Why I am an atheist – Scott Taylor

The story of my current atheism and rationalism begins when I was a child; I was raised with no mention of religion and I still do not know my mother’s religious or irreligious views, I was thus left unexposed to any religion which was stated as fact for my early life. Even when I began primary school I did not know a thing about Christianity or any of the other major religions of the world today. In fact the first religion I had any understanding of was the polytheistic religion of the ancient Egyptians. This knowledge was the first time I had encountered religion; it is also worthwhile noting that I cannot quite remember what exactly I thought of it outside of the various gods looked “cool”. I learned a great deal about ancient Middle Eastern history and in particular Egypt from a wonderful set of children’s history books which my school library possessed. I read and reread continuously; absolutely enthralled by both the literary and visual content of these books. However I digress.

I was first exposed to a religion treated as though it were fact as opposed to simply a cultural belief of past times by ancient peoples (like the ancient and long defunct religions were detailed in the books in persistently read) when I was either 8 and a half or 9 years old through what was in my primary school called R.E (Which stood I believe for religious education); a program which when I and my brothers went to school ran and essentially taught you the main events detailed in the bible (Both Old and New Testament). I cannot remember what my initial thoughts were and it is unlikely that I had any of significance due to my complete ignorance of all religion with some exceptions. I cannot remember exactly what was taught during the first lesson of this class however during the second lesson the old woman who taught R.E told the story of Noah’s Flood, according to this absurd story only eight people existed in the world at 2400 BC or thereabouts. I did not quite understand how this was possible because the existence of the Egyptians and Sumeria and other neighboring states definitely had more than eight people because otherwise how were there empires existing at that time and even being formed shortly after this date. This realization lead me to interrupt and state that it’s not possible for there to only be eight people left in the world because Egypt and Sumeria had lots of people. I was politely told that in order to speak I must raise my hand and wait my turn, I thus did so and was promptly ignored which prompted me to interrupt and ask the same question/statement. This generally defiance lead my regular teacher to ask me to either stop being rude or leave. I refused and said I wanted to know the answer to my question. This ultimately lead me to end up outside in the bag area for the duration of the lesson and for the weekly lessons as I refused to not interrupt and ask “rude” questions. This first experience of religion left what was undoubtedly a bad impression and lead me to formulate the opinion that R.E was a dumb class with no point; the motivation for this view mainly being spite from her refusal to let me point out that there wasn’t eight people in the world at any point around 2400 BC.

This general disagreement with R.E lead me to end up being excluded for the several years which this program ran due to the fact that I persistently complained about the various absurdities which became more obvious as I grew older and my knowledge of history increased. By this point I was around 11-12 years old and was an agnostic (Although I didn’t know the word to describe myself at the time) having thought about the idea of a god I couldn’t think of any good reasons for one even though I couldn’t think of any really against either since I had never read anything on the subject and my opinions on the matter at this point in my life were based on nothing more than my own thoughts. My skepticism of not only the bible which had been present since I had first learnt of it continued and grew greater as I entered my teens. By the time I was around 13 I had decided that there was no need for a god and that it is beyond unreasonably improbable for a theistic god such as that of Christianity to exist given the bible’s superb rate of managing to detail supposedly huge events that never occurred as well as the numerous paradoxes and problems that result from this god supposedly being benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient. Furthermore I decided in my early teenage years that any god is neither needed for the world to exist nor is it likely as nothing in this world that we have observed is impossible without a deity.

This view and my atheism holds stronger than ever now several years after I first came to the idea that I am an atheist. Reason and logic compel me to disavow the theistic god’s of our world’s major religions on the basis of the paradoxes and problems raised by their qualities such as in the case of Yahweh; a benevolent being who created a system in which souls are supposedly created WITH the knowledge of this being that they will commit acts which will get then sent unto a place of eternal torture? Which benevolent being creates a system of such barbarity that is akin to Hitler breeding Jews simply so that the SS could kill them? Additionally the extraordinary track record of failure on material matters that are testable by science that is possessed by all major religions that make claims in regards to the material world (and only world); the supposedly flawless and ever-truthful fairy tale known as the Qur’an says a great flood occurred yet this did not happen nor did the great exodus of the Jews from Egypt as detailed in the Old Testament.

Even a deistic god falls in the face of reason for the absence of any reason or necessity for such a being and the burden of proof alone are more than enough to fell such an idea and quite frankly there is nothing more beautiful and spectacular than the wonder of nature and a world so beautiful and grand; nothing greater than not living in fear of cosmic tyrants or eternal torment but simply living for ourselves and those we love today in the magic of reality.

Scott Taylor
Australia

No one expects the Atheist Inquisition!

