Why do I say “Oh God!”, not “Oh Zeus!”

I was listening to a gateway Church podcast recently (yes, I listen to all the hit Christian podcasts), and the preacher presented to the audience an argument for why Christianity is a much more valid religion than Buddhism or the Greek gods of mythology. He presented this (paraphrasing):-
Why is it that when a theologian debates with an agnostic or a heathen (he used those terms), you can talk all you want about various theological concepts and ideas, but when the idea of Christianity or Jesus comes to the fray, they always get a bit more animated, angry and excitable. This is because Christianity has some undeniable truth about it, and they always have to resort to a bit more force in their words. And Why is it, that when they see something that amazes them they say, “Oh My God” and when they bang their hand with a hammer they say “God dammit!” Why is that? It’s because somewhere, deep down inside, they have the breath of the holy spirit within them. Blah Blah Blah… and on he went.
I had to stop the podcast at this moment. I had to think about this one because it was an argument for god, and not just some more “Believe in Jesus” talk. I have thought about it, and here are a few reasons why us atheists say God, not Buddha. I’ll also say that I personally do not say “Oh my God”, I prefer to use “Zeus almighty!” or “Thor! God of Thunder!”

First of all, most of us in the western world have grown up in Christian backgrounds, so must of us atheists used to be Christians, which means that our ‘cursing of god’s name’ is just a remnant of our pasts. I f I had grown up in a home where my father and mother had said, “Zeus help me” every time I was being stubborn, I would probably grow up to use Zeus as a curse word in my vocabulary. It’s also a lot easier to say ‘god’ (1 syllable), as opposed to ‘Anextiomarus’ (Celtic sun-god) (6 syllables) when I’m angry.

Second of all, The reason why atheists get so animated when you start talking specifically about Jesus, is because we are sick of it all. Most of us can tolerate you saying that your god wrote the rulebook and then just sat back and watched it all happen, but when you start telling me that “God made me with a special plan in mind”, “Jesus is patiently knocking on the door to my soul”, or “You really do know that god is real, but you are just suppressing it and denying it”, because these statements are so out there, random, intangible with reality, unproved, logically strange and impossible, that our brains overload with logical fallacy alarms, dumbass alerts and goes into shut down mode, or explodes.

The third objection to this argument, the reason why we use deities in our curses at all, is simple, and it comes back to 90% (ball-park, don’t quote me on this) of us having grown up in religious homes.  There is mounting evidence in many scientific tests that swearing reduces the sensation of pain. So when you stick your hand in a bucket of ice-cold water, using some expletives will give you a substantial amount of time more, with your hand in the water. When I was a Christian, and still now in my Christian home, saying “Oh My God” was as bad as the f-bomb or any other common expletive. So nowadays, ‘using god’s name in vein’ still gives me that therapeutic feeling that I experience with other swear words. That’s why I still do it.

I hope today’s post has put across the point that this argument for Christianity is paper-thin, with no logic or evidence to support it. I will you with a quote from Carl Sagan, “You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep-seated need to believe.”, Carl Sagan, an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author and science popularizer of some note.

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Science VS Religion (predictions)

Hello there readers, rationalists and reasoners,

I am going to start this post with an apology, I haven’t blogged for the best part of a fortnight now, I’ve been having a few technical problems with my laptop, and me living where I do, its taken quite a while to get fixed. Amongst other problems, my browser would shut down every time I pressed the inverted comma key… I am still not game enough to try it again now its fixed. But now onto the topic of this post.

I am going to talk today about one of the many things which separates science and religion, predictions.

Predictions are one of the biggest things in science, being one of its most powerful tools. Every facet of science makes very useful predictions, which, most of the time, turns out to be true. Evolution, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Neurology, Theoretical physics, Engineering, all of them make predictions and have made predictions, and they almost always turn out to come true. These predictions are very powerful in science, because they help us to formulate hypothesises (hypothesesisiseses) and test them, as well as make and use things out of these predictions.

