After a leave of absence and a bout of stomach virus that has left me completely useless for the better part of a weak, I have been shaken out of my stupor by one of the most inane pieces of journalism I have ever had the misfortune to witness. In an opinion piece for the Telegraph website, Cristina Odone opines that our humble livestock are now more important than our Jewish and Muslims citizens. My entire response could simply be strangled cries of “category error!” followed by a string of meaningless typed gibberish created by the unhappy meeting of forehead and keyboard, but I shall attempt to be slightly more eloquent.
If John Blackwell, soon to be head of Britain’s vets, gets his wish, ritual slaughter will be banned. Blackwell, you see, is worried about the pain that animals might feel if they are not stunned before they are butchered. He is not worried though about the millions of Muslims and Jews whose religion dictates that they eat only animals that have been killed in a particular way.
It should surely be unsurprising that a vet is more concerned about the suffering of animals than religious dictates. Indeed, anyone would be well within their rights to question the wisdom and morality of any religion that demands an appropriate level of suffering be inflicted upon a creature before it can be ingested. How much respect can a belief system that prizes tradition over material realities like pain really be afforded?
Halal and Kosher butchers have for millennia practised a ritual slaughter as part of their religious tradition. It is a hygienic way of butchering animals which consists of slitting their throats and allowing them to bleed to death. Not for the faint-hearted, but religion seldom is.
For millennia humankind felt no compunction to keep their faeces out of their food. The age of a practise has no bearing on its legitimacy, and in fact the trend is often the opposite. Astrology, trepanning and the owning of slaves all have a long history, but few would argue that they ought to be respected one the basis of their age (astrology’s ubiquity notwithstanding). Hygiene is not the primary concern as far as the morality of animal slaughter is concerned. Leaving aside arguments against the eating of meat and accepting that we are going to slaughter animals for food, the suffering of the livestock in question is surely more important ethically than how hygienic a method is. This is really a red herring, as the cleanliness of kosher slaughter is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Methods involving stunning are at least as clean and safe as kosher slaughter. As for the final line, I would remind you that Odone is discussing Judaism, not a rollercoaster.
In a culture where animals matter more than people, and a lot more than religious people, halal and kosher are verboten.
Ours is not a culture in which animals matter more than people – but it is a culture in which animals matter. If what Odone writes were true, we would think nothing of abbatoirs full of people hanging from hooks, quietly and consciously exsanguinating. This is Odone’s category error. Her assertion is only correct if we equate a person with their “deeply held religious beliefs“. In reality, it is perfectly simple to respect a person while giving no regard to their unfounded assertions. Rephrased, the true situation concerning the banning of religious animal slaughter is thus: In a culture where animals matter more than antiquated and baseless religious beliefs, halal and kosher are verboten.
Let the Danes stamp all over deeply held religious belief in the name of a calf. Who cares about the Koran or the Torah when it comes to soft furry creatures?
Credit to Luke Hecht, president of the University of Edinburgh’s Humanist Society for the perfect response to this – restate the last line without sarcasm and you have my position.
Once this precedent is established, circumcision — another religious ritual practised by both Muslims and Jews — will be banned.
Not only is this a textbook slippery slope fallacy, I don’t see the problem. While adult circumcision ought to remain legal, infant circumcision is the amputation of a body part without the consent of the patient for a non-medical reason. Protestations of its AIDS-defying efficacy are pointless, as this is not the specified reason for the surgery – it is about following God’s rules. Any “anger and upset” felt by Jews and Muslims barred from having bits cut off their children must be weighed against the child’s right to bodily autonomy and integrity. Removing nebulous, faith-based ideas from the equation, the balance swings violently in the direction of the rights of the child. Thus, Odone attempts to scare-monger by threatening an outcome that seems all too reasonable.
Banning a religious ritual because an animal may (who knows) feel some pain before its killing, is a nonsense value. It prioritises the animal over the human, and the four-legged over the pious.
Rene Descartes, in one of his more deranged religious investigations, held that humans were uniquely ensouled and therefore unique among animals in possessing self-determination. Conversely, non-human animals were mere automata, incapable of sensation and simply obeying physical laws. This led to a resurgence in vivisection, with misguided scientists dismissing animal suffering as an impossibility. The illusion of pain was exactly that. Thankfully, we have learned better. We know now that cows, pigs, and other animals involved in the meat industry, while they may lack the range or intensity of feeling that humans possess, certainly can suffer and suffer horribly. Odone’s snide “(who knows)” is a weasling attempt to cast doubt on the verifiable fact that stabbing a live animal in the throat and inflicting upon them a slow death by blood loss will cause them pain. The label ”nonsense value“ is misapplied, as the truly nonsensical consideration in this argument is value of a ritual from centuries ago that is bestowed with significance because “God said so!”. Countless religious rituals have come into collision with brute reality and lost – staying within Judaism, the cleansing of women after childbirth or menstruation is generally no longer demanded except in the most Orthodox sects – and I see no good reason why kosher slaughter shouldn’t join these on the scrapheap. Odone has certainly failed to make even the most superficially convincing argument for her case, and I still can’t decide whether to be disgusted or amazed at the depth of her failure.
Boredom does funny things to the mind. It can cause obsessive introspection, generally resulting in stark existential dread. Or, more commonly, it can lead down dark paths in your shady internet neighbourhood. Inspired somewhat by an episode of the Dogma Debate podcast – recently listened to but broadcast months ago – I’ve decided to go back to basics and look at a few questions fundamental to my lack of a god-belief. This might serve as a belated introduction, and perhaps a handy primer for laypeople when confronting common apologetic arguments. These questions come from Dr. Norman Geisler’s book Conversational Evangelism, as reposted on the Geeky Christian blog.
1. Are you absolutely sure there is no God? If not, then is it not possible that there is a God? And if it is possible that God exists, then can you think of any reason that would keep you from wanting to look at the evidence?
