Daily Atheist Quote

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

God Mail - I'm mad as hell and I'm ranting.

If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods, that fancy enthusiasm or deceit adorned them, that weakness worships them, that credulity preserves them and that custom respect and tyranny support them in order to make the blindness of men serve their own interests.

-Baron d'Holbach

What IS it with some Christians? They just can't leave you alone. They just can't. At some point, they figure it was their mission in life to run about and try to get as many converts as possible. I actually wonder if these people think there is some kind of heavenly tote board where Jesus keeps track of how many converts each Christians gets. "Oh look, Bob got two more. But Suzie here, hasn't had a single convert this week! She'd better pick up the slack!"

I mean, what would the winner get anyway? If there was any justice in the universe they'd end up with a T-shirt that said "I converted the heathens and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."

Of course, some of them are pretty open about why they cannot leave the rest of us alone. They say, with that creepy Barney the Dinosaur smile on their faces, things like "You know, if you see a hungry person, and you knew what it was like to go hungry, wouldn't you want to feed them? That is all I am doing." Yeah, well, Jesus-Boy, guess what? I'm not hungry! And even if I was, I ain't buyin' what you're selling!

Naturally, someone of them, when you really get angry after they have been on your metaphysical ass like a cop on donuts, will appologize. "I'm not perfect," they'll say. "We're all sinners you know. I include myself in that too. I'm a sinner too, that's why we need Jesus." Excuse me, but maybe you believe you were born a worthless sinner who has to pay the price for the alleged "sin" of Adam - which amounted to free thinking if you really consider the story - but some of us have a little more self respect than that. Putting aside the story is nothing but a myth for a moment, why does anyone think saying "I'm a sinner too" qualifies as an excuse for being an ass?

Ok, by now you can tell I am rather annoyed, and this post is not really of the same quality of my usual fair here on the handbook. But have you ever had a day where you just have had enough? Today was one of those for me. So you theists with porcelain sensibilities, stop reading now. I've duly warned you, so if you get all offended and weepy after this...well, we're all sinners right?

Anyway, I am more than used to Christians trying to convert me. They've been trying most of my life and at this point nothing much surprises me. I've heard it all. Over the last few weeks, for reasons that escape me, my videos on Youtube, and my blog here, have resulted in a wave of believers all attempting, desperately, to show me how wrong I am and just how much I need this Jesus guy. They tell me atheism is a tool of the Satan. (Hint to Christians: I'm an atheist If I don't believe in a god, why the hell do you think appealing to a devil is going to carry any weight? Think about it.) They tell me how much Jesus loves me. They threaten me with eternal torture in hell. (Another Hint: Again, don't believe in Jesus or a hell so...gah, why do I bother?) Others try the usual arguments from design and arguments from morality. These are easily dispensed with, but I will at least give them props for trying something that doesn't sound insane....because insane is what I often get. Consider this gem from a Youtuber who tries to argue...well, I am not sure what he is trying to argue, truth be told:

In order for something to be faith there must be less evidence. In old times God actually spoke to man, and showedhim great works, the more unpure man became the less God could talk them,makes sense when you thik about pure energy and bad energy. Or like this car radio waves versus traffic sounds that have other radio n waves or honking there horns.

If spirit means constant energy,and whhen you break everyuthing to an atom, and it sees u and it turns invisble and stops blinking,that is remnance of a spiritual thing that made everything,because it leaves behind a constant energy.
Which would mean that is the remnance of Gods energy.
And if God is energy he stays constant and can manipulate other energies,also he can be asexual which is why he can create things,
energy can't be destroyed, like static electricity, can be produced in many things
And if sin= inhereted bad genes, wickedness, and sickness,or bad genes you can pass down.

Makes since why there is sickness

Stuff like this really does make me fear for the future of the species.

Now, before I go on, let's make something clear from the outset. My blog and my videos are open for anyone to comment, even if their comments make it sound as though they allow Mike Tyson to use their brains as a punching bag. By putting my views out there, I open the door, deliberately, to the views of others. This is the way it is, and I encourage it. I even encourage views I don't like particularly. That's really the whole point in writing the essays I do, and make the videos I do. So while someone trying to get me to become a Christian by telling me I am a puppet of the devil is barking mad, in putting my opinons out there, I have to tolerate a certain level of, shall we say, unique opinons. Fortunately, for every screwball who thinks quoting bible versus at me actually works there is often a more thoughtful theist who, while I probably won't agree with them, at least as something interesting to say.

However, there are areas of ones' life where you think the believer with the evangelical itch would be able to restrain themselves. You know, like the mail. My mail. As in, mail I send to other people.

But alas, like the god of the Old Testament, some believers have a very serious impulse control problem.

I sent some Xmas presents to my mother and step father via UPS. (yes, I just wrote Xmas instead of the Jesusmas thing. Why? Because I feel like being a gadfly. nah nah nah.) When the package arrived it had on it a nice, friendly sticker some UPS employee though worthwhile to place on it. It read, in bright friendly letters: GOD LOVES YOU.

Oh really? Does god also realize I don't want him on my goddamn mail? I can only assume that the UPS employee who thought it was totally appropriate to use my mail as a tool to proselytize to the person I was sendingto it is the "just feeding the hungry, we're all sinners so I can do whatever the hell I want" variety. Or maybe it's the "I love you, so I don't want you go to hell, so I am going to do whatever I can to save you." Or maybe he or she is one of those really insipid gotta-convert-the-heathen-types who actually believe if you read the right bible passage to someone at the right time, the clouds will part, a beam of light will fall upon the head of the non-believer and to a chorus of angels singing Hallelujah, the heathen is converted!

Either way, I just don't give a crap. Believe it all you want. I don't really care about that either. But do not, I repeat NOT, put it on my mail. DON'T DO IT.

Look, I am pretty passionate about philosophy, politics, science and atheism (even though I think the term atheism itself is pretty silly...but that is for another, less ranty day.) But you don't see me sticking quotes from Richard Dawkins or Bertrand Russell on random stranger's mail now you do? I don't inavde your personal space with my philosophical views. You are chosing to read this of your own accord. You can stop reading whenever you bloody well please. In fact, even the most so called "fundamentalist atheist" (Another hint to believers: the phrase fundamentalist atheist is a contradication in terms and makes you sound ridiculous. If you investigate why some Christians call themselves "fundamentalists" you'll understand why.) would not put an atheist sticker saying "Christopher Hitchens loves you" on your mail.

But not this beleiver. Oh no. He thought it was prefect okey dokey to use someone else's mail to try and win a convert. I mean, I use UPS for business as well. I wonder if this slap happy Mensa group brainiac ever paused to think of the possible consquences of doing that. What if I was sending a resume to prospective employeer, who gets my packet and sees in happy letters reading GOD LOVES YOU on it? Somehow, I doubt leaving an impression of being a rabid bible thumper is the best way to impress a possible new boss. Not that our fundy friend in UPS cares. He's saving souls after all right?

