Monthly Archives: March 2010

Superstition


Roman Catholic bishops in the Philippines have criticised the traditional Easter rituals of people publicly whipping themselves or having themselves crucified.

It should not be done as an act of superstition,” Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, the bishops’ spokesman, said in a statement.

from ABC News

Which made me smirk a little, and think “isn’t all of religion an act of superstition?”. I wondered, how can a senior religious figure tell his followers not to conduct any acts of superstition, when one could consider everything about religion is a superstition? Perhaps I had incorrectly remembered the definition of superstition, so I thought I better find a definition and check. From Wikipedia:

Superstition is a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason, knowledge, or experience.

So my first reaction was correct, but then I read the rest of the Wikipedia entry. Not surprisingly this line in Wikipedia intrigued me, “religious believers have often seen other religions as superstition” which is like the oft used phrase “We’re all atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do”. It’s that amazing ability of religious people to look skeptically at other beliefs but not their own.

This sentence in the Wikipedia entry for Superstition also intrigued me:

Religion and superstition are usually considered separated because while superstitions are based on fear, uncertainty and insecurity in the future and in peril, religious people can feel secure and safe under the protection of their God(s), thus actually making them fearless and resilient to calamity.

But isn’t a fair portion of most faiths based on the fear and uncertainty of what happens in the afterlife? Don’t a lot of religions teach that the followers better be good or else they’ll go to hell when they die. Isn’t that then the definition of superstition per “fear, uncertainty and insecurity in the future”?

Then I got to the bit about the Catholic Churches take on superstition, which explains why the bishops in the Philippines criticised some of their followers who whip and/or crucify themselves at Easter.

The Roman Catholic Church considers superstition to be sinful in the sense that it denotes a lack of trust in the divine providence of God and, as such, is a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments.

But what constitutes superstition for the Catholic Church?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states superstition “in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion” (para. #2110); or this “a deviation of religious feeling” (para. #2111).

So according to the Catholic church its only a superstition if your too religious? šŸ˜‰

A lot of people have superstitions about all sorts of weird things, but as long as you don’t let them rule your life, or worse make your superstitions rule other people’s lives, then they are probably reasonably harmless.

Then there’s always this fantastic Superstition:

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I’m not a scientist…

and neither is Gary Ablett Snr. Despite that, today the Herald Sun posted a NEWS article in which Mr Ablett espoused about evolution and morals. Apart from the fact that he got just about everything completely wrong, he also plagiarised a whole paragraph from someoneĀ else’sĀ website.

Twitter has been abuzz today with first the original news article, then with the fact that he’d plagiarised part of it. Paul Kidd at buggery.org wrote a good article about Ablett’s article in which he has a side by side comparison of theĀ plagiarism. The plagiarised section was taken from Grace Haven Ministries, a US evangelical organisation.

There are plenty of other bloggers discussing this today including the Young Australian Skeptics who were one of the first to deride Ablett’s laughable piece in the Herald Sun. Whilst I’m all for people being to allowed to express their own opinions, for the Herald Sun to include this in their news section is very sloppy journalism and sub-editing.

Ablett’s knowledge of evolution is basically non-existentĀ and hisĀ regurgitatingĀ of several creationist ideas which have been well and truly debunked shows his total lack of research. It is also quite laughable of Ablett to try and lecture us on morals considering he supplied a 20 year old woman drugs from which she died whilst in his hotel room.

I have a suggestion to Mr Ablett, stick to talking about something you know – football.

Henry Gooden posted a funny picture which sums up the events nicely, and is also good for a laugh. šŸ™‚

Someone has also updated Gary Ablett Sr’s wikipedia page with the details of hisĀ plagiarism.

Big thanks to Martin Pribble who was instrumental in notifying us of the article, and subsequent controversies, via twitter.

update

Derryn Hinch wrote a good article about Ablett mainly focussing on his moral failings (includes audio of talk back session).

update 2

Jack at Homologous Legs has written a good article with a great headline: Is Ablettogenesis a smooth or crunchy process? in which he covers some of the scientific errors in Ablett’s piece.

Is Ablettogenesis a smooth or crunchy process?

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Jesus and David

One of the arguments I’ve seen for Jesus existing, or being real, is that people wouldn’t die for his cause if he wasn’t.

This is an extremely weak argument that has been proved wrong so many times that I’m surprised people still use it.

Just because people are willing to die for a belief does NOT make that belief, or the reason behind that belief, true!

