Why can’t you just leave them be?

I watched a mini-drama unfold on a thread that was linked to my Deepak Chopra post a couple weeks ago. Some of the massage professionals on the site did not take kindly to the idea of skeptics telling people that they were wrong.The ‘arrogance’ card was pulled out (although I think telling people you have special insight into the supernatural, with no evidence to back that up, is far more arrogant than mentioning the lack of evidence), and my buddy Brian decided to go on the forum and explain some things from the skeptic position. He was particularly ill-received by a gentleman named Emmanuel Bistas, who derided both Brian and the originator of the thread for elitism and arrogance, and suggested they focus on things that were more important than Deepak Chopra. The precursor post to our activity in Vancouver spells out very clearly why we care about Dr. Chopra’s line of bull, and why it’s important to speak up about it.

And then I ran into the same plaintive cry that all people whose beliefs are supported by no evidence retreat to when someone challenges them:

“I am not saying I would not do all in my means natural and medicinal to care for my children but that is my decision and it is not up to me to make another feel or believe as I do it is up to each and every individual to find the path that is right for them.”

Ah yes, the “let people believe what they want to believe” card, also known as the “why can’t you just leave people alone?” card. The argument is that people are entitled to believe as they like, and we have no right to tell people their beliefs are wrong. I’ve heard the argument most frequently when it comes to discussions of religion. After successfully pointing out the fact that there is no rational case for belief in God, that the practice of religion often leads to horrible abuse, and that there are much better alternatives to belief in the supernatural, I inevitably hear something along the lines of “if it makes people happy, why take it away from them? Why can’t you just let people believe what they want?”

As I’ve said many times before about arguments like this, on the surface of things this seems like a reasonable response. If belief in the afterlife or a loving deity who answers prayers or a middle-eastern priest who cures lepers makes people happy, then there’s no harm in letting them continue to believe. In other words, why can’t you just leave people alone?

There’s a good answer to this question, and it’s a little glib:

They don’t leave me alone

Apologists for religious belief (and when I say religious, I mean any belief system that is based on faith in a supernatural being, not merely organized religious entities) like to paint this picture of poor beleaguered faithful people who just want to be left alone to practice their religion in the privacy of their own home. They are perfectly happy to let others believe what they want; why can’t I extend them the same courtesy?

The answer is that, just like the cake, the picture is a lie. The only way you could possibly believe that religious groups aren’t attempting to (and succeeding at) seize political power to enforce a faith-based agenda on everyone is if you’re not paying attention to anything happening in the world. Part of the reason I started this blog was to highlight specific incidences where religious groups have hijacked political systems to pass laws based on a Biblical/Qu’ranic justification of some issue or another. By my count, I have no fewer than 15 posts with specific examples (keep in mind this blog is only 4 months old), and I invite you to go back through the archives if you still think religious groups are content to leave well enough alone.

The fact is that while we have been wrapped in the blanket of complacency, soothing ourselves with meaningless jibberish like “everyone’s entitled to their opinion” and “who are we to say what is right and wrong“, religious groups have been taking the exact opposite position, forcing your laws to abide by their opinions and deciding for you what is right and wrong. This will not change unless someone speaks up in opposition and says “you do not speak for me, and I want to see the justification for your position.”

“But Crommunist,” you may be saying “most people aren’t religious fundamentalists. They aren’t trying to pass laws, they just want to live their own lives.” This is true, and most of my friends who are “religious” are that way very quietly, in name only. They don’t buy things like literal Biblical interpretation, or scripture-based laws, some probably even doubt the divinity of Jesus. I know this, because I was in the exact same position not too long ago. While I have sympathy for those friends who just want to be left alone, failing to speak up against those who want to relig-ify our country in the name of appeasement gives political cover to the hard-liners. Lack of dissent is assent – if you don’t speak up, you’re implicitly agreeing with them. If you do agree, then say so; if you don’t, you have a responsibility to say so too.