Now, I know what you might be thinking. "Jesus, Grant. It's just a fucking sticker. Mellow out dude. Have a cheeto." And maybe you have a point. Then again, why should I tollerate this sort of invasion into my personal and private space? Why should anyone? Because someone, somewhere thinks the words "it's my faith" is some kind of get out jail free card? There is no justification for it, no matter what Mad God Sticker What God Sticks At Midnight thinks. (A obscure Tick reference there for those in the know.) At best it was unproffesional. Fortunately, a very helpful chap at UPS customer service though so too when I called and is doing whatever UPS does when this sort of thing happens.

So now I have to wonder if the god sticker guy will fess up if he caught? You know, bearing false witness and all that jazz? And if he does, what will his excuse be? Somehow I would not be surprised if as a defense, the phrase "we're all sinners you know," passes his lips.

Gah. What IS it with some Christians anyway?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

If there was a god...

Horst Klaus is a founding member of the Niagara Secular Humanists, a group which advocates the importance of secularism and the separation of church and State. Horst's recent essay "If there was a God..." is the first by a guest writer to appear here on the Atheist's Handbook.

If there was a god...
Essay by secular Humanist/Atheist Horst Klaus ....

If there was a god WHY...

Would “He”have created micro organisms such as good and bad bacteria long before multi-cell organism, and long, long before mammals, primates and humans?
Why did he create killer cells such as cancer cells and viruses ? Why would a single sting
from a tsetse fly kill a human being? Why could a sting from a malaria-carrying mosquito
kill a person?

Why create the physically poor human body in his image? Why do other living creatures,
such as other land or sea mammals, birds and fish have either much superior eyesight,
hearing, sense of smell - why do they have either fur, feathers, thick blubber or other
natural protection?

Why would “He” let devout believers die in major accidents in the same way, and along
with atheists and members of other religious groups? No matter if it is a man-made disaster
or a natural one!

Why would “He” let earthquakes happen, often causing the death of thousands of believers
and atheists? Why did “He” create Tsunamis and volcanoes?

Why did “He” choose this planet to create life after the origin of the solar system had
already existed about 10 billion years earlier, and after the “Big Bang”? Four and a half
billion years ago Earth was totally hostile to any life and multi-cell life that only developed
approximately 500 million years ago.

Why did “He” choose this less than perfect, hostile planet , an insignificant speck amongst
possibly trillions of planets? A planet where even now about 70% is covered by oceans plus
more by thick ice and another large portions of the planet is either too cold, under
permafrost or otherwise not suitable to most living organisms? There are at least 200
billion star systems in our own galaxy alone, many with planets. Conservative estimates are
that the universe contains at least 100 billion galaxies.

Why did so many living organisms have to die long before primates appeared, long before
humans? 95% of all early life is extinct, mostly due to impacts from extraterrestrial objects
such as meteorites, asteroids and lately thanks to human influence?

Why would “He” supposedly have “created” the entire universe, the sun and our planet
Earth and Adam and Eve, only to have his only son to be born to a middle eastern virgin?
Why would “He” let so many different religions develop when only one is his own, the
Judaic/Christian/Islamic version? Why would “He” let them fight and kill each other, often
in the name of a god or a scripture of opposing religions?

Why would “He” wait and let scientists discover treatments and cures for a multitude of
often fatal illnesses? Why can these medications and treatments not be found in the bible?
Why let them develop in the first place?

Now one of my biggest beefs:
If a loving God created all life on Earth, why did “He” create so many carnivores born to
kill other creatures or born to be eaten alive. Humans are amongst them.

Why would humans have been chosen to rule over the domain of the animals? After all, we
multiply the same, we are born the same way as other mammals, feed the same way and
often bleed the same way. After death, we decay the same way.
Why do we have oil reserves under-ground, when according to the scripture “He” created
a flat planet Earth only 6000 to 8000 years ago? It takes oil hundreds of millions of years to

Why would “He” support one political party, one particular political leader or one football
team, and not the other?

If God “created” everything and all life on Earth, “He” must have created homosexual
genes in humans also, as homosexuality is proven to be genetic. Hundreds of other animals
also engage in “same sex games”.

If God determines life and death, why do devout believers seek medical help at clinics and
hospitals? Is it not God’s will to decide when and how we die?

Another one of my favorites: Why did God give us two lungs, two arms, two leags, two
eyes, two kidneys, and men even have two useless nipples - but “He” gave us only one of the
most important organs, ONLY ONE HEART! Not really intelligent design?

To me and millions of Atheists, Humanists, religious Freethinkers and all those who have
given up accepting ancient religious teachings, look at them at best as unproven legends or
at worst gruesome fairytales !


And our numbers are growing!

Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized

Monday, July 28, 2008

Beyond Mere Atheism - Pt. 2 - Some elementary remarks about "objective" morality

"Is what is moral commanded by God is because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?"

-Plato, The Euthyphro, 5th century BCE

Before we can begin to dig into the meat of what an atheist moral philosophy might look like, it is perhaps worth taking a short detour to discuss some common theistic claims to rule the roost of morality and ethics.

This series of essays, titled “Beyond Mere Atheism” is not really intended to refute the various claims of theists. Indeed, as I suggested in the introduction, atheists have long allowed theists to frame and define the debate for us. The time has long since come, I think, for us to define our own turf on our own terms.

However, it is an inescapable fact that theism, in its Christian form in the west, has long claimed to be the authority on all things moral and this claim has, by in large, been accepted with little or no debate. And in anticipation of theist objections to future essays on this subject, I think it worth while to examine this claim if for no other reason that we can safely box it up and put it away.

Consider the recent debate on Youtube for example. There some theists have used the moral argument as proof of God’s existence and wield the argument as a kind of magic bullet that slays atheists in a single shot.

The argument goes like this: in order for moral and ethical standards to have any meaning whatsoever, and to have any authority on people whatsoever, they cannot spring from human minds. No human being has any intrinsic authority over another to enforce moral behavior. Further, we fickle humans can change our minds and therefore our morality is merely relative and implusive. What is required is an “objective” source of morals that has authority to enforce it, is unchanging and is, above all, extra-human. (hence why they call it objective morality.) That is, it comes from a supernatural source.

Lets examine what they mean by the “objective” source of morality. What they really mean is that their view of their particular god is that source. But this is argument really sound?

Consider what the theist has to do in order to support the claim that their god is the objective source of morals and therefore we ought to obey said deity. By my estimation for this claim to be taken seriously they must, at minimum, met four conditions:

1) Demonstrate there is a god.