Religion works in exactly the opposite way. It makes absolutely no predictions about the world around us, all it does is make up stories after the observations. A bit like this:-

Science: Hey, where the hell are my keys?!?!

Religion: I dunno. Tell me when you find them. God’s hidden them from you, you’ll never find them.

Science: I think that if I look under the couch, I might find my keys, because all the other times I found my keys they were under the couch. I’ll go look now… yep, there they are, right under the couch, where I expected them to be.

Religion: Oh, so you found them, god must have heard my prayer for you to find your keys, and you did.

Science: You know that’s Post Hoc Ergo Procter Hoc fallacious reasoning, of course your prayer helped me find my keys.

Religion: What the hell is Post Hoc Ergo Procter Hoc?

Science: It’s a form of fallacious reasoning where somebody assumes that because ‘A’ happened after ‘B’, that ‘B’ caused ‘A’, which is not true.

Religion: Now that’s just Bologne talk, of course my prayer worked.

— End Scene —

Religion is just like this in the real world. Science is making so many predictions about the world, religion just says, “No, no, no, you’ll never find that out, only god knows that stuff.”, but science shrugs that off and soldiers on nonetheless, looking around and testing the universe we live in. I’ll leave you all with a quote from Linus Pauling, “Facts are the air of scientists. Without them you can never fly.”, Linus Pauling, A Chemist, Bio-chemist, peace activist, author and educator of some note.

Bad Argument Against God

Hello there skeptics,

On the Bus yesterday, I was sitting down, doing my merry thing (playing logosquiz) when somebody asks somebody behind me “Do you believe in god?”. Never mind how rude I think this personal question is, but he asked everybody around him this question, and then he backed up his atheism with some logic. I will give you his logic now.

“How can animals have been just dropped straight into their environment, they have to adapt to the environment, evolution, otherwise they won’t survive. Therefore, evolution is real and god is not.” In a nutshell.

There was one thing which struck me about this argument, first of all, this is an argument for Evolution, not for atheism. Evolution and belief in a god are incompatible, but that’s another day. This is possibly one of the worst arguments for evolution I have heard in a long time. Here’s why:-

This argument is wrong in its stipulation that animals cannot have just been dropped into their environment and told to survive. The story of creation in the bible goes that the animals were created to suit their environments, and visa versa. If god were to have created the earth in six days 6000 years ago, he would have made sure that the animals where good in their environment.

The reason why I rebut this argument is for one simple reason, which can be summed up with a quot from Christopher Hitchens, “It’s not what you think, its how you think”, And that is how I live my life. This person on the bus’ final conclusion, I agree with, but his thought process is completely wrong, and it needs to be corrected.

Lets think for a moment what happens when this person on the bus (named Shaun from now on, and to protect the innocent), goes to their ethics and faith class in a few days, he will probably take this argument to fr. Iain and have it rebutted all the way over the pickets for 6 (cricket). This may convince Shaun of God, and that’s not what I want. I need to get to him while he is in this critical thinking and questioning mode, and get the bad arguments out of him, and the good arguments in to him.

He may take this argument to a prolific Christian debater, and this Christian will go to town on it, and this Christian will be able to add a tick to his bucket list of Atheists arguments to rebut. He can put it on his resume.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Christopher Hitchens, “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” Christopher Hitchens, and Atheist, Author, Journalist, Skeptic, and essayist of some note.

Science is the Only Way to Test Reality

Hello there skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about the wonderfulness of science, and how it is not some abstract way of looking at the universe (as the post-modernists will have you believe), it is actually a fundamental part of the universe, and is THE way to test reality.

Something my mother has told me for a long time since I came out of the closet about being a skeptic and an atheist, is “Science is not the only way of knowing things, there are plenty of other ways.” I’ve never asked her what these other ways might be, but should could be talking about either of two lists of ‘ways of finding out things’ :-
1. The ignorant list – she could be talking about things like logic, philosophy etc., in which she is just being ignorant and does not know that both logic and philosophy stem from science.
2. The post-modernist list – She really means what she says, and thinks the other ways of knowing are things like belief, spiritualism, mysticism etc., in which she is also being ignorant, because these things are either testable by science or not real.

