Nope, we don’t all need a god.

And nobody has one. Show me your god… have him drop by and say “Hello”.

Yesterday a friend of a friend shared some ignorant comments about atheism by my fellow countryman, Trevor Noah. Well, I guess he fits right in, in America… Unfortunately I can’t find those images this morning, although I see some of them were shared over here

This sucks, because I was going to write something completely different. I was going to write about tolerance, and some criticism of my own approach to criticizing theism. Little did I know that my mind would become preoccupied with the intolerance of someone on the other side of my lack of belief.

So here’s the abridged version of my self critique… I unfortunately tend towards dogmatically rejecting all religious and spiritual (God, I hate that word – and no, the irony is intentional) approaches to recovery. It didn’t occur to me until yesterday that my approach to recovery, that is it all being about taking personal responsibility…might work just as well for religious folks as it does for me. You can believe in god and still do recovery as I do. You can believe in god and still be skeptical about an approach to recovery that isn’t evidence based. And you can “thank god” without literally giving credit to a deity, but rather as an acknowledgement of your faith. And maybe sometimes I can get over enthusiastic in my mockery, to the extent that I alienate someone who might get a helpful hint from my approach. Anyway, I’m afraid I find it difficult to tone down the anti-theism. (Aaaand that’s as close to an apology I can get.)

Anyway, on Noah’s idea that we all need a god. Um, no. I don’t think the problem here is ignorance, not really. The problem is bias. If you believe in god, and you hold that belief as important – after all you believe that god is the only thing stopping your immortal soul (which doesn’t exist, by the way) from suffering for all eternity, then you will think everybody needs a god. As with all these arguments, you start with the assumption that your god exists.

The truth is, nobody has a god. What you have is faith. That’s a belief in god despite never having seen god, heard god, or felt god. If you think you feel god in your heart, that’s the result of wishful thinking and years of indoctrination. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It might be good for you. It might be what you need. But it isn’t that you have god. What you have is a belief in god, and no more.

I think many people make the mistake of erroneously attributing meaning in their lives to their god. I can understand how this might happen… Your belief is sincere, and you believe that you have a genuine relationship with your god. You also mistakenly think that morals come from your god. However, other people believe just as sincerely that other gods give their lives meaning. It is clear, if you can think about this objectively, that the meaning is emotional, a feeling that you (and others) have. There is no real meaning coming from your god – it’s just a belief. Without the belief in that god, there is no void left to fill. We make our own meaning, or we see no meaning at all. But assuming that others need this intangible meaning that you think you have, just because you feel that way, doesn’t make sense.

So let’s try to be more tolerant of each other’s views. Most people I know are religious, and I don’t mock them, although I do make fun of what they believe in. And they are free to debate me or mock what they think I believe in. (Almost without exception, theists do not understand atheism. Even my mother is not quite there yet.) But let’s not impose our beliefs on anyone else. We can all believe what we believe, and debate others with whom we disagree… But don’t tell anyone else what they need, for goodness sake… You might just be projecting and that’s dumb.

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Questioning the origin of the claim that god exists is not a genetic fallacy. Here’s why…

I still don’t have time for much writing, but thought I’d share this excellent meme I found yesterday…

Magic

Of course it’s a variation of what I’ve written before – god is nothing more than an explanation for the unknown, invented by primitive man, and handed down through generations of indoctrination.

Once, when I wrote something like that here before, a commenter took offense and accused me of a genetic fallacy, then presented his version of an argument from first cause. And that prompted me to write about the argument from first cause. (Not my best piece of writing but it’s not bad, I think. I didn’t know what special pleading is, although I mentioned it without using its name.) Of course, in the case of the argument from first cause, it introduces a rule that everything needs a creator, in a sequence of causes and effects that can be traced back to a “first cause”. Then it leaps to the conclusion that the first cause is god (a non sequitur because that does not follow) and states that god does not have a cause, which violates the rule of its premise.

But seeing the meme I’ve shared today made me think about it again. The question in my mind, which I’d like to address today is: How can you believe that questioning the origin of god is a genetic fallacy?

So what is a genetic fallacy? From the Google preview…

The genetic fallacy (also known as the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue) is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context.

So, clearly this is a fallacy where one reaches a conclusion on something, based solely on the origin of that thing, without considering its current meaning or context. I see then, how a person could claim that rejecting belief in god based on the origin of god might be considered such a fallacy… But I also see how that would be wrong. Can you?

