Why I am an atheist – Jeremy O’Wheel

It would be a convenient lie to say that I am an atheist because of rationalism, reason and the application of logic. I was an atheist well before I had any idea what those things were. I know that many people like to argue that everybody is born an atheist, and of course, in a sense that is true, but I like to differentiate between being ignorant of religion, and the realisation that it’s false.

I grew up almost completely unexposed to religion. My mother is a Quaker, and sometimes took me along to meetings, but I had no idea what they were, other than a bunch of “old people” sitting around occasionally speaking; not appealing to a 6 year old.

My first school had no religion classes, and I knew nobody religious. I didn’t even know what the word “god” meant for most of this time. But then I changed schools to a (public) school that did have almost compulsory religious (Christian) education classes. If you’ve never been told the stories of Adam and Eve, or Moses, or Jesus’s birth, miracles and resurrection, until an age when you’re starting to think for yourself (10), I think it’s inevitable you’ll be suspicious of such stories. It only took a month of such classes (once a week) for me to realise it was just rubbish. The volunteers taking the classes were unintelligent and uneducated, and the stories were as believable as any of the mythology books we had at home.

At this point, I asked my parents if I could stop attending the classes, which they agreed to, and my life as an atheist activist began, as the (public) school fought hard to prevent me from not attending those classes. Eventually they relented, and I was allowed to spend an hour once a week in the library. I know in Australia now, with the push for ethics classes as a replacement for religious classes, there are many complaints about sending the non-religious students to the library with nothing to do, but for me, that was probably when I started to become such a prolific reader, so in hindsight it was an incredibly valuable experience.

I’m very glad that I came to atheism, and to atheist movements, at such a young age, and basically by myself. I see many atheists now who I think dogmatically accept philosophical concepts for which no proof or evidence exists; “burden of proof,” and various logical “fallacies,” that are actually just names of types of arguments (ad hominem springs to mind). My experience taught me not to believe people, just because they say something is true, but to examine it closely, and make my own mind up. Religion is just a tiny facet of the subjects I apply that critical thinking to.

Jeremy O’Wheel
Australia

I take it he gets called a troll a lot?

Some random troll on the internet named Simon Painter has tried to invent an ejection seat for arguments.

I am staking a claim to this as Painter’s Law of The Internet whereby someone occupying an indefensible position will call troll to avoid admitting they made an illogical statement.

See? All he has to do is be repetitive and stupid and pointless, and when someone accurately calls him a troll, he gets to declare victory! It’s going to be amusing when someone named Painter starts trying to win arguments by citing Painter’s Law.

But here’s where it gets really funny: in that very same article, Simon Painter does a far better job of defining a troll than most people.

Personally I have no real interest in who is right and who is wrong. It makes about as much difference to my life as the existence or not of the Higgs-Boson particle. I will almost certainly never know for sure and I am truly skeptical that it would make much of a difference to my life either way. If you follow the Roman Catholic Church or some other variation on the theme or you follow the Church of ‘Atheism’ and worship the prophet Dawkins I couldn’t really care a monkeys but when you start making stupid statements like ‘there is no god’ or you judge an organisation that comforts many by the evils of a few within that organisation then you should probably prepare to be called out on it.

If you don’t care which position is right or wrong but you still charge in to stir the shit, you are a troll. And if you’re so oblivious that you publicly announce that you don’t give a damn about the truth, you’re a moron and a troll.

I get email

It’s a question from Israel, so it was right-aligned. Too bad it wasn’t written from right to left or it would have been more interesting.

sorry for my bad english.

someone gave me a strong evidence for a design

a)we know that all robots need a designer

b)from a material prespective, the human is an organic self replicator robot

a+b=the human need a designer

what you think?

yours…

Ooooh, logic is fun!

a) We know that all robots use batteries or plug into an electrical outlet.

b)from a material prespective, the human is an organic self replicator robot

a+b=the human need a battery or electrical outlet.

So all creationists should go stick a fork in one.

Alternatively, I suppose I could just tell him to read his own question and think about what he is saying.

Designed robots are designed.

Organic self replicator robots organically self replicate.

(Also on Sb)

Nice argument for the age of the earth

Geoffrey Pearce sent me this argument he uses with creationists, and I thought others might find it useful, too.

I am regularly approached by young Earth creationists (yes, even in the bedlam of sin that is Montreal…) both on the street and at home. If I have the time I try to engage them on the age of Earth, since Earth is something whose existence them and I agree upon. They will tell me that Earth is somewhere between 6,000 – 10,000 years old, and, when prompted, that the rest of the universe is the same age as well. I have taken the approach of responding to this assertion by pulling out a print of the far side of the Moon (attached, from apod.nasa.gov).

