Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hatred of Atheists plummets to new depths of stupidity

This post is of a more personal nature than usual for me. I was browsing through Reddit recently and came across a link to a bizarre article claiming that research has linked "overt atheism" and mental illness. The story cites no references and contains no links confirming that the study is real. Funnily enough, "Damien", the owner of this website says on his homepage that he dislikes overt atheists and thinks they are "antisocial misfits", just like this supposed study claims to have found. The study was supposedly conducted by a Dr. Hans Zimmerman of the University of Hamburg, but a Google search revealed no-one by that name working at this institution. I posted some sarcastic comments under the article implying that it was rather hard to believe that any of it was true. Rather than a good-nature admission that he was playing a little joke, Damien's response was to engage in childish name-calling and a ludicrous denial that the article was a hoax. Below are screenshots of our exchange. (Click to enlarge.) Warning: expect severe foul language!
I challenge him for proof this is not a hoax, his response is more insults, accusations that I am mentally ill just for asking questions, and another lie, even more unbelievable than the last, that the story has been published elsewhere.
Note the incredible bigotry of these canards: "god-hating cock-sucker"; "stupid American fucktard"; Irish are "fucking simple-minded." So not only does Damien hate atheists, but also homosexuals, Americans, and the Irish. I'm not American or homosexual, but I see no reason why I would be ashamed of it I was. He has created a whole website devoted to his hate-filled rantings and he accuses me of "mania" and "anger" for simply challenging him to prove that anything he has said is true! He rants about me "preaching atheism" and my need to be heard (what a shocking crime, wanting to be heard) when his whole website is dedicated to shouting his own stupid opinions. What I find particularly strange is that Damien says on his homepage that he is not even religious. Yet he has this pathological hatred of atheists. To be honest, I think the man has a pathological hatred of human beings. Furthermore, he even admits on his homepage that some of the stories he posts contain nonsense, yet when challenged about this particular nonsense he flies into a rage and makes claims he can't prove. 
Anyway, enough about me. Just to give readers a heads up, if you find any stories floating around the internet claiming that atheism is linked to mental illness, you can rest assured that not only is this not true, but the source is a rather disturbed person with no respect for anybody or for the truth.

Post Script
I recently came across this interesting bit of information on the internet, a comment referring to Damien's claims about the mysterious Hans Zimmerman. I can't vouch for its veracity (there is a mention of this on Wikipedia, but the original reference is in German), but it did make me laugh:

The article cites a certain "Dr. Hans Zimmerman MD PhD" at "the Hamburg University." A multi-language search for the good doctor did turn up a Hans Zimmerman. He was the Gauleiter of Franconia, Germany, 1940-41. A Nazi Party leader! Right up there with Joe Goebbels.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Would Obama have signed Magna Carta?

A recent news story revealed that President Obama has the distinction of being the first sitting President to speak openly of his intention to kill a US citizen, Anwar Awlaki, who has not been charged with committing a crime or convicted at trial. In fact, when Awlaki's father filed a lawsuit to stop the American government from killing his son, the administration responded by filing a brief that the lawsuit be dismissed without further consideration because the assassination attempt is too secret for even the courts to adjudicate on.

My understanding of American history is that the country was founded on the principle that all people have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that cannot be abrogated without due process of law. This was in reaction to the historic fact that despotic kings and governors with unlimited power have been notorious for having people they don't like either detained at their pleasure, or even tortured or killed. A well-known historical precedent for imposing checks and limits on the power of kings is of course Magna Carta. King John of England was forced to sign this document in which he acknowledged that he was subject to the rule of law and could not arbitrarily violate the rights of his subjects.

Although the American Constitution was designed to place strict limits on the powers of government, these limits have been progressively eroded or ignored altogether by a succession of modern presidents from both the major parties. A glaring example of such disregard in recent times is the disgraceful conduct of George W. Bush in having people detained for years at Guantanamo Bay without any charges and without trial, in open defiance of international law. President Obama has continued this tradition of disregarding the constitution by enacting laws that enable the President to not only have people detained without trial at will on the mere suspicion of terrorism, but to actually have people killed, again on mere suspicion without charges or trial. This has been described as an "Alice in Wonderland" style of justice in which people are sentenced first and then tried later.

King John, Obama's forebear

A recent genealogical study has claimed that all American presidents, except van Buren, are actually descended from King John of England. Interestingly, some time after being forced to sign Magna Carta, King John tried to repudiate it and claimed that it was not binding on him after all. Seems like Obama and Bush have decided to follow in the footsteps of their illustrious ancestor in seeking unlimited power, unchecked by the rule of law. So would Obama have signed Magna Carta? Hardly seems likely.

