Friday, 31 August 2007

"Ex-Gay" Fundamentalist Comic

Just discovered The "Truth" For Youth comics that promote Biblical Fundamentalism. One of these comics was a dumb "ex-gay" promoting one, where some guy claims to have "left homosexuality"(whatever that means) 30 years ago. It has strawman gays, as per usual. When I saw this, I just couldn't resist making a parody of it. (Probably any of them are asking to be mocked--they look about as smart(and as realistic) as Jack T. Chick's comics.)
My advice is read the original first. The plot in my version's kinda similar, I just messed with the wording to make it more realistic ;). Click the links to open them bigger. All original images copyright of course.

Enjoy! PS. apologies that the text size is so shitty. Blame the original writers.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

I Went Cruising In D.C. And All I Picked Up Was This Lousy Republican Senator!

Okay, update on the Republican scene: Sen. Craig been caught up to not very "family-values" activities, looking for gay sex in bathroom stalls.

I guess what I really want to know is: just how many of the Republican Party are secretly in the Log Cabin, so to speak?

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Dawkins' God by Alister McGrath: A Critical Look

This essay is a critical look at the ideas of Alister McGrath, who argues against some of Richard Dawkins' ideas. I will deal with the arguments that he uses agaisnt RD.

Chapter Two: The Blind Watchmaker

McGrath portrays Dawkins' ideas as being:
--Darwinism is necassarily atheistic
--Darwinism is the only way to explain the world because as God and other explanations(like Lamarckism) fail as explanatory principles. [Dawkins' reasoning goes along these lines: It either came about by "creation" or it came about by some form of "evolution". The mind first view(the creator) explains nothing, because it leaves us with the bigger problem of who created the craetor. Thus, we end up in an infinite regress of gods if we do not postulate some way of getting complexity from non-complexity, hence evolution.(see Dennett 1995;Dawkins 2006)]

McGrath has three objections to Dawkins' positions:
1. The Scientific method is incapable of proving or disproving God's existence. Science only deals with naturalistic explanations. If we are to answer the question of whether God exists, we cannot decide by science.
2. Just because God need not be invoked in the explanatory process of evolution doesn't mean he doesn't exist.
3. The "God as watchmaker" idea is an outdated view of God's creation and not typical of the Christian tradition.

Objection One
Dawkins would agree that one cannot prove/disprove the existence of God. But that does not mean that we cannot say anything about God by using science. If one wanted to be philosophical, one could argue that "we can't prove anything", or that we haven't proved any of our scientific theories correct, only that they are not false based on the evidence. As I argued in my article "Propositions and The Existence of God" the God Hypothesis makes predictions about reality, and thus can be tested using science. Withdrawing it form rational enquiry effectively makes God a meaningless idea. Thus, science can comment on the supernatural.
McGrath cites an example where 2 theores in science are equal, and we don't know which one is correct, but people decide which one is right. Firstly, they don't dogmatically assert which one is right, and the evidence will eventually be king when it comes in. Secondly, scientifically, theism and athiesm are not on the same footing; atheism is more parsimonious. It fits with more facts(eg. problem of evil, callousness of the universe, etc) and is less ad hoc than theism. If one is an atheist, a lot of facts are already explained.
Also, what other grounds are there to decide other than science? Personal experience? But we know people's personal experiences can contradict science. People can appear to percieve ESP or spirits even though there's no evidence those things are real.

Objection Two
If we don't need to invoke God as an explanatory principle for anything, and we have no evidence for his existence, it's pretty likely he doesn't exist. It is again, more parsimonius to postuate atheism.

Objection Three
I think that Mr McGrath has failed to note the millions of Christians who do believe in a creator who craeted the world instantaneously in 6 days. Besides, The Blind Watchmaker book is about evolution, at least for the most part. Most bits have very little to do with god(eg. his chapter on Steve Jay Gould's punctuated equilibria.)

Chapter Three: Proof And Faith

--Dawkins defines faith as belief without evidence.
--McGrath doesn't agree with this definition, and says that faith is based on the evidence, and cites and metions Christian Theologians to make his points.