It’s like this: If you assume that god exists, then the origin of the claim that god exists becomes irrelevant, because god exists.

Of course, the reason that’s wrong should be obvious… Like every religious apologetics argument, it starts with the assumption that god exists. That’s not how logic works.

In fact, almost every apologetics argument has this problem. And many of them work like this:

  1. Start with the implicit, always unstated assumption that god exists.
  2. Make some statements about something else.
  3. Conclude that god exists, even though it does not follow logically from whatever statements were made. (Steps two to three are a non sequitur.)

As you can see, questioning the origin of god can only be perceived as a genetic fallacy if you assume that god exists. And as I’ve shown above, this conclusion that god exists, in apologetics arguments in general, often only “works” because the assumption was made. (“I know that X is true because I assume that X is true.”… without stating the assumption directly but stating some unrelated stuff after making it.) This is why we often argue in circles in debates between theists and atheists… The theists always start with the assumption that their conclusion is true, but they do not realize that it’s illogical (circular reasoning) to do so.

But because that assumption (that god exists) is implied, not stated, the theists who debate expect us to address their other statements, the irrelevant ones from which they take a leap of faith to conclude that god exists. (Even though the leap of faith only makes sense if one assumes that god exists.) Arguing about the irrelevant statements, whether that involves refuting straw man arguments of science or whatever, is pointless, because they are irrelevant. This is why, when someone wants to debate evolution, I like to short-circuit the debate – suggest to them that we ignore evolution. Assume that it’s false if you want, and ask them how they get from unknown to god. Short-circuit the debate and reveal the assumption. But they don’t want to discuss their actual claim that god exists, or face the fact that an assumption was made. Since there is no evidence for god, they prefer to discuss something else.

No, atheists don’t have special knowledge, and none is required for us to reject your magical claims.

A couple of days ago, I bought myself a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion… finally. I haven’t had the time to start reading it yet, but feel that I need to read books like his and others by popular atheists, because from what I’ve seen in videos, his attitude is quite similar to mine. It would be great to have an understanding of the views of popular atheists (and theists too but I dread reading religious apologetics because their faulty logic jumps out at me), and it’s time for me to start. It will be especially useful when I debate theists and write about it… But until then, you’ll have to settle for my own ponderings on the subject.

Another of the really stupid arguments used by theists multiple times in various debate groups I have belonged to, is the suggestion, often phrased with condescending arrogance and sarcasm, that atheists (claim to?) have special knowledge that god does not exist. The sarcasm is, of course, misdirected, and the suggestion that we are the ones with special knowledge is itself ironic, when coming from a person who claims to have a personal relationship with the creator of the entire universe.

Of course it’s nothing more than a poor attempt to shift the burden of proof. But it isn’t deliberate. A person who is brainwashed has no idea that they are brainwashed, so such a person does not even realize that he or she is the one making a claim.

As an atheist, I assume nothing. I don’t know how the universe came to be, and I admit that I don’t know. I don’t have to provide an alternative explanation to yours, even if I don’t believe yours. And you can deny science all you want, and come up with weird contrived refutations of evolution as much as you like… It doesn’t validate your assertion that your god exists. It doesn’t make your belief in any way equivalent to science.

By disbelieving in your god, I do not believe in some opposite of it. I also don’t believe in nothing, or creation from nothing, because I reject your claim of creation anyway. I claim not to have any knowledge about any god, but reject all gods as magical explanations for the unknown, because that’s what they are.

Conversely, theists do claim to have special knowledge. But in every case, they assume that their god is real. Starting with the assumption that you confuse for knowledge, and failing to realize that you made an assumption, is the only explanation for the attitude where you then claim that anyone who doesn’t believe it is making a claim to have special knowledge. But it doesn’t make sense. You made a claim. It’s up to you to prove it, and not up to me to prove that your god isn’t real, or even to define what the fuck your god actually is. Do you even know?

I’m also often told that I can’t refute their religion because I didn’t study it. And I always answer that absurdity the same way… Did you study every other religion that you don’t believe in? If you didn’t, how can you say you don’t know for sure that the other gods aren’t real? Have you read every book ever written about fairies? Do you know everything there is to know about unicorns, or dragons? And the answer is always the same… crickets.