The Catholics shall fear us. They already feel the tightening of the thumbscrews, they hear the creak of the Iron Maiden closing, and they smell the reek of the spilled beer on the Comfy Chair. And oh, how the Catholics are squealing at their oppression. I have in my hands a list of three, no, four crimes against Holy Mother Church, all horrors that no civilized society should inflict on any of its members, no, not even the ones who rape little children and call it holy.

Oh, wait. Now that I look at them, the torments aren’t really that bad.


Oh, the humanity. Look at those sad, suffering faces, those underprivileged, unemployed saintly servants of the Lord. I weep to see their patent deprivation and demeaned status. Set them free!
  • Catholics are forced to use contraception! Uh, actually, Health and Human Services is requiring that private health insurance plans cover contraception for those who use it. So what they’re really complaining about is that they have to pay for coverage that includes something they won’t use. Just like I have to pay for an insurance plan that covers diseases of the uterus, or worse, cancer. Cancer is expensive, and I don’t have it; I expect to be deaded by heart disease, so why should my money be used for those deadbeats with a horrible disease I haven’t got?

  • Catholics are excluded from government jobs! They cite two things: the first one is in incomprehensibly mangled English, but I think it’s something about how doctors assisting refugees have to be willing to give abortions if needed. Homeless women never have life-threatening gynecological conditions, so it’s perfectly reasonable for devout Catholic doctors to let them die if they do. The second problem is that USAID isn’t going to support HIV/AIDS programs that don’t recognized the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the disease. It’s all the same nuisance requirement: they’re hiring people to do some specific work, and they’re unfairly refusing to hire people who say they’ll only do half the job.

  • The government wants to control who the Church can hire! Meddlesome bastards. They actually expect the divine and sacred faith to respect their employees civil rights. Waaaaah!

  • The Department of Justice has officially called Catholics bigots! It’s true. They’ve come right out and said that the church’s efforts to impose their views on all people, including non-Catholics, that gay people are wicked and evil sinners who will burn in hell and do not deserve equal treatment under the law, is somehow bigoted. Civil servants who are Catholic in states that allow gay marriage are facing legal action because they refuse to do their job. Catholic adoption agencies are being squeezed out of business for the innocent act of hating same-sex couples and telling everyone that they are bad, bad parents. Hating people and discriminating against them for their natures isn’t bigotry, is it?

You know, that’s just pathetic.

Clearly, the Atheist Inquisition needs to step up their game, and do a little research to learn how to do their job. Maybe we should study how Catholics have historically managed any group that disagrees with them? Surely, they wouldn’t complain if we were scrupulously fair and only did to officials of the Catholic Church what the Catholic Church has done to heretics in the past, would they?

We’d be doing them a favor. Right now, they look rather foolish sitting there in opulent robes, dandling terrified children on their knees and demanding that we allow vast populations to suffer from poverty and sexually transmitted diseases, all while squealing and crying because someone won’t give them money for not distributing condoms, or insisting that doctors ought to be willing to do simple surgeries that save women’s (sinners!) lives. They’d at least look like they had good reason to whine if they were on fire, rather than being told they don’t get to interfere in people’s lives.

A feminist embarrassment

I cringed reading this woman’s lament that evolutionary biology is responsible for the oppression of women, starting with Darwin. It’s one long colossal failure of logic.

The argument has some genuinely true facts embedded in it, which then get spun out into a series of false conclusions. It is true that the Victorian gentlemen who formulated and expanded upon the theory of evolution tended to be 19th century chauvinists who made up stories about the inferiority of the feminine mind, and Darwin was right among them. It is also true that there are contemporary biologists who still make up similar stories and engage in blatant retrofitting of the data to rationalize sexism or racism (Satoshi Kanazawa comes to mind as one of the most egregious examples).

But don’t confuse cause and effect! Sexism predated evolutionary theory, and is a product of the wider culture. And creationism, most obviously, is extremely sexist, with its predefined gender roles and gender-based assignment of blame for the entirety of our wicked nature. To single out a late 19th century scientific theory and accuse it of promoting a deplorable cultural attitude that was both present before the theory was discovered, and present to an even greater degree in the individuals who strongly opposed the theory, is ridiculous in the extreme, and embarrassingly stupid.

But I’m not done. The entirety of the edifice of her logic is built on exactly one essay, one attack on evolution, by one guy. And that guy is the rabid squirrel of creationism, Jerry Bergman.

Bergman is so awful, so incompetent, so dishonest, that citing him in any way in support of your position (let alone allowing his lying slander of Darwin be the sole source) instantly discredits anything you might say. It says you have no discernment or capability of critical evaluation of your sources.