The problem with this is that if faith was based on evidence, it would be called knowledge! McGrath doesn't even try to argue that belief in God is based on evidence. I mean, this is the point where you would expect the typical theistic arguments to come out, eg. Argument from Design or Anthropic Coinicidences, Dembski's Information Theory, Moral Arguments, Arguement from Beauty etc etc. And he makes none of these! I was a little surprised at that, because he has made the assertion that belief in God is based on evidence, without attempting to present any evidence.
Another problem with his arguments is that he does what he accuses Dawkins of doing in Chapter 2: picking a group unreperaentaive of Christians. Christian Theologians, in general, only speak to intelligent, well educated, moderate[in Biblical interpretation] Christians. They do not encompass the views of eg. your average Bible Belt fundamentalist.

--God could have designed the universe to be self sustaining.

I'll just hand over to the master Sam Harris on this point: "The fact that a bowdlerized evangelical Christianity can still be rendered compatible with science (because of the gaps in science and the elasticity of religious thinking) does not mean that there are scientific reasons for being an evangelical Christian."

--God doesn't need to be explained as he could just be a brute fact.

Occam's Razor. If God supposedly just exists, why can't the universe/multiverse/matter/energy just exist?

--Dawkins' atheism is overconfident and too brashly concluded, and he is too ferocious in promoting atheism.

So it isn't reasonable to believe that God doesn't exist becaus ethere's no evidence for it? Dawkins would change his mind if you gave him evidence(unlike a lot of believers.) And as for Dawkins promoting atheism, that's just the pot telling the kettle it's black. Yes, Dawkins promotes atheism as a rational worldview. But it often seems like if any atheist says "I don't believe in your delusions." they are a "militant atheist", which is just rubbish.

--RD doesn't know anything about Christian theology, so he shouldn't talk about it so rashly and openly.

Christian theology is not the same thing as the God Question. One can have read quite a lot on the existence of God and know jack all about Christian theology and its history(ie. Me.)

--radical theory change in science, one day the scientific ideas we believe to be true may turn out not to be so.

True. But variation, selection, reproduction = evolution.

--Dawkins is wrong to call religion a source of human misery. Athough religious people do evil, they also do good.
--Science has been used to research bombs and other ethically dubious things. Dawkins would say this is an abuse of science, so why can't evils commited in religion's name be abuses of religion?

Is it immoral to know how to manufacture a bomb? Technically, if you gave me the right equipment and chemicals, I could make TNT. It's immoral to drop a bomb(in most circumstances at least) but that's a different question.
Evils commited in the name of religion aren't abuses in the name of religion, because most of them are imbedded in the tenets of religion. eg. Islam says it is for the glory of Allah to kill unbelievers. How can it be an abuse of religion to follow this command? Jesus says you can cure people by exorcising demons. How can it be an abuse of religion to do this? Judaism says its just dandy to mutilate your kid's genitals. How is it an abuse of religion to do this? Immorality has nothing to do with the tenets of science, which is/should be (ethical as in not involving human rights abuses)research.

--"Stalin was an atheist"

Yeh, so? The Communists had dogma of their own.

Chaper Four: Cultural Darwinism

--Memetics is the theory of a cultural replicator that ispassed on by imitation.
--McGrath has some objectiosn to the theory of memetics:
1. There is nor reason to assume that cultural evolution is Darwinian, or that evolution has anything to do with culture. There is telelogy in memetics and some of it is Lamarckian.
2. There is no direct evidence for the existence of memes
3. the analogy between the meme and the gene is flawed
4. The meme is not needed as an explanatory hypothesis.

Objection One
There are some reasons to suggest a memetic view of culture. Blackmore's The Meme Machine has some interesting information on memetics, and some suggestions as to why it is a useful concept. It does explain some things not accounted for on other views, like a purely sociobiological one.(eg why do we have big brains? Why do we do so many things our genes "dislike" eg. Birth Control? Why is it so hard for us to stop thinking? Why do we talk constantly? etc)
Admittedly there is some telelogy in cultural evolution. But is this really any different from human breeders selecting the features that they like in an animal and breeding for it, ie "artificial selection"? Artifical selection doesn't invalidate evolution.
As for the Lamarckian charge, yes some cultural evolution could be described as Lamarckian or "copy-the-product". But this doesn't really matter, because the real idea behind the meme is that of a replicator. How that replicator does it is not relevant to whether memetics is valid.

Objection Two
Admittedly we don't know how memes are stored in the brain. But Darwin never knew how heredity worked, as he never read the works of Mendel. We someday may know where memes are stored. The evidence is not in on this one.
Besides, cultural replication by imitation exists. Thus memes exist.

