If you can say, “The creation proves the creator” then I can say…

God wiped my ass. I know this because my ass is clean.

Yes, it isn’t terribly respectful. It isn’t meant to be. I respect your right to believe what you will but I do not respect the religions that are believed in.

The point is, those two statements are logically equivalent.

  1. Every creation needs a creator. or The creation proves the creator.
    vs
  2. God cleaned my ass. My clean ass is proof that this is true.

In both cases, the fallacy is begging the question. That’s when the premises of your argument assumes your conclusion to be true. To say that everything was created by god, thus everything is proof of this creation, is absurd because the premise assumes creation by god. The conclusion then concludes that the things (assumed) created prove that creation happened. In this case, the fallacy is obvious because there is nothing to conclude and the conclusion is identical to the given premise. In most real world arguments, there are a few steps in between that obscure the fallacy.

That was my main point for the day, and it also happens to be the response I now use every time anyone makes that argument online. It’s a good response – disrespectful of course, but then again their statement is insulting to begin with. Anyone who can state such nonsense unironically is not worth debating. They can be fun to mock though.

My second point, and this is one that I have no answer for, is that I wonder what statement or question to a creationist can possibly be enough to have them question their faith. Here’s the thing – “Why do you believe?” was enough for me, at sixteen years old, when asked by an atheist, for me to very quickly realize that I did not have a reason, and to stop believing. The best way I can explain it is, it was like someone threw a switch in my brain. I went from belief to disbelief in a matter of seconds. I still wanted to believe at that time, and I even went and spoke to the priest of the church I attended… but nothing he said could convince me. I found his words empty, and in fact he didn’t even try hard to convince me. But as time passed, I eventually became comfortable with atheism.

But I do wonder why that question was enough for me. Was I always going to be an atheist? I did have significant doubts, but yet I was happy as a Catholic. When my fellow Christians mocked someone who didn’t believe at school that day, I approached her because I felt bad that they were laughing at her. I too was different, shy, did not fit in. But I did believe. I approached her because I identified with her because they were laughing at her and I wanted to see if I could make her feel better, but also… I did believe in god and was honestly curious to understand her very different point of view. When she turned it around and asked if I believed, and after I said “Yes”, she asked “Why?”… I was shocked to find I did not know. I was surprised to find my faith disappear instantly, and I went home to think about it for hours, wondering why I had believed so strongly for all those years when it was all such obvious nonsense.

Maybe it was because I approached her with sympathy and honest curiosity that I was open minded enough? Or maybe I was always going to be an atheist anyway and she just hurried the process along? I guess I’ll never know.

But I must ask for anyone reading this, if you can be truly honest with yourself… If you do believe, why do you believe?

What I believe–Part 2–What I believe

This is the second part of a series intended to answer the annoying accusations often made against atheists (me in particular) that complain my atheism doesn’t answer where we came from – not that it should. Part 1 explained my position as a gnostic atheist, and this part, quite separate from my atheism, is about what I do believe.

What I believe about the origin of the universe and life is really quite simple. There’s a lot I don’t know. Some of this is my own thinking, based on a rather superficial understanding of science. I’m no scientist. I’m just a lay man who happens to not believe in magical explanations for where we come from, and take my cues from science and science fiction.

I can’t emphasize enough though, that what I believe is in no way related to my atheism, and is subject to change because I do change it when I learn new information. There are a lot of gaps, and I’m OK with “I don’t know”. I see no reason to fill the gaps with god(s).

We know the universe started with the Big Bang. This is fact. We can measure when it happened and we can speculate about it. But we know it happened.

So this universe started with the last Big Bang, the one we know about and can detect the radiation from. It all started with a singularity, a high temperature place of immeasurable density where time did not exist. The maths is complex and I don’t understand it but time is just a variable in an equation, and under certain conditions, it doesn’t exist. This singularity, I believe was left over after the collapse of a previous universe. But I’ll get back to this when I describe what I believe will ultimately become of this universe.

The universe exists in space. But space itself is nothing. Just emptiness. An endless void without light or anything. It has no bounds and no limit. So imagine our universe as nothing more than a tiny spark that explodes in a night sky, except there is no air, no external force like gravity acting on that spark. All the energy contained in that spark, is contained and not acted upon by any outside force that we can yet detect. After it explodes, after all that energy is released, it burns up as it expands outwards from the point where it all began, and eventually it will cool down again. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Imagine you could zoom in on that spark, because after all, when nothing but a spark exists, we have no idea of scale. As the spark expands and releases all the gasses and elements that exist, massive energy is released, forming sparks within those zoomed in sparks. They cool down and form spirals, clusters of energy and burning particles, which we call galaxies. Zoom into those galaxies and you observe stars forming, surrounded by dust and debris that forms planets and asteroids.