I’m sorry to say that the taint of incompetence has now also spread to Loretta Kemsley.

(Also on Sb)

#OCCUPYMORRIS

I never thought it would happen, but the flaming radicals here in rural Minnesota are actually rising up to overthrow the system. Tonight, 1 November, at 6pm, the 99% (which should be about 4,950 people, given the population of our town) are meeting on the campus mall to MARCH ON MORRIS. Which means about a ten-minute walk.

I’ll be there. Everyone should show up. All you townies and students, country farmers, vagrants passing through, faculty and staff, hardworking blue-collar wage slaves, come on out tonight!

I’m hoping this will be the seminal event that crystallizes the whole movement and shatters the dominant paradigm. It could happen. You don’t want to miss it, do you?

Let it be the start of an avalanche

The Texas Freethought Convention last month was a hoot, but the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne in April promises to be even bigger and more fierce. The Australians are warming up already — they’ve broadcast a story on the Texas event, playing up our opposition to the follies of faith in a state led by that foolish goon, Rick Perry. I’m in it briefly (Hi, Mom!), but the bulk of the footage is dedicated to Christopher Hitchens, and rightly so.

If you don’t think that you can make it to Australia in April, though, shoot for the Reason Rally in Washington DC in March. This is our time, rise up and stand!

John Haught is a coward and a theologian

I’ve been in debates and arguments where I felt I missed the mark or didn’t do my best job, and I shrug and move on — and I also figure it’s all public and it’s all going to end up on youtube. It also ends up on youtube when I do a good job, which is a bit of a pain in the butt: I have to keep coming up with new talks because I know the crowd that listens to me tends to churn through internet content so thoroughly. It’s part of the job nowadays, I fear. Talks aren’t just public, they get preserved forever on the internet.

John Haught doesn’t get it. Maybe it’s because he’s a really, really old guy (why, he’s got to be a whole ten years older than me, and even has a few years on that geezer Coyne) and hasn’t kept up. Maybe it’s because he’s a Christian and thus unaware of the nature of the universe. Maybe it’s because he’s the opposite of a gentleman and a scholar. John Haught is suppressing the video of the debate he had with Jerry Coyne. He signed off on permission before the debate, but has now reneged, claiming he did poorly because of the presence of “Jerry’s groupies”, and that the event “failed to meet what I consider to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange”. He got his ass kicked, in other words.

I find this deplorable and disgraceful. As I say, it’s a nuisance that I have to keep writing new talks because they get so thoroughly exposed on the internet, but that’s also a benefit: it means tens of thousands hear a talk that I gave to an in-person audience of only a few hundred, and it means my words are not only heard, but are open to criticism. That’s important. That’s also an obligation and responsibility of any public intellectual.

Oh, well, as it stands, that just means Jerry Coyne’s account of the debate is definitive.

By the way, it’s not just Haught that fails the test of a scholar: the Gaines Center at the University of Kentucky, which sponsored the debate and recorded it, must also be held accountable for going along with the craven suppression. Their reputation is being sacrificed on the altar of John Haught’s vanity — I’m not impressed.

Why I am an atheist – Kirsten Seymour

I grew up in a largely secular household. Although I was christened in the Anglican church, my exposure to religious ideas was limited to a children’s book of bible stories (from my grandmother), occasional visits to church (when my parents were out of town and I had to stay with gran), and a week every summer spent at church camp. The bible stories I treated just as that – even from an early age, I recognized them as stories only. My occasional church visits I found entirely boring and I don’t remember ever actually listening to anything that was said.

Church camp was probably the most influential religious experience I had. I should say that I only ever went to church camp because there was always a week in the summer where my mom went out of town and my dad worked and my parents thought it would be best to send me off to camp with other kids. There were very few (if any) live-in summer camps in our area that weren’t run by churches, and my parents were of the opinion that a week of religion wouldn’t kill me. For the most part they were right. There was the one summer where a scheduling conflict forced them to send me to a Pentecostal camp instead of the Anglican camp that I usually went to. Pentecostal camp featured 4 hours of church every day, which included adults speaking in tongues and performing “miracles” on demand, and lots of kids with their hands in the air, crying (literally) for Jesus. I remember being bitter that I wasn’t allowed to listen to my new Natalie Cole cassette tape because it wasn’t about God. I found that camp creepy, and my mom was pretty shocked by the stories I told when I came home. Needless to say, I never went there again. The Anglican camp was better. There was always some sort of short service each day (usually held outside in a little clearing in the forest), but for the most part we played games, sang songs, swam in the ocean and did normal kid stuff. I enjoyed camp, and it gave me the impression that believing in God wasn’t all that bad. I enjoyed the camaraderie with other kids and the feeling that we were all a part of something.

