Professor J. Anderson Thomson on Why We Believe

October 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

This is a great talk by Professor J. Anderson Thomson from the American Atheist convention in Atlanta, Georgia in 2009, which addresses ideas of human evolution, the mind’s coping mechanisms, and the way religion probably evolved with us as a by-product of social mechanisms which emerged within us.

Watch and enjoy!

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Peter Singer – The Genius of Darwin – Dawkins interview

June 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

I was fortunate enough to see BOTH Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins speak at the Rise Of Atheism conference here in Melbourne in March of this year. While Dawkins’ talk was eye-opening, Peter Singer’s talk resonated with me far more powerfully.

Peter Singer is a Bio-Ethicist, animal rights activist and advocate of vegetarianism. Here in an interview with Richard Dawkins from his program “The Genius of Darwin”, Singer speaks of the ethical tradeoff we make as humans who eat meat, and whether it is ethical at all to kill and animal when there are alternatives to eating meat which don’t involve killing. I enjoyed this talk immensely.

While I sympathise with the ideals of vegetarians, I am not a vegetarian at all. The ideals of living a vegetarian lifestyle are sound, and sustainable if managed properly. But so too can be the practices of being an omnivore if we only eat meat occasionally. See Polyface Farms as an example of good and sustainable farming practices (as outlined in the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan).

I am not a vegetarian activist, nor do I pertain to being an ethics expert, however I am an advocate for sustainable (and humane) farming practices, and those that have a lessened impact on the lives of animals. Make of this what you will.

A Puff Of Logic

March 28, 2010 § 6 Comments

“I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
“But,” say Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t though of that” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

– Douglas Adams from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” – 1979

The Eye Of God

The Eye Of God - The Helix Nebula

I find it very strange that we are living in the year 2010, a time when massive advances in humankind have been made by countless people over thousands of years for the betterment of us all using logic, reason, rational thought, trial and error and empirical evidence, and yet in this day and age a sub-current of illogical thought is rearing its ugly head to muddy the waters of progress.

By using pseudo-science, misquoting evidence and warping facts brought about by advances and discoveries in science, we are hearing ideas that, frankly, sound like they have come from the Middle Ages rather than the 21st century. Deniers of empirical information are cherrypicking ideas to suit their agendas. They use all the words that science uses, but they take gigantic “leaps-of-faith” when linking these ideas together, which in turn warps the meaning of the facts. Many people don’t ask as many questions as I do when given these pseudo-scientific “interpretations” of science, and end up believing and even preaching and spreading these wrongs.

Now I’m no scientist, but it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that the mis-information being served up by organisations such as Creation Ministries International is warped and twisted. One look at the website reveals that the “information” they are serving up supports hatred and misogyny, that the one point they are trying to prove takes a backseat to a political and social agenda which stems from antiquated stone-age beliefs. Creation Ministries International are deliberately telling their followers to disbelieve everything the mainstream media tells them, to “drop-out” of society and homeschool their children in a controlled environment where that can teach them whatever they want. They are also blaming humanists and atheists for a perceived “moral decay of society” which can be traced back to a disbelief in the Christian God. Lies bundled in falsehoods, wrapped up in scapegoatery and mumbo-jumbo, misrepresentations of science, and demonisation of empirical thought! And if I didn’t know better, the writings of people like Dr Carl Wieland could hold water, if it weren’t for the fact that they are wrong.

I’m not going to opt-in to their hatespeak by disparaging them any further, not give them more space on my blog than I already have. Go to the website and make up your mind for yourself.

Archaeopteryx bavarica - no indication of evolution

Archaeopteryx bavarica - no indication of evolution

Most people say that this kind of thought only happens in the USA, where Creationism is a mainstream belief system. However this kind of thinking is weaving its insidious tentacles into the politics of countries all over the earth. This past week, in Melbourne, Australia, a former footballer named Gary Ablett Snr was given a 2 page spread in a local newspaper The Herald Sun (also duplicated in Perth Now I noticed) with a piece titled “What kind of world do we want to live in?” where he espouses his creationist beliefs and bigotries under the guise that the world is experiencing “a very serious decline in morals and values in our community.” He goes on to plagiarise Ken Ham, lie about Richard Dawkins at the Global Atheist Convention, deny evolution,even to deny that Australia was once a penal colony. (WTF?!?) By using language like “experts agree” to try to substantiate himself, and talks of the “theory of evolution” as if to point out a flaw in Darwin’s writings (really it just points out a failing in the English language). But really Gary Ablett Snr is a soft target for criticism, as I doubt he has the intelligence to truly understand the implications of what he writes in that article.