But this type of excuse doesn’t confine itself to religion. The people on the massage forum weren’t explicitly talking about religion, they were talking about medicine – specifically, energy medicine. A modality for which there is no evidence, which has been tested and found not to work, but is still practiced anyway. It’s all well and good to talk about “leaving people alone”, but when you are in a position of trust (as you are if you are a medical practitioner), and you abuse that position to “treat” people with modalities that are completely ineffective, you are violating that trust. It is wildly unethical to mislead someone into thinking they are receiving treatment when all you are doing is giving them a placebo (remember: if you have to believe in it in order for it to work, it’s a placebo). Informed consent is the cornerstone of the ethical practice of any profession, but particularly one in which the recipient is in such a compromised position. Lying to people, and a lie of omission is still a lie, is not “leaving them alone”, it’s deceit.

We have a duty to each other to be honest and forthright in all of our dealings. Part of that process is to look at reality to see if our beliefs are supported by fact. If there is no fact for or against, then we have to go by logic and reason. Once logic and reason have exhausted their usefulness, then I suppose all opinions are equally valid. However, that’s not the case for quack medicine, and it’s certainly not the case for religion. I refuse to stand by with my thumb in my ass while people spout absolute lies and fabrications that don’t hold up to the evidence, especially when they’re getting rich while doing so. If you still think that it’s the inherent right of people to believe what they want even when it’s contradicted by evidence, ask yourself if you think it’s the inherent right of people to be able to defraud each other for profit.

What you missed this week: June 14th – 18th

Well don’t you feel foolish? Look at what you missed this week:

That was all in one week! Are you sure you can afford to miss next week when:

  • I discuss why I refuse to leave people’s beliefs alone;
  • We learn the fate of Malawi’s most famous gay couple;
  • The Roman Catholic Church gets even closer to getting it right;
  • Ontario’s Supreme Court faces a major cultural conundrum; and
  • Germs arrive (from Germany)?

Rhetorical questions are for pussies – you can’t afford to miss it. Stay tuned!

Racism is alive and well in Canada

I want to re-iterate something off the top of this post: I love my country. I love how we have managed to find a way to safeguard individual freedoms without sacrificing our sense of mutual custodianship to each other. I love the fact that we pride ourselves on separating religion from politics, and are, for the most part, very willing (perhaps sometimes too willing) to accommodate the cultural practices of others. I love that things like guns and gay marriage and abortion, things that are currently tearing the United States apart, are relatively foregone conclusions here – not to minimize the struggles of the past to get things this way, but they were much shorter and less divisive.

I love my country… and I fear for it.

I fear for it simply because we are happy to close our eyes and pretend that racism is not an issue here. I was all pumped to write a short post about a news item I saw in the paper:

Hate crimes increased 35% between 2007 and 2008, according to a report from Statistics Canada released on Monday, with Jewish and black people the most targeted groups for attacks. The data shows hate crimes are on the rise in each motivation grouping: race and ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

I was going to say that we’re clearly not out of the woods, and that even though much of the rise may be attributable to an increase in the number of reported cases as people become more willing to call a hate crime ‘a hate crime’, a 35% jump is not something to sweep under the carpet, as it may represent a real increase. I was particularly chilled by the fact that Vancouver, my home, was the city with the highest rate of attacks (I immediately thought of Courtenay, BC). It was just going to be a quick piece, reminding us not to be complacent.

Then I read this truly execrable word salad of an opinion column written by Mindelle Jacobs, a woman who, if she got paid anything for writing this piece, was grossly overpaid:

If you look under enough rocks, you’ll find the slimy underbelly of discrimination. But let’s not blow this study out of proportion. After all, this is not Kyrgyzstan, where hundreds of minority Uzbeks have been killed.

The vast majority of Canadians embrace a live-and-let-live philosophy, partly because Canada is wealthy, stable and rooted in inclusive Judeo-Christian principles and the rule of law and partly because we are a nation of immigrants fashioning a comparatively new country.