The process of carbon-based entities that we call life forming from inorganic elements is what we refer to as abiogenesis. I don’t know how it works. All I know is the name of it, hence when creationists post their jargon and nonsense filled “refutations” of it – which they often conflate with evolution, I really don’t give a fuck. The alternative to “I don’t know” is not your preferred magical thinking. It gets even worse when they start discussing consciousness. We, and I mean all life in existence, are probably an accident. There is no rhyme and reason, no purpose, only chaos. We came about by fluke, we exist for the briefest of time, and like everything else here, we burn for a few moments, then fizzle out and are gone. To think otherwise is great if it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling, but it’s all just make believe.

Evolution is the process where life, that started out here from one cell that got it right, gradually changes over time. Tiny changes over millennia, from that one cell that somehow split initially into the two branches that formed plants and animals, into many different and complex varieties, and driving the process over time into multiple different life forms. It most likely hasn’t only happened here. There are probably millions of planets supporting similar life, but we’ll never know about the others, because they are simply too far away for us to ever get there.

All that energy that was released at the time of the Big Bang is finite and eventually everything cools back down. Our own planet has a molten core, churning around as the world turns it produces a magnetic field, which we use for direction, among other things. But what it really does that supports life is it protects the planet from harmful solar radiation that we call solar winds. The magnetic field deflects the most harmful of them around our planet, while letting light in. Without it, the sun would literally blow our atmosphere out into space, leaving this planet as lifeless as Mars. Theoretically given enough time, our planet core would cool down, Earth would lose its magnetic field and then its atmosphere, and all life would perish. But this planet won’t be around long enough for that to happen, because our sun will change into a red dwarf in roughly five billion years, completely enveloping and burning whatever is left here by then.

Ultimately everything cools down. Every sun will die. And here, my knowledge is sketchy, but I do know that we believe there’s a massive black hole in the middle of every galaxy. As every sun dies and the universe loses heat, perhaps they will all collapse into their galaxy’s black hole, or black holes, and then every galaxy will eventually collapse. Just as everything expanded, it will all collapse and converge back in on itself. The entire universe – back to one singularity, one point of unimaginable heat, pressure, density, where time does not exist. And boom! A new universe begins. But the time for all this to happen is so long, we can not even conceive of it.

Maybe in that new universe that forms, somewhere intelligent life will come about. And just like us, maybe they will make up a creator to explain how they got there. But their creator will be bullshit too.

Maybe there are multiple universes. But not multiple dimensions, which is nothing more than wishful thinking and magical thinking in science fiction terms. They’re all just like ours, little sparks in the blackness of space. Maybe if we could get into a space ship and fly far enough away, and in our imaginary space ship could somehow escape the time part of the equation too, we could observe them, like fireworks in a night sky, universes exploding into existence and fizzling out.


So that’s it. For what’s it worth, that’s more or less the gist of what I believe. As you can see, there are gaps. I don’t propose an alternative to creation. I don’t claim to know how life came about from inorganic elements. I don’t know what consciousness is. I don’t answer why there are singularities in space, just like you don’t know where your gods came from. But at least singularities are plausible. I simply take what I do know and put it together and the unknown remains unknown.

What I believe–Part 1- An introduction to gnostic atheism

One of the most common criticisms I received from a family member and others, is that as an atheist I don’t propose some alternative to creation. That isn’t what atheism is about, since atheism is merely the rejection of god claims. But I have found that it isn’t just me… every atheist I know has received the same criticism. Every creationist vs atheist debate group gets flooded with posts stating this, and every single atheist I know has at one time or other been accused of not being a “real atheist” because we don’t propose some alternative to creationism. This difference between the expectation or perception of atheism, and the reality, is thus so widespread that I believe it is worth addressing. Worse yet, many “arguments” from creationists aren’t arguments at all – they copy paste long jargon-filled straw man versions of science or evolution, attempting to refute these straw men, with the assumption that creationism, and their particular preferred deity, is the only alternative.

Hence it makes sense for me to write and state once and for all what I do believe, rather than what I don’t. (Note “once and for all” is just a figure of speech. What I believe is not static and I have only recently begun describing my atheism as ‘gnostic’.) Since atheism isn’t what I do believe but more what I do not, I need to break this into two parts. This first part will thus be about atheism, consisting of what I don’t believe but also what I do believe about belief itself. It needs to be two parts because I didn’t reject my Catholic religion of birth because of science – I rejected it purely because of logic. What I do believe has nothing whatsoever to do with my rejection of religion, but it makes sense to start off with what I rejected, before going on with a clean slate to describe what I believe. But mostly I need to link the two posts because, though they are unrelated, creationists often criticize science rather than addressing the claim that their gods exist.

This first part will not be new to regular readers here. It simply summarizes what atheism means to me, including my more recent change to being gnostic about my atheism. The idea is this brief summary should be enough… You can read this standalone or with part two that will publish an hour later, and you don’t need to refer to any previous posts. Or you can skip it entirely of course – these are also for those times when I get asked the question, and it is a question that comes up a lot… instead of typing it out over and over again I can link here.

Briefly then, what is atheism?