We begin with an easy one. No, I am not absolutely sure that there is no God. It is possible that there is a God, though I would certainly say that there are certain conceptions of God which have been offered that can be positively said not to exist. This category would include logically incoherent Gods. A perfectly just and perfectly merciful God, for instance. Since mercy is pardoning someone from their deserved punishment, these two “perfections” are mutually exclusive. Either God punishes everyone according to their desserts, or he pardons certain people because of his mercy. So, entirely dependent upon the definition of God being put forth, God’s existence is a possibility. The final part of this question is slightly problematic, as no evidence is forthcoming for these special gods which are not already discounted by their incoherence. These gods seem to be entirely unfalsifiable, possibly existent but following a strict policy of non-intervention. Unfalsifiable propositions can have no evidence for or against, and thus there is no good reason to believe that they are true. I suspect that I am being tempted to admit my inherent biases against theism, particularly my desire to go on sinning, but no amount of unbiblical merriment can make an unfalsifiable proposition more acceptable. So gods are either testable, and have failed to materialise when tested, or unfalsifiable and unbelievable by nature.
2. Would you agree that intelligently designed things call for an intelligent designer of them? If so, then would you agree that evidence for intelligent design in the universe would be evidence for a designer of the universe?
By definition, an intelligently designed thing demands at least one intelligent designer. This is tautological. However, evidence for intelligent design in the universe would not be evidence for an intelligent designer of the universe. It would merely count as evidence for the existence of one or more designers of that particular feature of the universe. Evidence for an intelligent designer of the universe demands evidence of intelligent design of the universe as a whole. Anything less could only support a sub-universal intelligent designer(s).
3. Would you agree that nothing cannot produce something? If so, then if the universe did not exist but then came to exist, wouldn’t this be evidence of a cause beyond the universe?
Nothing is an incoherent concept when used in this way. What would nothing actually look like? What would the features of nothing be? Could nothing even exist? This is not the definition of nothing used by physicists like Lawrence M. Krauss, but a colloquial definition that seems not to have been thoroughly thought out.. Taking the second part of the question, according to the First Law of Thermodynamics, matter and energy can be neither created nor destroyed. This would seem to imply that the a material universe such as ours could not come to exist, having not existed, as this would violate this scientific principle. If the universe had simply popped out of this questionable nothing, this would indeed be evidence of an extra-universal cause, but it is unclear whether such an event could or did ever happen. Indeed, the current Big Bang model states that in the beginning (of our current universe at least) there was an infinitesimally small and dense point into which all of matter, energy, space and time were concentrated. This is referred to as a “singularity”. A singularity, being something, is emphatically not nothing.
4. Would you agree with me that just because we cannot see something with our eyes—such as our mind, gravity, magnetism, the wind—that does not mean it doesn’t exist?
Inability to see something is not, on its own, a reason to disbelieve in the existence of a thing. Just to add to the question’s examples, we cannot see atoms, germs or Wi-Fi signals either. However, this is an incomplete stipulation as to what it is reasonable to believe. Things which cannot be seen can still assert their existence by their observable effects. We cannot see our mind or Wi-Fi signals, but without these, how exactly am I communicating this to you? Certain of these entities can actually be observed directly with powerful enough magnification, but anyone who has experienced flu would be foolish to doubt the existence of microbes. And as for atoms… Well… Pretty conclusive. The point at which we are justified in disbelieving the existence of something is when we cannot see it with our eyes, and nor can we observe its effects where effects would be expected. This is often summarised as “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”, provided that such evidence ought to be present.
5. Would you also agree that just because we cannot see God with our eyes does not necessarily mean He doesn’t exist?
This really ought to have been a part of the previous question. As stated above, it is not only our inability to see God that makes disbelief a reasonable conclusion; it is the added inability to see any of the observable effects of God that makes atheism tenable.
6. In the light of the big bang evidence for the origin of the universe, is it more reasonable to believe that no one created something out of nothing or someone created something out of nothing?
See my above point about the nature of the singularity, and their peculiar not-nothingness.
7. Would you agree that something presently exists? If something presently exists, and something cannot come from nothing, then would you also agree that something must have always existed?
It would be rather self-denying to deny that something presently exists – even doubting Descartes thought that our own thought was an undeniably existent thing. So I can happily assent to the first question. The second part is fairly unobjectionable as well, as creation ex nihilo is an unlikely proposition. So something must have always existed. As far back as we can trace, at no point is there nothing, whether the something in its place is the universe or the singularity, and so these may be accepted as those eternally existent things – not least because they are the same stuff in different forms. Add in the point that time, as well as space and matter, is theorised to have come into existence in its current form during the Big Bang expansion, it may be incorrect to demand that something must have existed for all time. “Always” can only be measured as “at every point in time”, so without time, there is no always.
8. If it takes an intelligent being to produce an encyclopedia, then would it not also take an intelligent being to produce the equivalent of 1000 sets of an encyclopedia full of information in the first one-celled animal? (Even atheists such as Richard Dawkins acknowledges that “amoebas have as much information in their DNA as 1000 Encyclopaedia Britannicas.” Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: WW. Norton and Co., 1996), 116.)
A small point to begin – the first one-celled animal was not an amoeba. Modern amoebae have been evolving for as long as humans have, and have therefore accumulated the same billions of years of genetic baggage to achieve their enormous amount of genetic “information”. The scare-quotes are entirely intentional – information is not something inherent in DNA, but rather is the way in which our minds understand DNA. DNA is entirely chemical, and those chemicals interact according to physical laws, producing certain chemical effects. Information only emerges when a mind comes along, puts names to the different chemicals involved and describes the physical interactions thereof. The use of “CGAT” in the description of DNA, and descriptions of DNA strings being “millions of letters long” give no credence to the notion that DNA is information.
9. If an effect cannot be greater than its cause (since you can’t give what you do not have to give), then does it not make more sense that mind produced matter than that matter produced mind, as atheists say?
The word “greater” is not clearly defined in this question, threatening it with outright incomprehensibility. If “greater” in this context refers to physical size, it makes far more sense to say that matter produced mind, as matter actually has mass, while mind is, as stated in question 4, is not visible. If “greater” simply means “better”, this seems a value judgement coming from a biased mind, convinced of its own importance. Mind is an incredible phenomenon, and can lead to incredible reasoning, beautiful acts of creativity, and powerful emotions. But all of these wonderful effects can be immediately halted by damage to the matter causing this mind-phenomenon – the brain. This gives us a clear indication of which is greater, so it would seem to make more sense to say that matter produced mind, as atheists say.