Objection Three
There is no real problem of a false analogy. The idea is the idea of a replicator. It does not have to be a replicator analogous to the gene in every single way. In fact, everything else could be different. Provided memes are replicators, the analogy is fair.

Objection Four
As I mentioned above, Blackmore's book has some interseting work on how memetics explains things better than rival theories appear to.

Also, at one point, McGrath suggests that atheism and theism are both memes and thus both equally valid. This isn't nesacarily true. Athesim nor theism have to be memes. Memes are spread by imitation. I did not become an atheist by imitating other atheists, thus my athiesm is not a meme. The same could occur for theism. Religion is a meme, but "theism" merely most likely is. Of course, them both being memes doesn't put them both on the same footing. "The Earth is billions of years old" and "The Earth is 6,000 years old" are both memes that are obviously not equally valid.

Chapter Five: Science And Religion

--RD says Religion is a medieval and uninspiring way of looking at the universe, wheras science is a wonderful way of looking at everything.
--McGrath disagrees because he believs that religion can inspire awe and reverence of nature and creation.

This criteria is fairly subjective. Being as it is mainly aesthetics, it is down somewhat to opinion what a view inspires. I do agree with Dawkins somewhat on this point, because "because God" is not an inspiring answer to anything at all, wheras science is an interesting journey of discovery about the universe we live in. I don't believe I have grounds to say that my aesthetic opinion is "right" or better than anybody else's however.

I'm done with this. This does not critique every position put forward in Dawkins' God, just the main points. There were some things about this book that irritated me:
--It has some comments I would consider unnecassary that lowered the tone eg "Now perhaps Dawkins is too busy writing books agaisnt religion to allow him time to read works of religion."(pg.99) merely beacuse Dawkins isn't particularly well versed in the history of theology. I thought this comment was uncomfortably snarky. [yes, I know the "New Atheists" make snarky remarks, but they are usually aimed at people who deserve it and they are actually funny ;)] Also, he constantly uses words like "polemical", "rhetoric" to describe some of Dawkins' work. I just found it annoying, because Dawkins' work isn't rhetoric.
--A lot of his comments are hypocritical. He goes on about evidence based reasoning, and how great he thinks it is, but presents no evidence for God's Existence. He also says how Dawkins' arguments lead only to agnosticism. Fine, if you think that, but then why are you a Christian Theist? It's perhaps a reasonable comment for an agnostic to make, but he's a thesit.

I read this stuff so you don't have to, folks. :)

Works Referenced/mentioned:
McGrath, Alister. Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes and The Meaning Of Life, Blackwell Publishing 2005.(obviously!)
Blackmore, Susan. The Meme Machine, Oxford University Press 1999.
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion, Bantam Press 2006.
Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin Press 1986.
Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Penguin Press 1995.

Sam Harris quotation comes from this address:

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The Rights Of Children, Or Why Christian Science Is Immoral

Christian Science is a strange sect of Christianity that foregoes all medical intervention, relying instead on faith to cure illnesses. Many children have been harmed by this, as parents have refused to give their children treatment, and this has often led to death or disability. CHILD, Inc., a charity to combat this element of Christian Science(and other neglect), has examples on its website of harms done by the religion.

Obviously, attempting to heal your children with "faith healing" is wrong. For a start, there is no evidence to suggest that faith healing works at a level better than chance or placebo effect. One would think if it was effective we would use it is medicine, for a start.
Secondly, the people are responsible for their children. They are their guardians, and are supposed to do what is in their child's best interests. Obviously, this would be taking them to hospital when required.
Thirdly, the child is not rational enough to decide what its religious beliefs are. Forcing a religious belief on a child by making that decision for them is wrong.

If an adult decides to snub medicine in favour of faith, that's their decision. It may be an idiotic decision, but it is up to them. But people should never do these kinds of things to their children. It truly is one of the worst sins of omission.

A Plea For Support

Hello, and FSM Bless you loyal readers of the Passionate Skeptic. I have recently decided that I am going to spread the wonderful Atheist Word among the uneducated in places like Texas and the Vatican. This will involve passing out athest tracts and preaching the wonderful Theory of Evolution. For this, I am going to need your continued support. I, and the New Atheists, would greatly appreciate it if you could send all that you can afford to support our wonderful cause.

