposing the fraud (and check out the much younger Bob Barker!):


So after his fraud was humiliatingly exposed, Hydrick sat down for an interview in which he confessed his fraud. Check out some of the things Hydrick said during the interview:

Hydrick: "He [the magician] would show how easy it was to trick people. Slight-of-hand, etc. Things like that impressed me. How close-minded a lot of people really were. It was so fascinating to see how people would miss things just like that. The obvious things they would miss."

Notice that, unlike today's believers, Hydrick himself does not call the skeptics closed-minded, he calls the BELIEVERS closed-minded! He continues...

Hydrick: "I tricked the whole world. .... I just wanted to see how open minded people were. I wanted to see if these people who were so-called intelligent and I was so-called dumb; I mean, surely I'm here for a reason. My whole idea behind this in the first place was to see how dumb America was. How dumb the world is."

Isn't that interesting? He implied that the skeptics who can see through his fraud are the intelligent, open-minded ones! Current religious dogma says that if we don't believe that their imaginary gods are present, that we are closed-minded. I love this, it's awesome!

Surely the believers will protest now, saying that they're not closed-minded, because they believe that so many things are possible. Well people, the problem is that you are closed-minded to how some of these tricks might have been done, which is what our friend Hydrick is saying. You think the only way it could possibly be done is through psychic powers, and are closed-minded to all of our experience which says that such a thing is not possible. You are closed-minded to all of the ways in which you could have been duped. You are closed-minded to all of the ways in which religions and their leaders use trickery to convince people.

He goes on to describe how he used his 'powers' to convert other inmates (Hydrick was in prison) to Christianity.

I'd take a Bible and open it up and say "If the Lord is here with me make these pages move!" or I'd open the Bible and say "Hold the Bible. Father in the name of Jesus Christ make these
pages move." And the pages would move! And the guys are going "Oh my God!!!" Everytime it worked. Then I would say "It's in you."Or I take a pencil and put it there and say I've got to call the Lord; but you are going to have the power to do this if you accept the Lord. The next thing you know you would see them with this big cross and handing Bibles out to people!

Oh, using fraud to convince people of the existence of a god? Wow, I never would have suspected that people did stuff like that. You don't suppose that Jesus would've.... no, surely he wouldn't....

Time and time again people come forward with supernatural claims, and time and time again, they are exposed as frauds, or merely incapable of performing during testing. And yet there are still dumb, closed-minded people who believe that this kind of thing occurs.

You can read the full article here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Either way, can't do much worse than George


I hope this will be my one and only commentary on the U.S. presidential election.

I saw this article about supporters of the candidates gathering to pray for success on election day. No surprises here.

I did find a couple of points in the article amusing:

Steve Strang, publisher of Charisma, a popular Pentecostal magazine, asked his many readers in an e-mail to pray, fast and "believe for a miracle to see John McCain get elected."

Oh, so if McCain loses, will he then acknowledge that his god either doesn't exist, doesn't care, or doesn't favour Republicans? Nah.....

But many pastors are warning against asking God for a specific outcome.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the 12,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., has urging his congregants simply to pray for help choosing the right leader for the country.... Hamilton said no one knows "who God's person for the hour is."

That's right, whoever wins, some god did it. Completely unfalsifiable, typical religious style.

The hourly prayers begin with repenting personal sin and include appeals for "candidates to adopt biblical positions on issues" and remember they are accountable to God.

Yes, we need that Biblical law! The candidates should be for the stoning of disobedient children, killing people for spilling their seed on the ground, offering your daughter up to get gang-raped, etc. Or did they mean New Testament stuff? Like they want the leader to turn the other cheek when the country is attacked, or to take from the rich and feed the poor?

On the topic of the election, here is a video by EdwardCurrent about attack ads the Republicans would issue if Jesus were running for president. It's so true! Republicans don't really want Christian rule, because that might involve repealing of the death penalty, loving neighbours (including the queers), and high taxes to fund programs for the poor. I don't know why they claim that they're Christian. Anyways, here's the video:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Cleaning up after religious fuckwits at their finest hour

I found this article about a campaign in Britain to grant pardons to hundreds of people who were executed for alleged witchcraft from the 16th to 18th centuries. According to the campaigners, about 400 people were executed in England, and 4,000 or so in Scotland. I was pretty astounded by those numbers, I had no idea it could be so high. Those poor people, killed because of a mob belief in something that doesn't even exist!

If you're interested in signing the petition, click here.

This is a very good example of just how dangerous religion is, and why we must never allow religious freaks the power that they so desire. There are still a lot of believers out there who demand a theocratic government in which non-believers would be killed or 're-educated'. In fact, it still goes on in some parts of the world in which religion runs wild. There is no fundamental reason to believe that it would not return to any modern, Western country if a theocratic government were to take hold of power.

It also worries me a bit that people have been arriving at my page after entering the terms 'kill atheists' into search engines. Isn't StatCounter great?