I will start with a distinction, the fact that science is able to test anything is not just some blatant statement, its true. Anything which is real (reality), is testable by science. Now you may say, “Supernatural things are not testable by science”, this is a common misconception, supernatural things like ghosts and spirits are testable by science, but once they are testable by science they are not supernatural. A common misunderstanding is that there are things that science can test, there are supernatural things which cannot be tested, but are real, and there are things which don’t exist. This is wrong. Things are either real, (have some sort of measurable effect on the universe) or they are not real. Ghosts, for example, they could be real, and in which case, they are testable by science, or they could not be real, in which they are not testable by science. If something can be measured, (demon possessions, spirit hauntings, homeopathy, acupuncture etc.) then it is part of the real world and can be tested by science. There is no possibility of something having an effect on the universe around us (curing a patients cancer, making a possessed person’s head spin 360°, create the universe etc.), and not be testable by science.

That is because science is just measuring the world around us, in the purest and simplest form, and this is amazing to me, because it is the only discipline where you know that the same thing will be found over and over again. Think of the greatest three scientists of the last two centuries, Darwin, Tesla, Einstein. If these people were never to have existed, then somebody else would have made their discoveries instead. Somebody else, probably Wallace, would have published the theory of evolution, somebody else would have invented the Tesla coil (albeit with a different name) and AC electricity, and somebody else would have theorized special and general relativity. This is true because the outcomes of science are based on reality.

Science by definition, is the measuring and describing of the world around us, and it is the one and only way to find out things about the reality of the world we live in. I will eave you with a quote from

Another Roy Williams example of idiocy

Hello there, skeptical friends,

Lets all guess what I’m going to be blogging about today? That’s right, I’m sure you all guessed it, I’m going to be continuing my constant crusade against Roy Williams and his idiotic arguments, which seem alright on the surface, but soon seem not so alright when you actually look at them deeply. Today’s post is about an argument which was used by Williams to demonstrate the ‘deep, designed plan’ of the universe. Williams has made the claim that the fact that the moon lines up nicely with the sun, points towards the fact that there is design in the universe.

But unlike ‘the other creationists’, who say that the moon, with its protecting of the earth from asteroids and things, shows that god is looking out for us, Williams makes the claim that the fact that there is a solar eclipse shows proof of a god. This allows for things like the first proof of relativity, (with the measuring of the lensing of the stars) to occur. This is all part of Williams’ “God designed the universe to allow humans to figure out its inner workings.” Idea. I have some rebuttals for this argument.

The first point is that our moon is not that special. The fact that the moon eclipses the sun perfectly once in human history is not a big deal. There are a couple of factors which make this occurrence not all that rare. The distance from the earth to the moon is changing quite a lot, meaning that the size of the moon in the sky changes a lot. This means that sometimes the moon is a bit big for the sun, and sometimes the moon is not big enough to cover the sun completely, this is why you should never look directly at an eclipse. This means that there is a big variance and this leaves a big window.

The other thing that varies a lot in the sun, moon, earth system is the distance from the sun to the earth. This means that the size of the sun in the sky varies a lot. So this opens the window even more. The last thing that would change this is the fact that the moon is getting further and further away from us all the time. This means that at one time in early history, very early history, the moon appeared very large in the sky, and in a few more years, the moon will be very small in the sky, and it will not cover the sun at any time.

The second point against this argument is this. There are a lot of things that could be a certain way, but aren’t, why doesn’t god make them line up nice and pretty?

The last argument I will use is this. The eclipse of 1919 is not the only proof of relativity, there have been thousands of since proofs of relativity, and the only reason why this eclipse is still remembered is because it was the first one.

I will leave you with a humorous quote from Brian Greene, “No matter how hard you try to teach your cat general relativity, you’re going to fail”, If you don’t get it, get of my blog, or read my Quantum Mechanics posts. Brian Greene, A theoretical physicist of some note.

