Tag Archives: atheism

Are you qualified to discuss God, Heaven and Hell?

Loved this little story I picked up on Facebook. There’s a moral in it somewhere. Perhaps something to try on these God-botherers next time they come knocking on your door.


A Christian was seated next to a little girl on an airplane and he turned to her and said,

“Do you want to talk? Flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.”

The little girl, who had just started to read her book, replied to the total stranger,

“What would you want to talk about?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the Christian. “How about why there is a God, Heaven and Hell, a magical life after death, and that evolution is a lie made up by the devil?” as he smiled smugly.

“Okay,” she said. “Those could be interesting topics but let me ask you a question first:

A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff – grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, but a horse produces clumps. Why do you suppose that is?”

The Christian, visibly surprised by the little girl’s intelligence, thinks about it and says,

“Hmmm, I have no idea.”

To which the little girl replies,

“Do you really feel qualified to discuss God, Heaven and Hell, or life after death, when you don’t know shit?”

And then she went back to reading her book!!

A beggar’s market?

homeless-atheist-giving-web

This guy, James, from Austin, Texas, may have discovered something about the market. He is homeless man named James and is performing something of a social experiment. James has laid out nine bowls in front of him, each labelled by faith: Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, etc. The sign he is holding reads “Which religion cares the most about the homeless?”

“The atheists seem very competitive. For them, it’s all about the competition,” James reasoned, but whether or not the Atheist passersby were genuinely good-hearted, just wanted to stick it to religion, or somewhere in between is unknown.

Not exactly the most scientific poll, but the marketing technique might just catch on.

Thanks to: Atheists Winning Homeless Man’s Giving Contest.

People saying stupid things on the Internet

I saw this young Muslim women on the TV news last night. She was demonstrating against the US over that silly video. The interview asked her _”but don’t you believe in freedom of expression.

Her answer – “Yes, but not when it comes to religion!”

My response – grow up!

That’s why I like this little skit on the current situation (thanks to YouTube video mocking Atheism greeted with global disinterest by Atheists).-  I think there are some lessons in it:


A YouTube video mocking followers of science and those who discount the probability of omnipotent deity, has resulted in complete indifference throughout the Atheist community.

Theist comments on the video claim that the video will see “atheists burning down churches the world over!” have been met with blank stares by people who consider themselves ‘atheist’.

Non-believer Simon Williams told us, “I’m not sure what reaction they were expecting, but I’m afraid people saying stupid things on the Internet doesn’t really bother me.”

“What with me being a grown adult and everything. Tantrums haven’t really been my thing since puberty.”

“Do I want to kill the people behind it? No, of course not.”

“Though I would like to give them a few science lessons that didn’t end with the conclusion ‘God must have done it’.”

“But I’m not hopeful.”

Youtube video protests

The maker of the video has gone into hiding claiming that Atheist disinterest in his film has infringed his religious freedoms.

The unnamed producer explained, “It says quite clearly in a passage of one of my holy books – a passage that is definitely open to interpretation in the way that I want – that I must take the fight to non-believers – and yet here you all are refusing to fight.”

“You are oppressing my religious freedom to claim religious oppression.”

“What will it take?! Why can’t you at least throw a rock at me or something?”

“It’s almost like you’re suppressing the evil inside each of you in order not to look like dicks.”

“I’m guessing you get the strength from the Devil himself.”

Similar articles

Do atheists need religion?

I was in no hurry to read this book - Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. It got such bad reviews. And I really wasn’t impressed by Alain de Botton’s contribution to public debate – on TV and in the media. However, an atheist friend recommended the book and, although I don’t think she had finished reading it, she was impressed with the book’s arguments. Or at least the problems the author identified for atheists living in a secular society.

So, out of a sense of responsibility I purchased and read it.

My conclusion – a waste of money and time!

I don’t intend this to be a review of the book. For that I recommend reading Martin S Pribble’s thoughtful review (Religion For Atheists). As an aside, I followed Martin’s reading of this book via his Twitter comments. First time I have come across a Twitter book review! I think it sort of works – at least when the reader gets emotional about what he or she is reading.