For examples within my life time, look no further than David Koresh, who believed himself a final prophet and who with 75 other people died in a standoff with the BATF and FBI. Or Jim Jones, founder of the pseudo-religious organisation Peoples Temple who with 900 others committed suicide in 1978. Then there was the UFO religion headed by Marshall Applewhite who managed to convince 39 followers to commit suicide in 1997.

All of these people were real (there’s documented evidence for them) but there is absolutely no evidence that their beliefs were true, but despite that hundreds of people were willing to commit suicide for those beliefs!

People will believe all sorts of things, just because they are willing to do all sorts of things for those beliefs, including committing suicide (Islamic suicide bombers in America 2001, or Bali in 2002 & 2005) does not necessarily make the ideas behind those beliefs real.

Oh, and if anyone thinks that religious apologetics don’t say anything like what is in the first sentence, I came across similar twice today whilst researching if Jesus was real (thanks to Sam Hilton’s comment on my last post).

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Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

Do fish ride bicycles?

Well I’ve never seen a fish on a bicycle so all the fish must have gone to heaven.

Or so the crazy logic of Jeremy Howard goes. An article in Transworld News cites Jeremy Howard as saying during a recent “Inside LifeWay” podcast:

“One thing everyone agrees on is that Jesus’ tomb was empty on the Sunday morning after His crucifixion,” said Howard, arguing that the best explanation is that Jesus in fact rose from the dead.

The best explanation? Really?

For a start the story of Jesus is still debatable. There is very little to no evidence for Jesus actually existing in the first place. Non-biblical mentions of Jesus amount to (as far as I’ve been able to determine in my limited research) two accounts, one of which, even by some biblical scholars, is considered a fake. The one possibly reliable non-biblical source does not indicate in any way that Jesus was anything more than just another one of the many “prophets” wandering around at the time. There is no non-biblical evidence for Jesus being crucified, being entombed, rising from the dead and ascending to heaven as some of the New Testament gospels would try and have us believe. Even the gospels can not agree on what actually occurred during these events.

So Howard’s first premise “One thing everyone agrees on is that Jesus’ tomb was empty on the Sunday morning after His crucifixion,” is incorrect. Not everyone agrees on this, in part because not everyone agrees that Jesus even existed.

But Howard’s conclusion is just mind bogglingly ridiculous and totally illogical. Let’s for one moment accept that Jesus did exist, that he was crucified and then entombed. There are several explanations as to why the tomb was empty.

  1. Jesus wasn’t actually dead when he was entombed. Supporters knowing this came and assisted Jesus from the tomb and then aided his departure to some other country.
  2. Jesus was dead but his followers wanted him buried elsewhere so removed his body from the tomb.
  3. Jesus was dead but, for whatever nefarious reasons, someone unrelated removed him from the tomb and hid/buried the body somewhere else. (perhaps the greatest practical joke of all time)

The above are just three ideas I came up with off the top of my head, all are pure conjecture, but all are far more likely than a person spontaneously rising from the dead, rather zombie like in my opinion, as Howard contends.

In the article it even mentions the possibility someone came and took the body, but Howard still says:

the evidence for Christ’s resurrection is solid.

I haven’t listened to the podcast and perhaps Howard comes up with some very good explanation for his logic, but I seriously doubt there is solid evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. There isn’t even any solid evidence for his existence.

The final paragraph sheds light on why Jeremy Howard has come to this illogical conclusion.

“The resurrection matters,” said Howard. “If Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is untrue, …”

Which is the crux of the matter, Howard is so frightened of the idea that his whole belief system may be built on a lie that he is prepared to come to any conclusion, despite it being wrong or illogical, as long as it supports his view of Christianity.

So Jeremy Howard perhaps, just perhaps, Christianity is untrue. What do you think readers?

Hat Tip to BibleAlsoSays for highlighting the article on twitter. Delusional was the word @BibleAlsoSays used about Jeremy Howard.

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Respect my Right to Believe

From twitter

though i do not an believe in atheism i will respect the rights of those who do. But in return i expect you to respect my right to believe

I respect all believers (religions of all varieties) rights to believe whatever they wish.

What I don’t respect is what those believers do in the name of their beliefs, especially if it impacts negatively on the rest of the population that doesn’t happen to believe in their particular brand of belief. What I don’t respect is believers trying to force their beliefs on others, particularly when those beliefs are not backed by any evidence whatsoever. I don’t respect believers who indoctrinate their children into their beliefs. I don’t respect believers who prevent condom use, prevent abortions or euthanasia purely on religious grounds not any logical or scientific grounds. I don’t respect beliefs that encourage people to harm others purely because they don’t have the same beliefs. I don’t respect beliefs that subjugate women or children and that discourage scientific investigation and research. I certainly don’t respect that governments hand out billions of tax dollars to religions purely because they promote religion. Just because it’s “religion” should not automatically mean it gets respect.