 

Roy Williams Is at it Again

Hello… there,

That’s right, you guessed it, Roy Williams is at it again with his constant crusade of logical fallacies with yet another Seemingly intelligent argument, which, upon some investigation, turns out to be of no particular interest or value. In his most recent hashing of facts and evidence, Roy Williams has made the claim that humans’ ability to articulate the underlying laws of physics is proof of god. He says that there is no evolutionary advantage to us being able to understand, “The deep underlying reason why the apple fell to the ground” as opposed to, “Oh look, the apple fell towards the ground.” In today’s post, I am going to be showing how, 1. We aren’t actually very good with the understanding of the things, 2. We need a lot of help to try to understand the things, and 3. Evolution accounts for our apparent ability to understand the things.

First of all, the fact that we aren’t actually very good at maths. Here is a little thought experiment. Take a dozen or so coins, and ask somebody to be a volunteer for your experiment. Tell them that they are to tell you how many coins are in your hand, without using any sort of counting system. if they played by the rules, they will be clueless as to how many coins you are holding. This is because humans are not very good at counting, believe it or not, humans suck at math. Everything we know about maths, had to be learnt. Humans are good at the talking and the language and the problem solving, but not the math.

That brings me to my second point, If we never taught ourselves a number system to count things, we would be clueless. If you are counting things past about ten, then when you are counting it, you won’t be thinking about the actual amount of things, you are thinking about how many times you have counted one unit. We say, “I counted 43 sheep”, but really we are just adding one more to the clicker, we don’t actually know how much that 43 is.

On to my next and final point, Evolution accounts for our ability to discover the maths of black holes, and the big bang. We are humans, and humans, face it, are not very strong. We are very weak, and we are very slow, so we must have something to survive with, that is our humongous brains. So obviously, it benefits us to be able to problem solve, and communicate, and count things to a small degree. When we learnt how to count up to the number of appendages on the ends of our arms, we had to be able to describe it to people, so we gave all the appendages on our arms names, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. With this we had maths, from there, everything flowed, because our problem solving ability leads us to question things, and so we used math to figure out those questions. Then the human condition of curiosity took over, looking into the world around us. It is possible to explain our maths ability through evolution.

I will leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins, “Bertrand Russell used a hypothetical teapot in orbit about Mars for the same didactic purpose. You have to be agnostic about the teapot, but that doesn’t mean you treat the likelihood of its existence as being on all fours with its non-existence.” Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, writer and atheist of some note.

The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of the Creation-Abiogensis/Big Bang ‘Debate’

Hello there, all my moral, just, secular people,

Today’s post was inspired by a television show which aired on the ABC (Australia) entitled Q&A, which every week presents a handful of politicians, public figures, theologians and atheists, for an open discussion and Questions from the live and internet audiences, hence the name Q&A. This weeks program was a special program, because it put forward only two panelists, along with the host, and these where the Atheist Richard Dawkins, and Catholic priest George Pell. Richard Dawkins has made appearances on the show before, but this was the first time he went ‘head-to-head’ with only a Christian joining him on the panel. The show has made quite and impact in the media, with a lot of discussion about it going on even on the radio the next morning. The show can be viewed in full right here at this link here -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi1EDDuMksw. I will surely be making my comments on the show over the next few days, but here is today’s rant.

During the show, this oft quoted argument was brought up by George Pell, he said (not an exact quote) “Science can tell us a lot about the ‘how’, with evolution and the big bang, but it doesn’t tell us a lot about they ‘why.'” This argument is talked about by Roy Williams in his book I am reading at the moment, and I have heard it from others too. This whole argument is both a red-herring and a non-sequiter, and Richard Dawkins summarized it very well, “That’s just not a valid question.” The whole question of ‘why’ does the universe exist, is not relevant, its like asking why unicorns aren’t very good at snooker. In that way it is a non-sequiter.

Even if you do grant that ‘why’ is a valid question, it is not a question for the science, nor is it a question which could change the fact that the big bang or abiogenesis happened. The question is for philosophers and humanists.

The ‘Why’ question, “Why are we here.” Is also a good example of the unstated major premace fallacy, the question just assumes that there must be some meaning for our existence, when it is quite plausible that we could have no purpose to exist.