Sufficient to say that de Botton sets up straw men – an idealised, perfect religion (mostly Christianity) and a deficient, sterile, secular society. His only objection to religion appears to be their supernatural stories. So his answer to the worlds’ problems is to ditch supernaturalism but adopt the remaining institutions, buildings, funding structures, social relationships, moral messages, music and art of religion (particularly Christianity). As is! Artificially.

My atheist friend often comments on the need in our secular society to develop institutions which provide for the social needs of people. Their desire for community and charity. So I can see why she was, at least initially, attracted to this book. It’s just that I can’t see how de Botton’s utopia (religion with all its trappings except its gods) provides this, or is even possible.

Personally I agree that modern society needs to provide more in the way of institutions, ceremony and even buildings which appeal to our desire for community and significance. But that is not unique to modern society – it has always been the case – especially as the old institutions often did not fulfil these promises, or were even quite evil.

The point is that the most appropriate ceremonies, institutions and culture for these purposes are the ones that are built by the existing society, not artificially transplanted into it. And we are building such institutions, ceremonies, etc., in our modern, pluralist, secular society.

Religion needs secularism – and can learn from it

Why should we artificially transplant something from a religion (after removing its supernatural content) when we can do better? Consider modern ceremonies like weddings and funerals in this country. They have become a lot more secular – even where they are performed in a Church. We seem to have welcomed with open arms the secular concept of remembering and celebrating the life of a deceased person in our funerals. Friends and family give their stories and feelings. New Zealand funerals today are far more satisfying than those in the old days which simply had the religious purpose of sending the person of into the “afterlife.”

The church has noticed and adopted many of the features of secular funerals and other ceremonies. Incorporated them into their own ceremonies.

There are many other examples. The point is that – yes, we do need more and better institutions and ceremonies which contribute to our human need for community and friendship. We do need more buildings, art and ethical commentary appealing to those needs. It’s a matter of more of what we are doing well, not artificially transplanting from old and moribund institutions and ideologies. And its a matter of creating these new institutions and culture in a way that is inclusive – not the exclusiveness “them vs us” of the religious approaches.

So, my recommendation is that you should give this book a miss, unless you feel a responsibility to read it like I did. At least I will now be able to discuss the book and my reactions intelligently when I next see my atheist friend.

Similar articles

Reasonable truth?

The Reason Rally in Washington DC over the weekend caused a bit of internet debate. A lot of it pretty silly – even hysterical. At times I wonder if dogmatic religionists are getting rattled. This rally was really all about the non-religious “coming out”, standing up, being counted and doing a bit of congressional lobbying in the side. Also there were great speakers and excellent entertainment. But it seems there are some people who wish the non-religious would STFU. Hide in fear.

Some militant Christian groups angrily claimed that these horrible atheists were acting as if they owned, or were capturing, even kidnapping,  the word “reason.” One group retaliated by cobbling together a selection of already published apologist articles entitled “True Reason.” Perhaps we should complain that they were claiming ownership of the word Truth!

Never mind. As Russell Blackford says about choice of words over at Metamagician and the Hellfire Club:

“it’s silly and literal-minded – and sounds carping – to complain about this sort of thing. It’s like people who complain about book titles, which are of course chosen to be memorable and attractive, not to be accurate in a way that’s defensible to all people.”

Reminds me of the local theologian who painstakingly did  in-depth theological analyses of the local Atheist billboards. You know those with simple slogan like “Good Without God;” “In the Beginning Man Created God” and “We are all Atheists About Most Gods.” I suppose theology can be used to reach any desirable outcome, no matter how silly the starting material. And there are plenty of other billboards he could now use his theological skills on.

The philosophical issues

Putting aside the nice alliteration of the “Reason Rally” slogan the debate does raise the question of what we mean by words like “reason” and “truth.” These are questions that philosophers love to debate – but I often find some their discussions sterile. They seem divorced from reality. More interested in playing philosophical games related to definition than considering how things actually work out in practice.

The problem is some philosophers are happy to actually ignore reality, to be unconcerned with practice. Or perhaps this is really only true of philosophers of religion and theologians.

On the other hand scientists are far more concerned with reality and practice than with high faluting philosophic debates. I just wish those philosophers were more amenable to catching up with what science has discover about the process of human cognition. And the way that science approaches the question of knowledge. If for no other reason than science is well known to be incredibly successful in helping humanity to understand, and interact with, reality. Scientific knowledge is important.