Much love,

The Passionate Skeptic.

(Did it work?)

Monday, 20 August 2007

Richard Cohen's "Alfie's Home"

Richard Cohen is an ex-gay leader, and he has some very strange ideas, to say the least. He believes that homosexuality can be cured by smashing stuff with tennis rackets and "remembering" suppressed childhood abuse. Well, one time, this guy wrote a book...a book for children. <--are the rather creepy pictures. It is illustrated as if for very young children, people around the age of 5 or so. But the themes are totally, totally inappropriate. It discusses child molestation, ex-gay therapy and even contains the word "faggot." Definitely NOT suitable for any child. What sort of 5-year old thinks about their sexual orientation anyway?

[originally saw this linked on Box Turtle Bulletin--hat tip]

Sunday, 19 August 2007

The "Homosexual Agenda" Isn't Destroying Anything...Except For The Republican Party!

[Note: A little late doing this, but still...]

Seriously, what is it with closeted Republicans? I mean, Bob Allen and then this case, Reps are outdoing everyone else at hypocrisy. (Again.) I mean, maybe people were beginning to forget about Haggard... Not to mention the non-homosexuality related scandals recently(David Vitter).

I suggest that the poor old GOP has been infiltrated by the "Homosexual Agenda" operation. These men who have recently fallen off the GOP perch are some of the infiltrators. It was all a plan to make the GOP look bad. Maybe. :)

Friday, 17 August 2007

The Authoritarians

I stumbled across this online book entitled The Authoritarians the other day. I read it, and found to be a very interesting read. Here's where to find it if you haven't already seen it. It discusses some very interested research on the group known as Right Wing Authoritarians(high RWAs) and why they think the way that they do. High RWAs are likely to be submissive to traditional authority(eg government, churches), and want everyone to live in the same way that they do. These people are politically conservative in the United States.
These people are very likely to have poor reasoning faculties, discard reasoning if they agree with the conclusion, discard ulterior motive if they agree with the conclusion, have double standards, be hypocritical, hold contradictory beliefs without realising it, be self-righteous, blame the victim rather than authority, be aggressive to out groups especially if an authority they trust says they should be eliminated, and be more fearful than average.
High RWAs are very likely to be religious fundamentalists so if you're interested in insight into the fundamentalist mindset this is definitely worth a look.

It also contains information on the Social Dominance Scale, which defines how much power people want to have(often just for the sake of power). Although there is often not much crossover between high RWAs and high social dominance(as most high RWAs want to be led, not lead) there is a crossover of about 5-10%. People high on the social dominance scale manipulate people, have very few scruples, will break the law if they think they can get away with it, lack empathy and are prejudiced and bigoted.
People who score highly on both scales are the most bigoted of all and they actually believe their own rhetoric. A lot of these people appear to be in the Republican party.

That's an incredibly brief summary of the kinds of things discussed in The Authoritarians. Studies on these people are discussed in detail within, as well as more examples and explanations of their behaviour. If it sounds like something you'd be interested in, take a look!

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Chick Dissection: Who Cares?

Being as Jabberwock and now Jr. dissect Chick Tracts, I decided that I would try doing one, just for fun. I decided to mock a tract about some Muslims living somewhere in what looks like the South after 9/11. It's called Who Cares? and the front cover just gives the complete wrong idea.

Link: All images copyright Jack T. Chick 2002.

They're in the middle of nowhere? Two tower looking things...floating in mid-air? What's up with that? And where the hell is the rest of the damned skyline? From the looks of it the plane has a laser beam, but for some reason it fired it behind the two levitating tower-looking things. With laser destructive power, why fly the plane into the building?

Yeh, WHO CARES? Who cares that people flew some damn planes into some buildings? Them buildings just totally wrecked the fabulous view ANYWAY!

I dunno, the smoke in this panel just doesn't look that convincing. Why the hell do the towers look 2D? LIVE on Completely Nondescript News Network, smoke comes down to engulf some middle-of-nowhere blocks!

"What happens if they're Muslims? The kind of people that read these tracts will all hate us as they think all Muslims are the same!"

What the hell sort of an angle is that meant to be? The smoke has a voice. OBEY THE SMOKE. "I'm afraid of what will happen, because some of those Christian fundamentalist types think Muslim equals terrorist!"