More info:
Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is Richard Dawkins a bully for appealing to reason?

Richard Dawkins has been called a bully in a rambling post by theologian Neil Ormerod. He argues that
....Dawkins and his multitude of followers feel entitled to express such contempt and anger toward religious believers.  Nothing religious believers say can be tolerated because they are at heart irrational human beings; they are free to be otherwise, and in not choosing to be rational they are failing in some sense to be what human beings should be. They are like a watch that does not properly tell the time. They need fixing. And the proper fix is to be more rational, a better human being, and drop their religious beliefs. If these are not Dawkins' and his followers' beliefs about what it means to be human, then all their contempt and anger is nothing more than an attempt at bullying believers, like alpha male primates beating their chests to warn off rivals.
The true face of rationality?

He then goes on to argue that:
However, for many religious traditions this demand for rationality is what is meant by saying that we are "spiritual" beings - that is, we are beings who are not determined simply by their material components, but by something more than mere materiality, by meaning, reason and purpose.
In other words, if humans can make rational choices we must be "spiritual" beings, presumably equipped with immaterial souls that magically endow us with the ability to think and reflect on what we decide to believe is true.
As Dawkins claims, we are just atoms in motion, and all our activities are reducible in principle to the laws of physics. While we may not be able to do so at present, eventually science will find a way to explain all human behaviour.... The whole universe is a purposeless, meaningless set of forces and particles banging into one another according to the laws of physics. How then might Dawkins construe the apparently purposeful appeal to live according to the dictates of reason that is implicit in the aims of his book?
This assumes that for human beings to experience some sense of purpose the universe itself must have purpose. If we are "just" atoms we may as well not make any choices at all! But if Dawkins himself is just a robot with no purpose how is he a bully? By this straw man argument presented by Ormerod, Dawkins is just doing what he is programmed to do. How is this equivalent to bullying? Ormerod seems to think that an appeal to reason is somehow equivalent to the use of intimidation and coercion to get one's own way.

The whole argument is ludicrous and incoherent. "If you believe that it is good for humans to make rational choices then you must believe that we are immaterial spiritual beings, even though there is no rational evidence for this claim." Therefore, to be rational you must be irrational. And what about the problem of dualism? If rationality descends from some immaterial soul, how exactly does an immaterial substance interact with a physical body?[1] Alternatively, maybe we have rationality not because of an immaterial substance which cannot be rationally comprehended, but for the same reason that we have the ability to think and make intelligent decisions. Which might be because we have a brain perhaps?

"If you don't believe the universe has an objective purpose then you cannot have a sense of purpose as a human being." So no objective purpose means that subjective purpose is not possible. Ahh, why exactly? If the universe has no objective purpose does this mean that humans cannot have any values or indeed feelings about what they consider important? Humans do have feelings about what's important, in spite of the fact that we have no way of ever knowing what purpose the universe might even be. So what is wrong with asking people to make rational choices that will lead to better outcomes or that will help to make the world a better place? Theologians have been arguing for millenia that people who choose not to believe in a particular religion will be condemned to an eternity of punishment, just for exercising their "God-given" free will. But Richard Dawkins is a big bully beating his chest and trying to intimidate people just for exhorting people to think critically about what they believe. Perhaps to be fair, some people find having their cherished beliefs questioned very uncomfortable, so trying to get people to think probably seems plain mean.

[1] For a detailed critique of substance dualism, I recommend this video.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Richard Dawkins on the Mars Rover and the Mormons

Recently Richard Dawkins tweeted about the Mars Rover landing:
Yes, America STILL manages to reach Mars, despite half the country preparing to elect a man who believes he'll get a planet when he dies
For anyone not sure of what he meant by getting a planet when you die, he was referring to the Mormon belief in "exaltation". I was unaware of this myself until fairly recently, when I came across the YouTube video copied below, that explains it in an entertaining cartoon. I have it on good authority that this is a fair representation of Orthodox Mormon teaching, and is therefore part of what good Mormons are expected to believe.

