Category Archives: brights

The Atheist Camel Chronicles


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Book Review: The Atheist Camel Chronicles: Debate Themes & Arguments for the Non-Believer (and those who think they might be) by Dromedary Hump

Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (June 18, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1439236976
ISBN-13: 978-1439236970

(All international orders via Atheist Camel Chron )

I think there is some great writing on the internet these days. Often in the places you least expect it. Sure there is a lot of crap – but there’s something about the lack of editing and ease of expression in blogs and discussion forums. Writers often have strong feelings on their subjects and they can communicate this in forceful and colourful language. When people feel strongly about something they often write well.

Another fact may be the crap itself. When people make stupid assertions, or descend into fanciful positions or diversions, sometimes the only sensible way to respond is with sarcasm or ridicule. It’s often then the best writing shows.

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chickenpopquizI don’t understand those religious apologists who claim purpose as a reason for their beliefs. Or, more precisely, I find their arguments unconvincing.

There is an example in a post by James at the local Catholic apologetics blog Being Frank (see Audacity of faith). Here he describes his purpose:

“God has put me here to discover Him, to choose to follow and love Him, and to show Him to other people.  Simple as that.  My reward for doing these things?  When I die in this life, I get to exist forever with Him in a state of pure supernatural bliss.”

So Frank believes that this is the reason his god created the universe!

But it’s all very vague. Mission statements should be more concrete.

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“Interfaith” blindness

There is a strange attitude towards religion in New Zealand. US President Obama can acknowledge that the pluralistic society includes people of various faiths and people with no faith (the non-religious). However our main political parties (National and Labour) seem unwilling to face that reality. At least, that’s how it appears in their interaction with the country’s “interfaith” movement.

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Atheists not allowed to criticise Hitler!

I personally get along well with people of different religious beliefs. Most people have a “live and let live” attitude and recognise that New Zealand is a democratic pluralist society. We just get on and do our jobs – religion never seems to interfere.

preacher1However, Christian apologists seem to live in a different, intolerant, world. They seem to feel the need to continually “prove” their god exists – and to pass judgement on people who think differently to them. Any whiff of atheism is an excuse to come down hard with their judgements, criticisms and lectures. Particularly weird is their claim that they know what atheists “really believe and think” – and their insistence in telling them so.

This gets particularly silly when they tell others they have no basis for their morality. A recent local example from the “Thinking Matters” apologist group is their article Atheists Should Not Criticise Hitler. In this they claim atheists have no basis for their morality and therefore cannot criticise Hitler!

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Being good for goodness’ sake

The London Atheist bus Campaign (“Probably” no God – probably acceptable) seems to be encouraging similar ideas in other cities. The American Humanist Association recently announced an ad campaign in the New York Times and Washington Post. There will also be messages  on the sides and interiors of over 200 Washington DC Metro buses (Humanists Launch Godless Holiday Campaign).

The message – “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake,”


It’s the first ad campaign of its kind in the United States, and the American Humanist Association predicts it will raise public awareness of humanism as well as controversy over humanist ideas.

“Humanists have always understood that you don’t need a god to be good,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “So that’s the point we’re making with this advertising campaign. Morality doesn’t come from religion. It’s a set of values embraced by individuals and society based on empathy, fairness, and experience.”

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Defining oneself negatively

I have been struck lately how some people define themselves negatively – by saying what they are not or criticising the beliefs of other instead of presenting their own beliefs.

A clear example is the use of the word ‘atheist.’ It’s OK as far as it goes – which isn’t very far. It just says ‘I don’t believe in a god.’ It says nothing about what I do believe in. I have made this point before but pointed out then ‘I do have my own beliefs (wider than, but including atheism). They are always evolving (aren’t we all) and they are a source of great spiritual comfort and pride to me. I won’t give them a name but, of course, they are revealed in discussion.’

Intelligent design

I think the intelligent design (ID) proponents are classic examples of people who define their ideas negatively. They will rave on about the real or imagined problems or gaps in evolutionary science and then call their rave ID theory. But notice that they never actually propose a specific ID hypothesis or theory. They define themselves negatively. Christopher Heard gives a typical (and as he says brazen) example of this in his in a book review of Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse in Dialogue. Here he quotes ID guru Bill Dembski: Continue reading

New Zealand Skeptics conference

London Skeptics have relaxed and friendly meetings

The NZ Skeptics conference 2008 is in Hamilton this month. It will be held over the weekend Friday 26-Sunday 28 September at the  Waikato Diocesan College, 660 River Rd, Hamilton. You can register here NZ Skeptics  web site.

Here are the details of the Draft Programme:

Matthew Dentith: Saving the Paranormal from the Laws of Science

Nikos Petousis: Critical thinking Greek style

Felicity Goodyear-Smith:
History denied means history revisited

Alison Campbell:
Telling stories: science as a human endeavour (Yes – the same Alison who often comments here. Meet and hear her in person)

Nathan Grange:
Magic and Scepticism

Kamya Kameshwar:
Fact and fallacy – the portrayal of immunisation in the NZ print media

Zachary Gravatt: Complementary medicines: what are New Zealand general practitioners’ perceptions, practices and training?

Martin Wallace:
Physiology of the placebo effect and the evidence for changes in brain metabolic function

Glynn Owens:
The end of moral philosophy?

Vincent Gray:
Darwin Today

Lisa Matisso-Smith:
Ethnic origins through the Pacific

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Redefining science by inference

I am responding here to some comments on my post about science bashing and its discussion in other blogs (here, here & here). I think there are two aspects worth covering:

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Why the “new atheism”?

In a recent attack on me by a local blogger I was labelled a “New Atheist.” I had never thought of myself that way. After all, like me my atheism is actually quite old. And I prefer to get by with the minimum of ideological labelling anyway – given the ease with which labels are misinterpreted.

However, the term “New Atheism” is being used a lot lately and it’s interesting to ask why. Is there a new atheist ideology? Not that I can see. No, I think the label is being used not to describe ideology but more the style of the current debates around religion. Atheists are now more likely to enter into these discussions. They are more willing to criticise religious beliefs and dogma. They are more likely to criticise the actions of fundamentalist religious believers.

They are more willing to call a spade a spade. And they are more willing to demand the right to have and express such opinions.

In particular they are rejecting the idea that religion has a special immunity from criticism – a “go home free” card. Perhaps that is the “new” feature of today’s atheism.

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Mystical atheism!

Following the statistics of  a blog or website is interesting. One thing I have noticed is that the largest numbers of hits and comments occur during working hours. Obviously many people find blog activity an entertaining way of filling in their time at work.

Perhaps this is a healthy way of getting by. I’m all for it, anyway. But you can understand employers wanting to restrict this activity so as to extract even more surplus labour from their wage slaves. (On the other hand, I have a theory that employers often like to turn a ‘blind eye’. After all, an employee who feels guilty that they may be ripping the firm off is less likely to protest about the things that really matter – like wage levels and working conditions).

But have a look at this report – Council ban on atheist web sites. Apparently the Birmingham City Council has decided to block staff from accessing atheist web sites at work, while giving their blessing to those who wish to pursue their religion on-line. Lots of employers control access to the internet. But what about this explanation:

The authority’s Bluecoat Software computer system allows staff to look at websites relating to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other religions but blocks sites to do with “witchcraft or Satanism” and “occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism”.

Surely they have it the wrong way around. Surely “Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other religions” belongs with “occult practices, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism”.

We know that atheism doesn’t!

While on the subject of corporate IT – have a look at this video on the medieval help desk

Help desk – introducing the book (2 min 40 sec)

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