Who is that on the television? Is it meant to be God with a really big beard or something? In that case, God, I'm not so keen on the new look. I preferred faceless God.
She goes from creepily wide eyed to creepily slitty-eyed in the space of just one panel. Good work, Chick.
Hang on...I've just realised he's a grown man with a job still living with his mother. Why is that?

"He's one of them thar Muzzies, maw!" "Shame on you, you terror-lovin' towelhead!" [/redneckdeepsouthfundie]

His mother is obviously psychic who saw the potential evils in a vision from Allah or something. Either that, or the plot's a bit too convenient. And beating him up in a shop just seems like a bad idea. Shops...have CCTV cameras. Morons.
"Batteries"? Why batteries?...odd. Maybe it's a joke: the guy needs batteries and there's been a crime that could be described as assault and battery...haw haw. You're just too clever, Jack. And his speech is so contrived here. "I've got to get some batteries...look, JUST AS I SAY THAT a place where I can buy them comes into view!" Maybe he has the psychic power of Allah as well...
Remember kids, it's bad to beat up Muslims, but it's alright to beat up homos a la that homo in Wounded Children.
[soapbox] I assume the people who beat him up are meant to be villains. Well, the thing is the fundamentalists are opposing the Matthew Shepard Act/H.R. 1592 because it supposedly "takes away their right to beliefs and values".[/soapbox]

Why the hell did he pick him up and try to help him there? Surely, anyone with any kind of sense would, y'know, call an ambulance or something.
Ah, this guy definitely has the psychic power of Allah! He can tell which people are infidels just by looking at them! ALLAH AHKBAR!!
"Real Christians wouldn't let the Jews get away with corrupting society and the Aryan race!" said Adolf Hitler. Sorry. but he does look a bit like Hitler.

Cos obviously no Muslims ever have compassion or anything. "A true prophet cannot LIE." I see where this is going. "And Jesus said he was God and he cannot lie. Haw haw. I win."

The guy nearly died, and now he's being driven somewhere happy as larry? Wouldn't he stay in hospital for a while first? Gah.
Cos Muslims address people by their full names. EVERYONE knows that.

You know what the Modern Version of The Good Samaritan parable would look like, fundie types? It would look like this:

One day, a poor young man was beaten by some thugs and left for dead somewhere. Pat Robertson walks by, thinking, "I could help him, but nah, I gotta get to the studio to do the 700 Club." A while later, Jim Dobson walks by, deciding, " I'm not gonna help this young man. I got America's family values to reclaim!" Next, a hated gay activist and atheist walks past and decides to call an ambulance to get this poor man to hospital, and remains by his bedside until he regains consciousness.

And yet Chick appears to believe that if you commit a murder but repent, you get to heaven, but if you dedicate your lives to helping poor people in Africa but don't accept Christ you get an eternity in hell, a la Flight 144.

Dude, this guy is setting up a false dichotomy. Either Jesus lied about being God, in which case Islam is false as it says prophets don't lie, or Jesus was telling the truth and Islam is thus false. Cos people attributing words to him that he never said is impossible.

"Might believe ON him?" The blond guy looks a bit like he's thinking, "I couldn't see before but now I can see you, YOU'RE HOT!"

And he got ready to suck the other guy off by getting down on his knees.
"God(Not Allah)" My skyfairy is better than your skyfairy!!

"God's Love Gift" sounds a little creepy to say the least. God's into sadomasochism, ain't he?
"He doesn't, Omar. But I do." *Censored panel with kissing scene*

How does rising from the dead prove you are God? Are people who are resuscitated using CPR also God?

What's with the silhouettes? They are just totally random and contribute nothing to the plotline at all.
My paradise is better than your paradise! I dunno about that claim really. Islam's paradise at least has some sex going on, 72 virgins and all that.
HIS HEAD IS SQUARE! It's like they crossed Hitler with Kryten from Red Dwarf or something...
The "Allah doesn't care about any Muslim" bit implies that Allah is real, just that he couldn't give a crap.
Despite the fact the fundie provided absolutely no evidence for his beliefs, the guy went ahead and believed anyway. Like you do.
He went home and told him mother he'd become a Christian. Then she went wide-eyed like in the first panel.

