Friday, January 28, 2011

No, we meant to try them, THEN kill them!

A little over a year ago, I wrote this post about legislation in Uganda designed to allow for the execution of gays and imprisonment of anybody who knows a gay and doesn't turn him/her in to authorities.  What happened later was extremely disturbing and horrifying, but I don't think I actually made a post about it.  A Ugandan newspaper/tabloid published a list of 100 gays, complete with names, photos and addresses.  The front page said to "Hang Them!"

So what happened this week?  One of the men on the list, a gay rights activist, was killed in his home.  It's too early to say for sure that he was killed because he was gay, but it's a good bet.

What did the editor of the tabloid have to say on the matter and his possible role in the murder?  Check it out:

"When we called for hanging of gay people, we meant ... after they have gone through the legal process.... I did not call for them to be killed in cold blood like he was."

This is the love that Christianity brings to the world.  You can read the full news article here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reader email about help with creationist

I have a few emails I've received over the last few months that I still need to answer, but I'm going to do this one first.  I'm sure that he would appreciate any additional advice readers can provide for him in the comments section.

"Dear admin, I once told you about my batchmate who is preaching stuff. Now he has called me out to have a discussion because when he preached to me he had a very surprising encounter. He wishes to "discuss" this is his definition of debate in which if he loses he wont lose face. I need topics to bring up. He is a creationist and follows only parts of the bible. A total jesus freak. The arguments he used last were the watchmaker arguments, thomas acquinas philosophy (though he didnt know who he was) and gave me the burden of proof by giving the hypothetical problem of disproving the existence of gold in china. I really want to put him in his place because he has been attacking other religions in my school and no one is taking action. I want to shut him up and show his followers that theyre following an incompetent person. Ive been spending a lot of time on your website for 2 years now and i am only ready enough to defend myself, not make him shut up so if you could take your time to help me, please do"

First of all, biblical creationists have already abandoned rationality.  They believe in talking snakes, etc., and require no evidence at all to believe any of this actually happened.  They reject modern science and its findings.  It's very difficult to deal with them, and many are a complete lost cause.  Often all you can do is ridicule them and hope they wake up some day.  The Answers in Genesis website writes in its statement of belief that any evidence a person can provide against the biblical version of events is false, and should be rejected.  AronRa of YouTube fame had a conversation with a creationist in which he asked her how she would react if he could prove her god wasn't real.  She responded that she hoped her faith would be strong enough to reject his evidence and to continue believing.  These people have no interest at all in what the truth is, they want to continue believing, even if it isn't true.

It's often said that what creationists do in debate is drop two armfuls of steaming shit on the stage, and the atheist/scientist is then left to sort through it.  That is what is going to happen.  In formal debate, the creationist counts on his opponent not having access to the full collection of human scientific knowledge and published papers.  Bringing up actual facts is difficult.  Saying that magic did it is easy.  Almost any claim he can come up with to support creationism is going to be false and has already been proven so (by actual scientific means) if you know where to look.

I'd start with the following:

1.  The TalkOrigins.org Index to Creationist Claims

2.  Iron Chariots Wiki

3. YouTube videos by scientists such as the Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism series by AronRa, the Why Do People Laugh At Creationists Series by Thunderf00t and videos by DonExodus2 (who was a non-fundamentalist Christian when he made most of his videos).

4.  It's not a rebuttal, but I enjoy this witty post by the handsome Admin at AtheistPropaganda.com.

5.  Have him call the Atheist Experience TV show one of these Sundays.  They give priority in the phone queue to religious believers, and would love to speak with him.  They deal with this shit all the time, and we, their audience, really enjoy watching Matt Dillahunty dismantle them.  Matt is a former fundamentalist preacher, is very well-read and knowledgeable of the history of the Bible and Christianity, as well as logic and has a decent understanding of the state of modern science.  He's the best debater I have seen who would be easily accessible to a putz like your friend there.  He is one of the creators of the Iron Chariots site I linked to above.  If nothing else, it will provide some good laughter for you and the others on your side.  If he won't call them, some ridicule and chicken dances with insults of cowardice might help.  (flaps arms) Baaaaawk, bawk bawk bawk bawk.

Any other advice for the youngster, readers?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A classic religious argument, as applied to investment fraud

I just had an experience which is not directly related to religion, but which parallels it very well and gave me some enlightenment about why people might believe it.

A few years ago, my girlfriend made an investment that may or may not be bad.  We recently began receiving letters about it, claiming that it is a fraud.  The first letter was an anonymous letter by somebody claiming to be a fellow investor in the organisation, with no return address.  We received the second letter the next day.  It was from somebody claiming to be some kind of litigator who specialises in recovering invested assets from con-artists.  He wrote that he was on our case, and would like for us to work with him.  The letter was printed on shit-quality letterhead, had no return address, the company had no track record at all on the internet, their website domain had been registered just a few days earlier, the physical address the website was registered to was a P.O. box, their phone numbers and addresses in the letter were virtual offices (ie. a mail/call forwarding service), etc.  It was also sent from a post office just a few kilometres from the post office that the first anonymous letter came from. 