“Every creation has a creator; therefore God exists.” Way to beg the question, dude!

I really ought to stop debating these people. The other day I mentioned the one person in particular who posts nothing but memes that “debunk” evolution, or at least a straw man thereof. Even though I explained the issues with this argument multiple times, and posted my counterargument, this person continues posting the same thing, phrased differently, over and over. Debating isn’t only about putting forward your argument. It’s also about considering the opposing argument, something that person is unable to do.

Then I saw a comment presenting someone else’s argument, which started like this:

Every creation has a creator.

It then went on, via a lengthy and convoluted argument which I didn’t read, to conclude that god exists. I have also pointed out the problem with circular reasoning and begging the question to these people multiple times, but they just don’t get it…

Yes, it is true to say that every creation has a creator, because that’s what a creation is. However, that’s just a rearrangement of what is being claimed. By assuming creation to be true, you also assume a creator. One does not start an argument with the assumption that one’s conclusion is correct.

Consider this statement:

I am always right. I know this to be true because it was stated by me. I thus conclude that I am never wrong.

That’s exactly the same kind of logic. You can see it’s clearly wrong. My premise was that I am always right. My conclusion was that I am never wrong. But always right means never wrong. Likewise a creation has a creator, so assuming the universe is a creation is the same as assuming it has a creator.

In case anyone fond of Tu Quoque claims that as an atheist, I am also making an assumption (of no creation?) let me make this clear: I make no claim. A theist professes belief in god, and a religious apologist argues that the claim is true. That is, the belief that god exists, and that the universe is a creation of god, is the claim. If you assume creation, you assume the claim to be true. Proving that the universe is a creation is part of the problem that needs proving. The other part is to prove the existence of the creator. The source of the claim is usually some religious text, such as the Bible. As the source of the claim, that can’t be used as the proof either. It would also be circular reasoning to claim that you know the Bible is true because the Bible says so.


Aside: There’s more to the claim that I’ve omitted because it isn’t relevant to pointing out the begging the question fallacy. But to be clear, there is more to the claim. Most religions (and I use Christianity as the example because I was brought up as such and it is the only religion I know well) claim that after we die, we live on in some other form. So they claim that we have a soul or spirit. That’s a testable claim, but nobody has ever been able to prove it. They then insist that if we don’t follow Christ, we will burn in Hell, as opposed to living eternally in Heaven. So often, people simply post memes saying that we will go to Hell, without understanding just how many claims they make in the process, claims that have no evidence.

So instead of this nonsense of begging the question and disproving science, if you want to debate atheists, here is what is expected (at least from me):

  1. Prove that the universe is a creation, not by referring to anything in in that you assume your god created, but by proving the existence of your god.
  2. Prove that a soul exists, by proving that the brain is not the source of our consciousness.
  3. Prove that life continues after physical death.
  4. Prove that Heaven and Hell are real places rather than mythological ones.
  5. Lastly, prove that every other claim (of god) is false, and that your specific one is true. Any theist who knows only about their own religion (because they have accepted their indoctrination) but doesn’t know any others, can be assumed to be brainwashed and unable to proceed with debate, right off the bat.

If all those things can be proved without making any assumptions and without using bad arguments that are riddled with logical fallacies, I will gladly accept your religion.

Note that as an atheist, I don’t have to define what proof of your god is. I make no claim… all I’m doing in effect is saying that your claim is untrue. You claim that a god exists, and thus you must provide the evidence. If god truly is the creator of the universe, this proof must surely exist.

As an atheist, I also don’t have to provide some other explanation for the origin of the universe. Again, I don’t make a claim. I simply reject your magical one.

The frustration with being openly antitheist: having to be debated by people who have no business debating anyone.

Lately I’m starting to wonder if being open about my atheism all the time is really worthwhile. Four acquaintances recently decided to “debate” me… And the reason the word debate is quoted is, well, they have no idea how to debate. It was more like being ganged up on.

Theists, when they approach me with their arguments, just don’t seem to get this: I have heard all the arguments before. I’ve often heard them or read them articulated well. (Thus how I respond to a familiar argument articulated badly varies only according to my mood.) I debate when there are people present who may be undecided. I don’t argue with people who are indoctrinated such that they cannot think for themselves when there isn’t an audience, because it is a complete waste of time.