Now, at this point I am not saying they have to prove their particular god exists, but instead just show that a god, any god, could exist. On this point it is important to say they cannot use the moral argument for god, because then they will just whip around in circular reasoning: “God exists because there are morals. Morals exist because God does.” That doesn’t get very far.

Most theists, at least those not those bound to fundamentalist thinking, will likely turn to the ontological or teleological arguments for god’s existence. These arguments are by no means conclusive, and have been refuted. But for our purposes here, we can say they are open to debate.

But let us grant them these arguments for the moment. What they have demonstrated by them is, at best, the deist view of a god as the original creator of the universe, but who takes no interest in its goings on, never mind human affairs. So even granting them this argument they have not proved their case. There is more work to do.

2) Demonstrate the god that exists is the god they believe in.

Having presented a case that a god exists, they have then the huge task of demonstrating that it’s their god that is the one handing down objective moral standards to us poor slobs. Remember, the moral argument itself is not sufficient, because it results in circular reasoning. Moreover, the moral argument itself does not present us with the identity of the god in question. Is it the Christian Trinity? Allah? Yahweh? The Great Spirit? The moral argument does not say. These gods are specific, with specific personality traits and a history and chosen prophets and so on.

I haven’t a clue how a theist would be able to demonstrate that the god demonstrated in point one is the one they happen to worship. They would, I assume, turn to scripture. But each religion has it own scripture, each claiming to be the truth and none of them possess a way to demonstrate the others are false beyond saying “because my holy book says so.”

Why is this second point important? Well, according to the theist, particularly of the Abrahamic variety, god’s morals standards have been explicitly handed down. We don’t know them by instinct (and if we did what would suggest a material source of morality as a product of evolution, which defeats the moral argument for god altogether.) So god handed down his or her or its orders via ancient texts. So if we are to take the claim that god is the source of moral standards seriously, we are going to natural ask, “which standards?” which is to say “which god?”

3) That the identified God has authority over human beings

If by some miracle, if you will excuse the phrase, we actually got this far, the theist is faced with another condition to meet. Where does this god fellow get his authority over us?

This is a question I have asked many theists, and have never actually received a useful answer. Some will claim god has authority over his creations by virtue of being the creator. In other words, we have to do what god wants because god made us. It is a peculiar argument and one we do not accept in our ever day lives on (drum roll please) moral grounds. Consider, parents literally “create” their children through sex. However, we do not regard the authority of parents over children to be absolute. There are things we do not allow parents to do to their children. For instance, we regard it as immoral for parents to beat or harm their children. We do not allow them to kill or imprison their children. Indeed one of the very few legitimate reasons for the state to interfere with religious practice is if someone is being harmed, particularly children. So merely being the “creator” of something does not grant authority over the creation.

This is particularly true of the modern west which long ago dismissed with concepts of absolute rulers. Indeed, the kind of “creator control” suggested by some theists is, by any definition, a dictatorship, which runs counter to every concept of freedom we posses.

So if that doesn’t work, what else is there? Well, some use a variant of this argument and say we should obey the moral dictates of god because if we don’t, god will punish us. In the case of the Christian/Jewish/Muslim god, that punishment entails torture forever in some sort of Hell.

This argument fails on two points. First, as Plato explained to us long ago in the Republic, might does not make right and justice never belongs to the stronger party simply because they are the stronger party. In modern terms, we reject the very idea of authority that rests upon the threat of violence. Indeed, a government whose entire authority does rest upon the threat of violence is considered illegitimate.

In fact, the justification for a god’s authority of human beings is unclear at best and, in point of fact, merely assumed in most theology. But if we are to accept the moral argument for god, then we need more than an assumption. We need a legitimate explanation for god’s authority.

4) Are the standards issued by the god in question actually moral?

Having come this far down the garden path, the theist is left with one last challenge. Are the moral standards issued by god actually moral? And if we reject some or all of them as immoral, then the entire argument falls to dust.

In the dialogue, Euthyphro Plato poses the question this way: “Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?”

If the first conclusion is true then the entire moral argument for god is rendered inert. It would imply that god orders that which is intrinsically moral – and if that is so then what makes those standards moral has nothing to do with god. He merely recognizes their moral character. Therefore there is no extra-human source of morality, or if there is it isn’t god.

If the second is true, then morality is not objective at all as the theist defines it. It is an extra human morality, but not objective. The whims of human beings is replaced by the whims of a supernatural agency. Anything and everything god orders is moral by definition. That means that any horrible act can be justified simply by saying “god said so.”

This argument, if accepted, leaves the theist – particularly Abrahamic believers – in particular moral pickle. Take the often cited Christian idea that god is “love.” He is omi-benevolent and does issue orders we recognize as moral such as “thou shalt not kill” or “thou shalt not bear false witness.” Some Christians, for example, will go so far as to say that god would never issue a command that was not moral.

Well, even a glance at the Bible raises some serious questions. University of Michigan philosophy professor Elizabeth Anderson in her essay “If God is dead, then everything is permitted?” points out that “if we accept biblical inerrancy, I’ll argue, we must conclude that much of what we take to morally evil is in fact morally permissible and even required.”

She points to several occasions, complete with chapter and verse references, in which god’s behavior is by any definition of morality that we hold true today, utterly and completely immoral. Her list is long but a mere glimpse of what is in the bible, so I will not quote it in its entirety. A small portion will do. (You can find the complete essay in the anthology “The Portable Atheist” edited by Christopher Hitchens.) Anderson writes:

“Consider first God’s moral character, as revealed in the Bible. He routinely punishes people for the sins of others. He punishes all mothers by condemning them to painful childbirth, for Eve’s sin. He punishes all human beings by condemning them to labor, for Adam’s sin. (Gen. 3:16-18). He regrets His creation and in a fit of pique, commits genocide and ecocide by flooding the entire earth. (Gen. 6:7) He hardens Pharaoh’s heart against freeing the Israelites (Ex. 7:3), so as to provide the occasion for visiting plagues upon the Egyptians, who, as helpless subjects of a tyrant, had no part in Pharaoh’s decision. (So much for respecting free will, the standard justification for the existence of evil in the world.) He kills all the firstborn sons, even of slave girls who had no part to play in oppressing the Israelites(Ex 11:15). He punishes the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of those who worship any other god. (Ex. 20:3-5). He sets a plague upon the Israelites, killing 24,000, because some of them had sex with the Baal-worshiping Midianites (Num. 25:1-9)…He sends two bears out of the woods to tear 42 children to pieces because they called the prophet Elisha a bald head. (2 Kings2:23-24)…”

One can add to this list, as Anderson does, the several ethnic cleansings ordered by god, ordering a father to murder his own son as a test of loyalty, and the sanction of slavery including beating slaves to death provided they live for a couple of days after the beating.