10. Is there anything wrong anywhere? If so, how can we know unless there is a moral law?
This is a serious contender for “Vaguest Question Ever Posed”. It may narrowly lose to, “Is there stuff somewhere?”. You need to define the term “wrong” to even ask this question. Luckily, the second part of the question offers a clue – this wrong is a moral wrong. So, I can now offer an answer; yes, there is something wrong somewhere. Maybe several somethings and myriad somewheres. Alas, the assumption that wrong can only exist as a contravention of a moral law is a tenuous, vaguely authoritarian assertion. Instead, why not define wrong as an instance of the suffering of conscious creatures, and point to one of the billions of examples available on Earth. Voila wrong appears, as a factual occurrence and not a value judgement, without the necessity for a moral law. This is clearly open to the criticism that this simply creates a moral law with the rule that “Whatsoever is an instance of the suffering of conscious creatures is wrong.” While I am personally happy to accept the notion that suffering is bad by definition, this criticism is largely unproblematic – let me adopt this as my moral law.
11. If every law needs a lawgiver, does it not make sense to say a moral law needs a Moral Lawgiver?
While I’m flattered to be awarded with capitalisation, it’s unnecessary. I’m content to simply be a moral lawgiver. It is tautological to say that a moral law needs a moral lawgiver, and these questions give no good reason to think that such a lawgiver need be capitalised – many humans create moral laws, and make judgements of right and wrong.
12. Would you agree that if it took intelligence to make a model universe in a science lab, then it took super-intelligence to make the real universe?
The problem with any analogy is that it breaks down when you examine it too closely. This argument is put forth in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, instead using a comparison between a house and the universe. My reply is the same as Philo’s – a model universe and the actual universe are too dissimilar to draw any conclusions from such an analogy. The initial conditions of the model and the universe are entirely different. The universe is 13.7 billion years old in its current form, and potentially eternal/timeless before the Big Bang expansion. The model is much younger. A model built by hand may be analogously compared to the universe, but so could the reproductive development of a sheep – from a single zygote, a complex animal composed of billions of cells results. Why not propose that the universe was birthed by the Cosmic Ewe? Either analogy seems equally plausible, at least partially because neither approximates the universe very well.
13. Would you agree that it takes a cause to make a small glass ball found in the woods? And would you agree that making the ball larger does not eliminate the need for a cause? If so, then doesn’t the biggest ball of all (the whole universe) need a cause?
Since a small glass ball is an effect, it requires a cause. This is uncontroversial. A yet bigger ball would likewise require a cause. The universal ball is also in the business of requiring a cause, and we have a suitable cause all ready – the Big Bang expansion. From the singularity, our universe has expanded to its current state, and is still expanding, as this event billions of years ago continues to exert its influence.
14. If there is a cause beyond the whole finite (limited) universe, would not this cause have to be beyond the finite, namely, non-finite or infinite?
If the singularity is eternal, by virtue of existing without the time that is a feature of our universe, then it serves nicely as the infinite cause of our admittedly finite universe. But even if we do not accept the eternal singularity, we might point to the Big Bang-Big Crunch model, which states that this universe is one of a series, which began with an expansion, and which will end with a retraction back into the singularity before bouncing back into expansion. If this is the case, no infinite cause is necessary for our finite universe, as we may simply appeal backwards to the chain of finite causes back to the beginning of our universe and beyond.
15. In the light of the anthropic principle (that the universe was fine-tuned for the emergence of life from its very inception), wouldn’t it make sense to say there was an intelligent being who preplanned human life?
Why must we grant the anthropic principle? This seems like a remarkably myopic view of the universe. For a universe fine-tuned for the emergence of life, there is a staggering amount of waste. Taking only our own star system, 12.5% of the planetary bodies are capable of supporting life. This is a pretty poor result for supposed fine-tuning. Douglas Adams had a brilliant illustration for demonstrating the foolishness of the anthropic principle. Imagine an irregularly-shaped pothole in the road. One day a rain comes and fills the pothole to the brim. The resultant puddle then marvels at the perfection of his situation – this divot in the ground is exactly the right size and shape to accommodate him. What are the odds? Pretty good, actually. Life has adapted to the universe, and not vice versa. We find animals thriving in their environment because those who didn’t have died off in favour of their better-suited brethren. And on a broader scale, if the universe had been unsuitable for the existence of life, none of us would be here to complain about the fact. These facts mean that the assumption that the universe proceeds according to the plan of an intelligent being, while technically possible, is entirely unsupported and thus not worth believing.
Over and over again while answering these questions, certain fallacies kept flashing across my mind. “Argument from Ignorance!” “Strawman!” “Equivocation!” As well as “Poor Wording!” In the end, some of my answers may be foolish or factually inaccurate – and if they are, please correct me. Theoretical physics is not a strong suit of mine, and I do not claim to be much more than scientifically illiterate. However, that doesn’t particularly matter, as these questions are an exercise in shifting the burden of proof onto the atheist, and claiming that if they cannot offer comprehensive answers to these queries, theism is the necessary conclusion. No positive evidence for God is offered above, and the worst position that my inability to answer would push me into is “I don’t know. But you don’t know either. I still see no reason to believe in God.” More proof is required than misrepresentation and special pleading can offer.
Much has already been made in the atheist press, such as it is, about a recent Huffington Post article by Pastor Rich Henderson proclaiming that, “there is no such thing as a good atheist.” Most of the criticisms are spot-on – that his piece is an abuse of logic, that his terminology is sloppy, and that he himself is so patronising that he thinks “worldview” is a complex term. However, there are aspects of his critique that I agree with. So, in a departure from my usual bilious torrent of cynical criticism, I want to take each of his points as it comes and rebut or agree wherever is appropriate. This is all while acknowledging his clever “Vegas hustler” prestidigitation, which seems to regard a no-lose argument as a strength rather than a weakness.
In addition to the familiar definition of atheist – which for my purposes is simply a non-theist, someone who does not hold a theistic belief – Henderson adds three additional necessary beliefs that must be held to qualify for this label.
1. The universe is purely material. It is strictly natural, and there is no such thing as the supernatural (e.g., gods or spiritual forces).
2. The universe is scientific. It is observable, knowable and governed strictly by the laws of physics.
3. The universe is impersonal. It does not a have consciousness or a will, nor is it guided by a consciousness or a will.