Gah! So much wrong in only two sentences (I count the first paragraph as one sentence – those periods are inappropriately placed). Let’s see, right off the top we’ve got a brainless downward comparison (oh goody! We’re not as bad as a genocidal country! Calloo Callay!), and an appeal to that shiny old lie that Canada is founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Finally, after relating a completely off-topic story about a friend who wears a Star of David and fears being discriminated against, she ends with this gem:

Hate crimes constitute less than 1% of all our crimes. Yes, we have a few bigoted lunatics. But we have a powerful counter force — millions of Canadians without a discriminatory bone in their bodies.

“Don’t worry,” Ms. Jacobs says “everything is okay! You don’t have to worry about it! Only 1% of all crimes are hate crimes! And it’s only done by ‘those people’, not by good-hearted Canadians like you and me!”

Here’s a hint for Ms. Jacobs: if you’re going to write an article about race and race issues in Canada, it might help if you do… let’s say 5 minutes of reading on the topic before you publish an opinion piece with national circulation. This idiotic scribbling was picked up by dailies all over the country, spreading the pablum of “everything’s okay, we don’t have to make any changes because we’re not Kyrgyztan” to Canadians everywhere.

So this post is going to be just a little longer than it was supposed to be. Since we’ve already talked about Nova Scotia, both present and past, and of course Courtenay making the news, the particular challenges Canada faces with regard to race, and a number of recent examples of cultures clashing here, I thought I’d bring one more thing to the table.

Isn’t it great when, while the rest of the world is coming together to play soccer and set aside their differences, we here in Canada are happily tossing racist epithets at children? Yes Ms. Jacobs, there’s no race problem in Canada; well, unless you ask someone who isn’t white. This poor girl was not only the victim of comments from the other kids on the field, but by their parents as well. What kind of person do you have to be to insult a child… regardless of the nature of the insult. Hatred of Natives is widespread pretty much everywhere across Canada, and this incident is merely an obvious example of it. People here in Vancouver like to make insulting comments about Native people to my face, as though it’s okay to be racist against some people, because I’m not part of that group. I can only make assumptions about what kinds of things they say about black people when I’m not in the room.

So we’ve got racism coast to coast, and a columnist who seems to think it’s just a handful of isolated incidents. Ms. Jacobs asks if Edmonton and Calgary are hotbeds of racism, pooh-poohing the idea. This means that she has spent zero time talking to any black or Native people who live in these cities. She’s never bothered to look across the prairies and see how South Asians and Natives are treated by the communities there. She’s never seen the race divide and ghettoization of immigrants in Southern Ontario. She’s clearly never been to Surrey, or any Native reserve where white Canadians are distrusted and hated. No, Mindelle Jacobs clearly doesn’t know anything about race in Canada, happy to stick with the lies instead of poking her head out and seeing anything that challenges her rose-tinted view that Canada is a happy, Christian place where “only” 1% of our crimes are based on hate. I’d much rather live in the real Canada, which has its flaws, but where real progress can be made.

Movie Friday: STORM (Tim Minchin)

I’m not going to lie, this might be one of the greatest things ever written.

I’ve had too many first dates with the Storms of the world, especially since moving to Vancouver where critical thinking skills seem to be out of fashion. It’s perfectly reasonable to say that we don’t know how to explain everything in the world. That’s just the facts. However, that doesn’t mean we get to make up fairy stories to fill in the blanks, and until you can provide me with some facts or some logic to demonstrate the veracity of your claims, you’re just telling me made-up fairy stories. You don’t deserve any more respect than Mother Goose for believing in ghosts, spirits, reincarnation, astrology, or any of the other millions of fairy stories people try to pass off as fact. If you’ve got some evidence to show they’re right, I’ll happily look at it. If the evidence conflicts with my beliefs, I’ll happily change my mind. But don’t expect me to fake some kind of respect for your belief in magic wands or Feng Shui unless you’ve got real evidence to show me.