I had three arguments made against me that I intended writing about, but to keep this post short, I’ll only present one of them…

Argument from personal incredulity, about a credulously accepted second-hand anecdote that’s no better than an urban legend

Here’s the man’s argument: What if you heard of a couple, who tried for more than twenty years and did not have a child? Doctors told them they could not have a child, and then one day, she became pregnant, and the doctors could not explain it? That was it. That was his whole “argument”.

Firstly, that’s an argument from incredulity. “I don’t understand; therefore God.” Or, “I don’t know how; therefore GodDidIt.” He would not see that there is a gap between “I don’t understand” and “therefore God”. It’s a case where he doesn’t understand, and… Hey… Guess what? I already have a magical explanation for all things. Let me just accept that, so I don’t have to think and consider what an actual explanation might be.

Also see my sub-heading above. It’s an anecdote, but it’s not even a personal anecdote. It’s something that he heard, like the story I heard about the old lady who used to wash her dog, Fifi, and then dry her in the oven, until the day she bought a microwave oven. (Poor Fifi – she is no more.) We love anecdotes… First hand accounts of stuff that teach us something. I heard the one about the microwaved dog from my grade 9 biology teacher back in my school days when I was fourteen years old, and he told it like he knew the old woman personally or at least a friend of a friend did, because that’s how anecdotes work. But almost thirty later, I read the same urban legend, and it was written by a journalist in a foreign country, who’d heard it in a similar manner to myself.

Someone with a different religious background could very well use the same anecdote as “proof” of a completely different god, a god that, if believed in by my acquaintance, according to his religion, would land him in Hell. But he, and this theoretical other person who believes in some other god, will latch onto the anecdote because it takes only a small leap of faith (that they have already made) to confirm what they already believe.

Unlike the other people in the group, this acquaintance is quite stupid, and slow. But the others, who are quite intelligent, were only too keen to accept his story. They didn’t think of asking the obvious questions which would reveal the anecdote was not something he knew to be true, questions about the couple such as: How old are they? How long have they been married? Were they divorced and remarried, and if so, did either have a child before? What are their names? Where do they live? Do you have the names of the doctors who were baffled by their case? What is the medical reason that the doctors have, if any, that pregnancy could not occur?

They didn’t ask those questions because it is easier to accept a story that conforms what you already believe, even if that story is brought to you by an idiot.


I feel bad for calling my acquaintance stupid, but when somebody passes on such an anecdote without even the slightest hint of skepticism, it is difficult to call him anything else. (And I really do feel bad. He’s a good guy, a likeable guy – he just isn’t too bright.) I don’t know where he heard the anecdote… Maybe it was from someone in his church… maybe the pastor. But it doesn’t matter… The story is too vague. Maybe it is based on truth, but there is no way of knowing what’s true and what’s embellished. Even if a man had an exceptionally low sperm count but was not infertile, and he and his wife tried to have a child, the probability of success would increase every time they tried. Also, the probability of success would increase if she was unfaithful… When someone tells me a story and it includes unnamed doctors who have no explanation for some fucking miracle, of course I will not believe it, and of course I will question the intelligence of the person telling me the story. What leaves me bemused is that the other people in the room were only too keen to accept the story too, in spite of their intelligence.

The time I tried born-again Christianity to escape my predicament – Part 2

See part 1.

So there I was, at this Christian retreat, a getaway where I got away from my crazy life. My memories of most of it are less clear than of my mad life, possibly because I was there more to escape and less to find a solution. And of course, I’d just gone from using meth for a year to not using, which meant issues with holding my attention for more than a few minutes at a time.

The place was a huge camping site, where we all stayed in little chalets rather than tents. (Thank their giddy god for that small mercy. I fucking hate camping.) Most of the time was spent moving from one makeshift church service to another, in huge groups of gleeful grinning goons. Their perpetual manic happiness was made even more disturbing by me being half asleep the first day, as I felt myself drifting off while being dragged along, a reluctant clown swept along by a sea of zombie clowns.

For someone who grew up Roman Catholic, this was an altogether different experience. Each service had a preacher, but this wasn’t organised like a Mass, and the main focus of each meeting seemed to be more about everybody’s participation, in prayer and especially in the worship, where worship really meant singing and playing musical instruments, or just making a mad fucking raucous in the name of Jesus. In between gatherings, I’d hear people reminisce about previous worships…. “Now that was a great worship. One to remember!”