I was brought up Christian, Roman Catholic to be precise. But at some point in my teens I realized that I didn’t believe in god. It took me a while to come to terms with my disbelief, but in a nutshell, I don’t believe in any of it: God, Jesus, creation, an afterlife, a soul etc.

That’s what atheism is. Rejection of belief in gods. There is no evidence to suggest any of it is real, so atheism is merely the rejection of god claims because of a lack of evidence. For many atheists, it stops there. Many describe themselves as agnostic, in the sense that since one cannot prove a negative, and the burden of proof on anyone making a claim that a god exists lies with them, one can not rule out that some kind of creator exists outside of the bounds that can be explained by science. Hence atheists can get quite irate when you tell them that their atheism is any more than what I have described, or that they are making some kind of claim, because that’s not what it’s about.

But that is not my position. I’m not agnostic.

What then is gnostic atheism?

I don’t stop at the mere disbelief in one god claim, and I go a little beyond thinking about others. The way I see it, we evolved societies that needed rules and laws, morals. We need those things to cooperate and survive. We also don’t know where we came from, where anything came from, and such is our nature, when we don’t know something, we make up an explanation.

Thus we evolved churches and religions. We took all the things we don’t know, and claimed they were done by some kind of entity or entities that look just like us, and called them gods. God thus serves two main purposes:

  1. It is a convenient placeholder for all the things we don’t know. Everything we don’t understand, god did.
  2. God, and other supernatural agents like ancestors and other spirits, also made up by us, have their place in the various churches. They are given credit for the rules, the morals, the values, that we follow.

There are other purposes I’m not interested in getting into too much, such as it being an “out” to our natural fear of death, and the “need” some people seem to have to worship something. I can’t comment on the latter because I’ve never felt any such need. I honestly don’t understand this need and do not know if it is a side-effect of the invention of religion itself or is something else entirely. It made childhood quite confusing for me, when exposed to all things church-related. I suspect this need to worship is some sort of side-effect of indoctrination but as stated, I don’t know.

We accept that gods like Zeus were made up. The same goes for thousands of others, yet we do not apply the same skepticism to gods that people currently believe in. For the newer religions, we even know who made up their gods. For example, we know L Ron Hubbard invented Xenu, the alien god of Scientology. We know that Joseph Smith invented his magic seeing stones and Mormonism. Just because we don’t know exactly who made up the older religions doesn’t men they weren’t made up. People treat those older religions with reverence. To me, this is absurd. I believe it is reasonable to assume that all gods are made up, and that the concept of god itself is a man made one. That’s the crux of my position as a gnostic atheist. I don’t say “There is no god”. There are thousands of gods, but we made them all up. The concept itself is of our making. God itself is an abstraction, a placeholder for “I don’t know” as a result of our magical thinking.

Interestingly, science and religion came about the same way. When we don’t know something, we make up an explanation. But the scientific method is about testing our hypotheses, and proving them wrong or less wrong. Over time and as we learn and understand more, we discover answers to the questions we don’t understand. But religious dogma remains as it was made up thousands of years ago. Thus the further we advance, the more we understand reality as it really is, the further religious dogma is left behind, and the greater is the gap between real knowledge and the made up knowledge of religion.

I’ve kept this as brief as possible, leaving a lot out. But it is a reasonable summary of how I came to disbelief in all gods and what my position is as a gnostic atheist. In part two I’ll discuss what I believe about the start and end of the universe. But right or wrong, what I believe about science does not change the fact that I believe religion is nonsense and all gods are made up.


This post is set to publish at 5PM South African time on Monday, 3rd August 2020. Part 2 at 6PM, which means you have only an hour to wait for part 2.

About the biases on both sides in debates between creationists and atheists

First, a little heads up to creationists who think they can convert atheists. These kinds of arguments don’t work…

image

Having said that, there are a couple of points of interest here…

Creationists in general often share the same kinds of rhetoric when it comes to religious apologetics, but this is an interesting place where Christians and Muslims differ:

  1. Christian literalists, such as those guys from Answers in Genesis, invent their own science. They have their own universities and dubious qualifications in science that has been twisted to follow their dogma.
  2. Islamic scholars, on the other hand, will take things they observe in real science, and twist their own doctrines, reinterpreting them such that they “predict” things that have been proven to be true.

Both are wrong. It’s just interesting that they take the opposite approach. But whether you change the science to match the dogma, or try to interpret the dogma in such a way that it somehow predicted the science even though it clearly did not, you’re still wrong.

The post I refer to today was shared by a Muslim, so it tries to claim that the fires of Hell, as described in their religious text, burn black, “as it says” in modern science and thus the Quran is correct. Except they fuck it up, because such a fire will burn white, not black. Thus their claim couldn’t be more wrong. Still… white… black, they had a 50/50 chance of getting it. Regardless, there are many of them who do nothing but make this kind of argument in debate groups, some of which are quite comical because they take verses about, for example conception, and try to read actual science into them.

Of course threatening someone who doesn’t believe in life after death, or a soul, with eternal torment, in a literal fire, to their incorporeal soul, is never going to convert anybody. That’s without even considering that a deity that created beings only to torment them forever if they don’t worship him would be evil. And there’s no reason such a creator would demand worship anyway.