Reason: Rationalising rather than rational

The scientific fact is that objective rational reasoning does not come easy to humans. We are in fact a rationalising species rather than a rational one. Reasoning involves emotional brain circuits as well as straightforward cognitive ones. Apparently people who have suffered damage to their emotional brain circuits find decision-making extremely difficult. Emotional influence of reasoning is inevitable. Whatever our ideology we are all tempted to, and usually guilty of, selecting evidence to support a dearly held belief rather than being objective.

I am not suggesting that we give up all hope of objective reasoning and throw the towel in. As individuals we can attempt to overcome emotional prejudices and preconceived ideas. Of course this works more successfully when we do this together with others, especially when a wide variety of opinions are present. And even better when we do this using empirical evidence

That is why scientists, who despite their inevitable preconceived ideas and emotional preferences, can still work to understand the world as it really is. They rely on evidence to formulate their hypotheses, and they test or validate them against reality, using empirical evidence. And they do this socially, under the sceptical interest of their colleagues and the inevitable harsh scrutiny of the findings and conclusions by their peers.

This objective testing and validation against reality is vital. Relying on other members of one’s peer groups alone can actually reinforce mistaken ideas and beliefs rather than test them. We sometimes call this “group thinking.”

So no one owns “reason.” Neither does anyone own “rationalisation” or “confirmation bias.” We all do it. But some people are just better at reasoning objectively than are others. And it seems to me that the theologians and philosophers of religion whose articles are in the book “True Reason” may excel at the mental gymnastics and theological pretzel twisting required in their profession. But as they completely omit that important step of validating ideas against reality the “ownership” claim they make on reason is somewhat suspect. For example, at least one of the authors is well-known for his “reasoned” justification of biblical genocide, ethnic cleansing and infanticide! (And, no, I don’t think these are the only people who mistake their rationalisation for reason -  it’s a human problem).

Truth: relative knowledge vs unsupported conviction

Religions often act as if they have captured the sole ownership of “truth.” And not only any old truth but Truth with a capital T. So, I find it rather incongruous when these very same theologians and philosophers of religion rip into those horrible atheists, using philosophical arguments to “show” that their (the atheists) reasoning is incapable of finding truth. In the last week or so I have seen several blog posts and opinion pieces making the argument. Along the lines that one needs some epistemic criteria to judge  if the epistemic criteria you are using is producing the truth. This leaves one in a constant regression of different epistemic criteria or alternatively a circular argument using your favourite criteria. (See Defending Science: An Exchange, by Michael P. Lynch and Alan Sokal for contrasting views and How can we justify science?: Sokal and Lynch debate epistemology by Jerry Coyne for an insightful summary of that debate).

Stephen Law calls this philosophical sawing through the branch you are sitting on “Going Nuclear” (see Protecting yourself against bullshit). How can these people claim any access to truth for themselves when they deny its very possibility (for their discussion opponents)? Mixing metaphors, they think they have blown their ideological opponents out of the water, and then they realise that they themselves are sinking.

These people are caught on the own petard. They have a basic problem:

  1. On the one had they decline to use empirical knowledge, testing and validating against reality, to supplement their reasoning.
  2. Secondly they insist on “absolute truth” requiring a proof by deductive logic. They ignore the fact that we gain real knowledge by accepting something less than absolute.

But what about scientific knowledge? Isn’t that considered “truth?” And how does science justify this knowledge?

Scientists rarely talk about “truth,” more about knowledge. (Yes I know that sometimes words like “true” and “fact” may be used in book titles and newspaper articles – but here they are using the colloquially accepted language). And they never consider their knowledge absolute, complete. In a sense, scientific knowledge is always relative.  And as scientific knowledge is really the best knowledge we have I should think that we should see all knowledge as relative. Open to improvement, revision, or even outright replacement, as new information comes in.

“Other ways of knowing?”

OK, the militant theist may not think this is good enough – they claim that surely it would not be that hard to aim higher.” Strangely, of course, they never explain how they can get a more accurate form of knowledge. As Jerry Coyne says (see Stymied, Michael Ruse criticizes me for liking boots and cats) – when these theologians talk about “other ways of knowing” they really mean “other ways of making it up!”