The first few meetings were a bunch of different preachers, and the guy who took me there kept telling me about the main preacher, the leader of their bunch of churches, who was yet to appear. It was almost as if he were anticipating the appearance of Christ himself.

Eventually the main preacher dude showed up, and had a lot to say. He needn’t have though, because he could have saved a lot of words if he just repeated this one line over and over again: “Build the church”. That’s the gist of everything he said… Build the church. Build the church. Build the church. Yawn. Oh gosh, he’s still quoting some Bible verse and talking about building the fucking church. Blah blah blah build the church yada yada ding dong build the church. And then the happy people get to what they really want to do… The worship.

Sometime on the Sunday afternoon, I finally felt something during the worship. A feeling rushed through me, an energy, an exciting, exhilarating, almost palpable sensation. It was almost as if as if I could raise my hands and touch god, and I was feeling the power of the holy spirit! Except I wasn’t. A little voice in my head, not a meth voice because it would be two years before I heard those, but my voice, a voice of reason, spoke to me. It stated bluntly, “This is not god”. I recognized the feeling all too well. It was the feeling of endorphins, or maybe dopamine and serotonin. I was being swept up by the group euphoria, swept by the psychological group dynamics of a group of believers all high on Jesus. Just for a few sweet moments I felt what they felt. It was a pleasant feeling, but after all, I wasn’t there to trade one high for another.

Having seen through the group delusion, having felt it and understood that these people were addicted to a worship-induced high, nothing supernatural or spiritual but just another chemical reaction in their brains, I was disappointed.

For the remainder of the day, I went through the motions. I asked questions about their beliefs, which they interpreted as a genuine interest to be one of them, although I knew then that I could never be. They were keen to explain it all to me, thinking they had succeeded with another brick in building the church, thinking they had a new member of their crazy cult.

To be honest, I found their message quite simplistic and dreadful. In their religion, all one has to do is accept Jesus as one’s personal saviour, and all sin is forgiven. As simple as that… But all who do not accept it are doomed to eternal torture. (Even those born in remote areas who never heard of this particular strain of evangelical Christianity. And all those who happen to profess equal belief in all other religions.) I thought of that poor girl from part 1 who took a bullet to the head. She didn’t even use drugs. Her only fault was to fall for the wrong man, and become trapped in a relationship with an abusive monster from which there was no escape but death. So I said what they wanted to hear… I repeated the meaningless words and stated that I accepted Jesus as my personal saviour. I could have fucked with them and renounced Jesus, accepting Satan, because I knew then that none of that shit was real. But what for? It was easier just to go along with the ride, so I could get out of there and go home.

My life was pretty fucked up, but to be honest, even now if I had to choose between that awful lie of a Jesus high, or a meth high, I’d choose meth. Of course there is no such choice and I choose life and reality, not drugs and not delusion.

Maybe somewhere, in some parallel reality, there is an incarnation of me who didn’t see through the lie. Maybe he is happy now. He didn’t go home, get back together with Megan, and have the wonderful son that we had two years later. He lost out on so very much. He didn’t see through the simplistic false promise of eternal life, didn’t learn that the same lie is often used as a placebo for addiction recovery in 12 step programs, and didn’t grow in strength and character as I have. Maybe he’s a Christian blogger now, and all of his writing is polluted with that same empty promise, that god knows what’s best for him, and that he will live an eternal life in Heaven. Maybe he got to ignore and forget all his problems because he is “not of this world”, and likewise forget all sympathy for those who do not accept the poisonous Christian message. His writing will be more popular than mine, because such writing appeals to that desperate need to believe and reinforces it, just like the shared frenzy of the worship reinforces the Jesus high and convinces the participants that what they feel is spiritual. Such writing is always popular, and each post receives dozens of likes, if not more. I am so happy not to be that guy.

The time I tried born-again Christianity to escape my predicament – Part 1

This will be too long for one post. The introduction alone is as long as my usual posts, so I’ll break this into two parts.

2006 was a weird year for me. I’d been using meth for about a year. I was living in Marina da Gama in Cape Town, and was in too deep with a meth dealer named Aldino (who everybody called Dino, or “money-eyes”, thanks to his green eyes). He often crashed at a house half a block away, that belonged to another meth addict named Nick. One night I met a “girlfriend” of his, named Megan, who stayed there for the day. (The name might be familiar to regular readers of this blog. Will get back to her shortly.)