What fascinates me the most about such arguments is that those who make them seem oblivious to bias. Someone brought up Christian, for example, only ever takes Christianity seriously. So if you present a claim to an atheist who used to be Christian, the chances are high that you’re dealing with an atheist who is only interested in debating Christians. They don’t believe in Christianity, but having been raised Christian will at least have a reaction to Christian claims. It might be an emotional reaction. It could be some kind of trauma. It might even be anger, but we are all biased, even if only a little. Thus much of the time, you will only have something to debate if the atheist at least used to believe in your religion. Claims from other religions are perceived as little more than jokes. I try to be aware of my bias and at least make an effort to engage even with other creationists apart from Christians, but still… such bias is understandable. I’d much rather engage with somebody who believes in something I used to believe myself because I have an emotional investment in it, than something I never even considered believing in, even before I became an atheist. We don’t all do this though.

Creationists, though, are not only unaware of the biases in atheists they deal with, but unaware of their own biases too. This is where it gets amusing even if we atheists are not biased towards our own former religion, because creationists will often make similar non sequiturs but reach different conclusions. So they present similar arguments such as the argument from first cause, Pascal’s Wager, or the argument from morality, and then leap to “therefore god”. But ask them “which god?” and they get confused. This is because they all beg the question, all start with the conclusion that their (specific) god exists and then use motivated reasoning to make pseudo-logic that arrives at that predetermined conclusion. But they don’t realize they’re doing this, don’t realize that the conclusion does not follow, and hence the confusion at “which god?”.

I wrote this hours ago but was down with a cold today… Feeling much better now after much cold medication and a few hours sleep but I have no recollection of what the last paragraph was supposed to be. I like it anyway. I think it is important for us to be aware of biases, our own and that of others. Some people seem to enjoy endless debating, even when talking past each other and never getting anywhere. Not me. I’ll point out what I see that’s wrong, including the biases and assumptions, and if the other person makes the same argument again, rephrased but no better, I just leave. No point in wasting more time.

A rare argument where I agree with a creationist

Last night, just before going to bed, I read this. So I saved it… although not to respond there but here, and it does seem to go a bit against the grain of my fellow atheists. For some reason I can’t comment on the group post… might be my internet connection, but I have sent a friend request to the guy and can hopefully discuss this with him some other time. Facebook tells me the guy is a “Catholic Universalist, philosopher, and mystic”… whatever that means.

image

The full text goes as follows:

If atheists define atheism as the denial of religious claims while simultaneously denying that they are affirming the falsehood of those claims, they seem to be in a logical contradiction. To deny a claim is expressly to affirm its falsehood, so atheists, if that definition is accurate, are trying to occupy a region within claim denial that does not overlap with affirming the falsehood of that claim, an undistributed middle that does not exist. Atheists, why not simply own your implied assertion of the non-reality of deities and face the onus probandi you are desperately trying to avoid?

Are you scared?

Now note this does not apply much to me because I regard myself as a gnostic atheist. Not gnostic as in “there is no god” but gnostic in the sense that I am certain all god claims are made up, hence the notion of a creator is an invalid claim. God is a man made thing. Without any evidence supplied, I believe in treating all god claims as myth and nothing more.

He kind of goes off the rails a bit when he writes “To deny a claim is expressly to affirm its falsehood”… because he seems to see it as a simple binary – a false dichotomy. But otherwise he is spot on and this is one of those few times I find myself agreeing almost completely with a creationist. In reality, to accept one claim also means to deny all other claims, meaning he has the same problem. On some level, he does understand though… He understands that he doesn’t take other god claims seriously, claims such as Zeus, Odin, Allah, and many thousands of others… So they don’t count. Only his one counts because he assumes it to be true.

Yet his point stands. (If one ignores the last sentence about fear because that’s just a non sequitur and I don’t get why he thinks that). Of course he does, and this is exactly why I am a gnostic atheist. Deities are a man made thing. To ignore that all older deities are presumed to be made up while simultaneously assuming that your one is real, just because you have believed so since before you were old enough to think for yourself, is surely the opposite of a genetic fallacy. Unlike a genetic fallacy which looks only at the origin of a thing, this involves ignoring the origin. So I don’t know if this fallacy has a name, excuse me for that but I can’t find one online.

So sure, we have to be wary of the reversal of the burden of proof (which is where he will logically go next probably), but that’s only because he probably considers one claim true and ignores all similar ones, but perceives atheism as the opposite of his (one) claim. But it is a perfectly reasonable position to say that all gods are made up, all of them throughout history – so throw out the claims people make currently because the god concept itself has not been shown to be anything other than myth. We know that newer ones, like Scientology, were made up. Mormonism too… We even know who made them up. So why treat older ones differently? They’re just as made up. Why not own the assertion that gods are not real? I’m all for that because that is exactly how I feel.