BibleGod didn't show you what he thought of Islam. Last time I checked the Bible was written BEFORE the Qu'ran. Not unless Chick has some serious delusions of grandeur, and thinks he's God or something.
Read your Bible (KJV) --Because ALL other versions are translated by sodomites!!! Wait a minute...

There you have it, folks. How to use 9/11 as a plot device.

Monday, 13 August 2007

And The Catholic Church Calls ME Tendency Towards Moral Evil?

Just seen this article about the Catholic Church opposing Amnesty International because, horror of horrors, they support rape victims having access to abortions. As we all know, The Catholic Church is a fountain of intolerance. It cares NOTHING for people; all it cares about is its doctrine. What does the Church give a shit if women are ostracised from their communities because of a rape pregnancy? "Doesn't affect me, in my damn ivory tower, does it?" Why should the Church give a damn if millions of people die of HIV/AIDS due to their point of view on condoms? "It's what God wants, after all!" Cos I'm totally sure that a compassionate God hates homosexuals and wants people to die unnecessarily.

The Catholic Church is the one that is suffering from a lack of morality, not Amnesty International, who should continue to stand up against these abhorrent men of "holiness".

Hate Speech Is Not The Same As Hate Violence

For some strange reason, fundamentalist Christians often seem to think that they are one and the same thing. Yep, the fundies are still whinging about this bill known as HR1592 or the Matthew Shepard Act/Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act 2007, which passed the House early in May.

OneNewsNow has this article about the act. Steve Cohen(D-Tennessee) rightly pointed out that the bill has nothing to do with speech and that the Religious Right was distorting the bill by claiming it affects their right to free speech. The fundies got on their soapbox by saying that:

"But Congressman Tim Walberg (R-Michigan) says the bill does indeed threaten the First Amendment rights of pastors and churches.
"He [Cohen] said it was a lie -- when, in fact, if you read the legislation it doesn't go any further than what we have presently in place as far as actual murders and mayhem and assaults; but it moves into the thought police side in saying you can't talk about beliefs and values that you've long held. The fact of the matter is that if you do, we may indeed be able to pull you in as an incentive to hate violence. That's a chilling effect," says Walberg."

This claim from the Right is just plain false. The bill covers violence, not speech. Anyone who actually reads the text of the bill would find that damn obvious. Besides, the Bill cannot overturn the First Amendment anyway, and if it genuinely did conflict with the first amendment, it wouldn't be allowed to be made law.

Although hate speech can often help to lead to hate violence by creating an intolerant environment, it is quite clearly not the same thing, and people shouldn't be punished for their views and should have the right to express those views. Hate violence, on the other hand is quite clearly unacceptable.

These fundamentalists should learn that you can object to someone's opinion without wanting to beat them up.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Football Season 07/08 - First Weekend

Another one of my interests is the English football season(soccer to Americans out there...). So, even though it has nothing to do with skepticism, I'm going to sporadically update this blog with football stuff. Feel free to skip :).
First of all, personal reporting bias. I am a supporter of Birmingham City, my second team is West Bromwich Albion. I also like Walsall. Thus, I don't like either Aston Villa or Wolverhampton Wanderers. I also don't like West Ham United. Or Portsmouth.

Our result today was: Chelsea 3-2 Birmingham City
Chelsea: Pizarro, Malouda, Essien
Birmingham: Forssell, Kapo

First of all, we gave Chelsea a damn good game today. We did not look like a bad side at all. The defence, however, needs to work on its game. Shaun Wright-Phillips teared us to shreds down the wing, we definetly needed to mark him better. We marked him a little better as the game went on, but there were still moments where he got in behind us. Then again, Chelsea's defense wasn't exactly brilliant at times either--they failed to pick up Forssell for the first goal. The midfield got stuck in and battled very hard and I'm pleased with the effort from the team. Forssell came back and looked sharp although we needed to get the ball into his feet more. Some of the passing from people like Larsson was a little lax and we didn't get enough good crosses into the box. Kapo looked like he has got some skill and will turn out to be a good signing--the goal from him was an absolute belter! McSheffery, however, was hardly in the game, he's a great player but today was anonymous. Two of the goals we conceded could also have been saved by the goalkeeper Doyle--he needs to try and do as well as he did last season when he played very well.
Although we lost, it was to one of the best teams in the league, and there were more positives in the game itself than negatives.