Also, how awesome is it that the whole thing is in rhyme?

Do Canadians have a common culture?

Back in April, I talked about Canada’s unique position when it comes to race and identity. Specifically, I talked about the fact that Canada doesn’t have a unified national identity, and that this allowed us to absorb culture from all over the world in a way that other countries can’t.

It appears that about half of Canadians agree with me:

Canadians are almost evenly split on whether residents of the country share a “common culture,” according to a new national survey exploring perceptions of social cohesion in Canada.

I suppose it’s more accurate to say that I agree with about half of Canadians, since the vast majority of Canadians don’t read this blog. Whatever the case, we can’t even agree if we have a common culture or not, suggesting to me that we don’t. This has its downside, absolutely. I am a proud Canadian, I love the shit out of this country. But pin me down and ask me to define what specific things I am proud of that other countries don’t have, and I might have a difficult time of it.

There was another piece to this article that caught my eye though:

More than three-quarters of respondents — about 77 per cent — agreed with the idea that “Canada’s cultural life is enriched by people with different cultural backgrounds than the majority.”

Again, this speaks perfectly to what I was talking about before. Canada is a rich mosaic that is built of cultures from everywhere. That is what unifies us – we don’t force capitulation to a standard of Canadian-ness. Our lack of -ness is our -ness.

This reality puts specific challenges in front of us, but potentially allows us to set the stage for the rest of the world. Everywhere immigration is becoming an issue. The world is connected like never before – the internet, accessibility of travel, increased global trade. Soon everywhere will find that their national identity is eroding under the gradual waves of novel cultural expression. How amazing would it be if the rest of the world looked to Canada as a model of how to make it work? How much more proud could we be of our country if we were the blueprint upon which the structure of cultural harmony and co-existence is built?

Plus, how much more awesome will our food be?

I take an unpopular stance on Holocaust denial

I know that some of my readers are Jewish. I hope that I have established my bona fides in your eyes that I am not an anti-Semite, nor will I rush to defend Jews when they are wrong. I see Judaism and Jewish people in the same way I see all religions and religious people – not deserving of sainthood, but definitely not deserving of hatred and violence. I am not a Holocaust denier, I do not think the Holocaust was a cover-up or a lie – there are mountains of evidence, and I am satisfied that the truth is more-or-less represented accurately in the current narrative. I am aware that there is a community of deniers out in the world, and I try to stay as far away from them as possible.

Elie Weisel wants to make it a crime to deny the Holocaust:

Wiesel did disagree with (author Salman) Rushdie over whether Holocaust denial should be a crime, saying it should be outlawed everywhere except in the United States. That’s because the First Amendment in the U.S. guaranteeing freedom of expression is too important, Wiesel said. Rushdie, on the other hand, said prosecuting Holocaust deniers simply extended them a platform. The author said freedom of speech and the value of human rights were both topics that could not be discussed enough.

I agree with Rushdie, although for slightly different reasons. Many European countries have made it a crime to deny the Holocaust. My concern is not simply that making it a crime makes martyrs out of those who are arrested (although that will almost certainly be the case), my concern is that outlawing any speech is cause for pause. The unbelievably inconvenient thing about free speech is that you can’t pick and choose which speech should be free. It’s either free, or it isn’t free. If we’re not going to have free speech, then we need to establish reasonable criteria to infringe – we can’t simply arbitrarily decide that some things can be discussed and some can’t, no matter how horrible they might be. One of my favourite bloggers talked about this a couple weeks ago, and you can find me sprinkled all over the comments section. Orac had, among other things, this to say:

Quite frankly, Wiesel’s advocacy of a ban on Holocaust denial while championing free speech to criticize Islam doesn’t just look hypocritical. From my perspective, it is hypocritical. Why this one exception to free speech for Holocaust denial bans? Why not other exceptions to free speech–such as for criticizing religion or racist hate speech against others besides Jews?