This question is also a red herring because it side-steps the real question of the ‘how’. This is the whole problem with Roy Williams’ book, at the start he asks the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ question, and he says, “Science knows the how, but not the why, I’ll write a book about the why.” In this way he can write a whole book without having to address a single question about ‘how’.
It is a really annoying question, because to people who are not aware of the fact that ‘why’ is not a logical question, the argument can have some weight. Most people like to have a purpose for their life, and this is where they get all caught up. The miss the point that Atheism has a point too, “We only live for 80 or so years, and we have no afterlife to look forward too, so lets just make the world as good as possible in this short time.”

I will leave you with my favourite quote from the entire evening where George Pell accidentally walks all over his own argument to try to just contradict Richard Dawkins on everything,
“Dawkins: the only thing that might convince me that Christianity is true is if a 700 ft Jesus walked into the room and said ‘I exist’, and I’m not even sure if that would convince me.
Pell: I’d say ‘you are hallucinating’.”

‘And God Created’ Running Theme in the Bible

Hello there, half-banana men,

Today I am going to be talking (well, writing actually, but you get what I mean) about an argument used by my chaplain at school to show that god created the universe. But first I will say how proud I am to have a RE teacher like him, because he is the sorta guy who says, “Yes, evolution happened, and it was probably natural, but god set it all up at the start with the big bang.” I like those sorts of religious people, he even reckons that bio-genesis could  have occurred naturally. I almost have to put him as a non-creationist, but he did put forth an argument a few weeks ago which I think is logically invalid.

He first showed us a video, created by some young-earth, AiG supporting, genesis-is-true video company, about Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden, the story of Genesis visually. After that he proceeded to tell us, “I don’t believe that is true, I don’t think the earth is 6 000 years old, it is best to be just treated as a metaphor.” He then showed to us an outline of the story of Genesis. Here it is,
“God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1.
He then showed us the pattern of the story of Genesis.
God created…
God created…
God created…
God created…
etc.
He then told us this:-
The story of Genesis is a story that was passed down from generation to generation through the ages, and this means that some of the details of the story were a bit off, but the main pattern of the story still holds, “God created…” The story of Genesis is not literal, but it shows us one key thing, god created the heavens and the earth.

I am going to advance my reasons for why this argument is invalid. First of all, I agree with one of his first major premaces, that stories change  over time, but I don’t think he has taken it to its full extent. He says that the big pattern of a story will always hold, but almost all scientific studies done on memory show that the details are not all that memory malleability keeps itself too. It can change almost anything in the story, from the timing of things or the emotions or the exact way your mother’s face looked when you smashed her vase, all the way to things like who was in the room, which vase you broke, how big the vase was, whether it was intentional or accidental, whether you used a baseball bat or a golf club. Any of those things can be changed over time with a memory.

My second objection to this argument is a logical one. My question for him was, “How was the story kick-started, who got the inside scoop that ‘goddidit’? Nobody would have been around before big bang to witness god write the rules and light the match. This question, he had no answer too because the bell was 10 minutes away and he decided it was time to pack up.

I will leave you with a quote from Josh Thomas, “As an atheist, having a Christian threaten me with hell is like having a hippy threaten to punch me in my aura.” Josh Thomas, An Australian Comedian of some note.

Legacy – the only immortality for a skeptic

Hello there fellow bloggers, readers and browsers,

I was recently reading through my issue of Scientific American (which I subscribe to), and I came to the columns in the back of the magazine, and the one written by Michael Shermer really appealed to me. It is entitled ‘Climbing Mount Immortality’. The whole topic of the column was to discuss mortality and how it shaped our civilizations., but what really appealed to me was the topic of immortality itself. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all spiritual-after-life crazy on you, I want to discuss the concept of Legacy.

Legacy is the only immortality a skeptic can subscribe to. Albeit a very partial immortality, it is the only one there is. If one believes that there is no afterlife, then the only way in which that person can survive in the minds of those around him, is by doing something to remember him for.

