Monday, February 27, 2012

A Better Life book needs your support

I've just been made aware of a worthwhile project that could use some support from you.  Are you familiar with Kickstarter?  It's a website that allows individuals to seek funding for projects that they'd like to work on.  An award-winning photographer and filmmaker in New York, Chris Johnson, is behind the project.  He intends for the book to be a coffee table photo book about atheists, some known and some unknown, and what gives meaning and happiness to their lives.

The list of already confirmed personalities for the book is impressive, and is still growing.  Check it out:

  • Derren Brown, illusionist/mentalist
  • PZ Myers, evolutionary biologist/blogger
  • Dr. Daniel Dennett, philosopher/cognitive scientist
  • Dr. Lawrence M. Krauss, theoretical physicist/author
  • Matt Dillahunty, host of The Atheist Experience
  • Dr. Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic Magazine/author
  • Rebecca Watson, blogger/speaker
  • Matthew Chapman, film director/writer
  • Julia Sweeney, comedian
  • Dr. Steven Novella, neurologist
  • Greta Christina, blogger/speaker
  • Chris Mooney, host of Point of Inquiry/author
  • Dr. Patricia Churchland, neurophilosopher
  • Dr. Carolyn Porco, planetary scientist
  • D.J. Grothe, president, JREF
  • Beth Presswood & Lynnea Glasser, Godless Bitches podcast
  • David Silverman, president, American Atheists
  • Dr. Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist/author
  • Hemant Mehta, blogger
  • Brian Dunning, host, Skeptoid podcast
  • Jessica Ahlquist, First Amendment hero
  • Roy Speckhardtexecutive director, American Humanist Association
The project goal is $95,000.  The way Kickstarter works, if the pledged funding does not reach that level, then all donations are cancelled and you will never be charged.  The project is only funded if the goal is reached.

Donations come with benefits, also.  US$25 gets you a PDF copy of the book.  $50 gets you a hardcover copy and the PDF.  $100 gets your name mentioned in the book as a supporter, plus the hardcover copy, plus the PDF copy.  And so on.  A donation of $2,500 gets you or a person you nominate featured in the book yourself (assuming you're an atheist and not a religious person who is backing the book for some reason).

Click here to visit the website and make your donation!

Chris has also embedded a video on the site that makes it amply clear why such a project is necessary.  This is just terrible:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is the burden of proof?

I just received the following 2 comments on another post:

Please define "burden of proof"

I am not the same guy that was writing earlier but abmin it is very obvious you do not know the definition. Prove to me simply that athiesm is in any part verifiable in history or can be proved without ANY doubt that it is even logical thinking. 

The first one is easy enough, but the second one is fightin' words.  Why exactly did this guy think it's "very obvious" that I don't know the definition?  Is it because it took me nearly 4 hours after the first comment was posted to post this response?

Anyway, the burden of proof can be loosely defined as the expectation that the person asserting a positive claim must provide some evidence to back up his statement.  Examples of positive claims include the existence of entities, a legal accusation, the occurrence of a historical event, etc.

I also think the writer of the second comment is not being honest with himself.  He knows how the burden of proof is applied in most aspects in life, and is probably grateful for it being set up the way it us, but he makes different rules when it comes to burden of proof of religious claims, almost definitely only for those of his own religion.  More on that moron (it's a homophone) later.

Let's get to some clear examples.

1.  Claim of existence:  Two little children are playing in a sandbox, without a care in the world.  They're only concentrating on the sand and having fun with it.  Suddenly one child says, "There's a monster buried in the sand."  So the second child (correctly) says, "I don't believe you.  Prove it."  The first child then says, "You can't prove that there isn't!  Prove to me that any part of amonsterism is in any part verifiable in history or can be proved without ANY doubt that it is even logical thinking!"  Who is correct in this case?  Is the first child correct in his assertion that if the second child can't prove the monster doesn't exist, then it should be assumed that it does exist?  Or does the first child have the responsibility to provide back-up for his claim?

2.  Legal accusation:  A person has been accused of breaking and entering.  He enters the courtroom and the judge says, "Can you prove that you didn't do this?"  The accused replies, "No, I can't prove it."  The judge then gives his verdict, "As the accused cannot prove he was not involved in this crime, the court finds him guilty."  In the legal system of the civilised world, we have what is commonly referred to as "innocent until proven guilty".  It means that the burden of evidence is on the prosecutor, the one making the accusation, to prove the guilt of the accused.  If the prosecutor were to merely say, "I think his guilt is self-evident.", then the defence would not be required to present any evidence at all, the verdict would be not-guilty.  I do in fact know a person who was accused of a killing that he did not commit.  The prosecution was unable to prove its case and the verdict was not-guilty.  I am very grateful that the system is designed the way it is, with the burden of proof on the prosecution.  If it was the other way around, well, that's how you end up with witch trials, in which it is the responsibility of the accused to prove their innocence.  I think that the writer of the second comment would also be grateful for this system if he was accused.  If he was accused and we had a "guilty until proven innocent" system, he'd be screaming about how the accuser has the burden of proof and that this isn't fair.