At what point does some speech become “incorrect”, but similar speech is okay? Are blasphemy laws justified because it strikes at the very core of some people’s belief systems? Should all anti-religious speech be off-limits, even if it’s to criticize specific abhorrent practices that are done in the name of religion?

The other side of it, and perhaps the more compelling argument, is that banning speech doesn’t make the problem go away. It simply drives it underground, where it is allowed to grow and metastasize until it erupts and hurts people. We’ve seen a number of examples of that on this blog alone – where taking away the ability to talk about something only serves to make it worse. If the goal of the law is to eliminate the hate, then it must be done similarly to using surgery or radiation to treat a tumour – sometimes things have to get worse in order for them to get better. Once the hate is out in the open air, we can counter it with facts and demolish its support, finally putting it completely to rest. Or, as Orac puts it:

Let them have their free speech. Then bury them with refutations and ridicule.

Fuck you too, Somalia

No sooner do I write a summary of my warm, fuzzy feelings about the World Cup, when I read that Islamic militants in Somalia are executing people for watching the matches on TV. Of course it’s couched in religious justification (it always is). So while the rest of the world is trying to come together to participate in a multi-national event, to put aside its differences for a minute and play a friggin’ game, Somalia has decided to say a big ‘fuck you’ to the world.

Okay, Somali religious militants, on behalf of the rest of the world…




I feel much better.

The World Cup – South Africa struggles to modernize

I’m not a soccer fan. I’m not a sports fan in general, but I’d much rather watch hockey or basketball than soccer. When the Olympics came to Vancouver, I didn’t pay much attention except to the overall medal count. There is one thing about sport that I think is absolutely fantastic though – it’s the only thing the world seems to agree on. I watched the opening ceremonies with friends, and I was dumbstruck when during the entrance of the athletes, the Israeli team was immediately followed by the Iranian team. The leadership of the country of Iran thinks that Israel should be destroyed and swept into the sea. The leadership of Israel regularly kills Arabs, to the continued outrage of the Muslim world. And yet, the two teams were able to compete in friendly and spirited competition without letting politics and bullshit get in the way.

I feel the same way about the World Cup. Because soccer is such a low-tech sport (requiring only a kickable object and a designated goal area), it’s played all over the world. The United Nations is constantly fractures on important issues, but that doesn’t matter to FIFA – if you can play, you can compete. I think it’s a really powerful statement.

South Africa is the host of the 2010 World Cup. This country has probably the most fractured and storied history of racial violence, intolerance and systemic oppression out of any country in the world (including the USA). Even in 2010 there have been race-related murders and violence – South Africa has not grown out of its history. It’s a pretty powerful juxtaposition to have the entire world – people from all different cultures – come together in a place rife with violence and hatred, to put aside their differences in a way that isn’t possible under any other circumstance.

But you don’t have to take my word for it:

“It [the World Cup] will create an emotional bond among South Africans, but it will not end the divisions caused by more than three centuries of apartheid and colonialism,” [political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi] says.

The article provides a bit of colour and context to my description above. While the race divide in South Africa continues, there is more mobility as black South Africans begin to move into “white” sports like rugby. As I keep saying, the key to reducing racial division is to make race-identity secondary to more unifying identities, like secular national identity, or in this case team affiliation. It won’t simply happen by diffusion, or just existing side by side, there needs to be a force that unites formerly disparate groups into a larger sense of in-group. Sport has the power to do that.

Again, it’s not possible to talk about racial equality without disturbing the ground of women’s rights and gay rights, so this story about a lesbian soccer team made me smile ruefully:

To be poor, and black, and a lesbian in South Africa is to live in danger. “Corrective rapes”, beatings and murders are disturbingly common in conservative communities where homophobia remains deeply entrenched.

