Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is belief harder than non-belief?

I sense a tidal backlash forming; it’s a war of words emanating from people and organisations of faith of all colours and hues, it is aimed firmly and squarely at the feet of a group of people I'm going to label "rational atheists". Clearly, it is not accurate to "lump" atheists into any kind of group really, the only certain thing that is common between them is a lack of belief in a God or Gods, and this is rather like grouping people together who don't collect stamps, but for the purposes of this article please bear with me.

Broadly, I’m thinking of a set of people who, spurred on by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and religiously inspired stupidity (like 9/11) have found the courage and motivation to speak out and express their viewpoint via books (the God delusion, God is not Great etc.), in blogs Pharangula, RRS and through television and films, Root of all evil, Golden Compass etc. the viewpoint that is being discussed is strongly rational at it's core and typically an atheistic one.

The backlash that I’m seeing is so wide and varied that its difficult to know where to start, we seem to have the full spectrum of possible “backlashes” going on all at once, we have, hatred, threat, ridicule, argument, disagreement, dismissal and I’m sure many more, the range is quite impressive, unfortunately the vast majority of the content isn’t, clearly a nerve has been “struck”.

I suppose if you have been indoctrinated from childhood and have lived your entire life blurring the distinction between “realities” and “thoughts” it becomes difficult to really grasp a rational debate, most of the debaters from the faith side seem to fall into this basic trap, i.e. they “assert” their belief as “fact”, they do not seem to use the age-old mechanism that can distinguish between the two, i.e. evidence. There are many examples of this in fact most anti-atheist articles feature it somewhere, however for purposes of example, here is a blog posting that seems to encapsulate this phenomena nicely, notice the obvious assertions of “belief” as “fact”,

His crucifixion is a matter of history (so is his resurrection)” – If this chap has “historical” evidence for Jesus, like a contemporary “independent” account, not one written hundreds of years after his supposed death, like most of the Bible was and most definitely not one supposedly written by the “disciples”, after all, the disciples are part of the story! It’s a bit like trying to argue that Giants exist because otherwise why would Jack have climbed the beanstalk? If such an account existed it would be the most venerated document in the whole world and certainly widely known about, clearly, no such thing exists!

We are here by random chance” – I assume the author is referring to the random mutation element of evolution here, the critical omission is the “selection” part that acts on the mutations that most certainly isn’t random, saying that evolution is a “random” process simply highlights a total ignorance of that branch of science and looses all credibility into the bargain, again he is asserting his “belief” about evolution as “fact”.

Atheists seem to suggest that they are more enlightened than x, y, z”; interestingly the list of people consists entirely of religious people with a huge vested interest in maintaining the status-quo of religion or politicians who would not have been elected if they hadn’t declared “faith” in something, the notable exception is “Isaac Newton”, presumably this entry is there as the token “scientist” doesn’t this author understand that for someone in the 17th century like Newton to declare disbelief in God was as best guaranteeing banishment and at worst a horrible death, this argument is pure desperation, we might as well say, “lot’s of people believe something so it must be true”. Can’t the author see the logic trap that he’s plunging into here, for this point to hold true he *must* then accept that Islam is “true”, Hinduism is “true”, Judaism is “true” and last but not least “Atheism” is true, they all have millions of adherents and they can’t all be true!

The Author of this article is clearly a devout believer, but practically everything he says are misrepresentations of reality, if I were a cynic I would say he is simply “lying for Jesus”, but I’d rather give him the benefit of the doubt, he is clearly ignorant of some parts of science but that isn’t a crime, he probably believes the things he says are true and he probably is a “good” person (although I have no evidence for that) I think there is something deeper going on here. Ask yourself this, which is easier, belief or non-belief? I’m not talking about actions, clearly good people do good things and sometimes they are motivated by belief, I’m talking about the actual process of belief itself and the social repercussions of it, is it easier to run with the crowd or to stand against it and say no, I believe certain things are wrong and they should change. I can imagine at some point in historical time even early Christians were labelled “Atheists” by their Roman oppressors who believed in different gods. Holding a different view to the majority is always harder than not, however I for one, sincerely hope that the mood (particularly in the USA) is changing, people are beginning to speak out for rationality and change, I think what we are witnessing here are the protestations of the “establishment” and apologists leaping to its defence.

What I would say to all those believers out there who feel scared or perhaps “insulted” by those pesky Atheists who want to change everything, is that it isn’t change that prevents you having a meaningful life, it is fear of change, throughout history we can see that change is the only constant; you’d think our species would have learnt that by now.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Catholic = Hypocrite?