3.  Occurrence of a historical event:  A historian comes forward with the claim that in 1297, Spain invaded England.  Other historians look at their records and cannot find any evidence to support such a claim.  They ask the historian who made the claim why he thinks so, and to provide evidence for it.  The first historian then says that it's up to the others to show that it didn't happen, or we should assume that it did.  He may also say, "Prove to me that any part of aspaininvadeenglandism is in any part verifiable in history or can be proved without ANY doubt that it is even logical thinking!"

This is the burden of proof.  In the case of theist claims, which most closely resembles case #1 above, a group of people is claiming that there exists an entity.  They cannot even begin to demonstrate that it really exists, so some of us decide that we do not believe them and continue to live our lives without this belief.  There is a less-than-intelligent fucktard on YouTube, who I suspect our second commenter is a fan of, who has attempted to turn this burden of proof upside-down in matters of religion.  His line is, "Prove to me that atheism is true and accurate."  I believe theists know what the burden of proof is, they know how it works in other aspects of their lives, such as in cases #2 and #3, but their attempt to reverse it is an act of desperation.  They're desperate because they cannot, try as they might for many thousands of years, provide any evidence that they're even on the right track.

For the Wikipedia article on the burden of proof, click here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A strange spin on the story of Jesus

I found this story online, which when I first saw it seemed ridiculous and I was mocking it.  It's about a small town in northern Japan that claims it is the location of Jesus' grave.  The story goes that he was not crucified, but rather his brother was.  He then carried some of his brother's remains on the long journey to Japan, where he married a local and had children.  There he died at 106 years old.  He and his brother are now buried in the town.  Check it out here.
But after thinking about it for a while, I realise that it is actually far more plausible than the classic story of Jesus, for the simple reason that it doesn't include a dead person coming back to life and flying to a magical place in the sky.  We know travel across continents was possible, so I suppose it's a question of ,"Why not?"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Religion; making people kill their own family members since its beginning

This article requires no comment from me.  Here are some selected portions:

A 40-year-old mother of two was burned alive in central Nepal after she was accused of being a witch, police said Saturday.

Dhegani Mahato was attacked and set on fire by family members and others after a shaman allegedly accused her of casting a spell to make one of her relatives sick, Police Officer Hira Mani Baral said.


She was beaten with sticks and rocks before being doused with kerosene and set afire, an attack witnessed by her 9-year-old daughter, according to the local police report.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Our child is too young to think!

In a case just ruled on by the Supreme Court in Canada, students in one province do not have the right to opt-out of a mandatory course in ethics and world religions.  My understanding is that the course does not push one religion over another, but is meant to introduce the children to the world's major faiths.  I strongly believe this is a valid social science.  Religion is such a major force behind politics and relations between people and countries, that we would be doing a disservice to students to ignore it completely in their education.  Understanding the various religions should increase understanding of current events and the world around us.  If you've been reading my site for a while, you might even recall that my own de-conversion from Roman Catholicism was finalised by a mandatory course in world religions at my high school.  See here for that post.

Anyway, the parents of some students didn't like the course, and wanted their children to be opted-out.  It managed to make it to the Supreme Court, and the court ruled that all students must take it.  You can read the full article here, but some excerpts are below, including one gem of a comment from one of the parents.  The article quotes are in blue, my comments are in black.

"The Drummondville, Que. couple in the case believe the course curriculum interferes with their ability to pass on their faith to their children, and violates their freedom of religion."

That's right, because your rights to freedom of religion include never having to hear about any other religion, correct.

"Parents Morse-Chevrier works with will start gathering evidence that the course harms their children, in the hopes they can pursue legal action again at a future time, he said."

Yes, the harm that learning about the world does!  Won't somebody please think of the children?!

"My son is in fourth grade and he already asks questions about his own religion and I find it sad that it's happening at such a young age,"

You stupid fucking bitch!  How dare you tell your son when he can start to think for himself and to ask questions!  So you're upset that your little fucking experiment in controlling your son's mind is not working?  You're upset that he has shown an ability to think, to ask questions about something he doesn't understand?  You want him to just accept it on faith from the pastor/rabbi/imam/shaman/whatever, like you did?  What are you going to do now that you've lost in the Supreme Court, punish him for thinking?  Are you going to try to deny him knowledge of the world around him?  You are a terrible, terrible parent!  And evidently your religion is so flimsy and weak that it cannot even stand up to the scrutiny of a 10 year old!  If it could, you'd have no problem answering the questions to show him how it is correct!  Only religious people consider thinking to be harmful.

"She and her supporters say the course trivializes faith by treating students to a religious buffet."

Note that this comment is from the same person who made the previous monstrous one.  Right.  One way faith remains strong is for the people who practice it to remain ignorant about their other options, to deny that there are in fact any other options.  You are trying to deny those options to your child!  This is not a trivialising of your faith, it's education about the world for your son, bitch!

In short, these parents suck.