As Richard Dawkins said recently about Muslims [paraphrased] “… it’s because I fear you, don’t ever think it’s because I respect you”.

In other words, I respect your right to believe but don’t expect that I’ll respect you simply because you believe in some form of religion and/or god(s).

How can you not believe in atheism? It’s like saying you don’t believe in non-stamp collecting. You don’t have to like the idea that there are millions, if not billions, of people on this planet who are atheists, but you can’t not believe that such an idea exists. Whilst ever there is a principle called theism there will be a principle called atheism.

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Atheist Convention – wrap up

Some general thoughts on the Rise of Atheism Convention.

Firstly, you may have noticed there were no links in the previous four posts I trust you are all smart enough to find anyone or further information yourselves. Additionally I’m hoping this will prompt you to join the Atheist Foundation of Australia forum and Twitter and get involved in the many discussions there and to find out what others thought of the event. If you are already on twitter, or sign up, check the hash tag #atheistcon for all the conversations, links, pictures and discussion concerning the convention. If you really don’t want to join twitter you can always go to the search.twitter.com site and view the atheistcon hash tag there.

The panel with the five women needed to go much longer, the convention was somewhat male dominated, and I think the women chosen for the panel could have answered many questions centred around their chosen topic of feminism and religion. I liked the idea of a panel, it’s a good way to get several viewpoints on the one topic, but it needed the full two hours for a good Q and A session. As it was they didn’t get to answer any questions as the section ran over time. Hopefully next time they will have a similar panel session but with a full two hour slot.

Which brings me to another point, the questions from the audience! This needs to be handled much better next time. No matter what your persuasion you need to be short and concise with your introduction and question, whilst you may think you are clever and important, not every one else may think the same. Also, you probably don’t have experience using a microphone, so don’t shout into it, but don’t be afraid of it.

I was happy to have a question from a theist and thought the reaction to her was a little unruly, even if she asked a very open question that could not possibly be answered in the few minutes alloted. Take note people, ask only one question and ensure it’s one that can be answered in the brief time alloted.

I’m not entirely sure how this could be handled better next time, or even if it can be. No matter what the topic you’ll always get some loon that wants to spout their own agenda, and you can’t know until they’ve started talking. I don’t want to censor anyone, but they do need to stay on topic. At the least the MC should reiterate the need to stay on topic and that you are allowed only one question.

Meeting up with people. I’ve never met so many new people in such a short time before. Met people I’ve known on-line for over three years, quite a buzz to finally meet them in real life. However, despite meeting so many people, I was a little disappointed that I missed so many people. Following the convention I have seen many people from twitter and the AFA forum discussing about being there, but I never saw them. Of course the big problem is that on-line many of us use a nickname and don’t have a photo of ourselves as our avatar, so it’s impossible to spot someone if you don’t know what they look like. A few of us had name tags made up by Praxis from the AFA forum and that helped a little, I’d love to see more of this next time. Twitter also came in handy by sending messages telling someone where you were so they could find you.

So for the next one, and I’ve been reliably informed there will be another one in two years time, make sure you are signed up on the AFA forum and twitter beforehand, get a badge made up with your real name and forum, facebook and twitter names and your avatar picture.Then get involved on-line with the extracurricular meetups and say hello.

The near fanaticism of Richard Dawkins and to a slightly lesser extent P Z Myers. Whilst Dawkins is a very intelligent man and outspoken atheist (it was his movie “Religion is the Root of all Evil?” that made me become an outspoken atheist) I’m not sure he warranted a standing ovation at the start and end of his speech at the convention. The last thing atheists need is to start looking like theists who idolise their gods or earthly representatives – eg. the Pope. We must still remain sceptical of everything he, or anyone else, says; just because he is at the top of his field doesn’t mean everything he says is right.

Friendliness. Most or the presenters hung around at breaks and seemed quite happy to have a brief chat with anyone and everyone. There were even a few other celebrities there namely Julian Morrow from the Chaser and Lawrence Leung to name a couple and they also seemed happy to have a chat or have a photo taken with them. People in general were friendly and happy to talk about all sorts of things, briefly got involved in a discussion on the ethics of the treatment of animals at the pub on Sunday night. We were all there to discuss one thing – atheism – but we are all human and have varied opinions about many other topics, whilst we didn’t always agree with each other, the conversations were lively, friendly and people were willing to listen to both sides of an argument. When presented with new facts people were willing to consider them, something you’ll rarely get from a theist. As mentioned before, my only disappointment was not meeting more people, especially ones I knew from twitter or the AFA forum; maybe next time.