All of this, and more, we consider fundamentally immoral. Christians, however, will sometimes argue that, yes, this is all pretty horrible. But along came Jesus and everything improved. Now, it is true that for much of the New Testament God appears to have mellowed out and doesn’t spend a lot of time destroying cities and ordering the taking of sex slaves. But the good times don’t last. God requires a human sacrifice to “forgive” the sins of the world, and come the Book of Revelation, its back to old school blood letting and genocide and Jesus, armed with a sword, personally executes non-believers. As Anderson writes:

“Death is not bad enough for unbelievers, however; they must be tortured first. Locusts will sting them like scorpions until they want to do die, but they will be denied the relief of death. (Rev: 9:3-6)”
So what can we conclude from this orgy of violence and general behavior that would be categorized as evil by Christians in any other context? For one we can dispense, easily, with the notion that god’s orders are moral because they came from god. Which brings the theist back to the conundrum of Plato’s second option – if not god, then whence come morality? Why does any normal person recognize the actions of god as described in the bible as utterly immoral if anything done by god is moral by definition?

A typical objection will be to say that we cannot judge god. If that is so then we are utterly incapable of recognizing immoral acts when we see them, meaning the entire notion of an extra-human objective morality is pointless – we are too damn dumb for it to have any impact on us at all.

If however, we regard the texts as reflections of the time in which they were written, where the moral standards we hold today were simply not in effect, then we realize there is nothing “objective” about any of it. The morals of thousands of years ago are not the morals of today. What a Christian believed to be ordered by god 200 years ago is not what a Christians believes in 2008. The zeitgeist changed and for most of us living in the West, it changed for the better.

Monday, June 9, 2008

THE DRUM HEAD TRIAL: Mark Steyn, McLeans, the Muslim Sock Puppets and the attack on free speech in Canada

We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and the in extent that we respect his theory that is wife is beautiful and his children smart.
-H. L. Mencken

In ages bygone there were few things a soldier feared more than a drum-head trial.

An accused soldier would be dragged before an impromptu court that upturned drum that served a table. Justice had nothing to do with it. With no standards of evidence, punishment was sift and severe. There were no rights to appeal. No rights to present evidence. You were guilty
until proven innocent — and even then you were still guilty.

If this scenario seems all to familiar and gives you willies, there’s a good reason for it. Freedom of speech and press in Canada have been dragged before a latter-day version of the drum-head trial, best known as a human rights tribunal.

I’ve written about this a couple of times now in the St. Catharines Standard and the 411 is this: In 2006, Maclean's magazine ran an excerpt from
Mark Steyn's book America Alone. In the piece, Steyn writes what he thinks is the obituary for western liberal democracy. Pointing out the low birth rate of non-Muslims compared with that of Muslim immigrants, particularly in Europe, Steyn suggests the continent is on the cusp of being Islamified. And, he says, with those immigrants come the violent Islamists who wouldn't know the value of democracy from a public execution.

Now, while
Steyn gets some things right, his somewhat paranoid thesis that democracy is soon going to be replaced by a barking mad jihadist theocracy is a bit too Oliver Stone for my tastes. But that really isn't the point.

Steyn's conclusions offended the sensibilities of some law students -known in the blogsphere as the Canadian Islamic Congress' "sock puppets"- who happened to be Muslim. After Maclean's refused to give them equal space to write a rebuttal by a writer of their choice (which the magazine could not edit) under a cover they designed (which the magazine could not alter) they enlisted the help of the Canadian Islamic Congress to drag the magazine to the Canadian, Ontario and British Columbia human rights tribunals, which are due to hear the case this year.

According to the CIC, Steyn's article misrepresents "Canadian Muslims' values" and damages their "sense of dignity and self-worth." It wants the government bodies to order Maclean's to give the students their rebuttal or at the very least want the magazine to be officially censored for saying things some Muslims just don't like very much.

Now, the CIC through their sock puppets, got to complain about the alleged mistreatment by Macleans in the National Post and other newspapers, and on TV and online. But they what want is to bring Macleans to heel and want the force of government orders to do so.

The first round was much of a fight at all. The Ontario Human R issued a statement saying it could not rule on the
Steyn case because it is not part of its mandate - and then went ahead and ruled on the issue anyway in a statement you can read here.

Dripping with a staggering ignorance of the value of free speech, the commission's statement accuses the magazine of propagating racism.

"This type of media coverage has been identified as contributing to Islamophobia and promoting societal intolerance toward Muslims," the statement reads.

Surely the commission brings some evidence to support these claims, right?

Nope. None. Nothing. Zero. Squat.

The Maclean's stories "have been identified" as promoting racism? Really? By who exactly? Presumably the commission itself, because it does not cite a single source.

Maybe the commission provided some content analysis of the magazine, or pointed out where
Steyn got his facts wrong? That's a big fat no as well.

In fact, the statement is merely a declaration, convicting the magazine of being a racist rag without having provided so much as a single shred of evidence. It then says what Canada needs is a discussion "about how narrowly or broadly society places limits on freedom of expression in order to protect the human rights of its vulnerable members." And the commission makes it clear where it stands: where free speech offends, it should be outlawed by the state.

Round two isn't quiet over. Unlike the almost but not really savvy Ontario commission, the British Columbia human rights tribunal was dumb enough to hold a hearing. Never mind the complainants are both residents of Ontario, the tribunal decided to go ahead with the drum-head trial.

Reports on the hearing demonstrate exactly why its time to wipe out these commissions, or at least limit what they can do. There are no standards evidence. None. So a professor whose claim to fame is a study of Bollywood films gets accepts as an expert on the Canadian media. But never mind she has no published work on the subject, she an expert, because, well, she says she is.
By that logic, I’m an expert on organic chemistry, even though I haven't actually done any organic chemistry, I'm really interested in the subject. Expert my aching ass.

Also, the bruised feelings of the complainants count as evidence, as do the writings of anonymous loonies on blogs in other countries. But actual evidence? Facts? No these do not count. In fact, the tribunal's boss is happy to declare to that the hearing is "informal." In other words, its like playing tennis without a net - and the loser is always the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Anyway, the hearing and the case is so sad it would be laughable if it wasn't for the fact that it presents a real and present threat to free speech in Canada. A guilty verdict is almost a inevitable. These commission and tribunals operate with a 100 per cent conviction rate. (You read that right. Nearly every person or group dragged before these demented kangaroo courts is found guilty. Imagine if one of our law courts had that kind of conviction rate? Imagine the political and legal fallout if no one was ever found not-guilty in a court to law!)

The only plus in this entire sad story is that a guilty finding will allow the magazine to appeal the ruling to actual court of law where things like evidence matter.

In any case, not content with waiting for victory, some Muslims leaders holding court with Barbara Hall -the grand poo-ba of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and would be commissioner of the thought police - declared this week that if Muslims are not given an "equal voice" in the Canadian news media, there will be dire consequences.