Henderson seems to have in mind a more specific kind of nonbeliever, namely a rational, skeptical atheist. I personally have no problem in acquiescing to this definition, as it fits me to a T. I suppose that atheistic Buddhists, Raelians, and Jedi can indeed be good people, though evidently they cannot be atheists. And god forbid that you believe in ghosts, homeopathy, and your own imprisonment within the Matrix. But Henderson needs a scientific atheistic materialist in order to form his argument, so we’ll judge disregard our less skeptical atheist brethren.
Anything and everything that happens in such a universe is meaningless. A tree falls. A young girl is rescued from sexual slavery. A dog barks. A man is killed for not espousing the national religion. These are all actions that can be known and explained but never given any meaning or value.
I wish that Henderson had elaborated on this point, because it really does merit a better defence than bald assertion. Indeed, if his argument had been phrased thus:
These are all actions that can be known and explained but do not possess any inherent meaning or value.
I would have no problem with this statement. From the perspective of the universe, a barking dog and the liberation of a sex slave have precisely the same lack of meaning. This is, of course, due to the very salient point that the universe is a gigantic physical phenomenon lacking its own consciousness, and therefore the very tools to make a value judgement. Where Henderson’s assertion falls apart, and likely the reason that he neglected to phrase it that way, is his failure to notice that there is something within the universe that does possess a consciousness, and therefore the tools for the job – humans. We make dozens, if not hundreds, of value or meaning judgements every day, whether about war crimes or the quality of our morning coffee. Such value judgements, imposed as they are from the exterior of an object or event, are instrumental, rather than inherent. Henderson’s article fails to make this crucial distinction, and so he only argues as to the impossibility of the ascription of inherent meaning by atheists. Instrumental meaning is still our plaything.
A good atheist — that is, a consistent atheist — recognizes this dilemma. His only reasonable conclusion is to reject objective meaning and morality. Thus, calling him “good” in the moral sense is nonsensical. There is no morally good atheist, because there really is no objective morality.
Again, I agree with Henderson in his conclusion, with the qualification that I agree only is his use of “objective meaning and morality” means “meaning and morality independent of the status of conscious creatures”. I doubt Henderson would object to my reading of his words. Objective meaning, in Henderson’s view, demands some medium through which such meaning can exist, which does indeed seem to demand at least a universe-wide force with the ability to make value judgements. (It ought to be noted that I don’t see exactly how the morality imposed by a god is any less subjective than that imposed by a human – it remains subject to one particular entity. He’s just bigger than you.) But yet again, Henderson neglects to mention a version of objective morality and meaning that seems quite at home in this materialistic, scientific, and impersonal universe. This objective morality is objective insofar as it is applicable to all conscious creatures in an objective way – see Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape. In a universe of unconscious rocks, this morality, unlike Henderson’s morality, would no longer exist, but as long as there are conscious creatures capable of flourishing and suffering, objective morality is possible. Objective meaning, in this sense, is more problematic, and I confess that I have thought far less about this side of the issue. However, meaning is of less pragmatic value than morality, and therefore it seems less imperative to argue for objective meaning than for objective morality.
While Henderson cannot does not mention these nuances concerning meaning and its application, one of the three atheists he quote blatantly state the point, evidently avoiding his notice:
“Modern science directly implies that there … is no ultimate meaning for humans.” (Emphasis mine)
Provine is quite correct in his assertion that there is no ultimate meaning for humans, and thus there is no problem with this statement. One can easily deny the existence of ultimate meaning while allowing for the existence of more fleeting senses of meaning, or simply a meaning that doesn’t outlive the person providing the meaning.
“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
As stated above the universe, by its very nature, is entirely incapable of offering us anything but “blind, pitiless indifference”, but Dawkins is a poor choice for quote-mining. This is a man who dedicated an entire book to finding meaning and wonder in the universe, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder. One quote should suffice to show that Dawkins is entirely capable of finding meaning in this cold, faceless cosmos:
“The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.”
The final quote offered by Henderson is slightly more supportive of the argument he is trying to make, but can still be broken down to a point where it too argues for personal, subjective meaning over any ultimate value.
“No species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its genetic history.” (Emphasis mine)
–Edward O. Wilson
Firstly, this does offer a purpose or meaning for humankind, albeit a rather limited and uninspiring one – not that continuing the species is an entirely unpleasant process. But Wilson plainly states that this purpose only applies at the species level. Unfamiliar as I am with Wilson, I cannot say whether or not he would agree that individuals can have whatever purpose they choose, but his comments do not disallow this, and I’m happy to take that position myself.
Henderson next states two possible stances that atheists can take regarding a moral foundation, a socio-biological evolutionary approach and a logical approach. The short version is that is it not his readers who are guilty of strawmanning. Read his article and draw your own conclusions about the necessity of atheists taking up these positions in their attempt at “continuing the delusion of objective morality.” Once again, our definitions of “objective morality” are causing a divergent conversation. A particularly telling point about his comment is the scoffing way in which he notes that, ”All logical arguments for morality assume that human thriving, happiness and dignity are superior to contrary views.” Why not assume this, at least provisionally, and wait for the results of taking this line of reasoning? To quote Sam Harris, to ask why human thriving is superior to human suffering is to, “hit philosophical bedrock with the shovel of a stupid question.” Henderson may wish to argue that there is no objective difference, as far as the human perspective is concerned, between a world of maximal human flourishing and maximal human suffering, but he might not appreciate just how this would make him look.
As the title states, I do agree with Henderson on particular points. I agree that inherent meaning does not exist, and I agree that objective meaning and morality, in the sense he is using, do not exist. The problem lies in his utter disregard for human agency in matters of meaning and morality, and in his assumption that objective has some abstract, higher meaning – meaning apparently unaffected by being the subjective judgement of the personal being in which, given he is a pastor, I assume Henderson believes. Again accepting his inaccurate definition of “atheist”, a materialistic and scientific nonbeliever is perfectly capable of ascribing any meaning to anything they wish, and can also make a good faith attempt to reach an objective morality that benefits their fellow primates, rather than merely enforcing the diktats of the god du jour (mixing non-English loan-words FTW). Because the dirty little secret of Henderson’s argument is that not only does he fail to discredit the ability of atheists to find meaning and morality, but he fails to notice that his own worldview fails to make this possible. Morality does not become objective because the one passing along the message is all-powerful, and meaning becomes merely impersonal and imposed if it must conform to the divine will. And to quote Henderson for a final time, “How do we explain objective meaning and morality that we know are true? If a worldview can’t answer this question, it doesn’t deserve you.”