I recently watched a humorous video clip of a Fox News (US new network) report about the upcoming film Golden Compass (it’s up on YouTube here). Apparently Philip Pullman the author of the trilogy of books behind this film is an Atheist and the Catholic League (whatever that is?) is boycotting the film because they say it “promotes atheism to children”. I haven’t seen the film (neither has the Catholic league because it isn’t released yet!) so I can’t say if it promotes Atheism or not, but apparently the books are about good vs. evil where evil is played by an overbearing, dogmatic, powerful and secretive sect called the "magisteria" (not like the Catholic Church at all then…)

There were two speakers on the clip, one a Catholic priest called “Father Jonathan” and Annie Gaylor who is the head of something called the “Freedom from Religion Foundation”. I have to say the interview was totally uninspiring, both contributors seemed not to want to cover the actual topic at hand, and the moderator was so plainly biased in favour of the Priest that it was embarrassing; but then Fox News is a legend in its own trousers for being pro-Religious and "kick-ass" right-wing conservative. As you’d expect the priest and the moderator planted and harvested more straw-men that you can shake a stick at, all the usual crap was trotted out, i.e.

  • Some religious people are good - therefore god exists
  • Millions of people have faith – therefore God exists
  • Science can’t explain everything – therefore God exists
  • Atheism is just another faith – therefore God exists

This “media friendly” father was only referring to the Catholic "God" of course, not Allah, Buddha, Thor or the flying spaghetti monster, no because those ones aren't true are they, silly.

My main beef with the report is not the report itself, which was really just comedy, it is the blog entry that relates to it by good old “FJ”, and you can read it here. Now here is a gold-plated lesson in pious hypocritical slimebaggyness married to stunning, planet sized arrogance, let me see if I can prĂ©cis the article and extract the points I think he is trying to make,

  • Beware, of the “militant atheists”, they are not “traditional atheists” because they don’t believe in the supernatural – huh, sounds pretty traditional to me?
  • Beware of the “militant atheists” because if you’re not a scientist then they want to “silence” you – huh, science is a universal, how can you not believe in science, is there such a thing as "Catholic physics" or "Hindu calculus", do Jewish aeroplanes work differently to “new atheist” ones?
  • Militant Atheists” love straw-man attacks and substitute rational discourse with personal attacks – I think poor old Father Johnny is confusing “personal” with “religion”, Atheists attack religion, FJ then takes it personally. As for straw men, you really shouldn't criticise someone for using a straw man argument by using a straw man argument, it just insults everyone's intelligence.
  • "FJ" implies that “Militant Atheists” are “Angry” and “Mean”, he gives no examples, but I assume he thinks we’re angry because we say things like “telling people with HIV not to use condoms because the baby Jesus cries when you do is evil". Well, actually yes, I suppose he’s right, I could get pretty angry about the unnecessary death and misery of millions of people and the utter waste of human capital because of bronze age myths. As for “mean”, well, I guess if you have the mental perspective of a pre-pubescent child then it would be “mean” to point out all the inconsistencies and errors (like “limbo”) in your supernatural fantasy world that cause pain and suffering to many innocent people, how childish!

Do Catholics really want such blatant hypocrisy by Catholics on behalf of Catholics to be pointed out to the world like this, or can they just not see it, maybe not, let me spell it out.

  • Saying that exposing children to Atheism is wrong, but indoctrinating them in the Catholic church from birth is OK, is hypocrisy.
  • Criticising Atheists for being "mean" because they point out facts regarding the absurdity of your religious dogma, but then saying "believe our myths or burn in hell for eternity", is hypocrisy
  • Criticising Atheists for being "angry", whilst supporting policies (like condom use) which cause or prolong suffering in millions of people, is hypocrisy
  • Saying that your religion supports evolution and then saying that Atheists are wrong to believe that evolved animals such as ourselves don't have supernatural components, is hypocrisy
  • Saying that science is in opposition to "faith" and then living and prospering in the modern world, benefiting from (secular, scientific advances) like, medicine, transport, media, technology and ethics, is hypocrisy
  • Criticising science for not being able to explain "everything", then offering no explanation yourselves other than "god did it", is hypocrisy
  • Saying that its wrong to have a film "suggesting" Atheism is wrong for children to see, but a film showcasing Christianity (like Narnia) is right, is hypocrisy
I could go on, but, would there be any point?