This sandcastle meme does not prove creationism any more than it fails to address atheism

Comparing something you know to be created with something you assume to be created proves only that you made an assumption. That’s it… almost my entire response to this nonsense meme on social media, followed only by a brief accusation of magical thinking. But of course I can elaborate here.

Every so often, a creationist smugly shares this meme, and I can almost hear them as they sit there surveying the screen, hands poised in steeple grip, snickering with sardonic delight at beating us atheists with their “superior” logic. Except it is quite a terribly illogical argument.

SandcastleMeme

First of all, atheism makes no claim. We simply don’t buy into your claim(s) that god(s) exist, or that any such god(s) created anything. So any claim of atheist logic is a straw man, but let’s ignore that for now anyway. (But we will get back to it later.) For argument’s sake, let’s assume that “atheist logic” has this one major problem: It doesn’t explain where we came from. Let us take that as a given and then proceed.

What then, is the creationist solution to the problem?

  1. God did it.
  2. There is no two.

But does this actually solve the problem? Of course not. It moves the problem (to god, where god is just a name, a placeholder). If you assume that god created everything, you still don’t know where this god came from. But that’s the beauty of indoctrination… You are taught not to question this. You are taught to accept that this god was always there. And that really is all there is to it. Everything else is arguments from ignorance, layer upon layer of sophisticated nonsense (which I call Jerome’s Law), and deflection.

But creationists share arguments like this with such confidence because they truly don’t realize that creationism merely moves the problem, and most of the time they don’t have the foggiest idea what atheism actually is. The fact is, we don’t know where the universe came from. Every answer we have is one that we made up, even scientific answers. But at least scientists test the science, and when they find their answers are wrong, they refine and improve the hypotheses and then test the improved ones. They might still be wrong, but at least they aren’t answers that were made up thousands of years ago by goat herders who buried their faeces in the fields.

But notice that I wrote that scientists test their hypotheses? Not atheists, because that isn’t what atheism is about. Atheism is about doubting your god claims because, as stated, those claims are just made up answers, in other words magical thinking.

I did say I’d come back to this, and it’s time I did that. Since atheism doesn’t actually make any claim, the opposite of “god did it” is “I don’t know”. Thus the problem of not providing an answer, not saying where anything came from, is not and never was a problem with atheism. The unknown is just that, unknown. But it is a problem of creationism. It absolutely is, because when you made up god(s) that magically created everything, you also introduced the problem of not knowing where they came from. Obviously. They didn’t come from anywhere because you made them up. (I’m using ‘you’ as a plural here. You, your ancestors, as in people who lived long ago.) It’s a circle because making up a solution and then insisting that the solution may not be questioned was never logical. That’s the irony: This supposed problem with atheist logic is really a problem of creationism.

Of course this post won’t convince a single creationist. But that’s OK; it isn’t meant to. Whatever excuse you use to be able to hang onto the assumption that your god exists, whatever special pleading, will be enough to convince you. If you are a creationist reading this, well thank you for reading, but this isn’t an argument meant to convince you; it’s more an observation about you.

An afterthought: Creationists often respond to this, or at least my short version of it, firstly with a denial that theirs is magical thinking, and then they follow that by saying that I am making a claim because I say they made up their god, whichever one it may be. That’s not how this works. Just because you assume this god exists and are happy to accept this without evidence does not make it true. It doesn’t matter why you assume your god exists – it doesn’t matter if I say that (y)our ancestors made it up. If you accept the claim and expect others to, you are de facto making the claim. Just because you don’t think about the fact that it is magical thinking doesn’t make it rational. There is no rational justification for faith – there is only what I have already described… assumptions, arguments from ignorance, word salad and deflection.

Scientism – When you use a made up term to criticize a straw man of your opposition and accuse them of making things up just like you…

Unfortunately I can’t find the thread, but was involved in an interesting debate a few days ago. It was in one of those atheist vs theist debate groups that someone wrote a post criticizing “scientism”. In context he was attempting to refute atheism.

The post, which I can’t remember exactly, was aimed at positing that atheism, referred to as scientism, is as dogmatic as theism. My comment was a response to the author, who took offense to someone else (correctly) calling him out for a tu quoque fallacy.

But let’s rewind a little… What is scientism? According to Wikipedia:

Scientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. The term scientism is generally used critically, implying a cosmetic application of science in unwarranted situations considered not amenable to application of the scientific method or similar scientific standards.

But what does that mean? The term seems immediately suspicious to me. Atheism is the disbelief in various god claims. One does not need to resort to philosophy (epistemology) and the meaning of truth, belief, scope, and so on, unless one is more interested in deliberate obfuscation because one has no actual evidence of god to defend.

What does it mean to apply science in unwarranted situations? The scientific method is just that, a method we use to ask that things be proven before being accepted as true. Being opposed to evidence is not a valid position because you are then left to assume faulty hypotheses are true (which is of course what the theist does unknowingly), but is rather an excuse to avoid questioning dogmatism, with the added bonus of this particular argument then accusing the opposing side of being equally dogmatic.