Media coverage. There was quite a lot of it especially in the Melbourne papers, and the conversation is still going on on-line. Rather then list them all I suggest you go the to atheist convention website and check out their Media Coverage page. The coverage was both positive and negative, but even some of the negative coverage conceded that something must be going on for 2,500 atheists to gather in one place.

I had a few questions before I went to the convention and it seems like I wasn’t the only one, mainly; what will the convention achieve?

  • Was the convention just a fun way to meet like minded people?
  • Was it just a chance to see and hear some interesting and famous people?
  • Will the convention advance the cause of atheism?
  • What, if anything will the convention achieve? Or, as I was asked on twitter, “Achieve? What’s to achieve about a person’s belief philosophy?”

I think I’ll leave the answers to these questions for another post. Please leave other questions about the atheist convention, or your ideas on the above questions, in the comments.

One of my concerns during the convention was the amount of information my poor little brain was consuming. šŸ™‚ With so many speakers each talking for about 45 minutes it was difficult to digest everything they were saying. I have been reliably informed that a DVD of the event will be released which will be great to re-listen to some of the speakers. I’ve also been hoping that the speakers will post their speeches on-line. At least one has so far – Philip Adams at ABC The Drum, also Kylie Sturgess has a whole page on her PodBlack blog dedicated to her Sex and Superstitions speech. I have been reliably informed that transcripts of most of the speeches will be made available, I’m suspecting about the same time as the DVD is released, perhaps on a CD with the DVD, now that would be a great package to buy! If any one does see any of the other speeches, or transcripts thereof, on-line let me know in the comments or via twitter.

Last but not least a great big shout-out to all the volunteers and organisers, a job well done. It was a very big event and it ran very smoothly, kudos to all involved. A thank you should also go to the Convention centre staff, I know they were being paid to do their job, but I think they did it exceptionally well. The food was excellent and plentiful and the staff all seemed quite cheery and helpful. I had wondered how many of them might have been staunch religious people and if it would have impacted their work having to deal with 2,500 atheists. But if any of them were they kept it to themselves and performed admirably.

It was fantastic to finally meet all the great people in real life who I’ve only known on-line, some for a few years. It was a pity I didn’t get to meet more people who I only know via their twitter account, maybe next time we should organise a giant twitter party? Speaking of which, there were parties everywhere, from small groups to bars full of atheists, it was as much luck as design which one(s) you ended up at. All the feedback I’ve received from the various after event gatherings has been very positive, pity I couldn’t be in more than one place at a time. šŸ™‚

Hat Tip to the many people who provided input to this and the previous four posts.

update:

Link to John Perkins talk “The Cost of Religious Delusion: Islam and Terrorism” (pdf file)

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Atheist Convention Day 3

Sunday, and fortunately not quite so early a start as Saturday. šŸ™‚

The convention centre is really packed out this time as quite a few people bought Sunday only tickets, supposedly there was about 2,500 people, the vast majority of whom were atheists. There were a few theists, some agnostics and even a Scientologist (we think) more on this later.

First up MC Stuart Bechman, an American and president of the Atheist Alliance International, informed us what AAI was and what they can do for the atheist community and atheist groups. If you are in an atheist group, or are thinking of starting one then you should be in contact with AAI, as well as the AFA.

Following the opening speech Peter Singer discussed morality and ethics. He had a good point about reciprocity or tit-for-tat, he decried the teachings of Jesus that said “turn the other cheek” as he said this leads to a society in which selfish bad people always get their own way. Society sometimes need to ‘hit back’ either directly or through laws. Had a good point about absolute majority. Singer also discussed charity works and pointed out that 3 out of 4 of the worlds wealthiest donators are atheists. Discussed how throughout the world there are the same moral teachings despite the many different religious teachings which would lead you to think that it’s humans that came up with morals not any gods.

Ian Robinson stepped on to the stage to the music from 2001 A Space Odyssey (each speaker came on stage to a different tune, a bit like the Twenty20 cricketers), he discussed “atheism as the logical conclusion to a spiritual journey.” Very good talk, quite cutting at times, which got a few laughs. Made some good points , about “spirituality” and the materialistic outlook on life, as a different way of looking at life. He did have a Powerpoint presentation, however it was quite a good one without too many slides. Some good questions at the end about education.

morning tea.