December is a heavy month for the Deathdays of atheistic celebrities – Christopher Hitchens and Kim Jong-Il being the most obvious examples. However, there is one that slipped my mind before being reminded by Jerry Coyne. (Not personally, obviously. Despite deigning to pose for a picture with me, Dr. Coyne and I are not on a first name basis…) 17 years ago today, Carl Sagan died. At the time, I was a fresh-faced five-year-old with no concept of… well… anything, but many years later, I discovered Sagan’s work through the incredible documentary series Cosmos, and John D. Boswell’s fantastic Symphony of Science videos. Apart from his enviable eyebrows and aurally orgasmic voice, what most struck me about Sagan was how obviously he was enamoured with science, and its ability to explain the world around us. Particularly stirring is his image of the pale blue dot, that tiny orb upon which every great figure, every incredible idea and every single human event ever occurred. Sagan phrases it much more elegantly, of course:
Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
I still look up often, and on a cloudless night am struck by a terrifying feeling of insignificance, staring as I am into effective infinity. But Sagan has these comforting words:
For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
This profound statement says almost all that is necessary about humanism. When challenged to explain how love evolved, or how it can have meaning in a world of “mere” chemical reactions, or why those of us without a god don’t commit suicide en masse, this is my response.
As I said about Hitchens just a few days ago, I admire the stoicism and courage with which Sagan faced his death. Both men had the questionable advantage of seeing their end coming to meet them, and this makes their adherence to principle and their refusal to give in to delusion all the more admirable. Sagan’s thoughts on death are as comforting and reasonable as his thoughts on our cosmic finitude:
I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
Not much else needs to be said by me about Sagan. He was more than capable of speaking for himself, and his Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is still a superb primer for any budding sceptic. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space will quickly knock any anthropocentric chauvinism on the head. And Cosmos (both the book and the television series) will provide a riveting introduction to life, the universe, and everything.
On a final note, Sagan also counts as my favourite celebrity chef, purely for his apple pie recipe:
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
Well, it’s after midnight, which means I’ve been terribly remiss. Two years ago yesterday, 15 December 2011, Christopher Hitchens died. (Incidentally, two years ago today, Kim Jong-Il died, broken-hearted at having lost the one person on Earth who understood what a truly twisted, cockatiel-haired little psychopath he was.) Hitchens’ death affected me more profoundly than the death of any other public figure, and recently reading his autobiography and re-reading his short volume “Letters to a Young Contrarian” both saddened me and emboldened me to renew my efforts to make some impact, however small, towards making this planet a better place for my fellow primates to live. The man himself would likely have regarded me as slightly obsequious, but sometimes it is hard to repress feelings of admiration. I didn’t agree with him about everything, but he could never be accused of having made a statement lightly, or of being unable to defend his positions with admirable reasoning, delivered in an infuriatingly clever way. As for thoughts on death, I’ve yet to hear someone better Hitchens:
“Well, to the people who pray for me to not only have an agonising death, but then be reborn to have an agonising and horrible eternal life of torture, I say, ‘Well, good on you. See you there.”
“They call it gallows humor for a reason. You may laugh at death all you like, but only on the condition that you allow death the concluding cackle.”
To follow Hitchens’ own advice, it is important to remember to regard every expert as a mammal. Hitchens was every bit the fallible human, capable of error, boorishness and arrogance. However, I would claim that it could never be said of him that he was a friend to tyranny, earthly or celestial, and nor was he willing to surrender an inch of hard-won ground to those offering threats of eternal or temporal harm. Unlike prophets and preachers, whose words must be regarded as sanctified and inviolable, instead we ought to take Hitchens’ work as exactly what it is – the thoughts of a fellow human, sometimes correct, sometimes incorrect, but always worth considering and challenging. Even violent disagreement, if it stimulates thought and results in a more well-reasoned conclusion, can be of tremendous value.
From Hitchens, I learned that the written word can stir more than simple emotion or excite the imagination. Purpose and intent can be communicated through the pages of a book, and can stimulate a strangely irresistible impulse to action in the right mind. For now, I can honestly say that I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I do know how I want to do it – boldly, intelligently, and always remembering that as this is the only life of which we can be assured, squandering too much of it on useless or malicious endeavours is an irretrievable waste.
I’m not dead yet, for the none of you who were curious. It’s been a rather busy six months or so, and quite a lot has happened. I can now legitimately refer to myself as more than a mere student of philosophy – a philosophy graduate. This is a distinction as consequential as that between a juggler of imaginary geese and a juggler of imaginary flaming geese, of course. But at least I’m now able to put a few letters after my name, which is an amusing novelty. Naturally such a relevant degree from such a prestigious institution has left me adrift in a veritable puddle of job offers, but for now I’m walking among my people in the service industry, selling discount books, imitation Lego and bargain Xmas decorations. Hence, my bloated schedule and inability to update this brain-dump of a blog in a timely fashion.
But something has broken through into my little corner of Paradise. Naturally, I still find time to browse Facebook. How else is one to keep abreast of the developments of one’s friends and who is playing which free, inbox-bloating casual game these days? But one particular chain letter caught my eye, not least because of the grey and bespectacled visage of the author – former Nixon speechwriter and peddler of misinformation, Ben Stein. Admittedly the message was posted last Xmas, and thus this is hardly timely, but since this has only come to my attention in recent days, and since I have already extensively commented on Stein’s statements, I thought this might serve as a springboard back into blogging. If nothing else, I hope for a catharsis, and an opportunity to correct some persistent myths about the state of the persecution of Christians in the United States. There follows the text of Stein’s comments, as quoted by Steve Forbes on Facebook:
I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejewelled trees, Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are, Christmas trees.
It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a nativity scene, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.
I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.
Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God? I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.
In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.
Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Hurricane Katrina). Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’
In light of recent events… terrorist attacks, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.
Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said okay.
Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.
Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’
Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell.
Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.
Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.
Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.
Are you laughing yet?
Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.
Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.
Pass it on if you think it has merit.
If not, then just discard it…. no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what a bad shape the world is in.