This concept is very readily visible for Alfred Nobel. You will be aware of the Nobel prize. If you are, (you should, or you should stop looking at my blog right now) then you will know that it is an award given to scientists, essayists and peace activists for showing exemplary skills in their area, and making great discoveries.
Seeing that 99% of people know about the Nobel prize, Alfred Nobel could say that he is a success.

What most people don’t know about Alfred Nobel is that he was actually the inventor of dynamite. He created this lethal weapon off war in the hope that ‘war would become so bad, that it would be done by nobody’. But this did not happen, wars just became bloodier and more violent, and you must feel for Nobel for having his invention turn into such a disaster in his mind. This is what inspired him to set up the Nobel prize.

He was worried that all of the world would see him as an evil man for thousands of years to come. So what he did was posthumously donate all his money to set up the Nobel prize. this has worked because now, instead of everybody seeing Alfred Nobel as a villainous person with sinister intentions, we see him as the most famous and prestigious prizes handed out to scientists.

The idea of legacy has an impact on me, I want people to remember me after I die, not just by my family for being a brother or a son or a husband or a father, but by the world as a person who changed a field for ever, like Einstein, Hawking or Nobel. This is the only way for me to stick around after my death, I wont be able to experience it, but my family will be proud, and so will I on my deathbed, knowing that I can be content with what I have done with my life.

I will leave you with a quote from Amanda from Saw II, “The answer is immortality. By creating a legacy, by living a life worth remembering, you become immortal.”

Investigating Agnosticism

Hello there!

Recently, during my internet browsing, I have been finding a few articles critical of agnosticism. They talk about how agnosticism is self-defeating by definition and is a silly, fence-sitting, worthless position to take on the stance of religion. I am going to contend that view in today’s post. It is worth pointing out that these attacks on agnosticism or in fact, staw-men logical fallacies, which will be covered at a later date. I will start by drawing out a few lines in the sand. I am going to define the four main different types of agnosticism.

The first, and weakest agnosticism is the view that there has never been and will never be any proof for god, for evolution, for creation, or anything historical or theological, also known as forever an historical agnostic, or FHA. When talking about this sort agnosticism, I agree that it is a very weak position, and there is no science to back it up. There is nothing going for this agnosticism, and it is just making a bad name for agnostics as a whole. It is more often a made up position by Christians trying to attack some secular position than one taken by seculars themselves.

The second stage of agnosticism is a weak one, and is on about level pegging with the third stage of agnosticism, but I rank this one lower because it is easier for a creationist to attack that level three. This agnosticism states that there is never any way in which science could prove or disprove a god, because supernatural things are outside the realm of science, also known as forever a theistic agnostic, or FTA. This is also a very weak view on religions, because obviously, there is a way in which a god could be proved. You simply observe a true miracle, which has no possible other mechanisms of action, something truly amazing. This would be some interesting evidence for a supernatural deity, but more than one account would be required.

The third stage of agnosticism is still a very weak position that I do not agree with, and it takes the view that there is currently no evidence for god, or a supernatural deity, and that at some day there may come to bear some proof either way on the subject, or currently agnostic, CA. This is a position that I will agree with, but that I do not take up myself. It is a correct view to a sense, and I take up some of the ideas of this agnosticism. But the bits I do agree with from it are better fit into the final stage of agnosticism.

This fourth stage is probably how I would best describe myself. It is a much stronger view on deities, and I think that most of the world’s atheists will technically fall into this group. This agnosticism is of the view that there is currently no proof for a god or deity, (no proof = current disproof in science) and that a god is almost impossible, because of some fundamental boundaries. However, if it comes to pass that there is some proof of a god, then this view will change to suit that observation, otherwise known as agnostic atheism, or AA. This is my world view.
There is almost certain proof against an all-powerful or all-knowing god in today’s world, but if it is proved that there is a god, then I will happily bow down and worship him, once proper evidence comes to bare.

That’s all for agnosticism today, I will leave you with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, ” Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.” Kurt Vonnegut, an American Writer of some note.