"And we have to tell them, you know what, if you're not going to allow us to do that, there will be consequences. You will be taken to the human rights commission, you will be taken to the press council, and you know what? If you manage to get rid of the human rights code provisions [on hate speech], we will then take you to the civil courts system. And you know what? Some judge out there might just think that perhaps it's time to have a tort of group defamation, and you might be liable for a few million dollars,"said Khurrum Awan the main primary witness in the MacLean's case in BC. (check out the full story in the National Post)
So where Voltaire is sometimes reputed to have said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," the CIC is saying, "I disapprove of what you say, and I will litigate to gag you."

These are utterly incompatible ideas and they show just how out of touch the CIC is with democratic ideals.

So what is going on here? What did Steyn say that was so horrible? Whether you disagree with his thesis or not, isn't the point. Steyn is not a hate monger. I mean, even if you hate America Alone, you'd have to admit he didn't write, say, Mein Kampf. Hitler's little diatribe in which he lays the ills of the world at the feet of the Jews and pretty much telegraphs what he would do if he ever had real political power is maybe the most horrible book of the 20th century. You'd be hard pressed to find a book that so defines hate speech. And yet as nasty as it is you can get it at any book store. In it, Hitler foreshadows his "final solution." What did Steyn do? Steyn can be a sacrastic cus at times, but he essentially looks at the problem in Europe, demographics and the rise of Islamo-facism and say "Uh, do we have a problem here?"

Oh and he quotes from radical ding-dong clerics who think that blowing themselves up on planes or in Jewish pizza joints gets them a front row seat at god's party palace. To the sock puppets et al, this is a real no-no. We can't actually quote what actual people actually said. Because, you know, then we might know what they actually think which might actually be of some actual importance!

Now why don't the sock puppets want Steyn to quote from radical Muslim leaders? Well, they aren't radical Muslims, of course, and they find the view of Jihadists offensive. And since they aren't crazy jihadists, Steyn has no business quoting people who are.

A bit mad, no? But it does highlight something interesting about this effort to high-jack free speech. These folks appear to believe that their religious are immune to criticism. Their religion cannot be spoken of in any way except in terms that they deem proper.

It comes down to something Douglas Adams said once, that is that believers think religion gets a special place in society where ridicule and criticism can't touch it. He said:

Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That's an idea we're so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it's kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? - because you're not!' If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says 'I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday', you say, 'Fine, I respect that'. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking 'Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?' but I wouldn't have thought 'Maybe there's somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics' when I was making the other points. I just think 'Fine, we have different opinions'. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody's (I'm going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say 'No, we don't attack that; that's an irrational belief but no, we respect it'.

It's rather like, if you think back in terms of animal evolution, an animal that's grown an incredible carapace around it, such as a tortoise - that's a great survival strategy because nothing can get through it; or maybe like a poisonous fish that nothing will come close to, which therefore thrives by keeping away any challenges to what it is it is. In the case of an idea, if we think 'Here is an idea that is protected by holiness or sanctity', what does it mean? Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows, but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that's holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we've just got used to doing so? There's no other reason at all, it's just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it's very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be.
The fact is pretty simple. They don't like what Steyn said because it offends them. They don't attack the thesis of his book, not really. They don't go after his facts, or criticize his political analysis or debunk his claims. Instead they display their bruised feelings and say "Oh well look, some nutter wrote a blog saying hateful things after Steyn's book came out! Steyn is responsible for spreading hatred!"

What they don't understand is that freedom of speech is not a negotiable commodity. It does not fall upon bended knee before the precious feelings of sectarian groups who want to muzzle anything they don't like.

If you are in favour of free speech, as Noam Chomsky once said, it means accepting you will be offended now and again. "Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin," Chomsky said. "If you're really in favour of free speech, then you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favour of free speech."

As I have said before, if these human rights tribunals side with the CIC and try to punish Maclean's, the government, provincial and federal, should promptly abolish them and replace them with something with a narrower and clearer mandate and limited powers.

We do not have a right not to be offended.

I have to ask what "human rights" have been violated by Steyn and company? Are Muslims in Canada now required to wear a crescent moon on their clothing? They are being rounded up, as the Japanese were and Native Canadians before them, and placed into camps and reserves? Are they being denied access to government services, to jobs, to the right to voice their opinions, to freedom of religion, to freedom of movement?

Is this pack of weeping, sycophantic, solipsitic chest thumpers and wanna be martyrs being denied a single right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? I submit the answer is no.

Whatever legitimate role this commission once had has been lost in an attempt to create a version of Orwellian Newspeak for Ontario. If the commission wrote 1984, Big Brother, not Winston Smith, would be the hero of the story

Human rights tribunals were designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace and ensure all citizens have access to government services regardless of religion, sex or race. They have absolutely no business ruling on the alleged offensiveness of articles printed in magazines and newspapers, never mind meting out punishments.

Now, these unelected and unaccountable commissions with no due process or legal standards of evidence are on the cusp of becoming agencies empowered to punish thought crime and blasphemy. A deep chill will fall over the fourth estate and the door will open for anyone to shut down public debate in the name of protecting their bruised feelings.

That isn't democracy and, ironically enough the CIC appears utterly unaware of this (or maybe they are and don't care), is a step in the direction to prove Steyn's thesis correct.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ghost Hunter's get spanked - Dragon*Con '07

It is sad that while science moves ahead in exciting new areas of research, fine tuning our knowledge of how life originated and evolved, creationists remain mired in medieval debates about angels on the head of a pin and animals in the belly of an Ark.

-Michael Shermer.

This is a debate featuring skeptics Michael Shermer and Allison Smith against true believers Patrick Burns and Graham Watkins. Watch and see what happens to the claims of the supernatural when pressed for evidence.

Of particular note, is when in part three Watkins - a believer - pointedly notes that the "voices" recorded by ghost hunters are done so poorly using such poor methods he says "The whole set up is a model for accidental fraud." Sorry ghost busters!

Also worth noting is how often the believers are forced to admit their evidence is lousy.

Part one:

Part two:

Part three:

Part four:

Part five:

Part six:

Oh, the ghost hunters are mad at me! Quick, get the EKG meter

Janine Melnitz: Do you believe in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis?

Winston Zeddemore: Ah, if there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say.

-Ghostbusters (1984)

Ah, what happens when you rattle the cages the bit eh?

If you been reading the Handbook lately, you'll have noticed some rather angry ladies blasting me for a
column I wrote at the newspaper I work for, in which I took their Niagara Area Paranormal Society's "ghost hunting" activities, and the credulous reporters in some area media who took their dubious claims at face value, to task. The column also gave me an excuse to chat again with James Randi, who is always fun to interview.

