Saturday, November 28, 2009

How do they even know what Jesus looked like?

METHUEN, Mass. - A woman who recently separated from her husband and had her hours cut at work says an image of Jesus Christ she sees on her iron has reassured her that "life is going to be good."

Mary Jo Coady first noticed the image Sunday when she walked into her daughter's room.

The brownish residue on the bottom of the iron looks like the face of a man with long hair.

The 44-year-old Coady was raised Catholic. She and her two college-age daughters agree that the image looks like Jesus and is proof that "he's listening."

Coady tells The Eagle-Tribune newspaper she hopes her story will inspire others during the holidays. She says she plans to keep the iron in a closet and buy a new one.


Atheists on

I just joined the site This is a really great site that lets you loan, not donate, money to entrepreneurs of your choice, mostly in developing countries. They use the money to invest in their business, and pay it back later. Once paid back, you can re-loan the money to a new project or withdraw it back into your Paypal account. The minimum loan amount is US$25, and almost all of the loans get paid back. The delinquency rate is very low.

This concept is known as microfinance or microcredit. It was first brought to my attention by the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, who started a bank for this purpose.

The site lets you join a "lending team", which allows you to join together with people in your region, or people who have the same interests. When I brought up a list of the teams, top of the list was Atheists/Agnostics/Freethinkers/Secular Humanists/Non-Religious. At first I thought it was just alphabetical order, my knowledge of the alphabet telling me that 'A' appears rather early in the sequence. But as I took a closer look, I saw that the team was at the top of the list because it had the most members and had loaned the most money of all 10,000 or so teams. Which team is currently a very distant second place? Kiva Christians.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Islamic countries try to ban my site

I was planning to write a different post, but that will have to wait now. I found this story in the news today, and it demanded a response.

The basics of the story are that a group of 56 Islamic countries are petitioning the United Nations to create a treaty that would protect religions and their symbols from abuse or mockery. This is essentially a worldwide ban on blasphemy. Ireland has just done this voluntarily.

I have a whole bunch of questions about this, such as:

1. Would this require the Islamic countries to actually respect other religions and atheism?

2. Would this make it illegal for religious people to come to my door and tell me how much I suck and/or deserve to be tortured forever because I don't believe what they believe?

3. Why aren't their gods strong enough to stand up for themselves? They seem to be kinda weak and cowardly.

Such a treaty would make this website against international law, so I have something to say to religions, while I still can:

"Fuck your prophets, fuck your saviours, fuck your gods, fuck your angels, fuck your texts, fuck your prayers, fuck your souls, fuck your afterlife, fuck your traditions, fuck your ceremonies, fuck your symbols, fuck your leaders, fuck your places of worship, fuck your holy cities, fuck YOU!"

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Power of Simplicity

The idea that the simplest explanation is often the best, is popularly known as Occam's Razor. We all use the Razor in our daily lives, even if we don't think about it. The examples of how we do so are so insignificant that they can almost be considered trivial. For example, if you own a dog, and you hear it running around your house, then you hear a crash and find a broken lamp, you'd conclude that the dog knocked it over. That is the simplest and most reasonable explanation. Why did you reject the possibility that the dog was chasing away an alien trespasser, and the alien knocked over the lamp as it fled out the window? You rejected it because it would require a whole lot of other explanations in order to make any sense.

In a court of law, if a defendant was found standing over a stab-wound riddled dead body, holding a knife, wearing clothes covered with blood, confesses to the crime because he hated the victim, and has video he took of himself doing the stabbing, isn't it reasonable for the jury to conclude that the defendant killed the victim? Why aren't other explanations considered? Why wouldn't people accept the argument that the body was planted, the video was faked, etc?

A good example of this principle in science is the development of our knowledge of the solar system. In order to maintain a presupposed geocentric solar system, people put a lot of effort into explaining the movements of the planets in the sky. They invented cycles upon cycles upon cycles in an effort to force the presupposed conclusion to fit the observed data. In the end, it was a huge, complicated mess. Then along came a much simpler explanation, that Earth was not the centre. The movement of the planets could then be explained by single ellipses, which fit the data perfectly. Of course, the religious fought this idea as hard as they could, and came down hard on those who supported it.

So now we come to the existence of gods. A lot of claims about gods have been made, and a lot of excuses have been made for why none of those claims seem to be supported by reality. Here is a small sample of questions that I have about gods:

1. Why won't the gods heal amputees?
2. Why is there no measurable effect of prayer?
3. Why do bad things happen to good people?
4. Why did the god of the Bible allow mistranslations of the scripture into modern languages, after being so careful to not allow any errors in the originals?
5. Why do the gods not perform blatant miracles today?
6. Why do the gods hide themselves from us but expect us to believe anyway?
7. Why do perfect gods make so many imperfect things?
8. Why don't religious leaders (eg. Catholic Church) seem to be more moral than the rest of us if they are representatives of these gods?

Now religious people have answers for all of these questions (none of which they can support), but they really have to wave their hands a lot. A simpler, universal, and therefore much more powerful answer to all of these questions, is that gods don't exist. No hand-waving and no magic required. The idea of gods not existing fits the data perfectly. In other words, all of those questions above can be answered in a way assuming that gods exist, or in such a way that they don't. But the only way that prevents us from having to "invent cycles upon cycles upon cycles" is if we accept the idea that gods don't exist. Or at least, the claims that religious people make about their gods are not accurate. I suppose a totally different kind of god would be possible, but the gods that most humans describe lead us to a huge, complicated mess of explanations, which we can safely reject.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two generations of ignorant asses

".... I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under (my) god."