Science itself is what we use to explain what we don’t understand, and interesting though it may be, it isn’t the reason that I am an atheist. Science may be correct or incorrect – I honestly don’t care, but I do see when someone conflates the scientific method with science itself. And scientism is certainly not a real thing. And even if it was a thing, it would be quite different to atheism.

In the comments I went onto explain to the person what I understand a tu quoque fallacy to be, since he clearly missed the point. The simplest explanation I have is this: When a child, typically around 3 or 4 years old, figures out that they can respond to being reprimanded with “But you are also naughty”… that’s it – to accuse somebody of hypocrisy by pointing the finger and saying “You too”. It’s clever for a 3 year old, but damn childish for an adult to use the same argument.

In this case, they’re claiming that atheism is also a belief system, also dogmatic, etc. So in that sense it’s also a straw man – a convenient caricature of atheism to refute, one where atheism is somehow an equally invalid explanation of the world, one where we explain the world using science. This would be a valid criticism if that was indeed what atheism was about, but instead atheism itself is merely the rejection of made up explanations, the rejection of a specific kind of magical thinking.

Actually this follows on nicely with another post I have been trying to write for a few months, but have not yet managed to express to my satisfaction, so I’ll use the opportunity to introduce it here…

Introducing Jerome’s Law

Jerome’s Law, which I have arrogantly named after myself, states that: We inherently prefer complicated solutions to simple problems, but the complicated solutions are almost always wrong.

You can apply my law to just about everything: arguments, software design, belief, conspiracy theories… anything. Of course there is already a well known rule called Occam’s razor, which states that the solution with the smallest number of assumptions is correct. My “law” is kind of an extension of that, but focuses more on the convoluted solutions we come up with. My law is really about us tending to prefer the convoluted but wrong solution. And the more convoluted it is, the more wrong it becomes. My father used to have a few favourite expressions, one of which always sticks with me: “Bullshit baffles brains”.

For example, sticking with today’s subject, there is only one answer to the question: Where did it all come from? And that answer is: We don’t know. Any other answer, which is made up, whether it involves thousands of gods, creation myths, redefining the meaning of truth, scope and fact in order to refute those who doubt the made up answers, is wrong. And the more complicated the answers are, the more appealing they become. And also the more wrong. Entire fields of thought exist solely to obfuscate away that it is all bullshit. You can spend your whole life devoted to made up fields like theology and immerse yourself completely, lose yourself in… layer upon layer of made up nonsense that fools you into thinking it isn’t just made up nonsense. And all because we tend to think complicated solutions are correct. We gravitate towards sophistication but often can’t tell the difference between true complexity and sophisticated bullshit.

There’s a line from the original Shrek movie that I love for its irony, where he describes Ogres as complicated… layered like an onion. What makes the line so clever is that onions are not complex. They have layers, but all the layers are exactly the same. They’re just thin membranes repeated over and over again. But it sounds clever because we think layers imply complexity. In reality, bad designs, bad arguments, are always complex, always layered… always over-engineered.

I see the same pattern in software design over and over again. Look at any well written code, and one thing will always stand out: The code is easy to follow and it keeps things simple. This applies to all code, from the simplest little application to the programming framework itself. Bad code, on the other hand, is complicated. Bad code takes one or two simple concepts and then instead of representing them as easy to understand abstractions, splits them into thirty or forty obscure components, tied together in unimaginably poor ways that are difficult to comprehend the first time and easy to forget. Or we get the other end of the stick… a single method takes variable or dynamic inputs and then does different things in different cases, creating a cyclomatically complex monstrosity.

Conspiracy theories follow the same pattern… In order for them to be true, millions of people and shady organisations need to be involved in elaborate cover-ups of the truth, in setups so bizarre that such things would be absurdly impossible to achieve because of the cooperation required alone, and when you look closer, there is never any reason for the secrets. The secrets themselves are part of the reason the narrative becomes so complicated. Like any poor design or bad argument, the complexities exist as part of the solution but then twist the problem into something else, creating more problems than they solve, involving those who swear by them in even more effort to understand the complicated “solutions” which turn out not to solve anything at all.

Worst of all, debate groups are filled with idiots who can’t tell the difference between complex solutions and sophisticated nonsense. Not that it matters because 90% of complex solutions are just noise anyway. Maybe I’ll refer to Jerome’s Law again and maybe I won’t… This is the best attempt at introducing it so far, so this time I’m publishing it.

If belief in something requires a permanent suspension of disbelief, and no evidence supports the thing, that thing is probably not true

We’ve probably all met somebody who believes in the existence of literal angels. Not fuzzy wuzzy guardian angels where the person makes vague statements about being watched over and it is ambiguous whether or not they really mean it, but somebody who actually thinks angels are real. It’s always a man or woman into New Age woo, or some other kind of religious extreme. And we all react the same way. We say nothing to their face but go away thinking they’re out of their fucking mind, but harmless enough, so we forget about them. That’s just aunty Carol, who believes in angels and Tarot and healing crystals and talking to Jesus. She’s sweet and nice and she shouldn’t be locked up in a padded cell because her belief doesn’t do any harm.