Carol Taylor and Shannon Delury took great exception to my piece, claiming I just don't know enough about the "field" of ghost hunting to really criticize it. Also, they don't much like James Randi. Other members of this ghost hunting cabal took to sending hate mail to my Facebook inbox, rather than send in letters to the editors or even to my work email. These folk just think I suck and really, REALLY wanted me to know it.

Now, generally speaking the reaction from this fine folks are up there with the threats of Bible thumpers and angry Muslims who often write to tell me, at great length, that I will be burning in hell for all times because of my blasphemy, and how much they will enjoy that. Nice people. Really. Now, the ghost hunters haven't threatened my eternal soul, but they do think I am "ignorant" and that I clearly don't know jack about science. You know, "science" where you don't follow the actual scientific method, and use anything you don't fully understand as "evidence" of your pre-determined conclusion. Like ghosts whispers in the dark.

Now, Carol Taylor is the founder of the local paranormal society and in her rather lengthy correspondences insists that her "field" is on equal footing with any scientific dispcline. She writes: "The protocols we have in place are comparable to those that are used in other scientific fields of study." In other words, her ghost hunting is just as scientific as the disciplines that send men to the moon, cure fatal illnesses, mapped the human genetic code, created super computers and can see out into the vast, trackless ink of deep space. I am sure the folks at MIT are really impressed.

She also writes that "With so many misconceptions out there in the media, I am appalled to see this sort of ignorance firsthand from someone within my own community." Oddly, she has no complaints about the credulous reportage of other outlets who accepted her claims about spirits in the Welland Museum with nary a skeptical thought. Of course, she is appalled that someone in "her" community would take their pseudo-scientific nonsense to task. For the groups entire existence no one in the news media has bothered to call them on their mumbo-jumbo. In other words, she wants reporters to simply accept what she says and proclaim as truth.

Miss Delury, whose Facebook page features applications about "crystal healings" and the like, simply calls me a "closed minded bigot," for not accepting their claims of spooks. She, along with Carol, both ask me to disprove their ghosts exist.

*sigh* And people wonder why our society is so scientifically illiterate? As I have discussed
before, asking someone to disprove a faith a claim - or any claim for which there is no evidence - is the logical fallacy called "proving a negative." It is like trying to prove that Zeus doesn't exist. Or the Loch Ness monster doesn't exist. There isn't any evidence to prove that either does, but the true believers want their claims to be taken as fact in that vacuum of evidence. When I wrote about this particularly symptom of true believerism before I said:

It's called "proving a negative." Essentially they are saying this: "X is true (X in this case being the existence of god) because you cannot disprove X as false." You should already see the massive problem with his argument. What it means is that you can essentially make any claim about the universe you want and then say that because no evidence exists to disprove it, it must be true. The fact that you have no evidence to support your claim is, in this line of unreason, seen as a proof you're right.

I attempted to illustrate the point by using a variation on Bertrand Russell's celestial teapot. In this case, riffing off a joke earlier in the discussion about the universe being run by a cosmic platypus:

For instance, to use a tongue in cheek example, if I said that the entire universe was created and governed by the Cosmic Platypus, and the only way to save our immortal souls was to make making offerings of frog eggs to the Cosmic Platypus. Further, the commandments of the Cosmic Playtpus, as laid down in the Texts of the Oracle of the Venomous Mammals, are prefect in every detail and cannot be questioned. Also the Cosmic Platypus, living in a river outside of time and space, cannot be seen or touched or otherwise detected, but I nevertheless claim the Cosmic Platypus, in his all beaky glory, is as real as the nose on your face.

Now, even though that is a farcical example, the fact is you cannot disprove the existence of the Cosmic Platypus, can you? Really, you cannot. Show me the evidence that the Cosmic Platypus doesn't exist.

So if I was seriously making the above claim about the Cosmic Platypus, his slappy tail be praised, would it not be reasonable for you to demand evidence? And would it not be unreasonable for me to be insulted by your request?

That is all the atheist is saying. The theist is making an extraordinary claim about the universe, and therefore the atheist wants to see evidence to support those claims. That is not an act of faith, it is a demand for fact. And if no evidence is forthcoming, there is little reason to believe said claims are true.

If we worked the other way, we would have no choice but to accept all claims about, well, anything to be true if there is no evidence to demonstrate it is not true. Like the Cosmic Platypus. You cannot disprove it, therefore it can be regarded as true. Clearly, that is a cart before the horse methodology that gets you nowhere.
Of course, the true believer has to go at science from the ass end because its the only way they can make their claims. Like the intelligent design crowd, they want to try and turn science on its head and have their faith claims - and that is what they are - taken as fact right out of the gate. And heaven help you if you question their methods or conclusions! Don't you know when they claim to have recorded the voice of a ghost its true and that's that?

And like the intelligent design crowd, they dress up their belief in the supernatural in sciency sounding talk in order try and give it the appearance of being scientific.

Still, I could be wrong couldn't I? Maybe there are ghosts lurking about in the Welland Museum. Maybe Taylor and her syntax and logically challenged friend are right. And if they were ever proven right I would happily admit so, both here and in the paper. In fact, I am willing to put a wager on it.

Look again at Carol Taylor's claim: she says ghost hunting is a real science like any other, using solid scientific "protocols" that demonstrate their belief in ghosts is justified by facts. Ok, there is a VERY easy way to prove this.

My challenge to the Niagara Area Paranormal Society is this: Write a scientific paper on your "findings" presenting your "evidence" that the voices you recorded at the Welland Museum are in fact the voices of dead people. Then submit that paper to a credible scientific journal - like Nature for example. Let your paper be vetted through the regular scientific peer review process (this is standard for ANY scientific paper to be published in a journal.) If it passes the muster of the rigors of scientific peer review and gets published, I will be more than happy to concede the point.

So there you go Carol and Shannon. Don't give us the tired clap trap of doing this for yourself and helping people in "need". (They offer their hunting services for free, but charge for "courses" on ghost tracking. I wonder if those courses are taught at MIT? Can I get a science credit toward a Bsc?) If you want your claims of being real science taken seriously, then step up to the plate, write a paper and present it to real scientists and see what happens. Surely, if your claims are as true as you say they are, this should be a simple matter shouldn't it?

For the rest of us concerned with that little thing called reality, I suggest you watch Richard Dawkins brilliant documentary titled "Enemies of Reason" which examines the kind of junk science ghost hunters are up to. It's well worth the watch. Here is part one as presented on Youtube, but I strongly suggest you order the disks from RichardDawkins.net. It's great stuff:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Expelled - the Jake LaMotta of Creationism.

That's where science in my opinion, this is just an opinion, that's where science leads you. Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place. Science leads you to killing people.

- Ben Stein

Oh it all reeks of desperation doesn't it? 