Don’t get it twisted, folks, South Africa is still a horrible place filled with violence, crippling poverty, ignorance and hate. Being on a lesbian football team, like the women in this article, is harnessing the same power of sport to unify people and take a stand against homophobia and violence. In a country where rape is seen as a way to “fix” gayness, it takes an enormous set of lady-balls to stand up and say “I’m here.” This is why we have a gay pride parade, incidentally, because we’re celebrating living in a country where people have the right to be openly gay and happy – it’s not about shoving it in people’s faces. And considering that there are still major problems even in so-called “modern” countries like Australia, we can’t ever relax our stance on ensuring equality for all people. I’m encouraged by things like the World Cup, and I hope you are too.

Of course, because I write these well before posting them, it’s easy to get scooped. If you liked this summary, you should read CLS’s much more informative article about this same issue.

Do you believe in flying teapots?

I grow very tired of hearing people tell me that atheism is the same as religion. “I believe there is a God, and you believe there isn’t. We both BELIEVE something – it’s the same!” This is the problem when one makes assertions based on “common sense” (a.k.a. not thinking before you speak), and is somewhat reminiscent of the “science is religion”  fallacy that I’ve talked about previously. There is a difference, and not simply a semantic one between the statement “I believe there is no God” and “I don’t believe there is a God”. The first is indeed a statement of belief – a belief in non-Godness. The second is a statement of lack of belief – a failure to believe in the existence of God.

To illustrate this difference, I am going to resurrect the oft-disturbed ghost of Bertrand Russell and his celestial teapot. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this thought experiment, Russell invites you to imagine that there is a teapot floating out in space, somewhere between the Earth and Mars, in an elliptical orbit around the sun. He further states that, even with the most powerful telescopes, it is impossible to detect the teapot – it is going too fast, there’s no light shining on it, it’s too small; the important thing is that it is impossible to detect by any means. But since you cannot detect it, you cannot prove that it isn’t there. He then invites you to consider the proposition that since you can’t prove it’s not there, you are required to believe and behave as though it is.

Of course reasonable people will dismiss this teapot out of hand. The idea that there could somehow be a teapot – a manufactured item of human origin – floating out in space is patently ridiculous. How would it have gotten there? “No, no, no” you are happy to say “even though we can’t prove there is no teapot, I’m perfectly willing to accept the position that in the absence of any confirming evidence of a teapot, it isn’t there in all likelihood.”

“But no!” says Russell “the teapot is THERE! How else do you explain why the lawn is wet in the morning? It’s because water from the teapot pours over the atmosphere and gets on the lawn!”

“Bushwah!” you retort. “We know where dew comes from – condensation of water vapour when the air cools overnight. And besides, any water that would come from space would evaporate instantly one it hit the outer atmosphere, and would never reach the ground.”

“Folly!” Russell comes back. “Why else would tea be so popular all over the world, if not for the fact that there is a subconscious recognition in all cultures of the existence of a teapot out there somewhere.”

“Fiddlesticks and balderdash!” say you. “We also know why tea is so popular – part of it has to do with the expansion of an empire that drank tea for historical, agricultural and climate reasons. Part of it has to do with the fact that tea is tasty. Besides, not every culture in the world drinks tea!”

But Russell keeps coming at you with facile explanations of real-life phenomena, invoking the intervention of an invisible teapot. He goes further and describes the colour and shape of the teapot (it’s white with blue flowers, medium-sized, and has a small chip on the handle), despite the fact that it is, by its nature, impossible to see. He even goes so far as to say the teapot demands that we wear used tea bags on our ears, and get together once every week to sing “I’m a little teapot, short and stout”, lest we tempt its ceramic wrath.

Eventually you get so tired of this clown that you slug him in the face and walk away – not a very teapot-like thing to do, says Russell.

I have stretched the metaphor beyond its original context, and made obvious allegorical reference to belief in God. But this is precisely what any faith requires you to do. In the mildest form, it demands that you believe completely in the existence of something for which there is absolutely no evidence, and never can be. In its next form, it twists observable phenomena to fit a blind belief, despite far more reasonable alternative explanations for which there are mountains of evidence. Eventually, it makes wild assertions about this evidenceless entity’s characteristics, and what it wants from humans (but not other animals). Any attempt to introduce reason into the conversation will inevitably be met with “well you can’t prove it’s wrong, so therefore it must be right.”