I cannot tell you how handy this is! Once they’ve had a good look I usually point out that almost all of the craters were formed by asteroids smashing into the planet, and that the Moon has over 250 craters with a diameter of 100 km or more. After explaining that Earth is just as likely to be struck by large asteroids as the Moon (is more likely to be struck, in-fact, due to its greater gravitational well), I then ask them to consider what their time-scale entails: that Earth should be struck every couple of decades by an asteroid capable of completely ejecting an area about the size of New Hampshire (not to pick on New Hampshire). Since such an event has never been observed and there are no well-preserved impact structures anywhere close to this size range, I then suggest to them that the only sensible conclusion is that Earth is much older than they had thought.

This may seem a convoluted way of making a point about Earth’s age, in particular since more precise and direct dating methods than crater counting are used for Earth, but I think that it may have an important advantage. In the past I have tried explaining to creationists how our understanding of Earth’s age is obtained, but they seem to take the “what I can’t see isn’t real” attitude when they hear words such as “radioactivity”, and “isotope”. Conversely, many of them seemed to be somewhat shaken after seeing this image and hearing my explanation, with one even admitting that the Moon looks “very old”. Furthermore, such images are a good starting point for discussing the degree to which chaos and uncertainty are inherent to the universe. Yay!

(Also on Sb)

New Hampshire, Texas of the North

I hope some of the New Hampshire readers are paying attention: you have two creationist bills working through the legislature, and some real dingbats backing them.

Bergevin told the Monitor, “I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It’s a worldview and it’s godless.” He reportedly blamed the acceptance of evolution for the atrocities of Nazi Germany and the 1999 Columbine shooting.

I know NH has extremely diverse representation…tell me these clowns are going to get laughed down as soon as their bills come up for a vote.

(Also on Sb)

We planned it that way

It worked. Read Greta, Cuttlefish, Stephanie, Ophelia, Jason, Jen, JT, Sikivu, and Maryam, to name just a few, and you’ll see that our cunning scheme to assemble a network that was a flaming hotbed of decent human beings has come to fruition.

I did have an initial plan to use our time and effort to build a skull-shaped lair in a volcano on a tropical island instead, but I guess I’m glad we went with this one first.

Protists, not animals

I’ve written about the spectacular phospatized embryos of the Doushantuo formation before. It’s a collection of exceptionally well preserved small multicellular organisms, so well preserved that we can even look at cellular organelles. And they’re pre-Cambrian, as much as 630 million years old.

They’ve been interpreted as fossilized embryos for which we have no known adult forms. They certainly look like embryos, but one thing has always bothered me — they all look like blastula-stage embryos at various points in their early divisions, and the absence of later stages was peculiar: how did gastrulae and neurulae and other stages avoid getting preserved?

One explanation was that we weren’t seeing metazoan fossils at all — they were colonies of large bacteria. That’s disappointing if you have an animal bias, but still cool — as I pointed out then, it just highlights the fact that the transition from single-celled to multi-celled life isn’t that remarkable.

Now we have another alternative explanation that seems even better to me: they aren’t animals, and they aren’t bacteria, they’re protists. Some of the Doushantuo specimens are rather peanut-shaped, and others are vermiform, odd for an animal embryo, but entirely compatible with the idea that these are encysted stages of propagating protists.

Here are some of these oddly shaped Doushantuo specimens.


Tianzhushania from the Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation, Datang Quarry, Weng’an, Guizhou Province, China. (A) Regular and (B to J) irregular forms, the latter interpreted to be in the germinating stage: MESIG 10022 [(A) SEM micrograph]; MESIG 10023 [(B) SEM micrograph (19)]; MESIG 10024 [(C) SEM micrograph (19)]; MESIG 10021 [(D) SEM micrograph]; SMNH X 4447 [(E) to (G) srXTM renderings]; SMNH X 4448 [(H) to (J) srXTM renderings]. (A) Surface of regular globular specimen shows envelope structure, to be compared with the similar envelope structure in (B) to (D). [(B) and (C)] Germinating specimens show protruding tubes and envelope structure. (D) Peanut-shaped specimen shows envelope structure. (E) Isosurface rendering of peanut-shaped specimen. (F) Orthoslice through (E). (G) Detail of approximate level in (F), showing cellular units. (H) Isosurface rendering of peanut-shaped specimen. (I) Orthoslice through (H). (J) Detail of approximate level in (I), showing cellular units. There is a progressive individuality of cellular units toward the periphery, including detachment of single- and oligocellular units (arrows).

Proposed life cycle of Tianzhushania through hypertrophic growth of mother cell, encystment in multilayered wall, palintomic cleavage resulting in a tightly packed mass of pre-propagules, germination by opening of outer cyst wall, and release of prop- agules by degradation of inner cyst wall. Shown is the role of the outer and inner cyst walls in forming the peanut-shaped germination stages (see also modern mesomycetozoean examples in fig. S7). The outer cyst wall (seldom preserved) is indicated in black; the inner cyst wall dark is indicated in gray.

Their proposed explanation convinces me. These were protists that were single-celled in their free-living stage which would periodically grow hypertrophically and encyst, forming a capsule containing the dividing cells. These cells would replicate at differnt rates, forming zones of maturation; eventually, the cyst would rupture, released a cloud of propagules, or spores, and the life cycle would begin again.