The oxymoronically named "creation science" movement in America is like a slap happy prize fighter who can't realize he's losing. Worse, he just takes his beating until his face is an unrecognizable mess and figures because he is still standing at the final bell, he has won some kind of moral victory.

Remember that line from Raging Bull when Jake LaMotta takes a vicious beating at the hands of Ray Robinson. His blood drips from the ropes and his face looks like he kissed the express train. And despite the one sided, brutal ass whupping he took, he walks up to Robinson and says "You didn't get me down, Ray. You never got me down, Ray."

That's the creation science movement, or as it likes to call itself today while dressed up in drag - Intelligent Design.

For anyone who is keeping score, the movement has been doing the Jake LaMotta - with all that former fighter's, er, charm and, uh, grace - for more than a decade now. Having not produced a single shred of evidence for their claims (they still haven't figured out that declarations of faith that an ancient religious text is perfect, a scientific theory does not make.), having been told by the Supreme Court of the United States that they cannot violate the establishment clause of the constitution by teaching the Bible in science class, and having lost yet another high profile court case two years ago in Dover, creationist blood is all over the ring.

And still they say "You didn't get me down, Ray. You never got me down, Ray"

Battered, bruised and bleeding, the 21 century dress up version of creation is called Intelligent Design (This is the creationism redux that was used as a speed bag during the Dover trial) and its has decided to risk its remaining brain cells with yet another trip into the ring - this time as a documentary with a tenuous grip on facts called "Expelled." I'm not going to review the film here. It's been so completely ripped to shreds by reviewers like this one, or this one by Richard Dawkins called Lying for Jesus, that there isn't any need for me to go on about it other than to say if you do go see it, be prepared for an assault upon your higher reasoning centers the likes of which you have not seen since the Y2k panic.

What I want to talk about here is the utter dishonesty of the entire ID scheme. You see, there is a myth, largely propagated by the poorly named Discovery Institute in its own hilariously bad videos that are more devoid of fact than your average Access Hollywood episode, that ID came about because some cutting edge scientists got together and realized that Darwin was wrong and really some "unnamed" supernatural designer created all life.

The reality is that ID is the brain child of a Christian apologist lawyer who wouldn't know good scientific thinking from a hole in the ground. Goes by the name of Philip Johnson. Johnson, uh, designed the whole ID thing as a way to get around pesky Supreme Court rulings that said no Bible in the science class. Now, when asked for TV cameras about ID, he will contend there is a real controversy among scientists about about ID. (This is a lie. Only members of the tiny but loud ID creationist movement say there is a controversy. And in any case "teach the controversy" is one of their transparently bad back door attempts to slip god into science class.)

But when speaking to fellow believers, the truth comes out. The idea behind ID is to change science so that it accepts untestable conclusions about supernatural causation. Then, once that is accepted, you just push people toward believing that causation is the Christian god and Shazam! Christian utopia!

Johnson called this Trojan Horse approach to evangelism "the wedge strategy" and it so impressed the good folks at the Discovery Institute, that they founded their entire ID strategy upon it, as laid out in the infamous Wedge Document - something the institute still tries to distance itself from even though it lays out their wishful thinking and near theocratic plans in detail.

Anyway, when before the right audience Johnson drops all pretense about being scientific and admits the bait and switch he wants to pull off:

The objective (of the wedge strategy) is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus.

- Phillip Johnson

Right from the horse's mouth. These people have no interest in science. They want to convert people to their version of their religion. Period. It would be funny if these folks were not so serious about it. LaMotta took a huge amount of punishment, but that didn't make him less dangerous in the ring. Johnson et all are very serious even if they keep on losing and losing big.

So what has this to do with Expelled? Well, Stein and the gang want us to believe two things about their film. First, it is a movie about academic freedom and attempts to crush a rival theory to evolution by "expelling" pro-ID scientists. Or as Stein puts it, to keep science from ever touching god. The other thing is that Darwinism is evil because it promotes atheism and thusl created Adolf Hitler.

Both claims are just plain false, and if you read the reviews I linked to above, they are both dealt with well enough. What interests me is the first claim. (I've discussed the bizzaro claims that Hitler's actions were the result of atheism elsewhere in the Handbook.)

While Stein blathers on about defending academic freedom in the film and in SOME interviews, in others he is more candid about his reasons for making the film. Like Johnson, when in front of the right audience (read creationists) he is more than happy to detail his true beliefs.

Check out the clips in this Youtube video by way of an for instance. In it Stein says two very revealing things. First, and I quoted him above, that science leads to killing people. Not science cures illness, feeds the hungry, sends humans into space, creates technology we use everyday, but to killing people. That is what science is to him - the road to murder. The other comes when asked why he thinks its important to see Expelled. And he says its because he wants people to believe they are god's creation. No talk about academic freedom or expanding the frontiers of science. But because he wants to covert you. Period. It's about religion. It's always been about religion. Like every other high profile member of the ID community, Stein reveals his true purpose - its not about science, its about religion.

And its only about their version of Christianity. The producers of Expelled would not include biologist and Catholic Ken Miller in the film because, they said, he would confuse the issue. Miller actually disproves Expelled's entire premise - that "Big Science" is hunting down scientists who believe in god and kick them out of the club. Miller, who helped bury ID at the Dover trial with his brilliant explanations of evolution, is a well known Roman Catholic. The very fact that he, and the rest of the 40 per cent of the National Academy of Science that do believe in some kind of god, even exists blows the movie's entire premise to, if you will excuse the expression, kingdom come.

But fortunately Expelled isn't getting much traction beyond those to whom the film is preaching what they already believe. It has been widely panned. Its box office returns were actually pretty good its open weekend when believers put down their money to see it. After that, the returns dropped like LaMotta should have. Bottom line, however, is that the creationists lose. Again.

However, this won't stop them. Already we are seeing the next strategy. Infantile "academic freedom" bills are before several states and are being used as a way to try yet again to creep creationism into the class room through the back door. These bills will likely be demolished when the court challenges come.

But for now the Ben Steins and Phillip Johnson's of the world can stand there bleeding after another beating and say "You never got me down." Some pugs just never know when the fight is over.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Beyond Mere Atheism - An introduction.

I am reluctant to use the word atheist to describe my own unshakable disbelief, and that's not because I'm ashamed, afraid, or even embarrassed, but simply because it seems so self-evidently true to me that there is no god, and giving that conviction a special title somehow dignifies what it denies. After all, we don't have a special word for people who don't believe in ghosts or witches.
-Jonathan Miller

It goes without saying, I think, that atheism - the intellectual position that one does not accept claims about the nature of life and universe without evidence - is in the midst of something of a revival. Just run the words "Atheist" or "Atheism" through Google news and you'll a host of articles and blogs. These days most are broadsides fired by believers disquieted by a growing number of people who dare not believe. But you'll also find commentary by the Four Horsemen - Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, the authors of the books which energized the surge in atheist conviction we see in public.