My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,
A few points of rebuttal, covering both the simple factual errors and the lapses in logical argument, as well as the broader implications of what Stein appears to be saying.
1) America is not an atheist country, it is a secular country. The difference is subtle but significant. The only way in which to treat all faiths, and lack of faith, fairly is to offer no special treatment to any one belief. Thus, the First Amendment to the US Constitution states that Congress can make no law respecting the establishment of religion. This means that the government cannot endorse any particular religion, or lack thereof, over any others, leaving an equal playing field for all systems of belief, with neither favouritism nor oppression.
2) If God was unwilling to save victims of Hurricane Katrina simply because it is illegal for the government to promote religion in schools and government – while it remains perfectly legal for schoolchildren and government officials to believe and privately practice as they please – such a god is no gentleman, but a petty and malicious egomaniac, who is more interested in his own reputation than saving drowning people. Such a god, if he exists, merits no worship. Anne Graham’s comments, far from being profound and insightful, smack of victim-blaming and emotional blackmail. To use an analogy that I have come to adore, the difference between God and Superman is that Superman will save you whether you believe in him or not.
3) Madelyn Murray O’Hair campaigned successfully for the removal of school-led prayer in public schools, as such a practice is a palpable violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. To characterise this effort as her own personal prejudice being adopted by the government is an attempt to tar this necessary and just development with the legacy of the “most hated woman in America”. Prayer is still perfectly legal in schools, so long as it is not supported by the government-owned establishment. This is entirely the point of a secular government – in refraining from legislating any religious behaviour, any given citizen is free to practise their faith in their own way, or not, as the case may be. And once again, any god vindictive enough to allow the deaths of thousands because his pride has been bruised is worthy only of pity and contempt.
4) As above, reading the Bible is perfectly legal in public schools, so long as it is not a mandatory reading of the book, enforced by the school. Any student may bring their own Bible, and read it during any time that is their own during school hours. The more worrying implication is that we would have no basis for saying that murder and theft are wrong if not for the Bible. Firstly, ethics are a concern entirely independent of religion, and this is plain enough due to the fact that we make ethical judgements about the actions found in religious texts. Secondly, the Bible also teaches behaviour that would make any school environment, and society at large, a much more miserable and inhospitable place. Ought we stone disobedient children (Exodus 21:17), fire all female high school teachers (1 Timothy 2:11-12), or teach children to despise their families (Matthew 10:35-37)? Simply put, the mandatory teaching of the Bible and its morality will do nothing to curb “terrorist attacks, school shootings, etc.”
5) Not merely Dr. Spock, but the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes corporal punishment for children. Minimising the issue by attributing it to one man – and taking a low potshot at his own personal tragedy – is a miserable strawman and appeal to emotion. Is Stein really suggesting that to make beating children illegal is an infringement of religious liberty? If so, this rather undermines his prior point that violence in society stems from a lack of religion.
6) “Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.” – I must ask Mr. Stein for his sources as to a general homicidal, sociopathic tendency among American youngsters, as compared to their pious forebears. This is simply a vile generalisation based upon a few extreme cases – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook – in order to make the political point that the US Government ought to be in the business of indoctrinating children into religion. In the simplest possible terms, conscience is an innate part of our self-awareness and social instincts, right and wrong are meaningful only insofar as they relate to the suffering and flourishing of conscious creatures, and only those who are seriously mentally aneurotypical – psychopaths, for instance – are not bothered by murder.
Mr Stein is mistaking a loss of privilege for persecution. If a Christian is receiving special treatment, above and beyond the treatment meted out to non-Christians, it is not persecution to remove such treatment to the point where all are treated equally. If we are to believe that all people are equal before the law, then the body making those laws, the government, cannot show preferential bias towards any one group in society.And the pitiable complaint of the majority about their loss of privileged position, and their being forced to be treated equally to those they used to look down upon, shows nothing but that the plaintiffs have yet to progress beyond the level of spoiled children.
Funny that a group comprising 80% of the US population regards itself as a put-upon minority.
Funny that those who believe in an all-powerful and all-loving God can find ready, weaseling excuses for his absence during times of real need.
Funny that those who claim a higher moral character must resort to mischaracterisation, ahistoricity and emotional blackmail to advance their cause.
Actually, it isn’t funny. Rather, it is exactly as funny as Stein’s attempted irony. A final analogy: If you have received, every day of your life, a full-body massage, while everyone else must do without, it is not persecution for your shiatsu privileges to be revoked. Rather, for societal equality to be achieved, either everyone must receive special treatment, or no-one. In the case of religious liberty, special consideration for every faith is contradictory and self-defeating – one cannot privilege both the Jewish notion that Jesus was not the Messiah, and the Christian one that he was – and thus secularism, the removal of bias for any particular religion, is the only viable path.
My Best Regards, actually honestly, but only respectfully as far as such respect is merited,
Having not long finished my honours dissertation on the problem of evil, you could say that I have sin and punishment on the brain. While I didn’t actually address the argument I currently wish to discuss in my TL;DR composition – I was focusing on the rather more grievous problem of natural evil – an interesting objection occurs to me.
Enough foreplay, I ought to actually state the issue: infinite punishment for finite crimes. According to many theists’ models of the universe, the post-death experience contains, for the morally reprobate, some kind of unending torment, usually fixated on the application of extreme heat. As with any time you introduce concepts of infinity into ethics, this presents a seemingly insuperable problem. Take the most loathsome individual of human history – the classics being Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin or Mao Tse-tung – and calculate the amount of suffering they caused in their lifetimes. Tally up the millions of deaths, the myriad suffering and the incredible sadness that any of these men visited upon the planet. If you were to put a number on this evil influence, it may well stretch into the millions, billions, or gazillions – but it will be well short of infinite. To co-opt a phrase from Douglas Adams, infinity is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to infinity. Thus, as counter-intuitive as it is, even the worst individual in human history, indeed, the combined efforts of every person who has ever committed the merest immorality, cannot justly merit an infinite punishment. There will come a point when any person has had all the punishment that their actions merit, and from that point all punishment is entirely excessive.