Dino would manipulate me by giving me large packets of meth, considerably more than I was accustomed to using, and insist that I pay later. Thus I owed him thousands of Rands. Then he’d get me to be his personal chauffeur, driving him to a god-forsaken place called Bonteheuwel, which he pronounced Bontiville, to pick up his “wife” and mother of his two children, who was living there with his parents. I hated going there, but felt trapped, and would often be there in the middle of the night… the only white guy in that terrible place.

One night as we arrived, another man who had been there with his wife ran off, so Dino shot him out the passenger window of my car. I was shocked and terrified, asking myself how I, a middle class white guy, a nerd and computer programmer, could be in this predicament. I didn’t want to be an accomplice to murder. (The man lived though. Apparently Dino was a good shot, to hit a moving target when shooting from a moving car, but the wound was not fatal.)

One day while I was at work, I received a call from Megan, asking if we could meet that night. She was only 16 and I was 34, but somehow we had both left each other with quite an impression in our only meeting about a month before. It wasn’t a normal date… We met at the local Spur restaurant, then went and bought a lot of meth and went back to my place, and she moved in.

We weren’t actually having sex. I was torn between my need to save her somehow, to save this beautiful “fallen angel” as I saw her, and my attraction to her. So it was bizarre, this beautiful crazy girl sleeping next to me, then sloshing about and singing in my bath, naked with the door wide open, as I resisted my sexual urges. And she was incredibly beautiful then… She’s mixed race, what we call coloured here in South Africa, but looks Indian, and at 16, she was the picture of perfection in my eyes. One of the prettiest faces I’d ever seen, and a body to die for.

While we were lost in our own world, using and talking all night, Dino got somebody else to pick up his “wife”. And when she told him that she was pregnant with somebody else’s child, he murdered her in front of Nick, with a bullet to her head. But about Dino… He wasn’t all bad. He’d grown up dirt poor, and lifted himself from poverty the only way he knew – through gangsterism and drugs. He’d grown up Catholic and was a former alter-boy. He was charming, intelligent, and handsome, beloved by many women because of his piercing green eyes. He was also a dreamer, and had told me of his plans to get out of that life and buy a house for him, his wife and his two children. So on some level I understand what happened… When she told him, she took away his dream, and he was high on meth and buttons (mandrax) as usual. Dino was also the most dangerous and unstable man I knew, with a violent temper. I’m not condoning his actions… far from it. What I mean is, I understand his rage. I was afraid of him, and when I heard the news, all I could think about was the poor stupid girl, and how on one occasion she showed me a soccer ball she’d bought for her son at the flea market. What gave her that fatal courage to stand up to him? She didn’t deserve to die. I was afraid for Megan, afraid that Dino would find out she was staying with me, though we kept it secret for the first month or two…

Megan and I had an argument… I can’t remember what it was about… It could be one of many things. She’d stolen money out of my wallet, sold a few of my possessions, and she was angry with me because I had told a friend about her. One night she tried to run my car off the road by grabbing the steering wheel, as we drove home. In a reflex I punched her in the face and she let go of the wheel. But I had never hit a woman before (nor again). The guilt I felt was immense, even though it had been purely a reflex and one that probably saved both of our lives. So I kicked her out of my apartment, at least for the time being. Meanwhile, Dino, who was on the run from the police, was harassing me for the R2000 I owed him. I was justifiably afraid, and add to that the paranoia that comes with a meth high. (I can’t believe this was only ten years ago.)

I was looking for any means of escape, any way to get away from all the madness, even though at the same time I was worried about Megan, not knowing where she had gone. Then at work, I was invited to attend a Christian weekend retreat. The invitation came from the system architect. He was a highly intelligent man, whom I respected. I wasn’t calling myself an atheist then, although I no longer believed in god… But the offer came, I suppose, because it was obvious that I had a problem. It was difficult then, to show up on time for work. I slept once every few days, and had just gone from using a quarter gram of meth alone, over three days, to using far far more with her, every single night. I was in bad shape and everybody could see that. They didn’t know how bad… nobody did. So I don’t know how much of his motivation was to save me, or if there were discussions at work and this was perhaps a last resort… an attempt to help me rather than me losing my job, since I had done some good work there.