I want to pause for a second here and talk about that statement. “You can’t prove it’s wrong” is a ludicrous standard to hold anything to. It’s literally impossible (not just really really hard, but actually impossible) to prove that something is or isn’t there. I can’t prove to you that I exist, that you’re reading these words, that your computer is in front of you. If you’re creative enough, you can explain away pretty much everything (except your own existence). All we can do is look at the evidence and test alternative explanations. You could be hallucinating this whole thing, but you haven’t had any psychotropic drugs and don’t have a history of vivid hallucinations (plus, how lame a hallucination is this?). It’s far more reasonable to conclude, until there is evidence to the contrary, that the world is as it seems. Once there is evidence to the contrary, then you evaluate it and change your ideas accordingly. The part that really grinds my gears is the “… so therefore” part. Just because I can’t prove you wrong, that doesn’t mean you’re right. Just because I can’t prove that the food in the fridge doesn’t disappear when the door is closed is not proof that gremlins eat it and poop it out again exactly as it was. It’s not proof of anything. You don’t just get to make shit up because there’s no way to prove you’re wrong.

But it turns out that Russell is very persuasive, and people start to believe in the celestial teapot. When you say “well I don’t believe in a magical flying teapot that nobody can see”, they begin to call you an “a-pot-ist” (or if they’re clever, an a-pot-ate). They tell you that you secretly do believe in the pot, you are just bitter and angry at it, or your life has been bad and you resent the teapot, or that your belief in the absence of the teapot is just as facile as their belief in it. None of those things are the case – you are simply being reasonable and saying that in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, you don’t think there’s a pot there. And you’re right to do so. You might even go so far as to say “there is no evidence that there is a pot, and since it’s highly unlikely that a pot could get into space on its own, there probably isn’t one there.”

Your friend calls himself teapot-agnostic. “We can’t know if it’s there or not,” he says “so I’m not taking a stand on either side.” You then ask him directly if he believes in the existence of the teapot. He says “I don’t know if it’s there or not, it’s impossible to know.” But you press him – does he think there might be a dragon in his back yard? “Well no,” he says “dragons aren’t real.” But they might be, you remind him. There’s no way to know for sure. “Fine,” he says “there might be a dragon in my back yard that I just can’t see.” Does he believe in anything, you ask? Does he, for example, believe that the money in his pocket is real? “It’s impossible to know,” he says “and I refuse to take a position.” Fine, you say. Give me all the money in your wallet, since you don’t know whether it exists or not. See how far his ‘not taking a stand on belief’ goes. Scratch the surface of a systematic agnostic, and you’ll find someone who is actually a non-believer but just isn’t ready to say so. I would invite so-called ‘agnostics’ everywhere to (WARNING: Pun ahead) shit or get off the teapot.

This is the case of skeptic atheism. It is the result of following the philosophy of if there is no evidence for something, then it might as well not exist. If evidence appears later, then it probably does exist, and that’s great. But if there’s something out there that has no effect on the observable universe, whose effects are completely invisible, and without the existence of whom absolutely nothing would change, it’s perfectly fine to say it doesn’t exist, and spend your time on the stuff that you can see. You don’t have to believe that the teapot isn’t there, you just don’t see any evidence that it is.

What you missed this week: June 7th – 11th

This was a big week here at the Manifesto:

So what can you look forward to this week? How about:

  • Flying teapots, and the people who worship them!;
  • What the World Cup does and doesn’t mean for South Africa;
  • Me pissing off a lot of Jews;
  • A discussion of Canada’s national identity (or lack thereof); and
  • Perhaps the most epic skeptic poem ever!

It’s going to be a big week, so don’t miss it!