I may have been slightly premature to call this problem “insuperable”.There is a rather ingenious solution that has been put forth by some theists in order to redress the balance, and acquit their supreme being of the charge of cruel and unusual punishment. What matters is not the status of the sinner, the amount of suffering that they caused, but rather the status of their victims. Well, one victim in particular – all wrongdoing is a sleight against an infinite god. So, even the smallest infraction causes infinite harm, because it harms an infinite being, and therefore is deserving of infinite retribution. Don’t worry, petty thief, you’ll get yours.
Call me cynical, but I smell a very large rodent infesting this argument. It is undoubtedly true that we do take the victim’s identity and status into account when judging moral or immoral actions (whether or not this is strictly an ethical thing to do). Punching an infant is seen as far more immoral than punching a young adult. Both are immoral, but the former is seen as more so. So, the premise that the status of the victim is relevant to ethical considerations seems to be provisionally valid, whether this is due to the greater damage caused, or the relative blamelessness of the sufferer, Within this sensible assumption, however, is the kernel of the refutation of the “sleight against the infinite god” argument. If I were to punch an infant in the face, I would be quite rightly reviled as an unmitigated bastard for attacking a tiny creature who cannot defend themselves. If I were to punch a 6′ 7″, 300lb bouncer in the face, I would be regarded as a bit of an arsehole, punching well above my weight and risking a swift and somewhat justified head-kicking. If I were to attempt to punch out Cthulhu (or Godzilla, or King Ghidorah – insert your giant monster of choice), I would be seen as a pathetic insect with a deathwish, utterly incapable of perpetrating the harm that some mad impulse has driven me to attempt. You may be able to extrapolate the argument – in opposition to the desperate theist – that the more powerful the victim, the harder it is to do any harm to them. An infinite god ought to be even less amenable to harm than a Great Old One or the King of the Monsters.
On a side note, this argument obviously relies upon a particular definition of “evil”. I’m using exactly the same definition I used in my dissertation: Evil is the suffering of conscious creatures, whatever happens to cause it. I feel that any other definition either overcomplicates the issue, or introduces nebulous and irrelevant aspects into the discussion of morality and suffering.
So, this rather pitiable objection to regarding infinite punishment as entirely unjust is, in my mind, utterly refuted. I’m open to having my mind changed, but until I do, belief in any religion with any concept of infinite punishment (or reward, for that matter) cannot be moral. As always, this is not a denigration of religious believers of this stripe, but rather the recognition that the overwhelming majority of religious believers are better than their religion. I have no idea who might be reading, but if you’re out there, and if you have any thoughts on the matter, please, pass them on.
So, I spend an inordinate amount of time on meme sites, and there tends to be a worrying amount of posts from people (I hesitate to say “males”) who casually throw out idiotic sexist shit, to equally worrying aplomb. Usually, this is limited to incessant complaints about the “friendzone” – which seems to me to be nothing more than a complaint that not everyone you want to fuck wants to fuck you back – but occasionally you get something like the post below. As such, I wish to exercise a neuron or two by tearing this to pieces, and not only because it’s been over a month since I’ve posted anything.
The absolute most common “joke” about feminism or women’s rights is the “observation” that women want equality right up to the point where they get all the perks and none of the drawbacks – so a woman hitting a man is EQUALITY, but a man hitting a woman is YOU CAN’T HIT ME, I’M A GIRL. I would have thought that the most simple-minded of us could figure out the proper way to deal with this disparity, and it is not, “If they want to be equal, they need to learn to take a punch” but rather the obvious: Let’s not have anyone hit anyone. Yes, occasionally there will be situations that necessitate violence by one person against another (otherwise boxing matches would get mighty tedious), but a good general rule to have is that cracking someone a shot is a dick move, whatever chromosome pairs you happen to possess.
I can take all of the below complaints about sexual harassment under one simple headline: Basic situational awareness. If you can’t tell if you’re in a situation where the moment calls for a passionate snog, then the time is likely not ripe for such a bold act. In fact, if you really can’t tell, it’s best to avoid such gestures. To be honest, I’m not the most emotionally perceptive person in the world, so I would be exceedingly wary. Hell, I’d probably inquire verbally. Which, as it turns out, is a really good idea in most situations – it avoids misunderstandings, and consent is good. Speaking of which, staring or touching ought to be done only with consent, and with the power of Basic Situational Awareness (TM), such consent is easy to ascertain – you fucking ask! Of course, this mainly applies to physical contact. You get to choose who gets to touch your stuff, and your body is the most integral part of your stuff. The below situation may well happen, but if you do happen to find such a shit-headed police officer, they’re as likely to ignore a woman’s accusations of molestation as a man’s – after all, look at what she was wearing/how much she was drinking/how she was behaving. Like violence, the solution isn’t to whine about unfairness, the solution is for no-one to grope anyone else. Staring, on the other hand, as long as it is not protracted, is basically entirely victimless, so just don’t be weird about it. Admittedly, I don’t know that women spend a great deal of time staring at men’s crotches (I’ve tried, and it rarely gives any hint of the bounty that lies within), but the charge that men stare at breasts is entirely true. Some people are okay with ogling, some aren’t. If you stare at someone, and they get offended, then apologise, and stop staring. Don’t nurse a grudge, and then run home to create a whiney little stickman comic on the internetz.
In all honesty, my enthusiasm for this has entirely evaporated. Every single complaint made in this idiotic little creation seems hinged on the misguided notion that everyone with particular junk is identical. All men are like men because they are men, and all women are totally different, and like all other women, because they are women. In my day, I have met women who would be offended if you didn’t notice, and even compliment, their breasts, and I have met men who throw around asinine comments about “women’s work” while sitting on their lazy arses. I’ve met men who don’t mind their arses being grabbed by a consortment of drunken hen partiers, and I’ve met women who think it’s perfectly fine for men to hit women if they get out of line. I’ve met people with every conceivable view on this stuff (short those who believe that sheep are controlling our actions with mind-beams). So the idea that this “comic” represents anything like reality is a pathetic fantasy of sexist knuckle-draggers. Rant over, bile expunged, and fast broken.