Likewise, when homophobic uncle Richard claims he talks to Jesus, who comes down from Heaven for a cup of tea and a chat about those nasty homosexuals, we know that person is not quite right in the head about either god or his self-hating repressed sexuality. (Aside, here’s a newsflash for homophobic Christians who love talking about gay sex: Straight people never think about gay sex.) Interestingly, his belief includes prejudice for a minority and does do harm, but because it is part of his religion, we ignore that. (But that’s not my topic for today.)

And yet, to believe in a religion like Christianity, as so many do, requires one to accept that god and his angels used to come down to Earth, two thousand odd years ago, but they don’t any more. So when did they stop? Why would they stop?

We know that anybody who claims to speak to god and angels now is insane. (I’m choosing to focus on people we’ve all known who are thought to be eccentric. Not obvious con artists who run their own religions and make money, or the suckers who believe in them. And I assume none of those types read anything here.) Yet to believe that this used to happen thousands of years ago requires living with a permanent suspension of disbelief.

This, among other things, is the truth that dawned on me back when I was sixteen years old. The main difference between now and two thousand years ago is we are a lot less ignorant than we were then. Deities don’t come down to Earth now, and they didn’t then. Angels don’t come down to Earth now, and they didn’t then. Because deities and angels aren’t real. All supernatural things aren’t real. It’s all pretend. Deep down, if you know that anybody who claims to see those things today is mistaken, you know that those things were never real. So you have to suspend your disbelief. You have to lie to yourself and pretend, just like when you watch a movie. And you believe those lies you tell yourself. That’s the difference between believers and atheists. We stopped pretending.


Noteworthy, I think… I generally avoid arguments like this because theists into debating often make what they believe is an equivalent argument, asserting that we all “know” their god is real and are “angry with him”. Apart from the “angry with god” thing which is an argument they’re taught to repeat parrot-fashion, the part that we “know god exists” is an example of psychological projection, a method of avoiding the argument by projecting your own beliefs onto others. But I do think that when it comes to suspension of disbelief, my argument is valid. I’m not saying you “know” god isn’t real but that you do recognize when certain claims are crazy, while holding beliefs similar to those claims and lying to yourself, or avoiding thinking about them entirely, to continue to hold them. Hence today I’m publishing this argument anyway.

Maybe me being an atheist was inevitable in this sense… I was unable to avoid thinking about these things, and also unable to lie to myself about them. Discarding those beliefs was a natural part of me growing up.

 

Revisiting the argument from morality–one of the most peculiar non sequitur arguments from religious apologists

It sucks being on a Facebook ban yet again. While I do end up writing more here, this blog lacks the engagement I crave… It gets loads of views but not much interaction which differs quite a bit from the dozens of reactions and comments I’ve become accustomed to on social media. Anyway, while I’m a Facebook ghost, lurking there and reading without being able to interact, I do find some gems to use for writing material.

Case in point, this.

Comic

Any atheist will spot the main problem with this right off the bat, namely that someone who grows up in a secular household will not make that association; they will not connect morals with a deity. So they would never ask the question asked at the bottom of the first panel. Without that association, the straw man set up in panel two could never happen. Not that anyone would claim that evolution “does away with morals”. Not anyone who knows what evolution is.

Evolution is about the gradual change of living organisms over time. We humans, the most advanced species of great ape on the planet, are social animals. Our society depends on us cooperating with one another, and we tend to care for each other through empathy with them. We’re emotional animals and we project our emotions onto others. Do you think it would be an evolutionary advantage for us to do harm to each other? Obviously selfishness benefits individuals but when it goes too far, it harms the group, and being smarter than other animals, we have evolved rules and laws, customs and values, and we find ways of punishing those who don’t adhere to the rules, which at the most basic level are all about empathy we feel for one another.

It should be fairly obvious that if someone right now goes out with a gun and starts shooting random people, sooner or later someone who is responsible for enforcing the law will stop that person. Likewise, if someone went into a public place thousands of years ago and just started beating everybody with a big stick, whoever was responsible for enforcing the rules there would stop them. And thousands of years ago, there was no Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, or any of the other gods currently worshipped.

Religions are a part of our social structure, just like courts of law. If you go to any worldbuilding forum and read the questions, which are generally in the form, “How do I build a cooperative society where the inhabitants do X and not Y?”, there are invariably answers suggesting using religion to control the members of society, using religion to create and enforce rules. And religion often does that, enforcing a set of quite arbitrary rules about what you can and cannot wear, what you are allowed to eat, and so on. But those rules are arbitrary and rely on an already existing framework of morals and values.

In short, morality exists before gods. God doesn’t tell you what’s right and what’s wrong, but rather, we create gods who only know what right and wrong is because they are based on us. Gods are thus projections of an idealized human, with our rules, our morals and values, and our culture. That’s why there have been so many of them over the years.