The most common feature of this so called "New Atheism" is a slashing critique of religion, rooted in a demand for evidence, and those of us inspired by the horsemen have followed their lead. Having dispensed with the supernatural claims of religions, particularly the assumed but unsupported by evidence claim of a god, this critique turns to the moral and ethics of religion - morals and ethics which, more often than not and particularly in the Jewish/Christian/Muslim mode, are found wanting in the extreme.

Believers often rail against this approach. We often ignore their complex and arcane theology, and they see this as a fundamental weakness. If we only understood the 21st century theological views of why god is a loving god, we, the growing legion of new atheists, would understand our arguments are weak. If only we spent more time discussing Aquinas and Augustine, we would see our demand for evidence isn't important.

Nonsense. All the theological gymnastics are fairly useless if evidence,( and by this I mean scientific evidence) the first question, the most important question, cannot be answered. As Cicero put it: the first question in this subject of the nature of the gods is do the gods exist or not? If we conclude, and we do on the basis of evidence, the gods do not exist, then need we worry about god as love, or god as father or god as source of morals? Surely not. What matters is what do those beliefs lead people to do, good or bad.

We need not go upon bended knee and only face the theological questions on the terms believers would have us use. If evidence matters, and we are told we must have regard theological "truths" and statements about the nature of reality, then we can hold those claims up to science, to reason and demand meaningful evidence. And where evidence is lacking, the claim can be (at least provisionally) put aside.

This is what the believer objects to the most. Ironically, they will often (as a scan through google blogs and news will attest) claim that new atheists use a "scientific dogma" and that atheism is a religion.

It is, to be sure, a curious claim. Atheism has no codes. No creeds. No commandments. No pastors, priests or popes. It has no holy texts. No churches, temples or sacred grounds. It has no punishments, real or imagined, for not being an atheist. So where exactly is the "religion" of atheism? I've asked many a believer this question and have yet to hear a reply. I wait still.

And this business about "scientific dogma"? It is an even more through the looking glass argument. What is dogmatic about asking for evidence about claims about the nature of reality? What is dogmatic about requiring evidence to make a conclusion? Surely, there are atheists who do not believe in a god because, well, they just don't. But it is the thrust of the "new" atheism that conclusion is the child of evidence. And it is the evidence that fuels disbelief. To say there is no god simply because you don't believe in one is as empty a statement as a declaration of faith. An examination of evidence is required either way.

And so the screeching apologists attempt to claim that atheism is a religion, making silly references to "secular gods" (again what is a secular god? I've asked this of apologists and never received an answer either.) in an attempt to redefine what atheism is. If they can - as the ill named Discovery Institute and its vapid Intelligent Design movements try to do - define atheism as a religion then they can say "Well see? You have no more evidence than we do! Atheism is just like religion. QED." Unable to face the stark fact that their faith claims exist in a vacuum of evidence, they try this transparent slight of hand to make their case.

Many of us new atheists take some joy in this. And I must confess to enjoying an argument where a theist is left with no recourse but to try and change the definition of science, or ignore logic and evidence when making assertions. But as much as their discomfort might appeal to some our darker impulses, we should temper our glee.

The fact of the matter is that while we argue, some of us with a particular almost evangelical passion, more often than not we are making a case about why religion fails. That is, we are largely anti-theist in our approach. To be sure this is a necessary part of the argument. If one regards religious claims on their own merits, that is to say they are claims about the nature of reality - and claims so powerful we ought to obey the religion that makes them (often with a big OR ELSE attached to it), then we can and should examine said claims through the lens of evidence. If someone says "Gay people should not be allowed to marry because God says so in the Bible," we can see what evidence there is said god exists. If there isn't any, the claim can be dismissed.

However, that only gets us part of the way. Because, like it or not, religion has been a vehicle for morals and ethics for a very long time. This does not mean morality comes from religion. Indeed, one need only point out that what a Christian believed to be moral 300 years ago and what they believe in to moral in 2008 shows the transitory nature of the moral zeitgiest, even among believers who like to imagine their morality is immutable. Christian, Buddhist, Islamic and other moral and ethical systems change with changing times. As Richard Dawkins puts it in the God Delusion:

Slavery, which was taken for granted in the Bible and throughout most of history, was abolished in civilized countries in the nineteenth century. All civilized nations now accept what was widely denied up to the 1920s, that a woman's vote, in an election or on a jury, is the equal of a man's. In today's enlightened societies (a category that manifestly does not include, for example, Saudi Arabia), women are no longer regarded as property, as they clearly were in biblical times. Any modern legal system would have prosecuted Abraham for child abuse.
But if it is indeed true, as I have argued before, that morals and ethics are largely what we say they are at any given point in time and place - our own evolved moral and ethical leanings notwithstanding - and if it is true that religion has been a delivery system of ethics and morals, and if we say that the metaphysical claims of religion are false, then what kind of morality do we want? What kind of ethics do we want? What kind of society do we want?

You see the point. The revived atheism largely lashes out at religion. However, we aren't doing nearly as good a job at talking about the way things ought to be. If we reject, for very good reasons, the morals of the Christian bible, what then do we accept?

The problem, as I noted above, is that atheism is barely a thing at all. It has no rules, or commandments. And I for one certainly do not think some moves to create atheist "churches" are a good idea. Institutionalized atheism is likely to become the very thing we rail against. Nevertheless, I believe we have to stop allowing the theists to frame moral and ethical arguments for us and start to try to discuss where we think the moral zeitgeist should go.

Most of the time we deal with theists, like Dinesh D'Souza, who blather on about "if there is no god then anything is permissible." This is a rhetorical trick that sets up a false zero sum game of either/or with no other possiblities. For example, one can say that not everything is permissible if we as a society say it isn't. Or that moral standards are set by social contract. The point is, the kind of shallow thesis the likes of D'Souza present limits the entire discussion. And for the most part we allow this to be the way the argument is framed rather than define our turf for ourselves.

So if morality and ethics is what we say it is, then I think its high time we moved beyond mere atheism and say!

So that is what I hope to explore on this blog in the next several related posts, (all to be titled "Beyond mere atheism") and during my Youtubery, in the hopes of engaging others in this discussion. Please feel free to join in.

By way of a short introduction, I think the general guiding principle of a post-Christian, non-theistic morality, should be a kind of utilitarianism that has regard for reducing human suffering while increasing human happiness. This could be, ironically enough, part of my past Buddhist training speaking, but I think we should be advocating the ideas of Epicurus and John Stewart Mill and Jeremy Bentham as both atheistic and necessary modes of moral and ethical thinking

In the first part of this series of essays "Beyond Mere Atheism" I will start to look at these ideas more closely.