That would explain a lot about the distribution of forms in these phosphatized specimens — we don’t find any gastrulating embryos because there never were any. These weren’t animals, period!

They belong outside crown-group Metazoa, within total-group Holozoa (the sister clade to Fungi that includes Metazoa, Choanoflagellata, and Mesomycetozoea) or perhaps on even more distant branches in the eukaryote tree. They represent an evolutionary grade in which palintomic cleavage served the function of producing propagules for dispersion.

That’s still very interesting, and again, it reminds us that the transition to multicellularity had many antecedents and could have been reached by many different paths.


Huldtgren T, Cunningham JA, Yin C, Stampanoni M, Marone F, Donoghue PC, Bengtson S (2011) Fossilized nuclei and germination structures identify Ediacaran “animal embryos” as encysting protists. Science 334(6063):1696-9.

(Also on Sb)

Cussin’ poll

Bill Maher said something rude. No surprise there, I know, but apparently what has some people particularly upset is that he used a naughty word and Jesus’s name in the same sentence. Someone has the idea that Jesus and swearing need a certain unspecified distance apart for propriety’s sake — like maybe Jesus has filed a court order against “fuck”.

After Tebow performed horribly in Denver’s loss to the Buffalo Bills on Christmas Eve, Maher tweeted "Wow, Jesus just f—d #TimTebow bad. And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is tebowing, saying to Hitler ‘Hey, Buffalo’s killing them.’ "

This is so silly. Don’t they even know Jesus’s middle name? Anyway, now there’s a poll to settle the issue.

Did you find Maher’s joke about Tim Tebow in bad taste?

Yes. Jesus and a swear word just don’t mix. 57%

No. It was a joke. Cut the guy a break. 41%

Not sure. 3%

Why I am an atheist – Evie-Grace Beresford

I havent always been an atheist, in fact until I was almost 23yrs old I was a Church of England Sunday School teacher who took Communion every Sunday at 8am, could quote huge tracts of the Bible, recite The Book of Common Prayer word for word and went to church every day during Lent.

I began to question my faith and the veracity of all I had been told when I was about 18 and went off to University to study archaeology and anthropology, neither of which subjects was compatable with my Bible!

I questioned my professors about how I could reconcile my “faith” with my new found knowledge and skills and what those skills were revealing to me on a daily basis.

On the subject of Adam and Eve, and biblical creation in general, one particular professor who was also a devout Catholic explained to me that the writer of Genesis actually meant that Adam and Eve were not actually the very first people on the Earth but they were the first to “find God” which set them apart from the rest of creation and is why, when they all toddled off East of Eden, they found other folk to marry!!

He spent a lot of time trying to help me marry my faith to historical facts.

I did my best to see his point of view but I was fighting a losing battle and by the time I left University I was quite troubled by the erosion of my faith and belief in the God of the Bible.

My first job after Uni was as a site assistant on a dig in East Africa searching for the most ancient of Mankind’s ancestors, my fellow diggers had absolutely no truck with my still semi-religious leanings and we spent many a night in deep discussion on the subject. Eventually, someone suggested that I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations with a more critical and educated eye, employing my new found anthro/archaeo knowledge.

So thats what I did.

The more I read the more I realised how little I knew or had questioned over the years. The long passages of biblical verse that I could quote had all been learned as a child and thus had been unquestioned and undoubted. I didn’t even know until I was 22 that the familiar Christmas scene of the traditional nativity wasn’t even in the New Testament!!

I began to see that ignorance played a large part in the maintainance of unquestioning faith.

Never one to do things by halves, I threw myself into Biblical study, I pestered the life out of a very patient Hebrew scholar, enlisting his aid in re-translating mistranslated words in the English Bible and he put me in contact with 2 other Biblical historians who were also very helpful in identifying places and people.

By the time I went back to Uni to do a PhD at age 24 I had no religious beliefs of any kind. I still read and study and dig and puzzle over the Bible to this day but with a very different attitiude and for different reasons.

You ask why I am an atheist……………… because I grew up, I sought knowledge and I used the knowledge I found to enlighten me.

I can not explain it any better way than to quote Corinthinans 13:11 ……”When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a (wo)man, I put away childish things”

Evie-Grace Beresford
France

Hot for…student?

Jesse Bering is that weird evolutionary psychologist who writes for SciAm and who I’ve criticized before. It seems he doesn’t like me at all (boy, does he hate me—it’s extremely personal for him), and I’ll be charitable and assume his personal antipathy has clouded his judgment, because he’s really gone on a frothing tear on facebook and made a few strange accusations. Apparently, I have a choice: I can be sexually attracted to my students, or I’m sick and need to see a doctor. And then he and his friends proceed to carry out a remote dissection of my psychological problems. On facebook. By a bunch of people who’ve never even met me. How…unprofessional.

I was sent a copy of the thread; if you’d like to read bizarre internet drama completely disconnected from reality, you’ll find it below the fold.

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