In a sudden attack of self-consciousness, I have elected to examine some of my personal likes and dislikes, and to engage in some good, old-fashioned criticism of my fellow humans. Who am I to judge, you say? No-one. But some people, in my most humble opinion, deserve to be lauded or deplored. Besides, I’ve had too many blogs lapse into disuse and neglect to ignore when I actually have the notion and motivation to write. Without further ado…
JT Eberhard – Humanity’s last and best hope in a zombie apocalypse
Those of an atheistic persuasion are probably familiar with Mr. Eberhard as the author of the WWJTD blog on Patheos, and further back on Freethought Blogs and beyond. I chose JT for my first “Yay” simply because he is my preferred source of news on religion, pseudoscience and general geekery, and because he seems like such a nice chap. I also know that he has struggled with – and appears to be currently kicking the arse of- psychological demons in his time, and so I both identify with and admire how he has been able to do so. He, to me, is the model of how an atheist activist ought to be: informed, passionate, and able to make his readers both laugh and fume. Getting angry over the same kinds of thing can be a great builder of kinship, and JT often echoes my own feelings exactly – it’s not enough to disagree with abuses of rights, people and ideas, you need to be pissed off too.
If forced to criticise JT, it would be that he makes me somewhat ashamed that I don’t do more work to support the things I believe in. I know that for years he was involved with the Secular Student Alliance, helping high schoolers and college students set up secular and atheist societies, and maintain them when those students left. This, particularly in the United States, is of vital importance if we are to make it safe for young unbelievers to come out and eventually to relegate religion to its proper position as a person and private predilection, and for this I salute him. Hopefully my own future contains this kind of public service, even in the relatively secular UK.
Of all the atheist bloggers that I follow, JT seems the most human (this is not a sleight on the others, merely my irrational gut feeling). This is a guy who I would really like to have a beer with, although he may be doing the karaoke on his own – it’s only fair to other bar patrons that they not be subjected to my dulcet tones. And more than just sharing a cold, alcoholic beverage, I’d really just like to have a conversation with the man. Hero worship – obviously – is a slightly embarrassing vice, but I can’t help myself. JT is made of awesome.
Quote of Awesome (at least the most recent): “It’s not that I hate god, it’s that you want to be wrong with impunity and I don’t want to let you.”
Andrew Wakefield – The engineer of modern epidemics
On the other side of the coin, we find Andrew Wakefield, the former medical researcher responsible for the fraudulent study linking the MMR vaccine to autism, causing widespread panic among uninformed and innocently frightened parents, and therefore leading to children catching dangerous diseases that ought to be a distant memory. It’s rather difficult to explain my opinion of Wakefield without simply lapsing into a string of obscenities, but I’ll do what I can.
Despite having his medical licence revoked, his study disavowed by the journal that originally published it, and his reputation dragged through the mud, Wakefield remains steadfast in his claim that his study contained no bad data, despite a hand-picked sample and deeply flawed methodology, showing that he possesses one characteristic that sets me off much worse than most others. I can forgive a hell of a lot of wrongdoing if it is genuinely regretted and disavowed, but even as children go unvaccinated, and hence unprotected against terrible illness, this man cannot admit his fault. Again, I might like to discuss this over a beer with him, but the urge to introduce his face to the finer points of my glass might not be entirely irresistible.
To lie about science is, at absolute best, a stupid and pointless exercise – you will inevitably be found out. But to lie about medicine, and medicine administered to protect children no less, cannot be interpreted in any other way than as, to steal a phrase from Penn Jillette, “shockingly fucked up”. The genie is out of the bottle, and it will take a strong and concerted effort to gain back the ground that has been lost as a result of this prick’s selfishness and crass disregard for human life. Fuck Andrew Wakefield. The best that can be said for him is that he shares a small portion of the blame for this crisis with the media who overzealously reported the fallacious findings, but as the facilitator, he deserves the lion’s share of the scorn and hatred.
Edit (Added source): http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/statement-from-dr-andrew-wakefield–no-fraud-no-hoax-no-profit-motive-113454389.html
Well, the conclave has met and elected a new Pope in just a few short days. This was an opportunity for the highest echelons of the Roman Catholic Church to address the problems that have plagued it in recent times, and to find a new boss who is willing to help the Church to adapt in the face of its continuing slide into irrelevance. As the world painfully drags itself towards a point where homosexuals are considered fully human, where women are considered owners of their own bodies, and where the terminally ill have a right to choose how and when they die, and not be forced to wait for their ailment to cause their body so much trauma that it ceases function, a Pope was needed who was at least willing to enter the conversation on these vital social issues.
Enter Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal-Priest of S. Roberto Bellarmino. Ordinary for the Ordinariate for the Faithful of Eastern Rites in Argentina, and now Pope Francis. Pretty much the nicest thing I can say about this newly infallible chap is that he looks less like Emperor Palpatine than Ratzinger. An illustrative quote says all that really needs to be said:
“Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.” – Bergoglio on same-sex marriage.
According to the new boss, same-sex marriage is no mere misstep of miserable humanity, but an essential cog in the workings of the Devil’s plan to undo God. This is offensive enough to an unbeliever, simply because of the massive failure of basic decency and compassion that it belies, but coming from someone who believes with utmost conviction that the Devil and the God are real entities, this is beyond despicable.
The grass is no greener when we turn to his views on abortion and euthanasia, describing the former as being part of a “culture of death”. I really ought not to be surprised, but as someone who actually gives a shit about my fellow humans, it only takes one story of a woman being denied an abortion on religious grounds, despite medical advice stating that this was the best possible avenue, and then dying along with her child to make me realise that those religious grounds have no place in an ethical discussion. And we have far more than just one story. Of course, we could eliminate the need for countless abortions if we put in place a comprehensive scheme of sex education about the wonderful benefits of contraception which, as well as helping in the fight against sexually-transmitted infections, greatly reduce the need for abortions. But, alas, Bergoglio is opposed to that too, all but guaranteeing that women will die carrying unwanted children, and children will be born into poverty, disease and suffering.
Your average Catholic is simply better than their Church. Even some elements of the Church itself realise how foolish and destructive this doctrine against contraception can be – one need only cite the Winnipeg Statement, wherein the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops state that is is, “extremely difficult or impossible to make their own all elements of this doctrine.” According to Catholics for Choice, 96% of Catholic women have used contraception at some point in their lives, and 72% of those polled think one can be a good Catholic without following this absurd teaching. But, when it comes to the men at the top, it is fervent faith and willingness to maintain the status quo, and not human compassion and rationality that holds sway. Sadly, I must report that I have no faith that this change of papacy really constitutes a change at all. Such is anathema to the Roman Catholic Church.