We can understand that scientific knowledge, despite its relative and temporary nature, is generally accepted as the most reliable for of knowledge. And scientific method as they most effective way of understanding reality. The relative nature of scientific knowledge is one reason it is so effective. It is just silly to claim you have a higher or absolute form of knowledge by claiming it is somehow “revealed”, or “sacred”  and never allowing it to be tested against reality.

Why should we be so concerned with absolutes anyway? What do we need our knowledge for? To improve our lives, to solve problems we face, etc. So its understandable that in a sense we “get by” with our relative, incomplete, knowledge – we effectively have an “instrumentalist” approach. If it works – we use it and don’t worry too much about the complete reality behind it. And in this sense we break out of the epistemic circular and regressive  bind by adopting the great epistemic approach - “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

We shouldn’t separate our knowledge from the process of obtaining it, or from the reality we interact with. The very process of adopting an almost instrumentalist approach, of using our incomplete, relative knowledge in practice, leads to our becoming more aware of its incompleteness, of our need to review and improve our knowledge.

Scientific knowledge is really just an imperfect reflection of reality. But a constantly improving reflection.

Similar articles

Christmas gift ideas: Aussie wisdom

Here’s another one suitable for Aussies, but one many New Zealanders will also find interesting

Books are ideal Christmas presents. And as I am spending some time dealing with family business I thought reposting some of my past book reviews over the next few days could be useful am repeating some of my past book reviews.


Book Review: The Australian Book of Atheism Edited by Warren Bonett.

Price: AU$35.00
Format: Paperback (448pp )
Size: 234mm x 153mm
ISBN (13): 9781921640766
Publisher: Scribe Publications (November 2010).

This is a book by Aussies, for Aussies. But given our similar histories and cultures there is a lot here for Kiwis as well.

It’s a collection of short articles by 33 Australians. They cover personal recollections and reflections. National history, education, social and cultural areas. Politics, philosophy and science. There is even a section on “Religion and the Brain.”

As is the nature of such collections most readers will find something of interest. And different readers will inevitably have different favourites. My review reflects my own interests.

Continue reading

Christmas gift ideas: Kids – it’s OK to be different!

Are you having problems of finding meaningful Christmas presents for family and friends?

Well books are ideal. And as I am spending some time dealing with family business I thought reposting some of my past book reviews over the next few days could be useful am repeating some of my past book reviews.

The first few are ideal for children


Book Review: Why Don’t We Go to Church? by Gail Miller (Author), Rosalind Eagle (Author), Angela Seear (Illustrator).

Price: US$8.99; International US$10.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 51 pages
Publisher: Art Bookbindery; First edition (May 6, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0986587605
ISBN-13: 978-0986587603

Book website: Why Don’t We Go To Church?

Adults, even parents, are probably unaware of most of the issues children face in their day-to-day interactions with their social groups. Often school children confront moral issues, social pressures and hostility which they don’t discuss with their parents. Even those lucky children who have open, non-judgemental parents may not share their worries because of shame or perceived social disapproval.

I think this is common for children from families where parents are known for being “different.” Their political, religious or social views may not accord with those common in society and the kids can take some flack for that. In today’s pluralist society many children must have to face these sort of dilemmas because they interact with children who very likely have different religious or cultural backgrounds.

Continue reading

Hypocritical gratitude?

It seems that some of the delusional god-bothers in the US are upset because there President omitted their god in the list of people he expressed gratitude to in his thanksgiving day speech. As PZ Myers put it – you would think that Obama was joining the New Atheists!

The Christian Post had a wee moan about the issue. It mentions Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro who said of Obama: “Militant atheist. To whom does he think we are giving thanks?”

What a pack of whiners!

I have always thought it rude not to express one’s gratitude to those who deserve it. And there are plenty (see Thanks, Thanking those who deserve thanks and Appropriate thanks). What’s with this rude habit of thanking a mythical being for one’s meal and ignoring the cook, serving staff, farmers, etc. Hell, I would even be thanking the agricultural scientists for their contribution to my meal.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Yet astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson relates what could be a common experience. At a thanksgiving meal he attended everyone went around  the table expressing their thanks. Until he spoke they were all thanking their god.