To answer your question Mr Ablett, I want to live in a world without poorly constructed arguments pieced together from questionable sources which point to deliberately misleading outcomes.

Come to think of it, maybe Mr Ablett is correct, that we are in a “very serious decline”. A decline into the new dark-ages.

Some Thoughts on Change – The Global Atheist Convention

March 20, 2010 § 10 Comments

It is difficult to talk on the subject of religion without sounding, to some, like a fanatic. Some people I have encountered in life think I am as fanatical in my disbelief as a fundamentalist Christian might be in theirs. Some even say that my Atheism is a religion in itself, or at least that my fervour for atheism is on par with religious fanaticism. So let me put this to you.

Because my atheism is a lack of belief rather than a belief, what exactly am I writing for? If there’s nothing to write *about* as such, why do I keep writing? Why do I care so much about something that doesn’t factor in my understanding of the universe?

I hope this blog entry will answer this question.

In my previous entry, I spoke about the Global Atheist Convention and my initial thoughts on the convention weekend. The weekend was very intense, a lot of people spoke, we all laughed, we all cried, we all ate and drank. It was a merry time had by all. But the main point of the weekend was sharing information, for every person who spoke had a different story to tell and a different point to make. If I had to give you one single thing that they all had in common, I’d have to say it was “a strong desire for change”.

Well I guess it doesn’t take a genius to know that we live in challenging times. There’s a lot going on in our little planet, and we can see everything going on in the world at any given time, with newsfeeds, Twitter, blogs, online data coming from millions of people all at once. We know that climate change is real (whether it is caused by man depends on which “independent” study you read), and that economies are false (just look at the Zimbabwe dollar). The challenges we face are huge, humanity will go through some pretty tough times in the future. One could easily just be overwhelmed into inaction, which is a challenge to overcome in and of  itself.

“Change from what?” you might ask.

The problems are many and varied, but the BIGGEST problem humanity faces is inequality. The reason for inequality  is very complex, but when you boil it down to its essence, this inequality stems from the very place that so many base their lives, and deaths upon. And of course that base is organised religion.

But organised religion is a very soft target, and too many people write off the religious masses as “stupid” or “ignorant”, which is a sweeping statement, and is simply not true of all religious people. The REAL problem is what are the rudimentary elements of the religions themselves; the nature of religions to place one person above another based on arbitrary differences, in defence of the religion, and to the advantage of the male gender.

“WHOAH!” I hear you say, “That’s a big statement right there!”

I’m not going to write about or cite the individual passages in The Bible or The Koran that implicitly say that some men are better than others, and that women are barely human, because that would be a book, or a series of books in itself. But I can summarise these points for you. So let’s look at that “big statement”;

Placing one person before another – Religions say that a person who follows THAT religion is to be favoured over one who follows another religion. In some cases, the person of the other religion, if they don’t convert, should be put to death. This is the cause of, or at least the excuse for many wars, crusades and other altercations.

Arbitrary differences – This includes the belief in another deity or no belief at all, clothing, geography, skin colour, sexuality, life choices, language, culture and political standing. Organised religions feed on the differences between people, amplify them and then nurture a culture of “US versus THEM”. This amplification leads a religious person to feel threatened by the differences in people. This kind of attitude also feeds xenophobic reactions to others, and violence against those who are “other”.

In defence of religion – Religions can take this xenophobia to an extreme by stating that anyone who does not follow this “one true god” should be shunned, excluded, exiled or killed.

To the advantage of the male gender –  this is the “elephant in the room”, religion’s treatment of women; religious texts state that man is superior over ALL women, that women are to come second, if at all. These texts treat women like possessions, breeding machines to deliver sons and to keep out of the way and servile. Some would say that this is an antiquated notion, that these kinds of prejudices toward women are a thing of the past, that anyone in a western “1st World” society doesn’t believe for a second that this attitude toward women holds any sway for us. Unfortunately our societies have been build on this rotten foundation, and once can’t simply say that “this attitude is wrong” to undo the damage that it has caused. It’s more deeply ingrained than we would like to believe.

This injustice to women can be seen in many facets of western society, in pay rates for women vs men, in the objectification of women as sex-objects, the beauty and fashion industries, and in corporations where CEOs and top-paid executives are for the most part men. It’s deeply rooted, and will be difficult to address.

The biggest injustice is served, however, to “3rd world” populations, where the men not only treat the women as possessions, but will regularly beaten, mutilate and kill women in the name of their god. This is written in their scriptures. It is abhorrent.

Time to grow up.

Religious texts were written “by men for men”, to control people, especially women, and to keep the followers in line. One does not need to be a theological scholar to see this. We need to work to keep religion out of politics and the social sphere. We can’t make decisions based on the words of the scriptures, as this will just lead to more hatred, more inequality, more genocide and more war.