So right away we know this is a fake.  The investment may or may not be a fraud, but these letters definitely are.  We of course do not take them up on their generous offer to help us.  But the letters kept coming.  We received one more letter from this scam litigation firm, but the most interesting one just came today.  This is also where the religious parallels come in to the picture.

Today's letter was from somebody who also claimed to be a fellow investor.  It was encouraging us very strongly to join with the lawsuit organised by the scammers.  It contained one argument which you should find familiar.  The writer argued that there are four possibilities, we join or don't join, and the lawsuit succeeds or fails.  If we join and the lawsuit wins, we win.  If we don't join and it wins, we lose.  If we join and it doesn't win, we only lose the retainer fee paid to the lawyers.  If we don't join and the lawsuit loses, it's a null result.  So the only way we can possibly lose is if we don't join!  He neglected to consider losing the retainer as being a bad thing.  Great, isn't it?  Too bad it's Pascal's Wager, restated for investment fraud lawsuits.  The problem is that just as there is no evidence to support the existence of gods, there is no evidence to support the existence of this litigation firm.

Unlike those other scam letters, this one had a contact name and phone number.  So I called the guy.  He had received the same scam letters we had over the last few months.  He seemed sincere.  He wrote in the letter that he's had a terrible time since the first letter came, worrying that he's lost a good amount of his savings.  He's in it for double what my girlfriend is in for.  He's in distress and has lost a lot of hope.

You may or may not believe the next part.  He told me he knows the litigator guy he spoke to on the phone is using a fake name.  He knows the firm doesn't have a real address.  He knows their phone numbers are virtual offices.  He knows they only registered their website a couple of days before this all started.  He knows they're lying on their site about how much money they've won in settlements of other cases.  He knows they have no track record at all and appear to have come out of nowhere.  He knows this particular case has reported nothing at all in five months.  And so on, and so on.  But he's still siding with them!  Not only is he siding with them, but he's sending out letters to the other investors telling them that they should join with this firm, too!  He's evangelising!  He knows all of the signs point to this company being fake, but he is in such distress, he has so little hope, that he's willing to grab on to anything that might save him from the situation.  He used the Pascal's Wager on me on the phone, too.  He asked me, what happens if the firm does turn out to be real, they do win the case, but he didn't join?  It's the only way he can lose!

Religious people are like our friend here.  They desperately want somebody to save them from a danger, real or imagined, and they're willing to flat-out ignore all of the red flags that the solution is an absolute fraud.  The fact that somebody is simply offering to help is enough for them to part with their money/time/sanity.  And according to my girlfriend, he's evangelising because he won't feel so fucking stupid if other people do the same.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Prayer vs. Actually Doing Something

I don't know the origin of this graphic, but I got it off of Facebook from a person that I don't know.  It requires no explanation or further commentary.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Interview with Ayn Rand

A reader sent me this link a couple of months ago.  I've been lazy and slow to get it posted.  It's an interview with the late author Ayn Rand about atheism.  I read her novel Atlus Shrugged when I was in university, and it was one of the few books I was ever forced to read yet actually liked.  I must confess that I skipped the 80-page long monologue by John Galt near the end, but that wasn't even 10% of the book.  I was able to relate to the protagonists in the book, as their situation with the people around them was very similar to my situation with my family.  The protagonists' leadership and intelligence was frowned upon, as the society around them slipped into a socialist state which rewarded mediocrity and lack of initiative.

I had to write an essay on it, and was able to relate the situation in the book with my situation at home.  The professor was so impressed that he called me at home to tell me what a good job I'd done with it.  I remember including an example.  We had just bought a new computer, our family's first.  I had taken the time to read the relatively short introduction manual and to play with some of the options.  My family refused to read it and demanded that I teach them and help them with everything.  I remember even if I'd tell them that the answer to their question was on page 16 of the manual, they'd still scream at me, telling me what a bad brother/son I was, often threatening me with violence, because I wouldn't pass along what I had learned.  I'm a strong believer in the give a man a fish/teach him to fish saying, and was trying to teach them to fish, which in this case meant to use the manuals and other available tools to find their own answers.  They angrily declined.  That might explain why I moved away from home as soon as I was done my undergrad studies, while my other brothers lived with my mother for so long.  One moved out at age 29.  The other two still live with my mother, even though they're 31 (this month) and 26 years old.

Anyways, enough of my rambling.  Here is an excerpt from the interview, which I'll publish unedited:

Interviewer: I think atheists are as arrogant as many of the so-called Christians or relgionists that you defy. I'm saying...

Ayn Rand: Arrogant in what way?

Interviewer: In that you are here with your certainty saying there is no god and anybody who believes there is is... It's almost a suggestion that you believe that you are foolish if you believe there is and I think that's a little arrogant and condescending.