In all my life, I don’t remember ever having a fervent belief in God. I thought it was tradition to be a part of a religion, but I didn’t realize that you had to actually believe in it. As a teenager, I started to philosophize on religion and what I really believed. At first, I came up with the argument that “god” or “gods” were present in all societies around the world, so maybe there was something to it. But I didn’t think that any one religion had it right. I guess this was my phase of “spirituality” where I thought there might be some higher being, but I couldn’t subscribe to any one belief system. In university, I spent a weekend at a friend’s house and devoured the book “Conversations with God”, which is written on the premise that the author is actually able to communicate with God, and God explains why there are all these contradictions in the world – why babies die, why some parts of the world experience extreme poverty and suffering while others were relatively prosperous, why God doesn’t show himself. I thought the book made some sense, and I remember thinking that if there was a God, I’d like to think that he’d be practical and merciful like the author of that book explained. Of course, I realized that the book didn’t jive with any religious doctrine that I knew of, so I was back to thinking that there might be something out there, but no religion had it right.

I think that my “spirituality” dissolved gradually through university as I strengthened my science muscles. I took a class as an elective towards the end of my B.Sc. that focused on society and the environment. The class was full of hippies and “spiritual” folks who had an idealistic view that “alternative reasoning” could solve all the world’s problems – I would have fit right in during high school. In the course, I heard the argument all the time that “if we just let go of our western ideals and ways of thinking and take a holistic approach to environmental management, we’ll save the environment”. Nobody ever explained what that meant. Meanwhile, I’d spent 2 summers as a research assistant investigating how land use affected fish populations in different regions of the province, and finding that the “doom and gloom” opinion that most environmentalists had regarding logging and the environment didn’t apply to all ecosystems. I was thinking critically, investigating claims, and finding that science had more answers to everything. I think it was around this time that I ditched the idea of a god entirely. In the same way that I couldn’t envision how “non-Western thinking” could solve the world’s environmental problems, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea of a man in the sky, responsible for everything, meting out vengeance on anyone who didn’t blindly believe in his glory. Even “spirituality” seemed silly and childish – I was fed up with woo, “alternative thinking”, eastern/western reasoning, etc.. In the end, it all comes down to facts, and the fact is that no higher being has ever presented me with a single reason to believe he exists.

I’m still an environmentalist, but instead of standing in a cutblock, smoking weed and chained to a tree, I’m actively involved in the science that goes towards managing environment effectively for everyone. And instead of hanging out in a coffee shop discussing god, spirituality, and the driving force behind nature, I’m discussing with everyone who will listen the reasons why I’m an atheist.

Kirsten Seymour
Canada

Lunatics on campus

The UMTC Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists has been busy. They recently had an event to mock homeopathy, and it has been written up in the campus newspaper. Unfortunately, they’ve smoked out the local kooks: the comments on the article are embarrassing. Look at this:

I am a whole hearted aficionado of homeopathy, discovered in the late 1700s by German physician Samuel Hahnemann. In the 1800s and early 1900s, homeopathy was widely practiced in the United States. There were many practitioners, medical schools, conventions all over the USA. It is such a successful method of treatment, doctors had a hard time making a living, and so eventually the American Medical Association succeeded in quashing it. It took me many years of trying to figure it out on my own before I finally came across a book by Dr. Don Hamilton about using homeopathy to treat illness in cats and dogs which helped me begin to understand how to choose the right homeopathic drugs and cure illnesses. It strikes me as silly that skeptics get so enraged by a medical art that so many doctors have spent their lives working on and that has so many documented successes. Glad to hear the University of Minnesota is helping patients discover true healing.

It doesn’t work. It doesn’t even make sense. I’m just going to let xkcd handle it.

There are also a couple of letters from our wretched Center for Spirituality and Healing in there. Strangely, they disavow any support for homeopathy. I don’t understand how I can then take a quick look at the CSH faculty and find that at least three — Jacob Mirman, Paula Jelinek, and Karen Lawson are homeopaths. Weird. It’s almost like lying is easy for quacks.

Feel free to leave comments on the MN Daily site. Our students, faculty, and staff clearly need some remedial instruction.


One other event is coming up, a debate. Aaargh. Between Dan Barker (Yay!) and …Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, the wacky deluded Muslim fanatic, on “Is Atheism or Islam more rational?” It’s taking place in Smith Hall, room 100, on Thursday, 3 November at 8:00.

I have a feeling it’s going to be ghastly. I may have to go, just to watch the foolishness explode. Also to catch any more silly claims about Islamic embryology.