From Wikipedia:

Psychologist Matt J. Rossano muses that religion emerged after morality and built upon morality by expanding the social scrutiny of individual behavior to include supernatural agents. By including ever watchful ancestors, spirits and gods in the social realm, humans discovered an effective strategy for restraining selfishness and building more cooperative groups. The adaptive value of religion would have enhanced group survival.

Not that the quote proves anything… My point here is to demonstrate that my view is not unusual.

I see I haven’t even mentioned anything about the argument from morality, the religious apologists argument that god is the source of all morality, and therefore if objective morality exists, god must exist. Honestly I shouldn’t need to. It doesn’t take anything other than common sense to notice that morals and values differ by both geographic region and time. Morals change drastically as society changes, and you won’t, for example, find people burning anyone for witchcraft in modern Christian societies of the West. That’s because morality is subjective. Without objective morality, which the religious apologists claim originates from their god, the argument from morality is clearly nonsense. I refer to it as a non sequitur because it does not follow logically that morals come from a god. Of course, believers in different gods all use the same argument for their specific one, making the whole thing quite silly.

Also, in practice, such as with your typical keyboard warriors for Christ on Facebook, they never make the whole argument. Instead they generally write something else, wherein a premise assumes that atheists don’t have morals.  It makes debating them a complete waste of time because to do so, you will need to point out that their premise assumes an argument from morality and the existence of objective morality. Normally this isn’t even something they want to debate. It’s just something they assume true so they can get on to the subject that really matters to them, which is some derived bullshit not even worth considering. Actually that’s where debates with theists come apart… we ask for evidence and point out that their arguments include all kinds of ridiculous premises, such as the assumption that objective morality exists and creation being a fact, while they expect the conversation to begin at that point where their conclusions have already been assumed true. We literally have two completely different conversations going on, with no middle ground.

Why I deconverted my son from religion.

I think I may have written about this before, but from a slightly different angle, and anyway, this was on my mind.

The other day, someone reminded me that I used to feel differently about my son’s upbringing. When I went to rehab back at the end of 2009 after helping arrange his care in the hands of others who would do a better job of parenting than I could at the time, I was happy for him to be brought up Roman Catholic, just like I was. But between then and now, my views changed drastically and the other day he caused issues when arguing with this person’s children, because he doesn’t believe in god. (Thanks to me taking him out of Sunday school in 2015 and thanks to my influence on him since then. To be clear, I don’t tell him what to think, but I do encourage him to think critically, and I don’t hold back on what I think of beliefs in gods.)

So I changed my mind. I do that. I don’t do it as often anymore, and the funny thing is, around twenty years ago I used to think I was really bad at debating, because I’d get into a debate with somebody, hear their argument, and immediately change my view, thus losing the debate. These days I consider it a strength. If I find my position is based on ignorance or that I am otherwise misinformed, I change my position. It doesn’t happen so much any more because most of my views are based either on direct evidence or on relevant authorities whom I trust.

I see it like this: In the past, my view was wrong. Now, my view may not be perfect but it’s a lot better than it used to be. There are many reasons I can be wrong. One of them is confusion. Being a meth-head for around eight years left me pretty fucking confused.

My error was that I attributed my morals, my values, incorrectly to my Catholic upbringing. I figured, incorrectly, that what was best for my son would be for him to be brought up with the same religion as myself. But I was wrong. Very fucking wrong.

  • My morals, my sense of right and wrong, were already as they are now at around the age of six years. I learned them from my parents, and later, those same values would be reinforced by my peers, first in nursery school, then school.
  • At Sunday School, I learned a bunch of Bible stories, myths, prayers, and other nonsense.
  • Christianity taught me I was born in sin. In shame. That’s the lesson of Christianity – that you are born a sinner and that you need Christ to be saved.
  • Christianity taught me a fear of suffering for all eternity based on arbitrary rules that made no sense to me, but they would keep me awake at night anyway, in my late childhood and early teens.
  • Christianity taught me that everybody who didn’t accept Christ would be punished for all eternity, even if they believed just as sincerely in some other religion, when the only difference between them and me was that they were born into a different religion. This kept me awake at night in my mid teens.
  • Christianity taught me to be guilty for my mere existence.
  • Christianity taught me to pray every night, and left me feeling guilty if I didn’t, to such an extent that I still prayed for ten years or so after I stopped believing in god, because I could not fall asleep if I didn’t do it.

To summarize, Christianity was traumatic for me. It provided zero good. I realized this when thinking more clearly after a couple of years of recovery from my addiction. And as the years have passed, I have come to see it as more and more harmful.

I’m an antitheist. I see only harm in the indoctrination of a child. If my son finds religion in his adult life, good for him, but to impose that on a child, I believe, is a grave mistake a parent can make. Religion is toxic. Brainwashing a child is flat-out wrong and the fact that most people are religious and are utterly incapable of seeing how absurd their beliefs are, and that most Christians do not even acknowledge the harm in the message of shame that comes with Christianity, are indications of just how harmful religion is.