Other Results Of Interest To Me This Week

Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool
Burnley 2-1 West Bromwich Albion
Wolverhampton 1-2 Watford
Walsall 1-1 Carlisle

"Militant" Atheists

Recently, on Richard Dawkins' website, there have been a lot of articles posted(as it is a fairly balanced website that posts different points of view) arguing for the idea that the current crop of atheist writers are "militant" and encouraging an vehemently anti-religion point of view, as well as promoting and overly dogmatic view of certainty. Here are a few examples of this kind of thing: One, Two.

This criticism of the "New Atheists" as vehement and nasty is ridiculous. I have read Dawkins' The God Delusion, Harris' The End Of Faith and Letter To A Christian Nation, Hitchens' God Is Not Great, and Dennett's Breaking The Spell. I guess if you wanted to define "militant" as "feels strongly about something" you could make Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris look militant. But the word "militant" implies a much more aggressive, hateful attitude, possibly involving inciting violence against people. The "New Atheists" do no such thing. Dennett actually bends over backwards to be fair to religion, and its point of view is philosophical, rather than arguing against the existence of God or arguing from a political/religious harm standpoint. Hitchens' book is fairly confrontational, but that is not the same as being militant.

So why do the religious keep bringing up this point? Bear in mind it's not just the fundamentalists that make this kind of arguments(who often believe that they are being "persecuted" because gays can get married in Massachusetts) but also more liberal religious people. It may be down to the fact that religion appears to have gone uncriticised in the public sphere for so long and it has got used to its position as untouchable. I don't know what these people want the "New Atheists" to say. "Excuse me...but I think...that your god possibly isn't real, maybe?"

And to criticise the dogmatism of the New Atheists is even stupider. This is a simple case of projecting onto the opposition what one does yourself--in this case certainty on whether God exists. Based on the evidence we have(and don't have that we would expect if God existed), atheism is the most reliable current position. Dawkins specifically says his argument doesn't disprove God, only makes him incredibly unlikely. Hitchens' book deals more with the atrocities of religion, although he does make some arguments against the existence of God by criticising eg. the argument from design. Harris' books are based on current affairs as well as arguing for atheism. So they are anything but dogmatic, and they admire skepticism greatly.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

The Enemies Of Reason

Richard Dawkins has a new two-part programme, due to be shown on the 13th and 20th August on Channel 4(UK). It's called The Enemies Of Reason, and it is about the claims of New Age healer types, faith healers, dowsers, mediums etc and about how it's all bunk. Should definitely be worth watching, so here's a reminder to watch it if you have the chance to!

Sunday, 5 August 2007

The Meaning Of Propositions and The Existence of God

Meaningful propositions claim to say something about the way the world is. They make predictions about how things are. Take the proposition "I own a guitar." That proposition suggests that you could find a guitar in my house, perhaps a receipt for one or tablature or chord books, you could ask the guy in the music shop and he would tell you I'd bought one, etc. These pieces of evidence would suggest that the proposition "I own a guitar" is true. On the contrary, if you failed to find any evidence for the fact that I owned a guitar, you'd probably conclude the proposition to be false.

What of meaningless propositions? A meaningless proposition is a proposition that does not make a prediction about the way things are. If there is no way at all to provide any evidence for or against a proposition, then it is effectively a meaningless one, because it makes no difference whether it is true or false. A famous philosophical example of this is the "parable", if you like, of the "Invisible Gardener." It goes rather like this:
Two men are sitting, watching a garden. They have been watching it for a while, and have seen no gardener tending the plants. One man says to the other, "That would suggest that there is no gardener who tends this garden." The other man replies, "Ah, but it could be an invisible, intangible gardener."
The point of this demonstration is to show that the idea of an invisible, intangible gardener is not any different from no gardener at all, because the idea of an invisible gardener fails to make any predictions about reality. Thus, it doesn't actually matter if there is no gardener or an invisible one, because there is no difference.

What then, of God? The proposition "God Exists", what does that predict about reality? Here are some things that one would expect to observe if theism was true:
  • Miracles happening only to believers that cannot be explained in any other manner, like amputees regrowing limbs, or Mount Everest moving 2000 miles away spontaneously, "Jesus lives" or "Muhammad is the true prophet" written in the sky, nonburnable or undefacable Bibles or Torahs etc.
  • Prayer being effective.
  • Good things happening to good people; bad things happening to bad people(ie. accurate smiting, rather than just indiscriminate viruses or natural disasters).
  • No unnecessary suffering.
  • An anthropocentric universe, with a spontaneous creation.
  • Perfect and wonderfully inspiring holy book(s).