So I went.

From one set of crazy people to another.

Since I was there without meth, things seemed surreal at first. Here I was, with this odd man, driving there as he told me about a Christian children’s book that he had written. He was born into evangelism, but I would soon discover that most of the other attendees of this weekend retreat were a different kind of Christian to any I’d known before. They were converts, people who had found Jesus in adulthood. People who had been through or done terrible things, people who were broken, and had found a fix, a cure, in Jesus. (The pun on “fix” is intentional. More on them being high on Jesus in part 2.)

They were warm and welcoming, not at all interested in hearing my story, nor in telling me theirs. (For the best perhaps; else I’d have written theirs here.) It was all about the message of acceptance and forgiveness… But more on that later.

… To be continued.

Holy cow! Religious belief is absurd.

A few years ago, I worked at a major satellite TV broadcasting and media company. I was a developer in one of several teams working on a project named “EVOLUTION”. Just two months prior to completion of my year there, a competition was held to come up with a new name for the project. To take part, one had simply to reply on an email thread, supplying one’s suggestion for a project name, and an explanation of the given name.

One evening just before I left, an email arrived from one of the thousands of Indian contractors working there. His suggested name, which I can’t remember, was the name of their sacred cow god, capitalized, followed by a paragraph that explained the relevance of that sacred cow to the project. It was a serious suggestion and he made facets of his religious belief relevant to the project. I immediately typed my own acronym for a project name in a reply to all: Bringing Evolution Even Further – BEEF.

I didn’t send it. (For a number of reasons: I was already clean at that point, and thus thinking clearly; I saw no reason to piss off thousands of employees; as funny as the acronym was, it was not intended as a serious project name.) No doubt it would have got some laughs, but it was probably for the best that it remained forever in my outbox.

So what’s my point? It’s not that I can be sarcastic. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know that. My point is that people really believe that cows are sacred. I mean, seriously, cows! As in moo, for fuck’s sake. Moo! The humour of my unsent reply relied neither on my acronym that contrived a connection between evolution and cows, nor on my mockery of their belief. Rather, it relied on the absurdity of the belief itself. So there should be no doubt in your mind that the belief in sacred cows is silly…

And yet, how different is this particular religious belief to any other? How did that man come to believe this? The answer to the second question answers the first… He was indoctrinated. Taught this belief since childhood, he accepted it. It became part of his worldview. To him, cows have some religious significance and they really are sacred. I have recently even read about extremist Hindus who persecute people who trade in beef.

The fact is, as absurd as the belief may be, it is no more absurd that Jesus or Allah guides your life. Religious people find ways of making their religious belief relevant to their lives all the time, because their beliefs are tied so closely to their worldviews. In that way, claiming to be a follower of Jesus (or Allah, or any other god) is no different to sending an email that makes sacred cows relevant to a large IT project. Belief in all gods is belief without evidence. None of them are any less absurd than any other. So if you are a religious person and you mock anyone else’s religious belief, remember the holy cows… Your belief is just as crazy as theirs.

Atheism is not a belief system (again)

Recently a commenter calling him or herself “thinking philosophy”, which in my opinion is a highly ironic name for a theist, insisted that my description of atheism, which is a lack of belief in all gods, is itself a belief; in other words that atheism is a belief system. Try as I might, I could not convince this person otherwise. Here’s the problem: There are beliefs where disbelieving involves an alternate belief, and I’ll get to one of those later, but atheism is not one of them.

There is indeed a significant problem inherent to arguing against belief in a deity… There is no single accepted definition of such a deity that is accepted by all theists, even among those of the same religion. Thus I have nothing to refute. Any argument I make that uses any specifics of any religion can be called a straw man, or strident rhetoric, because you can turn around and say, “But I don’t believe that”.

If I write about the origin of any religion, that can be called a genetic fallacy. Never mind that believing in any religion involves accepting that your particular religion was not simply a product of superstition and the explaining of the unknown in terms of magic by primitive people, you can still make your fallacy of fallacies and insist that my argument is a genetic fallacy. It’s one of the most annoying tactics used by religious apologists… in that it is OK for them to make generic arguments for a creator/designer, and then conclude (via a non sequitur) that their particular god is real. But argue against a specific religion and it becomes a genetic fallacy.