Now really, I had thought Scientology pioneered way-out beliefs in life on other planets as a religious teaching, but turns out that Mormons preceded them by a good part of a century. Note the very unsubtle justification for racism based on the idea that skin colour is a marker of "spiritual purity". One thing I have to wonder about is Elohim's countless Goddess wives. Elohim was supposed to have been a mortal who became one of countless Gods, so presumably his Goddess wives were once mortal women. What strikes me is the extreme gender imbalance of one male god apparently having billions of wives. Does this mean that there are billions of male gods without wives? Or does it mean that for every billion women who are exalted, only one man will have the same honour? Seems a bit unfair to the male gender to have what seems like a "winner takes all" system. Or is it the case that basic mathematics do not apply in Heaven, and that for every male who becomes exalted into godhood, billions of goddess wives will be supplied for him in some miraculous way? Maybe that's one of the benefits of being a god,  mortal conceptions of "common sense" or logic simply do not apply...

Just an addendum, according to an informal poll, 50% of Mormons do not believe that men have ever been to the moon...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The unknown purpose of the universe

Some philosophers, such as Richard Swinburne have argued that there is evidence from fine tuning that the specific laws of physics that allow intelligent life forms to exist are so improbable that it is plausible that these laws were fine tuned by god in order that intelligent life forms could exist (Leslie, 1990). Swinburne argued that a good god would have particular reason to will that beings such as humans could come to exist, e.g. so that we could develop the capacity to learn true beliefs, such as the laws of physics.
This would seem to imply that the purpose, or at least one purpose, of the universe was to allow the existence of life forms such as human beings. This would therefore imply that our prehuman ancestors existed mainly for the purpose of allowing human beings to evolve. Therefore, hominoid life forms of the Miocene epoch for example might not have had any purpose of their own, they might simply have existed as a precondition of the emergence of human life.
What if human beings then are not themselves the reason for the existence of the universe? Could it be that we exist as a precondition for the emergence of some even more advanced form of life that we can hardly even imagine? That is, humans might eventually evolve into super-intelligent life forms that transcend the current limitations of human life. Therefore, even if a god was responsible for fine tuning the laws of physics, human beings in themselves might not have any relevance to the fulfillment of god’s ultimate purpose. Therefore, current human concerns might hold no more interest for god than the daily lives of prehuman apes.
This is very similar to Nietzsche’s idea that man is a transitional form between the ape and the superman.
The point is that even if god were somehow involved in setting the laws of the universe to allow the existence of living beings, it is quite possible that god’s purpose in doing so has nothing to do with current human evolution. That is, human affairs might be of no concern to god, who might have some unknown purpose we can barely conceive of.
Human beings like to think that their own lives are of great significance and therefore of concern to a higher power. Yet chimpanzees might consider their own day-to-day needs and desires to be of great importance yet it seems ludicrous to think that god is watching over the lives of chimpanzees and taking a great interest in the outcomes of their interpersonal dramas, of which they have plenty. Dinosaurs roamed the earth for an impressive 120 million years. There is no evidence that intelligent life forms would have evolved from dinosaurs if they had survived even longer. Again it seems ludicrous to think that god was taking great interest in their development and quotidian concerns. If dinosaurs were part of some great design it seems hard to see how they could possibly fit in to some purposeful scheme. On the other hand, if they evolved through natural processes questions about their ‘purpose’ become irrelevant. Therefore, I think that the great apes evolved through natural processes involving no design and see no reason to suppose that human evolution involved design or purpose. Hence, I find it preferable to suppose that the laws of physics as they apply in our universe also developed through natural processes without a designer.
Click to enlarge image


Explaining the universe with the unexplainable

Religious philosopher Richard Swinburne contends that the fact that the universe is actually explicable ‘points to the existence of a deity’.
As a thought experiment, imagine a universe that was not explicable to its inhabitants, where the reasons why things happened were completely opaque and not open to human understanding. People there might say that ‘god works in mysterious ways’, that ‘mere mortals’ are not meant to understand god’s great master plan, hence we must have faith that the deity has his/her own reasons for everything, even if we can never comprehend them due to our limited perspective…
Andromeda Galaxy. If God created the universe for the benefit of humans, why create myriads of galaxies we will never visit?

But wait! In our universe, that is exactly what traditional religionists say anyway! Therefore, theologians seem to be trying to have it both ways! The argument from explicability seems to lack refutability, because if the universe were not explicable they could argue that this too pointed to the existence of a deity.  
Atheist have also pointed out that trying to explain the universe by invoking a deity is vacuous because it requires believing in something that cannot be explained, and hence is no explanation at all. I think this makes Swinburne's claim particularly ironic. He seems to say: "We humans have an amazing ability to explain virtually the whole universe through science but we don't know why this is possible - it must be because something we can never hope to explain (God) exists after all." So if there is a God, our ability to explain what's real ultimately fails. Such contradictory logic never ceases to amaze me.