- Republican presidential candidate George Bush (the first one), 1987

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Science surpasses gods in amputee care

I found this article today, about a pretty exciting breakthrough in prosthetic hands. Scientists have developed a feedback mechanism which allows the amputee's brain to perceive a sense of touch when handling objects.

Now we know that gods are widely credited with healing humans from illness, but they seem to be quite incapable of healing amputees. No matter how much prayer a person makes and receives, their limbs just never grow back. It seems that the gods can only heal afflictions which the body would be capable of healing by itself, which leaves us in a position to reject the idea of a supernatural contribution to any healing that occurs.

With the technology described in the article, humans have now completely left the gods in our dust regarding the help we can provide for amputees. Would any of you religious-healing supporters like a re-match?

You can read my previous post on this subject here. I'll repeat my favourite part of that post here:

If the religious people object, I ask them, "Why is it that we have to seek such treatments?" It's because, despite promises of healing from you, your cult, your polygamous pedophile cult leader, and your imaginary friend, these people are not being healed in any other way! Despite all of your prayers, nothing is happening! If you want us to stop this research, tell your worthless, apathetic god to get off its lazy ass and start healing these people! Tell it to do something useful and productive for once in its fricking existence! Something tells me nothing will happen, despite all of your pleading. I know why, do you?

Friday, November 6, 2009

De-conversion story 4

Another de-conversion story from a reader:

I have always been inquisitive and interested in science, so my de-conversion from Christianity really came as no surprise now that I think about it. I was twelve when it first started, on a vacation in Florida. I was very excited that day because my parents took my brother and I to the bookstore. I ended up taking home 5 books, one of which was Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion". I read it in two days and it had a profound effect. I had grown up in a (quite liberal, I now realize) Presbyterian church, and even though I knew all about Evolution from watching the Discovery Channel and reading Scientific American, I had never actually thought about religion in a critical light. I found Dawkins' book very persuasive, but decided I was too stubborn to allow myself to be converted so easily. Over the course of the past three years, ! however, I have realized just how little sense religion makes and just how pernicious its influence is. A friend of mine recently invited me to his mega-church's youth group, and I was shocked at how these peddlers of 2000-year-old beliefs tried to ingratiate themselves to kids with rock music and funny videos. As soon as I got home, I googled "stupid fundies" to try and get the indoctrination off of me. That led me to a number of sites like these, and I am now a proud atheist.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chances of life

One of my first posts on this site, and actually part of what inspired me to start it, was a creationist attempting to argue for the statistical probability of life. You can read that post here.

It seems there is no serious shortage of religious people attempting to argue for the probability of life forming, whether or not they are of the young-Earth variety of twit. In my recent argument with Nathan 'the less-than-intelligent Christian', he attempted just such an argument. He came to my site and proudly proclaimed that it was mathematically more likely that life was created by his god than by natural processes. So of course, I challenged him on it.

His argument was essentially that if the chance of life occurring on Earth naturally is 1-in-x, then the chances that it was created by his god are 1-(1/x). He then cited some bullshit number for x that was pretty large. To state more clearly, and to use simple numbers, let's say that somebody determines the probability of life occurring naturally to be 10% (keep in mind that any such number is baseless and pure speculation at this point). If the chances of it appearing naturally on Earth are 10%, then Nathan's argument goes, the chances it was created by his god are 100% - 10% = 90%.

Now, I eventually got Nathan to concede that it didn't have to be his Christian god that did the creating. What I couldn't get him to concede is that this 90% would represent the sum of ALL other possibilities for how life could have formed, of which an infinite number could be imagined. Even so, his argument is still fatally flawed.

If I have a fair coin, the chance of flipping it and getting heads is 50%. So if I flip it and get heads, does that mean that it had a 50% chance of 'naturally' being heads, and a 50% chance that a god made it heads?

If I buy a lottery ticket with chances of 1-in-14 million, and I win, does that mean that there was a 13,999,999-in-14 million chance that I didn't win by myself, but that a god guided me to those numbers? You don't have to choose the winning numbers for this thinking to hold. By Nathan's reasoning, ANY set of numbers I chose, winners or not, were only 1 of a possible 14 million combinations I could have chosen. Therefore, it would have been a nearly 100% chance that I did not choose my numbers without divine guidance.

Similarly, if the chances of life occurring naturally on any given suitable planet are 10%, and we check some suitable planets and find no life on some, but life on one of them, does that mean that there was a 90% chance that it was put there by a god?

Looked at in this way, you can see that the argument Nathan is trying to make doesn't even make sense. If there is ANY CHANCE of life occurring naturally, then we do not need to invoke a supernatural being in order to explain why life is here on Earth, as we would be considered one of the 'lucky' ones that 'won the lottery'. Even if the odds of life occurring naturally are astronomical, the Universe is an astronomical place, so we're not at a loss to explain why we're here.

Given it is known that life already exists in any particular location, what is the chance it occurred naturally, versus the chance that it appeared due to some other (ie. supernatural) reason? How can we compare these two things when one of them cannot even be demonstrated to exist? For life occurring naturally, we know that the mechanism would be chemistry and the material would be atoms, with chemistry and atoms being things that we can show to exist. But what would the mechanism for supernatural creation be? How could we possibly calculate the odds of supernatural origin of life when neither the mechanisms, nor the supposed being responsible, can be shown to exist or to even be properly defined?

If you don't believe that it is impossible to calculate the odds that life was created by something that cannot be defined or shown to exist, do the following:

Calculate the probability that life on Earth was seeded by alien Zorkishes from the planet Lepon, orbiting the star Nirwag. They used a teleportation ray to put the DNA molecules into an unknown (to us) state of matter called 'quackle', which allowed it to travel through a phase-11 wormhole and arrive at Earth. Good luck.