The convention was a fantastic experience, and I hope that all in attendance were able to walk away with something of value. But remember, the convention was not what we are striving for, rather it is the first step on a very long and difficult journey. Let’s not become complacent and feel that we have achieved our goal.

A Reason for Reason

March 18, 2010 § 18 Comments

There has been a lot of writing about the “Global Atheist Convention – The Rise Of Atheism” since its completion on Sunday afternoon, so most things that can be said have already been said. There were some good reports in the online media and blogosphere, some great satire, and some really stupid and unfounded criticisms from others, most of whom I doubt their attendance at the conference (as illustrated here). Unfortunately for me, the whole experience was so overwhelming that I failed to write about the conference quickly enough to be one of the first, and it’s still too early to sort the specific issues brought up during the conference as my brian is still working through it all.

There’s no reason for me to give a blow-by-blow breakdown of who spoke, and about what, because that also has been covered by the media and blogs.

So instead, by way of an introduction to my (future) blogs about the issues raised at the convention (there should be several), and for those that missed out, I’m just going to give some of my impressions from the convention as an organised event, and some of my highlights, not related to the content of the speakers’ presentations (as these will be addressed in future blogs).

The venue was the new Melbourne Convention Centre at the far west end of Jeff’s Shed, right behind the Polly Woodside. The building itself was a great place to hold this event, it easily accommodated us. The building itself was new enough that the obvious wear and tear that such high-traffic buildings endure was not yet evident.

With numbers as high as 2500 for the Sunday session, we were all able to get a decent seat, and to see from all vantage points. The food was ample and fresh, and the Saturday night dinner was well worth the dollars spent, even if just to mingle with the others at the conference.

The people were just great. I felt comfortable to just walk up to any person, introduce myself, and ask them what they thought of this or that, be it the food, or the last presenter. All demographics were covered in terms of age and sex, but I must admit it was a very “white” audience. I’m not sure why this is. Any ideas? I met some brilliant people, too, and I now follow a bunch of new Australian atheists/agnostics that I probably would have never discovered any other way. My twitter following jumped 70 people over the weekend.

I brushed shoulders briefly with celebrity, shook hands with Richard Dawkins (though he couldn’t get away from me quickly enough for his liking), spoke briefly with PZ Myers about the debacle that is Health Care Reform in the USA, and took photos of others, for others of the 2 Chasers boys that attended the dinner (Julian Morrow and Craig Reucassel). My own photo ended up too dark, blurry and they were moving.

There was a good number of stalls there too, representing everyone from the AFA to the Australian Sex Party, each who had their own agendas around the ideas surrounding atheism and equality, fairness and anti-discrimination. Most of the books by the individual speakers were on sale in a stall too, and most of the keynote speakers did a book signing at some stage during the conference.

There was hardly any public displays of protest against what I would have thought would have prompted at least some organised reaction (one day there were 3 guys with signs and a table, and on day 3 a Creationist showed up with his wife and kids).

The absolute highlight for me of the entire conference was the amount of reason, rational thought and intelligence displayed by every person I met. I have never been surrounded by so many intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable people. Seldom have I met a better group of people. Obviously I didn’t speak with everyone, but  those I did speak to were as critical of the messages presented by the speakers as they would be with any messages. I chatted well into the night on after each of the three sessions, and it was at these times that I felt as if we could all make a difference in the world. THIS is what I came for, and I was not disappointed.

Thank you to the organisers and fellow attendees for making this one weekend I will not forget in a hurry. Over the following weeks, I will be writing blogs which cover some of the topics raised at the convention, so stay tuned.

(Special shout-outs go to @rachel__joy, @zombiealan, @naehutch,
@happysinger, @purplefae, @ilikeportello, @amydedman, @SeandBlogonaut and @jinohchoi,
among so many more! Love you guys, wish we could hang out more! You are StarStuff of the most awesome kind.)

To read all the media responses to the Conference, look here.

Victorian Government Refuses Funding for Atheist Convention in Melbourne

November 27, 2009 § 1 Comment

The Victorian State Government has basically ignored the request for funding for the “Rise of Atheism” Convention in Melbourne next March, while allocating $4.5m in funds for the “The Parliament of the World’s Religion”.

This decision to basically ignore the funding request shows gross contempt for Atheism and Atheists alike in favour of religion and religious organisations.

See article posted at the convention’s website Atheists Too Hot to Handle for Victorian Government.

Today in the “Comment & Debate” section of The Age devotes an entire column to this injustice. I see this as an odd reaction from the Government, who describes Australia as “multicultural and secular”.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

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