He expressed his gratitude to agriculture – far more sensible and genuine. But he got booed!

How rude.

Sam Singleton presented quite a relevant atheist sermon on gratitude and religious hypocrisy at the recent US Skepticon conference. Have a look at the video below.

Atheist Revival, Sam Singleton Skepticon 4

Similar articles

Rational morality

Here’s a great video. It’s not short (31 mins) but its well worth watching right through – or downloading and watching later. Even watching several times, the speaker is so eloquent and precise with his language.

In it Scott Clifton gives a thorough critique of the Christian apologetics understanding of morality. He also gives a good outline of secular morality – a rational, objectively-based morality.

Treatise on Morality. – YouTube.

Clifton stress morality is important because it determines how we behave and how we interact with others. In the video he sets out to answer four questions:

  1. What do we specifically mean by words like “right,” “wrong,” “moral,” “immoral,” etc.?
  2. Why our definitions are useful and applicable and why they represent how the vast majority of people see these words, whether they realise it or not?
  3. How can we objectively determine what is “right” and what is “wrong” without appealing to personal taste or subjective opinion?
  4. Why we ought to do right and ought not to do wrong?

He answers the first question by defining “right” as that which promotes the health, happiness and well-being of humans. Or minimises unnecessary human pain or suffering. And “wrong” of course is the converse.

Immediately I know many readers will reject his definitions. But if you do, you should hear him out. Watch the video. Listen to his arguments.

I suspect you might find that you do in the end agree. I do.

Similar articles

You CAN be good with God!

OK – we have become used to the slogan “You can be good without God.” Versions of it have popped up all around the world over the last few years.

Even in little old New Zealand.

It’s really only stating the obvious – being a non-theist doesn’t make you a bad person. In principle most Christians probably agree – or say they do. However it hasn’t stopped many of them from finding such slogans offensive.* Because alongside these campaigns to put up such billboards, there have been campaigns to prevent them – or remove them.

Mind you – perhaps there is poetic justice. An Ohio church happened to own the land on which a Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) billboard was. The advertising firm was unaware of the ownership – they just rented the site. The Christ Cathedral Church in Columbus, Ohio had the billboard removed back in June.

Billboard removed by Christ Cathedral Church from their commercial land - on which they evaded taxation by declaring it a "place of worship"

Problem (for the church) is this  bought to public notice the fact they owned the land, that they were earning an income from the land – but they were not paying tax on that income. (One wonders how much this sort of tax evasion goes on in New Zealand where religion can also earn a tax-free and local body rate free charity status – just because they are religious!)

The FFRF looked into this, found the church owned several commercial properties which they evaded taxation on by declaring them as “places of worship!” (see Columbus Church must “render unto Caesar”).

I guess they were worshiping the almighty dollar!

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented:

“Apparently this church doesn’t heed the scriptural advice in Matthew 22:21 ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,’

“Has this church, that was so offended that a grad student could be ‘good without God,’ been good with God?”

Can you be good with God?

I like that question “can you be good with God?” I guess some people might be asking that these days – there seem to be many cases of priests and religious ministers caught with the hand in the till (or in other places they shouldn’t be). So it’s natural to wonder.

However, I would like to assure Christians and other believers that there is no reason that their beliefs will necessarily stop them from being good. I say that with some confidence because over recent years there has been a lot of progress in the scientific understanding of human morality. And this overwhelmingly indicates that human morality is actually a secular activity. It’s involved with the real world, the non-”sacred” world. Just like accountancy, scientific research, plumbing, etc., it is a secular activity we can all indulge in – whatever our beliefs about a supposed “supernatural” world.

So it doesn’t matter if you believe in a god or not. These beliefs are irrelevant. You can still be an accountant, a scientific researcher, or a plumber. Just as you can sill do morality.

Because morality is a secular activity – its got nothing to do with gods or other supernatural beliefs.


*This hostility is interesting – perhaps at heart many Christians actually don’t think you can be good unless you hold the same supernatural beliefs they do. After all, their holy book says in Psalm 14.1:

The fool says in his heart,
‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they do
Abominable deeds,
There is none who does good.”

Perhaps they think that atheists are supposed to be immoral (after all this is the “word of their god”)

Similar articles