These are just a few things we might expect to see if God(in any theistic sense, at least) exists.

However, we actually see:

  • The only miracles that happen are ambiguous, rare and can be accounted for my nature.
  • Prayer doesn't work unless it is a coincidence.
  • So-called examples of God's wrath are indiscriminate, and many good people suffer horribly.
  • Unnecessary suffering occurs, such as victims of an incurable disease, or children dying because there wasn't enough water in a village etc.
  • The universe is huge and has very little to do with humanity, who came about through the messy process of evolution over millions of years.
  • Holy books are often littered with things like racism and violence. It would be unfair to say there is nothing good or inspiring in them(eg. Ecclesiastes is a great Biblical book) but one gets the impression that an omnipotent deity could have done better. Not to mention the factual inaccuracy of certain claims made in holy books.

This lack of evidence for God's existence suggests that he doesn't exist. It leads many religious people to either:

1. Say that science can say nothing about the divine; or

2. That, in fact, we don't have to observe any of those things to believe God exists; or

3. Define God in some Theological way, such as "God is the power of all Being", or "God is the spirit of love" or something equally vague.

But don't all these "options" lead into the trap of claiming that God is a meaningless proposition? 1, otherwise known as N[on]O[verlapping]MA[gisteria], claims that we can never say anything about God's exists using science. I believe this to be misguided, because if we can ask questions about what we would expect to observe if something is true that is some form of science. And obviously, with the existence of the theistic God, we can do this. I just did it above. Of course, you may want to claim that science cannot prove or disprove the divine--but that is a different claim altogether from the claim that science can say nothing about the existence of God. I would agree with the person who says science cannot disprove the divine. This is because the next observation we make on any scientific theory could technically disprove the theory--the next ball we drop could refuse to fall to the ground. The same with God; the next observation we make could be a Bible that refuses to be defaced when some atheist tries to write sarcastic comments in the margins. Moving back to the idea of a meaningless proposition, if no evidence can be used either way to decide the question of God, if the idea of a God can make no predictions about the universe, as NOMA would have it, "God exists" doesn't mean anything.

2 is better known as the method of faith. Of course, the method of believing without evidence is not considered to be a good idea. Believing with evidence to the contrary, like the observations I made above, is even worse. It may be acceptable to tentatively accept a scientific claim over another before the evidence is completely in. But when the evidence has ruled against you, it is irrational to continue to hold to that position. 2 is saying that observations about the universe aren't important in deciding what is true. But if we cannot observe effects of something, it may as well not exist.

3 is the obfuscations of theologians, rather than a claim made by average religious believers. This is just a way of accounting for the observations I made above. How exactly, though, to we show that "the power of being" exists? What effects does that have on reality, and how can we observe them?

Thus, my conclusion is thus: either you refuse to let your proposition of "God exists" make predictions about reality, and thus make it rather meaningless to believe; or you are open to evidence and let your proposition be confirmed or disconfirmed by the evidence.

KJV Idalotry

You know the people. Those people who insist that the KJV is the Only True Translation(TM) of the Bible and that all others are wrong, wrong, wrong, and most likely of the Devil.

I mean, for a start, the KJV isn't even a good translation, particularly in the New Testament, as it was based off very late manuscripts. Another problem with using the KJV as a translation is that it is very literal, and translates the (often!) euphemisms rather than the meaning. For instance, that famous "know" in Genesis 19, or "touch a woman" in 1 Corinthians 7--Paul probably means "touch" in the sense of sex or marriage rather than "touch" in the normal sense. Yet another problem with the KJV is you need to know old English to understand some of it. Obviously, some words don't mean the same now as they did in 1611. You'd think that would be obvious.

And another thing--you'd think the fundamentalists would like to use a Bible that translates "malakoi arsenokoitai" as "homosexuals"(1 Corinthians 6.9).(Although it does use "sodomite" in a few random places in the OT.) Of course, using the KJV to bash gays is a bit problematic--just leaves the annoying person in the thread to point out that King James was gay.

Often it gets the the point where it's just KJV worship. KJVOers, remember that second commandment!