Ayn Rand: No. The arrogance and foolishness... I would have to tell the truth. I think it's a bad sign psychologically. It is a sign of a psychological weakness, a man who is afraid to stand on his own mind and has no responsibility. Because it is the absence of proof that brings on false thinkers. Every argument for the existence of god is incomplete, improper and has been refuted and people go on and on because they want to believe. Well, I regard it as evil to place your emotions, your desire above the evidence of what your mindknows.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Muslim Kindness

This post will be a change of pace from my usual tactics.  I'm not going to defend a religion, but I am going to stand up for a group of people.  I get pretty tired of the public and media attacking the entire Muslim world as if they were all terrorists and religious extremists.  This comes from all sides of society, including people from other religions, atheists and certain media channels.  Even one of my readers sent me a link to his (her?) blog in which he had a post implying that there weren't any decent, moderate Muslims, or at least that those people are in a very small minority.  My girlfriend's coworker tells his kids not to speak to anybody wearing a turban (even though many Muslims do not wear a turban, and most Sikhs do).  The popular image is that every one of them would behead us the first chance they got.  I usually try to point out that there are roughly 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.  Even if there were 10 million Islamic terrorists/extremists, that would mean that over 99% of Muslims are not.  If there were 100 million Islamic terrorists/extremists, that would mean that over 90% of Muslims are not.

Please note that I am not defending their religion.  The beliefs of Islam are as fucked up as many other religions out there, have done huge damage to humanity over history, and are responsible for many of the problems the world is experiencing at the moment.  I am no friend of the Islamic religion.  But that doesn't mean that the people who identify as Muslims cannot be decent, caring people, much like you and I are.

I've written before on this site (in comments somewhere, I think) that Muslims are my favourite people in general.  I'd like to give some examples of why.

India is a country of about 1 billion people, with only about 10% of those people being Muslims.  I first traveled there 5 years ago.  In Delhi, my girlfriend and I used the services of a tuk-tuk driver named Rajeev (Rajiv?). Rajeev was a Muslim who drove us around Delhi for a few days, showing us some of the sites that we might not have found by ourselves.  He was a very enthusiastic and outgoing man, and we liked him quite a bit.  On our last night in Delhi, Rajeev took us to his home for dinner.  The home was very modest, just a concrete hut with a concrete floor and barely any furniture.  We sat on the cold floor and played Super Mario Brothers with his kids on an original Nintendo system hooked up to an old TV.  His wife made dinner for us, which we ate on the floor.  This was not a rich man.  So what did he do next?  He took us to a tailor near his home, who made some clothes for us.  Rajeev paid for them and gave them to us as a gift.  Not only did he invite us, non-Muslim people who make many times more money than he does, into his home for dinner, he also bought us a present after!  It was pretty mind-boggling.

Now, you might think Rajeev was just an unusual case, and would be unwilling to change your opinion of Muslims.  So I'll write another story.  We were in India again last week.  There we met a Muslim man named Omar (I've changed his name for reasons that I'll keep unspecified).  Omar was a fairly wealthy man by Indian standards.  He insisted that we join him and his family for dinner.  He actually invited us to eat lunch and dinner there every day for the rest of our trip, but that felt too uncomfortable for us.  We decided to go for one dinner, and the date we settled on just happened to be his birthday.  We thought of bringing a bottle of wine or something for a present, but because he was a Muslim, thought that would be pretty inappropriate.  So regrettably, we went empty-handed.  Omar picked us up at our hotel.  When we arrived at his house, we were greeted by a much larger group than we thought we would see.  It wasn't just his immediate family that was over for dinner, it was a large part of his extended family, both adults and children.  They greeted us and treated us like guests of honour, even though we were not the ones having the birthday.  Omar's wife took my girlfriend upstairs and dressed her in an Indian saree, the traditional Indian dress for a woman.  We were given prime spots at the dinner table, and fed well.  When the cake came out, which was not a birthday cake and seemed to have been bought for us, they insisted that we make the first cut and take the first piece, a right that we usually reserve for the birthday boy.  After dinner, we were asked about our religious beliefs.  We told them that we were atheists, and they smiled and said it was OK.  It didn't affect their attitude towards us at all.  When it was time to leave, my girlfriend asked about taking off the saree, but Omar told her it was a gift, bought especially for her visit, and it was for her to keep.  Yet again, an Islamic family that makes much less money than we do invited us non-Muslims into their home for dinner, treated us like the guests of honour, fed us and bought us a present, despite us not being the ones celebrating the birthday.  Even the fact that we were infidels did not stop them.  We took photos with the family, and were given the front-centre place in the group.  We were then taken to meet Omar's friends and family nearby, where we were again treated like royalty.  I'll stop now, because you probably get the idea already.

In my view, the Muslim culture (whatever that might mean) has a level of hospitality that is not matched in Western culture.  What do you think?  Do we just have extremely good luck?  Is it a coincidence that the best we've ever been treated by strangers was by two Muslim families?  Does this change your opinion of this group of people at all? I'd be interested in your comments.