The fact is, when making a claim, the burden of proof lies on those who make the claim, not those who refute it. There is no evidence for any god. That’s where the argument should end, because disproving a negative is impossible. No god is going to solve this dilemma by showing up, and apologists rationalize other things to be evidence of their gods, while skeptics continually ask for evidence that will never be forthcoming. Thus this debate remains deadlocked, even though it shouldn’t be. As long as people continue to believe without evidence, there will always be those like me who point out the absurdity of such beliefs…

In any case, looking at the history of a more recent religion can be useful… For example, Joseph Smith started the Church of Latter-day Saints, essentially with the claim that he was able to write his holy text, dictated by god through some magic rocks. Anybody who hasn’t been indoctrinated as a Mormon should have enough common sense to know that magic rocks aren’t real. Yet to believe in one of the older, more established Abrahamic religions, such a person must suspend such disbelief and accept that a long time ago, equally magical means were normal, and that the Bible, Torah or Quran are legitimate holy books.

Getting back to my argument that not holding a belief is not the same as holding an alternate belief, let’s consider an absurd hypothetical belief: The belief that pigs can fly. I’m not an expert on pigs. I have not studied them. I don’t know if different kinds of pigs are different species, or subspecies. I have never seen a flying pig though, and even though I can not rule out that there is some special pig somewhere that can fly, I don’t believe that pigs do fly. But saying that “I don’t believe pigs do fly” doesn’t mean that I have some other belief about the flight of pigs. In fact, I have no opinion about flying pigs, and no beliefs regarding whether or not they fly. If one day, I see a flying pig, I’ll form a belief then. Likewise, although I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six years old, I didn’t replace that belief with a belief in an evil Santa (Krampus?). I simply didn’t hold that belief any longer.

In much the same way, when I stopped believing in god, I didn’t start believing in something else. I simply don’t hold any belief on that subject. Since I don’t believe that we were created, that does not mean I believe that we came from nothing… I have zero opinion on that subject just like you have no idea where your particular god came from. (But by the way, if he always existed… way to duck the question… Why not apply that same logic to the universe?) And don’t tell me I’m agnostic… Sure, I can not eliminate the possibility that there is some sort of intelligent designer that has nothing to do with any known religion, since all such religions and gods were invented by man, but neither can I refute that fairies, ghosts, the Loch Ness monster, bigfoot, flying saucers, or the boogeyman under the bed might exist. Maybe when I look under the bed, he is in the cupboard? My lack of belief in all of those things is not itself a belief… I just don’t hold those beliefs. Why is this so difficult to understand?

Of course there are beliefs which, if not held, imply a different belief. Let’s get back to those pigs… I used to argue against vegetarianism, and my argument came down to this: We are omnivores. We evolved to eat meat and vegetables, and the structure of our teeth alone proves this. And besides, I love bacon! But the truth is, pigs are sentient beings, just like us, and I have come to believe that we no longer need to eat meat, and in fact it may well be morally wrong to do so in these times. I still eat meat though, so I am somewhat conflicted, but I do believe that it would be better not to, and one day, hopefully soon, I will stop eating meat. Here, I have switched one belief for another, but not every belief works that way.

The “works of god” you see rising before you do not prove the existence of god

I’ll try not to make a habit of posting these kinds of screenshots, but I see this kind of poor logic so often, and this example is so fucking funny, I can’t help sharing it.

GodRising

It is a claim made in this case by a Muslim, that God exists, because something he observed proves it.

This kind of observation can be broken down as follows:

  1. You start with the assumption that god exists.
  2. You take an example of something that you believe this god caused. (Usually it is the observed “works of god” – something that you assume this god created. In this odd case, the man assumes that god causes his erection.)
  3. You then assert that god exists, because he caused this thing or created this thing, that you assume he created.

The statement is a long winded non sequitur, because the conclusion does not follow at all from the premise given. It is also a fine example of circular reasoning.

This one is a silly example, albeit amusing. I have read the same kind of logic made my people less stupid than the person in this example… that is, I have read statements just as ridiculous, made by intelligent people.

Come on… your assumed “works of god” do not prove that god exists. They only prove that you assume god was responsible for those works. I struggle to understand why so many make these kinds of logical errors… Such statements do not prove what you think they prove… The prove only that the person stating them made an assumption… not that the assumption is true.