Kylie Sturgess – the famous Podblack – discussed her thesis study on sex and superstition. Her thesis originated from the, perhaps mistaken, idea that women were more likely to believe in weird things than men The results from her survey showed that it was about equal. However there was a marked difference between the types of things women believed in compared to men.

The question I would have liked to ask, but was too slow to get to the mic, is: Why do men tend to believe in things like UFOs and Loch Ness monsters more than women, whereas women believe more in psychic and astrology type false beliefs? Perhaps I’ll need to find time to read podblack’s blog where she has her “Sex and Superstitions” essays and research.

Robyn Williams then discussed science and religion, and also talked about his life discussing science on radio. He had some interesting stories from his long career.

Lunch

Comedian Jamie Kilstein gave us his hilarious rapid fire monologue rant against religion, including his version of the ten commandments. I’m hoping the whole of this is on the DVD as I missed part of it due to laughing hysterically and part because he talked so fast!

After the convention closed and people were saying their goodbyes, and/or waiting in the very long line to get an autograph from Richard Dawkins, I found Jamie selling his CD “Zombie Jesus” from a corner of the Readings book shop stand. I spoke to him about the speed of his delivery, and joked I’d have to slow the CD down to understand it, and he said he doesn’t normally talk that fast but had a limited amount of time and wanted to do the whole monologue. He also said he was a bit nervous playing to such a huge crowd. I’ve since listened to his CD, which is quite funny.

Dan Barker followed Jamie and discussed his transition from fundamentalist preacher to atheist. A very compelling story with a lot of insight into the mind of a fundamentalist. I am very keen on getting his book and reading the story. As he pointed out a lot of religious people use the argument “you’re not a true believer” when trying to counter atheists who used to be religious. He had this to say about that: “if I was not a true believer then nobody is”.He also provided a few good tips on conversing with religious people and trying to convince them that their religion is wrong. I got as far as typing this “I respect your opinion but disagree with you and do not…” when Richard Dawkins came on stage, unfortunately I now can’t remember the rest of his excellent line to theists.

So the moment many (most) people had been waiting for – Richard Dawkins. He walked on stage to a standing ovation (which I thought was a little over the top) and then proceeded to give a measured talk about evolution and gratitude. I actually thought his speech was not a highlight of the event, unlike some of his fanboys, he seemed a little hesitant and occasionally appeared to lose his place in his lecture. I’m not sure why, but I was expecting him to provide a 45 minute lecture ‘off the top of his head’ which he didn’t seem to be doing. Then came question time, which was much better as he appeared much more relaxed and able to rattle off intelligent answers without much problem. Though there was two stumbling blocks.

These have been covered incessantly online and in the media, so I’ll just mention them briefly. The first one was when the Christian woman got up and following her “I’m a Christian blah blah…” she asked Dawkins “Can you explain DNA…”. The crowd had already started to get restless and a little jeering was heard when she announced she was a very religious person, but the place erupted when she asked the question. I’m sure there was more to the question but I was unable to catch it in the uproar. I thought the uproar was a bit uncalled for, and probably made us atheists look closed minded, but a 15 minute Q&A session is hardly the time to ask a biologist what DNA is. The answer is so complicated it can’t possibly be covered in that short a time period. Dawkins very graciously told the audience to quiet down and give the women and opportunity to ask her question, then explained about RNA and DNA albeit briefly given time constraints. I have since found out that after he finished speaking she turned to her friend and said (paraphrasing) “see Dawkins doesn’t know about DNA.”

The other controversy was when Dawkins said “… Pope [pause] Nazi …” which was seized upon and taken out of context in several news media reports. The YAS wrote a good report on the whole affair and have video footage of the section of Dawkins speech.

As for the Scientologist, he asked a question earlier in the day and opened with “I’m a secular humanist. I don’t believe in psychiatry” then asked a question that was more of a statement. I’m disappointed I don’t remember this better, but many people suspected he was a Scientologist and was trying to trick the speaker into saying something. But we’ll never know, perhaps if this is on the DVD that is to be released of the event (they recorded the whole 3 days) I’ll review it again then.

The end of the convention, but not the end of thousands of atheists wanting to hang around together. There were several semi-organised after-party events (and I’m sure a major organised event for all the organisers and speakers) I ended up at the Waterside bar on Flinders Street with a few hundred other atheists. As far as I could tell the place was packed out and everyone was from the convention, had a few drinks and a chat, then said my farewells and headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before the dawn flight home.

So that’s my brief recollections of the 2010 Global Atheist Convention, I’ll write one more blog outlining my thoughts on the event and it’s aftermath.

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